Heartwood,  Monte Vista Stories,  Stories,  Uncategorized

Heartwood | Four: The Journalist

Teo had promised Lia to tell her the truth, but before the first interview, he hadn’t realised how terrifying it would be. He had spent the whole day feeling like he was on the verge of being sick and when her car rolled into the forest, waves of nausea flooded his body all over again. She had promised him that she had an idea and was sure it would work, but he couldn’t be as confident as her. Especially not when he met her at the door and failed to greet her nicely.

“You’re here,” was all he managed.

He forced his face into a smile of sorts, but he was sure he looked like a serial murderer. Lia cocked her head at him.

“Are you all right, Teo? You look a little pale.”

Teo just barely kept himself from cursing, but he couldn’t keep the ice out of his voice. “Yeah, fine. Tea?”

“Thank you, yes,” she said. “If it’s not any trouble.”

“It’s not.”

He stalked ahead of her into the house, his stomach sinking as he walked. He could already see the interview heading in the exact same direction as the first one and he didn’t feel he had any power to stop it.

He made tea, but unlike the last time, Lia didn’t take out her recorder. She simply sat, observing him. Several times, he looked over his shoulder, but all the reaction he got was a pretty smile. He couldn’t think of why she wasn’t getting ready, but then it hit him—she wasn’t going to get ready. She wanted to see if he planned on being an asshole again before she began.

“You seem to be shaking,” she said suddenly and Teo nearly dropped the teacup he held.

He looked at her, like the forest deer standing stock still in the cone of an oncoming car’s headlights. Not one word escaped him, but Lia didn’t seem to pay it any heed.

Teo took a deep breath and returned to his tea-making. He couldn’t look her in the eyes while talking.

“Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t like talking about.” He poured water, put in the teabag, added lemon… his body relaxed into the rhythm of his movements. “This is turning out like the last time.”

“Well, we had better try and avoid that, wouldn’t you say?” she asked.

Teo turned and set a teacup in front of her. “How?”

“By doing it differently. Do sit down, Teo, and have your tea. We won’t begin yet.”

He immediately did as ordered, watching her as she measured off sugar and stirred it into her tea. All her movements were careful and controlled, a sharp contrast to his own shaking.

“Different how?” he asked.

“I’ll tell you. Sugar?” When he nodded and held up three fingers, she smiled while adding three spoons of sugar to his tea. “I was thinking we would drink our tea and then we’ll head outside for the interview.”

He blinked. “Uh…”

“Don’t you have some sort of work to do?”

“I have a few things, yeah.”

“I thought so. You can do… whatever it is you do around here, and we’ll talk in the meantime.” She lifted the cup to her lips and took a sip, then she made an appreciative sound. “This is a very good tea. Homemade?”

Teo’s shoulders dropped from somewhere around his ears.

“Partially. I use dried peel from my oranges, but I buy the black tea.”

“It’s wonderful. How much do you make yourself?”

“Uh, well, as much as I can, really. I grow fruits and vegetables, forage what I can from the forest, get eggs from my chickens. Occasionally, I fish in the lake and if the money situation ever gets better, I want to buy a goat for milk and cheese.”

She looked at him with an odd glimmer in her eyes, sipping on her tea.

“Anything else?”

“It’s just things like furniture, where I use old wood from the forest. I knit the occasional jumper…”

Lia set her cup down and looked at him with a smile. “How do you know how to do all these things?”

“Just books.”

“Do be serious.”

Teo took a drink of his own tea. “I am. I bought some books and followed the directions and then I got better with practice.”

“And the cooking?”

“Followed recipes.”

“Cabin?”

“I use some of my architecture experience and the rest is just books. Learnt the basics, did some experiments, built my house.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were lying.” Lia shook her head. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone with such a talent for crafts.”

He looked away and rubbed his neck, wondering if she was just being nice. There was a slow blush that crept into his cheeks.

“It’s not that unusual,” he said.

“I assure you that it is. I can barely boil an egg without setting my flat on fire and no matter how many books I read, I’ll never be capable of building a house.”

“Well not with that attitude you won’t.” He rolled his eyes.

She swatted at his hand. “Teo!”

Lia was dangerously close to laughing, he could tell, and it did things for her face. Far from everything about her that was controlled, this was something she couldn’t help. He was a single man living alone in the woods, so yes, he had noticed she was pretty—but now he really noticed. And he again got that feeling that he could get along with her, in spite of everything that spoke against it.

And he had been staring. He realised when she twisted her face back into her usual professional smile.

“Perhaps we should go outside,” she said.

“Sure.”

In fact, he really needed to get out.

Outside, the sun was still powerful and the chill in the air wasn’t enough to warrant anything more than a simple coat. Teo felt better as soon as he was outside, walking through the thick, green grass with a crate in his hands. As much as he loved his cabin, being outside was better. He never enjoyed being inside too long, holed up in air that got stuffy and dusty. Out here, he always walked with purpose and focus.

So much focus, in fact, that he didn’t notice Lia had fallen behind until a faint cursing rose from her direction. Her heel… again. Teo turned and received a warning glare.

“I will not have any comments on my footwear,” she said sternly.

“Isn’t it going to get a little old? The sinking?” he asked. “You could just bring a pair of flat shoes.”

She was completely quiet and for a long time he stared at her without understanding. Teo blinked as he finally realised what she was saying without words.

“You don’t have any flat shoes? Are you kidding me?”

“No, I am not. I don’t tell jokes, Teo.”

“How are we supposed to be outside when you’re sinking all the time?”

Lia sighed and pulled her shoe free. “I’m sure I’ll manage.”

But like all the other times, when she took another few steps, she sank again. She made it over to him and at his raised eyebrows, she glared again.

“Well, there’s not much I can do about it, Teo.”

“I have a pair of boots,” he blurted before he could stop himself. “Give me a minute.”

He returned to the cabin and went to the bedroom to dig into the wardrobe. His own boots would be about thirty sizes too big, but when he dug down, to the very back he still had the pair of women’s boots that had followed him since he moved in. His hands twitched for a moment, reaching for them, as he felt the heavy fog of guilt. He should have thrown them out years ago. No, he shouldn’t have them to begin with… It took a second to shake it off. He had to, especially if he were going to do this interview. This, he supposed, was a start—the first stab before he went outside and let the journalist slash him to pieces. After a moment to sort himself, he grabbed a pair of thick socks as well and brought it all to Lia.

She had stumbled back to the deck and eyed the items he sat down in front of her. Teo felt a stab of annoyance now that he realised that he would have to explain. He’d wound up lying and she would be angry. He should have left them where they were.

“You had women’s boots lying around?” she asked, but she took the socks and pulled them on before sticking her feet into the boots.

“Uh, yes,” he said.

“Are you a serial murderer?” she asked bluntly, and he blinked.

“What? No!”

Lia thought for a moment before she asked. “So, I assume there’s some non-murder related reason you have them. If I ask about it, are you going to lie to me?”

“I don’t want to but… yes.”

“Then I won’t. Not yet, at any rate.”

Teo looked at her and his shoulders dropped, relaxed. He realised that he had been so ready for another argument, for her to demand an explanation that he couldn’t give… instead, he wanted to hug her. Somehow, it meant more than he had expected.

“Thank you.” It was all he could think to say.

“Thank you,” she said, motioning to her feet. “Now, let’s try this again.”

Lia stood and started walking as if there was nothing weird afoot. Her trip across the lawn went much easier now and against all odds, she pulled off the ‘tight pencil skirt and boots’-look. Not that it should have been a surprise—but it just so happened that he hadn’t seen her walking without stumbling before and she pulled it off very well. The skirt tightened around her backside and her hips rocked enticingly… aaaand he had to ask her to repeat what she had just said because he didn’t hear. Teo, you idiot.

“I said: what work are you thinking of doing?” she asked, still perfectly polite as though he hadn’t just been staring at her ass.

“Harvesting apples.” He shook off the brief idiocy and pointed at his little apple orchard a few steps from the house. “Most of my Melrose apples are ripe. Just a moment.”

He walked towards the half-roof where he kept a stepladder. Even with his height, he had trouble reaching some of the upper branches of the trees. Lia watched him curiously while he set up the ladder.

“Melrose apples?” she asked.

“Yeah, these ones.” He pointed at one of his trees. “They’re good for applesauce, but they can be used in pies—the one you had was made with them.”

“It was a very good pie,” she said.

“Glad you liked it.” He set up his ladder and stepped up with the crate under his arm. He found a good, ripe apple and picked it. “Imagine it’s pretty different from what you had when you were a rich girl.”

“Quite. I do prefer your pie to what we had those days. It was delicious.”

He looked down at her. “Want to bring a slice home?”

“I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“You’re not. I make too much anyway, and Stanza can’t eat it all, try as she might.”

“In that case, I would love that. Thank you.”

They went silent for a moment. He did his best to focus on his task, on the satisfying little plucking sound each apple made as the stem broke from the branch. The scent of ripe apples was strong, coming from all directions, carried by the October breeze.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll begin the interview. Can I use my recorder?” Lia’s voice carried to him from the ground.

His hands twitched, but he only felt it faintly, thanks to the pull of his muscles and the mechanical motions. He didn’t answer her question but looked at her from atop the ladder and found her smiling in a very calculated manner.

“So, that’s your game. Get me working, so I’m not focusing on the talking.”

“I noticed that you’re more at ease when you’re working with your hands and I thought it might help you push past the unease.”

He smiled. So, he realised, Stanza had been right. He felt a moment of gratitude for not scaring Lia away entirely. Hell, she might actually save his stupid ass from bankruptcy.

“Let’s try then,” he said.

Lia nodded. “Very well, I’ll begin.”

He heard a click and the recording was on.

“Mr. Como, the last time we spoke we talked of your schooling. Which school did you go to?”

Teo paused and his hands tightened around the apple he was reaching for. He closed his eyes and his mind yet again scrambled for words. Even while he worked, he was still awful at them. Or, that was, until Lia’s voice reached him.

“Take as much time as you need, Teo.”

He opened his eyes, blinking, and looked up to see her smiling patiently. Teo, she had said, not Mr. Como. For some reason, that got his mouth to cooperate.

“I’m not… good at words,” he said. “Not like dad was.”

“The beauty of having a biographer is that you don’t have to be good with words. That’s what I’m here for. Like I said—take your time.”

“Right.” He nodded. “You asked…”

“Which school did you go to?”

Teo plucked another apple and it joined the small pile gathering in his crate.

“A better question would be which school didn’t I go to?”

“You went to several, then?”

Now that he had started, the words seemed to flow on their own and in time to the motions of his work. “Yeah. I started at the one in Camporra, but I got kicked out in the second grade.”

Silence. Only the sounds of the wind raking the leaves and the little pops as apples gave up their hold on the tree.

“Why did you get kicked out?”

“I punched another kid in the face. I’ve always been big for my age and I hit him so hard I broke his nose. If I’d just got into that one fight, it might not have been bad, but it happened several times a week. Sometimes more.”

“How come you fought?”

“I was an angry little shit.”

“Angry about what?”

He climbed down the ladder and placed the now-full crate on the ground. He picked up the next one but looked at her before going back up.

“I always figured it’s who I am. Some people are always happy and smiling, like Stanza, and others are always angry and bitter and better off alone in the woods.”

Lia paused. “Is that why you live out here?”

“That’s one reason.”

He stared her straight in the eyes, mentally daring her to ask for the other reasons, but she didn’t. She didn’t look afraid, only calculating. If she asked right now, he knew he would lie and she did, too. Teo felt a measure of respect for the journalist then—she was smart. Adaptable. She noticed what was happening and she changed topics, took a few steps back down a road that was easier to travel right now. He climbed back up on the stepladder and started filling the second crate.

“So, you went to several different schools. Did it affect your schooling?”

“Well, I guess I could have been smarter than I am, what with me being moved around so much and missing classes for long periods of time. As for friendships, it affected those. The journalist who wrote that I didn’t have friends was right—every time I had one, I ended up getting angry and they’d get the hell away from me before I beat them up. Makes it hard to make friends when other kids are scared that you’ll break their face.”

“Did you ‘break their faces’ as you put it?”

“No, I just broke the one nose. He wasn’t a friend, though. That was a shithead who picked on my brother and me.”

“Your brother went to the school at Camporra as well?”

Teo nodded. “He stayed there all through school. He’s not a meathead like me—he’s a genius with maths and physics and all that.”

“And you protected him?”

“Yeah. I tried, anyway.”

“That reminds me of my big brother.” Lia smiled warmly. “He always protected me, even when I only caused more problems for him.”

“Can’t imagine you causing trouble.”

“I’m rather good at it.”

“That makes two of us, then.”

Lia’s smile grew wider. “Did your brother cause problems for you?”

“Never. It was the other kids who picked on him. You know what kids are like—they don’t like kids who are different and Nevio was very different.”

“And what about yourself?”

Teo paused. “I was different, too, but not in a good way.”

“Because you were angry?”

“Yeah. Angry.”

Lia looked at him and then she pressed the button on her recorder. The silence that followed the click was oddly intimate—it was just the two of them now, with a little space between them and questions swirling in the air along with the leaves that danced in the breeze. She studied him across from down on the ground, her head cocked to the side and those big, blue eyes observing quietly. Maybe he shouldn’t comment on what she had said, but he couldn’t help it.

“I still can’t imagine you as a troublemaker,” he said.

Lia shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe I’m a different brand of troublemaker from you, but I am one.”

“What brand?” he asked. “I’m angry and you’re…”

“Cold,” she said matter-of-factly.

Teo cocked his head and looked at her. There was a point to that, he supposed, a cool and efficient kind of air around her, but at the same time…

“You don’t seem that cold.”

“And you don’t seem that angry.”

He took a step off the ladder, crate pressed to his side.

“That was it for the interview, right?” he asked.

Lia, still holding her recorder, nodded. “Yes, that was all. It was going well, but I don’t want to push my luck. If you’re okay with that, I think I’ll go change out of these boots.”

Teo snorted. “Don’t like them?”

“I look ridiculous.”

He shook his head. “You don’t but go ahead. I’ll be right over to see you off.”

Teo continued picking apples until he could see she had finished. She was back in her killer heels and rummaged around in her purse before pulling out her phone.

“Well then, I’m completely booked for the next fortnight, I’m afraid,” she said. “Unless you’d be able to come into the city—I have a few hours between meetings, but it’s not enough to drive out here.”

“Okay, sure,” he said without thinking.

“That’s a relief. This Friday, then?” she asked, tapping on her phone to add it to her calendar.

“Uh, okay. Yeah. I’ll… see you, Ms. Cavalcante.”

She looked up, smiling radiantly. “Lia,” she corrected. “Call me Lia.”

Author: Hi guys! Sooo this is a weird time for me to be posting but what can I say – no schedule. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I am actually trying to stick to the old ‘every other week’ while still giving myself a bit of leeway, but I just didn’t feel it until now. I feel bad about it, but as boyfriend told me, this is supposed to be fun. So yeah, I hope you guys enjoyed this. Once I actually snapped the photos, I did have fun and I like the whole vibe going on here. Lia is always a bombshell but this made me realise that she is to die for in red so yeah – discoveries were made and lessons learnt.

I hope everyone’s staying safe and that self-isolation isn’t getting you too down. Be good to yourselves and I’ll see you in the next post. 😊❤

Cheers!

14 Comments

  • Kymber

    Louise, this was wonderful in every way. I love the chemistry between Lia and Teo. It is everything. This also reminded me of crisp fall days, picking apples. Good times.

    I am really curious about Teo’s back story and can’t wait to find out more.

    • NotJustaBook

      Aaaw thank you Kym, that’s so sweet of you to say. I’m glad you like their chemistry. 😊❤ I loved working with these pics because of the lovely autumn theme and the nice colours. ❤

      I’m excited for you guys to learn more. Thanks so much for reading! 🥰❤

  • audreyfld

    I loved this chapter and the way the two of them are bonding through self discovery and mutual respect. And as always, the pictures are amazing! More more more.

    • NotJustaBook

      😄 Thank you, Audrey! I like writing these types of interactions and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Thank you for reading! 😊💕

  • Violincat

    Poor guy. I must say, I don’t blame him for beating up someone who was picking on his brother. Some people are just very punchable.
    Props to Lia for figuring out a way to work with him.

    • NotJustaBook

      Indeed, defending your brother is understandable. And yeah, Lia is quick to figure people out, I think!
      Thanks for reading, Violincat! 😊❤

  • Lila Remonn

    Ahh yay, they’re slowly, steadily, becoming comfortable with each other. I like the detail of first name basis (I used that same technique for the next chapter, too, hehe) and the pacing of the conversation following the rhythm of the tea brewing and apple picking. It gave reading the chapter a very relaxing, pleasant flow. I could feel the same effect that Lia’s smart interviewing technique was having on Teo’s nerves, which was nice 😊
    Yesss we finally got Lia out of her heels! She doesn’t even look bad in them, it’s just that they don’t match her sleek red outfit, haha. Although, I’m curious whose boots they were… perhaps a past lover?
    Hmm… so Teo has a little brother he was protecting. I wonder where Nevio is right now because from what we’ve heard so far, it seems like he doesn’t visit the cabin? And what their relationship with their father was… maybe if he was a writer he could have been a type of person that got holed away for ages and neglected his children? I don’t know, random thought.
    As always, pictures are super lovely and radiating fall vibes (I especially like the shot of the apple crate!). Great chapter ❤

    • NotJustaBook

      I think being on a first name basis with someone can be really significant – especially with someone like Lia. Her saying to use her pet name is quite special. 😊 I can totally see how being on a first name basis will be significant for your characters, too! I’m really glad you got that sense. I was trying to give off a sense of ease and comfort with this!
      Hahaha, yes, at last. It’s not exactly a match lol. And yeah, we will find out who they belong to at some point. 😉
      I like your thoughts on Teo’s dad and his family. You’re right – Teo isn’t visited by family apart from Costanza, so something’s keeping them apart. Can’t wait to share what’s going on with the family.
      Thank you so much, Lila! I’ve been having a lot of fun trying out differents kinds of shots. Last gen was just talking faces, lol. I’m glad you liked it and thanks for reading! 😊💕❤

  • sempreviva

    Oooh, that was very interesting! 😀 Like Lila said, I loved the pacing of the interview matching the relaxing pace of Lia and Teo’s activities… you’ve painted such relaxing pictures in this chapter, the tea brewing, the apple picking… I wish I was there too! <3 (or not, because I'd surely be the third wheel, lmao)
    Lia is a genius, 'nough said 😉 This was such a great idea that she had, making Teo comfortable enough so that the truth comes out on its own. And it worked quite well! 😀 I wonder what other secrets Teo is holding behind… You've had me really curious about his childhood, his brother, the relationship with his father, as well as the mysterious owner of those lady boots (which Lia totally rocked btw)! Teo seemed quite shook while reminiscing about her, so… I wonder what's that about!
    This was, once again, really great! I can't wait for Teo to finally slip up and give us some answers (which I believe won't be very difficult in Lia's hands, lol)
    And of course don't even worry about the chapters – I will completely agree with your boyfriend; this is supposed to be only fun and nothing else! 😀 <3 <3

    • NotJustaBook

      Yay, I’m glad you liked it. 😊 I really liked taking these pics – once I got off my lazy butt and actually did it, lol.
      He, he, she’s pretty smart, I think. 😄 Teo definitely has some secrets going on and I can’t wait to unfold it all. I think you’re right Lia will get the truth out of him.
      😊 I’m so glad you like it. I’ve been enjoying these two, so I hope I can keep you intrigued hehe!
      Thanks so much for understanding and thanks for reading as always. It means a lot. 😊❤

  • amyqueen

    Annnd I’m here. A tad late, but here 😄 and excited to read!
    I’m living for all of your tea shots, they’re so warm and pretty ✨ You’ve inspired me to bring my beverage shots to life with some steam if I decide to not be lazy, hehe.
    Well you’ve managed to get out of putting Lia in sneakers for my request, but at least I get to see her in some very out-of-character boots here XD I wonder what the backstory to those shoes are, hmm… a relationship that ended poorly maybe? It was amusing seeing Teo chide himself for checking Lia out. Can’t blame the poor guy. She and red are a deadly combo.
    Lia’s a very smart cookie, and quite observant considering she quickly picked up on how relaxed Teo becomes whilst working. All the apple picking shots were so, so nice~ It was a great idea to distract him while questioning him. Much harder for him to lie that way since he wouldn’t be giving his undivided attention to it.
    So we finally got to hear a bit more about Teo’s troubled past. I wonder what his brother is up to because it seems he’s no longer in the picture. I wonder if the relationship Teo had with his father also ended up being the same kind he had with Nevio, for the same reason or perhaps a different one.
    Hooray, we’ve upgraded from Mr. Como and Ms. Cavalcante to Teo and Lia 🥰
    Ooh, so we’re going to be seeing Teo in Lia’s element next chapter. That’ll be interesting~ This was such a lovely chapter, and it left me craving apples and sunshine ☀️🧡

    • NotJustaBook

      Lololol, I’m not that active myself right now so don’t even worry hehe. 😄
      I love making those shots – it’s not even that hard to do so I recommend giving it a go! 😊☕
      Yeah, I feel like the poor woman is already going through a lot wearing boots – sneakers are just a hell no. 🤣 Her in boots is practically a miracle! We’ll find out where they came from later down the line. 😉 And yeah, she’s pretty dang good in red – and here I was thinking that I’d be dressing her in purples. Just goes to show how my girl’s changed.
      Yeah, I imagine one thing Lia is good at is reading people – would have been pretty useful when she was young, so she picks up on little things like that. 😊
      And you’re right – his brother isn’t in his life. Why that is, we’ll also find out lol!
      Yesss. Which would make their shipping name Tea and isn’t that just apt? 😁🤣☕
      Indeed, you’re right about that. It’ll be a different world for him, for sure. I’m so glad you liked this, Amy! Thanks for reading, friend. 💕

  • socallucyfan

    This was an awesome chapter. Their chemistry is undeniable. I love how they are both opening up to each other.
    I hope that you are staying safe and healthy. Take care 😊

    • NotJustaBook

      Thank you! I’m glad you think they have chemistry and I can’t wait for them to slowly open more up to each other.
      I’m doing well, thank you. I hope you and yours are safe as well – thank you for reading. 😊❤💕

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