Blood rushed to her face, her skin erupted in heat, her heart thumped around in her chest like a Pacific Halibut caught on the beach. She was far too young for menopause. So, the sensation was her body’s way of telling her something else. She didn’t know what. Maybe just for the Halibut, she joked wryly.
The sensation passed, and her skin temperature returned to normal, heart rate calming. She pressed the cuff of her shirt to the sweat beads on her upper lip and took a long breath, fending off vertigo. Maybe she’d have to make a doctor appointment if it happened again.
The bizarre sensation had hit her just as she was making her way into the dining room to cover the table now occupied by another customer that was not being tended to by Blair. Dane would have to stop their little rendezvous on the nights before Blair was scheduled to work. She never showed up on time the next day.
Dane Sparks stood with her pen hovering over the order pad, hoping that this time, the woman would be ready to order.
“What’s the special today?” the woman asked, lifting her chin to peer through the bifocals.
“Fish & Chips.”
“Hm. I don’t care much for chips. Can I have fries instead?”
“Then why are they called chips?”
“It’s a…British thing.”
“But we’re not in Britain.”
Dane mashed her lips together. “So, you’d like the Fish & Chips, then?”
“Yes. As long as the chips are fries, as you say.”
Dane nodded with barely contained angst. “They are.”
Before the woman could offer any other insipidness, Dane turned on a heel and went back to the kitchen where she added the order to the spinner above the cut-through serving window.
Trevor frowned at her. “What’s wrong, boss?”
“I swear, if she doesn’t get here in the next five minutes, I’m going to fire her this time. I can’t take another customer like that. Did someone open the Stupid Gates?”
The creaking door took her attention to the front of the cafe. She’d been meaning to oil those hinges, but it did sort of act like a notification sound, like when she got a Facebook message. Right now, that squeaky door was notifying her of the arrival of her deadbeat employee-cum-plaything.
Blair. Not the sharpest Ginsu in the block, but sexy as hell.
Right now, though, not sexy enough to get her out of being raked over the coals.
Dane put her hands on her hips and zeroed in on the woman, hoping to make her gaze look as much like red hot lasers as possible.
“Dane–Sweetie–I’m so sorry!” she spewed, curling a lock of blonde hair behind one ear. “My alarm didn’t go off. I was sleeping so hard!” She paused in front of Dane and whispered collusively. “It’s sort of your fault you know. You wore me out last night.”
“No, no. You do not get to blame this on me, Blair. It’s not like you’re ten minutes late. It’s 11:30. I only got four hours sleep, and I had just as much aerobic exercise as you did. More, really, since you’re such a pillow princess.” Blair was good for Dane’s need to express her butch side, but she wasn’t much good in the way of reciprocation. Dane had other women for that.
“Come on!” A sexy pucker. “Are you really mad?”
Impervious, Dane said, “This is not the first time you’ve been late to work, Blair.”
“I’ll do better,” she said, snatching an apron from behind the counter and tying it around herself. “You should just think about how good it was last night.”
“I should just think about firing you,” she said, heading for the stairs. “I’m going to go have a nap. Be back in a few hours.”
Making her way up the steps to the loft, she hoped to sneak in past Nana who would be parked in front of the TV at this hour, watching Judge Judy. If Dane was stealthy, she could creep in and cross behind her to the bedroom and be enjoying that nap with Nana none the wiser.
Opening the door quietly, as if anticipating an attack, she peeked around the edge, and saw the back of Nana’s head as she sat in the recliner. Judge Judy was spewing caustic reprimands at the plaintiff in her court, and the volume on the television was, as usual, up too high. Hopefully it wouldn’t interfere with Dane’s nap, if she wore earplugs and turned on the white noise machine in her room.
Seconds later, she’d made it into her sanctum with no guttural recriminations from the recliner. Sometimes, she thought her grandmother really did have eyes in the back of head. She’d often made snide remarks while Dane was creeping across the room.
Once stripped to her T-shirt and undies, and properly ensconced in bed, Dane turned on the sound machine, set to heavy rainfall and thunder, taking a few minutes to unwind. She plucked the Blake Crouch novel from the nightstand. She usually read nonfiction, but periodically, she’d find a novel that didn’t piss her off or bore her in some way. She opened to the bookmarked page, and the gift from Gemma, a quote laminated on a bookmark, fell to her chest.
“You can be in love and you can be in a relationship. But they’re not always the same thing.”
~ from I Wrote This For You
That was Gemma King, through and through. The problem was, Dane didn’t know if they were in love or in a relationship. It was on-again-off-again, but not because they’d quarreled or didn’t get along. It was just Gemma’s way of living her life. She welcomed the expression of passion and lust, when it was given freely without strings, and she took her leave when the mood suited her. Yet still, Dane had not been able to make a commitment to anyone else. Her romantic interludes were merely placeholders for those days when Gemma would breeze into town and swirl her heart around and satiate the needs of her own body, while providing delightful visitations on Dane’s. Gemma King was a woman after her own heart, and ironically, the only one she couldn’t have.
A clown horn woke her up. Some local nincompoop had attached the damn thing to his car and liked to spread the joy all over town. Glancing at the clock, Dane saw that she had slept for over two hours. She actually felt quite rejuvenated after the nap. Good enough. Time to get back downstairs. Sliding back into her jeans and throwing the denim shirt over her black tee, she pushed her feet back into her Crocs and crept out into the hall.
In the living room, down the short hall, she could just make out the arm of the chair, covered by the arm of her grandmother. Damn. She was still there.
When she got closer, she noticed the old episode of Starsky & Hutch.
What the hell? Her Nana would never watch that. She must be sleeping like a log. She was doing that a lot lately. Thank the fruitbats of fortune.
Hoisting her leather backpack onto one shoulder, Dane reached for her car keys and promptly dropped them on the floor with a loud clank. Wincing, she looked across at her grandmother’s head. She still hadn’t moved, even though she always reacted to sudden noises; noises that notified her of Dane’s presence in a room, so that she could get started on chastising her for her latest imagined transgression. But Nana hadn’t moved a muscle.
Swallowing, Dane stepped silently toward the recliner.
Nana wasn’t sleeping.
She was dead.