“Does that look like quicksand to you?”
Ada’s body jolts from the sudden voice, and she lifts her eyes from the speckled counter she’s scrubbing to a few feet down where Conner stands over a bowl, spoon in hand.
For the past hour, aside from the peppy music that plays on a loop through every shift at The Breakfast Bar, and the squirt of her antibacterial spray bottle, the restaurant has been silent. No one wants to come out in these conditions. The sky is dark, as if the rumbles of thunder and strikes of lightning have left it bruised. Rain pelts the blacktop with so much force the impact creates a thousand minute drops. When paired with her mood as of late, it’s an almost perfect match.
Of course, even if there were customers, hearing Conner speak would’ve been a shock. In the few months they’ve worked together—and, well, since she met him freshman year—Conner hasn’t spoken more than a handful of sentences to her. Or to a lot of people for that matter. Of the ones he did, most of them were, “Excuse me,” or “Can you hand me that?” Not that hers were much different.
To be honest, the shop is the only place their kinship Venn Diagram overlaps. The less kind way of saying it is that Conner has no social circle.
There’s nothing wrong with him, at least so far as Ada can tell, that keeps him from having more than one friend—Devin Payton—to speak of. In school, he raises his hand to answer a question every once in a while, and he’s perfectly fine at giving a presentation without stuttering his way through it, unlike she has a couple times. She’s corrected a few of his tests, and based on those results, he’s really smart. Conner dresses like a good half of the teenage guys she knows—in a sweatshirt and jeans and if it’s warm, a t-shirt.
Confused, she steps away from the rows of smoothie-bound strawberries and bananas, and over to the grains section. Conner’s stone bowl is filled nearly to the top with The Breakfast Bar’s thickest, and beigest oatmeal, which does, indeed, give it the appearance of sand. Whether it’s quick or not, she can’t say. Although, when he says, “Watch this,” she knows she’s about to find out.
He picks an almond out of one of the containers, and drops it on top of the sludge. Within five seconds, the nut disappears under the surface. He laughs a little to himself. “That looks like it, right?”
“Yeah,” she nods before cocking her head at him. “Why?”
The smile freezes on his face, as he looks between her and the bowl. “Oh, for Earth Science, we have to make a biome, and I thought I’d do quicksand. You know, like all those Old Westerns.” Surprisingly she does know what he’s talking about. At one point her sister was obsessed with cowboys, meaning they had to watch everything featuring one, from Toy Story to Blazing Saddles. “I just thought, because we weren’t busy, I’d see if this worked. Don’t worry. I’m going to pay for this.”
“I didn’t think you weren’t,” Ada responded, still kind of surprised that this conversation had more than ten words exchanged.
Whenever Conner concocted something—be it a very berry smoothie, or a build-your-own-cereal cup—Ada always saw him slip the required amount of George Washingtons into the till.
On top of the heap of oats is an almond, like a diamond in the fibrous rough. There has to be more where that came from, she thinks.
As no words leave his mouth, they fall into silence again, and Ada’s not quite sure what she’s supposed to do. Obviously, add something to the conversation, but when she knows only trace details about him, she doesn’t know where to begin. The spiky plastic ball he tosses in his hands during study time? His love of mixing Frosted Flakes, Cheerios, and knock-off Lucky Charms marshmallows together? The Arches National Park patch he has on his backpack?
“I used to be afraid of quicksand,” she says and his hand stills, his focus turning on her. “I used to watch a lot of those Westerns with my sister. I was too young for them, probably, because whenever we went by a sandbox I was terrified to go into it for a good couple of years.”
She laughs to herself and to her surprise, he joins her. it’s a sound she’s never heard from him before, low, but somehow airy, as if his chuckles are bubbles rising from within him.
“I could see that. I thought the same thing at the beach once. Stepped into the sand.” He extends an Adidas shoe out towards her, and presses it against the tile. “Foot started sinking. I thought my whole body was going to go in.”
“What did you do?”
“Ran like hell into the water. Figured if I was floating it couldn’t take me down,” Conner says as he reaches beneath his lime green Breakfast Bar cap to smooth an amber lock of hair out of the way.
“I thought so at first. Until my legs were so tired and I couldn’t swim anymore, and I had to be dragged out of a lake like a dead fish.”
The image has them both rolling with laughter. “You know, you should be like this more at school,” Ada says and automatically regrets it when the corners of his mouth slouch. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just thinking, I don’t hear you talk a lot, and I’d like to more. You’re funny.”
“Thanks,” he says. “I don’t always have a lot to say. Or I guess, more accurately, I’ve become selective over who I talk to.”
Conner might not come out and say it, but she can tell at some point or another, someone burned him, made him feel rejected and cast out. Here, she thought his quietness was simply who he was, never taking it as a learned behavior.
“People can be crap,” she says. She wouldn’t have always said it, but the past couple weeks have jaded her.
“Yeah,” he nods. “I’m sorry about that.”
Of course, he heard the rumor. Though Ada’s not typically popular enough to be the subject of gossip, when your boyfriend and friend—after too many drags from a passed-around flask—make out at a band party that you’re, too, attending, that kind of dumpster fire has wheels and makes the rounds so everyone can see the flames.
“Thanks, but unless you forced their mouths together, you don’t need to apologize,” she says. Realizing she still has the rag in her hand, she wipes a handprint off a strip of supposedly stainless steel.
Still,” Conner shrugs. “They’re both idiots. And that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.”
Despite the moping that’s been ever-present wherever this topic is concerned—and usually makes her stomach sours like she drank a blender full of their five-veggie drink—she laughs.
“I know they are, but it does make me feel better to hear someone else say it.” She points at his bowl of sludge. “Think you can make enough of that to catch two people?”
“If we cracked open the supply in the back? Probably. It might cost a few months of paychecks, but seems doable.”
“Or we could make weird smoothies and see whose turns out the best?” she suggests, and he grins.