“Welcome to the Café on Seventh,” I say, greeting the couple who’s walked up to the podium near the entrance. The girl is holding the guy’s arm for dear life, and he has the cheesiest grin on his face. Seeing people in love makes my stomach roll. “Two?” My eyebrows arch at the question, bringing the sides of mouth up with them into a fake smile.
They nod together, in unison, like they are two bodies joined into one. Fucking gag me now.
Taking two menus from the adjacent shelf, I motion for them. “Follow me this way.”
When I’ve reached their table, which is located at the back in the corner with a good view of the beach, I pull their chairs out and wait for them to sit before placing the menus in front of them. See, I’m not a complete son of a bitch. “Your server will be right with you.” I walk away, shrugging and wondering how I got sucked into hosting today. Sometimes I think my father does shit like this on purpose just to piss me off, to let me know he owns me, and that my pay grade doesn’t mean that I’m above the staff. If it weren’t for my mother, I would have given up a long time ago, but I’ve always been a momma’s boy, and the bistro was started by her grandparents. It’s been in the family a long time, and she expects me to continue it. Even still, I think about opening my own place every day. Sometimes every minute, and on really bad days, it’s the only thing that that goes through my mind every second.
The only good thing that comes from hosting at our new location here in the Oceanside Mall is people watching. It’s always been one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve never been one to talk a lot, but more of an observer. There’s a lot that can be learned from just looking at how others behave. Even when I’m not hosting, it’s hard to not see what’s going on outside the walls of this place. The entire front is windows. Cleaning them is a bitch, and my father makes me do that shit way too often too. The bistro is located just inside the main entrance.
I make my way back to the front of the restaurant glancing at where the center of the mall floor is open, so the lower level is visible. Benches situated side by side in front of the railings makes it logical to just watch the happenings below. It’s amazing what people will do when they think no one is watching. Typically, I gaze through the windows as I pass by, even on the busiest of days, catching a glimpse of a screaming child in the midst of what I’ve named “the overstimulation tantrum” or the sound of laughter erupting and echoing through the building. Not this time, though. One, I’m not busy, and two, there’s no passing by today. This is the second time my eyes have been drawn to her, as if she’s a beacon of light shining down through the miles of water suffocating me. She’s the light that briefly gives me the strength to swim towards the surface. What’s yet to be determined is whether I have enough fight, enough oxygen left to get to her.
My eyes never leave her body. The same thoughts I had the first time I saw her yesterday crash into my mind like a wave slamming into a boulder of rocks. She is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. Just like then, my feet are unable to move and the noise of the espresso machine, plates clashing together, and the chatter of the customers becomes a low hum. The other people move around in a blurred, slow motion. Everything in me wants to approach her, to offer her lunch so I can watch her pouty, nude lips chew food, suck from a straw. Imagine them around my cock. Get it the fuck together, Wesley. To gaze into her piercing navy blue eyes trying to see all the way down to her soul. Yeah, that sappy shit. But I can’t because my legs feel like they have been chained around the ankles with a concrete block. And besides, I’m not interested in the sappy shit. In love. I’m interested in music and food. And fucking. Her. Dammit.
That’s where the problem with running this business for the rest of my life is. Dad won’t even consider allowing an open mic night in this place. Instead, he chooses to play synthesized bullshit over a speaker. Clenching my fists by my side, my teeth start to grind. The number of times I’ve tried to explain what live music would do to the profit margins makes my head explode. I may not have a fuckin’ college degree, but I’ve got brains. I know how to crunch numbers. He doesn’t give a fuck about the profits. He’s stuck in his own ways, and change isn’t something he embraces. He also has zero respect for indie musicians. Somehow a label validates your worth. Without one, you’re just a kid who wasn’t good enough to cut it with the big boys. A wannabe. Second rate.
He thinks I’m going to stay here and do this for the rest of my life, but I’m not, because I refuse to live, breathe, and die for something that I’m not passionate about. This is just a job. Thank goodness Mom granted my request to not work nights or weekends because that might would have been my final straw in putting up with his bullshit. The power struggle didn’t disappear, though. I’m sure that’s why my feet are firmly planted right here at this podium watching her watch people.
“Can you bus table fifteen, please?” A finger bounces off my muscular bicep before the annoying high pitched voice of Tanya, one of the servers, continues. “Wes. Earth to Wes. Table fifteen. I need you to bus it.”
Holding a hand up, I wave her off. “Yeah. Okay.” Even as I speak the words, my body shifting to the part of the dining area I’m needed, I’m having trouble leaving her.
Sealing my lids closed, I commit her to my memory like I did yesterday. I imagine what it’d be like to sweep her long ombre locks to the side and inhale her scent before trailing kisses against her neck, how her full breasts would fill my hands, and how tight she’d be around me. Just because I don’t do love doesn’t mean that I don’t like to fuck beautiful women senseless. My personality is addictive. And I’ve not even touched her, not even had my first drink of her, and I already can tell she has the potential to be a problem.
When I gave up the prescription drugs, sex became my new craving. The part that is fucking with me more than anything is all the times she glances over her shoulder, as if she’s waiting on someone, and I see her eyes. I’m not sure why the hell I keep wanting to see more of her. Like I want to see all the way down to her soul. Or why I think she can see down to mine even though I’m not sure we’ve ever really made eye contact – that she’s ever really seen me.
Shaking my head, my eyes flash open. There’s no way she’d be able to see my soul, and if she did, she’d be smart to run as fast as she could in the opposite direction. Backing away, I walk toward table fifteen. After I’ve successfully bussed it, an idea crosses my mind.
Stopping by the espresso bar, I quickly throw the ingredients together for my famous caramel latte. Okay, it’s not so famous, but whatever. Taking the cup, I approach the front entrance, pause for a moment, and contemplate whether I want to do this. Glancing at the long line of customers who have approached in my brief absence, I realize there’s no way I can skip out unnoticed for a break. I exchange the cup for menus, and remind myself it’d be safer to keep her in my daydreams, anyway. So what if I never see her again.
Yeah, just keep telling yourself that…over and over again. Fuck.
No, you just need to get her out of your system.
Yeah, that’s it. I’ll just work my ass off to get everyone seated as quickly as I can, and hope she’s still here when I’m done. And since this is the second day she’s come here, if I miss her, I’ll be more prepared tomorrow. We’ll chat, I’ll charm her, and then we’ll fuck. That will be that, and I’ll be good to move on.
Ten minutes later, I swipe the beads of sweat from my forehead. Instead of warming the cold latte or making another, which would waste time, I instead motion for Tanya to cover for me while I take a break. She nods. I know she has a crush on me, has for years. She’s cute with her silky lavender hair and full sleeves of tattoos. But it’s not like I can just screw the help, and get her out of my system. I refuse to mix business with pleasure.
My hands become sweatier with each step I take closer to the girl I’ve watched sitting on the bench during lunch the past two days. I take a seat beside her. “I had made you a latte. I was gonna say, ‘Latte for your thoughts?’ instead of penny for your thoughts. Seemed like a less cheesy pick up line.” I look up through my lashes to see if she’s noticed I’m talking to her. She smiles, but doesn’t respond. She doesn’t even look at me for that matter, so I continue. “I work at the Café on Seventh. We got busy, though, so it’s more like a cool latte now.” I toss the penny I’m holding in the air like referees do at a football game. “Heads or tails?”
She doesn’t respond. Instead, she stares at me with a blank expression. Or maybe it’s one of contemplation. She’s harder to read than most of the girls I’ve slept with. She smells like lavender.
“Penny for your thoughts?” I offer it to her, but she twirls the ring on her left hand. The one on that forbidden finger. It’s a sapphire ring, my birthstone. Not too big, but not too small. It’s pretty, but not something I would have pegged for her. I’d picture her more of an amethyst or aqua marine girl. The dark blue competes with her eyes, rather than bringing them out. Why are you thinking about what kind of ring suits her best, Wes? At least it’s not a diamond because I don’t screw married women, and I really want to know what it’s like to be buried deep within her. ‘At a boy, keep your eye on the prize.
“If a penny won’t do,” I reach into my pocket and pull all my change. “I’ve got nickles, dimes, and quarters. Hell, I’d even spare bills for you to talk to me in the next few seconds before someone pulls me back to work.”
She glances up and her eyes up close are even more breathtaking than they were from a distance. They are the color of the ocean. Not the ocean on the beachfront. They’re the color of the water I saw on the cruise I took so many years ago. Not the water when we were close to port or when we’d made it to the Caribbean. No. Her eyes are the shade that’s in the middle of nowhere, no land around, no garbage to junk it up and the water is so deep the sand doesn’t make it murky. It’s perfect, unflawed and untouched. We stare into each other’s eyes for a moment, and it’s hard to breathe, like I’ve pulled a muscle in my chest and with every inhale, the pain radiates throughout my body. I shift in my seat because she’s already having an effect on me just doing nothing, and I know I’m in the deepest of waters where she’s concerned.
“What’s your name?” She speaks.
Her lips part, and I can’t fucking wait to hear soft, sensual voice again. “Kennedy. I come here to forget my problems by watching other people. Sometimes it makes me envious, sometimes it makes me feel better about my own situation. You can tell a lot about people at the mall.”
Yes, you can, Kennedy. “Uh huh. Not to sound creepy, but I’ve been watching you. I haven’t been able to figure you out yet, though.”
She laughs. “That sounded super creepy, dude.”
“Ha. Yeah, I’m really tripping up on all the pick-up lines. I’m usually much smoother than this.”
Her expression softens. “Do I make you nervous?”
Hell yeah. I roll my eyes, shaking my head. “Now what would make you say that?”
“I one hundred percent believe you’re smoother than this. Guys as attractive as you are usually really dangerous…always on their A game.” She shrugs. “So, maybe you’re nervous.”
I nod, looking away so she doesn’t see my gulp and reddening cheeks. When I’ve calmed myself down, I glance back at her. “And yet you don’t look nervous at all. I bet you’ve got a boyfriend, right?”
She shakes her head, but glances down to her ring. “I have a husband.”
Fuck. “I see. Well, have a nice day.” I’m on my feet in an instant, headed back to the café. My hands are running through my hair, and I release the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding.
“Wait! Wes, wait.”
My mind tells me to keep going, but my feet obviously didn’t get the message. Closing my eyes, I replay her saying my name in my head, and as dangerous as I know she is for me, I pivot, yearning to hear her say it again. Hell, to say anything again. “Yeah?”
She’s standing, and she takes a step closer. “You said you hadn’t figured me out yet.”
“You being married is about all I need to know.”
She tilts her head. “My being married doesn’t negate the fact that I could use a friend, someone to talk to.”
Don’t do it. Don’t fucking fall for that line, man. She smiles wide, her teeth are perfectly straight, but unlike most of the gorgeous girls I see, not artificially whitened. There doesn’t appear to be anything fake about her. I glance away as I chew on my cheek. “I’m not really friend material, but I think I’m a pretty good listener.”
“Well, I know it may not seem like it, but I’m a really good talker.”
I point to the café. “Can I make you a fresh latte?” I’m sure if my father saw me taking a long break, or slacking off, he’d be ready to fire me. He’s tried many times, but my mother never lets him do it. I’m a hard worker, well when I’m not being distracted by pretty girls. They need the help. And he may think he wears the pants in that relationship, and sometimes it’s easier for us all to not get into a pissing contest with him, but anyone who knows my mother, knows she has a noose around his balls. The thought makes me want to barrel laugh, but I keep it to myself.
Kennedy holds her wrist up and glances at her watch. “I can’t today. My lunch break is almost up. If I can have a rain check, I’d love one tomorrow, though.”
I grin back. “Of course. Anytime, well I work weekdays, no nights or weekends.” Shut up, Wes. You’ve already said way too much.
“That’s perfect. I’m only available during my lunch hour.” She puts her hand up, and it’s not really a wave. “So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I nod as I start to back up and nearly run into a shopper, but I don’t care. Turning away from her is hard, and I’m screwed. “I’ll be here.”
Before I flip the sign on the door, thus opening my coffee shop for business for the first time ever, I glance around at the eclectic images on the walls. The idea for the decor took me some time, but after careful consideration, it became obvious what I wanted lining the walls of my space, the place I wanted to share with her.
Abstract images of instruments ranging from pianos to ukuleles look like pixels with the coloring in each of them just a mere halftone apart.
That part seemed the most fitting.
My eyes scan the large frames. Some are pink, some are purple, some black. But my favorite color is the one that's the perfect shade of ocean blue. Not just any hue, but the exact ones of her eyes. The muted version being what they looked like with the lights of the bistro dimmed, and the brighter one the way they looked when the lights hit them just right. That image isn't of an object, but rather my memory of her. Her voice is the best damn instrument I've ever heard—perfect pitch and timbre.
I must have looked at hundreds of paint swatches before I discovered them. As soon as I saw them both, I knew immediately because, for a moment, I could close my eyes and see her staring back at me. It seemed like forever to find them, but if that was forever, then I'm not sure how long I stared at them willing those paint chips to magically become her almond shaped orbs. And the rest of my days without her will certainly be eternal. All I wanted was to see her blink, to witness the way her lashes fan her cheek when she holds them closed just a moment longer than she needs to as her skin turns the color of the pink harmonica I strategically hung beside it.
Even now, as I stand here while taking one last whiff of the rich, nutty house blends—the moment before my life changes even more than it already has—I beg the photos I commissioned based largely on her, to be a siren to her. I beg whoever's in charge of this universe to send her a premonition they're here and connected to her, attracting her to visit this place, and just once to walk through the door.
Who am I kidding?
What I really want is to know that she is somehow sired to my soul, and that she thinks of me as often as I do her. That she'd not just walk through the door once, but every day for the rest of our lives.
I wonder if it ever crosses her mind that it shouldn't have felt so right while it was so wrong. I wish I could let her go, leave her and the haunting sound of her laughter out of my mind. I smirk because it's not like I gave myself much of a chance when I decorated the entire freaking place based on her image. No, who am I kidding? I didn't just decorate it. That's equivalent to a mild obsession—a mild addiction.
My body has craved her smile, her scent, her laugh, her everything, since the moment I saw her. And no matter how many times we were together, none of it was ever enough.
So, it wasn't sufficient to fill the place with reminders of her. The only way I could think to honor, preserve, and savor the craving I have to the connection we shared was to name the whole damn place after what I think represents whatever it was that we had.
We were so close, yet so far away—so different. It was wanting to fit together as one, but no matter how close we'd get, always having the knowledge we'd never work—that no matter how close the keys are on a piano, when played together, they're minor, dark, and the perfect symbolism for the destructive path our relationship was heading toward. I can't blame her for ending it. But god dammit do I miss being able to talk to her, the way her warm skin felt against my always cool fingers when I'd brush them against her accidentally on purpose.
There's no doubt I fell for Kennedy. I've known love before to be able to recognize it. But this was more than that, and I still can't figure out how that's even possible. The only comfort I have is that maybe I'll find someone eventually that makes me feel a fraction of the way she did. Maybe the reason for her being in my life was to let me know that my heart has the capacity to love unlike I ever had before. Miraculously, it apparently doesn't even have to be sexual. Although, to be clear, my balls are begging me to make sure that next time it is.
I chuckle, but my throat constricts like it's being squeezed in the same way my heart has been since she walked out of my parent's bistro and my life a year ago. Closing my eyes, I clench my jaw tightly, as I hear the hushed single word I mumbled as her back got farther from me, "Goodbye."
Yet here I stand knowing I'd trade all of this in if I could find the good in that single word.