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It’s raining when I wake.

I move sleepily, rubbing a fist against my eyes as a yawn shudders through me. Thousands of tiny water droplets streak down my bedside window, blurring the cacophonous city that waits just beyond the single pane of glass, and it looks as though someone has reached out and run their fingers through my perception and messed it up so wonderfully. Sounds of life call to me like far off sirens but I let them be, not quite ready to handle the hustle and bustle of the morning just yet. For now the sky is clouded over deep grey and the quiet rain taps out its comforting song on the rooftop, and I’m content to just let everything be as it is, beautifully warm and calming.

I scroll through my phone for a few minutes, reading through the most interesting news headlines and responding to one or two of the more important emails when I feel something soft nudge against my hand. Two green eyes stare down at me through the fuzzy face of ginger, and a moment later there’s a very large, very rumbly cat sitting on my chest and rubbing its chin against my beard.

I chuckle and let my phone fall beside me on the bed, scratching a finger behind the cat’s ear until her eyes are closed and her chest is vibrating like the motor of a boat.

“Morning, America,” I say groggily. She bumps my forehead with hers and her paws knead into my shirt, pinching my skin just enough to make me jolt entirely into consciousness. I groan and stifle another yawn, mumbling softly, “I guess this means I have to feed you now, doesn’t it?”

The cat responds by licking my nose and leaping gracefully off the bed and out of the room. I sneak back onto my phone for another minute until the impatient meowing from the kitchen drags me out of bed with a muttered, “Fine, I’m coming, I’m coming, you feral beast.”

My loft is tiny but quaint, stuffed with stacks of old books and enough coffee to caffeinate a small army, and I wrap a blanket around my shoulders as I weave my way through my cozy mess. I put the kettle on the hob and turn to face America, who’s sitting on the kitchen counter and eyeing the boiling water disdainfully, obviously of the opinion that tea is in no way more important than her Fancy Feast Chicken Dinner. I boop her nose before giving into her death glares and cracking open a can of cat food, setting her bowl down by the fridge and jumping back as she attacks it. The dissatisfaction in the flicker of her tail morphs into a soft, rumbling purr, and my eyes crinkle.

“Dummy,” I say fondly, arching my back and wincing at the slight crick in my neck. It’s still far too early for the sun to be up and the surrounding darkness makes me want to crawl back into bed and sleep for another two hours, but the sound of the kettle jostles me enough to keep me from dozing. I pour a cup of green tea and settle at the breakfast bar with a battered copy of Mrs. Dalloway and a day-old pain au chocolat. Such a setup is potentially dangerous, but I tell myself I’ll only read for a few minutes and then get ready for work. I don’t consider how nice the rain sounds and how comfy I feel, all wrapped up in my blanky with tea and a good book, and before I know it I’m lulled away without even thinking to set an alarm to make sure I don’t while away too much time.

It’s forty-five minutes later when I glance up at the clock, cursing loudly and nearly leaping out of my chair towards the bathroom. I’m late. I spend the majority of my two minute shower grumbling like a crotchety old man, frustrated with both myself for being so susceptible to good books and Virginia Woolf for being such a terribly interesting writer.

America is lounging on my bed when I emerge with a towel wrapped haphazardly around my waist, and she blinks up at me with a look of amusement that makes me all the more miffed. Judging myself is one thing, but having my cat judge me is something else entirely. I ignore her and run a comb through my damp curls, pulling on the first pieces of clothing I touch; a pair of black skinny jeans, a green plaid collared shirt, an oversized maroon cardigan, black combat boots, and my horn-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses. It’s hipster even for me, but I haven’t the time to change, and with a quick kiss to America’s forehead I’m out the door and down the stairs to the shop.

Kevin is waiting outside the front window when I round the corner that connects my loft to the cafe, holding a black umbrella with a pout on his face as the rain beats down around him. I curse again and rush to unlock the door, grabbing onto his arms and pulling him in from the downpour.

“I’m so sorry,” I say breathlessly, rolling up the sleeves of my cardigan which have drooped past my fingertips. Kevin shuts the door behind him and the little bell clings softly. “I - I was reading and lost track of time, and - oh, shit, you’re soaked.”

Kevin only sighs and shoots me a tired, albeit lenient grin as he shakes his umbrella and hangs it in the front entryway. His jacket is damp and patchy with rain and his shoes seem nearly unsalvageable. He looks like he’s been wading in the Hudson for a solid twenty minutes, and my stomach sinks.

“I’m cool with you running late,” he says with a huffed chuckle, “but at least give me a key so I’m not locked out in the rain again, yeah?”

“Deal,” I agree, taking Kevin’s jacket and wincing when water starts trickling out of the sleeves. “Um, want me to throw this in the dryer and get you something else to wear for now?”

Kevin smiles again, and I thank my lucky stars that I have someone so easygoing working for me. “Thanks, boss, that’d be great. I’ll start on the scones?”

“Yeah,” I nod, relieved. “Yeah, please. I’ll be right back.”

I take the stairs two at a time up to my loft, tossing Kevin’s jacket into the dryer and cranking it on high. I grab one of my looser sweaters and a pair of socks and haul them downstairs, and soon enough Kevin is wrapped up warmly and humming along to the radio as he starts on the first batch of croissants.

The morning passes smoothly after that, the two of us baking cookies and pastries and desserts until the front cases are full and the vintage clock on the wall reads 5:51. The coffee shop doesn’t open until six but there’s already a small group of customers crowding the front door, huddling together and shivering in the rain. I can’t help but take pity on them and unlock the doors early, and with the squeaky sounds of rubber boots and a gust of damp morning air, the day begins.

We’re not the biggest coffee shop in the city, and god knows Starbucks will always be three steps ahead, but I can’t help but pride myself a little on what I’ve created. Only three years out of college I’m somehow both owner and manager of Bass Cannon Grounds, and not only that - I’m actually kind of successful . The cozy atmosphere of the shop makes it more intimate than any of the larger chain businesses, and I do my best to give every customer my undivided attention to ensure their continued patronship. I try to keep the menu simple, organic, and relatively healthy - something that’s greatly appreciated by the earthy-crunchy population of the city - but most of all I try to make it an experience that I would want to have if I was a customer. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing with my life, and it’s definitely been a learning process and an uphill battle, but I think I’ve finally found my niche and I’m quite happy to dwell in it for a little while.

Which is why Kevin’s idea about having live music is undoubtedly terrifying.

He’s mentioned it to me once or twice before in the past, but over the last few weeks it’s been a recurring topic of conversation. I always try to laugh it off or change the subject, but I can only distract Kevin so many times before I have to buckle down and actually talk to him. Because the idea of live music scares me. I don’t want to disrupt the nice little ecosystem we’ve got going on, and one wonky guitar chord or an overly-belty singer could be enough to unbalance everything completely. I’ve worked too hard to risk fucking this up, but Kevin is persistent to the point of near desperation, and I want nothing more than to stick my head in the sand like an ostrich and just stay there until the whole idea is forgotten about.

“So,” Kevin says that afternoon after the lunchtime rush has died down. I look up from my computer, where I’ve been compiling a new Spotify playlist to wire through the shop speakers, before tensing immediately at the expression on Kevin’s face. It’s the kind of look that he always has before he says something I don’t want to hear.

“So,” I echo nervously, adjusting my glasses and reaching to toy with the buttons of my shirt. “What’s up?”

“I know you’re not crazy about the idea,” Kevin hedges, wiping down the coffee bar and waving goodbye to a few of our regulars. “But I still think you should have a trial run, just to make sure, you know?”

I don’t say anything and Kevin sighs.

“Listen, I know a guy from school. He’s a great guitarist and an even better singer. I told him I’d ask you about maybe having him play a set or two here during the week - on our slower nights, obviously, but maybe if it’s a success we can have him come more often?”

“Kev -”

“Look, just - just give it a chance? If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t at least try. Tons of places have live music and it works really well for them, brings in new customers and makes things more interesting. And if Scott plays here I can guarantee we’ll have more college kids. He’s just got that effect on people. Everyone wants to be around him all the time, and so if he’s here that means everyone wants to be around us, too.”

I tug at my beard, glancing over at the four or five patrons that are sitting at the tables and the bars. We don’t have a problem with lack of customers, but it’s not like I wouldn’t love to have more, and college kids definitely love coffee from what I can recall from my time in school. I don’t doubt that Kevin’s right - he’s a genius, honestly, and I dread the day he graduates and leaves his part time barista position to be CEO of some non-profit or something - but that doesn’t mean I want to jump at the idea. He is right, though, and we really don’t have anything to lose. I close eyes and shake my head before glaring up at him.

“Fine,” I say. “We can try it. Once. And I want to hear this guy before he plays here, alright?”

“Sweet,” Kevin says with a grin, throwing his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into a half-hug. “I’ll let him know. He can come in after we close one night this week so you can here him. He’s incredible, Av, you’re gonna love him.

“Yeah, yeah,” I grumble, squirming out of Kevin’s embrace and running a hand through my mussed up curls. “I better, or else he’s out. He’s got one chance, Kev.”

“That’s all he needs. I promise. Once you hear him sing, you’ll see.”

“Okay,” I relent. “Yeah, okay. Who did you say he was again?”

“His name is Scott,” Kevin says with a smirk that I don’t understand, not yet. “Scott Hoying.”

--

It’s closing time a few nights later when the bell above the door clings and a tall young man with a guitar strapped to his back pushes his way into the coffee shop. I look up from the table I’m busing, about to say that we’re not serving anymore, before pausing at the pair of bright baby blue eyes that catch mine. I close my mouth and straighten, one hand reaching up to readjust my glasses and the other brushing through my hair self-consciously. I’m almost certain that I’ve forgotten how to speak when suddenly the man’s eyes crinkle and he holds out a hand.

“Hey,” he says with a smile that makes my heart thump, “nice to meet you. I’m Scott. Avi, right?”

“Yeah,” I say, surveying the undeniably attractive human before me and finding myself warming considerably to the idea of him playing here. He’s a good-looking guy; wavy reddish-blond hair with ginger scruff to match, and arms the size of a small tree adorned with swirling inky flowers. It’s the kind of beauty that I’ve always been secretly jealous of - completely natural and unassuming, like he’s hardly even trying - but at the same time his easy smile makes it impossible to be envious. He practically radiates, and I completely understand why Kevin’s been so persistent all these weeks.

“ - set up anywhere?” Scott’s saying, and I force my eyes back up, blinking away the multitude of questions and propositions that my mind is already concocting.

“Yeah,” I say without quite knowing what I’m agreeing to. Scott’s smile widens, and he tilts his head to the side like he’s never seen anything quite like me before. It’s a nice look. I could get used to seeing it. “Let me just finish cleaning up. You can start whenever.”

I gather the last of the dirty dishes and hurry back to the kitchen, stacking the dishwasher as slowly as I can to allow my heart the chance to calm. I can hear Scott moving chairs out in the front and I creep to the edge of the kitchen, lingering behind the wall and peeking my head through the doorway that divides the two halves of the shop.

He’s sitting on one of the barstools, hunched over his guitar and plucking at the strings to tune. His hair falls over his forehead and his lips purse in concentration, and he looks beautiful. The thought takes me by surprise, although it probably shouldn’t. I inch away and tuck a loose curl behind my ear, playing with the buttons of my shirt as I try desperately to keep up with my ever-changing mind. I hate the fluidity of my own heart - the way it stutters and stops for every beautiful person I come across, the way it falls for the stranger on the train, the cashier at the supermarket, the person walking their dog past me in the park. My heart succumbs to love as the moon succumbs to its phases; rapidly, constantly, inevitably.

And Scott is no exception.

I brace myself against the wall, cheeks warm and tummy fluttering with butterflies. I know I have to go back out there, have to act professional because in some sense at least because this is a professional situation and I’m more or less acting as an employer interviewing a prospective employee, but I’m not sure I can even talk to Scott without tripping over my words and making an idiot of myself. As often as I fall in love, I’ve never actually become any better at flirting, and my ability to be coy is still that of a socially inept fourteen-year-old. Thrown into a boxing ring against Scott’s pretty blue eyes and infectious smile, I don’t stand a chance.

I peek back around the corner when I hear the quiet fingering of a guitar riff. It’s clean and simple and pleasant, and I can imagine it fitting snugly as the background music of a rainy Wednesday afternoon. When Scott’s mouth opens and he sings the first line, the wavering instrumental instead becomes the forefront lead, and I feel my chest seize with longing.

His voice is indescribable. Having studied music in college, I know the ins and outs of the craft, but never before have I heard somebody sing with such remarkable ease and yet undeterrable concentration. Scott’s tone is refined and dripping with evident practice, but in no way does it override his inherent natural talent. It’s like he was born with honey on his lips, sweetening each and every passing phrase. He seems unreal, and with every second I feel myself slipping further and further away from rationale and towards pure infatuation, dipping my toes in the water with every intention of diving in headfirst right after.

“That was beautiful,” I whisper when he finishes playing, and he glances up with a tiny smile on his lips, like he didn’t realize he wasn’t alone. I cross the shop and pause at one of the tables in front of him, resting my hand on the back of the chair as that warm, tingly feeling settles in my stomach. “That - that was really beautiful,” I say again, because it’s true and I don’t know what more can be said. It feels stupid to state something so obvious, but Scott’s shoulders hunch a little and his smile grows, and I’m invariably glad I did.

“Oh, uh, thanks,” Scott says, rubbing at the back of his neck before fiddling with the capo, and his modesty is endearing. “Um, Kevin didn’t mention what sort of music you wanted to hear? I can do more or less whatever you want, I’m pretty flexible.”

“Anything, honestly,” I say with a shrug and a smile I can’t quite stifle. “Um, as long as it’s relatively appropriate and not, like, death-metal, I think it should be fine. Play me two or three of your favorites and we’ll see if it works?”

It’s only a formality at this point. Scott’s had the gig from the second he stepped into the shop. Between those pretty eyes and the fact that he’s actually a talented musician, letting him go isn’t an option and I’m completely willing to face my fear of change as long as it means seeing him every week. I’m not sure if that’s creepy or just pathetic, but I can’t bring myself to care too much because he’s singing again now and I don’t know if moonlight has a sound, but if it does then I’m certain that it sounds like his voice.

He plays me another song, and then another, and somehow I end up sitting in the chair across from his and falling completely mad for this beautiful boy. We agree on a setlist of songs for his first gig - though I trust him not to play anything too wildly obscure - and discuss what times work best for him, but soon enough the business talk morphs into a conversation about our favorite artists and he starts telling me about the time he crowd-surfed at a Beyoncé concert, and I can feel my heart hammering against my chest like it wants pop right out and settle itself in his hands.

“Could I get some water?” he asks somewhere along the way, and part of me wants to say no because the slight rasp in his voice is one of the nicest sounds I’ve ever heard.

“Sure,” I say instead, standing and tugging a hand through my hair, which I can feel growing frizzier by the second. “Just water? I can make you a drink, if you want. On the house.”

Scott hesitates, a cute little dimple forming in his cheek. “Do you have hot chocolate?”

“We always have hot chocolate,” I say, moving to the coffee bar with him trailing behind me. “Regular, peppermint, caramel, cinnamon, or double chocolate. Whipped cream and toffee sprinkles are mandatory.”

“Damn,” he says, watching as I fumble with a metal pitcher. “You sure know how to treat a girl.”

“Not quite.”

He laughs. “Sorry?”

“Nothing.” I wave my hand dismissively, pouring out milk to steam and trying to keep my blush from creeping onto my cheeks. “Ignore me. What kind would you like?”

“I’ll try the caramel,” he says, a soft smile on his lips. “Thanks. Can I have extra whipped cream?”

“Exploiting my resources,” I grumble, and he laughs again, settling across from me at the bar with his head in his hand.

“I get it when I can,” he says cheekily, and my eyeroll can’t be helped. “Whipped cream is a desired good and should be hoarded in every opportune moment.”

“And is your recent employment at a cafe considered an opportune moment?”

“Oh, of course.”

“You know, I should charge you extra.” I arch an eyebrow, gauging his reaction as I stir in the chocolate. He only grins, and it’s infuriatingly precious.

“You should charge me in the first place.”

“Consider it an investment. You play me music like you did tonight and you can have all the whipped cream you want, pretty boy.”

I slide the mug in front of him, topping it with bits of toffee candy and a mountain of whipped cream almost as tall as his hair. He’s watching me with a look on his face that I can’t quite make out, and I duck my head forward, tucking back the loose curls that fall into my eyes.

“That’s quite the incentive,” he says after a moment, swiping his finger through to catch a piece of the candy and sucking it off slowly. “You’ll have me performing full out concerts.”

I smile. “And you’ll bankrupt me because I’ll be spending all my damn money on whipped cream.”

“There are worse things to spend all your money on,” he says with a smirk, sucking at his finger again. “Like textbooks. Or window cleaner. Or those little sticky paper tabs that nobody ever actually uses.”

I click my tongue. “Such a college student.”

“Guilty as charged.” He sips at his hot chocolate and lets out a moan that sends my thoughts into places they definitely shouldn’t be. “Okay, fuck the whipped cream, I wanna be payed in this shit.”

“You like it?”

He responds by taking another sip and bouncing his shoulders, a cute little smile spreading over his face. At this moment he looks about four years old and absolutely precious. I’ve never understood the use of the term “squish” to describe another person, but he’s the squishiest squish I’ve ever seen and my heart thunders in my chest.

He can’t stay long after that - something about having a paper due at midnight - and I see him off with a doggy bag of cookies and his hot chocolate to go. He’s scheduled to play the coming Thursday afternoon, and I know it’s only a few days away, but I’m reluctant to see him go. I like him. It aches to realize it, but I do. I really do.

I finish cleaning the shop and close up for the night, taking my time as I walk up the steps to my apartment. America trills happily when she sees me, winding through my legs and darting into the kitchen in hopes of dinner, and I follow her in a haze I can’t quite get myself out of. It’s only when I drop the can of cat food for the fourth time while trying to open it that I realize I’m distracted by the image of pretty blue eyes, and I slump back against the counter helplessly.

I’m completely fucked.

--

The next two days pass in a blur and I find myself nearly vibrating when Thursday afternoon rolls around. Every time the little bell at the front clings my head snaps up and I search frantically for that cute mop of messy blond hair. By the fourth time it feels like I’ve strained something in my neck, but it’s worth it because when I look up he’s there and my day brightens with sunlight.

He’s wearing a blue flannel that matches his eyes, his guitar strapped around his back and his hands waving animatedly as he says something to the person behind him. I raise my hand to give a wave before pausing at the sight of the small boy that appears by his side, an unpleasant twang tittering in my gut. The boy looks about Scott’s age and is undeniably beautiful, with dark raven hair contrasting his pale skin and dimples I can see from across the room. I don’t blame Scott for looking at him like he’s never been so enthralled. I lower my hand and wipe at the coffee bar instead, tucking my hair behind my ear and shaking away the stupid embarrassed jitters that are making my teeth chatter. It makes sense for Scott to be taken, of course it does, it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise. We only just met and he’s only here because he needs to earn a quick buck, nothing more, nothing less. It was never anything, and no amount of daydreaming over that sweet smile and enchanting voice will change that. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Avi. Hey.”

I look up and he’s there with a grin that makes its way to my overexcitable heart. I smile because I don’t know what else to do, tugging at the hem of my sweater.

“Hey,” I say. Keep it formal. This is a work environment, you’re his employer, don’t be dumb and emotional. “You good to go for today?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Scott nods, looking to the young man who’s standing behind him scrolling through his phone. “Want anything to drink before I start, Mitchie? On me.” He turns back to me, his face carefree and happy, like he can’t sense the shattering of my stupid heart. “He’s my moral support.”

“Like you need it,” the young man grumbles, scanning the cafe menu before letting his eyes fall on my face. He arches an eyebrow, like he and I are on the same side or something. I don’t want to be on his side. “You’ve heard him play. The asshole drinks up the spotlight, he’s incapable of having stagefright.”

“Hey,” Scott argues, but the boy flicks his wrist and Scott just laughs. “Fine, then. I take it back, I’m not buying you anything. I’ll have a medium peach iced tea, Avi. The queen can pay for herself.”

“Why are you always like this?” the young man mutters, though he doesn’t seem to be truly irritated. “Making me look like a dick in front of new people. I’m Mitch, by the way, since Scott doesn’t understand social formalities such as, oh, I don’t know, introducing people.” Mitch holds out a heavily tattooed hand to me and Scott looks mildly offended, though again it all seems to be in good fun. Their banter makes my head spin and I wonder briefly how long they’ve been together. Seems like a long time. No hopes of breaking them up, then. Damn.

“Nice to meet you,” I say despite my mildly malicious thoughts, shaking Mitch’s hand and giving a smile that’s nearly genuine. “Avi.”

“Avi,” Mitch repeats, a Cheshire cat smile winding along his lips. “I get what you mean.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Sorry?”

“No you,” he disregards me, turning to Scott with a pout. “You. Bigfoot. God, why do you always get the pretty ones? It’s not fair, I’m mad at you. Buy me an iced soy latte triple. Large. Add in a gluten free muffin and I’ll consider talking to you again, you fucking bastard.” Mitch glances at me with another smile, like he’s not just thrown a near temper tantrum in the middle of my shop. “Nice to meet you, Avi.”

He saunters away towards one of the tables without another word and I stand there, trying to wrap my head around whatever just happened and coming up completely blank. I look over at Scott and his cheeks are flushed. I think it’s cute before remembering that he’s taken and I’m not allowed to think it’s cute.

“Um,” I say, and he shakes his head, running a hand over his face.

“Sorry. Mitchie is...Mitchie. He’s a little actress and likes to embarrass me whenever he gets the chance. Ignore him.” He pulls out his wallet and squints up at the menu. “Okay, so a medium peach iced tea for me and...whatever the hell he wanted. Ten bucks should cover it, right?”

It takes a second for me to regain my bearings and I wave away his money. “On the house, Cocoa. Get yourself set up and I’ll bring it over.”

He pauses, a surprised look on his face that morphs into another sweet grin. “Thanks. Cocoa?”

“I saw how you chugged that hot chocolate the other night.”

“Ah. Nicknames already, then,” he says, and I can feel another blush threatening to peek out. “How cute.”

“Don’t let your boyfriend hear you say that,” I tease.

“Boyfriend?” He follows my gaze over to Mitch, who’s sitting by the window seats and swinging his legs like a little kid. When he turns back to me he looks about to burst out laughing. “Try best friend. Very platonic best friend. Like my brother, or - well, more like my sister, actually. Very much not my boyfriend, beard man. Not even my type.”

“Oh.” I send a quick shoutout to God asking him to strike me with lightning. “Right. Um, sorry. Assumptions are...sorry. I just thought you were gay, you seemed - well…”

“Wait,” Scott holds up his hands, laughing. “Hang on. Rewind.  I think there’s a misunderstanding.”

“Just walk away and let me be mortified on my own, please.”

“Avi,” he says, shaking his head with a grin. “I am gay. Mitchie isn’t my boyfriend, though.”

I look up at him, frowning. “What?”

He shrugs and my frown only deepens.

“Wait,” I say, and he looks amused but nods for me to continue. “So, you’re attracted to men. But you’re not attracted to Mitch.”

“Sounds about right.”

“How is that possible?”

He looks at me like I’m a puppy trying to catch my own tail; pitiful but endearing. “Like I said, he’s not my type.”

“I think he’s everybody’s type.”

His eyes crinkle. “I’m sure he’d love to hear you say that.”

I don’t say anything, looking down at my hands and pushing away the pure mortification that washes over me. When I look back up he’s still smiling, and he’s still beautiful, and suddenly he’s available, and I’m fucking stupid.

“Can we start this entire conversation over?” I ask, trying not to sound as desperate as I am. “And can we ignore the part where I act like a complete idiot?”

Scott giggles, all cute and infuriating. “The entire conversation?”

I nod helplessly and he giggles again but nods appeasingly, turning around in a circle a few times before pausing and resting his arms on the counter.

“Oh, hey, Avi,” he says, like he’s only just walked into the shop. “Didn’t see you there. I just brought my completely platonic best friend with me to watch my set, I promise I don’t want to fuck him in the slightest. What’s up?”

I purse my lips, a smile breaking out over my face despite the blush that accompanies it. “Oh, not much, I’m just here trying to work on my ability to interact with people without ruining everything.”

“Ah. Well, we’ve all been there. I’ve been there multiple times.”

I don’t believe him, but it’s sweet nonetheless. I nod towards where Mitch is sitting. “Can I get you and your totally platonic best friend anything to drink?”

“I’ll take a medium peach iced tea, thanks. And my gay-but-not-my-type-of-gay best friend will have a large iced soy latte with a gluten-free blueberry muffin.”

“I’ll get those started for you, gay-but-not-into-Mitch Scott,” I say, and his grin is officially the nicest thing I’ve ever seen. “Feel free to set up your guitar, I’ll bring you your drinks once they’re ready.”

“Thanks, beard man.” He toys with the straps of his guitar case and turns to leave, before pausing. “Oh,” he adds, glancing back with a look that makes my stomach flip. “And since we’re sort of on the topic of my type, I’ll give you a hint.”

I swallow. “A hint?”

“Yeah,” he leans forward, lowering his voice like it’s a secret. I lean forward, too, my heart racing and my palms sweaty. “A guy who can make me the perfect cup of hot chocolate?” He smirks, and I hate him. “ That’s my type.”

--

Scott’s set goes over beautifully that afternoon. His voice is pure and soothing and several customers mention when I serve them how much they enjoy hearing him play. He blushes when I relay the compliments back to him at the end of his time, leaving with a grin on his face and a thermos filled with peppermint hot chocolate. He doesn’t mention our conversation and I don’t push it, still not even sure if I heard him correctly let alone if it meant anything more than just a brief joke.

That night I find myself humming one of his songs as I get ready for bed, capturing America up in a hug and swaying back and forth to the music. She mewls unhappily but relents, her furry face grouchy and her tail flicking against my hip. It’s a rare moment of invincibility that I feel, and I somehow I wind up vowing to come right out and ask Scott about what he said the next time I see him, and then find a way to convince him that he should mean it. A grand gesture. That’s how it always works in books. The guy gets the girl via a thoughtful act of devotion, and while Scott and I don’t fit exactly in those cookie-cutter shapes, we’re close enough. I twirl around my bedroom, America growling and struggling from my grip as I hum louder and louder, and I feel untouchable. It’ll be amazing. We’ll be amazing.

But, of course, I’m me and that doesn’t happen.

I don’t end up talking to him the next time I see him, at least not about that. He’s running late and doesn’t have time to chat before he starts his set, and once he’s done he’s off again before I even have the chance to make him a hot chocolate. After that it seems stupid to bring up the conversation when so much time has already passed, and I so spend the rest of his next performance night listening to his voice through the speakers and trying to keep that lovey-dovey look off of my face. I’m not sure how successful I am, but he lets me make him a cinnamon hot chocolate before he runs off again, something about having a final paper to write and only a few hours left to finish. I try not to let it affect me, hardly even react, but Kevin gives me a knowing look and I feel my facade crack through for just a moment before I build it up again. It doesn’t matter, though. The more I see Scott, the more I fall for him, and the more it starts to ache.

The weeks pass and his influence affects not only me, but the entire shop. Our revenue doubles on the nights he performs, and even when he’s not there I notice that our patronship has extended into territory it’s never reached before. One Friday night in particular there’s a line out the door and Kevin and I have to send people away because we’ve actually run out of coffee to sell. It’s something I never thought would happen - never thought possible - and it seems ridiculous and yet so entirely obvious that the sole reason why my life and business has turned upside down is due to those pretty blue eyes and that voice I can’t quite forget. Scott is enchanting. I don’t really understand how, or why, but he is, and it’s a feeling I never want to shake.

More often than not on the nights he performs he brings a friend or two with him, his “moral support” as he calls it, though I don’t see how he could ever begin to need something so trivial when he shines brighter than the stars. Mitch is like his shadow, always by his side ready with a sardonic comment or a joke, and despite his initially off-putting nature I find myself warming up to him considerably. One night he sits at the coffee bar where I’m working, dunking a yerba mate teabag into his mug and watching me with those dark eyes that still give me the heebie-jeebies. Scott is playing some Beyoncé cover in the background and it’s gorgeous as always, but Mitch hardly pays him any notice and instead keeps his focus directly on me.

“Okay,” I say after about the fifth minute of trying to ignore his unwavering stare. I brace my hands against the counter, arching an eyebrow and doing my best not to glare down at him. “What?”

“Hmmm?” Mitch hums noncommittally. His sleepy eyes widen a little and his gaze straightens, a smile tugging at his lips. “Sorry?”

“You’re staring.”

“You’re pretty.”

My stomach twists nervously. “Um…”

Mitch rolls his eyes. “Relax, starshine, I’m not hitting on you. Simply making an observation. And thinking.”

I frown. “Oh?”

“Mm,” Mitch hums again, sipping at his tea and angling his body towards Scott. His fingernails click against the brim of his mug and for a moment he looks lithe and catlike, a certain predatory aspect to his stature. “Thinking,” he repeats, “about how someone so pretty can lack so much confidence.”

I can’t help but wince at the blunt tonality, unsure if I should be offended but unable to keep my defense. “I didn’t ask for your criticism.”

Mitch’s lips part and he glances back over toward me, a look of surprise and something akin to approval along his sharp features. “Careful there, cupcake, don’t get your panties in a twist over something you don’t understand. I should clarify. I wasn’t talking about you.”

I shift and feel my shoulders deflate. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

“Then who..?”

“Bigfoot,” he says, nodding over to Scott. I follow his gaze to where Scott is riffing for his life on one of Justin Bieber’s newest songs. He looks entirely comfortable in the spotlight, it’s where he belongs, where he shines brightest. I frown again.

“He hardly seems the type to lack confidence.”

“Maybe,” Mitch says softly, “for some things.”

“For all things,” I correct. “Just look at him, he was made to be noticed.”

“Performing and existing are two different things, honeybunch. He’s not being his true self when he performs, that confidence is part of a manufactured persona.” Mitch turns back towards me. “He’s a star. He’s going to do amazing things with his life, but the spotlight hides just as much as it reveals. What you see isn’t always what’s there.”

“So Scott has some confidence issues.” I shrug. “Okay. We all do. Why are you telling me this?”

“Because he’s my best friend and I want him to be happy. And I know what he wants, and how much it scares him. Sometimes he just needs a little push.”

“And you want me to push him?”

“Not quite. I think you could use a little push, too.”

I pause, understanding dawning as rapid as the sun breaks the horizon. Mitch’s smile grows.

“I think you’re confused,” I stammer, wiping at the counter even though there’s nothing to clean. “Scott doesn’t seem the type to shy away from confrontations like that.”

“I agree, when they’re vapid and trivial. But when they mean something more…” Mitch sighs. “He’s got a big heart. He’s trusting. Very trusting. That scares him.”

“So what are you saying?”

“You both want the same thing.” Mitch sips at his tea, his dark eyes glinting with something that makes anxious butterflies erupt in my stomach. “I’m just giving you a little push.”

--

I’m closing up late one night a few weeks later when the door clings angrily. I frown and look up from where I’m washing the metal milk pitchers, about to say we’re not serving anymore, only to see Scott standing in the doorway with a look on his face that looks so desperately sad . My stomach drops and I turn off the water, wiping my hands slowly and watching as he stumbles over to the coffee bar and sits on one of the high stools.

“Hi,” he says hoarsely, not meeting my eyes. “Can I get a hot chocolate, please?”

“Sure,” I say, even though it’s past closing time and I’ve already put everything away, because it’s Scott and in the simplest terms he’s my friend just as much as he’s my employee. “Caramel?”

“Yeah,” he whispers. “Thank you.”

I nod but don’t say anything more, pulling out a carton of milk to steam and the hot chocolate mixture. Scott just sits there, hunched in on himself with his eyes scanning the empty shop, and after a minute or so he straightens with a frown.

“There’s no one here.”

I hesitate. “Well, we’re closed.”

His eyes drag up to meet mine and his already fragile expression crumbles. “Fuck. I - I’m sorry, I thought you were still open…”

“Don’t worry about it,” I say with a shrug, mixing in the chocolate to the milk. “It’s you.”

His frown only deepens. “That’s really nice. Thanks.”

“So,” I hedge, topping the mug off with a mound of whipped cream. “Is there a reason you look so distraught?”

He sighs. “Mitchie and I had a fight. Something about me ignoring opportunities because I’m too scared.”

My heart beats faster and I think back to me and Mitch’s conversation, the likes of which I’m still trying to work out myself. “Oh,” I say, adding pieces of toffee bit by bit. “I see.”

“I told him that I’m allowed to make mistakes but he just kept going on about missing out on life and living to regret it later. Like, fuck, I’m only twenty-two, I can’t do everything. Right? Like? I just can’t hold everything up as this incredible valued thing, because if I do that then I’ll just feel like shit if I don’t follow through.”

“Right,” I say slowly, adjusting my glasses. “But I think there’s a difference between disregarding opportunities because you don’t think they’ll help further you as a person, and disregarding opportunities because you’re too afraid to let them mean something to you, because that importance and the potential failure that comes with it is scary to think about.”

He sighs again. “Maybe? I don’t know. It’s just like, I love Mitchie to death and he’s my best friend, but he wouldn’t fucking let it go, like he was pissed or something.”

“What was it he wanted you to do?”

Scott pauses. “I can’t even remember. He was being so vague and kept going on about how I’ll just let life pass me by if I don’t get a little push now and then. I don’t know.” He plays with the handle of his mug, sipping at the hot chocolate. “Sorry for, like, venting all of my feelings out at you.”

I grin. “S’okay. Made my night more interesting.”

He chuckles. “You’re sweet, beard man. And you make a damn good cup of hot chocolate.”

“Good enough to be your type?”

He looks up at me, a blush coloring his cheeks. “I completely forgot I said that.”

“Yeah, well,” I shrug, “I have a good memory.”

“An elephant never forgets.”

“Are you calling me an elephant?”

“You’re old enough to be one.”

“Okay, first, elephants aren’t inherently old. Like, there are baby elephants, I honestly have no idea how you could forget about them because they’re fucking cute. Second, I’m literally four years older than you.”

“Like I said,” he laughs, “ Ancient.”

I roll my eyes. “You’re so dumb.”

“But yes, to answer your question. It is.”

“You’re gonna have to explain, goldilocks.”

He laughs again, setting his mug down and resting his chin in his hand. “Your hot chocolate is definitely good enough to be my type. Some of the best I’ve ever had, honestly.”

My face warms and I look down at the counter, a piece of hair falling into my face. “Careful there, cupcake, you’re crossing into flirting territory.”

“And you’re starting to sound like Mitchie.” He smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he braces his hands against the counter. “Which isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think.”

“He’s a very smart person.”

“He is,” Scott says softly. “About a lot of things. Or maybe I’m just stupid.”

“You’re not.”

“I think I might be.”

“I promise you’re not.”

“Avi?”

I look up. “Hm?”

He bites his lip, cheeks rosy and sweet. “I think I need a little push.”

And that’s all it takes before he’s leaning forward and pressing his mouth to mine, on hand cupping my cheek and the other resting against the thick wool of my sweater. I feel my heart hammer in my chest, like it’s pounding out a victory march, before fisting my hands in his shirt and pulling him closer towards me, ignoring the coffee bar that separates us and only concentrating on the pure solidity that lays just beneath my fingertips. His nose bumps against mine and our lips fumble together, but he is mountainous and gentle and encompassing and he he drives me out of my fucking mind.

He tugs me towards him and I break away for only a moment to climb over the counter and wind my arms around his neck, resettling with him between my legs and his lips against mine again. I feel intoxicated and mental and completely infatuated and I’ve never been more grateful that I added hot chocolate to the menu.

“You,” Scott breathes, his lips pressing to my jaw, my cheek, my forehead, “You are so -”

I never find out what I am because then he’s kissing me again and I can’t bring myself to care about whatever it was he was going to say. I hook my legs around his hips to pull him closer, obsessed with the feeling of him against me, close in every way we can manage with nothing but an infuriating layer of cloth between us. He is radiant, brilliant, shining, and he makes me feel the same.

“Scott,” I whisper, pulling back long enough to catch his gaze. “Let’s - let’s go upstairs.”

He stares at me, eyes wound with hunger, before nodded frantically and nearly chasing me up to my loft. He catches me in his arms and presses me against the wall of my bedroom, his lips finding mine again and his touch igniting a want in me that I’ve never experience before. When he moans into my mouth, I think I could love him, and when I feel him hard against me, I know that I want to.

Kissing him feels like I’ve been undone, and never before have I been so fucking enthralled with fragmentation.

Later that night we lay together, surrounded by messy bed sheets and articles of clothing that ended up strewn around the room. His fingers stroke through my hair, our mouths brushing together in lazy kisses and his hand pressed against my hip like he can’t fathom that he’s touching me, that I’m there. He kisses my nose, my cheek, my chin, a smile in his eyes that makes my toes curl.

“Beard man,” he whispers, voice raspy, and it sends a shudder through me. “Not to be a parody of myself, but you don’t happen to have any hot chocolate, do you?”

I laugh, cupping his face and kissing him again deeply. “I might.”

“Mm,” he hums, catching my bottom lip between his teeth. “That sounds so good right about now.”

“Trying to make sure that I’m really your type?”

“Oh, I know you are. I just really love hot chocolate.”

“Exploiting my resources again, then, I see.”

“Don’t you know it,” he says, kissing me again fiercely. I moan and kiss him back, my hands splaying out over his broad shoulders and pulling him closer up against me. When he breaks away he’s breathless, that wicked grin on his face that I’ve grown to love. “Oh, and Avi?”

“Mm?”

He smiles and presses his lips to my forehead gently, a softness settling in his eyes that goes straight to my heart.

“Remind me to thank Mitchie for giving me that little push.”