It had been four days. Charlie had no legitimate reason to go to the bakery—it wasn't even open, after all, and he wasn't exactly on the payroll yet—but he was bored, and he was lonely, and he was hungry. So he was headed to the bakery anyways, hoping that Civic would be there even though it was only eight in the morning. He put one hand on the door to push it inwards, heard music coming from inside, and smiled. He was in luck.
"Hello?" Charlie called, raising his voice to something approaching a yell in hopes of being heard over the music blaring from the kitchen. He had no idea what the song was, but he was willing to bet his last dollar that it was a show tune from a musical. And here he'd thought that Civic would be into metal or screamo. "Civic? Are you back there?"
The music disappeared promptly, and a head poked around the frame of the kitchen door. "Charlie?" Civic said. One of his eyebrows was cocked in either confusion or surprise, but he was smiling all the same. Charlie took that as a good sign and walked towards the back of the building.
"Hey," he said, leaning against the counter and giving Civic a rather weak smile. "I woke up early to get into the habit. Did some laundry, ran out of things to do... Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you needed some help in here." He wondered if he sounded as idiotic as he felt.
"Well..." Civic mused, "I guess you can come help me clean, if you don't mind. I've got cranberry muffins in the oven, if you haven't had breakfast yet. They'll be done in a few minutes." His head disappeared, and Charlie walked around the counter and into the kitchen. The large room looked pretty clean to him already, but who was he to judge another man's kingdom, so to speak?
"Muffins would be great," Charlie said with a nod. "Where should I begin?"
Civic pointed to a bucket and scrub brush sitting nearby. "I've been scrubbing the grout between the tiles," he said. "I'm all done except that corner," he said, pointing, "and along the back wall. If you could just finish that up I'd really appreciate it."
A new song came on, and this time it was more like what Charlie had originally expected: a long guitar intro followed by slightly gravelly male vocals. He knelt on the floor, grabbed the brush, and started scrubbing. Civic washed his hands, checked on the muffins, and gave them another three minutes before they'd be done. "They'll have to cool down before you can eat them, though" he cautioned. Charlie's mouth started watering anyway.
"So, Civic..." Charlie asked a while later. He was sprawled out on the floor munching on a muffin and watching Civic measure out ingredients for his next experimental recipe. "What do you do when you're not baking?"
Civic snorted. "I don't exactly have a lot of free time nowadays," he said wryly.
"Point taken. How about back before you decided to open your bakery? School, I guess... But freshman year of college, when you did have time for other stuff in your life?"
There was a long silence as Civic measured dry ingredients on a scale, getting his quantities precise and perfect. "I watched horror movies," he said finally. "The cheesier, the better. And I collected frogs. And cologne. And earrings: hoops and studs." He was wearing a pair of small silver studs shaped like roses. They had probably been designed as women's earrings, but Civic somehow managed to pull them off. It made no sense at all to Charlie, but he wouldn't judge.
"Yup! They're really cute. If I was any good at keeping animals alive in captivity, I'd have a pet frog or three. How about you?"
"No, no pet frogs for me either," Charlie replied promptly, one corner of his lips twitching slightly upward even as he fought to stay somber. He was rewarded with a laugh from Civic. It was a fantastic sound. "When I have the money, I collect vinyl records. I read comic books. I write poetry. Really, really bad poetry, not fit for human consumption. Quality-wise, my poetry is the polar opposite of your baking, in fact. But writing calms me down, keeps me mellow, so I don't care how bad I suck."
Civic was mixing wet and dry ingredients now. The result looked like cookie dough. Charlie decided he'd definitely be sticking around for a while, at least until he could help Civic out further by sampling and rating the cookies. It was the polite thing to do, he told himself. That's what all this was about: politeness and free food. He certainly didn't have a massive, quickly-developing, ultimately pathetic crush on his future boss. Or even a slowly developing one. That would be morally reprehensible. Or unprofessional, at the very least.
"Well, I think I'm done with the scrubbing," Charlie said after he'd eaten another muffin and listened to a few more screaming-singing songs. "What are you going to do once the cookies are done? More baking? Some decorating in the main room, maybe? Shopping for ingredients?"
Civic stretched and peered into the oven. "I should probably stay," he said. "I haven't slept since yesterday morning, though. A nap would be so nice, and you did help the cleaning process along... An hour or two couldn't hurt, right?"
Charlie stared at the other man. "Why on earth haven't you slept in twenty-four hours?" he asked. "I'm hardly a business expert, but I'm pretty sure you need all your strength and wits to deal with opening a new place all on your own!"
His question was met with a shrug. "Probably," Civic said, "but I also need all my time. There just aren't enough hours in the day for me to get everything done in time to maintain my schedule. All my money's gone into my bakery. Besides, I wouldn't have been able to sleep well even if I'd tried." He sighed and ran one hand through the dark spikes of his hair.
"Why not?" Charlie asked.
"My apartment's lease is up in a few days. I can't afford my place for another year because it's too expensive for me now. I don't want to move out because any place I can afford ends up being a total dump when I go to take a look." Civic shook his head and opened the oven to retrieve the cookies. "Not to make things awkward or pressured, but you wouldn't be looking for a roommate, would you?"
"A roommate would make life easier," Charlie said, "but my place is a one-bedroom, and it's pretty much a dump. You wouldn't want to live there. Hell, I don't want to live there."
Civic pursed his lips. "How much longer does your contract have?"
"A couple of months, I think. If you can wait that long, I'd be willing to be roomies."
"I can put my stuff in storage for a while if you'll let me sleep on your couch."
Charlie nodded. "Yeah, okay. We can go apartment hunting later, if you want. Scout out what we'll be able to afford. Some place better than my current apartment, and hopefully as good as wherever you live now."
Civic sat down on the floor next to Charlie and looked him in the eyes, his expression oddly serious. "Is it crazy of us to be moving in together? We've only known each other a few days."
"That's longer than you'd have known me if you'd posted an ad on craigslist or Facebook looking for a roommate," Charlie pointed out. He chose not to dwell on the fact that his heart was racing in his chest. He refused to let himself think of how hard it was going to be to live with a man who made his knees go a bit weak with a single smile.
"I'm going to be your boss. Is it legal for us to live together if you work for me?"
"Think of it as just working together, and it doesn't sound so bad. Besides, I think that as the owner and boss of this place, you get to make the rules. And if you don't tell on us, I won't either," Charlie said with a wink.
"But even if we think of ourselves as being just coworkers, won't it get awkward? One of us will do something dumb at work, and we'll still be annoyed when we get home. Or we'll get sick and tired of being around each other so much. We'll want to strangle each other twenty-four-seven."
"Maybe, but so what? I bet things get awkward sometimes between any roommates. Relax, Civic. I'm sure everything will work out just fine." Charlie smiled at Civic, and although it took a few seconds, he finally got an answering smile in return. "Now, how about we eat some of those cookies, clean up your cooking mess, and go back to your place? I'll help you pack."