Author's Note: I appologize for the lack of updates on this fic to anyone who's reading. I had intended on seeing the movie several more times before it went out of theatres, which hasn't happened. Hopefully I'll be able to catch it on a second run, but for now you'l have to excuse any misquotes since I don't remember the dialogue very well.

On another note...yes, there is sex in this chapter. If you saw the movie, you know it's in the movie as well. Don't read if you're going to be offended by it.

Chapter 2

'Cause I'm shedding my skin

So you can see my face

I need you to know who I am

I'm ready to go where I've never been

Will you stay around and follow me?

-"If I Told You" (Idina Menzel)

Tessa's street feels as though it's been dropped out of an old English romance novel. The street is narrow, flanked on both sides by far more confident stretches of sidewalk, which seem ready to swallow the narrow carpath in favor of more traditional forms of travel. Old, regal trees create a dappled, shady light. Justin is so caught up admiring the yard in front of one of the houses that he nearly stumbles as Tessa pauses to open a gate.

"It's this one," she says hastily, grabbing his arm again and steering him through in front of her. "Do come in, of course."

"I…um…you lead the way," says Justin, feeling uncomfortable for the first time. It has just begun to hit him, the gravity of what he is doing, going home with this girl more than a decade his junior, letting himself simply be caught up in her fire. And yet he has a feeling that he cannot tear himself away from her, that they are somehow inexplicably linked now, however ridiculous the suggestion might sound were he to actually venture saying it aloud.

"Take a left," says Tessa, pushing a little on his back, and Justin gets the sudden image of himself as a canoe, being steered from the rear. He does not resist the idea.

The inside of her house is nothing short of gorgeous, though crammed full to the brim with trinkets and utterly chaotic. Somehow, having met Tessa only hours ago, Justin is not a bit surprised. The walls are creamy, and there are windows everywhere and skylights too, the streaming-in sun giving the place an airy, spacious feel. Justin is immediately struck by the thought that he is walking in a daydream, or a very beautiful movie.

On the table by the door along with a plate of half-eaten cheese, a rather wilted-looking shirt, and a laptop whose battery has died are several months worth of Amnesty International and World Food Programme pamphlets. Again, Justin finds himself resisting the urge to laugh, for he feels simply looking at all this that he has known her forever, and will know her for just as long.

"So?" he asks at last, feeling he needs to speak, though he still can find nothing to say.


"Are you going to persuade me?" He puts his hands up as if in surrender.

"Not so fast," she says, grabbing his hands and lacing her fingers with his. She is perfectly at home in her body, but not overly so. The way she moves is appealing in its ease, its fluidity. She does not make a show of herself, and this is more attractive than anything she could possibly actively do.

"I'm your prisoner," jokes Justin as she lowers their hands to his sides. "Do with me what you will."

She leans up until her lips are only inches from his, and for a moment Justin thinks this is going to be the decisive moment in which he will be prevented from ever leaving her again. But then she speaks, breaking the spell, and he is not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.

"How very provocative."

With a grin that says she knows exactly what she is doing to him, Tessa lets go of his hands and spins away, looking for a moment like a dancer with her skirt billowing around her. She lets her jacket slip from her shoulders and flings it onto the back of a chair, not stopping to notice when slides off and onto the floor. Justin follows, but stops short, distracted as he passes a sliding glass door and catches sight of the wasteland that is her backyard.

"Tessa…" Absently, he puts one hand up to the glass and looks out sadly at the tangled, wilted, mess of plants that might once have been a garden. He is not angry with her, despite having such a guttural response, rather a little sad, and a lot surprised.

"What?" she turns back, surprised, then sees what he is looking at and the expression on his face. "Oh, that. Don't tell me you're a gardener or something."

"Well um…actually…" Tessa actually blushes a little at this, and Justin finds his good-will toward her entirely restored.

"Help me sort it out, then?" she says in a voice that is piteously small. Justin grins suddenly, glad to be useful to her once more.

"Well um…all you need is a little water, for starters, at least." And before he can say another word Tessa is kneeling down, unlocking and opening the door.

There is a long hose attached to the side of the house, and Tessa wastes no time in unrolling it, paying no attention to the mud that quickly coats her hands. Justin takes it from her and holds it steady as she turns the water on. It hardly takes any time at all to water what is still salvageable, and Justin finds himself making plans for what the rest of this garden could look like were it properly cared for.

"Now what?" asks Tessa as he is finishing the last patch.

"Now you persuade me, I assume," answers Justin, watching water droplets trickling off the leaves of what might be a rosebush.

"All right." She looks at him for a moment as if deciding what to do, then dives for the hose, trying to wrestle it out of his hands. Her white blouse is soaked in seconds, and he can't help but notice how transparently it clings to her. Her hair is even longer when it is wet, and more wild, giving her the appearance of some primal nymph. She gets the hose from him at last and drenches him quite thoroughly as well before throwing it down into the grass. Without bothering to turn the water off, Tessa takes hold of his drenched shirt in both fists and kisses him solidly on the mouth. She tastes of rainwater and something faintly sweet, and Justin gets the feeling that she is not doing this out of support for her political views.

"Are you ready to agree with me now?" she asks, pulling away far enough to look him in the eye but keeping hold of his shoulders.

"Anything," says Justin, and cannot decide if he is joking.

"Come on, then." She grabs his hands and leads him toward the house, stopping only to turn off the hose on the way. She leads him into the bedroom and throws a towel at his head, grabbing one for herself and scrubbing it unceremoniously over her hair. Satisfied, she shoves the towel onto the counter and begins unbuttoning her shirt. Justin is transfixed by the movement of her long fingers and stands staring, barely daring to breathe.

After a very long moment, Tessa comes back over and takes the unused towel out of his hands. She kisses him again, very gently, then wordlessly begins working on the buttons of his shirt as well. Letting the garment fall to the floor, she pushes him gently toward the bed and he obeys, sitting on the edge and enjoying the sight of her body glowingly illuminated by late afternoon sunlight streaming in from the window. If not an angel, he has decided, then surely a goddess.

"Are you afraid of me?" asks Tessa softly, coming to stand between his knees.

"No," says Justin after a moment's reflection. "Just…awed by you."

Slowly but surely her face seems to light up, to glow. She takes him by the shoulders and bends over until they are at eye level.

"Prove it, then."

Smiling, he takes her by the waist and stands up, pushing her down in front of him. Sitting back beside her, he pulls one leg into his lap and slides the dark boot down her calf. She is wearing thick tights, and he finds himself fascinated by the patterns the black makes against the pallor of her skin. He gets the other boot off much faster than the first, having discovered the trick to it, and she wriggles her toes at him, making him laugh. She gets up on her knees to kiss him again, then flops back down to recline lazily across his lap, playing with a wrinkle in his pants. Her tights come off next, and Justin keeps his hands against her skin, waist to ankles, all the way down, watching goosebumps rise against the smoothness of her skin.

Sitting up a little, Tessa fights with his belt buckle, looking like she wants to bite it if it refuses to cooperate. Laughing, Justin pushes her away and undoes the thing himself, stepping out of his trousers. Tessa pounces on him the moment he sits back down, pushing him back against the pillows. He is a reminded of an especially playful cat, half expecting her to start purring if he scratches her behind the ears.

Left in nothing but a white lace bra and black panties, Tessa gazes at him from among the pillows, her eyes seeming extra-radiant against the beige sheets.

"Where are we going with this?" he asks softly, almost too afraid to speak. Afraid he will wake up from this lovely dream he's suddenly stumbled into.

"Does it matter?" asks Tessa, and kisses him before he can answer.

It doesn't, thinks Justin, of course it doesn't. Because she is intoxicating, and he cannot stop if he wanted to.

She is warm in his arms, and all long, lean muscle. There is nothing soft about her but her hair, and he revels in it, running his fingers over the dark strands slowly, like stroking velvet. Something about her dissolves all the bitterness that has crept into his mind through his years as distinguished bachelor, gentleman of a dying breed. He knows nothing of the failed before, only of the beautiful now that is before him. He is a moth and she is a torch-flame burning white-blue hot and he is trapped in ecstasy.

When it is over Justin finds himself taken with a kind of extraordinary exhilaration. There is undoubtedly something special about this girl, and she has chosen him. He cannot sleep, and it is only mid-afternoon anyway. Instead he contents himself with staring at her, wondering whether she has drifted off until he catches a flash of those eyes between long-lashed eyelids.

"Thank you," he murmurs instinctively.

"For what?"

"For…this wonderful gift."

Tessa giggles and her voice, muffled against the pillows, melts Justin like warm butter.

"How very generous of me."

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