The Stranger (part 5)

This is an interactive story. I’ll be writing short bits and then asking for input from readers about where it should go next.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

It was cluttered. That was the first thing she noticed about his apartment. But it was a clutter that felt…right somehow…comfortable. And immediately she felt at home and infused with curiosity.

She felt somewhat like Alice, heading into the rabbit hole, so many things to draw her attention, but always that underlying feeling of “but shouldn’t I be getting home?”

Emily realized with a start, though, that no one was waiting for her. She was free to be and do as she pleased. There was no one to call and say she’d be home late. No one to feel guilty about worrying.

The feeling was jarring and bittersweet, but she decided to embrace it. She was free…for the first time in a long time…maybe for the first time ever.

“Can I get you something to drink while my cook whips us up something to eat?”

“You have a cook?” Emily asked, incredulously, eyebrows raised.

“Well, if I didn’t, I’d starve…or I’d live on Chinese noodles made in a foam cup…I’m shit in the kitchen.”

Emily laughed a bit. Richard was the same.

Richard. The thought of him caused a catch in her gut, and she held her breath for a moment. Then she breathed in and sighed audibly, letting the thought go and willing herself back into the present.

“Water…water would be fine. I’m feeling a bit heady from the champagne.”

“Ah….you’re on to me then…not going to let me get you drunk and take advantage of you like a schoolboy.”

“No…besides, these days consent seems to be a pretty popular thing. Could be a passing phase, but we should probably follow the crowd on that one. Wouldn’t want to be cancelled for not following the trends.”

This time, Charles laughed at the absurdity of her comment. But underneath it, he was feeling a sexual tension he’d not felt in quite some time. That energy that builds so swiftly when visual attraction meets mental attraction. Not only did he find Emily beautiful in a quiet, natural way, he found her to be interesting and smart. And he could feel her leaning in to him from across the room, drawing toward him, like they were already connected somehow.

“Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll be right back with the water.” He smiled at her and led her attention to the large leather couch in the center of the main room.

Emily took a seat and let her eyes wander the room. It was surrounded by bookshelves, floor to ceiling and felt more like a library than a living room, which, upon further thought, she decided it probably was. What better room to “live” in, anyway, really, than a library?

Books were also stacked on tables and the floor, some lying open, their pages fluttering, others spread, their spines cracked, a place being held for later reading. The furniture was oversized and comfortable looking, but not worn. Nothing here, besides some of the books, looked old. And quite a bit of care seemed to have been taken to decorate in a way that was both appealing but somehow rich and traditional. Everything here spoke of quiet money. Persian rugs, Tiffany lamps, paintings with gilt frames, a grandfather clock. Browns and reds and greens. An autumn palette that made the entrant feel hugged and cozy. There was even a fireplace.

Emily heard his footsteps and turned to meet his smile as he rounded the couch and handed her a glass of water. He held one of his own and sat beside her. She was highly aware of his seating choice, given that there were two armchairs and a loveseat in the circle around the large coffee table in the center.

“Elisa is making bruschetta and a tapas plate…I imagined we could sit on the balcony and enjoy the night air with our meal…and a bottle of wine…watch the passersby…maybe drop a piece of cheese on someone’s head?”

Emily giggled, “That sounds wonderful.”

Charles noticed the soft blush in her cheek and wondered if it was warm to the touch. He reached out to her, and she didn’t pull away. Lightly, he ran his finger along her cheekbone, brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, and then caressed the line of her jaw.

“You are a beautiful woman, Emily. It’s what drew me to you at first. But after sitting in a booth or a table watching you fly from one place to another in your little shop, like a joyful bird…it was your warmth and energy that kept me coming back. You seemed so open. So ready to meet…everyone,” Charles paused briefly, “It’s been a long time since a woman made me feel that way.”

“But why the notes? You could have just spoken to me.”

“I could have. But at this point in my life, I feel I have time to make a bit more effort. I’m not in a hurry anymore. I enjoy the slow burn of anticipation, like a decadent appetizer before a perfect meal. When we’re younger, we don’t take time enough. We race right to the dessert, ravenous…and we don’t taste each beautiful morsel along the way.”

Emily had a strong feeling his metaphor was less about life and more about her, and the knowledge of it made her skin tingle. She imagined him tasting her, eating her in courses, and she caught herself breathing a bit more shallowly, biting her bottom lip. She shook herself out of the mental image and met his gaze again, took a swallow of water, and noticed the cool of it traveling down her throat. She was indeed, hot.

“Maybe you should show me the balcony? I think I could use a little fresh air. I’m feeling a bit warm.”

Charles smiled, maybe knowingly.

“Of course, my dear,” he stood, reached out his hand, took hers inside of his, “right this way.” He placed her hand in the crook of his elbow and led her further into the apartment.

Things are definitely heating up! What should happen next? Share your ideas, and let’s see where the story takes us. DM me on twitter, contact me here on the blog, or email me at Should the next installment take place on the balcony, or should I move things along to another day? Will Charles leave any more notes or tokens at the store? How will they get to their “first time” together? Give me some playful ideas, and I’ll see how I can weave them into the story.


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