Gail sat at a corner table in the coffee shop late Saturday morning. She was going through all the pictures she had on her laptop and was working on editing them for a project she had to do for her class. Just as she finished up with one of her photos, Ivan came over to her table and sat down with a smile on his face.
“Hey, Gail. Have you been here long?”
“Oh, hey. Yeah, not a super long time. Maybe fifteen minutes.” She leaned back in her seat and took a sip of her coffee, peering at him from over the screen of her laptop. “How are things with your classes going?”
Ivan shrugged as he slid his bag off his shoulder, pulling out a computer of his own along with a drawing tablet. “Oh, you know. Being an art major and all that. Not exactly what you sign up for, but I don’t regret it either.”
“Mm, yeah, I know the feeling.” Gail squinted at her photos again and let out a sigh. “People getting you down for choosing that major, or is it just more work than you expected?”
“If by work you mean writing papers, then yeah.” He sighed and hunched his shoulders as he waited for his computer to boot up. “Still, I’m getting to do something I generally like to do so that’s what’s important, isn’t it? I’ll figure out what I can do with my life after graduation.”
“You mean you don’t even have any idea what sort of job you’re going to look for?” Gail raised an eyebrow at him. “That seems pretty risky, don’t you think?”
“I mean, I have a few ideas but nothing really solid I guess.” Ivan leaned his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his hand. “I guess you don’t have that problem though, do you? You’ve been researching this stuff since before you started going to college, haven’t you?”
“Maybe a bit, yeah.” Gail hid a smile by taking another sip of her coffee and then refocusing her attention on her computer screen. “I’m not going to judge you for it, man. Just something to think about and keep in mind. It’d be better to at least have some idea of what you’re going to do once you get out of here than having to scramble around looking for a job while you’re poor and destitute.”
Ivan snorted and shook his head. “I can always go work at the farm again until I find something else. It pays good money at least, I just don’t think I’d want to be stuck working there for the rest of my life.”
“Hm, yeah I know that feeling. I want to get as far away from my family as possible when this is all over.” Gail let out a sigh and began working on editing her photos again. The world around her seemed to blur out of existence, her focus devoted solely to her work.
They both sat quietly for a time, each working on their own projects. Ivan set his tablet down after awhile and peered across the table at Gail. It took her a moment to notice him and he had to clear his throat. “Gail, can I ask you something?” he said once she finally looked up at him.
“Sure, what is it?” Gail asked, narrowing her eyes just a tad. There was a squirming feeling in her chest that she didn’t like but she tried her best to ignore it and act like nothing was out of the ordinary.
“Well, see… I guess a lot of stuff changed over the summer,” he started, running a hand through his hair and keeping his eyes averted from her. “I was doing a lot of thinking; that’s kind of all there is to do to stay sane on hot work days on a farm after all.” He laughed a bit nervously before continuing on.
“Anyway, I’ve just been thinking a lot about the future and what’s going to happen when we graduate.”
“Everything except what sort of job to pursue, apparently,” Gail said as she took another sip of her coffee. Ivan chuckled quietly, though he still seemed to be grasping for words to say what he wanted.
“Well, so at the end of the summer Haley sent me a message telling me about…” He hesitated for a moment, staring at Gail as if trying to decide whether what he was about to say was appropriate or not. “Well, about you and what happened.”
Gail’s chest tightened and she gripped her coffee cup a little harder. She swallowed and nodded her head, keeping her face impassive. “Yeah, okay.”
“So it was around that time that I really started thinking about everything more seriously.” Ivan closed his laptop and leaned across the table a little closer to her. “I wanted to get back here as soon as possible so that when you got back I could see you.”
Gail leaned back in her chair just a little, raising an eyebrow at him. “Well, that’s… really nice of you.”
Ivan reached out and took one of Gail’s hands in his and Gail froze, staring down at their hands. “Gail, I was really worried about you and I realized at that moment how much I missed you. You don’t know how relieved I was to see you when we all met up for lunch when you got back. I could hardly contain myself.”
“I…” Gail found it hard to breathe all of a sudden. Her chest was getting even tighter than before and she withdrew her hand from Ivan’s. “E-excuse me for a minute, I have to go to the bathroom, sorry. Watch my stuff for me would you?”
Ivan sighed then leaned back in his chair and nodded his head. “Sure thing.”
Gail quickly made her way to the bathroom and closed herself in one of the stalls. She pressed her back against the wall and took a few heavy breaths, squeezing her eyes shut and trying to block everything out to calm her mind. As soon as she felt like she had enough air in her lungs, she pulled out her phone and sent a message to Haley.
“You were right. I think he’s trying to ask me out. I can’t do this please save me.”
She pressed her face into her hands as she waited, hoping Haley would be able to message back quickly with something helpful so she wouldn’t be on her own figuring out what to do. The message came about two minutes later and a great sense of relief spread through Gail when she read it.
“If you’re looking for an excuse to leave just say that there’s an emergency at home and I asked you to come back. Don’t worry if he asks about it later, I have a cover story for you.”
Haley really was a life saver and Gail wasn’t sure what she’d do without her. Once she was able to regain her composure she left the stall and splashed a little bit of water on her face to get rid of the sticky sweaty feeling.
When at last Gail returned to the table Ivan was working on his laptop again with his tablet. He glanced up at her and tilted his head. “Hey, are you okay? Look, if I did or said anything wrong-”
“No, I just…” Gail cleared her throat and shook her head. “I’m fine. Listen, Haley texted me and asked me to meet her at home. She said she had some sort of an emergency. She didn’t say what it was but I’ll keep you posted when I find out, alright?”
Ivan stood up, his eyes wide. “Is she alright? Is it anything serious?”
“It didn’t sound all that serious,” Gail said as she began packing up her things and putting them in her bag. “I’m sure it’s going to be fine. I’ll tell you later when I find out, alright?”
He sighed and nodded his head. “Sure thing. Talk to you later, Gail.”
Gail nodded to him as she slung her bag over her shoulder then took what remained of her coffee with her and went out the door. The moment she set foot outside it felt like a great weight had lifted off her shoulders. She was free of that uncomfortable situation, at least for the moment.
She drove all the way home and settled on the couch when she got inside, sighing heavily, then she took out her phone and sent a message to Haley.
“I’m home. Do I have to wait until you’re back to find out what your cover story is? Ivan seemed worried when I told him.”
Haley’s next message came rather promptly, almost as if she had been waiting for Gail to text her.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m actually coming back on my lunch break right now. I’ll tell you then. See you in a few.”
“What sort of crazy scheme does she have cooked up now?” Gail muttered under her breath, dropping her phone onto the coffee table and groaning. “Still, better than going through that.”
“Are you scared of him or something?”
Gail nearly fell off the couch when she heard Cecil’s voice. She sat up and glared at him when she found him leaning against the wall behind the couch. “Would you please stop doing that?”
“Doing what? Talking to you?” A hurt look came over his face and he stepped around the couch to face her. “You didn’t answer my question, you know. Why did you run away from your friend like that?”
Gail huffed and leaned back against the couch, still glaring at him. “You obviously saw what happened. What’s up with that, anyway? Holding my hand and getting all weird and sentimental…”
“How long have you two known each other?” Cecil asked, tilting his head to the side in a curious manner.
She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know. I think maybe we met and started hanging out two years ago. Haley was the one who introduced us actually. I guess he was in one of her minor classes.” She shrugged her shoulders and turned her face away from Cecil. “I’ve always just thought of us as a good friend trio. Now he’s being weird and it’s making me uncomfortable.”
“You could have just told him that instead of running away,” Cecil said with a frown.
“You don’t know how this stuff works, clearly,” Gail muttered. “Social interactions aren’t always exactly that clear cut, you know.”
“Or you’re just making excuses.” Cecil sighed and shook his head. “But I guess you don’t want to talk about it so I’ll leave you alone for now.”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it, and I would thank you to do so.” Gail sighed and rubbed a hand over her forehead, then she glanced up as she heard someone at the door. It opened a second later and Haley came in, a wide smile on her face.
“Gail, I have a surprise. Don’t freak out or anything, just give me a minute to explain.”
Gail frowned, immediately suspicious, and noticed that Haley had something tucked away inside her jacket. “What is that? What’s going on?”
The thing inside her jacket squirmed and Haley let out a deep breath before unzipping it. “Like I said, don’t freak out. Here.” She lifted a small orange kitten up and it mewed loudly. Haley sighed rather lovingly and pressed the kitten close to her, walking over to the couch to sit down beside Gail. “Aw, it’s okay. You’re safe here.”
Gail stared at the kitten in silence for a long moment, not seeming to know what to say. Haley turned to her and grinned. “It was abandoned just outside of the shop. No one else wanted it and I couldn’t just leave it there so I asked for my break and brought it here.”
“You do realize we can’t have pets here, don’t you?” Gail said in a low voice as she stared at the kitten which was sniffing at the couch cautiously.
“Yes I do realize that,” Haley said, “but what else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t just leave it there. Besides, I think we’d be able to hide it and not get in trouble. Also I think having a pet would be good for us. Good for you, even.”
“How is it going to be good for me?” Gail asked, raising an eyebrow. She was distinctly not looking at the kitten for fear that she might fall prey to how adorable it actually was and lose all common sense, as Haley clearly had.
Haley sighed and let go of the kitten so it could explore the couch on its own. “Well you just seem like you need something to keep your mind occupied. Something other than school, I mean. Pets are a good thing for that, you know.”
“Haley, we can’t. It’s not allowed here and besides, we’re college students. How do you expect us to take care of it?”
“Oh please. It’s a cat, not a dog. They don’t need that much work.” Haley lifted the kitten up again and held it out to Gail with a smile. “I’ve had cats before so I know what I’m doing. Here, hold it for just a second. You’ll change your mind.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Gail muttered under her breath, but she took the kitten from Haley and gazed down at it. It gazed back at her with bright blue eyes before mewing. A slight shiver went up Gail’s back and she felt her will starting to break.
“See, I knew it. You want to keep it now too, don’t you?”
Gail frowned at Haley, but she hugged the kitten closer to her chest. “How exactly are we going to hide it?”
“It’s easy, just leave it all to me, I’ve got this all planned out.” Haley smirked and peered down at the kitten. “I’ve got some food for it in the car, so I can bring that in and leave it with you, alright? I have to go back to work soon.”
Gail sighed and leaned back against the couch, carefully stroking her fingers over the little kitten’s fur. “How long have you been planning on doing this?” Gail asked. “It seems like you have this planned out way too well to have just been a spur of the moment thing.”
Haley stood up and moved to the door. “Yes, well it’s been hanging around the store for a few days actually so I finally decided to just take it. Anyway, I’ll be right back.” She headed out the door, leaving Gail alone with the kitten.
“I can’t believe her,” Gail muttered under her breath as she stared at the kitten. The kitten mewed again and snuggled up against her neck, purring faintly and seeming to take comfort in hiding its face against her. Gail let out a heavy sigh, realizing she had fallen prey to it as well. There truly was no going back now.
Haley returned moments later with a large bag of cat supplies. Gail stared at her rather blandly. “You really went all out didn’t you? What if I had said no?”
“I knew you wouldn’t,” Haley said with a grin as she set the bag on the counter. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to work. Could you feed it?”
Gail sighed and nodded her head, slowly standing up off the couch and keeping the kitten close to her. “Yeah I’ll get it all set, don’t worry.”
“Thanks,” Haley said with a smile, then she went over and gave the kitten a little pet on the head. “By the way, I’ve been thinking about what to name it.”
“Of course you have,” Gail muttered with a frown. “You’re attached already.”
“Hey we’ve already decided we’re gonna keep it, right?” Haley huffed then smiled again. “So I think I’m gonna name it Cecil.”
Gail went stiff as a board and stared at Haley for a long moment. Haley didn’t seem to notice as she was still petting the kitten and Gail swallowed. “Why Cecil of all names?”
“Oh, I dunno. He just looks like a Cecil if you ask me. Anyway, I need to get back. I’m gonna grab something to eat on my way there and hope I’m not late.” She turned and waved before going out the door, leaving Gail completely alone with the kitten.
Gail slowly turned around to see Cecil, the angel, standing across the room. She glared fiercely at him and he held up his arms. “What are you looking at me like that for? I didn’t have anything to do with naming it!”
“Ugh, whatever. If she wants to name it Cecil, fine.” She huffed and went to the counter to get Cecil, the kitten, some food. He nestled closer into her neck and purred a little louder. With a sigh she decided that perhaps this wasn’t going to be all that bad after all, so long as no one found out about it.