A chance meeting for Tom - Completed. by Tom
Summary: Tom Gay meets an old friend and has to deal with how she feels about them.
Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Tom Gay
School Period: Future
School Name: None
Genre: Friendship, Romance, Slash
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 11 Completed: No Word count: 13454 Read: 37689 Published: 13 Sep 2011 Updated: 03 Jun 2012

1. Chapter 1 by Tom

2. Chapter 2 by Tom

3. Chapter 3 Updated 27/0911 by Tom

4. Chapter 4 06/10/11 by Tom

5. Chapter 5 by Tom

6. Chapter 6 03/11/11 by Tom

7. Chapter 7 by Tom

8. Chapter 8 28/11/11 by Tom

9. Chapter 9 by Tom

10. Chapter 10 17/01/12 Madge by Tom

11. Chapter 11 by Tom

Chapter 1 by Tom
Tom Gay stood in the corner of the room, holding a plate of food. She wondered again why she bothered to come to these events. She knew that it meant a lot to her mother that she made the effort, but it was almost always a torture to get through the whole time without offending someone or being painfully bored.

Her Great Aunt Louise was the hostess. Tom cared for her and liked her in her own way. At least, as much she felt one ought for a relative. But she was hard work for Tom to deal with, a forceful, gregarious woman, active in many different areas, and with no real idea that others might not be the same personality type as herself.

This resulted in her throwing parties with a mix of her latest favourites and fads, along with her older friends and family. Tom almost always seemed to end up being stuck talking to people wearing lacey frilly dresses, who looked at her as if she had come from Mars.

She really wanted to go over and join a group of men, standing in the opposite corner discussing the latest efforts from a modern architect, who was also at the party. However she knew from experience that this would be frowned upon, and in fact the type of men that Great Aunt Louise usually invited would almost certainly not welcome her involvement in the conversation. So she sighed inwardly and smiled politely at whatever it was that the woman beside her was chattering on about.

As well as being family, Great Aunt Louise gave generously to the fund for Tom's Boys Clubs and youth settlement work. Although the young Tom would have scorned such behaviour, adult Tom felt that it was part of the bargain that she show herself at least a few times a year, and suffer through being in a situation that she loathed.

So once every 6 months or so, Tom would shrug herself into a dress, explain to her aunt and her friends that she was quite happy unmarried, and watch them try to understand the work she did with boys, and her enjoyment of carpentry and subjects such as architecture and mathematics.

She managed to make a hole in the conversation with the chattering ladies, and excused herself to go and get a drink. Escaping to the corridor, she leant back and closed her eyes briefly. The noise at things like this was always so much more wearing than the shouts of the boys and hammering that filled her days. Not louder, but more invasive. She could filter out the carpentry noises, they were familiar, even comforting. But concentrating on all these voices was hugely tiring. Tom wondered how long it would be before she could politely leave.

A voice interrupted her thoughts.

"Are you alright there... " came a gentle enquiry, followed by a louder exclamation as Tom turned her face to the newcomer.

"Tom Gay! I didn't expect to see you here! It's been years! How are you?"

Tom looked at the speaker and her mouth dropped open. She hadn't expected to see her old schoolfriend here either. In fact she did everything she could to avoid reunions, or other events where this woman might be present. Now here she was in front of Tom, and clearly happy to see her.

Tom was momentarily floored. She couldn't be rude, nor did she really want to, after all they were old friends, and it was only a chance meeting at a party. No reason they would see each other again. No reason that Tom would have to deal with her feelings again. Those feelings were well buried and they had to stay there.

"Hullo," she said eventually "It's my Great Aunt's party, didn't expect to see you here either. So... Er... How are you?"

As they chatted, Tom tried not to think too much, tried not to take in every detail of her new companion, save it for later analysis. But she couldn't help it. Her eyes paused as she came to a pale area of skin on the bare ring finger. That was interesting... She tried not to jump to any conclusions. After all it could just be in for repair or too tight to wear. Didn't mean anything.

Did it?
Chapter 2 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thank you for comments!
Tom's Great Aunt Louise looked around her in mild irritation. She had invited a nice young man involved in missionary work with the express purpose of introducing him to Tom, and now the blessed girl had disappeared.

Finally she saw her, but the company she was keeping made her purse her lips and head purposely over to the two young women. Well, she thought, as she weaved through the various guests, not so young women really. Tom at least was past thirty, and the woman with her must be of a similar generation from the look of her.

Great Aunt Louise had not been impressed to see Tom's companion. The woman was a member of one of Aunt Louise's commitees, but it had become apparent recently that she was a divorcee. Great Aunt Louise did not feel that she could invite all other members of the committe and omit her, but she wasn't happy about her presence there.

Tom wasn't sure whether to be irritated or relieved at her Aunt's arrival and the requirement to excuse herself, in order to go and meet yet another suitable young man.

She had been barely able to concentrate on the conversation, so distracted was she by her companion being present at all. However it had been interesting to hear about the activities of the Maynard-Russell-Bettany clan again, and they had been talking about events they both remembered involving various family members. This avoided the need for asking questions about each other's personal lives.

As Tom was led away by her Aunt, the young woman she had been talking to sighed slightly. She was too aware of people not to be aware of Great Aunt Louise's disapproval.

She was realising more and now, the stigma of divorce was one that was very hard to avoid. Many people were treating her with this type of disapproval. Even though people her own age were changing their attitudes, after all this was the "Swinging Sixties", there were still a lot of people who saw her in a negative light.

It frustrated her that people judged so quickly. They assumed an affair, or that she must have problems with "keeping her man". The fact that two people can love each other, but not be right for each other to live with day to day just never occurred to any of them. She felt like pointing out to some of these smug women holding on to their husband's arms and judging, that her way was the more honest one. It was an open secret how many of these men had mistresses in flats in London, how many of these "respectable" women were having affairs with the gardener, or their husband's friends. Those could not be happy marriages, for that to happen. Yet they considered themselves morally correct for staying married.

She sighed. The world was a topsy turvy one. It was clear that Tom would now be directed away from associating with her, by this forceful Aunt.

From memory, Tom had been quietly religious, from a church family, so it seemed likely that she would judge as well. A pity, it had been such a great suprise to see that familiar face here. She had hoped that they might get back into more regular contact, maybe get back to being good friends.

She would wait around for a short while, in case Tom was able, or wanted, to return to talk a bit more. If not, then she would leave soon, it wasn't nice to be at a party where the hostess was unable to properly hide her disapproval of your character.

She would wait and see whether Tom returned.
Chapter 3 Updated 27/0911 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thank you for comments !
Tom politely listened to the young missionary, smiled nicely at appropriate moments, and inwardly groaned at his lack of understanding of the world. He was young and naive, couldn't conceive that people in as rich a country as their own could ever stand in as much need of help as the people overseas that he was going to "Help to see the path of the Lord". Tom winced at his zeal and apparent belief that all that would be required was conversion and prayer, and lessons in how to work hard.

All worthy sentiments, but Tom had seen so many of his type now that she doubted he would stay long on this path, nor cope with any real hardship along the road. The way that he brushed a tiny crumb from his well tailored clothing and checked his reflection periodically in a nearby mirror did not bode well for a missionary's life in potentially squalid conditions.

It was also clear that he truly thought most English children were fed, educated and cared for, and only went down the wrong path if they were led astray by evil. He had no idea of how different her boys' lives were to his own sheltered little world as a member of a rich educated family.

Tom was herself deeply spiritual, believed in the principles of her faith, and willingly attended regularly. She tried to show her boys through action and example, how the church might be one way to help cope with life.

But she didn't consider the reformed troublemakers any less a success if they perhaps shied away from attending a church service on their one day off a week. Especially since, it was sad to say, that the principles of forgiveness were not always followed by those who ran the church communities. The boys were not stupid, and a few visits coping with the social disapproval of nominally "good" people made them distrust the institution in a way that saddened Tom.

Unfortunately the close knit communities in which she worked knew everyone else's history, and that of their parents and grandparents before them. Tom had seen good hearted, hard working boys of 'bad stock' get pushed down again and again by people who would never trust them.

So the missionary's insistence that only regular attendance was the way to truth irritated her, as did his disapproval that she did not make every boy attend church in order to join her groups. It wasn't in her mind a reason to exclude someone in need. If those boys were acting in a positive way, keeping out of trouble, and treating others in the way they wished to be treated, Tom counted them a success, wished them well and was proud of them.

Tom had in the past tried to make people like the missionary more aware of how their all or nothing approach was not always going to succeed. Failing that she used to try to make them understand that as well as the more fashionable overseas needy, there were children at home who had nothing, or had no hope of a positive future, so went to bad behavior through seeing no other option.

However she had learnt through experience to simply smile and nod. So she did. Smiled and nodded, nodded and smiled.

---------

On the other side of the room, her friend waited, trying not to watch Tom too obviously. She could see that the years had not really changed Tom much. She was tall, boyish and still fit and strong in the way that only regular physical exercise provided.

Her strong work hardened hands were one of the few things that told of her age. The skin was calloused and worn as might be expected with her occupation. Her Great Aunt had tried to make her wear glove to the party, but they irritated Tom and had been left on a windowsill early on.

While waiting to see if Tom could return, her schoolfriend found herself unable to stop watching those hands. They made such a stark contrast to the delicate stem of the wine glass that she unconscious twisted back and forth. Had her friend known it, the twisting was to contain her irritation at the limitations of the young man's conversation.

Tom finally managed to make a break from the young man, and made her way to the ladies washroom to give herself a minute to think. She wanted to go back to her friend on the one hand, but dreaded doing so on the other. It had been so hard to forget her, to move on from that place where every decision was made with mental reference to what the other girl was doing, or might do.

Would talking more stir up those feelings again? Would she be able to hide the way she felt if they did restart their friendship?

Tom stared in the mirror for the longest time, not seeing her reflection at all. If she was honest those feelings were already well and truly awake. She resolved to go and find her, continue the conversation, maybe, just maybe get up courage to ask about that pale area where there had once been a wedding ring.

Although that in itself might be too hard. It brought back memories of having to watch her go down the aisle, of seeing her look adoringly at her husband to be. Of being trapped as the wedding went on in the polite conversations about how good a couple the young pair made, having to smile away references to when it might be her own turn.

Tom left the bathroom and went back to where she had left her friend. She could at least find out where she lived, what she was doing. If the conversation became too dangerous for Tom, if she couldn't hide her feelings then she could make an excuse and leave. If she didn't talk to her, she might never know if at least a renewal of friendship was possible.

But she had waited too long after leaving the missionary. Her friend had gone, sure that Tom would have returned by now if she had wanted to, and acutely aware that she was not hugely welcome, was in fact being politely encouraged to leave by the hostess.

So she decided that Tom must have heard of the divorce and disapprove, or perhaps just wasn't interested in talking to her any more than she already had.

She found her coat and left, looking around her as she did, hoping to at least say goodbye, but Tom was nowhere to be seen.

------------------------

Tom searched the crowd, hoping perhaps she had just moved. But eventually she had to admit defeat. She had obviously misjudged the situation, assumed her friend would want to talk to her more. A pity, but perhaps that was how it was meant to be, a brief visit and reunion, then going separate ways again. It had only been a chance meeting after all.
Chapter 4 06/10/11 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thank you all for your reviews, it is much appreciated that you let me know you are reading and hopefully enjoying ! . I'm not 100% happy with this update, but at least the person won't be a secret anymore, so hopefully you will all forgive me !
The sound of hammering and sawing filled the air and was washed around the room by mingled young voices. To the woman entering the hall, it was an initial assault on her senses, and she had to stop and wait while her brain caught up with all the information. It seemed such a mass of people.

Within a few moments however, she could see that the apparent chaos was only that - apparent. Each workbench was kept neat and clear apart from the current project being worked on. The seeming mass of boys was actually ordered in groups working on similar projects, and slightly older boys were monitoring the noise and behaviour, even as they worked on their crafting.

She stood for a short time just observing, marveling at how well the group seemed to be getting on with each other. She was initially disappointed, unable to see Tom, wondering whether she had the right place and time. Finally she relaxed, as she saw the familiar figure over in a far corner, bent over a bench. She was totally focused on her task, patiently showing a small group how to make neat joints without nails.

Bride Bettany was taken back many years, to hobbies nights at school, watching Tom so competently fit two pieces of wood together that it seemed as if there were no join.

She had her own skill with a fretsaw, so knew the way that wood could be both easy and hard to work with, had perhaps understood better than most of the girls had, how exceptional Tom's abilities were.

Bride waited a moment, just enjoying watching the familiar figure, so absorbed in her work. The smell of sawdust was one that always felt like a comfort to Bride, a reminder of her Aunty Jo, and of a time when making the best good for the sale was their only real concern, apart from getting as good marks as they could.

She and Tom had always had a friendly rivalry for marks, just as they did in cricket and swimming. They were leaders within their group, and could well have been true rivals, but both just knew each other was a solid friend. They hadn't needed to express it, they were just there for each other and the school.

The other thing Bride had known, was that Tom could always be relied upon to tell the truth. She had strong values and wasn't afraid to speak out if she saw an injustice. To use her own terms, Tom was a gentleman.

Bride wanted all of a sudden to turn and leave. What was she even doing here? She was sure that Tom would have found her again at that party if she had really wanted to talk.

She ought to just turn and go. She didn't even really understand why she had come. They had lost contact for so many years, if Tom had wanted contact she would have come back to talk to Bride, not left her alone at the side of an unwelcoming group of guests.

After all, they hadn't been close friends recently at all. Tom had become cool towards Bride quite soon after school, around the time that Bride had met her husband to be, in fact.

Bride had tried to keep in contact then, but had been so driven along by the madness surrounding engagement and marriage, that it hadn't been until much later that she realised how far apart she and Tom had become.

Tom wasn't one to pretend an emotion that she didn't feel. On the few occasions that they had met before the wedding, Tom had been scathing about Bride's fiancé, almost rude. Then after the wedding she just disappeared, didn't answer letters, didn't attend school events.

Bride had not been able to understand why her friend had deserted her, and had gone through anger, sadness and finally resignation. She told herself now that she was an idiot, she was just setting herself up for being hurt. Tom had made it clear that she no longer valued Bride's friendship. She ought to just let Tom be a part of her history, nothing more.

But for all the logical reasons not to be there, the one fact still remained. She missed Tom. She missed the matter of factness, the strength of character, the wit and banter. Being here, seeing Tom in her element also reminded Bride of that charisma, and the natural leadership Tom showed from the moment she entered the Chalet School.

One of the older boys detached himself from the group he was leading, and came over to her, tidying himself as he went.

"Can I help miss? " he asked. "Are you lost?"

Bride thanked him for his offer, but said that she was merely waiting to see Miss Gay. He nodded and offered her a chair, then went off towards the corner where Tom was working.

Bride waited nervously, then felt a wave of relief as Tom looked up at the boy's voice, then sharply over at her, followed by an unconscious grin of welcome.

If Bride could have known, that reaction surprised Tom as much as it had herself. The grin came from instinct, before Tom remembered the years in between, the wall she had put around her feelings for this girl.

Just like Bride, her mind was taken back to Hobbies club and building dolls houses and jigsaws, playing cricket and swimming races. A simpler time and simple friendship, no messy emotions to get in the way.

She began to walk over towards her friend, trying not to let all of the questions in her mind flood in too quickly, to lose control of her emotions and react inappropriately.

The same thoughts kept coming back to her, even as she navigated through the close packed benches and boys. Why was Bride here? Was it a desire to help with raising funds, or to help financially support the project? That was usually the only reason for visitors. Or, the secret hope - was she here to see Tom and Tom alone?

She reached the door and smiled unusually shyly at Bride, before greeting her and asking why she was there, trying not to sound as abrupt as she felt.

Bride herself was not quite sure herself why she was there, so paused before answering.

"I wondered if you wanted any help? Here, I mean" came the answer, surprising both of them.

Bride had had no plans for doing anything like this, but the friendly feel of the room just meant she didn't want to leave , to just suggest a brief meeting for coffee and cakes.

Tom didn't really know what to say. She ought to say no, this was already becoming a far too complicated situation for her. She ought to say no. She didn't need extra stress. She would say no. Yes. She would say no.

As she opened her mouth to say so, she was amazed to hear the words that came out.

"Yes please, help is always good. What do you want to do?"

Bride couldn't help smiling at her abruptness, another reminder of no nonsense teenage Tom. She was gratified to receive a reluctant grin in return. Tom was all confused, but it was quite a nice confusion. She began to show Bride around the group, looking anywhere but at her friend, afraid her confusion would show.
Chapter 5 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thank you for comments ! Much appreciated.
Bride sat on the window seat at the Quadrant and hummed happily to herself as she wrote her letter. Her sister Peggy was visiting for a short holiday just as Bride was, and she looked at her with a half smile on her face.

"You look rather pleased with yourself!" she said to her younger sister. "What are you scribbling away at there, your life history?"

Bride looked up with a slight start. Then she smiled and replied.

"Oh it's only a letter to Tom Gay. I have been helping her with her boys club, it has been great fun. I was just describing some of our recent exploits here to her."

Peggy smiled, but if Bride had looked back up then, she would have seen that her sister looked slightly concerned. By the time Bride surfaced from her letter writing, Peggy had no sign of her thoughts visible, and merely suggested that they go in search of the rest of the family.

*

Back at the boys club, Tom was sitting to one side, trying not to get Bride's previous letter out of her pocket for the tenth time. Some of the boys were very sharp, and had already started to notice that she was slightly different when Bride was around.

The younger ones were just irritated not to have Miss Gay's full attention, but some of the the older one were perfectly capable of putting two and two together.

If Tom had but known it, her eldest boys were quite aware of her difference from a lot of women, and actually accepted her having occasional women "friends" as being part of how much like one of them she was. They hadn't had the time to pick up adult prejudices yet, and were quite approving of Bride, who mucked in with them all quite naturally.

Some of the boys who had joined more recently might be inclined to call her names behind her back, but those who had been helped by her for years were loyal and protective.

The newer boys soon learnt the hard way that Miss Gay was not to be treated without respect, being given the lesson most firmly by her self appointed bodyguards if they persisted.

"Got it bad this time" muttered one of the boys to his neighbour, as he planed a bit of wood smooth.

"Mmm." replied the other, timing his speech between hits of a carving chisel. "At least she's a decent sort. That wimpy writer woman was just a pain. Always fussing."

His companion nodded and that was all the notice they took of the situation, had Tom only have known. But she was oblivious, assuming it to be her secret and her secret only.

She set herself to making some small jointed boxes, as ever her mind being happier when her hands were occupied with a task. It was such familiar work to her she barely registered what she was doing, which gave plenty of time for day dreaming.

She hadn't really had any indication from Bride that she wanted anything other than friendship from Tom. But being around her friend was so comfortable, that Tom was prepared to have just that little bit of Bride if that was all that was possible.

She could day dream though, and did so, mentally running through the descriptions of the holiday at the Quadrant, and imagining herself there with Bride, an accepted part of the family.

*

Bride and Peggy sat out in the garden, watching Peggy's children playing together. Bride was sitting back with her eyes closed and face to the sun. Peggy looked over at her younger sister and looked thoughtful.

"Bride," she began. "How much do you know about Tom, her life, I mean?"

Bride opened her eyes in surprise and looked at Peggy. "What made you ask that?" she said.

Peggy considered her words carefully.

"Well, you have been writing to her and she to you pretty much daily while you have been here. I just wondered if you realised that ... That she ... Maybe is seeing more, thinking more of it than you are..."

Bride looked at Peggy, wondering where she was going with this conversation. Peggy wasn't someone to judge, two of her closest friends were interested in women. So why mention Tom's personal situation like this?

Bride didn't know if Tom was that way inclined, the subject hadn't come up. It didn't bother Bride, was Peggy saying that it ought to do so? She said as much, frowning at the difference in Peggy's attitudes from those she would have expected.

Peggy felt trapped, almost wished she hadn't asked. How could she say to Bride that she was acting like a young girl in love, when talking about a subject as secret and sensitive as this?

Bride was more animated talking about Tom than she had ever been about her ex husband. She kept referring almost every conversation back to the boys club and then to Tom.

Peggy had also wondered in the past about Tom and Bride. When Bride married she had been upset at Tom's attitude, and couldn't understand it after how close they had been before.

Peggy had mentioned it to her great friend Dickie Christie. Dickie had said at the time that she wouldn't be surprised if Tom at least had feelings for Bride. If you knew what to look for it was obvious apparently.

Dickie had gone on to say that she had in fact wondered if Bride might be better suited to women than men too, which had shocked Peggy to begin with, after all Brode was her little sister.

However, once Peggy had got over the initial shock of thinking of her sister as being interested romantically in anyone, it did make some sense to those that knew her well. Peggy had not noticed after that any sign of feelings for Tom. But she had noticed a very intense friendship with Elfie, on Bride's side particularly. Ever since, she had slightly wondered about her sister.

Peggy decided she was going to have to back away a bit in this conversation. She had started it with the idea of giving Bride a chance to tell her if she was interested in Tom. But Bride herself clearly wasn't taking that opportunity.

Peggy wondered suddenly whether Bride even realised herself that she might be taking more from this friendship than just reunion with an old friend.

Perhaps Bride considered herself interested in men? Peggy wished now that she had waited until her sister had come to her about this situation. This was awkward and embarrassing. Giles had warned her before about butting in like this, it always ended badly in his opinion.

But now she was in this mess, she may as well keep going.

"Bride, you know back at school, when there was that shipwreck near the island? Dickie was really upset?" she began. Bride nodded.

"Well, it was partly that, but just before that happened we, well we had had a ... a misunderstanding." Peggy continued slowly.

Bride was all ears at this, and nodded encouragement to go on.

"She thought from how close we had become that I understood, that I felt the same way. That I ... well that I loved her. And I did, I do love her. Just not... not in the way that she felt towards me. It nearly broke our friendship apart. She felt so embarrassed by the whole thing. Mortified really, that she had misread things."

Bride was beginning to understand where this was going, and why Peggy was worried. But after all, that was two school girls. She had been married, Tom knew that. They were just friends... weren't they?

Peggy continued. "You see, I was like you are, writing letters all the time, spending lots of time together. It was fun, but to Dickie it meant more. She was taking every word I wrote and analyzing it, trying to work out if anything had meaning more than the words on the page. I don't know if you realise ... Well Tom might be doing that. You might be sending a confusing signal with your letters "

Bride was all confused. She didn't know quite what to think or what to say to this whole concept. Peggy saw this, and changed the subject, using the children as an excuse.

They went in, and began searching out other family members, to see whether they wanted to go for a picnic. The conversation was shelved, but Bride was thinking furiously about everything Peggy had said.

Peggy wisely decided that she had said enough, possibly even a little too much. She made up her mind to wait for Bride to bring up the topic again. Perhaps Bride wasn't interested in women, despite her sister's suspicions. It wasn't worth the risk of embarrassing Bride still further to find out. Peggy decided to follow Giles's advice and leave well alone.
Chapter 6 03/11/11 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thanks again for comments :-)
Tom stood indecisively in front of the shop. She had seen the necklace in the window a few days before. It was just the right sort of thing to suit Bride - attractive but not too fussy.

It wasn't Bride's birthday for months, nor was it close to Christmas. It was far too expensive a gift to just give to a friend. Or maybe it wasn't. Tom didn't know. But it was far more than she normally spent on non practical items for anybody, including herself.

She certainly hadn't given Rosalie gifts like this, even when they were together. Rosalie had wanted to buy Tom things, and didn't really understand that Tom didn't want them, that Tom found getting Christmas and Birthday presents for people hard enough. She had tended to hint at things like flowers and jewellry being nice presents to get. But Tom had not seen the point before.

That didn't mean much really. Getting together with Rosalie had been a mistake, although an enjoyable one. That whole situation very one sided, Tom realised now. It wasn't a real partnership but it had been nice to have Rosalie around, better than nobody.

Rosalie's adoration had irritated the young teenage Tom, so Rosalie had learnt to hide it. They had drifted apart later at school. It had been a strange feeling for Tom to remember that dressing up competition where they went as a pair. It ought perhaps not to have been a surprise when as a young adult Rosalie had come back into Tom's life.

Tom had had to admit it was quite nice to have someone so clearly keen on her being around. Finding out that Rosalie really was interested in women, had already had girlfriends, had also been a real relief. Tom had't been at all sure whether it was just herself that felt this way.

Tom was deep in thought as she stood there staring at the jeweller's window. What made this different? She thought about how aware she felt of Bride's presence whenever they were together, how Bride's voice could make her feel safe and warm, even saying the most mundane things. How being in the same room could on occasion make Tom feel almost dizzy, and totally distracted.

That just hadn't been the case with Rosalie. When Rosalie had found a job far away Tom hadn't really felt a huge amount at all, had wished her well and gone back to her own life without much thought. They wrote, but less and less each year.

No, she wouldn't even have considered buying something like this for Rosalie. Nor even for her mother, or other female relative. They were all used to highly practical and useful presents from Tom, often made herself.

So if she bought this necklace, she couldn't fool herself that it was just friendship with Bride. The idea of giving this to her made Tom feel too tumbled inside, both anticipation and nerves mixing together.

Tom looked in the window at the necklace. She didn't have any justification for buying it. If she was honest, she couldn't afford it. She couldn't honestly continue to pretend that she was just thinking of Bride as a friend if she bought the necklace.

She put her hand in her pocket, Bride's latest letter a familiar feeling against her fingers. She didn't know what to think.

Bride wrote to her often and seemed to enjoy the letters as much as Tom did, and seemed always glad to see her. She didn't shy away from them spending time together. But were they spending time together as a possible couple, or as friends? Tom wasn't sure.

She looked in at the window one more time and gave a huge sigh. She couldn't justify it, she wouldn't wear it herself if it turned out that Bride wasn't thinking of things the same way that Tom was. She walked off, hands deep in pockets, trying not to think about the idea that someone might buy it, that some other woman would wear it, not Bride.

She made it to the end of the road before she turned back. That was meant for Bride, that necklace. She could always keep it till Christmas, or her birthday.

Bride probably wouldn't know how much it cost after all, nor all the feeling behind it. But even if Tom couldn't have Bride, the necklace would be there, Bride would have it, would enjoy it.

It wasn't ideal, it certainly wasn't sensible, but Tom couldn't risk going past the shop tomorrow and the necklace not being there.

She looked in the window one more time and then went in.

*

Bride sat beside Tom in the warm sunshine, chattering about the view of the sea, the birds, all sorts of things. Tom smiled and fitted in comments now and then.

They were close together, leaning in to talk over the sound of the waves. Tom had gone silent for a while, seeming thoughtful, while Bride filled the space with chatter.

Bride stopped talking, and realised how close her face was to her friend, was suddenly hugely aware of Tom, unsure if she wanted her to move away or come nearer. No, she did know. She wanted her nearer.

Tom looked at Bride, and moved her head slowly towards her.

"Bride !!!" came a deep voice. She jumped in surprise, expecting Tom to do the same then everything became jumbled in her vision.

"Bride ! Wake up ! It's time for dinner" repeated the voice.

Bride came to suddenly, and realised that she was in the garden at the Quadrant, in a deckchair in the sun. In front of her, her brother Rix was grinning at her confusion.

"You look most guilty, Miss Bride, what have you been up to?"

She managed a laugh and friendly denial of any wrong doing, but her mind was completely in a whirl. Even as she followed him into the house she was slightly expecting Tom to be there. But she wasn't, and hadn't been. It obviously had been a dream. A very nice dream. But did it mean anything? Bride didn't know.
Chapter 7 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thank you for comments and reviews !
Bride hesitated outside the boys club, then set her features in what she hoped was a neutral expression, and pushed open the door.

Inside was the usual dusty organised chaos. Boys were scrapping amicably for space and tools, and Tom was overseeing with an invisible authority, seeming to know where something was hugh spirits and where other situations needed defusing.

Tom wasn't expecting Bride, so looked up in mild irritation at the sight of a visitor, then her face broke into a beautiful smile at recognising her friend. Bride was stopped in her tracks at how that unconscious show of feeling made her own mind and body react.

The last bit of doubt left her. She wasn't seeing Tom merely as an old school friend. There was more reaction in her body to that simple smile from Tom than she had ever felt before.

Tom escaped from her usual gaggle of questioning boys, and made her way across to Bride.

"You're back!" she said in pleasure, then could have kicked herself for stating the obvious.

Bride smiled, shy all of a sudden, and wondering furiously whether Tom felt the same way, and if so, how on earth did they tell each other. She grasped for something to say, then listened to herself as if hearing a stranger, inviting Tom to a meal at her rooms.

Tom was thrilled to see her, all resolutions to try to keep to friendship only went straight out of the window. She accepted the offer of a meal with enthusiasm, and Bride smiled and left.

Tom was coasting on the excitement of Bride's surprise return and invitation, when it occurred to her that she didn't really know that it was just the two of them, perhaps Bride was throwing a returning home party. She couldn't get too hopeful, she needed to assume the worst and be prepared for others to be there. Even so, she took far more care than she normally did over her appearance and clothes that night.

Bride spent the afternoon panic clearing her rooms, and trying to work out what on earth she could cook for the two of them only a two ring surface stove. Somehow it seemed that all of the things she usually made were impossible. She eventually calmed herself down, telling herself sternly to simply make a normal meal and double the quantities.

"Why on earth didn't I suggest a restaurant?" she asked herself, as the pan boiled over for the third time.

As Tom watched Bride she saw her with the eyes of the smitten, barely registering the cooking issues, just thinking how beautiful she looked when she concentrated like this on something.

They chatted constantly, finding almost to their suprise that they actually did have more than school in common. They joked about various incidents with the boys club, and reminded themselves of their deep love of reading, argued amicably over who was best at Cricket.

As the evening wore on, Bride racked her brains for how to say what was on her mind. All the sentences she thought through failed miserably in her mind. They had covered their hopes and dreams for the future, discussed religion, skated over Bride's marriage and divorce, and were now well down their second bottle of wine. Still she scrabbled mentally for how to start.

Finally she braved the beginnings of the conversation, suddenly asking Tom outright if she had always known that she was attracted to women, in the middle of a discussion about the best way to bake a victoria sponge.

Shocked by the abrupt subject change, Tom sat frozen and unable to meet her eye. All of a sudden Bride panicked. All along, she had assumed that Tom was aware of how she came across, that the rumours about her were true. But what if they weren't? Bride felt an utter fool and, mortified, she tried to back away from the conversation almost as soon as it

"Oh! I shouldn't, you are not... are you, I just thought, I assumed..." she gabbled, leaping up and beginning to clear plates.

Tom felt as though her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. She had spent so long wondering how, and even if, she should bring the subject up with Bride. She had never expected Bride to start the conversation herself.

"I... Uh... I am..." she stammered, then watched bemusedly as Bride continued to randomly shove plates around, muttering red faced apologies for presuming all the while. Tom realised finally that Bride hadn't heard, was just filling in the conversation with what she expected to hear, not aware that Tom had admitted the biggest secret of her life.

"BRIDE!" she almost shouted, eventually "Will you listen, you goop?! I am... that way, I'm not offended, you just caught me off guard. What did you want to ask?"

Bride finally processed the words. "You are?" she said stupidly, looking at Tom almost as if she wanted to follow with 'Are you sure?'

Tom nodded. She desperately wanted to send back the question "Are you?" but it seemed such a big leap. After all Bride had been married. She was probably just curious.

She repeated the question asking what Bride wanted to know. Bride had a mad moment where she wanted to ask "But what do you, you know, in bed ... What do
you DO?" but it was too soon to ask questions like that. She wanted to be able to casually say "Oh, yes, well I think I am too." but again, it just felt wrong. The question that came out instead was not quite what either of them expected.

"So, do you, are there others, we know, from school? Like ... you, I mean?" Bride stammered, even as she wondered what possible relevance it had.

Tom deflated a bit. Bride just seemed to be curious, looking for gossip. She replied that she couldn't really say, people's private lives were their own. Bride took this as a snub, but dimly understood the reason. They sat in silence for a while. Tom was about to say that she had better be going, when the question "What about you? Do you ... Know of anyone from our year at school who was, is ... Like me?" popped out, surprising Tom almost as much as Bride.

After a pause that felt like hours, Bride heard herself as if from a long way away.

"Only... I think me ... I think I ... could be..." she heard the voice say, followed by a deep silence between the two of them. Bride studied the carpet pattern, reluctant to look up, to meet Tom's eyes.
Chapter 8 28/11/11 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thank you for still reading and reviewing. I will reply properly when I get a chance, but appreciate the feedback and thanks.
Tom almost didn't quite process the words to begin with. She had so steeled herself to Bride not being available or interested, that she took some time to really realise what her friend had said.

Bride was alternately thrilled and petrified. She was only just understanding this about herself, at nearly 30. Telling Tom, safe though she knew the information would be, represented a big step in saying out loud, in admitting the fact of her feelings to herself.

She finally looked up from the carpet, to see that Tom was smiling at her, although with a slightly shocked expression attached to the smile.

They sat in silence for a bit, neither quite sure what to say, how to move on from this point. Tom was initially focusing on her own embarrassment, then realised how nervous Bride must be, and finally stuttered through a question about how long Bride had known, or guessed that she felt this way.

Bride was unsure what to say. She didn't quite feel she could say "Since seeing you this afternoon" which was the final point of admitting to herself, but she wasn't really sure what else would be accurate.

"It's been on my mind for a while" she settled for saying. "When did you, er, know?"

Tom was more used to the question, and had a stock reply.

"It's hard to say exactly" she said. "I think a little part of me just bypassed even considering being interested in men. I didn't really consider the idea of girls as... Well, anything other than friends, until I, well I had a bit of a crush in school..."

Too late, Tom realised, that she had forgotten WHO the crush was on. Bride was sitting there in front of her, about to ask who it was, and Tom didn't want to lie. She quickly threw a question back.

"So, how about you, did you have any crushes in school?" she asked. A tiny part of her wanted Bride to say "You! it's always been you!" like the heroine of one of the slushy romance novels Rosalie used to like, but Tom knew that real life was rarely like that.

Bride had been looking back on things that she had only seen as friendships before, and she blushed and admitted to an unconscious crush on Elfie. Tom nodded. She had spent so much of her sixth form life trying not to be hugely jealous of Elfie and Bride's intense friendship. It had been all the more complicated for Tom, as she herself had a deep platonic friendship with Elfie.

Although she had never put it into words, Tom could have coped with Bride and Elfie as a couple, due to loving them both in different ways. But Bride had clearly not realised about herself back then, and Elfie was straight as far as Tom knew.

Tom brought herself back to the present day with a jolt, realising she had been miles away. Bride was asking in an excruciatingly roundabout way about Tom's "experience", whether she just knew about the attraction, or whether she had ever "acted on them, you know, feelings..." as Bride put it.

Tom didn't know quite what to say, she was both excited to be finally able to talk openly, and wanting to curl up at the edges at talking about these things. There was also that risk that Bride was one of the women who liked the idea of a relationship with a woman, but just hadn't really thought through that there would be a physical side.

Tom was quite concerned that Bride might be confused, thinking that she was gay from deep feeling within a crush or close friendship, and the excitement of something being slightly forbidden.

Tom didn't want to upset Bride with too much information if this was the case, she valued having Bride around too much. So Tom was tempted to imply no physical experience just in case, and find out Bride's attitude first. But she just wasn't someone who could be anything other than honest about something, even white lies were difficult. So she simply said "Yes, I have... I mean ... it isn't just crushes or close platonic friendships with me, it is ... Er... Well physical, too. How about you?"

Bride shook her head. Then amended. "Well I have experience in ... Well, you know. After all I was married quite a few years! But ... Well, not with a woman, I'm a little hazy how..."

Tom was most definitely not yet ready to have that discussion with Bride. She was also acutely conscious of how much closer they had moved while talking. Tom just didn't know what to think. Was Bride interested in her, or just needing a mentor or advice as to whether she was really gay?

Oh, why did things never happen like they did in films, where both sides seemed to just know when the right moment was there?

Had Tom actually asked Bride then, she herself didn't know what she wanted. The memory of that dream kiss from Tom was sticking very firmly to her imagination at present, and she was very aware of Tom's body being close, and her familiar smell of woodshavings, resins, and an almost sweet perfume, that Bride had finally realised was due to all the wood polish Tom worked with in her projects.

Bride's training kept telling her it was rude to be nosy, to ask these things, but she couldn't help herself.

"Have you... Been with, or are you ... with, anyone, I know?" She asked. She had been to Tom's lodgings before, and slightly wondered at some of the more feminine items around.

Tom saw no reason to hide her past, and she trusted Bride not to pass on gossip to the wrong people.

"The only person that you would know was Rosalie." Tom said. "We were an item for a while..."

Bride had a mad moment where she automatically thought of her aunt Rosalie, school secretary Miss Dene, before she remembered the Rosalie in their year at school. What was her surname again? Way? Browne? No, it was Way, must have been, as it was Rosalie Way that had that crush on Tom when they were all younger. She couldn't help a giggle at the idea of Tom and her Aunt Rosalie, and then had to explain her thoughts to the confused looking Tom.

This at least had the effect of breaking the ice, as it made Tom give a shout of laughter. They had a few giggly moments then, considering being an item with that Rosalie.

Tom said she could actually see Miss Dene being attractive in a slightly scary way, and Bride couldn't even begin to think about her that way, after all she was like an aunt, had been around the family since Bride had been a toddler.

"Miss Wilmot now, thats a different thing..." she said suddenly, feeling greatly daring. She and Tom had been at St Mildreds when Nancy Wilmot joined the school, so she wasn't their teacher as such.

But as Bride had been analyzing her feelings for Tom earlier that day, she had remembered being absolutely smitten with the maths mistress, though very glad not to be taught by her. She had told herself at the time that her fascination with Miss Wilmot was just from remembering her being around in Tyrol days. But now she understood a little more about herself she recognised it for what it was, a full blown crush.

"Nancy?!" said Tom "Seriously? No way! Ugh!"

"She's not THAT bad, what do you mean Ugh!?" replied Bride, unconsciously bristling at any suggestion of negativity towards her ex-crush.

Tom laughed. "Sorry! I should explain. I don't really remember her much from school, but we've met a few times at ... social events. She's a mate now, I can't even imagine it! Also Kathie would have something to say about that!"

Bride noted that pause, and wondered quite what 'social events' meant, then was distracted from asking by the mention of Kathie.

"So it's true then?" she asked excitedly, enjoying the confirmation of old gossip. "Miss Wilmot and Miss Ferrars?"

Tom nodded. "Yep. And Bill and The Abbess..."

Bride's jaw dropped, and she exclaimed "Aunty Hilda and Aunty Nell!" so loudly that Tom physically jumped back.

"Oi!" Tom grumbled, rubbing her ear."Watch out! What are you trying to do to me?"

Bride grinned, although a tiny part of her regretted the involuntary shout, as the gap where Tom had been leaning close to her before the noise was now empty, and the air near Bride cold, where once it had been warm about Tom's body.

"That's a big secret though, Bride" Tom felt the need to say. "I forgot those two were like family to you, otherwise I wouldn't have said anything. I don't know who knows, it might be that your family think they are just friends."

Bride was looking thoughtful. "I'm not a gossip, Tom, don't worry. But..."

She paused infuriatingly on the word for a while, clearly musing on something.

"But what?" Tom had to ask finally. She was quite worried about having unintentionally outed the Heads. She trusted Bride, but it wasn't like Tom to pass on things like that. She had always disliked the way some girls speculated about other people, now she was embarrassed to feel perhaps Bride thought her a gossip.

"Oh sorry!" Bride said, seeming to bring herself back, "I was miles away. I wonder ... I think maybe my parents and Aunty Madge at least DO know about Hilda and Nell. I was just thinking about when they used to stay... when I was a child I mean. They were always sharing a bedroom, even a bed. I just didn't think anything of it..."

Tom laughed, relieved that it seemed unlikely that her slip of the tongue would cause Nell and Hilda problems. She asked curiously how Bride even knew about the sharing a bed, then went into fits of laughter when Bride admitted that when she was about 5, she and Peggy had gone in on Christmas morning and jumped into the bed with the pair to wake them up. Bride went red even thinking about it.

"No wonder Aunt Madge was so angry with us!!" Bride said, starting to laugh herself. "If I even thought about it at all, I assumed that it was the same way that we cousins all shared when the house was full. But now I'm an adult and know how many rooms there are that could have been used ... Well I'm just amazed that I didn't think of it before !"

Tom chuckled along with her, each of them stopping, only to be set off again by the other still giggling away. Finally the laughter subsided, and they smiled at each other. They both felt slightly shy and unsure how to continue. They had always been good friends, able to be casually rude to each other right from the start, competing and working together in sports, finally developing to a solid undemonstrative friendship later on.

"So... I should go." said Tom. Bride wanted to ask her to stay, but midnight had passed long before, and they both had things to do the next day. So she helped Tom collect her things together, and they stood awkwardly by the door, neither quite wanting the evening to end.

"So...I wondered." said Tom. "Would you ... I ... I could maybe make some food tomorrow night... If you wanted. I ... There's no pressure Bride, if you don't but...I like our friendship but... Oh sod it!"

She grabbed into her pocket and shoved a little parcel at Bride, leant as she did and gave her a peck on the cheek, then opened the door and almost ran from the house, cheeks flaming red.

Bride stood in the doorway watching after her, the pleasant shock of that little kiss on the cheek making her quite unable to think. She went back in and found herself sitting on the sofa in a daze, looking at a surprisingly neat and pretty little parcel, given that it had been wrapped by Tom.

She opened it, and looked at the contents, tears running down her cheeks. It was beautiful, and so perfectly suited her. She had her answer, that Tom obviously felt the same way about wanting to take things further. She put it on and touched her fingers to it, before putting the wrappings carefully in a drawer and standing in indecision. She almost wanted to run after Tom, let her know how much the gift meant to her. But she would be halfway home by now.

She went downstairs to the shared phone and rang through to Tom's lodgings, having completely forgotten that it was the middle of the night.

"Hello?" she said in a rush. "Could you put a note under Miss Gay's door please?..."

She gave the message then put the phone down. It wasn't until she got back up to her rooms that she realised the time, and nearly ran back downstairs to ring again and apologize, before realising that this would hardly make the situation better.

Tom reached her lodgings a while later, having taken her time, wandering in the cold air to cool her blushing cheeks and trying to decide whether to go back to Bride's. She had finally decided against it, and strode briskly back home. She opened her door and went straight through to the kitchen, intent on making some cocoa before going to bed. It wasn't until she switched her bedroom light on that she caught sight of the little note by the door to the main part of her rooms.

'Message from a bride : Thank you, for both presents, and tomorrow night will be great" she read, then had to giggle as she realised what time Bride must have rung, and the suggestion that her landlady thought it had been an actual bride ringing. She knew Bride well enough to know that she would never consciously do something like that, and that she would now be mortified at potentially causing Tom problems.

Both presents though? She pondered, then realised what Bride meant, and went almost as red as when she had first kissed her. Tom went to bed with a smile on her face, able now to enjoy the memory of that tiny kiss on the cheek, her own cheek brushing Bride's as she pulled away. She obviously wasn't on the wrong track, and that felt... well ... wonderful. It might not work out. But it might. There was at least a chance, and that was a pretty nice thing to go to sleep thinking about.
Chapter 9 by Tom
 
The next morning, Bride woke up wondering why she was so tired. Then she remembered the previous night, and her fingers touched gently to the point on her cheek where Tom's awkward kiss had landed before she told herself firmly not to be so soppy.
 
She washed and dressed, then sat wrestling with indecision while eating breakfast. She didn't know whether to go to the boys club that morning or not.
 
She felt as though her feelings for Tom would be blatantly obvious and didn't feel that she would give the boys the attention they deserved. They weren't expecting her back until the following week anyway.
 
Bride had also had time to get a little nervous about that evening, so didn't want to give herself any opportunity to back out. She had realised from the previous night just how wary Tom was about pushing thimgs forward, so she knew that if she wanted things to ... develop, she would have to be the one that moved them along.
 
She had a fair idea where she wanted things to go with Tom, having been dreaming most vividly all night, and she was trying to work out whether that evening would be too soon.
 
She didn't know what Tom might be thinking, and didn't want to rush things. But after their circling around each other for so long, she also wanted to be clear that she was interested, even keen, for that part of their relationship to begin.
 
She was also, though she would never have admitted it, slightly nervous about quite what might be involved.  She had some idea, after all she had been married for some time before the break up; But she guessed that the specifics of their activities might be slightly different, and she wasn't quite sure what Tom might expect.

Bride at the moment didn't quite know what she was ready to do, other than that she wanted Tom close to her, and wanted to know the details of Tom's body, hidden below those ever present overalls, better. She had been dreaming about Tom more and more over the past few days, and quite shocked herself with some of her own thoughts about how they might get to know each other better. Thinking about Tom that way was initially almost embarrassing, then as she had dreamt a bit more, the idea of being close to her felt good, right, and even natural.
 
Her husband had never been hugely adventurous in that department, and, although she had enjoyed their time together she had often wondered about why other wives seemed quite keen to initiate intimacy. She didn't dislike it, but she wasn't hugely bothered when they had moved to separate beds, then separate rooms.
 
She had rarely felt more than amicable liking for her husband, she realised now. He had also been more keen on rugby matches and nights out with his friends than nights in with her. He had also had a particularly intense friendship with one of his rugby team mates, and even as Bride had analysed herself being orientated this way, that made her wonder slightly about him. But speculation about other people rarely brought any good, after all men liked their sport. She left that thought behind and concentrated on what to do with her day.
 
Eventually she decided to go for a walk, to calm her thoughts down and get some exercise. Her wander took her down to the riverbank, and she stared out at the water, calmed by the river's regular ripples. A gentle splash of oars could be heard in the distance, and she looked around to see if she could see the boat.
 
The man in the single sculls gave her a look and wink as he went by, and she smiled back. She was used to that reaction now. She had always been described as a plain girl when younger, but the character in her face had developed to something that was obviously very attractive, as she grew up that last bit after leaving school.
 
Even before the divorce, she had always had regular attention from men, and had dated a few since her marriage ended, but had never felt like the flip of the stomach that thinking of Tom gave her.
 
Well. That wasn't quite true.
 
Bride admitted to herself the fact that she had acknowledged out loud only the night before. Being near Elfie had made her body react in this uncontrollable way, once she admitted that, she remembered this feeling from her schooldays. Elfie touching her hand to get her attention. Or sitting close to share a book, look at photos, innocent enough things but with a deep thrill when done with Elfie compared to the warmth of friendship when sitting close to anyone else.
 
When she had thought that Elfie could not return to school, she almost felt like dropping out herself, going to help her friend. She knew it wasn't possible, or logical, but the idea of only seeing Elfie at holidays, of not waking up near to her every day, had been almost unbearable at the time.
 
She had wandered quite far along the riverbank, and now realised she need to turn back. She was meeting her Aunt Madge for lunch, and needed to change beforehand.
 
Bride hurried back to her lodgings. She hadn't seen her aunt for some years, and she had a little thrill of childish happiness that she was going to get some time alone with her. Having been almost mother to her for so many years, Madge held a very special place in Bride's heart. There had always been so many young Russells and Bettanys to compete for her aunt's attention, that Bride treasured moments alone with her even now.

She smiled happily to herself as she got ready, and hurried off to the station, just catching her train with seconds to spare.
Chapter 10 17/01/12 Madge by Tom
Author's Notes:
Sorry for delay. Bit of a waffly update today but need to get story moving again!
Madge Russell looked up and smiled to see Bride walking towards her. She would never have admitted it, but she had had her own special place in her heart for Bride. When Peggy and Rix had been put into her care, Madge was earnest and strict about not thinking of them as hers. But when Bride and Jacky had been left too, and for so long, she had been less strong. She allowed herself to think of Bride as hers, and had been proud of her growing up so well. Jackie was also dear to her, but she saw him less than Bride once they were old enough to be at school. 

Dealing with her own difficult eldest daughter, Madge had been grateful for Bride's sunny nature, and matter of fact approach to the world. Sybil was now a long way from the spoilt child she had nearly become, but when they were very young, Madge had held a guilty secret within her, wishing occasionally that the two were swopped, that Bride was her own officially. Madge felt awful when she wondered later whether the young Sybil's possessiveness about her parents and home had come from detecting this slight feeling in her mother.

Giving the children back to Mollie had been one of the hardest things that she had done. She knew it was right, but it still hurt, when the holidays came around and only the 4 children were back, with David becoming a teenager, and rejecting signs of affection, followed soon after by Sybil, who was withdrawn and slightly tentative for a long time after the incident with the kettle. 

Kevin and Kester had been a distraction, but Madge had never felt the nursery full enough once her nieces and nephews had gone. 

"Hello Aunt Madge!" said Bride cheerily, "This is a nice surprise!" 

They settled down for a good long catch-up session. Madge couldn't help but notice that Bride's eyes sparkled more than they had for years, that she seemed to be hugging some sort of secret to her. Not knowing what it could be, Madge took a wild guess and nearly hit the mark. There must be a new man in Bride's life, she thought, and was glad. 

The divorce had not been easy for Bride. People who had previously been friendly suddenly stopped talking to her. For all the fact that the 50s and 60s in the media was all about rebellion and free love, in much of Britain attitudes were still fixed and unchanging. 

Women suddenly seemed convinced that she must be 'after their husbands', or that her 'bad luck' would rub off. Others covered her in sympathy, as if divorce were an illness, or failing. 

Madge herself had just been sad that Bride's marriage hadn't turned out the strong partnership that her own had been. All those who loved Bride had seen she wasn't happy, and she had been far more herself again after the divorce, so Madge was glad for it. It had opened her eyes to how rigid people could be, with some almost acting as though she were a criminal to break apart the marriage vows.

 It had upset the naturally law abiding Bride, even to the point of losing some of her bounce and sunny nature. So to see this lively, chattering Bride was a joy to Madge. 

She wondered throughout whether to ask about her personal life. Bride might not feel ready yet to share, but time just the two of them was rare, and Madge was curious what had made her so much closer to the old Bride. 

Bride on her side was oscillating from thought to thought, totally unsure how her aunt might take her current situation with Tom. She really wanted to tell someone, but was also hugely afraid of the reaction.  She was just contemplating asking a few careful questions about Aunty Hilda and Nell, when Madge surprised her by asking how she was feeling nowadays, and if she had anything she wanted to tell her. 

"I...er... I" said Bride, lost as to how to start. "I've been feeling a lot better, thank you. I have been ... Volunteering. Helping Tom with her work. You remember Tom Gay?"

Madge, who was no fool, was instantly alert to the fact that Bride would bother to remind her about someone as memorable as Tom. A long ago conversation with Nell came to mind, and she wondered. 

Nell would never normally have said anything, but a long drunken ramble on the subject after a break up with Hilda had covered the Bride / Elfie situation, as well as Tom's 'mooning about', as Nell put it, over Bride. Madge had dismissed much of it as the wine talking, but thinking on it after the event, she had been intrigued to find she agreed, seeing how Tom behaved about Bride, and how Bride lit up when Elfie was near. 

She wanted to let Bride know she loved her whatever the situation, but how to do so? Madge was normally not one to gossip, but she decided it was worth trying an oblique opening for Bride to tell her. 

"So how is young Tom, then?" she began. Bride became animated, telling her about the way Tom was with the boys club, and how rewarding it was to be helping like this. Madge still wasn't sure whether Bride realised her feelings, so had to try a more direct approach. Looking at her plate, Madge queried casually whether Tom had anyone special, any... girls... she was interested in. 

Bride was struck dumb, shocked to hear this proof that her Aunt knew about Tom's lifestyle. A whirl of emotions flew around her at once. She was glad for the fact that she might have an opening to talk to Madge about these things, petrified now that the moment had come, and also taken aback to  realise that Tom was already known to be this way, that her spending time with Tom, or Bride's secret daydream of living with Tom could well lead people to guess that they were together. 

"I... She's single, at the moment" Bride stuttered, then almost felt as if she was watching herself from afar as she continued "I was perhaps... Might be ... "

Bride was stuck. It was such early days with Tom. She didn't know if it would work out. Surely she should wait to declare herself this way until she knew if she had to do so? Then her own sense of right and wrong came into play. She had a fairly good idea from how alive loving Tom made her feel, that she knew deep down that this was the lifestyle for her. Hopefully with Tom, but even if that were not to be. She trusted her aunt, and worry about the family's reaction was holding her back from fully relaxing, so she needed to get this over with, make a start. 

"I would like to... Perhaps, we, Tom and I might be going to be..." she began. Madge looked up from her food with a smile, though still slightly shocked to be right. She put her hand on Bride's. 

"Well, if she makes you this happy, I'm glad." she said. It wasn't the route she would have chosen for any of her family, but Bride was so clearly more herself than she had been for a long time that Madge couldn't help but feel Tom was good for her and so worries about other people's prejuduce could come later.
Chapter 11 by Tom
Author's Notes:
Thanks for your reviews. Nothing greatly exciting here, but I wanted to finish this off finally.
Tom moved the place mat for the fifteenth time. It was one she had made, and even in her distraction she couldn't help but run her fingers over the polished wood, check for any roughness. Which then put the placemat slightly out of position again. She didn't notice straight away, her eyes roving on to the rest of the table setting.
 
She was luckier than Bride, in having a separate kitchen to work in, and her meal was bubbling away happily, ready for Bride's arrival. Tom had always scorned girlish things, but was thankful that the Chalet School had given her a sound grounding in good plain cooking. She'd lived alone for much longer than Bride had, as well, so was more used to getting meals for herself and any guests.
 
The only problem she had was that in her nerves to have everything ready, everything perfect for Bride, she had started far too early, and now her meal looked likely to be at it best before Bride even arrived. She couldn't do anything about that however, so was anxiously checking the rooms for anything out of place.
 
Bride was herself standing outside the door, trying to work up courage to knock. She couldn't help but be unsure when she should have arrived. Tom was a matter of fact, practical person, so Bride hoped that she would have said in her message the time she wanted Bride to arrive, not an earlier one. Bride always got confused by the etiquette of arriving late, it seemed rude to her, but people seemed to think arriving early was ruder. Or even arriving bang on time seemed to be unexpected sometimes.
 
So she hesitated, willing herself to knock, but not quite sure. She also was full of butterflies at this first real 'date' with Tom. It was what she wanted, but it was also such new territory that she didn't quite know her own mind. It had been much easier with her husband. He was expected to do the main courting, to move the relationship on. She had known the rules of the situation, known what was considered appropriate.
 
Here with Tom, she didn't quite know what the expectations were. After all, they were great friends, and in their recent renewal of friendship they had been spending time together, so it wasn't as if they were just meeting for the first time.
 
Bride was a mix of wanting to go further with Tom, and desperately nervous about the whole idea. What if she didn't ... Well ... didn't enjoy; didn't know what to do; didn't want to go through with it at the end. But worst of all, what if she didn't spark the same chemistry in Tom as in herself. What if Tom wasn't in the same stage. Bride knew the other girl would never use that as a reason to reject her, but after the lack of excitement in her marriage, she couldn't help but wonder whether she was attractive in that way, whether her imaginings were what Tom would want or enjoy. She almost turned and left, nerves getting the better of her. Then she made herself raise her hand and knock.
 
Tom opened the door, and grinned, then unintentionally blurted out her mistake. "So glad you're here! The food is nearly ready, I messed up the timing, come in, do."
 
Bride couldn't help but laugh, and went in, to be shown where to sit, while Tom busied herself off into the kitchen.
 
The meal was enjoyed greatly, although they both went suddenly shy while eating, and it was taken in near silence. Somehow it wasn't an uncomfortable silence though.
 
Tom initially refused help tidying up, but Bride was having none of it, and they were soon working around each other in the small kitchen space. If Bride had only known, her worries about Tom feeling the same chemistry were completely unnecessary. Every time she passed nearby in the narrow room, every time she took a glass or plate to be dried, Tom almost couldn't bear the way it made her feel. Allowing herself to think of Bride that way again, after all these years, made her feel like a teenager with a crush again, and she couldn't quite work out what to do with herself.
 
The chores done, they returned to the main room, and sat down to talk, neither quite sure where to start, what the other wanted. It took some time, but gradually they relaxed enough to talk freely again, then greatly daring, to hold hands, sit a little nearer. Finally, Bride gulped, and leant forward, and with some awkwardness about noses and where to put their hands, they shared their first real kiss. They both surfaced, looked shyly at the other, then grinned at their friend. It had felt awkward, but very right, as if they had always been together this way. Somehow the urgency and confusion was gone, and they were both on the same page, both happy that the other wanted this too. They were meant to be together, complemented each other perfectly, mind and body.
 
-------
 
Things weren't always easy. They both knew their own minds, and they were to have plenty of arguments, but they were such good friends that they always worked it out in the end.
 
They couldn't ever be open with most people, but Bride's family almost considered Tom one of their own anyway, so it didn't matter too much that they couldn't officially state their relationship outside of the clan. After initial surprise from some, Tom was welcomed by all of them. Whatever their personal views, all of Bride's family could see that she was happier than she had ever been, and that was what mattered to them.
 
They couldn't be open in public, couldn't introduce each other as 'my partner' or openly live as a couple. They did eventually move in together, but always had to have another room officially being 'Bride's', much as Tom grumbled at the hypocrisy and expense of it. If it wasn't for their work being with children and young adults, Bride wouldn't have insisted on keeping appearances up, but they both knew that they couldn't risk drawing attention to themselves. People could guess, could wonder, but they would leave them alone as long as they were 'Two Spinsters sharing lodgings'.
 
Tom's Great Aunt Louise was one person who never quite accepted the evidence of her eyes, and Tom still had to attend parties, be polite to socially acceptable men and wear those dreaded gloves.
 
But every time she could now come home to her best friend, lover and partner, and laugh about how dreadful it had been. Tom didn't really have to go, and it annoyed her that her Great Aunt would never even consider inviting Bride, however many years Bride had been around as Tom's 'Best Friend' and however long Bride had been helping to run the club with her.
 
Yet every time she wanted to refuse, she would look at Bride, and know she had more to thank her Aunt for than just the support for the boy's club. It wasn't often after all, and as Bride said, her Aunt didn't really ask that much of her, and she could hardly be expected to understand. She was of a passing generation.The 60s were rapidly moving on to the 70s, and things were changing around them, although it would take many more years before they could be open with more than trusted friends and family. Great Aunt Louise was getting on, and there was no sense in upsetting her.
 
So Tom attended, was polite, was bored, and did her duty. Gradually her Aunt stopped trying to matchmake, and at least Tom then could hide in a corner and smile politely until it was over.
 
Each time she got through it by remembering that party so many years before. She smiled to herself at the memory of how awkward they had been, how unsure of each other.
 
She would never have expected to gain anything but boredom from one of her Aunt's parties, but forever after Tom gave thanks for the result of that chance meeting and her Aunt's unintentional matchmaking.
 
It had all worked out far better than she could ever have hoped.
 
 
The End.
 
 
 
 
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