A week later I realized I had been wrong, very wrong. As it turned out Adrian was a regular who came in at the same time everyday. Due to a business trip he hadn’t my first few days, but he had every day sense.
“Thank you sweetheart.” He would smile at me.
That same captivating crooked grin that made my heart shudder and my stomach flutter. By day three I could no longer stop the small grin that threatened to spread across my face.
“Oh, she smiles. Does that mean I can get your name?” He asked, smiling even wider.
I hesitated, “J-Jessica.”
I waited for him to mock my stuttering, just like I had the first day. Again he didn’t, instead letting his smile become much more serious, “It’s great to meet you Jessica.”
I expected that to be the end. He had won, gotten what he wanted. Now he could walk away victoriously. Again however he proved me wrong, instead asking what my favorite color was the next day.
I just shook my head confused. When he asked again the next monday though, I told him it was green.
We continued this pattern for nearly a month, before he broke the cycle. By then I was answering the same day he asked and even asking questions in return. My stuttering was all but absent and it felt not only normal, but right to talk to him. In fact, I looked forward to our conversations.
“Let me take you out to lunch after your shift.” He said seriously.
I bit my lip and furrowed my brows before shaking my head. I had to get home to Aaliyah. He still didn’t know she existed, and I wasn’t planning on changing that.
“Okay, how about coffee Saturday morning? You don’t work that day right?” He asked unfazed and unsurprised.
“No, but…” I started, and he watched patiently. “I don’t know.”
“It’s just a coffee. No strings I promise.” His voice was so smooth and soothing I felt myself relenting.
“Just a coffee.” I whispered. He nodded, “Okay, I guess I can do that.”
“Great, eight o’clock okay?” He asked and I nodded. “Do you want to meet me?”
I nodded again. No way was I going to let him know where I lived. Where Aaliyah lived.
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow Jessica.” He beamed, taking his coffee.
I nodded and smiled nervously. Then I realized I wasn’t panicking. I had just agreed to go out to coffee with this guy and I wasn’t even afraid. I knew nothing about him.
This however wasn’t true. I knew he drove a Jeep Wrangler. He loved off roading, camping, hiking, and hunting. His favorite color was dark blue, favorite band Switchfoot, favorite food, anything chinese. I knew he preferred cats to dogs because they were more independent, easier to leave at home when he went for outdoor activities. I also knew he spoke Greek and, especially when irritated, would mutter in the language.
I knew a lot about him, and suddenly realized, he knew just as much about me. I smiled, shaking my head, the questions had seemed so silly. I wondered if he had planned it out this way. Planned or not, I was more comfortable with him then I had been with anyone other than my brothers and Balissa in seven years.
I might even go so far as to say I was excited about Saturday. That was until suddenly it was Saturday, and I realized I didn’t have his phone number to cancel on him. I was terrified.
Andrew had said this was a good step, and of course he would watch Aaliyah. Though he insisted on meeting Adrian before we get, in his words, too serious. In all honesty I think it was that phrase that scared the shit out of me.
That’s how I found myself Saturday standing in front of the mirror in my nice jeans and light pink, long sleeve, sheer blouse. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, before letting it fall loose again. I put on a little eyeliner, then removed it, then reapplied it.
I couldn’t decide on anything. Not even whether I wanted this to go well, or him to decide to leave me alone again. I had so simply wanted to be left alone. Then he had forced his way into my small group of people I could trust to any degree. I found myself not wanting him gone. He had brought a new kind of happiness to the last month. I didn’t want to lose that.
So with a deep sigh I relented to looking how I did now. I slipped on my black flats, and headed to the door.
“Mama?” Aaliyah walked up to me reaching up.
“Hey, baby.” I scooped her up, “Mama has to go bye-bye, but I’ll be back soon.”
Aaliyah frowned at me. Andrew walked in, snatching her out of my hands and swinging her around. Her shrill giggle filled the entire room.
“You look great Jess. You have pepper spray?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes of course.” I rolled my eyes.
“Okay Ms. Aaliyah you’re going to have fun with uncle Drew. Can you say Drew? Drew.” Andrew cooed.
Aaliyah just frowned shyly at him, not even attempting to speak.
Andrew smiled down at her anyway before kissing her forehead. “I love you so much.” He walked away bouncing her playfully.
I had to fight the urge to follow him and forget all about coffee. What if something happened, what if Aaliyah needed me?
“Make sure you have your phone. We will be fine here. Have a good time Jess.” Andrew called from the kitchen.
I sighed, rolling my eyes. Then walked out the door.
“Good morning Jessica.” Adrian smiled kindly at me as he stood from the table, “I wasn’t sure you were going to show up.”
“I-I wasn’t either.” I admitted sheepishly.
I slid into my seat and he followed suit chuckling, “Yet here you are.”
I nodded and I couldn’t help grinning at his playful expression. Something about him seemed, while not quite innocent, unthreatening. He made me want to be happy and carefree. He made me want to trust and believe in him.
He made me wish I could be different, worth his time. I knew I couldn’t be though.
“What is going on in the beautiful head of yours that has you so upset?” Adrian leaned back watching cautiously.
“Nothing.” I forced another smile.
He frowned sadly, clearly not buying it. However he didn’t press the issue and I realized that though he could be stubborn he wasn’t invasive. He respected my privacy.
“So how was your morning?” He asked calmly.
“Pretty good,” I blushed thinking of how I had spent it all in front of a mirror, so unlike me. “How about you?”
“Good, I had my nephew over last night so I got to have breakfast with him.” He responded.
“That’s cool, how old is he?” I asked, feeling my guard drop slightly.
“He’s six, and a handful. My brother needs to get a girl to help out, I really feel Lincoln would benefit from even a nanny at this point. He’s around too many men.” Adrian laughed and I couldn’t fight the stupid grin that spread over my own face.
“What about his mom?” I asked after a minute.
“Drunk driver, Linc was two.” He stared down at his coffee swerling it around in his cup.
“I’m sorry. People are awful.” It took me a moment to realize I had voiced this last thought out loud.
He watched me cautiously. The skin between his eyebrows furrowed causing a slight v. He didn’t like what I had said. Panic filled my chest and I reminded myself I was in public.
“I’m sorry.” I muttered, taking a deep breath.
“Don’t be sorry. I value your opinion, even if I can’t agree with it.” Adrian grinned slightly and I relaxed.
“What do you mean?” I asked, unsure what else to say.
“I believe that at least most people want to be good. Most people are just doing the best they can with what they are given. Oftentimes people just need a chance, or a reason, to change.” He shrugged, leaning back again.
“I’m not sure I can believe that.” I admitted.
“You don’t have to,” He chuckled, “Anyway I told you about my brother and nephew. What about you?”
I stiffened, “What about me?”
I stared down at my coffee thinking hard before speaking in as calm a tone as I could. “I have two brothers here in the city with me. My father lives a couple towns over, but my mother died of cancer almost five years ago.”
“I’m sorry about your mom,” Adrian leaned forward again, meeting my gaze until I turned away. “You said your brothers are here with you. Does that mean you guys live together?”
“I live with my older brother. My twin and his girlfriend live in the same building but not the same apartment.” I smiled, relieved to be focusing on that part of my family.
“That’s cool that you guys are so close, does your dad visit often?” He asked, smiling pleasantly.
I shook my head but said nothing.
He hesitated, wincing slightly. It was clear this had just gotten awkward, luckily he bounced back quickly. Asking about my favorite movie, and effectively shifting the conversation back to stable ground. We spent the next three hours talking about everything, and nothing.
As I walked down the street I was in the best mood I could remember being in ever. Of course that’s when I received the text from my father.
Have you made up your mind then?
I wanted to scream and throw the phone away. Instead I bit my lip, shoving it deep into my pocket as I fought the tears that now stung my eyes.