23 - Disinfectant and downcast

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"When I get like this I can't be around you."

"On tour with Harry Styles." Penny repeats, tapping her fingers against the temporary staff vacancy sign taped to the store window. "Do you have any idea how many people would quite literally kill to be you right now?"

I roll my eyes and continue to disinfect the glass screen over the gelato counter. I'd been dreading Penny's next shift; knowing I'd have to explain why Luca was suddenly in search of my replacement, and therefore knowing that Harry's name was going to have to come up at some point.

"I think that's a little dramatic." I reply in a hushed tone. I know full well that it's Penny who would kill to be me, and that this conversation is only fuelling the fire that is her fangirling hobby. She continues to run her fingers over the sheet of A4 paper and looks over at me wistfully.

"Ugh." She huffs in a tone that reminds me she's nowhere near ready to be considered a grown up. "I bet Luca hires some grandma who's never read a gossip mag in their life and doesn't even know what a celebrity is. What are we going to talk about?" She pulls on the ends of her hair as if in the midst of an epic breakdown and stomps over to the counter.

"Penny, we don't even talk about those things. Most of the time I'm just telling you off for abusing the fridge." I give her a pointed look and she shrugs. Teenagers are so needy, especially this one.

"But we have been recently." She whines and pushes herself up so that she's perched beside the cash register. I want to remind her that the last time Luca caught her doing that, she was ordered to deep-clean all the bins on the premises, but I don't particularly want to relive the memory of Penny vomiting into her apron.

"Only because of recent developments." I mumble and move around so that I'm now behind the counter, stashing the cleaning products in a lower cupboard. I feel like I already know the next sentence about to leave my co-worker's mouth and the anticipation alone is making my stomach churn.

"How are recent developments?" She asks in that tone that implies she doesn't really give a damn but also really really does. I can see right through Penny as if she's a sheet of glass, and what I'm seeing is not at all good for my attempts at keeping a crap-free-brain before I jet off to America.

"You already know everything." I lie, keeping my eyes on the blank screen of the cash register. "He's invited me to attend the American leg of the tour with him."

The store falls into silence and for a brief moment I'm naive enough to think that Penny might actually have decided to drop the subject and do some damn work. Instead, she tilts her head in my direction and says. "So, I saw your friend Eve yesterday."

My heart plummets to the pit of my stomach. I can just see it now, Eve peppering Penny with questions about my situation and planting questions of her own in her head. It almost makes me not miss Eve.

"How nice for you." I manage through gritted teeth. I just want a day where I can enjoy this upcoming opportunity and not feel sick with confusion and dread over it. I can't tell whether this crisis of feelings is something pre-existing, laying dormant alongside my grudge and frustration, or whether it's a seed planted by these two. Either way, I don't want it.

"She said she'd not heard from you for a while."

Seriously? This is low for Eve. Involving my teenage co-worker in our issues, when she knows full well that she's only pulling Penny onside because they share the same opinion about Harry. Before she found out Penny's thoughts, Eve didn't have a nice word to say about her. It's manipulative. That's what it is, downright bloody manipulative.

"Look, Penny, I don't really want to talk about this right now." I'm half-tempted to retrieve the disinfectant spray again and arm myself with it. Perhaps she won't be so keen to interrogate me when she's blind and screaming. Penny finally slides down from the counter and shrugs again.

"She said you might say that." I'm quite sure that my fingers twitch in response and it's definitely the disinfectant that they're after.

Why isn't anyone capable of minding their own damn business?

I don't want to have this freaking conversation. I don't want to talk about any potential feelings I have for Harry aside from friendship. I want to get up in Penny's face and tell her - stop trying to turn this into something that I could lose! But I know it's a waste of breath. This is Penny, the girl feeding off of gossip and scheming and I know that my response will only act as some sort of confirmation for her. I know she'll only decide it means she's right and I freaking know full well that she'll report back to Eve.

I tear my apron off and march towards the staff room. "Where are you going?" Penny calls after me in her butter-wouldn't-melt high pitched tone.

"Home." I snap and shove the door open with my right shoulder. If we had some more decent gelato flavours on display today, I might have opted to stay. But there's no way in hell that I'm drowning my sorrows in Mocha Madness or lime sorbet.

"W-wait, what?" Penny squeals and I hear the soles of her Converse hurrying after me.

"You can tell Luca I'm sick." I grumble, hauling my bag off of one of the plastic chairs. My shift ends in just under two hours anyway and our boss will grace us with his presence sooner or later. I just hope Penny can be trusted not to burn the place down until then.

"I didn't mean to upset you, Juniper!" She exclaims. "Eve's just worried about you!"

I whirl on her and she recoils. "You don't even know Eve!"

Her face flushes pink from under her red fringe and she steps back. "We're only trying to help." She whimpers.

"Well, you're not." I retort. "If anything, the pair of you are only making everything worse. You're making what should be a totally grouse opportunity, completely and utterly shit. Ok?"

Thank heavens for the lack of customers, otherwise this would be quite the dinner and a show.

"Aw, Juniper, I'm sorry, ok? You know I live for this stuff. I'm excited for you, that's all. I get carried away sometimes." She starts fiddling with her apron; her face growing forever more beetroot.

"This is my life, Penny." I groan, feeling slightly guilty about her evident discomfort. "Not a reality show or a gossip mag or a soap opera. Please, please, just stay out of it."

I don't hear her response, I'm already out the door and stalking through the CBD in hot pursuit of where I parked my car. I shouldn't have raged at Penny like that. I shouldn't have snapped. But I can't deal with this. Finding Harry again was supposed to be everything I ever wanted and and more. Not this.

I'm angry at Eve. I'm angry at Penny. Hell, I'm even angry at Harry. This is all his damn fault anyway. And if he'd not said those things on the phone last night then maybe I wouldn't be such an emotional mess today. Gah.

"Pull yourself together, Juniper." I tell myself when my eyes finally land on the pea-green exterior of my Renault. "Twenty-seven days to go."

Twenty-seven days and I'll finally be reunited with my best friend. Twenty-seven days and I won't have Penny and Eve polluting my brain and this will all settle down and sort itself out.

Because away from their prying eyes and unwelcome opinions, I'll see that it really is just friendship between Harry and I. I know I will. I just know it.

author's note: Not long until the Harry & Juni American tour and boy have I got some juicy stuff in store for you all. I had a read back through the last few chapters and I hope you guys aren't finding all this confusion with feelings repetitive. It's going to be vital for what's to come so please hang in there! Happy reading!

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