November 15th, 2008
Title: Outside of a Dog
Rating: It's going to be for grownups only. Expect sex.
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit, non-commercial work of fiction using the names and likenesses of real individuals. This fictional story is not intended to imply that the events herein actually occurred, or that the attitudes or behaviors described are engaged in or condoned by the real persons whose names are used without permission.
Acknowledgments: A large tip of the keyboard to AlXson BechdXl, whose 'verse I might have borrowed from a little.
“If you ask me how you look, I will stab you with a pricing gun,” Patrick said, without looking up from the pile of books on the counter. “You probably look exactly the same as you did half an hour ago, unless you have found yet another way to modify the work T-shirt using only stationery supplies and pizza.”
Pete was silent for a moment, behind Patrick, then he said, “I still can’t believe Andy and Joe want us to wear a work uniform, and that you voted along with them.”
“I like work uniforms,” Patrick said. “I don’t have to work out what to put on when I wake up. The fewer decisions I have to deal with before ten o’clock, the better.”
“So you don’t agree with Andy and Joe that I can’t be trusted to dress myself in the morning?”
Patrick turned around to look at Pete, and sighed. Pete had slashed his new Fall Out Boy T-shirt from neck to hem, and was holding the edges of his T-shirt together with an elaborate arrangement of paperclips and staples. “No, I don’t agree with Joe and Andy. I think that I can’t be trusted to dress myself in the mornings. You’re fine, you’re the one with the superpowers. I’m a mere mortal who struggles with the basics of personal hygiene.”
Pete grinned at Patrick. “Want some of the pizza that’s for the grand opening?”
“No, because Andy has counted every slice, and will know.”
Pete’s face fell. “Uh oh.”
Patrick handed Pete the pricing gun. “Finish the stock, and I’ll vacuum the last of packing peanuts up.”
Pete hugged Patrick, sticking him randomly with paperclips and staples. “I love you, you crazy person.”
“Love you too, now price the fucking books and put them on the shelf.”
Pete circumvented Andy’s rage at pizza being missing by greeting Andy and Joe with a pizza platter, when they returned with tubs of ice and soda cans.
“You get the first slices,” Pete insisted. “Because you’ve done so much running around.”
“Pizza is for guests,” Andy said, but Joe reached for a slab, saying, “Oh, great, no pineapple on this one.”
Patrick and Andy dragged the tubs of soda in, from the pickup, and Andy said, “Pete’s T-shirt?”
“Don’t. Ask,” Patrick said. “You really didn’t think Pete was going to wear a uniform, did you?”
Andy grunted, but didn’t bother replying.
“Have some pizza,” Pete said, waving a piece at Patrick, adding in a whisper, “Quick, eat some, before Andy does any counting.”
Patrick took a piece of pizza, and grabbed a can of heavily caffeinated and sweetened soda, and surveyed the store. They had a float, electronic banking facilities had been installed that day, and they had about two thirds of their stock in place. The PC and stock control system worked, as long as no one wanted them to search to see if they had something in stock—the preferred search method involved walking over to a shelf and looking, rather than relying on anything technological. The store room door didn’t close, or of it did, it didn’t open again. They had pizza, and soda.
They were ready for their grand opening--invite everyone they know--post on their blogs--hope the fuck someone turns up--opening party.
Pete propped open the store’s front door, then helped himself to another piece of pizza.
Ten minutes later Patrick realized that of course, if Pete posted something to all four of his blogs, and that something involved free pizza, people would turn up. Some of those people would bring guitars, amps and speakers. Some of them would bring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Some of them would bring model airplanes. Some of them would bring film documentary crews. Some of them would bring undercover FBI agents.
Patrick mouthed, “That’s seven ninety-nine,” to his mom, over the background noise, and put the copy of SlXw RXver, by NXcola GrXffith, in a paper bag.
His mom tucked the book under her arm and pocketed her change. “Nice turnout,” she said, quite capable of making herself heard over both The Stones on Patrick’s headphones and any party that Pete could throw. “You wasted your time cleaning your carpet on the weekend.”
Patrick shrugged. He’d reached that conclusion himself, really quickly. They’d have to clean the carpet again before trying to open the store the next morning. Or rather, Pete would have to clean the carpet again before the store opened the next morning.
The person standing behind Patrick’s mom in the queue nudged her, making her glare at them, then step aside.
Patrick grinned at Spencer, and took the copy of The DXll’s HXuse that Spencer held out, to scan the bar code. “Great party,” Spencer shouted. “Love the splash pool on the sidewalk.”
The noise outside was slightly less, though Patrick could foresee a visit from a squad car sometime in the near future, just based on the volume levels and the congestion in the car park. It did mean that he when he yelled “What were you thinking?” at Pete, Pete actually heard him.
“You know Gabe,” Pete said. “You’ve met him before. It’s his splash pool.”
Patrick looked at Gabe, and the mud, and willed himself to relax. “Okay. But Gabe can’t track the mud into the store, or touch the stock.”
Pete nodded. “Sure. I do own one in four of the books, remember.”
“It’s the other three in four books I’m worrying about,” Patrick said.
Spencer tugged on Patrick’s arm, leading him through the crowd, away from Pete, Gabe and the splash pool, and Patrick followed him.
Outside the nail salon, now closed up for the night, Spencer said, “So, about Pete…”
Patrick shrugged. “What about Pete?”
“Is he always, um, so high velocity?”
The nail salon owners had thoughtfully left their lights on, and the flashing display advertising something vile that people might want to do to their toenails was either malfunctioning or Spencer had blushed bright red, right to his ears.
“Um, we were all just wondering. All of us at Panic Toys.”
“He’d sleep with all of you, separately or collectively,” Patrick said. “So don’t go wasting any emotional energy on that one. Just, you know, drop the shop an email or something. Put something obvious in the header, to spare the rest of us from having to read it.”
Spencer went even redder, which Patrick hadn’t thought possible.
“Um, no, that wasn’t for me. One of the others thinks he’s hot.”
Patrick waited, while Spencer had some kind of meltdown.
“Do you always arrange things like that for Pete?” Spencer asked eventually.
“Not in general,” Patrick said. “He doesn’t need any assistance. I just figured I’d help you out. My own embarrassment threshold is ridiculously high, since I used to sell sex toys to lesbians.”
Spencer made a choking noise. “Really? So you’re kind of like Pete too?”
Patrick shook his head. “I’m one of those silent, weird guys who never ask anyone out because they can’t quite believe anyone would like them.”
“Me too,” Spencer said.
Patrick was kind of surprised at that, given the general hotness of Spencer, but he’d also spent enough time around Pete to recognize when he was being hit on, even when it was in a mutual-shy-weird-guy way.
The lights from the nail salon window haloed Spencer’s hair, when Patrick backed him against the glass. Spencer grabbed Patrick’s brand new Fall Out Boy T-shirt, and they collided, mouths sliding together, while someone laid rubber down in the car park, filling the air with the smell of burning tire.
The party roared, right beside them, and Patrick kissed Spencer, one hand up the back of Spencer’s shirt, hoping he was getting some kind of message through to Spencer involving the two of them and comparative privacy, because he reckoned he had about four minutes at the most before one of his fellow bookstore owners decided that they needed to find him.
He managed three minutes of what was, in Patrick’s opinion, damned hot making out, before Joe said, “Patrick? Can you stop doing that for a moment?”
Spencer groaned, and Patrick turned his head to look at Joe. “Is it a crisis? A really big crisis?”
“Feels it to me,” Spencer whispered, lips against Patrick’s ear, which made Patrick laugh, and Joe frown.
“Um, yes,” Joe said. “I’ve lost Pete and Andy, and something is wrong with the cash register, and your mom can’t work out how to fix it, and she said to find you.”
Spencer pulled his hands out of the back pocket of Patrick’s jeans and from under Patrick’s T-shirt. “I’m admitting defeat,” Spencer said. “Under the circumstances. Go and fix your register. You know where to find me.”
Patrick let go of Spencer reluctantly, and followed Joe back through the crowd. “Did you give my mom hash brownies?” he asked Joe, as they worked their way through people dancing.
“Maybe?” Joe said. “Would she have taken a brownie?”
Patrick sighed. “Hello there, she’s a fucking hippy, of course she would have. No wonder she couldn’t work the register.”
Patrick’s mom was perched on a stool, leaning across the counter, looking trashed. “You can’t read RXbert JXrdan, young man,” she said, to someone Patrick recognized as one of Pete’s exes. “Your life is too short to be reading such fascist rubbish. You should read something that broadens your intellectual horizons. Besides, the loser is dead.”
Patrick patted her shoulder. “Why don’t you go find some more pizza or another brownie? I’ll take over here.”
“RXbert JXrdan is dead?” Pete’s ex said, looking shattered. “What?”
“Pizza? There’s more pizza?” Patrick’s mom said.
Patrick’s mom wandered off, through the crowd, and Patrick plastered a sympathetic look on his face and took her place. “RXbert JXrdan died recently, but he had time to make arrangements for the final WhXel of Time book, and it’s being written by BrXndon SXnderson, exactly how JXrdan wanted it to be.”
“But? It won’t be the same…”
Patrick nodded. “I know. I think, for me, I’m going to choose not to read the SXnderson book, you know, and leave the series incomplete.”
Pete’s ex’s face creased, and Patrick wondered how Pete had put up with the guy. ‘Briefly’ was probably the answer.
“But then I won’t know how the series ends.”
“It’s a quandary,” Patrick said. “And when the book comes out, I’ll be happy to engage in a debate with you, but right now, I need to serve the person standing behind you and holding BXmbos of the DXath SXn.”
The next customer was the guy who worked at Chemical Love, who Patrick had a waving-on-the-way-to-the-dumpster acquaintance with.
“Hey,” the guy said. “I’m Gerard. It’s good to meet you at last.”
“Patrick. Good choice of book. It’s hilarious, especially if you’ve ever been to an SF con.”
“Comic cons for me, but they can’t be that different,” Gerard said. “Great launch party.”
“Thanks,” Patrick said.
The cash register and stock control system worked just fine, much to Patrick’s annoyance. Trashed people should never be left in charge of anything, obviously, which raised the question of where the fuck Andy had gone.
Gerard took his book and merged back into the crowd, and Patrick settled into a steady stream of customers buying bad vampire romances and vapid fantasy trilogies.
Pete’s absence was no real mystery, and if Patrick could get away from the register long enough, he was sure a brief search of the cars in the car park would locate Pete. Patrick couldn’t begrudge Pete that, not when Patrick had got to grind up against Spencer himself. And he could see Joe, across the store and through the crowd, pulling books off the shelves for people, though Patrick had doubts about the quality of advice Joe might be offering.
Patrick had just sold yet another copy of that fucking twinkling vampire book when a roar of approval went through the crowd, and Andy pushed through the mass of bodies, a stack of pizza boxes held over his head.
“More pizza!” Andy called out, as someone killed the music. “And Pete’s got the vegetarian and vegan pizzas!”
Pete appeared a moment later, carrying an even larger pile of pizza boxes. He put them down on one of the folding tables they’d borrowed for the evening, then grabbed a box and dropped it on the counter in front of Patrick. “Miss me?” he said to Patrick.
“Um, yes,” Patrick said.
“Sorry I didn’t tell you where I was going, but I didn’t want to cock block you,” Pete said. “Nice hickey.”
“Your courtesy is appreciated,” Patrick said. “Such politeness oils the wheels of friendship, and all that.”
Andy slung his arm around Pete’s shoulders, and opened the pizza box on the counter. “Excellent, this is one of the vegan ones. Sold any books while we were gone, or were you too busy?”
“I’ve sold many books, because unfortunately Joe got my mom trashed and she couldn’t work the register, so I had to leave Spencer and come back here and work,” Patrick said. “While I like the idea of us selling books, that’s the closest I’ve come to any action for some months, and it fucking hurts.”
Pete cleared his throat purposefully.
“The closest to any action, apart from stopping Pete from groping me all the fucking time,” Patrick clarified. “And it still fucking hurts.”
“Sorry,” Pete said, not sounding at all apologetic.
Patrick took a piece of vegan pizza, and surveyed the store. It looked like the party might be winding down. The band had stopped playing, and gone off to their regular gig. Gabe and his splash pool had gone, leaving only the mud behind. The documentary crew had stopped filming, and had left, taking the gay men in high heels and nun’s habits with them. There was probably only fifty people left, stuffing themselves with pizza and milling around the store and sidewalk. Spencer and the other Panic boys had disappeared, unfortunately, which made Patrick decidedly frustrated.
“More?” Pete said, holding the pizza box out to Patrick. “Build your strength up, ready for the clean up?”
“I’m not cleaning up,” Patrick said. “Right, Andy?”
“That’s right,” Andy said, leaning across Pete to claim another slice. “And neither am I. We’re going to cash up, and then roll out the sleeping bags that are in the store room and watch you deal with the mess from the splendid comfort of nylon and polyester wadded cocoons.”
“Me?” Pete squeaked. “Why me?”
“Gabe and the splash pool of mud,” Patrick said. “Whose friend is Gabe?”
“Then there’s William and the gallon tub of frosting,” Andy said.
“Hey! William is everyone’s friend,” Pete said.
“Is that frosting in your hair?” Andy said, poking at the back of Pete’s head. “And in your ear?” Andy leaned closer. “Yeah, it’s in your ear.”
“Billy is still everyone’s friend.”
Patrick leaned across the counter, plastering pizza across the front of his T-shirt accidentally as he grabbed Pete’s chin and tipped Pete’s face up to examine it briefly. “Frosting up your nose? Were you inhaling again? You know how badly that ends.”
Joe shuffled over, a piece of pizza in each hand. “Has Pete been inhaling?” Joe asked, with the distant look in his eyes that meant he wouldn’t be driving anywhere that night, or possibly for some days.
“Frosting, not anything else,” Andy said.
Joe nodded. “Still, that’s not like you, Pete.”
“Frosting,” Pete said, taking one of Joe’s pieces of pizza out of his unresisting hand. “You know, the yummy stuff that goes on top of cakes. Or Williams. Let me walk you and your pizza outside for a bit, I think you might need some air.”
Pete came back, having propped Joe against the store window beside one of the hot guys from Chemical Love, and Patrick sold a XXXenXphile graphic novel to a puzzled member of the general public who had wandered into the store at random.
“Have some pizza,” Pete urged the Member of the General Public. “It’s free.”
Patrick opened the cash register drawer to check on the dire state of the change situation, and Andy said, “We’re all secure with our sexual orientations, aren’t we? Amongst the four of us?”
“Sure,” Patrick said, poking at the last of the quarters, then closing the drawer. “I’m gay. Haven’t gone near girls since fifth grade, and that horrible thing with Dianna Whatever Her Name Was.”
“And I’m mostly gay,” Andy said. “At an intellectual level, I like the idea of women, but it gets lost in the execution somehow. And Pete?”
Pete shrugged. “People are cool. I’m just experimenting until I find the perfect hermaphrodite to settle down with.”
The three of them looked past the new book display and through the store window, to where Joe was kissing the hot guy from Chemical Love.
Andy said, “And Joe is straight. Really, really straight.”
“That’s Mikey. Mikey is not female,” Pete said. “And I speak with some authority here.”
“Should we intervene?” Andy asked, as they watched Mikey grabbing Joe’s ass. “Or do you think Joe is about to discover his, um, error for himself?”
Patrick tipped his head to one side, to see more clearly around the almost empty rack of RXymond FXist new releases. “You’d think, given how close they’re, um, standing, Joe would have noticed by now. Or do you think Joe knows, and doesn’t care? Should we ask someone who’s had some of the brownies, find out how strong the hash was?”
They looked around the store hopefully, and Pete waved William over. William shuffled over to them, sucking his fingers, presumably still enjoying the last of his gallon of frosting.
“Not touching books,” William said, speaking slowly, like someone that was having trouble finding words, even simple ones. “Remembered.”
He pushed his fingers helpfully into Andy’s mouth, and Andy pulled them out again, and said, “Dude, is that frosting vegan?”
“How many brownies did you have?” Pete asked William.
William’s forehead creased. “Did I eat brownies? Did you give me brownies?”
“Joe was the brownie fairy tonight,” Pete said.
“Joe isn’t a fairy, honey,” William said. “Everyone knows that.”
Patrick glanced back through the store window. “I think that just for one special night, Joe is a fairy.”
“I had two brownies,” William said. “And one of Joe’s joints, out in the car park. And a lot of frosting. And Gabe had a bottle of tequila, and he and Joe were doing flaming brownies off the hood of Gabe’s car, and Gabe’s hair caught fire, but I didn’t do any of those because tequila makes me sick.”
Patrick, Pete and Andy all turned at that same time, to look at the empty space on the back wall where their brand new fire extinguisher was supposed to be hanging.
“We can bill Gabe for that,” Andy said. “That extinguisher should last longer than three days, even with Pete working here.”
“I think we can conclude the brownies are potent, and Joe is wasted, but possibly still potent too,” Pete said. “Might be time to run a little intervention, team, and save Joe’s precious gay virginity, before Mikey bends him over the trunk of a car or something.”
Patrick slapped William’s back on the way past, and said, “Guard the cash register for us.”
William giggled and clambered unsteadily onto the stool, draping himself across the register, wrapping his arms around the display screen protectively. They wouldn’t make any sales with Billy there, but no one would steal anything either.
At the doorway, Andy grabbed Pete’s arm, and said, “Plan. You talk to Mikey, make him a counteroffer or whatever. Patrick and I will deal with Joe.”
Pete gurgled happily. “Plan.”
A moment later, Mikey’s cell phone rang, and he disengaged his mouth from Joe’s long enough to mumble, “Oops,” and reach into his jeans and find his phone. “Yeah,” Mikey said into his phone.
“It’s Pete,” Pete said, over the phone, and directly in front of him. “I need ten seconds of your time.”
Mikey glared at Pete, and closed his phone. “Fuck off.”
Patrick and Andy got hold of Joe, and peeled him out of Mike’s arms. “Ten seconds,” Patrick said, while Joe bleated and flailed his arms unhappily.
“No,” Joe said. “No, guys, stop.”
Patrick and Andy leaned Joe against the same damned nail salon window sign that Patrick had kissed Spencer against, and Andy gripped Joe’s chin in his hand, and said, “Focus, Joe. Straighten up for a moment.”
“That’s ironic,” Patrick muttered, and Andy kicked him.
“Wha?” Joe said.
“You’re. Making. Out. With. A. Guy. Do you know this?” Andy said clearly. “Do you understand this?”
Joe stared at Andy, then at Patrick. “Noooo. Girls. Hot girl. Gonna get laid.”
Andy shook his head. “Hot girl has a penis.”
Joe’s mouth fell open in disbelief, and Patrick leaned against the window beside Joe and groaned. There was a reason he didn’t take drugs, and it had nothing to do with any high moral stance, or keeping his body pure. It was because drugs made people so stupid they didn’t notice what gender the person they were making out with was. That might not matter to someone like Pete, but Patrick cared about these things.
Of course, Pete didn’t do drugs because he reckoned the inside of his head was already so fucked up that he didn’t want to make it any worse, but that was a different matter entirely.
“Let’s go put you to bed,” Andy said, and Patrick grabbed Joe’s other arm, steadying him.
“Girl?” Joe asked.
“Pete will make it up to her,” Patrick said. “She’ll be fine.”
The cleanup was superficial, consisting of dropping all the pizza scraps and boxes in the dumpster. The soda cans went into a tub for recycling, and the last of the ice went out into the yard at the back of the store. Patrick looked at the mud drying on the sidewalk and sighed. The fire extinguisher wasn’t going to do the job; it was compressed CO2. Maybe when the mud was dry, it would be easier to deal with.
Pete had disappeared, of course, off with Mikey, and Patrick couldn’t complain about that. He could save the worst of the cleaning for him, though. The carpet would be waiting for Pete, when he chose to reappear.
Andy was in the store room, cashing up, so Patrick dug his toothbrush out of his pack as quietly as possible and brushed his teeth at the tiny sink in the store room.
“Thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three,” Andy muttered, counting coins, while Patrick brushed and spat.
Patrick patted Andy on the back and put his toothbrush away, then tossed his T-shirt on his pack. Joe was out cold, safely on his side in a sleeping bag, but Patrick checked on him anyway, just in case.
“Poor Joe,” Andy said, behind Patrick.
Patrick unrolled his own sleeping bag, beside the rack of graphic novels, so that the GaXman titles loomed over him.
“Poor Joe,” Patrick agreed. “You all done?”
Andy tossed a sleeping bag beside Patrick, on a relatively clean patch of carpet. “Done enough that it almost balances. I’ll fill out the banking slip tomorrow, before I leave for work.”
Patrick closed his eyes and listened to Andy brush his teeth, then move around the store, checking the locks and turning the lights off. In the darkness, while Andy rustled into his sleeping bag, Patrick took his glasses off and balanced them inside his cap, right where he could find them again in the morning.
“You coming over?” Andy asked, and Patrick grinned to himself.
“Just waiting for the invitation.”
Andy’s arms wrapped around Patrick’s back, and Patrick settled his head on Andy’s shoulder, making happy noises to himself when Andy stroked a hand across his shoulder.
“Are you horribly disappointed at missing out with Spencer?” Andy asked, and Patrick blinked a little in the gloom at the question. “Have you got a big thing for him?”
“Hmm,” Patrick said. “Not a big thing, he’s just hot, and it’s been too long since anyone’s shown any interest in me. Well, anyone who’s not deranged and already my best friend, and I’m just not going there with Pete.”
“Completely understandable,” Andy said. “I wouldn’t want to go there with Pete either.”
Andy’s fingers worked into the top of Patrick’s neck, drawing small circles on his skin, and Patrick thought he might be melting, it felt so good.
“You asleep?” Andy asked, a little while later, and Patrick grunted, nodding against Andy.
Patrick was distantly aware through his Pete-talking-all-night-filter of Andy pulling the sleeping bag up over his shoulders and muttering, “Would you want to go there with me?”
One percent of Patrick was awake enough to hear, and that one percent squawked at the ninety-nine percent of him that was out cold, unsuccessfully.
on to Chapter Six