Breaking Masks

by Dabeagle & Josh Aterovis


Chapter 2


“It’ll be good for you,” Dad had said. “You’ll be independent,” he had said. “It’ll be such a great experience, all new things for you,” he had said. Well, so far -- not so different, I thought to myself as I wiped the countertop. I still worked in a freaking coffee shop -- not so different from the one dad owned for that matter.

“Oh my god, I am so tired,” Max said as she came through the door. My manager was always tired whether it was first thing in the morning or the middle of her day off. “Did you make any hot chocolate?”

“Yes, Max,” I replied. I had been working here for a week and I still thought it kind of funny the manager didn’t drink coffee.

“What time is orientation?” she asked as she moved behind the counter. Marla was waiting on a customer and Mike was cleaning up behind the counter. At nine o’clock the biggest part of the morning rush was over and drudgery would soon set in until shortly before noon -- just like home.

“Ten, but I’ll leave about quarter of since I’ve never been there before,” I replied as I, too, headed behind the counter.

“That’s fine. Did you make me a copy of your schedule? Thanks.” She turned from me to accept a cup of hot chocolate from Marla. They were a study in contrasts. Marla was petite with long blond hair streaked with darker shades, and Max was a large woman with long chestnut curls who smiled frequently, especially when Mike worked, though he appeared to be oblivious.

“Right here.” I pulled the folded paper from my back pocket.

“Good. You’d have been in so much trouble if you forgot.” She grinned and walked away to the small office in the back. Mike and I finished wiping down tables and refilling coffee pots while Marla waited on the straggler customers. At nine forty, I hung up my little red apron, tucked my shirt in, and waved to the rest of the crew at the Morning Rush before heading off to orientation.

Van Rensselaer University of New York at Albany was my destination. I had been told that New York was humid in the summertime, but today had a nice breeze going and actually wasn’t too bad. I strolled up Central Avenue, past a couple of bars that were closed and a couple of shops just opening up. Traffic was heavy and city busses groaned by, the sidewalks were covered in people bustling to and fro.

VRU had been my dad’s idea, and I thought it was great at first. I was away from home and away from him for the first time in five years, on my own in a new city with all sorts of opportunities. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, after we showed up and found an apartment for me and got it all set up; it hadn’t taken me long to break down and call him and my little brother, Charlie. I'd laughed at him when he bought the phone cards, but I guess he laughed last.

I got a job in short order, and the coffee shop fit me very well considering all the experience I had at home. I seemed to fit pretty well at the coffee shop too, despite not being out or anything. No one questioned me, and I guess that’s not really the sort of thing to say to someone upon being introduced.

Dad graduated from VRU sometime in the Stone Age, and he thought it would be great for me to get my education where he did. I was beginning to think this was a really bad idea as I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have anything to fall back on except for that little phone and the cards he gave me. I mean, if I am supposed to be independent I can’t call home every fifteen minutes, can I?

I mounted the stone steps in front of the main VRU Administration building but just as I reached for the door, it opened. I stepped back as a fellow student rushed by me with a quick apology and a flash of a smile. Did I say a flash? Time seemed to slow for a second, allowing me a glimpse of dark blond locks framing a strong face with a clear, smooth brow. His lips were rosy and full and only the white upper teeth showed when he smiled. He had some slight stubble near his chin, hopefully not growing one of those stupid spikes of hair some baby-faced guys were so fond of these days. Other than that, his cheeks were smooth.

Then he disappeared around the corner. It took me a moment to realize that I was standing outside, holding the door open like the world’s dumbest doorman. I tried to stroll in as if nothing had happened, but my heart was pounding and my palms were sweating just a bit. I proceeded, unsteadily, to the table set up for assisting with directions for new students and inquired about the location of the orientation.

After crossing campus to the lecture hall, I looked around in vain for a seat. I had no idea you would need to show up early to get a seat to a freshman orientation! I leaned up against a break in the humanity lining the wall and studied the room. It was an amphitheater style auditorium with a balding man in a charcoal suit and maroon tie speaking about random crap concerning the campus and surrounding community.

The room looked a little out of date. Shiny, mustard colored drapes hung over the tall windows, open to allow the summer light to drench the room and fall like a spot light on the hot guy in the next to last row.

Holy shit! It was the guy from the admin building! He was a freshman too! I suppose it would be too much to ask that he be a Journalism major as well? Maybe he’d need a private tutor? I needed a new hobby -- or a hobby. Every time I started to take in some aspect of the room, my gaze returned to him, sunlight hitting his straight hair at the crown of his head, forming a silly little halo that shimmered every time he shifted in his chair, from boredom no doubt. This speaker could put a group of insomniacs to sleep!

The guy shifted in his chair again, and tilted his head to scratch just under his chin. The motion revealed the tanned skin on his shoulders and neck, as he dug just under the collar for whatever was irritating him -- outside of the speaker of course. From what I could see, there wasn’t a blemish to be had.

“So, if I could have attendance here real quick, we are going to identify you all by major by a show of hands. Accounting?” the speaker broke into my thoughts as he began counting hands. I paid attention as he moved through the majors, raising my hand at Journalism and watching in amusement as people made a sudden berth around those that raised their hands in response to Mortuary Science.

My guy raised his hand as General Studies were announced, a toned arm with very smooth skin, nicely tanned. Ok, this was definitely unhealthy, as dad would say. If I let my imagination run from here we’d have me married with three kids, a mortgage, a second car and divorced before we leave the lecture hall.

We were all dismissed finally, and I left having absorbed only that this guy had great skin and that he was in General Studies. I sincerely hoped that baldy hadn’t said anything important. I was swept outside by the rush of people, which was just as well since I’d probably just stand and stare at that guy while people poured around me, like water breaks on the pylons of a bridge.

Dad would laugh. I did this way too much. Well, not this time mister cute fella! I am not falling for your charms! I marched resolutely to the bookstore to grab some extra notebooks and possibly a paperback for that evening, as a distraction. I crossed the impossibly bright campus, down the brick walkways to the student union where the bookstore and other shops were located. I was about to walk in when I heard the distinct sound of video games, for which I freely admit I need a twelve step.

The arcade was small. It just had a few out-of-date games, but I dropped some quarters in there, mindlessly succumbing to my addiction. I ran out of quarters a buck fifty later. I resisted the temptation to get more change, and headed back over to the bookstore. The store was smallish, with stacks of books in huge piles arranged by class number. I stepped in and came to a halt. Damn it! There he was! Browsing the books and holding a sheet of paper out in front of him as he compared numbers on his class schedule to the ones hanging from the stacks of books.

I froze like a squirrel in the road, my body twitching between going in the store and turning and running. He glanced about him in frustration, apparently not finding the book he wanted. A couple of people brushed past me and I drifted on into the store, moving slowly over to the fiction stock they kept. I wanted so badly to go over and help him find his stuff, but that was way too close to being a stalker for comfort. Well, watching him, unobserved was relatively creepy as well, but justifiable.

After all, this guy looks like he’s almost six foot and probably bangs cheerleaders two at a time while chugging a pitcher of beer. God knows anyone who looks like that can’t be a virgin -- unlike yours truly. He looked around for help, but the girls behind the counter were busy ringing up purchases that mommies and daddies were putting on their charge cards. I hesitated, thinking how just a bit ago I was pumping myself up to not get caught up by this beautiful work of art -- and yet my feet were already moving. Ever get the feeling some parts of your body turn traitor at times?

I moved slowly across the floor, drawing ever closer to him as he appeared to be ready to give up his search. Then, quite suddenly, that’s just what he did, exiting the shop in long strides that would have left me running to catch up to. I watched him go, as silent as I had been while watching from a distance. What was I supposed to say to catch his attention? “Hey, unbelievably cute guy! Need some help to find your books?”

I walked back to the fiction section, paperback in hand and searched for where it belonged on the shelf. My father’s coffee shop also sold books, so I was a little bit of a stickler for books going where they belonged. He was so anal about that sort of thing. I settled on a car magazine and left the student union, bound for home.

It was only Thursday, so I had a few more days before class started on Monday. There would be no sleeping in. Max had made sure to tell me that I would be opening every day that I didn’t have an early class. I idly wondered if my newest crush liked coffee. The sun stayed high in the sky for a few more hours as I lay on my small couch reading from my magazine.

Dad and I had gone shopping when I got here, but the furniture was all used. Dad says that’s all part of the college experience, but I admit hitting garage sales and stuff was kind of fun. All my furniture was used, dented and scratched, with the exception of the bed. Dad said that no matter what anyone said, he got the creeps buying a used mattress, so he’d sprung for a new one. It was full size -- plenty big enough for me -- and simple in design. The mattress was heaven, though, with one of those little pillows laid across the entire top of the mattress. Yeah, baby! That’s what I’m talking about!

I had a battered nineteen-inch TV which was on my list to upgrade when possible, but no cable or internet yet. For now, I had to go to the school to use the internet, but I hoped Dad might be planning to send me a computer for my birthday. At least, I hope he read my not so subtle hints for one.

I rolled off the mattress and switched on the PS2, the one thing dad let me take. Charlie, my little brother, fought like a champ; but I hid it in my suitcase. It didn’t take long for me to switch it off, though. Thoughts of this guy were still messing with me. I hate it when I get like this. These temporary obsessions never work out.

First there was TJ, who was gorgeous...and totally unavailable since he was so far up Ian’s ass you could see his nose coming out from between Ian’s lips. Then there was Joseph, who had so much baggage I am sure Samsonite was jealous. Andy followed, a little blond haired angel with the devil’s own way of telling you he wasn’t interested. The list goes on, but it only gets more depressing and I only dredge it up in order to remind myself that it’s okay to look, would be wonderful to touch but…I just have bad luck in matters of the heart. My latest was probably down at the local slut hangout having sex with at least five partners in the first half hour.

Eight o’clock approached, and I decided to go down to the shop and get something to drink -- maybe a little snack as well. I pulled on my shoes and stepped into the hallway. The light must have burnt out ‘cause it was darker there than the inside of an elephant’s asshole. I felt my way down the hall to the stairs and descended one by one until I made that awkward step at the bottom where you think there is one more step but there isn’t.

The evening was cool -- great walking weather -- and I strolled up the sidewalk lit with streetlights. People walked and milled about on the sidewalk, outside clubs, bars, and a video store called Deja View. I noticed a multi-colored gay pride flag in the window of the video store and decided I needed a membership there. I hummed to myself as I crossed the street and moved to the next block where the awning of the Morning Rush could be seen.

I stepped into the glow from the interior lights and froze. There he was, drinking coffee in my store...with a chick. Not only that, she was shamelessly flirting! Leaning on one elbow, making her shirt go taut against her breasts. He was leaning back in his chair with his legs spread, baggy jeans giving away nothing. She gave him a saucy grin, and I could practically hear her asking him to go back to her place and screw her one remaining brain cell out.

My appetite soured, I turned and began heading back to my apartment. I should have quit, I told myself. You know this shit never works out. But do you listen? No. Now you are disappointed again and now you’re bummed. I hate that little voice. If it had a neck I’d strangle it.

* * *

“If I have to deal with another customer, I’ll scream,” Marla snarled as she looked at me. Her previous customer had complained the coffee was too hot, and when Marla cheerfully put an ice cube in it to make it more palatable, the customer bitched that she was watering down the coffee. Was he for real? I merely nodded at her and took her place at the register while she stepped out back to pollute her lungs. She only smoked name brand cigarettes, and I told her if she would smoke the cheaper stuff she could take the difference and save for an iron lung. She flipped me off before stepping out the back door.

I filled what seemed like an endless line of orders for coffee, bagels, and muffins. Someone didn’t like the cream cheese and another one said his bagel had been heated too much. Jesus, talk about spoiled people! Max showed up about nine thirty and began working out next week’s schedule.

“I have this application, but listen to this,” she said during a quiet moment. “This lady comes in to fill this out, and she says to me that she wants to be honest. She says she was arrested for assault, but only because the guy was more hurt than she was, but that she’s all straightened out now as she is a Jehovah’s Witness. She wants to know if that will affect her ability to get a job, and I had to look her in the face and say no, of course it won’t!” She giggled, and I joined her.

“About as good as the champion spellers you get in here,” I said.

“Tell me about it! We work in a college neighborhood and these people can’t spell the name of the last place they worked.”

“Max, are you going to hire Tricia?” Mike asked as he returned from wiping down tables.

“I don’t work well with women,” she thought for a moment before adding, “Marla doesn’t count.”

“Why not?” Mike asked with a little petulance.

“Because, if I hire that bimbo you won’t do anything except try and get in her pants. I can’t fire her for not sleeping with you, and I can’t fire her cause you want me to just so I can hire someone else for you to sleep with!” she told him, all the while trying to sound stern but failing with her grin in place.

“Allison was a one time thing, a total mistake,” he grumbled and Marla laughed at him.

Mike left about twenty minutes later, and Max took Marla a few doors down to the Chinese place for lunch. I swept up the place and took care of a few odds and ends before pulling a coffee, light and sweet, for myself. I sat on the chair in the manager’s vestibule, the counter clearly visible to me.

I heard the bell go off as someone entered the store, and I stood to go to the counter. I intended to put my coffee on the side of the cash register. I say intended because it never made it. Blue eyes were approaching, clear but unfocused as they tried to adjust from the glare of the bright afternoon to the relative darkness of the store. I dropped my coffee cup as he approached the counter. I cussed under my breath as I jumped back in an attempt to avoid the coffee that would fountain out of the top. That little plastic top is never quite enough to stand up to the tidal wave of coffee if you drop the cup.

“Excuse me,” I said quickly. I grabbed the mop from the small closet door that was just inside the manager’s office. After mopping up my mess, I returned to the counter all flustered. Now I had to face my cheerleader-screwing champion. Of all the coffee places in the city for him to go to, he had to come here? Was this some kind of punishment?

“So, ah, do I place my order with you?” he asked with a small smile. Oh jeez, look at that, he has such cute dimples! His voice was nice too -- a little scratchy maybe, but nice. Why do I care? He’s straight! Oh shit, he means me!

“Um, yeah,” I responded after what must have been a delay of about a millennia. He ordered a double cappuccino with whipped cream, telling me it had been recommended to him. I don’t think I can bear to see him with a whipped cream moustache! I tried to move efficiently behind the counter, but I had turned into a klutz in mere seconds. First I dropped the cup, but thankfully it didn’t break. Then I aimed three times -- three freaking times -- for the button to dispense the highly caffeinated drink before finally hitting the mark.

Straight boys just shouldn’t be allowed to be hot, it just wasn’t fair. Even knowing that he had probably bopped that bimbo last night didn’t change the enjoyment I took from his presence for a moment. I felt a momentary twinge of sadness at the reminder that he was straight, and felt a bit more lethargic than I had a moment ago.

I was afraid as I approached the machine that dispensed the whipped cream that it would explode when I got near it, coating me with whipped cream and completing my foolish appearance. I managed the cream without incident and moved carefully back to the counter where he stood with a bemused expression on his face. I’ll bet he thinks most people are idiots ‘cause they act like this around him.

“Um, you ok?” he asked.

“Yeah, um, sure, everything’s Jake,” I said while I withdrew my hands from the cup before they could do any more damage.

“Cute,” he said as he handed me a five for which I made change.

He took his drink and sat at a corner table, sipping quietly while observing the street. He had a sad expression and, inexplicably, I suddenly felt sorry for him. I don’t know why I cared, but I screwed up my courage and walked around the counter towards his table...then retreated behind the counter. Coffee first, I can act like I am taking a break. Be cool and nonchalant. I grabbed a cup and filled it with Columbian, added sugar and cream, of course, and headed towards his table again. He had a far away expression on his face, and I was loath to interrupt his silence.

So I chickened out. I went back behind the counter and tried to forget he was there. I hid in the manager’s office praying the bell didn’t ring because if I had to go out there and attempt to be graceful I just knew it would end in someone’s death! Of course, the bell did ring and I looked out to see Max and Marla back from lunch.

“Kody with a ‘K’, you can go. We’re back,” Max called out as she walked in the front door. She always said that after I corrected her for misspelling my nametag.

I didn’t want to walk past him. I’d probably fall on my ass right in front of him. I could hang out and talk, but they’d know something was wrong. Not because I don’t ever stay to chat, but because I knew I must look like a moron right about then. Matter of fact, I feel like that was tattooed on my forehead.

“Kody, go on! Get out of here!” Max said with a giggle as she walked behind the counter. Marla merely smiled as I reluctantly took off my apron.

“Sure you don’t need anything else done?” I asked.

“I’m married and you aren’t her type,” Marla quipped. Max slapped her and they laughed while I looked at them both as if they were insane.

“I’ll take a little piece of that guy out there though,” Max commented. They were talking about my guy! Well, Max had a better chance than I did anyway.

“We still need someone, Max. Tell him to fill out an application,” Marla said.

“That would be way too obvious,” Max scoffed. “Kody, go give him an application.”

“What?” I gaped at her.

“Give him an application. You know, for a job?” Max said slowly, as if I were an idiot.

“Why me?” I croaked. I should have just taken my chances and left when she said it the first time. Max just laughed and retreated into her office. I cautiously slipped out from behind the counter and walked towards this guy that fascinated me so. He was still looking off into some far away place with that air of sadness about him that suddenly made him less an object and more of a person. I sighed, sucker that I am, and walked over to him.

“Did it live up to the recommendation?” I asked.

“Sorry?” he asked as my words pulled him from that daze.

“Your coffee, is it ok?” I asked, pointing to his glass mug.

“Oh, yeah, it’s great. Much better than that other place on campus. Bitter, bitter stuff over there,” he gave a small shiver for emphasis.

“Ok, good, well, see you,” I said as I moved to the door.

“Kody!” Max hissed then deteriorated into a giggle. I turned red and knew what she wanted. I slowly walked to the kiosk with applications, mouthed to her that she owed me, and walked back to his table.

“Um, they are hiring here, if you’re interested,” I mumbled.

"Excuse me?” he said with a bemused expression. I felt my face flush and I heard Max and Marla laughing in the back as he suddenly understood.

“Job, huh? Thanks,” he said taking the blank form from me. I blushed even deeper and practically bolted out the door.

* * *

I climbed the stairs two at a time and entered my apartment, closing the door and leaning my back against it. Jesus, this was so not fair! The guy was straight, and I still acted like I was some star-struck little groupie. I should have gotten an autograph!

I pulled off my tee shirt with the college logo on it and threw it across the room in frustration. Sometimes I could just kick my ass! I headed into the kitchenette and started to look around for something easy to make, and then decided against it. I was full of nervous energy and it was entirely depressing. I decided that of my limited options in coping, I would do what I did best -- whine to dad.


“Hi, Dad, it’s Kody.”

“Goose, how’re things going?”

I sighed.

“Uh oh, what’s his name?” Dad said in a knowing tone of voice.

“I don’t even know,” I replied.

“Goose, that is just so wrong. Why do you do this to yourself?”

“I don’t know!” I walked around the room restlessly with the phone, “He’s just so cute, and I did just like you said, I told myself no, I really did.”

“So what part of no didn’t you make clear to yourself?”

“It’s not that! I walked away, I really did! I went and played video games, and then went to the bookstore to get something to read.” I sat on my couch for emphasis.

“So what happened then?”

“There he was -- big as life and totally hot,” I said mournfully. My dad sighed.

“Kody, please tell me you did not knock over a stack of books into a plate glass window or something?”

“No!” I replied, mentally sticking my tongue out at him.

“Well, what happened then?” he asked warily.

“I started to walk towards him and he just left. Just like that he was gone.” I replied.

“So why do I get the feeling there is more to the story?”

“Well, I saw him last night when I went down to go get a cup of coffee, and he was with a girl,” I sighed.

“You sure can pick ‘em, Kody. If he’s a straight boy, don’t think it’ll be like some internet story where you turn him queer just for you, okay?” My father begged. Ever since I tried to get into the dating scene he had been there to bail out my broken heart.

“I just act like a total nerd around him. I drop stuff and I can’t seem to focus.” I replied softly.

“Just take him off your list. He’s like people on TV, pretty to look at and that’s it. You can’t live your life hoping that a straight boy is going to notice you, Goose.” His voice was soothing, a balm for my frazzled nerves.

“I know. I guess I just needed my talk since you aren’t here to give it to me,” I sighed.

“It’ll be ok, Goose, you’ll find someone. Here’s Charlie,” he said.

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