"No" Carol interjected sharply. "12.30 and not a moment later" She slammed the phone down so that it rattled against the desk top. Today Carol was in a bad mood. Today she was rattled and she had already taken it out on Therese. So much so that the last time she'd walked past her office she had sat at her desk looking like a scolded puppy.
"Do you want a coffee?" Therese had asked popping her head around the doorway.
"No" Carol had continued to tap away at the keyboard, drumming out an angry email.
If Therese had sensed the tone she did not heed the warning and she came into the office to stand behind Carol bringing her hands to her shoulders in an attempt to ease her tension. Carol resisted the urge to snap. "Therese..."
"Everybody's out for lunch"
Carol breathed through her nose. "Business before pleasure"
Therese's concern was like a red rag to a bull and Carol tensed, instantly shrugging away Therese's hands. "You're here to work Therese not to be my agony aunt. Close the door on your way out"
She had been cold. Painfully cold and she despised the way it made her feel even worse. Usually tearing a person apart felt like the snapping of an elastic band but Therese was not a muscle to be flexed, she was not dispensable. Carol wasn't sure how to feel about that. Other than Abby and a few close friends everybody in her life had become dispensable. It's how she'd operated. It was an order she had developed out of necessity. She would not be hurt again and though it pained her to admit it she was terrified of the hurt those meltingly soft hazel eyes could cause. She heard the distant sound of Abby's voice and it snipped at the fabric of her daydreams. A welcome break but she knew Abby would be pausing in Therese's office a moment too long. When she imagined Abby smiling like a Cheshire cat she got to her feet and walked the length of Therese's office.
"Therese!" Abby greeted her like she was a long lost friend. She seemed to fly around the desk as she greeted Therese with a kiss on the cheek.
"Abby" Therese smiled genuinely happy to hear the voice of a friendly soul. She had sat in silence with nothing but the sound of keyboard taps and the whirring sound of the printer for company. In contrast to Carol Abby was a marvellously warm person. How did their friendship survive Carol's inconsistent moods?
"Long day at the office?" Abby enquired with a sympathetic look. "Carol and I are off out for a bite to eat and then we're going to see a show"
"That sounds lovely"
"Well then why don't you come along?" Abby suggested leaning casually against a wall.
As Therese began to speak Carol appeared like a forboding apperition in the doorway. There was nothing but frost in those blue eyes and she folded her arms as if to block any hope of contact.
"I'd better not" Therese murmured looking back down at her computer if only to close herself off to those peering eyes.
"Do you have plans? I'd love to get to know you a little better"
Out of the corner of Therese's eye she could see the beginnings of something in Carol's expression. Was she jealous? Intrigued? Therese didn't know but she was certain she wanted to find out.
"And I won't be intruding?" Therese motioned towards Carol's prescence and there appeared to be a minor chink in Abby's joyful armour. What sort of game were they playing?
Abby glanced over her shoulder at Carol who raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders simultaneously. "The more the merrier" She deadpanned before walking away.
Therese was certain she could see Abby tense but she was smiling at Therese warmly. "Meet us at Harley's. Do you know it? I can write the address down for you..." She leaned down beside Therese but Therese felt no chemistry. She noticed the sweet smell of Abby's perfume and the way her handwriting was as gentle as her kind nature but she could not imagine those hands on her body. It made her think of Carol's hands, strong yet beautifully, unmistakably feminine, with soft freckles. Carol's hands had touched every part of her and she felt her cheeks grow warm as images of the two of them swam through her mind with ease. Perhaps Abby mistook Therese's blushes as being in response to their close proximity? Was Carol truly prepared for her friend to become collateral damage? Clearly she knew nothing of their relationship. It pained Therese that she meant so little to Carol.
"She's quite the girl isn't she?" Abby remarked as they walked side by side to the bar.
Carol could hardly hear her through the mass of thoughts in her head and she resisted the urge to tell her oldest friend to shut up. Abby had a tendency to ramble on and all Carol wanted was a moment of silence. "Mm hmm" She answered non commitally.
"Aren't you fascinated Carol? She has the most telling eyes..."
"She's a daydreamer! She spends half the day on another planet" Carol spoke with a trace of irritation but the truth was she loved catching Therese deep in her thoughts. When Therese's hazel eyes shimmered green and her colour shot up at Carol catching her out, the older woman knew she was thinking about her. "I should put her on a warning" She grumbled.
"My you're a surly one today" Abby teased. Only Abby could tease Carol without fear of her reaction. "She'd be a lamb to the slaughter! I think you'd eat her alive Carol"
Carol could not help but smirk at Abby's words. She spotted Therese before Abby did. She was stood outside of the restaurant looking very fine in a navy dress, with her hair loosely plaited to one side. Carol was instantly drawn to the smattering of colour on Therese's lips. She couldn't help but think about wearing that shade herself.
"Therese!" Abby whistled in appreciation. "You look wonderful" She was using Carol's words and Therese did not like it. Like an ill fitting outfit she shrugged it off self-consciously. "This old thing" She joked and Carol enjoyed the look on her face and the gentle shrug of her shoulders.
"Don't be so modest Therese. You're a beautiful woman" Abby praised as she held the door to the restaurant open chivalrously.
Carol was watching this exchange closely. Carol and Abby had enjoyed the thrill of the chase before. Was it rivalry? Onewomanupmanship? Or the last vestiges of jealousy on Abby's part? Carol assumed nothing. She was certain Abby knew nothing of her interest in Therese. It had felt like assurance, power even but as she watched how easily Abby charmed her, how warm and gentle she was with her, she couldn't help but feel a shard of concern. What if Therese preferred the warmth and the gentle charming qualities of her dear friend? She strode into the restaurant with all the confidence she could muster. She had her game face on and she would not be losing this evening.
"I'm going to use the restroom. Shall we start with a good old fashioned?" Abby rubbed her hands together gleefully.
"Abby doesn't know about us does she?" Therese asked.
Therese rolled her eyes. "About our arrangement"
Carol rearranged the gold bands on her wrist. "Why would she?"
Therese laughed under her breath. "Is she attracted to me?"
Carol laughed. "Undoubtedly" She knew she should be changing tact, warming Therese up but she couldn't. She couldn't show her that she cared.
Therese was becoming annoyed. "And you're ok with that?" She asked the question even though she knew that she shouldn't. It was too real, too close to the truth, and Therese surprised herself with how worried she was about Carol's reply.
Under the table Carol slid her hand onto Therese's knee and inched her way under her navy dress. She touched the featherlight skin of her inner thigh and sighed inwardly. Couldn't she just take Therese and leave? She thought of Abby alone and the idea dissipated in seconds. No she could not do that. "I don't want to share" She rasped just as Abby came back to the table.
The warm hand on her knee slipped away but Carol's words did not. 'I don't want to share' Was she something to be shared? A prize? An object? She resented the way Carol's ownership sent a chill along her spine and a pulse between her thighs. Yes she wanted to be owned by Carol in the worst possible way.
"Shall we order? I'm famished! Therese?"
Therese scanned the menu for something tangible. She hated this. She hated the fact that she felt like a fish out of water. It made her feel like an imposter to know that she was dining in a restaurant she could ill afford. Carol would pay the bill and she would feel owned in a different way. "I..."
"The beef carpaccio is sensational" Carol suddenly interrupted. Her blue eyes were distracted by the menu but Therese knew she was being kind to her. In her own Carol way she was rescuing her and Therese could not help but warm to this.
"Sounds wonderful" Therese replied and she met Carol's gaze with her own unable to stop the warmth and the longing from pouring out of her.
'Abby's right. She truly does have such telling eyes' Carol mused.
"You'll love this Therese. It's full of romance and longing" Abby told her as the lights were lowered and the audience erupted in applause.
A brief encounter. It meant nothing to Therese and yet she couldn't help but equate it to her 'arrangement' with Carol. Was this a brief encounter? She could feel Carol beside her, her vibrant perfume clinging to Therese and she felt her prescence overwhelmingly, like an ache, like a throb. More than anything she wanted to ease the mounting tension. Between them the atmosphere would build to an unmanageable degree and it would be eased, deliciously, by the joining of their bodies. She needed some tangible contact to cut the tension. Anything to offer some sensory relief.
As if Carol could hear Therese's every waking thought she shuffled in her seat, her intentions shielded by the cover of darkness. She allowed the hand at her side to curl around Therese's forearm. Her mind implored her to slip her hand into Therese's, to entwine their fingers, to see how neatly they fit together but it felt dangerous. Instead she kept her hand at the outline of Therese's bicep stroking her through the thin material of her dress.
"What did you think Therese?" Abby asked helping Therese into her coat.
"I loved it" Therese's eyes were dreamy and she wore her enthusiasm on her sleeve gushing about the play. Carol found it adorable. Therese viewed everything with virginial eyes soaking in the experience with a childlike wonder that made the ordinary seem magnificent. In the dim glow of a street lamp Carol had never seen Therese look so enchanting.
"Shall we go for a nightcap?" Abby asked as the three women crowded together on the pavement.
"I'm going to call it a night"
"I can't convince you to stay for one more drink?" There was mischief dancing in Abby's eyes.
"Not tonight Abby"
"Some other time?" She asked hopefully. "Carol? One last drink before we call it quits?"
"I'm afraid not. I have an early morning and I need my beauty sleep"
"Nonsense" Abby winked kissing Carol on the cheek and squeezing her hand before she stepped away. "Then I wish you goodnight darlings" She waved a hand and then she was gone bounding down the street.
Therese watched her for a while even as Carol joined her side. She did not want to look at the taller blonde. She couldn't tolerate her gaze. The sadness of the play hung over her like a melancholy cloud.
"Therese" Carol whispered but Therese averted her gaze. She was staring off into space and Carol's mind conjured up a collection of all the cold things she had said or done to Therese throughout the day. She had been too harsh. But she was soft now and she stepped in front of Therese holding both of her hands in her own, stroking her gently.
Therese could not envision another evening spent in a random hotel room waking up to cold sheets alone. "I'm going to go"
Carol held onto Therese's hands tugging at her gently. "Don't" Carol implored. "Come with me" She added kissing Therese under the warmth of the streetlight. She had pushed Therese too far and now she knew she needed to make amends.
"Carol..." Therese tried to resist her but she was melting under her soft touch. When Carol slipped her arms around her waist drawing her in for an embrace she sighed at the contact, resting her head in the crook of Carol's neck.
"Lets go back to my place" Carol said even though the thought of it made her body scream out. What are you doing? She did not take lovers back to her house but she could not leave Therese this evening.
"Ok" Therese answered simply. She did not want Carol to know how much she relished the idea of seeing her home. She was practically trembling at the idea that she was seeing a part of Carol that she so painstakingly kept hidden.
"Let's get a cab" Carol kissed her and kept ahold of one hand guiding her along the pavement.