Ra curses as he enters the shop, shaking the snow off of himself. He flaps his arms, raining melting snowflakes on their newly mopped floor. Zeke throws his towel at him in vengeance. Ra dodges and retorts:
“Is that any way to treat a customer?”
Dizzee trips him as he passes the counter. Zeke smirks as he teeters, arms flailing, and quips:
“You're not a customer, you're a leech.”
Boo follows him in the door, frowning at them.
“All you’re gonna get is leeches if you keep it so damn cold in here!”
Zeke sighs; he’s spent all afternoon complaining already. Dizzee threatened to shove his head in the espresso machine if he didn’t shut up.
“Don’t bother complaining, we can’t do anything about it. The heater broke yesterday.”
Ra flops onto one of the couches in the back and curls up, dragging his coat over himself as a blanket. Boo joins him, looking at them disapprovingly.
“What do you mean you can’t do anything about it? I know the old witch who owns the place is practically useless, but surely y’all can call someone to fix it by yourselves.”
Dizzee throws his hands up.
“Fine! But I better not hear any noise out of any of you once I’ve called.”
A quick google search later, he’s found an acceptable heating/cooling company and called. His brothers stay silent as he calls. Once he hangs up he glares at Boo-Boo, whose mouth is already half open, ready to speak. He cuts him off:
“Someone should be out in about an hour. Happy?”
Boo skips off the couch, mischievous smile on his face. He wraps himself Dizz in a hug and coos:
“Thank you, Dizz, you’re such a good brother~”
Dizzee sighs, letting Boo cling to him.
“What else do you want, Boo?”
“Can I have some cake?”
Dizzee pulls a slice of the chocolate cake out of the case, sliding it over the counter to him.
“Let me guess, you already used up all of your allowance.”
Boo retreats to the couch, trying to look as innocent as possible while stuffing his face with cake.
Dizzee pulls a few bills out of his pocket and puts them in the cash register. Zeke laughs; Boo is spoiled and he knows it. His brothers love him and he takes advantage of it, but Dizz and Ra always indulge him good naturedly.
A doors slams outside, and Zeke looks up to see a truck parked out front. A man swaggers out and enters the shop. Dizzee steps forwards to greet him and they shake hands. Pleasantries exchanged, the man looks around the shop and asks:
“I hear your heating isn’t working?”
“Yeah, it broke yesterday. It’s back here.”
Dizzee leads him towards them, to the heater installed in the back wall. As the man gets closer cold dread trickles down Zeke’s spine. He looks familiar…
The man tilts his head and makes eye contact with Zeke, and that’s just the right angle to remind Zeke why he recognizes him: he’s the shoplifter. Zeke freezes, eyes flitting to his backpack on the other side of the room. The record’s in there, he was hoping to ask Mylene out today, so he’d brought it along. Now he regrets that; the shoplifter had seemed like he really wanted it. Now that he’s here, in their shop, who knows how he’ll react.
Maybe he won’t recognize me and everything will be okay.
The shoplifter definitely recognizes him. The man stops and stares for a moment before breaking off from Dizzee and approaching Zeke. He stops in front of the couch, drawing Ra out of his book, and glares at Zeke.
“You’re that skinny motherfucker who stole my record.”
Zeke tenses, ready to grab the backpack and run if he needs to.
“You stole it from me first, man.”
The shoplifter snarls and slams a hand down on the table. Ra jumps, putting the book aside and sitting up.
“I need that record, motherfucker!”
Dizzee steps forwards again, holding out a placating hand. Zeke snarls back:
“Why do you need it? Why do you need it so bad?”
Then the door’s bell rings again, heralding the entrance of another person. The woman enters the shop like a tidal wave, drawing all their eyes and filling the air with tension. She purses her red lips and lights a cigarette, looking over the shop until she spots the shoplifter. Then she grins and coos:
“Shao, baby, what are you doing here?”
Zeke shivers at her voice, syrupy sweet and filled with implications. The shoplifter barely looks any older than Dizzee, and she’s got to be at least twenty years older than him. Hearing her call him baby makes Zeke’s skin crawl. The shoplifter hunches in on himself, all the bravado from before disappearing. He looks at her like she’s a snake in the grass, just waiting to lash out and bite into him. She runs her eyes up and down his body and bites her painted lip.
“I’m working right now, Miss Annie. I told you I’d come by your place later.”
She breathes out a cloud of smoke and gives him a patronizing smile, striding towards him and wrapping a possessive arm around his waist.
“Well, alright. But you know how I miss you when we’re apart.”
She lets him go and moves to the counter, gesturing for Dizzee to come serve her.
“How about one of you boys get me a coffee?”
Dizzee moves forwards, his face cold and emotionless in that special way that he uses to hide his hatred. A neutral Dizzee is a Dizzee plotting your demise. He makes the coffee with none of his usual care and hands it to her, taking her money. She grins fakely at him and stuffs a hundred dollar bill into the tip jar. As she turns to leave she waves at the shoplifter, calling out to him:
“Don’t be late, Shaolin, and don’t forget my record!”
The silence after she leaves is so heavy it feels like someone’s piled bricks on his chest. Zeke stares at the shoplifter with a new understanding. When they make eye contact again, the stranger snarls at him and turns back to the heater. He growls as he begins prying it out of the wall:
“Lets just get this over with.”
They’re all looking at each other, aware that something terrible is going on with the stranger, but no one knows what to do about it. So they sit in stunned silence and stare as he digs through the wiring in the wall. He works quickly and efficiently and in a few minutes the heater roars back to life. He shoves it back into the wall and rushes back to the counter, holding his hand out for his payment. Dizzee pays him and he leaves the shop, fleeing as if they’re waiting to pounce on him.
Letting him leave without saying anything about the slimy woman leaves a bad taste in Zeke’s mouth, but what else can he do?
Zeke is still moping after the encounter with the shoplifter when Mylene comes into the shop. She enters, shaking the snow off her shoes, and takes her gloves off, stuffing them in her pocket. She steps up the counter and orders another butterscotch latte. Zeke makes it slowly, hands shaking with nerves. He can feel the brothers watching with anticipation and that only makes him feel worse. He hands it to her and rings her up.
As she turns to leave, he gathers up her courage and chases after her. He pushes through the door and onto the sidewalk in front of the shop, calling after her:
She turns and gives him a soft smile, making his heart beat faster.
“I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go out with me?”
Her smile falls and she looks down, trying not to meet his eyes. His heart sinks.
“I’m sorry, Zeke, but I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now.”
He tries to ignore the ache in his chest, like his heart is breaking.
“Um, yeah. Okay. But if you ever are, I’ll be here.”
She nods, hair hiding her face.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
She turns and walks down the street, away from him. He squashes the urge to chase after her and begins the slow trudge back inside. As soon as he enters the shop, Boo and Ra are on him, asking:
“How’d it go?”
Zeke passes them by and collapses onto the couch, trying his best not to cry.
“My heart got shot out, man.”
They hum sympathetically, looking ashamed of their earlier excitement. He’s grateful for their support, even if it feels suffocating at times.
“I’ll be okay, guys. I’ll get over her.”