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Sunshine Smile

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The very first time Aleksander Morozova met Alina Starkov, he had felt an almost overwhelming need to lock her up. Not in the sense of calling the police on her and having her thrown in jail. But certainly take her away from the life she was living now and keep her with him forever.

In a way, it was a sort of imprisonment.

But if anything it would be a comfortable gilded cage where her every need and desire would be catered to. So long as she remained with him. So long as she never left.

Of course, doing that would be illegal though fear of the law (or lack of it) hadn’t actually stopped him in the past. But would it be worth it to just go to her, carry her over his shoulder and run off with her in tow? That might prove to be more trouble than it was worth. Not to mention, inconsiderate of Alina’s feelings and wishes. Because somehow, the thought of her becoming fearful of him, of Alina being brought to tears through his actions, rendered him incapable of breath.

How strange that he would even take Alina herself, her reactions, her emotional and mental well-being into consideration. His mother would call him weak for that. And Aleksander would not be able to defend himself. To need anyone was to make oneself vulnerable to the other person’s whims and machinations. Aleksander might as well turn around to give them an easier time to literally stab him in the back. If anything, that was the one lesson his mother had continued to reiterate as he was growing up.

Then again, his mother was a bitter old woman who died as she lived, wealthy but alone without anyone but Aleksander to mourn her. It might have been easier had he never loved her. Even long after her passing, he followed her lessons almost to the letter. And while his success could partly be credited to her teachings, it also left him unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

He could command a room full of people. Be considered the most important person in the vicinity. And yet, he still couldn’t help but feel that something was missing.

Money and influence could only go so far when it came to buying happiness. To be fair, it went a long way. But as Aleksander found out, it was never going to be enough. And it was possible to still be lonely despite being in a crowded room, each and every person there just to see you but never truly seeing you.

He wouldn’t go so far as to say that Alina would be that missing piece that would fill this chasm inside him. But he sensed from the very moment he had found himself in her orbit that she was the key. Perhaps not the solution. But someone who could very well lead him to what he sought.

Aleksander had always thought himself to be a patient man. It was a quality he had to cultivate in himself after acknowledging that the world would not give him what he wanted just because he desired something. But upon the realisation of what Alina could mean to him, all those years of self control almost came to nothing. Almost.

As he was wont to do when faced with dilemmas, his mind had immediately and automatically done a cost-benefit analysis. What were the consequences of abducting her? Could he do it now with little to no fuss? What would that do in the long term?

Like clockwork, his brain had given him an answer. He could certainly get away with taking Alina (there were no functioning cameras around and any witnesses could easily be discredited or bought off). But that would come at the cost of Alina’s trust. Not that he had it yet. But starting off on the wrong foot would have Alina hostile to him, when all he wanted was to be allowed to be with her.

So he found himself in turmoil. The urge to possess her may be strong. But so was the desire to matter to Alina. So was the urge to care for her.

For some inexplicable reason, this girl that he barely knew aroused feelings in him. In the darkest, deepest recesses of his mind, he might even go so far as to call them tender feelings. The sort that could inspire affection. The sort of affection he had only, so far, extended to his prized horses.

Though he didn’t think he’d be content with simply brushing Alina’s hair, feeding her with sugar cubes and riding her (in a completely different way from his horses) towards a new horizon.

Alina possessed a smile so bright that, in his eyes, she could rival the sun. If he could help it, he didn’t want that smile to vanish and be replaced with fear and terror. Aleksander knew he wasn’t the sort of man that could inspire joy in others. But still, he wanted Alina’s smiles to be directed at him. Not in the way one would greet a new customer. But in the way a person greets their beloved as they come home from a long, distant journey.

Surely, Alina would prefer a life in comfort and luxury with him rather than continue with her life as it is now.

However, that could simply be wishful thinking on his part. To her, Aleksander was simply another customer.

He wanted to know everything about her. Aleksander had the means to learn of her past, where she grew up, what school she went to, the friends she had and what led her to working in this little shop where he first laid eyes on her. Of course they were important. But more than anything, he wanted to know of her thoughts, her hopes and dreams, what she wanted for her life. Those were things he could only get from her as he looked deep in her eyes to gauge them for their veracity.

Most of all, he wanted to know if there was any room for him in her life.

If I take her now, she would have no one but me. I could make sure of it.

That was certainly the most expedient way. Even now, that remained a tempting thought. But the question was whether her smile could maintain its radiance once she became his pretty caged little pet.

It would be a wide, comfortable cage. Aleksander would make sure of it. He owned mountain retreats. He also owned islands that may or may not be on current world maps. Alina would have the space to roam to her heart’s content as long as she did so with the company of guards or Aleksander himself.

She wouldn’t have to work another day in her life. Aleksander couldn’t claim to know much about working in retail. But he didn’t think anyone even one with as sunny a disposition as Alina’s would want to continue working there for long. Shifts that were hours long requiring her to conduct business while standing up and having to deal with customers that thought themselves better than her. Some wouldn’t even look her in the eyes while talking to her.

These days, he noticed that Alina had become much too thin. Was she eating enough? Was her job even paying her enough to afford food? Summer was about to end. Does she have sufficient clothing to keep her warm?

If she was with him, he’d make sure she never had to worry about such things. He would buy her whatever clothes her heart desired. He would have chefs prepare her favourite meals. If she asked it of him, he would cover her with diamonds and pearls.

If she stayed with him, Alina wouldn’t need to focus on mere survival. She could relegate her attention to doing what she truly wanted.

Aleksander wanted to give her all those things now. Merely by the warmth of her smile.

He could care for her if he took her now.

But by doing so, would they be able to trust each other?

Aleksander knew a thing or two about making others submit to his will. If he wanted to, he could do the same to Alina. He could make her stay with him for as long as they both lived.

But did he truly want to, knowing full well that her sunshine smile would be gone forever if he did so?

Aleksander entered Alina’s store. By now, he had come often enough to be considered a regular. Alina even went up to him to greet him. Always. Always, the vision of her coming to him made his heart skip a beat. Perhaps it even coloured his cheeks.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Morozova. Nice to see you again!”

Alina was close enough to hold, close enough drag to his car. She was a slight thing. It wouldn’t take much to do it. The art supplies store she worked in could never be accused of being a popular location. And he knew for a fact that the cameras inside weren’t actually recording.

Take her now.

It would be so easy.

Instead, he smiled back. His paltry attempt could never rival hers. But he wanted her to know that he could be her friend. That he would be there for her.

But first…

“Please, Ms. Starkov. Call me Aleksander.”

He could not begin to explain how he knew. But he was certain that Alina liked that.

“In that case, call me Alina.”

And from that point until the moment he exited her shop, Aleksander easily ignored the impulse to possess Alina, preoccupied as he was with her joy and her very presence.