Evenings With Bryson - Excerpt


Evenings With Bryson [Excerpt]


CHAPTER 1


Sitting at a table in her aunt’s café, the norm for Kalina for years now, she rubbed her weary eyes and stared at the screen of her laptop a little longer, as if the answer she was seeking would somehow magically pop inside her head. How was she going to answer this question she received from one of her blog readers – a woman on the brink of ending her marriage:

Before we married, my husband and I dated for two years. We learned each other. We knew we wanted to be together forever and have a family. We wanted two children. Five years later, we don’t have any children. He says he’s not ready. That he’s busy building his brand to be distracted by a child right now. I’m thirty-four years old. I’m not getting any younger and neither are my eggs. I shouldn’t have to beg my husband for a child. My question is, do I stay and continue with my efforts in convincing him that I want a child? Should I leave and seek my own happiness? Or should I give him an ultimatum – give me a baby or I’m out?

 Kalina knew she had to be cautiously careful with her response, because even though people hated it when other people tried to tell them what to do in a certain situation, they certainly didn’t mind having cosigners – people to take their side and agree with them in the course of action they’ve already decided to take and encouraging them to move forward with it. Kalina wouldn’t do that. After all, she didn’t want to be the reason this woman, or any woman, decided to leave her husband.
Graduating from college with her bachelors in behavioral science, she looked forward to the opportunity to work with people, helping them through their issues. She was passionate about it, excelled at it and, after graduating at the top of her class, she had a job lined up at the local Social Services department – that is until she realized she could take her passion and make it into her own business, be her own boss and work for herself.
She did this by starting a relationship blog, The Cooper Files, a site geared towards helping people, men and women alike, overcome issues in their relationships. While The Cooper Files began as a hobby, the site was becoming increasingly popular, even ranking among the top relationship advice websites on the Internet. Just last year, it landed the number twelve spot for the top fifteen relationship blogs on the Internet.
“Kalina, are you stumped again? I know that look?” Edith asked, standing behind the counter, her short stature competing with the pastry display.
Kalina yawned, glanced up at her aunt, using the temporary distraction to stretch her arms up in the air and pop her knuckles. “This is a tough one, Edith…think I need a cup of the dark roast tonight.”
Edith shook her head. “Honey, I don’t know how you do it. If I drank coffee this late in the evening, I wouldn’t get a minute of sleep.”
“Sleep…what’s that?” Kalina joked. But, all kidding aside, she lost her relationship with sleep a long time ago. Running her business was of the utmost importance. Most nights when she left the café, she’d go home and head straight for her office. She’d converted the studio apartment above her garage into The Cooper Files’ headquarters, a convenient space attached to her home where she did most of her work during the day. She spent many long, stressful nights in that studio – so many nights that she’d bought a comfortable brown sofa that complemented the mint, white and brown color scheme of the workspace. When she was up working late and didn’t have the energy to go downstairs to her bedroom, she would crash right there. In her headquarters, on a brown sofa with her trusty friend nearby – her laptop.
“Are you sure you want the dark roast?” Edith asked.
“Yes. I’m positive,” Kalina answered. “I don’t plan to get much sleep tonight anyway. I’m drowning in emails again. I can’t get to them fast enough.”
“All right. One cup of kick-your-butt coming right up,” Edith said, then grinned.
Kalina smiled lazily, but her little joy turned into exasperation when she looked up at her computer screen and quickly scanned the email again, still uncertain of how to answer it.
Bummer…
Kalina rubbed the stiffness of her aching neck, then leaned her head from side-to-side, stretching. Threading her fingers in her wild, wind-tossed hair, she groaned loudly.
“Here you go, honey.” Edith set the cup on the table, away from Kalina’s laptop. She remembered how Kalina almost had a stroke the last time she placed the cup too close to her computer. “Looks like I’m right on time with it too.”
Kalina took a sip of coffee. “Mmm. Perfect. This is exactly what I need right now.” She gulped down more of the coffee, inhaling an aromatic breath of it and slowly breathing out in a paced, gratifying sigh.
“I thought you were looking into bringing on an intern,” Edith said. “What happened with that?”
“I have to wait until the summer if I want to get a legitimate college student whose major is in this field, and even after waiting, there’s no guarantee I will get approved for one.” Kalina sipped more coffee.
“Well, you need to get some help, even if that means hiring somebody off the street at this point.”
Tickled, Kalina covered her mouth with her hand preventing herself from spewing coffee all over the table and thus, her laptop. Once she could swallow, she laughed and said, “Edith, it’s not that serious.”
“It is…your body can’t survive without sleep.”
“As long as I got this caffeine it can. Look at me, Edith…I’m living. I’m alive…I’ll be fine.”
“You know, if I wasn’t running this café, I’d help you, but—”
“I know you would, but I’ll be fine. Everything will work out.” Kalina glanced around the café for the first time this evening, her eyes settling on a man, as dark as her coffee, standing in front of the coffee dispensers, holding a cup as if he was at a quandary – unable to decide between regular and decaf. He’s so not a decaf kind of guy. A man of his size and muscle definition, in her opinion, needed something stronger than decaf, or as she like to call it, hot water. Finally, she watched him settle for the regular just as she suspected he would, and thought to herself, Man, I’m good. Now if only I can answer this woman’s email…
She glanced at the computer screen, then up at Edith before she got the nagging urge to check out Mr. Coffee again. Why was she checking him out? It’s not like she was interested. Still, she couldn’t stop her head from turning in his direction. How tall was this guy? Six feet, two inches? One of his hands were the size of both of hers put together and his style of dress spoke volumes to his character and maturity level. Yes, people still judged you by what you wore, and he was wearing a long-sleeved, light blue, striped Oxford shirt, neatly tucked inside a pair of tan khakis with a pair of expensive, honey-brown leather shoes on his feet. Distinguished. His outfit was as clean and neat as his low cut fade. The only thing he seemed to be missing was a Kangol cap and a driving iron. I bet he’s the golf type…
She cracked a half smile and looked at her computer screen again. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d given a guy a double-take. Actually, she’d never given a man a double-take before now. There was just something about this man that deserved a second look.
“Kalina Cooper, do you hear me?”
“Oh, um…you said something, Edith?” Kalina said with raised brows.
“I asked you if you were going to see your mother tomorrow.” Edith was aware that Kalina usually visited her mother every Saturday, but with her work schedule being so hectic, she didn’t know if she would be able to make it.
“Tomorrow? Why would I go tomorrow?” Kalina asked. “You know I visit mom on Saturdays.”
“Tomorrow is Saturday.”
“What? I thought today was Thursday.” She looked at the date and time display in the bottom right corner of her laptop and confirmed it wasn’t Thursday. It was Friday! Friday? Where had the week gone?
“It’s Friday, Kalina. See…that’s what I’m talking about. You don’t even know what day of the week it is and—”
Kalina shushed her aunt by saying, “Well I’m going. I may not have time for much else, but I will make time for mom.”
Edith smiled. “I sure do miss Madeline…you know, the way she used to be.”
“I do, too. She used to be so alive and was one of those mothers who would stay up all night and help me with my silly science projects.” Kalina chuckled. “I remember how she would be so excited to try out a new recipe, and while I helped her cook, we would be dancing and singing…it was awesome. It really was. Then Alzheimer’s happened.”
Downcast, Edith said, “Yeah…then Alzheimer’s happened.” Edith shook her head and sighed heavily. Madeline was alive, but in a way, it felt like she had already died. The sister she used to know ceased to exist. This new person Madeline became, after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, was a stranger to her – a helpless, disoriented, frail stranger. Edith was certain that Madeline didn’t know her. Didn’t recognize her. Her memories were gone, stolen from her by a dreadful disease that had come out of nowhere.
Edith glanced up at the clock and said, “Two more hours until closing time.”
Kalina eyes rolled to the time display on her laptop. It was already 7:00 p.m. Had she really been sitting here for a full hour, trying to figure out a way to respond to this email? What was it about this particular email that had her stumped?
“Let me get up from here before I fall asleep,” Edith said, grunting and blowing breaths as she stood up.
Looking at her computer screen again, Kalina scanned the email from this anonymous woman:

Before we married, my husband and I dated for two years. We learned each other. We knew we wanted to be together forever and have a family. We wanted two children. Five years later, we don’t have any children…do I stay and continue with my efforts in convincing him that I want a child? Should I leave and seek my own happiness? Or should I give him an ultimatum – give me a baby or I’m out?

Kalina sighed and scrubbed her hands down her face again. Married people and their marital problems…
Aside from her distrust of men, that was another reason she didn’t want to marry. She had enough problems of her own without having to deal with, and worry about another person’s issues. There was no need for the extra stress that came with marriage. That’s why there were so many divorced people out here today. Marital problems. Financial problems. Baby problems. Communication problems. I’m-sick-of-you problems. Problems on top of problems. The glitz and glamour of the wedding day is long forgotten when two people grow to hate each other over the years.
She sighed, wiggled her fingers as they hovered over the keyboard and whispered, “Focus Kalina. Let the words flow and…go.” She began typing:

Dear Anonymous,

…and that’s as far as she had gotten.
“All right, Kalina, what’s the question?” Edith asked from behind the counter. “I meant to ask you when I was over there.”
Usually when Kalina found herself stuck on a question, she would discuss it with her aunt to get varying perspectives, then she could formulate an answer which, would not only satisfy her but would be the best advice she could offer the person who’d asked. This time, she wanted to answer it on her own. Why did she go to college for four years if she was going to use her aunt’s gray-headed wisdom for the tough questions?
“I got it, Edith. It’ll come to me sometime this year.”
“Are you sure about that? You’ve been stuck on this one for a long time and I know you don’t like to skip questions, so the faster you answer it, the quicker you can move on to the next one.”
Kalina sighed and said, “Okay. Here’s the situation…this woman has been married for five years. Before she married, her husband said he wanted kids. Now she’s not sure if he wants children or not, but she does. So her question is threefold. She wants to know whether she should beg him for a child, if she should leave him to seek her own happiness, or if she should give her husband an ultimatum – if they don’t get pregnant soon, she’s leaving.”
Edith blew a breath. “Good grief. That’s a lot.”
“And now you know why I’ve been sitting here for an hour…” Kalina took a sip of coffee. “I hate it when readers send these multiple-choice options, because my issue is, I can’t decipher which option they’re already leaning towards to know how I should tailor my answer. I can’t necessarily tell her what to do, of course, but I can offer my opinion. And I do have an opinion in this case, by the way…”
“Which is?”
“Well, if her husband said he wanted to have babies before they married and now he’s changed his mind, wouldn’t that be a breach of contract?”
“Hmm…” Edith thought for a moment. “That’s an interesting take on things.”
“I think it would,” Kalina continued, “Because that’s what marriage is, right? A contract, bound by a legal document? And if he was all for having kids before they married and then after they married, he changed his mind, it would be a breach of contract, sort of like marrying under false pretenses, and therefore the marriage is null and void.”
A man’s loud chuckle took Kalina’s attention away from her aunt. She looked over at the source of the laughter and it was him, Mr. Coffee himself, sitting a couple of tables away from her.
He looked at her and said, “Sorry…didn’t mean to laugh out loud at your conversation. That was rude of me.” Still amused, he flipped through the magazine he’d obviously been reading while a smug smile remained on his face.
“What was so funny about my conversation?” Kalina asked, watching him shift his body in her direction and for the first time this evening, she got a full look at his face – a handsomely carved face that made her heart skip a beat. For a moment, she’d forgotten what she asked him until she saw his slender, attention-grabbing, firm lips move. And his voice was deep, dark and thunderous; a voice that could talk a woman into just about anything.
“Well, for one thing, nowhere in the marriage vow does it say that a man is obligated to give a woman a child or vice versa.”
One eyebrow raised, Kalina said, “Your point?”
“My point is, your argument that the marriage would be a breach of contract, because the man doesn’t want children, does not stand.”
Edith nodded. “Bryson has a point, Kalina.”
Bryson? A frown ripened in Kalina’s forehead. “You know this guy, Edith?”
“I know Ms. Edith well,” Bryson answered before Edith could respond. “I’ve been a patron of this café for years, but I’ve only been coming here at around this time for the last three weeks. Have you not seen me here before? I’m not difficult to miss.”
You arrogant… “No, I haven’t seen you here before, but it’s not like I was looking for you either.”
“I wasn’t looking for you, but I see you here every evening around this time, talking to your laptop. You know, I’ve never heard anyone refer to a computer as their best friend…” He looked amused before his lips grew into a smile, one that showed off a mouth full of blindingly white teeth – like the sun rays reflecting off of a fresh snowfall.
“And on that note,” Kalina said, turning away from Bryson and back towards her laptop, “I have work to do.”
“Speaking of work, that’s why you haven’t seen me before,” Bryson said. “Your eyes are glued to your computer screen twenty-four, seven.”
Edith quickly hurried from behind the counter when she saw Kalina’s frown deepen. Standing next to her niece now, she said, “Um, let me properly introduce you two. Kalina, this is Bryson Blackstone. Bryson, this is my niece, Kalina Cooper.”
Bryson stood up, walked to Kalina’s table and extended his hand to her. “Nice to meet you, Kalina.”
“I don’t shake hands,” Kalina said snippily. “And since my eyes are glued to my computer screen twenty-four seven, I better get back to work.”
Bryson smirked, lowering his hand. Her attitude certainly didn’t match her beautiful face and that silky, chocolate skin tone of hers. And her eyes – those gorgeous, black, almond-shaped eyes nearly quieted him – they almost stole his voice by making him lose his train of thought. And while he was standing there, stricken by her beauty, he’d forgotten what his next plan of action was. Oh yeah, that’s right – he would way something to get under her skin. So finally responding to her, he said, “You mean, you have to get back to answering an email on a topic in which you obviously know nothing about?”
“Excuse me?” she asked, her head cocked to the side.
Well, that didn’t take long, Bryson thought. Even the frown in her forehead couldn’t distort her natural beauty.
Edith sauntered on back behind the counter when she saw a new customer come in. Besides, she wasn’t about to get in the middle of this argument.
“Marriage,” Bryson said. “You don’t have a ring on your finger, and I don’t see any indication of one ever being there, which tells me you’ve never been married. So what advice are you going to give this poor woman who’s on the brink of ruining her life and marriage to a man she’s probably head over heels in love with, simply because he’s changed his mind about wanting children?”
“Okay, first of all, I didn’t ask for, nor do I need your help, advice or opinion on—”
“So what’s your reply?” he interrupted, inviting himself to her table by taking the empty chair across from her. “What are you going to tell this woman?”
The nerve of this conceited, self-centered…
Kalina leaned back in her chair, staring at the self-satisfied look on his face. Who did he think he was, barging his way into her conversation like he had a right? And who was he exactly? Some creepy coffee shop stalker? He did say he’d been coming there for three weeks. How did she not remember him? And how on earth was her aunt on a first name basis with this jerk of a man?
“I’m waiting,” he said, then crossed his arms over his chest.
The motion had her glancing at his hand. He wasn’t wearing a wedding band, so what did he know about marriage? Or maybe he was married, but kept his ring in his pocket…one of those men. And if he was one of those men, how was he in any position to offer anyone advice about anything.
“Okay, then,” Kalina said, sitting straight up in her chair again. If this Bison, Bryson or whatever his name was, thought he was going to have the upper hand with her, he had another thought coming. “How would you respond to the woman?”
“How would I respond?” Bryson asked.
“Yes, since you’re an expert on marriage and all. The private conversation I was having with my aunt has somehow intrigued you enough to interrupt us, so tell me, Bison—”
“Bry-son,” he corrected.
“Whatever…what would be your perfect response to this woman. I’m dying to know.”
“I’m not sure,” Bryson responded.
“Well, would you look at that?” Kalina said with raised eyebrows. “Now you’re not sure.”
“Only because this is not something I can answer on a whim. Sensitive topics such as this requires careful consideration.”
Kalina nodded and flashed a phony smile. “You’re right. It does, which is why I’ve been stuck on this question all day long, and the reason why I was discussing it with my aunt. But, I tell you what Bry-son…” Kalina took one of her business cards from a side pocket on her laptop bag. Handing it to him, she said, “Since you don’t think I have what it takes to answer the question, you do it.”
She watched him smile wide, his teeth a stark contrast to his dark chocolate skin tone. He took the card from her grasp.
“My email address is on the card. I will expect your email reply by tomorrow night.”
Bryson scanned over her business card, then looked up at her again. “You don’t include a phone number on your business cards?”
She smirked. “Sure don’t. There are a lot of crazies out here.” Case in point…
With a smile on her face, Edith, watching from behind the counter, shook her head. Kalina had no patience for men, she knew, but Bryson Blackstone wasn’t just any man and he seemed to have taken an interest in her.
“All right. I’ll send you an email then, boss lady.”
Short of rolling her eyes, Kalina said, “You do that. Now if you would excuse me, I have to glue my eyes back to my computer screen.”
“Right.” Bryson stood up tall, towering over her table with a set of long legs and broad shoulders like that of a football player. He slid her business card into his shirt pocket. “It was nice meeting you, Kalina.”
Ugh. Go away already…
She flashed him the phoniest smile she could muster and returned her attention back to her inbox. She had hundreds of emails to answer and she wanted to get through at least fifty of them before the shop closed, especially since she needed to get some sleep tonight. She was going to visit her mother in the morning and that experience was tiring enough in itself. She didn’t want to arrive exhausted and quick-tempered, so sleep was a must. It was going to be a long day.