warning: coarse language and moderate sexual references (nothing major, you know me). i recommend reading this chapter in my blog, not reader, for the best quality. this super long chapter is dedicated to pi and all you hopeless romantics ❤
The Torres penthouse is full of secrets. One of them is a library, a hidden nook I stumbled across just a week ago. Perhaps it is more storage room than library, for there are just mismatched piles of books crowding the floor, gilded leather pressed — like dried flowers — by glossy volumes. It is quiet and peaceful; from the windows, I like watching October dance sleepily through the city, in a sweet dazed lull, picking out golden threads from the sun and weaving them into trees, gathering the season’s last apples and acorns. It is a hideaway to write music, for me to tuck my legs underneath me and hum, carefree, as my pen glides across the paper. Often, I discover myself inking the melody of fall instead; fiery, rustling leaves, maple and oak and chestnut.
I am alone in this library, spending quiet mornings in the embrace of sunlight. Lilith sometimes whisks through to say hi and dust off a recipe book; Luc pops in with coffee and kisses before he presses into the cold. So I am surprised when my boyfriend arrives today with Starbucks, despite being off work. “Morning.” He kisses my cheek, and carefully places a beautiful coffee cup beside my sketchbook. “Good morning. Ooh, thank you!” I perk up when he gives me waffles, coated in silky white chocolate. “You need to let me pay you back,” I say after nibbling at one, “I must owe you about one hundred by now.” Luc settles on the window seat, clasps his hands, and smiles gently. “You don’t owe me anything.” “Okay, Mr. Gentleman, but I have the money here.” I fish the notes out of my pocket, and my boyfriend tips his head. “I’m not going to take it. Don’t even bother trying.” At his calm reply, I huff and reach for the coffee; it is black with caramel syrup and cream, my favourite.
I notice that Luc’s gaze is drifting over the books. “Do you know who all these books belong to?” I ask curiously. “Some of them are Lilith’s, but most of them are mine.” “Really?” I blink up at him. “You sound so surprised.” Luc raises an eyebrow, and my cheeks redden. “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t-” “It’s alright.” He gives me a small smile. “I know I act like a dumbass most of the time.” “No, you don’t. At least not anymore,” I remember, and both of us wince. “God, I was such a dick.” Luc groans. “Yep,” I agree with a laugh. The idea of Luc reading is rather odd, but then I remember something, and I fetch the black case that I discovered last morning. “So, I found these.” I open the little case and show him the glasses. “Are they also yours?” “Um… yeah.” Luc looks down at his hands. When I pop up, unfolding the slim frame, his gaze darts up and he shakes his head. “No.” “I want to see you with them on,” I beg, and he bats halfheartedly at me, leaning away. “No- Cherry, don’t-” He groans when I manage to slide the glasses onto his face. There is embarrassment in that pretty green gaze of his. “I look stupid.” “On the contrary, you look smart.” “That’s not what I meant,” Luc grumbles. “Well, I think you look adorable,” I smile. He ducks his head in reply, pulling off the glasses and cleaning them on his sweater, murmuring something about his eyes getting worse. For all his past arrogance, my boyfriend gets awfully flustered when I compliment him.
Once the glasses are tucked away, Luc pulls me onto the sofa, much to my indignation, and we tussle for a moment before he gathers me in his lap. He bends his head to kiss me gently — it always surprises me, how softly and sweetly he can kiss. No longer forceful and rough-lipped, no hard pressure behind his kisses. “You know, for the longest time, I thought you were the bad boy type,” I suddenly wonder, when he pulls away. “Mm?” Luc cocks an eyebrow, his fingers cheekily sliding under my waistband, and I feel my body warm up at his touch. “Let me continue,” I chide him, blushing furiously. He nods and his hand comes to rest on my hip instead. “I thought you were an asshole who learned to be nice,” I muse, “but now… I think you’re a nice person who is learning to be himself again.” There is a long silence. “Do you really think that?” Luc asks slowly. I poke him in the chest, teasing. “Yep, I think you’re a sweet fluffy marshmallow inside.” I smile up at him, knowing exactly what reaction he will give — a scrunched up nose, the adorable little sign that means he is embarrassed. He is silent after that, and so I snuggle into him, resting my head in the crook of his arm. This easy flow of wild-running conversations and quiet cuddling is a balance we both like. Luc is surprisingly content with just spending time together; he is happy to simply be in my presence. And to think I assumed that all he wanted to do was sleep with me.
My boyfriend has been waiting for me to get comfortable, with gentle hands and patient eyes. He stopped pushing that night he noticed my fear; instead, he spends hours finding the most sensitive, sweet spots on me that he can kiss, leaving tiny bruises for me to discover the next morning; and I explore the muscles in his back and torso, mapping out the scars that cross them, until I know every inch of his skin. And now, I am blissful, knowing I am safe in his arms. “Tonight,” I whisper. Confusion flickers in Luc’s eyes before clicking into understanding. “Are you sure?” He asks softly. I nod and when he kisses me, smoky with passion, I feel him smile against my lips. I am happy to stay in his embrace until I remember something and shoot up, bumping my forehead against Luc’s. “Sorry! What’s the time?” I glance around frantically and he laughs, sliding his phone out of his pocket. “11:35.” “Crap! I’m meeting up with my cousin at 12.” I lean down to kiss my boyfriend, lingering for a moment too brief. “Have fun.” Luc waves me off with that cute, lopsided grin, and when I leave, he is picking up a book.
Henderson Avenue is a quaint cobblestone street, lined with leafy trees and vintage lightbulbs. Jazz music pipes from the bustling cafes, and I pause to listen, enjoying the warm sunlight that dapples the avenue. The restaurant I am meeting my cousin at is modern and lively, and I have to squeeze past chattering shoppers to reach the quieter mezzanine where Ashley is sitting. We greet each other with a delighted embrace — I have not seen my cousin for a while, since she left for the New York Police Department years before I ran away. Ashley looks just as sharp and gorgeous as I remember, her blonde hair light and cropped. It was quite a surprise, when she called me; how she managed to pinpoint our apartment number still puzzles me, but I chalk it down to her following in my mother’s detective footsteps.
I wasn’t particularly close to Ashley in Sunset Valley — nor with anybody else — but time has passed, and our words mingle together with fresh excitement. “I’m here to investigate the serial killings,” Ashley explains, clinking her spoon in her coffee mug. “Your police can’t do their fucking job.” She is right, of course, and I nod along, silently glad that I gave up stealing a while ago. Robberies lost their bittersweet joy once my relationship with Luc fell into a steady rhythm — perhaps because I preferred to stay in with Luc on those chilly nights, or that I ceased to be angry at the world. This passing thought startles me, and I notice that Ashley is giving me a thoughtful look. “You look different to what I remember,” She tells me briskly. “Oh, I have filled out. My best friend is a wonderful cook.” I smile, and Ashley nods slowly. “To be honest, you looked unhealthy back home. Far too skinny. It’s not just that, though.”
“You look happy,” My cousin finally notes. “Yes, I am.” My own reply surprises me, because of the sheer truth. Years ago, cruel high schoolers and a torn family certainly meant I was bitter, cynical, lonely. “I made friends, who accepted me into their family. And I have a boyfriend, as well,” I say softly. Ashley’s expression twists into surprise. “Boy-hater Cherry is dating?” She exclaims. From there, our conversation meanders from me gushing about Luc, to Ashley’s life — she is living in a Manhattan loft with her girlfriend, fellow NYPD detective Roxie Kahale — and back to Sunset Valley. “What are my sisters doing?” I nibble at the cheddar on my bagel. “Cinna’s at uni, Cara’s at home with her baby. A boy named River. He looks like his douchebag father, but he’s a pretty nice baby, as far as kids go.” She wrinkles her nose. Ashley is not a fan of children, but I feel something tug at my heart. A nephew. I want to meet him one day.
“Shouldn’t you go find all this out yourself?” Ashley sips her coffee, with perfect timing. “I’m scared about facing Mom,” I confess reluctantly. “I ruined her dreams for me, Ashley. How do I tell her… that I love my new life, so much more than with her? I sound horrible.” “I’m pretty sure she already knows you do, considering you haven’t gone running back.” The truth stings, and guilt creeps up on me again. “Does Mom know where I am?” “How do I think I called you?” Ashley leans forward. “Cherry, you forget your mother is a police chief. She knows exactly where you are.” This revelation shocks me into silence. Mom tracked down where I live but hasn’t tried to drag me back home. Ashley interjects into my confused quiet. “Cherry, just call her when you feel ready, okay?” The conversation soars into lighter matters again after that, and time flits by before I know it.
“How much free time do you have left?” I ask. “Maybe an hour. Why?” Ashley checks her watch. “Um… can you help me with lingerie shopping?” My words stumble over each other in embarrassment. “First time?” “Mhm.” “Sure. Let’s make his jaw drop to the depths of hell,” Ashley declares, and I laugh. “That is a really interesting way to put it, but yes.” We link arms and head into the lazy afternoon together. There is a boutique just a couple doors down; old fashioned, blooming with sweet-scented flowers and ornate candles, a little posh for my taste. There is what I am looking for, though, all ivory and peach and creamy lace. I cast my gaze over the racks of silk slips and satin, confused. My cousin notices me dithering. “What are you thinking?” “I’m just wondering which one he will like,” I bite my lip, and Ashley crosses her arms. “Fuck that. If he loves you, he won’t care. Choose what you like.”
The time for Luc to finish showering is a long, aching wait. I lean back against the bed, feeling the cold metal press into my shoulder blades, a welcome relief from the fiery nerves dancing across my skin. My thoughts wander, flitting between anxious question and tentative imagination. Will it be painful? How will it feel?
The door opens and I glance up to see Luc walking in, quietly closing the door behind him. He is already shirtless, and I can’t help but admire his physique for the thousandth time, heat flushing in my cheeks, before I shyly meet his eyes. He takes his time, just looking; he doesn’t have to say anything, for his thoughts are inked in the dark arch of his brow, the quirk of his lips, the way his gaze lingers on my bare legs. “Hi,” I squeak, and Luc smiles. “Hey.” His steps to me are easy and relaxed, and my blush kicks up a notch when the lamplight throws his muscles into sharp relief. I am so busy noticing the water still glistening on his skin, and his citrus scent, that I almost don’t catch it — a pause in his step, the slightest furrow of his brow. Subtle, there for just a second. “Is there something wrong?” I venture. “No,” Luc replies, but then he slows down to a stop. “What’s up?” I say gently. “I guess I’m a bit worried,” He admits in a low voice. “About what?” The reply to my surprised question takes a moment of hesitance. “Hurting you,” Luc murmurs. When I tilt my head in confusion, he tucks his hands in his pockets, carefully thinking through his answer.
“I’ve never made love before.” The words are spilled, rushed. “All the times before… it’s always been just sex. So I don’t know how…” He pauses, underlined with quiet shame. “To be gentle?” I guess, and Luc sighs. “Yeah. What if I do something wrong? What if I hurt you? I don’t know. Fuck.” He drags a hand through his hair, messing it up in frustration. In this moment, he’s more nervous than I am — a strange thought to have. “I know you can be gentle with me,” I tell him, and while Luc doesn’t seem entirely reassured, he takes a deep breath and composes himself again. “Cherry… just make sure you’re doing this with the right person.” Luc searches my eyes and I reach out for him, touching his cheek softly when he comes to my side. “You are the right person. I trust you.” He is quiet for a moment, then leans down to kiss me deeply, his palms warm and rough and familiar on my shoulders. The brief flash of nervous instability is gone; his touch is confident again. “You look beautiful,” Luc whispers, and I gaze up at him happily. “And you look…” My voice warbles off, unable to find words good enough for him, but he knows already, with that irresistible smirk playing on his lips. He kisses me again, more intense this time, his hands gliding down my back to unclasp my bra — and I wonder how he has barely touched me, yet has already kindled a wildfire in my blood.
After, I lay on the blanket, breathless and eyes closed, just enjoying the pleasure humming through my body. Luc waits for me to catch my breath, his hand gently running up and down my waist, and when my eyelids flutter open I see him smiling down at me. “Are you feeling okay?” His voice is a little hoarse. “A lot better than okay,” I yawn softly, stretching my arms above my head. “Can we do it again?” I blink up at him, pleading, and he laughs, giving me a warm, lazy kiss. “Yeah, of course. Rest up first.” Luc helps me pull my lingerie back on before we curl up together. I lay my head on his arm, the ecstasy melting into a dull ache, one that is washed away by the soothing tides of sleep. The morning will hurt, I think. For now, though, I just drift in bliss, and I turn my head to press my lips against Luc’s skin. “Thank you,” I whisper. I am not quite sure if he hears me, but I can tell from the gentle rise and fall of his chest, and the relaxed drape of his arm, that he is happy, too.
Time dances, and the dark golden rains of fall are snapped by a thin glaze of ice. Winter arrives late this year; when it does, however, it is biting and quick-tempered, storming through Bridgeport with glass-sharp alpine winds, and nights that razor icicles from roof edges. I can barely feel the winter, though — as Luc’s body melds easier with mine and the pain fades away, the evening hours are warm and blurred. The days are harder. I can’t help but keep remembering the night before, and I always end up blushing in the middle of a conversation. Luc doesn’t help with those smirks of his. He does them on purpose, I know, just to see me blush. And so, everyone catches on before long, much to my embarrassment. They seem mildly surprised, too, when Luc and I continue our relationship happily. I had forgotten about it, but I recall how Lilith and Gabriel and even strangers had warned me about him, how surely he would break my heart and throw me away. And yet he didn’t. It confuses me, why everyone looks at him so coldly, why only I can see his kind smiles and gentle gaze.
The thought lingers, quietly sitting at the back of my mind, as winter brings snow to our dates. Tonight, we are iceskating in the city park; something I discover comes more naturally to my boyfriend than I. By the time we slide off the rink, tired but laughing, my feet are sore. Luc buys me hot cocoa, and I sip on the creamy drink as we settle on a bench. It is not as rich and dark as Gabriel’s cinnamon-spiced recipe — I must ask him for it someday — but the chocolate warms me, and I happily bite into the marshmallows. “I’m going to have bruises tomorrow.” I wince, thinking of how many times I had fallen. Luc stretches his legs and grins. “So am I. Thanks to someone.” “Hey! If you hadn’t insisted on trying to stop me from falling, this would’ve been prevented.” I stick my tongue out at him, and he laughs, tucking his arm around me. “Please, I saved your clumsy ass at least twice.” “Once,” I correct him, but I reach up to kiss him when he makes a sound of indignation. After we part, I blissfully smile up at him. Luc’s eyes are sparkling, alight, the way it has been for the past couple weeks. I have never seen him so happy and alive, the year I have known him. It is difficult to remember his caustic, rude arrogance — like I had known someone else entirely.
We fall into a peaceful silence, then. Snow is drifting from the sky, laying a quiet hush over the evergreen park. I drink in the fairy lights twinkling in the frosted juniper trees, and the warmth of Luc’s presence, before I notice that he is tapping his fingers on his knee. A sign I recognise to be anxious. “What’s wrong?” I say softly. “Nothing’s wrong.” My boyfriend doesn’t meet my eyes. “I…” He swallows down the words, then sighs. “I just want to say thank you.” “For what?” I prop my chin on his shoulder, blinking inquisitively. “For everything. These past months… I’ve been really happy. You’ve been so good to me, despite, you know, me being a jerk before.” Luc gives a little shrug and smile. “I love being with you, too,” I whisper, happiness blooming in my chest. His smile grows, unfurling, beautiful. “Well, I guess what I really wanted to say was-”
What, I am not sure. “Fancy seeing you here, Luc.” It takes me a moment to recognise the owner of that dark, lustrous voice. Golden eyes, crafted smile, vixen face. The woman Raphael warned me not to mention near Gabriel. Ebony. She is standing in front of us, her footsteps silenced by the fresh snow. “And Cherry.” Her gaze slides to me smoothly. I glance at Luc, waiting for him to say something, but I realise he has frozen — his body is suddenly tense against mine, his gaze narrowed. “No hello?” Ebony pouts, and takes another step. She moves like a cat, slow and silky. At her movement, Luc untangles himself from me, his lips rough against my ear as he mutters something, along the lines of I need a few minutes. His hand slips out of my grasp, and when I try to follow his swift departure, Ebony drapes herself on the bench and pulls me back. “What do you want?” I say warily. “Just to talk. Catch up with Luc, perhaps.” She smiles, slow and deliberate. I can feel her examining me, and I cross my arms tightly, waiting for the barbs to sting. “Luc gave this jacket to you, didn’t he?” She brushes her fingers along the worn leather, and I shift away from her. “He used to wear it when we were dating. I was his first girlfriend, you know.” I cannot reply for a moment; confusion knots the thoughts in my head. Ebony and Luc? All this time, I had assumed she was tangled with Gabriel.
I clasp my hands, forcing myself to sit up straight. Ebony is just a little taller than me, but she unsettles me, the clear gold of her gaze more dangerous than pretty. “I didn’t know that,” I say flatly. “Hm, I suppose he never talks about me, that coward.” Her voice sharpens into a barb. “How long has he been dating you?” I nervously look down at my hands, wondering if I should answer. “A few months.” “Oh, dear.” Ebony shakes her head, dark hair shimmering in the dim light. “You must be getting bored of him by now.” “Luc isn’t boring,” I frown, and she laughs. “He was when I was dating him. God, he was unbelievably pathetic.” Ebony’s lips twist into disgust, a slash of cruelty across her face. “He was so much fun to play around with, though,” She muses sweetly, and I stand up quickly, anger burning in my cheeks, ice creeping into my heart. “I don’t know what you did,” I say quietly, my words trembling, “but stay away from him.”
The snow isn’t as pretty anymore when I stamp my boots into it, searching for Luc. He is not far away, sitting alone on a bench with his head in his hands. “Luc.” At my soft call, he glances up, and for a flickering moment, his eyes are wild, dizzy, raw. But then his face settles into the usual calm, and I wonder if I had imagined it. Luc smiles at me, reassuring. “Sorry. Just overreacted.” “Are you okay?” I gently touch his shoulder. “Yeah.” He gets up, and I latch onto his arm, holding him close. There are a million questions yearning to be spoken, but I bite my tongue. Now is not the time. I shiver, despite Luc’s steady warmth, and I tug him into a brisk walk. “Let’s go home.”
Ugh, the pictures were such a freaking pain this chapter. The game kept crashing and I reshot everything multiple times, thanks to my fussy self. The writing I was far more lazy with, so there’s unedited parts that I literally wrote just now, so excuse me for that crap lol. Anyway, a little apology and disclaimer regarding this generation: I’m racing to try reach the end before New Year’s, so there are odd fluctuations in tone, loose threads, and storytelling mistakes cropping up. Like, I hopped back to read the flashbacks, and I realised that Luc was written rather differently to what I remembered while writing 3.16. I snuck back to edit things, but this is what happens when I keep changing track. What a mess 😤 At this point I’m crossing fingers that you guys are simply liking the read! Final note, the lock screen thing was inspired by the film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Henderson Avenue is by Ruby Red Sims 🙂