Hey, you! Yes, you! The person who is reading this! Look around. Yes, look around. Right now! No, no! Don't read further till you've looked around! That's it! So, what do you see?
Well, if you're at home lolling back in your armchair nibbling your favourite cookies or sipping your coffee, then you see nothing of interest – just your usual setting (however, things get a bit different if you have recently redecorated your place!). Or, perhaps, you're on the way home in a shaky overcrowded bus squeezed all over however still managing to read and keep your balance. Then you see only the commuters' backs if you've succeeded in looking around at all in such an inconvenient posture! :)
And now wherever you may be just let your imagination run free and picture yourself strolling along one of the busiest streets of a diverse metropolis bombarded with the incredible hustle and bustle of city life. As you're moving on, pushing your way through the throng, you can see a young mum desperately trying to make her little cupid-like daughter put on a warm cap, since it's the middle of October by the way. But the latter folding her tiny arms and pouting her ruby lips keeps shaking her head and refusing all the mummy's attempts to shield her little curly head from chilly wind.
If you look to the right you'll see a couple of sweethearts coming out of a taxi. They're heading towards a huge mall on the opposite side of the street, embracing, the guy is whispering something into the girl's ear; she chuckles and kisses him on his cheek. How romantic!
However, they have nothing to do with the story as well as all the rest passing you by. They are here just to make the picture more realistic for you. Actually, to meet those whom the story is about you should enter a lovely small café to the left of you called "The Nook". Come on, don't hesitate! Just enter it!
Ok, now you're in. The fragrance of the recently baked muffins, cakes and the aroma of hibiscus tea, filling the room, must have already reached and wrapped you all over. Don't please stand at the doorway, somebody may come in and hit you by the door. Or you, probably, erroneously suppose that if the café seems inconspicuous from the outside it has a lack of visitors. Actually its inconspicuousness is the main draw for the people coming to "The Nook" (quite an appropriate name, isn't it?). A large city just ought to have such a place tucked away from all the fuss of workdays where its residents may rest in serenity.
So, you'd better go and find a remote nook, order a cup of coffee or herbal tea and a piece of a yummy sponge cake – their speciality, and just sit admiring the surroundings. And believe me there is something worthy of your admiration.
No matter when you may drop in – in daytime or at night - at "The Nook" it always will be soft twilight. The thing is in the way the room is decorated: the walls paneled in butterscotch coloured wood and the furniture around (square tables, benches, chairs and the bar counter) made of the same material seem perfectly matching and make the setting cozy, almost homelike. The enchanting pictures on the walls, the ravishing flowers in small pots on the windowsills and the intricately made table lamps with beige shades add a special warm twist to the whole picture. Thanks to the darkened glass of the windows and the lighting design the light in the café dims to a muted glow. As for the music, yes, they have it – placid, relaxing tunes together with all the usual sounds of a café form a spellbinding melody (can you here it – somebody's tapping out their favourite song by a teaspoon, and this – the rustling of a book's leaves, and now some quiet chirping coming from the kitchen). You are like in a different world carried away, apart from everything else, with charming odours filling the room.
And now when you are completely and irrevocably smitten with the charms of the café I suggest you should cast a glance at that right corner. Yes, yes, right there! Do you see a handsome guy sitting alone near the window, the guy with disheveled chestnut hair in a chequered suede double-breasted jacket? It's Jake. Jake Watcher. He's 23. Jake graduated from a local college last summer and now he works nearby. That's why he is a habitué of "The Nook". Every day from 13.10 to 13.50 he has his lunch here. However, since recently Jake has been visiting the café not just because it's situated a stone's throw from his office or because it boasts the excellent menu.
If you look harder you'll notice that he isn't actually reading the book lying in front of him, though he seems to be deeply involved in this activity. To be candid, he has hardly read 2 pages of it since he borrowed it from the library with the purpose of being engaged with something during lunch. Don't think of him badly, he really meant it. The matter is, just out of the blue there appeared something else to be engaged with... Somebody, to be more precise...
Just like you right now are observing Jake, he's furtively watching a girl sitting alone in front of him at the table near the window. Pray do not get cross with me, I'm not going to give the portrait of the girl, because, first of all, you actually see her with your own eyes (I hope, you still remember that you're in the café!). Secondly, let her remain a mystery, enigma as she, in fact, is for Jake himself. I gather, you've already guessed that Jake does not have the remotest idea of who and what the girl is.
The only thing he would tell you about her is that every day (except weekends, Jake has checked!) at one and the same time (from 13.20 to 13.50) she comes to "The Nook", occupies one and the same table near the window, orders a portion of some salad, a cup of cinnamon flavoured tea and a piece of a fruit cake for dessert and spends her time either reading a book or a magazine, writing something in her thick notebook, working on her laptop or just texting messages using her cell.
It has been 2.5 months since Jake first caught sight of her. It may seem queer, but at once he was pinned to the girl. No, she is unlikely to be hailed a beauty queen, though she's pretty cute. Besides, on that day (on the day of their first "meeting") the café was crowded like never before, but strangely enough hardly had Jake taken his place he saw her. There's just something in the girl, some draw which inexplicably excites an insatiable interest within Jake.
When she appears it seems that time slows down. Her graceful movements, gentle voice and genial smile sometimes flourishing on her lips, the tufty wave of her soft hair catching sparkling rays of the table lamp, in a word, everything about her is covered with the haze of mystery and spell which makes Jake be chained to her feeling his heart hammering inside. If she didn't talk to waiters (lucky they are!) Jake would take her for a nymph or something. Sometimes it seems to him that she's just a vision, blow and she's gone to soar in the sky...
It might be a revelation for you that a guy in the 21st century may think about a girl in such a touching way. Believe me, Jake is himself in a fix, he has never felt anything of the kind. And now he is completely and irrevocably caught up in the girl though not acknowledging it.
Every day he unconsciously hurries to "The Nook" to see her again, to look at her from his remote secret vantage point. He doesn't dare to come up to her, to start a conversation having a strong feeling that he would scare her off and she would melt away(like a butterfly leaves the flower touched by the wind). He prefers to cling to the position of an observer shooting glances at her from time to time or simply gawping at her trying to find out some details of her life.
The girl always visits the café alone. Jake has never seen her surrounded by a flock of giggling friends nor accompanied by a bulky boyfriend ready to smash Jake's face seeing that he's gawking at his sweetheart (quite a relieving detail for Jake!). However, once she had lunch with a little girl of about 5-6 years old who slightly resembled her. Oh, no, it wasn't her daughter for sure. It presented no difficulty to guess that the little girl was her niece, since she kept calling her "Aunty" (frankly speaking, Jake then hoped to learn the name of the girl, but to no avail!).
At least Jake has noticed that the girl is into reading, books changing one another in record time. And every time she is so absorbed in the world of her own or in the realm of the piece of work she's reading that everything around falls into oblivion. Jake supposes so, since very often she pays no attention to the waiters catering for her and, emerging from the depth of her mind, she seems pretty surprised noticing her order beside her on the table, perhaps, thinking that it has been conjured up from nowhere.
Only once the girl just sat around, her shining eyes puffy from crying and her fingers flickering in the attempt to lift her cup and take a sip of tea. She looked completely dejected and screwed up averting her gaze from the window the picture behind which at once changed for Jake from sunny and bright to murky and gloomy.
You can't imagine the anguishing Jake had inside while watching the girl that day. Hardly had she set her foot in "The Nook" he noticed that she looked nothing like her usual self. A wall of panic hit him. Oh, how he desired to share her innermost thoughts, how he craved to help her sort everything out (whatever it might be). Jake pictured how he (like a knight in shining armour) would come up to her, nestle her into his hold and make all the misfortune vanish. But he didn't dare. She seemed intangible like a scarcely perceptible haze often appearing after a lengthy sheeting rain. Sooner than usual then she slid out of the café, Jake left with sinking heart (to calm you down, everything was fairly fine with her the next day).
Be Jake a bit more courageous and less affectionate towards the girl or better be it not Jake but some other guy instead, he would have already tried to woo her. But Jake is Jake. He himself puts to rout even his slightest thoughts of attempting to get acquainted with the girl.
However, it wasn't that easy (it was totally impossible, I'd say) when a couple of days ago Jake and his old friend Matt agreed to meet at "The Nook" during lunch. It was actually the idea of the latter (who is indeed an interesting fellow deserving a separate story!), Jake preferred to spend his lunch time with his "girlfriend". The most striking peculiarities about Matt are that he's greatly unpredictable (unexpected actions have always been a forte of his own), impetuous (even reckless at times). His immoderate sense of humour and incredibly animated aura draws everyone around (especially the opposite sex, he literally makes them go weak at the knees!). So, all of a sudden he made up his mind to have a word with Jake over a cup of coffee which he had never wanted before saying that he hated "tea talks" with friends supposing the drink to be too soft for a really nice chat.
The guys settled themselves at Jake's favourite table, Matt with his back to the girl who, as usual, was there at the table near the window and, as usual, emitted warm glow which made Jake cock his eyes at her. Having made an order Matt at once started telling something to Jake whose mind didn't belong to him any longer at the moment. "A new book again.... What's the title, I wonder?....She's so engaged, it must be gripping...."
"Hey!" Jake saw Matt waving his hand in front of his face. "I'm still here! Are you with me?"
"Hah? Yeah, I'm all ears", replied Jake reluctantly focusing his glance at the friend.
"Oh, yeah, I've noticed!" Matt chuckled. "So, you see that the situation is....Ok", indignantly exclaimed Matt seeing that Jake's mind went far away from him again, " look, if you don't feel like listening to me, I'll shut up, just ask me..."
"No, no, fire away!" encouraged him Jake trying his best in order not to give himself away.
But that wasn't the case! Matt, being fabulously observant, cracked the mystery. Suspicion snapping through his eyes, he swiveled around mumbling "What are you looking at? Oh! I'd better say whom are you looking at!?" beamed he turning round again and peering at Jake who felt himself flashing tomato red (what was wrong with him, he had never experienced it before).
"I've no idea what you're talking about", replied he evasively trying to sound nonchalantly taking a little sip of his coffee nearly choking with it.
"You like her, don't you? Go and get acquainted!" simply reeled he off, as though it were the only possible and right option.
"It's not that easy!" said Jake in a faint voice. "By the way, who said that I want to?" hastily added he.
"Come on! It's written on your face! Frankly speaking, I'm even glad. It's high time you got over your Laurie. Go and get acquainted!" repeated he with great intent. Don't pay much attention to Laurie, it's a different story. The only thing you should know is that they broke up several months ago. If Matt hadn't mentioned her, Jake would hardly ever remember her again under the circumstances.
"I can't just come up to her and get acquainted" objected Jake.
"Gibberish! Don't be behind-the-times, that's the way people meet each other in the 21st century! No matchmakers, dude! Go and ask her, for example, whether you may take her salt or not"
"I don't need salt"
"Here! Oops!" said Matt stretching out his hand towards the salt-cellar standing between them on the table. Then he suddenly accidentally-on-purpose turned it upside down letting the content spill out right on the table.
"Hey! What are you doing?" cried Jake.
"I'm doing you a favour, chap" merely explained he. "Now we've got no salt, go and take her salt. Then ask her about the book she's reading and develop the topic, don't forget to introduce yourself" Matt spoke easily and fluently, as if the plan had been prepared beforehand. This ability of Matt's has always astonished Jake.
"How am I supposed to develop the topic?"
"God, Jake! Where's your imagination? Now I know why you've had only one girlfriend who, by the way, threw you off the cliff! Sorry! Just think outside the box! Go! Stop shilly-shallying! You're a man!" encouraged Matt.
I believe, you guess that one part of Jake just burnt with desire to follow the friend's piece of advice. Who knew, perhaps, it might somehow work out. At the same time another part of Jake was absolutely bemused. For so long he had been resisting the temptation to come up to the girl. Where now was he supposed to find courage?
Surprisingly though it may be, but the second part surrendered to the first one. I'll drop the description of his train of thoughts (which was mostly hesitation and inner quarrel between the above mentioned parts). Jake decisively snapped to his feet taking the salt-cellar, Matt encouragingly nodding gave him the thumbs up. Taking the first step Jake was absolutely confident about his actions, but as he moved on tacking between the tables and other visitors the confidence expired.
"Jesus Christ! What will I say to her?" he terrified. The girl really played havoc with his heart, with every step he got more and more under the weather. A meter left before reaching her table, Jake all of a sudden swung sharply to the left and headed straight to the counter to have the salt-cellar filled.
I believe there's no necessity to mention Matt's words addressed to his mate when the latter again settled himself in front of him. Well, the general meaning was something like "Dude, you've cocked everything up!" Matt need not have to say that: Jake's mortified expression reflected that he was repelled by himself beyond words.
Even now (yes, we're back to the present where you're in the café eating your sponge cake) surreptitiously watching the girl, with his heart swooping every time she twirls one of her ringlets around her finger, he's feeling a plunge of total dismay, since because of sheer stupidity he didn't seize the brilliant opportunity to get acquainted with her then. Who knows, he might be sitting in front of her now wrapped in a blissful happy haze.
Oh, time flies! The clock hanging above the counter has just struck 13.50. It's time to leave for both of our new friends. Look how Jake's following her every movement, and how disappointed he looks now when she's gone. The matter is, it's Friday today, weekends are close at hand – 2 ceaseless days before Jake sees her again.
Look, he has noticed something on the girl's table. What's this in his hands? I can't see it. Can you? Oh, yes, you're right, it is a barrette (Beautiful, isn't it? Like a real delicate white rosebud). Is it only me who feels that it has got warmer and cozier at "The Nook"? Guess whose light of hope has sprinkled holiday sparks everywhere? Who is going to keep the barrette till Monday and then chivalrously hand it over to the ravishing owner? Who is relishing the prospect of getting to the owner closer finally? This someone is now enthusiastically striding out of the café completely unaware of the fact that his high spirits are to collapse with an unbearable frenzy of frustration.
Here I must stop and warn you that the time (a tricky thing indeed) will from now on go somehow unusually. I hope, you don't mind, do you? Otherwise you'll have to spend here, in "The Nook", several days or even months more! Do not worry - you'll remain how you are. However, perhaps, you'd better buy something else to eat if you have finished your sponge cake. So, are you ready?
Then let me take you to the nearest future where on Monday Jake looking like all his Christmases had come at once joyously entered, no, fluttered into "The Nook". During the weekends he honeyed the very thought about the triumphal moment when he was supposed to come up to the girl with the pleasant surprise in his hands. How sorry you must be to learn that his great expectations were to fall to pieces. Neither on Monday, nor on Tuesday, nor on Wednesday... ok, nor even in a month the girl was seen at the café.
It actually has been 2 months since Jake last was left breathless by her glowing charm. But he still remembers the clench of alarm inside when he saw her place occupied by some other folks. Of course, he then started generating all the possible reasons for her absence from sudden emergency job, a business trip to an illness. The girl might change the place of work or she might move to other district, the café not convenient to visit anymore. A whole swarm of ideas has been buzzing in Jake's head every single day since that very Monday.
There also have been some changes in his life apart from the girl's disappearance into the ether. That is, the organization he works in has shifted the location of their main office thereby making the visits to "The Nook" completely inconvenient for Jake. It seems like the destiny is trying to rub off all the vestiges of Jake's life where there was the mysterious girl. But Jake is not the kind of guys who gives up just like that.
From then on he has been paying flying visits to "The Nook" (which seems now deserted for him) to make sure through the local waiters (they already know him perfectly well) that the girl has not shown up. Every time he gets "no" he feels twist in his stomach. And now you can see with your own eyes (since he's here with us in the café again having come to his vantage point) that he's just got another "no".
It's the 23d of December now, the holidays are approaching. Everything around twinkles with Christmas decoration, the buildings peppered with flaky snow resemble gingerbread houses from holiday postcards, holyday greetings and kids jingle-belling are heard everywhere. And inside Jake it is raining buckets. This "happiest season of all" does not give festive mood to him at all. Though once helping his two little nieces to write a letter to Father Christmas he really wished the magician existed and returned the girl back wherever she might be.