Just a little bit longer. I can make it if I just hold on. My feet drag and eyelids refuse to stay open. But it’s just another block and then I’ll have my fix.
I notice the smell first, despite being twenty feet away. The bitter aroma infuses the air around me.
I can’t believe I’ve made it this long without a cup. The three a.m. wake up call courtesy of my overly stressed brain has taken its toll. I tried every position I could think of to get back to sleep. When that didn’t work I got up and started cleaning, hoping it would tire me out. No such luck. Before I knew what had happened it was seven and my kitchen sparkled like the day the remodel was finished.
Then I discovered the ancient relic I call a coffee machine died peacefully in its sleep.
Now I’m twenty minutes late and counting. But without a caffeine infusion I’ll be useless at the work site, so my little side trip to the over-priced cafe down the street is unavoidable.
A chorus of angels sings in my mind as I catch the first glimpse of my destination. A moment later my stomach drops. The place is packed. Through the windows I can see a long line winding through the storefront.
Just as I’m about to reach the door, a woman appears on the other side of the glass. Three trays full of coffee cups are stacked in one hand, a bag of bagels under her arm, the other hand fumbling with her wallet, keys and receipt. Any second I expect her to lose her load.
Picking up the pace I try to make it to the door in time to open it for her. It’s only a few steps, but I’m not fast enough. Pressing her very nice ass against the door, she pushes out, almost running straight into my chest.
“Oh, I’m so sorry! Please go ahead.” Her voice causes a physical reaction.
My lungs tighten, as do my pants as I grow to half mast. For Christ’s sake, I’m far from a teenage boy. I thought the days of trying to hide a boner in public were long gone. But that voice. Soft and breathy. If she hasn’t already, she should take up phone sex operator as a side gig. She’d make millions.
Laughing, I reach over her to take the door. “You’re the one juggling all that. I should be holding the door for you, not the other way around.”
She steps out from under me, I follow her onto the sidewalk. Her smile makes my non-caffeinated brain clear, and all of a sudden I have enough energy to run a marathon.
“Let me help you.” I reach out to take the trays from her hand.
“Oh no, you don’t have to do that, I’m just walking a couple blocks.”
I don’t bother listening to her, and instead remove the trays from her hand. In the transfer she almost drops the bagels, we both fumble to rescue the falling pastries. Somehow the bag of bagels ends up wedged between our hips, the trays of coffee balanced between my hands and the side of my face, her hands wrapped up in a purse I hadn’t seen before.
Her voice is nothing compared to her laugh. I’m suddenly very thankful for the stiff jeans keeping my disobedient dick from making himself known.
One wrong move will create a chain reaction and everything we’re holding will go flying. Glancing at her from the corner of my eye I can tell she’s trying to control her laughter.
“Okay, don’t move. I’m just going to grab this.” Twisting her torso around, she manages to get one hand free and grabs the bag of bagels. “Good now, you just stay still, and I’ll rearrange this.” She shifts the straps of her purse up to her shoulder, stashing her wallet and keys inside as she does. Then changing the bagels to her now free hand, she steadies the stack of trays while I straighten up, removing my cheek pressed to the plastic lids. Once we are situated she looks up at me and bursts out laughing again.“You have latte running down your face.”
My heart stops for an instant as she reaches up with her thumb to wipe away the warm liquid.
“Did it burn your skin?”
I open my mouth to answer her but words fail me, probably for the first time in my life. She is quite possibly the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in person.
She has dark brown, tightly spiraled hair pulled back into a ponytail, hazel eyes, skin the color of chocolate milk, and freckles spread over her perfect button nose and cheeks. In addition to the nice ass I noticed through the glass, she has a healthy hourglass figure with a chest I have to restrain myself from openly staring at.
“Hey, you okay?” The humor in her voice fades, replaced by real concern.
Be charming! Or at least speak! I admonish myself.
“What? Yea, I’m okay, no it didn’t burn. Or at least if it did I had too much adrenaline pumping from a coffee wielding maniac trying to attack me to notice.”
Slim fingers tuck an errant strand of hair behind her ear and she looks down in a show of shyness so adorable it makes me want to hook my finger under her chin and tilt her face back up. Thank God my hands are full.
“So where am I taking these?” I ask her, indicating the cups.
“Oh right. Um, just down this way. You sure you don’t mind?” She starts walking ahead of me and I try to concentrate on not watching the way her hips sway as she glides down the sidewalk.
“No problem. As a fellow caffeine addict I would hate for you to lose your stash. Although I think you should really see someone about this coffee hoarding problem you obviously have.”
Man I would do just about anything to keep hearing that laugh. Visions of holding down this girl, whose name I don’t even know, as I tickle her just to hear that laugh, flash behind my eyes.
All too soon she’s stopping outside the door of an art gallery that I must walk past a hundred times a week, but never really take notice of.
“This is me. And by the way, the coffee is for a meeting this morning, not all for me. Actually, I don’t even drink coffee.” Okay, she has one flaw. Everyone has to have at least one.
She pulls the door open and I’m greeted by a swarm of little old women snatching cups from the trays. Did one of them just pinched my butt? They return to a long table set up in the center of the room. Less than ten seconds and my hands are entirely empty.
“Well, um, thanks for the help. You don’t want to mess with a bunch of crazed quilters and their coffee.” That same strand of hair has come loose again, and she tucks it back once more.
My fingers twitch from wanting to be the one to do that. I shove them deep into my jeans pockets to make sure they don’t do anything to embarrass me. Now should be the time I make my exit, but I can’t. My mind whirls trying to find a reason to stay, find out her name, number, and what she’s doing tonight. And every night for the rest of her life.
“So is this your place?” Glancing around the space I can’t help being impressed. It’s huge, cavernous. White walls everywhere and quilts like I’ve never seen hanging every few feet. These are no Amish countryside blankets. The fabric is stitched together in a way that when you stand back a scene comes into focus. The closer you get to each piece the scene un-focuses, and it starts to look like a random jumble of shapes. But then take five steps back and it’s a girl standing on a hillside as the sun sets. Fabric and string, that’s all it is, but somehow I know the quilted girl is sad.
“Yup, this is my place. We just opened a few weeks ago.” Now rid of her armful of stuff, she comes to stand next to me, hands clasped behind her back.
From the corner of my eye I try to sneak a peek at her chest, displayed prominently thanks to the arch in her back caused by her stance. Sliding my attention to her beautiful face I discover she’s looking at me with an amused smile. Caught. Dammit.
“So, did these ladies make this one?” I’ll do anything to distract her from the fact that I was just caught staring at her tits. Even discuss quilting.
“No, this is mine. Actually all of these on this wall are mine. The opposite wall is my business partner.”
I openly gape at her now. “You did this? It’s amazing.” Walking a few feet to the next in the series I’m dumbstruck at her talent. This one is an extreme close up of a woman’s mouth, one corner of her bottom lip tucked up between gleaming white teeth. The fabric that makes her skin is a variety of tans and browns pieced together in a way that creates shadows and texture. “Is she biting her lip because she’s nervous? Or trying not to laugh?” Or turned-on? I want to ask, but don’t.
“What do you think?” She’s not being pretentious. The question comes out in a way that makes me think she honestly wants to know my opinion.
“I think she’s trying to decide if she’s going to go out with the guy she just met outside the coffee shop down the street.” I give her my best smile, but inside my heart is pounding, palms are sweating, and I think I might puke.
A gravelly voice, roughened from years of smoking I’m guessing, speaks up across the room, “Young man, that is no way to ask a woman out.”
This beautiful girl laughs, and I joining her. I want to hear every noise she makes. Every moan, whimper, sniffle.
I turn to the old woman heckling me and give her a half bow. “You’re right ma’am.” Turning back to–hell I don’t even know this girl’s name yet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Janessa.” The laughter is still visible in her eyes. And she’s biting her lip. Just like in the quilt portrait. I look between it and her. Those are her lips.
I look up and down the line of quilts. They’re all her. I want to buy every one of them on the spot, sleep under them every night. Be surrounded by her when I wake up. What is wrong with me?
Turning back to her I notice a slight pink hint to her cheeks. “Janessa. Will you please do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner tonight?” Our audience isn’t helping my nerves one bit.
“Well Mac, I can’t do dinner tonight.”
My disappoint drops like a rock to the pit of my stomach. Nodding, I break our eye contact, staring at the my shoes instead.
“These young ladies have paid for a full day workshop, but we’ll be wrapped up by seven, would you settle for dessert and a drink?” I can hear the smile in her voice.
Just like that the rock in my stomach disappears, replaced by helium filling my body, threatening to make me float off into the atmosphere.
“Dessert sounds good. I’ll meet you back here at seven?”
She just nods, biting that lip again.