©January 9, 2002
These characters, plots and circumstances belong entirely to me. Any reproduction, distribution, or use without expressed, written permission of the author constitutes copyright infringement. Oh, and the scones are mine, too.
Category: Uber; Alternative
Sex and violence: Nope, sorry.
Adult Content: This story includes adult language and situations. If the very mention of the word "lesbian" offends you, what the HELL are you doing reading this author?
Pacific Northwest Content: This story includes Puget Sound, Seattle, SUVs, ferries, lawyers, espresso stands, discussions of coffee, and a 17 year old boy. Consider yourself forewarned.
Email: Comments, questions, criticism to email@example.com.
Monday 7:03 a.m.
"Jo, Jo, check out this car!"
Jo Ross, engaged at that moment in the tricky delivery of a full cup carrier to a Miata that required her to practically stand on her head, didn't bother to look around. Justin, her coworker in the tiny espresso drive-thru, had just reached 17 and requested her attention for approximately every fifth car that passed on its way to the crowded Port Orchard ferry dock. It got a little wearing.
"It's a Jag," Justin squealed, his voice finding an octave it should have lost about 4 years earlier. "It's pulling in."
"Just finish that mocha," Jo suggested. "Maybe it'll be on your side."
A minute or two later, Justin groaned, "Aww, man, the Jag's getting in your lane."
"I told you to hurry up. It's all about speed," Jo grinned at her customer. "Huh, Harry? You pick my lane because I'm the fastest hands in the Key Peninsula."
Harry, taking a long sip of his morning caffeine rush-- triple tall café Americano-- laughed and looked in the espresso stand at the tanned legs revealed by her shorts. "It's not just the hands, Jo."
He pulled away as she chuckled.
Jo was used to flirtatious customers. She was used to all sorts of customers, in fact. For the last three years, her day had begun at 4:30 a.m. when she rose and donned whatever lay at hand to face another morning of barrista-duty at Chuck's Coffee Olé, a drive-thru espresso stand situated on prime real estate just two blocks above the loading lanes of one of the busiest Western Washington ferry runs: Southworth-Vashon-Fauntleroy.
Coffee Olé wasn't glamorous, but the job had provided her with the funds to start at the UW the previous fall, and Jo planned to resign her position as morning manager as soon as this second semester was over. Saved minimum wages supplemented with hefty tips from happy customers meant she could afford to finish her Restaurant and Hotel Management degree in just three years, including summer school, and not work while she did it.
"Oh, maaaan," Justin groaned enviously, standing on tip-toes to see the long, sleek, silver-gray hood roll under Jo's window.
The tinted window slid silently down, revealing inch by inch, like the smooth download of a photo of some impossibly beautiful supermodel, the face of the driver. Rich, chocolate brown hair framed the face of a high-cheekboned, Pre-Raphaelite goddess: pale, flawless skin, a straight, forceful, stubborn nose, and a firm, cleft chin that confirmed the arrogant, high-tempered set of the features. Jo gulped, then saw her own gape-mouthed expression reflected in the mirrored Ray-bans covering the goddess' eyes and rapidly pasted on a smile.
"You're new," the barrista managed, inanely. "What can I get you?"
"Latté. The biggest you've got, with at least three shots," came the rich, chocolate-y voice that matched the hair.
"Um, we have a super-grande with four shots for $4.50."
Jo went to work, rapidly measuring out the four shots. The Jaguar driver leaned back in her seat, a flutter of classical music lifting like perfume from the interior. Out of the corner of her eye, Jo reassessed the profile. Good heavens, the woman was gorgeous! The car screamed money, of course, but the woman's bearing screamed poise, prestige, and power. Dot-com CEO? Nah, they usually lived on the East Side; besides, they usually had the fashion-sense of Bill Gates. Jo steamed the milk as she considered it. Actress? Sometimes they got vacationing celebrities on the peninsula, but this woman exuded a different kind of charisma. The mystery woman had Jo stumped.
Capping the latté, Jo handed it out the window. "Here you go, super-grande with four shots," she smiled, taking the ten dollar bill. Taking a half-step the register, she pulled the change with skill born of long practice and turned.
Ed Riley, of Riley's Construction, faced her from the drive-thru window.
"Mornin', Jo," he beamed. "I'll have the usual."
Jo popped her head out of the window and stared after the Jaguar in amazement.
"Five-fifty tip on a four-fifty drink," she muttered.
"Cool," agreed Ed in true Northwest fashion.
Thursday 7:12 a.m.
"Here she comes!" Justin announced from his south-facing window. "And now the roulette wheel spins. Which window will it be? Can Captain Jo of the Latté Launchers pull it out? Or will young Justin of the Java Juicers be on the receiving end of 'Ol' Blue Eyes' this morning?"
"Shut up, you git," Jo ordered, laughing.
She handed out a two-pack of espressos and broke the twenty that the customer handed her apologetically.
"Keep two for you, Jo," the woman smiled.
"Thanks, Carol," Jo responded.
"She looks like Gabrielle Reece crossed with Sandra Bullock, doesn't she? Only with blue eyes," Justin asked rhetorically, mooning over the mystery woman who'd made herself a regular in just four days.
"Jo! Don't you ever watch The Deuce? Beach volleyball? Come on, I thought all lesbians had Dish TV to get The Deuce and watch the babes play beach volleyball."
Jo gave him a look that combined amusement and disbelief. "Where do you get these these misconceptions?"
"Well, you are the only lesbian I know, Jo," Justin shrugged. "Other than Ellen DeGeneres and Xena, and I don't really know them."
Jo rolled her eyes with all the wisdom of her 22 to his 17 and went on with her next order. As she leaned out, she saw the Jag, inch its wheels into her right-swinging drive-up lane and, drawing back in, she smirked at Justin.
"Captain Jo shoots. She scores!"
"The crowd goes wild!" Justin made roaring fan noises through his cupped hands. "Lesbians everywhere rejoice!"
"He's an idiot," Jo assured her waiting customer, Dave, of Dave's Hauling and Appliance Repair.
"I suspected that," Dave grinned, taking his super grande latté and handing Jo a five and a one for the $3.50 drink. "Keep the change, Jo."
"Have a good day, Dave."
She rushed through the next order and then the Jaguar was rolling up, window already down.
"Good morning," Jo sang, giving her best mega-watt grin, her nose wrinkling adorably as she did so.
Blood-shot blue eyes met hers over the upper edges of Oakley wraps. "Let's agree to disagree."
"Okaaaay," Jo toned down her cheeriness. "Super-grande with 4?"
"Um You got anything to eat in there?"
"I have scones: blueberry or current. The blueberry ones are iced."
The Jag driver smiled ruefully. "Boy, do you have me pegged already. Give me the blueberry and a grande latté."
"One sweet tooth recognizes another," Jo winked and turned to fix the drink, her short blonde hair swinging momentarily into green eyes. She smoothed it back automatically and used the move to cover another look at the Jag. No one should look that good first thing in the morning, Jo decided.
The classical music had been replaced with something New Age, and Jo thought it sounded vaguely Celtic.
"Enya?" she asked, bagging the scone and handing it out while the milk heated.
"Yeah. The new album. Not the Lord of the Rings thing."
"Sounds calming. Did you see Lord of the Rings?"
The other woman shook her head. "Haven't had a chance yet. Did you like it?"
Jo shrugged, spooning froth into the latté. "I thought it could have done with a few more fight scenes."
An amazingly rich laugh rolled out of the Jag's window. "Bloodthirsty, are you?"
"Nah, I just am really into fight movies right now. The Matrix. Crouching Tiger "
"Not me," blue eyes lifted to show a deep sorrow. "Not since September."
Jo felt a jolt from the pain in those expressive eyes. Handing the cup out the window, she tried to formulate a delicate question. "Did you did you know someone?"
"Not personally," the brunette explained, "but I think we all lost something precious."
"Yeah," Jo agreed, "our sense of security."
"Yeah," the blue eyes had regained some of their warmth. "It even makes getting on the ferry a bit frightening."
Jo smiled down. "I've got a good feeling about the ferry," she offered reassuringly. "Just watch out for the Seattle drivers. Your coffee and scone are $5.25."
Her customer seated her coffee in the Jag's cupholder and smiled as she handed a ten dollar bill to the barrista. "Keep the change. I've got to go clear across to Bellevue so wish me luck."
"Thanks. Have a good day."
"You, too, Jo."
Jo watched bemusedly as the elegant gray car pulled away. "How'd she know my name?" she wondered aloud.
Justin glanced around at her. "Ummm could it be the fact that it's printed across the back of that softball shirt you're wearing? Or the fact that you're wearing a nametag on your left boob?"
Jo threw her clean-up towel at him.
Monday 7:00 a.m.
"Jo! Check it out!" Justin's voice squealed through the tiny aluminum trailer. "It's the new Range Rover HSE: Blenheim Silver paint job; advanced 4.4-liter V8 engine; electronic brakeforce distribution; bi-xenon headlamps; interconnected electronic air spring suspension; heated leather steering wheel with multi-functional switches; integrated cellular telephone with optional voice recognition system; safari kit "
"You live on those online auto sites, don't you?"
"Come on, Jo, this is the coolest SUV on the planet."
"I thought that was the Beemer X5 4.6-liter we saw an hour ago."
"No way. The Beemer only has 8 way seat adjustment. The Range Rover has 20 way and 2 seat memories."
"Sheesh, BMWs are such beater cars."
Jo's regular, Carol, laughed as she tipped the blonde barrista. "See you tomorrow, Jo."
"Oh! Of course! It's coming in your lane," Justin huffed.
His customer, Lloyd, gave him a frown. "What am I? Chopped liver?"
"Lloyd, you're driving a '92 Taurus wagon with two--count 'em, two-- child seats in the back. You have all of my sympathy."
Lloyd took his one dollar tip back, and Jo was still laughing intermittently when the Range Rover drew up and its window--"privacy glass," Justin assured her-- descended.
The sapphire eyes of the Jaguar owner smiled at her. "Morning."
"Hey, you!" Jo grinned, warming under that cerulean gaze. "Don't tell me. The Jag's in the shop and this is your back-up vehicle?"
A slow smile blossomed on the gorgeous features. "No," she said with some shyness. "I traded this weekend. I just moved up from Santa Barbara and I don't think the Jag's made for the ice and snow of the Olympic Peninsula."
"Ah, another non-native learns a lesson: it does something other than rain here in the Sound."
"Well, it snows in Gig Harbor, or so they say," the brunette agreed.
"Naw," Jo scoffed. "Gig Harbor is practically the banana belt. Only Sequim gets more sun."
"Skwim?" the customer repeated phonetically. "Where's that?"
Jo chuckled. "You've seen it on the map, I'm sure. You probably have been saying it 'See-kwim'."
Perfect red lips made an "O" of dismayed embarrassment then curled into a grin. "So, here I get tutored as well as caffeinated?"
"Only the best for our regulars," Jo teased. "Name yer poison."
"Grande latté and a blueberry scone."
Jo chuckled. "You're getting to have a regular order, too."
"Yes, and my waistline does not thank you for getting me addicted to those damn scones of yours."
Despite her comment, the brunette took a bite out of the pastry as soon as Jo handed it to her.
"Hey!" On the other side of the trailer, Justin's customer griped at him. "You told me you ran out of those scones half an hour ago."
Jo blushed and hoped the brunette couldn't hear over the noise of the steamer. She'd set the scone back for "Ol' Blue Eyes" when she saw them getting low earlier in the morning.
"Here you go!" she smiled, handing out the woman's latté.
The brunette eyed her drink suspiciously. Atop the plastic cap, two foil-wrapped candies balanced. She lifted one winging dark brow at Jo.
"Customer appreciation slash marketing: 'Customers get a hug and a kiss at Chuck's Coffee Olé'," Jo quoted the radio commercial in explanation.
"Right back atcha," the brunette grinned, handing Jo one of the candies back, along with the ten dollar bill to cover her order-- and Jo's more than generous tip.
Jo grinned smugly when she noted that it was the Hershey's kiss that she'd received as part of her tip. Humming a little, she unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth.
"Slut," Justin whispered to her with a huge grin. It was still there when he unwrapped the clean-up towel from around his head again.
Tuesday 4:53 a.m.
Justin was cranky with lack of sleep when he came in, so Jo went out and rescued the plastic-wrapped newspapers he'd forgotten on the back "patio" of the drive-thru. Rain had made for a slow morning. She'd had only 6 cars from the early ferry and it would keep lots of the later ferry riders away, too. Justin slumped morosely on his stool across the trailer, pretending to doze and ignoring her existence. With a sigh, Jo unbundled one of the Seattle Post-Intelligencers to read, an unusual luxury.
"Boeing cuts more jobs," the P-I's main headline read and Jo sighed again. Recession was not good news in anyone's book. She thanked heavens she'd managed to save enough for all of her UW tuition while she'd done her 3 years in the espresso stand. Financial aid would be hard to come by soon.
She unfolded the paper, intending to go to the local section to read the police blotter (one of her favorite amusements), but the photo below the Boeing article caught her eye.
A crowd of suits-- mostly men-- poured down the marble stairs a fine old downtown building, but the focus of the photo was the one woman who stopped in their midst to answer questions from the surrounding mob of reporters. One man seemed to be trying to pull her away, but she resisted the hand on her arm easily, her vibrant features filled with determination and arrogance. Her lips curled around what looked like hard words, but it didn't flaw the beauty Jo had been pining over for three weeks now. It was "Ol' Blue Eyes" or Jo was blind as well as blonde.
"Union's lawyer rejects company's bid for reduced compensation," the caption read. "Machinists' Union attorney, Cosimia Karanzakis, rejected Boeing's bid for reduced compensation packages to workers affected by the lay-offs. 'Union members were promised fair severance compensation,' Karanzakis stated, 'and the Boeing Company will be forced to keep those promises.' Another meeting between management and the Machinists' Union is expected today at the Seattle offices of Welch, Henry and Karanzakis."
"Cosimia Karanzakis," Jo whispered, testing the name on her lips. It sounded almost ridiculously exotic, but the blonde barrista had to admit that her gorgeous customer could easily carry the weight of the name.
"Justin," she called tentatively.
"Yeah?" the young man's eyes opened and he straightened on the stool. Playing possum, Jo decided.
She held out the P-I. "Does this picture look like someone we know?"
Justin scanned the photo and whistled low. "Day-umn! It's Ol' Blue Eyes herself." He read the caption. "Well, that explains the fancy cars, huh? Machinists' Union's law-dog. That's the big bucks." He grinned at his blonde manager. "Hey, Jo, you sure can pick 'em!"
Jo laughed a little nervously. "She's just a customer, Justin."
Justin smirked, handing the paper back. "Yeah, a customer you've obviously got it bad for. And she's not blind, Jo. She's been checking you out, too."
"Huhnt-uh!" Jo grunted disbelievingly.
"Yeah," Justin insisted. "I've seen her. She was really looking at you last Thursday morning."
Jo smacked him with the newspaper. "That was the morning I spilled the whole jar of chocolate espresso beans on the trailer floor, doof. She was looking at me thinking 'Is this woman a geek or what?'"
"Jo, I've looked at a lot of women in my time "
"Have you now, old man," she interrupted, tone derisive.
" and I know what it looks like to look at a woman longingly." Jo's snort of laughter didn't stop him. "She was lookin' at you loooongingly."
Jo searched his eyes for sincerity and found it. Suddenly, the prospect of "Ol' Blue Eyes" looking at her longingly was more frightening than exciting. We have nothing in common. She's powerful, wealthy, older, an important labor lawyer and I'm a barrista! Jo told herself, humiliated. Cosimia Karanzakis. Her world's a million miles from mine. I shouldn't even be thinking about her. I mean, we wouldn't even have anything to talk about if we ever ever went out. She glanced down at the paper in her hand. Blue eyes full of intelligence and resolve met hers. Why does she have to look like my daydreams made true?
"You gonna ask her for her autograph?" Justin teased.
Jo just frowned at the picture and returned to her stool.
"Range Rover in range and approaching target," Justin called.
"Shit!" Jo whispered, scalding herself with the steamer, her nervous clumsiness returning with a vengeance.
"Here you go, Harry," she smiled, handing over his triple Americano.
Harry shook off the dripping rain before handing her his money. "Stay dry, Jo."
"Is that really good advice to give a lesbian?" Justin murmured from the espresso machine, and Jo considered murdering him before the next car pulled up, but when she turned, the next car was Cosimia Karanzakis' Range Rover.
"You sell swim fins?" the brunette inquired whimsically as she lowered her window.
Jo grinned at the bemused expression. "Welcome to Western Washington in the winter. Your usual, Ms Karanzakis?"
Blue eyes widened. "How'd you .?"
Jo held up the newspaper. "Not often one of our customers ends up on the front page-- without a meth lab bust being mentioned."
The other woman held out an imperious hand for the paper. Jo watched the "touch-me-not" mask of the photo slide into place over the brunette's beautiful features as she checked the news story. Blue eyes gone icy lifted and looked out over the hood of the SUV.
"Damn it," Cosimia Karanzakis muttered. "I thought we'd taken care of the photographers."
"Pardon?" Jo asked, though she'd heard perfectly well.
"I-- I'm sorry," Jo offered hesitantly, unsure of what to do now.
The blue eyed woman turned her head and, with visible effort, smoothed the anger out of her face. "Hey, not your fault. Thanks for the heads-up, in fact. The partners at my office would have caught me completely flat-footed." She smiled, reluctantly and ruefully, "And nothing rattles a lawyer's cage more than a courtroom surprise."
"So . Your usual, Ms Karanzakis?"
"Yes, please. And Jo?" the inquiring note halted Jo's turn toward the espresso machine. The blonde looked back into much less troubled blue irises and found a smile just for her. "My friends call me Mia."
Jo didn't dare look at Justin while they worked the espresso machine side by side, but she could feel the smugness rolling off him. She finished the latté in record time and, grabbing a scone, took them both back to Mia.
"Okay, $5.25, as always."
Mia held out a twenty. "Thanks again, Jo," she said quietly.
"Let me get your "
"Keep it," Mia ordered. "One good turn deserves another. See ya, Jo."
"See ya, Mia."
Wednesday 6:13 a.m.
Justin had called in sick at the last moment and Jo, between being run off her feet handling both windows in the morning rush, was still fuming when she turned away from one transaction and found Cosimia Karanzakis looking in the opposite window, next in line for service.
"Hey," Jo smiled, unaware of the changed note in her voice, but very aware of the feeling of near-relief she felt just seeing the lawyer again. The barrista glanced up at the clock in surprise a moment later. "You're early."
"Yeah. I've got some last minute things to take care of."
Jo handed her the last of the blueberry scones. On top of Justin's absence, the bakery had screwed up their order, and Jo was losing money and irritating customers with no pastries, but she'd set back a scone for Mia, just in case.
"So, did things go okay yesterday?" Jo asked over the roar of the grinder.
Mia smiled and nodded, chewing a mouthful of scone. "Forewarned is forearmed. They sort of laughed it off since it didn't make the television news."
"Would it have been harmful?"
Mia shrugged. "It's all a tightrope walk when you're negotiating. I didn't want anyone thinking I was grandstanding for the media."
"Oh, but it looked like you'd sort of staged that. You know, for a sound bite."
The brunette grinned. "Just the opposite, in fact. I was trying to prevent a sound bite. The statement in the caption was from a very boring press release we put out earlier in the day. The photo was me telling the press to get their expletive, expletive, expletive cameras out of my face because I refused to discuss anything about the Boeing talks."
"So, the P-I "
"Yeah, they manipulated the imagery and the text."
"Gee, and I always thought their pro-Boeing, anti-Union stance was just my blue collar roots showing."
Jo handed Mia the steaming coffee and took the ten dollar bill from her hand.
"No, Jo," Mia smiled, "I'd say your reading was right on."
Jo lost herself in that smile for a long moment, then glanced over her shoulder at Ed Riley's forlorn, decaffeinated face in the other window. "I-- um-- I have to "
"Yeah, I know. Don't work too hard, kiddo."
Jo smiled ruefully. "I'll try not. Have a good drive and a good day."
Wednesday 7:06 a.m.
Justin sing-songed mockingly, "You think she's gorgeous; you want to date her."
"Ha, ha, real funny, Mister Congeniality," Jo smirked back at him.
"Where did she say she was going again?"
"Chicago. Boeing's new headquarters to meet with the big brass."
"Oh, our little Northwest brass aren't good enough for her, huh?"
Jo ignored him, working on a tricky ristretto mocha for an impatient tourist who'd belittled everything from the rain to the size of the ferry to the limited number of syrup flavors Jo had in the espresso stand.
Jo wasn't having a good day, mainly because she'd known since Monday that Mia wouldn't be stopping by all week.
"I might be back Friday," Mia had speculated Monday morning, "but I'm not counting on it."
"It must be fun doing all that traveling," Jo had sighed. "I can't wait to get a real job and get a chance to move around a bit."
Mia smiled. "A 'real' job, huh? You look like you're working pretty hard back there."
Jo blushed. "Well, yeah, but not mentally. I could do this job in my sleep most days. In fact, some mornings I swear I don't wake up til 9 or 10."
"Glad I'm not out driving when you're on your way in," Mia laughed. "What work do you intend to do in your 'real' job?"
"Oh," Jo's blush resurfaced. "I'm studying Hotel and Restaurant Management."
Mia looked taken aback. "Really? I would have guessed you'd want to get far away from restaurants after this." She made a sweeping gesture taking in the trailer and the espresso machinery.
"Well, it's not really a restaurant. I'd like to do more hotel work, actually. My dream is to get on with one of the big chains and do openings of new properties. You know, go in and get it all set up; make staffing decisions; plan services and site utilization."
"Sounds exciting," Mia nodded. "So you want to be the organizer, project manager type?"
"Yeah," Jo felt pleased that Mia had immediately understood. Most people looked at her like she was crazy when she told them her career hopes.
"I have a friend who does real estate acquisitions for Marriott," Mia revealed. "The business is booming, in spite of the economic downturn. You shouldn't have any problem finding a job."
Jo beamed at the implied approval. "Cool," she murmured shyly as she handed out Mia's finished drink.
Mia offered her the ten with two negligently elegant fingers and a smile that sent a shaft of warmth right through Jo's middle. "See ya when I see ya, Jo."
"Be safe, Mia," she returned with sincere concern.
One blue eye winked, then the Range Rover had pulled away, electric window cutting off Jo's last view of Mia's flashing smile.
Jo sighed heavily again and Justin shot her an arch look. With more vigor than tune, he whistled the taunting tag from Miss Congeniality.
You think she's gorgeous, you want to date her, Jo's mind filled in the words.
Yeah, she admitted. I do
Saturday 8:23 a.m.
Jo stifled another yawn and readjusted her seat on the padded stool by the window. Economics 211 had not been a wise choice of reading material for a slow Saturday morning at the coffee stand. The less-than-gripping explanation of international monetary exchange markets did nothing to enliven the boring five hour shift Jo was putting in. Saturdays were notoriously slow, which was probably why Alison, Jo's least dependable morning worker, had called off from work the night before. Oh well, Jo told herself, it's not like you had some hot plans for this morning. And the extra money will certainly come in handy when you're not working this summer.
The crunch of tires turning off the road into the drive drew her back to her business. Popping her head out the window, Jo felt her own face light up at the sight of the silver-gray Range Rover pulling into the yellow-lined right lane.
"Now, there's a face I didn't expect to see for few days," she greeted Mia.
Mia looked stunning in a cream-colored ribbed turtleneck sweater. Her dark hair was tousled and wild, despite the suede Alice band that held it away from her face, and she wore very little make-up, just a hint of lipstick and eyeliner.
"What are you doing here?" Mia questioned, obviously pleased.
Jo shrugged. "Someone called off and I'm morning manager. I had to cover the shift."
"Well, well," Mia grinned devilishly, "lucky me."
"What are you doing here?" Jo returned the question, trying not to blush under Mia's look.
"I've got a desk full of files that I couldn't get to this week," Mia made a rueful face. "You play, you pay."
"But you weren't playing," Jo protested. "You were working in Chicago."
"The partners don't see it that way."
Jo tilted her head. "Aren't you one of the partners? I mean, it is Welch, Henry and Karanzakis."
Mia's mouth pulled sideways into a half-grin. "That Karanzakis is my mother."
"Oh," Jo chuckled, "now I see why you get no breaks."
"Yeah family businesses suck when you're the family."
"You want coffee?"
"No hurry," Mia shot a glance in her rearview mirror. "For once, there's not a line of caffeine-deprived maniacs behind me, cursing every second I spend talking to you."
Jo forced herself not to read too much into that statement. "So, you have to put in a full day?"
"Naw, I'll probably be able to get through everything in 3 or 4 hours. No phone calls to interrupt me."
A small silence stretched between them. Jo tried to find something else to ask, but Mia seemed content just to hold Jo in her blue gaze.
"You have scones this morning?" she finally asked.
Jo laughed a little, released from her awkwardness. "You should try to eat something a little more substantial on the weekend," she teased.
Mia's expression turned mock-pitiful. "I'm new in town, remember? I dont know where the good breakfast joints are. Besides," she pinned Jo with those laser blue eyes again, "I hate to eat alone."
Jo swallowed hard. Okay, Jo, she fortified herself, she's just being friendly. Don't take that as flirting.
"Well, I grew up in Gig Harbor, though we live in Port Orchard now. I can draw you a map to all the good places."
Jo shook her head at the enthusiasm and the disbelief. "Yes. I wouldn't have offered if I didn't mean it."
"People up here are so much nicer than Californians," Mia opined. "Everyone goes out of their way to be kind to strangers."
"Except in traffic," Jo teased.
"Now, now, don't be a cynic, oh native-born one. Just this morning, someone let me into the fast lane without a fight."
"Did you remember to wave?"
Mia's eyebrows went up. "Wave?"
"It's an important Northwest courtesy," Jo explained. "If someone does let you in, you have to give the courtesy wave."
"Oh, that must be it," Mia gestured dismissively. "I wondered what he was flashing his lights about."
Jo let out a startled laugh at the other woman's silliness. She was definitely getting to see new side of the aloof and beautiful lawyer this morning. I'll have to give Alison a present before I fire her, she thought.
"Let me get you your scone and latté," the barrista offered. "You've had a road rage near miss."
Mia smilingly assented and the blonde quickly went through the morning routine.
"You have pretty good coffee for a drive-thru," Mia complimented after she'd taken a sip.
"Thanks," Jo wiped off the steamer and tossed her clean up towel aside. "Chuck buys from one of the local roasters who also supplies Tully's Coffee shops."
Jo grinned as she pulled her stool nearer the window and hitched a hip up on it, settling down to talk as long as Mia wished. "Starbucks do their own roasting; they're like McDonald's-- they own every step of the process so they make profit all along the chain of supply."
"Jo," Mia looked at her coffee cup, obviously formulating a thought, "don't take this the wrong way, but What's a smart girl like you doing working in an drive-thru espresso stand?"
Jo's felt her face stiffen. She'd heard the question a lot, but it didn't get any easier to answer. "I--- um, my parents didn't have the money for me to go to college right away. Dad-- um-- Dad lost his business because of some problems while I was a senior and we moved up here. I needed a job and didn't have a car. We live just up the street," she pointed absently. "After I got started, I found out I could make good tips-- as good as at a restaurant-- and save quite a bit of money, not having to drive." The blonde shrugged, uncomfortable with the attention Mia was focusing on her. "I just never looked for another job."
Mia nodded, looking away, then looking back just as quickly. "Well, it's pretty obvious that you're really intelligent. Even in the brief conversations we've had, you've shown that."
Jo was scarlet. "Thanks."
"I don't mean to embarrass you," Mia murmured, "and I don't want you to think I'm some old butt-inski, telling you what to do, but you're wasted here."
Jo shrugged again, trying to appear offhanded about it. "I'm only working the rest of the semester here. Chuck's been good to me and I got what I needed out of it: money to go to school."
"So you're going to get a new job?" Mia's attempt to redirect the conversation was a little awkward, but Jo felt very relieved to follow it up.
"No, actually, I've saved enough that I won't have to work for the next few semesters," she said brightly. "I'll still live at home and take the passenger ferry over to Seattle for my classes, but I can concentrate on school for a while." She matched Mia's grin with her own. "I may work later-- interning or something-- but I won't have to get up at 4:30 anymore!"
Mia laughed at the heartfelt relief of that last statement. "Good, good," she said. "I'm glad you'll get some time off before you start your globe-trotting for some multinational."
"If only it were that easy," the blonde sighed.
"It'll be easy for you," Mia predicted. "I just have a feeling someone will snap you up as soon as they see you."
"Thanks," Jo answered the sincerity of the sentiment and not the little tingle at the double meaning that could be read into the statement.
"I'm serious, Jo," Mia said almost fiercely. "Remember, I do labor law. I know what kind of people make it and what kind don't. You're definitely going to make it."
The younger woman sought again to distract that intense attention from herself. "Can I ask you a question?" she blurted. "How old are you?"
The lawyer looked a little startled, but answered. "Thirty."
Jo nodded. "That's what I guessed." She focused her green eyes on her hands as she continued. "Aren't you a bit young to be working as the Machinists' Union's senior negotiator?"
"Weellll," Mia drew the word out consideringly, "yes, I suppose I am, but I've been practicing law for nearly ten years, so they trust my reputation."
Jo looked up, startled. "Ten years?"
Mia colored. "I graduated really early from high school and college."
"I was a bit of well, of a prodigy, I guess you'd say. More like a freak," Mia's voice held a measure of bitterness. "I went to private school in California for my younger years. They advanced me quickly and I started college at 13-- not much younger than Running Start students here in Washington." She made a movement with her shoulders that seemed designed to dismiss the difference between a 13 year old solely attending college and a 16 year old taking a college course or two in addition to regular high school classes. "I finished college at 16 and had my J.D. by 20." She pulled a self-mocking face. "Of course, no self-respecting law firm hires a 20-year-old lawyer, so my mother pulled some strings and found me an internship with the Department of Labor."
Jo considered the carefully-schooled expression opposite her. "You didn't like that much, I bet."
Mia looked up. "I hated her influence-peddling, but I loved the work I saw being done." Her attention turned distant, inward-looking. "I made a lot of connections and learned a lot. When I left I knew I wanted to specialize in labor law. It just seemed a fit: I could be a lawyer for people who didn't have the money or the power to hire the best and fight against the power-peddlers " A wry grin brought her back to Jo and she took a sip of her coffee to cover her shyness. "Now, I'd say it was a belated bit of adolescent rebellion against Mother, probably, but it worked out for the best."
"You still like what you do?
"No. I still love what I do," Mia corrected.
A muted loudspeaker announcement from the ferry dock two blocks below interrupted them.
"Oh, crap!" Mia checked her watch. "That's my ferry."
Jo looked up at the clock. 9:06. They'd been talking for more than half an hour, she thought with amazement.
"Here, Jo," Mia laughed, hastily handing her a ten. "Thanks for keeping me company over breakfast."
"Have a good day," Jo responded, also laughing.
"See ya," Mia called, accelerating away.
As Jo watched, the Range Rover made the loading dock-- the last vehicle to board. In moments, the ferry was pulling away. From its stern gate, a tall, shapely figure in cream sweater and jeans looked back over the water at the espresso stand, dark hair whipping wildly in the wind off the water. She lifted her cup in salute at Jo's final wave, then moved into the darkness of the belly of the ferry.
Monday 7:20 a.m.
"She's late," Justin observed as he dumped grounds into the garbage between their stations.
Jo glanced up at the small clock on the back wall for the thousandth time. "Yeah. Maybe she's out of town again," she ruminated.
"She's gonna miss the 7:28 ferry."
"She has a pretty flexible schedule."
"Must be nice," Justin observed, adding whipped cream to the mocha he was finishing. "I'd kill to sleep in just one morning a week."
Jo, who felt like she'd been doing the morning shift since Justin was in diapers, just gave him a look and finished the extra-hot hammerhead she was pulling.
A lull followed the ferry's departure and Jo sent Justin to the Dumpster at the edge of the
alt drive with all the morning's garbage while she moved around the trailer, refilling, resupplying, and cleaning.
"Awww, gross!" she exclaimed as her wiping hand discovered a slimy cup full of grounds and spoiled whipped cream behind the espresso machine. "Someone's too lazy to use the garbage during the afternoon rush."
Of course, the bottom had dissolved out of the cup after the week or more it had sat in the hot, dark niche between the back of the machine and the counter, so when she lifted it, the disgusting contents spilled down over her hand and wrist. Nearly gagging, Jo wiped away what she could and then threw the towel on the floor to soak up the rest. Lifting the towel with two fingers, she took it to the back door and tossed it out on the patio.
"Let Justin take it to the garbage when the shift ends," she muttered and turned to use the tiny sink next to the exit door to scrub her hands. She'd just finished a second soaping when she heard a car pull up.
"Just a second," she hollered.
"No rush," came the reply, muffled by the running water.
Jo hurriedly rinsed and grabbed a paper towel, stepping back to the server's spot. A smile instantly formed when she saw Mia's distinctive profile framed by the window.
"You missed your ferry," she teased, bouncing a little as blue eyes did a slow survey of her blue-jean and sweater clad form.
Mia's smile blossomed slowly, appreciatively. "Yeah, well this is one of those days when it pays to have a flexible schedule."
"Big weekend?" Jo asked, starting the coffee.
Mia laughed ruefully. "Oh, yeah but not the good kind."
"I just moved in to this house two months ago, right? My refrigerator caught fire in the middle of the night Saturday night!"
"Mia! Is everything all right?"
The brunette nodded. "Everything but my sleep pattern. The fire department showed up 'cause my house alarm system calls automatically, so I had firefighters tromping all over the house. It took everything in my power to keep them from foaming the 'fridge."
Jo shook her head, stifling her laughter, but Mia's tone indicated she was definitely playing the story for laughs. "You could have been asphyxiated," Jo protested, handing her a scone.
"From the foam!" Mia deliberately misunderstood. "Anyway, I spent all day Sunday at appliance stores, begging for immediate delivery."
"When's it coming?" Jo grinned.
Mia gave her an affronted glare. "They delivered it last night, I'll have you know."
"Wow, you are good."
Mia took her coffee with a smug smile, "Yes. Yes, I am."
Jo laughed helplessly and Mia joined her, and when the laughter passed, the two of them continued to hold one another's eyes. Some indeterminate time later, Justin banged through the back door, interrupting their silent communication, and Mia looked away, a little embarrassed.
"Well," she said quietly.
"Yeah," Jo agreed, wistful.
"See ya tomorrow, Jo."
"See ya, Mia."
Saturday 8:07 a.m
"Hey, you're not supposed to be here," declared Mia when she pulled up at the deserted drive-thru.
"I could say the same," Jo grinned. "I still can't find anyone to take Alison's place. Looks like I may be finishing out the semester, working Saturday mornings."
"That sucks," Mia commiserated.
"I thought you said you were all caught up at work."
"Umm, actually, I'm not going to work," Mia shifted uncomfortably in the leather driver's seat. Her blue eyes suddenly seemed to want to be anywhere but on the face of the young woman in the espresso booth.
Jo tried to make the moment of discomfort go away by fetching Mia her scone. Handing it out, she teased
"What, you're going to do something fun for a change?"
Mia grinned, still not meeting Jo's eyes. "I think so."
Jo's brows drew together skeptically as she placed her hands on her hips. "So, you gonna make me guess all day?"
"I-- um-- I was going to go out to breakfast."
Jo reached out and snatched back the scone. Mia started laughing.
"Hey! That little thing is not going to ruin my appetite!"
Jo, laughing also, handed the scone back out the window, and in the exchange, their fingers brushed with an electric jolt. It surprised Jo so much her laughter faded to nothing and she stood just staring at Mia, who seemed content to do the same.
"So," Jo finally said, voice sounding a little rusty. "Where you going for breakfast?"
Mia shrugged. "I don't know. I was hoping you could recommend somewhere." She turned big blue puppy-dog eyes on the younger woman with devastating force. Jo gulped a little even though she wanted to laugh at the pout puckering Mia's gorgeous mouth.
"You mean you drove all the way up here to get a recommendation for a breakfast place?" the blonde demanded, incredulously.
Another shrug lifted broad shoulders. "Yeah, I guess so."
"How did you know I'd be here?" Jo asked, a bit dumbfounded.
"I didn't. I just thought I'd take the chance."
A short silence rolled out between them as Jo processed that. Mia watched the non-existent traffic in her rearview mirror. Even the ferry waiting lot was deserted, except for some morose-looking seagulls.
"I thought you hated to eat alone," Jo finally broke out.
"I do," Mia confirmed, "but I don't plan on being alone."
Oh. Jo didn't say it aloud, but her heart sank. If Mia was seeing someone, then even the fantasy of going out with her would be gone. There didn't seem to be much to say, but Jo felt the silence like an accusation now. Come on, Ross, she scolded herself. It's not like the woman was ever really a possibility for you.
Jo started to say something, but Mia broke in.
"When was the last time you had a customer?"
"About thirty minutes ago," Jo answered, nonplused by the non sequitur. "Why?"
Mia frowned, massaging the steering wheel. "Look, I was--um-- I was wondering if you'd-- um-- if you'd like to go have breakfast with me?"
Jo watched the slow blush climb under the sun-bronzed skin of Mia's throat. She talks for a living, Jo thought, amazed, and she's stammering. The small blonde barrista was completely unwilling to believe that she'd just had a prayer answered and that Mia had asked her out, and she was even more unwilling to believe that she was going to have to turn her down!
"I--I can't leave," she stammered. "Chuck counts on me."
Mia shot her a disgruntled look, but Jo shrugged, spreading her hands helplessly. "There's no one to cover for me. He counts on my being here."
For a moment, Jo thought she saw the Mia others saw across the negotiating table, but the lawyer reined back her natural tendency to argue and said meekly, "Okay What time does your shift end?"
Jo felt a grin start on her face and knew that it was going to break teeth if it got any bigger. "Ten."
"How about breakfast at ten?"
Jo's grin got bigger, until she was certain muscles were being strained. "I'd love to."
Mia nodded, finally smiling in return, and put the SUV in gear. "I'll be back."
"I'll be here."
"See ya, Jo."
"See ya, Mia."