October 21


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Andi heard a rumor at school that Zoe Ballard was having a bad day, but she didn’t put any stock into it. Zoe Ballard is the sunniest, cheeriest, most upbeat person Andi has ever met. Zoe Ballard doesn’t have bad days.

Nevertheless, when Zoe walks into Cuppa Joe’s that afternoon, there’s something . . . just a little off. Andi smiles at her when she enters, and Zoe smiles back, but it lacks some measure of Zoe’s usual exuberance, like something is weighing on her mind.

“How’s it going?” she asks as Zoe approaches the counter.

“Oh,” Zoe says. “You know. Fine.” And Andi would buy it from anyone else, but not from Zoe. “Can I get a peppermint tea?”

Yikes, Andi thinks and tries to not to make a face. If Zoe’s actual order is coffee-less today, that’s not boding well for Alex’s challenge. But Andi just smiles and draws a mug of hot water and sticks the tea bag in. “That’s $1.80,” she says. “And here’s this for you, too.” She hands over the first page of Alex’s letter and watches Zoe’s face light up, which makes Andi feel even guiltier about what she has to do next.

While Zoe stands to the side of the counter with her tea, skimming the first part of Alex’s letter, Andi makes a cappuccino and slides the to-go cup into the special sleeve that’s been sitting on Alex and Zoe’s shelf alongside part two of the letter since it was dropped off a few days ago.

That day, Alex had finished reading Zoe’s letter and gone straight to Andi at the counter to order a second cappuccino.

“Didn’t I just make you a cappuccino?” she had asked with a grin.

“This one is for Zoe.”

Andi had lifted an eyebrow. “Zoe’s still on baby coffee. We need to ease her into cappuccinos. Is she being punished for something?”

“She called them boring.”

Andi had pursed her lips and held Alex’s gaze for a moment. Then she’d nodded decisively and opened the cash register. “One cappuccino for Zoe Ballard it is!” Alex had grinned at that — grinned! Alex Carter! (well, a grin for Alex Carter. Just a regular smile on anyone else, but Andi took what she could get) — and grabbed a coffee sleeve, starting to fold a letter longways, a process Andi had watched with growing trepidation.

“You’re doing something complicated.”

“Define complicated.”

“More involved on the barista’s end than ‘Zoe, do this thing and get this letter.’”

“Then yes,” Alex had admitted. “I am. Is that a problem?”

“No,” Andi had said. “But I have to go get Eddie so he can listen, too.”


“Because he’s crazy. And power hungry. And he’ll pester me to insanity if I don’t, doubting my ability to understand and relay basic instructions. Just, keep doing what you’re doing and gimme a sec. He’s in the back.”

Once Eddie was with them, Alex had explained the three-part process: Give Zoe part one upon her arrival, then prepare the cappuccino in a to-go cup with part three of the letter hidden inside the sleeve. Part two (which would lead her to part three with no further involvement necessary from the baristas) should be presented to Zoe after she tries the cappuccino.

“She gets part two once she gives it a fair chance. I explain that to her, so you shouldn’t have to do much.”

And now, Zoe is here, and if she actually is having a bad day, this is so not going to make it better.

Andi knows the instant Zoe gets to Alex’s explanation of the challenge. She looks up at Andi with an exasperated sigh and asks, “Is Alex serious about this?” And, yeah, that’s a bad day voice if Andi’s ever heard one, and she doesn’t want to give the truthful answer, but the baristas had all agreed (at least Andi and Eddie had) on a policy of non-interference.

“‘Fraid so,” she says, trying to smile regretfully as she sets the cappuccino on the counter. Zoe crosses over and eyes it with distaste. If she didn’t know it was crazy, Andi would say Zoe is on the verge of tears. And that’s just so wrong that Andi says Screw non-interference. “Zoe, look—”

“Oo! Is it cappuccino time?”

Andi closes her eyes and prays for patience. Eddie’s timing is the actual worst. It doesn’t help that he’s rubbing his hands together and grinning gleefully at the prospect of watching Zoe choke down a cappuccino. But before Andi can come to Zoe’s defence, something hard and angry slams down behind the other girl’s eyes.

“No,” she says in a voice that is clipped and irritated and very Not Zoe. “It’s not. I can’t play this game today.” And she turns on her heel and strides out.

Andi turns and glares at Eddie. “What?” he asks like he can’t fathom having done anything wrong.

“You are such an idiot,” she tells him, replacing the to-go sleeve under the counter and pushing past him to refill the cream station.

“What?” he demands again. Andi just rolls her eyes.

It sucks being stuck at work now when all she wants to do is find Zoe and — she’s not sure. Apologize? Check in? Ask if there’s anything going on? The trouble is, outside of the bounds of the coffee shop, Andi and Zoe aren’t that close. Andi likes Zoe, but it’s more accurate to say that she is friends with people who are friends with Zoe than to say that she is friends with Zoe herself. It’s one thing to smile and joke and chat across the coffee counter. But singling Zoe out outside of the shop? It just feels wrong. So Andi plans out what she’ll say to Zoe when she sees her at Cuppa Joe’s the next day. She just hopes that will be enough.

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