Chapter Two: A Doubtful Heart
Of course the art event made the newspapers, and the leading story was obviously Erik Lehnsherr's exhibit. Unsurprisingly the topic of much discussion and interest was his mysterious blue-eyed subject, who had inspired most of the pieces. The same young man, who had unexpectedly shown up during the press question time with Lehnsherr, and had then promptly, started a press riot. Lehnsherr had abandoned his interview and disappeared with his mystery muse. In his wake he'd left behind a story that was going to sell a lot of copies. This was the news before they even mentioned his paintings, which had been auctioned in his absence for staggering prices.
Charles looked at his painted self-portrait, now in black and white, on the front page, next to a photograph of himself and Erik standing and gazing at each other as if there was nothing else in the world. The photo felt to Charles as if he looking someone else, intruding one something he wasn't meant to see. That no one should be allowed to see, because Erik's gaze had been meant just for him, and only for him in that moment. He could still feel the heat of the blood in his cheeks, and the shortness of his breath in that delicious moment of panic.
Things had gotten a little hazy after that, as he'd still been reeling from the shock, and even a drink hadn't calmed him down. In fact it had just made the world hazier, and it had been Raven who had had to fill in the blank spaces in his memory this morning. Apparently Raven had left them at midnight, and Erik had dropped Charles home an hour later. She'd been watching them from her bedroom window, Erik helping a rather drunk looking Charles up to the front door. She couldn't tell him if they had kissed goodbye, according to Raven she hadn't watched that bit. Charles was deeply annoyed at his drunken memory.
"A fairytale romance in Oxford… blugh!" Raven said over his shoulder, grabbing the paper and inspecting it more closely. "Turner prize nominee, artist Erik Lehnsherr unveiled his latest exhibition last night. If the auction prices were not indication enough, critics are calling this his best work so far. But that was not all the excitement the night had to offer… you want me to go on?"
"No thanks Raven, I was there after all," Charles said, taking the paper from her hands and putting it back on the stand.
"Really?" she asked with a sceptical look, picking up the paper again and putting it into her shopping basket. "You were like completely spaced out last night, like…. Earth to Charles! You're doing it again."
"Sorry," Charles said, making an effort to keep his thoughts in the room, and not go daydreaming. "I think I'm kind of hung-over right now too."
"I'll buy this," Raven offered. "Go sit outside and wait for me."
They walked to the park and sat on a bench in the sun to eat their sandwiches, and try to remember that life wasn't always as crazy as it was last night. Raven was reading the paper again, but this time she didn't read out loud. Charles waited for her to finish the article, which she did with a sigh.
"You know, while you were getting drunk last night… because you couldn't string a sentence together whilst sober… not that you could speak when you were drunk either… but Erik was like, staring at you, really intensely, all night…"
"Your point Raven?" Charles asked. He couldn't remember much about last night; just that being around Erik had made him a jibbering shaking wreck, who couldn't function.
"My point Charles… is that he used you to sell paintings, and was like, staring at you as if he was memorising your face. I know that you like him, a lot…. I'm just scared that this wont be the fairytale that the newspaper says it is, and you'll get hurt," Raven said, taking hold of Charles' hand. She felt her words take effect in her brother, cutting through the sappy smile that had been on his face since the morning.
"You don't think he likes me then?"
"Charles, he's been painting you for months. Of course he likes you. But this isn't a fairytale, it's real life…"
"Raven, I've been out with him once," Charles replied starting to feel a cold hand of doubt touch at his heart. "Let's not immediately assume he's forgotten me already."
"He hasn't forgotten you," Raven said reaching into her handbag. She took out a business card and handed it over. "He wants you to stop by his studio."
Charles frowned. Why did Raven know all of this, and he didn't? Oh right, yeah, he'd been so nervous he'd ended up drunk. So what did Erik want from him? To paint him again? According to the paper the paintings had sold for a lot, which gave Charles a weird feeling. Now people he didn't know were looking at him.
"I wish you hadn't said that Raven… I don't know if I am going to go now," Charles said biting his lip. "I might be a fool, but I don't want other people knowing that I am."
"Shut up Charles," Raven replied sharply. "You'll go to see Lehnsherr and you'll demand to know what he wants. Then you'll make sweet sweet love on his paint splattered floor and be happy ever after."
"What if he just wants to paint me?"
"Well, at least you'll know," Raven said with a shrug, taking a bite of her sandwich.
"I think that going round there and shagging him might be a little forward, don't you think?" Charles asked with a smile, but his cheeks were flushed with the idea. He knew Raven was joking, mostly, but it didn't stop his brain from considering it.
Raven shrugged again.
"Suit yourself," she mumbled with her mouth still full. "All I know is, if a bloke met me once, then made an series of paintings of me, and fate brought us together and all that crap… then next time I saw him, I'd fuck his brains out."
"Well, thank you for your wisdom Raven," Charles replied hoping that no one in the near vicinity had heard that.
He knew what Raven was trying to tell him. She was trying to warn him not to get caught up in the romance the papers were trying to sell the story as. But to take every moment as it happened. Charles was determined to rid himself of any expectations on her advice. Only his hammering heart had other ideas and the butterflies in his stomach wouldn't go away. Erik was a dream, Charles could barely believe it was real.
The following day Raven offered to walk him to the studio, but that was as far as she was going. Really, she just wanted to spy on the building, before she went home. Whatever Charles decided to do after that was his call, because she wasn't about to judge.
"Your crippling self doubt is so attractive Charles," Raven mumbled as they followed his phone's satnav to the destination. "You should demand half the proceeds of the paintings too… it's your face."
"Is this before, during, or after I'm doing him on the floor?" Charles asked her sarcastically. He knew he wasn't the most confident of people when it came to dating… and God only knew what to call this impromptu meeting. Erik might not even be there. It was Sunday afternoon after all.
"Whatever floats your boat," Raven replied with a grin. "Or you should ask…"
"I'll be happy if he offers me a cup of coffee, that's the sum of my ambitions," Charles said looking up at the rather run down old building, which looked as if it was once used for some kind of industrial purpose. "Or, if he's even there."
Raven looked as if she didn't quite believe that and hurried up the steps to knock on the heavy door. Unsurprisingly there was no reply, so she pushed it open and called hello.
"Well I'm off," Raven declared after nothing happened. "See you."
"You're leaving me here?" Charles asked, rather alarmed. Now that he was faced with the prospect of meeting with Erik alone, he felt rather scared. The fact that the door was open was a sure sign that at least someone was in the building.
"Call me later," Raven called back in reply. She could see Charles was nervous, but wasn't that part of the fun? If she stayed she'd only be in the way, and she was sure she'd already outstayed her welcome the other night. Anyone with eyes could have seen how much Lehnsherr was attracted to her brother. She just hoped that Charles stayed smart about this. "Love you."
Charles watched her walk back down the street before he opened the heavy door again. Taking a deep breath he stepped inside and started walking down the hallway. He met with some stairs, and since there was nowhere else to go, started the climb. As he reached the first floor, he heard music playing above, and kept climbing. Leaving the stairs, Charles peered through the glass of the door and saw what he'd always imagined an art studio to look like. A large canvas was standing against the wall, ready to be worked on, around it stood random objects and things hanging down from the ceiling. There was even a pushbike lying in the middle of the room, and Charles couldn't tell if it was art or just Erik's mode of transport.
He pushed the door open and stood in silence. There was no sign of Erik, just the sound of the radio playing, and even that was covered in splashes of paint.
"You must be Charles."
Charles jumped. A dark haired woman was standing by the window, half obscured by some boxes that had been stacked up by her. Charles hadn't known she was there, and now his cheeks burned. He simply nodded at her statement.
"My name's Moira," she said walking towards him and holding her hand out for him to shake. "I own a gallery in town," she added in way of explanation.
Charles shook her hand. His heart had almost stopped in fright when he'd realised he wasn't alone. He knew that this had been a mistake. He couldn't be here, it was stupid. Erik probably wouldn't want him here anyway, disturbing him. He had company, and was probably working.
"I should go," Charles said taking a step back towards the door.
"Go?" Moira asked puzzled. "Surely not, you've only just got here. Erik!" she called towards the back of the room, where a door was open and it was dark beyond it.
"What?" came the gruff reply.
"You have a visitor," she shouted again before smiling kindly at Charles. But Charles had turned a deathly white.
"No, really," he said, backing away from her even more. "I really should be going…"
Charles froze. Erik's voice was surprised, but happily so, as if Charles' visit was the best thing to have happened all day. Charles turned to face him with his cheeks now burning. His eyes felt heavy, and he found himself unable to lift from where they had fixed themselves to staring at the floor.
"I thought I'd stop by," Charles mumbled before he reached in his pocket for the business card Raven had given him. "You gave Raven this."
"I gave that to you, not Raven," Erik assured him before walking closer. "And I'm glad you're here."
"You are?" Charles asked. The hopefulness in his voice was almost painful, and Erik wondered where he had gone so wrong to give the impression that Charles wouldn't be welcome here.
Erik simply looked at him in desperation and Moira took her cue to leave.
"Well it's been nice catching up Erik," she said grabbing her coat from where it lay draped over a half finished sculpture. She gave it a dust off before pulling it on. "Call me sometime next week, but I'll definitely take the prints."
Erik nodded at her, only half hearing what she was saying, because his attention solely on Charles. Charles heard himself bid Moira goodbye, before the door closed and he was suddenly pushed up against it.
"Why the hell would you think you weren't welcome here?" Erik demanded.
But apparently Charles wasn't expected to answer that, as the kiss that followed left him speechless. Erik's hands caught in his hair, his body pinning him to the closed door, his lips capturing his in a fierce and bruising way. Charles' lips were soft and somewhat hesitant beneath his, but he tasted just as sweet as he did before.
When he pulled back Charles was panting with shock and sudden arousal. He looked up into Erik's eyes, forgetting his own embarrassment for a moment, and became lost in the intense gaze. Erik looked at him as if he was studying him, taking in every inch. It was like what he'd done the first time they had met, when Charles had stood under his scrutiny feeling confused.
He felt no less confused right now either. That kiss was the most erotic of his life, leaving his legs feeling shaky and weak, but it was confusing non-the-less. It was a testament to his rather innocent life that Charles had little to compare the moment to.
Erik looked at him for the longest time, until the hungry look in his eyes changed into something less predatory and became softer. He groaned and stepped away.
"You are driving me crazy," Erik said as he moved back. "I still can't believe you're here."
Charles didn't know what to say. This was the last thing he had expected to happen, and it left his mind blank, and at the same time, reeling. He wondered if he was going to pass out. He only barely recognised that he was being led around the large room by Erik, who was pointing out things he was working on, when they stopped at the large canvas. Charles stared at it as if snapping out of a dream. The paint seemed to move around the canvas as Charles stared, like an illusion. It was the kind of thing his mother would hate, but Charles knew he'd never be bored of looking at it.
"I like this one," Charles said. He realised he'd interrupted Erik, the sudden silence allowed Erik's words to sink into his brain, as if his ears had been holding on to them until he was ready. "Wait a minute… a date?"
Had he heard that right? Erik had been discussing them going on a date? But now Erik looked completely at a loss, and he turned away running a hand through his hair. He sat on a random wooden dining room chair, and stared at Charles until Charles become self-conscious. Still Erik didn't say anything, and continued to look as if his whole world had just come tumbling down.
"What?" Charles asked worried. Maybe Erik had decided to kick him out after all?
"You don't remember anything do you?" Erik asked looking rather broken. "I thought as much when you arrived. You even looked surprised when I kissed you, and here I was, thinking I'd made my intentions pretty clear."
"Um," Charles said feeling foolish. Despite his fears, he'd ended up looking like a fool after all.
Erik sighed and lifted his eyes to the ceiling as if it might yield the answers. When he looked back he looked determined.
"I know that what I did…" he began before shaking his head. "Well I shouldn't have done it. It was creepy. I cant imagine what you must have been thinking, I've tried asking myself why I did it, painting all those pictures of you… I didn't even have your permission… But when you agreed to have a drink with me, I thought you understood?"
"It wasn't creepy," Charles protested earnestly. "I was just shocked. I think I was stunned all night long. You made me so nervous that I drank too much."
"I know, I'm sorry," Erik said looking like he confessed to being, sorry. "I should have burnt all those paintings."
"No!" Charles said with such passion that it was Erik's turn to look surprised. "I mean, if you had then I would never have found you again."
"Charles I don't want this to be weird. I want to get to know you. The other night, you said you wanted to be with me. When I saw you just now… I've wanted you for so long… I forgot we've only ever existed in my dreams."
Charles swallowed, feeling a lump in his throat. He wanted to walk closer to Erik, but he didn't trust his legs to move. His heart couldn't keep up with this. Was Erik really suggesting they make a go of this? A real chance at real love, and not just a dream?
"Is this real?" Charles asked in a whisper. "You really want me? This isn't just about paintings?"
Erik was on his feet at once, looking as if he was trying to hold himself back from walking towards Charles. He laughed suddenly as if he couldn't believe what was happening.
"This has nothing to do with the fucking paintings! It's you I want."
The smile that Charles gave him left Erik feeling dizzy, and as Charles walked towards him, Erik held his breath. Gasping slightly as Charles' hands touched him, gently running up his arms, tenderly resting on his neck, before he pulled him closer. This time it was Charles who set the pace of this kiss, slow and savouring, his tongue sweeping over Erik's bottom lip. His body moved flush with Erik, pressing for more, and answering everything with his kiss. He felt Erik's arms circle him, holding him close until the intensity threatened to break them, both shaking and unable to breathe. Erik pulled away from him only to wrap him in his arms.
"I want you too," Charles said, never wanting to move, wanting to stay in Erik's arms forever.
"Oh Charles, you can have everything."
In the end Charles realised he had made a happy compromise between Raven's predictions and his own doubtfulness. They did end up on the floor together, only they sat drinking tea whilst Erik told Charles again about his many half finished works strewed about the room. Charles no longer felt the worried cold hand that had threatened over his heart, nor cared what other people might think. He knew that he'd found where he was most happy, and the smile on Erik's face told him that his life now could only ever get better.