After School Club

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VI - Restaurant Rules

“I just want it to go on record that I said this was a bad idea.”

“Well, you’ve already agreed to it now,” Maddox replied with a smirk, pulling out a silver i-pad with a crack in its corner from his backpack. We were in his car in the early morning of Wednesday - school started in about an hour, and since the club was going ahead straight after school he wanted to make sure I knew all the rules and terms that came with it. The car was new and clean, the leather butter soft and the dashboard completely free of dust.

The blue-white light of the screen lit up, reflecting in his sage green eyes. I raised an eyebrow in interest, glancing at the screen covered in Calibri text.

“You’ve typed the rules up?”

“Hey, if we’re doing this, we’re doing it properly.” He handed me the gadget, and my eyes scanned the words as he started the engine and pulled out of his space smoothly.

“1. Starts at 3.15 and ends at 6.00 every day.

“2. No cheating.

“3. No bailing out.

“4. Club theme each day can’t be modified.

“5. No half-measures.

“6. No one else invited unless a public event.”

“What do you mean, ‘public event’?” I asked cautiously.

“Exactly what it says,” he answered, not taking his eyes off the road.

“So... they’re all the rules?”

“Yep. And we’re starting after school today. Don’t worry, I won’t make it too crazy. Yet.”

“So, where are we going?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he said simply, smirking and pulling up in a school parking space. “But you’re gonna want to go home and change first.”

“Change? Why?”

“Just ’cus. Wear something... I don’t know, not too casual?”

“Wow, and that’s informative?”

He rolled his eyes and flashed me a half-smile as he got out of the car.

“Just do it. I’ll pick you up at 3.30 or something. I gotta find Harls, so get outta my car,” he said with a grin and sauntered off.

“Hi Esme,” Melissa said from behind me, making me jump a little. “Any plans today?”

“Apparently,” I answered, smiling at Carmen walking beside her and falling in step with them. “This after school club of Maddox’s starts today, and he wants to wear something ‘not too casual’.”

“Maybe you’re going out to eat or something?” Carmen suggested, and I shrugged.

“Even if we are, this is all about fun and stuff, so there’s going to be a twist somewhere, I know it.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Melissa reassured, waving at Lavinia who was coming toward us, “he’s clearly shown an interest in you, so just go with it. I think you probably will enjoy it.”

“Yeah - if I don’t get injured or put in jail or anything, maybe.”

Carmen rolled her eyes and smirked, nudging me in the side.

“Don’t be stupid.”

The school day seemed to drag on and on, and the whole time I couldn’t help wondering what Maddox had planned, doodling in my back pages and trying to properly concentrate in conversations I was involved in. And when 3.15 finally came, I went straight home, Melissa coming along too to help me pick out something to wear.

“I wouldn’t go over the top,” she conferred, examining the clothes I had in my wardrobe while I stared at my reflection in the mirror, tying up the front half of my hair in a ponytail and letting some strands loose to frame my face. I looked up at her, smiling slightly.

“It’s not a big deal or anything. Just let’s pick something so I can get whatever we’re doing done.”

Melissa nodded, pulling out a short, soft coral boxy pleated skirt. Then she grabbed a white top with a pink and grey sketch-style top and plain white canvas sneakers, holding them out proudly.

“There! Cute or what?”

I smiled and took them from her, and she rummaged around in my chest of drawers, looking at amazement at my silver charm bracelet.

“This is beautiful, Es,” she commented in admiration, and I smiled, putting it on.

“Dad bought that for me. Years ago, obviously.”

Melissa nodded, sitting on my bed as I changed and pulled down my skirt a little.

“Don’t tug at it, it’s nice like that.”

“It’s fingertip length, Melissa. Isn’t it kind of short?”

“It’s fine,” Melissa insisted and passed me my small white backpack. “This stuff looks kind of expensive.”

“Well, I don’t think they were from my parents. Or maybe from mum, when she had spare cash - you know, when she did a bit of modelling.”

“Yeah, I remember. Oh, here,” she added, spritzing me with a small perfume sample and putting it back in her pocket. “There. You look amazing Esme, see?”

I shrugged at my reflection in the wall mirror, but couldn’t help smiling. “I don’t really get dressed up that much. But it does look great. Thanks, Lissa.”

She nodded with a bright smile, and the sound of a car pulling up outside made us walk over to my window, looking out to see Maddox getting out of his car and leaning on its side, his phone pulled out. And sure enough, a text from him saying he was outside came through.

“Come on!” Melissa said, grabbing my wrist and rushing down the stairs. She pushed open the door, smiling at Maddox nervously.

“Hi, Maddox.”

“Alright, Melissa?” His attention shifted to me, and he looked me up and down for a moment with an approving smile.

“Ready then?”

“I guess.” Melissa smiled and waved, wandering off down the street to her house. Maddox got back inside his car and started the engine, and I sat beside him, looking out the window before looking back to him.

“Are you gonna tell me where we’re going yet?”

"No,” he replied, grinning and rolling his eyes, “just wait and see. It’s not too far from here though, so we won’t be driving for hours on end.”

After about ten minutes, Maddox pulled up in an outdoor parking lot and got out, and I got out too, looking around the area in curiosity. Maddox looked back to me expectantly.

“Come on, let’s go.”

I walked side-by-side with him, down a street outlined with shops on one side and a road with another row of shops on the other, mainly coffee shops and takeaways. He stopped outside an expensive restaurant that I recognised immediately, and my eyes widened in shock.

“You’re taking me to a restaurant for an after school club?”

“Yep.” He pulled me in, and almost immediately we were given a table upstairs near the long, wide glass windows. I sat down gingerly, looking at Maddox with a brow raised in suspicion.

“What’s the catch?”

“Dude, I’m not some con-artist,” he replied with a grin, “I’m the fun-ness tutor. So loosen up, and you’ll see what the main thing is.”

A man in his late thirties with slicked-back dark ginger hair came up to us, looking bored and contemptuous.

“Have you guys decided what you want to order?”

“Oh, we don’t have any menus,” I answered, smiling a little nervously.

“Yeah, what’s good here?” Maddox asked, and the waiter looked between us for a moment, not replying.

“Oh, I can see you two are gonna be a problem,” he said after a short pause and went off to the back room. I frowned, my mouth open in surprise.

“What’s the matter with him?” I asked, astounded, and Maddox raised a brow, unsurprised.

“It’s a waiter technique. What they do is they put you on the defensive so that you don’t keep calling them over.”

I nodded slowly, noticing the smirk on Maddox’s face.

“This is the fun part, right?”

“Exactly,” he replied, his smirk not leaving his face. This is the first lesson. If you can’t join them, beat them. Don’t let someone control your time out or ruin it. Have your own fun with them too.”

“You’re not gonna get me to flirt with the waiter or something, are you?”

“Nope. See, the way to turn the tables over is to shower them with compliments. It’s called-”

“Positive reinforcements,” I finished, nodding. “Is that a good idea?”

“Course it is! Here, I’ll show you.”

Maddox coughed, and the waiter turned, coming back over with menus that he handed to us.

“Let me know when you’ve decided.”

“Thanks. This guy’s so efficient,” Maddox said to me with a genuine, innocent smile, but mischief in his green eyes. “Great service, huh?”

I glanced at the waiter, noticing that he’d stopped in his tracks for a moment and then continued walking. I tried to bite back my smile, shaking my head in disbelief.

“Maddox, he heard you!”

“I know, that’s the whole point! Here, you try it.”

My eyes widened in shock, and I shook my head.

“What? No!”

“Rule three is no bailing out,” he reminded me with a grin. “Go on, Esme.”

The waiter came back out with a plate topped with bread, and he placed in the centre of our table with a small smile.

“Thought you kids might enjoy some focaccia bread,” he commented, and I bit my lip harder, Maddox bending his head a little before looking back up with a smile. “There’s parmesan and olive paste on the side too, so enjoy.”

“Thanks,” Maddox said with a smile, kicking me under the table.

Here goes the second crazy decision.

“He’s much too good looking to be a waiter,” I said to Maddox with a smile, and he nodded, the innocent look not leaving his face.

“Could be a Kennedy,” he suggested, and I looked back to see the waiter thread his fingers through his hair before going back into the staffs’ room. I couldn’t help laughing, and Maddox grinned at me.

“See? I know what I’m doing,” he said with a smirk.

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