I'd initially written this story as part of the Chocolate Cake Challenge last summer, but couldn't shorten it cohesively to fit within the allotted word limit before the challenge ended. However, I credit that challenge, and thus this story, to breaking the writer's block that remained stubbornly in place for over 20 years. Though I don't write as well as I used to back then, I am writing again and it feels fantastic.
I've been sitting on this story for nearly a year and thought it was time to share. Without further ado... my rainbow story.
I watched the dark form standing near the front door, then slowly sink down against the brick façade next to the alcove. My heart lurched as I continued wiping down the countertop, sudsy wash rag in hand.
I glanced over at the remaining patrons, sitting at a red-and-white checkerboard covered table, laughing amongst themselves. I'd hoped the figure outside wouldn't scare them; for now, they seemed oblivious.
I dried my hands on my apron, rang up the table, and walked over to the only occupants. I waited for a brief break in conversation, smiled, and asked, "Can I get you folks anything else?" The patrons all declined the offer in various forms, and I set the checks down in front of each.
"No rush at all, folks; you just keep right on enjoyin' each others' company. I'm going to start closin' 'er down but if you need anything at all, you just holler!"
I disappeared into the kitchen through a set of double hanging doors, returning a few moments later with a mop and bucket. I pushed it past the counter through the café and back to the restrooms, propping open the doors and cleaning the two small rooms; sweeping, mopping, and making sure paper products were stocked.
Just as I'd finished up, the table of customers were standing to their feet. One of the two men tipped an imaginary hat at me as he and his friends made their way to the door. "Thank you folks!" I called after them cheerfully.
I pushed the mop and bucket to the counter area then crossed the café to lock the door. The dark bundle was still on the sidewalk next to the stoop. I opened the door a sliver, just in time to hear the bundle sigh and groan. Dirty hands combed through dirty hair, fisting in the back, head resting on the other arm on bent knees.
I looked over my shoulder at my bakery café, my heart filling with pride and purpose. A dark flashback tried to push its way into my thoughts but I pushed it aside, looking back at the bundle on the sidewalk.
No beggar was going to stay on the streets in front of my café.
The bundle lifted its head slowly, a look of defeat plaguing the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. My heart clenched.
"This is a no parking zone, Mister." I jerked my head toward the inside of my café. "Why don't you come on in and I'll get you something to eat and drink," I added with a warm smile.
"I don't need your pity, Lady," the man said in a gruff voice, a slight brogue accenting his words.
"Good, because I'm incapable of feelin' pity. Now c'mon, let's go. If I hold the door open any longer, you're going to be fighting the throngs for a piece of my world famous cake!"
Something in the man's eyes shifted, but I couldn't tell what crossed them. He rose slowly, gathering his army-type duffle bag and slinging it over his shoulder. I stepped back, waiting for him to enter, then closed and locked the door. I flipped off the neon 'OPEN' sign and turned back toward my guest.
"Have a seat anywhere you'd like!" I pushed the mop and bucket behind the counter toward the double doors, then poured a glass of water, setting it in front of the man as he sat on a stool at the counter. "What can I getcha?"
The man stared at his glass of water for a full minute before answering. He reached into an inner coat pocket, pulled out three quarters and a penny, laying them on the counter. "What'll this get me?" he asked snidely.
I smiled, though his eyes remained downcast. "Well, that there will get you a steaming cup of coffee. Just one moment, Sugar."
I pulled a coffee mug from a stack on the counter behind me, filled it with hot, black coffee, setting it in front of the man, next to his glass of water. Moving about, I retrieved creamer, milk, sweeteners, and stirrers.
After setting those down next to the coffee cup, I excused myself to the kitchen. Keeping an eye out and silently praying this man wouldn't gulp the drinks and run, I got a few eggs from the refrigerator and cooked them up.
Pushing through the double doors, I set a plate of four fried eggs in front of the man. He shook his head and pushed the plate back toward me.
"Don't you like fried eggs?" I asked. He snorted, mirthlessly.
"Lady, there's no way seventy-six cents will buy me all of this."
"You're right," I said. "You'll also get a slice of my world-famous, super rich and chocolatey chocolate cake! Now, eat up."
"How?" he asked after a long moment. I blushed, realizing I'd never given him any silverware.
"Whoops!" I laughed, embarrassed. What could pass as a hint of a smile crossed the man's face and I felt my heart clench again. I opened a drawer beneath the coffee pots and pulled out a fork, setting it and a napkin in front of the man.
"Do you need any salt, Sugar?" I asked. "I'm sorry I don't have any pepper. None of my recipes call for it." He nodded and I excused myself. Grabbing a salt cellar and spoon, I headed back across the kitchen, tapping the spoon thoughtfully against the wooden cellar.
The man was looking around when I returned, seemingly taking in the décor. I set the salt next to his plate then leaned back against the counter opposite where he sat, watching him.
He sat hunched forward, almost as if preparing for a fight. At full height, I guessed him to be about 6'4", 6'5", formerly athletic build now slightly gaunt. His hair was brown, wavy, shoulder blade length. As he turned back to his food, calloused hands picked up the spoon and salted his eggs. He grunted a thanks.
I watched him for a few more seconds. His face was dirty, but sported a full, salt and pepper beard. Those blue eyes focused on his plate intently, but after just one bite I heard a soft moan of delight. I smiled then pushed my hip off the counter to step up to where he ate.
"I need to clean up back here," I gestured to the kitchen as I spoke. "You just holler if you need something else, okay?"
He nodded, never looking up, and I walked slowly back to the kitchen.
I immediately set about my chores: dishes, sweeping and mopping the floor, and gathering the trash. So lost in my duties was I that when the double doors began to swing in, I nearly screamed. I squeaked instead, biting the it off at the last moment.
"Sorry Lady, I just wanted to ask if you had a restroom I could use before I head out."
"Of course, Sugar," I answered, confused by the sudden feeling of panic at the thought of him leaving. I led him back to the café, pointing toward the restrooms. The man nodded once, gathered his belongings, then disappeared, shutting the bathroom door still propped open as he went.
I was cleaning the counter I'd previously been leaning against when I heard the man approaching. "Thank you for your kindness, Lady," he said. "Can you let me out?"
"Well, no," I said slowly, and gestured toward the display case. "You can't leave without a slice of cake. It's practically unlawful."
Without waiting for a response, I set down the cleaning rag and pulled out the biggest slice of cake I still had left. I set it, and a clean fork, down in front of the man, then gathered the empty egg plate, dumping it into the bus bin in the space beneath the counter separating us.
As the man took a bite of cake, I topped off his coffee and water. "Mind if I ask your name, Sugar?"
Fork paused halfway to the man's mouth, and blue eyes looked at me for a long moment before lowering and answering quietly, "Dallas."
"Well Dallas, what do you think of the cake?"
"It's... okay," he answered cautiously, peering up at me.
"Just okay?!" I asked, feigning offense, my hand flying to my chest. "That's a secret recipe made with only the finest chocolate!"
Dallas smiled slightly. "Well in that case, it was..." he paused. "Okay."
I laughed and saw humor pass through his eyes for the first time.
"I need to mop up out here, but you go on and keep eating."
I refilled the bucket and proceeded to mop around Dallas, humming as I worked. By the time I'd finished, Dallas had not only finished the cake but polished off both the coffee and water.
"Would you care for anything else?" I asked, once again pushing the mop and bucket toward the double doors.
"No, Lady, I really should get going."
"Dallas," I paused this time, unsure of how to proceed. He patiently waited me out, his gaze holding me riveted in place. My eyes fell to the floor as I wrestled with my thoughts.
I took a deep breath and softly blurted out, "I have a couch and shower in the back if you'd like..."
Dallas remained still and I held my breath. Please don't let me have said the wrong thing, I prayed silently.
"Lady, you don't know me. Why do you want to give me a place to stay?" he asked slowly.
"Well you thought my cake was only 'okay'," I said carefully. "Clearly you're delusional and can't be trusted to be out on your own."
Dallas laughed, the most wonderfully deep, manly sound.
I led Dallas back through the kitchen to my office. Pulling a pillow and quilt from a filing cabinet, I laid them out on the couch and pointed to a door. "There's a shower and toilet through that door. Sorry, but the soap is lilac so you'll be smelling pretty for a little while."
Dallas quirked a smile. "I think I'll manage, Lady."
"Uh, Mason," I responded softly.
"Mason," he repeated. I felt a stirring in my stomach at the sound of my name on his lips. "Thank you."
I felt myself blushing and cleared my throat, heading to the door of my office. "Help yourself to whatever you need. There is a small fridge there, next to my desk, with some bottles of water, and maybe a can of pop or two. I need to run my leftovers down to the shelter, but I'll swing back to check on you before going home for the night."
Dallas opened his mouth to say something but closed it quickly and nodded. I boxed up the leftover cakes, cookies, and pastries, carrying them back through the kitchen to my car. Dallas remained standing where he was when I left him.
I set the containers on the nearest counter and peeked in.
"What's wrong? Is everything okay? You haven't moved."
A glimmer of something passed over Dallas, but he just nodded and turned his back to me. Not wanting to over stay my welcome, I backed out of the office, shutting the door softly, then gathered up the leftover boxes of food and headed toward my car.
On my way home from the shelter I stopped by the bakery again, letting myself in through the back door. "Dallas, it's Mason!" I called as I approached the office.
He smiled when I walked over the threshold, and I froze. A warmth spread through me and I noticed for the first time just how handsome Dallas was. His face had been scrubbed clean, and although he looked haggard and exhausted, he was quite handsome. He was now wearing a pair of sweats and a clean flannel shirt which, in his position lounging against the corner of the couch, accented his long torso and legs, doing nothing to detract from the athletic build.
I mentally shook myself and entered the room fully, hitching a hip on the corner of my desk.
"I'm sorry the couch isn't long enough for you," I started. "I didn't-"
Dallas reached over and touched my knee. "Lady, you've literally taken me in off the street, given me a warm shower, hot meal, okay cake, and a soft place to lay my head.
"You don't need to apologize for not having pepper, and for your couch not being long enough. You've done more than enough for me, more than I could've asked for, and definitely more than I deserve."
I stared back into his eyes for a moment, feeling tears building, but blinking them back. When I could find my voice again, I asked softly, "Do you need anything? Toothbrush, hair brush... anything?"
Dallas ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm- I've got those things."
I nodded and stood. "I need to get going, but I'll be back at 4 AM. Don't be alarmed.
"I'm sorry I don't have a television or anything back here-"
"Mason, I'll be passed out before you leave the parking lot, I assure you."
I nodded, confused at why I felt so nervous, and closed the door behind me. I crossed the kitchen to the back door, flipped off all of the lights, and left. When the solid steel door clicked shut behind me, I leaned back against it, my tummy fluttering and my brain dizzy. Mason, what is going on with you?!
I pulled into the parking lot the following morning, a few minutes before 4, parking in my normal spot close to the back door. I gathered my things and got out, stopping as ice cold fear gripped my body.
The heavy steel door was propped open and the lights were on inside the kitchen!
I forced myself to breathe and slowly reached for my cell phone tucked away in my back pocket. Just as I'd pushed the number 9, my eyes never leaving the edge of the door, Dallas emerged slowly from the shadows, his hands raised mid-chest in a universal sign of surrender.
"Mason, it's just me," he said slowly, cautiously, as if not wanting to make a sudden movement. "I was only taking out the trash you'd left at the back door last night."
"My soul!" I exhaled, leaning back against my car. Dallas came toward me, wearing the same outfit I'd last seen him in, with the addition of his combat boots; and for the first time, I noticed his limp.
As he got closer he apologized. "I didn't mean to startle you, lass." I nodded stupidly and looked up at him. His blue eyes were knit together in worry, and though he looked as if he'd slept on a too-small couch, he looked rested.
I glanced down and noticed the container I'd somehow managed to hold onto during the panic attack. "I-I made you breakfast," I stammered, handing him the large container of food as I pushed off my car and walked shakily to the kitchen. Dallas placed a tender hand at the small of my back, following. His touch warmed my skin through my shirt instantly.
As I locked the door behind us, I heard the lid pop off and an audible moan. "I haven't had a homecooked meal in..." he trailed off. "Thank you, Mason."
I pointed to where I kept the silverware. "Forks are right there, salt is over there, and I'm going to go put on a pot of coffee. Can I get you anything else?"
"No, lass. This is... more than enough."
Blinking back tears, I went out through the double doors, flipping on lights as I passed. I set about making a pot of coffee then glanced over noticing the dishes from the night before. First the trash, then the dishes? Mason you're slipping! I placed them into the bus bins then scooped the $0.76 into my palm, holding the coins for a few moments before tucking them into my pocket.
When the coffee finished brewing I carried two mugs and the entire pot back into the kitchen, just in time to see Dallas washing everything.
"Dallas, you don't have to--"
"Mason, you've done so much for me already. It's the least I could do."
I nodded, then swept around the kitchen, gathering up two aprons, baking utensils, and ingredients. After depositing everything on the table, I tossed an apron to Dallas.
"Don't you have employees coming in soon?" he asked, glancing almost nervously at the clock.
"I do, but she took the day off. I could use the extra hands..."
"I'd better not," Dallas said, watching me intently. "I can't even make toast without it burning."
I laughed and slipped the apron over my head, tying it around my waist. "What better time to learn?"
Dallas and I set about making donuts for the early bird rush, then cookies, cupcakes, and brownies. The donuts were finished and still cooling by 7:00.
"Time to open for the work crowd," I stated absently, removing the apron and setting it on the stainless steel table.
"Go do what you need to do. I'll keep an eye on the cookies and cupcakes and clean up back here," he paused before adding, "If you'll tell me what to do..."
He touched my arm gently. "Mason, please let me help."
I smiled. "Well then, if you'd like, you can do dishes since the sweets won't be ready for at least ten more minutes. Let me put on a couple pots of coffee and open the doors." I grabbed two trays of donuts and pushed through the double doors, carrying them over to the display case. As I turned around to go back for the rest, Dallas was right behind me with more. Somehow he kept the trays of donuts from flying as I collided with him.
He laughed and set the trays down on the counter. "Easy lass," he smiled. "Since you spent so much time helping me learn to bake, can I help you out here until you get customers?"
"I- um- if you want, you can bring me trays of donuts. I put them in a certain order," I started to explain.
Dallas held up a hand. "Say no more."
As he turned back to the kitchen, I hurried over to unlock the door, then began arranging trays of donuts in the display case. Dallas quickly learned my order and if he brought out too many donuts, he silently went back for another flavor.
It felt natural working with Dallas. He could somehow read me. He took direction well, asked questions, and only slowed when removing baked goods from the ovens.
The first rush died down shortly before 10, and I went back into the kitchen to find Dallas.
"So, when do I get to help you make your "world-famous" chocolate cake?" he asked, throwing air quotes around world-famous. I laughed.
"It's a secret recipe," I started. "I have to do it by myself!" Dallas smiled and I crossed to the piping bags.
"How are you at cupcake decorating?" I asked him as I found my apron and put it back on.
"You're kidding, right?"
I laughed then Dallas and I spent the next hour icing cupcakes and some of the cookies and brownies, me leaving him alone several times times to tend to customers.
"So, you really give away all of your leftover food to homeless shelters?" he asked as I returned after helping a customer.
"Yes, I do. Every single night since the day I opened."
Dallas didn't say anything, but his stomach sang loud and clear. I stole a glance at the clock. "Oh my, I'm so sorry! Why didn't you tell me you were hungry?" I asked, consumed with guilt. "What would you like to eat? The deli down the block has amazing wraps, manly sized wraps too, not a dainty little thing. Um, there's a fantastic pizza joint two streets over, a steakhouse-"
"Mason," Dallas reached out to place his hand on my arm, stopping me. He seemed at a loss for words when my gaze met his. He shook himself from his reverie and dropped his arm to his side. "I'll have what you're having."
"I'll run down to the deli and get us a couple of wraps. I shouldn't be more than ten minutes, but I'll lock the front door while I'm away. We shouldn't have any customers before I get back."
I scribbled a note that I would be back soon, taped it to the front door and flipped the lock, then ran out the back and down the block to the deli.
I returned in record time carrying three wraps, two sub sandwiches, a quart of potato salad, three bags of potato chips, and two cups of sweet tea.
Dallas looked at me with something akin to anger on his face.
Ignoring him, I went to the front door and took down my sign, flipping open the lock again.
I went back into the kitchen to find Dallas staring at me, arms folded over his chest. "What is all this?"
"Food," I replied, reaching for a turkey wrap.
"I'm not a charity case," he hissed angrily. I flinched.
"You're not a charity case," I answered meekly. "I didn't know what worked for you, and I figured I would give you something to eat tonight after I go home."
"Now you're assuming I'm staying?"
My gut clenched so hard I nearly dropped my wrap.
Dallas stormed off to my office and shut the door.
I didn't see Dallas for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, but he had emerged from the office to at least wash the dishes and clean. My heart clenched at my nearly spotless kitchen.
I knocked lightly on the office door and opened it enough to ask if I could come in.
"It's your office, Mason."
I entered the room, handed Dallas a slice of cake and fork, and sat on the edge of my desk. "I didn't mean to offend you, Dallas," I started softly. "My intention was purely to help a friend. Maybe I did go overboard, but I didn't know how hungry you were and how hungry you'd be tonight.
"I'd do the same thing for anybody, Dallas." I watched him for a few minutes. He sat still, holding the plate, but not eating.
Not knowing what else to say, I stood, laying a hand on his shoulder. Dallas tensed. "Thank you for everything you've done today. I wouldn't have been able to service my customers without you." I dropped my hand and walked toward the office door.
"Oh, before I forget," I pulled an envelope from my back pocket and went over to set it on the edge of the couch. "Your wages for all you've done today."
Dallas looked up and I could see the argument in his eyes. I shook my head. "It's not charity; you earned it, Dallas."
I walked back to the door and before shutting it behind me I softly added, "I'd like for you to reconsider your decision to leave tonight."
I began my nightly routine of cleaning, starting with the bathrooms and café. Since Dallas had cleaned the kitchen and taken out the trash throughout the day, that portion was complete.
After washing my hands, I pulled the leftover desserts from the display case and set about boxing them up to take to the shelter. I packed them neatly into a large box and carried the dishes into the kitchen, depositing them into the sink.
Returning to the counter, I lifted the box, struggling with the weight.
"Need a hand getting that to your car?" Dallas asked, appearing in the double doors.
"That would be great," I panted, handing over the box.
He carried it effortlessly to my car, setting it carefully in the back seat.
"Would you like to come along?" I asked, my voice sounding a little too hopeful even to me.
Dallas looked down at his flannel shirt and sweats. "I think I'll stay behind and finish cleaning."
I fought the urge to dispute again, and nodded. "Do you need me to swing by on my way back from the shelter?"
"As long as your doors are locked, I'll be fine. I'll finish cleaning and shut off all the lights."
Feeling as if I were leaving a job half finished, I hesitated. Dallas touched my hand.
"Mason," he swept his free hand through his hair. "I'm sorry for snapping at you earlier. I'm-" he let out a low growl of... frustration? "I'm not used to people like you."
I turned my hand to his and squeezed gently, looking up into his face. In what I hoped sounded kind, I said, "You're still trying to figure out if you can trust me. I know, Dallas."
I squeezed his hand again, smiling reassuringly, and slid into my driver's seat.
"See you at four, Lass," Dallas said.
The relief I felt at that moment sent blood rushing to my cheeks. I smiled. "See you at four."
I let myself into the kitchen, just after 4 AM, setting a storage container of food on the counter next to my office for when Dallas woke up. Ten seconds later, he pushed through the double doors from the café, holding two mugs of coffee.
Startled, but doing a better job of hiding it, I took the proffered cup, noticing he'd already added creamer. "Thank you," I said, closing my eyes and taking a sip. "Ahh, that first sip just touches the soul."
Dallas chuckled and I grinned up at him, setting the cup down and gathering ingredients and supplies.
I picked up the storage container on my way back to the stainless steel table and handed it to Dallas.
"Mas-", I interrupted him with a slightly raised hand.
"Just eat," I said softly.
Finally he asked, "Why are you doing this for me? Most people don't even look twice."
I took a deep breath, glancing down at the things in my arms, gathering my thoughts, then met his eyes. "I know what it's like to be invisible," I began, setting everything down on the stainless steel table. "I spent eighteen months wandering, wondering where my next meal would come from, dodging glances of disdain, sleeping on dirt. One day, desperate for clean water, I wandered into a café prepared to beg. The owner ended up giving me a job washing dishes, and allowed me to stay in an apartment tacked onto the back of her house until I was able to get on my feet.
"Having my own bakery was always a dream, and from that moment on, I vowed that when I owned my own, everyone would be welcome.
"I built this place from the ground up, added the shower to the bathroom back there, and splurged on a comfortable couch just in case.
"When I told that wonderful lady my story," I looked around the kitchen, my dream-come-true, then met Dallas' eyes again. "I was married for three years when my husband left for another. In his leaving, I couldn't stay afloat, and the house and car were foreclosed on. I was forced to cut off my family ties during the marriage so I felt I had nowhere to turn to for help, but she encouraged me to reach out to my family, that they would love knowing I was okay.
"After swallowing my pride, I made her sit beside me, squeezing the life out of her hand as I made the call. She was right. Three weeks later I was flown back here, worked three jobs steadily for a few years, got a divorce, and," I shrugged, gesturing around. "Here I am."
Dallas looked down at me, a mix of unreadable emotions on his face. "I should get going," he said quietly, setting the unopened container on the table. He backed away and turned to go to retrieve his things from my office.
"Dallas, don't--" I stopped, unsure of what to say, or why my heart felt as if it were breaking. I didn't realize I'd followed him until I had to step aside for him to be able to exit the office.
"Thank you for everything, Mason."
Dallas reached out and touched my cheek with the side of his thumb. "You are an angel."
He hoisted his army bag over his shoulder, glanced back at me one last time, then slipped out the back door. It shut softly, the lock clicking loudly into place.
I couldn't stop the tears from flowing, nor the burning cheeks that followed. I felt foolish for feeling so sad at the sudden emptiness around me.
After letting the tears fall freely until I felt hollow, I wiped my face, washed my hands, set about making my famous chocolate cake, and opened for business.
I was wiping down the counter after the lunch rush had dissipated, my morning staff having gone home, when the bell above the door jingled.
"Have a seat anywhere you'd like and I'll be right with you," I greeted, not looking up.
As I collected dishes and deposited them into the bus bin, I felt a presence nearing me. I glanced up to smile and greet the customer, then froze.
I was staring up into the bluest eyes I'd ever seen, a familiar, handsome face with neatly trimmed salt and pepper goatee, and the most heart-melting smile. His wavy hair was shorter, the athletic build the same though less gaunt.
"Aye lass," he acknowledged, his brogue thicker than when I'd met him that night over a year ago.
"Dallas!" I cried, hurrying around to the other side of the counter, stopping just short of hugging him. "How... why... what are you doing here?!"
"Well, I heard I could get some pretty okay cake here so I thought I'd check it out," he smiled.
My brain caught the joke but my mind was racing. Dallas reached out to touch my cheek.
"I called my family," he said softly, dropping his hand as if realizing it might not be a welcomed gesture.
"That morning after telling your story, you helped me see that I was holding on to too much pride, so I called them. Mum cried and Da immediately flew down to take me home.
"It was a week of nonstop commotion over my return: family gatherings, meals with more food than you can imagine, hot baths, warm beds; but there was something missing."
I looked up at him quizzically. "What?"
He smiled and moved his hand up to cup my cheek. "You, Lady," he whispered.
I tilted my head, pressing against his warm hand. I allowed my eyes to close briefly and when I looked back up he continued. "I'd never met anyone as welcoming, caring, or sweet as you, even before my time on the streets... you drew me in with your smile, and," he trailed off, his eyes dropping to my lips.
"I wouldn't have made it without you, Mason--that first night was the darkest night. I owe you everything."
"Dallas, I, um, I have a confession."
"What is it?" he asked, his brows knit together in concern.
I dug my hand into my pocket and held out my fist.
Looking down, he held out his hand. I dropped what I'd been holding into his waiting palm. "I kept these in my pocket every day," I whispered.
Dallas looked down at the three quarters and penny. He grew silent for a long moment before reaching up to touch my cheek again. Giving me time to back away, Dallas leaned down and pressed his lips tenderly to mine. I whimpered softly then melted into his embrace when his arms slid around me. I don't know how long we stayed that way, but when he gently broke the kiss, I felt complete.
About the Creator
Coffee gets me started; my toddler keeps me haggard.
I've always had a passion for writing but fear has stopped me from sharing my work with anyone. Vocal is my push to step out of my comfort zone.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions