“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
Millie looked up from her Kindle and into the steely grey eyes of a tall man in a black suit. “Yes – I mean, no,” she waved him away. She dropped her gaze to her Maeve Binchy but she was aware that both man and empty chair remained where they were.
“Most kind,” said the man, pulling out the chair and sitting on it, “To let me join you.”
Millie frowned. The café was bustling, the air full with the buzz of conversation, the rattle of spoon against china, and the aroma of freshly roast coffee. Joining her at table 13 was the man’s only option.
The man must have seen the frown; he half stood. “I’m sorry; were you expecting someone?”
Millie met his gaze again and heard herself say, “No, no. I never am.”
The man smiled and sat down. “Read a lot, do you?” he nodded at her device.
“When I get the chance,” she replied tartly, her lips a thin line.
The man laughed. “You come here often.”
It was a statement rather than the clichéd opening gambit of an unimaginative chatter-upper.
Yet again, Millie found herself gazing into those eyes, like twin gun barrels. Silver, they were, rather than grey.
“You always order the same. A skinny flat and an apricot tart. Something of a contradiction!”
He smirked to see Millie’s frown plough its furrow between her eyes.
“And there’s never been anyone special, has there? No one at all, in all these years.”
Millie stared at the man – this intruder with his impertinence and his questions and his – She looked beyond his eyes to take in the rest of his features. Fine cheekbones, he had, and a strong, angular jaw. His hair was black to the point of blue, swept back from his smooth forehead like a sea of wheat, waving in a field, awaiting the reaper’s scythe.
He was handsome, she’d give him that. In a peculiar, almost eerie way.
“Oh, there was once…” she said wistfully, her voice trailing into reverie, as thoughts of Charlie floated to the surface of her mind for the first time in twenty years. Charlie, with his broad grin and the splash of freckles across his nose and cheeks as though he were perpetually decorating. Charlie, with his shock of golden hair and his eyes like turquoise stones. Charlie, who could make her laugh, and who had made her cry when he stood her up for their date at the Odeon. It had been weeks before she learned he had been killed, knocked off his bicycle on the ring road on his way to meet her.
“You miss him,” the man said, and Millie wasn’t sure how many of her thoughts she had spoken out loud.
Those eyes – no, they weren’t grey or silver, they were turquoise – seemed to look right into her and read her like a book – like a Kindle! Millie laughed, and the man reached across the table and took her hand.
And she gasped to see the freckles appear on his face, and his thick, golden hair fall from his brow.
“You’ll come with me, then,” the man whispered, and Millie found herself nodding and getting to her feet, and walking out of the café, leaving behind her bag, her coat, and even her precious Kindle.
Hours later, the waitress approached table 13 and put down a saucer with a curl of paper. “Closing now. Your bill, love.”
The woman did not respond. In her hand, her Kindle flashed, its battery low, before winking out completely.
“Love?” said the waitress, reaching for the woman’s shoulder. The woman fell forward, face down onto her uneaten apricot tart. The waitress screamed.
“No need for that,” said the manager, coming over. “See? She died with a smile on her face.”