"Talk, huh?" I wasn't sure whether I wanted this conversation, but here we were.
"What do you want to talk about anyway?"
His answer came quickly. "Last Friday."
"You really want to talk about that... now? Here?"
"Yes?" It sounded like a question.
With a sigh, I gave in to the obviously inevitable."Ok. I guess you might have a question or two."
"Thought so," I nodded encouragingly. "Shoot."
My quick compliance seemed to surprise him. "Thanks, um…" he said, at a loss.
Then he fell silent. And frowned. And stared.
Jesus... what's wrong with you, Kiddo?
He wanted to talk, and now he was all just "yes" and "no" and "um"? The gaze of his impossibly green eyes still hadn't left mine for a second, so he clearly was neither shy nor intimidated. He seemed rather unnaturally calm and the earnest expression on his face never changed. It was almost a little eerie.
A horrible thought struck me: He couldn't be... he wasn't slow or something, oh God, was he?
Congrats, Portman - you gave a mentally handicapped kid a handjob!
On the other hand, being sexually attacked by a perfect stranger in a public park wasn't exactly an easy thing to converse about. He probably just needed a little push.
"You can ask anything you want, I'm a grown-up." I assured him, smiling. "But if it's too embarrassing..."
He shook his head.
"No, it's not. I'm just not good at it," he said, waving one elegant, almost feminine hand between us, which distracted me for a moment.
I really hope you play the piano, Kiddo. It would be a terrible waste, if not.
The memory of where this hand had been playing around lately washed over me and immediately went down to my center in a warm wave.
Not helping! Focus!
I briefly shook my head in order to get my mind back on track.
"Not good at what?" I asked.
"Oh - I noticed that much. Go figure."
I was getting a little impatient now and took a deep breath.
"Look, if you want to talk, you have to open up a little, or else the conversation will run dry before it starts. Even if I ask you a yes or no question, it doesn't really get us anywhere if you just answer yes or no. So why don't you... maybe you should try to add a little extra information each time, for a start. You know, like when I ask whether you feel embarrassed, you could say no, and then add just another sentence, like maybe telling me how you're feeling instead."
I was startled by the immediate effect my little speech had on him. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, his angel face substantially closer now. He seemed excited.
"What do you think - wanna give it a try?"
"Yes!" He looked like a child who just found a new toy when he added pointedly,
"I think I can do this. And I need to practice."
And as if listening to his own words, he inclined his head to one side and nodded.
"Not bad!" I commended, absurdly delighted with this quick success. "Ok - now I can link to what you've said and keep the conversation going. Because now I want to know why you need practice, you see?"
He nodded, eyes suddenly beaming. One corner of his mouth curled up to a half-smile which totally caught me off guard and made my heart throb in unison with the spot between my thighs. I crossed my legs and leaned back in my seat in order to establish a minimum safety distance.
"So why is it you need practice - are you afraid to talk to people?"
"Yes," he answered, "always been." He paused. "I'm especially shy with women, I guess."
He was obviously very pleased with this additional confession and his overall talking improvement, because his mouth widened to a full smile and then - God help me! - he chuckled.
I decided to better be safe than sorry and crossed my arms too, literally engraving my spine into the back-rest now. A bit more of this and I would need a good doctor to unravel me.
Morning paper headline: "Human knot found on regional train – medics completely baffled!"
"You're not shy. You came over and introduced yourself without much difficulty. And you have no problem facing me. Shy people usually don't like looking into other people's eyes."
"I know. It's just the talking. But I'm practicing." His smile faded a little. "Besides, I really like to look at you."
My heart skipped a beat.
God, I like to look at you too, Kiddo. You have no idea!
I swallowed. "You do?"
"A lot. You look different from the way you looked when... in the dark, you know."
Yeah. That's why we don't show ourselves in the sunlight.
People would know we're different.
I suppressed the urge to giggle.
"Really? Well... thanks," I replied acidly.
"And friendlier," he added. To not neglect the practicing, I supposed.
I closed my eyes with a brief snorting laugh, thoroughly disenchanted by his innocent reminder of how ridiculous this all was. What was I doing here anyway? Getting wet and wanton while giving rhetoric exercises to a boy of half my age who couldn't speak three sentences in a row.
Wake up, Portman! Time for the friendly old lady to set things straight.
I looked up again to see that my change of mood hadn't gone unnoticed – the frown was back.
"Listen ...um, Edward," It still took me some effort to speak that - his - name. "You are right, I am old. And I really don't have any idea what had possessed me, but I'm sorry for my... for what I did to you last Friday. I do regret this, awfully, and I wish I could undo it, but I can't - so..."
He stared at me in disbelief, brows furrowed ferociously. His lips were slightly parted and his breath had noticeably quickened. I had seen that look before, in the park. Anger? Panic?
"I promise," I hastily continued, "No – I swear! No such thing will ever happen again. I urge you to just forget what has happened if possible. I don't even want to talk about it; I don't want to talk to you at all, to be honest. We should stop this right now and get back to normal."
We shouldn't be friends.
He licked his lips and swallowed, hard. "No."
All of a sudden I felt terribly exhausted. This was getting far too complicated.
We had finally reached the main station; the train was slowing down and the usual turmoil of passengers getting themselves ready to get off started around us. Kiddo kept his gaze, oblivious to anything but me.
I needed to get out of here. Now. Away from this strange boy. I grabbed my bag and stood.
"No!" he repeated, his voice barely above a whisper. "I need to talk to you."
"Edward, I...," The train lurched to a standstill. "Time's up, I'm sorry..."
With one quick move he suddenly stood in front of me, so close that I involuntarily took one step back. His voice came out hoarse and low:
"Listen to me, Annie. I understand you're feeling guilty because you think what you did was wrong. But I don't think so. All I can say is that it was... that I... wouldn't want to undo anything of it."
Three sentences in a row, almost fluently!
"But let's say for argument's sake, you did do something wrong to me and you do regret it. That would mean you owe me something, right? To make up for it?"
I blinked in disbelief. That practicing had all of a sudden worked a little too well for my liking.
I felt the compartment wall at my back, as he leaned in even further and braced himself, palms against the wall, one arm on either side of me. His warm breath on my face made me feel dizzy.
"Right?" he whispered.
I was unable to think of anything else than the heat radiating from his body. I barely noticed the row of people, shoving their way towards the exit behind him. Some of them frowned at us as they passed us by, wondering whether I was being attacked and needed help.
"It would be your expiation, Annie. Just talk. Nothing else. You can't deny me that. You owe me, right?
Whatever his problem was, he was clearly not mentally disabled. His mind was working dangerously well; I did feel guilty. And he had cornered me, on both counts.
"I have to go now," I croaked.
He made no move to set me free, just looked at me, green eyes intense. And with his next words, my walls came crumbling down.
"Annie...," he breathed, "Please."
There was no more defense. I thought my heart would explode any second; my knees were about to give way. How in hell did that happen? Where had my self-confidence gone, my supremacy? When had we swapped places?
I closed my eyes and nodded weakly.
"Is that a yes?" I heard him say. "We'll talk?"
I nodded again. "Yes. Let me go."
He exhaled audibly. "Thank you."
I felt the warmth diminish as he stepped back, an irrational sense of loss coming over me.
The only thing that kept me from begging him to come back was the astounding fact that as soon as there was some distance between us, I felt more like myself again.
"I'll take the 7:15 back tonight," I said, voice steady again. "If you show up, we can talk for one hour, until I get off the train. Take it or leave it."
Not waiting for an answer, I shoved myself past him towards the exit.