She runs into him – quite literally – outside the coffee shop across the street from old campus, the one where they make the mochas with proper bitter chocolate and understand that whipped cream shouldn’t be sweetened.
“Excuse me,” she says, “I’m so sorry, I was looking at my phone and…” Said phone has fallen to the ground and she crouches to retrieve it rather than bend. When she looks up it’s his mouth that catches her attention. His mouth. His lips. Pressed together. Plush in a way that men’s lips typically aren’t. Kissable.
In that moment, the stranger in his vintage clothes and the hat that obscures his eyes has become the object of her desire.
He doesn’t speak, but extends a hand to assist her as she releases her squat and stands straight. “Thank you,” she says. “Again, I’m sorry.”
He touches his hand to the brim of his hat and disappears into the shadowed twilight of the university district.
A week passes by, then two.
Halloween is over. Thanksgiving is coming fast.
There’s an annual party at the university, and as a professor, she is required to attend. It’s hosted by the English department this year, and the folklorists have chosen the theme: firelight. They’ve got fires in the giant fireplaces at either end of the hall and set the tables with lanterns of living flame.
The portraits of past presidents, past tenured professors, high up on the walls, look down in judgement and envy. Possibly more of the latter.
She half-expects to see him there, immortalized in oil paint.
Instead she spies him over by the hot hors d’oeuvres. He’s serving himself some of the stuffed mushroom caps.
Across the room, she finds herself once again entranced by his lips.
She goes to him, observes that the chafing dish that once held mushrooms is now empty. He must be watching her, too, because a cool hand touches her shoulder and he is offering a second fork, gesturing for her to share his plate.
“You’re very kind,” she says.
He gives the slightest of shrugs and leads her to a quiet alcove.
They spend the evening watching the rest of the party. They leave together; he escorts her to her apartment.
“Do you want to come in?” she asks.
He touches his hat again, and the muscles in his cheeks contract slightly, drawing his lips – god! Those lips! – into a subtle smile.
They share a pot of tea, and then a bottle of wine.
She does all the talking, but somehow, he conveys his opinions on her observations. Yes, Ayn Rand is overrated. No, modern students don’t read enough romantic poetry.
As dawn light turns the window shades pink, they each move to the center of her sofa. He takes her hands in his. She leans close, under his hat-brim with him, and touches her lips to his.
In the space of a kiss, she understands… the hat hides his demon eyes from human gawking, and also protects them from bright light. And his lips hide teeth meant for cutting and chewing human flesh.
His voice… when she hears it… is mesmerizing. Julian Sands married to Alan Rickman mesmerizing. He tells his story in a few succinct sentences. His father was a demon, his mother his human mate. When she learned what he was, his mother made his father promise that he could live a human life. He chose to dwell among books.
* * *
“Why don’t you speak?” She asks, much later in the morning, when she’s resting against his smooth chest.
“My voice is where my power lies,” he explains. “If I’d wooed you with words, you would be in thrall, and I didn’t want that, don’t want that.”
“Is that what happened to your mother?”
“Yes. But becoming pregnant broke the thrall, and now she remains with my father out of choice.”
“It wasn’t coincidence, was it? Me running into you?”
“No.” His answers are brief, but she hears the more in them.
“How long can this last?” She means the connection they’ve forged.
He answers by kissing her.
“You’re wrong you know,” she tells him, several days later, as they’re walking to the coffee shop as the season’s first snow falls around them. “It’s not your voice that draws people in. At least, it wasn’t with me.”
“What was it then? The hat? The clothes?”
“No,” she says. “Guess?”
In the privacy of a darkened doorway, he smiles at her with a closed mouth covering his deadly teeth, and she stretches a gloved finger up to caress his lips.