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“They’re muffins,” Christina agreed.

Tobin blustered, and at first I assumed it was more of his act. Hapless counter-culture-boy, thrust against his will into Big Bad Starbucks. Then I noticed his rising blush, and I realized something. Tobin and Angie . . . their togetherness was new. New enough that being touched by her still came as a glorious, blush-worthy surprise.

Another wave of loneliness flooded through me. I remembered that skin-tingling exhilaration.

“This is my first time in a Starbucks,” Tobin said. “Seriously. My first time ever, so be gentle with me.” His hand fumbled for Angie’s, and their fingers locked. She blushed, too.

“So . . . just a muffin?” I asked. I slid back the glass door of the pastry case.

“Never mind, I no longer want your stinking muffin.” He pretend-pouted.

“Poor baby,” Angie teased.

Tobin gazed at her. Sleepiness, and something else, softened his features.

“Um, how about your biggest-size latte,” he said. “We can share.”

“Sure,” I said. “You want any syrup in that?”

He shifted his attention back to me. “Syrup?”

“Hazelnut, white chocolate, raspberry, vanilla, caramel . . . ” I said, ticking them off.

“Hash brown?”

For a second I thought he was making a joke at my expense, but then Angie laughed, and it was a private-joke kind of laugh, but not in a mean way, and I realized maybe everything wasn’t always about me.

“Sorry, no hash-brown syrup.”

“Uh, okay,” he said. He scratched his head. “Then, um, how about—”

“A cinnamon dolce white mocha,” Angie told me.

“Excellent choice.” I rang it up, and Tobin paid with a five and then stuffed a bonus five in the “Feed Your Barista” jar. Maybe he wasn’t such a tool after all.

Still, when they went to the front of the store to sit down, I couldn’t help thinking, Not the purple chairs! Those are Jeb’s and my chairs! But of course the purple chairs were the ones they chose. After all, they were the softest and the best.

Angie dropped into the chair closest to the wall, and Tobin sank into its mate. In one hand, he held their drink. With his other, he reclaimed Angie, lacing his fingers through hers and holding on tight.

Chapter Nine

By six thirty, the sun was officially on the rise. It was pretty, I suppose, if you liked that sort of thing. Fresh starts, new beginnings, the warming rays of hope . . .

Yeah. Not for me.

By seven, we had an actual morning rush, and the demands of cappuccinos and espressos took over and made my brain shut up, at least for a while.

Scott swung by for his customary chai, and, as always, he or-dered a to-go cup of whipped cream for Maggie, his black lab.

Diana, who worked at the preschool down the road, stopped in for her skinny latte, and as she dug around in her purse for her Starbucks card, she told me for the hundred-billionth time that I needed to change my picture on the “Meet Your Baristas” board.

“You know I hate that photo,” she said. “You look like a fish with your lips puckered like that.”

“I like that picture,” I said. Jeb had snapped it last New Year’s Eve, when Tegan and I were goofing around pretending to be Angelina Jolie.

“Well, I don’t know why,” Diana replied. “You’re just such a pretty girl, even with this”—she waved her hand to indicate my new hairstyle—“punk look you’ve got going on.”

Punk. Good Lord.

“It’s not punk,” I said. “It’s pink.”

She found her card and held it aloft. “Aha! Here you go.”

I swiped it and returned it, and she wagged it in my face before going to claim her drink.

“Change that picture!” she commanded.

The Johns, all three of them, came in at eight and took up residence at their customary corner table. They were retired, and they liked to spend their mornings drinking tea and working through their Sudoku books.

John Number One said my new hair made me look foxy, and John Number Two told him to stop flirting.

“She’s young enough to be your granddaughter,” John Number Two said.

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “Anyone who uses the word foxy has pretty much taken himself out of the running.”

“You mean I was in the running till then?” John Number One said. His Carolina Tar Heels baseball cap perched high on his head like a bird’s nest.

“No,” I said, and John Number Three guffawed. He and John Number Two knocked their fists together, and I shook my head. Boys.

At eight forty-five, I reached for the strings of my apron and announced that I was going on break.

“I have a quick errand to run,” I told Christina, “but I’ll be right back.”

“Wait,” she said. She grabbed my forearm to keep me with her, and when I followed her gaze, I understood why. Entering the store was one of Gracetown’s finest, a tow truck driver named Travis who wore nothing but tinfoil. Tinfoil pants, tinfoil jacket-shirt-thing, even a cone-shaped tinfoil hat.

“Why oh why does he dress like that?” I said, and not for the first time.

“Maybe he’s a knight,” Christina suggested.

“Maybe he’s a lightning rod.”

“Maybe he’s a weather vane, here to predict the winds of change.”

“Ooo, nice one,” I said, and sighed. “I could use a wind of change.”

Travis approached. His eyes were so pale they looked silver. He didn’t smile.

“Hey, Travis,” Christina said. “What can I get you?” Usually, Travis just asked for water, but every so often he had enough change for a maple scone, his favorite pastry. Mine, too, actually. They looked dry, but they weren’t, and the maple icing rocked.

“Can I have a sample?” he said gruffly.

“Of course,” she said, reaching for one of the sample cups. “What would you like a sample of?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Just the cup.”

Christina glanced at me, and I trained my eyes on Travis to keep from laughing, which would be mean. If I looked closely, I could see lots of “me”s in his jacket-shirt-thingy. Or rather, fragments of me, broken up by the crinkles in the foil.

“The eggnog latte is good,” Christina suggested. “It’s our seasonal special.”

“Just the cup,” Travis repeated. He shifted in agitation. “I just want the cup!”

Tags: John Green Romance
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