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The Shop Across the Street

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Neil looked up as the bell in the entrance rang. “Ugh, Kevin, you need to take the trash out again.”

“What?” Kevin popped out of the kitchen where he was plating up the premixed kale and arugula salads. “I just took it out ten minutes...oh, hi Andrew,” he said as he caught sight of their newest customer.

“Kevin,” Andrew nodded. “Cooked anything with flavour lately?”

“I’ll have you know that our chili chocolate granola bars have been selling very well,” Kevin practically yelled, eyebrows drawing down and sparks burning in his eyes.

“Oh yeah? I’ll buy one then,” Andrew said, not taking his eyes off Neil.

Neil didn’t break eye contact as he leaned down in the display case, pulled out one of their granola bars and put it on a plate for Andrew. Andrew strode closer, set the plastic bag he was carrying on the counter and snatched the bar off the plate. He held it out at arm length and crumbled it in his fist, spraying granola all over the floor, the counter, and Neil.

“It’s a little dry for my taste,” Andrew smirked.

“What did you come here for anyway?” Neil glared as he kept Kevin from leaping across the counter and throttling Andrew.

“Can’t a guy just pop over to bring a Christmas gift from my coffee shop to yours?” Andrew opened the bag to reveal a white cake box.

“Is this meant to kill me quickly or slowly?” Neil asked. “Did you use cyanide or just your normal levels of sugar and refined carbs?”

Andrew rolled his eyes and opened the cake box. On the top, exquisitely done in modeling chocolate and icing was a tiny elf dressed in green with both middle fingers sticking up and a santa in his suit, turned around, bent over, and mooning everyone with the words “fuck you” written on the ass cheeks.

“You’ve really outdone yourself,” Neil said, putting his hand on top of Santa and pushing him down into the cake until it broke apart. He put his hand to his mouth and licked the icing off his fingers, once again holding Andrew’s level gaze. “Cloying and grainy, as usual. And the almond extract is burning in the back of my throat. If i ordered this in a restaurant, I would send it back.”

“They say Christmas is the time to share your true feelings. I think this cake says it all,” Andrew replied, bowing deeply and turning to leave the coffee shop the same way he had come.

Neil turned to his customers, catching them putting their phones quickly out of sight. “Kevin, trash that cake and post it on our instagram. And I think it’s time to change the name of our hot chocolate.”

Neil took a break a few hours later, sitting in the back to escape the steady stream of customers there to try their new drink. He looked at the shop’s instagram to see that Andrew was also marketing a new drink, a sweet caramel latte with a cinnamon sugar rim and an...anatomically detailed marshmallow floating on the top. It was appropriately titled the “You First, Josten.”

Neil laughed, shaking his head and commenting a string of knife emojis below the photo. Kevin pounded on the door yelling that they had another rush of customers and that Thea had to leave for a doctor’s appointment and there was no one to man the counter.

Neil sighed and stood, tying on his apron once more.

By the time Allison and Matt showed up for their evening shift, Neil was half asleep on his feet. Not for the first time, he cursed the fact that he had chosen to live on the opposite side of the city and not within running distance.

The lights were on in the living room and a delicious smell wafted to him in the entryway. The cats greeted him at the door, mewing as if they hadn’t been fed in years. Neil just rolled his eyes and headed toward the good smells. The TV was on low playing one of those cooking competition shows that his partner insisted he hated but watched every episode of. The coffee table was spread with Neil’s favourite chicken alfredo and garlic toast. There was even a hastily thrown together Caesar salad on the table.

“You must have come home early today,” Neil commented, dropping tiredly onto the couch and propping his feet up in the other man’s lap.

“That’s disgusting,” Andrew said, engulfing Neil’s feet with his warm hands and beginning to work out the soreness from a long day standing. “I guess people preferred the ‘Fuck Off, Minyard’ to the ‘You First, Josten.’ We were slow and Renee had it handled.”

Neil groaned as Andrew found an especially sore spot in the arch of his foot. “I thought for sure they’d be heading over to you to see how I’d retaliate.”

“Who can predict what the vultures will do?” Andrew said.

“True,” Neil said, leaning over to serve himself some pasta.

They ate quietly for a while, the silence occasionally punctuated by a disgusted grunt from Andrew when one of the contestants did something particularly stupid.

Neil eventually set his plate on the coffee table and lay back, eyes closed. He drifted for a while.

“I wonder what they’ll do when we come out,” he says, half to Andrew, half just musing out loud.

“Depends how we do it,” Andrew said, his hand tightening around Neil’s ankle and shaking just a little.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can go on pretending to hate me forever if you want,” Neil said, afraid suddenly that he had assumed too much.

“I’m never pretending,” Andrew said, relaxing his grip on Neil’s ankle. “I hate you with every fiber of my being.”

Neil looks at Andrew and he knows the look on his face is unbearably fond and Andrew is going to call him out on it in a moment.

He doesn’t. “Have you thought about it? How you’d want to do it?” He asked, focusing his attention back on the TV.

“A few times,” Neil said, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. His feet were cold. “Maybe you could just come in some time and kiss me instead of flipping me off.”

“Or I could propose,” Andrew said quietly.

Neil laughed. “We’d have to get a ring and everything. Otherwise people wouldn’t believe us.”

Andrew fumbled at his side for a moment and tossed Neil a velvet covered box. “What about this one?” he asked.

Neil opened the box to see a simple band of platinum with a stripe of jet black obsidian running down the center. He was about to laugh again but he looked at Andrew again.

Andrew’s eyes were soft and his hands were shaking again.

“Andrew,” Neil breathed. “Is this?...”

“Yes or No, Junkie?” Andrew’s voice broke on the ‘no.’

“Yes,” Neil said, gripping the box so tightly his knuckles went white. “Always yes.” He couldn’t think of a single time in his life that he had cried from happiness, but he tasted salt in the kiss that followed.