Chapter V - Cappuccinos & Croissant
“I know you have lunch at your desk, but maybe you’d be willing to make an exception?
“I think you missed the point, Mr. Masters,” she grinned. “It’s not that I have lunch at my desk, it’s that I don’t have lunch.”
“So you basically just starve yourself to death?”
“I’m not starving. I’m just not hungry during lunch.”
Not that she needed any excuse to be with him. But Alex rejoiced in being reassured like that. He wanted to be with her. And that shook the butterflies inside her stomach awake from their sleep.
“I think it’s a bad thing, then.” Elliot said after a while.
“I thought we could walk to the nearest restaurant, so… I’m kinda at the reception?” Alex jumped from her desk, phone still glued to her ear as she made her way outside the glass doors and to the main reception. When he saw her, a playful smile took over his lips. “Oh, there you are.”
“There you are.”
He chuckled. Alex’s high heels clacked on the floor as she walked up to him, nodding at the receptionist and only midway realizing she could still hear his breathing through the phone. He ended the call by tapping a knuckle on the screen.
“You just couldn’t get away from me, could you?” She joked.
Elliot pushed his palms into his knees, fixing some of his posture. He was wearing a neat, perfectly fitting suit, with a tie that indicated power combo. Alex couldn’t help but feeling satisfied with her own work attire, especially because her pencil skirt matched his navy blue suit. Fate, isn’t it?
“I really couldn’t.” He shot her a wink, dropping the phone on his lap and doing a quick weight shift.
She also shifted her own weight from one leg to the other, wondering if they should hug or kiss or both. And if they kissed, where. The previous night had made both their intentions pretty clear, but Alex was still unsure of the date-dynamics. It’d been such a long time since she’d last pursued something aside from one night stands that she didn’t know what the proper etiquette was. Were they boyfriend and girlfriend now? That wasn’t fifth grade, so unlikely. But they were definitely something. She wished someone had written her a tutorial on how to proceed, safely.
“You really took the time to come all the way here?” He picked the safest choice.
“The sacrifices we make and we’re not even rewarded with a kiss.” He said, his left dimple standing out in his clean shaven face. He must look good with a five o’clock shadow.
Still beaming at having the plan laid out before her eyes, Alex hunched a little and met his lips with hers in a quick peck. It was the first time she kissed him while standing and she noticed how he wasn’t really that short sitting down. She noticed the receptionist’s eyes had widened considerably and felt that fuzzy feeling take over her stomach.
“You could’ve called, I’d have met you. I mean, after a little begging.”
“That’s reassuring to hear.” He grinned, brushing his thumb against her cheek before she stood up straight. “But I actually work pretty close, so…”
“That’s what I call it.”
Walking next to Elliot wasn’t easy. It wouldn’t have to be — the sidewalk was wide enough to have them side by side, but the real challenge was how people just stopped. As soon as they saw him, they went out of their way to get out of his, like Moses parting the red sea, and gawked from the sidelines. Except the corridor was barely wide enough for Alex to be next to him.
“It’s like people don’t get it.” He said when he noticed her look. “I move for you, you move for me, no need for a spectacle.”
Alex bumped into a woman and agreed as she moved again from his side to his back. She wasn’t complaining; she loved watching the way his shoulders moved. Elliot slowed down and came to a full stop, spinning his right wheel and keeping the left in place, facing the restaurant.
“Oh, this place is actually pretty good.” She walked a few steps in the restaurant’s direction. “I always have my assistant bring me their food.”
Elliot lowered his eyes for a second and when he raised them again, he had a strange look on his face. “I’m sure it is. It’s just-”
He gestured to the door. At first she didn’t get it, and later she’d make sure to knock her head repeatedly against a brick wall, but then she did— steps. At least five of them, leading up the door.
“Yeah.” He looked away, his Adam's Apple went up and down and he grimaced when he looked back at her. It all didn’t take longer than a couple of seconds, but Alex noticed it.
“You know what, I’m really not hungry.” Alex said, hoping to wave the awkwardness away. She saw his hurt frown and quickly added, “I’d be fine with a nice coffee. And pastries. If you’re up to it.”
Alex waved at the café at the opposite side, no steps this time. She wanted to kick her own butt for not having noticed the freaking steps leading up to the restaurant and couldn’t shake that embarrassed feeling even when they walked-wheeled into the coffee shop— he actually rushed to hold the door, the charming bastard—, the intimate, warm atmosphere breaking the cold breeze outside and the smell of baked goods melting her from the inside. It was like when Aunt Elida baked, except without all the mess taking over her granite counters.
“I’m really not complaining.” Elliot filled his lungs. “Damn, this place smells nice.”
“Like Christmas movies.”
“Christmas movies don’t smell.” He laughed. “Like Christmas, you mean.”
Alex shrugged. She couldn’t possibly know, could she? The Harringtons didn’t celebrate Christmas. Or anything at all. Ever. And when they did, she was old enough to not be able to store nice smells and feelings in a place that would someday become a dear nostalgic memory.
The place was intimate in a small way, with the tables placed close to one another with barely enough space to fit Elliot’s chair between the pastel-color armchairs. He had to propel himself forward by holding onto the back of the chairs and by the way he did it so skillfully, Alex was once again assured that he’d been doing it for long enough that he knew the exact measures of his body, where he’d fit and how and where he would not. It was quite a sight, one that scrambled her insides upside down. They found a tiny table with a single armchair next to the window, meant for a single person but also their only option, considering the armchairs were impossible to move around to make room for his chair.
“I can’t believe I didn’t know about this place.” Alex commented as she held the little menu with the options.
“That’s what you get for eating lunch at your desk.” He teased.
“Oh God, you’re never going to let this go, are you?”
Alex shook her head, still smiling. When a blonde dressed in a laced, romantic apron came to get their orders, she didn’t pick her go-to coffee, pure and black, but the kind of cappuccino she often teased Callie for, the sweet, flavored kind, and a chocolate croissant.
“How has your day been so far?” She asked him while they waited.
“It’s much better now, that’s for sure.” He flashed her a smile and Alex felt her cheeks heating up. “Did you have a good night sleep?”
She smiled, looking at him from under her eyelashes—sleep was the last thing she’d gotten after their date. He’d driven her home, she would lean in for a kiss at every red light. They hadn’t talked much that night after the restaurant, but Alex’s teenage-y giggles were enough. When he parked in front of her building, the laughing subsided to a faint background sound until it disappeared inside their chests and they just sat there, taking each other under the yellowish light and the low buzzing of the lamp posts, wishing that moment would never end.
Surprising even herself, Alex unbuckled and after getting rid of the seatbelt that inconveniently got stuck in her purse strap, instead of opening the door to leave, she leaned in his direction and swung a leg, straddling him in his seat; it wasn’t hard to find room for her knees because under the slightly baggy pants, his thighs weren’t as thick as they seemed. Alex had chuckled nervously, suddenly so self aware, but not for long because Elliot brushed his nose against the skin of her neck and she dug her fingers into his hair as he brought her face closer by hooking his wrist behind her neck. Alex kissed him, at first slowly and then hungrily. And Lord, all she could think was how she’d gone to a man’s bed for much, much less.
The waitress set their mugs on the table with a loud thud, forcefully pulling her away from the flashbacks. When her eyes met Elliot’s perpetually teasing blue irises, she knew for sure that he knew exactly where her mind had wondered for a second. He even chuckled under his breath and Alex quickly brought her mug to her lips as to hide her burning cheeks, hissing when the way-too-hot liquid burnt her tongue without warning.
“Careful.” He warned, scooping his own mug closer.
She grimaced and tried it again, annoyed at the ironies she blamed on the universe. Burning cheeks, burning tongue. Alex watched from behind her cup and under her eyelashes how he carefully managed to get the mug in his hands, a very different technique from the wine glass from last night. He hid his mouth behind the mug but as soon as he blew some of the steam, his eyes disappeared behind the fog that took over his lenses. Alex almost spilled her own drink.
“Yeah, laugh away.” He joked, putting the mug down and reaching for the wire rims. “Of course a 20/20 like you wouldn’t understand.”
“Ha! I’m actually pretty familiar with glasses issues.” She leaned back, enjoying the comfortable seat as Elliot took his glasses off and squinted at the lenses. “Exactly why I shifted to contacts years ago.”
That and because she looked absolutely pathetic with them on and nothing sexy like Elliot. Alex crossed her legs, sitting back comfortably against the armchair, and noticed the thing she’d been brushing her foot against for the past few seconds wasn’t the table, but actually his legs. She held a breath, quickly drawing her foot away, wide eyed for a moment, afraid he’d noticed it, that she’d get caught. But he simply kept squinting at his glasses as he got rid of the fog, apparently unaware of her unintended footsie.
As a precautionary measure, she uncrossed her legs, convincing her heart to stop that awkward dance inside chest. She really did need to see a cardiologist.
“Is that so?”
Alex blinked before her brain tried to pick up on the previous conversation as it tried to shift its focus away from his still and unaware lower body. Something about glasses? No, contacts. Yeah. Contacts.
“Yep.” She nodded. Elliot lowered his eyes back at the lenses and let out an amused snort. He knows. “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just…” He quickly glanced at her when he raised his glasses to inspect them against the light. “I’m just wondering what kind of glasses you’d wear.”
“Sexy ones,” she lied.
“If you think 60 year old librarians are sexy, then yes, Mr. Masters. Super sexy.”
He barked out a laugh, finally resting his glasses on the table, deciding unfogging it was too much work for a quad to do more than once. Alex would have done it, though. Someday she will, she thought. Someday they’ll have enough intimacy that she’ll reach for his glasses and clean it without needing to ask, because that’s what couples do. Not today, though—truth is, today she barely knows him. She’d be just a weirdo overstepping his privacy and insulting his independency, but someday she won’t.
She’s willing to wait.
“Don’t tease a poor man’s imagination. You say librarian I see sexy librarian.” He raised his mug again, holding it tightly between both palms, his curled fingers pressed against the white ceramic, his squinting eyes glued on hers, that half smirk challenging her ability to swallow down. “I mean, we all have our kinks, don’t we?”
Her stomach froze on the spot. Without thinking, she filled her mouth with hot cappuccino, and in a reflex, too quickly, she pulled the mug away, managing to spill half of it across her chest. She gasped, raising from her seat in a jump like a scared cat, almost unable to breathe.
“Wow, are you okay?” Elliot said urgently, putting down his drink and reaching instinctively for his pushing rims, pulling back from the table.
“Hm, yeah,” she muttered, looking down at her white dress shirt. “I-I have to find a bathroom.”
And she left, feeling her face burning both physically and psychologically. He knows, he knows, he knows. As she crossed the hardwood floor to the ladies room, walking as fast as she could, her mind rushed back and forth in his words, in her reaction. If he was only suspicious before, he had just found the confirmation he needed; she was a kinky freak. Like the weirdos she’d read about online, — except she wasn’t.
Alex pushed the door open, fighting the humiliation no one else but her could see. He knows it, he knows it, he knows it. She stopped in front of the mirror, using paper towel and hand soap to try and wash the sticky coffee from her neck and chin. Her dress shirt, of course, was ruined across the chest with a brown stain and she took it off, revealing the (thankfully) white tank top under. She noticed, almost as a bitter joke from the universe, how that was the second white button-down she ruined that week, both a causal reaction to Elliot Masters—the first time she’d sprained her ankle in addition, now she also left with burns across her neck. At that rate she’d have to buy herself a tailor shop and a better health insurance.
Except he knows, she threw the paper towel in the bin with the strength of a successful attack had that been a volleyball. There’ll be no more disasters to put in the list.
Alex grabbed the sink, facing her reflexion in the mirror.
What happened now? He kicked her ass for being a freak? And then she wouldn’t have to worry about her white shirts. You don’t know if he knows, she told herself. You go back there and laugh about what a fool you made of yourself.
Alex took a deep breath and let her hair down. Please, don’t know it. She walked out of the bathroom, fearing for a moment finding the table empty, the bill paid, them over. But she didn’t.
“Oh, hey.” He didn’t look like someone about to tell her off when she sat back. He looked by the crease between her eyebrows—and she hoped—a little concerned. “Are you okay? Did you burn yourself?”
“Just a little.” Alex managed a smile and raised the folded shirt before she sank it inside her purse. “It’s ruined, though.”
“Maybe there’s still hope to save it from your clumsiness,” he flashed her a sideways smile and nodded at the new addition to the table. “And your croissant arrived when you were away.”
He doesn’t know. He wouldn’t be talking about croissants if he did. She released a breath of relief, barely masked with a smile, her nervousness almost completely vanished. He doesn’t know. He couldn’t possibly.
“Too bad I lost the cappuccino that was supposed to go with it,” Alex shrugged and took a napkin.
“You can have some of mine, if that’s so important.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer.” Alex picked up the croissant and gave a small bite. The chocolate dissolved in her mouth and she let out a small moan as she savored it. “This is amazing. Try one.”
Elliot smiled but he shook his head.
“I’m not a fan of sweets.” For a fraction of second, she could swear she saw his eyes drop to his hands and she knew there was nothing to do with being a fan of sweets or not.
That wasn’t the first time he missed out on some great food because of his hands, she thought back at the restaurant and how his dessert had remained untouched because of how he couldn’t hold the tiny cutlery. Alex wondered if it was an always situation or if he was just embarrassed to do it in front of her. If he knew, he wouldn’t be.
She attempted to tiptoe her way out of the situation by holding the croissant in his direction. “Just one bite. I swear you’ll like this one.”
He eyed her with an expression she couldn’t read. Alex urged him to go on with her eyes and he finally leaned over the table and took a bite, then leaned back again, covering his mouth with the back of his hand as he chewed. Alex suddenly wasn’t hungry at all, because she could have savored that oddly intimate moment forever.
“And?” Alex raised an eyebrow after clearing her throat.
Elliot considered with his head, “Nice. But still too sweet.”
“That’s nothing. We dip it in hot chocolate in France.”
“We?” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Are you French, Miss Harrington?”
Alex looked over her shoulder. She’d let it slip, it was only natural that he asked. And once again she chose the safest answer with a shrug.
He watched her.
And someday he’d ask. Not today—today they were strangers and it would be overstepping the boundaries she’d so strategically placed around herself. But someday they wouldn’t be and without him even asking, she’d tell him. Someday he’d ask about her brother and why he had interrupted their making out session in the car with a flashlight last night. She would tell him. Not today, though.