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.”
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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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.
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.
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?”
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 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. 😊❤