By the time she’d reached the squawkbox at the drive-through, Emma was ready to put her fist through something. The weekend had been enough of a disaster, but now it was Monday and the disaster was supposed to be over.
“Good morning, what can I get for you?” asked the barista through the speaker. He had a cheeky British accent and sounded so damn cheery that she completely lost her shit.
“You can get me a grande mocha and a goddamn new life,” she said angrily.
He coughed. “Uh, that’s one grande mocha. Anything else I can get for you?”
“No!” she shouted. “God, no wonder this line is so fucking slow!”
“You’re all set then,” he said flatly.
By the time she got her mocha, she barely had enough time to shove it in the cupholder and pay before she had to hit the gas as hard as she could.
Traffic was even worse than she’d planned for. She hated her new commute; her new apartment was a solid twenty minutes farther away from the Storybrooke Mirror than her old place—well, Neal’s place now. By the time she got to her desk, she was thirty minutes late and her mocha was cold. And it wasn’t until after Regina stopped by to chastise her for being late and to ask her how the Arendelle story was coming along that she noticed that there was something scribbled on her coffee cup.
I hope your day improves!
Her cold mocha tasted like guilt.
On Tuesday, getting up an hour earlier made all the difference. There was no traffic at all, and no line at the drive-through. “Good morning, what can I get for you?” asked the barista through the speaker. It was the same guy as before—cheerful British accent and all.
“Uh, hi,” she said, feeling like her tongue was the wrong size. “I’m the asshole who yelled at you yesterday. I wanted to apologize.”
“Ah, yes, the woman who ordered … what was it? ‘A grande mocha and a new life?’”
She laughed nervously. “Yeah, that would be me. Look, I’m really sorry. I had a shitty weekend—like, I just moved—and I was running super late for work and was losing it. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”
“Well, moving is never fun,” he said sympathetically. “All is forgiven, lass. What can I get for you?”
“Grande mocha, please,” she said, a little sheepishly.
“Grande mocha,” he repeated. “Anything else?”
“Uh, yeah, maybe with cinnamon on top?”
“Grande mocha with cinnamon on top—of course. Anything else?”
“Nope, that’s it.”
“You’re all set then.”
She was at the office with plenty of time before Regina got in, and her mocha was still piping hot. And to her surprise, there was another note scribbled on the cup.
Apology accepted! Really!
She smiled. And she kept smiling as she worked on her latest story.
Once again, on Wednesday morning, the cheerful British guy was there to take her order. “Good morning, what can I get for you?”
“Good morning,” she echoed. “Grande mocha please.”
“Ah, yes, grande mocha.”
“Yep, it’s me.”
“Is your week improving?”
That was nice of him to ask. “Sort of,” she admitted. “Still getting used to getting up earlier.”
“That’s true,” he mused. “It is significantly earlier than the first day you shouted at me.”
“Hey, the only day I shouted at you!”
He chuckled. “It’s all right, I’m just teasing. One grande mocha, lass. Cinnamon?”
She’d totally forgotten, but he’d remembered. “Yes, please.”
“Nope, just the mocha with cinnamon.”
“Wonderful. You’re all set.”
The message on her cup said, Looking forward to the next time you shout at me. She kept it on her desk the rest of the day, glancing at it every so often and chuckling.
“Good morning, what can I get for you?”
“Hey, good morning.”
“Ah, good morning, love. Grande mocha with cinnamon?”
“Week still improving?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“You think so?”
“I just moved to a new department last month and I’m still trying to impress my boss.”
“Ah, I see. Are they starting to see your brilliance?”
“I hope so. I’m going to need a raise to pay for this new mocha habit.”
“I’m sure you’re doing a fine job.”
When she pulled up at the window to pay and get her coffee, she smiled brightly at the message: Knock ‘em dead!
She felt like a badass, reading that note, like she could do anything. And sure enough, she was finally able to get through to a potential source for her story on the local elections. Just like a badass.
“Good morning, what can I get for you?”
“Good morning, love! Grande mocha with cinnamon?”
“Yep, thank you!”
“You sound cheerful.”
“It’s Friday, and there is no way this weekend can be worse than last weekend.”
“That’s the spirit!”
“Do you work weekends?”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“It’s not so terrible. It’s Mondays that are the worst days to work.”
“Oh, yes. Lots of very angry women shouting at me about their terrible weekends.”
“Ugh, I’m sorry!”
“I’m only teasing, love.”
“I know, it’s still embarrassing.”
“Nah, it’s okay, I deserve it. Well, have a good weekend, I guess.”
“You as well.”
I’m sure this weekend will be GREAT! said the cup.
And it was. The custody arrangement hadn’t started yet, so Henry was still with Neal. Emma appreciated having a little more time to settle in, but it was difficult coming home to an empty apartment. She wished Henry could live with her so she wouldn’t have to settle for phone calls, Wednesday nights, and every other weekend.
But in the meantime, she had to get the place ready for Henry to start visiting. She spent the weekend building her IKEA furniture, putting up curtains, and making sure that when Neal dropped Henry off on Friday evening, he would see that she was doing just fine.
On Monday, the line at the drive-through wasn’t as bad as it had been the first Monday, but it was still pretty substantial. She normally wouldn’t have cared, except it meant that when she got to the squawkbox, she didn’t have time to really chat.
“Good morning, what can I get for you?”
“Good morning, how was your weekend?”
“Oh, hello there, love! It was just fine. Yours?”
“It was all right.”
“I assume it was better than last weekend, since you’re being so polite.”
She laughed. “Yeah, marginally. Anyway, I don’t want to hold up the line, so …”
“Of course. As much as I hate to cut our conversation short, I appreciate that. The usual?”
“Yes, please.” She grinned—she had a “usual.” She liked that.
“Coming right up, darling. Have a lovely day.”
That day’s note was Sorry we couldn’t chat longer!
And, well … she was sorry, too.
Everything had just been so shitty lately. Breaking up with Neal, having to move, not seeing Henry every day, having to get up extra early just to have a reasonable commute … it was just a lot. And switching departments at work had been stressful enough; if she’d known that her personal life was going to fall apart like it did, she might not have accepted the transfer.
Getting a mocha every morning was supposed to be her little treat to herself, to make up for the fact that her life had fallen apart. But she had to admit that talking to the barista was really turning into the highlight of her morning, especially with the notes he left her. It was really too bad that they couldn’t talk much. Plus, it wasn’t like she could park and go in and talk to him—he was working and stuff.
So a little bit of conversation, a little note, and a mocha were all she was getting. And, well, that was enough.
“Miss Swan, can I speak with you in my office?” Regina asked.
Emma nearly dropped her mocha. “Uh, sure.” She stole a quick glance at this morning’s note, which read You’re going to have a GREAT day, I just know it, figuring she could use the confidence boost. Regina wanting to talk to her in her office—on a Friday—was disconcerting.
She took a deep breath and stood up from her desk to make her way to her boss’ office.
“Close the door,” Regina commanded, rifling through some paperwork. “And then have a seat.”
“Okay.” She did as she’d been asked, and then began to nervously fiddle with the hair elastic on her wrist.
Regina set down the paperwork and stared at her. The stare was hard to read. “When you first transferred to my division, I can’t say that I was that impressed with your work.”
Oh god, she was getting fired! She took a deep, shaky breath, and prepared to defend herself. Regina, meanwhile, continued on.
“While you came highly recommended from Sidney, I honestly couldn’t quite see what he’d been raving about. You were distracted and inconsistent, and I saw none of the initiative that he’d insisted you were known for.”
“I—I can explain,” Emma interrupted. And she wanted to explain—the transfer to Regina’s section had occurred right as things with Neal had gone south.
But Regina held up her hand dismissively. “Miss Swan, I’m not looking for explanations or excuses. What I care about are results. And the reason why I’ve called you in here today is because I’m finally seeing the results I was promised when I accepted the transfer.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. “You are?”
“Yes, I am. In fact, not only have I been satisfied with your work over the past few months, I’ve actually been impressed, especially with the story you just finished on the local elections.”
“Oh. Well, uh, thank you.” She’d been up late almost every night for weeks working on it, even having to cancel a weekend with Henry. Having Regina say she was actually impressed with the finished product was the sort of compliment she’d never expected to get.
“I’m not telling you this to flatter you,” Regina replied cooly. “Objectively, it was an excellent piece, and more importantly, it’s representative of the work you’ve been doing lately. Now, the reason why I wanted to talk to you is because I like to reward people for this kind of work. I understand that you’re a single parent, and given the fact that you’ve been pouring yourself into your work, and you have a child to support, I don’t think your salary is really appropriate. Do you?”
Emma’s jaw dropped again.
It was a great start to the weekend, Emma thought, as she finished cleaning up from dinner that night. When she was done, she headed into the living room to finish watching Beauty and the Beast with Henry. “Oh, I love this part,” she said, as Belle and the Beast danced together in the gorgeous, animated ballroom.
“Mom?” Henry asked.
“Why can’t I live with you instead of with Dad?”
It was a question she’d never expected to hear from him. “Uh, what? What do you mean?”
“Why do I live with Dad instead of you?”
“Oh. Well, uh, Dad and I thought that it would be easier for you if you didn’t have to move,” she explained. “We know that a lot changed when we decided not to be together anymore, so this way, less had to change for you. If you lived with me, you’d have to change schools and stuff, since I live in a different town.”
Henry shrugged. “I would be okay changing schools.”
She lifted an eyebrow skeptically. “Really?”
“Well, I don’t have that many friends at school now,” he said a little sadly, and her heart sank. “But even if I did, it might be fun to have a different school.”
“Henry,” she said gently, “moving and switching schools is kind of a big deal.” He shifted a bit, and she could feel his protest coming. “How about this? Why don’t I talk to Dad? See what he thinks?”
Henry nodded, and she relaxed a bit. And after Henry went to bed, she gave Neal a call.
“Has he said anything to you about this?” she asked, after recounting the conversation to him.
“Yeah, he’s been asking lately—not that explicitly, though.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“Honestly, Em, I don’t know. On the one hand, I do think it would be nice if he saw you more often. But I can’t imagine not seeing him almost every day. And I’ve gotta wonder if this is just him being sad that nothing’s going to ever go back to the way it was before.”
“I know what you mean,” she replied. “Like, he’s gonna move in with me and then realize that now he misses you.” She sighed. “Has he said anything to you about how school is going?”
“Actually, yes. And I called his teacher.”
She bit her tongue to avoid snapping at him. This was something he should have told her about. “Um, okay, that would have been nice to know. What did he say?”
“He said that Henry’s doing well academically but is a bit of a loner. He asked me how Henry’s playdates were going and mentioned that we might want to try enrolling him in some kind of activity.” Neal sighed. “Look, I don’t think that switching schools is really the answer, or at least the kid has to make sure this is what he really wants because switching back would be a nightmare.”
“Okay, well, I’ll talk to him tomorrow and see how serious this all is.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Lemme know how it goes.”
“Will do. Night.”
The next day, she took Henry to the park, and then to a local ice cream stand for frappes. She figured the best way to ease into what might be a rough conversation would be a fun afternoon on the playground, followed by ice cream.
“So,” she said, as they sat down on a bench near the ice cream stand, “let’s talk more about what we were talking about last night.”
Henry nodded and took a sip of his frappe.
“You know that I love you more than anything, right?” He nodded again. “And I would be the happiest mom in the world if I got to see you as often as Dad gets to see you now?” He nodded again. “Okay. So let’s talk about school. Moving and going to a new school can be a huge deal, so I have to make sure you understand what it would mean.”
He dropped the straw from his mouth. “Mom, I don’t really have any friends at school. A new school would be scary, I guess, but if it means I get to live with you and maybe make some new friends, I think it would be a good kind of scary.”
The worst part of hearing all this was knowing that Henry hadn’t had many friends for a while—since before she and Neal split. “Well … could you stick out the rest of the school year?” she asked. “Wait till then to make the switch?”
He nodded, this time vigorously, and she could see his excitement rising up.
It was hard not to feel that excitement, too: her son wanted to live with her. It wasn’t even that she felt like she was winning some unspoken competition between herself and Neal (although maybe she felt a little that way). It was just really validating and heart-warming to know that her son missed her just as much as she missed him.
By the end of the weekend, the matter had been settled among all three of them: the weekend after the school year ended in June, Henry was moving in with her.
Emma ran into her neighbor Mary Margaret on her way back to her apartment after taking Henry home. “Oh, hi, Emma!”
“Hey, how was your visit with your dad?
“Good! Just got back, actually. How was your weekend?”
She couldn’t help the goofy grin she felt spread across her face. “It was really great.”
Her neighbor lifted an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Something happen?”
“I don’t even know where to start,” Emma admitted, “but yeah.”
“Well, I’ve got about a thousand homework assignments to grade, but maybe we could get together for drinks on Friday? With Ruby and Graham?”
“Yeah, that sounds great!”
As she plopped down on the couch, she realized something really great—not as great as all of the amazing things that had happened to her since Friday afternoon, but great nonetheless:
She had people she couldn’t wait to tell all this good news to.
For the longest time, the only people in her life had been Henry, Neal, and Neal’s parents. She’d had acquaintances here and there: other moms at Henry’s schools or daycares, friendly coworkers, or Neal’s college buddies. No one who chose to be in her life because they liked her, and no one who stayed in her life once circumstances changed.
But now, she had friends. There were people who actually wanted to spend time with her and hang out with her, even when it wasn’t convenient. They weren’t just in her life because of Neal or Henry or work. They were in her life because they liked her.
And she liked them. Mary Margaret was so hopeful and optimistic and insightful; Emma finally felt like she’d found her lifelong best friend. And she might have worried that they were only friends because they lived in the same building, but after one night with too much tequila, Mary Margaret had broken down in tears and told Emma just how much their friendship meant to her.
Meeting Ruby and Graham had been an accident, one night when Emma and Mary Margaret had gone out to a bar for a girls’ night out. Graham had flirted with Mary Margaret, and Ruby had flirted with Emma, and by the end of the night, all four of them had settled into a friendly conversation. The conversation never quite seemed to end, and before Emma knew it, she had three great friends.
Since then, Emma had been hanging out with at least one of them every week or so. Sometimes, Mary Margaret would come and watch movies with her and Henry, or she’d meet Graham for lunch, or she would Facetime with Ruby to help her pick a date night outfit.
She couldn’t wait to tell them about her raise and Henry—especially Henry. They were all going to be so excited. But there was one more person she couldn’t wait to share all the good news with: the barista.
It was a little weird when she thought about it. The two of them had never officially met, she barely knew anything about him, and she didn’t even know what he looked like. All she knew was that he was British (from the accent, and “No, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl—and no, I will not call it football,” and I’d be a traitor to my country if I didn’t insist you try fish and chips!), he was around her age (“John Boyega makes me feel so unaccomplished for my age,” and That song takes me back to high school!), and he wasn’t that fond of his job (“It pays the bills, love, so obviously I can’t complain,” and I wish I were as optimistic about my job as you are about yours!).
And she got the feeling that he liked her, at least as a friend. He always sounded so happy to see her (well, hear her) when she pulled up to the speaker and said hello. And he left her notes like If you need a coffee break later, I’m here till two, or Can’t wait to see you Monday! or You always brighten my day, love.
So yeah, as weird as their friendship was, she couldn’t wait to tell him the good news.
Monday morning, Emma pulled up to the squawkbox, ready to hear the barista’s voice saying, “Good morning, what can I get for you?”
But instead, there was a new voice, one she didn’t recognize. “Hi, what would you like this morning?”
“Uh, hi,” she replied. She wanted to make a comment about how this girl wasn’t the normal barista, but that seemed pointless. “Uh, grande mocha please?”
“Grande mocha … anything else?”
“Uh, yeah, can I get cinnamon on top?”
“Sure, cinnamon on top. Anything else?”
“No, that’s it. Thanks.”
The disappointment stayed with her throughout the day, even after she met with Regina about changing her hours starting in the summer (approved, and she was still getting her raise). What had happened? Everything had seemed fine on Friday. Where was he? She frowned at the to-go cup, with its lack of message.
This was silly, wasn’t it? He was probably out sick. It was fine, she told herself, to be bummed out, but it wasn’t fine to obsess over his absence.
When he wasn’t there Tuesday, the disappointment intensified, but she reminded herself that people were often sick for more than one day in a row. Maybe the poor guy had the flu. She chuckled to herself as she imagined what he’d have to say about it. Yeah, he probably had the flu.
He still wasn’t there by Friday morning, which was when she remembered that it wasn’t flu season.
She let the panic set in a bit when he still wasn’t there on Monday. Was he on vacation? She thought back as hard as she could to the last time she’d talked to him. Had he said, “See you Monday?” Had he made any reference to maybe not seeing her soon?
The next Monday, she finally got up the courage to ask. “Um, hi,” she said awkwardly as the barista working the window handed her her mocha and her card. “I have a weird question for you.”
“How can I help you?” the woman asked.
“The guy who used to take orders—who usually takes orders,” she corrected herself. “Is he, uh, is he okay?”
“Oh, he doesn’t work here anymore,” the barista replied.
“Oh.” Her heart sank. He’d left without telling her? “Okay.”
“Have a nice day.” And then the barista stuck her head out the window a bit to check the line to see who was next. There was no one behind her, but Emma got the hint.
He was gone? Just like that? She found herself fighting back tears.
But then she chided herself silently. She was being ridiculous. This guy wasn’t her friend. She didn’t know him. She shouldn’t be so sad that he was gone. She still had all of her real friends, and she still had her morning mocha. And maybe she’d become friends with the new barista.
Her bad mood persisted throughout the day. She nearly ran over some poor guy when she went down to HR to sign her new contract, and she barely talked to Graham during lunch. And when Neal called to talk about Henry’s upcoming move, she snapped at him twice for pretty innocuous statements.
She needed to get over it, she told herself firmly. The guy was gone, and there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn’t let it ruin her life when everything else was going so well. After all, if the worst thing in her life right now was that she didn’t get to have conversations with a barista every morning, and have him write little messages on her cup, then her life was pretty damn great.
“Mom?” Henry asked as they ate dinner. “Are you okay?”
That was a weird question. “What do you mean?” Emma asked.
“You seem sadder lately,” he said. “Do you want me to stay with Dad?”
“Oh, kid, no!” Crap, how could she have let him think that? “I am so happy that you’re going to be living with me—it’s the happiest thing ever.”
“Really?” he asked, voice full of hope.
She set down her fork and stood from her chair. “Really.” And she went over to give him the biggest hug she could give him.
It was apparently big enough. “Mom, stop, you’re crushing me!” He was giggling, though, and she smiled before releasing him and sitting back down.
“What made you think that I was sad about you moving in with me, Henry?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. Ever since you and Dad said it was okay, you’ve been sighing a lot and frowning and looking … sad.”
She thought back to that weekend. Why would she have been acting sad, and why would it have started around the time that she’d gotten some of the best news of her life?
“Well, I …” How could she explain this to a six-year-old? “I met someone that I liked a lot, and he kind of disappeared. I just miss him, that’s all.”
Henry’s face lit up and she realized that maybe she should have framed things differently. Her kid was way too optimistic. “Mom, if you miss this person you have to find them!”
“Henry, it doesn’t work that way.”
“But you look people up for your job,” he protested.
“Henry,” she said firmly, and he began to pout. “Real life doesn’t work that way. I can’t just magically find someone. I’ll be fine, okay? I promise.”
“Okay,” he said, but she could tell it wasn’t over. Especially since Mary Margaret joined them for lunch the next day, and after Emma came back from the bathroom, the two of them looked like they’d been talking about her behind her back.
The following weekend, when she was out with her friends for drinks, her suspicions were confirmed. “So, who’s this mystery man who disappeared on you?” Mary Margaret asked. Knowing smiles from Ruby and Graham confirmed that Mary Margaret had shared with them what she’d learned from Henry. Great.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. On the one hand, it was a little annoying that her friends were pestering her about this. On the other hand, having friends who were pestering her was something she kind of cherished.
“You know how I get coffee at the drive-through every morning?” she asked, and they all eagerly nodded. “The guy who usually takes my order left. We used to talk every morning and he’d leave messages on my cup, so I’m just kind of bummed out about it.”
“Oh,” Mary Margaret said, a little sadly. “That’s too bad. Why did he leave?”
“No idea. He was there one Friday, and then Monday, he was gone. When I asked, the person at the window was just like, ‘Oh, he’s gone,’ and then that was it.”
“Well, he can’t be that hard to find,” Ruby said encouragingly. “What’s his name? I know phone books are obsolete, but he’s probably on Facebook.”
“I, uh, don’t know his name,” Emma admitted. “Or what he looks like.”
“Are you serious?” Mary Margaret asked. “So he’s just … Coffee Guy or something?”
“He’s not— please do not call him Coffee Guy.”
“You work for a newspaper,” Ruby said. “Can’t you find Coffee Guy using what you know about him? Or maybe you could call the coffee place and pretend you’re doing a story?”
“Sure, and get my ass fired,” Emma replied.
“She’s right, she shouldn’t do that,” Graham said.
“What about you?” Mary Margaret asked him. “Don’t detectives also have access to this kind of stuff?”
He chuckled. “Sure we do, and we can also be fired for it. Sorry, Mary Margaret.”
“Don’t apologize to her,” Ruby chided. “Apologize to Emma for not helping her find Coffee Guy.”
Emma groaned. “Please do not call him Coffee Guy!”
“Why?” Ruby asked. “What did you call him?”
“I mean … I didn’t have a name for him.”
“Look, this isn’t a rom com, okay? This isn’t a cutesy romantic scenario where I made some kind of special ‘connection’ with a guy, and then I have to track him down so we can have some fairy tale first meeting and fall in love and shit.” She sighed. “I’m a twenty-four-year-old single mom; I don’t get to have meet-cutes, and if I got one, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. So let’s just drop the subject and drink. Okay?”
They all murmured their assent, and drinking resumed. But she could feel them still wondering, still questioning, still hoping. Even if they were going to stop bothering her about it tonight, Emma knew they weren’t going to let her just forget about Coffee Guy.
Shit, now she was calling him that.
Two weeks was all it took for Emma to cave. Even without her friends saying anything explicitly, Coffee Guy was constantly the elephant in the room. And Henry did ask. He asked the following Wednesday, and then all weekend, and then Wednesday again. “But Mom, if you miss him, you need to find him!” was his constant refrain.
And maybe he was right?
She had been super bummed out on a regular basis. The new barista working the squawkbox was fine, but she wasn’t Coffee Guy. There were no more notes, no more friendly conversations, no more mornings where she walked into the office with a goofy grin on her face.
And even so, she needed closure. He’d just disappeared without a trace! The reporter in her was desperate to know what had happened to him; even if this was really the end of their strange friendship, she just wanted to know why it had ended.
She didn’t want to get fired. But … well, there were things she could do.
She wasn’t on the investigative journalism team, but she did have access to some of the databases they used. One in particular might be helpful for her to use to find Coffee Guy, especially since it was one that Regina had kept recommending she use for a few stories. She’d managed to do just fine without it, but if somehow, things went south and it was discovered that she’d been using the database, she could just lie and say that she’d used it for a story.
She brought up the database, entered in the login info, and hit enter.
Error message. She frowned and tried again. Same error message.
Was the information wrong? “Hey, Ariel?”
“Yeah?” her coworker asked.
“Did they change the login info for all the databases?”
“Can you log in?”
There was the sound of typing and mouse-clicking. “Yep, just logged in.”
“Damn,” Emma replied. “I can’t log in.”
“Let me try.” Ariel came over to her desk and leaned over to use the laptop. The same error message popped up again. “Weird! You should take this down to IT.”
“No, I mean … it’s fine.”
“Really? What are you going to do if you can’t access the database?”
Emma wanted to admit that she didn’t actually need the database for work, but telling a coworker that she’d been about to do something illegal seemed like a bad idea. “I guess you’re right,” she said. At the very least, she could get the problem solved, regardless of whether or not she followed through on abusing her resources to find some barista who’d disappeared on her.
She hadn’t been down to IT in a while. When she got there, and Leroy, the head IT guy, glared at her, she remembered why. “Hi, Leroy.”
“What do you want, sister?” he asked grumpily.
“I need some assistance with information technology,” she replied drily. “I’ve heard that’s what you get paid to do.”
“I’m eating lunch,” he said, before gesturing at the sandwich on his desk. “Hold on. Hey, new guy!” he bellowed. “Got some work for you!”
Emma tried very hard not to let the disappointment she felt show on her face. As unpleasant as Leroy was, he was the best person in IT. The other guy who usually helped her, Isaac, was beyond incompetent; if she had to be here and deal with curmudgeons, she might as well deal with one who fixed her problem quickly. And whoever this new guy was, even if he was nicer than Isaac or Leroy, he was new, which meant that he was unlikely to be speedy.
She heard shuffling as someone got up from a desk and began walking towards the front of the office. “Coming!” The voice sounded— nah. She was just thinking about Coffee Guy so much that she was starting to imagine things.
Suddenly, voices seemed irrelevant as the new guy appeared and Emma got a good look at him. He was tall, with dark hair, bright blue eyes, and a short beard, and as far as she was concerned, he looked like he’d stepped off of a fucking runway or something. His eyes settled on her with obvious interest. “Well, hello there, love. How can I help you?”
Her brow furrowed. Well, hello there, love, in that exact same voice, was something she’d been missing for weeks. But it couldn’t be him. That would be ridiculous.
“Emma has a problem,” Leroy said, mouth full of sandwich. “You’re gonna fix it.”
The new guy—Coffee Guy? Maybe?—rolled his eyes. “Aye, I assumed. Well, Emma, why don’t you come with me?”
“Uh, okay.” She felt a little nauseous as she walked past Leroy’s desk until she was standing next to the new guy.
“Right, this way,” he said. “Let me pull up a chair for you and we’ll sort out your problem. Meanwhile, feel free to push aside whatever you need to fit your laptop on my desk.”
There wasn’t much to move out of the way, but she did spot a coffee cup from the same coffee shop. She gulped anxiously. Dear lord, he had to be Coffee Guy.
“Here you are,” he said, returning with another chair.
“Thanks.” She grabbed it from him and sat down.
“I’m Killian, by the way,” he said, holding out his hand to shake. She accepted it, shaking it quickly before dropping it. “I hope it was obvious that my name isn’t really ‘new guy.’”
She laughed at that, not because it was really all that funny, but because of how sheepishly he said it. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Killian.”
He smiled widely. “So, why don’t you tell me what trouble has brought you here to IT?”
So she did; she pulled up the database and explained the issue. With her permission, he took over, checking a whole bunch of things that she didn’t even know existed on her work computer. Soon enough, the database became magically accessible. “Wow,” she said. “And here, I thought we’d be here all day.”
“A shame,” he replied. “You are much better company than Leroy is. But I assume you have actual work to do, so I thought it would be prudent to resolve the issue quickly.”
“I appreciate that.” She closed her laptop, but she didn’t feel ready to go. She needed more info. “Well, I’m glad you work here now,” she continued. “It’s really kind of great to have someone here who’s nice and who can get the job done. How, uh, how long have you been working here?”
“Only a couple of months,” he replied. That lined up with when Coffee Guy disappeared. “I enjoy it so far. Actually, don’t let him know I said this, but Leroy’s actually decent company when you get to know him.”
“Why shouldn’t I let him know you said that?”
“I don’t want to ruin his reputation.”
She laughed at that. “Well, I promise I’ll keep it a secret.” The conversation had reached an endpoint, so she grabbed her computer and stood up. “Thanks again, Killian.”
“Of course. Don’t hesitate to come down here if you have any other issues.”
She spent the rest of the day debating the next course of action. She had access to the database now; should she use them and see if Killian was in fact Coffee Guy? Should she just ask him?
God, no, she couldn’t just ask him. If Killian was Coffee Guy, then he’d obviously left the coffee place without telling her for a reason . If he’d been interested in continuing their weird friendship, he would have said something to her before he’d left for his new IT job. He’d have given her his name or number or something.
But he hadn’t. He’d left without telling her. She could take the hint.
She rubbed at her eyes, willing herself not to cry. This was so ridiculous! So what if a stupidly hot barista she’d felt a connection to didn’t feel the same way! And maybe he wasn’t Coffee Guy anyway.
Because what were the chances he was?
Life continued, and Emma didn’t see Killian. She wasn’t actively avoiding him; she just didn’t need help from IT. Meanwhile, her friends continued to back off, and Henry was too distracted by the move to ask about Coffee Guy.
The move went smoothly, at least. The Saturday after Henry finished school, Emma drove over to help pack everything up and load it into Neal’s SUV. By the end of the day, although she was still tripping over half-empty boxes, Henry lived with her. She kept smiling almost drunkenly.
She even had built-in babysitting, with Mary Margaret (done with her own school year) happily agreeing to watch Henry in return for Emma providing food and entertainment. Her friend was a godsend, since Henry’s summer camp didn’t start until after Independence Day.
Emma’s coworker Hank had told her about it when she’d mentioned that Henry would be moving in with her and going to school in town in the fall, and it looked like it would be a great program. Henry had already made friends with Hank’s daughter Violet, when they’d all gone to the information session a week ago. Emma was relieved; after Henry had struggled to make friends at his old school, it looked like now he would have no trouble at all.
The company July Fourth picnic reaffirmed her confidence; as soon as she and Henry arrived, he spotted Violet and ran off with her to play, with Hank promising to keep an eye on them.
Emma wasn’t planning on getting tanked or anything, but it was nice to know that she could take a short break from being a mom in order to enjoy some of the party. She headed over to the coolers that were filled with all sorts of beverages and grabbed herself a soda.
“Hello again,” said a smooth, sexy, accented voice that she’d been thinking about for weeks. She turned around to see Killian standing nearby. Her stomach did a weird flip. “Emma, right?”
“Killian,” he said, holding out his hand to shake.
“Right, I remember.”
He smiled. “Glad to hear I was memorable.”
Ugh, she couldn’t keep this up. “Look, this is going to sound weird, but you—”
“Seem familiar?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
She let out a relieved sigh. “Yes! I thought I was going crazy the other week.”
He laughed. “No, you’re certainly not crazy. I probably seem familiar because you actually bumped into me on my very first day of work here.”
Her heart sank. “I did?” she asked.
“Aye. You were heading into HR while I was on my way out. You, uh, made quite an impression.”
“I’m sorry.” So he didn’t recognize her. Damn. Maybe he wasn’t Coffee Guy.
“Oh, no harm done. So, quite a picnic.”
“Yeah, they do this every year. I like it better than the holiday party in December.”
“I’m just more of a beer and barbeque kind of person. Are you enjoying it so far?”
“Aye, although I still find it odd to celebrate American independence.”
She grinned. “Yeah, what’s that like, having a holiday that celebrates our country giving your country the middle finger?”
“Actually, love, it would be the V sign, but the sentiment remains the same.”
“Mom! Mom!” The conversation was interrupted by Henry, who was barreling towards her. When he slammed into her, hugging her around the knees, she almost spilled her Diet Coke. “Mom, they have a moon bounce!”
She laughed. “I know, kid! Did you play it in yet?”
He rolled his eyes like he couldn’t believe she would even ask. “Um, yeah, obviously! It’s so cool! I had to take a break though because Violet was getting tired, although I’m not tired at all.”
“I can tell,” she said instead, knowing he’d probably wear himself out and fall asleep by seven o’clock.
“Violet invited me over tomorrow, and I told her I could, but Mr. Morgan said I had to ask you first.”
“Well, yes, Henry, you do have to ask first,” she said firmly. “We have to make sure Dad’s okay with it.”
Henry nodded but continued to look up at her expectantly. She sighed. “Okay, I’ll do it now.” She fished out her phone and kept her eyes on Henry as she called Neal. She could feel Killian’s eyes on her.
“Hey, Em, everything okay?”
“Yeah. Henry’s new friend wants to have a playdate tomorrow—Violet, Hank’s daughter.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember Hank.”
“Is that okay with you?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Just give Hank my contact info and I’ll take care of it. Although—if I’m handling that, do you mind picking him up Sunday night? So I don’t have to drive back out?”
“Yeah, I can do that. Thanks, Neal.” She hung up. “Okay, kid. I just need to talk to Mr. Morgan, but you can play with Violet tomorrow.” Henry squeezed her legs tight before running off. “Henry—wait, I still need to talk to him!” But he was gone; she sighed and turned back to Killian, who was still standing beside her. “Sorry about that.”
“No need to apologize at all. Quite an energetic lad, eh?”
“Yeah, and this is him when he’s not jacked up on sugar.”
“How old is he?”
“Ah. Quite an age.”
She could hardly be mad at Henry for his interruption, but it had kind of killed off the conversation. Maybe if Henry had known that Killian might be Coffee Guy, he wouldn’t have interrupted.
But she needed to keep in mind that she couldn’t be sure Killian was Coffee Guy. Sure, his voice was the same voice, and he said shit like love and aye, and he’d started working for the Mirror at the same time that Coffee Guy had disappeared, but—
“So, I have to ask,” Killian said, interrupting her train of thought. “But … you don’t wear a ring.”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably and blushed. “You don’t wear a wedding ring,” he clarified.
That was true, she didn’t—oh. Oh!
“Uh, no, I’m not married,” she said. “I’m not anything, actually.”
His eyes were sparkling a bit. “So you wouldn’t find it objectionable if I asked for your number?”
Her heart was racing like this was high school or something and a cute boy was asking her out. Which, well … was the last time that had actually happened. “No, I wouldn’t.”
He laughed, a bit nervously she thought, and pulled out his phone, handing it to her after he’d pulled up the right screen. She handed hers to him as well, and as she typed in her name and number, she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. His whole face was bright, like he could barely contain his happiness.
He was already hot as hell, but that expression made him even more upsettingly attractive. And soon, she had her phone back, and a new contact: Killian Jones.
She expected, once they’d exchanged numbers, that that would be it. He’d go off and hang out with people from IT or anyone else he knew, and she would get suckered into watching the kids, or maybe she’d grab a burger, or maybe she’d have a chance to hang out with Ariel or Marian.
But that wasn’t it. They kept talking, even when Henry returned, clearly tuckered out and clingy. They kept talking while they grabbed some hot dogs and burgers. They kept talking, even when Ariel, then Marian, then Hank joined the conversation.
“Mom?” Henry asked as they drove home. “Did you ever find Coffee Guy?” She was still frustrated that Mary Margaret had told Henry about the nickname.
Meanwhile, she didn’t want to answer honestly (which was, “I’m not actually sure”). “What made you think to ask, kid?”
“Well, I wanted Coffee Guy to be your boyfriend, but I think Killian wants to be your boyfriend.”
She tried not to laugh. “Well, kid, I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. Killian and I only just met. Even if he wants to be my boyfriend, I have to figure out if I want him to be my boyfriend.”
“I guess that’s true,” Henry said thoughtfully. “He’s okay. I guess it would be okay if he was your boyfriend.”
“Like I said, Henry, you’re getting ahead of yourself. I haven’t even gone on a date with him yet.”
But, she thought, after she dropped Henry off at Neal’s that night, she would be. Soon after they’d left the picnic, she had a new text: Swan, would you do me the honor of having dinner with me tomorrow night?
And she’d replied Yes.
If anything, she was just really determined to figure out if he was Coffee Guy.
Over the course of a few weeks, two things became clear: Killian Jones was definitely Coffee Guy, and he was definitely her boyfriend.
The first thing had been easier for Emma to accept. It had only taken two dates for him to mention that he’d been working at a coffee shop before he’d gotten his current job in IT. Not just a coffee shop— the coffee shop. “You know, the one down on Main?” he’d asked. She’d just nodded, too anxious to admit how well she knew it.
It had taken four dates for her to accept that he was now kind of her boyfriend, and it had taken Henry for her to admit it. Henry had been pouting, and when prompted to tell her why, said, “Now Killian’s your boyfriend, so Coffee Guy can’t be.”
“Hey, we’ve only been on a few dates, Henry. What makes you think he’s my boyfriend all of a sudden?”
He rolled his eyes. “Um, Mom, you talk about him all the time and you’re always texting him, and you go on dates with him whenever I’m with Dad.”
She winced. Okay, so maybe all those things were true. “Well, let’s say Coffee Guy wasn’t an issue. Would it be a bad thing that Killian was my boyfriend?”
“No. I like him. I just think Coffee Guy would be a better story.”
She chuckled. “Well, just wait and see, kid. You never know.”
The next night, with Henry at Neal’s, she was (as Henry had astutely pointed out) with Killian; they’d gotten dinner and then headed to a bar, which was when she finally got up the courage to bring up the B word. “Henry says you’re my boyfriend.”
He blushed. “He does, does he?”
“And how do you feel about that?”
“Well, I guess it depends on how you define it.”
“Oh? And how would you define a boyfriend?”
“Someone I spend a lot of time with.”
“We do spend an awful lot of time together.”
“Someone I like.”
“I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I get the feeling you like me.”
She grinned. “Someone who seems to like me.”
“I don’t just seem to like you, love.”
It was her turn to blush. “And, well, I guess someone I’m sleeping with. So are you my boyfriend?”
“One moment.” She wasn’t expecting him to respond to that by getting up from the table abruptly. But she watched as he went up to the bar, settled the tab, and then returned with a grin on his face. “Miss Swan, perhaps we could go back to my place? As your boyfriend, I haven’t been fulfilling all of my obligations, and I would very much like to correct that.”
Her heart was racing as they drove back to his place, as he pushed her up against the door and kissed her senseless, as he undressed her, as he dragged his lips and his hands all over her body, as he pulled on a condom, as he made love to her so passionately that she thought she might cry.
She had to tell him. She just had to. He needed to know—she needed him to know. And she needed to know why he’d left without a word.
But in the afterglow, she couldn’t find the words. All she knew was that she was falling hard and fast for Coffee Guy, and she’d never been so terrified in her whole life.
Emma woke up to the sounds of Killian getting dressed. She shifted to look at him, squinting in morning light. “Shh,” he said, leaning down to smooth back her hair and kiss her forehead. “Go back to sleep. I’ll be back soon.”
She grumbled a little unhappily, but she couldn’t quite fall back asleep. While she waited from him to come back from wherever, she pulled on her underwear and her shirt and wandered into the bathroom to freshen up before crawling onto the couch and wrapping herself in a throw blanket. His place was pretty nice, if a little bare, but he’d only just moved in. He’d mentioned it to her, saying that with his new job, he could finally afford to live without roommates.
She groaned. She really needed to tell him! She would tell him as soon as he got back. It was decided.
Not too long after that, Killian returned, holding a to-go cup of coffee in each hand. “I thought you’d go back to sleep,” he said.
She shrugged. “Would you believe me if I said your bed was more comfortable with you in it?” He chuckled. “Coffee?”
“Aye. I used to just drink coffee at work, and haven’t gotten around to getting a coffee maker here.”
“Makes sense.” He held out one of the cups for her. “How did you know what to get me?”
He turned bright red but didn’t answer. It was then that she spotted the writing on the cup he was holding out for her. She reached out and took it so she could get a better look at it.
Even without checking, she knew it was a mocha with cinnamon.
“How long did you know?” she asked him.
He ducked his head sheepishly. “Since you came down with your computer. I recognized your voice.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Well, you didn’t call,” he said, as if that made sense.
“You didn’t call,” he repeated. “I didn’t mean to trick you or anything, but I assumed you wouldn’t be interested in dating me if you knew.”
“I knew,” she admitted. “I wasn’t sure how to tell you.”
He frowned. “It’s my appearance, isn’t it?” He sighed and ran his free hand over his face. “You weren’t interested until you got a good look at me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You weren’t interested, so you didn’t call, but then when you saw what I looked like—”
“Okay, stop,” she said, holding up her hand. “You keep saying I didn’t call. How the hell was I supposed to call you?”
“I gave you my number,” he said.
“When the hell did you give me your number?” She would have noticed a phone number on the side of her cup.
“That last day. I’d given them my two weeks notice, but they just ended my employment on the spot, telling me not to bother coming in the next day. So I had my coworker Ursula give you my number when you pulled up to the window.”
“I never got your number!” She sat back and let out a breath. “Wait, so you’re telling me that this whole time, I thought you disappeared without a trace, but you didn’t?”
“She never—but she swore she gave it to you!”
“Which one is she?”
“She works the window most mornings.”
“Light brown hair, seashell necklace?”
“I asked her what happened to you and she just said you’d left and wouldn’t tell me anything else!”
He was shaking his head. “So this whole time, you were—you might have been interested?”
“Killian, the whole reason I was trying to log into that database in the first place was so I could—” She clamped her mouth shut.
He lifted an eyebrow. “So you could what?” She shook her head. “No, I insist, love. So you could what?”
She covered her face with her hands. Oh god, she couldn’t admit this!
She felt the couch dip beside her as he sat down. “Emma, you can tell me.” She shook her head. “Please?” He stroked her shoulder gently. “Look, I’m not going anywhere.”
She dropped her hands and turned to look at him. His expression was so open, so earnest—“I was going to use the investigative journalism databases to look you up illegally so I could find out what happened to you.”
He furrowed his brows, but then he laughed. It wasn’t just a chuckle; it was a full-throated laugh, and he even threw back his head. “It’s not that funny!” she protested. “I could get fired if anyone even finds out I was thinking about it!”
“No, I know,” he said, wiping away a tear. “I’m sorry, it’s just—I really thought you’d rejected me. I’ve been worried this whole time about telling you my identity, and it turns out, you were just as interested in me as I was in you.”
“I would have said something sooner, but I really thought you’d disappeared without telling me on purpose. And when I did try to bring it up—”
“Right, at the picnic,” he finished for her, nodding. “I was still under the impression that you didn’t know and wouldn’t want to date me if you did. I was eager to pretend that we didn’t know each other.”
“I did mow you down, though, didn’t I? In HR?”
“Aye, although I didn’t know who you were. Just some gorgeous blonde who left an impression.” She blushed but smiled at the compliment.
“So why do you think your coworker lied?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I suspected she’d always had a crush on me, but it seems out of character for her to sabotage me like that. You’re sure—”
“Killian, I missed you so much. If I’d had your number, I would have called you.”
He nodded. “Aye. And what matters now is that we’ve found each other.”
“Yeah.” She smiled. “Henry’s going to be so excited.”
“Yeah, he told me I should find you, and when we started dating, he thought I’d given up.”
“Well, I’m glad he won’t be disappointed. Unlike a certain someone.”
He grinned impishly.
The following Thursday morning, Emma sat in the passenger’s seat of Killian’s car as he drove to the coffee shop. She had the hoodie of her sweatshirt up so that Ursula wouldn’t notice her immediately. At the squawkbox, he said good morning to the barista working his old job before ordering a mocha with cinnamon for her and a latte for himself. And then they pulled up to the window, where Ursula was working. “Good morning, love!”
“Hi, Killian! Latte, right?”
“And a mocha with cinnamon.”
Ursula chuckled. “A mocha with cinnamon? Are you still pining after Mocha Girl? I thought you had a new girlfriend.”
Emma knew she was supposed to let Killian do the talking and surprise Ursula with the news, but she couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. “Mocha Girl? You called me Mocha Girl?”
“Emma, you ruined it,” Killian complained.
“Uh, oh my god,” Ursula said, nearly dropping Killian’s card.
“Hi,” Emma said. “I guess I didn’t need his phone number.”
Ursula turned bright red, and to her credit, she didn’t try to argue or defend herself. Instead, she just handed Killian his card and both drinks before mumbling, “Okay, see you later.”
Emma was still laughing over Mocha Girl as they drove to work. “Oi, it’s not that bad,” Killian protested. “I didn’t know your name, and Ursula said you used a rewards card so she couldn’t just check your credit card, so … I didn’t come up with it, Ursula did!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” she said, still laughing. “Just … Mocha Girl?”
“Why, what did you call me?”
They were going to have dinner with Henry that evening, so Killian would definitely learn about Coffee Guy before the day was over. But for now, she just giggled, all the way to work.