Firm and practiced, he gripped her waist as he would a kitchen knife, which precision and care and intimate familiarity. He smelt, tasted, as any culinary scientist would to a dish before serving. She, of petals and fragrance, He, of iron and musk.
“I apologise in advance for my… callousness,” he declared with a parting whisper, hands tracing bone and skin.
“I can take it.”
Tangled like thorned vines, they devoured one another in the austerity of their double-bed. Watches on the table. Unbuttoned shirts discarded carelessly onto the carpet. Sweat against glistening skin. Fingers through hair. Intoxication upon both their lips. Sweet nothings and forgetfulness.
But he knew his boundaries.
As slender fingers inched into his pants, he froze.
“Is something wrong?” She asked, still making a rummaging effort.
“How old are you?”
She looked disappointed, insulted even. “I’m of age, Mustang.”
“I know, but still.”
With care, he returned her curious hands to her wanting body. “Would this be your first time?”
“Don’t lie to me, Chloe Green.”
Chloe scoffed in a way that looked far too much like a child. “And so what if it is? First time for everything. For adventure!” She chimed in a little sing-song. “Honestly, I would appreciate for someone more experienced to show me the ropes.”
“I refuse to take anyone’s first time except for my partner’s.” He replied curtly as he buckled his leather belt.
“So you’re cheating on your partner is what you’re telling me.”
“No. I’m single.”
“You are hopeless, Trevor Mustang.”
In the faint, city-induced light of Mustang’s studio apartment, Chloe was a modern-day goddess. Pale skin, soft face, seven freckles placed like an organic constellation. Crimson hair like a spire of flame, tousled and ruined by their adventurous foray. Static built between their pillows and each other.
She cupped Mustang’s cheeks - he winced at first, then reconvened, his manic eyes darting towards her round breasts, to the semicolon on her collar, to the vixen-like reflection of her back against the window.
The moon was in full bloom tonight.
“You know, I like the sound of Chloe Mustang.”
“Think that far already? That’s awfully upfront of you.” He grunted, “I’m not sure I’d be able to keep up.”
“Funny. I thought the exact same thing.”
Mustang turned away, eyes distant and wandering, but his mind focused and precise.
“I’d like to show you something, Chloe. Something I believe you should know before you… have any of those kinds of thoughts.”
“How mysterious,” Chloe teased, crossing her legs in a lazy yet alluring way.
Mustang continued to avert his eyes, even as they made their way into the elevator from his 39th floor unit to the basement.
He was nervous. Giddily nervous, like a child told to hold the line at a grocery store checkout while his mother fled to pick up something else. Back and forth like wildfire, his eyes caught up in some pesky attempt to avoid eye contact.
Chloe found it hilarious - the disparaging contrast between the confident, broad-shouldered Mustang which casted shadows against her skin; and this uneasy Mustang who fidgeted and squirmed like a sickly lamb.
She liked this. It showed he was a genuine. A work-in-progress like everyone else.
And boy was she a work-in-progress herself.
Mustang led Chloe into his exclusive garage space, a grungy room he had to pay a little extra for, situated behind all the cars and far into the darkest corner. It was accessible by an old-fashioned mailbox key.
“Are there no lights?”
“There are. I’ve just disabled them.”
Chloe felt like she should be afraid, but realised she wasn’t. He shuffled out a low-powered flashlight.
Within the chambers stood rows upon rows of glass containers. Jars and vases and boxes arranged like a phalanx, labelled and polished to immaculate condition. Vacuum-sealed with cling wrap and a tin lid, sitting atop dry and inoffensive wooden beams. Despite the filth and moss that populated he outside carpark, this place was utterly spotless. Not a single swirl of dust nor blemish on the wall. Sterilised and pure, it smelt faintly like a hospital.
“What in the…” Chloe laughed nervously, “What is this place?”
“Consider it a laboratory for gastronomy.”
“I didn’t expect gastronomy to take place… somewhere like this.”
“Different people have different workspaces.”
Mustang seemed to note Chloe’s rising fear. At least, that was what he registered it as - the tension in her legs, the confined poise of her arms, her beautiful lips pursed with concern.
Red, orange, and black were by far the most common colours in these marmalades. It seemed natural enough - strawberry, apricot, blackberry, but Chloe couldn’t help but shake the shiver that there was more than meets the eye.
Mustang picked out a stash of plain crackers from a hidden filing cabinet. He checked the best before date quickly before returning to his surreal collection of fruity fungus.
“Have a go at this one.”
A cracker with some orange jam on it. Fair enough. He wore surgical gloves as he gave it to her - Chloe didn’t even recall seeing him put them on - collecting the jam through an extremely long knife that seemed more like a chopstick than anything else. She sniffed, it was citrus-smelling at least, and after a mild bout of reluctance, she munched the treat in its entirety.
Sunlight. Umbrellas. A warm pulse against tan skin. Smoke off the barbecue, a chilled drink in hand. Sand and seashells between the wedges of her toes. It tasted of vacation - peaches, mangoes, an unassuming yet powerful liquor - like a multicoloured ball bouncing over a net. For a brief glimmer, Chloe had forgotten the dreariness of the basement in favour of a seat and sunscreen at the Caribbean.
“This is incredible,” Chloe panted, only now realising how out-of-breath she was.
Mustang fumbled around for another cannister, this time a bluish-green paste that vaguely smelt of gingerbread.
“Why is it… blue?”
“Have a go.”
Chloe obliged with more enthusiasm this time, expecting an exciting journey into the unknown but instead met by an unreal sense of familiarity. A blast of cold at first, a peppermint taste, instantly becoming warm and snug through an eggnog-like twinge. Cookies. Custard. Socks against the fireplace and snow pilling onto the windowsill. Warmth bottled out of Chloe’s chest like a fuzzy kitten against its owner’s body.
“These are some of the flavours we’re planning to serve at the hotel. You know, the restaurant I work at.”
Chloe wiped her brow. She was sweating. How am I sweating?
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
“I try my best.” Mustang shrugged bashfully, beaming with pride but still a little concerned - a jam-packed storage unit beneath his apartment complex was not in his mental list of places he would bring an attractive lady.
“How is this made?”
“What goes into these?” Chloe repeated, eyes perusing the jars like fingers against skin - still, she knew better than to touch his belongings, she knew how restricted something like this would be.
“Oh. Fruits, I guess. Powders. Oil. Protein.”
“And how is it made? Do you make it here?”
“Well, yes. It’s mostly produced here. It’s very sensitive to light so mostly I need to-”
“Can I see it?”
“I want to see how it’s made.”
Mustang blinked. His fingers tightened around his silver apparatus.
“It’s a bit personal, y’know? It’s like writing poetry or painting a picture. I can’t really do it when someone is watching me.”
“The journey is the most beautiful part of the creative process.”
“That’s um,” he reconsidered, “I’m not sure I agree with that.”
Like a slow-falling bundle of ribbons, Chloe wrapped her arms against the gastronomist’s shoulders. Where nails met flesh, there was lightning, a flash in the impenetrable dark. Suddenly, Mustang was very, very conscious. Conscious of the pipes and aqueducts hidden behind the basement walls. Conscious of the blood pumping through his veins, picking up speed to his heart and legs and brain. Conscious of the acidity, the minute slush of Chloe’s lips as she leaned so delicately into his ear.
“I know what you are.”
Mustang inhaled sharply. He tried to stop himself, truly, but despite his supreme understanding of the human body, he was powerless to control his own. He inhaled too quickly. She saw it. It was too obvious of a tell.
He might as well have it tattooed across his forehead.
“At least you have style. Class, even.” Chloe said, as sultry as a witch. “Most of your kind eats it raw or slightly charred. Some of you even eat it live - it’s disgusting.”
Mustang tightened. He had nothing more to hide.
“How did you know?”
“I know that there’s been a subtle but noticeable increase in missing persons reports over the past three months.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“A tourist from Hawaii. A gorgeous young lady and her… let’s not sugarcoat it. Her sugar daddy. Tall and pretty, like a supermodel. Taller than you, actually. She seems like your type.”
“I vaguely remember her. I saw her in the news.”
“And the other… just an innocent little girl with three brothers and four sisters. The youngest of all eight of them. Last seen on the park outside of Carolina Street. With seven siblings watching over her, don’t you think it’s amazing she still got lost anyway?”
“Her parents should have been more observant.”
“They should have! I wonder who in the world would kidnap such a sweet summer child!” Chloe exclaimed. Her enthusiasm was venomous, like a needle dripped in insanity.
“How was it?” she snapped.
“How was what?”
Barred teeth. Fanged and ferocious. Perfect and glistening.
“How did she taste, Mustang.”
Mustang shuddered at her fearlessness, her selfish intensity, the dagger-like gaze she held in her steel-grey eyes. He saw his own reflection within them. He never knew how fragile he looked.
“You know, I’m not going to do anything about it. It’s your business, not mine.” She spat something onto her fingers - a little, bone-like curve which he recognised instantly. “But I think you should be more careful in your work.”
She plucked his hand out out, opened up his palm, and conceded part of a chipped toenail.
Reluctantly, he put it in his pocket.
“We would make a great team, Trevor Mustang.”
He tightened. “Explain.”
“You’re a handsome man. And I’m a, as I like to identify, a pretty woman.” Chloe grinned, barring once again the sinister luster of her fangs - foreign blood and flesh wedged between her gums. It was sweet, like strawberry and iron.
“More range, more ingredients, more flavours for you and I and the patrons of your wonderful restaurant.”
Mustang eyed her hesitantly. Chloe showed none. No trickery, no malice. Only a commitment to the art - a religiousness that even he found unnerving.
After all, she was a connoisseur too.