In another version of this story Peter and Carl are rather more bright and suss out that what they really need is each other and a proper tumble. They would have a night out, either at Peter or Carl's, which would involve libations and burning food and then ordering take-aways and watching mindless telly or arguing about each other's record collections before snogging and fucking each other silly, on the couch and then on the floor and then somehow into the bed. Followed by all the requisite spooning and cuddling and gushing, even if Carl thought it rather mush.
But that is not this story (couldn't be, could it? because then it would be one or two parts instead of a nebulous "four or five"). In this story they are stupider than that and the next day get called into Alan McGee's office over a customer complaint.
Alan was furious. It was funny when he was because he turned purplish. He was an eggplant stuffed in a starched white shirt with a stupid smiley face tie and a plastic namebadge.
"YOU ARE NOT TO SMOKE IN THE LOO. IF YOU WANT TO SMOKE, YOU DO IT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE AND GO OUTSIDE!" he shrilled at Peter and Carl, who were pretending to look contrite.
"Do you understand?"
"Good. NEVER DO IT AGAIN. Now go away," he exhaled and slumped on his desk. Peter and Carl tried not to burst into gales of laughter as they exited the office, with all its desks and managers in stuffy, posh wannabe clothes. They forced themselves to look blissful all the time, but just ended up looking like they had forks up their arses and were trying to smile.
Carl was just going to say something to Peter as they entered the breakroom, but Kate was sitting there. She was behind a pile of hamburgers and vacuuming one up as if it was going to be her last and she didn't just buy them all from McDonald's next door. Peter got that befuddled happy look that he got with Kate and Carl thought, oh bugger it and went to his locker. Not for anything, just to get out of the way.
"Can I sit with you?" Peter asked.
"Murfle," said Kate, which Peter took as a yes.
He watched her eat for a moment, entranced by how she casually tossed her long locks out of her face so she didn't eat her hair with her burger.
"Mind if I have a French fry?" he asked.
Kate jerked herself out of her burger as if it had bitten her.
"Don't you even dare," she said and continued scarfing.
"All right then."
Carl came back from his locker and gave Peter a "well, you fancy her" look and Peter scowled at him.
"Where're you off to?"
"Merchandise sets. Infants."
"I thought you were in shoes," Peter raised a brow.
Carl gave him a "don't even think about it you bastard" look and said: "No, that's next week."
"Ta, have fun darling," Peter waved and blew theatrical kisses.
Carl scowled at him.
Carl left and Peter looked at Kate who was wiping ketchup from her lip. He felt like getting on bended and knee and asking her to marry him in a very poetic and romantic way that would make her so wibbly she'd automatically said yes. Why not?
But instead he said: "So. Weather's. Nice."
Kate dug a bit of meat out of her teeth with a nail.
"Overcast and grey."
"Yes. Nice isn't it?"
"How about that weather," she said to a fry.
That German Chancellor
A week and it was all Kate this Kate that and Carl wanted to take Peter to the dock and punch him. It probably wasn't any more Kate than usual, but to Carl, it seemed Peter had become like the microwave in the breakroom that wouldn't stop microwaving unless you unplugged it.
He was in the shoes back stockroom, in which they also hung all the backstock bras and panties (shoes and lingerie, go figure, but he wasn't going to complain), avoiding customers with their stupid questions and linking shoes whose boxes had mysteriously vanished.
Kate or no, Pete knew Carl was back here, waiting for him, and he would be stopping by any minute and things that made Carl choke on muffled moans would ensue. Maybe (probably) abuse of the intercom system too, because the phone for shoes was tucked away in the back stockroom.
They had become rather notorious for their intercom antics. Alan had stopped shouting at them about it because it was a futile effort, and besides, he couldn't fire them. Pete noted that Alan couldn't afford to fire them and train people who could turn out to be worse at their job and gave even less of a shit than Pete and Carl.
There was one gag that might've gotten them fired, except they had a tendency of doing it when Alan wasn't in, and, right before the store opened or closed so there'd be a minimum of customers to "upset".
"Would that German Chancellor please report to the Customer Service desk? That German Chancellor – you know – Bis – Bis –" Peter would begin.
"BISMARK!" Carl would shout.
And then they would descend into yelling scarily and nonsensically with faux German accents. No-one had any idea what they were saying.
Their peers thought "Tweedle Dee" and "Tweedle Dum" should just get a fucking room that wasn't the shoe stockroom.
Carl started working on the mis-mated shoes pile, smiling to himself, thinking, any minute now, Peter would burst through that door. He sat on the concert floor with shoes in his lap, daydreaming. Peter, tall and clever with that sweet smile. He smelled kind of like candy and musty charity shop books. Carl started contemplating some smutty details. The shoe stockroom was comprised of metal shelves that slid on a rail so one had to avoid being squashed between shelves, or having shoe boxes fall on one's head. The last time, he had been sandwiched between one of the sliding shoe shelves and Peter. He recalled the feel of Peter's stomach pressed to his as Peter mouthed his collarbone. They had laughed, walking backwards with the shelf as it moved, a shambling tango, as shoe boxes tumbled to the floor. Carl was ruminating on Peter's no less than Olympic oral skills when he thought, I wonder if he is a good kisser too, considering. Carl blanched, though, because in order to thoroughly answer that question, it would require having Peter's tongue in his mouth. A gross thought, he reminded himself, spit sharing with one's mate. It was as if he was all of twelve again and just discovered French kissing; not to mention it was a completely daft question.
He threw the mis-mated shoes back in their box when the door knocked. He yanked the door open and instead of Peter got an old lady with enormous glasses and poofy grey purple hair attached to an oxygen tank that hissed periodically.
"Uhm, yes ma'am?" Carl remembered to put on his best customer service voice.
"Do you have this in green with yellow stripes? My friend had a pair and she said she got them here . . ."
Carl scanned the isles over the little old lady, sure he would see that familiar rat's nest of hair coming. Any minute.
How did they get here, in this moment? a part of Peter asked while the rest of him seemed interested in full out anarchical panic rioting. Like bangers exploding inside of his skull.
The short explanation entailed Peter being delayed and delayed and delayed from his usual visitation of Carl because someone wanted a bathrug in a certain size and color, and could he please look in the back if they had it? And someone else who wanted a vacuum that had been discontinued so they had to get Alan's approval to sell the display (not that Alan could ever be arsed to be prompt or anything, you know, in answering his office phone or the pages over the intercom), and then someone else who wanted a return and talked about their stupid ex and how it related to their return in some long-winded and convoluted way, as if Peter cared. People will confess anything to the anonymous retail associate, Peter had thought as he meandered his way (finally!) to shoes. He had opened the door, a wicked smile spreading over his face, only to discover Carl and Annalisa snogging and groping each other on the shoes workstation.
Carl had looked up at Peter and given him a look that was the offspring of vicious and abashed while Annalisa had looked mirthfully embarrassed.
Peter had felt like running, or maybe swallowing his tongue.
The long explanation wound back through the nine months they had been working retail together. Carl had fancied Peter on the night of their orientation because Peter was a jaded, cocky bastard who yawned at the training videos and spoke eloquently about how retail fucked people over. Peter had fancied Carl because Carl was naïve, a stupid git who thought a job in retail was just the ticket to some kind of respectability and moving up in the world.
They had bonded easily, keeping each other company through tedious, repetitive tasks a monkey could do, and only getting paid more than the monkey, Peter pointed out, because they just barely had more legal rights than monkeys. Consoling each other when the days were rough and the customers might've just as well demanded they bend over and take it (because they did, metaphorically) and the managers treated them like they were the gum that had to be scraped off the floor tiles. They kept each other company during overnight merchandise sets and stocking, enjoying those the most because they could get away with running amuck and abusing the intercom for rude jokes and finding ways to sabotage the management (usually by rifling through their desks and moving things like their clip-boards and schedule books) or just causing general mayhem. It was one of these nights, four months gone, stocking appliances for housewares, when Peter had conjured up the idea of opening the appliance boxes and switching out their user manuals.
Carl had gagged on his laughter as they switched around various toaster manuals and Peter had smirked. He had put his arm around Carl's shoulders and whispered something in Carl's ear that neither of them remembered. What Carl did remember was realizing how close Peter, how Peter's breath was scorching on his throat. Carl's heart had jumped up to thud around in his head, between his ears.
What Peter remembered was Carl going suddenly still and quiet, and then grabbing his hand and putting it over his cock, hardening through his jeans. Peter's skin had prickled and every little hair on his body stood at attention and Peter had gotten the idea.
They had hurried off to the shoes stockroom and had clumsy, stifled-noises sex that left them disheveled and trying not to laugh aloud when they rejoined the rest of the overnighters.
'Sides, it was only a one-time thing. That became a three times, five times, eleven times, eighteen times, fuck it who's keeping track? times thing.
Peter glared and slammed the door on Carl's wounded look and the pleas lined up on his lips. He marched straight from shoes to the breakroom on the other side of the store, where Kate was digging her way out of a pile of Cornish pasties with some coffee.
"We're going to dinner tonight, because I fancy you something mad but never got around to asking like I should."
Kate swallowed a mouthful and regarded him as if she were studying a scuff on her shoes.
"What about my daughter?" she said. "Should I just leave her in the cupboard with a fork and a tin can tonight while we go out on the town and boink each other silly at some anonymous hotel?"
Peter hadn't considered this and wasn't in the mood to be humored. "Could do," he said, seriously, until he saw the look on Kate's face.
"I mean, no, I was joking, haha . . . bring your darling daughter and we can all go . . . obviously not with boinking . . . "
Kate arched an eyebrow.
"How about next Thursday?" she said.