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Please Stay Awhile

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Books were intriguing. 

Ezra had read a fair share of them in his life, more than most. He loved the feeling of the binding creaking as he carefully opened a first edition to take in the yellowed quality of aged paper and vellum. He loved new books too, the newly acquired and never opened, the front of the hardcover glossy and untouched. He loved little paperbacks perfect to be slipped in a carry on or purse. All of these features were intriguing even before delving into a book's contents, the words and thoughts and fears of an author poured out onto a page through 26 letters. He found a love for all genres and serials, even ones that he would staunchly deny ever sampling from. It wouldn't take much of a wild guess to conclude he was a bookworm and owned a bookshop; in fact, he was nearing his twelfth year of ownership within the next few months.

Books were intriguing, at least according to Ezra. That very statement swirled through his mind as the letters he concentrated on blurred away. They didn’t want him to read them; they wanted his eyes to drift back up over the binding and dog-eared paper. The tea next to him sat untouched and possibly lukewarm since the ten minutes he had ordered it. 

So, a quick revision then. The book in his hands was not intriguing. It was what was over the book that was quite intriguing and it made the knot in his throat grow.

Ezra wasn’t sure what it was that had initially caught his attention. His first sweep of the café was probably the culprit for this drawn feeling, though it has been a week since he first stepped inside, so he couldn’t quite remember why his gaze locked onto this particular intrigue. Usually his memory was spotless, a blessing and a curse. Yet, the reason why he was feeling so intrigued , his new favorite word at that point in time, was a mystery in itself. Not that it mattered much anymore up to that point. It was merely a starting plot to multiple reactions.

Get it together, he scolded himself, staring intently at a word in the book. And stared. And still it wouldn’t process in his mind. 

Ezra gently closed the book shut, careful to mind the old and brittle binding. He would need to touch it up later tonight along with a good segment of his other books. A tedious process that would require a good deal of his attention but hopefully would eat up a good portion of his evening. At least it meant an excuse to close up the shop early for a few hours, even if he felt a bit guilty doing so.

He took a timid sip of his tea then added a bit more milk. By this point he couldn't bring himself to correct the young barista on his order and it wasn't too much trouble to fix the tea himself. However, it didn't mean he had to like the initial taste of too strong tea either to bear through it.

He liked his spot. He sat by the window, glass fogged and rain streaked, a steady downpour hitting the tops of cars and umbrellas outside. His own umbrella leaned against a table leg and left a small puddle on the floor beside his wingtip shoes. His hair was damp, just waiting to dry a bit more and become unruly. He attempted to flatten it down and ran his hands through it to try to keep it as orderly as possible. The initial downpour had caught him unawares on his walk over and he had fumbled a minute or so to open his umbrella. Thankfully his book went unscathed but he had a good amount of wet hair and shoulders to prove for it.

The café was fairly quaint and indie, family-run and student-employed. Plants dotted the interior and it had a homey feel to it aided by the trickle of soft music over the speakers. The establishment had a considerably large array of pastries, scones, and beverages available on the menu. Ezra wondered if they had a deal with the bakery and patisserie not a few blocks down the street for hand-made bread and buttercream. The few samples he had tried and ordered were delicious and well-crafted.

A newspaper next to his book lay untouched. It had been there when he arrived, left by the last occupant. Likely a businessman in a rush, Ezra mused. He reached across and unfolded it, making sure not to make much noise with the crinkling newsprint, and skimmed over the headlines. It was mostly local news and gossip columns, nothing particularly global or worldwide to inform him on any recent events. A few advertisements for lost property dotted the pages and he pointedly ignored the short list of obituaries on the third page. Best not to sour his mood so early in the day.

Eventually, his eyes shifted over the paper, his back rigid in his chair. Ezra didn't consider himself much of a people watcher. He usually kept to himself and minded not to draw too much attention unless spoken to. He liked to simply "be" rather than "be a part of,'' so to speak. And in his mind, this translated into minding his own business and minding that of others. 

So why now, as he sat in this café, did he find his eyes glancing around at the other customers and the waitstaff? And why did they keep drifting back to that table?

In some part he almost felt rebellious. A feeling would settle in his gut every morning this past week when he would open the door with a jingle of the bell. A rush of excitement would fill his chest as he would settle in his seat and glance about the establishment. This wasn’t anything nearly as exciting as one of his spy or romance novels but the feeling flooding his lungs and gut certainly felt similar. He would then simply observe and embrace the feeling of newness, trying to ignore how out of practice he was at all of this.

There, only a few strides away at a two-person table, was the person of interest. His hair was dark but revealed itself to be a russet color in the right lighting, turning a deep red that attracted one's gaze. He wore dark, well-tailored clothing that accentuated his lithe silhouette and slouched posture. He lounged on the chair like a piece of fine drapery, one arm slung over the back of the chair, the rest of his body sliding forward in a seemingly unnatural position, legs spread wide to accommodate. He had a nice slope to his lean shoulders emphasized by light padding in his jacket. Ezra's gaze caught onto his shoes: black and finely polished and shiny. He could see the hint of cherry red for the shoe bottom from the way the man slightly angled his foot. He couldn't be much younger than him by the lines of his face and the manner of dress, likely early forties.

He certainly caught many eyes of the staff and passing customers though Ezra didn’t know what color his eyes were. They had never locked gazes for him to know but he fancied they must be a rich color. Perhaps warm like chocolate, or a deep multicolored hazel not unlike his own, or perhaps so blue they looked like the heavens. However, he doubted he would be able to find out. The man wore sunglasses indoors, the dark lenses obscuring much of his face, including his eyes. 

To Ezra, this man was intriguing. 

Intrigue in itself denoted mystery and interest, an apt description of the man seated at that table.

The first time he had seen him a week ago was on this similar Tuesday. It too had been raining but only a slight drizzle. Forced to find shelter, Ezra had decided he preferred a change of scenery anyway. He had wandered the opposite direction he usually traveled for breakfast in the morning, mostly out of a whim than the weather forecast. He had stumbled into this small café for its warm, dry atmosphere. He had sat at this very table, had ordered the same thing, and had noticed the same man. He sat the same way every time, slouched in his seat in an almost formal yet informal manner, his body leaned on an angle where Ezra saw more of his ear than his face. He acted as if he knew Ezra was watching… and didn’t. 

He knew he was being ridiculous. So the man was intriguing and handsome? Ezra had seen handsome men before in pubs and parks and museums, kissed and dated a good number of them as well. But there was something about the man that he couldn't quite wrap his head around, something that kept drawing his gaze a week later. It wasn't necessarily the sunglasses, though he had to admit they were a curiosity all on their own.

Just go up and greet him, he would tell himself. Ask him his name, start up a conversation, and learn about him. But what next? Ask him to dinner maybe? Or perhaps meet at a pub later tonight? Or would they become drawn in deep conversation over a shared love of Wilde and other LGBTQ authors?

The man didn't seem the reading sort. He came with nothing but a satchel hanging from his chair and only ever took out his phone and wallet. Most of his attention as he drank his beverage was glued to his sleek mobile in one hand, other hand occupied by his drink or idly drumming his fingers.

When not perusing websites or simply staring into space, the man would glance occasionally at his phone for an alert of a new message. Ezra watched with utmost interest. He wondered who he was texting. Were they family or friends, or merely a colleague at a workplace asking for advice? Quite possibly a lover? The list went on and on. Each question he thought up wanted to spill from his lips like a waterfall. So he kept his lips pressed firmly shut and took another sip of his drink.

He caught a waitress's attention as she passed and ordered a macaron. He had resigned himself to be unable to continue reading so he might as well focus on eating something instead. The fact he had not tried the macarons here yet was simply an extra indulgence.

Time passed fairly leisurely after his order arrived. The biscuit was fluffy and the cream filling was smooth and sweet. He savored the macaron for a bit, managing now only a few brief glances towards the intriguing man, but pointedly directed most of his gaze to the window to his left. He allowed himself to relax. He filtered out the soft patter of rain against the glass and the soft chatter of the café to his right.

This was meant to be relaxing after all. A nice start to his mornings before opening shop and dealing with customers, tourists, and students. He needed to stop working himself up over this mysterious man. Let the man slip into a simple detail of his new routine.

By the time Ezra finished his tea and pastry, the clock neared ten. He took his time packing up his things and shrugging on his damp coat. He decided to stick the newspaper under his arm for some light reading later. Positive that everything was in its place, Ezra draped his bag over his shoulder, slightly unfurled his umbrella, and briefly glanced over to a certain table. The man still sat there, now once again engaged with his phone, unoccupied fingers tapping a beat on the table. Ezra shook his head and hunched down a bit for the incoming rain as he exited the café, unaware of the pair of eyes that watched him leave.

Tomorrow, tomorrow he would say something.