Rat's Nests and Algae Eyes

part i.


I stared with distaste at the reflection in the mirror. Marianne was doing her best to get all the hair dye and foil in, but my hair was already starting to dry. I grimaced as I watched the ends of my hair, an almost bleach blonde, start to curl and frizz. The old woman worked as fast as she could with her brittle fingers to get all of my head foiled before my hair started eating her alive. I nearly died of embarrassment when her fingers got caught in a particularly nasty snarl at the back of my head.

"Oh dear," she said in concern, trying to tug lightly. When gentle tugs didn't work, she started yanking and I watched my face grimace in pain. "I'm—sorry," she said, enunciating with each pull. "You've—got a—lot—of hair. Oh!" she said suddenly. "Okay, darling, you grab the counter. Yes, like that. Now, you lean forward while I tug backwards, okay?"

I stared at her in horror through the mirror. She was too preoccupied with trying to pry her wrinkly, old fingers from my rat's nest to notice. I bit my lip hard and did as I was told. There's were a hundred sharp, prickly stings as Marianne ripped her hand free in triumph.

"I got it!" she declared victoriously, a glob of my hair tangled around her fingers.

I nodded, trying to smile, but managing only a grimace as I clutched at the back of my head. She ran off somewhere calling, "I'll be right back, don't go anywhere!"

"Ow," I whimpered to myself, massaging my searing scalp. That's when I heard a loud snort and then a fit of coughing. I looked to my right, out the door Marianne had left. There were a couple of women sitting together in the waiting room as their children ran around their ankles. Both were looking at me and when I caught their gaze, they quickly turned away, muttering something about meatloaf and soccer games.

I frowned, irritated that Marianne hadn't thought to shut her door before she started on the impossible mission that was my head. As I peeked out the door again, I realized it wasn't either of the women that sounded as if they were coughing up a lung. I gave another cautious look around and my eyes landed on a man sitting in the corner. I tilted my head to see that he was holding an upside down Home and Garden magazine in his hands. When my eyes traveled up to his face, there was a definite smirk playing at his lips, and it looked as though he were trying his hardest not to laugh. I frowned, unable to see what was so funny about an upside-down granny magazine. I narrowed my eyes at him just as he lifted his gaze to meet mine. His face broke into a huge grin just then and it bothered me that he looked so good.

I turned away from him fast, giving him my profile, as my face heated with chagrin and indignation. Just then Marianne came bouncing back into the room with a cheery smile on her face as she clapped together her now rat's-nest-free hands.

"Sorry about that. All right, dearie?" she asked me through the mirror as she finished flattening the last piece of foil to my head. "Dear me, you're red. Are you all right?"

I laughed quickly, because that's what I do. Laugh in awkward, non-humorous situations. "Yes, I'm great." I also have a habit of lying in those same situations.

"Okay, well we'll just put you under the dryer now. Can I get you a magazine?" she asked.

"Uh, yes please."

She then pulled up the hair dryer that you always see the old women sit under. She spun my chair so that I was facing the open doorway again and turned the dryer down so the semi-circle fit over my head and hot air started gushing out at me.

Marianne went off, bustling around her area to find me an acceptable magazine. Home and Garden guy grinned at me, still holding the magazine in his lap. I felt the heat rise to my face again and I quickly tore my gaze away, not before noticing his sparkling eyes.

Marianne came to my rescue as she gave me a glamour magazine. Before she left, I saw her lips move. I puckered my eyebrows, "What? I can't hear you."

She said it again, and by the way her face was moving, I could tell she was speaking louder than indoor voices require, but I still couldn't hear her over all the whirring air blowing around my ears. "Sorry?"

"I said," she said in my ear, lifting the dryer head, but still shouting, "you're very red!"

"Oh," I said weakly, turning even more crimson.

I risked a glance upwards when she tottered off and found Home and Garden guy still staring at me, an amused expression written clearly all over his face.

He parted his lips as though to say something, and I looked down quickly, eagerly reading some tabloid article about what's-her-name.

After sitting through two minutes of absorbing nothing about the trivial article, I chanced a quick glance and breathed a sigh of relief as I found Home and Garden guy's chair empty. I happily went back to enjoying my mind-numbing gossip in peace.

After another eight minutes, Marianne was back and checking all the foils. "Yep, you're done!" She washed the dye out and brushed my hair with a comb this time (safer than her fingers).

"Thanks, Marianne," I say, handing her the money I owed.

"Oh, here, darling," she says, giving me a twenty back. "You keep that."

"What? Why?" I say, trying to push it back to her.

"For the…mishap earlier."

"Oh, Marianne," I said, face burning again. I thanked God that Home and Garden guy had left. "It's not your fault that my hair is an unmanageable rat's nest of frizz."

She smiled not unkindly. "It's okay, Maddie, I know what it's like being a college kid—although the memories are growing faint."

I smiled. "Thanks, Marianne."

"See you in five weeks," she chimed after me. "I'll remember the hedge clippers."

I gave a shaky laugh, face flaring again, as I quickly slid around the corner and promptly ran into something sturdy.

"AHH!" I said in a high-pitched, gasp-like squeal.

"Whoa, there." Sturdy-thing apparently had arms because they reached out to steady me.

"Oh God, I'm so—"

Home and Garden guy was back.

He grinned at me, the haughty air still gracing his features. He wasn't all that tall; he only had a couple inches on me—of course, I was five-foot-nine so I wasn't the best of judges—but he seemed to loom over me.

He let his eyes—an unusual algae green that had little flecks of glimmer—rake over my body shamelessly. He ended on, you guessed it, my hair. "I wouldn't say it's a rat's nest, per se…"

I wasn't very good at being rude to strangers, and that laugh-when-nothing-is-funny thing came back into play. I gave a quick, hysterical-sounding giggle that cut off abruptly. I felt like slamming my head into a wall. "Excuse me," I said quickly, brushing past him.

I nearly sprinted down the hallway and breathed a sigh of relief only when I was safely out the front door of the salon and down the steps. I paused once I was a block away and seriously considered throwing my head against the nice brick wall to my right.

The spring breeze was cool on my skin and I hurried off quickly, knowing that my hair would dry even faster with the wind. I dashed across the street and into the General Market. I grabbed a basket and hurried through the aisles, stocking up on macaroni and cheese boxes and cans of black olives. I grabbed a gallon of milk and then turned down the health and beauty aisle. With a quick, criminal-esque look over both shoulders, I nearly cleared out the market's supply of hair products. I threw three bottles of spray gel into my basket, and four of a smoothing serum.

I could feel my hair expanding by the minute and bent down quickly to pick up my gallon of milk. It took me awhile to situate all the items in my arms so that I could walk without tripping over my own feet, so when I looked up, I was surprised to find Home and Garden guy in front of me. And when I say surprised, I mean mortified into shock.

"Ah, we meet again," he says casually, as though my face isn't the brightest, ugliest shade of scarlet right now.

It takes me a few seconds, but I snap out of my shock. I find it slightly easier to be rude to this stranger; simply because he was becoming less unfamiliar. "What? Are you stalking me now?" I snap.

"She speaks!" he says, feigning a gasp.

I give him my best glare and move to brush past him. He sidesteps quickly, landing right in my path. I step to the left, then right, but he's too quick for me—he's got that athletic, agile build. Suddenly, I envy him.

I give a sigh of frustration, because the gallon of milk dangling off my pinky finger is starting to become a pain and I can practically hear the ends of my hair crackling with imaginary electricity, taunting me with their ability to completely ruin my day with their frizzy nature.

I spin on my heel and march the other way down the aisle, even though it's taking me the opposite direction from the cash registers.

He catches me as I'm rounding the corner. "To answer your question, no, I'm not stalking you." When I say nothing, he continues, "I mean, sure, I wasn't planning on turning into the General Market until I saw you crossing the street and coming in here, yourself, but I wouldn't consider that stalking."

That stopped me. We stood in the middle of aisle seven, right in front of a tampon display, him staring down at me with a smirk, me glaring up at him. Really, on any other day, it would have been flattering. I probably would have succumbed to his sneaky games and given him whatever it was he wanted, just because he was a good-looking guy with glittering mossy eyes. But today, at this moment, when I could feel my hair growing by the second, I really wasn't in the mood. I was too embarrassed and worried that my hair would lash out at any moment and start strangling him like it did poor Marianne's fingers. Although, I imagine it would be a bit more difficult getting my hair wrapped around his neck than her fingers. I let myself imagine the scenario for a moment.

He was staring at me again. I blinked away my humorous thoughts and looked at him again. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Wow. That…that was embarrassing."

My heart started to race quickly—what was embarrassing? Had I been drooling? Did I have spinach in my teeth? Oh my God, was my hair dry already?

My hands flew to my head as I patted my hair, checking. Still damp. Okay, we're good. That's when I realized that previously to checking the condition of my hair, I'd had a gallon of milk and a basket of groceries in my hands. So that explained the look of surprise and slight concern on Home and Garden guy's face as he looked back and forth between me and my spilled groceries.

"Oh my God," I said, putting a hand to my face. I stood there a moment, rubbing my temples, before sinking to my knees. I started gathering up all the macaroni boxes. "Shit," I muttered when I saw that one had opened.

"Here, let me help you," Home and Garden Pretty Eyes Stalker guy said, bending down.

"No, really, that's okay—"

"Madeline!" came a deep and shrill voice—and believe me, it was possible to have a shrilly-masculine voice.

"Oh, fuck," I said, looking up for a moment.

Home and Garden smirked at me, eyes gleaming. "You know him?"

I ignored him, rubbing my head, hardly even caring about the status of my frizz factor anymore. "Hey, Ronnie," I said dully, standing up again.

Ronnie was manager of the General Market and also happened to live on the same floor as me in the apartment complex four blocks over. Let's just say, he had gotten too friendly over the years. And not in the cute, he's-got-a-crush-on-me kind of way; more like the walk-away-quickly-before-he-goes-psychopathic-and-gouges-my-eyes-out-with-a-spoon sort of way.

"Madeline! What is this?"

"It's nothing, Ronnie. I spilled some stuff. I've got it taken care of."

"Madeline, how many times are you going to spill things in this store? Jeepers."

"Okay," I said, face heating up for possibly the thirtieth time that day. "That only happened twice and you know that those displays shouldn't have been there! And the second time those energy drinks didn't even do that much damage. Except for that one old lady and the ambulance scenario..." I added thoughtfully. "But that doesn't matter."

Home and Garden was watching me with that about-to-die-of-suppressed-laughter-disorder look again and I quickly shut up.

I groaned. "Ronnie, can I just have the broom, please?"

The thirty-something-year-old-who-still-wore-costumes-on-national-holidays huffed off, grumbling to himself.

I avoided eye contact with Home and Garden and bent down to throw the rest of my items back into the basket. Quickly, I started kicking all of the curved noodles into the same general area. That ended up with twenty of them flying halfway down the aisle.

I groaned, sinking down to the floor and leaning my head back against the shelf behind me. Four boxes of tampons fell. "Good God!" I mutter-screamed, throwing them haphazardly in their place.

"Rough day?" Home and Garden asked, sitting down across from me.

I gave him a blank stare, and suddenly found it a lot easier to be rude to strangers. "You know, it actually wasn't until you came along."

He raised his eyebrows as my voice grew with conviction. "Yes, it's your fault that I'm this paranoid, blubbering freak with a...GAH mess of hair!" Reaching up, I found that my hair was starting to turn to unattractive fluff.

"It's my fault that your hair is frizzing?" he asked, eyebrow still curved.

"Yes," I said stubbornly, reaching over to grab one of the bottles of gel. "Well, no," I admitted as I started to spritz my head, trying to tame the wild. "But it is your fault that you were freaking me out in the hair salon. And that you followed me here and started hovering."

"Hovering?" he asked, trying to keep a straight face.

"Yes," I narrowed my eyes at him. "Hovering. It makes me self-conscious."

"Of your hair," he tried to clarify.

"Of everything," I said, squirting all around my head.

Just as I was about to put the cap back on the bottle, Ronnie came around the corner with a broom in his hand and a wild gasp leaving his lips. "Madeline!"

"Mother f—" Home and Garden nudged me with his foot to warn me to calm down. I took in a deep breath and stood up. "Yes, Ronnie?" I asked sweetly with a tight smile.

"What—why—how—did you pay for that?" he asked wildly.

"Well, no. But as soon as I'm done here, I'm going up—what, Ronnie?" I snapped, because he was shaking his head slowly in disbelief.

"I can't believe this, Madeline. I thought you were better than this."

"I'm paying for the goddamn hair crap!" I said heatedly, and I felt Home and Garden stand up behind me.

Ronnie looked outraged now. He clenched his jaw and looked at me severely. "I'm going to have to report you, Madeline."

My mouth dropped in shock and an outrage of my own. I was just about to start a wild, shrieking hissy fit when Home and Garden yanked me backwards. "Here, Ronnie," he said, stepping forward to reach for the broom. "Let me clean this up. And I'll pay for her things. Madeline's having a rough day."

I huffed, crossing my arms and kicking a shelf. The tampons fell again. I checked quickly to see if they'd noticed, then dropped to my knees to put them back in place.

"Madeline—" Home and Garden turned around, but paused, looking for me. Then his eyes dropped to me on the floor and he laughed a little, shaking his head. "Why don't you go with Ronnie and check out? I'll clean up."

Ronnie snatched the milk and basket before I could and gave me a glare that clearly said he didn't trust me anymore. He marched off to the registers and I rolled my eyes, making a face after him. I looked back over my shoulder and saw Home and Garden sweeping up piles of noodles. My face softened a little as I watched him. Then he looked up and gave me a smirk and I hurried off down the aisle.

Ronnie ran the items over the scanner in a stony silence. I was actually kind of relieved—normally he talked so much that I was stuck there for a good ten minutes before I could make my escape. It was kind of nice to have this new, spiteful Ronnie. Nice except for the fact that new Ronnie's left eye was starting to twitch a lot in a "certifiably nuts" kind of way.

He barked out the total and I quickly handed him the cash. He gave a deadly glare to my crinkled and drawn-on twenty-dollar bill. Personally, I thought Andrew Jackson looked better with a purple goatee and blue cigar…but I don't think Ronnie shared the same opinion. He ripped off my receipt and snapped his hand out to drop the paper and my change into my open palm. "Have a great day," he said sarcastically. I thought sarcasm added to his shrilly man voice made him sound a lot like something that should be put out of its misery, but I hurried off before I could get myself into more trouble.

I thought about running out of the store right then; that's what I turned to do. But just as I was about to scurry past aisle seven, something stopped me. I think it was the soft humming I heard, singing a quiet melody. I paused at the end of the aisle, watching as Home and Garden dumped the dustpan full of wannabe-Italian cuisine into the garbage can. Maybe he had been reading Home and Garden when I saw him earlier and he'd picked up a few clean-up tips.

He picked up the trashcan and started walking down the aisle. When he saw me standing at the end like an idiot, he smiled. He brushed past me silently, shoulder touching shoulder, and walked up to the counter. "Here you are, Ronnie," he said cheerfully, setting them down in front of the cash registers.

Ronnie smiled a wide smile—bigger than I ever got, even when he didn't want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon. "Thank you..."

"Derek," Home and Garden filled in.

Ronnie's smile turned slightly predatory and I choked on air as it all clicked. I set my bags down carefully before throwing a hand to my mouth and snorting into my fingers. I didn't hear the end of their conversation because I was too busy doubling over with laughter.

"Okay," Home and Garden said in an annoyed tone, bending down and picking up my bags before marching off.

"Hey!" I said, quickly gaining control of myself and chasing after him. "Let me have my bags!" I followed him across the street, headed in the completely opposite direction than my apartment. "Hey! Derek!"

He stopped on the sidewalk then, turning around. He was smiling amusedly again. "You waited for me."

I opened my mouth, but thought of nothing to say, so I closed it with a frown.

His grin grew more pronounced.

"Yeah? Well…you've got a gay lover!" I said suddenly.

He made a face and shuddered as he said, "Why do you think I got out of there so fast?"

I laughed into my fingers again.

"You wanna go somewhere?"

I stopped mid-laugh, looking up at him; my hand fell.

"Um."

Well, it's just that…that's what I asked you earlier…before you dropped all that crap. But you didn't hear me, so I thought it was only fair to give you another chance at the best night of your life."

"Oh, really?" I found myself smirking; he laughed and it was a loud, rumbling kind of sound, like distant thunder. "That's so thoughtful of you."

He shrugged. "I'm a sensitive guy."

"Well, how about you give me my bags back and I give you my answer?"

"What, do you think I'm stupid? You're just going to run once I give them back."

I laughed, he knew me pretty well for a semi-creepy-stranger-that-reads-the-same-magazines-as-my-grandmother. "And what happens if I say no?"

"You don't get your bags back."

I raised an eyebrow. "This sounds like a hostage situation, Derek." His name just felt weird on my tongue.

"First off, my name's not Derek."

Oh, maybe that's why.

"What?" I said. "But I thought—"

"You think I'd tell that creep my real name?"

"Ah, good point. So what is your name, then?"

"Peyton St. James."

I snorted.

"What?" he asked, crossing his arms in a challenging sort of way after he'd set my bags down.

"I'm sorry. You just don't seem all that saintly."

"Oh, har har," he made a face and I grinned, sticking out my hand.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. St. James."

"And you, Madeline…"

"Just Madeline," I said, biting my lip. Yeesh, I needed to quit smiling so much!

He watched me curiously, still shaking my hand. "If I guess right, what do I get?"

I snorted at him. "You'll never guess it."

"Probably not. But for arguments sake, let's sake I do get it…what do I win?"

"If you guess my last name, I'll…kiss you," I say carelessly, laughing a little.

The algae in his eyes had to be a diamond mine.

"Shake on it?" he asked.

"We already are," I said, looking down to the hand his still had in his grasp.

His grin brightened. "Well then, Madeline McAdams, when would you like to present me with my reward?"

My jaw literally fell as my eyebrows disappeared under my bangs.

He gave me a haughty, know-it-all look before bending down to pick up my bags once again. "Miss McAdams, here are your bags," he handed them to me. Before I even knew what he was doing, he slid his arms around my waist and I felt his fingers skimming along the hemline of my jeans. "And that's my number," he breathed, slipping the piece of paper into my back pocket. "Call me when you want to give me my reward."

He let his hands linger on me, his face inches from mine, and I felt very much like giving him all the rewards he wanted right then.

"You're blushing, Madeline," he touched my nose once, smiling crookedly at me, before he started backing away. "I'll be waiting for your call." He tipped an imaginary hat and turned on the spot, starting off down the sidewalk.

I left the bags sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. "Wait a minute!" I said, chasing after him, even though I know it's what he wanted all along. I grabbed his sleeve and yanked him around.

"So soon?" he asked with a smirk, already letting one hand curve around my elbow while the other skirted over my shoulder.

I snatched his daring fingers and threatened to break them; he only smiled. "How did you know my name?" I demanded.

"I know a lot of things," he said, looking down pointedly at our interlocked fingers. I let them go.

"How did you know my name?" I repeated.

"Hey, is that a hobo stealing your stuff?"

"What!" I whipped around to find my three plastic bags sitting in the same spot I left them, untouched.

Before I could even turn around to call him a few choice words, I was being pushed up against the brick wall. My eyes widened with surprise and then outrage as I tried to push him off of me. But then his fingers skimmed along the skin at my waist and his tongue trailed slowly along my bottom lip. Needless to say, I conveniently forgot my reasoning for wanting to knee him in the gut.

We went on like that for…well I really have no idea; I'm not so good at keep track of time when I've got a substantially-good-looking guy's tongue exploring the insides of my mouth. His fingers were tracing across my collarbone, light as a feather. They ventured further, under my collar, curving around my shoulder. I trembled and he smiled on my mouth. Just to get him back, I stood up on my tiptoes and twisted my fingers through his dark hair, pulling him closer. A groan came from the back of his throat, into my mouth, and his hands stopped their innocent tracing and one went to the small of my back, arching my body closer to his.

I was starting to get a little lightheaded from the lack of oxygen—good excuse, eh?—and I pulled away, gasping and breathing fast. I blinked away the haze and stared up at him. He looked down at me, the same dazed look gracing his face, his body still pressed to mine in the most distracting of ways.

"I really think you should come to dinner with me," he said, voice rough and low, as his eyes flickered to mine.

I smirked, but before I could say anything, something over his shoulder caught my eye. "Hey! Hey! THAT HOBO'S STEALING MY STUFF!"

I shoved him away and sprinted down the sidewalk and skidded to a halt in front of a man in a business suit, snatching my bags from his hands. "That's my stuff!" I snapped, clutching them possessively to my chest.

He threw up his hands in surrender and quickly hurried off the way he came. I stared after him in slight disbelief before turning around to see Home and Garden literally on the ground, rolling around in hysterics. Just the sight of him was enough to make me burst out laughing, then the scene replayed in my head and I stumbled over to him—my bags securely in hand—and giggled along.

We stayed there, kneeling on the sidewalk together, until we finally calmed down. Home and Garden's laughter fizzled away before mine did, but I soon caught up to his mood when he pressed one, two, three chaste kisses to my lips. We stared at each other with parted lips. My eyes fully took him in for the first time; roaming over the planes of his face, his bright eyes, his full lips, his wavy hair. Then my eyes traveled down farther, taking in the contours of his chest beneath his band t-shirt and dark hoodie. I could just make out his hipbones underneath his shirt and something warm erupted inside of me.

I lifted my eyes to his just as he finished appraising me. "I think I'll go to dinner with you now," I breathed softly.


a/n: anyone else notice the wumbo-load of hyphens? i guess i needed a fix for the addiction i didn't even know i had, :)
as for this little drabble...i've expanded on this some more, but i'm afraid i won't ever have enough drive to make it into a full-blown story.
so as for now, this is my cutsie little one-shot. woohoo? oh, and if you want me to add a little more, tell me, okay? :D thanks for reading!