"Hey, buddy," the guy behind Will said, "you're holding up the line."
Will never took his eyes from Anna. He waved the guy onward. "Go ahead." The customer grumbled but did. Will wrote his number on the slip and handed it back to Anna. He noted she folded it and pushed it in her pocket even though her coworker peered over her shoulder, trying to read it. He said, "I have some flexibility in my schedule, so give me a call and let me know when you're available."
He smiled and moved to the check-out station.
She watched the man leave the store with mounting dismay. Why did I tell him that?
Trina made a harumph-ing sound. "Thanks a lot, Anna."
"I've been talking about that guy all week. You just cock-blocked me."
Oh, that's why. Well, screw her. "Trina, I can't cock-block you. We don't have cocks."
"You know what I mean. You don't even care about the guy that much. You just did that to stiff me. Jerk." Trina stomped away, huffing to herself.
Anna chuckled. Trina wasn't wrong. The woman's low-key but persistent antagonizing over her failure to grab Will the first time had frayed the last of Anna's patience, so it was hardly a stretch to feel satisfied at grabbing when she could, and shoving it in Trina's face. Her smile faded as she considered what she'd gotten herself into as a result. Her fingertips probed her pocket. The slip of paper was still there.
I don't have to call. I can say I lost his number, I can ... Anna shook her head. She couldn't do that. Will hadn't done anything wrong. She'd taken his number in good faith and interrupted his chance with someone who was interested in him. At the very least, Anna thought she could meet him for breakfast once. She owed him that much, even if he ran away after that meeting.
Besides, Trina's right about one thing. He is pretty hot.
The rest of her shift passed without incident. Trina kept her distance. She glowered at Anna for another hour but after that, started flirting with the customers again. After she clocked out, Anna sat in her car for a few moments before she pulled out the scrap of paper and her phone. She took a deep breath and dialed.
It rang twice before he picked up. "Hello?"
"Will? It's, uh, Anna. You gave me your number earlier?"
"Oh, hey. You off work now?"
"How was the rest of your shift?"
Anna blinked, shocked not by the question but that he cared enough to ask. "Uh, fine, I guess. No problems."
"Good. So, dare I hope that you called because you accepted my invite to breakfast?"
"I said I would. Where would you like to go?"
"Your call," he said. "We can do IHOP or Village Inn or something. Or we can go to the muffin place you recommended. That was pretty good. Can you do it tomorrow?"
"That sounds fine. What time?"
"Around seven? Or is that too early?"
Anna smiled. It would get her out of the house and away from Florence early. "No, that's fine. I'll see you then, okay?"
"Sure, see you tomorrow. Bye."
They disconnected. Anna stared at the phone for a moment before she drove home, where she found Florence passed out in front of the idiot box again. Her snores competed with the blaring volume. Anna went through her normal evening routine: she cleaned up the mess, made dinner, made her mother get up and sit at the table to eat a little, and then poured her into bed. As Anna settled in for her own slumber, she thought of Will. A trickle of excitement crept into her mind. She realized that despite her initial misgivings, she was looking forward to seeing him again.
It will be nice to have a conversation with someone who's not drunk and isn't one of my idiot coworkers. And has nice eyes. And shoulders.
A twinge of excitement ran through her and Anna shuddered. She hesitated for a second and listened. The house was quiet. There was no sign that Florence was up and moving.
Anna rolled onto her back. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to force the tension from her body. Her left hand drifted to her chest. Slow fingertips caressed her breast through her soft cotton tee shirt. Her thumb grazed over the nipple, which hardened to her touch. She moaned softly and flicked it again.
Her right hand crept down her abdomen, inside her waistband. Her fingers traveled over her hot mound and through the soft curls. The middle finger parted her nether lips and found her clit. A soft hiss left her mouth. She visualized Will's smile, his strong body, confident movements as she gently rubbed and pulled the nub. Moisture slicked her lips. She began to rotate her hips in rhythm to her finger and her breathing deepened.
The bolt hit Anna faster than she expected. She stifled a groan; her body tensed and her hips quivered as waves of pure bliss radiated out from her pussy. She froze, savoring each pulse. After a few seconds, her body slumped and she withdrew her hand. Her shorts were a mess but she was too relaxed to get up and change them. She shifted onto her side and was asleep in moments.
Anticipation made her awaken early. She dressed in her work attire—a loose, casual button-down top and black jeans, minus the blue vest—and crept downstairs.
Florence was already awake. She slumped over the kitchen table, one hand on a half-filled cup of coffee, the other holding her head. She eyed Anna with a mix of trepidation and irritation as she entered the kitchen. "Can I get some breakfast?"
"Sure, Mom." Anna placed a skillet on the stove top, turned on the burner, and fetched a carton of eggs from their mostly-empty refrigerator. She cracked two on the pan's rim and dumped them in. The edges sizzled and popped. "How did you sleep?"
"Like a dead woman, just like every night. I don't even remember you coming in last night."
"I know. I got you to bed."
Her mother's sigh reverberated through the kitchen. "Anna ... I'm sorry."
Anna nodded without turning from the stove. Florence apologized almost every morning—at least, she did on the mornings when she was conscious by the time Anna left for work. She apologized, then turned around every afternoon, drunk herself to incoherence, and became a viper again.
Anna had heard the "I'm sorry" routine countless times before. She no longer believed it.
A moment later, she dished up the two eggs and placed the plate and a fork in front of Florence. She tried to keep her voice cheery. "Two eggs, over easy."
Florence gazed at her with bloodshot eyes. Her voice was quiet. "Thank you."
"Will you be all right this morning, Mom? I have to run a few errands before work."
Florence's eyed her for a moment. Then she lowered her eyes to her plate, and nodded.
Anna knew what her mother was thinking.
From the first full-time paycheck she'd brought home, Florence had been convinced Anna was either turning tricks for her manager or selling drugs to bring home that much money. As she'd been out of the workforce for years, Florence had no idea how much minimum wage laws had changed and refused to accept the idea that Anna might be making such a sum legitimately. She'd accused Anna of fucking her boss for extra bonuses, which graduated to accusations of being a full-time whore whenever she wasn't on the clock. The invective had reduced Anna to tears the first few times. Now, she was resigned to it—and not for the first time, her rage at the unfairness of it surged to the forefront of her thoughts.
It's such bullshit. She's blowing anyone that will buy her a bottle of Jack and she accuses me of being a whore? Her fists clenched. Get it together, Anna. She fought down her temper and put her hand on her mother's shoulder. "I just need to take care of some stuff before work. I'll pay the Water Services bill this morning and keep the tap flowing, okay? I'll be home at my regular time."
"Yeah, sure." Florence kept her eyes on her breakfast. "Anna, I ..."
She waited. "What, Mom?"
Anna patted her mom on the shoulder and left Florence hunched over her eggs.
He spotted her the moment she approached the door. The flaming mane, like the shroud around a lion's head, was impossible to miss. His pulse accelerated. Settle down, man. Jesus, you're acting like you're thirteen and about to get your first kiss. The thought of touching his lips to hers only made his heart beast faster.
Anna entered, spotted him, and waved. He stood as she reached the table. "Hey, there."
"Hi, Will. I hope you haven't been waiting long."
"Just a few minutes." She slid into the booth, so Will returned to his seat. He signaled the waitress who took Anna's order and departed. He said, "Thanks for coming."
"Sure. You're not skipping work or anything, are you?"
He smiled. "No, I'm ahead of schedule so unless they have something urgent, I kind of set my own hours right now. You don't work until later, right?"
"Ten to six, six days a week."
Will blinked. "That's a lot of hours. I'm surprised they let you have that many."
Anna shrugged. "We had some layoffs when the economy slowed down and then things picked back up. They haven't been able to hire as many new bodies as they thought, and the ones they do hire, they cycle through pretty fast. If it ever settles down, I'll be back to a more regular schedule." She left unsaid that her manager had gotten her into a program for disadvantaged families, the subsidies of which were the only reason she was allowed overtime, and that the extra shift every week—thirty-two extra hours a month—were about all that was letting her and Florence keep their heads above water.
"Do you like your job?"
She laughed. "Hell no but it's a job. How about you, Will? What do you do?"
"I'm a certified welder. I'm a contractor out at the shale oil refinery they're building northeast of town."
Anna nodded. "I hear welding is lucrative."
The waitress returned with Anna's coffee and muffin. Will noted she took her coffee with heavy cream and sweetener, like he did. "It pays the bills and I enjoy it. This is six months of work and I'll be able to save a little bit and see if I can get a job closer to home."
She sipped her coffee. "Where's home?"
"Centennial, a suburb outside Denver. My parents and my brother and sister all live there. I did my first two industrial contracts around the city. My master craftsman is there. He recommended me for my first independent job. I did well and once your rep is established, you're good to go. I didn't mind coming down to Grand Junction but I miss my family."
A half-smile donned Anna's face. "And do you have a special girl waiting for you back in Centennial?"
Will's chest tightened. "No, no really. She told me if I took the job and left for six months, to lose her phone number. I left several messages and emails but I haven't gotten a response from her in the two weeks I've been down here, so I guess she meant it."
"I'm sorry, Will."
"Don't be." He shrugged and lightened his tone. "I was never good enough for her parents anyway. They said she deserved to be with someone better than a welder, especially when they learned what I really want to do."
She eyed him. "Which is?"
Will folded his hands on the table. "What I'd really like to do is do wrought iron artwork. I know some folks who do incredible designs with just rebar and sheet metal. I doubt I will make very much money at first but I've done a little and I love it. I even sold one piece. That's the dream, anyway."
She beamed her white smile at him. "Well, then you should do it."
"I'd love to but like you said about your job, there are bills to pay. I'm hoping to get enough of a jump start and savings built up with regular work that I can start doing it part-time, then maybe full time. I mean, if you could do what you wanted with your life, you wouldn't be working retail, would you? What would you do?"
A slow blush mounted her cheeks. "You'll think it's dumb."
"No, I promise I won't."
She stared at the tabletop. A flaming lock fell over her face. Without raising her head, she peeked at him from behind her hair. Her voice was small, almost child-like. "I'd like to write fantasy novels."
Will smiled. "That's neat. Do you already write?"
"Would you be comfortable letting me read something you wrote?"
The tinge on her cheek turned to a full-scale flush. "Oh, no. I'm not ready for that."
"Well, if you are, I'd be happy to do so." Will didn't read much but just sitting in Anna's presence, he felt himself being drawn to her. He realized he would be happy to read her work, just because doing so might make her happy. He caught her distressed, embarrassed look and said, "Maybe later. In the meantime, what can you tell me about Grand Junction? I'm always looking for stuff to do when I'm off work."
Relief flooded her expression—mostly, Will suspected, because she would no longer have to talk about herself. They ate and chatted for the next hour about the area and things to do. The longer Anna talked, the more relaxed she got. Will discovered she had a sly, understated sense of humor and a vibrant excitement that he found intoxicating. She continually tucked strands of red hair behind her ears and even paused to make a puffed-cheek exhale to blow a wisp from her face. He watched her animated face, dancing blue eyes, and exuberant hand motions. Even her glasses seemed to accentuate the gentle curve of her face rather than detract from it. And she never stopped tossing that perfect smile at him. He caught himself tracing his eyes over her cheeks and lips, and wondered what it would be like to taste her mouth on his.
Rapt as he was, Will scarcely noted the waitress come and refill their coffee twice, each time with a knowing smirk on her face.
It was with regret that Will finally glanced at his watch. "Anna, I cannot tell you how much fun this has been. I really enjoyed myself."
"I sense a 'but' coming." Her face took on a downcast, resigned look.
"There is. I need to get to work. But I had a great time. Do you think we could do this again?"
She perked up. "Really?"
"Only if you let me buy the muffins next time."
"I can do that." He glanced at the ticket and tossed a twenty on the table. "I have flexibility, so you pick a time that's okay for you. Does that sound good?"
"Yes." They both stood and looked at each other a moment. Will hesitated. Unsure what else to do, he offered a tentative handshake.
"Oh for Christ's sake," the waitress said as she hurried past, "just hug each other already."
Anna blushed but spread her arms.
Will leaned into her and wrapped his arms around her back. She was warm and fit into his arms as if she'd been made for him to be held. Her breasts mashed into his rib cage. Will realized her chest was a lot bigger than her loose clothes let on and he was chagrined to feel his dick respond and harden. He patted her on the shoulders and pulled back. "Call me?"
He smiled and hurried out before he gave in to the urge to seize her in his arms and kiss her.
She barely remembered heading to the town offices that ran the water utilities or paying the bill. The drive to work was recalled only in bits and snatches. Instead, Anna replayed the breakfast conversation with Will in her head, over and over. She'd been amazed at how good of a conversationalist he was and how much he listened to her. He hadn't made an inappropriate move or innuendo but had hung on her every word.
He really seemed to like me, for me, she thought. And she liked him, too. When they hugged, her entire body had responded. Anna was dismayed at how hard her nipples had gotten and had blushed just thinking about it, certain he had noticed. She couldn't help it; something about being in his arms had not only felt right but incredibly arousing.
Unbidden, Trina's taunting voice pierced her thoughts. Anna could almost see the dumb bitch's smirk as she said, Yeah, just wait until he realizes you don't put out.
The thought brought a twinge of panic, which only elicited another: or just wait until he meets Florence.
Anna tasted something coppery and realized she'd been chewing the inside of her cheek. The last thought of her mother had made her bite down hard enough to draw a trickle of blood.
Her mind awhirl, she was at her job before she knew it. She clocked in and walked through her shift in a tepid daze. She was forced to ask two customers to repeat themselves when they had questions and even frustrated Trina's attempts at teasing her when Anna refused to be distracted from her thoughts. As she sat on her stool at the self-checkout lines, her mind burrowed inward, finding refuge in memory of Will's animated manner, his wide smile, and sense of humor. She visualized him in his full gear and mask, welding away and the notion made her stomach flutter. Anna had always thought manly men doing manly things were hot. In her imagination, Will killed the arc welder's spark, pushed back his mask to the top of his head, and winked at her. The memory of her breasts against him surged into her thoughts. She'd felt his arousal in his jeans.
Anna squirmed on her stool. Her groin tingled and grew uncomfortably damp.
She managed to make it through the day without embarrassing herself from her level of distraction. She drove home, not even thinking about dealing with her mother.
Florence had passed out on the couch, per her normal routine. Anna cleaned up, made a quick pasta dinner, fed them both, and steered her mother to bed. Florence griped about the spaghetti being overcooked but otherwise, her vitriol was muted. Shortly after eating, she returned to her unconscious state.
Anna locked up and headed to her room. She picked up her phone, debating. After a little hesitation, she dialed.
It rang twice before he answered. "Hello, Anna."
Her heartbeat quickened. "How did you know it was me?"
"Uh, I programmed your number into my phone. What's up?"
She'd forgotten that smartphones could do that. Her crappy phone didn't have any ability to store contacts. "I, uh, said I would call. I had fun this morning."
"So did I. Good breakfast and good company." Anna tingled at his compliment but he continued before she could respond. "When can I see you again?"
"I know you said you had a flexible schedule but I feel bad taking you away from work in the morning."
"It's not a big deal. I'm well ahead on my project timeline and I can always stay a little later or go in for a few hours on the weekends. But if it bugs you, would you like to do something after you get off?"
Anna bit her lip. "Uhm, I can't. I have some, uh, family complications that keep me busy in the evening."
From his tone, Anna thought he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. "Will, I'm not married, I don't have a boyfriend, and I don't have a child or anything like that. It's complicated. I'm not trying to be mysterious but I'm not quite ready to get into it."
"Then don't," he said in a cheery voice. "We'll keep the conversation on something more friendly, like the weather, or your writing, or why the remastered versions of Star Wars are bad."
Anna grinned. "Let me guess. You think Han shot first, don't you?"
He chuckled. "Damn right."
"We'll save that for next time. In the meantime, I can only talk for a few. I have a limited number of minutes and I'm burning them. So, to business."
They set up another breakfast date for two days later, this time at a branch of Denny's near her job. Will wished her a good night, Anna reciprocated, and they disconnected.
Anna hummed to herself as she changed into her tank top and shorts, and climbed into bed. Without trying, Will's face pushed its way into her awareness. She drifted to sleep with a smile on her lips.