Friday, 26 November 2010

Her Self-made Man



The automatic system rang out and announced that the train was due to arrive at her station. Angela swung her legs around and out from under the table and stood up. Initially, she’d wondered whether the four inch heels were a good idea to travel in; the old guy sitting on the other side of the aisle seemed to appreciate them: she could tell that from his glance alone, and as she lifted her case effortlessly from the overhead luggage rack she silently thanked her shoes for her augmented height.

She didn’t bother to check her hair or her makeup: she knew instinctively that it would be perfect. Everything today would be perfect. She was finally going to meet him: her Tom, her ‘self-made man.’ She smiled to herself as she walked down the aisle of the train toward the door at the end of the carriage. That had been her joke name for him for a long time now. To her, he was her ‘self-made man’ and to him she would always be his ‘working-girl’.

Angela wasn’t at all nervous to be finally meeting Tom. She was absolutely confident that everything would be fine. She noticed some of the men on the train, and even a few of the women giving her admiring glances as she passed. She smiled. She had never had so much confidence in herself before. Today would be perfect.

The train slowed as it drew alongside the station platform, and then rumbled to a halt. A man on the platform opened the door and then held it for her while she left the train. He smiled. She smiled back. He was very attractive, but she turned away quickly as her eyes scanned the people on the platform. She searched for Tom.

The only picture she’d ever seen of him was one from the cover of one of his books, taken over ten years ago, but she had an image in her own mind of how he’d look. She looked along the platform toward the exit and there he was, facing directly toward her and smiling; looking exactly like the image she had in her mind. He was a lot older than her, but that wasn’t too obvious. She wasn’t really into the pretty boy look, and Tom’s appearance could best be described as ruggedly handsome; to her eyes though, he was beautiful too.

She walked briskly toward him, and he toward her; he began to run in her direction. She ran too and when they met, each of them wrapped their arms around each other: his arms around her lower back, hers around his neck. Despite her heels she had to arch her back to look upward as he smiled and gazed down into her eyes. He kissed her: the kiss she had dreamed of for so long, gentle but also passionate. She closed her eyes and melted for a moment. When they broke away, he kissed her again, on her forehead and said: “Hello Angela. I’ve waited for this moment for so long darling.” In that moment, her entire being was overwhelmed; love and passion flooded over her. It wasn’t the words, it was his voice. The voice she had heard so many times, the voice that had always made her entire body tingle, now given substance as her Tom, her gorgeous Tom, her self-made man, stood before her with his arms around her. In her heart she’d been his for months; in her own mind he’d always been hers, but now at this very moment, with his body so close to her, he truly was hers. She reached up, placing the palm of her hand on the side of his face, and closed her eyes as he kissed her once again...

“Tickets Please.” The words roused her from her dream. She opened her eyes and realised she was lying uncomfortably across two seats on the train. She sat up, trying to gather her composure, wondering if she’d been talking in her sleep. The railway guard was grinning at her as though something had amused him. As she passed him her ticket, she realised that she had no idea if she ever spoke in her sleep. What on Earth could she have said to amuse him so much? 

“Change at Oxenholme,” He said as he glanced at the open timetable book in his hand, “But you’ll have nearly an hour to wait for your connection.”

“That can’t be right,” she said, “I thought this was a direct train. My boyfriend is meeting me at the station at Staveley.” She surprised herself. She’d never referred to Tom as her boyfriend before. It sounded a little juvenile, considering how old they both were.

“You must have got on the wrong train love,” he replied. “The nearest this one goes to Staveley is Oxenholme, then we’re off up to Scotland. Your boyfriend might have a bit of a wait for you. But then you’ll have a little time to yourself on Oxenholme station which might not be a bad thing at all.” It seemed as though he sniggered under his breath.

“What do you mean,” she asked.

“It’ll give you a little time to fix yourself up,” he chuckled, “You won’t want him to see you with that bed-hair.”

He wandered along to the other end of the carriage. She reached into her bag and pulled out her mirror. Her sleep had left her hair in such a state that she looked as though she’d been dragged this far, rather than she’d ridden on a train; but that wasn’t the worst of it. Her make-up was in a hell of a mess. She took her hair brush and make-up from her bag and started to make the necessary repairs.

A thought struck her, and she decided to contact Tom. She couldn’t get a signal strong enough to call him though. She soon became frustrated, watching as the little signal strength indicator on her phone would occasionally creep from zero to one or two before falling back; every now and then it would soar up to five: full strength, but by the time she’d pressed the call button, it would have plummeted down to zero again.

She decided instead to send him a text message; she considered that the better idea, since she had no idea whether he’d set off yet, so he might be driving. She informed him what time her train got into Oxenholme and said she expected to be an hour later than she’d thought at Staveley. After what seemed like a hundred attempts to send it, the message finally seemed to go through.

She went back to fixing her makeup. She thought about how she could have got on the wrong train and remembered that when she’d changed earlier at Preston, she’d been cutting it really fine: She’d raced across the railway bridge in these bloody heels, just to be disappointed on arriving at a deserted platform. Just as she’d resigned herself to having missed her connection, a train had pulled in. She’d thought her connecting train had been even later than she had, and had jumped onto it. It seemed now though, that she had missed her connection after all. At least the train she’d hopped onto had been going in the right direction; that was something at least.

She was still reapplying her make-up when her phone rang, almost causing her to poke her eye with her mascara brush. She picked it up from the table and answered it: “Hello.”

“Angela sweetheart; I got your text.” It was Tom. She smiled as she heard the rich tones of his voice. Hearing him speak never failed to get to her. “Don’t worry about being late. I’m at Staveley now, but I’m just going back to the car to drive to Oxenholme. I should be there before you are. If not, wait for me on the platform. Don’t think about walking out to the car park. It’ll be dark soon and I don’t want you taking any risks.”

“How long will it take for you to drive there darling?” she asked, “I can wait for the Windermere train instead if you’d prefer.”

“Certainly not,” he said. “It won’t take me much more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and it’ll be worth it. I’m all geared up to meeting my working girl. I don’t want to have to wait another hour, do I?”

She giggled; he laughed, and then she told him that she loved him before hanging up. It still felt strange saying that to him; not that she had any doubts, but to be in love with someone she’d never met still seemed a little silly even now.


They’d actually met on the phone. She’d been temping for a publishing house in London and had been instructed to contact him with details of a meeting he needed to have with her boss. She hadn’t been able to get hold of him and had ended up leaving five or six messages on his answer machine. When he’d eventually called back, he’d recognised her voice and had insisted on apologising for putting her to so much trouble. She’d been attracted to him instantly, and had been looking forward to meeting him on the day of the meeting. It seemed he was quite well known, though she’d never heard of him. She researched his work on the internet, and even read a couple of his books. After that she’d had a number of conversations with him and had been able to honestly tell him that she was a fan; she told him how thrilled she’d be to finally meet him. He’d promised he’d come to see her when he was in the office and suggested that they could maybe even have lunch together.

He never did come though. Her boss had gone up north on other business a day or two before the meeting was due, so it was re-scheduled to take place at Tom’s home. The new arrangements had only been confirmed the day before the meeting, and when she’d called Tom, she’d had to leave details on his answering machine again because he wasn’t at home. She had only a couple of weeks left of her temp assignment and felt disappointed and almost upset that she wouldn’t have a chance to meet him after all. She added a little personal bit of her own to the end of the phone message telling Tom how disappointed she was that they hadn’t had the opportunity to meet after all, and telling him that her work was taking her elsewhere so they probably wouldn’t get a chance to speak again.

The day of the meeting, she came into work to find flowers had been delivered. She knew at once who they were from. She picked up the card and read it. “To my working girl. Never say never. Our paths may yet cross again, T.

Their paths did cross again, quite soon. About three weeks later, she was sitting at home on Sunday evening when her phone rang. She answered it, and a voice said: “Angela?”

“Yes?” she answered, smiling because she recognised his voice right away.

“It’s Tom,” he said. “Now I know this is a little presumptuous of me, and I’ll go away now if you think it’s a bit creepy, me calling you like this....”

“No Tom,” she interrupted him, “not at all.”

“I’ve just been sitting here this last few days, thinking of how well we got on, and it seemed just a bit silly for us to lose touch so soon,” he said, “It may be that you’ll be sick to death of me quite soon, but I don’t think you are just yet, and to be honest, I think you’re bloody lovely. I’d like us to keep in touch, providing that’s ok with you.” 

“Oh Tom,” she laughed, “Stop waffling on. I’m pleased you called, so very pleased. How did you get my number?” 

“I’m afraid I persuaded Frank to give it to me,” he said.  She wondered what her ex-boss would have thought about that. “I told him I needed to call you because I’d promised to sign one of my books for you, and I wanted to know who you wanted the dedication to.”

“Clever,” she replied, “So he’s no idea why you really wanted to call me then?”

“If you mean that I’ve become infatuated with you, No,” he said. She was taken aback a little by that: ‘infatuated?’ She didn’t realise he felt that way, she thought he was just being friendly. 

She wasn’t sure if it was relief or disappointment she felt, when he said: “No, not infatuated, that’s the wrong word.” She realised she’d been holding her breath since he’d said it. She breathed out now. “Not infatuated,” he said, “that sounds so casual and impersonal. Enamoured is a better word.” 

A couple of seconds had passed before she realised she’d been sitting in silence. He was waiting for her to reply but she’d been too surprised to say anything. Eventually she replied: “Tom, I’m really flattered, but what interest could you possibly have in me? You’re a famous writer; I’m just an ordinary secretary. You’re successful; I’m not. I’m just a temp. You’re a self-made man.”

“Yes I know,” he laughed, “You’re a working girl. So what of it?” 

She giggled. “That’s what you called me on the card with the flowers,” she said, “your working girl.”

“Well if you’ll be my working girl, I’ll be your self-made man.” He laughed.

Angela sat back in her seat on the train as she remembered how their relationship had developed from that point on. For months they’d been friends, getting closer and closer with each contact, but the hundreds of miles between them made it difficult for them to meet. So many times she’d hoped he’d suggest a liaison, but he didn’t. Whether it was because he was shy or because he wasn’t quite as interested in her as she was in him, she couldn’t decide.

As the weeks went on, they spoke as though they’d known each other all their lives; they felt fine sharing personal details and even told each other of their secret fears and dreams. 

They’d often chat about their work, mostly about his; she didn’t feel that hers was interesting enough, though he did seem to listen intently to every mundane little detail that she came out with. His work however, fascinated her. She’d ask him about what he was currently working on and he’d tell her about it in detail. She wasn’t afraid to give her opinion on his ideas, and he seemed interested in what she had to say. He asked her if she’d help to review some of his work. He didn’t want a proof reader: his editor had people to do that. He wanted the honest opinion of an interested reader. He said he trusted her as a friend. He didn’t want any of his unpublished work to be seen by a stranger, and he knew that unlike many of his friends, Angela would give him an honest, objective opinion of what he’d been writing.

She eagerly agreed and he insisted on paying her, but she insisted just as strongly that she wouldn’t accept any payment and would do it only as a friendly gesture. He finally gave in, but said that he’d make it up to her in some other way.

He did. A couple of months later, her mother died and she was devastated. She’d lost her father when she was still a teenager, and she was an only child. Her mother’s death put paid to the last reason she had to stay in London. None of her friends could console her: none that was, apart from Tom. He was always there whenever she called him, day or night, and even seemed to ring her at the very moments that she was most in need of someone to talk to. He gave her the resolve to carry on. When she needed strength, he was there for her to lean upon, and when even his strength wasn’t enough, he was there to just listen to her cry, and even to cry with her.

It was around then that she told him that she loved him. When she said it, she wasn’t even certain herself if it was true. How could she love someone she’d only known for a few months and who she’d never even met? As soon as she said it though, she knew it was true. He didn’t say anything in response though, and she wondered if she’d made a mistake by telling him.

She avoided mentioning it again for a couple of days, and then she received a letter from him. In it he explained how he found making his feelings known very difficult. He told her how he had no problem flirting on the phone, but that he found it much easier to express himself properly in written words. 

Then he went on to tell her how she’d been on his mind ever since they’d first spoken, and how he’d called her at home that first night because he couldn’t bear to face the idea of never having contact with her again. He explained how she was the last thing he thought of before he slept at night, and how the thought of her in the morning was the main thing that made it worthwhile waking up. He said that he’d loved her for so long that he couldn’t imagine a time when he hadn’t. His entire life before her had blurred into irrelevance; to him, his whole existence had been merely preparing him to be a part of her life and for her to be a part of his. He wrote that he’d wrestled with himself for so long, wondering whether he should tell her about the way he felt, but that he’d always backed away from it, for fear of rejection.

He said that now he knew she really did love him, he’d like to meet her. He suggested that he could come down to London, or that maybe she’d like to visit him in Cumbria. He lived in a large lakeside house, quite close to where she’d spent holidays as a girl, so it didn’t take much time for her to decide she’d visit him.  


The train was pulling into Oxenholme. Angela had been daydreaming and was caught by surprise. She quickly stuffed everything back into her bag as she rose to her feet; then she realised she’d had her shoes off, and that they were still under the table. She sat down and struggled back into them. She stood again and reached up to drag her case from the overhead rack.

She got off the train and found herself on a darkened platform. Tom didn’t appear to be anywhere in sight, but as he’d requested, she waited there for him. She was sure he wouldn’t be long. There was a bench close by, so she sat down. A plump middle aged man with a beard was walking along the platform toward her. He smiled as he approached her. She smiled back and then realisation hit her. She’d been so convinced of her own mental image of Tom that she hadn’t been prepared for how he might really look.

The picture she’d seen of him from his book cover was more than ten years old, and looked nothing like he looked now, but the eyes convinced her that it was him; she recognised his deep blue eyes. He was ten years older than her, so she’d realised that he probably wouldn’t look much like the way she’d imagined him. He seemed a lot plumper than his book picture, and the extra weight he was carrying seemed to add another five years onto his age. He was sporting a beard too: only a short one, but a full-face beard nonetheless. He’d never mentioned he had a beard, and that seemed to add a good few years onto his appearance too.

At first she felt a little ashamed inside as she half hoped that she’d made a mistake, and it wasn’t really him, but then he spoke to her: “Angela darling,” he said, “At last. Did you have a reasonable journey?”

The voice was still his: the deep tones that reminded her of strong rich after dinner coffee, the accent that she’d always imagined as coming straight from a D H Lawrence character; every aspect of his voice combined as it always had done, to make her almost physically shake. Hell it shouldn’t matter what he looked like. It was a shock, but this was the man she was in love with. That she was sure of.

He stood before her, looking a little awkward, his hands kind of half extended in front of him, as if to hold her had she been standing. She realised then that she hadn’t even thought to stand up as he approached. She took each of his hands in hers and felt an almost electric jolt pass through her body as she did. She stood and moved closer to him. He looked a little nervous, as though his shyness at meeting her had got the better of him. He smiled again, and then said: “Darling.” That was it, just one word, but that was enough, seeing him say it as well as hearing him say it, caused her to smile lovingly at him. She drew him toward her and he nervously leaned forward to kiss her, gently on the cheek. It wasn’t what she’d expected, and something seemed a little out of place. Then she realised what it was. She’d never considered Tom’s height before, and it was only now that she realised that he only stood about five feet nine. She cursed herself for wearing those bloody four inch heels. She stood facing him, their eyes level. She moved a little closer, hoping to disguise the fact that she was trying to squat down a little. He saw what she was doing and actually laughed. “I love you,” he said as he chuckled, and then at last, he put his arms around her and kissed her deeply and lovingly. 

As they walked to his car, she mentioned his beard. “I grew it in the last three or four weeks,” he said. “Don’t you like it?”

“Perhaps I’ll get used to it,” she answered, “I just had no idea you had a beard or had even considered growing one.”

He opened the passenger door of a very expensive looking Volvo and she got inside. He walked around to the driver’s door and once inside himself said: “Shall I be honest with you? About the beard, I mean?”

“You’ve always been honest with me in the past,” she said, “I’m sure you will be this time.”

“It makes me look older doesn’t it?” he asked. “Beards tend to do that: make a guy look older. I’m ten years older than you Angela and I know I don’t carry my extra years too well. I was frightened that looking that much older would put you off.”

“Don’t be silly,” she replied, “and anyway, in that case why would you want to make yourself look older still?”

“I know it sounds stupid,” he said, “But I thought you might think ‘well he looks a lot older than I expected, but that could be down to the beard.’ I needed the beard to blame things on.” 

She laughed. “Oh you silly sod,” she said, and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. “I’m not keen on it if I’m honest,” she said, “It’s not very nice to kiss.”

“In that case,” he said, “I’ll shave it off, first thing in the morning.”

They drove out of the station car park and began their journey to his home.

About an hour later she stood in his sitting room. There was an enormous picture window that looked out over the lake; it was dark outside by now, but the features of the lake could easily be made out in the moonlight; even some buildings on the opposite lake shore could still be seen.

He walked in from the kitchen and told her that dinner would be ready soon. He saw her looking out of the window. “Wait until morning when it’s light,” he said, “It’s a beautiful view in the daylight.”

She turned to him as he passed her a glass of wine. “It’s pretty impressive in the moonlight too,” she said, “I’m sure this is very close to where we used to holiday when I was a girl.”

Though she’d told him about it before, she told him again of how during her childhood, her family had lived in numerous places all over the country, never long enough in one place to class any of them as ‘home’ but that the one constant in her life, had been her annual two weeks in the lakes, so that every time she returned, it felt like she was coming home.

“We rented the same cottage every year,” she said, “an ugly scruffy little white one with wisteria around the front door. I loved it.”

“Well we’re not short of those in these parts,” he said. “Can you remember exactly where it was?”

She gazed out of the window again, as if lost in thought. “The view here is pretty much as I remember the view from the garden there,” she said, “only closer to the lake. I think it was just a short distance south of here, and set back from the lake a little.”

He opened the drawer of his desk and took out an envelope. He handed her a photograph he took from inside it as he said: “Does this look familiar?”

She took the picture from him and found herself looking at the old cottage she’d spent her childhood holidays in. It was there in the photograph, with a beardless Tom standing in front of it, with his arm around an attractive blonde in her thirties. Tom certainly looked more presentable without the beard. She found herself wondering who the woman was, and actually feeling a little jealous. “That’s the place,” she said, “That’s my ugly little cottage. It was old and broken down, but I still loved it.”

“A bit like me then,” he offered a tentative smile.

“Stupid!” she said. “Do you mind me asking, who’s the lady? Is she a friend of yours, or an old girlfriend?”

“Take a look at this,” he said, and handed her another photograph from the envelope. This one was also taken in front of her old cottage, but this time it pictured Tom standing with a man of about forty, who had his arm around Tom’s shoulder and was sporting a big beaming smile. “That’s her husband,” he said. “They rented that cottage the year before last. I was having a drink at my local and they recognised me. It seems her husband is a big fan of my books. We chatted and I had a couple of drinks with them. They invited me for lunch the next day and I had my picture taken with them. They sent me copies of the prints after they’d gone home.

“The cottage is only about half a mile up the road, then up the hill a little,” he said. It’s still up for rent these days. There seems to be a lot of families who love it as much as you do. The same people return year after year.”

“It brings back so many good memories,” she said as she looked again at the two photographs in her hand. “It makes me almost tearful to think of it. But I think I prefer your place.”

After dinner they sat on the sofa chatting, occasionally touching, and even more occasionally kissing. After a few moments Tom said: “I didn’t want to make any assumptions, so I’ve put you in one of the guest rooms.” It wasn’t until then that Angela realised that she hadn’t seen where she was going to sleep tonight, and it hadn’t even worried her enough to consider it. Now Tom had brought the subject up though, it made her feel a little awkward.

“Tom,” she said, almost apologetically, “I think it might be for the best, at least for tonight. I’m here for the week. We can rethink the sleeping arrangements later.”

“Yes,” Tom replied, “Don’t worry about it: whatever makes you feel more comfortable. It’s enough that you’re here.” She raised her eyebrows a little at that, and thought she saw him notice. “Don’t get me wrong darling,” he said, “I want you; I want you more than I’ve wanted anyone in my life. I just don’t want you to feel persuaded to go along with anything you’re not comfortable with, especially since I suspect you don’t want me quite as much as you thought you might do.”

She wanted to call him out on that one. She’d wanted him for ages; she’d looked forward to the time they could spend their nights together, the prospect of them finally making love had been on her mind for days. But the Tom she’d had in mind was the tall, muscular, athletic Tom she’d imagined, not this shorter, plumper, older version. She loved him; that hadn’t changed. She just wasn’t sure she wanted him just yet. She put her arm on his shoulder and kissed him on his cheek, and found herself saying. “Thank you Tom. I do love you darling. Surely that’s enough for now.”

As soon as she said it, she felt bad about it. He smiled at her and nodded and returned her gentle kiss, but she could see in those deep blue eyes that he was hurt, that he was almost resigned to her decision, as though he’d half expected it.


Angela stood in her room. She looked around her. This wasn’t the room in Tom’s house that she’d retired to, what seemed like about an hour earlier. She remembered getting into bed there, but now she stood naked next to a different bed altogether, in a different room. 

Although she didn’t recognise her surroundings, somehow she knew that this room was in the old cottage she remembered from her childhood. The moonlight seemed to stream in from somewhere, though she wasn’t aware of any windows.

Suddenly a door she hadn’t noticed before creaked open and Tom stood there; not the real Tom, but the Tom she’d imagined, the Tom from her mind, here in her dreams once again as he often had been before.

He approached her silently and put his arms around her. He said nothing, which she found unsettling: Tom’s voice had always played a big part in all her dreams of him in the past. Of course she knew she was dreaming, because her imaginary Tom was here, but in this dream Tom was silent, for the first time ever.

He kissed her: the kiss was as frantic and as passionate as she remembered it ever being in her dreams but that’s all there was; there seemed to be something missing. There was no tenderness, no sense of love, nothing of the substance she’d experienced and enjoyed earlier that evening. The passion with which he kissed her seemed familiar and almost practiced: planned passion rather than impulsive passion, and therefore not really passion at all.

They were on the bed now, both naked; his hands ran across her body. It was what she expected, what she needed; she wanted his fingertips to be stroking her skin, wanted to feel the palms of his hands as he grasped her breasts, but though he did all of that, she realised that she felt hardly anything. 

She was on her hands and knees now; he knelt behind her and entered her. She felt it as he thrust into her. She enjoyed it: that she couldn’t deny. She groaned as he pushed deep inside her, again and again, faster and faster. The pleasure overcame her, but it didn’t quite overwhelm her as it always had done in the past. He took her, but he didn’t seem to be taking her anywhere. He was having her, there was no doubt about that, but as much as she tried, she realised that she wasn’t actually having him. Though she did her best to give herself to this gorgeous man, He didn’t seem to respond; he was giving nothing of himself in return. She knew in her heart that she couldn’t surrender to him entirely because he wasn’t giving himself to her, because he wasn’t real.

In the blink of an eye, she was lying on her back now, with Tom kneeling over her looking down upon her. Her eyes scanned his body. His physique was perfect as she observed it in the imaginary moonlight of her dream; he was everything she’d ever wanted in a man, physically. She looked up into his eyes, and realised for the first time that this Tom, the one she’d always had in her mind’s eye had never possessed the deep blue eyes that the real Tom had. The beautiful eyes that she’d first seen in the only picture of Tom that she had were absent, and dull grey eyes looked down upon her.

She couldn’t help but think of the real Tom now, her Tom. She was dreaming; perhaps she could control her dream: change it so that the Tom bending over her and kissing her now, could be the Tom she’d met tonight. She tried, but still she felt nothing.

Tom stopped kissing her, and raised himself back onto his knees. Within her dream she closed her eyes tight shut, then opened them again to an awful surprise.

The man bending over her now was more like the real Tom than her imaginary figure of her dreams, but he was a caricature of all the things she’d disliked and found unattractive. He was excessively large and vastly overweight; his beard had become long and straggly and almost tramp-like. He leaned over her with a leering grin, but still those blue eyes were missing, and still he was silent. This wasn’t her Tom: This dream had become a nightmare. She screamed.

She awoke, screaming and sobbing.

There was a knock at her bedroom door. Tom’s voice asked: “Angela, are you ok darling?”

She didn’t answer right away; she was still panting. The door opened and Tom stood there in silhouette from the light on the landing. “Angela, are you all right?” he repeated.

“Sorry Tom,” she answered, “Just a bad dream.” She realised now that she was sitting on the edge of the bed. 

“It must have been a bloody awful one,” he said, as he walked into the room. “Can I get you a drink of water or something?”

“No thanks love,” she answered, “I’ll be fine in a moment.” She found herself feeling very much at ease with him, here in the dark, with just his voice for comfort. It reminded her of the times he’d made her feel better with his phone calls. “It’d be nice if you’d just stay with me for a little while though.”

He sat down on the bed beside her; she felt the softness of his velour dressing gown against her leg and remembered being naked in her dream. She soon assured herself that she was still wearing her nightdress though.

“So what was this dream about, to upset you so much?” he asked. “Your screams woke me up, and when I came across the landing to your door, it sounded like you were crying.”

She couldn’t tell him what she’d dreamed; for the first time ever, she found herself lying to him as she said: “Ever since mum died, I have these occasional dreams that turn into night panics. This was an especially bad one.”

“Oh darling,” he said and put his arm around her shoulder. He kissed her on the cheek. “Tears,” he said, “You have been crying.”

He lifted his hand to wipe the tears from her face, and her hand came up and held his arm and rubbed it. She paused a little and then leaned back to look at him. There was enough moonlight coming through the window now for her to make out the blue of his eyes. It reassured her. “I love you Tom,” she said. He leaned over her and kissed her.

This kiss began gently, his mouth softly brushing hers. Her lips parted as he kissed her. She knew that he felt the moistness of her lips as she tasted his, and his mouth parted too. The tip of his tongue brushed over the inside of her lips, and her tongue met his as they both pressed a little harder together and began to kiss more passionately.

While they kissed, her hands had opened his dressing gown and now they ran over his naked skin beneath. She pushed his robe from his shoulders and then pulled away from him momentarily while she lifted her nightdress up and over her head, dropping it on the floor beside the bed.

They kissed again, she leaned back and he followed, never once moving his face too far from hers, until they lay on the bed together. Tom leaned over her, now moving his attention from her mouth to her neck, his lips and his tongue tracing her throat, his teeth nibbling at the side of her neck. She lay back and closed her eyes as his head moved downward; she felt his touch against her skin: his lips, his tongue, and his teeth, even his beard as his face travelled across her body in a zigzag motion, side to side, but always downwards.

She gasped as his lips touched her breasts, his tongue circled each of her nipples, his teeth nibbling them gently as they became erect, and then his whole mouth sucking on one, then the other; all this time, his hands traced her sides, fingertips stroking, all but brushing over her skin, down over her ribs and toward her hips, once there his hands gripped her as his mouth continued its journey.

She felt the tip of his tongue as it traced across her belly, his mouth giving her his fullest attention: now licking, now kissing but always moving toward where she knew he was headed. She thrust her hips toward him to encourage him, but his hands held them firmly.

After a time, his face hovered over her abdomen; he looked down on her and she heard him say “Oh darling, I’ve waited so long for this. I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember.” The very sound of his voice made her melt within; she knew what he would soon be doing, what he must do, what she needed him to do; she gasped as she felt his lips on her most private of places.

His tongue skipped across her, flicking from side to side, sliding up and down the full length of her. He alternated his lips with his tongue at times, but always returned to using his tongue and occasionally going lower and lower until she gasped as his tongue pushed into her.

She thrashed from side to side for a moment, then relaxed momentarily as he removed his tongue and put it back to work licking at her sensitive bud.

He’d been grasping her hips firmly until now, but as she heard him groaning, almost as much as she groaned, he released her and she felt one of his fingers enter her, pushing in and out of her as his tongue worked away to bring her to orgasm.

It wasn’t long before she climaxed. She reached down with both hands and grasped the back of his head as she did. Holding him there almost as if to ensure he didn’t prematurely finish what he’d started.

She needn’t have worried. He kept up his attentions until the last remnants of her orgasm had died away. Even then, he continued; she had to ask him to stop: she’d become so sensitive. “Enough darling,” she begged, “I’m too sensitive; it’s too much for me to take.”

He moved up her body and kissed her. Then he raised himself up a little and she realised he was supporting his weight on one arm. His other hand was guiding his manhood as he stroked it up and down and around the area he’d made so moist and sensitive.

She opened her legs a little further, raising her knees and lifting herself off the bed a little. She wrapped her legs around his, resting her heels on the area at the back of his knees. The end of his member found her and nestled a little just inside her moistness; he circled around, and pushed just inside, then pulled out again and continued with his circling motions.

The intensity of it was too much for her; she waited until the next time he pushed inside her a little, then lifted her feet; she pressed her heels into the back of his thighs, as her hands grasped his buttocks and pulled him into her. He looked down at her smiling. He was resting on both hands now. She smiled and nodded to him and he began to push into her.

At last, he was in her, his thrusting started slowly and gradually built up speed; she felt him inside her, pushing faster and faster as the pair of them gasped and panted, moaned and groaned. She lifted her legs higher, wrapping them around him even more.

Suddenly he was pushing even deeper than he had been before, and she realised that she was nearing climax again. She looked up at him, and from the look on his face she knew he was struggling to contain himself.

“Are you holding back darling?” she asked. He nodded, his face contorted as he strained to keep control. “Don’t,” she said, “Not any more. Let go now, let’s come together.”

He cried out loud. It was a sound she loved, his voice in the throes of passion. The sound of him coming: a climax she knew that she had brought him to. It was just the trigger she needed to bring herself to orgasm. She almost screamed with the intensity of it, she clawed his back and he almost screamed out himself. Still they were thrusting against each other and with each other. She looked up at him and she saw him smiling down upon her, his blue eyes filled with tears. It touched her that he was actually crying, and she cried too. “Why not?” she thought. This was what they had wanted for each other for so long. This was where they’d always wanted to be, where they deserved to be: together as one, sharing each other as much as they’d ever hoped to do.

His movement slowed and he leaned downward and began to kiss her mouth again. She returned his kiss. She wrapped her arms tightly around his upper body as the grip of her legs around him, loosened. Suddenly they were covering each other’s faces with kisses. Tears were still streaming from her eyes and from his, but now they were also laughing, not with amusement, but with relief. They were together, and without a single word being spoken, they both realised that they never needed to be apart again.

They lay next to each other in her bed. He raised himself up on one elbow, and looked down upon her naked form, a broad smile on his face, as a single finger traced the line of her side from shoulder to hip.

She was tired. She told him so. “I know,” he said, “You go to sleep darling.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked. “Please stay here for the rest of the night. Don’t go back to your own room.”

“I won’t,” he assured her, “but I’m not really tired. I’m going to watch you sleep, if that’s ok.”

She just smiled and nodded and then closed her eyes, knowing that he was there beside her, knowing that he’d still be there beside her in the morning and being glad and grateful for that fact alone.

As she lay there with her eyes closed, she heard him whisper. “I wasn’t what you were expecting, was I?” he asked, “I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough for you.”

She heard what he said, though she didn’t open her eyes and didn't respond at first. After a few seconds she feared that he might have thought she'd fallen asleep, so she answered him. “I’ll admit I had a different image of you,” she said, “and I was a little surprised when I first saw you, but you’ll do for me.” She giggled.

“You can always try to change me to be more like you want me to be,” he whispered as he kissed her softly on her forehead.

She knew that she could. She’d considered that, but she didn’t want to make him like any imaginary Tom she might have had in mind before today. This was the Tom she’d fallen in love with. Anything else wouldn’t really be him: it would be someone she’d made herself. And that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted the man that he was. He was her self-made man.

“I don’t want you to change,” she said, and then after a pause she added: “But get rid of the beard in the morning. Ok?”