Baked cookies of every kind, of every color, of every flavor, lay across the countertops. There are so many types, from typical chocolate chip to exotic. Their aroma overpowers every other scent that lingers in the kitchen. The cookies are made with such precision and precaution that you can hardly keep yourself from reaching out and grabbing one to taste. It is so very tempting for me to keep my hands to myself while my mother arranges them in circular patterns on colorful trays. My mouth waters as I imagine myself indulging in this decadent pleasure, to have the chocolate pleasure my tongue. My mind wanders off a way in which I can take one without my mother noticing, but she is always too attentive.
That never stops me from trying, I think to myself.
I hum softly and walk around the counter, my hands behind my back, my eyes rake over the cookies hungrily trying to decide which one appealed more to me. I decide to taste my creations. The scent lingers, inviting me, begging me to taste it. The topmost layer is the most perfect shade of amber, the chocolate chips embedded between the dough. My hand absently moves forward to bring this masterpiece to my awaiting mouth.
“Cher.” My mother says in a warning tone.
Her back is to me, and I curse and wonder how can she sense what I am about to do.
“Ma joulie maman, please let me have one. I made them...” I whine annoyingly, knowing that she hates it when I do so.
“Cher...” She sighs, “You know that today I give the customers free cookies in honor of your return. We want to give them all out.” She stresses the word all, reminding me of my misery.
“I deserve one. I just graduated high school. Please give me one.” I cross the kitchen space and wrap my arms around her figure. “Please, just one. One won’t make that big of a difference.”
I plant a kiss on her cheek, squealing from happiness. I run back to the counter and my fingers dip under the cookie so gently for it to stay intact. I raise my hand and bring the cookie right under my nose, sniffing the delicious aroma. My patience is cut short and I can’t handle it anymore and I take the first bite. I moan as a delightful flavor floods my mouth, and my senses are basked in its luscious taste. There is a friable crunch and when it enters my mouth, it crumbles and melts on the inside so deliciously, it tingles my taste buds.
“Est-ce bein? Is it good?” She smiles sweetly at me.
“It is heavenly.” I moan again as I take another bite.
She doesn’t say anything further, and she goes back to placing them in different patterns and shapes.
She does this every year when I come back from Washington. We bake cookies for everyone who comes into our bakery, even if they didn’t buy. She loves when I come home, and she decides to be generous to everyone. Our bakery fills up with people in no time whenever she puts the sign out on the door. The whole town knows how good our bakery is, how good the cookies, the tarts, the cakes, the bread loaves, literally everything. Ever since I can remember, my mother bakes, and I have never seen a day pass without her at least baking a batch of whatever sweets she decides. And since I am the only one who is there from the very beginning, she decided to name the place, La boulangerie d’Cher, Cher’s Bakery. All the skills I obtain now, are because of her. I love sticking around whenever I saw her in the kitchen. I watch very closely and pay attention to every single detail so that I can catch up. Thankfully, I became almost as good as my mother and she allows me to help her around the kitchen during the summer.
Before I graduated, I attended high school in Washington. I stay with my grandmother all year and I end my school year earlier than everyone else by taking my exams a month before them, but this year I had to stay till the end because I was graduating, and my mother came to Washington to attend my graduation. And every summer, I leave everything behind me and come to Rochefort-en-Terre, France. It is my mother’s home town and she never wishes to leave it. How can she? It is the most beautiful town on the face of the planet. I wish I can live here forever with her, but there are no good schools here, let alone colleges. And because of my mother’s everlasting love for Rochefort-en-Terre, my mother decided to stay in France, rather than staying with me at my grandmother’s house.
She is also trying to keep me away from having any connections with my father, who left us when I was still young. I don’t remember him, and I whenever I ask my mom, she dismisses me and tells me that he was a bad man, and it is a blessing that he is out of our lives. Of course, I want to know who he is, and what he did to my mother to make her hate him this much. But I never dare push the topic further. It puts my mother in a foul mood, and I hate to see her mad or remind her of whatever that man caused her.
She didn’t abandon and leave me alone. She gave me a choice, and I did make the right one by staying with my grandma. Though I love Rochefort-en-Terre very dearly, but I aspire to be more than just a girl who bakes with her mother in France. I want more. And she respects that, and I love her for it.
“Adrian, what a lovely surprise!” My mother exclaims and my boyfriend brings her hands to his lips, planting a soft kiss on her knuckles.
“It is very nice to see you again, Adele.”
Adrian is my boyfriend for as long as I can remember. He was my first friend, my first crush, my first kiss, my first date, my first dance, my first everything...except one thing I couldn’t give. After tenth grade, we were inseparable. He stays with me after school. He studies with me. He even tries to learn how to bake, but he gave up after he messes up...every time. He buys lunch for me after school. He takes me to dinner. We do everything together, and that is why my mother has this fantasy that he will propose to me by the second year of college, at most, if not before. She treats him like her son because he showers her with gifts, compliments, and anything that can make a middle-aged woman swoon. I like the idea of him trying to stay on good terms with her, to stay close to me. He loves me, and he always shows his affection towards me. He is always there by my side, and that is why I am still with him.
“Babe.” He snakes an arm around my waist pulling me to him. “I missed you.”
With that, he sealed our lips in a sweet and gentle kiss.
“You just saw me a few hours ago.” I chuckle softly and gently push him away.
“Mmm...is that vanilla?” He ignores my comment and licks his lips.
“You had a little help this time.” My eyes move towards the tray carrying the vanilla chocolate chip cookies.
“I try my best.” He shrugs his shoulders.
“Adrian, since it is your first time here, would you like Cher to give you a tour?” My mother momentarily raises her eyes to meet Adrian’s before she focuses back on her work.
“Yes.” He takes a seat on a stool, “I was thinking maybe Cher could take me tomorrow.”
“Adrian, I told you tomorrow I can’t take you.” I shake my head. “I need to go to the book store and to see what Monsieur Gaétan got me.”
“I can come with.” He offers weakly.
“You hate books, and I want you to spend your first summer here happily. You could help my mom, tomorrow around here, or let my grandma take you.” I giggle as I walk towards my mother to help her.
Adrian is originally from Texas, and you can tell that by the way he looks and some of his actions indicate that. Adrian takes care of the way his body looks, and he has been doing a great job at it. As a boy, he never attracted girls and he has always had trouble in dating girls before me. But as he grew up, he developed muscles from all the gym training and bull riding his parents forced him into. I have always admired the way he looks like, especially the way his eyes stand out. His iris is surrounded by light blue orbs, that perfectly matches his blonde hair.
It took Adrian almost three months to convince his parents to come to France with me rather than going to Texas. He says that the drama will be extra since one of his relatives had gotten into real trouble this year. And he claims that he wants a simple vacation with me for once. He believes we shouldn’t be separated for three months. Sometimes his affection towards me startles me, but it also softens my heart.
“Can’t you go any other day? I really want to spend time with you tomorrow.”
“Me too, Adrian, but I can’t.”
“You will have to come back early from the library. We have guests who will be staying over the summer.” My mother reminds me.
Whenever I go to Monsieur Gaétan’s library, I stay there for hours, literally hours. I can go at eight in the morning but return home at seven in the evening. I, of course, don’t spend all that time reading. I love to label books with him, see what new books he keeps for me every year. And then spend the rest of my time reading new books, rereading my favorite ones. It never gets old.
“Why aren’t they staying at a hotel or something anyways?” Adrian asks.
My mother’s eyebrows knit together, “Paulina is my best friend. She helped us through a lot of troubles that we came across. I would never abandon her like that. She needs a quiet place for her son to adjust to away from everyone, and I can provide that for her. And our house is spacious, en plus de ça. I don’t see why we can’t let her stay with us.”
“Maybe because he will be staying in my room.” I huff in irritation and grab another cookie.
“What?” Adrian’s eyes widen in surprise.
My mother pretends as if she didn’t see me and tries to comfort Adrian, “You refused to stay in Cher’s room because you think that it is better if you stayed in a room alone. He won’t be staying in her room. Cher’s room is separated into two parts.” My mother explains, “It is too big for her that is why she has half the room for herself, and when Paulina comes with her son, he will stay in the other half and don’t worry, they will be separated by a door.”
“No.” Adrian stands to his feet, and for the first time, I see jealousy overtake him. And my heart flutters because he never gets jealous.
“I will stay with her.”
“Je suis désolé, mon cher.” My mother apologizes, “But his bags are already set in the room, and I told you it would be better if you stayed with her.”
“I told you we would be separated by a door, but you insisted on staying in a room alone. I don’t know why.” I shrug.
“Why didn’t you just agree when you had the chance?” My mother shoots him a skeptical look, not understanding why he would give up saying with his girlfriend over a stupid room.
“Because it is the right thing to do.” He says confidently.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes at his answer and turn to the cookies to distract myself from hearing whatever he is about to say next.
“I want her to be comfortable when I am around. Sometimes a person needs to stay...let’s say in comfort?” He says as he pours himself a glass of water.
Mom purses her lips fighting a laugh that was gurgling in her throat. “You don’t need to worry about him anyways. He is dealing with a lot of issues right now, especially that he is out of juvie--”
Adrian spits the water he is drinking, and my mom has my full attention.
“Juvy? And he is staying in Cher’s room? No way in hell.”
“He was framed for something he didn’t do, that is what Paulina says, and I believe her.” My mom says without any hesitation.
“This is going to be interesting.” I blurt out.
“Interesting?” Adrian almost screams, “He may have murdered someone for all we know, and he is staying in your room.”
“This will give me more of a right to know why he went to juvie.”
“Are you out of your mind? You are to stay away from him, Cher. And I am so serious.” He warns me, “When he gets here, I will tell him that I want to switch rooms.”
“I don’t think I want that anymore.” I tease him, “I think I will like him.”
“Cher, I swear to god if you argue with me on this one, I’ll--”
It is so cute watching rage and jealousy radiating off of him, and I have been waiting for the moment he will do something like this, and I decide to end him mid-sentence and kiss him.
His lips immediately catch up to mine and his moves are aggressive that it adds heat to the moment. It is incredible, and I wish if all our kisses will be like this from now onward. His arms circle my waist tightly keeping my body close to his.
“You will not engage with him in any activities, okay?” He rasps against my lips, and I see in his eyes something I have never seen...want, and maybe even need, for me.
“You can’t boss me around.” I smile and pull away from him.
“Yes, I can. Adele, I have the right to, right?” He turns to my mother.
“She is a free woman. Plus, she will have to take him around the town too, because Paulina doesn’t know anything about Rochefort-en-Terre.” Before Adrian could get worked up, my mom speaks, “He will be spending only six weeks here to refresh his mind, then he is out of your hair, both of your hairs.”
“I’ll be staying here for six weeks, too. I swear if he ruins my time with Cher, I will kill him.”
“I’ll go serve the customers now, and Cher.” She turns to me, “When you are done, come help me.”
My hands fly around his neck when my mom leaves us alone, and I pull him to me, “You know...” I trace his bottom lip with my finger, “You look so hot when you are jealous.”
“I am not jealous.” He defends himself.
“I’ll start planning where I will be taking him, and when we will go, and where we will be--”
He clasps his hand over my mouth muffling all my words.
“This is not funny, Cher.” He frowns, “I don’t like the idea of a criminal spending some time with you.”
“You heard what mom said, he didn’t do it.”
“Paulina is trying to cover up her son’s mess. Of course, she wouldn’t tell us what he did.”
“Maybe, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Now stop pouting.”
“I love you, Cher.” He says.
I lean closer pecking his lips in response, and then I lean back to look into his eyes.
“I should go help my mom.”
“Okay.” He kisses the top of my head before offering to help us.
He constantly looks at me with hope filling his eyes, but I never dare to say the words back, though I love Adrian dearly, I just can’t.
The moment my alarm goes off, I jolt awake. The fact that I know that Monsieur Gaétan has books ready for me excites me beyond rationality.
I push the covers off of my body and run to the bathroom grabbing my clothes on the way to change quickly. Since Monsieur Gaétan’s library is old fashioned, I regularly wear dresses or outfits that are in old movies or books. Today, I decide to wear a simple white half-sleeved, V-neck dress that extends a few inches after my knees. I wear my hair in its natural wavy state and apply some red lipstick to give my look a slight pop.
I skip down the stairs and enter the kitchen to find my mother standing cooking breakfast, my grandmother sitting on her chair reading the newspaper, and Adrian slicing the vegetables.
“Good morning.” I chime as I lean over the kitchen island to grab a fruit from the bowl. “This looks delicious.”
“C’est définitivement un bon matin. This is definitely a good morning.” Grandma says with a small smile eyeing my look.
“Bien sûr. Of course.” My mother agrees.
“Good morning, babe.” I lick the peach juices off my lips before I kiss Adrian on the cheek.
“Good morning, Cher. How did you sleep?”
“Great, knowing that you are here,” I say shyly.
I usually don’t tell him such things, but I want this morning to be special for him as it is for me.
He smiles down at me, “I’m glad, babe.”
“Are you going to stay for breakfast?” My mom asks.
“Nope.” I pop the p and walk to the fridge.
“I’ll go directly to the library.” I take the pitcher from the fridge and Adrian slides a glass towards me.
“Thanks.” I pour the juice into the glass.
“Why don’t you stay for breakfast at least?” Adrian frowned and looked down at the chopping board.
“Because she likes to go there as soon as the library opens.” My grandma answers for me.
“Besides, I won’t be long, because of our guests,” I say cheekily making sure my mother hears me. “So I’ll be home before sunset.”
“You will love our guests.” My mother says, but I have a feeling I won’t.
Adrian and I roll our eyes, “Sure.”
“Just be safe, okay? Or do you want me to walk you?” Adrian offers.
“Will you be able to walk back here alone?”
His silence is the answer is what I need to know.
“I’ll be fine. And by tomorrow, you will know how to go everywhere.” I promise him and I set the glass down after I finished.
“I hope nothing disturbs us. Probably Paulina’s son will.”
“Don’t talk about him this way. He is a nice kid.” My mother scolds both of us.
“Did you see him?”
“Yes, once last year in Washington. He lives there with his family.”
“I didn’t know Paulina lives in Washington.”
“That is because you never listen to me.” She shook her head at me.
“You always say too much in so little time,” I state and place the empty glass in the sink.
“Get out of the house before I lecture you about how to listen to me.” She threatens me and I raise my hands in the air and grab my phone off the countertop.
“Take care,” Adrian calls out after me.
“Will do,” I yell as I close the front door behind me.
I walk down the stairs and unlock the safety lock wrapped around my bike.
“Hey, Cher!” I looked up and saw Adrian call me from up. “Don’t forget the tarts on your way here. The lemon ones.”
“Okay.” I give him a sign to assure him that I heard him.
I put down the lock and climb onto my bike, looking forward to a day full of satisfaction.
Rochefort-en-Terre is probably the most beautiful town in all of France. I have always enjoyed cycling through its streets. I admire watching people working in their simple, yet breathtaking shops. I never grow tired of watching the decorations of every house, the flowers that are hanged on every window of every house. I appreciate the charming houses on the edges of the town. When I get to the main street, the magnificent architecture stuns me, every time I pass.
The town is based around an attractive central square and main street which have some lovely ancient houses from the 17th century, a few in colombage but mostly built in the sturdy granite typical of the region. The attractive mix of colombage and granite, medieval and Renaissance means that most of the pleasure of a visit comes from simply strolling around the center of Rochefort-en-Terre admiring the buildings and stopping for a coffee in one of the cafes. Definitely the cafes are my favorite part. Especially that there is a cafe near the library, which gives me easy access to coffee while I read my books.
“Cher!!” Monsieur Gaétan calls happily as he walks out of the library.
“Monsieur!” I cried and rushed to him.
He caught me in his arms hugging me, “Tu m’as manqué. I missed you.”
“Tu m’as manqué aussi, Monsieur. I missed you too.”
“I congratulate you for finishing school.” He says with a French accent, that I find amusing.
“Entrer. Entrer. Come in. Come in.”
I gasp when I notice how much he has changed the order of the books. The books are arranged according to their color, from back to white, and all the colors in between. It is the most marvelous thing I have ever seen. As the shelves descend, the colors get lighter and lighter.
“This is beautiful,” I whisper and walk further into the room.
“I knew that you were going to like it.” He says and follows me.
I walk directly towards the romance section. I trace the shelves with the tip of my finger.
“I kept you new books.” He says.
“Yes. You told me once that you read them online, but I received editions. And saved them just for you.”
“Les misérables. The Old Man and The Sea. Wuthering Heights.”
“You’re kidding!” I almost scream as I hardly try to contain my excitement, “You kept them for me?”
“Oui. Yes. I know how much you love these books and I wanted you to have them.” He says. “Come here.”
He asks me to follow him into the room, where I have spent many days reading the books he provided for me.
“The room is the same way you left it. I did not change anything. But I left these.” He places his hand on top of the books he says he left for me.
“This too much, Monsieur. I have to pay you for one of them at least. They must have—”
He cuts my speaking, “Non, non, Cher. This is a gift for your graduation.”
“Thank you, Monsieur. Thank you so much.” I haven’t received any gift that is so thoughtful, so close to my heart.
This is so perfect, just so perfect. I have always wanted to add these books to my collection at home.
“You should stay in this and read. I’ll bring you your favorite, lemon cake.”
“I swear I don’t deserve you.”
“You are my daughter, Cher. You don’t need to thank me.”
Monsieur Gaétan has been in my life since my mother brought me to town. I remember when my mom brought me to his library, when I was six years old, to buy a book for me to read. At that time, he was selling all kinds of books not only literature and history. I fell in love with the book I read, and I demanded more and more. I go there on a regular basis whenever I am in town. All the books I own are from this library, they are whether gifts from my mom, or Monsieur Gaétan, or I purchase them because they are too expensive for a simple gift.
“Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Gaétan. Thank you so much.” I say and walk to give him another hug.
“Je t’en prie, ma chérie. You are welcome, my dear.” He pats my back, “You should start reading. Your mother say that you go back early.”
“But I want to help you around the shop.”
“Non, non. Ne vous en faites pas, Cher. Please, don’t worry, Cher.” He dismisses me, “Enjoy reading here.”
“Je vous remercie encore une fois, Monsieur. Thank you again.”
Even if I try, I can never describe how happy I am that I am back here, in the room he leaves for me just so that I can read. He can never understand how happy this place makes me.
“Don’t mention it, Cher.” He says with a smile and exits the room closing the door behind him.
I spend the next few hours on a large black leather chair near a small fireplace. I spend my time reading Les misérables while I eat the lemon cake Monsieur Gaétan has gotten for me a couple of minutes ago. There is nothing better than curling up on a comfy chair with a book on your lap, and a cup of coffee in your hand.
“Cher, your mom called. She needs you to go back.” Monsieur Gaétan says.
“What time is it?” I ask him and reluctantly close the book.
“It is seven--”
I am up in a matter of seconds, “Seven?”
“Shit,” I mutter under my breath.
“I need to go.” I say to Monsieur Gaétan as I slip my feet in my black ballerinas.
“Bien sûr. Of course. Hurry up, and she says lemon tarts.”
They almost, almost slip from my mind.
“Thank you for everything.” I thank him again as he hands me a bag with the books inside.
“You will come again, of course.”
“Definitely. You know how much I love this place, and you of course.” I smile.
“Je t’aime aussi, Cher.”
“I have to go.” I look at him apologetically, “I’ll see you soon.”
“Au revoir.” He waves as he watches me climb onto my bicycle.
I wave back at him and pedal as fast as I can to reach the bakery before my grandma closes the doors and goes to meet her friends. Tonight, Mom is supposed to welcome Paulina and her son, so my grandma has offered to keep the bakery open during the day before she went to her friend’s place for coffee. I know that she will close the baker exactly at seven-thirty and I am aware that I don’t have enough time.
I feel my phone vibrate once and I carefully move my hand away from the handlebar to take my phone out. I swipe across the screen and answer without looking at the screen.
“Cher, where have you been?” Adrian’s voice is low, but I sense how angry he is with me.
“I’m sorry. I lost track of time.”
“You should’ve been here two hours ago.”
“I know. I know but I was reading and I just couldn’t help myself.” I tell him completely aware that he doesn’t understand me.
“I’ve been worried, that’s all. Are you okay?” His tone softens.
“Yes, but I won’t be if I don’t get off the phone.”
“Okay, I’ll hang up, but be careful.”
“I love you, Cher.”
He hangs up the phone, gladly before I am forced to say something in return. I toss the phone in the bag with my books and turned around the corner and smile when I find the sign of the baker still on. My grandma is sitting on a table sipping from her cup with a box in front of her.
“Cher...” She begins when she sees me.
“Je sais que je suis en retard, grand-mère. I know I am late, grandma.”
“Oui. Yes.” She agrees, “But did you have fun?”
“It was magical. I want to tell you all about it, but my mom will kill me.” I kiss her before I grab the box and place it in the bag along with the books.
“You need to hurry.”
“I know. Have fun.” I tell her and climb onto my bicycle.
“Bye, Cher.” She calls after me.
“Bye.” I cry back and pray that my mother’s temper is at bay.
She hates it when I am late.
I pull the bag out of the backbox, and dash up the stairs as fast as my feet can carry me. I push my way through the front door tightly holding onto the tarts and walk to the kitchen hoping my mother is there away from our guests.
“Cher.” My mother is facing the kettle but as always, she senses my presence. “You are late.”
“I know, I know. I am so sorry.”
I place the box of tarts on the countertop and pour myself a glass of water to calm my breathing down before I walked out.
“You promised me you won’t be late.” She tells me and the kettle screeches and a second later goes off.
“I am sorry.” I wrap my arms around her from behind, “You know how much I love books.”
“More than me?” She asks and moves her head sideways so that she could look at me.
She smacks my hand lightly and laughs, “No words like this in my house, although Paulina’s son cursed at her a few times today morning.”
“You hate when people curse.”
“I despise it with every fiber of my being.” She stresses.
I throw my head back in laughter and open the cabinets taking out the teacups.
“How many of them will drink tea, other than Adrian?” I ask my mom.
“I am scared the tea will kill Adrian from how many times a day he drinks it.” She chuckles, “But three.”
“Okay.” I take out three and set them on the tray.
I leave the rest for my mother and we place the exact number of tarts on the plates, just in case they didn’t like them. My mother carries the tray and I stop her.
“We didn’t design them.” I hurry to the fridge and take out the whipping cream and a lemon.
“Please bring me the grater while I fill the top,” I instruct.
I carefully spray the whipping cream on the top of each tart, then I grate the lemon and sprinkle some of the lemon zest on top of each one.
“They will love them.” My mother tells me when she sees me trying to perfect the look of everyone.
“I don’t care.” I lie and I try to pull myself away from the tray because if it were up to me, I will take them all and try my best to make them all look the same to the extent that one mirrors the other.
“Right.” My mom rolls her eyes, “Mom put them in the oven today.”
“Really? She didn’t put them when I baked them last night?”
“No, they are freshly baked. Now stop worrying and go introduce yourself.”
I smooth my dress in case there were any wrinkles. I thread my fingers between my hair and exhaled deeply as I stepped out of the kitchen and into the fresh air.
I see Paulina opposite from Adrian and another guy, who is obviously her son, but I can’t see his face. He is taller than Adrian, and I laugh to myself for thinking that Adrian is the tallest man I know.
“Cher.” Paulina rises from her chair to greet me. “It is so nice to see you again.”
I walk to her first. She pulls me into an unexpected hug, “It is nice to see you too, Paulina.”
“Congratulations.” She says to me as she pulls away and holds my hand.
“You have grown up so much, since the last time I saw you.”
I laugh, “Last time you saw me was when I was ten years old. I would say that I did grow up.”
“Time flies. It certainly doesn’t feel like eight years.”
“For fuck’s sake, mom. You are acting like a grandma.”
Yes, that man curses. I turn around expecting this obnoxious looking man, who will give me the creeps. But I am hit with someone way better than the image my mind created for me. I stifle a gasp when I lay my eyes on him.
He has tousled rich chocolate hair, which is thick and lustrous. Some of his curls fall onto his face, and from under them peeked eyes of hazel and honey. They shine like the sunlight on a polished stone. His eyes have every shade of pale and golden brown spreading out to a darker brown border, and there are flecks of blue that just add more to the beauty of his eyes. He has strong arched eyebrows and eyelashes so thick, that it should be illegal. His face is strong, his features are defined. He has distinct cheekbones and an angular jaw. He almost has a symmetrical face. It is perfect. He carries a strange expression that I can’t quite read. He wears a loose black shirt that gives him more definition. And his pale skin makes him look devilishly handsome. I can’t tell more because he is still seated looking at me wide-eyed. He really does have the face that stops you in your tracks. He must get that a lot because he is beautiful, handsome, or any other words that you could think of.
“Ace, behave please.” Paulina’s voice forces me to stop analyzing his looks in my head.
“I will.” He says just so that she won’t lecture him. “I’m Ace.” He stands up and reaches for my hand to shake.
A smile spreads across his face as I extend my hands too. His hands are strong, yet very smooth, and as he holds my hand in his, his eyes stare deep into mine. I feel the heat creep up into my cheeks, and I force myself to speak.
“I’m Cher.” I am glad that my voice comes out steady and not small and shy.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Cher.” His voice sends shivers through my body, and I am afraid that he notices it, and his smile grows wider.
“Same goes to you.” I pull my hand away and drop it by my side.
I can’t help noticing how warm his hands are, and I clench them for an unknown reason.
“Cher, have a seat.” Adrian speaks, his eyes hard, his lips form a thin line.
I start to walk to his side, but Paulina stops me.
“Sit beside me, it has been so long.” She pushes me down by my shoulders onto the chair that is placed at the head of the table between her and Ace.
“How are you?” Paulina asks and my mother places the cups of tea on the glass table.
“I am fine. How’s your business going?” I ask her and turn slightly her way not wanting to distract myself.
Paulina starts telling me about her business, and how it started. She has a show business, and till now, she has three different branches, in Washington, Toronto, and New York. She explains how her love for designing shoes has started when she was twenty years old, how she has chosen what she wants to wear since she was at a young age, how she has spent a lot of hours in shops trying to figure out which pair of shoes to buy, how she has started this business on her own without any help from anyone. She is about to add something, but Ace’s phone chimes and vibrates on the table.
His eyebrows are drawn together, and I already hate to see him frown. When holds the phone in his hand, his jaw clenches and becomes more prominent. He shuts his eyes, exhaling and inhaling deeply and in succession.
“Ace, is something wrong?” Paulina asks him and reaches for his hand over the table.
“I want to go to my room.” He turns to my mother, “Can I please take another one of these if you have? And then show me to my room, if you wouldn’t mind?”
My heart flutters at the thought that he likes my tarts.
“Cher.” My mother says, “Prepare one for him, and then take him to his room, could you?” Her eyes move to Paulina who is looking at her son with fear in her eyes.
I nod, “Follow me.”
I start walking, and it doesn’t take him a lot of time to follow me. I take one tart out of the box and rest it on a plate. I repeat what I have done earlier as he stands by the door frame, his eyes concentrating on whatever is on his phone.
“Do you want some water?” I ask him, maybe some cold water will calm him down.
He shakes his head in answer and doesn’t lift his head to look at me.
Disrespectful, I think to myself.
I take out a tray from the cabinet, placing the pate on it. I walk out of the kitchen and in a few seconds, he pushes himself off the door frame and follows me. I can hear his breathing accelerate from behind me, I fight the urge to turn around and see what the hell he is looking at.
We climb a flight of stairs and turn around the corner and I open the door that leads to his side of the room.
“So this is it.” I say and set the tray on the nightstand, “This is the bathroom we share.” I point towards it.
“We share a room?” He seems surprised, very surprised.
“No.” I shake my head. “Well, technically this is my room, but because we don’t have extra rooms, you will be staying with me.”
“Why doesn’t Adrian share the room with you?” He points out as he takes a seat on the bed.
I don’t know, because his mother said so.
“That does not concern you.” I say instead, “This door.” I walk to the door that is separating both our parts of the room and close it, “Will stay this way, and you will have to knock before you enter.”
“What do you mean it will stay this way? What are you trying to say?” He clenches his jaw the same way he did earlier.
“What?” I ask him in confusion.
“What did Adrian tell you about me?” His chest is heaving and he stands up.
“Adrian doesn’t even know you.”
“Really?“He scoffs. “Is that what he told you to tell me?”
“I will leave.” I turn on my heels to leave but he won’t give it up.
“Or did my mother tell you because she doesn’t believe me like everybody else?” He yells at me.
I whip my head around and yell back at him, “Why the hell are you fighting me? I don’t even know you.”
“Ace, stop.” I feel Paulina walk from behind me. “I didn’t tell them anything. Cher doesn’t know anything.”
Before he can say anything, Adrian walks to me yanking me out of his room.
“Adrian.” I hiss tugging my arm out of his grip but his grip tightens more.
He ignores me and pushes me into my room, which is completely dumb, because the only thing separating us is a door, and Ace and Paulina can hear whatever Adrian will say now.
“You will stay away from Ace,” Adrian warns me, and I search his eyes for any sign of humor but there is none.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you knew him?”
“I didn’t know that Paulina is this Paulina. And I couldn’t possibly believe that your mother will let such a man in her house.”
“What do you mean such a man?”
“It doesn’t matter, Cher. You will stay away from him until he leaves.”
“I want an answer,” I demand.
“He is a bad guy.”
“What did he do?” I push more.
“What did he do?” I ask again, my patience running out.
“I AM NOT A RAPIST.”
“He raped someone.”
I hear Ace’s scream the same moment Adrian gives me the answer I was looking for.