Etiquette, part II

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!”



Cold grey air battered her lungs as she tried to fight her way through the crowd, crushed on all sides by the fast-flowing tide of humanity. She did not even see him until it was far too late.
Smack! Her books fell to the floor as she collided with a body.
A startled exclamation.
A hasty apology, running over her own stumbling words in a slick rush.
She was too busy rescuing her precious volumes to look up.
“Oh! Your books! I really am terribly sorry. May I be of assistance?”
He squatted down on his heels until his head was level with hers.
His voice was soft and precise, pleasing to the ear and with just a hint of hidden richness, like an old book trimmed in gold leaf, discovered at the back of a dusty shelf on a rainy day. But it wasn’t just the timbre and sound of his voice that made her look up – in his correct, rather quaint use of the English language, she recognized the distinct possibility of a kindred spirit. Fellow creatures were so rare. She looked up and met his sparkling blue eyes with a smile in her own muddy brown ones.
“Thank you,” she said.
An answering smile echoed across the whole of his face. “You’re welcome. It was my fault anyway. I should pay more attention to my surroundings instead of woolgathering. I’m told it’s one of my greatest weaknesses.” But he twinkled as he handed her the last book.
She took it with a laugh. “If that’s your greatest weakness, you haven’t much to worry about!”
“You don’t know what the others are…” he warned her, extending his hand to help her up.
She hesitated. It was unusual for a man to be so polite to her. She was always in the background, a small, insignificant shadow, and men in particular seldom noticed her.
He looked very unsure, and she overcame her momentary hesitation, placing her hand in his. His fingers closed over hers carefully, and he held her hand as if it were a thing of inestimable value before helping her up with a comfortingly secure grip.
For some reason she was breathless.
“Thank you,” she said again. The thesaurus in her mind had deserted her. His smile was open, friendly, terrifyingly attractive. “Would you like to have some coffee?”
She stared.
He stuttered. “It’s a cold day. I thought-”
But she had made up her mind. “Yes. Please. I’d love to.”
And two pairs of eyes smiled in unison again.

Due to Lack of Interest

Melanie knocks on her daughter’s bedroom door.
“Sam! Have you forgotten we’re going out for dinner?”
“Sam? We’ll be late if you don’t hurry up!”
Shuffling, muffled noise.
The door opens a crack. All Melanie can see is a black mess – Sam’s hair. “Are you getting changed? Come on, get a move on!”
“Whatever,” says Sam.
Melanie stamps down on her irritation with difficulty. It’s always the same. Whatever. Sometimes she wonders if the education she is paying for is really all it was cracked up to be, since the once broad horizons of Sam’s vocabulary seem to have shrunk to one mediocre, noncommital word. She sighs. “Alright Sam. If you don’t want to come, that’s up to you. Next time I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me beforehand so we don’t have to go through all… this.” She waves her hand around in a vague gesture.
Sam shuts the door. Melanie huffs in annoyance and goes to get her coat. Her head is too full of Max and Danny, Sam’s three-year-old twin brothers, to even think about the possible reasons for her teenage daughter’s withdrawal from society. She doesn’t stop to wonder at Sam’s sudden predilection for long-sleeved poloneck tops, or how she gets defensive when anyone asks her why she never wears a t-shirt now. Everyone says odd behaviour is a teen thing, and whatever rules o.k. so she supposes it is just a phase. It’ll pass. She just wishes it would get on with it.
Behind the door, Sam’s knife is out again, and the tears still refuse to fall, burning her inside until she can’t bear it.
Melanie is right about one thing – the expensive education really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. College is a killer.