|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.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you for still reading and reviewing. I will reply properly when I get a chance, but appreciate the feedback and thanks.