One of the things I loved most about owning The Infinite Sheep was that it provided the perfect cover for criminal activity. I mean, how cool was it that I could meet with a member of my crew anytime, and it would simply appear like I was chatting up a customer?
Bonus points, I’d get good Yelp reviews and a reputation for providing excellent customer service while I was secretly planning to take down the man.
And since I’ve always imagined that I would work with a more sophisticated class of crook, my associates would obviously appreciate the artwork on display throughout the café.
Because who would ever expect that the twentysomething kid, with the hair that changed colors as frequently as one of those wild mood rings her parents used to wear, was actually a master criminal? Hell, if I’m going to be honest, I’ll have to admit that when I first opened the place, I couldn’t convince anyone I was the owner.
Everyone thought I was just another employee. The more generous clients assumed I was the manager (I guess I was flattered by that), but no one believed I owned the place.
So like I said, and I’m just repeating myself now because I’m a little nervous at finally getting to tell my story, the café would be a perfect cover for me to plot the ultimate heist.
I’ve wanted to be Danny Ocean ever since I first watched Ocean’s Eleven. I was even all in on wearing the tux because I thought I’d look damn good. Once, when I was about fourteen and my parents were out, I tried on my dad’s tuxedo just to prove that I could pull off the look.
You’re damn right I looked awesome!
Not that I have anything against wearing a dress or looking like a lady. I’ve just always thought of tuxedoes as the wardrobe of choice for kind hearted criminal geniuses.
And you know I’d be kind hearted. I’d definitely give a portion of my cut to charity. If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you my list of potential recipients for an anonymous post-heist gift.
Anyway, once I got seriously into art and opened the café, I kind of put my childhood fantasy of plotting and carrying out the crime of the century on the back burner. But something like that never really gets erased from the mental hard drive.
As I matured, I also evolved. I still wanted to conquer the challenge of planning the crime, but I knew I’d never actually have the proper mindset to do anything more than that. Now that I was out from under the constant scrutiny of my parents (not that they were hard asses by any means, but any child wants to spread her wings and be free), I had come to enjoy my independence.
I didn’t want to give that up and spend a solid chunk of my twenties and thirties in prison.
Sure, you could argue that if I did everything right, I wouldn’t get caught, but part of maturing and evolving was further developing my common sense. If a true master like Danny Ocean could get caught, then it stood to reason that Aspen Roark, novice law breaker, could and would get busted as well.
I might have set aside my childish dreams, but I never really forgot them…especially when I was presented with the opportunity to take over that sweet yoga studio space.
Even common sense cost money. Luckily, I had the kind of mind that could figure out how to have my cake and avoid having to eat it in jail.
When Tex came into the café that afternoon, I immediately knew something was wrong. Not to sound so full of myself or anything, but he has a tendency to light up whenever he walks through the door. Maybe it’s wrong to assume that his positive attitude is because he’s looking forward to seeing me, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.
On that day, though, he looked mopey and his cowboy hat was slightly askew. He was pretty adorable if I’m being totally honest, to the point that I wanted to rush out from behind the counter and leap into his arms to give him a big hug.
But that’s not me. I’m all about the romance when the situation is right and the chemistry is clearly there, but PDAs are not my thing…especially not in the workplace. How could I ever expect my employees to act professional if I’m twerking like a school girl with a crush?
Instead, I tried to cheer him up with a little humor.
“Howdy, partner. What’s got you looking so glum? Did someone run off with your horse? Did you miss the last stagecoach out of town? Did you discover that there really isn’t any gold up in them there hills?”
I said it all with a smile and a pretty good old Western movie bartender accent, but I didn’t get the expected response.
Instead, Tex just plopped down on the chair in front of me and gave me a blank stare.
“What?” he finally asked like I had spoken to him in another language.
Of course, I just laughed it off. “That was just a lame attempt at humor. Forget you ever heard it. What’s wrong? I thought you and Champ were going out for a guy’s afternoon?”
Without even looking, Tex adjusted his cowboy hat so that it sat perfectly on his head again. I was kind of jealous because it takes me half an hour of working on my hair in a mirror to get it looking like this mess atop my head. He achieves perfection with no effort whatsoever.
“Yeah, but everything went wrong,” he sighed. “Not only did he kick my ass at chess, but I also completely failed in my plan to catch a thief in the act.”
I nodded in understanding and quickly set him up with a glass of ice and a bottle of Snapple. I don’t sell the stuff at The Infinite Sheep, but I always keep a few bottles on hand because I know that it’s Tex’s favorite.
That’s my idea of a PDA in case you were wondering.
I was intrigued by what he’d said because while I knew he was hanging out with Champ, I didn’t know he was trying to catch a thief.
If I’m being honest, I was bummed that he’d chosen him as his partner in crime for the activity rather than me.
Then again, he really had no idea that I was a master criminal in training. Make that a wannabe master criminal with no formal training at all.
“Catch a thief?” I asked because I wasn’t one to beat around the bush. “Does this have something to do with your plan to finance your music career by collecting rewards?”
Tex sighed and took a large gulp of his Snapple.
“When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous…”
I’ve always been drawn to bad boys who had this misguided confidence that they had absolutely no right possessing. Tex was the exact opposite. As his bizarre criminal history attests, he’s a good guy trying and failing miserably to sometimes be a bad boy.
And he only seemed truly confident when he had a guitar in his hands and an audience in front of him. The musician part was a definite turn on, but I was super drawn to the fact that he was vulnerable and not afraid to show it.
That was probably why I was so crazy into him. Because it for sure wasn’t that corny cowboy hat that I’ve wanted to burn since the first time I saw him wearing it.
“I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all,” I reassured him as I leaned in real close.
I wanted him to see my smiling face and nothing else when he heard my words.
“In fact, I’ve been thinking about your plan, and I might have a way to improve on it. That is, if you don’t mind me sharing some ideas.”
That handsome face of his lit up at the mere suggestion. I knew he was hooked.
“That would be cool,” he answered in a low voice because he clearly wanted to keep this on the down low.
Not like any of the women who frequented the café at this hour were looking to get their hands dirty in anything that even slightly reeked of a criminal endeavor.
“What time do you get off work tonight?” I asked.
There was this crazy panic in his eyes as he checked his watch. It was pretty obvious that he’d forgotten that he had to work.
“The bar closes at one,” he answered with clear relief that he wasn’t going to be late for work. “I’m usually done by two.”
“How about I meet you at your place at two and I can tell you my thoughts?”
He nodded, but there was confusion in his big, compassionate eyes.
“Isn’t that a little late for you?” he asked.
I chuckled. “It won’t be a problem.”
I looked around to make sure no one was peeking our way, and I gave him a quick kiss.
“Get out of here, cowboy. You’re too darn distracting. I’ll see you at two.”
Tex chugged the rest of his Snapple and then touched the brim of his hat the way gentlemen cowboys do in Westerns when they see a lady.
I still wanted to burn the hat, but I thought it was a sweet gesture. I rewarded him with a wink and then shooed him towards the door.
I rarely let my heart get in the way of my decision making process, and even in this case, I was sure that I hadn’t done that. I’d already picked up on the fact that Tex’s plan for extra cash and my plan for a master crime intersected somewhere on the convoluted Venn diagram in my head.
I’d made up my mind that it was time to see if there was anything to that notion. Okay, sure, maybe I was five percent persuaded by how adorable he looked when he trudged in that afternoon, but give me a break.
Even Danny Ocean allowed his feelings for Tess to influence his decisions.
I had seen the velvet cape in a thrift store about three months ago. I immediately thought of it as a “Little Red Riding Hood” cape, except it was green. And since green is my favorite color, I knew I had to have it.
At the time, I thought it would be something fun to wear on a crisp autumn day. The more I looked at it in my closet, though, the more I realized it had a higher calling.
It also didn’t hurt that I felt like a Jedi anytime I put it on and pulled the hood over my head.
Tex was probably going to weird out, but then again, everybody does when they meet an urban legend for the very first time, right?
I was sitting in the hallway in front of his apartment door when I heard him on the stairs. I thought about giving him the full look, but I didn’t want to freak him out. After all, while this wasn’t really a shady neighborhood, no one expected to be confronted outside their home by someone in a mask at two in the morning.
I stood up and did a little pirouette so he could get the full effect of the cape.
“That’s pretty,” he said as he leaned in to kiss me. “I don’t think I’ve seen you wear it before.”
“It’s new,” I assured him. “I wanted you to be the first to see it.”
For some reason, I was totally turned on by the fact that we were about to do something that bordered on illegal. So I kept kissing him as he struggled to get his key into the locks and open the apartment door.
I finally allowed him up for air once we were inside.
“That was nice,” he beamed. “And totally unexpected. I don’t feel at my sexiest after a night spent sweating in a bar. I must reek of booze and cigarette smoke.”
I hadn’t noticed. I was too focused on what we were about to do.
I slipped back into the hallway to retrieve my backpack. Art Girl would be powerless without it.
“Why don’t you take a quick shower before we go?” I suggested.
He seemed caught off guard by that. “We’re going someplace at this hour?”
I nodded and flashed a sly smile. “What’s wrong? Are you scared?”
Questioning a man’s courage immediately after sending his heart rate skyrocketing with a series of long, deep, passionate kisses will always get him to give you the answer you want.
At least that’s been my limited experience.
“Give me five minutes,” he stated and ran to the bathroom.
I used that time to root around in Tex’s wardrobe to find something appropriate for him to wear. After all, Art Girl couldn’t be seen walking around the very streets that were her canvas with some dude in jeans, a tee shirt, and a cowboy hat.
He looked less than thrilled when I showed him his outfit.
“You expect me to wear that?” he asked in befuddlement.
I nodded, put on my mask, and pulled the hood up over my head.
“Art Girl does not roam the streets of this fair city with just anyone. Her associate needs to be anonymous as well, while also showing a flair for fashion.”
The items I’d left on the bed were a very loud red Hawaiian shirt, a pair of khaki cargo shorts, and an astronaut helmet. I was really confused and a little frightened upon finding the helmet, but then I’d remembered his stories about his previous band.
“So this is Art Girl?” he asked as he pointed at me in all my caped and masked glory.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I replied and curtsied more for my amusement than anything else.
“And who would this be?” he asked tentatively as he pointed at the outfit on the bed.
“Oh, that’s Van Goghing 2 Spaceman,” I answered without hesitation. “And that’s spelled like Vincent Van Gogh.”
“Obviously,” he responded.
“And there’s a number 2 rather than the word ‘to’”, I clarified.
Don’t ask me where I came up with the name. It just poured out of my mouth. Crazy ideas fill my head after midnight, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Tex took a moment to look at the outfit, but to his credit, didn’t hesitation any further.
“Screw it,” he declared. “Why the hell not?”
That was, for sure, the moment that Art Girl fell head over heels for Van Goghing 2 Spaceman.
I mean how could she not?
TO BE CONTINUED…