MerMay, kinda #12

Fiction, Writing

“Oh, god, why am I doing this,” Rilla asked her reflection as she pinned the sides of her hair up in a manner to frame her face without getting in her face.

“Because he’s dreamy despite the mixed signals,” Karin returned with humor. “Also, the fact that I don’t think you’ve so much as deeply kissed someone in a year probably helps.”

“Whore.”

“Jealous.”

“Probably,” Rilla admitted with a sigh, then grinned. “So how was he, anyway? Are you going to see him again?”

Laughing, Karin threw a scrunchie at Rilla. “You don’t get to call me a whore and then expect details. And yes, I will see him again. Tomorrow night, in fact.”

“Good,” Rilla said with a smile as she reached for the hairspray. “Maybe you two can actually keep each other occupied for a little while. All right, hold your breath or step into the hall.”

Karin stepped out long enough for Rilla to properly shellac her ‘do, then returned once the fumes had subsided. “Looks good. Not as retro as you usually go, but that may be a good thing.”

Nodding, Rilla gathered up the rest of her things and headed back to her bedroom, Karin following obediently behind with a playful smirk fixed firmly in place. Rilla dropped her make up and box of hair accessories on the bed and headed over to her wardrobe, where three dresses had been extracted and were waiting for her to make a final decision.

“So do you know where you’re going,” Karin asked curiously.

“Not a clue,” Rilla replied as she cast off her robe and proceeded to wiggle into a pair of magenta stockings.

Arching an eyebrow, Karin looked down at the hose. “Are you serious?”

“All the dresses are black, and one wants a hint of color. Besides, if he can’t handle my forays into whimsy it’s doomed from the start.”

“I guess that’s fair. Which shoes?”

Rilla straightened up and considered for a moment. “Something I can walk in, since as stated, no idea what the plan for the evening is. Oh, I know, I just got those new boots. I’ll wear those.”

Glancing out the window as Rilla fished out the boots, Karin made a small sound of pleasant surprise. “Well, at least it looks like you’ll have a nice night. I can actually see stars for once. A little, at least.”

“I will be prepared for the possibility of a frozen midnight stroll.” Rilla selected a comfortable, flared sweater dress and pulled it very carefully over her head. It had a very flattering mock-wrap front which – since the dress was knit – fit smoothly over her ample chest instead of pulling or gaping as tended to happen. Smoothing the dress over her hips, she pulled on the boots and shifted her feet in them a bit, wishing she’d had the chance to break them in a bit more but reasonably confident that they were a better choice than heels.

“How am I doing on time,” Rilla asked as she stood back up and walked over to the wardrobe to fish out a purse.

“It’s seven,” Karin answered, checking her phone. “So unless he’s late you’d better –“

The sound of the doorbell cut Karin off, and Rilla swore and finished hurriedly switching purses.

With a smirk Karin offered to go get the door as preparations were finished. Rilla nodded her consent and hunted for a scarf that matched the rest of her ensemble. She would forgo the hat tonight – if it wasn’t raining, she’d prefer not to risk crushing her hair. Glancing around the room, she grabbed the scarf, a pair of gloves, and her purse. The coat she wanted would be downstairs in the hall closet. Taking a deep breath, she stared at her door for a moment, then nodded to herself and stepped out into the hallway.

Rilla could hear Karin making small talk with Marius at the bottom of the stairwell. His tone was light, conversational, and naturally didn’t seem at all nervous or uncertain. No, Rilla would be the only one with that problem this evening. Rolling her eyes at her own misgivings, she draped the scarf around her neck and began to pull on her gloves.

“Watch, this isn’t even a real date,” she muttered to herself as she rounded the last banister. “The night will end with no kiss and some comment about how he’ll enjoy our friendship.”

As she came in to view, it seemed that Marius was aware of her approach and looked up at the stairwell, smiling when their eyes met. Marilla felt a flutter in her stomach, and then what was left of her sense came forward and her flushed cheeks turned into a wry smile.

“Do you get tired of being that charming,” Rilla asked as she stepped off the last stair.

Raising an eyebrow, Marius smiled again. “No.”

Karin waved goodbye and headed back upstairs as Rilla opened up the closet and retrieved her coat. “At least you’re honest. Now the question is, are you trying to be charming or is it just how you are?”

“I like to think it’s just how I am,” Marius said as he gently took the coat from her, and held it so she could put it on. “I can be painfully unaware at times, yet I seem to be consistently charming, so it can’t be an intentional behavior.”

Sliding her arms into the coat, Rilla schooled herself to stop blushing because it was ridiculous in a woman her age. “I have too little information to tell you whether or not I think you’re right. Perhaps with further observation I could give an educated opinion.”

“We will have to arrange opportunities for you, then. You can start during dinner,” he pointed out as he moved to the door, holding it open for her. “I have a spot in mind, if you’re all right with Thai.”

Buttoning her coat, Rilla nodded. “I am, if you’re all right with watching me slurp noodles.”

“I’m sure I’ll survive the experience.”

They made their way out to the car where Marius, true to form, opened the door for Rilla to get in before running around to the driver’s side.

“You are quite the gentleman, Marius,” Rilla felt compelled to comment.

Shrugging, Marius smiled disarmingly. “It’s just how I was raised, I suppose.”

Shifting in her seat, she wiggled a little to face him as much as she could. “The advantage of a European upbringing, perhaps. Or do the British consider themselves apart from Europe?”

“No, they’re on the continent, that makes them Europe,” Marius said laughing. He paused for a moment, and glanced over at her. “Although, I’m not actually British.”

Rilla looked at him quizzically. “That accent isn’t Scandinavian. Or are you going to tell me it’s just something that you do because women love it?”

Laughing again, Marius shook his head. “No, it’s not faked. I’m actually French. It’s just that I moved to England in my teens and wanted to fit in at the time, so I worked on adopting the accent. After that, well, I lived there for so long that it just kind of took over.”

Blinking in surprise, Rilla tipped her head to the side and just looked at him for a moment. “That was not what I was expecting you to say, but it is nonetheless fascinating. Why did your family move to England?”

“Ah, my family didn’t move,” he replied, and Rilla heard a sorrow enter his voice that made her wish she hadn’t said anything. “I actually moved to England on my own after what I suppose you could call a disagreement with my father. I would rather not go into it.”

“No no, of course.” Rilla awkwardly tucked a stray curl behind her ear. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – I mean, I was just trying to –“

“Make conversation and learn something about me, I understand,” Marius reached over and gently laid his gloved hand against hers reassuringly before returning his attention to driving. “You’re actually the first person in some time to learn that I’m French, so your line of questioning made perfect sense.”

Rilla smiled at him, almost shyly, and fiddled with her hair again. “Well, different question, then. Do you still speak French well?”

“Fluently.”

“Let’s hear it, then,” she demanded playfully.

“Votre souhait est mon commandement, mademoiselle.”

Leaning back in her seat, Rilla grinned shamelessly at him. “I have no idea what most of that
meant, but it sounded magnificent.”

Marius laughed again. “Well, to insure that I don’t ruin the moment, I don’t think I’ll be translating for you.”

Rilla waved her hand in lofty dismissal. “That’s all right, I’ll assign it some completely inaccurate meaning later based on my impressions of the evening.”

Grinning, Marius made a turn and pulled up to the curb. “Here we are. I’ll drop you off and park.”

Throwing the car in park, Marius was out the door and coming around while Rilla was still getting out of her seat belt and gathering her purse. He opened the door for her and offered his hand, which she accepted as she climbed out carefully minding her skirt and making sure it didn’t cling to the car’s upholstery.

“I’ll be right back,” he promised as he ran around to the driver’s side again, flashing a dazzling smile before hopping in and pulling away. Rilla watched him go and privately wished the whole perfect gentleman shtick didn’t make her so flushed and swoony. She stood out in the cold for a moment, collecting herself. She imagined he had expected her to head in, but she needed that moment.

“Oh, god, I’m twelve,” Rilla muttered to herself, then took a breath and headed inside, moving to the back of the foyer and indicating to the hostess that she was waiting for someone.

Five minutes later, Marius returned, smiling apologetically as he removed his hat. They made their way to the table, and he went so far as to pull Rilla’s chair out for her, which she honestly wasn’t completely certain what to do with but was nonetheless touched by the gesture. The waitress came by and took their drink order, and Rilla looked speculatively at Marius as the waitress walked away.

Marius met her gaze with a lifted brow. “I feel as if I’m being weighed and measured. I hope I’m not found lacking.”

Laughing a touch nervously, Rilla shook her head and folded her arms on the table, leaning against them. “No, no. Well, not yet at least,” she added with a playful sparkle in her eyes. “So, let’s see, what other fun getting-to-know-you questions can we ask each other?”

“It’s early in the evening,” Marius observed, “so perhaps we should continue with the basics. I’ve got one. What do you do when you’re not enthralling audiences?”

Rilla had the sinking feeling that the color pink was creeping up into her cheeks again. “Oh! Ah, I don’t know if I would say I enthrall people. I have a good voice, and I suppose people like me well enough. That’s not what you asked, though – I actually work in a bookstore.”

Marius nodded. “I think Chris said something about that. What kind of bookstore?”

“It’s called Love Letters,” Rilla answered, and was fairly sure she managed it without looking embarrassed. “They sell books that deal with romance and erotica, as well as little novelties like heart shaped spatulas and particularly romantic stationery.”

Marius smiled slowly. “That is an interesting concept. How are sales?”

The waitress returned with their drinks at that moment, and Rilla shrugged as she picked hers up. “Honestly? Most months we don’t turn much of a profit, and some we’re lucky to break even. Late January and early February are really what pay to keep the store open for the rest of the year. In the winter, the hot chocolate bar helps – we sell drinking chocolate, which is an idea the owner stole from a store that went out of business. It’s a nice place to work, though, and while I’ll never retire on it I suppose it’s fine for now. The hours don’t interrupt my performance schedule.”

“I can see how that would be important.”

Rilla took a sip. “So, I know what your card says, but what do you actually do?”

“I’m an expert in identifying Naval salvage, particularly from the Second World War,” he answered and picked up his own drink. “Basically, I get called in to tell people what they just pulled up out of the ocean and which government wants it back. Also, if it’s worth any money.”

Setting her drink down, Rilla leaned forward again. “That sounds fascinating. Do you travel a lot for it?”

“Off and on,” Marius confirmed. “I spent two months in Italy this past summer when the Italian government ordered the US to pull all their old debris out of the Mediterranean.”

Sighing, Rilla cupped her chin in her hands. “I always wanted to travel more. I went to France and Italy for Spring Break trips when I was in college. I thought the area was lovely, but wished I’d had more time to explore. I hope to go to England and Spain one of these days. And Germany. And Norway, China, Japan, India, I’m babbling, you get the picture.”

A brief reprieve was granted as the waitress returned and Marius indicated they were ready to order. Rilla decided to make good on her threat and ordered pad see ew. It did briefly float through her head that something that could be more delicately eaten might make a better impression, but she would undoubtedly wreck that impression before too long so it was best to be honest from the start.

“So you went to college,” Marius began. “What did you study?”

“I received my Bachelors of Music from U-Dub right out of high school,” Rilla admitted, retrieving her drink from the table. “With a partial scholarship, blessedly, so I won’t die paying off my student loans.”

Marius’s brows drew down in obvious confusion, but he remained silent for a moment and sipped his drink, looking at Rilla as if he very much wanted to ask her something, but couldn’t find a good way to say it. Rilla let him sit like that for a moment, then finally sighed and motioned towards him.

“I’m pretty sure I know what you’re going to ask, so go ahead,” Rilla prompted him with a look of resignation on her face.

“I wasn’t going to, but since you gave me permission I’m not going to stop myself. Why aren’t you doing something with your degree?”

“Because I don’t want to teach,” Rilla answered with the tone and meter of someone who had given this answer more times than they care to count. “Also, despite classical training, my voice isn’t suited to opera. I don’t dance well enough for musical theater, and I’m not –“

She stopped abruptly, and looked down at her drink for a moment before taking a large swig that finished it off. The glass hit the table with a dull thud. “I don’t have the body type for a career in popular music. So I work in a bookstore, I sing when I can, and for the most part I’m happy.”

Everything in Marius’s expression said he wanted to pursue this line of questioning further, but he also seemed to understand that Rilla wouldn’t be comfortable with it. Food arrived then, further encouraging them to leave the topic for the time. They ate quietly for a moment and Rilla found herself regretting that whole decision to avoid making a false impression. However, the food was quite nice, so she got over it after a few bites.

“So why did you come to the States,” Rilla asked out of the blue after the silence stretched past a point she was comfortable with.

Marius held up a hand apologetically as he finished swallowing. “I originally came out here for work and decided I liked the area enough to relocate. That, and honestly, London was growing tiresome.”

The look on Rilla’s face conveyed just how much she had a hard time believing that London could ever become tiresome, but she let it go. “Why not return to France?”

Glancing down at his bowl, Marius seemed to consider his words carefully. “The France that I left is no longer there. While in some ways that’s good and in others that’s bad, the things I was tied to are gone. I guess I just didn’t see the point.”

There seemed to be such a profound sense of loss hiding behind those words that Marilla felt her heart ache for him. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, and his head popped up in surprise as if he hadn’t realized how much he was revealing of himself.

Marius managed another one of his charming smiles. “It’s all right. It was all a long while ago, and it bothers me but rarely.”

“I understand not being able to return home,” Rilla murmured, and Marius barely caught it over the din of the room. He reached across the table and took up her hand which had idly been fiddling with her chopsticks. She looked from her hand up into his eyes, and felt that same little flush creeping over her cheeks.

“Ah, I need to powder my nose,” Rilla said, clutching his hand for a moment before gently withdrawing her own. “Then, perhaps, you might want to go for a little walk? There’s a place not far from here that serves a delightful cheesecake. Well, they serve a delightful great many things, but I’m partial to the cheesecake.”

Smiling, Marius nodded. “That sounds lovely.”

Rising to her feet and smoothing her skirt, Rilla walked toward where she assumed the bathrooms would be, glancing once over her shoulder back at Marius, as if she wanted to make sure he was still watching.

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