By Tanya Perdikou

There she sat, peachy skin iridescent in the low lamplight glow. Her head was cocked slightly as she scanned the {{city}} daily press; he noted a subtle movement in her throat as she swallowed. Once more he was transfixed, only vaguely aware of customers lining up at the bar of the {{pub}}, clutching unspent notes and huffing impatiently.

Jamie couldn’t remember when she’d started coming into {{pub}}, although he could remember what she was wearing the first time he saw her, floating blue shirt buttoned at the neck, a plait in her hair, snug jeans. It was {{dayofweek}} and he was wondering if it would be the same as every other day, serving her a flat white with soy milk, avoiding her eyes.

“Hello? I hate to tell you how to do your job, but the idea is we tell you what we want and you get it for us?” the voice clanged into his reverie, he berated himself inwardly for falling into this trap once more, and issued a sincere apology to the customer. A steady day, a party of pensioners toasting a boule champion, a gaggle of new mums passing around cherubic infants. He caught the eye of one of the babies, felt himself pinned by an unashamed stare. He smiled and blew a raspberry. The baby gave a gummy grin. Jamie blushed with the sudden realisation that you always notice when someone’s watching you. Had she?

Behind him, Dougie, who’d been a regular at {{pub}} since {{year minus 25 years}}, was chuckling along to the chat of Frank, the pub owner. “The phone’s bloody ringing off the hook, this morning I even get this guy asking me how I source my chives! Chives for god’s sake, he’s set up a whole business around it, he was telling me about the different fragrances, he was obsessed, all I could picture was him skipping around a green house full of them, his whole world all based around chives!”

From across the pub, a voice: “Imogen, come back over here, you know I’ve told you not to run like that indoors.” She was still intent on her newspaper, she moved her hand to the back of her neck, massaged it gently. “Jamie? Jamie? I know you’re busy staring into space right now, but there’s a food order needs taking out when you’re ready.” “Sorry boss.”

Jamie collected the platter of deep fried snacks, thinking how she’d never order something like this. And he suddenly became aware that to get the food to its destination, he’d have to pass right by her table. The thought made him feel sick with anticipation and his hands, clutching the sides of the foil platter, erupted in sweat.

Maybe this was the time to look at her for once, catch her eye, smile, roll his eyes at the tray of crisped up offerings. Rolling your eyes at snacks. I’m sure it would be irrestistible, he thought, annoyed with himself.

His deliberations proved wasted, as at the moment he passed the table, the voice came soaring across the pub again “IMOGEN! Come back here...” and a little figure darted in front of him, colliding with her table. The flat white she had been sipping tipped sideways in an almost neat way, spilling its milky contents onto the table and the floor.

And then all of a sudden there was contact between them, an accidental arm-on-arm brush as they mopped the table, glances and smiles exchanged, chat about getting a new coffee. He strode over with it, trying to seem confident. She accepted it with a graceful nod, and when he hesitated before leaving the table, she glanced at the {{neighborhood}} news, the missing person’s headline emblazoned across it: Mark, 25, not seen for a month.

“Terrible isn’t it? Seems so strange when people just vanish like that.”

The air around her was permeated by a delicate fragrance, not sweet, not sharp, just intoxicating.

“I knew... I mean know him actually.” Jamie offered.

“Oh really?” Her brow creased with concern. “Is he a close friend?”

“Not really, but he worked in {{pub 2}} up the road, and so we used to chat a bit when I went in there, barman stuff.” He held back on the last chat they’d had, when Mark had been so enthralled by a regular customer. His eyes had been almost feverish when he’d talked of her, how things had been looking up at work, how there was a regular who he thought might be interested, how she was beautiful and enigmatic, how surely she wouldn’t be coming back if she didn’t like him?

Jamie was not unaware of the similarities with his own situation.

“Oh, how terrible. I should have been more sensitive about bringing it up. I am sure he’ll turn up soon.” Her eyes were fixed on his, full of earnest concern. He nodded, feigning fragility to make her look for longer. And then the moment passed.

She sipped the drink. “Your flat whites are a dream. I’m tempted to hire you as a personal barista.”

“I better get back to work.” He blurted, spinning on his heel so she didn’t see the burning in his cheeks.

He passed the table again after she’d left. And there it was, under the chair which almost seemed still fragrant with her presence, the canvas shopper she’d had slung over her shoulder when she entered. Inside a parcel, opened. It must be for her. This must be her address on the back.

At {{hours12}}{{ampm}} he was gathering his courage at the door of 21 {{museum street}}. Delivering the parcel by hand was a bold move, and he wasn’t really sure if his boss would approve of going to a customer’s house. But he needn’t know. He rang the bell, and resisted a sudden urge to leave the parcel and flee. A moment passed. Then, behind the door, he heard the gentle tapping of her feet.

The door swung open smoothly, and there she was. Her caramel coloured hair was draped over one shoulder and gleamed in the streetlight. She blinked, recognised him, saw the bag and then smiled widely.

“Thank you so much! I am such an imbecile sometimes and I was convinced I’d left it on the bus.” Her face changed slightly, her gaze became more intense. “Come in? You’ve come all this way, have a cup of coffee? Mark isn’t it? I saw it on your name badge! Do come through to the lounge.”

Crossing the threshold felt automatic. He would have done anything she asked. The door clicked shut behind him. Mark heard a key turn in the lock.