Breaking Masks

by Dabeagle & Josh Aterovis


Chapter 4


I don’t understand why so many people feel the need to get coffee here in the morning. I know I’m not all that freaking happy to see them, so it can’t be my cheery personality. I had dragged my sorry ass in at six o’clock and tried to mainline just caffeine -- screw the cream and sugar and whipped toppings, just give me go-go juice. All the bureaucratic shit heads who work up at the Alfred E. Smith building in their lame suits and conservative twill skirts showed up here. Thing is, no one is nice in the morning unless they are on medication. So why in God’s name did I pick a place to work where I’d have to not only be a grouch but serve more bitchy people that I ever dreamed existed?

At least Saturday’s were quieter, though it certainly didn’t allow you to go out Friday night. Who was I kidding? Where was I going on Friday night? Maybe I could go down to the park and hang out with the winos.

This old grouch shuffled in and made his way to the counter. He was a chronic bitcher. Every day he would come in and complain about something. One day the cups were too thin. Another day the tops weren’t the right size for his cup. We called him the talking rug, because he had the world’s worst hairpiece and the hair on top of his head was white midway down his skull. He wasn’t fooling anyone.

I struggled to keep a straight face as he approached the counter. He had forgotten his hairpiece this morning and his bald pate glowed dully from the lights overhead. Wax on, wax off.

“Small coffee, please,” he said. I filled his order quickly, charging him the princely sum of one dollar and eighteen cents. After depositing the money, he began to turn away from me and I foolishly began to think that I would get away with no struggle from him today. I am such a dumb ass.

“What do you guys do to this coffee? It’s hot enough to melt my teeth!” If he wanted iced coffee, why didn’t he ask?

“Would you like me to put an ice cube in it for you?” I asked. The bell on the door jingled as he glared at me.

“The ice won’t fit with how far you filled this cup. You have to pour this into a bigger cup first, and then add some. I don’t want less coffee than I paid for. Why does it have to be so hot?”

I took his cup while mentally counting down from ten so that I didn’t coat the oldster with his java. I poured it into a larger cup, added some ice, and handed it back to him with a smile. He turned and slowly made his way to the door without so much as a thank you.

Oh shit! He was back! Why was he back? The guy from campus, the one dad said…Oh yeah, the really hot straight guy from campus. I don’t think he caught on that my blood pressure was a little elevated.

“Hi,” I said with as much cheer as I could muster. “You’re getting to be a regular here.” Smooth, Kody, be so cool and smooth that he never gets a clue. He’s bigger than you. He could kick your ass if he wanted to.

“What can I say? I like the company.” His smile was so good it was criminal. My pulse raced again and my nerves twitched involuntarily.

“So, uh, what can I get you?” I managed to say without too much stuttering, though I still played with the loose ends of my apron strings.

“Well, I’ve had the espresso and the double cappuccino with whipped cream. What would you suggest I try now? It can be anything as long as it has lots of caffeine. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

I’ll just bet you didn’t, probably balled that chick until she screamed for mercy. Of course, that image came to my mind and I pictured his sweat slicked body caught in the throes of passion. His tanned skin shone and his cheeks were flushed with the exertion of pleasuring his partner. The small groans and the short bursts of breath as a small droplet of sweat hung from his nipple….

“I, uh...we have some really good specialty blends,” I said to him as I tried to regain my composure. I don’t think it was working, I felt like such a total dork!

“What’s your favorite?” he asked me, adding in a crooked grin that made me very, very nervous. I continued to wrap the loose ends of my apron tie in my fingers in order to keep them busy.

“Hazelnut, heavy on the cream, and a touch of honey,” I replied without hesitation. Something I could say with out any form of thought involved!

“Sounds perfect. I’ll have that.”

I rang up his purchase while directing him to the self serve pots. I handed back his change, noting the soft feel of his palm as my fingers grazed his skin. I gave him a large mug, though he had only paid for a small. Ok, so I undercharged him. Satisfied? I watched him as he went to make the coffee, pouring then adding a generous dollop of cream. My fingers were clenched tightly, bunching my apron into so much mangled cloth. He added the dollop of honey and used a swizzle stick to get it all mixed together. He took a sip and turned to face me slowly, his face contorting.

“That’s horrible! How can you drink this stuff?”

Oh God! He hated it! Oh no, now what do I do? “I’m so sorry. You don’t have to drink it. Do you want something else? It’ll be on the house.” I blubbered like an idiot -- and I hated myself for it.

“Kody, calm down. I was just kidding. It’s really good.” He laughed at my frantic state and I felt even dumber than I had to begin with.

“So, you do like it?” I asked as I felt my cheeks redden at being caught in his farce. Wait a second! Hold on! He said my name! He knew who I was!

“Yeah, I really do.” He replied with a smile. I returned that smile and felt tremendous. I did something he liked! He approached me slowly, coffee in hand and I began to shuffle my feet under his gaze. What was he doing? He walked all the way up to the counter and was only a few feet away from me by the time I spoke.

“Can I get you anything else?” I made a mental wish list of the things I could happily provide to him.

“No thanks. This is good.” He said to me and turned, walking away and dashing that stupid little bit of hope that had taken hold in me. I watched him as he moved back to the table in the corner -- the only one I had ever seen him sit at -- and sat down with his coffee.

I watched him. This fascinating blond guy had me head over heels. And why? I didn’t know a thing about him. He could be a booger flicker. Or maybe he eats chocolate covered grasshoppers. I mean, I am sure he’d look nice eating them, sitting shirtless while he opened his mouth, spreading those lips and extending his tongue towards….

Oh shit! He looked this way! I turned my head and began to scrub the counter into submission. How much more of an imbecile can I be today -- flirting and fantasizing over a straight boy who is screwing with my head? So I have ‘gay boy that wants you’ tattooed on my head? I didn’t even know his name for crying out loud! I had a fresh pot of regular coffee going and I noticed a small spill. I pounced on it just as I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.

I looked up to see him only feet away again. I jumped, my hand jerking a little, and my cleaning rag caught on the handle of the pot, sending it -- and its hot contents -- crashing to the floor in spectacular fashion. Ow! That was hot!

I stood looking at him, trying to be stoic about the burning sensation on my legs, biting my lower lip so I didn’t scream bloody blue blazes.

“Are you okay?” He asked with some degree of concern. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“You didn’t,” I said between clenched teeth. My macho act was getting easier as the burning started to settle down a bit.

“Let me help clean it up,” He offered.

“No, it’s okay. I’ll get it.” I replied hurriedly. Max would kill me and I didn’t think him being so close to me was a good idea. Why can’t he be a normal guy and just reject me and the fact that I exist? This would be so much easier to get over. He was stepping behind the counter! The counter was my domain, my bulwark against the teeming unwashed masses of the general public.

“Did you burn yourself?” He asked while kneeling down and reaching for the cuff of my khakis. I jerked away in surprise. What? Was he thinking of being a doctor? Maybe a veterinarian?

“I just want to make sure you didn’t get burned.” He said with a trace more of compassion. I stood still while he lifted my pant leg a bit, feeling woefully inadequate in the leg department at the moment.

“Well, my official diagnosis would be that you didn’t get burned, at least not too badly.” He said, and I said thank you. Well, I tried but I was too keyed up with him close enough to touch, and kneeling in front of me to boot. If he had touched my leg I would have fallen over. Does anyone know what an aneurysm feels like?

“That’s the good news. The bad news is the floor’s a mess. Do you have a trash can for all this glass?” I nodded dumbly and grabbed one from the dispenser under the counter. I bent down with the opened bag and began to help grab the large pieces of the broken carafe. I don’t know why he was still back here. He didn’t cause the mess. My own dorky self did that. But it was nice.

“You don’t have to do this,” I whispered.

He caught my gaze. “I know. I want to.”

Oh God. His eyes are so beautiful! I looked away quickly, feeling a blush coming on. “Don’t cut yourself.” I told him, for lack of something better to say. I screwed up my courage to try and make some better conversation with him.

“How’d you know my name?” I asked. My imagination was running full gallop. He was a computer hacker and had stolen my files from the school! No, he had come in and complimented me to Max or Marla, being vague enough that they offered candidate’s names for whoever had served him so well. He had found out my name so he could ask me out!

“That lady called you by name when she came in yesterday -- Kody with a ‘K’.”

All those little pipe dreams fell to pieces. “Oh, that’s Max. She’s the manager here.”

“My name’s Jake,” he said to me. I looked up at him so fast my neck cracked. I had just said to him yesterday that everything was Jake when he asked me how I was. Was he screwing with me?

“No Joke,” he grinned. Did he remember what I had said the day before? He was smiling innocently so I smiled shyly in return, “Hi Jake.”

“Hi Kody.” He continued to smile at me, “I’d shake your hand but...” he held out his coffee drenched hand and I giggled.

“So, ah, would you...” he began, but the question was left unasked as the bell chimed to announce a customer. I bolted to a standing position only to come face-to-face with Max, who was rapidly closing the distance to the counter.

“What were you doing on the floor?” She asked. Oh my god! I was behind the counter with a customer who happened to be the hottest guy I can think of and my manager walked in. I am so fired! She is going to write me up and fire me!

Jake stood up next to me and Max’s eyes darted back and forth as she waited for an answer. I responded by darting into the office and out the back door of the shop, leaving Jake to face Max alone.

I leaned up against the wall, hot tears of panic welling up in my eyes. I had barely gotten this job two weeks ago and now I had customers behind the counter? Where was I going to get a job, especially with my limited skills? I knew how to pour coffee and wipe counters for crying out loud! What would my father say? Charlie would tell me I am an idiot. Oh shit.

I slid down the wall with tears tracking down my face. I wallowed in my self inflicted misery. I debated if I should just toss my apron on the ground and start walking home or not when the back door opened and Max stepped through.

“Why are you crying?” she asked mildly.

“Cause you’re going to fire me,” I said with a fresh tear racing down my face.

“Kody, breathe. Where am I going to find someone with your experience? I mean, yeah, you can’t have someone behind the counter, even if he is a cutie,” she smiled and I blushed a bit.

“You aren’t going to fire me?”

“I don’t fire people. Besides, you’re adorable; like a real person, only smaller.”

I laughed a little through my tears, which I tried to wipe off my face. I felt silly again. I slowly stood up.

“If I was over my ex, I’d go after that guy. Oh my God,” Max fanned herself with one hand.

“Yeah, he is hot,” I said. I looked up in surprise as I realized I had outed myself, but I wasn’t sure if she’d caught it or not. She sighed.

“Marla wins. She said you were gay. She spotted it, but I said you were straight,” she laughed and I relaxed. “So is that cutie gay too?”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “He was in here with some bimbo the other night. I don’t have a chance in hell.”

“Well, let’s go inside. I think Marla cleaned up your mess,” she snickered.

“Is he gone yet? I don’t want to see him. I turn into an idiot if he’s around,” I told Max.

“Yeah, I do the same thing if my ex is around.” She sighed and poked her head in the door.

“Hey, Mar. Is cutie-patootie gone yet?” she giggled.

“Yeah,” Marla laughed. “It’s safe to come out now.”

We reentered the shop and Marla was sipping a coffee. Max handed her a one dollar bill and told her she’d won. I blushed and Marla giggled.

“Oh, poor Kody!” she said while she patted me on the back. “Did Max force it out of you?”

“No, slip of the tongue,” I admitted.

“Oh well, we can look at cute guys together,” she laughed and I giggled a little with her.

“Oh, you should have seen when Scott worked here.” She rooted through her desk. “I think I have a picture in here somewhere.”

* * *

I walked home after work with my MP3 player hooked into my ears and playing the soundtrack from Mr. Holland’s Opus. Cole’s song was my favorite, and matched my hopeful yet somber mood. I passed the video store and a few small junk shops, singing the song under my breath as I walked.

I was doing my best to put Jake out of my head, nice as he had been. I just don’t get beautiful people. Don’t they know what kind of effect they have on mere mortals? It would be so much easier if he had been an asshole -- all wrapped up in himself and not even realizing I existed. But no, he has to be nice and considerate and give me a stupid little burst of hope. Of course, being nice to someone doesn’t mean that you are interested in them. In fact, I was nice to a great many people everyday and I wouldn’t mind a couple of them getting hit by city busses.

I headed up the stairs to my apartment and heard a door open and close as I hit the second floor. A guy was locking his door and he turned to look at me; He was average height with blond hair and green eyes that didn’t glitter, but rather gave off a mellow glow. He smiled and walked past me, heading for the stairs. Jeez, I didn’t know I had a neighbor -- let alone a good looking one. I opened my door and tossed my shirt into the hamper near the door. Since it was only me, I figured it was fine to have the dirty clothes hamper where it was convenient to drag out the front door.

I took a quick shower to get all of the coffee smells off of me, and then got myself into a pair of jeans and a VRU sweatshirt. My father nearly cleaned the campus store out of official VRU gear he was so eager and happy to have me there. I smiled in remembrance of how proud he was.

I grabbed some bus fare and my wallet before heading out the door again. My neighbor was coming up the stairs with a few bags of groceries, and I stopped to help him out.

“Need a hand?” I asked.

“If you start clapping I’ll beat you senseless with a bag of Cheetos,” he laughed as he handed me a couple of the plastic bags.

“No clapping, got it,” I replied with a grin. He used his free hand to unlock and open the door; leaving it open for me to trail in his wake. His place was clean, well ordered, and a mirror image of my floor plan.

“You can set that right on the counter over here,” he said indicating the countertop in his kitchenette area. After releasing my hold, he stuck his hand out to shake, giving me a warm, sure grip. His hand felt muscular, toned from sports, and was absolutely delightful.

“I’m Nick Pedersen,” he said with a toothy smile.

“Kody Kingsley,” I replied returning his smile and handshake.

“KK, gotcha,” he grinned as he released my hand. “We’re having a party tonight. Stop in if you like or tell us if we’re too loud, man.”

“Uh, sure, thanks Nick. I’ll see you later,” I stammered as I headed back out the door. He just smiled and I closed his door behind me.

Well, that was interesting! I headed out the door with my mood buoyed considerably, and headed for the bus stop. Capital District Transportation Authority, or CDTA ran the bus system out here and it was fairly decent. The seats sucked on most of them, like most city busses, but they were fairly reliable as far as being on time.

I took the bus out to Crossgates Mall, a huge shrine built to pay homage to the gods of retail. To date it boasts two hundred and fifty retail stores, plus eight anchor stores. That’s one point six million square feet of shopping nirvana. Yeah, I liked to shop.

The ride took about twenty minutes and I got off in front of Lord & Taylor. The two-level mall had all sorts of places to go, and I browsed before heading into T.J. Maxx to hit the underwear section. Charlie thought it was funny to take most of them out of my suitcases before I left, and though dad promised to send them, he was notorious for forgetting packages.

I strolled through the aisles, looking at the jeans and the name brand shirts that were defective for reasons I usually couldn’t tell. The socks and underwear section was at the back of the store in the far right corner. One display rack held tee shirts and separate racks held socks and underwear. I perused the underwear, checking out the prices before making a selection. I like to shop, but I don’t like to blow money. I never buy Fruit of the Loom because of that FTL they put on them, it looks tacky, like a house brand cheap garment, or something made in a Guatemalan sweat shop. Funny how a name or a symbol can affect you, huh?

I pawed through the rest of the Hanes, before turning the corner and freezing. There’s a brand of underwear called Jake & Co.? You have got to be kidding me. Was this meant as some kind of cosmic joke? Everywhere I went there was a Jake, even down to underwear! This was too much. I pawed through and found two packages of my size. I figured this was the only way Jake was getting in my pants, anyway. I admit I felt stupid walking to the counter, as if the clerk would see my reason for buying that brand and call me for it on the intercom.

“Attention shoppers! Kody Kingsley has just brought two packages of Jake & Co. boxer briefs to the counter because he has a ridiculous crush on someone named Jake! Can we have someone from security here?”

But of course, that didn’t happen and I walked out with my new underwear safely in a bag. I had lost my zest for the mall, and headed home with my new purchases, wondering what was wrong with me. The bus let me off on Central Avenue. I walked up the street, hearing the strains of Matchbox 20 coming from my house. Must be the party, I thought to myself.

I climbed the stairs in the dark, reminding myself I would have to speak to the landlord since this was somewhat dangerous, especially if I thought of Jake and tripped. Jake would be an accessory to my accident, owing to him being so good looking and charming.

The door to my neighbor’s apartment muffled the music and the murmur of conversation, laughter punctuating the hum of voices at regular intervals. I opened my door and walked into my bedroom, dropping the bag with its incriminating evidence. I debated going to the party, surely my face wouldn’t give away my infatuation completely, right?

I combed my hair once more, adding a little dry wax to get the front to flip up in the front, and then headed next door. I stood outside for a moment to gather my courage, and knocked. Nick answered.

“Kody! Come on in man, meet everyone….”

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