Madeleine (I’ve Never Had an Alice, M)

I might make #FictionFriday a thing since, you know, I FINISHED BOOK 1 YESTERDAY! Woohoo! But this is another short story from Nano 14. Did I ever explain I’ve Never Had an Alice? Basically, I realized one day that I’ve never had a character named Alice, and I ended up making up an entire list of names I’ve never used. And then my glorious coworker suggested that I should make all the stories connected, and they became world building for my novel. Well, not my novel exactly, but for a city in my world that never gets mentioned, so I wrote it a short story series. I’m pretty sure Madeleine happens before Quinn, but who really knows.

***

 Madeleine didn’t know what she was doing in Room C-214 of Tenth Secondary. She was an awful cook, and she needed to improve her GPA. But she had heard Luke Barnes talking about taking cooking as a social elective, and on the off chance that she might be assigned to the same period, she had registered to take it.

They had been assigned the same period. Now Madeleine was stuck in a cooking class that she would definitely fail.

“All right,” their teacher Mr. Turner said blandly, reading off a sheet of paper. “Pick a sink and remember it because I’ll be making your seating chart while you’re getting acquainted with your stations today. Partners are alphabetical and final. Raise your hand, find your partner. Allison, Anderson. Austin, Banner. Barnes, Baylor. Burnett—”

Madeleine had stopped listening. There were only two Baylors at Tenth Secondary: Madeleine and her older brother. She was Luke’s partner.

“Hey, Maddie,” Luke said softly. “Which sink you want?”

Madeleine hated being called Maddie. “O-over there,” she whispered back, pointing to the one in the corner by the window.

Luke got to the countertop just in time to claim it out from under another twelfth-grader Madeleine had never talked to. Technically, she had only talked to Luke once. She had come around a corner too fast in the library and walked into him, he had helped her pick up her books and asked what her name was, and she had gotten so lost in his eyes that she had stuttered out the first two syllables of her name before choking.

“You any good at cooking?” Luke asked now, his dark blue eyes darting toward Mr. Turner before focusing on Madeleine again.

“No,” Madeleine managed to reply, nervously tucking a strand of light brown hair behind her ear.

“This is going to be an interesting semester then. I can’t cook either.”

*

It took Madeleine almost two weeks to become desensitized enough to Luke’s probing eyes to be able to form a full sentence around him.  He had a free period before cooking class, and she had study hall; they were often alone for a few minutes before their classmates began filing in.

“You think Mr. Turner has a girlfriend?” Luke asked her one day.

“What?” Madeleine said, looking at him in surprise.

“My sister started here this semester. She thinks he’s cute. You?”

“Do I think he’s cute?” Madeleine asked.

“Yeah.” Luke shrugged. “A more mature perspective. She has him for chemistry.”

Madeleine wrinkled her nose at Mr. Turner. “I mean, I guess he’s attractive.”

“Not your type?”

“You’re my type,” Madeleine wanted to say to him, but she just shook her head. Luke was head and shoulders taller than she was, with long arms and slim hips. He was vice-captain of the basketball team, one of two “short” players good enough to make the team. His reddish brown hair was always cut short, though not quite short enough to reveal scalp.

The day’s assignment lit up under the glass counter top. Luke dragged his forefinger across the glass, scrolling through the instructions.

“What are we making?” Madeleine asked.

“Brownies.” Luke flicked the instruction screen to the side and loaded the Consolidator window. One at a time, he selected their ingredients and programmed the amounts into the machine. Each time, it whirred for a moment before dinging to let them know their ingredients had materialized. Luke removed each bowl carefully. “Do you think there’s a big difference between doing this and just conning a batch of brownies?”

“I dunno,” Madeleine said, holding the mixing bowl for him. “I guess it depends on whose recipe of brownies you have programmed in your con.”

“My mom made really good brownies,” Luke commented.

Madeleine stared at him. Vice-captain Barnes was motherless? She stared into the swirl of brownie batter. “My dad always did the cooking,” she said. She could feel him looking at the top of her head. “He was on the Valiant.”

Luke didn’t say anything. The Valiant was the first ship Tor had sent back up into space. Although there had been no evidence of an explosion or any other kind of technical failure, Tor had lost contact with it when it broke atmosphere.

“My mom took the tunnels,” Luke said after a few minutes. “They found her a few days later three sectors over, throat cut.”

Madeleine couldn’t help herself this time. She laid a hand on his arm.

Luke stared down at her. “Thanks for listening,” he said with a wry chuckle.

*

Madeleine had a part-time job at a media store in central Tenth Sector. She would spend her afternoons listening to people talk about their favorite stories, or about their children who preferred viewscreen shows to proper scrollers, and she would recommend books and artsy films and games to them. Chipsters was a small store, with all the microchip cases filed in binders behind the counter and two tables lined with panels on which customers could preview the material. It was a throwback to Terran days when the Network (though it had never been called that on Terra) wasn’t accessible from home. Madeleine loved it, and there was a definite clientele who ate up the oddness of it.

“Leine, can you stay late tonight?” her boss Tyron asked, flashing his pearly smile at her.

“My curfew is nine,” Madeleine said, reaching down to pull her panel from her schoolbag.

Tyron nodded. “I can work it. You and Alfie have the store for a couple hours, all right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Tyron waved and exited the store, causing the motion sensor above the door to chirp twice. Alfie came out of the back room carrying two bowls of chili and handed one to Madeleine.

“Lots of homework tonight?” he asked amicably, settling at one of the tables.

“Not really. I’m doing all right except for one class.”

“Oh, yeah?” Alfie had just graduated from tertiary school, and he spent his class-free life playing video games and tutoring secondaries in chemistry and physics and astronomy. “What class?”

“Cooking.”

“Gol! Why are you taking that?”

“Don’t laugh?” Madeleine said, swallowing a particularly hot mouthful of chili.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Alfie said, grinning crookedly.

“There’s this boy.”

Alfie crowed with delight. “I knew it! What’s his name?”

Madeleine had surely turned the color of the soda factory mural. “Luke,” she said. “He’s in twelfth grade, so he’ll be moving to tertiary next year, and I just wanted a chance to talk to him.” She sighed. “Our teacher assigned us to be partners, and I can’t get more’n two words out around him.”

Alfie was still laughing softly into his dinner.

“Alf! It’s not funny.”

“Sorry, Leine. I forget what it’s like to be fifteen.”

“And you know the worst part?” Madeleine said as the motion sensor chimed. “He calls me—”

“Maddie? You work here?”

Alfie and Madeleine turned slowly toward the door. Luke stepped inside and allowed the doors to slide shut again. He stepped toward her with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah,” Madeleine said, recovering herself. “Something to do while my mom saves the world. What are you doing here?”

“Looking for a book, actually.”

“We don’t sell books. We’re not that cool.”

Luke laughed. “You know what I mean.”

His laugh chased away the last of her prickliness, and Madeleine came around the counter.

“What’cha looking for?” she asked.

“Something exciting. I just finished The Saharan Race on VS, and I just—” Luke rubbed the back of his head ruefully. “I’m having withdrawal, you know?”

Madeleine laughed. “I know exactly what you need.” She sat at the table Alfie was not eating at and tapped through the menus. “This.”

Luke sat beside her to read the description. “That sounds like exactly what I need.”

“All right,” Madeleine said, sending the file title to the register. “That’ll be five credits.”

Luke fished his netcell out of his pocket and laid it screen-down on the counter in the indicated payment spot.

The register’s metallic voice reported, “Five credits from the account of Luke Alden Barnes received by the account of Chipsters.”

“Enjoy,” Madeleine said, smiling at Luke.

“Thanks,” Luke said over his shoulder. “See you tomorrow.”

When Madeleine finally dragged her gaze away from the back of Luke’s head, she found Alfie smirking deeply.

*

“Morning.” Luke’s cheerful greeting brightened Madeleine’s sleepy fog considerably. He was seated at the con, programming the day’s ingredients. “I didn’t know you worked in retail.”

“Obsolete, I know,” Madeleine said, rolling her eyes.

“No, that book you found me?” Luke shook his head slowly. “It was amazing.”

“Did you finish it already?” Madeleine said, mouth dropping open.

“I don’t know what happened. It was just . . . over. I’m so hopped up on caffeine right now, you have no idea.”

Madeleine giggled. “What time did you finish it?”

Luke shrugged as the bell rang. “Three or four,” he whispered while Mr. Turner called roll. “Thanks a lot, Maddie. It was a good book.”

“My name’s not Maddie,” Madeleine said more sharply that she intended.

Luke’s eyebrows rose. “Sorry, what?”

“My name’s Madeleine.”

“I’m so sorry,” Luke said, looking like he was trying not to laugh. “I didn’t know.”

“That’s all right,” Madeleine said, scowling at him. “What’s so funny?”

“Madeleine like the tea cakes?” Luke asked, the corner of his mouth twitching.

“Apparently, that’s what my mother craved when she was pregnant,” Madeleine said, rolling her eyes. “The other things she craved was sardines, so I’ll take Madeleine, no complaints.”

Luke chuckled.

Mr. Turner suddenly loomed over them. “Is there something you would like to share with the class?”

Madeleine had caught Luke’s infection smile by now, and she had to stare intensely into the sink to keep from laughing when Luke replied, “No, sir.”

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