Ash automatically slid her hand into her lap, avoiding the stranger's touch.
"Sorry," he mumbled quickly, blushing again. "I didn't mean to upset you, I just . . ."
We've got a shy boy here. What a cutie.
"Don't worry about it." She winked at him, again pushing her homesickness and negative feelings down. His blush deepened and spread to his chest, making Ash's gaze drift to his collarbones.
Something in her stomach twisted - and not in a bad way.
Oh boy. ASH. BOYFRIEND. NOT SINGLE.
Her filter finally malfunctioned, and she blurted out the question that had been swirling around in her head throughout their conversation.
"Is there a reason you're still wearing your mask?"
She tilted her head to the side trying to seem less intense, although she knew her eyes were burning with interest. Sometimes she wished that she wasn't so bold and forward, but hey.
Her momma didn't raise a weak ass bish.
"Oh, uh I just - I don't want to...I don't want to get sick." He stumbled over his sentence again, and Ash nodded.
"Totally understandable. On my flight yesterday I had to sit next to a girl who wiped her snot on her shirt throughout the entire flight. I wish I had one of those masks then.
" She gestured to his mask and grimaced.
"I'm glad I'm wearing it now. I bet you still have her germs all over you. Sicko."
She watched as his eyes turned teasing, and her mouth turned up in a rowdy grin. The way he said "sicko" with his accent was adorable.
She realized that they were both leaning on the table now, heads less than a foot apart. His eyes were clear and bright, his deep brown irises twinkling despite the shadow of his ballcap.
Before she could give into the urge to lean in closer, she cleared her throat and quickly leaned back.
She was startled by the chemistry she had with the mysterious, faceless, English-speaking Korean man. He was literally the first local she had met; she smiled to herself.
Korea might be more fun than I expected it would be.
"So, you just got to Korea, yeah? Are you here on vacation?" As he spoke, his mask bobbed.
Ash didn't know why she felt comfortable enough to share personal information with the stranger. For whatever reason, she openly explained her situation with him.
"I am actually going to be living here for a year. I got into this program that ships people from all around the world to certain countries to teach English.
I was placed in an elementary school in this area."
He raised his eyebrows at this news.
"Wow, that's great! Good for you. Are you happy to be placed in Korea?"
"At first I was super nervous, I haven't traveled much. This culture is super new to me. And, of course, I've never actually moved to a new country. It's scary. But...
I think I'm going to like it here."
Ash looked down as she spoke and then back up at him through her lashes when she had finished.
If all the guys here are like you, then I'm definitely going to like it here.
His eyes squinted happily at her words, and Ash would have roundhouse slapped the next person who walked into the cafe if it meant she could see the smile that was pushing up at his cheeks.
"Once you start picking up the language, you're going to love it."
"Maybe you could be my Korean tutor.
" Ash twirled her hair flirtatiously, and her new friend coughed out a couple laughs and rubbed his neck, clearly a bit flustered at Ash's blatant shmoozing.
The bit of confidence he had shown the past few minutes flitted away, and back was the bashful boy.
He is so interesting . . . what is he thinking?
"I would like that, if I could find the time." His long fingers continued to mindlessly work his neck and shoulder muscles as he meekly looked up at Ash.
"I'm busy, but if you need help, I can try."
"You're so sweet. I was totally kidding. I wouldn't make you do that. I don't even know you!" She laughed, and the boy averted his eyes to the table with a look of disappointment.
"Oh, okay." Ash imagined that under his mask he was pouting, and her heart squeezed in her chest. She quickly changed the subject.
"So, what do you do that keeps you so busy?"
As he registered her question, he sat up rigidly in his chair. His eyes snapped into focus on something over her shoulder, and suddenly he was standing.
He quickly pulled his phone from his pocket, sent a quick text, and leaned over to unzip his backpack Ash hadn't even noticed at their feet.
"I'm sorry, but I lost track of time. I need to go."
Ash sat frozen in her seat and checked her phone. 4:03 am. It hadn't felt like they had been talking for that long, but it was nearly time for the sun to come up.
She looked up at him as he towered over her, gathering his things.
Tiny worry lines deepened between his eyebrows as he hurriedly tossed his book into his backpack and slung it over his shoulder.
Ash gawked as his long legs took him to the door in three strides. She sat there helplessly as he pushed open the door, making the bell ring loudly.
As much as she wanted to say something, she couldn't get her mouth to move. Before the door could close all the way, though, his head poked back into the cafe.
"Hey. It was really nice to talk with you. I'm sorry to leave like this. I hope you get home well.
" He gave her a soft look, and she could tell that he was smiling from the way his cheeks strained against his mask. She smiled and waved, finally opening her mouth to say a quick goodbye.
But he stepped back outside before she could even make a sound.
Ash blew out a loud sigh and slouched into her chair. She looked back at the counter, and the woman was standing behind it looking at Ash with wide eyes and raised eyebrows.
The woman murmured something in Korean to Ash. Ash looked cluelessly at the woman and responded despite knowing her new barista wouldn't understand, either.
"Girl, what the fuck just happened."