Annie was lukewarm. Okay. Fine. Nothing too special. She watched with detachment as the plastic prong of her fork speared the clump of congealed matter that passed for fettuccine alfredo. By her side, Sasha Braus —who was relatively popular but none too bright by her accounts— had her head tipped back as her cohort Connie balanced french fries on her face. Pointedly, Annie scooted just a little further away.
She preferred a little more space and quiet. There was only one reason she tolerated lunch with that group; only one reason she sat quietly as Mikasa Ackerman’s eyes glinted at her like daggers.
She swallowed hard as that reason walked through the doors to the cafeteria.
A churning motion kicked up in her stomach as he took a seat across from her. Armin Arlert was the junior class president. The golden boy of Trost High. School spirit didn’t even feel as lame when he espoused it. If he popped a pom pom into her hand at a pep rally, she might even refrain from punting it across the gym.
The empty clatter of plastic silverware against a foam tray sounded deafening in her ears, but no one else seemed to notice. Except—
"Annie, are you okay?"
The soft concern in his eyes accosted her and she felt her head grow warm. A fever? Eye contact was such an appropriate term. With an abruptness that even Connie noticed, she stood up and backed away from the table. “I’m fine.”
Her exit was hasty, but she could still feel the rush of his too-blue eyes on her until she was halfway to her locker. This wouldn’t do.
"One decaf brown cow —heavy on the brown— with a snow day on top." Reiner barked the order to Annie and Bertholdt as he printed the customer’s receipt.
"Reiner! You can’t just make that shit up. Just say a mocha with extra chocolate and whip." Her tone was relatively flat, but it teetered on a dangerous edge. A laugh was his response, full and warm and obnoxious.
As far as part-time jobs went, she could do worse. The hours she clocked in at this two-bit Starbucks wannabe held the promise of a paycheck at the end of the week, and most of the time that was enough. But today was a bit of a departure from the norm. With a scowl, she slid the latte across the counter to the waiting customer. Their smile evaporated and they escaped from her view in a hurry.
An arm snaked around her shoulder and she stiffened. “Don’t scare the customers!” It was a playful comment, and he shook her lightly.
With relative ease, she broke from his hold. “Do you think it’s possible to be allergic to someone?” The question slid from her lips before she realized exactly how it would sound.
"Huh? Of course not." His laughter only made her fold her arms across her chest defensively.
"Maybe not the person specifically, maybe a cologne they wear or something?" She justified, lips tightening into a hard line.
"What makes you think you’re allergic to someone?" Bertholdt piped up.
"I think that Arlert kid is making me sick. Every time he gets near me I nearly get heart palpitations. My hands get all sweaty and I feel like I’m going to throw up."
A moment of silence passed before Bertholdt tilted his head at her curiously, “A-annie…I think what you just described is a crush.”
A wave of shock passed over her, a rogue wave on an otherwise placid sea. Her stomach dropped. “What the hell—”
Ding ding ding! The bell on the door rang with a clatter.
"Welcome!" Reiner boomed, a wily grin bursting across his lips.
"Oh! Thank you!"
"Fuck!" Annie’s curse was barely concealed by the sound of Bertholdt grinding more espresso beans. Armin himself stood before the register, wallet in hand as his eyes grazed the menu. Slung over his shoulder was messenger bag that was no doubt loaded with books. Her heart flipped uneasily.
"Why don’t you take your fifteen?" Reiner wiggled his eyebrows and her fingers contracted into fists.
"I don’t need one right—"
He yanked at the string behind her apron, the knot coming undone with ease in his hand. “We can hold down the fort!”
So she did what she knew best: She secluded herself at the table in the far corner of the shop. It was out of her meddling co-worker’s sight and it let her marinate in her irritation. The most frustrating part was…maybe he was right? She had started sitting at that table at lunch just to see Armin. She had only felt that way when he was around. She had—
"May I sit here?"
She didn’t have to look up from the artificial wood grain of the tabletop to know who it was. She grunted ambiguously, which he took as an affirmative.
He slid a drink across to her, “Reiner made you some tea. He said you’re feeling sick all of a sudden?”
A pout deepened on her face when she looked up at him, “I’m fine,” She insisted, but the intended bite had all but vanished from her tone.
"What is it?" Oops. The bite was back.
One flaxen brow arched up, but he continued on, “I came here to see you.”
Her heart squeezed painfully, “I told you, I’m fine.”
"Ah, yes. I believe you." The nervous chuckle told her otherwise, but she let it go. "I just wanted to stop by and say hi since I was in the area. I remembered you mentioning once that you work here."
He remembered? She must have only barely spoken of it once. But he had truly been listening when she did. He listened and he remembered. Something so simple made her stomach lurch. She was so done with this. Done with her body reacting to this kid like this. Done with his bright eyes looking straight through her garbage. Done with Reiner laughing at her.
Her gaze slid out the window where the thin shadows that laced the asphalt were growing long with the coming sunset. “Armin…”
"If you want to see me, you should text me sometime. So we can find a better place to go than this dump." Her voice was quiet, stoic.
Suddenly his face was illuminated by a shockingly bright smile. “I’d like that.”
"Annie!" Bertholdt’s voice rang out to them, shaking her from her reverie.
"I’ll be right there." She stood and Armin followed suit.
Reaching out, he tucked a stray lock of her hair back behind her ear. There was that dazzling smile again. Something about it was so endearing. “Take care, Annie. I hope I’ll see you soon.”
The feverish heat of blush rushed to her face. With a mute nod, she turned to leave him. She could still feel that tingle of his fingertips against her ear. She wanted to smile. She wanted to be sick. But more than anything, one thought came to her loud and clear.
He fucking knows.