“You did what?!” Oswald exclaimed.
“You heard me right. I hired someone.”
“But… we’re supposed to bring business decisions together, Ed. We’re partners, remember?!”
Ed watched with slight amusement as Oswald was pacing up and down in their rather tiny office. “You were on holiday. I noticed that we needed help a long time ago, but you shrugged it off adamantly. You always say how tired you are – well, now you won’t have to work so much. Desperate times call for desperate measures, no?”
“Fine, whatever. What is this person like? Do you have any files about them?”
“Eh… no. To be honest, the whole thing was quite accidental. I met Mrs. Gordon in the streets – she was my favourite teacher in high school, you know, she taught me Chemistry – and I told her we were swamped with work at the café. So she said her son was looking for a part-time job, and I told her to send him over.”
Oswald rolled his eyes. “Great. Nepotism never leads to anything good.”
“There are always exceptions,” Ed smiled. “I believe the young man will be a fine addition to our staff. He seems responsible and hardworking. He’s studying at the Academy.”
“Academy?” Oswald’s eyes widened. “As in Police Academy?”
“Oh… well, that sounds tough. Are you sure he’ll be able to juggle both school and the job?”
“He’ll be on probation for a month, then you’ll decide if you want to keep him around,” Ed grinned, very content with himself.
“Yes, thank you, so if we aren’t satisfied with him, I’ll have to deliver the bad news.”
“Since you’ll be the one actually working with him… I work behind the scenes, so to say. I won’t be able to judge his performance as well as you.”
Oswald sighed. He really thought his first day back would be easier. “Right. When does he start?”
“Today.” Ed leaned back against the chair. “In fact, he should knock on that door… in about five seconds.”
Indeed, the knock came soon. Oswald just stared at his friend in wild shock, then at the opening door.
“Hello, Mr. Nygma!”
“Jim! Come in! And please call me Ed.”
Ed got up, his characteristic grin plastered on his face. Oswald felt like slapping him for always putting him in such situations. His eyes were glowing with displeasure as he watched the two men shake hands. This Jim fellow was quite tall, but shorter than Ed. He was well-built and had blond hair, nicely combed, as was proper for a future policeman. His round eyes soon turned towards Oswald with a look of curiosity.
“Jim, this is Oswald Cobblepot, my business partner and the person who basically runs this place. He’ll be your mentor in the following weeks.”
Jim extended his hand eagerly, and Oswald took it in his, pleasantly surprised by the firm touch. “Mr. Cobblepot, it’s an honour.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Gordon.”
“Oh geez, please drop the formalities. You two sound like my grandpa!” Ed laughed, and patted both Oswald and Jim’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s go into the kitchen. You can start the tour there, Oz.”
Oswald let Ed lead, and even though Jim wanted to be polite, Oswald shooed him after Ed. He didn’t need Jim staring at his limping, thank you very much. He knew he couldn’t hide it forever, but he wanted to avoid that pitiful look everyone gave him, unfailingly, for as long as possible.
“Right. The kitchen won’t really be your territory, but if we run out of something at the front, you’ll have to come in here. Here’s the cabinet with spices, teas and syrups. Coffee is right next to it. Then here, in the fridges, we have the cream, juices, water and different kinds of milk, including soy and almond,” Oswald explained as he opened everything for Jim to have a look.
“As you could see out there, we’re also selling baked goods. She’s not here anymore, but Lucy is our baker. She starts the earliest, so that the first batch of muffins and croissants are ready for the first wave of people,” Ed continued, pointing at the lovely pastries on the cooling rack. “We’re priding ourselves with our fresh products, so we bake every day. It’s usually gone by late afternoon.”
“They smell really good,” Jim said and gulped.
“Here, have an almond croissant!” Ed threw the pastry to Jim, who caught it effortlessly. “Good reflexes!”
Oswald took a dim view of the two young men’s interaction. Weren’t they supposed to work? He knew Edward wanted Jim to feel at ease, but still, they had to be professional.
“Gentlemen, I think we can go to the front,” Oswald announced coldly, and left the kitchen.
Behind his back, Ed smiled placably at Jim, and they exited the kitchen. Jim was introduced to Victor, the employee working at the counter currently.
Oswald waited for them at the coffee machine. “Well, this guy will be your best friend, Jim.”
Seeing the wide-eyed look on Jim, Oswald’s ice heart started thawing. “I know it looks scary, but I’ll teach you everything. It’s not difficult.”
“I… I hope so. I wouldn’t want to mess it up.”
“Oswald will guide you at the beginning. You’ll have shifts with him, so he can teach you everything,” Ed reassured Jim.
“You’ll work part time, right? Which hours did you agree on with Ed?” Oswald asked, and took out a small notebook from his pocket.
“Four to seven on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and seven-thirty to ten-thirty on Wednesday and Thursday. Any time on the weekends. I, uh, I hope it fits your schedule.”
“I’ll make sure it does,” Oswald murmured as he noted down the hours. “We’ll make it work for everyone.”
“Thank you, Oswald. I promise to do my best.”
“You’ll get into it soon, you’ll see,” Ed encouraged Jim. “I’ll leave you two to it, then. See you later.”
Oswald felt Jim’s eyes on him, seeking guidance. He clapped his hands, as he turned towards their staff room. “Right. Let’s get you an apron.”
Oswald found a new one, and took it out of the plastic bag. He unfolded it, and gave it to Jim, who promptly put on the black apron with the broidered, fuchsia umbrella on it. As Jim was busy admiring the café’s logo, Oswald stepped behind him, and tied his apron.
“Thanks,” Jim said with a blush.
“No problem. So, this room is for the employees, to leave your stuff here or to relax in your breaks. There’s a fridge to leave your lunch.”
“Oh, that’s good. I’m afraid I will have to come here directly from classes.”
“That’s fine. Just let me know if you’re going to be late.”
“Definitely… uh, can I have your phone number?” Jim asked, scratching his nape in slight embarrassment.
Oswald’s stomach felt strange suddenly. “Of course.” They just exchanged numbers. An employee and his superior. Nothing strange about it , Oswald told himself.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with Oswald teaching Jim how to prepare various beverages. Oswald resented how quickly Jim learnt – in a way, he wanted the young man to fail, so he could prove Ed what a tremendously stupid idea it was to hire someone without his approval. But Jim was eager and was not proud to ask questions if he didn’t know something. Oswald appreciated that, but he just hated how Jim made a perfect latte macchiato on his first try. He was handsome, was on the path to become a useful member of society and he could even make awesome coffee?! Not. Fair.
Oswald sent him home half an hour early. He just couldn’t deal with Jim’s smiles anymore.
“See you tomorrow?” Jim asked with a grin, and Oswald nodded, then rolled his eyes when the guy exited the coffee shop. The fucking nerve of this kid!
The next day, Jim arrived earlier than his shift started. Oswald appreciated punctuality a lot, but he didn’t say a word: after all, this was only the second day. He had to fire employees on their second days, not even once. The streets started getting busier, and their first clients would soon drop by. Oswald instructed Jim to pack the pastries ordered by clients while he took the orders and Barbara prepared the beverages.
It was a busy morning, and sometimes it seemed like the queues would never get shorter, but everything went fine. Oswald greeted everyone with a genuine smile – over the years, he got to know all the regulars. Some of them asked about Jim, who would then present himself with a grin, and give them their order proudly. In all honesty, though, the morning went smoothly, and Jim worked well.
One afternoon, when the rush hour died down, Oswald decided to teach Jim how to handle the cash register. He was surprised when Jim already knew some functions – he must have been very observant. Victor highfived his colleague, and Jim looked happy. He turned towards Oswald, who just shrugged. How arrogant! He thinks he comes to my café, and acts like a smartass. While lost in his thoughts, Oswald missed the downward curve on Jim’s face.
The bell rang, signalling the arrival of a new client. Oswald’s face lit up as he saw who it was: Dominic, his best friend. Finally, something good happening! Dominic strolled to the counter with a grin, turning towards Oswald with his eyebrows subtly raised when he noticed the new staff member.
“Well, hello there!”
“Long time no see. I thought you disappeared.”
“On a metaphorical level,” Dominic replied, laughing. “Had this big job, so I basically slept in the office. I see you have made some exciting changes here.”
Oswald took the initiative before his friend made any more embarrassing remarks. “Jim, this is Dom, one of our most loyal clients. I’m afraid you’re going to see him quite frequently. Dom, this is Jim, our new employee.”
The two men shook hands.
Oswald continued. “Here’s a good advice, Jim: don’t try to remember his order, because it changes every time. He’s still at the kindergarten level.”
“Gosh, you’re such a snob,” Dom laughed, throwing a small packet of sugar at his friend.
Jim was watching fascinated as his rather uptight boss was bantering playfully with Dominic.
“He makes awesome lattes,” Victor added helpfully.
“Then I’ll have that,” Dominic said, and Jim grinned.
Under Oswald’s watchful eyes, he prepared the drink quickly and placed it on the counter with a content smile.
“Ahhh, look at that perfect colour gradient. 10/10 for the visuals, Jim,” Dom winked before tasting his drink. “And it’s bloody awesome. Good job!”
Oswald rolled his eyes. He didn’t need even his best friend to be a bootlicker! Dominic went to his usual spot in the corner, and after Oswald made sure that every client was served, he joined his friend for a chat. He needed a bit of grounding.
“Oz, what is going on?”
Dominic’s smile was gone, and his grey eyes were filled with concern.
“I don’t know. Work is stressful. That guy is stressful.”
“What?! You mean Jim?”
“I don’t know! And please don’t look in his direction, he’ll figure out we’re talking about him. He’s studying to become a police officer.”
“Oh, interesting. What’s the matter with him? I mean, I’ve only known him for five minutes, but he seems like a nice bloke.”
“Exactly. Too nice,” Oswald whispered. “I don’t know, I just feel like strangling him. I have this strange feeling in my stomach around him.”
“Gosh, Oz, that’s the biggest piece of bollocks I’ve ever heard. Any legit reasons?”
Oswald remained silent.
“How’s your mum?” Dom changed the topic.
“She’s fine. Well, she’s been better, but you know, she’s getting by.”
They talked about other various things, and agreed to meet up for their usual gaming session in the weekend.
“Okay, new client, gotta go,” Oz murmured as the bell rang again.
“Take it easy, okay?”
Days went by, and Oswald’s frustration increased tenfold. He couldn’t pinpoint what exactly made him grit his teeth even by having Jim around. There was absolutely nothing he could reproach to Jim – he was punctual, extremely kind and polite to the customers, to the point that he always received tips. The other day he even ran outside to break up a fight between two boys. Moreover, the other staff members took a shine to him instantly; Oswald saw their cute pictures on various social platforms: Lucy and Jim posing with the baked good, Victor and Jim hanging out and drinking beer in the weekend, and Barbara’s silly pictures, including the one where Jim put on her huge pair of sunglasses.
Oswald would have been lying if he said he wasn’t jealous. He was, extremely so. He even put away his dignity, and complained about it to Dom after a few drinks.
“Well, isn’t that natural? They see you as their boss, not their equal,” Dom supplied.
“But they’ve barely known him for a few weeks,” Oswald groaned.
“Nice job stalking him, by the way. Excellent skills.”
“Oh, shut up. I’m friends with everyone else from the café, so that’s how I saw his pics.”
Dom laughed. “You could just add him, you know? Like I just did.”
“Traitor! Please, unfriend me.”
“See, he already added me back. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”
“But don’t you understand that I don’t want to?!”
“Sure, Oz. Keep on creeping.”
Oswald just stuck his tongue out, and continued sulking.
A few days later when Oswald needed to check some orders, Ed asked him to go into the office.
“So, you know that Jim’s probation period ends around these days.”
“Ah,” was all that Oswald could say – he had completely forgotten about it.
“I haven’t heard any complaints from you, so I assume we’re keeping him? Can we keep him? Pretty please?”
Oz rolled his eyes at Ed’s excitement. “Yes, he’s good.”
“So I’ve heard. Only praises all around. So, in order to celebrate Jim’s official hiring, I made a name tag for him too. Please, give it to him later. I must hurry to the meeting with the new supplier.”
Oswald looked at the shiny name tag, and gulped. “Good luck, Ed.”
When Jim was told the news, he jumped for joy. The way his big blue eyes widened made Oswald’s heart do a backflip. He told himself that it was just a reaction to the grin Jim gifted him with in exchange of the silly name tag. But there was also the barely there blush on his cheeks, and how proud he was when he told the news to his colleagues. Oswald had to flee to the kitchen – he had no idea what was happening to him or his feelings. He just had to breathe deeply. It would go away.
In his heart, Oswald knew that was a lie. It was getting worse with each day, and he tried to schedule things so that he would meet Jim for as little as possible. He couldn’t even name the feeling, but it definitely wasn’t hate. It probably never was. But now, if Jim happened to smile at him, his stomach would clench. At least he kept everything secret. At least he thought he was.
It was an unfortunate shift together with Jim, and Oswald busied himself with cleaning some glasses while he let Jim serve the occasional customer. He couldn’t help it, but he threw a few furtive glances in Jim’s direction.
A few minutes later, Dom came up to the counter and whispered to Oswald: “I finally understand.”
“Why you ‘hate’ the poor guy. You got your feelings all confused, my friend.”
“What are you implying?” Oswald retorted icily.
Dom laughed. “No need to get so defensive. I saw the way you look at him.”
“I think you need to have your eyes checked.”
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone for now. I see you’re still in the denial phase.”
“I’m not in any damn phase!”
“Right. Oh by the way, my mum told me to give you this.”
Dominic handed to Oswald an old lighter with a naked woman on it.
“Gosh, this is so tacky!”
“Right? Apparently they found it in the attic. It’s got this 80s vibe.”
“Love it. Say thanks to your mum.”
“Will do. I’m off.” Dominic said goodbye to Jim, and left.
Oswald stared at the lighter with a strange smile, lost in his memories. However, when he noticed Jim was looking at him, he quickly hid it in his pocket, and went into the office. He knew he was acting childish, but he didn’t want to explain it to Jim. There was a high chance he might become emotional, and he didn’t want the young man to see him like that. This was their workplace, not a therapy room.
He was grateful when the shift ended, and he could go home. Like most days, Oswald’s mum was waiting for him with warm dinner. He knew that many would consider it odd that at twenty-seven he was still living with his mother, but frankly, he didn’t care. He would have had the means to rent his own place, but besides the wish to look out for his mum, he found that the place gave him a sense of comfort that no newly-painted, empty flat ever could. Maybe if things would change in the future, he would move. No need to think about such things.
Oswald took off his bow tie, and changed from his white shirt into comfortable clothes. Ed and he never established a dress code for the employees – everyone was free to wear whatever they wanted under the apron, but Oswald liked to put on formal attires. The others wore comfortable tees and jeans most of the time. Oz wondered if this distinction also contributed to the distance between him and the other baristas, if they thought he felt superior because of it. As he lay on his bed, he decided that he would absolutely not change his clothes – that was his style, a part of himself, and he promised to himself many years ago that he would never deny his identity – but perhaps he could do something nice for his colleagues.
So Monday Oswald arrived with a huge box of donuts and a wide smile. Ed and Jim attacked it immediately, and Lucy saved two for herself for later – she was busy with a batch of chocolate chip cookies. When Oswald returned to the staff room, he found Ed flailing with his phone, talking excitedly, while Jim was smiling.
“Ah, Oswald! Much needed backup! Come, I’m trying to convince Jim to put on his police cap and take a picture with the donuts.”
Oswald looked from Ed to Jim and back to Ed with wide eyes.
“Don’t you get the joke, Oz?”
“I do,” Oswald replied slowly, and tried to ignore the goosebumps that broke out on his arms at the thought of Jim in a police uniform. He licked his lips, and smiled cunningly. “Let’s see that cap, Jim.”
“This is not a fair,” Jim murmured, but he was smiling as he took it out from his bag. “I’m not even an officer yet.”
“You’ll be very soon.”
Jim posed for some pictures, pretending to bite into some doughnuts, while Ed and Oswald were laughing their asses off.
“Put some on your fingers!”
“Make a salute while you bite into one.”
Oswald was trying to hide his giggling behind his hand.
“Okay, I think that was enough of the solo pics. Oz, come, I’d like to take one with you.”
“With me?” Oswald asked, dumbfounded.
“Brilliant idea!” Ed shouted, and pushed Oswald beside Jim.
Oswald took a doughnut from Jim automatically, feeling as if he were watching the events from outside. However, that only lasted until Jim smiled at him as he put his arm around Oswald’s shoulder. Oswald was certain that even his ears were blushing, but he didn’t really care as long as he felt the warmth of Jim’s hand through his shirt. When they were done, Jim thanked him quietly, and patted his back. Oswald was sure that he walked around with a silly smile the whole day.
Not many days later, Dom walked in the coffee shop, followed a few seconds later by a brunet young man whom Oswald hadn’t seen before. Oswald was looking forward to talking to Dom later – he felt that he would explode if he wouldn’t talk to someone about all the confusing feelings he’d experienced lately. But first he had a client to serve. Dom went to Jim, while Oz smiled at the guy who looked fairly nervous. After getting his order, Oswald asked if he wanted a cookie or a muffin. At first he hesitated, then the man ordered a Raspberry Chocolate Muffin, the last one they had left.
Oswald was just about to take it from the display when his fingers touched, instead of a muffin paper, Jim’s fingers.
“Oh, sorry, Oswald,” Jim mumbled with surprise.
Oswald glanced at Dom and immediately understood what had just happened: his customer and Dom had ordered the same thing.
Embarrassed, although not sure about what, Oswald announced that there was only one muffin left. Oswald’s client looked like he was about to run off, but Dom, with his disarming charm, convinced him to share the muffin. Oh, something would surely happen there, Oswald could feel it. He prepared their drinks, and Jim took them and the muffin to Dom and his mysterious new friend’s table.
Oswald was still thinking about the electrifying moment when his fingers touched Jim, although it looked like he had to put those thoughts away, as Dominic would be unavailable for a chat. He was whispering with his new friend, deep in conversation. Well, Oswald could always message him. Soon, three women entered the café, and Oswald greeted them cheerily. From time to time, between preparing drinks, Oswald would glance in the direction of his friend, and Dom was most definitely flirting. His ‘date’ seemed really shy, but Dom knew how to coax him to talk.
He couldn’t help but watch as the two shared the muffin – they were giggling and blushing like two schoolgirls. Oswald smiled broadly, even though his chest felt constricted – Dom was his best friend, and he fervently hoped that this would work out for him. At the same time, though, he was also slightly jealous: he wished he could have something similar with Jim. Oswald sighed, and was so lost in his thoughts that the young man noticed him staring at their table. Oswald broke out in a smile and winked at him, hoping to encourage him.
He wished he could tell him about Dom, about what a nice guy his friend is, but from what he could tell, these two didn’t need any help. Indeed, only a few minutes later, Oswald noticed the guy writing something on a napkin. They were probably exchanging phone numbers. Oswald looked at Jim, who looked at him with a gentle smile before taking an order. Oswald was not sure he could bear the butterflies flying around in his stomach for long.
When he got home, Oswald quickly turned on his laptop, and as expected, he had messages from Dom. Oswald grinned as he read about his friend’s success: Dom had a date with Matthew on Saturday. Oswald wished him good luck, and told him that since Matthew turned out to be new in town, Dom had to take him to try Gino’s famous pistachio ice cream. As an afterthought, he added: “I think you were right about Jim.”
“Right about what?”
“Well, you know.”
Oswald was certain that his friend was just pulling his leg. “What you said the other day. I think I might *like* him after all.”
“HA. KNEW IT.”
Oswald rolled his eyes; this time Dom was right, but he’d never admit that. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t think he likes me.”
Dom’s first reply was a series of emojis laughing with tears. “Oh, please… I saw the way he smiles at you.”
“He smiles at everyone like that! He’s kind to everyone.”
“I doubt it…just be patient.”
Easier said than done. Even though Oz tried to keep his distance, Jim was like a good fairy, appearing suddenly when Oswald needed him: to get him a box of exotic coffee beans from the top shelf, help him with carrying supplies or cleaning the coffee machine instead of him. Even more surprising was when after an afternoon shift, as Oswald was looking through some papers in the office, Jim approached him.
“Oswald? May I talk to you?”
“Of course. Come in.”
Jim looked sheepish as he entered the office. It was evident that he had trouble talking, so Oswald smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging way.
“I… uh, I saw the time table for next week.”
“Is something wrong with it?”
“No, I mean… I wondered if you could give me some shifts for the weekend as well? I, uhh, need the money for school, and don’t want to ask my mum for it again. She wouldn’t mind, but I know it’s hard for her.”
“Oh, of course, Jim. Let me see…” Oswald took out his notebook, and scanned the timetable. “You can take the morning shift on Saturday instead of me.”
“Thank you. I don’t want to seem greedy, but any chances for Sunday?”
Oswald looked up, surprised. “Don’t you need to rest? It must be difficult to juggle the training and the job as well.”
Jim smiled, tiredly. “I’ll get through that. My mum’s been the sole provider for more than ten years… she needs the help.”
Oswald nodded, all too familiar with the glint of determination in Jim’s eyes, and the hardships that caused it. “My mum raised me alone as well. If you want, you can help out Barbara on Sunday morning too for a few hours.”
“That would be great. Thank you so much, Oswald. I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome. Please, let me know if you need more shifts. Don’t be embarrassed, all right?”
“Got it,” Jim smiled.
Days went by, without anything interesting happening to Oswald – unlike to everyone else. Jim seemed to be in a ceaseless hurry: he ran from classes to work, and from work to gun training. Dominic and Matthew were going strong: their first date went extremely well, and they often met in the café after work. Dom introduced Matt to Oswald, and they had a nice chat. Matt seemed like a really awesome guy, and the way he looked at Dom was enough to convince Oz that his friend had hit the jackpot.
One afternoon after they had a drink in the café, Dominic and Matt went to the counter to greet their friends.
“Hey Oz, it’s time for a new gaming night,” Dom said. “Are you up for it?”
“Oh yes, can’t wait to beat your backside.”
“Keep on dreaming. Is Friday okay for you?”
“Sure. Matt, you’re coming too, right?”
“I am, although to be honest I can’t say I’m a gamer,” Matt laughed, and hugged Dom with an arm. “I’ll have to ask Dom to teach me.”
“What about you, Jim?”
Jim looked up, surprised. “What about me?”
“Do you have time to come over to my place on Friday? Gaming night.” Dom asked.
“Oh, of course, thanks. Unless…” Jim glanced at Oswald hesitantly.
“I won’t mind if that’s what you mean,” Oswald said quickly, and patted Jim’s arm reassuringly. He pretended that his heart didn’t burst with joy when Jim smiled at him.
Dominic and Matthew were grinning at them. There was something suspicious about them, the sly way they looked at Oz and Jim, but Oswald couldn’t question them. He knew Dom well; he wasn’t able to hide shrewd plans or secrets for long.
Friday evening, Oswald waited for Jim in front of the café – Jim had messaged him to meet him there after his shift, because he didn’t know where Dom lived.
“Oh, hello. Should I have brought my monitor too?” Jim asked when he exited the coffee shop, and saw Oswald carrying his.
“Not at all, Dom just asked me to bring mine. He has two sets, and he’ll share one with Matt.”
“Let me carry it, then,” Jim offered.
“No need, we just have to cross the street. He lives in that building there, see?” Oswald pointed, and Jim followed him.
Matt opened the door for them, and Dom greeted them from the kitchen, as he was preparing snacks and drinks. Jim and Matt soon hit it off when Jim noticed Matt’s X Files t-shirt: it turned out that both of them were huge fans, and Oswald let them talk while they set up the TVs.
“Hi,” Dom greeted Oswald over the noise of the popcorn popping in the microwave. “Where’d you leave Jim?”
“He’s fangirling with Matt about The X Files.”
“You should stay silent, my friend. You have a whole shelf with Star Wars mugs,” Oswald threw in as he stole some crisps.
Dom laughed. “True. Help me carry the stuff to the living room.”
Jim and Matt were talking about various cop shows when Dom and Oswald entered the room. After everyone picked a beverage, the games started. Matt and Dom were snuggled on the sofa and played together, Jim was sprawled on the other end of the sofa with a beer, while Oswald sat on a pillow on the floor, heavily concentrated. Dom always laughed about how seriously Oz took the game, but Jim seemed even more competitive. Soon, Jim and Oswald were the only ones left in the race.
“Sorry, Jim, but you’ll have to come second!”
“That’s what she said.”
Matthew and Dom were laughing their arses off, and sneaked off to the kitchen for more snacks and cold drinks. In the end, Oswald won the race with less than a second. Jim just shook his head, and promised revenge after a trip to the bathroom. Oz was about to go to the kitchen to get another bottle of cider, when he heard his friends whispering.
“I think your matchmaking is working.”
“Is it?” Dom asked.
Matchmaking? Oswald thought. That explained the suspicious grins.
“They are terribly sweet and exasperating at the same time. It’s like a ritual, they are dancing around each other.”
Oswald furrowed his brows at Matthew’s words. He stood there helpless for a moment, until he heard the unmistakable sounds of kissing.
“Well, lovebirds, I thought you were supposed to bring provisions.”
“…we just got sidetracked.”
Oswald laughed at Matt and Dom’s faux guilty expressions, and grabbed a bowl of crisps. The young men decided to continue the evening with a strategy game, and divided themselves in two teams. Somehow it was a natural decision that Oswald ended up with Jim, who promptly moved to the floor beside Oz, so they could discuss their tactic. This part of the evening was even more enjoyable, not just because they kept laughing, but Jim’s shoulder rubbed his almost continuously, and he could feel Jim’s warmth.
“Let’s go around that building, and wait for them there. We can easily capture them,” Jim whispered into Oswald’s ears.
Jim’s hot breath sent shivers down Oswald’s spine, and he nodded, dazed, following his teammate’s instruction. They managed to win easily, and Jim leaned against the sofa with a tired, but satisfied smile.
“We did it.”
“I hate to say this, but you guys make a good team,” Matt declared, and winked at Dom.
The men talked about various things, until Jim yawned.
“I think it’s time for us to go,” Oz declared with a smile.
“Jim, do you have to work tomorrow?” Matt asked.
“Yes, morning shift.”
“Damn, your boss must be really mean,” Dom joked, laughing when Oz glared at him.
“I can take over your shift, Jim.”
“No, no, it’s fine. But you’re right, we should go.”
Not much later, Jim and Oswald were walking towards Oswald’s place. Jim insisted on carrying his monitor this time. The evening was calm and warm, and Oswald felt rather bubbly. He didn’t even notice how he started playing with the lighter Dom had given him, or Jim’s gaze on his hands.
“Oswald, may I ask you something?”
“Do you smoke?”
Oswald’s smile froze, and only when he followed Jim’s eyes did he notice the lighter between his pointer and index fingers.
“Oh, this… no, uh, it’s a different story.”
Jim nodded understandingly. Oswald bit his lip; he knew Jim would not ask further questions. He looked at the crescent Moon, and drew a deep breath.
“See, my dad was a huge smoker,” Oz started, and the way Jim’s eyes widened revealed that he didn’t expect his boss to talk. “In all my memories of him, I see him smoking, or playing with a lighter. It just stuck with me. Then he, um, had a car accident. Well, my mum was there too, but she survived. I don’t know, I just started collecting lighters. It’s silly, isn’t it?”
“No, not at all. I completely understand. I lost my dad too, and I still look up to him.”
“What happened to him? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Line of duty. He was called to an armed bank robbery,” Jim sighed, and Oz felt like putting his arm around him, but he left his hand in his pocket.
“I’m sorry. You must be brave to follow in his footsteps.”
“To be honest, there was never any doubt about what I’d like to do when I grew up. It just became stronger after what happened to dad.”
Oswald nodded, as they walked in the empty streets. They soon arrived to his block of flats, and he took the TV from Jim. He wished they wouldn’t have to say goodbye, but he couldn’t invite Jim upstairs with his mum there. Anyway, Jim had to work the next day.
“That was really fun.”
“It was. We should do it again soon.”
“I’m sure Dom will want to avenge us, and regain his dignity,” Oz laughed.
“Ha, he can try, but we’re invincible.”
Oswald grinned as they wished each other goodnight, and sneaked into the flat quietly. He couldn’t stop smiling as he lay in his bed.