“Hey, sweet cheeks! Why don’t you bring some of that hot stuff over here?”
It’s a loud, crass, drunk voice shouting at me from the booth at the end of the Northbend Diner. It’s hot as Hell, it’s late, it’s stuffy, and I’m not even supposed to be here tonight. I’m filling in for Miranda, the hot mess that calls out more than she’s here but never gets fired because Frank likes staring at her ass. And I’ve had it up to here.
I whirl around, my face beet red, and blurt out, “What did you just say to me?”
The asshole smirks at me. He’s wearing a sleeveless t-shirt covered in skulls and some tasteless drawing of a naked woman holding a sword, and looks like he hasn’t washed his hair in a month. The only thing more disgusting than him are his two friends, even more filthy looking carbon copies of him. They’re giggling like schoolboys. He raises his glass.
“Relax, babe,” he says with a voice of a lifelong smoker. “I just meant some coffee.”
He says it as though that’s somehow going to make things better. Like I’m going to just accept that, smile, go right over and fill his cup with a smile and say, “Aw, that was pretty funny, honey!”
And maybe on another night I’d manage to put on a smile, no matter how fake it was, and do just that, but being called in on my night off, all because Miranda does whatever she wants no matter who it inconveniences, has me in the worst of moods, so the best I’m able to manage is a sarcastic smile before I turn around and head over to the coffee machine.
The old air conditioner hanging in the corner window whines like a dying dog as it fights to keep the place cool against the September heat. I can hear the familiar drip, drip, drip of the water as it spills onto the tin baking pan someone’s put on the floor. I fill three tan mugs with black coffee that’s probably burnt by now, slide them onto a worn tray and head toward the asshole’s table.
It’s a slow night, and some waitresses would say that’s a good thing, but I’d just prefer it was busy. It helps the night go faster. But right now, the only people in the place are just a nice older man named Ronald at his usual booth, finishing up his regular apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and the three jerks at the other end of the room.
As I make my way over to them, I check the big chrome clock hanging over the counter. Eleven twenty. My best friend Carla should be here around eleven thirty. She’s my ride tonight and I’m counting down the minutes.
I reach the table full of douches and set their coffees down. I don’t make eye contact with the one with the loud mouth, but I can feel him staring at me. It feels like greasy snakes crawling all over my skin.
“Anything else?” I say without looking at them.
“Hey, whassamatta with you, sweetheart?” One of them says.
“Yeah, got a stick up your ass or somethin’?”
I can feel my temperature rising with my annoyance level. There’s nothing I’d like more than to give them a nice good smack in the face, but I’m not going to do that.
I’m not going to do that because I’m a smart, well-behaved, responsible young woman, or at least that’s what I tell myself. And also because Frank would fire my ass immediately.
“Nothing in my ass, hon,” I say sarcastically and turn to walk away. But as I do, I feel something tug on my skirt.
“Hey, not so fast,” the leader says. “Lemme get a quick peek…”
I whirl around to see him lifting my skirt at the hem.
“Hey!” I yelp, slapping at his hand and then pulling my skirt back down. “Get off!”
Behind me, I hear the familiar ding of the door as someone comes in behind me, but I don’t have time to turn around and greet the new customer. The guy harassing me must be drunk. He actually reaches around my leg and gives me a pinch on the back of my thigh.
“Come on, baby,” he snarls. “We’re just having a little fun.”
“Get off me!” I shout, slapping at his hand.
But it’s no use. He’s much stronger than me and he wraps his hands around my legs and pulls me toward him. I can smell the coffee and cigarettes on him as he moves his hands up toward my ass.
“You need to loosen up. I can show you a good time—"
“Hey,” I hear a firm voice behind me. The man stops, his hands still grabbing the back of my thighs. “Get your fucking hands off her.”
I turn to see the owner of the voice, and when I see him, the sight takes my breath away.
Standing behind me is the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen in my life. Easily six feet tall, he has the looks of an Adonis and the body of a Greek god. He’s wearing a pair of worn loose blue jeans and a tight white Henley that is fighting not to rip around his bulging biceps.
He’s wearing a couple days’ worth of stubble that looks so perfect, like he spent a month’s pay at a barber, but I know there’s no way a man like this spends more than two minutes on his appearance. He’s just gorgeous.
And by the way he’s looking at my would-be assailant, I can tell he’s about two seconds from hurling him out the window – and he could do it, too, easily.
“Last warning, shithead,” he growls, taking a single step forward. Almost instantly, my would-be assailant takes his hands off me and sits back in his booth.
“Hey, man. It’s cool. Just having a little fun. We’re old friends, me and her.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” he says with a scowl, not buying the bullshit. “You all right, miss?”
His slight Southern drawl hits me right in the chest. Here in Ohio we hear all kinds of accents, but something about the way he says “all right, miss” makes me weak in the knees.
“F-fine,” I stutter, instantly feeling embarrassed. His eyes linger on me like he’s probing me for information. It’s like he’s seeing right through me and I can’t look away. A warmth rushes to my cheeks and I realize I must be blushing, and my suspicion is only confirmed as a slight smile forms at the edge of his lips.
Why am I staring at his lips?
“That’s good,” he says as his smile grows. “Me and the boys are just gonna get a seat over there.”
Without waiting for my reply, he walks off with his friends, who I am just now noticing, and grabs a booth at the other end of the diner. There’s something familiar about him, like we’ve met before or I recognize him from somewhere, but it’s not until he sits down that I manage to put a name to the face.
Chris Mitchell, linebacker of the Ohio Bullets, last year’s national football champions.
Now, I’m not usually one to get starstruck, but I’m feeling something as I watch him get comfortable in his booth. His shirt’s on the verge of ripping open as he tosses one arm over the back of the seat. He’s just dripping with athleticism and pure… manhood.
I don’t know any other way to put it. If someone was to come here from another planet and ask me to point out the most prime example of the perfect male specimen, I’d instantly aim my finger at Chris.
I have to admit though, I have a bit of an aversion to jocks. No, let me put that a different way: I think jocks are assholes.
Growing up, the jocks in my high school were treated like gods, and they were anything but. Most of them weren’t even athletic, but the school gave them all the special treatment they’d ever want.
Carla tells me I don’t like them because I was a nerdy girl and they never paid me any attention, but that’s just not true. I didn’t want them paying me any attention. They were the guys who went to parties, got drunk, hooked up with equally drunk girls and never called them again, and I never wanted to be one of those girls.
Chris Mitchell may be the sexiest man I’ve ever seen, and my lady bits may be calling out to him right now, but I make a promise to myself that I’m not going to let myself fall victim to that panty-melting smile or those glistening biceps.
Control yourself, Janelle!
One of the assholes behind me coughs and I realize I’ve been staring. I pick up my tray, give them one last glare over my shoulder, and head back behind the counter to get some water for the new guys.
I pour the ice, fill the cups and head over to the table.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” I say in a neutral tone. “Can I get you started with anything?”
I glance casually around the table, trying not to let Chris see me checking him out. So what if I haven’t been laid in over a year? So what if I’m twenty-two and have only been with one guy in my entire life and I could use a good lay right now more than a man dying of thirst in the desert could use a glass of sparkling water? Does that mean that I should just give in and throw myself at a jock dickhead that’s going to use and abuse me like some party girl back in high school?
I don’t think so!
“You guys got Mohawked Pig here?” One of the other guys asks. Judging from his physique, he must also be an Ohio Bullet.
“We sure do,” I say with a smile.
“Three of those,” Chris chimes in.
“Coming right up.”
I step away from the table and can just feel the eyes on my ass as I make my way behind the counter and into the back room. Jim, the “chef” who’s been working here since dinosaur times, is stuffing a turkey sandwich into his face.
“We got Mohawked Pigs?” I ask him as I step to the cooler.
He nods and grunts something that might sound like a yes. I pull the door open and grab three bottles of the locally brewed beer and head back out front.
Chris makes no attempt to hide the fact that he’s checking me out the entire walk over to his table. He is gorgeous, and I try to pretend that I don’t care, but that’s just a lie. I was never the girl in high school that was popular with the boys.
My hair wasn’t blonde, my boobs weren’t huge, I didn’t go out to parties or get tans or drink beer or listen to the latest music. I hung out at my house and spent most of my time studying.
It was that hard work that got me into the University of Ohio, but when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I took a year off to help her out. That year turned into two, then into three, and now four, and here I am, putting all that time behind the books to good use delivering bottles of beer to guys who in high school probably would have called me names and not given me the time of day.
I’ve blossomed since high school, and feel more confident and less awkward now. But I’m still wary of jocks.
I guess I’ve always expected the worst from men. My dad left when I was seven. I still don’t know why, and mom doesn’t like to talk about it, but I’ve put little pieces together here and there over the years, and I’m pretty sure he ran off with her friend Cindy, but I can’t be sure.
I set the bottles down on the table. “You boys need glasses?”
“Nah, we’re fine like this,” Chris says quickly. “Say, me and Bill here were talking,” he says as he motions to his friend sitting across from him, slightly less muscular, slightly less handsome, but still a looker. “He says you’re about an eight on the ten scale, but I disagree. What do you think?”
What did he just say?!
Something about the way those words roll off his tongue turns my stomach into knots. I’m nervous around him, I realize, which is not normal for me. So many men come in and out of this place and say so many absurd things I could fill a book. But none of them look like Chris.
Maybe that’s it. He’s just handsome as all Hell and I’m feeling nervous, like I’m back in middle school.
No. It’s more than that. It’s something about the way he’s looking at me right now – the way he told that guy to get off me. There’s something primal about him. Even now that I’m standing six feet away from him, it’s overwhelming.
“Wh-what’s that?” I stammer, clearing my throat. I can’t even imagine what’s going to come out of his mouth, and I can feel my whole body tense up as his lips open.
“Eight out of ten,” he repeats like he’s stating the average temperature of Antarctica in June. “What do you think?”
“Are you asking me to rate myself?” I stammer.
“Well, do you agree?” His eyes are filled with mischief, and while the question’s pissing me off, I can feel a smile creeping out of me. I fight it, push it back down and give him my best glare.
“That’s not the kind of question you ask a woman,” I tell him. “Who do you think you are anyway?”
He grins, and while I’m totally peeved, I can feel myself start to melt. Why is it that so many cute guys are just total assholes? Is it just some cruel joke being played on us girls by the universe?
“Because I was thinking you were a ten out of ten,” he says.
I scrunch my eyebrows together at him, looking skeptical. I’ve gotten curvier since high school and people have always said they like my pretty eyes, but I’m not model material, like he’s making me sound.
“Chris Mitchell,” he says after I don’t say anything, extending a hand that I don’t take. “Ohio Bullets. Star linebacker. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”
He says it like, “I know you’ve heard of me.”
“Janelle,” I say like a brat. “And no – I don’t watch football.”
And with that, I turn my back on him and walk away, with a smile on my face.