by Hyakunichisou 13 (百日草 十三)
Bryan set the coffee cup down on the narrow shelf that served as a desk in the corridor between the storage room and the kitchen. “Whatcha doing? I thought you were going to take a break.”
“Mm. I think I figured out how we can do a daily hot special.”
Bryan leaned against Matt’s knobby spine and peered over the top of his head at the book open on the shelf. “Do I have to explain one more time the purpose of taking a break?”
Matt obediently took a sip from the thrift store mug. “We can — darn, that’s good coffee. Is that the Aeropress?”
“Yeah.” They’d drooled over gleaming Clovers, heart-stoppingly expensive even second-hand, but in the end decided to go low-tech: Aeropress for the smoothest espresso known to modern science, pour over and Chemex drip for the real coffee geeks, and good old French press for those who wanted their morning caffeine to be able to peel paint.
“We can do steamed puddings,” Matt went on. “They’re already moist, so the texture won’t be affected if we nuke them gently to heat them up. We can use the take-out cups and spoons to serve them, and best of all, nobody else is doing them.”
“Steamed puddings? Like as in plum pudding?”
“Yeah, as in English desserts. Sticky toffee pudding. Spotted dick.”
Bryan snickered. “Is that really a thing?”
“Watch it, skinny boy,” Bryan mock-growled.
“Queen of puddings.”
“Now you’re just being mean.”
“Oh, and get a load of this. Candlestick salad.”
“It’s a coffee bar and bakery. We are not serving salad.”
“No, just listen. You put a couple of lettuce leaves on a plate — basically just so you can pretend it’s actually salad — then you put a couple rings of canned pineapple on top of it–”
“That’s it, I’m out.”
“Then you stand a banana up in the hole of the pineapple. Then you put whipped cream on the banana, and a cherry on top.”
Bryan laughed. “Dude, you had me going until you got to the whipped cream.”
“I am not making this up!” Matt protested. “It started in the Twenties and now it’s, like, this church buffet thing.”
“The fuck are you reading?” Bryan reached a long arm over Matt’s shoulder and turned the book over. Figgy Duff and Spotted Dick: Desserts From a More Innocent Time. The illustration on the cover dispelled any vagueness about whether the author was aware of the double entendres.
“You and your weird retro food.” Matt could bake a gluten-free maple bacon scone with the best of them, but he had an inexplicable fondness for wartime cookery, make-do Depression dishes, mock foods made out of other foods — shit that no one else wanted anything to do with, as evidenced by the fact that when beef and sugar got back on the menu they stopped eating it. One of their worst fights had been sparked by Matt announcing he was putting Ritz cracker pie on the menu.
To be fair, that had been the day after they’d found out that there was a fifteen-thousand-dollar problem with the drainage. It had been a rocky six months all around — they’d planned, in what now seemed hysterical optimism, for two–and every single day had been another fucking growth opportunity. Bryan had learned a lot of new skills, such as installing toilets, and not putting his fist through inanimate objects when he was frustrated, and patching holes in drywall. Not to mention averting his eyes from their bank account. He and Matt had been in the same room for more hours a day than they’d managed that one week they’d gone away on vacation together, and there had been times he’d cheerfully have hogtied Matt and hung him in the cellar until he made a goddam decision and stuck to it. He was pretty sure they’d broken up once, for a few hours, until they’d both calmed down and silently agreed to pretend that that afternoon had never happened.
But here they were now, three days before opening, in their narrow, exposed-brick space in their yet-to-be-discovered part of town. The previously owned illuminated bakery case still didn’t illuminate, and they had too many tables and not enough chairs, and the second oven had a cold spot in one corner, and the Chemex filters were on back order. But the airy, high-ceilinged space was tinted sepia from the sunlight filtering in through the yellowed newspapers taped over the front window. The air was fragrant with really good coffee and a test batch of s’mores tarts cooling on a rack. Bryan leaned into the curve of Matt’s shoulders, into the warmth coming through his ratty T-shirt — Matt radiated heat as if he soaked it up from his ovens — and took a moment to just notice the feeling of being here.
“We need to get dishwasher soap,” Matt said, out of the blue.
Bryan snorted out a laugh and rested his chin on Matt’s bedhead. How someone with hair that short managed to get it so messy…
“What? We do.” Matt shifted his weight and dangled one leg off the stool. “Those tarts should be about ready to try.”
Bryan tightened his arms around Matt, sliding them down, trapping his arms in a bear hug. Matt pushed backwards against him, not very hard. “Don’t you want a tart?”
“Dude,” Bryan said, “stop.”
“Stop what? I’m not doing anything. You’re the one doing something.”
Bryan lowered his head to Matt’s ear, breathing in nothing now but Dr. Bronner’s almond soap and marshmallows and Matt’s own unique scent. “Just stop.”
Matt gave a put-upon sigh and stayed where he was. Bryan held him still and felt Matt gradually relax against him.
“It’s pretty nice in here,” Matt said, as if he had just looked up for the first time in two months.
“Oh my gosh,” Matt said in wonder, “we did it.”
“Pretty much.” Bryan smacked a loud kiss on the side of Matt’s neck.
Matt exhaled and rolled his head back against Bryan’s shoulder, exposing more of his neck.
Bryan tried to think back to the last time they’d been alone together and both awake and coherent and not consumed by anxiety or fury. Had it been the day of the painting party, when after their friends had gone home they’d eaten cold pizza for dinner and jerked each other off in the empty storeroom, giddy with exhaustion and varsol fumes? That had been two months ago at least.
He touched his lips to the shell of Matt’s ear, breathed out on the sensitive skin behind it. Matt made a soft sound in the back of his throat.
They did need dishwasher soap. They needed to confirm the dairy order with the supplier. A friend of theirs with handwriting other humans could actually read was coming this afternoon to fancy up their chalkboard menu, and Matt’s sister’s roommate’s cousin, who was starting her own local preserves business, had arranged to pitch her line to them at two.
He slid his hand up Matt’s thigh and rested it in the crease of his jeans, where leg met hip. In answer, Matt relaxed his legs a little, let them fall open.
Bryan’s priorities for the next little while were rapidly rearranging themselves.
He let the fingers of the other hand creep under Matt’s T-shirt to find skin, and leaned around to kiss him properly. Matt turned towards him, eyes already closed, and opened his mouth under Bryan’s.
After a few moments, Bryan broke the kiss long enough to swivel Matt around on the stool so that they were face to face. He ran his hand up under Matt’s shirt and settled his thumb over a nipple. Matt inhaled sharply and wrapped one leg around Bryan’s, his arms going around Bryan’s waist. Bryan cupped his free hand around Matt’s ass and pulled him even closer.
Matt was as quick to get turned on as he was to do anything else. Bryan nudged his thigh against Matt’s growing erection, and Matt shuddered and clutched at the back of Bryan’s hoodie.
When they paused to breathe again, Bryan pulled back a step. Matt made a sound of dissatisfaction and opened his eyes, but Bryan lowered himself to his knees, and Matt’s eyes went heavy-lidded again. He didn’t stop watching, though, as Bryan ran his fingertips up over the hard fly of Matt’s jeans and popped each metal button open in turn.
Matt wasn’t wearing underwear, because even when they had time for laundry, when did he ever remember to do it? Bryan rolled his eyes even as lust jolted through him.
He leaned forward and breathed hotly on the flushed head of Matt’s cock. Matt jerked his hips. His hands gripped the edges of the stool.
Teasing Matt was guaranteed fun, but right now, Bryan wanted to taste him, wanted to match Matt’s heat with his own. He curled thumb and forefinger around the base of Matt’s cock, and glided his mouth down to meet them.
“Oh, jeez,” Matt breathed, and Bryan grinned to himself. Matt was the least foul-mouthed chef Bryan had ever worked with.
Bryan hadn’t until this instant noticed that the tall-legged stool was just the right height to allow someone his size to kneel in front of it and not have to hunch down to give a blow job. He took good advantage of it, crowding in between Matt’s knees, resting his forearms on Matt’s thighs so he could get both hands in play. Matt loved a baroque amount of stimulation, fingertips and tongue all over everywhere, and Bryan enjoyed the reactions he could get out of Matt when he applied himself.
A few minutes in, when he felt Matt’s attention slide away from him, he didn’t take it personally. Matt’s mind, as far as Bryan could tell, was a midway of brilliant ideas and bells and flashing lights, and though he could focus with the precision and intensity of a sunbeam through a magnifying glass, sometimes, even during sex, he had trouble fending off the next shiny idea to bounce along. It got worse when he was stressed. What he needed at times like these was to be emphatically reminded to keep his eye on the thing in front of him. Bryan had discovered a number of ways to do that. Many of them required paraphernalia he didn’t currently have to hand, but not all.
He slid his mouth up off Matt, stilled his hands. Matt took about five seconds to come back to awareness, and he opened his eyes and blinked down at Bryan. “Why’d you stop?”
“You know why.” Bryan circled his thumb around the head of Matt’s cock, once, and Matt drew in breath.
“Sorry, I’m sorry. I’m paying attention. I am.”
“Yeah, you are now.” Bryan cupped Matt’s balls and squeezed gently. “Here’s the deal. Talk to me, and I keep going. Stop, and I stop.”
Matt wrinkled his nose, a blush rising on his cheeks. “You know I’m no good at dirty talk.”
He wasn’t, sadly, but Bryan had learned to compensate. “Did I say you had to talk dirty? Just talk.” He ran his tongue up Matt’s cock, making him flinch, then sat back on his heels and raised an eyebrow at him.
Matt licked his lips. “Um. Okay. A, B, C…”
“What do you want me to talk about?” Matt sounded like he needed to take a deep breath.
What had he been obsessing about, earlier? “Tell me about your figgy dick or whatever.”
Bryan rubbed his thumb along the sensitive inside of Matt’s thigh. “Start talking, pastry man.”
Matt swallowed. “Uh. Okay, so it’s this British pu…dding.” He twitched at the renewed touch of Bryan’s mouth. “Not pudding, pudding. Like dessert. It’s uh. Um. There’s suet and dried fruit. Oh. They steam it. Geez, Bry…”
That had done the trick. Give Matt’s kaleidoscope brain something to focus on and struggle against, and it skittered right over to where Bryan wanted it.
“Mostly it’s made with raisins. Or d-dates. And…and. Oh geez, don’t stop, I’m thinking. They serve it with custard….”
There were probably jokes aplenty to be made about custard, too. Bryan was a little too distracted to think of any, and anyway, his mouth was otherwise occupied.
“Okay, so you grate the suet,” Matt said in a rush, “and cut it into the f-flour like — oh — like for biscuits–”
Bryan was never going to be able to listen to Matt read a recipe out loud again, he reflected, as terms like knead gently and well-buttered and fat roll took on loaded new meaning in Matt’s increasingly breathless voice. He shifted his weight and gave thanks that he was wearing a baggy pair of threadbare chef’s pants rather than jeans.
Matt’s knuckles were white around the edge of the stool. His thighs tensed and released in rhythm as his hips rocked. “–and serve it warm with — with — ah, Bry, I’m — please–”
Both hands still moving, Bryan pulled off and let Matt, loud and wordless, christen the wide, painted boards of the floor.
Matt slumped and teetered on the stool. “Bry, holy crap…”
Bryan stood and wrapped his arms around Matt, steadying him. Matt pushed his face against Bryan’s chest and rubbed his forehead back and forth with a long sigh.
“I am never going to be able to serve pudding,” he mumbled. “I am never going to be able to think of pudding again without getting inappropriately hot, and it’s your fault.”
“Me? You’re the one reading about dick in the first place.”
“It’s a variation of puddink, which — never mind.” Matt’s laugh was muffled against Bryan’s hoodie. He nestled closer. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said.
Bryan dropped a kiss on Matt’s disheveled hair and held him tightly, savouring the pleasurable tension of his own arousal and the anticipation of Matt’s strong hands on him, the lingering scent of cooling marshmallows and a waft of coffee from the forgotten mug — one more moment in a long line of them that had been and would be with this person and this life he had chosen. “Me too, pastry man, and I’m not going anywhere.”