December 4th, 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.
The customer stories in this chapter are true.
Patrick propped the store door open, running through the morning checklist in his head. PC on. Electronic banking terminal on and logged in. Float counted in, and corrected. Rude email on Pete’s complete inability to perform simple arithmetic sent to all other store owners. Crud on carpet ignored. Shelves tidied.
It was morning. Patrick needed coffee.
The storeroom was a mess, and Patrick picked his way across sleeping bags and clothes to fill the kettle at the sink, then plug it in, right in front of the ‘No Fucking On The Fridge Pete’ sign. He had his own mug, the one with the thermal image of Darth Vader on it, and he shoveled coffee granules and sugar into it. He poured boiling water in, pausing for a moment to enjoy the image of Darth Vader changing into Anakin, then opened the fridge.
“Fuck you, Peter, you worthless shit,” Patrick said, reaching for his cell phone and hitting speed dial.
The inside of the fridge was a fucking mess, with Andy’s industrial-sized container of soy yoghurt on its side, the lid off and contents dripping across Joe’s collection of cold pizza, subs and burgers. Patrick’s leftover pad thai, put aside for his lunch, was coated in soy yoghurt, and while it wouldn’t stop him from eating it, he estimated it was going to halve his eating pleasure.
“What?” Pete said sleepily, when he answered his phone.
“Fuck you, Peter, you worthless shit,” Patrick said. “When we said ‘no fucking on the fridge,’ we meant it.”
“Uh oh,” Pete said, then he hung up.
Patrick took the real milk out of the fridge and scraped the soy yoghurt off the outside of the container, then poured some into his mug.
It didn’t look good, with little bits of soy yoghurt floating in the coffee, but Patrick consoled himself with the thought that they hadn’t owned the store or the fridge long enough for the milk to actually be off. Soon, it would be rancid milk in his mug, and he’d look back on the halcyon days of soy yoghurt-contaminated coffee.
Pete didn’t arrive to clean up his mess, and he didn’t answer his phone again, which showed a certain survival instinct in Patrick’s opinion. Patrick complained to Andy by email, and to Joe in person, when Joe dropped in.
“Shut up,” Joe snapped. “Did you have to toss all of your lunches for the next week in the dumpster?”
Patrick grumped, but didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t think so,” Joe said.
“You could have reheated the burgers,” Patrick ventured, when Joe came back from his second trip to the dumpster. “Soy yoghurt isn’t like ordinary yoghurt.”
“That’s because it’s not actually a food!” Joe shouted at Patrick. “It’s something else entirely, especially when it’s been microwaved. Aren’t you supposed to be selling books or something?”
Patrick slunk back out into the store, to where the standard issue customer was standing waiting at the counter.
“Can I help you?” Patrick asked. He could never make up his mind whether it should be ‘May I help you?’ which was grammatically correct, but sounded stupid, or ‘Can I help you?’ which was more natural. When he’d brought it up at a company meeting, Pete had hit him, and Joe had drawn on his belly with a sharpie. Even Andy had laughed at him, though Patrick would have bet anything Andy had looked it up later.
“I’m looking for books on time travel,” the customer said.
Patrick went to open his mouth, ready to launch into his usual suggestions, when the customer, the standard issue, dressed-in-black, obviously-a-geek, customer, cut him off.
Patrick closed his mouth.
“Do you have any?”
“Non-fiction books on time travel? Not many,” Patrick said. “Actually, I can’t think of any. Sorry.”
The customer stomped out, and Joe burst out laughing, behind the ajar storeroom door.
“What the fuck?” Joe said, opening the door fully. “Why didn’t you ask him when he was from?”
Patrick shrugged. “Because people like him come in all the time. At least I don’t have to sell them sex toys too.”
Another customer shuffled in the front door of the store, and Patrick winced. This customer was one of the grubby ones. Patrick and Pete were campaigning to be allowed to keep a small personal electric fan on the counter, just for these customers. The plan was to turn the fan on, pointing at the customer, to blast the smell away.
Joe looked at the guy, and slid back out into the storeroom.
“Coward,” Patrick muttered.
Spencer wandered in, later in the afternoon, bearing a large bag of corn chips and a big grin.
“Hey there,” Patrick said, over the pile of books stacked on the counter.
Spencer leaned over the counter, toppling some of the books over, and kissed Patrick briefly.
“Hi. You’re busy, aren’t you?”
Patrick picked up the manifest that had been in the carton of new books and swatted Spencer with it.
“No, I’m doing Goods Received transactions for the benefit of my health,” Patrick said. “You’re welcome to hang around, but if you stand there and call out numbers at random, bad things will happen to you.”
Spencer looked blank. “Numbers at random?”
“Nothing messes up data entry like someone saying other numbers while you’re trying to type,” Patrick explained. “Really.”
“Oh,” Spencer said, a particularly evil glimmer in his eyes. “I must keep that in mind for our next delivery.”
Patrick looked up from the screen he was staring at. “Ryan will hate you, won’t he?”
“Ryan doesn’t do stock management, not after what happened the time the shipment of CXbbage Pxtch Dxlls came in. Jon and I handle the stock entry, Ryan does the accounts, and Brendon is the overlord.”
“Overlord?” Patrick asked, without looking up that time.
“Um, yeah. We tried being a democracy, and that didn’t work, so now we’re a benevolent dictatorship. What model are you using?”
“We’ve gone for a democratic model,” Patrick said. “We considered proportional representation, and abandoned the idea. I’m not sure how letting Pete or Joe get what they want twenty five percent of the time would work. Can you shelve this for me?”
Patrick held out the book he’d just priced to Spencer.
By the time Spencer had worked out the reading order versus the published order of the FXists, and managed to slot the book into the right place on the shelf, Patrick had processed another dozen books, and Gerard had wandered into the store.
“Hey,” Gerard said, leaning against the counter, sunglasses sliding down his nose, hair falling across his face. Patrick wondered if the smiley face on Gerard’s T-shirt was ironic or not.
“Hey,” Patrick said. “Can you shelve that for me?”
“What?” Gerard said, looking at the book Patrick had shoved into his hands.
“Alphabetical, on the shelves,” Patrick said. “And in the right place in the series, if you can manage that too.”
Gerard pushed his sunglasses up his nose and nodded. “Sure. I can do that.”
When Andy ambled in, a few minutes later, Patrick had finished the Goods Received, and was perched on the stool behind the counter, directing Gerard and Spencer in the correct shelving order for the GXodkinds.
“No, that one is part of the second series,” Patrick called out to Gerard. “Have a look inside the cover of the book you’re holding.”
Andy was still wearing his work clothes, and bristled deposit books and laptops when Patrick attempted to hug him.
“What’s with the peanut gallery?” Andy asked, dumping his laptop behind the counter and gouging Patrick randomly with the bank deposit book.
“Conscripts,” Patrick said. “Unwilling shelving volunteers.”
“Who just happened to be loitering around the store?” Andy asked, voice low as he rummaged under the counter for the change bag.
“Guess so,” Patrick said. “Hey, Gerard, did you actually drop in for a reason, before I forced you to engage with the ShXnnara universe?”
“Um, no,” Gerard said. “You know, it’s a bookstore. It has books.”
Andy peered at Patrick through two layers of glasses for a moment, before slamming out to the storeroom, the banking and deposit book in his hands.
A moment later, the fridge squeaked, and Andy shouted, “And call Pete and tell him to get his ass in here to clean up the mess in the fridge and replace my yoghurt.”
“Call him yourself,” Patrick shouted back. “He won’t talk to me at the moment.”
“Gotta go,” Spencer said, edging towards the doorway. “Ryan will want to hurl insults at me.”
Gerard just nodded, and melted out of the door after Spencer.
Patrick listened to Andy muttering as he counted coins, the coins clinking faintly as well. The store was empty of customers when Andy came back out of the storeroom, plastic deposit bags sealed up ready to be dropped off, and Patrick said, “So, I’m not good with this subtext thing, or with working out what the fuck is going on, and I’m damned sure I’ve forgotten at least one critically important thing that happened at the launch party, but will someone who is not wasted or fucking crazy tell me what the fuck is going on?!”
Andy looked at Patrick, wearing his ‘oh my God, Pete, I can see your penis’ expression. “What? What’s going on? What have you forgotten?”
Patrick took a deep breath. “Stuff is going on, you know, underneath the surface, and I can never figure that shit out. Tell me, because dropping clues is pointless. Email me, or text me, or whatever.”
“Nothing is going on,” Andy said. “Really.”
“I’m calling ‘bullshit’ on that one,” Patrick insisted. “And I know I’ve forgotten something that happened at the launch party, but I can’t quite remember what it is. I think I did something stupid. Did you see me do something stupid?”
“Who told you that you did something stupid?” Andy asked, shoving the banking bags into his pack and leaning against the counter. “Did Pete?”
“Um, no, just me,” Patrick said.
“You didn’t do anything stupid, unless you think that hooking up with Spencer was a mistake.”
Patrick crossed his arms and glared at Andy. “I like Spencer.”
“Then you’ve done nothing stupid, though you probably could have waited twenty minutes and had Gerard instead, if you’d wanted someone older and crazier.”
Patrick knew he was turning red, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Gerard’s not… He just… Anyway, don’t you have banking to do?”
“The banking can wait,” Andy said. “Indefinitely if necessary. I’m enjoying watching you realize Gerard has the hots for you too much to miss out on this.”
Patrick was acutely aware that his entire face was burning. “Fuck you, Andrew, you bastard. You’re supposed to be my friend. Besides Gerard is just superintending Mikey’s romance with Pete.”
“I’ve met Mikey. He eats rusty nails for fun, and requires no romantic assistance at all,” Andy said. “Believe me, Gerard is here because, like many other people, he likes geeky guys with Darth Vader thermal coffee mugs and a detailed knowledge of SF minutiae.”
Patrick flapped helplessly at Andy for a bit, and Andy leaned across and patted his cheek. “You’re adorable when you’re bewildered,” Andy said. “I’m off to do the banking. See you at gaming tonight.”
Over the litter of abandoned bowls of ramen, empty soda cans and AD & D rule books, Andy said, “Have you asked Pete?”
“Asked Pete what?” Pete demanded, climbing up Patrick’s side from where he’d slumped down into the couch while they waited for Joe to come back from toking.
“Andy…” Patrick said, tossing a die at Andy and missing.
“Asked me what?” Pete said, getting himself high enough to be in between Andy and Patrick’s attempts at meaningful facial signals.
“Patrick thinks that he is missing out on subtext, and that he did something stupid at the launch party,” Andy supplied helpfully. “He also didn’t know that Gerard desires him.”
“Andy!” Patrick shouted, over the top of Pete’s delighted howls of laughter.
“Gerard wants your ass!” Pete hooted. “Or he wants you to want his. Some permutation of that. Big, dirty thoughts on his part, anyway. I’m delighted you’ve finally worked that one out.”
“Fuck you, Andy, your assassin is going headfirst through the next trapdoor in the dungeon, regardless of what the dice say,” Patrick said.
“Tell me about the subtext,” Pete insisted. “I love subtext, it can be so dirty.”
Patrick glared at Pete, and Pete’s eyes widened in delight. “Oooh,” Pete said excitedly. “So, there’s Spencer, and there’s Gerard. That’s enough subtext for anyone. Are you having trouble juggling the two of them? I can give you time management tips.”
“And your Cleric is so fucking doomed,” Patrick said. “Just so we’re clear. Cleric Go Boom. Show How Monster Works. Do clerics wear red shirts?”
“And you did something stupid at the launch? What? With both of them at once?” Pete shook his head. “No, someone would have mentioned that. What did you do?”
Patrick sighed. “I have no fucking clue. I just feel like I’ve done something.”
Pete kissed both of Patrick’s cheeks, dislodging Patrick’s glasses. “Idiot, I feel like that all the time. It’s called ‘taking risks.’ And ‘being alive.’ You’ll get used to it.”
“I hate you,” Patrick said, shoving Pete off his lap, then jamming his glasses back on. “Just because I don’t live in a permanent state of crisis doesn’t mean that I’m fucking dead. How come you don’t accuse Andy of being dead?”
“Hey,” Andy said. “Leave me out of your domestic squabbles.”
Pete was still untangling himself from the legs of the coffee table, so Patrick stepped over him and clambered into Andy’s lap. “I thought you wanted to be part of the Pete-and-Patrick world view.”
Andy waved his arms randomly, either fighting Patrick off ineffectually, or trying to push his own hair out of his eyes--Patrick couldn’t tell.
Pete wasn’t light, especially not when he’d built up some momentum, and Andy made a wounded sound, gasping for breath when Pete landed on top of Patrick.
“You want to be one of us?” Pete asked, sounded delighted. “Wow. We can do stuff together, you know, like bonding.”
“Get off me,” Andy groaned.
“No, really,” Pete insisted. “Like the Mia Kirshner movie marathon Patrick and I had.”
Andy heaved, underneath Patrick, without managing to dislodge either of them. “Please, no.”
“Or stay over,” Pete said. “Stay tonight since tomorrow’s Saturday, like Patrick always does after gaming. It’ll be fun!”
“Okay,” Andy said, shoving at Pete. “Just get off me.”
Pete kissed Andy’s nose, then Patrick’s, and tumbled backwards over the arm of Andy’s easy chair just as Joe wandered back into the living room.
“Andy’s staying!” Pete told Joe, from upside down on the floor.
“What? Permanently?” Joe asked, standing on Pete’s hair where it had flopped back onto the carpet, making Pete squeal.
“Is there space?” Patrick asked dubiously, over the top of Pete’s yells. “Pete’s room is pretty feral, and while I’m used to the whole love-me-love-my-naked-body thing, are you sure you’re up to that first thing in the morning, Andy?”
“Get off my hair, you fucker!” Pete squawked, managing to turn his head enough to bite Joe’s ankle.
Pete kicked Patrick in the face in the process of heaving himself off the chair and at Joe, making Patrick bellow in pain, and Pete dragged Joe over, onto the coffee table and off Pete’s hair.
A minute later, while Patrick held ice against his face and Pete was in the bathroom, assessing follicular damage, Joe tossed broken ramen bowls into the bin and said, “So you’re moving in, huh, Andy? Does that mean Patrick is too?”
Andy rescued one of Patrick’s AD&D rule books and handed it to Patrick, then ditched an abandoned pizza box of uncertain vintage into the bin. “That wasn’t the plan. I think I’m just crashing here tonight. I’m going to go shower, if Pete will let me in the bathroom, since I don’t think there’s much point in going back to the game, is there?”
Patrick took the icepack off his cheek and shook his head. “Game’s over, for now. Next time, Pete’s Cleric will demonstrate why no one should ever kick the GM in the fucking face on gaming night.”
The bathroom door closed, and Patrick could hear Andy and Pete arguing, even through the door. Joe propped the coffee table back up on its three remaining legs, and shoved one of Patrick’s rule books under where the fourth leg had been to hold the table steady, then said, “Hope you know what you’re doing.”
“What?” Patrick said.
Joe fished soda cans out from under the couch, crunched them under his knees, then tossed them into the bin. “I guess that, joking aside, we’re all kind of married now, you know, what with the business and all. Gonna be hard avoiding people.”
Patrick peered at Joe over the top of the icepack on his cheek. “Joe, you’re making less sense than usual.”
Joe shrugged. “I guess it’s been a long time coming, and that’s something I don’t want to think about, and you’re all grownups and everything.”
Joe dragged the full bin down the hall, and out of the apartment, and Patrick must still have been looking confused or concussed, because Pete’s re-entry onto the couch was far more controlled than usual, and didn’t involve any body contact.
“What’s up?” Pete asked.
Patrick shifted the icepack to his forehead and sighed. “Are things weirder than usual?”
“No,” Pete said. “Can you see the bald patch where Joe pulled my hair out?”
Patrick glanced at where Pete was pointing at his scalp. “No.”
“C’mon, let’s go fight Andy for the decent pillow.”
Twenty minutes later, Patrick was drifting into a good place, his body heavy and warm and Pete’s voice droning pleasantly somewhere around his shoulder blade.
“…understood the implications of switching to a mixed fuel system,” Pete said. “There’re trade-offs in economy, of course, but you gain so much flexibility in sourcing your power.”
On the other side of Patrick, Andy groaned into the other half of the decent pillow. “I warned you,” Patrick said sleepily. “But you didn’t believe me, did you?”
“No,” Andy said. “I thought you were joking.”
“Just relax into it,” Patrick said, burrowing himself deeper under the blankets, so his nose was against Andy’s arm. “Let it wash over you…”
“…harnessing the waste heat from the differential,” Pete said. “Along with the gearbox…”
“Wash over me?” Andy asked.
Patrick nodded, and Andy rolled over, sliding his arm around Patrick and hugging him.
“Like, um, waves or something,” Patrick said.
“Sound waves,” Andy said, sounding rueful, then Pete slung a leg over Patrick’s and hugged Patrick too, and Patrick went to sleep still smiling in dark.
Pale and watery light was seeping into the room when Patrick opened his eyes. It was too early for Pete’s first or second alarms to be binging or shrieking, and it took a little while for Patrick to work out what had woken him.
Someone was touching his back, running their hand slowly from his neck down to his hip in gentle strokes, tracing the bumps of his spine, pressing into the muscles at the base of his spine where he always ached, over his ass, then floating back up to settle at his neck, ready to smooth down again. It was the kind of touch that only a lover or a very best friend could give, making Patrick tingle and hum in the best possible way.
Patrick thought about reaching out and patting Pete, just to acknowledge how fucking good it felt, except then Pete would start talking again, and if Pete woke Andy, then Andy might kill Pete, and then Pete would stop stroking Patrick’s back…
Better for everyone to lie there in blissful silence and hope Pete knew how much Patrick loved him right at that moment. Patrick would express that love by cleaning up the mess in the work fridge, so everyone else would stop hating Pete. That would be a noble and grand gesture of undying gratitude that might just encompass the joy that Pete was bringing to Patrick’s life.
Patrick washed his hands at the sink for a second time, in the hope of getting the smell of soy yoghurt off them, and wiped them on his work T-shirt, then wandered out into the store.
“That’s for you,” Pete said, pointing at the take way cup of coffee on the counter, and Patrick pounced on it.
“Oh, fuck, thank you,” Patrick said.
“Don’t thank me,” Pete said. “Andy went and got it.”
Andy looked up from where he was sitting on the floor, beside the rack of graphic novels, rereading the first TransmetropolXtan volume. “I did indeed, as a token of appreciation for you cleaning up the mess in the fridge. I don’t know what exchange of favors occurred between you two, but I’m just grateful the transaction happened. It’s added an extra sheen to my Saturday plans of hanging out here, reading the one in four books I own, and watching the two of you work.”
Patrick grinned at Pete, over the brim of his coffee cup, and Pete looked confusedly back at him.
“Huh?” Pete said. “What?”
“Never mind,” Patrick said. “It’s just the best fucking day ever.”
Pete adjusted the arrangement of barrettes in his hair, and beamed back at Patrick. “I love you,” he said. “You and your rollercoaster mood swings. Cranky one moment, then like someone shot Disney rainbows up your ass the next.”
Patrick opened his mouth to defend his honor, but he could hear Andy trying to muffle laughter behind him, and it seemed wiser not to attempt anything under the circumstances. Better to drink his coffee and check his email, while Pete sold yet another copy of the latest fucking twinkling vampire book.
Patrick looked up from the screen a few minutes later when Pete said, “Hi, Spencer.”
Patrick was aware of both Andy and Pete watching as Spencer leaned across the counter to kiss him, and if Pete had been within hurting range, Patrick would have done something to make him stop humming ‘It’s a Small World After All’.
“Hey,” Spencer said. “Coffee’s just brewed at Panic. I brought you a mug.”
Patrick pushed the takeaway cup he’d just emptied behind the cash register and took the mug that Spencer handed him. “Wow, thanks.”
“Where’s mine?” Pete asked, elbowing his way in beside Patrick.
“Ryan and Brendon are in the store,” Spencer said. “With coffee.”
Pete was gone, pushing past browsing customers and out the front door.
Patrick sold a stack of gaming tie-in novels to a kid carrying a sword, then said, “Where did Andy go? Did you see, Spencer?”
“Out the back, I think,” Spencer said. “Do you want to go find him? I can serve customers for you, if you need me to.”
“As long as he comes back eventually,” Patrick said. “Pete I’m less hopeful of.”
“It’s Saturday, and that’s crazytimes at Panic,” Spencer said. “Brendon will exert his authority and throw Pete out after about fifteen minutes. I really came over to see if you wanted to go out tonight. We could grab a meal after work, then hang out at Chemical Love perhaps…”
“I’d like that,” Patrick said, and he could feel he was smiling so widely his cheeks were creasing.
A customer dropped AmXrican GXds on the counter and glared at Patrick, and Patrick smiled back at the customer. “Can you tell me what the expected release date for the last WhXel of TXme book is?” the customer asked.
“I’ll send Pete back,” Spencer said. “Enjoy your coffee.”
Patrick sold books and answered stupid questions by himself for long enough that the edge had begun to slip off his good mood, when the next customer in the queue wasn’t a customer at all.
Gerard, who seemed to have been taking lessons in dressing from Pete, was wearing an enormous black coat that dragged on the ground, a black cowboy hat and mirror shades. He nodded at Patrick and handed him a takeaway mug of coffee, then swept out of the bookstore, coat trailing behind him.
Patrick blinked, then looked at the unicorn drawn on the cardboard mug, obviously before it had been filled with coffee.
The customer behind Gerard in the queue said, “Excuse me, can you recommend any good fantasy authors.”
“Um, sure,” Patrick said. “Who have you read lately that you really enjoyed? It will help me choose a new author for you to try.”
“DavXd GemmXll,” the customer said. “It has to be fantasy, you understand.”
“Okay,” Patrick said. “You don’t read science fiction at all?”
“No,” the customer said. “It’s disrespectful to the aliens.”
Not allowed to laugh. Not allowed to laugh. Not allowed to laugh.
Patrick held out until the customer was almost out the door, carrying a McCxffrey book that Patrick knew full well was SF masquerading as fantasy.
Patrick was still laughing when Andy came back, bag from the comic store a block away in his hands, which answered the question of where he’d disappeared to.
“I ran into Gerard,” Andy said. “He’s invited all of us to Chemical Love tonight, on the condition we guarantee that Pete doesn’t hook up with some guy called Frank. Want to go?”
“I’m kind of going already,” Patrick said.
“Great,” Andy said. “Who’s Frank?”
“I think Frank is the crazy barman. You explained we offered no guarantees when it came to Pete?”
“I did,” Andy said. “Force of nature and all that. Gerard looked pained, at least I think he did. It was hard to tell, behind the mirror shades. He said that Frank was the same, and he just hoped that Frank was too busy to notice Pete, or that Mikey broke Frank’s arm or something. You okay? You seem jittery.”
Patrick picked up the empty takeaway coffee cup with the unicorn on it. “It’s possible I’ve had too much caffeine too quickly.”
on to Chapter Eight