Chapter 1: Diet Coke Late at Night
Ray combed his fingers through his dark hair desperately trying to make it look somewhat presentable. He’d avoided – been too lazy- to get a hair cut and the waves were starting to show. Usually he’d just hide them under a hat to keep a kind of control on the thick locks he was plagued with. A beanie was not appropriate work attrite though – he’d been reminded multiple times – of course Ray had found a job at a bar with standards. It wasn’t the fanciest bar in Los Santos, it wasn’t the cleanest, the crowd wasn’t the nicest, but nobody had died in the parking lot. That was a huge plus for the city he lived in. It was practically the perfect place to raise kids across from.
The owner had some kind of boner for staff in uniform at a biker bar so, Ray was wearing a black button down, black skinny jeans, and would put on a white apron to tie around his waist when he got there. To be honest he was more worried about spilling a drink on his shirt than his pants. He had a million pairs of black jeans – though he’d never admit it out loud- not so many nice black shirts though.
Walking up to the bar Ray tried not to choke on the smoke forcing its way into his lungs. The bar inside was miraculously a non smoking environment, per Ramsey’s request. Once Ray braved the parking lot dragons he was inside the establishment where the smell of cigarettes lingered, but it wasn’t choking. It was a scent that clung to the clothes of the patrons, and a few hours later Ray knew he wouldn’t even notice it anymore. In fact, after about twenty minutes the smell of Bruce’s cooking from the grill behind the bar would be making his stomach growl. Bruce usually left a burger warm for Ray to take home with him since they worked the evening shirt together. The bar opened at noon and catered to a more family friendly crowd then. Past ten Rays shift started, the bikers came in, and Ray didn’t leave till three in the morning. He was starving by then and Bruce was a decent guy.
Ray only interacted with two people from his work mostly, and he enjoyed both of them.
“Evening boss,” Ray lifted the entrance board that lead back behind the bar.
Mr. Ramsey – Geoff – the boss of the interesting establishment was cleaning glasses in the sink.
“Didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday,” Geoff teased.
Ray rolled his eyes grabbing an apron to tie around his waist ignoring the question – he wasn’t going to let Geoff know he was right.
“Did you let your mustache get crooked?” Ray joked back.
Geoff’s fingers went to fiddling with the tip of his thick black handlebar mustache. Ray swore that hair on his boss’s face was his prized possession. Ray couldn’t imagine keeping a perfectly styled mustache – not even the hair on his head was styled.
“My mustache is always perfect,” Geoff went back to work on the dishes.
Ray smirked starting to guess what everyone was drinking as his eyes went down the small line of people, “How’s your gamer score coming?”
Geoff just scoffed, “I’m running a business”
“I’m kicking your ass in gears of war achievements.”
Geoff just grumbled stacking the clear glasses up under the bar.
“Why don’t you just have Bruce clean those in the back with the dishwasher?” Ray crossed his arms watching.
“There’s something more personal cleaning a glass by hand, you can be sure your giving your customer a clean glass.” Geoff nodded to himself, or to the cups Ray wasn’t sure.
“We don’t care about plates though right?”
“It’s different,” Geoff argued, “That’s not our department, and Bruce doesn’t have that kind of time all the time.”
Ray rolled his eyes, “Maybe you should hire more night staff? Like actual waiters.”
“We’re never that food busy at night,” Geoff dismissed Ray’s suggestion, “People at night come for the bar, not for fine dining.”
“You don’t know that.”
Geoff rolled his eyes and straightened his back out, “I’m heading out to improve my gamer score.”
“Try not to drink all the booze while I’m gone.”
Ray saluted, “I’ll try boss.”
Geoff smiled shaking his head, “Have a good night Ray.”
“You too Geoff.”
After the boss had left Ray smoothed a wrinkle out of his apron and refilled a couple beers, the night was panning out as always.
Trying his hardest Ray threw out jokes and comments to the costumers. He tried to start conversations like he’d seen Geoff do on the occasion the older man had stayed later. Everything seemed more fun when the customers would react, and it even made some of them a tad less scary. Ray had watched Geoff chat up a big burly man who Ray was convinced was a bear in man skin. After Geoff started laughing with him he seemed less scary.
While Ray’s jokes fell flat his costumer service was on point. Though people rolled their eyes at his cheesy puns he stole off the internet, they left generous tips on the counter for getting their drinks fast, and never ignoring an order. Ray prided himself on his fast hands and memory. He chalked the talents up to hours of video games. He could remember a row of orders and start pouring.
As the night slipped into day the bar became less crowded, as usual, and Ray started to clear glasses, throw away beer bottles, and mop the floor. The familiar sound of a barstool scraping against the hardwood made Ray look up. A man was hunched over himself at the bar, Ray hadn’t even heard him come in, the man had a dirty blonde ponytail that touched his shoulders. Rolling the yellow mop bucket back into the closet Ray shut the door before turning to his patron.
“How can I help you?” Ray put on his best winning smile.
The man looked at him a sneer that made Ray’s blood chill, “Diet Coke.”
“With rum?” Ray finished for the man.
Shaking his head the man growled, “Just the soda.”
Ray was shocked, guy walks into a bar and orders a soda, he got the drink hoping he wasn’t the angry mans punch line. The man was staring into the dark liquid which contained no alcohol, and Ray was staring at the man who wouldn’t just buy diet soda from a convenience store. The hum of music played overhead and Ray watched the man nurse the sugary drink like it was a scotch. When the man growled at him again low in his chest Ray busied himself with cleaning the counter afraid to anger the brute.
While moving from one side to the other Ray noticed something he hadn’t before. He shifted one way, and then the other.
“They’re two different colors,” Ray spoke out loud breaking the silence.
The man looked him straight in the face for the first time and sure enough it wasn’t a trick of the lights. One blue eye and one green eye were giving Ray the death stare and it was so cool Ray didn’t care.
“Do you ever wear an eye patch?” Ray asked.
“Shut up,” The man sucked his soda down faster.
“Do people use the special eye joke a lot, because if not I will,” Ray smiled feeling his face light up.
“Shut up,” The man repeated.
“Bet ladies love it, makes you stand out. Don’t go robbing any banks without a mask,” Ray laughed.
The man was silent his eyes boring holes into Ray’s skull.
“Want me to get you another,” Ray started, “I don’t drink either, but here I am working in a bar. I’m Ray by the way.”
Quickly standing the man slammed a bill on the counter and Ray jumped back bumping his back against the shelves of the bar making the bottles rattle. Without another word the man left and Ray scrambled to pick up the bill. Ten dollars was way too much for one glass of Diet Coke. Ringing it up in the register Ray quickly made change and headed towards the front exit.
Stepping into the chilly night air Ray looked around the parking lot without seeing a single soul. He frowned, he didn’t think he’d taken that long to ring up the order, “Mr. I have your change!” he called out waving the bills in the air. Ray waited for two beats before he headed back inside – the guy must have taken off on a bike or something. Ray didn’t remind himself he hadn’t heard one. Back inside, and back to cleaning, all Ray could think about where those eyes that had threatened to kill him without a word. He’d read stories and seen photshopped pictures of stuff like that, but never in real life. He cursed himself for not asking the man if it was a contact lens, though Ray doubted he would have gotten a response.
Piling the garbage into two big bags Ray started to drag them across the floor praying they wouldn’t break. If he could get all of the trash out to the dumpster in one go then he could lock up and start his walk home that much faster. He loved his job, but he couldn’t wait to play videos games till his eyes bled and then hop into bed until it was time to get up again and restart.
Struggling to toss the trash bags into the dumpster Ray groaned and whined. Packing everything into two bags meant heavy bags. This was something he did every time he worked – he knew he’d get it in eventually. Using all the strength he had in his noodle arms he got the first bag in. The bag crashed to the bottom of the large metal bin, as it settled the world went silent. Ray thought he had heard movement behind him looking at the door he had left propped open with a small wooden stool. There was nothing there, he chalked it up to faintly hearing the music from inside. He struggled to throw the second trash bag into the dumpster. Clapping his hands together Ray patted himself on the back and turned to head inside.
The sound of a person clearing their throat made Ray stop and turn around. His brain screamed at him for being an idiot as he was pushed back against the cool cement of the building. A thick arm pushed into his throat pinning him in place and stealing the extra air his lungs wanted to panic with. Two eyes stared down at him, one a glowing green, and the other a piercing blue. A switchblade was flashed in Ray’s face, but he couldn’t look away from the eyes that really held him captive. They were powerfully haunting.
“Don’t you fucking tell a soul I was here,” The man spat at him in a low threat.
“You fucking deaf kid,” The non alcoholic pressed in closer to Ray, “Do you understand me? Not a single soul.”
Ray nodded the best he could with his head pinned, “Y-Ye-Y.” he stuttered around an acknowledgement.
The man who had a plain soda at a bar pressed away from Ray before stuffing the knife away into his pocket along with his hands.
Tremors in Ray’s legs made him stagger holding onto the dirty wall for support. He was breathing heavy and coughed while his wobbly legs sorted themselves out. There was a ringing in his ears and he could feel his dinner threatening to remove itself from his body. Ray closed his eyes trying to calm himself down, he could still see the piercing eyes in the back of his mind. Two distinct colors that could rip him apart before he could call out for help. In that alley ray could have bene the first casualty of the bar. He smiled knowing Geoff would bring him back to life and rekill him somewhere else to keep the bars good name.
After locking up the bar, and triple checking to make sure the doors were actually locked, Ray sprinted to the busy streets. He wasn’t exactly an athlete, and his lungs burned as he got his first whiff of gasoline when a bus hissed passed him. Kicking around a few stones sending them from the side walk to the street he tried to catch his breath as people bumped their way past him. Though Ray knew nobody cared if he was panting and breathing heavy from a short sprint he wanted to keep some kind of dignity. If he looked behind him he could still see the bar. He really needed to join that gym Bruce had told him about. Tonight he had more reasons than just because he could barley survive a small dash.
It had been more than a week after the bar incident, Ray hadn’t told anyone about it, sometimes he told himself it was a weird hallucination. The guy with the blue and green eyes hadn’t come back, but sometimes Ray still had dreams that they were glowing and chasing him.
Shaking out his shoulders Ray let the chill run down his spine and hopped nobody noticed. He grabbed his shopping cart out of the inside rack that was off to the side of the entrance. Today was one of the days where he had the night before off, so he woke up at a reasonable time today to do some grocery shopping. As the cool air-conditioner hit his face Ray looked over the vast isles. He grumbled pushing his cart out of the door way, he hated shopping days.
Feeling his phone in his pocket Ray let it ring twice before picking up the expected phone call.
“Miss me fuck face?”
Ray rolled his eyes, “What if I had put you on speaker Michael?”
“Like you’d ever do that,” Michael laughed from the other end.
Michael was Ray’s best friend because of a bar fight. Michael and his best friend Gavin had waltzed into Ray’s bar celebrating a bro date or something. Someone said the wrong thing to Gavin and Michael was wired full of drinks and quick with his fists. Ray tried to break it up and took a stray fist to the jaw. Luckily Geoff was there – he was in the back cleaning some dishes- and he handled the whole incident. Since then Michael and Ray had become best friends over social media, Xbox, and a few trips to meet up. Ray was also friends with Gavin, but Michael had to be his best friend. Michael lived over the bridge and getting together was only an hour trip. Once Michael had gone over to Ray’s apartment he’d decided to help Ray out with his ramen problem.
“Have anything green in your cart yet?” Michael asked and Ray knew it was actually a concern.
“I just walked in dude,” Ray rolled his eyes.
“Perfect, then you should be near the produce section, lets knock that out first.”
“Aye aye captain, where should I steer my vessel?”
“Are people there giving you weird looks?”
Ray looked around, “Not yet.”
“Okay, first on the list- after public humiliation that is – lettuce, carrots, vegetable of choice, and some fruits.” Michael started his bi weekly task of making sure Ray didn’t die of too much sodium.
Seeing the bags of premade salad mixes Ray moseyed his cart over parking it next to a man who was examining the bags. Ray scanned over a couple bags then grabbed the first one he put his hands on, “Got the lettuce, yes I’m getting stuff to put in with it, I’m not that horrible. I know what a salad is!”
“Thanks for telling the world, and your bag has a hole in it,” The man standing next to Ray informed him.
Looking down Ray sighed, little bits of lettuce were falling to his feet.
“Damn it,” He held the bag wondering how he was going to fix the mess.
“That’s always a good sound, what did you drop?” Michael had heard him on the phone.
The man that was carefully examining the bags started to pick up the lettuce pieces, “If you put the bag down where you found it they’ll stop falling out.”
Ray dropped the broken bag back on the refrigerated shelf like a hot potato.
“Thank you so much,” Ray wanted to smack himself, “I was kinda panicking.”
“Not great in social situations?” The man looked up.
Ray’s panic mode kicked back in, “You’re.”
The man had one blue and one green eye.
“You’re the bar guy, Ray” his eyes darkened as he stood up.
“You’re the diet coke guy,” Ray held on tighter to his phone ready to tell Michael if he was being kidnapped.
The man tossed the lettuce pieces onto the shelf.
“Who orders diet coke with nothing in it from a bar?” Ray wished he could shut his mouth.
“I didn’t want to drink, I just wanted a drink.”
“Why not a convenience store or something?”
“Are you upset I gave you money?” the man rose a brow.
“No, business is always appreciated.”
“Then don’t ask why,” The man shrugged, “Who’s on the phone with your shopping list?”
Ray stuttered for a second forgetting the phone in his hand, he had pulled it away from his ear, “Oh, it’s uh my friend. You know trying to keep me from dying because my eating choices are unhealthy,” he air quoted. “Ramen and bar food is a fine way to live.”
The man laughed closing his multicolored eyes and shaking his head, “I can see his concern, good luck to him while you shop. It was nice to see you again,” he waved as he left.
“Wait,” Ray called pausing the man, “Are you sure it was good to see me because last time.”
“It was good to see you,” The man cut Ray off, “Last time,” he paused, “I’m sorry.” With that he left to find something else.
Ray frowned before remembering Michael was till on the line.
“Hey sorry I was,”
“That was some poor excuse for flirting Narvaez,” Michael responded.
“I wasn’t flirting,” Ray sneered.
“Whatever, let’s finish this list,” Michael insisted, “With you’d said his name though, then at least I could check your twitter or something for a real answer.”
“I’d never post it on twitter, just to spite you,” Ray joked.
“You’re a bitch.”
Chapter 2: Deaths Kiss
The rest of the shopping trip Ray kept on eye out for the mysterious eyed man. Just in case the man was hiding behind a shelf watching him ready to strike. Ray also snuck a few packs of Oreos into the cart. Michael would thank him later when they hung out, if Ray survived that long.
“You can get two Red Barron pizzas, and then you’re done,” Michael gave a half hearted cheer.
“You have single handedly kept me alive for the next week and a half,” Ray grabbed three pizzas just in case, “Thank you.”
“Just doing my civic duty.”
“Think you might come by the bar tonight?” Ray asked taking his cart to the check out.
“Maybe, if Gavin wants to.”
Ray laughed while setting up the self check out, “Thinking you’ll stay in and cuddle?”
“Fuck off,” Michael warned, “I’ll text you later and let you know.”
“See ya,” Ray hung up the phone using his now free hand to bag his groceries.
Walking the cart outside Ray started to take the bags out, and readied himself for the next task. He didn’t have a car, and refused to take the bus when he was transporting groceries – again. If he wasn’t too proud – or scared of being an inconvenience- he would have asked Michael or someone from work to actually go shopping with him. Ray liked to think he could handle it though as he put all the plastic bags on his arms. Already he regretted his decision as he started to cross the parking lot leading to hell. The only hope Ray had left was that he didn’t look like he was obviously struggling with the bags. As if people were actually paying attention to him he worried people would think he couldn’t handle himself or, he’d get mugged.
The honk of a car horn practically made Ray jump out of his skin he hugged closer to the parked cars waiting for the car to go past him. A big red truck pulled up right next to Ray and kept the same speed. He tried to ignore it until the big red pick up honked again. Looking in the driver’s side window Ray’s blood turned to ice, and his sweat production increased.
“Did you park on the other side of the world?” The man with the dirty blonde bun asked.
“That would be kinda hard,” Ray shrugged afraid halfway through the bags would break, “Considering I don’t have a car.”
The man’s blue and green eye were fileld with concern, “You’re carrying that all back to your place?”
Ray nodded slowly dying in the heat, “It’s not that far just a couple blocks.” He was going to point, but the bags were like weights.
The man checked behind him and drummed his thick fingers on his steering wheel, “You want a lift?”
“I,” Ray stuttered the offer had come out of left field, “I don’t want you to go too out of your way.”
The man shook his head, “It’s not out of my way, it'll probably take like five minutes’ tops right?”
Ray was stuck, he didn’t want to trek home in the heat, but he didn’t really want this guy knowing where he lived. Even if it was just the building.
Before he could come up with some kind of reason for not being able to go with the man one of the bags in Ray’s arms snapped at the handles. The bag of salad mix, several bags of vegetables, and a box of popsicles fell to the boiling pavement. Ray could feel his cheeks heat up while he tried to gather the items and stuff them into other bags. A car door opened and Ray could hear the warning about it. It’s like it was warning him, the man was out of the car. Ray looked up from the ground a hand was outstretched towards him. Shakily, Ray accepted the help of the worn fingers.
“We’ll put them in the back seat.” The man took a couple bags from Ray’s arm and forced the driver seat forward. It got stuck, and he really had to rip it forward to get to the tiny back seat not meant for a person.
Ray almost winced at the noise of the seat moving on the track it was a loud pop. The man started to pack the groceries in the back while Ray stood handing them over. When the man was throwing his weight into putting the seat back Ray secretly prayed nothing was crushed.
The man climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut. He leaned over pushing the passenger side door of the truck open. “You uh,” he jerked his head to the side, “Getting in?”
“Yea, please don’t steal my groceries,” Ray took a deep breath in through his nose before walking to the passenger side door. The truck was tall and the man had made getting in look easy. Ray put his foot on the rusty siding that was supposed to help boost him up.
“Watch your step, uh, it’s – not the sturdiest anymore.”
Taking the mans warning into account Ray grabbed the siding of the door and tried to quickly pull himself into the pick up – without breaking it.
Buckling himself in Ray hoped he’d be able to get himself out in about five minutes. The truck lurch forward and so did Ray’s stomach. He briefly wondered if he could barrel roll out before they left the parking lot. He stopped himself because he wanted his groceries.
“You gonna tell me which way to go?”
Ray swallowed the breath he had been holding, it was the moment of truth, “Take a right at the exit.” He was giving a potential murderer the route to his apartment.
“You know, you look kinda tense,” The man was playing with the radio.
Ray kept his eyes forward, “Stay left on this road don’t take the turn.”
“You’re good at dodging questions.”
“I’m not dodging anything,” Ray was sitting on his hands, “just not sure how much I trust those eyes.”
“Want me to close them?” The man goofed.
“No way,” Ray’s smile was small but there.
“So what’s eating at you?” the man asked again.
Ray stuttered, “I don’t know your name yet, how can I trust someone whose name I don’t know?”
“It’s Ryan,” the man with the dirty blonde hair replied easily, “And you really don’t trust me because you think I’m going to snap your neck.”
Ray was silent.
“Ray I told you,” Ryan sighed his eyes leaving mid day traffic to gaze at the passenger seat, “It was a rough night, I made a mistake. I was panicking, which isn’t something I usually do.”
“If I panicked that way more people might take me seriously,” Ray tried to joke.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan smoothed down his tied back hair, “I went back last night to try and apologize, but you weren’t there.”
“Night off, I’m back tonight though,” Ray didn’t know why he told him that. “My building is up there on the right.”
Bringing the truck to a crawl Ryan miraculously found a place to parallel park out front. When the ignition was turned off Ray hopped to the ground. It felt like he fell from a cliff side with how high the truck was from the sidewalk. He waited as Ryan forced the drivers seat back again, and started to hand off groceries in the reverse way they had done it in the parking lot. Ryan hadn’t handed all of them back though.
“Um, I think I’m missing a couple,” Ray saw them in Ryan’s fists.
“Want me to help you carry them in?” Ryan asked being the best good Samaritan.
Ray felt like there had to be an ulterior motive somewhere, and against his better judgment, “Yea, sure,” He let Ryan go inside his building.
The walk to the elevator was pretty quiet besides the few people leaving as they entered. There were a few kids that ran out of the elevator like it was on fire when it got to the lobby. Ray pressed the third floor button and it started to climb with obnoxious music playing.
Ray felt like he should have blind folded Ryan or something, made him close his eyes so he couldn’t see the number. He really didn’t want Ryan to come back and strangle him in his sleep. Ray set down his grocery bags in front of the 315 door to dig out his keys.
Picking the bags back up Ray pushed the door open with his hip, “Welcome to the disaster I live in!”
The apartment wasn’t that messy by Ray’s standards. Just mail everywhere, a couple plates he hadn’t cleaned yet, video game cases strewn about the floor, and he didn’t remember where the cardboard box had come from.
“You can set the bags on the counter, I’ll get to them,” Ray demonstrated placing the bags at the kitchenette.
“You know it’s not that bad in here,” Ryan almost complimented.
Ray shrugged, “Everyone’s got different tastes. I can never be sure if its going to be clean or messy in someone’s eyes. I just present it messy.”
While Ray started opening cabinets and the fridge placing the new items where they belonged Ryan stood awkwardly in his space. Ray surprised himself when he realized he didn’t want Ryan to fade away and leave.
“You know,” Ray took the salad mix out of the bag, “You could have apologized to me next time you went to the bar. You didn’t have to help.”
“I think this turned out better.”
Ray put the salad mix in the fridge, “Do you wanna play a video game or something? I’ve got a couple in the cabinet under the TV. I’ll join you in a few.”
Watching Ryan carefully move through his apartment put Ray on edge. Inviting new people in always put Ray on edge, but Ryan moved so carefully. As if the other man didn’t want to leave a trace, like he didn’t want to take up too much space.
Ryan was crouched in front of the game cabinet, “Ray this is more then a few games!”
Ray laughed to himself, “I’m kind of a pro gamer.”
Right after putting the last grocery away Ray walked over to the couch, and picked up a controller from the coffee table. With in ten minutes of schooling Ryan Ray found himself relaxing. When he caught himself leaning into the couch cushions and laughing at one or Ryan’s jokes he almost froze. He was terrified of the stranger in his house that didn’t drink alcohol minutes ago. Now Ray might have wanted the clock to go a tad slower.
Ryan checked his phone and Ray clicked the pause button, “I gotta go,” Ryan sighed putting his controller on the coffee table.
Ray frowned, “Think you’ll come by the bar tonight? You could meet some of my game night friends.”
“I’m hoping I can come by tonight,” Ryan’s smile was pearly perfect whites, “Thanks for letting me stay over.”
Ray gave a half wave, “Any time.” He couldn’t believe he said that.
When the door closed Ray put his head in his hands, he felt like an idiot. That guy had him backed against a wall. Ray could see his eyes the blue was no longer a stormy sea waiting to drown him, it was a calm lake. It was relaxing. The green one was no longer a forest of animals waiting to strike. The death stare was gone, and Ray was intrigued. He hated it.
“Two rum and cokes,” Geoff called from across the bar.
It was a busy night since Ray walked in and Geoff offered to stay and help. Ray was pouring the coke looking towards the patrons who ordered them. Seeing a young couple made the corners of Ray’s mouth fall. He’d been searching all night hoping for Ryan to come around, but so far everyone but him seemed to come in.
“Oh bar tender,” A British voice sang.
Ray smirked, “Good evening sir, how may I help you?”
“Two of your finest bevs,” Gavin ordered while Michael rolled his eyes.
“This is the only place I let him order,” Michael nudged Gavin with his elbow, “Stupid British slang.”
Ray smiled, “I got it.” He took two glasses from the shelf. Turning around he started to fill the glasses at the spigot. Gently tipping the glasses as the amber alcohol filled them. At this point Ray had their favorite beers memorized.
“You guys thinking about food tonight?” Ray asked while setting their glasses in front of them.
Michael looked at Gavin who shrugged. Ray knew Michael was reading Gavin’s mind as they shared a glance.
“We’ll think about it,” Michael said with the same shrug.
Ray knew they’d probably get onion rings or french fries.
“Hey guys,” Geoff walked over wiping his hands on his apron.
Michael raised his glass, “Evening Geoff. Working the midnight oil?”
“Someone had to keep Ray from drowning tonight,” Geoff smiled.
The bar was full of people talking and dancing on the hardwood floor. It was a rare sight for Ray. Instead of quiet drifters and hushed conversations it was full of good hearted friends. He saw less people dressed as bikers, there were young men and he wondered if a bachelor party was happening. The bar may have only been stop one for some of the people Ray could make out.
“Can I borrow you for a couple seconds?” Geoff asked.
Ray nodded, “Course boss.”
“Can you take the garbage out?” Geoff lifted two hefty looking black garbage bags.
Ray saluted, “I’ll try my best sir!”
“I’m surprised you can carry those,” Michael snickered.
Ray stuck his tongue out accepting the bags from Geoff’s hands. He lifted them both, glad they weren’t that heavy, and he headed for the side door that lead to the alley. He let he door shut all the way behind him sure it wouldn’t lock, and Geoff would let him in if it did. Outside Ray could hear the sounds of the city with the noises of the bar muffled behind him.
The sun was down and Ray could hear the sirens that were all too common in the city when it got dark. This was the first time though that he could see the lights so close to the bar. Usually their little area was pretty peaceful just out of range of the tall building masses. The lights got brighter and the sirens got louder, he wondered if everyone inside could hear them. He wondered if Geoff was peeking out the front windows to make sure they weren’t coming to park on his property.
Quickly opening the dumpster Ray flung the two trash bags in with more ease then he had the last time he felt unsafe in the alley. The song the police cars sang didn’t get any closer, and Ray wondered if he’d be seeing the news of the arrest later while he scrolled through Facebook wishing he could fall asleep. He could hear shouting getting closer, and he was so ready to go inside.
The back door swung open before Ray could get his fingers on the handle, and he narrowly avoided getting his face chopped off.
Geoff was poking his head out, “I’ve got a couple more bags,” he placed three more back trash bags outside before letting the doors close.
With the shouting behind him Ray cursed under his breath and contemplated going in and coming back out after the lights went away. He wasn’t excited to get ragged on though later. Staring down the trash bags he huffed, he could do this.
There was a hand on Ray’s shoulder and he was surprised he hadn’t noticed the door open. Looking up he saw a man in a leather jacket with a dark shadow over his face. Ray hadn’t heard the door open because it never did, the man holding his shoulder wasn’t Geoff. The hand moved from Ray’s shoulder to his shirt collar and hoisted him up. Ray was shoved against the building once again afraid. He found out that the man was not just cast in shadow, but wearing a black skull mask. Slowly the man breathed just holding Ray against the cold stone. Shouting was getting louder.
“You’re the criminal,” The words left Rays mouth so fast he couldn’t even stop himself.
The mans response was to to lift his mask up ever so slightly so his lips were free. Ray closed his eyes, because if he didn’t see the mystery man maybe he wouldn’t kill him. At the very least Ray wouldn’t see it coming which made it easier.
The mans breath was minty and Ray was upset that he could pick up on. Hearing the sound of feet though Ray knew that the officers chasing the man were close behind, and soon everything would be fine. Ray might actually live through another back alley threat.
Lips smashed against Ray’s and his eyes sprang open. The masked man was pushing firmly against him kissing him. Ray tried to push him away and squirm from his grasp, but the man kept him pinned. A squad of men dressed in navy blue with guns raised were passing by, and Ray tried to call out to them. One of the officers looked his way and sneered before turning to his shoulder radio 'just some kids'. The patrol hurried back toward the squad car lights.
Slowly the criminal released Ray from the death kiss giving him a nod. He pulled his mask back over his mouth and left down the alley way.
Ray wanted to quit.
“You sure took your sweet time,” Geoff smirked when Ray got it leaning his back against the door.
Ray said nothing wiping the back of his hand over his lips. He was breathing heavily.
Geoff put a glass in the sink, “Ray are you-“
“I’m fine,” Ray shook himself out, “Garbage is gross.”
Ray spent the night slightly off his game forgetting an order or two. He talked to Michael and Gavin until they had to leave. Michael did end up ordering food that Gavin ate. Geoff kept hovering, trying to get Ray to talk about his garbage adventure. Ray wasn’t budging though. He wanted to forget about the criminal kiss, but he just kept rounding back to it.
The whole way home Ray kept checking behind his back as if the masked man would be there. It was stupid, Ray knew his purpose had been a cover, to deter the officers by looking like a couple swapping spit. The thought made Ray want to spit onto the sidewalk. Of course it had to be the alley Ray had been in, of course it was. Ryan had never shown up either and Ray was salty about that too. Though there was no guarantee of Ryan’s arrival- and Ray had been afraid of him hours ago- he somehow thought the act in the alley way wouldn’t have happened with Ryan around. He knew though that the man with two color eyes wouldn’t have changed anything.
Getting home Ray played games well past four in the morning unable to fall asleep. He gave in eventually falling into bed -and kicking off all the blankets in the heat –Ray dreamed of a blue and green eyed super hero.
Hearing the doorbell Ray groaned shoving his face into his pillow. The doorbell rang again and Ray wanted to smother himself. He didn’t even know what time it was, but it felt too early to get up. The bell kept ringing- three more times- ‘I’m coming’ Ray shouted hoping the person on the other side of the door could hear him from a room away. Stopping the sound was the only thing that might keep him from strangling whoever was on the other side of the apartment door.
Stomping across the apartment Ray threw open the door without looking through the peephole, “What?”
“Uh,” Ryan stood there shuffling on his feet.
Ray sighed knowing how snappy he had sounded, “Sorry I was asleep.”
Ryan shook his head before slicking his dirty blonde bangs back, “Sorry I forgot your schedule was weird. I wanted to bring you lunch,” he held up a plastic bag, “Tacos, kind of an apology for not showing up last night.”
Ray pinched the bridge of his nose, “You don’t have to apologize for everything.”
“Are you okay?” Ryan asked still outside the doorway.
“I,” Ray stammered, “No.” He could feel his fingers curl up against his will. “Last night was weird.” He didn’t know why he was telling his present company this. Maybe because Ryan wasn’t his friend. He was a stranger who had too big of a heart. Ray could tell him because of Ryan thought he attracted trouble and left, Ray wouldn’t care.
Ryan took a step closer to being in the doorframe, “What happened?” The blue and green swirling eyes Ryan had were starting to filter concern Ray didn’t really want.
“I was kissed by a criminal.”
“Were they smooth?” Ryan asked, and Ray appreciated the joke.
“They were actually really rough,” Ray could watch Ryan’s smile fall flat, “Some guy in a skull mask kissed me last night as a cover from the cops. I was part of his play to get away.”
Ryan’s frown was set deep, “Looks like the cities catastrophes are starting to touch your bar.”
“Please no,” Ray was putting his hands up, “I will buy people off to keep the poison of this shit hole away. I actually enjoy work; I wont let the bar be ruined.”
“It was probably a fluke thing,” Ryan shrugged, “Did you tell Geoff?”
“You’re the first one, I was embarrassed to tell anyone last night.”
“He could probably beef up security,” Ryan suggested.
Ray was done thinking about it, he knew he wouldn’t ask Geoff to do anything. It was a one-time event that could have been worse, Ray could be in the ground.
“Can we eat tacos? I have a void to fill with food,” Ray invited Ryan in.
An afternoon of tacos and video games had been exactly what the doctor ordered for Ray’s get back on track plan. At first when Ryan had sat on the couch pulling food out of a bag Ray thought it might have been poisoned. He was tense sitting next to Ryan just like he had been yesterday. After a round of Overwatch and a taco with some nachos on the side Ray could lean against his couch more comfortably.
“I think you’re cheating somehow,” Ryan huffed, “Maybe it’s your controller, no one is that good at playing a sniper class.”
Ray put his controller down giving Ryan a finger gun, “All skill. If you think this is impressive you should see me when I work a busy night at the bar. I’m the highlight of coming.” He shoved a taco into his mouth.
“Tonight for sure I’ll be there,” Ryan stood up stretching out, “Maybe I’ll actually drink.”
Ray leaned into the couch taking a long gulp form his energy drink, “Don’t get too crazy.”
“I didn’t get to try a mixed drink last time,” Ryan shrugged, “I want to order something that’ll stump you.”
Ray jumped off the couch, “Bring it!”
Feeling a bubble in his chest Ray wondered for a second if he was having a heart attack from lunch. He stilled himself for a second while pause music played in the background.
“You know I’m having a game night again this weekend if you want to come over?” Ray offered.
Ray could feel the stupid grin on his face, but he couldn’t stop it. He gave Ryan his phone number after very awkwardly suggesting it hating how it felt. To Ray it was like he was asking Ryan out all of a sudden- which he wasn’t thinking of doing- it felt like college quickly trying to grab someone’s number before they left a party. Ray still wasn’t sure he’d see Ryan again.
Ray had the right assumption as he leaned his elbows on the polish wood bar and sighed. He poured himself a sprite and watched the bubbles make their way to the surface of the drink before popping away. Not only had Ryan failed to make it, no one else seemed to want to drink that night either. There was hardly any garbage for Ray to take out for the night, though Ray wasn’t complaining. He was contemplating even taking it out. He had to get over his alley fear somehow.
Though Ray hadn’t seen Ryan that night he had hopes that he would get a pleasant wake up call that involved food. Unfortunately, Ray woke up to his alarm and put a pizza in the microwave. Checking his phone, he found a missed call from someone who was selling something. Nothing from Ryan, and he knew he couldn’t be the one to start the conversation. Not until Saturday at least.
Finding his way to work as the sun started to set making the sky a soft orange purple Ray was surprised to see it was another crowded night. Geoff was at the bar up to his mustache in what looked like teenagers.
“What’s with all the people that look scarily close to minors?” Ray asked tying his apron on.
“Check every ID,” Geoff ordered, “Some college football team won or something.”
“Not something they do often?” Ray rose his brow. They had never been flooded with college student before.
Geoff shrugged, “Hell if I know, I don’t even know the closest college. I wouldn’t think this to be the place college kids would celebrate.” He grabbed a handful of IDs and squinted checking each one, “I’ll be damned if someone underage is served.”
Ray saluted, “Aye aye sir.”
An hour in Ray was sick of turning away the same four teens who had obviously pre partied and kept making their way around the bar. Ray knew technically they shouldn’t have even been there, but he didn’t want to make a scene trying to kick them out. At least one of the guys – though younger then him- could kick his ass back and forth across the bar.
“One Moscow Mule please,” someone asked from down the bar.
Ray hurried over, “ID please,” he smirked.
Ryan frowned reaching into his back pocket, “You’re kidding?”
Ray shook his head, “Nope, Geoff’s orders there's too many possible underage kids here. Everyone gets carded tonight.”
“Ray you know I’m cleared,” Ryan handed over his wallet.
“No I don’t,” Ray plucked the wallet from Ryan’s fingers, “Besides, last time you ordered a coke, maybe too ashamed to admit you’re underage?” he pulled Ryan’s ID out of the slot in his wallet to check it properly.
Ryan’s sigh was over exaggerated as he leaned against the bar, “How long can you hold that over me?”
Ray was surprised to see the license had actually put in the effort to mention Ryan had two different colored eyes, “It was quite the first impression dude.” He put the ID in the wallet and gave it back to Ryan, “I’ll be right back with your drink.”
Setting the drink in front of Ryan Ray knew he had won, Ryan had tried to stump him on such a simple drink, the only twist being the glass it was supposed to come in. A copper cup was the traditional glass to hold the drink, and Ray knew that. He also knew where the few copper cups were that Geoff kept for the one or two people who would order the drink. Ray was triumphant as he stood next to Ryan watching the man drink it. He waited for approval, and reached across to gently punch Ryan’s shoulder when he wouldn’t give it.
“I know that drink is something of the Gods, you don’t need to thank me.”
Ryan laughed into his glass, “How do you know? You don’t drink, you don’t know if what you're making tastes good, it all tastes bad to you.”
Ray stood there mouth opening and closing with no great response, he resorted to pouting.
The mob of teenagers started to dispense and Geoff wanted to go home too.
“I’ll hold down the fort,” Ray assured the older man.
“I feel bad just leaving you tonight,” Geoff was playing with the bow of his white apron.
“Get out of here,” Ray hooked a thumb towards the door. “You have the day shift still. Go home and get some sleep, I got the next few hours’ boss. Plus, a body guard.” Ray watched Ryan perk up, “He doesn’t look like much, but Ryan is a heavy hitter. If anything happens he’s on it.”
Geoff’s eyes slowly raked over Ryan as if he was scanning the man for one imperfection. His water clear blue eyes locked with Ryan’s unique water and land colored irises.
“Watch him,” Geoff pointed at Ray.
Ryan hesitated a second before nodding, “Yea, I-I will.”
Geoff left leaving the two alone in the bar.
Ray whistled low, “Dude did I just get you a job?”
Ryan rolled his eyes finishing off his drink, “I can’t believe you’re okay working here on your own.”
Ray shrugged, “The first few nights were kind of spooky, but I rarely have any trouble so it’s okay.”
“Except recently,” Ryan pointed out.
“Maybe you should actually body guard?” It came out as a joke, but Ray knew some part of him meant it.
The night went by too fast for Ray as he poured another drink for Ryan and they talked. For hours the bar stayed empty like the world knew they were having their moment. Ryan talked about how the city was exciting the way it pulsed and never seemed to sleep. Ray voiced his insecurities, how he’d love to leave, but he felt like he’d miss it if he did.
“I feel like I’d be lost and bored in a small town or something,” Ray shrugged, “Wouldn’t miss the fear though.”
Ryan frowned, “If I never moved here I would have never lost my eye”
Ray froze, “W-What?”
Ryan laughed, “I’m just kidding."
Ray stuck his tongue out at Ryan.
The pair laughed knowing they each had secrets darker and deeper that came with fearing the hold the city had on them. Ray laughed because it wasn’t the night to get sappy or spew some deep meaningful bullshit. He was at work killing some hours he would have spent bored out of his mind. He was thankful Ryan sat there still sober after having two drinks. It was Ray enjoying the company of a stranger who was starting to worm his way into his life for no specific reason. Finally, the clock called Ray off as the sun reappeared in the same orange haze it had left in.
When Ray went to take the trash out and he heard a noise he turned fast to see Ryan standing in the door frame, filling it with his broad shoulders. His heart bounced in his chest, and he quickly shut the dumpster it’s lid clanking against the body echoed into the early morning. Turning Ray smirked at Ryan.
“Nothing bad happened,” Ryan smiled, “I did my job.”
“Thanks,” it was all Ray could come up with and he meant it.
Stepping towards the door Ryan smirked not moving his feet from his post.
“Ryan,” Ray rolled his eyes.
Ryan crossed his arms, “You think I’m intimidating enough to be a bouncer?”
“Maybe if frowned instead of smirked.”
“It’s hard to frown with you around,” Ryan walked back inside.
Ray was left processing the sentence. His insides were starting to feel warm – he chalked it up to the weather.
Locking up the bar Ray pulled on the doors to double check his lock job. The recent bad luck streak he had found himself in made him nervous for the bars luck too. Turning to face Ryan he could feel heat rush over his body as Ryan stood leaned against his red pick up. It was warm even in the early morning.
“Want a ride home?” Ryan offered.
Ray shuffled his feet kicking some stones, “I don’t know it’s kinda la- early.”
“Exactly the reason I’m offering, this city is crazy to venture out in alone,” Ryan unlocked the truck.
Ray shrugged, “I’m used to walking home.”
Ryan rose a brow wordlessly.
Biting the inside of his lip Ray mulled over his choice to walk home – something he could do backwards in his sleep – or let Ryan drive him. Driving was faster, and he might have been tired for once. He was socializing all night. That could take a lot out of someone, especially someone lacking those special skills.
“Okay,” Ray pretended to groan like he was begrudgingly walked into it.
Ryan’s smile was almost giddy as he walked around to hop into the driver’s seat and open Ray’s door from the inside.
The radio was low and Ray held his hands up to the vents feeling the cool air send goosebumps up his arms he was almost cold. The air was crisp, but Ray knew the heat would hit them soon. Watching the city move in a blur with its lights still on while the sun was still slowly brightening -like a bulb warming up- was a sight he’d never taken note of. He was used to the sounds of squeaky busses releasing their breaks, and people shouting at each other. He heard so many fights of couples who were out all night, or people showing up late for work. He’d walk faster when he saw tired looking people who looked ready to tear him in half. The atmosphere felt like a dream in the silence with noise – all radio Ryan hadn’t said a word- it made Ray’s eye lids droop. The cars movement was like a gentle rock; Ray couldn’t suppress his yawn. It made him wonder how Ryan felt looking at the road. Did his eyes have the slight sting only tired eyes have? Ray hadn’t seen Ryan’s mouth even open in a yawn attempt.
Getting into his apartment Ray couldn’t believe Ryan had followed him up to make sure he didn’t trip up the stairs or die, or anything getting in. Ryan had said he looked dead on his feet. Standing in the doorway Ray looked at Ryan who hadn’t had coffee or anything and was standing statute still with a soft smile at three in the morning.
“Do you wanna like crash on the couch or something?” Ray couldn’t believe he had asked.
It looked like Ryan couldn’t believe it either the way his head cocked to the side.
Ray had to back track, “I mean like, it’s really early, you haven’t slept. I don’t want you to like fall asleep at the wheel of your truck or something. I don’t think it has auto pilot.”
Ryan laughed clear as a bell, “I’ll be okay Ray, see you later.”
Ray watched Ryan walk down the hall with his hands in his pockets before he closed the door. He looked at his stupid empty couch and headed to bed. Ray lost his best person he knew to work on little sleep crown. Ryan wore it better.
When Ray finally pulled himself out of bed he saw he had a new message on his phone. It was a text form Ryan saying he had made it home safely. Something about that message sent a warmth through Ray’s chest. He kicked off his covers, the heat of the city was reaching him inside his apartment.
Not seeing or hearing from Ryan made Ray antsy. He didn’t know if Ryan had finally felt like he had apologized enough, and left. When Saturday rolled around Ray was sitting in his apartment watching Netflix alone to kill time while his laundry spun in the basement. He had a timer set that gave him another reason to check his phone besides waiting for a message. The only conversation between him and Ryan was the one that he made it home, and Ray saying ‘good to hear.’ It made Ray wonder if he should have tried to start a conversation. Course he thought Ryan’s pattern of always showing up would continue. Things that were too good to be true, like a man with two different colored eyes, didn’t stay.
Doing laundry and vegging out on the couch, Ray was sure he napped at some point, but it was finally time. The smile on his face when Michael texted him saying he and Gavin were on their way made him ecstatic. Not long after that another message came through, and Ray held his breath.
It was Ryan, the text said he’d be a little late, but on his way nonetheless. Ray could feel the erratic speed of his heart that had shot off like a rocket for the moon. He knew waiting would be torture, and he’d be checking his phone even after Michael and Gavin showed up. He’d basically be waiting by the door for the bell to ring while his friends played video games.
Ray knew Michael was knocking on the door by the pounding that had caused the door to shake in its frame.
“You’re going to break it down,” Ray opened the door frowning at Michael whose smile beamed.
“Had to make sure you heard me,” Michael shrugged his way past Ray into the apartment, “When you’re in the game zone you’re hard to reach.”
“I wasn’t even in the game zone,” Ray peeked his head out the door looking down the hallway, “Where’s Gavin?”
Right on cue the Brit tumbled past the door bumping into Michael, who whipped around to grab the stumbling man by the arm.
“Got the bevs,” Gavin smiled at Michael.
“Took you long enough,” Michael smiled back helping right the man so he wouldn’t topple over.
Ray smirked rolling his eyes, “Come on you two I want to get game night started.”
Michael walked in craning his neck around the corners of the corners of the apartment, “Where’s your new friend?”
Ray could feel his face heat up, “Huh?”
“Oh come on Ray, I could hear it in your voice the minute you started talking to him. Where is the guy form the store?”
Ray swallowed thickly, “He’s not here yet.”
“I knew it!” Michael snapped his fingers, “Proud of you buddy.”
Ray looked down at his feet before pulling his phone out of his pocket begging it to ring.
Gavin set the cases of beer on the counter, “Let’s press start!”
Chapter 4: New Questionable Employees
The game night started and thirty minutes in Ray couldn’t be bothered to check his phone. There was too much going on on the TV screen, and his fingers were occupied. At first when the door bell rang Ray thought it was pizza, but he didn’t remember ordering the pizza. Jumping from the couch Ray practically ran to the door feeling embarrassed Michael and Gavin had seen him to it. He took a second to compose himself before opening it like he hadn’t been eagerly waiting.
Ryan stood tall, his shoulders broad in a leather jacket, his smile was soft and his blue and green eye were focused on him.
“Sorry I’m late,” Ryan looked sheepish.
“It’s no big deal,” Ray beamed, “Come on in,” he invited Ryan in with a swish of his arm. “Help yourself to anything.” Ray ignored the snort he heard form Michael.
Rays heart was beating quickly as he watched the man with the two colored eyes stride across the room. He was strangling his thumbs in his palms as he watched Ryan interact with his two closest friends in the world. When Ryan made contact with the couch the interrogation began before a controller was even handed his way.
“What do you do for a living huh?” Michael asked quickly.
Ryan blinked looking caught off guard, “Landscaping.”
“That explains the muscles,” Gavin snickered.
Rays face turned reader than Ryan’s.
Michaels eyes narrowed, “What are your intentions with Ray?”
Ray stepped in quickly, “And Michael is drunk! Video games, less talking!”
Ray could hear Michaels heavy sigh of anger, his line of questioning wasn’t done, but Ray wasn’t mentally prepared – and he bet Ryan wasn’t either. Ryan struggled to start a conversation without looking nervously at Michael who looked like a rubber band about to snap.
“Michael can I talk to you?” Ray had paused the game.
Michael shrugged, “Sure.”
“What the fuck?” Ray hissed.
Michael shrugged again as the two stood in the kitchen.
“Why are you giving Ryan the third degree?”
Michael smirked, “Someone has to play the father figure.”
Ray clammed up quickly.
“Gavin likes everyone, just have a conversation with the guy. If they have a pleasant conversation Gavin automatically gives them the seal or approval. I’m here to be on your side.”
Ray shook his head, “I don’t need anyone on my side.” He rolled his eyes.
Michael leaned in on the counter, “Ray, you’ve never liked anyone like this before.”
Placing his elbows on the counter Ray leaned in towards Michael, “I’ve had crushed before.”
Michael shook his head, “Not like this, you’ve never talked to them or asked them to hang out. Usually they fizz out in a week tops. I just don’t want your first relationship to be your worst.” He gave a half smile showing off his dimple.
Ray sighed rocking back on his heels holding on to the counter, “You’re right, thanks.”
A ringing phone caused Michael and Ray to turn their heads back towards the couch. Ryan stood up looking sheepishly back to them a sleek black phone in his hand.
“Uh, where’s your bathroom?” Ryan asked his smile tight.
“Down the hall on the right,” Ray answered.
Ryan hurried towards it.
“What do you think that was about?” Gavin watched Ryan jog towards the bathroom.
Michael opened a new beer, “We could find out,” he winked.
“No,” Ray snapped waging his finger, “No.”
“Come on Ray snoop a little, why is he so secretive?” Michael pushed, “What is he hiding?”
“It’s not my business,” Ray groaned.
“Snoop!” Michael shouted.
Ray pushed him, “He’s going to hear you.”
“Ha! You’re gonna do it!”
“Are we ever going to finish this game?” Gavin waved his controller in the air.
“You guys play a round without me.”
“Love bring me a beer,” Gavin requested.
Ray crept towards the bathroom praying none of the boards would creak. As he slid up to the bathroom he strained to listen feeling a pit start in his stomach. Snooping wasn’t Ray’s MO.
“I’m sorry, look” Ryan sounded distressed and out of breath.
Ray held his breath getting closer to the door. He was an inch away from pressing his ear up to the cool wood.
“I swear I can get it. Give me time, you know I can.” Ryan’s voice lowered to a harsh whisper, “I can get the money.” He hissed.
The pit in Ray’s stomach became instantly bottomless. It sounded like Ryan was in some sort of financial trouble. Then he could hear water running from the tap, Ray flinched when Ryan’s hand slapped the countertop. Taking that as the cue that Ryan had finished his phone call Ray scrambled down the hallway back to the kitchen.
“Find out anything juicy?” Michael snickered.
Gavin was still focused on the game, “Does he have a secret life?”
Ray bit his lip which caused Gavin to actually look back at him.
Ray’s mouth fell open; he wasn’t sure what to say. Before a word could fall out though Ryan had returned a smile on his face.
“Sorry, work is a pain in my ass sometimes, but I love it.” Ryan rolled his shoulder causing a pop.
“And the party continues,” Michael tossed a controller to Ryan and one to Ray, which Ryan caught for him.
While game night was fun Ray couldn’t help finding his mind wander to the conversation he had overheard. Maybe the business was under paying Ryan, but what kind of trouble could he be in financially? The man seemed too innocent for gambling debts, and he seemed like he paid everyone on time if he borrowed money. Ray was slowly realizing that he didn’t know as much as he thought about the man with two different colored eyes. This is how he was going to change it though.
Game night ran smoothly, Ray and Ryan were an unstoppable team – though Ray was the backbone. Ryan had a dark murder side when it came to GTA, he seemed to enjoy the chaos. Though Ray and Ryan dominated in team kills Gavin was taking home the gold in races.
“The R and R connection will not stand for this!” Ray jumped from his seat.
“The what now?” Ryan asked.
“It’s our team name,” Ray shrugged looking down at his feet, “They have a team name.” he grumbled.
Ryan rose an eyebrow at Michael and Gavin.
Michael wrapped his arm around Gavin putting him in a headlock, “We’re team nice dynamite.” He said while Gavin squeaked.
“What?” Ryan looked to Ray.
“They’re inseparable” it was the only answer he could give.
Ryan’s two toned eyes looked Ray straight on and his smile crept up, “I accept the team name.”
Ray could have exploded on the spot. Instead he chose a gentle smile to match Ryan’s.
“Okay stay with me here,” Ray was leaning over the bar, he’d shown up early just to talk to Geoff.
Geoff was finishing cleaning before the night crowd showed up, “I’m listening, but only sort of.”
“You liked Ryan,” Ray started his pitch.
Geoff shrugged, “Seemed like a good guy.”
“We don’t have a bouncer for the night shifts.”
“Ray,” Geoff dragged out the name narrowing his eyes.
“What if you hired Ryan,” Ray spoke slower.
“You’re kidding; we’ve never needed a bouncer. There’s rarely trouble here. I was joking.” Geoff hung up his apron and the conversation was over.
Ray panicked, “I was attacked a week ago out by the dumpsters,” the words tumbled from his mouth in a panic.
Geoff’s eyes were on him clear blue searching for a lie, there was no way something bad could happen in their safe haven. By the way Geoff’s eyes fell to the bar Ray knew he accepted the truth.
“Fine,” Geoff gave in, “He starts tonight.” Geoff balled up his apron.
Something felt broken between Ray and Geoff now, like Ray had betrayed him. He was just telling the truth, but it hurt Geoff’s belief in the safe haven paradise. Ray was staring at his cellphone, maybe it was the fact Ray had kept the attack from Geoff, like he didn’t trust him. Calling Ryan was a hollow victory. Three rings in and Ray was afraid after his subtle battle with Geoff he wouldn’t even get his prize. That would cause a whole new line of issues - like Geoff hiring someone else to watch Ray – like a real babysitter.
Ray couldn’t stop the sigh of relief from his lungs, “Ryan.”
“Are you okay? You sound panicked.”
“I didn’t think you’d pick up,” Ray was leaning against the bar on his left hand as the right held his phone to his ear.
“It’s your lucky day,” Ryan’s smile was audible in his voice.
Ray forced himself not to sound too excited, “What do you think about coming to work more or less full time at the bar?” he rushed through his statement, “At night as a bouncer.”
Ryan said nothing. Ray sat on the other end of line listening to breathing. Seconds ticked by.
“Ry-“ Ray couldn’t handle the silence.
“I can’t just leave my job.”
Ray’s heart was sinking, “Can’t you just give it a try?”
“Ray no one bothers you in there, I think you’re pretty safe,” Ryan had the same tone Geoff had of a finalized conversation.
Ray griped his cellphone harder, “You don’t know that, what about the skull mask guy?” He hated sounding like he was begging. Why did he care if Ryan took the offer or not, he had other ways to see him besides flirting at work. He’d already made a stink at Geoff though and brought the older man to the idea. He knew he would feel like a fool if Ryan didn’t come in at all.
Still the other end was quiet.
“Okay,” Ray was ready to hang up with the taste of shame in his mouth.
Ray heard the voice from the receiver as he pulled his cellphone away form his ear.
“I’ll do it,” Ryan had agreed.
Ray could feel himself shooting towards the moon.
“Goodnight Geoff,” Ray gave his usual farewell to the man. His chest felt sore when Geoff gave him a worried look before saying his goodbye. “He said he’d do it,” Ray told Geoff, but he knew he was reassuring himself.
After twenty minutes of being alone in the quiet bar Ray felt panic in his heart. As if the man in the skull mask would be the one to barge into the bar. The thought made his heart race, and Ray told himself he was being ridiculous. His eyes watched his fingers drum on the sleek wood of the bar. The door opened and Ray’s heart stopped.
Ryan stood there with a lopsided grin, “Sorry I didn’t bring flowers.”
“This isn’t a date you’re on the clock,” Ray got a glass form under the bar.
“If I’m on the clock why am I getting a drink?” Ryan leaned against the wall next to the bar.
“There’s no alcohol,” Ray grabbed the soda sprayer, “You’re allowed some soda.” Ray paused, “And hey maybe food!” He darted back to the kitchen. Sure enough a sandwich and a side of macaroni was waiting for him.
Ryan rose his eyebrows.
“Bruce is the cook. He always leaves me something, because according to him I’m going to waste away to nothing,” Ray emphasized with air quotes.
Ryan took a sip from his glass, “I’m on Bruce’s side here.”
Ray held out a sandwich slice, “Want it?”
Ryan shook his head, “Nah, you look like you need it.”
Against his better judgment Ray flung macaroni at Ryan.
“Come on,” Ryan warned stepping away from the cheesy mess.
Ray shrugged, “Not sure why you’re complaining I have to clean it up.”
“So like where should I stand? By the door?” Ryan called to Ray while he was digging in the supply closet fishing out the mop from behind the gazillion buckets they seemed to have stock piled.
“I don’t know, where’s the best vantage point to spot a shady looking guy?” Ray pulled the mop from its hiding spot.
The night rolled by with light conversation, only a few costumers with sleepy looks in their eyes. Ray poured Ryan five glasses of diet coke before the night’s end. Something about having Ryan there made the night go by so much faster, and the car ride to his apartment was so much better than walking. Again Ray invited Ryan to spend the night looking into the mans two toned eyes, again he declined. One day, Ray sighed to himself as he stripped down to his boxers. At least he got to see Ryan more.
Getting ready for work Ray practically danced around his apartment. He hummed along combing his hair, and checking his teeth in the mirror for bits of lunch his monster didn’t wash away. He looked pretty good. Winking to himself and giving finger gun Ray knew he was ready or work. Headphones in and he was off before it even got dark.
It was Ray’s fourth day working with Ryan, and he’d noticed how much busier the bar had gotten with an official bouncer. Ray wasn’t sure if it made the place look more official or if girls just wanted to take more selfies with the new employee. He hoped he wasn’t missing his romantic chance, but he couldn’t see the bumbling girls being Ryan’s type. Still he wanted to make a move on Ryan, he’d talked to Michael about it and Michael didn’t think he was being obvious enough. Ray’s hints were too subtle and friendly if he wanted Ryan to know his heart was available he’d have to be more obvious. The only issue Ray had was the possible tremendous back fire. What if Ryan didn’t see him that way or just plain wasn’t even into guys? Time and time again Michael kept reassuring Ray that his radar was tingling, and to make the move.
Taking a deep breath Ray walked into the bar as Geoff was taking off his apron and cleaning up a few stray dishes. Ray picked up a plate from a table as he walked across the hardwood floor.
“Missed one,” Ray held out the plate.
Geoff nodded as he took it to be placed in the dishwasher, “You’re early, couldn’t sleep in till the last minute?”
Ray’s face heated up as he looked at his shoes, were there still ovens on?
“It looks like you even combed your hair,” Geoff teased.
“I had some time,” Ray shrugged moving past Geoff to put on his apron.
“Still can’t be bothered to iron that shirt though huh? Even to impress someone.”
“I don’t own an iron,” Ray grumbled.
Geoff shook his head, but he smiled, “I don’t know how you guys are doing it, but you’re drumming up more night traffic.”
Rays hands were shaking, “We’re a good team.”
“Keep being a good team,” Geoff twisted the end of his mustache, “Have a good night.”
“Night boss,” Ray tied his apron around his waist, how did Geoff put it together before Ryan?
Cleaning off glasses and sweeping the floor Ray got ready for the night crowed to stir in, all he needed was Ryan by the doors and he was golden to go. While rubbing down the bar ray heard the door open.
Excitedly Ray lifted his head.
Ryan stood there giving a half wave. Ray could feel the heat in his cheeks while Ryan crossed the bar floor. He was stunning and Ray had to check for drool.
“You’ll never guess who shrunk their work shirt,” It was Ryan opener.
“So I’m not the only one who owns only one good shirt. Geoff always teases me about that.” Ray smiled wide.
“Hey,” Ryan held up his finger, ‘I do own more than one nice shirt, they’re just not all black.” He paused, “That’s you’re only nice shirt?”
“I had another one,” Ray rolled his eyes, “I just happened to leave it in the laundry mat and it got stolen. Course I left it there for two days.”
Ryan threw his head back in laughter not even trying to hide it.