The Coffee Chronicles:
Smutmuffin Gets a Valentine
Rating: PG-13, bad fashion choices
Disclaimer: I don’t own anyone but Keli, darn it!
Archive: Peep Hut – anyone else, please ask and I’ll say yes :)
Summary: Sequel (a few months down the road) to Smutmuffin Applies For A Date. Hank frets over getting his new girlfriend a Valentine’s Day gift. Jubes tries to help.
Comments: My HankMuse kept nagging me for a sequel to the first ‘Smutmuffin’ and so did a few readers ;) Joanna suggested that there should not only be a sequel, but a whole series (I think a few twinkies changed hands – Hank’s a good guy and all but I don’t put bribery past him……..) called the Coffee Chronicles. I loved that name, and then the holiday bunnies started biting as soon as Valentine’s Day hit the radar screen – and, well, suffice it to say that my HankMuse is now a very happy guy ;) A few notes about the actual story – it takes place after Hank has had his dating application approved and has begun a relationship with Jubes’ friend Keli. Also – there is a mention of an absolutely fabulous chocolatier, Moonstruck Chocolates, which is real, and one of the best things about Oregon ;) If you have cause to visit, stop by, and if not, they have a website, thank goodness! I don’t know if they do special orders, but you can certainly try to convince them ;) Lastly, there is mention of something that my (single) girlfriends and I used to do – the Sex & The City Boyfriend Roundabout. It’s explained in the story, but when I was dating my husband, I always won ;) Yes, my single girlfriends hated me…………but now they’ve gotten to know and love the aforementioned husband and I still commiserate about their love lives (or lack thereof) on a consulting basis, so it’s all good :)
“I am not certain this was a good idea,” Hank cautioned. Jubilee, his shopping companion, was currently holding up two rather indelicate, tacky, utterly unromantic (at least in Hank’s opinion) pieces of lingerie, and her taste throughout their entire shopping outing had been, to say the least, questionable.
“What’s wrong with these?” Jubilee asked as she waggled them right in front of Hank’s blushing face. “I think they’re hot!”
“Ah, yes, but I am not really going for ‘hot.’ I believe that ‘romantic’ is more the spirit of the – ”
“These’re romantic!” Jubilee shook the garments again for emphasis. Trying to be a good sport, Hank gave a fresh look to the crotchless panties and open-bosom nightie. Nope, they didn’t look any more romantic upon new inspection.
“I am afraid to say that I do not share your opinion,” Hank demurred, gently pushing the offending garments out of his face. “In fact, I do not see why my initial suggestion of chocolates and flowers would not suffice for a Valentine’s Day present for Keli.” Hank was new to the whole Valentine’s Day gift thing – he’d never had a girlfriend during the holiday before, and certainly not a serious one – and he’d hoped Jubilee would be of some help in coming up with a creative, non-traditional, yet appropriate present. Just *why* he’d thought that, he wasn’t quite sure now. The last bits of lingerie had actually been the best idea she’d come up with so far. At this point, he was very ready to give up on trying to avoid the ‘boring’ and ‘traditional’ for something that wouldn’t cause his girlfriend to smack him soundly across the cheek.
“Hank – listen to me. I know women. Heck, I *am* one! And I know that they do *not* like flowers and candy for Valentine’s Day. It’s predictable. It’s a gift that says, ‘Hey, I didn’t put any thought into this because I don’t really like you that much!’ It’s something all her other girlfriends are going to get from their loser boyfriends and then what is she going to brag about, hmm? How is she going to win the Sex and the City Boyfriend Roundabout?”
“Don’t you ever watch Sex and the City? Not even the part where they all sit down and talk about each other’s boyfriends and sex lives and decide whose is going the best?”
“Um, no. Should I?”
“Yes! Jeez, where do you think you’re supposed to get any intelligence about the enemy, Hank? Don’t you at least read Cosmo?”
“I do not really regard Keli, or indeed, the female sex in general, as a hostile force.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. There is nothing more dangerous than a girlfriend who has been inadequately-presented on Valentine’s Day. The only worse thing you can do is forget an anniversary.”
Hank digested Jubilee’s ‘wisdom’ and decided that the best course of action was to ignore it and change the subject. “Well, I wholeheartedly endeavor to adequately – no, no – to superlatively-well-uh- well-present Keli this Valentine’s Day. However, I do believe that she would appreciate something a little more………….sedate than the options you have put forth thus far. Do you have any other suggestions?”
“Look – you can’t just get her something boring, Hank. This is the woman who made you fill out a questionnaire before going on a date. This is the woman who has rejected men with God-like, or at least Brad Pitt-like, good looks based on their *coffee preferences*. She’s not normal. She’s not boring. You have to do better than chocolates and flowers, dude!”
“Yes, but I – “ Hank interrupted himself, with a look on his face that said a light bulb had definitely gone off. “Wait a moment – you said something……..”
“Of course I said something – I was talking. Like, are you having some kind of brain malfunction or something? Maybe that explains why you don’t want peek-a-boo lingerie for your girlfriend………..”
“No, no – I meant – you said something interesting.”
“Duh – I always say interesting stuff.”
Hank huffed. “You said something of particular interest to me vis-à-vis Keli’s Valentine’s Day present. You said that she has rejected men based upon nothing more than coffee preferences.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that. Like I said – there were some good-looking dudes in there. Rich ones too! But if they even so much as *looked* at instant coffee……..”
“I believe I have it, Jubilee – I shall get her some gourmet coffee!” Hank looked well-pleased with himself, but Jubilee just rolled her eyes.
“Hank, Hank, Hank,” she tsked. “Hankster. You are so very wrong. You can’t get her coffee!”
“Why not? Is it not the substance she most desires and enjoys?”
“Well, yeah, I guess, but dude – Valentine’s Day presents aren’t about that. They’re about making an impact, forking over the bling-bling, doing something that says – hey, you’re my babe.” Hank looked as though he was about to interrupt, but Jubilee plowed ahead, putting her hand up to forestall him for good measure. “And it’s not just that. It’s a delicate art, you know – the Valentine’s present has to reflect the precise degree of your commitment and relationship advancement. If you go with too much bling-bling too early, it’s bad. You look desperate, or all stalkery. If you give her, like, a little drug-store box of candy and you’ve been on more than one date together, she will sooooo kick your ass to the curb. You have to get it just right. Your whole relationship could depend on this one gift, Hankster. You can’t put all that interpersonal weight on coffee, dude!”
“Actually, coffee is quite structurally – ”
“I don’t mean from an engineering perspective, Hank. You have to get her something that makes her say ‘wow!’ – and not, like, in a polite way. It has to be a genuine ‘wow!’ not a ‘wow, that was really nice of you now would you please get out of my life you bad-present-giver……….’ Know what I mean?”
Hank raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Jubilee. For the first time today, I do believe that our thought patterns are on the same wavelength.”
“So, what will it be, then? The lingerie?”
Hank shook his head, with a mischievous smile playing across his fangs. “No. I believe I shall proceed with my selection of the coffee.” Hank ignored Jubilee’s disappointed sigh and began mentally planning. He had a lot of work to do.
“I must confess – I am nervous about presenting you with your, ah, present.” Hank inwardly kicked himself – he was never as articulate around Keli as he was normally.
“Don’t be – if it’s from you, I’m sure I’ll love it.” She smiled to reassure him. And Hank thought the words sounded genuine. But if there was something to Jubilee’s theories of Valentine’s Day present giving………. “Hank? Do you want to open mine first?”
“Ah – would that be traditional?”
“I don’t know. I don’t go much by tradition.”
“Hank,” Keli moved to sit next to, rather than opposite him. As she settled in on the sofa, she put a gentle hand on his forearm. “Really, you don’t have to be nervous, OK? You’re a pretty good present yourself. I don’t need other things.”
Hank’s eyebrows creased and he decided to take a chance. “Nor do I. However, Jubilee has been regaling me with some rather intimidating rules regarding this particular holiday and its associated gift-giving customs. She has perhaps made me over-estimate the importance of the Valentine gift. On the other hand, I have observed several friends who are dating, living together, or married for whom the wrong gift on Valentine’s has proven disastrous, or – or at least it has resulted in their sleeping on the couch a night or three.”
“You won’t fit on my couch. Neither will I. It’s really just a love seat.”
“Hank – don’t worry. Look, try – let’s try your opening my present first. Here.” She picked up the red-wrapped package from the coffee table in front of them and set it down in Hank’s lap. “You know, I’m kind of nervous too. I’m hoping you like it as much as you want me to like your gift.” Hank was quick to give her a reassuring smile. “Go on, put me out of my misery. Open it.”
Blue furry fingers and claws made quick work of the intricate wrapping. Stripped of its decoration, the box awaiting Hank was a plain cardboard one, nothing fancy. Somehow, that made him feel better. At least Keli hadn’t gone to elaborate pains to make some kind of special box to encase his present. She’d merely wrapped it. That had to be good, right? With one more look at her expectant and smiling face, he opened the box.
“Wow,” he breathed. It was an absolutely gorgeous set of Pyrex beakers for his lab. They were top of the line - the kind even Xavier flinched before purchasing, mostly because they got broken with regularity, but they were Hank’s favorites. “There are beautiful,” he whispered.
“Look on the side of the box, in there,” Keli urged, her smile wider now. Hank looked up at her to see her not only happier, but markedly more relaxed. She really had been nervous too. She was so much better than he was about not really showing it, though………he had to learn that from her one of these days. “Go on, look.”
Hank tore his gaze from her and complied with her request. He found two much smaller boxes within the larger one, each wrapped in the same red paper as the big box had been. Quickly, he opened one. “Oh my………”
His fingers found a boxed set of Pyrex stirrers, each with what looked to be a hand-crafted miniature glass Twinkie atop it. Keli had to have had these specially made for him. “I take it you like them?”
“I love them!” Hank responded with more unfettered glee than he could ever remember feeling. It wasn’t so much the gift itself – although they were perfect for him, funny, cute, and artistically quite amazing. No, it was that she’d thought to get him something so particular to him, something the antithesis of a generic gift, and something that had obviously taken some effort. He had no idea where one would find a glass Twinkie artist.
“Good, I’m so glad! Go on, open the other one!”
Hank again did as she asked, smiling broadly all the while. He could hardly wait to find out what the final surprise she’d put in the box was. When, once more, his fingers had revealed the contents of the present box, he found himself giggling. “These are adorable – wherever did you find them?” Hank lifted out one of the delicate chocolate test tubes to examine its detail. It truly was amazing – it had been made to appear as though some blue-ish chemical was spilling over the side, and there was even a small, white-icing ‘Pyrex’ stamp on the side near the bottom.
“There’s a little place on the west coast called Moonstruck Chocolates. They make incredible stuff. Luckily, I know the owner, and these – well, he made these one-of-a-kind for me.”
“You went to the west coast to make me test tube chocolates?”
Keli blushed a little and shrugged. “Actually, I just called him up. I thought it would be neat. Besides, I couldn’t afford the Pyrex test tubes *and* the beakers, and everyone should have *some* chocolate on Valentine’s Day…….”
“They are truly magnificent and shall be much appreciated. I do not know if I can bring myself to eat them.”
“Oh, you have to – mostly because if you don’t, I probably will……..” Hank shared a smile with her before watching her expression turn a bit more even. “So – can I open mine now?”
“Oh yes. Yes. By all means yes. But – I must warn you. I have not – I did not – well, suffice to say that my presents pale in comparison to the wonders you have given me.”
“I’m sure they’re quite wonderful,” Keli said, ripping into the first box. She realized how right she’d been when she looked inside. There were chocolate covered espresso beans, hundreds of them, arranged in a large heart shape and glued to a cardboard backing – red, of course. “Oh, Hank – that is so cute! Where did you find it?”
“I purchased the beans at the corner coffee shop that you frequent, as I had seen you obtain some for consumption there and could be certain that you would enjoy those particular beans. I fashioned them into the appropriate shape myself using brown colored royal icing as glue.”
“You did?” She was looking at him like he’d just told her that he’d built the pyramids, single-handedly. “Hank, that’s so thoughtful. Thank you so much!”
“You are most welcome. Please, proceed.” She favored him with a wink and a grin before opening the next package. Again, she beamed when she saw the contents.
“I’m guessing these are theme presents, like mine were.” Hank nodded as she carefully lifted the dozen bound-together, coffee-bean roses out of their oblong box. They’d been wrapped in floral cellophane, and some had been covered in what looked like colored icing to mimic leaves and stems.
“Each rose is a different flavor of coffee, and each should produce just enough, when ground, for a twelve cup pot. I made these myself as well.”
“You’re amazing,” Keli breathed. “I can’t wait to see what’s in the last box!”
“Well,” Hank interjected, gently staying her reach for the final present with his large blue hand. “I must confess that this is the one that I am most nervous about giving to you. It is…….well, you shall see.” Vowing to be brave, and reminding himself that his instincts had served him well so far, he released her and watched as she carefully and deliberately opened the exquisitely-wrapped box.
“Oh, Hank………” She slowly drew a platinum charm bracelet out of the tissue paper surrounding it. It was sporting a coffee bean, of course, and other trinkets representing what Hank knew of her important interests or likes – a small camera for her love of photography, a snowman to represent her love of winter, and stick-figure to represent her love of drawing and art. All of the charms were small, no more than an inch or so each, but they were covered in diamonds. “Hank, you shouldn’t have!”
“Oh dear. I – I apologize. Really, I am not, ah – stalkery. I merely desired to – ”
They both shot confused looks at one another until Hank finally spluttered out, “It was too great a quantity of bling-bling too soon, yes?”
Keli laughed aloud. “Bling-bling?” The very un-Hank-like word was still making her giggle.
“Is that improper terminology? Jubilee led me to believe that too much of the, ah, bling-bling, as it were, too soon would indicate to one’s female companion that an unhealthy interest was afoot.”
“No, no – it’s very sweet, it’s not at all stalkery, and – well, I don’t normally go for bling-bling, but this is – this is the best present I’ve ever gotten and I love it, Hank!” She reinforced her words with a hug and a sound kiss to his cheek. She let him see her plain joy before stealing another glance at her new piece of jewelry. “Wow,” she sighed.
“If you like it,” Hank asked with complete earnestness, “why did you say I should not have given it to you?”
“It’s just an expression. You know – when you receive a gift that’s so much better than what you got the person, or so mind-blowingly perfect that you just don’t know what else to say. You say ‘you shouldn’t have’ but you really mean – ‘This is the best present ever! I’m so glad you did!’”
“Ah,” Hank intoned. “Then I am glad that I followed my own instincts rather than Jubilee’s suggestions.”
Keli suddenly looked more than a little mortified. “Good Lord – you went shopping with Jubilee?”
“You’re a braver person than I, Hank.”
“Had I known what I was getting myself into, I would have happily taken the coward’s route, I assure you.”
“What did she suggest for a present?”
“Oh my God, it’s so bad that you’re embarrassed to tell me?”
“Quite. Suffice it to say that whoever Frederick of Hollywood is, he and I have quite divergent tastes when it comes to lingerie.”
Keli broke out in laughter again. “Oh my……..”
“Indeed.” They both tried to keep a straight face before erupting into laughter for several long moments. “Honestly, I do not know what I was thinking.”
“I think it was sweet, Hank.” Her eyes turned warm. “I think it was the most romantic thing anyone’s probably ever done for me.”
“Going shopping with Jubilee?”
”That, and the gifts. They’re perfect. But I meant what I said. I like having you as my Valentine’s Day present better than anything.” Hank basked in her affectionate expression before watching it turn mischievous. “Although, if you should ever, you know, be in search of ideas for other presents for me, say, for my birthday, or Christmas, I can think of something I want, something that wouldn’t necessitate you shopping with Jubilee……..”
“Please, do tell me.” Hank’s mock-seriousness nearly made her laugh again.
“You could go back to Frederick’s and look for…….” She leaned in close to whisper the rest. Hank blushed, then smiled.
“An excellent suggestion,” he purred, leaning closer to her. She rewarded him with a kiss. “You know,” he ventured when they parted, “Jubilee may serve a purpose after all.” Keli smiled, and Hank, finally, relaxed completely. “You know, she was on about all of these strange things – how one’s Valentine’s Day present must reflect the precise stage of one’s relationship, how I should read up on the fairer sex via Cosmo, Sex and the City Boyfriend Roundabouts………”
“Oh, that one’s true. Women do get together and dish about their boyfriends.”
“Really?” Every iota of Hank’s relaxation promptly deserted him. He could only imagine what Keli’s girlfriends must think of him.
“Yep,” she answered confidently. “And I love those because since I’ve been dating you, I always win. I always have the best boyfriend, and the best boyfriend stories.” Hank smiled uncertainly. “Just wait until I tell them about our Valentine’s Day.”
“They shall be impressed with the presents?”
Keli shook her head. “They’ll be impressed with you. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone so thoughtful, Hank. You’re amazing.”
“Thank you,” he replied, deciding to accept her words at face value and bury any lingering doubts about how she fared in the SATCBF (Sex and the City Boyfriend Roundabout). After all, the plain joy on her face left little doubt of her sincerity, and Hank had long ago vowed to learn to let go of his self-esteem issues. If she was happy, he was happy, and he was most certainly happy today