tagMatureOf Hope Lost and Found Ch. 06

Of Hope Lost and Found Ch. 06

bynageren©

So that's what got me to this point. And that's why I blame Gina. She brought Tom into my life, she pushed him at me (and probably pushed him towards me, only more subtly), and she's the reason everything is all messed up right now. Now? Well, it's about 24 hours since Tom kissed me, a stretch of time spent freaking out, panicking, soul-searching, crying, remembering, dreaming, and yes...masturbating. And that was just the first 2 hours!

I got into work this morning, skipping breakfast. It was just as well, because Thomas didn't show for breakfast either. Instead, there was a bottle of wine on my desk, and a note that said, "We should talk. Tonight. Warmly, T."

We should talk? Yes. We should definitely talk. I went to his office around lunchtime. He was between patients, so I poked my head in. In a controlled voice, I said, "A little after six, OK?"

He looked up and smiled at me. "Should we go to your place?"

"Neutral ground- the lobby," I countered.

"You're right. I'm sure it's fine if people see us talking. Let them draw their own conclusions." he smirked. He was right. Dammit.

"My office, then," I said firmly. A statement, not a question. I wasn't going to have this conversation near a bed.

"Better make it seven, then. I think Gina's been having dinner with Tricia. Might want to wait until she's gone for the night. She seems to be keeping a close eye on both of us."

That got a laugh out of me. So I wasn't the only one who had noticed.

"I'll go out and get us some food to eat- is Chinese OK?" I offered.

"Chinese, in your office, at 7. And we'll work on the wine until we get things sorted out." Saying that, he pulled two glasses out of his drawer and held them up for me to see.

"Good idea. I think I'll need the help." I backed up, never having allowed myself to enter his office.

As I turned to leave, he called out, "Dottie?" I paused and looked back. He went on, "I'm sorry if...last night I..."

"We'll talk about it later. Just keep your mind on my patients for now."

"My patients, Dottie. Your clinic, but my patients." His voice was playful, but serious. I knew not to get between him and his work.

*******

When Tom arrived a few minutes after 7, I walked out to the hall and looked around for lights.

"Gina drove off 10 minutes ago," he told me. We've got as much privacy as two people can have around this place."

"Well I wouldn't put it past Gina to come back if she suspected that both of us were still here. You'd think a new baby in the house would keep her mind busy..." I directed him to the couch and the spread of Chinese take-out on the table. I sat in a cushioned chair across from him.

Thomas sat down and said, "Apparently not busy enough. She's already talking about number four. There was a girl at the clinic today who is not sure she wants to keep her baby, and Gina made sure she knew there would be a loving home for it, if that's what she wanted."

"Dammit, Tom, I swear that woman is going to be building us an orphanage before long."

He laughed loudly at that, and the full sound of his laugh rumbled in my ears. When he was able to talk again, he said, "Well, I guess we each have our own obsessions. Something that evokes our passion and receives the brunt of our energies."

"You talk like a book. You know that right?" He paused, chopsticks in mid-air, and looked at me questioningly.

"I'm just teasing you," I assured him. "But it's true. Sometimes you sound like everything has been written for you by a speechwriter."

"I read a lot when I was young. I spent far more time with books than with people, even through college. My style of speaking came from the books I read, so it's probably a little less vernacular than most."

"Well at least you're a doctor. You couldn't get away with that in a lot of other jobs!"

Tom shifted nervously in his seat, then spoke while poking his rice around. "I wish I could say I had some thoughts prepared for our conversation this evening, Dottie, but I can't seem to get my thoughts straight. I'm hoping that together we can figure things out."

I stood up and walked to my desk. Retrieving the wine bottle, I brought it to the table. Tom reached into his side bag and pulled out two glasses. As I poured the drinks, I said, "Tom, this will either be a very short conversation or a very long one."

"To a fruitful one," he said, raising his glass.

"Amen to that," I said, clinking my glass against his. I drank my first glass down in one go, hoping to calm my nerves right away. I didn't drink often- hardly ever- so I worried about my capacity. The wine wasn't strong, but I could tell it had started working. After a few more bites, I took a deep breath and said, "Let's start with last night. What were you thinking?"

Smiling, he swallowed a mouthful of food and said, "I was thinking that I really wanted to kiss you. Seeing the opportunity, I took it."

"Well, I'm glad to know you you didn't kiss me against your will, but what I mean is...why?"

Tom seemed confused by the question. Finishing his own glass of wine, he poured us both another and said, "If you mean, 'Why did I want to kiss you,' then I guess it's pretty simple. You're an amazing woman, Dottie. I'm attracted to you, but not just physically. I really enjoy you as a person. I feel drawn to you. You inspire me, you encourage me, you...you're great. Damn, I can't even put it in words. You're special. And...I think we have been getting closer together over the past few months. I'd like for us to be closer. I'd been wanting to for a while. And you seem to share some of those feelings...I think...unless I'm totally misreading all your nonverbal communication."

"And rather than use some verbal communication to take the next step, you grabbed my neck and kissed me?" I spoke sharply, but not harshly. I hadn't minded the kiss- not one bit. What bothered me was the way he went about it.

"I'm sorry for that," he said, and we both took another drink. "I'm pretty nervous about all this. You're an intimidating woman. And to be frank, I was pretty sure your head might try to overrule your heart at first, so I didn't include it in the conversation."

It was a funny way of putting it, but he was making perfect sense.

"I'm old enough to be your mother. You realize that, don't you?" No sense in dancing around the elephant in the room.

Not missing a beat, he said, "You're old enough to have all the poise and character and charm and wisdom that make a woman truly beautiful." Dammit. He had a way with words. Almost like Jimmy, but more sincere. "Plus, you are also very attractive," he said, looking into my eyes.

"For a woman my age," I clarified, looking away.

"For a woman of any age." I downed the rest of my glass an poured a third. I was going to need it.

It was a long conversation. And a fruitful one. We didn't cover all the ground we needed to. Mostly, I needed to be assured that he was serious, that he didn't just have a fetish for older women (or some unhealthy Mommy issues), and that he knew that, whatever happened from here on out, we needed to be very discreet.

An hour and a half later, we had finished off all the food and most of the bottle of wine. I may have had more than my fair share, which, I told myself, was why I was wanting so badly to join him on the couch. I felt a little giddy, but not drunk. I felt like I was still making rational decisions, aided by a little liquid courage. I stood up, walked around the table, and sat on the couch next to Thomas. He didn't say a word, but his eyes followed mine the whole time. He turned his upper body to face me, but kept his hands to himself. I felt sexy, and strong, and in control. We faced each other, only inches apart.

"Tom. I have a secret to tell you." He raised his eyebrows in anticipation. "I'm very interested in you, too. I have been for a while. I can't promise you that anything will come of this, but I'd like to try. You may not like what it takes- I'm a traditional girl and I stick to my principles. But I'm giving you the green light to talk more about this."

Tom seemed a little flustered, and whispered in reply, "Dottie...I'm so glad to hear that."

Not sure what else to say, I leaned in and touched my lips to his. In some ways it reminded me of that first tentative kiss with Glen so many years before. There was a chasteness to it, a simplicity, a knowledge that we would only kiss, nothing more. But it was different from that kiss with Glen, because this time there was a well-spring of desire behind it. I wanted more, I hoped there could be more, I wanted this kiss to be just a prelude to love-making. Not that night, not on that couch, but eventually. I feared Tom wouldn't think it worth the effort. But I hoped.

I let those fears and worries melt into one kiss, touching the tip of my tongue to his lips. He responded gently, and our tongues moved slowly across the space between us. When I started to feel like I wouldn't be able to stop myself from going further, I pulled back and cleared my throat. I giggled and said, "Shame on you, Doctor. Getting me tipsy and taking advantage of me."

Tom smiled a naughty grin and said, "You're not tipsy, Dottie."

"Oh, I beg to differ. I'm feeling a little light-headed and woozy. We drank a whole bottle of..."

"Grape juice," he said.

"Excuse me?"

"That's my little secret for this evening. I didn't want our judgment to be clouded, so I filled the wine bottle with grape juice. You could still smell the alcohol, but that's about it...just the smell."

I didn't know whether I was furious or ready to laugh. Probably both. "You...you...!" Words escaped me.

Thomas laughed- that same, full, deep-hearted laugh. "Did you know," he asked, "that studies show people tend to act as drunk as they think they are? Even if they're totally sober? I seem to recall learning that in a certain sociology class long ago..."

"You little shit," I said, now sure I was ready to laugh. I used to teach about that in a lesson on herd mentality and peer pressure. The studies were fascinating, but I had often wondered how anyone could trick someone into thinking they were under the influence of alcohol.

I stood up, laughing. "Get out of my office, young man. I do not feel safe with you right now."

Standing, he smiled and said, "Maybe I'm the one that should fear for my safety, Doc Oc..."

"Shoo! Shoo!" I playfully pushed him towards the door. Just before he walked out, I pulled him back and said, "Wait." Just as he turned, I pulled him in for another kiss. A brief but passionate one. Then pushing him away, I said, "Good night, Tom."

"See you at breakfast?" he asked hopefully.

"No. I don't think that would be wise. We'll talk tomorrow, though."

"Fair enough. Good night Dottie."

As I closed the door behind him, I turned around and smiled. No matter where this road would take us, I intended to enjoy the trip.

*******

The whole world changes when you're infatuated. Sad things are less sad, annoying things are less annoying, funny things are more funny, and the weather always seems to be nice. I'm not normally a cheery person- I've seen too much. So when I walk around the office smiling, Gina at least knows that something's up.

"You're looking like you just got a donor to fund us for an entire decade. What's up?" she asked me the next morning, as we went over some plans for the coming week.

"Oh, nothing much. I just feel good."

Gina dropped her papers into her lap and said, "Spill it."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said, barely containing my smile.

Gina squinted at me for a few seconds and said, "Dottie, so help me God, I will dig up your secret. I will squeeze it out of you. I will interrogate every last soul in this building..."

"Stop it Gina," I warned her.

"No. You will not bully me out of this. You can't keep secrets from me Dottie, it's not fair. I've told you everything, even the really crazy stuff, you owe me the same kind of transparency. You need to talk to someone about..."

"Tom and I..."

"Tom? You mean Thomas, the doctor? You call him Tom?"

"Thomas and I have been talking..."

Gina closed her mouth, smiled wide, and put her hands together in front of her mouth, looking almost as if she was about to pray. But her wide-eyed happy look made it clear that her thoughts were directed at me, not at God.

"...and we're discussing the possibility of...taking our friendship to another level."

Gina squealed like a little school girl.

"Stop it, Gina. Be reasonable. We're adults, talking about taking a step forward in..."

"I knew it! I knew it!" she said, ignoring my attempts to calm her. And to be honest, it was hard not to smile. I would say her excitement was contagious, but I was already plenty excited.

"Tell me everything Dottie. Everything." I didn't tell her quite everything, but by the end of our conversation, she had about as good an idea of where things stood as I did. I began to open up a bit about my fears and worries. The age difference, obviously. And that we likely wanted different things. That it would affect work. That I would compromise my principles if I wanted him badly enough.

"But Gina, when I look at his eyes, I just melt. It's like he knows everything I'm afraid of and he knows it's going to be OK. And he's always one step ahead of me, which is scary but comforting at the same time. Does that make any sense?"

"It makes total sense, Dottie, if you're in love. I knew Andrew didn't have all the answers when I fell in love with him, and you know how crazy our issues were."

"Haven't heard anything like it, before or since," I interjected.

"But that same thing with the eyes. It was like...he didn't have the answers, but he was ready to face all the questions with me. Like it would be..."

"Worth it," I said softly.

"Yeah," Gina agreed, her mind drifting to her own story. "It's worth it."

*******

Gina and I managed to get our minds back on work, but only after she had forced me to promise to talk to her about things as they developed.

"I'm not looking for gossip, Dottie, you know me better than that," she said. "I care about you- you're my closest friend other than Andrew, and you need to be talking to someone. And I don't want to lose my doctor. I busted my ass trying to find him."

I agreed to make her my sounding board, and even just having talked things through with her that one time really helped me. When I took a break for lunch later that day, I wrote out a list of things I felt like Tom and I should talk about. I categorized them into groups labeled, "Deal Breakers; Red Flags; and Preferences." Deal Breakers were the things I wouldn't budge on, red flags were a little more flexible but still very important, and preferences were just things I liked but wouldn't insist on. I sent Tom an email to tell him what I'd done and that I wanted to talk with him after work. He must have been on break, too, because he wrote back immediately: Let's start with the deal breakers, then. In your office tonight?

I agreed, and promised to bring dinner. He offered to supply the "wine."

*******

"Really, Tom, there are only two deal breakers for me, but they're big ones," I said, once I had managed to pull my lips away from his. Our meal was finished and I wanted to talk seriously before my hormones took us off track.

"Shoot," he said, smiling as if he already knew what I would say.

"One is that I don't want to do anything that will jeopardize our work here. If a relationship means one of us would have to leave, it's a no-go. Not only would Gina kill me, but I think you belong here."

"I agree. In fact, I would think you would see that a relationship would only cement my position here. I'm not going anywhere while you're here."

"Well, that's sweet and all, but I think what concerns me more is...what if it doesn't work out? What if we try, and it doesn't work, and you decide to leave? Part of me says it's not worth the risk."

"That's an easy one, Dottie. We make sure it works. We decide that failure is not an option."

"Tom, I'm being serious here!"

"So am I, Dottie. I swear. I'm not a serial dater. I don't take relationships lightly. If this is what we choose, its a very serious thing for me." Gone was his playful smirk. Instead, he held my cheek in one large hand and looked straight at me.

"That...that's good," I said. "Which leads to my other deal breaker." I took a deep breath. "No sex outside of marriage." There. I had said it. I had brought up sex. And marriage. "I know that's old-fashioned and unpopular and that might be where we need to part ways. I'm sorry if I led you on so far without getting that out in the open, but I will hold firmly to that." I braced myself for an awkward conversation.

"So we wait until we're married. That's OK. I would expect that." He seemed completely unfazed, like I had said nothing unusual.

"Maybe you don't understand what that means, Tom. I'm not going to fool around. All this," I wave my hand around, indicating the closeness of our bodies, "isn't going to go anywhere further if we're not married."

"I get that, Dottie. You're not the only one with a traditional upbringing. I see us on the same path."

"Oh, Thomas, don't get an old woman's hopes up. You can't seriously be considering me to be marriage material for you!"

"And why not, exactly?" he asked in a voice that was humoring me.

"You're young...well, young-er. You've still got a lot ahead of you, and you should be thinking about marrying a woman who will be able to give you...you know...the life you want."

"And you can't do that?"

"Thomas," I said, a little exasperated, "I'm 54 years old. There's a lot of things I can do, but I can't give you everything you want."

"Ohhh," he said, somewhat mockingly. "You mean children. This is all about having kids, isn't it?"

"Not exclusively, but primarily...yes. You may think you don't want that now, but..."

"Let me be the judge of what I want, Dottie. You have to at least respect me that much. It's not your place nor anyone else's to decide that for me."

I silently endured his rebuke. Perhaps I had hit a nerve.

"And for the record, children are not in my future. Not biologically, at least. That's a story for another time. But suffice to say, I have known for a long time that I could not father children, and that knowledge has helped to refine my vision of my future. I want to be serving and helping people. I want to use my skills to make a difference- not only in people's lives but also in the community in which they live. I want to be a part of something that is changing things."

There was that fire. There was that passion in those eyes. There was that voice that demanded to be heard and heeded.

"So Dottie, if you think that you can be a part of that, if you think you can support and encourage and partner with me in that, then I would say you stand a very good chance being able to give me the kind of life I want. You've already given me so much, and you've become a very good friend to me. But I want more. You are a beautiful, amazing woman, and I want to know and be with you in every way possible. Can you offer me that, Dottie?"

Humbled, and excited, and on the verge of tears, I whispered, "I hope so."

His eyes still blazing, his neck bulging with his pulse, he said, "Then get over here and kiss me, or else ask me to leave, because I want to feel you close to me right now."

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