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"We missed ya at the ramp, Angie," George said, taking a sip of his orange soda. It was Saturday evening, the day after Angie's incident at Opal's. "You shoulda seen Buzz. He was totally on. He did a perfect three-sixty flip without even breaking a sweat!"
Buzz smirked triumphantly in Angie's direction. "It was no big deal."
"It was too," George insisted. "It was pure genius, dude."
"Sorry I missed it," Angie told him sincerely. "But I was painting all morning, and then I had to work." She leaned back on the bench and sighed. Another Saturday night at Hamburger Heaven. They were definitely in a rut.
"What were you painting?" LeeAnn asked, sounding only vaguely interested. She swiped a fry from Zack's plate.
"Well, I..." Angie began.
"Hey!" Zack shouted. "That's mine."
"Come and get it," LeeAnn teased, placing the tip of French fry in her mouth while letting the rest dangle.
Zack bit the end of the fry and kept nibbling until his lips reached LeeAnn's. "Mmm," he joked. "I don't know which I like better, French fries or French kisses."
"You'd better know which..." LeeAnn joked, playfully hitting him over the head.
"It's you, babe, always you," Zack vowed, leaning over and shoving his tongue into her mouth.
"Hey, get a room you two," George groused.
"As I was saying," Angie continued in a playfully stern voice. "I painted a picture of the palace in Versailles. You know, the one we learned about in history."
The others looked at her blankly.
"Forget it," Angie sighed. "Anyway, it was really tough and intricate. I was glad I had a new nozzle to work with."
"So you saved up enough for the stuff?" Gina asked.
Angie shook her head. "Not exactly. Almost though."
"Then how'd you get it?" Gina continued.
"Did you lift it?" LeeAnn asked excitedly.
"No!" Angie insisted. "I wouldn't do that. Actually, it was the weirdest thing. I couldn't afford the nozzle and the airbrush, but some rich preppie offered to pay the difference."
Up until that moment, Buzz had been busy looking out the window and eyeing a bleached blonde who was straddling the back of her boyfriend's Harley. But now his attention was completely on Angie.
"What preppie?" he asked her.
"I don't know. He didn't give me his name."
"What'd he want in return?" Buzz demanded.
"Nothing," Angie told him. "That was the weird part."
"Oh come on, they all want something. Rich guys don't do anything for nothing," Buzz insisted.
"This one did."
"I don't believe you," Buzz said. He looked at her accusingly.
"Come on, not all guys are like you," Angie told him.
"They just wish they were," Zack joked. He gave Buzz a congratulatory pat on the back, and pointed to where the blonde was sitting. Now she was obviously eyeing Buzz. "My man!"
But Buzz had lost interest in the biker chick. He was focused on Angie. "What were you doing, hanging with that guy?" he demanded.
"What, are you nuts?" Angie answered. She was insulted. "Nothing. I needed an airbrush, he felt like being generous. He didn't want anything from me, I swear. Besides, I don't know what the big deal is. It's not like I'm ever gonna see him again."
"Was he cute?" Gina asked.
Angie shrugged. "He looked like the rest of them. They all come from the same cookie cutter."
"Let me guess," Buzz snapped. "He was about six feet tall with straight blond hair."
"How'd you know that?" Angie asked, surprised.
"Cause he's standing right out there," Buzz replied, pointing to the edge of the parking lot.
Angie whipped around quickly. Sure enough, there he was, standing next to his silver Volkswagen. "I never thought he'd have the guts..." she murmured under her breath.
"The guts to do what?" Buzz demanded.
"Well, he said he wanted to take me out to eat," Angie explained, incredulous. "I told him to meet me here. But I really couldn't imagine a kid like him coming to a place like this."
"Well, he did," Buzz said, sounding very much like a jealous boyfriend. "Now get rid of him."
The propietary tone in Buzz's voice really pissed Angie off. He'd no right to tell her what to do. She didn't belong to him -- or to anyone else for that matter. She certainly wasn't about to do anything just because Buzz ordered her to. Angie jumped up from the table.
"Watch it," Buzz hissed at her.
"Watch this," Angie told him as she strutted out of the restaurant, smiling triumphantly.
"You said eight, right?" Carter said. Angie took his arm in hers, making sure they were in plain view of the others. He seemed surprised at her sudden show of affection, but said nothing.
"Mm-hmm," Angie murmured.
"Sorry I'm a little late. I didn't..."
"Let me guess, you don't know this side of Torren real well," Angie interrupted him.
"Actually I was going to say that I didn't have gas, and I had to drive around till I found a station that was open," he replied.
Carter smiled slightly, pleased that he'd thrown her off guard. "Are you hungry?" he asked her.
Angie nodded. "I'm always hungry. They make the best cheeseburgers here."
"Now that's what I like to hear," Carter laughed. "Most of the girls I know eat nothing but salad with lemon when they're out. I'm so sick of hearing about diets."
"I don't diet," Angie assured him.
Carter looked her over appreciatively. "You don't need to."
"I skateboard a lot. Makes me hungry."
"Well then, let's go in," Carter said. "I want to try one of those cheeseburgers you recommended."
"You might want to go for a chili burger," Angie suggested. "Except, they're kind of spicy."
"I like things spicy," Carter assured her as they walked into Hamburger Heaven. He stopped in front of the cash register. "Do we have to wait to be seated, or..."
"No." Angie started laughing. "There's no hostess here. You just grab a booth anywhere." She plopped down in one near the door. She laughed again as she watched the expression on Carter's face as he looked at the seat on his side of the table. The plastic was torn and a few springs were popping through. Still, Angie had to give him props for sitting down without complaint.
She wasn't nearly as pleased with the behavior of her friends, however. They raced over and grabbed the booth right behind Angie and Carter's. Buzz positioned himself in the seat that faced Angie. She made a point of looking directly at Carter and avoiding Buzz's glare.
"So, what'll ya have?" the waitress asked as she walked over to the table, pad in hand.
"Do you have any menus?" Carter asked her politely.
The waitress heaved a heavy sigh. "Where do ya think ya are?" she asked him, pointing to a blackboard over the counter. "It's all there."
"I'll have a chili burger and a vanilla shake," Angie told the waitress.
"Sounds good," Carter said. "I'll have a chili burger too. Make mine medium rare."
The waitress laughed. "Oh sure, medium rare. Just a little pink in the center." She walked off, still chuckling at that one.
"Did I say something funny?" Carter asked Angie.
Angie shook her head. "No. It's just that all the burgers are cooked pretty much the same here."
They fell into silence, each a little uncomfortable with the situation.
Just then, George peeked over the side of his booth. "Ya got any cash, Ange?" he called over to her. "We're trying to get enough to get a basket of cheese fries."
"Maybe her date has a buck or two," Buzz suggested with a snide air. "He looks like his wallet's full."
"Actually, I..." Carter started to reach for his wallet, but Angie reached across the table and rested her hand on his arm.
"Don't bother," she said. "I got it." She reached into her front pocket and pulled out a wrinkled dollar bill. "You owe me," she told George.
"So, did you hear what's going on at that empty lot by the mill?" Angie overheard Buzz ask the others. "The one Cody's saving up for? The Town Council's being a real pain about it. They don't want to give him permission to buy it for a skatepark. They said it's something about zoning or some other crap."
"That's what they say. But you know it's all about that aging asshole Carter Morgan," Zack added. "He doesn't want a skateboard park next to his mill. Heck, he doesn't want a skateboard park anywhere! And those wusses on the council are all on his payroll. They'll do whatever he says."
"I don't know what Old Man Morgan's problem is," LeeAnn said. "What does he care if we skate? It's not like we're going to bother him."
"You know how rich people are," Buzz said, emphasizing the words and speaking loudly for Angie's sake. "They want to control everyone. And if they can't control you, they want to get rid of you. They'd be just as happy if we all dropped dead."
"Old Man Morgan's almost dead," George mused. "Wouldn't it be funny if they buried him in the empty lot and we built the skatepark over him? It'd be like skating on his grave." He collapsed in a fit of laughter at the thought of it.
Angie rolled her eyes. Usually, she'd be right in there, goofing on rich kids with the others. But for some reason, tonight she was slightly embarrassed at their behavior. It was a weird feeling. Like she was on the outside looking in -- at her own crowd.
"You know, I don't even know your name," she said, trying to bring fresh conversation to the table. "I'm Angie Simms."
"And I'm..." Carter stopped for a moment. Angie saw him squirming in his seat. Buzz and his crew must be really making him uncomfortable. "I'm Chad Montgomery," he said, quietly.
"Chad, huh?" Angie said. She studied his face. "You look like a Chad," she said finally.
Carter couldn't meet her eyes. "I do?" he asked her. "You're the first person to ever think so."
"Well, I mean, Chad must be a very popular name with your crowd," Angie said. "It sounds so...so..."
"So preppie," Carter suggested.
"Well, I guess so." Angie blushed slightly under his stare. She was relieved when the waitress appeared with their burgers.
"Two chili burgers," the waitress said, placing the giant sloppy sandwiches in front of them. She looked at Carter and laughed. "I hope it's just the way you like it."
"I'm sure it'll be great," Carter replied. He placed a napkin on his lap, and reached for his knife and fork. But he stopped as he saw Angie pick up her chili burger and take a huge bite.
"Mmm...this is as good as it gets," Angie said as tomato sauce dripped down her chin. Carter picked up his napkin and reached across the table, gently wiping the sauce from her face. That act, so simple, yet so intimate, took her by complete surprise. "Um, thanks," she murmured.
Carter smiled at her as he took a bite of his own burger. "Whoops," he laughed, as a big stream of chili slipped off the bun and onto the table. "Boy, this is tough to eat," he said.
"It takes practice," Angie giggled.
"I guess," Carter agreed. He picked up the burger again, but this time his watch slipped off his wrist, and landed with a clank right in the puddle of tomato chili he'd just dropped. The tomato sauce spattered a bit, leaving tiny orange droplets on the front of his shirt. "Darn clasp," Carter moaned as he picked up the shiny gold watch, wiped it clean with a napkin, and put it back on his wrist.
"You want to get some soda water or something for that shirt?" Angie asked him.
Carter shook his head. "Nah. That's why they invented washing machines," he replied in a relaxed manner. "So tell me about your painting. What kind of stuff do you do? Is it some sort of abstract airbrushing? Or is it like pop art?"
Angie looked at him, surprised. No one in Torren ever seemed particularly interested in her artwork, other than her Aunt Dodo. She'd never had to put a label on her work, and now she wasn't quite sure how to answer him. "Well, I do most of my painting with an airbrush," she said slowly, trying to come up with the words to describe the paintings she'd been working on most recently. "It's not really abstract, it's more of a modern, kind of graffiti-esque look, but I guess it has some impressionism in it too, because sometimes I paint things the way I feel them."
"So you're kind of a modern-day Monet," Carter mused.
Angie was impressed. None of her friends even knew what an impressionist painter was -- never mind being able to name one. "Well, that's a bit of a stretch," she replied modestly. "But I guess the sentiment is the same."
"Monet was kind of a radical in his time, like you," Carter suggested. "I think that's part of why I love his work. I'm a fan of Manet, too. And of course, Van Gogh. But I think Pissaro is my favorite of all."
"How do you know so much about art?"
Carter took a huge sip of his shake. "I spent a lot of time at the Musee D'Orsay when I was in Paris last summer. If you love impressionist art, you'd go crazy there."
Angie listened carefully as he passionately described the art he'd seen in Paris, telling her about his visit to the Picasso Museum and of course, the Louvre. She'd only seen the artists' works in books, or on postcards her aunt Dodo had in her scrapbooks. But he'd seen them real and up close, and he was able to describe them in magical detail. Angie found herself forgetting that he was some rich preppie that she was supposed to hate. Instead, she reveled in the opportunity to discuss something so important to her.
"So, do you want to be an artist?" she asked him finally.
"Me? No way," Carter exclaimed. "I'm strictly an afficionado."
"The world needs more of those." Angie smiled shyly. "You know, I never really thanked you for bailing me out at Opal's the other day."
"Yeah, you did," Carter assured her. "You agreed to join me for dinner at this lovely restaurant." He glanced over to the griddle, where a short-order cook in a grease-stained apron was flipping burgers.
"I guess this isn't exactly what you're used to, but..." Angie began.
"You never expected me to show up, did you?" Carter interrupted her. He looked her straight in the eye, watching for her reaction.
"Sure, I..." Angie stopped herself midsentence. There was no denying it. Besides, she was a terrible liar. "I guess not."
"It's okay. I came on pretty strong," he admitted. "You were right to try and get rid of me. But as you can see, it didn't work. I'm here."
"You decided to bravely go where no preppie had gone before," Angie giggled, paraphrasing the old Star Trek line. She took one last loud slurp from her frappé glass, scarfing up a bit of vanilla shake.
"You two finished?" the waitress mumbled as she came over to the table and reached for their empty food plates.
"Do you want anything else?" Carter asked Angie.
Angie shook her head. "I'm full."
"I guess we'll have the check, please," Carter told the waitress.
She nodded and pulled the pencil from behind her ear. "I'm just warning you. We don't take no credit cards."
"That's okay," Carter assured her. "I've got cash."
"I'll bet you do," the waitress murmured as she handed him the bill for the meal. "That'll be thirteen-fifty."
Carter pulled a crisp twenty dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to her. "Keep the change," he added gallantly.
Angie shook her head slightly and frowned. She'd almost started to like this guy, until he started flashing his cash around. Like that was going to impress her or something.
"What's the matter?' Carter asked, noticing the sudden change in expression on her face.
"Nothin'," Angie muttered.
"No, something's bothering you. What'd I do?"
"Do you think throwing your money around makes you better than us?" she demanded.
"What do you mean?" Carter was genuinely confused.
"The bill was thirteen-fifty," Angie told him. "So what's with the twenty?"
"I gave her a good tip. She works hard."
"Yeah, how would you know?"
Carter sighed. "I know because I worked as a busboy last summer at my parents' club. Working in a restaurant is tough."
Angie snorted. "You were a busboy in a restaurant. Yeah, right!"
"I was," he insisted. "I really wanted a motorcycle, but my parents refused to let me get one. So I went out and earned the money for it."
Angie wasn't sure which shocked her more -- the fact that he'd worked as a busboy or that he rode a motorcycle. Neither one fit her idea of a rich kid. "You have a bike?"
Carter nodded. "A real sweet Honda. It's not big or anything, but it has a smooth ride."
"So how come you came here in your car?"
"I didn't want you to get the wrong impression," Carter joked. "I'm not a tough biker guy."
Angie looked at his clean, neat jeans, Abercrombie shirt, and expensive leather boots. "No kidding," she teased.
Carter laughed with her -- a rich, genuine chuckle, free of any of the anger or hostility her friends often had lurking behind their laughter. She liked the sound of it.
This is so weird. It's like some sort of boy-meets-girl eighties movie, Angie thought to herself. She stared across the table into the slate-blue eyes of this perfect stranger with whom she'd obviously made a real connection. She and Carter were from different worlds, and yet here they were, having a great conversation, laughing, eating...on a date. Angie suddenly realized she'd never been on a real date before -- one where she and the guy sat alone, and he picked up the tab at the end of the meal. The skater kids always hung out in a pack, and whoever had the most money at the end of the night was stuck with the tab. Since Angie was the only one with a job, more often than not she was that person.
Angie sensed that she wasn't the only one who felt the connection between the two of them. He felt it too. She knew that for sure when suddenly, without warning, he leaned across the table and kissed Angie gently on the lips. Then he leaped backwards in his seat, as though even he was surprised by what he'd done.
"What the..." Angie stammered.
"Oh, wow. I'm sorry," Carter apologized. "I didn't mean to...it just sort of seemed like...oh wow. Hey Angie, I..."
"It's okay," Angie told him softly. "I kinda liked it."
Carter seemed surprised. "You did?"
Angie nodded. "I kinda like you, too." And to show him how much, she leaned across the table and returned the kiss.
The skaters had long since left the booth in the restaurant. Their cash had run out quickly, and so had their interest in what was going on in Angie and Carter's conversation. But even though they'd moved the party into the parking lot, Buzz never lost sight of Angie. And although she didn't know it, Buzz had seen her kiss the preppie...the enemy.
"Hey you guys, check out this car," Buzz shouted, racing over toward Carter's silver Beetle at the edge of the parking lot. "I say let's bounce it!"
"Whoo hoo!" Zack shouted in agreement. He rushed over to Buzz's side with George right behind him. Together, they began pushing on the hood of the car, bouncing it up and down and moving it around the parking lot.
Bang. The side of the car crashed into the truck beside it. "Oh look," Buzz said with fake concern. "He got a dent. Now the car's lopsided. Whatever shall we do?"
"We could do the other side," Zack suggested excitedly, pressing harder on the hood of the car.
"Oh yeah!" George agreed, giving the hood a hard push.
By now, a crowd had gathered around Buzz, Zack, and George. The other Hamburger Haven customers were cheering them on with the kind of vigor that could only be achieved through a mixture of boredom and beer.
"Oh man, my car!" Carter shouted. He raced out of the restaurant, leaving a shocked Angie standing there on her own. Quickly, she hurried off after him.
"Chad, be care -- " she started. But her voice was drowned out by the noise in the parking lot.
"Get off of my car!" Carter demanded.
Buzz plopped himself down on the hood of the car, hard. He folded his arms across the chest. "I don't think so."
"I said get off," Carter insisted again.
"Sorry dude, I don't talk prep. Do you, Zack?"
Zack shook his head as he leaped up onto the hood of the car beside Buzz.
Carter shook his head and pulled the keys from his pocket. He opened the door and hopped in.
"Chad, are you crazy?" Angie asked.
At first, Carter looked at her oddly. Then he slammed the door shut. "Sorry Angie, I hate to eat and run, but I think it's time for me to go." He winked in her direction. "Next time I pick the restaurant, okay?"
Before Angie could answer, Carter revved up the engine.
"He wouldn't dare," Buzz laughed, staying put atop the car.
But Buzz underestimated Carter's anger. He popped the Bug into drive, then quickly hit the brake. Buzz and Zack flew off the hood and landed in the parking lot. Before they could get up and chase him, Carter had whipped the Beetle around. He sped off out of the parking lot, leaving Angie standing alone in the night.
Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Krulik