“Those danishes look delicious,” the man behind Nicky says. He’d taken his earbuds out when he couldn’t hear the podcast over the whirring, bubbling, and clinking of coffee preparation and so he actually hears his fellow customer.
The aforementioned pastries do indeed look delicious with bright orange jelly centers and crisp edges glossy with egg yolk glaze. There’s an entire tray of them in two uniform rows all ready to be bundled up into a crinkly bag or onto a small plate. Nicky groans. “I wish you hadn’t pointed them out,” says Nicky.
He looks back at the man who, like every other sane person in the queue, is bundled up with hat and coat and scarf. A springy beard provides him an extra layer of protection against the cold. Nicky can’t grow anything longer than a goatee without looking as though he’s about to hit up strangers for spare change, and so he foregoes the extra warmth.
The man smiles, a crooked thing, and all the more wholesome for its asymmetry. Though all the teeth are accounted for, it’s a smile reminiscent of a child who has several missing. It looks innocent. “There couldn’t be so many calories in something so small…” he lies.
Ever since he’d hit 30, Nicky has started caring a lot more about how those little numbers stack and the effect that they have on his waistline. He isn’t a vain man, but he does want to try a little not to let himself go. He was fully intending to make the coffee his breakfast, but now he’s got the sweet imagined taste of preserved fruit on his tongue and his stomach is running wild with the idea. He should remain resolute and forfend against such dietary pitfalls.
“I shouldn’t eat of the fruit,” he jokes. His personal Eden snake is much cuter than he’d pictured the biblical one.
The line scoots up one and he steps forward still feeling the stranger’s presence behind him as though they are together. His feet are turned slightly towards him rather than to the cafe register.
“What about half of one?” the man asks. “We could split it and then only be half as sinful.”
A two-fold temptation then, sweet dessert for breakfast and continued conversation with the attractive stranger. Lesser men than he would fail with that kind of incentive. “You are truly crafty,” he praises or insults. “Must you make me an accomplice?”
The man nods. “I don’t have the willpower to stop at half alone. I need to enlist your help.”
It’s Nicky’s turn at the front; he doesn’t notice until the barista calls out to him. He sheepishly apologizes for holding up the queue. He orders his usual and then, with a glance back at the man behind him, one that is met with amusement and interest, he also asks for one of the apricot danishes.
“Would you like that in a bag?”
“For here,” he says, and hopes that’s what the man meant. It’ll be terribly embarrassing if he’d only meant for them to bisect it and carry on with their mornings.
She grabs a small square of paper and extracts the pastry. When she sets the little plate down in front of him, he feels like he’s getting away with something, like it’s not just an indulgence but maybe something a little wrong. This is cemented when the man draws up beside him, and with a grin whispers, “Partners in crime.” Briefly, Nicky’s heart emulates the cappuccino machine, excitement bubbling up.
“And I’ll have an espresso. And we need a knife, please.” The man pulls out his wallet.
“No,” Nicky objects. “I will pay for it.”
He reaches for his own wallet, but the stranger holds out a hand, strong and insistent. “Please, if it wasn’t for my craftiness, you would’t have the extra expense. Let me, please.”
Their eyes battle over the bill, each feeling responsible but in the end, Nicky relents. It isn’t often a good-looking man insists on buying him a meal. In fact, given how few years he’s been uncloseted, he’d be hard-pressed to name one time. It’s like the pastry itself - an indulgence.
Nicky chooses the table when they’re loaded up with their ill-advised calories and necessary caffeine but he waits for the man to nod in approval at his choice before actually sitting. Then it’s time for a warmer-temperature striptease. As the hat and scarf and coat come off, the man reveals himself to be at least fifteen times sexier than he’d looked in line. A fluff of curls and muscular shoulders under a tight long sleeve shirt appear as though from nowhere.
Nicky swallows. By comparison, his own shedding of extra layers reveals that he should have put more thought into what he wore this morning.
With that same charming grin, the stranger sits and offers him a hand. “I’m Joe. Thank you for giving in to temptation.”
Oh, Nicky had had no idea how much temptation was going to be laid out in front of him. He very nearly forgets that proper handshaking etiquette requires that people take their hands back. He wants to keep touching, but eventually, long enough that he’s sure that he sees laughter in the other man’s eyes, Nicky pulls back his hand. He immediately grabs for the knife, replacing one weapon for another, this one of a much duller and less arousing nature.
“I should cut you a bigger half, as punishment for including me in your crime,” Nicky says. He focuses on dividing it perfectly. Considering the bluntness of the blade, he doesn’t do a half bad job.
“Are all your punishments so generous?” Joe asks flirtatiously, fingers outstretched to snag one of the halves.
Nicky can think of no response, at least nothing that he would say aloud in a cafe, so instead he bites into his half as well. He groans at the delicious sugar on his tongue. When he looks up, Joe is watching him, a sparkle of lascivious intent behind heavy dark eyelashes. “Well, Nicky, is it worth it?”
The calories slide down easier than the flirting and he can’t seem to meet Joe’s eyes when he replies, “Worth getting kicked out of the Garden.”