MY LIFE IS PRETTY SIMPLE. I don’t have too many complications. I’m a happy person. These things are known.
The first three thoughts that go through my mind each day are:
It’s less crowded here than I thought.
I hope Tessa is off work today so we can hang out.
I miss my mom.
Yes, I’m a sophomore at New York University, but my mom is one of my best friends.
I miss home a lot. It helps to have Tessa around; she’s the closest thing to family I have out here.
I know college students do this all the time; they leave home and can’t wait to be away from their hometowns, but not me. I happened to like mine, even if it’s not where I grew up. I didn’t mind living in Washington for my senior year and then my first year of college—it was becoming my home. I had a family there and found a new best friend. The only, and biggest, thing missing was Dakota, my longtime girlfriend. So when she got accepted into one of the best ballet academies in the country, I agreed to move to New York City with her. I had a plan at the time I applied to NYU; it just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. I was supposed to move here and start my future with her. I had no idea that she would decide she wanted to spend her first year at college single.
I was devastated. I still am, but I want her to be happy, even if it’s not with me.
The city’s chilly in September, but there’s barely any rain compared to Washington State. So that’s something, at least.
As I walk to work, I check my phone, like I do about fifty times a day. My mom’s pregnant with my little sister, and I want to be sure that if anything happens, I can get on a plane and be there for her quickly. My mom and Ken chose the name Abigail and I can’t wait to meet the little one. I’ve never really been around babies, but little Abby is already my favorite baby in the world. However, so far the only messages from my mom have been pictures of the amazing things she whips up in the kitchen.
Not emergencies, but, man, I miss her cooking.
The streets are mobbed as I make my way to work. I’m waiting at a crosswalk with a crowd of people, mostly tourists with heavy cameras around their necks. I laugh to myself when a teenage boy holds up a giant iPad to take a selfie.
I will never understand this impulse.
When the crosswalk starts flashing its red countdown, I turn up the volume on my headphones.
Out here I pretty much wear headphones all day. The city is so much louder than I had anticipated, and I find it helpful to have something that blocks out some of the noise and at least colors those sounds that get in with something I like.
Today it’s Hozier.
I even wear the headphones while working—in one ear at least, so I can still hear the coffee orders shouted to me. I’m a little distracted today by two men, both dressed in pirate outfits and screaming at each other, and as I walk into the shop, I bump into Aiden, my least favorite coworker.
He’s tall, much taller than me, and he has this white-blond hair that makes him look like Draco Malfoy, so he kind of creeps me out. On top of his Draco resemblance, he happens to be a little rude sometimes. He’s nice to me, but I see the way he looks at the girls who come into Grind. He acts like the coffee shop is named after a club rather than coffee grounds.
The way he smiles down at them, flirting and making them squirm under his “handsome” gaze . . . I find it all pretty off-putting. He’s not that handsome, actually; maybe if he was nicer, I could see it.
“Watch it, man,” Aiden mumbles, slapping my shoulder like we’re crossing a football field together in matching jerseys.
He’s making record time in annoying me today . . .
But brushing it off, I head into the back and tie my yellow apron around my waist and check my phone. After I clock in, I find Posey, a girl who I’m supposed to be training for a couple of weeks. She’s nice. Quiet, but she’s a hard worker, and I think it’s kind of cute that she always takes the free cookie we offer her each training day as an incentive to be a little happier during the shift. Most newbies decline it, but she’s eaten one every single day this week, sampling the whole range: chocolate, chocolate macadamia, sugar, and some mystery greenish flavor that I think is some gluten-free-all-natural-localvore thing.
“Hey,” I say, smiling at her where she leans against the ice machine. Her reddish hair is tucked behind her ears, and she’s reading the back of one of the bags of ground coffee. When she looks up at me, she smiles a quick greeting, then returns her eyes to the bag.
“It still makes no sense that they charge fifteen dollars for a thing of coffee this small,” she says, tossing the bag to me.
I barely catch it and then it nearly slips from my hands, but I grab it tightly.
“We.” I correct her with a laugh, and set the bag down on the break table where it came from. “We charge that.”
“I haven’t worked here long enough to be included in the ‘we,’?” she teases, and grabs a hair band off of her wrist and lifts her curly reddish-brown hair into the air behind her. It’s a lot of hair, and she ties it up neatly, then nods her signal that she’s ready to work.
Posey follows me out to the floor and waits by the cash register. She’s mastering taking customers’ orders this week and will likely be making the drinks next. I like taking orders the most because I would rather talk to people than burn my fingers on that espresso machine, like I do every shift.
I’m putting everything in order at my station, when the bell attached to the door sounds. I look over to Posey to see if she’s ready, and sure enough, she’s already perked up, all set to greet the morning’s caffeine addicts. Two girls approach the counter chatting loudly. One of the voices strikes me, and I look over at them to see Dakota. She’s dressed in a sports bra, loose shorts, and bright sneakers. She must have just finished a run; if she were leaving for a dance class, she’d be in a one-piece and tighter shorts. And she would look just as good. She always does.
Dakota hasn’t come in here for a few weeks, and I’m surprised to see her now. It makes me nervous, my hands shaking, and I find myself poking at the computer screen for absolutely no reason. Her friend Maggy sees me first. She taps Dakota on her shoulder, and my ex turns to me, a big smile on her face. Her body is coated in a light layer of sweat, and her black curls are wild in a bun on her head.
“I was hoping you’d be working.” She waves to me and then to Posey.
She was? I don’t know what to make of this. I know that we agreed to be friends, but I can’t tell if this is just friendly chatting, or something more.
Maggy waves, too. “Hey, Landon.”
I smile at both of them and ask them what they’d like to drink.
“Iced coffee, extra cream,” the duo says at once. They’re dressed nearly identically, but Maggy is easily overshadowed by Dakota’s glowing caramel skin and bright brown eyes.
I go into automatic mode, grabbing two plastic cups and shoving them into the ice bin with a smooth scooping motion, then pulling up the pitcher of premade coffee and pouring it into the cups. Dakota is watching me. I can sense her eyes on me, making me feel quite awkward. So when I notice that Posey is watching me, too, I realize I could—should, probably—explain to her what the heck I’m doing.
“You just pour this over ice; the evening shift makes it the night before so it can get cold and not melt the ice,” I say.
It’s really basic, what I’m telling her, and I almost feel foolish saying it in front of Dakota. We aren’t on bad terms at all, just not hanging out and talking like we used to. I completely understood when she ended our three-year relationship. She was in New York City with new friends and new surroundings. I didn’t want to hold her back, so I kept my promise and stayed friends with her. I’ve known her for years and will always care about her. She was my second girlfriend but the first real relationship I’ve had up to now.
“Dakota?” Aiden’s voice overpowers mine as I start to ask them if they want me to add whipped cream, something I do to my own drinks.
Confused, I watch as Aiden reaches over the counter and grabs Dakota’s hand. He lifts their hands in the air, and with a big smile she twirls in front of him.
Then, taking a glance at me, she inches away, just a bit, and says more neutrally to him, “I didn’t know you worked here.”
I look at Posey to distract myself from eavesdropping on their conversation, then pretend like I’m looking at the schedule on the wall behind her. It’s really none of my business who she has friendships with.
“I thought I mentioned it last night?” Aiden says, and I cough to distract everyone from the little squeak that comes out of me.
Fortunately, no one seems to notice except Posey, who tries her best to hide her smile.
I don’t look at Dakota even though I can sense she’s uncomfortable; in reply to Aiden, she laughs the laugh she gave my grandma upon opening her Christmas gift one year. That cute noise . . . Dakota made my grandma so happy when she laughed at the cheesy singing fish plastered to a fake wooden plank. When she laughs again, I know she’s really uncomfortable. Wanting to make this whole situation less awkward, I hand her the two coffees with a smile and tell her I hope to see her again soon.
Before she can answer, I smile again and go into the back room, turning the sound up on my headphones.
For a couple of minutes, I wait for the bell to ring again, signaling Dakota and Maggy’s exit, before I realize that I probably won’t hear it over the sound of yesterday’s hockey game playing in my ear. Even with only one bud in, the cheering crowd and slaps of sticks would overpower an old brass bell. I go back out to the floor and find Posey rolling her eyes at Aiden as he shows off his milk-steaming skills to her. The way a cloud of steam floats in front of his white-blond hair makes him look even weirder to me.
“He said they’re in school together, at that dance academy he goes to,” Posey whispers when I approach.
I freeze and look toward Aiden, who is oblivious, lost in his own apparently glorious world. “You asked him?” I say, impressed and a little worried about what his answers would be to other questions involving Dakota.
Posey nods, grabbing a metal cup to rinse. I follow her to the sink, and she turns on the hose. “I saw the way you acted when he held her hand, so I thought I’d just ask what was going on with them.”
She shrugs, causing her big mass of curly hair to bounce slightly. Her freckles are lighter than most redheads’ I’ve seen and are scattered across the top of her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Her lips are big; they pout a tad and she’s nearly my height. These were things I noticed on her third day of training, when I suppose my interest flared up for a moment.
“I dated her for a while,” I admit to my new friend, and hand her a towel to dry the cup with.
“Oh, I don’t think they’re dating. She would be insane to date a Slytherin.” When Posey smiles, my cheeks flare and I laugh along with her.
“You noticed it, too?” I ask.
Reaching between us, I grab a pistachio mint cookie and offer it to her.
She smiles, taking it from my hand and eating half of it before I even manage to get the lid back on the canister.