June 4th 2016
“You’ve never been to the ocean?” Mark asks placing his napkin in his lap.
We were at Taco Guild Gastropub, once an old church, they had the best tacos and craft beer in town.
“I have been to see the ocean, but I have never been in the water. I was eight when my parents took me for the first time. I stood at the edge of the water and in came this big monster wave and I refused to go in. Now tell me something that you’re embarrassed about?”
“I peed the bed until I was nine.” He says nonchalantly shrugging his shoulders as if he is proud.
“Yeah, you win.”
“Five dollars please.” Holding out his hand, I lightly smack mine with his. “No, I’d rather have a -” Leaning over his warm lips tasted like bitter IPA land on mine.
Kissing Mark was still new, but something that my insides felt would never get old. In two months, we have done a lot of making out. Kiss petting is what Alyssa called it.
I started to learn the shape of his lips, the curve of the top one and thickness of the bottom. I especially found it fascinating to play around with what he liked and didn’t.
The knots tying up my insides with nerves that never seemed to ease until we did this. The short and sweet kiss didn’t last very long, but in my mind I would replay it making it last longer until the next one.
Pecking my lips, he murmurs, “I love kissing you.”
“Me too.” I pecked back before taking a little nip of his bottom lip pulling on it softly.
Mark’s body shuddered. An involuntary movement his body always did when I nipped on his lower lip. Sometimes he let a low throaty groan escape his mouth. But I am glad he didn’t. I don’t think I could take the flickers of tingles between my legs this early in our date.
Uprighting himself, he laces his fingers through mine resting in my lap. Studying his hand, his long fingers could probably work magic on me.
I was pent up with sexual elation. I always wondered if I thought more about sex than he did. A subject we still hadn’t discussed. I didn’t know if he was waiting for me to give the green light or I was waiting for him. So, we stayed in yellow light limbo.
“What’s the next question?” Clearing my throat, I ask taming my g-rated lacy thoughts.
“The Rolling Stones or The Beatles?”
“Hands down, The Beatles.”
“It’s because of Yoko Ono, huh?” His thumbs rubs sifting over the top of my hand confusing my thoughts.
“What?” I pause reflecting on the movement of his hand, “No, I am not one of the ones who blame her for the breakup of the band. But now that you mention it, I think you do.”
“I do. She had John Lennon wrapped around her finger.”
“Now you’re just being silly.” I chuckle picking up my water for a drink.
“I am not. The Rolling Stones-“
Swallowing a mouth full of water, I set my glass back down. “Had like fifty members since the sixties.”
“But are still together.”
“Lame.” I counter, “The Beatles were the four princes of their time. They spoke to teen angst, they weren’t competitive or jealous, and they could have been a one hit band, but they weren’t. They kept getting better, because they wanted better for their music. Next you’re going to ask me who is more attractive Mick Jagger or Keith Richards.” My nose scrunches at the thought.
“Now this I am interested in hearing.” He bellows a laugh.
“Only if you answer first.”
Leaning into me, “Don’t tell anyone, but Keith Richards was my teen crush.” He whispers, his voice a lacy hushed tone.
Tilting my head back, I belly laugh. Rich and deep, my body shakes. By the time I am done catching myself to stop laughing, my eyes reach Mark’s as he examines me.
“You have these two laugh lines,” Freeing our laced fingers, one of his hands traces the line next to my eye and the other one traces one on my cheek. “They are one of my favorite things about you.” He admits in a low husky tone bringing his hand down away from my face.
“What else?” I swallow up the attention obviously eager to hear more.
Opening his mouth, the waitress finally makes her appearance taking our order.
“We will take our order to go.” Mark says and I give him an incredulous look not understanding why he brought me out only to take food to go. Writing down our order, the waitress saunters off stealing side glances at Mark.
I was getting used to it. How other women stared at him a little longer than necessary. He was handsome. Tonight in particular, he wore dark blue jeans and a short sleeve white button down. The sleeves were rimmed with an two inches of black material and the chest pocket was also black. When he bent forward, the shirt tightened and squeezed his biceps showcasing his muscles. And the laid back look was matched with a pair of all black Chuck Taylors. So, yeah I expected women to look at him.
“Another favorite of mine is when you take your finger and brush it across your bottom lip in a soft motion,” He demonstrates his finger going back and forth in his own mouth, my eyes transfixed on his lips, “As you think over something. It’s different, not the whole lip biting thing most people do. I drives me wild, like you want me to pay attention to your hand and lips at the same time.” Taking his hand off his mouth, his brings his thumb to my mouth sweeping it across my bottom lip.
Fuck butterflies. There were none floating. They were an overused cliche to describe what he was doing.
A low hum filled as his cold thumb pricked awareness on my bottom lip. Swaying his thumb back and forth as if my lips were a guitar making the sweetest melody, his free hand rested on my thigh as he leans into me. Bringing myself to him, our noses bump before he removes his thumb and kisses me.
“This is beautiful,” Laying down on the blanket in the bed of his truck, I stared at the stars above us.
“I used to come here with my mom. She’d get off work, pick us up food, and we’d park here.”
Here was just on the side of the road outside of city limits where the city didn’t cast a darker shadow over the sky.
“Sounds like a good tradition.” I say knowing how much his mom meant to him. On our first real date, our conversation led to serious family history.
When Mark was eighteen his mom was leaving her shift at the local hospital. A felon who had been brought into the ER, stole the gun of the police officer escorting him. The felon, Jessie Trope, shot one round meant for the officer and missed, the shot hit Mark’s mom on the side of her skull. Mark said the bullet was a through and through, his mom had no chance of surviving.
“It was.” Swiveling his head to the side, he looks up at the stars.
“Thank you for bringing me here. For sharing tacos and letting me have the last of the chips and salsa. But most importantly for sharing something you did with your mother with me.” Leaning up on my hands, Mark revolves his head in my direction. His eyes are a little misty from the memories.
“Cassie, you’re incredible. She would have loved you.”
“Well-“ I dust myself off in a teasing manner. “I bet I would have loved her too.”
Mark chuckles hanging his head in the process.
Inspiring me to transport myself closer to him. Near him. Craving his very touch and breath as close as I can get it.
His hands rest slacked at his side, long legs straight in front of him part as mine wrap around his back, my ass touching the bed of the truck.
“I’m not the only one who is incredible. You are. You should be proud of yourself and everything you’ve accomplished. Almost junior detective.”
Burying his head in my shoulder, he lightly pecks feathered kisses on my clavicle.
“You know what I was thinking earlier?”
“Dammit, I shouldn’t have given her the last of the chips and salsa?”
“Exactly. That last crunch really hurt.”
I giggle. I loved that we joked, but also had serious conversations.
“I was thinking how lucky I was that Cole invited me to his apartment and ran into you again. After Natalie, I wasn’t looking to date anyone and then you showed up. I knew I couldn’t let you get away.”
Blushing, I dip my head. I wasn’t used to being with guys like Mark. I mean, hello, I dated subpar Chuck and Guppy Finn, both of them didn’t say things the way Mark did.
“I’m glad you didn’t let me get away. You changed my whole perspective on dating.” I hadn’t wrote on my blog in two months. With Mark I didn’t need to write and compare him to food. I still cooked and created recipes, but sharing him with my followers wasn’t something I was ready to do.
If what we had was special, I didn’t want to ruin it.
Conflicting views about my blog made me rethink the way I did things. Said things. Compared things. Maybe I was doing it all wrong or maybe I was changing because being with Mark gave me hope.
“Changed how?” His eyebrows rise high on his head, his fingers leave pleasing tingles along my back.
“I dated more guys than I care to admit and each one either ended badly or didn’t work out. But you have given me hope that what we have will work.” I shyly admit putting all my eggs in the Mark basket.
Considerate and caring. Charming and thoughtful. Mark was all of those things. There was more to him, but I didn’t know him well enough to see all the things he kept hidden.
“I like work.” He winks and I playfully slap him on his shoulder.
Adjusting myself, I bend my legs behind me. Inclining back, Mark places his hands underneath his head for support. Resting my hands on his chest, they rise and fall with his steady breathing.
His eyes scan the stark black sky while I study every inch of his face with what little light the flashlights Mark propped down on the roof. The small black circular lights barely had enough battery life left, but just enough dim light to see the shadow of his face.
Wishing the flashlights don’t burn out, I allow myself a little more time to roam and explore his facial features. The slight part on his lips relaxes as his strong cheekbones loosen being surrounded by the shared memories with his mom. Changing the direction of his head, his nose convex and fleshy brought out the spiced rum color in his eyes matching the stubble growing along his rectangular jawline.
Something about watching him made my mind slow to a crawl. A whoosh of luckiness lodges itself around my heart. Wanting to be closer to him, he read my thoughts. Pulling me down onto him, my head rested next to his heart. The light thumping of his heart reminded me of a kick drum beating at a methodical rhythm.
Lazily, one hand runs up and down my back. Almost drifting off to sleep. I fought the urge to stay awake just to listen to his heart a little longer.
“Can we stop by Lit? Alyssa texted me that there are letters I need to pick up.” Bending down, I look for my shoe in the dirt.
Not getting a reply, I look up seeing Mark rub his hand across the back of his neck.
“Mark, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t like going there.” He grits through clenched teeth, hands balled into fists at his sides. “He’s there. He’s always there when he shouldn’t be.”
Sucking in a large breath, this was the first time he has said anything about Landen working at Lit. Zeke and Landen took over the kitchen remodel after Alyssa cornered him at Augmented. She wanted to know why my eyes were lusty and my cheeks were flushed after I came back from the bathroom. Interrogating him, she also found out he worked construction and hired him without Dirk’s approval. Lucky for Alyssa, Dirk didn’t mind. He had been through enough interviews his motto consisted of “fuck it.” After meeting Landen, Dirk and him became friends.
Climbing back into the bed of the truck, my flat slips off into the dirt again.
“I told you this before he is there because he is only doing the kitchen remodel, not me. We hardly even talk.”
That is the truth. When I found out Landen took the job, I immediately told Mark. He wasn’t too pleased to hear Landen was back in the picture, but he never mentioned how much it bothered him that we were working together.
Landen agreed to stay away from me, but his idea of staying away meant giving me a short distance. We hardly talked unless it was in question form.
Do you want the shelves here? How many do you want? What color for the walls?
All questions. I answered them and went on about my day.
“I know you said that, but I can tell his motives.”
They were clear to anyone, I said to myself keeping a lid on my filter.
“Mark, I wouldn’t be with you if I wanted to be with him.” I spoke softly reassuring his jealousy. “Alyssa said this letter is one I have been waiting for.” All of the crowdfunding letters started to trickle in over the last couple of months. Next to the office door, we set up a box and a check list of the vendors we sent the letters out to.
The only missing letter finally arrived. Dirk, Alyssa and I all agreed once the last one came in we would meet at the bar and drink while opening them. Kind of like celebrating and getting shit faced from denial. A total win, win.
“I know,” Downward his gaze looks anywhere but mine, it was downright unnerving. “I understand the kitchen remodel, but being a bartender there too.”
Dirk was looking for a part time bartender and Landen took the job. Knowing where Mark was coming from, I didn’t understand Landen’s motives as to why he took or needed the extra job. I also didn’t ask him.
“I can’t answer that one.” I mumble.
“We are having a good night, so why ruin it by going to Lit?”
Apart of me knew he was right and apart of me wanted him to understand how much these letters meant to me. They were my new future. A startup for something amazing and different. Going to Lit wasn’t about seeing Landen or talking to him. He kept his promise and I have moved on. Going there was to start a new journey, one with hope and fears. Those damn letters are at me for months.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a village to start a dream. My friends, who not only supported my dream also wanted to be apart of it. That’s pretty damn special.
“You’re being petty and selfish. These letters aren’t about Landen, they are about me and what I am trying to accomplish. Landen isn’t always going to be around and if you can’t understand that then drop me off and leave.” Pushing myself off the bed of the truck, my feet hit the ground.
I was being harsh and knew his feelings were valid. We hadn’t been together long enough for him to believe me and only my words could be enough validation, when really they weren’t.
His jealousy stung my heart. He clearly didn’t understand I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t read those letters. I already missed so much precious sleep my body begged for it.
Not saying a word, all I can hear is the bed of the truck moving behind me as I locate my flats. Tapping them against the palm of my hand, Mark lifts the tailgate closing it so hard, I jump causing my ballet flat to fall out of my hand and into the dirt.
Sighing, I pick it up and dust it off walking to the front of the truck. Sliding into the driver’s seat remembering not to slam the door, I sink lower in my seat allowing my heart to catch the steadfast beats inside my chest.
Mark enters the truck jabbing the key into the ignition, lowly the truck rumbles to life. His seat belt clicks and he closes his car door slamming the truck into drive.
Staring out the side view mirror, I can see the dust kick back on the road from the red taillights. Silently singing the lyrics to random members of the 27 Club, I start with Robert Johnson first.
By the time we reach Lit, I have already made it up to Brian Jones when he was with The Rolling Stones, silently cursing Keith Richards and the joke back at the Taco Guild.
The truck creeps next to a parked car, before Mark can say anything, I unlock the door hopping out not saying a word as I make my way inside the bar.
For a Thursday, it’s packed. Sports highlights with closed captioning decorate the numerous flat screen televisions, most the the tables and booths are full of patrons and the conversations jumble together from everyone trying to compete for attention like its their fifteen minutes of fame. For a bar that doesn’t serve food yet, people love coming here.
Spotting Landen behind the bar, I march through the crowd in his direction. His slender frame leans over the bar and I watch his fingers play some kind of flirty game with an attractive blonde dressed in business attire.
Having this urge to scream his name, I sink under the latch door and pull out my phone. Searching through the songs, waiting to see if the other two bartenders are going say anything to me for being back here, I locate the song. While the bartenders are all occupied with customers or strumming girls fingers like a fucking fiddle, I jam my phone in the speaker dock and press play allowing the song’s guitar solo and drums fill the speakers first.
Thirty seconds pass before Landen turns around recognizing the song, “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin. Tucking my phone behind the bottles of alcohol, I turn to the bar grabbing a tall glass. Filling it halfway with vodka and use the pop gun to squirt a little bit of orange juice into the glass.
“Bad day at the office?” Landen smirks resting one arm on the bar leaning closer to me.
The song I picked was loud. The speakers reverberated the liquor shelves as the glass made their own tunes.
“Bad night in general.” I comment knocking back half of the glass before I task myself with refilling it Landen beats me to it.
“Oh, bad date night?” His eyes traipse over my outfit as he pours vodka into my glass.
Wearing a pale pink silk skirt with black lace band sewn around the waist and a deep v-neck, I thought my outfit choice was cute. The ladies were a little on display, but not too much. That didn’t stop Landen’s eyes from stopping for a peak though.
Men were never subtle when it came to looking at cleavage, but they are more subtle when it came to scratching themselves in public. Must be all that practice.
Taking the popgun, I add an barely any orange juice. If I didn’t slow down, I would be drunk before I even saw the letters.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“What did you and Mark get into a fight?” The way Mark’s name rolled off Landen’s tongue was more than bitter. It was sour and very distasteful.
“Not a fan, huh?”
“You know I am not.” He answers honesty.
“Too bad you don’t get a say in the matter, but your presence here ruins my relationship.” I cringe after the words leave my mouth. The argument wasn’t his fault it was mine.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“No, I get it. What I don’t understand is why you played our song?” The song on my phone lulls to the end soon being replaced by an AC/DC tune
“Over the Hill and Far Away.” played numerous times that summer on the radio when we hung out. Landen sang it every time looking directly at me. Each time he claimed it was fate.
“To catch your attention opposed to yelling your name from across the bar.”
“Remember when we first heard it?”
“Yeah,” I smiled remembering it. Memories either had a way of making you angry or bringing a smile to your face. “We were sitting in Bessie. You were in the driver’s seat and I was in the passenger’s seat with my feet up on the dash. The song came on and we both started singing it.”
“I made that song come on the radio every other time we heard it. I would get up certain mornings and call the rock station begging them to play the song at a certain time. Or request it during lunch. After a while one person told me to cave and buy the record, but I couldn’t. The way your face lit up believing it was fate made all the lying worth it. You using that song to get my attention fucking hurts.” Grabbing a bar rag next to me, he takes it in his hand. Allowing himself seconds of looking at my face, his eyes wore a painful expression.
Seeing the look on his face left a bitter unwanted feeling sinking in the pit of my stomach. Mark, Landen and I were in this triangle of complication. Mark hated Landen. I disliked Landen working here. I liked Mark. Such a messing fucking triangle. If triangles had middles, I would be stuck stuck in the center. Yet, I was stuck at the point like a point guard. You get it.
With my drink in hand, I walk out from behind the bar to find Dirk and Alyssa. Weaving through the crowd, I force myself not to look at Landen. That damn song. The damn gesture, romantic and sweet meant a lot to him and I ruined it. I was doing that a lot tonight.
The office was located down a short hallway next to the bathrooms. A sign hung on the door that said, “knock before entering.” Lightly knocking on the door, I opened it. Dirk and I groaned loudly together. My visioned hurt seeing Dirk’s ass with his pants hanging just below it. Alyssa down in her knees peaks her head over from behind his as he scrambles to pull on his pants.
“Uh, I will wait for you in the kitchen.” Shutting the door, Dirk yells from behind it.
“Landen said you couldn’t go in there yet!”
Landen said a lot of things, it didn’t mean I had to follow them.
Gasping at the renovated kitchen, I can hear Landen and Dirk having an argument as they entered through the doors.
“I told her not to come in here.”
“Yeah, you could have done a better job of keeping her out” Dirk’s voice rose over Landen’s.
Tuning them out, my fingers brush along one of the large steel utility tables in the center of the kitchen. The smell of fresh paint hung in the air and the kitchen appliances shined from being brand new, waiting to be broken in.
Tilting my head to the ceiling, fifteen circular industrial kitchen lights hung from the ceiling. When I picked them I was afraid they wouldn’t give off enough light, but they did. And their dull copper finish was beautiful.
The kitchen had everything I asked for and more. Two dual industrial convection stoves with a built in griddle and double deep fryer sat against the back wall. The massive ventilation system hung above tying it altogether. Across from the steel tables in the center of the kitchen was eight feet of wooden shelves held together with piping at the top, bottom, and middle. Each one held mismatched plates, bowls, and cups. I couldn’t decide on one color, so I picked out different reds, teals, blues, and oranges.
“Do you like it?” Landen asked sitting on top of the steel table.
Looking around it was just him and I, Dirk left the kitchen. In Landen’s hands he held a large stack of letters.
“I like it? I love it!” I yelled so loud my voice ping ponged around the empty kitchen. Riding the wave of excitement, my dream was almost alive, the only thing to get it beating was to start cooking.
“This isn’t all of it.” Lifting himself up, he comes around to me on the other side of the table. “I didn’t want you back here because I still have a few more things to finish.” Taking my hand, he leads me to the closed storage room door, pushing it open. Flipping on the lights, the dark room came to life.
My feet felt like air as I stepped inside investigating the mystery. The once storage room, which was actually large enough to be a small liquor store was now a small teaching classroom. The walls were a deep sunflower yellow and the tables were made from recycled materials.
Tracing one of the tables with my fingers, “Is this an old door?”
“Damn you’re good.” He smiles at me. “Each table is made from a different door and each door has a bottom pull out shelf that stores cooking utensils” Tugging the drawer open, he shows me the compartment dividers and slats for knife storage.
“Landen, this is – I am speechless.”
“There’s more.” Lacing his fingers through mine, he guides me to the wall near the door with two old refurbished stoves. “I wanted you to have a place where the kids you’re helping don’t have to walk back and forth between the other kitchen and this one.”
“A mini kitchen within a kitchen.”
“Exactly. You also have one refrigerator, but the only thing I couldn’t put in here was a sink.”
“It’s beautiful. All of it.” I really couldn’t form words to describe how I felt, so I did the only thing I could think of. I hugged him. Catching him off guard, he wraps his arms around my back bringing me closer to him.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I whisper into his chest inhaling various smells – paint, liquor, and his body wash – cling to his clothes.
“Does that mean you love it?” I could hear a grin in his voice.
We stood like that for a couple more seconds.“I knew it!” Mark yells.
Searching for his positioning, he watch him punch the wall next to the door. Jumping, the force of the punch breaks through the drywall as cracks scatter across and downwards.
“Mark, this isn’t what you think.” I shriek maneuvering around the tables to get to him.
“The hell it is!” He stalks further into the room pushing the refurbished tables out of his way almost knocking them on their sides. Luckily the legs roughly scrape along the tiled floor. Anger pronounced on his face, he walks rigid and tight. The large vein in his neck pounds on each step further inside.
“I came back to apologize, but the only one that needs to apologize is you.” He stops himself pivoting back to the door knowing if he didn’t leave now the situation was going to be worse.
“Excuse me?” I stop moving trying to catch myself from saying something I will regret later. “Let’s go talk outside.”
“There is nothing to say.”
“I don’t know what you’re fighting about, but Cas and I are just friends.” Landen chimes in my defense obviously knowing the gist of the situation.
Mark chuckles, disbelieving and slightly evil. The sound scared me a little. “Yeah, friends don’t hug their friends like that. I almost believed you when we were on our date. I gave you the benefit of the doubt, but seeing you two together made me realize I am not crazy.” He finishes finally turning back around.
“Listen, we do have history, but Cassie made it clear for me to stay away from her. She is over me. The only reason she was hugging me was to thank me.”
“You two are living in denial.”
“Mark-“ my voice cracks trying to salvage my relationship with him. He wasn’t believing any of this. His idea was all wrong. “Please talk to me.”
Mark picks up the one of the letters Landen left on one of the tables ripping it in half.
Rushing to the rest, he manages to rip two more by the time I make it over to him snatching the remaining ones in my hands.Tossing them in the air like confetti raining down on his delusional parade, he leaves the kitchen. Inside the larger kitchen, a loud crash collides with the tiles on the floor.
Running into the other kitchen, the doors swing on their hinges in his final disappearing act. Mark knocked over a whole row of mugs off the bottom shelf leaving a destruction of cathartic aftermath in his absence.
“That asshole.” Landen says chasing after Mark.
“Landen stop!” I call out knowing it’s too late.
Tonight has been one of those nights that starts off good, then turns to shit, only to brighten up, and turns back into a really shitty disaster.
The mess is done. I couldn’t fix the broken dishes or change Mark’s mind, but I could stop Landen from making a big life changing decision.
I worried about him fighting with a cop. I worried about his history and what it meant for his future.
Bolting through the kitchen doors, I charge after Landen.
Chapter 6 is coming soon. First time being published ever! Keep a look out!
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