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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?



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