“These are some passionate turophiles,” Harris stated bemusedly beneath his breath an hour and a half later. They were observing the cheese-carving competition. Harris had his arms folded over his broad chest as he attentively contemplated the group of focused cheese carvers.
“Don’t you mean turophiliacs?” she asked, and he rolled his eyes at her. Harris had been using the word turophile as often as possible in the hour since he’d first seen it in the festival pamphlet. He was like a kid with a new toy, and Tina thought it was endearing.
“Hush, and let me enjoy this. I don’t often learn fun new words. It’s all accrued expenses, assessed values, and capital gains or losses in my world. Boring as hell.” He went back to watching the cheese carvers. Tina was tickled by how genuinely diverting he seemed to find this entire experience. He stopped at most stalls, asking questions and sampling so many different cheeses that Tina felt sick just watching him. She wasn’t lactose intolerant, but she was pretty sure she was developing an allergy just from being around this much dairy.
“The guy over there, with the beard? Wearing the orange beanie and the pride scarf?” he said, pointing with his jaw, and Tina glanced over at a slight young man with overlong hair and full beard.
“What about him?”
“He’s seriously talented. He’s carving a tiny version of Michelangelo’s David. It’s pretty good. He should win.”
“I don’t know, Harris,” Tina mused. “The flower child with the daisy-chain crown and the bell-bottoms over there is doing a pretty great job of re-creating SpongeBob CheesePants. I think she has a real shot.”
“I mean, at least he’s actually yellow. David is going to look jaundiced!”
“Care to place a friendly wager on that?” he asked without thinking, and she raised her eyebrows pointedly.
“Seriously, Harris? A bet?” Clearly comprehending how insensitive that suggestion must have seemed, he flushed and had the grace to look shamefaced. Tina allowed him to dangle uncomfortably for another long moment before letting him off the hook with a chuckle. “Ten bucks says SpongeBob takes it!”
“You’re on!” he said with a relieved smile, and they shook on it.
“This might take a while. Should we get some drinks and come back later?”
“Yeah, there’s a lot more to see.”
“Not really,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve been to the World of Cheese tent”—which had been filled with dozens of stalls representing different countries and showcasing cheeses from different regions within said countries. Harris had spent an inordinate amount of time sampling his way through France. “And you participated in the cheese wheel–rolling competition.”
“That beefy guy with the arms the size of my thighs cheated,” he grumbled. “He pushed me! I was winning.”
“Harris,” she said patiently, for what felt like the thousandth time. “I was watching. You tripped.”
He sported a now-muddied pair of jeans and a bruised ego because of that little stumble. And he had finished dead last.
“I felt his hand on my back,” he said, looking outraged.
“Yes, you did, when he stopped to help you up. It was pretty impressive that he still went on to win after that.”
“I’m not discussing this any further,” he said decisively.
“Oh God, I hope not,” she replied fervently. The cheese-roll race had been pretty tame compared to one she had seen on YouTube a few years ago. No steep hills and no spectacular tumbles. Harris had been one of the few participants to actually fall down the gentle incline. And despite his grumbling about it now, he’d been a pretty good sport about the whole thing. He had been laughing like a kid after that tumble, despite the muddy conditions after the rain.
“Anyway, I wanted to try the camembert ice cream,” he said, and she made a gagging face.
“I don’t care what you say—cheese ice cream sounds disgusting, and I refuse to try it.”
“You can watch me try it,” he said generously, and she slanted him an unimpressed side glance. She followed him to the stall, which had an improbably long queue. Who knew so many people were into cheese ice cream?
He hooked a casual arm around her shoulders as they made painstakingly slow progress down the line. Tina nearly shrugged out of his hold until she realized that he had done it unthinkingly, and if she moved away from him, she’d be making a big deal out of something he didn’t seem to consider particularly significant.
He made wry observations about the people around them directly into her ear, causing her to laugh often. She was enjoying his company. She had never—not even when they were kids—truly enjoyed his company. As a girl, she had been too nervous around him, and after his twentieth birthday, she had spent most of her adulthood avoiding this very situation. But she now found that being the sole focus of his overwhelmingly charming personality was a heady experience. And the thrill of it was giddying. She felt special and interesting and like the most beautiful woman in the world.
And part of her hated it. Because it was a lie.
Still, she shoved aside her reservations and told herself to enjoy this for what it was. An ephemeral moment in their tumultuous relationship. Likely never to be repeated.
So, she allowed the cheeky, off-color comments, the sweet smiles, and the constant touching. So much touching. His elbow was crooked around her neck, and his hand dangled down to just above her breasts. He caressed her face a lot, played with her hair, and she was 100 percent certain his lips had brushed against her temple on several occasions.
The butterflies were going crazy, and she was trying very hard to get them under control, but they refused to be tamed. She had no option but to let them soar, and she relaxed against Harris’s side, sliding a timorous arm around his waist.
Broken Pieces #1
Two lovers strive to trade a grim past for a bright future in this story of bittersweet yearning.
Tina Jenson belongs to the same social stratum as Harris Chapman, but he’s out of her league—at least that’s what she thinks before they jump in bed together. It’s the perfect night, but when she overhears crude, hurtful comments the next morning, she can’t get away fast enough.
Ten years later, Tina’s life is a mess. That night with Harris didn’t just hurt her feelings; it started a cascade of disappointment and heartbreak. Every time she bumps into Harris, her heart twists inside out. She still wants him, but she’s harboring a painful secret from their night together that she’s not ready to reveal.
Crossed signals, high-society whispers, and shame have kept Tina and Harris apart for years, but deep down, they’re hungry for each other and eager to write their own rules. Can they let go of the past and find their way back to each other, or are the barriers between them too high and too strong?
About Natasha Anders
Natasha Anders was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She spent the last nine years working as an assistant English teacher in Niigata, Japan, where she became a legendary karaoke diva. Natasha is currently living in Cape Town with her temperamental and opinionated budgie, Sir Oliver Spencer, who has kindly deigned to share his apartment with her.