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Horses in the City Ch 02

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“What’d you tell him?” Millie jerked her head in Sol’s direction. “Looked like he might jump over the table for that salt.” Emma reached for the coffee carafe. “I told him you put extra salt in the hash browns.” “Good one!” Millie laughed, almost a cackle, and patted Emma’s arm. “And he believed you!” Emma shrugged. “This time, anyway.” “And did I see you smile over there?” Millie raised an eyebrow. “That’s good if you did. You should smile more.” “Sol . . . well, I couldn’t help it when he tried to give me those puppy dog eyes.” Emma gave Millie a side glance and did smile. Millie scoffed. “Puppy? Sol’s an old basset hound.” She fiddled with the net that held her salt-and-pepper hair back. “Now, how about the young man there? Luke?” “What about him?” Emma kept her expression neutral. She liked Luke, as much as she let herself like anyone. He’d always been nice to her, and she tried to loosen up a little when he and Sol were there. Old habits died hard, though. “He’s been looking at you.” Millie cocked her head as Emma flushed. “What? You’re a pretty girl, Emma.” “Thanks.” Emma poured hot coffee into the thermal carafe and twisted on the lid. “It’s just . . . never mind.” She shook her head. “It’s nothing.” “You don’t like him?” “I don’t know him.” Millie peered over at the men. Sol was going on about something, and Luke was nodding but his eyes were on Emma. He looked away when he noticed Millie staring at him, but didn’t seem embarrassed. “Well, I think he’d like to know you.” Millie went over and began wiping down the counter even though no one had sat there for over an hour. “He can’t take his eyes off you.” “That’s silly.” Emma picked up the coffee, hoping the weight of it would keep her hands steady. “I can’t imagine why he would want to stare at me. You’re imagining things.” “Listen, missy,” Millie informed her. “I’ve been around a long time and I know when people are interested and when they’re not. He’s interested.” Emma started to go, then sat the carafe down and sighed. “Maybe, Millie, but . . . I don’t know. I’m not ready to be interested, or have someone interested.” “Horse hockey.” Emma had to bite her lip when Millie said that. One would expect her to curse like a sailor, but no. “You’re too alone, Emma.” Millie was firm. “You come here, you go home and you hardly ever go out. You’ve told me so yourself,” she said as Emma made to protest. “So, now you have a nice young man looking at you, and you want to ignore it?” “Not ignore it, exactly. Just . . . .” Emma picked up the coffee. “This is a tough time of year for me. I’m not sure I could deal with . . . with something like that.” “This is the perfect time,” Millie countered. “This is when things change, that’s what my mother always told bursa escort me. Christmas is for changes and new beginnings.” “I thought that was spring.” Emma tried to change the subject as she took a step towards Sol and Luke’s table. “You know, everything gets reborn in spring.” Millie scoffed. “You calling my momma a liar?” “No. No, ma’am.” Emma hurried over to the men, stifling a small smile. Millie had done a lot for Emma, and far be it from her to say that Millie’s mother had been wrong about anything. Sol got up from the table and headed to the rest room as Emma brought over the coffee. Her stomach churned as she realized she was alone with Luke, then she chided herself. She dealt with customers all the time, alone and in groups, and Luke was one of the nicest. Being nervous around him made no sense. “Here you go.” She placed the pitcher on the table. “Sorry for the wait.” “Not a problem.” Luke paused. “Hey, Emma, can I ask you something?” Another stomach flip; Emma swallowed. “Sure.” “I’d like to see you sometime, outside work. Could I?” Before she could stop herself, she blurted, “Why?” Luke smiled, which did nothing to alleviate her embarrassment. “Because I’d like to. I think it’d be fun to talk to you about something besides the daily specials.” He frowned. “Are you seeing someone? Sorry, I should have asked that first.” “No.” Luke gave her a puzzled look and Emma realized her answer was blurry, at best. “I mean.” She took a deep breath. “No, I’m not seeing anyone and . . . .” She could feel Millie’s eyes burning into her back. “Sure. That’d be nice. To see you outside work, I mean.” Emma stifled a groan at how ridiculous she must sound. “Great.” He smiled and Emma couldn’t remember the last time someone had smiled at her like that. “How about tomorrow?” “I . . . sure.” Not like I have anything planned, Emma thought. Millie was right; aside from work and necessary errands, Emma hardly left her apartment. “Can we meet here, at the corner?” Luke suggested. “Maybe at one?” “Okay.” Emma nodded, wondering if this conversation was happening only in her mind. She hadn’t had a date since she’d left Sam; she hadn’t wanted one. “Great.” Luke poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. “Anything you’d like to do?” Emma stared, lost for words. “Um, no, not really.” She was still stuck on the fact that he’d asked her out and she’d accepted. There was no way she could have come up with something to do. “No problem.” Luke added one, then two, then three creamers to his coffee. “I’ll think of something. If it’s nice, maybe we can just take a walk.” “Sure.” The bells Millie had placed on the door jingled as a new customer came in. “Excuse me, I have to go.” “All right. See you tomorrow.” Emma bursa escort bayan nodded and went over to grab menus, her mind in a fog. Maybe Millie’s mother was right, she thought. Maybe it was time to try something new. x-x-x-x “What are you smiling about?” Sol sat down. “You weren’t smiling like that when I left.” He made a face as Luke added yet more cream to his coffee. “Why do you even bother? It’s not coffee by the time you finish with it.” Luke shrugged. “It’s how I like it. I’ll work my way up to espresso later.” “Espresso.” Sol waved his hand. “Please. What’s wrong with a straight cup of coffee, I ask you.” “All right. Actually, Sol, I’m smiling because of you.” Sol narrowed his eyes. “What? I have something stuck in my teeth?” Luke laughed. “No, I just took your advice is all. I’m going to see Emma tomorrow.” “Oh, did you now?” Sol nodded and reached for his own coffee, topping it off with the fresh brew Emma had brought. “Going to find out her story, eh?” “I’ll try.” Luke shrugged. “Can’t hurt to ask.” x-x-x-x Emma fidgeted with her gloves as she walked to the corner to meet Luke. Doubts had assailed her from the moment she’d gotten home. She’d told Millie, of course; the older woman was sure something had happened and wouldn’t let her leave without finding out what it was. Millie was as pleased as if she had set them up herself. “Millie, it’s . . . nothing. I don’t even know if it’s a date. I just . . . .” “No buts.” Millie had wagged an intimidating finger at her. “Luke’s a nice boy, you’re a nice girl. No reason you shouldn’t go on a date. You’ve been shut up too much; you hide.” “I know.” Emma had looked down and pretended to organize the salt and pepper shakers. “I can’t help it.” “Can’t hide forever.” “I know.” She’s right; I can’t hide forever, Emma thought, but maybe I should have for just a little longer. She tried to force the thoughts out of her head by concentrating on the Christmas decorations. Most had been up since before Thanksgiving, which always made her shake her head. There were shiny white candles with yellow flames in red wreaths, big silver snowflakes in green ones, and every so often there was a snowman smiling out from inside a blue circle. She arrived at the corner but didn’t see Luke. More doubts surfaced — what if he hadn’t meant this corner, but one of the others at the intersection? What if she’d gotten the time wrong? What if he’d stood her up? Then she told herself to calm down; there was no reason to think Luke would do anything like that, they’d been clear on the time, and even if he’d meant a different corner, she could see them all from where she was. Despite all that, Emma felt herself getting anxious. What was she doing? Even escort bursa if Luke did show up, and they had a nice time, once he found out what had happened before, he wouldn’t want anything to do with her. Not that she could blame him. Stop that. Millie would have your head for thinking like that. Emma dropped her head and took a deep breath. “Hey, Emma!” She jerked up at the sound of her name and turned until she saw Luke waving at her. She made a small wave in return, almost not conscious of doing it. “Hi.” He jogged to a stop. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be late. Had an idea and had to get it out of my head.” “It’s okay. I’ve only been here a few minutes.” Emma looked up at him, curious. “An idea?” “Yep.” Luke nodded. “Come on, I’ll tell you while we walk.” He placed a hand on her back and gestured with the other across the street. “They’re doing a special Christmas concert at one of the churches a few blocks up. That okay? If you don’t like that, no problem; there’s plenty of places to go. I figure it’s December, so it’s safe to do Christmas things.” “Um, sure. That’d be fine.” Emma felt like she was floating along on a wave, not under her own power. “I hate how early they put decorations up.” It was all she could think of to say. “Oh, me too.” Luke stepped off the curb as the light changed. “Drives me nuts. Still, now that Thanksgiving is over, we can appreciate it all. I don’t mean to sound like too much of a sap, but I do like Christmas.” He grinned and his hazel eyes lit up. “I was one of those kids who tried to wait up to see Santa Claus every year. Never made it.” Emma had to smile back as pleasant memories came to the fore. “My sister tried that, too. We’d both stay up but we’d fall asleep.” “I think my mom put Benadryl in my hot chocolate,” Luke said in a conspiratorial tone, then wiggled his eyebrows. Emma couldn’t help but giggle. “That would have been . . . creative on your mom’s part.” She looked around as they walked down the street. There were a lot of people but she didn’t feel crowded. Stores had all kinds of Christmas decorations on their doors and in their windows. For the first time in a long time, she wondered if she should get a tree. It took a minute to realize Luke was talking to her. “A friend of mine is in this choral group, so I did want to see it. I’ve heard them rehearse and told him I’d make it to the performance. You sure this is okay? I can go another time.” “What?” Emma blinked as she processed his words. “No, no, this is fine. I . . . I haven’t been to any kind of concert in a long time.” “Well, this will be a good one to start with.” They walked a little more, neither speaking. Luke was checking to make sure he hadn’t missed the building, and Emma was lost in a mix of thoughts and memories. “Ah, here we go.” Luke put an absent hand on her arm to stop her, and Emma was surprised at how warm it felt. “Doesn’t look like much out here, but it’s nice on the inside.” Emma took a minute to look at the front as they walked up to the door.

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