“I’ve known you for months now, you’ve taken me out to gorgeous restaurants, we’ve seen wonderful shows together, and you have even met my parents, so why have you never invited me to your place?” asked Annie.
Annie pushed down with her chubby fists into the small pockets of her baggy cardigan. Chris wondered how the knitting didn’t fall apart. Her habit was one of the many quirks she fascinated him with.
“My house is a mess, you wouldn’t like it,” Chris answered. He aimed to take her, but only when he was ready, not before.
“Do you know what my Mum said?”
“Oh, doesn’t she like me?” asked Chris.
“Just the opposite,” said Annie, “She thinks you are too good for me. What a thing to say to your daughter, can you believe that?”
“I’m sure she wasn’t being serious,” answered Chris.
“Am I too plain?” she asked.
“Not at all, you are just right,” he said, eyeing her, judging her measurements.
“What are you looking at? Are my boobs too big or too small?”
Chris laughed, “I want to buy you a new outfit.”
“It’s not my birthday. Are we going somewhere special?” queried Annie.
“You asked about my house, but you haven’t asked about my hobby,” said Chris.
“And new clothes? Are they linked to your hobby?”
“I want to take you to an exhibition. We should dress smartly, but not over the top. I have to meet someone there,” said Chris.
She flicked her mousey hair out of her eyes, her ponytail was working itself loose, she studied him lopsided; he was tall, slim, handsome, intelligent and wealthy.
“Why are you interested in me?” she asked.
“I won’t lie to you, you are not the prettiest girl I’ve ever dated, I just love being with you.”
She studied his face, trying to pick the untruth, and failed.
“Not everyone understands my hobby, I hope you can grow to love it,” he carried on.
“You haven’t told me what it is?”
“No, you will soon see at the exhibition. You will witness art, nothing less, things that I and others achieve with our skills,” he said proudly before carrying on. “Put on your business shoes, we are going shopping, I need to match the new outfit with your footwear, or do we need new shoes as well?” he grinned, she melted.
“Tomorrow we have a man to meet and terrific art to judge,” Chis slid his coffee cup to the centre of the table. He stood holding out his tanned hand leading her back to his car.
At ten-fifty the following day, Annie was rushing, she had the iron set too hot, and scorched the back of her blouse, “Oh, well, no one will see it under my new jacket,” she chuckled.
“You look wonderful,” Chris said as he admired the new suit.
Annie gave a twirl before she jumped in the gleaming blue BMW.
Forty-five minutes later they parked under the exhibition hall. It was only when Annie spotted the direction arrow, ‘To Taxidermist Show’, did she have any clue where they were going.
“Is that what we’ll see?”
“Yep, does that bother you?” asked Chris.
“Not at all, great, lead me to it, let’s see what they’ve got.”
A beaming Chris led the way up.
“Welcome sir, this way please,” he guided them through to the main hall.
A number back slapped him as he led an amazed Annie to the stage.
“Here he is, great to see you again, are you ready?” said the event chairperson.
“Always ready for my fellow taxidermists, what time do you want me to speak,” asked Chris.
Annie’s jaw dropped.
“You will be our last speaker, then I’ll wrap things for another year,” said the elderly chairperson.
Chris and Annie sat at the front while speakers explained new skills, showed off their lifelike pets and summed-up new techniques.
“And now, our star speaker, who needs no introduction…” the chairman waffled on.
Chris bounded up the steps to the stage, flapping his hands to quell the applause.
“I won’t bore you with a long speech, but first like to introduce my favourite lady, Ms Annie…”
Annie blushed, half stood and gave a timid wave behind her. Chris continued for twenty-minutes, even a novice like Annie understood the gist of it.
Clapping and hand-shaking went on for longer than expected, drowning the chairs’ farewell speech.
Servers handed glasses of crisp white wine out, as people viewed exhibits after thanking Chris for coming.
“So, Annie, what do you think of my hobby?” asked Chris.
“Er, it was, er, surprising. I did not expect that. Are any of the exhibits yours?”
“No, not here, I’ll show you mine later. At my home, if you want to see them?”
Annie smiled inwardly. She wanted to view his bedroom, forget the stuffed creatures.
On the way back Chris was quiet, “What’s wrong Chris, did I do something wrong?”
“No, dear, I’m thinking that’s all.”
Annie placed her hand on the leg of his immaculately creased trousers. She gently squeezed. He rewarded her with a stony stare. Hastily she rubbed her chin.
The BMW crunched gravel as they swept to the front door. Slipping the key in the door’s lock, his arm on her back, he led her in.
“Wine, or a coffee?” he asked.
“How about both,” she said as she slipped off her jacket. Quickly changing her mind as she remembered the scorched scar.
“Make yourself at home,” said Chris as he went to the kitchen.
Annie peered about her. He displayed his forest animals in glass cases; they looked so lifelike as if they needed cages, not glass boxes.
“Admiring my efforts?” as Chris handed the wine and placing the coffee on the table.
“They look so… real,” she stammered.
“They are real, do you mean alive?”
“Yes, that’s what I mean, as if they could jump out,” she said.
“That’s the idea,” said Chris.
“No wine?” she asked.
Chris smiled at her and shook his head.
“Don’t worry about driving, if that’s why you are not drinking? I could… stay here, if you like?” she said.
“I’m not worried about driving,” he smiled. “Finish your drinks, I’ve more to show you.”
“Oh, goodie,” she whispered, wondering when he planned to show her upstairs.
“Before we take the evening further, I’d like to show off more of my hobby and then the workroom where it’s all done. Is that okay with you?”
He pushed open the next room’s door. She guessed it was a dining room, but now it was an exhibition room boasting larger and rarer animals.
“Where did you get a monkey? Oh my God, there’s a tiger,” gasped Annie.
“Keep what you’ve seen to yourself, I don’t let just anybody in here you know.”
“Were they dead when you got them?”
“That’s an odd question,” began Chris, “Do you think I’d kill protected species?”
“Um, it’s all so new to me,” wishing she’d kept her mouth shut.
“I’ll get the wine and join you in a glass next door,” said Chris.
He opened the door and pointed the way in. An odd aroma escaped, causing Annie to crunch her nose.
“Is that formaldehyde?” she wondered.
Tools were all arranged neatly, knives and various blades according to size, a wooden mallet and a smaller metal one took pride of place.
Chris returned with two glasses of France’s favourite tipple.
“Cheers Annie, have you enjoyed your evening? Maybe you’d like to work on my next project?” Chris asked.
“It’s been enthralling, I’d love to keep seeing you, but I’m not sure if I could skin an animal.”
“That’s a shame, a great pity. You are a natural for taxidermy,” he breathed.
She looked around, studying the equipment closer.
“Make-up? Stage make-up? Why would you need that?” she whispered?
Her legs shook, she fought the drowsiness sweeping between her ears.
“Make-up is necessary for a simple reason, human skin discolours, human skin also stretches far more than animal pelt. So, I need all my skill, especially for a plump little creature like you!”