Chloe Sanderson is an optimist, and not because her life is easy. As the sole caregiver for her father, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s, she’s pretty much responsible for everything. She has no time—or interest—in getting swept up in some dazzling romance. Not like her best friend, Annie, who literally wrote a rom-com that’s about to premiere in theaters across America . . . and happens to be inspired by Chloe and her cute but no-nonsense boss, Nick Velez.
As the buzz for the movie grows, Chloe reads one too many listicles about why Nick is the perfect man, and now she can’t see him as anything but Reason #4: The scruffy-bearded hunk who’s always there when you need him. But unlike the romance Annie has written for them, Chloe isn’t so sure her own story will end in a happily-ever-after.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I can tell what's going on by the way the customer looks at me. The concentrated stare as I pour her coffee, the anticipatory smile as I put the lid on. This isn't someone who's only here for the caffeine hit. No, this is something different.
"Have a great-" I start as I hand her the drink, but she cuts me off.
"It's you, right?" she asks, breathless, eyes wide. "From the movie?"
I'm always friendly-some might say too friendly-to our customers here at Nick's coffee shop. It's kind of my thing. I don't even mind gruff patrons or rude comments; not because I'm a doormat, but because I'm genuinely not bothered by them. People have hard days, and while they definitely shouldn't take them out on their baristas, I know it's not about me.
But this . . . this is different. This couldn't be more about me.
"Um, yeah," I say, trying to keep my voice down. "It's me."
"There's an article about you on People.com," she says, the excitement palpable in her rushed words. "With . . . pictures."
I see her eyes dart toward my boss, Nick, who's tending to the espresso machine behind me. I wince before I can stop myself.
"Oh, is there?" I say, and before she can complete her nod, I smile brightly and say, "You know, I would love to chat more, but this is our afternoon rush and, whew, we're swamped!"
She smiles and walks away, so starstruck she doesn't notice that there's no one else in line. I let out a long sigh, then pull up People.com on my phone.
There it is. "The Real-Life Love Story Behind the New Film, Coffee Girl!"
There's a picture of me, one that I don't remember taking and certainly didn't give to People magazine, and there are a couple of pictures of Nick and me here, at work, behind the counter. The saving grace is that I was wearing an especially cute cardigan that day, one with little embroidered flowers and bees, so at least I look good, but that doesn't take away the strangeness inherent in seeing a picture of yourself that you didn't even know someone took.
But why am I, Chloe Sanderson, resident of Columbus, Ohio, and no one all that special, gracing the pages of People.com?
Because my best friend wrote a movie about me.
Okay, so Annie maintains that the movie isn't about me so much as inspired by me, and she's right. But anyone who knows me and sees the trailer can see the similarities. The movie's lead character, Zoe (come on, Annie), has a stubbornly, almost annoyingly positive attitude, even in the face of rude customers or family tragedy. She works in a coffee shop. She takes care of her sick father, although Zoe's father has cancer, while mine has Alzheimer's.
But there are a few key differences between Zoe and Chloe. Zoe is at least four inches shorter than me, with hair that has clearly been professionally styled. She has a team of stylists picking out her artfully vintage clothing, whereas I stick to the Anthropologie sale rack, where all the truly bonkers stuff lives. Oh, and Zoe makes out, and falls in love, with her boss, Rick.
The names, Annie. You couldn't have changed those names?
"Put your phone away. You're working."
Nick is so close I can feel his breath on my face. He smells, as usual, like coffee and this aftershave I've never smelled anywhere else, something that feels old-fashioned (like a grandpa) but kinda hot (not like a grandpa).
I jump, startled by his proximity, and shove my phone in my apron pocket. Nick and I do not talk about the movie; it's like the elephant in the room, if that elephant were making out with one of its elephant coworkers.
There are a few people clustered around tables, but still no one in line. "Ah, yes, things are bustling," I say, gesturing at the nonexistent line. "I wouldn't want to ignore anyone."
"It's the principle of the thing," he says, staring at me for what seems like a beat too long. Or maybe it isn't.
The thing is, this ridiculous movie my best friend wrote (wow, that sentence will never stop sounding weird) has really screwed up a lot of things for me. Things I never thought about before, like whether Nick is sexy or whether his smile means something or what his perpetual five o'clock shadow would feel like on my cheek . . . all of a sudden those thoughts are in my head, and I don't like it. I'm just trying to work over here, you know? This is my job, and I need this to make money for the business classes I'm moving through at a glacial pace.
A new song starts playing: "Steal Away" by Robbie Dupree.
"Chloe," Nick says, his voice a low growl.
I straighten an already straight stack of cups to avoid looking at him. Why is he so close to me? Why does his voice naturally sound like that? My mind jumps automatically to the listicle I read on Buzzfeed yesterday: "Ten Reasons Why Rick from Coffee Girl is #relationshipgoals." Since the movie's not out yet, it's based entirely on the trailer, which I've watched approximately 9,756 times (give or take a few), mostly late at night when I'm trying to sleep and I feel like punishing myself. Reason #6: His voice sounds like he wants to argue with you and rip your clothes off. Maybe at the same time.
The stack of cups goes crashing to the ground.
Nick and I bend down at the same time to pick up the cups, our faces way, way too close to each other. He seems unaffected by my presence; maybe he hasn't been reading the same Buzzfeed lists.
"Didn't I explicitly ban your yacht rock playlist?" he asks. "Didn't I tell you that if you played Robbie Dupree in this shop one more time, I wouldn't be responsible for what I'd do?"
I stand up, and so does he. "I don't remember any of those conversations. I only remember the vague sense of dread that overcomes me as I'm forced to reckon with my own mortality every time you play the depressing music you like."
I smile at him, back in my element: making fun of him for his god-awful taste.
Nick sighs, then gives me another one of those looks. It's kind of a smile but kind of a frown at the same time, which is a face he's really good at. I widen my eyes back at him.
This is the fun part, the part I love about work. I like arguing with Nick because it's not serious (I mean, I seriously do hate the music he listens to, but I don't actually care that much), but we both treat it like it's life and death. I don't even know if I'd like yacht rock half as much if I didn't have to defend it to him every day.
To Annie, a born-and-bred rom-comaholic, our playful banter means we're destined to be together. Because that's what happens in rom-coms, right? Two people who can't stand each other are actually hiding deep wells of passion, and eventually all those pent-up feelings will explode in one of those make-out scenes where shelves get knocked over and limbs are flying and people are panting.
But listen, I get angry with Siri when she willfully misunderstands me, and that doesn't mean I should marry my phone. Sometimes people just argue and don't want to make out with each other, because life isn't a rom-com (unless you're Annie and you're marrying a literal movie star).
Nick shakes his head and points toward the back of the store. "I'll be in my office. Think you can handle it up here?"
I gesture once more toward the mostly empty shop. Business isn't due to pick up for another hour. "Somehow, I'll manage."
I lean over the counter and pull my phone out again, but between you and me . . . yes, I do look up to watch Nick walk to his office. It's like that old saying, "I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave," except that it's, like, "I hate the depressing AF music you play, but I love to watch you leave because *fire emoji*."
Although it pains me to admit it, Nick Velez is objectively good-looking. He's tall and thin, with light brown skin, dark hair that's not too long or too short, and the aforementioned persistent scruff on his face. I don't think I've ever seen Nick clean-shaven, and I regularly see him at 5 a.m. That's just how his face looks, apparently.
But, unlike my romance-obsessed BFF, I am not someone who gets carried away by fantasies of love. Sure, Nick is hot, and okay, maybe I've had a couple of daydreams where he pins me against the brick wall of the coffee shop and rubs my face raw with his stubble, but there are lots of hot people in the world who aren't my boss. And since I kind of need this job, and I really need to keep my personal life as drama-free as possible, I think I'll stick to dating people who aren't intertwined in any other area of my life. Because taking care of my dad is messy enough, and I don't really need anyone else's feelings to worry about.
If only I could stop being so damn awkward around him.
My phone buzzes. It's Tracey Liu, the receptionist at my dad's care facility.
"Do you think you could check in for a minute when you get a chance? Your dad's having an episode."
I find Nick in his office and tell him I'm going. Another reason why Nick is a great boss, despite his abysmal taste in music: he's always okay with me leaving, on no notice, to take care of my dad.
"Let me know how it goes, okay?" he says, concern in his deep brown eyes as he places a hand on my arm. I jerk my arm back so fast that I bump into the shelf behind me and knock an entire box of pencils onto the floor.
"Um, I . . ." I stammer, trying my best to get my bearings. I was fine until Nick touched me, that jerk. Reason #8: Have you even seen the way he grabs Zoe before he kisses her in the rain?
"I'll get them-you just get out of here," he says, and I exit his office with a wave.
I don't drive to work since Nick's is just a couple of blocks from my place, so I briskly walk down the brick sidewalks of German Village. This is why I usually wear flats or brightly colored sneakers-brick sidewalks are death traps if you're wearing heels. The early spring air is just slightly chilly, but the sun is hidden behind the perpetually cloudy Ohio skies, making it feel colder than it is. I wrap my mustard yellow pea coat more tightly around myself as I walk past the beautiful homes and businesses.
A short drive later, I buzz the door at Dad's facility and wait to be let in. The potential bad mood is coming over me, so I take a deep breath. Inhale positivity. Exhale stress. I smile along with my exhale, willing myself to be Good Mood Chloe for my dad, regardless of what greets me on the other side of the door.
Because no matter what I find-no matter what condition my dad is in-this is my responsibility. It's not my twin brother Milo's, because he lives in Brooklyn in an apartment I've never visited, on account of I can't fathom leaving my dad that long. And it sure as hell isn't my mom's, considering that she bounced right out of our lives when she left us for some dude she met on the Internet when Milo and I were ten.
It was the week before the fourth-grade Christmas pageant, aka the biggest event on my calendar at the time. Milo wasn't involved, because even back then he was too cool for earnest performances, but I was an angel narrator who delivered a lengthy speech about the importance of the baby Jesus's birth. (In retrospect, a public elementary school probably shouldn't have put on such an explicitly religious production, but what can I say? It was the '90s in Ohio, and anything went.) Mom was a fantastic seamstress who made most of her own clothing, and she promised to make me a costume that would leave all those donkeys and wise men in the dust, meaning that everyone in the audience would be unable to focus on anything but me, instead of the birth of our Lord and savior. Mom might not have said it that way, but that's the way I interpreted it.
But then she left with some dude named Phil, and I wasn't about to bother Dad or Milo by telling them I needed a costume. Dad was shell-shocked, staring at the TV for hours, and Milo was alternating between preteen anger and sobs. The worst part was that online dating as we know it didn't even exist back then, which meant that her leaving us for a guy she met online was Super Bizarre and basically a schoolwide scandal. Everyone, even my teachers, looked at me with pity.
So I got shit done. I tore the white bedsheets off my bed and, using the most rudimentary of sewing skills, fashioned them into a sort-of-toga, sort-of-angel-robe. I'm not saying it was the best angel costume the elementary school had ever seen, but it worked, and it was the first time I realized two things: I can only count on myself if I want to get something done, and I'm capable of doing pretty much anything.
I'm still smiling and deep-breathing as the door clicks unlocked and I walk through, right to the reception desk where Tracey's waiting for me.
"Everything's okay," she says, hands out to calm me. "But I thought you might want to come see him."
Tracey covers the front desk at Brookwood Memory Care, but she's more than any old employee. She's sort of my ex-we went on a few dates, years ago, before it quickly became apparent that she was looking for a relationship and I was . . . well, not. But we stayed friends, and she was able to get my dad into Brookwood, which is a huge step up from his previous facility.
"What happened?" I ask, tugging on my tangled blond braid. When it comes to my dad, an "episode" can mean almost anything. There was the time he was convinced that the entire facility was being taken over by "the Amish" and wouldn't stop yelling about it. Or the time he slapped another resident because he was certain he'd broken his television. Or the time he claimed to be "starving," despite the fact that he'd eaten dinner half an hour before, and went on an hours-long rant about how "this hellhole" wasn't feeding him.