Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice:
. . . . . .
The air carried a hint of chill, autumn knocking on late summer’s door in a persistent way. Swollen, violet-tinted clouds hung low in the sky, threatening rain that was long overdue. The grass under Mara’s feet was parched and stiff as she crested the small hill, her heart in her throat with a mixture of apprehension and excitement.
She’d debated long and hard with herself about coming. Two weeks’ worth of worry and stress that left her nails a bitten mess, nerves so frayed she’d found it hard to eat. The dress she’d put on this morning felt frighteningly baggy, and she was tired despite the small distance she’d travelled. The feel of the loose fabric against her skin was a reminder she needed to take better care of herself. The boys were counting on her.
She lengthened her stride, filled with renewed purpose. She was taking a huge risk coming here to meet the mystery man, but it was necessary. The vitamin D tablets he’d generously given her—and promised more of—had made a slight difference in both her brothers’ health. Just that morning, Teddy had told her his back hurt less, and Jeremy had played in the garden the previous night for over an hour, something he hadn’t done in months. They’d built a tent out of old blankets, pretending to be someplace far away, camping by a lake Mara had to describe because the boys had never seen one. They’d listened with such rapt attention it had hurt her heart, knowing they would never know firsthand the splendour of a sunset reflected in the surface of water. Never splash about in its cool depths on a hot afternoon, chasing the refractions of light that winked in and out like tiny stars.
As she neared the place where she’d last seen her benefactor, she slowed, working to catch her breath. It was vain and silly, but she didn’t want him to witness her huffing and puffing. She was so focused on that, and checking to make sure her dress wasn’t rumpled, she almost tripped over him.
He lay in the grass—one of his arms under his head as a makeshift pillow, the other, held upright—holding the book he’d stolen from her.
She’d forgotten about the blasted book. Warmth erupted in her cheeks as she witnessed anew the amorous couple splayed across the cover. He seemed rather engrossed, which made her wonder what chapter he was on. Remembering some of the steamy scenes, written with creative euphemisms, didn’t help at all with her embarrassment.
Flustered, she cleared her throat, and he had the audacity to hold up a finger in a wait-a-minute pose.
All Mara’s fear and stress vanished as indignation swallowed her up in a powerful surge. Time was a precious commodity, and every second she spent outside put her in danger. The heavy cloud cover often brought the government men out in droves. Wrapped in funny looking suits that protected them for short periods of time from the weaker UV rays, they waddled around like misplaced astronauts, searching for people like her.
He licked the finger he’d dared to raise up to her, then flipped the page, continuing to read like they had hours of leisure at their disposal. In a different time, where every minute she spent in daylight didn’t threaten her basic freedom, she might have found him amusing.
As it was, her temper snapped. She reached out and snagged the romance novel, tearing it from his clasp with enough force the page his thumb had been pressed upon ripped free and fluttered onto his chest.
He arched an eyebrow, raising his gaze to her. Those damnably attractive blue eyes had haunted a few too many of her dreams, and it pissed her off more.
Sitting up, he plucked the page off his chest, making a tsking sound. “I was at an interesting part,” he said, smoothing the paper down on his thigh like he was ironing out wrinkles. “I believe the muscular Rex was about to finally man up and tumble the luscious Miss Samantha into his bed. Or I hoped, anyway. Twelve chapters of unresolved sexual tension seems ridiculous to me.”
He rose fluidly to his feet, forcing her to notice how tall he was when she had to tilt her head back to glare at him.
“And what’s with all those scenes of them eating at cutesy outdoor cafes perched on terraces? If you ask me, a man should have the decency to escort a woman out for a proper meal in a nice restaurant before taking the kind of liberties Rex has.”
Not a fan of being mocked when it came to her choice in reading material, Mara felt her left eyelid twitch—a definite precursor to her losing her cool.
“Nobody forced you to read. If I recall correctly, you took this without asking. I wasn’t even finished with it yet!”
“Well, that’s a shame. I was hoping you’d tell me how it ends. I don’t think I can stomach another core clenching, melting kiss.”
“Why? Do you have something against kissing?”
He laughed. “Not at all. I think kissing is wonderful. I prefer a writer leave a little up to the imagination, though.”
He handed her the loose page, and she tucked it back into the novel without looking, too riled up to care about order.
“Well, for those of us who lack experience, imagination doesn’t get one very far,” she said, hotly. Realizing she had basically admitted to having never been kissed, Mara pretended interest in rubbing a raw spot on her cuticle. Irritation faded away, leaving her feeling awkward as seconds ticked by, neither of them speaking.
“I’m sorry,” he said, finally. He stuffed his hands into his pockets, and she dared to look at him again. His expression matched his softer tone as he offered her a tentative smile. “I was only teasing. I didn’t mean to offend. Can we start over?”
Mara knew she had to take a chance. She’d been without a friend in the world since her parents died. He’d given her the valuable supplements, and he showed up here today even though it was a risk to him, too. She managed a nod, and he extended his hand for her to shake.
“Hello, little nymph. I’m glad you came. My name is Glen.”
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)