Want to start at the beginning?
Colleen pushed her plate away and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. So far it had been a weird day. A fitting middle to a weird week. Not bad, not good, just bumpy. Just before lunch she’d thought that one more bump might just rattle her brain loose from its moorings. Already today she’d had register issues and screwy returns, a large coffee spilled in front of science, at least three customers looking for titles without information and one guy looking for the latest country album. Not any particular artist, just the latest. Add that to the little old lady with breathing trouble three days ago, the non-stop chatterer yesterday and the melt down with Dan at the beach the other night and it was wild enough to make her decide that she needed to treat herself to Edie’s for dinner.
“Hey honey, are you feelin’ better?” Jeannie asked, coffeepot in hand.
“Much, thanks. Now if I can just get through the day without too strange happening, I might just survive.” Colleen smiled, but inside she acknowledged that the espresso machine was making a weird grinding noise.
“I don’t know if I can do much about that, but I can top off your cup,” the waitress offered.
Colleen slid her cup toward the edge of the table. She had at least enough time for one cup of coffee before she had to be back across the street. The place didn’t appear to be falling apart in her absence, but appearances could be deceiving.
“Didn’t you date a cop for a while?” Jeannie asked, arrested in the act of pouring the coffee. She was staring over Colleen’s head. “One of the cute blond type?”
“Still am.” There was enough cross-pollination between the store and Edie’s that it didn’t surprise her that Jeannie knew about Dan.
“Well, I’m afraid something strange is happening.”
Colleen twisted around to see where Jeannie was looking. Scott and Dan were standing in the doorway looking around the room. “What are they doing here?” she asked aloud.
“Tommy and Ray Ray were going for some training starting today,” Jeannie said. She picked up Colleen’s empty plate. “I’ll bet your friend is covering their beat. I’ll go get some menus.”
Colleen waved to Dan and Scott. She couldn’t exactly hide and to be honest she didn’t want to hide from Dan. He would provide a welcome patch of normalcy to an otherwise insane day. However, Scott would be awkward. It was like having a chaperone.
Scott brightened when he saw her and tapped Dan on the shoulder. Colleen tried to appear interested in her coffee cup during the negotiations over who got to sit beside her. Scott had led the way to the table so he started to slide into the booth with her automatically. Scott had a slight obliviousness to him sometimes that made her wonder how he managed to succeed at a job that required excellent powers of observation. Dan cleared his throat strategically and quite suddenly Scott shifted so that he was sliding into the opposite booth.
“Hey Colleen, how are you doing tonight?” Scott asked as if his strange little dance at the end of the table hadn’t happened.
“I’m weird, and you?”
Scott hesitated this time. “We’re covering this area for Nuniez and Fletcher for the next couple of nights.”
“Jeannie said they were doing some training starting tonight.” Colleen could feel Dan beside her even though he wasn’t touching her and hadn’t spoken. Her skin wanted to be touched. She wondered what would happen if she shifted in her seat enough to just be brushing against his uniform. Dan’s powers of observations were excellent. He would notice.
Jeannie appeared at the end of the table brandishing menus and her coffeepot before Colleen could decide. “Hi fellas, coffee?”
“Thanks.” Dan turned his cup over.
Colleen felt his voice to the tips of her toes. She studied the surface of the table.
“What’s good here?” Scott asked.
“Sonya swears by the pork chops. They make their own apple sauce and it’s chunky like you like it. Gary always orders the meatloaf. Jeannie saves an end piece for him. And if Grace’s on a health kick it’s mandarin chicken salad, otherwise it’s burger, fries and a chocolate shake.” Colleen folded her hands on the table. Her elbow should be in contact range when Dan put his menu down.
“What did you have?” Dan asked.
He made a face.
“And what form of red meat are you fancying tonight?” she asked.
He looked at her and raised one eyebrow. That was better than physical contact. Colleen clung to her sarcastic expression long enough to pick up her coffee cup so she could hide behind it.
“I’ll have the pork chops,” Scott announced, closing his menu. “Don’t tell Laura.”
“She has you dieting again?” Colleen asked setting down her cup with a steadier hand than she would have imagined.
“Yeah, she’s worried about my heart.”
“Again” Scott agreed.
“So what do you mean by being weird?” Dan asked.
Colleen shrugged. “You know that strange week I was having last week? It’s back for an encore.”
“I see.” He folded his menu closed and set it on the edge of the table with Scott’s. His ‘I see’ spoke volumes, but she had had a minor nervous break down in his kitchen the day before yesterday.
“So how did you guys get stuck over here?” she asked. She had a short list of possibilities, all of which boiled down to Dan requested it. She was both flattered and freaked out by the idea.
“Nuniez and Fletcher were having trouble with a gang of shoplifters. They thought we might see something they’d missed,” Scott explained.
Colleen wondered if he’d been coached. She glanced at Dan and noticed his ears were turning red. Not coached, flat out lied to. The thought that Dan had gone against his natural inclination toward honesty just to see her made her feel more flattered and more freaked out. He could swear up and down that all he wanted was a casual relationship, but as long as he pulled stunts like this she knew better. “They never mentioned anything to us,” Colleen said, just to needle Dan. “You’d think they would say something.”
“You’d think,” Dan muttered.
Jeannie arrived to that their orders, saving Dan from further embarrassment. Colleen checked her watch. She still had a few minutes before she had to get back. “So, any interesting calls tonight?”
“A couple of traffic stops.” Pet shrugged. “So far tonight we’re not earning our pay.”
“Yeah, there was one all call, but they issued a six before we got there,” Scott said glumly.
“Well, you’ll get ‘em next time, tiger,” Colleen teased. Laura loved these slow nights as much as Scott hated them. As much as Scott and Dan hated them, she corrected herself. She wondered when she would start liking their slow nights better too. She glanced at Dan and found him watching her. No surprise there. He’d probably orchestrated this whole stunt to press his advantage. This put him up on Mike by at least one in his book no doubt. “You should stop in the store tonight. Not only will you get free coffee, but you might learn something about your shoplifters.”
“That’s not a bad idea, Dan,” Scott said eagerly. “We might see something in the store that Fletcher and Nuniez missed.”
“We might.” Dan sipped his coffee. “This is good.”
“Yeah, it is.” Scott set down his coffee cup. “I’m going to wash my hands before the food gets here.”
If there had been a signal, Colleen missed it. Scott didn’t leave the table with any speed so she guessed that he might have just wanted to wash up. “Shoplifters?”
“Okay, I didn’t think that one through very well,” Dan admitted. “It sounded great at the station.”
“I’ll keep your secret.” Colleen had intended to just pat his hand, but he shifted so that he was holding hers before she could react.
“Got a date with your paramedic this weekend?”
“What’s the matter, did you just realize you didn’t make plans with me before you dropped me off this afternoon?”
“Maybe. You didn’t answer the question.”
“As it happens, he has to work all weekend.”
“So, you’re not busy.”
Colleen studied his face. As much as she feared getting too involved too fast, she also feared he would get bored and wander off if she pushed back too hard. “I did have some laundry I was planning on getting to.”
“Do you suppose you could mange a short break between loads to spend some time with me?” He had turned his head so that he appeared to be looking up at her. There was enough hope in his hazel eyes that she couldn’t have said no even if she had planned to fly back home to visit her family for the weekend.
Not that she wanted to say no.
“I suppose I could. What did you have in mind?”
“Movie, bowling, dinner, dancing, we can even go to the beach and I’ll try not to jump into the rip tide again.”
“That sounds like a lot for one evening.”
“I thought we had a whole weekend.” Dan pouted with his lips, but the twinkle in his eyes told her that he knew exactly what he was doing.
“I give you an inch…”
“I’ve got to try for the whole mile.”
Scott and Jeannie arrived at the table simultaneously, interrupting them. Sliding her hand away from Dan’s, Colleen checked her watch. If Scott had been washing his hands all that time he would now be ready to perform surgery. “I’d better get going. Jeannie, do you have my check?”
“I’ll get it.” Dan stood up to let her out of the booth.
Colleen slid out, noting Dan’s meatloaf dinner. Such a meat and potatoes guy. “Are you sure?”
“Of course.” Dan helped her up and kissed her cheek. “We’ll stop in later.”
“Okay.” Colleen slipped her purse strap over her shoulder. She suddenly felt giddy from being near him. He definitely had a solid lead now. “I’ll see you later. Bye Scott.”