The intoxicating smell of coffee and bacon wafted into the pitch black room, making him curl and shift under the heavy blanket.
Go back to sleep…
The smell rushed into his nostrils, urging him on. With a groan, he forced an arm out. It pulled a corner away, revealing a mess of tight curls. He stretched the other arm, motivated just enough to press his palms into the mattress and lift himself into a slouch.
The blanket fell away. Amari scratched at the shaved side of his head, then the bit of uneven scruff along his jaw. His fingers trailed down his neck, settling on the middle of his bare chest. A cool draft blew over his exposed skin and he shivered. It was so tempting to crawl back into the warmth, but his stomach growled a loud protest. Feeling around in the dark, he found a pair of boxer-briefs and a heavy, hooded sweatshirt, pulling both on as he slid out of bed.
Come on, Amari… It’s gonna be another great fucking day…
Shuffling to the window, he covered his head with the hood and closed his eyes before pushing aside the blackout curtain. Light streamed through his eyelids and he dropped the thick fabric.
Slapping a hand over his face, he groaned again. “Fuck…”
He’d slept longer than he hoped, but he didn’t feel refreshed. His brain throbbed against his skull. Maneuvering his sluggish body around the bed to the dresser, he grabbed his phone, earbuds, and sunglasses, shoving them into the front pocket of his hoodie. Then he stumbled to the door and opened it a crack. Light from the hallway seeped in. First one eye, then the other. He squinted to let them adjust. As soon as he could open the door enough, he slipped out and headed toward the mouthwatering aroma.
“It looks like my little Scotty finally decided to join us, hein?” called a high-pitched, motherly voice from the stove.
Lifting onto his toes and raising an arm to his roommate’s shoulder, Amari leaned forward to inhale. The man in his grasp stood at least half-a-foot taller, but certainly weighed less, with a thin waist and gangly, tree-branch limbs. His long, fine hair brushed over Amari’s arm as he swayed side to side, humming and pushing the crackling strips around in the pan.
“It’s Monday. You’re usually up earlier, tsé?” He gestured to the square table in the middle of the tiny, open kitchen. “Sit. I’ll get you a plate. Coffee? Black?”
Amari nodded and took an empty chair. Ziggy had been in New York for over twenty years now, but he still liked to use his native Canadian-French in normal conversation, dotting everything with Quebecois “eh” and “you know.” Amari hadn’t decided if his eccentric friend did it out of habit or for fun. After three years, he was fluent enough not to care.
Across from him sat someone he didn’t recognize, so he ignored them. To his right, the familiar fragrance of imported perfume almost overpowered breakfast.
“Feeling alright this morning, mon chou?” Her voice was soothing, flowing like honey in her slightly thicker French accent.
If anyone else had called him their pastry, his immediate response would be a fist to the face, but from her, it was sweet. Everything about her was sweet.
“Just a headache,” he muttered.
She hummed and pushed over a steaming mug of coffee. He took a long gulp, soothing his scratchy throat and warming his chilled body. Letting out a contented sigh, he looked toward the figure at the stove.
“Why the fancy breakfast, Zig?”
Ziggy placed an overflowing plate of bacon, a basket of toasted bread, and a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table. Then he set an already-made plate of food in front of him.
“It’s Monday, tsé?”
He added the “you know?” as if the answer was obvious, and Amari rolled his eyes in reply.
“No customers, no bands, no work.” Sitting across from the woman, he began filling another plate. “I felt like cooking. Cate and Mik are here, so it’s only right that I feed them, hein?”
He handed the full plate to the stranger and paused.
“Oh, I don’t think you know Mik. Mik, this is Scotty, mon petit frère.”
“Like hell am I your little brother,” Amari snapped back. “And my name’s not Scotty.”
He hung his head, shoving two pieces of bacon into his mouth, but Ziggy yanked at his hood, uncovering his face and hair.
“Don’t wear your hood at the table,” he jokingly scolded. “It’s rude, hein? And what is wrong with being my little brother?”
“I don’t wanna be in the same gene pool as you, thanks,” he mumbled through bites.
“Ayoye! So ungrateful.” Ziggy chuckled and gave the side of his head a light slap. “It’s not like you turned out any better than me.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t argue with that, so he looked back down at his plate and continued to eat.
“Wait, what does that say about me?” Cate asked, a bit dejected.
How sweet was she to take that seriously?
“Come on. There’s no way he’s not adopted.” Amari didn’t lift his head, staring at his food to hide a smirk.
She giggled at the banter. It echoed like tinkling bells in the tiny apartment “Ah, oui, c’est possible,” she agreed. She was usually too softhearted to joke around, but she giggled again.
Too familiar with Amari’s grouchy attitude, Ziggy brushed off the comments and continued.
“Antèka, Mik is an old friend of mine. He’s in town for a few days from Montreal, so be nice, hein?”
Ziggy had a lot of ‘friends’ who came and went—acquaintances and strangers, old and young, across the gender spectrum—so guests at the apartment was nothing surprising. Amari didn’t care. This Mik person would be gone in a day or two and most likely never be back. Amari had no interest in getting to know him.
Replying with an apathetic “Uh-huh,” he slouched into his chair, focusing on his coffee instead.
Mik leaned forward, reaching out across the table to him.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” he greeted.
His accent was thicker than the siblings, with an artificial sweetness that made Amari want to gag. He nodded again, not taking his hand.
Mik’s arm returned to his side and he cleared his throat. “Ziggy has told me a lot about you.”
“I doubt that.”
Fiddling with the strings of his hood, Amari tried not to pay him any attention. He had no desire to have a conversation with this stranger, especially if it was useless small talk. It was fine if Ziggy wanted to have guests, but why did he always insist on dragging him into it?
Mik didn’t seem put off, happy to continue his one sided chat. “I hear you sing and play guitar. Ziggy says you are quite good.”
Amari glared at his friend. This man must be in the music industry, and he hated when Ziggy talked about him like that.
“You have a unique look, too,” Mik purred. “Quite beautiful.”
And there it is.
“So people tell me,” Amari muttered with a frown.
He was plenty aware of his beautiful appearance. Five-foot-seven. Small and lean. Skinny, but not scrawny. The product of a Nigerian father and Irish mother, Amari was an odd combination of the two. His thick, curly hair was a brownish-black and his skin a mixed, light coffee-brown. Bright hazel eyes stood out against the warm color and hardly noticeable freckles dotted his cheekbones. He was barely twenty one, but his features were well defined. Add in his long neck and prominent Adam’s apple, and the entire picture was rather pretty.
He hated it.
Cate grabbed his mug before he could respond. She was always good at reading his discomfort. After a moment, she set a full mug in front of him, steam rising in his face, and he chugged the bitter liquid down in one go.
“Plans today?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Just gonna wander.”
Pushing his chair out from the table, he stood and stretched his arms above, then behind, groaning as his stiff joints popped.
Definitely slept too long. A twinge of pain shot through his shoulder and up into his neck. Apparently without moving. He was too young to feel this old, but he’d never been good at taking care of his body.
Cate grabbed the empty plate and mug, bringing them over to the sink to wash.
“Be careful, mon chéri. There is construction all along the G line, if you take the métro.”
Amari nodded at her and walked the few steps over to the couch, grabbing the pair of jeans he’d left there the night before. He gave the pants a sniff. They didn’t smell awful, so he pulled them on and headed down the short hall to the bathroom.
After splashing water over his face, he took a toothbrush from a small basket on the sink counter and brushed. From the same basket, he grabbed a small bottle of serum, running a little through his curls to tame them. His fingertips scratched at the scruff covering his chin. Shaving seemed like a hassle, so he let it be.
Only a few minutes later, he was back in the living room, pulling a guitar case onto his back and grabbing his house key from the hook by the door.
“Going to the park?” Ziggy asked, leisurely and loudly slurping his coffee.
Amari shrugged, even though they both knew he would. He almost always did on Monday mornings.
“Why don’t you do something about that frohawk of yours while you’re out, hein? It’s getting wild.”
Shoving the keys into the pocket of his pants, he pushed an earbud into his ear, listening as it paired to his phone.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back. Call if you need anything.”
“Ah, there’s a pill bottle next to the door!” Ziggy called through the buds. “For your headache.”
Amari snatched the bottle and was out the door before Ziggy and Cate could say their goodbyes. Three flights down, he threw up his hood, slipped on his sunglasses, and exited onto the sunny street.