Lia had made a mistake in inviting Teo to her home. He knew it and she must realise as soon as he entered and moved around like the personification of a bull in a china shop. He almost forgot to take off his shoes and then proceeded to knock over a chair on the way in. Of course, she kept her expression perfectly neutral and said he could take a seat, polite as ever. It was all he could do to make it over to the sofa without burning the place down. Once there, he tried to make himself smaller. It was pointless, because even when he sat, he towered over everyone else—sometimes, he really wished he wasn’t such a big lump.
Coming to Lia’s home made him feel like she must out in the forest, like he didn’t fit in. This space was small, made for someone who wore high heels and not big boots. Her flat had exposed brick walls and light wooden floors and everything was kept in black and whites with carefully selected dashes of colour. The furniture was neatly kept, not worn. In fact, as his eyes scanned the room, he found only one example of something that was worn. On the bookshelf was a set of old novels written by Stefano Como.
Lia, in her pencil skirt and bare feet, came over and followed his eyes to the books.
“I must have read those more than a dozen times,” she said. “Somehow, they never get old or boring to me.”
“So, you weren’t kidding when you said you liked his writing.”
“You thought I was?”
He shook his head. “Maybe just exaggerating. A lot of the other journalists said a bunch of nice things about his books, but I got the feeling they weren’t that wild about them. You have all of them, don’t you?”
She closed the laptop she had been working on and took off her reading glasses.
“Yes, I do. They meant a lot to me growing up.” She was quiet for a while, then looked him in the eyes. “But let’s not talk about him just yet, Teo. I wanted to say how glad I am you would go to the trouble of coming here.”
“Um, no problem,” he lied.
Her face softened into a smile. “I don’t think I need any extraordinary abilities to tell me you’re lying. I really appreciate this, and I wouldn’t ask it of you except I’m so busy.”
Teo scratched his head. “I’ll manage.”
“Well, at the very least let me get you some tea.”
He nodded slowly and she went to the kitchen to make the beverages. While she waited for the water to boil, she turned to him and leaned on the counter. It was probably the most relaxed he had seen her. For some reason, he had imagined she always wore her heels, even tucked under the blankets in bed, but of course she wouldn’t. This was her space to work, eat, and to walk barefoot. For some reason, the idea that this was where she felt like he did at the cabin made him relax, if only a little.
“I have biscuits as well, but I’m afraid nothing here is home-made,” Lia said. “I simply don’t have your talents in the kitchen. None of my family can cook at all, so I imagine it’s simply not in our genes.”
“None of you cook?”
She shook her head. “When we lived with father there was no need and none of us have taken it up after we left. It makes me very grateful for the apple pie you gave me, I’ll have you know. It was lovely.”
Teo felt a brief flash of happiness that he had done something right and he smiled.
“I should’ve brought you something today.”
Lia waved him off and started making tea. Once she was done, she came over with a mug and a small dish of store-bought biscuits. They tasted okay, but he reminded himself to bake some for her that she could take home next time she came by.
“I was thinking we would go for a walk,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll calm your nerves the way working does.”
“If you’d rather stay here…”
“Trust me, I’m happy to get out. Let’s finish our tea and take a walk.”
She took a drink of her own tea and relaxed into the sofa.
“I hope you’re all right with this,” she said. “I know it’s not the most professional setting, but I simply can’t stand the café downstairs, or I would have taken you there.”
“I’d have thought you loved places like that,” Teo said.
He could see her fitting into that sort of place—working on her laptop in a crowded café, drinking expensive lattes or whatever they had at those places. But Lia dismissed it.
“Heavens no,” she said. “I’d much rather work at the library. It’s quiet and it doesn’t have music.”
“Don’t like music?”
“Not the kind of music they play down there. I’m not in the habit of listening to songs with the same four chords and sentimental lyrics. It’s distracting. Music is something to be enjoyed in peace with nothing to distract you but a glass of wine. It’s something to enjoy at a concert hall, if you must do it outside the home.”
“Opera?” he guessed.
Lia put her cup down. “I’ve always enjoyed opera, classical music as well… jazz.”
“Excuse me? Jazz?” He straightened up. “Is that a joke?”
“I’ve told you I don’t tell jokes—I don’t like them. No, I enjoy jazz. It’s the kind of music you get lost in; it’s intricate, skilful, and energetic.”
Teo watched her for a while in silence, sipping his tea. As foolish as he felt, he leaned back in the cushions and studied her closely. She returned the look with a matter-of-fact kind of expression on her face.
“Every time I think I’ve figured you out, you say something like that,” he said after a while.
Lia let out a low chuckle and shook her head. A small lock of hair fell loose from her high bun and he noticed how it shone in the ceiling lights. His fingers itched to push it behind her ear.
“What on earth are you trying to figure out?”
“I don’t know.” He forgot some of his uncertainties as he studied her. It was a dangerous game, he knew, because the more he learnt about this woman, the more intrigued he was. “You don’t make sense to me. I get the rich girl vibes—the opera, the wine, the high heels—but how do my dad’s books fit in? They’re not in the same kind of category as any of that. I’d guess you read literary masterpieces or classics.”
She shook her head. “Who says I don’t?”
“Well, no. Aside from your father’s books, I mostly read for work or books related to fashion or interior design. It’s rare that any fiction has caught my attention.”
“Then why those books?”
Lia took another drink of her tea and while she pondered what to say, he tried predicting her words. The first time he met her, he’d felt so sure he knew everything and here he was, staring at the lines and the shadows of her face, hoping something would come up that would tell him what she was all about. But no. Her blue eyes were coolly professional and didn’t let out so much as a single hint. Finally, she lowered her cup and answered.
“I received the first one from Lorenzo for my birthday.”
She nodded. “We’re old friends.”
Teo noticed a very slight gap, a second’s hesitation before the word ‘friends’, and maybe there was a hint of a blush as well. So, he guessed, not just friends. He had never known that she was an ex of Lorenzo’s, but wasn’t that just like tiny Stanza? Helping her husband’s ex-girlfriend to get a writing gig was just the kind of thing she would do, the bleeding heart.
It was so tempting to dig into it… but he stopped himself. He couldn’t say for sure that her past with Lorenzo was painful, but something told him it was. She had shown him the curtesy of not digging into things that weren’t his business and so he bit his tongue, forcing himself to move away from the topic.
“So, Lorenzo got you into the books?” he asked.
“Yes. I got hold of the rest myself and I’ve enjoyed them all. It was one small indulgence my father allowed, probably because they were books and he didn’t know what kind of subject matter they dealt with. I mean, they are skilfully and elegantly written, but…”
“But your dad wouldn’t like the raunchy stuff?”
Lia smiled slyly. “No, absolutely not.”
Teo bit his tongue hard before he accidentally asked her if she liked it. The look in her eyes told him everything he needed to know anyway and well… that was unexpected. He would have sworn she would turn up her nose at that kind of stuff, but no. No, the troublemaker was the one looking at him and he was suddenly acutely aware of a change in the air of the room.
“Maybe we should go for that walk,” he said in a voice that was slightly lower than normal.
The space between them felt charged with a kind of energy he couldn’t stay in. They stood at almost the same time. For a moment, they were just there, eyes locked together in that strange atmosphere. It made him uncertain of whether he should run out of there or kiss her. It was Lia who first shook it off and announced that she needed to put on shoes. He said he needed fresh air and left the flat, just barely remembering his boots.
Once outside, he closed his eyes and raked a hand through his hair, noticing that he was shaking. He was so close to going up there and telling her he couldn’t do this anymore, because the more he was with her, the more she got to him. The more he felt a nebulous want that hadn’t touched him in a long time. It was a kind of feeling he pushed down and forced back because he couldn’t think like that. He couldn’t risk it.
He let out a long breath and by the time his lungs were empty, Lia was there. She had her killer heels back on and the recorder in her hand. Maybe he should have said they couldn’t do this anymore, but he thought of his finances and pushed it aside. He needed to save his business.
“Shall we?” she asked.
He nodded and walked down the pavement at her side. She pointed off down the road and said they would go to the park at the centre of the city.
“It’s reasonably quiet at this hour, so we won’t be bothered by crowds.”
The park wasn’t what Teo thought of when he heard the word park. It brought to mind a lush garden beset by flowers, elaborate fountains, and tall trees. The reality was a manicured lawn that was surrounded by roads and it had the minimum amount of trees you would need to evoke a slice of nature. Still, it was more like his home than the flat and the mood between them changed. Dangerous thoughts of how silky her hair would feel under his hands still lingered, but they faded as they walked.
“Not much of a park is it?” he asked while walking down a path.
“I imagine not, though I don’t have much experience with public parks.”
“We had one close to where we lived.” Teo said it, then hesitated and stopped on the path.
Lia did as well. “Is this my cue to turn on the recorder?” She held up the device, her fingertip hovering over the record-button.
“Do it,” he said before he could regret it. “And… stop me if I lie, okay? I feel the urge today.”
Between having to talk about his family and the attraction he was trying to dismiss, he could practically feel the lies burning his tongue. He waited breathlessly for an answer, worried she would get angry. But Lia only nodded matter-of-factly.
“Very well. Let’s try.” Click. “Did you visit the park near your home often?”
Teo started walking and she followed. Only when he had walked a few steps did he answer.
“No, we didn’t. Dad… wouldn’t let us.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lia blink, but she recovered from the surprise quickly. “Why?”
“He didn’t like us leaving the house too much. Now and again, he and mum took us to the park for a few hours, but he wouldn’t let us go alone or with friends or even… even just with mum.”
She was quiet for a long time, then spoke softly.
“He was controlling, then.”
“I guess. But not… not that much. He didn’t like us leaving the house but as long as we were home everything was great; we could do what we wanted. We climbed the furniture, painted on the walls, went days without showering, ate dessert for dinner—it was like a kid’s paradise as long as you didn’t long to see something other than the inside of the house. He couldn’t take that.”
“But…” Lia shook her head. “He always wrote of exotic locales and trips around the world. I always—They were always enchanting.”
“He never took any trips like that. Didn’t even do signings except if he could get there and go home within the same day. Dad wasn’t adventurous in real life, but in books and when he played with us… that was different.”
“How utterly absurd.”
Her voice changed, grew so quiet he wasn’t sure the recording would catch it. Teo glanced over at her. Her hands hung in front of her, clinging to the recorder and she had a far-off look in her eyes.
“Your father’s books were always an escape from my home and with the way he treated you…”
It struck him that she looked tired to the bone.
“Am I ruining the books for you?” he asked.
Lia blinked then and looked at him, as though she had spoken without thinking. “What? I… no. I mean, it’s not relevant. I do beg your pardon; I think I drifted off. This was supposed to be an interview.”
But she didn’t continue. It took a while for her to shake off that look of utter exhaustion and they had almost done a whole circuit of the park before she spoke up again. Even then, she sounded different.
“This controlling behaviour… is that why you dislike your father?” she asked.
A cold hand grasped his heart. “Yeah.”
Lia met his eyes and shook her head. “You’re lying.”
“No. It’s more that… there’s more to it. I can’t point to one thing.”
“That makes sense.” She thought for a moment and then looked up at him, head cocked to the side. “Tell me about another thing you dislike about him. Just one.”
Teo ran nervous hands through his hair and without meaning to, he sped up to walk off some of the nerves.
“The way he treated Nevio.” Lia urged him on with a nod, hurrying along at his side. “He didn’t like any of us going out without him, but it feels worse with my brother because he actually had potential. I was always bound to become some angry weirdo even if I wasn’t living alone in the woods, but Nevio… he could have done just about anything he put his mind to. He’s so damned smart and dad couldn’t take it. Nevio was invited to maths competitions and physics workshops and dad said no every time. Every damned time. It was like he couldn’t stand him being successful. Maybe it was because being successful meant him being gone or maybe he just couldn’t take that someone was better than him. Whatever it was, he kept him at home and wasted his time and talent. He could have been so much more.”
“What does your brother do now?”
“For all I know, he’s still living in my parents’ shitty house. It’s such a waste.”
“It was a waste of your own talents as well.”
He couldn’t help a snort that escaped. “What talents? Being weird and punching people?”
“You built your own house and you’ve learnt skills with extraordinary speed. I’d say that’s a talent, even if it’s not maths and physics. In my admittedly limited experience, you’re extraordinarily gifted.”
He looked away, feeling a spot of warmth in his chest, like a small sun had risen in his heart. It took the edge off, if only a little bit, and not just because of the obvious enjoyment you got from being praised but because this was Lia. He didn’t think she gave praise like this easily.
“Don’t mention it. Now, you said you don’t know what your brother is doing. You last saw him…?”
“Over a decade ago.”
“You’ve been out of touch since you moved into the cabin,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but he still answered.
Teo ran his hands through his hair. He tried holding on to himself, but he could feel his control slipping a little.
“I meant to go back for a long time, but then dad died, and I wasn’t sure what to say. ‘Sorry I wasn’t there when dad died’? It doesn’t cut it. I left them behind, and it was better for them, but… I shouldn’t have left like I did.”
When she spoke again, her voice was measured. “How did you leave?”
Before he could control himself, the lie slipped out and he immediately hated himself.
“Just… when nobody was around. At night.”
“Ah…” She stopped. “I think that’s my cue to stop the interview.”
Teo groaned as she clicked the button. He couldn’t look at her. It was only a matter of time, really, before he ended up lying again and she would leave in disgust. She was the only person who had ever been able to make this whole endeavour feel like it wasn’t pointless. That was why he lived alone. He didn’t work well with people. He didn’t function.
“It’s all right.” He froze when her hand, delicate and warm, touched his arm. “You warned me that you felt the urge.”
“It’s all right,” she repeated firmly.
Teo dared a look at her and he shouldn’t have. The look in her eyes almost knocked him out, made his heart do some sort of leap into his throat. He couldn’t figure her out. Lia told him she was cold and yet right now she looked at him with nothing but undeserved compassion and warmth. She made him feel at ease in a way none of the other journalists had done, in a way few people had done. Even Costanza.
“Um,” he said stupidly. “I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologising,” she chided and removed her hand. “I had guessed that it would be harder to have this talk away from the cabin. Let’s get you back to your car and next time I’ll make sure to come to you.”
He remained silent on the way to the parking lot, afraid that opening his mouth would result in more lies spilling and she didn’t speak either until they were next to the car. Teo didn’t open the door right away but turned to her with what should have been a smile. He probably just looked constipated.
“I’ll see you at the cabin next time,” she said.
“Are you sure? If you’re busy…”
“It’s fine. I’ll get up an hour earlier and make it work.”
Teo thought of how tired she had looked earlier and shook his head. “Lia, don’t do that.”
“At least let me fix dinner for you, then.”
Lia hesitated, but then she smiled while pushing a lock of hair behind her ear in an almost shy gesture.
“Well, if you insist.”
“I insist.” He grasped the door handle of the car. “Well… I’d better head back out there to do all the weird hermit things I’ve neglected today.”
She almost laughed. Almost. It scared him just how tempted he was to throw another joke at her and make her actually laugh. But it would take a lot, he suspected, and he wasn’t a particularly funny guy.
“Until next time then,” she said, still smiling.
He said he looked forward to it and damnit if he didn’t actually mean it.
Author’s notes: Hi guys! So, it was finally time to get another chapter out into the world. If you weren’t aware, I became single about a month ago and that’s why it’s been so long since I posted. For a while I was just busy with school, then the break-up happened and I couldn’t face my game or stories for a while because of the memories and associations. But, I’m happy to say I’m slowly reclaiming my interests and my stories, even if this chapter’s pics are… fairly low-effort – sorry about that! But, as of now, Heartwood is actually written, and dear Carys of TwinSimSkeletons fame has agreed to be my beta-reader from now on. So all that’s left is to edit and take pictures and then, of course, slowly move on to gen 3, which I’m getting more and more excited about.
Now, you guys may know, but I’m generally mostly active on tumblr. I’m only saying that because I’ve recently started posting some pics of an… intimate romantic nature. They’re hosted here, but they’re password protected and the passwords are shared on tumblr. And well, I know that they’re relevant to some of you guys’… interests. 👀👀👀 So in case you’re curious about it, here’s a tag you can follow. (And yes, by intimate romantic nature, I mean NSFW as in nekkid sims in compromising positions, so be mindful).
Anywayyyy, my perverted tendences aside. Thanks so much for sticking around and thanks a bunch for the sweet comments I got on my break-up post. I deleted it to keep my blog a creative, story-focused space, but I still remember the massive support I got from you guys and it means just the whole world. I’m still sad and heartbroken, but I know I’m surrounded by so much love and care and it is everything. Thanks for reading, my loves, and I’ll see you in the next post.