“Don’t you know what they say about women who walk alone in the woods?” Asked the knight.
The woman twitched her brows and blinked in anticipation.
“They’re all witches.” He finished playfully.
“Don’t you know what they say about all men who walk alone?” She smirked and it was beautiful and dangerous.
The knight tilted his head.
“They’re all fools.” She smiled.
Unnamed romance chapter 5
March’s mid-day sun gave the illusion of warmth in Central Park But the air was still February’s. New growth was visible in all the trees and flowerbeds but it would still be some weeks before true spring was present. The park was alive with all manner of folk happy to escape the gloom of the last several months.
Merricat sat on a small, foldable stool in front of her easel which faced a lone dogwood tree just beginning to bud and bloom. She made it her centerpiece and surrounded it with wildflowers and an open, cloudless sky that somehow seemed warmer than the one outside her canvas. She’d been painting for hours already in her usual way. A romantic abstract. Romantic, she called it, as it was not filled with lines and angles like many true abstract works but rather there were no lines more than curves and wisps. To see what was really there besides shadows and patches of color one had to look long and openly, often to reveal there was a woman hiden in plain sight on the canvas. That’s when the real detail was noticeable. However, her landscapes were less abstract, more impressionist, and the details more readily visible but still quite romantic.
She rested her wrist for a moment, gazing around the park, reminding herself that’s where she was rather than her own imagination. Suddenly, recognition pricked at her as her eyes came to a lone man on the footpath in front of her. He didn’t know it but he was walking straight through her scene. If only he knew what a wonderful place he’d happened upon.
It was Caine. Hands in his pockets, eyes on the trees, he did not see her. Perhaps he didn’t see anyone, she thought to herself suspecting he walked in his own world as well from his expression as he admired the scenery.
She must have really scared him, she reasoned, for him to have left the key with the landlord. It had been her intention of course, to scare him, to make him realize she wasn’t a fool he could play for a prize. When she read his bravado break in the note he left with the flowers, initially she thought it was another game to charm her and make her vulnerable but after discovering what he’d done with the key he’d stolen, she felt guilty about demonizing him to the extent that she had. Perhaps instead of a plot it had been a window to his own vulnerability.
She couldn’t bring herself to make a sound and quickly devised a plan to get his attention. Her only tool was the paintbrush in her hand. Presently, it left her hand and her aim had been unexpectedly accurate. It hit him perfectly in the back of the head, bounced off, then fell to the ground with a dainty clattering.
She froze, covering her mouth with her fingertips. Caught somewhere between appallment and amusement Merricat would not dare let free the laughter that bubbled within.
Caine spun around swiftly rubbing the back of his head looking for whatever hit him. He knelt down to retrieve the paintbrush and spied Merricat sitting before him rather conspicuously.
His irritated expression turned to bemusement and he drifted over to her, paintbrush in hand. He stopped just in front of her and offered her back her brush. She took it gingerly, embarrassed, and thanked him.
“Still mad at me?” He asked with a hint of attitude, placing his hands in the pockets of his grey-blue trousers. He didn’t wear a jacket in this weather, his simple cotton, long sleeve kept him comfortable enough. It complimented his physique and the suspenders holding his slacks up somehow made his shoulders seem broader, Merricat noticed begrudgingly.
She didn’t have an answer. He smiled wryly, lifting his chin and looking off over her.
“You sure can hold a grudge can’t you, sucre d’orge;(sugar)? I thought for sure you never having to see me again would have—“
“But I am seeing you again.” She interrupted without thinking.
“So you throw a paintbrush at me, what to get rid of me, drive me further away? Well that didn’t work did it because now I’m here aren’t I, returning it to you. That’s all on you Colibri; (humming bird); I was doing a swell job of staying away from you. You brought us together.” He lectured exasperated.
“I’ve never heard you talk this much.” She sounded mildly surprised.
“You don’t even know me how could you know how much I talk.” Caine retorted without raising his voice.
“I just—my god, you are so irritating!” Merricat huffed.
“I’m irritating? You’re the one who threw the damn brush.” He lifted his pocketed hands gesturing to her, his voice grew slightly louder.
“I threw it, because,” she admitted, “I wanted to speak to you.”
“And a, ‘hey Caine’ wouldn’t have sufficed?” He quieted again.
“It just...kind of... happened.” Merricat stammered.
“It just happened.” He repeated shaking his head then eyeing her. “Alright, what did you want to speak about. Must have been important.” He was mocking her.
“I wanted to say that, I accepted your apology. I wasn’t going to—the note you left was creepy and you stole from me— and I wholly expected you to turn up randomly in the night and murder me or worse.”
Caine’s face showed insult but he couldn’t retort just yet.
“But,” she continued, “my landlord, Mr. Grotti, he told me you left the key you stole with him when you left the day you left, though he didn’t know you stole it, or why you were there.”
He shot her a snarky look.
“What I mean to say in summary is, I have accepted your apology and appreciate the act of returning the key. You didn’t seem to do it for recognition or reward but rather you were sincere and even a little sweet, so I thank you.”
His features softened, tension actively leaving his body.
“Well I’m glad for that. Is there something else that was on your mind?” Caine raised his eyebrows. He had such a nice face, she thought, every little movement or twitch was winsome.
“That was all.”
“Really, that was all? There was nothing else you wanted to say to me; like say, an apology?” He asked, the tension returning.
“Me apologize to you?! Whatever would I need to do that for?” The pitch of her voice raised, obviously offended.
“Oh perhaps aggressing me outside your place of employ, and well, your over all attitude since then. I meant no harm to you and while my actions were, short sighted, they were benevolent in nature.”
She could not believe his gall. He spoke like he considered himself a shining knight and she had splashed mud onto his shimmering armor.
“You may not have meant any harm but that doesn’t mean harm didn’t come and I don’t have to apologize for my attitude or reactions to the pain you your actions caused me.” Merricat could almost feel steam shooting out of her ears.
“Pain, what pain? I remember you said something about waiting in a bar and an inconvenience with the keys but how does that equate to pain? I replaced the key for you.” He argued.
“Something about waiting in a bar.” She muttered grimly while looking at her shoes. She spoke at length then, keeping her voice serious but low.
“I waited in that bar, because my landlord was out that night, for nearly two hours.
“I was harassed; pawed at and tossed around like a gazelle carcass between lions who thought no meant yes; with no salvation save for my attitude, as you put it.
“I wouldn’t have had to go through all of that if you had left my key like I had asked. But no, you treated me like a conquest not an equal and I suffered for it. So no, I do not owe you an apology. I am being gracious enough to accept yours as I understand you had no idea of anything that happened after you left my life.”
Caine was silent for a long time. Merricat was pleased with herself and couldn’t wait, her argumentative nature taking over, to hear what smart remark he’d make once he was done untying the knot in his tongue.
“I am sorry.” He said, his voice almost a whisper. “I don’t know what else I should say.”
“You shouldn’t say anything else.” She responded. She sounded sad and out of breath like the weight of something more was tiring her.
“I’ll leave you be. Farewell Merricat.” He turned to walk away but only made it a few strides.
“Caine!” Merricat called. The fury had passed and she felt remorse. Not for her actions but for how quickly things had gone astray; she’d meant to thank him after all.
When he looked up she was jogging to meet him.
“That got out of hand.” She sighed. “You don’t have to go, this temper is new to me and sometimes it sweeps me away.”
Her doe eyes glistened, searching his for sign of understanding.
“Your temper is new?” He couldn’t help the smirk from pinching the corner of his mouth. “You weren’t born so feisty? That’s hard to believe.”
Caine paused when she did not so much as exhale in amusement. She was hiding a painful memory but he caught a glimpse of it in her eye.
“No one is born angry. That happens later.” She said and then continued;
“I believe, however infuriating and inexperienced you are with possibly romantic gestures, that you were trying to do something nice for me and that you may be a kind man. A man worth some frustration to get to know a little better.”
Caine smiled with shocking sweetness.
“The flowers and the note were a mite creepy weren’t they?”
Merricat chortled and smiled in agreement. Her eyes had lost their fire and were once again twinkling.
“Grand gestures aren’t really my forte. I don’t usually spend the night with my— conquests—“ he recited her earlier comment with a smirk,”
“So I’m not the only one!” Merricat poked fun.
“After the night we spent together, can you really say that’s an unfortunate thing for the women of New York City?” Caine winked and his eyes gleamed with latent ardor. It took her a moment to peel herself away from his intense gaze but when she finally did she laughed.
“I should pack up my things and be on my way.” She segued blushfully. She passed him a nod and timid smile in goodbye and turned on her heel for her things.
As she packed up her supplies she heard a soft and husky voice behind her.
“It’s not exactly accurate, is it?” It was Caine inspecting her artwork.
“Sure it is,” a silent relief passed through her at his return and her smile made it very nearly obvious. “That dogwood is an exact replica.”
“Are you sure you know what that means?” He teased. Merricat smacked his stomach with the back of her hand playfully and they shared in the amusement.
“That tree was the subject, I found beauty in it and made it my centerpiece, what I paint around it is utterly up to my discretion.” She explained.
Caine only nodded in response having turned the majority of his attention back to her work.
“Why did you take it?” She grabbed his attention abruptly.
He turned around. She was clutching her brushes, rolled up in burlap, to her chest. Her eyes were large and full of question and he could not decide which color they were. Blue or green? A strange shade of turquoise that brightened and darkened like a churning sea.
“Take what?” He finally asked.
“The painting, from my apartment, why that one?” She clarified.
He began to help her pack up the rest of her supplies.
“It was you. The landscapes were nice but that was the only self portrait I found. I didn’t think I was ever going to see you again so...”
They were almost done; Caine lifted the painting off the easel and Merricat set upon folding it and packing it away in her bag.
“You never said goodbye in your note; if you really meant to leave me alone for good.” She stated.
“I couldn’t. I resigned to never seeing you again after you beat me up on the street,” he poked fun and they both smiled, “but it was too sad to say. You’d been nothing less than intriguing.”
“So you took something to remember me by?” She questioned. Caine nodded.
“You know, I’ve painted a lot more self portraits than that, you didn’t have to settle for my feet.” Finally finished, she slug the bag of supplies over her shoulder.
“I looked through your art when you painted me and I never saw any more portraits of you.” He replied with questioning brows.
“You didn’t look close enough.” Merricat laughed and it sounded musical, like wind chimes.
“Here, I’m in this one too, though I’m not the main focus.” She gestured to the artwork in Caine’s hands, pointing out a small, barely visible, shadow of a woman sitting in the tall flowers off to the side of the dogwood tree.
Caine looked closer, physically leaning in and squinting.
“That looks nothing like you, it’s just a girl in the flowers.” He said finally and then extended an arm in an offer to carry her bag of art supplies. She obliged and took the painting in exchange as she spoke.
“And what else am I to that tree? To the rest of nature? Why should I paint myself in so much detail when their beauty vastly outweighs my own, when its far more deserving of preservation?
“That dogwood will never look the same again. It will always be beautiful but never in exactly the same way as it is now, do you understand? Each spring every plant and tree is different than it was the year before; and every season it changes so when I paint it I save the unique beauty it presented just this one time.
“I will look more or less the same for the rest of my life, completely recognizable.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t be able to recognize that tree even next year? It isn’t going to go anywhere.” Caine interjected.
“You can only tell trees apart because they don’t migrate the way people do. But they all grow and change constantly and if ten other dogwoods suddenly popped up around that one overnight, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which I had painted today. Even if I had counted and measured each branch.
“You know who I am by looking at me because I am not stationary, you have to remember my features and my movements because I won’t be in this same spot forever. If trees were able to walk you’d have to follow their growth and commit them to memory better too.”
Caine’s eyes were full of fascination as he looked on Merricat speaking with moonstruck intellect about the amaranthine of nature and her place in it.
“Do you always paint yourself into your landscapes?” He wondered aloud.
“In many of them, yes. It’s like a little escape.” She answered.
“An escape? From what?”
They ambled out of the park together carrying on their conversation.
“From everything,” Merricat sighed and spread her arms up and out, gesturing at their surroundings as they entered the bustle of the city.
“What little nature this town has, we just walked through, and you can hardly see the sky for all the buildings that tower over the trees.”
“Hmm,” Caine responded correctly suspecting another ramble.
“All the noise from the city and having to be at everyone’s beck and call when I’m working makes me feel as though there’s a weight on my chest, crushing me. And when I’m at home sometimes the walls seem closer than they really are; so I paint these windows to other places and suddenly it feels like I can breathe again.”
Merricat took a breath and no one spoke for a long moment.
“You feel like you need freedom?” He surmised after a beat.
“Exceedingly so.” She confirmed softly and there was a darkness in her eyes as if she were already far away, perhaps in some unwanted memory.
“I am surprised that I’ve never met you before, then.”
“What do you mean?”
“I imagine that painting yourself into other worlds isn’t enough catharsis and so you must come to Central Park often,” he paused smiling, “I basically live there, so I am surprised that we didn’t meet there.”
“You live close by then?”
“The Park might as well be my back yard, Poupette, and even if it wasn’t I’d still come every chance I got. You’re right there isn’t a lot of nature here and the city gets cumbersome. My mother understood that so when I was little she took me all the time. There’s a lot of fond memories there.”
“It’s strange to think men like you had mothers or were ever children; with the way you look and speak one would think you were just placed on this earth, fully grown, to bring ecstasy to women.” She giggled.
“Bebe, there are no men like me.”
The sun was nearly gone by the time they arrived at Merricat’s apartment. What little sunset could be seen beyond the tops of buildings was orange and gold like the harvest moon filling the studio with glorious rays like it was ablaze.
“Thank you,” Merricat smiled as Caine set her luggage down in the painting corner, “I’ll unpack that later.”
He only nodded in response and stretched his body, reaching for the ceiling.
“Right now I’ve got to think about what’s for dinner.” Her voice flattened. She was looking through the empty cupboards and fridge noting her limited ingredients.
“Rice it is.” Merricat resigned with feigned enthusiasm then turned around to see Caine leaning on the kitchen island looking at her with questioning eyes.
“I’d offer you some,” she started and then sighed, “but this has to last me until Friday.”
She looked into his face with apology, expecting him to say his goodbyes, but his reply surprised her.
“Well then,” he said taking a hold of her wrist, “let me buy you dinner and you can stretch that rice out to Sunday.” He guided her to the door, careful not to actually hold her hand, with his character smirk.
“I appreciate the offer,” Merricat started, about to decline, but remembered how many nights this week she’d already eaten plain rice for dinner; “anything sounds better than rice right now.” She finished with a chuckle.
Caine opened the door maintaining his smile and let her pass through first.
“Where are we going?” She asked as she locked up behind them.
“Where the food is good sucre d’orge.”
Suggestions to read
If anyone on here isn’t already on WEBTOON reading the comics I recommend checking it out. Specifically, Midnight Poppyland, Lore Olympus, and Siren’s Lament.
It’s a good place for a different kind of story (obviously comics with pictures) but the stories are well planned and executed delightfully and I mean... the art! Some of the artwork is just breathtaking.
Downside: some episodes (chapters) are t available without payment unless you wait a designated amount of time. I am currently waiting for 7 hours for the new chapter of Midnight Poppyland. So I suggest that anyone interested should find series with many episodes or ones that are completed if you don’t like waiting or you can pay the 99 cents to unlock it. It’s tempting.
I love novels and short stories but it’s really amazing to read these comics because, sometimes I know (and maybe some of you relate) that I have a hard time making sure I’m conveying the right emotion in my scenes, but in these comics it’s illustrated and you can FEEL it right alongside the characters so it’s a beautiful experience.