"Well, you can't", I protested.
"But it's really good!"
"Jennifer, it's going to be a vegetarian party!" I rolled my eyes.
"But trust me, more people would come if we put in some meat..."
"I don't want more people, I just want people who're vega. And also like to play cards."
I admit, there'd be only a few people this way, but I'd enjoy it anyway.
"There's a new butcher in town", Jennifer tried to persuade me. I grimaced. "It's H. Briss down the main road. You've got to try it."
"I do not eat meat."
This was frowned upon. Most of the people here thought I was stupid for ordering tofu and only ate vegetables, but I found it to be much more healthier. The vegan party I was about to host had a few participants already; and I didn't care if others didn't like my decisions. It was my choice and I did as I pleased. When I was asked about consuming meat, I disapproved those who did, saying it was a horrible thing to hurt other living beings. A week later my words happened to appear in the local paper. I was rather happy with the results as more people started to come to my small farm near the town to buy veggies.
I was rather happy with the results. Until he showed up. I was arranging the apples up front when a rather dark, thick voice started to talk right behind me.
"So you're Grace Port. So very nice to meet you."
I finished arranging the apples and turned to look at the man. He looked like a businessman, dressed in a suit and all. He was tall compared to me and he— oh, he was ginger. I blinked up at him as he sized me up with narrowed eyes; I pulled my scarlet sweater around myself protectively under his inquisitive gaze.
"Nice to meet you too, Mr..." I cocked a brow.
"Hilary Briss", he replied and bowed his head a bit.
My face became stoic.
"Ah, of course", I remarked and he tilted his head, slightly confused. "The butcher."
I couldn't help but sound like I was judging what he was doing. Mr Briss narrowed his eyes further.
"It seems we both heard about one another."
"It seems", I agreed, then I turned my back on him and continued arranging my apples.
"Did you know the article in the papers is slightly... bad?"
His wondering question made me smile. I turned again to look up in his face and I wondered how could he grow such an amazing sideburn. Literally, burn. Since his hair on his face was ginger as well. It looked so amazing. I honestly loved ginger haired men.
"You mean, bad for your business?" I asked with a smile and he mirrored it.
"I'm glad it is."
I bypassed him and I heard him hum as I walked over to my cabbages.
"I've lost a few customers."
"I'm glad to hear."
My reply seemed to make him slightly angry.
"If you're not careful, you might lose more than just a few customers."
I stopped what I was doing and turned to look up in his attractive face again. Gosh why had he to be so handsome?
"Are you threatening me, Mr Briss?"
My heart jumped around in my chest when I saw his smile.
"In every sense of the word, yes."
His dark tone sent a shiver down my spine. What was my body doing? Did I feel attracted or afraid? How could it be both?
"I'm not afraid of you", I told him when I knew it was a lie; I sounded braver than I actually felt.
"Maybe you should be. Lately, a few people went missing... maybe you should be more careful."
I swallowed at his alarming words.
"Well you just be careful", I warned him, "people would notice if I went missing."
He leaned closer to me and he smelled amazing. As he stared at me, his pupils visibly dilated. Me? I felt my pulse accelerated.
"Would they?" He whispered, then flashed a half grin at me, then turned around and left.
I didn't notice my hands were in fists.
To my surprise, he often showed up near my farm. Most of the time he was watching me from afar, but he didn't want to stay hidden, as if he wanted me to know he was there. He made me nervous.
After all, he was a murderer.
I carried on with my days in a surprisingly calm manner. Customers came every day and I've had nice chat with the locals. Until one day, Mr Briss approached me again.
"Good afternoon", he smiled at me and I nodded at him.
As I carried on with my work, I heard he quietly came after me. His closeness made me nervous again. There was something unnerving about this man, but I couldn't decide what was it. Maybe just the fact he was a butcher; I disliked them naturally since my childhood.
"I was wondering if you wanted to bury the hatchet, Miss Port."
I put down my bag which was in my hand, then turned to look up at him. He was incredibly tall, compared to me, my eyes were in one level with his shoulders. I blew a lock of blonde hair out of my blue eyes, and cocked my head up to look in his face, adoring his ginger hair and sideburns again.
"Bury the hatchet?" I echoed.
"Yes, well... I think we may have got off the wrong foot."
I arched a brow, high, then crossed my arms on my chest.
"And how did you exactly plan to 'bury the hatchet', Mr Briss?"
At this, he smiled. And my instincts told me to run. That smile belonged to a predator.
"Have a dinner with me, tonight. Like two decent people. Let's just talk."
I tilted my head. A few days ago he threatened me, but why shouldn't I trust his word, now? I shouldn't judge him by my past experiences. He didn't seem so hostile, now. Except... his grin...
"Alright. Why not."
Why am I agreeing to this?
"There's an Italian restaurant down the main road."
"I know it. At seven?"
Am I nuts?
"Good day, Miss Port. See you tonight."
"See you later, Mr Briss."
For a few hours I kept wondering why did I go into it. Honestly, this was crazy. Why would I go out with this man at all? I was his complete opposite.
Still... something was drawing me to him. I just had to see him again. The way he made me feel was addicting. A dangerous mixture of being alert and aware. To be in danger. It felt good. This quiet little town got boring after the first few months and Mr Briss seemed to be a little... refreshing.
If I ever knew what would happen very soon I'd've packed and left this blasted town at once.
I got my nice red dress on, the one which ended just above my knees and was strapless. I let my blonde shoulder length hair down, put on a bit of make up and parfume, then decided it was time to go. I hopped in my old red Suzuki and left home. As I was driving, I saw a lonely cow wandering the streets; I carefully bypassed it. Maybe it got out somehow...
I reached the restaurant just a bit before seven and I saw he already was near the entrance. I got out; and he flashed a smile at me. He had a black suit on with crimson tie, his crimson kerchief in his pocket was visible in his pocket as well.
Why did my stomach lift up and down?
"Miss Port", he nodded at me and I nodded back.
It seemed we both had red on ourselves. But I knew he had much, much more red on his ledger than I had on mine.
"Shall we?" He asked and I nodded again.
We entered the restaurant and we were led to a table. The small "Reserved" card the waitress removed once we sat made me think.
"Did you reserve this for us?" I asked innocently and he flashed a half smirk.
"Yes. I did."
"I've heard this place is full most of the time and it's hard to get a table."
I arched a brow and his grin remained as he accepted the menu from our waitress. For how long he'd been planning tonight's dinner with me? The thought was flattering and also scary. How did he know what would I reply to his proposal?
"I'd like some orange juice", I smiled up at the waitress after greeting her.
"Orange juice. What can I bring you, Hilary?" She glanced at Mr Briss and I realised he must've visited this place often, or the woman was a usual customer at his shop... maybe both.
"I'd like to have a glass of red wine."
"Sure thing. 2002 Port would suffice?"
I stared at the menu. Port. Perfect.
"How's the wife?"
I furrowed my brows but I kept staring at the menu. Wife? He had a wife? And he took me to dinner? He couldn't possibly... what a p...
"We divorced. She packed up and left for Spain."
Oh he divorced? Why did I feel like it was good news? What's wrong with me?!
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Nevermind. I've never felt more alive."
"Well, that sounds good! I'll bring your drinks in a mo."
"No need to hurry, Olivia."
As they talked, I decided I'd try the four cheese pasta, so I put my menu down and glanced up at him. Mr Briss still was looking at his menu, but when he felt I was watching him, he smiled at the printed pages.
"Am I making you uncomfortable?"
His quiet question made me wonder.
"No, not really."
I lied. He did. I didn't feel safe in his company. I showed myself to be braver than I actually was. But he didn't need to know this.
"Hm, I'm glad I'm not."
He closed the menu and put it down, then he looked in my eyes. The air between us started to change. It slowly filled up with tension. I felt my stomach shrinked to the size of my fist. Okay. He started to make me much more uncomfortable than a few minutes before.
Even if he noticed, he didn't say anything. Our waitress got back with our drinks just as she promised.
"Could you choose?"
"I think so. Miss Port?"
I nodded quickly.
"Yes, I'd like to have a four cheese pasta, please", I placed my order with a smile.
"Four cheese pasta, and?" She turned to look at Mr Briss.
"Roasted lamb with ham and potatoes, please."
As our waitress walked away his eyes met with mine again.
"Does it bother you?" He asked.
"Bothers me what?" I asked back.
"That I eat meat."
I cocked a brow as I got my glass in my hand.
"It's none of my business."
He seemed a bit surprised. I sipped my juice and slightly narrowed my eyes at him.
"It looks like, Mr Briss, that my answer was not anticipated", I noted and he flashed another grin which made me warm from the inside out.
"It was not. Honestly. But perhaps I misjudged you."
I smiled at this.
"I don't think you did."
"I still don't like it that you're hurting living beings."
At my words, he sighed and sipped his wine.
"You don't have to like it. Just let me do it."
"Well, at the moment I can't do anything to stop you."
"At the moment?"
Oh, he was swift. It seemed Mr Briss paid close attention to every word I uttered. He arched a brow and his eyes darkened.
"I'll have a few friends come here from bigger cities, in the next few weeks."
"Really? And what would you do with them?"
"Now, now, Mr Briss, don't be so... curious."
"I am curious", he placed his wine back next to his plate. "You're making waves of changes and I have to be prepared for them."
"Changes are not always bad, wouldn't you agree?"
Once again, he narrowed his eyes. I kept wondering how could his hair be so ginger.
"Depends on the circumstances."
The waitress came back with our orders. I happily tasted my four chesse pasta and never minded the food on his plate.
"So, why don't you like it?"
I looked up at him when he asked his question.
"I accidentally saw a documentary about a slaughterhouse when I was a child. I decided back then that I won't take a part of this. Animals feel just like we do."
"And what gives you the idea that plants don't?"
I nearly rolled my eyes. Meat eaters always threw this question at me.
"I thought you were cleverer than this, Mr Briss."
My comment made him grin again. A cold shiver ran down my spine at the sight of it. I stabbed my pasta with my fork instead.
"I get it, you still need to eat something."
"If I could eat sunlight, I would", I smiled at my pasta.
"Hmm, so you don't even want to try eating meat?"
"Not if I have a choice."
We ate quietly for a while. When I finished my pasta I put my cutlery down in my plate and sipped my juice again, then watched him eat. What did draw me to this man? Why am I even here? I should avoid him.
But I didn't. And it was a problem. I've had a bad luck with men, and I was sure he wouldn't be an exception. I felt like it was a curse which prevented me from getting a normal life. That's why I moved here, to the edge of the world. As I've been here for a few months I met a lot of people but none of them made a lasting impression on me. Except this man. Why? He was a murderer. A butcher. He killed animals for profit. And yet… yet…
"How long have you been a butcher, Mr Briss?" I asked then, curiously.
He cocked a brow and looked up at me, and once again, I truly couldn't believe how red his hair was. Seriously, it looked like fire. If I wanted to be honest, he looked like a demon straight from Hell.
"All my life."
That would be the answer which should tell me to back off. I probably should pack up and leave; I wouldn't stop thinking about him and he wasn't for me. It was clear as day.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I wanted to know if, I don't know… you wanted a different profession, or something."
"Like what?" His voice became a bit rough. "That's the only thing I'm good at."
My face slightly distorted with pain. Why, why, why it had to be like this?
"Killing?" I asked as I sipped my juice.
He tilted his head with a smile.
"Someone has to do it. Not everyone's a vegetarian."
"But if everyone was, then you'd lose your job."
His smile became wider. And more threatening.
I truly was bad for his business, then.
"You're not, Miss Port. I see through you."
He leaned closer. I felt like I was in the corner, when it wasn't true at all.
"Let's hope you wouldn't truly feel sorry, in the end."
I swallowed nervously and sipped my juice again.
After he finished his food, we agreed to leave. He was a gentleman as he offered he'd pay for the dinner. I told him it was fine and I could pay for what I ate, but he insisted. Maybe he wasn't as bad as I thought, in the end.
"Thank you for the dinner, sir."
"Don't mention it", he smiled down at me.
"Do you need a lift?" I asked him, trying to be nice, as I got my small bag in my hand and stood up.
Once again, I realised he was huge compared to me as he rose to his feet. He literally towered above me and I could imagine all the muscles running under his clothes. After all, you have to be strong to cut… meat. He was big and he seemed really dangerous, to me.
"If it's not much trouble", he smiled down at me, "I accept."
"If it was trouble, I wouldn't offer it."
He sounded like I entertained him. We headed outside, then I led him to my car and opened the door for him first. He got in; I wasn't sure he'd fit in to be honest, but he had no problems with it. I got in, too; and in the car, I realised how close he was to me. His cologne's scent was wonderful and I could feel he kept his eyes on me, which made me nervous and a bit dizzy. Nevertheless, I started the engine and started driving calmly.
"Where do you live, Mr Briss?" I asked him and when he answered, I heard he was smiling.
"Above my shop."
Of course. Damnit. I never went in there, but I knew where it was as I bypassed it a few times already. I navigated my car that way, and we stayed quiet during the ride. I had to stop at a red light and I tapped a rythm on the steering wheel; I was still nervous.
"I've had fun, Miss Port", he noted and I half smiled.
"Surprisingly, me too."
It really didn't bother me he ate what I didn't, and I tried to see the man behind his profession. With these thoughts in mind, I safely could say he was fine. And while he still looked dangerous to me, I still felt drawn to him. Oh God, why? I glanced at him again, and he was staring right back at me. His cologne mixed with my parfume and both filled up the space around us. The result was rather sweet — and wild.
"Surprisingly?" He echoed and I hummed.
"I thought we wouldn't get along, but I'd say we kinda do."
I stopped the car right at his shop's entrance and he flashed a smile at me.
"Thank you for the lift."
"Don't mention it."
"See you around."
"Yes, you, too."
He got out, closed my door and while I was driving home – with his scent still in my car – I couldn't stop thinking I was crazy.