It didn’t take long for the rest of the deli department to find out about the budding romance. Adam hadn’t considered what others might think.
Adam was tying the long white apron around his waist in the back room when Emily skipped up to him with a wink and a conspiratorial smile. She nudged him in the side with her elbow.
“You asked out Becca?”
Cheeks flaring red, Adam nodded. He looked down at his waist and scrambled to tie the stings around his front. He was the only person in the department who tied his apron this way. He liked a snug fit.
Emily squealed. “This is amazing!” she cried, jumping up and down. “Oh, good for you, Adam! You two would make such a cute couple! I-”
She stopped mid-sentence as the laminate door swung open. Becca stood there with a large metal tray of barbecue chicken in her arms. Her lips parted. She looked from Emily to Adam and her own cheeks took on a tinge of pink. She shuffled past, head bowed, and set the tray down on the counter.
Shooting Adam a wary look, Emily moved to help Becca remove the cling-wrap from the tray.
“It’s timed-out,” Becca murmured. “Dick said it needs to be weighed for shrink?”
“Yes, shrink. I’ll show you how to do it.”
Becca gave Adam a tight smile and then turned to Emily, listening as Emily explained how to use the scale and the most efficient way of moving the long tray from the hot case to the shrink buckets. Adam’s mouth twitched. She looked pretty cute in her hairnet. A few strands fell free in the back. It was really cute. But Dick would make her tie her hair up more tightly. Shame.
Adam left the women to their shrink and joined Dick behind the counter. There was a long line of customers waiting, so they didn’t have a chance to talk aside from a quick nod and a request from Dick to take care of the customers at the hot case while he sliced meat and cheese. The next forty minutes was a blur of activity. How many pounds? The big bucket of chicken? No, the deal in the flyer. Are there any rosemary rotisserie chickens left? Not that much. Fill it up more. I thought it was 2.39 not 3.39. Hello. Hello. This wait is ridiculous. You wait your turn.
It wasn’t until the line had mostly died down and Dick was slicing cheddar for the last customer-a short man with dark skin and a full beard who kept calling over the counter to put wax sheets between each slice-that Adam and Dick finally had the chance to speak. Dick laid another sheet of wax paper and muttered to Adam, while pulling back the handle of the slicer to strip another piece of cheese from the block.
“You asked out the new girl, did ya?”
Adam’s eyebrows shot up. He leaned the small of his back against the counter and crossed his arms in front of his chest. Dick wasn’t looking at him. He had to keep his eyes on the whirring blade, but Adam didn’t miss the look of concern on the old man’s face.
“You don’t think it’s a good idea.” It was a statement not a question.
“It’s never a good idea to shit where ya eat. But you’ll learn that. Why ain’t you trying out that app stuff if you’re out for a gal?”
“Online dating?” Adam didn’t know how to respond. “I don’t…I can’t do online dating.”
Why not indeed. Adam didn’t really know. It wasn’t like he’d never thought about it. But he’d never given it serious consideration. It was too….too….he didn’t know. He didn’t know. The idea made him uneasy. It made his skin creep in the same way as giving a presentation in front of the class without notes made his flesh tighten and crawl. It wasn’t for him. It didn’t feel right.
Sure, he’d flirted with girls online here and there. There was one, Tara, that he used to talk to over WOW. He’d also once struck up a friendship with a girl he met on reddit. She’d posted a picture of a computer she built herself and dudes had come out of the woodwork to express disbelief that a female could build a gaming PC without help.
“Right. You built it. I’m an engineer. Every once in awhile we get a ‘resident princess.’ She never does shit. All the orbiters build her shit for her. That’s what happened here.”
“Female built a computer lawl.”
“Tell your husband he did a nice job. Give him a sandwich and a blowjob as thanks.”
“I made a compupah!-Teehee! Give me pwaise pwease. Me woman make good job.”
Adam had felt for the girl. She’d been so proud of her computer, and it did look cool. It had an i7 processor and lights that strobed in time to the music of whatever game was being played. Three huge monitors stood in a semi-circle around a slightly-elevated qwerty keyboard.
“I wanted to make my own DVORAK keyboard,” she’d posted along with the image. “I like to use that style for typing. But, as you guys probably know, I need the WASD layout on the QWERTY for da vidya. If I ever make another computer, I want to build a cool DVORAK with custom made keys and everything. I dabble in wood-burning and I think wooden keys would be fucking lit.”
So much work. So much skill. So much technical knowledge. Just to have her hardwork mocked due to her gender. It was wrong.
He’d sent her a message to tell her how much he liked the computer. How he wished he was able to create something so intense, so impressive.
“Thanks….think I’ll take the post down and wait a week or two for everyone to forget. Then I’ll make a throwaway and post it as a guy. It’s not like I announced I was a female. They only knew cuz of my screen-name.”
“It’s not a dead giveaway,” Adam had replied. “But I guess a guy probably wouldn’t have ‘babe’ in his username.”
Adam and computer babe had talked for several weeks. Their messages had gone from friendly to flirtatious. She’d even asked him if he had a girlfriend. He’d said no.
“That’s cool…I’d say I like you, but I’m ugly. You wouldn’t like me if you knew what I looked like.”
“Try me. I’m not the best looking either.”
And it was true. Adam wasn’t attracted to fat women. He found them really unattractive. Guys couldn’t change their height or their facial symmetry. All women had to do was be thin. For the ones who couldn’t even manage that much, he found himself somewhat disgusted by them. They couldn’t even put in the bare minimum effort required of a female. Just don’t be fat.
Still, he liked computer babe. He could always help her lose weight if this turned out to be anything.
“All women are beautiful. Your heart is beautiful.”
But his words had hung in cyberspace. She’d never responded. Two years after the fact, Adam still wasn’t sure what had brought their flirtation of several months to an abrupt halt. He’d seen her on different subreddits several times. She posted on r/r4r looking for “friends possibly more.” Why he couldn’t be that possibly more for her, Adam didn’t know.
Maybe, instinctively, he knew that online dating would be the same. He’d connect with girls just for them to ghost him without explanation, and he’d never know what he’d done to deserve it. Their words would fly easily, banter would ping-pong from one to the other, neither letting an especially tight serve go unmatched, until, without notice, the ball would be snatched up. The girl would vanish, and Adam would be left feeling as though he’d have been better off had they never spoken at all. Being rejected like that, like he wasn’t even worth a good-bye….he didn’t think he had the stones to deal with that on a regular basis. It had only happened to him twice. Tara and computer babe. Tara’s interactions had petered off slowly, and she’d said that she was getting a little sick of WOW, thinking of quitting. That’s probably why her eventual disappearance hadn’t stung as much. And he’d never seen her online again. Not like with computer babe. She still existed. She still posted. It was like being at a party with an old friend who refused to look at you. He wondered if she’d blocked him.
No, he wouldn’t online date. He was enough of a loser without adding creep-looking-for-pussy-online to his creep repertoire. At least a girl had to tell you where you fucked up if you met her in the real world. Adam had read other sad accounts of lonely guys being ghosted. The sub r/lonely was full of dudes complaining about the trials of online dating.
But Adam didn’t have to worry about any of that, because he had a real date planned. He’d manned up, asked a girl out, and she’d said yes. What was he doing thinking about online dating, past ghostings, and incel subs when he had a girl who said yes to him?
He grinned and tried to hide the way his step bounced, as Emily and Becca joined the men behind the counter. The four worked in silence, cleaning the slicers and sweeping.
Eventually Dick left for the night and it was time for Emily to take her break. She winked at Adam as she left and whispered a playful, “Don’t get into trouble, you two.”
Adam blazed red and met Becca’s eyes. She fussed with her hairnet and looked away.
When Emily was out of earshot, Adam asked, “How do you like working here so far?”
“It’s okay.” She chewed on her bottom lip and dropped the wet rag she’d been using into the bucket of sanitation solution.
Adam fought to come up with something else to ask her, but his brain was nothing but tumbleweeds. This was awkward as hell. He didn’t know how to talk to her now that they had a date planned. Was he supposed to act like everything was usual? He’d basically announced: I am sexually interested in you! And with her reply of yes, she’d about said: I could explore this. I’m not entirely disgusted by you. And with each of them having signaled that there was a possibility each of them would be amenable to future fucking, they still had to work side-by-side, just as unfamiliar with each other as they’d previously been. “Hey female-who-is-basically-a-stranger! I might want to fuck you!” What a weird situation, he’d created.
Thankfully, the short lull in customers didn’t last long. With another crowd accumulating on all sides of the long c-shaped counter, there wasn’t time for them to talk and Adam was thankful for it. He looked her way here and again, but she was doing just fine with the slicer. She had the safeguard on and was keeping both hands clear of the blade’s movement.
The rush lasted the rest of the night. Emily came back from her break and sent Becca. Then it was time for Adam to go. When Adam came back, the deli was still surrounded. It was unusual to be so busy on a Friday night. The weekend rush didn’t start till Saturday morning.
But he was glad for it. He didn’t know what to say to Becca. He didn’t want to risk saying something stupid or coming on to strong and cause her to change her mind. He also didn’t want to ignore her and come across as shy or weird. With one customer after another, he had the perfect excuse not to talk to her. Talking would be easier once they were outside of the store. He told himself it would be. And he had a whole week to plan what he’d do then, what he would say to her, how he would look at her. He couldn’t fuck it up. Couldn’t fuck it up.
When the deli closed, Adam had one painful hour of closing duties to make it through. He volunteered to wash the dishes, so that he’d be in the back. Emily agreed and she told Becca to sweep, while she emptied the hot case. Once the dishes were done, Adam joined the girls back up front and set about cleaning the slicers. He couldn’t say nothing, not with Becca standing only a few feet away. She’d finished sweeping and was now cleaning the glass of the display case on the opposite side of the counter.
“Want to hear a joke?” he asked.
Becca smiled, although her eyes were sad. “Sure.”
“How does a zombie introduce itself?”
“I don’t know. How?”
Adam forced himself to appear more relaxed than he felt. He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Pleased to eat you.”
Her face was blank and she said nothing for a moment that stretched out too long and silent between them. Tension balled together in Adam’s muscles, a tight knot of nerves pressing heavily at the base of his neck. Heart clanged inside of taut ribs. Then, a smile cracked across her face. She giggled. “Pleased to eat you!” she laughed. Her eyes danced and she looked at Adam through lowered lashes. “I love puns.”
Warmth bloomed in his bones. Love. He could swear she’d put a little extra emphasis on that word.
The three closers left the store together. Adam wondered if Emily could sense how nervous he was. She walked between him and Becca, keeping up a steady stream of chatter. Then again, Emily always kept up a steady stream of chatter. She was like a walking babbling brooke, only instead of splashes and the trickle of water over stones, she emitted white noise that was a roar of complaints about coworkers and ‘interesting’ things she’d learned on Facebook recently. Why had he ever liked Emily? She was nothing compared to Becca. True, Becca hadn’t opened up yet, but Adam could tell there was a depth to her, a cultured kind of beauty, beauty tinged with intellect.
He parted ways with them in the parking lot, waving casually to Emily and infusing his smile to Becca with every ounce of longing he could muster. Long glances filled with meaning. If they didn’t have those early on, then this would never be a romance. He knew that much from the movies. Becca stiffened under his gaze, but she did smile back, and Adam swore he could see that same light dancing in her eyes. I love puns.
He drove him in the darkness, windows down, Iron Maiden blasting. He’d clean his car tomorrow. A date required a clean car.
He wouldn’t see Becca again until Friday. Except for Wednesday when their shifts overlapped by only an hour. That meant she wouldn’t have a chance to tell him she’d changed her mind. Although, crap, he was going to have to get her number and address Wednesday. He should have gotten it today. If it was busy at the start of his shift, he risked missing any opportunity to talk to her, and then he wouldn’t know where to pick her up. He wondered if Emily had her number…
With his spirit a murky cocktail of hope, excitement, and dread, he drove through the twisting night. There was a chance for him after all. How small a chance, he wasn’t really sure.