The sound of a dish breaking had me glancing up from my phone. Nearly every single person in the Star-Trek themed coffee shop looked up from their own phones or computers and stared at the young man behind the counter who was standing in shocked silence as he stared at the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly as his eyes shifted to the barista and only other person working behind the counter, Emily. The young man looked absolutely horrified, and even though I wasn’t close enough to see his face, I could feel the tension rolling off him in waves as he stood there.
For what, I didn’t know.
But as the other patrons went back to what they were doing, I kept my eyes on him. He, in turn, kept his eyes on Emily who seemed unfazed because she was busily stirring a drink and then putting the top on it.
“It’s okay, honey,” she said. There wasn’t even a speck of anger or frustration in her voice.
“I’m sorry,” the guy repeated and then he jerked his head around as if looking for something. It wasn’t until he’d done a complete scan of the shop that he seemed to relax a little. Even from where I stood, I could see color flooding his cheeks. My insides clenched when his eyes fell on me.
I expected him to keep scanning the shop, or, at the very least, drop to his feet to clean up whatever had gotten dropped, but he didn’t move and he didn’t look away from me. I couldn’t tell what color his eyes were, but I could see that he had dark hair, darker than my own brown hair, and a lean build. I guessed him to be at least several years younger than me, which put him in his early to mid-twenties at best. My reaction to him was instantaneous and unexpected.
No, there was absolutely nothing unexpected about the fact that I was attracted to him. He was beautiful. I could tell that even from where I stood. The unexpected part was what came along with the attraction.
It was a feeling I hadn’t had in a really long time… not since I’d met Bennett so many years ago when he’d been a baby-faced freshman and I’d been the beleaguered sophomore who hadn’t been able to decide if I wanted to fuck my cute new dorm neighbor or become his best friend.
I’d done both.
The fucking hadn’t lasted long, but my need to protect Bennett’s sweet nature from the harshness of the world had been as strong then as it was now.
But that had nothing on what I wanted to do for the young man currently staring at me like I was some kind of lifeline for him. I managed a quick smile and nodded at him. The move seemed to shake him from his thoughts, and he quickly jerked his eyes away and dropped to the floor. He appeared a moment later with several pieces of a broken plate in his hand along with large chunks of a scone. He pitched them into a large garbage bin behind him and then mumbled yet another apology to the older man standing on the other side of the cash register. I couldn’t see or hear the customer’s response, but when the young man frowned and discretely wiped at his eyes as he went to get another scone from the pastry display, I barely managed to keep from striding to the front of the line and kicking the customer’s ass.
As things returned to normal, and the young man continued to ring up customers, I kept watching him. He was definitely flustered, and I had a strong suspicion it was his first day on the job. I’d been coming to Beam Me Up Latte long enough to know all the employees, and I most certainly would have remembered him. When I finally reached the cash register, I was practically teaming with excitement. I’d already heard the soft lilt to his voice as he’d helped the people directly in front of me, but it had been hard to get a good look at him since there’d been a tall, portly man in front of the line.
The first thing I noticed when he looked up at me was his eyes.
They were breathtaking.
Yeah, I was waxing poetic a bit, but I’d truly never seen such a striking shade of blue. Pale and almost silver in color in the middle surrounded by a dark, stormy gray.
“Um, what can I get you?” he asked, his voice a bit uneven. He quickly dropped his pretty eyes, but then lifted them again, though the move seemed forced.
As though looking someone in the eye took effort.
I wondered why.
“Here’s his, honey,” Emily said as she set my drink on the counter next to the cash register. “Large Americano, no room,” she explained. To me she said, “You’re late today. Hot date last night?”
I barely registered what she was saying to me because my attention was on the young man carefully punching the buttons on the tablet in front of him. His intense look of concentration was intriguing, and I absently wondered if he gave that much focus to everything he did. I also didn’t miss the fact that he was wearing some kind of brace on his left wrist.
“Nah,” I managed to say. “You never showed up.”
Emily chuckled and shook her head. “You couldn’t handle me,” she shot back and then her hand settled on the young man’s arm. He immediately jumped and stepped away from her, before seeming to catch himself.
“It’s this one, right?” he asked as he pointed to something on the screen.
Emily, for her part, glossed over his odd reaction and nodded. She cast me a glance but didn’t say anything else.
“Jenny finally move on to bigger and better things?” I teased.
Emily shook her head. “That girl,” she said with a sigh. “She up and decides she’s going backpacking for three months in Nepal with her boyfriend. Left me high and dry until Ashton here,”— she almost reached out to touch the young man again, but thought better of it before making contact and pulled her hand back— “rode in on his horse and saved the day. Hired him just yesterday so he’s kind of getting a crash course… go easy on him.” There was a hint of an actual warning in her voice, and I had to wonder if she’d somehow sensed the same thing about the young man that I had… that whatever was behind those pretty eyes of his wasn’t just the stress of starting a new job.
“Ashton, this is Mr. Vale,” Emily began.
“Aiden,” I interjected, ignoring the look Emily sent my way.
“Aiden,” Emily finally conceded. “Aiden, this is Ashton.”
Ashton didn’t look up at me as he mumbled a greeting that I couldn’t quite make out.
“You good?” Emily asked Ashton.
He nodded. “Yeah, sorry,” he murmured. His eyes shifted to me as he told me the cost of my drink and Emily went back to working on drinks.
I was in the process of handing over a five-dollar bill when Ashton suddenly spun the tablet around, presumably because he thought I wanted to swipe a credit card through the reader on the tablet like the majority of customers did. I automatically jerked back when it nearly hit my knuckles.
“Oh god, I’m sorry,” he said, flipping the tablet around again as if that would somehow undo the previous action. This time, the tablet did hit me, but it wasn’t hard enough to do much more than leave a little sting behind.
But from Ashton’s reaction, I might as well have lost a finger.
“I’m sorry,” he squeaked as he took a step back.
“It’s fine. Nothing a quadruple knuckle amputation won’t fix right up,” I said with a wink in the hopes the move would put him at ease. I made a big production out of offering the five-dollar bill again, only this time extending my hand high above the tablet as if the device was an open wood chipper. But the attempted humor seemed to have no effect on him because he’d gone pale again. He glanced at Emily briefly before taking the money from me.
“I’ll… I’ll get your change,” he stammered.
“Keep it,” I said, hoping like hell he’d look up at me. I had no fucking clue why it was so important that he did.
He stilled in the process of putting the money in the cash register and lifted his gaze. He looked like he was standing in front of a firing squad.
“It’s fine,” I said as I held up my hand to show him. “See,” I added as I quickly separated my fingers so I was doing Spock’s famous hand gesture. “Live long and prosper.”
Ashton’s eyes widened for a brief moment before a small smile graced his mouth.
It was the highlight of my fucking day.
A day that hadn’t technically even started yet.
I forced myself to turn away from him, grabbing my drink as I did.
His voice sent shivers up my spine. I turned around.
“May the force be with you,” he said, a twinkle of mirth in his eyes.
“It’s Aiden,” I reminded him. I leaned across the counter just a little so only he could hear me. “And I’ll tell you everything that’s wrong with that statement tomorrow.” It wasn’t until I’d turned again and started walking away that I heard his whispered response. A response that immediately became the new highlight of my day.
“I look forward to it.”