Cade saw the top of her head, her red halo of thick hair before he saw her sitting down on the bench. Her face was turned away from him, she was staring at something beyond the activity in the park and he wondered what she was thinking. He'd been wondering a lot about her, the last couple of days. Too much, which he didn't want to admit, even to himself. She was dressed casually as promised in regular black jeans and white Converses and was wearing a blouse with a beige cardi and was clutching a jacket. She looked ethereal. She must have sensed him staring at her and turned round that minute, her face was void of make-up, which shocked him. Not in a bad way of course, in a good way. It made him think of what she would look like when she woke in the morning. He approached her and she stood up.
"Sorry I'm late," they both say simultaneously and they both laughed.
"Are you ready to go?" Cade smiles.
"Sure, what have you got planned?" Amber asks, as she follows Cade out of the park.
"I hope you like to get your hands dirty," Cade quipped.
"Dirty? I'm not sure if I like the sound of that," Amber says hesitantly.
"Trust me, you'll enjoy it," Cade smiles, "I've just parked my car outside, they're expecting us in half an hour."
"Who's expecting us in half an hour?" Amber says as she gets into the Audi.
"When you said I was going to get my hands dirty, I didn't realise you meant this..." Amber smiled in glee, as she looked up at the giraffe who was currently eating acacia leaves from her hands.
"Well, I wasn't about to tell you we were going to the zoo, was I? It would spoil the surprise," Cade smiled. He too was participating in the activities.
"So how do you get an 'in' in here?" Amber asked.
"I used to work here," Cade replied, "This was my first job, the pay wasn't great but I didn't mind. I love working with animals."
"Who doesn't. So what do you do for a living as you don't obviously work here anymore?" Amber asked.
"I work as a senior writer at a magazine," Cade replied.
"Oh yeah and how did you know passion was the thing for you, when you thought animals were?" Amber asked.
"I kind of fell into it... I mostly get shoved into most things without a bare thought and it worked for me, been with it ever since," Cade replied.
"So, you mostly fall into things... are most of the things you've fallen into, been worth it?" Amber asked.
"Yes, I'd say so. What's the point of sitting back and not taking the risks? There's just no point in living. We'd all be going snail trail otherwise." Cade replied, he watched as his words sunk in and her face went slack and then her complexion turned another shade of pale, "Are you okay?"
"Fine, why wouldn't I be?" she replied, a bit too quickly. She was on her guard, he could tell... which only made him that more curious, "What's next?"
"That's up to you, the birds, the penguins..." Cade smiled.
"Great, can't wait!" Amber said genuinely.
A few hours later, Amber watched as Cade said goodbye to his friends at London Zoo. It had been a momentous day for sure, the weather was beautiful and warm and she had been welcomed into the zoo, like she'd worked there prior to her visit. They were so welcoming and accommodating and she found herself warming towards all of them. She'd especially watched Cade's interaction with the older members of the team and knew instantly that he was a gentle person. She'd especially observed the way he was with the animals, he was gentle as gentle gets and it did something funny inside her.
She had been won over by his finesse as well, when it came to lunch, he'd asked her to meet him outside the butterfly house. Standing like an awkward teenager, she'd waited ten minutes and he'd arrived with a brown paper bag.
"I brought a tuna melt and a chicken pesto panini with two cokes and a water, you can choose whatever you want and I'll have what's left over," Cade had said, "I hope you don't mind having lunch in the butterfly house. Something exciting to watch whilst we mull over lunch."
Of course, Amber was starving. She had forgotten about her food as she had been mesmerised by how beautiful the butterflies were. The butterfly house was more like a green house stationed away from the main zoo, there were tropical butterflies and British varieties but Amber was in awe at how beautiful it all was. She couldn't help but look at the man sitting beside her, getting stuck into the tuna melt. The day was going from strength to strength and in a very long time, she was optimistic. She was curious about the man, who wouldn't be. This was a first of many firsts and she couldn't quite contain herself. She couldn't lie to herself, she was drawing comparisons... comparisons to Rick. Yet Cade blew Rick right out of the water on 'first dates'. A bar and restaurant just didn't compete with feeding the animals at London Zoo and then having lunch in the butterfly house. She was seeing a whole different side to this man, someone she was willing to invest more time in.
"Ready to go?" Cade said, breaking into Amber's thoughts.
She nodded back and he guided her outside, towards the car. It was five in the afternoon, a bit too early for dinner and her stomach growled.
"You hungry? You didn't eat much at lunch," Cade commented.
"I couldn't," Amber replied, "I was distracted by the butterflies. I loved the butterflies."
"You can always come back if you want," Cade offered.
"I'd like that," Amber smiled back. She was silent for a while, before she spoke up again, "Thank you."
"Thank you for what?" Cade asked, as he opened the passenger door of his car.
"For the experience, for the butterflies... you don't know... how..." the words were lost on her.
Cade smiled, "Don't thank me just yet, the day isn't over. I noticed you didn't really eat much food- my fault really, the butterflies and all, do you fancy a Shawarma?"
"Those greasy things on a stick?" Amber asked.
"Trust me, you don't know what you're missing," Cade smiled, as he shut the door after her.
Amber watched as Cade was greeted by the restaurant owner and his staff with open arms, or more or less a big bear hug. They directed him to a quiet table in the corner by a fire place where Turkish trinkets hung from the ceiling and comfy cushions were adorned all over the seats. Amber felt like she'd stepped into a whole different country.
"They seem to know you in here," she commented.
"I wrote an article about this place and they've had full on business since then," Cade smiled, "I can guarantee that whatever you order on the menu, will be the best Turkish food you have ever eaten. You must be starving."
"I am actually, what's good here?" Amber asked.
"Everything..." Cade replied.
"That really narrows it down Cade," Amber laughed.
"Would you like me to order several platters and you can eat off all of them?" Cade offered.
"Please," Amber smiled, "What are you drinking?"
"I usually have a beer or some red wine for the meat, but I'm driving, so it'll be some water... but on my account, please order something," Cade smiled.
"I'll have water too," and she put down the menu.
"So Amber, tell me something that most people don't know about you?" Cade asked.
"What is it you want to know?" Amber said hesistantly.
"Well, that's why I asked the question... to get to know you," Cade replied gently, "Okay, I'll let you in on a secret... I don't dislike you."
Amber laughed, "That's a relief."
"I hope you didn't go into this date thinking I disliked you surely?" Cade leaned forward, clasping his hands together and watching her.
"We didn't exactly start on the same page, did we? How is Bryan by the way?" Amber asked.
"Bryan's fine..." Cade didn't really want to talk about his mate who was currently dating one of his co-workers. One of the waiters approached them and he gave them their order and they were left alone.
"I wanted to apologise to Bryan that night, y'know when he tried to talk to me... to apologise for my behaviour, you were right, sometimes I just don't know, I just can't see... I'm not a very good judge of character... I know that all too well..." Amber looked down at her hands, why was she even going down that road? She tried to will away the tears and looked up to see Cade's hand by her face, she flinched back as if his touch scolded her. The look of terror in her eyes.
"I wasn't going to hurt you Amber... I just wanted you to look at me," Cade said gently, disturbed by the look in her eyes.
"Where are the bathrooms?" Amber said on her feet.
"Just through the double doors there," Cade frowned, "Are you okay?"
Amber nodded and wove her way towards the bathrooms.
Cade was rifling through his emails when Amber returned to her seat.
"Sorry about that," she apologised.
"Don't be, I hope everything is okay?" Cade asked.
"I hope so," Amber said.
"Would you like to talk about it? I'm a good listener, I might be able to help. I would like to think we were established friends now," Cade offered.
Amber's smile was grim, "It's all I ever do... is talk about it... for once in my life I just want to forget about it... everything. Have you ever been like that?"
"Sure, haven't we all... but I tend to tackle things head on, I just don't like festering... festering is what kills it for me. Sometimes the best course of action is accepting it," Cade offered.
"How do you accept something that was beyond your control but it still manages to resonate with you... I still feel as lost as ever... you're probably wasting your time sitting here with me with this nutcase, me!"
"If it was beyond your control before, then you'd have to get control of it now, you've just got to get back in the driving seat... no bullshitting..."
"Even if I'm a victim of domestic abuse and he left me for dead... almost," Amber bravely said, interrupting Cade's advice.