Read Grown-up Online

Authors: Kim Fielding


BOOK: Grown-up
12.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Chapter One


the predawn hours, a squirrel had crawled into Austin’s mouth and died. At least so Austin assumed. It wasn’t until he stumbled into the bathroom, emptied his overfull bladder, and caught sight of his greenish face in the mirror that he realized the condition of his mouth was probably due to Jägerbombs rather than deceased rodents.

“Ungh,” he moaned at his reflection. He contemplated whether he might manage brushing his teeth without barfing, but the decision was just too difficult without coffee.

He was very happy when he arrived in the kitchen and discovered that one of his roommates had already brewed a pot of java, but he scowled when he couldn’t find a clean mug. “Not my turn to wash the dishes,” he grumbled as he poured coffee into a cereal bowl. But that gave him a brilliant idea—why not combine his food and beverage into one concoction? He was probably out of milk anyway. He rooted in the cupboard in search of his box of Peanut Butter Crunch.

“Dude! Clothes!”

Austin spun around to glare at Kyle, who’d lumbered into the kitchen. “You ate my cereal,” Austin accused.

“You’re flashing your junk all over. I don’t wanna see that, man.”

“You’re just jealous. And you
. My name was on the box.”

Kyle crossed his arms over his well-muscled chest. “Wasn’t me. Musta been Rob. And put some boxers on, at least.”

“I don’t wear boxers,” said Austin, whose tastes in underwear ran more to the kind of brightly colored briefs that showed off his package. “And it wasn’t Rob because he’s going gluten-free.”

“Maybe, but he’ll eat anything when he gets the munchies.”

Kyle had a point. And Rob got the munchies
. The guy went through enough weed to impress Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg. On the other hand, Kyle was a recidivist food thief. Despite the fact that he devoted most of his time to bodybuilding—“My body’s like my temple, man, ya know?”—Austin had caught him red-handed chewing his way through Austin’s leftover pad thai earlier in the week. Kyle apparently believed that food wasn’t unhealthy if stolen from someone else.

Now, Austin raised an eyebrow at him. He didn’t want to argue. He just wanted his caffeine and sugar, and preferably an end to the percussion concert going on near his brainstem.

“Look,” Kyle said with a sigh, “if you get some goddamn pants on, you can have one of my PowerBars.”

It wasn’t an admission of guilt, but it would have to do. “Your PowerBars taste like wet cement,” Austin said.

“I like ’em. Besides, I bet you could use the protein.”

Austin smirked. “Oh, I know better ways than that to get protein.” He threw in a leer for good measure and was satisfied when Kyle blushed slightly. As far as Austin was concerned, if the guy was so very secure in his heterosexual manhood, he wouldn’t care whether Austin ran around the apartment bare-assed. And anyway, Kyle generally wore nothing more than skimpy shorts. He seemed to think he was giving his roommates a gift by letting them admire his waxed, muscular body.

“Whatever,” Kyle said, pouting. Then he brightened. “Rent’s due tomorrow. Don’t forget.”

“It’s…. Shit.” Was it the end of the month already? God, Austin could’ve sworn he’d handed over the money just a few days ago. Kyle could be a jerk about some things, but he was dependable when it came to paying the bills; that was why he’d been appointed to collect. Austin would have forgotten, and Rob would have spent it all on grass and gluten-free junk food.

Austin scratched through his hair, which was a mess from last night’s gel. “I’ll, uh, pay you tomorrow.”

“You better. I can’t afford to carry you.”

“You can carry me any time you want, big boy,” Austin said with a flutter of his eyelashes and a tilt of his hips. Then he gulped the bitter coffee from his bowl as Kyle marched out of the room.

It wasn’t until Austin was back in his bedroom that he remembered: if today was the thirtieth, his shift at the shoe store began at ten. With panic making his heart race, he dove for his phone. “Fuck!” It
the thirtieth—and it was now nearly eleven.

He rooted desperately among the clothing scattered around his floor for anything that wasn’t clubwear and wasn’t gross. He hadn’t done his laundry for a while. He finally came up with a pair of acceptable jeans and a green sweater that passed the sniff test. He didn’t have time for grooming beyond brushing his teeth and combing his hair into submission. He’d pretend the sexy scruffy look was on purpose.

His car had seen better days. Heck, his car had seen better decades. But today at least it was cooperative enough to start on only the second try, and it got him to the mall in one piece. He parked out in the boonies like a good little employee, then sprinted across the lot.

Best Foot Forward wasn’t crowded. A woman with a baby stroller was perusing the running shoe selection, while two other customers were trying on sandals. Maggie, one of Austin’s coworkers, had them all under control. The store manager was ringing up a sale for a cute young guy with sleeve tats. Austin gave the manager an apologetic smile as he hurried to the back room. “I’m really sorry, Jane! I overslept.”

She frowned at him.

A moment later, as he finished logging in to work, she joined him in the back. Her usual smile was absent. In fact, she looked like someone walking to her own execution.

“I am so sorry, Jane!” Austin repeated. “I guess I forgot to set my alarm again, and my car—”

“Austin. You still look and smell like last night’s party.”

“I… uh… it wasn’t a party,” he said lamely. It wasn’t. It was a club, with a lot of booze, hours of sweaty dancing, and a bathroom hookup with some guy whose name Austin didn’t remember—if he’d ever known it at all.

She shook her head. “This is the third time in less than two weeks you’ve been very late. I had to call Maggie in on her day off—again. And that’s just the past two weeks.”

He hung his head. He could make excuses about car troubles, roommate issues, and the like, but even he knew they’d be bullshit. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“I’m sorry too. You’re a nice guy, Austin, and you’re really good with the customers. But I need employees who are responsible. I’m going to have to let you go.” She looked like she might cry.

Austin patted her shoulder. “Yeah. I understand. I’d fire me too.”

“You’re… you’re okay with it?”

He managed a smile. “Sure. I’ve been thinking of going back to school anyway.” That was a bald-faced lie. He’d dropped out of college seven years ago, far short of earning his degree, and he didn’t have any intention of returning. But Jane was a nice lady and he didn’t want her to feel bad. Besides, he’d lost plenty of jobs before. He was a pro at it.

Jane smiled back. “I’m glad to hear that. And you know what? If you ever buy shoes while I’m on duty, I’ll let you keep your employee discount.”

Leaving was quick and easy after that. Jane promised to have his final paycheck mailed right away, and Austin said good-bye to her and Maggie. Jane shook his hand and Maggie gave him a quick hug. Then he was done.

He was tempted to swing by the food court for something comfortingly bad for him. A Cinnabon, maybe. But with a rare exercise of self-control, he instead left the building and walked to his car. He sat there for a while, calculating his finances. He could probably scrape together enough cash to keep Kyle off his back for a while. But that would leave him with nothing left for food, let alone gas and insurance and clubbing with friends. Then there were the other bills: phone, electric, cable…. Yeah, he’d never make it through the month. And when rent came due again, he’d be


Time to appeal to the better nature of Boss Number Two.



the big benefits of Rosenberg’s Fine Meats was that it was within walking distance of Austin’s apartment. Consequently, he’d been able to hold on to that job for quite a while, even when his car was temporarily nonfunctional. Also, he got free food. The downside was that this job was only part-time, totaling no more than twenty hours even during busy weeks.

Having deposited his car in front of his apartment, Austin walked the seven blocks to the deli. He probably couldn’t have parked much closer anyway; the deli was on a busy street lined with boutiques and trendy restaurants. This time of day, even the sidewalks were crowded with people toting shopping bags, children, or dogs. Sometimes all three. The deli was packed too. Every table was taken, a half-dozen parties waited their turn, and a line snaked from the takeout counter. Austin squeezed his way through the noisy room and then entered the door marked Employees Only. A tiny break area had been crammed into the storage room, behind towering shelves full of napkins, cardboard takeaway containers, cleaning products, and rolls of foil and plastic wrap. Austin sat in one of the slightly sticky chairs and waited for the lunch rush to subside.

If Rosenberg had ever existed at all, he was long gone. Nowadays the owner of the deli was a rotund little man named Gopal, who liked to entertain his employees with impressions of Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. He was pretty good. He’d maintained a true retro feel in the place, with black-and-white-checked floors, Formica tables, and long chrome-and-glass cases stuffed with rugelach, knishes, and enormous cheesecakes. He employed a full-time baker for the bagels, bialys, rye breads, and challahs. Customers loved the sandwiches piled high with pastrami or corned beef, and many of them had declared Gopal’s matzah ball soup the best they’d ever had.

Austin sat for a long time, enjoying the muted sounds of the bustling kitchen as well as the smells of good food. His stomach growled, reminding him of his missing cereal. But he’d eat later—now was time for business. Finally Gopal appeared with his iPad under one arm and a plate of chicken liver, potato salad, and pickles in his hand. “Austin! Don’t you have today off?”

“Yep. I came by to talk to you. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure.” Gopal sat opposite him and placed the dish between them. “Have a pickle. They’re made by some ladies in Pacifica. I’m thinking about switching to them.”

Austin grabbed one and took a bite. “Hey, that’s really good. Nice and crunchy.”

“Garlicky too, but not enough to scare people away.” Gopal scooped a spoonful of potato salad into his mouth.

“So, um, I was wondering. Do you think maybe I could get some more hours?”

Gopal raised his bushy eyebrows. “What about your shoe-store job?”


“Austin,” Gopal said with a sigh. “You are too old for this kind of nonsense.”

Austin decided not to take offense, mostly because Gopal was right. He finished off the pickle, then shrugged. “It was just a shoe store. I’ll find something else. But in the meantime….”

“I can give you one more shift per week, but that’s all. I just hired a new boy, and I already promised Molly more time because her daughter needs braces.”

One shift was hardly going to solve Austin’s financial woes, but it was better than nothing. “Thanks, Gopal. I appreciate it.”

“But you know, even with the extra hours, you won’t qualify for benefits. What happens if you need to see a doctor? You need insurance. And you need a plan. Someday you’ll be middle-aged like me—it happens faster than you think. And then the next day you’re old.”

Well, that was cheery. Not that Gopal seemed disturbed by the concept of decrepitude—he chewed his chopped chicken liver contentedly.

“I’ll figure something out,” Austin said.

“Good. Now have another pickle.”

By the time Austin left Rosenberg’s, he had eaten three pickles and a day-old sesame bagel, along with a pile of roast beef shavings slathered in horseradish. So at least he wasn’t hungry anymore. But that solved only his more immediate problem. As he walked back home with visions of homelessness dancing in his head, he sadly accepted the desperate truth. He was going to have to call his dad.

Chapter Two


was a Sam of Sam’s Furniture, and he was Austin’s father. Sam hadn’t started out as a carpenter whose high-end handcrafted furniture appealed strongly to interior designers and wealthy Internet shoppers. He’d begun as a math professor, actually, a man with a wife and two kids. But somewhere in his thirties, his life had taken a left turn. He’d ended up divorced, out of the closet, living with a lawyer named Bill, and making exquisite tables and bedroom sets.

Austin had never minded the divorce. His mom was flighty enough that things might not have lasted anyway, and Sam was certainly a lot happier once he’d found his proper place in life. Bill was a great guy who’d been thrilled to have a couple of children in the house and delighted in spoiling his partner’s offspring. Austin’s own I Like Boys announcement, made at age twelve after developing killing crushes on Jared Leto and two of the Backstreet Boys, had been met with so much support he’d almost been disappointed. He’d sort of hoped for a teeny bit of angst and drama.

BOOK: Grown-up
12.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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