Charles couldn’t get over the similarity of the woman’s profile to the one he had drawn not so long ago.
Her hair was styled the same way he’d envisaged it as he’d sketched, swept up and tied at the back of her head as was the norm for the era. He noticed, however, some determined curls had escaped from their confines and were softly feathering around her ears, probably due to the gentle breeze that was blowing today.
The high neckline and tight bodice of her dress were just right. He was actually surprised he couldn’t see more of her curves, but he, for one, thought it only added to her allure. The mystery of what might lay beneath the swirls of her skirts made him physically ache.
She finally turned and he got to see more than just her profile. She was perfect. Her elegant, timeless looks were perfect.
She hooked a stray lock of hair behind her ear with impatience and frowned across at him.
“Did anyone ever tell you it’s rude to stare?” she asked.
His mouth had gone dry at the first sound of her rich throaty voice.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered, his face reddening. “It… it’s just you look exactly like—“
He broke off. He couldn’t tell her the truth. She’d think he was some sort of lunatic if he told her that he was staring because she looked exactly like the sketch he’d drawn for the advertising campaign.
Her tough stance softened a little and tentatively, she met his gaze. He held his breath as she then lowered her eyes to study him as he’d been studying her. Only when her eyes returned to his face and she gave him a small smile did he allow himself to breathe normally again.
Yes, she was perfect, he thought again; a true classical beauty.
Making a concerted effort to stop staring, he turned and looked around at the town.
It was his complete fantasy. A horse was hitched to a rail outside a shopfront. A red and white barber’s pole added to the effect on another. A few men wandered along the dirt road in their period clothes, no one in any particular hurry.
He wished desperately that he could live in this type of town. He hadn’t known until recently how dissatisfied he’d become with his life. Now, he was questioning his career, his marriage, everything. He was committed to finishing the Spring campaign, but after that…
His eyes wandered back to where she stood, outside what appeared to be a newspaper’s shopfront. He had never cheated on Kristen. He’d never even contemplated it. He’d met more than his share of pretty girls while working in the advertising business, but he’d never even looked at any of them, let alone touched. But, apparently, there was always a first time for everything; because he couldn’t stop looking at this woman, and imagining how it would be to touch her pale skin...
Suddenly a girl was prattling away beside him. He dragged his eyes away from the woman to look down at her. She was seven or eight, with huge eyes that shone with an unhealthy dose of maturity amongst her freckled face. He managed to listen to the child, laughing and replying at the correct times, despite all his senses still being attuned to the woman who, he saw out of the corner of his eye, was now approaching them.
“Mary,” she called the child.
“It’s okay, I—“ he started. The level gaze she unexpectedly gave him made him completely tongue tied. “Mary’s not annoying me,” he said, finally finding his voice to reassure her.
He gave the child, who was dancing around him trustingly, a mock scowl. “You supposed to talk to strangers, Mary?” he asked.
“Sure, why not?” Mary frustratingly answered with a shrug.
“Mr?” Mary’s mother prompted.
“Lattimer, Charles Lattimer,” he introduced himself, nodding politely. “I’m in advertising,” he said inanely.
She nodded back at him, her features still wary. “And you’re here to?”
“Look around,” he finished her question. “See what’s here. Can I maybe take you to lunch, Miss…” he trailed off, wondering if he was truly going insane. He was a married man, and however innocent he tried to pretend his offer to take her to lunch would be, deep down he knew the truth.
“Brown, Mrs Laura Brown,” she replied. “No, no thank you.”
She was distracted when a man called out her name from inside the shop.
“Mary,” she said again. This time the girl obediently skipped over to her mother and took her hand.
“Wait!” he called out before they disappeared.
They both stopped, their earnest faces so alike as they each studied him speculatively.
“Invite him to lunch,” Mary whispered loudly to her mother.
Laura licked her lips in a way that made him suspect it was a longstanding nervous habit.
“I need to return to work,” she murmured eventually.
“Yes,” he agreed softly. “Perhaps I’ll see you again, Mrs Brown,” he added as he reluctantly turned and walked back down the street.
He sat on a park bench, absentmindedly watching the women pushing babies in carriages, the dogs chasing sticks, the families lying on blankets and indulging in a picnic lunch.
He pulled out his watch and checked the time. He really should get on the train, and go back to the office. They’d be looking for him.
He could just see the buildings where the newspaper office was set up from here, but unfortunately little else.
He was hoping she’d walk past this way when she left, but he wasn’t sure to what end his thinking was. They had no future. He was married, she was married. Yet he was desperate for another glimpse of her before he returned to the reality of his life.
He heard Laura’s laugh before he saw either of them. Mary was attempting to cartwheel across the lush grass of the park and Laura was giggling at her daughter’s clumsy efforts.
“Show me again how it’s done!” Mary urged.
Laura placed the bag she was carrying beside her, kicked off her shoes and demonstrated a perfect cartwheel for her daughter.
Mary cheered and clapped.
Laura curtsied before holding her daughter’s legs and aiding her in another new attempt of the acrobatic flip.
Charles stood and walked towards them, drawn helplessly into their universe.
Laura gasped and stumbled a little when she saw him.
“Sorry,” he said quickly, not exactly sure what he was apologising for, but needing to do it anyway.
Mary was still giggling and struggling to cartwheel, ignoring them both.
“I…I never saw you,” Laura said, blushing and biting down on her lip again.
“I almost never saw you,” he admitted, looking her over again. Her hair was now hanging in loose waves down her back. The makeup for the shoot had been removed, and replaced with only a faint trace of red on her lips.
Perhaps he should amend his initial thoughts about her being perfect for the late 1800’s setting. She had looked pretty before, but now she was stunning.
She tugged at her short skirt that had ridden up after her cartwheel, unwittingly drawing his attention to her long sleek legs. He’d been wrong about that too, he conceded. He couldn’t have ever imagined she was hiding such legs beneath the skirts of her costume.
He realised he was still hanging onto his watch, and, disconcerted by the strong attraction he felt to her, he fumbled around with it, planning on putting it back into his jacket’s pocket.
“Oh, that’s a beautiful piece,” she murmured. “May I?” she asked, reaching out to take the pocket watch from him when he nodded his consent. She ran her thumb lovingly over its case, then flipped it open and studied the actual timepiece for a moment before handing it back.
He blinked. “You know about antique watches?”
She tilted her head and smiled awkwardly. “My idea of fun is a weekend flea market or an antique convention.”
“I know a little about antiques,” he said, grinning like a fool at their shared guilty pleasure.
“My director told me you wrote the advertisement,” she said.
“Yes. It took me a while to convince the clients it would work, but the idea just really resonated with me.”
“It was very sweet. I loved the outfits and the way they did my hair and makeup. I’d have loved to have lived in those times,” she admitted with a shy smile. “Their life must have been so rich, so warm.” Her eyes suddenly shadowed with sadness at some painful memory. “A very different thing from where I come from.”
Before he thought better of the action, Charles leaned down and picked one of the small daisies that grew wild in the park.
“If I could pick any time to live, it would be right here, right now,” he said, as if it was his vow to her, as he gave her the flower, ensuring he gently brushed against the soft skin of her hand in the process.
To his delight, Laura sniffed the flower as if it was a prize rose.
“Perhaps,” she murmured quietly, “richness of life doesn’t come from the time, but from inside of a person.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed.
Time literally stopped as they gazed into each other’s eyes.
“The bus!” Mary’s cry eventually broke their spell.
Laura startled and looked down the street. “My bus is coming,” she said, quickly picking up her handbag and donning her shoes.
But instead of taking herself and Mary directly to the bus stop, she then lingered beside him.
Unsure how he should bid her farewell, he eventually held out his hand. She grasped it and he felt the electricity run through him until it settled in his heart, causing it to beat erratically.
Sadly, too quickly, he let her go. She was perfect, but he wasn’t free to love her how she should be loved.
Visibly flustered, she took Mary’s hand and ran to wave down the bus.
He watched longingly as she and Mary slipped into their seats and the bus pulled away from the kerb.
“Have a wonderful life, Mrs Brown,” he murmured to himself, only turning to slowly walk towards the train station once the bus had completely faded from view.