“Deathly Hallows.” She touches the tip of the triangle with her unpainted nail. “Some things really do never change.”
I wait for her to smile, but it doesn’t come.
She smells the sweatshirt again.
“Is it because you like the smell, or because you probably still have a stash from me?” Dakota laughs finally, but, again, it’s off.
“You grab a table and I’ll get the coffee,” I offer. This is what we always did back in Saginaw: she would pick a table, usually by the window, and I would order our matching drinks. Two mocha Frappuccinos, an extra pump of liquid sugar for her, an extra shot of coffee for me. I always ordered two pieces of lemon pound cake and she always ate the icing off of mine.
My tastes have changed over the years, and I can’t bring myself to drink the sugary milk shake disguised as coffee anymore. I order her Frappuccino and grab myself an Americano. Two lemon pound cakes. While I’m waiting for my name to be called, I look over at the table where Dakota is sitting staring off into space with her hands tucked under her chin.
“A mocha Frap and an Americano for . . . London!” The cute barista yells out the wrong name. She’s perky as she sets the drinks on the counter, a huge smile on her face, the same as with all employees I see working for the mermaid chain.
Dakota sits up slightly when I reach the table. I hand the large plastic cup to her and she examines mine.
“What’s that?” she asks.
I sit down across from her and she brings my cup to her lips.
“You’ll hate that—” I try to warn her.
It’s too late, her eyes are already closed and her face is already crumpling. She doesn’t spit it out, but she wants to. Her cheeks are full of the espresso-and-water mixture and she looks like an adorable little squirrel as she struggles to swallow.
“Ew! How can you drink that?” she exclaims when she finally gets it down. I slide her cup closer to her for a chaser. “It tastes like straight tar—ew!”
She’s always been a tad dramatic.
“I like it.” I shrug, sipping the coffee.
“Since when do you drink fancy coffee?” Dakota scrunches her nose in disgust again.
I chuckle. “It’s not ‘fancy.’ It’s only espresso and water,” I say, defending my drink.
She snorts. “Sounds fancy to me.”
There’s something behind her words. I can’t pinpoint it yet, but it’s like she’s mad at me for something that I’m not aware that I did.
It’s like we’re still dating.
“I got you some lemon cake, too. Two pieces.” I slide the brown paper bag across the table to her. She shakes her head and pushes her hands out, moving the bag back to my side of the table.
“I can’t eat stuff like that anymore and I’m already having this coffee as my lunch.” She scrunches her nose and I remember her complaining about the change in her eating habits she had to make for her academy. She has to keep a strict diet, and lemon pound cake doesn’t fit anywhere into that.
“Sorry.” I wince and fold the edges of the bags to close them. I’ll take it home and eat it later, when she’s not around to witness my gluttony.
“How have you been?” I ask her after a long stretch of silence. It’s like neither of us knows how to act when we aren’t dating. We’re acting as if we’re strangers. We were friends for years before we dated; our friendship grew as her brother and I became best friends. A chill runs down my spine and I wait for her to answer.
“I’m okay.” She sighs. Her eyes close for a moment and I know she’s lying.
I reach across the table and rest my hand next to hers. It wouldn’t be appropriate to touch her, but I want to, so badly. “You can tell me, you know.”
She sighs again, refusing.
“I’m your safe place, remember?” I remind her of her claim on me. The first time I found her crying on her front steps with blood in her hair, I promised that I would always keep her safe.