Home > Right Where I Want You(2)

Right Where I Want You(2)
Jessica Hawkins

He was at the pick-up counter now, closer than he had been moments ago. Without warning, he squatted at my feet. My breath caught as he reached past my ankle and under the counter. His forearm grazed my calf and I shuddered, goosebumps spreading like wildfire up my bare leg.

He stood and held out one of my notecards. “I think you dropped this.”

I just stared at it, willing my hand to take it, but my body wasn’t done being stunned by his nearness. I hadn’t had a man between my legs in months. And he was still here, inches away, standing closer than a stranger would. As if we’d come here together. As if we were leaving together . . .

“By the way, the iced coffee isn’t for me,” he said gently, as if sensing my discomfort.

I took the index card, shoved it in my bag with the others, and met his eyes—the perfect summer green of the grass in Sheep Meadow where I’d sunbathed just last month. “I’m sorry?”

“I didn’t just pull a Michael Scott and proclaim myself number one boss. I’m actually buttering up my boss.” He shrugged. “And I’m not above excessive flattery or caffeine.”

I glanced around to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else, but we were alone. He was flirting with me—a man this attractive who was also well-versed in The Office. As soon as the thought hit me, my barely working brain short-circuited. With a chiseled jaw and smooth, styled brown hair, he was a marble statue away from Greek god status. My throat had gone bone-dry. Seconds ticked by, and I still hadn’t answered.

“Hopefully this place does the trick,” he continued with a smile. “I’ve never had the coffee here.”

Slowly, I nodded, grasping at words. “It’s not sludge.”

He chuckled, a deep, sexy sound that made me wish I was funnier so he’d do it again. “You heard that, huh?”

“He’s a master. At the coffee-making.” Sweat formed along my hairline. “Er, he’s a great barista—Luciano, I mean.”

The man wasn’t just intimidatingly large with equally impressive posture. Every piece of his look was perfectly in place, from a shiny gold tie that cut straight down the center of a crisp, white dress shirt to mahogany-colored wingtip brogues so polished I could probably see my own reflection in them. Heat crept up my chest and neck.

“So, is he a friend of yours, Luciano?” he asked. “Or . . .”

It would almost make more sense that a man this handsome and well-dressed would be talking to me to get to Luciano. Except, having grown up with a gay best friend, my radar for these things was usually pretty accurate, and I wasn’t getting that vibe at all. “Just a friend,” I said and tested the waters with, “He’s available.”

He smiled. “I wasn’t asking for—” A small, high-pitched voice cut into our moment, and it took me a second to realize it was coming from the man’s cell. He put it to his ear. “Justin,” he said into the phone. “Forgot you were there.” He hesitated, then gave me an apologetic look as he stepped away and asked, “What’s this news that can’t wait?”

Luciano handed my new drink over the counter. “Who’s the sexy suit?”

“Not sure,” I said, “but he’s straight.”

“As an arrow,” Luciano agreed.

“If I had time, I’d stay to find out more, but I want to get upstairs a little early.” I blew him a kiss as I turned to leave. “See you later.”

I was about to exit the café when the door flew open, forcing me to jump back. Joan, the woman who’d taken my drink earlier, blew by me, stomping to the front. “This isn’t skinny,” she said to the barista.

Lu’s coworker looked up slowly, his eyebrows cinched. “Sorry . . . ?”

“You made my drink wrong.” She showed him where whole milk was marked on the cup. “It was supposed to be non-fat, sugar-free, without whip.”

Luciano came out of the back with a tray of three drinks. “Number one boss,” he called out.

I glanced over at the man in the suit, who was now pacing the far side of the café. He rubbed his temples with one large hand as he spoke into the phone. “Now?” he asked, sounding angry. “As in, this morning? When was that decided?”

“I didn’t make your drink, ma’am,” the barista said, calling my attention back.

“It doesn’t matter who made it,” Joan replied. “It’s wrong.”

“I made it.” Luciano ignored her glare as he capped a drink and added, “Is there a problem?”

“It’s not skinny. I want a new drink and obviously a refund for having to walk all the way back.”

If she’d taken the correct drink in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. Luciano was likely thinking the same thing, because he looked right at me. He wasn’t able to put her in her place without risking his job. The thought of doing it for him made me panic even though standing up for my best friend should’ve been a reflex.

“Well?” the woman asked Luciano. “Are you just going to stand there?”

“You actually picked up the wrong drink,” he responded, finally facing her.

“So this is my fault?” Her neck reddened. “You should’ve written the correct name on it. Or don’t they teach you that in barista school?”

“We’ll be happy to remake it,” Luciano said evenly, but I could tell he was trying not to snap.

“I’ll take a refund too,” she said, “and I’d like to see your manager.”

The man in the gold tie walked back across the café. “A simple ‘thank you’ would do,” he said to her as he tucked his cell in his breast pocket and turned his back to me. “Luciano just generously offered to remake a drink you mistakenly took. Why do you think it’s okay to speak to him that way?”

I looked around him. Her expression fell as she took him in. “This isn’t really your business,” she said with less conviction.

“You’re being unnecessarily rude, and as a human being, that’s my business.” He checked a heavy-looking chrome watch and picked up his drink tray. “He deserves an apology, and I hope you’ll rethink what you tell his manager.”

Watching the heroic way he put her in her place made my heart pound, both with adrenaline and a tinge of fear. I couldn’t keep backing down to people like Joan, who had no consideration for others. Or Neal, who’d picked us an apartment closest to his subway line, had us visiting his family for holidays, and had me cook meals catered to his tastes.

Neal’s parting words, said after makeup sex I’d regret until the day I died, had weighed on me ever since. “Never should’ve left someone like you for a stronger woman, Georgina. They’re way too much work.”

In other words, someone like me was easy. Weak. In the next breath, he’d asked me to skip my monthly visit with my grandad so we could stay in and catch up on Altered Carbon. Apparently, his ‘stronger woman’ didn’t have Netflix.

For years, I’d done nothing but doubt myself in Neal’s presence. That, and concede, yield, and compromise. Now, I used his words to incite myself. To fight back. To stop the cycle of putting others’ feelings before my own.

Emboldened, I charged back to the counter. My adrenaline kicked in, and fleetingly, I even wondered if I’d have the courage to ask out mister gold-tie, green-eyes after this. But just as I approached, he swiveled on his heel, and we collided with only the drink tray between us.

“Goddamn it,” he said, jumping back as iced coffee exploded on my blouse.

My mouth hung open as I raised my arms. Goddamn it was right. I hadn’t accounted for accidents this late in the game. I definitely didn’t have time to go home and change, but I’d have a hard enough time getting a roomful of men to take me seriously without a wet blouse.

Balancing the tray of surviving drinks in one hand, he tossed the fallen one with his other and grabbed a handful of napkins. “Today of all days,” he muttered. “And the only drink I actually needed.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and offered, “I’ll replace it.”

“It’s fine.” He dabbed at coffee splatter on his shirt then squatted to clean up the spill. “Just watch where you’re going. Someone like you will get run over in this city.”

I paled, only mildly aware the coffee shop had gone quiet. I didn’t have to ask what he meant by someone like me. I wasn’t big enough, not just in stature but in presence, to command consideration. The man didn’t seem to care that my blouse was drenched in cold, sticky liquid.

It wasn’t even that he’d said it in front of everyone, including Luciano, but that he’d so easily narrowed in on the insecurities Neal had left me with. A lump formed in my throat as people stared at us, but he didn’t notice as he struggled to mop up every drop with the napkins.

In a fitted pencil skirt, I couldn’t even bend down to help. “Luciano,” I said, hating how my voice cracked. “There’s a spill over here.”

“He shouldn’t have to clean up your mess,” the man said.

My mess. Run over. Someone like me. What had happened in the last five minutes to turn “number one boss” into such a jerk? I’d spent half a year trying to move on from an ex who’d made me feel as small as this man was trying to. I was insignificant. In the way. Inconvenient.

Tears heated the backs of my eyes, but I swallowed through them.

I hadn’t recognized Neal’s behavior for what it was back then, but I was stronger now. This man didn’t get to speak down to me just because he was bigger, more articulate, and more charming than most. Maybe nobody had ever stood up to him out of fear, but I forced myself to channel my inner George—or in Lu’s words, “the bitch within.”

“This isn’t my mess,” I said. “It’s as much your fault as mine, and at least I owned up to it.” My voice firmed, and I straightened my back. “You pretend to be a nice guy to get what you want, and then you dump all over the rest of us because you think you’re better.” A man bold enough to wear a gold tie surely assumed his devastating smile could get him out of anything. Not anymore. I’d never gotten the chance to tell Neal off the way he deserved, so for my former self, I continued, “Well, guess what? You’re not better. You’re worse. You told that woman to apologize, but you should take your own advice, you entitled asshole.”

He froze in the middle of sopping up the drink and raised his beautiful green eyes to mine. “You’ll call a stranger an asshole, but you can’t even stand up for your supposed friend?”

As triumph coursed through me, shame followed. I remembered now why I hated confrontation. I wasn’t good at it. I always folded. And more often than not, panic stole my words, leaving me without a defense. What could I even say? The man was right. I’d left a lifelong friend high and dry. As much as I wanted to think standing up for myself meant my confidence had finally returned, it was still hanging by a tenuous thread.

A few hot, frustrated tears slid over my cheeks. I quickly turned my face away, horrified that I’d given him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Without looking back, I turned on my heel and bolted out of the café.



With handfuls of soggy napkins and coffee splatter on my freshly pressed Tom Ford shirt, I stared out the door after a woman who’d just called me an entitled asshole in front of a café full of people.

Life was really testing me this morning. It was one of the first days of fall, the crisp, colorful kind that would’ve normally made for a great start to the week—but not this one. Not even a beautiful woman or a grenade of an insult could make me forget the date.

As I’d hung up with Justin moments ago, my first instinct had been to call my mom and ask for advice. It didn’t seem fair that I couldn’t.

Not that anything about her death had seemed fair.

Could it really be possible that as of today, she’d been gone one whole year?

Each time that reality came crashing down, it was no less crushing, but this morning, I needed her more than ever. As if I wasn’t already navigating an emotional minefield of memories, I’d just found out my job was under threat too. The universe had pretty much dumped an ice-cold, extra-cream-and-sugar coffee on my Monday—and all over an auburn-haired beauty whose freckles disappeared when her face reddened.

A fact I only knew because I’d upset her. I’d made her cry. Me.

What would Mom have said to the way I’d spoken to her? Without a doubt, there would’ve been a verbal ass-whooping. The hole in my soul deepened a little with the knowledge that my mother would never put me in my place again—then hug me and tell me how to fix it.

A mop appeared in my line of sight. Luciano, the barista.

I stood to take it from him, but he held it back. “I’ve got this,” he said. “There’s a new iced coffee on the counter. You can take it and go.”

I reached for my wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

He sighed and passed me the drink with a short, “We’re square.”

The redhead, who’d gone from shy to merciless in a moment, was a friend of his. It made my gut smart that I’d offended him. It was hardly the first time I’d stepped in to diffuse a confrontation like that, and in this city, it definitely wouldn’t be the last. I just couldn’t remember a time where I’d ended up the bad guy.

That seemed to be a theme with me lately, falling off a pedestal into a pile of bad.

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