Masked by Design - Chapter Six

  

At seven fifteen in the morning when Kristine finally couldn’t take it anymore and drove up the De Anton driveway a mere fifteen minutes early, she found not only Trevor standing there in all his glory leaning against the front door jamb, but Mr. De Anton himself. 

Though her cheeks heated and she trembled slightly at the sight of the mysterious man in the mask, she straightened up, threw her car into park and got out with her head held high.  Never would she tell either of them, especially her boss and teacher that she had been driving around since 6:00 am.  A woman had to hold some secrets.

She opened the back door to gather the supplies she bought the day before, stopping mid reach the moment she caught Mr. De Anton raising his hand.

“Trevor.” He crossed his arms and raised his chin.

A slight smile on his face, Trevor pushed himself away from the door and with a coffee cup in his hand, sauntered over to her.  He gave her a slight bow causing his bangs to fall on to his forehead.  “May I help you with your items?”

“That’s not a question.”  Mr. De Anton growled.  “Tell my student to get over here, now.”

Caught between the urge to dash over to her teacher, not do as he demanded, and wanting to help Trevor with her bags, she froze.

“Here this is for you.  Coffee, splash of cream, two brown sugar cubes.”  Trevor handed her the mug.  “You’re being summoned, Ms. Davis.”  

Her decision made for her she took brew and walked toward Mr. De Anton as she stared into the cup wondering how and why Trevor knew exactly how she liked her coffee.

“Kristine!”  Now Mr. De Anton barked her name.

At his outburst, she stumbled, causing some of the coffee to spill on her hand and drip down onto his pristine white driveway.  With no choice she glanced up at him.

He shook his head and stalked toward her.  His movements slow and graceful, she didn’t realize she held her breath until he stood right in front of her and she gasped.  Up until this second she had never seen him this close up and with this much light.  What she conjured in her mind over the last two days was even better in reality.  Her throat dry, she swallowed and managed to eek out any words. “Good Morning?”

“Listen to me.”  He reached into his pants pocket and retrieved one of those handkerchiefs he gave her when they went to the tea house.  “When you go to construction sites with unfinished wood and rusty nails and tools and whatnot, you cannot be distracted, you could get injured.”

Before she had the chance to take the handkerchief or say anything else, he plucked the cup away and proceeded to dry her hand.  Only after he wiped off the cup did he return the drink to her.  “Do you understand me?”

Her mouth half open and her heart rushing, she simply nodded.

“Now, shall we get to work?”  His voice seemed to radiate through her.

Again, she nodded, this time following him to the doorway.

Unlike yesterday, today with her bladder was empty and knowing the whereabouts of her boss when she stepped over the threshold she allowed herself to truly take in his magnificent home.

Now she appreciated the shining wood floor with what was no doubt authentic Persian rugs strategically placed under furniture and high traffic areas, she gazed up at the intricate molding that seemed to outline every room, she even admired the bronze plates around every light switch and electrical outlet.

Mr. De Anton cleared his throat and she blinked to focus on him.

He raised one eyebrow in her direction.  Well, she thought he raised only one, the other one was covered by his mask, not that it mattered, the effect was the same.  

Since she had nothing to say she smiled up at him and sipped her coffee, still wondering how Trevor knew how to fix it, but more importantly wanting a tour of the house.  Could she ask for one?  Probably not. 

“I take it you want a tour?”  His question came out more as an accusation.

Was he in her head or was a tour part of the job? When she didn’t answer fast enough he tapped his foot.

Fine, she may as well be honest.  “I would love a tour.”

“Good.”  Mr. De Anton nodded.  “You wouldn’t be half as good as I thought you were if you said no.”  He motioned ahead.  “Come along now.”

Coffee in hand she went to his side.

“I began a restoration on this 1930’s home for an account who had more money than sense.”  He led her through the living room.  “When they wanted me to take this masterpiece and put finishes in it from the local home improvement store so they could flip it fast, I bought it from them and told them to get out and go find a track home.”

At his story Kristine couldn’t help but laugh.  Though she didn’t really know this man she could somehow picture him throwing these people out.

 “With them out of the way I researched and found the original plans for the home and after five years, here we are.”  He stopped and opened two floor to ceiling wood doors.  “Here is the library.”

Her breath caught at the sight of shelves and shelves of perfect bound books along with a huge mahogany desk complete with a globe on one side, and a gleaming glass wet bar on the other.  She inched inside and shivered, wrapping her arms around her shoulders.  There weren’t many rooms like this anymore.

“What are you thinking?”  He lowered his voice.

“You ask me that a lot.”  She continued to gaze inside what appeared to be almost a sacred space.  “Why?”

He came up beside her and she swore she could almost feel heat radiating from him.  “Maybe because I want to see through someone else’s eyes, someone who knows what they are looking at.”

With his compliment her answer seemed of vital importance.  “I was wondering what those people would have done with this room.  They probably would have gotten rid of it.”

“What would they have put in its place?” he asked.

Though his question was merely that, if felt like more, something intimate, something one either understood or they didn’t and she desperately wanted to be on his wavelength.  “An open floor plan and a multi-media center.”  She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.

Then it happened.  

Right there with the man who definitely didn’t want her to step into his domain only two days prior, the same man who wouldn’t even see her yesterday when she arrived, he smiled.

His smile felt like a gift, that one last present hidden away that one thought they would never get.  

However, if his smile was a gift then the fact that stood closer to her and gave her a slight playful elbow was like she won a prize.

“What?”  She didn’t know why said that except that the entire experience was surreal.

He nodded and swept his hand in front of them.  “It was exactly that thought that made me spend over a million dollars.  I despise open floor plans and multi-media centers.”

For a moment she pondered what it would be like to have such money as to be able to save a room.  She supposed that was the goal and she faced him.  “I always loved little nooks and crannies and places I could get away.”

His gaze traveled over her.  “Do you like hiding, Kristine?”

At his attention, the low yet teasing tone in his voice, her stomach fluttered.  “Not really, but I like being found.”  Somewhere in this conversation she definitely sounded as if she was flirting.  Maybe she was.

“I’ll be sure to always look in the nooks and crannies then.”  He stared into her eyes almost as if he were daring her to look away.  

She took the dare and kept the eye contact.  What were they doing?

“Speaking of which, that reminds me does anyone want breakfast?”  

Trevor’s sudden appearance made her jump back.  

The same charming grin on his face since the first time she met him, he seemed to land right by Mr. De Anton.  

When neither of them answered, Trevor clapped his hands and rubbed them together.  “Who’s hungry? I made Erik his favorite.”  He lifted his chin her direction. “I know you must be starving, you probably only had some coffee this morning.”

Aside from wondering how he knew only had coffee and knew how she liked her brew anyway, the larger part of her was dying to know what Mr. De Anton’s favorite could be.

“Come along, lessons and work will be much better on a full stomach.”  Trevor backed up and motioned for them to follow.

Both she and Mr. De Anton went with him.  When Trevor finally turned around and walked forward he patted Mr. De Anton on the back.  “We don’t want you to be cranky because you haven’t eaten.”

“I was in the middle of a tour and a lesson.”  Mr. De Anton snarled.

 “All that can wait.”  Trevor’s tone sounded like a wife chiding her husband on not being on time for their six o’clock sharp dinner.

Wait a minute.  She allowed them to walk ahead and scanned the living room again.  

There was not one picture of a family.  

Not one.

Only yesterday she expected Mr. De Anton’s wife and children to come barreling out at her over early appearance.

Now it hit her that his wife did come out yesterday.

She should have realized he and Trevor were a couple.

Everything made sense now.

The flutters that only moments before tickled her stomach and warmed her cheeks, turned into a pit that weighed her down.  All she could do to save her pride at this point was to not flirt with him again and hope he didn’t notice.

Though from his impeccable house and gorgeous partner she was quite certain the man took note of the most minute details.

With a lot less pep in her step and a disappointment she didn’t even understand, she trudged behind them and returned to the kitchen area where she and Trevor had their strange meeting the day before.

Mr. De Anton pulled out one of the chairs and glanced over at her.

Had he have done this gallant gesture ten minutes ago she would have had to fight the nervous giggles.  Now she knew that this was merely a man who for whatever reason had textbook manners.

She took her chair and while Mr. De Anton also sat Trevor went over to the counter, returned with a plate and presented it to his husband and returned to the counter.

Off the bat she noticed Mr. De Anton’s dish was impeccably plated.  This wasn’t even something you would find at a restaurant, but more like a palace.

On a plate made of fine china rimmed in gold and black with some sort of insignia on the top, two pieces of wheat toast were cut on the diagonal each with a precision pat of butter and two pieces of still sizzling bacon.  Two egg cups that matched the china boasted two soft boiled eggs with the tops cut off.

This was Mr. De Anton’s favorite breakfast?  

She pressed her lips together and held back a shudder.  

That may be fine for him, and for Trevor, but soft cooked eggs made her cringe.  There was no way she could get that slime down and now she would have to do it in front of her new boss and his partner.  How could she say no when Trevor guessed correctly that she hadn’t eaten?

Right as she attempted to figure out an exit strategy, Trevor returned and put her plate in front of her.

Not wanting to see any yellow goo pouring out of anything, she closed her eyes.  Then knowing she couldn’t get through the whole meal like this she opened them and slumped down in her seat in relief.

Instead of half cooked eggs that would slide down her throat in a gelatinous mass, she was given a delightful bowl of cornflakes topped with several different berries and a little pitcher of milk off to one side. 

Though much healthier and regimented than what she would normally eat, at least this was food.  The only thing that would make it better would be some of that bacon, but those who didn’t want to eat slime couldn’t be choosers.

Then as if the sky opened up and a gold light shined down upon the table, as Trevor took his seat next to Mr. De Anton he placed a plate of bacon right in the middle of the table.

Unable to stop her smile, she turned her attention away from the bacon and aimed it toward Trevor.  All she wanted to know was how he knew.

Without her having to say a word Trevor answered her question.  “You are not a soft-boiled egg kind of girl.” As if giving her a toast with a fine glass of champagne he lifted his own cereal bowl in her direction.  

She returned the gesture and Mr. De Anton let out a grunt.  “Perhaps we should eat so we can all get some work done.”

Kristine took that hint, and putting her bowl down, she poured the milk over her cereal, a couple of the drops landing on her placement.

“You should see what our new employee bought.”  Trevor broke the silence.

“Do enlighten me.” 

Out of the corner of her eye she watched Mr. De Anton elegantly scoop out his egg using one of those tiny little spoons.  She had to remember to mind her manners here.

“All kinds of things, but even these little people and tiny little trees.”  Trevor used a pair of tongs and served her three pieces of the bacon.

Though she wanted to thank him she decided the better tactic would be just to remain silent.  On her more industrial models she always added some foliage and people for a more dynamic feel, but now that she sat at this table she was quite sure that Mr. De Anton would think it a waste.

“Of course she did,” Mr. De Anton shot back.  “That’s exactly how one should do a model of this nature, it gives the whole micro environment a fluidity and those gazing upon it would feel drawn in.”

She couldn’t stop herself from turning to him.  There was something about how he spoke, how they connected on architecture that drew her in to him.

In another world she would have probably developed an awful crush on him, but in this world she couldn’t compete, at least not with Trevor.

“Kristine.”  Mr. De Anton put his spoon down.

As if she were on the witness stand she straightened her back and waited for his question. 

“If I gave you a residential home to work on first what would you have done?”  He pointed at her.

“No people and I would have asked you what kind landscaping you envisioned for the home.”  Yes, she basically whispered her answer and waited for him to ask why.

Instead of speaking his question he merely tilted his head.

“Because the first inclination would be to put the family there, but families change and they aren’t simply generic figures.”  She swallowed.

Like earlier in the library they caught gazes.  Kristine did everything in her power not to allow any flutters, they were useless.  

He sat back and crossed his arms.  “That’s the kind of nuance that no amount of school can teach.”  

While she wanted to bask in his compliment, and who was she kidding, wanted to continue staring at him with or without Trevor there, his words jolted her and she gasped. She had to get to class.  What was she thinking?  With Mr. De Anton and everything else she completely forgot until he said the word.

“She has class.”  Trevor let out a hearty laugh and got up from the table.

She covered her mouth with her hand and nodded.  This close to the end she couldn’t miss anything.

“You’re almost done with this institution, you can’t not attend.”  Mr. De Anton did that thing where he basically read her mind again.

Her choice at the moment was to either get up and go and be a fool or stay and be a fool who also missed her class.  She had to choose the later and she stood, causing Erik to stand as well.  “Mr. De Anton.” Not sure what to do, how to act or anything, she instinctively reached out and took his hand.  “I’m so sorry, may I come back later?”

“Erik.”  He looked down at her hand on his.  “I told you two days ago to call me Erik.”

“Erik.”  Her throat dried out.  “May I please come back later?  I’m not usually this scattered.”  Something was most definitely wrong with her ever since meeting this man.  

“You are always welcome here, Kristine.”  He patted her hand.

Every compliment, every kind word, every offer coming from him was like earning a treasure.  With flutters she couldn’t stop she stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you, Erik.”  

Again they looked at each other.

Maybe she had it wrong.

“You better get a move on.”  Trevor joined them and handed her a sandwich made from Erik’s toast and the bacon wrapped in a paper towel.  

“Thank you.”  Though the sandwich was welcome she would have preferred more of Erik’s words to fill her up.

“We’ll see you later.”  Trevor leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  Just a small peck that meant nothing but basically telling her to get going.

“Bye for now.”  

Both Erik and Trevor followed her to the door and once she made it outside she took a much needed breath of fresh air.

“Drive safely.”  Erik called to her.

She waved and got in her car and watched the couple stand together in the doorway.

Again, she forced the flutters away, they were pointless.

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