Nala & Alyssa
Nala walked into the café section of Powell’s with one mission: to find a place sit and study on a crazy Sunday afternoon.
When the hell will I learn? There was no finding a place to sit on Sunday afternoons. The place was always packed. If she were lucky, she might find an empty chair between a guy with a stack of books and two children forming a human pyramid, but it was hardly enough room to whip out her laptop and textbook. That would be convenient. A student’s life is not meant to be convenient.
Judging by the number of students frantically studying in every corner of the café, there wasn’t a shred of convenience to be found. The line for drinks and snacks was also atrocious. With any luck, Nala might have her hazelnut latte and a place to study within half an hour. What was she supposed to do until then? Go check out the erotica in the corner? Ugh. Shoot me. I’d rather die than read about people getting it on. The only thing that could possibly be worse than that was finding out other people read about her getting it on.
She texted her boyfriend Vincent, who currently nerded out in the computer programming section of the large bookstore. “We need to bounce. There’s no way I’m going to find a place to study here.”
“I’m still waiting on that guy to find me that book I need,” Vincent responded. “Maybe you should make some friends :)”
“You’re a sick man.”
Nala put her phone away. After a cursory glance around the café again, she realized she only had one hope.
There was a young woman commandeering a small table in the corner of the room, her table stacked with business and economic textbooks. Gross, but not surprising. At least it was a change from the amount of organic chemistry and biology textbooks half of Portland carted into cafes.
If Nala could convince her fellow college student to stack up some of those books and make a little room for her… well, Vincent would never let her live it down, because he was a dumb nerd like that, but whatever. Nala might have to risk it if she were ever going to get her work done.
“Excuse me.” Ew. What was that saccharin-coated voice she used? Did this woman really look like such a fragile, feminine flower that Nala had to treat her like a dainty princess? “Would it be okay if I share this table with you? This place is so crowded.”
The woman gave her a quizzical look at first, but once she realized how rude she was, quickly stacked her books as if her mother were about to swoop in and rap her knuckles. “Of course! I’m so sorry! I don’t need all this space, huh?”
No, but Nala wouldn’t tell her that. Nor would Nala ever admit that she would totally take up a whole table in a crowded café as well. When in Portland…
As soon as half the table was cleared, Nala plopped down with her backpack. She dug out her wallet and laptop, while her tablemate pretended to be infatuated with her Economics.
“Thanks,” Nala said again, before heading for the line that would give her that hazelnut latte. When she checked in with her boyfriend, Vincent informed her that he was still waiting for that book. Probably some shit from the ‘70s. Vincent was on a huge kick collecting layman’s and theoretical textbooks about computer programming – from generations past. His latest pride and joy, currently on display in his downtown high-rise office, was a 1971 textbook by a college prof from his alma mater Stanford. Something about the future potential of computer programming and the theory that every house in America and people would be real-time talking to friends and family on the other side of the world as early as… what… 1987? So he was off a few years… Vincent had theories about that as well. Nerd.
The woman at the table averted her eyes the moment Nala sat down again. She wouldn’t have thought anything about it, except Nala had only become more perceptive since getting in a relationship with a man like Vincent. That perception told her that this woman was checking her out. Perhaps not sexually, but there was a definite attempt to suss out who the fuck she was.
Great. Before Vincent, Nala would write this moment off as a stranger getting weird and nothing more. Maybe Nala looked like someone she knew from class, although the stickers on the woman’s laptop said she went to PSU, and Nala hadn’t taken any classes there yet. But since dating Vincent, one of the richest men in Portland, Nala figured this woman recognized her from elsewhere. The fact he she had so many business-related textbooks did not help.
They had probably run into each other at some regional functions for rich men and women to show off their shit. Nala rarely remembered people she met in those locales, because she often didn’t care enough.
“Do you go to PSU?” the woman finally asked.
Nala shook her head. “Nope. PCC. Although I’m transferring to PSU later this year.” She was going to stop there, but they were invested in this conversation now. “You must go, though. Unless those stickers are all lies.”
The woman blushed. “I’m a senior. Trying to work on my thesis.”
“What’s it on?”
“That’s a fantastic question, huh? I’m supposed to hand in a proposal at the end of the week, but I’m not sure what I’m doing yet. My boyfriend…” she stopped. “My boyfriend thinks I should write about euro forecasts, because that’s what his business is concerned with right now, but…” she laughed. “He can write his own thesis about that.”
“Who’s your boyfriend?” When her tablemate did not immediately respond, Nala continued, “He’s some hotshot businessman, isn’t he?”
“How did you know?”
“I can tell by this point.”
“Well… it’s Julian Marcus. Of Bra…”
“Bradley & Marcus. Right.”
“You know him?”
Boorish asshole who thinks that because he’s hot and wears nice cologne he gets to boss everyone in Portland around? Duh. Vincent had done technical business with him more than once. Hell, according to Vincent, Bradley & Marcus was one of the first major corporations to invest in Lane Technological Solutions. Didn’t mean Vincent and Julian were friends, though. Julian Marcus was the kind of uptight dick to make Vincent go home and take out his frustrations on video games. And my pussy, but that’s a benefit.
This woman, with her delicate femininity and submissive airs screamed Julian Marcus’s type. If only Nala could remember her damned name, because they had met in passing before.
“In that case,” Nala said. “I’m Nala Nazarov. You probably know my boyfriend, Vincent Lane.”
“Know him? He was one of the subjects of my last business class!”
Note to self: tell Vincent he’s a big enough loser to be talked about in stuffy college classrooms. He’d probably get a kick out of that.
“I thought you looked familiar. I’m Alyssa. Alyssa Pendleton, although I don’t expect you to know me. I haven’t made a name for myself yet.”
Neither have I, but at least I still own up to who I am. Nala’s long-term goal was to be good enough to be hired at her boyfriend’s company. What her actual role would be could be figured out later. Sometimes she merely entertained fantasies of them staying up half the night putting together bullshit apps. God knew they did that with video games already.
“So your boyfriend is a big investor around town, and mine is responsible for half the computers in the city working,” Nala mused. “What kind of conspiracy is this that we’ve been brought together?”
Alyssa pursed her lips in thought. “Well, my boyfriend would say this is a pretty fortuitous meeting.”
“What would you say, though?”
Alyssa put down her pen and sat back from her stack of books. “What a coincidence?”
“That the studious girlfriends of two of Portland’s biggest billionaires are hanging out in the Powell’s coffee shop because we can’t get any studying done at home?”
“Probably for similar reasons.”
Nala grinned. It wasn’t often she met women who knew what it was like to be the girlfriend of a Portland billionaire, and wasn’t an insufferable idiot at the same time.
Well, whether Alyssa was insufferable could be determined at a later date. Right now, Nala was content to hunker down and get that studying done. She expected Vincent to quiz her on it later, and she wouldn’t want to disappoint him with wrong answers. (Or maybe she did. It would depend on how frisky she felt later. Point was, she should at least know the right answers, even if she told him the wrong ones on purpose.)
Nala thought of the devil, so he appeared ten minutes later, an old, tattered book in his hands and a smirk on his face that said his conquest had been fruitful.
He kissed the top of Nala’s head the moment she recognized his approaching presence. “Studying hard? Hey, I know you…” He nodded to Alyssa. If she hadn’t known who Nala was yet, she certainly did now. “Haven’t I seen you at some of the fundraisers?”
Nala rolled her eyes. “The fundraisers.” Very descriptive.
“You’re Vincent Lane, aren’t you?”
“Hey, you told me to make some friends.” Nala grabbed a chunk of her boyfriend’s sweatshirt. “So I made nice with the girlfriend of Junior Mark.”
Both Alyssa and Vincent gave her a look. “Julian Marcus,” Vincent said. “He and I go back.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever formally met before,” Alyssa said. “I’m Alyssa Pendleton.”
“Charmed. Be sure to tell your boyfriend that I still look better in a suit.”
“When do you wear suits?” Nala asked, the moment Vincent lined up for a drink. “Seriously. Where are they?”
“I’m protecting the world by keeping that level of sexiness in the back of my closet.”
“Excuse him,” Nala said. “He tells lame jokes like they’re going out of style.”
Giggling, Alyssa said, “At least your boyfriend knows how to tell jokes. Watching mine try to be witty at social functions is like watching someone try to parallel park.”
“Do you want some of my boyfriend? I’ll take the suit-wearing part of yours.”
“Maybe, if we Frankenstein them, we could create the perfect businessman boyfriend.”
When Vincent returned with coffee, Nala informed him the he would be dissected upon returning home. He agreed to it, as long as Alyssa promised to keep the best parts of his brain.
That could be arranged. Nala might need some of his brain for the midterms coming up right around the corner!
|Vincent and Nala