Twirling a yellow pencil between my finger and thumb, I sat in my cubicle, day-dreaming and concentrating on the task at hand alternatively. I had a new brief to prepare and submit by tomorrow, and it was definitely not easy. The impending lunch date kept interfering with my thought-process, making the task even more difficult. It was really tough, trying to keep track of the statement of facts before me, all the while feeling a tad nervous about my hair, or the constantly reddening pimple near my chin. With merely a dozen or so minutes to go before the lunch break, I was suffering from minor palpitations.
The 11 '0 clock meeting had concluded about half an hour back, and my calves were aching on account of the countless rounds of coffee and legal pads that I had supplied during the two hour conference. The new heels weren't helping much either. On the contrary, they were biting into my ankles, forcing me to take tinier steps while running all over the office. My poor faithful shoes had finally seen the inside of the trash can after the rainy weekend, and a pair of shiny, maroon stilettos now occupied their place of pride in my closet.
Rubbing my right calf with my free hand, I again bent over the file on my desk, and tried to make sense of the words swimming before my eyes. I had a feeling that I was wasting my time in attempting to understand the twisted tale of heart-break of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, the firm's newest clients.
I put down the pencil, tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear, and stood to head to the Ladies' Room to check on my appearance. I pushed the chair back under the desk and turned to inform Martha that I was going for my lunch break. Just as I turned around, I bumped into a solid chest covered in a pin-striped gray shirt. Startled, I glanced up and my gaze was captured by a pair of smiling brown eyes, and a crinkled nose.
"Hey, you in any hurry to go somewhere?", Neil asked me.
I stepped back slightly and took a deep breath before answering, "Hi, I was just about to go for my lunch break".
His smile widened and the twinkle in his eyes brightened, "That's super. I was about to do the same. I hope you haven't forgotten about our lunch date. Or have you?"
"No, I haven't. But since we hadn't talked about it after Saturday, I didn't know if we were still on."
"We are definitely on, Rosalyn", he said and the tenor in his smooth voice made something tingle inside of me.
"Give me a girlie minute and I'll meet you down in the cafeteria". I chimed as he made way for me to proceed.
"See you in ten, if that's enough time to qualify as a girlie minute", Neil chuckled softly and headed towards the elevator.
Picking up my holdall, I rushed into the washroom as fast as my towering heels allowed and found an unoccupied basin and mirror right at the end of the hall. I pulled put some concealer, moisturizer, mascara and gloss from the bag and wiped my face with some fresh tissues. Using the concealer, I tried my best to counter the redness of the pimple and then applied the moisturizer evenly all over my face. I re-applied the gloss and another coat of mascara, and peered into the mirror to check if I was ready to go. Satisfied with the results, I packed up my bag and said a silent prayer before heading out.
The elevator ride to the second floor was uneventful, aside from the fact that my palms were sweaty and my breathing a little shallow. I got off the elevator and turned towards the cafeteria at the end of the lobby. Just as I was about to enter, I saw Neil sitting at a table in the corner of the room, waving for me to join him. As I approached the table, he rose from his seat and pulled out a chair for me.
"You sure impress me", were his first words as soon as we were seated from across each other.
"It took you less than seven minutes to come down here, and for a woman, that is impressive, to say the least. I had expected you to be gone for nearly double the time. But I'm glad you are here, I was getting a little bored of my own company", Neil said, his dimples flashing.
"Well, what can I say, I have yet to master the feminine skill of dilly-dallying when it comes to dressing or freshening up."
"Which was apparent the other day as well, when we went to Nonnina's. It must have taken you like fifteen odd minutes to get ready to go. As I said earlier, impressive."
"Thanks. All I can say is that you learn to make optimum use of the washroom, and in quick time as well, if you live in the same house with a mirror-hogging brother", I laughed out.
"Oh! So now I know who to thank for your agility. It's Vidal, right?"
"Yeah, your memory does serve you well", I said, secretly pleased that he had remembered such little details from our earlier conversations.
"So, what are we having today? I can't offer you the superb feast that we had the other day, but may I present to you this laminated place-mat with the delicacies for the day imprinted upon it."
Neil's charm and his innate sense of humour had me grinning from ear to ear within no time. His easy tone of voice and demeanor put me at ease straight away. All the nervousness from fifteen minutes ago had all but vanished into thin air.
"Hmmm...I guess I'll have the thick, slushy dark liquid they call coffee and a chicken sandwich to go with it. Those seem like the safest bets, and to be honest my most regular choices."
"Then I guess I'll have my regular picks as well. The same slushy, dark coffee, and the same old chicken sandwich. I didn't know we had this much in common. We hate the same food and also tolerate similar gastronomic choices. So much to learn...So much", Neil said, shaking his head with an amused look on his face.
He then headed to the counter at the front of the hall and ordered our lunch. The lady behind the register rang up his order and handed him a tray with our food on it. Walking towards the coffee dispenser, Neil handed a receipt to the man in charge of the dispenser, who handed him two steaming mugs of mocha. He set the tray on our table and sat down from across me.
"I noticed in your apartment that you took your coffee black, so I didn't ask for any creamer. I hope that's okay?"
"Sure, it's exactly how I like my coffee. Thanks. For remembering", I blushed slightly as I said the last words.
"I have a mind for details. Boon and bane for an accountant. Anyways, would you like some sugar?"
"No, thanks. I prefer it without cream or sugar", I replied and waited for him to pour two sachets of sugar into his coffee and stir it. Taking a sip of mine, I looked over the mug at the man seated across from me.
My day-dreaming had not done justice to his personality. His sheer excitement and exuberance were now clearly etched into my mind, and I could recall his dimpled grin at the drop of a hat. His hair still wore a tousled look, with locks of hair haphazardly falling over his forehead and brow. His broad shoulders were relaxed and it was apparent that all the tennis sessions were having a great effect on his torso.
Feeling a blush rising up my neck at the direction of my thoughts, I shook my head slightly, as if to dispel my wayward deliberations only to realize that I was under scrutiny myself. Neil's gaze on my face washed me with an embarrassing awkwardness and a weird kind of electric current. I could feel my lips trembling and my palms beginning to sweat again. I mustered up some courage and slightly touched my fingers to his hand, to break him out of his reverie.
"What happened? Do I have a coffee mustache or what?" I asked him with a tiny smile.
"No no. I'm sorry. That was very rude of me", he exclaimed.
"Relax please. I did not mean to embarrass you. It's alright. Even I was caught up in the moment", I said, trying to put him at ease, my fingers still entwined in his hand. Somehow from my hand being on top of his, it was now firmly clasped in Neil's hand.
"I'm not embarrassed. I was just admiring you. Your simplicity and charm. Really Rosalyn, you are beautiful." His voice rang with sincerity, making me slightly uncomfortable and oddly excited at the same time.
"Thanks Neil. I don't know what to say. I'm not really good at receiving compliments."
"Don't say anything. Let's just get back to out poor moulding sandwiches", Neil said, his customary grin back in place, all evidence of the intense gaze now disappeared.
I tore off a bite of the bread and put it into my mouth half-heartedly, thinking about how I could have taken his praise in a better manner and maybe flirted a little with him.
Seeing my furrowed brow, Neil clenched my fingers in his hand and asked me, "What happened? Why are you so serious suddenly?"
"Nothing. It's nothing." And I pulled back my hand from his grasp and started fidgeting with my tissue.
We ate our meal in relative silence, only punctuated with passing the ketchup and the pepper. Wiping my hands with a slightly worse for wear tissue, I swallowed the last bit of my barely drinkable coffee.
"So, I still have ten minutes before I have to be at my desk. You want to climb the stairs with me?" I asked Neil, feeling a little more confident in myself when it came to this particular man.
"Exactly my thoughts", he said and crumpled his tissue and dropped it onto the tray.
We got up and headed out the door, Neil following two steps behind me. I stopped momentarily to allow him to walk in step with me and then began the climb to the seventh floor. We had climbed nearly two flights of stairs when Neil gently took hold of my hand and made me stop. He turned towards me, his hands cradling mine, his body facing me and against the wall. I looked at him quizzically, cocking one of my brows in sync with my expression.
"I wanted to say something to you Rosalyn. I hope that it wouldn't offend you or hurt you in any manner. But I really have to get it off my chest."
"I like you a lot. I know I have known you only a couple of days, but I feel a strange kinship and comfort with you. And this hasn't happened with me for a long time now. I mean, I hope that I'm not freaking you out or anything, but I think that there may be something to our connection. Something worthy of exploration."
I just stared at Neil all the while that he was saying those words to me. Not uttering a single syllable, not even breathing properly. I felt a charged pulse vibrate through me, feeling the intensity of his feelings course through my veins. I tried to tell him how I felt, but somehow no words came from my mouth.
I saw Neil grow a little wary of my reaction, maybe mistaking it for disapproved shock or the like, and then he let go of my hands, stepping back a little from me.
"I would understand if you find this all strange, but I really wish you'd say something. Anything at all. Just tell me how you feel."
Still I tried to say something, anything to let him know that I was on board with his feelings, but again my tongue did not support my desire. I sputtered, but was unable to tell him how I felt.
"It's okay I guess. I should have known that you didn't feel that way about me. I am sorry for putting you in such an uncomfortable position. Come on, let's go. It's already past our lunch time", he said and turned away from me, making a move towards the stairs.
Feeling panic rising up my throat at the thought of Neil turning away from me, I grabbed hold of his right hand, forcing him to turn towards me. Again my voice did not favour me and I was left staring at his face, and him looking back at me with a perplexed expression.
Realizing that I was not going anywhere with my speech skills, I held onto Neil's hand and leaned in towards him, slightly brushing his cheek with my lips. I was hopeful that my gesture would be enough to make up for my lack of words.
I pulled back from him, still holding his hand in mine and smiled at him, feeling triumphant looking at his dazed expression. Finally finding my voice, I said, "I'm sorry that I wasn't able to answer quicker, but it was like I couldn't talk. But I also couldn't let you walk away thinking that I didn't feel the same things as you did. I like you too, and I would like to see where we go from here."
"Oh my God! Rosalyn, you gave me a start. I thought that I had ruined things forever between us. Don't ever do this to me again alright. Now come here", he said and pulled me towards himself. I leaned against his chest and looked into his eyes, as he lowered his head towards mine and gently touched his lips to mine.
Feeling the warmth of his smooth lips on mine, I eased out a nervous breath and relaxed in his arms. His mouth made no move to invade mine, but just played with my lips, nuzzled into the side of my neck and grazed my cheek. There was such tenderness in his kiss that I was moved to my core. Feeling lost in his embrace, I just melted into him, not realizing that we were in the middle of a public stairwell.
The chemistry and the sizzle was just beneath the surface but what really struck me was the gentleness with which Neil treated me, like I was fragile or something. His tenderness and sensitivity amazed me no end.
Easing apart, we smiled at each other and Neil wiped a stray smudge of gloss from the side of my upper lip, all the while grinning like the proverbial cat who had licked the cream. Blushing red, I couldn't meet his gaze as we headed off to our floors. Him, to do some magical accounting business, and me, to carry on with my day-dreaming session, only further accentuated with the feel of his lips on mine.