The memory of my ditching her coffee every time I’ve ordered it flashes through my mind again, taking the shine off my feelings.
It’s the last thing I want to think about right now, and I feel bad for her because of it. And the old ‘what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her’ doesn’t apply to her.
It won’t apply to us, ever.
Mandy’s still playfully smiling, though, and I don’t want to spoil our fun by bringing up the whole coffee thing, but no lies between us.
That’s my oath to both of us.
I try to return her smile, my lips pulling to a near frown when she asks what’s wrong.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I murmur. “I was just thinking about something. We can talk about it later.” I hear myself say, feeling like a double dick until she presses me with her eyes for an answer.
I puff out air from my cheeks, and if my pants were up, I’d run my suddenly sweaty palms down them as I try and find the right words.
“Those coffees you made me,” I start to say, sensing I’ve hit a nerve when her smile drops. “I should have told you earlier, but it was the only way I got to see you all the time. I just couldn’t tell you,” I confess.
“Tell me what?” she asks, looking wounded like she somehow already knows what I’m about to tell her.
“Tell you that I don’t even drink coffee. Never have. That first day I saw you, I wanted a bottle of water, but once you offered your special coffee to me, I couldn’t refuse you,” I explain.
We’re both quiet for a long moment.
“You binned every single one?” she asks curtly, “You couldn’t even give them to someone else?” she adds, looking more than wounded now.
Her eyes are glistening with tears, and her lower lip is quivering a little.
If I felt bad before, I feel like an A-grade asshole right now.
She lets me put my hands on hers, stroking the top of one as I tell her why.
“Because every time I saw you, every time I saw how happy you were to see me…I just couldn’t break it to you.” I sigh deeply, hating this mood I’ve put her in, but I need to own what happened. I won’t lie to her. “I kept up the charade just to have a reason to see you every day, and you seemed so proud of your work. Of your creamed coffee.”
She silently agrees with that part. “I do make a mean creamed coffee,” she remarks.
“I know you do, I know,” I tell her. “But then, once I realized I wanted more than just to see you, I got so hung up on just seeing you that mentioning the coffee thing just seemed…like the last thing on my mind,” I groan.
I’m angry at myself but more annoyed I’m ruining what should be a better moment between us.
“Well, I guess you didn’t see me follow you then. Yesterday, before the accident,” she sighs after a long pause.
“You followed me?” I ask, recalling the sensation that someone was right behind me before I ditched her last coffee.
But I’m also thrilled she’d follow me too.
And I think the whole me following her home story can wait a while. Ditching her coffee is making me seem strange enough as it is.
“I was running to give you the tip you tried to leave. Mrs. Peters made me go after you. Then I saw…,” she sniffs, winning her battle over her tears and finding strength in the truth.
“I left that for you,” I reply instantly, trying not to growl out my reply. “I was trying to…,” I start to say, but she cuts me off.
“You were trying to help me, and I know you were. And if you don’t like something, just say so. No need to pretend just for my sake,” she says, crimping a smile again and squeezing my hands as best she can.
“I want to do more than just help you,” I say in a low voice. “We can just pick up from where we are right now, though,” I tell her rather than ask her.
Her head gives me a nod, and she winces a little.
Not from what we’re talking about, but from her sore neck and ankle.
“I’d like that,” she says, waving off my concern for her neck but more than okay with me running my hands down her leg to check on her ankle.
“I think I know what might help?” I grin, feeling better now that her mood’s shifted.
“A hot bath. Right after we finish breakfast, how about it?” I ask, and she makes a long and definite sound of someone who’s been waiting for it since she saw that tub.
I know how much she imagined the both of us in there, as much as I did myself.