It was a slow Friday afternoon at the shop.
The little convenience store that was located a few blocks from campus was usually packed on Fridays, as students did their last errands before the weekend, when they would do little more than eat or just consume monstrous amounts of alcohol.
But finals week was just three days away and it seemed like the majority of the students had decided to take their head out of their ass. Only some lonely procrastinator came to wander into the shop.
Thankfully I had started studying way ahead of time so I wouldn’t cram the last minute. Procrastination was never something I indulged into.
“Procrastination is like masturbation, in the beginning it feels good, but in the end, you just fucked yourself”, said a wise man once.
I was never one to fuck myself anyway.
It first happened that extremely slow afternoon. The shop was small enough that one person could manage it on its own without too much effort during a dull day.
It was soon going to be 6pm and my shift ended at 7pm, the shop usually closed at 10pm. Time couldn’t pass slower. I just wanted to go home, study, do some reading, take a shower, and go to sleep.
I cursed Nicaise some more for dragging me in this.
“Come on Laurent, I know you don’t need the money but wouldn’t it be cool not to depend too much on your parents?”
And so here I was, reading a Star magazine over and over, filled with Kim Kardashian’s butt picture and rumors that Hillary Clinton’s illness was going to kill her before the election.
If only Donald Trump had an illness that would prevent him from running for president, wouldn’t that be delightful.
Next time I’ll make sure to bring my own book.
I was scanning the “most outrageous plastic surgery of 2016” (which was more than outrageous in my humble opinion) when a customer entered.
The bell chimed and I looked up.
The young man who entered was a little older than me, perhaps 23 or 24, and a great deal taller than me. Dark brown skin, brown eyes and hair.
He was only dressed in a yellow t-shirt and some flashy green baseballs short that 1) burned my eyes just looking at it, and 2) were fucking ridiculous as it was snowing outside.
The Straights, I thought.
He quickly finished his tour, coming toward me with his purchase.
Two packs of instant coffee, and two twelve packs of Red Bull.
I scanned the items, announced the price and he fished his wallet to pay.
From up close, I could see his bloodshot eyes, the dark circles under them and stubble that had started growing on his chiseled jaw.
Here was one who was going to have a fun weekend.
He paid in cash and never in my life had I seen anyone looking so resigned when handing me money.
I handed him his change, and smiled to encourage him. He looked like he needed it.
He looked straight at me with dead eyes, said, “I’m gonna survive the week” and left.
Good luck boy.
I would be surprised if he didn’t die of tachycardia, but who knows.
Students are resourceful.
The second time I saw him he seemed way more alive. Good thing considering I had almost been certain his heart wouldn’t be able to survive all that caffeine and those energizing drinks.
He was looking rather good, eyes bright, clean-shaven and with a joyous smile on his face.
He bought the standard student meal, aka cereal, juice, instant noodles and some hot pockets.
I idly wondered how in hell he could be as fit as he was eating all this crap. Because yes, when he wasn’t looking as though the end of the world was right around the corner this guy was hot as fuck.
In a frat boy way of pretty you know. Tank top, khaki pants, snapback.
And a devilish smile.
“Hey, you’re the cashier from that other time!” He said happily. “Man that week, I didn’t sleep for four days straight, I thought I was going to die”, he laughed with a distant look in his eyes.
War flashbacks for sure.
“I thought you’d be dead for sure”, I agreed while giving him his change.
“Nah, I’m tougher than that!” He laughed while flexing one surprisingly well-muscled arm.
Bless god for tank tops.
He left, and my eyes automatically travelled down his back checking out his ass. Maybe I shouldn’t have.
But what a fine ass that was.
People often mistook me for a quite innocent nerd boy. Especially my brother who absolutely denied the fact that his baby brother would eventually get himself a boyfriend.
It wasn’t like, just because I was the quiet type and more often indoors with a book than out partying, I couldn’t enjoy a nice ass when I saw one.
It wasn’t like reading books made you blind to the attractiveness of others.
“You should go out more! Find a nice girl and enjoy life!”
That wasn’t happening. I was going out just fine already, going to work and to university.
Anyway, I was left that day fantasizing about Death-Wish guy, as I lovingly nicknamed him.
Later that week, I may or may not have had a dream involving him, Red Bull cans, and too much naked skin for my liking.
I vowed to never again even think of that dream.
The next time he came he wasn’t alone. Another dude was with him. Same build and height, longer brown hair tied in a bun.
I was restocking the shelves, Nicaise was at the register, when I heard them speak. It seemed like they were arguing.
“It says in the recipe that we should put blue dye in it!” Said his friend.
“Nik, look at the picture it obviously not blue! It’s white! Plus if we put sky blue raspberry syrup or whatever this is, it’ll become a bit blueish. We don’t need to buy the dye!”
“Damen, look at this one! It’s blue!” insisted the so-called Nik.
So Death-Wish guy name was Damen. It was a pretty name. I liked it.
“I don’t know, bro. Do I look like I know what crystal meth really looks like?”
That was unexpected.
I knew very little about meth but I was fairly certain it didn’t involve sky blue raspberry syrup.
I peeked at them between boxes of Cap’n Crunch.
They continued to argue about the clarity that the crystal should have. Damen pressed that they should be crystal clear while his friend said that unless you were the guy from Breaking Bad no one could make crystal meth this clear, and thus they should be troubled.
Between two maxi pads that I was tucking away I managed to see their purchase as they went to pay.
Lots of sugar, the famous syrup, small plastic baggies, rolling papers and two big jars of oregano.
The rest of the day was spent contemplating the phrase “Ignorance is a bliss”.
The fourth encounter was by far the wildest of them all.
It was near closing time when Damen literally ran inside the shop. I had started to associate this guy with natural catastrophes for some reason.
He seemed like the kind of guy who would cause havoc wherever he went.
He was breathing heavily, and was visibly flushed.
He looked in panic around the shop before locating me and rushing to me.
Sweat was dripping on his forehead and I could feel the heat coming from him when he approached me.
“I need six gallons of milk!” He exclaimed.
Stunned, I took a step back.
What the living hell.
“Gallons of milk are kept in the third aisle in the back” I heard myself automatically reply.
He was gone before I could blink.
He fetched the six gallons of milk as best as he could, balancing them in his arms while he was trying to reach his wallet that was in his back pocket.
He spun himself around like a puppy trying to catch his tail before giving up.
Spinning around he looked at me.
“Would you mind taking it?” He asked turning so I could see his wallet in his back pocket.
Well, no, no I most certainly wouldn’t mind taking the wallet currently located just on your butt.
“Take a twenty it should cover it up!”
I took out the bill, put the wallet back in the pocket.
Just as the wallet was set in its place he rushed out of the store, hastily calling a “Thanks” in my general direction, his arms overloaded with six fucking gallons of milk.
He left before I could give him his change.
What the actual hell.
I was once again wondering about the sanity and wellbeing of Death-Wish guy when said person came running.
It hadn’t even been 30 minutes.
“Sorry I forgot the oatmeal!” He rushed into the cereal aisle, came back later with six boxes of oatmeal, slapped another twenty in my hands saying I could keep the change and left.
All that in less than 5 minutes.
Maybe he was planning an evening breakfast for himself and his bro friends?
Maybe he was afraid a zombie apocalypse would break out and he’d be out of milk and oatmeal.
Maybe he had a weird fetish.
Maybe I didn’t want to know what the fuck he was doing with six gallon of milk and a shit ton of oatmeal.
Shaking my head I closed the shop, hoping that whatever Damen was doing he wasn’t going to end up in one of those weird Buzzfeed articles for it. I could already see the headlines:
“Everyone is going crazy over what this guy does with milk and oatmeal! You won’t believe it!”
I was surprised that he hadn’t already ended in prison because of his last purchase.
You could actually know a lot about people, judging from what they buy - what kind of juice they choose, the cereal, if they ever buy vegetables, the amount of alcohol, etcetera.
I liked to observe the customers, trying to figure them out.
And here’s what I had concluded about Damen so far: I had no fucking idea.
This guy was too wild for me to sort out. It was like trying to grasp wind. Each time I thought I’d figured him out, he did something even more unexpected.
And I didn’t know if I wanted to know what in the love of god he was doing anyway.
He did seem like someone you wouldn’t be bored around, and yet whatever he was doing was slightly alarming.
Saturday, 9:30 pm. a few days later.
The shop closed in 30 minutes and it couldn’t be slower. This time though, I had had a flash of genius and actually brought a book before leaving for work instead of drowning my faith in humanity yet again in another Star magazine.
I was reading Luck in the Shadows just getting to the good part when someone came in.
Good god why, just 30 minutes left, who the fuck would come just before closing time.
I raised my head, looking at the source of my dismay.
There stood Damen.
I looked again.
Yeah, his grey shirt was definitely wet, clinging close to his body outlining his toned muscles.
He staggered to the register before planting his two hands on the counter, eyes a little glassy.
“My friend wants to kill me”, he said.
His gaze was fixated on me.
Seconds passed, where I just looked stunned, and before I could even mutter a reply he started tearing up.
I saw tears swelling in his eyes and I started to panic. What are you supposed to do when a handsome boy starts to cry in front of you?
“What happened?” I asked him gently because that’s all I could think of doing at the moment.
He wiped at his eyes with his hand before trying to explain what had happened.
“Well, there was this party we were supposed to go to, but I didn’t want to. Because you know, it was at Jokaste’s and you know, going to a party at my ex’s place wasn’t really looking good,” he sniffed.
“But Nik, this asshole Nikandros, he told me that there would be a shitton of food, and you know, I can’t say no to free food, I’m a student, I love food, especially those little cocktail things? The little sausages with puff pastry and ketchup man, I could eat a ton of them, and there would be pizza too, and I love pizza, and…” He stopped, obviously having lost his track.
“Where was I again?” He put his elbows on the counter, getting closer to me.
From this close I could see that his hair was in disarray, probably from passing his hand through it too many times.
His eyes were this brown color that made me warm just looking at them.
Now, I only had a bit less than 30 minutes till closing time, and it seemed that Damen would be my only costumer. Should I send him off?
Or indulge him and listen to his story.
Clearly listening to his story while staring at those warm brown eyes sounded like a good idea.
“Your friend Nikandros said there would be food?” I said, humoring him.
His eyes lit up, as if I had just presented him with those little cocktail pastries.
“Oh yes, Nik! That asshole! So, before we went he told me that if I was already drunk things would get easier you know, and yeah, I thought so too, so we invited some friends over, and started doing shots. Now, I can usually handle alcohol quite well, but Makedon had to bring his uncle-or-whatever’s alcohol, and by the third shot I was already feeling it.” He wiped at his eyes again.
“ Now that’s when shit start to happen. Nikandros, that asshole, wasn’t drunk, he said that if we were all getting wasted there should be at least one responsible adult. You know, Nik is always like that, the voice of reason, always telling me what I should and shouldn’t do like “No Damen, don’t try to catch the fish we’re in a freaking restaurant”, “Damen for fuck sake don’t put a fork in the microwave”, “No Damen I don’t think that eating the expired mayonnaise is a good idea” and…”
I laughed at the absurdity of all this. It did seem like him to do that. If that was his life, I was glad his friend Nik was there to make sure he wouldn’t die of food poisoning.
How he’d survived this long amazed me.
Damen had stopped ranting about Nik and was currently staring at me.
“What?” I asked, slightly unsettled by his stare.
“Nothing, you look cute smiling”, he blurted still staring at me, a smile of his own on his face.
Oh gosh, if I could get any redder he’d have to take me to the hospital.
“So, as I was saying, we were all drunk, except for Nik, that asshole, so what do drunk guys want when they are drunk? Food! We want food!” He punctured his last word by thumping his fist on the countertop three times.
“But we weren’t at Jokaste yet and we didn’t want to wait, so the guys had had the idea to cook something, you know. But there wasn’t anything really good so we settled for grilled cheese. Now we were all in the kitchen, and we didn’t have any pan big enough for ten grilled cheese…”
“Ten? Why so many?”
“Well we were hungry!” he said like “Duh, of course we’d want 10 grilled cheese”.
“So, we just decided to put them in the oven and in the toaster, that way ten at a time would do! But then I don’t know what happened, it all went to shit. One of the toasters just started smoking and before we could do anything, BOOOM!” Hands gestured,
“The toaster caught on fucking fire, and there was this deodorant spay just beside it, don’t ask me I don’t know why there was a deodorant spray in the kitchen, and it caught fire too! It started spreading because there were paper towel just beside it and then the sprinkler and fire alarm went off and everything went crazy! Now, what do you do when there is a fire in the kitchen?” he asked me.
“You try to put it out with a blanket and call the firefighter?”, that’s what everyone in their right mind should do at least.
Damen seemed taken aback by my answer.
Well, not everyone, it seems.
“Well, yeah, maybe. Maybe that would have been a better idea…”
“What did you do?”
“I ran! I just- I panicked and I ran! I mean there was a fire in the kitchen and water everywhere and too many drunk guys. I just ran”
Well, at least he hadn’t burnt himself while trying to do some heroic bullshit. That would have gone well.
Damen was looking chagrined, and teary eyed again.
“So, you tried to cook but instead started a fire in the kitchen. And why does your friend want to kill you?”
“Oh yeah! It was Nik’s toaster, for that he’s going to be pissed, but also, because the sprinkler started and there was water everywhere and I think the piece he did for his art exhibition that was drying in the living room his ruined? His definitely going to kill me, he worked so hard on it, and really it was all pretty and all. Nik’s really talented you know, it’s weird that’s he’s an art student but he’s really good. Now it’s all ruined” He sniffed again.
“Well, it’s not like it was your fault, right? You didn’t touch the toaster or anything right?”
“Yeah, I know, but still” he looked at his hand sadly.
“Can I hide here?” he finally asked in a small voice, looking up at me.
He had drawn closer when he was speaking. His eyes wide in what was probably his best puppy eyes impression, mouth just pouting a little.
Now faced with that, what was I supposed to do?
He was drunk, wet, apparently scared that his friend was going to kill him and had just asked me to stay here.
Closing time was approaching, but for the time being he could just stay here.
Nothing could go wrong right?
God I hope so.
“You can stay here, but I’m closing in 15 minutes, after that you’ll have to go home. I think it would be for the best.”
A big smile broke his puppy eyes, his mood doing a 180°.
“Thank you! Really, thank you! Hey you know what? We should go somewhere together some time! Just the two of us!”
I felt my heart start to panic. This guy couldn’t be asking me out right? It was impossible, it was the first time that we’d had a real conversation.
“Like, hang out?” I said tentatively.
Because he sure didn’t mean like a date, right?
“Noooo, like a date!”
God have mercy.
“You know, a date! Because you’re like, really nice and all, and I always see you here and I always thought you looked cute and all. I remember when I first met you when I bought all this coffee and Red Bull and you smiled and I thought ‘I have to survive final week to see you again’.”
My god, from only a smile? He did seem desperate at the time, but I never would’ve thought a smile could make a person want to survive final week.
Much less a smile from me.
“So what do you say? Would you like to go? I know a good place near the-”
The shout made us jump, both of us moving away from each other. I hadn’t even noticed that we were as close as we were.
“Where have you been!? I’ve been search everywhere for you!” Ah, there, Nikandros.
“Don’t just take off like that! Drunk”, he stopped to study Damen more closely, “and wet!”
Damen straightened himself, turning to face his friend.
“I’m sorry Nik, please don’t be mad, I’m sorry we just wanted grilled cheese…”
Nik, who I was now calling Nik-the-Long-Suffering, sighed in exasperation.
“It’s alright Damen, the water was just in the kitchen my stuff’s fine. Let’s just go home, you can’t keep bothering the clerk like that” he said, sending an apologetic smile my way.
“Come on let’s go”, he started to turn.
“No! Wait a sec I just need to-”
“No way, I’ve waited long enough. You better come home and clean up the mess you’ve made!” Nik then proceeded to literally drag Damen out of the store as best as he could.
“I mean it, Laurent! A date!” said Damen struggling against Nikandros.
“Stop hitting on him, damn it Damen!” Nik tightened his grip on Damen’s arm, trying to force him out.
“I’ll come pick you up!” they were now just about to pass through the door.
“I KNOW YOU FINISH AT 3PM ON WEDNESDAYS I’LL COME PICK YOU UP!” he called as he was finally dragged out.
Three things immediately came to my attention.
Damen said my name.
He knew my work schedule.
I was going on a date with him.
And there went Hurricane Damen.
Boy, this was going to be fun.