Excerpt of The Road to Something Better

Mondays can take a toll on any responsible, taxpaying citizen. Rising before the crack of dawn to cater to most of them is especially trying when your hopping coffee shop is nestled in the midst of Fountain Square in bustling downtown Cincinnati. Everyone needs their double espressos and soy lattes to help them start their work week, and who am I to deny them?

But this Monday was different for me. No matter how outlandish the order, my fellow Cincinnatians were greeted with a cheery smile and unfailing courtesy, whether they liked it or not. Nothing could destroy my exuberant mood today.

I had just spent the entire weekend with my gorgeous neighbor, Joseph Scarbrough, and given that he’d topped off our time together with a cherry of a kiss upon our farewell, I was darn near giddy this morning. And I typically don’t do “giddy.”

In the past, I’d often worn my heart on my sleeve, which inevitably crushed it short of irreparable more times than I could count. Because of that, I’d perfected how to hide my emotions where men were concerned. But after last night, “giddy” was my new getup, and I wasn’t hiding it under superhero-alter-ego-nerd glasses either. I was proudly displaying my Superwoman S-shield on my chest—though mine would be represented with a capital G for Giddy—with no desire to look for a phone booth.

Like the happy geek I was, I forged through the crazy Monday morning serving the best coffee in Cincinnati to my fellow, working-class citizens. I even tried to remedy the scowls of those who had clearly wakened on the wrong side of the bed by handing out free coffee certificates for their next visit. Nothing was going to spoil my day.

What made this Monday even better was being on the receiving end of Melissa’s constant surveillance. While she was my best friend and the most loyal, dedicated employee I’d ever hired, she was also very perceptive. She could smell peculiar like a bloodhound on a coon’s trail. 

I sensed her hovering just inches behind my right shoulder. I ripped my last customer’s receipt from the till and handed it to him along with my usual Thank you a latte and please come back and see us departure speech and turned around. 

“All right, spill it, Jamie.”

“Spill what?”

“Really?” she sighed and pulled me away from the counter. “You’re working your hind end off with a smile no one could remove with a crowbar. What’s up?” Her eyes lit up like a teenager who’d just opened a Christmas present and found the newest 4G iPhone complete with unlimited texting capability sitting in a bed of tissue paper. “You saw Joseph this weekend, didn’t you?”

She left me no time to respond, cutting in with a squeal that could break glass.

“Oh, my gosh! I knew it! How did it happen? What was he wearing this time? Don’t tell me a towel again, my heart can’t take it. Did you invite him into your apartment? Oh, my gosh, you did! I can see it on your face. Did he spend the night?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Annie Oakley. Before you start shooting off about things that never happened, how about you take a breath…and I’ll tell you.”

She pointed at me sternly. “Details. Not the CliffsNotes version.”

“Oh, God forbid,” I dished back, rolling my eyes. I let out a huge sigh and mentally ran through the multitude of events that had occurred this past weekend, not knowing where to start. Her face held such a glow of anticipation I hoped my tale would live up to her expectations. I mean my weekend with Joseph was momentous to me, but maybe she’d think it was pretty tame by her standards. However, since I knew she dated about as often as I did, I suspected she was about to live vicariously through me. Maybe she did the same thing in high school when her BFF then shared her sweet sixteen kiss with the high school jock. I never had a BFF in high school nor kissed a jock, but I’ve watched Sixteen Candles about a hundred times, so I had an idea.

“Well, I arrived home from work Friday with an armful of groceries, and I tried to unlock my door. Just as I was about to insert the key, Joseph suddenly showed up to help and scared the bejesus out of me. My bags ripped and produce went rolling down the hall. But Joseph…” I added, recalling Melissa’s fetish for his attire, “now sporting khakis and a tie, took off after my oranges and collected them for me.”

As if I’d just revealed some to-die-for details about a romantic kiss, she clutched her heart and closed her eyes. “Oh, what a gentleman. He’s so dreamy.”

Dreamy for chasing fruit down a hallway, huh? And I thought I was Captain Giddy.

“Go on….” she encouraged me, fanning herself. “This is good stuff.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d think Melissa might be on the verge of euphoric bliss. ’Course it had been ages for me, so I could’ve been wrong. “Anyway…we gathered up the last of the groceries, had a really awkward conversation about our plans for the evening, which I’m going to leave out for the sake of time and irrelevance, and then said our goodbyes.”

“What? That was your big weekend with Mr. Terrycloth?”

“I’m not finished. And it’s Scarbrough. Joseph Alexander Scarbrough.” My voice took on a British intonation as I spoke his full name. I was proud of my improvisational accent, and if the Queen of England were here, she might have been impressed as well. Or not. All that mattered was that Melissa enjoyed it.

“Oh, that’s even better than Maxwell,” she gushed behind her steepled fingers. “Okay, now get to the good parts.”

“I thought you wanted all the boring details?”

She flapped her hands back and forth in front of her so fast she resembled a hummingbird. “Not those boring details. I want details like you read in Harlequin Blaze. The stuff you’d leave out when talking to your mother.” Her feet did a little jumpy move and she nailed the landing with a few happy claps. “Come on. Don’t keep me waiting!”

I grasped her by her upper arms, made eye contact, and spoke in calm tones. “You do know we have decaf available.”

“Quit stalling, Jamie.”

Melissa knew me too well. “Fine.” I then told her how he’d come home from his “guy’s night out,” passed out in the hall, and how I struggled to get him back on his feet and into his apartment. When I mentioned helping him into bed, I thought Melissa’s head might explode. I’d never seen her get so stirred up hearing a simple story, which was by no means a steamy Harlequin romance. Secretly, I feared her reaction when I did get to the kissing part.

My tale continued with our Saturday coffee and conversation, Thai food, and fortune cookies. I purposely left out eavesdropping on Joseph and his former girlfriend, Caroline, and, of course, my sugar-plummeting episode as they were not my best moments. As I moved into Sunday with Joseph fixing the shop’s faulty espresso machine, our mishaps upon his sister’s barn roof, and my death-defying ascent into his childhood treehouse, I came to the part where he stood at my door and gazed into my eyes.

I must have been under the same magical spell as Melissa for neither of us heard the jingle of the bell over the coffee shop door. She took a step closer as my words had almost become a whisper. “And….” she encouraged softly.

“It was the most amazing—”

From behind me, an impatiently rude customer had cleared his throat and interrupted the best part of my epic saga. I wasn’t one to return a customer’s impoliteness, no matter how belligerent he proved to be, but I was about two seconds from a Poltergeist head spin.

Until I saw the shock on Melissa’s face.

She swallowed hard, glanced wide-eyed at me, and back over my shoulder at the patron with a forced smile. “We’ll be right with you.”

“Take your time.”

I closed my eyes. I knew that voice. I had heard that voice all night long in my dreams. I clenched my teeth. “Melissa….”

“Yes?” Her voice cracked under the pressure of that tiny word.

“Please tell me that is not Joseph.”