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PROLOGUE

Coffee, ground and ready, looks like dirt, but it smells like sex. It is something earthy and exotic, tactile and other-worldly. Like sweat and orgasm. Today, the day after my twenty-fifth birthday, I am out buying my favorite indulgence: Kailua-Kona coffee beans.

I used to be addicted, but today I want it for another reason. Today, coffee is a celebration, not a crutch. Today I buy sexy coffee beans, not because I need to, but because I want to.

I am just twenty-five, and by most calculations rather young, but sometimes I feel ancient. In these moments where time expands and the world seems clearer, pearls of insight become suddenly apparent to me. Here it is, what I stumbled across sniffing beans this morning after my birthday:

There should never be a time in your life when you don’t know exactly how you came to be where you are. Whether you’re eleven, twenty-five, or ninety, you should be able to tell your story. And if some morning you can’t, you should retrace your steps until your path becomes clear. You owe yourself that much. Know the story of your life.

PART ONE: IN WHICH I BECOME HORRIBLY LOST

CHAPTER ONE

Around my last birthday, when I was on my third cup before 8:30 in the morning, I realized I’d replaced sex with coffee. It had been months since my fling with Bradley, the dowdy-haired travel agent, and I needed some form of physical stimulant.

Sex with Bradley had been like decaf, all the indicators are there, but it’s not quite the real thing. Decaf is brown, hot, and usually served in a mug, but you can drink three cups on an empty stomach, and it still won’t give you the jitters. Bradley was the same way; it didn’t matter how many times I drank him, he never gave me the jitters.

He had this annoying habit of asking me if I was comfortable after each time we had sex. As soon as things cooled off after an obligatory orgasm, he’d stuff a pillow under my head and ask, “Are you comfortable? Is there anything I can get you?” And I was comfortable, bored as hell, but comfortable.

The whole reason Bradley and I got together was a bit off in the first place. It was because of his job. We met in the travel section of the bookstore. Something about being a travel agent excited me to no end. Unfortunately, after the first couple dates, it became apparent Bradley had no intention of taking any of the exotic trips he sold others. I guess he didn’t believe in all the whimsy and romance he sold them. I believed it; I ate that shit up.

What’s more, the logistics behind the whimsy, which was Bradley’s real work, intrigued me more than the glossy brochures. How long was a non-stop flight to Aruba—and was that even possible from an airport in Ohio? What’s the off season of Guatemala? Finland’s largest tourist attraction? What’s the cheapest way to do a wine tour of France? How many walking trails in the Kona coffee region of Hawaii’s Big Island? These types of questions and the discussions they spawned kept Bradley and I alive after those first couple dates, but they did nothing for our sex life. It ended quite civilly.

I’m not the girl who fantasizes about having my pillow fluffed, so as the weeks after Bradley turned into months, and the glossy pictures of the brochures I’d stolen from him crinkled and faded, I had to find some way to satisfy my craving for the jitters. Coffee has a way of getting into my bones, heightening my senses, and getting me to feel. So I began packing a canister of instant in my bag for my morning shift at the Lane Public Library.

It’s not that I’ve ever been a coffee snob. I don’t have a particularly refined pallet. Of course some coffee is better than other coffee, but that’s never been the point for me. I’m not in pursuit of the best tasting, but the richest experience. Coffee isn’t just about the roast of the beans. It’s the warmth of the steam, the smooth curve of the mug, the pucker of lips, the sigh that comes after the first sip.

Coffee isn’t just tasting. It’s touching, seeing, smelling, and listening. And if you have no idea what I mean by listening, pay attention to the sound of hot water while it’s poured. It can undo you. For the record, coffee has never been about escape for me. It’s like travel, really. A road trip or a good friend taking you to a place you belong, more than the place you presently are. That morning, as I began my shift at the library, I wasn’t tasting escape, I was drinking possibility.

My addiction, or better, my affair with coffee was reaching its climax. I cupped my ceramic travel mug and watched my boss’s shoulders move under his shirt as he unlocked the doors to Hamilton, Ohio’s modest library. The sudden pang I felt in my stomach surprised me. I mentally scolded myself: must not replace sex with fantasies about older, married men. But really, when had tiny blue and white plaid stretched so nicely between shoulder blades?

Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes ambled through the door John, my boss, held open. They were a retired couple who spent Wednesday mornings in the mystery section reading the last few pages of detective novels to each other in hushed tones. I had been working at the library for three months, but it had taken only a few weeks to recognize the regulars. There was the Wilkes on Wednesdays. Susanne and her three rowdy boys came on Thursday afternoons. Josephine came for the last hour of every day, seven to eight, and thumbed through gossip magazines in the reading room. This is a trend I’ve noticed in the places I’ve worked with books: libraries, bookstores, university offices. Where there are stacks and stacks of books, people slow down, meander, set-up a routine. The Lane Library was no different.

After nodding to the Wilkes, John walked to where I sat behind the circulation desk. I took a sip of coffee.

“Isn’t that your third cup this morning? You’re going to get the jitters,” he said while shifting a pile of books my direction. I caught a whiff of his aftershave.

“I have a high tolerance,” I said over the lip of my mug.

“Well, as long as it doesn’t affect your work performance, I don’t see a need to have an intervention.” He winked at me.

“Shelve these, please?” He gestured to the pile of books he’d shifted towards me.

“Sure.” I loaded the books on a cart, and picked up a few strays that had accumulated in corners of the circulation desk. I reached for a small stack near John, but he grabbed my wrist.

“I can do these,” he said sheepishly. I looked down at the bright cookbook on top and noticed how warm his fingers felt circling my wrist.

“Of course you want to do these,” I said slowly sliding my hand out of his and placing it on my hip. I leaned in and teased, “Save the good section for yourself and stick me with the True Crime novels. Some boss you are.”

He pretended to be hurt, looking adorable with his mouth pulled down at the corners. I grabbed my mug.

“Eva, I never mean to take advantage of my employees,” John was looking at me quite seriously, “It’s just, I know you to be much better with the Dewey Decimal System, so I think it best you work in the difficult sections.”

“Sure John, run off to the bright colors of the cookbooks and leave me with the black, white, and red world of true crime.”

He grinned, unabashed. I rolled my eyes, pushing the cart around the circulation desk and to the most formidable section of the library: True Crime.

Patrons of the library had an affinity for the real-life drama of True Crime novels. We carried practically one thousand titles and still got requests to improve the selection. Complete with grainy black-and-white photos of actual crime scenes and sketchy historical events, these novels fulfilled a literary need for Hamiltonians.

The True Crime section contained five rows of waist high shelves, and from it, I could see the entire first floor of the library, including the opposite wall, where John was flipping through cookbooks. He was wearing his uniform: navy Dockers and a button-down shirt. In his Dockers and oxford, John was the most professionally dressed of the library staff which seemed natural because he was the boss.

In general, the library didn’t have a strict dress code. That morning, I was wearing a denim skirt sewn from of an old pair of jeans, a purple T-shirt, and a sweater vest I found in the back of my mother’s closet. From time to time nulla dies sine linea, the Latin phrase tattooed around my ankle, escaped from under my hem, but nobody seemed to mind.

It wasn’t until that morning, standing waist deep in True Crime, that I really noticed the man under John’s carefree attitude and business-casual attire. The stubble on his jaw. The flush of his skin. The shadow of chest hair peeking out from his white-undershirt. The coy way his eyes smirked at me from across the room. The curve of his butt in those dark blue Dockers. I was shocked. The middle-aged librarian was hot. I thought I simply needed my fourth cup of coffee. But I was so wrong.

CHAPTER TWO

Except for the True Crime section, the library didn’t require much work. In fact, one person could manage smiling at the patrons, making sure the self-check-out machines ran properly, and shelving returns. But during the week, two people opened then worked until lunch, when a third came in to cover the lunch break and work till close. One morning person got to leave a few hours after lunch. I was that person.

After several months of working at the library, I’d developed a routine, just like the patrons. When I first arrived, I’d shelve books that were left floating around the library the night before. Then I manned the circulation desk. When there wasn’t too much re-shelving to be done or patrons to smile at, John, the other person there to open the library, slipped into the back office to do some paperwork.

Around noon, Rosemary, a little old lady and my favorite co-worker, came in to relieve me for lunch. The back office was also the break room. When I came in to get my lunch, John was usually at the computer. He twirled around in the wheeled chair and shared the round wooden table with me while we ate. Then Rosemary and I chatted for the next few hours till it was time for me to leave.

A few days after I noticed how tight his butt looked in his Dockers, John turned around from the computer and asked, “Coffee for lunch today?” a teasing spark in his eye.

“Nope, hummus in a pita,” I replied, dumping the contents of my lunch bag on the round table in the middle of the dimly lit room and watching his legs move in his dark blue pants as he got up, opened the fridge, and retrieved a glass container.

Snapping the lid off his container John asked, “How do you like the classes you’re taking?” His question took me by surprise. I’d been taking graduate classes at night in composition for months, but I hadn’t known he was aware.

“They’re good,” I swallowed my mouthful of pita, “honestly, they’re more work than I was expecting, but I like the work, so it’s fun.”

John leaned back in his chair, nodding.

“I’ve noticed you have been happier lately. Brighter,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, feeling blush creep to my cheeks.

“It’s obvious,” he forked at something green in his container, “you’ve found something that makes you really happy.”

I put my pita down, fighting not to be flattered by how attentive and insightful John had revealed himself to be.

“Thank you,” I paused, unsure what I was thanking him for now, but feeling grateful nonetheless.

“It’s lovely.” John spoke into the contents of his container.

There was a brief pause, then he continued, “So these are writing classes?”

I watched his mouth while he chewed.

“Yep.” I bit into my fluffy pita.

“Are you interested in sharing what you’ve learned?” John was chewing, flexing the straight line of his jaw, pretending to be nonchalant.

“Sure. With who?”

“Great. I was thinking about having a writing seminar as one of our events,” he said.

I put down my pita and stared at John.

On the second Saturday of every month, the library held an ‘event’. These afternoons were supposed to bring the public in and get them excited about what the library had to offer. City Council had voted to fund these events with a small budget at the beginning of the year. John, the person responsible for writing the proposal and getting the grant from the city, was excited about them. I had yet to attend a single event.

“Last month’s Sci-fi convention was a success, and I want to keep up the momentum,” he barely paused to breathe, his lunch completely forgotten in front of him. “I’m sure Rosemary’s cooking demonstration will be a blast this month. And Ian Chadwick is doing a reading in November.”

“Who is Ian Chadwick?”

“He’s a local author,” John supplied.

I raised my eyebrows.

John continued, “He wrote some book about the Eerie Canal.”

I shook my head.

“It doesn’t matter,” John said, brushing aside my ignorance with a wave in the air, and I noticed his clean, smooth fingernails.

“I really think people would be excited to get a few writing pointers.” His face flushed with excitement. I grinned because he looked almost boyish with his pink cheeks and bright eyes. John misinterpreted my grin as acquiescence.

“The seminar would be early in December, before people get too overwhelmed with the Holidays.”

“And you think I should be the one to give them these pointers?” I cut in a bit incredulous.

Immediately his mouth pulled down at the corners, and he focused his eyes on his murky green lunch.

 “I--well--I guess, I thought you might want to.” He began rubbing the back of his head with his broad hand.

Before I could stop to consider why I felt bad about disappointing him, I leaned across the table, took his hand, and slowly lowered it from his head.

“John, I could help.” I tried to nod enthusiastically. “I’d like to help you get the seminar together.”

He looked at me, relieved. I smiled, not sure I was going to enjoy what I’d just volunteered to do, but glad I brought that boyish grin back to his face.

“I’d really appreciate your help.” His sincerity was unnerving. “I know it may not sound like the most exhilarating way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but it would be really beneficial to the community.”

“No,” I lied, “I’m sure it will be great.” Putting the last bite of pita in my mouth and closing my bag, I pushed back from the table. As I stood, I caught a whiff of cheese from his green lunch.

“What are you eating?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.

“Oh,” he paused, looking sheepish again, “Broccoli and cheese casserole with ham.” He chuckled as I wrinkled my nose further.

“Yes, my girls helped me make dinner last night while Rachel, my wife, was grading lab reports.”

He was smiling to himself at the memory of his family dinner while I made more instant coffee in the microwave. I spent the next few hours listening to Rosemary tell me about her grandchildren’s escapades and picturing John with flushed cheeks.

CHAPTER THREE

A few nights later, I got drinks with Leah, my best friend since high school. She brought her girlfriend, Jamie. They were trying to set me up with one of Jamie’s coworkers. This may be the worst nightmare of all singletons. When a couple attempts to set a single person up with another single person, the couple can’t help but lace the proposition with sympathy. Like being single is a disease, and they’re cured, so they’re trying to save your life.

“Seriously, he’s a total babe. All the chicks in my office want him.” Jamie gave me a knowing smile as she pushed her mass of auburn hair over one shoulder.

“Yep, that’s just what I want, a dude who thinks he’s hot shit because he’s had women drooling over him since puberty.”

Men who are obviously attractive have never been my type.

“Ugh—Leah,” Jamie rolled her eyes at me and turned to her girlfriend for help, “please tell your insane friend how perfectly gorgeous Seth is.”

Leah had been quiet since we met at our typical high-top table in the back of Shellie’s bar. She’d been watching me. We hadn’t spent more than a few weeks apart in the past ten years; if she needed this much time to get a handle on me, something was up. I turned to her.

“Yeah Leah, tell me how stupid I am for not throwing myself at the penis of this Adonis.”

She took a deep breath and wiped her hands on the napkin covering her grey suit pants. For the past year she’d been working with an organization that provided legal support to abused minors. She’d begun volunteering as a court advocate to plump her CV for law school, but she’d fallen in love with her work, refused her acceptance to law school, and taken a full time position with the nonprofit. This is just one of the reasons Leah is the best person I know.

“You know,” she began in her smooth voice that could pacify a rowdy courtroom, “He’s not really my type—the brooding artist who works in a cubical and spends more money on shampoo than art supplies—but I do think Eva could use a good tousle in the sheets.” She arched one eyebrow and cocked her head, serious behind her spreading smile. Jamie erupted into giggles.

Once she got a hold of herself, Jamie replied, “Fine, fine. He is a little brooding for a man who works in accounting, but there’s no way for you to know what shampoo he uses.” She crossed her arms and stuck out her bottom lip, pouting at Leah and me.

“I think he’d be good for Eva,” Jamie was addressing Leah, like I wasn’t two feet away, “opposites attract, and if Seth does spend a lot on shampoo, than he and Eva couldn’t be more different.” As Jamie erupted into more giggles, I tried not to roll my eyes at Leah’s direction.

It’s not that I didn’t like Jamie, but sometimes I wanted to shake her till her jangling earrings fell apart. She’d moved into Leah’s apartment over the salon on Main Street after three weeks of dating. In the four months since, she had grown on me, but she didn’t meet my standards for Leah. Jamie wasn’t a bad person, but she deserved a Seth, or a version of that type of person she’d be attracted to. Jamie did not deserve a Leah.

“I have short hair,” I said running a hand through my cropped, brown tresses “I don’t need a lot of shampoo.” I thought my hair looked like Julia Robert’s Tinker Bell, but my mother insisted it resembled Peter Pan.

Deciding to change the topic from the desolate expanse of my future sex partners, I said, “In a couple months, I will help present a writing seminar at the library.” I tried to mimic John’s earlier enthusiasm; I failed.

“Really?” Leah asked arching the same eyebrow she arched earlier.

“Oh, that sounds fun.” Jamie clearly did not think it sounded fun.

“Well, my boss asked me to help him, and I couldn’t really say no.”

“You couldn’t?” Leah asked skeptically.

“No, John, my boss,” when I said his name, I had a flash of teasing eyes and blue plaid stretching across broad shoulders, “is really sweet,” and adorable, “and he was so excited about the whole thing.”

Jamie and Leah stared at me. Perhaps sweet was the wrong adjective.

“Anyway,” I tried to steer the conversation away from John and his sweetness, “I’ve been taking writing classes for over a semester now. I could have some good stuff to contribute.”

Jamie looked like she was about to make another comment that could send her down a spiral of giggles. Blessedly, Leah headed her off.

“Sounds good. Now Jamie, why don’t you tell Eva about that new account you’re working on in the office?” Leah put her arm around her girlfriend’s chair as Jamie started in on the new project she’d been given. Leah seemed relaxed, but I could see her calculating.

They had a few more margaritas while Jamie detailed the significance of warm colors in the design of food packaging. She worked at a marketing firm in Cincinnati. I downshifted to Sprite after my description of John and his endearing qualities. I had to drive twenty minutes to get home, and they had to walk a few blocks to get to Leah’s apartment.

Leaving Shellie’s we realized the cool autumn air had turned chilly.

“You have to love Ohio in the fall,” Leah said shuffling the pointed toes of her shoes in the leaves scattered at her feet.

Jamie was twirling around on the sidewalk, her hair billowing around her, “Yes you do.”

“Do you want a ride?” I asked.

“Oh no, we’ll walk. It’ll be romantic,” Jamie said grabbing Leah’s arm. Leah shrugged, a content, buzzed look on her face.

I turned to walk to my car alone in the chilled air, but Leah called my name.

“I’m calling you, soon,” she said when I turned around. It sounded more like a threat than a friendly gesture.

“Yep, sure. See you later.” I tried to sound nonplussed.

My headlights were the only ones on the four lane road out of Hamilton’s small downtown to the orchestrated neighborhoods called, for lack of any defining boundaries or characteristics, The Township. As I drove to my place in the snaking rows of matching houses, I found myself thinking about the bodies I drove past, the blank-slates of people, sequestered in the dim, artificial light of late evening.

I frequently thought of these bodies, especially on chilly, lonely nights, as cozy, sleeping beasts. They were passive under the touch of my thoughts, tucked away in matching sheet-sets blissfully unaware of the true struggles that existed outside of their coordinated world. Maybe I wasn’t being fair to these bodies. Rarely was my body, or the bodies I knew, passive in the orbit of life, nor were we blissful and unaware. But it felt nice to envision sweet passivity I drove chilly, lonely to my home in The Township.

When I unlocked the door to the two-story house I shared with my mother, Prince was waiting for me. Prince is the mutt I’d fallen in love with while volunteering at the pound my second year of college. Blonde, handsome, and loyal, like a Disney prince, but better because of his crazy sense of adventure. I let him romp in the yard before hauling him in for the night.

On my way down the hall, I peeked into my Mom’s room. She was curled up in a nest of pillows on the queen bed she hadn’t shared in years. My father left when I was in the fifth grade. We stopped missing him a few years after that, and she hadn’t had a man in her bed, whom I was aware of, since. I tiptoed farther down the hallway to my room, the same room I’d slept in most of my life. Prince was already curled up at the foot of my bed, making a warm spot for my toes. I sat and scratched his ears.

The cool blue light of the moon cast my silhouette on the carpet as I tried to make sense of the chill I felt expanding in the back of my throat. I wasn’t jealous of Leah and Jamie. I definitely was uninterested in Jamie’s office stud. I just needed something to warm my bones, and it was too late for coffee.

CHAPTER FOUR

That second Saturday in October, Rosemary recruited me to go grocery shopping with her in preparation of her cooking event. She picked me up at eight, disappointed that my mother, whom I talked a lot about at the circulation desk, was already on her early morning jog with Prince.

“I’m not really cooking, per say,” Rosemary mused as she leisurely pushed the cart down the baking aisle.

“Oh,” I said, somewhat perplexed, “Well what are you doing then?”

“I’ve decided to do three, mini, no-bake desserts.”

“Sounds like my style of cooking,” I said, tossing the vanilla wafers she nodded at in the cart.

“But why no baking?” I was disappointed there’d be no warm gooey insides or melted chocolate or crispy golden crust.

“There’s no oven at the library, Dear.”

“Oh, duh.” I shrugged.

“Have no fear, we shall make do.”

She directed the cart to the shortest checkout line, and we began loading the goods on the conveyer belt: coco powder, graham crackers, plain gelatin, white and dark chocolate bark, limes, sweetened condensed milk.

After we finished loading, Rosemary pulled out the remainder of the allowance John had given her from the budget. There was ten dollars left over. With a twinkle in her crystal blue eye, she suggested we stop by Starbucks on our way to the library.

“Brilliant,” I agreed.

With a large canvas tote, bags of groceries, and two tall cafe mochas we pushed through the double green doors of the Lane. The weekend staff, a particularly pimply bunch, hardly looked up from the comic books they kept behind the circulation desk. Rosemary rolled her eyes as we lugged our cargo into the break room.

“You two shall be my sous chefs, once John gets his butt here,” Rosemary said surveying her domain.

“My butt is here,” John said, pushing open the door of the break room.

“Good,” Rosemary pulled three flowery aprons from her canvas bag, “put these on.” She tossed John and I each an apron, his more garish than mine. He winked at me as he tied the orange, purple , and fuchsia swirled apron around his waist. I smiled, admiring the freckled forearms that peaked from his pushed-up sleeves.

 “What are our tasks Madam Chef?”

Rosemary arched a pure white eyebrow at John’s eager face, wondering if his enthusiasm was sincere or put-on. Finding him genuinely excited by today’s task, she rolled her eyes good naturedly and asked, “How are you with a knife?”

“Like a pro,” John answered, stone faced.

“Okay,” she said, putting a chopping board and rather large butcher’s knife on the round table, “you will chop.” Next to the board, she placed a whisk.

“And you, Dear,” she smiled at me, “will whisk,” then she squeezed my bicep, “I think you’re up for the challenge.”

“The menu,” Rosemary continued, ticking the list off on her fingers, “individual chocolate mousse, mini key lime pies, and cheesecake babies.”

John, clearly already aware of the menu, had begun making thin shavings of the dark chocolate bark with quick flicks of his wrist.

“Here’s the plan,” Rosemary turned to me, “we are going to get the ingredients for the key lime pies and chocolate mousse ready first, so I can simply put them together in front of everyone, but then,” Rosemary trailed off because my eyes weren’t focused on her.

I had become a bit distracted by the efficient flexes of John’s forearms. He did work a knife like a pro. He looked up from the pile of shaved chocolate growing on his board and grinned at me. I felt a sweet ache begin in my stomach.

“Eva,” Rosemary said, snapping me back from John’s grin.

“Yeah?” I said, wondering where I’d left my cafe mocha.

“We’re going to make sixty cheesecake babies.”

“What?” I asked, checking the clock, there was an hour and a half until this demonstration was supposed to begin.

“Hey now Eva,” John said, finishing with the dark chocolate and moving on to the white, “aren’t you up for the challenge?”

I picked up the whisk next to him, and twirled it in the air, “Where do I begin?”

Hurriedly, Rosemary dumped the ingredients of sixty, no-bake tiny cheesecakes into a giant silver mixing bowl, “Beat this till it thickens,” she instructed.

After the first minute I asked, “About how long?”

“A while,” Rosemary said in a sing-song voice as she dipped the sheets of gelatin into warm water. John gave me another wink.

Whisking is a monotonous task, but it allowed me to watch what was going on around me. I was busy, but not really distracted. Rosemary was humming to herself and juicing some limes. John was finishing off the block of white chocolate.

The constant flick of his wrist had deepened the pink hue in his cheeks. I was standing close enough to hear him take a deep breath occasionally. Once, I made an especially wide turn around the bowl with my whisk and brushed his elbow with mine, but he never broke from his steady rhythm.

Done with the chocolate, he dumped the mound of white shards into a bowl, wiped his board clean, and got out the graham crackers. He opened the first package. The top cracker had splintered in several smaller pieces. He popped one in his mouth. Catching me watching him, he asked, “Want a piece?”

I opened my mouth to answer him, but he popped a small piece of graham cracker between my lips. The intimate brush of his fingers on my lips stunned me.

John spread the crackers on the cutting board, under a sheet of wax paper, and began pounding with the flat palm of his hand. He mistook my stunned silence for confusion.

“They’re for the crust,” he explained.

“Oh,” I said, struggling to swallow the dry cracker. The dull thud of John’s hand against the crackers filled the break room with a new, stronger rhythm. I was standing next to him, watching his shoulders shudder with each strike, feeling the pounding in my chest.

“Jesus Christ,” I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but both John and Rosemary turned to look at me.

“Where’s my coffee?” I asked.

“By the computer, Dear,” Rosemary answered, looking at me closely.

I turned to grab it, but John stopped me.

“Here,” He circled my hand with his, pulling it and the whisk from the creamy, cheesecake filling, “I bet...”

I watched our hands dangling in the air. John watched the cheesecake batter.

I held my breath and a soft blob to fell back in the bowl. As it fell, John pressed his lips together and exhaled. I felt his breath brush my cheek.

After a silent beat, “Yep, all done,” John said smiling, letting my hand and whisk fall back into the bowl after the blob. I exhaled, put the bowl down, and went for the cafe mocha.

It was barely warm in the paper cup, but chocolate and coffee, warm or cold, feels like foreplay. It’s too indulgent and strictly for pleasure. Taking that lukewarm sip, I was carried to a place better than the library’s cement-bricked break room, someplace where the husky velvet of my cafe mocha wasn’t the only drama in my life. In that place, I felt the bite of the espresso and the sweet lull of chocolate on my tongue, and I saw John’s shoulders shuddering naked, curved and strong, set against a pale blue sky.

“Perfect timing,” Rosemary said, brushing past me, breaking my daydream, and removing five mini-muffin pans from her canvas bag-of-tricks.

John cleared the round table and Rosemary placed the pans on the surface. She began filling the tins with mini-liners. John followed behind, putting a vanilla wafer in each tiny pock mark. I scooped in a tiny mound of cheese cake. They were done before me, so they got spoons and began scooping from the bowl under my arm. The sweet, steady plopping noise made me giggle. John started chuckling next to me. Then Rosemary began a full on cackle.

“We should open a no-bake bakery,” she said through a peel of laughter.

“Or at least have a snack bar in the library,” John seriously suggested.

“What are we going to do with the left-over chocolate?” I asked, eyeing the mounds.

Rosemary settled herself, and dusted off her apron, “I’m going to greet the participants, you two are going to decorate,” she motioned to the pans in front of us, “when you’re done, put them in the refrigerator, they’ll set up while I do the demonstration.” She breezed out of the break room.

Alone with John, it was easier to just be quiet. His fingers deftly sprinkled dark chocolate shavings along the rows of cheesecake babies. I followed behind with the white, unable to keep the chocolate confined to the baby cakes.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

First a bookstore cashier, then an English teacher, and now a librarian; Eliza Burks has always loved books, people, and people who love books. She likes her books to have happy endings and her people to believe in happy endings. With coffee, puppies (especially her mini-shih tzu), and empowered heroines, Eliza believes anything is possible.

Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write to tell stories I need to hear.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I'm inspired by Jennifer Crusie and Tessa Dare.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
This book came from my hopeless crush on an old professor.

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