It All Starts with a Sip
“You need to do something,” my assistant, Kim, said from the doorway of my office, propping a hand up on her hip.
I glanced up from the report I wasn’t really reading. “What do you mean?”
“Girl, you are dragging.”
“It’s eight o’clock at night.” I tried to justify my sluggishness.
She pursed her lips. “Um-hmm, but you looked like this at eight o’clock this morning.”
I reached back and lifted my hair off my neck, kneading the knotted muscles there. I sighed, knowing she was right. I’d been lethargic, restless, and listless for days. I hadn’t been sleeping well either. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me; maybe I need some vitamins, a protein injection, some caffeine or something.”
She laughed. “Oh, you need a protein injection, all right. How long since you and Say-It-Ain’t-So Joe broke up?” The lovely nickname she had for my ex, Joseph.
“And since then?”
I sighed again. “No one.”
“No one.” She shook her head in disgust. “Not a peck on the cheek or a hand grazing your hind parts. Jayla, get some already!”
I laughed. “Kim, there’s more to life than sex.”
“How would you know? You have no sex nor life to speak of.”
“That’s harsh. I’m career focused, I am woman, hear me roar.”
“Ya lonely and cranky. Fix it.”
“So you want me to just jump on the next guy I see?”
She turned to leave on her crocodile stilettos and smiled at me over her shoulder. “There’s an idea!”
“Yeah, right—that is SO me. . . .”
“Seriously,” she called out as she strode toward the elevator. “A little spontaneity wouldn’t kill you.”
“That’s what people say to excuse rash behavior.”
“Nothing wrong with cutting loose every once in a while. You don’t have to make it a lifestyle choice. And don’t stay here all night—you cannot snuggle up to income projections when you’re old!” Her final words caused a few of the other late-night stragglers to stick their heads out of their cubes and offices to see whom she was addressing.
“Good NIGHT, Kim.”
“ ’Night, boss.”
The thing of it was, she was right. Since Joseph and I had split (okay, since I had kicked his lying, cheating, wallet-“borrowing” ass out) I had funneled all of my energy into my career and little else. I stopped into the coffee shop every morning (specialty mocha and zucchini muffin), I visited my grandmother once a week, I went out with friends once a month. Everything else was work related.
I had been working at a nonstop pace for months. And I was well on my way to being the youngest chief financial officer this company had ever seen. Granted, BeniCareCo was a small, independent health insurance company, but I was making my mark. As the Assistant Vice President of Financial Operations, I was two steps away from my goal. But I was tired. Maybe the listless, restless thing was my body’s way of telling me to slow it down.
Slow down for whom and for what? What was I in a rush to get home to? Most of my friends were either married or on the same crazy cutthroat corporate merry-go-round I was. I was too restless to curl up with a book. Maybe I’d watch a movie, soak in a long bath. Irritated with myself, I closed the folder that was in front of me and turned away.
As I swiveled my chair toward the window, I looked out on the late summer night. Chicago was on the tail end of a heat wave. Downtown Chicago was full of people enjoying the balmy, breezy weather. Across the street, I saw a couple coming out of the new coffee shop on the corner. The couple looked happy and carefree, clutching each other with one hand and their coffee with the other. The sign reading
JAY’S COFFEE CAFÉ
bathed them in an electric blue and green light.
Suddenly I wanted what they had—their togetherness, their apparent happiness, a shared jovial moment. I sighed. You have to give to get. You have to look to find. And I hadn’t been doing much of either lately. Maybe I couldn’t get that “happy couple” vibe right away but for now I’d settle for their coffee.
By the time I packed up my desk, got downstairs, crossed the street, and entered the coffee shop, there were no other customers. Actually, looking around, there didn’t appear to be any workers there either.
“Hello?” I called out.
“We’re closing up,” a deep voice called out from the back.
I was inexplicably disappointed. As if the promise of that light-hearted moment could truly be found in a cup of coffee. “Story of my life,” I said to no one in particular and pivoted back toward the door.
“Excuse me?” The voice sounded closer.
I swiveled back around and stopped dead in my tracks. A flash of pure heat passed through me, awakening nerve endings and receptors that had been long dormant. In front of me stood a specimen of maleness that could only be described one way: “hotness.” The kind of hotness that burned right through common sense and rational thought.
In the times I had visited this coffee shop, I had never seen him. And believe me, I would have remembered. He was gorgeous in an “Oh-My-GOD, where-did-you-come-from” kind of way. The kind that takes your breath away and leaves you just slightly off-balance. He was a beautiful, exotic blend of European and African-American ancestry and had a Derek Jeter kind of vibe without all the unnecessary polish. Raw, earthy, and did I say brutally hot? Light green eyes framed with thick lashes, wavy brown hair closely cropped to his head, full lips set into a square jawline currently softened with a smile. He was a solid block of a man, at just six feet tall with the muscles of a gym regular. Flat front khakis and a navy polo with the shop’s logo imprinted stretched easily across his frame. He had the look of what I’d call a man’s man, even while wearing a bright pink apron and clutching a purple mug decorated with green hearts.
The longer I studied him, the more he studied me. I knew what he saw: a curvy woman, busty with hips that could politely be called “generous”—a true hourglass figure no matter how hard I fought against it. I was taller than average, with caramel-colored skin and thick wavy hair of the same color curling past my shoulders. A rounded face often referred to as “cute” with wide, light brown eyes and a pouty mouth with no gloss left on it from this morning. And there we both stood, somewhat intrigued by instant chemistry, that undeniable energy—after thirty-three years of living it was happening to me. That primal spark calling out from male to female and back again.
I stood staring at him as though he were the last shrimp on the buffet table and I hadn’t had fresh seafood in a while. Clearly I was deprived of far more than sleep when the mere presence of a male made me jittery and breathless.
Get a grip, Jayla
, I told myself sternly, determined to raise my eyes above his waist and act like I had some good sense.
When I finally lifted my gaze back up to his face, his eyes had gone from casually friendly to heatedly curious. It wasn’t until the drool was literally pooling at the corners of my mouth that I regained any semblance of composure. “Oh, I’m sorry, long day,” I lamely explained. “I’ll just get out of your way so you can close up.” I smiled sadly, tentatively as I turned back toward the door. Was I so starved for male attention that I had manufactured chemistry with the coffee guy?
“Hey,” he said softly, his voice deep, velvety, and smooth.
I looked back. “Hey?”
“I can always make just one more.” He smiled with a flash of pearly white teeth that sent a tingle straight up my spine. “Do you mind if I make you my last customer?”
I don’t mind if you make me your concubine.
“No, no, that’s fine. I appreciate it. I’m sure you’re ready to get out of here.”
His look was pensive. “Don’t worry about it, you’re a customer.”
Right. Customer, here to buy coffee. “Well, thanks.”
“Not a problem. Will it make you uncomfortable if I lock up?”
“Not at all, do what you need to do.” I stood primly, clutching my case in front of me.
He brushed past me to lock the door and switch the OPEN sign to CLOSED. He slowly circled the store, pulling down shades and closing the drapes. It suddenly felt like a close and intimate space rather than a storefront. Walking back he paused beside me, close enough that the scent of him wafted to me. I took a deep breath. He smelled like coffee, cinnamon, chocolate, soap, and some sort of spicy musk. “So, what’ll you have?”
You on a platter, please.
. . . I looked up at him and saw by the slight glint in his eyes that he had heard me loud and clear, even though I hadn’t said it out loud. Okay, maybe the chemistry wasn’t so manufactured after all. “What’s your specialty?”
“White mocha.” Two words, innocent words at that, but I instantly shivered and flushed. His nostrils flared and his jaw tightened as he watched me.
“I’ll take it extra large, extra hot.” After the words left my mouth, I realized how they sounded. I was a little bit out of control.
He swallowed and blinked as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard me correctly. “I beg your pardon?”
I took a step back and grabbed the last remnants of my composure. “The white mocha extra large, extra hot. To go.”
He stepped back as well. “Oh, okay. Will that be all?” He started to move away.
I paused. What if I did what Kim suggested? What if I decided to be a little spontaneous, proposition the first guy I saw . . . this guy? Not ask his name, not care what his circumstances are, just ask for what I want in this moment, for right now. I trembled a little just in contemplation.
He saw the tremble, stopped walking, and looked me over from head to toe. Those ivy green eyes clearly missed nothing, noticing my tension, my fluttering pulse, and my parted lips. Green eyes heated to laser intensity before sending me a clearly appreciative look. He raised one brow, saying slowly, “Is there
I can get you to go with that mocha?”
“Would you mind terribly if I had it here after all?” I said breathlessly, almost panting with anticipation and nervousness. I’d never propositioned a barista before; okay, or any stranger. What if he said no? Oh God, what if he said yes?
“The mocha?” He tilted his head and gave a look that said
if you want it, ask for it.
“Yes, the mocha and . . .” I set down my purse and my laptop case and stepped to him in my black, figure-hugging sheath dress and peep-toe heels. “Listen, you don’t know anything about me or what I’m going through and I don’t know anything about you—”
“I do know something about you,” he interrupted, meeting me until we stood toe to toe. “I know you are sexy and beautiful and you like coffee. I know you don’t hook up with strange men often.”
“Ever. I don’t hook up with strange men ever,” I corrected him. “And how do you know?”
He reached down and touched the fluttering vein pulsing at the base of my neck, caressing the area in soft strokes. “Because you’re nervous and unsure. It’s cute, sexy.”
Cute. Sexy. I nodded with no clue what to say next.
Should I, shouldn’t I?
I had re-engaged my brain and it was getting in the way of what the rest of me wanted.
He grinned at me. “Let me get you that coffee.”
Coffee. Yes. That is what I came in here for. I stood there and continued to argue with myself. Was I really going to make a move on some strange guy at the coffee house? I mean, really? I sighed. I was bold, but I wasn’t that bold. Tonight, the only craving I was going to assuage was for flavored, expensive caffeine. I watched while he measured beans, steamed milk, and mixed syrups in a cup. I could watch him all day and feel it was twenty-four hours spent productively. I sighed again.
He looked over at me with a look that sizzled. “So . . . just the coffee?” He was giving me every opportunity to make a move.
Wimpy Jayla beat Wanton Jayla down. I shrugged. “Just the coffee.”
With a final stir, he capped the beverage and handed me the cup. “Tell me what you think.”
I took a sip, my eyes slid shut, and I moaned. It was the best white mocha on the face of the planet: sweet, fragrant, hot, rich, and strong. The chocolate flavor didn’t battle the coffee; it was a heavenly marriage of taste, texture, and spice. I took another sip and enjoyed the flavor of it exploding on my tongue and sliding down the back of my throat. “Oh my God.” When I opened my eyes, his face had taken on a predatory gleam. “What?” I asked him.
“Your face when you drank the coffee . . . that was a look I’d like to see again. And again.”
I took a shaky breath and vowed to maintain some semblance of control.
“It’s okay, you know.”
“I’m not going to do anything you don’t want.”
Ha! If he only knew.... “Thanks.”
“Do you work around here?”
“Across the street. Are you new here? I haven’t seen you before.”
“I’m just helping to close tonight; I’m usually at one of the other stores.”