She came through the swing door and his heart skidded to a stop, literally. He had to inhale to kick if off again. It was always this way, since the very first day he walked through the double doors of the restaurant where she worked as a waitress.
She was a waitress, but her mother owned the classy a little over a dozen tables eatery. It was a small place but the food was good and highly affordable. Both facts didn’t really matter to him, but he knew they were attractive factors for other patrons.
Pin-striped grey skirt and a cheerful yellow lace frill top. That was her outfit today. The skirt stopped three or four inches off her knees and then her fair-skinned flawless, faintly-bowed legs flowed through it to end in pretty, girly faux-leather slippers.
Bella. That was her name. And like its Italian meaning, she was beautiful. She wasn’t too tall, but she wasn’t short or smallish either. Maybe she hit average at five-five, or close to it. She was slim built, slender without being thin, curvy without being overly voluptuous. She was rightly proportioned, that was how he thought of her. And she was beautiful. Beautiful with her glowing, unblemished fair complexion. Beautiful with her long, pitch-black natural hair that was always glossy and free-flowing. Beautiful with her quick smile and her dimples.
Beautiful—simply because she was.
She walked towards him with a tray of food and Adam quickly dropped his eyes.
“Your noodles, fried plantain and eggs.” She said, setting down a plate before him. “And your one per cent soy milk drink.” The packet of drink was accompanied with a glass.
He raised his head. Tried to surface from under the dreamy, soft, feminine scent. “Thank you… um…”
“Bella.” She chuckled and shook her head.
“Yes. Thank you, Bella.” He hadn’t forgotten. He’d just gone brain-dead and all nervous. A plague he suffered daily.
“Enjoy your meal.” And with her easy smile still on, Bella turned, picked up the empty plates on the next tables and disappeared behind the counter.
She dumped the dishes in the makeshift sink and sighed as her thoughts whirled with him.
Why did he always have to drop his gaze when she moved in his direction? Why did he have to stutter and then forget her name? Why did he have to sneak looks and never say anything?
Tall, dark and handsome would perfectly describe him except that he wasn’t tall, not like men were wont to be. He only hung above her by a few inches. But he was handsome—lean, ripping muscles, chin-beard, dark-eyed handsome—and completely unaware with it.
He made her heart thump. As it thumped now, quick beats and unsteady dances. Her heart had been thumping since they started the construction of the new bank building a stone throw from the restaurant a month ago. And for every day of that one month he’d come in here for his breakfast and lunch. He looked her—when he believed she wasn’t looking—and dropped his eyes when she turned her own gaze on him.
Her heart had never thumped. Not until he’d come through the doors of their restaurant. And she’d never been so sorely tempted to walk up to a man and just tell him. She would have done so too if her mother hadn’t strictly brought her up to wait until the man did the telling.
“Quit daydreaming, Bella. Potato chips and plantain up.” Cook called from the inner part of the kitchen.
She could never stop daydreaming, not with Adam the Engineer-Forearm still coming around. But Bella reached for the plate that had been neatly setup, added the ordered soft drink and walked back into the dining hall.
At least she’d look at him one more time before his return for his late lunch.
♠ ♠ ♠
He was doing it today. The work on the building was almost done; their part of it anyway. Another month of stealing looks, wishing and walking away with the longing in his heart had gone by. In a week, he’d be gone. From the neighbourhood, from the city. Never to see her again.
So he was doing it. It was today… or never.
He’d stayed after the close of the day’s work. He’d stayed so he could have his dinner there. That was his self-appointed time—after his attempt at lunchtime had woefully failed. Their nights were surely busier than the day. More patrons, extra waitresses. But he had eyes only for her.
She came through the door—wearing jeans shorts and a fitting tank top. That hadn’t been her attire earlier on. Then it had been a maxi dress that hung loosely. The jeans caught up her thigh, not too high-up but a good many inches off her knees. Adam stared at her and did not look away when she turned in his direction.
“Your dinner of rice and chicken-curry sauce.” She set it up, flashed her easy smile. “Big surprise, your turning up this night. Cook must have out done herself today.”
“Her food always tastes good but I didn’t come back for her.” She smelled so good. His mouth watered. His heart hungered. “I came back for you.”
Bella felt her heart skip, plummet and then started thumping again, at an alarming speed. “You did?”
Adam nodded. Now he’s found the courage, he wasn’t backing down. “Yes. Can we see? Tomorrow is Sunday. You don’t work Sundays, do you?”
“No. Mama believes in keeping the Sabbath day holy.” Bella curved her mouth and beamed him a smile. “Yes, we can see tomorrow. What time?”
“Lunch?” Her dimples twinkled and dazzled him. “I stay at the hotel on the other street but I could come over to pick you at your house if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t.” So he’d found out where they lived. Good. “I’ll be dressed and ready, say one p.m.?”
“One p.m. sounds good.” He waited for the flash of her twinkling smile before he bent over his food.
One spoonful taste and he was almost tempted to believe that Cook had indeed out done herself. But he knew it was excitement and sheer pleasure that was sending off the variety of spices inside his mouth and everywhere else.
He couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
♠ ♠ ♠
When it came, finally, Bella told herself that it was going to be the most perfect day ever. At church, she did her best to hear the sermon. But the words from the Priest sounded like Greek in her ears as she waited impatiently for the close of church.
At home, her mother teased her. Her brothers made annoying piggy noises but Bella would not be annoyed, not on the day she’d long waited for.
When the knock came at the door at twelve fifty-five, she almost sighed with delirious happiness.
“He’s here. Open the door and remember to ask him in to meet your family before you fall into his arms.” Her mother’s voice and eyes were teasing.
She patted down her floral-print dress and walked to the door, inhaling and schooling her smile to easy and friendly before she opened the door.
“Oh God, you’re so beautiful!”
The easy smile bloomed. Her dimples twinkled. Her eyes sparkled and her heart danced.
“Thank you. So are you—handsome that is.”
His usual khaki top and bottom wears had been switched for black, straight-legged trousers and a neatly tucked-in striped shirt.
“Please come in and meet my mum and brothers.”
He did. And then they left and drove to the restaurant. Nothing like their own; this one was five-star. With his shyness ducked, he turned out to be a great conversationalist. But Bella feared the conversations were more interesting because they floated out of his dreamy, deep voice.
It was so like the deep masculine voices she pined for on the radio.
“I thought you’d never say anything to me.” Now she too can be bold—forward, her mother would say.
He laughed. A strong, rolling sound. “I was scared shitless this beauty queen would want nothing to do with a stuttering foreman.”
“This beauty queen was scared shitless the handsome foreman might not be as taken with her as she was with him.”
Adam looked at her. Loved her openness, enjoyed her boldness. “I am not just taken, I am struck beyond thought and reason. Bella—most appropriate name I ever heard by the way.” He complimented.
Bella beamed. “Thank you, kind sir.”
“Bella.” He reached for her hand. Linked their fingers. “Be mine. Too soon to ask, I know. But when the heart knows, it knows. Be my reason to keep coming back.”
“Yes.” Because indeed when the heart knows, as hers did, it did know.
They talked some more. Whispered things only their hearts could say and their ears could hear, then they left the restaurant. Inside the quiet car, a stone throw from her house, they shared their first kiss. Their lips meeting as one just as their fast-beating hearts did.