The man dropped Leah onto a dusty , vintage-looking couch and sat at her feet. She was still stunned after being swept off her feet, and the whole scenario was like some sort of fast-paced, soft dream that she was unable to control. The man lifted her leg up gently at the ankle and took off her slip-on shoe, placing it on his lap. He critically examined her foot, slightly reddened by the slam of the door onto it. Smooth, but precise hands squeezed the sides of her foot, eyes darted back and forth between Leah’s eyes, watching her reaction, and looking at her foot. As he poked and prodded, Leah’s face went between concern and embarrassment. A man was holding her foot like there was no issue with it, being attentive and tender, which caused her face to redden a little. She tried to draw her foot back, but the man’s grip about her ankle stiffened. If need be, his face was close enough that she could flick her knee and catch him off guard, but the way he was looking at her, and her injured foot, indicated to her that he wasn’t going to be the type to take advantage of this situation. He was genuinely concerned. That flustered her even more. Few were genuinely concerned for her well-being.
Leah relaxed a little as the man ‘hmmd’ and looked about her foot. He asked softly, “Does this hurt?” and applied pressure where the door and frame connected. Leah prepared for extra pain, but none came. She shook her head. The man’s shoulders relaxed visibly.
“What’s your name?”
“L-Leah.” Her heart skipped a beat.
“My name is Peter. Circumstances could have been better, but… it is nice to meet someone. You.”
Peter placed her shoe back on to her foot. Leah wiggled her toes, and the man put her leg down on his lap. “You said you came to return something of mine?”
Leah looked at Peter blankly, then suddenly remembered why she was there. “Y-yes, I found this the other day, stuck to my bookbag.” She offered the card.
“What were you doing down there in my basement?”, Peter asked, levelly, taking the card from her.
Leah flushed. “I… I… I was wondering if the stories were true?”
Peter’s eyes narrowed behind thick eyebrows that needed a trim. “What… stories?”
“That you were a great engineer who had developed some type of stereo laboratory -“
“Yes, that – and, and, something happened and you never went to market with it.”
“Really? That is the story you heard? Nothing about some crazed old man who had killed his wife, or killed his children, or killed his wife and children, or that the house was abandoned?”
Leah looked away, “That may have been part of the story too.”
“Mhmm.” Peter tensed up a little, looking Leah over. “It had nothing do to with being dared to break into my house to prove your bravery, Leah?”
Her flush deepened. “You… heard that?”
“I do still live here.”
Suddenly Leah came to a conclusion. “Why did you let me in then? Why leave the door unlocked? Why didn’t you come and greet us, scare us off?”
It was Peter’s turn to look away. “I was hoping you’d be scared off by the stories and not come inside. The stories, untrue as they are, have been pretty effective in keeping people away from my place for many years. Oh sure, occasionally someone ventures into the backyard, or tosses a rock through an unbroken window, but,” and here his shoulders slumped a little, “It doesn’t really matter now.”
Leah looked curiously at the older gentleman. “Are all the stories untrue?”
Peter glanced sideways at the younger girl, and said softly, “No. Only the murder-death-kill ones are untrue.”
“So you did come up with a new stereo…litho…graph…”
“Stereolithography. Yes. Why are you so curious about this? Girls aren’t interested in technology.”
Leah’s back straightened. “Yes, some girls are interested in technology! I am!” She swung her legs away from Peter’s lap, and tucked them under her. “This is why I came back, because I wanted to learn what you did back then!”
Peter squinted at the girl suspiciously. Then quickly said, “There’s nothing for you to see here. It’s all old. Dusty. Outdated, like me. If you are really interested in this stuff, best to go to your parents or teachers or library.”
“But you’re here now, you’re supposed to be really smart, why won’t you just show me what you’ve done?” Leah pressed her luck with her plea.
Peter stood and went to the door, opening it. “Thank you for returning my property, Leah. I am sorry I slammed the door on your foot, I’m certain it won’t happen again.” He looked at her, with an unreadable expression in his face. Leah stood up, walked slowly to the door, and looked up at Peter’s eyes. Her lower lip quivered slightly, as she quietly stepped onto the creaky front porch, where the door closed behind her. Leah heard the lock engage; sighing heavily, she headed home.
Inside, Peter leaned back on the door, and looked at the card that Leah had returned. He was taken aback by her sudden request to actually learn about what he did. What girls do that? A small surge of hope flickered in his chest, then died as quickly. What girls do that, indeed.