Welcome to the New Normal

Mondays suck. Especially when you spent Saturday night rescuing your teammate’s boyfriend from The Collector and missed out on seeing your own guy for a guitar lesson on Sunday. The place was slammed when she and Joan walked in on the way to the campus — it’s still early, barely 7:30. Another reason Mondays suck. They’ve been sitting at their table signing back and forth in pretty rapid fashion for the past 15 minutes. Only as the crush slowed some did Deirdre catch Denny’s eye and offer a bit of a grin and a wave.

Denny blew her hair out of her eyes, hating the damp and sticky that working the cappuccino machine always inflicted, and caught sight of Deirdre and another woman at a table across the way. She gave them a tip of her chin in greeting and put the order she’d just made into the customer’s hand.

“Here you go, one half-caf double hazelnut-mocha skinny latte and a low-fat blueberry lemon scone. That’ll be six seventy-five, please.” Ka-ching! In went the tenner and out went the change. Denny handed it over with a smile. Another bit toward Miriam making the rent on this place, yay. “Thank you.”

That was the last customer in line and Denny made her escape before someone else could walk in. They had Pete running the counter with her and the shop could spare her for a freakin’ minute while she said hello to her teammate.

“Hey, Dee. What can I get ya this morning? " Denny came up to the table Deirdre shared with the woman she didn’t know. Denny was already surreptitiously studying the highlights in the stranger’s hair, trying to capture the color of it so she could paint it later, but kept her face toward her teammate. She leaned in conspiratorially. “The fruit parfait is killer today, by the way—the pineapple’s really fresh. Hi, I’m Denny,” she added to the woman sitting with Deirdre. “Sorry, don’t know what’s wrong with my manners this morning.”

Dee smiled slightly, letting the women introduce themselves. Joan grinned at the effusive greeting. “Joanie. Nice to meet you, Denny.” She offered her hand. “Looks like you’ve had your hands full this morning.” And without really thinking about it, Deirdre signed something rapid-fire while she looked at Denny. Before the younger woman had the chance to say anything about it, Joan translated in a way that spoke of intimate familiarity with doing exactly that. “The parfait sounds good, but only if you bring one of those full-fat, not-decaf, decadent french vanilla mocha lattes with it.”

Joan tilted her head and quirked a brow, her tone just a little scolding. “Hey, don’t take that tone with me, goof. Not my fault you let me order for you.” She smirked.

“Sure thing.” Denny shook Joan’s hand with a genuine grin, grateful the other woman was willing to translate. Denny still wasn’t quite up to speed with signing yet. “Was that with or without the cocoa dusting on top? Cuz you know chocolate always makes Monday morning go down a little easier.”

Deirdre rolled her eyes and typed for Denny, I was asking for the half-caff, but you know what? It’s Monday, I deserve full-fat, non-decaf. She grinned. With the cocoa of course! And if you have time to take a break, I was just telling Joan about your cute guy, she teased.

“Starting already?” Denny rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “I thought I’d have a few more days before you guys started making stuff up about me and him. Gonna have’ta set you straight. Back in sec.”

And she got herself back behind the counter to make those full-fat, non-decaf French Vanilla mocha lattes with cocoa thanks. She poured herself a black coffee, cleared her break with Miriam, and took all three drinks (and Joanie’s parfait) to Deirdre’s table. Denny chose a seat between the two women facing the door, just in case someone came in and the staff couldn’t get their order quickly.

“So, what have you guys been sayin’ behind my back?” she said as she sat down.

Joan laughed, taking the drinks from Denny and settling in. “Well, let’s see… she’s told me you’re a hell of an artist, that you’re in school for… what, engineering? Or if you can get away with it at least architecture, at least that’s drawing too. And that you know every bit of sci-fi trivia she never wanted to know.”

Dee swatted Joanie, blushing mad, but Joan continued onward, “She seems to like you quite a bit, and she gets the giggles when she talks about your boooooyyyyyfriend.” The last word is drawled out deliberately to make Deirdre blush again, denying that she says it like that! Albeit in sign where Denny probably has no idea what she’s saying.

“Oh. That? Pffpht!” Denny flapped a hand and laughed. “Whew. Nothing I can’t set straight. So, in order: I think I’m good, engineering and I don’t like it much, architecture would be great but I’d prefer graphic design, and sci-fi trivia’s my specialty. But you got one detail wrong, sorry. He’s not my boyfriend.” At the last, she scrunched a tight-lipped moue of annoyance, then shrugged. “Can’t win’em all, huh?”

And it’s not entirely clear who she’d meant by that last comment, herself or Joan.

“So, how did you and Deirdre meet?” Denny continued. “By the speed of your signing, I’d be willing to bet you’ve known each other, like, forever.” Denny smilled sunnily and buried her nose in her coffee, not wanting to run off at the mouth and deprive the others a chance to speak.

Dee looked surprised that he’s not her boyfriend, signing (and translated by Joan), “What happened? You texted over the weekend that he was!”

Then Joan added, “We have. She’s like my sister.” Her grin was amused. “First day of college, we both had a music theory class that bored us to tears. It was best buddies ever after.” Her tone was light. “Heck, it’s so bad her dad even calls me to check up on both of us,” she snorted.

“Oh no!” Denny laughed softly. “That’s gotta be awkward. I’d never know what to say or not say in a case like that. Just ask Dee. I’m totally clueless on the social subtleties.” She shook her head over her lack, then brightened as she moved on, energetically plowing through the conversation as was her wont. “Ooh, but music theory, now. I wish I knew that.” Denny put her coffee down. “It looks like lines and symbols to me. I can’t look at it and hear the music it’s supposed to mean. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be music and some people just hear it the way I see art on the page before I draw it. Like seeing and hearing in a different language. I just can’t … well, speak it. I envy anyone who can do with music what I do with paint. I, um, well … yeah. I like music. I love having it on in the background when I do stuff.” She smiled again as if at a memory. “Drove my parents crazy playing my mixes while I drew. I think they got me wireless headphones to save their sanity.” She sipped her coffee and put it down again. “So what brings you in to Cozy Coffee? Just the general bitchiness of Mondays?”

“Aw, yeah,” Joan replied easily, sipping her frothy, creamy concoction. “Second summer session’s about to pick up but I only have one class this time and it’s not until 10:30. And Dee’s like the dean’s teacher’s pet, so she can do whatever she wants.” Her tone was teasing. Deirdre contented herself simply rolling her eyes. But Joan doesn’t miss much. “You avoided the question neatly, and I’m totally cool if you’d rather not tell her what happened while I’m here — not like you know me or anything. But you should know, the woman will totally hound you until you answer what happened with you and your pet geeky boy,” she said with another smile.

“Damn, they’re on to me,” Denny grimaced good-naturedly. Dammit. I’d hoped she wouldn’t notice. Knowing that they’d only imagine ever worsening scenarios the longer she resisted, Denny considered what to say. There wasn’t much to tell and she opted to tell the truth. “Okay, here goes. We went to the con, had fun before all the kidnappery started, recovered from that by taking in The What at the concert, then watched a movie in my room and played Frantic Fantasy til four AM. I let him win,” she added, because it was true. She leaned back and said around another sip of coffee, glad that it hid her face. “Nothing major happened.”

At the word ‘kidnappery’, Joan slanted a surprised look at Deirdre. Whether it was that she didn’t know about it or that she’s surprised at the assumption that of course she’d know what Deirdre was up to is unclear. She did, however, leave that part entirely alone for Dee to deal with later. Instead, she focused attention on the ‘nothing major’. “So… is that ‘nothing major’ meaning that you like necked and there weren’t sparks, or ‘nothing major’ meaning that you were too awkward to figure out what to do?” she demanded in amusement.

Deirdre facepalms. Joan is nothing if not blunt.

Denny managed not to spit-take her coffee and after a strangled swallow put her drink down. “I can see why Dee likes you,” she said with feeling. “You cut to the chase. Saves on time and misunderstandings. To answer, no and no. We didn’t make out like hamsters and please, I’m eighteen. I know where the parts go. I’ve had to draw them. It just wasn’t the right time.”And at that, she had to keep a tight grip on her expression as the truth of the statement finally dawned on her. Geez, Den, you’re slow. Of course it wasn’t the right time. So there’s hope yet. Good. Because while she might not admit it to others, she’d been hurt that Drew hadn’t pursued things a bit further, or at least taken up where he’d left off.

There was a skeptical look on Joan’s face. “Not the right time? With a 19-year-old guy, it wasn’t the right time?” She snorted in derision. “There’s no such thing. If he didn’t show any interest, he’s probably gay,” she opined as she took a calm sip of her latte.

That, however, made DEIRDRE practically spit-take!

“I’m—um—waiting,” Denny said with as much dignity as she could muster. Then she shook off her reticence and said, “I mean, what’s the point? As much as I like the guy—any guy I’d meet in college—there’s no reason to expect it’s gonna last after the one or the other of us graduates, right? And darned if I’m going to put my plans on hold while I follow a guy around through his masters degree, working to put him through school and later, when we’re married and have three and a half kids, find out that he’s dumped me for his assistant because I got married too early and we grew apart.” She snorted. “No thanks. I’ll pass. I’d rather wait til I’ve actually done something with my life and become something more like myself, instead of a kid still finding her way around Mom and Dad’s rules, you know? And trust me,” she added with absolute conviction. “Drew might be many things, but he’s definitely not gay.”

Apparently, Joan isn’t the only person who can be direct and speak her mind.

Both eyebrows shot to Joan’s hairline while Denny rattled on. And when she’s finally finished, Joan pursed her lips. “Wow. You really are a romantic if you think that just because you had a little fun sex with a guy it means you’re gonna marry him and put him through grad school and have three and a half kids,” she observed drily. “Sounds to me like you’re still living by your parents’ rules, kiddo. But to each their own.” She shrugged. “I’ll take your word for not-gay—but personally I think if he didn’t even try to make a move, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Deirdre finally, with a flaming face, thwapped Joan’s shoulder and signed something rapid-fire. The only way Denny knew what it was came from Joan’s response. “Hey, I’m not knocking being a romantic! I’m just pointing out that having a little fun has nothing to do with getting married. Your friend here is jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information!”

“And so are you,” Denny said calmly to Joan. “I didn’t say he didn’t make a move.” She slid a look at Deirdre past her coffee. What that a smirk toying with the corner of her lips? Maybe.

Joan just grinned at Denny. “So he tried something and you shot him down? Wow… that’s hardcore, kid.”

Deirdre just facepalmed again.

Denny couldn’t help it. She huffed and rolled her eyes. Stuck defending fooling around I haven’t even done yet. That’s just rich.

“Let’s just say I was surprised and thought to diffuse the situation with a little ditzy humor. And he misinterpreted it. It’s not the end of the world and we’re still friends.” She frowned. “Although I understand using the f-word tends to be the kiss of death in situations like this. Still, I’m not sure what to make of it when he goes from trying to hold my hand to gushing over how hot Artisan is.”

And yes, Denny managed to say that with a perfectly straight face.

Deirdre’s head pops up. She’s still flushed in the face, embarrassed by Joan’s approach, but her dark eyes are wide on Denny’s face. O.M.G., she signs. It doesn’t even require translation. Joan, for her part, snickered with laughter. “Wow… the f-word on your part, and a cover on his. Nice.” She nodded thoughtfully. “Sounds like you’re about as good at relationship crap as I am,” she said on a laugh.

“Cover?” It made sense a second later and Denny frowned again. “So, maybe I’m asking the wrong person but are male egos that fragile? Or do they grow out of it? Cuz I suck at watching my mouth at the best of times.”

Another truth and another sip of coffee, omygodyes.

“Well, yeah,” Joan said in a tone of ‘duh!’ “Guys are pretty much just as clueless as girls when it comes to that stuff,” she informed Denny. “And if you’re not one to play any games — which you’re clearly not — your best bet is to say exactly what you mean so you’re not left stuttering and coming up with an explanation. And if you don’t know what he means by something, ask.” She shrugged. “Maybe it sounds stupid, you sure avoid a lot of misunderstandings that way. As to growing out of it?” She shrugged. “I dunno. You ever gonna outgrow how you are? Some things you outgrow because you get more confident, some things are just part of your personality.”

“Okay, makes sense.” Denny wasn’t the sort that played games, as a rule. Why make stuff harder than it had to be? “I’d rather tell the truth, really. I don’t have to keep any stories straight that way.” Yeah, the irony’s getting a bit thick. Ya think? Change the subject. “So, enough about my love life, Joan. You got anything you’d like to share about yours?”

Deirdre would groan if she had a voice. And she facepalmed again.

Joan laughed. “Not in present company. She doesn’t like it when I talk about her brother like that,” she laughed, waggling her brows at Denny as she jerked her head in Dee’s direction.

“Oh, okay.” Denny nodded and pulled up what she knew of Deirdre’s brothers from memory. “Doctor or fireman?”

Can’t watch her mouth. Nope.

Joan laughed. “Fireman,” she told Denny. “He’s a great guy. And definitely not looking for permanent, which I like a lot.”

Deirdre rolled her eyes and signed rapidly.

Joan’s reply was verbal for Denny’s sake. “It works just fine for us the way it is, stop being pushy, Deirdre.” She wrapped an arm around the petite redhead, though, and hugged. “I already promised I wouldn’t break your brother’s heart or anything stupid.”

“No heartbreak is good,” Denny agreed. “No strings, either. Works for most.” So what if Denny was a romantic? For all Joan’s crack about her parents, Denny wanted what her parents had. There didn’t seem to be much point in the whole business otherwise. Would Drew be the one? No telling from here. And Denny was learning fairly quickly she might have to try several guys before she found the one who fit best. “If I had to break things off, I’d rather it be amicable. No sense in making enemies, right?”

“Smart girl,” Joan said with a smile. “Although I still think you’re missing out. Find yourself a guy who’s not TOO cute but not TOO awkward and have some fun your first time. It’ll change your world.” She winked and then leaned over to drop a sisterly kiss on Deirdre’s temple as she stood up. “I gotta get to campus. Double D has his boxers in a wad over a couple of the students in my first class, so I need to poke into his office before. You two have fun.” And she’s out the door like a whirlwind.

Dee just shook her head.

“Well, she said I was smart,” Denny sighed when Joan breezed out the door. “That’s something, at least. She could have just told me I was hopeless.” True enough. The learning curve is pretty steep, though. Like a freakin’ ski jump. She’d already spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing her evening with Drew and what she would have done differently had she known what she knew now. So, apply it the next time you see him, Den. See what happens. “I don’t think I could just approach it like she does, though. I want it to be special. Romantic, I guess.”

Deirdre laughs silently and then types into the pad for Denny, There aren’t many who CAN go at it like she does. Her dark eyes are a little more serious. Her folks were killed in a car accident when she was young. She spent a lot of time in the foster system, so she doesn’t really let people close. She and Jase …. She stopped typing and shrugged. I dunno. It’s kind of weird, but I guess it works for them.

“Oh.” Joan’s picture quickly rearranged itself as Denny added the facts in. “So … um. Not to slam your brother or Drew, for that matter, but is it just me or do we women have men over a barrel from a power perspective?”

It was a strange thought and the shape of it felt strange in her head, even as it felt strange saying the words. Denny couldn’t deny the possibility it was true, however. She didn’t have to look any further than her parents to see it.

Rolling her eyes, Deirdre giggled that silent giggle. Yes. Yes we do. Joanie’s adopted into my family, even when she and Jase aren’t a thing, she’ll still be my sister for all intents and purposes. But yes… we women do have men over a barrel. Use your power wisely, young padawan. O.M.G! Did DEIRDRE just use a Star Wars reference? Maybe there’s hope for her yet.

“Don’t worry. I don’t think I’ll be lighting Drew’s saber up just yet,” Denny laughed. Juvenile locker room humor? You betcha. Denny cuffed Deirdre’s shoulder softly, an atta-girl gesture. “Apropos reference, though. Good for you.”

Dee blushed deeply at the locker room humor, keeping the conversation on the other thing. It’s something one of my brothers used to call me, she laughed. I’ve never watched those movies, but I think they have. She shrugged. Anyway… now you’ve met Joan. She’s…. I didn’t out you to her. I didn’t tell her you were part of the team or anything — I think you outed yourself, though, talking about those things. She’s really smart.

This time Denny did spit her coffee. Coughing, she wiped up and shot Deirdre a wide-eyed look. “How,” she husked. “When?” Dammit, I thought I’d been careful not to say anything! She coughed and cleared her throat of a stubborn drop of coffee as Deirdre typed on her pad.

You told her you had fun before all the kidnappery started, Deirdre explained. And then about how afterward you just went into the hotel room and watched a movie together. It was a bit… casual. And since she knows what I do … She left it there, letting Denny make the mental connection herself. It was why Dee’d been VERY cautious only to say what she did.

“Um, hello. Earth to Dee,” Denny said with the obligatory hand wave in front of Deirdre’s eyes. “My date was kidnapped right in front of me. I didn’t have to be Artisan to know that, cuz I was standing right there when it happened. Like it did to a lot of people,” she added, sobering. “What mundane girlfriend wouldn’t say kidnapped when it happened like that?”

Deirdre grinned a bit. What mundane girlfriend would flippantly refer to her boyfriend being kidnapped and rescued and then casually glide over it to the fact that they saw a movie? I had already told her that I had to deal with a bunch of kidnapped people over the weekend. I don’t think most people would have noticed, but she’s not like most people. She watches people for every cue, expects them to turn on her.

“Which is why she keeps them at a distance, right,” Denny said. “Hm. Okay. Granted. If you trusted her with the information about us, then it seems it’s safe for her to know about me. She’s not the only cautious one in the room, you know. You’ve a fair amount of it yourself. Which,” she added, “can be a pain in the ass sometimes. Like … I know you’re seeing a guy. I think. So, care to share anything? I’ve already laid my embarrassment out for everyone to see. C’mon. Dish.”

Cuz misery just loves company. As for the other thing, it’s out of my hands anyway. Joan will either out me or she won’t.

Deirdre assured her immediately, If she did figure it out, she won’t say anything. Even to me. Anytime we talk about the team stuff, it’s with codenames not real ones. And I don’t tell her personal things about the team. Only the stuff that we deal with on the streets. She blushed a little bit and nodded slightly. He’s a student at the university, going for his doctorate. I think he’s going to be teaching there eventually. We’ll see. She grinned shyly. He’s pretty nice. I really, really like him.

“Oooh,” Denny said softly. “That’s nice. He sounds really smart, too. Does he have a name? Or do you want to give him a code name? You know, to protect the innocent and give the guilty a head start on the law.” Damn but the girl just couldn’t resist trying for a joke whenever the topic got touchy. Even so, Denny’s expression was respectful and sincere. She really didn’t want to make fun of Deirdre’s love life, just avoid embarrassing her friend over it.

His name’s Ken, Deirdre replied with another shy smile. You might meet him sometime, I don’t know. He doesn’t know about me, obviously. So it makes me worry a little that … it’s not going to work out. I don’t really know how you can have a good relationship when there’s such a massive lie of omission in the middle of it.

“Aaannnnnnnd … the elephant’s back in the room, again. Damn.” Denny sighed and slumped in her seat. “Ditto. I mean, I like Drew. I like him a lot. There was this … this zing, you know?” She frowned at the table and continued in a softer voice meant for Deirdre’s ears alone. “It’s too early to say if it’s going to go anywhere but I would love to know what to say when the moment comes and I have to tell him. Thing is, he’s already stated several times he likes Artisan the best of the team. He definitely applied the word hot more than once. So, I don’t know if he’s hinting he knows who I really am or if he’s just being a guy. And who am I really? The girl or the superhero? Do I have to be one over the other? Can’t I be both? I thought doing the secret identity thing would be kinda cool, you know? And as long as romance wasn’t in the picture, everyone I wanted tell already knew and could be trusted with it. Now? Jesus. It sucks.”

If Deirdre knew anything about her young friend by now, the full-on swear in that soft tone of voice would be an accurate measure of how troubled she was about the whole business. A lot.

Deirdre’s expression was very sympathetic. It’s not as romantic as those comic books make it out to be, is it? she agreed. Wish I had some words of wisdom for you, but I don’t. Best thing I can offer is that…. if you think it’s getting serious, you should probably tell him. Then again …. She rolled her eyes. I haven’t told Ken, and I think maybe it’s a little serious. So what the heck do I know?

“Yeah.” Denny gave her a lopsided grimace and tapped her cup with Deirdre’s before raising it in a toast. “Here’s to romance and the general cussedness of things.” And she drank the bitter stuff down.

It made Deirdre snort softly, but she too drank to the toast. The general cussedness indeed. She sighed and then typed, I guess I better get to work. Mondays wait for no man.

“Or woman, apparently,” Denny agreed as a gaggle of new customers walked in. She rose and hugged the petite redhead, careful not to spill anything. “Gotta go. Coffee to serve. Rent to make. All that jazz. You wanna catch a movie later this week? You know, if you’re not busy? A girl’s night out would be fun.”

It would really.

I’d like that, Deirdre replied, though she blushed when Denny hugged her. She gathered up her things and waved to the younger woman on her way out of the coffee shop.

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