“Are you there, God? It’s me…again,” Zelda began. “I’d just like to ask you for a tiny, little favor - if you have the time, that is. Maybe you could finagle something here and manage a way to help this incredible man notice me. Maybe. Please. Just a little help tonight, God, especially since I haven’t been able to get him to even glance my way. It’s his last night here, after all. Please, God. Please." Zelda gave a little sigh of hope, and finished her prayer, "Thank you for listening, God.”
It was true. In all the times Zelda had revisited the Prose & Wine café – fourteen to be precise – during the last four months, he had never looked her way ('he' being the aforementioned 'him' in her silent prayer this evening, of course). And it was further true that all of her visits had been purely motivated by the opportunity to hear his recitations. She told herself the same story every time she came to hear him read aloud: Just one more time. I just want to hear him read one more time. But he had become her addiction, and she did not know what she would do when he would no longer be at the Prose & Wine for the weekly readings. How she would miss his lovely voice and face when he was gone.
Zelda still did not even know his given name, since he was billed only as The Eloquent Englishman whenever he read, but she couldn’t recall ever hearing a lovelier recitation of any piece of classical literature or prose. She was sure that his voice, laced with a lilting and beautiful English accent, was a true gift from the Gods, derived in ancient times when men were created with aquiline features and golden hair. As she sipped her glass of wine, she wondered if there was anyone on the face of the earth who could read Shakespeare, Chaucer, Byron, Keats, or Milton with such stirring beauty. It was doubtful. So enthralled was she by his rendering of any piece of prose, she knew that he could have read from a children’s book, and she would have still been enraptured by the melodic timbre of his voice. Of course, it did help just a wee bit that he was quite attractive. In fact, this aspect only added to the allure of his wonderful voice and rendition of whatever he chose to read.
Zelda herself wanted to be a writer and hoped one day to write with passion and depth. She wanted her writing to be something that someone would want to read again and again, because it was either so moving or enjoyable that they could not help but do so. Moreover, she wanted to write something that he would want to read aloud. Thus, she justified her repeated appearances at the Prose & Wine by telling herself she was receiving the necessary inspiration to become a better writer. However, truth be told, she’d fallen, and she’d fallen hard for this man who read from the classics so hauntingly, and yet, so breathtakingly beautiful. Infatuation had taken deep root within her for this man and his amazing voice, and she hoped each night she came that he would take notice of her, but thus far, he had not. It was beginning to feel like a futile endeavor to hope or pray for such.
Tonight, he was reading from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, and Zelda was excited beyond measure. Sitting alone with a glass of French Merlot on her tiny table, she impatiently twirled her foot as it hung draped across her slender leg. There were only about sixteen other patrons at the café this evening, mostly couples. All the better, she thought. She had secretly longed for no one else to come to tonight’s reading so she could enjoy the night solo with him, but she knew that she was being ridiculous. Picking up the glass of wine, she took a deep sip of the burgundy Merlot, hoping it would help to quell her impatience and anticipation.
The lights in the small café eventually grew dim with the exception of the one light that focused on the makeshift stage area. Zelda immediately placed her glass on the table and drew herself straighter in the chair, perching on the edge of her seat. Her attention was riveted on him as he walked from the back of the establishment and took a seat in the lone mahogany Mission Style chair. He gave a casual nod and greeting for his small audience.
“Good evening. Tonight, we shall start with an excerpt from the Canto Fourth, Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1810,” he began, and Zelda mentally gave a shout of glee as he began to read. It was so lovely.
“The rose is fairest when ‘t is budding new,
And hope is brightest when it downs from fears;
The rose is sweetest washed with morning dew
And love is loveliest when embalmed in tears.”
Zelda listened to the words wrap fluidly around his eloquent tongue and spill across the stillness of the room. Despite the silliness of it, her mind wandered, thinking upon the “swooning” that was often detailed in Romance novels. She was fairly certain at this moment in time that she might swoon and faint fast away upon the floor of the Prose & Wine, so overcome was she by his recitation of the lovely prose. Fleeting thoughts of him bent over her lifeless body, attempting to resuscitate her, lingered pleasantly in the back of her mind for long minutes until she was able to focus again on the beauty of his words and voice.
And thus, the night ensued with various excerpts from Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem. Zelda did not think she moved once, she was so moved by the lovely poetry. Oh, but she could live life endlessly in such a way, listening to repeated beautiful recitations by someone like this man.
At long last, he closed the book and bid his small audience farewell. Zelda sighed to herself, musing that now the final reading was over, he would never return. The waiter made the rounds and replenished everyone's drink, including Zelda's. As he poured a new glass of Merlot and stepped away from her table, she nearly gasped aloud. He was standing there, directly in front of her small table, and he seemed to be waiting to introduce himself. Could this be real or was she dreaming? Was her prayer actually getting ready to materialize into reality?
“Good evening,” he said as he stepped toward her and smiled. “Did you enjoy tonight’s reading?”
Zelda was unsure how she found her voice, but she managed to smile in response and speak without stammering like a timid schoolgirl. “Yes, I enjoyed it immensely. It was beautiful.” I think you are beautiful, she silently added.
“Excellent,” he said and looked about the room again. Fear gripped her for a moment as she wondered if he was only exchanging pleasantries and intended to leave. But then, she realized he was looking at her again, and this time, it was with a decided purpose. “I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. I couldn't help but notice that you’ve managed to attend all my readings.”
Zelda felt a blush creep across her cheeks. He had noticed her, after all. “Yes,” she said a bit timidly. “I enjoy hearing you read, so I’ve made it a point to attend whenever you’re here.” Does he realize I’m only admitting to a mere fraction of my true infatuation with him and his wonderful voice, she wondered.
For mere moments, the two stared at one another, seemingly frozen in a moment of time. Blue eyes met green ones, and in the skip of a heartbeat, the two connected in triumphant delight. The moment was so intense that Zelda could hear her own heartbeat pounding in her ears and nearly forgot to breathe.
“May I?” he gestured toward the empty chair at her table, breaking the spell.
“Oh, yes, certainly! Forgive my manners,” Zelda said, quickly moving her wine glass and copy of Lady of the Lake.
She was fairly certain she was in the midst of a dream; a wonderful dream, albeit, but still a dream. She silently offered up a big “thank you” to the man upstairs, feeling as though He had answered her prayer with a miracle. As he took the seat beside her, she added, I promise, God, that as a true gesture of my undying gratitude, I will go to church each and every Sunday for the rest of my life.
“I’ll have whatever she’s having,” he said as he took a seat and motioned to the waiter, pointing to Zelda's glass of Merlot.
She was suddenly self-conscious as the waiter brought her companion’s wine. She searched her mind for what to say now that he was seated next to her and seemed to have her full attention. Her slim, woolen skirt seemed shorter by the minute, and the burgundy turtle neck she’d worn seemed to bind her chest tightly, preventing an adequate flow of air. Nervously, she fidgeted with the stem of the wine glass, glancing up at him through thick lashes to ensure he was, in fact, still there and not a figment of her imagination.
“You like Merlot then?” she finally asked, and then kicked herself. Of course he likes Merlot. He ordered it, didn't he? Stupid, silly question. Stupid, silly girl, she chided herself.
“Yes, I do,” he smiled. A deep dimple grew in his left cheek as he did so, and Zelda was reminded yet again of the possibility of swooning. “Merlot is such an approachable wine. It is full-bodied and elegant, but goes well with nearly every kind of food. However, the wine stands on its own quite well, also. I like the sleek softness of Merlot. It is so rich, fruity, and sensuously smooth, just like velvet,” he added as he took a sip of the wine the waiter had just placed before him.
Zelda watched the movement of his throat as he did so. Yes, Merlot is such a soft, sensual wine, most especially because of the way in which you partake of it, she could not help but mentally react as she watched him swallow the luscious drink. My God, but had anyone ever been able to describe the deliciousness in a glass of Merlot in such an intricate, detailed way? She was sure not. Indeed, the enunciation and the beauty in his description, rhythm, and flow of words were like the sensuously velvet, rich smoothness of the wine personified. Moreover, there was the way in which he drank the wine, swirling it on his tongue prior to swallowing. She couldn’t even begin to describe that delicious aspect. Oh, how much I long to be the wine for only a small moment of time, she thought.
He looked at Zelda, extending his hand and interrupting her trance. “I’m Gawain.”
She was captivated by his smile and returned one of her own. “Zelda,” she said as she felt the strength in his firm handshake. I knew his handshake would be strong like this. Oh, but I do like a man's handshake to be firm and strong. She had expected nothing less from a man such as him.
“What a lovely name,” he said. “Zelda is quite unusual.”
She nodded. “I fear Mother was a huge fan of Fitzgerald.”
“Ah, yes,” he said. “Well, it certainly suits you.” He gave a small laugh. “My mother, on the other hand, was a huge fan of the Arthurian legend.”
He watched her closely as he spoke as though attempting to determine what she was thinking. Knowing precisely what she’d been thinking about the soft sensuality of the wine as he drank it made Zelda blush more deeply. She looked down into her own glass, attempting to hide the color that infused her face even more than before.
“Are you from New Orleans?” he asked.
“I am,” Zelda said. “I am thoroughly Southern, born and raised right here in New Orleans.”
“A magnolia in full bloom. Or perhaps, better yet, a lovely camellia,” he observed with the utmost sincerity.
Zelda smiled, immensely pleased by his somewhat flirtatious banter. After all, this man was a fine specimen in his own right, and it made her happy that he obviously thought her….what did he say? Lovely? A lovely flower? I cannot believe he compared me to a lovely flower. This night was turning out to be a true answer to her silent prayer.
His green eyes watched her, and in response, she returned their intensity with her blue ones as many thoughts flooded her mind.
“Thank you,” she said, managing to sound as though men called her a lovely flower every single day. “Where are you from?” she asked, pretending to remove an invisible piece of lint from the table.
“I’m from across the pond - from Cornwall,” he said. “But I am enjoying my time here and am considering staying on a bit longer than originally intended.”
Gawain continued to give her his undivided attention as if she were the only person in the room. Zelda looked up and studied him. There was a bit of humor at play in his green eyes, and she wondered if he meant more than his comment simply implied. Could it be possible? Was he as intrigued by her as she was by him? Am I the reason he might stay on for a bit longer?
She suddenly grew more comfortable, responding with a larger, more confident smile. “That would be wonderful. I assure you that I’m your number one fan and would come to all your engagements. I could listen to you read for years.” She stated emphatically. She easily could have rambled on but stopped herself. Maybe she shouldn’t let him know just how big a fan she actually was - it might scare him off. That is, if he hadn’t already guessed at the truth.
With her words, Gawain grinned, cocked his head, and arched his left brown in question. “Years? I fear you might regret that one.” His soft laughter floated across the table and filled her ears as she watched his smile broaden. He has such a beautiful smile. It matches his beautiful voice.
Suddenly, she realized what he was inferring – or actually what she had been inferring - and she blushed, cursing herself for doing so yet again while also silently contradicting him. Tire of that sensuous, velvet voice of yours? Not in a million years!
After a moment, Gawain looked down, taking note of her lovely edition of Lady of the Lake and then glanced back up to study her for a moment before saying, “Why do I feel as though I already know you, Zelda?”
Zelda emitted a faint, somewhat nervous laugh and quickly took a sip of her wine before she replied, “Quite possibly because I’ve been to all of your readings, hanging on to each and every word. I adore the classics and the way you read them.” And I adore you, too, Gawain.
“Yes, quite possibly, but still….there’s something more. One has to wonder.” He watched her closely and then reached across the table to lightly touch her outstretched hand, covering it with his own.
Zelda’s breath caught, and she attempted to subdue the feeling that encompassed her with the touch of his hand. She looked up and could easily see that he had felt the connection, too. Her blue eyes grew serious as she returned his gaze. In the briefest heartbeat, Zelda felt the bond between them grow by leaps and bounds, gaining a momentum of its own, like a bottle of Merlot being opened and exposed to the air, thereby allowing it to breathe while enhancing the fullness embodied therein with every second that it rests. Yes, she was surely dreaming, but if that was the case, she hoped never to awaken. Moreover, if she was awake, well there was absolutely no doubt that she was experiencing an answer to her earlier prayer.
Zelda smiled, and, in turn, he smiled again, “Shall we do this again? I would very much like to.” he said.
“Yes, most assuredly,” Zelda replied. And could we please do this every day for the rest of our lives?
“Excellent. There is so much I’d still like to learn about you,” he began, but then momentarily diverted his gaze to the glass of Merlot. It occurred to her, quite surprisingly, that he was slightly unsure of his next words and the response she would offer. “Perhaps tomorrow night? Dinner if you’re free? Or if you need more time… if that’s too soon…..”
More time? Is he insane? I feel as though I've already been waiting all my life for you. Suddenly, her every breath seemed to exude a newborn confidence, and she lifted her hand so that it lay atop his larger one. Her smile said it all as she replied. “Nothing would please me more, Gawain. I can scarcely wait until tomorrow.”
Thank you, dear God, thank you.