The Institute:Daddy Issues(9)

By: Evangeline Anderson

“All right,” I said re­luct­antly. “I just don’t like the idea of fetch­ing a stick or beg­ging for treats.”

“No, no, my dear.” Stevens laughed. “That would be puppy play. The In­sti­tute isn’t about that at all.”

“I was just kid­ding about that,” I said. “But you’re ser­i­ous—that’s a thing? Puppy play?”

“There are all kinds of kinks,” the pro­fessor said. “But as of now, you need only be con­cerned about one. So maybe the two of you would like to come to my house for sup­per and I can ex­plain your roles in more de­tail?”

“No.” Salt spoke up, sur­pris­ing me. “No, we will meet at my house,” he said, look­ing at Stevens. “Less trouble this way.”

“Well, okay, sure.” I shrugged. “Pro­fessor Stevens?”

“Just tell me the ad­dress,” he said nod­ding. “I’ll be there with bells on.”

Know­ing that he was deep in the fet­ish com­munity made me won­der if he meant that lit­er­ally. I had a feel­ing Salt and I were go­ing to find out.

Chapter Two

I hummed as I moved around Salt’s kit­chen, set­ting out a plate of sand­wiches and stir­ring the soup on the stove. Liv­ing in Flor­ida, I had never been much for soup be­fore I met my part­ner. It’s al­most never cold enough to crave winter com­fort foods, which was how I al­ways thought of it. But I had gradu­ally learned that Salt didn’t see a meal as com­plete without it, so I had ad­ded a num­ber of new soup re­cipes to my cook­ing rep­er­toire. The kind we were hav­ing to­night was ac­tu­ally a nice ve­get­able soup I had made for him a few weeks be­fore. He had frozen the rest so all I had to do was re­heat it—con­veni­ent.

As I worked in the kit­chen, Salt set the table. He was also hum­ming to him­self in a low, tune­ful bari­tone. I stopped my own hum­ming to listen to him. I hadn’t thought of it much be­fore but it oc­curred to me how much I liked my part­ner’s voice. It’s very deep and mas­cu­line and com­mand­ing. It’s funny—he doesn’t talk much and when he does, he keeps his tone quiet for the most part. But still, when he talks, people listen and things get done. I liked that about him.

“What are you hum­ming?” I asked, stir­ring the soup again. “It’s nice.”

“Is a song my grand­mother used to sing to me at night some­times.” For a mo­ment, he stopped hum­ming and sang in­stead, his deep voice wash­ing over me as the rich, gut­tural Rus­sian lan­guage filled his warm kit­chen. It sent a shiver through me for some reason, though I didn’t know why.

“What does it mean?” I asked when he fin­ished. “Trans­late for me.”

“It is what you call a lul­laby I think. It goes…My little fox, my little kit­ten, sleep, oh sleep—the day is through. Heavy eyes and tired feet. Sleep my little mouse, sleep my little…” He paused for a mo­ment. “I think the last would trans­late into ‘my little nug­get of gold.’”

“What?” I burst out laugh­ing. “My little gold nug­get? Is that a nick­name in Rus­sia?”

“Da—of course.” He gave me one of his rare smiles. “What is more pre­cious than gold? You could also call someone dear to you pchelka—my little bee.”

“Little bee?” I frowned. “But bees sting people.”

“Bees also give honey,” he poin­ted out. “Which is an Eng­lish term of en­dear­ment.”

“I guess so,” I ac­know­ledged. “It does sound weird when you think about it. Though no stranger than a man call­ing a grown wo­man ‘Little girl’ or a wo­man call­ing a man ‘Daddy,’ I guess.” I shivered. “Ugh—I’m really not look­ing for­ward to that.”

Salt frowned. “This both­ers you greatly—the terms we are meant to use for each other?”