Adelie shares a little bit about herself and discovers that her almost-fall earlier had painful consequences.
How they’d left casual conversation and made it to the nitty-gritty of personal preferences was beyond Adelie. His gaze drifted from her to the pond to the bushes and back to her. He rubbed the back of his neck, hunting for words. Then he cleared his throat.
“She needs to be a home.”
The way his jaw ticked told her that he probably got once hurt as much as she did. Interesting. His face brightened again. “Liking my cake is a start, though.”
She shoved him with her shoulder, desperately needing to reach shallower waters. He shoved back. She giggled as she had to steady herself with her hand to not keel over. He caught her around her waist and drew her to the dangerous safety of his body. “Sorry. Rugby player. Don’t know my own strength.”
“Yeah, sure.” She was more out of breath than the giggles should have caused. His hand slipped from her waist to her bottom, and she gave him a warning glance. He put it on the ground but his arm remained behind her, providing a quite comfortable backrest for her. She shouldn’t lean against it. She did it anyway. They munched the cake in companionable silence, only interrupted by pointing out the occasional dragonfly darting over the sunlit pond.
“Your cake is delicious,” she eventually tried to jump-start the conversation again.
“Thank you. It’s left-over from yesterday. It was Bob’s birthday.”
“One of my housemates. The other one’s name is Eddy. It’s Eddy’s house – he’s a mechanic and runs a workshop. Bob’s a professional guitar player and travels a lot. He gets booked for concerts often.”
“A musician, a mechanic and a pilot – what a mix. I live alone, I have rented one of the studio apartments in the Starcity complex. Immaculate, dull.”
Behind their backs, their hands had found each other, and his thumb was stroking hers. Little gestures. His proximity was maddening, she needed to put space between them.
“This is really a beautiful place. I should paint it,” she declared, rummaging in her purse for her travel-sized watercolour kit. It would give her a reason to get up and fill the little water bottle at the banks of the pond. But as she got up, a sharp pain shot through the foot that had gotten caught in the root.
Nate was up and next to her in the blink of an eye. “What’s the matter? Are you hurt?”
She steadied herself with her hand on his chest and tried putting weight on the foot. Again pain flared up. “I don’t know. I can’t walk. Maybe I twisted it earlier on the way down.” She somehow managed to sit again.
He squatted before her. “May I take a look?”
Adelie nodded. Gently he took her foot and twisted it. “Does this hurt?”
He stretched it. “And now?”
Only as he flexed it, she winced. This time, he needn’t ask, it was evident she was in pain. “Guess you overstretched a tendon. It’s not swollen, and it’s not hot… but I can drive you to the doctor if you want.”
“It’s okay, thank you. I don’t think it’s that bad. But you need to fetch me some water now.” She grinned at him, and he grinned back. Before he left, he took off his jacket to prop up her foot. “Even when it’s not swollen, I think putting it up would be a good idea.” He strolled over to the pond and filled the bottle. Then he pulled out a clean white handkerchief out of his back pocket and wetted it before he returned to her. His movements were poetry, his walk a song. She’d never seen anyone moving with such grace, such harmony. It would be a pleasure to just watch him all day. With a shy smile, he kneeled next to her propped-up foot, folded the dripping piece of fabric into a neat rectangle and carefully draped it over her foot.
“Guess a little cooling wouldn’t hurt.”
Their eyes met, and the inexplicable feeling of being in good hands rushed through her. “Thank you.”
He settled down next to her on their makeshift blanket again.
“Have you been painting for a long time?” He asked.
“Yes. Classically trained baroness.” She smiled. “Although it’s the only role-appropriate thing my mother could get me to do besides playing the piano, I much preferred racing cars against my brother. Unlike my sister, who always did what she was supposed to do, I was a tomboy.”
He blinked. “You mean toy cars, right?”
Setting up her sketchbook and the kit, she shook her head. “At first, of course. But as soon as we were tall enough to drive, we switched to real ones.”
“You raced cars?” His mouth stood open, and his eyes were wide. She put her finger on his chin and closed his mouth.
“I’m the youngest of three kids. My sister will inherit the barony, my brother my father’s mines – the only role left to play by me was the one of the renegade. I’m well off, I’ll probably never have to worry about not having enough money… I was a spoilt brat who needed some thrill in her life.”