Their eyes locked and he smiled.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" exclaimed Handsome. "I thought you'd fallen off the face of the earth."
She smiled broadly at Handsome.
"Nope," she said. "Just working too much and staying off the streets."
"Well, if you have a job, you don't need the streets. Am I right?" he asked with a grin.
"Mostly, but sometimes a person needs some mad money," she replied with a chuckle. She hated when she chuckled but she couldn't help herself.
"So good to see you," he said. "You're a sight for sore eyes."
She blushed and said, "Stop. Stop!" She felt like a schoolgirl.
The receptionist was listening to the conversation and watching it like a tennis game. Handsome knows HER? He's happy to see HER? She knows HIM? And they're FLIRTING! It was all over the receptionist's face which they both noticed.
"Let's go to my office and you show me what you got at Costco," she said, turning to lead the way.
He walked next to her to her office, swinging the bag slightly, its weight apparent.
She stopped at her office door and indicated he should enter first.
"After you, sir," she said.
"Thanks, doll," he said, entering the office and placing the heavy Costco bag on the low filing cabinet. She closed the door.
"Alone at last," said Handsome.
"Tee hee," she said and held out her hand as she said her name. They locked eyes and shook hands.
"Pleased to meet you for real," said Handsome. "My name is Conrad. I'm a jeweler. I specialize in gemstones but diamonds are my specialty."
He handed her his card which said, "Conrad Stones. When Special Matters. Nonconflict Gems Our Speciality." There was a phone number and an email address but no physical address.
"Your last name is Stones?" she asked.
"Oh, no," he said emphatically. "I can't put my last name on my card. For some reason women like to stalk me. They show up at my house and want to talk. They call me and leave creepy messages."
"Creepy," she said.
"I don't get it. They don't know me. The one I want to know me runs from me," he said. "But not today."
Did he mean her? She decided to let that one go. At that moment, Handsome's eyes were no longer cold. They had flecks of gold and dots of green and splatters of a paler blue. She thought she must be blushing again so she changed the subject.
"So what'd you get at Costco?" she asked.
"A variation of the ususal," he said. "Bananas, a chicken, a half-gallon of 2%, socks, a sack of tilapia, and a three-pack of Rogaine."
His delivery was deadpan. He unzipped the bag and took out two briefcases and two sets of handcuffs.
"I didn't know they sold handcuffs," she said.
"It's not a warehouse item. Mail order only," he said. "If I walk down the street carrying two briefcases, one shackled to each wrist, I will draw attention. Some guy with a Costco-frozens bag? Not so much."
"What will you do today?" she asked.
"The groom usually picks out five or six somewhat similar diamonds and fifteen settings ahead of time I come in and talk about the lock on love and then he goes on one knee, and I take the cuffs off and open the cases. Sometimes the guy has no spending limit and wants his bride to get precisely what she wants, no matter how cheap or expensive. The guy today is like that. Attorney? Trust fund guy? Author? I don't remember. I have beautiful stones today. But my favorite part is when I make the diamonds dance."
"High kicks? Splits?" she asked because she couldn't imagine.
"Cute," he said. "I have to remember the splits thing. I lay out a pad covered in black velvet and turn a light onto the pad. I take the stones from their bags and use giant jewelers tweezers to line up the stones. Then I hit the stones just so and they turn different ways so every facet of the stone can be viewed. I talk about the color, cut, clarity, and carat and I keep the diamonds hopping."
"That sounds awesome," she said. She wanted to see it right then.
"It really is," he said. "The first time I saw something like that was when I was in college. My parents took my sister and me to Europe and my dad arranged for us to go to a diamond broker in Amsterdam so my mom could pick something for their anniversary. The saleslady really made the diamonds perform. I never forgot it."
"Is that when you decided to be a jeweler?" she asked.
"No, first I finished college and went to law school because the law was my passion," he replied.
"How'd that work out?" she asked.
"Really very well," he said. "I just hated practicing law. It happens. So I started saving and took gemology courses at night and on weekends and on the internet. I took a vacation and spent three weeks in the diamond district in Antwerp. I went on safari to South Africa and got to visit a diamond mine. The thing that I kept thinking was that I could make someone happy by making the diamonds dance."
"And there are no gemologist jokes," she added.
"Yes! Exactly," he said. "How many gemologists does it take to screw in a lightbub? No answer that I know of."
"Two," she said. "One to screw in the lightbulb and one to make sure no one stole any merchandise while it was dark."
He looked at her blankly.
"You know I like you, right?" Handsome asked.
She could feel herself blush.
"Let me leave you here and check on what's happening in the conference room," she said and walked out the door, leaving it slightly ajar behind her.
She was still blushing when she got to the supervisor's desk.
"I hear he's handsome," whispered the supervisor. "I hear you know him. Is that right?"
"We've met," she answered. "He has the briefcases handcuffed to his wrists."
"Wrists? Wow, that's a lot of merch," said the supervisor. "Go to the conference room in five minutes."
"Thanks," she said, and headed back to her office where she told him they'd go in five minutes.
They chatted amiably about Kim's boyfriend and that he was very generous and had good taste. When they'd exhausted that topic, he asked her again.
"You know I like you, right?"
She looked in his eyes and blushed again.
"I guess," she said. "It's kind of strange for me, but I guess I do. Know. That you like me."
"You guess? I offered you a job. I followed you into a busy department store at Christmas," he said.
"You tried to buy me a coat," she countered.
"I tried to buy you a coat," he said. "I liked that you refused and disappeared, by the way."
She blushed again.
"I think we can go into the conference room now," she said. "They told Kim it's my birthday."
"That's what I suggest when I'm booked for one of these," said Handsome. "Throws the intended off any scent."
He followed her into the conference room which was stuffed with employees.
"SURPRISE!" called out Kim and the employee with aroma issues. He was not very discreet and they'd not let him in on the secret.
"Surprise yourself," said Kim's boyfriend who had told her he would love to stop by for a piece of birthday cake when she told him about the party.
It was all a blur as Handsome tossed down the briefcase and did his lock-on-love speech and Kim's boyfriend got down on one knee and Handsome opened the cases. The room was silent.
"Do we have to talk about this here?" said Kim. Every single person whipped their head to look at her.
"Excuse me?" said her boyfriend.
"Can't we talk about this later?" said Kim. "At my place? Tonight?"
"Uh," said the boyfriend.
"Tonight," hissed Kim and turned and walked out of the room. Seconds later, Kim's boyfriend headed for the door, looking upset.
Everyone looked at around at one another with just their eyes, each embarrassed to have seen that.
The silence was broken by the middle-aged lady who liked to wear spaghetti straps.
"Do you have a card?" she asked.
Handsome took a card from his pocket and gave it to her.
"Your last name is Stones?" she asked as if she were a 17-year-old flirt.
"Yes, that's my last name," he said sarcastically as he locked up the briefcases and walked out of the room back toward her office. She followed and closed the door.
"That's just the type who stalks me," said Handsome.
"That's just the type who likes to wear spaghetti straps that don't cover her bra straps," she said. "No one wants to see that at work."
She sat at her desk and watched Kevin pack up his Costco freezer bag.
"Has that ever happened before? The girlfriend refusing to answer?" she asked.
"Yes," said Handsome. "Not often. That's why the groom pays cash up front for my time."
"Oh," she said. "Very smart. It's too bad. The speech was very sweet. I wanted to see what else you had planned."
"Thanks," he said, continuing to pack.
"Kevin invited me to dinner," she said.
He stopped packing and looked at her.
"Please call him now," said Handsome. "While I'm standing here. We can set a date and I can relax."
She blushed again. He told her the number to dial.