Coffeeshop Study Break

April sighed as she listened to the frantic typing around her. Massaging the crick in her neck, she broke eye contact with her computer screen and glanced around. Across from her, Scott looked up from his laptop, too.

"'Sup?" he whispered, nudging his boyfriend in the side. Eric just grunted, nudged him back, and kept typing.

"Outlining sucks," April whispered back, stretching.

"Shhhhh!" someone hissed from the other end of the table, glaring at them.

April rolled her eyes. Stupid law school library. "I can't do this anymore. I'm getting coffee."

Eric gave her a knowing look. "Have fun."

She packed up her books and headed for the stairs, blushing.

* * *

Buzz was packed, per usual, at least that time of year. April spotted someone getting ready to leave and made a beeline for them. She always made sure to get a seat at the bar near the window, where she could watch people walk by and still reach the edges of the campus wi-fi network.

She ordered her exam-time usual, a non-fat peppermint mocha double shot with whip -- okay, yeah, so maybe the whipped cream cancelled out the skim milk, but whatever . . . it was so worth it -- and got in line to wait for her drink.

He was working. She tried to keep from staring as he darted back and forth, making drinks, but never in her life had she seen such a beautiful face. Or maybe she had, but just not on a man before? It was so crazy, so stupid, but something about the boyish cut of that dark hair falling into those big brown eyes, or maybe the graceful line of that nose or the perfect bow of those lips, but he was so perfect he was almost . . . pretty. Just a line away from female, actually. And she never would have thought that she'd find that attractive. Men were supposed to look like men. But . . . apparently something in her wasn't so sure, because the barista was the only guy who could make her blush just by looking at her. She snorted. Someone that pretty was probably gay. He was probably fifteen, too. Now she was lusting after teenagers.

She was so busy staring at him, she missed what he said when he set the drink down in front of her. She glanced at the woman next to her, who was on her cell phone, oblivious.

"Excuse me," she asked Pretty Boy, "what is this?" She gestured at the cup.

"It's yours," he replied, smiling at her.

April felt her face heat up. "What--?" How did he know?

"Non-fat extra-whip double-shot peppermint mocha."

She stared into his eyes for just a hair longer than she should have. He hypnotized her. Or maybe exams were really getting to her. Either way, she couldn't take responsibility for what she did next.

"Are you gay?" she blurted out.

"Huh?" The barista looked surprised.

"It's okay if you are."

"No!"

"How old are you?" she continued.

"What, why?"

"Just curious."

"Twenty-two."

She gave a mental sigh of relief. Young, but not a teenager. She wasn't turning into a pedophile. "What's your name?"

"Michael."

"Michael, you're the most beautiful man I've ever seen." She felt her eyes go wide as she realized what she'd just said. She picked up her drink and pointed to her seat. "I'm just going to go sit down now, before I make an even bigger fool out of myself."

Head down, face flaming, she took her drink and settled back in front of her computer for a few more hours of mind-numbing work.

She didn't even make it another ten minutes before she packed up her stuff and left. On her way out she took a piece of paper, scrawled In for a penny, in for a pound -- April 617-494-5583, and dropped it on the bar.

What was the worst that could happen? All she had to do now was never return to Buzz ever, ever again, and everything would be fine.

* * *

What had she been thinking?, April thought as she sat in the student cafe picking at her omelet the next week. Michael was gorgeous, and even if she hadn't come off as some kind of psychotic freak, he would never be interested in someone like her. He'd go for the willowy model type, or some emo chick with pink hair and poetry, not a spazzy law student who was short and wide and too cerebral for her own good. She was such an idiot!

"Uh-oh, you have that look again," Scott said, sliding into the chair across from her and pinning her with his baby blues.

"What look?" she asked, surprised to see him. Speaking of gorgeous men she couldn't have. "And what are you doing here?"

"That look that says you're beating yourself up in your head again. And I'm always here for breakfast, which you would know if you ever got up before noon, so I guess the real question is what are you doing here?"

She laughed. "My last exam starts at 8:30 tomorrow morning. I've got to spend the whole day studying."

"Sounds like a blast," he drawled, quirking an eyebrow. "But I don't think that's what put that look on your face. Let's have it."

No way in hell. "I'm just tired. Going through caffeine withdrawals." She hadn't had any all week.

"In the middle of exams? You're insane! Get thee to a coffee shop, pronto."

"Yeah, well . . ." she trailed off. "Where's Eric?" A distraction, a distraction, anywhere a distraction.

"Right here," he said from behind her. He sat down next to Scott and ruffled his hair. "What's going on?"

"April's going on a caffeine fast in the middle of finals."

"That sounds dumb." Eric was never a man of many words.

"Thanks, Eric," April replied.

He had the good sense to look sheepish, at least until he turned to his boyfriend to start talking about the basketball game the night before. April took the time to continue browbeating herself. She was right before her last final, in desperate need of a non-fat extra-whip double-shot peppermint mocha, and she couldn't even go get one without dying of embarrassment.

"I know, there's something she doesn't want to tell us. Look, she's thinking about it right now," Scott hissed.

"What?" April said, snapping out of her funk to the realization that they had been talking about her for some time now.

"Just tell us. You know he's going to get it out of you eventually," Eric said in his eminently logical way. Scott just nodded and grinned.

She sighed. "God, this is so embarrassing. You know how I used to go to Buzz, like, everyday?"

"Because of that barista you think is hot?" Eric asked.

She threw up her hands. "How did you know? How does everyone know everything about me all the time, and I don't even know it half the time?"

Scott rolled his eyes. "Well, I didn't know, and I'm a little pissed about that."

"Aww, sorry," Eric said in that voice he used only when he talked to Scott. "She blushes every time he looks at her, I thought you would notice."

Scott laughed. "And here I thought she just got a little over-excited about coffee."

April just glared at them. "I am sitting right here, you know."

"Oh, hi!" he replied, waving at her.

"Hi."

They sat in silence. "And?" Eric broke in after a moment.

She told them the whole story.

"And?" Eric repeated. "Did he call?"

April rolled her eyes and gestured at herself. "Of course not, are you delusional? Why would he?"

"I don't understand," Eric replied.

At the same time, Scott burst out with, "Oh, I swear to God, April, I'm enrolling you in a self-esteem class tomorrow! How can you be so smart and yet so incredibly insecure?"

Eric stood up.

"Where are you going?" April asked.

"To get some coffee," he replied, raising his eyebrows.

She glared at him. "Don't you dare! Eric Brooks, come back here right now!" she shouted after him as he walked away.

"Aren't you going to do something?" she demanded, looking at Scott.

He nearly fell out of his seat laughing.

"You're such a boy!" she snapped.

He paused, snorting. "Yeah, hi, have we met?"

Rolling her eyes and mumbling about stupid boys, she ran after Eric.

* * *

She caught up to him right inside the doorway of Buzz.

"Are you crazy? What the hell are you doing?" she hissed, breathing hard.

"Getting coffee," he replied, giving her cheery smile. "Want some?" He walked up to the counter. "Yeah, I'll take a regular coffee, and . . ." he trailed off, glancing at April.

The girl behind the counter smiled. "April, right? Your peppermint mocha is coming right up. We haven't seen you around here in awhile."

April mumbled something in response that may or may not have been intelligible. She was hoping against hope that the girl remembered her name from her credit card, and not from a certain note she had written during a period of temporary insanity. She glanced up and looked right into Michael's eyes, and right back down again.

"Oh, God, I can't do this," she said, turning and walking right back outside.

Eric followed a few minutes later with a cup in each hand. "Good thinking, it's much quieter out here," he drawled sarcastically. He handed her a drink.

She looked at it dubiously. "Are you sure he didn't poison it?"

"Nope. He did say he put something special in there for you, though."

She spit out the sip she had just taken.

"Or did he say on there? I can't remember." A grin played along the edges of his mouth.

Looking more closely at her cup, April noticed some markings that weren't usually there. Someone had taken a Sharpie and written: Meet me out back in 5?

"Oh my God. Ohmigod! What do I do?" she shrieked.

"Uh . . . meet him out back in five minutes?"

She ignored him. "I can't do this. Eric, I can't do this! I can't handle this right now!"

"Aww," Eric turned to her with an expression he usually saved for Scott. "April, calm down. It's going to be okay. Just go see what he has to say. The worst he's going to say is he's not interested, and you already assumed that anyway, so what's the harm?"

Why did she hang out with boys all the time? Didn't they get that that was enough harm in itself, just to have him tell her that in person? But no, gay or straight, despite the stereotypes, men were still men.

He gave her a knowing look and took the coffee away. "I'll be here when you get back. Go."

* * *

When she rounded the building, he was already there, leaning against the back door. She stopped a few paces away.

"Uh, hi," he said quietly. "I thought maybe you weren't coming."

Her eyes met hers and she blushed, again. Damnit. She sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm not usually so . . . psychotic. I promise. I didn't mean to freak you out."

He pushed away from the door and walked toward her. "I'm not freaked out."

She gave him a look.

"Ok, well, not any more," he revised, a lock of hair falling into his face. Her fingers itched to brush it away. "I was at first, I admit. It's not everyday girls come up to me and grill me and say the things you said. It threw me off guard--"

"Like I said, I'm sorry," she repeated, waiting for the "but," part of the letdown.

"--but I actually thought it was pretty cool," he finished, taking the last step so that their toes were almost touching. "I hope you won't mind if I do something equally impulsive."

April was frozen in place as he took her chin in his hands and brushed his lips across hers. Once. Twice. And then they stayed in place, capturing hers.

He raised his head a few moments later, breathing hard. "I have to get back to work. Are you free tomorrow night?"

April nodded, mute.

"Good. I'll call you when I get off." He winked one of those perfect eyes at her, then ducked back inside.

She stood there for a full minute, until she felt the cold. She returned to Eric, who raised an eyebrow at her.

"What now?" he asked.

"The library. I've got an exam to study for," she replied, breaking out in a huge grin.