27. A request

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[RECAP: Sera is determined to get Mr Marek to make a move now she's a legal adult]

Sera loved her birthday. No matter how bad the weather was, or if it fell on a school day, it always felt like her own personal festival.

It started with a special family breakfast where her father cooked bacon and eggs, along with mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and fried bread. The twins always wanted pancakes for their birthday but Sera liked an old fashioned English breakfast of all.

A long, wonderful day lay ahead: and best of all it was a Saturday. That meant getting to be with Mr Marek for two whole hours, then spending the rest of the evening and night with her friends.

It couldn't be more perfect. Even if Mr Marek had returned to his usual cool detachment during the week, she was looking forward to their session.

But when he opened the door to her he was clearly in a black mood. "Sera." He barely greeted her.

Sera had a sudden fear that something was wrong with his father. "Is your father still getting better?" she asked. She had briefly inquired as to his condition in the week and had been relieved to hear that he was progressing well.

"He is. They may release him tonight," Mr Marek told her.

"That's great news."

"Leading to an even greater problem. He can't stay by himself any more and he won't accept any home care."

No wonder he was so stressed, Sera thought. "Could he stay here?"

"He refuses to consider living anywhere except his flat."

Sera wondered what old Mr Marek was like. She imagined an elderly, grey haired version of her art teacher, probably as equally as stubborn and strong-willed as his son. "What if you told him it was temporary?"

"The problem is that it's not. His flat is up two flights of stairs with no lift. The occupational therapist says it's no longer appropriate for him to live there."

"But you could imply that it was temporary, couldn't you?" Sera suggested. "Just while he recuperates. Then if he got used to living here, he might more open to..." she trailed off, not wanting to say "an old people's home" in case it sounded too negative.

Mr Marek was silent for a moment. "That could possibly work. He's extremely set in his ways though." He started sorting out some brushes and paints and Sera took it as her cue to change out of her clothes. Getting undressed was starting to feel more routine, though she still felt exposed lying in front of him.

Let alone with him saying all those things to her...

She emerged from the study in the usual robe. "It's my birthday today," she told him.

He looked up, unsmiling. "Many happy returns of the day."

Sera wanted more than a Hallmark greeting from him. She held his gaze. "So I'm now eighteen. Of age." She stressed the last words.

Mr Marek looked directly at her, refusing to rise to the bait. "Congratulations."

Sera summoned up all her courage. She decided to take Lois's and Joel's advice and just go for it.

"Do I get a birthday kiss?"

She let the robe fall around her feet at that moment, managing to give what she hoped was a sultry smile, and was gratified to see him react with a start. He certainly wasn't looking at her like a bowl of fruit today: his eyes were devouring her in quite a different way.

He gritted his teeth. "You're still my student, Sera. And we will both continue to behave appropriately. Now get into position."

It was an order: he didn't even say please. Sera complied.

It felt like the longest session ever. Mr Marek was intent on his work, barely speaking to her, and it had gone from the best birthday ever to the worst. It was going to take a lot of drinks tonight to get the party spirit back.

He could have at least tried to be nice on her birthday. She watched the dark head, the strong hands. Looked at him frowning at her and back at his canvas, trying to get the details right. She sometimes guessed from the colours on his brush and palette what particular element he must be painting.

Given this was currently a rich crimson she assumed he was working on the drape behind her. She may as well not even be there. Surely he could have painted it without her?

So why did he want her there?

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