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Chapter 10

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Several of the women had remarked on how much they enjoyed the "retro cartoon" soundtrack to Bryan in the morning; puzzled, he came over to the card table counter to ask his sister what they were talking about. 

Michelle held her head in her hands, trying to figure out how to explain. "The other day. When I had to fill in for you. We put my phone's playlist on."

Bryan laughed in understanding. "Oh god. All that dorky anime crap you listen to?"

"Hey, it's no dorkier than what you listen to."

"Yes it is. By an order of magnitude of dorkiness."

She had to admit he was, in fact, correct. Scientifically speaking. "Well, fine. But it's still the pot calling the kettle black."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Again, incorrect."

In high school they had been separated by a grade but matching in geek levels; Michelle never made an issue of changing—especially when she arrived at university and found herself surrounded with like-minded nerds—and Bryan pulled into a lead, achieving near-normal levels of social acceptability by their mid-twenties. "On the other hand, you are here, asking me for my phone, to play my dorky music, for your clients." She unhooked her phone from its charger with a smug smile.

"They'll get sick of it," Bryan assured her, before walking back towards the mats and his speakers.

But as the strains of Katamari Damacy's perky game soundtrack blasted out of the speakers, eliciting a happy cheer from some of the creampuffs at the back, Michelle enjoyed the warmth from being surrounded by like-minded nerds once again.


"Thanks for the walk!" Ally said, shouldering her backpack and waving as she set off for home.

"See you Thursday!" Michelle called back, returning the gesture. She pushed her chair into the shade, to enjoy her iced coffee in comfort under a tree.

Justin brought a spare over, settling in beside her. "Fewer people today, huh."

"Too hot," Michelle said, between sips.

"Yeah, I guess. The humidity and all that." He stretched his legs out. She pointed at his jeans in questioning. "Heat doesn't bother me too much. Today I'm mostly in the basement and it gets cold down there."

"And creepy."

"And creepy," he allowed. "I have to admit, I didn't do a full spectral analysis before purchasing the cafe."

"That was foolish."

"I was young and naive."

She grinned. "So you're not just the manager—you own the whole cafe?"

"Yep, bought it straight from Mr. Jones." He held up a hand. "Please don't make any Counting Crows references, I've heard them all."

Michelle mock-pouted, then fished out an ice cube to suck on it. "Fine." She fought—and lost—the urge to yawn.

Justin raised an eyebrow. "Tired already?"

She shook her head. "Heat makes me sleepy."

"Want a double espresso?"

"I'll be okay. But thank you." She smiled. "You were saying, about Mr. Jones and you?"

"Ha ha." Justin gave another stretch. "Not much to tell. I worked here for a while through school, and then odd weekends, and when the job market tanked, David—"

"Wait, wait, wait." She threw out her hand. "His name was David Jones?" Justin nodded with an anticipatory grin. Michelle tried to whistle, managing the one tone but not the second. She stared at the plain lettering for Java Jones. "So many lost naming opportunities. And kraken-based logos."

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