Marceline has been serving coffee to sleepy, ungrateful college students for two years by the time she meets Bonnibel. Being a barista is hardly her passion—the job is just a way to pay rent and raise money for her band—but she takes pride in her work. She has an excellent memory for names and faces and is good at coaxing sluggish customers awake with small talk and piping hot cups of ambrosia. She’s buddies with all the regulars and keeps a sharp eye on the comings and goings of the small shop.
Bonnibel walks in at exactly 7:42 on Tuesday morning and orders the froufriest drink in the house, double sugar, extra whip please.
Marceline’s never seen her before, but she quickly dismisses her for a dumb lost freshman, her long, thick strawberry blond hair and hot pink sundress an eyesore and an affront to everything Marceline stands for. Her voice is nauseatingly sweet, and her wallet is actually shaped like peppermint candy. Marceline wonders briefly if the late nights are getting to her and she’s just hallucinating, but her devious mind would never cook up something so…twisted.
“Bonnibel,” she answers primly, and Marceline tries valiantly not to snicker as she scribbles BONNIE onto a plain white cup. The girl’s probably one of those constantly wasted trust fund babies with the Ivy League legacies and pitifully inattentive parents.
“Oh, can you please make sure it’s not too hot?” Bonnibel adds as Marceline hands her back her credit card (a horrendous shade of fuschia), and Marceline barely resists rolling her eyes.
“I can make it at the same temperature that we make the kids’ drinks,” she replies. The girl either misses or ignores her condescending tone, smiling and chirping a cheerful thank-you before lugging her enormous book bag to the wobbly table next to the window.
Guy, the other barista (and Marceline’s keyboardist), has his hands full fielding the complaints of a grumpy patron, so Marceline takes over the counter when there’s a lull in the stream of customers eager to be caffeinated. She makes the drinks with a practiced hand, motions quick yet precise as she steams milk, pumps flavor syrups, and measures out espresso shots. Bonnibel receives her drink with a gratified smile that makes something in Marceline’s stomach flip. Not that she has much time to ponder it, though—the clock hits 7:55 and a gaggle of undergrads streams in through the door. Guy takes his position at the counter, spoon at the ready, and Marceline greets the first customer in the line. She doesn’t notice when Bonnibel leaves.
Marceline forgets about Bonnibel until the next Tuesday, when she shows up just before 7:45 again and orders a “raspberry white chocolate mocha, double sugar, extra whip, and can you make it not too hot again?”
Her thick hair is gathered up into a ponytail today, and her small, round shoulders are showing through the chiffon sleeves of her coral-colored button-up. She’s adorable in the way that five-year-olds are adorable. Gross.
“Sure, Bonnie,” Marceline says. Bonnibel frowns.
“It’s Bonnibel,” she says as she hands Marceline her card. Marceline can tell she’s trying valiantly to hide her indignation.
“Uh-huh,” Marceline says, because the university is filled with these daddy’s-little-girl types, and it amuses her to no end to mess with them. She has to amuse herself somehow. “Next!” she calls, and Bonnibel steps out of the way to make room for the next customer.
Marceline thinks she’s going to like this semester’s Wednesday evening shift the best. Finn makes an excellent partner-in-crime (and a mean macchiato), and he’s got a talent for brightening up a shop full of exhausted, frazzled students. A bright-eyed sophomore working to pay off his tuition, he loves hiking and his creative writing classes, and he has this old-fashioned sense of chivalry that Marceline finds simultaneously hilarious and endearing.
He’s popular with the ladies, who leave him copious tips, but he shrugs when Marceline asks him about girlfriends.
“Nah, man, I dunno about that,” he says. “Ladybiz is complicated, you know?”
Marceline thinks about Ash, who only just apologized last night for the fight they’d had over the weekend. They didn’t even have makeup sex afterward because he had left to get high with his dumb friends.
“Yeah,” she replies glumly. “I feel you, bro.”
Finn pats her on the shoulder. “I think you gotta know yourself before you hand yourself over to someone else, you know?”
He’s a sweet kid, but he doesn’t know anything about how the real world works.
It’s Tuesday morning, well past 8:30, and Bonnibel has yet to make an appearance. Marceline finds herself morbidly curious.
“Hey, have you seen Bonnibel today?” Marceline asks Finn, who is covering for Guy today. Finn looks up from rinsing a blender and screws his face up in confusion.
“Pink sorority chick who always orders disgustingly sugary drinks? She’s usually here right before 7:45 on Tuesdays but hasn’t shown up yet.”
“Oh, you mean PB!” Finn says, his entire face lighting up. “She’s not in a sorority, silly. She’s like a super genius Chemistry grad student.”
Marceline raises an eyebrow. “No way. I thought she was a dumb freshman,” she admits. “And…PB?”
“Short for Princess Bubblegum,” Finn explains. “That’s my nickname for her.”
Marceline hopes her face looks as bewildered as she feels. “Why the hell…?”
Finn shrugs. “She wears a lot of pink; it reminded me of bubblegum,” he explains, and Marceline has to admit that it isn’t that much of a stretch. “And she’s heir to the Candy Kingdom, which makes her a princess, kinda.”
“Candy Kingdom? As in that huge candy store chain downtown?”
“Yup,” Finn says. “It’s been in her family for ages, but her real passion is science.” He says “science” as if it’s some mystical, unknowable thing, but Marceline supposes that for a humanities-buff-slash-jock like Finn, it might as well be.
“You sure know a lot about her,” Marceline observes. She swears Finn is blushing as he turns away from her to wipe down the back countertop.
“Oh, I don’t know, man, we just talk sometimes,” Finn says, trying way too hard to sound casual. Marceline snickers.
“Sounds like somebody has a crush,” she says in a singsong voice, laughing.
Finn chucks a package of napkins at her head.
Bonnibel shows up again the next Tuesday, and Marceline can’t shake the feeling the world has suddenly righted itself on its axis again.
“Missed you last week,” Marceline says conversationally as she swipes the card.
“I’m surprised you noticed,” Bonnibel says. She’s wearing a loud magenta sweater and knee-high boots today, and her hair is pulled back in a messy braid. There are massive bags under her eyes and a sprinkle of badly concealed zits on the hollows of her cheeks.
Offended, Marceline snaps, “I notice all of my customers.”
She expects that to be that. They’ve never been cordial—the girl just grates on Marceline’s nerves somehow, purely by existing—but this is a firm step in the hostile direction.
But to her surprise, Bonnibel rubs her face and looks embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she mutters. “I haven’t slept in two days and I’m exhausted.”
“It’s cool,” Marceline says before she can stop herself.
“To be fair, I really am surprised. The place I used to get my coffee—on the other side of campus—never bothered to get my name right.”
Marceline glances guilty at the cup on the counter, where BONNIE is emblazoned in big, bold letters. She reaches for the marker, but Bonnibel stops her. The tan skin of her hand is soft, but her grip is surprisingly strong.
Marceline’s heart does something funny in her chest, and she doesn’t move an inch. Bonnibel smiles at her, tired but genuine.
“Leave it,” she says, and her hand falls away. “It’s like an inside joke at this point, you know?”
Marceline shrugs. “Sure,” she says, trying to sound like she’s not suddenly noticing Bonnibel’s sweet, dark eyes and shapely hips. She wonders how that hand would feel on the back of her neck and swallows thickly. “Whatever.”
It starts with a smile—Bonnibel’s lips quirking up when Marceline scrawls her name on the blank cup.
Bonnibel asking, “How are you?”
Marceline wishing Bonnibel a nice day.
Bonnibel paying with cash and saying, “Keep the change,” as she beams sweetly.
Marceline wishing Bonnie a nice day and meaning it.
It terrifies Marceline just how quickly hostility and indifference can warp into infatuation.
“I realized I don’t even know your name,” Bonnie says.
“It’s Marceline,” says Marceline. “With a C.”
“Marceline,” Bonnie replies, and the name sounds nice on her tongue, like dipping something plain in chocolate. “It’s pretty.”
Marceline barks a laugh. “Not exactly a ‘pretty’ kind of person, if you couldn’t tell,” she says, glancing pointedly at the tattoos running up and down her arms and tucking her hair back to bare the piercings adorning her ears.
“Well, that’s just nonsense,” Bonnie says, and Marceline immediately hates herself for blushing furiously. She keeps her eyes stubbornly down at the screen of the cash register and then down at the innocuous white cup with Bonnie’s name on it. There is no way Bonnie is flirting with her. No way.
But when Bonnie slips her the credit card, her soft fingers linger on Marceline’s skin and she smiles like someone who knows what she wants.
Marceline sucks in a breath and tries to still her stupid shaking hands as she says, “Have a good one.”
Keila hangs around after practice, and they climb onto the duplex roof. The stars shimmer distantly above them as a local band’s melancholy lead singer croons from the portable speaker between them.
“I broke up with Ash over the weekend,” Marceline says as she retrieves her lighter from the pocket of her jeans.
“Thank god,” Keila blurts out. Her face instantly morphs into one of guilt. “Sorry, Marce.”
Closing her eyes, Marceline takes a long drag of her cigarette. She opens them on the exhale and wishes she’d brought a jacket. The autumn air is sharp and chilly, and the too-clear memory of Ash’s bullshit attempt to convince her she was overreacting leaves her insides cold.
“He was a misogynistic asshole anyway,” she says. It’s less flippant than she would like.
“Doesn’t mean it hurts any less,” Keila replies.
She’s right. It’s funny to look back at the time when she was batshit crazy for him, bronze skin and white mohawk, devilish eyes and the possessive way he looked at her. She loved him even when he debased her female friends and was overbearing about the male ones. Even when he asked her to make him food—he had actually said, “Oh, get back in the kitchen” without a trace of irony, once—even then, she had swallowed her instinctual repulsion and simply whapped him lightly on the head before standing up to check what sandwich ingredients they had on hand.
And though he acted like a jerk a lot of the time, she couldn’t help but hold on to that memory that once upon a time, he had made her feel like she mattered—like there was a point to everything. But it was a feeling that had diminished as the passion and affection bled out of the relationship, and his selling her shit on Craigslist and then trying to cover his lying ass about it had been the last straw. Even when he was being a shitty boyfriend, he had always still cared about her. But she had been stupid for clinging on to the hope that he would grow up and be better—better to her, better for her.
Marceline stubs out her cigarette and says quietly:
“Sometimes I’m just fucking sick of feeling alone, you know?”
“You’re here late,” Marceline says, hands on her hips. Bonnie smiles up at her through big, dorky glasses, looking a little frazzled. On the tiny table is a bulky laptop nearly buried under a pile of important-looking papers and a stack of neatly labeled folders. Marceline has never been so glad that she graduated years ago.
“I’m preparing for a big presentation and was getting tired of the library,” Bonnie explains. “I thought I’d try something new.”
“You want me to shut down this joint so you can actually concentrate?”
Bonnie grins up at her and flutters her eyelashes. “You’d do that for little ol’ me?”
Marceline laughs at how dumb it makes her look. “You’re gonna have to try harder than that.”
“Forgive me,” Bonnie says, a curl of hair falling across her face, “I’m too stressed out to exude my usual wily charm.”
“Shame,” Marceline declares, feeling bold. “How about another drink instead, on the house?”
“Uh-huh,” Marceline says. What the hell, she has an employee discount. “Want your usual?”
Bonnie looks pleased, and it’s unbearably cute. “Yes, please.”
“One disgustingly froufrou drink coming right up,” Marceline says, and she can’t keep the grin off her face.
Over the next week, Bonnie comes in the afternoons Marceline works and stays until they close in the evening, always with bigger and more terrifying stacks of papers and larger bags under her eyes. Marceline treats her to a drink every night, because she can’t help herself. She’s not sure of her own motives behind it, but every time Bonnie smiles at her, she feels weak in the knees and becomes overcome by the need to do nice things for her. It’s infuriating, just like that stupid giggly laugh that Marceline can’t get enough of.
“So, how long have you been working here?”
“Two years,” Marceline says. She’s developed the habit of sitting down with Bonnie after closing, giving her a break and chatting about nothing in particular. “It’s not terrible. I’ve worked some shit jobs in my life, so I know when to bail and when to stick around.”
Bonnie wrinkles her nose. “The service industry’s not really for me,” she says. “I worked at one of my dad’s shops when I was a teenager and absolutely hated it.”
“Not all of us have the option of doing other things, princess,” Marceline retorts, annoyed. Bonnie frowns at her.
“I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Yeah, well,” Marceline says, “it’s not like I want to do this for the rest of my life. But the hours are flexible and pay isn’t terrible, and they let us take the leftover pastries home. I’m saving up for my band, you know.”
“Oh?” Bonnie says. Her obvious surprise annoys Marceline. Of course someone like Bonnie would assume she had no ambition.
“I wanna record an album,” Marceline says. “Get our stuff out there, you know?”
“That’s a big dream,” Bonnie says.
“I believe in it,” Marceline says defensively. “We’re good. Really good. We play downtown sometimes, on Thursday nights.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know that if you’ve never invited me to a show?”
Marceline looks at her, surprised. “For real? You’re interested?”
Bonnie grins. “Of course!” She sounds genuine, and it sends Marceline’s insides all topsy-turvy. She tries to play it cool.
“Well, we’re doing one next week at the Treehouse if you wanna come.”
“I’d love to,” Bonnie says.
Marceline goes home that night with Bonnie’s number in her phone, and she wonders what the hell she’s doing.
Marceline doesn’t see Bonnie in the crowd before the set, and she tries not to let it bother her. Maybe she got caught up with something at the lab. From what Bonnie’s said, her advisor is pretty intense.
After the performance, Marceline makes her way to the bar and orders something strong, because there’s no way she’s going to go home in a funk. Her phone buzzes as the bartender hands her the glass.
KEILA: Dude where are you
KEILA: Your friend is looking for you
Suppressing the butterflies that instantly come to life in her stomach, Marceline tips the cute bartender generously and makes her way over to her bandmates, who are hanging out by the stage.
Bonnie’s with them, too, although Marceline almost doesn’t recognize her with her leather jacket, tiny purple dress, and hair done up in a messy bun. She looks unbelievably sexy, and it’s not just because Marceline has a weakness for excess eyeliner.
“Rad jacket,” Marceline says, because she can’t stop staring. She adds: “Glad you made it,” like it’s no big deal. She has a feeling that Bonnie can see past her, though.
Bonnie grins at her. “Thanks. Rad performance. I had no idea you could sing!”
Blushing furiously, Marceline says, “I get by.” Her gaze flickers to Keila, who is leaning backwards against the table, giving Marceline a look and not-so-subtly appraising Bonnie’s ass. Rolling her eyes at her friend, Marceline clears her throat and suppresses her anxiety. “Hey, you’ll stick around, right? Maybe let me buy you a drink?”
Bonnie grins. “Sure—but only if you promise that I get to buy the next round.”
Marceline, heart in her throat, thinks that she might be in love. “Deal.”
Marceline pushes Bonnie against the wall in the back corridor of the bar, their breaths mingling hotly in the brief pauses between passionate kissing. She makes a choked sound as Bonnie’s hands migrate straight to her ass, squeezing and pulling in tight. Marceline buries her fingers in Bonnie’s hair, desperately trying to get closer.
Marceline has kissed a fair number of girls, but she’s never been set on fire like this, sweet and scorching all at once. Bonnie kisses like she was born to do it, and her curves are incredible.
“Holy shit,” Marceline gasps. Her ears are pounding and her head is spinning, but all she can feel is pure thrill and glee. “You’re so hot.”
“No, you are,” Bonnie says, punctuating the statement with a firm squeeze. When she recovers from her surprise, Marceline nibbles at her neck, sending Bonnie arching even further into her arms with an obscene moan.
“You wanna get out of here?” Marceline murmurs.
“Yeah,” Bonnie gasps. “Wait, no. Marceline, I really like you. I . . . I don’t want to move too fast if it’ll ruin how you look at me.”
“Shut up,” Marceline growls. “I like you, too, dummy. My place or yours?”
One night together becomes two and then ten and then before Marceline knows it, Bonnie’s calling her the g-word and kissing her goodbye in the middle of the morning rush.
It should be a world-shattering change, but instead it just feels right. The scars that Ash left still linger, but they suddenly seem to matter so little.
Marceline learns that Bonnie loves science podcasts, baking, and really dumb puns. She learns that Bonnie likes to sleep on her left side and finds doing dishes unbearably boring. She learns that Bonnie is the happiest when she’s talking about her research, and that she doesn’t look down on Marceline for not always being able to follow. She learns that Bonnie is an awful singer but secretly loves dancing. For their one-month anniversary, she buys Bonnie a bouquet of chocolate roses and test tube–shaped shot glasses, and Bonnie takes her out to dinner at Marceline’s favorite burger joint.
Afterward, sticky but satisfied naked limbs tangled in Marceline’s tiny, rickety bed, Bonnie tells her about her childhood, about being pampered yet neglected and prodigious yet bullied. Marceline confesses her fears about the band amounting to nothing, her desperation to prove to her dad that she can make it on her own.
Their love is easy, and Bonnie treats her well. It’s stupid how good it feels—how novel. Marceline finds herself on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“She’s good for you,” Keila says one night as they share a six-pack of cheap beer and watch stupid reality television on the ratty basement couch.
“I know,” Marceline admits. “Maybe too good.”
Keila gives her a look, and Marceline shrugs. “She’s gorgeous, kind, and so damn smart. She’ll get tired of me sooner than later.”
“Maybe,” says Keila, finishing her can and artfully tossing it into the trash can across the room. Her next can opens with a soft hiss. “But don’t fuck it up with your insecurities, Marce.”
“I don’t . . .”
Keila’s raised eyebrow shuts her up. “I know you,” she says simply.
“Yeah,” Marceline says. “Thanks.” Keila gives her a friendly punch on the shoulder.
“It’s what I’m here for, dude.”
A year later, Marceline miraculously hasn’t fucked it up yet.
Exhausted from a long shift, she swears the bike ride home takes longer than ever. She had hoped to get her birthday off, but nobody had been available to take her shift. Now she just wants to go home, put her feet up, and cuddle with her girlfriend. But of course, Bonnie had to stay late at the lab today. Although they had celebrated over the past weekend, Marceline would be lying if she said she hadn’t hoped to at least have dinner together on her birthday proper, maybe followed by some lazy sex.
By the time she makes it back to her apartment building and locks up her bike, she thinks she’ll settle for collapsing on the couch, though.
As she approaches her apartment, she hears suspicious voices and music coming from behind the door. She turns the key and opens the door, laughing in delight when the entire room shouts, “Surprise!”
“You guys,” she says, shaking her head and unable to keep the grin off of her face.
There’s a lot to celebrate: the release of the Scream Queens EP and Bonnie’s new research grant being chief among them, but the cheerful HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARCELINE! banner draped across the apartment wall leaves no doubt what they are all gathered for.
“Now how about a drink for the birthday girl?” she asks the room. After greeting her with a hug and bright smile, Finn offers up a not-yet-opened bottle of Marceline’s favorite beer.
“You gotta try Todd’s cake, too,” he says, gesturing at the counter overflowing with treats. “We all brought a little something, and I know Jake doesn’t like him, but boy, they don’t call him Mr. Cupcake for nothing.”
Marceline looks around her little apartment and, sure enough, Todd, the shop’s independent baking goods supplier is there, along with pretty much everyone she knows: Guy with his turntable, Bongo in the middle of the dance floor, Keila dominating at beer pong. Finn’s super hot on-and-off fling Phoebe, Finn’s chill older brother and his shy exchange student girlfriend, their genius friend Beemo. There are undergrads and Bonnie’s colleagues and coworkers from the shop and members of other local bands—people chatting and pouring drinks and dancing.
But Marceline only has eyes for Bonnie, who is in the kitchen putting a new batch of beer in the fridge. She looks obscenely gorgeous in a bold, hot-pink dress, her thick hair woven in pretty braids and bronze skin glowing from their weekend up at the lake. Her face lights up when she sees Marceline, and the open joy in her expression sends Marceline’s heart aflutter.
“Any idea who I have to blame for this takeover of my apartment?” Marceline teases, before scooping her into a kiss.
“Not a clue,” Bonnie says, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. Marceline laughs.
“You’ve outdone yourself, babe. This is awesome.”
Bonnie grins at her. “Only the best for the love of my life.” Warm, familiar arms snake around her waist, and Bonnie bumps her forehead lightly with her own. “Happy birthday, Marcy.”
“Thanks,” Marceline says, blushing fiercely. Bonnie has the nerve to giggle at her, so Marceline pulls her into a longer, more indulgent kiss to show her who’s boss.
When they pull apart at last, Marceline is pleased to see that Bonnie is just as flushed, plush lips exhaling hard against her own. “Not fair. I worked hard to plan this party,” she murmurs. “You can’t tempt me to just drag you out of here so we can celebrate on our own.”
Marceline smirks. “There will be plenty of that later.”
“Is that a promise?”
“Trust me,” Marceline said. “I plan to thank you very thoroughly for putting together this shindig.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” Bonnie says with a flirty, self-satisfied grin. “Come on,” she says, taking Marceline’s hand. “Dance with me?”
“Yeah,” Marceline says, smiling wide. “I’d love to.”