After School

01 - Coffee Prince

There was a myriad of reasons why I should've been outside, hanging out with friends on that horrendously humid Thursday afternoon, rather than being cooped up inside the local Starbucks, sipping at my iced coffee and pretending to be reading And Then There Were None. But there was one reason why I shouldn't, and that was the only one that mattered: because Isaac Duncan was two tables away from me, completely invested in whatever he was looking at on his laptop, his unending cache of charisma effortlessly spilling out of every pore as he slowly dragged a finger against the touch pad, his green eyes smoothly skimming over the computer's screen.

I squelched the urge to sigh like the love-sick schoolgirl I was and feigned interest in the table of contents page of my book as another customer passed by, momentarily obstructing my view of God's finest work. But the interruption wasn't a total loss, as when I laid eyes on him again, he somehow managed to look another ten times more handsome. The way the sunlight hit his face, it was - Crap! He's looking at me!

I quickly held the book in front of me, covering my face, and fumblingly reached for my now-watery coffee. It felt as though his eyes were burning holes through the book; I could feel his gaze on me as if the damn thing were invisible. The sensation did weird things to me. It made me giddy and nauseated at the same time. Why was he looking at me? Was I that ugly? Or had he seen me staring? I'd been so careful not to look obvious, it was an art I liked to think I'd perfected over the past two months.

After what felt like hours, (but was probably no more than thirty seconds) and a couple of weary sips of my coffee, I snuck a glance at him. His attention was back on his computer. And just like that, I was back in action. Now where was I again? Right. The sunlight. I paused a moment to ogle him as a waitress approached him. She said something to him that I couldn't hear, and in return he smiled - there it was, that million-dollar smile that could've lit every house in Clifford - and I suppressed a laugh of boorish delight as my insides melted.

Then, an all too familiar voice put a stop to my fangirling.

"Stalking again, are we?" Birdie asked, tossing a look Isaac's way before sliding into the seat across from mine.

Sighing, I set down my book and took another drink of my coffee. "Of course not."

Clearly not believing me, she sank back in her seat and crossed her arms. Her brow lifted dubiously. "When are you going to talk to him?"

"When the time is right," I snapped, sounding like a whiny little toddler. "I was going to today, but I can't now that you're here," I decided to add, unfortunately.

Since we'd been friends for so long, it was safe to say that my little white lie didn't fly with her. She didn't even address it. "Doesn't he already have a girlfriend, Mimi?"

I gave a sullen nod. "Amber Meyers."

"She's pretty much the senior class' "it" girl. You can't compete with that." Her tone wasn't derisive - just honest.

Even so, I rolled my eyes anyway and pouted as I sucked down the last of my drink. "Gee, thanks."

"Just being realistic." Her eyes went to my book. She snagged it with the edge of her finger and pulled it closer to her. "High school guys don't like dating anyone younger than them. That's why they're always going after college girls."

"I could always lie," I said with a shrug. I could pass for a seventeen-year-old, couldn't I? I mean, I was fifteen now, but Mom was always saying I had the mannerisms of a seventy-year-old.

"And then your relationship would be based on a lie," Birdie replied flatly, shooting me an unimpressed look. She thumped her pointer finger against the book. "Don't tell me you're seriously still reading this. I loaned it to you before Christmas."

My eyes narrowed at her. "You know I'm a slow reader."

"What page are you on?"

"Like," I started, stalled; I hadn't read a single word of it yet, "page one-hundred twelve," I finished quickly, then started chewing on the end of my straw.

"How many people have died so far?"

"A lot," I returned, automatically, willing myself not to shrink under her mordant stare. "Too many to count."

She reached across the table and slapped me over the head with the book, then sat down again casually, as if nothing had happened, pushing her dirty blonde hair behind her shoulders. I'd tried to lean out of range of the attack, but the back of my thighs were stuck to the chair and I'd rather take a knock on the head than risk a skin-graft. I was still rubbing my head when she started to speak again.

"I'm leaving now," she informed me, then, holding up the book, "and I'm taking this with me."

I couldn't help my mouth dropping open a little and I bristled as she got to her feet. "Hey, I still need - "

"No, you don't." She was standing now, blocking my view of Isaac. I instinctively craned my neck to get a better look at him, but she caught on to this right away. She glanced at him over her shoulder for a moment, then turned back to me. "Do you want me to say something to him?" she asked suddenly, with one eyebrow lifted.

"No, no, no," I hissed, my hands clamping over the edge of the table as if I'd toss the damn thing at her if she so much as took another step closer to Isaac. I shot her one of my dirtiest looks. "You do that and I'll - "

"You'll what? Stop copying off of my homework?" she asked, her tone very dry.

We had a short glaring contest, which she won easily, and I melted back into my seat.

"See you tomorrow, Mimi," she said pleasantly, tossing a wave my way as she made her way out of the cafe, much to my relief, passing right by Isaac's table without so much as a word.

I let out a dramatic sigh and let my head drop to the table. The sound of my forehead meeting wood was unpleasant.

I hoped Isaac didn't notice.

I trudged home, discontent from my hunt for the day. The more I thought about it, the more I was tempted to convert to Birdie's pesimisstic way of thinking. Isaac was already dating Amber - one of the prettiest girls in school. I, on the other hand, might have been described as "average", and that was only in a and-that's-putting-it-nicely sort of way.

With a sigh, I rested my head against the front door of my family's apartment with a thud. Most people used the term head-desk as just a figure of speech, but I tended to act it out. And often. I closed my eyes.

I was going to be alone forever.

Suddenly the door wrenched open and I nearly fell in. Mom stared back at me, brows raised in that there-must've-been-a-mistake-at-the-hospital sort of way. I forged up a grim smile.

"What're you doing leaning against the door, Mimi?" she asked as she ushered in me. "You're not drunk, are you?"

"No," I growled, making a face as I slid my backpack from my shoulder. It was her first question whenever something was up, and the answer was always no. I didn't have enough of a social life to drink.

"How was school?" she asked as I wrestled out of my shoes.

"It was fine."

The TV was playing in the living room, and my deadbeat of an older brother, Rolf, was already sacked out on the couch, getting his daily fix of MTV. I tossed my backpack at him as Mom and I wandered into the kitchen, and he might've caught it, but I doubted it, considering the sound it made when it landed. Hopefully it smashed him right in the face or somehow otherwise rendered him inoperable for another date with Kahlyn. I had four textbooks in there, after all.

I grabbed a blueberry yogurt from the fridge and rummaged for a spoon in a drawer. Mom was elbow-deep in the fridge, trying to pick out something for dinner, I assumed.

"Aunt Jenny called me today," she told me as I wiggled onto a stool near the counter. "She's getting married."

"Really?" I vaguely remembered she'd been dating some guy for a couple years now. "That's great."

"She wants to be a June bride, but that's so sudden it'll probably get pushed to July, maybe August if the weather puts up a fight," she continued on, and I tried to do the math. It was May now - wait, she wanted to get married next month? Wasn't that kind of way too soon? But instead of saying my thoughts, I just began stirring my yogurt. "She invited our family to be part of the wedding party," she said, in the pantry now. She emerged with a box of pasta. "Tara's family, too." Tara - my same-aged cousin and sometimes-best friend. We really had nothing in common, but we got stuck together a lot. "She asked me to be her matron of honor."

"Cool." I really wasn't sure what else to say at first, but then something occurred to me. "Does that mean I'll be a bridesmaid?"


I let the thought sink in as I licked the bottom of the foil lid. I was never quite sure how the yogurt got there, considering it sat so much lower in the cup. Mom caught me mid-lick and I shrugged.

"She's thinking of blue for the bridesmaid dresses," she said as she rifled through one of the cupboards, in search of who-knows-what, "but she wants our opinions, too." She glanced at me over her shoulder. "So what do you think?"

I shrugged and stirred my yogurt. "Sounds fine." I looked retarded in dresses, so it didn't matter either way. Not to mention my eyes were the color of muddy water and I had brownish-blonde hair that tended to look gray at times, especially in pictures. There was no complementing them, so I'd stopped trying.

"A baby blue, she was thinking." There was a fanciful turn to her tone. "Something light and airy."

"That'll be nice."

"My baby sister's getting married," she squealed, messing up my hair. I tried to escape her roaming hands, but I didn't want to drop my yogurt or fall off the stool, so I just sat there and soldiered through it. "I'm so excited. And this'll be your first wedding, Mimi." Then she added, with a pointed look, "Hopefully not your last."

"I'm sure I'll manage to catch someone in my web," I assured her, fending her off again when she tried to pinch my cheek. "Eventually."

We spent the next five or ten minutes discussing the details of the wedding - or, more accurately, she talked at me while I feasted on my yogurt and licked both the spoon and container clean - and it wasn't long before Dad was home. I heard him greet Rolf as he shut the door, and quickly tossed my yogurt cup in the trash before he could see it. Whenever he saw me eating yogurt, he always asked if I was constipated.

"Looks like someone's moving in next door," he told Mom - or maybe me, or maybe both of us - as he swept into the kitchen, loosening his tie.

Mom's face immediately brightened. "Really?"

He gave a nod. "Sure thing. There - "

Mom blasted past him, effectively cutting him off. She kicked Rolf off the couch and pulled back the curtains behind it, angling her head to see the streetway two stories below.

"There is!" Her voice shrilled like some kind of banshee. I put my spoon in the dishwasher. "There's a moving truck and everything!"

After a few moments, Rolf and Dad joined her on the couch, all three of them with their heads peeked out between the curtains. I could just imagine how dumb they all looked from outside.

Instead of flocking to the door with those dorks, I hurried into my room and peered out the window, to the parking lot below. There was one of those smaller U-Haul trucks parked sideways at the entrance and some scrawny looking guys in uniform carrying some chairs and bookshelves. I let my gaze skim around the area until I came to the area directly below my window.

A modest white midsize was parked in between my dad's Civic and the black crappy old junker that our other neighbor owned. My attention turned to the small group of people migrating across the cracked parking lot. I squinted, trying to make out their features.

There were three people - a middle-aged man, a middle-aged woman, and a boy that looked to be about twelve, maybe thirteen. All Asian. That was good, I figured. We hardly had any diversity here. Maybe we'd get more funding now.

And needless to say, Mom would be happy that we had some new neighbors to mingle with. The only other family in the building was the local badass: Ferd, and his mom, who we saw little of. It would be an understatement to say they weren't a lot of fun.

I frowned down at the trio as they made their way towards the sidewalk. Mom would probably want to buddy up with this family; it'd been a long time since we had friendly neighbors. She'd probably bake cookies for them and make me deliver them or something equally as torturing.

Oh well, I thought as I slumped onto my bed and stared at the ceiling, which inevitably reminded me of Isaac, as many things did. It wasn't like new neighbors could interfere with my stalking schedule.

Looking back, that was probably the moment I'd jinxed myself.

A/N: This is in serious need of a different title. TT