The next morning, Nick had a boner. He groaned, instantly regretting climbing back into bed beside Lene. Of course, I would wake up with morning wood. He kicked himself mentally.
He knew that had to get away from the nine year old before she awoke and became aware of his "predicament"--seriously, how could he even explain the situation without sounding like a huge pervert?--but she was sleeping so close to him, her hair tickling the bottom of his chin, her head nuzzling into his chest, and her feet… brushing against his? Nick sat up in response to that sensation and nearly fell out of bed as he tried to pull away from the young woman sleeping on the mattress beside him. He stared.
It was Lene, all right. There was no mistaking those delicate features… That long dark hair, the pale skin, and those eyes--he had a feeling that when she opened her eyes, they would be the most riveting shade of golden amber. She was much taller now, which explained why her feet reached all the way to his, and had grown up, really grown up. Nick felt his entire being reacting to the sight of her. His breath caught in his chest, and his body involuntarily tightened. Lene was a real woman in the flesh, not a figment of his subconscious and she was, simply put, beautiful. Gorgeous. Exquisite. Breathtaking.
Too many words, Nick. Take a deep breath, Mr. Poet…†he told himself.
He inhaled slowly, relishing the very sight of her. This was what had been plaguing his dreams, this was what his body had been longing for: a female, a mate. And she was the embodiment of everything physical that his dreams could conjure--long, shapely legs were visible beneath the thin skirt of her white dress, which led to softly curving hips and, further up, the swell of her chest was even larger than the woman's of his most recent dream. Plus, he was pretty sure that her breasts were actually real.
Nick tried to recall again that dream woman's face as she'd looked down into his when she'd climbed on top of him, but the only face he could imagine now had amber eyes and was framed in curling black hair.
Alarmed, Nick realized that he was fantasizing about Lene. The same Lene he had found as an infant wailing away in her crib, the same Lene whom he had carried piggyback when she was five years old, the same Lene who had lost her parents at the age of nine and cried in his arms... and now the same Lene who lay sleeping peacefully beside him, her breasts rising and falling with the rhythm of her breathing. They pressed against the gauzy fabric at the bodice of her gown. Nick stared fixated at the way they moved, and it took all his effort not to reach out and touch them, the way he had touched the women in his dreams.
Self control, Nick, he reminded himself. He had just been about to feel up Lene in her sleep. God, maybe I really am a pervert?
It was no use. He had to get away from her and decided that a shower would clear his thoughts. Nick stumbled out of bed and headed for the bathroom, peeling off his clothes as he went. He jumped into the shower, and turned on the tap. As the hot stream of the shower caressed his body, Nick stood there for a minute trying to orient himself. Somehow he had to wash away the funny, achy urge that coursed through him.
"Don't think about Lene, don't think about Lene," he chanted like a mantra. "Hairy toes… drowning puppies… nuns, really old nuns… kicking toddlers…" Nick ran through a list of the most horrible, unsexy images he could think of.
He needed his body to relax, needed this weird feeling in his belly to go away. Unbidden, he felt his hand move down his body in a motion that was both foreign and, strangely enough, not. Nick was shocked as he took hold of himself, yet for some reason the sensation was completely familiar, and he didn't want to stop. He pressed his free hand against the wall for balance and hunched forward slightly, pumping his arm. His breath came hard and fast, and all he could think about now was how it had felt to wake up with Lene in his arms, her body curling to meet his, those glorious breasts pressed against him. The fabric of her dress had been so light, she may as well have not been wearing anything. God, how he wanted to touch her. When it was over, Nick straightened and reached for the shower knob, turning the water to cold.
The frigid water came as a shock and was almost painful for certain parts of his body. He stood beneath the running water for a few moments until he heard the door open.
"Nick? …Nick, are you in there?" The voice was hers but older, richer. Paired with that accent, which he had found cute and bouncy when she was a child, when Lene spoke it sounded like music.
"D-don't come in here, Lene," he warned her, stuttering against the cold.
"I was just wondering where you--oh," she stopped. Watching her blurred figure through the frosted glass, Nick saw Lene turn to look at herself in the mirror. She rubbed away at the foggy glass to get a better look. "Hey, Nick, I'm older! I look… wow. I'm all grown up now," she marveled.
"Um… Lene," he struggled. "I'm trying to take a shower here. Could you… could you give me a minute?"
"Oh, right. Sorry, Nick!" she closed the door behind her.
He turned the tap until the water shut off and leaned back against the cool bathroom tile. Pressing his hands against his face, Nick sighed. He felt utterly disgusted with himself. Not necessarily for what he had done because, honestly, that had felt great, but rather for what had been running through his mind while he had been doing it.
Lene, Lene, Lene.
How was he going to face her?
After he'd had sufficient time to brace himself, Nick got out of the shower and put his shirt and pajama pants back on that he'd discarded on the floor.
"Lene?" he peeked his head out of the bathroom door, but she wasn't there. Where'd she go? he wondered.
Since she wasn't in the beroom, Nick took off his pajamas and dressed in jeans and a fresh t-shirt that he found in a dresser drawer. The pants were a bit large around the waist, but he managed to find a belt to go with them. He poked a new hole into the leather of the belt and cinched it tight. Nick wished his clothes would just magically reset every few days the way Lene's did, so he wouldn't have to wear clothing that didn't really fit him. He grabbed a red hooded sweatshirt out of another drawer and pulled it on over his head then went to look for Lene.
Walking down the hallway, Nick called her name. "Lene? Lene, where are you?"
He peeked over the railing down at the first floor and found her standing before a mirror at the foot of the stairs. She didn't seem to realize that Nick was watching her from above because she was closely scrutinizing her reflection. Her hands cupped the weight of her breasts, and she lifted them slightly then let them drop, lifted and let them drop, as though testing her new pair. Embarrassed, Nick turned away. He didn't want to have to take another cold shower so soon. When he looked again, Lene had turned with her backside to the mirror. She inspected herself from over her shoulder, biting the nail of her thumb coyly as her eyes swept down her reflection and examined the curve of her butt. Nick grinned at the sight, suddenly recalling that his sisters would all do the same thing.
He laughed aloud and called down from the top of the stairs, "Cut it out, you look fine!" just as he'd have told his sisters.
Lene started in surprise and looked up. "How long have you been up there?"
"Long enough to think that you're silly," he told her. "Do you really need a mirror to tell you you're pretty?"
"I look just like min mor… My mother, I mean," she explained and then admitted, "It's hard not to stare… I didn't understand it so much when I was nine, but now I realize what a big change it is to jump ahead and get older. Especially by ten years, what a difference…"
Nick walked down the stairs, his eyes never leaving her. "Ten years, huh? So that would make you… nineteen?"
"Close. My birthday just passed," Lene told him, "so twenty."
Twenty, Nick absorbed the information. That means she's legal. Wait, no! What am I thinking? I'm pretty sure that I'm still a lot older than her. This is just wrong.
He tried to turn his mind away from any lascivious thoughts, but the way she was looking at him as he approached her--her innocent eyes big and inquiring, her mouth slightly open and just begging to be kissed--it was all just too much for Nick. Focus on something else, focus on something else, he told himself. Casting about for a new subject to bring up, Nick couldn't help but notice the scent that was wafting towards him. "Hey, what is that?" he asked.
"That?" Lene perked up. "Oh, I made coffee. I thought you might want some before we head out. You still want to keep going to that castle, right?"
Nick didn't reply. His mind was rooted on the first thing she had said. "…Coffee?" Memories stirred.
"Yeah," she nodded. "I brewed some for you. Don't you like coffee? I thought I remembered you telling me once how you like to drink it." Lene's face became thoughtful, "Two sugars… no milk, I think you said? That's right, isn't it, Nick?"
Things were somehow falling into place. Like a puzzle, random thoughts from his memory came together and revealed a startling image. It couldn't be, but it was true. Nick's mind reeled, and he had to ask the question: "Kid, have you ever worked in a coffee shop before?"
"Gosh, I'm not really a kid anymore, you know," she said, a blush coloring her pale cheeks. She didn't seem to notice the epiphany he was having right in front of her face.
Nick put his hands on her shoulders, which he couldn't help but notice were so much higher than they used to be. She was only just a head shorter than him now. "I'm serious, Lene. Have you ever worked in a coffee shop? Maybe one with an open mic on Fridays?"
"Open mic?" she asked, confused. "No, GŁnter showed me how to make coffee so I could brew him some in the morning. I've never worked in a coffee shop or anything like that. Actually, I've never even had a part-time job. Why do you ask?"
Was she lying, or did she really just not remember? Could Other World be affecting her memory, too? Nick made a note to ask her more about GŁnter later then said, "Because, Lene, I recognize you now. You're not from Other World, you're a barista at the coffee shop down the street from my condo."