The low din of the coffee shop faded into nothing. Caroline harbored a stubborn breath in her lungs for a moment until it stuttered from her throat unexpectedly. Was she actually considering it? She couldn’t deny that she was. Her previous urges for skipping work doubled down and she fought to find a good reason not to miss the morning. Maybe she’d go in after lunch… With that malachite gaze boring down on her, she couldn’t fathom a single reason not to spend the morning with him at the Greenhouse. Though Caroline did not consider herself to be a spontaneous person, she allowed herself to go along. She felt strangely compelled by him; as if she’d caught sight of something hidden under the layers of his personality, some flicker of intrigue darting behind his eyes, and she couldn’t shake her curiosity. She wanted to decipher him, unriddle his behavior and chart the passageways of his mind, until she’d cracked his secrets.
She was certain there were plenty of them.
All of her internal wandering had happened in less than a minute, and Klaus still leaned toward her, a burning expectancy still alight behind his irises. She gave him a delicate smile, careful not to let on to her own glee toward an improvised morning. “I think I have some time before I have to go in to the office.”
“Fantastic,” he replied, his voice low enough that she barely heard the whispered traces of a Manhattan accent.
They sat for nearly an hour, sipping at their drinks and watching it rain, talking. It had been a desperately long while since Caroline had sat down and taken the time to have a real conversation with someone outside of work. She had no siblings and when her parents died, she realized she had no one. A few acquaintances, sure, but no one of substance. That’s why she’d moved to San Francisco, after all; to escape the ghosts that walked the streets of New York. Once she’d made it to San Francisco - her fresh start, her new life - she’d simply adapted to the solitude. She never gave much thought to it. She socialized at work and that seemed to be enough.
Nicklaus was a dazzling conversationalist - no matter what subject they touched on, he contained a wealth of information pertaining to it. She’d taken Classical Literature in college, and it had turned into a mild obsession as she got older - she had bookshelves lining the walls in her apartment, full of copies of Oedipus and Macbeth, creased and stained bindings right alongside the glossy neons of newer authors. He knew them all, and to her unabashed awe, even quoted a few for her.
In an hour they had discussed more things close to Caroline’s heart than she’d ever discussed with anyone in any amount of time.
Outside, he hailed a cab and held her umbrella for her while she got in. The ride to the Greenhouse was spent in much the same way as their time in the coffee shop; though, the conversation had turned to personal histories. Klaus’ eyes watched her with a comfortable delight as she lost herself in her memories, and Caroline went blissfully unaware of his strange silence about his own history. Later she would wonder why he’d let her ramble like such an idiot, but with the subtle quirk of his smile shifting upward during all the right parts of her stories she found it hard to stop talking. When they arrived at the Greenhouse, he insisted she allow him to buy her ticket. It seemed they were the sole visitors to the exhibit. Amid the blood-red heliconias and the purple-spotted lilies, she caught herself laughing constantly.
In the hybrid orchid display, she caught him staring. When she lingered by the black-stemmed fleshy pink lotus flowers, he snapped off a sprig and tucked it behind her ear. Caroline wondered where he came from, what it was about that particular day that had led their paths to cross, but instead of dwelling on her questions, she slipped her hand into his. By the time they reached the waxy white petals of the anthuriums, their fingers were entwined and she felt certain she wouldn’t make it to work by lunch. Three hours after they walked in, they reached the end of the tour and he opened her umbrella over their heads and offered her his arm.
With the sneaking grin that she’d already grown so fond of, he said, “Please tell me I can treat you to lunch? I’ve had a brilliant morning with you, I’d like to thank you.”
She didn’t get the chance to send a text to her secretary until they reached the restaurant. Locked away in the women’s room, fiddling with her hair and re-applying a thin layer of mauve lipstick, she saw a new spark in her eyes that she didn’t recognize. Caroline struggled to understand what about the day was so different from the rest, what it was that allowed her to break all of her own rules, but she concluded that she simply didn’t care enough.
For once she was doing what she wanted, let the consequences be what they would be.