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Coffee & Poetry

by BaalatErotas 04/06/15

Ella held her ground out of sheer stubbornness. She needed some form of strength and stubbornness was her forerunner that morning – who was she to knock it?

If her plans to have a ten o'clock brunch in a casual restaurant out west had played out as she would've liked... well, basically she would not have ended up in the far glitzier Sandton side of the north instead. Aside from not being dressed for Sandton, she didn't quite feel... qualified to be there either.

"No, no, it's not a bad time – I'm glad you called. Lucky for us, I'll be free from noon until about two. But I need you to meet me at Sandton City – we can have lunch on the Square. I need to be ready to bolt should my next appointment call unexpectedly."

That had been the phone call between her and her dear friend, Cassie. On a personality level, they had so much in common. Lifestyle-wise, though, Ella always felt out of depth in Cassie's world. Ballet pumps could only walk you so far – which was nowhere near the land of stilettos and botox.

When Ella had walked out of her rented cottage that morning, her fitted harem pants, wrapped top and wild afro had felt just right. She never needed more than a dash of lip-gloss and barely made eye contact with the rest of the world from behind her glasses.

Part of it was shyness, sure; a hint of her realism in knowing girls like her didn't adorn the pages the world scoured for beauty definitions and tips. But mostly, she dealt constantly with a lack of interest in becoming that glossy girl who wore expensive labels and stayed out of the rain. Besides, she'd never be able to pull off perfection as elegantly as Cassandra did.


All right then – only an hour since the slightly-less-endeared Kai had abandoned her. And well over an hour to go before Cassie would come to her rescue.

Meanwhile Sandton gleamed in the sun – all diamonds and gold.

Well, one thing one could always count on was the presence of bookshops. Ella's steadfast life security blanket was knowing there was always one place she could feel at home everywhere.

She parked in the cool underground basement in Johannesburg's most affluent shopping tower and rode a glass elevator up towards the daylight. This specific one passed two shopping levels before breaking out into the sunlight on the plaza level. On the way up Ella watched ladies carrying boutique bags and gentleman speaking on their mobile phones. Everyone was busy; each one ignored the others.

One man on the level just before the plaza was standing outside a bag shop, looking bored as the woman beside him pointed out four different bags through the window. It took her two seconds to pick favourites that Ella knew to cost the same as a year's rent at her cottage. As the elevator slowly carried her out of sight, Ella took in the man's tailored midnight suit and his fearless light eyes. Money was the last thing to worry him, no doubt. His hands were the last thing she stared at, large and strong.

The bookshop took some finding.

It had been two years since her last visit and the tower had been renovated since then.

At first she'd cringed at the line of restaurants in the sunlight, watching impossibly striking couples laughing behind expensive sunglasses. Then she'd frowned at the directory board: it was no longer the simple map she knew, but an interactive system that kept asking her to clarify her search. After that a security guard had pointed out the nearby library with a shrug then moved on.

She didn't mind the delays so much. After all, passing time was the point of the whole exercise.

Which is why she was most annoyed the next time she checked her watch as she entered Stranger Than Fiction: 10:45



Sandton City was a dream come true and a living nightmare rolled into one.

This was Rylan's thought every time he strode its gleaming corridors. How much of this assessment was due to his personal tastes and how much a result of shopping experiences with Diane was debatable.

He was too busy and driven a man to be spending random Friday mornings over expensive breakfasts and bag-shopping. Yet there he was, more mornings than he cared to count. His main reason for putting up with the boredom was because he liked Diane in most other areas of their (so far) short dating relationship – and it was time to settle down. At least those had been his mother's words for over a decade now.

Keeping his cool this morning was a small price to pay. Certainly smaller than the bill would be by the time Diane left the centre.

The boredom bothered Rylan more than he admitted, even to himself. And he refrained from admitting it because he felt it was simply a part of this stage of life. Everyone grew up and settled down. Besides, there was no way he could have lived the spontaneous adventure of his youth with Derek and Ben indefinitely. If nothing else, the fact that between them those two had already been married five times and fathered four children was proof of that.

The glare of the brightly lit line of shops and expensively tiled floors was too much.

Diane had insisted on them having lunch together as well once he'd made the mistake of letting slip that the morning's work could be delegated though he preferred not to do so. She preferred tapas in the sunshine – so that is what they would be having at noon. He'd then handed her a credit card, negotiated an hour to himself to make some calls and marched out of the store even as she called after him.

He'd agreed to the lunch because he knew that she, for all her poise and assertiveness, was still insecure about their relationship. They'd been out a few times over the last two months, but he'd never made what could be construed as a serious move. Like letting her spend the night. Gods knew she'd tried – but he always sent her packing or insisted on visiting her... and then leaving before morning.

And, even though he'd never intentionally set out to become a focal point, he found himself the centre of much interest and speculation. He was very eligible on paper: a self-made success considered fair-minded yet exceptionally driven; the right age to make a mature and reliable husband; and good-looking enough not to have faced rejection yet. Actually the opposite was truer. Considering how many tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed men walked the planet, Rylan still found it rather baffling that he had to fight off women as much as he did.

Awareness of the interest also made him sensitive to Diane's skittishness, though. So, he showed some consideration by agreeing to some of her moments of neediness. She wanted to feel like her place by his side was a broadcasted message; and he wanted to grow into this stage of life everyone hyped about.

It seemed a fair compromise.

He would be breaking one promise made this morning, though: there was no way he'd consider staying away from the gourmet ice cream parlour until after lunchtime. A man needed his vices. Diane meant well, but telling him what to eat and when was beyond his patience capabilities.

Now, if he could only remember how to get there.

By the time he turned into what must have been the twentieth endless corridor, he was very sure that he didn't know the shopping tower as well as he'd always assumed he did. But that thought soon evaporated as he approached the huge bookstore near the elevators.

There was a girl standing outside it with one hand on her hip.

At first she caught his eye because she didn't look like anyone else around her. She wore black pants in an interesting cut that was a mid-calf length and outlined her curves without actually being tight. They made her look like an enthralling African elf. Her top was a deep sinful red that made her brown skin glow, though Rylan doubted she had any idea how breath-taking her natural beauty was beneath the unforgiving lights and in contrast to the made-up pinched faces that passed her.

She was fairly tall even in flat, snug shoes; with an innate elegance that slowed his march. She stood out even as she tried not to.

And that is what held Rylan's eye more than everything else. She stood out, sure – but she was also such a collage of contradictions. She had enough confidence to make a unique fashion statement yet seemed unsure of how to carry her own creation. She stood there in front of the enormous store, clearly not really wanting to be there – yet also defying all with a lift her chin to challenge her presence. Her hand was on the tempting curve of her hip, her shoulders back one moment; then she suddenly switched to fidgeting with the bag hanging on the crook of her arm and pushing her glasses up her nose.

He was at a snail's pace by the time he neared her, but wasn't too worried about alarming her. She was making a point of not looking at anyone at all.

Up close he was even more drawn in by her flawless coffee skin and full lips. She couldn't be more than twenty – almost certainly out of his league. He was no young Adonis anymore.

He watched her eyes soften as she looked past all the people and took in aisle upon aisle of books. A bookworm then; the thought made him smile. Her hands came up and she tangled her fingers in her massive afro, a move he instantly somehow recognised as a habit of comfort. She was in her element around books; and the way she expressed the comfortable familiarity made him want to touch her.

With her hair up, he became aware of the beautiful lines of her structure: she had a high brow and cheekbones; her jaw was angular, interesting, and her chin defined. The sharp cut of her black glasses seemed to have been chosen to draw one's eye to her own angles and lines. Her neck and arms were slim. Not skinny, just... graceful.

The biggest surprise was feeling heat slowly roll over his skin and then settle at his groin. There was no way he was getting hard while staring at a complete stranger in a busy shopping centre. Rylan shoved his hands in his pockets to hide a state he hadn't found himself in since his bloody twenties and picked up his pace again.

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