by k.

Summary: Maura leads a sedate life with a husband she never sees. One day at work, she gets a note from a secret admirer.

written 14Feb07
Rating: T
Genre: romance

She found the first note in late January in her mailbox at school.

I've admired you from afar for so long and know that you have the most beautiful soul I've ever seen. The glimpses I've caught of your outside make me think it matches your inside, but it's hard to tell in those ill-fitting clothes.

Maura stopped on the way to her office and reread the note. Was this a secret admirer or a fashion critic?

When her friend Allison, a physics professor, literally bumped into her, she showed her the note and asked for an opinion. Allison was naturally appalled on her behalf, saying that this person was rude and had no business criticizing Maura's lovely flowing wardrobe. Then again, Allison wore much the same thing. Tina, the sports medicine professor, had joined by then and heartily agreed with the secret messenger, saying it was time Maura showed off some of her curves. Tina thought it was horrible the way Maura hid behind her clothes. She even offered to take them both shopping the following night instead of going to their usual Saturday movie.

At home that night, Maura cooked a vegetable stir-fry and sat eating her quiet dinner when her husband arrived home early.

"Why so early?" she asked, not really interested, but feeling like she should note the change from routine.

"I, uh, got demoted."

"What? You're the best photographer that stupid magazine has and they'd better-"

Her husband smiled and held out a hand, stopping her tirade on his behalf. "They wanted to move me - us - to New York. They're moving most of the operation back east. With your job and tenure, and with all our friends here, our life here, I didn't want to go. I told them no. So I was demoted. Good news is, now my working hours are the same as yours, so we'll get to see more of each other again." He smiled sadly.

"Yeah," she said, pasting on a fake smile. For just a moment, when he'd said they wanted to move him to New York, she'd been thrilled. She didn't want a divorce exactly, she couldn't say they were unhappy. But they weren't happy either. And they already led such separate lives.

As a professor of civil liberties at the University of Southern California, she was up at dawn and home by six and led a satisfying life that centered mostly around her students and colleagues.

As a photographer for Elle magazine, her husband was gone at all hours, depending on what kind of setting was needed for each shoot and who was modeling and what hours they could coordinate. They saw very little of each other.

It hadn't always been that way, of course. She remembered long Sundays spent in bed together and nights on the beach star-gazing and making love… lots of memories that seemed so long ago but were really only a few years gone. But those memories wouldn't do any good to anyone anymore, they weren't those people anymore.

She wandered out to the front porch and got the mail, sorting it into piles and putting the bills in the basket on the desk. The rest of the night was spent in front of the television, except for a short break in the exercise room. She'd finished up her stretches and done her weights and was just starting on the stair-climber when her husband came in took off his shirt, getting ready to stretch.

She'd been so startled, she'd turned off the machine, grabbed her water and left without even doing her cool-down stretches. The exercise room wasn't large, just a small spare bedroom and she was used to working out at this time of night by herself. Of course, she was usually still alone in the house at this hour. With his change in schedule, they'd have to work out what time who was going to use it. Not that they couldn't work out together, it just felt weird.

She went back to the living room and watched Enchanted April on Showtime, then fell asleep on the couch while reading a magazine.

Tina dragged them into a store specializing in "foundation garments". Allison and Maura had no idea what "foundation garments" were, but were relieved to discover it just meant bras and underwear. But at this store, they made them an art form. They each had their own "consultant" to poke and prod and measure and Maura found she'd been wearing the wrong size bra for years. Each new "foundation garment" they tried on seemed to arrange their bodies in a different way. Some were for every day wear, some were for evening wear and they had some unnaturally comfortable sports bras, Maura was happy to learn. After close to two hours, they each left with a bounty of new underthings, each grumbling over the prices but knowing that truly, in this case anyway, you got what you paid for.

The next store was an upscale lingerie boutique, but while Tina and Allison oohed and aahed, Maura insisted that she had no need. As the only married woman among them, they giggled over that and Tina said that she hoped that once she and her fiancé Vince were married, she'd no longer have a need for nightwear.

Maura didn't have the heart to tell them that she had no need because most nights she fell asleep on the couch in her clothes. They hadn't slept - or done anything else - together in so long she couldn't remember the last time.

As the store shooed them out to close, Tina told them she'd pick them up tomorrow at noon so they could finish refreshing their wardrobes.

When she got home, he asked what she'd bought and she laughed and said "foundation garments" but he didn't ask for explanation and she didn't elaborate. He said he hoped she had fun and she said she did and was going out tomorrow for round two. Then she stopped and asked, "With the cutback at work, maybe I shouldn't spend anymore money." He assured her that they hadn't spent money on anything in a long time and had plenty of savings; plus his demotion did not come with a dramatic cut in pay. Just a cut in hours.

Looking forward to tomorrow, she went to put her things away and take a shower.

Sunday's shopping trip was even more exhausting than Saturday night's had been, but it was rewarding and informative. Tina seemed to know everything about cut and colour and how things should "hang". Tina's sister Kay, it seemed, was a clothing designer, and that's where Tina superlative knowledge came from. She found clothing for each of them that fit like it was made for them and looked chic and professional or soft and romantic, whatever they might need in their wardrobes.

Maura, too ashamed to admit that she didn't need any soft and romantic clothes, bought two dresses and a blouse and pants, hoping they weren't too sexy to wear to a faculty party.

On Tuesday she found a yellow rose on her desk in her office, with a note saying, You are beautiful today and every day.

At lunch she showed the note to her friends, who began to speculate in earnest on who Maura's secret admirer might be. Allison was all for Stewart Gnoll, the ancient languages professor, but Tina was rooting for hunky Seamus O'Donnel, the new head of security for the university. Maura blushed, hoping just for a moment that Tina was right, but then she reminded herself, and her friends, that she was married and it really didn't matter anyway.

When she got home, he asked about the rose but she just blushed and said she had bought it at a market on the way to school this morning. They made dinner together in silence and ate in much the same way. With a sigh he offered to do the dishes and she took him up on it so that she could look over some papers that had been turned in today.

On Wednesday a white rose sat by its lonesome on her desk awaiting her and on Thursday her secret admirer had switched to a bright peach. Friday's rose was pink and she secretly hoped that meant he was getting closer to declaring himself.

She daydreamed all day Friday about a different life for herself, one with a husband who was romantic and thoughtful, who made conversation during dinner and didn't spent his days looking at anorexic women in designer clothes and perfect makeup. One who would come home and look at her like her secret admirer did, who thought she was beautiful inside and out.

But all this was pointless, she had no grounds for divorce. Time had just made them grow apart, that was all. Neither of them had been unfaithful - not yet, a voice screamed in her head - neither had abused or berated the other, they just lived different lives was all. That wasn't grounds for a divorce.

Friday night she made plans with Allison to go to dinner and a movie and she left him a note telling him she'd be gone until late. Saturday he left before she awoke and he left her a note telling her he wanted to take her to a new restaurant for dinner but she had her standing Saturday night Girls Night Out with Tina and Allison and was gone before he got home.

That night over wine at Tina's apartment, Maura finally confessed about her unhappiness with her marriage. About her helplessness at finding a way to make things right again. Her friends sympathized and cried with her and talk turned, naturally enough, to her secret admirer. As they got more and more tipsy, moving to bourbon and tequila after the wine, they speculated on ways Maura could escape her marriage into the loving and romantic arms of her secret admirer.

Vince came in after one and wrapped each of the sleeping women in a blanket and called Maura's husband to let him know that she wouldn't be coming home tonight. They laughed and shared a few moments sympathizing with each other, both being used to the inevitable consequences of overindulging on Girls Night Out.

"Tina'll been a mean one tomorrow,' Vince laughed. "She really doesn't deal with hangovers well."

"Maura either. She'll be on the couch with a cup of tea all day."



As predicted, all of the women were deeply hung over the next day, each dealing with it in her own way, in her own home. But none of them could forget Maura's confidences and her friends tried, through the pain, to think of a way to help their friend.

Monday morning, there was no rose. But a note asking, "Did you have a nice weekend?" was in her mailbox at school. Maura, still a little achey from the hangover, showed it to her friends. Rubbing her head and sipping her tea at lunch, Maura said, "It's almost like its jeering at me. Like it knows what I did and wants me to pay for it."

Tina, who had recovered nicely, took the note and studied it. "No its not. It's just a nice little note, being friendly and asking about your time away from school, that's all."

Allison asked them both to stop screaming so she could suffer in silence.

"I wonder why there wasn't a rose today?" Tina queried to no one in particular.

Maura shrugged. "Maybe he's getting tired of me ignoring him."

"No, I don't think Seamus would give up that easily."

"It's Gnoll, I'm telling you," Allison's head commented from its resting spot on the table.

"Hello, ladies, and how are you all on this fine day?" came a friendly voice with a slight Irish accent. Seamus O'Donnel, tall and muscular with a slight wave to his dark chestnut hair came walking their way. And looking oh so handsome in his navy suit with its security badge hanging over the pocket.

They all blushed, Maura especially and Seamus gave her a small wink. "Such beautiful women shouldn't be hiding here in a corner like this, you should all be up and about, brightening this gloomy place with your presence." Smiling, he pulled a yellow rose from the centerpiece on the table and handed it to Maura. "Have a wonderful day now, ladies." With another wink he was gone.

Tina and Allison were almost beside themselves. Headache completely forgotten, Allison was bouncing in her seat. "Did you see that? Did you see that?"

"I saw, I saw," Tina agreed, smiling.

"I - I have to go grade some papers." Maura abruptly grabbed her purse and her rose and left.

Her friends sat there in shock, but smiling none the less.

"How was your day?"

"Oh, um, fine. Fine. How was yours?"

"Nothing exciting. Usual Monday off so I went for a run, read the papers, the usual. I see you bought yourself another rose." He didn't look happy about it.

"Oh, no, I, um, this one came from the cafeteria."

"At school?" He looked slightly disbelieving.

"Yes, it was pretty and I, um, I took it - just took it, that was all. I liked it so I took it."

He didn't believe her; he didn't know why. Maura rarely lied. But she was lying now, he was sure of it.

She felt really tired and not long after dinner she took a shower and went to bed. She read for a while and fell asleep with the book. She had a wonderful dream of soft hands embracing her, touching her in ways that made her feel as if she were being worshipped. Lips kissed and caressed her, making her feel loved for the first time in a very long time. There was no penetration, this was not a giving and receiving of affection. It was all one sided and she was the lucky recipient. But the face she imagined in her dream was not her husband's.

She awoke in the early hours of the morning feeling shame. But she still felt loved and the conflicting emotions were tearing her up inside. She rose and dressed early and was gone before her husband awoke.

No rose awaited her in her office. The more she thought about it, the more sure she was that Seamus, the face in her dream, was her secret admirer. Her office was always locked and no one but she herself and security had the key. There was an extra key in her desk at home but she had checked and it was still there. As sweet as the roses were, the thought of someone else coming into her office gave her a chill up her spine.

This was ridiculous, she was married. Happily or not, for better or worse, she was married. She'd have to find a way to send Seamus - or whomever - a sign that she wasn't interested.

But what if… what if… what if she could have that life she dreamed of? That life with an attentive and affectionate husband? That one where she truly felt loved and was married to a man she felt comfortable with? What if that were possible?

"You look happy," he said over dinner.

She shrugged, not sure how to answer.

"I've been meaning to tell you how much I like your new clothes. I can finally see that voluptuous figure you've been hiding for years." He smiled, she didn't smile back.

"It's like you've remade yourself," he said, desperately trying to hold a conversation with the woman he loved, but who no longer even noticed he was there. He knew it was partly his fault, he knew his job and his hours had contributed to the downfall of his marriage. He'd been working to change that. He'd changed his hours, made an effort to spend time with her, but she wouldn't even exercise in the room if he was in it. She had more than enough time for her friends, but no time for him. He was trying to make her see him, and failing miserably.

Last night… last night he'd finally touched her. She'd been asleep and dreaming but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to show her the love he felt. But it wasn't his name she called out in her sleep.

Was she having an affair with this Seamus guy? Or just thinking about it?

She smiled brightly and waved at Seamus on her way onto campus the following morning. On her desk the next morning was a red rose with the note, Let me know if I stand a chance.

She got on the phone and called the campus newspaper and took out a personal ad.

I love the roses.
I'll be at the faculty party on Valentine's Day.
You know who I am. Find me.

Thursday night she dressed with care. She put on the soft turquoise dress that Tina had picked out for her. It had a fitted bodice and a neckline that showed more than she ever had before. All the complications flitted through her mind. What would happen if she did get a divorce? What would happen if she remarried someone that worked here at school? What would happen if…

But she wasn't making a commitment here. She was meeting someone. A very sweet someone who had made her feel very good about herself for the first time in years. If she lost her nerve, she could still just thank him and tell him she was flattered but wasn't available.

But was she available?

She tried to find the campus paper before she left for the party, hoping that holding the paper with the ad in it would give her some courage. But it wasn't there, she'd left it in her husband's car the day before when they'd gone grocery shopping. They hadn't been grocery shopping together in a long, long time. But his new hours gave him more time at home and he'd insisted on going with her. She smiled. And it had been kind of fun. Talking, joking - things had been like they were when they were first married, before they grew apart.

How could she think about meeting another man when she was married!?

She gave up all thought and left for the party.

She wandered around the party shyly, breaking away from even Allison and Tina when they tried to talk to her. Tina told Allison about the personal ad she'd seen in the school paper and the women kept a discreet distance away. They pointed when they saw Seamus walk in the door. He got a drink at the bar and then started talking to some of the administrators. When he saw Maura, he started walking her way and Tina and Allison kept their fingers crossed.

They were so intent on watching the drama of Maura and Seamus that they didn't see Maura's husband walk in and make a beeline for his wife.

He arrived at her side just as Seamus was kissing her hand.

He cleared his throat - loudly.

Maura's eyes got wide. "What are you doing here?" she asked him, eyes frightened.

"Might I be introduced?" he asked, looking at the man in front of her, who was taller than he by several inches, had muscles to spare and was still holding his wife's hand.

She quickly pulled her hand away. "Oh! Oh, this - this is Seamus O'Donnel, head of security here. Seamus, this is my, my husband. This is my husband Oliver. Oliver Williams."

Oliver smiled like a lion surveying its prey. "Seamus, is it? How do you do, Seamus. So nice to finally meet you."

Seamus looked confused. "Um, sure. Nice to meet you too, Oliver." And then he skedaddled.

Maura was embarrassed but also confused. Oliver set her straight. "You mentioned Seamus once."

"I did?"

"Yes, it was just the other night. Of course, you were asleep and I was making love to you, but his name came up."

Maura looked like she wanted to die. Unsure of what to say, she asked him again why he was there. "You never come to these things," she accused.

"Neither do you, but then, I was invited."

He pulled a red rose out of his pocket. "You invited me."

Her eyes misted over, "That was you? All that time?"

He nodded. "Had a hell of a time getting out of the house on Sunday to get a note to you for Monday morning. Couldn't leave a rose because I was afraid it would spoil before the next morning. Left the others on m' way to work every day."


Wiping her tears away, he told her, "Because I love you. Because you didn't see me anymore. Because I couldn't see you anymore. You started hiding away behind these volumous clothes and falling asleep on the couch at night. I know I was never home, I knew I might have thrown it all away. But I really do want make it work, Luv. I switched jobs at work, even took a slight cut in pay. Because I love you."

Maura looked at her husband like she hadn't in years. Really looked at him. At his blue eyes and perfect bone structure. At the slight curl in his dyed blond hair. At the way he was looking at her.

Like she was everything in the world that mattered to him.

She lifted onto her toes and pressed her lips to his. "Let's go home, baby. We have a lot of catching up to do."

His smile got even brighter. "That we do, Luv; that we do."

One year later

Oliver was doing his cool down stretches when his wife walked into the workout room, completely naked.

Oliver's eyes sparkled. "Now that's the kind of work out gear you need to wear more often."

"I think I'm going to tone down my workout routine for a while."

Looking over her perfect figure while he wiped the sweat from his body, he remarked, "Luv, you're absolutely perfect the way you are. If you never work out again, you'd still be perfect."

She hid a mischievous smile. "Oh, I'll be getting a work out all right." She put a hand on her perfect tummy. "I'll be chasing your child around the house."

He looked up, shocked. "What did you say?"

She smiled. "You heard me, Oliver. All your efforts to have me naked twenty-four/seven have paid off. We've got a little bun in the oven."

He looked at her appraisingly. "You know, that doesn't discourage me in the least from wanting to have you naked round the clock. Now come here, I want to have you right now."

She laughed and ran, "But you're all sweaty!"

He grabbed her and headed for the shower, "That's okay, we'll get sweaty together."

The End

©2007 Katherine Cristopher
Author's notes: I think this works best if you read it and then reread it once you know the ending. Btw, "Escape" is the real title of "The Pina Colada Song", a song about a husband who unknowingly answers his wife's personal ad. ;)

Written for the occasion of my 28th anniversary with hub.