Bella looked out of the window of the sports car. The rain was really pounding down. It was so cold out this morning; it really should have been a blizzard -or at least snow.
"Don't fucking cut me off you cocksucking ass nugget!" James slammed his hand against his steering wheel.
Bella gave him a quick look while his jaw tensed. "We can skip Starbucks, let's just get to work, okay?"
He rolled his eyes at her. "I'm two cups away from a gold card. With my damn name on it. We go if it kills us."
Bella wondered if it might this particular morning. James was insane about his new Mustang. The aftermarket chrome had set him back a few thousand dollars alone. His road rage seemed to expand in exact ratio to the cash he laid out.
He slid out his phone to check a text and pulled into the tight parking lot without the benefit of the blinker. Bella had stopped haunting him about using his signal; it was an endless path to another fight.
She waited in the car while he typed a text. In his unguarded moment she assessed him. He was still too handsome. The rakish, carefree look was perfected thanks to plenty of time in the mirror. His clothes where slouched just so. They'd been dating for about a year. She wanted him to at least call her his girlfriend. Her parents hated him, which she didn't understand. Obviously she was dating above her league.
The compliments had been rare to begin with, but now they were non-existent. They went through the motions. They rode together to work, actually Bella used to drive her pick up but once James got the Mustang, he started driving. The office was close to the Naval Air Base. Bella answered the phones and James used to sell large quantities of copy paper to the various businesses that thrived on the military presence. He had since been promoted to what the other guys in the office had claimed was a position as a professional ass kisser. Bella defended him often until her office mates made sure to label him when she wasn't around.
"Let's go." James hopped out and slipped his leather hood over his precious hair. Bella struggled with her umbrella and hurried to keep up.
"Come on, the day won't wait for you. And I hope you have a way to keep that umbrella from destroying the leather in Carmantha." He hollered and let the door to Starbucks close. After collapsing her umbrella, Bella shook off on the mat just inside Starbucks. The car had a name.
It was stupid how much she liked the comforting smell of the brewing coffee, especially being that she didn't drink it. She stood next to James, they didn't touch or talk. He was looking at his phone again and Bella sighed just a little too soft for him to hear.
She looked at him like he was her salvation. Glowed at him when he was looking and when he wasn't. Mason had watched this particular dog and pony show from his regular table in the corner of the room for three months. His laptop was set up and he was on his third cup of coffee.
Everyday he watched her as she fell over herself to get noticed by the asshole. He really shouldn't hate a dude he'd never met, but James deserved an uppercut to the nuts all the time. He never held the door for the girl or glanced at her to make sure she was happy.
Some guys just didn't know what they had. He knew the fucknob's name because she said it every other sentence. Like uttering the syllables was a privilege granted. James had never once said her name and made sure his stupid name was on both cups when the baristas called out. He was working for a Starbucks card with his name on it. The fool talked about his car, his phone and his gold card aspirations with a sickening regularity. Never once did he touch the girl's face, pull her by her hip until he could give her a quick kiss. James never pushed her hair out of the way to whisper in her ear.
For three months he watched as the couple go their morning brew. Well, the turdburger got coffee, but the girl got a hot cocoa. She seemed slightly embarrassed, like she was buying porn; every single time they announced the arrival of her drink.
It was freaking adorable. Actually, the pretty girl was just more attractive everyday. Fridays when she came to the Starbucks in jeans made his whole damn weekend.
Mason had been scoping her out more and more obviously. He wanted to see the guy take some ownership of her. He wanted a nice, manly back-the-fuck-off-stare-from James. It never happened.
Her hair was thick and gorgeous and would be excellent threaded through his fingers. But besides the fact that he was getting a little obsessed with what color panties she wore, the girl drew him in because she flat-out friendly. Anytime anyone showed her just a hint of attention, she smiled and did her best to put them at ease. Mason took another sip of his coffee. She was juggling her purse, her umbrella and the gloves she'd taken off in an effort to get to her credit card. It burned him every time he watched her pay for the drinks. One of her black gloves fell to the floor and Mason watched as James looked at the glove and then ignored it, going back to the screen of his phone.
"Miss, you dropped this." His voice sent shivers down her spine. She looked up and up and up at the tall, stunning man holding her sopping glove.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" She tried to make room in her arms for the stranger to put her glove when he smirked.
"Do you need a hand?" He wiggled the glove at her and winked.
If she wasn't standing right next to James, she'd have sworn this guy was flirting.
She laughed in surprise. "No, I'm good. Thanks so much." She held out two fingers to accept the glove.
He turned to James and said, "You're welcome."
James ignored the whole incident -instead raising his eyebrows in the direction of the cashier. "You're up, dingbat. My card needs loading."
Bella watched the tall stranger stop and clench his fist. And oh…he had on those fingerless motorcycle gloves that she loved.
She handed her card to him after James ordered and presented his precious pre-gold card. The gorgeous man sat down and scowled at the laptop on his table.
They moved to the waiting area. She tried to make a discrete observation to see if she could get a rise out of James, "Hey, I think that guy was flirting with me."
James shook his head. "No, that guy? He was just being nice. Probably pick-pocketed you. They prey on the distracted." His phone started to ring loudly.
"Laurent, you fucker! What's up?" James voice carried when he talked to his best friend.
Bella noticed a mom with two kids getting on line and within earshot. James continued with his profanity-filled conversation. Bella tapped his arm. He shot her a look.
"James, there's kids. Come on." Bella tried to mouth an apology to the mom. She was too busy wisely trying to distract her kids.
James rolled his eyes again. "Okay Twat Hugger I'll pick you up in a minute. Nah, I'll leave her here for a few. She'll be fine."
He disconnected the call and leveled her with an angry stare. "Don't interrupt me. For FUCK'S sake." He made sure to say the curse nice and loud. A nearby gentleman gave a pointed cough. "Listen, hang here. I've to grab Laurent and run him to his job, then I'll swing by and grab you."
He grabbed his coffee without saying thanks.
"But I'll be late for work! James, seriously drop me off first." Bella smiled at the barista and thanked her even though she'd walked away and she was grateful to a back.
"No, dingbat, he's in the rain and wants to arrive in style. I'll be right back. Cool your heels. I've only got two seats, you're gonna have to wait."
Bella walked with him to the door. The rain was still crazy.
"I've never been late before. You know I have to open the front desk. Please." He shook his head once and headed out. Bella couldn't believe he was being so thoughtless. He paused and she had hope that he'd changed his mind. He turned to her and handed her his Starbucks card. Make sure you have them swipe this if you get another drink." James had his hood up before she could respond. She was half-tempted to run to the passenger side.
He started the car without a glance in her direction. With his phone in one hand, coffee in the other it was a miracle he was able to drive at all. Bella started a mental inventory of the work friends that would come and get her, when she realized her adamant defense of James had really separated her from the group.
Mason was proud of himself for not stuffing James' card up his ass. There were kids in the joint after all. The nameless girl stood at the door even though the Mustang was long gone as if she was waiting for a bus. He took a quick scan of the Starbucks and realized it had filled up. Every table was taken.
He stood up and walked over to her. He was figuring she was all his for about a half hour, give or take. A chance like this may never come again. She had her arms full, holding all her stuff and ballcheese's card.
"Hey. Wanna come sit while you wait for him?" He took the wet umbrella from her hand and one of her gloves.
"Um. Sure. I guess."
He watched as she checked the other tables. He set her umbrella against the wall and spread her glove out on the one empty chair they had. She bit her lip and looked at her watch.
"I can't believe he left me here. Seriously." She slowly unbuttoned her jacket and then put her other glove next to its twin.
"It's not a dark alley." He took a look at his screen, but didn't see anything. He could smell her conditioner. Her wet hair combined with the heat of her body recreated exactly what her hair would smell like when she was wrapped in just a towel.
She sighed and took a sip of her drink. He didn't miss the little smile and the way she licked her lips.
"Should you call your boss? Maybe a heads up will make you less nervous? I'd offer you a ride but I'm on my bike." He nodded towards the helmet next to her umbrella.
Her eyes were deep brown and went wide at the thought of a motorcycle. "In this?"
"No, I come here early so I missed the rain."
She dug through her purse, obviously looking for her phone. "But it's so cold!"
She started pulling things out of her bag and balancing them on the table. A book, a kindle, lollipops, a wallet.
Mason pulled out his phone. "You want me to call it?"
Nodding she rattled off the number then said, "I hope I didn't leave it at home. I can't even…"
Her ring back tone was Nat King Cole and her choice made him smile. Her vibrating phone lit up and she pulled it out like a prized fish. "Thanks. I hate this purse. Please excuse me." She stood to call her boss.
He eavesdropped while programming her number into his contacts. He listed her under Jeans because he'd not gotten her damn name yet. She apologized profusely for being late and never once mentioned the reason.
She collapsed into her chair. "Well, he told me to take the day off."
She didn't sound the least bit relieved. When her eyes met his, Mason's mouth went dry. He coveted this girl. She blushed a bit and took another gulp of her drink.
She filled the instant chemistry with the asshole's name. "James skips on occasion but I've never missed a day. It's really hard to get everything back in order after someone else sits in my desk all day."
He closed his laptop to prove to her that she had his full attention.
"I'm sorry, I'm sure you have work to do." She went to grab her gloves.
He caught her hand quickly. "No, I'm done. It's nice to have company."
He released it before he could make her nervous.
"Your hands are so cold." She handed him her cocoa. "Here, use this to warm up."
Her kindness made him want to punch James in the throat. A lot. "My hands get cold on the ride over, but they warm up. That's why I leave the gloves on for a while." He was just talking out his ass now.
He held the cup for a while before handing it back to her. "So, how long have you been with your boyfriend?"
She took another sip before answering. "Well, we're technically dating because he's never said…" She trailed off and rubbed at the spot between her brows. "Thirteen months."
"Whoa. That's specific." He drummed his fingers on the table.
The mother from the line crowded her kids into the freshly empty table next to Bella and the Flirter. They each had a cookie. One sat on the chair and the other in a stroller. Bella looked for another empty table out of habit. James hated being around kids and the feeling was mutual. They just seemed to dislike him.
The Flirter smiled at the kids. When the youngest threw a small stuffed puppy at the floor, Motorcycle boy bent and handed it back. Bella drank some more as she watched. There was no denying that the Flirter was a stunner. Probably a coffeehouse playboy. The green eyes and messy hair was only outdone by his white smile.
Suddenly, the older child's soy milk spilled all over her when she went to take a sip.
"Oh no. Daphne! We have to change you." The mother seemed to gauge her options as Daphne began to cry. "I hate to bother you, but can you watch them a second while I run to the car to get her a new shirt?"
Bella nodded as the Flirter said, "Sure, no problem."
As soon as mom got up to leave both kids started to cry. The Flirter grabbed the puppy and made it start to dance on the table. The kids quieted down. Bella snagged a stuffed dinosaur from the stroller's basket.
"Hey Puppy, that's a great dance!" She made the dinosaur hop around as the kids contemplated crying with pouty lips.
The Flirter deepened his voice, "You are a horrible dancer, Dino." The puppy began some flamboyant moves that made the kids start to smile.
"Don't call me horrible! Take that back!" Bella made her dino smack the puppy with its long tail. The Flirter sent the puppy into an exaggerated back flip complete with kung fu noises. The children started to laugh. Bella and hot motorcycle man repeated the act until the mom came in brushing rain from her shoulders. She smiled instinctively at the laughter.
Bella handed her dino to the smallest one and The Flirter put the puppy in Daphne's waiting arms.
"Thanks so much. You guys are so cute together." She changed Daphne's shirt discreetly and the kids got down to the cookie eating business.
The Flirter rubbed his lips while he watched Bella. The desire to kiss him pushed on her like a bully. She actually covered her mouth. Never in the thirteen months with James had she ever thought of straying. She was reading too much into a nice guy being friendly.
Glancing at the clock, she was guessing it had been about ten minutes since James had left. Laurent's office wasn't very far so maybe the round trip would be about a half hour. After getting the day off from her boss, Bella wondered if going into work seemed disrespectful. She knew James would never drive her home first. Her stomach clenched with the stress of it.
"You want another hot chocolate?" The Flirter stood and reached for his wallet.
"Oh no, I wouldn't want to trouble you." She reached for James' pre-loaded card.
He peeled his gloves off and set them next to hers. His fingers were so long. "My treat."
He went off to the now dwindled line and ordered her hot chocolate perfectly including asking for the salted caramel that wasn't even on the menu anymore.
Motorcycle set the drink down in front of her and left to hold the door for the mom and kids. He waved at Daphne and the baby as they left. After he returned, his delicious smile was all hers.
"How'd you know what I order?" She sipped the hot drink and burnt her tongue.
He closed one eye. "Did I forget to ask? Oh. Damn. I'm just observant. I mean. You're here everyday."
He sipped his own black coffee. She was projecting her desires, obviously, it's not like he was watching her or anything.
"And seeing you walk through that door is my favorite part of the morning. Too bad he's with you every time." He smiled and bit a coffee stirrer.
Bella didn't know what to do. She didn't even know how to take a compliment anymore. "Oh."
"I hope this isn't freaking you out. It's just I see you with him and I don't get it. What's in it for you?" He didn't seem nearly as uncomfortable as she felt. "Is he really good to you when you're not in public? Or maybe he cheers up after his coffee?"
She ran a hand through her hair and fluffed it, trying to dry it and buy herself time.
Is he really good to me? Has he ever been really good to me?
"Pretty much that's James. What you see." She shrugged. It was like she was betraying him, but as she looked into the pouring rain she had trouble feeling guilty.
"Wow. So he doesn't hold open your door…ever? He doesn't hold your hand?" Motorcycle seemed to want to say more but bit his tongue.
"He's not really affectionate but that's okay with me." She rubbed her one boot on the other. This line of questioning should have her stalking away instead of wondering why, exactly, the man in front of her had paid such close attention.
"Is it?" He was fidgeting now, running a finger around the top of his cup nervously. "I mean, as a man -if someone was checking out my girl the way I've been checking you out- he and I would've had words."
"Well, good for your girl then. James isn't like that. But if push came to shove…" She wanted to finish her sentence, but her doubt held her tongue in check.
"I don't have a girl right now. And I'd love for James to shove me. Just once." He clenched his fist.
"I don't think I'm comfortable with you threatening to harm James. I mean, I love him." Bella still sat but she gathered her gloves and stuffed them in her purse.
"Sorry. Of course you do." Bella watched as the Mustang pulled into the handicap parking spot. James honked.
Bella stood and shrugged into her jacket. Motorcycle sent a quick text on his phone -probably to his girlfriend—and stood. "Can you just try something for me?"
Bella sighed as she looked him up and down. "What?"
James got out of his car and slammed the door; obviously pissed she was taking too long.
"Read your text message."
As soon as he said the words her phone vibrated in her hand. She looked at her phone and saw Motorcycle's number. She opened the text as James flung the Starbucks door open.
"Come on, I'm wasting gas out there."
Her screen said: If he loves you he'll punch me for this.
Bella looked up from her phone puzzled when Motorcycle scooped her against him. He touched her chin and tilted her mouth towards his. With obvious experience -and not nearly enough fear, he swung her into a dip and planted a deep, passionate kiss on her mouth.
Their mouths together created the most delicious mocha Bella had ever tasted. In the way back of her mind she knew she should be indignant, but damn it, this man kissed like the world depended on it.
He broke the kiss and righted her. "Here we go."
James stood stupid, mouth agape just inside the pin quiet Starbucks. Bella could only gasp as James turned his angry eyes on her.
"You coffeehouse slut. I leave you for five fucking minutes and you're getting boned in public like a whore." James pointed at her and shook his head.
He wasn't angry with Motorcycle, but with her.
If he loves you he'll punch me for this.
"And where's my Starbucks card?"
Now, it was her mouth's turn to drop open. James was a waste of time. Thirteen months to be freaking specific. And he'd obviously not even thought about punching the man that had just kissed the hell out of her.
Bella spotted the card on the table. Smiling, she picked up the card and turned to Motorcycle and stuffed it down his jeans like he was a stripper. His naughty smirk made her reach up boldly and pull his sexy mouth close to hers.
She spoke to James with just a breath between her and her next kiss, "Come get it, asshole."
Motorcycle pulled back, eyebrows raised. "Can you please tell me your name, it's killing me."
She glanced at James and gave him the finger.
"Kiss me, Edward. Also, give James the finger." Bella laughed into his lips as they both gave James a double-barreled finger before wrapping up in their next kiss.
It took years for James' laminated souvenir Starbucks card to fall from Edward's keychain but only six months for him to put an engagement ring on Bella's finger.
A/N The stunning generosity on this fandom has not ceased to amaze me even though I expect it now. I know when one of us takes to our knees, the other helps her up. What an amazing thing to be used to. I will say it a million times and it's never enough: Fanfiction readers are the best in the world. Mad4Hugh was an example of class and effortless support that makes a writer feel like moving mountains is worth the time. The loss of her is something time won't heal. She should be here. I know we are praying for her family and feeling her beautiful smile from above, but her absence makes this world less beautiful. Thanks you for letting kindness rise up from this grief. As always, it is an honor for write for you. ~MTK