Dani Stone

I Hear Laugh Tracks

Next Left – Novelette

nextleft_cover_finalMy debut novelette, NEXT LEFT is about a New York City woman who comes home to be a bridesmaid in her former BFF’s wedding in Kansas. Newly dumped and barely making it in the Big Apple after losing her job, Amanda is both heartsick and homesick. Stopping in at Jitters, a coffee bar, to ask for directions, she meets barista and Harry Connick Jr. look-alike, Luke, who reminds her what she misses about the Midwest – flannel-wearing cowboys.

The New Year’s Eve nuptials provide plenty of drama, humor and the perfect time to reflect on her journey. Could all the wrong turns in her life – and her GPS she calls Jill – lead her to the right place after all?

Available through Amazon

**READ NOW!!  Excerpt from Next Left below. . .**

Welcome to Jitters!

Cafe menu board

Jitters Coffee House and Bar was bustling with an early evening crowd. Amanda was careful to wipe the snow and rock salt from her boots onto the welcome mat before she stepped on to the shiny wooden floor. This wasn’t a chain coffee house with bright lights, white walls, hard booths and barista clones trying to upsell jazz CDs and protein powder; it was, for lack of a better word, cool. Lights beamed off amber-colored sconces on the wall, giving the rich rust-painted walls a warm glow.

As she studied what she hoped would be her brief place of respite, she noticed it was much bigger than it looked on the outside. The building seemed to be separated in to three free-flowing guest areas. The main entrance included an oak bar and several intimate bistro tables. Warmth emitted from the roaring brick fireplace which was open on both sides so it could also be enjoyed from the middle section of the place, where leather couches and loveseats held chatty patrons. Beyond that, at least as far as she could see, there appeared to be a larger area with more tables and a small stage.

That must be where the super fun time Okie Dokie Karaoke will be held, she thought as she performed an internal eye-roll and filed in line with the rest of the bean-seekers.

She studied the overhead chalk menu listing Jitters’ daily fare, including soups, salads and Panini-grilled sandwiches. Through the kitchen window she could see the lid from a stock pot being lifted and when a waitress pushed open the swinging door, the rich scent of chicken broth and basil wafted toward her. She checked the time on her cell phone. “Damn.” She had to get to the hotel in case the group was waiting on her to mingle. No time to sit down and enjoy a real meal. The Lincoln drove so smoothly that she briefly thought about asking for a bowl of soup to go, but changed her mind. With her luck, she would hit a pothole and send a cascade of scalding broth and noodles into her lap.

Amanda was still gazing at the dusty chalkboard of goodness when she was startled by a loud voice, “Whatcha need?”

She didn’t realize it was her turn to order. When her gaze shifted from the menu on the wall to the man behind the counter, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment—then, with something else. The irritated barista with dark, wavy chestnut hair and chocolate brownie eyes (God, she was starving) was, well, gorgeous. He reminded her of a young Harry Connick Jr. The resemblance was uncanny.

“Whatcha need” he repeated, blowing a sweaty wayward hair out of his eye, his experienced hands drying glasses and stacking them on the counter without looking.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was next.” Amanda stumbled over the sentence and then stumbled over her clunky snow boots as she tried to quickly fill the space between herself and the counter.  She clutched at the air, trying not to fall. Her left hand found the counter’s edge just as her right hand connected with the stack of glasses. She watched in horror as a collection of Jitters’ finest barware careened across the slick surface as one by one, each fell behind the bar, punctuated by a series of loud crashes.

“What the hell?” Harry Connick yelled as he slid to the side, shielding his face from flying glass with a flannel-covered bicep.

As if on cue, a wiry teenager appeared from around the corner with a broom and dust pan, using quick strokes to clean up the mess.

“You have no idea how embarrassed I am,” Amanda offered, looking first at the teenager and then back at Harry Connick. “Can I help clean up or pay for those? Really, I’m very sorry.”

Oh, great, Amanda thought, I come in for coffee and directions and look what happensNow he’ll probably spit in my coffee and direct me right in to the river.

She placed her order for a vanilla latte, paid quickly with cash and stepped to the side in an animated fashion, mimicking the episode of Seinfeld when George and Jerry visit the Soup Nazi. She would’ve preferred something with a little more flair but she wasn’t about to ask for cinnamon sprinkles or nonfat whip, not after the scene she’d just caused.

A few moments later, nestled back into her leather cocoon, Amanda sipped her latte and looked at the directions scribbled on the rental car agreement. Surly Harry Connick Jr. had started to give her directions to the hotel but when the band in the back room took the stage it was difficult to hear. When she pronounced the hotel name slowly, enunciating each syllable, “She-ra-ton,” he motioned for a piece of paper. She quickly dug in her cavernous bag and produced the first thing she could find. One end of the contract had a piece of chewed gum folded inside that she meant to throw away. He seemed unfazed as he quickly scribbled across the page.

Take Main Street 5 blocks. Turn right on Gavin. Go one mile.

Look for sign that says SHE-RA-TON.

Good luck.

Luke

So Harry Connick was actually Luke and Luke was a bit of a smart ass. Well-played, Sir, she thought.

Amanda stretched the seatbelt around her torso and buckled herself in, then made sure the latte was secured. As she backed away from the coffee shop she looked at GPS-Jill and announced, “That was quite a scene. I had to bust up the place just to get directions.”

As she drove toward the hotel she looked in her rearview mirror and managed a smile. “That’s one cup of coffee I’ll never forget.”

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