The Starbucks on the corner of Cleveland and Harrison was always busy in the morning, but I made time to stop by no matter what. It wasn’t the white chocolate, mocha latte I ordered every time that kept me coming back. Not even the idea that the barista who took my order knew my name and even knew that I taught at Clearwater Academy. Even the fact that she flirted with me every chance she got wasn’t the reason why I insisted on taking an hour in a half long visit, sipping my coffee in the corner with the best view of the bar in the whole shop.
The coffee was good, of course, but it was the young man who worked the bar that had my complete attention. I noticed him when he’d been manning the register for the first time. I go his name off the tag he wore, Alex. Alex’s smile was what won me over to begin with. I began noticing other things about him after that. Like how his black hair got in his pretty green eyes often, and the earrings that lined not one but both ears.
Alex was gorgeous. A little shorter than myself, but not by much. He looked like he went to the gym, a nice fine build that I found myself trying to imagine what shape his body was in underneath the black shirt and green apron. I realized I was staring when Alex looked up from the coffee he was making and made eye contact. I turned away, facing my computer with an intensity that could kill. If that were at all possible. My heart pounded, face heating as I stared at the loaded document on the laptop. I’d opened the lesson plan simply to have an excuse to sit at the tall table with the outlet right next to it.
I chanced a quick glance over at the bar and watched as Alex handed the cup of coffee to one of the waiting customers with his usual smile. Damn it that man could smile. It was cute, the way his head tilted to the side just a little as he flashed it to the young woman. For a moment I felt a spark of jealousy and smothered it with a gulp of the searing hot mocha I was clutching a little too tightly.
Today I’ll do it.
I’d been telling myself that for the past week. God, I feel like a damned stalker. And at my age! I’m almost thirty! Where the hell had all my bravado gone? Bryant, my best friend, teased me often enough already about not being able to ask Alex on a date. The words ‘grow a pair’ had been mentioned plenty of times. I frowned at my cup as if it were the culprit. “I have a pair, jackass,” I muttered.
Taking a second swallow of the ridiculously sweet drink, I snapped the laptop shut and stuffed it away in my Swiss army bag. I adjusted it over my shoulder and headed up to the counter where Alex was cleaning the machine that heated the milk for the latte’s. I stood there for a moment before I cleared my throat, getting Alex’s attention instantly. That sweet smile was flashed again and my heart skipped a couple of beats. Words weren’t a thing for a moment.
“Uh…. H-hi. Yeah. Um. I was wondering. I mean. This might come off as sudden or whatever, but….” I paused and force myself to look at him and not the back of the machine. I felt like a Neanderthal under those green eyes of his.
He set aside his rag and leaned against the top of the machine, resting his chin on his arms. Alex motioned with his hand, a little twist of his wrist to tell me to keep going. I wet my lips and nodded.
“R-right. Uh. Anyway. I just. I wanted to say that you’re really kind of hot.” God this was harder than it looked. If I didn’t push through and ask the damned question I was afraid my face would be permanently red for the rest of my life. I closed my eyes and forced the rest out. “And. Would you like to have dinner with me?”
The words rushed at the end and I held my breath. I waited for the answer, eyes squeezed shut. But nothing came. Not a single peep out of Alex. I looked at him, a little worried over the fact that he wasn’t saying a single thing. Alex had straightened from leaning on the machine. He looked like he was in shock. I winced. Damn.
“Oh. I-” I stumbled on my words, getting tongue tied easily, which only served to have Alex looking even more confused. “Shit. I’m really sorry. I just. Never mind. Sorry to bother you.” I pushed off the counter and left the shop at a brisk pace. I dug my keys from my pocket and smashed the unlock button. My black Tacoma blinked yellow lights at me. I yanked the door open and tossed the bag onto the passenger seat. The truck roared to life after I jammed the key into the ignition.
“Damn it. God. He was straight, wasn’t he…. Fuck me.”
I left the parking lot in frustration. Not at Alex but at myself for assuming things I shouldn't have and for jumping the gun like that. I should have just talked to him normally, gotten to know him better before laying it on him. God, damn it I was such an idiot.
It took me five minutes to get down the street and park at Clearwater Academy, my work place. I cut the engine and stared at the dashboard with my arms laced over the wheel. I let out a heavy sigh and banged my head. Damn.
Someone tapped on my window, startling me. I glared at the man who stood there, waving with a giant smile on his lips. I rolled my eyes and opened the door.
"So...." He drew the word out, which annoyed me.
"You already know," I replied with too much acid in my tone. I gave him an apologetic look.
Bryant shrugged. "Yeah you looked like you'd been kicked a couple of times. Sorry man. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. What did he say?"
I slammed the door after retrieving my bag and we walked up to the school building. "He didn't say anything."
“What? Like, not even a ‘hu’ or something?”
“Not a peep,” I said with emphasis. Bryant stared then stroked at the goatee he had going on since last year. I knew what that meant, his “thoughtful” expression was easy to spy. I also knew what it was he would be thinking. If I was really good, which usually I was, I could guess at what he’d say too.
“Maybe you shocked him.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, shocked the words right out of him. Look, I disgusted him, okay? End of story.”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Bryant insisted. He was as stubborn as a damned bull at times. Once he had something in his head, it was all over for the opposing team. “I’m betting he swings your way; I think you came off to heavy. What’d you do? Did you jump right on into ‘dinner, home, sex’?”
“What! No!” I stopped outside the door to our shared office and then swallowed hard as I corrected myself, “Well… I did ask if he’d go to dinner with me, but I didn’t say the rest of that! And you wonder why people call you a pervert,” I said as I shoved the door open and flicked the light switch.
“Oh, I don’t wonder. I know. Anyway. Try something else. I think you just shocked him.”
“No, I think he just doesn’t like me. I’ve never even said two words to him before! There’s never been a conversation.”
“Yeah mostly because you sit in the corner and ogle at him like a stalker.”
“This stapler is going to be attached to your head in a minute.”
Bryant ignored my threat as he set his bag down on the desk opposite of mine. Each side of the room was the polar opposite of the other. Where his desk looked like a hurricane had swept through it, mine was immaculate. It drove me nuts at times, but it was one of those things that I could ignore because we’d been friends since high school.
“Try kicking up a conversation next time instead of terrifying him with your sex depraved hovering.”
Instead of the stapler, I snatched some printer paper and balled it into a tight wad. I hurled it at his head and watched it bounce off his curls. It was less satisfying than I’d thought it would be. Maybe the stapler would be a better bet next time. He grinned at me. “Just saying,” he said, shrugging at me.
“I hate you.”
“Yup, well. What would you do without me?”
“A lot of things,” I retorted as I twisted around in the chair to face my desk and pull out my lesson plan to put some quick finishing touches on it.
“Like what? Drown yourself in loneliness? Who is it that keeps dragging your sorry ass out of that ridiculous apartment and into what most people call a life?”
“I don’t know who this person is, you must be hallucinating. Especially since bar hopping is not for everyone, especially men at our age.”
Bryant laughed, the kind that roared from his gut and had him doubling over in a fit. “Oh god! You make us sound old!”
I scowled at him from over my shoulder. He grinned at me, recovering rather quickly from the outburst. I was trying to come up with something to retaliate with—and failing horribly—when my phone buzzed. The alarm I set saved me from further humiliation. Bryant smiled at me, and the look on his face told me that our conversation wasn’t at an end. As I gathered my lesson plan for class and stuffed in the bag with my laptop, I prayed that the day would end quickly.
I hoped I could get out of class before Bryant did that way I wouldn’t be forced to go through with whatever plans he was sure to cook up.
“Oh good, he’s still here,” Bryant said as he stepped into the coffee shop with me in tow. I groaned inwardly and tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible.
“How in the hell did you manage to get out before me?”
He shrugged in response and headed for the table that I used in the morning. I followed after reluctantly, but only because hovering by the door would have drawn unwanted attention and turning around to walk back out just seemed stupid when I’d set foot inside already. When we sat down, I yanked out the laptop and set it up, determined to bury myself in something other than what Bryant was going to have us doing.
“Hey! It’s Friday, number one, and number two, we’re on a mission,” he said and put his hand on the lid to keep me from opening the portable computer.
I scowled at him. “We’re not on a mission and I have work I need to do, unlike someone apparently. How in the hell are you still employed?”
“Tenure, and my students adore me.”
“They take your class because its easy.”
“Hey, someone’s gotta do it. Anyway, we’re off track. Look. How about we do this the old fashioned way, I’ll go introduce you to him and say some funny things about you to get him to laugh, break the ice and then boom, conversation hits and magic happens.” He wiggled his fingers at me and I snorted in disgust.
“Okay ‘magic fingers’.”
“It’ll be easy. What’s the harm? At least he’ll talk to you then, right? Has to be better than what happened this morning.”
I hated to admit that he was probably right there. I’d been floored with how I’d received my rejection. I wasn’t new to rejection, everyone had it happen to them at some point in time of course, but usually it was done with being told. Not flat out silence. Well, not the kind that lasted even when I waited a few seconds longer than usual to get the hint. Begrudgingly I nodded.
“Yes! Now I get to make fun of you teaching physics! Weirdo. Why couldn’t you do something fun like art or music or theater?”
“And be a total nerd like you? No thanks, I’m good.”
“Hey, I put on some pretty wicked plays alright?” Bryant slapped the table almost hard enough to get everyone’s attention before he stood up. If I wasn’t fast enough, he’d be dragging me up to the counter with him. I grumbled to myself as I got out of the seat. I was two steps into heading to the counter when one of the girls running the register caught my attention. She was looking at Alex and the two of them seemed to be having a conversation. She’d laughed, but I’d been certain all I heard from the quiet shop was silence, but there she was laughing at… nothing.
“I saw that video too,” she commented and I was thoroughly confused. What video? No one said anything about a video and it was clear she wasn’t talking to any customers as no one was at the register, not even Bryant had made it over there before she’d burst out. I turned my attention to Alex and saw his smile.
“Yup, that one too,” she said again, still laughing and I was floored. Was she… talking to herself or to Alex? I couldn’t tell. He never said a word, but she was staring right at him, chatting like normal. I moved. I couldn’t see Alex properly with the machine in the way. I headed for the other side of the shop so that I could see behind the bar and pretended to look at their merchandise.
“Did you get the one I posted on your Facebook? The one with the dogs?” she asked.
Alex nodded enthusiastically, and then I saw it. His hands moved rapidly, forming shapes with his fingers. Sign language. I felt horrible. My chest tightened and I couldn’t breathe for a minute. I looked away to stare at the white mugs in shock. I’d taken his silence as rejection and the bitterness I felt over it was washed away in guilt and shame. For a moment, I hated myself for assuming.
I walked over to Bryant and snatched a hold of his arm. I dragged him with me out of the Starbucks. I was lucky that Alex was a little too busy with his conversation to have noticed us. It also helped that the shop was busy at that hour too, so the crowd of people hid our escape outside. Once we got across the parking lot, I leaned against the hood of my truck. I rubbed my hands through my hair in frustration.
“So… what was that about?”
I gave him a glare from over my shoulder. “Idiot.”
“Hey! I was just about to get you all hooked up with that guy and you went and bailed out on it!”
“I didn’t bail out—okay maybe I did, but did you see what he was doing?” I waited, but when Bryant just stared at me in return I continued. “He was signing to that girl who was talking to him. He’s mute, Bryant! That’s why he didn’t answer me this morning,” I muttered that last part to myself.
“Oh,” he drew the word out as he put his back against the truck. “Well shit. I only know a few letters of the alphabet.”
“That doesn’t help me at all,” I groaned. I rested my arms across the hood and laid my head on them. Of everything that I’d thought was the reason to his silence that morning, being mute was not one of them. It brought a thousand questions to mind, things that I wanted to ask him and learn about him, but I knew that I would never learn because I couldn’t understand sign language. Like Bryant I knew so little, letters and some gestures, but it wasn’t enough to follow a conversation.
“New plan,” I announced, feeling oddly invigorated. “Help me find a place where I can learn.”
“Better plan,” Bryant countered, “Why don’t you just have him teach you?”
I opened my mouth to refute that stupid idea but realization took over. Of course! Having Alex teach me would be a much better solution than someone else. I could get to know him, we could spend time together. I cleared my throat. “Yeah. That’s a really great idea.”
“You selfish, depraved man. You were just thinking about how much time you were going to get with him, weren’t you?” Bryant stuck me with a knowing smile and a wiggle of his eyebrows.
“So what, it’s a win-win situation.”
“Oh I’m sure he’s going to be winning a lot of things from you.”
“Okay, stop with the innuendo’s they’re horrible anyway. You suck at them. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” I shoved off my truck and started to walk back to the coffee shop. I heard Bryant follow after me and I groaned inwardly.
“And miss this? I don’t think so. I gotta see how this plays out.”
“Fine, just… sit in the corner or something. And don’t say a damn thing,” I told him sternly as I yanked the door open and stepped into the cooler environment. Bryant’s smile never went away but he did as I said and went to a table near the far window. He sat just right to be able to watch me up at the counter. I paused and glared at him before he motioned at the bar, sweeping his hand out at me which only helped to irritate me.
Nerves fluttered in my stomach and I took forever looking at the food on display in the case. The girl didn’t seem to mind as she busied herself with cleaning the counter tops and the many items they used for making their coffee. Alex wasn’t in sight though and I was afraid that he’d clocked out. The idea that he’d left and I would have to wait until the following morning was a little heartbreaking.
I grabbed a bottle of water and went to the register where she met me with a smile. Candice was what her name tag said. I returned her pleasantries and handed her my card. As she swiped it, I looked toward the back of the shop where the employees were only allowed. I could see shelves filled with boxes but not Alex. I cleared my throat and got the courage to ask her where he was.
“Uh, is Alex here?”
Candice stared for a moment and then laughed. “Oh, yeah. He’s here, he’s in the back getting more cups. Did you want to talk to him? You’re the guy from this morning hu,” she said it knowingly and I was caught off guard. Had Alex told her about that? The thought had my heart tightening and my face burning with embarrassment.
“Y-yeah… About that-”
“Oh, don’t worry. He didn’t tell me much. Just that you surprised him with your rather… abrupt confession.” Candice interrupted me and gave me a wolfish grin.
I fiddled with my card and frowned at her. “Can I talk to him please?” I felt a little bad for speaking with a sharp tone, but couldn’t help it. I was annoyed that she was picking on me. As if Bryant didn’t do that enough.
She didn’t seem to care though as she walked away with that smile still in place. “Alex!” Her voice rang out in the back and took a quick glance around the shop to make sure I hadn’t gained too much attention. I turned back to the counter as she came back with Alex in tow. Quite literally towing him too, her hand wrapped around his wrist and a happy smile on her face.
“Here you go!” she said with such enthusiasm I was sure her and Bryant were related somehow. She presented Alex to me as if he were a present and he stood there in shock, fidgeting as he looked between her and me.
“Uh… Hi,” I said and Candice snickered. I glared at her and she shrugged. It seemed to break the ice and Alex smiled.
“If you need a translator, I can do that for you. He doesn’t talk, he signs,” Candice offered.
“Yeah, I saw that earlier. Um. Actually that’s why I wanted to talk to you, uh, speak with you? U-um… Sorry. I’m not. Anyway. I want to learn. I don’t know a single damn thing about signing, other than like A B C and hi,” I smiled like an idiot as I waved at him.
Alex’s smile grew and he leaned forward, bracing himself against the computer. His laugh was raspy, the sound just about gone. The loudest part of it was the hard puff of air followed by the faintest tone of his voice. He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, pulling the black, sleek strands away from his face and I got a full view of the earrings in his ears.
He was definitely a good looking man. I pressed on now that the atmosphere between us wasn’t as tense. “So, I was wondering if you could teach me. I’d like to learn.”
Alex played with one of the earrings in the cartilage of his ear as he leaned against the fiberglass that separated the cash registers and the bar. His smile turned into a playful grin and if I wasn’t already hooked, I was reeled in then. He did something with his hands and I stared for a moment, too caught up in his sexy smile to really pay much attention.
“He said that’s fine,” Candice translated for me. “Said he wouldn’t mind teaching you.”
“Great!” I was a little too enthusiastic about that. Then I felt guilty for that morning. Leaning against the counter, I played with a pen in the cup next to the register. “Look. I’m sorry about this morning. I just sort of assumed…”
Alex shook his head. His hands flew and I was very lost, though I was assuming it was good what he was saying judging by his smile and how Candice laughed.
“Oh boy,” she snickered. “The short version is that he said it’s alright, not to worry about this morning. He said you just startled him.”
Alex made a face and looked at her. He flapped his hand at her in an angry gesture and signed to her. She shrugged and shook her head. “Alright, alright. I’ll tell him. Okay, he said that you startled him this morning because you made it sound like you wanted to jump him.”
I was taken aback. “Oh. Uh. I’m really sorry about that. I didn’t mean it like that,” I was stumbling again as I tried to explain myself. Candice was laughing again and from the corner where Bryant was, I could hear him too. I looked over my shoulder at him and glared. He winked at me. I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to Alex and his friend.
“He said it’s fine. He thought it was funny afterwards, but he was a little worried that you wouldn’t come back. So he’s happy you showed up.”
I smiled, more than a little excited that he was happy I was there. “Well, we can thank my friend over there. He convinced me to come back even though I was… well I was convinced I sort of made you hate me. You know, that you were. Yeah.”
Alex rolled his eyes at me and even though I probably should have been a little irritated over it, I found it really cute. His face turned a pale red. Candice translated again though it was hard for her to do so when she was laughing.
“Oh, Alex. Jeez. He said. You have nothing to worry about. He likes guys. It was just… You know. You sounded really uh. Eager to get in his pants.”
It was my turn to blush. The pens I was playing with flew out of the cup because I fumbled with them at what she said. Or rather, what Alex had said.
“I did not mean it like that!” I was trying to save my dignity. Besides, who took ‘go out to dinner with me’ as ‘let’s have sex’? “Really, honestly I just wanted dinner. Good God. And here Bryant was labeling me as sex depraved.”
Candice laughed again and Alex glared at her. When she recovered enough to speak, she repeated what he’d signed. “He says he’s not sex depraved, just dirty minded. And he apologized for jumping to that conclusion.”
“No, no. It’s alright. Wow, we just really got off to a bad start here. Anyway, forget about it. Do you want me to pay you or something? To teach me, I can do that.”
I hadn’t even finished talking before Alex was shaking his head at me, waving his hands in front of his face and mouthing the word ‘no’. His hands were too fast to follow and I wondered how in the hell Candice was able to catch all of it.
“He said no, he doesn’t want to be paid, he’s not a teacher and he actually has people ask him a lot to teach them because they want to talk to him too.”
“Oh, like friends and stuff at work and what not?”
“Yeah. I asked him to teach me too when I found out he couldn’t talk. I didn’t want us to have miscommunications and things like that at work. So he taught me and he’s a really good teacher. Ridiculously smart. So I think you guys will get along great and you’ll learn in no time flat,” Candice said.
Alex was making himself busy fixing the pens that had gone flying across the counter as she spoke. I caught his red face before he turned away to grab another pen that had gone onto the floor on their side. Her compliments were making him blush and I was really enjoying it.
“Awesome, well I can’t wait to learn. When do you wanna start?”
“Anytime is fine he said, he works till 5. He’s lucky in getting his weekends off so Saturdays and Sundays would be perfect, that’s when he taught me.”
“Alright, tomorrow then? We can meet here or whatever you want.”
Alex tapped the computer screen several times and the printer next to it scrolled out a sheet of blank receipt paper. He tore it off and wrote down the name of a place on it which he gave to me. It said Coachman Park. I nodded at him. “Yeah, this’ll work great. Tomorrow at noon. I’ll bring something to eat.”
“Great! Now that you have your date, can we go? I mean, I did leave my car back at the school since we took your truck.” Bryant was right next to me and I hadn’t noticed he’d gotten up from the corner table. I jerked away from him before I could stop myself and then cursed under my breath as he grinned at me. He smiled at Alex, said hi to Candice and then jerked his head toward the door. “Come on lover boy, let’s get going. He’s still working you know and it’s going to get busy again soon.”
“Whatever,” I directed that at Bryant and then smiled at Alex. I was about to turn and follow after Bryant when I realized I’d never introduced myself to Alex. “Oh! I’m Derrek, by the way. Sorry about that, the late introduction.”
Alex laughed, shook his head, and reached over the counter and took my waiting hand. I tried not to squeeze too tightly, but he had a firm hand shake himself. I finally left, letting Alex get back to his work and taking Bryant back to the school to retrieve his car. Even though my Friday was already half done and over with, I couldn’t wait for Saturday. To me, the day wasn’t going by fast enough.