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Author's Chapter 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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