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Kate plodded along glumly, following her mother as she dodged other shoppers, intent on being first in line for the massive blowout sale at her favorite store. "Come on, dear," Mother looked back expectantly, if only for a second, as she continued to push her way to the front. A crowd of middle-aged women and manicured teens shoved each other in an attempt to reach the products advertised in the local newspaper.
'I hate this place,' Kate told herself. 'Stay-at-home moms and preppy rich kids, with nothing better to do than argue over who gets the last c"ashmere scarf. Ugh.' She hung back at the edge of the crowd, hoping that nobody she knew would walk by, even though it was rather unlikely that one of her friends from Crystal Springs High School would be awake at 7 on a Saturday morning. Her feet ached from the long walk to the store from the parking lot, so she glanced around, looking for a bench to sit at. Spotting an empty one next to a closed jewelry store, Kate made a beeline towards it, knowing Mother wouldn't miss her absense; she was too preoccupied with finding the perfect new clutch.
"Finally," Kate sighed, dropping her bag on the floor. Suddenly, a boy plopped down beside her, panting heavily. He looks over and jumps, seeing Kate.
"Oh my God," he says, still out of breath. "Sorry to steal the bench. My little sis made me run all the way from that stupid parking lot so she wouldn't miss the sale." He grins broadly and holds out his hand. "Eric."
Kate, with a slightly bemused expression on her face, holds out her hand. "I'm Kate." She laughs. "I know what you mean. They could not have put the store farther from the entrance. My mother drags me to these sales all the time. Not the best way to spend a Saturday morning."
"My sister's obsessed with the lady who designs the clothes there. According to her, Zeva Miros is the next Coco Chanel. Personally, I find the pieces a bit too eclectic." He pretends to flip his hair, causing Kate to smile. 'My dad had to work, so I'm the one stuck with car-pool duty."
"Ah," Kate nods. "I hate that. My little brother nags me every day after school unless I take him to the skate park."
"Dude, I could handle that. Marie ties me to a chair and makes me sing High School Musical while she paints my nails." He waves his nails at Kate, which are a sparkly blue.
Chuckling, Kate compliments him. "Those are beautiful," she jokes.
"Why thank you." He smiles again. This time it reaches his eyes, which are a soft grey. His short golden brown hair, UNC t-shirt, and cargo pants give him a rugged athletic look. 'Just like Noah," Kate realizes with a pang, then shakes her head to get rid of the thought.
"So," Eric's eyes glint mischeivously. "I'm assuming that sale is going to take a while. Since it is unreasonable early to be fighting our way through a clothes-obsessed crowd, why don't we get breakfast? My treat."
"I'd love that," Kate admits, and they head towards the food court. 'What am I doing?' Kate scolds herself. 'This guy is a total stranger. Cute guys don't just randomly come up to people and invite them to breakfast, or at least not me. And what about Noah?' A sharp pang hits her heart, and the memories from last night suddenly hit her.
"McDonald's or Burger King?" Eric asks. "Either's cool with me."
"Burger King," Kate decides. "They give out paper crowns."
"Ooooh, paper crowns. Just what I wanted." Eric continues to joke as they order breakfast, Kate getting pancakes and Eric a biscuit and orange juice.
"So Kate whose last name I don't know, tell me about yourself." Eric laughs at her. "I guess I've taken you by surprise."
"Ha, yeah, just a bit. I really don't know how to describe myself." She shrugs. "I'm a nerd, I suppose. I write for the school newspaper, and I'm manager for the cross country team."
"That's what you do, not who you are," he points out, taking a sip of orange juice. "I'll go first. I'm Eric Chatham. I am in love with baseball, I would do anything for my little sister, and I am still afraid of the dark. And everytime I see Dirty Dancing, I go to the bathroom and cry."
Staring blankly at first, Kate cracks a smile. "Very nice to meet you Eric." He lets out a chortle. "Let's see. I, Kate Smith, used to spend my Saturday nights watching old black and white movies, I make a mean cheesecake, and I can juggle knives."
"Like for real?"
She shakes her head. "Seriously. My uncle taught me."
"Wow." Eric leans back on his chair, obviously impressed. "Kate Smith, I am honored to meet you."
Giggling, Kate relaxes as Eric cracks another corny joke. Half an hour later, after an intriguing conversation about Harry Potter, Eric asks the big question. "The guy who landed you sure is lucky," he teases Kate. "What's his name?"
Kate, who had been laughing loudly, clammed up, becoming silent in an instant. Eric blushed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"No," shaking her head, she answers his question. "It was Noah."
"Was?" Eric gives me a questioning look.
"Yes, was." Kate stares straight at the table. "I broke up with him last night."
Shocked, Eric opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, Kate's thoughts boil over. "He was cheating on me," she says, shocked even as the words leave her mouth. Like a dam breaking, the story gushes out of her mouth before she can stop it. "She was this trashy little tennis player whose mini skirts kept riding up. I caught them at a party last night; he didn't know I was there." Shocked that she had admitted this to a total stranger, Kate began to cry once she realized what she had just said.
Eric seems lost only momentarily. He grabs some napkins and hands them to Kate, putting his hand on hers. "It's cool," he assures her, when she apoligizes, her blubbering barely audible between her sobs. After drying her tears, Kate's eyes are pink and swollen.
"I have just made a fool of myself. I will totally understand if you just walk away right now." She looks down, ashamed.
"No worries," Eric laughs softly. "It sounds like you had a pretty bad Friday night."
"You have no idea," Kate admits.
"Tell me everything, from the beginning." Eric's comforting smile encourages her, and Kate starts talking."
"I met him last summer, at a party my parents were hosting. He was tall, at least 6' 2", which is why he played basketball. Noah was cute and charming and everything I ever dreamed my prince charming would be. We talked the entire party, but at the end of the night, he asked my best friend on a date. Jerk move, right?" Eric shook his head in agreement. "Neither of them told me about it. I didn't find out until three months later, when I was looking through Sophie's phone numbers. His name had a heart next to it."
Eric let out a whistle. "That would suck."
:"It did. Mad doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. He had been talking and flirting with me the entire time, but never even mention Sophie. Once I found out, I stopped talking to them both. My heart hurt so bad that I simply decided to shut everything out. After a year of struggling to get my life back together, he waltzes right back in as if he had never left. Me and my stupid self fell for him all over again." Eric groans. "Until yesterday, I was incredibly happy. He told me that he was sick, so I could hang out with whoever I wanted. My friend Josh and his girlfriend invited me to a party, so I went. Imagine how fun it was when I caught him making out with that girl. It probably ranks up there with peeing my pants in kidnergarten and accidentaly spitting on the cutest guy in middle school." Out of things to say, Kate shuts up and looks at Eric.
"What a pig!" he exclaims. "So what are you gonna do now?"
"I honestly don't know. He followed me out and apologized like crazy, but I was so upset I just ran. I woke up this morning to fourteen missed calls. I want to forget about it and just go back to being with him, but I know I can't. Everything is just so jumbled up."
Eric laughs again, melodically, as they stand up and move back towards the store. His sister, who's name is Lizzie, is waiting on the bench, a twelve year old with freckles and long curly hair. She looked as if she had walked out of a Hannah Montana music video.
"What do you think I should do?" Kate asks, puzzled, as he pats Lizzie on the head.
"Don't ask me. I'm gay." With that, Eric lets out one final laugh, and put his arm around his sister, turning around to wink at Kate one last time as he walked away.
Kate heaved her herself down onto the bench where she had started the morning. She suddenly burst into laughter, startling the lady standing a few feet away. Wiping tears of joy from her eyes, Kate looks at the crowd of bustling shoppers that has consumed Eric.
'I just told all of my secrets to a total stranger,' she thinks incredulously. 'There must have been something in those pancakes.' This makes her laugh again.
With that, she knew what she had to do. Getting to her feet, Kate met her mother, who was carrying at least five bags. "You sure look happy," Mother remarked.
"Just wishful thinking," Kate said with a wry grin, remembering the real Prince Charming she had just met, who just so happened to wear blue sparkle nail polish.