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Latte Hearts and Napkin Art

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The first time the beautiful doctor intern walked into our coffee shop, I immediately knew that I would one day learn what it feels like to kiss him.

Of course, I never assumed that I would nearly die from doing so.

I had no reason to predict such an acute physiological response; though I suppose, given the doctor intern’s bright sapphire eyes and dirty-blond hair (slightly mussed at the tips), perhaps I ought to have.

***

It’s a Monday in late September—the leaves are just beginning to turn bright, coppery shades—on the first day the beautiful doctor intern visits.

I become distracted right away.

Lestrade, the cafe owner, who considers himself my “boss” (and I allow him this delusion solely because I store body parts in the walk-in freezer), does not find my distractedness humorous, especially not when I pour a half pound of espresso beans into the bread slicer.

He’s never had much of a sense of humour, that man. I do hope he develops one soon, though, because there is nothing more hilarious than severed thumbs in the freezer.

As the espresso beans I pour out begin to clog the metal blades, I continue to watch the beautiful doctor intern as he approaches. Blissfully, I am able to drown out any of the irritated babble Lestrade is spewing at me, because the doctor intern looks so sensational in his doctor clothes that I seem to have been robbed of all my senses.

Another co-worker of mine, Molly, is standing in front of the espresso machine, her mouth agape at the beautiful doctor as well.

Of course, it is vital that I am able to look directly into the sapphire eyes of the gorgeous incoming man, so I quickly empty the remainder of the espresso beans into the bread slider—much to Lestrade’s clear disdain—and walk to the espresso machine, shoving Molly out of the way.

“Molly,” I hiss. “It’s time for your break.” I lean my body into hers, removing her from the spot I’d like to claim, shooing her away with my hands.

Today, Molly is wearing thick black eyeliner and appears to have a new piece of metal in her nose. She has recently taken up practicing Wicca, because she’s dating someone who runs the Pagan Poetry Podcast, or something, and she has requested we refer to her by a new nickname—some solitary body of water which I cannot remember. “Lake” or something of the sort?

“It’s River, remember?” she protests with an eye roll, pointing to her name badge. “And I just returned from my break, actually, so—”

“Yes, very well, goodbye, Ocean.” I remove the mug she is currently holding beneath the espresso pump, which is actually in the process of dispensing a shot, and I masterfully do not drop it even as it burns the flesh on my hand.

“River!” she huffs, and she turns to sulk off near the bread slicer, but I ignore her, because the beautiful doctor intern has just met my eyes for the first time ever, and he’s smiling.

I’m quite certain that I’ve spontaneously caught fire from the heat of his gaze alone.

“Helloooooo,” I say with a startling amount of saccharine in my voice, holding out the “o” for just a tad too long to be considered fully sane. I look towards the beautiful doctor intern directly, skipping three customers queuing before him.

“Hey, I was next,” a tall gentleman in a suit complains, but I ignore him. Given his lack of muscular upper-arms accentuated by tight sleeves and strong doctor hands, I feel quite validated in my decision.

And then, I think the doctor intern may actually be talking to me, but his smile is brighter than a supernova, and I’ve been blinded by it, and Lestrade is still chattering in my ear that he ought to fire me (he won’t do that—I’m the one who draws the daily art on the sign in the doorway), and I cannot understand his words.

“Do shut up, now,” I urge Lestrade as diplomatically as possible. Finally, he stops talking (it may have something to do with my shoving a coconut macaroon into his mouth) and I can finally hear what the beautiful doctor intern is saying.

“Light roast, one cream, one sugar.” His voice is light and bright and friendly.

I stare.

The right corner of his mouth turns upwards, and I can feel my ears becoming warm, and it’s not from the steam of the espresso machine. Lestrade spits the macaroon back out on me. 

I realise that I should probably attempt to respond to the beautiful doctor intern, so I say the first thing that comes to mind, which is—

“I drew the sign art.”

God, I want to shove a macaroon into my own mouth, now.

“Erm, by the entryway,” I continue, gesturing weakly.

He follows my gesture, slightly confused. “Oh,” he says. “Yeah, I saw that as I walked in. It’s lovely.”

“Today’s drawing is a—”

“Penguin,” he finishes, his eyes returning to me with amusement. “And what is it that he’s drinking?”

I shift back and forth on my feet uncomfortably. “It’s a, er, vanilla latte, our special drink of the week.”

“Mm.” He turns his head back to the sign and nods. “Didn’t realise penguins had a penchant for vanilla.”

“They don’t actually, er, drink caffeinated beverages,” I reply, because apparently I’ve become a bumbling teenager again. “Besides, they wouldn’t be able to hold the cup in the first place, due to the lack of—”

“Opposable thumbs,” the beautiful doctor intern concludes with a chuckle as he runs his fingers through his hair (Looks so soft).

“Yes.” I part my lips to continue, but no other words emerge, something for which I am actually quite grateful.

The doctor intern continues to study me curiously, his eyes wandering up and down to examine my features. I know it should make me feel uncomfortable or anxious, but instead I feel a rumble of happiness spread throughout my body. 

Finally, he cocks his head to one side and smiles at me again. “Well, er—” He looks at me expectantly.

“Sherlock,” I offer, though I’m not actually sure he’s asking for my name. It’s better than continuing to talk about feathered creatures drinking brewed beverages, I suppose. “Graduate student in biology and organic chemistry.”

“Ah,” he answers. “And cafe barista and artist by day.”

“Yes,” I mumble. “The schedule is flexible. And I get free coffee.”

He blinks slowly at me, his long, blond eyelashes casting feathery shadows over his cheeks. “Can’t beat free coffee,” he says.

“No. I suppose not.”

“Well, Sherlock.” His voice is already fond, somehow. “You’re very talented at drawing coffee, so—” He pauses meaningfully. “I’m excited to see how talented you are at making it.”

“Coffee,” I breathe, and Lake shoves a mug into my hand. “Light roast, one cream, one sugar,” she whispers into my ear, and I wrinkle my eyebrows into a frown.

“Light roast, one cream, one sugar,” I slowly repeat.

The beautiful doctor intern laughs a golden, bubbly laugh. “Good,” he says with a nod. “So you were paying attention to me after all.”

You have no idea. No idea.

“What’s your name?” I blurt, reaching for a marker to scrawl his name on the cup, and then I gulp because the microseconds before he answers seem to span a lifetime. 

“John,” he says, and the word echoes in my head the moment it leaves his lips.

John. What a beautiful name. John.

“John.” I gaze back at him, silently mouthing the name one more time.

“Yes.” He gazes back, and the silence between us stretches long like a tunnel in the crowded room. “Are you…” he clears his throat. “Are you going to write it down on the—”

“Oh,” I say, fumbling, and I drop the marker into a puddle of froth on the countertop, and it splatters all over the adjacent wall.

“Sherlock!” Lestrade barks in my face, eternally annoyed. “Why don’t you go and take fifteen.”

My eyes are finally torn away from the beautiful doctor intern (John John John) and it physically hurts. I look at Lestrade with a glare that could cut through solidified carbon. He simply lifts one eyebrow at me and very, very discreetly gestures his head towards the direction of John.

And then it occurs to me—perhaps Lestrade is doing me a favour.

Perhaps I should ask John if he would like to join me.

I turn my head away from Lestrade and back to John, whose eyes are still pinned on me, and I nod resolutely, although my heart is wildly palpitating.

“John, would you, that is to say, you and your light roast, one cream, one sugar, if you are amenable, would you care to—”

“John!” Another voice calls from the entryway, ripping John’s attention from me, and I feel as though every glass in the room has shattered. A slightly overweight man with thinning hair and round eyeglasses—a doctor intern as well, judging by the books he carries—walks through the door.

“M-Mike,” John stammers as he spins around to face the man (and tortuously, away from me).

“Sorry for being late, mate. Just got out of an exam. Order me an Earl Grey, would you? I’ll save you a seat over here.” The man wraps his jacket around the back of a chair, presumably where John will be sitting, and I’ve never felt so jealous of a jacket in my life.

“Sure,” John utters, and he sounds slightly short of breath, though I may just be imagining it.

I huff and glare at the coat for a moment, and then glare at the purveyor of the coat, “Mike,” who I suddenly feel a seething animosity towards. The man sets down his books, dusts some crumbs (crisps, barbecue flavoured) off his shirt and glances up. My glare must truly convey my discontent, because he flinches a bit as he catches my eye, and proceeds to apprehensively look back and forth between me and John.

“Er, hello,” he says to me with a nervous chuckle. “Friend of yours?” he asks John. 

My pulse speeds up. Friend of John’s. Friend of John’s? Friend. Of. John’s.

John’s eyebrows fly upwards and he whips his head back towards me. “Oh. This is, er—“ he pauses, as though searching my face for the words, and when he does that, I can feel my expression soften.

“Sherlock,” I say, and then there’s a sneaky, unspoken look between John and me, as though there’s been a joke that only we understand. “I make the sign art,” I say, the corners of my mouth twitching upwards. John spontaneously bursts into laughter. So do I. 

It’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard, his laughter mingling with mine— like the final cadence of a violin concerto.

“Oh. That’s—” Stamford mumbles. He looks at the sign art, then back at John, and then awkwardly at his feet. “Nice.”

As John’s laughter fades, he pauses for a moment to look back up at me. “I’ve got to go study for an exam,” he says, nodding towards his table. “But...I’ll see you around again.” It’s a statement, not a question, and the concept causes my heart to leap into my throat.

And I know I should feel discouraged at the fact that he will not be joining me for my break today, but his eyes are sparkling, and it causes my chest to feel as though it is expanding in the most pleasant possible way.

I lean over towards the counter to collect his freshly-brewed drink. “Yes,” I say. “You know where to find me.”

I hand his drink to him, and our fingers brush lightly together. I feel a spark of electricity as our skin touches—so powerful I nearly jump.

John stares at where our fingers had been connected. “Right,” he says cheerfully. “I’ll keep an eye out for the latte-sipping penguins.” 

***

The second time John comes into our cafe—a week later—we create beautiful art for one another. I, in his latte; and he, on a spare napkin he removes from a pile by the straws.

“Hi,” I breathe as he walks over. At least, I think that’s what I say.

“Good morning.” He runs his fingers through his mussed blond hair, his tongue flicking out over his lower lip. He smiles that bright, burning smile which nearly blinds me, and I swallow, my throat becoming dry.

“Light roast, one cream, one sugar?” I recite. I’d recited his order in my head every morning for the past seven days.

“Actually,” he says, stepping forward and splaying his hands onto the countertop. “I’d like to try something new.” He leans in, still smiling, and he’s so close that I can see the random flecks of amber in his eyes. “Got any suggestions?”

I can feel heat spreading over my face and neck as he moves closer, which I’m afraid must be quite telling, but he doesn’t look away.

“Er.” I glance down. I can’t maintain eye contact with him, as I’ve grown a bit dizzy. “Our lattes are quite good.”

“Brilliant,” he says, backing away a half-step. “One latte, then, and—“ He pauses, and I let my eyes wander back to find his. “I know this may seem like an odd question, but can you make latte art? You know, like the little swirly patterns in the drinks?” He gives me a half-smile. “Being such a brilliant artist and all.”

I clear my throat. “Yes.”

My specialty is a heart, I’m going to draw a heart in your latte, you beautiful man, I love you I love you I love you

“One latte with...art.” I say flatly. “Give me a moment.”

“Can’t wait,” he says, and this time, he blinks at me very deliberately with one eye.

“Oh, he just winked at you,” says Fjord under her breath, who has apparently been standing next to me the entire time. “You’re going to make him a latte heart, aren’t you? Make him a latte heart!”

“Shut up.” I elbow her in the ribcage. “But yes.”

So I do. I create the most delicious latte I possibly can, and add a beautiful, intricate heart to it, just like my own heart, John, and I hand it over to him.

He takes the mug into one hand and looks down at it. “Beautiful,” he says, and then he looks back up at me. 

“Oh,” I breathe. “Thank you.” Or at least I think that’s what I say.

“Thank you.” He is still smiling for some reason.

I stare at him blankly. “Bye,” I mumble, because I don’t know what else to do.

He nods. “Talk to you soon, then?” With his other hand, he shoves a folded napkin into mine.

I nod back, and I can feel the blush again spreading over my face and neck. “Yes. Soon.”

Once he takes a seat, I unfold the napkin. There is a drawing on it, too, but it’s not a heart. Or it might be. I’m not entirely sure. I try not to stare for too long, because I don’t want anyone to realise that I have no idea what the drawing actually is. It looks like some sort of flower, or perhaps a barnyard animal, or temporary tattoo art.

I fold it and put it into my pocket, because whatever it actually is, I love it—it was drawn by John, after all.

***

The third time John comes into the cafe, I accidentally spill a cold drink onto a very private area of his body. 

It was not my intention, of course. I would never have gone near that area on purpose.

Well. I mean, yes, I would have, under different circumstances. Preferably while the two of us were on a very successful date, or perhaps after waking up in one another’s arms. Or maybe on the sofa while we were entangled and watching television, or underneath the table after I’d made him breakfast, or possibly even in the stairwell after—

I digress.

My point is, I did not intend to touch this particular area on this particular day, and if I had, it went nothing like I’d have envisioned it.

It’s a Thursday; three days after the latte-heart slash mysterious napkin-art exchange, and he’s already there when I arrive at the cafe for my shift.

I sense his presence immediately—probably because he absolutely glows from the inside out.

As I pass his table, he smiles at me, and I smile back. I nearly walk into several other tables and walls and half-awake businessmen, but I can’t turn my head away from him. And that morning, I try to muddle through order after order after order, even though he is sneaking constant glances at me, and smiling at me for some reason, and for some reason I am smiling and smiling and smiling back.

An hour into my shift, I am walking over to deliver a glass of water to another table. I notice that he is trailing me with those sapphire eyes of his, and it’s distracting. I somehow lose track of my feet, tripping over them as I pass him, and the drink in my hand flails itself outwards, emptying itself over the buttons of his trousers.

He leaps up from his chair immediately, and I do the first thing I can think of, which is to reach for as many napkins as possible and kneel down and help him dry himself off, and it doesn’t even occur to me where my hands are currently positioned until— 

“Er.” John looks down at me—at himself. “Is this a, um, service all cafes in this area offer?”

When I realise what I’m doing, my hands fly upwards. “Oh! I apologise, I wasn’t—”

“It’s fine,” John laughs. “Really. I’ll just…” he turns and grabs the cable-knit jumper that’s hanging from his chair. “I’ll cover it with this. He wraps it around his waist, tying the sleeves to the side. “See?” He looks back down, and I try not to follow his line of sight oh god oh god. “Nobody will be the wiser,” he says.

He’s smiling down at me, and I am kneeling on the floor and gaping up at him, and regardless of my ridiculousness, he’s so, so kind.

I can’t help but marvel at what a strange and wonderful human he is.

“Sherlock.” He narrows his eyes at me, his expression concerned, sympathetic. “Really, it’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to—“

But I can feel the cursed telltale blush spreading over my face now, and on my ears, and on my neck, and I can’t let him see, let him know how badly I want—

I quickly stand up. “Enjoy your—jumper,” I mumble, and I scurry away, thinking I may die of embarrassment.

***

It isn’t until the fourth time that John comes into the cafe, however, that I truly almost die.

It all goes very fast.

It’s five minutes before the cafe closes for the afternoon, and all of the customers have gone home. All except for John, who is seated at a table with his headphones, furiously typing away at his laptop.

He’d come in nearly two hours before, but I hadn’t spoken to him. I hadn’t even made him his drink. And every time I sneak a glance at him, he rips his eyes away. 

I can only assume he is angry at me for the previous encounter—in which my fingers encountered his pubic region—or he is possibly just as embarrassed as I am because of it.

Pond is in the back of the store, counting inventory (she does this because she’s very good at keeping my severed thumbs a secret). I am standing at the drink station, restocking paper cups, when suddenly John removes his headphones, stands up, and begins walking towards me.

I accidentally knock an entire pile of napkins onto the floor as he steadily approaches.

He stops right in front of me. He says nothing, only looks at me, his blue eyes piercing.

“John,” I say timidly. “Is there anything I can—“

He places his warm hands solidly onto my upper arms, twisting his fingers through the material of my shirt. He pulls me towards him, and I gasp as he crushes my lips into his and kisses me.

It’s a complete surprise, and it takes a few seconds for my brain to arrive at where my lips currently are. Once I do, I take a deep breath and bring my hands delicately to the sides of his face. I begin to kiss him back, softly, only brushing my lips against his as I weave my fingers over the hair above his temples. 

He pulls his bottom lip away a tiny bit, but only for long enough to say—

“Sherlock. From the first time I came into this cafe, I was hooked—and not because of the coffee. I’ve wanted to kiss you since I very first laid eyes on you, you gorgeous, gorgeous man.”

I sigh against his lips as he slides his fingers up my shoulders and the back of my neck, and pulls me in closer.

I wanted you to do this. I wanted you to do this.

The words rattle in my brain, and I’m not sure if I’m actually saying them out loud or just thinking them. But I wrap my arms around his lower back, scooping his body up into mine, parting my lips and letting out a high, joyous noise as his tongue meets mine.

I think that probably says enough.

We softly continue to brush lips, sliding our tongues together (his is cappuccino-flavoured), and he kneads his fingers into the back of my neck. His body is so close I can feel his heartbeat against nearly every inch of my chest and abdomen as I lightly trace his spine and hips with my fingers. It’s fast, and loud, and I can hear, by the blood pumping in my ears, that my own heart is beating fast and loud as well.

John pulls his lips apart from mine, but the lack of contact doesn’t last long—he instantly dives back in, placing his open mouth wetly against the bottom of my jaw. He kisses me there, tenderly at first, but when I groan softly, he presses his lips harder, dragging them across the front of my neck. Over my collarbone, over my Adam’s apple, until he reaches my opposite jaw.

“Oh my God,” he mumbles into the warm skin there. “I’m so sorry. I should have waited until you were done with your shift, or—“

My eyes flutter open, and I pull back until I can meet his. “I’m very pleased that you didn’t,” I reassure him. “It had been a rather boring shift.”

He laughs again, and I join him, and it’s sweet and it’s melodic.

He leans forward to rest his head on my shoulder. “You never called me,” he says, and I can detect a hint of shyness his voice. “I thought maybe you weren’t interested.”

I blink. “Call you? You were expecting me to call you?”

He pulls away again, giving me a look of amusement. “The napkin I gave you,” he says. “Last week. I wrote my phone number on it.”

Oh.

“That’s what that was?” I ask. “Those were... numbers?” My mind flashes to the napkin pinned on my desk board at my flat, and to the several times I had stared at it and tried to decipher what he had drawn. I laugh again at the tragic misunderstanding. “I thought you had drawn me.. something. A goat? A laurel wreath?”

He laughs. “Why on earth would I have done that?”

“Your writing is quite indecipherable, John,” I reply. “Your numbers are very, very loopy and messy. How was I to know?”

He laughs again, fully, and God, he’s brilliant when he does that. “Doctor trait,” he says with a shrug.

He’s so beautiful that I want to kiss him again. So I lean down, pressing our foreheads and noses together. I seal my lips over his, and he wraps his arms around my back in an embrace. The kiss is achingly slow, achingly soft, achingly tender, and

God he’s amazing and wonderful and beautiful and fantastic and I love him and I love him and I can’t BREATHE

Actually.

I actually cannot breathe, something I am becoming acutely aware of.

I see stars (not the good kind), and the world around me dulls and I can hear John saying my name urgently as I collapse into his arms.

***

The next thing I feel is a sharp pain in my upper thigh muscle, as though someone is stabbing me with a very large needle.

“Ouch!” I yell tersely as I come to. I’m lying on the floor of the cafe, and I see Puddle kneeled over me with a worried expression on her face.

John is the one stabbing me.

“Oh, thank God.” He pulls the giant needle out and I yelp again in pain.

But then he shifts himself forward, and he leans over me very, very close to feel my pulse. He smells very good, and I can’t breathe again, though this time, for other reasons.

“You went into anaphylactic shock,” he says explains seriously. “Do you have any food allergies, Sherlock?”

I barely eat, so how would I know?!

“Of course not,” I say.

“Sherlock,” he says with an edge in his voice. “Is there any chance you may have an allergy to tree nuts?”

“Nuts don’t grow on trees, John.”

John stares blankly. I think he might be angry with me. “The ambulance is on its way,” he says. “This isn’t a joke. Sherlock, you could have died. Do you have an allergy to nuts, or not?”

“I… I suppose I wouldn’t know,” I respond.

“Your coworker here, River, just happened to have some epinephrine for her own food allergy, and thank God she did, because your airway was closing up, and that could have been very bad, Sherlock—“

I frown at him. “Who is River?”

“Me,” she squeaks, lightly slapping me on the arm. “You’re welcome, you arse.”

“Oh.” I lift an eyebrow. “Thank you.”

And then the ambulance sirens begin approaching, and John wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me up. “Steady, there you go,” he says. “Careful, now. Just lean on me, yeah?”

Yeah.

***

It was the kiss that had done it.

John gets to ride in the ambulance with me because he’s a doctor—well, almost—but also because I had begged the paramedic to allow him to, and had bribed him with two months of free coffee.

Unexpectedly, John takes my hand into his and weaves our fingers together. There is a troubled expression on his features. “I’m going to have to figure out a way to make it up to you,” he says.

I frown at him. “Make what up to me?”

“The doctors at the hospital are going to run some tests,” he begins. “But I’m pretty sure you have an allergy to almonds, so you nearly died from kissing me.”

I purse my lips together. They are still slightly swollen, tingling. 

John. Are you an almond?

“The latte I was drinking had almond milk in it. So when you kissed me, and we exchanged, you know—“ he tucks his chin in slightly.

Ah. Bodily fluids, tainted by deadly seeds.

“The kiss of death,” I joke.

“Yeah,” he winces. “I’m sorry.”

It was worth it.

“Well,” I say, “it may be true that you almost killed me, but you also saved my life immediately afterwards. So I suppose we’ll call it even.”

He smiles and squeezes my hand. “How are you feeling now?”

”Pretty well, all things considered,” I say. “Hoping that next time I see you, there are no spills or misunderstandings or near-death experiences.”

He lets out a huff of laughter, and his face softens. He looks down at my hand for a moment. “Later?” he says. “There’s gonna be a later?”

“You saved my life,” I say. “Of course there’s going to be a later.” I smile. “Thank you, Doctor.”

He laughs. “You’re welcome. Thanks for, erm, not dying. I’d like to take you out on a proper date, you know.” He reaches down to the side of my head to brush away a loose curl. “Coffee optional.”

I close my eyes and lean my head back onto the pillow. “Are you telling me this isn’t a proper date?” I ask. “Riding together in an ambulance after a brush with death?”

He laughs again. “I suppose we could call it that,” he says. “Only next time, I’d also like to kiss you without putting you in the hospital.”

A smile drifts over my lips as I become slightly drowsy, and my eyelids become heavy.

The sound of his laugh rings out again as I slowly drift off to sleep. “I’ve never actually caused someone to pass out from kissing them,” he says. 

“It was an astoundingly good kiss,” I mumble, and that’s the final thing I say before falling asleep with my hand still in his.

***

Two days later, John takes me out on a proper date. Food, and wine, and television and cuddling and other contextually appropriate touching. And on that date, he kisses me, and I don’t almost die.

So I kiss him again, just to be sure, because I have an insatiable addiction to danger. And then I kiss him again. And then again. And then again.

I actually feel more alive with each one.

After that, we have coffee together nearly every day. He’s switched to soy milk in order to save my life—a true hero.

He continues to kiss me at every opportunity. And though I often find myself short of breath when he does, I’ve yet to cease breathing altogether.

But we’ve still got time.