Nino zoomed in on the girl’s face. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining brightly and to him, it seemed like all of the beams of light were focused on the brown-skinned girl sitting on a park bench. Her hair was a dark reddish brown, blending into a copper red at the ends. A black pair of glasses was perched on her nose as she typed furiously on her phone.
He typically wasn’t one to take pictures of people without letting them know, (operative word: typically) but when someone happened to be in a nearly perfect position for a near perfect photo, Nino rarely passed up the opportunity. Having one open slot for his portfolio that was due the next day was what finally made him pull out his camera.
Her face was focused, determined and somehow was nothing but soft lines with her lips slightly pursed. She had the perfect profile. The natural light highlighted her brown cheeks, almost making her look ethereal. That’s probably what a goddess looks like…he thought.
The sudden honk of a car horn nearby made her look up from her phone, her gaze turning slightly towards Nino. There. He snapped the photo, uncaring about the sound the camera made. When he looked back up after confirming that he may have just taken the best picture in all his 19 years, she was standing in front of him, hands on her hips. Nino fell backward out of the squat he had been in next to one of the park’s many trees.
“Do you always photograph girls without their permission?” she demanded. Looking up at her for a moment, Nino swallowed. She probably thinks I’m some kind of pervert.
“I’m a photography student and you just had the best…look. And I’ve got a portfolio due tomorrow and I just needed one more picture and there you were and—,” She held up a hand to cut him off.
“Look, next time, just warn someone before you do that…,” the girl looked at him expectantly.
He blinked at her. “Um, Nino.” She nodded, holding out a hand to help him up. He got to his feet, dusting the grass off of his jeans.
“I’m Alya. Journalism student.” Alya considered him for a moment. “I wonder why I’ve never seen you around campus.”
Nino rubbed his neck awkwardly, “I’m not the most social guy. It’s usually just me, my camera, and my laptop.” She raised an eyebrow at him, a smirk growing on her face. He flushed, realizing what that may have sounded like. “I mean, I’m usually just looking at pictures. That I took. With my camera. On my laptop.” Nino trailed off. I AM AN IDIOT. AND SHE PROBABLY THINKS I’M EVEN MORE OF A PERV.
Alya giggled. “You’re cute when you’re all nervous.” What. “Maybe I could look at some of your pictures with you sometime?” WHAT. “So you’re not alone all the time. With your laptop. And your camera.” They both laughed at her impression of him. Nino bit his lip, blurting out what he was thinking before he could stop himself.
“Do you actually want to see my pictures? I’m done with class for the day.”
”I’d love to. There’s a nice café nearby.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder, smiling.
Nino smiled back. “You one of those people who lives off of coffee?”
“My best friend would say I do. But I drink tea sometimes, too.” He snorted a laugh, earning another giggle from her. “Come on.” Alya turned around and walked back towards the bench where he had first seen her. Following her, he tucked his camera back into his bag.
“So, does this café offer discounts for students who are particularly cute?” Nino questioned. “Cause a certain journalism student said a was cute recently and—,” she shoved his shoulder playfully.
“Hey, don’t misquote me. I said when you were nervous, dork.”
He pushed his hands into his pockets and leaned over, “That’s my secret: I’m always nervous.” She huffed out a laugh, shaking her head.
“If you’re gonna steal lines from a superhero movie, at least do one of the better ones.”
“Whoa. Avengers is practically a classic.”
Alya raised an eyebrow at him. “That movie came out four years ago.”
“It’s a classic in my heart.”
“Uh huh.” They had finally reached the café, the smell of coffee pouring over both of them as they entered. “Café sweet café.” Alya sighed dramatically.
As they made their way to the counter, Nino took in the small café. A few of the round tables were occupied by a couple of college students and a few older adults. The brown, green and yellow earthy tones in the décor and on the walls gave the place a homey and comforting mood. He was a little surprised that he’d never been here before.
“Alya, hey!” the greeting from the petite girl at the counter drew Nino’s attention. “The usual?” The girl’s nametag read Marinette. She was a bit shorter than Alya with big blue eyes and bluish black hair pulled into two buns at the top of her head. Marinette quickly wrote Alya’s name on a cup, setting it aside and turning to him “And for you?”
His eyebrows shot up. “Uhhh. I’ll have whatever she’s having.” Alya turned to him.
“That much caffeine might kill you, unless you’re Alya.” Marinette spoke up, giggling. As Nino struggled to come up with a response, Alya ordered for him.
“Just get him a Tikki.” Marinette scribbled on another cup. Nino reached in his satchel to pull out his wallet before Alya’s hand caught his arm.
“First one’s on the house.” Before he could he speak up, she continued, “Consider it the ‘particularly cute’ discount.”
Marinette tried not to smile at the slight blush rising to Nino’s cheeks. “One Tikki and one Café du Mort, coming right up.” Alya pulled Nino over to a table, not having let go of his arm.
“So…’death coffee’?” he asked, once they were seated. Alya smiled.
“She wasn’t kidding when she said that much caffeine could probably kill you. It’s just 3 double shots.”
Nino’s eyes widened. “Just 3? Yeah, just cardiac arrest. How are you not dead yet?”
“Acquired tolerance. Trust me, I was not born with this gift. Honestly, too much caffeine probably couldn’t kill you anyway.” She waved a hand in the air.
“Um, I’m pretty sure too much of anything could kill you.”
Ayla shot him a look. “Okay, mom. Jeez. But enough about my caffeine addiction. I was promised pictures.” As they waited for their drinks, Nino booted his laptop up and put the SD card from his camera into the computer’s slot. “How long have you been taking pictures?”
Without looking up from the laptop, he replied “Uh, since college I guess. I mainly just took pictures with my phone but my parents finally got me a real camera when I was in lycée.”
Ayla rested her chin on her folded hands, elbows on the table. “Cool. What made you like it so much?” This time, Nino did look up.
“Well, it’s kind of weird, I guess but I’ve never been the best with words and—you know that American saying ‘A picture’s worth a thousand words’?” She nodded. “I feel like I can communicate, if that’s even the right word, better with my pictures than I can with words. I’m not sure if that makes any sense.”
“It does. Pretty deep stuff, Nino.” He smiled and looked back down at his laptop.
“I try. What about you, journalism girl?” Alya rolled her eyes at the nickname.
“I was a nosy kid. Also, stupidly curious. My mom swears they’re not the same thing. But I was kind of a weird kid too because I loved to watch the news with my parents. Stories interested me for some reason. So for my 8th birthday, I became the proud owner of a Wonder Woman notebook. I took it everywhere.” She’d gotten this faraway look in her eyes, Nino’s gaze locked onto her face. “I remember this one time, I lost my notebook—in my room, it would turn out—and my family swears that’s the only time they’ve ever seen me cry. But I remember thinking that, if I didn’t get my notebook back, I wouldn’t want to write anymore. Strange thought for an eight-year-old but I think it was because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to write anything without my notebook.” Alya leaned back in her chair, sighing. “Not as emotional as your origins story, but yeah. Basically, I’m just nosy.”
Nino opened his mouth to say something, but a blond barista arrived at their table with their drinks. “One Tikki. And a Café du Mort for the only person crazy enough to order one.”
“Thanks, Adrien. This is Nino, by the way.” She gestured towards him before taking a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the fresh coffee.
“Nice to meet you.” The blond, Adrien, said. “You’re a student?” he questioned.
“Uh, yeah, photography.” Alya glanced up at him, over the rim of her glasses.
Without breaking eye contact with Nino, she told Adrien, “He was taking pictures of me in the park.” Nino’s cheeks flushed as he sheepishly looked away.
“Oh cool.” Adrien grinned. “You know, it’s supposed to be an enormous compliment if a photographer takes a picture of you out of the blue. It’s like if a poet decided to write a sonnet about you or something.”
Nino tried his best to melt into his seat. He knew his entire face was probably red by now. Alya smiled, “Huh. Who would’ve thought?”
“Well, I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone. Customers to take care of and all that.”
As he walked away, Alya called out “Tease me when you finally ask Marinette out, Sunshine.” Nino had turned his eyes back to his laptop, only looking up when he felt Alya’s gaze on him. “So, you gonna show me some pictures or what?”
Smiling, Nino turned his laptop so that she could see the screen. As he clicked through the pictures, he described each one: whether it was a candid shot or not, how he’d come up with the concept if it was posed, whether it was for his class or personal portfolio, etc. Alya glanced over at him, in awe at the amount of pure happiness that was on his face as he explained why he’d used a certain lens for a particular photo instead of another. His golden eyes sparkled in way that Alya was sure only happened in fairy tales and anime. She saw a bit of a blush form on his face and turned back to the screen. It was the picture he had taken of her.
Sure, she’d had professional photos taken before (and even more amateur shots taken by her family and friends) but this was…wow. “That doesn’t even look like me.” She murmured.
“This might be the best photo I’ve taken in my life.” Alya looked at him, eyebrow raised. “I’m serious. The whole composition is better than any posed shot I’ve taken, I know. Besides the fact that you’re the most beautiful subject I’ve ever had—I mean, uh, yeah. It’s a really good picture. Like, art-gallery-worthy.”
“Well, thank you. I think the person behind the camera really did all the work, though.” Nino cleared his throat, smiling.
“Do you want to see some more? Photos, I mean. I’ve got a lot more in my portfolio at home and some that I’ve gotten transferred onto some canvas.”
“Are you inviting me home with you?” Alya smirked. Nino’s eyes widened. “I’d love to.” He looked slightly relieved and excited. “One question: could I do a spread on you for my blog?”
“I like to highlight talented people, especially students. It gets a lot of daily visits; I’ve been running it since lycée. Think of it as free advertising? You’ve got some good stuff.”
Nino rubbed the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t pay you.”
“Do dates count as viable currency?”