Coffee made, Lily took two large mugs off a shelf, filled them and walked back out to the front of the store. From the entrance, a long counter ran along the right side; a custom job, made by a friend of her grandfather’s shortly before the store opened in the Sixties. She loved the nicks and scratches, the patina of the wood, the sturdy, solid history. At the open end of the counter, forming an L-shaped configuration, Lily had placed an old oak desk she’d found at a thrift store. A little sanding, a bit of stain, and the desk fit in seamlessly with the period of the house. Katy had called it the Bob Marley desk because it looked like something from a classic Dickens novel. Straight-faced, Lily had pointed out she must surely mean Bob Cratchit. After nearly laughing themselves hoarse, there was no way the desk could be called anything other than the Bob Marley.
Opening the small safe under the register, Lily filled the cash drawer, then settled at her desk and turned on the laptop. Taking a sip of coffee, she quickly scanned the new emails, printing out nearly a dozen online orders that made a nice start to her day. Once she was convinced her grandparents hadn’t made a mistake and would want their store back, she'd taken a leap of faith about two years ago, closed for a month, made changes in merchandise, and did some much needed remodeling. Now, looking around at the soft, muted colors on the walls, the gleam of polished wood from the bookshelves, and the randomly placed overstuffed Victorian chairs, tucked into various niches and under windows, Lily smiled contentedly. Enchantments felt warm, comfortable. It was welcoming and peaceful—
The door burst open, a small woman flying into the room, followed by a flurry of dead leaves blown in on a cold, bitter wind.
“Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods!” shrieked Katy, dropping her huge, overflowing messenger bag, the local newspaper, and a box of what appeared to be Halloween decorations on the floor. Tossing a bakery sack on the counter, she dashed toward Lily with a wild light in her eyes.
“What’s happened?” Lily asked. She never knew with Katy. It could be the end of the world, or a shoe sale at Nordstrom’s.
Katy grabbed Lily’s hands, tugging her out of the chair, then yanking her in circles like a drunken sailor. Gasping, “I just met the man of my dreams!” Nearly leaping into Lily's arms, Katy gave her a crushing, impassioned hug.
Laughing, Lily grabbed her by the shoulders and held her still. Looking down at her best friend’s tiny frame--the difference in their heights an even eight inches--she said quietly, “Deep breath, remove coat, sit down, have coffee.” As Katy opened her mouth, Lily shook her head and firmly turned her toward the extra chair next to the desk. Amused, she listened to Katy’s attempts to breathe as she shut the front door and stooped to gather up all the things dumped on the floor. Tucking the messenger bag and newspaper under the counter, Lily stashed the box behind the desk before resuming her seat.
Smiling into the animated, though feverishly flushed face of her sole employee and closest friend, Lily waited patiently. Katy was always excitable, exuberant more often than not, but this was extreme, even for her.
“Okay. I’m calm,” Katy said, breathlessly. “Really, really calm,” her voice trembled over the words.
“Clearly,” Lily murmured.
Taking a deep, deep breath, Katy bent over her knees and slowly exhaled. Raising her head, eyes closed, she held her fingers in the classic meditation pose, middle fingers touching thumbs.
Lily smiled. “Good one, Katy, but you can't sit still long enough to meditate.”
Opening one eye, Katy held the pose, her grin wide. “Now can I tell you what happened?”
Before Lily had finished nodding, Katy jumped to her feet. Pacing in front of the desk, she began to talk, faster than Lily would have thought humanly possible.
“He was gorgeous, the most gorgeous guy ever, and he—no, wait. I should start at the beginning, right? Yes, right, okay, today being Friday I stopped at the University Bakery because they have those yummy apple fritter dealies that we both love. So, I’m running late because of the Halloween decorations—and btw, we need to get the store decorated today since Samhain is just a week away—anyway, I run into the bakery, order the apple things and as I’m waiting for Inez, you know, the girl with all the piercings, to put them into a bag, she suddenly looks over my shoulder and freezes like a statue. Well, I freak out and don’t want to turn around because what if it’s really bad, like a guy with a gun or a knife or something, but before I can do anything, this voice—“ She stopped to draw breath, then took a long swallow of her coffee. Her eyes glazed as she said softly, voice tinged with awe, “This low rumble of a voice, like standing too close to the speakers at a concert and feeling the bass in your chest, you know? That rumble says in my ear, ‘Are those as good as they look?’ Ah, gods help me, even if there’d been a machete involved, I wouldn’t have cared.” She gave Lily a distracted look. “So I turned.” After an audible gulp, she said, “You know how I don't really like tall guys because they always make me feel like a little kid? Okay, I turn around and I’m looking into the guy’s sternum. Seriously, I had to step back to look up at him or I would have fallen over backward. He’s got this beautiful face, like an angel, but not the good kind. Dark hair, dark eyes, these full lips…” She trailed off for a moment, lost in thought, fingers touching her mouth. In a near whisper, she stammered, “He was just the most, the most…”
Lily tried not to laugh. “I think you might have already mentioned that he was ‘the most gorgeous’.”
“Don’t mock me, Chareau, you haven’t seen this guy. I’m not even sure he’s human. How could one man be so—”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. So, then what happened?”
Katy laughed with nervous energy. “He asked me again about the stupid fritters, ordered a dozen—can you imagine? A dozen? Then, while we’re waiting, he asked me my name, was I a student, did I work in the area?” She held up her hands in a stop motion, understanding the look in Lily’s eye. “Trust me, if this guy wants to stalk me, I’m fine with it. So, after we got our orders, he walked me out to my car, then he did the most amazing thing!” She fanned her hands in front of her face, the tremble back in her voice.
An odd, uncertain feeling curled through her belly as Lily looked at her best friend, at the luminous shine in her blue eyes, the look on her elven-like face. Katy grabbed her long, chestnut-colored braid, a braid that had hung over her left shoulder since fifth grade, a braid that now hung nearly to her waist in a beautiful, thick rope. Softly, she whispered, “He ran his hand down the length of my braid. He said it felt like the most luxurious cashmere he'd ever caressed.” She swallowed, then dropped into the chair. “I told him I worked here.” She raised her eyes to meet Lily’s frown, wistfully asking, “Do you think the gods date humans?”
Katy was flighty, yes. Too trusting, always. Fell in love at least three times a week, absolutely. But this was different. And it wasn’t that Katy couldn’t attract a gorgeous guy, she could, and had. The stranger's interest, and her reaction to it, just seemed…off.
Lily stood and came around her desk. Maybe there was something in the autumn air; hadn’t she herself been off all morning, daydreaming and wandering in the past? Resting a hand on Katy’s shoulder, Lily suddenly found the reason for her unease when their eyes met: It was the look of utter vulnerability in Katy’s eyes. It was too powerful, too sudden for a chance meeting in a bakery on a blustery Friday morning. What the hell was going on?
“Let’s get fresh coffee and have those fritters before we open. We need to decide how we want to decorate for the Halloween party this year.” She gave Katy’s shoulder a comforting squeeze, and said the one thing she knew would divert her friend, “I’m thinking cobwebs. Lots and lots of cobwebs.” She smiled to herself as Katy squealed with delight, chattering about all the places they could hang webs around the store for maximum effect as they walked into the kitchen together.
“By the way,” Lily asked, “did you get the name of this god-like creature, or were you too busy drooling?”
Laughing, Katy took two small plates out of a cupboard and placed an apple fritter on each. Sitting at the kitchen table, she said, “Thankfully, he volunteered it, because I’m pretty sure my thinker wasn’t working.”
As Katy took a large bite of her treat, Lily snorted. She had known Katy since they were ten and was used to the way Katy darted and flitted, paused and sped up while talking. Since eventually everything would come out, she concentrated on her pastry.
Sure enough, a few moments later after a long heartfelt sigh, Katy said, “Dominick.” She looked at Lily. “Isn’t that just the best name ever?”
“And does this paragon have a last name, or does he just use the one, like Zeus, or Apollo, or—
“Shut up!” Katy laughed. “Of course, he has a last name!”
Again, Lily waited, brow raised in question as she finished eating.
“Cantrell. His name is Dominic Cantrell.”
N.B. Changed Jude's name to Dominic. I couldn't stop thinking about that Beatles song, so I went back through my character notes and there it was: the name I'd initially picked in the first place. So thanks Robbie, but please, no more song titles...I can't make it better. ;D