Natalie was slowly woken from her slumber by the soft light seeping through the curtains lining her bedroom window. Sunrise had sprung, and its beauty never ceased to impress her. She lie there, awake, but unwilling to move her body, savoring both the sunlight and comfort of her bed, wondering why she didn’t do that more often.
Then it struck her like rain in a hurricane: she was usually already at work!
The thought startled her straight up in bed, she looked over at her cell and the time was 7:30am. 7:30!!! She was usually at her coffee shop two hours ago, preparing for the day’s business. She would check that the tables were sparkling, the equipment was running, and the doors were unlocked to allow customers in.
One of the reasons she chose this location for her coffee shop was simply that it was attached to a great used book store. Reading was her favorite way to pass the time. She could dive into a pirate adventure while soaking in the sun on the beach, or read something thought provoking throughout the day to keep her caffeinated mind busy while serving up lattes and macchiatos, or sneak a romance book into bed with her at night and pass the lonely hours with hope that love could someday be for her.
She sprung out of bed and raced to the bathroom, brushing her teeth and tossing her hair in a messy bun, skipping makeup for the day. She tossed on her work-clothes and raced out to find her bicycle to ride to work. She noticed it had rained the night before, and her seat was wet. Mad at herself, she ran inside and found a couple plastic bags – one to cover her seat, and the other to protect the small stack of books she would sell back to the book store today and replenish her own personal library.
She loved how the sun burned through the fog left from the previous night’s rain. It created such a beautiful effect, sans electronic filters, and she was glad she at least was able to take this in while running late.
She heard a pickup coming up behind her with a terribly noisy exhaust. She moved over as far as possible to give it room to pass, and it seemed to work, except her timing was awful. She reached a gigantic puddle flooding across the street at the same time the pickup passed her, and it unintentionally splashed her like a tidal wave hitting shore. She nearly tipped over the bike, narrowly saving it, but she was drenched. Her left lip all the way down to her toes were soaking wet. And her shoes were starting to make that gross slurp slurp sound each time she pressed the bike pedal down, squeegeeing water out the sides of her tennis.
Could this day get any worse? she muttered to herself, suddenly aware that she may have just challenged whatever karma was out there. She mentally took it back and apologized.
As she neared the shop, she remembered with a burning anxiety that she had left her key for the shop at home, along with her cell phone. She spent a few excruciating moments deciding whether to turn around now or see if she could sneak through the adjoining book store to get into her own shop in just a few blocks.
She decided that since she had made it this far, she might as well risk going forward. She flew around the corner of street and noticed, with great relief, that the lights were already on and customers were streaming in and out of the shop. How could that be? she asked herself.
She locked her bike outside her shop and meandered in, water dripping down her dry leg as she lifted the plastic bag out of her basket. She shook her hand dry and attempted the door. It was artfully decorated, she told herself, proud of the time she spent painting and decorating it.
She stepped into the bustling shop, her best employee, Odessa, serving up orders as quickly as she possibly could. “Morning!” Natalie offered as brightly as she could, despite the bleak, embarrassing start to her day.
“Morning!” chirped Odessa, clearly taking full advantage of the free drinks for the employees policy. “What are you doing in on here on your only day off this week?” she asked cheerfully.
Her only day off this week. That’s right! She had managed to sweet talk Odessa, lovingly nicknamed OD for her exceptionally high level of caffeine intake, into taking a day so Natalie could put her aching feet up and rest.
Ugh. She had blown her only day off this week. She was here, dripping wet, looking like a wet dog with no makeup, a messy bun, and a wet plastic bag containing her treasures. Should she just stay, since she had made it this far? or go home with her tail between her legs and and sulk?
She heard the customer at the counter order an Iced, Half Caff, Ristretto, Venti, 4-pump, Sugar Free, Cinnamon, Dolce Soy Skinny Latte and conceded that today she just wasn’t going to have enough mental function to dish specialty drinks out with her usual ease.
She was definitely going to try her best to salvage what was left of the day. She grabbed a scone and a hot cup of her favorite coffee blend and snuck over to the book store. She could pick up a fresh read and hide out for a bit before she had to hop back on her wet bike and pedal her way back home.
As she approached the resell counter, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that her secret crush was sitting at one of the tables, a lap top out and business papers spread about the table, clearly deep in thought. She liked the way he looked when he was working hard – the focused look in his eye, the hard set of his jaw, outlined by his dark five o’clock shadow despite the early hour. She liked the way he nervously ran his hand through his shortish dark brown hair, and she wondered it if it would feel rough between her fingers or soft.
While she waited her turn, she tried not to stare, but she couldn’t help noticing the way his professional button up shirt was a bit tighter around the shoulders and biceps, highlighting what she assumed was a great build under all that fabric.
He even sat like a man, she thought to herself. His legs spread in a sexy way, making her thoughts wander in ways it shouldn’t. He was probably married, lucky lady, or if he was available he was definitely not interested in her. No, she was not much to see. She was petite, barely 5’6″, with a sandy brown hair color that was neither bold brunette or sassy blonde, just a mix somewhere in between, indistinguishable. Her features were normal. She had her Dad’s brown eyes and her mom’s delicate lips.
And those were traits on a normal today. Today she looked like a washed up bag of trash, mud staining the white capris she somehow thought would be a good idea just a mere hour ago. Her feet still squished with every step, and she knew her hair had to look even less polished than normal. She had neither lipstick on to help her lips or blush to give her cheeks some feminine curves. She existed, but her features were so mundane she couldn’t seem to catch the attention of any man, let alone a sexy masterpiece that liked his coffee black and his cup full.
She finally realized the kid behind the counter was calling her name. She broke from her reverie, realizing that most people around her had heard her name much sooner than she had herself. She quickly checked that her crush had been blissfully unaware of her current faux pas, and she realized with a cutting certainty that the kid behind the counter, or more honestly her inability to focus on this particular moment, had even broke the businessman from his business. He had a knowing smile on his face, and she wondered if she had been staring. She quickly turned to the boy behind the counter and shoved the wet bag of books on the counter. Feeling the blush turn her face beet red, she quickly undid the knot, removed the books, and carefully handed them over.
Clearing her voice, she verbalized her request to the boy and he promptly took inventory of her stack and gave her a gift card, which she knew she would use yet this morning to replenish her home library. She quickly took the gift card, stuck it in her back pocket, and spun on her heels towards one of the many book shelves. As she neared the first row of books, she noticed her crush was still watching her.
Probably scrutinizing her disheveled fashion statement today. Probably wondering why such a freak would even venture out into public in this state, a state more suitable for the privacy of one’s own home, or a hut somewhere in the Himalayas, or a cave.
Regretting her decision, she considered calling this day a farce and just returning to her home to reread one of the greats she had blissfully lined her shelves with. She could never get enough of of the emotional tug of Lisa Scottline, or the heat of Jill Shalvis, or the love stories Nicholas Sparks produced.
Honestly, the thought of walking away empty handed was just too depressing on this already bleak morning. She needed to improve her day, damn the awkward stares of those around her. She passed the children’s section and slowed at the historical fiction of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Maybe that would be her fancy today. Without conscious thought, she brought her hand up and trailed the spines of the incredible works of art, seeming to absorb their history, their stories, the love woven between pages filled with letters.
She had plenty of e-books, and they helped her in a pinch, but there was something magical about opening a book. Especially a used book. Sometimes an old bookmark would fall out, indicating interests of a previous owner, or shopping lists which truly described a person better than they could describe themselves. Were the lists filled with organic, non-gmo foods? or lists of shoe sizes for sports, or to do lists mentioning rooms to be painted, projects to be built, or toilets to be scrubbed?
Once, she even found a folded up love note, written form one lover to another. Feeling like a voyeur, she read the entire letter, desiring the kind of love the handwritten letters expressed to her sweetheart – the total devotion, immersion and loyalty to another human being gave her hope for this world. She kept the note in the book, and kept the book on her shelf.
She had started a small book pile, including an historical romance, an autobiography, an adorable little photo book highlighting the colorful natural designs of the local poultry, and an old hair style book most likely donated from a local hair salon. It was definitely time to spruce up her look she decided as she turned in the direction of the check out counter.
Just as she took a step forward, she caught herself glancing in the direction of her crush. William was his name, but that’s all she really knew about him. His name was William and he was at the coffee shop shortly after opening every morning and ordered a tall black coffee which he kept refilled and piping hot. Much like his body she thought to herself. When her eyes finally reached his table, she realized he was returning her gaze. He had put down his papers, and was leaning forward on his elbows, watching her. With interest, she noted.
Oh gosh. He gave her a smile, and she continued on her way, praying she wouldn’t trip over her own feet or dork someone in the head with her books. She made it to the counter without issue, thank God, and she used her gift card to pay for her books. The boy behind the counter asked if she would like her plastic bag back, and she reluctantly declined. Yes, she wanted her bounty to stay dry, but she wasn’t ready to risk the humiliation of tossing them in the dripping wet bag right here in front of everyone. She would simply walk back to her shop and find a dry one.
She picked up her books and turned in the direction of her own shop, and walked directly into a large, hard body. One strong arm caught the books she had nearly dropped and the other wrapped behind her to help steady her. She noticed, from this incredibly close proximity, as in touching his body through the thin fabric of his shirt close proximity, she noticed with keen intensity that he smelled perfectly of man and sex and cologne. She wanted to take it all in, to just stay there for a minute and soak up his presence, but she realized that couldn’t really happen here in real life, only in her daydreams later on….
She tried to step back, but he kept her close, which she didn’t mind at all. She breathed him in, remembering the feel of his hard chest, and wishing she could reach out and touch him again. She looked up, and his strong brown eyes bore into hers, spiking her internal thermometer to epic levels. He didn’t look like he was laughing or teasing her, he seemed as caught up in her as she was in him.
No, that couldn’t be. She was a wreck, and he was way out of her league. She quickly muttered an apology and worked to straighten her books. He reached his hand out and secured a wild hair behind her ear, his thumb trailing down her jaw to her throat. The act was so intimate it made her insides melt into a puddle. He grabbed her drink and scone from the counter and offered it to her.
That’s right. She still had a hot drink to carry, and that definitely would not be easy to navigate on a bicycle all the way home. This entire day has just been one, long, drawn out, epic farce. She sighed dramatically and attempted to shuffle the books into one hand so she could accept her breakfast items in the other.
To her surprise, he held them hostage for a moment, asking her to sit with him and enjoy her sugar filled delights.
Why not, she thought in exhaustion. What more can go wrong? and then she mentally chided herself for daring the karma out there to prove her wrong yet again.
She followed him to his table, praying she wouldn’t spill her coffee all over his papers, or worse yet his laptop. She set the book stack down and arranged her items, trying to regain some of her usual finesse, praying that the joke on her was over and she could resume life as normal.
William had always had an eye for the petite bombshell that ran the coffee shop next door. Her insanely beautiful hair was always up in a professional manner, but he longed to tug out the bindings and let it fall over her shoulders. He had seen her around town by chance once or twice, and her hair was such a shimmering shade of blonde in the sun it made him wonder how she did it, how she could even talk her hair into submission, into shining extra brightly in the sun and extra sexily up even in a bun indoors, the browns and blondes mixing together into an artful display of beauty without even trying.
Each morning she rode up on her classy style baby blue bike, her perfect legs highlighting their vitality with each push and pull of the pedal. She came in with a cheerful smile each morning, despite the hour, and she always opened the doors early when she saw him approach. She knew his order before he knew it, and it was always piping hot, just the way he liked. If he got tied up in his work, she would deposit a fresh cup in front of him without making a sound, keeping him caffeinated to finish the paperwork before noon each day.
She was a joy to watch behind the counter. Despite the long hours day after day, she always took complicated orders with ease and always found a way to go out of her way and put a smile on her customer’s face, whether it was with a smiley face display of whipped cream on the children’s hot chocolate, or a delicate chocolate syrup design on the top of an adult blended latte.
She had a petite frame, and despite being nearly a foot shorter than himself, she had a beauty like no other. Her perfectly heart shaped face highlighted her feminine cheek bones, delicate lips, and deep, dark eyes. Her skin was flawless, and the way her shoulders tapered down to a slim waist was nothing short of perfection. He longed to touch her, to feel her curves and taste her mouth, but what was equally tantalizing about her was her brain. She soaked up book after book. Some days she would purchase an entire stack of modern art collection compilations, the next week it would be a mix of romance and history. The next a biography on a current pop star or collection of gardening tips. Despite how much she used technology to run her shop, she seemed to prefer having something in her hands when it came to reading.
She didn’t just go to a book and stalk off with it. It seemed to be an entire world for her to experience using all her senses. She touched the books with delicacy, as if cherishing its very existence. She sometimes closed her eyes as she ran her hands through a row, as if absorbing its contents straight to her soul, or she would sometimes just flip quickly through the pages, like shuffling a deck of cards, as if she just wanted to hear the affirmation that the book was literally in her hands.
He wondered idly if that’s how she would be in bed, totally receptive to all the senses while making love, or willing to give the experience of all the senses to her lucky lover.
She visited with her customers, and if she didn’t know about a particular subject, she made sure to know something about it for the next day. She took particular interest in each of her customers, and he knew that’s how she ran her life, with a spectacular zeal while most people seem to just walk through life much like a zombie.
He had wanted to be the center of her world for just a moment, much as her customers were, but she always declined his advances. He wondered if she was innocent enough to not pick up on them, or if she had a strict no dating the customers policy. Either way, he was fortunate enough to have her in his presence for the moment, and he wasn’t going to mess it up.
He noticed she breathed in the steam coming off her drink for just a moment before bringing it to her lips. Her appearance today was a tad unusual. She usually had herself pretty well put together, her clothes always matching her shoes and even her earrings changed with her mood. She was not cut and dry by any means, but her purposeful appearance was never the same two days in a row. Seeing her today, mud sloshed up her perfectly white pants, her white tennis clearly uncomfortable so saturated with moisture, her hair madly tossed this way and that, just highlighted her natural beauty and made him want to study here all the more.
Her clear face was unable to hide the array of emotions she displayed. In the last few minutes her face had communicated humiliation, frustration, incomprehension, curiosity, peace, interest, and surprise. She didn’t need all the words in those books to tell him what she was thinking, she could do that with a simple wink, a turn of the lips or tremble in her hands as he steadied her earlier.
He cleared the table to make plenty of room for her. He took a drink of his own coffee, and savored the taste for a moment. Nothing ever came out of her kitchen less than perfect. She worked hard and he respected her immensely. To his surprise, she started the conversation, and it flowed easily for hours. It didn’t take long for her to let her guard down and relax her tightly knit shoulders. Her smile came easily, and he was glad to be able to put it there. He would love trying to put it there every day forever. The day may have started a farce for her, but it was a fascinating new beginning for him.