My new novel Everything Between Us (Pink Bean – Book Three) will be out next Friday (on 17 March 2017). Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
Everything Between Us
© Harper Bliss
“I’ve got this one.” I all but shove Micky out of the way with my behind.
“All right, all right,” she says. “No need to get physical.” She leans her hip against the counter, watching me—making me more nervous than I want to be for this.
“Hi,” Caitlin James says on a sigh, as though ordering coffee has become a big chore, even though she gets the same thing every single day. She looks at the board above my head. I try not to stare while her gaze is fixed elsewhere, but it’s hard. Although Micky scrutinizing my every move keeps me in check. “A large flat white, please,” Caitlin says.
“Have here or takeaway?” I ask, out of habit.
Caitlin cocks her head and waits a beat before saying, “Have here.” Her glance skitters to Micky, who is just standing there, doing nothing. “How’s it going?”
“All is well on the barista front,” Micky replies. It’s not that long since she started working at the Pink Bean, and I was the one teasing her about having a crush on one of the regulars. Not that I have a crush on Caitlin James. Not that kind, anyway. She’s too much of an icon for me to have something as mundane as a crush on.
“Still a lady of leisure?” Micky asks.
My ears perk up while I prepare Caitlin’s coffee, but I can’t hear what she says over the hiss of the machine steaming the milk.
“—my new neighborhood,” is all I can make out from her reply.
“Here you go.” I hand Caitlin her flat white.
“Thank you.” She looks me in the eye briefly, then turns her attention back to Micky. “I’ll be at my usual table.”
Micky and I both watch her strut to her table by the window.
“What was that all about?” Micky asks. “Have you got the hots for her or something?”
“No, of course not.” I bring my hands to my sides. “But, you know, that’s Caitlin James.”
“Ha.” Micky stares at me for a moment. “I take it you’ve read all of her books, whereas I have read zero.”
“I have a couple in my bag. You can borrow them if you like.” Argh. I could kick myself for blurting that out. I don’t want Micky to borrow my Caitlin James books. I’ll happily lend her any others, but not those.
“Why are they in your bag?”
“Just… no reason.” I immediately feel put on the spot.
“Come on, Jo. You can tell me. All the time you and I spend behind this counter together. Don’t you consider me a friend?”
You’ve certainly gotten a lot of lip since you and Robin started shagging, I want to say, but bite back. I only sigh.
“I may only be a hausfrau turned barista, but I can put two and two together.” Micky keeps going. “I’m rather sharp for my age, you know?”
I wish she would just let it go.
“Since she moved to Darlinghurst, Caitlin has been coming here every day,” she says.
“Would you please keep your voice down,” I whisper. I feverishly wish for a customer to walk in.
“You’re a fan girl, or whatever the kids call it these days?” She draws her lips into a pensive pout. “So you carry her books around in case…” She pushes herself away from the counter and leans toward me.
I don’t give her a chance to finish her sentence. “Yes. You sussed me out. I’m the kind of nerd who wants her books signed by the author. So what?”
“Then what are you doing standing here while she’s sitting right over there?”
“I can’t just go up to her and ask.”
Micky raises one eyebrow. “Why not?”
“I don’t know. It’s disrespectful of her privacy. She came here for a cup of coffee, not to be harassed by the barista.”
“Oh, come on. She’ll love it. She’s the type who gets off on that kind of attention.”
“And you know her so well, do you?”
“What are you two whispering about?” Kristin asks.
I was so wrapped up in this ridiculous conversation, I didn’t even hear her approach.
“We have a dilemma on our hands, boss,” Micky says. “Perhaps you can help.”
Now both Kristin and Micky are staring at me. A blush creeps up my neck.
“Josephine here is a big fan of Caitlin and she wants to get some books autographed. Whatever can she do to make that happen?”
“Hm, I don’t know. If only Caitlin were a regular at the Pink Bean. And a friend I’ve known for twenty years. These things could help, I guess. But alas,” Kristin says.
I shake my head. “Once you’re done mocking me, I’d like to get back to work, please.”
“Come on, Jo.” Micky elbows me in the biceps. “Take it in jest and just go over to her. Get your bloody books signed already.”
I look to Kristin for support, or perhaps, for a clear sign that it’s okay for me to do so. She’s the boss, after all. “This is beginning to sound like workplace harassment,” I say, when Kristin remains silent as she’s wont to do.
Kristin takes a step in my direction and puts her hands on my shoulders. “Trust me. You’ll make Caitlin’s day. She’s not all that famous here in good old Oz. She must be getting attention-starved by now. You’d be doing her a favor.”
I glance over at Caitlin and see her looking over at us. What must the three of us look like whispering like this behind the counter?
“Fine.” It is why I put the books in my bag in the first place. Why they’ve been in there for days—days without me mustering up the courage to approach her. And now my boss has given me permission. “Just don’t stare at me like I’m an attraction in the zoo.”
“We have work to do,” Micky says, shooting me a wink.
“I’m expecting Sheryl back any minute, so you’d better hurry,” Kristin says.
“Okay.” I fetch my bag in the back, take a deep breath, and walk over to Caitlin James, my feminist heroine.
“Sorry to disturb you, Miss James.” I can’t keep the shake out of my voice.
“Miss James?” The lift of her eyebrow makes something coil tightly in my belly.
“I’m s-sorry,” I stammer. “I’m a big fan of yours and you’ve been coming here for a while now and Kristin said it would be okay if I asked you to sign a couple of your books that I own and have read many, many times, if I may add.” I’m blabbering like a two-year old who’s just discovered the sound of her own voice.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Her big brown eyes sparkle up at me.
“Er, yes.” My hands have forgotten the required motion to pull a chair back and my body—huge and looming over Caitlin—doesn’t want to obey.
“It’s Josephine, right?” Caitlin says, snapping me out of my daze. “Lovely name.”
I pull myself together and sit down. “Thank you.” Micky and Kristin’s teasing has drained the confidence I need to ask Caitlin James for her autograph, let alone sit with her and have a conversation. Part of me wishes Sheryl would arrive before I make an even greater fool of myself.
“Which books do you have?” Caitlin puts her elbows on the table and leans close enough so that I can smell her perfume. Something earthy and sensual.
I pull my bag onto my lap and reach for the three books that, dramatic as it may sound, changed my life. I display them on the table.
“Well thumbed I see.” Caitlin’s lips draw into a smile. She takes one of the books and leafs through it. “And you love using a highlighter.” She looks back at me. “There’s more to you than the girl who makes excellent flat whites, isn’t there?”
“I study with Sheryl. I mean, Professor Johnson. I’m one of her graduate TAs and she got me this job because a PhD doesn’t exactly pay the rent in Sydney these days.”
“Good for you.” She drops the book and intertwines her fingers. “You’re in good hands with Sheryl.”
“She’s been very nice to me.”
“She must have picked you for a reason.” Caitlin opens the cover of one of the books. “Do you have a pen, Josephine?”
“Oh, er, yes.” I dig in my bag, my fingers frantically feeling for the pen I put in there with the books. “Here you go.”
I try to watch as Caitlin signs three of her books that I’ve owned for almost ten years, but it’s hard to keep my gaze trained on her. It feels like too much of an intrusion. She holds the pen gracefully and is scribbling away when I sense a presence behind me.
“Am I interrupting?” Sheryl asks.
I nearly jump out of my skin. Sheryl puts a hand on my shoulder. She knows all about my admiration for Caitlin James, yet in all the time I worked for her, she never mentioned that she and Caitlin go way back. I only found out when Caitlin returned from the United States and walked into the Pink Bean one day.
“Just signing some books for Josephine.” Caitlin sounds merry.
“I’ll leave you to it then.” Sheryl turns to me. “Could you stay behind for a bit after your shift? I’d like to discuss Naisha Turner with you. We can have lunch, if you like.”
“Sure.” I can’t say no to Sheryl, though I don’t have the spare cash to go out for lunch. As usual, because Sheryl knows about my sister, she’ll offer to pay, but I have too much pride to let her.
“Come upstairs when you’re done,” she says, as though she can read the anguish right off my face. “I’ll rustle something up.”
I nod and heave a small sigh of relief as she heads over to the counter and slings an arm around Kristin’s waist.
“She really does take good care of you.” Caitlin leans over the table conspiratorially. “But if you ever need any gossip on Professor Johnson, I’ve known her since she was an eighteen-year-old tomboy,” she jokes.
This is one of those moments in which I wish so very much I was the sort of girl who has the confidence to say something clever back, but not even on my best days—and certainly not when I’m sitting opposite Caitlin James—am I skilled at coming up with witty repartee.
Caitlin goes back to signing the books in silence.
“All done.” She hands me back the pen. “Thank you for reading my books.” She looks me straight in the eye. Another round of blushing starts at the base of my neck. “It was an honor to sign them for you.” She leans against the back of her chair. “What’s your thesis on? Anything I can help with?”
Oh no. I will happily discuss my thesis subject with anyone but Caitlin James. “Body positivity among different gender identities and sexual orientations.”
She nods. “Interesting.”
My cheeks feel like two scorching balls of fire.
“Maybe you can tell me all about it some day.” She must have sensed the discomfort of a girl clearly at odds with her own body researching body positivity. “I’ll let you get back to work before I have Kristin on my case.”
“Thank you so very much, Miss James,” I manage to mumble.
“Please, call me Caitlin.” She gives me a wide smile.
I don’t need a mirror to know my face is the color of a very ripe tomato.
<<End of preview>>
Everything Between Us will be available on 17 March 2017