“I’m not setting you up,” Josh said flatly into the phone. He dodged a trio of women that were walking way too slow for his taste. The mall was never one of his favorite places to be. Couple that with the fact that he hadn’t been to this new mall too often, and Josh wasn’t too pleased. He had hoped that talking with an old friend would help.
“C’mon, man,” Calvin whined. “All I hear about are these awesome girls you got down in that new neighborhood. You’ve been there for months and haven’t made a move on either of them. Ethan said the older one was good looking, and I’m sure her younger sister is cute too. Family resemblance and all, y’know?”
Josh rolled his eyes and, had he been face-to-face with Calvin, it would have been a sufficient action in ending the conversation. “Look, I like the girls too much to have them put up with you.”
Calvin gasped. “You wound me with your cutting words! How can I not be a great match for either of these ladies?”
“You’re annoying as shit,” was Josh’s deadpanned response, and he ignored the gasp from an old lady that may have had to do with Josh’s language. Calvin scoffed, but didn’t dispute the answer.
“Is it still nice over there?” Calvin asked instead.
“Why do you ask me that every time you talk to me?” Josh asked in return as he found the mall directory. “Why do the mall managers put the map in the middle of the mall? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the directory to be at, I dunno, the beginning of the mall so people know where they’re going?”
“I’m waiting for the day your new place starts sucking and you move back here with us,” Calvin said, his tone so casual that Josh imagined his friend shrugging. “And, dude, it’s called business. How are you supposed to spend all your money at enticing shops if you don’t pass them right by on the way to finding a map?”
“It’s stupid,” Josh muttered, referring to the mall map as he scanned the directory for the pet store. Didn’t Sarah say there was a pet store somewhere? Would it really be bad for Peanut to eat people food instead of cat food? “And I’m waiting for the day you all come and visit me and agree that my taste in location is perfect.”
“Working on it!” was Calvin’s cheery answer. “Do you want a warning when we’re coming or do you want to be surprised?”
“A warning would be nice,” Josh said, finally spotting the pet store location and making a beeline toward it, weaving in and out of clumps of the mall crowd. “And, you know, an actual warning, like a few days or even a week ahead of time. None of that texting five minutes beforehand bullshit that you usually pull.”
“Only because you asked so nicely,” Calvin said. “Seriously, though, there’s that video game convention on that side of the country, Tradeline, and we’re all making plans to go there. Ethan’s trying to convince the organizers to give him a panel. If that pans out, I know he wants you on board, too.”
Josh paused to think about it, wondering if he would be up to doing a panel again. He’s done a few with his friends at other conventions, usually panels dedicated to questions and answers about gaming, streaming, and Josh’s writing. Ethan had his computer graphics, Calvin his enthusiasm for indie games, and Grace and Linda for their music collaborations, and they all generally had enough people interested in their work to populate a panel room.
“We’ll see how I’m doing,” Josh said, finding the pet store and pausing outside of it to focus on speaking to Calvin. “I may just want to hang out at the convention on this side of the country, see what it’s like. Besides, it sounds like I may be busy hosting a few idiotic friends of mine at that time…”
Calvin laughed into the phone, and Josh smiled to himself. He did miss his idiotic friends and vaguely wondered how Rebecca and Sarah would mesh with his old crew. Sarah would be able to chat up anyone after she got comfortable enough around them, and Rebecca was the type of confident lady who would be able to find something in common with anyone.
“Let me know when you’re planning on coming over,” Josh said, suddenly desperate to have his friends in his house. “I won’t set you up, but I think you’d all get along just fine with Rebecca and Sarah.”
“Of course we would,” Calvin said, sounding somewhat offended, and Josh couldn’t tell through the phone if Calvin was joking or not. “We’ll be perfectly behaved, I promise.”
“I’m not sure that’s possible with all of you,” Josh said with a chuckle, “but I’ll try to hope.”
“Gee, thanks for believing in us,” Calvin said. “Alright, man, I’ll let you go. Promised that I would go and help Grace and Linda with some drum tracks. Take care!”
“See ya.” The phone line clicked dead and Josh suddenly felt alone among the crowds at the mall.
He shook his head, berating himself for the ridiculous feeling, and entered the pet store. Scanning the shelves, Josh quickly found the cat food and picked up as much of Peanut’s food as he could carry, certain he didn’t want to make this trip more often than necessary. Sarah had suggested the place for its prices, even if it was in the middle of the mall, and they usually had some donation boxes for pet shelters set up. Apparently the sisters always donated whenever they went into the mall for something, even if it wasn’t to shop at the pet store.
Josh figured it wasn’t so bad. It was clean-looking, the cashier seemed friendly, and the only animal they sold were fish. At least Josh didn’t have to stare at puppies and kittens lumped together in cages.
“What?” Josh, wide-eyed, looked back at the cashier. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Your total is thirty-three-oh-seven,” the cashier said. With slightly furrowed brows, he added, “Are you okay, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Josh dug out his wallet and handed the cashier a couple of twenties. Peering at the cashier’s nametag, Josh said, “I’m fine, Brian, but, uh, thanks for asking. Just lost in thought.”
Brian smiled, showing off dimples. “That’s good. I hope your kitty likes the food. Mine’s notoriously picky.”
“Peanut’s not too bad, thankfully,” Josh said, taking the bag of canned food. With a nod, he stepped out of the line and awkwardly left as Brian waited on the next customer. Josh glanced back into the store and took a deep breath before allowing himself to be swept up by the crowd.