The Space Between Us

The Space Between UsTesla Martin is drifting pleasantly through life, slinging lattes at Morningstar Mocha, enjoying the ebb and flow of caffeine-starved customers, devoted to her cadre of regulars. But none of the bottomless-cup crowd compares with Meredith, a charismatic force of nature who can coax intimate tales from even the shyest of Morningstar’s clientele.

Caught in Meredith’s sensual, irresistible orbit, inexpressibly flattered by the siren’s attention, Tesla shares long-buried chapters of her life, holding nothing back. Nothing Meredith proposes seems impossible—not even Tesla sleeping with Meredith’s husband, Charlie, while she looks on. After all, it’s all in fun, isn’t it?

In a heartbeat, vulnerable Tesla is swept into a spectacular love triangle. Together, gentle, grounded Charlie and sparkling, maddening Meredith are everything Tesla has ever needed, wanted, or dreamed of, even if no one else on earth understands. They’re three against the world.

But soon one of the vertices begins pulling away until only two points remain—and the space between them gapes with confusion, with grief and with possibility….

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You can’t work in any sort of job dealing with the public and not get to know the people who come in day after day. Regulars. Well, I have regulars and I then I have favorites.

Johnny Dellasandro was definitely a favorite. He’s older than my dad, but has the most adorable little boy I’ve ever seen. He’s made of fabulous, that guy, always with the smile and the wink. A dollar in the tip jar. A girl notices those things. He likes flavored coffee and sweet things, and he likes to sit with his newspaper in the booth closest to the counter. Sometimes he comes in with his girlfriend Emm, sometimes with his little boy, sometimes with his much older daughter and his grandson.

Joy never gave him a sour look. She shot me another one though, like it was my fault she had to leave. Then she shrugged into her coat and left.

“Where’s your little dumpling?” I asked Johnny when she’d gone.

“With his mama today.”

“Must be nice to be a man of leisure,” I teased. “Swanning around coffee shops and whatnot, being all pretty and stuff.”

Johnny laughed. “You caught me.”

“What can I get you?”

“Chocolate croissant. When you getting in those peppermint mocha lattes again?”

“Not until closer to Christmas,” I told him as I pulled out the biggest croissant from the case and settled it on a plate for him. “We have the pumpkin spice, though. I can get you one of those.”

With Johnny served, I moved on to the next customer. One at a time, that was how to do it, making sure to listen carefully to the orders so I didn’t make mistakes — it was no good being fast if you were sloppy.

Eric was an emergency room doc who liked a pot of tea while he sat at a table in the front window and wrote list after list on yellow legal pads. Lisa the law student always had a jalapeno-cheese stuffed pretzel and an iced tea while she studied. Jen was a regular I hadn’t seen in a while, and we chatted about her new job for a few minutes. I spotted Sadie the psychologist at the back of the line and gave her a wave. Sometimes Sadie came in with her husband, another tasty bit of eye candy, only Joe was the kind of man who never even looked sideways at another woman. Today she was alone. Sadie waved back with the hand not on her hugely pregnant belly.

“Hot chocolate, extra whipped cream, and…” I tilted my head, looking Sadie up and down when she got up to the counter. “Bagel with lox spread. Am I right?”

Sadie laughed. “Oh…I was going to be good, but you’ve convinced me.”

“If you can’t indulge when you were pregnant, when the heck can you?” I tipped my chin toward the front of the shop, where Meredith had snared some other regulars into telling stories. Laughter rose and fell. “I think there’s something exciting going on up there. Grab a seat, I’ll bring it to you.”

Sadie huffed a sigh. “Thanks. I swear, I used to be fit. Now just the walk from home to here has me winded. And my feet hurt.”

“No worries.” While she waddled to a table in the sunshine coming through the large front windows, I set to work toasting the bagel, steaming the milk, adding the chocolate syrup.

“The queen’s holding court,” Darek said as he moved behind me to hang up his coat and put on his apron.

I looked up at the sound of Meredith’s laughter floating toward the back of the shop. “Doesn’t she always?”

I’d known her only a few months, uncertain of when she’d gone from a regular to a favorite and then to a friend. It might’ve been the day Joy went into one of her raging shit-fits and Meredith had calmly but coolly put her in her place by reminding her “the customer is always right, or this customer goes someplace else to spend four-fifty on a mocha latté.”

Since then Meredith had weaseled out most of my life’s history over coffee and sandwiches. I guess I’d had a crush on her from the moment she’d walked through the front doors of the Mocha with her oversized handbag and complimentary dark glasses, her shoes that matched her belt, her perfectly styled blonde hair. Meredith was the sort of woman I thought about trying to be sometimes, before ultimately accepting it took a lot of money, effort and desire I mostly didn’t have. She’d become a part of our little coffee shop community even though she didn’t live anywhere close to the neighborhood. More than that, she’d become a part of my life. She thought I was crazy. Wild. And she meant it in the best way, whatever that meant.

She really didn’t know me at all.

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