Just Me(4)

By: L.A. Fiore



***

The cafeteria always reminded me of an asylum, neutral to the extreme so as to not incite the inmates, which surely splashes of color would do. Walls were painted in a one-dimensional beige color, and the floors were black-speckled white tiles like you see in most hospitals. Rows of those heavy-duty plastic tables with the built-in benches finished the painstakingly sane decor. I pushed my salad around my plate and half-listened to Poppy tell her story about the European vacation she and her parents, a surgeon and a lawyer, had taken.

Poppy's family lived in the biggest house I'd ever seen with award-winning gardens, fancy cars, and all the trimmings. Even for all of their wealth, they were really nice people and they had brought me into their fold from the time I was nine years old. I loved the Wrights. They were the closest to family that I'd ever known. I'd often thought how lucky I was to have Poppy as my bestie, because she could have been a “popular”, she certainly fit the criteria, but she saw them as I did: self-absorbed and boring.

I had been invited to join Poppy and her family on their trip to Europe, but I couldn't go. I needed to work so I could put money away for college just in case I didn't get the academic scholarships I was trying for. My uncle's salary disqualified me from financial-aid scholarships and grants and I had no intention of asking my aunt for a dime, stupid and nearsighted maybe, but I had pride and would rather be damned than be indebted to her for anything.

A mild commotion heralded Sebastian’s entrance to the cafeteria with Kira—light and dark together. I felt it again—the bitterness that left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. My eyes tracked him as he walked through the line and paid before following Kira to the popular table. He didn't belong at that table, and why I felt that way when I didn't know him at all, I couldn't say. They were all so superficial and shallow and he…I don't know, when I looked into those eyes earlier, I saw a hell of a lot looking back.

“Lark!”

I pulled my focus from Sebastian to look over at Poppy. “What?”

“You were drooling.”

“No, not drooling, just looking.”

Poppy's blue eyes peered over at Sebastian. “He is something else. You interested?”

“Wouldn't matter even if I was.”

She looked genuinely confused. “Why?”

My exhale sounded more like a sigh. “Look at him and then look at me. You do the math.”

“What does that mean? Yeah, I wish you wouldn't wear black all the time, but you're beautiful.”

Leaning over the table, I looked, really looked, into Poppy's eyes to see if she was tripping. She didn't do drugs, as far as I knew, but she sure as hell was acting like she was on something. I was not beautiful. I would say attractive, maybe even exotic because of the bright green color of my eyes, but I was definitely not cheerleader-caliber-beautiful.

“Are you high?”

“You really need to get a grip on reality. Trevor thinks you're gorgeous.”

Trevor was Poppy's cousin—her wildly attractive, college freshman cousin—whom I’d had a crush on since I was ten. Recently, my feelings for him cooled from adoration to affection as our relationship morphed into that of family, but I couldn't deny I liked hearing he thought of me as pretty.

“You lie.”

Poppy turned to Shawn. “Tell her.”

Shawn held my gaze and humor danced in his eyes. “He does, Lark.”

Goosebumps prickled my skin as I tucked that lovely little tidbit away with all the other happy moments I wanted to remember always. There weren't many, but the ones I had were definitely keepers. I didn't respond with words, only a contented smile, but Poppy was still on her warpath.

“So again, why would it be so unreasonable for you and him...” she gestured with her head to Sebastian “to get together.”

“He's with the Cheers.”

“Well, yes, that does show an abominable lack of sense, but he is new. Maybe he just needs someone else to take him under their wing.” She said this as she wiggled her eyebrows.

“You're ridiculous.”

“No, I've just never seen your eyes sparkle like they're doing now and I've known you for a really long time.”

She might be like a dog with a bone, but she really was the bestest friend a person could have. I reached across the table and squeezed her hand. “Thank you.”

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