Strapped

By: Nina G. Jones

Chapter One



The time on my laptop reads 9:35am. I stare at it blankly, knowing I have to submit an entire marketing campaign by 4:30 in the afternoon. Minutes pass with no progress. I started working at five in the morning and my brain can no longer produce any creative thoughts. I gaze out the dining room window; the weather seems nice enough despite a mild overcast. I decide to walk to my favorite coffee shop about 20 minutes away. This will give me some much needed time to clear my head, and the boost from the caffeine won’t hurt either. I throw on my worn red leather motorcycle jacket, wrangle my massive head of brown hair into a woven cap, slip on a pair of TOMS and head out the front door. As I pass the mirror in the foyer, I put on a little bit of clear lip gloss and mascara as a finishing touch. The first inhalation of the cool air fills my lungs and is a much needed refuge from the confines of my apartment. I try my best to think of absolutely nothing work related as I walk, hoping by the time I return I will be ready to tackle the rest of the project. I distract myself by listening to the sounds surrounding me, the swooshing of cars speeding by, the faint cry of children playing in a schoolyard just out of view. A breeze caresses my neck as I relish in the simplicity of taking a walk. This quiet time gives me the mental rest I need to get my creative juices flowing again.

The coffee shop is buzzing with morning meetings and people working vigorously on their laptops. In front of me is a man, maybe 30 years old, talking on a cell phone. I immediately note how good he smells, like fresh laundry with just a hint of something warm and delicious. Is it vanilla? Sandalwood? I can hear brief snippets of his conversation:



“No...that’s not what I said...I want those delivered immediately. Tell Marsha to drop everything she is doing and make it happen.” His voice is firm, but not raised. He must be some sort of hotshot banker. He aggressively presses a button on his phone, I assume to hang up on whomever he is speaking with, and shoves the phone into the pocket of his gray slacks. At this point, I can only make out that he is tall, maybe a little over six feet, and has dark hair that looks like it was coiffed earlier in the day, but has now become a little unruly. He is wearing a white button down shirt, tucked into his pants, with the sleeves rolled up.

“Next!” A girl’s voice calls him to the counter. I can’t make out what he is ordering, and then I hear another girl call out, so I approach the counter.

“I’ll have a large coffee please, with room.” She hastily serves up the fresh and extremely hot cup of coffee. As I turn around to take my beverage to the condiment stand, I slam into someone behind me. The person feels like a wall, the torso not giving into my momentum and nearly throwing me back. The impact pops the lid off of my coffee cup and hot liquid explodes out of the opening, scalding my hands and flying onto the man whom I have just turned to face. I instantly realize it is him. I am sure this is all happening very quickly, but I hear myself breathing and feel myself looking up at him, as if in slow motion, taking a deep breath as my eyes scan up his torso and then his neck. The humiliation is fresh and my hand is pulsing with radiating pain from the hot coffee. My eyes slowly meet his: in a word, he is beautiful. He has eyes that are not quite green or blue, full lips, a strong, straight nose, and a beautiful smile...smile? This is not the reaction I am expecting.

“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” I lunge at his shirt with my napkin in a fruitless attempt to wipe off the coffee. “I feel like such an ass!”

“It’s okay, really,” he says, under a crooked grin. He puts his hands up at his sides, as if surrendering to my panicked attempt at cleaning his shirt. I continue to apologize, feeling as though there are not enough “sorries” this morning to make up for spilling my coffee all over his perfectly-pressed ensemble.



“It’s not a big deal. I have plenty of shirts like this.” As he says this, he touches my shoulder and my entire body tenses for a moment. He is so calm about the whole situation. Is this the same borderline rude guy who wanted Marsha to drop EVERYTHING she was doing? The coffee shop, buzzing with activity just minutes earlier, seems to have quieted. It feels like everyone has stopped their business to watch my extremely embarrassing moment unfold. Not being one for attention, I scurry out of the coffee shop, leaving without adding anything to my coffee. I just need to escape this moment as quickly as possible.

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