The Other Lane, Chapter One

Publication day is only six weeks away! I’m so pumped, and I can’t wait to share Abe and Lane with you. So I’m not. Here’s your free sneak peek of the entire first chapter. The Other Lane will be for sale in print and eBook July 10th, 2018.

Read to the bottom for a video about modern fairy tales!

The Other Lane

Chapter One

Cristo’s Coffee House was a trap–a horrible stinking tar pit of a job that threatened to smother Lane beneath its bubbling surface. It was the worst coffee shop in Topeka, and today, it was competing with itself for its own prize in awfulness. Not only had she stayed up too late, then had to skip her shower because she’d missed her alarm, but Sarah had called in sick. Lane had to balance the phone on her shoulder while steaming milk because she’d had a line out the door all morning. As the cherry on top of her misery sundae, her most obnoxious customer sat on the sofa just opposite the bar, staring at Lane, passing judgment from her ugly thrift store sofa-throne and ignoring her daughter.

It was bad enough that Lane had to serve the pathetic line of middle aged men who perched at the bar to flirt with her. She didn’t need an audience who had everything, but liked to spread rumors about which of the suitors was Lane’s sugar daddy this week.

Lane shot a glare at the petite, staring woman as she finished the last of the late morning lattes. The heavyset lawyer said goodbye and threw a purposeful dollar bill in the tip jar. The crowd switched from the morning loafers to the lunchtime regulars. A retired couple between rounds of golf looked over their menus. Talia sat with her mom on the sofa, waiting for Talia’s dad to join them. When she wasn’t looking, Abe sneaked onto the stool the lawyer had just vacated, and was already hiding  behind his newspaper.

Abe was the kind of man who knew he was attractive. Tall and lean, he had slick black hair he wore swept back like he had stepped out of the 40s, with a short black beard. Two silver streaks started at his temples and wrapped around like tiger stripes. He wore tailored suits and Lane made a game out of guessing what color his tie would be. Today it was a dark blue twill.

Close.

She’d guessed navy.

The only blemish she’d ever seen on his attire had been the first day he’d visited Cristo’s last January. Abe had forgotten to remove the ugly, red Kansas-shaped name tag that identified him as a lobbyist. He had also been wearing a woven silk tie the blue-green color of the ocean that Lane was certain came from an Italian tie-maker she’d studied in school.

She warmed up a mug for his black coffee, then tugged the newspaper down along the center fold just far enough to meet his eyes. He wore a fond, questioning expression that, had she not been used to his beauty by now, might have made her blush and stutter.

“You gonna order something, or you gonna loiter at my counter all day?” she asked.

“Coffee?”

Lane held out the mug. He brushed his fingers against hers for the second day in a row. When Lane narrowed her eyes at him, he winked at her and flashed a cheeky grin. She pretended not to notice, but read his newspaper while he filled his mug. It was the Wichita Eagle that morning. The day before it had been the Hutchinson News.

“How many newspapers do you get?” she asked.

“Four from around the state. Three nationals on Sunday.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You read all of those?”

“I compare stories on the same subject by different reporters. The bias changes from paper to paper, region to region.”

Lane kept her voice unaffected as she said, “You try so hard to be cool, but you are a huge nerd.”

Abe folded his paper with a smirk. “Your hair looks nice like that.”

Lane had braided her dirty, tangled hair in a single rope over her shoulder. The black braid reached to her elbow and the tangles were visible through the plaits.

“Nice try,” she said. “How was tennis? Did you win today?”

“Won one, lost one–barely.”

“I’ll bet you’re a sore loser.”

“Only when I want to win.”

“Do you always get what you want?”

“Most of the time.” Abe’s grin grew wolfish.

Pretending she didn’t know what he meant, Lane touched one finger to the square face of his watch, tilting his wrist back just far enough to make out the time. The lunch rush would start any minute. The retired couple was almost finished deciding against the turkey. A big group from the shoe company down the road would show up in a hurry, and Talia and her mom would order the same ham sandwich as always, as soon as her dad showed up.

Lane’s gaze lingered on the little girl. She was five, with long black hair. She was adopted, Indian or Pakistani with white parents. Lane had a soft spot for Talia, regularly creating meals that weren’t on the menu to make her smile, despite her hatred for her mother.

The smoldering grief that always burned in Lane’s chest sparked into flame, sucking all of the air from her lungs.

Abe’s fingertips landed on the back of her hand. “You OK?”

Lane snatched her hand off the counter. She searched his face, trying to figure what emotion he’d seen, and if she could pass it off as something mundane.

“My afternoon girl just called in sick. I have to work open to close.”

He frowned. “Why can’t Allison stay?”

Lane could hear Allison washing dishes in the little kitchen hidden behind the espresso machine. She disappeared whenever one of Lane’s suitors showed up, which meant she’d spent most of her morning in the kitchen.

“Because she has afternoon classes.”

It hadn’t occurred to Lane that she should be upset about working all day. She had work she could do in her studio at home, but that was potential money. Staying to close the shop was six guaranteed hours of overtime money she needed. She should be at home making her art–the art she hoped would some day provide for her living rather than this stupid coffee shop.

“Sit down with me,” he said. “I’ll buy you lunch.”

“I eat for free.”

“Then come sit at least.”

“You’re nuts if you think I’m coming anywhere near you with the rumor mill here.” She nodded toward Talia’s mom.

Abe looked over his shoulder to see who Lane meant. Just then, Talia’s dad entered, still dressed in his pilot’s coveralls. He kissed his wife and scooped up his daughter, spinning her in two tight circles.

“Cute family though,” he said.

“Almost makes me miss being married,” Lane said.

Abe rotated around to face her with a surprised lift of his brow.

Lane covered her mouth. “Shit.”

“You were married?”

She nodded, her heart pounding.

“And you were keeping it a secret because?”

“I don’t talk about my personal life with customers.”

Abe pretended she’d wounded him, placing one long-fingered hand over his chest. “We’re pals,” he said. “You know all about me.”

“Not by choice.”

Once upon a time, he’d regaled her with the adventures that were his frequent and awful first dates. Recently though, he hadn’t shared any awkward dinner conversations or self-deprecating post-coital stories about how he was good, for an Asian guy.

“What happened? Are you widowed? Divorced?”

Lane swallowed. She wasn’t getting out of it now. “Divorced.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. “Was it bad?”

“I’m not talking about this,” she said.

“Is that why it took you so long to finish school?”

Lane had only earned her bachelor’s degree the previous spring, taking five years longer than most of her classmates.

She wanted to ask him how old he thought she was, but that would only encourage him, and she did not want to talk to him about this.

“I’m not your pal,” she said. “I’m your barista.”

“Lane.” Abe reached over the counter for her hand, but Lane backed out of reach, shaking her head.

“Off limits, Fujikawa.”

The large party she’d been expecting walked in, and Abe retreated behind his newspaper. By the time she was free, he had gone. On the counter in his place was enough money to pay for his coffee three times over.

As Lane folded the extra bills into the tip jar, she watched Talia’s mom mime Abe and Lane’s exchange over the newspaper to her husband.

#

By seven o’clock, Lane was so tired and angry she wanted to spit fire. The ladies Bible study had arrived at half past five, bringing Talia’s mom into the shop for the second time that day. She and a friend had stayed after Bible study to gossip. Lane overheard her say she hadn’t ordered coffee because she’d read it made you fat. Then she had looked Lane right in the eye. Lane, who was counting down the drawer early, cursed the woman under her breath. She didn’t consider herself overweight, she also didn’t understand the other woman’s need to antagonize her. And, even if she did carry a few extra pounds on her hips and over her belly, Lane liked the way she looked.

The front door opened with a bang. Lane startled and lost count as Javier swaggered in. The middle aged, portly man with slicked back, greasy hair owned the Mexican restaurant on the corner. He wore cheap, outdated suits as if they were James Bond’s finest.

“What are you still doing here, Beautiful?” He seated himself at the stool closest to the cash register.

“How many times have I told you to stop calling me that?” Lane asked. She poured the milk for his latte without asking what he wanted.

“But you are beautiful,” Javier affected a South American accent. He liked to pretend that he was from South America like some of his cooks, but he’d been born and raised in Kansas.

“You can cut the crap. I have been here since open, I know I look like shit.” Lane set his large latte down in front of him. Her comment earned her a glare from the church ladies, but Javier laughed.

“You wouldn’t have to work double shifts if you were my bartender,” Javier said.

“If I had any desire to serve weak beer and cheap margaritas, I could find a better joint than yours to do it in.”

Javier had been teasing her about becoming his bar manager for a year now. He was as stingy as he was sleazy and each offer to come work for him was tinged with a side of adultery.

“You should come over and have a drink when you get off,” he said. “You deserve it.”

“And risk the wrath of your wife?” Lane said. “Not a chance.”

“My wife is scary as hell, That’s why I come over here.”

“Yeah, well, I’m about to close, so you’re going to have to head back over to your place and face her.” Lane held her hand out for his money.

He pulled out his thick wallet and rifled through the bills inside. “How much is it again?”

“Five even. Same as it was this morning.”

“You’re robbing me,” he said.

“Order a smaller drink.”

He held out a five, and Lane tried to take it, but he firmed his grasp on the bill at the last second, tugging it back out of Lane’s hand. He played this game every time he paid. This time, she snatched the five out of his fingers. His hand shot out and he grabbed Lane around the wrist, closing his fingers so hard it hurt.

Lane froze as he tightened his grip.

He watched her, wearing a lewd grin.

“Mr. Vasquez,” she said, “you need to let go of me.”

Talia’s mom and her friend were staring at Javier’s hand on Lane’s wrist. He looked over his shoulder at them and smiled. It was fine, he told them, he and Lane knew each other. They were pals.

He let go of Lane’s arm, and she withdrew to cash register.

“Closing time,” she said. “Everyone out.”

Javier harrumphed, but as he backed out the front door, he blew Lane a kiss. “Goodnight, Beautiful.”

Lane ran a finger over the red hand print on her arm as she waited for the two women to gather their things.

Talia’s mom gave Lane an appraising look as she walked them to the door. “You know, if you didn’t encourage those guys, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen so often.”

Lane smiled and held the door open for them. “Thanks for coming. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.

She finished her cleaning quickly, and the familiar process calmed her. Exhaustion settled in as she hauled the trash out to the dumpster, and she hoped the pain in her feet would dull enough to let her get some sleep.

Lane stopped in the bathroom to check her reflection in the mirror before she left.  Her hair was frizzy, so she brushed her fingers through it and redid the braid. The tiny stud in her nose winked in the artificial light, but Lane only saw the dark circles under her eyes and the contrasting paleness of her complexion.

Javier wasn’t the only one who gave her a nickname that implied she was pretty. Her sharp jaw and high cheek bones were softened by subtle dimples in her cheeks, and her blue eyes were large and bright. She was curvy and soft. While she found her contours pleasing, most of the time, she tried to camouflage them with too-big thrifted men’s shirts. But Lane wanted to be noticed. She opened an extra button on her shirt and dug in her bag for a tube of lip gloss. She rolled down her sleeves to cover the fading hand print, hoping it wouldn’t bruise.

There were no customers in the liquor store when Lane limped in. A football game droned from the TV over the beer case. Shawn was typing so intently at his computer he didn’t notice her at first.

“Hey,” she said, and he looked up, adjusting his faded blue ball cap. Too preoccupied with whatever story he was currently writing to spend much time on his appearance, Shawn’s overgrown, honey blonde hair curled around his hat. His button down shirt and holey jeans were shabby, but his skin still glowed golden from his summer tan.

“Hey, Gorgeous,” he said, “What are you still doing here?”

Lane leaned on the counter, trying to take some of the pressure off her sore feet. “Sarah called in sick.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“And so were the tips,” Lane said into the countertop. “So I need a bottle of wine that costs less than twelve dollars.”

“Red or white?” Shawn asked.

“Now, you know I’m not a white wine kind of girl.” She was so tired, it was the only joke she could muster.

“Right. We got a new brand of cab. It has a hedgehog on the label, so it’ll be around for about five minutes.”

“How much?”

“Nine bucks.”

“Sold,” Lane said, but did not move.

“You want me to get that for you?” He asked.

“If you don’t mind.” Lane slid down the front of the counter until she was a heap on the floor. “Is it OK if I sit here for a few minutes?”

Shawn retrieved the wine and joined her. She lay her head on his shoulder and he rested a hand on her thigh. The heat of his palm melted through her jeans.

“Stay as long as you like. It’s been dead all evening.”

She closed her eyes and listened to the football game. “How do you write with this garbage going?”

“I don’t even notice it anymore.”

“It would drive me crazy.”

“I can write through almost anything.”

“It’s your superpower.”

“I like to think I have a couple of superpowers.” Shawn squeezed her leg.

Lane knew what he meant. “Want to come over?” she asked.

“I suppose I could let you feed me soon.”

“Is that all I’m good for?”

Shawn took her hand. “You know I think you’re amazing. It’s our damn schedules that get in the way.”

“Are you free tonight?”

“I’ve got papers and homework,” he said. “I could come over after my shift next Friday.”

“So long?”

“It’s all I’ve got. Take it or leave it.”

“You know I’ll take it,” Lane said.

 

If you want to know a little bit more about Abe and Lane, but don’t want to wait for July 10th, you can download your free copy of When Abe Met Lane when you sign up for my email list. (Don’t worry, you can unsubscribe anytime.)

 

Find out more about what I mean when I call The Other Lane a modern fairy tale.

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