The Coffee Shop Ch. 02byLillithArchivist©
Author's Note: I appreciate the comments for the first chapter, constructive criticism is what I need to become a better writer! So to those of you who made suggestions or otherwise, thank you! Here's the second chapter in Peyton and Caleb's story.
The storm had been slow in building, steeping the small coastal town of Hamish, Maine, in fog and low-lying black clouds that seemed incapable of deciding when exactly to release their bounty.
When the first wave of the storm hit, it had been via a strong northeasterly wind. Within minutes of the hurricane-like gale pounding Peyton Gray's childhood home, the electricity had gone out, interrupting her gray-matter-numbing afternoon program.
Peyton waited patiently for the backup generators to switch on, too cozy under her thick throws to brave a dash into the turbulent outdoors. Minutes ticked by and Peyton came to the dire conclusion that she would have to brave the storm after all.
With a weary sigh, she extracted herself from her pile of blankets and headed to the back of the house where her coat and the spare flashlight were stowed. Glancing briefly out of the window pane, Peyton could see faint white flashes of lightning within the heavy black clouds, the thunder faint to the ears as of yet. She exchanged her moccasins for her pink-as-a-pig rain boots, knowing that they would garner better protection from the coming rain than the worn-in leather.
Tightening the strings of her coat hood tightly under her chin, Peyton tested the flashlight, strengthened her resolve, and dashed outside only to be blasted back indoors by the wind of the storm.
Digging her boots in, she shut the patio door and pushed out into the gale, swearing under her breath as she was whipped back and forth across the backyard. The going was slow, but finally she made it to the small white detached garage where fuel for the backup generators was stored. After a quick search inside, she found the heavy red plastic containers filled to the brim with gasoline. When the garage side door slammed shut with a resounding bang, followed seconds later with loud ticking pellets, Peyton growled, a first for her.
With a determined shove she braved the storm again, the water like rubber mallets as they struck her skin, instantly soaking her to the bone. That's when her eyes went to the sea, and Peyton was astonished to see how grey the water had become under the dark clouds. Used only to the sunny Los Angeles weather, it was an astonishing change. The once lazy waves that clipped the cliffs of Lighthouse Island had become angry swells that crashed hard against the rock. The island looked vulnerable against the storm, and the tell-tale spray against the Overlook told her that the waves were definitely high.
In that moment, a brilliant white streak of lightning darted across the equally turbulent sky, the cacophonic boom sending Peyton's heart reeling. Quickly Peyton readjusted her grip on the gas containers, desperate to get out of the storm.
She was almost to the generators when she heard it. How was anyone's guess. The bleak cry of help was so thin and weak that in the next loud boom of thunder, it was completely lost.
Quickly Peyton reacted, her mind racing with images of an injured fisherman or ridiculous teenage surfer who thought it wise to catch a record-high swell or two. After shoving the gas containers in the back room, Peyton rushed out in front of the Barn, having to slit her eyes against the sea spray as she searched.
Lighthouse Island was barely visible in the torrent of sea spray and fog, and there was nothing on the road leading to town. Ignoring the potential dangers of her next action, she slid across the gravel and mud to the Overlook, and got lucky.
"I'M DOWN HERE! SOMEONE HELP ME!" the voice cried, the bellow unmistakably male. Peyton surveyed the cliff edge in confusion before her brain cells kicked in. Falling to her knees at the edge she bent over warily and found herself staring at the top of a soaked mop of ink black hair and two shaking hands that were clinging to the cliff rock like a monkey to his tree. Peyton threw out her hands and grasped hold of the broad male shoulders, digging her toes in as she pulled the body back up over the ledge.
"Dig your feet in!" she hissed at him, feeling her feet slide on top of the soil as his weight drug her back down. If the man didn't give it some effort, they both would be hurtling to their deaths this evening.
There was a grunt of pain from the male and soon they were safely back away from the edge, boots and limbs sliding across the rock and muddy soil.
Peyton lost her footing with a gasp, falling hard onto her back and bringing the heavy male down with her. Once she regained her breath, her eyes connected with the bleeding, pale face of someone she had hoped, beyond a doubt, that she would not see again until nine o' clock tomorrow morning.
The male-in-distress was none other than Caleb, her eye candy.
Before she could allow herself to flounder under those pain-glazed eyes, Peyton's good sense kicked in. "Are you too hurt to walk?" she asked him.
His head twitched, out of pain or cold, she wasn't sure. Peyton moved quickly now, tugging him to his feet and instantly received a mouthful of his t-shirt as he came barreling back into her. Chilled arms clung to her torso and Peyton tugged her head out of his trim chest so she could see.
Burdening his weight, Peyton practically drug him to the Barn, her eyes raking over the area to see if he had been with anyone else. That's how she saw a red bike wrapped around the trunk of a thick oak, it's back wheel missing completely. A bag from the local grocer was caught around the handlebars, fluttering with loud pops against the hurricane-force wind.
Training her eyes back to her destination, Peyton tried to recall where the first aid kit had been stashed, vaguely remembering its last known location had been the medicine cabinet in the kitchen.
Peyton crashed into the back patio door, grunting as Caleb's very solid weight fell heavily against her own. After fiddling with the doorknob, they both tumbled in and Peyton nearly broke her neck trying to keep the two of them upright. Her eyes found the gas containers and she swore under her breath.
Dragging Caleb now, she spoke in a chattered hiss.
"I n-need to start u-up the generators," she told him as she brought him to the first floor bathroom. It wasn't the most spacious of the bathrooms -- that would be hers upstairs -- but it would have to do. "T-Take off your clothes and get d-dried off the best y-you can. When t-the electricity comes b-back on, t-take a bath to g-get some heat in you. I'll get the f-first aid kit." Peyton lifted up his cold chin to look over his cut and found his eyes were sharp, the pain almost gone from them. "C-Caleb, did you catch any of that?" she asked.
Caleb nodded, the movement taking his chin out of her grip. "Yes," he answered in his usual aloof tone, though his eyes seemed a touch cooler than usual. Peyton was suddenly struck with the thought that Caleb did not like asking for help and was not used to kind treatment.
Shaking those thoughts aside, Peyton nodded back.
"Good. I'll be back." Peyton hurried down the hall, leaving a trail of mud and water behind her as she raced out into the storm, not slowing down to pull up her hood or adjust her boots. It was a pointless venture, considering her drowned-rat state. Quickly she dumped the gas into the generators and flipped the switch, almost giving out a cry of glee when the main rooms of the Barn flickered to life.
Making a quick dash indoors, she sealed off the storm and shrugged out of her coat and boots before hurrying down the hall. Peyton was hit with a wave of irony as she realized the object of her daily fantasies was here, all alone with her, albeit a bit worse for wear. She shook the rapidly emerging desires that came along with that thought, determined to focus solely on keeping Caleb warm the most socially acceptable away (i.e., her clothes remained on) and tidying up the cut on his head.
At the sound of running water coming from the bathroom Peyton stopped at the doorway, which was still wide open, and cleared her throat.
"Caleb, if you'll hand me your clothes, I'll put them in the washer for you. I'm afraid all you'll have to wear is something of my dad's, but it'll only be temporarily."
There was a pregnant pause as the water shut off and Peyton scolded herself when the devil on her shoulder told her to take a peek around the door for a quick look-see.
"They're in the sink," came Caleb's aloof murmur.
"I wrung out as much water as I could," he added on in afterthought.
Keeping her head ducked and her eyes trained in the opposite direction of the tub -- and the large wall mirror above the sink -- she scooped up his damp clothes from the sink basin and turned back to the doorway. "I'll bring you clothes and after you're dressed, I'll take a look at the cut on your head. Yell if you need anything."
"Towels," Caleb said suddenly.
Peyton turned to the towel rack and saw it was indeed missing a few of her parents' trademark towels. She reached into the cabinet and pulled out a stack, setting them on the ledge of the bathroom counter.
"Yell if you need anything," she repeated before shutting the door behind her.
Going into caretaker mode, Peyton did as she promised without any thoughts to the naked, pale boy-almost-man in the bathroom down the hall. She retrieved a pair of clothes from her father's closet, smelling them to insure they didn't reek of mothballs or must. Peyton checked the bedroom down the hall from the bath for clean sheets, refusing to think about them beyond a clinical they-must-be-clean-and-smell-nice standpoint.
After pulling out the emergency kit, Peyton set on making them some form of supper, her stomach growling protests to its empty state.
After a few false starts with the gas stove, Peyton dumped vegetables and stew meat into a pot before retrieving bread and cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, a habit of hers started from her childhood years. Never did the Gray family have soup without sandwiches, it was considered abnormal if they went without.
When she heard the sound of the bathtub being drained, Peyton picked up the stack of clothes she had retrieved and knocked on the bathroom door.
"Caleb, I'll leave the clothes out on the bench beside the door. If anything doesn't fit, let me know and I'll try to find you something else." She hesitated briefly before continuing. "If the cut on your head is still bleeding, just use one of the bathroom towels to clean up. I'll be in the kitchen with the kit when you're ready."
Peyton set the clothes aside and walked into the kitchen, checking the stew in order to give herself something to do. Suddenly, her hands began to shake and she lifted her head when the feeling of electricity began to shiver down her spine.
Caleb was standing at the kitchen entry, a crumpled rag pressed to his forehead and a towel over his shoulders. He fit into her father's L.L. Bean inspired attire perfectly, speaking wonders of how much muscle he actually had. Her father was a retired police officer and even in retirement had kept up his physique. The sweater and shirt underneath fit Caleb like a second skin.
"So that'll work, won't it?" she asked him, cringing a little. "I know it looks like old people clothing."
Caleb plucked at the sweater and shrugged a shoulder, saying nothing.
She gestured to a chair. "Take a seat and I'll look at your cut. Obviously it's still bleeding. Is that the only cut you have?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," Caleb said after awhile, his closer presence wreaking havoc on her nerves. She put the lid back over the stew pot and wiped her hands as she turned to the table. She unlatched the emergency kit lid and set it back, taking inventory of what was available. Her father often stocked the kits and even with his lax visits the habit hadn't waned.
"Let me see the cut," she told him, plucking up gauze, swabs, and alcohol. Then it struck her fully what he had said.
"Wait," Peyton told him, watching as his hand froze a few inches from his face. "What did you mean by that?"
Caleb's ice green eyes grew cold within a second, his face guarded.
"It's nothing," he responded carefully, his voice firm. For a second, Peyton felt as though he was pleading with her not to press the point.
She didn't, especially when blood began to slowly make its way down his forehead. Gently she took the rag from his hand and dabbed away the blood, unscrewing the alcohol with the other hand.
"This will sting," she told him as she retrieved a cotton ball and sealed it over the lid of the pungent bottle, wetting one half of the cotton as she tipped it over.
"It's not a big cut," Caleb reasoned, though his knuckles turned white when she removed the rag and pressed the cotton to his skin. To his credit, he didn't jerk back or make the smallest sound. Peyton had a sick feeling in her stomach that he was very used to sealing off his emotions. Either that or he was very good at playing off bravado, but she knew better. This wasn't just bravado. This was insensitivity; someone desensitized to pain itself.
Quickly she covered the alcohol and brushed sealant over the cut, glad that it didn't need stitches. She was more than capable for the job, having stitched up her father a few times in her mother's absence, but it made her ill to do so.
After the sealant dried she applied the gauze to keep his hair away and any leakage from escaping. Once that was finished she checked his fingers and saw the broken nails were worn down to the nub.
"Nasty habit, nail-biting," she told him as she threw away the cotton ball and put everything she had used back in its proper place.
Caleb said nothing.
"May I ask what you were doing on the Overlook?" she pressed as she stowed the kit in the medicine cabinet, turning the lock in place once the doors were shut.
She turned to see Caleb was examining his fingers, his damp hair falling in front of his face.
"Going home," he said quietly, curling his fingers so they formed two large fists.
Peyton hesitated. "But you were dangling from the cliff, Caleb," she said quietly. "That's at least ten feet from the road."
Caleb's eyes shot up to greet hers, the dark look within them foreboding. "I said I was going home, so that's what I was doing," he practically growled at her, standing up quickly.
Peyton stepped back, her breath catching in her throat. "Okay," she said quickly, giving in. "You were going home, I got that." She gestured to the chair again. "Sit. The stew should be ready in about fifteen minutes. Surely you're hungry?"
Caleb swallowed and sat down slowly, his face becoming wary.
Peyton mentally kicked herself. She was a complete stranger trying to dote upon him. Of course he was wary, he had every right to be!
"I'm Peyton," she told him, holding out her hand. "Peyton Gray."
Caleb took her hand in his, not breaking eye contact. "Caleb Vaughn," he responded. The second their skin brushed, Peyton felt an instant fire shoot straight through her, all the way down to her toes.
She smiled and ignored the way her skin tingled at his touch, releasing his hand at the same time he did hers. "Well, Caleb, if you're hungry, stew will be ready in a bit. Finish drying off your hair and go warm up by the fire -- I don't want you catching a cold."
A wry smile played on Caleb's lips. "I'm fine," he said in his same quiet tone, though this time he sounded a bit amused. "You don't mind if I call you, Peyton, do you?"
Peyton was glad in that moment that her back was to him because the second her name slipped from his lips, every muscle south of her navel had tightened and turned hotter than Hades and Peyton bit down hard on her bottom lip to seal up the gasp of surprise that had threatened to escape.
"Nope," she responded quickly as she pulled down a tin of tea from the cabinet above her. As she busied herself with finding the tea kettle, Caleb dried his hair with lazy strokes, his light green eyes flickering over the kitchen décor.
Peyton could only imagine what he thought of the place. The house had kept the seaside cottage theme, mainly out of her father's interests than anything else. He had been a sailor and therefore decorated his home as such. The furnishings were minimal but cozy; the decorations centered on the sea with family photos adding a more personal touch. The kitchen was fairly modern however, due to her parents' love of cooking. The floor was tiled, the walls were given personal treatment by custom paint and paneling, and the cookware was of high quality. The counters were marble, and the furniture made by a craftsman in town.
Peyton turned her thoughts back to the present, pulling out of her memories so she could focus on what she was doing.
"I completely forgot," she muttered, turning to Caleb. "Your bike," she told him, cringing as she said it. "I hate to say it, but it's totaled. If you want I can go out and get it, I completely forgot about it honestly, but I don't know what you'll do with a bike missing its back wheel." Caleb sighed, running his hand through his dark hair. "Don't worry about it."
Peyton waited for him to add something to that but he didn't. She met his inquisitive gaze with a look of surprise. "That's it? 'Don't worry about it'?" she asked him.
Caleb shrugged and continued to dry out of his hair, saying nothing.
She snorted. "Are you just trying to be difficult or are you a man of few words?" she pressed, irritation getting the best of her.
Caleb smirked wryly, his eyes softening a little.
"A bit of both, I guess," he replied slowly.
Peyton sighed and turned back to the stew. "Of course," she mumbled.
The stew was ready and Peyton scrambled to set up bowls and plates, glad that she had started the grilled cheese sandwiches sooner. "Grab a bowl. Take as much as you want, I made a fairly decent pot," she told him as she then worked on the tea, opting for the regular loose-leafed kind instead of her normal chamomile. Caleb didn't strike her as a tea-sipping kind of guy, so the less fancy the better.
Halfway through pouring them two mugs, the electricity kicked back on.
Peyton sighed. "Of course it would do that when I'm ready to eat," she grumbled. "Excuse me a moment. I've got to switch off the generators."
She gestured to the living room. "If you want, there are blankets in the living room cabinet and it's warmer by the fire. I don't mind if you eat in there as long as you don't spill anything."
Caleb shook his head at her offer. "I will grab a blanket though. I'll promise not to make a mess," he told her, granting her another wry smile -- and a wink.
Too stunned to comment, she just nodded and escaped, vaguely remembering that in her mission to keep Caleb warm, she was still wearing her damp clothes and wet jeans. She sighed as she pulled on her still dripping coat and rain boots. She'll just have to wait a bit longer for her turn at being pampered, she thought wryly.
Tugging her jacket over her head once more, she darted out into the rain, unable to stop the yelp that escaped her lungs when the cold rain bit into her skin. Quickly turning off the generators and turning the switch she rushed back to the house, skidding slightly on the mud as she ran. After dumping her boots and jacket again she rushed to the stairs.
"Everything okay?" Caleb called from the kitchen.
"Y-Yes!" she stammered. "I-I just have t-to change c-clothes!" she called back.
She hurried to her room upstairs and stripped the second she was in the bathroom, dumping the wet -- and now muddy -- clothes in the sink. She jumped into the shower and let the water warm her up before jumping back out, drying off quickly. After pulling out her warmest clothes she went to the bathroom mirror and washed off her face, catching her reflection in the mirror.