As the tall, lean boy sips at his iced coffee drink, looking out over the food court from his optimal vantage point, he lets out a contented sigh. Few things are as calming to him as people-watching in the mall on a busy afternoon. He peers at the different people through his shaggy black hair. He needs a haircut, but he hasn’t gotten one yet.
He picks up his pen and scrawls a few lines in his striped notebook that he carries around on days like this. A quick glance up, and he writes some more. He is intently focused on what he’s doing that he does not notice the pretty girl who is standing next to him. That is, he doesn’t notice her until she speaks.
“Hey, stranger,” she says.
He looks up, surprised. She looks as though she is around the same age as he is, which is sixteen. Her hair is brownish with streaks of red, though he’s not sure if it’s natural or just highlights. She is dressed in a denim jacket, a cream-colored blouse, and a colorfully striped skirt that’s a few inches above her knee. She’s wearing a pair of leather oxfords and a double-link chain watch on one hand and a metal bracelet on the other. Her brown eyes seem dance with excitement behind the pair of funky square glasses that she’s wearing, and a grin plays at the corner of her lips. The boy recognizes her, because she was eating a sub about twenty minutes ago when he saw her. “Hello,” he says noncommittally.
“I’ve seen you around here lots of times,” she begins, her voice clear and just a little bubbly, but not in the annoying way. “You’re always sitting right here with some drink and that notebook of yours, watching everybody. And since you’re kinda cute in that slightly enigmatic sort of way, and I’ve been ever so curious about finding out who you are, I thought I’d say hi.”
He nods, not sure what to say about the cute comment. “It’s nice to meet you. You can sit down.”
She sets her canvas tote on the table and sits opposite to him, hands on the table. “All right, Mr. Enigma, what exactly do you do here?”
“I like, as you quite accurately deduced, to observe people. To people-watch. So I come here every Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon, buy an overpriced coffee drink, and look at people and imagine what’s going on in their lives. I like writing, so a lot of the characters I create are loosely based on some of the people I see here.”
“Can I look at your notebook?” she asks.
He nods, not remembering that he wrote down something about her. She takes it and starts reading out loud.
“Large middle-aged man who brings the term ‘fuddy-duddy’ to mind, wears a garish Hawaiian shirt with three buttons open, revealing a rather hirsute chest, and is eating a sausage and pepperoni pizza while blatantly staring at two twenty-something women with radiant blonde hair; I say ‘radiant’ in the sense that their hair no doubt has been excessively bleached, permed, and coated with countless different hair products.” Here the girl looks up, a bemused expression on her face, and says, “Do you normally use words like ‘fuddy-duddy’ and ‘garish’ and ‘hirsute’?”
He smirks a little, then says, “Not necessarily.”
She grins and continues to read. “Slender teenage girl, clad in a jacket, blouse, and skirt. Clothes appear to be somewhat expensive; girl might be described as trendy. Eats her sandwich with a well-practiced finesse that seems to be more innate than a habit done to impress; this observation, of course, is but rudimentary and may be completely inaccurate. Combined with her stereotypical uniqueness in fashion, the girl is, in my humble opinion, quite exquisite—three.” Here the girl looks up, her brows furrowed.
The boy has turned redder than a stop sign, and mumbles something under his breath about darned coffee. He snatches his notebook back and refuses to look the girl in the eyes.
“You wrote that about me?” she asks.
“Maybe,” is all he mutters. “Forget it, all right?”
She shakes her head, but says, “But why?”
“Because…” he begins, but seems to have no reason. Instead, he says, “Why are you, little Ms. Popular, hanging around me—who, in case you haven’t realized, is a dork? I mean, I think you’d find hot jocks more interesting than me, right? Isn’t that what your type goes after?” His tone is rough, but he is not angry at the girl—he is furious with himself.
She scowls. “Look, if you think that I’m like some empty-headed girl who’s a plaything and follows the latest trends for the sake of looking cool, then you’re wrong. You don’t know a flipping thing about me, and if you just up and assume who I am, that’s just wrong.”
“Look, I didn’t mean that,” he says, his words spilling out rapidly. “It’s just that…well, you see, it’s just that it’s one thing to observe people from a distance and create your own characters and write a story than it is to actually talk to one of your…your…”
“You think I’m a character of yours?” she asks, not unkindly.
“Well, sort of. I actually wrote something based on your persona last week. And it’s just, I’m not used to people listening to me or actually interacting. Pen and paper is one thing. Flesh and blood…that’s something else. But I’m not even making any sense.”
There’s a short pause. The girl fiddles with her glasses. The boy keeps staring at his notebook. Then, she says, “It’s okay. I sort of get what you mean. Look, I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“No, no,” he says. “I’m sorry for being suck a jerk. You’re a really good person. I’m just a pretentious fool.”
She grins. “Well, just between the two of us—” she folds her hands and leans in closer to him, “I’m quite the hypocrite myself. So it’s all good.” She winks and sits back. “So, what’s the three at the end of that little paragraph about me?”
“Oh, that means it’s the third time I’ve written something about you. That way I can cross-reference my characters and write about them better.”
“So you think that everyone here is just a two-dimensional character, then?”
He pauses for a moment, as though unsure what to say. “Well, I wouldn’t put it so rudely, but to a degree, yes. The people I see here become other people when I write about them. It’s…giving them life, I guess.”
“Is it really?”
“What do you mean?”
She drums her fingers on the table. “Well, here they seem to be alive—they eat, they talk, they live. But then, you observe someone, decide who they’re going to be, and then re-create them…but remove from their essence. It’s like you make them a two-dimensional character. You don’t really know who they are—their struggles, their passions, what makes them tick—and then you put them down on paper and make them something else. But that’s not all about them. They’re so much bigger and realer and…aliver than that, if I can use that word.” Here the trendily-dressed girl pauses, slightly flushed, but still grinning.
The boy sits there, eyebrows raised. “You are impressive,” he says, almost reverentially.
She laughs. “No, I’m just pretentious like you. But I guess what I’m trying to say is this: just be careful. There’s more to me, there’s more to everyone else here than you think. And you want to know something else?”
“What?”
Here, she leans in closer. The boy does the same, as though drawn in by her charisma. They’re so close that their foreheads are almost touching, and he can smell the perfume that she used. It smells fruity, he thinks. Like watermelon. “There’s more to you, my friend, than you think. And I don’t think you’ve discovered that.” She brushes her hand over his for just a second, sending a jolt of electricity through him as she takes her canvas tote and stands up.
The boy stares at her, as though dumbfounded. There’s so much he wants to say to this person that he feels as if he knows, but he can’t get any of it out. Finally, he manages to say, “Wait! What’s your name?”
She turns back to face him, her tote swinging. He looks at her expectantly. Then, she says, “You know what? Call me little Ms. Popular.”

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