Therese watched Bert’s retreating figure. He left the restaurant with a group of men, a pack of tall, thin, men and Therese wondered if they enjoyed each other’s company because they were practically identical. Like looking at their own mirror images.
“Don’t fret” Carol said immediately. Therese did not need to air her worries they were written in her pained expression.
“I should have spoken with confidence...” Therese admonished herself. “...I should have...”
“Nonsense” Carol interrupted with a wave of her wrist, such a casual move and yet it clattered with finality. “He’s an obsequious worm of a man. Don’t waste another thought on him”
“Do you think he knows?”
Carol shrugged and sipped a glass of crisp white wine. “Divine” She remarked, gracing Therese with a wink. Carol knew it was her trademark. It always worked and Therese was of no exception. “And what if he does? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been romantically linked with an employee”
“Could he make waves?” Therese wondered aloud.
Carol scoffed at the suggestion. “He’s desperate my darling. The last actions of a desperate man. Let’s not allow him to spoil our day. We’ve had such a wonderful day”
Therese couldn’t help but be surprised by Carol’s response. The Carol Aird of months past would have seethed, snapped, and then distanced herself from Therese. Therese had known it had little to do with wanting to please people, Carol did not care for the opinions of many, but rather hated the idea of anyone getting the upper hand. Yet here she was glowing with warmth about the day they had spent together, even in the face of Bert’s smugness.
“We have had a wonderful day” Therese said in a way that suggested she had just this moment decided.
“There’s still much of the night left” Carol reminded her with a playful tone in her honeyed voice. “Let’s take a walk back to the hotel after dinner” Carol suggested, as she resumed her scrutiny of the restaurant menu.
Therese smiled back at the beautiful blonde but try as she might she could not forget the look in Bert’s eyes. It reminded Therese that there would always be restrictions in their relationship. There were already so many. Therese resented the way she reproached herself if she took Carol’s arm in her own, the way her eyes would dart around suspiciously when Carol would lean in and smooth something from Therese’s collar. It was a dynamic complicated by Carol’s status in the company and sometimes Therese couldn’t help but think it would be better if she didn’t work alongside Carol at all, never mind for her.
The night brought with it a coolness that eased away the memory of the days enduring heat. Therese craved this part of the day when she felt the atmosphere physically ebb away, leaving with it a sense of being unburdened, unsaddled. As though there was a lessening of the weight on her shoulders. Therese had always thought too much about such things, and even as a child adults would comment on her solemness. ‘Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders’ ‘Why the sad face’ and Therese’s most hated suggestion ‘smile it might never happen’ Therese was thinking now and it meant that she was silent, walking beside Carol under the subdued lights of a moon which shyly peaked out from behind velvet sky.
Carol had noted that her younger lover was far away in her thoughts. It had taken months for Carol to admit to herself that she was desperate to know where Therese’s mental meanderings took her. Carol suspected that ,this evening, Therese was not travelling to pleasant thoughts or memories. Carol waited, paused, for the right moment to lean in, knowing that a hand curled around the delicate bones of a wrist would bring Therese back to reality with tenderness. Previously Carol would give way to her frustrations, snapping at Therese and admonishing her for her daydreaming ways.
Therese felt the softness and warmth of Carol’s hand just curving, slightly, around her wrist. There was warmth in her hold and a gentle insistence in her grip. It brought Therese’s eyes to blue, searching, melting softness. Therese felt herself sigh deeply, how she loved to look into those blue eyes, to see how the seasons changed depending on Carol’s emotions. They were full of the blossoming of spring and they promised Therese new beginnings, safety.
“You have beautiful eyes” Therese whispered. “I’ve always thought so”
“Have you?” Carol was smiling and Therese noted that crystal blue became deeper. “You’ll have to tell me all about that Miss Belivet”
It was the game they loved to play with each other. The games that lovers can play even in a busy boardroom. The knowing glances, the routines and rituals that they built and shared together. Therese marvelled at the way Carol could draw her away from the melancholy she sometimes felt and with such gentleness. Therese didn’t know why she dipped into sadness, sometimes there wasn’t even a connection to the moment or circumstances and yet she would feel the clouds rolling in. Therese felt too much. It was a gift and a curse.
Therese smiled and accepted Carol’s hands in her own, smoothing the soft skin with fingertips. “Do you ever think about the day you interviewed me?” Therese asked as they walked arm in arm towards the hotel.
“I couldn’t look at your eyes or look away from them!” Therese admitted as they slipped apart and stride into the hotel.
Carol acknowledged the bell boy with a cordial nod of her head and then they slipped through the doors of the waiting lift, a sense of relief brought on by the privacy of closing doors. “You found me intimidating?” Carol asked with a knowing look. As the doors had pinged closed she had allowed herself to wrap her arms around Therese’s middle, drawing her in close. Carol could smell the fragrance of Therese’s perfume, the distant smell of shampooed hair and the real essence of Therese.
“You were very intimidating...but I enjoyed that part of you” Therese knew that there was an omission in her words and her cheeks flushed a soft pink.
“Is that so?” Carol held Therese tightly close even as she protested that somebody might see them. “Damn them” Carol insisted, throwing caution to the wind. As the lift brought them to their floor Carol reluctantly released Therese from her hold, allowing her hands to linger, ever so slightly, on Therese’s hip.
As soon as the door was closed Carol was reaching out, hands pouring over Therese who had been standing with her back to Carol. She slipped her arms around Therese, resting her face against her neck. “What did you enjoy about finding me intimidating?” Carol asked, wanting to know what it meant. There was a hint of eroticism, the want to be dominated, to be treated harshly, and Carol was balancing between a sense of desire and fear. Carol loved hearing about the ways in which Therese desired her but she knew that she had treated Therese poorly, cruelly, at times, and she didn’t know what to do with the notion that Therese might have enjoyed this in some masochistic sense.
“I liked that you were so different. That you could be harsh, say whatever you wanted, even if it ruffled feathers”
“Because you can’t?” Carol asked.
“And because it set me on edge. It kept me on my toes and it was the hot and the cold and everything in between” Therese felt Carol’s hold tighten as though she were physically willing Therese to share her truth. It was both exciting and unnerving not to be able to see Carol but to feel her solid and real behind her, to feel her breathe against her neck.
“It sounds confusing”
“It was confusing but I wanted you so badly that I couldn’t help myself”
It sat in the room like a newly acknowledged secret. Therese would have done anything to have a taste of Carol, would have weathered all of her turbulent moods and would have endured her cold aloofness, because she wanted her, and because Carol suspected she did not know her worth.
“I wanted you” Carol’s voice was a red hot whisper in her ear and it made Therese’s skin a flush with a wave of goosebumps. “I wanted you even though I wouldn’t allow myself to admit it. But you showed me. You might think there’s strength in saying things at any cost, without caution to feelings, but you are much stronger than I am darling” Carol seized her in her arms and breathed in the smell of her soft hair. “You have always been honest, have taken risks and forgiven. I was a wounded animal clattering around trying to hurt people so they couldn’t get close”
Therese desperately wanted to see Carol’s expression and she turned, with effort, in her tight arms, coming to face a shock of bruised blue orbs. “I got close” Therese whispered, cupping Carol’s face in her hands.
“Nobody has been closer” Carol admitted. “I have not allowed myself to love for a very long time”
Therese wanted to ask her why. Why has she been so closed off? Why had the idea of comfort been such a painful consideration.
“I don’t want you to worry about the Bert’s of this world. Office gossip or water cooler nonsense. It won’t change anything. Do you understand that Therese?”
Therese couldn’t look Carol in the eye at this point and she could feel her own eyes distorted by sudden tears. Carol was telling her that nothing would change their relationship and Therese realised that this was a fear of hers that she hadn’t even been able to acknowledge.
“Look at me” Carol urged, a hand under Therese’s chin urging, guiding, her to meet her gaze. “I’m in love with you, deeply in love with you” She was insisting now, and there was a concern in her eyes, a fear that Therese would not believe her. “I’m not an easy person to be with. I accept that. There’s much to learn about each other but I want to know. I want you to tell me things”
“I want you to tell me things” Therese repeated.
“I will” Carol assured her. “I will”
Therese allowed herself to be held by Carol and to give into the relief and the security of waiting arms. More than anything she wanted to believe that nothing could change their relationship, she wanted to feel secure and safe, but it was a feeling she was not used to experiencing. Therese did not know if she could trust Carol completely. Not yet. Not to stay. Not to stay with her despite all of the baggage, the attention they would draw. But she knew that she wanted to, that she wanted to give in completely to Carol and would no matter what.