Downstairs, in a brightly-lit underground garage, Lark leads me past a row of gleaming automobiles, a half-dozen of them. It’s like a luxury showroom, and even I recognize several of the most exclusive automobiles known to man, all pristine silvers and blacks: a Porsche Panamera Executive, a Lamborghini Veneno, a convertible Jaguar XJR, a Ferrari F60 America. Even the SUV is a Rolls Royce Cullinan.
“I guess your neighbors are all really into fast cars,” I mumble, trying to make casual conversation, still shaken after our encounter in the garden enclave. That scorching, searing, scalding kiss.
“Neighbors?” she queries. “These are mine, Sebastian,” she corrects me.
All of these are… hers?
Jeez. I don’t even know what to say to that.
“We’ll take this one,” she says to me, nodding at a stunning, sleek Mercedes Benz S-Class, and she actually comes over to open the door, physically open the door, for me. Her manners, her class, it’s all impeccable.
Our eyes meet over the open car door.
Is she going to pretend our kiss never happened? Should I?
What if it was all just some product of my overcharged imagination, my fantasies running so wild that I can no longer tell them from reality? Maybe I imagined her in that towel, too, or her making a date with me for tonight. Maybe I’m destined to live forever after in a world populated with dream-like experiences of Lark Blackwood’s kiss, her touch-
It was the first time I’d ever been kissed like that before. Deeply, passionately, like… an adult. A man. By a woman.
I feel like I’ve finally crossed some threshold to maturity, to full-Technicolor existence. To manhood.
But Lark looks cool, impassive, aloof, in control. Like always. And with the car door between us, she’s more inaccessible than ever.
“Sebastian-” she starts in a reflective way.
“Call me Bash,” I urge her. “I prefer that.”
“Ah, I see. Well. Sebastian,” she repeats, and I glower, stung, “what happened upstairs in the garden alcove is not something that will happen again without the structure of a formal arrangement. We will discuss it tonight.” She nods at the open car door. “Now get in, and I’ll take you home.”
Obediently, feeling once again like a child, not an adult, I scrabble into the passenger seat of the overwhelming, magnificent car, and sigh, closing my eyes.
This is so confusing. So baffling. I should just go back to my previous bland existence, in shades of browns and grays, none of the blazing, dazzling, brilliant colors I’ve experienced since I met Lark barely a week ago.
She gets in the car, starts it, and pulls out of the parking spot and through the garage onto the street, all in one smooth, effortless motion.
I glance over at her. She still looks noncommittal, and only the promise of “We will discuss it tonight” keeps me hanging on instead of spiraling into a pit of agonized rejection. But just barely.
Maybe tonight, she’s going to explain to you exactly why you’re too young and naive for her, my Superego suggests, poking his horn-rimmed glasses back into place. Maybe after you were so gauche and awkward this morning, she’s decided you aren’t worth the time.
But that kiss, I think, my skin still tingling. I’m almost tempted to ask Lark if I imagined it, or ask her if it felt anywhere near as earth-shattering to her as it did to me.
But before my addled brain can remember my own lingua franca, she turns on the top-of-the-line sound system in the car, and it’s filled with music. Haunting, glorious, powerful music.
“What is this?” I gasp as an exquisite soprano voice surrounds us, passionate and yet desperate. Even though I can’t understand the words, I understand the longing in the voice, the throbbing, sensuous, agonising feeling.
“Maria Callas. It’s ‘Liebestod,’ the aria from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.” She glances at me. “Do you like it, Sebastian?”
“It’s… stunning. Perfect. I’ve never heard anything like it!”
She smiles a little, and then reaches to take an expensive pair of designer sunglasses out and put them on, covering her blue eyes so I can’t even try to guess what she might be thinking.
I sense an opening, a chance to try to maintain whatever tenuous connection we managed early, and quaver, “You prefer listening to opera?” She must have thought me so unsophisticated, talking about Dylan, Clapton, and Cobain! Her preferences are so refined.
She doesn’t even glance at me, but I see that smile lingering. “I told you, Sebastian. I have rather eclectic, unconventional tastes. I listen to a number of nontraditional things, from Miles Davis to Medieval Byzantine chant, from Serge Gainsbourg to Muse.” As the aria ends, she pushes a button on the steering wheel, and, sure enough, I recognize the hot, sultry sound of Muse’s “Undisclosed Desires.” Oh, God, it’s too, too appropriate.
“I like Miles Davis, too, although I’ve never heard of Serge Gainsbourg,” I admit, in awe of her sophistication. I remember the books she purchased, the art in her home, and am intimidated all over again. What could a woman like this want to do with me?!
“Sometimes, things you’ve never heard of can turn out to be quite… profound,” she says. “Perhaps I’ll have to introduce you to his work.”
A rash of excited goosebumps break out on my arms.
Calm but focused, she turns her sleek car onto 14th St., and I realize that, although I’ve not told her where I live, she’s headed there with surety.
And yet, somehow, this reassures me about everything. She took the time to learn where I live. She wanted to know about me. It’s yet another proof, like the guitar, like the clothes and rescuing me last night, that she does care, at least a little, about me.
My wayward thoughts are interrupted by her mobile phone ringing through the car’s sound system, and she presses another button on the steering wheel to answer with a no-nonsense, curt “Blackwood.”
It’s on speakerphone, and a polite voice replies, “Ms. Blackwood, it’s Curtis-”
“You’ve completed the portfolio I asked you for?”
“Yes, ma’am, we’ve compiled-”
“I don’t want the details now if they’re in the report. Send it to me. Message hard copies to home and office, like usual.”
“Yes, ma’am, right away.”
“And make that purchase we discussed, immediately. Have Carter go on-site.”
But Lark has already clicked off the call. God, she’s so terse, so authoritative. It must be very hard to work for her, I think, and then I remember that I haven’t heard back from my job interview yesterday yet. It’s Saturday, but I wonder if they’ll call?
Before I can think of something else to say, another call comes in.
“Ellie, it’s me. Where have you been?” a disembodied male voice asks her.
Something in the pit of my stomach goes cold as I hear the man’s familiar tone with her.
“I can’t talk right now,” she snaps, and hangs up. Her expression hasn’t changed, and she still looks calm and in control as she turns onto Marshall Street.
But inside, I’m a complete mess. Who was that? He called her “Ellie.” Who is he that he gets to call her a nickname like that? Why can he call her “Ellie” and she won’t call me “Bash”? Who is he to ask her where she’s been?
My Id tugs on my sleeve. No! It could be anyone, not necessarily a lover. It could be her brother, her father. A neighbor. Anyone!
My Superego, however, shakes his head. It sure didn’t sound like her father or grandfather, he points out, tapping a long pointer on the palm of his hand as he surveys diagrams on the blackboard.
I close my eyes against the wash of pain.
The phone rings yet again, and I tremble with fear that it will be that man again. Or another man. But instead, a girl’s bright voice sings through the phone, “Lark? Are you still in bed with the hottie?”
My face goes red.
“No, Ariana, we’re in the car right now, almost in front of their building. And you’re on speakerphone.”
“I am?” she giggles. “Well, hi, there, Bash! Nice to meet you!”
She called me Bash, like it was no big deal! I blush harder. “Uh, nice to meet you, too, Ariana,” I stammer. I hope this one doesn’t break Aiden’s heart, I think, hearing Aiden’s laughter in the background. And, oh, god, is that the rustle of sheets? Are they still in bed together?!
Lark is scowling, too, but I don’t think it’s for the same reason. “Ariana, Sebastian and I will be there shortly.” She uses my full name, not my nickname, pointedly. “Be ready to go,” she snaps, and hangs up just as she pulls in front of our apartment building.
“So, you know where I live?” I ask, but it’s stating the obvious.
“Of course I do,” she says, mildly amused, as if it’s ridiculous that she wouldn’t. “How else would I have been able to send you the Martin guitar?”
“Oh. Right.” I remember something else. “I want you to take it back with you,” I tell her. “I can’t keep something that expensive.”
“We’ll discuss it tonight,” she murmurs, slipping off her sunglasses. Holy smokes, those eyes, those bright, beautiful, incredible blue eyes. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.
She opens her car door, and gracefully exists. “Come, Bash, I’ll walk you up.”
So polite, so proper, despite everything else.
And there is tonight to look forward to. Or dread. Or both. I’m not sure yet.
To my complete and utter mortification, Aiden and Ariana are half-clothed and all over each other on the couch when Lark and I walk in.
“Whoops!” Aiden laughs, leaping up. He’s bare-chested, and still in the rumpled sweatpants he sleeps in. Ariana’s shirt is half unbuttoned, half buttoned wrong. Both of them look tousled and glowing. Just-fucked, I can’t help defining it.
They certainly wasted no time.
“Hey, dude,” Aiden says brightly, and holds up a fist for me to bump. I do so, reluctantly. He seems a little perplexed by this, and I can see him looking closer at me, and then over at Lark, warily. Maybe even with some hostility and suspicion in there.
“Hello, Lark,” he says, as Ariana bounces over and snuggles against him. “Nice to see you again.”
“Mr. Anderson,” she says coolly.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Lark,” laughs Ariana, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “Call him Aiden.”
And call me Bash, not Sebastian all the time, I think defiantly, but I don’t dare say it out loud.
“Hi, Bash, nice to meet you in person,” Ariana bubbles, and gives me a friendly hug and approving once-over, making me blush scarlet again.
Ariana is a charming golden-blonde pixie, giggling and impish, nothing like elegant, controlled Lark. Well, they are only half-siblings.
Next to me, Lark has gone all frozen and stiff, glaring at all of us. I don’t like being lumped in with Aiden and Ariana this way. Like we are all errant children annoying her.
“Ariana, we need to go. I have work to attend to today,” Lark said pointedly.
“Of course you do,” sighs Ariana, and aims a finger at Lark. “Jeez, Bash, you might want to re-think this one. For a number of reasons,” she tells me, wagging her eyebrows.
But then she turns back to Aiden, who’s gazing at her with a lovestruck expression. “Parting is such sweet, sweet sorrow, my fair prince,” she whispers to him with a big grin, and his whole face just radiates.
“You said it, princess,” he responds, and the two of them kiss slow and passionate, hands everywhere.
I try not to roll my eyes at these shenanigans. What’s wrong with them? Have they no sense of decency? Or privacy? Okay, okay, they’ve made their point. They’ve, to put it bluntly, fucked up a storm. Good for them. But must they carry on like this?
Mortified, I try not to watch, and, as I shift my gaze around, I see Lark is staring at me, watchfully. I scowl at her, and look away. You’d never kiss me like that, would you? Why couldn’t you for a change? I can’t help thinking.
“See you tonight, sweet prince,” Ariana coos to Aiden, wrinkling her nose at him in a cute, flirty way.
“It’s a date, princess,” he coos back, completely under her spell, starry-eyed. Damn. This chick must’ve been something else in the sack.
Lark gives an audible, impatient sigh.
“Oh, calm down, big sister,” Ariana says, “I’m ready.”
Lark turns to me. For a hopeless second, I wonder if she’ll claim me in a hot kiss, or call me her sweet prince.
But she only says. “Tonight. Seven. Be ready.”
“I will,” I say obediently, as she turns to leave.
MBO Playlist, Muse, “Undisclosed Desires”