Read What Remains Online

Authors: Sandra Miller

What Remains (9 page)

BOOK: What Remains
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Chapter Seven

 

 

 

 

Gregory Hayes waited for Tessa at the corner table of what had now become ‘their spot
’.  He created quite a handsome Bohemian picture in his white button down shirt and faded jeans, accessorized perfectly with his full head of wavy auburn hair.  This was the Gregory Hayes she remembered; a perfect blend of bad boy and poet.  On anyone else, the style would have looked out-dated, but she honestly couldn’t picture him any other way.  Standing there with a mischievous grin, he was probably the most a handsome male specimen she had ever seen. 

By the expression on his face, it appeared as if he was delighted to see her as well. Instantly she second guessed her wardrobe of jeans and a simple tan summer cardigan she had bought several years before.  She had been so determined to give the impression that meeting a male friend for dinner was such a casual everyday
experience that it she didn’t even care enough to dress up.  Even though the truth of the matter was that she had spent two hours fixing her hair and picking out just the right outfit that said sexy, but not trying too hard.

He caught her hands up in his and placed a friendly kiss on her cheek, thanking her for calling.  Tessa tried to make up some excuse as to why it had taken her so long to finally keep her promise; the slight tremble in her voice making it hard to convince him that this was a common experience for her. 

“They’re hosting an open mike night for local artist.  I hope you won’t mind the noise,” he said while leading her by the hand to a table in the back corner.

“No, it will be fun.” 

As they seated themselves, he felt it necessary to apologize for returning her call so late the night before. 

Tessa waved away his apology.  “It’s not a big deal.  I’m there alone most of the time.”

“Yeah, but when you’re boss answered I got the feeling he wasn’t very happy.  I was worried I’d gotten you into trouble.  So everything is cool?”

Tessa smiled, “Yes, it’s cool.”

“What’s it like working in the big house?”

“Not too bad.  Like I said, I’m the only one there usually.”

“Okay, if you say so.  But something in his voice tells me he can be a real jerk.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, he can be.  But I don’t think he realizes he’s being a jerk most of the time, and when he does, he apologizes.”

“Well, if you ever need a place to crash…”

“Thank you,” she interrupted him quickly.  “But he really isn’t that bad.”

Gregory was polite enough to let the matter drop and moved on to things that Tessa was more than happy to talk about; Literature and her creative writing class that would be starting at the end of summer.

“I know you don’t like hearing it, but your writing absolutely blows me away.  The first paper you turned in, I told my advisor that I had someone in my class who was going to be in one of our anthologies in another ten years.”

Tessa laughed and rebuked him.  “Only if they start anthologizing the best novels never written.”

“You don’t realize how good you are, do you?  I mean, I wonder why you’re even bothering with a PHD at all.  You could have a serious writing career and make a lot more money at it than teaching a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.”

“You’re very kind, but I’m afraid your opinion of my talent is greatly exaggerated, although flattering.”

“I’m being serious.”

Tessa shrugged her shoulders and let her hands drop to her lap.  There were many reasons she didn’t pursue writing more seriously, the most obvious one for her was that she lacked self-confidence.

“There’s nothing I would love to do more than to go into seclusion and write the next great American novel, but unfortunately, I’ve also grown very fond of eating on a daily basis.”

Gregory chuckled and nodded his head in an understanding way.  Still, he wasn’t about to give up on his quest that easily.

“I know you have to work, but why not find a job that you don’t have to put so much time and effort into.  For the next five or six years you’ll be consumed with grad school, and researching and writing your dissertation.  It’s going to suck the creativity right out of you.”

“Jeez, thanks for the encouragement,” she teased.

Frustrated, he played with his beard.  “It’s not that I don’t think you would make a great professor, but you’re an even greater writer.”

“I put a lot of thought into returning for my PHD, and even though I still have doubts about it, I’ve made up my mind.”

He started to object, but Tessa stopped him before he could plead his case.  “Look, you want to know the truth?  I’ve been a mess most of my life.  The past few
years especially; moving around constantly from place to place, going from job to job.  I promised my children I’d settle down so that they wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore.  I can’t disappoint them.  They’re proud of me now, and that means a lot.”

“I have a feeling they would be proud of you no matter what you do, as long as you’re being true to yourself and doing what you love.”

“But there’s my problem, I don’t know what that is.  I’m forty and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Gregory reached across the table and lightly stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers while Tessa scolded herself for revealing too much.  He had that familiar look in his eye.  The one that said ‘I really dig damsels in
distress’.  For as much as women wanted to be taken care of, men wanted to be their knights in shining armor, even if they would never admit to it.  His next remark confirmed her suspicions.

“You want to know the only thing people see when they look at you?  Probably one of the most invincible women they’ve ever met.  You carry yourself like royalty.” He smiled, and then continued, “It’s very intimidating.”

Tessa couldn’t help but to laugh and turn away in embarrassment.  “Not hardly.”

“Tessa, people are naturally attracted to you.  For the three semesters you were in my classes, every head would turn when you walked in.  Girls wanted to be like you, and boys wanted to be close to you.  You’re sort of like an alpha female.”

With that said, they both laughed.  Tessa because it was such a weird compliment, Gregory because he knew he wasn’t explaining himself very well.

“What I’m trying to say is that even though I’m totally into the fact that you come across as unapproachable, I really like your vulnerable side.”

“I wasn’t fishing for a compliment.  I just wanted you to understand why I made the decision to return to school.”

“And thank you for sharing that with me.  I want to get to know you better; I want to know what you’re thinking, and why.”

“Well, now you know.  But it’s your turn.”

He laughed, “Okay, fair enough.  What do you want to know?”

“How old are you?” 

I knew you were going to ask me that. 
Thirty-two.”

So he wasn’t as young as she thought, although it brought her little comfort.  He was still eight years her junior. 

“You’re just eight years older than my daughter.”

Shrugging his shoulders, he continued to grin.  “If you’re trying to scare me away, it’s not working.”

“I just want you to know that you’re sitting here with someone who is only ten years away from an AARP membership.”

Leaning back against his seat he offered her a charming smile.  “You’re funny, and very cute.”

“That doesn’t make you uncomfortable, even a little?”

“What? 
The fact that you’re cute?”

“No, that I’m old,” she giggled.

Gregory stood and bent over the table and brushed the corner of her mouth lightly with his lips, then sat back down, continuing to smile.  “I don’t care.”

A little shaken, Tessa looked around to see if anyone was watching.  No one was.  Obviously, she was the only person in the coffee shop who was mortified by the fact that she was being successfully seduced by a younger man.  When she brought her attention back to Gregory, he was no longer smiling.  He was watching her closely with an intensity growing in his eyes.  She turned her gaze away quickly and stared out the window at the traffic that was stopped by the red light at the corner.

His next words forced her to look at him again.  “Why do you find it so hard to just relax, Ms. Maguire?”

It was then that Tessa realized she wasn’t fooling anyone with her attempts to be calm and collected, no one but maybe herself.  “I haven’t been on a date since I was fifteen.” 

“Then I consider myself honored.”

“You shouldn’t, you should be running toward the door.”

“Why?”

She shook her
head.  “Because I’m a mess.”

Her hands were now lying on the table in front of her; Gregory took them in his and squeezed gently.

“Since we’ve been here, every guy that’s come through that door has checked you out.  They all wish they were sitting here with such a beautiful mess.”

To be so young and inexperienced, Gregory was an exceptional liar, but she appreciated his efforts, even if it made her so uncomfortable that she wanted to crawl under the table from embarrassment.

“Let’s talk about something else, please,” she pleaded softly.

 

For the rest of the evening their conversation was light and concentrated mainly on teaching and their favorite authors.  Tessa was pleasantly surprised by the amount of fun they had arguing and debating symbolism and whether too much emphasis was placed on it.  He was actually very easy to talk to, and found that she enjoyed his company immensely.  The music was good, their laughter came easy, and for a few hours, she forgot about her past.  She was simply Tessa, with no regrets and no anxiety about the future.  She was totally in the moment, where she felt the most at ease.

When Gregory surprised her by going up on stage and singing for her, even though his singing voice was atrocious, it touched Tessa deeply, causing tears to well up and trickle down her face.  It was the sweetest gesture anyone had ever made towards her.  The audience appreciated it too, for the gave him a resounding round of applause as he walked back to their table and hugged her tightly when he saw that she was crying.

“Was I that bad,” he teased, wiping her cheek dry with is finger tip.

“No,” she sniffled.  “It was very sweet.”

“Then you’re very easy to please.”

Tessa laughed through her tears and attempted to push away from the embrace, but Gregory held her steadfast.

“I wish you could see how beautiful you are right now.”

“Gregory…” she pleaded, trying again to free
herself, though it felt nice to have his arms around her.

“What is this, like out sixth date?”

“Our first,” Tessa smiled. 

“Oh, yeah, you’re right.  I guess coffee and doughnuts doesn’t technically constitute as a date.  Then I guess it’s too soon for a kiss.”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“Are all older women this prudish?”

“I don’t know about prudish, but sensible I hope.”

“Does sensible mean you have to be home by midnight?”

“That’s exactly what that means,” she smiled, looking down at her watch and seeing that it was a quarter before twelve.

“I was teasing.  Come on, the night is young.  Let’s take a ride on my bike past the lake.”

“I can’t,” she refused with some remorse, because there was nothing she wanted to do more, but knew she had several errands to run the following morning, plus she had no desire to be dishonest with her children about what she had done over the weekend.

“You can’t leave now, not after I made you cry.”

“I’m sorry, but I do have to go.”

Releasing a sigh of frustration, Gregory released her so that she could gather her sweater and purse, and then led her by the hand through the crowded café to the sidewalk outside. 

Saddened that the night was over, and that Gregory was disappointed in her, Tessa allowed him to walk her to her car; his arm wrapped possessively around her shoulder, leaning down several times to kiss the top of her head.  She had planned to say goodnight at the café, knowing that a private ‘good night’ might be awkward.  After all, what exactly would he expect from her?  

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