Time is running out for Armend Zogu. The 250-year-old family curse on his head will claim his life on his 30th birthday, the winter solstice.
Sofia Palmalosi might be just the Strega who can save him. A descendant of a long line of powerful Italian witches, her family’s magic was a gift from the Goddess Diana.
Together Sofia and Armend embark on a journey from New York, to Sicily and the ancient ruins of Diana’s temple, and back to New York, all the while fighting a battle of magic and wits with a psychopath who wants them both dead and the curse intact.
If the curse doesn’t kill Armend, breaking it just might.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Solstice by Debbie Christiana is about love, witchcraft, and revenge. The story revolves around Sophia, a contemporary witch, and Armend, also a witch, upon whose head is a 250-year-old family curse. If Armend and Sophia can’t break the curse in time, he will die on his 30th birthday, which falls on the winter solstice, like one member of his family in every generation has died on their 30th birthday for the past 205 years. Not only do these two intrepid witches have to break the curse by finding and joining two scraps of music, they must also defend themselves against a hidden enemy who fights to ensure the curse remains in place.
Solstice is fun and exciting. The plot has enough twists and turns to hold your interest and keep you turning pages from beginning to end. From people who don’t like witches and want to run them out of town to avoiding mayhem and murder, Armend and Sophia race against time to save his life. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants an adventure while lounging on your couch.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Solstice by Debbie Christiana is very different from her first book. While both are paranormal, Solstice has more action, violence, danger, and suspense. My kind of book! And while I am more a werewolf and vampire paranormal fan than a witch and magic fan, I found the book to be an interesting read.
In Solstice, Christiana created a world of magic and intrigue that keeps the reader turning pages, but she also opens up a window into a world where even people with special powers can feel like freaks. We all fantasize about what it would be like to have special powers, at least I do, but we seldom stop to think how we would feel if the “normal” people shunned us because of those powers. I thought Christiana did an excellent job of presenting that point of view when Sophia’s sister falls in love with a man that can’t handle her witchy powers. I found it very thought-provoking and down-to-earth. All in all, Solstice is an excellent second effort for this new author.
Autumn Equinox – Equinozio di Autumno
The guiding moonlight waned beneath the dense foliage. The dirt was cool on her feet and twigs cracked under each step. For generations, this worn and trodden path had guided worshippers to the sacred spot. Her long cloak rustled in the dried leaves. She clutched a covered basket to her chest.
In the distance fires glowed. A gentle breeze filled her ears with the soft hum of chanting. When she arrived at the hallowed clearing, the silver moon high in the sky, the others were waiting.
She kneeled before the venerable circle cast in stone. Jon, her most loyal member of their small coven, placed a spirit bowl filled with liquid in the center. With her fingertips, she dug four small holes, one in each direction of the Earth. Remnants of ash and smoke from past rituals rose into the air from deep in the dark ground. She set a white candle inside each cavity.
One strike of an elongated ceremonial match lit the four wicks. Another strike and the spirit bowl burst to life with a vibrant blue flame. Her arms stretched out in front of her, palms up, and Jon rested the athame blade in her hands. She caressed the serpent- shaped handle between her fingers, admiring the crystal eye of the creature sparkling back at her.
She rose and danced clockwise three times around the outside of the circle, with the athame pointed to the stars, and recited:
“Awaken, dear ancient ones from our past
“Help to keep my family’s honor last.”
She laid the athame in the circle, its moon-glinting blade facing north. Once again, Jon was at her side, offering three aged photos. One was of a woman, her aunt, and the second of an older man. Her eyes locked with those of the handsome young man in the third. She stroked his face tenderly with her thumb. He would be thirty years old in exactly three months. She leaned the photos, faded and yellow with the corners curled, against the flaming spirit bowl along with a lock of each person’s hair.
She rolled the robe off her shoulders. The smooth velvet cloth slid down her back, crumpling into a pile on the ground. The crisp, September night air stung her bare skin. She uncovered the basket, reached in, and carefully lifted her familiar. Holding him firmly, she stepped into the circle.
The snake curled itself around her waist and slithered between her breasts. With a deep breath, she savored the serpent’s every twist and turn along her skin. At the end of its journey, it coiled around her neck and rested its head on her shoulder. Its rattler dangled around her neck like a string of pearls.
The coven softly chanted:
“Hark! The dark of night
“And the moon so bright
“Hear us east and west
“Past the crow’s nest
“Hear us south and north
“The witches’ rune bring henceforth!”
The pulsation was soft at first, then steadier and louder. She closed her eyes and connected with the vibration of the chant and relentless sound of the snake’s rattling.
The heat of power throbbed within her. Exhilaration and excitement surged in her blood. She rocked back and forth in a rhythmic beat as her energy and the serpent’s convened. She opened her arms, raised them to the sky, and recited the invocation.
“I beseech thee Mother Crone,
“Enlighten to me the unknown.
“Your knowledge and wisdom disperse,
“To keep our enemy bound in our curse.
“For the family to remain in our debt,
“Please reveal their ominous threat.”’
She peered through the gray smoke swirling upward from the sacred bowl into the smoldering glow. The glimpse into the future revealed her family legacy in ruin. Her eyes watered and burning tears streamed down her face.
Her knees buckled with exhaustion. She collapsed onto the damp, soft grass.
Once in a lifetime you meet a person who takes your breath away.
Not because you want them to, but because they are meant to. – Author unknown
Sofia paused on the marble steps outside her parent’s art gallery. The Manhattan street below bustled with New York activity. People shouted, cabbies leaned on their horns, and a siren wailed in the distance.
The warm October sun beat down on her, yet it couldn’t quell the chill that quivered down her spine. She stood still and waited. From the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of two casually dressed men. They appeared to be in a heated conversation, but from behind their dark glasses, Sofia knew they watched her every move.
Could she get to the front door of the gallery before they made their move? She climbed a step and stopped. She rifled through her purse and ascended another step. Three more to go.
Powerful arms snaked under hers.
“Sofia Palmalosi?” a blond man with a southern drawl asked.
She didn’t answer.
“Please come with us,” said the dark haired man.
Defiant, she crossed her right leg over her left and dropped to the ground. “Ms. Palmalosi, don’t do this,” whispered an irritated voice. The man on her right tried to lift her without drawing unwanted attention, but she remained seated in her resistance.
“Don’t make a scene. We’re trying to help you.”
Sofia closed her eyes and relaxed her body. With deep cleansing breaths, she cleared her head and summoned the Lare, the spirits of her ancestors. In her mind, she repeated the incantation.
Dear ancients ones, powerful and wise
Many times to you I’ve prayed
Please reach down from high in the sky
And offer to me your gentle aid.
The wind picked up and cool gusts blew against her face. Her eyes fluttered open. Bits of litter and leaves spun within the vigorous whirlwind that surrounded them. The men on each side of her fought to keep their balance against the unexpected squall. Their free hand flailed in the air as if they were swatting at a swarm of hornets. The Lare wouldn’t hurt them. They were mischievous, not malicious. Sofia sat patiently as first one, then the other man, let go of her, needing both hands to break their fall as they tumbled to the ground.
From behind, another pair of firm hands gripped under her arms and raised her to her feet. This time her legs straightened and supported her. The wind had calmed. The Lare had vanished.
“What the hell are you doing?” a new voice demanded.
The arrival of another person wouldn’t cause the Lare to disappear. Unless…
“What Mr. Palmalosi asked us to. Make sure his daughter arrived safely to his office.”
“She’s not a criminal.” The third man steadied her on her feet. His warm breath was on the back of her neck. “Sofia, are you all right?”
She’d had enough. “Why is it—” She whipped around and was stopped short by dazzling, steel-blue eyes. She cleared her throat and continued. “You know my name, but I don’t have a clue who any of you are?”
“I’ll let your father explain.” Mr. Steel Blue shooed the two men away. “I’ll make sure Ms. Palmalosi gets to where she is going.”
The taller of her two assailants spoke. “Ma’am, we’d like to apologize.”
“You both work for my father?”
The stockier man nodded at Mr. Steel Blue. “Yes. All three of us do.”
“My parents have never had security quite like you before.”
They mumbled an apology or obscenity and left.
Sofia crossed her arms over her chest and looked to the last man standing for an explanation. Once more, spellbound by his eyes, she took a step back and caught her breath. She should be doing the bewitching, not him.
He stood a few inches taller than she did. His black hair was longer than most men chose to wear theirs these days. He sported a neatly trimmed beard.
He held the gallery door open for her. “Your parents are waiting for you.”
Intrigued by the handsome man who caused the Lare to vanish, she went inside.
They walked in silence, past the empty reception desk and into the dimly lit and vacant main foyer. The building was quiet and deserted. Gone was the epic statue of the Roman Goddess Diana, standing bare-breasted, bow and arrow in one arm, her other hand resting on the neck of a strong buck.
Something was very wrong.
“I know the way to my parent’s office,” she said.
“I’ll feel better when I see you go in,” he said, staring straight ahead.
At the end of the hallway, they rounded the corner and approached two large oak doors.
Sofia inched ahead of him, turned the doorknob, and cracked the door open. Before she walked in, she peered over her shoulder, “Thank you—”
He was gone.
Armend Zogu slipped into the small employee cafeteria. He opened the refrigerator, scratched his beard, and grabbed a drink. Glad to be alone, his thoughts went to Sofia.
He remembered the day he stumbled upon her visiting her parents. The moment he saw her, he fell harder than the young boxer he KO’d in the ring last month. Instead of intruding, he remained hidden. Since then, whenever she stopped by, he was content to stay in the background and watch her from a distance.
Several weeks ago, Silvio and Ersilia Palmalosi put him in charge of the Albanian photography exhibit. Albania was the homeland of his grandparents. Fluent in the language, he was excited at the prospect and delved into his research. As an added bonus, Silvio’s Greek friend, Alexandros Gounaris, had agreed to lend his collection of lesser-known works of the famous Albanian Icon painter, Onufri.
Opening night arrived and Armend was prepared to answer any question put to him, but unprepared to come face to face with Sofia. She stopped at the display of black and white prints of the war-torn images of Kosovo.
“Why do we keep doing this to each other?” she asked. “We’re supposed to be the most intelligent species on the planet, but after thousands of years we can’t seem to learn that war and violence doesn’t accomplish anything more than human misery.”
With sweaty palms and butterflies raging a war in his stomach, he uttered his first words to the woman he’d obsessed about for months. “I think we know that, but ambition, greed, and the need for power often make us forget the toll it takes on innocent people. We are only human.”
They spoke for a while longer until the man she was with, obviously bored with the conversation, urged to her move on. She shook his hand, thanked him, and followed her date into the crowd. He thought she stopped, her eyes searching back for him, but he was mistaken. She didn’t recognize him today.
He, however, hadn’t forgotten her. Hidden by a small circle of people who gathered around the photos, he had the luxury of a voyeur, admiring every salacious curve of her form–fitting, strapless dress. The fullness of her breasts, the arch of her sleek back, and long, sexy legs revved his fantasies into overdrive. As she left his uninhibited view, the last thing seared on his brain was her sweet ass swaying from side to side.
He gulped his water and thought about his encounter with her today. He was glad she was safe but had to curb any further interaction with her. Sofia had no idea how he felt about her and he intended to keep it that way.
“Sofia!” Silvio wrapped his arms around his daughter in a bear hug.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Are you sick? Your face is pale and drawn.”
“No, but we have something to tell you,” he admitted.
Ersilia Palmalosi flew in the room and kissed her daughter on the cheek.
“Can you two please tell me what’s going on?”
“Of course,” Ersilia said. “Sit down.”
Silvio paced around the room. “About a month ago, before the Albanian exhibit was to close, I received an unexpected phone call. The man spoke in a deep voice with a slight accent. His offer was straightforward, but repulsive.” Silvio removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. “He wanted a certain original landscape painting by Onufri. In return, he would provide me with a substantial amount of money, along with a meticulous reproduction he promised would fool even the most trained eye. I would then return the fraudulent painting to the owner. All I had to do was leave the alarm off, a side door unlocked, and have the security guards gone. When I arrived the next morning everything would seem as it was when I left the night before.”
Sofia sat in disbelief. “You didn’t—”
“Of course not,” Ersilia said. “Your father loves and respects art too much to compromise his integrity for money or anything else.”
“And I would never cheat Alexandros,” Silvio added. “He has been a good friend for many years.”
Sofia embraced her father. “I’m sorry to doubt you. I didn’t think you would agree, but you looked so troubled, I thought maybe he threatened you in a way you couldn’t refuse.”
“Oh, he threatened me,” he said stepping away from his daughter. “I told him I would never agree to his proposition and our conversation was over. He warned me I would regret my decision.”
“Have you sent back the paintings yet?”
“No. We’ve shipped the photographs back, but Alexandros is traveling abroad. I promised I would keep the paintings locked up in our vault until he returned.” Silvio pulled a manila envelope out of his desk drawer and handed it to her. “This came in the mail three days ago.”
He watched his daughter read the daunting words, her expression changing from anger to surprisingly, a puzzled grin.
“What could you possibly find amusing in that letter?” Silvio asked exasperated at his daughter’s capacity to find even a small redeeming quality in everyone and everything.
“This is his first time doing anything like this. I think he had no choice.”
“Sofia, can you feel the man who sent this?” her mother asked.
“No. You know I have to touch the person in order to get inside them.”
“Then how do you know?”
“I don’t, but in the last paragraph he’s practically apologizing for his actions. Expressing regret isn’t intimidating. He also says he needs the painting, not wants the painting. It’s two different things.”
“Sofia, this time I think you’re wrong. The morning after I received the letter, a massive amount of garbage was dumped outside of the Gallery. Yesterday the fire alarms went off every two hours. I have no idea how he’ll harass us next, so we packed away the artwork and closed the gallery for two days. I was worried about you. That’s why I asked security to escort you in.”
“Have you called the police?”
“He was very clear that if we notified the police things would be worse for us. I’ve changed the locks, the code on the alarm and the vault, added more security cameras, and have twenty-four hour security guards.”
“Yes, I had the pleasure of meeting two of them outside. And who’s the new guy with the beard?”
“Oh, you’ve met Armend,” Ersilia said excitedly. “He’s not new. He’s worked for us for close to eight months and I think he’s available.”
“Not again, Mom. Last time you played matchmaker it was a disaster, remember?”
“Did you like him?” Ersilia asked, ignoring her daughter’s reprimand.
“I said five words to him and he was gone. When do the paintings ship?”
“Not for another two weeks.”
“Do you know a witch who can see and feel a person from a material object they’ve touched? If you do, we can try to find the man ourselves, but it will be hard.”
Ersilia gave her husband a cautious look. “We may know of someone.”
“But their powers aren’t near as strong as yours, Sofia,” her father said.
“Then I think it’s time to call the authorities.”
Ersilia held her daughter’s hand in hers. “There may be another way, if you’re willing.”
“I think a couple days out of the city and in the country with me will do you good.” Sofia put her parent’s overnight bag in the trunk of blue Prius. “I’ll bring you back on Sunday.”
“No need, dear,” her mother said. “Armend can pick us up.”
“Armend? Where’s Patrick, your regular driver?”
“His wife, Maureen, had a minor operation. He has a few days off to be with her.”
“Oh, I’ll have to visit her.” Sofia slammed the trunk shut. “What does Armend do for you exactly?”
“A little bit of everything. He’s become an invaluable employee. Your mother and I are very fond of him.” Silvio climbed in the back and let his wife sit in front. “I saw you talking to him at the Albanian exhibit. He was speaking about the Kosovo photos.”
“That was Armend? He looked different.” She remembered the man and their compelling conversation. He had a strange, almost captivating effect on her. She’d wanted to continue to talk to him, but her date had pressured her to leave. When she tried to find him later on, he wasn’t at the photo exhibit. Where were his steel blue eyes that night?
“He’s very handy to have around. If you need him for anything, let us know.” Ersilia nudged her daughter’s arm and winked.
“Mom, stop it. I can find my own date.”
“Really? It’s Friday afternoon and you’re bringing your parents home for the weekend.”
“My work keeps me busy. I’m very happy with my life.” Sofia pulled out of the parking garage into a line of traffic. “Please drop it.”
“I hope you’re still not relying on the silly computer to find your soul mate,” Ersilia said.
“She glanced in the rearview mirror at her father. Dad, please help me.”
“Sorry, Sofia, this is a mother daughter conversation.” He leaned back and closed his eyes.
“Thanks.” She sighed. “No, no more online dating sites.”
“Good. I don’t like you going out with strangers. It’s dangerous.” Ersilia patted her daughter’s leg. “Anyway, you don’t need a matchmaking service. You have me.”
Armend arrived at nine o’clock sharp on Sunday morning and waited. His watch beeped, it was nine thirty. He couldn’t imagine what was taking them so long. The Palmalosis were nothing if not punctual. He picked up the Daily News and looked at the headlines. He had moved on to the sports section when his phone went off.
“Good Morning, Armend. Could you please come inside? There’s been a change of plan. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“Sure, Mrs. P. I’ll be right there.”
He opened the car door and stepped out. He had been hoping to pick up his employers without bumping into their daughter. Maybe she was a late sleeper.
No such luck. As he approached the front door, Sofia stood there with a warm smile and a hot cup of coffee.
“Good morning. Armend, right? Please come in.” She handed him the steaming drink. “Black, just like you like it.” He shot her a questioning glance. “My parents told me.”
“Thanks.” He took a sip.
“I wanted to thank you for your help the other day, but you disappeared.”
“You’re welcome.” Her long dark hair, a streak of red on each side, was swept up on top of her head. Jeweled studs blazed a path up her ear and half-moon earrings dangled from each lobe. Her striking hazel eyes were bright and cheerful. He feared he was ogling too long when she went inside. He followed, enjoying the way she and her jeans moved across the room.
Silvio and Ersilia were sitting in the family room. “Armend, we’ve decided to stay and have an early dinner with friends, Ersilia informed him. “We hoped you could take Sofia to see Maureen and Patrick at the hospital then bring her back here.”
Armend’s expression remained neutral. As much as he would love to spend a day with her, he preferred to keep Sofia at a safe distance. Then no one would get hurt.
“Then can you wait here for us?” asked Silvio. “We shouldn’t be late.”
“Sure. Anything you need,” Armend replied.
“More coffee?” Sofia asked and shuffled him into the kitchen. “I’m sorry. I’m perfectly capable of driving myself to the city. Sometimes my parents get carried away. If you have something else to do today, please go do it.”
“No, I don’t mind. I should pay Patrick and Maureen a visit, too.”
“Great. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
Armend opened the back door of the car. She stood with her hands on her hips and eyebrow cocked at him.
“I’m not sitting back there all by myself. I’ll sit up here with you.”
“It’s pretty messy up front.” The last thing he needed was to have her in such close proximity to him. “You’ll be better off in the back.”
“I’ll get car sick in the back. If that happens, it’ll be a worse mess than anything you have up front. Trust me.” She opened the passenger door, scooped up the papers, food wrappers, and a thermos, and tossed them in the back seat. She got in and buckled her seatbelt. “Ready?”
What choice did he have? He slipped in behind the wheel and started the engine.
They drove in silence until Sofia asked, “So, you’ve been working for my parents for eight months?”
“Why haven’t I met you before?”
“They keep me busy.”
“You don’t say much, do you?”
“I’m filling in for Patrick. Usually when I drive someone for your parents they sit in the back and we don’t talk.”
“I understand that, but I’m not a client. We’re two people going to the hospital to visit friends, so relax.” He nodded, kept silent, and let her do the talking. “I think we spoke at the Albanian exhibit about the war photos. I enjoyed our conversation.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you the other day. You had sunglasses on the night of the exhibit.”
“I had an eye infection. It was swollen and bloodshot. I thought it better not to have people see it.”
“Oh! I need you to stop at that Italian pastry shop.” She banged her fingers on the window. “Stop! It’s there on the right. You missed it.”
Armend whipped the car around the block back to the pastry shop, drove past it, and parked two blocks up. “You’re going to have to walk. I’ll wait here. This is why passengers sit in the back. It’s distracting.”
She gave him a smirk and got out. When she returned, she handed him a peace offering of a cappuccino and almond biscotti. “Patrick and Maureen are Irish to the bone, but they love a good cannoli. How’s your biscotti?”
“It’s one of my favorites. Thank you.” He took a bite and her stare intensified. Uneasiness crept into the pit of his stomach. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
She didn’t answer but watched him closely. He couldn’t turn away.
Then she smiled. Finally, she said, “People lie, but their eyes don’t.”
When they arrived at the hospital, Sofia didn’t argue when he let her out of the car and said he’d be up in a minute.
“Sofia! What a nice surprise,” exclaimed Maureen.
“I brought your favorite dessert.” She hugged her friend. “Armend will be here in a minute, he’s parking the car.”
“Armend drove you?” Patrick smirked. “I see your mother is trying to play matchmaker again.”
“What do you think of him, Sofia?” asked Maureen. “He’s very popular with the ladies at the Gallery. Although sometimes I don’t think he even notices them.”
“I’m sure it’s not his sparkling conversation that attracts them,” Sofia replied, ignoring a small tug of something resembling jealousy over his many admirers.
“He’s a little shy until you get to know him, but he’s really quite charming and handsome.”
“Should I be jealous?” Patrick teased.
“No, dear, you’re the love of my life.” Maureen gave his hand a playful slap. “But get out of my cannoli box.”
The door opened and Armend burst in with a bouquet of flowers. “Top o’ the morning to you my darlin’,” he announced in the worst Irish brogue they ever heard.
Maureen giggled like a schoolgirl. He kissed her cheek and shook her husband’s hand. So everyone at the gallery thought Armend was the greatest thing since man walked on the moon, except her. She didn’t know he existed until two days ago.
“They’re beautiful. Thank you, Armend.”
“My pleasure. I hope you’re feeling better.”
After a half hour of small talk, Maureen yawned. Sofia took that as a sign it was time to leave. “We’ll go and let you get some rest.”
When they reached the door, Patrick asked Armend how the job was going.
“Pretty well, but I’m sure they’ll be glad to have you back.” He patted the older man’s back. “I could use some advice. What should I do with a passenger who sits up front and talks your ear off the whole ride?”
Patrick winked at Sofia. “Lock her in the back seat and put the divider up.”
Sofia banged on the Plexiglas between them, but he ignored her. As a last resort, she pushed the intercom button. “I’m starting not to feel good back here.”
“You’re fine. I called your mother and you’ve never been car sick a day in your life.”
She laughed. “Okay, you caught me. But I can talk as much from back here as I can in the front seat.”
“I see that.”
“Are we going the gallery?”
“Yes, I have a few things to do. Why don’t you sit back and enjoy the ride?”
She turned off the intercom, took his advice, and stretched out in the back seat. On their drive uptown, she contemplated the good looking, but odd man in the driver’s seat. His reserved personality only piqued her interest more. She was surprised Silvio let him keep a beard and slightly longer hair. Her father preferred his employees clean cut and shaven. She was glad her father allowed him the privilege. Armend was very sexy exactly the way he was. Sofia couldn’t get a good read on what was going on inside him—yet. She would do that when the time was right.
When he pulled the limo into its spot in the garage, Sofia sat in the back and didn’t move. He opened the back door and stuck his head in. “I thought you said this wasn’t a job, and I should relax?”
“You’re the one who wants to play by the rules,” she said and stepped out.
“This could turn out to be a very long day, huh?”
“That’s entirely up to you. Why don’t you just—”
“I know, relax. What I have to do may take a while. Why don’t you go shopping and meet me back here?”
Insulted, she said, “I won’t jump to conclusions and assume you think because I’m a woman all I want to do is shop.” An expression of doubt crossed his face. “You’re right. It’s going to be a long day. Let’s go inside.”
At the entrance of the gallery, Sofia recognized the added security guards. Over the weekend, her parents had decided to re-open the gallery on Tuesday. Crews of workers were replacing artwork and statues back to their rightful places. The mystery letter writer had been on his best behavior the last two days.
“Hello, Armend,” said a burly looking man standing at the front door. The big man directed his attention to Sofia. “How are you, Ms. Palmalosi?”
“Good,” she said and walked past him.
Behind the receptionist desk was a young, attractive woman. “Hi, Sofia, you may not remember me. I started working here a few weeks ago. I’m Gina.”
“Hi, Gina, it’s nice to see you again.”
Gina focused on Armend. “Where have you been lately?”
“I was here.”
“You haven’t called me.” Her fingers did a seductive dance around his shirt collar.
“I’ve been busy.”
In classic damsel-in-distress style, she batted her eyes and pushed her eye-catching cleavage into him. “I’m nervous here by myself with all the strange things going on. I feel better now that you’re here.”
“There are plenty of people here.” He moved away from her and down the hall. “You’re more than safe.”
“I’m off at three today,” she called after him.
He didn’t answer and kept walking. Sofia tagged along behind him into the elevator. They took the short ride up two floors in silence and strolled down a hallway to a door.
“Your parents let me stay in the small apartment above the gallery.”
“I know. They’ve become quite fond of you.”
“They’ve been good to me and I appreciate it.”
Sofia entered a typical bachelor apartment. A stench resembling wet dog struck her right away. At her feet, an overflowing laundry basket waited to be rescued from its smelly contents.
“I have quarters if you need them for the machine,” she offered.
“Today is laundry day, but I’ve been busy. I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
Embarrassed at her behavior, but unable to stop herself, she looked around for signs of Gin…um…a woman.
“Can I use your bathroom?” she asked.
For a reason she couldn’t explain, she was glad to see the single toothbrush standing in its holder. Splattered around the sink was hardened toothpaste and remnants of beard trimmings. Wet towels littered the floor. She smiled. No indication a woman had recently been in this bathroom.
When she returned to the main room of his apartment, he was busy stuffing old food into a plastic bag.
“Are you and Gina serious?”
“Do you always pry into people’s personal business?”
“It was just a question. I didn’t think you would mind me asking.”
“Are you serious with the tall, blond man you were with the night we talked at the gallery?”
“You remember the man I was with?”
“Do you remember what I was wearing?” she teased.
“No,” he snapped. “Look, I have a lot of work to do.”
“Sorry, I won’t bother you.” She kicked off her shoes, curled up in the corner of the couch, took out her iPhone, and made herself at home. In between emails, she would sneak a glance at the solitary man engrossed in a stack of art books at a small desk in the corner of his apartment. He wrote his notes long hand on a paper, ripped them off the pad, and stuck them in a certain page of the textbook. She found his traditional way of doing things endearing. After forty-five minutes of staring at the small screen of her phone, she got up and, without a word, left.
© 2013 by Debbie Christiana