When I See Your Face, Part 17
Doubt was on her mind. Doubt and a bag full of other emotions like anticipation, pride, hope, worry and determination.
It was afternoon and Cathy was standing in front of Michael’s front door with a covered tray in her hands, aromas of nuts, fruits, spices and sweet cream wafting up from time to time. She had spent the first half of the day in Aunt Grindle’s kitchen, baking the first special cake out of a range of new recipes she had thought of and wanted to put to the test. The cake looked rather unspectacular, but her old landlady had been so taken with the taste that she had actually eaten two pieces instead of the one thin slice she had timidly accepted from her at first.
Cathy liked the cake. A lot, in fact. This was different, however. She was waiting for the verdict of somebody who played an unreasonably big part in her life by now. Judging from the way her palms sweated and her pulse raced and from how she had chosen her favorite blouse—turquoise with some lace at the collar and sleeves—and applied some light pink lipstick, she was caring too much for his opinion.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come here?
There was no turning back. She had rung the door bell and could now distinctly hear footsteps approaching. Before she knew it, the door swung wide open and her mouth went completely dry.
As usual when she beheld his face, a stab of pain and guilt and fear and uncertainty pierced her heart. At first glance, these two men, who were so different in character, did look like twins. A second later, all these feelings were replaced by something warm and fuzzy spreading its wings inside her when Michael’s face broke out into the handsomest of smiles, broader and toothier and more crooked than she had remembered it.
He sounded like a child on Christmas when it saw Santa Clause packed with gifts, she thought to herself, inwardly turning summersaults that seeing her could make him so obviously happy.
“Hi,” she said meekly, and actually managed to tear her eyes off his flashing smile. When she did, she blushed to the tips of her hair, but couldn’t help staring.
It was clear that Michael hadn’t been expecting any visitors because he wasn’t wearing anything apart form a pair of faded, paint-splattered, torn jeans. His feet were bare, and so was his torso. She admired the fine muscles of his chest that she had always guessed at while working alongside him and that looked more pronounced with the T-shirt off. His tanned chest was not broad but hard and sculpted. There was a faint trace of dark hair leading from his chest to his navel and into the waistband of his jeans, his stomach flat and hinting at a six pack. For a moment, she wondered whether the downy black hairs would feel as soft to her fingers as they looked, whether his body would be hard and cool or warm and inviting as was his earthy, masculine smell. Breathing became rather difficult.
With an effort of will, she somehow managed to lift her eyes from his naked chest to his face again, her blush deepening when she saw that he had caught her staring and seemed to enjoy it.
Without another word, she held up the tray in her hands and almost shoved it in his face.
He cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Now let me guess what we have here.” He scrunched up his face all funnily and pretended to ponder a weighty question. At length, he said, “Could it be a cake?”
“Genius. Actually, it’s only half a cake. Mrs. Grindle is salivating over the other half minus three pieces eaten by her and me.”
“Salivating, is she? Well, let’s get you and your half cake inside and give me a chance to drool too.”
The way he said it made her laugh out loud. Trust this man to lighten the mood with one of these quips she had grown to love.
“As long as you don’t drool on the whole cake…”
He stepped aside with a theatrical bow and sweep of his arm and she walked in, still giggling and feeling much more at ease now, though at the next moment she was acutely aware of brushing his bare chest with her arm in the narrow corridor, feeling as if the touch singed her and left a visible burn mark.
Michael led her into the living-room and hurried off to get some things from the kitchen. She placed the tray on a polished oak coffee table and looked at her surroundings, more than a little curious as to how he was living.
The room appeared huge compared to the confined, orderly spaces she was used to at the guest-house, probably because there was hardly any furniture. Next to an impossibly old-fashioned couch with flowery upholstering, sagging seats and faded satin cushions as well as two equally old armchairs stood one cupboard with glass doors. It was mostly empty. There was a low sideboard with a modern flat screen TV in one corner of the room and a high, plain shelf with books in the other corner.
That was it. Everything around her looked old, barely used in recent times but probably intensively used decades ago. There were no photos of anyone to be seen, only one huge, round, ornately decorated mirror right in the center of the longer wall. Strangely enough, there was not a potted plant or flower vase in sight. And that in the home of a gardener by profession and passion. If she were living here, she would—hold on, she was not living here and never would, so why should she let her thoughts wander like that?
Her musings as to what this room said about its inhabitant and as to why she was so interested in that were interrupted by Michael’s teasing voice preceding his entrance.
“I feel so honored that you’ve brought me your first cake to taste. This is your first cake for the business, isn’t it?”
“No need to feel honored, Mr. Newland. I haven’t come here in search of your expert advice in culinary matters. I’d rather poison you than one of those sweet village folks, that’s why I came here,” she said, astonished at being in such a joking mood.
Laughing good-naturedly, he placed two intricately painted plates and two incongruously plain white coffee mugs on the table. He lifted the cover off the tray, sniffed at the cake and whistled in a low, appreciative way.
“I daresay this is how Adam must have felt with Eve. This cake of yours looks and smells so tempting, I wouldn’t want to miss a bite even knowing it was chock full of poison. I’m defenseless against this temptation.”
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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