Luxiette Springer doesn’t know what to think of the fellow. Her friends constantly assure her that if he was not interested, he would make it obvious, and he would not keep coming back. She was not so certain, but she has become accustomed to his moods and his ravings. He is, without a doubt, the most preening, self-absorbed, vainest man she has ever encountered, and unfortunately, she shares with him a love for hearing his voice. His mind is so unlike anything she has ever encountered, and the smooth, self-aware manner of speech… But of course, that’s not it.

He stares at her over the table, elbow resting on the table, chin resting on palm. No, not stares. Scrutinises.  As usual, he looks too beautiful to be human. An angel, maybe, or perhaps an incubus would be more fitting. His gaze is uncomfortably heavy, and he rarely makes an effort to disguise it. If he did, she would never know he did it.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I can’t decide whether you are irresistibly fascinating or excruciatingly boring.” He says lazily, stirring his tea in idyllic circles.

“Does that line get you very far with other women?” For a moment, he looks surprised at her gall to say that to him, but she knows that he is not infallible. That is the mistake everyone else makes. He may look and sound and act anything but human, yet she knows that his composition is ordinary.

“I’ve never had need to say it to anyone. So which are you? Are you interesting or dull?”

“If you are the genius here, should you not be able to tell me?”

He settles back with an oddly content expression on his face. He does that when she has said the right thing. Of course, he is too proud to admit anything. “Aren’t you going to drink your tea?”

“No. Would you like dessert?”

“Not if I am to eat it while you watch me like a vulture.”

“A vulture? I am insulted. Surely I deserve a slightly more attractive comparison if I am to be a carrion-consumer. I’ll help you out. What would you like?”

“Order something and I’ll tell you later whether I like it or not.”

His eyes flash at the prospect of a challenge. She knows he cannot decline. When the waiter comes, he orders something exotic. It arrives quickly, and she takes a bite.

“Tiramisu,” she says finally. “Or shortcake.”

“This is too rich for you, then.” He eats, too, though he does not like the heavy taste. Finally he sighs. He doesn’t understand her. This is why he keeps coming back. “I don’t like it a lot either,” he says. “And I am quite fond of tiramisu. We shall have to make note of that for next time.”

Next time, he says. Of course, he has already memorised that fact and stored it away for that ‘next time’, meaning that he intends on doing this again. They will sit across from each other, and he will watch and weigh her every movement. She will stay quiet, and he will extract little pieces of information; but only what she permits him. It isn’t that she is flighty. It is simply that she is a private person, and while he respects that, he wants to know more. It is a rare thing for him to encounter something he does not understand. Once he has her figured out, he will lose interest, and continue on his way.

Something that he will never admit aloud, and barely admits to himself, is that he isn’t quite certain he will ever figure her out. “Next time, then,” she says demurely, taking another bite of the dessert he ordered, something with tones and accents and silent consonants that she didn’t catch. He chuckles. It’s a very pleasant sound, one she doesn’t hear from him often. Not very many people hear that, she figures. When he laughs, it’s usually a deep amusement in the simplicity of human methods. He takes joy out of that, the way a philosopher would take joy in watching ants go about mundane tasks. The way someone would crush one of those ants and watch it struggle, and reflect on how much more powerful they are than those little beings scurrying around them.

“You do not have to eat it if it is not to your liking.”

“It is nice enough, and you ordered it with the intent of sharing, so I shall do my part.”

Shasta laughs. “You are strange.”

“Is that a compliment?” There was nothing scathing about his tone; merely intrigued.

“Only if you accept.”

“Then I accept.” She gives a small smile. It teases him, that smile. It is prim and has every ounce of the serenity of a proper woman and not a pinch more. Throughout everything that he does, she never shows the same reactions that most people do; a delighted laugh, an adoring gaze full of awe, or a glare of jealousy (or irritation). She always gives him the bare minimal, and sometimes nothing at all. He is unused to the lack of attention. Call him what you will for it, but he is jealous. He thrives on adoration.

“Well then, my lady, what do you fancy doing at our next meeting? Don’t say that since I’m the genius, I should know… It becomes boring to make all the decisions for the both of us.”

“And taxing on your pocketbook.”

Shasta waves a hand dismissively. “That is of no concern. A small price to pay,” he gives his most charming smile.

“One that adds up over time.”

“You would deprive me the honour of spending money on a beautiful young lady?”

“My disapproval would hardly deprive you of such a thing.”

Her and her words! They baffle him often, for he knows not what to make of them. She speaks with the utmost tranquility, not an emotion betrayed, and this makes it difficult to know her meaning. Does she wish to stop seeing him in such a setting? Does she believe he does this with others? Fine. He will stoop to giving questions rather than answers. It is not something he is used to; he is always the one with the answers, but with her, he is forced to ask the questions and conceive the answers. Most often, he is wrong. He does not like being wrong.

“What do you mean, Miss Springer?”

“Ah. You finally admit to not knowing something.”

“A fair and accurate assumption, but an assumption nonetheless.” Word games, all of it. And with a student, as well. A clever one, but he has argued with university professors and modern philosophers, men who sit around and conjure problems but come up with answers that will only work in theory. She is so much more practical than that. This is not designed for some high and lofty purpose, no. There is a pause as she weighs his words. “May I have permission to go on a date with you? A simple thing, in the park between our schools. You bring your favourite book and I shall bring mine. A picnic, if you like, though I ask that you bring refreshment.”

Finally. The corners of her eyes crinkle slightly and the corners of her lips turn up. He knows how to read expressions. She is pleased. He has passed some sort of test. And here, he thought he was the one testing her.

“I shall think on it.”

“Oh, no, my dear,” he purrs. “I am not the sort to wait by the telephone anxiously for a young lady to stop torturing me and deliver an answer. A simple yes or no will suffice.”

“Yes.”

* * *

When they finish their tea and dessert and he pays (he always tips the staff handsomely; she can’t tell if it’s to show off, or if he’s really a philanthropist in the guise of a worldly teenager), they exit the café. It has begun to rain, so he takes out his umbrella and holds it over both of them. As he walks her back to the school dormitories, he discusses the impracticality of some practices in the chivalry of past eras.

“Why,” he poses to no one in particular. Again, he speaks for the sound of his own voice. “Was a man expected to lay his coat on a puddle for a young woman? All he acquires for his efforts is a soggy coat when otherwise he could have done something practical, like escort her around the puddle.” As if to reply, she stomps through one particular puddle. It splashes his trousers, but he merely looks amused. “Good answer.” She has stepped out from the cover of the umbrella. Shasta closes the umbrella and kicks some of the rainwater at her playfully. Luxiette whirls on him, and she has the brightest smile on her face. It’s beautiful, he notes. Eventually, they find that they are skipping through the wet streets as the rain pours down on them, and when they arrive back at her school, they are thoroughly soaked to the bone.

He kisses her cheek and she bobs a little curtsey. “It has been a pleasure, my lady,” he says. “And I look forward to our date later this week.”

Shasta strangely does not feel disappointed now that he has seen this side of her. She is no less an enigma than she was before: this was only a quick glance. It seems this is the way it will remain between them. He will only see what she wants him to. Maybe he is alright with that. After the proper good-nights are given, he walks back to his own dorm, swinging the umbrella and whistling a jazz tune he picked up somewhere.

Aidan stares at him when he walks through the door, in a much better mood than he has been seen in for a while. “Have you been out on a date?”

Shasta keeps whistling as he dries his hair with a towel and begins to peel the wet clothes off. Aidan doesn’t appear to be getting an answer so he sighs and finishes up with his homework.

“I’m going to go take a shower, love,” the blond says pleasantly. He leaves without any further explanation and comes back with even fewer words. Aidan watches his older brother for a few moments; he has a little smile on his face and there is a spring in his step.

“Are you sure you weren’t out on a really good date?”

“Going to sleep. You are the most precious little brother in the world.”

“Who are you and what have you done with my brother? You must be deathly ill.”

The next morning, he does begin to come down with the symptoms of a common cold. In an all-girls school, a Miss Luxiette Springer acquires similar symptoms. Neither mind so much.

 
 
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