Coffee was the most important part of my day. Every morning I would pop a pod into the machine my brother gave me for Christmas and let it brew while I got ready for work. I would sip from my travel mug as I navigated traffic and the tight turns of the overcrowded parking garage. Right between the garage and the high-rise where I worked was a funky little coffee shop that made the world’s best java. My day didn’t truly start until that purple cardboard cup was warming my palms, full of steamy, caffeinated goodness.
One of the best parts of my coffee stop was one certain barista… baristo? Eric had shaggy blond hair that made me recall the surfer boys I’d ogled in college. Actually, everything about him reminded me of them, from his long, lean body to his golden skin to his Caribbean-blue eyes. He was the best eye-candy a working girl could ask for.
Oh, but he was a blatant flirt too. More than once, I’d come in to see him smirking and some pretty young thing flushing bright pink and/or giggling. He never said anything brazen or risqué to me, but the way he stared as I wanted for my vanilla misto made me double check that all my buttons were done up. He looked at me as through he knew exactly what I had going on under my cute-yet-conservative skirt suits.
The first week of February was bitterly cold, a complete departure from the near-tropical warmth we had around Christmas. I hated having to pull on gloves, a parka, and a hat that would bunch up and frizz my hair just to avoid frostbite between my car and The Daily Buzz. The entire time I waited in line, I felt the heat of ocean-colored eyes flickering over me every few minutes and they were nearly as good as down stuffing and warming me up.
When I finally reached the counter, those bad boys were gazing right into my own baby blues. “Large extra hot vanilla misto, right?” he asked with a grin.
“You know, one of these days I’m gonna change my order, just to throw you off,” I replied, arching my eyebrow playfully.
Eric copied the gesture and Oh My God, it was so much hotter than when I did it. “It takes more than switching from vanilla to hazelnut or hot to iced to get a reaction out of me. But give it your best shot. I’m sure at least one of us will get some amusement out of it. Or maybe for once, I can get those cheeks to blush red for me. You’re making my ego suffer a little, honey.”
Honey, baby, sweetie. Doll, sugar, sexy. Those patronizing pet titles used by men who don’t bother with remembering names. Nothing got my back up like being condescended to. “Sugar, I’m already surprised your ego fits behind the counter. I’m certainly not going to help inflate it further. Now if my drink ready? I need to get to work.”
Eric’s expression was an odd mix of confusion and offense. “Sure, Sookie. Have a great day,” he said so quietly that it was hard to hear him over the steamers, cash registers, and customers typing on laptops. He slid my cup to me and turned to help the next customer without another word… or look.
As I was every day, I was nearly late as I sped past the receptionist’s desk to my office. Arlene’s technicolor red hair nearly blinded me with its intensity as she rolled her eyes and shook her head while answering the phones. When I turned the third corner, my rushed steps froze to a stop at what was on my desk.
All my life I had loved flowers and even a chronically black thumb never kept me from trying to grow my own. My favorites were always roses. Peach, red, lilac… the color didn’t matter. Something about the shape of the bud, the shyness of the flower to unfurl its petals, and the scent when it finally opened all attracted me. I loved to softness and silkiness of roses that I’d had a wreath of them tattooed around my ankle in college.
The bouquet on my desk made me rethink my preference. Tulips. But not just any tulips. Variegated blooms that almost looked tie-dyed. Pink, orange, and yellow ones that looked like a sunrise. Red and cream peppermint swirls. Dark purple and white that appeared to be painted with a feather. There were seven tulips sitting in a glass vase in front of my monitor, a fuchsia card poking out of the middle.
You are as unique and as beautiful as each of these flowers. Your eyes say more than words could ever convey. Each flower represents a day that I will attempt to convince you to be my Valentine… and please don’t hold that corniness against me. Until tomorrow…”
A secret admirer? A small part of me was embarrassed, but a much larger part was girlishly giddy. Every part of me was thoroughly curious. Who would go through that kind of charade just to spend a meaningless Hallmark holiday with me?