Authors: K. Sterling
“Iced green tea with two pumps of sweetener for Carter.” The barista called and Carter shook his head faintly, returning to reality as he reached for his drink.
“Thanks.” He mumbled and she winked and jerked her head toward the beer aisle.
“Why don’t you just talk to him?” The barista (her name was Julie but Carter wasn’t ready to take their relationship to that level) whispered loudly. Carter shook his head again, this time quickly.
“I’m not interested.” He lied and she narrowed her eyes at him.
“Right. And I’m going to ride home on my pet unicorn.” She laughed as she grabbed a paper cup and pumped a flavored syrup into it. “Whatever, Carter. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She dismissed him and started steaming milk. Carter frowned as he stepped away from the counter.
Ooooh, God bless whoever it was that put the Lagunitas on the bottom shelf,
Carter thought as he watched The Hot Doctor bend down to reach for a six pack.
He must have tomorrow off,
he observed. Carter had spent the last two months observing. He groaned as The Hot Doctor’s scrub bottoms tightened around his really perfect, round ass. Carter didn’t usually go for muscular jock types, he used to prefer men more like him. Tall, lean but not skinny and kind of pale. Hot nerds. But something about The Hot Doctor turned Carter into a drooling mess. When The Hot Doctor wore one of those short sleeved scrub tops, his biceps strained against the sleeves and did disgraceful things to the front of Carter’s jeans. Currently, The Hot Doctor was wearing a skin tight, long sleeved top, his scrub bottoms and sneakers. Carter thought The Hot Doctor looked more like a hot stripper and his head fell to the side as he stared at what he’d often seen referred to as a “bubble butt” on Tumblr.
Carter was too slow, caught in a trance, to look away when The Hot Doctor turned and their eyes met.
Why does he always have to catch me staring. Just once, don't look like a total tool or a creep,
he begged as he offered a stiff nod. The Hot Doctor smiled and Carter returned it before he pretended to be very interested in his tea. Carter studied the writing on the cup as he moved toward a stack of shopping baskets and grabbed one.
You got your fix for the day, now focus on your list,
he commanded as he headed for the produce section.
Tonight, Carter was making baked apples stuffed with goat cheese. In the beginning, Abby’s daily barrage of messages (almost always titled: You HAVE to see this!) featuring recipes, clothes, hairstyles, art… from Pinterest was profoundly irritating. But being obligated by decades of friendship, Carter humored her. She made a board just for him. Shit For Carter. He checked it regularly and to his horror, Pinterest grew on him. So did Abby’s insistence that he try at least one thing from his board a day. Carter would never freely admit that she was right but being forced to get away from his computer every day and get out had done wonders. He would settle on a recipe and that would be his project for the evening. He’d go out at 4 p.m. every evening, hit the store and return home to cook and drink a few cocktails.
Carter’s Pinterest routine had the added benefit of allowing him to cross paths with The Hot Doctor most days. He cringed as he picked up a golden delicious apple and wondered if he should switch to a different hour so he wouldn’t run into The Hot Doctor anymore. As hot as The Hot Doctor was, Carter really wasn’t interested. Well, he was physically interested but he wasn’t mentally or emotionally interested. And it was becoming obvious that The Hot Doctor was expecting Carter to say something or that The Hot Doctor might decide to approach him. That wouldn’t do. Crater shook his head as he perused the cheeses and selected a nice chèvre.
Four years ago, Carter had sworn off of dating and men in general and it had been the best decision of his life. The last guy Carter dated, Ben, had been the end of a string of asshats. Ben had been the final straw. He dumped Carter after three months in a text message. On Carter’s birthday. Carter got shitfaced drunk at home, alone, and vowed he was through. Two days later, when Carter could stand to be upright, he began work on the book that would change his life. The Thunderstone Birthright had been an overnight success and led to a ridiculous book deal for a series. Now, a movie was in development. Carter was a secret millionaire, thanks to a well guarded pen name and an agent that was probably a diagnosed sociopath. Everything in Carter’s life was perfect, except for the lack of a love life or sex. But Carter couldn’t be trusted when it came to men. He always picked selfish, self absorbed pricks and played the doormat.
Which was why Carter wasn’t ever going to talk to The Hot Doctor. It didn’t matter that Carter was pretty sure he was the most beautiful man that had ever lived, had excellent taste in beer, obviously had a decent job and was throwing Carter every positive signal possible. He was practically waving Carter in like one of those air traffic control guys with the flashlights.
It’ll end up being a waste of time and you’ll get hurt,
Carter warned as he pulled a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin off the shelf and set it in his basket.
“I’m not sure what you’re up to, but I feel like I should probably follow you.” The words wrapped around Carter’s neck like warm velvet and he trembled slightly. Carter turned and his eyes widened as he stepped back, bumping up against the shelves at his back. There were gentle clinks as the glass bottles rattled behind him and he took the tiniest step forward. The Hot Doctor was grinning cockily and close enough for Carter feel the heat that radiated from his body. Holy shit, he smelled amazing. There was the ubiquitous hint of hand sanitizer and betadine soap but also a warm sandalwood based cologne.
“Excuse me?” Carter’s voice broke and he swallowed as he tried to breathe. The Hot Doctor laughed softly as his eyes flicked to Carter’s basket.
“French bread, goat cheese, apples and good gin. Whatever you have planned has to be interesting.” He said as he set his basket between his feet. Carter shrugged as he stared into his basket.
“I found this recipe for baked apples. You stuff them with goat cheese and top them with a brandy sauce. I’ve never had them but it’s got really positive reviews so I thought I’d give it a try. The bread’s to go with my salad. I’m grilling chicken and just making a raspberry vinaigrette. And gin and tonics, obviously…”
Jesus! Stop talking!
Carter squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled loudly. He
rambled when he was nervous. And blushed. He could feel it happening. The Hot Doctor looked amused when Carter opened his eyes.
“I was hoping you’d say hello but I got tired of waiting and decided to make the first move.” He said as he watched Carter. Carter shook his head and frowned.
“No. I don’t do that.” He said softly and The Hot Doctor’s brows pulled together as his head tilted.
“You don’t say hello?” He asked with a barely contained grin. Carter nodded.
“No. I kind of gave up on dating. Actually, I gave up on just about everything but staying at home and working four years ago. The last guy I dated dumped me on my birthday and sadly, he wasn’t the worst. I have terrible luck with men, so I don’t say hello or flirt or go on dates. I just buy groceries once a day and cook dinner so I don’t turn into Gollum.” Carter sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “And I can’t stop talking when I’m nervous.” He admitted. The Hot Doctor nodded and his smile felt like a basket of kittens.
“So, you’re not going to invite me for dinner?” He teased and a squeak burst from Carter’s throat.
“I… maybe…” He exhaled loudly and knew he must have been as red as a beet. The Hot Doctor shook his head and his eyes sparkled as his lips curved.
“Give me your phone.” He commanded gently. Carter’s eyes became wide but he didn’t hesitate to pull it from his pocket. The Hot Doctor’s fingers closed around Carter’s before they slid and pulled the phone from his grasp. The breath locked in Carter’s throat as heat surged up his arm. The Hot Doctor bit his lip and chuckled softly as he began to swipe and tap at Carter’s phone. He passed it back. “My name’s Reid. You have my number. I’d love to get together for a few drinks, if you’re comfortable with that. I’m not on call this weekend but there’s no pressure. You don’t have to invite me over tonight, you can just hang onto my number until you’re ready.” He offered Carter one last wink before he picked up his basket with it’s six pack of beer and pre made deli sandwich and left.
It could have been two minutes or twenty. Carter stared at the space in front of him, barely breathing or blinking. Oddly, he kept seeing the sandwich.
always bought a sandwich and a bottle of water. Sometimes, there was a carton of strawberries or bananas. And the beer when Reid was off. But the idea of Reid eating that sandwich, alone, gnawed at Carter. He tried to push the image away and reminded himself of how miserable he was the night Ben broke up with him. Getting dumped on your thirtieth birthday was a cosmic kick in the teeth. Did Carter really want to tempt the universe again?
Almost as if life was warning him, Carter ended up in line behind the last woman in the world that thought it was ok to write a check.
Do they even make checkbooks anymore?
Carter wondered as impatience and frustration boiled within him. Part of him really wanted to throw caution to the wind and invite Reid over. Carter never expected that his secret crush/obsession would be interested. Gorgeous, intelligent, super fit men with legit careers did not go for Carter. Narcissistic department store associates, bartenders and bank tellers with mommy issues were usually his target audience.
he was going to invite Reid over, he didn’t want to wait too long. Reid would eat that stupid sandwich and change his mind.
Carter ground his teeth as he waited. The woman ahead of him made some sort of mistake and had to start over. He felt sweat prickling the back of his neck. Not just because he wanted evil, terrible things to happen to the human rain delay but because he was also replaying every word he’d said to Reid.
Why do I always say the wrong thing? Why can’t I be as good in person as my characters?
Because life isn’t a young adult dystopian sci-fi novel and I’m not a fourteen year old girl with telekinesis,
he argued as he glared at the woman ahead of him.
I’d slap her in the face with that checkbook, if I was,
When Carter finally cleared the check-out line and made it to his car, he groaned as he beat his head against the steering wheel. He knew he was setting himself up for serious disappointment but he also knew he’d regret it if he didn’t act. Carter cursed under his breath as he pulled out his phone. He scowled at his hands as they shook while he found Reid’s contact information and opened a new text message.
Hey. It’s Carter, from the store. Still want to come over for dinner?
He held his breath and hit Send. As soon as he saw it post, Carter felt a swell of panic.
What if he says yes?
I’d love to. Time and address?
Carter stared at his phone in shock.
Now, look at what you’ve done!
His stomach clenched tight and his heart was deafening, it was pounding so loud. It was too late to back out.
1416 E. Lexington, about an hour?
Perfect. Can I bring anything?
There was that cartoon moment where Evil Carter and Angel Carter stood on his shoulders and offered suggestions.
You, sans clothes,
Evil Carter offered.
Not your jar of human ears,
scared Angel Carter said.
Ok. See you in about an hour.
“Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.” Carter found Abby’s number and called it as he started the car.
“Talk to me.” She said when she answered. Carter cringed as he pulled into traffic. He lived just around the corner, if he wasn’t so lazy, he would have walked.
“I’m in trouble, Abs.” He didn’t bother to hide his panic.
“What happened?” Abby sounded honestly concerned. Carter took a deep breath.
“Look, there’s this guy… I’ve been creepy and staring at him for weeks. He’s a doctor and he shops at my grocery store.” He explained and Abby gasped.
“You actually noticed a guy? And you didn’t tell me? You never notice guys!” Her voice was getting louder. She was mad that he’d kept it from her. Carter rubbed the back of his neck as he turned onto his street.
“He’s kind of hard not to notice. And if I told you, you’d make me take you shopping so you could check him out and then you’d have to say something to him…” Carter let his voice trail off and Abby sighed.
“I know… I’m such a meddler.” She admitted. “What happened?” Carter pulled into his driveway and shut off the car.
“He talked to me.” He could feel his face getting warm just thinking about it. Abby groaned.
“Oh, hell. Please tell me you didn’t lose your shit and spill every uncomfortable detail about your life.” She begged. Carter frowned as he pulled the shopping bag out and locked the car door.
“I totally did. But that’s not the worst part.” He explained. Abby snorted.
“What could be worse?” She asked. Carter rolled his eyes as he unlocked his front door.
“He kind of invited himself over for dinner. He was teasing but I went ahead and made it a real thing.” Carter heard another gasp.
“When?” Abby asked urgently. Carter cringed.
“In an hour.” He scanned the downstairs areas and was grateful that everything had gone down the day after he’d had the cleaning lady in. Everything looked in order. In the house, at least. Internally, Carter was freaking out. So was Abby.