“Um, wow. Earth to David?”
“What?” David blinked back to reality. Patrick had just left the store to get them all lunch, and David had apparently been caught staring after him like a sailor’s widow peering wistfully down at the sea from a fog-encircled bluff. Lovely.
Unfortunately, Alexis’s ditziness was at least 40% pretense. “Oh my god, you are so into him. You’re, like, Swim Fan into him.”
“Alexis. We open in 24 hours, and you can annoy me literally any other time you want. Please either work or leave.”
She began wiping the windows perfunctorily. “Look, I know you’re vibing, but honestly? I’ve thought about it, and I’m not sure it’s the best idea.”
David sent her the death glare that she’d been immune to since the age of three.
“It’s just that, like, I know you and Stevie stayed friends, but most of your relationships? They end in train wrecks. In some cases literally,” Alexis said, tone implying that she thought she was being very wise—like she hadn’t been egging him on just a few days ago.
“That was one time, and technically our car hit another car, and that car hit the train.” He grabbed his sketchbook, trying to broadcast busyness and disinterest.
True to form, the front of the store was flawless but he’d procrastinated on the more utilitarian sections. He’s finished the bathroom that morning, and now was trying to work out a better layout for the small back room where they’d keep some of the housewares and more embarrassing personal items. The people of Schitt’s Creek needed toilet paper, roach killer, and tampons, but that didn’t mean he had to display them up front beside the succulents, exfoliants, and organic arugula.
“Ugh, David. Did you even listen to that clip I sent you from Boss Bitch?”
“Been a little busy.” He wanted to sound angry, or at least irritated, but it came out tired instead.
“Because without Patrick, the store is pretty much not going to happen. And when you sleep with people, they kind of tend to…” She made a scattering motion with both hands.
“Um, first of all, fuck you? Secondly, the store is going to happen. It’s already-” he waved a hand around them “-happening. No matter what.” Ugh, Alexis was infuriatingly good at picking apart anything in his life he thought was going well, like a fucking moth eating holes in cashmere.
“Ok, but David, Patrick is the one who knows how to make the boxes in Excel add themselves up, like, automatically. You need him need him. So if you sleep with him-”
“I could figure out the boxes,” David said with false confidence. Excel was literally the worst part of running a business. He added quickly, “And no one is sleeping with anyone. We’re partners.”
She ignored him. Of course she did. “And you aren’t the long-term relationship type, so-”
“I could be.”
David wished he hadn’t said it. He hadn’t expected Alexis to even hear him over the sound of her own voice, much less pause to call him out. “I could be the long-term relationship type.”
It wasn’t like it was impossible.
Alexis didn’t argue verbally, but her face sure did. “I’m just saying, David. Our family can’t afford another bankruptcy.”
“No one can afford a bankruptcy. That’s what a bankruptcy is.” He shut his notebook. “I’m going to rearrange the toiler paper. Don’t sample anything else.”
“I put my spare EpiPen in the first aid kit,” Patrick said, coming in from the front room with the wildflower soap that wouldn’t fit out on the counter. “Just so you’re aware.”
“And why do I need to know this?” David asked. Alexis had left after lunch, but her words were hanging over him.
“Well, you seemed apprehensive, before, about sending me into anaphylactic shock.” Patrick's eyes were almost as puffy as David's. They’d both been working all hours.
“I’m not any less apprehensive about stabbing you with a needle, so if you’re poisoned by any legumes, you’re probably on your own.”
“We have a first aid kit?” David looked up from where he was arranging and rearranging insect repellant. He hadn’t been all that tempted to stare at Patrick since lunch, despite his stripping down to a thin white undershirt to scrub the floors one last time.
“David, I told you this. It’s right here.” He took a step back into the stock room and pulled out a small tupperware container.
“Hmm, right. Now I remember.” He didn’t, at all. “You’re very prepared, aren’t you?”
“I am. And if you’d like something else to make fun of me for, I also have a first aid kit in my car and under my bed.”
“Accident-prone, are we?”
Stop. Stop flirting. It’s stupid and pointless.
“Not really. My ex is a nurse, she was a stickler about things like that, so I already had those two when I moved here. But I do think it’s smart for the store. There’s a lot of glassware that could break, plus, of course, the possible allergens… here, look, I got antibiotic ointment, bandages, eye rinse, benadryl…”
David tuned him out, even as he nodded along.
She. Patrick’s ex was a she.
It didn’t mean anything. David had ex-girlfriends, too.
Except... except if Patrick was queer, and if he wanted to make sure David got the right impression, that would have been the moment to say something. To clarify. And he hadn’t.
Fuck. David had been pretty obvious about his interest in the last few days—even fucking Alexis had thought so, and for her flirting was like breathing. It was entirely possible that this was Patrick’s tactful, understated way of warning him off.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
The idea filled him with shame and panic, a buzzy sensation in his stomach and behind his eyes. He was glad when Patrick put the first aid kit away and went to the front to stock the refrigerator case.
The more likely scenario was that Patrick was so indifferent to him as a romantic option that he’d be shocked to know how deeply David was reading into his every word.
He’d probably laugh, if he knew. Patrick liked to laugh at him.
“You’re listening to Alexis over me?” Stevie passed him the joint she’d just rolled. It was a small one, just enough to help him sleep. She’d brought it over knowing that otherwise he’d be awake all night.
Talking about Patrick was almost a pleasant distraction, tonight; anxiety about the soft opening was practically seeping out of his pores.
“She’s known me my whole life.” He closed his eyes and took a drag, coughing as he passed it back. They’d absconded to the lobby and were sitting on the floor behind the desk.
“That’s… not actually an advantage, in this case. It keeps her from seeing who you are now.” She took a pull, inhaling deeply. “And before you ask, I’m not even stoned yet, so that’s not the weed talking.”
They finished the joint in silence.
“Honestly, just fuck him and see what happens,” Stevie said sleepily.
“Really? That’s your sage advice regarding my business partner? Fuck him and see what happens?”
She shrugged. “That’s how all my relationships have started.”
“And how’s that working out for you?”
“Yeah, good point.” She leaned her head on his shoulder.
He frowned at the ceiling, trying to be realistic with himself for once. “Right now, Patrick seems to... respect me? And that is a far rarer situation in my life than you might think.”
“And having sex with you would make him disrespect you.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Because Patrick really seems like the kind of guy who habitually disrespects the people he’s slept with,” she continued.
She was right, and he knew it, but he still didn’t want to give up the point. “The best case scenario, if we sleep together, is that we have a fun night and then he politely tells me that he’s either A, straight, or B, not into me romantically. And then we continue being friends, except he’s seen me naked. And that’s the best case scenario—it only devolves from there.”
“You don’t think it’s even in the realm of possibility that he’d want to, you know, date you?”
“Nope.” He popped his lips on the p.
“Right. Well, you are pretty terrible.” Stevie stared at him for a moment, then rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “I can’t believe you’re going to make me do some kind of self esteem building exercise with you right now.”
“I’m not making you do anything-”
“David Rose. Repeat after me. You’re a catch.”
“Well, you are a catch. That’s different.”
She smiled, like he’d wanted her to. “Shut up. And maybe I’m wrong, but Patrick doesn’t seem like the kind to have a fling with a business partner. Cause wouldn’t that be irresponsible? Like, that’s what randoms are for, not people you work with. So if you make a move and Patrick is into it, he probably doesn’t just want to get in your pants- skirt- whatever.” She waved at his outfit. “So to return to my original thesis: fuck him, and see what happens.”
The next day was a blur of anxiety and off-brand customers, mostly, but somehow David still found time to think about Patrick—not the increasingly graphic sexual fantasies he’d been having recently, either, but trying for something calmer and more assessing.
For the first time in his life, he wished he’d watched fewer romcoms in his formative years.
Patrick had brought him pie for no reason, Patrick had googled his ex, Patrick had said he looked, quote-unquote, ‘great now.’ Patrick worried about his panic attacks and said nerdy, sweet things to him.
And Patrick stared at him, sometimes, the same way David stared back, which had David’s brain torturing him with wholly imaginary will-they-won’t-they scenarios: will-they-won’t-they touch hands as they set out the cheese for the soft opening. Will-they-won’t-they brush against each other after Patrick accidentally crowds him in the doorway behind the register. Will-they-won’t-they finally break all this goddamn tension and bang one out in the stockroom after they lock up tonight.
None of that happened, but Patrick did smile at him so softly during the launch, then pulled him into a tight hug afterwards.
It almost felt like they were about to kiss.
Then the lights went out.
Will-he-won’t-he lose his goddamn mind.