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Close Up

A short tale of mutual discovery. Please enjoy yourself.

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“I don’t dance, Stephanie,” he said, “and I don’t play childish games.” He seemed irritated, frowned at me for a moment as we exited the building, grey eyes under white eyebrows.

His tone was certainly irritating. I had been trying to be polite, after all.

“So, no, thank you. I don’t want a coffee, thanks.”

Surrounded by refugees from the last classes on a balmy Friday, I tried not to walk too fast. His limp became apparent if he had to go too fast, tried to keep up with somebody faster.

I’d first noticed him when I was a freshman last year. He stood out on campus. He was always well-dressed, well-groomed and neat. I’d never seen him, for instance, with unpressed clothes. Today he wore immaculate white canvas slacks and shoes, a white shirt and a blue blazer. He looked like he owned Hollywood.

Older than his classmates by a generation, while not holding himself aloof, equally he made no particular effort to blend in or make friends. His white-blond hair was half white now and contrasted strongly with his tanned complexion. There was a spiderweb of barely-perceptible scars over his left cheekbone, straying down to be lost under a well-trimmed beard.

Handsome and lean, but with unusually muscular arms and shoulders, he sometimes carried a cane when the weather was cold. He was generally polite, but it was a bad idea to joke about that cane; I’d watched his acerbic tongue flay a loudmouth jock who’d teased him about his age. Tony had left him looking like an ill-mannered two-year-old and done it in such as way as the jerk couldn’t even think of getting physical.

Then by some freak of computer coin-tossing, we’d been assigned each other as lab partners this year.

It turned out that a couple of his fingers were very stiff and he wasn’t particularly good at stuff like dissecting frogs or working with rabbit innards. He knew what we were supposed to be doing however, usually far better than I did. He did the readings, understood the purpose of each lab session. He was focussed. We made, I thought, a pretty good team.

And he was patient and willing to help. I’d needed that help. Don’t get me wrong; I’m actually quite bright. But this was an elective for me; I was a Music major and had signed up for this on a whim. And it turns out Biology is very much a left-brain thing and I’m totally right-brained — intuitive and creative vs methodical and logical. Tony’s insight and suggestions had saved me a lot of work. Had he been friendlier, more open, he would have been the ideal partner.

As it was, he made very little small talk, spoke very little about himself. He showed up on time, nodded at the right places in lectures, helped me with the slimier bits in the lab when my gorge rose too much. He was well-spoken and his writing style was crisp and succinct. He seemed intelligent and in in total control of himself, master of his own universe.

Asides from that, I knew virtually nothing about him. I’d never seen him in one of the local shops or bars, nor with a woman of any age. He didn’t wear a wedding ring, which might or might not have meant anything and either brushed off personal questions or else gave uninformative one-word answers. He’d mentioned that this was his first Biology course, too.

I’d seen him pulling out of a student parking lot a couple of times after class, driving a boxy old jeep, like one the British military uses. Once I thought it was him behind the wheel of a grey sports car on Western Road but it was gone before I could be sure.

Oddly, while he treated me politely, I didn’t get the impression he saw me as, you know, a woman. When you sit next to a boy in class, on a bus or in a cafeteria, they notice you, politely or maybe less so. Maybe it’s just a quick glance at your legs or boobs when they think you aren’t looking, but they notice. I’d never caught Tony checking me out. At first, I thought he was just too old, but that was silly. Then I thought maybe it was that I was too young, but that didn’t make any sense at all. I was pretty certain he wasn’t gay. But he didn’t ever seem to acknowledge me as a young and pretty woman; that was unusual and, frankly, a bit irritating.

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“So, no, thank you. I don’t want a coffee,” he repeated.

He stopped suddenly enough that I was three paces beyond him before I stopped and had to turn around and go back.

His eyes caught my own, assessing, appraising, penetrating.

Then he blew the socks off me.

“And neither do you, Stephanie.”

His eyes locked onto mine. I hate childish staring contests. but I had no idea how to respond to that challenge. So, ok, yeah, I broke first. I’d always thought of myself as a strong, liberated, independent woman. Growing up the only girl among four children, I learned early how to hold my own. I take not the smallest bit of crap from anyone. Really. But those flinty grey eyes called my hand and I had to meekly turn over a busted flush. bonus veren siteler Blushing like crazy, I dropped my eyes as he continued.

“But if I’m wrong and it was coffee you really meant, Stephanie, then I apologize. I’ll buy you a Starbucks at the Community Centre and we can work on your lab report.”

A long finger rose, moved to under my chin, lifted gently it so my face was upturned, so I couldn’t ignore him. His eyes were riveting, inescapable. I felt like a grounded sparrow watching an approaching cat – too frightened to try to escape, knowing that each moment made escaping that much less likely.

The cat pounced.

“Or,” he continued, “if you wish, we can do something less predictable, less adolescent. I’ll go to Starbucks, buy myself a coffee and wait there while you go up to your room and pack a bag.

“A small bag,” he added.

“You’ve got 15 minutes to do that and get back here. I’ll have you back at your residence in time for dinner on Sunday.”

Was he blatantly propositioning me? Had he actually taken my offer of a coffee for…

Damn it! Yeah, fine, whatever. He’d taken it pretty much for what it was, which was certainly more than just a coffee.

I had been intrigued by him. He really was good looking, even for an older guy. He had style, confidence, panache. I found him impressive, a challenge. I wanted to get inside his head, be the girl who could penetrate his veil of standoffish mystery. I’d had some vague idea of getting him to invite me for dinner or something, maybe something more in time. And he’d seen through it in an instant, like I was still in grade school, and punched everything up about three levels without a blink.

I guess I hadn’t been very subtle.

Tony examined me for a moment and went hard-ball, full-contact, take-no-prisoners.

“Actually, don’t bother packing a bag. Just bring your flute and put whatever it is you think you simply cannot live without in your purse there.”

I looked down at it. It was a small purse.

He continued, his voice soft but clear, direct and to the point.

“Don’t bother bringing anything else, Stephanie; you won’t need anything else. I’ll watch your books and laptop while you go do that.”

I felt the implications of that resonate all the way down to my toes.

My bruised ego now burned with humiliation and anger. He’d just made it crystal clear that he expected me – on what amounted to a first date, one that I’d more-or-less hinted for — to spend the entire weekend naked. I clenched my teeth. The fuckingnerve of the man! I wouldn’t have taken that from anybody else; I’d have had my fingers around the pulsing heart of other boy treating me so.

I wasn’t entirely sure why I was taking it from him.

And what did he want with my flute? It was no secret that I was a music student, but it made no sense.

He considered me steadily.

“Or, Stephanie, like I said, we can stay with Plan A. It’ll be simpler. I’ll even buy you a coffee. We’ll find a table in the UCC, work on your report until five and then I’ll see you in the lab on Tuesday.”

He’d left me the choice of viewing myself either as a witless bimbo or else as a prudish child too chicken to follow through on something she herself had instigated.

Leave a girl some room for her pride, won’t you?

Twenty-five years ago, my mother would have slapped his face. I could have just walked away, reported him for harassment. Instead, I tried to hedge.

“I have to work tomorrow,” I said, seizing on that as a less-humiliating third option.

“Where?”

“At the Spoke.” It was the campus pub.

“Call in sick.”

“I can’t.”

“Don’t be coy, Stephanie,” he said. “You certainly can. The question is whether or not you will.

“Call in sick. If you really need the money, I’ll cover it, whatever you normally earn. Or, no hard feelings, let’s just have done with this juvenile fencing and go work on your lab report.”

I just looked at him. “Tony, I’m a good waitress. The tips are good and you don’t…”

“Fine,” he said softly. “Let’s go for that coffee.”

+

My heart was pounding as I raced down the residence hallway. 15 minutes wasn’t much time, not when you considered the crowded tunnels under the road, elevator lineups and such.

Marcy, my roommate, stared at me as I started diving through my makeup case, stuffed my hairbrush into my purse. I tried to include a change of underwear, but panties and bra wouldn’t both fit. Wait, my toothbrush! I was practically ricocheting around the room.

“What are you doing, Steph?”

“I’ll see you Sunday,” I said over my shoulder.

“Where are you going? What’s the rush?”

“I’m going away for the weekend with Tony.”

“Tony?”

“Remember I told you about the mature student in my Biology class? My lab partner? Well, he’s got a place out in the country and he’s invited me out there for the weekend.”

“But you said he was old!” Marcy said.

She suddenly bedava bahis grinned wickedly; her head tilted a little to one side. “Don’t tell me you’ve decided to get a sugar daddy after all?”

I bristled at her suggestion.

Everybody knew about sugar daddies. It was a pretty-well-known thing on campus. A girl on our floor had found one last year and moved out. Jeremy was really old, like in his 70s. Most of the time, he just missed his late wife and wanted to cuddle, have somebody around. Even when he wanted sex, it didn’t last long. “It’s kind of sad,” Katie had said. “He’s more lonely than anything else. But he’s really kind and generous. It’s not much for him to ask.”

I’d always thought there was a name for such compromises.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped at Marcy. “It’s nothing like that. But I do have to run. He’s waiting for me.”

I found I could stuff a spare pair of panties into my purse and still get it to close. “Gotta go. Now.”

“Text me a photo of his driver’s licence, at least?” she called after me as I dashed out the door.

That was, I thought, running back to the UCC, not a bad idea. I looked around inside, my head whipping back and forth, trying to see him. There!

He rose as I came to his table. “16 minutes,” he said, looking at the slim gold watch on his wrist. “Not bad.”

“I spent a minute looking for you here,” I retorted, trying not to pant. “It doesn’t count. Oh, and I want to see your driver’s licence.”

“My licence.” His voice was flat.

I didn’t flinch this time. “Tony, you seem nice and I’ve agreed to go, but I don’t really know you.”

“Insurance?”

“Call it that if you wish.”

He pulled a thin wallet out of an inside pocket of his jacket, extracted his licence, held it out to me with two fingers. I laid it on the table, took a photo with my phone and texted it to Marcy. My phone chirped as I was handing Tony his licence. Her reply was just one emoji, one I’d never seen before, a crazy-happy phallic obscenity. I erased it before Tony could see it.

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He said not a word on the way to the parking lot, but carried my laptop, leaving me with my purse and flute. It wasn’t the jeep today. It was a little grey sports car, a convertible. It was him I’d seen! Courteous as always, he opened the car door for me, held out his hand to help me in. I needed it; once I sat down, my bum felt like it was about six inches off the pavement. My skirt rode up my legs and I had to wiggle to pull it down.

“Thank you,” I said as he climbed in behind the wheel. “This is very nice.”

I knew very little about cars. This one was certainly very comfortable, real leather seats and everything. There was a leaping cat logo on the steering wheel. “What is it?”

“It’s a Jaguar F-series,” he replied. Looking at the clear sky through his window, he chuckled. “Would you like me to put the roof down?”

I’d never ridden in a real convertible. I grinned in spite of myself.

The little car was sporty, I’ll say that. And Tony was a very good driver. I was never even nervous, but he was pushing it, very fast, slipping into openings in traffic I didn’t see until we were already in them. It was quieter than I had thought it would be, but was still too noisy to talk comfortably. The wind blew my hair all over the place, but it was incredibly sexy, something I have to say that every girl should try it at least once. I saw somebody I knew on the sidewalk and thought of waving, but had second thoughts and turned to smile at Tony instead.

He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “How’re you doing?”

“Good! Great!”

I was, too. Mixed indignation and caution were giving way to excitement. How long that would last I didn’t know, but it was enough for now.

He smiled and shifted gears, accelerated.

“Where are we going?” I shouted.

“My farm,” he replied. “Just west of Watford.”

“You’re a farmer?” I asked in surprise. I really knew so little about him.

“My Uncle Leo was a farmer — 45 acres, mainly sugar beets. There are a couple of old oil wells. This whole area was an oil mecca a century ago.”

“And you live with him?” This was the most conversation I’d had with him since we first met.

He was silent a moment, then, “Leo died in a car crash four years ago. A drunk driver t-boned him.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“It was quick, I guess.”

I tried to change the topic.

“What do you plan to do with your degree?”

“Stephanie,” he said, “I’m just keeping my mind busy right now. I already have two degrees.”

“Two?”

He nodded. “The mind’s a muscle – stop exercising it and it gets weak. This is my first sortie into science. If I like it, I may go for a third.”

Still on old Highway 22, he slowed suddenly, signaled, turned south, turned again soon after onto a gravel road. A minute later there were stone gateposts and a laneway winding up a slight hill, behind some trees. A couple of buildings came into view, including deneme bonus a weathered barn and a stone farmhouse.

He slowed down, turned just outside the barn. The big doors were open and I saw the old jeep parked inside. He stopped, backed in slowly, turned off the engine and turned to me with a smile.

“Home. Such as it is.” That was, I think, the first really happy smile I’d seen from him. He seemed more at ease, more relaxed here.

At one time the old barn must have smelled of horses and cattle and hard-earned hay. Now it smelled of cars and dust and memories. The car engine ticked once or twice as it began to cool.

He came around, opened my door, held out his hand. Again, it helped. I had to stretch to extract myself and my skirt rode up again, but his eyes were on something outside, not on my legs. Leaving the top down, he picked up my laptop and invited me to go ahead of him with a wave of his hand.

The house was obviously not new, but, the closer we got to it, the more I could see that it had been extensively renovated.

Under a broad porch, Tony unlocked the door and motioned me inside. He set the laptop down on a deacon’s bench.

The house smelled clean and one worry went away. Given his habitual neatness, I had doubted it would be a dump, but it was nice to have that confirmed.

He led me through the house. The place was very neat, well-decorated, well-furnished. Whoever had renovated had done an excellent job. The handsome old original stone had mainly been left in place, but the ceilings were high and the house now centred on a large combined kitchen and living room. The kitchen appliances were new and clean and there was an island on the kitchen side, its top one huge chopping block. A circle of shiny pots and pans hung from hooks over the island. Two hallways led out of the room, one leading back to the door we’d just entered, the other to some doors, some open, some not.

One outside stone wall was missing. In its place, floor-to-ceiling windows let in a flood of happy light. Outside, past a wooden patio or deck, there was an in-ground swimming pool and a gazebo affair, something to sit in and hide from the summer sun. A velvety, sunlit vista of rolling farmland, fences and wood lots stretched out to almost forever.

“It’s beautiful!” I breathed.

“I’m glad you like it.”

There were a lot of photos of firefighters and fire trucks on the walls, including photos of a younger Tony in uniform, alone or with other men. One large plaque affair over a stone fireplace featured a shiny chromed nozzle for a very large hose.

“You were a firefighter?” Looking back, I had no idea what a firefighter looked like, and am surprised now that I should have been surprised.

“Long ago and far away. A tale for another time, Stephanie.”

A ginger cat appeared from behind a sofa, bumped his leg in greeting. He bent down, petted it. It wound about his ankles, its tail pointing straight up.

“I hope you like cats,” he said. “It’s a deal-breaker. This is Pi; she owns the place.”

“I like cats,” I replied. I crouched down, put my hand out. Pi sniffed my fingers delicately, oozed under my palm. I looked at Tony. “But I’m still not sure what the deal is.”

He stood up. “The deal, Stephanie, is that you do whatever pleases me until such time as either you or I decide it’s time for you to go home.” His voice was soft, but there wasn’t much mercy in it. “You came here knowing that, didn’t you?”

“Not in so many words, no.”

“What did you think, then?”

I ducked. “What is it that would please you right now?” I asked. Cut to the chase.

“Do you cook?”

Had he brought me all this way just to make him dinner?

“I can. Some. Is that what would please you?”

“Are you a good cook?”

“Define ‘good’.”

“I’ll cook. Is there anything you can’t eat?”

“No” then, “What should I do?”

“Come with me.”

I followed him down the other hallway. A couple of open doorways revealed two bedrooms and a major bathroom. The latter was clearly new; the tub looked big enough to do lengths in.

He stopped in front of a door, opened it. The closet behind it was pretty much empty, just two garment bags full of something bulky and a few sturdy wooden hangers. The gentleness I’d sensed in him earlier had vanished; the old Tony was back.

“Put your clothes in here. When you’ve done that, come back to the kitchen.”

I stared at him. Yes, his ‘invitation’ had made it absolutely clear what he had expected when we got here. And, yes, it was equally clear that I knew what that was and that I’d agreed to it in advance, just by coming. But wasn’t the man going to even pretend?

“I’ll be in the kitchen,” he repeated. “Bring your flute.”

I supposed my expression must have clued him in.

“Or,” he said, “we can just call you a cab and send you home. It’s your call.” With that, he turned and walked down the hall towards the light, leaving me standing there. He paused, turned back to look at me. “No pun intended.”

This had escalated somehow into something wildly beyond my experience. The boys I knew didn’t behave like this. A casual coffee, then maybe dinner or a movie, then… Step by step, everyone understood that.

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