Title: "Pretty as a Picture"
Author: Mala
E-mail: malisita@yahoo.com
Fandom: "Angel"
Rating/Classification: PG-13, Lindsey, angst.
Disclaimer: Grrr aargh.
Summary: A pre-"Angel" short about a young associate and his morning hang-out spot.

"Streets littered with diamonds
Everyone is glistening
This whole world shines so brightly
I can't see a thing."
--"L.A.", David Greenwalt.

The coffee tastes like shit, but he's used to bitter dregs and sludge after late nights spent in law libraries. There were times when he'd actually take to licking the grounds out of used filters just for the jolt. But all the caffeine paid off...and now his jolt comes from putting on the crisp shirts and ties every morning and saying a silent "fuck you" to Wheaton, Oklahoma, as he grabs his briefcase and waits for the carpool for Wolfram&Hart.

He always waits around the corner from his apartment. At the same no-name diner. He tells himself that it's because he can grab coffee...and not because his building is falling down and there's a crack house next door. Not because his dead-from-the-cross-country-drive truck, with its peeling pink paint, screams "pig farmer." Not because he's ashamed.

He won't have to be for long.

They tell him he's got potential. That he was chosen because he was first in his graduating class and showed amazing promise. He's an ambitious country boy. Hungry. They know it.

And he knows it, too. He'll be away from this roach-infested neighborhood soon enough. And he won't ever look back.

"Refill?" the waitress wonders, watching his hand hover around the handle of the empty cheap pewter cup.

"Sure." He shrugs, watching the steady stream of near-black liquid flow from the decanter. In the three months he's been coming here, she's never spilled a drop. And she's never said more than one word. The same word, actually. And never more than that. No small talk. She's not a bartender. She doesn't give a fuck about his problems because she's got her own.

Once or twice, he has bothered to glance up, register the passingly pretty face and the bitter green eyes. Her nametag, he remembers, says "Anne."

She stops two inches before the rim, flicks her wrist to right the decanter, and then moves away from his booth with efficient grace. Doesn't look back. She doesn't *ever* look back.

He always waits around the corner from his apartment.

At this same no-name diner.

He tells himself that it's because he can grab coffee...

He *knows* it's because he gets a side order of life lessons.

***

Stevens from Contracts drops him off in the same spot every day. Right in front of where he got picked up eight hours before. Eventually, he's going to have enough money to buy a shiny new car, rent a place with gated entry, and then he'll stay late at the office, later than anyone else there, and write briefs until his hand falls off.

Because he's just that dedicated. Just that determined.

Most nights, he turns the corner and walks the length of the block to his personal hellhole, his keys out and at the ready so he can undo his five locks in record time. Some nights, though, he stops inside the dimly-lit diner for more hideous java.

He's a glutton for punishment.

He slides onto a stool at the end of the formica counter and savors another cup of abuse, of insight, as he tugs at the knot of his tie and unbuttons his collar, deftly, with two fingers.

"Refill?" asks Anne after allowing him enough time to swallow the last tepid drops.

"Yeah."

Once again, he registers that she is young and blond and pretty. Not the kind of "pretty" that is so typical of L.A., plastic and carbon copy and liposuctioned. This isn't the side of town where every waitress is a would-be actress with a stack of headshots stuffed into her apron. No, she's got the beauty of the dry, dusty plains of his home state. Aged beyond her years. Burned by the elements and still standing strong.

Funny, but he's never thought of Oklahoma as beautiful before.

Bone-deep sadness has a haunting sort of appeal.

That is, he thinks, why he fled to a place where everything is superficial and no one looks beneath the skin.

He has learned not to look too deep, too close.

And when he lets himself into his place, twenty minutes later, he remembers to forget her face. And the memory of home.

--end--

July 15, 2002.



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