The day after homecoming, Magenta was cruelly awakened by her doorbell at the crack of dawn. Her parents were off doing whatever a librarian and a regional manager-slash-shapeshifter did on a Saturday. Magenta shuffled down to answer the door, scratching her butt in purple PJs. She was looking forward to telling whoever it was to go to hell.
It was Zach.
The snappy retort for Jehovah's witnesses and Girl Scouts alike died on her lips in favor of shock.
"What are you doing here?"
Zach, normally the most confident person she'd ever met, despite looking like, dressing like, and having the superpower of your average glowstick, seemed at a loss for words. He shuffled his feet, kicked at her mother's aggressively pink welcome mat. "Yo, so, now that we've saved the world, we should go out."
Magenta stared him down, and he quickly amended to, "For coffee. Go out for coffee. He flexed, looking like a ridiculous pipe cleaner figure. "I need to recharge."
"Some people just sleep," she said flatly. "You know, because it's seven. In the morning. On a Saturday."
"Yeah, I know," he said, puffing out his skinny chest with the return of his usual hilarious swagger. "I was just checking to make sure you were free later."
"And you haven't heard of a cell phone?" Layla had warned her a thousand times to leave 'poor' Zach alone, but Magenta found his ability to backtrack on a dime kind of hilarious, in a twistedly endearing way. She held up her hand to cut off whatever crazy excuse he'd been about to throw at her. "Never mind. The Mocha Monkey, say, two o'clock?"
For a moment, she thought he was going to wet his pants, he looked so relieved. "Yeah. Sounds awesome."
"You caffeinated must be really interesting," she said, and closed the door on him.
Magenta was twenty minutes late to the Mocha Monkey. Once upon a time, it might have been because she liked making the little weirdo squirm. But today, she was actually kind of nervous about meeting Zach alone in a public setting that could be considered date-like.
Zach had not been hiding his crush on Magenta. (A horrifying thought: what if he thought this was hiding it>) The attention wasn't awful; Zach was funny and sweet, in his own unique, stupid way. She just didn't know how she felt about the whole thing.
Zach was sitting on one of the chairs printed with a monkey's face that everyone seemed to find ridiculous, but that Magenta kind of liked. They were definitely different, and what was wrong with something being a little different? Judging by the large green mugs in front of him, he'd already powered his way through one cappuccino and was working his way through the second. When he realized she was standing in front of his table, he grinned, coughed to cover the fact he was grinning, and attempted to wave, shake her hand, and stand up all at once. Halfway through standing up, he changed his mind about the gesture and tried to sit back down, passing it off as some kind of stretch, knocking his thigh into the table and nearly knocking everything to the ground. He ran a shaking hand through his short hair, gave her a cool guy chin nod, and settled on, "Hi."
Well, her caffeine hypothesis had been totally right. Magenta was torn between being charmed and wanting to sit back and watch the show in a Jane Goodall fashion.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, feeling a little better about it, since she didn't usually apologize.
"I didn't think you were coming," Zach said, looking and sounding oddly vulnerable. Magenta knew showing up late was a dick move, but she didn't realize how terrible she'd feel about it. He recovered like a champ, asking, "Did you want something to drink, or like a muffin or something?"
Like she needed a five-buck espresso to add to her guilt. "No, I'll get myself something. Hey, do you want to share one of those huge brownies?"
Zach perked up, at 'brownie' or 'split', she wasn't sure. "Yeah, okay."
Magenta went up to the counter and ordered. She struggled with her wallet, realizing her hand was shaking before she'd even received her espresso. She stared at her mauve-painted nails digging into the countertop in disbelieving horror. She was nervous. Seriously?
She felt an overwhelming urge to call Layla. Layla was good at people. And, Magenta almost gagged, relationships. Magenta wasn't fully an antisocial misfit, but that didn't mean she knew what the hell she was doing. It had only just then occurred to her that even though she had tried to pretend it wasn't, and Zach had been kind or nervous enough to agree with that (at least verbally), this was a date.
The barista handed her the espresso and a brownie the size of her head. Magenta clutched the demitasse cup and pounded its contents. The barista raised his eyebrows. "You know that makes you poop, right?" he said.
Was this a coffee shop or a doctor's office? Though it took some effort to bite back a retort, Magenta always subscribed to the theory you should never piss off anyone that handled your food. "Could you just bring another to my table?" she asked. "Thanks."
Magenta put the plate in front of Zach with a clatter. Probably the caffeine was kicking in, but everything seemed magnified. Every noise was louder, every color was brighter. Looking at Zach (more specifically, his white long-sleeved tee and neon-yellow windbreaker) made her eyes ache, but she pushed past it and took the time to actually study him. He was cute. He wasn't Warren Peace dreamy, but he was cute. And she figured maybe his weird quirks would calm down if he wasn't so uncertain of himself. He had cockiness to spare, but he tempered it if he thought Magenta didn't like it, she noticed. He was like a sad little puppy, quivering for her approval.
She hadn't thought to ask for a knife, and she didn't want to talk with the barista too invested in her digestive system, so she sawed into the brownie with a wooden stirrer. The silence, too, was magnified. "Is this a date?"
Zach looked stricken, like she'd trapped him. "Do you want it to be?"
"Have an opinion, Zach," she encouraged him. "Yes or no. Is this a date? Do you like me?"
Zach took a deep breath. "Uh, I'd like it to be. I do like you. A lot. I think you're really pretty, and shapeshifting is cool, and I had a guinea pig when I was a kid, so they don't bug me. And then, that thing at Homecoming? When you..." Taking into account the non-super people in the shop, he gestured: wiggling his fingers like they were tiny running feet, then chomping like they were teeth. "That was awesome. You, like, totally saved the day."
"Thanks," she said, surprising them both when she smiled. "You know, the glowing thing, it's..." Don't say 'stupid,' don't say 'stupid.' "...more useful than anyone thinks it is." Very diplomatic. Layla would be proud.
"So does that mean you think this is a date?" He could not find enough bravado to not sound ridiculously hopeful, it seemed.
Dating Zach was not the worst thing ever, she decided. The worst thing ever was finding out one of her fellow students was batcrap crazy, as they held the school hostage and turned everyone into babies. And actually, the best part of all of that had been Zach. He was gangly and weird and pseudo-gangsta and a terrible dancer, but being around him was usually fun and always interesting.
"Yeah, sure, this is a date. The next one will be better. I'll be on time, I promise."
Zach smiled so brightly she was concerned he was using his superpower in public. Then she realized it wasn't a power, it was just him. Smiling. Like an idiot. About her. "Next time?"
She and Zach really made zero sense as a couple. But then again, did a geeky librarian like her mom and a badass shapeshifter like her dad really make any sense? They'd been married twenty years.
Okay, so maybe she was getting a little ahead of herself. But thinking about the future wasn't so awful. She smiled at him around a mouthful of brownie. "Yeah, next time."