Chapter 32: PESSIMIST OR REALIST
The next day after work, I slipped upstairs to the art room. I hadn’t seen Stefan all day and hoped to see him here, finishing his painting like he had suggested at the cafe. Disappointed, I found the room dark and empty. All day, my thoughts focused on our kiss the night before, goose bumps appearing every time I relived it in my mind.
Two years ago, when Anton kissed me, it was the first for us both—exciting, new, and a tiny bit awkward as we figured it out together. With Stefan, it was different. Despite my lack of experience, the kiss seemed nearly flawless. He’d left me wanting more of whatever it was, and that rarely happens to me.
As I admired his nearly-completed painting, it tempted me to indulge in my own drawings. It had been too long since my fingers had touched chalk, and I missed it immensely. Glancing down the empty hallway, I carefully closed the door, lucky the art room was the furthest away from the master bedroom. Herr and Frau Franke usually retired by 7 o’clock each night unless they had an evening meeting. It should be safe for the next couple of hours.
Placing “La Vie en Rose” on the phonograph, once again, was like satisfying a hollow void, a thirst quenched by little else. Nearly more excited about this than the art itself, I closed my eyes and allowed the music to penetrate my senses before I began.
Like before, the limitless supplies at my access overwhelmed me, but with the music playing and a new canvas on the easel, I felt a curiosity develop to experiment. I had never actually painted with a liquid before— always using chalk or wax for my designs—but tonight, something new and intense raced through my veins. Randomly selecting bottles of colored paint, I felt like a different person. As I set out the supplies, it occurred to me how much fun it would be to combine both chalk and paint, so I quickly grabbed Stefan’s painting shirt, which hung on the closet hook nearby. His scent still lingered, so I pulled the collar up to my nose. The memory of being so close to him put a permanent smile on my face.
I dipped my yellow chalk into the small blob of purple paint on the pallet. I spread the double wing wide on one side of the canvas then mirrored the image on the opposite half. With the fingers on my left hand, I fanned the wet paint out, extending it to the tip of the wings. The image developed beautifully.
I now dipped the blue chalk into the green paint continuing the process on both sides. A vibrant butterfly emerged against the white background. It was taking flight as I went to dip it once more when suddenly, I felt a gentle touch on both sides of my arms.
Stefan’s hands appeared from behind and moved smoothly down my shoulders to my wrists. His touch was light, but electrifying, and my skin tingled with anticipation. His body moved close behind me causing the hair on my neck to quiver each time he exhaled. This was a good surprise; I was so engrossed in my work, I didn’t even hear him enter the room.
“I miss you.” His whisper sent chills through my whole body. I remained still as he moved my ponytail to one side, and his lips maneuvered from the back of my neck around to the curve under my jaw.
My pulse raced. I could not concentrate on anything but his touch.
His hand pulled the chalk from mine and placed it on the shelf of the easel. As he turned me slowly around to face him, I could see an unusual hunger dilate his eyes. He interlocked his fingers with mine regardless of the wet paint that I now shared with him. His lips wandered very close to mine and brushed them faintly enough to make me yearn for more. I closed my eyes, recalling the kiss the night before. Stefan’s mouth moved across my jawbone and grazed my ear as he whispered, “Ella.” I licked my lips as they dried from my amplified breathing.
“Ella,” he teased.
I turned my head to face him and watched as the corner of his mouth lifted in his traditional half smile. He was being unfair. I didn’t wait for him to continue his game and immediately reached for him, pulling him to me. His lips were soft and warm, only unexpectedly urgent in the kiss. His arms fully engulfed me and drew me tightly against his chest. I felt his strength and passion in a matter of moments, and it was the most compelling feeling I had ever experienced. I wanted more, but backed away. We were both nearly out of breath, unable to speak. I felt my face quiver with emotion as I relived the last few minutes in my mind, and when I faced him again, I saw blue and green painted fingerprints imprinted on his neck and face. I couldn’t help but laugh.
I chuckled as I pointed out the different colors that not only covered Stefan’s skin, but his nice clothes from where my paint-shirt pressed against him, as well. Instead of getting mad, he seemed determined to get even, swiping his finger against the pallet and rubbing a purple streak down my nose. When I went for the wet paint on the pallet, this most-romantic spell suddenly turned into a paint war with drops of different colors flying in all directions. We were laughing so hard, that when a knock came to the door, we weren’t really sure it was a knock until it repeated, only louder.
I panicked. I could not get caught up here and ran to hide behind the corner cabinet. As Stefan cracked the door, I peeked just enough to see confusion cover Johann’s face. He deliberately stretched his neck for a better view of the room, so I recoiled further out of sight.
“Your mother is requesting your presence, sir.”
“Let her know I’ll be there shortly,” Stefan laughed as he spoke,
“After I clean up, of course.”
“S-sir,” I heard Johann stutter, “Would you like me to have the room cleaned?” Without the ability to see them, I was sure Johann referred to the paint that had been flipped in all directions, barely touching the canvas. I giggled quietly to myself.
Stefan addressed it quickly, “Oh—no. Thank you, Johann, but I’m experimenting with a new technique. I’ll take care of it”
“Of course, sir,” his tone sounded doubtful. “I will let your mother know you are on your way.”
The door clicked shut. Stefan was immediately at my side as I burst out laughing, “I’m going to get fired . . . again!”
He grabbed me tightly. I couldn’t move, but I didn’t want to, either.
“Please, stay here.” Stefan beamed, but there was a twinge of seriousness in his tone. “Stay here and live in the art room where I can find you every day.”
“Oh, Stefan,” I groaned, “if only life were that simple.” I wiggled free. Not that I didn’t want his arms around me, I just feared who the next intruder could be. I grabbed a wet rag and started wiping my face.
“It can be . . .” he suggested.
Suddenly, Frau Franke was calling Stefan’s name down the hall. I froze as he rushed to the door. “One moment, mother, I will be there shortly.”
Stefan turned and despite his reassuring smile on his way to the back closet, I still subtly shuffled towards the safety of my original hiding place and watched with admiration as Stefan removed his shirt, his bare chest rising and falling before he covered it with a clean one. It was hard to believe a man as beautiful as Stefan even glanced my direction.
He caught me watching him. His smile broadened, then he winked and left the room. I stood there silently. It was clear the happiness left with him. I finished washing my face but could not get his words out of my mind and added my own. “Life would never be that simple.”
I knew as long as Stefan was a Franke, we would never be able to get away from the talons of his mother and the aspirations of his father. I wanted to believe there was a future for us. In fact, it surprised me how bad I suddenly wanted it. Yet, I’m a realist—maybe even a pessimist. How long could we go on pretending this . . . whatever this was . . . could be headed somewhere? I quickly cleaned up and slipped out unseen.