Cimmerian Salon

To say that Audrey Williams is a little stressed would be a gross understatement. To say that it is all her doing would be a perfectly accurate assumption. She loves the work, loves being stretched for time, pushing her deadlines, but frankly, as April comes and goes, she is just about ready to crack. Her undergraduate thesis is almost complete, but still needs a few things, a few finishing touches, her courses are coming to a close;  papers galore. Audrey has even taken it so far as to reject all of her friends’ invitations, even those from her two best friends, Cali and Roxy.

When Roxy and Cali walk into Audrey’s apartment, they are equal parts disgusted and in awe. There are takeout containers on the counters, coffee cups from the campus coffee shop overflowing in the trashcan, and sink, and a not-so-tidy pile (see; explosion) of clothes and textbooks scattered on every available surface.

Cali holds her nose dramatically as she goes to open the window to let in some fresh air. After a few seconds, the stale stench of lo mein and barbecue chicken dissipates, leaving behind the permeating smell of dirty laundry.

“Williams, this is fucking gross,” Roxy calls out, effectively waking Audrey up from her studying stupor. “We should be wearing Haz Mat suits, Cali.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Audrey moans, pushing herself up from the desk, the Accounting book – her former pillow and drool deposit – being pushed aside and closed. She wipes at the corner of her mouth and stretches, wiping the sleep out of her eyes and readjusting her sports bra. She cracks her neck and yawns.

Cali gasps in absolute horror. “Audrey, sweetie, we didn’t know it was this bad! Are you like… agoraphobic now?”

“I’ve been busy, Cali. I’m a double major, and it’s not as if computer science or business is easy… but I’m not afraid to leave my apartment.” Rolling her eyes, she stands and continues to stretch.

“When was the last time you left the atomic bomb drop zone?” Roxy asks, pulling a pen out of her purse to pick up a stiff and starchy tank top off of Audrey’s desk. “This is disgusting, I hope you weren’t hoping to get laid in this dump, the guy would catch something.”

“For your information, Roxanne,” Audrey sighs irritably. “I left my apartment four days ago to meet with my thesis advisor. And then just this morning to get coffee.” She takes the dirty shirt from the tip of Roxy’s pen, her cheeks heating as it crunches in her hand. “The intern work’s just got me working overtime lately, but it’s already paying off. I’m getting hired on as the PR Assistant at the end of the term.”

“That’s great Audrey, but they’ll take the position right back if you look as strung out as you do. I’m surprised you don’t have track marks on your arms,” Cali says, wrinkling her nose in distaste. “We’re staging an intervention, Audrey Williams. You’ve got three minutes to put on some clean clothes-”

“Hey! These are clean,” Audrey protests. “Kind of.”

Cleaner clothes then. Roxy and I are staying here to clean up this hell hole while you meet with my ambiguous big brother, Cole.”

“Cali set up the GPS in your less-than-cared for car, so just follow the directions. Alex’s gonna meet you at the salon and take your car, keys, and school shit – because we know you’ll sneak some with you to work on – and make sure you get into Cimmerian.” Roxy looks pleased as punch… Audrey just wants to punch the shit out of her smug face. Roxy pulls out a pair of rubber gloves and pulls them onto her well-manicured hands. “We know what’s trash, and what’s not, so don’t think we’ll throw your homework and shit away.”

“And,” Cali continues, looking just as smug. “If you think about leaving, Cole will call us. He’s doing yours truly a mondo favor by putting you in for the full treatment, so be good.” Cali says, pointing to herself.

“Plus, Alex’s taking your car to get a tune up and then to get it detailed. It’s almost as disgusting as this apartment,” Roxy shivers. “You’re in desperate need of an oil change.”

“You can say that again,” Cali says. The double entendre is not lost on anyone. Audrey rolls her eyes and pulls her tangled and greasy red hair up into a messy bun.

“Now, be nice to Cole. He’s sweet, and he cleared his day for this,” Cali tells her. “I know how bitchy you are, but please remember that this will be his first impression of you. He’s successful, and amazing, and talented, not to mention my brother, so be good.”

“Hoorah,” Audrey cheers mirthlessly, her hand waving faintly through the air as she goes through her apartment looking for cleaner clothes.

“John and Cali are on laundry detail, and after Alex gets your car dropped off, he’ll head back over here to help clear up this quarantine zone,” Roxy explains. “After that, we’ll leave you alone. We’ve got dinner with the ‘rents right after this anyway.”

Looking at her watch, Cali gasps and grins, clapping her hands together. “Audrey, your appointment is in twenty minutes! Go! Go! Shoo! Alex’s already at the salon, waiting to introduce you to Cole.”

Audrey wants to protest – so, so bad! – wants to say, “Get the fuck out and let me finish my spreadsheets, you harpies,” but she knows better than to fight both Roxy and Cali. Plus, she can take her iPhone and work on some of her emails while she’s getting the “full treatment.” Can’t she?

Grumbling about shitty friends, Audrey grabs her messenger bag and her keys and heads off to her car. There’s a post-it on the steering wheel from Cali with the address of Cimmerian Salon. “Just in case you fuck up the GPS, love Cali,” Audrey reads aloud, then sighs. “I have the shittiest friends, ever!”

The trip from her apartment to the salon isn’t that far, nor is it hard to find. When she arrives, she automatically finds Alex. His broad stature is clearly viewable from miles away, and he’s standing with someone off to the side of the salon. Taking a closer look, Audrey pulls up her sunglasses to take in who she’s sure is the newest Preston to make her acquaintance.

He’s tall, but much thinner, leaner – like a track runner – than she expected. His hair is in perfect disarray, but clearly spent a long time and not small amount of product to get it that way. Audrey rolls her eyes,  “I mean, if it’s obvious he spent time to do it, why make it look like he just ran his hands through it?”

His tight skinny black jeans accentuate his firm thighs and calves, down to his high-top Chucks. They’re dingy, like they’re well-loved and well-worn. His shirt is a thin white cotton-like tee and is just tight enough for the vague appearance of a toned chest and stomach. She thinks she even sees the faint outline of a tattoo on his chest. The shirt is long enough until he raises his arms, barely covering his belt from view.

Audrey’s momentarily stunned. He doesn’t look much like Cali, aside from the fact that they’re both easy on the eyes (very, very much so in fact). She looks down at herself and curses the fact that Roxy and Cali let her out of the apartment in gym shorts and an old ratty tank top.

Something Cali said comes to mind then, the “ambiguous big brother” comment. From his looks, Cole could quite possibly be gay. Not that she’s one to judge on looks alone, but like. There was also the fact that he’s a hairdresser. Slapping her forehead, she groans, “Stop spouting stereotypes, idiot.”

Well, straight or otherwise, the points are clearly not adding up in Audrey’s favor. She looks like yesterday’s garbage that missed the can, and he looks like freshly tussled god.

“Damn.”

Sighing, she pushes her sunglasses back down to the bridge of her nose and carefully tucks her iPhone into the elastic band of her gym shorts for safe keeping. She’s ready to relinquish the rest of her work (life) to the saboteur that is Alex Adler, but not her baby. Her iPhone is almost always in contact with some part of her flesh, and even if she has to give up everything else, the iPhone stays. Period.

As she gets out of the car, she doesn’t bother locking it since Alex will just be stealing her only means of transportation (escape) here shortly. She keeps her eyes on the boys and moans to herself, biting her cheek, as Cole “I’m-Most-Likely-Not-Interested-in-Your-Nether-Regions” Preston takes a long drag of his cigarette, his perfect sea glass eyes targeted on her. As she walks toward them, she tries not to break eye contact with him, not until he looks away and says, “That her?” to Alex, just loud enough for her to make out.

To which, Alex turns and replies, “Audrey Williams, even during finals you’re hot as hell!”

Such is the normal – and quite frankly –expected greeting from Alexander John Adler.

“Yeah. If Roxy wasn’t my best friend, I’d home wreck the shit out of you.” She smirks and winks at the boys.

Sex-In-Chucks sputters out a cough, laughing through the exhale of smoke as Alex grins in her direction.

“Audrey,” Alex points to her, and then Cole. “Cole. He’s the middle kid, a regular Jan Brady.”

“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” Cole squawks, winking at Audrey as he crosses his arms petulantly, carefully ashing his cigarette.

“What’s your boyfriend’s name again?” Alex asks Cole, nudging his shoulder. Cole just rolls his eyes and sighs, like its nothing new. “I’m not gay,” he flatly voices. “I’m comfortable with myself, and I’m good at my job. Now shut the fuck up or I’ll tell mom.”

“Cole’s the ambiguous mystery of the family,” Alex explains. “I mean, seriously, look at his outfit… it screams-“

Before he can finish, Cole says, “Well put together.” Audrey says, “Sexy as hell,” and Alex replies, “Into everyone with legs.”

Audrey laughs at all of their descriptions.

“‘Sexy as hell,’ Audrey, really?” Alex asks, looking mock-affronted. “Audrey, his pants are so tight they’re sticking to his legs. That’s not sexy, honey. That’s questionable.”

“Knock off the gay jokes, Al, they’re obnoxious,” Cole says, rolling the cherry out of the butt of his cigarette, tossing the burnt out end into the trashcan.

“Cole, bro, you know I love you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Cole replies affectionately. “Now, Audrey, let’s get this train wreck,” he points to her. “Off the streets and into my salon.”

“See! That’s what I’m talking about,” Alex laughs. “Bring the boyfriend to dinner tonight.” He reaches for Audrey’s purse and keys, looking through the bag thoughtfully, searching. “Books, check, notebook, check.” He turns to leave and walks a few steps before doubling back, putting his hands on her hips and pulling her to him, effectively feeling the clandestine iPhone.

“Naughty girl, Audrey,” Alex says and reaches under the elastic band to get the phone.

Audrey pouts and waves at the electronic device as it’s taken away. “Bye bye, Humphrey, I’ll miss you baby!”

“You named your phone Humphrey?” Cole asks as Alex leaves them.

“No, that’s Alex’s code name in our affair,” Audrey says, rolling her eyes. “Of course that’s the name of my iPhone. You know, of the Bogart persuasion?”

Cole nods. He laughs and lifts the left sleeve of his shirt. The tattoo work is impeccable, and just another sexy detail about Cole Preston that Audrey doesn’t quite know what to make of.

“I wanted to be a film student, a director actually, before I got into hair dressing and cosmetology. I was twenty-four before I changed my mind. I have a degree from UCLA’s Film School. Casablanca’s one of my favorite movies. I got the scene marker my sophomore year, after we got our first short film finished. My junior year, I added in the scene and take number from my favorite part of Casablanca. Then after I changed my mind, after I got my degree and everything, I got ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ added to the bottom.”

The half sleeve has more than just a movie marker and some words. Above the whole piece are the words, “LABELLE AURORE”, Humphrey Bogart’s Hollywood star off to the right of the marker, a piano, and a music staff of “As Time Goes By” on the left of the marker. The last part of the tattoo is a map of Morocco, a small star marking Casablanca.

“Is that a canon’s fire, or is that my heart pounding?” Audrey quotes. She puts her hand over her heart and flutters her eyelashes.

“You’re my kind of girl, Audrey Williams. Definitely my kind of girl.”

Audrey rolls her eyes and shrugs, looking nonchalant, but inside, she’s doing a happy dance, adding one point to the straight side of the ‘Cole Equation.’ “Well, aren’t you lucky, Cole, my schedule was conveniently cleared, just for you. So, for the rest of the day, I’m yours,” she winks, a smirk firmly in place.

“So, Cimmerian is usually just a hair salon, but, you’re getting the V.I.P treatment, which includes a massage on top of everything that comes with hair styling. My other stylists are in with their clients for another hour, so while they’re still here, I’ll get started on your hair.”

“Hey Cole?” Audrey asks, grinning as she thinks about what she’s about to say. When Cole turns around, she winks. “Why do Alex and Cali tease you so much?”

“Because I don’t want to settle down. I’ve got a great job, and my whole life ahead of me for the house with the fence, the wife and the two point five kids. Right now, I’m just content with being me.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I get the feeling that Cali has a cupid plot going on with this V.I.P. shindig. I’m way into my work and finishing my degree, and she doesn’t understand that sometimes. I mean, I’m twenty-two for Christ’s sake. I don’t need to go out every night, or you know, do laundry… like ever.”

Cole nods in understanding and backs away, all the while laughing. He opens the door to lead her into the establishment with a large, albeit contemplative grin on his face.

“Cole!”

In a flurry of movement, there’s a girl at his side, talking and asking questions, and if Audrey didn’t know any better, she’d think that he’d planned this. Hands on her hips, Audrey watches as Cole answers the questions as they come, about tinting, length, and styles, and after a minute or so, the girl stops, looking at Audrey.

“Welcome to Cimmerian,” she says sweetly, for Cole’s benefit, Audrey’s sure. The face the girl is sporting isn’t exactly one of excellent customer service, more like an “I’ll cut you” face. Audrey wouldn’t trust this girl with a pair of kindergarten scissors, let alone hair cutting shears. “I’m Tina, do you have an appointment?”

“Mhm,” Audrey says, her voice is downright angelic. She blinks and smiles wide at Tina. “Maybe you can help me find my stylist, Tina?” She catches Cole’s amused grin. “I have an appointment with… shoot! I plum forgot his name,” she sighs dramatically. “My best friend made the appointment for me. Said he’s a total heart throb.”

Tina looks less than amused, but nods. “Well, Kyle’s in the back, but he’s got a customer right now, not to mention married, and Nick’s off for the day. What’s your name, I’ll see who you’re supposed to be with.”

“Oh! I remember now,” Audrey exclaims, hand over her heart. “Cole!”

“I think you’re mistaken, sweetie, Cole’s schedule is cleared for the day for a family friend, but I can see if Kyle can squeeze you in, or maybe his wife, Lizzie.” Tina adds, emphasizing the word ‘wife’ quite a bit.

“Tina,” Cole says, laughing. “That’s the family friend. Now, Nicole is waiting for her low-lights. Remember, just because she says go platinum, give your professional opinion, remember what happened last time? She wants highlights, not frylights.”

“She walked out looking like a dead beat,” Tina says petulantly. “It’s not my fault she asked for the whitest blonde we have.” She walks away after that, tossing that same dirty look at Audrey before heading over to her station.

“Did you have fun, Audrey?” Cole asks, still laughing.

“Absolutely. Now, where do we start? I don’t mean to be rude, even if you are hot, but I’ve got a thesis to finish, and a project to complete for my internship, I’m all tapped out on time, and this little intervention is a time-eating beast.” She reaches up and pulls the hair band out of her ratty hair and shakes her head easily, the red tresses reaching about mid-shoulder.

“Jesus, I didn’t know what we were working with. This will take a lot longer than I thought it would,” Cole says, pulling a comb from his back pocket. “What kind of cut do you want? Obviously something low maintenance, but still something professional and provocative. Right?”

“That sounds about right. What about something old school, like traditional 50’s or something? Like a bob?”

Cole tilts his head to the side, pulling her hair back to see what it would look like. “I’m thinking more modern for your face shape, perhaps an A-Line like Beckham’s wife?”

“Actually, let’s do that.”

“Suivez-moi.”

Audrey blinks her eyes open as Cole takes her hand and laces their fingers. ‘Finding Nemo’ might just be her second favorite movie of all time, and … well, for him to use the French accent and voice, and… then she finds herself saying dreamily,  “to the ends of the Earth” with a pathetic little sigh. As soon as it’s out of her mouth, she wishes she could suck it back in, like she was in a cartoon.

Instantly, she groans and attempts to pull her hand away – mostly just to cover her now beet red face – but McHot-Hair-Dresser doesn’t let go, instead, just chuckles, shakes his head, and continues to lead the way.

She follows like Cole’s lost little puppy, cheeks warm, eyes downcast, as he pulls her behind the curtain of his station. He sits her down in a soft chair covers her with a bib. “Let’s see what I’m working with.”

 He runs his fingers through her hair a bit, and then looks at her length. So we’re definitely doing the cut, but you’ve got great coloring, obviously. But it’s all washed out, so if you’re not opposed, we’ll add a few low lights just to add some depth?”

“I’m not really opposed to anything, Cole. Really. I don’t care; I’ve got deadlines…”

“So, you’re looking for a ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ kind of deal? In. Out. On your way?” Cole asks. He’s smiling brightly, and Audrey nods earnestly. “Alright, well the low lights will take the longest, but we’ll get started now, and call in a rain check for the rest of the appointment?”

“You can’t tell Cali,” Audrey says. “She told me to be nice.”

“Well, perhaps, while the foils are on, and your head’s under the dryer, I can convince Alex to bring Humphrey back, and instead of just sitting there, making awkward conversation with your lowly hair stylist, you can get some work done?”

There’s a hint of amusement there. Audrey doesn’t feel as if she’s being rude, just dedicated and understood by a fellow professional. “I can multi-task like a pro, Cole Preston, you just wait. If you get me my phone back, not only will I feel useful, but I will also guarantee perfect conversation as well as my rapier wit.”

As Cole begins to part her hair into sections, he looks at her through the mirror and says, “You’ve got yourself a deal, Audrey Williams, but I’ll be expecting damn fine conversation.”

Cole pulls his phone out and dials for Alex. “Alex, hey, it’s Cole, I need you to come back to Cimmerian,” he pauses. “No, she’s fine, I just need you to bring her phone back. Yes, I know it’s Sunday. I don’t care. She has to have her head under the dryer for thirty minutes; she needs something to do, so let her work. Bring the phone back.”

As Cole hangs the phone up and stuffs it back into his pocket, Audrey smiles wide, “I could just kiss you!”

Audrey almost stands up to give him a hug, but at the last minute, decides against it. She decides instead to sit still with her hands folded, bored and waiting for her phone. It takes a couple of minutes, where Cole is idly brushing her hair, and she’s trying not to look awkward, but Alex finally shows up with Humphrey and hands it over.

“So how’s my apartment?” she asks, almost afraid to know the answer. “I’m scared to see how it’s gonna turn out.”

“I don’t know about your place, but your car was a wreck, babe. You were low on oil, brake fluid, water, everything. Your tire pressure was low. You were running on fumes, and you’re interior smelled like crusty, old bread.”

“I’ve been busy,” Audrey defends herself automatically, holding Humphrey closer, like Alex’ll take it away again.

“You’ve been neglectful,” Alex argues.

“Don’t even start, Alex, I get enough from Cali and Roxy.”

“Because they care about you. You could have died in your car. It was so bad it leaked, the car could have overheated and you wouldn’t have even noticed.”

“Cut it out, Alex,” Cole intervenes. “Just go fix it for her, and get Roxy and Cali out of her place. I’ll be done in an hour.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alex mumbles, heading out the door. “Mom wants you at dinner right after, and don’t even think about ditching out. She misses you.”

Cole rolls his eyes and flips Alex off, waiting for him to leave the salon completely.

“So, uh, thanks for that,” Audrey says shyly. “Alex means well, but he’s like… a major pain in the ass when he pulls the big brother card on me.”

“I’ve dealt with that card all my life,” Cole laughs, nudging her shoulder softly. “I’ve got your back. And anyway, you’ve got your phone now, so I can start with the coloring, and voila, we’ll be done. Then you can go back to work, and I can go to my oh-so-amazing family dinner.”

“You could ditch it,” she grins, feeling somewhat back to normal after Alex’s mini-lecture. “I mean, what would it hurt? You can just go see your mom tomorrow or something, right?”

“I like the way you think, Williams. Deceiving, yet thoughtful,” he laughs. “I’m just gonna head back and get the color ready, I’ll be right back. You have fun with your emails.

The process goes quick enough, and as it goes, Audrey tries to keep her word, asking questions of Cole, about Cali and Alex and how being a middle child influenced his choices.

“Well, see, Alex’s the oldest and from Mom’s first marriage – hence the different last name. His dad died when mom was pregnant. She met our dad about a year after Alex was born and that was that.”

Audrey nods, finding something new out about her best friend’s man. Alex had been in her life so long, but she never really put it together that his last name was different than Cali’s. She really had been in her own bubble for too long. “So, like, what about being the middle child?”

“Oh yeah, naturally, everything Alex screwed up, I knew to avoid. And with Cali as the baby, I didn’t get any special treatment, but I was also kind of off the hook for a lot of things. Alex and I are way too overprotective of Cali, but we’re her big brothers, so that’s our job. I’m much more responsible than Alex and much more carefree than Cali. My mother says I’m the best of both worlds,” he says with a huge grin on his face as he stares at Audrey in the mirror. He even brings his hands up under his chin. What a cherub.

“We have dinner every Sunday, and now that Cali’s engaged to John and Alex is seeing Roxy, I’m the main topic of conversation at our little get-togethers.”

“I know how that goes,” Audrey laughs, scrolling through her intern server emails. “My mom and dad live in Georgia, so when I do go out there, it’s all about how I need to settle down and be the southern belle I’m supposed to be. Like…. One, do they know it’s the twenty first century? And two, do they understand that I’m just not interested in that right now?”

He turns off the dryer and checks under her foils to see if she’s ready to wash out. He tilts his head over toward the shampoo station so she follows him along.

Cole turns on the taps, waiting for the water to warm up before he begins to dampen her hair, carefully making sure to get every strand before getting three pumps of the shampoo. When he starts lathering the product in her hair, he sighs.

When Audrey opens her eyes, she asks, “What?”

“Do you ever feel like you’re just lonely? Like, all that shit that Alex teases with, you know? I’m happy with my career, and for my house and everything, but at the end of the day-”

“You still go back to your empty apartment room with three-day-old Chinese?” Audrey asks, finishing Cole’s sentence.

“Exactly.”

“Sometimes, I guess. I’ve been so busy for the last four years that I really haven’t thought much about it, you know? I suppose I’d like to sleep next to someone, or tell someone about the mundane details of my day, but…” She lets the sentence trail off, and Cole doesn’t try to finish it.

As Cole finishes up with Audrey’s shampooing, he towel dries her hair out and views the tips. As they continue through the appointment, Audrey follows through with her multitasking promise, getting to know Cole better and proving that she can, indeed, do more than one thing at a time.

When he spins her around to look in the mirror, Cole nods in what looks to be satisfaction.  “This is a really good style for you, Audrey, and I think it will be manageable for you for a long time. You won’t have to touch up the low lights, they’ll fade naturally with the sun, and the cut should flow out well as your hair grows.”

She doesn’t obviously, but looks into the mirror, standing to see her hair better, fingering the ends as she examines her new look. “I really like it, by the way. I think it’s great.”

“It looks good on you,” Cole nods. “It’s short, kinda sassy.” His teasing does not go unnoticed, and Audrey turns to face him hands on her hips.

“I am not sassy, I’m confident. There is a difference, Preston,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I just want to get Cali and Roxy off my back. If it’s not my apartment, it’s my internship, and if it’s neither of those, it’s my relationships, or lack thereof. Can’t I just be a slob until graduation?”

Cole laughs, but nods, understanding exactly how Cali is, knowing that Alex is no better. “Alex is a huge jerk to me about stuff like that, but he’s my brother, and he wants me happy. I get that. He just doesn’t get that I am happy. Cali’s no better, but I love them both.”

He pats Audrey on the shoulder and looks at her in the mirror. “All done, Miss Williams. Now let’s get you back home, so you can see how much damage the girls have done to your place.”

She groans and follows behind Cole as he locks up Cimmerian and waits for him to lead her to his car. The black Mazda is sleek and so clean she’s afraid to sit in it with her dirty gym shorts, and when she tells him this, he just laughs at her and pulls her into the passenger seat.

She directs him back to the apartment, the time spent relatively quiet except for Audrey’s minor directional comments. When they get into the parking lot, she smiles sadly, not truly wanting to say goodbye, and wonders if he’s feeling the same way.

“So, thank you for this,” she says, her tone a little defeated, but trying to hide it with faux-happy.

“Would it be weird for me to ask to see you again? I mean… I don’t really have too many friends beside the happy couples. Single friends are hard to come by at our age,” he makes a joke out of it, and Audrey lets out a relieved sigh. She hands him Humphrey and takes his phone, adding her number to it as he does the same.

“If you go to the dinner tonight,” Audrey says, getting out of the car, leaning in through the open passenger window. “Have a good time. See you around.”

She pulls out her keys and walks with caution up to her door, grimacing as she smells the cleaning products from all the way in the walkway. She turns around and waves a final farewell to Cole and walks into her apartment.

The place, as the smells led her to believe, is spotless. Her counters don’t have trash or dirty clothes on them. She can see her carpet, her furniture upholstery, and can even see the marks from the vacuum on the rugs. Her desk is free of all the papers and notes she’d taken and –

“Wait, where are my notes?”

Cali and Roxy look up from the kitchen table which is cleaner than she’s seen it in months. “You mean the scribbled pages on top of the pizza box by your desk?” Cali asks with a smirk. When Audrey nods, she continues, “We put all the questionable papers in the mail bin, unsure what the scribbles meant, we didn’t want to throw anything away.”

“Also, your laundry took five loads. Five whole loads. Shit, I mean, I know we like to drag you shopping, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to wash your old clothes, Audrey.”

Audrey rolls her eyes and squats down next to the bin of all of her notes. All the pages are balled up and crinkled from when Cali and Roxy threw them there. “Your hair looks so cute, Audrey,” she says to herself in a high pitch mocking tone. “Cole really did a great job, didn’t he?”

“No need to get melodramatic, Audrey,” Roxy says, sighing. “Of course your hair looks amazing. We get our hair done by Cole. We wouldn’t have sent you to an amateur.”

“It would have been nice for you to say something about it, I mean, you two are the ones who exiled me, taking all of my work, and thrust me into a shitty situation.” She stands, tossing her notes back into the bin to go through later. Walking to the cupboard, she reaches up to get out a cup for water and finds all of her dishes rearranged.

“Where are my cups?”

“Your kitchen was such a mess, you seriously don’t even know. I had to rearrange everything just to get all your mismatched dishes to fit,” Cali says, shrugging.

“My cupboards were fine the way they were,” Audrey says, trying not to get even more mad then she already is.

“You put your cups next to your spice cupboard? That’s ridiculous.”

“I put my cups where I want to put my cups,” she says through gritted teeth, immediately at her boiling point. “I like my cups next to the sink because I like to wake up at ass-o’clock in the morning for water without having to look through my mismatched dishes to find them.”

“We were just trying to help you, Audrey, the least you could do is thank us,” Roxy says, crossing her arms. “You don’t have to yell at us. This place was a disaster. It smelled like rotting food and dirty clothes, and I wasn’t even sure if you had a couch anymore because all of the trash. And then, you walk in after the day we planned for you and immediately jump down our throats about everything.”

“Not to mention all of the clothes everywhere,” Cali adds. “The laundry was out of control. You seriously should get out of this place more often I mean-”

Before Cali can finish her sentence, Audrey throws the glass against the wall, watching it shatter all over the pristinely cleaned kitchen tiles.

“I like disorder! I like not having to worry about clothes or dishes or anything besides my schoolwork, and the intern work. If you’d have bothered to ask, you’d know that I was done in a week. I’d be having this same sort of deal with myself then. But you didn’t ask, you demanded! Shit, guys, I love you. You’re the best friends I could ever ask for, and I know you all care about me, but Jesus fucking Christ!”

She picks up her phone, her keys, and walks to the door, turning for a moment so she can finish her tantrum. She pauses for a second. Takes a breath. Then, “Thank you for what you did today. Don’t clean up the fucking glass. I’ll do it when I get home. You can lock up.” As she turns around to open the door, there’s a knock.

She pulls it open quickly and sees Cole’s hand still up in a knocking formation. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard a glass break. Is everything ok?”

She screams, stomping her foot. “Everything is just fucking fine!” She pushes past him, and he looks inside her apartment to see Roxy and Cali both stunned into a frozen-like silence. He laughs and closes the door behind Audrey as she leaves.

“So,” he begins, following next to her. “I didn’t know if the guy-rules applied, but I didn’t want to wait a week before I got to see you again. Want to go get some coffee?”

“What about dinner with your mother?”

“I’m sure Roxy and Cali will tell her about your little screaming match, and tell them that I followed after you. So… coffee?”

After a deep breath, she nods, still walking briskly away from her apartment. “I need the caffeine.”

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Audrey,” Cole laughs, catching up with her.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” she replies, nudging him in the shoulder when he does, smiling softly.

Author: chelsea usher

Reader. Writer. Book Reviewer. Teacher. Traveler

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