The Perfect First Chapter Reveal

Persephone “Seph“

I wrapped my fingers around the light blue mug and held my phone between my ear and my shoulder. A steam trail rose from the top of the hot chocolate with mini marshmallows. I was being downright indulgent, and I was tempted to look over my shoulder for the disapproving glare of my father. It smelled like brownies and Christmas—well, how I imagined Christmas smelled from movies and display windows in stores, warm and cozy, just like this place.

Since I’d be in Uncommon Grounds, the coffee shop not too far from my apartment, for a while, I’d taken some time to read over the menu. Black coffee was my default. It was what I’d been trained to drink. Not anymore. My first first.

I’d ordered a drink for each hour I’d be there and asked them to deliver them on the hour. I figured it would give me something to do with my hands while I met prospective…suitors? Dates? Bang buddies? I didn’t think they’d invented a word for exactly what this was.

“Have you gone on any dates yet?” Aunt Sophie’s melodic voice calmed some of my nerves.

“I’ve only been here a couple months.” Though I hoped to have more than a date in a few minutes. I thought perhaps I should have ordered a muffin or a slice of the coffee cake. This place smelled like a bakery and a coffee shop had gotten into a brawl. Sitting in the booth, I could have curled up and gone to sleep—that is, if I hadn’t been about twenty minutes away from interviewing candidates for my de-virginization.

“And I’m sure your father has the timer counting down until he gets you back on the hamster wheel.” I could picture her pinched face on the other end of the line based on how short and clipped her words were. My mom’s sister, my Aunt Sophie, was a terrible influence and a disgrace, according to my father. She was also one of my favorite people in the world.

“It’s not a hamster wheel. There are a lot of things I can accomplish if I keep on the path they’ve set out for me.”

“Like dying an old maid who’s only ever been surrounded by men fifty years older than her.”

“Hey, some of them are maybe only twenty years older.” I pulled my phone away from my ear, closed my eyes, and then peeked at the screen out of one before quickly bringing it back up to hear.

“Listen, if you ever want to run away from that circus permanently, you know I’ve got a futon with your name on it.”

“I think it would be more like running to the circus, at least that’s what Mom says.”

“Just because I juggle doesn’t mean I’m a clown.”

“Don’t forget the trapeze.”

“Trapeze is an excellent workout, young lady. Your mom’s actually the one who started me on all this silly stuff.” Despite being nearly fifty, she was often confused for my mom’s daughter, not her sister. I didn’t know who that said more about, my mom or Aunt Sophie.

“She did? I can’t imagine my mom ever letting loose like that.”

“Yeah, she did. I used to call her Wild One. My crazy big sister…” Her voice sounded far away like she was somewhere else, maybe a long time ago. I wished I could have known Mom before she met my dad. If she had been anything like Aunt Sophie, I couldn’t even imagine how she and my dad had ended up together.

Clearing her throat, my aunt quickly changed the subject. “How’s your roommate?”

“Still the same. She’s very nice.”

“You can’t lie to me, kid. She’s a colossal bitch, isn’t she?”

“We’re still getting to know one another.”

“You can’t let people walk all over you. That only leads to you raging about stuff inside your head. Loosen up and take that stick out of your—”

“Aunt Soph!” I took stock of how I was sitting in the burgundy booth and let my spine relax. Glancing around at everyone else at the tables and booths around me, I loosened my shoulders, letting them round a bit. My legs made slight squeaking sounds against the vinyl as I moved. Please don’t let anyone think I’m over here ripping farts.

People sat at high tables with their laptops, power cords and stacks of notecards piled beside them as they pounded cups of coffee with headphones on. No one even noticed I was there.

“Sorry, you’re right. I’ve got a potty mouth. But one of these days you’re going to snap, kid, and when you do, just know you’re not alone, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I’ll try to come up for Christmas this year so I get to see you. I swear I’ll be on my best behavior.”

A chuckle escaped my lips. “Last time you said that Dad took nearly a week to calm down.”

“Those brownies were delicious.”

The bell over the door jingled. My head popped up, and I looked over the top of the booth. A group of people walked in. Nope, not for me. I still had almost twenty minutes before the time I’d listed in my post.

“Mom didn’t stop giggling for almost 24 hours, not even in her sleep.” That big vein in Dad’s forehead had throbbed for a solid three days. It was the happiest I’d seen Mom in a long time.

“I’m glad. She needed a bit of a break, but I swear no baked goods of any kind this time.”

“Or any other edibles.”

“Scout’s honor. Okay, I’ve got a painting class to get to. Love you loads. Miss you more and I’ll talk to you later.”

“Talk to you later. Love you.”

She ended the call. I set my phone on the table and straightened the notecards in front of me. I also had my list of questions on the booth seat beside me. Wiping my hands on my navy wool pants, I bounced in place before catching myself. Take a deep breath. It will be fine, and by this time tomorrow, you might no longer be a virgin. I caught sight of my red knit hat peeking out of my bag. I’d ripped the tags off before I left the apartment. My pounding heartbeat slowed a little. My first bold purchase. This was the start of something new for me; I could feel it.

The jingle sounded again as the door to the coffee shop swung open. My head snapped up and my bouncing leg froze. The sun shined through the doorway and a figure stood there. He was tall, taller than anyone who’d come in before. His muscles were obvious even under his coat. He paused at the entrance, his head moving from side to side like he knew people would be looking back, like he was giving everyone a chance to soak in his presence. His jet black hair was tousled just right, like he’d been running his fingers through it on the walk over from wherever he’d come from. The jacket fit him perfectly, like it had been tailored just for his body.

I glanced around; I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed him walk in. He seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He bent forward, and I thought he was going to tie his shoes, but instead he wiped a wet leaf off his pristine white sneaker. Heads turned as he crossed the floor toward me. Squeezing my fingers tighter around the notecards, I reminded myself to breathe.

He glanced around again and spotted me. The green in his eyes was clear even from across the coffee shop. Dark hair with eyes like that wasn’t a usual combo. He froze and his lips squeezed together. With his hands shoved into his pockets, he stalked toward me with a Let’s get this over with look. That didn’t bode well. He stood beside the seat on the other side of the booth, staring at me expectantly.

My gaze ran over his face. Square jaw. Hint of stubble on his cheeks and chin. My skin flushed. He had beautiful lips. I ran my finger over my bottom lip. What would his feel like on my mouth? What would they feel like on other parts of me? My body responded and I thanked God I had on a bra, shirt, and blazer or I’d have been flashing him some serious high beams. This was a good sign.

He cleared his throat.

Jumping, I dropped my hand, and the heat in my cheeks turned into a flamethrower on my neck. “Sorry, have a seat.” I half stood from my spot in the booth and extended my hand toward the other side across from me. The table dug into my thighs and I fell back into the soft seat.

Sliding in opposite me, he unzipped his coat and put his arm over the back of the shiny booth.

“Hi, very nice to meet you. I’m Seph.” I shot my hand out across the table between us. The cuff of my blazer tightened as it rode up my arm.

His eyebrows scrunched together. “Seth?” He leaned in, his forearms resting on the edge of the table. He was nothing like the guys from the math department. They were quiet, sometimes obnoxious, and none of them made my stomach ricochet around inside me like it was trying to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

I tamped down a giggle. I did not giggle. The sound came out like a sharp snort, and I resisted the urge to slam my eyes shut and crawl under the table. Be cool, Seph. Be cool. “No, Seph. It’s short for Persephone.”

He lifted one eyebrow.

“Greek goddess of spring. Daughter of Demeter and Zeus. You know what, never mind. I’m glad you agreed to meet with me today.”

“Not like I had much choice.” He leaned back and ran his knuckles along the table top, rapping out a haphazard rhythm.

I licked my lips and parted them. Not like he had much choice? Had someone put him up to this? Had something in my post made him feel obligated to come? I hadn’t been able to bring myself to go back and look at it after posting it. Shaking my head, I stuck my hand out again. “Nice to meet you…”

He looked down at my hand and back up at me, letting out a bored breath. “Reece. Reece Michaels.”

“Very nice to meet you, Reece. I’m Persephone Alexander. I have a few questions we can get started with, if you don’t mind.”

“The quicker we get started, the quicker we can finish.” He looked around like he would have rather been anywhere but there.

Those giddy bubbles soured in my stomach. A server came by with the bottled waters I’d ordered. I arranged them in a neat pyramid at the end of the table.

“Would you like a water?” I held one out to him.

He eyed me like I was offering him an illicit substance but then reached out. His fingers brushed against the backs of mine and shooting sparks of excitement rushed through me. Pulling the bottle out of my grasp, he cracked it open and took a gulp.

My cheeks heated and I glanced down at my cards, flipping the ones at the front to the back.

“I have a notecard with some information for you to fill out.”

Sliding it across the table, I held out a pen for him. He took it from me, careful that our fingers didn’t touch this time. I’d have been lying if I’d said I didn’t want another touch, just to test whether or not that first one had been something more than static electricity. He filled out the biographical data on the card and handed it back to me.

I scanned it. He was twenty-one. Had a birthday coming up just after the new year. Good height-to-weight ratio. Grabbing my pen, I scanned over the questions I’d prepared for my meetings.

“Let’s get started.” Just rip the Band-Aid off. Clearing my throat, I tapped the cards on the table. A few heads turned in our direction at the sharp, rapping sound. “When were you last tested for sexually transmitted diseases?”

Setting the bottle down on the table, he stared at me like I was an equation he was suddenly interested in figuring out. And then it was gone. “At the beginning of the season. Clean bill of health.” He looked over his shoulder, the boredom back, leaking from every pore. Wow. I’d thought guys were all over this whole sex thing, but he looked like he was sitting in the waiting room of a dentist’s office.

“When did you last have sexual intercourse?”

His head snapped back to me, eyes bugged out. “What?” I had his full attention now.

“Sex? When did you last have sex?” I tapped my pen against the notecard.

He sputtered and stared back at me. His eyes narrowed and he rested his elbows on the table.

I scooted my neatly lain out cards back toward me, away from him.

“No comment.”

“Given the circumstances, it’s an appropriate question.”

The muscles in his neck tightened and his lips crumpled together. “Fine, at the beginning of the season.”

“What season?” I looked up from my pen. That was an odd way to put it. “Like the beginning of fall?”

“Like football season.”

The pieces fit together—the body, the looks from other people around the coffee house. “You play football.” That made sense, and he seemed like the perfect all-American person for the job.

“Yes, I play football.”

“When did the season start?”

He shook his head like he was trying to clear away a fog and stared back at me like I’d started speaking a different language. “September.”

“And…” I ran my hand along the back of my neck. “How long would you say it lasted?”

His eyebrows dipped. “It didn’t last. It was a one-night thing. I don’t do relationships.” Of course not. He was playing the field. Sowing his oats. Banging his way through as many co-eds as possible. Experienced.

I cleared my throat. “No, I didn’t mean how long did you date the woman. I meant, how long was the sex?”

The steady drumming on the table stopped. “Are you serious?”

I licked my Sahara-dry lips. “It’s a reasonable question. How long did it last?”

“I didn’t exactly set a timer, but let’s just say we both got our reward.”

“Interesting.” I made another note on the card.

“These are the types of questions I’m going to be asked for the draft?” He took the lid off the bottled water.

The draft? Pushing ahead, I went to the next line one my card and cringed a bit. “Okay, this might seem a little invasive.” I cleared my throat again. “But how long is your penis? Length is fine. I don’t need to know the circumference, you know—the girth.”

A fine spray of water washed over me. “What the hell kind of question is that? I know you’re trying to throw me off my game, but holy shit, lady.”