Her name was Lauren. Steve liked it; he'd always had a bit of a crush on Bacall, back in the day. Lots of the starlets back then were the bee's knees—Betty and Rita and Lauren. Steve had pinned up one or two himself, caught up by certain smiles that touched something deep inside him. Some little promise of magic and heat.
Long ago that was the allure. A gal could shoot a smile straight into a guy's dreams, give him something to fight for. Something to strive for against the enemy. Something to come home to.
But this was now, and now meant that this Lauren ran the Time Was Bookstore and Café off the bike lane on Second Avenue and 34th. She and her grandfather, the pair of them managing the place together even though Mr. Scott—Joe, he'd insisted on being called—was pushing eight-seven now. He still got around but Steve knew Lauren was looking out for him more and more.
Lauren Scott. Steve had found the place simply by walking around, and right from the first day Lauren had given him one of those starlet smiles. He'd gotten a cup of coffee and a copy of the paper, feeling at home amid the old movie posters, strains of Benny Goodman in the air, and even though it was all wishful thinking, for one afternoon Steve felt like he had his feet under him. It wasn't his old world, but there was enough of it to feel . . . grounded.
So he came back the week after, and after that, and pretty soon it got to be his go-to place in the afternoons. Most of the other patrons were older, or fans of past generations; either way they made a comfortable little crowd that Steve found himself on nodding acquaintance with. The coffee was good, the muffins were home-made, and there was always Lauren to talk to.
It was tough at first. Steve had always thought women were a bit of a mystery, and in this day and age they were even more exotically unreachable with their confidence and strength. He admired it—he'd always liked women who didn't play coy—but it was damned hard to get used to after the lifetime of manners and morals he'd had drilled into him.
And there was Peggy of course. He'd fallen hard for her, and the heartbreak of waking up to a future where she was gone . . . Steve was still dealing with that. He and Doctor R had covered it in their weekly sessions the last year, and he'd done his share of grieving. Peggy had been his first love, and she would always be a tiny ache deep in his heart, sure. That was the human part of him, and always would be.
Steve didn't think he'd ever want anyone else, but Doctor R had assured him he would; that over time he'd accept that life was a forward process, and that it wasn't selfish to want companionship, and even love. He was skeptical, but as time went on, Doctor R's words bore out, and he accepted them. When he told her about Lauren, she'd smiled.
"It's not like that," Steve told her. "She's easy to talk to, and the whole place . . . it's good."
"It's not a rrrreplacement though, Steve. And she is not either."
"No, I know that."
"Goot. As long as you rrremember that, things will go well."
So it had been over a year, and little by little he and Lauren had a . . . friendship thing going. She confided in him, and remembered his birthday, the way he liked his coffee and pie. Steve brought her flowers for her birthday and took her to Radio City Music Hall for the Easter show. Sometimes they both took Joe to Central Park for a Sunday afternoon, talking about everything and nothing in particular.
They said things to make each other laugh, and Lauren never made fun of his old-fashioned ways. Steve wasn't quite ready to talk about exactly why he didn't get most current references and neither Joe nor Lauren pushed. They accepted he was a vet and left it at that, for which Steve was grateful. In due time he'd tell them, but for now it was okay to just enjoy their company and not brood about the way things were.
He wasn't quite sure when his feelings about Lauren changed, but it seemed Doctor R was right about that. Steve suspected his brain was still trying to catch up to what his body already knew, particularly once the dreams started. Awake, he could always put his focus on training and whatever Fury assigned him to, but once he got into bed and closed his eyes, Steve was helpless to resist the images that drifted through his mind in sleep.
The first time it happened he'd woken up damp and sticking to the sheets, feeling mortified and achy, glad to be alone in his humiliating state. Sure Doctor R had told him to expect this, but wet dreams at this age seemed a little ridiculous, and if Stark ever found out-Steve knew his life would become a living nightmare.
Sure he could indulge in a little manual relief and had in the shower, but it was difficult not to feel a sense of shame to it even after all of Doctor R's assurances that it was both normal and beneficial. But jerking off was a kid's option and Steve felt he was too old to be doing it.
It wouldn't be so bad if the dreams weren't so . . . vivid, he thought with a sigh. Lauren's hands on his chest and stomach, Lauren's round little bottom in his lap, Lauren's lips against his . . . . Even the memory of some of those dream fragments made him restless. Steve tried to distract himself with extra time at the gym, or by catching up on some of the reports Fury passed his way, but those did only so much to keep him from daydreaming.
The day Steve Rogers stepped into Time Was roughly a year ago, Lauren thought he looked like one of the old recruiting posters come to life. She remembered looking up at him and thinking this guy couldn't possibly be real; not with that earnest face and hunky build. New York had all types, but the All American was pretty damned rare in the big city.
But there he was, polite and genuinely nice. Lauren waited on him and watched how he sat and ate and talked with Grandpa Joe. She was pretty good about assessing customers; most business people in the Big Apple were and Lauren knew that Time Was customers fell into one of three categories. There were the old-timers, who had lived through the past generations represented and liked the atmosphere of the place. Then there were the respectful historians and nostalgia fans who poured over the movie posters and second-hand memorabilia, indulging themselves.
The last category were those she called lost souls; people who came to the shop for some unknown reason. It was a small category, limited at the moment to Steve, who was neither old nor particularly geeky. She found she didn't mind, either—he was a loyal as a Golden Retriever, and about as hungry at times, always ordering a muffin or slice of pie at every visit.
At first she wondered if Steve might be gay—one of those bodybuilder types drifting up from The Center—but within a few visits Lauren knew that wasn't the case. He was always alone, and once she'd caught him staring at one of the War Bonds posters in the back, the one that featured the Captain America chorus line with all the leggy cuties. He'd blushed when she caught him.
"They were all nice girls," Steve had mumbled, "I bet."
"I bet they were," she'd agreed, relieved.
So not gay, just . . . shy.
She liked that, and made it a point to be quietly friendly each time Steve came in. That wasn't hard, mostly because Lauren liked people and specifically because Steve was easy to chat with. He knew a hell of a lot about The Big One, as Grandpa called it, and sometimes the two of them went on long discussions about the Axis powers and various battles while Lauren bussed tables and listened in.
Grandpa pegged Steve as a veteran right away. "The way he talks, the way he sits and keeps an eye on everyone in the joint—he was an officer. I can tell." It wasn't a surprise when Steve nodded at the question next time he came in, but he looked so melancholy that neither she nor Grandpa asked him any questions beyond that.
"When he wants to talk about it, he will," Grandpa predicted. "It's not our business anyway, right?"
"Yep." Lauren had seen plenty of vets before and knew that not all of them transitioned back in to civilian life that easily. Still, Steve seemed fine—he was all there, mentally, and as for physically . . . well, Lauren knew those muscles weren't just for show. One afternoon he'd helped her take the garbage to the dumpster out back, and with a one-handed shove he'd pushed the huge metal container back up against the wall.
And it had been full at the time, Lauren remembered with a shiver.
Most of the time Steve wore plaid shirts and a brown leather jacket, but she couldn't help wishing she could see him in a little less, or at the very least in something a little more form-fitting. When summer rolled around her wish was partially granted when Steve took to wearing polo shirts which showcased his biceps nicely.
It sort of embarrassed her that she was so conscious of his physique. After all he was a nice guy, and it wouldn't matter if he wasn't buffed as all get-out, but Lauren knew part of her interest was just good old hormones pointing out what she liked. She and Jay had broken up nearly two years ago, and although it was the right decision, there were parts of the relationship she missed.
Jay had wanted to update Time Was and make it a franchise to one of the bigger bookstore chains. He had all kinds of ideas for upgrading and improving the place, and while Lauren wasn't crazy about them, his cold, off-hand comment of "oh, and we'll find a nice retirement home for your gramps' had been the capper. Sure Jay was bright and ambitious, and he'd been a lot of fun to cuddle and make out with, but if the price of getting married was putting Grandpa in a home, no way.
Her biggest regret was that they'd just done it for the first time.
Lauren remembered lying in Jay's arms, listening to him rattle on about the future of Time Was, and then when he'd said what he'd said, it was over. She'd gotten up and dressed, so fuming mad that she couldn't see straight, walking the whole twelve blocks back home, pissed as hell. Grandpa let her in and held her while she cried, but she never told him what Jay had said, and when the flowers came the next day she threw them in the trash.
So that was that.
Sure a few guys tried to hit on her at work, but Lauren deflected them pretty easily, and most got the hint right away. She wasn't really interested in dating at the moment anyway—Time Was took a lot of her attention, and her other project sucked up the rest. She found herself making time for Steve, though. Part of it was because of the way he and Grandpa got along of course.
And part of it was that he was just so darned cute.