I got to the store at five-thirty in the morning to find Max had not arrived yet. I stood outside in the brisk first light. It wasn’t quite cold enough for my breath to plume, but it wasn’t off by much. I had dreamed of Jake last night. I had been home when he stopped to check on me, and we’d sat on the couch and talked and talked. He kept saying what a nerd I was, and how I shouldn’t drink so much.
“I am so tired!” Max said as she approached. I smiled and she rolled her eyes while grinning. She was always cheerfully complaining, just as she was perennially tired. “I hate being up this early. Who really needs coffee this early?”
“I know. How can anyone be cheerful this time of day?” We got inside and Max headed for the office while I hung up my coat. The coffee pots were all clean and ready to go. I broke open the coffee packets to start that morning’s brew.
“Don’t forget the hot chocolate!” Max called out. She poked her head out of the office. “Oh, Kody! Oh my God! Let me tell you what happened. My sister is such a whore.” I burst out laughing. “I’m serious,” she continued. “I was on the phone with her last night and she was telling me about her new boyfriend, right? So I asked her what her boyfriend does for a job. She said, ‘doing me is his job’. How much of a pig can she be? After I got a good look at him, all I could think was that he’d be on the unemployment line soon ‘cause honey, there is not enough down there to keep her happy very long!” I laughed so hard tears were rolling down my cheeks.
“Max, that is just wrong.” I choked.
Marla walked in just then. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
So Max told her the story. She had to—I was laughing too hard to say anything. Mike walked in to complete the morning crew and caught us all laughing like idiots.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Max’s sister is a slut,” I said and burst out laughing.
“No, worse! She’s a whore!” Max said and we were all laughing again.
Customers began to filter in and we were soon filling orders at a rapid pace. My first class was at nine o’clock and before I knew it, it was eight-fifteen. I went out to wipe down tables before leaving when I saw Jake through the window. I scampered back to the manager’s office like a scared rabbit.
“What are you doing?” Max asked from her chair. She was doing payroll on the computer and also had the phone in her hand.
“Um, first day. I’m not sure where the classroom is. Can I go ahead and go now?” I asked as I grabbed my coat from the hook and replaced it with my apron. I grabbed my book bag and smiled at Max while she nodded her head distractedly. I glanced out to where Jake stood with his coffee, before ducking out the back door. I couldn't to face him right then.
I went down the alleyway and paused at the corner of the building. I could see Jake in the front window with his coffee cup, peering towards the back of the store. I turned quickly and darted up the sidewalk heading to my first class.
Basic English must be one of the most boring subjects known to man. I can speak and write English pretty well, but I can’t diagram a sentence to save my life. I was so bored with the droning that I spent most of my class time looking around and studying my classmates. After that double session of English, and receiving my homework assignment, I had an hour break for lunch. I headed over to the cafeteria and had my meal card swiped at the entryway. I walked through slowly and checked out my lunch options.
I settled on a cheeseburger with some fries, and a coke to round it all out. I started into the dining room and immediately ducked behind a pillar. Jake was eating with the incredible hulk from the party. What was he, his bodyguard? I set my tray down on top of the garbage can and grabbed its contents, darting for the door. I looked over my shoulder once and wondered if I had been spotted when I darted out.
I sat in the hallway and ate as I waited for the appointed hour for Western Civilization. As I was sitting there, the SS Mountain of Flesh cruised into view. I was a little surprised. I thought he might need directions from Jake just to breath. He looked down at the front of his notebook, and I imagined he had a list from Jake on the front: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
I sat quietly, schooling my face to neutrality and pretending to read so I didn’t get stomped in the hallway. He passed the window set in the wall opposite me and blocked out the sun. Well, at least he was good for shade. After a moment, I realized that I was still in shade. I looked up from my book to find he was staring down at me with what could almost be called a thoughtful expression on his unlovely face.
“You hit Foster at the party the other night,” he grunted. Oh shit! He was friends with the guy I went after!
“I really don’t remember,” I said quietly.
“He deserved it,” he rumbled while shrugging his shoulders.
Atlas Shrugged, I thought crazily. “I don’t usually fight,” I replied.
He continued to look at me in silence, and I grew uncomfortable with his gaze on me. “Is there something I can do for you?” I asked.
“Um, ok.” I tried to look away, but feeling as though a spotlight were on me.
“You’re Jake’s friend?” he asked. I jumped and looked up at him sharply.
“Not really. He buys coffee at the place where I work.” Why would he ask about that?
“Jake’s a good guy. He’s nice to me. Maybe I’m not smart, but I know good people.”
“Um, why are you telling me this?” I asked, trying not to be nervous. It wasn’t easy. He was intimidating just standing there, and I certainly didn’t want to piss him off.
“I don’t know. Jake’s my friend and he helped you the other night, so I guess he’s yours, too.”
The door to the room I was waiting for opened up, and people poured out as their class ended. I stood up and nodded to the big guy before heading in to find a seat. I took a seat near the back so I could observe everyone else. The seat next to me creaked and I looked to see the hulk settling into it. Oh no! We have the same class and he’s sitting next to me! I think he likes me.
I was distracted as the class began. Our professor was a man who truly loved his work, and I found myself drawn into the class quite easily. He assigned reading and chapter questions due back for Wednesday’s class, which I noted, and we were dismissed.
“You work in a coffee place?” Mountain Man asked me.
“Yeah,” I replied. Oh god, please tell me he isn’t a caffeine freak.
“Working tonight?” he asked.
“No,” I said with some relief. “Two days off.”
“Oh, enjoy them.” he said with a smile that showed large square teeth that looked made for crushing gravel. I smiled weakly as he levered himself from the seat and ambled out the door. I headed to my last class of the day, Basic Algebra. All I can say is that math will always suck, and I hope I don’t have more than one of these classes to take for my diploma.
I decided not to chance the cafeteria in case Jake was eating. I headed for home, stopping on the way to get some take out from a Chinese place. I let myself into my apartment building, near total darkness enveloping me as soon as the door closed behind me. A door opened on my landing, letting some light filter in.
“You talk to Jake today?” Nick asked from his doorway. He was silhouetted in the light from inside his apartment.
“No,” I replied.
“Chicken. I don’t want to hear Cher and that song for the broken hearted shit coming from your side of the wall,” he laughed. “Did you bring me some dinner too?” he asked. “Where’s mine?”
“I left it across the street, about a block up. Chinese place,” I replied with a grin at him.
“That smells good, I’m going to go get some.” He ducked back into his apartment and I headed into mine. I put my food on the counter and pulled my shirt off, tossing it in the hamper. I sat on the couch with my food, picked up my Western Civ book, and began to study while I ate. About an hour and a half later the phone rang and I answered it.
“Hello?” I waited as silence met my enquiry. I tried again, but got no answer and hung up. Assholes.
The phone rang again and I picked it up. “Hello?” Once more there was no answer, and I muttered something about people with nothing better to do as I hung up. When the phone rang for the third time, I was ready to scream. I picked up the phone and growled into it.
“If you don’t stop, whoever you are, I am going to get a caller ID box and file a complaint against you with the police!”
My cheeks lit up, and I gasped, “Charlie?”
“Yeah,” he giggled. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing, Charlie. What’s up? I didn’t expect to hear from you,” I said, changing the subject.
“I was just wondering how you were doing for underwear, since dad still has the box sitting on his desk to send you.”
“Gee, thanks, Charlie. If you left them in my bag to start with, I wouldn’t have gone out to get more yesterday.”
He giggled. “So are you still hung up on the straight guy?”
“Why do I like you again?” I asked and he laughed again.
“So are you?”
“Well, I...yeah, I am,” I admitted.
“That sucks, Kody. Why are you still hanging on? Usually you get over these things pretty fast once you find out what the deal is.”
“Well, Charlie, it’s like this. The guy is so cute. And he’s so freaking nice to me. He even helped me last night after I had too much to drink,” I said.
“You were drinking?” Charlie asked in a stage whisper. Obviously my father was somewhere in the vicinity.
“Yeah,” I admitted, “and I paid for it yesterday.”
“Did you get a hangover?” he asked with curiosity.
“Yeah, a bad one. Threw up and everything, just like dad said I would.”
Charlie giggled. “What does that have to do with this guy?” he asked.
“Well, I had the right to remain silent, but I didn’t have the ability.”
“Oh my God! What did you say?”
“I think I tried to kiss him.”
“Holy shit! Can this get any worse?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so. He had this huge guy who is like a stunt double for Arnold Schwarzenegger standing around him all night. Well, he came to talk to me today.”
“Why is that bad?”
“Let’s just say he has a glorious lack of sophistication.”
“Well, he could have other qualities that make him cool,” Charlie suggested through his giggles.
“Yeah, he probably bites the heads off live chickens—very cosmopolitan.”
“Is he friends with the straight guy?”
“Jake. His name is Jake, and yes, he does seem to be his friend.”
“Well, unless Jake had really bad taste in people, then this guy is probably okay, right? I mean, I would be more worried about his judgment if he liked you.” Charlie laughed at me, an unending stream of giggles and snorts, until I told him goodbye and hung up on him. Anyone thinking about having kids should do the world a favor and stop at one.
The phone rang again and I grabbed the phone in a fury, “Charlie why don’t you wait until I get home to make fun of me, you asshole?” I said loudly.
Silence greeted me and I growled in frustration as I hung up. I stalked over to Nick’s apartment as my phone began ringing again. Jerks.
I knocked on Nick’s door and he answered, looking at me in a bewildered fashion. “I’m sick of phone calls, and I’m sick of studying. You want to go to a movie or something?” I asked.
“Um, sure. Do you want to take a minute and get dressed first?” he asked with a smirk. I looked down to see I was still shirtless.
“Oh, uh, yeah.” I started back towards my room when Nick giggled and called out to me.
“If you showed up on Jake’s doorstep like that, you might get his feelings sorted out.” He laughed out loud, and I fixed him with a glare.
“Maybe I should stay in and just unplug the phone.”
“Hurry up,” He smirked and ducked into his apartment. I grabbed a shirt and met Nick in the hallway. “Let’s go get your mind off Jake.”
Over the next two days, I repeatedly ran into the hulk, or Roy as I later learned his name to be. He was everywhere I went. He became a constant shadow in the few basic classes I had with him. He seemed to be quite comfortable dwarfing me, though I wondered what his purpose was exactly. Eventually, I discovered at least one reason he was hanging around me.
One afternoon, I saw Jackhammer Face looking at me from a bench, glaring, with one eye all purple and black. Wow! Did I do that? I didn’t even have a mark on me. I tried to remember his name. Roy had mentioned it the first day he talked to me, but it wouldn’t come to me. He glared until Roy glowered at him and then he found something interesting elsewhere.
“So, are you my bodyguard now?” I asked him.
“He’s mean. You’re not,” he said, as if that explained the universe in general.
I ducked Jake all week, including one day when I had nothing more between me and him than Roy, who was waving and calling to Jake from across the quad. I could fade away behind Roy and no one was going to see me for about a million miles.
Thursday morning had me waiting in front of the Morning Rush bright and early, and unhappy at being awake. An Economics assignment had kept me up half the night, basically because the text was so dry it practically self-combusted near any form of light. I stood with a cup of hot coffee in my hand while I tried to keep my eyes open.
“You look bright- eyed this morning,” Marla commented as she approached the front door, keys in hand.
“Economics,” I replied. She gave me a knowing nod. She unlocked the door, and we set about getting the store ready to open. I was pleased to see Nick come in to get his morning coffee.
“Mornin’, Kody,” he mumbled. I smiled at him. He was cute when he was sleepy.
“Morning, Nick. How are you?” I replied in as chipper a voice as I could manage. He eyed me evilly and ordered his coffee. After he left, we got a busy rush of people. My first class was at eleven on Thursdays, so Marla and I would be working together all morning. As things fell off a little after nine, she ducked out back for a cancer stick while I wiped down the counters. I saw Roy’s shadow before he actually made an appearance. When I saw that Jake traveled with him, I practically sprinted to the back door before he could see me. I popped outside to find a surprised Marla.
“What?” she asked.
“Jake just walked in there,” I gave her pleading eyes.
“Is he the cutie-patootie we’ve been talking about?” She smiled, and I nodded my head in fear.
“You are too funny,” she said.She went inside to deal with our new customers while I put my head between my knees and tried not to be sick. I was thankful that Max wasn’t the one working with me. I figured I was pushing my luck with her. It was about all I was grateful for right now, the stress of avoiding Jake was getting just a bit ridiculous. Maybe I should just stop worrying about him. It’s not like he knows I am interested in him anyway.
My shoulders slumped as I wistfully thought of being with Jake, hand in hand somewhere private where he would hold me while the sun set behind us. Ocean waves would roll on the beach, and sand would scrunch beneath our bare feet. His strong arms wrapped around me and the shadow of a palm tree would cover us.
Wait! I wasn’t imagining that shadow.