a chance, for romance?

Big surprise, we’re in a posh little restaurant, she groaned to herself.

Clara didn’t want to be there, but her friends had prodded her mercilessly, with terrible ideas of cats, and ageing disgracefully. Awful ideas, and I’m barely thirty years old! So mean, she thought. Regardless, she had relented.

Xander had been eyeing her since entering his best friend’s restaurant. He didn’t, ever, eye someone. It was unnerving, and a part of him felt like he was being, well, creepy. He wanted to look away, but something wouldn’t let him. It was on this, his bi-weekly visit to The Red House Bistro, an hour or so from is home, that his life would change.

Wow, he thought. I… wow. Quite taken aback, he reminded himself it had been a few years since he’d even considered talking to someone of the opposite sex, especially someone whom had an instant disarming effect on him, such as this beautiful stranger did.

He felt an elbow jab into his side. He hadn’t noticed his lifelong pal David had been standing beside him. How long have I been staring? he wondered.

“Ow! Hah. Ass.”

“Don’t be freaking out my customers, especially if they’re gorgeous,” poked David. “It’s good to see you, man. She’s cute!”

Xander’s face phased through several shades of ripe tomato. “Man, sorry. I’m not usually like this, but…who is that?”

“Dunno. Go talk to her.”

“Wha? No…uh, no.” Words suddenly failed Xander. He laughed.

David looked at the woman, then with a big grin, looked up at his friend, who stood six inches taller. He loved Xander like a brother. Thus, he relished opportunities to treat him like one.

“It’s been long enough, don’t you think?” asked David, putting his hand on Xander’s shoulder. “She ain’t coming back, and you deserve to start a new story. And, now seems like a very, very good time, bro.”

“Yeah, yeah… yeah you’re right. You’re right,” he echoed, half in outer space, partly under the ocean.

He shook himself out of it. “Ha, what the hell! I’ll need a drink.”

“Naturally! The usual?” David offered, relieved.

“Yes. Make it a double, hey? And don’t be cheap with the cranberries.” he said with a nervous smile. His eyes returned to the woman.

David chuckled. “Of course, my friend. I’ll bring it to the table. Go talk to her,” he said, taking a good look at the lovely stranger across the room. “She looks single, and just a little less than interested in being here. I’d guess that maybe she doesn’t get out much…perhaps a match made in heaven?” he needled.

“Pff, shuddup.”

Xander started walking toward the table.

She was sitting at the end, not engaging in the conversation with her small group of friends. In fact, she was staring off at something. Xander followed her eyes to see what was of interest. Apparently nothing. There was a wall with no artwork or anything particularly interesting about it. He chuckled. She’s daydreaming.

Oh my god why did I agree to come out tonight, she thought. This is dreadfully boring. How can they talk so much about…nothing? Then her face went straight. Shit, did I fill Oscar’s water dish?

Clara’s peripheral vision picked up some movement. A man was approaching. He was arguably quite handsome, and at first glance seemed about her age. No, a little older. He didn’t look like a server, which was worrying. Probably one of Sandra’s friends, she hoped. Oh lord, he’s looking at me. Dammit, dammit, dammit! Her eyes started blinking rapidly.

She couldn’t be less interested in talking to anyone, especially someone who seemed a little drunk, or at least, quite nervous or…something. Who cares. This should be awkward, she thought. Maybe I’ll invoke Lily.

Lily was a character, a facade, with a terribly nasal voice, was slow speaking, and intentionally loud. She was a defensive mechanism Clara used in such times to deter would-be predators and other lower lifeforms.

“Hello. Mind if I sit?” Xander managed, quietly, and somewhat shakily.

“Haa,” Clara, or rather Lily, said, immediately turning heads and attracting eyes while magically silencing several tables in the vicinity. “Wha show. Siddown.” Her mouth unconsciously forming into a belittling smirk.

Xander stopped dead. He blinked a few times. Uh oh, he thought. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But she’s so beautiful! He could feel the attention of the whole room upon him.

He could also feel his heart sink, though he did his best not to let it show.

“Uhm,” he crackled, then clearing his throat, continued “you know, I-uh… forgot something… in the kitchen.” He looked at his hand, which had gone into full hitchhiker position. He lowered his arm, inadvertently giving Clara a thumbs up.

Politely smiling, exasperated, he turned awkwardly on the spot and slowly walked away, making a beeline for the kitchen. Conversations resumed. He caught David’s wide-eyed look on the way. He was shaking his head with some confusion. Xander shrugged.

Thank gawd, Clara thought. Then, Lily went away.

“What was that?” asked Sandra, her best friend.

She replied quietly, “Oh, nothing. Sorry. You know, I think I’m going to head home, if that’s alright. Thank you for dinner.” She got up and put on her coat.

“Ok, um, are you alright?” asked Sandra, standing up. “I haven’t seen Lily in a while, ha ha.”

“Oh, you know, my mind is somewhere else,” she conceded. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude.”

Sandra gave her a hug. “Hey, no worries, girl. Give me a call tomorrow, yeah?”

“Sure.”

Sandra spoke quietly while they were embraced, “He’s gorgeous, my love. Maybe give these opportunities a chance, once in a while?” She squeezed her dear friend with a little more love than usual.

Clara smiled gently as they relaxed their embrace and met eyes, and then turned to leave.

. . . a few weeks later . . .

Clara was waiting for a cab outside her favourite art supply shop. She was holding her phone to her ear and listening, as a smile came across her face. She exhaled loudly, making a fist. Yes! she thought.

“That’s fantastic, Sandy. Oh my goodness that helps so much. Thank youuuuuu! You’re the best, and I owe you dinner, now that I can afford to buy you one! No ifs, ands, or buts. Just name the place.”

Sandra, in her office, was smiling. “Clara, I’ve been telling you for a long time your artwork needs an audience, and that it’s amazing. It’s the least I could do. I am so happy for you.”

Clara was beaming. “Oh, you’re awesome. I’m gonna cry. Ha ha. I miss you. Just got some new canvas and paints. I have a lot of ideas and can’t wait to dive in and make a mess at home. When are you gonna be in town?”

“Next Friday, for a week. I’ll call you before then,” said Sandra. Sighing, she continued, “Coming alone, too, unfortunately.”

“Oh no. What happened?” worried Clara.

“Ah, we’ll discuss and I’ll vent over a few bottles of wine, ha ha. I have to get back to work.”

“Of course. Talk soon, love.” Clara lowered the phone and ended the call.

“So, you’re an artist,” a voice from behind her queried.

She recognized the voice, but couldn’t place it. Turning, she saw Xander, standing quite close to her. Do I know him? She wondered. He’s tall. And cute. Shut up!

“Your voice. It’s… different,” he said, smiling, with a wink.

Busted, she thought. Her heart did a cannonball into her stomach. Ugh. No words were available just then, as a dumbfounded look came across her face, and her mouth started to gape open.

Busted. Good lord, she’s even cuter up close, he thought. His memory drifted momentarily back to the first time he’d seen her at David’s place.

“I’m Xander. And you?”

“I…I’m, uh,” she blinked rapidly, searching for her name, which for some reason eluded her. Her eyes widened as her face contorted into a frown, then finally, “C-Clara. I’m Clara. Clara.”

He chuckled. “Hi, Clara Clara. It’s nice to properly meet you.” He’d extended his hand, unknowingly. His eyes remained locked to hers as she unconsciously lifted her hand to meet his.

“Cold hands. Have you been waiting out here long?” he asked.

She started nodding. “Yes….No! Yes, I, no. Not too long.” Seriously? Who the hell is talking right now, she thought. Snap out of it!

“I see,” he laughed. They looked at each other. Their hands slowly stopped shaking, but remained intertwined. “There’s… a great little café near here. Are you in a hurry? Can I buy you a cof-f-fee?” The words spilled out of him before he could stop them. He could feel his heart beating ever faster.

“No, I…Yes,” she managed. Her mouth stayed open for a few more seconds, but as no more words seemed imminent, she closed it, and smiled awkwardly.

He smiled, and relaxed imperceptibly. “Good, good. Your hand is warming up.”

She laughed softly and released her grip.

She took a breath. Her face suddenly relaxed and her hand drifted up toward his face. She stroked his bearded chin. It looked like a week or so of growth, brown with streaks of red, blonde, and some white whiskers. Then, slowly, she rotated her hand and brushed his left cheek. Her eyes followed her fingers. It was oddly, powerfully, familiar. She hadn’t noticed her breathing had quickened, while at the same time she felt utterly at ease.

His gaze was still locked to her eyes. He glanced up to her hair, which had a slight curl to it, a subtle sheen, and a deep auburn colour. He slowly scanned the rest of her face, then her ears. Silver earrings adorned her earlobes. They look…wispy, he thought. He wondered if she’d made them herself.

He felt like his face had gone through a thousand different emotions in mere seconds. He reached up to examine an earring. It was very smooth, and had barely any weight to it. It reminded him of something. Something angelic, perhaps. Wispy.

He raised his left arm, offering it to her as he turned to stand beside her. She grinned, breathed a soft sigh, and hooked her arm into his.

. . .