It was their first trip since things had thawed between them and Therese had mixed feelings about it. She could not deny that she was looking forward to some alone time with Carol. Wasn't that the problem? That she still hung onto the possibility that things could change? She wasn't sure. Carol had pulled out all the tricks. Like a seasoned professional she tried to woo Therese, attempted to use her sexual prowess to draw her back in but Therese was looking for more than that. She wanted Carol to show her a more vulnerable side, a side that wasn't caught up in her bravado and pride but she didn't know if that existed? She had learned things about herself in the past few months, since she had first met Carol. She had learnt that she was needy, desperate for somebody to see her as she truly was. It meant that she reduced herself to a doormat. Just the thought that Carol had wanted her had been enough for Therese to persue her at any and all cost. No matter the impact. Therese couldn't blame Carol for taking advantage. She'd hosted herself as a willing participant in this game and in a way she knew now that only she held the cards. Only she could change things.
Carol approached the check in desk with Therese close at hand. She felt there was a sense of promise sizzling in the air. This weekend they would be in close quarters and Carol hoped that this might soften the atmosphere between the two of them. Business trips had always provided a vacuum for their chemistry. She thought back to their trip to New York. Therese had been bold, had been forward, and Carol had been powerless to resist her. Perhaps Therese had always been the instigator? Carol had naively presumed she had been in control of things. She would stoke the flames. She would choose to cool things. Now Therese had put her on freeze and Carol realised she had lost control quite some time ago. She had lost control the moment she'd invited Therese back to her home. She could recognise the signs but she would not admit to herself that she was falling.
They arrived at the hotel with little time to spare. Normally this would pique Carol's irritation, she liked things to be orderly, but today she merely shrugged her shoulders.
"There's something to be said for arriving fashionably late Therese" Carol had told her playfully as they waited for the lift to descend.
Therese smiled, happy to share a playful moment with the blonde.
Therese walked into Carol's room without knocking. In her haste to get ready in time she'd forgotten one of Carol's inordinate rules. Carol was dressed in her underwear and stockings her blue dress laid out neatly on the bedspread. Therese should have closed the door but she found she couldn't move. There was something so sensual about seeing Carol in soft silken underwear with the allure and restriction of stockings against creamy white skin. She wanted to put her hands on Carol to tease and nip at the delicate skin on her thighs.
Carol looked up to find Therese staring at her with a deep intensity. It surprised her, thrilled her, and she did not react instantly. She wanted to savour the heat in Therese's eyes. It had been quite some time since she'd looked at her like that.
"I'm...I apologies. I'll be back in a moment" And then she disappeared from sight with her mouth slightly ajar.
Carol looked at her reflection in the mirror and couldn't stop the smile from pulling at the corners of her mouth. Maybe things could be different after all?
"I've got a cab booked in twenty minutes" Therese told Carol as she stood in her hotel room trying not to think about the image of Carol in her underwear.
"Perfect" Carol replied. "I ordered us some drinks" As she spoke she distracted herself by putting on her jewellery. Something was brewing between them and she was careful not to overplay her hand.
Therese leaned in, she'd been caught off guard, and brushed something away from Carol's cheek. The close proximity became dangerously apparent. Therese could smell her perfume and the lingering sweet smell of body lotion. She knew how soft the skin at her neck was. She had felt it, tasted it on her mouth. She craved it now and she registered the surprise in those earth shatteringly blue eyes and then the sigh of longing. Therese stepped away.
Carol cleared her throat. "It's a fairly small dinner. Only three people" She was thinking back to the disastrous event.
"Have you met them before?"
"Yes I have. I think you'll find them to be a tad more agreeable" Carol was thinking about the dinner party guests. A woman who worked in the finance department and two brothers who had been hailed as tech geniuses.
"Carol..." Therese trailed off losing her train of words to the belly of the quiet hotel room. She wanted Carol to know things about her. To understand why the event had made her so emotional. She wasn't used to such interactions with men and she had felt out of her depth, exposed, as though the only language they understood was purely physical. It had reduced her to nothing more than an availability to those men.
"Yes?" She was scanning Therese's face but there was a burst of hope in her heart.
Carol looked at her a moment longer. 'Tell me' Her internal voice implored. 'Tell me everything' But she did not say another word. She was licking her wounds and she was giving Therese time. Just like she'd asked for.
The cab ride to the restaurant was spent in silence but for the background noise of the radio. Words were not being shared but Carol felt as though Therese were screaming out loud from every pore on her body. She could feel the tension pouring out of her as strong as taste or smell. She wanted to shout to the cab driver 'stop!' turn to face Therese and grip her by the shoulders. 'Speak to me. Tell me how I can change things' She had lost it. She was sure she had lost her senses completely. She was morphing into a love torn sap and she shook her head glancing out of the window of the cab. Carol was sure she was merely enamoured because Therese was not giving in. She had never experienced this before. Unrequited...she stopped herself, gripping her own knees as though it might halt the thoughts stampeding through her head. It's nothing more than romance. Nothing more than romance.
The dinner party danced by in a haze of comfort and enjoyment. If she had been tense before she was now at ease and she chatted amiably to a woman named Fiona who she learned worked in finance in the Chicago department. They had bonded over their shared dislike of Viso events and Fiona had shared her own stories of vulnerability. "You get used to it" Fiona assured her with a warm smile. "It's terrible but you do get used to it. You learn to play them at their own game"
"How do you do that?" Therese asked as she watched her glass refilled.
"Don't be afraid to stand your grown. Especially when people are making personal remarks. When I started in the company eight years ago I was like you. Afraid to rock the boat. Intimidated by their wealth and power. I didn't say anything. I tried to be good natured about it..."
"Did it work?"
Fiona laughed and shook her head profusely. "It only encouraged the bastards! I learnt I had to present myself as being completely unavailable and out of their reach"
Carol was watching from the outskirts. She was caught in conversation with Thomas and his sweet girlfriend but she could not stop her ear from pricking at the conversation.
"Unavailable and out of reach?"
"Well..." Fiona leaned in and there was an almost growing intimacy in their close proximity. "You already look unavailable to most of them. Money does not buy somebody an attractive face or personality! But it makes them believe they can have anything" Fiona covered Therese's hand and squeezed it a moment too long. "Don't let them get too close..." She whispered in Therese's ear, brushing her hair from her neck. "But remind them that you're there"
Therese could feel Fiona, warming beside her. Her eyes had become heavy, her intentions clear and Therese gulped at the prospect. Was she attracted to Fiona? She was an attractive woman. Immaculately dressed with soft long brown hair and chestnut eyes. Feeling her hand on hers had made her blood begin to rush but was it the contact? Or was it the knowledge that Carol was watching them, scrutinising them and it made Therese feel wanted by her. She could see Carol in the corner of her eye craning her neck to see better. When she met Therese's eyes she looked away within a split second.
After the dinner they retired to a local bar for a quiet drink.
"I'm not surprised you get a lot of male attention" Fiona remarked with a hint of playfulness.
Carol eyed Fiona suspiciously. She'd seen the body language between the two of them and she had hated every cruel moment. Watching Fiona making a move, getting close to the younger woman had made her stomach turn. Normally she would respect the chase, admire the competition. But tonight with Therese still distant Carol felt like she'd already lost.
"You're a very attractive woman Therese. You remind me of a young Audrey Hepburn"
Carol rolled her eyes and seethed in silence. A young Audrey Hepburn? But it was true and Carol cursed this woman and her ability to make Therese smile.
"You're too kind" Therese insisted. She had some colour to her cheeks and Carol felt a pang of jealousy. She had been the one to make Therese blush. She adored it, had craved it, especially in those early days and she could not stop herself from the torture of seeing someone else do it.
"Nonsense. Can you excuse me for just a month? I need to go to the ladies room" Fiona announces stroking Therese's arm before she left the room.
Therese was more than aware of Carol's prescence nearby. She was close but she moved closer and she was cupping her chin with a hand, eyes betraying a raincloud of thoughts.
"Do you like her?" Carol asked over her diminishing wine glass.
Therese almost choked on her drink. "Fiona?"
Carol rolled her eyes. "Of course"
"She's a nice woman. I'm fond of anyone I can have a conversation with"
"But are you attracted to her Therese?"
Therese glanced at Carol. She had a serious look on her face which made her eyes darken and she was pausing, waiting, simmering on a thought. It suddenly occurred to her that Carol was jealous. She thought about telling Carol that it was none of her business but she didn't. She couldn't. "No" She replied simply. She was sure she could see Carol breath a sigh of relief.
"You realise that she wants you?" Carol prickled with jealousy. It had seized her in her grip and had made her resentful and detached the whole evening. She was rattled by Therese's aloofness.
Carol looked away. She could ask no more questions. Not without appearing desperate. She had experienced quite a reality check in recent weeks but she was not willing to appear desperate. She still had her pride no matter how wounded.
"I'm not interested"
Carol kept her gaze fixed across the room until Therese gripped her arm with a sense of urgency. "Carol. I'm not interested" She repeated, relieved when Carol brought her eyes up to meet hers. She was saddened to see that Carol looked like a wounded animal. It was like watching a lioness struck down and Therese had to look away instantly. "Shall we leave soon?" She suggested allowing her hand to rest ontop of Carol's, stroking the lines of her fingers.
Carol felt the contact like the unearthing of a live wire. She was overcome, overwhelmed by the hope in Therese's suggestion. She could not even consider the idea of playing cool not when the idea of being wrapped up in Therese's arms presented itself. "I'd like that"
"What a horrendous queue for the ladies!" Fiona squeezed into the booth with a huff. "Honestly! Sometimes I think about using the gents" She was smiling congenially and she bumped shoulders with Therese.
"I'm going to call it a night"
"Surely not?" Fiona gasped. "But we've had such a good time"
"I'm so tired and I have an early flight tomorrow" Therese explained though she felt a sense of guilt in snubbing the beautiful woman.
Fiona moved in closer and whispered into Therese's ear. "I have a hotel room on this street. We wouldn't have to go far" Then she turned to Carol addressing her. "You wouldn't mind our having a night cap would you?"
Carol minded very much. She drained the last of her drink and met Fiona with a look of barely repressed indifference. What should she say? 'It's no skin off my nose?' It would be a bald face lie and Carol was learning that veining indifference only served to make Therese feel completely unwanted. 'Therese is her own person' More promising. Or perhaps 'I will end you if you don't keep your hands to yourself' Too far. Carol realised she was smirking under their watchful eyes. "I think she's made up her mind" She decided in compromise.
Fiona gave Carol a puzzled look. "I can't change your mind?" She asked returning her gaze to Therese. "I can be very persuasive" She added with heat in her words.
"Then let me give you my phone number..." Fiona began scrawling her number on a napkin she handed it to Therese. "...in case you change your mind. Or are ever in Chicago alone" There seemed to be an emphasis on the word alone and she threw Carol a cautionary look.
"Thank you" Therese was obliging and she took the napkin even though she had no intention of using the number.
"Some other time I hope" Fiona leaned and and pressed a kiss to Therese's cheek much to Carol's annoyance. As they walked away Carol resisted the urge to wrap her arms around Therese possessively. She was not an object to be claimed, not a prize to be won, but this was a side of Carol she was not used to feeling.
They stood outside waiting to hail a cab. Carol stuffed her hands into her coat pockets partly due the cold but partly to still her hands from reaching out to touch Therese. Not yet.
"You look beautiful tonight" Carol meant it. And her words brought a quiet Therese that much closer.
"So do you"
"Therese I..." She exhaled through her pursed mouth. "...I've missed you" There she'd said it. She had missed her. Missed the way she'd looked at her.
"I've missed you too" Therese whispered though her heart was booming in her chest. She felt like she couldn't breath. She stepped forward and brought her hands to rest on Carol's shoulders, warming her through the fabric of her coat. She slipped her hands into Carol's coat, sliding around her waist and drawing her in until their bodies touched.
Carol bit down the urge to groan. She could just about compose herself and she followed Therese's lead resting her hands on the younger woman's hips if only to steady herself. She was looking into hazel eyes, drowning in them, and she was desperate to kiss her. She had to kiss her. So she did. She kissed her tenderly even though she was fighting back a fire which threatened to consume her. It had been so long and she wanted nothing more than the taste of Therese on her lips.
"Lets go back to your room" Therese purred keeping her hands firmly planted around Carol's waist.