His real name was Jonah, apparently, but everyone called him Jon. Cassie, however, couldn’t stop referring to him now with his real name, playing with the syllables in her head whenever she’d catch a glimpse of him from her peripheral vision or when she’d hear him talk or when he would talk to her.
“You guys, I think they’re just waiting for us to go,” Maia whispered with a giggle. Cassie looked up and noticed that indeed, they were the only ones left in the coffee shop, and it seemed like the waiters were lounging by the bar, waiting for their group to leave.
“Wow, it’s late!” she said, looking at her watch. It was late, and the mall was about to close. She totally lost track of time — everyone did, except she was the only one who probably promised herself before leaving home that she’d be home before nine o’clock. It’s an hour past, and yet Cassie still didn’t feel like leaving. She was having too much fun.
“We all had too much fun, I think,” David, one of the older ones in the group, said echoing Cassie’s thoughts. He signaled for the bill. A relieved waiter came by in two seconds, obviously very ready for that moment. Bills and coins were passed and they paid before making their way out — still very slowly, to the exasperation of the waiting staff — of the coffee shop.
Cassie was one of the first few out, but she stepped aside and slowed down deliberately, trying not to think of why she was slowing down. Her stomach betrayed her as she felt a slight flutter when Jon — Jonah — fell into a step beside her. Their group started walking, still taking their time, picking up where their conversations left off before leaving the coffee shop.
“Where are you off to, Cassie?” Jonah asked, adjusting his backpack as they walked. Cassie felt someone bump her arm and heard an impatient sigh as a lady carrying some shopping bags squeezed in between them, and then in between her new friends who walked in front of them. She raised an eyebrow and then exchanged looks with Jonah who looked kind of bewildered. There was a second’s pause, then they laughed.
“Hurry much,” Cassie said, shaking her head, shifting the package she carried in her arms. They continued walking. “What was your question again?”
“Where are you heading now?” Jonah repeated. His eyes crinkled a bit and for a moment Cassie thought he’d give that smile again, but he didn’t.
“Home,” Cassie replied. “It’s late.” She paused, then laughed. “I’m so boring.” It wasn’t meant to be a self-deprecating comment, because it’s the truth: Cassie would rather stay home than party late.
Jonah laughed. “You’re not. It is late. This is even later than when I was with them the last time.”
“Really? And what did you do then, just talk?”
They reached a doorway, and their other companions walked in, opening their bags for the guard’s inspection. Cassie unzipped her bag to do the same, stopping to let Jonah walk in first, but he stopped too and motioned for her to move forward. She smiled and walked forward, noting that simple act of chivalry and filing it somewhere inside her mind.
“Yeah, talked. And talked. Almost like this, actually. It’s just more fun now because you guys joined us.” Cassie felt another flutter in her stomach when he said that, even if she knew Jonah meant not just her but also Maia and Irwin. She confirmed this when he added, “I mean, there were more people this time around, and that’s always fun, right?”
Cassie nodded. “Definitely.”
Before any of them could say anything, Martin joined them and the two started talking about something while she watched and listened. She looked around and saw the others lost in their own conversations, making their way through the slowly dimming lights of the mall, oblivious to the people hurrying around them to get home. It was like none of them wanted to leave each other — and Cassie knew for herself that it was true. And she smiled.
Her reverie broke when she felt a hand brush on her arm — she looked and felt herself start, seeing that Jonah was holding her elbow. “I say goodbye here,” he said with a smile. “David, where did you park?” He looked away from Cassie but his hand remained on her arm, making her extremely conscious.
“Downstairs.” David answered.
“Cool, that’s where I’m going, too,” Jonah said, before turning back to Cassie. “You?”
Cassie swallowed, trying to calm the butterflies dancing in her tummy. “I’m taking the train,” she said, thankful to hear that her voice still sounded normal. She can’t explain it, but she was so aware of his presence right then. Even in the dimness of the mall, Cassie felt like his smile was as bright as the sun. It was cheesy, but it was the only way Cassie could describe what she felt then, and she couldn’t explain why.
“I’ll go with you,” Martin piped up from beside Jonah.
“Good, take care of her, Martin, okay?” Jonah said with a grin. He squeezed Cassie’s arm before letting go. “It was very nice meeting you, Cassie. I’ll see you again soon.”
“Yeah, soon,” Cassie echoed. Jonah smiled at her again, before heading off to say goodbye to the others. As he walked away from Cassie, she felt like asking him a thousand questions: where doe he live? How will he go home? He parked — he owns a car? What car? Can she get his number? When will she seem him again?
And then before she knew it, Jonah, and the others who are going the same way as he is, were gone, and she was also heading off with the remaining people to the train, also on their way home. The actual goodbye took a few minutes, but Cassie felt that it ended too soon. Everything felt like it ended too soon.
She could still feel Jonah’s hand on her arm.