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Messaggio  simona80 il Gio 03 Mar 2011, 22:57

Chapter Three
Professor Masen had taken a wrong turn. His life, perhaps, could be described as a series of wrong turns but this one was entirely accidental. He‘d been reading an angry email from Emmett on his I phone, while he was driving his Volvo in the middle of rush hour in downtown Toronto in a thunderstorm, and had turned left rather than right onto Bloor Street from Queen‘s Park. This meant that he was headed in the absolute opposite direction of his apartment building.
There was no possibility of a U-turn on Bloor and there was so much traffic he had a difficult time pulling over so that he could make a right turn and turn around. This is how he came upon a very wet and pathetic looking Miss Swan, walking dejectedly down the street as if she was a homeless person, and how in a fit of guilt, he came to invite her into his car, which was his pride and joy.
―I‘m sorry I‘m ruining your leather upholstery,‖ she offered hesitantly.
Professor Masen‘s fingers tightened on the steering wheel. ―I have someone who cleans it when it‘s soiled.‖
Bella bowed her head, for his response had hurt. He had compared her to dirt, but of course, that‘s what he thought she was now. Dirt beneath his feet.
―Where do you live?‖ he asked, hoping to engage her in polite and safe conversation for the duration of their hopefully short time together.
―On Madison. It‘s just up there on the right.‖ She smiled briefly and pointed some distance in front of them.
―I know where Madison is,‖ he snapped.
Eyeing him cautiously out of the corner of her eye, Bella cringed towards the passenger window. She slowly turned her head to look away and drew her lower lip roughly between her teeth.
Professor Masen cursed under his breath. Even beneath the plait of wet, dark hair she was pretty; a brown eyed angel in jeans and sneakers. His mind halted at the inward sound of his description. The term brown eyed angel seemed oddly familiar, but since he couldn‘t think of the source for that reference he put the thought aside.
She was afraid. Her fingers twisted nervously on the zipper of her tattered bookbag, the same one he had pronounced as an abomination when he humiliated her in his office.
―What number?‖ He softened his voice. Bella could barely hear him.
He nodded and shortly pulled the car in front of the large, three story red brick house that was 45 Madison Avenue.
―Thank you,‖ she murmured, and then in a flash, she dove for the door handle to make her escape.
―Wait,‖ he commanded, reaching into the backseat to retrieve a large, black umbrella.
Bella waited and was stunned to see the Professor walk around the car to open the door for her, wait with an open umbrella while she and her abomination exited the Volvo, and march her up the sidewalk and then up the front steps of her building.
―Thank you,‖ she said again, as she pulled on her bookbag zipper, trying to open it so she could find her keys.
The Professor tried to hide his distaste at the sight of the abomination, but said nothing. He watched as she struggled with the zipper, and then watched her face as she grew very red and upset over the fact that the zipper wouldn‘t open. He remembered the look on her face as she knelt on his Persian rug and it occurred to him that this current trouble was also his fault.
Without saying a word, he grabbed the book bag out of her hands and shoved the now closed umbrella at her. He ripped open the zipper and then held the bag out, inviting her to stick her hand inside to retrieve her keys. Bella did so.
But she was nervous, so she dropped her keys. And then when she picked them up her hands were shaking so badly she had troubling locating the correct key on her key ring.
The Professor took the key ring from her hand and began trying keys in the lock. When he‘d successfully opened the door, he allowed her to enter before he withdrew the key from the lock and handed it to her.
She took the offending bookbag from him and murmured her thanks.
―I‘ll walk you to your door,‖ he announced, following her through the hallway.
Bella silently prayed to the gods of studio apartments, begging them to help her locate her apartment key swiftly. They answered her prayer.
As she was about to slip behind the door and close it firmly but not unkindly in his face, she stopped. And then as if she‘d known him for years, she smiled up into his eyes and politely asked if he would like a cup of tea.
He was extremely surprised, but without hesitation Professor Masen found himself standing in her apartment before he had the opportunity to consider whether it was really a good idea.
As he looked around the small and squalid space he quickly concluded that it wasn‘t.
―May I take your coat, Professor?‖ Bella‘s cheerful little voice distracted him.
―Where would you put it?‖ He sniffed, noticing primly that she did not seem to have a closet or a hall tree near the door.
Bella‘s eyes hit the floor and she ducked her head.
The Professor watched her chew her lip nervously and instantly regretted his rudeness. ―Forgive me,‖ he said quietly, handing her his Burberry trenchcoat, of which he was inordinately proud. ―And thank you.‖
Bella hung his coat up carefully on a hook that was attached to the back of her door and then hastily placed her knapsack on the hardwood. ―Come in and be comfortable. I‘ll make tea.‖
Professor Masen walked to one of only two chairs in the apartment and sat down, trying for her sake to hide his distaste. The apartment was smaller than his guest bathroom and included a small bed, which was pushed up against a wall, a card table and two chairs, a small Ikea bookshelf and a chest of drawers. There was a small closet and an adjoining bathroom, but no kitchen.
His eyes roamed around the room looking for evidence of any kind of culinary activity and finally settled on a microwave and a hot plate that were perched somewhat precariously on top of the dresser. A small fridge sat on the floor nearby.
―I have an electric kettle,‖ Bella said brightly, as if she was announcing the fact that she had a diamond from Tiffany‘s.
He noticed the water that was continuing to stream off her, and then he began to notice the clothes that were under the water, and then he began to notice what was under her clothes, because it was cold . . . and he hastily and somewhat huskily suggested that she forego making tea in order to dry herself.
Once again her head went down and she flushed, before ducking into the bathroom and grabbing a towel. She emerged a few seconds later with a purple towel wrapped around her upper body over her wet clothes and a second towel in her hand. She moved as if she was going to crawl across the floor to clean up the trail of water she had dripped from the door to the centre of the room, but the Professor stood up and stopped her.
―Allow me,‖ he said softly. ―You should put on some dry clothes before you catch pneumonia.‖
―And die,‖ Bella added, more to herself than to him, as she disappeared into her closet, trying not to trip over two large suitcases.
He wondered briefly why she hadn‘t unpacked yet but dismissed the question as unimportant.
He frowned as he cleaned the water from the worn and scratched hardwood. When he had finished, he looked at the walls and noticed that they had probably been white once, but were now a dingy cream colour and were blistered and peeling. He inspected the ceiling and found several large brown water stains and what he thought might be the beginning of mould in one of the corners. He shuddered, wondering why on earth a nice girl like Miss Swan would live in such a terrible place.
Although he had to admit that the apartment was very clean and quite tidy. Unusually so.
―How much is your rent?‖ he asked, wincing slightly as he accordioned his six foot two frame in order to perch once again on the vile thing that masqueraded as a folding chair.
―Eight hundred a month, utilities included,‖ she called to him, just before she entered the bathroom.
Professor Masen thought with some regret of the Armani trousers he had disposed of after the flight back from Seattle. He couldn‘t bear the notion of wearing something that had been previously soaked in urine, even if it had been cleaned, so he‘d just thrown them out. But the money Tanya had spent on those trousers would have paid Miss Swan‘s rent for an entire month. And then some.
Looking around the small studio, it was both painfully and pathetically clear that she had tried to make it into a home, such as it was.
A large print of Henry Holiday‘s painting, ―Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita,‖ hung to the side of her bed. The Professor imagined her reclining on her pillow, her long, shiny curls cascading around her face, and gazing over at the painting before she fell asleep. And then he dutifully put that thought aside and reflected on how strange it was that they both owned that painting. He peered at it and noticed with surprise that Bella bore a remarkable resemblance to Beatrice; a resemblance that had previously gone unnoticed. The thought twisted in his mind like a splinter, but he refused to dwell on it.
He noticed other, smaller pictures of various Italian scenes on the peeling walls of the apartment; a drawing of the Duomo in Florence, a sketch of St. Mark‘s in Venice, a black and white photograph of the dome of St. Peter‘s in Rome.
A row of potted herbs graced the window sill, along with a single cutting from a philodendron that she was apparently trying to nurse into a full grown plant. The curtains were pretty – a sheer lilac that matched the lilac bedspread and its cushions. And her bookshelf boasted many fine volumes in both English and Italian. The Professor scanned the titles quickly and was but mildly impressed with her amateurish collection.
But in short, the studio was old, tiny, in poor repair and kitchenless and Professor Masen would not have permitted his dog to live in a place like this, if he had had one.
Bella reappeared then in what looked like an exercise uniform; a black hoodie and yoga pants. She had knotted and twisted her lovely hair and fastened it near the top of her head with a clip of some sort. Even in such casual garb, she was very attractive.
―I have English Breakfast or Lady Grey,‖ she said softly, descending to her hands and knees in order to snake the plug from the electric kettle back to the outlet that was underneath the dresser.
The Professor regarded her on hands and knees as she had been in his office and silently shook his head. She was without arrogance or selfish pride, which he knew was a good thing, but nevertheless it pained him to see her constantly on her knees. Although he couldn‘t exactly explain why.
―English Breakfast. Why do you live here?‖
Bella stood up quickly in response to the sharpness in his tone. She kept her back to him as she located a large, brown teapot and two surprisingly beautiful china teacups with matching saucers.
―It‘s on a quiet street in a nice neighbourhood. The neighbours are good and the area is safe. I don‘t have a car and I needed to be to walk to school at all hours.‖ She paused as she placed a small silver teaspoon on each of the saucers. ―My truck broke down on the drive here. I didn‘t have the money for the repairs and I couldn‘t replace it so I had to take Greyhound the rest of the way. This was one of the nicer apartments I looked at in my price range.‖
She placed the elegant tea cups on the card table without looking at him and then returned to her kitchen area.
―Why didn‘t you move into the graduate student residence on Charles Street?‖
Bella dropped something. The Professor couldn‘t see what it was.
―I was too late. I was expecting to go to a different university but it didn‘t work out. By the time I decided to come here, the residence was full.‖
―And where were you going to go?‖
Bella began to worry her lower lip between her teeth, back and forth.
―Miss Swan?‖
Professor Masen just about fell off his very uncomfortable chair. ―Harvard? Then what the hell are you doing here?‖
Bella smothered a secret smile as if she knew the reason behind his anger. ―Toronto is the Harvard of the north.‖
―Don‘t be coy, Miss Swan. I asked you a question.‖
Bella sighed. ―Yes, Professor. And I know that you always expect an answer to your questions.‖ She quirked an eyebrow at him and he looked away. ―My father couldn‘t afford the contribution he was expected to make to my education, so the fellowship they offered me was not enough, and the living expenses were much more in Cambridge than in Toronto because of the exchange rate. That‘s why I‘m here.‖
She returned to her hands and knees to unplug the now boiling kettle as the Professor shook his head in shock.
―It wasn‘t in the file Mrs. Cope gave me,‖ he protested quietly. ―You should have told me.‖
Bella ignored him and began to measure loose tea into the teapot.
―This is a terrible place to live; there isn‘t even a proper kitchen. What do you eat here?‖
Bella set the teapot and a small, silver tea strainer on the card table and that sat down on the other folding chair. She began to wring her hands nervously.
―I eat lots of vegetables. I can cook small things on the hot plate. I can make soup and couscous. Couscous is very nutritious.‖ Her voice shook a little, but she tried to sound cheerful.
―You can‘t live on that kind of rubbish; a dog is better fed!‖
Bella ducked her head and blushed deeply, suddenly blinking back tears.
The Professor looked at her for a moment or two and then finally saw her.
As he regarded the tortured expression that marred her lovely features, he slowly began to realize that he, Professor Edward A. Masen, was a self-absorbed bastard.
He had shamed her for being poor. But there was no shame in being poor; he had been poor once, too, very poor. She was a smart, attractive woman who was also a student. There was no shame in that. But he had come into her little home that she had tried to make comfortable because she had no other place to go, and he had said it wasn‘t fit for a dog. He had made her feel worthless and stupid, when she was neither. What would Esme say to him if she could hear him now?
Edward Masen was an ass. But at least now he knew it.
―Forgive me,‖ he began haltingly. ―I don‘t know what‘s gotten into me.‖ He closed his eyes and began to rub them.
―You‘ve just lost your mother.‖ Bella‘s gentle voice was startlingly forgiving.
And then a switch inside him flipped.
―I shouldn‘t be here.‖ He stood up brusquely. ―I need to go.‖
Bella stood up and escorted him to the front door. She picked up his umbrella and handed him his trenchcoat and then she stood with downcast eyes and rosy cheeks and waited for him to leave. She felt regret for having shown him her home, since it was clearly so far beneath him. Whereas a few hours earlier, she had taken pride in her small but clean hobbit hole, now she was mortified. She had been humiliated in front of him, of all people, again.
He nodded at her or something and muttered under his breath and then exited her apartment.
Bella leaned her back against the closed door and finally allowed herself to weep.
Knock. Knock.
Please gods of over-priced not fit for a dog hobbit holes, just let him leave me in peace.
Bella‘s silent and spontaneous prayer went unanswered.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
She quickly wiped her face and opened the door, but only a crack.
He blinked at her like a Christmas tree, somehow having a difficult time registering the fact that she had clearly been crying in between his departure and his return.
She cleared her throat and looked down at his Italian made wing tipped shoes.
―When was the last time you had a steak?‖
Bella laughed and shook her head.
―Well, you‘re going to have one tonight. I‘m starving and you‘re joining me for dinner.‖
She allowed herself the luxury of a small but wicked smile. ―Are you sure, Professor? I thought this –― she mimicked his gestures from earlier ―- is not going to work.‖
He reddened slightly. ―Never mind about that now. Except . . .‖ His eyes wandered to her clothes, resting perhaps a little too long on the curves of her lovely breasts.
Bella blushed under his appraisal. ―I could change.‖
―That would be best. See that you dress appropriately.‖
She looked up at him through her eyelashes with a very hurt expression. ―I may be poor, but I have a few nice things, you know. None of them are immodest, if you‘re worried I might embarrass you by looking cheap.‖
The Professor reddened again as he kicked himself inwardly. ―I just meant – appropriate for a restaurant where I will have to wear a jacket and a tie.‖ He hazarded a small smile as a means of apology.
Bella‘s eyes traveled over his button down and sweater, perhaps lingering a little too long on the planes of his lovely pectorals.
―I‘ll agree on one condition.‖
―You‘re really not in a position to argue.‘
―Then good bye, Professor.‖
―Wait.‖ He stuck his expensive Italian shoe in between the door and the doorjamb, wedging it open. And he didn‘t even worry about the scuffs that would result. ―Let‘s hear it.‖
Bella cocked her head to one side and regarded him mutely before she spoke. ―Tell me why, after everything you said to me in your office, I should join you for dinner.‖
He looked at her blankly. And then he blushed to the roots of his copper coloured hair and began to stammer. ―I – um, - that is, I think. . you could say that we . . .or you . . .‖
Bella quirked an eyebrow and slowly began to close the door on his foot.
―Wait.‖ His hand shot out to hold the door and to provide some relief for his now injured right foot. ―Because what Peter wrote was correct. Masen is an ass. But at least now he knows it.‖
She smiled up at him and he found himself smiling down at her crookedly. She really was very pretty when she smiled. He would have to see to it that she smiled more often, purely for aesthetic reasons.
―I‘ll wait for you here.‖ Not wishing to give her a chance to demur, he reached out and pulled her apartment door closed.
On the other side of the door, Bella closed her eyes and groaned.


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Data d'iscrizione : 01.01.11
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