Chapter 17

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A million snide remarks half formed in my head. "Shouldn't you be at a Future Frat Boys of America meeting learning to play beer pong or something?"

I didn't really say that. I thought about saying it four hours later when I played the conversation back in one of my memory loops. It would have been so perfect if I'd cut his arrogance with a witty retort, but instead I mumbled, "Oh, Blake, are you here with Dakota?"

He raised an eyebrow, lips bent in their disarming, crooked grin. He looked... amused.

"What? What did I say?" I asked.

"Dakota hates this place. No offence. I mean, she hated Dornzeria and she'd probably hate this new version too. Too many carbs."

"We have gluten-free crust."

"Still carbs. Lots of them. Believe me, I've heard the rundown from her a gazillion times. Anyways, I wouldn't be here either, again no offense. But Shelby really wanted to come." As if on cue, his little sister and their parents walked inside.

Shelby was a tinier, spritelier version of her brother, with that same thick black hair, in her case bobbed at the shoulder, and a grin that reminded me of both Jack and Blake. She bounced right over to us and stood poised and statuesque next to her brother. "Are you Mazie?"

Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. I glanced at Blake, who's grin took on a sheepish quality, and then back at his sister.

"I'm surprised you know my name."

"Of course, I do." Her voice was melodic, like she spent her days singing along to Disney musicals. "Blake told me about you."

"Did he now?"

I willed my face to stay its normal color and avoided looking back in Blake's direction. Blake's father walked up. "Do you have a table for four available?"

We had a waiting list, but only for groups of two. I led them to a four top our busser had just cleared, and to Shelby's utter delight, it was one of our fancy inlaid maze tables. She squealed as I showed her how the magnetic pens worked to move the colored balls through the twisting corridors under the table's plexiglass surface. "I was kind of worried your restaurant would suck compared to Dornzeria but this is really cool!"

"Better hold off your five-star review until you've tried the food," I said before walking away.

I was so busy helping bus tables and keep our growing waiting list in order that I only had time to obsess over what I was going to say to Blake and when I was going to say it about three quarters of my time, which was down from my ninety percent average.

Blake caught me when I was in a non-obsessive mode, showing a six-year-old one of the maze books we kept on a shelf under the front windows. He tapped me on the shoulder and elicited the second jump out of my skin moment of the day.

"You're very jumpy."

"You're very startling."

I walked away from the table of customers back to the hostess station. Blake followed.

"Does your family need something, Blake?"

He scratched his head. "Maybe. I can't remember. Oh yeah, napkins. We need more napkins. I can't keep anything straight lately."

I pointed to a stack of napkins. "Take what you need."

The jug band started up just then and Blake went back to his booth. I cursed myself, thinking I'd missed the opportunity to say what I wanted to. Using my typical procrastination tactics, I began talking myself into reasons why it would be better if I waited until I saw him at school on Monday.

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