Something else clicked in. “And I’ll get your money back from Pet World. I’ll explain the whole crazy mess to Nathan.”
She chuckled. “If anyone can, you can.”
“So . . . yeah,” I said, feeling pretty good about things. “I’ll bring you your refund, and I’ll bring those chocolate-covered graham crackers you like, too. And we’ll have tea, ’kay? We’ll have a ladies’ tea every week. Or coffee. What do you think?”
“I think that’s a splendid idea,” Mayzie said. She handed Gabriel to me, and he paddled his legs, searching for purchase. I breathed in the heavenly scent of him. He smelled like whipped cream.
Gabriel pressed his snout against my coat as I tromped through the alley snow. I wished the Silver Sneaker van would miraculously appear and pick me up, even though I was sixteen instead of seventy-six. Although, at least I could muscle through these drifts. If I were seventy-six? No way.
Gabriel squirmed, and I said, “Hold on, little guy. It won’t be long now.”
Halfway to Starbucks, I saw Tegan’s Civic pull to a stop at the traffic light two blocks down. Eek, she’d be here in, like, two minutes! I picked up my pace, because I wanted to get inside before Tegan arrived. I wanted to settle Gabriel into an actual teacup—or coffee mug—because wouldn’t that be the cutest thing in the world?
I used my hip to push through the door, and Christina looked up from the espresso machine. The other barista, Joyce, wasn’t in sight.
“At last!” Christina called. “Can you take these guys’ or-ders?”
She gestured at the guy and the girl standing at the counter, and I did a double take.
“Stuart!” I said, because it was Stuart Weintraub of the Stuart-and-Chloe-heartbreak-forever duo. Only, the girl he was with wasn’t Chloe; in fact, she was pretty much the opposite of Chloe with her short bob and cute little cat-eye glasses. She smiled at me kind of shyly, and my heart went awwwww, because she looked nice, and she was holding Stuart’s hand, and she wasn’t wearing bright red lipstick. She did not look like the kind of girl to have skanky bathroom make-out sessions on guys who weren’t her boyfriend.
“Hey, Addie,” Stuart said. “You cut your hair.”
One hand went to my head; the other kept a firm hold on Gabriel, who was trying to snuffle his way out of my coat. “Uh, yeah.” I jerked my chin at the girl he was with. “Who’s this?” It probably came out abrupt, but good heavens! Stuart Weintraub was not only without Chloe, but also without sad Stuart eyes! I mean, he still had eyes, but they were happy eyes now. His happiness made him look super-cute, too.
Yay, Stuart, I thought. Yay for Christmas miracle happening after all.
Stuart grinned at the girl and said, “This is Jubilee. Jubilee, this is Addie. She goes to my school.”
Awwww, I thought again. How adorable that he was going out with someone named after a yummy Christmas dessert. How adorable that he got his yummy Christmas dessert—even though he was Jewish or whatever.
“Thanks for that,” Jubilee said to Stuart, blushing. To me she said, “Weird name. I know. I’m not a stripper, I promise.”
“Uh . . . okay,” I said.
“You can call me Julie,” she said.
“Nah, I like Jubilee,” I said. Saying her name out loud made a memory ping in my brain. Tegan . . . the Kissing Patrol . . . some un-Jeb guy thrusting his fist into the air . . .
“Maybe you could take their order?” Christina prompted, knocking whatever it was right out of my head. Oh, well. Stuart was with a lovely girl named Jubilee, and she wasn’t a stripper. That’s all that mattered.
“As in, now?” Christina said.
“Uh . . . yes!” I said enthusiastically. Possibly too enthusiastically. “In just a second, ’kay? I just have to do this one teeny thing.”
“Addie,” Christina warned.
To my right, Tobin stirred in the purple chair. Was he just now waking up? He blinked at me and said, “Whoa. Your name’s Addie?”
“Um, yep, that’s me, Addie,” I said, thinking, See? Knew you didn’t know my name. I juggled Gabriel to keep him hidden under my coat, and he made a funny noise that sounded like wheep. “And now I’m just going to run to the back—”
Gabriel wheeped again. Louder.
“Addie,” Christina said in a trying-not-to-freak voice. “What do you have under your coat?”
“Addster!” Charlie said from the bar. “You gonna set me up with that chai?” He grinned, and I realized why when I saw his arm slung around the girl beside him. Oh my God, this was like Christmas Miracle Central.
“Hi, Addie,” the evil Brenna said. “Nice hair.” She might have smirked, but I wasn’t sure, because she didn’t look quite as evil as I remembered her. Today she looked more glow-y than snarky. Maybe because of Charlie’s arm?
“Seriously,” Tobin said. “Your name’s Addie?” He nudged Angie, who woke up and rubbed her nose. “Her name’s Addie,” he told her. “You think she’s the Addie?”
“The Addie?” I asked. What was he talking about? I wanted to push for details, but I got distracted by the sight of Tegan’s Civic turning into the parking lot. Dorrie was in the passenger seat, clutching Tegan’s shoulder and speaking intently, and I could only imagine what she was saying. Probably something like, “Now, remember, this is Addie we’re talking about. It’s highly possible she’s having some crisis and didn’t get Gabriel after all.”
“Adeline,” Christina said. “That’s not . . . a pig, is it?”
I glanced down to see Gabriel’s head peeking out from the top of my zipper. He wheeped and looked around.
“Well,” I said proudly, since the pig was out of the coat, so to speak. I rubbed Gabriel’s ears. “Not just any pig, but a teacup pig. Very rare.”
Jubilee glanced at Stuart and grinned. “You live in a town where people carry around elf-size pigs?” she said. “And here I thought my life was weird.”
“Not elf. Teacup,” I said. “And speaking of, I need one of the holiday mugs, ’kay, Christina? You can take it out of my paycheck.” I headed toward the display shelf, but Tobin stopped me by grabbing my elbow.
“Are you the Addie who goes out with Jeb Taylor?” he asked.
That threw me. Tobin didn’t know my name, but he knew I went out with Jeb?
“I’m . . . well, um . . . ” I swallowed. “Why?”
“Because Jeb gave me a message for you. Crap, I completely dropped the ball.”
My heart whacked around in my chest. “He gave you a message? What was the message?”
Tobin turned to Angie. “I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t you remind me?”
She smiled drowsily. “That you’re an idiot? Okay: you’re an idiot.”
“Oh, that’s great, thanks,” he said. She giggled.
“The message?” I managed to say.
“Right!” he said. He turned his attention back to me. “The message was that he got delayed.”
“By cheerleaders,” Angie contributed.
“Cheerleaders?” Jubilee said, somewhat manically. She and Stuart came over to where we were standing. “Oh my God, cheerleaders!”
“The cheerleaders were on a train with him, only the train got stuck,” Tobin said.
“I was on that train!” Jubilee shouted. Stuart laughed the way you do when someone you love is a goofy nut. “And did you say Jeb? I gave him a microwavable pizza disc!”
“You gave Jeb a . . . what?” I said.
“’Cause of the storm?” Charlie asked.
I turned to him in a daze. “Why would she give Jeb a microwavable pizza disc because of the storm?”
“Dude, no,” he said. He hopped off his stool and pulled Brenna along with him. They joined us by the purple chairs. “I mean did the train get stuck ’cause of the storm, asshat.”
Tobin twitched at the word ASSHAT and looked up at Charlie like he’d seen an apparition. Then he shook it off and said, “Uh, yeah. Exactly. And then the cheerleaders abducted Jeb, because they had needs.”
Charlie laughed. “Right on.”
“Not those kind of needs,” Angie said.
“Yeah,” Brenna said. She jabbed Charlie in the ribs.
“What kind of needs?” I said, feeling lightheaded. In the back of my consciousness, I registered the sound of a car door shutting, and then another. In my peripheral vision, I saw Tegan and Dorrie hurrying toward the store.
“Huh,” Tobin said, and he got that inward look of his I was growing familiar with, the one that meant that no answer was forthcoming.
“Well . . . was there more?” I said, trying a different strategy.
“More what?” Tobin said.
“More to Jeb’s message!”
“Oh,” Tobin said. “Yes! Yes, there was!” The set of his jaw was purposeful, but after several seconds, he deflated. “Ah, crap,” he said.
Angie took pity on me. Her expression went from giddy to kind.
“He said he’s coming,” she said. “He said you’d know what he meant.”
My heart stopped, and the cheerful buzz of Starbucks receded. It was as if someone pressed a mute button on the outside world, or maybe what was going on inside of me was simply drowning everything else out. He said he was coming? Jeb was coming?!
A jangling penetrated my consciousness, and in my muddled state, I had the most random thought: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets her wings. Then a burst of cold air brought me back to reality, and I realized it was the bell on the door making such a clatter.
“Addie, you’re here!” Dorrie cried, barging toward me in a bright red hat.
Beside her, Tegan beamed. “And he’s here! We saw him in the parking lot!”
“I’m the one who spotted him,” Dorrie said. “He looks like he’s been out in the wilderness for days, so prepare yourself. To be perfectly honest, Sasquatch is what comes to mind. But—”
She broke off, noticing Stuart and Jubilee. “Stuart’s with a girl,” she whispered in a voice loud enough to bring down a house.
“I know!” I whispered back. I grinned at Stuart and Jubilee, who both turned as red as Dorrie’s hat.
“Hi, Dorrie,” Stuart said. “Hi, Tegan.” He put his arm around Jubilee and patted her shoulder, half nervously and half just plain sweetly.
“Gabriel!” Tegan squealed. She rushed over and scooped Gabriel from my arms, which was lucky, as my muscles were wobbly. My whole body was wobbly, because the bell on the door was jingling again, and it was Jeb, and he was a total mess, and sobs rose inside me, and laughter, too, because he really did look like Sasquatch, with straggly hair and wind-chapped cheeks and his strong jaw shadowed with stubble.
His dark eyes darted from person to person, then landed on me. He strode over and crushed me in his arms, and I hugged him with every bit of myself. My cells sang.
“Oh, man, Addie, it’s been a crazy couple of days,” he murmured into my ear.
“Yeah?” I said, soaking in the glorious, solid realness of him.
“First my train got stuck. Then there were these cheerleaders, and we all ended up in the Waffle House, and they kept making me help them with their lifts—”
“Their lifts?” I drew back so I could see his face but kept my arms circled around him.
“And every single one of them left her phone on the train so she could focus on spirit, or something. And I tried to use the Waffle House phone, but the manager was like, ‘Sorry, no can do. Crisis mode, dude.’”
“Ouch,” Tobin said, cringing.
“See what happens when boys get obsessed with cheerleaders?” Angie said.
“Although it’s not fair to be prejudiced against all cheerleaders,” Jubilee said. “Just the ones whose names rhyme with showy. Right, Stuart?”
Stuart looked amused.
Jubilee waved at Jeb. “Hi, Jeb.”
“Julie,” Jeb said. “What are you doing here?”
“Her name’s not Julie, it’s Jubilee,” I whispered helpfully.
“Jubilee?” Jeb repeated. “Whoa.”
“No,” Christina said, and all eight of us turned to look at her. “I am the one who gets to say whoa here, and I’m saying it right now, okay?”
No one responded, so finally I said, “Uh, okay. But come on, it’s not that weird a name.”
She looked pained. “Addie,” she said, “I need you to tell me right now: Did you bring a pig into my store?”
Pig in store . . . was there any way to put a spin on this?
“He’s a really cute pig,” I said. “Does that count for anything?”
Christina pointed to the door. “The pig has to go. Now.”
“Fine, fine,” I said. “I just need to give Tegan a cup to put him in.”
“Think Flobie’ll ever dip into drinkware?” Stuart said to Jubilee under his breath.
“I’m sorry, what’s that?” I said.
Giggling, Jubilee elbowed Stuart and said, “Ignore. Please.”
Dorrie stepped closer to me. “You did good, Addie,” she said. “I doubted you, but I shouldn’t have, and . . . well, you did good.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Hello?” Christina said. “Did anyone hear me when I said the pig needs to go?”
“Someone needs a refresher in customer service,” Tobin said.
“Maybe Don-Keun could help?” Angie said.
Christina glared, and Tegan stepped backward toward the door. “I’m leaving, I’m leaving!”