The door cracks open and woman with red hair steps in.
"Gale! It's time to wake up!"
A groan is heard under the blanket.
"You're going to be late from school. If you don't get up, I won't drive you to school."
More groaning but eventually the daughter removes the blanket. The mother tells her to dress up and come to eat the breakfast in the kitchen. Gale gets on her feet and forces herself towards the closet. She grabs a loose black t-shirt and green pull-on shorts with simple white socks, the clothes she usually wears. Gale isn't bothered to look at the mirror and gets out of her room to stuff some cereal. Her mother is sitting around the table and drinking her coffee. She looks up at her daughter and shakes her head.
"Remember to brush your hair before we leave. You have a tendency to forget that."
Gale mumbles something under her breath. It was her mother's choice to have a bob cut since shorter hair is easier to be taken care of, expect now Gale isn't brushing it. A few strands of ginger hair fall over Gale's eye as she pours milk into the bowl.
Gale is now eating her cereal in silence while her mother keeps making glances at her direction. There is something she wants to say, Gale is aware of this, but chooses to keep ignoring her.
"Were you playing late last night again?"
Gale stops eating for a second and nods her head.
"Gale, we have talked about this. No more staying up late on school days. We both know how grumpy you get when you're tired. You promised your psychologist to change your bedtime routine for better."
"But my friends stay up late too... If I go to bed early, I only get to play with them an hour or less and that's no fun," Gale says and stuffs more cereal.
"You really should start making real friends and not just in online. What about that social group the psychologist recommended? You would meet many teenagers like you."
Gale shakes her head.
"Why not? You have nothing to lose."
"I'm fine with my social life, mom. I'm not lonely or depressed."
The conversation ends there. It's useless to start pushing Gale to do something she doesn't want to. Mother takes a sip of her coffee and continues to read the news from the phone while Gale finishes her breakfast. She takes her own phone out as well and checks the recent messages from the chat. She cannot help herself from letting out a small giggle.
"Hm? What's so funny?"
"Nothing," she answers.
"Are you chatting with someone?" her mother asks and leans closer.
Gale glares and turns her back on her. She hates it when her mother sticks her nose into her businesses. This only causes more curiosity.
"Is it a friend from school or someone more...special?" mother says with a teasing tone.
Gale feels her cheeks turning red. She doesn't want to get mad in the morning but it's difficult when her mother is being annoying.
"It's none of your business... And this person is just a friend from the gaming community. You should be just happy I have people to talk to."
"I am. I'm hoping you would start having face-to-face conversations more with your peers. It's great you're brave enough to speak with others online but-"
"I'm gonna be late from school if we won't go now," Gale cuts her mother off and leaves the table to brush her teeth and get the backpack. The mother is left to wonder how she could make Gale more social which she sees as a problem. Oh well, there is no time to argue about that now.
The drive to school is quiet. Gale didn't want the radio on because it makes her overwhelmed in the mornings. It's not a big deal for her mother since she can always listen to the radio alone. Gale keeps checking her phone for every ten seconds. She is not sure how 'proper' chatting works. How many messages are you allowed to send to someone and how long can those messages be? Gale had read from somewhere that too many messages make you seem desperate and too long make an expression of being upset. She wants to keep on chatting with her friend before the school starts but they haven't said anything for a while and sending more messages isn't going to make her friend answer faster.
"I know you don't like to open up about your private life but I won't judge. I run a support group for addicts and I hear all kind of stuff there every day. If you have a crush on this 'friend', you can tell me," mother encourages.
Gale hates it when her mother tries to be supportive. She doesn't need it when she already sees a psychologist once a week. Her mother is even worse when she gets emotional about little things. It makes Gale feel uncomfortable.
"A crush or not, I don't wanna talk about it..."
They arrive in front of the school and Gale says her goodbyes and slams the door shut. She makes her way inside and hopes none of her classmates come to chit-chat (even though they never do). Before she enters the classroom, Gale takes out a fidget cube from the backpack and plays with it.
Gale stares at the clock even though she should be doing the math. It's the last lesson and she has chewed her pen enough to make it look like a toothpick. She got bored with the cube and she doesn't own a chew toy. Gale bit down on the pen harder. A message pops on the phone's screen and Gale stops chewing. Is it her?
She wants to check the message but Gale doesn't want to get shouted by the teacher. She never touches her phone on the lessons unlike other students around her. It is only for a few seconds though and it must be her. No one else sends messages to her. Gale opens the screen and checks.
TunedIn69: yo! i wanted to ask if u wanna get my number? we can chat better through whatsapp than with this. if only u wanna, u dont have to.
Gale's face lights up. This cool, amazing person wants to have her number. She tries her hardest not to giggle aloud. Gale doesn't need to think twice and types back.
Bittergear00: Sure! I'd like that! :-)
They exchange their numbers before the teacher walks beside Gale and taps her shoulder. Gale jumps on her seat and turns to look at the teacher.
"Ms Rooster, using the phone in the classroom is not allowed. Are you having problems with the exercises?"
"Uhh...N-no, I don't need help..."
"Okay, tell me if you need me," the teacher says and continues wandering around.
The truth is Gale does need some help but she dislikes to ask for it. Instead, she keeps chewing her pen and glancing at her phone with a small smile on her face. She can't wait to get back home to talk more with her friend.
Since her mother is at work, Gale always walks back home. Twenty minutes of walking is nothing. Gale gets the keys out of her pocket and opens the front door. The first thing that comes to her mind isn't homework. Gale takes her phone and opens the Whatsapp. She adds the number she got and finds the profile. There is a picture of someone looking in the distant and wearing sunglasses. It must be TunedIn69's profile picture of herself. The girl in the picture seems to have a black long hair. It's not easy to tell since it is a small picture.
Gale is ready to press the 'call' button but stops. What the hell is she thinking? Calling immediately to a person who she hasn't met yet is dangerous. It could possibly be a faker, pretending to be a teenager who in reality is an old creep. But what are the chances her friend from the gaming community is a faker? It's a small community full of geeks that are mostly boys. Gale thinks for a while and comes with a conclusion: she calls to check if it is a faker. If it's true, she deletes the number and blocks TunedIn69 from the other chat. She only needs to listen to the voice. Gale presses to call and puts the phone on her ear.
After a few seconds, there is a voice.
"Hi... Who's this?"
It does sound like a young female! That's a good sign. Gale opens her mouth but struggles to make up a good excuse for the call. Why didn't she plan the call beforehand, like writing lines on the paper? Her voice trembles a little.
"Umm, t-this...is me, from the chat..."
"Bittergear00? Oh, what's up! I rarely get any calls these days but it's so nice."
This person's voice is like honey. Gale hasn't ever heard an attractive voice until now. It has a lower pitch to it and it is quite engaging.
"My mood is...okay. I just left the school... Uh, you?"
"I'm doing 'kay too. I'm having my break."
"Fuck, I forgot to mention, didn't I? I work as a barista at one coffeehouse. It's the biggest in my town and the only café where you can get more than simple black coffee only."
Gale is feeling anxiety growing in her stomach. This girl, woman actually, had a job. Gale thought she was a high school student like her. They never spoke about their ages in the chat.
"Y-you have a job? Sorry, but...h-how old are you?"
"Oh gosh, did I scare you? I'm 22 years old."
"I'm 17... I'm in high school."
"Shit, I'm sorry... You must have thought I'm a high school student and I didn't tell. Look, I thought you were older too!"
"It's fine, we both had a misunderstanding... 22 isn't that old," Gale says and relaxes. This barista woman is genuine and not a faker. Wait, Gale doesn't know her real name yet. That's embarrassing.
"M-may I ask your real name?... Oh, and my name is Gale."
"Gale? I like it. It has a ring to it. The name's Tune."
Gale got confused. Tune isn't a real first name. What if this woman doesn't want to give her real name because she is a known criminal who lures young teenagers? The anxiety returns and Gale is left quiet for a moment. She hates it when small things make her feel anxious and concerned. Her psychologist tells her it's natural for people like her and there are ways to cope with it. One way to cope is not to try pushing those unrealistic thoughts any further. The more she thinks, the worse it gets. It's just a name, Gale!
"Hey, you fell silent. You alright there?"
"Sorry for calling... I gotta go, bye."
And she ends the call. Gale facepalmed herself. She ended the call in the worst way possible. She got anxious over a strange name and didn't even ask about it! She sits on the sofa and put the phone beside. A message pops immediately on the screen. Gale grabs it back and reads the message from Tune.
Tune: sorry for making u uncomfortable... i hate my first name 'cos it sounds dumb, so i go by my last name. its what my friends call me. im not a creep, i promise!
Another message pops.
Tune: and i wish we can still stay in contact. i like playing games with ya and ur funny. sorry for not telling much 'bout myself before.
Gale believes her. Tune is the only person she gets to talk with. Deleting her out of her life would be a waste. She wants to stay friends with Tune even though it's only communicating through phones and online games.
Gale: I want to stay in contact too. I overreacted, that's all. Sorry about that... I get anxious way too easily.
Tune: its fine, its fine! ur the brave one for calling me first! i hadnt guts to do it myself!
Tune: my break is ending, i'll chat with ya later.
Gale closes her phone. She stays still for a moment to progress what has happened. Gale smiles to herself, she is proud. She did something new and didn't lose her new friend. Maybe she will tell about this to her psychologist. She trusts her enough not to tell mother anything. Gale goes to do her homework but can't keep her focus for long. All she can think is Tune and that smooth voice of hers.
Mother arrives home in late afternoon. She cooks the dinner while Gale is in her room, playing with her PS4 alone. At the dinner table, her mother keeps talking about her workday and changes the subject into hobbies. Mother would want Gale to have more of them. Gale has enough hobbies of her own beside gaming but her mother sees them 'childish'. Gale's interests are nothing like her peers'. The mother brings out a different subject which she believes to be a good idea.
"How about we go to have a cup of coffee tomorrow? There is this coffeehouse which is told to be pretty good. It's supposed to have a calm atmosphere. You could practice your social skills by ordering by yourself."
"Do I have to go...?"
"Gale, I'm with you. Besides, you're going to be an adult soon. You have to learn to order things alone. You like it or not."
Gale stares at her food. Mother is right. When the high school ends, she has to learn to live alone if she wants to continue studying.
"Okay, let's go then after school..."
"That's great! You'll see it won't be that hard."
The next day, the mother comes to pick Gale from the school. They drive into the town's centre and look for the coffeehouse. Gale plays with her hands to ease her anxiety. She never likes to go eat or drink in public places. One time, her hands were shaking so much that Gale accidentally dropped her food on the floor. That happened at the restaurant four years ago but it never leaves her mind.
"Oh! We're here," her mother says and parks the car.
The coffeehouse does look charming from the outside. Gale waits for her mother to get out and follows behind. What if the place is grounded and there is no room to sit? They open the door and the place is surprisingly quiet. There are customers but there is plenty of free tables. It smells coffee beans and lavender and jazz music is playing in the background. Although Gale likes the smell and the music, it doesn't make Gale relax enough to stop worrying since it is her turn to handle her order alone. They walk up to the counter.
"I'm going to order first and then you order after me," her mother tells.
Gale gives a small nod and looks at the menu. There are many options and different sizes. The mother had given her 10 dollars, so the drink cannot cost over. Gale keeps thinking while her mother is already ordering hers. Before Gale realises, her mother tells her to order and then she leaves to get a table. Unbelievable. Leaving her own daughter like that without a warning. Gale looks at the barista with nervous eyes.
"Uhh... I haven't picked yet..."
"That's alright! I can give you time to think," the barista answers and flashes a sweet smile.
Gale freezes and narrows her eyes. That voice. The barista girl has a raven black hair with waves which is shaved from the left side. Gale thinks it looks cool. She has a tanned skin tone like someone from South America and she is at least one head taller than Gale. Her eyes are chocolate brown and non-threating. Gale has always thought that bright and clear eyes give people a cold look, unlike darker ones that make a person seem soft. The last thing Gale looks at is the barista's name tag which reads 'P. Tune'.
"Tune? Is it really you?"
Tune looks at Gale with a puzzled face. It takes her a while to recognize Gale's voice. When she does, a big surprised grin appears.
"Gale Bittergear00? Oh my God, do we live in the same town?" Tune leaves a laughter and leans closer to take a better look.
"You look...adorable," Tune breathes out and keeps looking at Gale as if she is a pet.
Gale blushes and looks away immediately. She wasn't prepared to meet Tune today! This isn't a good time, her mother is waiting for her to finish her order and she doesn't have any clue of Tune. She has to order something and fast.
"U-uhm, I order one latte, please..."
"One latte? Comin' right up!"
Tune turns and starts making the drink while humming a song. Gale's eyes wander between the floor and Tune's back. How is it possible that they both live in the same town and they never brought that up? It's her fault for never asking. It doesn't take long for Tune to finish the drink and put it on the counter. Gale is too scared to make an eye contact, so she chooses to look at the latte.
"Anything else for ya?" Tune asks and Gale can sense her smiling at her.
Gale shakes her head and puts the dollar bill on the counter. She hears a small chuckle from Tune who puts the bill in the register and gives three dollars back. Gale grabs them and puts them in her pocket. She is ready to leave with her drink and pretend nothing happened.
"Hey, before you go, I just want to say that I'm so happy to know we're living close. Maybe we can hang out sometime if it's cool for ya?"
This is too much. Gale turns her head to look up at Tune and forces her mouth open.
"That...would be nice, yes..."
"How 'bout this week? Or do you have a boyfriend to spend time with?" Tune asks and leans over the counter.
Gale nearly drops her drink on the floor. No one asks her if she has a boyfriend because everyone believes she can't get one.
"No, I don't have a boyfriend..."
"A girlfriend then?"
Gale shakes her head and flushes red.
"Just checkin'. We can plan this later after my shift. Now go to enjoy your latte," Tune grins and pats Gale on the head.
Gale turns her back quick to hide her tomato face and walks off. She finds her mother sitting beside the window. As Gale sits down, she takes a long sip of her latte. It's a damn good latte. Her head feels hot and her heart is beating fast. It feels like a fever expect the feeling isn't sickening, it's pleasant.
"What took you so long?"
"The barista was just slow..."
The mother sighs and shakes her head in disbelief.
"What a service... but you managed to wait that long. It's progress!"
Gale glances towards the counter where Tune is doing another drink. The strange yet good feeling returns as she watches the older girl. Gale rarely is interested in other people if you don't count fictional characters or celebrities. This time it's different. Gale is sure that she is in love for the first time.
to be continued
At first, I wasn't planning to make this a series and I'm not sure how long this work will be. I haven't started the next chapter yet but it probably comes out soon.