(Previous post: The Lost Twin II )
In the days, weeks and months following the death of Tomas’ wife Rita, daughter Lena and eldest sister Alyssa a lot of people came to talk to him, family, friends, neighbors, even strangers. Tomas listened to their words but nothing came to him. He was the kind of person that needed to grieve on his own. Not many people understood that. Rita did. But Rita was gone. No one understood that either. Not fully at least. How could they? They didn’t love her as much as he did. No one in the world did.
Maybe that was why he found it easiest to talk to Phoibe. Phoibe Santoro had been one of Rita’s best friends. They had been friends ever since they were little girls. Of all the people outside their family she was probably the one who knew Rita best and maybe, just maybe she could understand what a cold and empty place this world was without her.
Phoibe worked at the science lab with Thomas so they often sat together on their brakes. Sometimes they talked about Rita. Often that would end up with Phoibe in tears and Tomas found it hard to bear. They never talked about Lena. He never talked about Lena. That pain was Tomas’ and his alone.
And some days they just talked about life, well work mostly. For Tomas that was what was left in life and he didn’t know what else to talk about Phoibe anyway. He knew she liked classical music and that she played in a band. She never married or had any kids. Rita always said she had bad luck with men. Tomas didn’t understand it. She was a good looking and a smart woman. Still he steered away form those kind of conversations with her. Talk about work and the scientific world were enough.
And then one day he asked for a favor.
“You want Irene out of your lab?” Phoibe asked surprised. Tomas nodded, “Why? Is her work somehow inadequate? You always gave her good reviews…” Thomas sighed. He wasn’t a good liar, he knew that but he couldn’t tell Phoibe the truth. He couldn’t tell her how he believed his young and beautiful assistant was coming on to him and most importantly he couldn’t tell her he was starting to enjoy it.
“It’s just… She reminds me of Rita.” He blurted out. It was evil, pure evil doing what he was doing, playing that card but it needed to be done. Phoibe’s face became grave and she nodded.
“I get it. They were sisters after all… Rita might have never said it that way but it was true…” There were tears in her lovely blue eyes and it made Tomas felt horrible. Still he knew it was the only way and the right thing to do… “Sorry. ” She said noticing his troubled stare. “I just get like this every time I think of her… She was one of a kind your wife… I miss her dearly… But then again I shouldn’t go one like this, not to you of all people.” She sighed. “Fine. I can get Irene away. It shouldn’t be that hard to reassign her…” Then she smiled slightly. “I’ll transfer her to my mother’s project! She had been asking for people for weeks.”
Tomas smiled. “Yes she spoke to me too.” When Phoibe looked at him quizzically he answered. “I said no, of course.” Phoibe looked relived. Her mother, the once famous talent scout, lyricist and manager of many stars, including Riam Gradle, the famous rock star from their small town, had recently joined the army. Why no one knew, not even Phoibe who wasn’t that close to her anyway. But she became a kind of a PR there.
And now, as they often do the army bullied their way to their lab to conduct some secret experiments or whatever and they were mercilessly trying to recruit scientist to their cause. Neither Tomas or Phoibe liked it very much and bitching about it gave Tomas the perfect excuse to steer of the current topic.
Yet the thought of that conversation didn’t leave his mind for a long time. Irene was gone from his lab and he was currently working alone, which was when he did his best work yet he felt guilty. In his mind he had used Phoibe, lying to her like that, invoking the memory of Rita in the process as well.
So on one of his days off, while the girls were at school and Tracy was at his sister’s he invited Phoibe to come over. He wanted to thank her, not only for the recent favor but for everything she had done from him from the terrible day of the meteor hit till today. He meant to surprise her with flowers and a lovely bracelet Della helped him pick.
“Seems I’m a natural at picking flowers.” He said nervously as he handed Phoibe the bouquet first. “They seem to match your sweater.” Phoibe smiled a nervous smile herself.
“They are beautiful Tomas!” She said as she looked up at him with those lovely blue eyes. Her natural, interesting green hair was down today and she chose to wear contacts instead of the big glasses she usually wore inside the lab. The lab coat she replaced with a goofy green-blue dress and a short purple sweater. She was very pretty Tomas thought again still wondering how on Earth was she still single.
“It is a small something…. To thank you… For everything.” He managed to answer. “It all means so much to me, what you did…” It was hard to find the words so he quickly brought out the little box with his bracelet hoping it would speak for him.
“Oh my! Tomas… You shouldn’t have!” Phoibe gasped as she saw the pretty wrapped box. “You know I didn’t expect this… I didn’t ask for this… I would have done it all again, and again… I would have done anything to help you. For your sake, and your children’s… And… And Rita’s…” She said at last, tears pooling all around her eyes as they did every time she spoke her name.
An ice cream truck drove past. Tomas heard its chimes but the world had disappeared for him. Nothing remained but those sad blue eyes and the tears in them. One of them escaped and Tomas watched as it rolled down Phoibe’s smooth cheek. He was ready to do anything to make them go away. And so he did, the first thing that came to his mind. He leaned forward and pressed her lips against hers.
It wasn’t a kiss fueled with passion, or romance, or love… Or any of the other usual reasons one has for such an act. The closest, most accurate description was that it had been a desperate act of a grieving man. And at first Phoibe didn’t reciprocate. And as they parted and Tomas opened his eyes to look at her he felt panic raising in his chest.
Here he was, trying to do something nice, to make amends, to say thank you and he managed to screw even that up. He kissed her. His coworker. His only friend in this dark times. He kissed a woman who wasn’t his wife, in front of his house, in broad daylight…
He was about to say sorry, to beg on his knees for forgiveness, to explain, in any way he could how stupid it was, how he wasn’t in control of his emotions, of his life, of anything… And hope she would understand. But then she moved closer, putting her long fingered hands on his hips before leaning in close, so close her whole body touched his and then her lips found him and this time it was different… It was maddening and wild and it made Tomas’ guilt disappear. It made all thoughts desert him and moments, or was it an eternity later as he led her upstairs and on to his hover bed it all made sense. They were two people, lost and sad, and alone and hurt and in need… In need of comfort, in need of love, in need of each other… And that was all that mattered.