Solo bought the cafe when Nadia and I came to live with him. I don't think he meant to do both at once, and doesn't that sound just like a Maxwell? He brought us back from New Orleans to a cramped two bedroom condo, and I think we’d’ve complained if we weren't so glad to be away from our old man. I think part of me was glad to be away from the city period, after everything. New Orleans just didn't feel like home with just the two of us. So we came here to New York and did the high school thing, and we were cramped but happy.
Then she was off in England doing her study abroad thing and I was working when I wasn’t in class, or painting. It was lonely. Nadia and I were independent, but we’d never been apart like that before. It ached. Lucky for me, Jake worked there too. We didn’t always get shifts together. The afternoons were so slow, and I was usually alone. When we were scheduled together it was great. We made a good team. He did the cute thing at the register and I made the drinks and we took in pretty good tips. I suppose it was weird that we get along so well, considering we shared a dorm too. It did a lot to ease the separation. As much as I love Jake, though, I was glad he wasn't there the day he came in.
He didn't see me at first. I didn't see him either. The downside to being so short is I can't always see over the espresso machine. I heard him come in though. Caught a whiff of something clean and citrusy. There was drumming at the counter, the casual sound of someone waiting and trying to figure out what they want.
“Welcome to Ink’s!” I chimed out as I finished the latte I’d been working on. “I’ll be right with you!”
“Oh,” came the startled reply. “Oh my god.” He laughed, actually laughed, trying to peek around the bar at me. “You scared me. I didn’t see you there.” There were crinkles at the corners of his green eyes, dark curls tossed wildly over his forehead.
“Yeah,” I drawled, rolling my eyes and flashing him a small, dimpled smile. “I get that a lot. No one can ever see me when I’m working bar.” His eyes got wider as I handed the drink off and stepped in front of the register. With most guys, if it’s not my height they take issue with, it’s the makeup. He didn’t seem too bothered by either, looking me over with obvious interest.
“Hey there. How can I help you?” I was already trying not to blush as I played with the end of my braid. “Did you just want a drip?”
“If you’ve got some dark roast left, I’d love a small coffee for now. And a blueberry muffin?” It was much too hopeful for a man his age. “And I was also wondering if you could help me with something else?”
“Sure thing,” I smiled at him again, filling a small coffee and looking him over out of the corner of my eye. He was tall, dark curls a lot longer than I’d originally thought. Jeans, a half-buttoned flannel over white, and a guitar strapped over his chest. My first thought was hipster, but he seemed too sweet, standing quietly on the other side of the counter as I grabbed his muffin, raising an eyebrow at him. “You want this hot?”
“Hm? Oh!” He bit his lip. “Yeah. Hot enough to melt butter on, at least.” Taking his guitar off, he set it down, resting it on the floor with a small smirk. “So, the other thing...I'm relatively new to town and I'm looking for a place where I can start an open mic night. Do you know if you guys already have one of those here?”
“No,” I answered, sending a smile his way as I waited for the oven to ding. It was the last thing I was expecting to hear from him. “Not really. I mean, we've got one at school--the English Department. But it's once a month, and it's on campus. Ink's doesn't have anything like that. The owner's too busy to coordinate it.” Rolling my eyes, I set the muffin on the plate, setting it next to the coffee. I got exactly the reply I expected to: surprise. His eyebrows shot straight up as he rocked back on his heels, hands in his pockets. Then he leaned forward, setting his elbows on the counter, his chin resting in his hands as he watched me through thick lashes.
"Do you think that's something the people here--customers and employees included--would like to see happen? Because, if so, I'd love to find a way to coordinate it.”
"We'd love it. Well--I'd love it, and I work the most,” I grinned, eyes warm. “The owner is...well. He works hard, and he tries, he's just balancing a lot.” Reaching under the register, I took one of the business cards from Solo’s supply, passing it over. “Here. Talk to him. If he gives you the green light, I can help.” I bit my lip, tucking a loose lock of hair over my ear as I ducked my shoulders. “I mean. If you want.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I get it. It just seems a shame,” he murmured, dragging the muffin and coffee closer and sliding his credit card across the counter. Shrugging, he looked around. “This place is great. It's got so much potential, and this is a city of artists. Right now, we need art more than ever.”
“He’s a really cool guy,” I promised as I cashed him out, completely unbiased in my opinion of my older brother. “You’ll see when you call him.”
“Yeah? Good.” He straightened, slinging his guitar case back over his shoulder. “Thanks for the card. And the coffee. And the muffin. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm sure I'm gonna need helpers if I get the go ahead, and I’d love having you on my team.” Grinning, I leaned back against the counter, braid back in my hands as I watched him eyeing a seat by the window, sunlight pouring over the table.
“Cool. Well, I'll be here. So. You'll know where to find me.”
“Well, thanks again.” Smiling, he slipped the card in his wallet, then pointed toward the seat. “I'm gonna hang out for a little while, so if you get a break or anything, feel free to join me. Maybe we can run some ideas by each other.”
“Sure,” I laughed, biting my lip as I watched him. My cheeks were all lit up pink, and I knew it, turning on my heel as soon as he sat. I kept my composure until I made it to the back, then clapped both hands over my mouth, giggling wildly. He was gorgeous. Completely gorgeous, some artist poet from out of town who’d walked into Ink’s and wanted to convince Solo to do the very thing I’d been begging him to do for months. And he wanted to work together. I was ready to agree, and not just because I wanted the open mic night. I wanted to see as much of him as possible.
I didn't know then just how much that’d end up being.