I sipped from my lemonade, and kept my eyes glued on the giant tacky clock that hung above the food court. The second the hands hit _ o'clock, I scanned my surroundings for my former best friends. I glimpsed some fashionably-ripped skinny jeans through the crowd and grinned as Jesse strolled toward me. He sat his smoothie down next to my lemonade and slid into the booth. It was one of those round corner booths, where you could see the whole room from your seat, and you never had to worry about who you were sitting next to because you could easily see and talk to everyone.
Next, I saw someone with a buzzcut towering over the crowd, and Devin emerged, with a very annoyed Lauren on his arm. She had gotten even more beautiful over the years, if that waa even possible, and her fashion-sense was impeccable.
"Erica, hey! I missed you." Devin slid in next to me and hugged me, trying to awkwardly adjust his long legs under the table.
"You too." I giggled, and Lauren crossed her arms in front of her chest angrily, eventually sitting down next to Devin.
"Lauren, you look amazing." I gushed.
"I know." She tossed back a few curls. Her sun dress fit perfectly and was an amazing shade of emerald green that brought out her highly-mascara-d eyes.
Devin nudged her, and she sighed, "You guys look nice too. Cool scarf, Jesse, mind if I borrow it sometime?" Coming from someone else, that might seem like a compliment, but the way Lauren said it she managed to insult him.
Jesse looked down and didn't say anything. An awkward silence ensued, until another figure burst out of the crowd, breathing deeply.
"Hey, sorry I'm late," Aaron wheezed, sitting down next to Jesse, "I had SAT-Prep."
"You do know the SATs aren't for over two years, right?" Devin rolled his eyes.
"Yes, and in two years I'm going to pass with flying colors." Aaron glared back.
"Okay! What extracurriculars is everyone planning on doing this year?" Jesse asked over-enthusiastically, quickly changing the subject.
"Basketball, football, and baseball. I'll probably do some running and swimming too, but not on a team or anything." Devin slung an arm over Lauren's shoulders with a hint of arrogance.
"Impressive, as always." Lauren kissed him on the cheek.
"Basketball, football, baseball, tennis, orchestra, mathletes, SAT prep, Geography Bee, and more." Aaron stared Devin down, and Devin didn't flinch.
"Very impressive." I said warily, "Uh, I think I'll do band, and maybe drama. I'm not sure yet."
"I'm obviously doing drama club, band, orchestra, and dance." Jesse added, "What about you Lauren?"
"Uh, well, I'm really busy so..." Lauren paled, looking like a deer in headlights, "I'm keeping my options open." She composed herself and leaned into Devin.
Before any of us could notice her approaching, another girl slid in next to Aaron, and set down an iced coffee.
"Hey." Becka tucked her thick hair behind her ears and smiled slightly.
"What are you doing here?" Lauren narrowed her eyes.
"I got the email from Erica, so-" Becka hunched down in her seat, averting her eyes.
"Why wouldn't she be here?" I spoke up, and the whole table turned to me. Becka looked like she was about to cry, Aaron and Devin looked slightly angry, and Jesse bit his lip nervously.
"Fine, whatever, she can stay. I'm going to go get some food." Lauren got up, dragging Devin with her, and Becka leaned over to hug me.
"I missed you." She whispered into my hair.
"I missed you too. What's up?"
"What's new? What's going on in your life?"
Becka shrugged, "Not much." And that was the end of that.
"Devin and Lauren are so insufferable. Raise your hand if you agree." Aaron took a bite of his pretzel.
Jesse raised a hand, and so did Becka. I just shook my head.
"They're just trying to fit in." I assured everyone.
"You don't have to be mean to be popular." Becka grumbled.
"Uh, yeah, you kind of do." Jesse laughed without a hint of humor.
"Maybe they're just pretending. The old Lauren and Devin are still there somewhere, and I think we can find them." I proclaimed confidently, but the others just shrugged.
When Lauren and Devin returned with their snacks, my phone buzzed. I set my purse on the table so I could find it and turn it off.
"Where did you get that purse, the dollar store?" Lauren scoffed.
"Paris, actually." I said, not looking up, although I really wanted to see the look on her face.
"You've been to Paris?" She practically shouted, and Devin winced.
"Uh, yeah, a bunch of times. It's pretty close to Germany so-"
"What's it like? Is it magical? What else do you have from there?" Suddenly the perky, talkative Lauren I knew was sitting across from me, grinning.
"It's kind of overrated actually. Not as amazing as you would think." I shrugged, and she laughed.
"Sure, that makes sense coming from you. You wouldn't know high fashion if it hit you." Her words didn't sound malicious, but playful and kind. Jesse laughed.
"You had a different colored tutu for every day of the week in 1st grade." I countered, and she lunged, as if to cover my mouth.
Devin held her back, laughing, "I'm sorry, what? Every day of the week?"
"I hate you, Erica!" Lauren grumbled, but her eyes were happy.
"You don't remember?" I asked.
"Boys don't notice that kind of thing."
"I did. I tried wearing a tutu once, and I got made fun of. I was so jealous of you, Lauren." Jesse added.
"Was that the same year you got in trouble for trying to "re-vamp" your mom's favorite cocktail gown?" Lauren pointed her spoon at Jesse after taking a bite of yogurt.
"Yep. To this day, she keeps her closet pad-locked." We all burst out laughing, even Becka.
"So where else have you been, Erica?" Devin asked me.
"I've been to like 15, 20 countries? Countries in Europe are like US states."
"Lucky! I've hardly ever left the state." Aaron said wistfully.
"Maybe when I go back to visit, you could come with me." I suggested, finishing off my lemonade.
"That would be awesome," His face fell, "If I could afford it."
"I could pay for you. We could all go." Jesse readjusted his scarf around his neck.
"Only if we go to Paris." Lauren demanded.
"Fine." I faux groaned.
Lauren's phone rang, and she quickly answered it, "Oh, hey! I'm just at the mall. I'm just with Devin. At 8? Sure. See you later. Bye." She hung up and we stared at her, while Devin seemed fixated on his hot dog.
"You're just with Devin?" I said, feeling hurt. She had to lie about being with us?
"I just didn't want to explain...us. It would take too long." She shrugged nonchalantly.
"Sure." Jesse didn't seem at all surprised by Lauren's actions, "I need to go. I have a concert to practice for." He stood up and left, tossing his empty smoothie in the trash.
"I have work to do." Aaron didn't say goodbye.
"Finally. This was boring." Lauren pulled Devin out of the booth and he waved as cheerfully as possible.
"I have to go, too." Becka left before I could stop her, and once again I was sitting alone at our favorite booth.