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Evening on the Ground

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Veronica hammered frantically on the keyboard of her laptop.  She knew the coffee shop closed shortly, but she only needed 1000 more words to finish her essay. 1000 words…how hard could that be to crank out?

“Um, miss?”

Shit.  

Turning slightly in her red velvet, high-backed chair, she pasted on her biggest smile, giving her long blond hair a slight toss.

“Hi! Look, I’m sorry. I’ll leave shortly.  I promise. I just really need to finish this essay,” she said to the barista who had been serving her since 9:00 a.m.

“Yeah…um...no problem…” the tall young man with the shaggy brown hair stated. “I just figured that you may want a couple of cookies, on the house. I usually give them to the homeless guy out back, at the end of the day, but –”

“Thanks! But I’m not homeless, if that’s why you think I’ve been here all day.  It’s just my deadbeat musician ex-boyfriend was taking my money and not paying the electric bill and I didn’t know until this morning when I couldn’t turn on my lights, or cook breakfast,"  she blathered, realizing she may have consumed too much coffee. "And it’s my only day to do homework because I work so much and I have two essays due at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”

A smile tugged at the corner of the barista’s mouth, moving up to his soft chocolate brown eyes. “No problem. I'm not kicking you out.  Take all the time you need. But I have a feeling you may get an extension on those papers.”

Veronica’s forehead wrinkled. “What? Why would you say that?”

He let out a chuckle and jerked his thumb towards the front windows. “Have you turned around in the last five-hours?”

Veronica stood up to look towards the door. Her mouth dropped open at the sight.

Snow. Lots of snow. So much snow the drifts were up to the windows. So much that she was sure her tiny five-foot body would get buried by it on the walk home.

“This doesn’t happen in California,” she muttered.

“You’re from Cali too?”

Veronica’s head snapped back to the young man. He was still holding out the cookies in offering to her. Smiling, she reached over and took the edge of the plate, maneuvering it down next to her laptop on the small table.

“Yeah. I’m from Neptune,” she said. “How about you?”

He reached around and rubbed the back of his neck. “L.A. I came out to New York about three years ago.”

Glancing momentarily at the name tag affixed to his apron, she looked back up into his puppy dog eyes. Logan. Had he always worked here? She was sure she would have noticed a barista this cute when she got her morning coffee each day.

“Logan, is it?” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’m Veronica.”

He took her small hand in his big paw and shook it softly. “Nice to meet you, Veronica. So, what brought you to New York?”

Veronica gave a thick chuckle. Gesturing to the seat across from her, she slipped back into her chair and grabbed a cookie off her plate.

“Law school. Musician boyfriend. A desperate need to get out of my hell hole of a town,” she replied, taking a nibble of her cookie. “How about you?”

“Ahhh,” Logan began hesitantly, dropping into the chair. “I ran away after my mom died. Took the money she left me and bolted as far away from my old man as I could get.”

“Oh,” Veronica gasped. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.  Overshare,” he said, his eyes dropping for a moment to his hands pulled into his sleeves like a child. “I’m just kind of exhausted from working since 6 a.m. and I’m not thinking too clearly.”

Veronica quirked her eyebrow. “I think that’s illegal. It’s well past midnight. Did you get your breaks today? I just did one of my pre-law courses on employment standards and –”

“Don’t worry about suing them, future lawyer. The owners are like my family.” Logan let out a small chuckle and swept his hand down his face. “I live upstairs with them – have since I was 16. But they’re away -- on their first vacation in 10 years -- so I’m holding down the fort. When I’m not in school as well.”

“Oh,” Veronica giggled, a little embarrassed. “Thought maybe you were being taken advantage of.”

“Nope. Haven’t been taken advantage of in a while,” he quipped. “Too busy for that.”

Veronica was positive her blush reached all the way to her toes.

“Where do you take classes?” she asked, trying to deflect attention away from herself.

“Pace. I’m with the acting program,” he replied, leaning back in his chair.

Veronica nodded. The unexpected tickle in her stomach began to spread through her body. There was something about the man across from her – his soft round face, those kind eyes, the way his lip curled into a smirk – that made Veronica want to learn more about him.  A lot more.

Logan cleared his throat, breaking Veronica of her thoughts. “Look. Ummm, I don’t know where you live, but it’s pretty dangerous outside…I’ve been listening to the reports on the news,” he began, his cheeks turning pink. "And if you want, you can crash upstairs at my place...I mean, the owner’s place. And I would sleep in my room. By myself. Alone.”

A cold chill swept through Veronica. Strange man. Strange home. Strange circumstance. “I can’t,” she blurted, a little louder than she intended. “I mean, you seem nice, but I had something happen once, something…bad…and I just don’t think…”

Logan’s hands flew up, waving in front of him frantically. “Oh God, I’m sorry. I just thought it was safer than going outside. I get it, I mean –” he rambled awkwardly.  “My dad. He used to beat me. Which is why I left. So I get being scared. And I didn’t mean to. Scare you, that is.”

Veronica’s hands came up to her chest. Her heart was beating so hard, she was sure it was going to fall right out of her chest. She kept her gaze locked on his.

“I just, I don’t normally end up alone with strange men. I was with Piz – my bonehead ex – since high school and I kind of felt safe and now he’s gone, even though I’m glad he’s gone, but…” she trailed off, not sure where she was going with her words.

Logan stood quickly and stepped away slightly, giving her some space. “Maybe I can walk you home? I’ll stop a block away, so I don’t see where you live. I’m just worried that you’ll get hurt if you go out in that storm.”

Veronica's mind began to hum.  A need rose in her, so powerful that she was almost ready to abandon what she knew was the right thing to do, and go with the absolute very wrong thing.

“Maybe,” she began, standing up and looking around. “I can sleep on that couch over there?”

She pointed to a lumpy gold velvet couch on the other side of the coffee shop, highlighted by the soft street lights through the window.

“If you have some blankets and a pillow?” she turned back to Logan, a small smile brushing her lips. “Maybe I would feel safe there for the night.”

Logan nodded. “Yeah! Yes! Okay. I’ll go upstairs and find some.”

Turning and heading for the back of the shop, he paused in the doorway, flashing a wide toothy grin at her.

“And just think, tomorrow morning, you won’t have to trudge through the snow for the best coffee in New York!”

As he disappeared upstairs, Veronica let out a deep breath, gazing around the coffee shop.

“Oh Veronica,” she said to herself. “What have you gotten yourself into?”