It was a warm and sunny early September afternoon Thom Joseph (better known as Thom Patrick on the campus of Sun Rise Lake School for Boys) stood on the school's athletic fields watching the Cross Country Team jog around the football field twenty-seven times. Team Manager Rusty Baxter, a geeky but well intentioned sophomore, stood by the Coach's side.
"Some lady's coming this way," Rusty announced.
Thom turned and recognized Elizabeth Mitchell instantaneously. They had met for Brunch every first Sunday of the month ten times and they had seen each other a few other times – bumping into each other at the Lakefront Diner, or the bagel shop, or the country store, watching The Fourth of July fireworks together, and enjoying the Lake's Old Home Days celebration in August.
Thom had marveled watching Elizabeth progress in her recovery, becoming stronger, more confident, and more independent each time he saw her. Her sponsor was Bonnie Fowler, who ran the antique shop over on Route 29, a sparky middle aged women who didn't take any shit from other bull shitters. "Everybody in Recovery is a bull shitter," she said.
Elizabeth looked great. She had grown her hair longer and lightened it. She had lost weight and spent the summer in the lake swimming and kayaking to get back in shape. Her family spent time at the cottage with her.
"Well, hello there," Thom smiled when Elizabeth reached him. "Welcome to Sun Rise Lake School for Boys."
"I work here now," Elizabeth proudly announced with a grin "Say hello to the new news director for WSSB, the school's radio station!"
"I heard Grunderson wasn't doing well," Thom said. "Congratulations!"
"It doesn't pay much and I know the signal barely reaches Greenville but I think this could be my passion," Elizabeth smiled. "I feel like that intern again."
"Good for you!" Thom laughed, giving her a spontaneous hug.
"So," Elizabeth said with a semi-seductive smirk. "Want to go out and celebrate with me tonight?"
"Yes, I would," Thom replied without even thinking about it.
"The Inn, say sevenish?"
"Sure," Thom agreed. "See you then."
"Great!" Elizabeth smiled before turning and heading in the same direction from which she came.
"Is that your girlfriend, Coach?" Rusty asked with interest.
"Maybe," Thom replied, deep in thought.
Thom walked to the rustic Sun Rise Lake Inn from the campus– it was a pleasant September evening, nice for a walk. Elizabeth had just pulled into the parking lot when he arrived, looking wonderful in a purple summer dress with a long sleeved white tee shirt underneath the straps. They were seated at a table and they both ordered seltzer water.
"So," Elizabeth smiled once they were settled and alone. "I'm glad I took your advice."
"It's been a productive year for you," Thom said.
"I was terrified in the beginning," she confessed. "I wasn't sure if I could do it."
"And here you are," Thom smiled.
"Here we are," she pointed out.
Thom blushed slightly.
"I haven't been with anybody in over two years, Thom," she said. "Before that, I was with everybody."
"Avoiding physical intimacy was important during your recovery," Thom said.
"I don't want to avoid it anymore," Elizabeth announced. "I'm ready to start a healthy, loving, giving relationship. I haven't had that in nearly twenty years, including my marriage that barely lasted three years."
"You're in the right place emotionally now," Thom said.
"Are you with anybody?" She wanted to know.
Thom shook his head no.
He shrugged. "I've been waiting for the right person to come into my life," he said.
She studied him for a long moment. "Am I that right person?" She dared to ask.
"I'm hoping so," Thom admitted in a low voice.
"The idea of being intimate again sends me into a mild panic," Elizabeth said. "I'm overwhelmed with insecurity from all sorts of conflicting emotions."
"But I'm also overcome by the euphoria of the very thought of having sex again," she blushed. "I did the celibacy thing because I knew I needed to get better. But I'm tired of being shut down physically. I want to be sexual again. To rediscover love in a new and healthy way."
The waiter came to the table to take their orders.
"Can we order to go?" Elizabeth asked, surprising both the waiter and Thom.
Twenty minutes later Elizabeth was driving Thom to her cottage, a to-go bag between his legs containing two oriental chicken salads. She parked the car in the driveway and looked at him, smiling like a high school kid on her first date. Thom leaded across the console and kissed her gently.
"Our first kiss," She said sweetly when he pulled away.
"I wanted to do that the day you interviewed me," Thom revealed, looking deep into her eyes.
"Really!?" Elizabeth asked with surprise.
"You were a beauty then and you're a beauty now."
"Why didn't you?" She asked with interested intrigue.
"Because I didn't want to be just another slime jerk taking advantage of a kid because of my position and power," he said. "I was a 32 year old professional baseball player. Hitting on a college intern would have been pathetic."
"Plenty of other slime jerks came along to take pathetic advantage of me," Elizabeth sighed.
"I'm sorry," Thom said sadly.
"Me too," Elizabeth admitted honestly, leaning back in and kissing him passionately.
They made out for a long moment before Elizabeth broke the smooching. "Come inside with me," she said warmly.
He obliged. Elizabeth took the to-go bag from him once they were inside the cottage and she put it in the refrigerator. "We can eat later," she announced, taking him by the hand and leading him down the hall to the master bedroom.
"I am well aware that you've already seen me naked," Elizabeth said as they stood in the shadows of the bedroom, one light dimly lit in the corner. "That day you put me in the tub when I was binged out. And when you took care of me when I was detoxing." She chewed on her lip for a second. "So why is it that I'm still apprehensive about undressing in front of you?"
"Because you're sober," he pointed out. "When's the last time you got naked or had sex sober?"
"I was a very wild sensual woman when I was drinking," Elizabeth admitted as they stood in the middle of the room eyeing one another. "I don't think I even know that person anymore."
"Sex is like riding a bike," Thom assured her. "No matter how long it's been since you rode, you never forget how to pedal."
Elizabeth laughed at his analogy. Then she sucked in her breath. "It's been a long emotional ordeal coming back," she said. "But tonight I know I've reached an important milestone."
"I haven't minded waiting," he said.
"The next step is obvious," Elizabeth decided. "Being with you will allow my fears and insecurities to go away," she said with confidence. "I'm hoping you won't notice my cellulite or my expanding ass and all my other imperfections."
"I think you're perfect," Thom replied. "And you're going to be looking at my fifty-one year old beaten up body too."
"I want us to be happy in our own skins," Elizabeth announced.
"We always had chemistry together," Thom told her. "That's why that first interview worked so well. We clicked on camera."
"I want to click off camera more," Elizabeth said, stepping toward him.
Later, as they cuddled naked under the covers, having clicked together between the sheets, Elizabeth looked up at him and smiled.
"I want to interview you again," she said.
"What?" A confused Thom asked.
"For the radio station," she explained. "Talking about your career. And how we met. It will be fun."
"Does this mean we've come full circle? Thom smiled, kissing her nose.
"I'm going to go get the salads," Elizabeth giggled as she sprang from the bed and trotted naked from the room.