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Thread: [M] What Once Was Lost [Namingtoohard & Ashen]

  1. #31
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    Luuk pondered her words. He hadn't expected her to offer more than he'd already gotten, but now that the offer was there, the young man found himself wondering just what Natalie wanted to say. She wanted to get to know him better first... but why? Was there some big secret she held, something that would make things fall into place? The more Luuk thought on it, the more his mind filled with impossible scenarios. It was best to not guess at things, he decided, but even if he logically knew that, his mind would always wander.

    Natalie brushed off his offer to pay for their meal and offered the waiter a card. Luuk pouted, "There's a big difference between coffee and an entire meal." He turned down to his dish, trying to remember the numbers next to its name on the menu. A part of him, a large part of him, hated being paid for, as if this woman covering his tab somehow injured his fragile masculinity. After a moment though, Luuk realized how childish that was, and he shook his head. He'd cover next time, he decided. He'd make it up to her, all of this, and eventually, he'd find out whatever she was still hiding.

    Luuk muttered a small thank you for the food. While he waited for the waiter to return with her card, he thought back to earlier in their conversation. "Soon I won't be a student anymore," he said. "I'm... working on getting a job, which in all honesty I should have already had set up by now. However. I'm sure to have more free time soon, and I'd think I'd like to maybe see some of your work, if you're willing to show it. Maybe you can even show me how you restore your furniture? Karen was always telling me I needed to pick up new hobbies, so who knows? Maybe I'll even dirty my hands with it too, you know?" He noticed the waiter returning and offered Natalie a smile. "Only if you're willing to share that with me, of course. It could be fun. But don't let me harass you while you're doing your thing. I get that too." He waited for the waiter to return her card and prompt her for a signature. "Would you like me to walk you to your car?" he suggested. "It's dark."

  2. #32
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    Forgetting about the waiter almost as soon as he had stepped away from the table, Natalie quickly turned her attention back to her dinner companion. She listened politely at first, thinking his words some sort of prelude to an offer or promise he would return the favour when he was finished studying. The reality was a little more surprising, the conversation quickly moving in a direction that she hadn't expected. Luuk had already expressed some level of interest in her work, but some small part of her had wondered if he hadn't just wanted to be polite during their first meeting. This time seemed different, however. The way he offered to outright try his hand at things himself...well, she struggled to think of his words as anything but genuine. Natalie found herself smiling at the thought.

    "I'd be happy to give you the tour. Its not often I get the chance to show off the process itself" she answered, her smile widening a little. Perhaps this was the opportunity that she had been so desperately waiting for. The chance to see how open he was to the sort of thing she was capable of, away from prying eyes. A chance to finally share her secret, after all these years. "And if you decide that you want to get your hands dirty, I'll be happy to show you the ropes."

    Natalie quickly and graciously accepted Luuk's offer to walk her back to her car, and just in time for the waiter to return. Her card vanished first, returned to her wallet with quiet efficiency. She signed the spot he had indicated next, her penmanship nothing less than exquisite, before rising to her feet. With the last of their affairs sorted, she didn't see any point in lingering any longer. Not at this time of night, at least.

    The evening air was predictably brisk as the two of them stepped out of the restaurant and into the street. Natalie shoved both of her hands deep into her pockets, before starting the walk back towards her car. She settled on a rather leisurely pace despite the cold, content to relax and enjoy the evening ambience for a little bit, before the chill started to cut a little too deep. The stroll gave her a good chance to mull over an idea that had been forming in her mind for the later part of the evening, and when they rounded the corner and her car came into sight, she spoke.

    ”So, I was thinking...there’s a chance I might have an old photo or something of your parents lying around somewhere. I’m not certain, and it’d take a bit of digging, but I could try and find it for you. If you were interested, of course” Natalie said. It was an awkwardly worded offer at best, but an earnest one. It seemed like the sort of thing Luuk would be interested in, but she thought it better to ask, just in case.

  3. #33
    The Ashen One
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    As soon as Natalie agreed to have him observe and maybe even join her in her work, Luuk immediately began thinking of the things they could do. Maybe old furniture hunting would help him use his degree after all, assuming he could date any of the old pieces to the eras of history he'd studied. Beyond that, however, he was more interested in getting closer to Natalie, to uncovering more of the mystery of him, and if all it took was learning some fun little way of passing the time and making furniture look pretty, all the better for him.

    The air was crisp when they finally left the restaurant. Luuk hadn't gotten a chance to check the time, but once more he was suddenly self-conscious that he'd kept Natalie out too long. He enjoyed the walk to her car, breathing in the fresh cool air and walking at a slowed pace. Natalie seemed to be enjoying herself too, and he was at least thankful for that. She found her car and broke the nighttime silence with a suggestion, as if she even had to ask.

    Luuk let her finish speaking, though his answer was clear. "Of course I'd love to see them," he blurted the moment she finished. "Sorry, I mean. Don't inconvenience yourself searching, but if you do find it..." His voice trailed as he thought of it. It was just a photograph, something so small, but to him, it was seeing the parents he couldn't remember, the parents he'd never know. It was the culmination of years of searching for those two faces and finally being told he had the chance to see them, if only as a snapshot. Boyish excitement coursed through him, and he had to struggle to keep himself from jumping on his heels.

    Calming himself, he once again thanked Natalie for joining him. "I'll keep you updated on the project," he said, "and I'll let you know when I'm free to work on some furniture, yeah? I do look forward to it." A chill rushed past him, causing him to shiver slightly. "I shouldn't keep you," he realized. "Safe travels home and all, and you'll be hearing form me soon." He flashed her a wide grin. "Thanks again, Natalie."

  4. #34
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    Luuk's reaction was almost exactly what Natalie had expected, but she found herself grinning at his outburst nonetheless. His enthusiasm was endearing, and more than a little infectious. There was no telling if she'd be able to manage it for sure, but the idea that she could give him such a gift seemed well worth any effort she would have to put into searching. She unlocked her car with the press of a button and climbed into the driver's seat, but hesitated a moment before pulling the door closed behind her. Instead she took the opportunity to glance back at Luuk one last time, still smiling, and even went so far as to give him a little wave of farewell.

    "I certainly hope so. Enjoy the rest of your evening and all that. Or what little remains of it, at least"

    Once they had both said their goodbyes, she was quick to start the engine and pull away from the curb. During the drive home her body seemed to act on autopilot, navigating turns and traffic almost automatically, whilst her thoughts repeatedly drifted back to the idea of a meeting at her home, and the possibilities that came with. For the first time since she had begun this foolish venture, it seemed like things might actually work out in her favour. That she had a chance of succeeding, and - perhaps more importantly - not being caught. Even if there was still a great deal of uncertainty, a number of variables and possibilities to be dealt with, this was progress. For the first time in years, it felt like she had a tangible goal. Something she could actively work towards, instead of just maintaining her current skills and routinely fulfilling her duties. It was a good feeling. Liberating, almost.

    When she finally pulled up outside her apartment, Natalie almost wanted to start straight away. It had been late when she had left, however, and a sense of general weariness was doing its best to drag her towards bed. She reluctantly obliged, collapsing onto her feather mattress as soon as she had managed to change.

    The next morning, as soon as she was fully awake and fed, Natalie set about dragging all her old collections out from the hidden corners of her apartment. Dusty old boxes filled with paperwork, trophies, framed photos, and other keepsakes. Things she had taken from the families that she had worked her magic upon after judging them too dangerous to be left behind, hidden and waiting to be found. Truth be told, she should have destroyed the vast majority of them years ago. At the time, however, she had found herself unable to do so. It had seemed wrong, somehow, after the other violation she had committed. For years they had collected dust under her bed and in the back of her closet, a painful reminder of what she had done. The cost she had made everyone else pay, and the burden she had chosen to bear. Now, however, she had a reason to go looking through them again. One beyond melancholy, mourning, or regret. With any luck, she'd find something of Luuk's parents hidden amongst it all.

    It was time to begin her search.

  5. #35
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    Once Luuk got home and changed into a pair of sweatpants to sleep in, he dropped down onto his hardened mattress and stared blankly at the ceiling. He wasn't the least bit tired, despite the long day he'd had, and despite the severe lack of sleep he'd been getting. He glanced to the other side of the room, where Frankie was already snoring loudly. Luuk lay down for a bit longer, hoping sleep would come to him, but how could it? If Natalie really did have a photo of his parents, this was huge. What did they look like? Did he have his father's eyes, his mother's hair? His mother's smile, his father's nose? It was just a photo, he told himself, he needed to sleep, but the more he tried to push it away, the more he knew he was not going to sleep.

    Luuk managed to fall asleep, but only after planting himself at his desk and sketching the possible faces of his parents. When the shrill sound of his roommate's alarm stirred him from his light sleep, Luuk looked down at the thick pencil mark crossed through the oval he'd started for a face. He'd drawn his mother last night, or what he assumed she looked like: perfect pale curls, wide shining eyes, his pointed nose and angled chin. He didn't know how long he'd been drawing, but he looked sadly at the other side of the paper, at the incomplete image of his father, a mystery still. Glancing at the time flashing on his laptop, Luuk figured it was time enough to start his day.

    He was free for a few days now, so he busied himself with finding out when his final examinations were scheduled. He had tests throughout the week and only a single weekend to prepare. Luuk looked over his textbooks and research articles, his encyclopedias and atlases. This was it. As long as he passed these tests, he'd make it out of here alive, accomplished even. Who would have guessed? He cracked open a geography textbook from the seventeen hundreds and glanced over its pages. Geography would be his first test, Monday morning. It was an easy class, and a quick glance of his maps was all he would really need, but even that proved difficult. His mind wandered to Natalie, to their dinner the previous night, to that photograph.

    After failing to revise anything, Luuk sent Natalie a copy of his schedule for that week. He was free most afternoons and all of Tuesday, and he asked her if she would be willing to meet up whenever she was also available. He then got back to his textbook, only interrupted when Frankie returned from wherever he'd gone that morning and asked who Luuk suddenly had the hots for. Irritated, Luuk left the room in search of a meal and some fresh air.

    When he returned to his room, thankfully to Frankie's absence, he decided to funnel all of his energy into his project. There was nothing else he would be able to concentrate on at this point, and he could at least be productive with his time. He researched for hours about his parents' homes, graphically designed maps and trees of his own, and occasionally added a paragraph or two to his essay. He was making great progress, but his eyes fell to his phone. He was mad at himself for hyperfocusing on Natalie, on that photograph, but he'd been waiting for this for years. Shaking his head, he returned to his project and eagerly awaited a reply.

  6. #36
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    Natalie's next few days passed in something akin to normal fashion. She spent her time checking up on those she was charged with looking after, paying them visits or sending them messages as appropriate. As always, she spent a good measure of her free time practising her craft, determined to at least maintain her skills, if not outright improve. Again, old furniture proved to be the object of choice, though she found herself craving something more. A harder task, a bigger challenge, something to push herself. The rest of Natalie's time was split between the messages she exchanged with Luuk, and the search that she was conducting on his behalf. In the days that followed she managed to dig through the vast majority of old memorabilia that she collected, in preparation for the eventual visit he had promised her.

    Speaking of his visit, Natalie found the idea made her both excited and nervous. This was her opportunity to prove to him that magic really existed. Show Luuk her magic, and inform him that it was his, too. Would he believe her, or think she was merely playing some sort of prank on him? Accept it, or call her crazy? A physical demonstration would be a hard thing to argue against, but...well, there was no telling how well he would cope. Still, she was committed to trying. He had wanted to see her work, and Natalie was determined to show him.

    When Luuk sent over a copy of his current schedule, picking out a moment when they were both free proved to be relatively easy. Once they had managed to confirm the date and time, she was quick to message him a copy of her full address, along with a few questions. Simple queries, such as how he managed to plan on getting there, and if it would be easier if she picked him up from the nearest subway station or something else along those lines.

    Once they had everything arranged, she spent the rest of the day almost feeling giddy with anticipation. The next few days were spent in a hurried frenzy as she tried to get ready, despite the fact that there was relatively little to do. All of her boxes of memories were stored away, tucked back into the nooks and crevices from whence they came, hidden out of both sight and mind. She cleaned up her apartment as best as she was able, though the end result wasn't quite clean per se. It just seemed to revert to its usual state of organised messiness, instead of the veritable trash pile it seemed to become when things got out of hand. Her nervousness seemed to grow as the week wore on, and by midday on Monday she was forced to admit to herself that there was nothing more to do but wait.

    Like it or not, Natalie was as ready as she was going to be. Tomorrow would be the day, and she simply had to wait for it to begin.

  7. #37
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    The weekend passed without much fanfare. Luuk had been invited out by a few classmates, a "pre-finals celebration" as they called it, but Luuk had politely declined. He wasn't one for parties, not when he had things to do. Instead, he spent his days adding finishing touches and revising where he could. By the time his first final rolled around, Luuk was exhausted but satisfied with the work he'd put in that semester.

    The final was a breeze, and Luuk was sure he'd gotten at least ninety-five percent of the questions correct. He headed to his second of the day early, a test in Western European history, which proved to be a challenge. He was sure he walked out with a passing grade, and by late afternoon, Luuk headed back to his room to celebrate being done for the day. There, he threw himself onto his bed and checked his phone. He had to admit, texting Natalie like this was... nice. Luuk hadn't often talked with any of his classmates outside of school, and he liked the excitement he felt when his phone vibrated or the smiles he got thinking of what they would do when he did visit. He wanted to see how she lived, learn more about this mystery woman. Typing her address into his GPS, he debated how he would get there. It was too far for a walk; he'd end up taking the train and walk from there, not wanting to inconvenience Natalie by making her pick him up. After telling her as much, he lay back on his bed, smiling to himself. Even if he didn't have a job yet for after he graduated, or any sort of plan whatsoever, he felt, finally, at least he had a friend.

    That night, he read over his family tree project again. He typed up a lengthy but thorough conclusion and finally stopped. Was he done? Luuk looked over it again, glazing over his introduction, double-checking his charts. After all this time, this project, this autobiographical anthology of history and geology and genealogy and culture--his entire university career was summarized by this twenty-four-page paper. Luuk set it to print and reached for his phone to text Natalie, to thank her and offer to email it to her, but he stopped himself. He was going to see her tomorrow. Maybe he'd bring his paper as a surprise, as an accomplishment possible only because of her.

    He slept well that night for the first time in what felt like ages. He awoke late that morning and drowsily made himself a coffee. Checking for any updates from Natalie, he prepared for his day. Would she care at all about his project? He'd tucked it into his backpack, but suddenly he was having second doubts. She had said she wanted to read it, but had she just been polite? Shaking his head, Luuk grabbed his steaming coffee and sipped at it. It wasn't up to him to question her. She'd said she wanted to read it, so he was going to offer it. Grabbing his backpack and looking over its contents for his wallet and the train ticket he'd bought online, he headed out the door.

    On his way to the station, Luuk noticed a florist on the street. He hesitated, wondering if Natalie would appreciate such a gesture. Would it be sending the wrong message? He didn't want to make her uncomfortable, but she looked like the kind of woman who liked flowers, so maybe... He spent several minutes trying to decide before finally silencing his thoughts and making up his mind.

    With his backpack lazily slung over one shoulder and a bouquet of tulips in his hand--"Roses will make her think you're proposing something romantic!" the young and peppy florist had assured him--Luuk walked from the train station and to the address he'd saved from Natalie's text. He stopped in front of an apartment complex, a quaint place that already felt homey just from the outside. Luuk rapped his knuckles against the door of her apartment and stepped away from the door. Would she mind Luuk asking questions and prying into how she worked? Would she mind him tossing his project onto her, his enthusiasm too over the top? Had she ever found that photo? As always, his thoughts were running far too quickly. Luuk stood, humbly dressed in jeans and a button-down, hair brushed back and beard trimmed. The smile on his face suggested he was going to visit a close friend, and absently he wondered if he'd overwhelm her and lose his chances to get to know her completely.

  8. #38
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    By the time the day of Luuk's visit finally arrived, Natalie was almost beside herself with anticipation. Like a young child the day before Christmas, she both slept rather poorly, and woke several hours earlier than was strictly necessary. Fully aware that attempting to sleep any more was likely pointless, she hauled herself out of bed despite the ungodly hour. Natalie felt surprisingly energetic for someone running on so little sleep, but quickly set about preparing some instant coffee regardless. Even if she didn't feel like she needed the boost in that particular moment, today was going to be a big day, and she still had to feed her caffeine addiction.

    The earlier parts of the morning were spent going through the motions of her normal morning routine. Breakfast first, closely followed by a shower, and then a fresh set of clothes - a simple pair of grey tracksuit pants and a white top, all designed for comfort more than style. She didn’t bother with shoes either, since she didn’t plan on leaving the house. The remainder of her free time was spent doing a few menial tasks around the apartment, more with the intention of killing time before Luuk's arrival than actually accomplishing anything meaningful. She made sure the apartment's messiness was within tolerance, checked her emails, and made sure that she was up to date with her work - all punctuated by frequent glances at the clock. As the moment grew closer nervousness began to overtake her excitement, and her focus shifted to double-checking everything she had prepared over the past couple of days. Everything was perfect, but going through the motions helped ease her anxiety, even if only a little.

    When the knock finally came Natalie was quick to hurry towards the door, and pulled it open within mere moments of Luuk's knocking. She greeted him with a warm smile and a cheery hello, before her eyes widened in surprise at the sight of the flowers in his hand.

    "Oh! Are those supposed to be for me? You didn't need to do that." Natalie was unable to keep the delight from her voice, the words bursting past her lips before she could stop them. She spent a brief moment staring at the flowers in delight, before reaching as if to take them from him. Only too late did she realise that she was blocking the doorway, and Mec was still standing out in the hallway. She quickly stepped aside, waving him into the apartment enthusiastically, and affording Luuk his first view of the cluttered, messy, and undoubtedly homely interior.

    "Come in, come in. Feel free to take a seat, or have a look around. Just make yourself at home, really. I’m just going to go see if I can find a vase or something for these. I’ll be right back”

    Natalie disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, leaving Luuk with a chance to look around and explore a little, if he so wished. The almost cramped confines of the apartment offered a surprising amount, considering Natalie’s work. Her coffee table was still pushed up against one wall to make space for the one she had been working on the other week, and those were hardly the only antiques scattered about. The place was still something of a mess, even beyond those, but in a much more mundane sort of way.

    After a handful of moments spent doing some rather loud rummaging, Natalie returned with a stained glass vase held between her hands, now filled with water. She moved with some semblance of care as she carried it out from the kitchen, not wanting to disturb the flowers or spill any water. She set it down atop the coffee table currently situated between lounge and television, before turning her attention to Luuk good and proper.

    “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? A snack?” she asked politely, almost the vey picture of hospitality. There was an air of routine about the question, as if she felt the need to establish an answer before they moved on to more interesting topics.

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