A few customers came in, which kept Chris busy for a while, then she
had time to stand and take in the aura of the place. Old
workaholic Chris would have been studying sales reports, worrying how
to improve, brainstorming new blends and new drinks and special bakery
items. New mellow Chris just wanted to absorb what she and her
sister had created here, and how the café was bringing so much
pleasure to its customers and to the community of—
A familiar figure caught her eye, making its way among the outside
tables, heading for the shop’s front door.
Chris’s heart sped, her breath stuttered. Immediately she
relaxed her shoulders and closed her eyes for a long healing
breath. Zac had been away for a long time and now he was
back. There was no reason for anxiety or tension.
“Hello.” She smiled peacefully, aware of a few
butterflies still trying to wreak havoc.
But she accepted this reaction, didn’t fight it, didn’t
shame or blame herself, even though she didn’t really understand
it. Zac was one of Eva’s best friends—in fact
they’d had a half-serious pact to get married if neither of them
found anyone else—but personally, she found him overbearing and
bossy and, when he got her flustered and annoyed about something,
infuriatingly smug. He’d get this amused look on his face,
as if he loved that she was struggling, loved that he’d gotten to
her. It made her sooo—
Not to be blaming him for who he was of course. She accepted that.
“Hello, Chris.” His blue eyes were warm and the
butterflies got some more fluttering to do. Perfectly
natural. Zac was a very handsome man. Too surfer-blonde for
her taste, she liked dark East Coast guys with high energy and sharp
edges, but . . . yes, very handsome. He looked a little like the
guy who played Thor in the movies, but more real, less
model-perfect. Really, very, very handsome.
Oh. Right. She said that.
“You’ve been away a while.” To her surprise,
her tone was tinged with acid. Immediately she smiled more
brilliantly to take away any impression that she cared that he’d
disappeared for months without a word to her, though he’d filled
Eva in extensively and often on the reason and progress of the trip.
Which was fine. This wasn’t a competition. Of course
not. He had every right to do what felt best to him.
Chris accepted that.
“Family stuff.” He came right up to the
counter. She’d forgotten how big he was. In her mind,
Zac had shrunk to a size that wasn’t quite so overwhelming.
Her breath was having a little trouble again, and her heart refused to
conform to the peaceful pace she recommended.
Argh! Why did he have to—
No, wait, she accepted her own part in this.
“My younger brother, Luke, got into some trouble. I flew
east to help him out and brought him back home with me for a
while. Why, did you miss me?”
“Oh. Well. No. I
don’t—” She felt her face flaming. Her
jaw clenched. She wanted to smack him. Three months of
inner peace shot to hell in two minutes. Thanks, Zac.
No, no, no. She assigned no blame. Inner peace was her own
responsibility. “I noticed you were gone, does that
“Sure.” He looked smug. Smug! She knew he
would do that. And it made her want to smack him harder.
“You changed your hair.”
“I did.” Only that morning, a short asymmetrical wig
which she particularly loved because it took herself out of her comfort
zone, made her look a bit wilder, more unpredictable, which helped make
her feel that way too. But with Zac looking at her much too
carefully, she only felt exposed as a fake.
So? She wasn’t one. Just a beginner at unearthing new
feelings and new parts of herself. This was all part of her
transformation, freeing herself to explore new potentials.
She’d spent too long watching other people really live while she
stood sensibly on the sidelines, held there by the weight of her
parents’ values and expectations.
She refused to care whether Zac liked the new look or not. In fact let
him think it was permanent.
“Nice.” He did not sound enthusiastic, still studying
“Something else has changed about—”
“What can I get you?” She wanted to remind him that
their relationship was customer/barista, and he had no place giving
opinions on her appearance.
No, wait. He did. He had that right, and she accepted it.
Oh man. She needed to get back to her favorite cliff to mediate.
“How about a tall French Roast and . . .” His blue
gaze faltered, then resumed with renewed intensity, which unsettled her
further. “And the chance to spend time catching up with
Chris blinked. Blinked again. She should be breathing
cleansing and healing breaths right now.
She wasn’t breathing at all.
Was Zac asking her out? No, no, he couldn’t be. He
didn’t mention a place or event. He wanted to find out what
she’d been doing while he was gone. Probably just being
“Well.” She turned away to pour his coffee, finding
it much easier not to look at him. “It’s not busy
here now. We can talk.”
He didn’t answer. Chris turned back, holding out his
mug. His eyes pinned her. She felt like she’d
suddenly started moving in slow motion. “Actually, Chris, I
meant I wanted to have dinner sometime.”