And we’re back! After a summer break that included conferences, reunions, articles, and a surprise job for my spouse in Chicago that means we’ll be moving — AGAIN! — this fall, I’ve returned to my Works in Progress, including adventures with gender-flipping the Alpha-Dom-Sub-Billionaire-Ingenue thing.
Putting her hands on her hips, she glares down. “That’s why you reacted so adversely to alcohol last night,” she adds, severely, back to chastising me again, “because you hadn’t eaten.”
The Lark Ellery Blackwood Roller Coaster. Down, up, then down again. “I’m not really hungry,” I protest.
“Sebastian, you need to eat.”
Something in her tone makes it clear that this is not up for debate. But as I start to move, another issue becomes clear.
“I, um… I don’t have anything to wear,” I point out.
Her eyebrows go up in obvious amusement, and she crosses her arms over her tank top-clad chest, that hint of a smile back on her lovely face. “You’re hardly naked, Sebastian,” she says. “Besides, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
My face goes bright red.
“Would you like me to get you a towel?” she offers courteously, but her eyes are still alight with fun.
“No,” I huff, offended. Fine, I think defiantly. If this is some sort of test, I’ll accept the challenge!
I throw aside the covers, and, tugging down the unfamiliar blue t-shirt to cover what I can of my boxers, I stand up. Crossing the room to the round table by the window, I pull out the other chair, and take a seat, all with as much bravado as I can muster.
“What’s for breakfast?” I ask her, almost belligerent.
She gives me a tolerant smile, and gestures toward the sumptuous plates on the table. “Lemon-ginger muffins. Spinach and chicken sausage omelette. Fresh melon and berries. Coffee, tea, fresh-squeezed juices. Help yourself. And I have some clothes you can put on after breakfast,” she adds.
“Did you make all of this?” I ask her, baffled by the array of food.
“No, Sebastian. I have a cook. He lives in at my main house, but when I stay in town, he comes here.” I still haven’t made a move to take any food, and she frowns. “If you would prefer something else, I can have him make-”
“No, no, this is fine. This is great. I just don’t usually eat breakfast,” I tell her, remembering sharing eggs and smoked salmon and tomato puffs with her for another morning-time meal barely a week ago.
“No?” she queries, sitting next to me. She lifts a plump, juicy berry to her mouth, and I’m momentarily hypnotized.
“Sebastian,” she says again, and chastened, I take a slice of melon, a small portion of omelette, and put them on my plate. The plates are rimmed in pink, black, and gold in an art deco style, and the coffee cups and saucers match. The fork, when I lift it, is heavy, and it’s also gold; when I look closer, I can see the handle has some kind of crest on it. Her family’s crest?
Lark pours me coffee. Normally I don’t drink coffee, but this morning, I sip, and the hot brew is welcome, thinking that this is why people must drink coffee to sober up after a night of excess.
Ugh, last night. I don’t want to think about it, but it won’t go away.
“How is it?” she asks me softly, like she really wants to know.
“Delicious,” I admit, and it is. I force myself to eat one bite, and then another, rewarded by the look of pleasure I see in her eyes when she sees me eating.
“Good. From what I’ve seen,” she adds with a frown, “you don’t seem to take enough care with what you eat and don’t eat. That will be something we need to address,” she murmurs softer, to herself. She picks up one of the tiny, golden, fragrant muffins and puts it on my bread plate.
“What’s it to you what I eat and don’t eat?” I ask her. I can’t help being piqued by this. She’s so dictatorial!
“It suggests that perhaps you aren’t in touch with the balance of your appetites, ” she explains mildly, but there is that wry flash in her blue eyes. “Perhaps you ought to pay more attention to those things. The needs of your body.”
Her words go straight to the essence of my desire for her, and my eyes widen. The needs of my body? For the first time in my life, the needs of my body are explicit ones. For this woman, for her, for my body and her body-
Why do I keep reacting to her this way?!
Calm yourself, my Superego cautions me, dressed in referee togs and holding up a yellow card. She’s made it clear enough that she doesn’t want you. She had you drunk in her bed, and didn’t touch you, after all. She’s had multiple opportunities just to kiss you, and hasn’t. Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.
“Nutrition is important,” she adds, and again, I get the feeling that this is some sort of joke for her. There’s something about her that always makes me feel like I need to be on guard, that she’s going to always catch me unawares. “Being careful is important, too,” she adds on as if she can’t help it.
“Is that’s why you had me traced like a criminal last night?”
She actually looks… insulted, even pained, by this. “Contrary to what you might assume, I didn’t ‘have you traced like a criminal.’ I simply used available resources because you were clearly in distress. You didn’t leave me much choice.” She stirs her coffee. “And I must remind you yet again, you called me first, Mr. Stone. Subconsciously, you wanted me to respond. And I did. You got what you wanted.”
That’s true, my Id argues with my Superego. Besides, she cared enough to come to the rescue. Just like a badass heroine in an action flick!
Despite her chastisement and my own shame, I find myself snickering at her words, and I tell her, “You sound like some sort of grand duchess, or someone out of Middle Earth, riding into battle with your sword drawn.”
“Hardly,” she says, but the ice in her eyes warms a bit at that. “Although ‘battle’ may be an apt metaphor,” she adds to herself.
She takes another bite of cantaloupe, and gestures at me to return to my own breakfast. “Finish your breakfast, Sebastian.”
“Why do you have to keep calling me ‘Mr. Stone’ or ‘Sebastian?’” I ask her. “You can just call me Bash like everyone else does, you know.”
“What if I don’t want to call you like everyone else does?” she retorts, with a mischievous, girlish grin.
Oh, my, the playful, carefree Lark Blackwood is back again. But that reminds me- “You’ve never told me to call you by your first name, either,” I point out.
“No, I haven’t, have I?” she agrees, lips still twitching.
“What am I supposed to call you, then? Lark? L.E.? Ms. Blackwood? Your Highness? Madam?”
She laughs at that, too, but there is a darkening in her eyes that I don’t understand.
We’re interrupted by a low, brisk knock on the door, and then the door opens. A slight, slender Asian man in a uniform of a neat, short-sleeved gray tunic-shirt and black trousers comes in with a tray. “More coffee or tea, Miss Blackwood?”
“Coffee, Nguyen. With milk. Sebastian?” she asks me as the servant — her cook? — obsequiously pours hot brew from a silver pot into her cup, then adds milk.
“Uh, no thanks,” I mumble, flushed scarlet at being here, in my underwear, having breakfast with her like it’s normal or something.
“Carter brought the documents you wanted, Miss Blackwood,” the servant says, handing her a thick manila envelope.
“Ah, yes. Good.” As the Asian man leaves, Lark opens the envelope, and pulls out the papers just enough to look at what they are. I can’t see them, but I see that her mouth twitches.
Then she stands up, putting the envelope down and dropping her linen napkin on the table.
“Come, Sebastian. We’re going to go for a walk. Exercise is one of the best things after a night of overindulging,” she says in a wry tone.
Does she know this first-hand?
“Then when we get back, we’ll shower, and I’ll take you home.”
We’ll shower?! Is she suggesting that’s something we’ll do together?!
For a moment, my psyche is filled with an image of Lark Blackwood, surrounded by clouds of steam, tendrils of hair curling wetly on her cheeks, smiling at me over one wet shoulder as she pours liquid soap over her back, trickling down over her skin-
Oh, Jesus, I can’t think like this! She’ll know! Or I’ll…
I shift uncomfortably. It’s like being 13 again, and I’m just thankful I’m not going to be called to work an algebra problem at the blackboard or something in this state.
Besides, there’s another obvious thing. “I can’t go for a walk without my clothes and shoes,” I say to her.
“I suppose you can’t,” she admits, and goes over to the long, sleek dresser, and takes a folded stack of clothing from the top where it was waiting, topped with a new pair of sneakers. “Here, these will do for now. And then, for, after you have a shower, I had Carter select some fresh clothes for you.” She indicates a posh shopping bag. “Yours were covered in vomit,” she adds.
“Uh, thanks,” I stammer, ashamed, humiliated, and grateful. I look around the room. “Um, where’s the, uh, bathroom?”
With an amused look, she nods in the direction of a door, and, relieved, I make my escape.
The mirror reveals my pale, scruffy, wide-eyed visage, and I shake my head in disgust, and turn on the sink taps full-blast. Dunking my face and head in cool water helps a little, but not much, and I try to finger-comb my hair into some semblance of order.
The bathroom is as elegant and palatial as everything else I’ve seen here, with sleek, shiny surfaces that reflect light, everything spotless.
I look even more pathetic than usual in such surroundings, I can’t help thinking. But oh, how it must suit her, all of these mirrored surfaces reflecting her beauty.
She keeps telling me she’s not the woman for me, and that I should stay away from her, but then she turns around and takes care of me. Rescues me. Gives me clothes. Makes sure I eat breakfast.
I look through the simple, but clearly expensive, male attire she’s provided for me. Where did she get it?
My Superego is looking through stacks of heavy psychology books, and he shakes his head at me, mockingly. She had men’s clothing here, in her home, he snarks. Obviously it belonged to-
My stomach clenches and my skin goes icy at the agonizing thought of Lark and another man. Men. Lovers.
Even my Id is in on the act, pointing and making faces. What, you expected she was a virgin, waiting for you to show up and carry her off on your janky old motorcycle?
There’s a knock at the door. “Are you spending the whole morning in there?” Lark’s dry voice floats through the door. “Or are you ill from drinking?”
“I’m fine,” I call, hurrying into the sweatpants and hoodie she’s provided for me. They’re soft, but appear new and unworn, as are the socks.
They aren’t another man’s. They’re mine. From her. To me.
I smile at my reflection in the mirror before hastening to the door.
MBO playlist: Bon Ivar, “Skinny Love”