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You Stole A Pizza My Heart

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It was the third restaurant unit that Joe had looked at that day, and the ninth in the last week, which meant he now knew enough not to be suckered in by the excellent location, well-presented outside, or even the little patio area where he could already picture three or four tables, perhaps with striped umbrellas.

“The electrics were all redone last year,” said his estate agent, Andy, opening the door and gesturing him inside. “And the boiler is less than five years old.”

“I see,” said Joe, trying to keep his immediate reaction to the interior under control. It was light and airy, with a long counter along the back and enough space for another couple of tables. He'd need to repaint, of course, but he wouldn't have to do much actual remodelling, not unless...

He opened the door to one side marked as the customer toilet, bracing himself after some of the horrors he'd seen, and found a pleasantly large single cubicle, already fitted with handles and set up to be accessible for disabled people. It wasn't stained with damp, or years of poor cleaning, and when he pulled the light cord an extractor fan started humming quietly to itself.

Okay, that was one test passed, but the biggest was yet to come. Joe had seen far too many terrible kitchens hiding behind nice shop fronts to let his guard down just yet.

“What the hell are you doing here?” asked Andy in a growl, and he turned to see that two other people had come into the restaurant. A small, dark-haired woman in an expensive red coat who was glaring at Andy, and a broad-shouldered white guy who was staring around at the restaurant with large, blue-green eyes.

“I'm doing a viewing, obviously,” said the woman. “What are you doing here? I checked, no one was scheduled to be here.”

Andy rolled her eyes. “Why would I have scheduled it? We were in the area and I had the keys.”

“So I could avoid you,” spat the woman and, wow, there really was some serious glaring going on. Joe glanced at the guy, who was presumably another client looking for a restaurant. He looked just as awkward as Joe felt.

He really was very good-looking, now that Joe was looking properly, in a quiet way that grew on you. It seemed like the more Joe looked at him, the more he wanted to see.

“For god's sake, Quynh,” hissed Andy. “Are you ever going to get over this?”

Quynh stared at her as if she couldn't believe her audacity, drew herself up to her full height, which didn't come close to Andy's, and stepped forward. “I wasn't the one who started this, Andromache! You left me behind without a word! Trapped in that fucking office with Stephen!”

“It was a much better salary!” said Andy. “And you knew I was looking around!”

This sounded as if it were going to go on for a while. Joe looked at the other man and watched him glance around, then quietly slip through the door that must lead to the kitchen. That felt like the right idea, so Joe followed him.

The man had stopped in the middle of the kitchen and was slowly turning around, looking awed.

“Oh wow,” said Joe, following his gaze. “It's perfect.”

The man nodded. “Look at all the storage space,” he said, moving over to open a shiny metal door that lead to a walk-in freezer. He had a warm voice with an Italian accent that Joe could imagine being happy to listen to for hours.

That didn't seem to be an appropriate thing to say though, so he turned away to investigate the nearest oven. “All the appliances look new.”

“Quynh said the kitchen was new last year, when they did the electrics,” said the man, opening a few cupboards to look inside.

Joe ran a hand over one of the prep surfaces. “It's exactly what I've been looking for,” he said. “Are we going to fight over it?”

The man shook his head, staring mournfully at the two massive fridges. “The rent is out of my reach,” he said. “I told Quynh that before we came here but I think she was hoping I'd be inspired to somehow find more money from nowhere.”

Joe frowned and pulled out the sales information that Andy had given him, and which he'd barely glanced at. “Ah,” he said, eyeing the figure. “Yes. That's... a lot.”

“It's the location,” said the man, crouching down to open an oven and look inside. The action pulled his trousers tight across his arse, and Joe got lost for a second or two on just how round and perfect it looked. “And all the appliances are included. It's such a shame, this all looks perfect.”

“Are you opening a restaurant?” asked Joe, pulling himself together. He shouldn't be ogling a stranger this much, no matter how good he looked. He shoved the sales info back in his pocket and looking around again, this time with the same mournful air that the other guy had. There was no way he could afford this either, not without completely rewriting his business plan.

“A bakery,” said the man. “Bread, pastries, occasionally cakes.”

Joe nodded, glancing back out towards the front area and imagining it with shelves of different loaves and pastries behind the counter. “This place would be perfect that. You'd get the morning traffic to the train station.”

The man nodded, standing back up and turning around. “And parents coming back from the school around the corner after dropping their children off. What about you?”

“A pizzeria,” said Joe. He gestured at the corner of the room. “I could easily move things around there and fit a pizza oven in, and with the cinema next door...”

The man was nodding. “Oh yes, that would work well,” he said, then looked at Joe with a frown, eyeing him. “You make pizzas?”

Joe raised an eyebrow at him pointedly. “Yes, is there some reason that surprises you? You were expecting me to say kebabs? Or curry?”

He'd had more than enough assumptions about what kind of food he should be making in his restaurant from all kinds of people, including the bank manager he'd got a business loan from. Often they were half the planet away from Joe’s actual native cuisine, making guesses based solely on his skin colour. This man seemed nice, and was very attractive, but Joe was so very over having to deal with that particular micro-aggression.

“Oh no!” said the man, looking shocked at just the idea. “Just, my parents had a pizzeria, back home in Genoa.”

“Oh really?” asked Joe, then laughed, partially with relief and partially because of course the hot Italian guy had pizza in his blood. “I don't suppose you have any top secret family recipes you'd like to share?”

The man snorted and shook his head. “None that I could give you without the ghost of my father turning up to haunt me.” He considered that. “It might be nice to see him again, I suppose, but I already upset him by going into baking rather than pizza making, I wouldn't want to compound it by betraying his recipes to a stranger.”

Joe considered that, then stepped forward, holding his hand out. “I'm Joe.”

The man shook his hand. “Nicky,” he said. “But if you think a name is enough to convince the shade of my angry dead father that you're not a stranger any more... I'm not sure he'd even be happy with me passing his recipes to my cousin.”

“Ah, it was worth a try,” said Joe, thinking to himself that it had also got him Nicky's name, which was more than worth it.

“So, will you be taking it?” asked Nicky, looking around at the kitchen again.

“I wish,” said Joe, sadly. “I can't afford it either. At this rate I will be getting somewhere so far out that I'll have to do delivery to drive up enough custom.” He made a face at that. He wasn't against pizza delivery as such, but once you started dong it, so much of the job became about logistics and finding drivers, and you never saw your customers. Joe liked to smile and talk to people, liked to watch them eat his pizza and see how they enjoyed it.

Nicky made a face. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “Perhaps look at the more touristy areas and do ice cream or something as well, in the afternoon once most of the bakery business has passed. And probably more pastries and cakes than loaves of bread.” He sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “It will be much longer hours than I was planning for,” he said, sounding tired at just the prospect.

Joe frowned. “You weren’t going to be open all day?”

“No,” said Nicky. “Or, well. Bakery hours. Very early morning until mid afternoon.”

Joe considered that, looking back around at the beautiful, perfect kitchen. An idea was coming to him that was so ridiculous it could only be genius. “If I only offered a cut-down menu for lunch service I wouldn’t need the whole kitchen for it, not until I started prep for dinner. Which would be about mid afternoon.”

Nicky stared at him. “You think we should share?”

“Why not?” Joe asked, as if it would be that simple to set up a business with a complete stranger. “We could be a bakery during the morning and a pizzeria in the evening, and offer a bit of both in between. That way we could split the rent.”

Nicky stared at him, then looked around again, as if seeing the possibilities. “There is so much storage space,” he murmured to himself. “And the ovens…”

“I’d have my pizza oven,” put in Joe. “If I kept the lunch menu to only pizza, no sides, I wouldn’t need the others until-”

“Until after I had packed up and gone home,” finished Nicky. “Oh. Joe, this could work.”

“It really could,” said Joe, beaming at him. “Nicky, will you do me the honour of becoming my business partner?”

Nicky laughed. “This is insane,” he said. “We only just met.”

Joe shrugged that off. “I think we’ll get on well enough, don’t you?”

Nicky looked at him for a long moment and Joe found himself holding his breath, trying to look as trustworthy and reasonable as possible.

“We’ll have to sit down and draw up a full contract,” said Nicky. “Work out all the details and compromises before we even start.”

Joe nodded. “Of course,” he said, “but in principle, as long as we can agree on everything, are you in?”

Nicky blinked at him then let out another of his quiet laughs. “I never make decisions like this,” he said, then held out his hand to Joe again. “In principle, I’m in, partner.”

Joe grinned as he shook his hand, happiness rolling through him. This was going to be incredible, he could feel it in his bones. He didn’t think he’d ever made a decision that felt as right as this one.

“And do you know the best thing about this?” he asked. “Even the shade of your father couldn’t be too angry about you sharing family recipes with your business partner.”

Nicky laughed. “I suppose not. Come on, let’s go tell our estate agents that we’ll both be taking it, before they kill each other.”

Except when they went back out to the front, Andy and Quynh weren’t still fighting. Instead, Quynh had Andy pressed up against the counter and was kissing her as if the world would end if their lips parted.

“Oh,” said Nicky, faintly. “I suppose that explains the tension earlier.”

Joe decided to take it as an excellent omen. If this restaurant had already brought two lovers together, who was to say it wouldn’t do it again? He looked at Nicky again and smiled. There were many ways to be partners, after all.