Friends with Benefits
Francis Gideon © 2016
All Rights Reserved
The pop song over the PA system changed to a slower, more romantic one. Even though the lyrics were crap, he bobbed his head along with the beat. God, this was turning out to be a shitty rom-com, but if it meant that he and Jace could kiss over the ramen noodles, maybe it could be worth it.
“So, uhhh,” Jace said. He glanced away from Devon, running a hand down the trail of black hair over his neck. “I should get back to work. I think…um. I think another shipment is coming in.”
“You want help?”
Jace smiled, as if he wanted to say yes. “Thanks, but I should get going. Maybe I can grab my iPod while I’m back there anyway and slip on some better music.”
“Mind if I tag along?” Devon asked. “I mean, I should grab my phone and try to do the same thing.”
Jace nodded, though his dark eyes seemed troubled. “Your brother won’t mind?”
“My brother is so dense that, before getting his car, he once got on the wrong bus in Toronto and ended up two hours away. So he won’t notice us listening to music.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Jace laughed politely before going to his locker. Devon followed and stole side glances from the corner of his eye as Jace accidentally tangled his headphone cord around his apron strings.
“Uhhh. Wait, no. That doesn’t work.”
Devon chuckled. “Can I help? I’ve been doing this for a long time now.”
Jace bit his bottom lip before he nodded. Devon bridged the gap between their bodies. He stared past Jace’s smooth, caramel-coloured skin and focused on the white cords of the headphones. Jace wore a plain black polo shirt, no outside insignias on it, as the dress code stipulated. Devon flipped the collar to slide the chord back and noticed writing on the underside.
“Wait. What’s this?”
“Ah, you saw that? It’s my covert band shirt.”
Jace turned around so Devon could see, clear as day, Nine Volt Start printed on the collar of the shirt. The font was from their third album, but Devon had never seen it in this way before. When Jace flipped the collar back down, the headphone cord now inside of it, the band’s logo of a heart with a battery attached disappeared.
“Where on earth did you find that? It’s amazing.”
“Ages ago, I worked at a bodega that had no fancy aprons like we have here, but we still needed to appear professional. So my boyfriend at the time made me these shirts so I could still represent and be inconspicuous. I have another one in navy and in red. All different fonts, but still all for Nine Volt.”
“That’s brilliant. Man, I think I need one.”
“Well, he’s an ex now, but he’s probably on Grindr, so if you want you can find him that way. I don’t talk to him anymore. Not even on Facebook.”
Devon nodded slowly as Jace’s grin and stare lingered. From the gleam in Jace’s eye, Devon knew he’d been tested. Jace had a boyfriend at some point—but he’d made sure to mention he didn’t have one now. Then he slipped Grindr into an everyday conversation to see if Devon knew what the fuck that even meant.
And of course, Devon knew what Grindr was. He hoped his smile conveyed that he did know, and used it regularly, so Jace could figure out that Devon wanted him. After working together for a week and a half, Devon started to believe that maybe Jace wanted him too.
“Maybe I will look him up,” Devon said. “But only for tips on how to a unique band shirt. Especially since I think Terry’s getting sick of my shit.”
Jace laughed. “Terry’s a good guy. A real good guy. I’m still shocked I got a job here.”
“Because my last job was so laid back. Bodega on College Street. Mostly run by a family who paid me under the table, so I wasn’t even officially on the books as having a job for a while, which I thought would screw me. But Terry believed me, so that was nice. I’m a natural, as you say.”
“And you’re still proving that.”
Jace grinned. “Man, at least the bodega let us play our own music. We could take turns bringing in CDs to get a variety.”
“That’s…awesome. Why would you ever leave and come to the land of pop stars and daily deals?”
“No benefits at the bodega,” Jace said, voice tinged with sadness that he quickly pushed away. “And it got old, you know? I had to start thinking of my future or something like it. At least here, there’s the potential for some health benefits and upper management. And…other things.”
Jace eyed Devon, and his voice had gone thick with desire on the last words. It was so subtle, so nuanced a line, that Devon wouldn’t even have registered the come-on if they hadn’t been mere inches apart, invading the other’s locker space. Devon’s dick twitched at the thought of enticing Jace at work. Could we kiss? Just like this? And maybe fall down in the back, making out. Maybe “Starline” by Nine Volt Start could come on, and make the whole scene.
A slam made Devon and Jace jump out of their skin. Terry muttered under his breath as he stepped out from his office. His cell phone was resting on his shoulder, but it was clear he was on hold from the way he mumbled to himself. Devon had seen him this way dozens of times when he didn’t like a bill and needed to call the service provider.
Terry stopped in his tracks when he saw Jace and Devon in the back room. “Is everything all right?”
“Yep, yep.” Devon stepped back. He shut his locker without grabbing his iPhone. Jace slipped his iPod into his pants pocket, everything concealed.
“No problem with the trucks?” Terry asked.
“No, but I gotta fix a spill in the back.”
“And I need to get on the floor,” Jace said.
Terry eyed them both again, scepticism evident. Before he could say anything, he got an answer from his phone. His dark eyebrows shot up to his hairline as he sighed with relief. “Yes, yes! I need to talk about the upcoming March shipment…”
Devon held his breath until Terry walked back into the office. “That was close.”
“Yeah. But what’s he worse that can happen, really?”
“I don’t know. Don’t like to test him.”
“Only with band T-shirts and avoiding expired products,” Jace teased. “But not with anything else?”
“Well…” Devon blushed as Jace stepped closer to him again. Jace ran a hand along Devon’s apron, flattening the fabric.
“A little push is okay, right?” Jace asked.
Devon didn’t answer before Jace kissed his cheek. Only his cheek, and only for a second. There was no turning into the embrace to make it something more, and really, Devon didn’t want to—not with Terry that close. But the peck was so needed, so necessary, to confirm all the Devon wanted to believe.
Jace pulled away with a grin, tugging on Devon’s apron again. “See you on the floor. Good luck with the spill.”
“Thanks,” Devon said, still swooning. “See you, too.”