“Could I interest you in a cup of coffee?” The refined voice, from the customer side of the counter of Peter’s Book Boutique asked.
My new job at the Book Boutique had become my refuge, since moving to Cape Town a little over two months ago. My love of all things books, had abetted my self-imposed quarantine of all other things in life … like men, relationships and pain.
Not quite looking up, I start to muster my official “customer smile”, the one that falls short of my eyes.
“I don’t drink coffee.” As the reply leaves my lips, my brain kicks in, realizing … that was rude. Repentant, my eyes drift up, unable to complete the resigned gaze, which rounds up the ultimate decline, because I am pinned by the most brilliant blue eyes I have ever seen. Those can’t be real, they have to be contacts. Right?
“That is such a pity, because I have been watching you for about two weeks now.”
“Mmmmh and that doesn’t sound creepy at all.” I say, raising a cynical eyebrow.
I double back, trying to play nice. “Look it is really sweet of you, and you have the most gorgeous eyes, but I am not interested. Thank you, but no.” Needing to be firm, to protect myself, I run my point home. “Whatever you are peddling or whatever your angle is, I’m just not interested.”
Evenly, with just a hint of a smile, Blue Eyes says, “I’m not peddling anything, and I am not playing an angle.” There is a moment of silence. Blue Eyes is juggling internal dialogue, he decides to be bold in his reply.
“That is quite a shutdown, someone must have hurt you badly.” He says, keeping my gaze, waiting for an answer.
“That will be three hundred and sixty-seven rand. Again, thank you, but I’m just not interested.” I try to make the words sound less mean than they are, we complete the transaction.
“What are you interested in?” Blue Eyes smiles, cocking his head to the side, very aware that he is continuing his pursuit.
Picking up an arm full of books, “Getting these books on the shelf, new authors, fantastic local authors and finding the perfect place for them all, prime shelf space for each title.” I say, pulling a pile of books into my arms.
“Can I help you with that?” Blue Eyes offers.
“No,” I say shaking my head, “thank you, but I’m a big, strong girl.” Moving from behind the counter.
“So I see,” a smile is playing. “Where do you think the best place is to put them?” Blue Eyes, looking around the large book store.
I can feel, I’m not going to escape Blue Eyes in a hurry, so I decide to turn the tables and get him talking. “Where do you think we should put them?” I say turning to ask him. Blue eyes unaware that I had turned, runs full-on into me and my stack of books in my arms.
“Oh sorry,” realizing I caused the pile-up.
“Are you ok?” Blue asks.
“I’m fine,” I smile, “back to the books, where do you think we should put them?”
Mmmmh, let’s see, he says looking round, reaching forward, to my arm-full of books, liberating the top copy. Passing a little too close to my body. The heat that shoots to my cheeks, announces his proximity and the betrayal of my body is instantaneous. He is too close, as the warmth from his hand radiates through my now too tight blouse. Blue Eyes notices, a small smile plays with his mouth, but thankfully he remains a gentleman and slowly, very slowly turns his attention back to the book.
“Let’s see.” He says looking around.
“Therese Beharrie.” I offer, “A fabulously talented, local author, we need to set up a stand for her books, we have multiple titles for her this month.”
“Ok. What about over there, by the coffee bar. That way people can peruse her titles when waiting in the queue?”
“Yes! I love that!” Suddenly over excited about finding Ms Beharrie’s books the perfect spot. I deposit the books on the counter.
“Let’s see; United By Their Royal Baby, The Millionaires Redemption, The Tycoon’s Reluctant Cinderella, Falling For His Convenient Queen, A Marriage Worth Saving, Tempted By The Billionaire Next Door and Surprise Baby, Second Chance.” Blue says scrutinizing the covers.
“You would think it was Valentines Day, wouldn’t you but Romance is one of the strongest growing genres’ in the world. And people need an escape …” I trail off, realizing I had given away too much already.
“And Local is Lekker.” I add quickly, hoping to deflect the previous moment.
Watching Blue place each stack of books, carefully, I realize I am watching him do my job. I should be fighting this, but I’m not. But I should be. But he’s nice. That is what you said last time. Taking the plunge and silencing the voices I quietly say “I have another few titles that need to be seated in the store in prominent positions. You keen?” I ask, nervously cocking my head to the side. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
“Sure,” Blue says enthusiastically, starting to remove his suit jacket. “Who is up next?”
“I have copies of Taking Pleasure Seriously by Collette Kelly, this cover alone will fly, and it is saucy as all hell, in all the right places.” I say blushing again.
“I see you have read this one and by the look on your face, Taking Pleasure Seriously has to go in the ‘naughty corner’ at the back of the store, with the soft chairs.” Blue says smiling.
“I have.” I confirm, looking away quickly.
“Then, the ‘naughty corner’ it is, it will draw people into the store. They spend more then, shopping psychology.” Blue says resolutely tapping his brain.
“Agreed,” I add laughing, impressed by Blue’s marketing prowess.
“Next?” Blue asks, looking at me, like he is enjoying a game.
“We need to set up an advertising area for a debut author. Also a local writer, Dorothy Ewels, her title is Love At Last. A bit of pre-hype. Her title is out early next year, if I am not mistaken. Where should we put that?”
After another ten minutes or so of straightening books and pulling covers to the front, we stood back admiring our handy work.
“Of the books that you have set-up today, which one did you like the most?” Blue asks.
“I’m half way through Surprise Baby, Second Chance, I can’t put it down, but actually I can’t decide. They all have great hooks and seeing as how I have given up on men…” oops that slipped out. I keep my head down, refusing eye contact but finishing my thought. “I have retreated into romance novels. I loved the leads in Taking Pleasure Seriously, but I loved the scenery in A Marriage Worth Saving, then there is the strong …“ I trail off. Blue is smiling, a secret smile that is holding something back.
“Have you read any of the titles?” I ask, trying to uncover the secret.
“I’m more of a classics kind of guy, but I have read Austin, and a few other titles.”
“Yes, she had a very sad life and love story, and all of that undying love came out of her onto pages and pages.” I thought for a moment staring off into space.
“So sad really.” The moment turning serious.
“Yes, she did, didn’t she.” Blue agreed.
Silence filled the space between us, as Blue picked up a copy of Taking Pleasure Seriously.
“Why have you been watching me?” I ask quietly.
“You took my breath away the very first time I saw you. I’ve bought about 75 books in the two weeks since you started working here. You never once looked up. I thought that was really sad and on such a beautiful face too.” Blue trailed off.
“I’m sorry, I-I just can’t get involved. I’m … broken. It is all too new, and raw. It wouldn’t be fair or right to connect with someone so soon.” I reasoned.
“Who says?” Blue challenged.
“I say.” So quietly, it was almost a whisper. The fight had left me.
“I don’t agree.” Blue whispered back at me in reply.
“I wasn’t asking.” My face couldn’t help but smile softly at his words, this man was starting to melt my fortitude.
Thumbing a stack of books and placing a copy upright to catch a passer-by’s attention. “Where was home before this?” Blue asked.
“Jozi. Two months ago.” I volunteered, “I thought I would do the inevitable move to Cape Town, we constantly hear about. I’m such a cliché, really.”
“And how are you enjoying Cape Town?”
I shrugged in that way that always had my mother screaming from across the room, “Most of it is still in black and white to tell you the truth, but …” trailing and instantly realizing, that Blue’s eyes were the first thing I had seen in colour for over two months.
The conversation moved round to the coffee bar again, housed inside the Book Boutique and Blue motioned to the chairs. I smiled … resistance was futile.
“Let me tell Clare that I am taking my break.” I wandered over, the store was quiet, so Clare would be fine. She started motioning madly to me and making some kind of silent over-exaggerated speech, but I started walking away … that girl is a bit too dramatic for me.
Heading back to the coffee bar, Blue had ordered a coffee and a mystery cup.
“I ordered you a Chai Tea,” he said waiting for my response.
I laughed, “A lovely laid back selection for Cape Town.”
“Well, when in Rome …” Blue smiled. Blue had a wonderful warm smile and his shirt and tie were a bit out of place in the book store, but maybe he was a Stock Broker from the office block next door.
“How is the Chai?”
“Interesting.” I said.
“It’s better with honey in it.” Blue added, generously slurping honey into the milky spicy tea.
“So, Chai tea is a start, right?” Blue asked encouragingly.
“Yes,” I smiled. “It is.”
“So maybe your mission should be mending that heart of yours, in preparation for things to come.” Blue added, boldly.
“Really now! Well, some things can’t be unbroken.” I added falling silent.
“So how much of Cape Town have you seen so far?”
“A persistent bugger, aren’t you?” I said playfully.
“Yes! I am.” He smiled.
“I have seen the grand total of the airport, my apartment, this shopping centre and this store, oh and the routes to and from said apartment and this book store.” I thought for a moment, making sure I hadn’t left out any details.
“Wow, you have covered some ground, haven’t you?”
Needing to change the subject from me, I ventured. “And what do you do?”
“I own my own business, literary.” Blue said with a silly smile.
“Interesting! Hence the extensive book knowledge.” I nodded.
“Well, that will be great considering you have just bought 75 books in two weeks.” I smiled.
Blue’s smile bubbled into the warmest laugh I had heard in a long time. I found myself smiling along with him.
“Yes indeed, I will have to get reading, but in my defense some of them are beautiful coffee table books, the best sights Cape Town and the surrounds have to offer.”
“Oh well, not so much reading then. This Chai is really quite tasty, thank you.” I conceded.
“I am glad you like it. Any chance I could entice you to dinner? There is a lovely place on the beach in Camps Bay, I think you would really love it.”
I started saying that I couldn’t, for all the same reasons I had said before and then I looked up. I looked into those beautiful blue eyes and I realized I wanted to know more. I looked down at his hands and realized that I wanted to feel those hands on me. I looked at his lips and realized I wanted to feel those lips in all the right places.
Instead I lead with, “I don’t even know your name, I’ve been calling you Blue in my head for the last 45 minutes.” Slightly embarrassed to own up to that.
Blue smiled broadly, took my hand in his in a gentle, official handshake and said, “Nice to meet you Madison, my name is Cole Peter. I own the store.”