Robbe thinks that maybe the guy working at the bakery has been flirting with him.
Robbe goes back and forth between being pretty sure that he is, and convincing himself that it's all in Robbe's head.
It's not like he has much experience with flirting boys, after all. He doesn't really have much experience with boys, period. There have been two somewhat drunken make-outs with random guys at parties, always at the not-so-subtle encouragement of his friends. It's Moyo who takes the lead in these sorts of things. Aaron usually even more clueless than Robbe in spotting if a guy is showing interest, and Jens much more willing to just let things be and let Robbe be the one to decide if he wants to make a move or not.
Robbe figures Moyo probably still feels guilty about the awkwardness surrounding his coming out. His friend had been less than supportive those first few weeks, after all. Now he seems to be trying to make up for that by shoving Robbe toward any and all queer guys they come across. Robbe isn't really sure where Moyo even keeps finding these guys, but he's been trying to make Robbe go on (blind) dates with almost every single one of them. Robbe always tells him no, thank you.
It's different at a party though, with the alcohol, and his friends telling him that this guy is totally checking him out and that he's got it in the bag. It's the liquid courage and that overwhelming sense of just wanting to know what it's like to kiss a guy, that makes him follow these boys and lets them kiss him. It's always nice, great even, but they never exchange numbers and Robbe is never too broken up about it.
It's different with this boy.
It's Sunday and Robbe's here to get a late breakfast for him and his mom, just like he is every week. Sander, the pastry selling boy in question, is slumped over the counter, busy writing something down, when Robbe arrives at the door. He stands up straight as soon as Robbe opens the door, making the bell above it ring loudly in the otherwise quiet bakery.
Sander gives him a big smile: "Hey, good morning."
"Hi," Robbe replies. "It's quiet in here."
"Yeah," Sander nods. "Right now it is, you should've seen it at 9:00. Three little old ladies fighting over the last éclair? Oof, that was brutal."
"Maybe I should come by a bit earlier next week, so I can see for myself," Robbe says.
"Nah," Sander tilts his head to the left a bit. "Then we wouldn't be able to chat."
Robbe casts his eyes down. He hopes he was at least somewhat successful at reigning in his pleased, answering smile. Robbe's eyes land on where he thought Sander had been writing, but the paper is filled with sketches instead.
"How is your school project going?" Robbe asks.
"Eh," Sander shrugs. "It's going alright, I guess. My teacher keeps telling me to pick a theme and stick to it but my brain," he wiggles his fingers next to his head, "just keeps shooting off in different directions."
"I'm sure you'll be able to tie it all up nicely," Robbe tells him. "And then you'll show me, right?"
"We'll see," Sander shrugs, with a grin. "How was your big math test on Friday?"
"Eh," Robbe mimics Sander's earlier reply. "I think it went well enough."
"Well enough," Sander scoffs. "I bet you aced it like you always do."
"I don't always," Robbe starts, but Sander interrupts him: "You totally do. You're always all: Oh Sander, I completely fucked up, and then the next week you're here with your 9s and your 10s."
Robbe rolls his eyes and protests again: "You're exaggerating."
"Well, we'll see next week, won't we?"
"Maybe I just won't tell you what my score was then," Robbe replies.
"Then how will a congratulatory chocolate accidentally make its way into your bag of croissants?" Sander wonders.
Robbe chuckles, he's just about to ask what Sander would do if Robbe had in fact failed the test, when the bell above the door bursts the nice bubble they had going on. Sander clears his throat and wishes the customers that just came in a good morning.
Robbe places his usual order of 4 croissants and a loaf of bread, and Sander puts it together for him. When Sander's fingertips brush against the palm of Robbe's hand when he gives him his change, he can feel a tingle shoot all the way up his arm.
"See you next week," Sander tells him. It sounds more like a question though, so Robbe replies: "Yeah, of course."
When he gets home he finds a little bear shaped chocolate in his bag of croissants.
Robbe's mom's been back to work for a couple of months now, after being in hospital for most of Robbe's autumn semester. Her place of employment is pretty great. They don't make a fuss when she needs to take a day off to go see her doctor, and the hours are also really nice. Robbe knows his mom enjoys being able to decide herself when she goes in, and it's just nice for Robbe that she gets out early enough that she's usually home when he gets home from school. Living with Milan, Zoë and Senne last year definitely made him get used to always having someone around.
When Robbe gets home from school on Wednesday afternoons though, the house is usually pretty quiet. It's no different this particular Wednesday. He has plans to hang out with his friends most weeks, but the weather is quite shitty today and they all have big tests tomorrow, so when they said goodbye at school it was all see you tomorrows, instead of the usually text you later about hanging outs. Robbe takes off his coat and drops his school bag in the living room before halfheartedly looking around the kitchen to see what he fancies for lunch.
It's not long before he puts his coat back on and is on his way to the bakery.
He tries not to go on Wednesdays too often. His mom is getting suspicious. Her delighted: "Oh, you got bread?" quickly turned into a more suspicious: "Why did you get bread?" within just a couple of Wednesdays. Robbe learned his lesson and has stopped buying loafs for his mom to find. Instead he usually gets himself some rolls, or pastries that he can finish and try and bury the evidence of deep in the recycling. (His mom's a ninja though, and Robbe is convinced she still knows. Maybe she goes rooting around in the trash, looking for clues, who knows.)
There are about three people ahead of him in line when he gets to the bakery. Sander instinctively looks up from what he's doing when he hears the bell, and beams at Robbe. Robbe smiles back before trying to focus on the display of pastries on his left instead of just staring at Sander.
He tries to tell himself that this is normal. This is what normal people do. People go to the bakery every day, it doesn't have to be a thing.
"So?" Sander asks him when it's his turn. For a second Robbe thinks Sander is asking what he wants, forgoing their usual small talk and conversation. Robbe is about to rattle off some bullshit order, when Sander clarifies: "Did you get your test back?"
"Oh," Robbe says. "Oh, yeah, uhm." He's a bit embarrassed now.
"Well?" Sander grins. "It was a ten, wasn't it?"
"Nine," Robbe admits.
"I knew it," Sander shakes his head. "Well done."
It shouldn't make him feel so happy to hear that from Sander, but it does. If his friends knew, they'd make fun of him for it until they were all old and grey.
"You've earned your chocolate now," Sander says.
"You really don't have to do that," Robbe says. "Won't your boss get mad?"
"You're one of those guys who always follows the rules, aren't you?" Sander chuckles.
"You like chocolate, right?" Sander asks, going up to the separate counter they have where they keep all the confectionery.
"I do," Robbe admits.
"Well then," Sander says, carefully picking something out and bringing it back to Robbe. It's a chocolate shaped like a heart on a lollipop stick. "It's fine, and I'm not gonna get in trouble. So enjoy it, cause you deserve it."
Robbe tries not to go on Wednesdays too often, but this is the fifth Wednesday in a row he's gone to see Sander.
Robbe's never brought anyone with him before. His mom is usually more than happy to stay home in her PJs while Robbe goes and gets their Sunday breakfast, and there's never been a need for any of Robbe's friends to join him before. Until now.
Jens spent the night last night, too tired after binge watching Narcos to make his way home. It's the first time Jens has slept over at Robbe's in years. When they were kids it happened more often, but after things started going sour between Robbe's parents, it was much more common for him to stay at Jens', than the other way around. Robbe's happy that his house is starting to feel more like a home again, not just to him but to his friends as well.
He'd be happier if the stupid bond Jens and his mom have, didn't involve weird, secretive conversations like this.
"Robbe was just gonna go get breakfast," Robbe's mom tells Jens over her morning cup of coffee.
"Oh, that's the bakery, right?" He asks her. She nods. Robbe feels pretty lost. "Okay, I'll come then."
"You really don't have to," Robbe says, again. "I'll be gone not even ten minutes."
"Sometimes you're gone 30," he mom says. "Better take your friend."
"Jens," Robbe tries.
"I'm coming," his best friend has decided.
So here they are, waiting in line at the bakery. Jens is taking everything in, seemingly taking a good, long look at the pastry options, while all Robbe can do is look at Sander.
He looks like he's in a bad mood. Robbe can't quite put his finger on why he thinks that, except that he didn't smile as bright as he usually does when Robbe walked in, and the corners of his mouth are turned down in an unhappy little sulk. Robbe hopes his school project hasn't been stressing him out too much.
"Hey," Sander says when it's their turn. "What can I get you?"
Robbe figures he should probably be relieved that Sander's skipping the small talk with Jens there, but instead he just feels disappointed.
"Four Croissants, please," Robbe says, like he doesn't order the same thing every week and Sander needs to be told.
"No, Robbe," Jens whines. "Let's get some pastries instead, yeah? I'm sure your mom won't mind."
Sander just blankly stares at Jens.
"I'm getting croissants," Robbe tells his friend, "If you want to get something else, be my guest."
"Fine," Jens shrugs. "I should probably get Jana something as well, I'm going by there later so."
"Is she your girlfriend?" Sander asks out of nowhere. "We've got some really nice chocolates that I'm sure she'd like."
"Uhm, ex girlfriend," Jens says, glancing over at Robbe, "Current friend."
"Currently complicated," Robbe adds, happy to see Sander smiling a bit more now.
"So no chocolates then?" Sander asks.
"Let's just get her an éclair," Jens says. "And two of those pastries for me."
Sander rings them up, and their fingers tangle briefly when he hand over the shopping bag to Robbe.
"See you next week?" He asks, gaze briefly flickering back to Jens.
"Yeah," Robbe replies, having to side step quickly when the impatient customer behind him steps forward and starts rattling off what he wants before Robbe has had a chance to properly say goodbye.
"Dude," Jens tells them once they're outside again.
"What?" Robbe asks.
"Dude," Jens just says again, shaking his head and already digging out one of his pastries before taking a bite. "Your mom and I have a lot to talk about."
Robbe finally manages to stumble into the bakery just before noon, the next week. The lady ahead of him in line is just wrapping up when he gets there, and Sander gives him a smile over her shoulder.
"Was afraid you weren't going to make it," Sander tells him. "My shift ends in like ten minutes."
Someone is already walking into the bakery behind Robbe, reminding him again why he always likes to come at his usual time to maximize his chances of being able to talk to Sander for a bit.
"I slept the whole morning away," Robbe admits.
"Late night?" Sander asks.
"Yeah, you can say that again." Robbe didn't make it home until 4 the previous night. Or more like: that morning.
He'd gone to a party out by the harbor with his friends. Something organized by the scouting club Jens and Jana used to be part of. Those kinds of parties always meant: lots of drinks and lots of people he vaguely knew. Moyo had done his usual routine of trying to introduce Robbe to some guy he knew through some of Luca's friends. Robbe had been tempted for maybe a minute, but in the end it had been really easy to say no. He had no interest in getting to know this guy, or even make out with him for one night.
"Ah, to be young and free," Sander says, dramatically.
"You're a college student," Robbe reminds him. "I'm sure you're more free than I am."
"Yeah, but I have to be here at 6 in the morning on Sundays, so no going out until all hours of the morning on Saturdays for me."
The man behind Robbe clears his throat. Robbe wanted to ask Sander if he minds getting up that early. If he's a night owl, or a morning person. If he goes out on Friday night instead, and if he does: where and with who? Instead he just says: "Uhm, yeah," and looks towards the basket that usually holds his croissants, only to find it empty.
"Croissants?" Sander guesses.
"Do you have any left?" Robbe asks.
"I think we might have some in the back, wait a sec," Sander tells him, disappearing through the door before reappearing not even thirty seconds later with a paper bag.
"Awesome, thank you," Robbe smiles.
"Wouldn't want you to have to miss out on your croissants," Sander tells him.
When Robbe takes a good look at the bag once he gets home, he sees it has his name on it in big, neat letters. Under it, there’s a sketch of Sander feeding Robbe a croissant. Robbe is struck not only by how beautiful it's done, but how recognizable they both look. Thinking about how closely Sander must have been watching him, to be able to draw his face this well, makes his chest feel warm.
"There you are," his mom says from the kitchen.
Robbe is stuck halfway down the hallway, his coat still on and just staring at the bag.
"I'm starving," she says, appearing in the doorway. "What's the matter?" She frowns at him.
"Nothing," he says, clutching the bag closer to himself. "Let's eat, yeah?"
Robbe puts the croissants on a plate on the kitchen table, before carefully folding the bag, drawing on the inside, and casually putting it in his room before joining his mom at the kitchen table. She looks at him suspiciously throughout the whole meal.
The next day Moyo is upset about the dude Robbe didn’t want to meet for three seconds, until Robbe tells them about the drawing.
“I knew it,” Jens grins triumphantly. “If looks could kill, man.”
“What do you mean?” Robbe asks.
“Remember when we were in the bakery like last week? I think maybe he thought we were together cause he kept glaring at me, until I mentioned Jana and then all of a sudden he was real friendly.”
“He’s always friendly,” Robbe tries to defend Sander.
"I'm sure he's real friendly to you," his best friend rolls his eyes at him.
"So wait, you're telling me," Moyo says, hands raised in a clear hold up sign, "that there's been a guy all this time and you just haven't told us?"
"There's a guy," Robbe concedes, "but it's not like there's anything going on or like," he trails off. "We just talk? And he gives me free chocolates sometimes, and then yesterday this."
"So he's a baker?" Aaron asks, obviously confused. "How old is he?"
"No, he just works there. He's eighteen, he's in art school."
"So you bagged yourself a college student?" Aaron asks.
"Nice," Moyo says, wanting to go in for a high five that Robbe ignores. Jens high fives Moyo in his stead.
"So what are you waiting for, man?" Jens asks him.
"I don't know!" Robbe says. "I guess I just keep wondering... what if he's just a friendly guy who-"
All three of his friends groan at him.
"Fuck that," Moyo says. "What dude platonically draws on another dude's bag of croissants? That just doesn't add up!"
"Show us," Jens says.
Robbe is reluctant to show the three of them the picture he took of the drawing, but Jens is holding out his hand, motioning for Robbe to hand over his phone, and Robbe recognizes that face. He's not gonna give up. He unlocks his phone, opens the picture and shows his friends, who all crowd together to look at the screen.
"Oh, this is actually good!" Aaron says.
"Yeah, man, nice," Moyo nods.
"So did you send him a text or something then?" Jens asks.
"Did I send him a text?" Robbe repeats, confused.
"The phone number..." Jens trails of.
"Wait, what?" Robbe asks, almost knocking Aaron of the bench in his haste to look at the picture on the screen again.
Jens has zoomed in on the bottom right corner of the drawing where a phone number is carefully scrawled alongside the back of the sketched Sander.
"Oh," Robbe says.
"Dude, how could you have missed that?" Jens asks.
"Robbe, if it makes you feel any better," Aaron says. "I didn't see it either."
"Text him!" Moyo starts encouraging (instructing) him immediately.
Robbe is still staring somewhat dazedly at the the phone number when the bell rings, signaling that the final class of the day is about to start. If not saving Robbe from having to think about this anymore, at least it saves him from having to do so in front of the chaos that is his friends all wanting to give him boy advice.
In the end Robbe starts and deletes almost a dozen texts, before just deciding to go see Sander in person.
Like that isn't that much scarier.
Sander looks surprised to see him waiting outside the bakery at the end of his Wednesday shift. "Oh. Hey."
"Hi," Robbe says. Now that he's face to face with Sander, a nervous chuckle escapes him: "I've never seen you without your apron before."
Sander looks down at his own chest, as if verifying this for himself. He's wearing a soft looking cream colored sweater, his jacket unzipped over top, unobstructed by the green apron Sander always has to wear while he's working. Now that Robbe's focused on Sander's top, it suddenly feels like he can't focus on anything else.
"I've never seen you without a counter between us before," Sander replies, finally making Robbe look back up at his face.
"I wanted to talk to you," Robbe thinks he should explain. "But not like, while you were at work."
Sander nods: "I'm still kinda at work. Or near it anyway," and that's true, they're right outside the bakery. Robbe can see the owner peering out through the window at them.
"Let's, uhm," Robbe says, motioning for the cluster of benches on the square the bakery is situated at. They're luckily empty, affording them a little bit of privacy at least.
They stand there, just looking at each other for a little while, until they both start talking at once:
"If this is about the drawing," Sander starts, right when Robbe asks: "Do you want to hang out sometime, maybe?"
They're back to staring at each other.
"Oh," Robbe says.
"Yes," Sander replies.
"Oh, okay," Robbe says.
"You mean like a date, right?" Sander asks.
"I mean," Robbe says. "Yeah, if you want."
"Of course, I want," Sander says. "I've been wanting for months now."
"I wasn't sure," Robbe admits, slightly embarrassed. "If you were interested."
"It bodes well for us if you think that all my over the top signals have been subtle," Sander shakes his head. Then, more quietly: "I thought that maybe you were too nice to tell me to fuck off, but then when you didn't add my number, or when you didn't show up today, during my shift, I thought you were just letting me down easy."
"I didn't even see the number at first," Robbe really wants Sander to know. "I really wasn't ignoring you."
"Wow, you really need like very big, clear signs, don't you?" Sander laughs. It's definitely not unkind though, he looks so handsome when he smiles and Robbe can't help but laugh as well, cause maybe he has been a little dim about it all.
"I think I've come up with a pretty good, clear, obvious signal, though, if you want to see it?" Sander asks, stepping a little closer.
"Oh?" Robbe asks, heart rate spiking dramatically when Sander leans in to kiss him.
Sander's left hand curls around the back of Robbe's neck, while his right tangles their fingers together. Robbe can actually feel his whole brain stutter to a halt. Every thought and every sense shuts down, except for Sander. It's all he can think, and all he can feel, and all he can smell. His own free hand clutches at Sander's sweater, it's as soft as it looked.
"Did my intentions come across that time?" Sander mumbles after they've pulled apart.
"Loud and clear," Robbe replies.
Sander digs inside the pocket of his jacket for a second before coming up with a bar of chocolate and giving it to Robbe.
"Just don't go expecting me to give you sweets every time we kiss," Sander mumbles.
"I won't," Robbe promises, leaning up for another kiss Sander seems happy to give him.
"Do you have somewhere to be?" Robbe asks. "I mean, do you have plans? Cause I live really close by and if you wanted to watch a movie or something we could? My mom will be home soon," he feels a need to add, in case Sander thought Robbe was inviting him over for a more steamy reason. Or if the thought of meeting Robbe's mom so soon is just way too much.
"I have nowhere to be," Sander tells him, linking their hands again. "Lead the way."