If there’s one thing I don’t want it’s my name being shouted across a busy coffee shop.
“I hate the name thing,” I mutter to Linus.
“Me too.” He nods. “Give a fake one. I always do.”
“Name?” repeats the girl impatiently.
“Oh. Um, Rhubarb,” I say.
It’s easy to keep a poker face when you’re wearing dark glasses and a hoodie and you’re looking off to one side.
“Yes, that’s my name. Rhubarb.”
“You’re called Rhubarb?”
“Of course she’s called Rhubarb,” chimes in Linus. “Hey, Rhu, do you want anything to eat? You want a muffin, Rhu?”
“No, thanks.” I can’t help smiling.
“OK, Rhu. No problem.”
“Fine. Rhu-barb.” The girl writes it down with her Sharpie. “And you?”
“I would like a cappuccino,” says Linus politely. “Thank you.”
“I’ll spell it for you,” he says. “Z-W-P-A-E-N—”
“What?” She stares at him, Sharpie in hand
“Wait. I haven’t finished. Double-F-hyphen-T-J-U-S. It’s an unusual name,” Linus adds gravely. “It’s Dutch.”
I’m shaking, trying not to laugh. The Starbucks girl gives us both evil stares.
“You’re John,” she says, and scrawls it on his cup.
I tell Linus I’ll pay because this is my documentary and I’m the producer, and he says OK, he’ll get the next one. Then we take our cups—Rhubarb and John—and head back to our table. My heart is pounding even harder, but I’m on a high. Look at me! In Starbucks! Back to normal!
I mean, OK, I’m still in dark glasses. And I can’t look at anyone. And my hands are doing weird twisty things in my lap. But I’m here. That’s the point.
“So you dumped Frank off your team,” I say as we sit down, and immediately regret it in case it sounds aggressive.
But Linus doesn’t look offended. He looks worried. “Frank doesn’t blame me,” he says quickly, and I realize they must have had a conversation about this. “I mean, he wouldn’t expect us all to give up playing LOC just because he’s had to. He said he’d do the same if it was him.”
“So who’s the fourth?”
“This guy Matt,” says Linus without enthusiasm. “He’s OK.”
“Dad made Frank play bass with him in the garage,” I tell him. “He thinks that’s a better interest.”
“Does Frank play bass?”
“Barely.” I snuffle with laughter. “He plays, like, three chords and Dad does ten-minute solos.”
“You think that’s bad? My dad plays the recorder.”
“He what?” My laughter dies away. “Seriously?”
“You can’t tell anyone.” Linus looks suddenly vulnerable and I feel a wave of…something. Something strong and warm. Like when you put your arm round someone and squeeze.
“I won’t tell. I promise.” I take a sip of Frappuccino. “Like, the kind of recorder kids play?”
“A grown-up kind. Wooden. Big.” He demonstrates.
“Wow. I didn’t know that existed.”
We sip our drinks and smile at each other. Thoughts are racing through my head, crazy thoughts like I’ve made it! I’m in Starbucks! Go me! But there are other, weird, random thoughts popping up, like Everyone’s looking at me and I hate myself. And then suddenly I wish I was at home right now, which is just weird. I do not wish I was at home. I’m out with Linus! In Starbucks!
“So what do you want to ask me on your documentary?” he says.
“Oh, I don’t know. Stuff.”
“Is this part of your therapy?”
“Yes. Kind of.”
“But do you still need therapy? I mean, you look fine.”
“Well, I am fine. It’s just this project…”
“If you just took off your dark glasses you’d be, like, totally back to normal. You should do that,” Linus says with enthusiasm. “You know, just do it.”
“But you shouldn’t wait. You should do it, right here, right now.”
“Shall I do it?” He reaches over and I recoil.
My bravado is melting away. His voice feels hectoring, like he’s giving me an interrogation.
I don’t know what’s happened in my head. Things have turned. I take a sip of Frappuccino, trying to relax, but all I really want to do is grab a napkin and shred it into little bits. The voices around me are getting louder and louder; more and more threatening.