I was waiting impatiently in line, watching the man in front of me flirt quietly with Carol as he placed his order. I successfully sent submissions off to Vincent to post this morning and decided to treat myself to caffeine. Normally, I would have been in and out of here by now, but I was stuck waiting for this guy to finish complimenting Carol’s curls. And the day had started out so well. I tried focusing on the music in the background to distract myself. The raspy singer coming from the speakers was familiar, and I realized Hunter played the same artist when he made me dinner. The music was always one of the positives of coming here. I could have made tea at home and safely avoided people, but I really enjoyed the snappy remarks on the board and the general atmosphere. I wondered if that was part of the draw of this place for Hunter, or if it was just a convenient proximity from his house. When the flirt in front of me finally moved to wait for his drink, I approached the counter.
Carol greeted me shyly. “I’m sorry about the other day.” She offered her apology as she steamed the milk for my drink. Her pale skin gave away her flushed cheeks easily, so I could tell she was sincere.
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it.” I wasn’t about to tell her that Hunter and I ended up going out on a date. No need to encourage bad behavior just because it happened to work out okay.
As I stood waiting for my drink, Jessie sauntered through the door in a pair of dark sunglasses. Surprisingly, she had on one of Vincent’s plate t-shirts. It was two sizes too large for her and hung off one shoulder. She had also cut slits in it, baring her stomach. When did she have time to do that between getting drunk last night and the obvious hangover this morning? A herd of girls followed after her, all gossiping loudly over each other.
I waited for her to hover toward the counter, then called out, “Well, hey there, Jess.”
She turned to me, her lip in a snarl at first, probably in response to the sarcastic tone I placed on her name. When she recognized it was me, her face shifted to a smirk. “Hey, Sin.”
I maybe deserved that, but I narrowed my eyes at her anyway. “You left Katie without a ride last night,” I accused.
Jessie let out an annoyed “ugh” sound. “I left her with Ryder. She should be thanking me.”
I scowled at her. “You know that’s not the issue. She could have gotten into a lot of trouble with her parents, if I hadn’t picked her up.”
Carol passed my cup to me and raised her eyebrows as Jessie. She didn’t know the context of the conversation, but my guess was she saw Jessie enough to get the gist. She looked about as impressed as I was.
A brunette girl from the group stepped up next to Jessie. Her large, dark eyes raked across me as she looked me up and down. I was in my usual, shorts and a t-shirt. Not much to impress with, and I was perfectly fine with it. She made sure her face showed what she thought of my appearance though. “What’s your problem?” she asked.
Jessie put a hand on her arm. “It’s fine. She’s a friend. She’s just mad I ditched out on Katie last night.”
I raised my eyebrow at Jessie. I hadn’t expected to be called a friend, and I definitely didn’t expect her to own up to her behavior. She turned back to me. “I wasn’t thinking about Katie getting in trouble.”
The other girl added, “You don’t need to be coming down on her like it’s any of your business, though.”
Jessie pulled her glasses down to peer over them at the other girl. “No need to be snarky.”
“Why do you care what I say to her? I’m defending you,” the other girl shot back.
Well, that took an interesting turn. I wasn’t really sure what caused their anger to spike, pitting them against each other. Moody teenagers made my head hurt. Jessie smiled at the other girl, the turn of her lips condescending as she replied. “Because she’s S. Helleu. But go off, I guess.”
Both the girl and I had a similar horrified expression, our mouths falling open. “Jessie!” I yelled.
“What?” she asked sweetly.
“Why would you tell them that?” I asked.
Indignantly, she said, “I’m promoting your material.”
“Are you really the Coffee Shop Medley’s writer?” asked the man who had been flirting with Carol. He was resting against the wall waiting on his drink. His face was pleasant, with average, almost familiar features.
I turned to Carol, my heart pounding in my chest. She looked sympathetic as she took in my expression and mouthed “sorry” over the machines.
“I thought you were a guy.” This came from the brunette.
“Most people do.” My response was automatic. I hadn’t even intended to address her, but my anxiety was rising, and it was making it harder for me to concentrate on the group.
“Your first name is Sin?” she asked doubtfully.
“No!” I glowered at Jessie, who just shrugged her shoulder and smiled in response.
“Who did you dedicate the last comic to?” the man behind me interjected. I gave him a quick glance over my shoulder. A small smile on his face, he watched me with curious, deep set, blue eyes. Despite his polite demeaner, I wanted to slug him. It was an unusually violent response, even for me, especially since I didn’t know the man. It was probably more that I wanted to hit Jessie, and he just kept drawing my attention to him. I glared angrily at him, anyway, causing him to raise his eyebrows and put his hands up defensively in response.
“Is Katie your girlfriend?” one of the girl’s asked, her voice soft. She had short blond hair and trendy glasses. She stood toward the back of the other girls. She seemed like the friend they let tag along, but whom was mostly ignored.
Several of them made excited “ooh” sounds at the romantic revelation.
Shaking my head, I opened my mouth to answer, when Jessie laughed. “It’s Katie, from home room class,” she interjected.
“Little Katie?” the brunette said, her voice full of surprise.
I didn’t like the way she used the word “little” to describe Katie. I was agitated with Jessie for not keeping my pen name a secret, and even more annoyed that she was here, right now, after what she pulled last night. Plus, I had no doubt some of these girls tormented Katie in school, based on their behavior. The entire conversation had me deeply on edge.
Jessie nodded. “Yup.”
The girl turned to me. “You’re dating Katie?” Her nose scrunched up in distaste.
Jessie rolled her eyes at her. “No, they’re just neighbors. Katie’s dating Ryder now.”
Two of the girls let out groans. “Why would he want to date her?” one asked.
“Why wouldn’t he?” I finally snapped at them. The entire group turned to look at me. I was boiling at this point, all the jealousy and anger from them curling up inside me, fueling my own temper. “What would anyone want with one of you, when they could date an actual person?” I didn’t mean to, but the energy inside me lashed out at them with my words.
The girl in the glasses hunched her shoulders, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. The others just glared back at me, still convinced of their superiority. Meanwhile, Carol and her new friend huddled over the counter, watching us all. I frowned at Jessie, who stood in the center, completely amused at the whole exchange.
“Thanks for the drink, Carol,” I shot over my shoulder, not taking my glare off the pit of teenagers in front of me. I pivoted and walked out, leaving them chattering loudly behind me. Somewhere along the line I started to like Jessie. Clearly, my ability to judge people had faltered.
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