Well, very flatteringly, you all seemed to like my little story last week, and the characters wanted to be expanded, so here we are, part two. 🙂 enjoy!
The coffee shop was small, very Parisian, with curly-backed iron seats outside under smart parasols that fluttered in the breeze of an unaccustomed British winter. The seats inside were a mixture of elegant pine uprights and squashy leather sofas. There were not many people in the cafe, and as soon as the proprietor saw them, his face erupted into a genial beam.
“Welcome back, stranger!”
“Graeme! Long time no see, I’m very sorry about that. Things have been rather hectic lately.”
Her companion steered her toward a sofa, and went to have a quiet word with the man behind the counter, who evidently knew him well.
She sank down into the leather, which was every bit as comfortably cushiony as it looked. And then her new friend was back, sliding into the chair on the opposite side of the table.
“Clearly you are a regular customer,” she said. She wasn’t sure why she said it; possibly this particular silence, although of short duration, was making her uncomfortable because she didn’t really know what she was doing here in a boutique-cafe with a man whose name she had yet to discover.
Did he ever stop smiling?
“Indeed I am,” he agreed. “But Graeme has never seen me bring anyone in here with me, and I think we may have overexcited him a little.”
The tops of her cheekbones suddenly pinkened.
“I tried to play it down to him,” he went on cheerfully, “but I don’t know if it worked. Anyway, while we wait for whatever he decides to bring us – oh, I hope you don’t mind, I told him to surprise us?”
“Of course not.” She hated surprises.
He looked relieved. “Sometimes I do things without really thinking. Anyway, what I was going to say was, tell me about yourself. I’m taking you for coffee and I don’t even know your name! Actually, that’s a good point – what is your name?”
She grimaced. “Please don’t laugh.”
His eyes widened. “Laugh? Why on earth would I?”
“I like my name, as a name, but I wish it wasn’t mine!” she tried to explain.
“Now you’ve got to tell me, otherwise I shall expire from curiosity.”
“Cressida.” She dragged the syllables unwillingly across her teeth.
To give him credit, he didn’t laugh. He didn’t even look as though he wanted to. “Wow. How very Shakespearean.”
“Exactly. I don’t mind it as a name, and in fact I quite like having a literary allusion as a designation, but to most people it’s more reminiscent of salads and egg sandwiches than the Bard. You can imagine what I got called at school.”
He pulled a face in sympathy. “Ouch.”
“My cross to bear, I suppose,” she said with a quirky little grin.
“There are worse names. My great-grandfather was called Percival.”
“Ugh. Actually, you’re quite right – there is always someone worse off. Fancy being Ethelred or Phyllis!”
The chime of their united laughter surprised them both. His eyes were so warm, she thought rather dreamily, and then snapped herself out of it with alarmed haste. “So what’s your name?”
“Oh, must I reveal all? I was rather enjoying being a man of mystery,” he said with theatrical disappointment.
“You could always give an alias,” she said, helpfully, and then stopped, horrified at herself. What was she thinking?
His brows rose, but his eyes still twinkled. “My name’s Miles. And no, that’s not an alias.”
“That’s what they all say,” she shot back, before she could stop herself.
He actually looked delighted. “A wit!”
Just then the erstwhile Graeme reappeared like a conjuring trick, bearing a large tray which he set down on a neighbouring table with a flourish.
“Our finest Kenyan coffee for two,” he announced, “with torte de chocolat, a fruit mousse, and finally, the bottle of Laurent-Perrier I’ve been keeping for a special occasion.”
Miles looked as if he’d just been hit in the face with a frying pan. “Graeme!” he hissed, “I said take it easy!”
Graeme shrugged, with a mischievous smirk. “I couldn’t help myself! You have been coming to my cafe for three years now, and this is the first time you’ve brought a ladyfriend. My father was French, what more can I say? Romance is in my blood, and I just wanted to celebrate with you. You’ve done well, my friend, she is a beauty.” He said this last with a conspiratorial wink, and swept off, beaming all over his face.
Miles rolled his eyes, clearly embarrassed. “I’m so sorry,” he muttered. “I tried so hard to keep it low-key, but he obviously ran away with quite the wrong impression.”
“His father was French, that evidently explains everything,” said Cressida lightly. She didn’t think it was fair to make a meal of it when he had done so much to put her at ease, and was now so manifestly bashful.
“In his defense, the coffee really is the best this side of the Channel.”
“Have you been to France?” She couldn’t keep the eagerness out of her voice. Travel was something she had always longed to do, and yet she could never build up the courage to go anywhere; in consequence she tended to admire people who actually went abroad.
“Yes,” he said, “I spent my gap year there.”
Her ears perked up. “University? What did you study?”
“Music and Classics…I’m a violinist,” he said, quietly, looking down, and picking up his coffee cup. For all he’d appeared confident and at ease, he suddenly seemed almost shy.
“Oh that’s amazing. I wish I could play!”
“The violin?” he inquired, over the edge of the cup.
“Anything,” said Cressida sadly. “I love music, but I can’t replicate it. I tried when I was younger, I had piano lessons, but I just didn’t seem to have the flair for it.”
His expression was so earnest that she felt slightly overwhelmed by the level of feeling he was projecting. “Maybe you didn’t have the right teacher. In my experience the teacher can contribute a very large percentage either toward or against success.”
“Perhaps you’re right. I gave up eventually because I thought I’d never be any good. I’m afraid in some ways I can be a bit of a defeatist.”
He took a large sip of coffee, weighing his next words with the delicacy and care of a craftsman. “Life has to be approached with optimism, otherwise you’d never do anything. There is a balance, of course – sometimes the only thing to do is to stop trying, but generally speaking, if you view difficulty as a challenge rather than a failure, you are more likely to succeed at anything you undertake. But that’s just my opinion,” he added, with a quite charming modesty. “I’ve always been an incurable optimist!”