“T, you ready?” Mina popped her lavender head through my door. The shade created a lovely contrast to her caramel colored skin, and green eyes. The beautifully styled curls brushed her shoulders, inciting envy in me. She seemed to be favored by the hair gods today.
“I can’t tame my mane!” frustrated I exhaled, running my fingers through my thick, waist long hair. I didn’t have time to leave it to dry on its own, at least partially, so it settled nicely, because we slept till 10PM, and we were meeting Ivan in town at 12PM.
“It’s like I dried it with a leaf blower!” I said, throwing my hands in the air, giving up, and walking away from my vanity table.
Mina chuckled, an amused glint in her eyes. “Here, let me braid it for you.” She directed me back to the chair in front of my vanity table. Turning to take the brush, she glanced at the framed photo of us. My tenth birthday. We wore princess dresses and tiaras, grinning like loons, frosting smeared over our faces. She lifted the photo and placed it face down, all casual like.
“Hey, I love that photo!” I protested.
“Ugh… I hate it. I look like Miss Piggy in it.” Mina shuddered.
“No, you don’t! You were adorable.”
“No, I wasn’t adorable. Mina the Hutt, remember?”
I remembered the nickname. I also remembered the jerk who gave it to her. I wanted to shiv the guy with my pen. The saddest part was that Mina had a major crush on him and he liked her, too. But other kids teased him so, to deny it, he called her that in front of everyone. It hurt her pretty badly.
Kids were assholes, and she always hid her hurt behind the bluster. Her favorite phrase was ‘shut up or I’ll sit on you!’ whenever someone was being mean to both of us.
Over the years, she shed the pudginess. Or, as she once told me, it rearranged itself, finally going to more favorable places.
“He was a dumbass Mina, a kid who couldn’t see further than his own asshole. And your figure was always beautiful.”
She grabbed my face, smiling, “Aw, I love you too, T,” and gave me the biggest smooch on my cheek. “Let’s tame this hair of yours.”
Turning work mode on, she split my hair, braided twin French braids, pushing some strands and my baby hair to frame my face. It looked super cute.
“Thanks.” I turned to put my lip balm on. I used little to no makeup, because I wasn’t well versed in the art of it. Also, I was lazy as hell.
“Want me to do your eyeliner? It would make those baby hazels pop.” Mina said, popping the p at the end.
“Hmm... sure, go nuts.” I turned to face her so she could do her magic. Never could I master the elusive cat line, bat line, or whatever. Because this girl here, boy, did she have four feet or what? I ended up looking like goddamn raccoon every time I tried to do it.
“All done! You look gorgeous.” Mina gushed, putting a cap back on the eyeliner.
I looked into the mirror. She was right. My round hazel eyes popped more.
“We’re all done. We should go, we’re gonna be late, I’ll never hear the end of it.” Mina said, going for the door.
I glanced once more into the mirror, decided I looked nice in my red knee-length polka dot dress, short denim jacket and red converse sneakers. It was the middle of the April, and the weather was warm. I took my small black backpack and ventured out of the house.
“How can you be so energetic, like an over-caffeinated chipmunk? We didn’t even have breakfast!” Mina groaned as we made our way downtown, walking on a sidewalk downhill through the forest road and I practically skipped, looking around me like a kid in Disneyland.
“But it’s so mabuful, the sun, the trees, the breeze!” I beamed, stretching my arms over my head and looking at the sky, smiling.
“Calm thy tits princess, don’t break into the song yet! And watch where you are going. We both know you trip on flat surfaces. Also, mabuful?” She reached out to hold my elbow, to steady me, because I wobbled.
“Magically beautiful, obviously,” I said matter of factually. “Is there a convenience store here? We can buy some energy bars before we meet Ivan?”
“No, we don’t have those here.” She deadpanned.
“Ha, ha, hilarious smarty pants.”
“Come on, let’s pick up the pace. We have 15 more minutes.” She hooked her arm around mine and we trudged downhill.
In five more minutes of walking, we stepped on the streets of downtown Blackwood. It was Sunday. the weather was really nice, so the streets were a buzz. People of all ages were out, taking strolls, chatting, laughing, sipping coffee in front of the coffee shops, soaking up the sun, producing that vitamin D. Smells of spices and meat from street carts tickled my senses, enticing me, making my mouth water.
We should definitely try some of that food later.
Mina dragged me toward one small convenience store. Right in front of it stood a group of five.They seemed to be our age. Three girls, two boys. All of them were freakishly tall. Then again, compared to me, most people were. The girls stopped their lively chatter; the guys looked up from their phones as we got closer. One girl smiled in our direction, wiggling her fingers in greeting.
“Hey, Tanya. Hey guys.” Mina waved at them, smiling widely. Maybe a little too wide. It seemed a little unnatural.
I waved too. They turned in my direction briefly, looked me up and down, scrunched their noses, then turned away, dismissing me. Like I was an unfortunate snot that happened upon Mina’s sleeve. Hence of no importance. Okay, snobby much. Excuse my existence, your royal high asses.
These people seemed like the popular group. The girls were fairly pretty, the boys athletic looking and fairly handsome too. They didn’t seem like the people that Mina from the past would be friends with.
At her greeting, one girl hooked her arm with one guy, pulling him closer to her possessively. Even though she smiled and waved back at Mina, it seemed all too forced as she held the guy tighter, like some insecure boa constrictor. Like the guy was about to run away from her or something.
“Hey, you going to Lana’s party tonight? It’s gonna be super lit, even better than the one last week.” The other guy asked as his eyes slid over Mina’s figure appreciatively.
Wow. Parties? As in plural?
The girl who loved quiet nights to huddle on the couch and binge shows with me. Chill in her jammies, reading manga, daydreaming and gushing about the 2D guys from the pages. The one who said she would rather stab herself in the eye with a rusty fork than have anything to do with the “popular” folk. Guess that changed too.
I took a peek at my friend, and for a moment it was like looking at the stranger. She was a stranger; I realized. A familiar one, but still a stranger. We have led separate lives for five years. Things were obviously different.
Maybe I had changed little over the years.
“Nah, I’m gonna be hanging with my girl here. From now on I’m on hiatus.” Mina squeezed me in a side hug, that unnatural smile still plastered on her face.
“Um..you don’t...” I started, but Mina’s grip on me tightened. I immediately shut my trap. Message received.
The snob party looked at me again, blatant contempt and something akin to disgust on their faces. What the hell did I do to you a-holes?! I straightened my spine, giving them my best defiant stare. I bet I looked like a conceited gnome. But, you know what? They can go and kindly plow themselves.
“Nice seeing you guys. Sorry, but we gotta bounce.” Mina pulled me away and almost dashed to the door of the convenience store.
“I hate those guys.” She whisper-hissed to me.
“Really? You seemed friendly.”
“The operative word being seemed. That one guy tried to get in my pants on more than one occasion, all the while he had a girlfriend. Jackass. That’s why that girl is clinging to her man, like I’ll pounce on him, even though everyone knows he cheats on her all the time. Including her. Oh, the drama... yeesh...” She rolled her eyes, shuddering.
Could be my friend didn’t change all that much. We’ll need to get reacquainted, still, a lot of gaps needed to be filled.
As we entered the store, the cashier, a boy not that older than us, legs sprawled on the counter, reading what seemed to be a comic book almost fell off his chair.
“Shit, you scared me. I thought Mr. Black came back. Jeez.” he explained, straightening his uniform.
“Slacking again Tom?” Mina teased.
“I-I... N-No... I w-was...” he stuttered, blush covering his cheeks and the top of his ears. He couldn’t take his eyes off Mina. Aw, the poor guy was smitten. How adorable.
“Don’t mind us, continue. I won’t tell anyone.” Mina gave him a conspiratorial wink as she started for the aisles. Poor dude became red as a tomato.
“Hm... X-Men nice.” I mused out loud, leaning over the counter. He peeled his eyes from Mina’s back, finally noticing me. They were a really unusual color. Golden amber or something.
“Ah... yeah…” he said, coming out of his Mina induced daze. He sniffled a little before looking at me, surprised.
“Hmm?” He blinked, tilting his head to the side. Sniffling again.
“Um… What?” I asked, tilting my head now, puzzled.
His eyes became wide like he remembered something, “I-I mean you smell like...you smell nice,” he blurted the last part, averted his gaze, coughing in his fist.
Did he? He didn’t. Did he take a whiff of me?! What the hell?!
“Excuse me... what...” I didn’t get to finish, because Mina flanked me and put a bunch of energy bars on the counter.
“Tommy boy, don’t freak your customers. And seriously, get that nasal spray for your allergies.” Mina chided, as she gave him a meaningful look. His red face paled as some kind of realization flashed in his eyes.
“Oh, I’m really sorry I-I didn’t wanna make you u-uncomfortable.” His voice trembled nervously as he quickly packed our purchase.
“Mmm.. ok... I guess...” I shook my head, and gave him money.
“See ya at school Tommy boy!” Mina said cheerfully and strutted out of the store waving her fingers at the love-struck weirdo.
“Y-Yeah, see y-you tomorrow!” he stuttered, and I swear his head caught on fire, but he had a goofy smile on his face. Can someone get brain damage from exposure to too much pheromones? ’Cause Mina was full of them.
“He’s from my class. He’s actually a really nice guy, shy, so he becomes a little weird, but don’t mind.” Mina told me, leading the way to the town square, to a giant fountain where we were meeting Ivan.
I was eating my dark chocolate energy bar as we got closer to the fountain, and I saw Mina looking around. She suddenly stopped and started waving frantically, a wide smile on her face.
“Hoe!” she squealed in excitement, and I followed her gaze. As the heap of bodies obstructing my view moved, I saw a very tall, lean guy, wearing faded ripped jeans, a gray t-shirt and jean jacket waving back. Blonde hair, cropped short at the sides, longer on top and styled away from his very handsome face. He met her gaze and a wide, slightly crooked, dazzling smile lit up his face. Damn. Gorgeous.
In unison Mina and he spread their arms wide, and moved in exaggerated slow motion towards one another. Half a meter before they would hug, Mina leaped in the air and he caught her, lifting her up above his head and started spinning her slowly.
Before I even thought through what I was doing, I was on one knee, holding my half-eaten energy bar like a microphone, and pointing the palm of my free hand at them and started singing:
“Nants ingonyama bagithi baba…” Yes, I googled how to pronounce it properly, I do not speak Zulu. I mean, it was my favorite cartoon growing up.
Ivan put Mina down, both laughing, so I got up and rubbed my thumb in now melting chocolate of my energy bar and smeared it across Mina’s forehead. Looking intently into her eyes I whispered ‘Simba’ before all three of us bent over holding our stomachs laughing.
“Oh my God, I love you!” Ivan exclaimed, laughing. He wrapped his arms around me, cocooning me in a solid mass of muscle.
He lifted me up like I weighted noting; I was short (165cm and a wish to grow) and had a small build; the guy was like 188 centimeters tall. A beast. Gently, he placed me back on my feet.
“Sorry, I got carried away. Did I hurt you? You’re so small and cute. I had to.” Ivan smiled apologetically, that pretty crooked smile of his, and I noticed a small dimple forming beneath his right eye.
Coming out of a daze, I shook my head and smiled. “Do not fret dear Gulliver, I’m not that fragile. Also,” I did a once over, walked around him, stroking my chin, like I’m inspecting a work of art. Standing to a stop in front of him, making a hand gesture like I’m taking a picture, I finally turned toward Mina.
“Mina, I’m sorry. I think I made a rash decision at the airport. It’s not you, it’s me, you understand babe.”
“Shock! You traitor! He’s just a pretty face. I thought what we had was deeper, babe!” She said in mock hurt, wiping an imaginary tear off her cheek, as Ivan made a victory pose, sticking his tongue out at her.
Turning and looking up at him, extending my hand, I said, “Charmed, I am.”
He took it and brought it close to his lips and lightly brushed them over my knuckles. “Likewise. I see well get along perfectly.” He grinned, amused, looking me straight in the eye with those metallic blue eyes of his. The color was something I haven’t seen before. Beautiful.
I prided myself on not being shallow, but, boy, oh boy, was I not immune to an actual pretty face. Though this was the first time I saw a guy this pretty in real life.
He wrapped his arms around both mine and Mina’s shoulders, directing us toward a shop, with a white and pink striped awning, and white wooden tables and benches covered with light pink cushions, “Okay ladies let’s get you all sugared up.”
“Ew, it sounds dirty when you say it like that!” Mina grimaced and elbowed him in the side playfully.
I realized she still had a chocolate stain on her forehead, and I started rummaging through my backpack for a wet wipe when I hit the wall. Well, not a literal wall. Though it felt like one. I bounced like a ball of whoever it was, and not so gracefully landed on my gluteus maximus. That would be science for the butt. My hand was still stuck in my backpack on my lap. I probably looked like a toddler playing in a sandbox.
“T are you okay?” I heard Mina behind me, and two powerful hands pulled me up.
I looked at Mina and Ivan, rubbing my nose. “Tis but a flesh wound!” I declared, smiling.
My butt throbbed, too, but I resisted the urge to fondle it in public.
“Watch where you’re going.” Someone said in a deep, rich voice. Tingles spread throughout my body as goosebumps formed on my skin. My ears perked up at the melody of it. Strange.
Turning to the source, craning my neck, I found vibrant green eyes glaring down at me, dark brows furrowed. Full lips with a spider bite piercings on the right side pressed into a straight line, jaw clenched, messy dark hair, some strands falling on his forehead.
If he wasn’t towering over me, staring menacingly, my heart would skip a beat, but all I wanted to do was to dig a hole and hide in it.
“Uh... sorry… I didn’t look…” I whispered, squeezing my backpack to my chest, taking a step back.
“Chill Philip, you’re scaring her.” Ivan placed his hand on my shoulder protectively.
“Yeah bro, it was really your fault you stood there frozen and…” The guy next to this Philip person, who I just noticed, trailed off as Philip gave him a death glare.
He had light blond hair tied up in a bun, piercing blue eyes, standing a bit shorter than Philip.
“Ok.” Blondie said, putting his hands up in a sign of resignation. He turned to me, “Are you ok, doll?” he asked, jutting his chin at me, smiling.
I looked up at Philip, who still stared at me. This time, he scrunched his nose as if he scented something foul. What the hell is it today? First those five snobs and now this behemoth. I averted my gaze and looked at Blondie.
“Um... I’m fine... Sorry again,” I said awkwardly.
“No, don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault, doll. This grouchy grouch is to blame. Standing there like a statue. Forgive him. He didn’t get his coffee yet, so he’s cranky.” A low growl like sound escaped Philip. A growl?! And he shot Blondie another glare.
“Shut It Luca,” Philip warned.
I really liked the sound of his voice. Even that growly thingy he did sounded alluring. What normal person growls? And what about me liking this lunatic’s voice said about me? I was annoyed at being looked at like I’m a piece of dried poop on someone’s red carpet.
“Who pooped in your cereal?” I muttered under my breath. Putting a finger in my ear, I shook it as if to get rid of the weird sensation the vibrations of Philip’s voice caused.
At my remark, Philip’s eyes snapped back to me. “What did you say Shrimp?” he said through clenched teeth, balling fists at his sides, squeezing them tight, his knuckles turning white.
Mina froze next to me and Ivan moved me behind him.
“Okey dokey, hold it there, cowboy!” A husky male voice called out.
All of us, except Philip, who still glared at me, turned to look at the guy who came out of the store holding a bag full of groceries. He draped his free hand over Philip’s shoulders, looking at him, smiling, giving his shoulders a little shake.
Unlike Philip and Blondie, who were somewhere in the same age group as the three of us, he looked like he was in his early twenties. Shaggy brown hair, warm caramel colored eyes, a bit of scruff on his square jaw. He wore gray pants, a boho style shirt, unbuttoned at the top, revealing a small amount of dark curls of a love carpet. A carved bone pendant on a leather string fell between his pecks. A little unkempt, but still attractive. Hobo chic and all that.
He smiled at me, and two dimples popped in his cheeks. The smile was refreshing, boyish.
“Sorry about him, he’s cranky, and he really doesn’t know how to act in front of pretty girls.” Turning to Philip, he bit out, “Apologize.” His tone was at complete odds with the easy-going smile on his face. Freaky.
It seemed as Philip hesitated a second too long, so Shaggy took matters into his own hands. Literally.
He wrapped his hand around the back of Philip’s neck and in one jerky move made him bow his head to us, all the while giving us his sweetest smile.
Philip groaned in frustration.
“Sorry.” Philip said begrudgingly through clenched teeth and pulled himself out of Shaggy’s hold.
“See, it’s that easy.” Shaggy clapped Philip’s back and winked at me, his dimpled smile wide.
He slammed the bag of groceries not so gently into Phillip’s gut, making him grunt, his eyes still on me. He placed his hand on the back of Philip’s neck, directing him away from us.
“Belinski. Dotik.” Shaggy nodded at Ivan and Mina, nudged Phillip to get a move on and tipped an imaginary hat to me. Blondie gave us a tight, awkward smile and followed them two.
“Who the heck was that?” I asked, bemused.
“That was Philip Constantinov and his friends.” Ivan answered. “Luca and Stephan are ok, but you should probably avoid Philip, he’s...how should I say this...”
“Crazy, unhinged, a loon…” Mina supplied.
“Something like that.”
“Avoid I shall. You don’t have to tell me twice.” I agreed.
“Now, I say we go get that sugar up. This tension drained me. I need energy.” Ivan said.
“Amen brother, amen!” Mina sang, dramatically clasping her hands as if in prayer, looking skyward.
A prickle of awareness made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. Glancing back in the direction the three had left, I saw the dark-haired behemoth looking back at me one last time, before he disappeared from my view, causing goosebumps all over my skin. Not the dreadful, eerie kind, but something else I couldn’t quite name. I shook the sensation off and followed my friends.