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Authors: Cara McKenna

Curio (14 page)

BOOK: Curio
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“I see.”

“I want to be whatever people wish of me. Perhaps because I’m so broken in other ways. And actually, you… You’re the first client I’ve had in a very long time where I do not feel as if I’m playing a part. Maybe that first night, but even then…”

“Well, I have no idea what I want. That probably helps.”

He smirked. “And here I thought perhaps you just wanted me, exactly how I am.”

Never has a sentence filled me simultaneously with such sadness and delight. My lips trembled as I returned his smile. “Perhaps I do.”

“I’ve gotten so used to modifying who I am for women, I lost myself a little. Being with you feels very nice. I feel very pleasantly naked, like a costume has been removed.”

“I’m glad.” I wanted to tell him so many things—how not only did I feel I’ve rediscovered who I am, in this flat, but that maybe I never even knew who I really was until I met him. I was like one of his projects, busted and hollow until I arrived here, opened up and cleaned and put back together the right way, reanimated.

For a long time we sat in thoughtful silence, until Didier finished his wine and a deep yawn overtook me.

“It’s time?” he asked.

“I think so.”

I got my shoes on and he walked me to the door, as always. To the edge of his aquarium, as far as he could go without risking asphyxiation.

Didier took my hand. “Much has been said since we spoke about seeing one another on Friday. Do you need time to rethink anything?”

I felt my eyes widen. “What? No.” I laughed. “I don’t feel any different, knowing all that. Well, I do, but I certainly don’t think any less of you.”


I shook my head. “I think you’re lovely. I’d like to see you on Friday. Is there… Do you need me to bring anything? Wine, or anything else?” Anything, anything at all.

“Would you like to bring an appetizer, perhaps? It’s supposed to be cold and rainy, I heard on the radio. I could make us soup, if you’d bring something as well.”


“Not so perfect as this evening.” Didier stooped to kiss me, light and fond.

It occurred to me anew—I’d just lost my virginity. “Indeed. Thank you, again.”

Another kiss and we bade one another goodnight, sweet dreams.

After I turned the corner to the stairs and heard his door close, I doubled back. For a minute or longer I stood staring at the iron panel beside the elevator, before I finally pushed the call button. The car rattled and clanged, every terrible noise a promise of my violent, plummeting demise.

At least I wouldn’t perish a virgin.

But when the death-cage squealed to the fifth floor, I hauled the folding gate aside and stepped in. My heart hammered all the way to the foyer, yet when I wobbled down the steps and into the cold breeze, I felt lighter. Slightly nauseous, very shaky, but dizzy with delight as well as adrenaline.

I passed couples on my way to the subway, and though my chest ached to know I’d never enjoy even the illusion of such a thing with the man I adored, I couldn’t feel poorly. I’d had sex tonight, and ridden in an elevator. I may not ever hold hands in the streetlight with a handsome man, but I would be okay. Every day, I was more okay.

And every day, I felt more and more like the woman I’ve always wanted people to think I am. The woman I want to be.


The Fourth Visit


I spent thirty-five euros at the deli up the street from my museum, on cheese and fruit and salty meats and fancy crackers. That’s fifty dollars’ worth. Easily enough money to feed me for an entire week, but the pretty packaging seduced me, as always.

I felt a bit inadequate, not having had time to make something impressive from scratch, arranged just so on in a pretty dish. But in the end, showing up with a plastic sack full of self-contained deliciousness was best, as the rain Didier’s radio had predicted touched down as something closer to a monsoon.

I arrived nervous and excited as always, if perhaps wetter than usual. We kissed and he asked me about my day. I felt strange when I asked him the same, knowing he’d been here, only here.

“It was a quiet day, until the storm arrived,” he said, taking my dripping umbrella. “You look nice.”

I laughed, looking down at the leggings plastered to my thighs, the puddle forming beneath me. “Thanks. You too.”

Didier looked far better than
, of course. And that night he was wearing jeans, which appealed to me far more than I’d have guessed. Such an any-guy piece of clothing, when I’d grown so accustomed to this exceptional man verging on formal. But goddamn, he looked good. Cozy.

Which was perfect for what I had planned. I pictured my pajamas, folded in my overnight bag. Cozy, cozy, cozy.

“Wine?” he asked.

“Sure. And I have to get my half of dinner put together, if you’ve got a platter and a cheese knife.”

He set me up at the butcher block and uncorked a bottle. The kitchen already smelled fantastic from whatever soup was in the pot on the stove.

“Wow,” he said, watching me unloading the various goodies on the wood.

“I went a little crazy in the shop.”

“And I was worried I would not have enough to feed us both. Here.” He handed me a glass.

“Thanks. Cheers.” We clinked. “I have a favor to ask you tonight.”

He sipped his wine and set it aside. “Anything.”

“Tonight…” I took a breath, petrified to utter my wishes. “I was hoping I could pretend you’re my boyfriend.”

Didier smiled in that way that exploded inside my chest, my heart a water balloon full of warm, squishy pleasure, bursting. “Of course.”

“But I mean, I guess… Just be how you’d be, with a woman you’ve just started sleeping with. I trust you, sensing what my boundaries are. You seem to know what they are even before I do sometimes.”


“So no asking me permission before we do anything we haven’t before. Anything you want to initiate, please just do.”

“Very organic.”

“Exactly. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m calling all the shots, you know?” And I didn’t want to be reminded that I was paying to get whatever I wanted.

Didier didn’t nod, didn’t utter an agreement. Instead he skirted the island and took my jaw in his hands and kissed me, brief but forceful. He licked his lips as he stepped back.

“That was exactly what I wanted,” he said.

Heat rose, flooding my cheeks. “Good.”

“May I be frank?”

I nodded.

“I’m very attracted to you.”

The blush burned hotter. “Oh?”

“And you’re asking me to treat and approach you as if this was not all under your direction, everything done with your permission already tendered.”


“So please tell me, honestly, if it’s too much. If I come on too strong. What you and I have done before… Nothing is an act with me. I’m a passionate man.”

“I know. I just want to know what it feels like, hanging out with the man I—” I stopped, knowing the word I’d nearly used was
too loaded. “The man I’m sleeping with. I don’t want to drive, is what I’m trying to say.”

“Very well. But don’t hesitate to change your mind, if I am too fast for you. I would hate to sour our time together, just being myself.”

I laughed as I spoke. “It would take a lot to undo the good you’ve done, but thanks for your concern. I’ll tell you if it’s too much, I promise.” I turned my attention to the cheese.

“Right. That is all I will say about it for the rest of the evening. From this moment, unless or until you change your mind, I am just your lover.”

My lover.
I pursed my lips, a shiver giving me goose bumps despite the warmth of the room.

Didier clapped once. “But enough of this. You are my girlfriend. Let us worry about dinner first, before I make a panting fool of myself, yes?”

I nodded officiously. “Yes.”

He started toward the stove then stopped short, turning to grin at me.


“So you are my girlfriend tonight?”

“I am.”

“And does this mean you are finally sleeping over?”

Oh, swoon. “I guess I could. I mean yes, I am. I brought pajamas and bathroom stuff.”

His grin deepened. “Pajamas. That’s adorable. Do you have little slippers with rabbits on them as well?”

I blushed. Of course this man must sleep nude. I made my tone snotty. “They’re very nice pajamas. Very sophisticated. And if you tease me like that you won’t get to see them.” Oh my crap, was I actually
with someone?

“Understood.” He circled and came up behind me, wrapping his arms around my middle. I felt a kiss at the crown of my head, my temple, my neck.

“You’re very good at taking liberties,” I said.

More kisses, then gentle, silly gnawing at my shoulder. It seems the real Didier is far more of a goofball than I’d expected. Not a criticism. He kissed my ear, a great barrage of noisy smooches designed to annoy.

“I’m armed, you know.” I sliced the cured sausage demonstrably.

He straightened behind me. “You wouldn’t dare castrate me. I know what it is I can do to you.”

I smiled to myself. “Perhaps.”

“Plus I am your boyfriend tonight. And that would make you a very lousy girlfriend.” With a final peck on my cheek, Didier let me go, stealing a fingerful of triple crème brie as he went to check on his half of dinner.

“What did you make?” I asked as he lifted the lid.

“Onion soup, with mushrooms.”


“I hope so.” He stirred and tasted it, added a splash of sherry and a few shakes of salt. He replaced the lid and fiddled with a knob, then came to lean on the far side of the island. I rapped his knuckles with a nearby whisk when he tried to steal a strawberry from the carton.

“Wait ‘til I’ve got it all arranged.”

“You’re a very abusive girlfriend.”

“You love it.”

He laughed then switched on the radio while I sliced the rest of the fruit and cheese and meat. I fanned them in arches, alternated with the overpriced crackers.

“This is a feast,” he said.

“Yeah, I didn’t know when to stop. They kept plying me with samples and my basket got heavier and heavier. Okay, I think we’re ready.”

Didier doesn’t have a dining area, so we pulled up stools and ate at the island. Every last thing I tasted was exquisite and I ate enough that a stranger might assume I was in my second trimester. I didn’t care. Didier was my boyfriend and I was happy. I told him some war stories from the museum, about the weird things rogue patrons try to get away with. It was more satisfying than the wine or the food, hearing him laugh and knowing I’d inspired it. And as another boyfriendish liberty, he lapsed into French now and again, and I let him bear witness to my abysmal accent and any number of improperly conjugated verbs.

As the nibbling wound down, my thoughts turned to other treats. What would be different, when Didier took me later? How different would his approach be when meeting my every delicate need wasn’t the order of the night?

He set his napkin aside and sighed. “That was delicious.”

“It was. I need your soup recipe now. I don’t even like onions, but that was amazing.”

“You don’t like onions? I wish I’d known. I’d have made something else.”

I shook my head. “Nah. I enjoy being converted. And I enjoy the idea of not telling you what I
I don’t like, then you surprising me, and proving maybe I do like things. I like being proven wrong.”

“You are talking about more than just onions?”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

He smiled at me and narrowed his eyes. “You’re different tonight. You’re very… I’m not sure. Cunning.”

I laughed. It was an adjective I’d never have assigned to myself in a million years. But I suppose he was right. I did feel a bit devious.

“Have you started fiddling with the clock yet?” I asked.

He nodded. “It needs a new part, I’m afraid. I will look through my catalogues and see if I can find a replacement. But otherwise it is in very good shape. Very interesting construction. Like you, it is somewhat simple on the outside, and an intriguing, complicated mess when you open it up.”

I tried to fake offense but was smiling too much to pull it off.

“But I’ll soon understand you both, every tiny spring and wheel and pin.”

“I’m afraid it’ll probably take more than a replacement part for me to ever make any sense, but good luck to you.”

He bumped my knee with his then stood. “Let me put away the leftovers.”

I helped him with the food and the dishes. I will say this about Didier—he’s quite handsy. Any chance that arose as we puttered, he had a palm on my ass. Again, not a complaint. With any other man it surely would be, but with Didier it only reminded me how it might feel to be pulled hard against him as his cock sank deep inside me. Anything that tricks me into thinking I’m his, for real.

“You’re very frisky tonight.”

He smiled, hanging up a dish towel. “Apologies. I assumed I was meant to be your boyfriend of four dates, not thirty years. But if not, we can brush our teeth and fall asleep reading by nine o’clock…”

“No no, frisky is nice.”

He backed me up against the sink and kissed me. “Oh good.” More kissing, more handsy. He backed off at length to say, “Your clothes are still damp.”

“I know. I better change before that hot soup wears off.”

“Do you need something to wear?”

As unreasonably sexy as the thought of flouncing about in one of Didier’s oversized shirts was, I declined. I’m not a flouncy girl. Maybe someday, but not quite yet. “No, thanks. I think I’ll deem you worthy of seeing my pajamas.”

I grabbed my bag and changed in the bathroom, into the new PJs whose price would give my father heart failure, considering it’s basically a camisole and drawstring shorts. But come on, Turkish silk satin! And my exact favorite color, greenish-grayish blue—just like in Paul Klee’s
Blick Der Stille
—and with tiny embroidered white-and-orange fish scattered all over. I know that sounds weird, but trust me, they’re awesome. And since I bought them before Didier told me about his goldfish, it all felt rather serendipitous. So worth having to eat cheap pasta every night for the foreseeable future.

BOOK: Curio
4.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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