keeping score

by renegadekarma

James was willing to wait for good coffee. He glanced at the menu briefly, shoved his hands in his pockets, and subtly checked out the blonde girl in line behind him. (He really did have a type, didn’t he?) 

He’d stumbled out of bed blearily, nearly brushed his teeth with a comb instead of a toothbrush, and put his shoes on the wrong feet. The simple but alarming fact was that James Major was little more than a zombie without coffee in the morning.

Fortunately, on Tuesdays, his university classes didn’t start until half past ten, so he had time, if not coherence, on his side. The cheapest coffee shop on campus was only a two minute walk from his dorm room, and as soon as he fixed the feet that his shoes were on, he headed out briskly, grabbing his wallet from his bedside table.

As predicted, the lines were long, but James was willing to wait for good coffee. He glanced at the menu briefly, shoved his hands in his pockets, and subtly checked out the blonde girl in line behind him. (He really did have a type, didn’t he?)

Surprisingly, she didn’t notice, instead more occupied with reading the menu and deciding what to order than noticing the boy who was standing in front of her. After a moment, though, she spoke, not even glancing at him as she did so. “What’s better, the double chocolate chip or the java chip frappuccino?”

James was surprised to be spoken to for a moment and he paused in thought before answering methodically. “Depends on if you like coffee or not. If you do, take the java chip.”

“The double chocolate chip it is, then,” the girl replied decisively. She finally took her eyes off the menu to glance at the boy she’d been speaking to, and James was suddenly struck by the impression that she was even more striking than he’d originally thought.

Suddenly feeling the need to say something to keep the conversation moving, he asked quickly, “Do you come here often?”

“Is that meant to sound like a pick up line?” The blonde girl replied, her lips quirking up at the corners as her light eyes shined in mirth.

“No!” Jem returned quickly, doing his best not to turn red. “Er, I was just wondering because, er…” He gestured to the menu, “You seemed like you needed some help deciding.” Before she could answer, he added, “I’m James.”

“Cecily,” she returned simply before shrugging easily at him. “I’m not a huge coffee person, you’re right, but I was hungry and my next class means I have to eat a late lunch.”

It was only then that a flicker of recognition crossed the young man’s face. “You were in my Shakespeare class last semester, weren’t you?” he inquired. He’d loved that class so much that Cordelia had teased him about being more interested in the fictional women in that room than the real ones – realizing that he hadn’t managed to properly notice Cecily certainly seemed to confirm the idea.

She nodded, motioning for him to step forward as the line moved along. “Yes, I was. You were that bloke who used to argue with the Professor over the interpretation of Hamlet, right?”

“Only twice,” he replied with a shrug, but he nodded anyway as he stepped forward once more in line.

They’d finally reached the counter, and James quickly leaned over to place his order while Cecily did the same only a few seconds later. When they proceeded to the register afterward, the boy dug his wallet out of his pocket and opened it, only to frown at the inside and then groan audibly, muttering a vile word under his breath. He’d lost a bet to Freya the night before and handed over nearly everything in his wallet; right now, he pulled out change, the coins spilling on the counter as he hastily tried to count them.

The man at the register watched him in irritation as he began laying out a series of coins on the counter, but before he could realize that he in fact didn’t have enough, the blonde stepped behind him and handed a bill to the man behind the register. “For both of us,” she explained to the man, and he nodded gruffly as he ran up the bill and handed Cecily back her change.

“That’s not necessary,” James replied, wincing; he really hated being in someone’s debt, especially a cute girl’s. He’d learned from experience that they were likely to be his downfall.

“It’s alright,” Cecily reassured him as they stepped away from the register and to the nearest table, where she promptly pulled up a stool and sat down. After another moment, he sat down across from her.

“Humanities student?” he guessed after a moment.

“Nursing,” she clarified. “Are you political science?”

“Chemical engineering,” he returned, lifting the drink to his lips and taking a hot sip of it without wincing (experience had done him well). “Do you live on lower campus?”

“Middle campus, actually. What about you?”

And so their conversation continued in this vein for some time, a steady back and forth as they learned more about each other. Eventually, she glanced at her watch and jumped, tossing her empty plastic cup into a nearby bin as she looped her bag over her shoulder. “I’ve got to run to lab now, but this was nice. It really was.”

Although James still had time until his next class, he stood too. “Wait, I never paid you back for the coffee!”

For a moment, Cecily fixed him with a thoughtful look before her eyes twinkled and she whipped a marker out of her bag and pulled James forward by his hand, scribbling ten digits onto his wrist. He stood very still, curious, trying not to jump every time her fingers brushed his skin before she stood back and he could see the phone number she’d written.

“Guess you’ll just have to take me out for coffee and we’ll call it even,” she replied with a genuine smile as she waved her fingers at him and stepped out of the coffee shop.

James glanced down at the drying ink on his wrist (and the little heart she’d tacked onto the end) and grinned.