December 2014

Gemma flipped through the magazine, and lifted her eyes off the picture of yet another photoshopped celebrity. The man sitting in front of her was drumming his long fingers on the armrest of the disgustingly uncomfortable pharmacy bench; and Gemma sighed.

"It could also reduce your risk of a stroke," she offered him a consolation, and his eyebrows jumped up. "The flu jab. Besides the obvious benefits."

"Good to know," he answered and smiled to her. If before he seemed simply mind-blowingly attractive, this white-toothed grin contrasted with the black beard made him surreally gorgeous. Gemma cringed at the amount of superlative adjectives stampeding through her mind.

"I'm an empath," she announced, closing her magazine. "Meaning when you're stressed, I'm stressed. Would you like to talk about something else?" This time only one of his eyebrows ascended. "You're clearly nervous about the vaccine, and reluctant, so I say you're here out of necessity. Visiting older relatives?"

"My sister is pregnant. That was her condition on which I'm allowed to come to the Christmas dinner." He studied her. "An empath? Is it like a psychic or a medium?"

"I'm a personal coach. I have several degrees in psychology, sociology, and literary studies. I have heightened empathic abilities, which allow me to feel what other people are feeling. But I'm not working right now. I'm getting a flu shot. And I'm nervous as it is. So, I need you to relax." Gemma went for a firm but friendly tone. He seemed like a man to enjoy it. "So, what can we do to make you relax?"

"Not get a flu shot?" he asked, with a low velvet laugh. "I hate needles."

Gemma tilted her head.

"But not waiting. You're OK with waiting. That's fascinating." She scrutinised his face.

He was indeed very fit. Strong, willful jawline; dark thick wavy hair; bright blue eyes - the appearance worthy of a romance novel was spiced up with just the right amount of originality. His nose was too long; and the corners of the soft line of lips were perpetually curled up.

"Are you flattering me by calling me fascinating to distract me from the horrid smells of the pharmacy?" he asked.

"Is it working?" Gemma gave him a fluttering lashes look.

"Definitely. I'm male. Flattery always works." They laughed together. "So, what exactly does a personal coach do?"

"I'm a muse," Gemma delivered her blurb. He lifted his Roger Moore eyebrow even higher. "I help creative people to create."

"Do you stand nearby gently running your fingers on the strings of a lyre?" he drew out in a funny dreamy voice.

"You're a writer." Gemma didn't need to ask.

"Am I that obvious?" She liked that he laughed about it.

"For the sake of continuing flattery I should say 'no,' but yes, you are. And a rather successful one, I'd say. Sci-fi?" she asked.

"Mystery. I'm..." She waved her hand in the air.

"No, no, don't give me your name!"

"Why?" Even more so, she liked how his shoulders shook in the hardly contained laughter. The width of the shoulders didn't harm either. He was obviously very tall, perhaps, above six four. He was large, heavy, but not overweight. The charcoal jumper under the leather jacket was stylish, and went well with the dark denim.

"There are two reasons. A sappy one, and a sane one. Which one would you like?" She gave him a wide cheeky grin.

"Both."

"Good answer." Gemma snorted. "The sane one is that I have a photographic memory. You have an expensive new watch, so I reckon your books sell. You don't have the old money vibe to you. Plus the Northern accent hiding under the high pronunciation. So, it is indeed the royalties that allowed you to buy the new Tag Heuer." She pointed at his wrist with her eyes. "Meaning I've probably read your books, or at least saw them in the store. You give me the name, I'll remember the books. And the brain..." She tapped her temple with the index finger. "The brain will start working. We still have to stay here for another ten minutes or so in each other's company. I'm trying to have rest here, mate."

By the end of her speech he was guffawing.

"And the sappy one?"

She made pitiful eyes at him and whines, "If you have a name, it'll become real."

"What 'it?'" he readily supplied the line.

"Me, in a pharmacy, waiting for a flu shot, and meeting a tall, dark, and sexy stranger. And miserably failing at charming him." She sighed theatrically, pressing the tips of her fingers to her chest. "Because I'm definitely not getting the result I'd fancy. So, I'd rather get perforated, get my dose of vaccine, and go home with a slightly humiliating, but not entirely painful anecdote to tell to my friends."

"You're very much charming me!" He lifted his hands in the air defensively.

"Oh, I'm sure you find me intriguing. Especially, being a writer, you're curious. But you aren't awed. I only go for it if I awe. Otherwise, it's not worth it."

He slightly dropped his head back, in a gesture her mind catalogued as clearly very his, and looked at her down his patrician nose.

"That's a lot to ask."

"Well, look at it this way. I'm not the most attractive of women. But I have a very high IQ, and a unique set of skills and abilities. My mind is my advantage. But it's also my working tool. Being in a codependent relationship with a person is what I do. In most cases, my coaching works best if I move in with the client. I use up all my energy; all my compassion; all my love, if you want; on my clients. I have no time or ability to have a mediocre personal relationship. So, the man I need should be, obviously, A. into skinny gingers. My feeling insecure about my looks in the relationship is out of the question. B. He needs to be completely awed by my mind. I need to feel safe, otherwise I'm distracted from my work. And C. I want to get married and have two children. I'm all for non-binary genders, so don't ask me boys, or girls."

He barked a short laugh. "I was going to."

"I know you were. You had a curious, and simultaneously sarcastic expression in your eyes. But answering to your unasked questions, yes, marriage and two children. This is my plan. It's been thought through. I'm open to reasonable deviations, of course." She smiled to him. "So, you see, how I'm all or nothing kind of bird. And it's your turn to go in." She pointed at the light over the nurse's door.

He rose, still laughing, and shaking his head. She was right. He was at least six five. She threw an appreciative look at the long legs. Altogether, the anecdote was shaping up very well. Gemma loved telling anecdotes. He threw her a look over his shoulder, and it clicked.

"Jack Richards," she said, and his eyes flew to her face. "I remembered. The mystery novels about the handicapped detective."

He nodded.

"You're stuck with the latest one, aren't you?" That was a shot in the dark, but his chuckling confirmed she was right.

"You're good."

"You have no laptop with you." She shrugged. "And I remembered it's been two years since you released the previous one. I'm currently working with one of your direct competitors, so I'm well aware of the scene."

"Who?" She tut-tutted in response, and he smirked. "Confidentiality, yeah?"

"Exactly. Would you like my advice?" she asked. It was interesting to be uncertain what a person would answer. Jack Richards was interesting. Pity, Gemma thought.

"Sure." His eyes were now warm.

"Take a vacation. Both of you." He tilted his head questioningly. "You and your detective. You need a change of settings. Take your laptop, go to the Caribbeans. It'll serve you both well."

"I'll think about it." He nodded to her, and started walking away.

Gemma chewed at her bottom lip, and went back to her magazine. 

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