The New Guy
I was quite busy with work, but Jake and I managed to spend time together all throughout the week. Valerie has been off for a while since she told me the work load she had come this week. She hasn’t been able to come home for almost a week. I was hoping I could surprise her about Jake finally coming back. I guess I’ll have to wait this weekend. It was a lovely Thursday morning and I was running late. Jake and I spent all night watching movies at my place. He told me we’ll only watch a few, but we ended up watching a couple until three in the morning. I woke up curled up beside him on a sofa and realized what we had done.
I parked my car in its usual spot and walked to the bakery. The smell of fresh baked bread became apparent as I hastily walked towards the shop. Every Thursday morning, Aunt Jacky gathered all of us for a brief meeting before opening up. As I walked in, they were all gathered by the seat near the counter. I noticed a new person next to Aunt Jacky. Alice approached me and pulled me next to her seat.
“Good Morning, Ronnie.” Aunt Jacky beamed at me. This was the first time I ran late. I smiled shyly and nodded to them. Aunt Jacky cleared her throat to garner everyone’s attention. She started off by introducing the new guy.
“As you may all know that I’ve been gone a few days. I was handling some family matters. Nothing serious came up; I just had to decide that I need to bring someone from my family. Then my nephew insisted that he’d come.” she said. “So I’d like all of you to meet our new employee, Damian Anderson.” While Aunt Jacky introduced him, I took in his presence. He had jet black hair, a generous amount of stubble covered his cheek and he had gray eyes. I have never seen someone with gray eyes before and it looked refreshing.
“Try helping out each other, okay?” she looked up between me and Damian. We both nodded.
Aunt Jacky clasped her hands together and chirped, “Excellent, Let’s open up then.”
We had to change shifts during lunch hours. Alice and I had our usual lunch at the Diner across the street. I invited Damian to join us. He seems kinda nice even though he had that ‘mysterious’ get up. We had conversations while we ate. Damian wasn’t quite of a talker, but I kept asking him things. He answered with brief words or nods.
The whole day went by the same, but a little busier than usual. We closed the shop at 5pm. After bidding goodbye to Alice, I walked to the parking lot. While I was approaching my car, my phone notified me of an incoming message.
Jake: Hey, are you heading home yet?
I dug through my jean jacket’s pocket after texting him back. Wait a minute. I can’t retrieve anything. I strip my eyes away from my phone and start patting my pockets. Still nothing, damn. I must’ve dropped it! I turned around immediately bumped into someone.
I grunted and looked up to see a pair of gray eyes.
“Shit, I’m sorry.” he muttered.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, totally confused by his unexpected presence. He dug through the pocket of his leather jacket and dangled my keys.
“I’m sure you’re looking for these. You dropped it earlier.” He mentioned. I grabbed the keys from him.
“Thanks.” I paused. “Were you stalking me?” My tone shifted from relief to suspicion. He cocked an eyebrow at me and bit his lip as if trying to hide his smile.
“Not really. I just waited for you to realize that you dropped something. You seemed busy just now.” he explained. My face heated up. He wasn’t this cocky during lunch.
“Thanks again.” I said, brushing off my embarrassment. I unlocked my car, placed my bag inside and slipped in.
“Ronnie.” he muttered. I froze and turned to look at him. He was fidgeting with something in his pocket.
“Are you heading home?” he asked, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Yes, I am.” I sputtered, but still kept my unnerved expression.
“Oh, you don’t hang out much after hours, huh?” He chuckled.
“I’m really sorry, Damian. I have plans with a friend tonight.” I shrugged. There was a wave of guilt sliding over my thoughts. “But you can contact me if you want to. I’m sure you need connections at work.” I added. I grabbed a pen and paper from my bag, scribbled my number and handed it to him. He grinned widely, his gray eyes dancing in amusement.
“Thanks, Ronnie” he smirked. I smiled at him and waved goodbye. When he left, I started my car and drove home.
Jake asked me to come by for dinner and a series marathon with him. I hurried to my room and changed into something comfortable. After brushing my hair, I picked up my pastel yellow hoodie and headed to Jake’s place. I knocked lightly on his door and he answered almost immediately.
“Hey.” he grinned at me. I went to the living room and slumped down the couch. I hugged my knees to my chest and looked up at him.
“I’ll bring in the food. Be right back.” he added. I stood up and followed him.
“I’ll help you,” I insisted. There was food set on the kitchen counter.
“I made some Chicken Alfredo Pasta and garlic bread. That’s all I can come up with tonight.” he stated. He carried the bowl to the living room while I handled the plates and forks. He propped the bowl in the coffee table. He placed generous servings on our plate.
“This looks really delicious. I didn’t know you can make this stuff.” I chimed. “I might just let you walk off for making me late to work today.”
“Well, I thought that showing off my awesome cooking skills would do me some good. So am I forgiven?” he asked. I rolled my eyes at him and playfully ruffled his hair. He chuckled and then we ate. He put on a movie after dinner. Instead of watching, he started sharing stories. He talked to me about his experience in Australia, his school, and the places he traveled to. I told him what had happened after they left, some of the changes that happened after we moved on to adulthood.
“Hey, how’s our tree house by the way?” he asked.
“I haven’t checked it in a while…” I trailed off.
“How about we check it out then?”
Jake went ahead so he can help me up. When I got to the end of the ladder, he assisted me, holding my hand to pull me up. I wobbled a little when I set foot on the floorboards. He helped me get back my balance by grasping onto my hip.
“You okay there?” he inquired. I gently placed my hand on his chest to steady myself. My eyes darted to him and suddenly noticed how intently they were looking at me. I blushed, letting my hands fall to my side. He opened the door to get a good look inside the tree house. It has seen better days. Our tree house was really spacious but the ceiling was a little lower than we remembered. Jake tried not to hit his head on the ceiling that finally caught up to his height. Thank goodness for having an average height so I didn’t struggle like Jake did.
“I feel like a giant right now.” He stated. I laughed and almost immediately regret it because I bumped into one of the lower wooden beams. Karma was quick on me. Jake came across the small futon, that lay on the corner. We can’t really fit a couch here. So we put a futon instead and it helped save some space. After Jake left, I barely went to the tree house. So my dad helped me at least keep the place clean by covering the furniture we had inside. At least the items wouldn’t be covered in dust by the time we check inside. It did help. Jake peeled off the plastic sheet to unravel the futon. The pillows we used to have were still there, neatly arranged. The smell of old wood and aged linen gave me a wave of nostalgia. I think Jake felt it too because he just stood there for a second before turning towards me.
“You guys preserved this area quite nicely huh?” he said. I nodded. He sighed and placed the sheet back to cover it again.
“You don’t want to sit for a bit?” I asked. He smiled and shook his head.
“I have my own plans for that. Hopefully we can hang out here again.” He murmured, his soft gaze held mine.
“I’d like that.” I beamed. After going through some things inside, we headed back out into the mini porch area of the tree house. Jake and I sat on the porch floorboard, our feet dangling on the edge, like how we used to do as kids. It was a cool evening so we decided to stay out here for a bit. We sat there silent; I was enjoying the serenity of it. Inhaling the cool night breeze and sighing in content. It had been a while since I found myself outside like this.
“You know this was one of the things I missed.” Jake sighed. I glanced at him and noticed that he was staring at me.
“Being out at the tree house?” I answered.
“Yes, that. Also being here with you again, I missed it a lot.” He stated. I blinked and watched his expression shift. He looked down to my chest and his fingers reached for the dog tag I wore.
“You still wear this, huh? Even after I left for a long time, you still had it with you.”
I shrugged. “I got so used to wearing it that I just kept it with me.”
He looked like he wasn’t convinced with my answer. His fingers then grazed his own tag. It was tucked under his shirt but he pulled it out. “I’m glad that you kept it though. It gave me a bit of hope that you still trust me after all this time I’ve been gone. I was expecting that you would ditch that thing since it was just a childhood gift.”
I scowled. “I value the things that are given to me especially the ones from people I love. It may have been just a childhood gift to you, but for me it was a reminder that I still have you around.”
His eyes widened and then he smiled softly. “Knowing that you valued it, for the sake of our friendship, means a lot to me.” His hand covered mine and the warmth of it soothed me. This was the kind of feeling that I missed around him.