Rose fiddled with the strap of her purse on her shoulder and nervously pushed a piece of blonde hair behind her ear. The door in front of her was closed and her stomach felt like it was doing somersaults as she stared at the nameplate attached to the dark wood. It took every ounce of her courage to gently rap twice with her knuckles.
“Come in!” a cheerful voice proclaimed from the other side. Rose about bolted then and there, forgetting all about this stupid idea at the sound of his voice. But then she remembered Jimmy’s words, his threats, and she couldn’t let him down. Not again.
So taking in a deep breath and ever so slightly readjusting the neckline of her dress, Rose entered Dr. John Noble’s office with the sole intention of seducing him.
“Rose Tyler,” he said when he saw her, his eyes softening ever so slightly. Suddenly, Rose understood why Jimmy was so certain he was sweet on her. She’d been able to ignore it in class, the lingering looks. But he couldn’t quite hide it now, not with her standing in front of him in her short, flirty dress. She’d never come to his office hours before and he seemed equally surprised and delighted at her presence. His eyes jumped from her mouth to her bare thighs to the thins strap crisscrossing over her shoulder. Then back to her eyes again, his cheeks flushed and throat convulsing before covering the whole lapse perfectly with a wide grin. He crossed his hands over his desk and asked, “to what do I owe the pleasure?”
She let her own smile bloom across her face, tongue finding the corner of her mouth as she took purposeful strides towards his desk, shutting the door behind her. His whole demeanor seemed to shift at the sight of her swinging hips and her confidence grew, while his seemed to fail him. His hand found the back of his neck and he laughed a bit nervously. “D-did you want to go over your last, uh, test?”
Rose sat herself primly in the chair in front of his desk, legs crossed in front of her. Best to get straight to it then, she thought. “You like to look at me a lot in class, Dr. Noble.”
His face went immediately red and his eyes slid away from hers in shame. “I-”
For the first time, Rose truly looked at her professor. The crinkles in the corners of his eyes, the embarrassment clinging to his skinny, lanky frame, the luscious brown hair that he was nervously tugging on. She found herself much more excited for the remainder of her plan than she thought she would be. She could already feel herself getting slick just looking at him.
“What do you think about, I wonder? When you’re looking at me like that?”
His face went redder, if that were even possible. He tried to open his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Rose smiled at him, a gentle curving of her lips. Taking pity on him, she placed her hand on top of his, stilling it’s restless movements. He jolted, like a spooked horse, and she could tell he was tempted to snatch his hand back. Rose rubbed her thumb along the fine bones and soft skin, trying to soothe him.
“Want to know what I think about?” she asked, letting her voice go low and throaty.
He whispered his first word since she’d started talking. “Don’t-”
It was then that Rose realized the full extent of the power she had over this man. All she had to do was say the word and he’d risk his job, his reputation, his everything for her. Because, dare she even think it, but he wasn’t just lusting after her. He was in love with her. The poor bastard.
She gripped his hand tighter, scooting herself closer, the desk still between them. She let her lower lip jut out just the slightest bit, her eyes going hooded. “I want you,” she whispered, going straight in for the kill.
He made a sound like she’d knocked the breath out of him. His hand trembled in her grip, his eyes squeezed shut tightly. She could see him fighting with himself, see the guilt in his posture, see the way he was struggling for composure. “Oh Rose,” he breathed out hoarsely. “Please, we can’t.” But his hand tightened around hers and she knew she’d already won.
It only took a bit of maneuvering to make her way around his desk and straddle his lap. He pressed up against her, already deliciously hard against her core. Her lips went straight for the tender skin of his neck, scraping her teeth against the flesh, delighting in his whimper. She grinned, her hands working to tug his dress shirt from his trousers as she let her hips rock forward into his.
It was hesitant the way his hands slowly found her hips, like he was afraid to touch her. It seemed like he was about to say something, protests most likely, so Rose quickly moved to cover his mouth with hers. His reaction was immediate, his hands tightening against her waist and his mouth opening up under hers. Surrendering. She took full advantage, sliding her tongue against his, letting her hands travel back towards the waistband of his trousers…
“W-wait,” he mumbled against her lips, his hand catching her wrist. “Rose. Wait.”
“Hmm,” she said, her other hand finding the back of his neck, trying to tug his lips back to hers.
“W-we really shouldn’t…I want to-”
“What is it? What do you want?” she purred, moving her lips to his ears, grazing her teeth against the lobe.
When he didn’t immediately answer, Rose moved to meet his eyes again, her hand still cupped behind his head. “Doctor?”
He looked flushed as his eyes roamed over her face. It was quite obvious that he was embarrassed, but there was also something else lurking in his eyes. Determination, maybe.
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” he finally said. His hand came up to cup her cheek and his eyes were so tender that Rose’s heart stuttered unexpectedly in her chest. “But if we’re going to do this, I want to do it properly.” His thumb brushed over her cheek reverently. “I really like you, Rose,” he admitted on a breath. “Let me take you on a date?”
“A date?” Rose repeated, surprised. This hadn’t been apart of the plan.
He smiled, a nervous thing flitting on the edges of his lips. “I’m not just interested in a shag, if that’s what you thought. I wouldn’t risk losing my job for a shag.” His ears turned red. “Even with you.”
And of course he wouldn’t, Rose realized. This man who lectured them so passionately. Who spent the extra time to make sure everyone understood the material. Who failed her boyfriend on the last midterm test despite the fact it meant he couldn’t compete in his rugby game.
The reminder of Jimmy sobered Rose immediately, reminding her why she was here. What she had to do.
“Alright,” she said, letting her tongue touch her teeth again. “A date then.”
He gave her a terribly pleased smile in return, his eyes adorably crinkled. “Yeah?”
His happiness was infectious and despite herself Rose found herself wanting to kiss him again. “I’d love it, Dr. Noble.”
“You can call me John,” he replied shyly. “If you want.”
Hands still resting around his neck, Rose did give him a light peck on the lips before pushing herself from his lap. He looked even more overwhelmed by this small touch then any other she’d bestowed on him, touching at his lips.
“I don’t know,” she said in a teasing tone. “I quite like Doctor.”
“Does have a nice ring to it,” he said, humming happily.
“I’ll see you then?” she asked, smoothing her hand over her dress. John, the Doctor, nodded enthusiastically.
“Oh definitely. I could…If you wanted to I could cook you dinner. Tomorrow night?”
“Sounds perfect,” she said. “See you in class tomorrow, Doctor.”
Then with that, Rose sashayed her way out of his office feeling his eyes on her the whole while.
The first thing Jimmy asked her when she got home was how it went. When Rose had tentatively explained the situation, he had predictably exploded.
“What do ya mean he wants to take you on a date?”
“Just that Jimmy,” Rose said, feeling slightly exasperated. “He’s got a crush on me or something, like you said.”
Rose jumped when Jimmy suddenly pounded his fist against their kitchen table. “All you had to do was fuck him and instead you’re going on a date with ‘im? What the hell, Rose?”
Bracing herself, Rose said, “I know it’s not exactly what you wanted Jimmy, but-”
“You stupid whore,” Jimmy suddenly hissed. Rose flinched at the familiar look in his eyes. “What is it? Need my help showing you how to spread your goddamn legs?”
Rose felt her eyes welling up. “I promise Jimmy. I’ll get him fired. I’ve just got to play him a bit first. He didn’t want just a shag.”
Jimmy cursed under his breath. “Didn’t want a shag? What you think he’s actually going to try to give you some fairytale romance? Of course he’s just interested in fucking you. Don’t go getting dumb ideas in your head, Rose.”
“I won’t,” Rose said her voice small. “You know I love you.”
Suddenly, Jimmy’s whole demeanor changed. He relaxed back into his chair, a smirk finding it’s way to his face. “Why don’t you come here and show me how much you love me.” His hands found his zip.
Rose tried her best not to think at all about John’s hesitant, gentle touch against her waist as Jimmy guided her roughly to her knees.
Rose found it difficult to focus during class, especially when Jimmy’s hand would dig into her thigh whenever Dr. John Noble’s gaze would so much as glance her direction. By the end of the class her heart was thumping so hard that she almost felt dizzy.
“Miss Tyler,” he suddenly spoke, startling her. “Would you stay after class?”
Rose managed to nod as Jimmy gave her leg a final pat. “Don’t mess this up,” he said, before standing up with the rest of their classmates and heading towards the door. With dismay, Rose realized he’d left finger shaped bruises around her thigh. Hurriedly, smoothing her skirt down over the purple bruises, Rose stood and swung her backpack over her shoulder
Slowly, she began making her way to the front of the classroom as the last few stragglers stuffed their binders and pencils into their bag. When she finally was stood in front of him, John gave her a small smile and then cautiously looked around them to make sure there were no prying eyes.
“Hello,” he said, when he found no one. His voice was distinctly breathless and Rose felt her heart twinge for him. For how thoroughly she was going to end up breaking his heart in the end.
Still, she knew how to put on an act. “Hello,” she responded, biting at her lip coyly.
“I, um, just wanted to make sure you still wanted to, well, have dinner with me tonight?” He peered down at her from over his glasses, expression quite obviously anxious.
“Of course I do,” she assured, daring to reach out a hand and place it on his shoulder. He startled and then slowly relaxed at the contact. She let her hand slip away.
“Good, good,” he said, nodding his head rapidly. “How about I write down my address for you?” He scrambled around him, looking for a piece of paper before rapidly scribbling on it like he thought she might change her mind at any moment.
“There you are,” he said, brandishing it out to her proudly. “It’s got my mobile on it too, in case you get lost. Or something.” He mumbled out the or something almost embarrassedly and not for the first time, Rose thought he was sort of adorable.
“Thank you, Doctor,” she responded, purposefully dragging her fingers along his as she took the paper from him, delighting in the way he squirmed in his trainers. “I’ll see you around seven maybe?”
She was just about to turn to leave when his hand landed on her shoulder. Rose turned around to find his eyes dark and staring at her intently like he couldn’t quite believe she was standing in front of him. Perplexed by his look, she asked, “Everything okay?”
“I…I almost thought I’d made yesterday up,” he confessed. “Like a dream.”
Rose smiled, her hand working it’s way to tug gently on his tie to bring him closer. “Do you dream about me often?”
John grimaced. “More so than I want to admit.”
Rose grinned. “Good.” Then she leaned up to give him a small kiss on the cheek before letting his tie go. He stumbled backwards a step, looking positively dumbstruck.
“I’ll see you tonight, Doctor,” Rose said.
John smiled, that tender smile again that made Rose’s heart twist in her chest. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Still can’t believe he’s taking you on a date,” Jimmy said to her as she slipped on a fitted black dress. The neckline was low and tight enough to hold her breasts in place by itself and the skirt fell down in a sheer display to her ankles. “Yes, wear that one.”
“Okay,” she said obediently. Jimmy smacked her arse with a wolfish grin.
“You look hot, babe.” He considered her for a long moment. “Maybe we have time for a warm up round before you go? Just to remind you who you belong to?” He winked at her.
Rose’s heart rate spiked and her voice trembled as she said, “I’ve still got to do my makeup and hair.”
“Are you arguing with me?” Jimmy suddenly snapped.
Rose shook her head, eyes downcast. She had to resist the urge to flinch as Jimmy’s fingers suddenly ran through her hair ever so gently. “Go ahead and get ready, baby,” he said before turning and giving her a soft kiss to her mouth. Rose melted into it, melted into him, remembering again how much she loved him.
She finished doing her hair in curls and applying her makeup with about twenty minutes to spare before she needed to be at John’s. Applying one last touch of her red lipstick, she turned to get Jimmy’s final approval.
He nodded. “He’ll want to fuck that mouth on sight.”
Rose flushed, shame crawling up her skin at the crude words. She looked away from him, gathering up her purse as a distraction. “I should head out,” she said.
Jimmy gave her another kiss, this one much less gentle and much more possessive. “Be ready for round two when you get back here.” And with that he sent her on her way.
Rose arrived in front of John’s little flat about five minutes late. Making a quick check that her lipstick hadn’t been smudged, Rose hurriedly made her way to the front door and gave it three rapid knocks.
The door opened almost immediately, startling Rose backwards a step.
“Rose!” John said when he spotted her. He looked positively gleeful, bouncing on his toes. “For a moment, I thought you’d changed your mind, but here you are. Come in. Come in.” He gestured her inside, his mouth still running away from him in obvious nervousness.
“-And have I mentioned you look beautiful yet? I think I have, but it bears repeating because, uhh, wow. I-”
“Doctor,” Rose said, barely able to hold in her giggles. John’s mouth snapped shut with a click.
“S’just me. No need to be so worried.” She said, sidling up closer to him, letting her chest stick out in front of her as she did. John’s eyes jumped down then back up and he gulped.
“Dinner!” he suddenly exclaimed.
Rose’s brows furrowed as she watched him rub at the back of his neck. “Dinner’s about ready. I should go finish that up.”
“I’ll help,” Rose said. “Lead the way.”
Once the table had been set and two generous helpings of pasta served, John pulled out a chair for her. She sat down and gave John a small smile. The food was delicious and John asked her question after question as they ate as if he was genuinely interested in what she had to say. She talked about her business classes and her love for painting and drawing, and John listened as if enraptured by her every word. But all the while, she could hear Jimmy’s voice in her head, telling her he wasn’t trying to romance her, that she was silly to think he wanted anything more than sex and Rose knew she had to get things rolling.
“Maybe we can move to the couch?” she asked, smiling shyly. John stumbled over his words for a moment and then finally just settled for nodding.
The moment they were seated Rose pounced, grabbing his face between her hands and pulling him down into a kiss. John flailed slightly under the assault, but soon his mouth was responding just as eagerly to her ministrations. This went on for several long minutes, her tongue sliding wetly alongside his, her hands roaming across his chest, in his hair, along his back. He seemed content to let her set the pace of the kiss, submitting to her exploration of him, but settling for keeping his own hands in the safe territory of her waist.
“Touch me,” Rose demanded against his lips.
This seemed to jolt John out of his stupor, but instead of hauling her into his lap, he pushed her back. “Wait, Rose. I think we should slow down.”
She blinked slowly, confused. “What?”
John ruffled at his hair. “I don’t…I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage of you,” he admitted on a whisper, his face abash.
“I don’t think that. I want you, John.”
He groaned at the sound of his name from her lips. “You’re not making this easy,” he said. He grabbed her hands, kissing the back of it. “You deserve to be treated like a queen, Rose.
“Then treat me like one.”
“I don’t want to have to hide you and sneak around with you.”
Rose placed a hand on his face, tracing down over his sideburn. “The sneaking around could be fun though,” she whispered enticingly. “One day we won’t have to, but for now we could make the most of it, yeah? Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about having me on your desk? Under your desk, maybe?” She raised a coy eyebrow and embarrassed John buried his face against her neck, his reaction answer enough. He placed a small, reverent kiss to her skin as if asking for benediction. Rose soothingly rubbed her hands up and down his back.
“It’s okay, I’ve thought about it too,” she said on a sigh. Slowly she moved her hand around his front, palming his hard cock through his trousers. He jerked at her touch, pressing forward with a whine before quickly grabbing her wrist and flipping them over.
Rose blinked up at him innocently. “Have I been naughty, professor?”
“Very, very naughty,” John replied raggedly. His eyes closed. “I shouldn’t do this. I’m so much older than you.”
“Please,” Rose whispered, craning her neck to reach his lips.
The sound John made was one of defeat as he met her lips. When he pulled back from the kiss it was to say, “It’s okay. I’ll take care of you.”
Rose bucked her hips against his leg, desperate for the friction, desperate to urge him on with it. John’s hands moved to her hips, holding them down as he slid himself to the floor. He tugged a bit at her hips, rearranging her until her legs were sprawled over the side of the couch with him in-between them. Rose’s breathing picked up as she realized his intentions. A part of her knew she should protest, that Jimmy wouldn’t approve, but it had been so long since someone had done this for her and she found she didn’t want to stop him.
He was watching her expression carefully, his fingers wandering to the hem of her dress, tracing along her ankle. “I didn’t invite you here with sex on my mind you know,” he whispered. “I wanted to get to know you.”
Shocked, Rose met his eyes and for the first time she noticed how utterly lonely they were. Her heart stuttered and she reached out a hand to him. He laced his fingers with hers, his head moving to rest against her thigh. With her free hand Rose stroked his hair. He relaxed into the touch and she wondered how long this man had been starved for affection.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a moment. “You must think I’m mad.”
“No I don’t,” Rose said gently. “C’mere.”
John hesitated. “If you want I can still…”
Rose raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure that’s what you want.”
John pressed his lips together. “Trust me when I say I want you,” he breathed. “I just…maybe we can go a bit slower?”
“Okay,” Rose said, a warm, heavy feeling settling into her chest. She wasn’t thinking about Jimmy as she answered, wasn’t thinking about how angry he’d be, only the fact that she’d never once felt so cherished before.
“You’re sure?” John asked, not meeting her eyes. “It’s just, you seem like you want to…I don’t want you to leave because I won’t-”
“Not goanna leave you,” she said, squeezing his hand. “Now c’mere. We can at least have a cuddle yeah?”
She could feel his smile against her thigh. “Yeah,” he said, moving up to the couch. Rose snuggled into his side, resting her head against his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her and sighed contently.
“You know,” he said softly, tracing his fingertips over his shoulder, his other hand still entwined in hers. “I’ve probably imagined this more than anything else.” He kissed her hair at the end of his confession and she could feel the quick beat of his heart where her hand rested over it. It was all so very intoxicating.
“Me too,” she said, even though it was a lie. But now, she imagined, it was the only thing she would be able to think about.
Rose woke slowly the next morning, her eyes blinking open to find sun dripping through the window. She squinted, trying to gather her bearings. There was a heavy weight across her waist and she shifted under it, trying to free herself. It was then that Rose realized she’d fallen asleep, her face pressed up against John’s chest and his arm swung over her hip.
Jimmy was going to kill her.
Shifting carefully, Rose managed to extricate herself from John’s grip. He snuffled a little in his sleep, but did not wake and Rose let out a sigh of relief as she slipped into her heels.
The ride home was tense, anxiety leaving Rose feeling nauseous. But she knew she couldn’t avoid it forever, so with her heart in her throat, Rose walked into the tiny flat she shared with Jimmy.
She closed the door very softly behind her, movements sluggish as she slowly tip-toed her way into the house, Jimmy still nowhere in sight.
Silently praying that he was still asleep Rose crept into their bedroom, hoping she could slip into bed before he even noticed. She opened the door slowly, just about to let out a sigh of relief when she saw that Jimmy was in fact still in bed, only to find that he wasn’t.
There was a moment where all Rose could here was a buzzing noise in her ears. She blinked, trying to comprehend the completely naked women next to him, hair strewn over the pillow. Tears rushed to her eyes and she gasped out a sob before closing the door so loudly it rattled in the frame.
She was dashing at her tears, picking up her purse from the counter with trembling hands to flee the flat when Jimmy stepped out of the bedroom his face thunderous.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demanded.
Rose froze in place, her eyes puffy and red. “Who was in bed with you?” she whispered back.
“Rosie,” he said, switching from angry to gentle in a matter of seconds. He took a step closer to her, a beseeching expression on his face and Rose subtly backed her way behind the kitchen counter.
“You were out having some fun, yeah? Thought it made sense that I did too is all. You understand, right?”
Rose’s lip trembled. Maybe he was right. If she was going to be sleeping with another man than why shouldn’t he be allowed to sleep with another woman? It still didn’t quite stop the ache in her chest though. She thought of John’s words, how he thought she should be treated as a queen. He was wrong. She couldn’t even be a good girlfriend for Jimmy. What right did she have to be a queen?
“You’re right,” she said, biting her lip and looking down.
Jimmy pulled her into a hug, a rare occurrence in and of itself. Rose buried her face into his shoulder another sob escaping. She didn’t deserve his kindness. Not after she’d failed again last night.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t…I couldn’t sleep with him.”
She felt Jimmy’s fingers tightened painfully around her waist. “I swear Rose-”
“Wait,” she said, trying to rush the words out before he could yell at her. “I think…I have an idea. Won’t it be better if we drag it out a bit?” Rose’s heart was beating quick in her chest. She almost had to force the words out. “I think it’ll hurt ‘im more that way, you know? Then when the time is right, we expose him. Make it into a big scandal. That way he’ll be sorry for ever thinking of messing with you.”
She could practically feel him considering her words. “I like it,” Jimmy finally admitted slowly. “Didn’t know you had it in you, Rose.”
Pleased by his praise, Rose grinned even though her stomach felt slightly nauseous over what she was going to do to John. Sweet, kind John.
Suddenly, Rose’s phone rattled in her pocket. Jimmy pulled back giving her a look. She pulled out her phone, unsurprised to find a text from John.
“Open it,” Jimmy demanded.
Rose couldn’t quite stop her fingers from shaking as she did.
Didn’t get to say goodbye this morning. Hope you made it home safely x
Something warm filled Rose’s chest until she realized Jimmy was reading it from over her shoulder. “Don’t know how you managed it, but you’ve done a number on him, haven’t you?” Jimmy said, chuckling under his breath.
The phone buzzed again as she was looking at the text, another message appearing.
I’d really love to see you again.
“Go on then,” Jimmy said, his voice low. “Answer him. And don’t let me down with this, Rosie. I’m expecting a good show.”
“It will be,” Rose promised, clutching her phone to her chest. But her heart wasn’t quite in the sentiment.
Weeks passed, wherein Rose learned that John loved taking her on all manners of dates. They were a bit limited on their options considering they had to be discreet, but he still managed to dream up all kinds of ideas for them from dinners at his place to slipping separately into the back of a dark theater and then proceeding to make out like teenagers where no one would see them.
He also never wavered on his constant questions, picking at every aspect of her mind until she had nothing left to give him, until it felt like he knew every part of her. Well, except for the obvious, but she did her best not to think about Jimmy while she was with him.
She found herself growing equally as entranced by his thoughts. One thing they constantly discussed was traveling. John had been to quite a few places over his life and Rose loved most of all when he’d tell her stories about his adventures. He was a fantastic storyteller, no doubt embellishing his tales to make them even grander, but she still found herself daydreaming about being in one of those stories with him. What would it be like, she wondered, to run away with him and see the world?
She’d voiced that thought to him once, almost absently, and he’d kissed her so thoroughly that she’d been tempted to jump him then and there. He’d seemed just as eager, but something had shifted and despite the constant tension and attraction, Rose was a lot less eager to get things moving between them. The faster that happened…well the faster this would all be over and this little world they’d built for themselves would come crumbling down.
Not that she ever let herself think about that too hard. If she did, some unpleasant and scary truths would come to light that she just wasn’t ready to deal with. Like the fact that soon she was going to be breaking his heart in the worst possible way. This was only made worst by the realization that she had grown quite fond of him. It had been awhile since she’d connected with someone like she did him. She was starting to see him as sort of a friend.
Tonight’s date night was a surprise, according to John, and It was well past being dark by the time they finally arrived in a small, secluded clearing. Trees hung over the grassy alcove in a semi-circle that left a wide opening so that the sky could be seen up above. It all became very clear in that moment what they were here to do and Rose smiled.
“There’s little light pollution here,” John explained as he dug through his pack. “There’s another spot that’s a bit bigger a few miles away that I like to take my astronomy students to. Great area for looking at the stars.”
“Why didn’t we go there then?” she asked, as he laid out a thick blanket and pulled out a couple of thermoses.
“I like this spot better,” he admitted. “Quieter and cozier. I also don’t bring students here so there’s no chance we’ll run into any of them.”
He stretched himself out on the blanket and invitingly patted the spot beside him. Rose sat down, leaving a few inches between their bodies as she tilted her head back towards the sky. “You don’t bring any students here?” she asked teasingly, tongue caught between her teeth. It was dark enough that it was hard to make out the features of his face, but she thought she might have seen his lips quirk up.
“Well, normally,” he said, scooting closer until their thighs were touching. “You’re the exception.” He took her hand in his, fingers weaving together and then pointed to a ring of stars, tracing their path in the sky while he whispered their stories into her ear, his breath warm on her skin. Rose shivered and scooted closer, letting her head rest on his shoulder while he talked.
Eventually, he ran out of stories to tell and he wrapped his arm around her, his head resting on top of hers. The only sound in the small woody area was that of their breathing and the insects clicking in the distance. Rose wasn’t sure she’d ever felt so peaceful. She had a sudden urge to capture this moment in it’s entirety.
She scooted out from John’s arms, dislodging him and making him smack his lips together like she’d woken him. “What’re you doing,” he mumbled.
Triumphantly, Rose pulled a sketch pad out of her pack and held it up for John to see. He squinted at it and then smiled at what he saw. “You going to draw me?” he asked, a hint of swagger in his tone.
Rose laughed and shook her head. “Not you, dummy.” She gestured around them. “All of this.” She gave him a sweet smile, knowing exactly the effect it would have on him. “I don’t want to forget it.”
She sat down beside him again, pencil in hand as she took in the dark shapes around them and the bright points of light up above. She flicked on a little light she’d brought so she could see the paper and set to work.
John watched, enraptured as she lay out the scene, tall trees and a small clearing and two indiscriminate forms with their heads tilted back towards the sky. She drew in the stars, the patterns he’d taught her lightly connecting to tie the scene together. When she was done, John sucked in a breath. “Rose-” he said his voice soft.
She tore the page from the sketch book carefully and handed it to him. “Here,” she said, her voice soft. “It’s for you.”
John held it reverently as he took it in, his eyes fond.
“Next time, I’ll draw you,” she promised.
“Do you have other pieces?” he asked her suddenly, his voice excited. He set the picture down carefully before turning to her. “Paintings, maybe? Sculptures? Anything?”
Rose blushed and nodded. “A few things,” she said. “‘S just a hobby really.”
“If you wanted,” John said. “They’re doing submissions at a local art gallery. They’ll do a big showing. A lot of art majors here will submit their work, but they take anyone. You should submit too. You’re very talented.”
“Oh, I’m not that good,” Rose said, waving him off.
“You are though!” John argued. “Think about it maybe? I can get you the application.”
Rose’s heart was pounding. The thought of actually having one of her pieces in an art gallery was tantalizing and before she could think more clearly, she nodded her head. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll think about it.
John positively beamed at her. She brushed away the thought of wanting to capture that look in its entirety too.
As it happened, Rose couldn’t resist the urge to submit her work. Just to see what would happen. So over the course of the following week, she spent late nights in the library completing the application.
By the time Friday rolled around, she had everything submitted and she was feeling quite pleased with herself. The rush was like no other she’d felt. It had been quite awhile since she’d been this happy.
She had decided rather early on that she wouldn’t tell John though. Not until she found out for sure if she’d been chosen. Against all reason, she wanted to surprise him, wanted him to be proud of her.
She was currently sitting at a small cafe on campus waiting for him to show as they had planned to meet for a light lunch. They had to be more careful in this setting, but it wasn’t exactly unheard of for a professor and student to meet for a coffee or lunch to discuss some academic matter. They used the guise of tutoring to get away with these little dates.
When John finally arrived he gave her a smile as he set down his cuppa and made himself comfortable across from her. Minutes ticked by.
Usually they sat talking for hours over lunch, but John remained uncharacteristically quiet and Rose was growing more and more anxious as several moments passed by without him speaking a word. His fingers were tapping against the surface of the table with nervous energy and it was setting her decisively on edge. She wanted to reach out and still his hand, but considering the public venue made no move to do so.
“Are you okay, Dr. Noble?”
He grimaced at the name, an unpleasant but still necessary propriety that had to be used in these settings. She thought about using Doctor, but even that still felt too familiar. He tended to avoid using her name altogether, seemingly unable to bring himself to call her Miss Tyler except when strictly necessary. As if he didn’t like the reminder.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I…actually- I wanted to talk to you about something.”
His tone was somber and Rose laughed a bit nervously. “What’s that then?”
There was a moment’s hesitation and then he pulled out a piece of heavily marked paper from his bag and set it between them. Rose’s heart dropped when she saw her name scrawled across the top.
They never really talked about the Physics class she had him for. It was almost an unspoken rule. She knew he wouldn’t be giving her any special treatment and he knew she wasn’t asking for it. It seemed better to just not bring it up at all when they were together.
There was a 33 circled across the top of the test, the one from two days ago in fact, and Rose felt an embarrassed heat crawl across her face. She looked away from him, trying to focus on breathing again.
“You could have told me if you were struggling with the material,” he said, his voice low enough so only she could hear. Tears pricked at her eyes and she clenched her fist under the table.
“I’m sure you already knew I was,” she snapped. Her last two tests hadn’t exactly been stellar performances either, though not quite as bad as this one considering she’d at least passed them. She’d just had a lot on her plate, these last few weeks, balancing her life with Jimmy and her life with John.
She could tell he was weighing his next words. She knew he was aware what a touchy subject this was for her. “You know I’m happy to help you,” he said carefully.
“I don’t want special treatment,” she hissed at him, the anger boiling under her skin.
Her words hit their mark because she could see the way his shoulders fell, the way he appeared upset that she’d accuse him of that. “You know I’d offer the same to any of my students who weren’t understanding the material.”
She did know that. Knew she was being unfair to him, but she couldn’t help herself. Maybe she wanted a reason to be mad at him, to make this all a little bit easier for her, in the end.
“Like I need another reminder I’m your student,” she muttered, knowing these words more than any would hurt him.
She was right, judging by the stricken look he gave her. A dimple appeared in his jaw. “If you don’t want my help then I can assign a tutor to you.”
“Fine,” she gritted out, ready for this conversation to just be over. She knew realistically that she wouldn’t be going to a tutor. Jimmy wouldn’t have any of that.
John looked relieved. “I’ll send you a list,” he said. “You can pick whoever you’d like.”
Rose just nodded, her eyes trained out the window.
“Please let’s not fight,” John said, voice strained. “I couldn’t bear for you to be angry at me over this.”
Rose sighed, her finger tracing the rim of her cup with her fingertip. “I’m not angry. Not really,” she said. “‘M just not good at maths. Feels silly to pretend like I could be.”
“Don’t talk like that,” John admonished. “You’re brilliant. So you’re having a bit of trouble with the maths. So what? With a bit of extra help I know you could do it. I believe in you.”
“You have too much faith in me,” Rose mumbled, daring to meet his eyes. She thought again about his insistence that she pursue her dream of being an artist. The way he was always encouraging her. The constant praise and assurance. Her heart fluttered in her chest.
John smiled. “Always.”
She couldn’t stop the smile from blooming across her own face. “I’ll try,” she promised. Jimmy didn’t have to know about the tutor, Rose justified to herself.
John made that little humming sound of his, meaning he was pleased.
“I’ve got class soon,” she said reluctantly. “I’ll see you later though?”
He nodded. “Goodbye Miss Tyler.” She could see the distaste of not being able to say her name written across his face. It was adorable.
She pressed her lips together to keep from giggling. “Goodbye Dr. Noble,” she replied poshly. No one around them spared them a glance.
She was growing addicted to John’s kisses. Jimmy wasn’t much for kissing, a bit more focused on getting to the good bits, but Rose loved it. Loved the slide of his tongue and the way he nibbled at her lip when he wanted access to her mouth. Loved being able to grope him over his clothes and move his own hesitant hand to cup her breast or trail over her arse. She especially loved the intimacy it brought, the cool touch of John’s fingers resting lightly against her cheek and the flush, smiling look on his face when they pulled back for a breath.
It was a bit dangerous to be doing this sort of thing in his office, but Rose enjoyed seeing the way his eyes would go dark when he pressed her back against his desk. His hands had grown a little less shy and a little more exploratory the last few times she’d been here and today was no different. His mouth trailed across her neck as his fingers snuck under her top to run firm touches along her stomach, up towards her breast. He groaned into her mouth when she arched into his touch, her legs winding around his waist and her nails scrapping along the back of his neck.
Abruptly he pulled his mouth from her skin, panting into her neck. That was the moment a knock sounded on his door. Rose looked up to catch the panicked look in John’s eye just for a moment before she was pushing him off her.
Rose gave John a pointed look and he cleared his throat. “Just a moment,” he called hoarsely. Rose, meanwhile, tucked herself under his desk. She couldn’t hear much, muffled through the wood, but she could tell it was a student and that John was talking to them exuberantly, explaining this and that, purposefully directing them away from his desk. Minutes and minutes passed before finally with a thanks, the student was gone. Once Rose heard the click of the door shutting, she cautiously peeked her head out.
He stared at her for several seconds, her skewed clothes and kiss swollen lips, and then much to her surprise he started laughing.
Rose straightened her shirt and glared at him. “Stop laughing that was way too close.”
He took in a breath trying to compose himself, but that only resulted in him doubling over with more laughter. “What’s wrong with you?! You’re insane! The adrenaline’s making you barmy.”
“I’m sorry,” John said consolingly, between giggles. “It’s just, I’m relieved is all.” He took a step closer wrapping his arm around her waist to twirl her around. She just managed to contain her squeak of surprise. “It’s exciting isn’t it? The sneaking around? Like you said.”
Rose gently nudged her hips forward, feeling just how excited he was. She raised an eyebrow at him, tongue caught between her teeth. “I can see that.”
He blushed, stilling her hips with his hands. He didn’t say anything, but Rose knew he wasn’t ready yet and frankly, neither was she. The sooner she slept with him, the sooner this was over. And, well, she wasn’t sure she was ready for it to be over.
His hand came up to brush a piece of wayward blond hair behind her ear. “You’ve been here for awhile, sure I’m not keeping you from anything?”
“Trying to get rid of me?”
“Never,” he denied. “Just don’t want to make your friends angry. What with the way I’m stealing all your time.”
“Oh,” Rose said, biting at her lip. She placed her hand on his chest, looking up at him. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
His brows furrowed together. “No? It’s just I know I can’t really meet your friends properly and that you have to separate these two parts of your life and I-”
That was when Rose realized just how genuinely worried about this, he’d been. She placed her finger over his lips, hushing him. “I promise that you have nothing to worry about. Trust me?”
John blinked then nodded and Rose moved her hand to cup his cheeks. He closed his eyes and simply savored her touch.
Rose didn’t tell him the reason he didn’t have to worry was because he was the only friend she really had, outside of Jimmy.
Rose entered John’s office on excited footsteps, a letter clutched in her hand. She pushed the door closed as had become habit over the course of her relationship with him. He stood up when he saw her and she didn’t even try to disguise her happiness as she marched behind his desk and threw her arms around his neck. He seemed equally pleased by this and wrapped his arms around her waist to spin her around.
When he set her down, his hands still resting on her waist, he grinned down at her. “Hello.”
“Hello,” Rose said breathlessly. “Look at this.”
She shoved the letter at him and he took it with a raised eyebrow. He pulled out the paper and quickly read through it, his eyes lighting up.
“Oh Rose,” he breathed. “I didn’t know you had decided to submit something! This is brilliant!”
She couldn’t look away from his face, his pride in her so clear and honest that it stole her breath away. He tucked her hair behind her ear, his eyes soft. “You’re brilliant,” he said, cupping her cheek tenderly. “I knew you could do it.”
“Not without you,” she admitted. “I never would have submitted it, if you hadn’t told me I should.”
“Nah uh,” John said, shaking his finger at her. “This is your win, Rose. You did this.” He kissed her forehead and heat flared in her gut at his words.
“You’ll come with me, won’t you?” she suddenly blurted. “To the opening, I mean?”
It was heartbreaking to watch his face fall. He fidgeted in front of her. “Not sure that’s a good idea,” he admitted, not meeting her eyes. “Just…just in case. I promise to be there though!” he assured hurriedly, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders.
Rose bit her lip, looking down. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” John said, squeezing her shoulders as he attempted to catch her eye. “Please don’t be sorry. I want nothing more than to hold your hand the whole time.” He picked up her hand, doing just that. He looked ashamed suddenly. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I hate that I can’t be there for you. You deserve so much better than that.”
Rose felt almost choked by his words, completely touched. “You being there is enough,” she said firmly. She traced one of the buttons on his suit jacket before looking at him from under her eyelashes. “Besides, maybe we can sneak away after the showing?”
“Hmm,” John hummed, his eyes traveling over her face before finally resting on her lips. He quite suddenly lifted her on his desk, causing her to squeal and clutch at his shoulders. Once he had her situated, he rested his forehead against hers, his eyes closing. “We’ll definitely sneak away and celebrate,” he said on a contented exhale.
It was these moments more than any that Rose had to remind herself that Jimmy was her boyfriend, not John. She was in love with Jimmy. Not John. But when he looked at her like that, like she was brighter than any star, Rose could hardly keep anything in her head straight. It was addictive, the way he looked at her, the way he kissed her, the way he held her. The longer she kept this up, the harder it was to remember the reason she was doing all of this in the first place.
An alarm beeped on John’s phone and reluctantly he pulled away from her. “I’ve got to start office hours now,” he said with a sigh. With hands on her waist, he gently helped her down from his desk.
Before she had a chance to pull away from him, he dropped a sweet kiss to her lips. “I really am proud of you, you know.”
Rose smiled gently. “I know,” she said. She wondered, not for the first time, how Jimmy would react if she told him about her piece that would be displayed in the local art gallery. She almost winced internally just at the thought of it and figured it might be best just not to tell him at all.
She tried not to think too closely about how John’s support contrasted so sharply with Jimmy’s constant irritation with her art pursuits. It just didn’t bear thinking of.
Spring was swiftly approaching, sunshine and white clouds and blooming flowers chasing away the cold winter air. John had been insistent that he wanted to go with her to the park and walk around like a normal couple. He’d taken them to a little secluded area almost an hour away from the uni so they didn’t risk running into anyone they knew.
He’d packed them a lunch, sandwiches and crisps. They ate and lounged around on the blanket he’d brought, the cool breeze ruffling their hair and the sound of laughter ringing out around them. Eventually, they ended up with Rose’s head resting against his leg and his hand reaching down to shift through her hair. His other hand was propped behind him.
“How are classes?” he asked her, his voice soft.
“Mmm, good,” she said. “I’ve…I’ve signed up for more art classes next semester.”
“That’s brilliant Rose.” His voice was unbearably warm. “Though I’m still not quite sure why you’re not just an art major when it’s quite obvious you love it.”
Rose’s fingers twitched by her side. The truth was Jimmy didn’t really think art was a worthwhile career choice. In fact, if he had his way she’d not be taking classes at all and instead working to support them. It had taken weeks of pleading and cajoling to convince him to let her take classes too. But she couldn’t tell John all of that.
“I’ve got to think realistically,” she said instead, the words sour in her mouth. “Business is a safe choice.”
“It’s a boring choice,” John dismissed. “And you obviously don’t care for it. You deserve to do something that makes you happy.”
Rose shrugged. “Not much choice,” she let slip, and then immediately clamped her lips shut. John’s fingers stopped moving through her hair.
Tentatively, he asked, “Is this maybe why you don’t like talking about your mum? Is this the big fight you’re in with her?”
It certainly wasn’t. Her mum would’ve been proud that Rose was pursuing an education at all, even if it was in art. No, her mum was mad at her because she was with ‘that tosser Jimmy.’ They’d gotten into endless fights over him and finally Rose had had enough. She hadn’t talked to her mum since.
But to John she said, “Yeah that’s it.”
She could sense then that he wanted to say something. Offer some kind of advice or support. Tell her to fix things with her mum since she was family. In the end, he did none of that, just started sifting his fingers through her hair again. “I hope it works out, Rose. I’m here if you need someone to listen to. About anything really.”
“I know you are,” Rose said, her eyes closing. She felt suspiciously close to tears, like she often did when he said just the right thing, when he treated her so kindly, so full of respect and pride.
A few silent moments passed where they simply watched the clouds.
“Speaking of family, my sister wants to meet you,” John suddenly let spill past his lips. His mouth clicked shut, as if surprised by his own words.
Completely taken off guard, Rose sat up so she could turn and see his face. His posture read tense, fingers clenched by his side. His eyes focused intently on the sky above. This was the first time he’d ever mentioned his family.
Carefully, Rose said, “You told your sister about me?”
“Umm maybe,” he admitted. “It’s not my fault though! Donna knew something was up, she guessed.”
“That you were dating one of your students?”
“Well not that bit,” he said sheepishly. His voice softened. “I think she, well, realized how happy I was.”
The admission made Rose’s heart melt. Something warm took up residence in her chest, making her speak before thinking. “Yeah okay. I’d love to meet your sister.”
John sat up, suddenly beaming. “Yeah?”
“I’ll set something up then,” he said, his hand reaching for hers.
His eyes were so bright and happy that she couldn’t not kiss. It never even occurred to her that maybe she was getting in too deep.
The more time Rose spent with John, the more girls Jimmy brought home. Rose had to bite back her protests, not daring to start a fight with him. She knew he was growing increasingly angry about the time she spent with John, that he was hanging on a razor’s edge of control. It was obvious as the weeks dragged by, he was growing more distrusting of her. He hadn’t said anything yet, but Rose knew it was only a matter of time and the dread was growing in her stomach.
She didn’t know if it was better to drag it out, to spend as many days as she possibly could with John, or if it was better to get the whole thing over with to avoid making Jimmy any angrier with her. The angrier he got, the worse it was going to be for her, she knew. But in the end, she couldn’t bring herself to give up one second with John. He was worth anything that would be coming to her.
She was at his house now, curled against him while he graded papers. She liked watching him, the scrunch of his brow, the way he’d touch his tongue to the tip of his teeth as he worked. He was not just adorable, but completely gorgeous. She wondered how she’d never noticed that before. She’d been mostly joking when she’d told him she’d draw him one day, but now she had sketchbooks filled with his face, drawn from memory. His features were fascinating.
“How are things going with Martha?” he asked breaking her from her thoughts. His eyes were still roaming over the paper he was grading.
“Good I think,” she said, shrugging. “Martha’s really nice. We get on well.”
“Yeah?” John asked, delighted. He’d been the one to suggest she go with Martha. “She’s a clever girl. I’m glad she’s a good fit,” he said.
“Mmmhmm,” Rose said, peering up at him. All the late nights with Martha were putting a bit of a strain on things with Jimmy since she had to tell him she was spending time with John. She knew Jimmy wasn’t going to buy all her excuses to wait for much longer. Her days with John were growing shorter.
“Good,” John said. He waved the paper he’d been grading at her. “Especially considering you got a B- on the last homework.”
Rose sat up more fully, grabbing the paper from him. “You told me you were grading for your astronomy class!” she said, scandalized. In fact, her heart was beating quickly because she’d never done so well on any assignment in his class before. In any maths based class before.
“I lied,” he shrugged, grinning. “Good job Miss Tyler,” he added teasingly.
Quick as lightning, Rose swung her leg over his hip, knocking the rest of his papers from his grip. “And do I get a reward, professor?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes at him.
He gulped visibly. “Gold star for you.” Rose delighted in how hoarse his voice was.
“Nothing else?” she asked pouting. Her fingers moved to play with the buttons of his oxford. He’d already discarded the jacket earlier, much to her delight. She’d jokingly whistled when he’d rolled up his sleeves and the way he’d blushed would be in her memory forever. “Think I might need incentive to keep doing such a good job.”
“Incentive, eh?” he said, quirking a brow. His hands found her hips. “What would my star pupil like?”
She touched her tongue to the corner of her mouth. “Kiss me.”
He did so with gusto, his hands wrapping around her back to pull her close to him. She couldn’t help the way she fidgeted over his lap as he explored every sensitive corner of her mouth. His kisses were skilled and always left her trembling and breathless and this was no exception. He showered her with kiss after kiss, his mouth traveling down her neck and then again to hers at frequent intervals. He was quite obviously hard under her, but it didn’t feel urgent, not like it often did with Jimmy. He seemed completely content to simply kiss the very air from her lungs instead. She’d never been with a man who seemed to care so little for his own needs in favor of her own.
When he pulled back finally, his breaths coming in short pants, it was to say, “I love you.”
Rose closed her eyes against the tears, pressing their foreheads together. “I love you too,” she said thickly barely able to get the words out. But not because they weren’t true but rather because, quite distressingly, they were.
Later that night, Rose slid her key into the lock only to find that the kitchen light was still on. Her heart fell to her stomach at the sight.
Cautiously, she approached the room. “Jimmy?”
He was sitting at the kitchen table, his expression dark. Rose’s eyes helplessly darted to the door. He was up like a shot, grabbing her hard around the wrist. She yelped and Jimmy sneered at her.
“You’ve been lying to me,” he breathed out, alcohol on his breath. His free hand dug into his pocket, pulling out a familiar letter. The one she’d hid in her sock drawer. “You seeing him there?” Jimmy spat, crumpling the letter and flinging it on the ground. “For this stupid little art gala of yours that you never told me about?”
“Yes,” she whispered, wincing as his grip tightened.
“I’m tired of these games,” Jimmy said, voice going deadly calm. “I’m no idiot, Rose. You’ve grown attached to him, haven’t you? Think you’re special or something. Well, that ends now. I won’t have him giving you these stupid ideas.”
He pushed her up against a wall, her back jarring against the hard surface. Jimmy grabbed both her hands, his grip tight as he pressed them against the wall. She’d no doubt have bruises rung around the fair skin. She turned her head from him, scrunching up her face as the tears streamed over her cheeks.
“You fuck him at that gala or I swear to god you’ll regret it.”
“My wrists,” she whispered. “The bruises...”
“When you report him, you tell them he gave those to you. Understood?”
Rose sucked in a harsh sob and said nothing. Jimmy pressed on her wrists harder and she felt the bones shift under the strain. “Understood?”
“Yes, yes,” she nodded, still sobbing.
Jimmy let go of her and she crumbled to the floor, holding her wrists protectively against her body. Jimmy shook his head. “You’re pathetic.”
He left her laying there and Rose didn’t dare move until morning.
“You okay, Rose? You seem a bit distracted tonight?”
Rose blinked, fidgeting with the sleeve of her long-sleeved shirt. “I’m fine,” she told Martha, attempting to focus her eyes back on the problem Martha had been explaining. The other woman smiled kindly.
“I think you might need a break, Rose. It’s not going to do much good to continue when you’re distracted like this.”
Rose sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Martha said, ever patient. “We can pick up again tomorrow.” She started packing up her bag. “Do you have a way to get home?” she asked.
Rose nodded. “Yeah, I’m good.”
Martha touched her hand and Rose had to resist the urge to flinch. “I know we don’t know each other well, but if you ever need to talk let me know.”
Touched, Rose whispered, “Thank you.”
Once Martha had left, Rose tapped out a quick text to John. Finished early. Pick me up?
John responded almost immediately. Be there in ten x
When his car pulled up, Rose did a quick scan that no one was around to notice before she slid in. “Hi,” she said.
“Hello.” He took one look at her face and frowned. “Everything alright?”
“Just nervous for the gala tomorrow, I guess,” she said, which wasn’t technically a lie.
“You’ll do great Rose,” he said. “You don’t have anything to be nervous about.”
“Can I stay with you tonight,” she blurted.
She watched John’s eyes widen.
“Not to do anything,” Rose backtracked. “I just want you to hold me tonight.”
“I’d like that quite a bit,” John said, blindingly reaching for her hand while his eyes stayed on the road. She grabbed it, already feeling lighter with their fingers entwined. She promised herself not to think at all about what she had to do until tomorrow. She’d give herself tonight.
They lay in John’s bed that night, her head cushioned against his chest and talked into the wee hours of the morning. He stroked her hair as he talked, exuberant one minute and reverent the next. He carried the conversation, happy to distract her from her nerves. Rose didn’t think she’d ever love anyone quite as much as she loved this man.
And before she knew it, she was lulled to sleep by the sound of his voice.
The next morning Rose left John with a lingering kiss. “I’ll see you tonight,” he’d said, squeezing her in a hug before sending her on her way.
Rose was only moderately surprised (and completely relieved) to find that Jimmy wasn’t home.
She was forced to pick a dress with longer sleeves, considering her wrist were still mottled with black and blue bruises. With her mind blank, Rose got ready, trying to ignore the growing ache in her chest. Looking at herself in the mirror, her make up impeccable and hair curled loosely, Rose didn’t at all like what she saw.
Her phone buzzed and with dread, she read John’s message. Remember, you’ll be brilliant. See you tonight love x
It felt like time was speeding up around her over the next few hours. It ticked by relentlessly, pulling her with it even as she dug her feet into the ground and kicked and screamed until her throat was numb, desperate to avoid what was to come. But she was a prisoner to time like everyone else and hers had run out.
Rose focused on her breathing when she finally entered the gala later that night. It was breathtakingly beautiful and the artwork exquisite. Under any other circumstances she would have been thrilled by the talent surrounding her, but tonight wasn’t any other night and her heart just wasn’t in it.
Her piece was near the back, a nighttime landscape in the field John had taken her to. It was easily one of her strongest pieces and she could already see a few of the art professors gathered around it, talking exuberantly. She introduced herself and they took their turns congratulating her. But their praise did nothing to ease her melancholy or her ever increasing dread.
When the professors left her with well wishes and hopes to see her in their classes, she felt footsteps approaching from behind her.
"I don’t have anything to be jealous of, do I?” a voice murmured in her ear.
Rose whirled around and there he stood, elegantly dressed in a black tux. He was grinning widely and when he caught her eye he winked. “Good evening Miss Tyler.”
“Dr. Noble,” she replied, just managing to keep the tremble from her voice.
“Beautiful,” he murmured, gesturing to her piece, but his eyes said he wasn’t talking at all about her art.
“Now if I’m honest, I don’t particularly know much about art. Care to show me around?”
“I’d be happy to,” she replied, her lips twitching upwards despite herself.
They walked around together, a respectable distance between them, as they explored the gallery. Rose talked about the different pieces, noting the things she did and didn’t like. He was an attentive listener and she was relieved that no one seemed to be paying much attention to them. They were just another pair of faces in the crowd.
She could almost forget entirely about what she had to do later tonight, if not for the fact that about fifteen minutes ago, she’d seen Jimmy lurking through the crowd. He was here, he was watching them, trailing them. Rose didn’t dare wonder what he would do if she didn’t follow through.
She was frightened. She had no doubt John could tell something was wrong with her. No doubt that he was worried about her, but he didn’t dare ask. Not here.
It was when the gala was coming to a close that her eyes unwittingly caught sight of Jimmy’s. He gave her a pointed look and Rose resisted the urge to flinch. Clearing her throat, she turned to John. “Follow me?” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
“I’ll follow after you,” was John’s immediate reply. “After a few minutes. Text me where I should meet you, okay?”
Rose nodded, swallowing.
He turned from her then, disappearing back into the crowd. Rose couldn’t resist watching him, the way he stopped to talk to a few of his colleagues, the way his throat looked as he tossed his head back to laugh, the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled. Rose rubbed lightly at her sore wrists, the ache in her chest growing unbearable. She had to get out of here.
Stumbling to find a place they could be alone, Rose worked to catch her breath, to compose herself. Her heart felt as if it was in her throat. She had to get herself together. She wouldn’t be able to seduce him if she were crying the whole while. Taking in a few deep breaths and closing her eyes, Rose focused on breathing evenly.
She hid herself in a small little alcove in the back of the building, her fingers fumbling over the keys of her phone.
John didn’t take long at all to find her, his hands resting on her shoulders, touching her for the first time that night. If he was confused that she wasn’t waiting for him outside he didn’t let on, his concern winning out.
“Okay?” John asked, his eyebrows drawn together.
“I’m fine,” she said, willing herself to believe the words.
Not wasting a moment more for him to ask any more questions, Rose jerked him into a kiss. She could feel his hesitance, either from the public venue or her strange behavior all night she couldn’t be sure.
She doubled her efforts, pressing closer to him until there wasn’t an inch of space between them, hips and thighs and chests pressed flush together. Her hands moved to his hair, raking over his scalp. John was panting by the time she moved her lips to suck on his neck. She rocked herself against him, feeling the thick line of him against her thigh.
John nudged at her chin, a soothing touch. She met his eyes, gentle as ever, and that was her undoing. If she looked at him for even a second longer she wouldn’t be able to do this. She pulled him back into a fierce kiss, her mouth urging his open against hers.
Then before he could even catch his breath, Rose made her move, dropping down to her knees.
Rose let her nails drag over the sensitive skin of his clothed thigh, trailing higher and higher on each pass. She focused her attention on what she was doing, not daring to look at him. Her heart was hammering hard in her chest. She brought her face closer to the growing bulge in his trouser, trying to let the anticipation build for him, trying to focus every one of her thoughts on pleasing him and nothing else. If she were to only have him for this moment then she wanted to make the most of it.
She let the back of her nails scrape gently over his clothed erection, dragging slowly and firmly until he was near trembling, his gulps of air audible in their small alcove. She couldn’t help looking at him then, could not physically tear her eyes away from him if she tried. His head was tipped back, his eyes closed, his posture tense. The sight of him made tears fill her eyes and she knew she had to get this done now. Dragging in a rapid breath, Rose urgently dove for the clasp of his trousers, her fingers trembling so much she couldn’t open them. Her tears were falling so rapidly now that her vision was blurring. Her wrists still ached and goddammit she couldn’t get the clasp open, she couldn’t get it open.
John grabbed for her wrist, trying to stop her frantic movements, but even his light touch hurt and she jerked from him, cradling her wrist against her chest. She could feel his eyes on her now. Feel the way he was taking in what a mess she was.
“You’re crying,” he finally whispered, his voice clearly distressed. He dropped down beside her, his fingertips brushing gently at her tears. “Please don’t cry, Rose.”
Hiccuping, Rose tried to move to straddle him. “I...I have to-”
“Stop. Stop. You don’t have to do anything,” he tried to tell her, his voice equal parts devastated and mortified. “I don’t...you don’t have to do anything. I’m not-”
“I do. I do,” she wailed over him.
“You’ve hurt your wrist?” John asked, ignoring her desperate pleas. “Let me see?”
She shook her head, eyes going wide.
“Let me see Rose,” he repeated gently. He took up her hand in his, rubbing gently at the skin before pulling her sleeve back, revealing the finger shaped bruises marring her skin.
John sucked in a breath. “Who did this to you?” he breathed.
Rose kept shaking her head.
John let his hands travel to her face, stroking back her hair. He dragged her into his embrace, holding her head against his chest as she cried. “You’re okay,” he said. “Shh. You’re safe, you’re okay. I’m going to take you back to my flat okay?” He kissed the top of her head. “You’re going to be okay.”
John handed her a cup of tea, his face solemn. Rose could hardly bear to look at him. The guilt and shame churning ferociously in her gut.
“My...my boyfriend Jimmy grabbed my wrists a bit too roughly the other night.”
If John was shocked by her words, he didn’t let it show.
“I can give you an aspirin for the pain. Did he hurt you anywhere else?”
Rose bit her lip, but didn’t reply.
She felt him shifting, felt him kneel in front of her. He didn’t touch her and she wasn’t sure if she was relieved or heartbroken for it. “You have to tell me if he hurt you anywhere else, Rose. Please.”
“No,” she managed to croak. “Not recently.”
John sighed. “Good. That’s good. Let me get you that aspirin.”
He wordlessly handed her two white pills. She swallowed them without complaint and then she pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her head on her knees.
He sat down beside her. There was a long, unbearable moment of silence. Then finally John spoke, his voice heavy, “How long have you been with Jimmy?”
“No, no. Don’t...” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. That’s when she realized he wasn’t mad at her. He was mad at himself. “Don’t apologize, Rose. I’m..I’m asking because I need to know how long he’s been hurting you.”
“Why do you care?” she all but snapped, her posture defensive. John’s expression was shocked before he turned away from her, hands wringing in front of him.
“I think you know why I do,” he said thickly. Then clearing, his throat, “Please tell me how long.”
“Almost two years,” she whispered, the fight leaving her. John swallowed harshly. “But...he wasn’t always, well, It was just six months ago maybe that he started-” She shuddered and looked down at the mug in her hands.
John nodded and then kept nodding. Bracing himself, he said, “I think we need to call the police.”
“No, I can’t,” Rose said.
“Why not?” John demanded. “You’re obviously terrified of him. I won’t let you-”
“Because I love him,” Rose said, her voice weak and small. John’s mouth snapped shut and he looked at her, horrified.
“I do,” Rose said, the tears welling to her puffy, red eyes. “I do love him.” Each time she said it she believed it less and less. But the words did what they needed to do where John was concerned.
There was a moment where she could practically feel the hurt, the anger off of him, but she visibly watched as he pushed it to the side as his concern for her won out.
“Okay, okay,” he said, and though he tried to hide it she knew he was stricken. “You love him. Okay. But Rose, listen, just listen. You have to see reason. He was hurting you. Abusing you, Rose. That’s...He’s a criminal.”
“I’m no better than him,” she whispered. And if he didn’t hate her after all of this, he surely would once she told him the truth.
“That’s not remotely true,” John retorted, voice firm.
“It’s true,” she said, laughing, the sound ugly and raw. “Do you remember when you failed him on that first test and he couldn’t play in his rugby match?”
John blinked. “Wait...you mean, Jimmy Stone. He’s your-”
“He was very, very angry,” Rose said, shuddering. “Wanted to get back at you.”
Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle, the one John had been doing his best not to think too closely about, fell sickeningly into place. She could see it on his face. “With you. He wanted to get me back with you.”
Rose shrugged. “He thought you were sweet on me. I didn’t think so, but he asked me to try. He wanted me to sleep with you. Get you fired for having relations with a student. He didn’t count on you not fucking me at the first opportunity you got.”
John flinched. He didn’t say anything for several long minutes. Finally, he looked up at her, and his eyes were infinitely sad. It broke her heart.
“So,” he choked. “It was all fake then?”
Rose looked down into her lap, forcing the words to her lips, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t say that,” John groaned. “Please don’t. He was threatening you, yeah? You were scared of him. You can’t blame yourself for this. You can’t. If anything I-”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but he didn’t have to. Rose was fairly certain she knew what he was going to say anyway.
I should have never been tempted by you in the first place.
The look on John’s face was devastated and, god, did she hate it. She wanted to reassure him that of course it wasn’t all fake, that she loved him dearly, but it was time to cut off all ties. The less he was involved with her, the less chance Jimmy would come after him. The less chance he had to lose his job. She had to end this now and then somehow convince Jimmy to leave him alone, just this once. Distract him if she had to, make deals with him. She could do that for John.
So, bracing herself, Rose stood up on wobbly legs. “I should get home.”
John blinked. “What?”
“I need to get going.”
“Where? To Jimmy?”
“No, I’m not letting you do that.”
Rose bristled. “I don’t think you have any right to tell me what to do, professor.”
John grabbed at his hair, frustrated. “Just listen to yourself, Rose. I can’t let you go back to him. He’s hurt you, don’t you see? I need you safe.”
“You can’t keep me here,” Rose said, her voice wobbling. She made to go to the door again when suddenly a loud knock resounded.
Rose jumped and her eyes turned wide and panicked. “You called the police!”
John looked confused. “No, I didn’t I swear I-” Realization dawned across his face.
“Oh. Oh no.”
“That’s, that’s my sister,” he said, his voice low. The knock resounded again, louder this time.
“I was going to surprise you,” he admitted. “You said, umm, that you’d meet her.” He wasn’t looking at her. “Let me...Let me just-” He ran frantic fingers through his hair before making his way to the door. Rose shrank backwards not wanting to be seen.
“About time,” Rose heard a voice proclaim loudly. “I’ve been knocking for ages! Here take this.”
“Wait, Donna now’s not really a good time-”
“What do you mean it’s not a good time. You invited me here! I’ve spent several hours driving down here to meet your Rose. Don’t try and turn me away now, spaceman.”
“She’s-she’s not my Rose,” John said, his voice small.
“Well, that’s a change of tune from last we talked.”
“Please,” John said strained. “Something’s happened and I just need some time to sort it out. I’ll give you money for a hotel or something. Anything.”
“No way,” Donna said, pushing herself inside despite John’s protests. “Whatever it is I can-”
Rose shuffled on her feet. “Hello,” she said, when the red-headed woman met her eyes.
“You must be Rose,” she said, her voice kind. “Hello.” Then she turned to her brother. “A bit young, isn’t she?”
“Donna,” John hissed, scrubbing his hands down his face. “I told you now is not the time.”
“It’s okay,” Rose managed to say, her throat feeling tight. “I was just leaving. It’s...getting late.”
“Oh no please stay!” Donna said, taking a step closer to her. “Don’t want to run you off. Besides I’m meant to-Oh. You look like you’ve been crying, dear.” Donna immediately rounded on her brother. “What did you do to her?”
John miserably hung his head and said nothing.
“He didn’t do anything,” Rose said, her voice breaking on the words. More tears leaked from her eyes. “This is all my fault. I should really go.”
“Stop saying that,” John suddenly growled, startling both woman. “This is not your fault. I’m telling you, we need to go to the police, Rose.”
“Police!” Donna said, swiveling to look from John to Rose. “Okay enough of this. Both of you are going to sit down right now and tell me what’s going on here!”
“You’re dating one of your students?”
John rubbed at his neck. “Well, I thought, umm, but it wasn’t really-”
Rose felt nauseous listening to John try to explain the situation. His eyes kept darting to hers, wondering what was okay to say. Rose was slowly coming to terms with the fact that she likely wasn’t going to be leaving any time soon.
Rose sighed, as John continued fumbling with his words. “I tricked him,” Rose said.
“You were being threatened,” John countered immediately.
“By who?” Donna asked, eyes wide.
“My boyfriend,” Rose offered quietly. Donna shot John a sharp look.
Rose sighed again, feeling shameful and drained. “No, my boyfriend Jimmy. He-he wanted me to, well, get John fired. Let’s leave it at that.”
“What?” Donna said, whirling back around to look at her.
“It’s not her fault,” John insisted again. “He’s hurt her. Threatened her.”
There was along moment where Donna was silent, then she rested a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Let me talk to her, will you?”
John looked taken aback. “What?”
“Trust me,” Donna said. Another pause where they stared at each other, seeming to communicate something without words. Then finally he gave a short nod and left the room. Rose stared at her hands, resting in her lap.
“John’s my little brother, you know. Did he tell you that? Probably not because he acted as if he was my older brother growing up. Always the responsible one, always looking out for me.”
“Sounds like John,” Rose replied.
Donna tilted her head back towards the ceiling, as if remembering. “ For the most part I listened to him because I knew he only wanted the best for me. But then in high school I got this boyfriend. His name was Lance.”
Rose met Donna’s eyes then, and the red-headed woman smiled, a tightlipped thing.
“He was trouble, everyone said so from the beginning. But he wanted me and it made me feel special. Plus it helped that he was very handsome,” Donna continued, shaking her head. “I fancied myself in love with him.”
“What happened?” Rose asked softly.
“He never laid a hand on me,” Donna said. “But he’d say things. Nasty things. The kind that get into your head, you know? But he’d flip back again at the drop of a hat, to being all sweet and doting so I’d ignore it mostly. Excuse his behavior because I loved him. Sound familiar?”
Rose said nothing, her eyes drifting away. Donna placed a hand over hers. “John, idiot brother that he is, saw what was happening right away. Kept telling me I needed to dump him. I brushed off his concerns for awhile and I knew it was killing him. We got into one of our biggest fights over it.
“But in the end, he was right. Lance was a wanker and I let him get away with too much. My biggest regret was not listening to John, to all my friends, about what a git he was. The point is, I know John might be pushing this police thing on you, but it’s only because he’s concerned. He remembers what happened with me and I know it’s not exactly the same thing as this, but either way he’s scared.”
“He doesn’t have to be,” Rose protested. “This doesn’t involve him. I can handle Jimmy.”
“Whether it involves him or not is irrelevant. He’s quite obviously in love with you and he’s not going to stand by and let some jerk hurt you.”
Rose blushed at the words, looking down as more guilt churned in her belly.
“And I think your feelings aren’t as fake as he seems to think they are. So, let him help you.”
“I’m trying to protect him,” Rose finally admitted, her voice growing stronger. “I can take care of Jimmy. If we go to the police, I’ll have to talk. It’ll get revealed that he was involved with me, his student. He’ll lose his job. I can’t do that to him!”
“I think he would agree that your safety is a bit more important than his job.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Donna shrugged. “Not much to be done about that, blondie. John knew what he was getting into by dating a student. I won’t say I wasn’t a bit surprised. He’s not been interested in anyone for ages. You must be pretty special.”
“Doesn’t matter. He’s got to hate me now after what I did.”
Donna’s eyes glanced to the side for just a moment before she sighed. “Why don’t you ask him that yourself? Since, he’s quite obviously listening in,” Donna called out.
John guiltily slinked into the room. “I wasn’t listening in,” he mumbled. “Okay, maybe just a little at the end there.” He turned to Rose, hesitantly walking closer until he fell on his knees next to where she was sitting in order to grab her hand. “How could you possibly think I hate you? All I want is for you to be safe. Please, Rose.”
He was looking at her so earnestly, so completely worried about her that she couldn’t say no to him. All the fight had gone out of her and she just felt tired. So, so tired.
“Okay,” she whispered. “Okay. I’ll go to the police.”
Rose knew going in that it would be a process. That she’d have to repeat her story over and over until her throat felt numb. That she would have to relive some of the worst moments of her life, spell them out in detail for strangers to write down. She knew this, but the reality was so much worse than she’d feared. She already felt so drained. She was so, so tempted to just call it quits, to leave town and forget this whole thing had ever happened. But in the end she couldn’t do that. Couldn’t let Jimmy get his hands on his next victim.
The only thing that got her through it all was the way John stayed by her side every step of the way. In fact, he was the first to hug her when she won her case.
“It’s over,” he’d whispered in her ear and she’d clutched at his shirt and burst into tears.
“So you’re going back to live with your mum?” John said, taking a sip from his cuppa.
“Yeah, think I’ll take some art classes at the local college down there. It’s about an hour away from here. Mum’s thrilled about it.”
“Good for you,” John said, nodding. He took another slow sip.
Rose waited several long seconds before clearing her throat. “You had a meeting with the dean?” she prompted.
John sighed deeply. “I’m on probation,” he said finally. “It’s technically not against university policy to, erm, you know. The problem of course lies in the fact that you were taking one of my classes at the time.” John lifted his palms up in a shrugging motion. “Conflict of interest and all of that. But they’re going to let me off a bit easy since, well, umm-” He turned red and looked down. Rose felt her own cheeks grow warm as realization dawned.
He’d never actually slept with her.
Not for the first time she felt shame roiling in her gut over what she’d done. No matter how many times John assured her it wasn’t her fault, she wasn’t sure the guilt would ever fully go away. Still, he wasn’t going to outright lose his job because of her and that was honestly the best that she could have hoped for.
“That’s a relief,” Rose said, feeling something loosen, just a little bit, in her chest. “I mean, obviously not ideal but-”
“I don’t regret it, you know,” John said, still not looking at her.
Rose gripped her mug tighter, shocked down to her core by his words. “What?”
He shrugged and licked his lips. “I-I would do it again. The same thing if, well, I know you weren’t really...I just mean if things had been different I would have-”
“What are you saying, Doctor?” Rose asked, her heart beating quick in her chest.
He startled slightly at the nickname. She’d not called him that since...before. She could see him gathering his courage, see him bracing himself. “It wasn’t fair to you, what you had to do. And I’m so, so sorry I took advantage of that. If I’d known...but that doesn’t really matter now, I suppose. What I’m trying to say is, that’s the only part of this whole thing that I truly regret. Making the decision to risk my job for you, that choice was an easy one. I would do the same thing every time.”
It was then that Rose realized that maybe she wasn’t the only one swimming in guilt. It was there, lurking in his eyes. He blamed himself, completely and fully.
“It wasn’t you fault either, you know,” she said, shaking her head. “Don’t think that for a second. I don’t know if I’ve said yet, but I’m so sorry I tricked you.”
“If I don’t get to blame myself than you sure as hell don’t get to blame yourself.”
“Deal,” Rose said immediately, and then for the first time in months she offered up a tentative smile. John beamed in return.
“I have to say though,” Rose started slowly, gathering her courage. “I have a few regrets myself.”
She could see John visibly withhold a flinch. “Well, that’s underst-”
“First and foremost being,” Rose cut over him, her voice firm, “that I somehow made you think that I am not completely and utterly in love with you.”
John froze. She wasn’t even sure he was breathing anymore. He tried to open his mouth to say something, but the words got stuck in his throat. Rose rested her hand on top of his on the table.
“I understand if it’s hard to believe me,” Rose said, biting at her lip. “But it’s true. The more time we spent together, the less and less I wanted to go through with it.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” she said, shrugging. She gave him a watery smile. “I just wanted you to know that it wasn’t all fake. Those days we spent together, they were so real and I wouldn’t change them for the world.”
“Rose,” John said again, and she could see the way his eyes were lighting up, see the hope blooming across his face as something occurred to him. “Rose, you’re not my student anymore. Not even a student at this university.”
Rose’s heart fluttered in her chest and she looked up at him from underneath her lashes. His hand twisted under hers to link their fingers together. “I suppose I’m not,” she said breathlessly. “Maybe....maybe we could start over? If you want?”
“I’d like nothing more.”
Rose caught her tongue between her teeth. “Well, if we’re going to do this I want to do it properly,” she said, echoing his words from long ago. “I really like you, John.” She leaned forward, catching his eye. “Let me take you on a date?”
His smile was so soft and happy that it made Rose’s heart swell. “Yes. Absolutely yes.”