I flexed my fingers into the palms of my hands, trying to get some sensation back in them. The feeling was deadening with every second we sat in the cold air.
According to the clock on Macon’s phone, which he’d placed between the two of us, we’d been down in this godforsaken basement for seventy-two minutes now. My eyes kept involuntarily flickering to the front screen, and it seemed as though hours passed between every shift in the numbers.
“What now?” he asked, breaking the silence. It was polluted by nothing except the hum of the freezer.
“I’ve no idea,” I stated. “We’ve tried literally everything.”
In the hour and twelve—thirteen, now—minutes that Macon and I had been trapped, we had done anything we could possibly think of to become untrapped.
Our first idea had been to shove the door as hard as we physically could in hopes that the old lock would falter. It didn’t, and we then established that oak wood is much harder than either of us would’ve expected. Macon now had a nasty-looking bruise on his left shoulder.
Attempt number two involved calling Macon’s manager from the cell phone that so uselessly sat between us. With an old phone comes ridiculously shitty service, especially in a basement, and we had yet to get even a trace of a signal. We then planned on giving my phone a go until we realized that it was currently located in my bag on the counter in the kitchen, conveniently close to the keys we needed to get the hell out of here.
Macon proposed our third idea, which involved waiting until a customer came in before we began screaming at the top of our lungs. Twice we heard the faint sound of the little bell above the front door, twice we screamed bloody murder, and twice the customer took off directly after seeing that there was no one behind the counter or in the kitchen. Damn the citizens of New York City and their inability to have any patience whatsoever.
Plan D was to try to dismember the doorknob with any tool we could possibly find. Unfortunately, there isn’t too much in the basement of a bakery except for cake pans and wooden spoons, which in fact snap pretty easily when smacked against a door handle.
When we exhausted all means of getting out, we tried to make this jail cell of a cellar slightly more comfortable. Macon and I tried to block the crack in the freezer door with his apron and a spare one we found draped over a shelf. The fabric did little to stop the flow of cold air, though, and we just gave up.
We searched around for a warmer place to sit–possibly near a heating vent, but it being well into June, the heat was turned off. Ultimately, since warmth rises and all, we decided that our best bet was directly where we’d started. Seventy three minutes later, we sat at the top of the staircase right next to the locked door that criticized us every time we looked up at it.
“I can officially see my breath.”
“Yeah,” Macon agreed, noticing the cloud of moisture that came with the word. “You’re shaking pretty bad, man.”
“I know. My circulation blows.”
Macon went quiet for a second. Then he said, “C’mere,” and he shifted his position so he was sitting one step above me. He folded his arms loosely around my neck so my shoulders were covered, suppressing my shivering a bit. I leaned back against his legs and stared up at the ceiling. The contact was sending pulses through my body, but, despite the goosebumps on his arms, Macon’s skin felt warm and I didn’t want to move.
“Tell me something random about you,” he mused. I could feel the slight vibrations of his voice when he spoke.
“Yeah. Anything I wouldn’t expect.” I remained silent, and Macon took in a deep breath of cold air. I heard a soft klunk as the back of his head met the door and his eyes followed mine onto the ceiling beams. “I’m allergic to penicillin, for example.”
“That’s nice,” I told him.
“I know it,” he said. “So your turn. Go.”
I drummed my fingers on my thighs. “I fucking hate clowns,” I told him. “I had this really bad trip to the circus when I was six.”
“Hah. I know how you feel. My aunt used to have these really creepy porcelain dolls in her living room and they gave me nightmares until I was about twelve.”
I pressed my lips together in an attempt to suppress laughter. “Dolls, Macon?”
“No, not dolls. Creepy, porcelain dolls.The difference is colossal.”
“Sure thing, buddy. Whatever helps you sleep at night. Or, you know. Keeps you from it. Either one,” I taunted. “Is that your random fact?”
He huffed at me, and I could tell that there were profanities on the tip of his tongue, but he must’ve swallowed them instead. “Yeah, whatever. I guess so.” Macon slumped down further against the steps, bringing me with him. “Go ahead. Give me another one.”
“I brush my teeth almost a dozen times a day. Nervous habit.”
“Wow. Spaz. Isn’t that bad for your enamel or something?”
“Yeah. My dentist hates me for it. You go.”
Macon said, “I lost a bet with one of my brothers last year and I had to pierce my eyebrow. It got infected, though, so I had to take it out.”
“I couldn’t ride a bike until I was thirteen,” I admitted.
“The reason I learned to cook was ‘cause I was embarrassed about failing Home Ec. in high school.”
“Woah, hold the phone. How the hell do you fail Home Economics?” I deadpanned. “It is the biggest bullshit class ever. It’s an easy A for stoners.”
“Yeah, well, whatever. I kind of managed to set the entire stove on fire while making pancakes,” Macon spat. “I don’t like to talk about it.”
I really, really wanted to fry him for that—maybe use the term “fry” specifically, just to rub it in—but the way the muscles in his forearms were tensing, I didn’t think it was such a good idea. I let my tone shy away from ridicule and move back toward casual. “I’d kill to be a writer,” I told him instead.
“I want to live in New Zealand for a few years after I figure out what I want to do with my life. That’s where my old roommate ended up, and he says he loves it there.”
“I don’t like my birthday, because I hate the thought of never being that age again.”
“I learned guitar because my grandfather used to play. I didn’t really know him all that well, but I wanted to be exactly like him when I was younger,” he said.
“I haven’t had a banana since I almost choked on one on a cruise four years ago.”
“Kinky,” Macon said, and I smacked him on the arm. “I have a bird. Or used to have one, anyway. He’s at my dad’s apartment now. I named him Fluffles.”
“You get that one out of a baby name directory?”
“I was nine,” Macon spat.
“My lucky number is four because it was my jersey number when I was seven and played baseball.”
“I was born in Maine, but we moved when I was ten. I’ve lived in the city ever since.”
“I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little. Although I’ve no idea why, because I’m shit scared of heights.”
“I hate needles.”
“I hate squirrels.”
“Squirrels?” he repeated, as though he’d misheard me. “Squirrels are fluffy and cuddly and help cartoon princesses with housework, Andy.”
“You bite your tongue,” I hissed. “A rabid one jumped on my bike tire when I was a kid. It foamed at me, the demon.”
Macon let out a noise that suggested disbelief, but he ultimately respected my wishes and kept going with the game. “I’ve only had surgery once. I got nine stitches on my forehead when my brother pushed me into a basketball hoop while I was on my skateboard.”
“Me too,” I said. “Except I got my appendix taken out in sixth grade.”
“Do you have a scar?” Macon asked.
“Is it bad-ass looking?”
“Super bad-ass looking,” I said. “You wanna to see it?”
I wriggled out of his hold, and all traces of warmth left my body the second I did. I turned to face him and stretched out horizontally on the step.
“It’s right here, on my hip,” I said, pulling my shirt up to my bellybutton.
“I can’t see it.”
My eyes went down to my stomach, searching for the two-inch scar. It’d had nine years to heal, though, and paired with the terrible lighting in here, it was almost impossible to notice.
“Isn’t it supposed to be on the left side?” he asked.
“No. The appendix is on the right,” I told him. “Well, my right.”
Macon leaned down closer to me. He pulled at the empty belt loop of my jeans, trying to get the denim waistline out of the way.
“Oh! I see it.”
At that exact moment—the worst possible moment ever— the oak door swung open. Light from the kitchen flooded onto the staircase, and Macon and I squinted up at the dark silhouette in the doorway.
There was then a minute-long silence that made me aware of how awkward this might’ve looked to someone who didn’t know the context. I was stretched out on the stairs, the front of my shirt hiked up so that my entire stomach was bare. Macon was hovering over me, tugging at the waistline of my jeans with his mouth not five inches from my skin.
His manager stuttered, trying desperately hard to grasp onto words of some kind. After opening her mouth and then closing it again for the fifteenth time, she finally demanded, “Macon, is this what you do when I leave you in charge of the bakery!?”
“What?” he stuttered. “No, I–”
“You… You bring girls here and,” she flailed her arms at us, as if the scene in front of her eyes should speak for itself, “fool around on the stairs of my storage basement?!”
“Oh my God,” I mumbled. I shut my eyes in mortification. This boy, whether it was intentional or not, was slowly but surely convincing all of New York City that I was sleeping with him.
“You,” she said, pointing at me. “Get out.”
It took me a moment to snap into gear, but when the words finally sank in, I was on my feet within a fraction of a second.
“Michelle,” Macon attempted again. “I know what you’re thinking. But I swear, what’s going on here is a lot less irresponsible,” he paused, choosing his words carefully, “and a lot more sensible, than what you’re–”
“Macon. Finish filling the Cannolis I asked you to fill, collect your payment from the drawer, and leave your apron in the kitchen,” she commanded. “You’re fired.”
The coffee house was decently empty that day; I assumed it was because the weather outside was hot and clear, and those days were reserved more for the icecream and smoothie places. Still, it remained loud and echoic, probably because of the high ceilings and widely spaced walls. It still held that artsy feel, too, just like the first time I’d been there.
I went to the counter and ordered a green tea and a decaf coffee. I chose a spot by the huge window in the front in case Macon decided to show after all. I’d texted him twice already, but he hadn’t responded. There were a lot of moving crowds out on the street today. It would’ve been a great day for people-watching, but my mind was elsewhere.
“Hey.” His voice broke me out of the daze I’d been in, and I turned to look over my shoulder.
“Hi,” I said, handing him the Styrofoam cup that had previously waited on the granite. Macon stared at it.
“Green tea,” I explained. “Not gasoline.”
“Oh,” he replied. “Thank you.” Macon sat down and took out his wallet. He tried to give me a few dollars, but I refused. I still owed him for the train ticket, anyway.
“So,” he began, “Michelle’s not usually that much of a bitch. I swear.”
I shrugged. “I’d probably get really mad too if I thought two kids were going at it in my bakery.” I absentmindedly traced the circular pattern of my coffee cup. “I’m really, really sorry you lost your job over this, Macon.”
“First off, don’t be sorry. You didn’t do anything,” he told me. “It was my idea to hang out there, remember?”
“Still. I feel awful.”
“And second,” Macon said, tossing his apron across the counter, “I didn’t get fired.”
“Yep.” He weaved his fingers together, cracking his knuckles in a smug manner.
“How the hell did you manage that? She was so pissed off!” I took the apron in my hands to observe it more closely. Now that it was right in front of me, I could make out the embroidered logo on the breast pocket. It was a picture of a chocolate chip cookie surrounded by the words, “Cookie Jar Bakery.”
“I don’t know. I just waited until she calmed down and told her what actually happened.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And she believed you?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, she looked a little skeptical with the appendix scar part, but it’s not like I had your pants off entirely.” Macon paused for a second, and then added, “Which I could absolutely do, by the way.”
“I think so, too.”
I threw the apron at him and dragged the subject back to the former topic. “But she just let you off the hook entirely?”
“Hah. No,” Macon drawled. “She was still ticked that I let you in the kitchen in the first place. I’m working without pay for the next week and a half.”
“Ouch. Can she do that?”
“Probably not legally, but at least I’m still employed. I’ll live, I guess.”
“I guess,” I agreed. “Least now I don’t feel so guilty about crossing this one out.”
“Do it to it,” he replied. On Macon’s command, I dug through my bag for a pen. After unfolding the list out on the table, I found objective number ten and drew a line of ink through it.
As my eyes scanned down the rest of the words on the paper, I realized that, in the past several days, I’d finished four objectives. A pang of guilt rose up in my stomach when I thought about the second rule I’d made.
I wasn’t supposed to rush through this, and I’d somehow managed to cross off a fifth of the list in one week. I internally decided that I’d take a break for a while until I really felt the urge to pick it up again. I didn’t plan on kicking the bucket anytime soon, anyway.