It wasn’t an early morning day, which was surprising when they knew that there was something planned. But Luke woke up on his own accord with Michael's head pillowed on his chest, lips parted and hair wild. He finally had let it go back to normal, giving it a break after he had seen the close-up pictures from the KCA’s and IHeartRadio Awards a year ago. It had grown out enough so that all the bleach and dye had been cut off, much thicker than the state it had been in; it was also back to Michaels natural hair color. But Luke could tell the older boy was getting antsy and wanted to dye it again.
Luke checked his phone, noting the text from Calum that said he and Ashton were going out for a run. Which was surprisingly safe for them to do here. Management had them staying in a state that they had yet to be in. It was March, and there was still three feet of snow on the ground with the promise of more. Michael was absolutely giddy with the thought. Luke poked Michaels nose, causing him to scrunch it up. When Michaels face smoothed out, Luke pokes his nose again. This time, Michael rolls over wining, the blanket slipping away from his chest.
They came out to the fans back in May after over a year of dating. While they had received a tremendous amount of support. Michael received an overwhelming amount of hate. They nearly lost him in his battle with anorexia. Now months later, Michael was finally eating right and filling out again. You could still see the ghost of his ribs, could actually count each one individually. But now when Michael looked in the mirror, he saw that not fat.
Luke curled around him, spooning him. Michael was awake, he could tell by his breathing. Luke nuzzled his face into the back of Michaels' head. Dragging his calloused fingertips down Michaels sensitive sides. Giggles leave the older boys lips. That was one of the many things Luke had missed in the past months, now he tickles Michael at every chance he gets. Michael tries squirming away, limbs flailing, but Luke was bigger than him before they came out, so he had no hope of getting free. Luke finally let him go when Michael was struggling to get air in from laughing so hard.
“Morning.” Michael smiles once he has caught his breath. “What time do we have to leave?” He mumbles stretching his arms up and arching his back until it cracks.
“Hmmm?” Luke hums. “One I think. Ash knows for sure. Him and Calum are out on a run right now. We can do that here.”
“Eww,” Michael remarks rolling over to the phone. “I want pancakes.”
“I’ll order. You go shower Mr. I’ll shower in the morning.” Luke says pulling the phone out of his hand.
“Fine. Fine. But I want pancakes. With…” Michael starts trying to crawl out of the nest of covers that he had gotten himself stuck in throughout the night.
“With berries, not syrup. I know love.” Luke says fondly, an eye roll added in for measure.
Michael finally unwraps himself from the sheet, his green boxers sitting low on his hips. He kissed Luke’s cheek before disappearing into the bathroom, leaving the door unlocked.
Luke orders the food and sits there thinking. Pancakes were the first food that they could get Michael to willingly eat and keep down. In the beginning, of his recovery it was all he ate, but the sugary sticky liquid had disappeared, from all of their plates really. Just the sight or smell of it would set Michael off and he wouldn’t eat for the rest of the day. It had yet to make a return, and it might never, but now Pancakes were a primary staple in his diet, but nowhere near the only food. They were lucky really, very lucky. Michael hadn’t collapsed, hadn’t been caught making himself sick. No one in the band noticed. It had been Karen who noticed. They were supposed to be home for a few short days before they started promo for their fourth album in September. She had spent all of an hour with Michael and had noticed something was up, then marched him down to his primary care physician and had them do a full check up. She drove him home, left him under the watchful eye of Daryl and went down to the hotel that their management team had been staying in. Luke imagined the following conversation wasn’t pretty. He doesn’t know exactly how it went. But Michael was carefully situated in a private inpatient facility by the time the rest of the band found out they were getting some more time off. They didn’t get to visit him until almost a month later.
The place was a small unassuming building about an hour outside of where they grew up. It was up a long drive that was edged by manicured bushes. The yard was neatly kept and there were a few people milling about some in lab coats, others in pajama-like clothing. Michael was sitting with a group of people in a rec room playing a game of monopoly. His legs were tucked up under him, the sleeves of the hoodie he was wearing pushed up to his elbows. His bracelets had been replaced by a blue medical band that has all of his information typed on it in neat little letters. His face had lit up when they had crossed into the room. It was only then that Luke had really realized what was going on with his boyfriend. His face and arms were both bony in a way that was very far past healthy. They lived with him, saw him daily. All of this slid beneath their noses because of it.
All in all, they got to see him a few hours a week and he had a relatively short stay. He was back home with his parents in time for Christmas. The holidays were tense and slightly difficult, Michael had a slight slip in his eating habits when they first got back. And then they stumbled upon pancakes Christmas morning. Luke still remembers the joyful phone call he got from Karen accompanied by pictures. Both told the same story really. Michael was at the dining room table, Daryl on his left. They were deep in conversation, but you could see a half-eaten pancake in the picture. The boys got used to eating a lot of pancakes over the next while and were able to come up with a lot of different flavor combinations. The combinations helped Michael transition into different foods. And now three months later, Michael was kicking his eating disorders ass. There were days that were hard on him, as well as he still had a long way to go before he was back up into a normal “healthy weight”, but he was alive and happy.
Michael came out of the bathroom fully dressed in grey Metallica tee shirt and an older pair of skinny jeans that were now a little baggy on him. They were forced to buy some new jeans for Michael in a smaller size, Luke didn’t know that he had packed any of his old pants. He plopped himself down next to Luke and wiggled around until his head was pillowed in Luke’s lap. He looked up at the younger boys and smiled. “I over heard Zop talking to someone from security about how we will be here for a month.”
Luke smiles back, dragging a hand through Michael's hair. “I wonder what it is that we could be doing then.”
Michael shrugs, scrunching his nose up as well. “I dunno. But it’ll be nice not moving around for a month. We might actually be able to settle down, get used to a bed.”
“I” Luke starts, only to be cut off by a knock to the door. “That must be breakfast.” He pats at Michaels' shoulder until the smaller boy get’s the hint and rolls off of him and to the side. Luke pads over to the door and pops it open looking down at the art of food. He grimaces when he notices that they forgot his request of “don’t include syrup. It’s just a waste, we won’t use it.” He takes it in hand and sets it on the ground vowing to remind them to take it when they come to collect the cart in a bit.
Michael sits up a little straighter when Luke walks back over. A small smile still in place on his face. “Thanks, Lukey.” Michael supplies when he takes his plate from Luke’s hands. Luke kisses his forehead before taking his own plate from the cart and sitting on the bed next to Michael.
They ate in silence for a while before Luke broke it, “I know you want to dye your hair. What color are you thinking of going?”
Michal looks up surprised. “Oh. I don’t know. Maybe I’d ease them back into it again, go with like a brown or black for a bit.” Michael says ripping apart the pancake bit that he had in his hand. “But I kinda want to go blue again, like a mellow blue.”
“Not bright blue. But like a darker color?” Luke asks finishing off his food and setting the plate aside.
“Exactly, something that won’t fade as fast,” Michael says taking a bite.
“You’ll do it right this time? Treat your hair proper like?” Luke asks stealing a bite of pancake from Michaels plate.
Michael nods he swallows the bit of food that is in his mouth. “Promise. Deep condition treatments. More than four weeks between dye jobs. All that jazz.” He thinks for a moment. “You know. I don’t think the eating disorder helped my hair any you know? Like hair needs nutrients, and I was starving my body of what it needs, and the body is good at prioritizing what gets what when there is a lack of nutrients. Like how your fingers, toes and nose get cold first. It’s your body focusing on keeping your core warm. It was the same with my hair. I was so nutrient starved, that any nutrients I allowed myself to have were allocated to important functions. Like breathing. My hair was bad yes. But like when I started getting really bad, my hair hit it’s worst.”
Luke nods. “I don’t want to ever see you like that again. It was scary. One moment I’m thinking about seeing you in a few days after our short break was over. The next I’m getting a call from Zop about how we aren’t going back out till some time after Christmas. No one would tell us anything. For an entire month, any information that we got came from Karen. Seeing you that first time. It was hard. Because you had been there for almost a month already and the time gave me a chance to see what we had been missing. I just…” Luke trails off getting emotional.
Michael sets his plate aside. “I’m sorry. Really, I am. When I started it wasn’t supposed to blow up like that. I thought I would be okay. Loose a few pounds, then stop. Maybe then the fans would like the fact that I was with you. I didn’t realize how quickly it would go bad. I never want to be like that again.” He crawls across the bed to sit on Luke’s lap. “And if I do, then everyone knows what to look for and we know a really good facility to park my ass in for a few more months. But I’m really hoping that never happens again. I know my relationship with food is going to be a little wonky, and already there are days where I just can’t eat. But I want to get healthy. I want to be healthy.”
Luke gives him a watery smile before closing the gap between them. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Michael rolls off of his lap. “Now shoo. Go. We have a car call at one and it is already eleven. And we all know that you take forever to get ready.”
Smiling Luke gets off the bed and gathers his shower stuff. He shuts the door after seeing Michael pick up his plate to finish eating the last half of the pancake on there.
Calum and Ashton are waiting for them down in the lobby at one when they get downstairs. Calum eyes the jeans Michaels wearing and smiles, following the unspoken rule of don’t bring up Michael's recovery process until he does. Ashton, on the other hand, barrels right past the rule and engulf him in a hug. “I’m proud of you Mikey,” He states before pulling away. He gets just far enough away that he can sling an arm around Michaels' shoulders and lead him out to the car. Michael stumbles at the sudden movement, scuffing up his worn converse even more. But the smile on his face is genuine, so Luke feels comfortable enough to let him go.
Calum shoots Luke a smile, holding his arm out for Luke to take. Luke just shakes his head and hooks his elbow with Calum's arm, heading out to the car. He is in a band with a bunch of idiots.
The car ride is very long, only about twenty minutes or so. However, they go from being in a busy area with businesses, and grocery stores, and people mulling about in the grey slush on the sidewalks. To a more suburban area, trees only broken up by a few houses and roads dotted here and there. They pass a park that is blanketed in unmarred snow, children sledding down a decent sized hill before they are pulling into a parking lot for a stand alone subway. They pull around out back where there are three cars and a van. Standing at the back of this building is Mark, the man who recorded everything for there How Did We End Up Here DVD a few years back. He is bundled up, gazing up into the clouded sky saying something to the girl who is standing next to him. She’s got her hands shoved in the pockets of her sweatshirt shrugging and speaking back to him, her pink hair piled up on top of her head. Zop is standing next to them.
One by one they pile out of the car. They catch the bits and pieces of the pairs conversation as Zop walks over to them.
“Do you think it will snow?” Mark asks still gazing up towards the sky.
“Smells like it.” The girl says pulling a hand out of her pocket and looking at it.
“What does that mean for power?” He asks looking down and over to her.
“It’ll be fine.” She sighs, clearly not worried about the weather.
“And the foot traffic?” Mark asks again, turning his gaze back up to the sky.
“It’ll be slower, but we’ll still get the lunch and dinner rushes,” She explains shoving her hand back into her pocket.
“How about the roads?” He asks
“BOYS!” Zop says smiling. “How was your late start to the day? I hope you enjoyed it. Now you guys remember Mark?” The boys nod. “Alright, well next to him is the lovely Anna, she is the manager of this location. She has so kindly allowed us to use her store.” The girl gives a slight wave before shoving her hand back in her pocket. “And this is a Subway. Over the next month, you will be working here, Anna will see which one of you is the best employee. And all of your “wages” will be donated to the charity or nonprofit the winner chooses. Mark is here to film it. I’ll give the floor to Anna know since she does this for a living and will be able to explain it better.”
“I would say let’s take it inside, but there is a crew installing all the cameras and equipment that needs to be installed to make this work, so, for now, we are standing out here in the cold.” Anna starts. “Hi, I’m Anna. I’ve worked here for three years now. I have been the store manager for six months. And I take my job very seriously.” She gives them a small smile. “Over the next month you will go through training, employee reviews, raise opportunities, promotion opportunities, and at the end, I get to decide who was the best. It will literally depend on these factors: speed, cleanliness, customer service, attitude, correctness. You guys are my team of sandwich artists. That’s it. As of yesterday, everyone else started working at another location temporarily. There will be long hours and a lot of information thrown at you. However, I’m here to be support. Any questions, ask me. At anytime. The goal is to be able to leave you guys alone in the store so I can have a day off. Any questions so far?” She pauses to give them a chance to speak. “No? Okay. Your starting wage will be $7.25. That is the minimum wage in this state. You’ll get paid hourly. We start training at seven am tomorrow morning for two of you. I know it’s early but I have to be here even earlier. I’ve already got the schedule made up for the next few days and after the training, it will be easier for me to make because I will know where your strong and weak points are. Any questions now?” She asks again. No one asks anything. “Okay. Well, I am out of things to talk about. I expected questions and all of the paperwork that I need is in the store along with the uniforms. Ummm anyone know any good jokes?” She trails off awkwardly.
The back door pops open. “We’re all set in here now.” A man says after sticking his head out.
“Okay. Let’s take this inside where it is warmer.” Anna says pulling the door open wider. “Come on in so Mark can get the run down of the cameras and so I can talk at you some more.”
The backroom of Subway has two steel prep tables, a walk-in fridge, a walk in freezer, a sink, an ice machine and the syrups for the soda machine. “This is the backroom. It’s where we do all the prep, eat, clean and so on. Today it functions as a meeting room of sorts. I’ve got paperwork packets that the company says I have to have you fill out even though you are only here for a month as well as uniforms that you are getting so you can come work here. It’s not much, just a shirt, apron, and either a visor or hat. But it’s the subway dress code. Before we could only wear khaki or black, now we can wear blue as well. So basically, just wear pant’s that won’t clash with the green shirt. And close toed shoes. I wear vans most of the time. I don’t care what is on your feet as long as your toes and heels are covered. Rules say the shirt needs to be tucked in, again I’m not a stickler for that rule either. You’re supposed to get a six-inch regular sub, either a bag of chips or two cookies plus a twenty-one oz. drink for every four hours you work. I say as long as it’s not in your first two hours of working here and you record what you take, I don’t care what you eat. Plus, you get free refills. Subway gives us a little leeway on things, like dress code and the meal rule. So as long as you follow my directions for them we’ll be all good because then I won’t get in trouble. Those two are my big ones because I want you to protect your toes, they’re important. As well as once a week I take an inventory and everything needs to be accounted for, so if you need help with that just ask. Any questions so far?” She pauses again. “Come on guys, I know this is confusing stuff and it’s a lot of info to take in. There have to be questions.”
“Facial piercings, you’ve mentioned nothing about them. Are they good or no good?” Luke asks toying with his lip ring.
“Subway is starting to allow just one, they have cleared nose and lip piercings. They haven’t said anything about eyebrow piercings yet, but it doesn’t matter in this circumstance because we aren’t getting inspected by subway while you guys are here because of all the extra equipment needed to have you guys here.” She answers. Afterwards, she walks over to a box. “Okay, everyone take two green shirts as well as an apron and either a hat or a visor.” She drags it into the middle of the room before separating the items out into piles. “If you need a size that isn’t there, just let me know and I will grab more.”
She moves out of the way as they shuffle forward to go through the stuff. She disappears into a small little office to flip through the pages of the packet while keeping an ear tuned to the murmurs of the group in the big room.
Ashton walks over to the pile of shirts. “Cal you want a hat right?” Ashton asks holding one out to him. He tosses it over when Calum nods. “How about you Luke? Hat or visor?”
“Umm, a hat for me. Yeah.” He nods catching it with slight difficulty when Ashton tosses it to him.
“Shirt sizes? XL for you Cal.” Ashton asks.
“Large actually. I can always get a bigger size if I need it.” Calum says before giving Ashton a small smile before catching the two shirts and the apron that Ashton tosses at him.
“Luke? XL for your shoulders?” Ashton asks digging through the box again.
Luke shrugs. “Sure why not, doesn’t really concern me much,” Luke says before catching the items thrown at him.
“How about you Mikey. What size do you want?” Ashton asks looking up at him.
“Oh. Umm, I dunno. I used to be a large. So that size I guess.” Michael says shrugging.
Ashton gives him a small smile. “Large, okay.” He tosses two shirts and an apron over to Michael. He then takes two XL shirts and an apron for himself.
“Hey, Anna,” Zop says causing her to look up from the paperwork. “We’re ready out here if you are.”
She smiles and steps back into the big room. “Alright. So if you just take a walk out front to the line I’ll walk you through some stuff out there.”
One by one they file into the other room; Calum, Luke, and Ashton ahead of Anna. “Hey, Michael. Come talk to me for a moment.” Zop says motioning for Michael to come over. Zop leads him over closer to the door. “I didn’t even think to ask you about all this. Everything just came together so quickly. Are you okay with working around food? If you don’t think you are, I’ll pull you out right now. You won’t have to go any further than this.”
Michael thinks it over for a bit. “I think I’ll be okay. I’ve acknowledged the fact that I have a problem that I need to work on. And that my problem is food. But learning how to prepare food and everything could be good right? Teach me about portioning and what not? I’ll let you know if I think I need to be pulled. Or if you think I need to be pulled you can pull me.” He scuffs his foot back and forth. “I’m not going to lie. It might be tough. Especially where I’m not completely one hundred percent yet. But if I have people there to support me. I should be okay.”
Zop nods thinking for a moment. “Do you want to to tell Anna? There isn’t a law here that says you have to. But she is your boss. She’ll spend the most amount of time with you here. And she doesn’t know you. So she can be the judge and be unemotional about it. Plus, if you freeze up and she needs to jump in she’ll know why.”
“I don’t… Is it a good idea?” Michael asks.
Anna popping her head around the corner stops Zop from responding. “Everything okay?” She asks a frown on her face with concern.
“Yeah. Everything is fine.” Zop says. “Just wanted to run a few things by Mikey here.”
“Alright. Cool. We’re just waiting on you two, then I’ll release them back out till tomorrow.” Anna says moving back to the front.
“So lads what do you think of taking a break from the tour life to work in food service?” Ashton asks once they pile into the car.
Calum shrugs. “It’ll be weird. Like we’re actually doing something normal. I just can’t believe people get paid so little here. Like $7.25 isn’t all that much, then you factor in taxes, and a person is making less than seven dollars an hour.” He’s scrolling on his phone, eyes trained down.
“I think it’ll be interesting. Plus, it’s for a good cause. And the organization will benefit from the money we make.” Michael says, his head resting on Luke’s shoulder.
“I just wish I knew why they were filming it. Like, I haven’t heard anything about another DVD. And there is no way that this would sell any copies. Like how boring will it be to watch us fuck up on camera?” Luke cards a hand through Michaels blond locks.
“Food isn’t actually that hard. Like there are things you need to remember when it comes to cleaning and what not. How things are prepared and dates. But it’s actually kind of simple.” Ashton explains giving a little shrug.
“You worked the counter at KFC Ash. I’m sure this is different.” Calum says locking his phone and sliding it into his pocket.
“I don’t see how different it can be. Like it’ll be slightly different because we are actually making the sandwiches. But it’s still the same concept. Take the order, make it, smile, they pay.” Ashton says furrowing his brow.
It must be a sight to see four large over grown boys pile out of the back of a car in a McDonalds parking lot. They had left the subway twenty minutes before, leaving Mark and Anna to finish up whatever they needed to do before they got to leave the store. Each one of them had a packet half an inch thick in their hands that needed to be filled out. They had only gotten two miles down the road before Ashton started complaining about being hungry. Luke quickly chorused that he was hungry as well and thy pulled into a place where they could eat food real quick.
Ashton and Calum had already ordered and were sitting in a booth. Luke was standing behind Michael as the paler boy was just staring up at the board blankly. “I’ll have a number seven, large. Ketchup for my fries. Barbecue for my nuggets.” He looks down at Michael who is still looking up at the board. “He’ll have a number one, medium. No onions.” Luke orders before pulling out a twenty-dollar bill and handing it over. He takes the change, the receipt, and their cups before leading Michael over to a table a little way away from the rest of their group. He sits down across from him, covering Michaels hands with his own. “Hey, you okay? You don’t normally hesitate like that.”
Michael nods. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Let’s try that again. Hey, boyfriend. You okay” Luke asks, not believing that Michael is fine.
“Just an old habit I guess Luke. I’m fine really, I just looked at the board and blanked.” Michael says giving him a small smile that was meant to be reassuring but did nothing more than put Luke on edge. “Zop thinks I should tell Anna incase working with food is a bad idea for me. He says she’ll be unemotional about keeping an eye out and getting me off the line.”
“What do you think?” Luke asks.
“I don’t know. I don’t know her that well, so that makes me a little hesitant to tell her. And I think I’ll be alright working with food and stuff. But it’s hard to tell. He’s right in the fact that she’ll be unemotional about it.” Michael says looking down at their joined hands. “About working at subway, I think it could be fun. And maybe a good thing for me. But we’ll have to take it day by day.” Michael tries to smile but it’s unconvincing.
Their number being called cut’s Luke off. He keeps a close eye on Michael while they are eating. He eats his entire sandwich and enough fries that keeps Luke’s mind at ease.