NineMature

Ice cream drips off my spoon and splatters the white tablecloth with minty green. What were they thinking when they chose white? If they thought their customers would be too high brow to spill their treats, well, they set up shop in the wrong part of town.

“This is an incredible opportunity for you J,” Karl says as he jabs the jagged end of his half-eaten cone at me like a broken bottle in a street brawl. “When did DJ offer you this?”

“Three days ago,” I reply without making eye contact.

“I thought you said he told you to come back the next day?” My answer is muffled by a heaping spoonful of mint chocolate goodness. “J… you are not passing this up.”

“I’m just giving him time to come to his senses.”

“His senses? Has that man ever taken a vacation? The man needs a break and he needs you to make that happen, God help him.”

“Thanks,” I say with a grimace. “DJ’s got plenty of customers, I’m sure he could find someone else.”

“Someone else who’s in a position to run his store for a week? Besides,” Karl says, “he chose you, not some other customer. He’s giving you a hell of a chance J. When was the last time you had an actual, honest job?”

“My resume is at the office but if I recall correctly… about fifteen years ago.”

“You do this for him and maybe it’ll lead to some steady income. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how much money you’d be making each week?” he asks with a single, bushy red eyebrow raised.

“I do this and screw it up, I’ll never get another chance,” I say without thinking.

“Ah, we’ve found the problem at last,” Karl says, sitting back with a satisfied smile. “The Fear is getting in the way again.” I can hear the capitalization of that four letter word.

“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here man, DJ is dumping a lot of responsibility on me. I haven’t had to take care of anything but me for a long, long time.”

“You talked to TJ about it?” Karl asks around a mouthful of cone.

“I haven’t seen her in a while,” I admit.

“What was it this time?”

“Don’t ask me, she’s the crazy one,” I reply with a sigh that refuses to be contained.

Karl finishes his cone with a sharp crunch and we lapse into silence for several minutes. I’m sure he’s trying to come up with a way to convince me to take DJ’s offer. I leave him to it and turn my attention to the other customers on the patio. It takes me about five seconds to realize that all the other tables are occupied by couples.

“What are you thinking?” Karl asks.

“I was just wondering,” I tell him, “whether or not everyone else here thinks we’re gay.”

“I suppose it would have been too much to ask for you to have been thinking about DJ’s proposal,” he says with a sigh before smiling that toothy grin of his. “You’d be the one wearing the dress at the wedding, by the way.”

“Fat chance. I make the money and you hold it, sounds to me like you need to go buy some makeup,” I tell him with my best poker face. He shakes his head and looks away, unwilling to indulge my avoidance of the topic at hand.

“I know I can’t make you take this job,” he says, still not looking at me. “But it would break my heart if you didn’t.”

Dammit. Damn it all to hell.

“I won’t make you any promises,” I say quietly, “but I’ll talk to him.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“How about now?”

My stomach does a somersault and I begin to sweat. There really is no escaping this.

“What, you gonna hold my hand and walk me there?” I ask.

“I’ll stick to just walking with you,” Karl says as he gets up. “Come on, let’s go.”

“It’s a long walk from here.” I remain seated.

“Good, that’ll give me plenty of time to explain to you every single reason why doing this for DJ is a brilliant idea.”

“That’ll just make it seem even longer.”

“Get off your ass and let’s go. It’s time.”

And I know he’s right. And I know there’s no reason to fight it anymore. So I stand.

The End

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