Hello, dear readers! Did you miss me? I missed you! In all seriousness, I had a bit of a hiccup, but I’m still here! This story of mine is still being written, and we’re all charging forward! Ha ha!
The Arms of the Ocean
Rilla woke with a start out of amorphous dreams, slightly disoriented. The bed was too big, and there was no canopy above her. Also, there was something very warm right behind her. Coming up into full wakefulness, she immediately remembered where she was, who was behind her, and bit her lip trying not to laugh or squeal or something in her elated excitement. She was at Marius’s house, this was his bed, and last night – oh, last night. She look in a deep breath and let it out slowly, smiling to herself. Nothing in her entire dating history – which, admittedly, wasn’t actually that long – could hold a candle to last night. She let out a soft, breathy laugh, unable to help herself, and the warm figure behind her shifted, sliding hands around her and pulling her in against him. Marius nuzzled at her neck and kissed her shoulder, and it made her smile even wider.
“Good morning,” Marius said softly, still leaving kisses across her neck, the rim of her ear, and at her temple. She could see a clock telling her that “morning” was a technicality – it would not still be morning for very long. It was surprisingly dark for how late in the day it was, but looking past the clock revealed that the expanse of windows on the far wall were now covered by rather dark solar shades.
“Morning,” Rilla answered, closing her eyes again for a moment and just enjoying the feel of him next to her.
“I hope you’ll forgive me, but I let you sleep,” Marius said after a minute. That was about when Rilla realized he was wearing quite a bit more than she was – the cloth against her back right now wasn’t a sheet, it was a tshirt. “I don’t entertain much, so there wasn’t a lot of food in the house. I ran out and grabbed some things for breakfast.”
Opening her eyes once more, Rilla rolled over and looked at Marius. He was smiling, in a white undershirt and a pair of boxers, implying that not only had he gotten up and dressed, he’d stripped down again to get back into bed with her. “Did I keep you waiting long?”
Marius shook his head, still smiling, and got up. “You drink tea, right? I’ll go put the water on. Just come on down when you’re ready.”
Rilla watched as Marius pulled on a pair of jeans and grabbed a sweater before heading down the stairs. The light that came in his bedroom door as he opened it swept cool colors through the room, giving him almost a soft blue glow before the door swung shut behind him. Getting up, Rilla moved through the room, looking around. It was a very neat room. Everything in its place. The juxtaposition between clean, modern lines and old nautical accents was interesting. She also found a short bookcase filled with various French texts. Some of the books looked to be a bit old – nothing ancient, but a few decades back, at least. Others were recent reprints of older volumes – there was a copy of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal which Rilla could tell from her days working in books stores had never been opened. There was no evidence of creasing in the spine None of the newer books showed any evidence of being read, in fact. That was a curious thing – this was his bedroom, it didn’t seem like the place one would put ornamental books. He must want them for a reason, but what if not to read?
Aware that time was passing and that a handsome man with breakfast awaited downstairs, Rilla headed into the obscenely spacious bathroom and did her best to tidy up, getting dressed again in yesterday’s clothes. That made her giggle a little – she hadn’t done that since college. Wetting down her hair a little so that it would reshape well and not get too frizzy, she did the best styling she could with her fingers and then headed out.
As she moved through the house, Rilla wondered how much of it Marius actually used. The couch in the living room still looked factory fresh. The house seemed a little large for one person, but it also wasn’t that large of a house. There was the master suite upstairs, which was pretty big, but might also have been a remodel – the house didn’t look like a new build, but that bathroom was definitely more recent. Then the living room area, a door to what Rilla assumed was a den or office, and now the kitchen with its little breakfast nook. Which contained one of those counter height tables with tall chairs. The kitchen looked the most lived in. There were a couple coffee cups in the sink, a newspaper on the small island that had clearly been shuffled through, and fingerprints on the electric tea kettle that Marius was now picking up and pouring water out of. Though that was interesting as well – he was wearing gloves again now, but clearly did not when no one else was in the house if those smudges on the kettle were any indicator.
“How do you take your tea,” Marius asked, looking over his shoulder with another smile.
“Ah, English. Cream and sugar. Or milk and sugar, typically, because I can’t justify buying cream just to have in the house for tea.” Rilla smiled back a bit shyly, and leaned on the island.
Chuckling, Marius set a cup in front of Rilla and headed over to the fridge. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard someone specify tea that way.”
“What, English instead of Russian,” Rilla asked, picking up the cup and inhaling. It had a lovely fragrance. “I’ll be honest, I read it in a book once. And I drink a lot of tea. Not really a coffee person.”
Setting the requested milk and sugar down on the island, Marius grinned again. “Well, I don’t tend to drink coffee either, so that works out. Though didn’t you invite me in for coffee the other night?”
Rilla spooned out some sugar and added milk to her tea. “If you had said yes I would have either tried to talk you into tea or borrowed a coffee pod from Karin and left a dollar in her drawer for it or something.”
“So you did have a plan,” Marius said, a touch of admiration in his tone. Turning around again, he picked up a box from the local bakery and set it on the island next to the sugar, opening it up to reveal a couple scones, a danish, and some sort of muffin. Rilla grabbed a scone. Marius took the other one with another grin.
“I had a feeling we might fight over the scone, so I got two. Would you like to sit, or we can continue to stand around this tiny kitchen island.”
With a laugh, Rilla moved towards the table in the nook. “It is tiny. To the point that I’m not sure why they bothered putting it in.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s because at some point a designer told the previous owner that kitchen islands were trending.” Marius sat down across from her with his own tea and scone. Rilla looked at him for a moment, and around the kitchen again. She hoped he wasn’t too put off by what she was about to ask, because she was going to ask it regardless.
“Marius, you have a lovely home,” Rilla said after a moment and another sip of her tea. “But I find myself wondering, how much of this is really you?”
That got an arched eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Rilla paused for a moment. “Image is important to you. And don’t try to tell me it’s not.”
Marius laughed. “I wouldn’t dare.”
“Good,” Rilla answered with a smile. “I guess, though – a lot of all this is image. The car. The impeccably tailored clothing. The house that doesn’t even look like you live in it outside of the kitchen and bedroom. And don’t get me wrong, it’s very effective. The way you dress and present yourself is not everything I like about you, but it definitely drew me in and I’d be a horrible liar if I didn’t admit as much. But it doesn’t entirely feel like you. I’m not saying you don’t like these things, but it feels a little like…I don’t know, like you decided on a look and an image and started building it and it just became what you did.”
There was a long pause as Marius looked at her for a moment, weighing what she said. A wry smile eventually curled up the corners of his mouth. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re uncomfortably perceptive?”
Rilla blushed a little. “Just you.”
“I guess that means I have more of your attention than anyone else does,” Marius said, still looking at her with that wry expression. “And I have to say I like that.”
They were both quiet for a moment, and Rilla wondered if he would try to avoid the question, but after a little more tea, Marius nodded. “You’re not wrong,” he said looking across the open kitchen towards the rest of his house. “When I left England, I was sort of at loose ends. I was reinventing myself. Changing careers. Getting away from the navy and the shipyards and everything else. I had an idea of what a businessman should look like, and worked to create it. It probably didn’t help that I started in New York – if I had come straight to the west coast maybe I would have been more relaxed about it. Maybe not.”
Leaning forward, Rilla set her chin in her hand and smiled softly. “I understand needing to change. To do something else, maybe even be someone else a little bit.” She sipped her tea, and watched him for a minute. “So which parts are you?”
“Tea in the kitchen is me. It’s all me a little bit. I like the fast car, I like modern electronics, I like being well dressed though I suppose there would be more sweaters and fewer pressed shirts if I were to completely divorce my concept of image from what I wore.” Reaching across the table, Marius took Rilla’s hand. “Everything I said and did with you last night was me. Shanties on the dock was me. What happened upstairs was most certainly me. And would you forgive me if I said I was hoping it might happen again tonight?”
Rilla blinked in surprise, then smiled slowly. “Do I have to forgive you? Could I just, maybe, be happy? Bordering on elated?”
They sat there for a minute, smiling like a pair of lovestruck idiots, when Marius cleared his throat. “So! What would you like to do today?”
“Change,” Rilla replied with a bit of a smirk. “Seriously, though, I need you to take me by my place so that I can change, and retrieve some clothing for tomorrow. Also maybe my favorite body scrub, because you’re mad if you think I’m not taking up that shower and tub on all the promises they made me last night.”
Laughing, Marius picked up his tea again. “Sounds like a plan. We can figure out the next steps from there.”