In the beginning, Chris was pretty sure that the best part of his job at Hooper's would be the customers. Practically everyone on Sesame Street came through the store at some point during the week, whether it was for the morning paper, a sandwich, or a few groceries for dinner. After he'd been working there for a few weeks, he really started to feel as though he fit into the neighborhood.
He saw the people who lived on the block outside of work, too. He met a guy named Bert during his second shift, and a few days later, Bert stopped by his aunt and uncle's apartment with a basket of banana-nut muffins.
"I would have done the neighborly thing sooner," Bert said when Chris answered the door, "but I didn't realize that you lived here until Alan mentioned it this morning." He looked discomfited by this breach in manners, so Chris hurried to reassure him.
"No, man, it's fine. It's good to meet you. Come on in, please."
Bert offered Chris the basket and stayed where he was, out in the hall. "I really shouldn't," he said. "I was organizing my bottle cap collection when these came out of the oven, and Ernie's home alone with it right now." He rolled his eyes, just slightly, as though he was remembering something he'd rather not. "Ernie likes bananas." It was an explanation that didn't explain much of anything. Lots of people liked bananas. "But the muffins are good. Welcome to the building."
Chris thanked him, and after Bert left, he turned to his aunt. "Ernie?" he asked. He didn't think that Bert had ever mentioned having a son, but Chris supposed he might have just forgotten in the rush of new faces.
"Ernie is his roommate," Susan explained. "They've lived together for... goodness, I think they've been here for longer than we have."
Chris bit into one of the muffins. They were good. Halfway through his second bite, he thought back over what Susan had said and stopped chewing. Roommate? "Aunt Susan, you've lived here for what, thirty years now?"
"Oh, longer than that," Susan replied. "Why?"
After a moment, she seemed to realize what he was asking. "I don't really think it matters, do you? They're both wonderful neighbors, and I'm sure they love each other if they've been happy together for so long. That's all anyone cares about here."
1. Everything Uncle Gordon said to convince him to move in was true. Sesame Street really was made up of great people.
On the days when business was slow and Chris was caught up on his other tasks, Alan didn't mind if he sat at the lunch counter and did homework. At first Chris had been hesitant, but Alan soon talked him into it. "Which is more important?" he asked. "Sweeping a clean floor, or studying for that accounting test you've been worrying about? I trust you to hop up and do your job if someone orders lunch."
He had a point. After a while, Chris started making sure he did his math homework at home, and saved the work from his history class for his free time at the store. Alan, he'd discovered, was an avid reader, and it wasn't hard at all for a conversation to begin with Alan asking him about whatever he was working on that day, and end two hours later on a completely unrelated topic. It was more fun than Chris had ever had with schoolwork, and he didn't even realize how much he was learning until a conversational tangent they'd explored showed up as an extra credit essay question on an exam.
The day after Chris got his grade back -- his very good grade -- he stopped at Alan's favorite stromboli place before heading in to work for the lunch shift, and left the results on his desk with the torn-off corner of his grade sheet and a note that simply said, "Thanks." When it was time for him to take his own break, Chris found half of the food uneaten and waiting for him, along with another note.
"I knew you'd do well."
It may have been a little cold, but after reading that, it was a darn good stromboli.
2. Learning is fun when you're doing it with the right person.
"No, wait. Remember the accounting equation."
"Assets equal liabilities plus equity?"
"Right. Changes to the equations have to offset each other so that it stays balanced. That's why it's called double-entry bookkeeping: every time you do something, you have to write it down twice."
"Okay..." He understood algebra, but not how it applied here.
Alan cast about for something to use as an example and landed on the bottle of Mountain Dew that Chris had been drinking. "Okay, pretend that we were to balance the books after every single purchase. You come into the store to buy a soda. What's the exchange that takes place?"
This much was easy. "I give you three dollars and you give me my drink."
"Right, so the transaction involved cash and inventory. Assets are on the left side of the equation, so they increase on the debit side. You debit the cash account by three dollars, and credit three dollars to sales to offset it."
"But what about the soda itself?"
"Well, it came out of inventory, which is also an asset. Inventory goes down, so you--"
"Right. Then, to offset it, you debit the cost of goods sold from that account. Make sense?"
Chris thought it over. "I think so. Thanks!"
Alan squeezed his shoulder as he brushed past Chris and went back to work. "Any time. You know that."
3. Debits to the left, credits to the right.
On the last day of every month, the store closed down early for inventory. "It's to make sure what's on the shelves matches what we think is on the shelves," Alan had explained to Chris during his first month. "Although we don't have nearly as much of a problem here with shoplifters as most stores would. It's a good neighborhood."
Inventory nights should have been tedious, but they were one of Chris's favorite parts of the job. He counted all of the boxes of pasta, then all of the jars of peanut butter, and so on down the aisles, and while he counted, he let his mind wander. Sometimes he thought about classes, or the latest antics of the kids in the neighborhood, or what his family was up to back home, but more and more he found himself thinking about Alan. Alan's laugh, Alan's eyes, the way Alan looked after wrangling cases of drinks in the storeroom, the way Alan made him feel...
There was a lot to think about.
Alan lived in an apartment over the store, and usually as soon as inventory night was over they went their separate ways in order to get some sleep before morning came. But one night as Chris was leaving, he took a chance.
"Walk a guy home?" It was a ridiculous question, and Chris winced as soon as he heard himself say it. He lived on the next block, barely 100 yards away. Walk a guy home. How awkward could he--
"Walk a..." Chris couldn't quite identify the look on Alan's face, but he knew he liked the sudden glint in his eye. "Sure. Yes, I think I'd like that."
Chris waited while Alan locked up. As they set off together toward 123 Sesame Street, their hands brushed once, then twice, and then Alan took his and didn't let go.
"Nice night, isn't it?" Alan said, in a purely conversational tone that completely belied the fact that Chris's world was shifting into place.
"Um, yeah! Yeah, it is."
They chatted about nothing of consequence, and when they got to Chris's building, they sat down on the steps to continue the conversation. The silences grew longer and longer as each of them spent more time watching each other than talking, and then, before Chris could even think of what to do next, Alan's lips were on his.
It was amazing. He was amazing. He was perfect.
Eventually, Alan pulled away. "I've wanted that for a long time. I'm so glad you do too."
4. There's something magical about night air, and it's magic that has nothing to do with Abby.
"K... kuh... kyoo... this is a very hard word."
The children on Sesame Street had surprised him. He'd visited his aunt and uncle enough to know that it was a neighborhood with a lot of kids, but until he moved there he hadn't realized what great kids they were. He wouldn't have guessed that he'd get a kick out of singing songs and judging contests, but it was a blast.
"It's a special sort of word, Telly," Chris explained as he carefully extracted the folder containing his accounting project from Telly's grasp and scooted Baby Bear's glass of milk further down the counter. "It's an acronym."
"Yup, an acronym. It's a word that's made out of the first letters of other words." Telly and Baby Bear both looked confused, so Chris pulled out a pencil and a piece of scratch paper to explain. "The college I go to is part of the City University of New York, but that's a long name."
"A vewwy long name," Baby Bear added.
"Yeah, it is. So, instead of writing out the whole thing, we just write the first letters: 'c' for city, 'u' for university, and an 'n' and 'y' for New York. C-U-N-Y. When you read it, you just have to think about the sounds the letters make."
Chris ran his finger under the letters slowly, and they sounded it out together. "K... coo... coonyuh, no... cooney. Cooney?" Telly said.
"Exactly! Good job, guys." Out of the corner of his eye, Chris spotted Alan watching them with a soft look on his face, and Chris couldn't help but grin.
5. If the business degree doesn't work out, maybe he'd like to be a teacher.
The knock came just before nine. Chris, who had been waiting for it, leaped up, managing to get to the door before his aunt and uncle had a chance to move.
"Hey! Merry Christmas!" For all his bravado, Chris wondered if he looked as nervous as Alan. He thought he probably did.
"Merry Christmas," Alan replied warmly. He glanced over Chris's shoulder into the apartment before continuing. "Are you sure you want to do this today? I could have dropped by just long enough to drop off a holiday breakfast, if you'd rather."
Sure enough, the fragrance of blueberry muffins fresh from the oven wafted up from a covered basket at his feet. However, Chris had made his decision days ago when he issued the invitation, and he had no intention of changing his mind now. "How about you came over for both reasons? Because I know better than to turn down anything that smells that good, but I'd really like to spend today with you." A sudden thought crossed his mind. "Unless you'd rather--"
"Chris?" His aunt's voice carried through the apartment. "Who's at the door?"
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be," Alan said. He pressed a brief, yet firm, kiss to Chris's lips, then handed him the basket of muffins and stepped around him to enter the apartment.
"Alan? Merry Christmas!" Gordon said as he came over to greet their guest. He was carrying two cups of coffee, and he handed one to him. "Chris, there's more in the pot if you'd like to pour yourself a cup."
"Merry Christmas, Alan," Susan said, joining them. "What brings you by this morning?"
It was now or never.
"Uh, Aunt Susan? Uncle Gordon? You remember when Bert stopped by right after I moved in, and you said that all that matters is that people love each other?"
6. When introducing your relatives to the man in your life, it helps if they already suspect. Especially if it's Christmas morning.