Page 37 of The Protege

I was watching him towel his hair dry when there was an obnoxious voice behind me. “Are you perving on Laszlo? Oh my god, he’s like your dad.”

I jumped and turned around, seeing two girls from the orchestra dressed in their swimmers, staring at me with delighted incredulity. Jaime and Ashley, a French horn player and a bassoonist.

“I wasn’t perving,” I snapped at them. “I forgot my goggles and I was trying to remember where I left them. And he’s not my dad, he’s my mentor.” I didn’t like reminding people he was my guardian. That I was his protégé felt more special. He’d chosen me.

“Since you were like, eight.”

I can still remember the heavy emphasis of Jaime’s words. Her playing was as overstressed as her stupid voice. Behind them, I saw Hayley watching me with a perplexed expression. Even then she knew there was something unwardlike about my feelings for Laszlo. Why aren’t you going out with Ryan? He’s so cute and he thinks you are, too.

Because Laszlo says I’m not allowed.

Okay, but it’s weird you look so happy about that. Just saying.

I was angry and upset about the exchange and I came down late for breakfast, worried that Jaime and Ashley would have told Laszlo that they’d caught me looking at him. But Laszlo had just smiled and said good morning as he’d passed me on the way to get more coffee from the buffet.

I was out of sorts for the rest of the day and didn’t really understand why. Later I realized it was because how I felt about Laszlo wasn’t the way other people expected me to feel about him. And that it was definitely not the way Laszlo thought about me. And I worried that if he ever found out how I felt he’d be disgusted with me.

But that didn’t wipe the semi-naked memory of him from my mind. Lying in bed that night I fantasized that I had gone to stand next to him by the pool and touched his hard body, wet from the water. Somehow we knew we’d be alone and he took me in his arms and kissed me, his lips cold and his tongue warm. Stripped the suit from my body. Lay me down on one of the long pool chairs and made love to me. It hurt, and after there was blood on the wet tiles, but it didn’t matter because he was so gentle and sweet with me. I fantasized over and over again about Laszlo taking my virginity and it was beautiful every time.

The reality of me actually losing it in my second year of university was dismal. A boy I barely knew and didn’t much like. Discomfort, the hospital smell of latex. The long silence afterward. I don’t even know why I did it and I haven’t wanted to go to bed with anyone since.

Anyone who isn’t Laszlo.

As I look at him I see that he’s got no intention of disrobing. It’s just me who’s going to do that, apparently.

Because it isn’t sex. He’s taking care of his protégé, that’s all.

It’s not sex, but it still feels sexual. Laszlo’s been talking to me in the most understated yet kinky way for days in the full knowledge that it turns me on. Though he’s not doing it to turn me on. He’s doing it because it centers me, because I’ve asked him to, and because he likes making me happy. Now he’s offering to put me over his knee and spank me because the submission will make me feel less nervous about the performance tonight. Being submissive to him, him giving me a safeword, it’s all so sexually charged and yet bizarrely restrained at the same time.

A blush staining my cheeks I unbutton my jeans and wriggle out of them, remembering my white briefs as I do. Thank god they’re newish as I have some that aren’t in a major way.

He moves toward the sofa and holds out a hand to me, palm up. I put my hand in his and move closer, but then I freeze.

Laszlo looks at me questioningly. “Sweetheart?”

The last time I was this close to him we didn’t speak for three years. I’d rather not touch him if I have to go through that again. “Laszlo,” I manage in a whisper. “You won’t get angry with me, will you? If we do this?”

He grips my hand tightly. “Sweetheart, I’ve never been angry with you. Not even that night. I promise.”

That night. But he was angry that night. He was furious. When I keep chewing my lip he sits down and pats the sofa next to him, and after a moment I sit down next to him. I press my knees together, acutely aware of being in my underwear. Of how close he is.

“I know you said you wanted to go back the way things were but this is very different to how we’ve been with each other,” he says softly. “I like doing this with you as long as it makes you happy. But only if it makes you happy, so you have to tell me if it doesn’t. And I promise to be honest about my feelings, too.”