The tunnel branched out into two in front of Fred. Zafeera and Electra stood at each opening. A clean breeze wafted from Zafeera’s while Electra’s smelled of earth and plants. They smiled at him and started walking into their respective tunnels. His name on their lips, they stretched an arm out to him, beckoning for Fred to follow one of them. He closed his eyes and willed himself awake. Reopening his eyes, the paths had merged into one. Zafeera and Electra were nowhere to be found. He moved forward, his footsteps rang dully against the hard stone floor. His steps became more urgent as he pressed on. Fred had broken into a run until he saw a woman standing with her back to him.
“Electra?” he called.
The woman faced him. She wore sunglasses and a carefree smile.
“Pierre,” Cheska said with a hint of annoyance. Then, she continued speaking in rapid French.
His surroundings vanished but her voice carried on speaking until Fred realized he was fully awake. He felt her pace the room and couldn’t help overhearing the rest of her words which he understood very clearly.
“I told you to stop calling me,” she said. “Don’t ma chére me. I returned your ring because it’s over between us. I’ve caught you cheating on me more than I could count. I am not your ange,” she enunciated each word. “If you think I’d take you back by showering me with sweet nothings – don’t you dare come here and – hello? Hello?” Fred cracked an eye open and saw Cheska staring at the phone. “The pig hung up on me.”
Cheska peered out the window as if anticipating a certain someone’s arrival. She glanced at him fleetingly and doubled back at seeing him awake.
“Good morning.” She smiled at Fred.
“Good morning,” he replied hoarsely, sitting up.
“Cheska,” a voice called from outside.
“Merde!” Cheska’s eyes widened. “He’s here.” She edged away from the window.
“Pierre? What are you doing here?” Tony’s voice reached them.
“Where is she?” Pierre demanded.
“In the studio. Did she know you were coming?”
“Out of the way, Tony.”
“Answer me first.” Tony blocked the doorway.
“It’s five in the bloody morning. Keep it down will you?” Louis grumbled from the sofa. He turned on his side and saw the newcomer. “Who’re you?”
Pierre shoved his way in and headed for the studio.
With a sinking feeling, Cheska heard the door of her studio open. The man called her name again. He’s coming. What am I going to do? Her eyes darted to the door, then to Fred. An idea came to her. She sat beside him refusing to think beyond what needed to be done.
“Cheska?” Fred said warily. Her mouth was set in a thin determined line though a hint of embarrassment showed through the pink tint staining her cheeks.
“How are you feeling?” Cheska asked, cupping his cheek. She kept her eyes lowered, refusing to meet Fred’s questioning gaze.
Bemused by her behavior, he started to say, “Better, I—”
Without warning, she leaned forward and kissed him. Fred stiffened as her mouth moved against his. He pulled away only to realize that it was futile. His back touched the headboard. Cheska’s hand trembled as it moved to his jaw and neck. He suspected what her reasons were and tried not to take advantage of the situation. Fred stamped on the desire which coiled inside him. But her lips were soft against his. His control slipped when her teeth grazed his lower lip. Gently, he kissed her back. She was intoxicatingly sweet. His hand cradled the back of her neck while the other went to her waist, pulling her to him. The kiss deepened. Her arms went around his neck and her fingers tangled in his hair. Fred reluctantly pulled away. Their foreheads touched as they both caught their breath. He saw the rapid beat of Cheska’s pulse at her throat and knew she was affected as he was.
They gazed at each other as if seeing one another for the first time.
Someone cleared his throat by the doorway.
Both looked away to the source and found three people standing at the threshold. Each wore a different expression: shock, embarrassment, and jealousy. Louis was quick to recover and began to laugh. Midway, he pretended to cough when Tony glowered at him.
“Fred, may I introduce you to Pierre. My ex,” Cheska said breathlessly. She nodded at the direction of the man in the forefront.
Fred looked at the man. Brown eyes, jet black hair, square jaw, and a mole in his brow. Pierre wore designer clothes and shoes. He exuded wealth, charisma, and excitement. And Fred knew him.
“Cheska, you’re being cruel,” Pierre said. “I’m your fiancé.”
“Oh, sorry. I forgot to mention ex-fiancé,” Cheska said sarcastically.
“We’re not finished until I say it’s over.” Pierre smiled pleasantly to Fred and said, “If you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with her privately.”
He doesn’t recognize me. Fred schooled a neutral expression. Isn’t he…? He sought for clues to confirm his doubts.
“Whatever it is, you can say them here.” Cheska folded her arms.
“What I have to say doesn’t concern him.” Pierre waved his arm, unaware that Fred’s gaze dropped to his left hand.
“It does,” Fred interjected.
“Spare me the act. She kissed you to make me jealous.”
“Are you sure about that?” He lifted an eyebrow. “Should we prove it again?” Fred pulled Cheska closer that she ended up leaning against his chest.
The statement earned him a blush from Cheska, who was acutely self-conscious at the intimacy they demonstrated. All thoughts scattered to the wind when she suddenly realized something amiss. She was practically sitting on his lap with an arm looped around her.
“I don’t care. We’re engaged,” Pierre insisted.
Arrogant as ever. Fred chuckled to Pierre’s annoyance and Cheska’s puzzlement. “Engaged?” Abruptly, his face was devoid of emotion. “You’re already married.” Thunder rumbled overhead. Fear slithered down Cheska’s spine at the sound of it. She sneaked a glance at the man pretending to be her lover.
Pierre involuntarily stepped back and glanced outside.
“That’s not true,” he said no longer smiling.
“Your finger has a band of white skin where a wedding ring should be,” Fred added.
“He’s bluffing,” Pierre said to Cheska.
“That’s easy to find out,” Louis spoke, simultaneously grabbing the man’s left arm to examine the hand. “Fred’s telling the truth.”
Excitement lit his eyes. He wanted to vent his rage on something or someone. Louis gave Pierre a once over. He disliked anyone who deceives his sister, especially this pretty boy.
Tony watched Louis roll his shoulders in anticipation for a fight. What Pierre did was unforgivable but it was neither the time nor place to dole out punishment. Tony braced himself to stop Louis.
Pierre felt the antagonism radiating behind him and looked at the two men. He gulped at what he saw. In a rush, he said: “I was going to leave her for you.”
“You’re married,” Cheska said softly. She shook her head. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I was planning to tell you.”
“You better go now while she’s asking,” Tony said. He clapped Pierre on the shoulder and steered him out of the house. Louis trailed behind. He wouldn’t pass up the chance to take a swing at the ex-fiancé. One wrong move and Pierre would get what he deserved.
Cheska put some distance between her and Fred as soon as the three men left the room. Emotions wreaked havoc within her. She didn’t know where to begin. Sorry for kissing you? Thank you for playing along with her plan? Sorry he had to witness her humiliation?
“I’m glad you’re free of him,” Fred broke the ice. “I hope he won’t come back.”
“He won’t bother me again,” Cheska assured him. “Listen, I don’t” – she wrung her hands – “I’m not the kind of girl who usually” – color rose to her cheeks – “I don’t kiss strangers as a rule.”
“I wanted to help,” Fred admitted. The sight of her expression begged to be teased, so he said, “I must say the experience was enjoyable.”
Cheska’s face turned a darker shade of red.
“I hope you enjoyed it, too.” In a more serious note, he continued, “Anyway, don’t you think we’re past being strangers after everything that has happened? Consider our little act as my way of showing gratitude for yesterday.” He smiled wryly at her.
“Um. About that. Do you remember it now?”
“A little.” The teasing in his voice disappeared. “I remember seeing red after…” He looked her straight in the eye. She looks so like her in the outside, yet extremely different inside. “Afterwards, something hit me. That’s about it.” Fred shrugged. “I don’t… I haven’t lost my temper since I was twelve.”
Another story. Cheska sensed it in the sadness in his voice.
Taking courage in his honesty and sincerity, she said: “Tony hit you with a frying pan, an iron one and very heavy. You were so mad and there was the weather.” She walked to and fro. “It freaked us out. So, he,” Cheska breathed, “hit you.” She whirled on him. “Please don’t fire him.”
Fred massaged his temple.
“Are you alright?” Cheska moved forward and stopped a few feet from him.
“I’m fine,” he quickly reassured her, lowering his hand. Fred didn’t wish to alarm her though he rather wished she would keep still. Her perpetual motion was making him dizzy. “I’m not going to give him the sack. It’s likelier that he might not want to work for me after yesterday.”
“Oh.” Cheska’s brows shot up. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said under her breath. A slight frown crept in her face as she considered the matter.
Fred was amused at Cheska’s expressive face, especially when she was easily flustered. How could she be Electra? As far as he could tell, she was so normal and happy.
The corners of Cheska mouth lifted upward at the smile Fred wore. His color had returned and the feverish look in his eyes had gone.
“Looks like you’re out of the woods now,” she commented.
“I was going to say something similar when you suddenly kissed me,” Fred said.
Her eyes narrowed. She planted her hands on her hips and said, “You’re not going to let me forget that, are you?”
“I’ll stop now. Sorry.” He pulled a straight face.
“You kissed me back,” Cheska accused.
“It has been a while since I kissed someone.” Fred shrugged. “But I usually initiate it.” On cue, she blushed. “I was caught off guard. I apologize if you felt that I took advantage of you. It won’t happen again,” he ended solemnly.
Cheska opened and closed her mouth at a loss for words. One minute he was teasing, then next… She was saved from answering when Tony barged in on them.
“Louis,” he panted. “He’s been taken.”
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Hmm…something feels off in this chapter… any thoughts?
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