Sunlight seeped through the sheer curtains at the storefront adding a rare level of brightness to the earth-tones of the store. The atmosphere of coffee shops always felt a bit dull for my liking, but Paige said it was good for me. She liked to say I was too hyperactive and insisted that some calm time would be a nice balance for me.
I had no idea what she was talking about. Sometimes it felt like she was making a mountain out of a molehill. So what if my leg liked to twitch nonstop whenever I was sitting down? I could stop whenever I wanted to! Did it matter that whenever I had a pencil in my hand I had to tap it against something? No! These weren’t problems.
At other times, I felt that her concerns were justified. Admittedly, my track record did suggest that I might, maybe need to hone in some of this excess energy. That was why, as Paige liked to say, I ran around like an idiot in my free time.
She could rag on parkour as much as she wanted, but I knew she enjoyed it too on occasion.
So working at Bean There, Done That wasn’t the most exciting job for me. Still, it was one of the best jobs that I’d ever had. Mr. Breslin was a very understanding boss. He tolerated my hyper nature and was forgiving of tardiness. I wondered how much that had to do with Paige’s good input.
My friend was the best. Really. We only met a year ago and she quickly, despite her best efforts in the beginning, became my best friend. She was the only person at school who really knew and understood me, even if she didn’t always understand me. I could count on her for anything, and the same was true for her. We had each other’s backs. That’s why we both applied to work here, and why we worked so well together. Paige and I balanced each other out. I helped her loosen up, and she helped me tighten down. Was that even a saying? I don’t know. Still, she helped me be less Watch and a little more Walter.
I know for a fact that if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have this job still. So, when the opportunities presented themselves, I did my best to try to relax. To slow down and enjoy the moment. Unfortunately, looking out the pane window of the storefront onto a busy city street didn’t exactly inspire calming thoughts.
All it made me want to do was run.
This calm break in customers was too much. “I need to do something, Paige!” I exclaimed, straightening up from where I’d been leaning against the counter.
Paige stood at the other end of the counter looking as calm and collected always. Her black and white uniform was tucked in perfectly, unlike mine. The ponytail atop her head was exactly centered and not a strand of chocolate-colored hair was out of place my own blonde hair had my preferred windswept look. Even her shoes were sensible and clean, unlike my own sneakers that were scuffed up all over from climbing on anything that would let me.
Her eyes immediately darted to the pencil in my hand that tapped against my side. “Okay,” She tapped her lips with a finger as her brown eyes surveyed the shop. “That front window needs cleaning.”
That would work. “On it!” I darted to the back, grabbed the cleaning supplies, and was outside in the sunlight in less than a minute.
While the air in a big city isn’t exactly fresh, it felt so much more so than the air inside. Paige loved the smell of the coffee. I didn’t mind it, but it got to be too much after a while. I liked to escape outside from time to time.
I took my time on the windows, making sure I got every spot that I could find on them. When I finished the outside, I started on the inside. I kept an eye on the flow of customers, ready to jump in if she needed backup. A few customers came in; a young couple, a man with a laptop, and an old woman. Paige served them without incident which didn’t surprise me. Working here was a bit of a step down from working at her father’s restaurant. That job had been much more stressful for her what with having to balance working stressful dinner rushes with homework. On top of that, was her overbearing father and his controlling assistant.
It had been a fun half-day working for him before he fired me. We didn’t get along too well when we first met. Nowadays, we at least had an understanding. I wouldn’t be a distraction for his precious little girl. Not like he had to ever worry about that.
I stepped back from the window and scrutinized it for any more spots. Not seeing any, I collected my tools and returned them to their spots in the back before rejoining Paige behind the counter.
“How does it look?” I asked, indicating the storefront.
“Looks great, Watch. Good job. Burn off that excess energy.”
I nodded, maybe too vigorously for someone who supposedly burned off energy. The raised eyebrow told me Paige was thinking the same thing. Before she could say anything on the matter, another customer walked in.
“I’ve got this guy, you had the last three.”
“Burned off that excess energy my butt,” She mumbled with a laugh as I turned to address our latest customer. She headed out to check on the guy typing away on his laptop at a table and the lady working on some embroidery on the sofa.
I smiled at the guy, who looked sort of familiar. He might’ve been a senior when Paige and I were freshmen. I had vague memories of him being one of the “cool” guys but he was before my time in that status.
I took his order and set to work filling it as he idly stood near the pick-up counter. Paige came behind the counter and washed the plate that used to hold the lady’s scone. As I worked on the guy’s drink, my mind wandered as it always does. My eyes darted around the room through the use of various reflective surfaces.
I didn’t fully focus on the task of making the drink but never looking away long enough that I might mess up. That had been a tricky skill to balance. Burnt my hands a couple of times, and created plenty of messes. Again, Mr. Breslin was incredibly tolerant and forgiving.
I could see the woman sitting on the couch with her purse beside her, working away. The first guy typed away on his laptop and took the occasional sip of coffee. As I watched the room, I couldn’t help but notice how the guy's gaze followed Paige. Several times his eyes raked over her body and lingered on her butt anytime her back was turned.
I didn’t like it for a number of reasons and finished making his drink as quick as I could. I wanted him gone. With a smile, I handed over his drink. “Have a good day, sir.”
The guy leaned forward as he grabbed his drink and whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “Bro, she’s pretty hot. Do you think I could get her number?”
A chuckle escaped me before I could even stop it. He didn’t like that and I began a hasty apology. “Sorry, she’s not interested.”
He straightened up with a look of indignation. “You didn’t even ask her.”
“Don’t have to.” I knew my friend well enough to know she wasn’t interested in some dude who’d been checking out her ass. There was also the fact that she was seeing someone. “She’s not interested.”
“What am I not interested in?” Paige asked, stepping up behind me.
The guy smirked at me as if he’d won. He then put on a face that I guess was meant to mimic Eugene’s smolder from Tangled, but it was a far cry from that. “I was wondering if I could get your number.
“Oh,” Paige said before biting down on her lip. A nervous habit of hers. “I’m sorry, but he’s right. I’m not interested.”
“What, why not?” It was practically a whine. He seemed to be taking this rejection personally.
“I’m not interested,” Paige repeated in a steadier tone.
That should have been the end of it. He should have accepted that and moved on. But he didn’t. His eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to say something, but I spoke first.
“Come on man, just take the no and move on. There’s plenty of other women out there.” I pointed outside and as if to prove my point, a pair of women walked by the front window. Woah, did I have powers I didn’t know about? I’d have to mention that to Paige after this.
“Butt out!” He snapped, then focused on my friend, who shrunk under the glare from the man who seconds ago had been ogling her. “What, are you seeing someone?”
Paige wasn’t one for confrontations, but she did her best to stand firm as she crossed her arms. “It’s none of your business if I’m seeing anyone.”
And this was true. She didn’t owe this random stranger any explanation, especially if this was how he wanted to act.
My nails scraped across the counter before digging into my palms.
Paige’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”
The jerk smirked as he looked her up and down. “Someone who dresses all prim and proper like you couldn’t possibly be in a relationship.”
I was over the counter in the blink of an eye. The guy stumbled back with a yelp, spilling his coffee all over the counter and the floor.
“Say that again,” I ordered. All of the friendliness in me faded away. It shocked him as much as it did the kids at school. Everyone thought I was just some happy-go-lucky goofball, and in a sense, I was. However, there were certain things I would not stand for.
I wanted to kick his ass, but I honestly didn’t know much about fighting. I was quick though. On top of that, all of the free-running I did gave me the appearance of looking like someone who could fight. I liked to use that to my advantage. So I stood there with my chin up and my chest puffed out, staring down this guy who was several inches taller than me.
Paige and our other two customers watched us standing there, neither making a move. The tension was unbearable. My heartbeat pounded in my ears and I thought my chest would explode, but I didn’t let it show.
The jerk studied me for a long second. He must not have liked his chances because he raised his hands. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Then apologize to my friend.” The snarl in my voice sounded weird, but it worked on him.
He uttered a hasty, half-assed apology. “I’m sorry.”
He could do better than that. “For?” I asked.
His eyes darted from me to her. “For calling you a loveless prude.”
“Now get out.” I pointed at the door and he didn’t think twice. He tripped over the woman’s purse, which I could have sworn had been on the couch beside her, not on the floor. As the door bells chimed, the tension in the room faded and I staggered back a step.
Paige hurried around the corner and wrapped me in a hug before holding me at arm’s length. “Watch, you really shouldn’t have done that.”
“My shoulders slumped and I smacked my forehead. “I know, do you think Mr. Breslin will be mad? I couldn’t let him be rude to you like that. You’re not loveless. Cailey loves you.”
A smile returned to Paige’s lips at hearing her girlfriend’s name. “I know.”
“And I love you too.”
“I know.” She pecked my cheek and then looked at the mess at our feet. “You think next time you can scare off guys without making a mess.”
I laughed as I went to get the mop and bucket. “I’ll keep that in mind next time.”
When I came back out, Paige was apologizing to our two customers.
“He got off easy.” The guy on his computer said, not looking up.
The woman picked her purse up off the floor with a sly smile and winked at the two of us. “I’m old, and my eyesight is not what it used to be. Sometimes I don’t see things.” She shrugged and resumed her task.
With that handled, I set to work mopping up the floor as Paige handled the counter.
“Guys are assholes,” she sighed. “No offense,” she added hastily.
“None taken.” I knew the comment wasn’t aimed at me. “I hate guys like that. You going to tell Cailey about this?”
“I don’t know. Probably. I don’t want her to worry, but we don’t keep secrets from each other.”
“That’s a good practice in a relationship.” I kept mopping until every inch of floor in the store had been cleaned, once again using the task to burn off energy, which had spiked after dealing with the jerk.
As I put the mop and bucket away, Paige leaned against the counter with a sigh. “Do you ever regret not going to that school across the country?” She looked me up and down with an inquisitive stare.
The question caught me off guard. Going to the school could have been fun, but it wouldn’t have felt right. I couldn’t just leave my Gam-Gam and Paige. I couldn’t leave Gam-Gam alone, and I’d just gotten a real friend. I wasn’t about to give that up.
“Pssh, we both know that wouldn’t have ended well for me.” The minute the administration at that school realized how hyperactive I could be, and what a class clown I was, they would have sent me packing.
“I’m serious, Walter.” Oh, my real name. She was definitely serious. “I think you would have done well there,” she added.
I shrugged. I tried not to think about it too much. Going would have been a big deal and a great opportunity, but I had more important stuff going on here. “Maybe, but I would have missed you too much. You’re my best friend.”
Her face scrunched up before breaking into a grin. “You’re cheesy, you know that?” She punched my arm, with a little more strength than I think she meant to and I wished my shirt offered more insulation. “Sorry.”
“Eh, I get it from Gam-Gam.” We both knew that was I lie. Gam-Gam could be very tough sometimes. I really was just a softy, but I’d never let that prevent me from helping a friend.