Red, chapter two

Something lighthearted, romantic and most of all, teen. Also sci-fi/fantasy-free… for now (muahaha…ha)A birthday present for my friend A, who won’t be here to receive it yet. It’s worth posting anyway, to mark the occasion. Contains daft dialogue, Shakespeare and… Percy Sledge. I am so, so sorry, A…

II

barista, butler

As expected, there’s no sign of her over the next few days. Tourist, probably – especially with the Englishness and the fact that he hadn’t seen her around before she came in. Being Cal – and having his luck – he’s resigned himself to not seeing her again, the girl in red having long floated to the back of his mind, when he spots a flash of scarlet in the queue.

It’s a blazer, thrown over a white shirt, figure-hugging jeans and little red pumps, that red scarf once more at her throat. Very nice.

He looks away, back at Mrs. Grenfell – she’s one of their few regulars. She’s watching him, eyes that normally peer out glassily from a wrinkled face sharp, interested. (He remembers hearing that they used to dissect frogs in biology classes, to see how the guts worked. He thinks he knows how the poor little bastards felt.) “Something more interesting to do, boy?” she asks.

“I, ah…” He cringes and fumbles, nearly dropping the (hot! Very hot! Don’t forget hot) Styrofoam-packaged cuppa, before recovering. “Sorry. About that, I mean.” He looks down at the till. “£2.65, please.” He gives her a bright smile and holds out his hand. She nods and, after a wait while she digs around in her purse, pulls out three quid. He takes it, passes her her change with an airy, “Thank you kindly.” God, he sounds like his mother – it’s one of her phrases.

He tells himself, his thoughts loud and adamant, that he’s not counting down the customers until he meets the girl in red. In fact, he manages to convince himself so thoroughly that he’s actually surprised when he looks up from the till and sees warm hazel eyes.

“Hello.” The word is quiet, accompanied by a shy smile.

“Uh… hello,” he mirrors her, and then asks, “Still in the area, then?” Nonchalant. He is nonchalant. Not radiating waves of far too interested. (He hopes.)

The smile widens a little. “For now.”

“Another latte, or are you a lady who likes variety?”

She frowns, her eyes settling on the bookshelf in the corner as she thinks it over, and in that moment he knows she’s staying. “I… I think I’ll have a cappuccino.”

“Be careful,” he tells her mock-solemnly, wagging his finger. “The cappuccino is a whole new adventure. You sure you can handle it?”

She huffs a sigh. “Yes.”

He looks over her shoulder and sees that some of the customers are getting restless. Right: serve now, bad jokes later. “Drinking here?” he asks, and she nods. “Just be a sec,” he assures her, turning to the machine to sort out her coffee.

When it’s eventually prepared and meets his standards, he hands it to her. Their fingers brush briefly on the mug, and he pretends not to notice; he pretends that his pulse doesn’t jump, and that his throat doesn’t dry out. He’s acting like some flustered idiot, or, worse, a creep – neither of which he wants to be.

“Thanks, Cal,” she says, and he tries not to be too surprised that she’s remembered.

She goes to the bookshelf in the corner – not that he notices, or anything – and takes out Hamlet again, starts reading with a furrowed brow. Cal looks back to the customers, because, y’know, they’re actually paying him for his attention, and keeps serving.

Half an hour goes by, and he forgets she’s there, if he’s honest. It’s the breakfast-time commuter rush, so round about now they get all the pained looking men and women in suits, fidgeting and giving the bus stop edgy looks. He maybe gets five minutes between customers, and at half-past nine he backs up a few steps and calls Tom. “You have a problem with helping me out here?”

Tom shuffles into the shop, coming to stand next to him behind the counter. “Wha’?”

Cal taps his cheek. “There’s a – ” Really big red crease on your face, he means to finish.

Tom waves an irritable hand. “I know, I know…”

” – crease,” he tries, and then knows from the way his brother’s face falls (and from experience) that he’ll have to go through another five minutes of foot-tapping and sighing in the corridor while Tom finds a mirror, performs some kind of elaborate hair-fiddling ritual and tries in every way he can to hide the offending mark.

Cal sighs and wanders back out to the shop, not wanting to leave the till unattended; when he does so, the girl in the corner – not even saying a word – catches his eye and gives him a sympathetic smile that says to him loudly and clearly, Bad day?

He wonders if his expression is telling the customers that much (great, his glower’s probably putting them off their coffee). He grimaces by way of reply – More than you know – then makes a show of comically widening his eyes, yanking a harried hand through his hair. Argh. (The shop is so loud and jammed with people by this point that it’s amazing he can see her at all; she’s just there, somehow, a flash of red in the grey and black and white of business suits, brightening the room and his day. He couldn’t speak to her in this if he tried – maybe he could shout across to her, or come to her table, but, well, he has got a café to run. Besides, it’s more fun this way. It’s vastly different from when the two of them had the shop to themselves, however. He misses the casual connection, one formed by a mutual need to break the silence. )

She puts a hand to her face and smiles behind it, cheeks apple-bright, her shoulders shaking.

He recognises the look of low-key laughter. It warms him; it feels like some kind of reward for putting so much effort into this whole mime thing. He grins at her, raises his eyebrows – Ha, made you laugh. Toldya I was good – and wiggles his fingers in a wave.

She returns it, the smile never leaving her face. He notices writing on her hand again, wonders if it’s as weird as last time. (Sprouts, maybe, is she doing sprouts now instead of cabbage? He can’t read it from here.)

He jumps at a hand on his shoulder, and then Tom is beside him and there’s another accountant – Mr. Sherbisher, nice guy, he’s actually a regular at the weekends too – waiting, and the unspoken half-conversation is lost in the wave of customers and coffee, customers and coffee. Occasionally a scone.

One woman asks for a pot of Earl Grey, and though he’s polite to all the customers – smiles at them all, likes them all in different ways – he gives her a big, honest-to-God grin just because she’s broken up the monotony. “Ordering tea in a coffee shop? I see you’re an unconventional type.”

She smiles at him – sunny, surprisingly young for the middle-aged skin she wears – and admits, “I like your furniture.”

“Oh,” he says casually, “the arse-breaking chairs. I think at least one’s an heirloom. Ornate. Lovely.” He grimaces. “Uncomfortable. The cushions are Mum’s, by the way, she made ’em.

“I’ll remember to thank her,” Earl Grey Woman says, the smile never leaving her face, and Cal cheerily hands her her change. He likes customers who humour him.

The next customer after Earl Grey Woman is Red, and she gives him a radiant, scarlet smile as she asks for a slice of lemon tart. “Busy?” she asks.

“Very,” he answers.

As he’s fiddling with the cake, sorting out plates and moving stands and stuff, she tells him, “You know, that was the best cappuccino I’ve had.”

He feels all warm and fuzzy at the compliment (but plays it cool; he doesn’t look up, even). “Oh, really? How many’ve you had?”

“About two, I think.”

He fights the urge to facepalm. “High praise there, thank you.” Looking up, he asks, “Two? Ever? What, wasn’t there a Starbucks where you were from?”

She gives him a you are being an idiot look. It’s one he knows well – he’s been on the receiving end far too many times. “Leicester. There were plenty.”

As he hands her the plate, he asks her, “What’s your favourite bit?”

For a split second she frowns at the tart, and he laughs. “No, Hamlet. If you’ve got one.” (Because Seb can go and stuff himself, Cal knows she’s reading it, he knows what a person looks like when they’re reading.)

A moment of thought, two fingers to her lips – when she moves her hand, her fingertips come away with little smudges of red on them; he politely pretends not to notice – and then she answers, “‘Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well.’ You know the one.”

“Ah,” he says, nodding understandingly, “the good bit.”

The you’re an idiot look returns for revenge. “There are lots.”

“Yeah. But that’s the good bit. I mean, it’s where realises he’s got nothing left. And the closet scene – y’know, before he kills Polonius, or after, I can never remember, when they have that row. It always makes me thankful me and Mum get on.”

“I suppose it is.” She gives him her cash, and also a considering look as he hands over her change. “Thank you.” She pauses, seems to hesitate. “Does Cal stand for Callum?”

He nods – it’s small, slightly reluctant. “Caught me.”

“Why don’t you like your name?” The question is quiet, her head cocked.

“I do,” he says, checking the gateau for signs of… interference. Seriously, doesn’t Tom know they have to sell this stuff? “But who wants to be a John in a land of Johns? There are slightly fewer Cals.”

“I suppose I can see that,” she says, her voice almost a murmur.

He opens his mouth to ask her name, but when he looks up she’s already well on her way back to her table, and he can hardly run up to her and ask (yeah, Cal, so much for playing it cool).

He’s always liked working the shop – likes it busy; likes it quiet; likes the people and their stories and their coffee – but it feels very different with the warm, sharp awareness of the girl sitting in the corner seat, tucking into a slice of lemon tart and thinking about his name.

“So there’s a girl?” Seb says, removing his hands from the straps of his backpack to self-consciously run them through his hair. (Yeah, really. Even a theoretical girl is enough to start him preening.) The bag jiggles with each step he takes. Seb is sixteen. He’s also oddly freckly for a brunet; skinny but at five-foot-nine too short to be lanky; Cal’s companion on the walk to the dump they’re both educated in; possibly Cal’s best friend.

Cal makes a show of turning, looking round the street with intense curiosity. “What? Where?”

Seb raises an eyebrow. “Yeah. No. Tell me.”

The journey to school suddenly seems much, much longer. “Where’d you hear?” Cal asks, giving his friend a look designed to shrivel his testes. (It better. If he’s going to push this, the butler doesn’t even deserve his nuts.)

Seb doesn’t even blink, just waves a hand vaguely at Cal’s face. “Dude, I live with my sister. My. Sister. I’ve built a tolerance to that now. And Tom, by the way. Nice guy; very open.”

“Ask him about Emma sometime. Watch his face.”

Seb ignores him. “Are we talking about a hot girl here, or,” he pauses briefly, “one with a nice personality?”

“Oh I dunno, I’d say Emma’s pretty in that ‘I’m a blonde history student who’s just wandered off campus’ kinda way – ”

Girl. Red lipstick girl. Tip-y girl.”

“What girl? Dunno what you mean.” Cal studies the ground intently. (One paving stone. Two paving stones. Three paving stones. Who has to put these things down? Someone has a day job doing that, right?)

“The customer you’re hot for.”

“I’ll have you know that I am utterly professional. In every way. I’m not ‘hot for’ anyone.”

“Shut up. You’re serving coffee – shit, you’re not a doctor. And you’re hot for her.”

“She’s… interesting. Her idea of fun is reading Hamlet, she looks good in a pair of skinny jeans…” He shrugs. “I dunno, what’s not to like?”

“The Hamlet?” Seb replies without missing a beat.

That just makes Cal sigh. He kind of likes Hamlet, tragic and angsty and bloody impenetrable as it is. It’s so tied in with the idea of his mother, of home – of that smell, all wood polish and coffee and sandalwood incense – that he can’t say many bad words about it. He’s tried sitting down and having a go at reading it (and enjoyed it, to a fair degree, after reading every passage three times to parse its meaning) but always put it down “to pick up later” and forgotten it.

He shrugs. “Eh. She was treating the book well. No page creasing, or,” he makes a gesture to demonstrate, “shoving t back on the shelf. Anyone that respects the books gets Mum’s favour, and prob’ly mine.”

“It’s pretentious.”

“Depends. Or it’s smart. She’s smart. It’s pretty obvious.”

“You’ve talked to her, what, twice? And she’s smart because she comes in to moon over you and pretend to read Shakespeare? Wow, when are you proposing?”

“She doesn’t moon. And seriously, I don’t think she’s pretending. Have you considered that, I dunno, she actually enjoys classical literature?”

Seb frowns at him in genuine disbelief, mixed with a little fear. “Do people do that now?” He sighs. “Anyway, if she’s such a big deal, introduce me.”

“I’ll probably never see her again. And come on. ‘This is my mate Sebastian– ‘”

“No, no, not the full name. It makes me sound like a butler.”

“‘This is my butler, Sebastian,'” Cal blithely corrects himself. “‘Wit vacuum. Dickhead. He’s come here to tell me whether or not you’re hot.'”

“Shut up,” Seb mutters.

“Ask me one more question about the girl, and I’ll be calling you Sebastian for the rest of the week. In front of my brother, and you know what he’s like.”

It isn’t Cal who shuts up.

He comes downstairs a couple of days later to see Tom walk into their little domestic area behind the shop – the kitchen with the dining table, basically – and give him an astonishingly smug grin. “So…”

God, it’s too early for this. Cal tugs on a couple of strands of his wild, sleep tangled hair – honest to God, he looks like a cross between the Sandman and a disgruntled hedgehog – before glaring at his brother and replying flatly, “So.”

“Girl in red came in again.”

“What girl in red? I’ve never even seen a girl in red…” Cal cuts his words off with a yawn. They’d faded into a mumble anyway; trying to deny his brother’s half-constructed accusations, he reflects, is probably a bad idea when he isn’t even awake enough to remember his own name.

“The girl you were making goo-goo eyes at the whole time she was in.”

“Yeah, thanks for nothing with Seb.”

Tom ignores him. “And she was making them back.”

“No, seriously, I’m never gonna hear the bloody end of it now –” A pause. “What? Making what… What?”

“She was interested. Kept pretending not to look at you the entire time you were serving, it was hilarious.”

“She was… really? Uh, not that it matters, or anything, I chat up all the customers.”

“You try. Anyway, she came in today, and when she saw me behind the counter…” Tom hisses in a breath through his teeth. “I mean, obviously she tried to hide it, but you could feel the disappointment coming off her in waves. I swear, I’ve never felt so inadequate in my life. Said you weren’t up yet. Casually, like. Just” – he makes a slow, slicing movement with his hand – “inserted it into conversation, let that hang. She went as red as her lippy.”

Cal feels his ears heat, and prays he won’t do the same. He shows his palms in surrender – or defiance. “Just stop it, alright? She’s just a tourist. I don’t even know her name.”

“Then find out,” Tom tells him matter-of-factly.

Cal sticks his fingers in his ears, wincing as Tom walks down the hallway singing loudly and tunelessly, “When a ma-an loves a woooman…”

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Red

For A – to say good luck, even if I can’t in person.

I

red

All the best stories – from the fairy tales, to Shakespearean plays, to so many modern films – start with a couple. Sometimes they start in a palace, all luxury and golden towers and backstabbing court politics; sometimes they start at a masquerade ball, with simple pretence that quickly turns far too complicated for one’s peace of mind.

However, sometimes they start in a small café somewhere in Aberdeen, with Van Morrison playing softly in the background.

It’s a small place, nothing special or unusual – after all, little restaurants and coffee shops gather round Union Street like a moth to a flame, looking for the shoppers and the tourists. It has, like the others, offers blu-tacked in the window and a grey city street outside. Inside, austere, simple wooden tables are set just far enough apart not to make things look cramped, and straight-backed chairs – old fashioned ones that look as if they’ve been stolen from some poor family’s dining room – huddle around them.

However, certain things differentiate this from any other coffee shop round Union Street. Well-stuffed, brightly-coloured and homemade-looking cushions rest on the chairs, just the sight of them offering comfort and reassurance to sensible arses that would otherwise shy away from the severe furniture. Bright, floral paintings line the walls, happy flashes of colour against the brown paint. A nearly full, often used bookshelf watches the comings and goings from its spot to the right of the cake counter.

All this is without even mentioning the rather exceptional customer service.

Customer service – at least on the weekends – is Cal, a lanky sixteen-year-old with a white-toothed, wide grin and a mop of stubborn brown hair that he somehow manages to tease into something that won’t terrify the customers every morning. He won’t admit that the hair gel is needed (it is, badly).

The bell above the door rings. It’s been a quiet afternoon, and he looks up in surprise from cleaning the counter to see the latest customer: a girl about his own age, a little on the short side (or maybe he’s just tall? Yeah, there is that), and oh, so much red. Red hair, red lips, red nails; red dress, red scarf around her neck. She walks slowly to the counter, seeming to consider the café as she does it. Her eyes move around the room. She takes in the paintings, the cushions and the Cal expectantly watching her. She holds her finger to those red, red lips as she thinks (and he likes the shape of them, he realises suddenly; fine lips she’s got there, very fine indeed).

He strokes his chin mock-thoughtfully. His expression radiates I am thinking busily and importantly. There is a pause, and then he says with a small smile, “So, I’m guessing your favourite colour is blue.”

Red cheeks, too, as she ducks her head demurely, prettily, huffing out a shy little laugh. “Close,” she says, and looks up, meeting his eye. Then her eyes stray to his chest, and she observes, “Nice apron.”

He looks down at himself with a wry, embarrassed, what can you do? sort of half-smile. “All part and parcel of being a barista, ‘m afraid. If you want me to get cappuccino foam all down my jeans, I can take it off…”

He looks back at her. She’s looking away from him, at the shiny silver counter, but there’s a smile on her face, one of challenge. She raises her head, and there’s something in her eyes that’s almost mischievous. “Oh really?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Maybe for you,” he teases, giving her a grin, “but I’m not sure you’re ready for the manly physique lurking beneath this apron.”

Her already reddening cheeks get redder, and she looks away from him, bites her lip. He thinks, watching her, that she’ll get lipstick on her teeth, and it dawns on him about a minute too late that he’s made her uncomfortable. “Maybe not,” is her quiet reply.

His thoughts halt for a moment; unsure what to say, he only manages, “Palm, meet face.” With a small groan, he slaps a hand to his forehead. “Shut up, Cal.”

He almost doesn’t catch the quiet word that falls from her lips. “Cal.”

“Feel free to actually tell me to shut up, I mean, everyone else does…” He registers what she’s said, stops. “Yeah. Cal. It’s faster.”

She offers him a small, tentative smile, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, and it spurs him on.

“Hey,” he says softly, the word at once an invitation and an apology, “what can I get you?”

Again that pause, that considering look; she bites her lip, looking somewhere just past his right shoulder, as if she’s seeing things he can’t. “Latte,” she says eventually. Her smile comes a moment later, small and reassuring, and he knows he hasn’t stepped too far into the shit.

He nods. “Sure.” He turns from her to attend to the machine. He grinds a few beans, a process that’s really all show, prepares the grounds and water and grabs a cup. He foams the milk, and she is silent – though he probably wouldn’t hear her anyway, with the machine’s loud retching and gargling.

Glancing over his shoulder, careful not to keep his mind too far from the work at hand as he deals with her coffee, he asks, “You a chocolate sprinkle kind of girl?”

She gives an affirmative, “Mmm-hmm,” and he grabs a few sprinkles, giving her a natty little spiral on top of the foam; it comes out a bit lop-sided, but he’s rather pleased with it, all things considered.

When he turns once more, moves to hand her her coffee, he asks, “Not from round here?”

A cornered look appears in her eyes, as if she’s trapped by his question, and she replies, looking away from him, “No. Not really.” She sounds English; he doesn’t know enough to place the region, if he’s honest. For now, considering he’ll never see her again, just English is good enough.

“Right. Cool.” It’s all he can think to say. He can’t help looking down, and he watches her take the cup; long, delicate fingers, her hands covered with words. He picks ones out at random – rain, street, man, cabbage – and finds that they make no sense; not reminders, not pieces of homework...

Cabbage? Seriously? What even – ?

She hands him her cash, and when he gives her her change, she smiles at him one more time. “Thanks.” Her eyes slide to the tip jar, and he sees her drop a fifty pence piece into it; she does it quickly, silently, as if hoping he won’t notice.

Then her back is to him, and she’s carrying her drink to a table, those long fingers careful as they cup the saucer and mug. She places it gently on the table, pulls out a chair… and halts. Her head turns, and he follows her gaze to the bookshelf. She walks to it slowly, cautiously, the same way she entered the café. She runs a finger over the spines lightly, almost reverently, and he’s at the right angle to see the small smile that grows on her face as she does it.

After a few moments, she seems to find what she’s looking for, and selects a book, sliding it from the shelf and carrying it under her arm. She puts it beside the table, digs somewhere around her hip… She opens the book with one well-practised hand. With the other, she slides (from a pocket he hadn’t noticed) a pair of glasses. Trusting the weight of the book to keep it open, she opens the glasses, slips them onto her face.

Red frames. Of course. He can’t help but smile.

Not wanting to look like a creep, he doesn’t especially try to watch her or anything; no, course not, it’s just that his eyes seem to drift to where she is with increasing and scary regularity as he carries on cleaning the counter, checks the cake shelf is stocked up (it is, Tom hasn’t been at the gateau again) and grabs himself a Diet Coke out of the freezer; they have them in the fancy glass bottles, to make themselves look like a proper, high-class establishment. He smiles at the thought, and it’s only as he’s hunting round for a bottle opener that he realises the rustling of turned pages has stopped. He grabs the opener, raising it into the air with a small “Hah!” of victory. It’s only awareness of his company that stops him adding a ridiculous little “Gotcha!”  He opens the bottle, enjoying the satisfying pop and hiss. He turns, still grinning, to find her watching him, the hint of a smile on her face.

She looks down at her book again, considering pretending that she hasn’t been caught out, then seems to change her mind. She raises her head and asks him, “Not coffee?”

He shakes his head with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Ah, never drink the stuff.” He fails to withhold a smirk at her reaction.

She recovers, raising an eyebrow. “So all that stuff about being a professional barista…?”

He steps back, showing his palms in surrender. “All true. I do make the coffee, y’know.”

She huffs out a laugh, pulling the book back up in front of her face, but he hears her smile. “Cheat.”

He takes a pull of Coke straight from the bottle, leaning back against the work surface and careful to avoid the coffee machine, before asking, mock-offended, “You calling me a liar?”

She lowers the book; it leaves most of her face hidden, but her eyes regard him over the top of the pages, hazel and just a little mischievous.  Those eyes crease with a smile as she replies, “Never.”

After getting a look at the book’s spine and noting the title, he shakes his head in disbelief, rolling his eyes and getting back to the Coke. The comfortable silence settles once again in the café, only interrupted by the regular sound of a page being turned – the silence pulls back a little to accommodate it, then moves back into place as if nothing has happened. Meanwhile, Cal continues with the little chores, the things that make a business like his family’s go round – the cleaning and the replacing of things like the spoons and little bags of sugar, checking the supplies of water and milk in the machine.

He tells himself that he’s not waiting for her to speak to him again; that he’s perfectly happy as he is; that he’s not even aware of the pretty girl in the corner steadily making her way through Mum’s copy of Hamlet and getting lipstick on her latte cup. Nope, not even seeing her. He carries on with his work, refusing to look behind him, acutely aware of the girl’s presence.

It must be half an hour later when he finally gets a chance to take a breather; putting another bunch of serviettes – or “tissues” as he and all other people who aren’t his mother call them – in the container next to the counter. He exhales, at last allowing himself to look around, and he sees his lone customer gently sliding the book back onto the shelf. She turns her head, catching him watching her, and he immediately ducks his head to look at the napkins. (Stupid, totally uninteresting napkins that give him no excuse to look away so suddenly. It’s not like they’re going to suddenly get up and dance or something, is it? Smooth, Cal.)

She gives him another of those small smiles, her eyes warm. “Thanks, Cal.”

He doesn’t show his surprise – it’s probably the second time a customer’s ever actually used his name. That said, how many has he actually told it to? Pretending to take it in his stride, he gives her a grin. “No problem, Red.” It just slips out – the nickname that’s somehow wormed its way into his head without him noticing. (Because she wears a lot of red. In the future, great authors will look at him and gape, cry, “Look how original, how inspired this guy is!” Yeah. Sure. He believes that.)

Her smile doesn’t fade, and she nods, turning and heading back through the shop.

“See you around,” he calls, his customary greeting – at least half their customers in a day they never see again, but it’s nice to make them feel like their return is anticipated.

Looking over her shoulder, she replies, “Yeah. Maybe.” There’s something sad, not-quite-there in her smile, but before he has time to read anything into it, the door is shutting, the bell tinkling in the sudden, empty silence. She slips out of sight, the pane of glass on the door now only showing the same old street it always has. He watches the door for a moment, brows creased in a frown, processing the loss of her presence. Then he shakes his head, shakes himself out of it, and prepares for the next customer.

His mother and Tom return a few minutes later, coming through the back door with arms full of shopping bags. He helps them unpack the groceries, gets on with the rest of the night, the girl in red forgotten.

It’s only as he’s loading the dishwasher with Tom that his brother holds up one of the mugs, his smile one of bemusement. “Had a lady in, Cal?”

Cal frowns, uncomprehending, until Tom turns the mug around to show him the perfect little arc of red lipstick at the rim. He draws in a breath, remembering the girl with the lovely lips, and nods. “Uh, yeah,” he says casually. “Nice girl. Tipped me.”

Tom waggles his eyebrows. “Tipped you, did she?”

Cal shakes his head, trying not to laugh, and attempts to carry on with the loading. It’s kinda hard, though, with his brother refusing to help him, too busy singing a hopelessly, joyfully off-key rendition of “Love Is In The Air”.

“Shut up, Tom,” he mutters.

“Nope. Never,” his brother happily replies with a shake of his head, his grin ear-to-ear and smug as all hell.

Scowling, Cal grabs the mug from him and shoves it in the dishwasher; Tom gives in, finally shutting up, and the piece of crockery is forgotten as it rests amongst the others. 

I wanted to write a gift for a friend, and so I challenged myself to write something simple and a little girly, just based on observations, with no fantasy or sci-fi elements and a hint of romance (not my field at all). Here it is.