There was one simple lesson I learned from a young age and quickly internalized while living as a Cullen.
Never play chess with a psychic.
You think a mind reader is a problem? No, you just have to add on geographical distance and then you’re back on an equal playing field; as long as you keep apart, you can use your best strategies and winning is still possible. A psychic though, there is no distance you can go to be hidden from their sight. Once they get their teeth in you, your odds at winning are – for a lack of a better word – shit. So, as I held Alice’s gaze at our local Burger King, I reminded myself this one very important rule.
Never play chess with a psychic.
If you did find yourself playing chess with a psychic, the best course of action would be to become irrational and flip the board. You might not win, but neither would they and you’d save yourself the effort. I took a deep breath and assessed the situation. There were currently five humans with ten pairs of working human eyes at the restaurant; flipping the board would be disastrous, either people would die or they’d bear witness to vampiric activity. So that’s out of the question, next strat.
Though Alice had gotten used to reading around the blind spots caused by me, she hadn’t totally mastered it yet. My best choice was to act without thinking and take over the conversation as much as possible. That, well, that I could manage no problem.
“Well, well, well. What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Assistant Manager?” I addressed Gay Kevin, hoping to also neutralize Jasper. Mr. Emotional Roofie was another obstacle here, trying to goad my coworkers so that they emotionally overwhelm him was my best shot. “Showing up two hours late to your shift with no warning?”
Gay Kevin looked exhausted.
“Please, not in front of the customers,” he sounded embarrassed. Not Kevin snorted and took the interruption as an opportunity to make Milkshake boy his drink and get away from Alice. Meanwhile, Straight Kevin hopped over the counter and directly headed towards the old fries – if we didn’t do our duty to eat them, they would be thrown out.
I also took notice of the guy that came in with the Kevins; he was shorter than Gay Kevin but slightly taller than Straight Kevin, he had thick black hair, but more importantly, he carried a video camera with him. He observed us, brown eyes full of amusement, and I sincerely hoped he was a vlogger.
“They aren’t customers,” I chirped with a predatory smile.
“I am a one though,” Milkshake boy frowned. I waved him off.
“You’re Not Kevin adjacent. You don’t count,” Gay Kevin looked increasingly irritated despite Jasper’s attempt at giving chill vibes. He crossed his arms.
“So, what’s this? You decide to throw a party while I was gone?”
I was about to retort when Alice interrupted me. I glared.
“There IS a party involved, but not here and not right now. Alice Cullen, nice to meet you, I’m –”
“Resentment’s sister,” Alice scrunched up her nose but nodded.
“Yup! And I came here to personally invite you, other Kevin, and Not Kevin to Nessie’s party”
“You said you were born on 9/11,” Straight Kevin’s said accusingly with a mouth full of fries.
“It’s not a birthday party,” Alice tried to clarify, only to be drowned out by Not Kevin.
“You were born on 9/11???” I turned to address him and realized he was making Milkshake boy a chocolate shake, ruining all the hard work I put into my performance. Today was definitely not my day.
“I mean, yeah, but not like 9/11 9/11. I’m only 16,” Not Kevin nodded but then his eyes widened as a realization seemed to hit him.
“Oh fuck. I forgot that was 20 years ago…”
“I wasn’t even born 20 years ago,” Straight Kevin added and it seemed to act as a punch to Not Kevin’s gut.
“God, you guys are babies. I remember my parents picking me up from kindergarten early and being glued to the news for the rest of the day,” Gay Kevin’s statement also appeared to have a negative effect on Not Kevin, making him look even more miserable. Camera man looked like there was no place he rather be. Alice, well, she looked endlessly irritated.
“I feel so old” Not Kevin whispered, shell-shocked.
“You are old. What are you, like 50?” Not Kevin glared at me.
I blinked. Everyone went quiet and stared at Milkshake boy, who looked very confused. No one spoke for a full beat.
“Jack’s 19 and, uh, Canadian,” Not Kevin shrugged helplessly and said as if that explained everything. He handed the kid his milkshake.
“Hey, I thought there weren’t any Oreos –”
“ANYWAY,” Alice said loudly and we all looked at her, “it’s not a birthday party. It’s more like a celebration of Nessie’s first job. Our family would love to have all of you for dinner”
“She means that we’d love to have you at the event. Not that we want to eat you for dinner,” Jasper added unnecessarily and made me want to face palm. So, I did.
“I wasn’t worried about possible cannibalism when she said it, but now I am,” Straight Kevin took a wary step away from Jasper. Alice rolled her eyes.
“There will be plenty of free food and you can take as many leftovers as you want with you,” Straight Kevin seemed to seriously consider this.
“I’m in,” Alice handed him a pink envelope and smiled. Fuck.
“Speaking of customers. We have one right now,” I pointed at Camera man, “so we can’t deal with you right now,” I tried to push Alice out the store but she held her ground.
“I’m also not a customer,” he shrugged, “I came for the rats”
“Tài…don’t do this” Gay Kevin pleaded.
“My hands are tied. I promised my audience,” so he was some sort of vlogger. This was admittedly the only good thing that has happened today.
“See, he’s not a customer. I can stay,” I groaned at Alice’s smug tone.
“Technically, you’re both loitering. So, neither of you should stay”
“I agree with the Assistant Manager”
Alice and I stared down at each other while Camera man and Gay Kevin had a silent conversation with their eyes. For the next while, the only sounds that could be heard in the restaurant were Straight Kevin loudly chewing, Milkshake boy slurping, and Olivia Rodrigo’s drivers license playing on the speakers.
Suddenly, Not Kevin snapped his fingers, drawing our attention to him.
“You know, it occurs to me that since both Kevins are finally here, I can take my break. Come on Jack, I’m taking you home,” he quickly made his way around the counter and grabbed Milkshake boy. “I’ll make sure to call if I’m somehow two hours late,” I smirked at Alice as her eyes narrowed. I greatly encouraged any action that made her look like that.
Milkshake boy tilted his head and didn’t let himself be dragged out of the joint. I had half a mind to help Not Kevin.
“But dad said to –”
“Your dad will be ok with this as long as you don’t set the house on fire. Again” Milkshake boy frowned.
“It happened once. I said I was sorry”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on bud, time’s ticking”
Finally, that seemed to get Milkshake boy moving and heading to the door.
“Don’t forget your invite!” Alice called out.
“We’re good,” Not Kevin responded with a hand on the door and the other pulling the teen along.
“Did I mention there will be a fondue fountain?”
Not Kevin hesitated by the door and I could only feel horror as my stomach dropped. Not Kevin was weak for cheese and cheese related by-products.
“Chocolate or cheese?”
“Both,” I held my breath. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fucking fair.
“Shame, I’m on a diet”
“You aren’t –”
And they were both gone before Milkshake boy could finish calling out Not Kevin’s blatant lie. I fist bumped the air and stuck my tongue out at Alice, fully intending to gloat over this minor victory.
That is, until I saw Alice smiling.
“What’s got you so smug,” I snarked, hoping to get a hint of whatever vision she just had. She smirked and I could tell she could see right through me. So much for not playing chess with psychic.
“I had a sudden revelation that everything will be alright,” her eyes twinkled with mischief and, not for the first time, I was very jealous of Edward. Why the fuck did he get the mind reading powers? Tactile thought projection was so stupid and useless the majority of the time.
“You’re so fucking annoying”
“I prefer the term persistent,” I’d prefer if she was set on fire. “Which reminds me, hey boys”
Camera man and Gay Kevin stopped doing whatever the hell they were doing and paid attention to Alice, who was holding up one her dumb little pink envelopes.
“What do you say, a chance to eat fancy rich people food and see some fancy rich people cars,” Camera man turned to Gay Kevin.
“Is this like, appropriate. Professionally speaking,” Gay Kevin scrunched up his nose trying to figure out the etiquette of this weird ass situation.
“I’m more than happy to take you guys on a spin in my brand-new Bugatti”
“Why does this feel like bribery?” Gay Kevin narrowed his eyes at Alice, he seemed incredibly suspicious.
“Because it is,” I growled and attempted to set Alice on fire with my stare.
“And I fully admit it. I just want to throw a good party, and guest are a very important part,” she stretched out her hand towards Camera man, “think about it, that’s all I ask”
Camera man and Gay Kevin shared a look, and Camera man grabbed the envelope. Ugh.
“Wonderful! Remember to R.S.V.P., we’ll leave you to it,” she waved and grabbed Confederate hubby.
They walked away and I could hear Alice speak, her voice far too low for human ears, but just the right volume for me.
“There’s been a change of plans, we’re meeting up Esme”
I scowled. I knew it was bait, I knew Alice wanted me to hear her, and it was driving me insane. Why would they need to see Esme? Why would Alice want me to know this?
I fucking hated my life.