A Changed Life Ch. 03byingarlm©
Thank you so much for your comments on chapter 1. I'm submitting every other day and 2 was pending before 1 was up, so this is the first chance to say something. I'm really pleased people are enjoying it, and I hoped you still like the way this is going.
This story came out of me always wanting to know what the characters think and what happens to them, so although New Life was going to be a one-off I got involved with some of the minor characters and ended up writing their stories too, hence Secret Life and this one (and an m/f one that is still work in progress). Sorry about the cheesy titles!
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I was looking forward to the staff night out all week. The only other thing on my mind was my flower deliveries. Every day I smiled when I placed my new flowers in water and pinned the new card to my message board. By Friday I had the message "Thank you for starting to believe". I wasn't quite sure how that would end, but it was positive, and it was true. I did believe, but I still wasn't going to rush into anything with him. By the time the end of the shift came on Friday I was desperate to spend a bit of time with him socially, even though we would be accompanied. At least in the pub I figured we would be able to have a few words, and if it was loud enough any conversation we had would be for our ears only. I also wanted to meet this friend of Mark's, although whether I would press her for information I wasn't yet sure.
I was last to finish my cleaning because I had been doing the puddings. I headed off to the locker room and the only others who were still in there were nearly changed and ready to go. I opened my locker and got out my jeans and top, planning to get changed quickly and eager to get out of work. I was on my own by the time I slipped out of my work clothes, and I stood there in my boxers putting a bit of spray on me to cover the scent of cooking. I considered taking the boxers off before I put my jeans on, as I usually didn't bother wearing the things except with my whites, but somehow I didn't want to be completely naked at work, so I just pulled my trousers on over them.
As I did up my buttons I started to turn around and was surprised to see Mark standing there. I hadn't heard him come in. Judging by the red in his cheeks and the fact he was staring intently at the floor, he'd just seen something of me, and I grabbed my top and pulled it on quickly. I didn't feel like having a conversation with him while I was half dressed. He didn't now seem to want to look, but I was fairly sure he had already seen more than I had been planning on showing him for some time. I sent a silent prayer of thanks that I had decided not to take my underwear off. When he moved to his own locker I couldn't help wondering what he had seen of me, and then realised I'd said the question out loud, and tried to cover it by asking how long he had been there. His answer, and the fact he still wouldn't look at me, confirmed he'd seen more than my back.
Despite my worries, I managed to act very calm after that even when he stripped off his own top and I could see his back and shoulders flexing as he put on his deodorant. That was a nice view, and I wondered how soft his skin would feel under my hands. It was too late for me to stop him having seen me, but it wasn't the end of the world. His apology and worry over having pushed me too fast was really sweet, and made me happy. For some reason, I just had to tease him, and it was worth the expression on his face when I told him I usually went commando. It was probably a bit soon to be teasing like that, but I couldn't resist. He wasn't going to get proof for a while, but I enjoyed the fact that he would be thinking about it when he saw me. I was probably way more comfortable with him than I had thought. A few weeks of flowers and I was practically his.
I left him to finish getting changed, knowing that I would not be comfortable seeing him in his underwear at this stage. And if I wasn't mistaken, he'd got an erection and I really didn't want to see that right now. I might end up losing my inhibitions right there and then, and giving my boss a blowjob in the staff locker room was not high on my list of priorities, irrespective of what was developing between us. The thought made me smile as I walked out into the restaurant, and I nearly walked into a woman standing there. I wondered for a moment who she was, and then hoped it was Tess and not a random customer who had been left behind.
"Sorry." we both said at the same moment, one of those lovely English apologies where neither of us is in the wrong but we've nearly collided by accident.
She put out her hand to shake mine. "I was just waiting for Mark to reappear. I'm his friend Tess, and I'm guessing you must be the new chef Charlie."
"Yes, I am. It's nice to meet you." I said, shaking her hand. She did know my name so Mark clearly had spoken about me, but exactly what I didn't dare ask. I wondered if she knew about the flowers, and then had the awful thought that it might all have been her idea. I really hoped not. Still, she hadn't been on the date with us when Mark had done so well, so unless he had some sort of hidden earpiece she definitely hadn't been responsible for that. "Mark should only be a moment, he was just changing his clothes." I said, trying not to visualise what little I had seen of him when I had been in there.
"Right. I thought I'd wait rather than go with the others. Mark would freak if he thought I'd left with Dan despite the fact there would have been at least 10 people with us." she laughed.
I grinned too. It was weird hearing her call Chef by his real name though, nobody here did. "I heard about that. Mark seems worried you'll fall for Chef's lines one of these days."
"He doesn't think I can look after myself, which is a rather annoying habit. He's kind of like a big brother to me, or at least he acts like he is, and then he reckons he has the right to vet any men who come near me. It's a good thing that most of the time when I go out he's at work and can't see what I get up to." she said, ending with a wink that suggested she wasn't always all that well-behaved.
I warmed to her instantly. If Mark had friends like her he certainly couldn't be all bad. I still wondered how much she had heard about me and how far her involvement had been in his slow seduction, but it must still have been some of him, and he must have wanted to do it or he wouldn't have bothered. There were easy lays out there for him if he didn't care about me. My thoughts were interrupted when he came out and the three of us headed to the pub together, laughing and joking.
The pub was only just around the corner, and as I had suspected, it was loud in there. Chef shouted over to us asking what we wanted to drink, so it was worth coming later just so it wouldn't be our round for a while. He did pay far more attention to what Tess wanted than either of the others of us, and he had to ask me again. I was amused both at Chef's attentiveness and Mark's clear displeasure at it. Tess and I shared a look and giggled. It was natural, when we went to sit down, to sit by her. I got the impression that Mark would have preferred me to choose the seat next to him, but having already pushed my boundaries tonight I didn't want to do even more just yet. This way I was across from him so I could see him properly, just like when we were at dinner, although it was a lot darker in this place.
It suddenly occurred to me that in my distraction earlier I had forgotten to let my hair down, another thing I often did outside of work, although I hadn't when I went out for dinner. I took out the tie and gave it a quick shake and ran my hands through it to separate it out a bit. It wasn't all that long, just below my shoulders, but I really liked having some length to play with, or for others to play with. When I looked back at Mark he very obviously liked it. I smiled at him to try and stop him staring, but it only seemed to make matters worse. I decided ignoring him was the best option and turned to speak to Tess, having to speak almost directly into her ear to let her hear me. We weren't even in a club, but this pub clearly wanted to be one.
"It's loud in here isn't it?" I asked. Not exactly the best start to a conversation, but I was only really trying to avoid Mark for a bit.
"Yep. Makes for more private conversations though. I must go talk to Dan at some point, just to wind Mark up. Mind you, us talking seems to be having that effect anyway."
I glanced back at Mark and she was right, he looked unhappy, probably because we weren't including him. It would probably wind him up more that we were blatantly talking about him too. "He'll live. He wanted me to talk to you, so he shouldn't complain that we are."
"I know. Do you have an agenda, or shall we just go with the flow?" she grinned.
"I think I'm supposed to get a character reference from you." I laughed. "The question is whether you are prepared to give one."
"Seeing as we are being honest, my instructions are to tell you anything you want to know. And I will give him a reference as well if you want."
Interesting. "So I can ask anything?". She just nodded in reply. "I can't think of anything right now that I really want to know. It's not as though he hasn't told me a lot, and I've heard plenty too."
She laughed then. "I can just bet you've heard a lot. He and Dan were infamous."
"Were?" I couldn't resist asking.
She suddenly looked very serious, and glanced across to Mark to check what he was doing. He seemed to be trying hard to look disinterested, taking in the scene generally and what the others were up to. Thankfully after a moment Chef dragged him off to the bar, saying he needed to buy more drinks for us all. He didn't seem to want to leave, and looked at me intently before he went, almost as if I was going to ask him not to leave me. I wanted another drink and was very happy to have a moment alone with Tess to find out what she was going to say.
"I know Mark told you he's changed and you don't entirely believe him, although I gather you've now had a date so that's a big step forward. I can only tell you what I know, and I've been his friend since we were at infant school, so 20 years, and in that time I have heard about plenty of his exploits. But I never got given a name until you, let alone told he wants something more. I believe him because it's never happened before. And the way he speaks about you, it's completely different to anything he's ever said. I'm not going to tell you what to do because it's not my decision. But please give him a chance."
"Does that mean a chance to bed me?" I asked.
She looked offended. "Not unless you're ready to do that, no. I meant a chance to get to know each other better."
"Sorry. I keep letting him in a bit further and then freaking myself out. I am giving him a chance, and I do want to believe him."
She smiled at me then. "I'm glad. I think you two could be great together, and it's about time he found someone to love, he's been on his own for a long time now. I'm the closest he has to family and that's not enough."
I wasn't sure what she meant about being alone, and I was going to gloss over the love word. "Surely he has some family somewhere?"
Tess looked uncomfortable. "He hasn't told you about his parents?" I shook my head. She looked even more worried then and glanced across to the bar to check where he was before looking back at me. "He did tell me to tell you whatever you wanted to know," she said, seemingly to herself rather than me. "His parents were killed in a car crash nearly 3 years ago. He's an only child and they were all he had. It gave him the money to buy the restaurant, but to me he's been desperately alone since then. If he wants to let you in, it's a big step forward for him. I can't help thinking that losing them so suddenly made him not want to get close to anyone. Not that he didn't go out and have fun before, but it's been different since, even more impersonal."
I sat stunned. I didn't quite know what to say, but my heart went out to Mark then. I couldn't imagine losing my parents at my age, but at least I would still have my two sisters. It must have been tough. I wanted to hug him to me and make sure any pain he still had would go away. I realised then why he hadn't told me.
"He didn't want me to know because I'd end up feeling sorry for him and might make decisions for the wrong reasons." I said. Tess nodded.
"Probably. But you'd find out eventually. It helps that you know where he's coming from, even if it means you knowing now rather than later. I hope he doesn't mind that I told you."
"I won't say anything if it helps. Thank you though."
Our conversation was interrupted when Chef came over with drinks for the two of us.
"Drinks for my favourite kitchen mate and the beautiful Tessa," he said with a grin at Tess that made me smile. "Please say you'll have a dance with me later on Tess? I want to show you my moves." he finished with a wink.
I nearly coughed up my drink and tried to cover my laughter when I got a look from him. I couldn't help myself, seeing his cheeky chappy technique up close. Tess laughed with me but did agree to dance with him at some point. When Chef wandered off, clearly happy, I just looked at her.
"Mark isn't going to like that." I said.
"Tough." she replied. "It's only a dance. Besides which, you might be able to distract him so he won't notice."
"I doubt it. He's very cautious when it comes to you and Chef. He's determined you won't be seduced."
Tess smiled, and her eyes wandered over to where Chef was standing before speaking to me again. "I admire what you are doing, I really do. I can't see Dan changing like Mark is. But irrespective of that, he's probably going to get lucky one of these days. I don't have the control that you obviously do." She looked at me sternly. "Don't for god's sake tell Mark that. He'll be trying to find some sort of chastity belt for me."
"I won't. But seriously, you want to go there?"
She nodded and looked across at Chef again. This time I saw the spark in her eyes. She liked him, but unlike me she was prepared to live with the fact she might just be another notch in the bedpost. I suddenly felt very protective of her as well.
"Don't sell yourself short. It's not worth getting hurt if it will mean far more to you than it will to him."
"It'll just be sex." she replied, but when she looked in my eyes I knew it couldn't be that for her, and she saw I could tell. There was an awkward moment of silence between us, and I was glad when Mark returned and it lightened the mood. He was happy, maybe due to the alcohol, or being out for once, but his joy was infectious. We all laughed and joked and a few more drinks slipped down before we headed off to another venue, this time one where we could go dancing.
As we headed off Mark held back a little from the group and I ended up slowing my steps as well. We hadn't had chance to talk in the pub although I had got to know Tess. When I saw that Chef was chatting to her again as we walked I had an urge to go split them up, but she knew what she was doing and what the effects might well be, and I wanted more to have a moment alone with Mark. I slipped into step beside him as we wandered up the road.
"Are you having a good night?" he asked.
"Yes, it's been good so far. And it's been nice meeting Tess, she's lovely." I replied.
He smiled at me. "I'm glad you think that. She's been a good friend to me for a long time, and almost my little sister. All I need to do is find her a good man and my work will be complete!"
"What about you?" I couldn't resist asking.
He looked at me intently. "I've already found one."
I didn't quite know what to say. His look said a lot, but it didn't say that he was just lusting after me. It genuinely was deeper. A second later I knew what to do. A small step forward, but a little movement that meant a great deal to both of us. I moved closer beside him and took his hand in mine.
The jolt through my body was instant, even at such a small connection. His grin warmed me from the inside out as well, and I returned the smile. He kept walking but slowed down even more, knowing that when we caught up to the others this moment between us was going to end. Neither one of us wanted our workmates to know what was happening, especially not as they would think the worst. When we finally reached the door of the club that the others had already entered Mark looked down at where our hands were intertwined and sighed. He raised our linked hands up and placed a soft kiss on the back of my hand before he let go. "Thank you." he told me, before we headed back to reality.
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By the time we got to the club I was already feeling a bit woozy thanks to the alcohol, and I had been through a wide range of emotions. I was annoyed with Chef for trying it on with Tess yet again, I felt jealous when she and Charlie were talking and I was excluded from it even though I had wanted them to talk. I was desperately hoping that she would help my quest to win Charlie's heart. Right now though I was elated. Charlie had made the first move to make contact with me. Only holding my hand but it was the first thing he had initiated and it was a huge leap forward. And I felt sad when I had to let go of him too, but I kept smiling despite it because it would take a while for me to come down from the high I had.
We weren't that far behind the others when we got into the club, and no eyebrows were raised which was fortunate. I could take the teasing but I didn't want Charlie to be subjected to any of that. To be honest I wasn't sure I would appreciate being teased about this either, because everyone would assume this was me trying to get laid and I wanted so much more. I noted that Tess was talking to Chef and I bristled immediately. Charlie was still close to my side and I knew he noticed.
"Chill out Mark, she's a grown up. She's also well aware of what he wants and the implications, she won't do anything she doesn't want to."
I looked at him. "That sounds suspiciously like she wants to."
He just shrugged and I groaned internally. That was something I really didn't want happening, but there was no way I could stop her. I had tried. Time to stop worrying about her and concentrate on what was happening with me.
"Come dance with me, please?"
Charlie looked a bit surprised, but gave me a shy smile, which I took as a yes and headed out to the dancefloor. We weren't going to be doing any dirty dancing so it would be fine. There were already some of the waiters and cooks on the floor so we joined up with them to dance as part of a group. Much safer that way and it wouldn't look odd. He looked good though, and I took as many glances as I could at him as his body moved and he got hot and sweaty too. Of course he always looked hot to me. He grinned at me when he caught me looking, and although I liked it I took a quick glance at the others to make sure no-one was noticing our subtle flirting. I guess they wouldn't expect me to be subtle because there was no reaction. It made me braver, to the point where when we all danced together in a circle I quickly moved so I was next to Charlie and we had to put our arms around each others shoulders in the huddle.
He took a quick look at me when I did it and raised an eyebrow in query, but his arm went around me quickly too. We were all pressed close together as we jumped about, so it was fairly inevitable that I would end up right against Charlie's body, and it felt really good. He was pretty much the same height as me and we fitted together well, not to mention how nice it was to have him there. I wasn't sure whether to be sad or relieved when we all broke apart, because I was probably enjoying it too much. In fact the only thing that took the shine off the moment and distracted me was noticing that Tess and Chef were dancing close together also, but definitely not as part of a group.