Series: Vampire Fetish
Character(s): Jude Hawthorne, Lawrence Livingston (Café guy)
Summary: Jude, the man at the café, and the strange tension between them.
Chew. Pop. Chew. Chew. Smack.
The sound reverberated through his ears, and he abruptly stopped wiping the countertop. Lawrence couldn't take it anymore. This was a coffee shop, for God's sake! That infernal noise was drowning out even the hum of the building's rickety air system.
He grinded his teeth together and trained his eyes on the back of Jude's head, willing the obnoxious, valley-girl-style smacking to stop. He didn't look up until a cotton candy distraction floated to his ears and sliced into his dogged determination to make Jude spontaneously combust.
"One medium macchiato, please. To go," she repeated.
Lawrence plastered on an award-winning smile. He willed it to stay glued to his chin as a few more smacks sounded off like gunshots in the small shop.
"Jude," he moaned in his mind. "My patience is not on your side today."
Meanwhile, the customer's mousy shoulders straightened and she managed to finally return a hesitant smile.
"If you'd like to have a seat, I'll bring it to your table when it's ready," he offered, earning a pretty grin and a few bounces of auburn curls as she nodded. She went to grab a seat by the window. There wasn't much use in looking out the window today, however.
"What does it matter?" his mind whispered, "to watch the dreary, gray mists float and the nasty puddles gather on the asphalt? The rain is so ugly."
As if the gods had heard his complaint, the rain started to come down even harder. Lawrence always harbored the secret belief that the gods hated him. All he got was spite all the damn time. He wanted sunshine and fresh air? They gave him the bloody rain! He wanted peace and quiet? They gave him bloody Jude Hawthorne chewing gum like a machine gun!
Above the hiss of the steamer and the simmer and hum of the broiler, he heard it again—
Chew. Smack. Pop.
Lawrence spun. Jude Hawthorne, perpetual customer and official thorn in his side, was sitting with his legs sprawled out in an adjacent chair, brows furrowed in thought and hair slightly damp. It had been raining all day, and Jude wasn't very fond of keeping a proper umbrella on hand for the more-than-occasional London downpour.
"Sometimes," he thought, scrutinizing Jude, "he really does look a bit pathetic."
The thick strands lacked their usual fluff and were a dark tawny colour, lying limp and long against Jude's head and clinging desperately to his neck. He really needed a trim, come to think of it. The open laptop cast a slight blue glow on his face and made little bright blue squares reflect in his eyes.
Jude stopped typing and scowled. His shoulders sagged and he laid his forearms against the table. His hands, twitching electrically, hovered over the keyboard. He clenched his jaw and then loosened it. Lawrence knew it was coming—
Chew. Smack. Pop.
The sounds echoed in his head as he fitted the lid on the to-go coffee for the girl, and he found his own teeth clenching in time to every smack, smack, smack.
His lost track of time for a minute or three, and his preparation of the coffee ran according to a barista's well-practiced autopilot. As he was walking to deliver the fresh coffee, he concentrated on graceful steps. It wouldn't do for an adult man to stomp across hardwood floors. Adult men didn't have tantrums.
Chew. Smack. Pop.
The time warp ended, and he glanced at his new location in confusion. Somehow, for no reason he could surmise other than mind-numbing irritation, he had made his way over to Jude's table rather than the girl's. It was in the opposite direction, away from the girl's comfy window seat, too. Damn. He wondered how in the world he could save this one.
"I'm cat-like," he thought sullenly. "I'll just sneak back the other way."
He was so very close to Jude. Close enough to see the first few words in a measly half-finished paragraph on the netbook's screen. ("It was with an air of solemn finality that Mortimer dragged the studded gold watch across his lips," line number one read).
"Thanks," Jude intoned mindlessly, and Lawrence screwed up his face in disappointment. He wasn't as cat-like as he thought. He cursed Jude for noticing him now. Jude hardly noticed him at all on a good day! Oh, why on earth had he brought the girl's order here? To him—to Jude Hawthorne, who had ordered nothing—nothing at all—but was just sitting there dejectedly, chewing watermelon-flavored (yes, he could smell it now) bubblegum.
For a moment, he swayed on the spot, body leaning in the direction of the window. He thought that maybe he should swallow his embarrassment and take it back to its fair lady in the window. But no such luck! At that precise moment, Jude's hand came up and closed round the cup in a declaration of possession.
Lawrence looked at Jude, but Jude didn't look his way at all. Instead, he simply tugged on the to-go coffee and tapped impatiently against the space bar, as if the useless key would alleviate his temper.
Chew. Smack. Pop.
"Maybe the coffee will be the end of the gum," Lawrence prayed, letting go of the cup in surrender. He'd just have to make another for the girl.
The gum lolled around in Jude's mouth, saliva swooshing messily inside. His jaw worked fervently to break apart the unbreakable substance, and then it relaxed again, pausing in its ministrations.
Lawrence leaned forward. He told himself that he'd done it look at the computer, and only then because he enjoyed proofreading. He was not scrutinizing Jude's wet hair. He may have hated the rain and longed for sunshine, but that wasn't a poetic metaphor for a dry and happy Jude. He was most certainly not watching anything either directly or indirectly related to the chewing of the gum. Flash of tongue and spit? It wasn't of any interest.
Lawrence wondered if Jude had even registered his presence. He swallowed, jolts of annoyance scattering like static in his body. He chased the half-thoughts away, straightened his back, and took three large strides back to the counter, getting far away from Jude Hawthorne and his fruity gum.
"It's not…like I want him to notice I'm here or anything."
Lawrence began preparing another coffee, but this time he turned off the autopilot. It was to go to its rightful mistress. No screw-ups or sloppy delivery to persons who ignored him.
The mousy girl was currently buried in a book, he noted. Not a care in the world. So unlike Jude, who always looked as if the world was ready to end, and who frequently gave Lawrence the impression that he would recklessly welcome that destruction. He imagined a giant flaming comet hurdling down from the skies above London, and he envisioned Jude on a lonely rooftop, arms open wide and welcoming. And—and those thoughts had to be cut. Finally, it was time to deliver the newly made macchiato. Correct the mistake.
"Thank you," the girl breathed as she grabbed the Styrofoam cup.
She inhaled the scent of the macchiato as she shifted to stand and gather her things. As she shoved her cheap paperback into her corduroy purse, Lawrence could only grin stupidly at her, trying for the mega-watt smile and only managing a thin, flimsy thing to stretch across his lips. He was so bad with people. If he looked in the mirror, he'd see something old and gray, like the bloody London rain. He'd rather be outgoing—make mousy girls like this swoon at the sight of him.
Lawrence watched her go and kept his focus until the last jingle of bells deadened to silence. Then, he felt a prickle of awareness. He either felt or imagined the weight of a smoldering stare boring into his back. Ah, where was another customer when you needed one? Things with Jude always tended to get awkward. Jude had maybe realized that he'd neither ordered a coffee nor received his "usual" cup.
However, now that Jude was finally paying attention to him, he couldn't just ignore him . So, Lawrence turned casually and pretended to only just notice the electric blue eyes flashing dangerously at him.
"What is it now?" he wanted to ask, but the words got stuck in his throat, so he said nothing.
With Jude, the words always got stuck. Jesus, where was his nerve? Lawrence searched for mundane topics to chat about—Jude's writing, the coffee, the weather, the pretty girl who had just left. In the end, he made his way across the room and just stood there, staring dumbly at Jude, nothing more than a stranger with an ear to listen to whatever it was that had prompted the angry stare.
Jude didn't ever seem to blink. That was one of the many problems with him. It made his stare hot and hard to take, like being sunburned until blisters ruptured on your skin. Even if Lawrence liked sunshine, he didn't want to burn in a metaphorical Hell. No, no. Nothing about Jude was normal, and the no-blinking thing made it very difficult to start any conversation.
"What sort of job does he do at night anyway? That second job he mentions...? Should I ask?"
Finally, Jude had put him out of his misery. His voice was rude, uncouth, and oozing with too much confidence. Reacting to it, Lawrence could only raise an eyebrow.
"Can I help you?"
Lawrence cursed his flat, robotic voice. He had wished to sound aggressive, manly, and equally confident. But it came out so monotonous, the direct opposite of the vibrancy and pure life that Jude seemed to leak with little effort. Even the rain did nothing to stem the vitality and spirit that seemed to thrive in Jude's eyes.
"You know," Jude began slowly, a wry smile easing its way onto his evil little face.
It seemed not only treacherous, but—but calculating, knowing, and strangely playful, like he held the Royal Flush in his hands.
"You know, this isn't my coffee," he drawled, a dark laugh bubbling just under the surface. "Honestly, a macchiato? You thought I'd drink this?"
The proper response didn't come to Lawrence. He wondered down what black hole his wits had been sucked into.
"Got that girl's order wrong," Lawrence managed after a few seconds, proud that he'd avoided a stutter.
It was half-truth. Jude didn't, after all, know what she had ordered. How would he know whether it was right or wrong?
"I didn't want to waste the coffee," Lawrence continued, "so you get it on the house. You can throw it away if you wish. I don't care."
Jude's round nose crinkled up, and his eyes looked a little lost for a moment. Lawrence didn't know what Jude was reacting to, but he imagined he saw little currents of disappointment flit in his eyes. Lawrence wished he knew why. But then Jude broke the eye contact, and the lines of communication snapped. Suddenly, the world was a little dimmer, as if Jude's eyes alone had been transferring to Lawrence some of their thrilling vigor.
Honestly, a macchiato? A macchiato, honestly.
It had sounded a little hurt, hadn't it? Jude's voice. Or was Lawrence imagining it? Despite the laughter bubbling underneath it, it had sung little undercurrents of unhappiness. Maybe Jude wasn't as confident as he pretended to be? He didn't want to admit it, but the thought made him feel a bit happy.
Lawrence chuckled, and peripherally he felt Jude's eyes snap to him, but he didn't look up as he busied himself behind the counter. Grasping some familiar ingredients and grabbing up a coffee mug, he smiled and hummed a little tune. Lawrence felt Jude's stare. He imagined the look on Jude's face. Jude's irritation at being ignored must be a sight to behold. Maybe Jude would finally understand how irksome it was to be ignored by someone.
Chew. Smack. Pop. Chew. Smack. Pop.
And Jude was back to that temperamental chewing, the child. He looked up and saw him once more staring at the screen, angrily stabbing at the backspace until even the teeny, lone paragraph disappeared into nothingness.
Chew. Smack. Smack. Smack.
Well, maybe this would cheer him up.
"One Caffe Ristretto. An extra short, extra strong espresso," he announced clearly, setting a mug down beside Jude's laptop and taking back the macchiato mistake.
Jude's whirled to face him. He was clearly shocked, eyes wide and so very blue as he stared up at Lawrence. The surprise had wiped away nearly every stress line, temporarily giving back the impression of youth and innocence that was the face's natural set. He wondered what a real smile would look like on that face. Would it be kind or boyish? Shy?
Jude blinked and came to his senses. Then, he closed his hands round the warm, steaming cup. His eyes stared darkly into the thick, inviting liquid as if he were divining the future; perhaps, the end of the world.
"Thank you," he murmured.
Slowly, the jaded expression bled back into his eyes, spreading like a disease till it had seized his whole being. Oh, how Lawrence wished for Jude to just smile for once and not look so –so something.
Heartbreaking? Maybe that was it. Then again, maybe some things were beyond words. Lawrence shook his head and sighed before turning and trudging back to the counter. He picked up a soggy rag and began wiping down his work space. It was maybe the hundredth time he had done so, but cleaning wasn't really the point when you needed to pretend you were busy.
"So. You remembered what coffee I like, after all," he heard Jude snigger.
"I remember everything," Lawrence retorted.
He was proud of that comeback.
"I remember every customer's order and every customer's name. That includes you and your name, Jude Hawthorne."
Jude seemed to bristle, and Lawrence wondered if his teasing had fallen flat. Sometimes, his playful intentions fell to a dead monotone, rendering them full of lifeless condescension. He watched Jude's chest puff up.
"I…" Jude started. "I…"
The volume of his voice dropped off, losing strength till it was low and soft. Jude's hands squeezed the ceramic sides of the mug now, stealing the warmth into his greedy hands.
"I…I know your name."
Jude's voice was actually calming like that. His hushed tones were clandestine and alluring.
Lawrence shrugged. He had introduced himself to Jude once or twice over the past few months, but Jude was always distracted or purposefully ignoring him.
"Do you?" Lawrence laughed.
Even to his own ears, that had come out patronizing. Lawrence winced. He didn't want to admit that he was hanging on the hope that maybe Jude did know his name, even if he didn't wholly expect it. He didn't know why, but he wanted to hear his name fall from those lips, softly like a prayer.
Jude murmured something, looking almost as if he were speaking to his cup. It felt like music. For the briefest of moments, Lawrence's hands stopped wiping the counter. Had he heard correctly?
Jude repeated it, more loudly this time, but just as musically. Their eyes met. Lawrence's heart— he could feel it in his chest, thumping, it—
Author's Note: Thank you so much to Tanuki for beta-ing this! She even went so far as to find out café guy's name for me. Thank you, Tanuki—you were very right in saying that not knowing his name made this read awkwardly. I took all your edits to heart and tried my best to improve this. I may even write another chapter now! Heeheehee.