Teo was already in front of the cabin when Lia got out of her car. He had his hands at his sides and looked at her thoughtfully. Maybe it was just coincidence, but he looked a little more put-together than he had the last two times. His shirt was tucked in, his boots were clean, and when he greeted her this time, he sounded… as close to polite as she thought he could get.
“Thank you for coming,” he said.
Lia felt stirrings of anger in her chest. She still wasn’t sure what she was doing here, so she only managed to say ‘Mr. Como.’ He winced and took a step back. His tone when he answered was like that of a boy caught doing something wrong by a schoolteacher.
“You can just call me Teo, Ms. Cavalcante.”
“Teo,” she said. “Do tell why you wanted me to come back here?”
Another wince and he stuck his hands in his pockets.
“I want to apologise, sincerely, for what I said to you…”
“Do you often say those kinds of things to others?”
“No, but then it’s not often people tell me I’m a liar right to my face.”
Lia looked him in the eyes. “I was right, so that’s hardly a justification for any of it.”
“No, I know, which is why I hoped you’d come back. I made lunch.”
Her eyes narrowed. For as tall as he was, he looked small now, biting his lip and looking at her pleadingly.
“You know, as an apology. It’s the least I can do. Here.”
He pointed to a place away from the cabin, a small, round stone patio surrounded by trees with deep red and golden leaves. A table had been set up at the centre, and the closer she got the stronger the scent of cinnamon and apples became. Lia should leave, no matter what he was trying to use as bait—children’s stories of witches with houses made of confectionary came to mind—but at the same time she was intrigued.
Lunch turned out to be a freshly baked loaf of bread, various preserves, and a steaming apple pie. It all looked wonderful and homemade. As if her very body wanted her to stay, Lia’s stomach made a loud growl and she looked away quickly to hide her embarrassment.
“Haven’t eaten, have you?” Teo asked next to her.
“No,” she admitted. “I haven’t had the time. Work…”
“That won’t do. You can’t work on an empty stomach—come, sit.”
He walked over, held out a chair for her, and she took a seat, while keeping a careful eye on him the whole time. She wasn’t afraid that he would suddenly rush to attack her, but the argument from days ago was still fresh in her mind and she wondered when they would have a repeat.
He grabbed a wine glass and a pitcher and waited for her approval before pouring red wine for her. She took it and sipped, nodding as the rich, spicy flavour hit her tongue—quite different from the wines she used to have, but obviously not a bad one.
“It’s local,” he said in a voice that was still hesitant. “I don’t normally drink wine, so I don’t know if it’s any good.”
“I don’t drink wine as often as I used to, but this is excellent.”
Teo smiled, a little more at ease now, and took his own seat, pouring himself some of the wine as well.
“You used to drink a lot?” She looked at him with a raised eyebrow and he groaned. “That came out wrong. You said you drank more wine before. What’s that all about?”
Lia tilted her head at him while he cut slices of bread.
“How long have you lived out here?” she asked in lieu of answering the question.
It looked like he was going to say something tart, before he caught himself and corrected his tone.
“Almost a decade and a half.”
“And the name Cavalcante doesn’t mean anything to you?”
He rubbed his neck. “Is it a brand of wine or something?”
Lia snorted. “No, just a wealthy family, descended from old nobility. If you move in the right circles in Collesena the name is practically unavoidable.”
“Rich girl, huh? Guess that explains a few things.” Before she could comment on that, he held up his hands. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just that you’re… fancy.”
“Don’t worry, I know what you mean,” she said and couldn’t help but smile at his use of ‘fancy’. She picked up a piece of bread and started spreading it with salted caramel. “You’re not the first to remark that I act as though I was born into wealth. However, I’m no longer a rich girl.”
“No? Did you elope with a poor man and offend your dad?”
Lia smiled. “No, I suppose you could say my brother eloped with a gang leader and offended my father. That’s not entirely true, since they didn’t marry right away, but close enough.”
Teo blinked with a slice of bread hanging halfway to his mouth. “That some kind of joke?”
“I’m not in the habit of telling jokes. I never saw the point in them.”
He shook his head. “It sounds like the plot to one of my dad’s books.”
“I suppose I see what you mean.”
Stefano Como’s books were all dramatic and wildly romantic in their own way. As a girl she had enjoyed the strange, contradictory romances and the disorder they caused. Before now, she hadn’t realised how her brother’s story mirrored those plotlines and it was an amusing thought. While she had devoured the books, her brother’s romance didn’t sit well with her at first. That kind of drama wasn’t as appealing when it touched you in real life.
Teo had gone quiet for a while, but now he rubbed his neck and looked away as he said: “I never liked his books much.”
Lia looked up and felt a fluttering of anger behind her sternum.
“I suppose they only appeal to vain and shallow teenage girls.”
“That’s not…” He let out a breath. “Again—I’m sorry about that. Didn’t mean it. I hate my dad’s books, but they mean a lot to many people. Can’t pretend to understand why, but hey, different strokes.”
She was tempted to tell him exactly why they appealed to her so much. How those long, lonely days at her father’s estate had been broken up by every new release. However, she didn’t think anything she could say would make him change his mind and now that she looked at him, she didn’t see disdain so much as distress. When he said he didn’t like them, she thought, he actually meant that there was something about his father he didn’t like.
Lia kept herself from asking about it. Mostly because she didn’t think he would tell but also because she didn’t want to have another fight at this point. She was content to enjoy her lunch.
“Well I accept your apology,” she said, “and may I add that the things I said weren’t kind, either. I apologise for that.”
“So, you’ll still do the biography?” he asked carefully.
Lia snapped her eyes to his, surprised. “Excuse me? You still want me to write it?”
“Like I said, nobody ever told me to my face that I’m a liar.”
She shook her head incredulously. “I wouldn’t think it was a good thing.”
“No, me neither. It didn’t feel like a good thing at the time, so I lashed out, but I thought about it and if anyone’s going to write my biography, it should be someone who’s honest. Someone who isn’t afraid to write about my bad sides. It couldn’t be anyone else.”
His grey eyes drilled into hers with an intensity that caused her face to flush and her heart to beat a little faster. Teo’s voice was back to having the same effect on her that it had the day they met, and she didn’t enjoy it. She was afraid that he would notice, so she squared her shoulders and met his gaze straight on.
“I meant what I said—I’m not going to publish a book of lies.”
“I know. I’m… I’m going to tell you the truth,” he said.
Lia looked him in the eye, seeing sincerity there, but also a good deal of hesitation. His hand curled around a napkin and the knuckles grew white with tension.
“A word of warning,” she said. “I will know if you’re lying, Teo.”
Teo nodded slowly. “Yeah, that’s why I want you.”
She bit her lip and felt an unwelcome warmth creep into her face at his words. I want you. Lia looked away and she mentally told herself off for the inappropriate sensations that washed over her at the words. He had realised what he had said as well.
“Wait, I mean—”
“I know,” she said, her voice higher in pitch than usual. “The biography. You want me to write it.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Very well, I’ll do it. So long as you promise to tell me the truth and let me repeat—I will know if you’re lying.”
He studied her, nodding. “I believe that. Though how is it you can tell?”
Lia had finished her bread and stood to cut the pie, all too happy to have something to take her mind off his voice and his eyes on her. The slice of pie steamed once on her plate and when she bit into it, it had a perfectly balanced flavour of sweet and sour apples with rich cinnamon. It was one of the most delicious things she had ever tasted, and she almost forgot answering Teo’s question.
“I don’t know how,” she said once she remembered to speak, “but I’ve always been able to tell when people are lying to me. There’s something in their faces that feels off when they do it. Of course, it helps that I’m fairly good at spotting a contradiction as well.”
“Sounds useful for a journalist,” he said.
“It is.” Lia sent him a pointed look. “I hope I won’t need it for our future interviews.”
He bent his head. “Right. I meant to say sorry for lying as well.”
“Why did you lie? It’s a waste of your own and all the journalists’ time and the way I understand it, you need to draw attention to your business somehow.”
Teo was quiet for a long time, then finally he breathed out.
“I’m not sure why. There are certain… things in my past I don’t like talking about. School. My family… Especially my dad. When I have to talk about those things, I can’t help it. I just lie.”
“Fathers are difficult,” she agreed.
“I kind of guessed that you don’t have the best relationship with yours, either.”
“I don’t have one,” she said.
That was putting it mildly. The last time Lia had seen her father, he had shouted at her and her brother as they left him forever. She knew he had since remarried in a fruitless attempt to produce a new heir after he disinherited his oldest son. When that failed, he had tried to bribe him into coming back, though that was to no avail as well—her brother would never abandon his wife or his two girls.
“Tough,” Teo said.
“I hardly feel the difference.”
“But you’ve got other family, right?”
At that, Lia smiled, she couldn’t help herself. “I thought I was supposed to interview you.”
“Well, if you don’t want to talk, I get it.”
“I don’t mind. I still have my mother, as well as my brothers and their families. I have three nieces and a nephew.”
“And you spoil them, don’t you?”
She looked up, surprised to find his eyes meeting hers with warmth. It was the first glimmer that he was a ‘sweetheart’ as Costanza insisted.
“I do,” Lia replied.
“I bet.” He nodded slowly. “Can I ask something else?”
“Why did you decide to come back?”
Lia bent her head, stabbing her pie. She was tempted to lie and say it was only because Costanza begged her but lying now would be hypocritical. At the same time, her own actions didn’t completely make sense to her. When she had left the cabin last time she had been fuming and swearing never to set foot in this place again, but once Costanza called… it hadn’t taken her long to agree. Lia breathed deeply, then lifted her eyes from her plate.
“I suppose… I know what it’s like to want a second chance after doing something I regret. I felt it would be kind to give someone else the chance I won’t get.”
She was afraid he would ask what she had done, because she couldn’t say it. Not here, not to a perfect stranger. She hadn’t even told all of it to the therapists who had helped her through the difficult years after she left her father’s house. She didn’t think she would ever let herself really sift through it all. There was too much pain hidden in the tangled events that led to where she was now.
But Teo didn’t ask and she felt a wave of gratitude for it. He looked like he understood, which made the tension in her shoulders drop and she eased into a smile.
“Thanks for the second chance,” he said. “I appreciate it.”
“I wonder, though… the interviews. What are we going to do? I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want to get angry, but it happens.”
While he talked, he spread jam on a piece of bread, and she noticed that his movements were carefree, his voice less of an angry mumble. It reminded her of the times she had watched him make tea—the confident and sure way he did it and the way all confidence fled him once he was idle again.
“Well…” Lia said, lifting the wineglass to her lips. “I think I have an idea.”
Author’s notes: Hi guys and welcome back to autumn-y cabin fun! Not going to lie, these are some of my favourite pics I’ve done – I’m especially impressed that I don’t hate the lunch set yet, since I made it months ago. I only updated it a little bit for this chapter – a small miracle, since I usually hate everything I did more than a month ago. Not that I’m complaining.
With everything that’s happening around the world, I hope you guys are all safe. Take good care and don’t forget to be good to yourself while things are crazy. Thanks so much if you made it this far.
Lots of love,
EDIT: Apparently there are some issues with comments, at least for one person. I don’t know if it affects everyone, but I’m looking into and I’ll make sure to fix it if it’s a problem on my end.