Awake: Excerpt 2

Awake: A Fairytale

~Excerpt 2~

 

“You know how you can tell Ernesto’s is a fine dining establishment?” Becca asked as she set her bright orange tray down on the scarred table across from Alex and slid into the booth.

“You can’t,” Alex answered. “There’s nothing fine about it, but it’s darn good pizza.”

Ernesto’s offered the only reasonably priced lunch alternative to brown-bagging it on the lawn and was therefore a favorite hangout of the summer interns, or at least the non-anorexic ones who enjoyed good food. In other words, everyone but the art interns. It was dark and cramped, the decor was straight out of the 1970s, and Ernesto’s served the best and cheapest pizza anywhere in Los Angeles. It was also within walking distance of the museums, making it easy to get to on breaks.

Alex and Becca were enjoying their first Ernesto’s lunch of the summer. They’d been volunteering together at GeMMLA since the ninth grade, and eating together at the pizza joint had become a tradition.

“You can tell because they have both strawberry and grape soda on tap. It’s like the gods of flavored soda smiled down on this little piece of the city and blessed us with Ernesto’s.” Becca unwrapped her straw and stuck it in her styrofoam cup. “Grape,” she informed Alex before draining half the cup in one slurp. “Oh my word, that’s so good. Their soda calibration is really good here too. Good calibration cannot be underestimated.”

“Hmm,” Alex agreed, taking a huge bite out of her slice of sausage pizza. “The gods of pizza must be in cahoots with the soda gods, ‘cause this pizza is awesome,” she said around a mouthful. “I miss this during the rest of the year.”

“Yeah, Ernesto needs to franchise. I never have time to drive this far for pizza during the school year. Although,” Becca’s face brightened, “I’ll be closer now that I’ll be living on campus.”

“It’s so weird to me to be out of high school,” Alex admitted. “Good—brilliantly great—but weird. I kind of feel like I’m still in class, though, because I have to do all this stupid work for this scholarship thing.”

“That sucks. What do you have to do?”

“There was some reading, and then I have to write an essay. About myself.” Alex grimaced. “Quite possibly my least favorite subject.”

Becca twirled her straw. “Any particular aspect of yourself, or just a general biography type thing?”

“It’s supposed to be about me as a student. And if I have a declared major why I selected it.”

“I’m guessing earth science?” Becca quirked an eyebrow.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Well, why’d you pick it? Why do you volunteer here?”

“I like it.”

Becca gestured with her left hand as she picked up her slice of pizza with the other. “Elaborate.”

“That’s the hard part, when I elaborate I sound weird.”

Becca paused with her pizza mid-air. “Weird how?” she asked before taking a large bite.

“I don’t know. I just love gems and rocks. They, um, make sense to me. More sense than people do, honestly. But that makes me sound like a crazy, loner type.”

“Well, you are a bit of a loner type, but not,” Becca hastened to add as she saw Alex frown, “in a crazy kind of way. Just that you are kind of shy and serious, took us forever to start really talking that first year.”

“Yeah.”

“But, I know what you mean, I guess. I’m more um, socially inclined than you, but I’ve always felt that way too about rocks and metals. It’s more than they just make sense. I don’t know, when I was little I used to think they had personalities. I would pretend that certain rocks had certain character traits. But then I was kind of a goofy kid.”

“I used to pretend that about rocks too. Especially certain gems. You know how the Victorians assigned all these meanings to gems? When I was little I used to look those up in my mom’s old encyclopedia set and laugh at them, ‘cause I always thought they got most of them wrong.”

“Oh my gosh, Alex, we must have been the two weirdest little girls. It’s a pity we didn’t meet until high school; I would have felt less geeky.”

“You are less geeky than me,” Alex pointed out.

Becca grinned. “No, I’m just totally better at hiding it. I remember when I was really young, like preschool, we had this huge sandpit in the back of the school and you know how you can attract the iron fragments in sand with a magnet? I was convinced I could do it with my finger, like I’d stick it in the sand and the iron would gather around it. I was apparently a very imaginative kid. Geek and imagination—probably a bad combo.”

Alex laughed. “Maybe it was a sign of your magnetic personality.”

Becca shook her head sadly. “That’s weak Alex, so, so weak.” Alex laughed harder and after a minute Becca joined her. “Well, at least I wasn’t looking up the Victorians. Really? ‘Cause that’s stimulating.”

“Oh, come on, it was interesting,” Alex defended herself half-heartedly. “That’s where we get the meanings of flower and birthstones and all that.”

“Really? That’s kind of recent. So what, gems and flowers didn’t have meanings before the Victorians?”

Alex shrugged. “I have no idea. I’m sure they did in different societies. Once I got farther into grade school though, the actual science was more interesting than the stories. Although,” Alex took another bite of pizza and chewed thoughtfully, “your preschool story sounds like stuff I used to do: probably later, like kindergarten, though. I remember collecting different stones and making funny patterns with them. I was convinced if I made the patterns right that I’d make stuff happen.”

“Stuff? Like magic stuff?” Becca asked, her mouth gaping open.

“Yeah, I guess, although I didn’t think of it as magic. Just like, oh if I make this pattern in Grandma’s garden her flowers will grow faster. I must have seen some movie or cartoon or something that gave me the idea.”

“How, um, pagan of you. I’m totally shocked,” Becca teased. “I thought you came out of the womb with a scientific mind.”

“Pretty sure I did, which is why I barely remember my early dabbling in the magic arts.”

Becca chuckled. “Sounds like straightforward kid stuff to me, did you have a wand?”

Alex looked horrified. “I can safely say I never had a wand, or a tiara, or a princess dress. Well, I did have some of those. My mom kept buying them hoping I’d eventually get interested, but I never did. The closest I ever got was a stick that doubled as a sword, and that was only to defend myself against Luke when I was eight.”

“Hmm, sure it was a sword? It wasn’t a stick that doubled as a magic wand?”

Alex snorted. “Nope, pretty sure it was a sword. Luke got Excalibur of course. I am sure mine had a name, but I don’t remember it. He was always into the whole Arthur thing. I never really got it.”

“I still find it hard to believe that you guys used to be friends. Did I tell you my little brother asked me to get his autograph? He’s convinced in a few years it’s going to be worth tons of money. And this morning there just happened to be a baseball and pen in a ziplock bag in my backpack. At least the kid’s organized.”

“I’m sure he’d sign it for you. Luke’s a lot of things, but he’s really nice about that kind of stuff.”

“Uh-huh,” Becca leaned forward, pushing her empty tray out of the way and crossing her arms on the Formica table top. “So what are these ‘lot of things’ that Luke is?”

Alex flushed. “Are you asking for gossip about the great Luke Reed?”

“Nope. I don’t care about the gossip,” Becca eyed her. “But you obviously have some interesting unresolved issues with the guy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about a guy, other than Nicholas, so I’m intrigued.”

“Maybe we should talk about your unresolved issues with Nicholas,” Alex changed the subject.

“Nice try. I just think he’s smarmy. He reminds me of my mother’s last ex. You know, the kind that could sell ice to Eskimos. I’m much more interested in hearing about—” Becca broke off as she looked up past Alex’s shoulder toward the jangling of the bell over the front door. “I suggest you finish your pizza in about thirty seconds if you don’t want to start dealing with those unresolved issues right away,” she warned under her breath and then added in a louder voice, “Hi, Luke.” She directed a grin over Alex’s head, ignoring the fact that Alex’s face flushed red, then white, then back to red.

“Hey, Becca, Lex,” Luke said as he surveyed the menu board before taking his place in line. Alex composed her face and then turned and offered a half-hearted wave. As she turned back around Becca rolled her eyes and started gathering up her trash onto the tray. Alex looked mournfully at her half-eaten pizza slice before adding it to the pile of trash. Becca raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment as she picked up the tray and headed toward the trashcan. It was a tragedy, Alex reflected to herself, but sometimes even Ernesto’s famous pizza had to be sacrificed for the greater good.

Alex stood up, gathering her backpack as Becca returned to their table and slung her own across her back.

“Catch you later Luke, we’re headed back,” Becca offered as they walked past the register towards the door.

“See you ladies later.” Luke graced them with a lopsided grin as Alex pushed the door open and Becca followed her out into the blinding sun.

“I’ll say this for the guy,” Becca commented as the door banged closed behind them. “He has to be the hottest man I’ve ever been that up close and personal to.”

This time it was Alex who rolled her eyes.

“It’s true,” Becca laughed as they started back down the street toward the museum. “And if you try to deny objective, scientific fact I will really start getting curious about those unresolved issues.”

“Fine then, I won’t deny it. Every high school girl in a thirty mile radius can’t be wrong.”

“Not sure I’d limit it to just high schoolers. Pretty sure I saw Maureen in the front office flirting with him, and she has to be at least forty. I think his hotness transcends age.”

“That is totally awkward.” Alex jabbed the crosswalk button.

“Awkward, but true. That’s why Nicholas has such a short temper with Luke. He’s used to being the only hot guy at GeMMLA, and Luke is cramping his style.”