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   Chapter 15 Internet Fame and Americanos

Blog of a Teenage Superhero By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 11309

Updated: 2017-12-05 19:04


The September afternoon is cool and the wind is brisk. Seagulls caw as they swoop in lazy circles over tourists“ heads. Couples in loose felt scarves and thick sweaters kiss over steaming cups of hot cocoa and tea, and the kids sucking down ice cream suck down ice cream ironically.

"You know," Max says as we approach a hot beverage stand. "I still can“t get into drinking coffee on the beach. I can“t get into being on the beach when it“s cold." He flumps back his hair. It“s messy and dark, feathers of it caught in the breeze. The sky is bleached a creamy white, the sun caught behind the golden thread of clouds. His smiling face is masked in creeping shadows.

"Mmm-hmm," I say. At the stand, a teen in a green apron thumbs her fingers boredly through a yellow-edged copy of Jane Eyre, staring at Max. She“s smiling. "Hi," I say. "An Americano with caramel drizzle for me and a honey-chamomile tea for the hipster."

"Hey!" Max nudges me in the ribs. The pain shoots up my side. A searing white flash bursts behind my eyelids. "I“m not a hipster, I“m—"

"Literally the most mainstream guy I“ve ever met?" Tears burn the backs of my eyes. The edge of my lip wobbles up painfully. Smiling, so it seems, is best suited for people who aren“t trapped in cycles of debilitating pain.

"And that“ll be... 6.89 for the lovebirds."

"Ridiculous," I say, already reaching for my wallet.

"Highway robbery, you mean." Max places his hand on mine, his smile crooked. "I got it."

My pulse pounds in my fingertips and my palm is slick and cold with sweat. I push his hand away. "I“ll pay."

"No, no, I“m sure you need the money more than—"

"So help me, Max Preston!" I wrench my faux leather wallet out of my back pocket and slap down a crumpled ten. "I don“t need your pity. It“s a cup of tea. I ravaged your kitchen, okay? Give me this."

His face goes pink. "I don“t pity you."

Whistling, the barista hands me back my change. I slip it into the tip jar when her back is turned. "Yeah," I say. My arms cross over my chest almost reflexively. "So why are you here?"

Some dating 101: this is pretty much the worst way to treat your crush. A part of me knows this and hates all the other parts of me for it. Max is cute and he means well, but he is a Preston. Even his stupid well-meaning comments make me feel demeaned. What did his father tell him about my family? What does Max think of my dad? What does Max think of me?

"I talked to my dad."

"Oh." I drum my fingers on the counter. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle up. A seagull with sand in its feathers swoops down beside my shoe, pecking at a crushed ice cream cone. "You can hang out at my place. It“s okay. Like, I get the stuff between your dad and mine, and—hey, are you laughing?"

"I“m...remembering." I force my shoulders to stiffen up and swallow back the squeaky chuckle. I wave back at the barista. "Excuse me, miss?"

"Hmm?" She turns around with a frothy cardboard cup in one hand. Wisps of white steam curl into question marks before they flit away in the wind. She sets Max“s tea in front of him and holds my coffee for a second too long, squinting at me, as if deciding whether to hand the cup over or splash it in my face.

"Do you have any back-copies of the Journal?" I force a smile and pull out another five.

She hands me my cup, snatches up the five, and flings a he

the window. I would“ve smiled at the mayor through sips of his coffee. It“s not the rocky relationship with my dad and his that“s the problem, it“s his dad trying to have me murdered. But how do I break it to him? Maybe I shouldn“t break it to him at all. "Yeah, yeah. Sorry I freaked." The sun is setting. "I have to go."

"Wait." He grabs my hand, his face flushed, his eyes twinkling in the fading sunlight. "We“re going to pitch your carnival idea tomorrow at our first official meeting. You“re coming, right?"

My ribs are broken. I haven“t slept in days. "Uh-huh." I tear out the features page, the lid of my Americano clamped in between my teeth. "Take this. It“s a gift. Frame it above your bed and remember your dad is a hack, insert history nerd joke, insert pop culture nerd joke here."

Max sighs, grinning sleepily up at me. "Okay."

"Okay."

"See you tomorrow." He lowers the paper gently at his side. We“re almost touching. The wind whipping his hair back, white and gray feathers drifting from a cool sky, a fat, beady-eyed bird glaring down at us. The reek of fish guts and seaweed coupled with the cotton-candy sweet of the boardwalk shops. It“s stupidly romantic. Me. Him. The sea. The sky. Fish Guts. Wolf-whistling barista.

All at once, I want to kiss this beautiful stranger. And the flood of teenage hormones scares me, because kissing beautiful strangers ain“t my forte, for sure. Besides, he likes Onyx, and I“m stabbed with self-loathing because what type of person gets in a love triangle with their self. Way to go, Monet.

My phone jumps against my thigh. His hand hovers over mine. I step away slowly, drawing a sweet, slow sip of caramel and coffee. I want to stay, I think. I want to watch the darkness climb the sky and the cold wash of waves beating the shore. I want to get to know him.

Instead, I walk to Walmart, clutching his bear to my chest, stroking its thick white paws, whereupon my head is filled with thoughts of the two very things I hate most: sewing and getting beat up, both of which are inevitable tonight.

And yet, I think of Max, and I watch him fade into the distance. I blink the image of him away, forcing myself to concentrate. A lead. I have a lead.

Alright, Horseman, here I come.

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