“You can call me whatever you want to,” came a voice filled with dreamy awe from across the counter. Pitch looked up from where he had his marker poised over the cup and raised a single, unimpressed eyebrow at the show of witlessness. He’d heard that line before. Maybe not in that honest tone, but that made no difference to him.
It was several seconds later that the teen coughed into his fist and seemed to snap out of it, “Jack. My name is Jack.”
Wordlessly, Pitch scribbled the name across the cup and set it in line with the rest of the drinks he had to make. Minutes were spent pouring coffee, steaming milk, adding syrups, drawing over whipped cream with caramel and chocolate drizzles and then he was calling out, “Jack!”
And that same cheeky teen had the audacity to lay down a slip of paper with a number on it when he smiled and picked up his cup.
Pitch hated people like that.
It was with increasing irritation that Jack came to be a regular in Pitch’s shop. Entirely unwillingly, Pitch came to recognize Jack’s friends, learned his schedule, and learned something about how he liked coffee, which was almost every way Pitch offered to prepare it on his menu.
Pitch hated it, because Jack would try to flirt every time. He didn’t hold up the line or call Pitch names for not responding, but acting like a decent human being wasn’t something to be praised so much as expected, so it didn’t do much in Jack’s favor.
It was two weeks to the day from that first encounter when Jack, after ordering coffee once again, slid another slip of paper across the counter and said, “Just in case, you know, you lost the last one.”
He gave Pitch that same bright but nervous smile and walked away.
Pitch immediately swept the number into the trash bin at his hip.
This was getting fucking nerve-wrecking, Jack thought as he waited in line to order. After a whole month of no progress, his friends, especially Hiccup, were telling him to give it up and move on, but fuck, he just couldn’t.
He got this feeling from Pitch. He was gorgeous, yes, but it was more than that. He was shut off and shuttered, a total unknown, and everything in Jack desperately wanted to know what went on inside his head. Pitch walked the knife-edge of politeness, like Jack, but with a totally different style. He was older than the average barista and Jack never saw anyone else at the counter, which made him wonder if he owned the place and Jack would give anything to chat him up and find out.
So this time, instead of leaving his number on the table, he was going to make sure it ended up in his hand. He was going to make sure those fingers closed around the paper at least once because, damn it all, he wanted to be called that badly.
So when it was his turn at the register, Jack ordered the first capuccino his eyes landed on and paid cash. He stacked the bills neatly, the large scrap with his number on top, and pressed the money into Pitch’s hand with a smile that had no business being so easy after four weeks of rejection. It was easy to smile around Pitch was all, and Jack didn’t question feelings like that.
“Keep the change, okay? Thanks.”
Jack waited as long as he could stand this time.
He was in this little shop every week, sometimes more often than that. He studied here, relaxed here, chatted the hours away here and it killed him, seeing Pitch that often, watching him and never catching a glance his way.
How could anyone be that dedicated to their job? Even people who loved their job took breaks, but Pitch just sat behind the counter taking and making orders for as long as Jack was there. He had to do something for fun. He had to go somewhere other than this shop. He had to like something other than coffee.
Merida smacked him in the shoulder, “Stop staring. It’s getting sad.”
“It’s been sad for two months,” Hiccup unhelpfully amended.
Jack’s crush was old news to his friends, but it still twisted in his chest, just as bright and warm as the first time Jack had seen Pitch. No, that was a lie. It was worse, better, now. He knew more and still knew nothing and the curiosity burned brighter than it ever could have after a first chance encounter.
He couldn’t wait anymore. Jack tore a corner out of his notebook and closed his text over it, prepping to stand, “I’m gonna give him my number again.”
“No, Jack!” Merida whined pitifully.
Rapunzel pressed both hands into her lap and looked at him with worry in her eyes, “Are you sure you should? I doubt he’s really just lost your number this many times.”
“It probably counts as harassment by now,” Hiccup sighed, but didn’t try to stop him. His best friend only leaned back in his chair to watch what Jack would do next, which was probably why they got along so well.
“I’m not gonna be a jerk or anything,” Jack defended, scribbling his number in clear, large letters on the paper, “I’m just… going to make sure he gets it.”
He waited through the line like a good little boy, shifting from foot to foot and fiddling with the paper in his pocket the whole time. Fuck, he really just wanted Pitch to call him, to talk to him, to give him a chance to find out all the things Jack couldn’t help but wonder when he should be paying attention in class.
He wasted, and by wasted Jack meant wisely spent on goods he both needed and adored, another five dollars on a work of caffeinated art, but before Pitch could turn away to make his order, Jack leaned across the counter and pressed the piece of paper into the pocket of Pitch’s apron and made sure it was deep enough not to just fall right back out.
He could hear the horrified gasp a couple of tables away, but he ignored it. His attention was all for Pitch, who looked fairly disgusted himself. Maybe Jack had gone too far, but…
But those eyes were so damn pretty and Jack couldn’t help but feel excited that they were finally focused back on him. He smiled, a foolishly pleased grin, as he pulled his hand back and dropped his chin, keeping eye contact through lowered lashes. He could feel the blush rising on his cheeks, but fuck it. If this worked, it was worth it.
“Try to keep better track of it this time, okay?”
Oh God, he felt so fucking giddy.
This was getting fucking ridiculous. The worst part was that Pitch couldn’t even properly hate the kid for it, because it wasn’t like he caused any problems or ever treated Pitch any worse. He just bit his lip and blushed, watched Pitch from afar and tipped too well. Asked him personal questions, but brushed it off when Pitch didn’t answer. Flirted again and again, unphased by Pitch’s refusal to flirt back.
It was God damn endearing and that was the real worst part.
As the fair-haired teen grabbed his hand and yanked it across the counter, Pitch reflected on another noteworthy point. Jack was only inappropriately touchy over the number thing. Any other time and the boy was perfectly polite about keeping his hands to himself.
Now, however, a ball-point pen was tracing over his skin, leaving familiar numbers in its wake. It tickled a little bit, and Pitch considered yanking his hand back so that he couldn’t finish, considered yelling at him for doing something so forward and thoughtless, inconsiderate.
But, in the safety of his own mind, Pitch could admit that it didn’t feel awful and Jack was actually kind of cute, staring so intently at the palm of his hand, like he might actually read the future there.
Maybe he thought his future was there, in the palm of Pitch’s hand. The thought was as sad and worrying as it was touching.
“There,” Jack smiled that smile again, straightening up and tucking his pen away, “You can’t lose it, this time.”
Yes, he could, Pitch mused. He could wash his hands.
Pitch felt cruel just thinking it, and yet it was his plan.
Pitch was instantly suspicious, but it wasn’t policy to question a customer’s name on the off-chance that it really was that weird and somebody was offended, “Spell that, please?”
Pitch stared at the cup for several long seconds, the immediate thought that he was being lamely hit on again washed away when he realized he knew this number.
“Jack put you up to this.”
“For twenty bucks. Please don’t spit in my coffee.”
Pitch wished he was that petty. Instead, he was kind of admiring Jack’s cunning. Silently, he told himself to stop it and got back to work.
Honestly, Jack didn’t know what else he could do. Pitch had every opportunity to call his number if he wanted to, which meant he didn’t want to, but Jack couldn’t let it go. Pitch was never particularly mean to him. Pitch didn’t even glare at him. Pitch had never explicitly told him, ‘No,’ and maybe that was what was missing.
Jack still had hope. He still felt this terrible happiness every time he looked at the man behind the counter. He still day dreamed and fantasized about getting that call every time he left his number behind.
He couldn’t keep doing this. Something had to give. Jack was going to have to meet this head on and forcibly remove it from the listless limbo the situation had been stuck in forever. It’s been more than six months and Jack’s heart needed to settle, one way or the other.
Fuck if he didn’t hope, silently plead with his whole being, for it to go the way he wanted.
Jack waited until the line was down and he wouldn’t be a bother before he approached Pitch at the register. It was immediately awkward, because Pitch acted the same as always, asking, “What can I get you?” when Jack wasn’t feeling the same at all.
He folded his hands and leaned his elbows on the counter, bringing himself closer so that he could speak quieter, hoping both to embarrass himself less and get across, this time, just how serious he really was about this.
“Why won’t you call me?”
The bored look on Pitch’s face helped nothing at all. He couldn’t really feel that way all the time. Jack was so God damn curious, “Am I obligated to call you?”
“No,” The teen hurried to say, “Of course not. I just… want to know why.”
In the silence that followed, Jack thought Pitch was going to dismiss him and that would be the end of it. Even worse, the words that followed the silence were clearly a lie, “I don’t date customers,” but Jack had no ground upon which to call him on it.
“I can stop coming to the shop?” Jack offered, because taking Pitch seriously involved taking his words seriously too, even if they weren’t true.
“That won’t work,” Pitch immediately shot down, and Jack was not surprised, “The answer is still no.”
“But-” Jack hopelessly started, cutting himself off before he could start whining. He wanted to fight it. He wanted an explanation, “I just…”
Pitch was right at the beginning, though. He was under no obligation to call or even like Jack. Jack was owed no chance or explanation or even the time of day. He just wanted so badly to get to know Pitch, to see if he really was that quiet and that reserved all the time.
Jack had to accept that the interest was entirely one-sided.
“Okay.” He cleared his throat, swallowed thickly, and peeled himself up off of the counter. He almost turned away without saying anything else, but… That was rude, and just because Jack was feeling disheartened and listless was not an excuse to forget manners, “Have a nice night, Pitch.” God, but the platitude felt like sand on his tongue.
Pitch only nodded. And Jack left.
It was shocking when the flirting just stopped.
Pitch was not expecting to be so unbalanced by it. Months of little smiles and friendly inquisition and veiled compliments about things Pitch hadn’t even realized he could be complimented for, but that spoke to how much Jack watched him, all gone overnight.
He still got smiles, but they were strained and tight. He still got questions, but they were polite small-talk, passive, ‘How are you?’s that meant nothing and expected no answer. The compliments no longer existed, empty echoes where words could have been.
Pitch’s every day was the same. The shop was open every day except Sunday, so Pitch woke early every day except Sunday to greet the early morning crowd that needed caffeine to start their day. Then he would greet the lunch crowd who preferred coffee over soda with their sandwiches. Then the afternoon crowd who needed one more cup to get them through the day. Then the evening crowd who liked a little after dinner coffee before settling in for the night.
Then Pitch would close, settle in for the night himself, and love the fact that no one could pull him in for a meeting, lecture him on policy, attitude, performance, productivity, customer service, or any of the rest of that shit that came with working for someone else.
It was just him, a product he loved, loyal customers that kept him open, and work that kept him too busy to be bored with his life.
Pitch didn’t need or want any more. He would be perfectly happy brewing coffee into old age.
He used to think he wanted more, but Pitch didn’t dwell on those things anymore. He was miserable then. He was content now, to smile at the professors who told him the latest stupid thing their students had done as he poured their coffee, to have the usual ready for his neighbor next door who needed something sweet if they were going to survive the day, to plate breads and cookies and muffins and deliver them to the couch for the ladies who liked to knit and crochet there on Wednesday nights.
He didn’t need more than the kindness they paid him by coming back again and again so that he could do this forever.
Pitch didn’t need a lover, much less a boyfriend, to drag long-dead drama into his days. He didn’t need someone to hold expectations over his head, to demand his time, to pull him away from the shop that made him so happy. He didn’t need flirting and touching and questions and compliments.
Which was what made it so utterly shocking when Pitch found that he missed it.
Jack could admit to himself, and his friends, that he was fucked.
There was relief to be had in having such a final answer about it all. No more wondering if he was going to get a call. No more coming up with things to say to Pitch that might coax him into calling. He could stick to a script when he ordered his coffee now. There was no reason for him to think about possibly reading between the lines or sending messages he didn’t mean to send by ordering this or that or tipping however much or in the words he picked to say or any of it.
He was free. Free to treat the shop like any other shop. Free to read whatever books he wanted or needed to read without thinking about Pitch’s thoughts on the titles. Free to sketch his next projects without hoping Pitch would ask what he was working on. Free to laugh and talk as loudly as he liked without worrying that Pitch would overhear and care.
Free to look for interest elsewhere. Free to date whoever might actually be interested in him. Free to find a boyfriend anywhere, maybe even in the shop if that’s where it happened.
The problem was, Jack didn’t want any of that.
Jack wanted to get a call. Jack wanted to talk to Pitch about anything and everything. Jack wanted to say things with subtext that it would be inappropriate to say in polite company. Jack wanted to discuss his schoolwork with Pitch. Jack wanted Pitch to ask about his art. Jack wanted Pitch to care.
Jack didn’t want to look elsewhere. His friends would point at people checking him out, encourage him to go talk to them, and he would. He picked up plenty of numbers from strangers and classmates alike. He just didn’t want to call them.
To Jack, there was no point in spending time on a person he didn’t want. Hanging out was great. Chatting it up was a lot of fun. But making it romantic when Jack didn’t feel the romance seemed like the biggest waste of time he could ever engage in.
He resolved to keep trying, because Jack knew that he deserved happiness with someone else, and it wasn’t his fault that Pitch wasn’t that person.
It also wasn’t his fault if Pitch was the only one he wanted.