Why was I always late to work?
The train stopped, and I had six blocks left to go on foot.
I wedged my way through the mass of warm bodies to the exit. Once the doors slid open, I sprinted off.
Gratefully, I made it ahead of the crowd, through the revolving door, and up the stairs.
As I rounded the corner, my heavy oversized bag swung away from my body and into the side of a dark haired head; he fell backwards in slow motion, and lay stunned on the cement sidewalk.
I skidded to a stop and prepared a fawning apology as I bent down with my fingertips fluttering over him without exactly touching.
“Oh my God.” I hyperventilated and squeaked, “Are you okay?”
He shook his head in a way that he was not answering my question and spoke slowly, “I…am fine.”
My heart almost stopped beating from how the liquid honey of his voice coated my skin. The guy I had just assaulted looked at me as if he had heard my heart’s silent protest.
I was confronted with the full attack of his beauty as he blinked at me.
His eyes were the color of dark roasted coffee beans and were so close to black, that they could have swallowed his pupils had it not been for the gold-flecked ring around them. His jaw was angular, as was the rest of his face, but there was a small scar on his jaw line, just to the right of his chin.
I blinked at him, and he was standing with his hand out to me.
The change was so sudden that I immediately grabbed his hand and found him more stable than I was.
“Now that doesn’t seem quite right. I knocked you on your ass, and you’re the one helping me up.” I wrapped my other hand around my bag again and stood with his help.
He smiled down at me. “It’s okay.”
The guy held onto my hand as if I might fall without it.
Shit! I’m still late for work.
“I’m sorry.” I took my hand back and started walking toward work. “I owe you coffee or something.”
Picking up to a jog, I yelled, “Half Moon Diner. Late. Sorry.”
The dude vanished behind me, and I ran full speed to the diner. A few minutes later, I burst through the rear door to the Half Moon, panting and sweaty.
The head waitress stood next to the sink, clearing a tray of dirty dishes. “Ria, you’re late again.”
“What else is new? You gonna tell the boss man?”
“No, just go to work. Lily just sat table sixteen—that’s you—so go take their order. They need drinks still.” She turned and grabbed a plate from above the toaster as two slices of wheat rolled out.
I punched my time card, tied my black apron around my waist, and stashed my bag in the back before scuttling off to table sixteen. They ordered two coffees and a large orange juice.
Seven o’clock in the morning was slow for breakfast; the rush would show up about a half hour later.
I stood in the back unloading the dishwasher when Lily came and leaned against the wall next to me. Taller than my five-six by a couple of inches, she was about thirty-four, but she looked forty. Lily’s hair was dark blonde with streaks of gray fanning from the top.
She shifted against the half-wall, wrapped one arm around my waist and squeezed.       “You know, you could have been like another hour late, so I could grab your tables and the extra cash. Did I tell you Andrea likes ballet so much, she won’t stop whining until I put her into classes?”
“How much will those cost you?”
“Too expensive for me to afford. It’s something like $335 for sixteen sessions. The kid thinks I’m made of money.”
“I couldn’t imagine having a kid, Lily. Two jobs and I can barely afford my apartment and bread.” I shook my head, eyes still burning for sleep. “Still gonna buy her lessons though, aren’t you?”
Lily sighed. “Probably.”
“I’ll try to be later tomorrow for you.”
She smiled. “Why were you late this time? You usually make it just after the train.”
“Oh my God. I knocked this gorgeous guy down when I swung around the corner onto eighty-third. I hit him with my work bag—in the face.” My cheeks burnt furiously, and a nervous giggle stuck to the back of my throat.
“You bitch slapped him with that huge bag of yours?” Lily laughed. “Did he break something?”
“He said that he was fine. I dunno. I kind of ran off.”
“You knocked him down and then fled the scene?”
She’s had way too much caffeine. I shook my head and went to go check on my table. Lily would be spreading that mini piece of gossip by now.