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Now was one of those moments when she got truly engrossed in the magic of the paintings that seemed to have become the only walls she saw whenever she visited the gallery. Fanny's art gallery was two streets away from the grand Bodleian Library not far from Mirabel's apartment. For a lady like her, it was easy to picture herself interacting with the stories the artists depicted through their works. She only had to stare at a particular painting and she would create a version of her own little tale that was solely experienced in the thrilling world of her mind.
Just when she was at the rim of her plot, Mirabel was interrupted and forced to exit her dreamy estate as she felt the light weight of something on her shoulder.
When she realized it was someone trying to gain her attention, she turned to look at who it was.
"You seem to be lost in this painting. I'm Raphael," said a young man who looked about 5 years older than Mirabel.
"Mirabel," she said as she stared at his outstretched hand without any reciprocal response.
Seeing her silent refutation, Raph withdrew his hand and joined it with his other hand behind his back.
"I noticed you are quite interested in this work. Are you familiar with the artists and the interpretations of the paintings here?" he asked.
"No, I barely come here to indulge myself," she said with a straight expression. Raph already started laughing at her unintended sarcasm. "Though I know the names of the ones I really like," Mimi continued. "Like this one," she pointed at a painting that was two frames away from the one in front of her.
Without bothering to extend the conversation any further, Mimi began fidgeting with her purse as though she wanted to leave to somewhere else. It was her deliberate attempt to get him out of her way.
Raph observed it and impulsively asked, "Do you mind me having your number?"
Feeling slightly unnerved and puzzled as to why he could even notice her, Mimi replied slightly agitated, "You know you can't really expect me to oblige when I barely know you," she said, her face wearing a stern look.
Raph shifted uncomfortably on his feet as he feared he might've given off the wrong impression. Mirabel was a very rare occurrence for Raph, and he had no clue what kind of courage had possessed him to ask for her number. So, he quickly apologized to her, not wanting to offend her.
"I'm sorry. I really do not do this... talking to women randomly, and I don't know why I felt drawn to say something to you, but here I am," Raph said rapidly, concerned about keeping the conversation as amiable as possible.
When she didn't respond immediately, he looked away for the first time since seeing her; an involuntary gesture because for all he knew, this lady in front of him seemed like a beckoning aura of serenity he couldn't resist. He could hardly believe he had approached her. Feeling betrayed by his own feet, he looked down to stare at them wondering what enchantment had overcome them to walk up to her.
"This feels awkward," Mimi said quietly as she broke the silence. All the while she studied his face and his bowed head.
Raph's eyebrows shut up and he hastily responded, "Forgive me." He had barely noticed he was quiet for more than one minutes. "I'm probably invading your peace. But can you consider me a friend at least?" He asked tentatively with a weary smile that said he feared her rejection as much as the probability of not seeing her again. "I had no intention of coming off rude, and I won't ask for your contact again, but I have a strong feeling I will meet you here again. I hope I do," he continued before she could answer his question.
Somehow, Raph knew he couldn't stand the thought of never meeting Mirabel again. And so he silently prayed in his heart for a second encounter.
"I think you misjudge my reaction," Mimi said as she smiled lightly on seeing his hesitance and gentle manner. "I'm not offended, I just seem to never get used to strangers approaching me... Not that I feel insecure or anything like that... I just..." Mimi gave a jerky laugh as she realized she was babbling and being unusually open to a total stranger. "Yes we can be friends, we were never enemies in the first place," She said with a genuine smile.
He chuckled and jovially rubbed the back of his neck, feeling more at ease than 5 minutes ago. Hearing those words was such a relief for Raph, a feeling that was quite foreign to him especially since he hardly concerned himself with women. It wasn't that he had a negative perception of them, he just rarely saw himself being drawn to anyone. But this woman that seemed to radiate light in the simple way she watched those paintings, gave Raph a sense of being in a unique ether.
"There you are..." James called out from a distance. "I thought it was someone else talking to this fine lady. Raph, what happened to you? Are you unwell?" James teased as he got closer to his friend.
Apparently, only a few like James knew about Raph's seeming disinterest in female friends. However, only James knew it was mostly as a result of not meeting anyone that gave him a true spark, so to say. So he would often say to James, "It's hard to find a good woman these days." And James would reply, "The ladies might just think you hate 'em, and if I wasn't your friend I'd think it's simply symptoms of heartbreak. You have to give them a chance sometimes you know."