With the money between us, she remains seated, staring at me in what appears to be a battle of wills. My eyebrows tug together as I try to figure her out. Like I don’t have anything better to do.
“Josh?” I look back at the kitchen door that’s propped open. The other cook, T., says, “I’m drowning back here.”
I hadn’t noticed how the lunch crowd had filed in or how my mom and Trina have been running around. Shit. I nod to him and follow, pushing the door open. “I have to go. I’d say maybe we’ll see each other around, but it seems we’re on two different paths.”
All the hurry she had in her earlier has subsided, and she sighs. “You’re probably right, so I guess have a good life still stands.”
Turning around, I feel the door swing against my ass, making her smile. “Seems so.” I’m not sure why this girl intrigues me, but she’s definitely more interesting than ladling chili all day. I want to know what makes her tick.
“Don’t you have to go?” she asks with a smile.
“Yes. Right. Gotta go.” This time, I don’t wait around. I wash my hands and return to the grill to start on the next ticket.
It only takes a few minutes before my mom finds me buried behind a stack of plates that should have gone out already. I’m also wise enough to know that’s not why she’s back here, though when she sees me still plating the food, she’s more than happy to wait by that smile on her face. “She’s sweet.”
“Who?” I play dumb, keeping my eyes leveled on the grill. I knew I’d eventually see her snooping around, digging for details. No way can she let the encounter go. At least, she never has before. “You know who. Chloe.”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything out of line. I delivered the food. That’s all.”
“Tell me something. Did you leave that name tag there on purpose? I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been known to raise a little hell.”
Spinning the spatula in my hand, I tap it twice on the cooktop. “Just like my mama.”
She’s laughing when she comes around to whack to my arm. “Don’t ruin my reputation, kid. It’s taken me years to get a little respect in this town.” My mom was a wild child growing up. From what I hear, if there was trouble, she’d find it, and then she’d get a tattoo to commemorate it. Our laughter dies down as she returns to the other side and grabs the plate T just set down for delivery.
“I’ll keep your secret.”
With the plate in hand, she looks at me, not in expectation but examination. I hate being under her microscope. That means the conversation isn’t over. She’s always been intuitive, and if I forget to set a face of indifference, she’ll call out that emotion. “All I’m saying is that must have been some delivery.”
“Yeah, normal.” I laugh. As much as I can respect her solid comebacks, the girl keeps a lot hidden inside. That’s not my usual type. “Nothing special.”
“Nothing special, huh? Okay. If that’s how you’re going to play it. It looked like something more than nothing to me.” The door swings closed.
The next thing I know, I’m running out the back door and up the alley to the sidewalk.
“Ah!” I crash into someone who screams, and grab hold so we don’t fall.
Leaning back, I’m pleasantly surprised. “Hey.”
“You scared me, Joshua.” Pushing off me, she readjusts her bag on her shoulder.
“Sorry. I was trying to catch up to you.”
Her hands land on her hips as she glares at me. “Well, you caught me.”
I don’t know what it is, but I’m so damn tempted to kiss her, to hold her face between my hands and feel her lips against mine.
What am I doing? I run my hand through my hair, and say, “Uh. You need to submerge Frankie’s entire pot under water once a week. When the air bubbles stop, you can take it out. They have unique care.”
“Do you know this much about all plants or just bonsai trees?”
“It’s a loose knowledge. Like I said, I got one a few years back, and it’s taken a lot of trial and error and searching online, but mine’s survived.”
She shifts, her hands lowering to her sides. “Is that why you wanted to find me?”
“No, I also wanted to tell you that tomorrow’s special is my favorite.”
She peers down and smiles, but I can tell there’s no irritation left in her, not even a little banter. “Oh, yeah? What’s tomorrow’s special?”
“Grilled cheese and homemade tomato-basil soup.”
“That sounds good.” She moves her wavy brown hair over her shoulder.
“We serve it every Tuesday if you’re in the neighborhood. Sometimes, we have enough staff for delivery if you prefer to eat at home.”