He won't. He won't what? Come on, did you really expect a hurt look, a pathetic 'don't go'? You did, didn't you, Gracie-girl?

Grace stared at his back and broad shoulders, camouflaged by a formless shirt that hung over his blobby pair of trousers. In the sunlight falling from the window, she could clearly distinguish soft reddish stabbles on his freckled - beautifully shaped, she couldn't help noticing that - arms under the loosely rolled-up sleeves. He has always looked like he didn't really care about his appearance, - except maybe for some preference for green. It was not always clear whether he was aware of his reckless charm, although Grace could think of a few times he seemed to use it with a calculated purposefulness. Like the time at the MCA, when Tim O'Grady didn't have his student ID, and Mr. Dimitri took the female middle-age tutor aside for a little chat. In the end, the lady was ready to let Tim O'Grady live in with her, on her expenses. Or rather Mr. Dimitri, of course. And it was such an old fart. Grace remembered wondering how he would be around someone - a woman - he really liked... Suddenly she shivered. Now he was escaping her, slipping away.

He has surrounded himself with a shield of words and chimes, and he won't let her through.

Oh, if only she could talk for real. But it doesn't work very well for you, does it, Grace? Or rather, it works well on stage and on paper, but not in reality. That was what he had learned her, - quite unintentionally, though, - that blocking away important things was somehow a part of being a grown-up. Small talk was for adults. Serious talk, real questions and answers was for great dead people, and for children. You listen to them - or read them, for that matter, - you smile or you sigh, and you may even assume for a moment that it is more true than anything you ever knew. But somehow it doesn't affect your real life at all. It terrified her, the perspective of building her own shield to keep the danger outside. Some day she will be as tired as he now, telling people what they should do and not doing it herself.

He turned over to her, more than ever looking like a pretty, spoiled boy, displaying a curly smile on his thin, capricious lips. God, the damned apple. It would never have occurred to her to peel an apple. Her hunger would be too great for etiquette. She ignored his hand and snatched another apple from the plate behind his back. And was happy to see his smug smile lose its sparkle.

'Ok, it doesn't have to be that dramatic. It is not like I'm off to the end of the world,' she exclaimed, and doubted it the very same moment.

'Oh the misterious terra australis,' he murmurred. 'You still have to learn to walk upside down.''

'Come on, I'm serious! It's 2003, I'm not gonna be sending messages in bottles.' Grace's voice pitched up, as always when she wanted to bring her message over. 'There is internet, and I can stay connected to - to - you know - friends.'

'Friends,' he repeated flatly.

Yes. Friends. And, as far as I know, I'm pretty much allowed to choose my friends as soon as I'm 18 - which is next month.'

And now she is looking straight at him, with her inexorable brown eyes. And he cannot pretend he doesn't know what's on her mind, not any longer. An inevitable moment of truth, like then, in the car, when Mr. Dimitri patiently, carefully articulating, as if speaking to a slow child, explained Grace Manning - his best student, a budding writer - that he would love be her friend, 'if the circumstances were different.' And ended up almost kissing her. Almost. He could swear mothers smell things like this, and he could swear it was this kind of motherly intuition that prompted Lily look outside and see Mr. Dimitri's car with her precious daughter in it. Otherwise, they would have already gone through this kind of conversation by now.

The apple in his hand had became brown, he shook it off his fingers into the sink, not looking around. Bitterness and irritation rose up in his chest, and he had to pull himself together in order not to spil it all over Grace. I lied to you in the car, Grace. I don't want you to be my friend. I don't treat my friends well. I don't see them for years. I have fun with people I barely know, and I sleep with complete strangers. I can't even think of how to start explaining this to you. You won't understand it now. When you finally will, over twenty years, you will simply have better reasons to detest me. I don't want you to be a part of this mess, not you. Stay away from me, please.

But of course, he didn't say anything like that. He only managed to produce an almost unintelligible 'Grace - ', with his throat seized by an unexplainable spasm. He kept staring at Grace, and the wall behind her, but somehow failed to notice how Grace got right in front of him, and suddenly her bare shoulders and her face hovered just a few inches away from his. He didn't move, stiffened and strangely calm. This time he allowed himself to look at her, openly as never before. His eyes searched eagerly into the details he knew so well, or had managed to overlook, or had forbidden himself to think of: the stupefying whiteness of her skin; the soft down above her upper lip; the vertiginous curves of her full lips he couldn't help but craving to run his finger all over. He was looking, unable to get enough of what he saw and not trying to conceal the hunger. And at the same time he was filled with a very clear and distant sensation of merely looking and taking in as much of her as possible - to remember.

When she suddenly straigtened herself and reached for him, he raised his hands to stop her and said almost derisively:

'Grace, you should be making other mistakes right now, more appropriate to your age, instead of this one.'

Grace shivered and stepped back, taken aback by his reaction.

He continued relentlessly, determined to be as explicite as possible: 'Grace, you are so young you don't even realize that - '

Outraged, she snapped: 'What do you mean, I'm almost 18, I told you!'

'You don't understand,' he said quietly, but firmly. 'I - I - can't afford you -'

Grace looked up in an utter bewilderment: 'I can work! And I will, I will do whatever I can get. I will cost you nothing!'

He couldn't barely contain his laughter, but at the same time was so annoyed with her and himself, and this stupid situation that he pressed his hands against his temples and shouted out in desperation:

'Grace, I cannot sleep with a little girl!'

He could as well have slapped her on her face. Red spots appeared on her cheeks, and she stood in her fancy dress, in a defensive pose, in the middle of his kitchen looking like an furious Snowwhite, the picture which almost made him laugh again. The Snowwhite shouted back:

'And I cannot sleep with such a coward and - and - an impotent like you! I bet you woudn't know how you do it, even if you wanted to! It's way too long ago you last decided to do something real!'

He didn't laugh; he gasped, his whole body filling up with pain. He wasn't really hurt, as she wasn't that wrong after all. It was her pain he so intensely felt, he realized. Her cringed figure, suddenly so small, her clenched hands covering her face, was plastered against the wall as if before an execution. Only a few steps away. Her body was twitching with tears she was struggling to hold in, with some success. It was unbearable. And when he finally made those few steps on his inobedient legs towards her, he had a feeling he was observing himself from a distance and was happy about that.

His head was completely empty, his body numb and vaguely sore from inside; his hand - his hand? - stroke over Grace's hair, and her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks and chin and below, till her sobbing, somewhere deep in her throat and chest, ebbed. His fingers felt the smootheness and firmness of her arms and the silkiness of her sleveless lace garment. He was aware of the warmth of her body, rigid and uncompliant at first, gradually giving in to his arms, but it was not a conscious thought. It was not Grace at that moment, it was someone who was sent to him for his care and protection, and now he was soothing and caressing this precious someone, as it was his his duty and his privilege.

Very slowly, - an eternity later in his experience, - he became aware of her warm breath, still wet with tears, but no longer convulsive, near his throat. Her hands she had cosily folded right under his chin, and he could smell her parfum which she had used for the occassion (her stepfather's reception? the seduction of her English teacher?). He thought he could stand like that, swaying Grace in his arms, for another eternity, and longer.

But then Grace sniffled, squirmed her head, and her lips, cracked and feverishly hot, brushed his skin. Instinctively, before he could think, he grasped her wrists, but let them go not knowing what to do. Grace didn't move, he felt her hair and her breath, again a bit faster, tickle his throat. Very carefully, he let his handpalms glide over the lenght of her naked arms. The flesh under his own flesh was both soft and firm, - and he wondered in passing about its remarkable quality, - just like some moments ago, but something was different. It was his own touch that was different: searching, stealthy, covetous. He sought for Grace's flushed face; she seemed to appreciate his fondling fingers and nuzzled up against his open handpalm, which was tingling with the warmth she exuded. He wasn't really sure what was on her mind, untill he felt her small hand wrap around his fingers and guide them gently towards her mouth, where she allowed his thumb skim the swollen surface of her lips. Terrified and overwhelmed by belated guilt - has she always known about his secret fascination? - he breathed out her name and was almost relieved to feel her hands groping at his shoulders, joining at the back of his neck, her lips pressing against his. He clung to her arms like a drowning person, took her lips, parted them with his tong; he thought he could taste her tears. He did his best to kiss them out of her mouth, her greedy tong dancing around his. Grace's one hand was convulsively clenched on his shoulder, the other one had found its way under his shirt and T-shirt and was now slowly, teasingly crawling over his chest towards his belly. He froze at the sensation, painfully aware how tensed his body had become and how unbearably close she was standing to him. There was still a tiny - and crucial - distance between them she was now trying to close. That's what she's always been trying to do. Grace chuckled, and when he looked up in surprise, he realized he'd been postponing this moment, the moment when their eyes should meet. And now, stupefied, he watched her hand reaching for his face; he gave in to her firm fingers stroking his chin, his lips, brushing, dishevelling his hair, unbuttoning his shirt. She was looking straight into his eyes when he seized her hips and pressed her against himself with all his power, the sensation leaving him breathless and hungry. For a moment, Grace held him back and waited as long as it took him to smile at her, with love and without despair.

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery [...]

What could have made her peaceful with a mind

That nobleness made as simple as a fire,

With beauty like tightened bow, a kind

That is not natural in the age like this,

Being high, and solitary and most stern,

Why, what she could have done being what she is?

Was there another Troy for her to burn?