From the Common Grounds series:
Two of Rick’s favorite customers caught his attention as he walked around straightening chairs and wiping down tables after the breakfast rush.
Glenn drawled, “Well, would you look at that.” He desultorily stirring his low-fat macchiato.
“She sure seems out of place.” Sarah Jane’s retort was rapid, spiky with interest. She was on her fourth mug of coffee and jittering in her seat. She leaned forward in small staccato movements to see past Glenn’s right shoulder.
...Rick glanced out the window of the coffee shop, wondering what had those two fussing at not even eleven o'clock on a foggy Tuesday morning. Sarah Jane and Glenn were peering around the potted fern he'd just put in the corner of the front window. Well, he’d put it there last Sunday. The fern, lush and glorious, was blocking his view of whatever, whoever had them so riveted.
"No, no Sarah honey, she's waitin' on somebody I tell you..." Glenn drawled with absolute conviction.
"Waiting? Glenn, the only thing on that side of the street is one apartment building and that shady little park...oh." Sarah Jane's voice trailed away. She and Glenn both scooted their chairs to the side and then abruptly scooted them back. They whirled to face one another; both startlingly red faced, and now Rick just had to know what the hell had those two so fascinated. He picked up a new pot of coffee and sauntered toward their table, absently noting the tinkle of the door chimes.
"Sarah Jane, Glenn, good to see you this morning...I --" Rick stopped in stunned surprise as they both reached under the table to grab whatever bits of him they could reach at that awkward angle.
"Rick, for heaven's sake don't ask what we were just looking at." Sarah Jane hissed at him.
"She's standing at your counter looking absolutely lickable." Glenn added his comment in that same honey-rough tones which always left Rick thinking that all the best ones, like Glenn, were straight. He topped off his customers coffees, and then, as casually as he could manage, swung around slowly to see what all the fuss was about.
She looked entirely lost. Wild curls rioted around her face, dark brown mixed with shades of blond from ash to dark honey. She was tall, probably 5'9" or 5'10", and sported a curvy, old-fashioned pin-up girl sort of figure. Didn't straight boys call that an "hour-glass" or something? She held a little girl of probably five or six years up over the far side of the L-shaped glass display counter to pick out a pastry, and yet despite the obvious strength...
Rick saw it. That something indefinable yet infinitely real, something that was and wasn't there. An somehow waifish feeling seemed to pour from her to fill the space around her. She needed to be held. Rick could see... something marking her on a—man, he hated to sound all new agey, but on a spiritual level. She carried around an invisible sign covered in boldly written, glittering letters reading, "Handle with care".
Rick held up one finger. Called out, "I'll be with you in just a moment." Then he tried to smile and soothe and seem friendly all with his ordinary voice. He spun back around to gape at Sarah Jane and Glenn. He gave his best impression of a fish, complete with the bit where he opened his mouth repeatedly. Drawing in a breath through a wind pipe suddenly half its normal size, he licked his lips. Then he cleared his throat twice. Leaning in close he whispered, "I call dibs." And then he wondered what the hell he was doing calling dibs on a woman.
"Dhat one momma, thas as preety as Aunie 'Chelle's hastries."
Frankie's voice belled out sweet as a xylophone. She tapped the glass with her electric blue cast—the very cast she’d deemed “pretty” as soon as the pain medication kicked in. She tapped right over the confection she'd obviously set her heart on. Her mother, wincing, quickly slid her hand under the cast to keep the little hurricane from breaking the counters top. One ER visit this month was more than enough. Add the stress of moving lock, stock, and nursing license across the whole country and Dorothy was just plain worn out. Then there was the apartment hunting, though the last apartment they'd looked at seemed nice enough. The housing prices out here would take a little getting used to. Something about the manager bugged her though. He made her feel edgy, reminding her of—maybe they would keep looking. Yeah. Not that place. When the man touched her hand to pass her a pen, her stomach ached a little, and you should always listen to your gut. Right now her gut was telling her that this place smelled delicious and if the coffee tasted as good as the man serving it looked it was going to be some damn good coffee.
"How can I help you...?"
His voice was a sweet tenor. Dorothy looked up and was caught. Oh man. Chocolate. Dark chocolate eyes and what in HELL was a coffee guy doing with lips that looked as if they tasted of raspberries?
Oh. Freakin' Brilliant. It was all she could do to not drop her head into her hands and call it quits. A professional speaker she was not, but neither was she some sort of idiot savant of the professional speaker’s circuit.
"You're new here..."
Oh shit. He smiled, and Dorothy was glad she'd chosen the bikini panties that morning in the hotel. The thin strip of cloth a thong provided would have been dripping by now. What was he saying? Those chocolate eyes and raspberry lips reminded her of her favorite candy...Michelle sprinkled bits of those chocolate bars all over the frosting of the cake she'd baked them right before they left.
"...wondering if you just moved into the neighborhood..."
He even smelled liked chocolate. Shaggy blond hair and just a touch of stubble...she was definitely stopping by the pharmacy to get batteries. She—yeah, oh hell yeah, she definitely had a date with B.O.B tonight right after hurricane season concluded for the day.
"...you must be from Florida or the Gulf Coast, but we don't get hurricanes out here on the West Coast."
Dorothy closed her eyes and felt the heat spreading up her neck to her face.
"Oh geez...how much did I say out loud?" She cringed.
Rick laughed out loud, the warm tones slipping and tumbling over one another. Dorothy pressed her thighs together and wondered what it would be like to have him laugh like that while he was licking right between her...a little voice piped up, interrupting her thoughts, and dammit even her thoughts were at the mercy the voices in her head that never, ever let her be. He’d hate her if he ever got between her thighs. He’d hate her, and maybe hurt her just like…
Frankie’s voice piped up, and Dorothy thanked all the powers that be for the almighty power of childus-interruptus which could even silence the horrible voices in her head.
"Momma, can I habe my hastrie?" asked Frankie.
Rick peered over the edge of the pastry case. He looked up and started to open his mouth only to be cut off.
"No,yes, 4, and she wants the one that looks like it has ribbons all over it... and those are the questions everyone asks." Dorothy rolled her eyes. "If I had a dollar for every time someone asks if she is a model, do I know she's dressed like freakin' Snow White, and don't feel bad it's her height, everyone thinks she's a couple of years older than she really is."
Rick looked back at the woman. She’d nailed everything he was going to ask. He couldn’t help but be startled, nor wondering how she had so perfectly answered the questions he hadn't even voiced.
"You have a very expressive face, I'll take a coffee and a croissant, oh, and a house salad with chickpeas, the raspberry vinaigrette for dressing, a glass of milk for my little hurricane, and how much of what I was thinking did I say out loud?" The words rushed the words out of her mouth. Her tone dipped, going a little deeper, a tiny bit huskier over the word raspberry, and what was that about...?
"Ummm....something about meeting Bob back at the hotel later, after the hurricane stopped..."
Glancing down past the counter again he smirked slightly. "I think I get the hurricane reference now though." His smile broadened back into that sweet adult dessert she wanted to eat for at least a few hours. " I am still curious about Bob though...or was it B.O.B.?" Rick chuckled as he asked the last. "I'm Rick by the way... Rick C. Torres. If you and your little hurricane want to find a table I'll bring your food right out... do you need a booster seat for her? And I make a mean toasted PB&J if she's interested in lunch."
"Oh... a PB&J sounds great. She always loves those. Uh." And YES he already knew the answer to the other question by the delicious blush riding up her face. "Uh...my name's Dorothy. I'm not meeting anyone later...w-we just got here, are still looking for an apartment actually. Uh... It's too bad the one across the way isn't going to work out. This cafe is lovely and it would have been so close to my new job...oh well." She shrugged her shoulders, looking frail again somehow, and a little overwhelmed and before anyone could stop him he opened his mouth. Said something crazy. Abso-freakin-lutely crazy. The sexy little stutter must have short circuited his brain. He always loved when he flustered his boyfriends enough to make them stutter.
"There's an apartment upstairs that's going to be open soon." Holy Hell, that was his apartment... and dammit his mouth was still moving,"... how soon do you need to find a place?"
Glenn had come up behind Dorothy and was looking at him like he had lost his mind. Oh hell, he had lost his mind. "I'll be right over with that booster seat and your drinks then he said." He hoped Glenn could read the desperation in his eyes, cause if he blabbed right now Rick was going to look like some kind of sick-o stalker psycho. Dorothy and her daughter moved off, and Glenn let the laugh he'd been holding in rumble in his chest. "I know you called dibs man, but moving her into your apartment before knowing her even an hour is fast work even for a sweet slickster like you."
Glenn was laughing openly now, still quietly enough to not draw attention with his head tipped down, glancing up through his lashes in sly merriment. Thank God Dorothy hadn't noticed the odd reaction he was giving to the apartment offer.
"Glenn, can you and Sarah meet me for dinner tonight?" Rick waved away the money Glenn had out to pay for their lunches... "I think I'm gonna need someone to talk to later... don't worry about lunch, man. It's on me."
"I know I can make it... and I’ll see if Sarah Jane has any plans for tonight... though even if she does, I’m sure she can be persuaded to cancel them. Where do you want to meet us, and when?" Glenn's blue eyes sparkled as he asked the question. Rick could see that he had about a hundred more questions but thankfully he was opting to ask them later. When she couldn't overhear things that made him seem...well, just plain loco.
"Thanks Glenn. 7:30pm I guess, at that new Cajun place over on Folsom maybe? Please come even if Sarah Jean can't... I just... I really am going to need someone to talk to tonight." Rick gave a lopsided little smile as he spoke, and Glenn got the strongest urge to wrap the other man up in his arms. He wanted to make everything... Ooo-kay where did that come from? Guy must remind him of his kid brother. Because Glenn liked the forms he wrapped up in his arms to be curvy little packages like the lovely in front of him. Yeah, that was it.
The clatter of the restaurant behind them set a pleasant level of ambient noise. Glenn glanced around, and then trained his gaze back on Rick’s eyes as he listened to Sarah Jean light into Rick. "So, you're telling us that you told her she could have your apartment—which she doesn't know is yours—and now you have to move out by Friday so she can move in on Saturday?"
If Sarah Jane's voice got any more incredulous she'd become a caricature of herself. Her gingery eyebrows were hovering up near her hairline and the sheer stupefaction expressed in her brandy colored eyes was making Rick feel more loco than he had when arranging for one of his part-timers to come in for the afternoon so that he could hide all his photos, all the stuff that made it obvious that the apartment was his. More loco than when he'd shown the apartment to Dorothy, claiming that he'd cleared it with his "tenant" earlier and yes, muy more loco than when he'd claimed that the guy didn't want to give up his lease so the sublet was only going to cost her $750. A month. For a large four bedroom flat. In San Francisco. He could only hope that these two people that he'd know casually for a year and a half would take pity and offer to help him. Mark and Guy were out of town, Robert wasn't due to return from studying abroad for another three months, and Lizzie and Sheila were in Denver for a week at Sheila's sister's wedding. And he couldn't ask his brothers. Tio abuelo Manuel would help, but at 82, even a robust 82, his biggest contribution was likely to be ordering the pizza for afterwards.
"Yeah, that's about the size of it." Rick ducked his head, looking across the table through his lashes at the last hope he had of help in pulling off this crazy scheme.
The rumble that masqueraded as Glenn's laugh started up in his chest again. His shoulders were shaking as he bit his lips. When he started slowly shaking his head back and forth Rick's hopes took a sharp dive. Rick bit his own lip and looked down, then spoke quickly, trying to sound nonchalant about the whole thing...maybe he wouldn't scare away two of his best customers.
"It's okay, I know it's a lot to ask on short notice and -"
Glenn shot Sarah Jane a loaded glance—nice to have known one another since second grade sometimes—and reached across the table to get Rick's attention. Except instead of tapping the smaller man on the back of the hand as he'd intended to he found himself cupping the other man's hand. Rick’s skin felt cool to the touch, and his fingers shook slightly. Rick looked up, releasing his bottom lip from the fierce grip his teeth had on it. The plump flesh gleamed with moisture, soft and sweetly pink against the whiteness of his teeth. His lips parted. Glenn had a sudden vivid mental image of himself leaning forward to lick that raspberry pink surface, learn if it tasted as sweet as it looked. In his mind, Rick leaned forward, meeting him halfway. The café owner pressed his firm lips against Glenn’s, and then he—
"Glenn here—” the back of Sarah Jane's hand thwacked into her friend's chest, startling him and halting his unconscious movement forward, “—and I would be happy to help you."
"I know it seems loony, but she was just so...just..." Rick spread his hands and shrugged.
"Yes she was." Though Glenn spoke it was clear from the look on Sarah Jane's face she was in complete agreement. She lifted her water glass as if to make a toast. The other two followed suit, and with a wry sidelong glance at Glenn, she said, "To becoming friends of Dorothy." She smirked a bit, and then, after taking a small sip of her water, she continued to speak. "What I'm unclear on Rick, is if Dorothy is living in your apartment, where are you going to live?" Glenn wondered if this was what Rick had felt like earlier as he heard himself saying," I have a spare room... you can stay with me until you figure things out." Well, obviously insanity was contagious. Because Glenn didn't have a spare room. Where in hell was he supposed to put all his home office stuff while Rick was staying there? He nudged Sarah Jane's ankle with the toe of his shoe and gave her the don't you dare say a word look. One eyebrow discreetly raised, eyes slightly narrowed. She got the message loud and clear, though clearly she did not like what he was saying. Sarah Jane always got him. It was why he was planning to ask her to marry him. He liked not having to explain. He liked how she always got him. He liked her right down to her pretty toes.
Yeah. He just wanted to help Rick to help Dorothy. Cause there was sure something about her that made you want to help her. Protect her. Help anyone who was trying to help her. Plus Rick reminded him of his baby brother... though he never wondered if his brother's lips tasted like raspberries. Never looked at his brother's lips and wondered if he could get his girlfriend to wear raspberry flavored gloss. Or maybe get some raspberry flavored bodypaint so he could lick it off every hot caramel colored inch of flesh. Poor guy must have caught hell growing up with a pair of lips like that. Right. So he wanted to help him out. Was gonna let him stay in his house. Made perfect sense. Yeah. Sure. Now if the waiter would just come back, because suddenly Glenn wanted to change the dressing on his salad...for some reason he had a distinct craving now for the raspberry vinaigrette.