Egg salad sandwiches at midnight
Someone unexpected turns up at the servo during a boring late-night shift. But can Roscoe avoid a confrontation with the notorious school pretty-boy long enough for his shift to end?
Night shifts always ran the gamut from mind-numbingly tedious to world-endingly terrible, and there was absolutely no in-between. That night, as the neon sign above the servo flickered dimly in the reflection of the shop-front across the street, Roscoe was thankful tonight was leaning more towards the former. Sure, that druggie had wandered past an hour ago, but they hadn’t actually entered the premises, so it wasn’t his problem.
He was contemplating whether to risk the staff toilet, affectionately called the Toilet of Doom by everyone who had ever had to use it, and so was surprised when the door chime announced the arrival of a customer. Roscoe glanced up, and then stiffened and stared like a deer in headlights, his brain frantically grinding gears as it tried to deal with the fact that Chadwick Smithson had just walked through the door.
Chadwick was beautiful, the chiselled kind of hot that made straight girls simper and straight guys declare that, if they were going to spontaneously turn gay for anyone, it would be for Chadwick goddamn Smithson. Not that Roscoe had that problem. Chadwick played AFL and rugby, lifted weights and, so far as Roscoe could tell, either never skipped leg days or was just blessed with the most stunning ass and thighs God had ever put on the planet. Ancient Roman sculptors would have killed each other for the chance to carve Chadwick’s muscled arms and gelled hair; his chin looked like he’d stolen it from a masterpiece and so did the rest of him. Frankenstein’s monster, if Doctor Frankenstein had used models’ corpses to craft him.
And the odds of rich pretty-boy perfect Chadwick walking into a dingy servo at - Roscoe glanced at the clock on the till to cover his nerves and give him something other to stare at than Chadwick’s impending shoulders - 01:12AM were asymptotically approaching zero. Before thirty seconds ago, Roscoe would have just flat out declared it as impossible, but... here they were. Even the car, at pump number 2, looked out of place. Like finding a ruby the size of a hen’s egg in a dumpster.
Still, Roscoe managed a passably friendly smile and nod, and hardly fumbled the American Express card Chadwick waved at him to pay for the fuel. $13.17 worth of fuel, nothing else. Part of Roscoe, the bit that wasn’t screaming incoherently when Chadwick met his eyes for a solid 0.04 seconds, wondered if the jock was up to something. Was there a prank or a gang of ‘buddies’ waiting to pounce?
Because Roscoe wouldn’t have ever described himself subtle, about anything, and if ‘subtle’ wasn’t a word used to describe him, then ‘tolerant’ or ‘amicable’ were certainly words that the Smithson family weren’t even aware existed. And even if he’d never heard a slur pass their son’s lips, Roscoe had listened to enough vitriol spill from the parents’ mouths to hear it slip unspoken at the end of every sentence uttered by their child. So, suddenly, the empty servo felt a hundred times smaller and a million times more threatening with Chadwick giving him a charming little half-smile as he accepted his receipt.
But nothing happened.
Roscoe breathed a small sigh of relief and slumped against the counter as Chadwick left. The uncertain lighting outside made his slicked back hair dark as ink, and Roscoe resolutely pretended to be organising the cigarette packs as he watched Chadwick climb back into his car. He almost met his eyes as the jock turned to look at him, but instead stared at an image of a pustulant pair of lungs adorning a pack.
However, from the corner of his eye, Roscoe saw Chadwick slam his hands into the steering wheel, and when the light of his phone lit up the dim interior of the car he could just make out a frown gathered across the perfectly sculpted brow.
When Chadwick strode back in five minutes later, Roscoe’s heart was hammering in his chest and he’d checked five times that he hadn’t forgotten to give the credit card back. The merchant copy of the receipt said he’d charged the correct amount, hadn’t hit an extra zero or six, so it couldn’t have been about that, but he had to hold onto the counter to stop from shaking as Chadwick approached with the inevitability of an iceberg. Cold sweat trickled between his shoulder blades.
But about halfway to the counter, the inevitable dissolved into nothing, and Chadwick turned to examine a display of snacks.
It became a game of taut nerves and hidden glances. Roscoe watched Chadwick linger amongst the cheap aisles, moving from sunglasses to ice creams to band-aids with restless steps. In the reflections of the windows, he caught glimpses of Chadwick watching him as he straightened the pile of receipts or dusted the immaculately clean till. Neither of them made eye contact.
“How’d your exams go?”
Roscoe swallowed a scream, although he twitched hard enough to rattle the display of Mentos and gum. Chadwick had appeared at the counter again, and was resolutely not looking at Roscoe, despite the question. Roscoe returned the favour, rearranging the packets of sweets on the stand.
“Okay.” Tinny music from the shop’s speakers filled the silence and grated on his ears. Chadwick hadn’t moved, and appeared to be absorbed in examining his nails as he leaned nonchalantly on the counter. Vaguely, Roscoe wondered if his own heartbeat was louder than the music - if felt as though it must be. He couldn’t hear much else, and it wasn’t slowing down. “Yours?” he asked, hoping that if Chadwick was talking he’d be able to focus on anything other than his own rising adrenaline.
“Really well, thanks. I should be able to get into the course I want at uni, which is great.”
Roscoe nodded. He’d deftly managed to avoid interacting with Chadwick by the clever expedient of being a year below him, and thus removed from the social morass surrounding the jock. Not to say he’d been totally ignored, but there had always been other things to distract Chadwick. But of course, that meant Chadwick would be going to university and the idea of his leaving was both a relief and made Roscoe vaguely nauseated. School would feel very different without the most popular boy around.
There was a rustling noise, and two packets of sour cream and onion chips appeared on the counter.
“Can I buy these? Please.”
“Oh. Sure. Um.” It took two attempts for Roscoe to punch in the correct charge on the till, and when he took Chadwick’s card again he glanced up long enough see the jock staring at him. He looked down even as a faint flush began to heat up his cheeks. “There you go.”
Instead of leaving Roscoe alone with his embarrassment, Chadwick continued to lean on the counter as he opened a packet. The smell of sour cream and onion mixed with the smell of Chadwick’s cologne, and Roscoe wondered what on earth he could do as an excuse to stay busy.
“Where do you think you’ll go to uni?” Roscoe was certain he was going to have a heart attack by the end of the night, as Chadwick’s unexpected question broke the awkward silence. Chips crunched.
“I don’t—I haven’t thought about it yet.”
“I guess you’ve still got a year before you have to apply, huh? Or two - do you think you’ll take a gap year?”
“Yeah, probably.” Roscoe scuffed a foot against the lino. “You?”
“Hah, no way. My parents would kill me.”
Silence stretched once more, broken only by the sound of Chadwick ploughing through the chips, as Roscoe glanced around for an escape. Although, he had to admit this wasn’t... bad. Nothing awful had happened yet, although he reminded himself it was probably only a matter of time. And he wasn’t bored anymore.
Beside him, Chadwick shoved the empty chip packet into his pocket and opened the second bag. “Want some?”
Never before had a packet of sour cream and onion Grain Waves been more terrifying. Roscoe felt slightly removed from reality as he, on complete autopilot and with approximately zero input from his frontal cortex, muttered a quiet ‘sure, thanks,’ and grabbed a couple of chips. It was as though he had, somehow, walked into a sit-com or an alternate universe or something. A dazed, confused place where the undoubtedly hottest guy in the school, possibly the town, sat through halting small-talk with a gas station cashier as if it was perfectly normal.
Roscoe crunched on a chip to give his mouth something to do other than gape. Maybe he had slipped and hit his head. But how hard would he have needed to crack his skull on the lino for this to be a scenario his brain dreamed up? Surely that kind of impact would be straight out fatal.
“Say, uh... do you have a toilet?”
“It’s staff-only.” The response slipped out without thought, louder and harsher than he’d intended, and Roscoe struggled not to shrink in on himself as Chadwick stared at him. Instead, he managed a shrug and a strangled ‘sorry’.
“Yeah, okay. Just, my battery died and the insurance people are going to be a while, so I thought...” Chadwick gestured helplessly out the window at his gleaming car as he spoke, and some of Roscoe’s adrenaline began to fade. His stomach was still feeling unsettled, but at least this wasn’t some planned set-up. Probably.
He pushed away the thought it might just be a very involved prank.
“I guess you can use it, then. Just watch the door.” Roscoe fought down the urge to puke as Chadwick squeezed past him to the staff door behind the counter. Rubbing his shoulder where Chadwick had brushed against him, he started to restock the aisles, keeping one eye on the staff door.
After a while, a faint banging from the back drew his attention. Frowning, Roscoe poked his head above the ice cream freezer chest to stare at the staff door. Chadwick didn’t appear, but... yes. He could definitely hear something. Heart rate rising, Roscoe strode back towards the counter, his shoes squeaking on the lino. Hopefully Chadwick wasn’t trashing the stock. He didn’t seem like he would, but...
Roscoe walked faster.
The staff door crashed open, and he realised the banging was coming from the toilets, but since the tiny unisex plaque wasn’t moving it didn’t seem like Chadwick was hitting that door. Roscoe’s stomach sank; he had a feeling he knew what had happened. He opened the door to see the minuscule sink bolted to one wall undisturbed and Chadwick’s feet visible through the gap between the cubicle door and the floor.
“Roscoe, is that you? I’m... stuck. I can’t... the door won’t open.”
The Toilet of Doom had struck again. Roscoe resolved to write yet another note to his supervisor about the stupid door as he pushed against the cheap chipboard. It creaked a little, but refused to budge.
“Oh God. You can’t pull it open?”
The door rattled.
“No. Can’t you unlock it from your side?”
“It’s not locked, it’s just...” Roscoe ran a hand through his hair in exasperation. “Okay, I need to grab the screwdriver. Just... uh, stay there. I’ll be right back.”
“Oh I thought I’d just take a quick trip to Hawaii, where are you—“ The closing door cut off Chadwick’s shrill, mocking voice. A quick glance out the window confirmed that the pumps were empty aside from Chadwick’s gleaming car, and Roscoe hurriedly locked the front door and swung the sign around to read ‘closed’. Satisfied he would now successfully infuriate everyone from his shift manager to late-night seekers of snacks, Roscoe darted back into the storeroom and dug out the tool kit. He’d never received a satisfactory answer for exactly why they had a tool kit, but that was less important than the fact that no less than three of the screwdrivers fitted the Toilet of Doom’s screws. Whoever had arranged it had definitely known what was important.
Chadwick’s voice shrilled in Roscoe’s ears as he pushed the door open with his foot, both his hands full of unwieldy toolbox.
“Hurry up and open the door already! How can it possibly take you so long?”
Roscoe scowled at the screwdriver as it missed the mark, skittering across the cheap chipboard and leaving a scratch that he was sure he could blame on someone else. “Do you want me to leave you in here? Because I can.”
“N-no, don’t! Don’t you dare!” Roscoe snorted and began removing the screws. Chadwick’s voice sounded mildly strained, sending Roscoe vacillating between amusement and mild concern.
“What’s got you all in a tizzy, pretty-boy?” Roscoe managed to not audibly snap his mouth shut as the ill-considered words slipped out, but thankfully Chadwick deigned not to respond. For long moments the only sound in the room was the squeaking of screws. The first one slipped between his fingers and clattered onto the floor, rolling into the toilet cubicle. “Grab that screw, please?”
“You think I’m pretty?” Another screw hit the tiles, sounding thunderous in the silence. Words struggled to work around an Adam’s apple that suddenly felt three size’s too large, and Roscoe managed a strangled choking noise. “And did you want me to get that screw, too?”
“P-please.” Deciding it was safer to ignore the first question and, hoping that unlike his exams it might exhibit evaporative tendencies if he simply refused to acknowledge its existence, Roscoe jiggled the door. It rattled against the frame – probably one more screw to remove, and—
The dreadful door swung open, giving Roscoe just enough time to register startled chestnut eyes and tear-stained cheeks before fate crashed into him. Or, at least, Chadwick Smithson, which was close enough for Roscoe. Finding himself suddenly pressed on all sides, cold tiles against his back and the furnace heat of Chadwick’s body on his front, Roscoe was acutely aware of how every part of his body was stiff with… shock.
He didn’t dare move. He was close enough that he could smell sour cream and onion chips, feel Chadwick’s warm breath on his cheeks, and he couldn’t tell if he wanted to focus on the depths of Chadwick’s eyes or a freckle he had just noticed beneath the flush on the jock’s left cheek. Roscoe’s body thrilled with electricity… or maybe a desire to vomit, he wasn’t sure. His brain, thankfully, seemed more composed than his raging hormones, and he knew that if he so much as breathed too enthusiastically he’d be vilified by the entire school… or at least, the portion that talked to Chadwick. And anyone they chose to tell. So, basically, the entire town, actually.
Unfortunately, he still had to breathe to keep living, and the weight of Chadwick’s muscled body pressed against him seemed to be squeezing all rational thought out of his brain, despite most of the pressure coming down squarely south of his head. Roscoe gurgled incoherently. He was close enough that if he just leaned forwards, just a few measly inches, he could—
A groan escaped him as a furiously red Chadwick shifted atop him, but Roscoe bit it back and scrambled to his feet as Chadwick rolled gracefully off him and to his own feet.
Pain sparked across his forehead as he collided with a recovering Chadwick, and the two reeled backwards clutching their heads and swearing.
“Are you okay?” Roscoe managed through gritted teeth, rubbing his temple.
“Aahh, yeah, fine. Ouch.” A frown creased Roscoe’s face, partly born of a lingering ache from where they had collided but mostly because he could still make out the faint sheen of tears glistening at the edges of Chadwick’s eyes.
“You don’t look fine.” Chadwick’s immaculately sculpted brow mirrored Roscoe’s for a moment, before he appeared to become aware of his dishevelled state and hurriedly dashed away his tears. The creases across his forehead deepened momentarily, and he huffed and pushed past Roscoe.
“I don’t like being stuck, okay?”
As the door swung shut, leaving Roscoe thoroughly bemused, the second hinge on the toilet stall door gave way and it crashed to the ground.
“I’ll… fix that later.” Roscoe glanced at the twisted hinge. “Or leave it for someone else to fix.”
Chadwick was lounging against the counter, back on the right side thankfully, which meant that Roscoe could use it as both a barrier and a convenient place to lean in case he happened to get distracted by the play of light on Chadwick’s muscled arms.
“I…” The jock began to speak, before focussing on the counter-top snack display. “Look, I just… Sorry for yelling at you.”
“No, I… it’s no problem. I get a lot worse than that on a bad night.” Roscoe prodded listlessly at a packet of cigarettes, before remembering that the door was still locked. He edged carefully past Chadwick and strode towards the door. There were a few seconds of peace as he fiddled with the keys and changed the sign to read ‘open’, but eventually he had to return to the counter and the lingering shadow of Chadwick. Who had taken the time to procure a packet of cheap sandwiches and was clicking his credit card against the countertop.
“You want to buy those, too?”
“Yep. Please.” The hard plastic casing snapped open as Roscoe rang up the charge, and by the time he was done, Chadwick was offering a soggy sandwich in exchange for his credit card back. “So has today been a bad night?”
“What? Oh, uh, no. Not really.” He regarded the proffered sandwich for a moment before tentatively accepting. He’d been pinned beneath Chadwick for at least two whole seconds tonight; taking a sandwich was hardly going to make anything worse. And he was hungry. “I’ve definitely had way worse nights.”
“Oh. Good. I was worried that the, uh, you know…” Chadwick gestured helplessly towards the staff door, and to Roscoe’s surprise he saw a blush rising up from under Chadwick’s collar to match the heat he could feel rising in his own cheeks. To dive away the twisty feeling that was settling in his stomach, Roscoe forced a laugh and refused to meet Chadwick’s eyes. Luckily, he was helped in that endeavour by the way Chadwick was resolutely refusing to look anywhere near him.
“I mean, I can’t say it happens all the time. Ha. Ha.”
“I’d hope not. Not that I’d care if it did.”
Roscoe choked on a bite of egg salad sandwich, Chadwick’s tone of voice catching him completely off-guard, but spluttered out something that might, when viewed in a certain light and with a generous amount of leeway, be considered a reassurance that, indeed, hot men falling on top of him was not a regular occurrence in his life. Chadwick seemed to either not hear him making gurgling noises or simply ignored him, too engrossed in his half of the sandwich to reply, much to Roscoe’s relief.
A sigh broke Roscoe’s reverie, and he watched with trepidation as Chadwick folded his receipt into increasingly smaller squares. The jock was refusing to even look in Roscoe’s direction and was unmistakably blushing. His throat worked, and for a moment Roscoe was concerned that he was choking – no words were coming out – but eventually he managed to speak.
“Look, I didn’t uh, plan to fall on you or anything, but I was sort of wondering… I’m going to be leaving in the new year, and I wanted to, uh… Maybe get to know you better, before I leave? I mean, I sort of know about you, but I just… We could get dinner or something. And talk.”
“As…?” Roscoe didn’t know how he’d intended the sentence to end. As what? What did he even want out of… Okay, there were a few specific things he could think of off the top of his head, but which were likely was a completely different story all together. Chadwick was still refusing to meet his eyes, so he focussed on the little freckle on the jock’s cheekbone instead. It seemed to be the only solid thing in a world that was suddenly feeling unsteady and ever so slightly nauseating.
“As… friends? And maybe…” Chadwick waved once more towards the staff door. “I kind of… I don’t… Look, just because my parents say… things… doesn’t mean… But if they ask, it’s strictly platonic, okay?”
“Sure. But it… wouldn’t be?”
“Not really. I… I’d like to give it a shot. Give… us a shot.”
Roscoe had to lean back against the counter, and it was only a supreme effort of will that stopped him putting his head between his knees and hyperventilating. This was… kind of everything he’d wanted for a while now, although he would admit if pressed that he had imagined something rather more… impressive in terms of the actual scenario. One of the lights flickered overhead, as if to further undercut the moment.
He wanted to say no. Well, actually, he knew he wanted to say yes. But the smart option, the safe option was to say no. This could still be some elaborate joke, some great game for the amusement of a popular kid who was leaving the consequences behind in a few months. But on the other hand… Roscoe only had a year left, himself. And he knew he would always wonder, if he…
“Okay? I mean, sure. I’d like, I mean…” The rest of the words died in his throat as Chadwick turned a thousand-watt smile on him, specifically aiming all his chiselled good-looks and practised charm straight at the higher functions of Roscoe’s brain and leaving him gaping like a stranded fish. It was a thousand and one clichés, most of them involving suns, compressed into an instant of time and ramped up way past eleven, and Roscoe barely managed to get his thoughts marshalled enough to emit coherent sentences to organise their first… not-date.
It was only when Chadwick went to leave that Roscoe’s brain regain enough functionality to remember an important point.
“But your battery?” Chadwick paused, the open door propped against his shoulder, and turned back to give Roscoe an embarrassed grin.
“Oh. Uh… I lied. I just wanted an excuse to talk to you. So, um… I’ll see you later? Now thatI don’t need an excuse.”