Filed under: Chapter 18 | Tags: Cinnabon, Melrose Place, Rollwagen, Some New Trend, The Simpsons, White Mocha, Wizard of Oz
I PASS CINNABON, AND I THINK about the first time I spent the night at the Bates’ house, when we had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and Josh made a joke about bringing home the bacon. I pass WaterBoyz, and that reminds me of Josh because, you know, Josh is a boy. I pass the pretzel stand and I think about him because … well, no reason. I just think about him all the time. It’s like I’m channeling him, somehow, tuning into a station that’s all Josh, all the time.
I used to feel like thinking about Josh gave us a connection, even if it was rather one-sided. Now that we actually talk, like, with words, and in the real world, everything seems different. It’s weird, but I felt like I knew him better before we hung out so much, when just a few short conversations would play over in my head, bumping into each other over and over like rocks, getting polished and smoother and more familiar. Now, I don’t know, it’s different. It’s rougher.
I used to have Josh all to myself, in a way. Now we’re never alone, always with Bryanna. And I know they’re together—or, I’m pretty sure they’re together, I never totally know what’s going on there—and I feel guilty thinking about being more-than-friends with Josh. I try to stop, but it’s involuntary. Like an addiction.
Josh gets more confusing the longer I know him, but with Bryanna, it’s the opposite. Before we were friends, she seemed like a different species, an untouchable personification of perfection. I understood her and the rest of the cheerleaders about as much as I understand those sea turtles are always getting the beach shut down. Bryanna’s life is filled with parties and pep rallies and boys, and mine is filled with books and studying and reruns of The Simpsons. She always knows just what to say to get a guy to like her, when my only hope is that, someday, a guy will like me enough to not care that I say the wrong things.
But Bryanna isn’t that different than me, really. She reads almost as much as I do, so we always have something to talk about. She’s nice to me, and she thinks I’m really funny and smart. Don’t get me wrong, she still seems almost impossibly shiny and perfect, but all the mystery’s worn off and she’s not as intimidating as she used to be.
So, yeah, I kind of get Bryanna. And I totally don’t get Josh. When they’re together, it’s like they’re on the same one-track mind, and I understand both of them, I just don’t like them very much.
I walk into the coffee shop, concentrating on details like how the place smells (coffee beans, obviously) and how many customers are there (two, one typing on a laptop and another reading a paper) in order to keep my mind off of Josh. I don’t actually feel like drinking coffee, but I do feel like sitting down and reading for a while.
I walk up to an empty counter, and for ten minutes—it feels like that, anyway—no one comes to help me. Logically, I realize that the barista is probably just doing dishes in the back since business is so slow. But I can’t help but feel invisible and unimportant. Eventually, Dylan walks out to the front, taking long swigs from a bottle of San Pelligrino.
“Well, if it isn’t the heartbreak kid,” he says, putting the bottle down and washing his hands.
“Huh?” I say. I’m getting more used to Dylan now, but, unlike Stephanie, I still don’t get all of his jokes. (I have a feeling Stephanie doesn’t get all of Dylan’s jokes either, actually, but she laughs at them anyway.)
“Oh nothing,” he says. “Don’t mind me, I’m just the help. You know what they say, ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’” I smile this time. Wizard of Oz references I do get.
“So, what can I make for you today?” he asks. I look at the menu for a minute, trying to find something cheap, but it’s all very confusing. What’s a macchiato? What does Con Panna mean? I’ve been staring at the choices for too long now, and I kind of just want the same old mocha, but now I feel pressured to order something new. Dylan’s staring at me, and I find myself wishing he back doing dishes and I could be invisible again.
“Um, White Mocha?” I say, and I realize that it comes out like a question. My mother would give me a speech about learning to be more assertive, but Dylan seems okay with it.
“Sounds good,” he says, and starts my drink. “So, you know my buddy Will?”
“Sure, I know Will,” I tell him. Neither of us say anything for a minute or so while he steams the milk. He finishes my drink and puts a lid on it, then looks at me expectantly.
“Oh, right,” I say, pulling out my wallet. “I forgot to pay you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dylan says, waving my money away. “It’s on the house.”
“Okay thanks,” I say, a little confused.
“Well … what do you think?” he asks.
I pick up the drink and take a sip. It’s way too hot, and I flinch a little bit.
“Good!” I say, too enthusiastically, trying to recover. Dylan laughs.
“Always good to know my work is appreciated,” he says. “But I wasn’t talking about the drink. I was talking about Will.”
“What do I think … about Will?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Do you like him?”
“Sure, I guess,” I say. “He’s nice.”
I can feel my face getting red, and Dylan’s grin gets wider.
“So, you do like him,” he says.
“What?” I say, way too loudly. “I mean, no, I don’t. I like him, you know, as a friend. That’s all.”
“That’s not what it looks like to me,” he says, laughing again. “You’re embarrassed. You just got red as a strawberry.”
“Well, yeah,” I say, completely flustered. “I’m embarrassed to be talking to you about … I mean, I feel silly … but it’s not because … we’re friends. That’s all, we’re just friends.”
“Have you heard that thing about protesting too much?” Dylan has a grin plastered on his face, like I’m a big joke.
“I’m just protesting because it isn’t true,” I say. “Where are you getting this stuff? Have you been talking to Stephanie?”
Dylan gets a weird look on his face—I can’t tell if it’s bad or good—and raises an eyebrow. “Why,” he says. “What’s she been telling you?”
Clearly, Stephanie hasn’t said anything to him. I wish I could just get out of this situation and go read. Or at least write in my journal about how humiliating this is.
Dylan’s waiting for an answer.
“Well,” I start, trying to make something up and failing. “You know, she sort of kind of thinks something’s going on with me and Will. You know, because he’s nice to me. But he’s nice to her too! I don’t think it means anything. She’s always saying he talks to me more, and he texts me and stuff, and that’s true, he does do that, but it’s only because I think he’s funny and she doesn’t. She’s always telling him he’s stupid, so obviously he’s going to talk to me more. It’s not because he likes me. And I don’t like him, either.”
“You like that Josh guy,” Dylan says. It’s a statement, not a question.
“No!” I say, too loud again. I’m the worst liar. You know how some people have small facial tics that give them away then they’re not telling the truth? I’m always raising my voice several decibels. It’s a dead giveaway.
“Whatever,” Dylan says, evidently believing me despite my awkward shouting. “Doesn’t matter to me. You kids are a regular Melrose Place.”
“What’s that?” I ask, but, instead of telling me, he just rolls his eyes. It makes me feel even stupider about going on about my life, like Dylan doesn’t have anything better to think about than which boy I have a crush on.
“Speak of the devil,” Dylan says, gesturing to the door.
I turn around to see Josh coming inside, and I can’t help but smile. Even though I think about him all the time, every time I actually see him it feels like the first time in forever. Like we’re lovers meeting at the train station after months of separation. Not that I’ve ever ridden on a train—or had a lover, for that matter—but I’ve read about it.
“Hey June,” he says, and he actually looks happy to see me.
“Hey,” I say. I still get pretty shy around Josh, even though we’ve been hanging out all summer.
“Let me get your drink,” he says, pulling out his wallet. “Have you paid yet?”
I’m about to tell him that it’s on the house, but Dylan sticks out his palm.
“It’s $3.95,” he says to Josh.
“Sure,” Josh says. “I’ll take hers, and an iced mocha for me.”
“Whatever,” Dylan says as he grabs a cup and starts the drink.
My heart is beating a million miles an hour. Josh is buying me coffee! He’s never paid for me before. Actually, I’m pretty sure no guy besides my uncles or my dad has ever paid for me. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see our reflection in the glass of the pastry case. Josh looks taller than me, much taller than I’ve ever noticed before, and he’s standing right next to me. We almost look like a couple. But when I turn my head to look, the light changes and all I see is a plate of berry coffee cake.
“So,” Josh says. “You want to go to the fountain?”
“The fountain?” I echo.
“Sure. Isn’t that where you guys go after getting coffee? Or is that some secret thing just for you and Stephanie.” Actually, it is kind of a special thing for me and Steph, but I’m not telling him that.
“No, it’s cool,” I say. “Let’s go.” I can’t believe this. I. Cannot. Believe. This. Josh Bates wants to buy me coffee and hang out with me by the fountain! Talk about surreal.
“So, how’s work?” he asks.
“Actually, it’s getting better,” I say. “I still feel like an idiot most of the time, but at least I can ring up a sale and generally get through the day without getting yelled at by my manager.”
“She looks pretty scary,” he says.
“She can be,” I agree. “She’s surprisingly fair, though. As long as you’re doing your work and getting decent sales, she isn’t so bad.”
“It’s weird how people at work can kind of grow on you, even though you’d never actually want to hang out with them in real life,” Josh says.
“I know!” I say, and take a sip of my coffee. It’s surprisingly sweet.
We’re silent for a moment, and Josh digs in his pocket and hands me a penny.
“Make a wish,” he says.
I take the penny and turn it over in my hand. The edges are soft from years of circulation, and it’s still warm from being in Josh’s pocket. I’m touching a coin that Josh was holding just a moment ago, and it feels like magic. I watch the penny fall in the fountain and sink to the bottom, all the time wishing that I had the right words, that I knew what to say to make him listen to me, think I’m interesting, want to stay here talking to me.
“What’d you wish?” Josh asks.
“You know I can’t tell you that,” I say, smiling. “Bad luck.”
“I don’t believe in luck,” he says.
“Then what’s the point in wishing?” I ask.
“Good point,” he says, leaning against the wall behind him and putting one foot on the wall.
“Speaking of wishing,” Josh says, “I wish I knew what was going on with Bryanna.”
I saw this cartoon one time where the character—I think it was a bear—was disappointed. All the wind rushed out of him, like a balloon let go before it’s tied, leaving him wilted on the floor. When Josh mentions Bryanna, I feel myself deflate like that.
“I can’t seem to figure her out,” he’s saying. “I don’t know if she likes me anymore.”
Oh. I get it now. I know why Josh wanted to talk to me alone. I know why he was glad Bryanna wasn’t around. He just wanted my advice. About her. I try not to let my disappointment show on my face. It’s hard, but he isn’t really looking at me, anyway.
“I’m sure she still likes you,” I say, quietly. Well, I got my wish. At least we have something to talk about.
“How do you know,” Josh asks. “Did she say something?”
“She didn’t have to,” I tell him. My role as relationship counselor is fitting a little easier now, and I’m getting into the dialogue. “It’s totally obvious.”
“It didn’t seem so obvious the other night,” he says.
“What, at that party?” I ask.
“You heard about that?”
“Of course I heard about it,” I say. “I’m on Facebook.”
“Then you know how Bryanna totally ignored me all night to flirt with another guy,” he says, full of self-pity.
“No,” I say. “I know how you were rude to Rose, then you flirted with some older girl forever, then tried to beat up Bryanna’s ex, then spilled Sunkist all over a thousand dollar rug.”
“It was Diet Sunkist,” he says. “And anyway, that’s just Bryanna’s perspective.” Josh is totally sulking. It is not attractive. Suddenly, I don’t feel like being nice to him anymore.
“No,” I say. “It isn’t her perspective at all. It’s Will’s perspective.” Josh looks at me, surprised, but I go on. “Come on Josh, you know Bryanna likes you. She just wants you to prove that you like her every once in awhile.”
I don’t know why I’m giving him this advice. I should just tell him he’s right, that Bryanna’s lame. Then maybe I’d have a chance again. But there are two problems with that plan: One, she’s not lame. And two, I never had a chance in the first place.
“She wants you to be her boyfriend and not act weird every time one of her friends comes around,” I tell him. “You used to want that, too.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I did.”
We’re both quiet, and I’m wondering what he means by that. I take another sip of my coffee, just to have something to do with my hands. When I look back at Josh, I realize he’s been staring at me.
Our eyes lock, and it’s like I’m lost and found all at once.
“Well, I should probably go,” he says, standing. It sounds like he wants me to ask him to stay, but I don’t know how to do that.
“Me too,” I say, and he grabs my arm and pulls me into a hug. It happens so fast I don’t know how to take it. I’m surprised and I’m afraid someone will see us and I feel guilty for wanting Josh to keep holding me even though I know Bryanna would hate me for it.
I don’t have time to process anything, and I don’t have time to relax. And before I know it, he’s whispering in my ear.
“You hate this, don’t you,” he whispers.
And I finally answer, “No, I don’t hate this.”
But it’s too late and I’m too quiet and he’s already walking away.
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