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A Jump
Liv avoided the steam that would burn her arm like it was second nature. She'd had enough over the last few months. Her wrist and forearm were proof of that. Daddy had offered her a place at the flower shop. And she'd thought about it.

But the truth was she needed to do this on her own. Daddy loved her. So did mom. They were trying to help her. Mom didn't jump all over her after her last information science test. She had been scared. Like she would let her down. Mom was just trying to help her find a place

But just like that afternoon in the coffeshop- what was it, eight or nine years ago?- mom smiled at her and her heart exploded with love and appreciation. Just as when she had, so scared and terrified, told her that she liked girls, and mom hadn't batted an eyelash, had said she was there for her and loved her and wanted her to be happy, even now mom wasn't angry if she really wasn't feeling it. Had told her to follow her heart

Liv knew her family loved her. Mom, daddy and her brother. And yeah, she was adrift and unsure and alone. But she realized how lucky she was. Laila didn't define her. Didn't get to have a say anymore. Fuck her. She knew love.

And so now Liv was working in the coffeeshop. She knew she could do other things. Would do other things. But she was content. Finally, she felt ready to live. It had started last night. Lost and alone she wondered along the river. The moon shone overhead, sky a cold black blue cobalt, and she felt the vast emptiness. And once again she sat before god, begged her for help, asked her for something, anything, for meaning. She ignored the pain of the gravel at her knees.

God answered her. She- only a woman could know, could understand, could make her feel alive and known- had come to her. The Angel's wings brushed her cheek and tears and the world came alive in a way she couldn't begin to imagine. Breathing was like an orgasm. She wept at the overwhelming beauty of it.

And in that moment, she saw herself smiling, face radiant with joy and she ached to know its source. God left her then. But she did not feel disappointed. She had seen something. She had life ahead of her.

And so now, in the coffeeshop, she felt alive. Hopeful. Ready. God had promised it, hadn't she?
When Nika returned to Moscow following the season break, the first thing she did was scout around for a decent place to get coffee.  Being Italian as well as Russian, she took this matter seriously.  In fact, she would not finish coffee if it didn’t meet her standards.  Snobbish perhaps but life was way too short to drink ashtray coffee.  At least that’s what it tasted like to her.

The best place was two blocks from her condo.  A quaint little establishment that clearly cleaned the pots daily.  How hard was that really?

The old-fashioned bell over the door rang when she opened the door.  No clue as to why but Nika loved that sound and her face morphed into a satisfied smile.  Not enough to show off the dimples but more an upward curve of her lips.

It was Saturday night and her training sessions were over and done.  Which meant it was time for relaxing with a cup of coffee.  Or two.  Normally she took her cup to go but this time, she’d sit and zen.  It was time for zen.  Plus the place was cozy, it had a feel of familiarity to it.  

She stepped into line and looked around until it was her turn.  Princess Charlotte and her new baby graced the cover of a magazine on a table nearby, there was some stupid headline about Brandon she didn’t care about splashed all over a news circ and a new drone model was debuting for ASCazon.  That was as far as she got with the news.  

Her turn.  She flashed a smile to the barista.  The manager was nearby but preoccupied with another customer.  More often than not it was she who helped Nika. The other woman had a smile that lit up the room.  Super personable too.  Nika caught her eye, smiled and gave a little wave. The guy at the counter looked over his shoulder briefly with an odd expression on his face before asking for her order.  “Hello.  May I bother you for a cappuccino, please?  For here.”  He looked relieved then, about what she didn’t know.  Nika booped her wallet on the pay tab and it dinged in success.  He handed her a numbered topper and indicated they’d bring her coffee to her table.  She thanked the guy and made her way to a table for two on the back wall.
"So right here is where you want to go," Liv was saying to the older woman in front of her, pointing to the map displayed on her wallet. She smiled up at the friendly lined face."The Dueling Pianos. It's below ground and the entrance is hard to see from the street. Just go to the tailor shop entrance and you will see a set of stairs leading down below."

The woman's brown eyes twinkled. "Thank very much, young lady."

Liv smiled at her. "Anytime." She looked up as the woman walked away. The shop was full at this time of day. The ding of the bell at the door was something she was really only peripherally aware of since it went off all the time. Bjorn's massive form at the register completely blocked the view. Liv wasn't short, but next to 'The Mountain', as she jokingly called him, she was tiny, barely coming to his elbow. Despite that, though, he was a teddy bear. The image of him playing a flute, beefy arms bent to hold it to his lips, thick sausages fingers delicately dancing over the holes, had made her laugh with delight.

His big frame turned for a moment and- Her! She'd been in a number of times, face always smiling with those incredible dimples and those dancing eyes. The first time Liv had seen her, her heart had stopped for a moment. She had laughed to herself at how silly it wall was. That kind of thing hadn't happened in a long time.

The girl- Nika, she remembered- had a very casual air about her, chatting freely, while Liv had been quieter than usual- and that was saying something! She had almost been relieved when she left, feeling so stupid, being all tongue tied and stuff. How did you do this, again? It had been...jeez, how long? She'd left Laila eight or nine months ago. And they had been together for a year., something like two years.

Sure, at school, there were girls she noticed. A couple she was even curious about. But just the thought of screwing up her courage to do something about it....well, every time she considered it, she felt sick in the pit of her stomach, some sort of lurching fear.

Just in the same way she was careful about the steam nozzle, feeling the burn still even though it had healed up long ago, just in that way, she was now guarded. And it was lonely. And she was tired of it. God had come to her. Promised her...something. Some kind of joy. But that wasn't going to happen if she just sat there.

Liv heard the order and pulled out a cup. Black felt tip in hand, she wrote Nika on it. Her heart was pounding, hand shaking, as she pondered. A cliff stood before her. She looked down and saw the infinite chasm. Her hand hovered, and then...she jumped.

She put a little heart over the 'i' in Nika's name. And that was that. Her triumph. She probably wouldn't even notice. And Liv realized that it didn't matter. She was happy to have done it. It wasn't what might happen that was important here. It was the fact that Liv had taken a step. Just a small one. Tiny even. But for Liv it had been something.

The cup of cappuccino was hot in her hands. The girl had sat down at a nearby table, speaking into her wallet. Liv would have normally just put it on the counter and called her name. Instead, she walked over, not wanting to interrupt, but still wanting to deliver it personally.

So maybe two steps.

"Here you go," she whispered as she set it on the table with a shy smile.
Nika received a call on her wallet almost as soon as she completed her order.  Not one to rudely talk on the phone while other things were going on, she waited until she was several steps away to answer.  It was Annessa, the Ducati Racing’s PR manager.  

“Hey, couple of things for the media.  The vultures are all over me because you're not here.”  There was really no need for small talk between them.   “How’s your wrist doing?”

“It’s fine.”  Nika sat down at a table with a bright blue tiled top.  Pretty.  

“Really.”  Annessa’s tone was dry.  “I don’t believe you.”

“That’s on you then,” Nika traced the grout lines around the squares. “Cast came off yesterday.”

Annessa sighed in her ear.  “That could mean anything coming from you.  It could mean you took the damn thing off yourself so you could test on Friday.”

Nika made a pained sound in her throat.  “Did you want to call the doctor?”

“Is that your expressed permission to do so?”  


“Don’t you take that tone with me, you little demon!”

Nika laughed darkly before offering a reassuring answer.  “Track docs have the final say, remember?  They’ll test it.”  She shrugged.  “Or you could just come out on the track with me and ride two-up.  That’ll show you my wrist is fine.”  

Annessa scoffed and launched into a rather lengthy expletive-laced tirade about all the times Nika had ridden with broken bones and the like.

Nika sat politely, listening, noting the manager approaching with her cappuccino but paying attention to what the PR woman was going on about in case there was a quiz later.  That had happened before and if she blew it well, Ness could schedule her a day of interviews with the worst thing ever: creepy basement bloggers.  That had happened too. 

It was clear there was something else bothering Annessa but that wasn’t due out for another ten or so minutes.  It wasn’t like the woman to be so…course.  She must have had to smile through more stupid questions than usual today.    

Nika saw the cup, the extra flourish in her name...but was mentally split between curiosity and the split second she was getting a word in edgewise.  Nearly-black eyes under a quirked brow found Olivia’s face just as she said to Annessa, “Clearly, you need to go out with me.”  

Two heartbeats of silence and Nika’s gaze saucered as her own words caught up to her.  Her mouth shut with an audible click.  She blushed and looked mortified.  “Err...I’m so sorry!  I didn’t mean to be rude.”  I mean, you can’t just come on to people like that!  Unsolicited.  But...the cup?  Quickly into the wallet, “Call you back.”  She’d pay for that later.  Ugh!

Nika stood hurriedly, her chair pushed back loudly.  “Hey, I’m really sorry.  I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”  Her nose scrunched up and a dimple peeked out on her cheek.  She bit her lip, unsure.  “Thank you for the coffee.” 
As she put the cup down, her heart thundered so loudly in her chest that it almost drowned out whatever the woman was talking about. Instead, she was watching her eyes. Did she notice?, she wondered in regard to her little flourish. It didn't seem so. The woman was struggling to say something into her wallet. What did you expect, Liv? she though resignedly. Childish. That was all. She was being childish. All the bravado she had felt trickled away.

As she turned to leave, Nika's eyebrows quirked and loud words cut through the fog. “Clearly, you need to go out with me.”

She spun around, eyes wide, mouth agape in a grin, stunned as if she had been smacked in the head, a surge of hope jolting through her. It worked?!?!

It was gone in a moment and she couldn't help the way her mouth fell, the way she wilted, as Nika hung up and apologized profusely. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment- no, outright humiliation. What was she thinking!?!? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid...

She wanted to crawl under a rock, get out of here, away from her. This was bad. "It's ok," she said softly. "Didn't mean to interrupt." And then she turned to go and hide in the back. Bjorn could handle things.
Nika's expression mirrored the amount of shit she was giving herself in her head. “I'm sorry, I just don't want you to think I'm some disrespectful ass who…”  She made another face, slow to process the other woman’s initial excitement and then deflation.  “If I'm going to ask someone out it'll be done properly, not like some jerk on the street.”  Because who hadn't been on the receiving end of that?  She said a phrase in Italian and then explained the meaning.  “Since it's already out in the Universe, why not?”  Nika's nearly black eyes were confident over a smile. “Would you like to have dinner sometime?”  She quirked a brow.  “Unless I’m making even more of an ass of myself than usual in thinking you draw on everyone’s cup…”  She whispered.  “Do you draw on everyone’s cup?”  

Nika squinted and nodded, continuing to make fun of herself in an increasingly desperate bid to make the other woman feel better.  “You’re so suave, Nika...said no one ever.”  Did she date?  Not really, clearly.  No time for it or interest or prospects; the list was endless.  The coffee shop manager’s full reaction was now settling in.  Oh sweetie...please don’t be sad.  You’re super cute!  Can’t say that though, dumbass!  “No strings attached, no expectations.  Just dinner with a weird, socially clueless java freak who really doesn’t want to get thrown out of the best coffee shop in the city.”  Nika pursed her lips.  Stop talking you idiot!  “I’m just going to keep rambling until you tell me to shut up.”  Oh my gods.  She frowned briefly, a thought just occurring.  “Or until you throw cappuccino in my face.”  Nika, stiff as a rod except for her arm and hand, made a very deliberate and exaggerated motion to slide her cup away from the other woman.
Despite her embarrassment and desperate need to run for her life, she stood there rooted as she watched Nika ramble, unsure of what was going on.

It was Nika's exaggeratedly careful- almost comical- movement of the cup away from her, eyes fixed as if watching her closely for the slightest movement, that did it. Liv burst out giggling hysterically, partly because it was just funny. And partly because that awful tension that had built up in her suddenly needed somewhere to explode.

People probably looked at her like she was crazy- well most likely she was- but she did feel better. Mostly.

When she stopped herself from giggling- or at least it had subsided enough- she said quietly, "You don't have to. It's ok. I mean..." She trailed off, looking away. She didn't want a pity date.

She looked back at her. Part of her hoped that wasn't what Nika was doing. That she really did want to have dinner with her. She already knew Nika was fun- at least she had an upbeat energy that was inviting. Liv was far more quiet and reserved. The cold person drawn to the warmth of the fire.

Probably not, though. Liv didn't attract girls like that.
So maybe she wasn’t going to be thrown out on her ass...yet.  The giggle was encouraging.  Wasn’t it?  Unless she’s laughing at you.  Hmm.  Liv’s words prompted a chewed lip and a nod.  “Well, you don’t have to either, yet here we are...”  Nika felt as though she was up a creek sans paddle.  Not a comfortable feeling.  In fact, the very feeling she worked actively avoiding with a passion, when she could help it.  “...two humans, no app...can’t swipe real life away.”  Nika looked a little pained and continued to ramble to herself.  Plans.  Plans were good, the best in fact.  Nika was an avid planner; she had plans for her plans and then plans for those plans.  Backup plans, backup-backup plans and then a plan for every letter of the alphabet.  “I mean, I’ll go away...I can certainly leave if you want me to, just say the word.”  You’re rambling again.  The tangent continued.  That wasn’t to say she couldn’t be spontaneous or adapt to new situations, it was just that, well, the well-prepared assassin typically was the one still alive.  Racing was approached the same way.  There was a strategy involved that yes, could very easily go out the window at the first corner but it was still there.  Present.  Nika was an all-or-nothing type of person; there was no middle ground with her.  Stop talking to yourself!

Nika remained outwardly confident, dead set on making her earlier faux pas right with the universe.  “...I think it’s a great idea though, I really do.”  She offered a lop-sided grin.  “Will you be hungry when you’re off tonight?”  Too soon?  “Hmm.  I sound like a stalker.  Too stalker-y?”  Stop talking!  Dark eyes twinkled above a dimple.  “I mean, it would save the stress of standing in the closet for an hour trying on everything we own, only to settle on an outfit and then panic on the way out the door because you might be too formal or too casual and man, do my socks match?  Then, did I forget to brush my teeth?”  Nika frowned thoughtfully and offered an admission in hopes of clearing the air.  “I don’t date people.”  What?  “Err...or anything else.”  Her brow furrowed but in jest.  “I have a close relationship with my car?”  Oh god.  Stop...talking!  Sweet cheese and crackers.  Nika laughed.  Why not?  Why the hell not?  It was liberating.
The patrons had returned to their books or wallets or conversations and it was just them now. Liv found herself watching Nika as she seemed to shift from one thing to another. There was a bravado about her that seemed unbreakable, eyes playful above a smile that was infectious. But flashes of something else peeked through.

And while Liv liked the confidence she showed, it also intimidated her. Still, there were hints of something else. Something...softer.

And Liv was drawn to that. She wasn't sure what it was. The look away while chewing lips. The pained look that she plastered over with jokes. The visual of her trying on outfit after outfit. Nika didn't seem like the type to care about the impression she gave. She couldn't help the small smile on her face.

She was sort of human at least. Human enough. And she wanted to have dinner. At least she said she was willing. Just dinner. And this was life, right? Wasn't that what she had wanted?

Liv was scared. She hadn't actually expected anything to happen when she had written her name. Just a personal declaration that she was finally willing to take a chance. One no one would actually notice, much less react to. I mean, who read their own name on a cup? Right? Right?

Baby steps.

She almost said no, but was wanting to say yes.

It was when Nika dropped the rambling and said she didn't date that Liv decided. She wasn't sure why. It seemed like a confession. Or an explanation. It probably meant nothing. But it was there all the same.

And she had wanted things to change. I guess that starts with me taking chances. And one is here.

And yeah, she did like her. She was cute and fun. And even if it was pity....different was still something. No expectations, right? She breathed and....breathed again. Tried to speak and nothing came out. She screwed up her courage again.

Her voice was small but she forced it out. "It's not stalkery. I'll be hungry." She smiled weakly, heart fluttering. She was in it now. Oh god, what was she doing? Another breath. "I get off at 6. If you want to...I'll be here waiting."

She gave a better smile and after a moment, held out her hand, hoping. "I'm Liv."
Was this even working?  Nika couldn't tell with the way the other woman reacted; couldn’t read her yet exactly.  It was most likely she was just making an ass of herself as usual.  You know what?  Who cared?  Geronimo!  

Then a decision was reached.  Albeit initially not the most assertive of responses.  Nika might have made a face if she could read minds.  You started this with the little heart, man.  She might have said that had she known.  Not in a mean way but as a matter of the facts.  It wouldn’t have seemed fair if the cup art actually was flirting.  Why bother if you weren’t willing to back it up?  Seemed a waste of effort...

“Whew..not a stalker!”  Her triumphant expression was meant in good humor.  The little smile was cute but that was obviously flapping in front of a lot of nerves like an ill-secured tarp in a hurricane.  

Then more confidence around a gorgeous smile.  Nika's nearly-black eyes lit up at that (a confident woman was so hot) and her dimpled grin was a mile wide.  “I’m Nika.  Lovely to meet you.”  She took the offered hand and gave a polite shake, her own hand rough from a lifetime of racing and shooting.  Details.  “I got it covered.  Don't even worry about anything.”  She knew what time it was.  Almost to herself she said, “An hour, hmm…”  An hour to pull this one off.  Nika's expression reflected her brain had switched into planning mode.  She was intense then, all business, and tended to overlook obvious things beyond the whirl of intellect.  Who knew how long the silence had stretched out.  Thankfully something in her mind poked at her to return to this galaxy.  She blinked at her date and made an exasperated sound.  “I'm sorry!  Planning, I’m a planner...I should go then, there are games afoot!”  A grin flashed.  Nika tried searching the other woman's face to see if she was offended...or something.  Was she? 

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