"It's so cold in here," I complained, running my hands up and down my arms, "Why on earth do you keep it so cold?"

Erik shrugged elegantly from where he sat across from me, "It has always been rather cold down here. I have grown used to it, I suppose. Forgive me. Christine, I give little thought to the comfort of my guests because I never have company, you see. Do not go anywhere. I shall fetch you blankets."

He rose in one fluid movement and gracefully loped out of the room, bent on his task. I blew a curl out of my eyes and drew my knees up to my chest.

I wondered if I had made a mistake in suggesting we take dinner together. When I'd shyly mentioned it several days ago, he quietly agreed, but I could tell the idea made him enormously uncomfortable. For some reason, he troubles himself over the tiniest details whenever I'm around, fixing this, and straightening that and constantly asking if I am "all right."

And then there's that mask! That thing is going to drive me insane! I told him that it would be quite difficult for him to eat with it on, but he immediately buttoned up and urged me "not to worry." I've seen what lies beneath several times, and the initial shock has subsided. I feel dreadful for saying that it repulsed and frightened me the first time, but now…

That is just who he is!

He won't hear of removing it in front of me. He says he doesn't want to "worsen" things. He says that I don't "deserve to see something like that." Whenever I tell him that he is barking mad to say such things, he simply stares at me and darkly remarks, "You would not think so if I removed it."

Erik is an insufferable drama queen.

He returned just then, a bundle of woolen blankets tucked under one arm and a tray of food balanced on the other.

"I do hope these will suffice," he said as he began to drape the blankets over me, "I scarcely use them, so I'm afraid they smell a bit moldy—"

"I can do it, it's fine," I said, taking the remaining blankets and snuggling up in them, "Erik, what is all this food? I told you I would bring dinner."

"You shouldn't have to worry about preparing food," he said as he placed a plate of steaming filet mignon on the placemat in from of me.

"But I made a special chicken dish!" I bent down and held up a large picnic basket, "And I brought pastries. Special pastries."

"The more the merrier," he chuckled.

"Where did you get all this?" I asked, eyeing the feast before me. As far as I knew, there was not kitchen in his house.

"I borrowed it," he said, now laying out a marvelous salad and a golden baguette.

I watched his long bony fingers curl around a bottle of wine and asked, "What do you mean you 'borrowed it?'"

He blinked and smirked, pouring the rich red liquid into a crystal glass. "I am told that this is aged perfectly. Do you like wine, Christine?"

I pursed my lips.

"Erik, you didn't answer my question."

"What question was that, exactly?"

"What does 'I borrowed it' mean?"

"What does borrowing insinuate, Christine?" I hated it when he avoided questions like this. It meant that there was crime involved.

"Erik, you know I hate it when you steal."

"Who said anything about stealing? I borrowed it from that quant little café down the street," he said casually.

"You know borrowing means that you have to return it," I pointed out, "Are you honestly going to return all of this food after we're…done with it?"

"You have a rather nasty mind." He returned to his seat, reclining slightly and folding his hands, "That would be rude. I am doing them a favor. They had too much food, if you ask me. Call me kindhearted for taking some off of their hands."

I sighed, staring at the stolen masterpiece before me guiltily.

"What is wrong?" he immediately asked, "Is something not to your liking? Would you like me to fetch something else?"

"No, no, it's wonderful, honestly." I took a bite of the steak, just to show him how much I appreciated the fact that he broke the law. I moaned. It was absolutely heavenly.

His eyes twinkled with satisfaction. For a few minutes, I ate, aware of the fact that he was watching my every move, silent as death. When I looked up, his head was cocked to the side, and that ghost of a grin tugged at his mouth.

"Aren't you going to eat anything?" I asked through a mouthful of bread, rudely spraying bits of food across the table. I quickly reached for my napkin to correct the damage.

"I am fine," he said.

"Erik, you have to eat something."

"I am not hungry."

"I can't eat while you're sitting there without anything. That's just plain terrible. Please share some of mine." I snatched up the picnic basket and plopped it on the table, pointing to it excitedly, "Or you could have chicken. I made it myself, you know."

"All the more reason not to eat," he joked.

"Oh, for Pete's sake! I cannot eat all of this by myself." I (regretfully) plopped a large piece of that delicious uneaten filet mignon and half of the baguette upon a plate and walked over to where he sat, putting the food in front of him. He stared at it in a bemused sort of way. I put my hand on my hip.

"Are you just a picky eater? Is that it? Something tells me that you never ate your vegetables as a boy." Or anything else, for that matter. "How does this qualify as dinner together if you won't even go near the dinner? I mean this in the politest manner possible, but you are a bag of bones. Shall I spoon-feed you?"

"That would be a disturbing sight." He picked up a fork and twirled it between his fingers, finally spearing a section of the beef and popping it into his mouth. He chewed awkwardly beneath the mask and then swallowed.

"Do you like it?" I asked, sounding every bit the doting mother.

"Very much so," he replied, folding his hands in his lap. His words did not sound genuine. Something was not right…

And then it hit me. I felt incredibly stupid for not thinking about it before. I bit my lip, staring at the untouched meal before him.

"Erik, can I ask you a question?"

"You have just asked one," he pointed out, "But you are always welcome to ask another."

"You…you don't have…" I swallowed, "You don't have a nose…right?"

"The last time I checked, I was entirely devoid of one." To my relief, his tone was humorous.

"Does that mean…that you can't taste anything?" This sounded even more ridiculous aloud.

"That is precisely what it means, my dear."

I wanted to slap myself. You stupid, stupid girl! He has no nose!

"Oh, Erik, I'm so sorry. I-I didn't even think when I asked about dinner—"

He actually laughed then, a melodious sound made even sweeter because of its rarity.

"Christine, there is no need to apologize. I found the gesture wonderfully kind, if you must know. There was a fair bit of nagging, I will admit, but your intentions were honest."

I gazed at him in pity for several seconds, letting his words sink in. Imagine not being able to taste! It was no wonder he was so thin; to him, eating was a mundane task that was necessary for survival, and that was it.

"Nothing at all?" I squeaked.

"Not unless the food is extremely spoiled." He took another small bite of steak, if only to show me that he could. "I can feel the texture, however. I must say that this texture is marvelous."

I laughed glumly.

"Christine, Christine, do not trouble yourself. It is difficult for one to miss something that one never had in the first place." He began to fold his unused napkin into an intricate pattern. I watched numbly for several minutes and when he was finished, he presented me with a perfectly folded little crane. I couldn't help but smile at his odd sense of humor.

"Yes, I suppose that is true," I said at last, turning the tiny bird about in my hands, "But I just feel so stupid! Here I was, eating away, and you were sitting there and you couldn't—Oh!"

An idea hit me suddenly, and I retrieved the basket full of my chicken and homemade pastries. Erik peered at me curiously, his smoldering golden eyes narrowed.

"What on earth are you doing?"

"I made these," I told him matter-of-factly, holding up a lumpy pastry, "and marinated, baked, and breaded these." I waggled a chunk of chicken in front of him, beaming.

He blinked.

"I am beginning to think that the filet mignon was bad," he said with concern, "Tell me, do you feel ill? Would you like to go lie down?"

I shook my head vigorously.

"No, no, it isn't that. I was just thinking about what you said, how, because I made these, it was another reason not to eat anything."

"Christine, I was jesting," Erik said hurriedly.

"No you weren't."

"No, I wasn't," he agreed.

"That's not the point, though." I grabbed another plate and put a piece of meat on it, shoving it towards him. "I am no cook. I know that. The entire world knows that. I am no cook, so I often bombard food with strong spices or sugar in hopes that it will disguise the poor job I did preparing the food. It never works, but that is exactly what I did with this meal."

I couldn't be sure, but I imagined his eyebrow rose underneath the porcelain mask.

"You would have someone eat something like that?" he chuckled.

"I would have you eat something like that. Maybe the flavor will be so incredibly strong that you will be able to taste it!"

He picked up the chicken between his forefinger and thumb, looking at it as if he had never seen anything like it before.

"Go on," I urged him, "Take a bite. The worst that can happen is that you will vomit."

"Thank you for your reassurance," he muttered, placing the meat back on the plate and slicing a thin piece off. He took a bite, chewing very slowly, and then swallowed.

"And?" I was practically bouncing on the balls of my feet, "Can you taste it?"

"Do you know," he remarked, "That isn't half bad."

I squealed and clapped my hands.

"Oh, I'm so glad! I knew my cooking would come in handy one day, I just knew it!"

He cautiously took another bite, smiling all the while. He had a very nice smile. I wish he smiled more often.

"What's it like?"

"Why," he said with laughter in his eyes, "It is like nothing I have ever tasted before. My compliments to the chef!"