Lincoln opened his eyes and found himself staring at the ceiling of the cafe. He felt disoriented as he pushed himself up slowly, wondering what the hell he was doing on the floor. Then he remembered falling earlier. His head felt sore, he must have hit it pretty hard.
“He’s awake!” Jupiter shoved his face in front of Lincoln’s line of vision. He looked extremely worried. “Are you okay? What the hell, Link?!”
“Wait, what? How long was I out?” Lincoln wondered.
“Like eight minutes!” Jupiter cried, before beginning to rant. “Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you tell us something was wrong? Your manager is freaking out, she already called an ambulance! God, you’re so stupid! Did you not think we cared or something? You worried everyone in this damn cafe! A little girl burst into tears!”
Sure enough, he could hear someone wailing and instantly felt guilty. He tried standing, but Jupiter immediately shoved him back down onto the floor.
“Don’t get up!”
“And don’t apologize either!” Jupiter yelled, cutting him off. He took a deep breath and visibly composed himself, sighing heavily and dropping onto his knees, handing Lincoln a glass of water. “It’s not your fault, sorry for yelling. You should have said something, though.”
Lincoln obediently gulped down the water. “I didn’t mean to worry anyone, I swear.”
Jupiter opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by Theresa bursting into the cafe, followed by two paramedics. She looked instantly relieved when she caught sight of Lincoln, which made him feel terrible.
“He’s woken up now,” Theresa said apologetically to the paramedics. Still, Lincoln is subjected to a few basic tests.
“It seems to me that he’s just exhausted,” One paramedic concluded. “Not enough rest and dehydration can lead to something fatal, kid. Take care of yourself.”
They continued to talk to Theresa while Lincoln drank more water at Yong-sun’s and Jupiter’s insistence. The two younger students fussed over him while he tried his best to assure them that yes, he was fine and no, he wasn’t dying anytime soon. When the paramedics left, Theresa immediately hounded on him.
“Take care of yourself, you brat. And go home, take a break, get some sleep for God’s sake!” She ordered. Lincoln shrank under her steely gaze, chewing on his lip. He just nodded meekly and went into the staff room to get his things. Cursing himself for not resting and making a big deal, he sat down heavily on the couch and buried his face in his hands.
“Hey, Lincoln,” a voice said softly. He looked up to see Sierra, smiling softly and apologetically. He winced as she sat down next to him. “What’s with that reaction?”
“I can tell you have bad news,” Lincoln replied quietly. “It’s all over your face.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on telling you today, but I guess I can’t really hide anything from you,” Sierra said. “I’ll give it to you straight. I’m leaving.”
Lincoln felt all the blood drain out of his face as he sat upright in shock, his back rigid. “What?! B-But you’re…” He couldn’t speak, tongue thick in his mouth and feeling winded, like he’d been punched in the gut.
“My husband got a job offer, so we’re moving to Chicago,” Sierra said gently. “I’m sorry, Lincoln.”
“Don’t be!” He managed to choke out past the knot in his throat. “I-I’m happy for you. Really.”
He dug his fingernails into the palms of his hands, forming crescent-moon dents in his skin. The pain didn’t even register past his shock. Leavingleavingleaving. He barely heard Sierra asking a “you gonna be okay?”, heart pounding in his ears like a kickdrum. For a second, he’s seventeen again, first day on the job and scared as hell. For a second, Sierra is his first friend, supporting him after Carson left and his mom got worse. But then he’s twenty years old in his third year of university, feeling oh-so-fucking alone.
“Yeah,” Lincoln said, somewhat breathless. Nothing felt right. How could you leave? How could you leave just like everyone else? He wanted to say. He wanted to be selfish. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”
The I’m used to it is left unsaid.
Yong-sun called Oliver. And it’s not that Lincoln doesn’t mind the grumpy, sarcastic Australian, it’s just that Oliver had to drive the three of them to Lincoln and Yong-sun’s apartment (Jupiter insisted on coming along). He also felt really awkward knowing that Oliver was someone he idolized and respected.
“Do you want to come up?” Lincoln offered as they got out of his car.
“You need to get some rest,” Oliver deadpanned, shaking his head.
“Well, Jupiter’s already coming and you can’t be any louder than he is,” Lincoln pointed out, flashing a quick smile. Jupiter stuck his tongue out brattily in retaliation.
“Come on, Oliver,” Yong-sun whined.
“Ugh, fine,” Oliver groaned. Lincoln thought he looked like he was secretly pleased, but Oliver had the best poker face, so he couldn’t tell.
“Now that I think about it,” Lincoln said, trudging up the stairs. “Why were you in my Chem class?”
“Ah, well,” Jupiter said. “They said I was too advanced for grade ten chemistry.”
“Wow, you must be really smart then,” Lincoln replied mildly.
“Not really,” Oliver commented. “I mean, yeah, he is smart—shut up, Jupiter, you are, you were top student in your class—but at the same time, Asian countries have higher academic standards.”
“Yeah, I don’t get America,” Jupiter piped up, digging into Yong-sun’s pocket for his key. “In Korea, we take exams to get into universities. In here, it all depends on your grades in high school.”
“Welcome to America,” Oliver said dryly, mimicking an American accent. “Land of the free.”
They all laughed while Jupiter struggled to open the apartment door. Finally, they all tumble into the tiny apartment, Yong-sun immediately shoved Lincoln down onto the couch and went into his room. Despite Lincoln’s protests, he dragged out a thick comforter and arranged it around Lincoln’s shoulders.
“I’m not a kid,” Lincoln laughed, shaking his head.
“You act like one,” Yong-sun grumbled. “From what I’ve seen, you barely take care of yourself.”
“I don’t have time,” Lincoln argued. Jupiter flopped onto the couch next to him and tugged part of the comforter onto his legs. To Lincoln’s amusement, he started talking about who would win in a fight between a ghoul and a titan, pausing to sing the opening of Attack On Titan.
“Real talk,” Jupiter said loudly, sitting up suddenly. Oliver looked up from his phone with his eyebrows raised. Yong-sun looked over too. Real talk must be some sort of cue that whatever he says will not be his usual random bullshit, Lincoln thought. “What is everyone being for Halloween?”
“Naruto, maybe,” Oliver mumbled, going back to his phone. Lincoln was curious as to what he was always doing on there.
“A pumpkin head!” Yong-sun exclaimed. “Or maybe a pirate, I’m not sure. What's a good idea?”
“Well, you know who I’m going to be,” Lincoln said when they all turned to look at him. A collective “oh yeah” fills the air as they remember the plans for the cosplay cafe.
“I might be a vampire, or the Joker,” Jupiter said thoughtfully.
“You should be Harley Quinn,” Lincoln joked, giggling softly as he pulled the comforter up, careful not to take it off Jupiter’s laugh.
“I could totally pull that off,” Jupiter said thoughtfully. Then suddenly, he straightened up, snapping his head around to stare at Yong-sun. “You!”
“Me,” Yong-sun replied easily, furrowing his eyebrows in a perplexed expression.
“When was the last time you talked to my best friend?”