Chapter 3

“Here you guys are, lemonade for you and hot lemon water for you. Now, who has the breakfast special?” The waitress cuts in.
Andre Lets go of me, and only I linger a moment longer. Once he takes his lemon water, I snap back to reality.
“That was me,” I state and grab my food. The plate is erupting with good smells and stirring my hunger. I get started immediately. With fork and knife in hand, I make my first slice and scoop to get a little of the sausage and eggs. This place has the best breakfast.
Across from me, I can feel the eyes of Andre looking over at me. I can feel as he peers into my soul. I don’t look up at him, I just continue my work on my plate, and hopefully, we can change the subject. I mean, like what does he want me to say to that? Now he wants there to be an Us? And he knew of my feelings before and just ignored them. Why should I care about what he wants now?
Oh, what, just because I was the only person …. the only person on his mind when he was at war. Like sure, that makes me feel great and all. But I’m sure he thought of other people, like his mom. Yeah, and he didn’t send me any letters… Okay, maybe I didn’t write him back as much as I should. But I’m a business owner, I get swamped.
He can’t waltz back from the war and declare feelings for me and expect me to run to him. That’s not how things work. So what if I really want to and he’s finally telling me all the things I’ve always wanted to hear? He should have said those things earlier. I have moved on from my crush from him. Really, I have. We can stay friends, and he will still have me. And we can just forget about that kiss. That fantastic, arousing, electric kiss that meant nothing to me.
“Name your price, Bunny.” He says, and his voice rattles my core.
Excuse me? I cover my mouth while chewing a bite of bacon. After I finish chewing, I say. “Price? Please explain.” My look has to tell more of what I mean.
“There is no way you are just going to run to me with open arms. You’re far too stubborn for that. I know that you are going to need some work on my end to prove to you that I’m serious. So name your price.” He. Always. Knows. Sorry buddy, it won’t be that easy. Really, it won’t.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m starting to think that I needed to listen to you all these years. This friends thing has been working for us. Why change it now?”
“I’m a man who knows what he wants, and more times than not, I get them.” I gulp as he says that. “I get it. I’ve known you since you were five. All that time wasted and me pushing you aside to stay as my friend. I’ve had time to think about it all. So how about this, we start with a two-week vacation in Reve? A month from now is the R&B Jam, I’m sure you want to go.”
“I can’t take off for two weeks. I…” He cut me off. That’s getting annoying.
“You have a key-holder and more than enough employees to run the shop.”
“Well, that may sound like a good idea to someone who doesn’t own a business, but my key-holder doesn’t have all the tools to run the shop like I do.”
“A month is enough time to train her. Besides. I’ll also make up for any loss in your projected sales.” He says, taking another sip of his water. Not taking his eyes off of me
“With what money, Andre? You can’t make that much as an Army Captain.” I say, dropping the fork and knife routine.
“Who said I stilled worked for the Army?”
“Well, it’s not something you can just quit.”
“No, but I can get recruited by the Queen’s special forces.” He says, pointing back to my utensils. His signaling also makes me realize my mouth dropped open.
I take a second to put down a little more of the food, and he seems far too calm about dropping a bomb like that.
“The Royal Guard recruited you?” My voice holds on secretes of how surprised I am.
“Well, I wanted to surprise you with that little detail, but yes, Bunny.” A smile cracks past his lips, then he waves off the waitress who was trying to bring him more water. She checks with me as well, but I thank her, and she leaves. After a few more bites, I speak up.
“What did you do?”
“What do you mean?” He says, then sets his cup down. He folds his hands in front of him.
“You have to be a ruthless killer to be one of those.”
“Rumors and hearsay. You could just be really good at your job and be one. Besides, I’m not a Queen’s Guard. I’m a trainer for the Queen’s Guard. Big difference.” His hands now giving the assist in conveying his message.
“How, you’re training the animals not becoming one.”
“Okay, let’s not turn my promotion into a bad thing. You know me, Bunny. Do you think I would work for anyone if I thought they were evil?”
“No, but war does change a man.” I get a smile out of him.
“That was cute. I like it.”
“Thanks,” I smile back at him, finishing the last little bit of my food.
“I know there are a lot of rumors about the Queen’s Guard, but I can assure you they are not true. In the old days, when several houses made up the Underdark, those guards were, but when King Vrammagon took power, most of that changed. Mostly because he was the most dangerous person in his army with the Queen being a strong second.”
“What of Duchess Tabitha? I heard she was nearly as powerful.”
“She may be more powerful than the late King and the Queen, but she is not a part of the Army. She’s her own thing. Ever since her husband died, she hasn’t been the same.”
“The God of Death died so many years ago. Back in the Celestial war. She still mourns him?”
“Love makes people do very strange things, Bunny.” I look away from him and check my phone. Look at the time.
“Enough chatting, I told you I’d get you to work.” He throws out and starts to stack our dishes.
“Do you ever stop being super nice?”
“I’m sure there are a couple people that I fought alongside in the war that would be really shocked to hear you say that. But you know, we came from humble beginnings. Remember our freshman year? How many times did you wish someone would have left the table nice and neat for you?” As soon as he said freshman year, I started to straighten the condiments before gathering my things. “Ha ha, I thought so,” he laughs at me.
The Waitress gives us her goodbye’s and welcomes up back anytime. I’m sure Andre’s tip did that. After grabbing all our things, we walk back to the car, and I guess Andre didn’t like my answer. He went straight to his door. I go to open mine.
“Your door is already open.” I look up, and Andre has the driver’s side door open.
“What I’m lost?” He holds up his keys to me.
“Oh no, I’m not driving this. I don’t drive cars worth more than I make in a year.”
“Well, I guess I’m walking you to work then.”
“Andre, no. Your car is too expensive. I don’t want to mess anything up.”
“You’re a better driver than me. I’m so used to driving in war zones. Besides, it’s just a thing. A thing that can be replaced.” How much money did he have that a three hundred-thousand-dollar car was just a ‘thing’ to him?
“I’m content with just being the DJ,” I say.
“Bunny, get in. I really don’t know how to get to your shop here. It’s been a while.”
“Lame excuse. I’ll give you the directions. Better yet, I’ll put it in your GPS.”
“Are you going to make me beg?”
“The proud Andre doesn’t beg.”
“True, but this is the man Andre. Asking his best friend to drive. Please?” He may be as evil as I thought. That look is unfair on so many levels. Why does he know how to do everything right? Ughh!
“Fine, Andre,” I walk around and grab the keys. Once I sit down and strap in, he closes the door and gets in on the other side. I go to put the key in the ignition and realize that this car doesn’t have one. It just has a start button. This is far too fancy for me. I press the button and nearly don’t feel the car start. There is no way that I can drive this more than once. It will make me want it.
I adjust my seat and mirrors before I reach down for the gear.
“By the Queen. I don’t know how to drive a stick?”
“No worries.”
“What do you mean, no worries?”
“This car has both settings. Look.” He points down, and I didn’t notice before, but it wasn’t a traditional stick shift. It has a small section at the back of the gear that was more or less upshift and downshift, but at the top were the standard gears. I put it in drive then hear my music play through the speakers. Before pulling off, I look over at him and smile as he restarted my radio station. He is winning some major points.
Jerking off the curve, I slam the brake. It’s scary how fast this car goes with such little effort. His deep laughter fills the car, and I want to be mad at him, but he just smiles at me and saying, “I did that the first time too.”
“Don’t laugh at me.”
“Sorry, Bunny, you’re doing fine.”
“Yeah, I’m doing great for all two meters I’ve driven.”
“Better than my first two meters in this car,” he assures, placing his hand on my thigh. I shoot forward into traffic. Quickly correcting myself, I get to the light and stop just before the line—heart in my throat from it all. Luckily no one was coming.
“It’s fine, here,” He says, taking my hand instead. There is so much of him after so long of none of him. I find it hard to resist his touch. So I keep his hand in mine if only to keep it from other parts of me.
It is a quick drive from the cafe to my shop, one of my other favorite things about it. Good food and a great location. Easing my way down the street, I feel oddly comfortable. I’ve never done anything like this. I haven’t really been that great in the relationship arena, well ever. Even when I dated in college, my boyfriend then was more of an accessory that I took with me when I wanted to go out. Sure we did couple things, but I was way more focused on me than I was us.
The times that I spent with Andre in high school and after have always been friendly. What little times there were. With Ashley constantly at his side, there were few times that I could or desired to be around him.
So for me to drive to work, hand in hand with anyone was bizarre, but for some reason, it felt right. Or maybe I just want it to be? By the Queen, I know I’ve dreamed of this since I was a teenager, but to actually have it is far better than I could imagine. I want to give into Andre so bad. I really do, but I don’t want to make my decisions so haphazardly. Andre may have had time to think about what he wants and what’s right for him, but I haven’t. Sure my body wants him. So bad. So does my heart.
The only problem with that is my brain is the one calling the shots, and I have to make sure that this will be a good decision. I can’t live in the past anymore. I’ve loved the man most of my life, and I will always love my friend Andre. However, in his own words. This is the man Andre. A man who’s been to war with both his body and heart. A man transformed by his past that is even unknown by me. I don’t know what kind of man he’s become. I have to take my time to get to know who he is now, instead of being caught up on the person he was.
Sure he’s sweet to me, a little too much. Sure he has a way with his words, and sure he will absolutely put his foot down with me if necessary–all the great traits of a good man. I just must be sure that he is sweet to me for the right reasons. That His words are more than good, they are true, and even though he can step up for us or to me, he can do it in a way that leaves us both respected.
Too many men, military, or otherwise struggle with this. Many of them believe they must be obeyed. There is an apparent line from being the man in a relationship to being abusive. I won’t let myself live through that. Not for anyone.
Navigating my way through traffic, I see my turn. After a left at the light, I see the strip where my shop is. I make my way into the parking lot and take my usual spot in the back. I come to a complete stop and search for a way to turn the car off. Andre’s hand reaches over and presses the ignition and grabs the keys. To his credit, there was not a laugh this time.
He gets out of the car and makes his way around to open my door. I really wish he would stop. I’m going to get spoiled at this rate. I unbuckle my seat belt and make my way out. Only to be pushed back in the car.
“Queen’s wrath, Andre!” My scream muffled by me being in the car. By the Queen, there was a man behind Andre with a gun. Oh no! I reach for my purse and try to find my phone. Fumbling around, I find it, and in my panicked state, I must be hearing things because I swear that I hear that laughter of Andre’s. Trying to get a good look at the man, I can see nothing but blue jeans and a black hoodie.
“911, what’s your emergency?” The operator comes through.
“Yes, I’d like to report a robbery?”
“Ma’am, where are you?”
“42486 Soren ave, in the back behind Amazing Phials.”
“What is your name?”
“Lisa Phillips.”
“Okay, Lisa, the cops are on their way, can you get a good look at the robber?”
“I’m not sure, let me try,” I peek my head up only to see Andre wiping clean an enormous blade.
“Lisa, I don’t want you to put yourself in harm’s way. If you can’t see them, don’t worry, just stay safe and wait for the cops to arrive.” The operator’s voice fades out as the door opens, and Andre reaches his hand out.
“That the cops?” I nod. “Tell them to bring an ambulance.” He says, helping me out of the car.
“Ma’am, who was that? Are you safe?” I nod. “Ms. Lisa?” Right, they can’t see me.
“Yes, I’m safe, but we are going to need an ambulance.” My voice is weighted by horror.
“Who is hurt, ma’am?”
“The attacker.”
“Is he breathing?” I don’t have to check. The wide gash across his throat tells me no. Andre taking notice in the change of tone, tries to walks me over to the door. I don’t move.
“No, he’s dead,” I say, hitting end on my phone and trying to walk backward. I can’t move because my back is against the car, and I’m sure it’s the only thing keeping me up right now.
“Let’s get you inside, you don’t need to see this. I’ll take care of it when the cops show.” Andre reaches for me, but I pull away. I turn to walk away, but my knees give out. Andre catches me. From in front of me? How did he? “Let me go!”
“I’m sure you will fall if I do.”
“You just killed that man.”
“Yeah, he had a gun pointed at me.”
“You killed a man.”
“He was going to rob us or worse.”
“You killed a man.”

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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