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Friends With Benedicts
Author: Staci Hart

 

1

 

 

All Shook Up

 

 

PRESLEY

 

 

The amount of coffee Texans consumed in hundred-degree weather astounded me.

I made my eleventyith turn about the diner with the steaming coffee pot in my hand, smiling my Tip Me smile, praying to the grease gods that the backup pot I had going would be finished brewing by the time I made it back behind the counter. This one was nearly dead.

It was unnatural, really. How anyone could drink anything besides water, beer, or sweet tea in this heat was beyond me, but there they all sat, swigging their drug of choice faster than science should have allowed.

Ding. “Order up!”

“Perfect timing,” I said to my empty pot as I hurried to the window where breakfast plates waited to be swept away to their forever homes.

Seconds later, plates were stacked up one arm, and I whirled back onto the floor for distribution.

It was my third day of work at Bettie’s Biscuits in the bustling metropolis of Lindenbach, Texas, population eleven hundred and two. Eleven hundred and five as of last week when my mother, my kiddo, our dog, and I rolled into town after three hard days of driving. In the heat. With no A/C.

It was a real treat, let me tell you. My barely four-year-old, Priscilla, was sticky on a normal day, but after eight hours without air conditioning and nothing but gas station junk to eat? Forget about it. The kid had eaten so many lollipops, she could stick to the wall like one of those jelly spiders. Not that I would stick my child to the wall. I mean, on most days, anyway.

As I divvied out pancakes and eggs, I listened to the Hill Country twang in everyone’s voice, finding it charming and familiar. I’d spent summers here as a kid with my cousins, running around their thousand-acre bee farm here in town, but I hadn’t been back in near five years.

I don’t know when I would have visited again if we hadn’t lost our house in Northern California. I certainly never thought I’d live in Texas under any circumstance. But here we were, gratefully accepting the handout from the Blum side of the family until we got back on our feet.

I wondered if my mom’s cousin Dottie knew we’d never been on our feet and decided not to be the one to tell her.

It was nine in the morning, but I figured it was already a hundred-and-twenty degrees outside. Maybe an exaggeration, but for a California girl used to a coastal breeze, this land-locked hellscape was an abomination of nature.

And yet, the coffee flowed like wine.

“Can I get you anything else?” I asked, hoping they’d say no.

“More coffee, if you’d be so kind,” a leather-faced man with cowboy hathead said with a smile that made me think of grandparents and the sweet scent of tobacco and ice cream on summer nights.

“Absolutely,” I answered.

It was my go-to, canned waitress answer to any given question. Every server had one. Some people said you bet, or sure, or be right back with that, but I found absolutely really sounded like it was a top priority. Nobody said absolutely and then didn’t do what they promised.

I mean, except servers. But only when they were really busy. Or when their patrons were dicks. The dicks got their coffee last.

Marlboro man would get his pronto.

I scuttled around the room picking up plates on my way to the back, humming along to “All Shook Up.” Bettie’s Biscuits was a classic 50’s diner—pastel pink and that minty Tiffany shade of blue-green that the pervs at Crayola called “Sea Foam Green.”

Aggie, another waitress who I’d decided was going to be my work wife, stood in front of the window to the kitchen with her lip hitched in classic Elvis style, her hips jerking back and forth. She didn’t quit until the guys in the back were laughing, then got back to work, snagging the fresh coffee pot.

“Hey,” I called over my shoulder as I headed to the back. “Would you hit table twelve with that?”

“I will not hit Mr. Hersch with the coffee pot, Presley Hale. You should be ashamed.”

“Thank you,” I said on a laugh.

I unloaded my burden at the dish station, careful not to get anything on my pretty pink uniform or the pristine white of my apron. The odds of me making it to lunch without syrup and ketchup all over me were slim to none, and I only had two uniforms. Ya girl was not a fan of laundry, and even less into ironing.

I wondered momentarily how old Priscilla needed to be to learn how to iron. Probably kindergarten, at least.

Bummer.

When my hands were washed, I headed back out to the floor, checking the coffee machines, making sure something was brewing in all of them. My arm was elbow deep in a sleeve of filters when I heard a voice that slid over me like silk.

“Well, look at that. The rumors are true.”

Lightning struck me dead to the spot—shock, I realized distantly. The sensation was followed by the frying of my ovaries like a couple of unsuspecting eggs.

Sebastian Vargas had that effect on me and my eggs.

I turned, smiling through my surprise. And there he stood, tall, dark and smirking at me in that way that made all the girls fling their panties at him.

Memories were funny—what I remembered with vivid, certain clarity was a sad, watered-down version of the real thing. I didn’t remember him being so tall, though I’d come up to his shoulders since we were seventeen. I didn’t remember just how strong the cut of his jaw was, made sharper by his tidy scruff. Or the masculine line of his elegant nose, the abundance of his black hair, so thick, you couldn’t see his scalp, even with the ebony locks cut with ruts from his fingers. I didn’t remember the golden amber of his skin, the color so rich, it seemed to swallow sunlight thirstily.

That wasn’t the only thirsty thing in his general vicinity.

He was built like a runner, long and lean, with strong shoulders and rolling muscles. I noted every curve down to his pecs until his shirt hung too loose to count abdominal muscles that I knew for a fact were right there, chasing each other in pairs toward his narrow hips.

I tumbled into the depthless black of his eyes, such a deep shade of brown, you could only see his pupils in a certain slant of light. Those eyes I remembered, lined with enviable black lashes. That smile on wide, full lips, I knew. The flash of bright teeth when he laughed had been only for me for a few perfect summers, though we always broke it off when I went home to California.

Neither of us were dumb enough to think we could pull off long distance, smart enough even as teenagers to know better.

“Seb,” I said with a smile I hoped wasn’t too obvious to the fact that I’d have liked to climb over the bar and onto him face first, if things like manners and societal rules weren’t a thing.

“Come here,” he said with a movie-star smile if I ever saw one. He walked to the galley, and I paused, indecisive for a split second.

And then I nearly ran for him, giggling like the teenage girl I was when I’d fallen in love with him a million years ago.

He caught me with a laugh that rumbled all the way through me. And for a second, he just held me there.

I breathed him in—he smelled the same, an earthy spice that I remembered most of all. One whiff elicited a biological reaction that had my hands fisting the back of his shirt where I hung onto him.

I relaxed my grip, and he took the cue to put me down. But he didn’t back away, instead hanging his hands on my hips so he could peer down into my face.

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