“Are you going for lunch?” I asked her when we finished up for the morning. I was desperate for a break from pretending to be Callum. It was a constant reminder of how I was screwing my life up from the comfort of my very own smartphone.
Michaela glanced at her watch. “I’m meeting my friend Afric for sushi. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Great, I love sushi,” I replied, jumping up from my seat eagerly.
“Just to warn you, Afric is … a little unusual,” Michaela said as we made our way out of the gym.
“Do I even want to know what that means?” I questioned, raising one eyebrow.
Michaela fussed with the strap of her handbag. “It just means that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”
I nodded warily, still not entirely sure what Michaela was getting at until we arrived at the restaurant and my attention was immediately drawn to a young woman standing outside, her eyes on her phone. She had blue hair and wore green leggings, pink Balenciaga’s, and an oversized black jumper that appeared to feature a person being abducted by an alien spaceship.
It was accompanied by the text, Get in, loser. We’re doing butt stuff.
Both my eyebrows shot up as I asked, “Is that your friend?”
Michaela nodded, and my eyebrows rose higher. I wasn’t judging. I just hadn’t expected she’d be friends with someone with outrageously blue hair who wore tops displaying obscenities.
“Does her top say what I think it says?” I went on.
Michaela didn’t answer, but she looked like she was trying to contain her amusement as we approached her friend.
“You’re late,” Afric commented before her eyes landed on me. “Who’s this?” She had an Irish accent, and though her appearance was somewhat unusual, I appreciated the musical lilt of her voice.
“This is my co-assistant, Neil. Don’t act like I didn’t text you he was coming,” Michaela chided primly before turning to me. “Neil, this is Afric.”
“Nice to meet you, Afric,” I said and held out my hand to her.
She glanced at it, a wide, dimpled smile spreading across her face as she chuckled. “Oooh, a handshake, aren’t you posh!”
A feeling of awkwardness settled in as I quickly withdrew my hand, rubbing it on the side of my pants as though I’d just been stung. So, this was what I got for having manners? Michaela sent me a look of apology while Afric gave a hoot of laughter. I bristled as we stepped inside the restaurant, not very keen on eating lunch with this woman. Admittedly, I just met her, but I couldn’t imagine us having very much in common.
A waiter seated us at a table, and my attention went to Afric’s top again. Okay, so I could admit it was a little bit funny, but how did she keep a straight face while walking around wearing a top displaying the phrase “butt stuff”?
“Michaela, why is your friend staring at my boobs?” Afric questioned, and I immediately averted my gaze.
“I’m not staring at your …” I paused, lost for words. Had she really just asked that? She seriously didn’t have a filter. And I wasn’t looking where she said I was. Not that you could see anything under her baggy top anyway. “I was looking at your jumper.”
Afric glanced down then slapped her head like she was an idiot. Had she forgotten what she was wearing?
“Oh, right. Are you into UFOs?” she asked with a curious light in her eyes.
Don’t tell me Michaela’s friend was one of those conspiracy nuts.
“Not particularly,” I answered dismissively since this wasn’t a topic I was interested in discussing.
“Why not?” Afric asked, tilting her head as she studied me.
“The California rolls look good,” Michaela said, a welcome change of subject.
“You’re right. They do,” I agreed, glancing at the menu.
“So, you don’t believe in aliens?” Afric pushed, not letting the subject drop.
I brought my attention back to her, hoping to dispel the topic once and for all with a simple, “No, I don’t.”
A small smile shaped her lips. “Interesting.”
There was something about the sparkle in her eyes as she took me in that bothered me. “Why is it interesting?”
“Well, there are typically three types of people when it comes to this sort of thing: believers, non-believers, and agnostics.”
“Okay,” I said, turning to Michaela. “Shall we order?”
She nodded. “The waiter should be back over soon.”
“You seem to be a non-believer, and that’s the worst kind,” Afric went on.
If there weren’t only three of us at the table, it might’ve been easier to ignore her, but since she was staring right at me and the restaurant was relatively quiet, it was impossible.
“Pardon me?” I asked.
“You’re a non-believer. You shut down the possibility completely even though the existence of aliens has yet to be proven or disproven. It’s very close-minded.”
“I am not close-minded,” I blurted, and she smiled, seeming pleased that she’d gotten a reaction out of me.