Me, Cinderella?

By: Aubrey Rose

“Um, let me see,” I said, counting out the change. Shit. I didn’t even have enough for coffee. I didn’t have a damn dollar to my name after tuition and books.

“One second,” I said, turning to dig into my backpack. I dropped the nickels that were in my hand. “Shit, shit, shit.”

I bent down to pick up the nickels and got my first lucky break of the night. Right next to my shoe was a five dollar bill, just sitting on the floor! I picked it up reverently and looked around to see if there was anybody who might have dropped it, but the café was empty apart from me and the barista. She coughed and shifted her weight onto her back foot, evidently irritated at waiting for me to get my act together.

Five dollars! Five whole dollars! This was a windfall I couldn’t squander. I looked up at the café menu, my mouth watering at the possibilities. I had gotten into the habit of skipping dinner, but maybe today I could splurge and get a bagel. My stomach growled at the possibility. But no, I should wait and buy bagels at the store. Everything was overpriced here except the coffee.

I scanned the menu again and resigned myself to just the caffeine injection. It was enough to know that I could buy something if I wanted to. My eye wandered to the café window. The man was still sitting on the bench, as still as a statue. I could see his breath coming out in small white puffs, and for some reason my heart wrenched in my chest.

“Two coffees,” I said impulsively, handing the five dollar bill over to the barista. My hands trembled slightly as I picked up the cups. What was I doing?

I pushed open the door with my shoulder bravely and exited the warm cafe, one coffee in each hand. For an instant I wavered. What if he didn’t want it? What if he thought I was a weirdo? I set my shoulders and walked over to him. He must be freezing, sitting out in the cold.

“Here,” I said, offering him the steaming cup and putting on my most well-meaning smile. He looked up at me and my breath caught in my throat.

A scar ran down the right side of his cheek, the white seam visible all the way from his hairline to his chin. That wasn’t what made me gasp, though. Dark frowning eyebrows framed his piercing blue eyes and a shock of almost-black hair threatened to escape from under his wool cap. He was younger than I thought when I walked past him, probably less than ten years older than me. And handsome. I gulped.

He must have thought my reaction was to his scar, for he immediately angled his face away from mine, the white seam disappearing from my view. A defensive expression rose up on his face, and he looked at me suspiciously, one brow slanted up.

“Um, I thought you might want something to drink…” My words trailed off lamely as I held out the coffee to him. I never could talk around handsome men. His expression softened and he reached out to take the proffered cup.

“Thank you,” he said. The slightly accented words came out low, growling even, and as he took the cup, his long fingers brushed against mine. Again my heart jumped in my chest and I pushed down the strange feeling that was twisting up inside of my body. You don’t know who this man is, Brynn. He could be a serial killer, for all you know.

“You’re welcome,” I said, quickly pulling my hand back and wrapping it around my own coffee. The warmth spread through my fingers, but it was nothing compared to the electric heat that I had felt touching his hand. After a moment he tilted his head up toward me, and I realized I had been standing there in silence, just watching him.

“Is there something I can do for you?” he said.

“No, that is—” I stumbled over my words, blushing furiously. “I mean—”

“Do you often buy strange men coffee?” The accent in his words reminded me of my mother. Eastern European. His voice lifted in a teasing lilt, but his face was deadly serious, his scar giving him a menacing look. The incongruity made my already-flustered brain even more confused. Maybe he thought I was hitting on him. Should I be hitting on him? Oh, god.

“Um, no,” I said. “I just thought… I mean, you looked like you might need one.”

“You think I am a bum?” He raised one eyebrow, his accent more pronounced. Definitely Eastern European.

“No! I mean, maybe. But that’s not why I got you coffee. I was just getting myself a cup, and I thought you might like one. You know, to keep you warm.” I couldn’t stop myself from rambling. “It’s really cold out here. That’s all.”

He smiled for the first time, and the rush of relief that swept through my body warmed me as much as the coffee in my hands. His eyes crinkled at the corners, a genuine smile. A kind smile. I felt my body heating up under the coat, and I wanted to tear the damn thing off.

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