“When were you going to tell me?” she asked and stepped into the room. The man looked back in a panic, then swiveled his head back to her, and tried a smile.
It wasn’t effective.
“Well, you know, it’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about—but you haven’t been over here in a while…so, you know.”
She looked around and crinkled her nose. “What is that smell?”
He laughed a nice uncomfortable laugh, and moved around her, grabbing her shoulders. He pushed her toward the door, any attempt to get her out before she thought about it.
She did not like this one bit, though, and pushed back, stepping further into the room, and disrupting a pile nearby her feet. The contents of which spilled all over the floor.
“No, but seriously, what is that smell? Vanilla…?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” the man said, and leaned down to fix the pile. Once it regained its structural integrity, he rose and smiled at her again. “No, but seriously, don’t worry about it. Do you maybe want some tea?”
She quirked up an eyebrow and held a stare. “Tea? Since when did you drink tea?”
“Recently,” the man answered, and walked into the kitchen, keeping his back to her. The cupboard clattered when he dug around. “I have a lot of different interesting ones. What would you like?”
She moved into the kitchen and stood behind him. He had sweat dripping down the nape of his neck already, and the burner was not even on yet.
“Dude,” she said, “I don’t even drink tea. It’s weird.”
“No, it’s not,” the man said, sounding unsure, “I’m not weird and I drink it. Here, I’ll get you some English tea. Some nice black tea. It goes well with milk. Just…go have a seat and I’ll bring it to you. Just wait, you’ll love it.”
“Your mother is really worried about you. She called me to check on you. She called me. She hasn’t done that since we began dating.”
“Ha-ha, yeah,” he said, turning on the burner and filling up a kettle with water. “I did have a conversation with her that might have caused that. Made her worried is all. Not something I haven’t done before. This water is taking a long time to heat, don’t you think?”
“You just put it on the thing,” she said and went to go sit down on a living room chair. When her bottom hit the seat, however, she frowned and fished her hand underneath the cushion. A thin rectangle, with leather on the front and back, came up from the bowels of the piece of furniture, and her eyes widened.
“Is this what I think it is?”
With shaky hands, he placed the cup down and poured a nice, long stream of lukewarm water. It filled up the cup to the top, so when he put in the teabag it made the liquid inside rise too high and spill out over the edges. He pulled back his hand and swore.
“I said: ‘Is this what I think it is?’”
“One moment,” he squeaked out in response and wiped up the puddle with a threadbare red towel. He picked up the tea and walked it over to her.
With him moving, and carrying a breakable piece of material in his hands, she waited, and hid the rectangle of guilt behind her back, as if she was just lounging.
He put down the saucer and placed it in front of her, and she frowned at the strange thin liquid with a faint dark color rising through it.
“It has to steep you know. But do try a sip. I need to know how much sugar you might want,” he said, “since this is the first time you’re probably having it.”
She pulled out the rectangle and waved it in his face. He clenched his teeth but otherwise said nothing at all. “What the shit is this? Is this a book, Charles? Why do you have a book? Why do you have so much fucking paper on your floor?”
Letting out a long sigh, Charles picked up his own cup. He took a sip and mumbled something. He rose his head and looked at her with a blank stare. His voice sounded flat to the point of catatonic.
“What was that Cynthia? I’m not sure I heard you.”
She yelled the next bit, but in just the right pitch to not alert the neighbors, and yet hit him full on in the face. A concentrated verbal blast.
“WHY DO YOU HAVE A BOOK IN YOUR HOUSE!”
Continued in part 2