STOP. KISSING. FINN., Chapter 4
He looked like he edited skateboard videos or played the bass guitar.
Chapter 3 Recap: Jackie surprises Charlie with a request to skip the movies and attend a Friday night football game—their first-ever.
“Is this an audition for that show where they trash your skanky wardrobe and take you shopping for a new one?” Jackie asked as we passed through the entrance to the football field.
Jackie’s language and general attitude got saltier when she was excited, and I swear her pupils were dilated like a feral cat. I was going to need to work to keep up with her tonight.
“Oh, God, look. Ava and Ella wearing matching fringed leather jackets? I can respect a thrifted statement piece, but if you need a partner to justify your choices...” she said.
I spotted a tiny girl – a freshman, I guessed – in a white halter top. She was holding a sweater and visibly shivering. “Admission must be cheaper if you show your nipples,” I said, nodding in her direction, and immediately felt bad, even though she couldn’t hear me. Easy target.
But Jackie laughed. “Let's get a coffee,” she said.
The line for food was at least 15 people deep. “Actually, can you grab me a cup while I run to the bathroom?” Jackie asked as she scanned the crowd.
“Sure,” I said and took the five-dollar bill she thrust at me.
I took my phone out of my pocket and pretended to scroll through fascinating text messages, since I didn’t know anyone else in line… or anywhere really. I wasn’t one of those people who had one or two best friends plus a supporting cast of medium friends. I had Jackie and Liz who knew everything about me—the entire history of my life, all the stuff I loved and hated.
The line had yet to move. I stood on my toes in time to see the woman behind the counter handoff at least a dozen soft pretzels to two guys in backward baseball caps. The line moved forward one space.
I tucked my phone into my back pocket and thought of the bag I’d left in Jackie's car. I could have rifled through it, pretending to look for something. I anxiously glanced in the direction of the bathrooms.
The bleachers were full of people. The marching band and their instruments occupied an entire corner, while most of the other seats were filled with parents and younger kids bundled in fleece jackets and wool blankets. An older guy, covered in our school colors, leaned over the railing and screamed at the field. You could tell there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
On the grounds next to the field, where most of the kids were standing around, the vibe was different. Jackie was right—no one watched the game. Football was just a backdrop for the same conversations everyone had every day in school.
The line inched forward one person. Still no Jackie. My phone buzzed with a new text.
Sorry, ran into a few people. Line is sooo long.
“I know, what kind of major fucking transactions are they trying to pull off up there? I just want a cup of coffee.”
I glanced back over my shoulder, unsure if the guy behind me had been talking to me.
“The same booster club drones have been selling pretzels and shit coffee since 1998 and they haven't figured it out yet.” He was looking straight at me as he spoke, grinning crookedly. I didn't know his name, but he looked familiar. He pulled a soft pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and shook one out. He quickly glanced to the side before lighting it. You weren’t supposed to vape or smoke on school grounds.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, shaking my head and looking away, appearing to examine the line's progress. I bit down on the side of my cheek.
“We'll probably score while we're both here in line,” he said.
“Um, what?” I sputtered.
“We have basically no offense. I just know the one interesting play of the whole game will happen while I'm stuck in concession stand hell,” he said, taking a drag of his cigarette.
“Yeah,” I said, looking down and kicking at the dirt with the toe of my sneaker.
The fact that he was actually concerned about the game surprised me. He wasn't jocky looking or one of those pathetic “team manager” dorks they let sit on the bench and hand out water bottles. He looked like he edited skateboard videos or played the bass guitar.
“I still can't believe Jones sprained his ankle. What the fuck was he doing playing in a pick-up game the week before the first game of the season?”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, instantly realizing that this was the same exact thing I'd said a minute earlier. I could only assume Jones was an important player.
“So, who's playing quarterback?” I asked.
That was it. The extent of my football knowledge. I knew one thing about the game: that there was a player called the quarterback.
“Well, Jones should be back in four weeks. Tonight they're playing this sophomore, Bilson, who's actually talented. He just has no experience,” he said. He tossed his half-burned cigarette with one hand and pulled a faded navy blue baseball cap from his back pocket with the other. He curled the brim tightly and put it on, pulling it down low so it rested just above his eyes. “We'll see how he does. Not sure what they'll end up doing next week,” he added.
An overweight man in a tan, polyester uniform approached us. “Rent-a-Cop.” That's what we called the security guards the school hired to watch for kids ditching class in the middle of the day.
“Smoking on school property is grounds for expulsion,” he grumbled, staring down at us. My palms were instantly sweaty, even though I'd done nothing. I'd never gotten close enough to a Rent-a-Cop to hear one speak.
“No one's smoking,” the guy responded calmly, tilting his head back to look at him from under his brim.
“I can smell it,” Rent-a-Cop said, crumpling his bulbous nose.
“Must be your upper lip. We're just patiently waiting in line for a hot cup of delicious coffee.”
“You better watch it,” Rent-a-Cop warned.
“Listen, pretty boy,” the cop said, lowering his voice, “it's only a matter of time before I catch you and your asshole friends in the middle of one of your little pranks, so you know what I mean when I say 'watch it.'”
My jaw dropped, but the guy was unshaken. “Have a nice weekend, Hank.”
Rent-a-Cop sniffed loudly and ambled away, favoring his left leg.
“My love to the wife,” the guy called after him.
“Oh my god, I can't believe he said that you,” I whispered. “He called you an asshole.”
“He says that shit all the time,” he laughed. “But, 'pretty boy?' That's a new one.”
I stole another quick glance at his face. He was pretty. He was probably always a little tan, even in winter. Skinny, but taller than me, which was a rarity at my school. Pretty much every decent-looking guy maxed out at 5'5”, leaving every tall girl to settle for slouching in flats so it didn’t look like she was taking her little brother to the movies.
He flashed his half-grin again. “I’m the one he hates. My friends and I are always fucking with him.”
I started to ask what he meant when a girl with long, black hair bounded towards us.
“Hey babe,” she said in a surprisingly gravelly voice. It reminded me of my great aunt Trish who'd been smoking cigarettes since she was fourteen. She stood on her tiptoes to throw her arm around the guy's neck in a casual hug. She was shockingly small. The top of her head barely reached my chin. She went heavy on the eyeliner and wore really tight pants.
“No one's here yet,” she said, turning her back to me and jutting out her hip. “What are you getting?”
“Just a coffee,” he answered.
“Me, too. Have you heard from Jackson?”
I tried to look casual and unfazed by being closed out of the conversation. I pulled out my phone again and saw that Jackie had texted me.
Be there in 2 seconds.
I shoved my phone into my back pocket.
“Go,” the gravelly voice barked from behind, startling me. The line had moved three or four people while I'd been looking at my phone.
“Jenna!” the guy said. “You're so fucking rude!”
“People should pay attention,” she whined without looking at me.
I turned my back on them and stepped forward.
“Hey, sorry,” he said, leaning close to my ear. “She's kind of blunt...to put it mildly.”
“No worries,” I muttered without looking at him.
I looked up to find that Jackie was speed walking in my direction, her hips swishing in a controlled fashion. I'd never been so happy to see anyone.
“Sorry,” she said a little breathlessly. “I can't believe you're still in line.”
“Yeah, me neither,” I said.
“What's the matter?” she asked, scrunching her eyebrows.
“Nothing, I'm fine,” I said. “I just really need some coffee.”
“Yeah, me too,” she said.
“Hey, look, we might actually get our drinks,” the guy said as the line shrunk, leaving only one person ahead of us.
“Who’s that?” Jackie mouthed to me as he turned back to Jenna.
I raised one shoulder and quickly shook my head.
We finally reached the awkwardly high concession stand window where two middle-aged women—the booster club drones—shuffled around. One loaded soft pretzels into the warmer while the other made repeated, unsuccessful attempts at opening a cardboard box with a safety blade. Suddenly I was face-to-face with a Superman logo.
“What can I get for you?”
It was Andy Miles. He was wearing a Superman t-shirt over a long-sleeved thermal. We’d been biology lab partners the year before. He was the best partner I’d ever had because he was never too embarrassed to ask stupid questions and always volunteered to present in front of the class, even if we weren’t sure we’d gotten everything right.
“Hey, Andy. Just two coffees.”
“Charlie! Two coffees. Got it.”
“Heeey, Andy,” Jackie said, smiling and drawing out the “hey.” She used a weird intonation, as if they had some sort of private joke.
“Hey,” Andy said flatly and turned to get our coffees. I stole a sideways glance at Jackie.
Andy returned to the window with two flimsy paper cups.
“I’d tell you to enjoy, but this coffee is the worst,” he said and handed over the cups.
“Thanks for the warning,” I said.
“No problem. Oh, and don’t forget to RSVP for my Halloween party.”
“I know—it’s early. But this thing is going to be ridiculous. You’ll see. It’s all in the invite, which should be in your DMs by tomorrow.”
“So, you know Andy?” I asked as Jackie and I walked toward the field.
“Not well,” she said, blowing on her coffee. “Though, I sort of can’t believe I don’t already have a stereotypical gay best friend by now.”
“You think he’s gay?”
Jackie dropped her chin and raised her eyebrows. “Did you seriously just ask that question?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I said.
“I mean, he likely identifies as queer but hasn’t fully processed it yet. He’ll get there eventually,” she said knowingly.
Andy’s dad was the caretaker for the town's nature sanctuary, and, besides the school musicals, he was best known for bringing a live snake to school for our unit on vertebrae. Everyone, including Mrs. Lee, completely freaked out as he casually held its neck between two fingers and wrapped the rest of its body around his shoulders. I wasn’t a huge fan of snakes, but I hadn’t been worried. Andy was in control.
I let my eyes wander back to Jenna and the guy. They had finished ordering their drinks and were walking off toward the parking lot.
“Jackie, what the hell are we doing here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Look around,” I said. “People are,” I struggled to find the right words, “wearing school colors.” As if on cue, a collective cheer erupted from the home team bleachers. “And cheering.” I added.
“It's like they’ve all been microchipped,” I said.
Jackie was the one who skipped pep rallies with me so we could get a good table at Scones. In ninth grade, after reading Nausea, she refused to be a part of our class yearbook photo, even though she'd been given the year-end superlative “Most likely to be Valedictorian” (“Sartre refused the Nobel Prize,” she'd reasoned).
She was usually my partner in eschewing all things bullshit.
“We are so not the football game types,” I said.
“We're not?” Jackie asked. She looked toward the parking lot. Why wasn’t she with me on this? Lately we were just…off.
I turned my head just in time to see Jenna slip into the passenger door of a dilapidated car. The guy I'd been talking to was getting into the driver's side.
“Come on,” Jackie said, pitching her full cup of coffee into a rusted trash barrel. “Let's see if we can find a place to sit.”
Small Sips - @MoledyVerses
And I can’t keep up
Without this coffee
Burning rivers down
My cold and gripping fingers
There’s almost strength in its weakness
So you just throw yours out, untouched
In a perfect arc so nothing spills
It defies gravity
Or proves it
I don’t know either way because
I’m taking small, loyal sips
Even though it tastes terrible
And we walk faster because you walk faster
And the rivers burn
And I take little sips
Everyone knows about the Favor Faeries, mysterious beings that grant small wishes in exchange for trinkets and snacks. But most people claim the faeries are a hoax or a fraud, and the authorities even passed laws making it illegal to seek them out. Teenagers, however, are never particularly good at following the rules, especially when they want something only magic can make happen.
Check out Book 2, "The Boy Who Can Taste Color" coming in October to Story Cauldron.