“Did you ask her?”
Carlos stared blankly at the screen in front of him. The kitchen was quiet, most of the staff long gone. He hit send on the vendor email and turned his attention to Jessa. “Yeah.”
“You don’t look too happy,” she noted, studying him. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, leaving a dusting of powdered sugar in its wake. Jessa handed him a plate of brioche con crema.
Carlos wasn’t sure where he’d gone wrong. “I asked her if she had plans for Monday.” He picked up the cream puff and took a bite. He moaned. “These are fantastic. Why are there leftovers?”
“I know how much you like them,” she shrugged. “You seemed quiet all night and you know me. I’m a firm believer in the healing power of sugar.” She reached over and snagged one of the tiny pastries. “I would have thought you’d be a little happier.”
“She thinks we’re getting together to watch a movie or maybe go out for dinner.”
“That’s not exactly bringing your romantic A game, Carlos.” Jessa scolded lightly. She took a bite and smiled. “I did good.”
Carlos nodded in agreement before adding, “No. She thinks we,” he gestured between the two of them, “are getting together with her and doing something.”
“Oh,” Jessa sounded almost as disappointed as he felt. Sami had worked at Buchons’ for nineteen months, three weeks, and four days. He’d been in love with her for nineteen months, three weeks and two days. His father had always told him Hernandez men fell hard and fast and when they did, there was never another woman for them. His father had been right.
Jessa took off her apron and folded it over her arm. “She’s still here, you know.”
Carlos looked at her in surprise. He’d left the kitchen before closing, wanting to take care of the paperwork that was the only part of the job
“I made her a pot of hot chocolate and a plate of these. You weren’t the only one quiet tonight.” Jessa leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Go try again.”
As she stood, Carlos caught her hand. Her eyes were sad, their normal spark absent. “You okay?”
She shrugged. “I will be.” She smiled, a faded version of her typical brightness. “It’s not a big deal, just tired.”
Carlos squeezed her hand and nodded. “Go. Get some sleep.” He frowned as she left the office. Jessa was the older sister he’d always wanted, even if she was closer to his mother’s age than his. He worried over the lines that had appeared around her eyes over the last few months, the distance she’d put between them. Sighing he stood. She’d tell him what was going on when she was good and ready and not a minute before. He walked out of the office, flicking the light and sending the room into darkness.
The kitchen was empty, the chrome expanse spotless. The bank of lights were turned off; the only illumination came from the old wooden table in the corner. Sami was seated beside it, her apron hanging on the back of the chair she’d pulled up to prop her feet up. A cup of steaming chocolate and a plate of mostly eaten pastries were at her side. She held a dogeared novel in her hands. She glanced up and smiled as he neared.
“Hey,” she said, lifting her feet off the chair and pushing it toward him.
Carlos sat and reached for the book she held lightly and reading the cover. “Is it any good?”
She shrugged, a pale pink blush coloring her cheeks. “It’s a lust in the dust book, but I love it.”
He laughed. “Lust in the dust?”
“My college roommate found my stash of historical romances and, after seeing Fabio on the cover in nothing but chaps with a rearing horse in the background, dubbed it lust in the dust. I haven’t been able to think of them as anything else since.” She pushed the plate across the table. “Did Jessa bring you some?”
“Yeah,” Carlos said, helping himself to one anyway.
“If you want to get out of here, I can box these up.” Sami started to stand.
“I’m in no hurry,” he said. He didn’t add that he could sit and watch her eat cream puffs and read romance novels all day.
Sami folded a corner down and set the book on the table. “f I go home, I’ll just start laundry and dishes and I’ll never read.”
Carlos studies her in silence while she sipped her cocoa. If someone had told him two years ago, he’d fall in love with this woman, he’d have thought they were nuts. She wasn’t his normal type. He’d always gone for sleek brunettes, athletic women who’d gone on runs with him in the mornings and fallen into bed with him at night, always leaving before dawn. At twenty-six he’d been more interested in having fun than having a relationship. Then this curvy woman had walked into the restaurant, white blonde hair cut just below her ears, sadness in her eyes, and three kids who were a walking advertisement for commitment. He’d been a goner.
Sami sighed and stretched, the arching motion straining the buttons on her shirt. Carlos liked to think he was a modern man, a feminist, if his mother had anything to say about it, but he couldn’t keep his eyes from straying, half hoping a button would pop. “I should really get going,” she said, bringing his eyes back to her face.
“Let me lock up and I’ll walk you out.” He left her to go to the office, grabbing his jacket off the hook and listening to the sound of her washing the plate and mug. It would never occur to her to leave them for the next day.
He joined her at the door and set the alarm. They walked in silence to her van. She paused at door. “Thanks, but I think I’m good from here. Goodnight.” She smiled and started to turn.
“Hm?” She looked over her shoulder.
“Would you like to go out on a date with me Monday night?”
Her mouth dropped open and her purse fell to the ground. As answers go, it wasn’t very flattering. Carlos waited, his stomach in knots.
“A date?” she squeaked.
“A date.” He didn’t want there to be any confusion this time.
“With me?” She touched her hand to her chest.
“With you,” he said firmly.
Her mouth opened and closed before opening again. “Carlos, I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“You’re ten years older than me,” he said dryly.
“I can’t be your type,” she said.
“How do you know what my type is?” He leaned against the back door of her van.
She looked at him pointedly. “I highly doubt your type drives an Odyssey.”
Carlos shrugged, trying not to let on how close he was to getting on his knees and begging her to give him a chance. “I like minivans.”
“You can’t be serious,” her voice took on the high note of panic he knew all too well. He straightened.
“Hey.” She jumped when he touched her shoulder. “It’s just a date,” he told her, dropping his hand. “It’s okay if you say no.” Please don’t say no. He held his breath.
“Just a date?”
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
His heart started to pound. That wasn’t a no. “We’ve been friends a long time, Sami. That’s not going to change.”
“You’re my boss.”
“Not really,” Carlos shrugged. “I only manage the kitchen staff.” He waited, giving her time to think.
“Okay,” she finally said.
“Yes,” she said emphatically. “I’ll go on a date with you.”