The Caffeine in My Veins
Coffee-wanted and very much needed. As a student in Prague, Kamila Wesson can’t survive without it. The Kavarna Prazirna offers that and much more when she bumps into a handsome stranger one day.
What or who else does she soon learn she can’t live without?
_ _ _
A gust of wind kicks up the curtains of my bedroom window. I knew the weather was turning chilly, but I’d heard nothing of this. As I move to block out the aggressive draft, twin eerie orange orbs peer out of the darkness at me.
Is that the neighbor’s cat again? Has to be...
Trying in vain to shrug off any silly worries, my hand has just passed the window’s frame when a low, guttural growl stops me. No cat would make that noise. Ignorant of what awaits me, I glance outside.
What is that? More importantly, why is it moving closer?
The last thing I remember seeing is a flash of crystal blue darting in between the inhuman being and me. Unable to process what is going on, my mind reels. I don’t even register that I was screaming before my body hits the floor.
And all too soon, the world fades to black...
_ _ _
...Two Months Earlier...
I’m standing a few steps away from my favorite stop for coffee in the city, Kavarna Prazirna, looking around me. Ever since coming to Prague, I’ve been drawn to this place.
What should be a relaxing Saturday for me, a time to forget about university and my lack of social life, is changed by one accident. Bumping into anyone wasn’t part of my plan.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
A cluster of three people look at me with different reactions. The regular, gruff barista eyes me, readying a grumble. A small, older lady doesn’t seem to understand English to accept my apology. She quickly scurries off.
But then...then there’s him.
Towering above me is a strikingly handsome man with golden brown eyes and a subdued smile aimed in my direction. He’s the only one who speaks.
“Are you okay, Miss?”
His hand steadies me as I stumble the rest of the way into the coffeehouse. With that simple touch, everyone else has melted away. This stranger has locked on to me, and I can’t remember why I apologized.
“I’m fi...fine. Thank you.”
Still standing smack dab in front of the entrance, I feel him clutch my arm to move me out of the way. We’re backed up against the bar now. For some reason, I sit on a stool next to him.
Just like this place, I am drawn to this mystery man.
...Three Caffe Lattes Later...
“So you just let him take you to the wrong place?”
Chance, the stranger I so gracefully staggered into, is telling me about his first days in Prague.
“What was I supposed to do? He didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Czech.”
“And how did that go? Did you enjoy your time being a ‘brown noser’? Hmm?”
Chance laughs. A streak of red colors his cheeks. I can’t believe he climbed a ladder to look through a seventeen-foot statue’s butt.
“Not as much as you’d think.”
My laughter splits my words. An image of him, both hands on this enormous plaster rear end, floods my thoughts.
How into this was he?
“Does that mean you’re not an ass man?”
Crap, I said that out loud!
What’s worse is he leans back to stare down at mine.
“I think in some cases...I could be persuaded.”
Now, who’s blushing?
_ _ _
After that day, I spend many more with Chance. He’s sweet, smart, funny, and a great listener. Did I mention sexy? In the back of my mind, though, I can’t help but wonder where this is going. We’ve been talking for over a month now and I feel like I’ve known him for years. The question is--how does he feel?
Me, being the colossal idiot I am, blurts this out one day in between sips of our beverages.
“Chance, what exactly is this?”
“Well, I’m not sure...but I think it’s their special blend. You know they have an in-house roastery.”
“No, not the coffee...us. What are we?”
He scratches the back of his neck while looking at anything except for me. That can’t be a good sign. A few more minutes of awkward silence happen before I let him off the hook.
“That’s okay. I shouldn’t have said anything. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
“It’s fine. We barely know each other. Why should it be anything? It’s nothing--no big deal. Glad we got that settled.”
Embarrassed beyond belief--I get up. There’s no reason to stay and make it weirder. Only I don’t get as far as I’d like. Chance has grasped my wrist, then pulled me down onto him. His gaze is intense and his voice mirrors it as he speaks.
“I don’t think we’ve settled anything.”
The way he’s holding me brings up some questions.
All of them die on the tip of my tongue when he edges closer. His eyes darken while focusing on my lips. He’s a fraction of an inch away from me now. My head tilts, just waiting for the kiss to happen. His next words are outlined on my lips, parted with anticipation.
“And I wouldn’t call this nothing...”
Finally, he makes contact.
It’s soft at first, like he wants to gauge my reaction. For someone who yanked me into his lap a minute ago, this is not what I expected. To prove I want this, I deepen the kiss and run my hand down his chest. His response has me suppressing a moan because not only has his tongue entered my mouth, but his hand has moved into my hair. A slight tug later and I melt.
Is this what all first kisses should be like?
Dazed and slightly out of breath, he backs away. Chance is grinning as he watches me try to compose myself. It would be easier if his thumb wasn’t trailing along my bottom lip.
“That felt like a big deal to me, Kamila. But just to be sure...”
Right as he is leaning in again, the barista chooses that moment to stomp up to the table and clear away our empty mugs. Well, that was rude. I scoff in the retreating server’s direction. Chance sighs, then strokes my cheek fondly.
“It’s okay. I have to get going anyway. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
His kiss to my forehead is what I’m left with thanks to Mr. Avant-Garde. What is his deal?
_ _ _
I’d like to say that’s the last time I encountered this person, but it wasn’t. After his interruption of my second kiss from Chance, he makes it a habit to bring my latte to the table, then talks to me. Every. Single. Day. I don’t remember him ever talking to me before.
Doesn’t he have some hipster thing to do? He looks like any minute he’ll start blogging about progressive politics while listening to indie-rock.
There’s not much time to debate this today because Chance strolls up to where I’m sitting, shoving the barista out of the way. He barely moves, but it’s enough for my usual coffee date to sit down. Both men are still glaring at each other even as I push a fresh latte towards Chance. The steaming cup is ignored in favor of clipped snarls issued from each of their mouths. I catch a few words.
Stai departe, colti.
That’s not Czech. I don’t know what language that is. What just happened?
“Everything okay, Chance?”
“Yeah, sweetheart. Everything is great.”
His grimace softens as he faces me. The coffee in front of him is suddenly very important, but I can’t stop myself from thinking he’s hiding something behind that drink.
Everything has been going great, sort of. School has calmed down. Chance and I have gotten closer. Even the unruly barista has become somewhat of a friend to me. His name is Mihai. I hated calling him barista guy or hipster dude, so I asked one day.
Yeah, life is peachy...
But this weird presence still looms around my home. I only feel it here--nowhere else. It won’t go away. Maybe I should tell Chance about it. Hopefully, that will help.
...At The Coffeehouse...
Not being able to take it anymore, I bring up the issue when Chance gets here the next day. He thought something was off with me, but wasn’t sure how to bring it up. As I detail all the strange incidents--knocks on my door to find no one there, and creepy noises just to see the neighbor’s cat--his demeanor changes suddenly.
“Sweetheart, I need you to listen to me. Stay away from the barista. It might also be a good idea for us to find another coffeehouse.”
“What? Why? Mihai has been nice to me. He’s rough around the edges, but...”
He turns to me from glaring at Mihai. His grim expression now set on me. When he responds, his voice is a low bark of warning.
“He’s dangerous. More dangerous than you know.”
“It’ll be fine. Just do as I ask. Please.”
With no other explanation, he stands then leaves. Why is he acting like that?
_ _ _
At the end of the month, I’m just settling down to prepare for a final when I get a call from Chance. We’ve been meeting at random places since our odd conversation. He tried coaxing me into a new coffee shop, but my heart wasn’t in it. Besides, their drinks taste more like a crappuccino than a latte.
Seriously, it was gross.
When I arrive at Letna Gardens, Chance is by a monument surrounded with flowers.
What is his deal with statues?
Stopping his study of the woman, he reaches his hand out for me. I take it and meld into his side. We stand in silence for a moment before I break it.
“Chance...what is going on?”
“My work visa expires soon.”
This was not what I was expecting when he asked me to join him in the park. The bigger bomb has yet to drop, though.
“I leave in a few days. My job is sending me to London. Would you consider coming with me? After your school term is up, that is. Your credits should transfer.”
“Um, that’s uh...”
“Sudden, I know.”
“I need to think this over.”
My legs carry me away in a stupor. I’m stopped by Chance calling out to me.
“And Kamila--for what it’s worth--I’m sorry to drop this on you.”
I throw a smile that hardly turns my mouth up his way. Can this day get any better?
...That Very Night...
I’m mulling over the decision Chance put in front of me earlier. My studies could be done anywhere now that I’ve completed the program specific to Prague. And I probably would love London. But I have a home here...
Ugh, I don’t know what to do.
I guess I’ll weigh the pros and cons more in the morning. Maybe my head will be clear once I have coffee. Wonderful coffee though, no more crappuccinos. The thought of missing Kavarna Prazirna saddens me. It became more than just somewhere to drink lattes. That coffee shop was the first place I felt welcomed. I’m unsure I can leave it behind so soon.
Rattling at the door catches my attention. I finish getting ready for bed, then tiptoe over to inspect. Ear to the wood provides nothing. Should I open it? There are a million movies that prove that’s never a good idea. So I do the next stupid thing...
“Is anyone there? This isn’t funny. Kind of getting old.”
No answer. That’s good, I guess.
Thinking the safest place is locked up in my room, I dash toward it. As I’m dashing, a shadow passes over the hallway. There’s only a small window high up, so whoever that was...they’re tall. I let out a panicked yelp as I imagine the shadow racing me to safety.
Once the door to my room slams shut--I fumble for my phone. I should call Chance. He’d know what to do. I know I left things kind of weird at the park, but he’ll answer, right?
Four rings prove me wrong. I try it again. Same thing.
My hands drop my phone since Chance doesn’t answer. Of all the times to go to voicemail, this is the worst! The uneasy feeling doesn’t go away. That shadowy figure... person...thing could still be here. I cross the room to the window that has fluttering curtains. That’s when it all happens.
And then black...is all I see.
_ _ _
When I come to, Mihai is above me. My head is in his lap. What on Earth happened? The last thing I remember is a blur streaking by to confront whatever that thing was. A blur that looks an awful lot like the person staring down in concern.
“You’re bleeding, Mihai!”
“I’m...fine, Inimioara mea.”
“No, you’re not and what do those last words even mean? You’ve said them before at the coffeehouse.”
“It’s Romanian for my little heart.”
Completely bypassing the fact that he used a term of endearment for me, I address the part that sticks out.
“Romanian? You’re not from here? And how were you able to fight off whatever that creature was?”
“I could save you because I’m a vampire. That creature was a lycan, but you would know him as Chance.”
Never have my eyes been this wide. Mihai is what? And Chance...I’m so confused. He winces as I sit up, and I realize I have a death grip on his thigh from hearing his news.
“Sorry! This is just...wow. A lot to take in.”
“I know. Let’s get you inside and I’ll explain everything.”
After a lengthy discussion about the fight and many supernatural beings, including him, I finish cleaning Mihai up. I would’ve patched the wounds too, but they sealed themselves just as I wiped the blood off. He did say he was fine. I just can’t believe any of this. Chance was the one responsible for all my weird incidents. He was going to eventually...gah, I can’t even put it into words.
Bile rises in my throat as I face my rescuer to ask the questions I’m not sure I want the answers to. What if he’s not any better?
“Why save me? Why do you care?”
“You don’t believe in love at first sight, Inimioara mea?”
Is he talking about the day we bumped into each other? Maybe that grumble wasn’t meant for me. And now that I know what he is--calling me his little heart seems...ironic. My hands pause on his chest. I think my answer is going to disappoint him.
“Not really, no.”
“Ah, then I suppose it must be the caffeine in your veins that drew me to you.”
A gasp of shock is out of my mouth seconds before he encloses me in his mesmerizing embrace. Never to escape...