Masked by Design - Chapter Seven
Eight days and fourteen hours.
As Erik sped down the neighborhood that had served as his private retreat for nearly ten years, he completed his calculations.
Yes, it had been eight days, fourteen hours and, if his math was correct, and it always was, 27 minutes since a brunette bombshell burst into his life.
He tightened his hold on the steering wheel with one hand and shifted gears with the other, trying to concentrate on the speed and rumble of the engine, yet all that appeared in his mind’s eye was the woman who shattered his private retreat and his sanity for eight days, fourteen hours and now twenty eight minutes.
Every day the little sprite showed up and invaded his space. Every day no matter if she had class, no matter the weather, no matter the situation, she was early.
She parked that jalopy of hers right on his driveway and bounded out of the car. From there they would go about what was becoming their routine.
No matter what time she arrived, in the morning or after class, both he and Trevor greeted her. They either had breakfast, lunch or a snack all together, and she would chatter on about her class or her day or whatever she found amusing, then like mold or toxic waste or something equally as offensive, she seeped into his life, and to his utter surprise and confusion, he found himself looking forward to her showing up. Every day.
Once he made sure his flower was fed and watered, they headed to the third floor to work in his studio.
Though he had needed to rearrange some things to fit her model table, he would have to say it was worth it once he actually witnessed her working.
With his plans and sketches hanging on the wall in front of her, she created her modeling masterpiece.
As he watched the building take shape, he also studied her, and it was fascinating. Much like him, she preferred to work in silence. No idle chitchat, no constant questions. She leaned over her workspace to cut and mold her materials.
When she was stuck, she narrowed her eyes, crossed her arms, and walked around the table as if to get a different perspective. When she was pleased with her work, she smiled and nodded, as if having a conversation that no one else could hear. When she made a mistake, she sighed and pursed her lower lip out as she tore down the offensive part.
At times he wanted to interrupt her, ask her what she thought, what was in that mind of hers, but he didn’t want to break the spell.
They ended their days or evenings together the same way. When he finally needed a break from work, or he just wanted to hear her speak, he would stand and tell her it was time to study.
If nothing else, he had to hold up his part of the bargain. They reviewed her lessons and talked architecture. Eventually their minds would match, and she would gaze into his eyes with a look of wonder that made him shudder.
All too soon their time together would be over and, as he saw her to the door, she would lean up and give him a kiss on his unmasked cheek. Before he could bask in that miniscule amount of contact, the one second of his day that reminded him that at some point in his life he was a man, Trevor would appear, a snack or drink in hand, and send Kristine on her way with a kiss of his own, much to Erik’s disdain.
Yes, this was their routine. It worked for them, somehow, until yesterday.
Yesterday three things happened.
First, while Kristine relayed her story about someone in one of her classes who asked her out for a study date, he broke into a sweat. The image of some man taking her out, speaking with her, eating with her, touching her, made him want to flip the table over,
The need to destroy something was so great that he jumped up from his chair causing Kristine to do the same and dash over to him and ask him if he was all right. Including putting her tiny little hand on his shoulder.
It was all he could do to not grab her by the shoulders and tell her that no he was not all right and in no way would he allow her to go out with some over experienced and under educated fool. Instead, he nodded, patted her hand, guided her back to her chair, and changed the subject.
Second, later while they worked, she finally asked him her first question.
She tiptoed over and softly said his name.
He put aside his pencil and gave her his full attention.
She took his arm and led him over to the model. In the three steps it took, he realized how she never hesitated in touching him.
It wasn’t only the little pecks, something he relished in every time her lips grazed his cheek, it was the slight sweeps of her hands on him, and the way she held his arm or leaned over to him that stood out.
He didn’t know he’d wanted to be touched until Kristine did it. In the years since his accident, he had his opportunities but never indulged. He didn’t need someone who wanted money or was just obsessed with a freak. However, with her, he relived her touches over and over again, craving them.
Rather than admire her handiwork, he admired her. He became so lost in observing her that he didn’t hear her speak until she asked him a second time what type of stone he wanted to use for the side façade of the building.
He’d also struggled with that decision, which was why he had not yet specified on the plans. The building toggled between eras. It could go with brick, limestone, or marble. However, in that second the answer had come to him.
“What do you think, Kristine?” It had to be flagstone, he knew that now. Pink flagstone to match the blush on her cheeks.
She glanced between him, the plans, and the model, once, twice and a third time. Then she slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out her phone.
While he ground his teeth together in an attempt to not bark at her for daring to take out that mind-numbing piece of technology in front of him, he noticed she pulled up a picture of the building site.
As fast as she swiped her phone out and manipulated it to do her bidding, was as fast as she put it back away. “Flagstone.”
If working with Kristine could be considered foreplay and speaking about architecture actually doing the deed, then the act of stone selection was basically his climax. It wasn’t lost on him that their tastes matched, that she appreciated many of the same things he did, and of anyone he enjoyed speaking with her the most.
He cleared his throat. “Flagstone, very good.” In an attempt to turn this into a lesson, he patted her shoulder and returned to his desk. “Flagstone, appropriate for the era and the building. Excellent.”
When she returned to her job, he sat there staring at nothing, wondering why she was here.
Third, while as usual, she gathered her items to go to her evening class, and he followed her to the door for his most favorite part of the day, the thought ran through him that when she graced him with is kiss perhaps he would return the favor.
Luck on his side, they managed to make it all the way down the stairs and to the foyer without Trevor tagging along.
“You’ll be back tomorrow morning?” Though he had memorized her class schedule, he liked the confirmation of her return.
“Yes.” She struggled with her school bag and dropped her keys and her phone.
They both kneeled down to retrieve her items, but he got them first. He held them out to her. “Here you are, my dear.” Once he said the term of endearment, he winced. Was that the right word? Did he sound like a grandfather? Why was he even thinking about this?
Gazing at him through her lashes, she took her things. “Thank you.”
As she leaned into kiss him, he took a split to consider his move. All he needed to do was turn his head, and he would catch her lips. Yes, that would be perfect. Simplicity at its finest.
“Hey Sunshine!” Before anything could happen, before he could even get his small peck he lived for the whole day, Trevor bounded into the foyer, and Kristine looked up at him.
“School time.” Trevor held his hand out to her.
Heat raged through Erik, especially when Kristine put her hand in his and allowed Trevor to help her up.
“Can’t have the star pupil being late.” Trevor held up a brown bag he wrote Kristine’s name on. “Or hungry.”
Kristine beamed at him and took the little gift, even going as far to peek inside. “Thank you!” At her reaction, Erik knew Trevor included some of his cookies. More than once, he had witnessed Kristine eating the raw dough right from the bowl. A vile, yet intriguing, practice.
The bag clutched firmly, she stood on her tiptoes and gave Trevor his kiss. “I better go.”
Without another look in his direction, she bounded out the door and boasting a huge smile on his face, Trevor closed the door.
Erik straightened and stopped his assistant from skipping back to wherever he came from, considering how he would dispose of Trevor’s body after he killed him.
“Don’t worry, I have cookies for you too.” Trevor went to pass him.
Erik side-stepped in front of him crossed his arms.
Trevor did the same. “Can I help you?”
All Erik could do was stand there. The realization that he was a man living for a kiss from a student made him cringe. Pathetic before she entered his life, he took note of just far down the hole he had fallen.
This needed to end. What did he even know about her? Nothing.
Nothing, like everything his life had become.
Rather than answering Trevor, Erik turned on his heel, and went into the library.
Once grabbing some random book on astronomy off the shelf, he sat on the couch and attempted to read.
Every thought he had went to Kristine. How he shouldn’t see her, how he had to see her, how he wouldn’t, but how he couldn’t stop himself.
Hours and hours passed, and he was staring out the window by the time the sun first illuminated the world.
Long ago he distanced himself from sex, romance, or relationships. In fact, he thought he had killed that part of his life, yet here he was enamored with someone he barely knew.
Before Kristine’s jalopy could struggle onto his driveway, he was off to get answers or maybe more questions. And he didn’t know anywhere else to go, but to the one other person that knew her. His old friend, Professor Warren.
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