March’s short story is brought to you by a random idea I had one day that spiraled into something bigger.

(Yes, this is a sneak peek of “Vanilla Latte.”)

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

Vanilla Latte (Part Three)

Andrea and Elle stepped outside their apartment building into the dusk air. It was still light outside, though there was a bit of a nip in the air. The two sisters bickered the whole time exiting the building.

First, it was whether they should take the stairs or the elevator. Andrea had won that argument. She began walking down the stairs, assuming her sister would meet her in the lobby. However, Elle continued to list the many reasons why they should take the elevator over the stairs as they walked down the stairs.

Elle was out of breath now, so she was quiet for the time being.

Andrea scanned the cars that were parked on the side of the road. “Which one is Harvey?” she asked.

Elle heaved a long inhale, as she pointed to a silver SUV. She began walking toward it and Andrea followed suit, opening the door to the back seat.

“Hey, Sweets,” Elle greeted her boyfriend as she opened the passenger seat. “We’ve got company with us tonight. I want you to meet my sister, Andrea.” She sat down in the front door, closing the door as Harvey twisted his body around in the driver seat.

Andrea sat down in the back, closing her door, forcing herself to look up at this man and smile. She had such a rough day that didn’t want to meet anyone new or socialize, but she’d do it for her sister’s sake. It was nice of Elle to invite her out, after all.

However, when Andrea locked eyes with Harvey, her expression dropped into a frown.

“Oh. Uh, hello. Nice to see you again,” Harvey said. He too was shocked but only for a moment. His smile quickly returned.

Andrea pressed her lips into a tight grin. “Hello.”

Elle turned around, looking back and forth between the two of them in confusion. “Am I missing something here?”

Andrea drew in a sharp breath. “You didn’t tell me he was a detective.”

Harvey scratched the back of his head. “Elle, we sort of already met earlier today.”

Elle narrowed her eyes, thinking. But she finally shrugged with a smile. “Oh, great! So, this will be less awkward then.”

Harvey chuckled, “No, I don’t think you quite understand…”

Andrea unbuckled her seatbelt. “I think I’m going to head back upstairs. You two have a nice time.”

“Wait,” Harvey said quickly. Andrea stopped and looked at him quizzically.

“Please don’t go,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for a while. Elle is always talking about you and saying nice things.”

Andrea raised a brow. “…Really?”

He chuckled. “What else would she say about you?”

“There’s plenty,” Elle giggled. “But really, Andrea, stay. We’ll have a nice time together, I promise. Besides, you need to get out and not be alone tonight, right?”

Andrea hesitated to reply.

Harvey nodded. “I’m sorry about what happened today, but Elle is right. Being in good company will help you take your mind off things.”

“Take her mind off what things?” Elle questioned.

Andrea sighed, closing the car door. She put her seatbelt back on. “Alright, fine. Thank you for inviting me out, but I apologize if I’m not that much in a social mood.”

And no, it wasn’t because of the incident that occurred earlier.

“Great!” Harvey grinned. He leaned over, giving Elle a quick kiss, and then put the car in gear.

As the trio drove to the restaurant, Elle asked how the two of them met. Harvey glanced back at Andrea in the rear view mirror. She knew he was being sensitive for her sake, but she didn’t care. What happened had happened.

So, she piped up from the backseat. “A man died at the coffee shop this morning.”

Elle gasped, turning around in her seat. “Are you joking?”

“Why would I joke about something like that?”

“What do you mean a man died?”

“He stopped breathing.”

“Andrea.”

Andrea shrugged. “What? That’s literally the definition of dying.”

Elle glared at her. “Why didn’t you tell me this happened?”

“I didn’t really want to talk about it. Anyway, it happened, but we don’t know what exactly happened. Detective Dayne… Harvey… Detective…?”

Harvey chuckled. “I’m off duty, Andrea, and we’re out with your sister. Call me Harvey.”

Andrea sighed, slightly embarrassed. “Harvey was investigating it today.”

Elle looked at Harvey as though she were shocked to hear that he was doing his job. But then she looked back at Andrea with the same concerned look on her face. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Andrea replied. She wasn’t the one who was dead.

She might have been a suspect, according to Detective Harvey Dayne, but she was still alive at least.

Elle groaned, leaning back in her seat. “What’s going to happen to the cafe now?”

“I don’t know,” Andrea answered.

“It’s going to be closed until further notice,” Harvey responded. “It’s a crime scene.”

“Man, that sucks… you just got that job a couple of months ago, too. Do you need to start looking again?” Elle asked.

Andrea furrowed her brows, thinking it odd that that’s what her sister was most concerned about. It wasn’t the fact that she spent her morning with a dead body. It wasn’t that she might have been a suspect, even though she didn’t do anything. It was the fact that she lost yet another job in so little time.

She rolled her eyes. “Katrina said that she’s going to do her best to make sure we all still get paid. She doesn’t want to lose the coffee shop and she certainly doesn’t want to lose any of us.”

“But you’re going to have to find something that’s more steady, at least in the meantime,” Elle stated.

Andrea threw her head back, groaning. “Why can’t I mooch off of you for a little while? You’re the older sister. Take care of me.”

Elle looked over her shoulder sympathetically at her little sister.

“What?” Andrea said. Did she say something wrong? Was that inappropriate to say in front of Harvey. It probably was.

Oh, wait.

“I’m moving this weekend, remember?” Elle reminded her gently. “You’re going to be on your own for rent. I can try to help you when I can, but…”

Andrea shook her head, waving her hands. “No, no, I’m sorry. I totally forgot and I’m tired, that’s all. Don’t worry about me and the rent and the job. I’ll get it all sorted.”

Elle stared at her sister for another beat before turning back around in her seat. It was obvious Elle had more to say but she bit her tongue. Maybe it was because she was going to put her trust in Andrea that she could take care of herself, or maybe it was because Harvey was in the car.

Harvey cleared his throat. “I don’t know if this is any of my business.”

Andrea bit back a smart remark.

“But there is a secretarial position opening soon at the station,” he continued. “If you’re looking for something part-time, at least until the coffee shop reopens, then you can try applying there.”

“Oh, that would be great!” Elle cheered, clapping her hands together.

Andrea opened her mouth, but no words came out. She tried to say thank you, but she forgot how to form the words aloud. Awkwardly, she closed her mouth again when she noticed Harvey staring at her from the rear view mirror.

She assumed he was only trying to help. If anything, maybe he was trying to help get Elle off her back. Andrea appreciated the efforts, no matter what his reasoning was, but she couldn’t imagine leaving the coffee shop. She couldn’t leave Katrina hanging. Sure, she had only been working there for about two months, but she was already attached to her boss and some of the customers. Admittedly, she didn’t know her co-workers all that well. Still, Andrea got the feeling that should make those same connections working at a police station.

Harvey pulled up to the entrance of the steakhouse. The trio got out of the car while Harvey tipped the valet parking man. He opened the door for the two girls and entered the restaurant behind them.

Andrea squinted when she made it inside. Why did restaurants have to be so dimly lit? They were always the most expensive places, too, so she knew they were able to afford better lighting and a higher electric bill.

She turned around, seeing Harvey and Elle following the hostess to one of the dining rooms. Andrea quickened her step to catch up. When she made it to the table, the hostess placed the menus at each seat before bowing her head to leave. Harvey pulled out a chair for Elle and she happily sat down.

Andrea grabbed the chair beside Elle, sitting down. Harvey looked as though he were able to help her sit, but she didn’t need the help to bend her knees. It was gentlemenly of him, sure, but he was here with her sister, not her.

Harvey sat down on the other side of Elle at the round, four-person table. Andrea and Harvey were practically sitting across from one another, similar to how they were at the coffee shop the morning.

Andrea’s breath caught in her throat as she pictured a dead man sitting int he empty booth on the other side of the room. She picked up her menu, hiding behind it. She read all the dinner items in her head. She read all the salad options, appetizers, soups, the beverages. She even looked at the alcohol even though she didn’t drink. Still, the names were funny to pronounce and got her mind off of everything else around her.

At least, what her mind imagined was around her.

“Are you alright?” Elle whispered, leaning close.

Andrea nodded.

“You look pale.”

“How can you tell in this lighting?”

Elle sighed. “Seriously, if you’re feeling sick or something we can go home.”

“We just got here,” Andrea said, taken aback.

“Harvey will understand.”

“No, no. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me at all. I’m just hungry.”

Elle grinned. “Okay, then. Let me know.” She leaned over to Harvey and the two of them engaged in conversation.

Andrea hid behind her menu again. She wasn’t hungry at all. If she ate anything, she thought she’d throw it back up. Maybe she should get a drink tonight. People say alcohol takes the edge off.

People, what people? People who drink, that’s who. They know what they’re talking about when it comes to alcohol because they drink it.

Andrea read the alcoholic beverages on the back of the menu. Margaritas… cocktails… she didn’t know what any of this was, other than that she knew they looked pretty. She didn’t know what was in them, though. The restaurant had beer and wine, though she wasn’t sure if that would be too simple.

“Andrea, you drink?” Harvey asked.

She peered over the top of her menu, glancing at her sister, who was shaking her head.

“No,” Andrea said, putting her menu flat down on the table. “I just like looking at the names sometimes.”

Elle stared at her with a funny look and Andrea shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t know how to explain herself, not that she wanted to.

A waiter finally came over to the table, saving Andrea from this embarrassing moment. He took their drink and appetizer order and walked away. Andrea was ready for her meal, but apparently Harvey was an appetizer guy.
They were going to be here all night.

“So, are you working on any cases other than what happened at the cafe this morning?” Elle asked, breaking off a piece of bread.

Harvey shook his head. “Right now, the main one is the coffee shop. I have two other cases ongoing, but I’m waiting to get some reports back.”

Andrea swallowed a dry lump in her throat. She noticed him eying her.

“Maybe we should talk about your work, though. How’s that going?” he asked.

Elle shrugged. “Ugh, let me tell you about this new intern program we have…”

Andrea picked at the bread on the table as Elle recounted the story about the intern who had no idea how to work a coffee maker. The audacity, right?

“She’s a nice enough kid and I was actually telling her to go to Andrea’s coffee shop because they make the best coffee,” Elle continued. “Of course, I didn’t realize what had happened this morning. Man, I’m going to miss the vanilla lattes.”

Andrea stiffened.

Elle grinned at her sister before turning to Harvey. “They made the best vanilla lattes. I’d often ask Andrea to bring me home one if she got out of work early enough.”

A wave of nausea overtook Andrea’s mind and body. She pushed herself away from the table, scooting her chair back. “Excuse me a moment.” She stood, hastily walking out the restaurant to exit the building.

Andrea certainly didn’t want to make a scene but, for some reason, everything that they talked about, just being inside that restaurant, reminded her of the poor man that died at the cafe earlier that day. She didn’t think she had been too bothered by it, but it was all she could think about.

When she stepped outside, Andrea drew in a deep breath of the chilled spring air. She exhaled slowly through her mouth.

“Are you alright?”

Andrea jumped in surprise at Harvey’s voice. He reverted everything her deep breathing had just accomplished.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Harvey said, frowning. “Elle asked if I could come check on you.”

“Why you?” Andrea asked, realizing it sounded harsher than she meant, but she didn’t care enough to correct herself or apologize.

Harvey shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets. “She thinks because I’m a detective I have good bedside manner with this stuff. I explained to her more about what happened this morning and maybe we should stop bringing it up.”

“Maybe,” Andrea scoffed.

“Do you want me to drive you home?” he asked.

Andrea drew in another deep breath, exhaling. She leaned forward, putting her hands on her knees. “No, I’m alright for now. I just needed some air to catch my breath, is all.”

Harvey nodded.

The two of them remained on the sidewalk, standing side by side together in silence.

Andrea finally looked up at him, realizing he had to have been a good foot taller than her. She was shorter than Elle by about three or four inches and Harvey was taller than that.
Harvey noticed her staring and she quickly turned away.

He sighed. “I’m sorry if this is awkward for you. It’s kind of awkward for me, too, if I’m being honest.”

Andrea arched her back, straightening her posture. “Awkward isn’t the word I’d use, but it’s alright. I don’t mean to make things worse either by running out of the restaurant like a child.”

“You got overwhelmed. It happens to the best of us. No reason to be ashamed about that.”

“I’m not ashamed, I’m embarrassed. And I do feel bad about it because I’m ruining your date with my sister. I’m sure I’m not making a very good first impression on you.”

“I wouldn’t worry about first impressions. We got them out of the way this morning.”

Andrea glared at him. “I thought we were going to stop talking about this morning?”

“Right,” he cleared his throat, “sorry.”

Andrea rolled her eyes, though she found herself smirking. “Come on, let’s go back inside before Elle eats all the bread.”

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Rachel Poli

Rachel Poli

Author

Rachel Poli is a multi-genre author with a soft spot for mystery.

She often experiments with short stories and flash fiction, however, she's currently working on the first book of her detective fiction series.

When she's not writing, she's usually cleaning, reading, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.

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