Just a thing

Caro drank coffee as a form of penance. She grimaced as she lowered the steaming, stinking cup. Her nose, normally the only cute feature in her severely pretty face, lost its cuteness as she wrinkled it in clear distaste.

The cafe was nearly empty. Technically, it wasn’t even open yet. But her brother-in-law owned the place, and he had a fair amount of friends who liked to come in before hours. Brian was definitely not her friend, but she came in on a weak family clause.

She took another sip of the coffee. As far as she knew, Brian brewed the best coffee in the world. It all tasted like water steeped with wood to her. And it was always too hot.

Her table was one of the few within viewing distance of the clock on the wall. She stared up at it as if expecting it to float away. One day, it probably would. Nothing in the cafe looked entirely real. The clock had been designed to look backward, the tables were checked, and the chairs looked like wrought-iron fences. The colours were a riot, as well. Caro generally avoided the pinker things, as she felt that they matched her hair so well that her hair vanished entirely in comparison.

The effect was cartoonish, rather than ethereal. Although some of Brian’s friends certainly looked like ghosts.

Just as she lifted the coffee to her lips a third time, she caught sight of her expected friend. She set the cup down, pushed it away from herself, and waved. “You’re late,” she said, without rancour.

Ned, pierced and tattooed so much that he looked more like a studded, mural-covered wall than a thin man of twenty-four, sat down opposite her. “Not so loud.”

Dark glasses and hunched shoulders. Universal code for a hangover. Caro nudged the coffee towards him. “What were you up to last night?”

“I got stood up.”

She bit her lip to hold back a laugh. “Wow. Stood up by a girl you met on Tumblr. Quelle surprise.”

Ned scowled into the coffee cup, as if daring it to mock him as well. “I didn’t meet her on Tumblr.”

“Then I must be mixing up your many failures to launch. Forgive me.”

Breakfast might have been nice, but she’d already eaten, and she doubted Ned would have been able to keep anything down. The poor man kept all of his stress and disappointment in his digestive system. It was no wonder that he was so thin he could enter a room without opening the door.

He rested his chin on his arms. “Maybe it’s me.” His breath fogged up the glass surface of the table. The fog obscured some of the scratches and finger marks. “Maybe I’m too awesome.”

“You could be. Your taste is legendarily bad.”

With a snort, he erased every blemish on his side of the table. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you choose women who aren’t awesome enough to stand your less stellar features.” Caro tapped the stud in his nose. “And you keep trying for the really straight-laced girls. Trust me, banking on their bad boy complexes won’t work in your favour for long.”

She knew all about that. She had more tattoos than he did, and most people assumed they came with a record the length of her legs. Her types were bankers and good boys. Neither lasted in a relationship.

Ned sat up and chugged the coffee. Or tried to. He burned his mouth immediately and ended up spilling the rest. She took his elbow and dragged him away from the table before Brian could come out and see why someone was cursing so loudly.

“The lisp is cute,” she said, “but it probably won’t be permanent and I don’t think it’s what you’re going for anyway.”

They went for a walk, all hands in pockets, both minds in the clouds.


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