I stand at the only window in the attic. I arose not long before, unable to sleep, my mind racing. I swing the shutter open; the cool night air hits my face. I inhale the salty smell of the river mixed with that unexplainable scent that night brings about, that dark energy it introduces. My mind races. Images flash before my eyes: the concentrated look he has while he paints, the deep gray of his eyes, so full of mystery, the knowing look of Maria Thins, the dejected feeling that Catharina gives me. I close my eyes and breath in; a warmth spreads through my stomach. I can almost feel his hand brushed against my chin, my lips. My heart beats faster. I let out a huge breath, and realize I've been holding it in. The moon is full, seeming like the eye of God, watching everything.
I hear footsteps coming from the studio below. The ladder creaks with someone's weight upon it. My breath quickens. My first thought is van Ruijven. Would he really come to this to seek me out? I know the answer: yes, he would. I try to fight off the memory of him, but his touch upon my breasts, my thigh remains etched in my skin. His hands so sweaty, his breath heady with the scent of alcohol and something foul. My skin crawls. I hear the attic door being pushed open; I back away, pressing myself against the wall. The moon sketches the silhouette of a figure emerging into the room.
"Hello," I call softly, my voice trembling.
The figure jumps, taken aback. The moonlight hits his face and I see his unmistakable gray eyes.
"Sir?" I say, my voice uncharacteristicly loud and urgent.
"Griet," he says, surprised. The breath catches in my chest at the sound of my name on his lips.
"Griet, please do forgive me," his voice sounds legitimately startled and flustered. "I believed you were sleeping downstairs now, to help take care of the baby. I didn't realize you were still up here. I couldn't sleep, and came up to mix colors, there's something oddly soothing about it."
"Oh," I reply quietly, speechless.
"Well, then I best be going, sorry for the intrusion. Goodnight Griet." He heads for the trap door.
"Stay," I say, my voice barely a whisper, the word out of my out of my mouth before I realize it.
His peers below through the door, one leg already descending down the ladder, then glances up at me from beneath his lashes, one eyebrow raised, perplexed. He hesitates, then steps up through the door. He slides the hatch quietly closed. My stomach churns at the finality of it.
"Griet, it is dreadful cold in here. Why don't you have a fire stoked?" he asks, his voice quiet and kind.
I shiver. I pause in horror when I realize all that clothes me is a thin shift, the contours of my body can easily be seen through it. I cross my arms over my chest. At least I am still wearing my cap on my head.
"I…I, sir, I would not wish to waste the wood. Don't worry, really I'm fine." I shudder again, my body betraying me.
"Don't be hesitant, Griet. You are welcome to a warm room."
He reaches over and picks up a log for the fire, I can't help but stare at his arms as the weight of the log makes his muscles flex. He stands up, brushing off his hands.
"There," he says, pointing to the now roaring fireplace, "that's better."
I notice he is much more talkative at night, perhaps the night gives him cover from the reality of the day.
He sits down on the stool next to the grinding table. He takes out the tools.
"Would you please fetch me the white lead?"
I hurry to the cupboard, and grab what he wants. I reach over to set it on the table. His scent fills my nose—goat's milk soap, smoke from the fire, and his familiar scent of linseed oil. I breathe in deeply; I've never smelled anything better.
He begins to grind the lead, absorbed in his work. He glances up at me as I walk back to shut the cupboard.
"Stop, right where you are!" he demands. I do so, but stare at him in confusion. I notice where I am, right by the window again, the moonlight hitting me with its angelic rays. I see the look in his eyes: a painter's focus.
"Stay there Griet. That's it. Now tilt your head more to the right."
I oblige, exposing the curve of the left side of my neck to his gaze.
Time passes. I begin to lose track. He continues to stare, his eyes clouding over by the painting he is imagining. The masterpiece that only he can see.
He rubs his chin with his hands, his brow creases. He is thinking hard. He stands up and steps towards me.
My pulse quickens. He stands behind me and gently turns my chin down. His touch burns; his breath feels like fire against my neck.
"There," he almost whispers, his voice obtaining a husky undertone.
He does not leave; one hand remains cupping my chin, the other resting lightly on my shoulder.
My knees tremble. I realize that the last thing I want is for him to sit back down. I think of how my thoughts always drift to him when Pieter touches me. I remember how I couldn't deny Frans accusation of me wanting my master. I can't deny anything now.
"Please," I whisper, my boldness once again surprising me.
He knows what I mean, our thoughts are the same.
He hesitates. Then he gently begins to kiss the left side of my neck, still bent to the side. I sigh. His hands trail down my chest, softly cupping the small rise of my breasts. His mouth plants kisses over my shoulder, focusing on my clavicles. His lips feel like an inferno against the delicate skin. I glance down at his hands, so clean, unlike the bloodstained hands of Pieter. And unlike Pieter, these hands aren't purely self-seeking.
His walks so that he faces me. He holds my hands tightly, sweetly. I do not know how long we stand like this, our eyes locked on each other's. How many times I've stared deeply into those eyes as he painted me. How many times I've felt nothing but pure longing as I peered into their gray abbess. The moonlight streams through the window upon our standing figures, washing us in utter beauty.
"Griet," he murmurs, he eyes locked on mine. He's wary to move further. Because unlike Pieter, he would stop if I said so. He does not seek only his pleasure, or force himself upon me like van Ruijven, he wants to love me. Everything shifts deep inside of me, and I can't stand waiting any longer. I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him deeply. His arms drape over my hips as he pulls me closer. As we kiss, he slowly lifts the shift off of my body. My arms wrap instinctively around myself. He gently grabs my wrists and helps me lower my arms. He glances at me, and I'm no longer embarrassed. I've never felt so pure.
"You're beautiful," he whispers. A tear drops from his eye, and I realize he sees everything from a painter's view, he can find beauty in the darkest of places. He kisses me again, as I untie and remove his shirt. I run my hands along the vast expanse of his chest. He slides his trousers off, and we stand naked, free like Adam and Eve.
I run my hands over every exposed part of his body. His hands follow suit on mine. His touch is gentle. He runs his hand over the cap on my head. Slowly he undoes it, my long, chestnut hair tumbles out, my biggest secret revealed. I sigh at how wonderful it feels when my hair brushes against my lower back. He runs his fingers through it, as he kisses my chest.
His kisses trail down my arm; he grabs my hand and leads me to my cot that lies on the floor. I slowly lay back into it, my body melting into the material. He brings my arms to lie over my head, and kisses the soft, delicate underside of my arms. I shift on the cot, wanting nothing more than to have him. He crouches over me.
'Are you sure?" he asks. I notice the sincerity in his voice, he never would hurt me.
I stare up at his beautiful body, glowing in the moonlight. In response I wrap my legs around him. He completes me, and no words can really describe how it feels. I cry out as the mixture of pain and then pleasure overtakes me. He continues inside of me, as our two bodies melt into one. We finish and I cannot believe the feeling. I feel as if I am born again, something entirely new.
He rolls over to lie next to me, our arms wrapped tight around each other. He reaches his hand to dry a stray tear that rolls down my cheek. I am complete. I did not have my purity stolen from me by van Ruijven, or regretfully given to Pieter. I gave myself to the man I love.
We lay together, wrapped in each other's arms as the night carries on. The fire is crackling and warm on my back, the moonlight blankets us. I feel entirely safe.
He rubs my back, and tilts my chin up so that I look him in the eyes.
"Griet, I love you."
"And I you," I whisper, the truth of the words rushing over me.
I lay my head on his chest, bathed in moonlight, as the sound of his breath lulls me to sleep.