|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.
Author's Chapter Notes:
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