“We are out of the Black Tea,” I said to Al, the cafe manager as I rushed to make my latest customer’s blend of mocha and expresso. Monday mornings were always our busiest and I hated that I needed to assist in the coffee section of the bookstore where I’d worked for the last two years. The store manager always sent me to that area instead of my usual – the Children’s section – to work when it was short staffed because I’d worked as a Barista at a Starbucks in the past. They’d even offered me a raise if I would transfer to that area, but I loved working with children. As much as I could use the money, I enjoyed my daily Story Time too much to give it up.
“It’s some in the back,” Al called out as he warmed up a croissant for a customer.
“Can you please get it after you finish with your customer? You know Nancy is going to be here soon and ask for her tea.” Nancy Paul was one of our regulars and a well-known author, who used the bookstore for inspiration.
He laughed. “Okay. But at some point you have to go to the storage room.”
“Nope. This is not my usual area, I’m just helping out over here remember?” For some reason the storage room for the café with its poor lighting frightened me and I hated when I needed to get more supplies. I always found an excuse to avoid that space.
“We’re thinking of making you shift manager and you can get all the free coffee you want.”
I protested as I added whip cream and a swirl of chocolate. “I don’t even like coffee.”
“Blasphemous.” Al covered his ears before dashing to the storage room. He peeked his head out. “That’s what makes you perfect for us. You won’t indulge on the inventory. Plus, you would make your own schedule.”
“Let me think about it, okay?” I really would like to have more control over my schedule, but I really loved working in the bookstore. If I wanted to work in a coffee house, I would have stayed at my last job.
“Yeah, yeah.” He waved his hand dismissively and closed the door behind him.
I finished serving my customer and prepared to take another order when there was a small commotion at the front of the store, a few feet from the café. A diverse group of about six people in corporate blue and gray suits who carried themselves as if they were important walked briskly toward us. They held everyone’s attention in the café and the front of the bookstore but mine. I had little time for pretention. I wanted to finish serving the breakfast crowd so I could return to my section in time for reading hour. I asked the customer next in line, “Are you ready to order?”
She was too busy grinning hard and focused on the elite troupe headed this way. “Is that the new Mayor? I think that’s the Mayor.”
God, I hope not. “I’m not sure, I don’t follow politics. Ma’am there’s a line behind you, so if you need more time, you can step to the side and as soon as you’re ready I’ll take your order.”
“Isn’t he gorgeous?” She obviously didn’t hear me. “And to think that he’s single. He can have my vote anytime.” I heard the flirtation in her tone, and she had to be at least sixty.
I stole a glance at the man in question, who was indeed our newly elected Mayor. He leaned against the wall on his cell while one of his minions stood in line to place his order. The others were around him but giving him privacy for his call. I guess some may say Tre LaSalle was handsome with his caramel-colored complexion, hair that would be curly if he didn’t keep it cut close, wide smile, brown eyes surrounded by lashes that any woman would buy. He raised his arm to adjust the phone causing his muscles to flex in his suit. Okay. He’s a babe, but he does nothing for me, at least not anymore. I’d voted for his opponent. I had a hard time trusting men who looked like him, men who were used to getting what they want either because of money or looks. In Tre La Salle’s case, he had both and now he was the youngest person ever elected Mayor of New Orleans at thirty-three years old.
Al who had returned from the back of the café, called one of the Mayor’s staff, to the front of the line. “We’ll go ahead and take your order. I can only imagine our Mayor is busy and can’t wait. Raini will prepare it.”
I rolled my eyes at the fact that we were trained to cater to the rich and powerful who entered our store. What about all the regular folk waiting patiently? There were five people ahead of the Mayor and it would take a while to complete his team’s order of at least six. I tried to hide my annoyance as the pretty red-haired white young woman rattled off what his people wanted. I felt someone’s stare and I turned my head slightly to see Tre LaSalle watching me with a smirk. Damn. He could tell I was irritated. When I looked again at him, he winked. I stared a moment longer with no acknowledgement of his wink and hurried to prepare their orders before I got into trouble for poor customer service or drooling over an undeserving man.
Al and I worked quickly together to get the various coffees and pastries together. We were already short-staffed and now with this demanding group and ever-growing line, we were really backed up. I groaned internally afraid I would be stuck in this section all day. At this point, it was doubtful I would make it to story time and one of my co-workers, Yaz would take over in my absence.
“Good morning. I’m sorry we just came in and skipped everyone. I really do have to run to a council meeting, but I needed to pick up this book and coffee first thing this morning. So please be a little bit more patient and we’ll be out of your hair.” The Mayor’s voice both soothing and deep as he spoke to the customers who all replied in some manner of acceptance. I did appreciate that he apologized for skipping the line, though I still believe he could have waited. “Excuse me, Miss, are you the manager?”
My back was to him making coffee drinks until this point. I turned around to answer him not realizing he was mere inches from me at the pick-up counter. My tongue apparently got caught by a cat. Up close, he was still ridiculously handsome, and he smelled good. “Um…”
“I am. Can I assist you?” Al stepped to the counter, luckily saving me from further embarrassment.
He spoke to Al as he took out his wallet and gave him three, crisp, hundred-dollar bills. “Anyone in this line, can get whatever they want for their patience. I got it.” He then smiled at me. “Whatever is left is her tip.”
Al responded, “You got it.” He then spoke loudly so that anyone in line would hear, “Order whatever you want, courtesy of the Mayor.” The small crowd in the café cheered.
“Do you take a break soon?” Tre LaSalle asked so quietly, I almost didn’t hear him. I was adding the whip cream to an iced coffee drink near where he stood.
“Break?” I continued to work diligently on his order wondering where he was going with this question. It almost felt like he was hitting on me since he leaned toward me, but that couldn’t be possible. Why would a man like him even be interested in me, a woman who worked at the coffee shop? Maybe he thought I needed a break because he saw my irritation. I picked up another iced coffee. “Cherry and whip cream? I’m assuming this one is for you?”
His dark brown eyes widened. “Yes. How did you know of all the orders, this one was mine?”
I met his gaze again briefly before dropping my eyes as I added the whip cream and two cherries. “It was the only one that was different. Everyone ordered almost the same thing. Maybe they all really drink coffee the same way – my guess is they’re trying to make a good impression on you. So, they’re not going to order something as fun as an iced vanilla latte with extra milk, caramel, and chocolate at nine in the morning.”
“You’re good.” He chuckled as he reached for his drink and our hands touched. I almost dropped the drink I was so shocked by the feel of his skin against mine. He must have noticed because his voice deepened. “Can you take a quick break now?”
One of his people, a black man who appeared to be in his late twenties, approached him at that moment. “Mayor, we need to go now, Councilman Davis just called and wants to speak with you before the meeting and you know how long-winded he can be. I sent Nakia to get the book you needed, and she will join us there.”
“I really don’t want to talk with him before this meeting so he can complain about the tax bill again.”
“You have to if you want his support on the school zoning issue.”
“Maybe I can call and start the conversation before we get there.”
“You can try but he specifically requested that you see him before the meeting.”
He groaned and mouthed “sorry” to me as he grabbed his drink with one hand and pulled out his cell with the other and walked away with his group.
“Did you finish the orders?” Al asked breaking me from my semi-stupor as I watched him leave, suddenly understanding why Tre LaSalle held everyone’s rapt attention.
“Almost. Sorry.” I placed the tops on the cups before putting them in carriers. I handed it to the red-haired woman who originally gave the order.
“Thanks,” she said as she grabbed the pastries and drinks rushed out the store with the Mayor and the rest of his entourage.
“Have a good day. Come again,” I offered suddenly hoping that this elite group did come back. Why did Tre LaSalle want to know if I could take a break? And more importantly why did I care? He left me hanging years ago and he didn’t look at me like he remembered me.
“I would like a hot chocolate and two blueberry muffins,” demanded the customer who had been mesmerized by the Mayor.
“Okay.” I quickly placed her order. “That will be…”
“Um. The Mayor is paying for it, remember?” She grumbled.
“Yeah, yeah. You’re right. It’ll be ready in a few.” I hurried away mad at myself that I allowed him to get to me again after all these years.
“Are you freaking serious?” Royalty, my best friend, screamed on the phone. “Tre LaSalle was in the store and asked if you, personally, could take a break? What could that mean?”
“I don’t know. I’m not the best when it comes to reading men…there was this vibe between us. I can’t explain it but his presence was overwhelming.”
“I wish I was there because I would have been able to tell you.”
“Don’t I know it.” I shook my head. Royalty always had men. She had been proposed to at least three different times, accepted once, and at the last minute with that one, decided she preferred her freedom.
I on the other hand only had four boyfriends in my thirty-two years and had been with my current one only a few months. I never was boy crazy like my bestie, but it would have been nice to have options. “I’m putting you on speaker.” I sat at my favorite place in my apartment, in front of my easel. I sketched whatever thoughts crossed my mind. It was relaxing and I needed it after seeing Tre today.
“You think he remembered you?”
“I am almost certain he didn’t. Why would he? He was a year older than me and in high school years, that’s at least five years older.”
“Yeah, but you shared a kiss at the Winter Formal. He has to remember that.”
“Earth to Royalty. That man had kissed so many girls before me and definitely much more ever since, if his swag is any indication. There’s no way he could possibly remember me.”
“You remember it.”
“Duh, it was my first kiss.”
“Oh yeah, right.” She paused. “Tell me again why you didn’t have your first kiss until you were sixteen?”
“Everybody can’t be hoes.” I laughed. We’d been friends since we were freshman in high school. We remained friends even when she left to attend Howard University while I remained home, choosing to work and attend school part-time. She and I remained friends and over the years we had become best friends. I was godmother to her six-year old son, Grayson.
“Whatever, I wasn’t a ‘hoe’. I liked boys and they liked me. You just didn’t care about them. Do you know how many dudes you could have had back then if you ever looked up from one of your Octavia Butler or Harry Potter Books? I met you at fourteen and with that figure and black wavy hair you forever wear in a ponytail, you always got attention. You were hot then and would be now if you cared remotely about your appearance.”
“I have a man who likes me as I am.” Royalty had been riding me about how I dressed since I could remember. I looked down at my army green tank, army painter’s pants, and brown boots. Hey, I was comfortable. Admittedly my style was eclectic. I was an artist, dammit.
“Dex?” She snorted. “You’re settling with him because he’s a nice guy.”
I dipped my paintbrush in a swirl of brown I’d created. “And what’s wrong with that?”
“He is boring. He’s a pastor for God’s sake.”
“And a realtor. There’s nothing wrong with loving the Lord. You need to get your ass back in the church.”
Royalty snickered. “Says the woman who only attends church on Easter Sunday.”
I argued, “You know me, and God have our own relationship. He accepts that I pray wherever I’m at and doesn’t believe I have to step one foot in church to praise him.”
“What anyone says to avoid being guilty for not going to church.” Royalty attended church faithfully and had been trying to get me to join her church for years. It just wasn’t me.
I continued to paint without thought. “Then you should appreciate that I date Dex. I attended his church two weeks ago and I might go again someday.”
“Hey, I’m always down for a brother who attends church, but he is the squarest person I’ve ever met. His voice even squeaks.”
I rolled my eyes. “Only when he gets excited. Besides he accepts my celibacy. Something you should be practicing ‘Miss Holy Roller’ and ‘Miss Love Them and Leave Them’ the rest of the week.”
“I atone for my sins. What can I say, my flesh is weak? And if you got some, you would understand that very basic human need. I think you even believe the lie you’ve been telling yourself. Celibacy? You’re not even a born-again virgin.”
I grumbled. “Whatever, he accepts me.” I was embarrassed to tell the men I dated that I was still a virgin. It was cute when I was twenty-one, now it’s like I’m venturing into ‘nun’ territory. Except I’m not prudish, Catholic, or particularly religious. I’d just never met a man with whom I really wanted to have sex. It really was that simple.
“Rain, if he hasn’t tried anything it’s because he has a side chick.”
I protested, “You just said he was a nice guy and a man of the cloth.”
“I meant in general, but he is a man and he’s attractive. If you’re not giving it up to him, someone is. Women love men in the church.”
I got down off my stool to go to my small kitchen to grab a bottle of water out the pantry. “Here we go again. Why do you keep saying it’s impossible for a couple to be celibate? Dex and I have lasted this long because he doesn’t pressure me like the other men did.”
“A couple who has been dating for months then yes, it’s impossible. I know you’re not having sex so it must be him.”
“How did it go from me seeing Tre again to my sex life?”
“Lack of sex life.”
“You’re so lucky I like you or I would hang up.”
“Sorry. If you did have sex just once, it would open you up. You are the most passionate person I know. It’s in the way you dress, dance, and laugh sometimes too loudly. You can see it in your art and this bohemian lifestyle you inhabit. There’s no perfect man. We are in our thirties and sex is so much fun. I highly recommend it.”
I put my bottle down on the cabinet, hating that she was right. “You know I have my reasons.”
She sighed. “I know. But you can’t live in the past. I think you are so used to being this non-sexual being, you’ve become too comfortable. How can you be near a man, especially one that you like and spend time and not want to sex him?”
I walked back to my stool and climbed back on. “Can we please talk about something else?”
Royalty giggled. “Sure…Like how you would so give it up to Tre in a heartbeat. If you managed to still tell that fine ass man ‘no’ then you got to be a lesbian. He has only gotten hotter with age. I can’t believe that man is still single, and he tried to speak to you.”
“I’m not a lesbian for the last time. You would be the first to know if I was. And if you think he is so sexy then I’m sure you could get him if you wanted to.” My friend was gorgeous with her model frame, hair styles that changed like the wind, and brown skin. Since she was a lawyer and because she never left her house without appearing like she should be on a cover of fashion magazine, she would look good on his arm. Unlike myself, a boho- sometimes chic- artist who never finished college and worked at a bookstore for consistent income.
“But you want him, so why would I do that to you?”
“Because I don’t want him, even if I had a remote chance in hell, which I don’t. From what I could tell, he is still the same arrogant asshole from high school.” Okay. Maybe I was exaggerating. He was just like most popular teenage boys when I knew him, focused on himself and getting girls.
“Then why did you call me as soon as you got a chance to describe in detail what happened today? You had gone out with Dex twice before you mentioned anything about him.”
“He’s someone from my past and our new Mayor, I thought you might want to know he came in the store today.”
“Bullshit. Admit he made you heart skip a beat when he winked at you and made you hot when he asked if you were taking a break soon.”
I smiled despite myself. “Ugh. I hate men like him.”
“Yeah, they’re annoying especially when they’re charming and rich, too.”
“And don’t forget looks and smells good.”
“Did he smell as good as he looks on TV? Please say it isn’t so?”
I thought back to his scent of cool citrus when he stood near me at the counter and smiled. “Even better.”
“Mm hmmm. Maybe he’ll come looking for you again.”
I laughed loudly. “What planet are you on? This man is not going to come looking for me. Maybe he was only asking about my break to make sure I got to have free coffee as well. And even if he was flirting, he probably still loves the women and saw an opportunity. Royalty, that man probably forgot about me, the minute he left the store. No, thanks I don’t want that type of trouble.”
“I think you protest too much.”
“I’m speaking truth. Bye, girl. I got to get off this phone.”
“Tell me you haven’t drawn him yet.”
“I…” Damn. I’d been sketching his face the entire time I was talking to her. I captured his sexy eyes and luminous smile.
“I rest my case. Night. Hope you have sexy dreams of Tre LaSalle.”