Dakota 10

Day two after the drama with Jay, and I was still a disaster. Sleep had been almost nonexistent. I was running on hot chocolate with coffee in it– coffee, I hated coffee, I would rather chug milk and deal with the effects of lactose intolerance than drink coffee, and here I was, willingly downing my second cup of the morning. Jay had been a nuisance as ever, begging me to meet him in the morning and then whining when I flat out told him no. My temper was a thing of the past. Fuck today, in all honesty.

Rick ran through the usual bullshit and sent us on our way, but I was going to be upstairs dealing with one of the lead costumes all day. I waited with Heather, Ruby, and Val at my side, as Rick finished talking with Steph (who was, naturally, still around, though it had been a few days since her announcement). Performers for the morning dance show milled about, wandering like ants, constantly moving…

God my head hurt. I rubbed my eyes, moaning a little, and rested my head on Val’s shoulder.

“You okay, Babe?” Val said, awkwardly steadying my hand as I almost spilled my caffeinated chocolate monstrosity. I just hummed noncommittally and went back to staring into the void, watching dancers go by until I recognized one of their faces.

Dakota strolled up to the group of us, his expression passive. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of him; he brightened the room with his presence.

“Ew why are you here?” Ruby teased. I glanced at her, but her grin held no trace of malice. Teasing, then.

Dakota waved at me. “I’m here because she’s here.”

“He’s here to call me names,” I said, not bothering to think that through.

“No I’m not,” Dakota said, though his expression didn’t change.

I winced, though I doubted it showed in my body language. That had been cruel of me to assume. God, when would I stop being such a bitch?

Before I could apologize, or blow it off as a joke, or really say anything, Rick came to usher us off to our assigned locations, and Dakota wandered away to go get ready for the morning dance show.

It stayed with me all day. Heather taught me the ropes for my new assignment, though we had to be quiet, mostly backstage during prep and breakdown of the morning dance show. By lunch, the weather had turned just as miserable as my mood, so when we headed out– Wendy’s today, a little further than usual since Rick had been kind enough to drive us again. As we all sat, I watched the rain slant against the windows, listened to the violent howls of the wind, and felt my composure begin to melt under the strain of exhaustion and guilt warring inside my chest.

Whipping out my phone, I tuned the others out completely, resting my head on Val’s shoulder. I pulled up the messenger app and selected Dakota’s name.

I apologize for being a bitch this morning. I hope the dance show went well. See you at Brigadoon!

It was barely a minute before I got a response.

You’re always one ❤

I’d been chewing listlessly on my fries, and the awkward combination of humor and shame that shot through me made it difficult to swallow. I washed the fry that had lodged itself into my throat down with water. I laughed, brushing off Val’s alarmed concern. “Look at this asshole. Rude.” I turned the phone to her, giggling.

“What’s with the heart?”

I glanced at it again and shrugged. “I think it’s his way of trying to be endearing? It worked, I guess.”

Val regarded me over her drink, far less amused than I was with this situation. “So what are you gonna say?”

I frowned. “I mean, I feel badly. I didn’t mean to be so rude. But he’s always making fun of me, so I just assumed…”

“He hasn’t exactly given you reason not to,’ Val pointed out.

Still frowning, I nodded. “That’s true. Still.” I bit my lip. “I’mma make a joke out of it.”

Pursing her lips, Val thought about it. “Okay. That works.”

Nodding my agreement, I chewed my lip and went back to messenger.

Yeah, I know. I’m actually nice once you get past my layers of anxiety, sarcasm, overthinking, and sleep deprivation.

Val read it over and gave me the go ahead. I sent it and tucked my phone away, deciding not to think about it for the rest of lunch, at least. Of course, that decision only lasted the ten minutes between my message and his response.

You sure

I looked up with the most droll over it face in history, sending Val into a fit of giggles beside me. “See? See the impression I make? No wonder he spends all his time acting like a five year old.”

“I just–” Val coughed on her laughter, and I arched a brow and propped my head on my hand. When her laughter didn’t subside for nearly two minutes, I sighed dramatically. “Your face!” I rolled my eyes at her near squeal and brought up my other arm to rest my chin in both hands.

It tapered off after five, tears streaming down her cheeks as she recovered and looked at my flat expression. “You done?”

Nodding, Val wiped her cheeks dry. “Sorry, it was– your expression was so funny–”

“I got that,” I said dryly.

“Sorry– no, it’s just that I don’t like him very much,” Val explained.

“Oh.” Well, wasn’t that just awkward? He flirted with Val almost as much as he flirted with me. “Any particular reason, or…?”

Val shrugged, and I considered it case closed for the time being.

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