Learning to Love

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“Hey, Jess. Did you just get off?” Andrew sounded nervous through the phone.

I stood outside the door of the cafe taking my second break. The manager had just asked me to work a double shift and I agreed willingly. I needed the money.

“No, I’m working a double.” I said with a sigh.

I leaned back against the cool bricks of the cafe and started looking through the crowd around me. I didn’t think I was looking for anything in particular until I realized it was about the time Adrian came in for lunch sometimes. He had been coming in twice almost everyday this last week..

I felt blood pool in my cheeks but forced my eyes down to the ground. I didn’t care if he came in, or when he came in. It was of no consequence to me.

“Shit.” Andrew muttered.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, feeling panic rising in my chest. “Is Aaliyah…”

“She’s fine, you know she’s home with Balissa.” He assured me, “It’s just that I have a case and I’m probably going to be out all night.”

“Well that’s fine I’ll just ask Simon or Balissa for a ride.” I shrugged not seeing what the problem was.

“Sy has a night class he can’t miss and I forgot to switch Aaliyah’s car seat out of my car so Lysa is stuck too.” He sighed, “Shit.”

“Hey it’s okay, It’s not a long walk. Plus it’s a nice day. Don’t worry about it.” I was attempting to sound calm but honestly this wasn’t a stroll in the park. It was a walk through a city packed with strangers.

“No, you can’t do that. This case… just trust me please is there anyone there who could just drive you home?” He asked, suddenly adamant.

“I don’t know anyone enough to ask Drew.” I couldn’t help the hysteria that seeped into my voice. “I can’t exactly ask my boss to drive me home.”

“Do you need a ride?” Adrian’s voice came from behind him.

I groaned silently but then realized in surprise that I hadn’t even flinched. He had come up beside me without me even noticing, but it hadn’t scared me. The instant I heard his voice I knew I didn’t need to be afraid. I held up one finger to him.

“I will figure something out and let you know.” I said slowly.

“Okay, just let me know. I’m serious though, please do not go walking around tonight alone Jess.” Andrew’s voice sent a shiver down my spine.

Working as an FBI agent he had quickly learned not to give me details or even talk to me about his work. I had had several panic attacks just talking about them. It was rare that he would even mention work so I took what he was saying very seriously.

I sighed as I hung up the phone. I reached up, massaging my temples. I wished this situation would just revolve itself and I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

“Do you need a ride home?” Adrian asked again as he leaned his shoulder against the wall next to me.

“Well, yeah, kind of. Not now though I have to work till six.” I admitted.

“Okay I get off at four today so I’ll be here to pick you up by five thirty.” He smiled kindly at me.

“I work until six.” I repeated.

“I don’t mind waiting. In fact, I would rather be the one waiting.” With that he flashed a grin before pushing off the wall, “Now are you going to get my coffee?”

“There are other workers,” I rolled my eyes.

I couldn’t help but return his smile though.

“Awe, yes, but you see,” He leaned in against his arm which he placed on the wall above my head. “I don’t want them.”

“I…” I started but my voice broke. He had never been so forward, and I couldn’t figure out why I still felt safe. “I’m not ready for anything Adrian, you would be better off asking one of them.”

He grinned, “I know you aren’t ready, that’s why I’m only asking for my coffee. However I have to say I disagree with the last part. I was raised to believe that the best things in life, never come easy.”

I stared at him, wanting so badly to tell him how I wasn’t worth his time. I was too badly damaged, I would never be normal. Then there was Aaliyah, he didn’t even know about her. I couldn’t let this happen, I had to help him get out of the situation he was putting himself in.

Just like that though he pushed away again and held the door open for me. I walked through without thinking much of it.

“Nice of you to join us.” Heather said, tossing me my apron.

I shrugged apologetically.

“I see why though, he’s hot. Do you actually talk to him?” She looked at me skeptically.

I shrugged then nodded.

“You are so weird.” She shrugged, turning back to the counter.

I sighed and tied my apron on before starting Adrian’s usual.

Heather was our newest hire. She had a purple pixie cut and an amount of over confidence that would overwhelm a herd of elephants. She had decided the first time I stuttered I was no longer worth her time.

Not that I was hurt, or even really surprised. On the contrary that was how most people reacted. It was the ones who stuck around that surprised me. The ones who pushed past that to try to get to know me anyway.

“Hello, what can I get for you today?” Heather’s voice was just a little too cheerful.

“I’m good, I think Jess is almost done with my order.” The only one who had actually surprised me said now. His voice was smooth and I couldn’t help the wave of heat that seemed to flow through me.

“Here you go.” I said, handing him his cup.

His words outside still echoed in my mind. I fought to figure out what to say to convince him that he was wrong. The problem was, I didn’t want to convince him. I didn’t want him to give up. In my heart I knew that if anyone could make me trust them, make me love again, it was this man staring back at me. That thought both terrified and thrilled me, as I watched Adrian walk out of the cafe.

I didn’t trust people, hell I didn’t even talk to people. So what was it about this man that changed that? I was willing to allow him to drive me home. He would know where I lived.

The panic I had expected to hit me outside suddenly hit in full force now. My legs started to shake and my breathing quickened. I pushed through the door into the back room which was mercifully empty. Sliding down the wall I put my head between my knees and started to force myself to breathe.

He was going to know where I lived. Know where Aaliyah lived! I couldn’t go through with this. Endanger my daughter so I didn’t have to walk a quarter of a mile.

No no no no, I couldn’t let him know where I lived. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut trying desperately to stop the tears that streamed down my face. The memories flashing through my head, and I bit my lip trying not to scream out loud. Still, a choked whimper echoed around the empty room.

Minutes, that felt like hours, passed and I was finally able to regain myself. I looked around the cold gray storage room, trying to steady my breathing.

I was alone again, always so alone. More often than not I had found myself this way. More times than I could count I was alone when all I needed was someone to be there.

Adrians’ face flashed through my mind. Why was it in his presence, I felt okay. Now though, the whole situation seemed unthinkable.

I knew one thing for sure though. I didn’t care how handsome, sweet, and easy to be around he seemed. I would not loose my daughter because I was stupid enough to trust him after only a couple months.

I would ride home with him. However, I comforted myself, he wouldn’t know what apartment I live in. Not to mention he didn’t even know Aaliyah existed it was stupid to think she was in any danger.

I sighed deeply once again and forced myself to walk back through the door and finish my shift.

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