The crowd of noontime customers had left; my small but popular café, the Lunch Box, was finally quiet. Good. I needed to think. "Kitchen's clean," Rita said. "I'm out of here. I'll lock the door."
"See you!" I called, wiping another table until it shined.
I serve breakfast and lunch at the café close about two, clean things up—Rita helps—and then I stay to prepare tomorrow's special.
"It's Tom. How'd you snag such a hunk?" she asked with a laugh.
The door closed. Rita was gone. Tom—the reason I needed to think—dressed in jeans and a white polo shirt, stood inside, looking sheepish. And very, very handsome. "Hey, want some help? I can mop floors."
He smiled at me, and my blood heated up. Get a grip, Kathy! "Rita already did that."
He stepped aside; I locked the door. Then I closed the blinds over the big front windows, casting the café with its tables, chairs and booths into dimness. "Smells great in here," he said.
"Today's roast beef special."
He ambled over and sat at the table I'd just wiped. "I'm sorry about last night," he said, his eyes locked on mine.
"I'm the one who should apologize," I said softly.
"I should've said something before I..." His voice faltered.
"Before you kissed me like that?"
"Right. Before I kissed you like that."
"I shouldn't have bolted into the house."
I pulled out a chair and sat across from Tom. Ours has been a curious relationship. We grew up neighbors. We paled around. Never dated. We knew each other too well. He went off to college and came home a lawyer. While away, though he didn't talk about it much, he suffered through a painful breakup.
I went to culinary school and then took over the café from Mom and Dad, who retired. Like Tom, I'd stumbled through my own relationship disaster.
He toyed with the saltshaker on the table. "I never intended to ambush you—that's what it must've seemed like last night."
"I was surprised." I could have added, But thrilled. But I didn't.
The truth is, in high school I'd developed feelings for Tom. Whenever he came home from college, the feelings intensified, but I always hid my fondness for him and made excuses: He's two years older than you, Linda; you'll make a fool of yourself; he doesn't feel the same way about you; he has someone else. My biggest fear—I'd lose a friend.
"Maybe we need to talk," he said, batting the shaker from one hand to the other.
"We're not teens," he added. "We're almost thirty. Not a time to play games."
What complicated our friendship is that about two months ago Tom and I started seeing each other as companions to several social events. I'm the one to blame: I asked him if he'd go with me to my cousin's wedding. Two weeks later, he asked me to a banquet honoring a fellow lawyer. Last night, we attended the must-see concert of a group that was popular when we were in high school.
During the first two occasions, we smiled at each other and laughed a lot. Last night, though, we held hands; and after the concert, as we stood on my front porch in the moonlight, Tom suddenly gripped my arms and then kissed me—a toe-curling kiss that melted my heart and set off an alarm in my brain. Danger! Hardly able to breathe, I darted into the house.
Tom tilted the shaker now, sprinkled a bit of salt into his right palm, and tossed the salt over his shoulder. "What was that for?" I asked.
"Good luck. I have a confession to make."
I sat straight. I couldn't imagine—
His Adam's apple bobbed. "I've wanted to kiss you for a long time, Kathy. And well...last night"—he shrugged, sheepish again—"seemed like the right time. I couldn't resist any longer. How long have we known each other?"
I bit my bottom lip and then said, "Um...twenty years probably."
"Time for me to be honest, don't you think?"
I gulped. "I've thought about kissing you, too," I said, and decided to give him a real dose of honesty. "Like a million times."
A warm smile lit his handsome face, "Really?"
"Really. What happens now?"
He reached across the table and gripped my hands. "I think we can make this work, you and me."
"I know," he said. "We don't want to wreck a friendship."
"Maybe we'll end up...broken hearted. It happens."
He squeezed my hands. "No way. Not if we stay honest."
While my heart thundered, he stood and leaned across the table. His soft brown eyes locked with mine again. We kissed for a second time, a kiss that sizzled. When he sat down again, I blew out a long breath. Wow! "Honesty," I said, "is a lovely way to go."
The EndEnjoy Reality. Contemporary YA fiction with an impact. Visit: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=jon+ripslinger