“No worries, I remember everything you had.” He shrugs his shoulders while quickly typing out a list on his expensive-looking, touchscreen phone.
I nervously bounce on my feet, feeling uncomfortable with this favor. “Can you ask him to put my groceries in a paper bag, please?”
“Of course, they always put them in bags,” he says, only half paying attention to me.
“No, it needs to be a paper bag, not plastic,” I state adamantly, causing him to look up from his phone.
“Okay… no plastic, understood.” He eyes me curiously, but there is no way I’ll be explaining that one. As he slides his phone into his back pocket, he looks down into my eyes. “I’m Jace, by the way. Sorry about my earlier introduction,” he says apologetically.
When he wraps his arm around my shoulders, I smile inwardly at his forwardness. “I’m Audrey… Audrey Mills,” I reply. As we walk toward the café, I tease, “Are we just getting coffee so you can get out of shopping?”
He dramatically brings his free hand up to his chest and gasps, “Whatever do you mean? Me? A guy? Get out of shopping? Never!” He’s the one teasing me now.
A laugh bubbles up out of my throat. “Alright, alright, I get it. Boys don’t like shopping.”
When we approach the door, he reaches out and opens it for me. I’ve never been around someone who acts like a gentleman before. I didn’t know guys like this really existed. When I smile up at him on my way through the door, I silently thank him.
“If you want to go shopping, babe, I’ll take you right now. I figured I just met this beautiful girl and I’d rather get to know her instead of shopping at a lame grocery store,” he responds with a sly grin on his face.
I point my finger at his chest. “You’re a charmer, you know that? I should watch myself around you.” He winks at me and continues to pull us along toward the counter. This is another thing on my long list of ‘Never Have I Evers.’ I’ve never been in a café. There doesn’t seem to be a point in going inside when you can’t afford anything. I understand that a café sells coffee, but the menu board seems to have a thousand different drinks that I have never even heard of. I’m seeing words like ‘Frappuccino,’ ‘Macchiato,’ and ‘Americano,’ all of which are lost on me. I was already starting to doubt whether or not I fit in here, but this just confirms it. Quickly, I scan the board so I can just order something, anything.
As I stand, lost and confused, I feel his warmth as he comes up behind me. “Let me pick your drink. I see an open leather chair over there you should go and snag,” he says, as he points over to the crowded seating area.
“I’ve got you covered. Now go grab that seat,” he says with a wink, avoiding my question. It’s embarrassing that he can tell how out of place I am here, but I delight in the idea of him taking control of the situation. I can let him do that.
I sidestep through the crowded café. A study group takes up the only section of tables and chairs. The rest of the room is filled with leather chairs for lounging. I assume that all of these people attend the local community college because they have advanced textbooks and laptops out. Not to mention, the high schools aren’t back in session yet.
When I get to the leather seat Jace had pointed out for me, I realize it’s the only seat available. I stare down at it, wondering if I should sit in it or let him have it. I mean, he’s already paying for my mystery drink and groceries.
“You realize that’s just a chair, right?” he whispers into my ear from behind, mimicking his earlier comment about my groceries.
“You should have it,” I gesture toward it. “I’m alright standing.”
“Sit,” he softly commands and I obey, slightly bemused by this hold he has on me.
He pulls the wooden coffee table across the tile floor to the front of my chair and sits on it, facing me. I’m surprised the small table can handle his large frame, but it seems to be holding up well.
I’m keenly aware of how close he’s sitting, and even though this place is packed with chatting people, I feel like it’s only him and me. His knees brush the outside of mine and he squeezes my legs together between his. When I look up, I see he’s watching me as I observe our legs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not new to this flirting game, but with him it’s actually exciting.
We sit there staring at one another and shockingly, it isn’t uncomfortable or awkward. It’s as if we’re having a silent conversation, getting to know one another in this intimate, inaudible way. His eyes seem as if they’re peering into mine, trying to discover all of my secrets that are hidden in the darkest of depths. I hope he never has to know those secrets, although I would love to be comfortable enough with someone to finally divulge all of my thoughts. It sounds quite freeing, to be honest.
Jace smiles perceptively, and when the waitress brings our drinks out, his eyes finally leave my face. He reaches up to her tray and brings a mug and a water bottle down in between us. When he hands me the mug, I stare at the caramel-colored drink that has a frothy-like white top. It still feels a bit too warm to drink, so I place it on the table next to Jace to allow it to cool down. I look up when I can practically feel him laughing at me.
“No you don’t.” He laughs again. “You’re a coffee house virgin, aren’t you?” When I don’t respond, he gives me a sweet smile. Not one that is meant to ridicule, but just one that shows he’s trying to figure me out. “That’s cool, I’m glad I could be your first.”
My eyes bug out at his innuendo and I finally begin to laugh at myself. “I’m pathetic, aren’t I? I mean, who has never been to a coffee house?”
“Not at all, I’m finding you refreshing.”
His comment makes me blush, so I decide to change the subject. “How old are you?” I’m assuming he’s in high school because of the shirt he’s wearing, but it could just be from a past year. I watch as he takes a long pull from his water bottle and for some reason, the up and down movement of his throat as he swallows continuously mesmerizes me. Would it be weird to put my lips on his neck right now?
“No shit? So did I. What day?”
He points to himself and says, “The thirteenth, beat you by a day!” His smile is infectious. “So what’s a gorgeous, eighteen year-old girl like you doing buying whiskey?” he asks, smirking.
I make a disgusted face. “I don’t drink, it’s for my dad.” I resolve to leave it at that. Telling him that I buy my dad liquor in the hopes that he won’t beat the crap out of me is not something I plan on sharing.
“You don’t drink? Seems like every high school kid around here does. I like that. I don’t touch the stuff either,” he says with a smile.
I’m assuming that we don’t indulge for vastly different reasons. I don’t drink because I’ve seen what it can do to a person and I’ve smelled the horror on my dad’s breath one too many times.
Fortunately, he doesn’t dig any deeper, instead asking, “So, did you just pay Oliver off like everyone else?”
“Pay him off? No, he doesn’t ask me to pay him,” I reply, confused.
If I had to pay the guy any more than what I already spend there, I wouldn’t be able to afford anything besides the whiskey. Without thinking, I reach into my purse, grab my cherry-vanilla chapstick, and spin the bottom. As I slide the balm against my lips, Jace’s eyes follow the trail.
“That jackass makes everybody pay him…” I watch him pause as I rub my lips together and he begins to study me. “Well… I guess you would be an exception.” His legs squeeze mine a little tighter.
Together we sit and talk for what seems like hours. We talk about future college plans and how boring high school is. We even have a debate over whether reading an actual book is better than reading from a device. I was rooting for the actual paper and spine book, but he trumped me by pulling out his smart phone and showing me how he had over two hundred books right in his back pocket.
Who would have thought a guy in high school would actually enjoy talking about books? I almost reach to grab his face in that moment, so I grab my drink instead and take the first sip.
Oh, that’s nice. I’ve never tasted anything like this before. It’s definitely not that black sludge my dad brews every morning. Although it’s long since cooled to a tepid temperature, the flavor is sweet and slightly spicy at the same time. Now I wish Jace hadn’t introduced this to me, because I’ll be lusting after this drink every time I pass this place in the future.
“This is fantastic!” I think I’m a little too excited over a drink, so I try to tone down the enthusiasm. “Great choice,” I say and smile up at him.
He watches me intently again. “Must be a chick thing. My mom always gets me to pick that up for her when I’m down here. I’m sure she’ll be proud to know it helped me pick up a girl.”
“Oh, is that what this is… a pick-up?” I ask, while trying to tamper down my obnoxious smile.
“Damn straight.” He leans down so our faces are only inches apart, and I can feel his breath lightly teasing my lips. In a low but firm whisper, he says, “I like you, Audrey. I plan to take you out and kiss you goodnight over and over until you agree to let me do it all again the next night.”
I stay there, not daring to move an inch, in hopes that he’ll lean in and put me out of my misery, because his lips are entirely too tempting to be that close. I silently implore him to show me just one of those kisses he’s talking about. As if on cue, a loud buzzing begins to vibrate between us and I jump back, startled.
“Easy, gorgeous…” he says, his voice sounding a bit breathless. Maybe I’m not the only one affected here. “It’s just my phone.” He pulls it out and I watch as his fingers slide and tap continuously on the screen. “My brother put your groceries in the truck. He had to go into the bookstore.”
“I should really get going anyway. My parents are expecting me, and I don’t want the milk to get warm…” I trail off because I can feel the start of my nervous rambling, and let’s be honest, my parents are never expecting me.
I nod my head and stand. Will I ever see her again? Does she want to see me again? Hell, I already sound like a whimpering, lovesick puppy. You would wreck this girl, Jace. She just seems so fragile, yet deep in her eyes I can see fierceness, and damn if I don’t want to unleash that.
When I grab her hand and lace my fingers through hers, she stands without hesitation and allows me to lead the way. I can’t even remember the last time I held hands with a girl. She seems to like when I take control though. I walk her back out to my truck, quicker than I mean to. I need to drag out this time I have with her.
“Do you need a ride home?” Please say ‘yes.’ I click the key fob and open the back passenger door, and then she reaches in to grab her paper sack. I want to ask her so many questions, like why paper? Is she an environmentalist? Does she not want to clog our landfills with more plastic? Because she seemed so adamant about it, almost as if she was frightened, and that’s the only conclusion I can come to right now.
“No, I’m just around the corner.”
I have to keep touching her, and I am not a touchy-feely guy. Who the hell is this girl? She has to be a witch. That has to be it. She must have cast a spell on me, because it’s the only way I can vouch for my actions around her. Christ, stop touching the poor girl! I can’t help myself, so I place my hands on her shoulders to keep her from leaving just yet. Shoulders are a safe-zone, right? I’m pretty sure I can still touch her here and it isn’t inappropriate.
“Can I have your number?” I ask, trying to recall the last time I actually had to ask a girl. Probably never, and even if I did, I sure as hell never called them. But she’s leaving and I’m panicking.
“No, but can I have yours?” she counters and smiles confidently up at me. Fuck, I’ll bet that smile gets her anything she wants.
I’m puzzled as to why she won’t give up her number, but I realize I have to go slow with this one. ‘Approach with Caution’ should be taped across her chest. Wait… screw that. Nobody better be touching that chest, except for me.
She continues smiling at me while I give her a half-cocked, questioning look as if to say, ‘What are you up to?’ I decide to let her have her way, reaching behind her into the truck to grab my notebook that has a pen tucked inside the metal spiral. She watches as I write my seven digits onto the lined paper and then tear it from the binding.
After I fold it into a small square, I think of another way I can touch her. Pathetic, I know. She’s still glancing at my hands holding the paper when I reach down and slowly slide it into her front jeans pocket, feeling the heat of her skin through the fabric. Damn, so close yet so far away. When my hand slips from the confines of the pocket, she releases a trapped breath. I’m willing to bet she liked that about as much as I did.
I instantly cup her face firmly in between my hands, because I need her full attention. “You don’t get to ditch me. I want to see you again.” I hope that the sincerity of my statement is getting through to those beautiful brown eyes.