(Common Man … continued)
Early morning as the sun began to shine, Raphael woke up to see Stella sleeping like a baby with her head on his shoulder. She probably didn’t move an inch all night. His hand was gripped firmly. Her face was sun-kissed and strands of her hair covered her eyes. Raphael looked at her in serenity and simply continued. He didn’t feel the need to wake her up. He had a slight smile which Stella surely missed. Gently he moved her aside and laid her head on the edge of the bench, not wanting to wake up her up. Stella’s eyes opened when she felt the warmth of the sun on her skin. She needed to get rid of her jacket. Not seeing Raphael anywhere inside the cathedral, she looked around in search of him. She couldn’t spot him anywhere. She grabbed her camera and walked towards the exit of the church and relentlessly bumped right into him. “Hey! Watch out!” he screeched with two cups of coffee in his hands. “Where are you off to Miss?” Stella hit him ample times hopping around him. “What did I do?” “Where did you disappear without telling me?” she asked. “I sense some worry for me. I like it.” Stella gave him a stern look. “Okay I surrender. I had gone to get us some coffee; thought I’d wake you after I got back as you were fast asleep.” Stella had her sheepish smile on again. “By the way, you look pretty when you sleep.” Raphael said it out loud with a wink. “Coffee” Stella spoke grabbing her cup.
They walked outside aligning the brick path. “So what is it that you wanted to show me?” Stella asked sipping her coffee. “Walk on. You’ll see.” Raphael smiled winking again. “What’s with the wink mister? I see a lot of it lately.” “I know you like it. Can’t deny” Raphael stated pointing his finger at her mischievously. “C’mon!” she punched him on his arm and walked ahead. Stella was impatient and walked faster to see what Raphael wanted to surprise her with. “Slow down missy. Come here.” He took her cup and placed it down. “Turn around” he said. “Why?” “Turn.” She turned around and he closed her eyes. Her hands felt his hands on her eyes and she held them there. “Now what?” “Walk with you left foot first so that we don’t fall.” As soon as they reached the back end of the cathedral Raphael kept up the suspense a little more. “Ok ready?” “YES!” He slowly took his hands off her eyes, and as she opened them, a mesmerizing lake reflecting the cathedral unfolded before her. The image was like red curtains draping up showcasing an opera! “WOW” she screamed. “This is awesome!” She walked to the railings to get a better view. It was simply breath taking. Stella stood there engulfing each end with her eyes and had no intention to move until her mind registered it. “Like it?” Raphael enquired. “Love it.” She said with a broad smile and jumped to hug him. She held him close for the first time but in little realization. “Thank you, thank you, Thank you, Thaaaaank Youu!” She hugged him tight as she spoke. Raphael’s hands were around her; left hand around her waist and right hand in an upright position on her back. He gently moved his fingers and whispered “you’re welcome Stel”. That made Stella quiver and shiver. His whisper was seductive. He brushed his cheekbone against her ears with eyes closed. They felt this moment together. Stella felt him wrapped around her. There were goose bumps all over her body and butterflies in her stomach. She let her grip lose waiting for him to let go. She swished around and started clicking photographs, shying away from him and hiding her glowing face. She didn’t want to talk about it nor did she want him to steer a conversation on it. She liked what he did specially his whisper. And he knew it.
There was peace dwelling at the lake. The wide waterfront was like a silky quilt spread with a portrait painting on it. “No one would want to leave this place ever” Stella said. No sooner she took her camera in her hands, she began photographing it; Raphael interrupted, “Mind if I click some photographs of you?” Raphael asked Stella. “Of me…? Will you?” “Yes. I’m not as bad as you think. I’m sure I can get some decent photographs. Trust ME.” He held out his hand for the camera. “TRUST ME” was the word ringing in Stella’s head. She knew she did. He emphasized on it with authority in his voice. Raphael waited for Stella to pose and he burst out laughing. She seemed restless and confused about her pose. She couldn’t decide if she had to face left, right, straight or with her hands on her hip, her hair or down. “What? Click. Go on. There will many more poses coming along. Remember you offered to click”. Raphael showed her a Thumbs up and began capturing her photographs. He zoomed in to her fingers; they were fair and soft. She had long nails painted red complimenting her. In between other photographs, he zoomed in to her eyes and lips. He could tell her eyes were mysterious. They had a lot inside. And her lips were making this perfect curved smile with a slight dimple on the left. ‘Killer smile’ he thought. If only he could kiss those lips, he’d never let go. He had to curb his feelings for now else he’d probably get kicked in the nuts! He knew that for sure because he learnt Stella’s ways. She was soft and sweet but equally fearless and diverse. She could surprise you one minute and take it away the next.
Stella screened through her photographs that Raphael clicked and like a typical girl, fussed about her smile being too much or too little, and the background not appealing or a blurry image. “Hey there are some amazing ones too!” “Yes agreed. There are some good ones too. Thanks a ton!” she pat Raphael on the back twice and started walking. “I’m hungry! We’re supposed to go for breakfast to Gerald’s and we’re still here. Its 9 am! They must be waiting.” Stella spoke in one breath stuffing her camera in the bag and taking baby steps in confusion. “Breathe! You’re worse than a bullet train when you talk. We’re going there anyway. C’mon”. Raphael walked ahead faster than her not letting her pace up. She finally ran and ran a marathon competing with him. He chased her. When Raphael was about to reach closer to her, Stella slipped on snow and landed straight on her bum. Raphael screeched to a fault and was surprised to see Stella laugh instead of groan in pain. She was enjoying her fall thoroughly. Raphael couldn’t help but laugh along. He nodded in disbelief yet joined her in melancholy. “Are you alright? Need a hand?” he spoke with words squeezing out amidst the laughter. “Yes I am alright. I can get up.” She tried and slipped again; and bellowed in laughter. “You seriously need help. Here grab my hand.” He reached his hand out to Stella. She stood on feet giggling giving hi-fi’s to Raphael. She made a total buddy to him. He walked her to Gerald’s hoping she doesn’t land back on the road. “You’re crazy, you know that?” “Yes I do!” she answered with twinkle in her eyes and she winked at him. “Ah someone’s winking now!” “Yes, after effects of spending time with you.” Mischief filled voice spoke for Stella.
She heard more of him each moment, as they walked. All the mischief he’d do as a child, the way he’d make every laugh; it enticed her thoroughly. He declared his craze for football and for food. He spoke about his unending food delights. He’d even won a story telling competition in school. “You can tell stories? Really? I doubt it.” “Hey I was a child. I had to learn one and express it. I did.” “Superior self-defense on childhood. I like.” “Me?” “You wish mister.” “I sincerely do”. He strengthened his gaze at her proving his expression. Stella broke it saying, “at last Gerald’s house is here. I’m super hungry. Aren’t you?” “Yes I am. Let’s go in”. “Be good to him okay. He’s a nice man”. “Why don’t you advise him the same?” “I will”. She entered the gates to Gerald’s house and walked past a small garden sit out. “Just like olden times. I’ve seen this in movies and photographs. Never knew I’d witness it in real. These cottage houses and their small garden sit-outs with roses and lilies planted. Bliss.” “Indeed”. Raphael nodded in agreement. He knocked at the door with a huge handle in the front. Raphael had one question to ask Stella which brought in silence. “Can I ask you something Stel?” “Sure you can.” “What are we going to do when your vacation ends?” “A….ummmm….I…..” She glanced at him with an incomplete sentence; just then Gerald opened the door.