One Night: Promised eBook: Page2
Jodi Ellen Malpas (2014)
I wince. ‘I’ve told you. I’m happy.’
‘Happy hiding from a world that has so much to offer?’ she asks seriously. ‘Start living, Olivia. Trust me, time soon passes you by. Before you know it, you’re being measured for false teeth and you won’t dare cough or sneeze through fear of pissing yourself.’
‘Nan!’ I choke on a piece of bread, but she’s not amused at all. She’s deadly serious, as she always is during these types of conversations.
‘True story,’ she says on a sigh. ‘Get out there. Take whatever life throws your way. You’re not your mother, Oliv—’
‘Nan,’ I warn slowly.
She visibly slumps in her chair. I know I frustrate her, but I’m quite happy as I am. I’m twenty-four, I’ve lived with my nan since I was born, and as soon as I left college, I made my ex-cuses to stay at home and keep an eye on her. But while I was quite happy looking after my nan, she was not. ‘Olivia, I’ve moved forward. You need to, too. I should never have held you back.’
I smile, not knowing what to say. She doesn’t realise it, but I needed holding back. I’m my mother’s daughter, after all.
‘Livy, make your nan happy. Put some heels on and go out and enjoy yourself.’
It’s me slumping now. She just can’t stop herself. ‘Nan, you’d have to pin me down to get me in heels.’ My feet ache at the very thought.
‘How many pairs of those canvas things do you have?’ she asks, buttering me yet more bread and passing it over.
‘Twelve,’ I answer, completely unashamed. ‘All in different colours.’ I plan on buying them in yellow on Saturday, too. I take the bread and sink my teeth in, smiling around my bite when she huffs her displeasure.
‘Well at least go out and have fun. Gregory’s always offering. Why don’t you take him up on his constant offers?’
‘I don’t drink.’ I wish she’d stop with this. ‘And Gregory will only drag me around all the gay bars,’ I tell her, raising my eyebrows. My best friend sleeps with enough men for both of us.
‘Any bar is better than no bar. You might like it.’ She reaches over and brushes some crumbs from my lips, then strokes my cheek softly. I know what she’s going to say. ‘It’s frightening how similar you are.’
‘I know.’ I rest my hand over hers and hold it in place while she silently reflects. I don’t remember my mother very well, but I’ve seen the proof; I’m a carbon copy of her. Even my blond hair falls strangely similarly into waves that cascade over my shoulders, almost making it seem like too much hair for my tiny body to carry. It’s incredibly heavy and only behaves if rough dried and left to do as it pleases. And my big navy-blue eyes that match my grandmother’s and my mother’s have a glassy reflecting quality. Sapphire-like, people have said. I don’t see that part. Make-up is a pleasure, not a necessity, but it’s always minimal on my fair skin.
Once I’ve given her enough time to reminisce, I take her hand and place it by her bowl. ‘Eat up, Nan,’ I say quietly, continuing with my own soup.
Dragging herself back to the here and now, she carries on with her supper, but she’s quiet. She’s never got over my mother’s reckless lifestyle – a lifestyle that stole Nan’s daughter from her. It’s been eighteen years and she still misses my mother terribly. I don’t. How can you miss someone you hardly knew? But watching my nan slip into these sad thoughts every now and then makes it just as painful for me.
Yes, there’s definitely something to be said about making the perfect cup of coffee. I’m staring at the machine again, but today I’m smiling. I’ve done it – the correct amount of foam, the smoothness like silk and the little dusting of chocolate, forming a perfect heart on the top. It’s just a shame that it’s me who’s drinking it, not an appreciative customer.
‘Good?’ Sylvie asks, watching with anticipation.
I hum and gasp, setting the cup down. ‘The coffee machine and I are now friends.’
‘Yay!’ she squeals, throwing her arms around me. I laugh and match her enthusiasm, looking over her shoulder as the door to the bistro swings open.
‘I think the lunchtime rush is about to start,’ I say, breaking free from her grip. ‘I’ll get this one.’
‘Oh, she’s full of confidence,’ Sylvie laughs, moving to give me access to the serving counter. She beams at me as I make my way over to the man who’s just arrived.
‘What can I get you?’ I ask, getting ready to jot down his order, but when he doesn’t answer, I look up and find him watching me closely. I start shifting nervously, not liking the scrutiny. I find my voice. ‘Sir?’
His eyes widen a little. ‘Er, cappuccino, please. To take away.’
‘Sure.’ I snap into action, leaving Mr Wide Eyes gathering himself, and take myself to my new best friend, loading the handle thingy and securing it successfully into the holder – so far so good.
‘That is why Del won’t sack you,’ Sylvie whispers over my shoulder, making me jump slightly.
‘Stop it,’ I say, retrieving a takeaway cup from the shelf and placing it under the filter before pressing the correct button.
‘He’s watching you.’
‘Sylvie, stop it!’
‘Give him your number.’
‘No!’ I blurt too loudly, quickly checking over my shoulder. He’s staring at me. ‘I’m not interested.’
‘He’s cute,’ Sylvie concludes, and I have to agree. He’s very cute, but I’m very uninterested.
‘I don’t have time for a relationship.’ That’s not strictly true. This is my first job and before this I spent most of my adult life caring for Nan. Now I’m not sure whether she really does still need the care, or whether it’s just my excuse.
Sylvie shrugs and leaves me to finish my second round with the machine. I finish up, smiling as I pour the milk into the cup before releasing a drop of dust on the foam and securing a lid. I’m far too proud of myself and it’s obvious on my smiling face as I turn to deliver the cappuccino to Mr Wide Eyes. ‘Two pounds eighty, please.’ I go to place the cup down, but he intercepts me and takes it from my hand, ensuring contact as he does.
‘Thank you,’ he says, pulling my eyes up to his with his soft words.
‘You’re welcome.’ I slowly take my hand away from his, accepting the tenner he hands me. ‘I’ll get your change.’
‘Don’t worry.’ He shakes his head mildly, running his eyes all over my face. ‘But I wouldn’t mind your phone number.’
I hear Sylvie chuckling from the table she’s clearing. ‘I’m sorry, I’m in a relationship.’ I punch his order through the till and quickly collect his change, handing it over to him and ignoring Sylvie’s snort of disgust.
‘Of course you are.’ He laughs lightly, looking embarrassed. ‘How stupid of me.’
I smile, trying to ease his awkwardness. ‘It’s okay.’
‘I don’t usually just ask any women I meet for their number,’ he explains. ‘I’m not a creep.’
‘Honestly, it’s okay.’ I’m feeling embarrassed myself now, and I’m silently wishing he’d leave before I throw a coffee cup at Sylvie’s head. I can feel her staring at me in shock. I start to rearrange the napkins, anything to take me away from the uncomfortable situation. I could kiss the man who walks in behind, looking like he’s in a hurry. ‘I’d better get this.’ I indicate over Mr Wide Eyes’s shoulder to the harassed-looking businessman.
‘Oh, yes! Sorry.’ He backs away, holding up his cup in thanks. ‘See ya.’
‘Bye.’ I lift my hand before looking to my next customer. ‘What would you like, sir?’
‘Latte, no sugar, and make it quick.’ He barely even looks at me before he answers his phone and walks away from the counter, dumping his briefcase on a chair.
I’m only semi-aware of Mr Wide Eyes leaving, but I’m more than aware of Sylvie’s biker boots marching up to me, where I’m tackling the coffee machine again. ‘I can’t believe you declined!’ she whispers harshly. ‘He was lovely.’
I make quick work of my
‘Yes, he was okay.’
I’m not looking at her, but I know she’s just rolled her eyes. ‘Unbelievable,’ she mutters, stomping off, her voluptuous rump matching the side-to-side sway of her black bob.
I’m smiling in triumph again as I deliver the coffee, and my grin doesn’t even fall away when the harassed businessman thrusts three pounds into my hand before snatching his cup and marching out, without so much as a thank you.
My feet don’t touch the ground for the rest of the day. I fly in and out of the kitchen, clean endless tables and make dozens of perfect coffees. On my breaks, I manage to check up on Nan, being told off each time for being a whittle-arse.
As five o’clock approaches, I sink into one of the brown leather couches and open a can of Coke, hoping the caffeine and sugar might snap me back to life. I’m knackered.
‘Livy, I’m just going to take the rubbish out,’ Sylvie calls over, yanking the black sack from one of the bins. ‘You okay?’
‘Fabulous.’ I hold my can up and rest my head back on the sofa, resisting the temptation to close my eyes, instead focusing on the spotlights in the ceiling. I can’t wait to fall into bed. My feet are aching, and I desperately need a shower.
‘Is anyone working or is it self-service?’
I jump up from the couch at the sound of the impatient but smooth voice, and swing around to tend to my customer. ‘Sorry!’ I rush to the counter, smacking my hip on the corner of the worktop and resisting the urge to curse out loud. ‘What can I get you?’ I ask, rubbing my hip as I look up.
I stagger back. And I definitely gasp. His piercing blue eyes are burning into me. Deep, deep into me. My gaze drifts and takes in his open suit jacket, a waistcoat and pale-blue shirt and tie, his dark stubbled jaw, and the way his lips are parted just so. Then I find those eyes again. They’re the sharpest blue I’ve ever seen, and they’re cutting right through me with an edge of curiosity. The definition of perfection is standing before me and it has me staring in wonder.
‘Do you often examine customers so thoroughly?’ His head cocks to the side, his perfect eyebrow arching expectantly.
‘What can I get you?’ I breathe, waving my pad at him.
‘Americano, four shots, two sugars, topped up halfway.’ The words roll from his mouth but I don’t hear them. I see them. I lip-read every word, writing them down while keeping my eyes on his mouth. Before I know what’s happened, my pen has drifted from my pad and I’m scribbling on my fingers. I glance down with a frown.
‘Hello?’ He sounds impatient again, prompting my eyes to snap up. I allow myself to step back and take in all of his face. I’m shocked, not because of how incredibly stunning he is, but because I’ve lost all of my bodily functions, except my eyes. They’re working just fine, and they can’t seem to disconnect from his flawlessness. I don’t even lose my concentration when he rests his palms on the counter and leans forward, encouraging a wave from his tousled dark hair to fall onto his forehead. ‘Am I making you feel uncomfortable?’ he asks. I lip-read that, too.
‘What can I get you?’ I breathe once more, waving my pad at him again.
He nods down to my pen. ‘You’ve already asked me. My order’s on your hand.’
I look down, seeing ink strewn all over my fingers, but it doesn’t make a bit of sense, not even when I try to match up the pad to where the pen has trailed off.
Slowly lifting my eyes, I meet his. There’s an element of knowing in them.
He looks smug. It’s thrown me completely.
I scan the information stored in my mind from the last few minutes, but I find no order for coffee, just saved images of his face. ‘Cappuccino?’ I ask hopefully.
‘Americano,’ he counters smoothly on a whisper. ‘Four shots, two sugars and topped up halfway.’
‘Right!’ I snap myself from my pathetic awestruck state and move to the coffee machine, my hands shaking, my heart thudding. I bash the filter on the wooden drawer to rid it of the used beans, hoping the loud smacking will knock some sense back into me. It doesn’t. I still feel . . . strange.
Pulling the lever on the grinder, I load the filter up. He’s staring at me. I can feel those piercing blues penetrating my back as I faff and fiddle with the machine that I’ve grown to love. It’s not loving me right now, though. It’s not doing anything I tell it to. I can’t secure the filter in the holder; my shaking hands are not helping in the slightest.
Taking a deep, calming breath, I start again, successfully loading the filter and placing the cup underneath. I press the button and wait for it to work its magic, keeping my back to the stranger behind me. In the whole week I’ve worked at Del’s Bistro, I’ve never known the machine to take this long to filter some coffee. I’m silently willing it to hurry the hell up.
When an eternity has passed, I take the cup and slip in two sugars, ready to top it up with water.
‘Four shots.’ He breaks the uncomfortable silence with that soft rasp.
‘Pardon?’ I don’t turn around.
‘I ordered four shots.’
I look down at the cup, containing just one shot, and close my eyes, praying for the coffee gods to help me out. I don’t know how long it takes me to add three more shots, but when I finally turn to deliver his coffee, he’s sitting on a sofa, relaxed, his lean physique stretched out, his fingers tapping the arm. His face doesn’t show a hint of emotion, but I detect he’s not happy, and for some strange reason that makes me really unhappy. I’ve handled that damn machine perfectly all day, and now when I really want to look like I know what I’m doing, I’m coming off as an incompetent fool. I feel stupid as I hold up the takeaway cup before placing it neatly on the counter.
He looks at it, then back to me. ‘I want to drink in.’ His face is serious, his tone flat but sharp, and I stare at him, trying to figure out if he’s being difficult or genuine. I don’t remember him asking for a takeaway; I just assumed. He doesn’t look like the type to sit around in back-street bistros. He looks more like a champagne bar, mingle-with-the-money type.
Grabbing a coffee cup and saucer, I simply transfer the coffee and shove a teaspoon on the side before taking steady steps over to him. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop the chinking of the cup on the saucer. I place it down on the low table and watch as he swivels the saucer before lifting the cup, but I don’t hang around to watch him drink, pivoting quickly on my Converse and escaping.
I virtually burst through the swing door of the kitchen, finding Paul putting his coat on. ‘All right, Livy?’ he asks, his rounded face scanning me.
‘Yep.’ I dive into the large metal sink to wash my sweaty hands as the bistro phone starts ringing from the wall. Paul takes the initiative to answer, obviously concluding that I’m dead set on scrubbing my hands until they disappear.
‘For you, Livy. I’m outta here.’
‘Have a great weekend, Paul,’ I say, drying my hands before I take the phone. ‘Hello?’
‘Livy, honey, are you busy tonight?’ Del asks.
‘Yes, I have a catering contract for a charity gala and I’ve been let down. Could you be a doll and help me out?’
‘Oh, Del, I’d love to, but . . .’ I have no idea why I said I’d love to, because I really wouldn’t, and I can’t finish that sentence because I can’t find a ‘but’. I have nothing to do this evening except faff around my grandmother and get told off for it.
‘Ah, Livy, I’ll pay you well. I’m desperate.’
‘What are the hours?’ I sigh, leaning against the wall.
‘You star! Seven to midnight. It’s not hard, honey. Just walk around with trays of canapés and glasses of champagne. Piece of cake.’
A piece of cake? It’s still walking, and my feet are still killing me. ‘I need to go home to check on my nan and change. What should I wear?’
He hangs up, and I hang my head, but my attention is soon pulled to the swing door when Sylvie bursts through, her brown eyes wide. ‘Have you seen it?’
Her question quickly reminds me of the stunning creature who’s sitting drinking coffee in the bistro. I almost laugh as I place the receiver back in its cradle. ‘Yes, I’ve seen him.’
‘Holy fucking shit, Livy! Men like that should carry a warning.’ She glances back into the bistro and starts fanning her face. ‘Oh God, he’s blowing the steam off his coffee.’
I don’t need a visual. I can imagine it. ‘Are you working tonight?’ I ask, trying to divert her dribbling into the kitchen.
‘Yes!’ She swings back towards me. ‘Did Del ask you?’
‘He did.’ I unhook my keys and lock the doors that lead to the alley.
‘He tried to get me to ask you, but I know you’re not mad about night work, what with your nan at home. Are you doing it?’
‘Well, I agreed.’ I give her a tired look.
Her serious face grins. ‘It’s closing time. Would you like to let him know that it’s time to go?’
Stupidly, I’m battling off the shakes again at the thought of looking at him, and I chastise myself for it. ‘Yes, I’ll tell him,’ I declare with all the confidence I’m not feeling. Rolling my shoulders back, I walk with sureness past Sylvie and into the bistro, coming to an abrupt halt when I see he’s gone. The strangest sensation comes over me as I scan the area, feeling a bizarre sense of desertion mixed with disappointment.
‘Oh. Where’s he gone?’ Sylvie whines, pushing past me.
‘I don’t know,’ I whisper, slowly walking to the abandoned sofa and picking up a half-drunk coffee and three pound coins. I separate the napkin that’s stuck to the bottom of the saucer and start to screw it up, but some black lines catch my attention and I’m quickly unravelling it with one hand and flattening it on the table.
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