Authors: RaeLynn Blue
“What?” Aerial asked with her hand on her hip.
“Nothing,” Chloe coughed into her hand, trying to hide her laughter.
Maybe it was because they’d known each other from birth and diapers and playground crushes that they found it funny when Aerial dated.
Tawana shrugged and crossed her legs. Her rigid, black business suit looked out of place in the café filled with college sweatshirts, low-hugging jeans, and flip-flops, except for the other C.A.K.E. employee. Tawana glanced over at him and then back to Aerial.
“Listen, Aerial. I see that expression on your face and I know that look. He is a big time
. Women throw themselves at him all the time. I’ve never seen him with the same woman twice. Wait. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him with a woman at all.”
“Gay.” Chloe said it like a statement.
Tawana shook her head. “No, that’s not it. No women, not since Brooke. He’s been a loner. After what happened to them, though, I don’t blame him for not interacting too much with others. He’s in sales, and he does an outstanding job. Outside of that though, I know very little.”
“Aerial!” Antonio shouted.
She hurried to Antonio, but her thoughts were on the handsome C.A.K.E. salesman. A loner. Because she came from such a big family, she never understood people’s desire to be alone. Curiosity piqued, she couldn’t keep her brain from musing over possible reasons for his standoffishness. Besides Tawana, she had three older brothers. Not to mention, so many cousins that every holiday was a party and another chance to perform—in Aerial’s case.
Antonio rolled his eyes. “I know your family’s here, but you’ve got other customers. Pick up table twenty-four that just came in, too.”
At least he didn’t bellow that out.
Aerial nodded and headed to the kitchen to see about the pot pies. Scooping up a serving tray, she grabbed the pot pies with pot holders and loaded them on. Augustine danced around as she prepped a few salads.
“Come on, Aerial! Shake it! Shake it!” Augustine called, swirling around with a butcher knife she used to chop lettuce.
“Can’t! I’ve got to get these out while they’re hot!”
She hoisted the tray with the pot pies and hurried out. As she spied the hunky customer, she noticed that table twenty-four had the place buzzing. Seems every female in the café had to suddenly use the restroom, which took them right beside the blond man.
“Here you are,” Aerial announced. Still using the pot holders, she carefully placed them in front of her sister and cousin. “Very hot. Try not to touch the edges and be very careful. Heaven forbid you burn your mouths and have to be silent for awhile.”
“You hear that sass?” Tawana asked.
Chloe shook her head. “The young, I tell you.”
They laughed as Aerial walked away. Table twenty-four came ever closer. Why were her hands sweating? He was just a man—a hungry man who wanted food and something to drink, just like dozens of other customers. So why was her stomach acting like this was her first audition? Rolling and pitching like she was a boat in the middle of a storm? For the love of all things dramatic, she’d seen handsome men before, even been in love scenes with them on stage. After all, she
an actress. So what was going on with her emotions? Calming her nerves, and conjuring her serious face, she stopped in front of table twenty-four and its super hot customer.
He was beautiful with nearly white-blonde hair, warm tanned skin, wheat-hazel eyes, but a grimace where an inviting smile should be.
“Welcome to Tate Street Café. What can I get for you today?” she asked brightly, holding the serving tray and pot holders close to her chest.
The man did not look up from the menu or acknowledge she had spoken.
“I’ll order when I’m ready,” he said at last.
Putting the serving tray down against her leg, Aerial’s other hand rested on her hip; she tried again to be professional and polite. She wanted to smack the tray against his face, but didn’t want to ruin his handsomeness.
But she did want to teach him some manners, so thus conflicted, asked again, “Excuse me?”
Perhaps it was the octave in her voice that rose at the question mark of the sentence, but now, he
look up at her. Oh Aerial had his attention now, did she?
“I said I will contact you when I am ready to order. Not a minute before or after. Do not come to this table to bother me, unless, I call,” he said, his tone matter-of-fact and somewhat annoyed.
Aerial sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. From the outside packaging, the gorgeous man appeared to be warm and sunny, but the reality jarred her a bit. Rude and cold, he actually caused her to take a step back.
“You know, it is really a shame you’re so handsome.”
The man sighed noisily and cocked his head to the side. “And why’s that?”
“Because you’re attitude is so damn ugly. It ruins the effect.”
The words had been said before she realized it. With that she stalked off, leaving gasps and rumblings in her wake.
Brice’s heart galloped in his chest. How dare she call him ugly? Not just ugly, but
He swallowed the hot words on his tongue. He couldn’t help that she worked as a waitress for less than minimum wage. Why take her unhappiness out on him? Pity she was so rude. He found her rather attractive. Shrugging it off, he read through the menu selections again. He liked independent restaurants, especially those who used organic and local food. Most nights he enjoyed dinner at the farmer’s market restaurant, but tonight, he’d worked late downtown. He wasn’t going to drive all the way out to Exit 208 just to eat. This little café seemed like the right spot, close enough to work for him to bike, but far enough that people from work wouldn’t be here.
French onion or potato soup? Wheat or rye? Decisions. Decisions.
“Brice, so nice to see you here,” said Tawana Gibson.
He looked up from the menu and sure enough, his boss, Tawana, stood in front of his table. What the hell was she doing here? He’d wanted to avoid people from C.A.K.E., and ran directly into his supervisor. Wonderful.
Sighing, he said, “Good evening, Ms. Gibson.”
Next to her stood another woman with her arms folded. She stared at him, but didn’t introduce herself. Unflinching, she glared at him like she meant to gouge out his eyes or rip out his throat. Putting down the menu, he could see that both women appeared angry.
“Not a good evening,” Tawana said.
“I’m sorry to hear that…”
“I just wanted to give you a little information. That waitress,” Tawana pointed to the dark-skinned beauty with the shapely hips, “is my baby sister. And you just cost her, her job.”
“Think on that,” the other woman added. “Your boss. Her baby sister just lost her job. Your fault.”
Both women let it hang there. Brice could do the math. Internally he groaned. His boss’s baby sister. Damn. Terrible news, because he found the waitress very attractive, but it wasn’t his fault.
“I’m sorry she lost her job, but I didn’t do it. She did. She called me damn ugly.”
“You know what? You
a complete and utter jackass! You didn’t have to speak to my sister that way. Hell, Brice, I
you don’t talk to everyone that way…”
Tawana didn’t sound furious, but her eyes gave it away. They were narrowed and trained on him. If he had decided to get up, both women would’ve probably made sure he tripped and fell hard before he got out of the place.
“Opinion,” he said, getting to his feet. His heart pinched that he’d somehow cost the sassy waitress her job. Still he didn’t cause this, or at least he didn’t think he did. “That’s your opinion, just like hers. I’m not angry about people’s opinions. I don’t care what people think. She’s the one who got all pissy.”
“That’s right!” said one of the women at the neighboring table. “That fat waitress was very rude.”
The other woman turned around so fast, Brice had to do a double take. Chloe leaned down into the woman’s face and whispered something he couldn’t hear. Whatever she said caused the other customer to flee.
Who the hell are these women?
He knew Tawana—easygoing, smart, professional…but here, she’d set her purse on the table and had started removing her jewelry. What the hell was going on?
“No. We’re in a damn recession and this dude has cost Aerial her job,” Tawana said, her voice escalating. She closed her eyes as if in prayer.
The other woman with Tawana, tugged on her arm, and stilled her hand. “He’s not worth it. Let’s go. Get Aerial and let’s go. We can help her in other ways.”
Tawana looked up at him, her lips a thin line of fury. He’d seen a similar look on his mother’s face when as a child he’d really crossed the line. He didn’t like it.
“You two are causing a scene, and we’re all about to get kicked out,” the waitress said. She seemingly appeared out of nowhere when she touched Tawana’s arm. “Let’s just go.”
Brice didn’t know what to do or say, so he said nothing.
Tawana nodded. “I’m coming. You and Chloe go on ahead.”
Aerial glanced at him and then at Tawana. “T, come on. Don’t do anything big sisterly. I will get another job. Besides, I have auditions on Monday. Oh, if we leave now we can catch that new movie with that hunky brunette actor you like…the one from England.”
He was taken aback. Aerial appeared to be comforting her
when she was the one who had lost her job. She didn’t encourage Tawana to fire him nor had she come storming back to give him a piece of her mind. In fact, she ignored him completely, and focused on calming her sister down. She smiled and hugged Tawana.
“Come on, let’s go. If I beat you to the car, you buy the popcorn!” Aerial tugged once more at Tawana.
“Okay, Munchkin, you’re on!” said the other woman, the one Tawana had called Chloe.
He’d found her attractive earlier, but now, while she was busy, he drank her in. For starters, Aerial stood taller than the other two women. Hell, she was only a few inches shorter than him. In heels, she’d probably be his height. Aerial sure wasn’t fat. Thick and healthy, the woman had meat on her bones. He let his eyes drink her in as she tried to talk Tawana into leaving without confronting him further. Aerial had dark, nearly black, corkscrew curly hair. Throughout the front, purple highlights ran like lightning in the evening sky. The café’s uniform, a purple polo, hugged her curves snuggly. The black jeans could’ve been painted on, they fit her so well. Not too tight where he could see panty lines, but then what if she wasn’t wearing panties…
Whoa! Stop! What was wrong with him?
He blinked back the imaginary undressing and returned his focus to Tawana’s face. Her lips were moving and he realized he’d missed part of her dressing him down.
“…don’t think I’m going to forget this,” Tawana snapped and turned to the exit. “Come on, Aerial.”
With another glance back, Aerial headed toward the exit.
The three women disappeared through the doors and the entire room seemed to relax. Chuckles flitted around, releasing the pressure, and drawing Brice’s temper into a cool, fresh chuckle of his own. All the tension left with them. The neighboring table of women giggled and talked openly and furiously about those ‘ghetto’ women who had just left. Brice grimaced and shut out their catty talk. They didn’t know anything about those women. For one, Tawana Gibson wasn’t ghetto. Two, he was almost sure Chloe wasn’t either. Something about her demeanor and dress spoke to some professional job. And three, Aerial, the waitress, said she had auditions, and no way could one be ghetto and actually audition for jobs, parts, or placements in plays, TV or anything of the sort. The parts would be very limited.
“Sir, I apologize for everything,” said the manager whose name tag read, Antonio. “I have corrected the issue. You have a new waitress, Mariana.”
Brice looked at the man. “You fired the other waitress.”
“Yes, of course,” Antonio said eagerly. “There was a complaint.”
Brice watched the man wring his hands.
Too much hair on his hands. Hope he didn’t prepare the food.
“I didn’t complain to you. A complaint. One. So, is it your policy to fire waitresses when they do something wrong?”
Antonio glanced around and then back to him. “Sir, I am not sure what you are asking.”
Brice walked from around the table and met Antonio in the aisle. The much smaller man backed up a step. “I am asking if it is your common practice to fire people when they do something wrong?”
“I see. Well, sir, she was already on thin ice. It is not your fault she was fired.”
Brice flashed teeth, but he knew it wasn’t a smile. “I know it isn’t my fault that woman is without a job. It’s yours.”
Antonio was clearly confused and each time he took a step back, Brice took two forward until he’d backed the balding, sweaty, hairy manager against the u-shaped counter.
“I-I am unsure of the reason for your anger…” Antonio sputtered out.
“You can make me very happy by calling her tonight and offering her job back, at twice the shitty wage you were paying her,” Brice said, leaning nearly nose to crown. He spoke very low, so only Antonio could here.
“Why are you doing this?”
Brice bent and got into Antonio’s face. He had no earthly idea why he was trying to get Aerial her job back. Something about her demeanor, her frankness, and her ability to just keep it moving got to him—a little. All these emotions flooded him inside, but out loud he said, “It isn’t right to fire a person for one mistake. I watched her this evening. She’s a good waitress. You should treat her better.”
“And if I don’t?” Antonio asked, a defiant lift to his chin.
Brice smiled again, and Antonio shuddered. “If you don’t, I will have the health department come through here with a microscope and a fine tooth comb. Secondly, I will make sure Aerial sues your ass for sexual harassment. Yes, I heard the comment about her body. So did my cell phone’s voice recorder app.”