Isabel sat in the cafe, hands wrapped around her warm mug of tea, staring out the window at the rain. She struggled to get warm. She was chilled to the bone but supposed that was better than the numbness she’d felt for so long.
The raindrops were like the many tears she had shed. After so many failed relationships and so much heartache, she had become an empty shell.
“Would you mind if I sat here at your table?” A rich baritone voice interrupted her thoughts.
She looked up into the aqua colored eyes of a tall man with waves of black hair framing his ruggedly handsome face. Anxiety gripped her, and she looked around the cafe–not an empty table anywhere. That must be why he was asking to sit at her table. She turned her eyes to his once again. “Um, yes, sure, you can sit here. I was just leaving.” She reached for her raincoat.
The man took the seat across from her. “Please, don’t leave because of me. You haven’t even finished your tea.” His eyes moved from her mug back to her face.
“It’s okay. I really wasn’t thirsty anyway.” She finished putting her arm in her raincoat, slung her purse strap over her shoulder, and picked up her umbrella. Then she strode to the cafe door and out into the rain, her heart thumping like a big bass drum in her chest.
* * *
Two days later, Isabel, arms full of books, tried to open the door to the same cafe.
“Here, let me get that for you.” A rich baritone voice spoke as an arm reached and the hand grabbed the door handle and opened it.
Isabel looked up into the same aqua eyes from two days ago and mumbled, “Thank you.”
The man smiled, revealing straight white teeth and deep dimples. “How nice to see you again. May I help you with those books?”
He reached to take the books from her arms, but Isabel turned away.
“It’s all right. I’ve got them.” She moved to put the books on a table, and after she did, she turned to move to the counter to order her tea and walked into the man with the baritone voice.
He looked at the spines on the stack of books. He murmured a couple of the titles aloud, “How to be Happy Alone; Single and Happy Life Journal; How to Overcome Loneliness”. He turned his eyes back to her, one eyebrow raised.
Heat crept up Isabel’s neck and into her cheeks. She lowered her eyes and wished she could melt into the floor.
“My name’s Brett Hoover. Would you please allow me to join you at this table this afternoon?”
Isable straightened, pulled her shoulders back, and lifted her chin. “Look, Mr. Hoover, I don’t know what it is you want, but whatever it is, I’m not interested. I just want to be left alone.” She tried to step around him.
He moved to block her escape. “Please, miss, I don’t want anything other than to share a table and some conversation … maybe help you if I can.” His tone was soft and gentle.
Isabel was at a loss for words. Help her? He wanted to help her? Just what did he think he could do? Brett didn’t move. He was waiting for a response. Isabel resigned herself to the fact that there was no way to avoid this guy. She shrugged her shoulders. He could share her table and he could talk, but that didn’t mean she had to talk.
They went to the counter and placed their orders — something a bit more substantial than just coffee and tea. Then they returned to their table, and Isabel quickly whisked the stack of books from the table and placed them on the floor by her chair.
“I’ve introduced myself, but I didn’t catch your name?”
Isabel studied him for a minute. What did he want? But all she saw in his eyes was kindness. “My name is Isabel. Isabel Tomson.”
“Well, Isabel Tomson, you seem to be lonely and unhappy. Would you like a friend?”
“A friend?” She wrinkled her brow.
Brett raised a hand. “I swear … a friend. No strings attached, and if you don’t like talking with me or meeting me in public places, you can tell me to get lost at any time.”
Now it was Brett’s turn to wrinkle his brow. “What do you mean, ‘why'”?
She dropped her eyes to his hands that rested on the table. No wedding ring. “So, you’re single?”
“Why do you want to be my friend?”
“Because you need one.”
“That’s it? Because I need one?”
Again, he nodded. “What do you say, Isabel? Will you give it a try?”
“What’s in it for you?”
“Ah, I see. You’ve been hurt. A man, or maybe more than one.”
Isabel sat back in her chair and met Brett’s gaze. “More than one. Enough men to make me distrust all men because they’re not interested unless there’s something in it for them.” She held his gaze, and her eyes challenged him.
“I am so sorry you’ve been hurt and that it has caused you such distrust in men. But my offer is real and honest. I just want to be your friend … help you learn to trust again. If you like, I’ll put the offer on paper and we can both sign it.” He smiled.
His smile was genuine. “Like a contract?” Isabel quirked an eyebrow at him.
They were interrupted momentarily, when the barista brought their food and drinks. When the barista walked away, Brett nodded. “Like a contract.”
Isabel picked up her fork and stabbed some lettuce and a cherry tomato. She raised it but before putting it into her mouth, said, “I’ll take the contract.”