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French Roast

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The first time he pushed through the door, Raleigh felt awkward in his jeans and boots, dust settled into the folds of his shirt and hair. The guy behind the counter, young, immersed in a graphic novel, barely looked up at Raleigh as he walked in, carefully picked his way through the bookshop into the cafe.

Entirely out of place amongst the suburban moms and the little clusters of professionals at the small tables, Raleigh tried not to think about the way he was tracking mud all over the hardwood floors and perused the menu. This was the only place to get coffee within a mile’s radius of his work site and he only had a half hour break, so his twitchy concern over being filthy from hanging drywall all morning was just going to have to take a back burner. Except then the barista moved from behind the gorgeous Italian espresso machine and Raleigh’s heart nearly stopped. Suddenly every thought of smudges on his hands and face, streaks of plaster dust on his jeans disappeared when the guy smiled at him, something brilliant that warmed Raleigh from the inside out.

“What can I get you?” His voice was even attractive, deep and soft, and Raleigh could barely string together his name, much less what he wanted to order.

“Coffee?: he sputtered out, and the guy just raised an eyebrow and nodded, reached for a cup while Raleigh wanted to squirm with flushed embarrassment, because obviously, he was in a coffee bar.

“Sorry, I guess, a large drip, darkest roast you have? I’m kind of caffeine-deprived right now.” The words tumbled out in a rush.

“Came to the right place then, didn’t you?”

And Raleigh just stood there, watching as the man turned to pour his drink, the stretch of his knit shirt snug over broad shoulders, the play of muscles under cotton that looked soft and worn enough to touch.Raleigh realized he was blatantly staring when he turned back around, placed the cup on the counter.

“Dollar fifty.” The smirk on his face let Raleigh know he’d been caught out, but he just worked his wallet from his pocket, drew out two dollars, handed them over, trying to hide the stain of red on his cheeks.

The guy’s fingers brushed Raleigh’s palm when he dropped the two quarters in his hand, lingered for a moment.

“T-thanks,” he stammered.

“Anytime.”

Raleigh stumbled back to the sidewalk, fully aware that he’d made a total fool of himself, but chanced a look back through the large windows. The guy was leaned back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest, watching Raleigh’s ass as he walked away.

Oh. Oh.

Raleigh spent the rest of the day shrugging off the jibes from the other guys on the site about the stupid grin he couldn’t wipe off his face.

--

Saturday, Raleigh went back to the shop, showered and in normal clothing, feeling more like a human being than an overgrown dustbunny. There were more people in line, but the same handsome face manning the register. Someone else was handling the coffee, the kid from the front counter, foaming milk and stirring drinks while wearing an Iron Man tshirt.

When Raleigh got to the register, the man’s face lit up, a sure mirror of Raleigh’s own smile.

“Welcome back,” he said, the voice every bit as attractive as Raleigh remembered, from the snippets that had been replaying in his head the last two days. “Hardly recognized you.”

“Off day, you know?” Raleigh fingered the bills in his palm.

“I think I remember those.” He pulled a marker from the counter. “So what can I get you?”

“Same as before, thanks. Large drip?”

“Good choice. Can I get your name?”

“Raleigh.” He handed over his money after he saw his name scrawled on the side of the paper cup. “What can I say, I like the classics.”

His eyes widened in surprise, for just a moment, and then he just nodded, “you have a good day, Raleigh.”

Raleigh noticed the line behind him and smiled, moved down the counter. Raleigh watched for a few moments, the easy small talk he made with each of the customers. Raleigh felt a sinking in his stomach until the kid on the machine looked around the cafe.

“Raleigh 7875 - Jesus, Dad!” The guy looked down the counter and glared. “Seriously?”

Raleigh reached for his drink, and took a sip, dropping a dollar in the tip jar for good measure before escaping across the shop, the scowl directed at him by the kid - the hot guy's son, apparently - almost lethal. Slipping outside, Raleigh twisted his cup.

His name was printed in bold letters, but beneath it, was a phone number and the name Herc. Raleigh looked back and the guy - Herc - smiled at him broadly from inside.

Two hours later, Raleigh called the number he’d entered into his phone. After three rings, his thumb worried the disconnect button, until he heard that voice on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Herc? Hey - uh, this is Raleigh. From the shop, this morning?”

“Yeah, hi. For the record, I liked the construction gear.”

Raleigh let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and smiled. “I’ll have to remember to wear my toolbelt next time. Maybe on a date?”

He heard Herc laugh on the other end of the line. "Anything but coffee. I'm in."