The One Next Door

 

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Introduction

-- Illya --


You moved in a year ago. We never spoke or saw each other, but I could hear you next door and sometimes caught glimpses of you as you opened the window to let air in. When the manager bought a tree and put it outside inbetween our doors, and told us to care for it, I thought it was a nuisance... but it gave me something to connect with you. I learnt your work habits. You watered it early Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. You slept in late the other days so I watered the tree. I started paying more attention to your passings. Even though you went to work early you also came back late most times. You would come back and immediately open the window. I had adjusted my window so I could open it fully and lean out to smoke. I worried that the smoke would waft into your apartment but you never complained or closed the window. I would sit by the window for ages listening to the sounds from your apartment. You love cooking shows, I could probably cook up a storm now. I hear you cooking as well. You make glorious smelling food that unfairly wafts into my apartment. I want to taste your cooking, but I'll probably never work up the courage to talk to you.

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Chapter 1

-- Mina --

The manager told me about you when I moved in. I was glad I had the end apartment so I only had one neighbour. You have always been quiet, the only noise I near from you is when we both have our windows open. You smoke a lot. It did bother me at first, but it became oddly comforting. I was so lonely when I moved in, so it was strangely comforting as it meant you were close. I'd love to meet you one day, but you barely leave your room from what I can tell. The manager said you were a very quiet person, but friendly. When we were put in charge of the tree I got worried on my days off as I slept in, but when I came out that first time you had already watered it. Each time after that on my days off you would always water it early. It made me really happy that you were caring for it as well. 

-- Illya --

It was Wednesday so I knew it was my turn to water the plant. I heard a door ope and close just before I opened my door. I saw you walking down the hallway away from me. Your hair is blonde, done up in a bun. Tall and slim, your clothes hugged you. I wished I had come out a moment earlier to meet you. 
A couple nights later I heard you chatting on the phone by the window. Your voice is lovely, and your laugh fills me with happiness. You're thinking of getting a pet to keep you company. I looked at dogs, cats and rabbits online that night. Seeing what was around and that might suit you. I thought about getting one myself, for company, and to help as a conversation starter with you... I would need to work up the courage to approach you first. 
You came back early from work last night. You were in a very happy mood and had music on as you cooked, a particular song came on and you started singing. You're not the best singer, but I enjoyed listening to you. I still came out to water the tree the next morning, I thought you would be inside for a bit longer. You came out at the same time as me. You look so elegant, and I love your blue eyes. Your face lit up with joy at seeing me and your smile was reaching your eyes. 
"Hello Illya." You know my name? "I was hoping to finally meet you. We've been neighbours for so long." Why is it I can't speak... 
Her expression turned unsure. "Sorry, I should have introduced myself..." 
No don't be sorry. "Mina.. You're Mina," I blurted out. 
She smiled. "So you do know my name. I'm glad. I'm sorry but I have to go, let's speak again soon." She waved as she ran down the hallway. 
I shut my door and rested my head against it. Mina... 
That night while you cooked I sat underneath my open window. I could see your face in my mind. Thank god you had more courage than me.

I caught you going out one weekend dressed up very pretty. I wandered why you had dressed up so nice. Maybe you were going out on a date. Someone more lively would probably suit you better than me. When you returned later that night you were accompanied by two girls. You all chatted away loudly.  From what I could hear you had all been drinking, and still were. They started singing a drunken happy birthday to you. It's your birthday... 
It was so late nothing would be open now. I raced out of my apartment and down the street to the corner shop that I knew was still open due to my occasional late night food wanders. They had cards, nothing fancy, just plain cards but it will have to do. What can I buy you as a present? Food won't suffice. A box of chocolates? I don't know if you even like chocolates. But something caught my eye. 
I ran back home, wrapped your present in coloured paper I had also found at the shop, scribbled on the card. I stood outside your door for awhile, my hand poised to knock. You probably wouldn't hear me knock, you probably don't want me to interrupt your fun. I placed it beside your door and went back into my room.
You didn't leave your room the next day, but Monday morning you were up at the usual time to go to work. I heard you pause. Have you got my present? After I heard you left I rushed outside and found my present gone. I looked down the street after you. You were wearing it... the scarf I bought you. 
I heard you stop outside my door when you came back from work. It's late, you probably think it will bother me. Please knock. There was the open and close of your door instead. As I smoked out my window you opened yours, your hand lingered on the window. 
"Thank you for the present." 
"You're welcome," but I said it quietly. She probably didn't hear me. Idiot. 

The manager and I get along and we often drink together. He came over the next night with a 6 pack of beer and noodle box, he knows I can't cook to save my life. 
"Mina's pretty cute," he said. 
I ignored the comment and kept eating. 
"She's single." 
"You date her then." 
"She's not my type." 
I didn't respond. 
"You're a coward." 
"Shut up."

I caught her coming back from a run the next night. She does it as often as she can. I've thought about offering to join her. My occasional trips to the corner shop have always been at the end of a run. It clears my head and relaxes me to run. She looked up and saw me, smiled and waved. I did a half wave, half salute with a cigarette in my hand. I must have looked like a twat, I sunk back inside out of sight. You're a twat. 
She went out on the weekend, she doesn't usually go out at this time, must be catching up with someone. Probably a man who is more suitable than I am for her. I stayed alert for her return. I heard a man's voice and there was a tightness in my chest. I didn't want to hear any more. 
Some noises peeked my attention, but I tried to ignore them. Until I heard her scream. I bolted out of my apartment. Her door was locked, I could hear a struggle still happening inside. I kicked the door in. He had her restrained on the floor,  her clothes half off and his hands in-between her legs. I didn't hold back when i punched him in the head and he flew off her. She was crying and trembling. I scooped her up and stormed back to my apartment with her. I sat her down on the couch and wrapped a rug around her. The manager had heard the commotion and rushed up, he came into my apartment first and saw the state Mina was in. "Call the police. The guy is unconscious in her apartment," I told him. 
I wasn't going to leave her side. She looked so meak sitting on my couch. She was shaking and tears still streaming down her face. I quickly grabbed a glass of water and carefully crouched down in front of her. "You're in shock. Drink this, it's only water. It'll make you feel better." 
She didn't seem to really hear me, but she took the glass with a shaky hand and took a sip. 
The police didn't take long to arrive. They took care of the guy first before the female cop came in. 
"Are you Illya Willden?" She asked. 
I nodded. "Yes." 
She approached us quietly and stood in front of Mina. Mina looked up at the cop, and seemed relieved it was a female. 
"My name is Sophie." she sat down next to Mina on the couch. "If you feel up to it I'd like to hear what happened, but I just want to make sure you're okay," she said kindly. 
Mina was silent for a while. I thought she wasn't going to respond at all. "He said he wanted to walk me back to my door to make sure I got back okay. Something didn't feel right, but I thought it was a nice gesture. When we got to my door that feeling just got stronger. I tried to get him to leave. When I entered my apartment he pushed in behind and grabbed me…" her voice disappeared. 
I stood up and beckoned the cop over away from Mina. "I heard her scream and rushed over. He had her pinned to the ground and was about to rape her," I said quietly. 
The cop nodded. I looked back at Mina and she had let the rug fall back and was looking down at her body in horror. She started scratching at her legs and I raced over to grab her arms. I had to work hard to make sure I wasn't rough on her. 
"Stop," I said desperately, but she looked so scared and horrified. "Can you take her to the shower," I said to the cop. 
She hesitated, it obviously wasn't part of her job but she nodded. "Can you get a change of clothes for her." She gently grabbed Mina's hand and led her into the bathroom. 
I quickly grabbed a fresh towel and handed it to the cop. The shower started and I headed out to see what was happening. 
The manager was distraught. "How is she?" My expression and silent was enough for him. "That bastard," he seethed, "he had better be properly charged." 
"If he's still alive," I muttered under my breath. 
It felt wrong but I rummaged through Mina's apartment for her pyjamas. I found a pair of fluffy owl print pyjamas, they'll have to do. I knocked on the door and the cop peeked out. She looked serious and took the pyjamas off me. They weren't much longer and the cop gently pushed Mina out of the bedroom. 
"Is there some place she can stay?" 
"There's some ladies living in this complex. They can care for her." 
"No," Mina suddenly shouted, the fear had come back into her eyes. "I want to stay here. I want to stay here." 
The cop looked sad. "I don't think this is the best place.." I could tell she meant no offense. 
"No. I want to stay here. I'm safe here," Mina insisted. 
It perplexed the cop, and myself quite frankly. "It is no problem for you to stay," I said. 
That instantly enlightened Mina and the cop sighed. "Very well. Don't do anything to her," she threatened as she passed me to leave. 
Then it was just Mina and myself alone in my apartment. How many times have I dreamed of this. Just not like this... 
"I'll sleep on the couch. You get into bed." I righted the sheets on my bed. 
She stood meekly where she had been left. 
"Come here," I beckoned and she obeyed immediately. I flipped back the covers. "In you get." 
She obeyed again without hesitant. I grabbed the glass of water and placed it beside the bed. "If you need anything I'll be right here for you," I assured. 
"Thank you," she whispered as I walked away, "thank you for saving me." 
I couldn't sleep all night. I listened to her toss and turn, she'd whine as well. I wanted to comfort her, but it might scare her to wake up from a nightmare here with me suddenly next to her. She was quiet when she woke up the next morning. Just followed whatever I told her to do. She didn't seem to be here. I called up her work, her boss had already gotten word and was having a fit on the phone. I took care of her for the rest of the day. Keeping her in bed and bringing food and water to her. She eventually made her own way to the couch and sat down curled up like a ball in the rugs. We were eating dinner, cup noodles if that can be called dinner, when she suddenly snapped out of it. 
"I was so scared," she played with her noodles, "I tried to scream for you." 
I stopped eating and looked up at her, as I was sitting on the floor near her. 
"You heard me," she said with relief. 
"I'll always be here to protect you." 
She smiled, her smile. "Thank you."
She didn't speak much more and slept more soundly that night, so I was able to as well. The next day she sat curled up on the couch again, just watching me. It was making my back uncomfortable, these eyes staring me down. I stopped and looked back at her. She seemed very interested in what I was doing. 
"So you're a writer," she said. She was sounding normal now. "You must be very creative," she admired. 
I'd longed for any kind of praise from her. I wanted her to read my books, and I was also too embarrassed. She got up, still cuddled up in the blankets, and inspected my bookcase. I could tell she was picking out ones I had written, and pulled one out. 
"Do you mind?" she asked. 
I shook my head, but it made me very nervous. Please like my work. 
I couldn't keep writing after that, but I couldn't look at her either. I surfed around on the internet for 2hrs before finally relenting. I turned around to find her engrossed in the book. She had shed the rugs and was sitting in an odd but obviously comfortable reading position. It was something I liked even more than praised because it's not put on. When someone is so engrossed in a book the rest of the world falls away from them. She looked up briefly as I walked past but she was still caught up in the world of the book and went back to reading. I placed a tea in front of her and she mumbled a thank you. I didn't get her attention for the rest of the day till she put the book down and stretched. 
She relaxed and smiled at me. "You're a good writer. I like this book." 
I could feel heat rush to my cheeks and looked down to hide it. I like you...

The manager dropped in with box noodles for dinner. "Your door is fixed. There's higher strength locks on it as well. And," he fished into his pocket, "this is for you." It was a strange looking small key-ring. "If you pull that pin out then an alarm sounds until it is put back in. It's as loud and piercing as a smoke alarm." 
I could see the other night playing through Mina's mind, and I worried she was going to go backwards. "Thank you," she said quietly and placed it beside her and kept eating. 
Luckily the manager is good at conversations so he changed the subject quickly and easily. 

-- Mina --

I knew that now the door is fixed I'd be expected to go back to my apartment. I didn't want to leave, it is so nice to have constant company. I'm probably a nuisance for Illya though. He stood beside me as I stood outside my door. It's a completely different door, but when I opened it the scene played through my mind and I tensed solid. 
"Mina," Illya said quietly but I still flinched slightly. "You don't have to force yourself..." 
I know... but where can I go... I walked stiffly through the house and stood in the middle of the room. They are studio apartments. So kitchen, lounge and bedroom all in one open room. 
"If you are okay then I will leave you." Illya stood by the door. He must be sick of me. 
I could only manage a nod and he left. I turned the TV on to the cooking channel and turned the volume up, trying to comfort myself. I wanted to go for a run to let out energy and nerves but I don't want to run alone yet, even though it is the middle of the day. Work called and I chatted for a while with everyone. Time went really slowly and I started making dinner early. I ended up picking Indian as it took a little while with thickening the sauces, but I ended up with a feast at the end. Half my plan, half not intentional. Usually I'd put leftovers in the fridge and eat later, but I didn't want to now. I filled up two large bowls and stood outside Illyas' door. My heart was racing, I could hear it. I gulped and knocked on the door. I heard the last footsteps as he got to the door and I stopped breathing. He was shocked when he saw me. 
"I made too much. Do you like Indian?" I tried to control my voice from being too shaky. 
I can barely ever tell what he is thinking, his hair falls over and covers his eyes. There was moment of pause that felt like a long time, I wanted to run away. 
But he stepped aside, "I'll eat pretty much anything." 
I finally breathed, Oh thank god. Although hard to tell, he looked really happy to be eating the meal. 
"I haven't eaten a proper dinner in ages," he said as he dug in. 
I can make dinner for you. I, of course, couldn't bring myself to say that out loud. 
"I always hear the cooking shows you have on."  
I smiled. "I love them. They're so enjoyable and comforting."
There was a long silence that then passed before either of us spoke again. "Maybe you would feel more comfortable if you went back to your family," he suggested quietly. 
My hand stopped and I looked down at my bowl. "I have no family," I said quietly. It stopped Illya. "That's why I moved here. My parents died when I was 6. My uncle took care of me after that, but he got very sick. He told me to move somewhere else and not hold onto the past. So I moved here." I shrugged. 
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. 
"What about your family?" I said quickly. 
"Mum, dad and my younger brother, Elroy. I get along with Elroy and mum, but not dad. It's why I moved here," he revealed. 
"I'm glad I moved here." I smiled happily at him. I caught a glimpse of his as he looked at me in surprise. I wanted to grab his hair and pull it back from his face so I could finally look at him clearly, but that would be rude I think. He started opening up around me and chatted more. 

-- Illya --

The next day I heard noise coming from Mina's apartment. It worried me until I heard a dog barking. I peeked my head out just as she was pulled out of her apartment by a Labrador. 
"A friend dropped her dog around to stay for a little while," she explained as she was pulled down the hallway and waved. 
I thought it's great that she's going out again, she had seemed very trepidous about going out for runs. The dog will be keeping her company as well. But surprisingly she called me that night. I had given my number to her so she could contact me whenever she needed, I wasn't expecting it so soon. 
"I made extra again..."
It feels like she just wants the company. Being with her and eating food she has cooked, why would I turn her down. When I knocked on the door the dog started barking. She had to squeeze around the dog but it pushed through the gap and inspected me with its tail wagging up a storm. 
"Come in." She smiled and stepped aside. Her apartment was really lively, it felt more like her home than the other day. The dog happily trotted after Mina and stayed around her legs, which Mina effortless stepped around. 
"Her name is Juliette." Mina scratched Juliette's head. "I used to have a dog, a golden retriever. I want to get another one but I work such long hours." She started platting up spaghetti bolognase, the smell was overwhelmingly enticing. The size of the bowl she handed me, she definitely cooked too much. 
"You do work very long hours at the restaurant." I dug in. She works at La Cartier, just close enough to walk to if you're a physical person. 
"I like it," she shrugged, "It's a good job and good people... I'm going back to work on Monday. My boss insisted I take the week off." 

-- Mina --

I've been so eager to get back to work, I hated having nothing to do. It was a real relief to walk in the door. Everyone fussed over me. There's the owner/manager, Rick. Two chefs; Nicole and David, who are married. Bartenders; Aaron and Michelle. Various wait staff; Tilda, Millie, Jasmine, Stuart, Matt and Skye. We also have two student part-timers; Isabelle and Teagan. I work as wait staff, and at the bar when needed. I started working here about 4 months after I moved, they were looking for night staff and odd hours to be worked. I gradually managed to increase my hours and when one of the girls left I managed to get her hours as well. Because I fill in so many hours I felt bad about taking the week off, I wanted to at least work Friday, and the weekend if they needed someone to fill in. 
Tilda enveloped me in a big hug. We are the same age and get along well. "Oh Mina," she mumbled. 
"It's okay," I squeezed her, "I'm fine." 
She looked at me sadly and I acted even more spritely than usual to brighten up the others. During the day I eventually took notice of how they would stop me from serving certain people they obviously deemed not the right type to be near me. We got a steady stream of customers as the night went by. I gave the latest order to Nicole and dropped in on the conversation she was having with Jasmine and Rick. "He's been out there for ages. Just loitering around," Jasmine said worriedly.
"Who?" I asked, but was ignored momentarily. 
"It's bothering customers and passers by," she then looked at me, "There's a strange looking guy hanging around out front." She seemed worried to say it to me. 
I crept around the dividing wall and peeked a look. It was dark outside with only the street lights, so he was hard to see. 
"He's brown skinned with silver hair," Jasmine told Rick. 
My head whipped back to look at her. "Silver hair?" She nodded. "Give me a sec." I stepped out from behind the wall and out towards the door, shocking Jasmine and Rick. There's a very good chance I know who this is. I stepped outside the restaurant and approached the man, he didn't notice me come out at first, but when he looked up I knew it was him. Brown skin, long silver hair falling over his eyes. 
"Illya." 
He was surprised to see me, even though it's him waiting around outside the restaurant I work at. 
"What are you doing here? You're disturbing customers and passers by." 
"I wanted to make sure you got home safely..." 
I sighed and smiled. "Come on," I grabbed his hand, "you're not dressed right to sit in the restaurant, but you can sit out back." I took him down the side to the staff entrance. Rick walked in just as we did. "This is Illya, my neighbour. He came to make sure I got home safely," I explained. 
Rick seemed to let out an internal sigh. 
"Illya, this is the owner, Rick," I introduced. 
Illya shook Ricks hand with confidence, it was a glimpse of him I hadn't realised he had. 
"You can take your dinner break now," Rick said and went back out front. 
"Sit here. I'll go get food," I ordered and he sat on the couch obediently. He didn't say anything except thank you. 
"You freaked out the staff hanging around the front of the restaurant," I tried not to say harshly, "if you wanted to see me home you could have just said so.." I said quietly and smiled at him a moment later. I could only just make out his eyes underneath his hair. "You know.." I put my plate down and slowly reached my hand out to him so I didn't spook him. I ran my hand through his haid, lifting it up from his eyes. I saw them clearly for the first time. Spakrling gold... I lost my thought, and time. Illya was staring at me, just as I was him. 
The door suddenly opened. "Mina," Juliette called as she walked in. It spooked Illya and I, and I quickly took my hand back. Juliette stopped abruptly too when she saw us. "Oh sorry sorry." she scooted back out. 
"I'd best get back to work. I don't finish for another two hours. You don't have to stay..." I tried not to look directly at him. 
"I'll wait," he said quietly. It made me smile and I hurried back out front. 
"I've never seen anyone look like that," Juliette whispered to me, "It's quite shocking." Something inside of me niggled and I wanted to take Illya back home. "Not my type... but he seems to be yours." She winked as she took food out. It was a relief when she said that, but it also made me thinking momentarily about what I thought of him. I didn't have the time to linger on those thoughts, I stayed on my toes the rest of the night. Illya waited patiently for me, but seemed very happy when it was finally time to go home. He also didn't seem bothered by the walk home, I had honestly worried about the walks home from work now, so I was very grateful for the company. My mind was in disarray and I couldn't think of anything to say, so when we reach our apartments I both wanted to run inside, and regretted the silent walk. 
"Thank you for tonight," I said shyly. 
Illya seemed lost for words too and just nodded. It was relief on me to finally be inside my apartment, but my mind was unsettled so I struggled to go to sleep, I just kept thinking about how he's on the other side of this wall. 

-- Illya --

I didn't want to bother her at work again the next night. So I stayed up and waited out front for her to return. I was in the middle of a smoke when I spotted her walking down the street. She smiled at me as she came up the stairs. 
"You'll be able to run for longer if you stop smoking. Good night," she said matter of factly and entered her apartment, but showed me a sweet shy smile before she disappeared. It didn't occur to me till later, while I was laying in bed thinking about her, that she knew I ran. How did she know I ran? She's right about stopping the smoking though... maybe I'll give it a try. I could join her on her runs. 
She cooked dinner for me again on Wednesday. I really look forward to it, her company, and the food. 
I left my door unlocked for her on Saturday night as I knew she would want to eat dinner together. It instead let in a pest. My publisher. 
"Wow your apartment doesn't smell of thick smoke," he commented as he entered of his own accord, "and it's clean." 
"What do you want Noel?" I asked annoyed. We had a bit of a love-hate relationship. 
"Just to talk about the book," he started. 
"Couldn't you have just called.." Mina is due around soon.. 
Speak of the devil. She waltzed straight in and stopped as soon as she saw Noel. "I'm so sorry for interrupting." She bowed and hurried back to her room. She didn't even give me a moment to say anything. 
I sighed. "You just had to show up," I directed at Noel, who became talented at ignoring my mood or what I say. 
"She was a little cutie. Your neighbour?" He looked back at me, I was hiding my face. "She's not... the reason for your writing change?" He more said to himself, he'd already made the connection. My silence just confirmed it for him. "We're you two having a dinner date?" He asked excited. 
"No. She just cooks me dinner on her nights off." He stared at me for a while, making me uncomfortable. "She was probably the one to make the first move, am I right.." I tensed at his insinuation. "Your relationship won't go further if you don't take that leap Illya," he said kindly and laid pieces of paper on the coffee table. "Ask her out on a date," he said and left with a wave. 
I went straight over to Mina's after Noel left. She answered the door sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you had someone coming over." 
"It was only my publisher dropping off some documents. I was really looking forward to eating with you again..." I'm taking a leap, I'm going to take the leap. 
Her face brightened up and she stepped aside. "So did you finish your latest book?" She asked as we ate. 
I nodded. "Finished the other day." 
"I'll have to get a copy when it comes out." She smiled, the warm-hearted smile I like. 
"You shouldn't have to buy one, I'll give you the first print," I insisted, it made her blush. Take the leap! "Do you want to go out on a date with me?" I blurted out. It surprised her, and I had that immediate regret of oh crap maybe I shouldn't have said that. 
She blushed, and smiled. "I'd love to."

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Chapter 2

-- Mina --

We decided on a lunch date on Saturday. Meet at the water fountain in the plaza and then decide where we wanted to eat. I could barely sleep the night before, I was so excited. I'd thought about going on a date with him so many times, now it's finally happening! About an hour before I was going to leave I got a call from Illya. 
"I'm really sorry Mina. I was urgently called to a meeting for work. Do you want to do dinner instead?" "Yeah that's fine." Thank goodness we're still doing a date. 
"Great. Meet me in the lobby of The Ritz at 7pm. I'm paying." 
The Ritz?! That's the most expensive and luxurious hotel/restaurant complex in the state. He's inviting me there! I'm going to have to pick out something more fancy to wear. I wore a short dress, cream halter-neck top and black ruffly short skirt. Jewellery and shoes I figured matched, and did my hair up nicely. I was so nervous just entering the lobby. It was full abuzz with gorgeous people. As I waited I got more nervous. Are we eating here? He might have just said to wait here and we're going somewhere more low key. Then I'm over dressed... Maybe he's thinking of just walking into the restaurant and hoping there's a table free. Not possible at this place, it's always booked out. But then I heard quiet chatter increase, they were all staring at someone. A man had just exited the lift and was walking across the lobby. I wouldn't have recognised him myself, but I knew that face. He was dressed up nicely in a suit and hair tied back out of the way. I'd never seen him like this, forget the suit, just openly showing his face and eyes. He was looking around and then his eyes settled on me, I thought I saw a slight pause in his walk and shock on his face. But then it turned to a kind smile. He approached me and gently grabbed my hand, bringing it up to his lips to kiss. It shot right through me to my heart and face. 
"I'm glad you could join me tonight." He had a dazzling smile. 
"So am I," I said breathlessly. 
He held out his arm for me to take and lead us over to the restaurant. "Willden," he said to the waiter who graciously bowed and showed us to our table. Even full of high class people, their eyes still trailed after us, after Illya. "Do you want the Cabernet Merlot?" He asked me after we'd sat down. 
I frowned, how does he know that's my favourite. "Yes please." 
After ordering he took note of my expression. "I noticed you were always drinking it at dinner," he said. 
I do.. I just hadn't realised he knew it was Cabernet Merlot, I keep the box in the pantry and refill in there. "Order anything you want, my treat." He winked. He seemed like a different person, but then I saw the flicker of nerves and realised he's trying really hard to be out going. It made me smile. 
"So was the meeting about your latest book?" I asked as we waited for our food. 
He hesitated before answering. "First half was about the book. I then had to meet with some business people." 
I sensed I shouldn't ask more so didn't. Luckily we were saved by the wine being brought over. It then turned into a chat about wine, that went onto something else, that turned into a conversation about how you pronounce certain town names. It was a really fun evening, I came out knowing even more about him. He had insisted I have a dessert as well so I was so full I was almost waddling out. I also had a bit to drink so was relying heavily on him. We could catch the train back to our apartments, but he waved down a taxi instead and shuffled in beside me. The motion of the car instantly was lulling me to sleep, and making me slightly nauseous.

-- Illya --

We were barely in the taxi five minutes before her head rested against me and she was asleep. I knew the alcohol had knocked her out, so I gently kissed her head and stroked her hand. I had used the courage from the meeting to keep me going, but when I saw her standing there in the lobby. I felt weak at the knees. I'm not shy around her now, but I think I've got a different problem now. 
She was passed out beyond waking when we arrived so I had to carry her up. It was too hard to get her keys out of her bag as I held her so I opened my door instead and gently placed her on the bed. I was going to put her back in her apartment, I'd already gone to unlock her door, but when I came back she was wriggling out of her dress and under the covers. She started fumbling with her hair but she still seemed asleep. 
"I'll do it," I said gently and pusher her hand away. She was definitely still asleep. I gently pulled everything out of her hair and let it out. Her breathing was slow and quiet, so peaceful. What am I to do with you now... I gently kissed her on the lips. Forgive me. 

-- Mina --
 I woke pretty groggy the next morning, but not feeling too worse for wear. It took me a little while to realise but I wasn't in my bed. I sat up and saw I was in Illya's apartment, he's still asleep on the couch. My dress was on the floor, and my hair undone. We didn't have sex did we? Because I can't remember a thing. I felt down there and I wasn't sore or sticky. I don't believe him to be the type to do it with a passed out drunk anyway. I put my dress back on and crept over to Illya. 
"Illya," I called quietly. He's still asleep, I don't want to wake him either. "Thank you for a wonderful night," I whispered and kissed him on the lips. Excitement bubbled and I quickly tip-toed back to my apartment.

 -- Illya--

I was stupidly nervous Wednesday night, about whether we would have dinner like usual. As each minute ticked by it felt like a piece of my mind jumped away with it. So when I heard my phone ring I lunged for it. 'I've made beef stroganoff if you want to come over.' I was already walking to the door as I read it, and walked straight into her apartment. It smelled heavenly, the food and her. 
"You'll have to tell me what your favourite dish is. For your birthday," she said as she handed me the bowl of food. 
"Do you know my birthday?" I said surprised. 
"The manager told me," she said sheepishly. 
That interfering devil.. But I'm glad he told her. "Anything you make," I blurted out, I couldn't look at her after that. 
Not long after there was a knock at her door. She frowned and got up, checking through the eye hole before opening the door enough to stick her head out. 
"Hello gorgeous," a familiar voice said, "I'm Illya's publisher, Noel." 
"I'm Mina," she sounded a bit lost. 
I was already behind her, I'd leapt up once I heard his voice. I went to slam the door shut but he'd put his foot in the way. 

-- Mina --

I stepped back as the two of them had a discussion.. argument.. 
"What are you doing here?" Illya asked annoyed, still trying to shut the door on Noels foot. 
"Aren't you going to invite me in? It smells delicious." Noel tried to wriggle further into the apartment, but Illya wasn't having a bar of it. As much as Illya seemed annoyed by him, they seemed to have a really close relationship. 
"It's not for you," Illya growled. 
"Aww come on honey buns I just want to spend time with you." Noel seemed to be putting on the act, but at the same time seemed like something he does all the time. "I got tickets to the mountain hot-spring, Melanie is coming as well and I thought you two might like to come," Noel tried to say as Illya pushed on his face to try and get him out. 
"Hot-spring?" I piped. 
Noels face lit up and it dull Illya. "Two nights at the hot spring, full package." 
"I've never been to a hot spring before," I said quietly. 
Noel just kept grinning, and I saw the defeat in Illya's back. "How about we go up Friday week?" Noel suggested. 
I nodded. "Work should give me the day off." 
Illya sighed and muttered something I didn't hear, before throwing Noel out and locking the door. I felt a bit like I'd put him in an imposition saying that though, so I quietly went back to my food and he followed. We were silent for a few moments before he spoke. "So you've never been to a hot spring?" 
I shook my head. "No, but I've always wanted to go." I smiled heartily at him. 
It relaxed him. "You'll love it."

Rick happily gave me the day off and I was so happy that morning I could barely contain myself. We're catching the 10.20am train up and a shuttle bus will take us the rest of the way up the mountain to the hot spring. I paced impatiently as I waited for time to pass and Illya to knock on my door. So when he finally did I grabbed my bag and bolted out. Not only was I excited about going to a hot-spring, but also spending it with Illya. 

-- Illya --

She was giddy and chatty most of the trip, so full of excitement. I enjoyed just watching her so happy. As we passed certain things that excited her she would turn back to me... and the first time she did it, looking back at me with that wonderous expression, but looking back at me. I felt myself fall...

-- Mina --

We met Noel and Melanie at the hot-spring. She was introduced to me as the editor, and she also had a good relationship with Illya, something that made me feel a bit defensive. That went out the window when we were shown to our rooms... er... room… Only one room, and one double size bed. Noel was nowhere to be found by that point, and Illya stormed off to find him. So I placed my bag in the room and went for a wander around this place, coming across Melanie on my stroll. She's in her late thirties, and seems a genuinely nice lady. Being up in the mountain there are lots of walking trails and she guided us along one as she revealed she had been up to this hot spring before. 
"Has Illya shown you the book he just finished?" She asked as we strolled. 
"No he hasn't, but I have read one of his books that I stole from his bookcase." 
She smiled warmly at me. "His book really changed a while ago. We had read pieces he'd send in as he wrote it. We realised once Noel met you that you were the basis for his book," she stopped at the same time I did and stared out over the view. "Suddenly the appearance and character of the lady character changed, so did the flow of the book. The last quarter was almost completely different, his writing style changed so much. He put so much more feeling into it than he ever had." 
I thought about it, and it must have been when we first met not that long ago. 
"Come," she smiled, "I was told you've never been to a hot spring before. I'll go in with you." 
It's very steamy. We stepped in with our hair up and small towels around us. I felt like I was going to melt when I stepped into the water, melt into relaxation. I sighed as I sunk down. 
"Nice isn't it." 
"Mmm," was all I could manage. 
"Do you like Illya?" Melanie asked, shocking me out of my relaxed state. She smiled. "I thought as much."
My face must be giving me away. I looked down at my hands in the water. "I moved into the complex a little over a year ago. We didn't meet face to face until a little while ago, but I heard about him from the manager, and caught glimpses of him. He's very striking..." Melanie nodded in agreement. "But he is very kind, adorably and sometimes frustratingly shy. At the same time very strong and playful. He would never hurt me, and wants to make me happy... and I like to make him happy too." I blushed and covered my face. 
"I think the two of you are far deeper into it than you both realise." She sighed and looked at me like the hopeless lovesick girl I am. She waded over to me and sat beside me. "If I was a couple years younger I would be trying to steal you away." Well that stopped my jealously instantly. "I'm sure Illya will have some competition with a lovely girl like you. But. We need to work out a plan to bring you two together," she said rather excitedly. 
"Illya stormed off to sort out the sleeping arrangements..." 
"Well Noel won't budge, and neither will I. So we'll see what he does." 
Melanie had to help me out of the spring because I got so light-headed, and led me back to my room. She seemed annoyed that Illya wasn't there. "Drink plenty of water and don't stand up to quickly. Just lay down until dinner time," she said kindly and left. That's not a bad idea.

-- Illya --

It took me a while to pin down Noel. "It was only for two rooms. I'm bunking up with Melanie," Noel defended. 
"She's a lesbian. It's completely different," I argued. 
Noel sighed, he seemed genuinely annoyed. I've rarely seen him like this. "Check with reception if your sofa is a fold out then." 
We went into the hot springs together, but he still seemed annoyed and we didn't say much. "Do you not like her?" Noel was resting his head back with his eyes closed. 
I sighed. "Of course I do." 
"Then what's the problem?" I was silent for a moment before telling him what happened to her. "I see.. but. She was the one who wanted to come up here, with you", he looked at me, "I don't think she's as worried about you as you think." 
My mind was in disarray about how to approach this with Mina. Noel has a point. Thinking back on all the evenings we spent together she never seemed worried or apprehensive about me at all. I opened the door to the room and found Mina passed out on top of the bed in a bath robe, it had fallen off her legs and almost showing me everything. I knew Melanie would have sent Mina back just like this. I gently placed the robe back over her legs. Do you like me as much as I like you? I stroked her cheek as I moved hair away from her face. She murmured and rolled closer. 

-- Mina --

I was gently shaken awake. Illya was dressed in a yukata. Maybe I'm still asleep and dreaming. He smiled down at me. 
"Dinner will be ready soon so you should get dressed." 
I looked down at the white bath robe Melanie had put me in. Thank goodness I'm mostly covered, I'm not wearing underwear! I rolled over and stood up, but I had been down for so long and stood up too quickly that my head spinned and knees buckled. Illya wrapped an arm around my waist and held me close to him. The yukata was loose at the chest and I was against his bare chest. Dressed as we were, and how he was holding me, my heart raced. He held me for just a little too long. 
"Illya," I said, which snapped him out of it and he suddenly let me go. 
"I'll wait outside while you change." He stormed out of the room. 
Illya... My heart hurts. 

-- Illya --

She quietly opened the door. I'd always wanted to see her in a yukata, it suited her perfectly. 
"Shall we go." She didn't look at me. I wanted to reach out to her, but it seemed I did something wrong before. 
Noel and Melanie were already in the restaurant and had reserved a booth for us. Melanie jumped up when she arrived and cuddled Mina. "I knew you would be adorable in a yukata," she squealed. 
Noel gave me an asking look that I ignored and Mina cheered up under the attention of Melanie, so she interacted more with me. Noel and I just had a few beers but Melanie got herself and Mina drunk early on and created a lot of noise. It made for a fun and lively dinner. But we had to stop them from drinking any more, mainly I didn't want Mina to drink much more. 
"I'm going to take her back," I said to Noel who nodded and looked exhausted already at the prospect of dealing with a drunk Melanie. I thought Mina would put up a fuss about leaving but when I came to her side she looked up at me with happy wide eyes and threw herself at me. 
"Alrighty little monkey, lets get you to bed." 
I hoisted her up and carried her back like a child. She clutched onto me and nuzzled my neck. I had to focus hard on ignoring that. 
When we got back to the room and I dropped her on the bed she refused to let go. As I tried to pull away, with very surprising strength, she pulled me onto the bed and flipped on top. She stared down at me as she stradled me. 
"Mina." 
She leant down and kissed me deeply. I'd be hard pressed to ignore her, but the taste of alcohol reminded me she is drunk. She pulled back my yukata and ran her hands over my chest. No, we shouldn't do this. But her hands ran higher up and she stopped kissing me to lay her head beside mine. She's out. I gently rolled us over. I suppose it would be okay to sleep in the same bed, she'll be out all night, and I really feel like sleeping in a bed instead of the couch. 

-- Mina --

I woke up groggy the next morning, but not the worst I've woken up like. I remember all of last night... he didn't protest. Damn me for falling asleep though. He isn't it bed, but it's ruffled like he's been sleeping next to me. I took a big drink of the water he had put on the bedside table. Noises came from the bathroom and he emerged not long after. 
"Not too worse for wear?" He smiled. He's acting like nothing happened, he probably thinks I don't remember. 
"One of the best I've felt actually." I rolled out of bed and quickly ducked to the bathroom. 
"Melanie was probably trying to get drunk enough to forget the age gap," he joked. 
I was drinking enough to give me courage. Courage. I stood in the doorway and watched him, he hadn't realised yet. 
"You probably want to spend the day with Melanie. I'll hang out with Noel," he said without looking back and headed towards the door. 
"I want to spend it with you," I said with desperation and ran over to him. It made him stop and turn around. "I like you." I grabbed his yukata. He looked down at me shocked. "I like you as more than a friend. I want us to be more than friends. For you to like me as more than a friend," I paused to see if he was going to protest. "I want you to be mine." That seemed to be the turning point for him, I saw the change in his eyes.
His whole expression softened, he looked almost like he was going to cry. He clasped my face between his hands. "If you will be mine." Now I wanted to cry with joy. 
We kissed passionately, our pent up feelings overflowing. Oh how long I've wanted this. My hands snaked under his yukata but his stilled, hesitant to venture under my clothes. 
"It's okay," I whispered and undid the belt on my yukata, "I want to do it with you." I led his hands under the fabric to my breasts. He needed no more encouragement from there. 
No one disturbed us the rest of the day. Melanie and Noel would've guessed what's happening. We had no food in the room so around lunch time when we were exhausted from sex for the time being, we wandered out to grab a bite to eat from the cafe and wandered around the hot springs. The weather is turning more to winter now, and you felt it more up here so we decided to head back inside. Illya pulled us on a detour past the front office and asked if any private hot springs were available. One of us must have had luck saved up as there happened to be one available for the next hour. Illya got in first and held his hand out to help me in. I didn't need it, but I wasn't going to reject it. It made me feel very precious. The water felt glorious after all that sex. Illya sat back while I waded around a bit before coming over to him. He gently grabbed my hips and turned me around so I sat back on his lap. 
"Melanie told me your latest book seems based on me," I said as I cupped the water in my hands. 
He dropped his head on my shoulder and mumbled. I turned enough to lift his head up, his hair was loose and falling over his eyes. I held his hair back and saw the embarrassment. We're not going to be in this hot spring much longer. I gently kissed his forehead, temple, cheek before moving to his jaw and kissing down his neck. His hands flexed at my hips and his breathing changed. 
"Mina," he breathed and pulled me back up to kiss. 
"We can't do it here," I managed to get out as we kissed. 
"We've hired it for the hour, no one will come in." He kissed down my neck. 
"I don't think I can keep silent," I said embarrassed and blushed. 
He paused to look at me for a moment. "Then I will keep you silent," he said full of desire and kissed me. 
He had to carry me back to our room, which was incredibly embarrassing but seemed enjoyable for him. I happened to have the bad luck of us running into Noel and Melanie on our way back. They knew exactly what we'd been doing and Melanie had that look on her face like she knew exactly why I was being carried back. 
"Do you guys want to come out for dinner again?" Noel asked. 
Illya was unsure and looked down at me. I nodded. "Yep we'll join you." They left with a cheeky smile. "Their timing..." I cursed. Illya just laughed and took me back to our room.
"I don't want to go back." Illya ran his fingers up and down my back. It feels really nice. "I just want to stay here in this room with you." He kissed my back. 
I chuckled. "I don't think I'd survive." I rolled over to look at him. "My body wouldn't be able to handle a constant assault." 
He grinned cheekily and nuzzled my neck. "I'll just have to train you." Thankfully he just played and didn't push for sex, we both needed a break. 

Melanie insisted I sit next to her again. She hugged me. "I'm glad you're together," she whispered and when she pulled back looked genuinely happy. "Looks like he's good in bed," she said quietly and winked.
I could only blush and look away. Thankfully she wasn't set on getting me drunk so we had a really nice dinner, and I was really sad to leave the next day. I stared back up the mountain as the train set off. We will definitely have to come back again. Maybe we'll do it for Illya's birthday. I looked back at him, he sat leisurely on the seat beside me. 
He caught me looking at him and smiled. "What are you thinking about?"
 About you. About how you're mine. How this trip finally did what we couldn't do for over a year. How my life has changed... 
He tilted his head as nothing I thought came out in words for him to hear. 
"I won't be alone anymore," it came out a whisper, and probably sounded a lot more emotional to him. 
He pulled me into a big hug. "You won't be alone anymore," he said quietly with emotion.

 

The End

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