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Sugarcane and Easy Mornings

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“So let me get this straight,” Alex says, brow furrowed, as he takes another sip of the Coke they're splitting, courtesy of Lynn’s babysitting money. He’s sprawled out on the couch, legs outstretched, feet propped up against the armrest, leaving Lynn sitting cross-legged on the floor, just like every other night. (Alex is kind of an asshole that way, but then again, Lynn’s the one who called dibs on the bed when they first moved in, so it’s only fair.) “You met some random guy on a park bench, talked to him for, like, two minutes about the latest Justin Bieber album, and took him up on a job offer at some cafe you don’t even know the name of?”

Lynn rolls her eyes, taking another bite of her chicken nugget. Sometimes, if she squints and tilts her head 90 degrees, she thinks she can see why Alex views her as this small, innocent creature he needs to protect from the big, bad world. But really, there is nothing necessary about this whole older brother act. For starters, she has an actual older brother, and though he’s long since graduated and moved on with his life, he’s still only a short phone call away if Lynn ever needs him. Here’s the thing, though: Lynn doesn’t need him, because she's eighteen now. She has a driver's license. And she can actually vote—not that there's anyone worth voting for, but that's beside the point, which is that Alex Babinski has no reason to be worrying about her at all.

"Okay, first of all," she says, holding up a finger, "it was ten minutes, not two. We talked about a lot more than Justin Bieber. Second, his name was Brendon—Brendon Urie.  And third, I do know the name of the cafe. It's North...North something...god, what was it again? Something about north and rain...Whatever.  He told me."

Alex snorts. "Ten minutes? Ten minutes gets you...what, name, number, a random fact about someone's kitten or something? Talking to someone for ten minutes doesn't make you an expert, Lynn. He could be feeding you a pack of lies. And what the hell kind of name is Brendon Urie, anyway? Sounds like a fuckboy."

"Like you would know about fuckboys," Lynn says, stealing the Coke from his hand and taking a sip. She grimaces; the fizz is starting to die down, leaving nothing but glorified sugar water in its wake. "You've never fucked a boy in your life."

"Neither have you," Alex points out. Lynn sticks her tongue out at him, too lazy for the middle finger. "All I'm saying," he continues, taking a bite out of his Big Mac and chewing thoughtfully, "is that I'm concerned for your well-being."

"I'm not a kid anymore, Alex," Lynn says—whines, really, her head tilted and her eyes wide and pleading like a puppy's. "We're in college. You have no reason to be concerned."

"On the contrary, Lyndsey," Alex replies, and Lynn sighs, sticking her bottom lip out in a pout, because she really hates it when he goes full name on her. He's not her mom, for God's sake. "I have every reason to be concerned about you. Do you know how much shady shit goes down in college? Believe me, I know. And look at you. You're literally a child. You look like a cross between a puppy and a kitten. Your voice is like a swarm of butterflies."

Lynn squeals indignantly in response, spilling ketchup on her pant leg in the process, and Alex bursts out laughing. "See?" he says. "What did I tell you?"

"Fuck off," Lynn snaps, wiping furiously at her pants with a napkin. Groaning, she takes another sip of the almost-flat Coke. "Don't you have a Brian to be drooling after?"—Brian being their other roommate, who plays bass in their almost-but-not-quite-band they've been trying to organize since seventh grade and whom Lynn believes to be the object of Alex's affections.

Alex shoots her a glare before replying, "Nah, he's working, remember? And I'm not about that club life." He steals a fry from the carton and plops it in his mouth. "Fine, fine. Go work with the fuckboy and his little fuckboy friends. But don't come crying to me if you get locked in a basement and forced to strip for middle-aged men."

Lynn sighs, making a propeller noise with her lips. She sets down the cup and places a hand over her heart. Neither of them are religious, so she grabs her psychology textbook and sets her other hand on top, face sober. "Alex Babinski, I solemnly swear that if I, Lyndsey Gunnulfsen, get locked in a basement and forced to strip for middle-aged men, you will be the first to know."

"That's the spirit," says Alex, taking a sip from the cup before wincing and spitting it back out. "Fuck, this is awful."

"Tell me about it," Lynn says, grabbing the cup from Alex's hand and dumping its contents into the potted plant by the door before throwing it in the trash. "Wanna grab a beer?"

"You are eighteen years old," Alex replies sternly, but he catches his keys when she tosses them to him and follows her out of the apartment, shutting the door behind him. As they head down the stairs, Lynn's hood drawn over her head and Alex in nothing but a t-shirt, he asks her, "So when do you start?"

Lynn shrugs nonchalantly, opening the car door and slipping into the passenger seat. "Tomorrow."

Alex groans.

Chapter Text

Lynn meets Brendon Urie on a deserted sidewalk at precisely 8:42 in the morning, and in hindsight, she supposes later, the whole thing does seem pretty sketch when viewed from an outside perspective, especially if that outside perspective's name is Alex Babinski.

At the moment, though, she's currently seated on a park bench, hands shoved in the pockets of her brand-new hoodie, cursing the chill in the San Francisco air. She's freezing even through the jacket (because the weather report said it was supposed to hit 70, goddamnit, and long sleeves are for losers) and her ankles are bare, exposed by the very short socks she's wearing under her All-Stars. She sighs, her breath a series of gray-white swirls in the cold, and lets her eyes fall shut, wondering why she thought it was a good idea to set an alarm for 7:30 on a Saturday morning.

(To be fair, she hadn't actually noticed it was Saturday until she was already a block away from campus, but since she was too lazy to turn around, she kept walking and ended up at Starbucks for a soy chai latte and a croissant.)

She should go back to the apartment, but Brian's probably passed out on someone else's couch and Alex has most likely already left for work, and there's a shit ton of homework she has to do that she really doesn't want to do, and besides, walking is hard and she still has half a latte to finish—well, a quarter of a latte to finish, but who's counting?

Opening her eyes, Lynn takes another sip of the aforementioned drink before pulling out her phone and placing her earbuds in. She presses "shuffle" on the playlist (entitled "Lyndz's Jams", a name she cringes looking at but is too lazy to actually change) and leans back against the bench, letting Linkin Park flow through her ears and chase whatever's left of the early morning stupor out of her system.

Initially she doesn't notice the boy standing over her, and it's not until she notices a pair of feet that Lynn looks up and sees a guy a little older than she is, with floppy dark hair and wide brown eyes, wearing a cheap-looking lavender hoodie ripped right off a thrift store clearance rack. She takes out her left earbud as he's mouthing something, wanting to hear what he has to say. "What?"

The man points to her phone with one hand, a cigarette held in the other. "The new Bieber album. It's fucking sick, right?"

"Oh, yeah," she says, nodding. "Yeah, no, it's great. My friend gives me so much shit about it, but music is music."

"Damn straight," the stranger replies. "He's pretty talented. Yeah, none of my friends really like him either because he's sort of the opposite of what they call 'good music', quote-unquote, but what can you do?" He shrugs. "Haters gonna hate."

"True dat," says Lynn, and she knows it's a cringey thing to say, something that should've died out in middle school, but she really doesn't care. Nor does the stranger seem to care, because he chuckles almost musically in agreement.

"I'm Brendon," he says, gesturing to himself. "Brendon Urie."

Lynn sets down her latte and smiles shyly. "I'm Lynn," she says, holding out her hand. "Lynn Gunn. Well, Lyndsey, actually, but my full name's kind of a mouthful, so I go by Lynn Gunn."

"Well, it is very nice to meet you, Lynn Gunn," says Brendon, shaking her hand with a warm smile. It's a very nice smile, almost (but not quite) too much teeth showing and eyes lit up in such a way that it's clear he really does think it a pleasure to meet Lynn, despite having spoken to her for all of two minutes. A shiver overtakes him and he hugs his arms to his chest, wincing. "Fuck, it's cold."

"I know, right?" Lynn says. "I mean, I grew up in Massachusetts, so I shouldn't be complaining, but I thought California was supposed to be warm, you know?"

Brendon snorts. "Yeah, well, I moved here from Vegas. Imagine how I feel."

Lynn winces sympathetically. "Yikes."

"Yeah. But, you know, I never gave a damn about the weather," Brendon says, suddenly solemn, as he takes a drag from his cigarette, "and it never gave a damn about me."

"Poetic," Lynn says, nodding in admiration. "Did you just come up with that?"

"God, no," Brendon says. He shakes his head, chuckling--he really doesn't seem to be able to hold a serious pose for long. "My buddy Ryan. Most pretentious fucker you'll ever meet."

"He should be a writer."

"He is. Or he says he is. He's trying to be. He spends more time getting stoned than actually writing, though, but then, so do I, so it's no big deal."

"Oh." It occurs to Lynn that she should say something else, but Brendon's still a stranger and she's never been great at starting conversations even with people she knows, so she sits there and looks at him awkwardly, studying him. Absently she wonders what he does in his free time, what other music he listens to, if he sings or draws like she does, whether he goes to her school and if so, what he's majoring in. All these questions run through her head and she wants to ask them, to get them all out there, to really get to know Brendon Urie, but she's afraid if she says too much she'll come off as too aggressive. (God knows how much trouble that's gotten her into.) She clears her throat. "So, do you work around here?" she asks finally.

"Yeah, actually," he says, and he doesn't seem fazed at all by the blush rising on her cheeks and her ears. "This place on De Haro. Northern Downpour. It's like Starbucks, except ten times better. Like, the drinks are bomb and the people are way cooler and the artwork is fucking awesome and we have open mic nights every other Friday. It's lit, man."

"That sounds amazing," Lynn says wistfully, and she wonders why she hasn't heard of this Northern Downpour place before, because she, Alex, and Brian live half a block from De Haro, and chai lattes aside, she's really not all that fond of Starbucks—they're kind of judgmental and they've kicked her out more than once for "taking up too much room."

"It is. It really is. Wait—" Brendon's eyes widen and he snaps his fingers, pointing at Lynn. "Do you have a job?"

"No," Lynn says. "Well, I mean, I babysit, but I don't have, like, a full-on job with a salary or anything”—not the way Brian and Alex do, bartending and working the counter at music shops. She doesn't envy them much, but then again it would be nice to have a little extra cash. (And by extra cash she really means rent money, so she can actually pay her fair share of the rent instead of leaving most of it to Alex and Brian.)

"You should totally come work with us, man!" Brendon exclaims, and Lynn's eyebrows shoot all the way up, because she was not expecting that at all.

"Really?" she says, and she has to clear her throat again, because her voice comes out as a tiny squeak and she can hear Alex laughing in the back of her head.

"Yeah, dude, you'd be perfect! You're nice and sweet, you seem artsy, and you've got great music taste, and Northern Downpour is all about arts and music. That's what Pete—my boss—made it for. He's really passionate about this shit, man. We all are. And I just met you, but I can tell you are, too."

"Oh, I don't know," Lynn says, and her gaze drops to her shoes. It's scary how well Brendon's read her in such a short amount of time. "I don't really do well with, like, taking orders and talking to people and shit. Kids I can do, but grown-ups—" She shakes her head. There's no way she'd be able to put up with all those nasty early-morning coffee shop people—she can barely deal with Alex and Brian.

"Psh," Brendon says, scoffing dismissively. "You'd be great! You've got the right attitude for it, and one of our best guys just left, so we could really use another friendly face."

"Are you sure? I mean, you'd trust me. I'm a freshman at CCA. I paint and take stupid black-and-white photos of my fridge. I can't socialize."

Brendon purses his lips, brow furrowed, regarding her. Lynn fidgets and scratches at the back of her shoulder, nose twitching. She expects Brendon to drop the subject and leave, but instead he asks, "You single?"

Lynn's head jerks up sharply. "What?"

"Are you single?" Brendon repeats.

Lynn can feel her face growing warm again and she begrudgingly tilts her head. "Well, yeah," she admits. "I mean, I just got out of high school. I'm only eighteen."

"Do you wanna be, though? Single, I mean. 'Cause you know, eighteen goes by pretty fast, believe me."

Lynn shrugs. Truth be told, she's never given much thought to the whole relationship thing—not since sophomore year, at least, when both her attempts at dating went horribly awry for various reasons. "I mean, I don't mind it. But I guess I've always kinda jealous of the couples at our school, holding hands, being cute. It'd be nice to have someone like that, y'know?"

"See, that's why you need this job!" Brendon says, holding his hands out for emphasis. He starts pacing, listing off reasons on his fingers. "So you can meet people and talk to them and figure out whether they're right for you or not and then one day someone'll come in and they'll be so fucking cute and funny and awesome that you'll spill a pot of coffee on the ground because wow, they are perfect for you. And then bam—" He claps his hands loudly. "Lyndsey Gunn is no longer single."

Lynn laughs, not bothering to correct his calling her "Lyndsey" just because he seems so sincere, and he joins in with his sweet, funny little chuckle that makes passersby give them sideways glances. He has a point, she thinks, and for the first time she doesn't just see a challenge, but an opportunity: an opportunity to make friends, an opportunity to meet new people—an opportunity, perhaps, for love. "I'll think about it," she says, and unlike most people she knows, she really does intend to think about it.

"Well, y'know, if you decide," Brendon says, pulling out a business card from his back pocket, "don't hesitate to call. We'd sure love to have you in our little family." He hands her the card, and she's about to ask him something else when he glances at his watch and groans. "Shit, look at the time. I gotta go to work. But it was really great meeting you, Lynn, seriously."

"You too," Lynn says, and he takes off jogging, lavender hood flapping behind him. She glances down at the business card, the name of the cafe written in fat pink font with a clipart picture of a coffee mug resting beside the letter N and contact information printed neatly below. A family, huh? Lynn's always loved the idea of a found family. And a girlfriend...

She dials the number back at the apartment that afternoon, and by the time Alex comes home from work, Lynn Gunn has a job.

She just really, really hopes she doesn't fuck it up.

Chapter Text

Okay, so Lynn doesn't actually have a job—not yet, at least.

What she does have is an interview at 8:00 Sunday morning with the manager, and so far all she knows about the manager is that his name is Patrick and he seems like a pretty nice guy.  (Alex, of course, won't hear it, going on a semi-inebriated rant about how for all she knows, this Patrick guy could be a total fucking creep, but considering Alex's boss has a reputation for selling weed to teenagers, Lynn's not sure Alex should be in any position to talk.)

Despite being the one who suggested they go out, Lynn barely drinks much at all, Alex downing most of the beer himself.  She gives up trying to have a civil conversation with him about three-quarters of the way through and instead watches, bemusedly, as Alex wolf-whistles and cat-calls at the bartenders, with mixed results—Brian just ignores him, as Brian does; Gaskarth and Barakat flip him off; Kellin just kind of stares at him, confused, and Vic blows him a kiss and shouts, "Love you too, honey," much to Kellin and Lynn's combined mortification.

"Boys," she mutters to herself in the car later, with a roll of her eyes, as Alex giggles drunkenly from the passenger seat, head pressed against the window.

"I'm gonna be soooo hungover in the morning," he says, words slurred, fingers gesturing vaguely in Lynn's direction.  "This was a great idea, Lyn-sey.  Better than your coffee job idea or whatever."

"Go home, Alex, you're drunk," she replies once they've parked, opening the door and letting him stumble out of the car.

"You're drunk," Alex shouts way too loudly, and she lets out an exasperated sigh before dragging him up the stairs and leading him to the bathroom to puke out what's left of his dinner.

By the time she gets him settled, it's midnight, and she's really starting to question her judgment on the whole "let's go out and get a beer thing" when she has an interview in eight hours, but she pushes the thought aside.  Alex is snoring on the couch, wrapped in a blanket her mom knit for Christmas three years ago, and she's lying on the bed, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling.  She knows she's supposed to be asleep, but the anticipation fluttering in her chest has her wide awake.

Just think—in eight hours, Lynn Gunn could have a job, with new people and new friends.  Or in eight hours, she could make a terrible mistake and have it all blow up in her face.

She blinks and suddenly it's morning—she must have dozed off sometime during the night—and it takes her a moment to realize that it's 6:30 and she has places she needs to be.  Alex is still snoring when she rushes out of the apartment, boots untied, hair thrown in a hasty bun and buried under a black beanie.

It's every bit as cold and gray as yesterday, but if Lynn squints she can see the sun peeking out.  She's not sure if that's supposed to mean something, but she takes it as a good sign—a sign that the universe has faith in her, that she's making the right choice, that she can do this.  The thought puts a spring in her step and she almost bounces as she walks, feet hitting the pavement with all the confidence of a world-famous rock star.

That confidence wavers a bit when she arrives in front of Northern Downpour.  It's bigger than she was expecting, a large brick formation on the end of a mostly deserted street of warehouses and small driveways, with a not-very-steep cement ramp leading up to a door painted a flat black that really doesn't match the rest of the building's exterior.  Above it, an orange sign, bordered with elaborately painted flowers, proclaims:

WELCOME TO

NORTHERN DOWNPOUR

Lynn swallows, shoving her hands in her pockets.  They're balled into fists, the business card Brendon gave her gripped tightly in her right, her left opening and closing as she debates whether or not to make a run for it.  This is it, she thinks.  Now or never, Lynn.

She hesitates when she gets to the door, hand hovering awkwardly over the handle, and she's about to give up and collapse on the little ramp to rethink her life choices when she remembers Alex.  The thought of his hungover yet smug face when he finds out she couldn't go through with it is enough to force her hand onto the doorknob, and rearranging her expression into what she hopes is a convincing display of poised determination, she pushes her way inside.

 

Northern Downpour is every bit as large on the outside as it is on the inside, with comfortable furnishings, fully stocked bookcases, and vibrant, evocative artwork that would put Starbucks to shame.  The walls are a pale green, and the floor is dotted with tables, chairs, and leather couches that are a strange but pleasing mix of black and light brown; but most notable is the stage that sits against the back wall, a lone black microphone standing against the backdrop of a thrift-shop curtain.

The place is warm and smells like coffee and chocolate, and Lynn could definitely see herself taking a seat by the window and sketching the passersby or even leaning against the side wall and taking photos of customers for her class, but right now she only wishes it weren't so early.  The cafe doesn't open for another five minutes, and other than Lynn, there are only three other people currently occupying it.  One guy, seated on the couch, is heavily tattooed, with a bright red beard and dark sunglasses; he listens quietly but thoughtfully to the other man sitting across from him, a dude with a combination Jewfro-mop on his head who speaks with a lisp.  Neither of the two pay much attention to Lynn when she walks in, only looking up briefly before continuing with their conversation.

The third person, on the other hand, notices Lynn almost immediately, and pipes up, "Hi, welcome to Northern Downpour, how may I help you?"

Lynn approaches the counter tentatively.  The girl leaning on the display case is short, with scarlet hair tied up in knots and a face that's tired but cheerful.  "Hi," Lynn says, trying to inject confidence into her voice that she doesn't feel.  "I'm, uh, I'm here for a job interview?  I talked to Patrick over the phone yesterday, he told me to meet him here at 8, so, uh..."

She trails off, inwardly cursing herself for stuttering, but the girl brightens and straightens her posture, eyes wide with recognition.  "Oh, okay," she says, jerking a thumb.  "Yeah, no, he's just in the back.  I can get him for you if you want."

"That'd be great, thanks."

The girl nods, disappearing into the back, and Lynn lets out a slow, cautious breath.  Easy, girl, she tells herself.  You can do this.

"Oh, I almost forgot," the red-haired girl calls out.  "I'm Hayley.  Y'know, since we're gonna be working together and all."

A smile tugs at Lynn's lips.

Maybe this interview won't be so bad after all.

 

When Patrick arrives a few minutes later, Lynn finds herself wondering why she was ever worried in the first place, because he is a lot less intimidating than she thought he'd be.

"Hey, sorry I'm late," he says, fedora hastily placed atop his head, turquoise bangs falling in his eyes.  There's a blue clipboard tucked under one arm; his left hand holds a mug while his right brushes the hair from his forehead and pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose.  He takes a moment to set his stuff down on the counter and take a sip from his mug (coffee?  he really doesn't seem like much of a coffee person) before finally turning to Lynn and extending his hand.  "You must be Lynn.  I'm Patrick."

"I figured," Lynn says, and then swallows, glancing down at the floor.  Fuck.  "Sorry, I—"

"No, don't be sorry.  You have nothing to be sorry for."  Patrick sighs, lifting his hat to ruffle his hair, before replacing it.  He smiles, bright despite his obvious exhaustion, and Lynn relaxes.  She hasn't blown it yet.  "I don't know why we're doing this here.  Why don't you take a seat at that table over there?" Patrick says, gesturing to a spot in the middle of the dining area.  "I'm sure you'd probably prefer the couch, but Andy and Joe are pretty possessive of their spot."

"No, that's fine."

They move to the table, Lynn stopping to retrieve Patrick's clipboard from the floor when he drops it, and Patrick turning a faint shade of red and mumbling, "Thanks."  He returns the favor, though, pulling a chair out for Lynn to sit on, and when they've both recovered from their mutual embarrassment, he clears his throat.  "So," he says, clicking his pen.  "Where should we start?"

 

Half an hour later, Lynn's shaking Patrick's hand again and thanking him for hiring her, the interview having gone off without any serious hitches.

"You start tomorrow," Patrick tells her.  "Hayley and Brendon will show you around.  I'll probably introduce you to Pete at some point," and here he heaves a sigh, clicking his tongue, which brings Lynn's nerves up again, but he shakes his head and moves on.  "Anyway, congratulations.  I'll see you back here tomorrow afternoon."

"Thanks again," Lynn replies, "so much."

"No problem.  I look forward to working with you."

As she's heading out the door, Lynn hears her name called at her and barely has time to turn around before she's assaulted by Brendon, who envelops her in quite possibly the longest, warmest, and tightest hug she's ever experienced.

"I knew you'd make it," he says when they finally separate, clapping his hands on her shoulders.  His eyes are puppy-dog wide, his grin huge and dimpled.  "I mean, almost everyone makes it, but you, you're something special, you know that?"

Lynn blushes, shrugging.  "Stop it.  We've literally known each other two days."

"Really?  Because it feels like—like a lifetime," he says, hands still on her shoulders as he rocks her lightly back and forth.  "We've known each other twenty-four hours and you're already one of my favorite people.  Consider yourself lucky."

"All right," she says, and she can feel the joy he radiates, an infectious, contagious feeling that seeps into her skin and finds its way through her bones, spreading through her veins.  She giggles, finding the courage to do a tiny twirl on her way out, before pausing.  "Oh—can I get your number?  Just in case, y'know, I need your help or whatever."

"Well, shit, Lynn," Brendon says, leaning against the doorframe with a smirk on his face.  "I didn't think I was your type."

"You're not," Lynn says, still beaming like an idiot.  "Don't be a smartass."

Chapter Text

They go out for a celebratory dinner (tacos, naturally, because the three of them have an unwritten agreement that pizza is a Birthday Food Only or else they'll end up blowing half their rent on pizza), and Lynn and Brian make Alex pay even though they never made a bet, just because Brian's usually the one emptying his wallet whenever they go out and Lynn's just glad to have a little victory to hold over Alex's head.

"You know, gloating isn't very nice," Alex chides her, plucking an especially cheesy nacho off her plate and shoveling the entire thing in his mouth.

Lynn crinkles her nose, the "nyah" going unspoken but heavily implied nonetheless.

"Face it, Babinski," Brian says through a mouthful of carne asada. It's not as gross as it should be, and though that might just be because she's used to it, Lynn's pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that Brian always manages to remain coherent even when he's talking with his mouth full. "Our girl's growing up."

Alex chuckles. "I don't know if you missed the memo, Bri," he says, "but Lynn's always been taller than you."

This time it's Brian's turn to "nyah", and Lynn laughs, loud and barking, as she pulls him closer to her and rests her head on his shoulder. "Rubbing salt in the wound, Alex?" Brian says, plucking a radish off his tray and feeding it to Lynn. "At least I have a girlfriend."

"Ohhhhhhh!" Lynn shouts, punching Alex in the shoulder. "He went there!"

Alex rolls his eyes. "My relationship status is irrelevant," he says, affecting the haughty air of a flannel-wearing hipster who listens to Radiohead and Nirvana on vinyl and thinks everything tastes better when served in a mason jar. (Lynn's not a huge fan of hipsters.) "This is about Lynn, remember, Brian? We've been over this."

"Aren't you just a ray of sunshine," Brian says, offering Lynn a sip of Coke (she accepts, with fervor). "Eat a Snickers, Alex. You're not you when you're hungry."

"You dick. You know we don't have any Snickers."

The boys continue arguing, but by this point Lynn's tuned out, staring off at some far corner of the wall and thinking. She can still visualize the cafe in her head, with its mint-chip walls and black lacquer tables and a couch that looks worn but still every bit as comfortable, and those familiar butterflies are in her stomach again.  She got the job.  She actually got the job.  She didn't screw up the interview, and she got the job, and they want her to start tomorrow.

But oh god, what if she fucks it up, what if she fucks it up?  Yeah, there was that one summer she worked at Hot Topic, but that was two years ago—and teenagers are not the same as grown hipster-y art people—oh god, what if Alex was right?  What if she can't handle the hipster pretentiousness of it all, and what if the orders are too much and she has a nervous breakdown in the middle of rush hour, and what if some asshole starts grilling her for getting his order wrong and she punches him out—or worse, bursts into tears in front of everyone?  What if—

"Hey," Brian says, and she feels his shoulder bump hers lightly, bringing her back to the room.  She looks at him, and the teasing expression on his face has mysteriously vanished, replaced by a look of genuine concern.  It's enough to make her set down her drink and look away, because she's not sure she can handle this level of caring from Brian, but he grabs her chin and makes her focus on him.  "Don't listen to Alex, okay?  I know he's an asshole, and I know you're nervous, but he really does care about you.  He just can't boss his brothers around the way he can with you."

Lynn glances over at the man in question, still eating his taco and scrolling away on his phone looking bored.  She sighs, and she knows that he cares, she really does, but he's just—so overbearing sometimes.

"You can do this," Brian tells her, looking her dead in the eye.  "I believe in you, Lynn."

"You really think so?"

"I know so," Brian says, patting her back reassuringly.

"Thanks, Brian."

"Anytime."   He smiles, then reaches behind her head and yanks her hood down over her eyes.

"Hey!" she shrieks, punching him in the chest, and he gasps and clutches it, Holden Caulfield-style, making out like he's been stabbed.

"H-how dare you w-wound me like this, Lyndsey," he gasps, eyes bulging.  He fakes a cough and reaches one hand across the table to Alex while Lynn fights to hold back tears from the sidelines.  "Alex!  You must avenge my death.  Defend my honor!"

"Oh, but don't you remember?" Alex says, dangling a nacho just out of Brian's reach before shoving it in his mouth and chewing loudly.  "Our girl's growing up, Babinski," he says mockingly, in a terrible approximation of Brian's voice.  "You're on your own, MacDonald."

Brian glares at him, suddenly looking a lot less Shakespearean and a little more Kardashian.  "Go eat a dick."

Lynn laughs about this for the rest of their dinner and the entire car ride home.

Chapter Text

"You're here early," Hayley comments when Lynn walks through the door Monday afternoon. It's 3:45, so the after-school crowd's still going pretty strong, and Hayley's behind the counter with a bearded dude who looks like he's stepped off the cover of a '60s rock album. Lynn knows she's early (she isn't technically supposed to show up for another half hour), but class let out ahead of schedule and she had some time to kill. Besides, she's only been to the cafe once, and it'd probably do her some good to get to know the place before she starts working there.

"One of my professors called in sick," she explains. "Do you want me to wait here, or—?"

"Yeah, no, go ahead and take a seat."

So she does just that, finding a nice little spot for herself on the end of the couch where she can get a good look at the room and everything inside.  The cafe swells with chatter, much of it coming from the people standing by the counter waiting for their drinks; those at the tables are quieter, sipping their coffee and gazing thoughtfully out the window, or scribbling away in beaten old journals, or hard at work on their laptops.  It's a little overwhelming at first, but Lynn eventually adjusts, tucking her legs under her so as not to disrupt the people next to her and replacing her earbuds.

From her bag, she retrieves a sketchbook and pencil.  Holding her pencil between her lips, she shuffles her music about three or four times before "Dog Days Are Over" starts playing.  Satisfied, she hums with the first few bars, removes her pencil from her mouth, and starts to draw.

Drawing, for Lynn, comes as naturally as breathing.  She can't not draw.  Even on days when she's mentally blocked, which have been increasingly frequent as of late, her fingers always find themselves drifting back to a pen or something, idle doodles of ghosts and skulls and things appearing spontaneously on the backs of envelopes, or old lecture notes, or (when she's particularly desperate) in the corners of magazine pages.  She's a bit of a vandal sometimes, but when she's got the right supplies and she's in the right mood--that's when the magic happens.  She draws, and she keeps drawing, erasing and scribbling when she can't quite get the features right (no, the eye's supposed to go there, the lips are too far down, what's going on with the hair, ugh the neck's too long), but her hands keep moving, ink flowing through her veins, as she commits the appearance of each patron to paper.  The turquoise-haired girl sitting across from her hugging a pillow to her chest.  The guy in the skeleton hoodie strumming his ukulele in the corner.  A red-haired man across the room, hunched over his notebook, brow furrowed in concentration; she pays extra attention to the dark circles under his eyes as he drinks from his mug.

Her page is just about filled when she looks up and realizes the cafe is considerably emptier, most of its occupants having taken off at some point or other while she was drawing.  She checks the time—4:20.  Shit.  Obvious jokes aside, she's five minutes late for training.

She starts to pack up, yanking out her earbuds and placing her pencil back in her bag, when a loud, throaty cackle snags her attention.  Shouldering her satchel, she swivels her head towards the source of the noise and finds Hayley doubled over, struggling to breathe, grabbing onto the person on the opposite side of the counter for support.  From where she's standing, Lynn can't get a good look at the person's face, but they're in all black and still wearing their hood indoors.  Relatable, Lynn thinks.

"Hayley?" she says, approaching the counter, where Hayley's eyes are still screwed up and watering, her mouth wide open as she fights to regain her composure.  The stranger won't turn to look at her, but they're laughing too, albeit higher-pitched and not quite so devastating.  Lynn lingers, not sure quite how to proceed.

"...Am I interrupting something?" she says after a minute, and Hayley finally notices her and says, "Oh shit," before letting out a final gasping chuckle and wiping the tears from her eyes.  Clearing her throat, she releases the stranger's arm and says, "Lynn, dude, I'm so sorry, I completely forgot about—ahem, about our—our thing.  No worries!  We can start now.  I'm flexible."  She straightens up, taking a moment to fix her hair, before addressing the stranger in black.  "Lexa, always a pleasure.  You should stop by more often.  We could go out for, like, coconut milk ice cream or something.  Whatever you want, dude."

"Shit, I don't wanna, like, murder you with my jokes, though," the stranger says, turning towards Lynn, and—wow.  Holy shit.  Holy fucking shit.

She's met with a pair of piercing blue eyes, rimmed with dark liner.  They're heavy with sleep, but then, so are most models'—because shit, there's no way this person isn't a model, not with that nose and those lips and that flawless complexion and those cheekbones.

The glance is brief, but there's something there—something—that takes hold in her mind.  She's seized with an almost irrepressible urge to ask if they—she? —have considered live modeling.

"So, I'll see you around?" Hayley says behind her, but Lynn barely hears it, mind off somewhere in the deepest corners of her imagination.

"Fate willing," Flawless Stranger replies.  "Later, Hales."

It's not until the door closes and she hears the jingling of the bell that Lynn's attention returns to the present.  Blinking, she turns to see Hayley looking up at her, brows raised, biting back a smirk.

"What?" Lynn says, face flushing.

"You're adorable," Hayley replies nonchalantly.  Before Lynn can ask her what she means by that, Hayley holds up a finger, beckoning for Lynn to join her on the other side of the counter.  "Now let's see if we can put that adorableness to use."

(Alex is never gonna let her live this down, is he?)