Three days before the semester starts up again, everyone returning from winter break, I’m sitting alone at the far end of a long, last supper-style table in a Pinecrest Starbucks, doing some work.
A boy comes in, he’s maybe fifteen, and he’s got an overloaded backpack bouncing on his ass plus an armload of books. He lumbers up to the opposite end of the table and eases all of his stuff down. Starts setting up camp. Kid’s thin and agitated, really white, his hair is either a half-committed or accidental mullet. He paces and looks at his phone.
Few minutes later a girl comes in. Same age. Bubbly and pretty with braces and lotsa freckles. She greet shim with books of her own, a smile, a hug that looks uncertain on her end and that the boy with the mullet falls into but doesn’t seem to know how to handle. Jittery and eager and strained.
“Thanks for taking the time,” she says.
They get fruity drinks at the counter behind me. He offers to pay for her. She laughs and says she should be paying for him.
I wanna turn around to see his expression but shouldn’t cuz I’m old and it’s weird.
They sit back at their end of the long table and crack their books and banter. She starts talking about her chem teacher. He tells her he had the same teacher last year. Pretty girl starts riffing about the quirks of this teacher and tutor boy starts laughing, hard, and the laughter is nervous and earnest and laden with love and if you threw a glance at pretty girl just then, the girl whose posture and cadence and wardrobe suggest an unpretentious social superiority, it looks like she probably knows he’s smitten but bears him no grudge for it. Likes him fine.
She’s the one who reels them out of conversation and down toward the assignment. I’m telegraphing remorse to the tutor boy.
Shoulda done that yourself.
Subject’s chemistry. I zone out. Back to my own work.
Few minutes later I glance up again, look their way. She’s flustered. Forehead on her palm. Still looks friendly but the tutor’s talking to her with gloves on. Sympathy in his voice. Tenderness. Looks genuinely sad to see her stressing.
I put my head down cuz I’m smiling so hard.
Little while after that I get flustered with my own assignment and pull out my earbuds and, listen, they’re laughing, both of em. Hers is natural and easy while his, like last time, is a bit shrill, and overexcited.
Suavity, dude. Be suave.
I get back to typing (gibberish) as their laughter dissolves.
They get back to work too. They’re more animated than before. He’s brought her spirits up, triumphant. At one point I hear the tutor kid say, “So let’s look at this one again.” She looks over the problem and gives voice to a complicated-by-apparently-correct answer and the tutor kid says, “See? You got it,” and the pretty girl makes a kind of half-whoop noise. Awkward. I look up in time to see her smile, huge and emotional, as she raises her hand up for a high-five that the hapless tutor supplies with heart, elbow cocked and shoulder windmilling, and they appear to lock eyes for a moment afterward, the kinda eyecontact that a moviegoing audience would describe as “loaded,” before the tutor kid, gleeful, looks down, twisting his neck, and turns the page of her workbook.
But the pretty girl’s gaze lingers. Like she’s found some new compelling thing in the folds of this boy’s mullet.