As much as Jenny tried, it was difficult not to be carried away on pleasant fantasies when they stood talking side by side in the tiny kitchen, leaning against the high counter. He looked relaxed, but she was jittery, and didn't trust herself not to say or do something dumb, like pouring coffee all over herself.
He spoke English well, but slowly, as if making sure to pronounce the words correctly. He had a small but charming Russian accent that gave familiar words an exciting new melody.
Jenny cupped her hands around the warm mug. She should say something, but what? If she opened her mouth, something stupid might come out, like, "Nice weather," or, "What's the weather like in Russia?"
Alex's eyes glittered. "You have good coffee."
"Yeah, it's not bad. Mark usually makes a pot in the morning. He really likes coffee. So, what's the weather like where you come from?"
There it was, the stupid weather. Great for stalling a customer on the phone, but right now, not so much. Why couldn't she talk like a normal person instead of going from mute to babbling?
Alex chuckled, "Cold, colder, cold, really hot, and back to cold."
If those were the seasons, it did not sound appealing. "What are you here for?"
He made a dismissive gesture, "Nothing interesting. Steel samples for a new kind of ship."
She gave a blank stare. A ship could be almost anything.
"For the navy. Our countries are friends now, no?"
"To be honest, I can barely remember the time when we weren't."
He smiled and winked. "Well, you made the trip worthwhile."
Was he flirting? No, it must be her imagination, or maybe a cultural difference. Either way, she should probably increase the distance between them. Maybe top off her coffee with some milk... She didn't move; their arms were almost touching, and being close to someone made her long for more contact.
"The navy, huh? Isn't that exciting? How did you decide to do that? What do you do there? Is it scary? Must be in the colder part of the year now, right?"
Her stream of words made him smile. "It's not very exciting to do... or talk about. How did you decide to work here?"
She got almost half an hour with the intriguing guest before Mark came back, wearing a distant smile she knew was reserved for clients. "So, you've had a coffee break, that's good. Should we continue the tour?"
Jenny didn't want them to go, at least not without her going with them. Most people only stopped by the little office building once, so when he was gone, he was most likely gone for good. Alex solved her dilemma by flashing an enigmatic smile, saying, "It has been very nice talking to you. Perhaps I will see you for lunch?"
He wouldn't, not just like that. For someone spending all her time talking to customers, she got to see very little of them. She dared risk paralysis and looked into Alex's eyes. "I don't know. For a salesman, he's sort of rude, you know. He hasn't invited me."
It seemed a bit risky, but surely, the old joke would work this time too. "Everyone in this building is friends, except for him. Mark only has colleagues."
Mark initiated the saying himself, years earlier, and now he rolled his eyes and answered the same way he always did, "Well, that's true. I mean, who would want to be friends with you guys?"
Jenny grinned like a contented cat, and Mark chuckled at his own joke. He answered, completely unfazed by the large Russian towering over him, "Alright, Jen, you can come. We'll take this way back and pick you up."
She could have hugged him. It was hard to hide her excitement, and she took the mugs to the sink to keep herself occupied. "Okay, boys. See you later."
Like it this far? Come back tomorrow for some more! ;-) You can also see the book here.