Blizzard Ch. 05-1

To say I was ‘thrown out’ of the coffee shop would be an overstatement. I was asked to pay for Sam’s pastry and leave. The sun had cut through the afternoon gloom. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of our barista. Her nametag said Carmine. Not Faye. Not Gretchen. I had tried to talk with her, but she hairpin-turned from joking about pancakes and last night’s dinner, to laughing off the idea that she could handle a second job, let alone a third. I couldn’t help getting angry, but I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I sighed grumpily at the universe. Sam slapped my ass, laughing hers off, as she joined me on the street.

“You calmed down at all yet?” she asked. I gave her a crooked frown. I hadn’t even got to talk about what I had invited her to talk about.

“I’m sorry. I just, I dunno. Not enough sleep and everything else.” I felt better for clearing the air. “I’ll run into her at Tara’s, apologize, and leave a stupid-sized tip.”

“Wait, Tara’s? Where you went with Max?” Sam pouted and showed me an image she had received from Max that morning. “Gretchen?”

“Yeah.” There she was: a tall slender redhead with dark curly hair, vibrant green eyes, and a terrible smirk.

“That’s the waitress Max has been sharpening her fangs for…” Sam chuckled. She swiped and showed me a picture of a tall attractive woman, mid twenties, in a dark red shirt and black apron. Hair was a bit straighter, smile was a bit more genuine. “Her?”

“That was her at Sapphire.” I didn’t remember Alex taking out her phone at dinner, but then I saw the angle of the restaurant, and realized the picture was taken on the way back from the bathroom.

“Her name’s Faye.” Sam cocked her frown and looked back at the coffee shop door. “And you think those girls look just like Carmine in there?”

“You don’t?” I shook my head. “You heard her when she took your order, right?”

“She might’ve just been humoring you?” Sam chewed her lip for a moment, “Though I can’t say why she stopped after giving me this.”

Sam took a big bite of her cinnamon bun. Flaky icing stuck around her lips. Her tongue came out and my eyes turned away. She was licking up her mess when she pushed the rest of the bun into my face. I bit off a small chunk to avoid the collision.

“You got a little something on your chin,” I said as soon as I swallowed. She scratched the little bit of sugar off with her nail. She sucked it off. I avoided looking at her lips pursed around her finger. She then reached up and did the same action with whatever she had slapped onto my lower lip. I had to close my lips around her finger, just to get her hand out of my face. She beamed.

“C’mon, I’ll buy you an ice cream!” She managed to spark a big smile on my face. I autopiloted into it when she took my hand and led me a block. It was a warm feeling, comforting. I’d always found walking hand in hand to be an imposition. Soon, once I started overthinking, I felt that way again. I moved my hand to the small of her back.

We strolled by the library on Spring Garden. She had fallen into her phone, texting Alex and Max and Mom (by the names at the top of the screen). I did my best not to eavesdrop. This was for the best, as without my looking out for her, she would’ve walked into traffic.

“Shit! Where the hell are we going?” She laughed, grabbed my pants like I had pulled back on hers, and spun me back the way we came. “It’s not not ice cream. I know where the best milkshakes are.”

“Oh, OK.” I took a deep breath. “Listen, we should talk.”

“Yeah? About anything important?” Her voice grew smaller in an instant. I tried not to sigh as I felt my confidence get a donkey kick in the solar plexus.

“I agree with Alex’s dad. I’m too old for you girls.”

“You’re not old, you’re just rocking a dad bod,” Sam countered, regaining some footing. “I like it, but a bit of exercise can help sort you out.”

“I have a dad bod?” Shit. I was going to go running every day for the rest of my life now. And I’d need to get stronger. After my last relationship exploded, I’d said I would ‘lift weights three times a week.’ Dad had approved, and bought me barbells. Did I even still have those?

“I’m too old for you, Sam.” I said a bit more strongly. Firm, not angry or combative. “You’re barely more than kids. You should be getting fucked up, and learning sex and relationship stuff, with guys your own age.”

“I’m not a kid,” Sam sneered. “Do I not look adult enough?” That was not it. I never had the opportunity to say anything, though. “I know I’m not really talented like Alex or crazy smart like Max. There’s no need to be this shallow!”

“I’m not being shallow.”

“I know you’re not. I snapped a little. I’m sorry.” The small voice returned.

“No, you don’t know. We met each other two nights ago.” I shook my head. “You and Alex go way back, right?”

“No, that’s Max and Alex. I met them both in September.” Sam rallied better now that she was on ground she knew better. She forced a smile. “OK, so I don’t know you well enough. That’s why we’re going for ice cream. So we can sit down and get to know each other.”

“No, I invited you girls out to explain that I’m going to step back from this. Let you get on with your lives and–“

“You like that girl in the coffee shop, don’t you? And we’re just getting in your way…” Sam murmured. “I wouldn’t do that! If you need a girl like that, just tell me, I’ll stay out of your hair whenever you’re trying to–“

No. I wasn’t about to go down that road, especially not with Sam’s shoulders shaking. Keep a girl on the side? That was beyond me. I rubbed the back of her shoulder and interrupted her.

“I’m freaked out about the girl in the coffee shop. It’s not about her. It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about Alex and Max. You girls seem really close. I’d hate to be a reason for you to fight. Those photos you sent me last night? Alex making me meet her dad? Max ambushing me at my apartment? You’re all going to collide and I don’t want that to happen to you.”

“Did you like the photos?” Sam burned red across her nose.

“I’m not going to answer that. I don’t want to encourage you to send more or hurt your feelings.” I stopped. She turned around a pace ahead of me and turned back. “It was really nice meeting you. I’m very glad your ankle is feeling better. Maybe we should say goodbye?”

“No. You’re too fucked up, Gene,” Sam scoffed. “Don’t worry about Alex, Max, and me. We know what we’re doing. We’re not going to flip out and claw each other’s eyes out. Besides, we can’t end this now. I said I’d buy you an ice cream.”

“I don’t think you or me know what we’re doing. I had no idea how to manage my feelings around a girl at your age. I didn’t find the girls that much better.” We started walking again across the street from the engineering campus and past the greasy pizza place that sustained me through my doomed college career.

“It’s easy. You find a guy you like. You make him happy. You expect him to make you happy.” Sam put away her phone in her bag.

“That’s incredibly naive, but positive. It’s a place to build off of.” I felt some existential weight falling off my shoulders.

“Boo!”The flying projectile that landed on my back and snapped her arms around my neck, startled the shit out of me. If the pizza place hadn’t performed a second pass after the half-assed mess the city did of shoveling the sidewalk, I’d have cracked at least my tailbone on the concrete. Or squashed Max as her carcass broke my fall.

“Hey, Max,”Sam smirked.

“Down you go.” I eased the arms off my shoulders and put the girl in her white winter galoshes onto the ground. She torqued around my hip and put her hand directly in my face. She waved hello with her red and white glove.

“This is so the perfect weather for ice cream!” Max snorted. She spiraled around my front and hugged Sam. “Thanks for the invite.”

“That’s new.” Sam gave me an impatient look. “Max does everything in her power to find excuses when I get her to come out with me.”

I felt better with the two of them here. I assumed the girls would be braking mechanisms on each other. I held my head higher. Sam on my left, Max continually slowed by snowbanks and walking a pace behind us. We took a turn down Fenwick Street; the sports bar with the fantastic milkshakes was on the left.

After pulling on the wrong door, we stepped inside. I kicked the snow off my shoes on the rubber mat as the girls flowed around me. Sam sent a text that was answered by a chirp across the dining room. Alex popped out of a booth and waved us all over. Her glass was half empty, but she had a steel cup holding another full helping of peanut-butter-and-chocolate-smelling ice cream.

“They put rum in it!” she grinned with conspiratorial glee. She tossed her jacket, hat, and gloves onto the other bench, forcing open a seat for me at her side. I grabbed Max’s hips and sat her down. I slid into the booth across from the two of them. Sam followed until her hip was pressed to the side of mine. The waitress came over.

No red hair, no familiar face, nothing. Simply a stranger smiling for tips. I gave an audible sigh of relief.

“IDs?” she asked of the girls. They smiled as she didn’t give their cards more than a microsecond glance. Nodding, she handed them back.

“And you, young man?” she asked with a this’ll-get-me-an-extra-percent-tip customer service smirk.

“No alcohol in mine, thanks.” I smiled warmly. She smiled without missing a beat.

“Can I have a blueberry shake?” Max jumped in.

“We don’t have blueberries. List is on the back.” She flipped over the menu in front of Alex. I sank back.

“The peanut butter one is amazing, but sometimes the nuts get stuck in the straw,” Alex suggested.

“Then suck harder, girl, you gotta lotta practicing to do,” Sam snarked. The waitress laughed. Alex burned a furious red. I kicked her toes. Her eyes went down, as her smile split her cheeks until she resumed slurping from the bottom of her glass.

“Same as hers, no alcohol,” I said. Sam and Max, not yet ready to order, fought over the menu to make a decision. The waitress was about to grab another. I stopped Sam with a touch of her wrist. “She can take your order when she gets back.”

“No, sorry, that’s not true. This was the only window of opportunity. We now have no use for your money,” the waitress laughed as she headed to the terminal to add my milkshake to the bill. Sam let go of the menu and Max heaved backwards. I shook my head and leaned back.

“Hey Alex. Your big dinner date? He’s going to tell you he’s too old and he doesn’t want to come between you and your friends,” Sam said, with an eyeroll directed at Alex.

“Dad was saying the same thing,” scoffed Alex. She kicked me in the shin. I gave her a questioning look. She hadn’t kicked hard and now the instep of her boot was rubbing over the top of my sneakers. “I’m an adult, people can’t tell me who I like or who I’m attracted to.”

“That’s true.” I pulled my legs back until I was sitting with good posture and my heels against the wood front of my bench.

“Besides…” Max tossed the menu to Sam, who failed to catch it. It bounced off her tit, and if I hadn’t lunged across and slapped it down on the table, it would’ve slid onto the floor. “Nice moves, Gene! Anyway, besides, her dad said you were off-limits. You’re now the Romeo to our Juliet. Half your work is done for you, Gene.”

“Feels like I’m trying to run up a slippery hill.”

“Trying to run away,” Sam elbowed me playfully. “Come sledding! We want you down here with us.”

“That sounds terrible. Don’t run away from us! We’ve got milkshakes!” The engineering student leaned across and entangled the theatre major. Alex gave a sweet and long ‘awww’.

“Yeah girl, don’t let him get all clusterfucked up in that boy brain of his,” Sam tapped my forehead. I forced a put-upon eyeroll.

“I’m glad you’re all handling this well,” I said. I thanked the waitress as she put down a tall glass full of chocolate-and-peanut-butter with a big swirl of whipped cream on top. Max ordered a chocolate caramel swirl, and Sam asked for vanilla. Both with shots of rum.

“At least Gene made the right flavor decision.” Alex had dumped the metal mixer’s second half of her milkshake into her glass, and clinked my own. Middle of winter, one of those few weeks where the snow is not being swept away by freezing rains. The perfect time for ice cream. I smiled softly. I felt good. The girls were smiling. Things seemed to be coming together a bit easier than I thought they ever could.

“I’m happy about you girls, though,” I said, knocking away the bit of peanut that got caught in the end of my straw. “I want you girls to choose each other over some day-old stranger. I was certain this was all going to blow up and get crazy.”

“How crazy do you mean? Like thinking that three different women with different names and different jobs are all the same person? Or like getting escorted out of a coffee shop in front of a crowd of people?”

“Seriously, I saw the same bushy-haired redheaded girl. I don’t know if I told all of you this, but I think she’s the one that left her boots at my place,” I muttered.

“Really?” Alex pulled out her phone and showed, I assume, the picture of Faye from Sapphire that she had sent to Sam. “Those boots would be tall on us. Could you imagine her wearing them?”

“I can imagine her kicking them off in Gene’s apartment,” Max said glumly.

“I picture Gene tearing them off her. While his other hand holds her down on his bed by her collarbone.” Sam nudged me with a warm shoulder. “What was she wearing that night?”

“A green dress,” I remembered. I did not like the look that appeared on Max’s face. “She didn’t stay the night like you guys. I just warmed her up, put on some tea, and handed her a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.”

“Max looks gorgeous in green,” Alex vouched for her friend. “I could never wear it.”

“What are you talking about? You look good in anything. In everything, even.” Sam lit up Alex’s smile. “Or nothing.” And both smiles were gone. Both sets of eyes were down. Both faces were red. Their smiles started to come back.

“What else?” Sam was running her hand around on the back of my shoulder. Sometimes her fingers would tiptoe up or down my spine. I couldn’t hold back the smile.

“What do you mean, what else?”

“I only saw her in a formless barista golf shirt.” Sam frowned. “Did she have a nice ass? How were her boobs? Smaller than Alex’s? Bigger than Max’s?”

“I’m pretty sure Alex and I are about the same size.” Max was speaking quieter than Sam. Leading her dormmate by example? Or was she leading herself by embarrassment? Alex was looking up again.

“How does someone leave their boots behind in the winter?” Alex asked the question I had no hope of answering. I shrugged.

“They’re free game, then?” Sam grinned. “I’d kill in those.”

“I think the heels are a little high for me,” Alex frowned.

“You’re in theatre, right? Maybe a little practice might not be a bad thing,” I suggested. She went off like a flashbulb.

“Really?” She bit her lower lip when she grinned. “You’d let me have them?”

“They don’t really go with your wardrobe, though,” Sam pointed out.

“I’ll just borrow something from yours, then,” Alex countered.

“You borrow Max’s stuff and she’s got at least a little on you.” I didn’t see Sam’s measurement. They all were built similar. Tallish, breasts, hips, pretty. I guess Max could’ve been a size bigger or so. Maybe judging the difference between L and XL men’s shirts was a bit bigger than one size in girls? I had no idea.

“Really? We’ve kinda been wearing the same things for years now?” Alex looked over her old friend. Max nodded in agreement.

“Then I say Max goes and gets fitted.” Sam flashed a smile at the waitress and took an immediate sip of her delivered milkshake. “This is lovely!” She looked across at her friend and waved to the waitress setting down the second milkshake halves in steel mixer cups. “Max, have her family released from the dungeons.”

“These girls are going to run you ragged.” The waitress winked at me.

“We’re not going to stop at ragged.” Sam flashed a smile and leaned her head on my shoulder. I put a finger on her forehead and sat her back up. Max smiled around her straw as she took her first sip.

“So, did we decide?” Alex asked. “Can I have the boots?”

“I don’t think they’re mine to give away,” I fumbled. “I’d rather give them back.”

“You know where she works,” Max pointed out. “Do you want me to walk them over with you sometime?”

“That’ll probably just lead to more disaster. Let her come back for them or not. As for who gets them? We don’t even know if they’ll fit,” Sam said. I had to pick her left hand off my thigh. She leaned forward and squeezed my knee. Alex was still rubbing her foot up the side of my leg. “We don’t want to go all wicked stepsisters on Gene’s Cinderella.”

I picked up Sam’s hand and put it up on the table. She gave me an innocent ‘Who me?’ face. Max was grinning to see me holding Sam’s hand. Alex was digging around in her milkshake, trying to dislodge another peanut from her straw. She looked up and beamed.

“Now I got that song in my head.” She laughed. “At least it’s one of my favorites.”

“What song?” I asked. I was unable to see how the conversation had pivoted, but Max seemed to have put the pieces together by her eyeroll.

“Sam?” Max gestured with her head to the washroom sign. Sam put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I’ll be right back.”

“Drive safe,” I muttered. “I’m sorry, Alex. What song?”

“The Work Song.” She was blushing a bit. I stretched, having a bit more room in the booth with Sam gone. I’d lever over a couple of inches when she came back.

“I don’t–“

“Cinderelly, Cinderelly. Night and day, it’s ‘Cinderelly! Make a fire! Fix a breakfast!'” She sang it low and quiet, raspy like a cartoon peasant mouse. She had a really talented voice, but I could tell she was terrified, her eyes darting around the small corner of the bar we could see.

“That’s one of your favorite songs?” I laughed.

“Disney songs, yeah.” She smiled. “What’s your favorite song?”

“Do you mean Disney song? Or ‘Monkey Wrench’ by the Foo Fighters?” I smirked.

“Disney.”

“Does Nightmare Before Christmas count?” I leaned back, thinking.

“Yes and no.” She smirked.

“How do you mean?”

“If I say both, I get your favorite Nightmare song and a bonus.” She laughed.

“OK, so I don’t know the title but ‘There are few who deny, at what I do, I am the best.'”

“‘Jack’s Lament’!” She beamed. “I like ‘Kidnap the Sandy Claws’. So, other Disney, go.”

“Oh…” I immediately jumped to Lion King, having watched it on VHS several hundred times as a kid. “Be Prepared.”

“Oh, a bad guy song,” she sighed, and smiled. “I love bad guy songs.”

“Really? You’re just so sweet!” I said out of reflex. No! Bad Gene! Don’t feed her compliments! She was bouncing.

“And too much sugar is bad for you,” she said in a sinister rasp.

“Yeah, I’ll have to keep my eyes on my pancreas around you,” I smiled. She laughed. I felt her foot reach for my calf again.

“How about we slow things down,” I told her. She raised an eyebrow. “The feet under the table and all the rest. It’s a bit too much. I have to agree with your dad: I’m too old for you. Besides, you’ve got great friends, and I refuse to come between you.”

“Oh, I can do ‘slow it down,'” she bartered.

“Well, that’s definitely a starting point.” I wondered about the other two. Max was attached in a different way than Sam. I felt, hoped, that I had made a bit more headway with at least one of the girls. I felt Sam was throwing muscle around. I expected part of it was an act to get me more off-kilter. I could deal with that, if she had listened to me.

“You didn’t say ‘The Work Song’ was your favorite, you said it was one of your favorites. You have me at a disadvantage here.” I got to see her smile. It more than made my afternoon. She shook her head to herself. Running numbers or something in her brain. The decision wasn’t easy.

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