“What’s wrong with a coffee shop?” Barry asked, taking a sip of his highly-caffeinated beverage and then cradling the mug in both hands. “Everybody loves coffee. Plus, the bakery.” His eyes widened and he nodded slowly. “If things start to go bad, I can always buy her pastries. Jitters has scones and cake pops and muffins and – and,” he emphasized when his best friend looked about to speak. “I bet some of them will even be heart-shaped for Valentine’s Day.”
“Probably all of February,” Cisco muttered under his breath, but Barry heard him.
“See! There you go. A coffee date at Jitters on Valentine’s Day is the perfect idea.”
“A restaurant is way too risky anyway, in case she decides to bail.”
“You’re not getting stood up,” he insisted, not for the first time. “But,” he hedged, “I agree it wouldn’t look good to have you sitting alone at a table for hours while other successfully paired up couples enjoy their evening around you.”
Barry’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you just said I wasn’t getting stood up.”
“You won’t. This girl…she’s something special.” He smiled faintly. “She’s not going to stand you up.”
Barry eyed him suspiciously. “Sounds like you want to go out with her.”
“What?” Cisco squeaked. “Me? Pssh. No. Cisco’s got his own date, and it’s called Star Wars and pizza pockets.”
He rolled his eyes and took another sip of his coffee.
“Back to you, though. My suggestion is a bar.”
Barry nearly choked.
Cisco looked at him strangely.
“Yeah. You’re dangerous with too much caffeine in your system.” He glanced down at his mug. “How many of those have you had? Three? Four?”
A blush crept up Barry’s neck and colored his face.
“You’ve had five, haven’t you?”
Barry briefly looked away.
“Not all at once!” Barry insisted, briefly drawing a few stares. “I’ve been here all day,” he whispered.
“Doing what? Studying?”
The blush returned.
“You don’t have another test for two weeks,” he deadpanned, then pointed his finger at him accusingly. “Don’t think I haven’t checked your schedule.”
“Never hurts to be prepared,” Barry mumbled into his drink, causing a small splatter of bubbles.
Cisco shook his head.
“What makes you think having alcohol in my system will be any better than having caffeine in my system anyway? Both have a, uh…unreliable effect on me.”
“Oh, it’s pretty reliable,” Cisco assured him. “But basically alcohol is safer, because she’ll be drinking it too. And she gets tipsy fast.”
“So you have gone out with her.”
“No!” He cleared his throat. “I can’t – I don’t want – to go out with her. We’re friends. Good friends. She’s probably the best friend I have besides you.”
“And yet I’ve never met her,” Barry pointed out.
“Yeah, well…let’s just say she’s a little more sophisticated than you.”
Barry blinked. “Meaning?”
Cisco huffed, irritated. “Just go to a bar, okay?”
He eyed him strangely.
“Yeah, sure.” He paused. “But if she stands me up,” He pointed his own accusing finger. “I’m coming after you.”
“She won’t stand you up.” Cisco grinned. “I’ve made her promise.”
Barry couldn’t decide if that was reassuring or not.
Iris groaned, putting her face in her hands and not daring to meet her best friend’s piercing, determined gaze.
“No,” she said for what she felt was the hundredth time. “No, no, no, no, no.” Her head snapped up, and she glared. “You are not setting me up on another blind date.”
Linda pouted. “You make it sound as if they’ve all ended badly.”
Iris arched one brow.
Linda rolled her eyes and leaned back in her seat.
“Okay, so I’m not the world’s best matchmaker.”
Iris scoffed and grabbed hold of her third cup of coffee.
“This one’s good, though.” She learned forward, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “I promise.”
“You said that about the last three,” Iris reminded her.
“The last three weren’t this one.”
Iris’s eyes lifted to the ceiling, as if some higher being floating in CCPN could save her from her best friend’s failure of a side hobby.
“Okay, Iris, listen to me.” She stole her best friend’s coffee cup away, causing her to frown. Then she lifted her hand up as she started to count off the pros to this new eligible bachelor, much as she had with the other ones. “He’s hot.”
She’d heard that one before.
Every so often that one.
“He’s a cop.”
That got her attention. Linda grinned.
“I knew you’d like that one.”
Iris rolled her eyes and stole her coffee back, relishing the liquid still hot enough to burn down her throat.
“Does he know my dad?” She countered, briefly rendering her best friend speechless. “Because I have to tell you, Lin, the last thing I need on Valentine’s Day is my dad getting huffy that I got involved with a cop he knows. That’s almost as bad as when I dared to join the force myself, as far as he’s concerned.”
“Which is what makes them so appealing to you, am I right?”
Now Iris was at a loss for words.
“It’s okay.” Linda remarked with a sly grin and a knowing glint in her eyes. “I get it. There’s just something really thrilling about deliberately goading someone on – especially a parent.”
“Oh?” Iris was intrigued. “Are you speaking from experience?”
“Always,” Linda assured her, then brushed it aside. “But don’t change the subject. Just promise me you’ll give him a chance. I promise he won’t stand you up.”
She sighed and folded her arms beneath her breasts.
“What makes you so sure?”
Linda shrugged. “I showed him a picture of you.”
Iris’s jaw dropped.
“He seemed pretty turned on.”
“Wh- How could- Linda.”
“What?” She widened her eyes innocently and even dared to briefly bat her eyelashes.
“It’s supposed to be a blind date.”
“For both parties.”
Linda shrugged again and retrieved an energy drink from one of her desk drawers.
“He doesn’t know your name if that helps.”
Iris sighed and shook her head at her best friend.
“Which, by default,” she said with her mouth full, pausing only a moment to swallow the liquid already electrifying her senses, “probably means he doesn’t know your dad. A win-win as far as I’m concerned.”
Iris said nothing for a while, and then finally she relented.
“Yesss.” Linda pumped her fist.
“One hour, that’s it.”
“Mmk,” Linda chirped, practically squirming in her seat.
“And I get to choose the place.”
“Anything. You name it.”
She smiled smugly. “Jitters.”
Linda deflated and sank back into her seat. She shook her head, clearly disappointed.
Barry’s fingers drummed on the bar, his feet bouncing about on the stool. Every so often he turned to look at the front entryway, to examine each girl with the description Cisco had given him – sandy-brown shoulder-length hair, about a foot shorter than him, and set to appear in a sparkly black dress that was to die for – much like he’d been doing for the past hour. Girls came and went, one even approached him, half-tipsy and asked him for a quarter, which he’d just happened to have in his pants’ pocket. She took it from him and went back to her table of lady friends, giggling all the way and not giving him even one backward glance. None of her friends had either.
He sighed and dug his phone out of his pocket.
Got stood up. Hate you.
He hit send and laid down some bills for the three club sodas he’d inhaled, not wanting to get drunk before his date arrived.
The text should’ve made him feel victorious, at the very least about being right, but he found himself only feeling annoyed. Mostly at himself for believing that maybe a blind date could be the answer to changing his luck in the romance department.
Doomed to be single forever, he thought grimly.
He slid off his stool and headed for the exit. Determined not to wallow in his sorrows for the rest of the night – was he the only guy who did that on Valentine’s Day? – he headed for his favorite location and hoped that Cisco was wrong. Maybe it wouldn’t be crawling with couples with stars in their eyes, being overly affectionate and reminding him of how he’d yet to experience one Valentine’s Day with someone he couldn’t take his eyes off of.
“I’m going to kill you, Linda,” Iris muttered, rapidly typing away an angry text into her phone and then sending it off. Satisfied, but not really, she turned her attention to the barista lounging by the register and decided she was ready to order. She was starving, having not eaten dinner, hoping to maybe grab something someplace else if the date went well. Foolishly, she’d convinced herself it would.
“He won’t stand you up, my ass,” she grumbled, and headed straight for the bakery display. No way was she holding back now.
“Can I help you?” the barista asked, his voice hardly enthusiastic, eyes not even on her as her gaze scanned the pastry options.
“Yes,” she began, deciding not to take to heart the fact that she’d overdressed for a coffee date and not even this kid who had to be at least sixteen was taking notice. “I will have two scones – blueberry, five cake pops – all pink, one heart-shaped cookie – also pink, and the most sugary, caffeinated drink you can whip up.
The barista blinked. “Uh…”
Iris’s eyes narrowed. “Do I need to repeat myself?”
The boy blinked and stuttered through his response.
“N-not at all, ma’am.”
“Ms.,” she corrected him.
He nodded. “Right. Miss.”
“What’s your name?” he asked, looking down at the register as he keyed in her order.
She sighed. “Iris.”
His head lifted. “Like the flower?”
She forced a smile. “Like the flower.”
He had to ask her to repeat her order, and then re-enter it twice more until he got it correct. Iris was at her wit’s end when he miscounted her cash, scolding herself for not just handing over her card. But finally the transaction was complete. She tucked her wallet under her arm and moved to the end of the counter.
Five minutes later - which was too long, as far as she was concerned - her order was ready.
“Cyrus?” the kid called out.
Iris decided not to comment. She went up and snatched her drink. Suddenly Jitters was not this homey, warm, cozy place she always felt it to be. She wondered if it ever would be again after tonight.
She was grumbling and heading towards the door when someone else walked in. In her determination to get out of there, she was going too fast to stop herself and ran smack into the stranger, almost tumbling to the ground.
“Whoa. Hey, are you okay?” The stranger asked, steadying her on her semi-high heels, his hands nearly covering her entire upper arms.
“Y-yeah.” She blinked, then looked down at the splatter of her treats and coffee – which had miraculously not spilled more than a few drops – on the ground and pouted.
“S-sorry,” the stranger said, releasing her as he bent to pick up her things. While he was crouched down near the ground, he glanced up at her, and the smile on his face that made her heart race. “It was either you or the treats.”
She smiled tremulously. “You chose wisely.”
He stood to his feet, and she realized for the first time how tall he was. Even in her heels, she barely stood a chance at reaching his shoulder.
“I couldn’t let that pretty dress go to waste,” he said, a sappy grin on his face. “Or let a stunner like you hit the ground – today of all days.”
She raised her eyebrows, but she couldn’t suppress the smile that for the first time reached her eyes.
“Aren’t you the charmer.”
A blush started to creep up his cheeks.
“I’ve been practicing,” he explained.
Her lips twisted wryly. “Didn’t go so well?”
“Got stood up,” he admitted.
“Me too,” she confided.
His eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. “You?”
The fluttery feeling in her stomach returned.
“Me,” she beamed.
“That does explain the, uh…” He glanced down at her purchases.
“Mad dash for the door?” she finished. He nodded once. “Yep. I planned to murder to my best friend for setting me up on yet another blind date that didn’t go quite as swimmingly as she predicted.”
“Sounds like my roommate.”
She grinned. “I wasn’t quite ready to go to prison yet, though.”
“You needed sustenance,” he said, chuckling.
She laughed. “Right again,” she said, the bizarre thought of you know me so well drifting through her mind. It startled her, considering the very obvious fact that they had never met before.
“Well.” He cleared his throat and took a step back. “I’ll let you get on with it then. The, uh…sustenance.”
“And the murder,” she reminded him.
“Right.” He smiled. “I won’t say a word.” He pretended to zip his lips. “Promise.”
“I appreciate that.”
One last lingering look, a smile that made it hard to look away, and Iris forced herself to head out the door. She was already starting to feel embarrassed by the fact that she’d joked about murder with a complete stranger.
Halfway down the block, she stopped and tossed her damaged treats into a garbage can. There had to be dirt on them. The coffee was probably no good either, so she tossed that too. She had this nagging feeling that she’d done that on purpose, and that it had maybe been unnecessary. There was this driving feeling inside her, a voice that urged her to go back Jitters, to see if that guy who’d made her feel unspeakably happy and flustered for just a few minutes was still there.
Something about her collision felt taken right out of a romantic comedy.
She hesitated a few more moments and then strode back down the block, and into the coffee shop. She spotted him by the bored barista taking his order. Her stomach flipped. Even across the room she found herself lingering on his wind-tossed brown hair, his lanky form, and the way his throat moved when he talked.
As if he could sense her watching him, he turned and spotted her. He stared for a while and then quickly looked away. As she approached, she could hear the words tumbling out of his mouth.
“I changed my mind. Not regular. Decaf.”
The barista nodded along and quickly changed the order.
“Name?” the boy asked after sliding the stranger’s card through the machine.
“Barry,” he said with his eyes on Iris, who now found it impossible to avoid being seen.
“I’m Iris,” she said, reaching out her hand.
He shook her hand firmly, but not enough to crush her. She liked that, she decided. She liked it a lot.
She also liked the unique shade of green that colored his eyes and how very long his eyelashes were. She recalled the dimples that had formed in his cheeks when he’d gathered her items from the floor and wondered if she could make them appear again. Her eyes drifted down to his lips before she realized what was happening, and it was only the sound of the barista’s voice that broke her out of her trance.
“Gary?” The boy called out.
Barry blinked and turned towards the sound.
“Barry,” he muttered under his breath, but not loud enough for the barista to notice.
Only Iris did. She managed to hold back a chuckle, because she'd been there before. She wouldn't have appreciated if someone had laughed. But she still smiled because she couldn't help herself. He was adorably frustrated.
“Why’d you change your order?” she chirped when he returned to her, running his hand over his hair, she presumed to fix any lock that might have been out of place. She found it endearing and hoped it was to impress her.
“Was it because of me?” she asked, taking a step closer to him and deciding not to overthink the fact that she was acting bolder than she did with anything but a story.
His crooked grin accompanied the red coloring in his face.
“I get chatty when I drink too much coffee. My roommate tells me I should switch to decaf.” He cleared his throat and avoided her gaze momentarily. “Would you uh…would you like to…?”
“I would.” She smiled, her eyes dazzling.
He grinned and gestured to a nearby booth. It was the same one she’d sat in before, but suddenly it didn’t seem so dreadful. She slid into her seat and folded her hands over each other on the table. She met his eyes and found herself staring again.
“What happened to your treats?” he asked, suddenly realizing she’d come back empty handed.
She bit her bottom lip, not bothering to suppress her smile and leaned forward a little across the table.
“I thought I’d let you buy me a drink.”
He gasped quietly, and then swallowed. He nodded once, slid out of his side of the booth and headed for the counter before abruptly realizing he didn’t know what she wanted. He turned around and nearly tripped over his own feet coming back to her.
Her eyes widened, but he caught himself by bracing his hands on the table.
“See, not always smooth.”
She looked up at him, smiling, her chin propped in her hand.
“I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
He nodded. “Right.”
“But lots of added sugar and cream!” She called out as he turned back towards the counter.
Minutes later he returned to their booth and handed her the coffee she’d requested. She brought the cup to her lips, aware of him holding his breath.
“Mmm, perfect,” she declared. And it was, surprisingly.
“Yeah?” he asked, clearly pleased.
She nodded. “Absolutely.”
A look of panic flitted across his face.
“Did you want any pastries?” He looked about to leave.
She put her hand on his before he could. It made both of them still. His hand was warm beneath hers, and before she could say a word, his thumb crept up and smoothed across her finger.
“No, I, uh-” She briefly lost her voice. “I don’t think I need pastries right now.”
The words he’d said earlier returned as a faint whisper in his mind.
“Plus, the bakery. If things start to go bad, I can always buy her pastries.”
It was after midnight when Jitters finally kicked them out. They took a cab to Iris’s street. Barry paid the driver and they both headed up to her apartment.
“This has been kind of surreal,” he heard her say when they reached her door, but he was pretty distracted by the way her skin-tight dress clung to her thighs.
“For me too,” he said, telling himself to focus.
“I was pretty sure my night was going to suck.”
He laughed. “Me too.”
She turned around and leaned back against the frame.
“But then you ran smack into me and saved my Valentine’s Day.”
He smiled softly, then tensed ever so slightly when she draped her arms around his neck.
“My hero,” she whispered, and he found his hands lightly gripping her waist.
The moment lingered. Neither said a word. Then Iris closed some of the distance and whispered in the space between them.
“I’m a little too short to reach your lips, so if you could just—”
And he kissed her, there in the moonlight as the wind wrapped itself around them.
Iris pulled him closer, deepened the kiss and moaned when his tongue started to tangle with hers. When they finally parted, they were breathing hard and neither dared to move. Iris could feel the heat of his hands around her, as if they were touching skin-to-skin. She found herself wanting what she swore to herself she’d never do. She would never have sex on the first date. But she wanted it right now. She ached for him to touch her everywhere.
Her tongue was thick in her mouth when she asked, “You want to come inside?”
Barry swallowed hard, debated his options, what he wanted desperately and what was a good idea.
“On one condition.”
Her eyes met his, and once again she found herself lost in them.
“You have to promise to call me, because I absolutely do not do one night stands.”
She smiled wide and shamelessly giggled.
“As it happens, I don’t do sex on the first date.”
Without thinking, he frowned. Then confusion colored his face, since her actions just now clearly suggested otherwise.
She pulled him to her and kissed him hard, opening her door behind her and dragging him inside until they were pressed up against the first wall just inside.
Her lips left his, her finger tracing a line down his face.
“I promise to call you,” she said.
He kicked the door closed behind them.
The next morning, tangled in bed with the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid his eyes on, Barry was rudely awakened by the vibrations of his phone on Iris’s bedside table. He groaned quietly and reached for it. There was one text with an attached picture from the best friend he no longer wanted to murder.
Sorry about last night, dude. You were right. I did want her for myself.
Barry looked at the picture and smiled softly. Cisco and his intended blind date sat together on his and Cisco’s couch in PJs. The woman had a stunning smile. Her hand was clasped in one of Cisco’s.
The caption read:
Her name is Caitlin by the way.
Then, another text came in, this one was from Cisco as well.
Hope you got lucky.
Barry glanced over at Iris, still fast asleep beside him in bed. He smiled, his heart doing a flip when she edged closer to him as several locks fell across her face.
“Mmm, Barry…” she murmured when his hand swept her dark tresses to the side.
His heart flipped again.
He set his phone down, lay back beside her, and pulled her in close.
She yawned, then tucked her head beneath his chin and mumbled into his neck.
“You’re making breakfast.”
He grinned so wide it almost hurt and wondered if he’d ever fall back asleep.
“As long as you call me,” he said.
Her eyes were shut, but he could have sworn she rolled them.
“Promised…” She yawned again. “I would.”
And then she was asleep again, and he was still smiling. He pressed a kiss into her hair and let the scent of her – the scent of Iris – lull him back to sleep.
Luck, he thought, had nothing to do with it. This, he decided, was fate.