Noah was shocked by what he tasted on Mystery's lips when he kissed her.
Not sassiness. Not smooth sophistication. Sweetness.
It occurred to him he had not unlocked her mystery at all. Despite the beautiful clothes, he noticed she did not have on a single piece of jewelry. As he took both her hands in his, and stood there facing her, he glanced down at her hands.
He'd already noticed she had no rings. Now he noticed her fingernails were neatly trimmed and her polish was clear.
Compared to Manda's fingernails—enameled canvasses of flowers, leopard skins, zebra stripes and rainbows—Mystery's hands were simplicity itself.
He was stunned by his sudden longing for simplicity, and by the intrigue he felt. Mystery spoke English—he was almost certain she was American—and yet an accent overlaid her every word.
This woman suddenly didn't feel like a diversion—an act put on for a photographer—but as if she truly was a mystery, and one Noah wanted to solve. He wanted to know everything about her. Noah felt as if he couldn't let her go without having some of his questions about her answered.
"Let's go for a drink," he suggested over the pop and sizzle of the fireworks.
The bursts of light were playing off her face, and he was certain he saw something there. Longing?
He realized, shocked, that was what he felt, too. Longing to know her better, to take this somewhere else. To explore things that felt sadly foreign to his world: sweetness. Simplicity.
But whatever had flashed in her face, it was gone quickly. Or maybe it had been an illusion, just like the one they had perpetrated as soon as he had suggested they pretend.
Mystery pulled her hands out of his. She looked suddenly almost panicked.
"I'm sorry, no. I have to go."
And then she was pushing by him, heading down the stairs ahead of him at breakneck speed, as if she could not wait to escape.
"Wait," he called. "Mystery, please wait."
She glanced back at him, and then to his horror—it felt as if it was his fault—she lost her balance, and tripped.
He watched her go down in that crush of people, and raced down the stairs toward her. He came to her shoe first, scooped it up and scrambled down to where she sat on the step, looking faintly dazed.
Ignoring the people around them, he sat down beside her.
"Are you okay?"
She nodded. "More embarrassed than hurt."
"I think you lost this," he said gently, and he picked up her foot. It was naked, and exquisitely delicate in his hand. He slid the shoe on. No wonder it had come off. The shoe seemed as if it was a touch too big for her.
"Huh," he said, "in the fairy tale, the glass slipper always fits just right."
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