Michele pushed the button and the coffee grinder revved to life. “I still don’t understand how you can party all night and be all smiles the next day for work.”
Tessa grinned mischievously and leaned back against the counter. “It’s a secret.”
Her coworker rolled her eyes. “If you’re talking about Gatorade, it’s no secret.”
Tessa giggled and scanned over the half empty coffee shop. For a Wednesday morning, it was particularly dead as far as business goes. From what she observed, almost everyone and their brother needed a little pick-me-up in the morning in the middle of the week.
The slow morning allowed her to spin the story of her wild night on the town to Michele. What her coworker didn’t know was that Tessa actually stayed at home all evening with her nose stuck in a book.
“I’ll have to go out with you next time. Sounds like you had a fun time.”
Tessa inwardly cringed at the idea. It’s not that she didn’t like Michele’s company, but she dreaded the idea of having to put on that outrageous glitter eye shadow and that tight mini skirt again.
But instead of turning down Michele, she smiled and nodded. “That’d be awesome!” she exclaimed, her tone fluxing like the ditzy airhead she pretended to be.
For months now, Tessa had been projecting this image of herself. After transferring to this new community college from the big university in her hometown, she had made a resolution to recreate herself. She wouldn’t be the unpopular bookworm anymore. Tessa wanted to be one of the cool kids who went to clubs and bars when they were still under-aged. So, she wore skinny jeans and designer blouses underneath her black barista apron and pretended to not care about her studies so the other students would like her.
Many times, she felt a fraud for donning this new persona when the real Tessa was suppressed underneath layers of makeup and hair spray. Tessa fabricated stories about late night keg parties and sleeping with hot guys after getting incredibly drunk. In reality, she stayed in her apartment if she could help it and maintained her perfect grade point average.
When other girls invited her out on the town, Tessa accepted and pulled out of the flamboyant but sexy outfits to wear. She made her own fake ID to get into the clubs and played the part she had created for herself. She drank the fruity cocktails, flirted back with the boys who hit on her and danced like a stripper with the rest of them. Once she got home – if she ended up at her own home – she’d scrub off the vibrant makeup and go straight to bed after downing two glasses of water to combat the hangover that was sure to come in the morning.
Tessa hated going out. She hated the clubs and the loud music. She hated the rude boys who pinched her butt and tried to get her drunk. She hated disrespecting herself by dancing that way. But the desire to make friends and be somebody outweighed all of it.
Michele was one of the girls who Tessa wanted to impress the most. She was classy and kind, but had a bit of natural spunk about her that Tessa wished she had. Yet, Michele was the one person Tessa didn’t spend as much time with. They only shared two shifts during the week and Michele graduated two years ago.
The coffee shop doors opened and the sound of traffic briefly poured in, bringing both girls to attention. At first, the bright sunshine behind the customer shadowed many of his features. But as he swaggered into the shop, Tessa’s eyes brightened at his handsome looks.
His dark hair was perfectly gelled and contrasted his pale green eyes. His semi-professional attire of a blue button up shirt tucked into a pair of khakis pants that showcased his trim waist did little to hide his muscular physique. A laptop bag was slung across his thick chest, rocking against his hip as he walked towards the counter.
He couldn’t have been too far into his thirties, but he carried himself like a true gentleman. Yet, there was a look about him that was undeniably alluring. He was an older man, and to Tessa, that had always been an attractive quality. They had more life experience and mountains more maturity than any of the frat boys that thought the idea of a good time involved sucking beer through a rubber hose.
Tessa’s heart never thumped this hard when older college seniors in the club surrounded her and bombarded her with cheesy pickups lines. A small smile crept across the stranger’s face and her cheeks flushed when she realized the smile was directed at her.
She glanced to Michele whose eyes flicked back and forth between Tessa and the customer, signaling for her to take his order. Already feeling her palms sweat and tongue thicken in her mouth, Tessa stepped up to the cash register and gave him her best coquettish smirk to hide how she really felt.
“Good morning,” she greeted, surprised that she was able to get the words in the right order and pronounced clearly.
“Good morning,” the stranger replied. The deep timbre of his voice made her knees weak.
“Is something there I could you get.” So much for that. Tessa winced and shook her head to get her sentence straight again. “Sorry. Is there something I can get for you?”
The stranger gave a short laugh. To Tessa, laughing was never a good thing. Her fellow classmates laughed at her expense too often for it to have a good connotation. But the way this man chuckled, she wasn’t as embarrassed as she could have been. He was amused by her slip, not condescending or hateful.
“I’ll have a medium peach chamomile tea please,” he said.
Tessa had to recover from her slip earlier, so she cocked her hip and tilted her head cutely, just the way she had practiced in the mirror at home. “I’m assuming you want that hot?” she asked, accentuating that last word as if she were offering him something other than a cup of tea.
The customer’s smile didn’t fade. A good sign. “Yes, please.”
Tessa entered the order on the monitor and looked back to him through her lashes, hoping that her mascara was as flawless as it had been hours ago. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
The pause of silence that stretched between them over the counter made Tessa second guess if this first encounter was going well. Yet, his expression didn’t turn sour or disapproving. Instead, he seemed thoughtful, gazing at her with a fierce intensity that made her wonder what was going on in his head. Was he sizing her up for something or trying to figure out her angle? Would the next words out of his mouth be a return flirt or a quick sentence that would end their interaction completely?
“As a matter of fact, I think there is something you can do for me.”
Tessa’s heart rose into her throat and she could only raise one of her eyebrows, wordlessly asking him to continue.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small billfold. The stranger handed her a credit card. Tessa was crestfallen as she accepted the payment. She was sure that he was about to ask her on a date.
But then, what a relief it was that he didn’t. What would she do? What would they talk about? She was so young, just a few months shy of twenty-one and there was her reputation to think about. She wasn’t so much concerned that people would berate her for dating an older man, but if he asked her some place classy like a five-star restaurant or something tame like watching a movie at the theater, she might have been tempted to reveal that side of herself that she swore not to show to anyone.
Without a word, because she was too ashamed to say much of anything else, Tessa handed the man his card and receipt.
The stranger plucked a pen from the coffee mug sitting next to the register and turned his receipt over to inscribe an address and phone number before slipping his card back into his wallet.
“Meet me at this place tonight at seven o’clock,” he said. It wasn’t quite an invitation, but an order. Tessa blinked back her confusion and stared at the address on the piece of slick paper.
Being new to this town, she didn’t quite recognize the street name. She looked back up to the man and he was beginning to turn away. Michele had heard the man’s order and was in the process of preparing his tea.
“Wait,” Tessa said, hoping not to sound to eager. “I don’t even know your name.”
The stranger gazed into her eyes and smiled. “My name is Christopher.”
Tessa thought she would melt. Such a bold name for such a gentle person. It was a struggle not to turn into a gooey romantic mess. She flashed her cat-like simper and folded up the receipt. “I’ll be there.”
Christopher gave her a nod and walked to the other end of the counter where Michele was waiting with his tea. Tessa watched him walk out the door and couldn’t help but let out a dreamy sigh. It was just as enjoyable to watch him leave, as it was to stare into those green eyes of his.
Michele tugged on her arm, spinning her out of her daydream to meet her coworker’s glare. “What were you thinking?”
Tessa flipped the folded up receipt between her fingers. “I was thinking that I have plans for tonight.”
Michele’s dark eyes went wide in astonishment. “That’s Professor Johnson. He’s the anthropology teacher at the college. You can’t tell me that you didn’t know that!”
Tessa brought up his face in her mind and shook her head. “No, I hadn’t seen him before at all.” And that was saying something, considering that she probably knew the school and the staff better than anyone else because she actually paid attention. Yet, she had a hard time believing that Christopher was a college professor. He was far too young to be a teacher. The professors at the college were usually middle aged or older and had been teaching for years. If Christopher was a professor, he must be relatively new to the career field.
“I had him in my junior year.” There went that theory.
Tessa grabbed Michele’s arm excitedly. “What’s he like?”
Michele rocked back on her heels. “Well, he’s nice, funny, pretty merciful when it came to late assignments.” She shook her head sharply as if to snap herself out of a dream. “No, wait. You can’t date a professor.”
“He’s not my professor.” No doubt there were some school guidelines about students dating teachers, but would they necessarily apply to her?
“It doesn’t matter. It’s weird.”
Tessa beamed like a proud child. “I don’t care. He’s hot and he wants me to meet up with him tonight and I’m going.”