Submitted Date 09/18/2023

Zelda had revisited The Prose & Wine many times – eleven times to be exact – over the last four months. The motivation each time she visited was solely the opportunity to hear him read just one more time. She could not remember ever hearing lovelier recitations of any piece of classical work. She was confident that his voice, laced with a lilting, beautiful English accent, was derived from ancient times and a gift purely from the Gods. She did not know his real name, because everyone who came to hear the recitations knew him only as The Eloquent Englishman.

She had often wondered if anyone on the face of the earth could read Shakespeare, Chaucer, Byron, Keats, or Milton with such beauty and stirring emotion. So enthralled was she by his rendering of any piece of prose, she knew he could have read a children's book, and she would have been enraptured by the melodic timbre of his voice. Of course, it did help just a bit that he was also quite appealing in appearance. In fact, combined with the lovely voice, it added immensely to his overall allure.

Zelda herself wanted to be a writer. Her innate desire was to write with passion, and she wanted whatever she wrote to be so encompassing that someone would repeatedly want to read it. Moreover, she very much desired to write something that he would read aloud in cozy, dimly lit cafés like The Prose & Wine. Thus, she justified her repeated appearances at the café by telling herself she was receiving the necessary inspiration to do just that. However, truth be told, she had fallen, and she had fallen head over heels for a man who read from the classics so beautifully.

This evening, she had thought about staying home and not visiting The Prose & Wine for the twelfth time as she was beginning to feel a bit conspicuous. Moreover, she wondered as to whether he had grown suspicious of her motive. However, after a lengthy debate with herself the entire afternoon, she had chided herself for being silly and presumptuous. Surely, he did not even realize she existed, less alone that she had been to each one of his readings at The Prose & Wine. She was certain her fears were ill-based, and so, she had decided to return to the café this evening He would never notice her. Moreover, to her dismay, it would not be long before he would move on from New Orleans, and she would never see him again.

This chilly January evening, he would be reading excerpts from Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake, and Zelda was so excited she could scarce stand it. Sitting alone with a glass of French Merlot, she sipped the wine and looked out the window as snowflakes fell against the soft glow of a street lamp. She sat at her usual table, impatiently twirling her foot as it hung draped across another slender leg. Only about sixteen others, mostly couples, were in attendance this evening. Perfect. She secretly longed to be the only one in the café so that she could enjoy the evening with him solo, but she knew that was a dream.

Picking up her glass of wine, Zelda took a long swallow of the rich, burgundy liquid, hoping it would help to quell her impatience and anticipation. She could hear the faint strains of an old showtune by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Some Enchanted Evening, playing in the background. How appropriate for she had seen a stranger across a crowded room, longed to make him her own, and never let him go. Oh, if only life could be like such beautiful lyrics.

The lights in the tiny café grew dim with the exception of a single light focused on the center of the makeshift stage. Zelda placed her wine back on the table and perched straighter on the edge of her seat as she waited. Before long, he walked out from the back of the establishment and took a seat in the lone mahogany Mission Style chair. With a casual nod, he greeted his small audience.

"Good evening, my friends. I would like the opportunity on this cozy winter evening to warm our minds with some beautiful words written by Sir Walter Scott. The book from which I will be reading is Lady of the Lake, first published in 1810. The excerpt is from the Canto Fourth."

He opened the small book in his hands and moments later, the smoothness of his velvet-lined voice soon drifted across the expanse of the small room:

"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."

Entranced, Zelda listened intently to the words wrap fluidly around his eloquent tongue and spill forth into the stillness of the dimly lit room. Despite the silliness of it, her mind could only seem to think upon the 'swooning' that was often detailed in Romance novels she had read when she was younger. She was certain at this moment that she might swoon and faint fast away upon the floor of The Prose & Wine, so overcome was she by his lovely recitation of Sir Walter Scott's prose. Fleeting thoughts of him bent over her lifeless body, attempting to resuscitate her, lingered pleasantly in the back of her mind until she forced herself to focus once again on the beautiful timbre of his voice as he continued to read.

The night ensued with readings from various excerpts of the famous Sir Walter Scott poem. Zelda was smitten and did not stir once until he was finished. So moved was she by the lovely prose that she lifted a finger occasionally to wipe at a tear that fell upon her cheek. Ah, but she could live life in such a way, listening to such beautiful recitations by someone like him.

Once the readings had ended, the waiter made the rounds, replenishing everyone's drinks. As he poured a new glass of Merlot for Zelda and stepped away, she gasped for he was standing there, behind the waiter and directly in front of her small table.

"Good evening, I hope you've enjoyed the reading," he said with a brilliant smile and his voice of velvet. Zelda's breath caught in her throat.

Unsure how she managed it and from where she found her voice, she returned his smile and managed to answer without stammering like a timid schoolgirl.

"Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sir Walter Scott's writings are so beautiful." As are you and your honeyed tongue, she thought.

"Excellent. I am so pleased you liked it." Hesitantly, he looked about the room before his gaze found hers again. As if unsure what to say next, he cleared his throat and then said, "I've noticed you've managed to attend all my readings. I hope that means you have enjoyed them. "

Zelda felt a blush creep across her cheeks. He had noticed her, after all, taking note of her repeated attendance at his recitations. Well, she could only hope that was a good thing. "Yes," she said. "I've enjoyed each one of your readings very much, but I think tonight was my favorite."

For mere moments, the two stared at one another, seemingly frozen in a miniscule particle of time. Blue eyes met green ones, and in the skip of a heartbeat, connected in a dimly lit, small room. Zelda felt a shiver run down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold weather outside.

"May I join you?" he managed, gesturing to the empty chair at her table.

"Oh, yes, certainly! Forgive my lack of manners," she said as she quickly moved the wine glass and her copy of Lady of the Lake so that he could take a seat. He motioned to the waiter, calling him over to their table. Zelda watched him from beneath her lashes and wondered if she was in a dream. If so, it was a wonderful dream and she hoped never to awaken.

"I'll have whatever she's having," he told the waiter, motioning to Zelda's glass of Merlot.

Waiting for the waiter to bring her companion's wine, Zelda was suddenly self-conscious. Her slim, woolen skirt seemed shorter and tighter by the minute, and the burgundy turtleneck she had worn seemed to bind her chest tightly, preventing an adequate flow of air. Nervously, she tugged at the hem of her skirt and fidgeted with the stem of her wine glass, glancing up at the man seated beside her to ensure he was, in fact, actually there. She refrained from the temptation to pinch herself to be sure she was awake.

"You like Merlot then?" she asked, and then mentally kicked herself. Why of course he likes Merlot. He ordered it, didn't he? Stupid, silly question and stupid, silly girl!

"Yes, I do," he smiled, and a big dimple grew in his left cheek. "It's a favorite. I find it to be such an approachable wine, don't you? It is full-bodied and elegant, and it pairs nicely with nearly every kind of food while also standing on its own quite well. I enjoy the sleek richness of it - fruity, velvety, so majestic by nature," he added as he took a sip from the wine glass the waiter had placed before him.

And softly sensual, much like the way in which you partake of its richness, Zelda mentally noted, entranced with watching his throat as he swallowed. My God, but had anyone ever been able to describe the deliciousness of a glass of wine or Merlot in such a way? She was sure not. Indeed, the enunciation and the beauty in his description, rhythm, and flow of words were like the velvety, rich smoothness of the wine personified.

He looked at Zelda and extended his hand, "My name is Gawain. It's very nice to meet you."

She responded, with a brilliant smile. "I'm Zelda," she said and felt the warmth in his firm handshake.

"What a lovely name. It's quite unusual though," he noted.

She nodded. "My mother was a Fitzgerald fan," she confirmed.

"The name certainly suits you. I understand all too well, " he gave a small laugh before continuing. "My mother was a fan of the Arthurian legends." As he spoke, he watched her closely, as though wanting to know everything she was thinking. Knowing exactly what she'd just been thinking about the soft sensuality in the way in which he had drunk his wine, made Zelda blush yet again. She avoided his gaze and looked down into her glass.

"Are you from New Orleans, Zelda?" he asked.

"I am," she looked up and smiled. "Quite thoroughly Southern, I'm afraid."

"Like a Magnolia blossom." He eyed her. "Or better yet, perhaps more like a lovely Camellia," he said in earnest.

Zelda looked at him, enchanted by his words. Gawain's green eyes continued to watch her over the light of the candle flickering in the table's center; she returned their intensity with her blue gaze. The strength of their connection intensified, like the flame of the candle, growing by leaps and bounds.

"Thank you for the lovely compliment. May I ask where your home is?" Zelda asked before looking down and pretending to remove an invisible piece of lint from her skirt. She was still a bit nervous, despite the flattery he'd bestowed upon her.

"I'm from across the pond," he replied. "Or from Cornwall, England to be precise. But I like it here in your states very much. I'm considering staying a bit longer than I'd first planned."

Zelda looked up as she heard his words, clearly enunciated, apparently directed at her. His green eyes continued to gaze at her as if she were the only person in the room, gauging her reaction to the words he'd spoken.

Of a sudden, she grew a more confident and gave him a warm smile. "That would be wonderful, Gawain. I am your number one fan, and I could continue to easily listen to you read for endless years. Your voice is lovely - made for such recitations like tonight's reading."

At her words, he cocked his head a bit while brow rose in question. He looked at her, quite seriously, and asked. "Endless years, huh? I fear you might regret that, my dear."

Realizing what she'd said and what he was inferring, Zelda blushed and mentally cursed herself for doing so yet again while also silently answering him. I would never tire of that sensuous, velvet voice of yours - or of you - not in a million years!

He looked down at the table and noted the lovely antique edition of Lady of the Lake she'd brought before glancing up to study her a bit more. After a moment, his words laced with emphasis, he said, "Why do I feel as if I already know you, Zelda? As if I have always known you?"

Zelda emitted a faint, nervous laugh and quickly took a sip of her wine before she said, "Quite possibly because I've been to all your readings, hanging on to each and every word. I adore the classics and the way in which you read them is so mesmerizing, so very beautiful." If only you could know how much I adore you.

"Yes, quite possibly, but still….one has to wonder," he said as he reached across the table and lightly touched her hand. Unexpected, the sensation was like akin to electricity. Stunned surprise surfaced in both sets of eyes, green and blue.

Zelda's breath caught in her throat, as she realized the full importance of her visit to The Prose and Wine this night. She realized had she not come to this evening's reading, there would have been no Gawain sitting at her table, and no such connection was have existed betwixt them. Fate was an oxymoron: unexpected and predestined. She was immensely pleased she had listened to intuition and come this evening. In the briefest heartbeat, Zelda knew the connection between them had already grown with an ease borne of something wondrous. It was gaining a momentum of its own, much like a newly opened bottle of Merlot being exposed to the air, thereby allowing it to breathe while the fullness embodied therein enhanced with every second it rested. No, she was not dreaming for this was her blissful fortune, her reality. Two universes were converging, aligning pathways and desires that otherwise might never cross.

"Shall we do this again, Zelda?" Gawain asked, emboldened by the engaging look in her green eyes.

"Yes, please, let's do," Zelda quickly replied.

"Well," he began, but then briefly diverted his gaze to the glass of Merlot before continuing as though he, too, was nervous. "Perhaps we should consider this to be our first date for I find that I am already looking forward to our next one."

Filled with newborn confidence and joy, Zelda lifted her other hand so that her delicate fingers lay atop Gawain's hand. It was warm to her touch, much like the velvet warmth of his voice. She felt the gentle strength embodied therein. Realizing there were unknown and uncharted depths awaiting discovery with the man seated before her, she felt a thrill of anticipation and excitement. She smiled exuberantly, and answered, "Indeed, nothing would please me more, Gawain. I, too, cannot wait for what our next date - or tomorrow - may bring."


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