Doc Rafe was mesmerized.
Long, blonde hair hung in gentle waves, tickling the small of her back, and a pretty floral skirt flared out below it. Lithe, honey-colored legs peeked out beneath that. She spoke softly to the barista, the words “coconut milk mocha macchiato” tinkled from her mouth like notes from a wind chime, and he mouthed the words in tandem as he stared at her plump, strawberry lips.
He hadn’t had a sip of coffee yet, but his heart was racing as he watched her like he’d downed a pot of dark roast and followed it with an espresso chaser, the organ threatening to launch itself out of his body.
He watched her dainty, ringless fingers pull a credit card from a tiny pocketbook she had strapped across her body, and her long, bare, golden arm stretched to hand the card to the barista. She held it out awkwardly, almost touching the cashier’s nose, and Rafe tilted his head in curiosity. The barista swiped the card and handed it back to her, carefully placing it in her outstretched hand. Rafe noticed the girl rub her fingers carefully across the raised lettering on the card before placing it back in her pocketbook.
She took a step to the side, and Rafe did a double-take as a cream-colored Labrador retriever stepped out from behind the legs of the customer behind her. The girl’s left hand held tightly to the dog’s harness.
Rafe’s eyes quickly swept up and down the length of her, admiring her feminine curves and hovering briefly on the dog before zeroing in on her face. Her makeup was perfectly applied, blush rouging her peach cheeks and mascara and eyeshadow highlighting her wide eyes — eyes that, in profile, appeared perfectly normal.
A woman coughed behind her, and her face turned briefly towards Rafe, her bright blue eyes staring right at him. The look stunned him, the delicate features of her heart-shaped face more appealing than any other countenance he’d ever laid eyes on. He smiled widely in response, but she didn’t react, and her eyes took on a faraway gaze before she turned her head back towards the counter.
Rafe gaped at her. Was she blind?
The barista called out the name CeCe, and the woman lifted her hand in expectation, her fingers wrapping firmly around the coffee cup as the barista placed it in her outstretched fingers.
“CeCe,” Rafe whispered, letting the repeating syllable of her name wisp through his teeth like a prayer. He wondered if the name was short for Cecilia, like the patron saint of the blind. Was she blind from birth and that’s why her parents named her that? Rafe felt an almost-irresistible urge to ask her about it.
His own name, Rafael, meant “God the healer”, and it was given to him at his naming ceremony when the Dominion of the Celestia Divisa confirmed he had the gift of healing, just like his father, Rafal. Both DiAngelo men were general physicians. His last name meant angel, just like the surnames of every other Celestia Divisa, the half-angel, half-human beings that God had placed on the earth to help humans in need.
Since “Doctor Rafael DiAngelo” was a pretentious mouthful in his opinion, he preferred the moniker “Doc Rafe.” But the importance of names in his community made him automatically confer meaning on the names of those around him, even if regular humans didn’t usually place the same kind of importance on them when they gave names to their children. Names were a hobby of his, and his tendency to assign meaning to the names of those around him an annoying presumption, according to his sister, Elethea.
Rafe couldn’t help it if he found it fascinating how the meaning of a person’s name took on a life of its own, even if the name was given at random. Maybe he could do a better job of keeping his mouth shut instead of commenting on it every time, but he found it was a good ice breaker, and it gave his patients something to focus on besides the pain of their illness or injury.
The girl turned at the sound of her name on his lips, and she stared blankly in front of her, waiting for the speaker to approach her. Rafe couldn’t resist the opportunity, and he stepped from the line to join her at the condiment station. She set down her coffee, and her fingers trailed along the counter as if searching for something.
“Can I help you find something? Sugar, creamer?”
A hint of irritation passed across her features, and Rafe winced.
“I don’t think the drink could possibly need to be sweeter,” she replied tartly, “and I can find it just fine on my own if it does.”
As soon as CeCe realized the voice belonged to a stranger, her hackles raised. Why had he said her name? Strangers approaching her always made her a little nervous, especially when their intentions were unclear. His offer to help her seemed innocent enough, though, and his deep voice vibrated like a guitar being strummed. She immediately felt bad for sniping at him.
“Sorry, that was rude. You were just trying to help,” she apologized, her voice softening, the wind chime returning.
Rafe chuckled as she bit her lip and pinched her brows in guilt. “It’s all right, you haven’t had your dose of caffeine and sugar yet, I completely understand. I’m usually a bear till the second cup.”
Her face relaxed and she smiled at him, taking a sip of her macchiato to settle her nerves.
“I’m Rafe; you’re CeCe?” he asked, enjoying the opportunity to stare openly at her lovely face. He wondered how a blind woman managed to look so put together. Did someone help her?
“Yes,” she said, and he noticed that she nodded like most people did when answering in the affirmative. It struck him as odd. If she was born blind, would she know to do that? Maybe someone had taught her to, in order to seem more normal.
“Is that short for Cecilia? Mine is short for Rafael.”
She tilted her head. No one had ever asked her that before. “No, it’s just what I go by.” For some reason, she found herself wanting to explain. “My family always called me sissy. It eventually turned into CeCe. I guess I liked that better than my real name… Hazel.”
“Hazel,” he repeated, trying to match the old-fashioned name to the beautiful, young girl in front of him. It just didn’t fit. “It’s—”
“Not a very nice name.” She wrinkled her nose. “Maybe if I had hazel eyes or something, but last I knew, they were blue.”
“It means ‘one who sees God’,” Rafe replied, resisting the urge to tell her how beautiful those blue eyes were.
CeCe tilted her head again, intrigued. How did he know that?
“I like names,” he explained. “I teach a class in onomastics at the university. It’s the study of names.”
“You’re a professor?” she asked, the well-respected profession suddenly putting her more at ease.
“Adjunct. There’s not a big demand for my areas of expertise.”
“What other things do you teach?” she surprised herself by asking.
Rafe’s face split in a giant smile at her interest, one he would be embarrassed by if she could see him. “There’s an open table nearby. Would you like to sit down so we can chat?”
She took a sip of her coffee and smirked at him. “Aren’t you going to get something to drink?”
An uncontrollable laugh burst out from him. “How did you know I hadn’t ordered?”
She chuckled. “I have my own talents. Go ahead and order; I’ll wait.”
Rafe gave another huge smile and wondered if she could sense it. “Can I lead you to the table?”
CeCe nodded and handed him her coffee. Once he took it, she trailed her fingers gently up his arm. Her hand slid up his firm forearm and settled above his elbow, her fingers wrapping around the crook. She could tell he was wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt, freshly starched. The smooth stiffness of the fabric made CeCe think it was a high-quality material. He cared about his appearance. She wondered if he was handsome. It didn’t matter much to her, but she knew how important it was to most people.
Rafe walked slowly towards the empty table, enjoying the warmth of her hand on him and the closeness of her body. He set her coffee down and pulled out a chair, and she slid her hand down his arm till her fingers found his, wrapped around the back of it. She settled gracefully into the seat and reached for the coffee.
“The line’s not long; I’ll be back in just a minute.” He was hesitant to leave her.
“I’m fine,” she assured him, and bent down to pat her service animal.
Rafe stepped quickly to the counter and took a brief glance at the menu before ordering. He normally ordered something simple, but today he felt inspired. “I’ll have a tall blonde roast, with a shot of hazelnut.” He heard CeCe giggle at his order.
Within moments, he was back at her table, sliding into the seat across from her.
“You were going to tell me about the classes you teach,” she said, and Rafe was impressed by her initiation. She was demure but not shy, comfortable in her own skin, despite her disability.
“I mostly teach religious studies; the onomastics is more of a hobby.” Rafe took a sip of his coffee — the sweet, hazelnut syrup a delectable addition to his morning routine. Just like the girl in front of him.
“Religious studies? Do you teach about all of them, or just… certain ones?”
Rafe smiled at her attempt to be politically correct. “Christianity, primarily, although I do teach a comparative class. I also teach a few classes on angels.”
CeCe quirked an eyebrow. “Do you believe in angels?” she asked sincerely.
“Most definitely.” Rafe smiled over his coffee. “I’m staring at one, aren’t I?” He might be the one with angel blood, but she certainly looked like an angel.
CeCe blushed and rolled her eyes at the cheesy pick-up line.
“CeCe, is it okay for me to ask — are you totally blind, or do you just have low vision?”
“It’s okay. Everyone always asks. I can’t see anything.” She sipped her own drink, and the steam floated around her face like a heavenly cloud.
“Were you born blind?”
CeCe clenched at the familiar question. The story of how she became blind wasn’t one she felt comfortable sharing with just anyone. “No. I lost my sight when I was four. I have… memories… of being able to see.” Her eyes drifted as she remembered random bits and pieces.
Rafe sensed her reluctance to explain further and didn’t press for more information. “So, what do you do?” he asked, changing the subject.
CeCe pulled back, surprised by the question and the fact that he didn’t ask about the cause of her blindness. She quirked her lip in a smile of appreciation. Most people didn’t think twice about asking for what she considered very private information, and most people assumed that, since she was blind, she couldn’t do much of anything. With Rafe’s soothing voice, his impressive resume, and his thoughtful nature, CeCe felt an unexpected rush of attraction.
She’d never had a real relationship with a guy before, even though she knew men found her attractive. Her sister, Jessica, who always made sure CeCe looked her best, told her how men stared at her pretty face and nice figure. But her blindness was a barrier most men weren’t willing to cross to be with her, and no one had ever pursued a serious relationship.
It wasn’t uncommon for people to approach her, offering to help, but it wasn’t usually charming, young professors with sexy voices, and they didn’t usually stick around long enough for interesting conversations over coffee.
She shook her head, trying to recover from the surprising emotional reaction. “I give motivational speeches at schools and such. I talk about living a full and satisfying life no matter what the circumstances,” she explained. “I do a lot of volunteer work at different places, and I teach Sunday school.”
“You really are an angel!” Rafe quipped, but his heart puffed with emotion. A lot of women were beautiful on the outside, but not many were just as beautiful on the inside.
“I’m just trying to show people that life is precious and has value.”
“That’s an impressive attitude, CeCe, especially for someone living with a disability.”
She stiffened at the word she detested, despising the way people assumed she was somehow “less than” just because she wasn’t the same as them.
“I’ve said something wrong and I’m sorry,” Rafe responded immediately to her body’s reaction.
His apology instantly softened her tight shoulders. She didn’t even realize her response was visible. “It’s not just you, it’s everyone.” She sighed. “No one thinks about how it feels to be labeled as disabled. It makes me feel worthless, subpar. I hate it.”
“I’m sorry, CeCe. You’re right, it’s a thoughtless label and I shouldn’t use it. Can you please forgive me? I definitely don’t think of you as subpar.” His voice dropped to a husky murmur. “In fact, you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met.”
She blushed, and bit her lip, quickly taking a sip of her coffee to hide her reaction.
Rafe could see her cheeks redden above her coffee cup, and his own body suddenly grew warm. No one would ever call him shy, but he wasn’t usually so forward with women. There was just something about this one that had him fascinated.
The emotion hovered between them for a silent moment before CeCe broke the spell with a quiet “Thank you.”
Rafe glanced at his watch and winced. He longed to stay here and gaze at her angelic face and listen to the soft music of her voice for as long as she’d let him, but he had appointments with patients in less than 30 minutes, and a class to teach at the university tonight. For once, he regretted his hectic lifestyle.
“CeCe, I have to leave soon, but could I have your number? I’d really like to see you again.”
She nodded, still dazed by the compliment, and rattled off the digits. He was pretty amazing, too, and she definitely wouldn’t mind seeing him again, either.
Copyright Kellie McAllen. All Rights Reserved.