Lia estimated that she would need five or six more interviews, so they spent the last golden hours of October doing them. Because November promised a storm Teo set to work cutting down trees on the brink of falling, and usually this kind of work was his favourite. However, he was more excited to show Lia the real forest, the deeper parts that made him fall in love with the place.
They spent a day near his favourite lake, the one where he went fishing. He first cut down a few problem trees that would block the path, but he also brought his fishing rod so he could fish while she coaxed more of his story out of him—he didn’t expect to get any bites, since they were talking; it was just another way to keep occupied while they spoke.
By the calm waters, he told her about his childhood home or, as he had called it in his head for years—his dad’s hoard. A stuffy, messy old house filled up with boxes of junk and stacks of old newspapers and books. He told her how few people knew, but once it got out, once it became clear why Teo and his brother were always dirty and smelly, the bullies had fuel for years.
The interview was interrupted when his fishing line suddenly snagged, and he actually managed to haul in a large fish. Lia’s eyes were at once amazed and horrified, especially when he asked her to hold the slimy, scaly creature while he removed the hook. Her mouth fell open and she looked so much like the struggling fish that he dissolved into helpless laughter. Lia only forgave him for it when he showed her how to clean and cook it.
They stood side-by-side in his small kitchen and even though she was obviously disgusted, there was also fascination on her face and honest curiosity. Their shoulders touched and when she leaned in, he got a whiff of lilacs and of her. He had to strain not to lean even closer. The next couple of weeks, he tried not to come up with more excuses to touch her, but it happened.
For the next interview, Teo took Lia deeper into the forest. They followed a stream and went over a low ridge where he had to take her hand so she wouldn’t fall. He had to. He wanted to. Even through her gloves, he delighted in the touch.
Then they entered a clearing that had an abandoned cabin right in the middle. Lia stopped and took it all in, her eyes alight with interest while she walked over to inspect the walls and look in the greasy windows.
Teo took care of the trees that threatened to fall on the old place, and while he did, she followed at his heels with the recorder, asking questions and listening attentively. They talked about his late teens and the only girlfriend he had, a girl who bailed as soon as she realised that he was never allowed to see her and that he lived in a hoarder’s house. It was so many years ago, it should be meaningless, but telling the story still left him tired and grumpy. At least until he let a few lies slip and Lia pulled him back. Her voice was sharp, but not unkind.
“Teo, we both know that’s blatantly untrue,” she said, hands on her hips. “Try again.”
And just like that, he was back on track, guided by her smile and an encouraging nod. She made it all seem so easy.
The next time, he took her to the furthest reaches of the forest. The wind was picking up and the closer they got to the edge of the woods, the more it tore at their clothes and hair. Lia completely lost control of her hairstyle and decided to just let it down, which made Teo aware of a whole new weakness of his—Rosalia Cavalcante with loose hair.
They made it to the edge of the forest, which also coincided with the edge of a cliff. There was a ten metre drop straight down and the only thing guarding from it was a flimsy fence that creaked under the force of the wind. Still, Lia went up to it and stared out at the landscape with eyes that were big and amazed at everything they saw. Teo suddenly wished he had a camera so he could take a picture—the wind tore at her coat and blew the hair away from her face and while she stared at the world below, she smiled. Smiled with so much joy, it made him let out a laugh that was swallowed by the wind.
Lia turned to him and shouted something, but he couldn’t hear it, so she had to move in close and speak loudly. Her hand was on his arm, her mouth at his ear, her breath on his skin, and he thought he hadn’t lived until now.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
“Look over there,” he said.
He put his arm around her and gently turned her to the direction of a cluster of houses in the distance. There was a question in her eyes until he leaned in and spoke into her ear.
“Collesena. You’re from there, right?”
“Wait… you mean… no.”
“Yeah. That’s it over there.”
She watched the horizon and he kept his arm around her even though he shouldn’t.
They had an interview as well that day and years later he would say he vaguely remembered her holding the recorder while he talked about something. If he felt bad or
lied that day, he didn’t remember, because all that seemed necessary to keep in his memory forever was the moment when they stood at the edge of the cliff and her small form was pressed close to his.
The second-to-last interview didn’t start out well. He spent the whole night before agonising over it, because he knew it was time to talk about leaving his family’s home. The last interview would be talking about the cabin and how he built it, but before they got to that part, he had to spill the details of the night he left.
Normally, Lia made it easier to get through the bad stuff, but today he found himself wishing that it was anyone else who were interviewing him. He wasn’t sure what she was going to say about his story, whether she would leave in disgust or if he would end up angry at her because he was upset. He couldn’t predict her actions and normally that was the whole appeal—that there was so much more to her than you thought at first glance—but right now he wished he could know what she would say.
The sight of her stepping out of the car and tiptoeing up to him over the lawn was welcome in spite of his trepidation, because seeing her was always the highlight of his day. She smiled at him and when she was close enough, she touched a hand to his arm. Gods, but he would miss her touch. He had barely had anything but these quick, comforting touches or a stolen moment of her hand in his, but he already wished he could have more.
“I know you’re nervous about this,” she said, because of course she could read him. “We’ll take it easy; I promise.”
He smiled his stupid smile-that-wasn’t-a-smile. “Right. Yeah.”
“Let’s take tea first, as usual.”
As usual. He hadn’t noticed there was a routine to this now. But they went inside and took their tea and he realised that yes, it was routine. Not in a bad way, not in the sense that it was boring and lifeless, but in the sense that it was comfortable. He made tea; they drank it while they chatted about nothing. Lia talked about her work and how busy she was, he chided her for working too much and tried to convince her to take a break. The comfortable rhythm of the conversation made his heart ache, when he wondered if it was all going to end after the interview.
That thought still haunted him when they moved into the forest. He had his axe in hand, she had her recorder, and they continued their conversation while walking, but he kept losing track of what she had said, so the talking died out.
That’s when he realised that it wasn’t a matter of if their comfortable routine would end. It would—after the next interview. She had all but said that she didn’t want to come back unless it was with Costanza and Lorenzo. He respected that, he understood, but it didn’t mean that he was happy to know that what he felt was one-sided.
By the time they made it to their location, he was sullen and on edge, both hating himself and hating the circumstances that led to him being who he was and her being someone so different from him. He hated even more that he was going to tell her the final part of his story and that she would have even more reasons not to want him.
Before now he had been excited to show her this part of the forest, because it was the most beautiful, but now the experience was marred, allowing him only a few moments to enjoy her reaction. The mountain lake he had chosen for today was beautiful at any time of the year. It was a large body of water surrounded by cliffside and with a cascading waterfall that broke the surface. Lia smiled beautifully as she took it all in.
“Every time we go, it gets more beautiful,” she said looking at him over her shoulder.
“Yeah, I picked the best for last.”
“Second-to-last,” she corrected.
Teo walked to stand next to her. “True, but I won’t need to work while talking about the cabin, not like today…”
He clutched the handle of his axe hard. Lia reached out and took his other hand in hers and he again felt that ache.
More, more, more, his mind said.
You don’t deserve her, a voice reminded him.
“It’ll be all right, Teo. We will get through this, like we’ve got through everything else so far.”
They stood hand-in-hand at the lake, soaking in the sounds of nature around them.
“Do you want to begin?” she asked.
Teo hesitated. “I just… before we start…”
He closed his eyes and turned to her, still holding her hand and wishing he could hold on forever. He placed the axe carefully down, because he didn’t want anything between them in that moment. Then, slowly, he forced himself to look at her.
“In case you’re too disgusted with me after this I… I want to say that I appreciate you doing this for me.”
“Disgusted? I’m sure I won’t…”
“No, just let me…” He let out a ragged breath and ran a hand through his hair. She smiled and nodded encouragingly. “I want you to know that when Stanza brought you out here, I thought she got it wrong and I thought all those things I said—that you were shallow and vain, but I was wrong. You’re none of that. You’re definitely not cold, either. So, you should know that I…. I appreciate you for putting up with me.”
None of that really covered what he felt for her, but she already looked at him with confusion, so his limited skills with words would have to do. To underscore his words, he gave her hand a squeeze, then brushed a lock of hair behind her ear, if only just to feel her skin under his fingertips for a second. He knew it was all he would ever get of gazing into her eyes and touching her and having her look up at him the way she did now.
“I really appreciate you,” he said.
Lia nodded and when she spoke her voice was quiet, like the moment was fragile and she didn’t want to shatter it.
“I won’t be disgusted with you, Teo.”
“We’ll have to wait and—”
“No.” She stared him square in the eyes. “I won’t.”
More long, lingering moments passed. They still held hands. He thought of kissing her, because it was all he could think of lately, and he felt himself moving closer without meaning to, his neck craned, his lips parted. He wanted it so badly he could almost feel her lips on his, could imagine her warmth.
It took inhuman effort to draw back, but he had to, because the moment was fragile. It would shatter if he let his stupid feelings get in the way. Even if she were into him that way, he couldn’t do it—not to her, not to anyone. He settled for giving her hand another squeeze and enjoying her touch for just another second.
“Let’s do it then,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “Let’s do it.”
Author’s notes: Hi guysss, and welcome back to a post. It’s been, uh, a long time since I last posted, I know. I am sorry and also sorry if I’m a little slow in reading and commenting on your stuff. I’m okay, just a bit preoccupied with my internship. And so you know, this story is actually written entirely, but I need to build sets, make poses, and possibly a few CC items for the last chapters. Things are a little slow going.
I am super excited, though, because as you might be able to tell, things are heating up around these parts. So yeah, thank you for reading if you made it this far and I hope you enjoyed it. Have a great time and I’ll see you in the next post.
Love you all,