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Authors: Cara McKenna

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BOOK: Curio
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“I would.”

I watched Didier as he ate, marveling again at him. Surely no one is perfect, and yet he seems so. A large man, big enough to seem exceptional but not so big that he feels inaccessible or overbearing. I adore him from every angle, his jaw, his strong nose, the dark, graceful arch of his eyelashes when his face is cast down. I remembered this face as it had looked on Thursday evening, seconds before he came. An entirely different strain of perfection.

When we’d cleaned our plates he took them to the sink and refreshed our glasses.

“May I see your cabinet?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Come.”

We went through to the main room and set our wine on the coffee table. He turned on a lamp and I followed him to a corner, to an old china hutch I’d not noticed before. It contained no dishes, but a multitude of treasures. Beyond the glass stood tin toys, clocks, brass scales, metronomes. He opened a drawer to reveal a carefully spaced selection of watch faces. From behind them he withdrew a tied leather bag and unrolled it, taking out tiny tools to show me—a set of magnifying lenses, minuscule screwdrivers and the finest-point tweezers I’d ever seen.

“Wow.”

“Thank you. It’s not so astounding as art, merely taking apart others’ inventions.”

“It’s still really neat.” He’d taken out a jeweler’s monocle and I put it to my eye, examining my fingernail. “You’re quite the mad scientist.”

“Not so mad. Just curious. Many of these things came to me broken. It’s very satisfying to understand them enough to make them work again.”

I pointed to a pocket watch in the drawer. “May I?”

“Please.”

I opened its face and peered at its insides through the monocle. Didier took it from me, just long enough to wind it so I could watch all its miniscule parts tick and snap and whir, like the X-ray of a marvelous little brass animal. “I can see how you might get lost in this.”

“Yes. I find it very interesting, these tiny spaces, like little rooms. Microscopic factories full of gears and springs. I find the human mind very interesting as well, but these… I feel I can understand these.”

I set the monocle down. “I think you understand people’s brains just fine.”

“Perhaps.”

Didier put away his tools and I strolled to the couch. I watched his back as he adjusted his collection, fussy but not obsessive. When he joined me I asked, “Have you ever owned an ant farm?”

“I haven’t, but I always wanted one. Have you?”

I shook my head. “I wasn’t allowed any pets.” Actually it was my mother who oughtn’t be trusted with the care of an animal, but I didn’t elaborate.

“We always had fish when I was growing up,” Didier said. “They were the only pets my mother stood any chance of maintaining, she was out so much. Eventually I did all that, feeding and cleaning.”

“Flushing.”

He smiled grimly. “Indeed. I remember when the very first fish died, how I found it and agonized over telling her. Then she came home and I said, ‘Mother, I have terrible news. The fish has died.’ And she blinked at me and pulled a franc from her purse and told me to go and get a new one.”

I laughed.

“I was devastated, but to her it was as if a light bulb had burned out.”

“Did you get a new one?”

“Oh yes, we must have had twenty of them, at least, one at a time, one after the other. It did not upset me so badly after the first one died, because I loved the pet store. I would loiter there for an hour or more before selecting a fish, and then I would be so gentle and full of pride as I carried it home six blocks in its bag.”

“Six very carefully memorized blocks.”

“Indeed. If the latest fish died in the winter, I would keep the new one inside my coat, wrapped in my scarf as I walked home. I gave myself a cold once, doing that.”

“That’s sweet.”

Didier’s smile faltered. “They are nice memories, the fish. Until the last one.”

“Oh. Why?”

“The last time I was given a franc to buy a fish, when I was perhaps thirteen, it was taken from me.”

“Taken?”

He nodded, eyes cast down at the glass in his hand. “Older boys from my neighborhood, mean boys, pushed me down and took the bag.”

“What did they do?”

“I do not know. But it was one of the worst days of my life, as dramatic as that sounds. That stupid little creature was in my care, and I thought I was rescuing it from the pet store. But I didn’t keep it safe and who knows what became of it. Stepped on or tortured or who knows what. I felt very weak, very worthless for weeks.”

“And you never got another fish?”

“No. I tried to go back to the pet store, but the guilt hurt so badly, I was sick.”

“Oh my.”

“That was the first time I truly understood how unsafe the world can be. And how unfair it is for the gentler creatures in this world of bullies.”

I wondered if Didier meant the fish or his thirteen-year-old self. “That’s very sad.” I surprised myself, setting my hand on his forearm. He smiled at me, most of his melancholy seeming to lift.

“Would you ever get a fish again?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“I’m pretty sure no one would try to take it from you now.” I pictured Didier’s bare body, wondering if he knew how to exploit that physique for violence as well as art.

“I think my time for fish has passed. I would enjoy its company, but I would always think, what kind of a life is this, living in a tiny bowl with no other fish, your only purpose in life to be a living trinket for some other animal, in exchange for food?”

I shifted in my seat, knowing too well that, to some, this man must boil down to nothing more than a six-foot-something trinket.

“I am too sensitive now for the pet shop,” Didier concluded. He smiled suddenly. “And I am too depressing a date this evening. Forgive me.”

“I don’t mind. Everyone’s allowed to feel sad now and then.”

“I am carrying on about goldfish when you are here for romance. So come, let’s leave all that behind us.” He took my hand and put it to his lips, a gesture I’d imagined before but always skeptically, always as a stereotype of the cheesiest ilk. But in reality, I liked it.

He stared at my fingers and squeezed them gently, one by one. “Have you any idea what you would like from me, this evening?”

“No. I’d like to kiss you again, but beyond that, I’m not sure.”

“Whatever you wish.”

I looked to him nervously and he got the hint. He took the glass from me and set it aside. His hands were warm as he cupped my neck, his mouth bold, lips tart from the wine I’d purchased with exactly this in mind. Just as his kisses grew deep and my head grew cloudy, he pulled away.

“May I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“I thought of you, Friday afternoon. I touched myself and I imagined it was you, pleasuring me.”

Every inch of me tightened and released, heat dropping over me like a sheet. Our eyes darted, his dark ones mesmerizing in the warm light of the lamp.

“Really?”

“Yes. I bathed and I remembered how it felt to have you watch, and before I knew it my hand was wrapped around my cock. Your hand, in my mind.”

I conjured the scene, thick lather dripping from his fist. “I’ve thought about you as well.” But strangely enough, I hadn’t come since meeting Didier on Thursday. I’d been wound up beyond reason, but each time I thought I might touch myself, misgivings gave me pause. Had I known he’d still thought of me after I disappeared down his stairs—that he’d
come
, thinking about me—I’d have given myself permission to indulge in my own memories. But as it was, I’d been afraid as always that my lust was laughably one-sided.

Yet for some incredible reason, despite that fact that he’s the finest man I’ve ever seen and miles out of my league…I believed him, just then. And I realized something I never had before. Deep down, I want to be seen as an object too. I want to be coveted and sought after. I want to be taken apart and understood, reassembled, filed away in Didier’s cabinet. I don’t even need to be pretty to have this. I only have to allow him to open me up.

After more kissing I said, “I know you’ve said that what women want from you is different, depending on who they are.”

“Of course.” I loved how rough his voice sounded then, and knowing it was partly my doing.

“Well, what do
you
like? If the woman had no preference and it was all up to you, what do you like best?”

“I cannot divorce the two that easily. Even in my own head, by myself, what I imagine has everything to do with the woman in my thoughts.”

“Even if she was just a totally neutral, up-for-anything woman?”

He smiled. “As much as I love clockwork, I would never want to fuck a woman as soulless and without preference as a robot.”

I sighed, pretending to be outrageously exasperated.

Didier laughed, a glorious noise. “Do you really want me to have some singular need? Do you want some secret key to pleasing me? Because you don’t need one. You’re doing just fine, right now. What excites you excites me.”

“I just want to know who you are, I guess. By yourself.”

“I can’t give you some simple answer. It all depends on the company. I love wine,” he said, “but I won’t drink it with ice cream. I love coffee but I do not want it with mussels, you see? I may adore two things, coffee and mussels, a certain sex act and a particular woman, but all are ruined when they don’t go together.”

“Fine, I submit to your logic. What am I then? What would you pair with me?”

Didier offered me a mysterious smirk and laced his fingers between mine, a gesture that triggered a rush I cannot adequately describe. “I do not know all of your flavors just yet.”

I squeezed his hand. “Guess, then.”

“Because you’re cautious, I think we should keep everything equal, no one the aggressor or the passive one. Slow explorations, to start. And when I get a better feel for you, I’ll know what beyond that to offer.” Another smirk. “But I suspect you are like shellfish, meant to be coaxed open and savored. I would pair you with a dry white wine. Something sharp, not dark.”

It may not be the most likely poetry, comparing a woman to shellfish, but I felt warmth burst in my cheeks and chest, outrageously flattered to be reduced to food and drink to this man. Something to be consumed.

“But again,” he said, “I have so much yet to learn about you.”

I gazed down at his fingers twined with mine. I had much to learn too, but perhaps that evening I’d find another lesson or two to check off my list.

A finger crooked under my chin, brought my face up, a tender bit of pushiness I adored. I let Didier kiss me and what had felt romantic before turned carnal, deep and insistent. I let his hand go to stroke his neck, his shoulder. I felt his hard arm through his shirt, touched the bare skin and soft hair at his open collar. He didn’t touch me back beyond my face and neck, and I wasn’t yet sure if this was a relief or a disappointment. But my own hands were bold, running down and over his front to feel his abdomen. As I traced the waist of his pants with my fingertips, he freed his mouth to sigh.

I leaned close to open his buttons, one, two, three, until I spread his shirt open and feasted my eyes on his body.

He slid his fingers from my hair, bringing them lower not to touch me, but himself. As I roamed his chest and stomach, he cupped a hand between his legs.

“Are you hard?”

“Yes.” He traced his erection with his thumb and forefinger, pulling the fabric tighter to show me. I know if he’d asked me to touch him, I’d have clammed up. He didn’t. He made no requests, only fondled himself, illustrating what I was missing out on, what I could have.

“I want to touch you,” I whispered.

“You can do whatever you like with me.”

“I know. I’m just afraid I’ll be lousy at it.”

“You’ve never done this to a man, no?”

I shook my head.

“Caroly.” My name on his breath short-circuited my brain. “Tonight, with you… Your cautious hands on me, unsure what they are doing, will be more exciting than the touch of the most masterful woman on earth. I don’t need to be served, only explored.”

“Oh,” was all I could think to say.

“I want mine to be the first cock you ever know.”

His words hit me hard, making my light head lighter, my pussy hot. “I want that too.”

“Here.” Gently, impossibly slowly, he took my hand, sliding it from his belly and over his belt to cover his erection. He held it there for a long time before guiding me, coaxing my palm up and down, a faint graze over his hard, hidden arousal.

“That is not so bad?”

“No,” I mumbled. “That’s very nice.”

His hand abandoned mine to its clumsy devices. I measured him with light caresses, loving how tense the rest of his body had grown.

“You feel harder than I expected.”

“This is how I felt when I thought of you the other night. Thinking of you made me hard then, just as your touch does so now.” He was quiet for several strokes, save his labored breaths. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah.” Bolder, I wrapped my hand around him as much as possible through his slacks, squeezing to discover how thick he was. He moaned and I felt different, as I never had before—powerful and beautiful and wild.

“I’m the first,” he murmured.

The idea that he was fetishizing this experience gave me permission to do the same. I’d already grown quite fond of Didier—surely fonder than was rational, given our perhaps six cumulative hours of acquaintance—but reducing him to a stiff, suffering cock was electrifying. I’d always loathed this idea, openly lavishing a beautiful man with my admiration. As if such a fortunate specimen deserves more validation. But of course it felt nothing like that with Didier. I adored this glimpse into another side of him, a darker, cockier version of the man I was just coming to know.

“Kiss me,” I said.

He did. He turned and kissed me as no one ever had before, urgent and demanding. I ached for his hand on top of mine again, dictating—perhaps even
forcing
—the friction. But I was in charge. I imagined teasing him this way until he begged to be taken out and given release. I imagined denying such a request, degrading him with my refusal until he lost control, quaking and pleading and erupting beneath my hand, inside his clothes, perspiration shining on his forehead.

BOOK: Curio
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