It was a little past five when Alex and his dad arrived home from work. Alex went straight upstairs, where he took his dirty work uniform to the bathroom and threw it into the laundry basket.
“Hey sweetie,” his mom greeted him as she passed by on her way to the kitchen. “Do you need that for tomorrow?”
“Hey! No, I’m good, I’ll wear my spare one,” Alex told her. He was just glad to finally be back home and take off his shoes so his feet can breathe. The day was long and exhausting, and he wanted to get some rest.
“Ok, I’ll wash it this weekend then,” Gaby replied. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
“Great, I’m starving,” Alex nodded. It didn’t take him long after coming back from college to get used to mom’s cooking again. It was one of the biggest benefits of living with his parents - that much he couldn’t deny. He never bothered learning to cook for himself when he went off to college. Instead, he had settled for takeouts, instant soup and noodles.
That was one of the things he admired Jeremy for. The guy knew how to bake and cook, and he did it really well! Sometimes, Alex wished he was that self-sufficient, but he was just too lazy to try and learn.
Having went to his room, he lay down on his bed. He put two pillows under his head and took his phone, checking the football scores. There were several matches he didn’t get to watch, so he was dying to see the results. So far, he had managed to resist spending any money on the app. Saying that he didn’t think about it often would be a big lie, though. He sometimes even had nightmares about losing a huge amount on gambling, which would result in waking up all worked up and sweaty. Other times, he would dream about winning big and buying gifts for his family and friends.
Still, he somehow managed to restrain himself. He didn’t even connect his VISA to his Google Play account, thinking it would discourage him from making any impulsive bets. There was also the threat of his dad checking his bank account and noticing suspicious purchases. At first, Alex thought it was just an empty threat his father made to keep him in check, but Nicholas really did check the bank statements regularly to see if his son was keeping his promise.
As he finished scrolling through game scores, Alex’s mind drifted off to Jeremy. He still hadn’t figured out what to get him for his birthday, but an Amazon pop-up ad on the phone gave him an idea. He opened the browser and decided to check out the video game section. He remembered all of the video game figurines in Jeremy’s room and thought that would be a great idea for a gift. The choices were overwhelming and Alex was quickly lost in a dozen open tabs, trying to pick the best one.
A few minutes later, when he heard his mom calling him to come down to eat, Alex put his phone away and went downstairs to the dining room. The table was already set and his dad was sitting at the head of it.
“Where’s Liz?” Alex asked, seeing there were only three plates on the table.
“Out with some friends,” Nicholas said, pouring himself some cream soup. Everyone in the family loved it, so Gaby made sure to make it at least once a week.
Alex sat down to his dad’s left and helped himself to some soup as well. He especially liked the chopped carrots in it. Even as a kid, his parents never had to force him to eat vegetables - he loved them all. Well, all except beans - he could definitely live without them.
Gaby came over a few moments later with a casserole pan, placing it next to the bowl of soup that was already on the table. She then sat down to her husband’s right and joined her family for dinner.
Nicholas smiled at his wife and pointed over to Alex, who dove in as if he hadn’t eaten for weeks. Gaby found it amusing as well, setting down her spoon for a second.
“Is my cooking that good or are you just starving?”
“Both,” Alex said, swallowing the last bit of soup. “I’m beat today. We had so much work and I didn’t even have time for a proper meal. I just ate a sandwich.” He then proceeded to take a slice of bread and pour some casserole into his plate. “But this is really good too, you know I love it.”
“Yeah, I saw you looked exhausted when I picked you up today,” his dad noticed. “Have you looked for any other jobs?”
Alex just shook his head, as his mouth was still full.
“No,” he finally said. He hesitated, wondering whether to tell his parents that he wanted to go back to his studies - at least at the local community college. It was something he had been thinking about for the past few weeks, especially as he was spending more time with Jeremy. The blond cutie had somehow managed to do it all - finish school, start his own business and even buy an apartment for himself. Granted, he used his family’s money for that, but still, it beat Alex’s living with his parents and working at a job with no future.
One good thing about living with his family, however, was that Alex had almost no expenses. He didn’t even have to buy fuel since he didn’t own a car - his dad was driving him to and from work every day. That allowed him to save almost all of the money he earned over the past several months, and he intended to put it to good use and pay for his own tuition.
At moments like those, he was envious of people like Brandon, who had so much more avenues open for them just because they were wealthy. Alex was perfectly aware that money couldn’t buy everything, and in his case, it even caused him so much trouble. Still, he had to acknowledge that having money could make some things so much easier.
“Hey, Earth to Alex,” Nicholas nudged him, seeing how lost in thought his son appeared.
“Sorry, I spaced out…” Alex shook his head. He looked down at his plate and decided to come clean. “You know, I’ve been thinking about finishing my studies. Since I only have one semester left, I thought I could enroll in our college here.” He then looked up to see his parent’s reactions. They briefly looked at each other and then at him.
“That… sounds good,” Gaby cracked a big smile, making Alex feel relieved. He was anxious about how they would react. “I’m so glad to hear that!”
“I second that,” Nicholas was quick to agree, though he didn’t appear as enthusiastic as Gaby. “Of course you should finish your studies. I was afraid you’d give up on them, which would be a shame.”
“Yes, don’t be like your aunt Marilyn. She had two exams left and she never bothered taking them after she got married. Can you imagine getting so close to your degree and then not finishing it?”
Alex nodded and tried to suppress a smile. He’d heard that story a hundred times already - his mom would always tell it when she wanted to teach her kids that one should see things through and not give up on one’s dreams.
“Does that mean you’ll quit your job at the car wash?” Nicholas asked seriously.
Alex figured his dad was suspicious of whether he would take his studies seriously this time. He would just have to prove himself.
“Well, I thought I’d work there until the semester starts. I should have enough money for the tuition by then. Maybe I’ll get a part-time job if the schedule isn’t too crazy.”
“Sounds like you thought this through,” his dad nodded. “Have you already looked into the study programs?”
“Yeah, they have the tourism and marketing courses I want to finish.”
In the end, both of Alex’s parents were pleased their son seemed to have come to his senses and was ready to take responsibility. With how good of a student he used to be, there was no reason for him not to finish his studies and get a good job in his field.
Alex was grateful for the second chance he was being given, but he didn’t want to get sentimental. He could see his mom was on the verge of tears and there was no way he was going to sit there and watch her cry as she called him ‘her little boy’. Also, there was another matter he wanted to discuss with his parents, so he was quick to change the subject.
“Speaking of college, are you guys gonna let Liz take a semester abroad?”
“Uh, where did that come from?” Alex’s dad asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “She never mentioned anything to us.”
“Ohh… That’s probably because of me,” Alex replied, feeling guilty. Liz was so convinced their parents wouldn’t let her go study abroad that she didn’t even bother asking them.
“What do you mean?”
“Because of… what I did in Paris, Liz thinks you guys aren’t going to risk it and let her go abroad too. Look, I know what I did was stupid, but she’s not like that, she wouldn’t do that. So please, don’t punish her because of me.”
“Sweetie, don’t beat yourself up over it. What’s done is done and we can’t change it, but the important thing is that you’ve learned your lesson,” Alex’s mom said, reaching over to put a hand on her son’s shoulder. “We’ll talk to Liz about it, ok?”
Alex managed a faint smile and nodded at his mom, feeling better after their talk.
“I’m coming over in an hour.” Alex texted Jeremy, excited to see the guy. Even though Jeremy never mentioned it was his birthday, Alex had no intention of ignoring it. Even on his social media, the young baker posted nothing about the occasion. No tweets, posts or Instagram pictures about his birthday.
Still, Alex wanted to see him and give him a present. The Sonic and Knuckles action figures he chose had arrived in the mail two days ago and looked amazing. If it was anyone else, Alex would’ve bought them something else and kept the figures for himself, but this was about Jeremy, not him. The two friends had spent many afternoons at each other’s houses playing Sonic, and the two characters were their favorites.
Jeremy: K, I’ll be waiting for you!
Alex made sure he was dressed up nicely, choosing a pale blue polo shirt, dark blue jeans and shoes of the same color. He wrapped the present, put it in a bag and was off to catch the bus to the Promenade.
Finding a window seat at the back of the bus, he took out his phone to pass the time, just like nearly all the other passengers. He opened his Instagram to check if there was anything interesting. Other than his favorite comic artists posting new comics, there was nothing noteworthy.
Brandon had added him a few weeks ago and had been liking some of Alex’s pictures. Other than that, the guy had mostly kept his distance. They hadn’t seen each other since that time when Alex paid him back the money. The ended it on good terms, though, which Alex felt good about.
When he got off the bus near Jeremy’s street, Alex sent him a text to let him know he was on his way. It didn’t take him long to get to the bakery, though. Once he opened the door, he was surprised to see an unknown woman standing behind the counter. She seemed to be in her early thirties, wearing the same uniform Jeremy and his mom would wear during their shifts. She had a pair of thin-rimmed glasses on, while her long, black hair was tied into a ponytail.
“Hi, how may I help you?” the woman asked in a pleasant voice, smiling at Alex.
“Uh, I’m here to see the owner, Jeremy,” Alex said, a bit confused. For a milisecond, he thought Jeremy had sold the bakery without telling him, but then he realized how absurd that idea was. It was obviously just a new worker.
“He’s in the back, I’ll call him right away.”
Just as the woman took a few steps toward the back door, Jeremy opened it and came out, his vivid blue eyes finding Alex’s brown ones.
“Hey, you made it!”
“Yeah,” Alex smiled, holding the gift bag behind his back.
“Sorry, I just saw your message. Come on up here,” Jeremy invited him and the two guys went through the back door and upstairs to Jeremy’s apartment.
“Who’s that?” Alex asked as they climbed the stairs.
“Oh, that’s Trisha. Mom’s going back home next week, so I had to find someone to work the second shift,” the blond guy explained. “I mean, mom can’t stay here forever.”
“Sure,” Alex was quick to agree, wondering what that meant for their relationship. Would they be able to see each other more freely, without worrying they’d get caught? He sure hoped so.
“By the way, Natalie’s here,” Jeremy whispered before they entered his room.
“Oh,” Alex’s face fell as they stopped in the hallway. He couldn’t deny he was disappointed as he was hoping for some alone time with the other guy. He knew Natalie probably won’t be thrilled to see him, and he sure wasn’t looking forward to seeing her. “Thanks for the heads-up.”
He followed Jeremy into the room and saw his friend sitting on a chair at the computer table. The girl’s face seemed to have turned to stone upon seeing Alex. Neither was pleased to see the other, that much was clear. Still, if Jeremy wanted to keep her in his life, Alex knew he’d have to take the high road and try to be civil - as long as she didn’t provoke him.
“Um, hey Natalie,” Alex greeted her, clearing his throat and giving her just a cursory glance.
“Hey,” the girl gave him a small wave. “How’ve you been?”
“Good, good,” he sat down and placed the bag he was carrying down on the floor, not wanting to draw attention to it.
“Want something to drink? Soda, water?” Jeremy asked, turning to Alex.
“Nah, I’m good, maybe later.”
An uncomfortable silence quickly filled the room and Natalie was quick to get up.
“I should really get going. Happy birthday once again, Jeremy,” she said and gave her friend a hug before leaving.
Once the door was closed and the two guys were left alone, Jeremy sat on his chair with a sigh.
“Well, that could’ve gone worse,” Alex offered. He was actually surprised Natalie was so civil this time, but figured it was probably because Jeremy was present. “How are things with you two?”
“As you can see, awkward.”
Alex got up from the couch and went over to his friend, motioning for him to stand up too.
“What?” Jeremy asked, looking up.
“Come on, up, up!” He took the blond guy by the hands and as he got up, pulled him into a hug. “Hey, I don’t want you feeling down, especially not today, ok? Happy birthday, man,” Alex said, his arms wrapped around Jeremy’s skinny back.
He could feel the other guy relax in his arms, and a soft reply soon followed.
I'd like to thank everyone for reading this story and being patient as I work on new chapters. I look forward to seeing your reactions.