This is a short story that I wrote specifically for a contest.
Halley Burrows knows that she is a very forgiving person, but everyone has that line. The line that cannot be crossed. The line that is unforgivable. Hers is messing up her morning coffee.
It's really quite simple. She chants the order each morning: Venti double shot, double caramel, peanut butter, toasted marshmallow, double dark chocolate, light foam, whipped cream, no drizzle, 120 degrees Fahrenheit. At least once a week, Halley had to deal with something wrong about her order. But not with Tom. Never with Tom.
Tom was a coffee god. Tom with the ability to make her morning drug with finesse and speed. Halley loves Tom for that, but he wasn't working today. Instead, it was Johnny, a good kid, but he was no Tom.
"Halley!" He called her name, holding up the brick red to-go cup with the brown cardboard band that would keep her hands warm on this brisk winter morning without burning them.
She walked out of the coffee shop and strode toward the crosswalk at the corner. She sipped at her drink as she waited in the herd of people for the light to change.
She sipped again, searching for the taste of whipped cream and caramel in the upper notes of the drink's bouquet. As a public defender for at-risk youth, she had a pretty stressful job that frequently ended badly. Her coffee, made right, was all too often the only thing great about the day. But, apparently, not today.
She weighed her options for a moment and decided she had time. They could add the shots, mix them in and top with whipped cream without making a whole new drink. If she hurried, she wouldn't be too late.
Halley turned on her heel and took a step before running full-on into a large young man. The coffee splashed down her practical tan, cotton trench coat as she cried out in surprise. She lifted her eyes to stare up into the young man's face. He grinned and, in the weird slow motion that happens when prey encounters predator, she recognized the maliciousness in his face. The scream was already rising in her throat when he grabbed her purse and took off down the sidewalk.
"Stop! Theif!" she called. Desperately, she added "Fire!" just for the attention. Her business-wear heels wouldn't support running after him, so she stared helplessly as he ran past the coffee shop door, pushing people out of his way.
Then, he was body-slammed against the building by a police officer.
"Oh!" she gasped, wide-eyed, as she trotted over in the classic running-in-heels clop. The cop slapped handcuffs on the young man and passed him over to his partner before turning to her. It crossed her mind that the thief might be young enough that her office would be defending him later that day. Oh irony.
"That's my purse," she told the officer, a little breathlessly. She bent to pick it up, but the cop got there first and handed it to her. She found herself looking into the deepest, darkest eyes she had ever seen.
His face wasn't classically handsome - more like swarthy, pirate-y bad-boy good looks. He smiled at her, giving her a subtle once-over, his eyes lingering on her torso.
She blushed, angry. How dare he turn this into some pick-up moment! She opened her mouth to give him a piece of her mind.
"I think you spilled something," he said, nodded towards her coat.
Halley clamped her teeth down on her tongue, remembering the coffee disaster. Well, disasters.
"Yes," she began. Then she choked up. The adrenaline of the purse snatching was draining away, leaving the fear and shock, and now she wanted to cry. For her messed up coffee. For her spilled coffee. For being late. For being the victim of a theft. For being messy in front of this nice, good-looking cop. Her throat closed and her eyes watered. She cursed herself for having such an emotional reaction.
The officer's face relaxed and he smiled pleasantly. "I'm Officer Darin Cruise. I'll need to take a statement from you."
Halley nodded mutely.
"Can I get you anything, first?" he asked.
She nodded again. Then her mouth opened and words not under her control came out. "I need you to arrest Johnny. He made my coffee wrong."
The officer stared at her for a moment. He glanced her over again, before walking over to his partner and speaking with him for a moment.
Halley mentally yelled at herself. What could I be thinking? He must know that I couldn't be serious. God, I was such an idiot!
Darin returned. "Okay, let's go." He took her arm, gently, and steered her into the coffee shop, right up to the counter.
"Are you Johnny?" Darin asked.
Darin dropped her arm, crossed his arms over his chest and gave Johnny an intimidating frown. Halley's heart picked up speed. It was just nerves, she told herself. It certainly wasn’t the masculine posturing on her behalf that made her feel a little melty inside.
"You will make this lady's drink," he said. "Correctly this time." He gestured to the pair of handcuffs at his waist. Johnny's eyes went wide. Darin continued, "Do I make myself clear?"
Halley bit her lip so she wouldn’t laugh. Johnny nodded and grabbed a cup.
Darin gestured Halley over to one of the tiny coffee house tables and held the chair for her. He grabbed a handful of napkins and sat across from her, handing them to her.
"For your coat," he said, gesturing at the mess.
Halley began wiping at the coffee and foam, grateful that she'd gone with the trench coat today. It would handle a run through the washing machine, and it had protected her business attire from the mess. She'd almost worn the hounds tooth wool jacket, which only came down to the top of her waist and was dry-clean only. That would have been a real disaster.
Halley eyed Darin across the table. He was getting his notebook and pen out to take her statement. Johnny set the new coffee down at her elbow. "This one's on the house," he said, his voice cracking, before he scurried away.
This time, Halley couldn’t stop the giggle that bubbled up her throat. She took the coffee and sipped. The pure heaven of her perfectly-made drink hit her tongue. Her eyes rolled back in her head and a low moan of pleasure escaped.
She suddenly realized how her behavior must look to Officer Cruise and she quickly straightened up, glancing at him. His beautiful dark eyes had taken on a gleam that made her stomach flutter.
Halley cleared her throat and concentrated on giving him her statement.
* * * * * *
Halley tried not to slump or yawn while she glanced at the clock. It was court day, and she was in front of a judge for the seventh and last time. They were mostly arraignments, outlining the charges and entering pleas of guilty or not guilty. She wanted to be home, relaxing in the bath and not thinking about her lack of dating options for the weekend - Valentine's Day weekend, no less. Instead, she was waiting for the judge to pass his sentencing of her client, a 14 year old boy up for vandalism – spraying graffiti on a mom & pop hardware store.
Judge Harrison cleared his throat, ready to give the sentence. "Last night, I took a piece of chocolate from a box I'd given my wife several days ago. She was so upset that she stopped talking to me. What I had thought was just a chocolate was an infringement to my wife. It is important to understand when you have infringed upon another, but I hope she forgives me and gives me a chance to make it up to her."
The judge peered at Halley’s client. "In the spirit of the forgiveness and mercy I hope to get from my wife, and in light of the testimonies given on your behalf, I am sentencing you to one year probation and 50 hours of community service, the first of which will include cleaning up the wall of the hardware store."
Halley's shoulders slumped with released tension and she congratulated the young man, warning him not to get himself into trouble again before he left with his mom.
"This won't be the first time I've been thankful for chocolate at work, but never quite like this," she muttered to herself. She hurried to gather her paperwork and stuffed it into her case, thinking she would have all weekend to sort through it while binge-watching rom-coms and crying over both Ben & Jerry.
Halley was used to spending weekends alone. Usually, she preferred it, but Valentine’s Day was always hard on the single ladies.
She pulled her trench coat on and grabbed the remainder of her third coffee of the day. She turned to leave the courtroom and crashed head first into Officer Darin Cruise, spilling the coffee down the front of her coat.
"Oh!" she cried. "Look at what you did!"
Darin looked down at the spill. "I am so sorry, Ms. Burrows. I… It’s all my fault."
Halley blushed. "Call me Halley. I didn't mean to blame you – ” She stopped. "Oh, no! What day is it? Did I miss the court date? Why didn’t you call me if I was late? Will that man who laid hands on my Kate Spade walk free?"
"No, no. It isn’t that. That trial isn’t until next week." Darin frowned. "Who is Kate Spade? Did that man hurt her? Was she with you when he robbed you?"
"Well, there was a scratch, but..." Halley looked at him like he'd grown another head. "Kate Spade is the brand name of my purse."
They stood awkwardly staring at each other for a moment, then burst into laughter.
"Oh, wow," Halley said, gasping for breath. "You thought..."
Darin jumped in. "Will you go out with me this weekend?"
Halley gasped, then choked on the air. "W-w-what? On Valentine's Day weekend?"
Darin grinned. "Sure! It would make a great story for our grandkids." He waggled his eyebrows, making Halley laugh again. Then he frowned. “That is, if you can stand to let me make up for spilling your coffee on your coat.”
Halley wiped at the spill. “This does seem to happen whenever we meet.” She eyed the officer suspiciously. “But I suppose I can give you another chance.”
* * * * * *
Saturday night, after a lovely dinner at a nice restaurant, and a funny movie, Darin took Halley to a local, all-night diner and ordered hot chocolate and apple pie.
They talked about their work and about the people that they met at work, about politics and pop culture. Halley couldn’t believe it when she glanced at her watch to find that four hours had passed while they were talking.
Darin drove her home, telling her about growing up with two older sisters and getting a make-over during a weekend slumber party. Halley laughed and told him about growing up an only child to parents who were several decades too late to be hippies.
Darin walked Halley to the door and hesitated. “Well, we made it.” He gestured to her coat. “No coffee spills this time. Am I forgiven?”
Halley smiled and leaned forward. “I suppose so.”
Their lips brushed and Halley gasped at the tremor that began in her belly. The kiss deepened and Darin slipped his arms around her as she clutched his shoulders.
Too soon, it was over, and they pulled away to stare into each other’s eyes.
"Mmm," Halley said, leaning into Darin’s chest. She felt a little shaky on her feet after that kiss. "I think you may be right."
"Of course I am," Darin said, grinning, then he frowned. "Right about what?"
Halley smiled up at Darin, loving the way his face lit up when she looked at him. "This will make a great story for our grandkids."
* * * * * *
A few months later, Halley trotted into the coffee shop, waited impatiently in line, and grinned when she saw Tom at the counter.
“How are you doing this morning, Ms. Burrows?” he asked.
“Good, Tom. Yes, my usual.” Halley grinned mischievously. “I’ve got some bad news for you, though.”
“Oh?” Tom asked, looking over his shoulder while he steamed the milk. “I’ve got bad news, too. But, you first. Are you leaving me for another coffee shop?”
Halley laughed. “Oh, good heavens, no! My caffeinated loyalty is yours until the end of time!” She waved her left hand at him, letting her new diamond flash in the fluorescent lighting.
Tom put the lid on her drink and slid it over the counter before peering at the ring. He slapped his hand against his chest, as if to hold in his heart. “Oh, tragedy! Oh, woe! I have waited too long to sweep you off your feet!” he cried in the voice of a Shakespearean actor. “My dearest is now betrothed to another!”
Halley laughed at his antics. “Serves you right for assuming that coffee was the only thing I needed from a man.”
She sipped the coffee and sighed. Perfect. “So what is your bad news?”
Tom shrugged. “Had to let Johnny go. He couldn’t get anything but the simplest orders correct. I gave him several chances, but…”
Halley nodded, with exaggerated solemnity. “Some things are unforgivable.” She thought about the events leading to her meeting Darin, including her messed up coffee order. “But, then again, there are always exceptions.”
Tom grinned at her and waved away her money. “On the house. Consider it my engagement gift for you. And congratulations! You gonna show it off at the courthouse today?”
“You bet I am!” Halley shifted her lucky Kate Spade onto her shoulder, tightened the belt on her freshly washed trench coat and grabbed her coffee. She lifted it in cheers. “Here’s to love and criminal activity.”