Kai had his door open waiting for them to emerge from the dim stairwell. “Welcome to my studio. Come on in.”
The space was a raw rectangle with exposed ductwork high above their heads and a wood plank floor with scars and discolorations where the factory equipment had once stood. Behind a folding screen was a small fridge and microwave. The only walls in the room were the cube that enclosed the bathroom in one corner, with a ladder leaning against it leading up to the open space on top.
The loft was filled with art. Splatters of color and odd shapes jutted from every surface. People seemed to be emerging from walls or in the process of sinking in. A giant quarter lay on the floor in one corner, forming a platform for a small table and two chairs. Wood racks held paintings and several were covered over with canvas leaning against the far wall.
Kai was gesturing to the bench that was sitting in the middle of the empty floor. The three balls were joined at their bulging middles, forming a gentle curve.
“There’s the bench,” Kai said. “It’s the model that I’ll use to create the pattern for the mold. When I get the job.”
His grin was so infectious that Erin wanted to assure him, but she couldn’t. This was the Allison-show.
“It’s lovely,” Allison said, stroking the bench. Her manicure was perfect, with dramatic red and black square tips. “Will it be translucent like this?”
“That’s the resin covering it. The finished surface will be polished bronze.”
Erin drew closer, admiring the amber-like quality of the resin as the slanting sun caught the edge of the ball. “Have a seat,” Kai offered.
Allison made a little show of stepping forward and taking his hand as she sat down. As if she needed help. Erin kept her expression perfectly still.
Allison's face lit up. “Wow! I’m surprised. It’s really comfortable.” She wiggled around on it. “You wouldn’t think a rounded seat would be this comfortable.”
Kai sat down on the ball at the other end. “I had to find the perfect size for the human butt. And you can sit in different directions, so it’s not a one-way experience.”
Allison slowly moved her feet, shifting around to face the other way. “That’s a nice touch. We could make renderings that show people can sit in whichever direction will face you away from the sun. That was a concern of ours with a southern-facing plaza.”
“My design works with the sun rather than trying to mask it. I spent days hanging out there while I was coming up with my design. Listening to that lousy fountain!” His grin included them both. “The sun is the main feature of your plaza. I don’t want to hide it with bamboo—I want it to be front and center, twisted in a way that makes people look at the light and interact with the sundial in a bunch of different ways—reading the time, sitting on the benches, looking down on it from the offices above. It will be different from every perspective, so you’ll always connect with it in different ways.”
Erin was ready to give Kai the job right then, if she could have. Allison looked like she wanted to. Her boss was nodding at him, as if she really liked what she saw. Erin couldn’t blame her—what’s not to like? He was passionate about his work, articulate and engaging. He was as delicious as a man could be, with his strong hands gesturing as he spoke and his t-shirt hugging the muscles of his chest. Erin wanted to get close so she could smell him again. Stop thinking that, she ordered herself.
Allison stood up, looking thoughtfully down at Kai, as if wheels were turning over in her head. As if she was judging him on various different points.
“You like it, don’t you?” Kai asked her, looking up at her from his own seat on the bench. Allison smiled at him, really smiled. Not her professional smile that put up a wall between her and other people. Erin's eyes opened wide in surprise. “I do,” Allison said softly.
They were looking at each other so long that Erin shifted uncomfortably. If this was going to be that kind of meeting, they could have left her out of it!
Then Kai stood up, breaking the moment. Allison's smile was now kind of smug, and she told Erin, “You try it. See what you think.”
Kali went over to the center ball, on the opposite side from where they had sat down. As she turned, she caught Kai's eye. He mouthed the word, “Sit.”
Her butt hit the ball as her mouth fell open. What!? Did he just order me to sit? His eyes were laughing down at her. He had just ordered her to sit!
Erin popped back up again, her lips tightening in outrage. Allison hadn’t seen anything; she was absorbed in looking around the room at the various pieces of art. From the poses she was striking, she was letting Kai get a good look at her assets.
Erin didn’t say a word. But she did give Kai a glare so he would know she didn’t appreciate his jokes.
He laughed. Actually laughed! Which made her even madder. Should I say something? Would it sound awful if I did?
Yes, it would.
Allison turned and saw Erin standing there. “Erin, sit down! I want to know what you think.”
Reluctantly Erin sat back down, irritated when Kai looked amused. She was squirming on the bench. “I don’t know…”
Kai grimaced as Allison looked back up from the watercolors. “What? You don’t like it?” Erin's heart was beating faster, and her palms were sweating. She didn’t know what to think or what to do. Why was she so flustered by one joking word? He was just teasing her. The way teenagers teased each other. So why did it bother her so much? She felt like she was overreacting, and that made her feel even worse.
“Erin, I asked you, what’s wrong with it?” Allison insisted.
Kai's blue eyes were pleading with her now. He was half-turned away from Allison, so she couldn’t see him, but Erin could. From his expression, Kai knew she was upset, and he felt bad about it. With his obvious remorse and those full, anxious lips, how could she hurt him?
“It feels good,” Erin said. “I like it because it’s different.”
Kai gave her a grateful look. “I designed it so your hips tilt forward slightly, like an exercise ball. It’s a very comfortable position.”
Satisfied, Allison wandered on and soon called Kai over to the model of the sundial that was placed in the center of the table. Erin stayed sitting on the bench, feeling flushed. She wanted Kai to come back and talk to her again, but then again, she was afraid of what he might say.
He shouldn’t have teased her in front of her boss. But she couldn’t stop thinking about his hands, and the way he moved. The intent way he looked at her, as if he was searching inside of her. She had never felt so confused in her life.