Things We Never Got Over
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Cafe Rev, but it sure as hell wasn’t a picture of myself behind the register under the cheery headline “Do Not Serve.” A yellow frowny face magnet held the photo in place.
First of all, I’d never set foot in Knockemout, Virginia, let alone done anything to warrant a punishment as egregious as withholding caffeine. Secondly, just what did a person have to do in this dusty little town to have a mugshot hanging in the local cafe?
Ha. Mug shot. Because I was in a cafe. Gosh, I was funny when I was too tired to blink.
Anyway, thirdly, it was an incredibly unflattering picture. I looked like I’d had a long-term threesome with a tanning bed and cheap eyeliner.
Right about then, reality penetrated my exhausted, dazed, bobby-pinned-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life head.
Once again, Tina had managed to make my life just a little bit worse. And considering what had gone down in the last twenty-four hours, that was saying something.
“Can I help…” The man on the other side of the counter, the one who could give me my precious latte, took a step back and held up hands the size of dinner plates. “I don’t want any trouble.”
He was a burly guy with smooth, dark skin and a shaved, nicely shaped head. His neatly trimmed beard was snow white, and I spotted a couple of tattoos peeking out of the neck and sleeves of his coveralls. The name Justice was stitched on his curious uniform.
I tried my most winning smile, but thanks to an overnight road trip spent crying through fake eyelashes, it felt more like a grimace.
“That’s not me,” I said, pointing a finger with a wasted French-tip manicure at the photo. “I’m Naomi. Naomi Witt.”
The man peered at me with suspicion before producing a pair of spectacles from the front pocket of his coveralls and slipping them on.
He blinked then gave me a head-to-toe scan. I saw the realization begin to hit.
“Twins,” I explained.
“Well, shit,” he murmured, stroking one of those big hands through his beard.
Justice still looked a little skeptical. I couldn’t exactly blame him. After all, how many people actually had an evil twin?
“That’s Tina. My sister. I’m supposed to meet her here.” Though why my estranged twin asked me to meet her in an establishment where she clearly wasn’t welcome was another question I was too tired to ask.
Justice was still staring at me, and I realized his gaze was lingering on my hair. Reflexively, I patted my head, and a wilted daisy fluttered to the floor. Whoops. I probably should have looked in the mirror at the motel before I set foot in public looking like a disheveled, unhinged stranger on her way home from a role-playing festival.
“Here,” I said, reaching into the pocket of my yoga shorts and thrusting my driver’s license at the man. “See? I’m Naomi and I would really, really like a gigantic latte.”
Justice took my ID and studied it, then my face again. Finally, his stoic expression cracked, and he broke into a wide grin. “I’ll be damned. It’s nice to meet you, Naomi.”
“It’s really nice to meet you too, Justice. Especially if you’re going to make me that aforementioned caffeine.”
“I’ll make you a latte that’ll make your hair stand on end,” he promised. A man who knew how to meet my immediate needs and did it with a smile? I couldn’t help but fall just a little bit in love with him right then and there.
While Justice got to work, I admired the cafe. It was decked out in what looked like manly garage style. Corrugated metal on the walls, shiny red shelves, stained concrete floor. All the drinks had names like Red Line Latte and Checkered Flag Cappuccino. It was downright charming.
There were a handful of early morning coffee drinkers seated at the small round tables scattered throughout the place. Every single person was looking at me like they were really not happy to see me.
“How do you feel about maple and bacon flavors, darlin’?” Justice called from the gleaming espresso machine.
“I feel great about them. Especially if they come in a cup the size of a bucket,” I assured him.
His laugh echoed through the place and seemed to relax the rest of the patrons who went back to ignoring me.
The front door opened, and I turned, expecting to see Tina.
But the man who stormed inside was definitely not my sister. He looked to be in more dire need of caffeine than I was.
Hot would be a decent way to describe him. Hot as hell would be even more accurate. He was tall enough that I could wear my highest pair of heels and still have to tilt my head up to make out with him—my official categorization of male height. His hair was in the dirty blond range and was cut short on the sides and swept back on top, which suggested he had good taste and reasonable grooming skills.
Both of those criteria landed high on my List of Reasons to be Attracted to a Man. The beard was a brand-new addition to the list. I’d never kissed a man with a beard and I had a sudden, irrational interest in experiencing that at some point.
Then I got to his eyes. They were a cool blue-gray that made me think of gun metal and glaciers.
He strode right on up to me and stepped into my personal space like he had a standing invitation. When he crossed tattooed forearms across a broad chest, I made a squeaky sound in the back of my throat.
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|May 14, 2022|
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