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Sweet Tooth

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He felt his heart skip a beat every time he saw her.

 

He didn’t know who she was, but she always came by around this time of the day, every single day.

 

And turns out he was the one taking her coffee order. Most of the time.

 

There was no way to really know her; he didn’t even know her real name, since she gave a new one every day.

 

They’d make him chuckle, for the most part. Other times, they’d make him wonder how she came up with such names. The girl went too far sometimes, he thought.

 

She’d been coming to The Void a little bit before the school year had started. He guessed she was a student. But she might live close because she even came on weekends – he knew either because he had shifts, or because his colleagues teased him when they saw her, usually with text messages saying ‘Mikey, your mysterious girl is here’, and they didn’t stop sending them no matter how many times he told them to, because she wasn’t his mysterious girl, or anything. She was a costumer, nothing more. They had started teasing him when they noticed how red his cheeks would turn, and how he’d finally breathe again once she was out. And since then he was constantly reminded that yes, this girl was really pretty and made his stomach flutter every time she would come, or at the simple mention of her.

 

But, yes, most of the time, she’d come around nine a.m. A little after his usual shift would start.

 

Her order wasn’t the same during the first few weeks, but after some time, she’d finally settled. Mocha, with lots of milk. Three spoonsful of sugar. She had a sweet tooth.

 

She usually came alone and left as soon as she got her order ready, always shooting a smile on her way back to the entrance.

 

Sometimes, friends were with her. When they were, it wasn’t at nine a.m., but more around four-ish in the afternoon. Even then, he never got the chance to hear her real name; she was always called silly nicknames. It was maybe from them that she got these ideas, maybe she received a text every morning, giving her a brand-new name to wear for the day, and then throw away.

 

Maybe she simply chose the “word of the day” and decided to call herself that way for day. Every day a new version of her. That seemed great, to leave the old you behind every day.

 

He’s always seen her come by with girls, but never with guys, alone. Maybe she was single.

 

Or maybe one of the friends she came with sometimes was her girlfriend, he didn’t know.

 

Or maybe she had someone, but she didn’t bring them to the Void. Maybe she liked to keep things private.

 

Well, that was an actual fact, because she’d never given her real name, or he thought so. Maybe she did, at some point, someday, but how could he have known? Anyways, that was some hardcore way to keep things private.

 

Or maybe she was simply playful.

 

Maybe she was an undercover agent, or on the contrary maybe she was being wanted because she was a criminal or a threat, and she liked to play with the authorities.

 

Or maybe she was just some really normal girl who liked to be called a new name every day.

 

He liked this idea better.

 

The thing is, he knew absolutely nothing about her.

 

He simply knew how her voice sounded, and her laugh, how her face looked, how her hair was, how tall she was. Everything that was knowledgeable to the eye and ears. He knew just as much as someone who’d see her walk down the street.

 

He wanted to know more, somehow; but he’d never dare to. He saw her every day and he would never make a move. And besides saying “hello”, “what would you like?”, “here’s your coffee, thanks”, “goodbye” and sometimes asking her the way he should write her silly names and making seldom comments that his colleagues or friends – he wasn’t so sure – claimed they were qualified as flirty, even though they were not, he never said more to her.

 

First: because he was a waiter who did this for a living because he couldn’t find any job anywhere else, and second: because he was actually starting to feel nervous the moment she showed up.

 

Today, when he saw her enter by the door with a “cling” sound – it was the bell that rang every time someone would enter – his breath was stuck in his throat.

 

As usual, she was beautiful.

 

We were in January and it was still freezing outside. That was how Chicago was like, after all.

 

She was wearing a fuzzy coat, to keep her warm, as well as a beanie to cover her ears, and also gloves, so that her fingers wouldn’t turn into Mister Freeze sticks. She took them off as soon as she entered the shop, sighing with satisfaction as the warm atmosphere of the shop welcomed her. To him, it seemed more like it was her smile that made the place so warm.

 

She walked to him, her steps sure yet with some shyness. She looked at him and put her hands on the counter, getting on her tiptoes, even if it wasn’t really needed, because she wasn’t that small. Well, yes, compared to Mike, she was small, but it only made her even cuter. And he had noticed she only got on her tiptoes when he was the one serving her – she never did that when Will was the one taking orders, and he had no idea why.

 

Probably because he wasn’t as tall as him? Or was there another reason?

 

She looked up at him and her smile grew bigger as she finally spoke.

 

“Hi.”

 

He almost said “hi”, like every time, but he remembered just in time that, no, she was his customer, he shouldn’t start to get too familiar with her.

 

“Hello, the usual?” He raised an eyebrow.

 

She feigned pondering, tapping the tip of her button nose a few times, before chuckling. She nodded excitedly, a few times. “Yes, please.”

 

He went for the cups, pointing to the small, medium and big ones, motioning for her to pick one, which one she wanted today. It depended on how thirsty she was.

 

“Tall.” She must be really thirsty.

 

Then, he smiled and grabbed the cup, as well as his permanent marker. He bent over on the counter, just like he always did with her, and uncapped the pen with his teeth, the cap still in his mouth.

 

Forchetta.” Then she let out a laugh, and she kept on giggling.

 

She was gorgeous, laughing, with her eyes closing, her honey-brown curls moving along. After some time, she bit her lip, her face pink. She whispered. “Sorry.”

 

He took the pen cap out of his mouth and put it on the counter. “What did you say it was again?”

 

She cooled down and tried to seem as serious as possible. “Forchetta.”

 

“What’s Forchetta?”

 

“It means fork, in Italian,” she was giggling again, and she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Interesting, she had never tried foreign words before. Maybe it was her way to tell him she had Italian origins? He was so lost and only reconnected with the outside world when she cleared her throat and spoke again. “F-O-R-C-H-E, two Ts and A.”

 

“How about I just write fork,” he said teasingly, as he started writing down the letters. He wrote them cautiously, always putting some effort in it. He didn’t want it to be messy; she chose every nickname so carefully, so why wouldn’t he do the same with her?

 

“No! Forchetta’s way cuter,” she cried, slightly touching his forearm with her hand, causing him to stop whatever he was doing. His gaze went from the cup to her, she was still flushed.

 

“So, cute is what you aim for,” he asked, eyeing her from the corner of his eye as he had started writing again, Forchetta. God, he didn’t know what had gotten into him to be this bold – probably her hand on him. He immediately regretted saying this because she was going to freak out and never come to their coffee shop again, he was certain of this. Well done, Mike. This was too much, this time, he’d been too far, right? But what she replied totally took him by surprise.

 

“Am I not already?” She laughed and wiggled her eyebrows.

 

He stopped once again to look at her and grinned, shyly, and he shrugged before focusing back on the cup to hide the blush she was causing. “Yeah, I guess.” He didn’t see her blush or bite her bottom lip.

 

He’d finished writing her name, Forchetta, and she was now looking at him with a huge smile on her face and a shade of pink on her cheeks. But he turned around, because he had to fill her cup, and also, he didn’t want to seem weird looking at her.

 

“And there you go, Forchetta.” He handed her the cup and she took it from him, their fingers slightly brushing, and he felt a wave of heat go through him. She beamed at him and he let go of the cup when he knew that she was holding it tightly, and thus, he also lost contact with her fingers. She somehow blushed even more, or maybe her cheeks were red because she was still cold from outside, or warm from inside, but her cheeks were red, and oh so pretty, and Mike couldn’t help hoping she was really blushing.

 

“Bye, Michael.”

 

He almost called out after her, saying ‘call me Mike’ because it was what was written on his nametag and he didn’t need to be called like he once was when he was young and would’ve made a mistake, but it ended as a mere whisper on his lips, as he saw her waving a bit before turning on her heels and heading for the door, the bell ringing again. And he watched her exit the shop with one last quick glance at him and a smile, which he returned.

 

Behind him, there was his friend Dustin, who poked him in the ribs, which made Mike jump and hiss, sending a deadly glare to his friend.

 

“Just ask her out already, dude.”

 

Mike simply huffed and scoffed. “What, no?”

 

He let out an exasperated sigh. “It’s been months since you two started flirting together, why don’t you just admit it, grow some balls and ask her out?”

 

“No, Dustin, I won’t ask her out.”

 

“So, you don’t deny flirting with her?” He cocked an eyebrow and a toothy grin appeared on his face. Mike’s face went red tomato and Dustin took it as his cue to gently whip his arm with his apron. “Whatever,” and he sighed, before going back to the kitchen in the back. Farther, he saw Will eyeing him with a smirk.

 

“What?”

 

The smirk grew bigger. “Oh, nothing.”

 

Mike couldn’t help but think he was scheming something. He just gave up trying to figure out what Will was thinking about at some point because he had to take the order of the next client who had arrived while they were talking.

 


 

When she came in the weeks after, she gave him even more names to write down on her cup, some totally, well, normal, such as Soap, Swing, Knot – okay, they weren’t normal, they were odd for names, but still normal compared to what she had more than once told him – but some others picked his curiosity. She seemed bolder, somehow, like her names were hinting at something, or at least that what he seemed to notice, but he could have been completely mistaken, for what he knows.

 

Ladybug: it could mean that she’s happy, or lucky, or free, playful, and that day, she seemed cheerful, more than usual at least. Perhaps it was why she had chosen this nickname. Or it could also mean she was watching that same animated show with this girl and this dude dressed in a catsuit his little sister insisted that he watched with her when he was over for holidays. Or maybe she simply liked the bug. Could be a possibility.

 

Bee: he had to ask if she was talking about the bug or the letter, because the latter led him to think it was the first letter of her name. Was her name Beth? Becky? Britney? Bridget? But she had stopped him short when she said that, yes, she was talking about the bug, and no, it wasn’t a letter in her name, at all. And she had smiled coyly at the new hint she’d just given him. It wasn’t said out loud but guessing her name had definitely become a game between the two of them. How long would she be able to hide her name, and how fast would Mike find it? Unbeknownst to them, the other employees had started placing bets.

 

Ruby: fierce, passionate, precious. Or maybe she liked that song from Foster The People, or she liked this type of beer. Or she was a fan of the gemstone. He’d never know, but it had matched the color of her cheeks and her sweater, too.

 

Cherry: said with a heavy voice, lingering a bit on the end of the word, matching her lips, which he shouldn’t have stared at so long, by the way – he was so subtle that she had noticed him, eventually. His cheeks had turned as red as her tainted lips, and she apparently found it amusing, according to the chuckle that escaped from her lips. When she exited the Void this day, he had been teased, mercilessly.

 

But today was different – he was convinced it would be, at least.

 

February 14. Valentine’s Day.

 

Mike was nervous. Why so? He didn’t even know himself. The shop was all red, full of hearts, everywhere. Dustin had even insisted that they wore red aprons on this day, “to fit in the theme.” It wouldn’t have been embarrassing if they didn’t have to wear a heart-shaped nametag, but at least he hadn’t gotten the privilege to wear a Cupid pin – Will did. Dustin’s idea, but again, why would he care? He was always back in the kitchen and was the only one who didn’t have to go through this.

 

Suddenly it hit him. He remembered why he was nervous the second he saw her enter.

 

Why though?

 

Because he was dressed ridiculously, and he felt self-conscious and God he hated Dustin so much—

 

“Aw, aren’t you lovely today?” His mouth was left agape, and he didn’t really know what to say, so he just stood there, until she finally decided to add something. “I, uh, meant it. And hi, by the way.” The blush was back – on both of their cheeks.

 

“Hi.” It came out strangled, and she laughed – a sweet, quiet laugh. “What’s it today?”

 

She rolled her eyes. “Pft, you know me, the usual.”

 

“Even on Valentine’s Day?” They had put up signs for this special drink they were serving today, and he pointed to one of them, behind him. “How about a cherry flavored hot chocolate instead?” She seemed skeptical, so he tried, again. “I can even make the extra whip cream free for today, and add that ‘lil cherry on top, if you want to.” Then she seemed convinced, as a smile curled her lips, but then again, was he allowed to make things free for her? Would Dustin forgive him if he knew? Well, he probably would, they’d been friends since fourth grade. And how would he know, anyway?

 

“You had me at ‘cherry’, I love those. But uhm, yeah, pour me one, please.”

 

Mike couldn’t help smiling, and when she chose which cup she wanted for the day, he looked back at her, cup in his left hand, pen in his right one, pen cap on the counter. “So, how should I call you today?”

 

“Mine.”

 

He almost choked, and tried his best to hide it, but there was no way that his cheeks didn’t match his apron right now.

 

“What? It’s Valentine’s Day. Plus, if I change one letter, I end up with Mike.

 

She seemed quite proud of herself. He merely nodded, while trying to smile at her. Gosh, what was this supposed to mean? Mine? It’s Valentine’s Day, Mike, calm down and write her name on this cup, please. So he did, with shaky hands, but he managed, somehow.

 

He cleared his throat. Their eyes didn’t meet while he was preparing her drink, but he definitely felt hers on him. “Here’s your drink, Mine.” Oh my, it was awkward, she was way too happy about this and to be honest, he also was, and it felt like his stomach was fluttering, and he felt warm so this was great, but he could feel Will’s burning eyes on his side, his Cupid pin blinding him, and he knew he was going to give him shit later for that. She had yet to take the cup from him and when his hand was no longer touching hers – not that it had been for too long, you couldn’t even say it lasted a second – he kept his hand open before he could rub them on his jeans – they were so sweaty it was embarrassing – she put something inside his fist and closed it with her two hands, the touch leaving him burning.

 

“Consider this my tip for today.” She put a strand of hair behind her ear with her now free hand and her eyes were shining, but she didn’t give him time to react since she said goodbye right away and hastily left the shop, with a quick wave and glance to him, like she was embarrassed, or something.

 

Mike only stopped looked at the now closed door when Will put his head on his shoulder behind him and surprised him when he spoke.

 

“What’s this?”

 

He examined the thing in his hand. A pink conversation heart. “U R CUTE,” it was more said to himself than anything, but Will heard it anyway and he clapped his hand on his friend’s back.

 

“Dude, if that’s not flirting, then I don’t know what it is.” And he left.

 

Mike couldn’t even reply, he couldn’t even shout back that no, they weren’t flirting, because, well, they probably were now? He was lost, really. He didn’t even know her name and there she was, giving him conversation hearts on Valentine’s Day and being all flirty and him being awkward and worst of all – he liked it, that was the thing he was both anticipating and excited for on a work day, and even on days when he didn’t work, his thoughts found their way to her, this petite young woman that he’d been seeing almost every day for the past six months but of whom he knew so little about.

 

He had to do something about it, but it’s not like Mike Wheeler had the guts.

 


 

No, Mike didn’t have the guts, but his friends did, much to his exasperation.

 

It was on a fine March day that Will Byers decided that he needed to shake things up, without telling Mike, of course.

 

He’d been watching from afar, their goofy smiles plastered on their faces every time they saw each other. The way Mike would almost trip on his feet when he walked back to the counter to take her order. The way this girl – gosh, he really needed to know her name at some point, it wasn’t funny anymore – would immediately get all flustered but somehow still managed to flirt with Mike King of Nerds Wheeler without even showing any weaknesses. The way their cheeks would get all red whenever one smiled at the other, or when they went from jerking away every time their hands touched to lingering a bit too long for simple seller and customer.

 

He had seen too much, and it had to end.

 

End in a date, or something more, please, so Mike wouldn’t be third wheeling anymore.

 

He saw the way Mike was when they were all together, in pairs, except for him, of course. And he had noticed how his eyes seemed to drift away as if he were thinking about somebody, somebody that couldn’t be anyone other than this girl. He couldn’t even stop himself from blushing when either him or Dustin would mention her, even when this led to the whole Party teasing him.

 

And he might have admitted once, while they were all drunk, except for Will, that he had an unexplainable crush on her. And boy, he did not forget this detail. Even if Mike claimed it was not true, Will knew what he heard, and knew what he saw in front of his own eyes every single day for the past several months.

 

And if Mike was too much of a coward to make a move, Will was simply going to be a good friend and give him a pat in the back. Hey, he was Cupid after all, that was his duty.

 

And so today, he seized his chance.

 

The girl came in, not alone, which meant she would be staying for a bit, and Mike was busy putting pastries in the selves, so Will was the one to first notice her and rush to the counter.

 

He sure saw her smile deflate a little – only because she was excepting Mike to take her order, he presumed – but she eventually smiled again, thankfully. She gave a faint “hello.”

 

Only it did not seem to please her red-headed friend.

 

“What, you’re not gonna smile more just because it isn’t your oh so handsome barista that’s taking your order?” Oh, that was interesting. “C’mon Jeanie, be polite and decent uh,” and she turned to Will, smiling with her teeth, “just like that, hi!”

 

“Shut up Maxine – and, uh, sorr-,” the mysterious girl, Jeanie, started but she got cut by her friend, Maxine.

 

“Don’t you Maxine me! You wouldn’t want me to call you Ja–,” but she got shushed by her friend’s finger on her mouth, and also by an icy glare. The redhead eventually apologized.

 

This had been fun to watch, and Will couldn’t contain the chuckle escaping his lips. This made the two friends smile. In the corner of his eye, he noticed that Mike had stopped putting the pastries in the shelves to watch the scene, but he was quickly urged to continue when Dustin got out of the kitchen and got him out of his reverie.

 

“What should I write today? Jeanie, perhaps a name starting with Ja-something?”

 

Max rolled her eyes, “wait, so you’re still doing that?”

 

“It’s fun, okay?” She turned to Will again, “sorry about her, she can be exhausting sometimes,” she smiled when her friend stuck out her tongue at her. “Today I’ll be… Jacinthe.”

 

“What’s that, again?” It was her friend talking.

 

“A flower. Now Max, if you would let me finish taking my order so we can take a seat after, I’d really appreciate it.” When her friend only held both hands before her to make her understand she won’t do it again, she went on. “And, I’ll take a tall mocha with lots of milk, and three spoonsful of sugar, please.” Ah yes, he didn’t remember the amount of sugar she wanted, unlike Mike who seemed to know everything about her, except her name apparently.

 

“Oh my god, she is such a nerd, can you believe that?” Max earned a mean stare from her friend, followed by her mumbling her name to get her to stop, but it went unnoticed to Will.

 

“Why is that so?”

 

“That’s Isabelle’s coffee order in Animal Crossing, she’s been playing that game so much that she’s now copying the characters’ coffee orders! Get a life Jeanie.”

 

Will only laughed at their bickering, and he noticed Mike trying to get closer to them, but Will only whooshed him away with a hand gesture. Once he was done with her cup, he turned to her friend, who ordered a strong, black coffee, and two pastries too, not without looking at her friend, Jeanie, who had been looking way too much at a certain dark-haired giant. And she was blushing.

 

Her friend noticed and elbowed her, so she was focusing on Will again. He simply smiled.

 

“Go take a seat, I’ll bring you your order when your coffee is ready.”

 

And so they did.

 

Everything was going according to plan, he just needed to fish his phone out so he could write Mike’s number on Jeanie’s cup. He opened the ‘contacts’ app, scrolled to the M’s and was ready to click on Mike’s name when he earned a tap behind his head.

 

“Ow!”

 

“Dipshit, no phone when you’re working, and you know that.”

 

He saw Mike pass by him take Jeanie’s order, as well as her friend’s and their pastries to their table, and he had apparently took advantage of the fact that Will was so focused on his phone – which wasn’t really the case, he had to tell Dustin – and he witnessed the whole scene: Mike’s goofy smile, Jeanie blushing way too much, and acting as if her friend wasn’t even there, and it looked like she was finding them cute but was also annoyed in a way. Dustin had turned to where Will was looking, and he smiled.

 

“They’re cute, uh?”

 

Will scoffed.

 

“Do you know that you just ruined my plan?”

 

“What plan?” They were no longer looking at Mike, who had somehow started a conversation with the two friends sitting at the table.

 

“I was trying to set them up!”

 

“How? We’ve been trying for a long time and never succeeded.”

 

“I was going to write Mike’s number on her cup, but a certain someone stopped me.” His tone was accusatory, and Dustin couldn’t help but laugh nervously.

 

“That’s a great plan.”

 

“Yeah, was a great plan.”

 

“What plan?” Mike was standing there, flustered after his conversation. His smile was taped to his face and wouldn’t go away anytime soon.

 

Dustin and Will looked at each other, and Dustin’s eyes fell to the ground, and he returned to his kitchen silently. Will shrugged, so Mike wouldn’t ask more questions, and it worked, because he was back behind the counter, not so subtly glancing at Jeanie. Will eventually approached him.

 

“Her name starts with J-A, I think.”

 

“Uh?” He hadn’t been paying attention to him.

 

With a jerk of his head, he pointed to the brunette. “Jacinthe, today her friend almost revealed her name. It starts with a J and a A. Thought I should tell you; it could help in your quest of discovering her name.” Mike gave him a half smile.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“No problem.” He waited. “Also, I almost gave her your phone number without your permission, but Dustin stopped me without knowing, so, sorry? I think.”

 

“You what!?”

 

And with that, Will fled to the changing room, his shift was over, and for his own security, he thought it was best if he didn’t stay longer than necessary at the shop. He didn’t even get to see his friend’s reaction, a mix between anger but also kindness.

 

He was kind of glad that his plan didn’t work out, because maybe giving Mike’s number to this girl without his consent wasn’t ideal. Even if he wanted so so so so much for them to just be something, he truly believed that it would happen, he just needed to let the universe do its thing.

 


 

And it seemed like the universe was on their side.

 

It had been a long day, Mike was so tired, and he couldn’t wait to head home and fall on his bed and never wake up, if it was even possible. He’d do anything for this day to finally end.

 

It had all started when they had to be opened later than usual.

 

Why?

 

Dustin had privatized the place so his friend, the infamous Steve Harrington, could plan the perfect date for his newfound girlfriend.

 

No Mike, I promise it won’t take long, it’ll end at nine o’clock, not after, I promise. And you owe me, right?

 

Mike didn’t know what he owed to him, but he should’ve known better than to trust Steve Harrington.

 

It was now 10:30, and he’d just left the coffee shop, winking at him with his girl under his arm, the two of them pretty tipsy (damn, Dustin said there wouldn’t be any alcohol, guess I can’t trust him too), but still handing him a few 20$ bills. At least there’s that.

 

So there he was, now cleaning the place at almost 11 o’clock, on his own, and wondering how two people could make such a mess.

 

Please, don’t answer that.

 

He was done vacuuming, rearranging the chairs and tables – he knew that there was a cleaning lady that came every morning, but he figured he could at least make it not look like a murder or something else had happened in here – when he was about to hang down these stupid lights that Steve had so nicely asked to set up because it would look romantic, there was a knock on the front door.

 

At first, Mike was startled.

 

How come someone would knock at a coffee shop that was supposed to be closed at this time of night, uh? Were they burglars? Mike gulped.

 

He cautiously approached the front door, not seeing much of what was going on outside because most shops had their lights off at this time of night. On his way, he grabbed a halfway melted candle, still lukewarm and slightly bent, just in case.

 

When he was close enough, he recognized her.

 

Gosh, what was she doing here, right now, at this hour?

 

Oh course, he unlocked the door and stuck his head out.

 

“Hi. I saw some light.” He could see her better now. Her cheeks red, most likely from the cold, he couldn’t know. Her smile was still here, and bags had formed under her eyes. She looked more tired than usual. She had a messenger bag with her, the same one she’d have with her every weekday, except fuller.

 

“Hi,” he all but breathed. He was still surprised to see her right now and had to wonder if this wasn’t coming straight out of his imagination, with the fairy lights hanging above her.

 

“Is it okay if I come in?”

 

Was it? He took a quick look around the place. It was way less messy than it was before, but he wasn’t exactly done with it. And wouldn’t be anytime soon if he let her enter.

 

But it meant that he would spend time with her, so it was worth it.

 

“Yeah, sure, come in.”

 

She smiled even more and whispered a quick ‘thank you’ before walking past him but stopped in the middle of the room to turn around and look at Mike, who had just closed the door delicately. “What are you doing here so late, and why the lights? New decoration? It,” she laughed as she reached for the fairy lights between her fingers, “wasn’t here this morning.”

 

It was his turn to laugh. “It’s a long story.” He went to a table and pulled a chair. “Take a seat, I’ll make you whatever you want.”

 

“Just the usual, and tall. I need caffeine. Lots of it.” She laughed. She spoke again, as he was turning the coffee machine back on. “And, I’m sorry if I was interrupting something… It just that I-I saw light in there and wondered ‘hey, why is there light in The Void’ and thought I’d come closer and see what was going on, you know, in case there would’ve been robbers,” she laughed nervously as she noticed that she was rambling, “but it was you, so I thought it was okay to stop and see what you were up to, at this hour.” She smiled, and Mike couldn’t help but smile too. “I mean, what time is it anyways?”

 

Mike frowned, wondering what time it was too, and took one look at his cellphone lock screen. “Well… 11 o’clock. 11:11, to be exact.” They laughed, whether it was from disbelief or tiredness, they wouldn’t know. They looked at each other, like they were the only one in here – well, they were, indeed – and it seemed like they were trying to plunge deeper into each other’s eyes, until they were brought back from their reverie when the coffee machine interrupted their precious moment. She seemed startled and Mike coughed. “You usually don’t notice it that much when there’s the music and all… but this thing can be very noisy.” He went on to grab a cup, as well as a pen, uncapped it, and looked at her again. “What’s your name, tonight?”

 

“Eleven.”

 

He liked it, and didn’t even question it.

 

“So, Eleven, what brings you here at this hour?”

 

To his surprise, she let out a muffled groan, with her head between her arms, both resting on the table. She mumbled something Mike didn’t quite catch.

 

“Sorry?”

 

Eleven lifted her head, and, with almost pleading eyes, to please, get her out of this, repeated herself. “Mid-terms.”

 

Mike couldn’t help but snicker. “Ah, college, thank god I’m out of here.”

 

She now seemed very much awake than she was a second earlier, her eyes big and a surprised look on her face. “You’re not in college anymore?”

 

“Well, no, I graduated almost two years ago, and this is my full-time job. Not really what I studied for, but well, I like it.”

 

She was still not replying, like she was… processing? He filled her cup and sat at the table where she was, in front of her, sliding the cup over the table. “Earth to Eleven?”

 

She murmured a quiet thank you, and blushed. “How old are you?”

 

He couldn’t help but snicker. “Excuse me, ma’am, but that’s a private question!” He saw her face turn redder and became serious pretty fast, only to come back on what he said. “No, no, no, it’s not, I was kidding. I- um, I’m twenty-three.” He snickered, again. “Not too old, uh?”

 

She bit her lip, that he didn’t know why, but it was the most adorable thing ever. She was blushing, too. “No, not at all, I just thought you were… younger?” She paused. “My age maybe?” He was now confused. Shit shit, how old is she? She’s not a minor, no? She couldn’t be? “I’m twenty-one,” Oh, thank God, “and I don’t know, I thought you were going to college and all…”

 

“Not a chance, I’m stuck in this place all day long.” Mike noticed how her face started to show concern, so he quickly added something. “Um, humor. I actually quite like it here. I get to work with my friends, so that’s a plus.”

 

She had a genuine smile on her face, quietly sipping on her coffee.

 

“Is that what you like the most about this place?”

 

What did he like the most? About the Void? Probably that he got to see her every day. Yes, he very much liked that.

 

He couldn’t bring himself to answer, but surprisingly, she spoke up. “Well, I like coming here too, because I get to see you.” Her chin and cheek were resting on the back of her hand, her face tilted, and she was beaming at him. Did she…?

 

“Have you read my mind?” It came out almost strangled, as he nervously let out a chortle.

 

“Nope,” she popped the ‘P’, “you kinda said it out loud.”

 

How could he be so stupid? He felt his face become hotter and hotter, as well as his whole body, and the only thing he wanted to do right was bury himself so deep no one could find him, especially not her.

 

He felt her hand ghost over his arm, as if she was afraid to touch him, but her kind eyes met him, and she spoke softly. “Hey, don’t worry about.” She smiled. “After all, the feeling’s mutual, isn’t it?” She said the last words as if she were unsure about them.

 

“Well, I hoped it was for a long time…” It was hushed, and even if Mike wasn’t entirely sure how to describe this feeling, the one that made him feel weird all over, but in a good way, and the one that made him flirt with her, and the one that made him look forward to a day of work because it meant he would see her, and maybe if he was daring enough, engage in a conversation with her, he liked this feeling.

 

“So, it is?” Damn, she was really trying to make him say it.

 

“Yeah, I… I like… seeing you.” Okay, he wasn’t totally ready to tell her the thing yet, but that was a good start, right? And even if he hadn’t said it, she seemed to somehow understand and smiled as brightly as she could. He felt the redness creeping up on his cheeks. “You genuinely seem like a nice person, and even if you give weird names sometimes, well most of them are funny… and it seems like it matters to you. I guess I want to know your name, but I also want to see the new nicknames you’ll come up with, every day, and all…”

 

“Well, to be honest, I don’t really have any ideas for the next names so…” Was she gonna tell him her name? No? There was no way? “Maybe we can stick with Eleven?” Dang, not yet, it seemed.

 

Something seemed off. “Eleven… I like it, but…” he was gesturing with his hands, “it feels too ‘odd’ for an everyday-name… I don’t know, you follow?” He saw her nod and thankfully she didn’t seem offended.

 

“So, what do you suggest?” At her words, he pointed to himself, still unsure if she was talking to him – even though he was the only other person in this room, so it had to be him. When she nodded, disbelief washed through him.

 

Him? He thought she would be the one deciding for a name. He began to think. Something that she liked, but could still pass as a ‘regular’ name…

 

“Why not ‘El’?”

 

“El…” she repeated.

 

“Yeah, El,” he repeated, testing the name on his lips, the name feeling just right.

 

“I love it!” She took both of his hands that were resting on the table and brought them together, as if she were trying to make them clap, at the same time, with her hands too. “Thanks Mike.”

 

He only blushed and smiled in response, which seemed like it was almost the only things he could do in her presence, but then his eyes went to her messenger bag, laying there on the table, and her eyes followed his, as she let out an exhausted sigh – and also let go of his hands.

 

“I have to work…”

 

Then she looked at him with those doe eyes, as if she were begging for him to tell her that no, she does not need to study for her midterms, and that, yes, she could pretty much spend the rest of the night with him, doing God knows what, even if it’s just talking and getting to know each other a bit more, and not with him behind a counter.

 

But he did not say these things, because he actually cares about her and wants her to do well in college – and heck, they’ll get to talk and take all their time after that, he’s sure – so instead, he sighed, too, and smiled, again. “Yes, you do.”

 

She gave him a sleepy smile, and then went on, telling him that she spent the entire afternoon at the library until it closed, and that she wasn’t paying attention to the time, so that was how she found herself going back home, only to see some light in The Void, and she took this opportunity to grab one more coffee so it could keep her going for what looked like to be an all-nighter for her. As she spoke, she also managed to finish her coffee, and, at around midnight – God, they spent an hour talking to each other and Mike cannot believe it – she finally left, complaining about the night that was ahead of her, and thanking Mike again, for letting her in, and also for getting her mind off of her midterms (because she needed it). Mike wasn’t complaining either, because, even though it was so late, and he’d be getting little sleep, at least he got to talk to her, and laugh with her, and oh God, he can’t get enough of her laugh, and the way she smiles and how her eyes lit up at him.

 

Now, he also got a name. Well, kind of.

 

So, when she kissed his cheek and whispered “goodnight Mike,” he whispers back “goodnight El” and he swore he hasn’t been this happy in a long time.

 

Maybe he’d have to thank Steve Harrington for that.

 


 

Today was St. Patrick’s Day.

 

A pretty day, over all. It was sunnier, the snow had finally melted. Mike couldn’t feel better.

 

Actually, scratch that. There was a way he could feel better.

 

If he saw her, he would definitely feel even better.

 

And he will, right? It was a Sunday, sure, but there were opened, and it was a special day, everyone was celebrating so she also would, right? Thankfully her midterms were over and she would be able to celebrate, at least he hoped so.

 

Well, yes, she’ll probably celebrate but not in a coffee shop , dumbass.

 

Apparently, yes, she wanted to celebrate in a coffee shop, because she was the next person that came through the door, smiling so brightly Mike thought he’d need to get his eyes checked, to see if she even was real.

 

Next thing he knew, she was leaning on the counter, and he also did, as if he were a magnet attracted to her – well, in a sense he was attracted to her, like for real.

 

“Hi.”

 

“Hi,” he breathed. El was smiling even more. And blushing. And it was highly possible that his cheeks were also red by now.

 

She asked for her usual drink, in a medium cup, and while he was preparing her order, he took her in.

 

She was dressed in green for the occasion, and so was he – although he didn’t get to choose – and it made him truly believe that any color could suit her and somehow even flatter her. She seemed like she was glowing.

 

“Partying today?”

 

Her question took him by surprise, he wasn’t really used to her asking him the questions. Even if the only questions he asked her were about her order and the name she’ll get for the day. So he did what he knew best: he gulped, and eventually replied.

 

“Well, my shift ends in,” he glanced at his watch, “about two hours from now, but then I’m gonna be alone because, since I’m working with my friends, who actually have shifts, so…” he trailed off, “I’m probably going to head home and binge some show on Netflix or something.” He shrugged. Not a big deal, and not that interesting.

 

Because yeah, that was the thing that sucked when you were working with your friends: you could never have a day off all at the same time. Actually, he did have friends that weren’t working with him – okay, well, only one, but still – but Lucas had a busy life on his own and he knew he wouldn’t be available to spend the day with him. But that was way off subject, as Mike noticed that El was pouting.

 

“Eh, that kinda sucks, no?”

 

He simply shrugged and, as he saw that no one was waiting in line, he actually asked her a question that wasn’t coffee or name related.

 

“But, you, you’re…” he gestured to her clothes, “dressed in green, so, I assume that you’re celebrating, right?”

 

She giggled. “I’m not celebrating, per say, but yes I’m dressing up for the occasion, it’s fun.” A pause. “I actually don’t have anything special to do, so…” She looked up at him, her eyelashes bating, and Mike truly felt like his heart was going to explode. Was she…? “Wanna go out?” She was blushing and so was Mike. Oh my God, is she really asking to go out with me? Mike felt the urge to pinch himself, to see if it wasn’t his mind playing tricks on him. When his dumb ass didn’t respond since his last two brain cells were currently panicking, she almost felt embarrassed, and eventually added something. “I-I mean, only if you want to! And if that’s okay with you! I mean, I figured since you wouldn’t be doing anything important, you know…” She looked even more flustered, if it was even possible.

 

“Yeah!” He almost shouted, failing to cover his excitation, earning himself looks from the costumers sitting at their tables, and also looks from Will, and Dustin, who had peeked through the kitchen door. Mike coughed, lowered his head, to only look up again in her eyes, and lowered his voice. “Yes, I’d love to.”

 

A smile appeared on her lips. A toothy smile. Yes, she was happy.

 

He handed her her cup, and she handed back her cash – way more than she was supposed to give him – and their hands brushed, sending electricity to their brains.

 

She bit her lip. God she looked so adorable. “What about 5, we meet here, and then we’ll see where we’ll go?” She was toying with her hands repeatedly, indicating some stress from her, and Mike would be lying if he said his palms weren’t sweaty right now for the same reason, but he finally managed to blurt out something.

 

“Yeah, yeah, five, here, seems great.” He was smiling like an idiot, but he couldn’t care less right now.

 

“Ok, then, it’s a date.” She bit her lip, and started to head back to the entrance after she waved at him.

 

A date. He wasn’t even sure if it was said out loud, but if it was, everybody would’ve been able to sense the amazement in his voice.

 

Him, Mike Wheeler, got himself a date with the most beautiful girl he’d ever met, a girl whose name he didn’t even know.

 

But it didn’t matter. It was a date for Christ’s sake.

 

As he counted the cash she had given him, he noticed there was a piece of paper among the coins. He was about to throw it in the trash when he noticed that there was something written on it. He looked around, to see if anyone was watching him, and when he was sure that no one was paying attention to what he was doing, he unfolded the piece of paper, reading its content.

 

Cursive letters, so El.

 

My name’s Jane, by the way, but you can call me El.

 

He got her real name.

 

Jane.

 

He smiled, the rest of his shift passing in a blur, and, as he got ready to meet her again, Mike swore it was like something new had awoken in him.

 

Yup.

 

He was going to date the hell out of this girl.