Joy

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fourteen

Coffee. The elixir of life. During the day, anyway. Joy wouldn’t have turned down a finger or two of liquor, but this isn’t that kind of cafe. And she doesn’t think Detective Colin Rooker is that kind of guy.

Of course, as she studies him across the small table, amidst a cacophony of clattering cups and the whisssss of steam wands, she is not so naive to think she can judge this book by his cover. He’s a Detective, and isn’t that the trope, that they’re alcoholics in their off time to deal with the trauma of the job? Did she not find him sucking back a beer in one of the dankest bars in the city instead of being at home with his daughter?

“Are you married?” she asks, swirling her quad espresso around in her little cup, enjoying the crema undulating on the surface of the dark brew.

He blinks at her, disbelieving, and then shakes his head, laughing. “I thought it was a given since I asked you out for coffee that I’m single.”

“Not in this day and age, Detective.” She takes a sip of her bitter drink and relishes in the curl of her tastebuds beneath it. Divorced or separated, or perhaps just had a baby-mama somewhere. Hence spending time with his daughter during the day and drinking in a rank pub by himself at night.

“I suppose not,” he replies, and tears open a sugar packet, dumping it into his latte and stirring it with the fettuccine noodle the barista had provided him. “Are you married?”

Joy wrinkles her nose as he stirs his drink. “You’re wrecking the foam.” She inclined her head towards the counter. “If you wanted it sweet, you should have gotten them to put liquid stuff in the espresso before they poured the milk.”

He just laughs, shaking his head.

She takes another sip of her black coffee. She knows he knows she’s not married. Everybody knows everything about Joy Daisy, don’t they? And now he knows more about Joy DeVries than most. He knows both of her.

Except for the killing, but we’ll keep that on the down-low.

She runs a finger up the sharp edge of the vanilla biscotti. Picks off a little crumb. Licks it off her finger. She’s not hungry.

Well, she’s hungry, but she’d rather take a bite out of the Detective. He’s handsome, in a rough-around-the-edges kind of way. The laugh lines around his eyes tell a story, one of simultaneous happiness and sadness.

Maybe I like puzzles just as much as you do.

He dips his biscotti into the latte, stirring it around, the hardened frosting on the top melting away into his already sugary beverage. “What do you normally like to do? I mean, I guess, what would you be doing right now in your off time had you not been coming out with me?”

“Sacrificing a goat with my fellow Satan Worshipers,” she says, putting a finger to her chin as if in deep thought. “It’s almost a full moon, right? Got to give back to the big guy in exchange for all this fame and fortune.”

He laughs again. It’s not a big laugh, but not a chuckle. His eyes crinkle and the sound is sweet, like two rocks knocking together beneath a babbling stream. His Adam’s apple bobs as he takes a sip of his latte and she averts her gaze, trying not to imagine crushing it with her hands.

No more of that, no more. Last night was the last one. Now you’re hanging with a Detective, you’re done now.

“When you told Marie you used to be shy…” His tongue darts out and licks stray foam from his upper lip. “Was that true? I’m trying to imagine you without this sass and it’s difficult.”

She wags a finger at him. “Ah, but you only just learned of my sass. Before today, I was just a purveyor of rainbows and unicorns.”

“That too.” He leans down, finally lifting the half-melted biscotti from his drink to bite into the sopping pastry. It comes off easily, and he rolls it around in his mouth a bit before swallowing. “Hard to imagine that girl being shy, either.”

She points to herself. “Actor.”

“Point.” He dips the rest of the biscotti in, all the way down, his fingers disappearing into the froth.

Joy raises an eyebrow. It doesn’t bother her, this display, but she could imagine some would be put off by it. It’s interesting to her that he doesn’t think of that, doesn’t care that he’s shoving his fingers inside his coffee in front of a potential date.

As if he can hear her thoughts, he blushes, and immediately pulls his fingers back, losing the cookie inside of his drink. He looks at his dripping fingers, back at his drink, helpless as a puppy.

Her lip curls as she takes pity on him. She drops a napkin on his fingers and takes his mug, dunking her spoon in to dig out the hunk of sugary dough. She gently removes it, dumping it back onto the saucer from whence it came, and sets the spoon down next to it, sliding his latte back to him.

“I see where your daughter gets her shyness.” She plants her elbows on the table, resting her chin on her fists.

His blush deepens.

He’s adorable. Too adorable.

He uses the spoon to chop up the mooshy biscotti, scooping the globs into his mouth before taking a long sip of his latte to chase it down. When he’s finished, he looks a lot less embarrassed, the shade of his cheeks slightly pink instead of crimson.

“You’re very good at avoiding questions,” he says.

She grins at him, showing all of her teeth, the kind of smile that eats her whole face. Then she lowers her arms, picking up her cooling espresso with her stubby fingers.

“It’s not on purpose.” She takes a small sip. “You’re just not asking questions I have answers for.”

He cocks his head. “And what questions would you have answers for?”

“How’s the puzzle coming along?” She smiles around the lip of the little mug.

An exasperated laugh burst from his lips. “Terribly, thank you for asking.”

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