Submitted Date 09/19/2023

There was a distinct, frosty chill in the fall evening as Abigail made her way to the small Italian restaurant called La Pasta. The rustic, multi-colored leaves whispered in the breeze, blowing and scattering across her path as her black heels clicked methodically with each step she took on the narrow sidewalk. Reaching up, she attempted to push back the loose wisps of russet-colored hair that flew about her face, but it was a futile effort. This evening, despite her best attempts to tame the thick, lustrous curls, her hair had a mind of its own, and there was no luck to be had with escaping the gusts of wind that lent it new life. She thought that she might resemble Medusa once she arrived at her destination, but alas, it was what it was. She wished she'd had the foresight to take a taxi in lieu of making the short walk to the restaurant. Perhaps if she had, she would not have looked like a mythological creature, waiting in the wings for her blind date's arrival. She smiled. She hoped this date was made of sterner stuff and could endure the sight of her hair in wild disarray.

It had been against her better judgement, but Abigail had allowed two of her good friends to set her up on this blind date with someone about whom she knew absolutely nothing. They had insisted, however, that it was a match meant to be, akin to the likes of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony or Romeo and Juliet. As she approached the restaurant, Abigail rolled her eyes at the remembered comparisons. Everyone knew exactly how those famous matches had ended: tragically. "Just my luck," she thought in wry amusement. It wasn't as though she hadn't already had enough failures of late in the realm of love.

Abigail was at least an hour early this evening, and she much preferred it that way. Arriving early meant she was able to acclimate to the surroundings and was comfortable in every aspect before meeting her date for the first time. It also meant she could have a drink and relax before she met…..what was his name? Hadn't they said his name was Luca? Well, at least he had one thing in his favor: a nice, strong Italian name. She hoped it was a good sign. Wondering if Luca was short for Luciano, she opened the door of the small establishment and stepped inside its warmth, out of the wind. It would be inherently pleasant - and surprising - to meet someone she found attractive and could carry on an intelligent conversation with instead of stilted ramblings all night long.

Entering La Pasta, a new world embraced her. The warmth and ambience of the restaurant was like pure magic, transporting her to Italy in the skip of a heartbeat. A beautiful fire blazed from the stone fireplace situated across the room. Small, intimate tables were covered with crisp, white tablecloths upon which sat shimmering candles, small crystal vases of purple and yellow flowers, and gleaming flatware. Yes, the restaurant was certainly an enchanting one. She wondered how she had missed it in all the years she had lived in Charleston. A small bar ran the length of the room, so Abigail made her way over to it. Despite the charming, inviting atmosphere, the restaurant was eerily quiet, with the exception of the soft strains of Italian music playing in the background and the hum of a fan slowly rotating above her. Still, everything combined to lend her an ease and comfortableness as she took a seat and settled on a high stool at the end of the bar.

The bartender approached. "Buona serata, signorina," he said with a welcoming smile. "What would you like to drink this evening?"

Abigail returned his smile. "What do you recommend?" she asked.

"We have a wonderful pink Prosecco straight from Veneto, Italy. Perhaps la signorina would like a glass?" the bartender asked, his Italian accent thick and charming.

"Excellent. I would love a glass of the Prosecco, please."

Leaving for only a moment, the bartender returned with a bottle of the champagne. Placing a crystal glass before her, he poured a small portion of the pink, bubbly liquid into it, and waited for her to taste of its dry sweetness. Abigail slowly lifted the glass and inhaled of the fragrance, feeling tiny bubbles burst and tickle her nose, before lifting the glass to her lips. The Prosecco was pleasing, fresh tasting, and she eagerly nodded for him to fill her glass. A delicious warmth filled her with each sip of the drink. It was the perfect way to ease the tension she felt as she awaited Luca's arrival.

She heard the light tinkle of the bell at the door but glancing at her watch, she realized it was still far too early for her mysterious date to arrive. By giving herself at least an hour prior to the scheduled date, she could familiarize herself with the surroundings before her date arrived. If she did this small thing, it would allow her a level of comfort with the evening that she was sure she otherwise would not achieve. No, the new patron entering the door assuredly was not her date.

As she continued to sip the pink champagne, a man settled himself on the bar stool situated two seats away from her. Her fingers lightly strumming the stem of her glass, Abigail eventually turned about, and in pretense, glanced around the room as if searching for someone. Her glance came full circle to land on the gentleman who had taken the seat near her, and she nearly gasped aloud. His crystal blue eyes watched her, never wavering despite the fact that she had caught him staring. As if in a half greeting, his brow cocked slightly above his left eye, and then ever so slightly, his lips rose into a semblance of a smile as he nodded his head, the barest hint of a dimple peeking from his left cheek. Mesmerized by the intensity in his blue gaze, she managed to respond with a slight nod of her own.

She feigned disinterest but listened as he ordered a glass of Merlot. Unnerved by the unwavering regard he had displayed, she continued to sip her drink, allowing the warmth embodied in the pink champagne to relax her a bit more. She was musing that she had never met anyone with such ice blue eyes when he interrupted her thoughts.

"May I join you?"

His voice was deep, strangely melodic. She turned to watch as, not waiting for her response, he stood and moved toward her. Upon closer inspection, it was easy to see how brutally handsome he was. Moreover, quite possibly, it was not the color of his blue gaze that was so different, but the intensity therein instead. He was tall and lean with dark hair to contrast against the crystal blue of his eyes. He was dressed immaculately in a black cashmere sweater with a crisp white shirt beneath, tailored, charcoal grey slacks, and fine Italian leather shoes. Gazing downward, she saw that the black leather banded watch he wore had probably cost more than her car. Indeed, everything about this stranger was so appealing, she was sorely tempted to abandon her unknown blind date. Inwardly she sighed. Alas, but she knew she could never do such a thing no matter how attractive she might find this stranger.

"I'm meeting someone in just a short while," she said, more so to remind herself of the obligation than to advise him of such.

"Ah, well, then perhaps just for a short while," he responded with a confident smile as he slipped onto the stool beside her. Although amazed by his boldness, she was curious as to what conversation he might strike up. She promised herself that she would leave shortly to sit at a table prior to her date's arrival.

As the stranger settled into his seat, Abigail was suddenly very self-conscious of the short black dress she'd worn. She could feel the nearness of the man next to her with her entire being, as though he encompassed all space and air. She conspicuously pulled at the hem of her dress, ensuring it covered as much as possible of her long legs. She wound her hands through the emerald green shawl around her shoulders, securely draping it through her arms as though it was a shield offering further protection from the intensity of his gaze. The stranger continued to watch her, and she wondered why it seemed as though he knew everything there was to know about her - as though he knew what she would do before she did it. His eyes were unbelievable. Clear and beautiful in their gaze, it felt as though they penetrated to the depths of her soul.

He took a sip of his wine before glancing up and studying her again. With a deliberate purpose, he leaned ever so slightly toward her and in the softest of voices, he whispered, "Lavender." His tone, lyrical in timbre, reverberated through her and was just as powerful as his penetrating blue gaze.

Abigail gave him a look of complete surprise. Perplexed, she had no earthly idea what he meant. "Excuse…me?" she asked, stammering.

He remained silent, continuing to observe her closely before he finally answered, saying, "Your skin. It smells of lavender."

The faintest trace of a confident smile crossed his handsome visage with the smoothly spoken words. Confusion soared through Abigail and a multitude of questions swept through her mind like particles of sand in a windstorm. Who was this man? Did he really just say that her skin smelled of lavender? Lavender! This night, she wore no lavender scented oil or perfume, but memories of the night before surfaced to taunt her. How could this man possibly know that she had bathed the previous evening in lavender scented bathwater? Her mind raced, reeling with surprise. She was confused, but her memory then drifted to the memory of the rosemary mint shampoo she had also used. Curious, perplexed, she wondered…..

But before she could form another thought, and as if he had read her mind, the stranger reached out his hand to lightly touch a wisp of a russet curl that lay against her neck. "But here, right here, there is the faintest hint of rosemary and mint." He spoke slowly, his words precise and deliberate, as if knowing their affect on her. He was still lightly touching the wisp of hair as he watched a myriad of questions flood her face.

"How….do you… how could you.....?" She could barely form a coherent thought, less alone speak. She could hear her heart beating wildly, echoing in her ears.

His blue gaze shifted to her neck and rested there for long moments before he dropped his hand, as though reluctant to do so. Pausing, he turned away momentarily to look down into his glass of Merlot. After a few minutes, he smiled nonchalantly at her and said, "I have a keen sense of smell. A knack for such things....a hidden talent of sorts."

A keen sense of smell? A hidden talent? What the devil? He had been inexplicably right and there was absolutely no accounting for it. She would not admit that she was shaken - and impressed - but she was. This man had quite the unusual pickup line that was like none other she had encountered. She attempted to act nonchalant, as if this sort of thing happened every other day to her, as though some stranger was always revealing unknown personal details about her, but she suddenly realized she wanted to know more. Where was he from? What was his name? What other talents did he possess? Moreover, where did one get a super talent like a keen sense of smell? He was a paradox, an enigma, and hypnotically intriguing, piquing her interest beyond measure. She wanted to uncover his secrets, and even more, for unknown reasons, she knew he wanted to uncover her secrets, too.

Abigail took a sip of her champagne and sighed, resignation and disappointment filling her. She reminded herself that she needed to be respectful of her date's impending arrival. Luca could walk through the doors of La Pasta at any moment, and it would not do for him to find her seated at the bar with another man. She eyed the mysterious stranger seated beside her and then reluctantly stood.

"As intrigued as I am by your hidden talents, I apologize, but I cannot stay. I really am expecting someone," she said, fighting a deep seated urge to remain rooted to her seat and focus solely on the man beside her.

The stranger stood, nodded, and smiled. "Of course," he said before watching her walk across the room to be seated by the waiter at a table near the fireplace.

Slowly, he resumed his seat, drinking from the glass of Merlot he had ordered. He didn't want to take his eyes off of her. Instead, he wanted to turn around in his seat and study her from where he sat but resisted the urge. He knew he had already unnerved her enough, but she had been irresistible and lovelier than he had imagined. Indeed, she was perfection personified, and exactly that for which he had been searching for many years. He yearned to know every minute detail about her, allow the lovely lilt of her Southern accent to wrap fluidly around him, and watch every small nuance in her expression as she spoke. Furthermore, he wanted to inhale the sweetness of her lavender scented skin, listen to the rapid beat of heart, and drink of her sweet nectar again and again. He was sure he'd read her correctly and that she yearned to know his secrets, but he also wanted to know all hers. Why had this cycle in the scheme of time taken so long for their worlds to collide? If he was sure of nothing else, he was sure their meeting was predestined, a fated encounter long overdue.

A short while later, he stood and ran a hand through the dark waves of his hair. Picking up his glass, he finished the remainder of the wine and carefully placed the glass back on the bar. He slowly, deliberately, made his way to her table. At his approach, she looked up, watching him with confusion etched across her lovely brow.

With a newfound purpose, he extended his hand. "Hello, Abigail," he said, a brilliant smile upon his lips. "I am Luca, and it's my pleasure to make your acquaintance."


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