Fire

by Doreen F.

I had been living in my new apartment for about 8 months and I really enjoyed it. I used to call it apartment, although it was more like a flat in an old house. I was living in 4C and I had been really lucky to find it. The apartment had belonged to my then boyfriendís aunt, who had married an Australian and moved to the other end of the world. She wanted to sell it as soon as possible, so we made a deal and I didnít have to pay as much as the apartment was actually worth. Only two months later my boyfriend and I broke up, we were not happy together anymore and both of us decided it would be best to split up. That was probably the best break-up I ever had, everyone was happy and we were still friends and invited each other for dinner every once in a while.

As an artist I also had a small studio about 15 minutes away where I worked because at home I usually found many things which distracted me from painting and crafting and furthermore having the studio it felt more like having a real job. I was rather successful with some of my exhibitions where I earned enough money to afford my flat. My parents were also quite wealthy and supported me financially. Otherwise I would have never been able to become an artist.

In my house I also had very nice neighbours, especially one who lived on the other end of the aisle, Mariano. We had become good friends and he often helped me to carry the shopping bags up to my flat as our house didnít have an elevator - even if there were one he would have carried them, I suppose. I often thought that he was extremely handsome-he was of Hispanic descent-, but when I moved in, he had a girlfriend and I enjoyed being single so nothing ever happened. Sometimes we watched TV together in the evening when both of us were free. Mariano was a marketing-manager and had to travel a lot, so I had a spare key to water his plants and I took care of his cat, when he was away.

One day he looked really down, when I saw him. I asked him what had been wrong and he told me that his girlfriend had left him. I felt extremely sorry for him because I knew that they had been together for over 2 years and that he had really loved her. So I tried to comfort him invited him over for a drink, but he said he wanted be alone. I could understand that and after that I didnít see him for over a week. I was beginning to worry about him since usually I saw him at least twice a week except for those times when he was out of town, which he normally told me because of his cat. My week had been quite busy, but on Sunday I decided to knock at his door and invite him over for dinner. Mariano didnít open the door, when I knocked, but when he found out it was me he said that I could let myself in. When I came in I knew why I hadnít seen him for such a long time. He was in bed and didnít look all too well. All over his flat were cans of beer and bottles of alcohol. Poor guy, he seemed to be having a really hard time. I sat down on the edge of his bed and he seemed glad that I was there. Eve though he was in a really bad condition I once again realized how good-looking he was. It was probably not the best time to think about that, but I couldnít help it. I told him that I had been worried that I wanted to invite him over for dinner to cheer him up. Mariano said that that was really kind, but he preferred to stay in his flat and pity himself. I tried really hard to convince him to come over or at least watch TV in his flat, but he also told me he had a terrible headache and that he wanted to stay in bed until the next day. Well, what could I do?

So I went home and invited my ex-boyfriend who then came over for dinner. He told me that he had a new girlfriend and asked if he she could come along. I didnít really mind, I was happy for him and really curious to get to know her. They came at about 7.30 and we had a really nice relaxed evening. The new girlfriend was very nice and as she was interested in art, we had lots of things to talk about. After they had left I thought that it was about time I got another boyfriend myself. I had some short-term-relationships after our break-up, but nothing serious.

Another week went by before I saw Mariano again. I had heard him go to work this week and I was glad to know that because otherwise I wouldíve really stared to worry about him. On Friday he knocked at my door and invited me over for dinner. I agreed immediately and went over to his place. After dinner we sat down on the couch to talk and I asked him, if he felt better now. Mariano apologised for his behaviour and told me about the break-up. He probably hadnít told anybody else. She had left him out of the blue giving him no reason except that she had found someone else and didnít love him anymore. I had the impression that he felt much better afterwards, although the explanation seemed a bit weak and maybe it wasnít the whole truth. I was really glad that he felt better and decided not to push this painful topic any further. Before I left I gave him a friendly hug and a goodnight kiss on the cheek.

Time went by as nothing had happened, we spent some evenings together, I was busy working, Mariano had to travel a lot, so I often came over to feed his cat and he invited me for dinner to thank me. Nothing ever happened although I could feel some mutual attraction, but neither of us wanted to push it so as not to destroy our friendship.

I had two rather successful exhibitions and Mariano visited them and he wanted to buy a small picture of his cat which I had painted. Of course, I couldnít sell it to him, so I gave it to him as a gift. He seemed delighted and it got a special place in his kitchen. I wasnít spying, but I sometimes noticed that he was having female guests, which made me a bit jealous. I was happy for him to find other girls, but I was beginning to like him more than just as a friend. I did ask him about the girls, but he said that it was nothing serious, he was "checking out the market." Apparently he wasnít really successful because I had never seen any of them twice. Mariano had high standards, his former girlfriend had been the love of his life, but he hadnít been hers.

One night around two I woke up because of a terrible noise, the fire alarm, I realized. I also smelled the smoke, so I quickly got up and put on some clothes because I knew this was not only a drill, but serious danger. Then I left the flat with very few of my belongings and in the aisle I saw that the fire was in one of the upper flats, sixth floor or even higher. I ran down the stairs together with many others. On the street I saw that Mariano wasnít there, he was not on a business trip and shouldíve been there. Despite of the others trying to pull me back, I ran back into the house up to Marianoís flat. Fortunately I had the key for his apartment and so I unlocked the door. There was already smoke as the fire was in a flat above his. I saw his cat and tried to catch it, but where was Mariano. I shouted his name - no answer, could he have such a deep sleep? So I went around in his flat to see where he was and then I found him, lying on the floor. He had to have slipped in the attempt of leaving the flat and seemed to be unconscious. I knew that I was running out of time, it was getting hotter every second. Quickly I ran into the kitchen and returned with a glass of cold water which I splashed onto his face. Mariano awoke and I told him about the fire and that we had to leave the house as soon as possible. I helped him to get onto his feet. He said that his ankle was twisted, but he was going to try to walk leaning onto me. I carried the cat, which I had caught by then, when suddenly Mariano stopped. "Whatís wrong, why did you stop?" I wanted to know.

"I Ö I have to get my Ö my glasses, I mustíve knocked them off, when I slipped!" he explained. I didnít know he wore glasses, but there was no time to think about something like that now.

"Here, take Billy, Iíll look for them, what they look like?" I gave him the cat and ran back, hearing him shout the description, until I reached the place where he had been lying. The smoke was quite dense now and it was dark; I had to be careful no to step onto them. I got on my knees and patted on the floor until I found them. Grabbing the glasses, I ran towards the door where Mariano was standing. Handing him over the glasses, he put them on and leaning onto me we made our way down the stairs. I was so glad to be out of the house and the clear air was such a relief compared to the smoke. We stopped at a save distance and watched the fire brigade come.

"They wonít be done until morning, why donít we take a taxi to my studio; there itís more comfortable than out here in the cold watching the fire fighters in their effort to save our home." I suggested since Marino was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and jeans. It was late autumn and the nights were beginning to get chilly.

"Of course, thatís a good idea, I didnít have the time to put on anything", he agreed eagerly.

So we took a taxi to my studio which wasnít far away, but with a twisted ankle Mariano couldnít walk that distance. When we arrived there, Mariano let Billy down and the cat walked around inspecting my place, apparently glad to be out of the burning house. I tried to clean up a bit to find some space on the couch to sit down. Then I made us a cup of tea. Mariano had already taken a seat and was taking a proper look at his ankle.

"Do you think itís seriously injured? Should we go to the hospital", I asked him.

"No, itís not that bad, if I massage it a bit and donít put any weight onto it, I wonít feel a thing in two days. Thank you by the way for coming back, I could have died, if you hadnít come and looked for me. Even if I had woken up by myself, I couldnít have left the building. And then my glasses, I wouldnít have found them and theyíd have been burnt I would have had to walk around without them. I knew that I would not be able to get to my contacts, but no glasses or contacts would be horrible. And you saved Billy as well, how can I thank you?" Mariano looked at me and he was as handsome as never before. His face was really black because of the smoke and the glasses really suited him.

"Itís alright because I know that you wouldíve done the same for me, wouldnít you?" A nod and a smile. "Itís enough to know that and by the way you can stay here as long as you like because I donít think weíll be moving to our flats soon. Thereíll be serious damage, Iím afraid. My studio is not big, but Iíve lived here before and since we are friends, I hope you agree", I offered and instead of an answer he pulled me close to him and gave me a kiss. I was surprised, but wasnít that what I had been longing for? The kiss was really intense and when we finally had to breathe, both of us had a smile on their face. We fell asleep in each others arms and woke up when the sun shone through the huge windows.

I got up, took a shower and I went to the supermarket to get some food for the cat and breakfast for us. When I came back Mariano had taken a shower and looked really gorgeous. His hair was still wet and the black curls were standing into every direction. He was wearing the dirty clothes since there was nothing else, but we had decided to go to our house to see if we could fetch some things after our breakfast. Mariano had called his office explaining that he couldnít come. It was Friday and we had a long weekend ahead of us. Marianoís foot didnít hurt that much anymore, yet we decided to take a taxi to our house to see what it looked like. Both of us were surprised that it was still standing. The firer fighters had done a great job, the fire hadnít reached our floor, but there was damage due to the amounts of water which had been used to extinguish the fire. One of our neighbours told us that the fire had been caused by a cigarette which had fallen onto the floor unnoticed; it had spread extremely fast and the upper floors were severely damaged. In the fourth floor it wasnít that bad, but it would take some time - probably about 6 weeks - until we could move back in. We were only allowed into the house accompanied by fire fighters to grab whatever we needed desperately and then we had to leave the house. It was quite spooky, the house seemed so empty and I left as soon as I had everything I needed (some clothes and other stuff). Mariano was nearly as quickly as me, but not quite. We met outside the house each of us carrying a small bag containing the most important things. The damage in Marianoís flat was worse than in mine because the fire had started in one of the flats above his. It was very likely that I could move back in before him.

Since Mariano had accepted my offer to stay at the studio until we were allowed to return to our flat, we took our stuff to my studio and once we were there I tried to make it as comfortable as possible for the both of us to live there, while Mariano was taking another shower. I was making the bed - I only had one which we had decided to share - he came out only wearing boxer-shorts and his glasses and he looked so cute I couldnít do anything but stare at him with a big smile on my smile. He noticed and asked, "Why are you looking like that, is there something wrong with me?"

"No, no, itís just that you look so incredibly irresistible to me. Honestly, you look extremely hot."

"Do I? Well, I think you are really beautiful too."

Then he came towards me and we kissed, oh, he was such a gentle kisser. I didnít want to stop, but we had decided to take things slowly as we knew that we had to stay in my studio together for some time and we wanted to get along well and did not want to hurry.

We sat down on the couch looking at each other full of desire, then we kissed again. Marianoís glasses touched my cheek and I had a really weird feeling, but in a very good way. I felt like having butterflies in my stomach, it was something I had never experienced before. I hadnít asked Mariano about his glasses yet, I felt a bit shy, and I didnít want to offend him by asking questions. Sometimes he didnít seem to notice that he was wearing glasses, but sometimes he seemed fully aware of them and kept adjusting them and fiddling around. It didnít really matter to me because I thought that glasses suited him extremely well and I liked them.

In the afternoon we decided to go to the city centre to do some shopping. Mariano had told me that he needed new contact lenses; his old ones had been damaged by the heat and he didnít want to risk using them. So we also went to the optometrist where Mariano usually went. He was told that the contacts would be delivered on Monday as there was no delivery on Saturdays and they didnít have the contacts in his strength in stock. Mariano seemed a bit sad afterwards and in order to cheer him up I told him that I thought that he looked really good in glasses. He smiled, but wasnít in the mood to talk about that topic. We continued our little shopping tour and afterwards we went to an Asian restaurant. We took the underground back to my studio as Mariano didnít want to walk that much - his foot still seemed to hurt a little although he didnít want to admit it.

The rest of the evening we spent cuddled up to each other on the sofa. Both of us were really tired due to the lack of sleep of the night before, so we went to bed early. It was an awkward feeling sharing one bed, but after some time it felt really good. In the morning I woke up first and took a shower. Then I started a new painting while Mariano was sleeping. I decided to draw him and the painting turned out to be really good. I had done some sketches of him before, so I painted him sitting on a chair looking towards me. I had to decide whether I wanted to paint him with glasses, which I really did, but therefore I needed him awake to pose. I had to capture the shade and how the light was reflected through the lenses. Mariano woke up while I was preparing breakfast and on his way back from the bathroom he saw the painting. He wasnít wearing his glasses, probably he had forgotten to put them on. At first he squinted a bit and went rather close to the canvas to get a proper look, but then Mariano went to the bedroom and returned with his glasses on to inspect my piece of art.

"Wow, youíve already been busy. Thatís a good one, but itís not finished. Is that me?" he was interested.

"Yeah, well, itís you, but I have to paint your face. I want your portrait to wear glasses, so you have to pose for me wearing them, if you donít mind. I have to study the reflections. Will that be alright for you?"

"Itíll be a pleasure for me to pose for your painting, although I donít know why you want to paint me with glasses. Letís do it after breakfast, shall we?"

"Thatíd be great, thank you."

I was so glad he accepted and gave him a kiss. After breakfast he asked me where he had to sit down and did as I instructed him. After I had finished, he inspected the painting and nodded agreement.

"I like it and itís an honour that you painted me. Itís really good, though Iím wearing glasses. Iím not used to seeing me like that, you know."

"Well, Iíve never seen you like that before until the fire. However, I think they really suit you."

"Do you know that you one of the first people who say that? I only got them 3 years ago, but decided to wear contacts most of the time. I was even advised to do so because in my job image is very important, thatís ridiculous isnít it?"

"Why didnít you wear glasses at home? In the evening?"

"I did, but only when I was alone. I didnít want to show them to anyone, I was afraid of their reaction. My ex didnít even know I had them at the beginning and when she saw them, she told me that sheíd prefer me in contacts. Not long after that, we broke up. I hope that wasnít the main reason, but it certainly was one of them."

"Poor you, I really like you in specs, thatís why I painted you wearing them. I have always thought that you were a hot guy, but the glasses make you really special to me."

"Iím glad you like them because now I can wear them whenever I feel like it or I have to like at the moment. Contacts are great, my vision is better with them, but sometimes they are a pain in the ass. After a long day in front of the computer my eyes are often a bit sore, so I prefer wearing glasses."

"You werenít wearing them, when I was visiting you after the break-up, right?"

"Thatís true, thatís why I didnít answer the door, I wouldíve had to wear the glasses and I didnít want to. When you were in my flat, I decided to stay in bed and not to show you. My eyes wouldnít have tolerated contacts that day therefore I declined your invitation. Iím really sorry for that. Had I known that you liked my glasses, Iíd have worn them."

"How could you have known? I donít blame you, you were having a bad time, but itís better now, isnít it?"

I encouraged him with a smile and a kiss. I was really looking forward to our weekend together.

It turned out to be great, Marianoís ankle was okay by then and we spent most our time walking through the parks enjoying every second together. In the evening we were snuggling and talked a lot, so each of us learned much about the other. There was nothing we couldnít talk about and he seemed to enjoy our weekend as much as I did. Monday came much too soon and Mariano had to go to work. I had to work too, but somehow I felt really inspired by this whole new situation. Certainly I had to call some of my friends to tell them about Mariano and the fire. Wow, I still couldnít believe it was true. When I called my ex-boyfriend who had seen Mariano once or twice, he didnít seem surprised. He even said that he had thought that the both of us would make a great couple. As a born observer he had immediately sensed attraction on both sides. When I told him about the glasses and how I felt attracted to them as well, he mentioned that he had noticed that Mariano wore contacts - no wonder he was a journalist and a great observer. Concerning the glasses he explained that he had experienced that some people were attracted to them more than others - was he a scientist??? I shouldíve known anyway, he always knew exactly what was going on.

In the afternoon I got a call from Mariano. He asked me, if I could go to the optometrist and buy the contact lenses because he was so busy that he wouldnít be there before they closed. Mariano said that he might be late for dinner, but heíd try to come home around eight. Thus I went to the optometrist and told the optician that I was there to fetch my boyfriendís contacts. They had already been delivered and while she went to bring them I looked around in the shop. I had never imagined that there was such a vast choice of frames. I supposed it had to be really hard to find the right pair of glasses especially, if you didnít see well. The price of the contacts surprised even more, I didnít know that they were that expensive, but I assumed that glasses werenít cheap either.

Back at my studio I decided to do some drawings before I started cooking. Billy was sitting on the window sill watching some birds; he was my model for today. At seven I began with my preparations for dinner, I wanted to try a tortilla because one of my friends had given me the recipe. At eight the tortilla was ready and Mariano came home - great timing. He looked really tired, although he tried to hide it. The food was delicious and Mariano relaxed during dinner. Afterwards we sat down on the couch to watch TV and eat our desert, crème catalane. After the news I wanted to know how Marianoís day has been. "There was so much work, I didnít even have time for my lunch break. On Wednesday I have to go to San Francisco for a meeting. Just for one day, thatís so stupid. I want to stay with you, you know."

"Donít worry, Billy and Iíll be fine. If you want, I can pick you up from the airport."

"Thatíd be really nice of you. By the way, did you get the contact lenses?"

"Yeah, you owe me some money for that. I didnít know they were so expensive! I think you owe me more than only money."

"Thank you so much for getting them, I know theyíre expensive, Iíll give you the money. It was such a strange feeling to be at work wearing glasses. Everyone seemed to stare at me, but nobody asked. It was as if I had a disease."

"Probably the men were envious because you looked so good and the women couldnít say a word because they were stunned by your appearance", I said and kissed him.

We watched a movie lying in the bed, but Mariano fell asleep very soon, he had a very hard day. At least his colleagues didnít make any mean jokes about his glasses. He had to have felt extremely insecure and self-conscious, I felt sorry for him. Then I removed his glasses as I was afraid that he might break them and then I fell asleep over a really bad movie. Mariano woke me up at 6. "Good morning, sorry to wake you, but where did you put my contact lenses? I found the glasses, thanks for removing them."

"They are still in my handbag, I think, let me have a look." I got up and brought Mariano the contacts. He took them and went to the bathroom to put them in. Since I wasnít tired anymore, I decided to have breakfast and asked Mariano, if he wanted some cornflakes too. He said he did and after fifteen minutes we were having breakfast together. Now I noticed that Mariano blinked a lot more when he was wearing the contacts, but he seemed content and left in a happy mood.

Tuesday passed really quickly. That evening Mariano wasnít as tired as the day before, his colleagues had reacted as if the day before never had happened. At home Mariano took out the contacts right after dinner and I watched him. This was really interesting for me because I had never seen that before. I even had the honour to bring Mariano his glasses and place them onto his nose, when he was finished. Wednesday came far too soon, but I promised to pick him up from the airport in the evening.

It was a really busy day for me, I tried to do as much as I could to make them time pass quickly. At six I got a call from Mariano. He said that he had trouble with his contacts and asked me to bring his glasses to the airport. I felt so sorry for him. The flight was arriving at eleven, I hoped that my sweetheart could cope without glasses and unnerving contacts for so long.

At the airport, there werenít many people at this time of the day. I was there half an hour earlier and kept watching at the monitors as if I could make his plane land earlier. Finally it had landed and I watched the doors, through which everyone who arrived had to go, like crazy until they opened and Mariano came out. I ran towards him and hugged him. He smiled, but immediately asked me if I had brought the glasses. I gave them to him and he hurried to the toilet to remove his contacts. One of his eyes had seemed swollen, I hoped that he was alright.

Mariano came back after five minutes and seemed to feel better. He said he wanted to take a taxi back to the studio. When we came home he told me that his one eye really hurt and it was sensitive to light. Furthermore he couldnít see clearly, something had gotten under his lens and was still in the eye. Poor Mariano, he even started crying - I had never seen a man crying before. Mariano said that he had a terrible headache and that he wanted to go to bed now as there was nothing he felt he could do now.

In the morning Mariano didnít have to get up as early as usually due to his late arrival from San Francisco. I woke up before him and got up to prepare breakfast. When he heard me in the kitchen, Mariano got up and went to the bathroom yawning. Then he joined me at the table. "Howís your eye?"

"Much better, I donít feel a thing, it doesnít hurt anymore."

"Great, I was afraid there might be an infection."

"Thank God itís not, but I have to see how it feels with the lens inside."

While I was washing the dishes Mariano went to the bathroom to put in his contacts. They didnít hurt and he was really happy about that. He left for work.

At noon Mariano called me and told me that he had been out in the lunch break and the wind had been quite strong and his eyes were hurting. I told him Iíd come over and bring him the glasses. I had never been to his office before and everything looked extremely sterile. I was escorted by a secretary to Marianoís office because in order to get there one had to pass through many gates for which you needed a special card.

At the office Marianoís face lit up, when he saw me and he immediately took out his contacts.

His eyes were really red, I felt so sorry for him, but on the other hand I enjoyed seeing him in glasses. "Youíre an angel. I hope you werenít too busy", he smiled apologetically. "No, itís alright, Iím always there to help you. Can you bring me back through this prison system to civilisation?" I asked. "Of course, letís go", he said and took me to the main hall from where I could leave the building on my own. Mariano gave me a kiss and promised to cook dinner tonight.

When Mariano came home he cooked the most delicious dinner I had ever eaten. I wanted to know what his secret had been and he told me that it had been magic. He seemed more relaxed that evening, so I wanted to know the reason.

"Well, after you have left, my boss came in to ask me about yesterdayís meeting and he seemed curious about you. But first of all he complemented me on the glasses, which was a relief. As he hadnít been there on Monday, so he hadnít seen me in them. He has contacts too, can you imagine, I didnít know that. His eyes are far worse than mine and we shared some experiences. It was so good to have someone talk about that, I mean, you are great and comforting, but you donít need glasses, thatís a difference, you donít know what it is like not to see properly."

"Wow, thatís great, Iím so happy for you. I guess when your boss accepts you wearing glasses, you can wear them whenever you like or donít feel like wearing contacts, right?"

"Yeah, I think so, but Iíll wear contacts in the job most of the time anyway. However, Iíll carry the glasses with me, just in case, you know. Thereís another thing Iíve got to tell you."

"What is it?"

"My boss wanted to know about you, so I told him how gifted you are and he said heíd like to sponsor your next exhibition."

"But he doesnít know any of my pieces of art, how can he be sure of that?"

"Well, he has been to my place once and there heíd seen there painting of Billy, he liked it and he has confidence in my taste."

"Wow, thatís unbelievable, but I think he should come over to take a look first. Why donít you invite him for dinner tomorrow?"

"Now thatís a great idea, Iíll call him right away."

"Do that and tell him he can bring his wife or partner with him."

"Heís not married - heís gay. Is it alright to bring his boyfriend as well?"

"Certainly, gosh, Iím really nervous about that. Thanks a lot, Mariano. Have I told you that I really love you?"

"Well, you have, but I donít mind you proving it with a kiss."

Then Mariano called his boss and invited him and his boyfriend over for dinner, while I decided what to cook. After the phone call Mariano said that his boss would be delighted to come tomorrow and his boyfriend was coming too.

Friday I spent buying everything I needed for dinner and cleaning up my studio. I also had to go to my apartment to get extra dishes and I got the information that we would be able to move in about one month. In the late afternoon Mariano came home and helped me with the preparations for dinner. He had been wearing contacts for work and didnít have any trouble today, but at home he had taken them out and put on his glasses. Mariano told me that he and his boss had agreed that both of them would be wearing glasses tonight.

At eight the doorbell rang and Marianoís boss Guillermo and his boyfriend Antonio had arrived. I led them to the table and then I went back into the kitchen to serve the food. Mariano helped me and only minutes later we were enjoying our food and had a really conversation. Antonio and Guillermo were really kind people and I liked them immediately. It felt like we had known each other for ages. Both were rather good-looking, but Mariano was still my favourite. Both of them had glasses and Guillermoís really seemed very strong whereas Antonioís seemed completely different - he was farsighted. After dinner I made a tour through me studio and in the end I showed them my paintings and drawings and other pieces of art. They liked them a lot and even asked me, if I could paint them, which I agreed. We decided that they should come on the next day and Iíd paint them. Guillermo said that he would love to sponsor my exhibitions and I was extremely happy. Later we sat down on the couch and had a conversation about glasses. They told us how they had come to know each other - they had met at an optometrist.

 

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