Part 1 - Ugly Sweaters, Pretty Face
Jingle bells. Retail hell. Andrew hates this place. Oh, what fun it is to work this close to the holidays...
"HEY!" Ryan, the store manager, yells out from some corner of this hellhole. There's the sound of loud running footsteps accompanied by a single lone jingling bell. "Put those decorations back!!"
Oh joy, here they go again. Every year without fail, somebody will try to steal the Christmas decorations. Usually, it's one attempt a day but sometimes there's multiple. It's completely bonkers.
"GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE I CALL THE POLICE!" Ryan screams at the top of his lungs. Hangers on the racks clatter against each other as a loud scampering scatters across the store, Andrew barely managed to catch the blurry figure bolting out of the door thanks to the mannequins in the way. He leans back against the counter and turns to TJ who was also watching the events from behind the cash register.
"That's the first time I've heard him that mad," Andrew remarks. "Wonder what's gotten to him..." TJ merely makes a noncommittal noise and shrugs halfheartedly in response. He then proceeds to mash random buttons on the register in an effort to look as though he doesn't care but Andrew's not fooled.
It's actually kinda funny that when Andrew first met TJ he thought this guy was terrifying looking and might just eat him for breakfast if he were ever in a bad mood. But as it turns out, Andrew learnt pretty quickly that 'lukewarm' is probably the most appropriate word to describe him. Most people would argue that 'cold' is more accurate but that's not true, TJ's actually really friendly once you get to know him. On the other hand, he doesn't appear to have passion for anything...
It's a real shame that those two idiots can't see beyond the end of their own noses because they would be really cute together, at least, that's what Andrew thinks. But what does he know? He's no relationship expert, he's not even gonna lie and say that he knows how to handle being in a relationship. If he did, he probably wouldn't be single right now, he probably wouldn't have lost-
Andrew abruptly ejects his train of thought as he notices, in his peripheral vision, a customer entering the store. His autopilot mode instantly engages and he turns around and walk up to greet whoever just showed up.
"Welcome to BuzzFits. We have every s-" Well, hello. The canned greeting dies in Andrew's throat as he take in the sight before him. The man standing before him might as well be literally glowing, he's radiating this unbelievably happy(?) energy with a wide bubbly smile on his nice soft-looking lips (are they actually as soft as they look?). He's tall but not nearly as tall. His hair is mussed up and messy but, again, not nearly as messy. And his eyes-
Okay, that's enough. Andrew silently chides himself for comparing this stranger with his ex. He has got to stop doing that with every new cute guy he meets. The customer, for what it's worth, doesn't seem to notice Andrew basically drooling over him.
"Hi, I'm gonna need twenty-five Christmas themed sweaters." Andrew tilts his head to the side and frowns, unsure if he heard the man correctly.
"I'm sorry, twen-ty-five?" He over-enunciates the number more out of surprise than for clarity.
"Yes! Twenty-five!" The man continues browsing through the racks in front of him, as if what he's asking for is the most ordinary thing. "I need a different one for each day leading up to Christmas!" One a day?! Wow, Andrew never thought he'd ever meet someone who's this extra. He understands getting into the holiday spirit but this?
This is just unnecessary.
The man rapidly shifts from rack to rack, unsatisfied with the selection thus far, and Andrew find himself simply following for no rhyme or reason. He reasons internally that he's clearly offering assistance but the excuse falls flat seeing that he's been thoroughly useless the entire time, merely watching on silently.
When the man makes a move for the shelves, Andrew follows as well, but this time he sticks closer. He doesn't know why. It's like they're magnetic and he's just being dragged along unwittingly, there's no helping it. Maybe this is meant to be, maybe he's 'the one' that Andrew's been looking for. He hasn't felt such natural attraction towards anyone ever since... you know.
No, no, that's just the loneliness talking. Andrew's been single for almost three years now and his mind is aching for the intimacy it's been deprived of. To the point where it's willing to search for it in anyone at all, even if they aren't of the best character, even if they aren't the best looking. NOT that this guy isn't good looking, it's just... Andrew loses his train of thought when the man reaches for the top shelf and his shirt rises up just enough to show off his navel.
Fuck. Snap out of it!
"Let me help you with that," Andrew says absentmindedly. The man stops in his tracks, arms still stretched out, and throws a funny look. That's when Andrew realises the absurdity of what he said. The dude is taller than him, for fucks sake. Great, now he either looks like an asshole or a dumbass, he's not sure which is worse.
When the embarrassment is too much to bear, Andrew's gaze falls from the stranger's face to the ground but on the way down, it stops for a brief moment to admire the stretch of exposed skin and the little happy trail. Andrew's cheeks start burning as his thoughts take a turn for the dirty, urging his eyes to the floor in double-quick time.
Although he has been attracted to many a customer before, this right here is some next level shit. He swallows whatever little saliva is left in his mouth to ease his sandpaper throat while simultaneously sweeping the lewd thoughts to the back of his mind.
"Huh, yes? Sorry..." Andrew draws his attention back up to the customers face and was momentarily stunned by how beautiful he looked. He was about to start explaining why he spaced out but then thought better of it. There's no nice way of put- "Wait, how did you know my name?"
"Your name tag," The man points out plainly. Andrew automatically looks down at the little piece of plastic pinned to his shirt. After a short moment of awkard silence, he sighs defeatedly.
"I swear I'm not normally this stupid." It's true. He's also not normally this forthcoming to customers, preferring to maintain a professional facade even though this is just another corporate chain selling mass-produced apparel. The man standing before him stares at him with furrowed brows and a frown, mindlessly fiddling with the material of a dark navy sweater that he's holding in his hands.
"But are you normally this cute?" Oh. Wow. That was smooth as fuck. If Andrew wasn't blushing before (he's pretty certain he was), then he definitely is now. He was never one to compliments well, especially not ones of this variety. Any attempt to swat away the compliment is thwarted by his stuttering brain. Also, if he spoke right now, Andrew's positive that he himself would be stuttering too.
"I'm Steven by the way," the man introduces himself with a million-watt smile and an outstretched hand, which Andrew awkwardly grips and shake. The horrible feeling of his own cold, sweaty palm against Steven's soft, warm hand almost makes him regret the action. When Andrew pulls his hand back, Steven is still smiling as if he did not just partake in the world's worst handshake.
"So... why do you need 25 sweaters anyway?" Andrew switches the focus back to what brought them in this position in the first place. He figures that if he sticks to doing his actual job he might not fuck up nearly as much. Steven laughs at the question and Andrew thinks it may be the most incredible thing he has ever heard.
"Ugly sweaters," Steven 'corrects' him cheekily then he looks down shyly at the sweater he's still holding on to, poking his finger between the strands. "I, uh... lost a bet. It was stupid, don't ask me what it was." A bet huh?
"Wasn't gonna, but now I have to know."
"Maybe some other day." Steven puts the sweater back on the shelf and starts looking through the other piles. Just as Andrew thought he missed an opportunity, Steven turns to him with a grin. "Perhaps over coffee?" And then he, get this, he FUCKING WINKS! Oh fucking damn, is this guy real? He's got to be a hallucination of sorts, there's no other explanation. Andrew's mind is most definitely playing tricks on him. His mental gears get caught on something as sparks go off in his head, he tries and fails to come up with a response. Fortunately, Steven rescues him from getting ground up by his own fucking thoughts. "But first, you have to find me my twenty-five sweaters."
Oh, it's on. He's getting that fucking date. He will flip the store upside-down to find twenty-five ugly sweaters for Steven if needed, even though Ryan will kill him for that.
"I'll do better than that. I'll find you twenty-five THOUSAND sweaters!" Andrew exclaims enthusiastically and instantly cringes at himself. But it turned out to be a good move as Steven's grinning so wide that his face might just split in half. Andrew's heart does backflips as he commits every detail of this scene to memory, from the overplayed Mariah Carey track blasting from the store's speakers, down to the way Steven's eyes crinkle with joy.
It was a whirlwind of an hour (or maybe two, or three, Andrew didn't exactly have the attention capacity to keep track of time with Steven around) but he had successfully completed his quest and found Steven his twenty-five ugly sweaters. Right now he's just staring excitedly at the little piece of paper in his hands. He had to go attend to a bunch of other customers that showed up out of nowhere but as Steven was leaving the store after TJ rang him up, he took the opportunity to (not so subtly) slip the paper into the back pocket of Andrew's jeans. There may or may not have been a yelp and some looks of judgements casted upon him by the patrons of the store.
'i think you know what to do with these digits. if you're free on saturday, i know this cozy little cafe not too far from here -steven'
"Wow, lucky you, landing a date as cute as him." Andrew jumps at the voice, nearly drop the slip of paper. He spins around to find TJ smirking at him with crossed arms, and looking way too proud of himself. "Congrats, Andy." Despite the mocking look on his face, Andrew knows that TJ is being genuine.
"You could get a cute date too, if you just fucking grew a pair and asked Ryan out." It's a bit of a low blow, but Andrew can't think of any other way to get back at him. The expression on TJ's face instantaneously morphs into a look of panic.
"I-... w-what?" TJ straightens up and takes a few steps back, his arms tighten the hold on his chest. "I'm-... I am n-not interested in Ryan!" His denial comes as no surprise, Andrew had expected nothing less from him.
"Whatever, keep lying to yourself." Andrew shrugs, not really in the mood to drill deeper in, he would much rather be texting Steven. But before he walks off, he throws TJ one last supportive smile. "I mean it though, you should ask him out. He likes you too."
And with that, Andrew heads off to the break room.