Penny Hart owns and operates a fast growing coffee and music store called Caffeinated Discs. Several nights a week, a small authors group meets there for coffee, chat and writing. She’s known them all for years, but tonight, there’s a new person among them.
Loud laughter burst out in the alcove where the writers group sat. They’re a rowdy bunch. I decided to join them after I got the coffee ready.
As I started the pot, the CD changed and the louder, more strident sounds of Tomoyasu Hotei started playing. I love his song, Battle Without Honor or Humanity, which happened to be playing. I cranked it up without really thinking about it. It drowned out the laughter and other sounds in the shop. When I turned around I was surprised to see a tall, lean muscled, broad shouldered guy standing behind me on the other side of the counter. He smiled as I jumped back a little.
“Well now,” he grinned, his Southern accent strong. “I haven’t had that effect on a lady for some time. I apologize if I scared you.”
“No, I just didn’t hear you come up, over the music.”
“Good tune. Hotei has a unique style, doesn’t he?”
I giggled a little nervously. Tall, gorgeous, muscular men tend to make me feel a little self-conscious.
“Yeah, I like him a lot. Most people don’t even know who he is. I get a lot of blank stares when I mention him.”
“I’ve gotten used to the blank stares. I like all kinds of weird music.” He sat on one of the bar stools.
His hair was a sandy brown, bleached by the sun. His skin was medium tan, but looked slightly sunburned. He had pale green eyes, like jade, with a smoky gray around the outer edge. I just about fell over the counter as I stared into them. Rimmed with dark eyelashes, I thought they were the most amazing eyes I’d ever seen. He had a strong jaw, slight cleft in his chin and a great smile. He was smiling at me now, in fact he was laughing.
“Have I got something caught in my teeth?” He rubbed his front teeth with his index finger.
“No. No, I’m sorry.” I giggled, blushing like crazy. “It’s just…. No.”
I shook my head so violently that I shook some of my hair loose. I have medium length, dark chestnut brown hair that’s kind of wild and flyaway. Even in clips, with lots of mousse, it gets away from me. My eyes are practically the same color as my hair. When I get a tan, I’m sort of monochromatic.
“My name’s Kael,” he put out his hand. His fingers were long, strong and calloused.
“Penny,” I smiled a little.
I hate being so shy! I hardly can talk to a handsome man. I just about freeze up when a guy looks at me. Here was this gorgeous hunk talking to me, holding out his hand to be shaken, and I stood there like a fool. Forcing myself to do the right thing, I held out my hand. He took my fingers gallantly in his and kissed them gently. It was the sexiest kiss I’ve ever had and it wasn’t even on my lips.
His green eyes twinkled, squinting slightly as he smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Penny. Is that short for Penelope?”
“Unfortunately. I hate it.”
I wrinkled my nose and used the excuse of the coffee finishing to try and extract myself from him. He held my fingers close to his lips, not quite kissing them again.
“I don’t think it’s such a bad name. It could be Hildaguard, or Gertrude or Brunnhilde. Penelope is pretty.” He let go of my hand with an easing of his grasp.
“Thank you. Boris tells me you’re a Marine?”
“Just got out a few weeks ago.”
“Were you in the war?” I turned around with the empty coffee carafe in my hand. “Several of my friends have been over there.”
“I was in Iraq.”
“Was it awful?”
His eyes got very sad and he turned his face away from me, gazing out the dark windows to the lonely strand of beach.
“It was—beyond awful,” he murmured.
When he turned, I saw a scar on the side of his face. It ran from the corner of his left eye to the area under his left ear. It was very thin and light, but looked relatively new.
My hand reached out without my thinking about it. I touched the scar, making him flinch. He didn’t quite jump away from my hand, but he looked uncomfortable for a moment.
He moved away from my touch ever so slightly, but my fingers followed him of their own volition. I couldn’t let it go for some reason. I could tell it was making him uncomfortable, but I had to know.
“My buddy and I got too close to a car that blew up.”
“Part of the car did that?”
He shook his head, moving away a little more. “No,” he said so soft I could hardly hear him. “Part of my buddy.”
“Oh, God!” My fingers jerked away like I’d been shocked. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s okay.” He tried to smile, but I could see the pain in his eyes. “Really. A few decades of therapy, I’ll be over it.”
His smile and laugh were forced and I felt horrid making him to talk about something so obviously painful. I took his hand, making him look at me.
“I’m so sorry. I know it must have been the worst thing ever. I can’t even imagine what it’s like there. No one who hasn’t been can possibly understand. But if you ever want to talk about it, I’m a good listener.”
“Like a bartender, huh? You listen to customers spill their guts and open their hearts?”
I shrugged, shaking my head. “No. Mostly I make coffee and put music on the CD player. But sometimes you need someone to talk to. Even if I can’t relate to you’ve been through, I can listen.”
“Thanks,” he said quietly. “I might take you up on that sometime.”
© 2020 Dellani Oakes
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