Tonight. I do it tonight.

Heller checked his watch. Nine fourteen. Thirty-six minutes until they close. Enough time, but not too much. The lights on the shop’s sign flickered on as if in response, lighting up the name COMMON GROUNDS with a gaudy pink glow. He checked his reflection quickly in the window glass as he approached the door. Black and white Chuck Taylors, clean but not too white, nice jeans but not too expensive, white shirt peeking out from beneath a casually rumpled sweater, hair mussed but not overtly so. He’d spent an hour making sure he didn’t look like he spent an hour getting dressed. So fucking stupid. He wasn’t sure if he was overthinking this, or underthinking it. Both.

Brass bells hanging from the lintel jangled against the doorframe like Santa’s sleigh as he pushed his way inside. The smell of fresh coffee filled his nose in greeting. Like outside the sign above the bar was lit with watermelon pink letters, except here the “G” had burned out so it read COMMON ROUNDS. For all your circle shaped needs.

It took him a second to realize Tesha was the barista tonight. Tesha with an @. It’s right there on her name tag. Tesh@. Glossy blond hair that didn’t match eyebrows the color of a chocolate bar was swept back like a lion’s mane, and he could see a dust of glitter across the cleavage thrust out from her push-up halter. A guy about his age leaned against the bar talking in a loud, aggressive voice. The back of his fitted button-up was inked in a sunburst pattern and a dragon wound itself in embroidery up the leg of his skinny jeans. Douche. Heller caught his own carefully curated reflection in the mirror behind the coffee bar. So that just makes me just a different flavor of douche. Summer’s Eve Island Splash to his Massengill Tropical Breeze.

“Whatcha want?” Tesh@ asked, her voice as bright and sunny as her hair. The guy who had been chatting her up favored him with a nod, and Heller nodded back.

“Carmel latte, 2%, and one of the banana muffins.”

Tesh@ started to work on his latte, pulling handles and flipping switches like a mad scientist conducting an experiment. Was he supposed to pronounce it Tesha or Tesh-at. Was the @ just a stylized ‘A’ or was it literally representative of “at”? Hi, my name is Teshat and I work at COMMON ROUNDS.

Heller looked around. The shop was empty except for the three of them. No Katie anywhere. I guess I don’t do it tonight. He swiped his card, took his latte and muffin, and found his usual seat in the windowless alcove at the far side of the shop out of sight of the counter. The chairs were comfortable, plush and overstuffed, and he stretched his long legs, crossing them lazily at the ankle as he pulled out his phone and began to scroll through Twitter. Don’t be obvious. Drink your drink, eat your muffin, and try again tomorrow.

Tesh@ and the other customer were talking in low, hushed voices occasionally broken by giggles and laughter. Dragonpants. His name is Zane Dragonpants. Heller tried to ignore them. Kill a few minutes, head out. He fell in to a smooth rhythm, flipping past jokes and memes and news headlines. He almost didn’t notice the kitchen service door swing open.

Her hair was pulled up today, twisted into a knot at the back of her neck, the color dyed somewhere between purple and platinum. It showed off the undercut shaved up an inch above her ears and around to the back of her head. She had on a flannel shirt, faded, sleeves rolled tight to her elbows. Black leggings as pants, tight as a second skin.

“Oh, hey Heller,” she greeted him, scooping two partially empty mugs from an end table into the basin pinned to her hip with one hand. Nails like a beetle shell flashed in the light as she wiped it clean with a rag.

She remembered my name. That ain’t nothing. “Hey yourself,” he nodded, trying to sound casual. Okay, so it’s back on. Butterflies swam in the latte in his stomach. Presumably doing the butterfly.

“Carmel or chocolate latte tonight?”

“Carmel.” She remembered what I drink. That also ain’t nothing.

She paused, curious look on her face. “Been meaning to ask about your name. Going to guess you weren’t named after the court case.”

He swallowed the mouthful of latte. “Joseph Heller, the writer. He’s my great uncle.” He tucked his phone back into his pocket. Is that flattering I put it away to pay attention to her or needy? I need to obsess on this shit more because it’s super healthy and chill in a way women appreciate.



She laughed, like music.

“My parents were just book nerds.”

“Mine were Katherine Hepburn fans.”

“At least they went with her first name.”

“Hepburn wouldn’t be that bad. Hep for short? I could handle that for a nickname.”

He peered at the name tag pinned to her flannel. “Katie C. So you’d have been Hep C.”

“Oh shit!” she recoiled with a shocked smile that showed small perfect teeth. “Yeah, no, maybe not Hep then.”

Okay, going well. “I can’t say anyone has ever asked if my name had anything to do with a court case though.”

“Second year law school, criminal justice.” She mimed a mic drop.

“Well now I know who to call when the FBI eventually figures out I was really the Green River Killer.”

“Now all you gotta do is get my number.”

Jesus Christ, that’s an in, right? She’s giving me an in. “Well, I was wondering . . .” His words cut off as the rubber tub slipped from off her hip and fell with a crash. Cold coffee splashed her tights and shoes as the mugs clattered to the floor.

“Shit.” Her cheeks flushed red as she scrambled to her knees to blot at the coffee.

“You okay?” Tesh@ called out.

“Yeah, just being clumsy.” Her co-worker resumed her conspiratorial whispering with Zane Dragonpants.

She swiped up the last of the inky spill. “Guess I’m not wearing these again tomorrow,” she muttered, gesturing to the stain splattered across her leggings.

“Just wear the black skirt.” Oh. Fuck.

She froze for a handful of seconds, then slowly replaced the scattered mugs into the tub purposely avoiding his eyes.

Oh god, what did I do?

“I’m . . . I’m going to take this into the back.” She rose to her feet and quickly disappeared through the kitchen door leaving him alone. So I’m not asking her tonight. Or ever. You know, because I’m a fucking creeper who remembers what she fucking wears. He gulped down the last of his latte. I should have savored it since I’m never going to be able to set foot in here again.

Kesh@ and Dragonpants said goodbye as he left, and he gave them a weak wave. If it works out for those two they can tell their grandkids about the gross dude who #metoo’ed their coworker the night they met.

And I called him a douche. Fuck my life.


I can at least apologize. That’s the thing to do, right? He glanced at his watch. Nine o’clock. Nine on the nuts as the kids say. Do they say that though? Nine on the scrote? Nine on the labe maybe, depending on your configuration? He was stalling, delaying his walk through the door like a seventh grader trying to avoid the last dozen steps to the principal’s office.

He sighed and forced one foot in front of the other up the step to the door. The bell sounded a lot less like Christmas this time and much more like a warning. Ladies, when you hear the bell be on your guard. It might be a fucking weirdo who knows your wardrobe.

Kesh@ was behind the counter again, though Dragonpants was absent. Home practicing tucking his jeans into his sneakers? He expected her to throw him a scowl, but she just gave him her usual greeting, so chipper he expected a cartoon bluebird to land on her shoulder.

“Coffee, black.” It suited his mood.

“No muffin?”

“Not tonight, thanks.” He paid with his card and tacked on a five dollar tip out of guilt.

The shop was mostly empty save for a pair of grey-haired ladies whispering back and forth over over-sized cappuccino mugs. He found his usual seat in the deep nook away from the counter and other customers and pulled out his phone. He couldn’t concentrate enough to read so he just flicked his thumbs absently across the glass to look like he was doing something. She’s probably tell me to fuck off and throw me outI’ll say sorry and go. The Starbucks on Lake Street had had shit coffee and but the muffin were decent. I can just go there.

Time slowed to a crawl. The two older women were talking about politics and their voices drifted around the corner, raspy like wrinkling parchment. Their grasp of particulars seemed more informed by red-faced AM radio hosts yelling than it did facts. He had thought waiting for his inevitable humiliation couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. Worse is being stuck waiting for my inevitable humiliation while listening to the living embodiment of my racist uncle’s Facebook posts.

This time it was the bathroom door that opened. Katie emerged from the short hallway, smoothing her pleated skirt over black tights with pale hands and fingers that belonged on piano keys. Wait, she’s wearing the skirt? She froze when she saw him, doe eyes caught in a headlight. Heller hastily shoved his phone into his the front pocket of his jeans but didn’t rise. No sudden movements. Here there be dragons.

After a few seconds she stepped hesitatingly towards where he sat. “Hey,” she almost whispered.

“Hey.” He paused, mentally fumbling for the words. “Listen, I . . .”

“I wore the skirt like you told me,” she stammered, cutting him off.

“I . . . yeah.” What the actual fuck? He found himself absently wondering what kind of skirt is was. Pencil skirt is a thing, right? That’s not what she’s wearing, but that’s a thing, like Mad Men style. You know who would know for sure? Tom Ford. He’d know exactly what kind of skirt that was, then tell me to undo the top four buttons of my shirt and wear more black.

Her cheeks were flushed red like a child in from an afternoon sledding. “Like you told me.”

What the fucking actual fuck? His entire rehearsed apology was forgotten, like words erased from a chalkboard. He had imagined tonight going several different ways ranging from terrible to more terrible, but at no point was this the scenario that had played on the screen in his mind. Say something. Say fucking something!

“Good girl.” Not that! Why in the fuck would you say that? Who the fuck says that!

She blushed deeper and lowered her eyes to the floor as if waiting. Is she waiting for me to tell her to do something? She bit her lower lip, but made no move to leave.

So tell her something. He stood, mostly to buy himself time. He was easily eight inches taller than Katie and he could see down onto the not-quite-silver, not-quite-plum part in her hair. “Skirt again tomorrow, something pleated, but no tights.” His voice was surprisingly firm. “Thigh high socks, up over the knee.” Where the fuck did that come from? Who are you? He stepped closer, the scent of her perfume filled his nose over the smell of roast coffee. She was trembling slightly, eye still on the floor.

“Nine sharp.” Nine on the scrote.

She nodded faintly and remained still with her eyes down as he brushed past her and walked as fast as he could to the door.


Almost nine. He peered down at his watch, the dial lit by the pink glow of the coffee shop sign. He hadn’t got anything done at work all day. Any time he tried to focus his thoughts just wafted way like campfire smoke. All he could think about was Katie. And whatever the fuck that was last night.

A part of him was still convinced she was messing with him. He’d show up tonight, and she’d roll her eyes and give him the finger. Except she isn’t fucking with me. Gone was the feeling of a prisoner making his march to the electric chair from the night before, replaced instead by excitement and curiosity.

The bells jangled as he pushed the door open. Their tone was once again merry, and the shop’s familiar smell of roasted beans and baked goods greeted him like an old friend. Tesh@ wasn’t working, and in her spot behind the counter stood a surly somewhat butch-looking girl with too many face piercings to count. You were great in the Hellraiser remake.

“Vanilla cap, and one of the raspberry walnut muffins.” She grunted in affirmation and began steaming the milk for his cappuccino. Now I am become death, destroyer of muffins. He swiped his card to pay and resisted the urge to look around for Katie. Stay chill.

He found his usual spot and looked around carefully at the art adorning the walls of the alcove. It was typical coffee house fair, abstract oils from students and local artists whose biggest showings came during the summer Farmer’s Market. That one is good, though. He was never positive but he thought the whirls of paint were supposed to represent musical notes. Those are chords there. He tried to lose himself in the puzzle of the canvass as he waited, but thoughts of Katie kept interrupting. Finally he just gave up and nibbled on his muffin and tried not to stare at the kitchen door.

He didn’t have to wait long before it swung open, shiny steel reflecting neon. She stepped out into the shop carrying a damp rag. Her anime-colored tresses pulled into twin tails today, each curling onto her shoulders. She had on a skirt, pleated like he asked, short, with a matching black t-shirt that said BLEACHED in blocky lettering. Wednesday Night Melody is a pretty great song. That wasn’t what caught his eye, though. Jesus, she did it. She was wearing the socks, black with two white strips near the top. They ran up and over her knee, leaving about two inches of bare skin before the mid-thigh hem. He knew there was a Japanese word for that but couldn’t remember it. Zatoichi? No, that’s the blind swordsman.

She walked straight to the alcove safely out of site of the cenobite working the counter. “Did I do good?”

He nodded, and she cracked a relieved smile, the corners of her mouth touching the pale red spots in her cheeks.

“Turn around,” he ordered gently, making a spinning motion with his index finger. Her eyes opened wide, but she did after a moment pirouetting slowly in a clockwise circle.

So do I push it? He had debated with himself all day. This wasn’t some random hookup in a bar or swiping right or the girl with the nose ring in accounting after three glasses of wine at the holiday party. This was alien. Where was the line? Because if there was one doing this is going to cross it.

He took a breath, deciding. Cross it.


She froze, back to him.

Time to find out. “Lift it. Slowly.” She turned her head to look at him in shock, but after a moment she reached down to her skirt with trembling hands and gradually eased the hem upward to reveal inch after inch of pale skin, milky and smooth. She swiveled her head to look at him. “No, don’t look. Straight ahead.” She spun her head back around.

The swell of her butt came into view, plush cheeks squeezing out from the bottom of low slung cheeky-style panties, white piped in green. He sat in silence, just staring at the plump curves of her ass. Jesus.

“Now take them off.” He heard an audible gasp. “Slowly.”

She didn’t respond at first. She will though. The game had gone this far, and he knew neither were done yet. After a dozen seconds she hooked her thumbs over the top of her shorts and began to slide them down.

“Like that.” Her ass was soft and fleshy and perfectly pale from the Minneapolis winter, two scoops of vanilla ice cream. He wanted to have a taste and see if they would melt on his tongue. Once over the curve of her but the elastic went slack and they slipped half way down her thighs. He could see the outline of her labia in the shadow between her legs.

I can smell her. The realization hit him like a slap. Even from here, three feet away I can smell her. That shouldn’t have been possible over the breakfast smells filling the shop, but he was sure he could scent her feral tang, like a jungle cat in heat.

“All the way,” he ordered, struggling to ignore the pressure of his hard cock tenting against denim. “Bend at the waist, and do it slow.”

Katie complied immediately, bending her body down, heart-shaped ass pushed towards him. He could see the dark skin deep in the valley between her cheeks as she bent, and the lips of her pussy pouted together in a kiss. She stepped one foot out, then the other, and picked her panties up, her skirt falling back down to cover her butt. He silently rose to stand behind her. Her scent was stronger as he got close, something primal and dangerous.

He had to lean in to whisper in her ear. “Good girl.” She jerked in surprise at his breath on her neck. “Now hand them to me.” She brought her hand up without hesitation and handed them back over her shoulder. They were hot in his hand, like they had been baking in an oven, and visibly damp and slick in the gusset. The smell made him dizzy. He brought them to his nose, inhaling deeply the spicy scent aroma before stuffing them into the inside pocket of his jacket.

I’m going all in. He imagined himself at a felt-covered table, hat pulled low over his eyes, face tight as he pushed a pile of chips into the center. All in. He brought his other hand up to gently squeeze her ass through the skirt. Her breath caught, but she didn’t pull away. “Skirt again tomorrow, socks again, but this time no panties.” She nodded slowly. “I’ll be here at 8 again.” Eight on the labe. “Before I get here I want you to go in there.” He gestured towards the door to the bathroom in the far corner of the store down a short hall. “And I want you to touch yourself.” She shuddered at the words. “No coming. You don’t have permission for that yet, but touch yourself until you’re close.”

He leaned in close enough that she could feel his breath on her neck. She was shivering like she was chilled, he skin pricked with goose-flesh.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes daddy,” she whispered, barely perceptible.

He almost came when she said it.


Heller tapped the pocket of his jacket to make sure the package was still in place. It was there, a heavy lump sheathed in a faux velvet draw-string pouch. Because that would be awkward to have the cleaning lady find in my cubical. He had to fight to not throw the front door to the shop wide open. Be cool.

He forced himself to be casual as he walked inside, greeted by the familiar bell tinkle and the sight of the perky blond behind the counter. Tesh@ solved the puzzle box and banished Pinhead’s daughter. Good for her. Dragonpants stood next to the register, bedazzled lizard climbing the denim of his left leg like a gaudy tattoo. Heller greeted both and placed his order before finding his usual seat at the back of the secluded alcove. Someone had left two half-empty mugs of cappuccino on the tables on either side of his chair and their contents filled the corner with warm pumpkin spice scent.

He ran his fingers through his hair as he waited. Need a haircutShould I get that fade/pompadour thing every guy my age has? But then I have the same fade/pompadour every guy my age has. Plus that seems like a colossal pain in the ass to maintain. He rolled his eyes at his own thoughts. Ugh. That was one Huey Lewis reference way from an American Psycho monologue.