Aaron's stomach did handstands and back flips as he sat across from this beauty, Hannah. He had a Venti mocha with whipped cream, the perfect dessert drink, while she ordered a hot chocolate, no whip. She claimed even decaf would keep her up all night if she drank it this late. He put his head down, as if mourning, and said he was sorry she had to live like that, earning him a laugh and a touch on the arm, which sent a warm current through him. She felt it, too, as she pulled her hand away quick and blushed. What was it about this girl?
They'd chosen a Starbucks a few miles from the bookstore, figuring there'd be less of a chance his fans would run into them. Not that he usually minded, but tonight he wanted to keep his undivided attention on her, and the looks she gave him proved she felt the same. They'd driven separately, meeting in the parking lot of the strip mall where the Starbucks was located, but now that they were here and sitting across from each other, they could have come together. They hadn't had much of a chance to talk yet, but he already knew he'd never get tired of her company. It was like he'd known her for years, not for less than an hour. To be honest, as comfortable as he was with her, he might as well have been sitting across from Jenna.
"I've always wanted to go to one of your signings," Hannah said, breaking the comfortable silence, so unusual for a first date, if that's what this was. He hoped so.
"What stopped you? Nell has had me in for each of my books." He chuckled. "Actually, I begged her to set up the first one, but after that she invited me back each year."
"I knew about them, but my parents wouldn't let me go." She blushed and looked down at her hot chocolate. "Lame, right?"
"Nah. Gotta listen to the parental units. So why did they relent this time?"
"I'm a college girl now, so I didn't ask."
"Good reason. Where do you go?" While Orange County University was the biggest campus in the area, there were plenty of smaller colleges, especially community colleges, around.
"OCU. I love it there."
"That's where I went," he said. "I met my …" He stopped, kicking himself for almost bringing up Jenna, and then again for not. What was the etiquette for talking about his late wife? Things like that obviously hadn't come up when he dated Jenna back in the day. But, really, since she was the only girl he ever dated, he didn't have much experience to draw on for anything.
Hannah reached across the table and took his hand. This time the touch felt comfortable, right, like they should always be in contact. She gave him a look of sympathy, and said, "Your wife?"
He nodded, not sure what to say.
"I read that you lost her."
"I don't mind talking about it. I hesitated because I didn't think it polite to bring up."
"It's fine. I'd like to hear. I mean, if you don't mind telling."
"No, I don't mind at all." And he didn't, not to her. He rarely brought it up to anyone, since reliving that, even five years later, brought pain. But here with Hannah, whatever it was they were sharing, it seemed all right. He'd be fine, and the hurt wouldn't overwhelm him. This girl, this woman, would give him all the strength he needed. That inexplicable, unexplained thought brought a lump to his throat, which he quickly covered by taking a long pull from his mocha.
"Five years ago, I was the store manager at the Yorba Linda Gadgets 'N Gizmos 'N More."
"Oh, I love that store. I can browse in there for hours." She blushed and put a hand over her mouth. "Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt."
He smiled and squeezed her hand, which he forgot he was holding. Wow, how comfortable with her could he be? This was uncanny. "This is a conversation, not a monologue. Speak your mind."
"Okay," she said with a giggle. "But go on. I want to hear. I think."