Scenes from a Relationship:
first step of the adventure

Joey picked at his cold french fries, determined to finish all of them before work. He wouldn't have another chance to eat for another five hours or so and, dammit, he was a growing boy. His burger and milkshake were long gone, but the fries lived on, some of them slick with congealed grease, some of them burnt to an unhealthy grey colour. Still, they tasted okay to him.

"These seats taken?"

Joey looked up and realized that just about every seat in the cafeteria was taken, and he was alone at a table for four. "Knock yourselves out," he said, gesturing at the empty seats with a smile as he stuffed another french fry in his mouth. The man who'd spoken smiled in thanks; the girl who was with him just gave a nod and swept her long brown hair over one shoulder.

"Hey, I've seen you around," said the man, looking at Joey curiously. He was clean-shaven, and his dark hair was slightly longish on top, the waves in it either created by, or tamed by, a generous application of mousse. "You're in one of the shows, right?"

Joey grinned and nodded, feeling giddy at being recognized, even though he knew it was more likely Chris had simply seen him in this same cafeteria before. "Hey, you too," he said, looking at him closely. "You sing, right?"

"We both sing," interrupted the girl, flipping the lid off her salad and 'coating' it with about 5 drops of dressing. "I'm sure you've seen us."

"You're good," said Joey, still looking at the guy he'd been talking to. He popped one more french fry in his mouth and held out his hand to him. "Joey Fatone," he said. "Nice to meet you."

"Chris Kirkpatrick," he offered, shaking his hand before starting on his own lunch. "Thanks for the seats, man, I though we were going to end up outside against the wall again." He bit into his sandwich and chewed enthusiastically.

"I hate it out there," said Joey, twirling a french fry in a big puddle of ketchup and drawing a lopsided happy face. "Sun beating down on you, downwind of all the smokers. That's where I spent most of last week. I mean, nothing against smokers," he amended quickly, looking up. "I like smokers. But geez, not while I'm eating."

"Oh, yeah, I totally agree," said the girl, smiling at Joey for the first time. "That's what I'm always telling Chris, here. 'Put out that smoke!' I say. 'You're gonna ruin your voice.' But does he ever listen?" She put a piece of lettuce in her mouth and chewed delicately, still smiling.

"You smoke?" asked Joey, now using a burnt fry to drag tracks of ketchup across his plate.

"Only when I drink," amended Chris, glaring at his friend for a moment. "I make a living off my voice. I know the score."

"Yeah, me too," said Joey, watching the woman out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to be sizing him up, and liking what she saw if the growing smile and predatory look were any indication.

He popped one of the ketchup coated fries into his mouth, a bit self-consciously, then looked up and gave her an even gaze. "And you are...?" he said, reminding her she hadn't introduced herself yet.

"Annabelle," she said, with just a hint of a British accent. Obviously an affectation. She held out her hand to him limply, and he felt obligated to shake it. He loved to flirt with his friends, but the look she was giving him was making him uncomfortable. Like he was...dinner or something. And there was only one person he liked getting that particular look from.

"So how long do you have for lunch?" asked Chris, taking another huge bite of his sandwich and watching Joey for his answer.

"I gotta be in make-up in, like, fifteen minutes," he admitted. "I just needed to fill up before going on and I didn't grab anything before I left today." He grabbed the remaining four fries and shoved them all in his mouth.

"That's too bad," said Annabelle, pouting prettily and putting her fork down in her salad. "We were just getting to know you."

"Yeah," said Chris, putting down his crust on the piece of crinkled plastic wrap and shoving it aside. "Listen, one of the girls I work with is having a party tonight," he said. "You should come along. It's gonna be a blast."

"Actually, I have plans with Dirk tonight," said Joey, standing up and gathering his trash, still watching Annabelle out of the corner of his eye.

"Who's Dirk?" asked Annabelle. "A friend of yours? He's welcome to come along, you know. I'm going to have a friend there, and maybe we can hook them up..." She smiled at him sweetly, beginning to pick at her salad again.

Joey looked up at her and grinned mischievously. "He's my boyfriend," he said, turning to the side and tossing his trash flawlessly into the nearby garbage can. He could hear Chris trying to mask a chuckle beside him. When he looked up again, Annabelle's face was red and her eyes were focused intently on her lunch.

"You're both welcome to come," said Chris, pulling out a pen and grabbing one of the clean napkins off the table. "Here's the address. If you come, you come. If you don't, well, I'm sure I'll catch you around." He handed the napkin to Joey, and Joey could see that he was still trying to hide his amusement.

"Thanks," said Joey, pocketing the napkin. "I gotta run. I was nice meeting you, Chris. Oh, and you too, Annabelle," he added, waving as he started out of the room, hurrying to make sure he was on time. Maybe it would be fun to show up at a party tonight; he'd have to see how Dirk felt about it. Smiling, he walked out into the sunshine and headed on his way.