She was the one that got away.
Thomas Hunt didn’t have many regrets in his life, but if he was to be completely honest with himself—and he usually is—she would be at the very top of the list. Thomas knew she was trouble the moment she set foot into his classroom. Confident, ambitious, and fearless; he took one look at her and was immediately reminded of himself all those years ago. He was young, he was innocent, and he was foolish.
He remembered wanting to break her; he had wanted to strip her of her confidence and show her that real life didn’t have fairy tale endings. For her, he had increased his standards, setting his expectations impossibly high so she had no choice but to fail and realize that sometimes just being confident didn’t always get you everything you want. Imagine his surprise—and proud approval, he reluctantly admitted—when she had succeeded. But he knew he could not praise her; he had a role to play and he intended to see it to its end. She was his diamond in the making. So he raised his expectations even higher and she broke it again. And again. And again. And again. It was a vicious cycle and she met him every step of the way.
In the end, he was spent; he no longer had anything left to teach her. She had surpassed him, grown beyond his capabilities and Hollywood University became a prison for her potential. With great regret, he had introduced her to people whom he knew could take diamonds and make them shine. And shined, she did.
That was where the real regret started.
The first year after her graduation before her debut, she had visited regularly. Without fail, every visit, she came to him for advice—even if they did end up arguing half the time—and sometimes he would fool himself into thinking that she was visiting for him. It was easy to forget about her friends still at the university when she was sitting across from him, eyes blazing at the veiled insult he had just shot in her direction. Her visits easily became one of the few things he looked forward to.
And then everything went to hell.
Knowing her personality, Thomas couldn’t say he was surprised when she made the first move. It was really only a kiss, skin on skin, lip to lip but to him it was so much more than that. That kiss would change everything; it was the point of no return. And he knew right then and there he had to make the choice of either returning her affections or shoot them down.
“No,” he had told her, his voice firm.
She scowled then. “You’re pushing me away?” she demanded. “Again?”
Thomas tried not to think of the masquerade. “We can’t do this,” he said simply, knowing that that she wouldn’t understand. How could he explain to her that she had so much potential? That she could be a star that would leave people talking for generations to come? He couldn’t hold her back; he refused to be the one to clip her wings.
She bit her lip, jaws clenching, looking absolutely furious. Thomas knew she wanted to argue; it was in her nature, after all. But she only sighed and shook her head, “Fine.” She looked up again, meeting his gaze with such firmness that he found himself regretting his decision even more than he already did. “I’m stubborn but even I know when to stop.”
He rose an eyebrow, almost mockingly. “One day,” he said slowly. “One day, you will look back on this day and thank me.”
He could tell she didn’t believe him but she recovered quickly. “Of course I will,” she retorted, rolling her eyes. After that day—that incident—she visited two more times before stopping altogether. And he’s been regretting ever since.
Thomas sighed, rubbing his temples and waited for the migraine that he knew was coming. He poured himself a small glass of aged wine and leaned back against his couch. Thankfully, it was Friday and he wouldn’t have to terrorize his students anytime soon. Firmly telling himself that he was not going to waste anymore time and think about her, Thomas grabbed the remote sitting on his coffee table and turned on the television.
Her face immediately filled the large television screen.
He clenched his teeth; jaw muscle twitching. Can I not escape you?
“Thank you so much,” she said, her voice sounding just as he remembered but her tone left much to be desired. She wasn’t a sweet person like her tone implied; she was confident and cheeky and not afraid to show it. “But I’m hardly an angel.”
Isn’t that the truth.
“I beg to differ!” the host exclaimed. “Have you seen yourself in your new movie?”
She laughed and winked at the camera jokingly. “What can I say? I’m a good actress.”
The host laughed good-heartedly. “Rumor has it that you had your ambitions elsewhere before actually becoming an actress.” Eyebrows shot upwards and waggled. “How is it that you are so good, so soon? You’ve only debuted two years ago!”
“Ah,” she responded. “But that’s the key word, isn’t it? Debut. I attended Hollywood University and its filled with people with different career paths and ambitions but they all help to push you past your limits. Just because I wasn’t in the public eye back then, doesn’t mean I haven’t been working.” She sighed exaggeratedly. “So, I haven’t actually gotten this good as fast as you think.“ She winked at the host. “But that’s a secret, don’t tell anyone.”
The host laughed again and this time, Thomas could see that the laugh wasn’t just for the show. Already, he had warmed up to her, caught up in her quick smiles and honest personality. Thomas didn’t doubt her friend-making abilities. She had a way with people that he couldn’t even begin to understand. In all his years as a student and a professor at the university, she had the single largest entourage he had ever seen. She crept up on people; one minute you weren’t even aware of her existence and the next you were caught in her web of friendship.
“Sounds like Hollywood U really made an impact on you,” the host continued.
“Oh, it did!” she confirmed, eyes wide and glittering with pride. “I learned everything I know from there. All my closest friends were my classmates and people I’ve worked with when I was a student. It has such a wonderful network of people.” She shook her head, smiling fondly. “I should visit again sometime soon. I miss everyone.” Thomas paused at her words. She was looking straight at the camera and if he didn’t know better, he could have sworn that she was staring directly at him when she said that.
“You still have friends there?”
“Of course,” she replied immediately. “You know, students there do get called out to do “real” projects sometimes. I meet a lot of them in my projects.”
“This is all very interesting and I would love to hear more,” the host said, “but we have to cut to commercial.” He turned to the camera and winked. “Stay tune and we’ll take a peek into her personal life.”
“Oh dear,” she responded. “Should I be worried?”
Thomas rolled his eyes. As some commercial about some shampoo he cared nothing about came on, he forced himself up from the comforts of his couch to refill his glass. He made his way to his wine cabinet and poured himself half a glass when the doorbell rang. He narrowed his eyes, thinking. Was he expected expecting someone today?
With a grumble, he shoved his wine bottle back into his cabinet and made his way to his front door. He looked through his peephole but the person—female, he realized—had her face turned away as if talking to someone at the end of the hall and he couldn’t make out her features properly. Thomas sighed, unlocked the door, and yanked it open. “What?” he snapped roughly with a glare.
She jumped at the sudden voice and spun to face him.
He stopped breathing.
“Hello, Professor,” she beamed, recovering quickly and flashing him a bright smile. Suddenly, it was almost as if everything was alright in the world again. As if he hadn’t allowed her to get away, as if she had always been there for him, with him. Then she opened her mouth and continued. “Miss me?” Her smile twisting into a familiar smirk and Thomas had to remind himself that this girl—this woman—had the ability of getting under his skin like no other.
Overconfident, cocky little—
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked, eyebrows arching upwards in amusement. Thomas didn’t doubt she knew exactly what he was thinking; she always had the ability to read him, annoyingly enough.
He wanted to invite her in. Oh, how he wanted to do so much more than that! Instead, he shoved such thoughts back into the depths of his mind and demanded, “What are you doing here?” He narrowed his eyes upon realizing a disturbing thought. “How do you even know where I live?”
“Do I?” she asked. “I assure you, this is a mere coincidence; I was visiting someone else. Maybe I got the wrong condo.”
She leaned to one side, peeking past him. He held his breath; Thomas could feel strands of her hair tickling his arm, she was so close.
“Hmm?” she hummed, her tone amused as she straightened up again.
Thomas frowned in confusion before he realized that he could hear his television. Her interview was still going on.
“Is there anyone special in your life right now?” the host was asking.
“No,” her voice responded. “No one special.”
He fought back a flush.
She remained silent as if taking pleasure in his discomfort—Thomas wouldn’t put it past her—and eyed him, waiting. Her gaze flickered upwards, meeting his own for a brief second before she dropped it again. Thomas followed her line of sight and found her eyeing his glass of red wine. This time, even with all the strength of his will, he was powerless to stop the flush from darkening his cheeks upon realizing the implication. “It’s not what it looks like,” he immediately protested.
“Of course not,” she grinned. It hit him then with sudden clarity just how much she had changed in the past two years they’ve been apart. Before, it was he who had the ability to push her out of her comfort zone. He had always been the one that could get a rise out of her. Oh, how the tables have turned. “Why are you here?” he asked again. He wanted her gone. Immediately. Thomas was not sure how long he could stay in her presence and act normal.
She huffed, realizing that he wasn’t going to be inviting her in. “Do you remember,” she began, “two years ago when you told me that I would look back on that day and thank you?”
His stomach twisted. “Yes,” he said, ignoring the urge to clear his throat which felt unusually tight.
“Well,” she said, raising her arms and rotating her wrists out in a shrug. “Here I am! I wanted to thank you in person.” She smiled, a real smile that contained none of her usual cheek. “So, thank you.”
He didn’t say anything, unsure how he was supposed to respond to that. Accept her gratitude and send her on her way? Beg for her forgiveness and ask if she was still willing to be tied down to her old professor? He almost scoffed at the last mental suggestion.
“I didn’t understand your reasons back then because I was pretty sure you liked me too,” she said. “But I’m older now and more mature so I just wanted to come here and tell you that I get it now. It would have been stupid of me to get into a relationship with someone who had been my professor only months before without establishing my career first.”
He reconsidered the begging option.
She wrinkled her nose. “Also,” she said, her voice soft with embarrassment. “I want to apologize for ignoring you after that... I was kind of hurt. You were an asshole—probably still are—but you were also a brilliant professor and an even better friend. I should have been more respectful.”
He swallowed hard. “Is that all?”
“No,” she said firmly and looked back up into his eyes. “Like I said, I’m older now.” Her lips quirked upwards. “And it has been two years, Thomas.”
He immediately froze. If it wasn’t for the sound of blood roaring in his ears, he could have sworn his heart stopped beating.
And without waiting for a response, she dove into him, soft hands molding against his cheeks and pulling him down for a kiss. Just like that, it was as if someone had turned on a switch. He dropped his wine glass which shattered upon hitting the floor and tangled his fingers into her hair. Pulling her flush against his body, the two of them stumbled clumsily into his condo. She nipped his bottom lip, slipping her tongue between his teeth. Thomas groaned, meeting her stroke for stroke. He breathed her name against her as he attempted to maneuver them away from the dangerous broken glass littering the floor. If this was going where he think—hoped—it was going, he didn’t want her to hurt herself if they couldn’t make it to his bedroom.
And then, just as quickly as the kiss had began, it stopped. She pulled away from him suddenly, breathing hard, her chest brushing against his every time she breathed. They stared at each other for a moment and it took everything he had to not mold her body against his own again. She glared, “Are you going to push me away now?”
“No,” he responded and dipped his head. He kissed her hard, leaving them both breathless. “Never again, no.” He trailed away from her lips, moving lower until he was pressed against the soft skin above her pulse. He could feel her head fall back and she sighed contently as he mouthed her name against delicate skin.