As my birthday present to all of you, I thought I'd treat you to a birthday scene from THE TIP TOP CAFE', the first of the Four Sisters series I'm querying. Liza Erickson, our heroine, is turning 18 (and happens to have the same birthday is Yours Truly **wink-wink-nod-nod**) and gets a visit from our yummy hero, Jacob Gallagher. Enjoy!
My eighteenth birthday fell on a Saturday, and I, of course, had to get up early to work. The Tip Top Café wasn’t going to shut down just because it was my birthday. Jake had to drive Emma to the airport in Des Moines mid-morning. She was flying out to see her sister in Amarillo for the next two weeks, so I didn’t expect to see him until after the 5:30 mass, which, of course, he was helping Father Kelly with.
I was used to Jake’s absence between 4:30 and 6:30 on Saturdays, and was even a little jealous of the fact that he was so devoted to this. It’s not that I’m a heathen or anything; I’m just Lutheran. Church is supposed to be on Sunday mornings. It’s just not natural.
January 10th turned out to be an unusually beautiful day. It was warming up and was expected to hit the low forties. That’s shorts weather in Iowa. The town was buzzing with activity, and it seemed we were busier than usual at the café. Even Evelyn, one of those strange old birds who frequent the Tip Top, ventured out to grab some pie and coffee. Evelyn is barely five feet tall and one of the skinniest people I’ve ever met. Every Saturday she wears her red polyester outfit with a matching red hat. Her stiff, awkward gait makes me wonder sometimes if she isn’t really a robot. I wouldn’t be surprised if her batteries ran out one day and she just totally shut down in the middle of drinking her coffee.
At about 1:30 we started to shut things down. I was helping Mom clean the grill when the back door opened, and in walked Jake. I ran up and threw my arms around his waist, burying my face in his chest.
“I am so glad you’re here!”
“Wow! Nice greeting.” Jake pried me loose, backed up, then smiled.
“Happy birthday, Eliza!” He whipped his right hand up, holding a single long-stemmed red rose, or rather, what had once been long-stemmed. The stem was cracked in the middle and the bloom hung awkwardly to the side.
I raised my eyebrows, looking at the wonderful, pitiful thing. “Gee, thanks Jake. It’s ... beautiful.”
Jake was staring at his gift. “Oops. Sorry. It must have broken when you attacked, I mean, hugged, me.”
“I don’t care.” I took the rose, stood it upright, and breathed in its glory. It really was the most beautiful thing I had ever been given.
“It’s from you, and I love it.” I cupped his face in my hand, and gave him a quick kiss, remembering not to carry things too far. I’d learned a lot this past month.
Mom filled a vase with water. I cut the stem at the break, placed it in the vase, and set it on the kitchen windowsill. I stared at it for a moment, and bit my lower lip. It was the first real rose I ever received, not counting the corsage from the dance ... and I had gotten it from him.
I turned around to find Jake staring at me with a thoughtful grin on his face. He was obviously enjoying my reaction to this simple gift. I wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him gently.
“I really do love it, Jake.” My heart was beginning to pound. Please don’t notice!
“Well, Miss Erickson,” Jake explained as he held me close, ignoring my obviously out of control heart, “I couldn’t wait until tonight to see you, so I thought I’d make a little surprise visit. There’s no way I would come empty-handed.” He snuggled his nose into my hair and breathed deeply. “Mmm. Eliza Jayne, you smell so good.”
I backed away. Cripes! I knew exactly what I smelled like. “I smell like French fries!” I cried, horrified.
Jake smiled crookedly. “I know. Makes my mouth water.” He winked. Mom took that as her cue, and popped an order of fries in the deep fryer.
“I’ll have a batch ready in just a minute, Jake,” she smiled.
Jake walked over and kissed her on the cheek. “You’re my favorite, Mom!” Mom touched the spot Jake had kissed, and turned three shades of red.
“Now, you stop that!” She was smitten. It was hard not to be.
“You better make it to go.” He looked over at me as he sat on a stool. “I’ve got things to take care of. Shopping to do. Plans to make.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me.
God, he was so sexy sitting there! He had one leg splayed out with the heel of the boot on his other foot hooked onto the middle rung of the stool. He leaned back, draping his elbows on the counter behind him. It was taking every bit of willpower I had in my body not to pounce and make him mine, right there, in front of my mother. I breathed in deeply, closing my eyes as I tried to get the picture running through my mind to leave.
The fryer ‘dinged’ the image right out of my head, and I pulled out the fries, flipping them into the draining tray. I sprinkled a smidgen of salt on them and packed them in the bag.
Jake’s eyes were focused on mine, and he had this smug grin on his face as I stood about two feet away, holding the bag out to him. He grabbed my wrist and slowly pulled me towards him. I found myself standing in the crook of his legs, a very uncomfortable, very wonderful position to be stuck in. Mom high-tailed it for the dining room, pulling Anne by the arm behind her. I kept my eyes focused on his, giving him my own version of the ‘evil eye’.
“You are a dirty bird, Jacob Gallagher!” I accused, shoving the bag into his chest. “You think you can break me, don’t you?” I was dangerously close to the melting point, but there was no way I would admit this to him.
He slid off the stool. I didn’t budge an inch, forcing the length of his body to slide up mine as he stood.
I stood on my tip-toes, raised my lips to his ear, and whispered heavily, “Two can play this game ... remember that.” I punctuated that with a soft brush of my open lips and a slight flick of my tongue just under his ear.
“Holy Mary ...!” Jake grabbed my shoulders and shoved me back. “Okay, Eliza, you really need to control yourself. It was just a little test.” Jake beat it for the door with me in pursuit.
“I AM in control, or haven’t you noticed?” Jake disappeared out the door before I finished my sentence. I grabbed the handle to the upright freezer when Jake suddenly stuck his head back inside.
“Eliza Jayne, wear something special tonight. I have a little surprise for you. I’ll pick you up at eight.”
Still holding the handle of the freezer, I swung towards him, grabbed his shirt and pulled him to me, kissing him full on the lips.
“You won’t be able to handle what I wear tonight, Jacob.” I ended that with a lift of my own eyebrow.
The look on his face was laughable as he backed out the door. As soon as he was gone, I opened the freezer door and stuck my head inside, pressing my face against a bag of frozen peas. Holy Mary ...!