Coming this March: The first book in Kinky in the City: Club 83
“Do you know how much money I have on here?”
I tried to ignore the little boy and his parents behind me in line. With the holidays fast approaching, I didn’t need a reminder of what I didn’t have in my own life, namely a family so syrupy sweet they made my teeth ache. I’d never known what it was like to have a close-knit family. If I’d asked such a question, my father would’ve busted my balls for sounding greedy.
“Your gran usually puts fifteen dollars on any gift card she sends, so I’d say that’s a good guess,” the boy’s dad told him. Against my better judgment, I glanced over my shoulder and saw the older man ruffle his son’s hair. Such a simple gesture but it had my heart twisting in my chest.
“Then I want to buy you and mom’s drinks,” the kid announced. They were like a Hallmark movie I couldn’t turn off.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Gabriel.” It was impossible to miss the pride in his mom’s voice.
“No, I want to. You’re always getting stuff for me, now it’s my turn to give back to you.” Was this kid for real? Seriously, we were bypassing Hallmark and moving straight to Lifetime at this point. “Besides, you’re leaving tomorrow and I won’t see you for Christmas. I didn’t have time to get you a present, so this can be your gift.”
Had I ever been so thoughtful? No. I’d always been a bit of a selfish shit. At least I admitted it, unlike so many of the kids I grew up with.
“Next.” I startled, looking up to notice the haggard barista glaring at me. It seemed someone was out of the holiday spirit. Then again, I’d heard enough stories about this particular guy to know his oh-so-sunny disposition wasn’t caused by a rush of holiday shoppers or the bus load of students currently huddled at the other end of the counter waiting for their drinks.
When I turned to apologize to the family behind me in line, fully expecting them to be annoyed by my trip down memory lane, I was met with the most brilliant smile from the kid’s dad.
And holy hell, I was not about to spring wood in the middle of the coffee shop. I debated pinching myself just to see if I’d fallen asleep and this was all a dream. Everything about the guy was as if someone had taken my wish list for my ideal man and rolled him up into a tattooed package with a hipster vibe. Yes, I’d already noted how good looking the guy was, but there was something about the twinkle in his eye as he shooed me forward that made my heart skip a beat. Not even joking, I felt like my brain was misfiring and that stupid organ in my chest was all out of whack.
“Sorry.” I stuffed my hands into my pockets and shuffled to the cash register. When I should’ve kept my attention on the employee impatiently waiting to take my order, I turned back for one more glimpse of the Norman Rockwell painting come to life. To the boy, I said, “You’re a lucky kid.”
“I know.” He beamed at me before looking up to his parents. “Now, could you please order so it’ll be our turn?”
“Gabriel, manners,” his mother scolded.
“It’s okay. Really. And he did remember to say please,” I pointed out.
I considered buying their drinks as well as my own. I’d heard about people doing that but I’d never been involved, and if anyone deserved to save their money it was Gabriel. But it seemed important to him that he was able to gift his parents some small token, so I returned my attention to the barista and ordered my plain black coffee. Nothing fancy for me because, despite my moment of feeling generous, I needed to save my money.
The students started to trickle out the front door as they collected their drinks, leaving two open tables along the wall. I set my laptop at the smaller of the two so Gabriel and his parents had a place to sit. The fact the tables were next to each other was problematic because Daddy was going to be a distraction.
And the fact you’re referring to a guy you haven’t met as Daddy shows just how fucked up you are, my conscience scolded me.
What else is he supposed to call him? The guy’s a dad, after all, my overactive, horny imagination replied.
You know damn well—
No. I was not having an argument with myself. Not at all. That’d just be crazy. I shook my head to banish any and all thoughts of the sexy, tattooed man now smirking at me. Fuck, that so wasn’t helping. I offered him a quick smile in return before focusing on unpacking my bag. I didn’t come here to flirt with straight dudes who’d be out of my league even if they were gay.
I had three weeks left to finish my final project for college. By the end of the next month, I’d officially be a college graduate with nothing to show for the past four years other than a piece of paper and a shitload of debt.
“Andy?” I ignored Cole when he called out my name to collect my drink. One of the perks of hanging out at The Steamy Bean was knowing he wouldn’t kick me out or tell me I had to spend more money if I wanted to stay all day. Over the past year, the two of us had gone from a strictly transactional relationship to good friends. I was pretty sure he had hoped for more, but we’d have never worked out. I knew what I needed, and had a sneaky suspicion his own fantasies made mine seem tame by comparison.
And no, I totally wasn’t leaving my coffee abandoned on the counter so I could watch over the larger table to make sure no dickheads laid claim to it before Gabriel and his parents collected their drinks. If they were smart, one of them would’ve waited while the others sat, but not everyone knew how valuable tables were around here. Besides, they were too caught up in their familial bliss to see the vapid teens behind them eyeing the table. As they collected their drinks, I slid into a seat along the wall at the smaller table so they’d think it was a happy coincidence the larger one was available for them.
I fired up my laptop and opened my notebook to the pages of nearly illegible scrawl I needed to mold into cohesive thoughts. I scribbled a few ideas onto a blank page, then shoved the pen between my lips. I tapped my fingers against the edge of the table to the beat of the song that’d been playing when I walked in. Stupid Christmas carols. I couldn’t wait for January when the world righted and slow jazz played in the background.
“Excuse me, I think this is yours.” I glanced up, pen still hanging out of my mouth.
When I opened my mouth to thank Daddy for bringing my drink to me – would you stop calling him that? – the pen fell to the table and rolled onto the floor. I vowed then and there to break myself of the nervous habit of chewing on pens.
He placed the paper cup on the table and bent down to retrieve my pen at the same time I went for it. Our heads collided hard enough I heard his wife suck in a sharp breath.
“God, I’m so sorry. Here you are trying to be nice and I damn near knock you out,” I apologized. My cheeks flushed bright red as I stared at the dark gray fabric stretched across his chest. He wasn’t chiseled or anything, but it was obvious the guy took care of himself. And now I was blatantly perving on him. Way to make a complete ass of yourself. It took me longer than I cared to admit to notice the pen in his hand. My pen. My nasty pen with the slobbery, chewed up cap. Gross. “Uh, thanks.”
“No problem.” He stood there just long enough to make the interaction awkward. When I finally looked up to meet his eyes, he offered me a playful wink. “Have a great day.”
“Uh, yeah. Um, thanks for the special delivery. You didn’t need to do that.” Great, now I was rambling.
“I know but you look like you’re gearing up for a pretty intense study session. Call it a random act of kindness.” Before I could make more of a fool of myself, Daddy walked away.
I seriously needed to find a way to shut down the computer and head out to the clubs. STAT. Otherwise I knew I’d wind up tugging one – or twenty – out to fantasies of everything I wanted from a guy like him.
Studying wasn’t happening. The more I stared at the chicken scratch on the papers in front of me, the less sense it made. Writing today off as a lost cause, I opened a browser, determined to make a concerted effort to find a job. Ugh. As much as I hated sacrificing my life to a mountain of text books and research, the idea of taking a job for the sake of collecting a paycheck was even more dreadful.
With slumped shoulders, I propped my chin on my chest as I scanned through page after page of listings for which I was either unqualified or uninterested in. The help wanted sign hanging in the front window taunted me.
“Do you even realize how you look right now?” Cole pulled out a chair across the table from me and plopped into it. I sneered at him, not in the mood for another reminder that as soon as I said the word I could be gainfully employed slinging coffee to entitled hipster wannabes right beside him. And there was no doubt in my mind the lecture was coming since I’d already heard it three times this week. Cole pushed the lid of my laptop, nearly causing it to close on my fingers. “I don’t know what makes you think working here would be a fate worse than death. It’s pretty chill most of the time.”
“Says the man who nearly ground down a molar the other day because customers were pissing you off so much.” I smirked as I took a long, slow sip of my coffee. He knew damn well I was right. “I’m not as good at you at biting my tongue. If I worked here, I’d wind up telling someone to shove it up their ass before the end of the first week and get myself fired. I like coming here too much to risk that.”
Cole glanced over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t needed behind the counter. “Maybe you’re right, but I still say it’s something you should consider. You know the menu better than over half the morons we have working here, plus with the discount you’d get, maybe you could quit pretending you live for boring black coffee.”
“I’ll think about it.” I wouldn’t but it’d get Cole to shut up for a bit. Working in a coffee shop after spending four years earning my degree felt like giving up. I could just imagine going home for the holidays and seeing the smug look on my father’s face when tried stifling the urge to remind me he’d said Sociology was a pointless degree unless I planned to spend the time getting a higher degree. Which I had no intention of doing because I’d struggled to stay focused long enough to get the degree I’d receive next month. “Speaking of work, maybe you should get back to it.”
“Fine. I know where I’m not wanted.” Cole pouted before draining the last of whatever frilly drink he’d created today. “Hit me up when you wanna go out. Friday night works best for me because Kylie’s opening Saturday.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be up for it this week. I have to get this damn paper finished.” I waved my hand over the stacks of notes scattered over most of the table.
“How’s that going?” He settled back in his chair, my suggestion that he get back to work long forgotten. At least we were no longer talking about my dismal job prospects.
I scrubbed a hand over my face. “It’s not. I picked a decent topic for my paper, but all I can think about is the fact I don’t have a job when this is all done. Maybe I should’ve changed my major when I had the chance.”
“Lemme guess — your dad was pressuring you to change, and that made you even more determined to stick with your original choice as a big fistful of ‘fuck you’ to him?” I nodded. “Man, one of these days you’re going to realize you can’t live your live for him or anyone else. You have to do what’s going to make you happy.”
“Trouble is, I have no clue what that is.” This was the first time I’d admitted to anyone, maybe even myself, that I felt like a ship without a rudder, floating my way through life without a destination.
“Dude, you’re twenty-two. No one said you have to have everything sorted out yet.” Cole laughed as though he’d just imparted some sage wisdom. “Find yourself a job that’ll keep a roof over your head but is flexible enough that you can explore who you really are for once in your damn life. You went to school out of state so you could find yourself, but as far as I can tell you’re still letting him make the decisions for you.”
“I’m not doing anything of the sort,” I argued. It was a miracle I could get that lie past my lips with a straight face. “I just… you don’t understand what it’s like having parents who love nothing more than pointing out all the ways you’re fucking up your life. You could tell your folks you wanted to live off the grid finger painting and they’d sit down to help you figure out the best ways to market your work. Not all of us have that.”
“Man, one of these days, you’re going to have to quit using them as a crutch for why you can’t do what you want to do.” Cole pushed back from the table. “I don’t know what they did to make you think your life’s purpose is to live for their expectations, but that’s a bunch of bullshit. You need to live for yourself, otherwise you’re going to wake up one day and see how miserable you are.”
“Gee, if running a coffee shop doesn’t work out for you, I think you could have a career as a motivational speaker, Cole.” I rolled my eyes and shooed him away. I didn’t need any of his well-meaning, unsolicited life coaching. I needed a damn job and for this last paper to write itself so I could be done with college.
“You can be a grouchy ass as long as you want, but you know I’m right.” Cole stood, leaning against the back of the chair. “Maybe it’s time someone tells it like they see it, and lucky for you I’m not the type to blow sunshine and rainbows up your ass. You need to live, man. I get that you have shit to do, but make sure you wrap it up by next Friday, because then you’re mine.”
“We talked about this before, Cole. We’re way too much alike for you to lay claim on me,” I scoffed.
“Friday. I’ll pick you up at nine.” He rapped his knuckles on the table before spinning away without giving me a chance to protest.
No longer in the mood to hang out at the coffee shop surrounded by everyone who had their shit together when I felt like a tangled ball of yarn, I shoved everything back into my bag, drained the last of my coffee, and stood to leave. I stumbled when I felt an unexpected hand on my arm.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but your friend’s right. Find a way to be happy for yourself or nothing in life will go your way.” Gabriel’s mom smiled sweetly at her son and husband. “It’s too easy to fall into the trap of doing what you think you’re supposed to do. They’ll eventually get over it if they see that you’re happy. And if they don’t, that’s on them.”
Great, now I’d sunk to the level of pathetic that I was attracting unsolicited advice from Daddy’s equally beautiful wife. Fuck. My. Life.
“Thanks.” What in the hell was I supposed to say? Was I supposed to sit down and interrupt their family bonding time while I spewed all the reasons that wasn’t in the cards for me? Before the moment grew awkward— more awkward— I rushed out of the coffee shop and pushed my way through the crowd of teens in the outdoor seating area.