Alex’s dad lays down another condition for his son. Brandon rises to the occasion, and Alex makes a big discovery.
The sun was up, and with barely a cloud in the sky, it promised to be a fine, warm day. The radio station playing old pop hits was on, with an upbeat song coming through the car speakers.
However, Alex was not in the mood for any of it. While his dad was driving them to work, occasionally bopping his head to the music, Alex had his dark sunglasses on and a big frown hiding behind them. It was so early he could barely see, but the sun seemed to have decided to blind him.
He hadn’t said a word since they got into the car a few minutes ago. Who is even in the mood for talking so early? Especially knowing that he’s got eight hours of car washing ahead of him. It turns out – his dad is. Nicholas had been working in the same bank for the last six years and he had just gotten promoted a few months ago. He clearly loved his job and Alex couldn’t help but be a bit envious of that. He was glad for his dad, but he also hoped that someday he would have a job that he loves doing, too.
“So, how’s work going? You getting along with everyone there?” Nicholas asked, turning briefly toward his son.
“Yeah, the people are great,” Alex was honest. Everyone seemed to have already accepted him as a member of their little team and were willing to show him the ropes. Mike, who would step in as the boss when Ollie was absent, had a propensity to be a little grumpy and impatient, but even he wasn’t that bad, Alex thought. Even if they never become friends outside of work, he could see himself working with them without a hitch.
“The job, not so much,” he added. He couldn’t help but feel he was wasting eight hours of his life every day on that job. The only upside was that he would have his own income, which he desperately needed if he wanted to finish that semester and get his degree.
“Well, I told you – if you find something better, you can move.”
“I know…” Alex nodded.
The problem was, he couldn’t find any other job. Well, the truth was – he wasn’t even trying. Whenever he would check job postings online, he found himself picking apart every single ad, looking for flaws and reasons why he couldn’t do it. Some jobs required too much experience, some required a car – which he didn’t have, and so on. There was always an issue. Still, he knew he didn’t want to be washing cars for the rest of his life.
“I think Ollie said you’d be getting paid every two weeks, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what he told me too.”
“I’ll be checking your bank statements,” Alex’s dad said casually, “to make sure you’re spending your money responsibly.”
Are you fucking kidding me, Alex thought. It’s like I’m the worst criminal in the world.
“Ok, are you gonna give me a list of things I can spend money on?” he asked sarcastically, rolling his eyes behind his black sunglasses.
“Alex…” his dad spoke in a warning tone.
Alex remained quiet. He wanted to say a lot of things, but decided to keep his mouth shut at the last second. He’d learned better by now. There was no point in arguing, especially since he brought it upon himself.
“Look, it’s either this, or we’re taking you to a gambling addiction treatment center. You’re mom’s in favor of the latter.”
“No,” Alex blurted out. “I don’t need that. You can check my account whenever you want. I promise I won’t do any gambling or waste money on stupid shit.”
“Ok then,” Nicholas nodded calmly.
“Ok,” Alex murmured, looking ahead, refusing to turn toward his dad.
Another awkward silence ensued, so Alex focused his attention on the song playing on the radio. He didn’t care much about the newer hip-hop stuff, preferring pop music from the turn of the century. Liz, on the other hand, was all about the current trends.
I wonder where you are tonight
But I know that you'll be alright
'Cos I see our star is shining bright
It's so beautiful, it will never fall…
This is actually catchy and just… so nostalgic for some reason. I like it. I wonder who it’s by, though, Alex thought.
Say, do you remember on the first of December
When we were riding on the backseat…
He quickly pulled out his phone and turned on Shazam, recording a portion of the song. In no time, the app had the answer for him – Do You Remember by A1.
Never heard of them, but I am so adding it to my playlist, Alex decided as he hummed along with the chorus.
“I never got to ask you, how was your date with… Brandon, is it?” his dad asked all of a sudden.
“Oh… It was alright,” Alex shrugged.
It wasn’t unusual for his parents to ask about his dating life. Even though his mom could often be too nosy and overprotective, they always supported him and never had a problem with him being gay. His coming out at fifteen was a complete non-event, which he was immensely thankful for. No one made a big deal about it, although Gaby would often offer to get him condoms and lecture him about safe sex. Alex didn’t even mind it that much. Sure, it was embarrassing, but he was so relieved they didn’t hate him or disown him, that he was willing to put up with some embarrassment.
“Just alright? You don’t sound like you enjoyed it. What’s he like?”
“Really hot,” Alex blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Nicholas chuckled and shook his head.
What am I supposed to say? That he’s rich and spoiled? That would be ironic, coming from me!
“Uhh, I dunno, he’s… He’s in his own world. I don’t think we have a lot in common.”
“So we won’t be meeting him, then?” his dad asked.
“Hah, not yet anyway!”
“Oh, so there might be a second date?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Alex nodded. “I wanna give him another chance. You know, to improve the first impression he made.”
“That’s fair. As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Yeah. I mean, it can’t hurt to try and get to know him better. Maybe he’s not that bad.”
Maybe, maybe not. I just hope I’m not doing all of this for nothing.
Alex never used to be the one to hesitate in any area of his life. Still, when it came to Brandon, he just couldn’t decide what to do. The lunch break came and went, and he still hadn’t decided whether to call him on a second date or not.
On one hand, he thought of the guy as a big snob and wasn’t thrilled at the idea of listening to his stories for one more evening. On the other hand, he had only really talked to him once. Maybe the guy isn’t as bad as he seemed. A lot of people get nervous on a first date and do crazy shit to try and impress their date. Also, there was the financial problem that nagged at him all the time, telling him to get over himself and call the guy.
Luckily, it turned out Alex didn’t have to decide after all. His phone buzzed just as he was finishing his lunch break and he saw a text from Brandon.
- Hey cutie! What r u doing? I wanna see u later!
Cutie, eh? I can live with that. Alright, I said I was going to give him another chance, so… Here we go.
- Hey, just finished my lunch break. Would love to see u!
- Awesome. How bout I pick u up after work?
- Sounds good. I finish at 4 today, that ok?
- You bet! See ya then.
Returning to his work, Alex soon got lost in the seemingly endless cycle of cars that just kept coming one after the other. What is it with drivers today? Are we the cheapest car wash in town? That’s actually a good question, Alex thought. I wonder if we give the best service. Oh God, I’m not actually thinking about this, am I? I’m turning into Ollie!
Four o’clock came not a minute too soon and Alex quickly found his way to the back room, getting out of his uniform and going to take a shower after a long and somewhat tiresome work day.
A few minutes later, he was out all fresh and back in his own clothes. Saying goodbye to his colleagues, he went out into the street and was surprised to see Brandon’s car already parked nearby.
“Hey, how are you? I hope you haven’t been waiting long,” Alex gave a polite smile as he entered the car and sat on the passenger seat.
“Hey, Alex,” Brandon greeted him and put a hand on his knee, squeezing it gently. “No worries, I just got here.”
“Great, let’s go then,” Alex nodded and they took off.
“So, what do you wanna do? I was thinking of taking you to this Italian restaurant downtown,” Brandon said as they drove down a busy street. “They have the best pasta ever, original Italian recipes!”
“Or, you could park over there,” Alex suggested, pointing at a nearby parking lot on their right. “We could just get some hot dogs and chill in the park.” He looked at Brandon and smiled.
“Umm, sure, why not?” Brandon shrugged as he switched lanes and turned right.
Minutes later, the two guys were sitting on a bench at the edge of the park, eating their hot dogs and sipping on Pepsi.
“I hope this ketchup is organic,” Brandon mumbled as he ate, trying not to stain his cream-colored sweater.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be too hopeful,” Alex chuckled and took another bite. He couldn’t help but moan in delight as he chewed on his portion. “Mmmm! This is the best hot dog I’ve had in so long!”
After finishing it, he licked his fingers without shame and then wiped them on a paper napkin.
“Man, you must’ve been really hungry,” Brandon laughed.
“Hey, you finished yours before me,” Alex noticed. “Even with the non-organic ketchup,” he added, rolling his eyes.
“Meh, I’ll survive,” Brandon smirked, fixing his long brown hair with one hand and looking at his reflection on his phone. “So, how was work?”
“Same old. The morning was slow, but it picked up in the last few hours. What about your day?”
From their previous date, Alex knew Brandon was working in his father’s consulting firm – which he would probably inherit eventually. He was the Assistant Director in the Strategy Department, which to Alex sounded incredibly dull, but Brandon seemed to be loving it.
“We had a crazy morning. We’ve just signed a contract with this big insurance company, so we’ve started developing some solutions for them. I’m leading the project, which is an opportunity I’ve been waiting for since I started working there.”
“Oh, that’s great!”
“Yeah, I have my own team now as well. Luckily, we’re not really starting the whole thing until next Monday,” the brown-haired guy nodded. “By then, my apartment renovation should be done, so I don’t have to deal with that as well. It’s such a hassle!”
“You’ve got your own place?” Alex asked. “That’s nice.”
“Uh, of course,” Brandon scoffed. “Don’t wanna be living with my parents forever.”
“Yeah, of course,” Alex pretended to smile, feeling sorry he even asked anything.
“So, how come you’re working at the car wash?”
Thank you for the question, Brandon. Thank you very much! You always know how to ask just the right thing, Alex thought.
“Ohh, it’s a long story,” he said, looking so crestfallen that even Brandon noticed he wasn’t in the mood.
“I’m guessing it’s not good? Does it have anything to do with what you said the other day, about having family problems?”
“Yeah, it does,” Alex nodded, contemplating just how much he should tell him. He certainly didn’t feel comfortable revealing him the whole truth. On the other hand, he felt the need to vent to someone. Maybe Brandon would be good for that, seeing as he’s practically a stranger.
“I, uh… I did something stupid,” he continued, pretending to scroll through his social media. “I temporarily quit college and came back home. As you can imagine, my folks weren’t too happy about that, so dad made me get a job until I sort my shit out.”
“Oh, that’s… That’s rough.”
“Tell me about it. And on top of that, I have this debt from years ago that I need to repay, so yeah, thing’s couldn’t be better!” Alex chuckled humorlessly. This was the first time he talked about this to someone outside of his family and he was right – it did feel a little relieving to share the secret.
“Is there anything I can do to help? Like, how big is the debt?” Brandon looked at him questioningly.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t ask you to…” Alex shook his head. Even though he was desperate, he didn’t want to appear that way.
It’s bad enough I’m thinking of taking money from a guy I barely know. At least I can pretend to have some dignity left.
“No, come on, man, tell me,” Brandon insisted, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s six hundred. I need to pay it by Sunday.”
“Six hundred?! That’s it?” Brandon chuckled, looking at Alex in disbelief. “I thought you were gonna say something like… Twenty thousand!”
“Oh my God,” Alex let out a laugh. “If it was that much, my dad would’ve probably killed me by now!”
“Well, I can give you six hundred right now,” Brandon said, grabbing his wallet and pulling out several hundred-dollar bills. “And you’re gonna take it. No questions,” he added after seeing that Alex was about to protest.
“Brandon, thank you so much. I don’t know what to say, you’re a lifesaver,” Alex cooed, stroking the guy’s arm. “I’ll pay you back, I promise.”
“What? No, forget about it!”
“No, I’m serious. That’s my condition,” Alex looked at him firmly. “I can only take it if you let me pay you back,” he insisted. It wasn’t just because it was Brandon. It was the principle. Alex had decided that whoever he took money from, whether it was his sister, his dad or a friend, he would pay them back.
“Ok, but no rush. You can pay me back whenever you want.”
“Thank you, seriously. You have no idea what you just did for me!” Alex exclaimed gratefully.
He sighed, feeling as if a big weight was just lifted off his shoulders. He would finally be able to pay Kris back and not have to worry about that creep anymore.
Caught up in the moment and feeling obliged, he leaned over and gave Brandon a hot kiss. Not counting the quick peck at the end of their first date, this was their first proper kiss and by the way Brandon moaned and squeezed him around the waist, Alex could tell the guy was enjoying it.
Feeling Brandon’s hot, soft lips on his own and inhaling his masculine scent, Alex knew he’d be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy it too. Still, he couldn’t help the feeling of doubt somewhere in the back of his head. I just hope I don’t regret this…
“Don’t mention it,” Brandon said as they broke the kiss and smiled at each other. “I’m sure you’ll think of more ways to make it up to me,” he added with a wink and a self-satisfied smirk.
“Oh you are, aren’t you?” Alex said in a joking tone, winking back. Ok, Brandon, don’t push it. I know you’re hot, but that cocky look isn’t good on anyone. Except maybe Henry Cavill. Mmmm that hunk of a man…
As Brandon playfully punched him on the arm, Alex snapped back to reality and the fantasy of shirtless Henry Cavill vanished before his eyes.
“So, now that I’ve shared this embarrassing story from my life, it’s only fair I hear some of yours,” he suggested, hoping to change the subject.
“Oh, you’d be better off asking my brother that,” Brandon grinned. “He’s got plenty of those and he loves to embarrass me by sharing them.”
“Nope,” Alex shook his head. “He’s not here, I wanna hear it from you. Come on!”
“Ok then,” Brandon conceded and went on to tell him stories of how he and his big brother got in trouble as kids. Alex had to admit some of them were pretty good and he couldn’t help but laugh, imagining the guy in all of those scenarios.
About an hour later, back in Brandon’s Mercedes, the guys were on their way to Alex’s house. As he was tapping with his thumbs on his phone, Alex suddenly started chuckling, drawing the attention of his date.
“What’s so funny?” Brandon asked, glancing at him.
“Oh, nothing, just a friend. He’s got a bakery and is inviting me to come check it out.”
“Oh, ok. You know, I could never see myself being a baker or a chef.”
“Why?” Alex asked.
“I just can’t imagine being in the kitchen all day, smelling of food all the time,” Brandon said, frowning at the thought. “I’d probably get sick of it in a week.”
Alex shook his head, not surprised at all by Brandon’s confession.
“I dunno, I can imagine worse things than that,” he replied as he tapped at his phone, promising Jeremy he’ll come by tomorrow.
Dressed in a black leather jacket, tight azure-blue shirt and black jeans, Alex grabbed his wallet and phone from the dresser and headed down the stairs. His jet black hair was cut short on the sides, with a longer quiff on top, just the way he liked it. He was all ready to go out and visit his new friend Jeremy. They had been texting sporadically since the first time they saw each other on the street a few days ago and finally made plans to meet again.
Jeremy was working the second shift in his bakery and Alex was to go and visit him. According to the guy, the afternoon hours were always slower, so Alex and he should have time to sit and talk without being constantly interrupted.
“Where are you going all dressed up? Got a hot date with Brandon again?” his mom asked, seeing him passing through the hallway.
“No, I’m actually going to see a friend. Jeremy,” Alex replied, rolling his eyes. He knew his mom was dying to meet Brandon, but he wasn’t ready to bring him home just yet.
“Oh, do I know him?”
“No, I just met him myself a few days ago,” Alex told her, putting his phone in his pants pocket as he approached the front door.
“Ok, well you guys have fun. Say hi to your friend for me,” Gaby waved him off before going back to the magazine she was reading.
“I will. Bye,” Alex waved and left the house.
After a short, ten-minute ride on a city bus, he was at the Promenade, observing everything around him and letting the feeling of nostalgia flood him completely. Everything looked as he remembered it, but somehow even better. Did I really miss my hometown so much?
Leaves were just starting to grow, ducks were swimming near the shore and people were feeding pigeons in the park. A little further away, there was a group of people with cameras, strolling and taking pictures. Tourists, Alex realized. I wonder how they see all of this, as strangers. Will they like it enough to come back?
As he walked down the street, Alex observed the stores and tried to remember which ones he knew from before and which ones were opened recently. Jeremy’s bakery should be nearby.
Man, the guy seems about my age or even younger, and he’s already got his own business. What do I have? A car wash uniform and a gambling debt. I’m so damn lucky!
Oh, this must be it! Number 26. Appleton Bakery? His last name, I guess? We’ll see.
Wind chimes sounded and he opened the door and entered, greeted by a lovely crooked smile of the owner – Jeremy.
“Hey, man! Welcome,” the guy with curly brown hair came up and extended his arms for a hug.
“Thanks,” Alex hugged him back and smiled. “Wow, this place looks nice. You really did a good job… or whoever the designer was,” he chuckled as he looked around, admiring the space.
The bakery was designed to look clean and modern, but also warm and cozy. The north wall was painted in ginger orange, while the corners and several shelves contained houseplants in warm brown pots. Shelves and display cabinets with products stretched along the east wall, while the opposite area had six tables with chairs, as well as a long pult next to the window, where customers could sit and eat, have coffee or tea.
“Thank you! Most of it was my idea, with some help of a professional designer,” Jeremy admitted as his cheeks started blushing. Alex smiled at the sight, but then turned toward the window so as not to embarrass him.
“I’m impressed! And oh my God, the view is amazing from here!”
“I know, right?” Jeremy stood beside him, grinning like a kid. “But come here and sit, I wanna get you something to eat.”
Alex could notice the guy was nervous and he found it very endearing. He’s probably just trying to make a good impression and be a good host to me, Alex thought, observing the cute little dimples in Jeremy’s cheeks.
“Oh good, I’m actually starving,” he laughed. “I came here straight from work.”
“Hungry or not, you gotta eat,” Jeremy handed him a menu.
“Oh, I didn’t expect that!”
“Yeah, at first my mom asked ‘why do you need a menu?’, but I wanted to create a diner kind of vibe, you know?”
“I think that’s cool,” Alex told him honestly.
As he opened the menu and went through the list of all the croissants, muffins and other pastries, his appetite got even bigger when he realized one of his favorite dishes was there.
“You have pizza!”
“Yup,” Jeremy nodded with a pleased smile on his face.
“Hmm let me see…” Alex hummed as he scanned the menu. “Hah, there’s Raphael’s Pizza! Gotta love Ninja Tur-“
As he uttered those words, it was as if something clicked inside his brain. Clear as day, the memory of one wonderful day nearly ten years ago came back to him. His three friends and he were on a summer camp, talking about their favorite Ninja Turtles, when one of them said:
“Mine’s Raphael, he’s such a smartass. Always has a comeback for everything.”
Still gripping the menu tightly, with shock written all over his face, Alex looked up at the guy standing next to him and smiling nervously. There was that same smile, those freckles… The curly hair was not blond anymore, but several shades darker. Still, there was no doubt, it was him! How did I not recognize him immediately?
Alex’s lips drew into a big grin as he stood up from the table.
“Holy shit! Jeremy!”
Woo-hoo! Big thanks to all my readers! I hope you enjoyed this chapter and that you're ready for the next one.