You came to this city a little over a year ago. You crammed as many of your belongings as you could manage into the backseat of your 2001 Dodge Intrepid, and then you loaded up the trunk with all of your clothes, towels, and blankets. Your entire life was reduced to fit in a rolling tin can whose bumper was held on with a bungee cord.
You weren't sure where you were going to go when you got to the city. Gas to get this far had nearly drained your savings, and you were down to your last `$500`. Had you not left that slowly-dying small town, that would have been enough for a month's rent. But you couldn't go on living there - the hopelessness and resignation were too crushing. So you left for the city, where you currently had enough for perhaps a week's rent in someone's closet.
On your trip out, you'd get off the highway at night, pull into a McDonald's parking lot, and sleep in your car. In the morning, you'd go inside and ask for a cup of water, then go back to your car and make a peanut butter sandwich. While you ate, you'd look for temporary rooms on craigslist using your phone. For lunch, you'd pull over at a rest stop, refill the paper cup from that morning's McDonald's at the water fountain, then make another peanut butter sandwich. You'd look at the temporary room listings again, just to see if anyone had posted anything else since breakfast.
Usually, there were no new postings. In fact, since you started looking, there had only been the one listing, reposted every day, and it doesn't look quite right. Today though, now that you're only six hours outside of the city, there are two new postings.
[[Let's see here...|postings]]"Snuggles, Sir Richard, Heathykins, Jenny, Luna, Mario and I need a roomie! Rent has gone up recently, and with two litters on the way, we need to make sure we can afford our tasty numnums!
Room conveniently located at the front of the apartment, just inches from the bathroom and the front door! Bonus insulation and soundproofing included, but sadly no windows. Kitchen privileges negotiable. NO NASTY BOYS!"
[[What were those other ones?|postings]]"Hey bros! Kenny finally got accepted to the kombucha farming residency he applied for in April, so we're in need of another roomie! Awesome old house has a lot of potential, so we're looking for someone who can help us clean it up and restore it, while contributing to the overall wellbeing of our community. Ideal candidate will be an awesome cook, and be able to handle light plumbing, electrical, and carpentry work. Kenny was kind of the glue that held this house together, so we're looking for someone FAST! Peace and love (no homo)"
[[Well at least I'll have a bed.|Gsetup]]
[[What were those other ones?|postings]][[225/wk - single roomm in 2br/1ba, utilities included, no windows, must love cats, ladies only please! ;P|ladies]]
[[225/wk - single bed in 3br/2ba experimental community/house, no dogs, 420 friendly|guys]]
[[400/mo - 1br/1ba sublet for single occupant, must be comfortable with non-traditional tenant/landlord arrangements.|hellno]]"Seeking very open-minded individual to occupy 1br/1ba basement studio, and participate in an unconventional tenant/landlord relationship. 400/month, all utilities included. Monthly attendance at landlord's private get-togethers for discreet, adventurous, and curious individuals is required - attire and lubrication for these will be provided. Serious, CONSENTING inquiries ONLY!"
[[NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!|postings]]Hesitantly, you send the bro a message. Surprisingly, he writes back before you finish your peanut butter sandwich. He introduces himself as Dave, gives you the address, and asks you to come by as soon as you get in.
When you arrive, you begin to have some second thoughts. Coming down the front stairs of the house to greet you, Dave seems to do an elaborate dance. As you approach, you can see that this was out of necessity - you've never seen more rotted wood, rusty nails, and general danger within the space of six steps. He introduces you to the rest of the crew, who are all lying around the living room in various states of undress and intoxication. You were always bad with names, so you instantly forget all of theirs. Dave takes you through the kitchen - a crusty mire of leftovers and dishes - and out into the garage.
Dave informs you that Kenny used to sleep here, next to a mountain of boxes, in this broken down, rusty Mustang. Since you'll be replacing Kenny, this is your room now. He then details a long list of house obligations you'll be expected to take care of every week, and it becomes clear that these guys were looking more for a live-in maid than a roommate. Since you don't really have any other options, it looks like you'll have to roll up your sleeves and deal with it. [[At least sleeping in a car will be familiar|Gsetup2]]It's been a week since you moved into the house with Dave and the others. Your suspicion that you were to be more help than housemate turned out to be correct. The only time any of the eleven dudebros talks to you is when something needs cleaned, cooked, or fixed.
When you weren't busy cleaning up after these guys, you were searching for a job somewhere in town, and it's finally paid off. Today you have an interview at a place in one of the trendier neighborhoods of the city. Putting on your one good shirt, you [[head into town|Gbump]].As you walk to your interview, you happen across a young man standing next to a carefully lettered sandwich board sign. At the top of the sign, in fancy script, white chalk spells out the phrase "Artisanal Affection." Underneath that, in small block capitals is a sub title of sorts: "Positive feelings on demand for those on the go."
The young man looks like he could be working at one of any of the number of upper-middle class hipster boutiques that line this particular block. Carefully distressed Chuck Taylors, dark blue jeans with about a two inch cuff, a plaid button-down short sleeve shirt, hair that may or may not have been carefully tousled to achieve the perfect 'carefully careless' look, a neatly-trimmed beard, and glasses that probably aren't prescription with frames that ride the line between comically and tragically thick.
You pause to take a look at his sign. The first item reads "Fist Bump - 50¢."
Near enough to seem to be of some importance, but not close enough to actually seem to be describing that particular item are the words "free range."
You have 50¢ in your pocket.
[["It's only 50¢."|Gbump2]]
[["I should get going."|GbumpL]]You approach the young man with your pair of quarters outstretched. As he pockets the change, he removes his right hand from his other pocket, and raises his arm up just above waist height, his fist pointed toward you.
You bring your fist up and bump the backs of your fingers against his in a gentle, but firm manner. As you make your brief moment of contact, the young man gives a smile and a nod. The smile lingers as he puts his hand back in his pocket. You make brief eye contact as he smiles, and can't help but smile yourself. You return his nod, and move along your way.
You make it to your interview just in time, and it goes extremely well. In fact, by the time you leave, you've landed yourself a job waiting tables at a small restaurant that serves only thirteen variations of hard boiled eggs. True, it's only part time, but at least it's something. Despite the mountain of dishes you'll have to do when you get back to Dave's place, [[you head home feeling happy.|brohugSetup]]You shuffle on past the young man, anxious to get to your interview, and you get there with ample time. However, the interview goes poorly, and the interviewer tells you straight up that you didn't get the job.
[[You shuffle back home, and keep sending out resumes.|Gbump]]It's been a week since you started waiting tables at Crackhouse, the ironically-unfortunately-named hard boiled egg establishment, and your savings are slowly growing. Unfortunately, so are the demands of your roommates. As you try to bring the kitchen up to your standards of cleanliness, Dave and the guys seem to try to maintain the clutter quota of the house by making huge messes everywhere else. You've worked out a rotation so that everything stays minimally disgusting, but this means that even your days off are full of work.
One day, after scraping no fewer than six crusty socks off of the floor in hallway using a flattened spoon you found in the couch, you [[trudge your way towards work.|brohug1]]Almost to work, you come across the young man and his Artisanal Affection sign. You pause, remembering how much that simple fist bump lifted your spirits the other day, and take another look at the sign.
Underneath the Fist Bump is the line "Bro Hug - `$1`."
You pause and think to yourself...
[["I need to save up so I can get out."|brohugL]]
[["There are worse ways I could spend this dollar."|brohug2]]You dig a slightly rumpled dollar bill out of your back pocket and hand it to the young man. After placing the bill in his wallet, he holds his right arm up in front of him, poised as if to arm wrestle you - hand open and vertical. You match his gesture and clasp hands, locking thumbs and then wrapping fingers around the backs of eachother's hands, then he pulls you in close.
The right sides of your bodies make contact, and your clasped hands are pressed between the two of you. At the same time, the young man reaches up behind you with his left arm, giving you two firm pats before letting his hand rest on your back, just slightly off-center. After a moment, you give him a quick pat, and then a couple moments later, the two of you break. He gives you a nod and a subtle smile. You smile back, and head for work.
It's a slow day, with few customers, but you bust your butt anyway. By the end of your shift, you've come away with a surprising amount of tips, and the nightly scrubbing of the bathrooms doesn't seem nearly as depressing as it normally does. Probably because it seems like [[you should be able to move out soon.|sogood1]]After some brief hesitation, you press on towards work.
It's a slow afternoon, with many complaints and minimal tips. You end up spending most of your shift staring out the window until someone coughs conspicuously loudly enough to shake you from your daydreaming.
At the end of your shift, you go home and give the bathrooms their daily scrubbing before passing out in the rusted out Mustang for the night.
The next day, you get up early, scrub the kitchen, and [[trudge off to work again.|brohug1]]Things are getting rocky at Dave's place. While you've managed to smooth out the cleaning rotation, the bros seem to have upped their mess-making game. Dave's starting to get on you about not upholding your part of the bargain, and threatening to throw you out.
Luckily, you've gotten a few replies back about better jobs, and today you have an interview before your shift at Crackhouse. If you can land this, you should hopefully be able to move into your own place. Tired, yet hopeful, [[you head for work early.|sogood2]]Along your path, in his normal spot, you come across the young proprietor of Artisanal Affection.
Today's sign announces a special - "So good to see you," - normally `$3` - is only `$2` today. Nearby the spcial of the day is the phrase "Ethically Sourced," which comes across as equal parts confusing and reassuring.
You take a moment to consider
[["I could use a confidence booster."|sogood3]]
[["I'm going to be late - I should keep moving."|sogoodL]]You hand the young man a pair of ones, and he straightens his neatly pressed flannel shirt (it's been a bit brisk for short sleeves lately) before leaning back slightly and throwing his arms wide. You match his stance - right arm pointing a little skyward, the left toward the ground - and go in.
Arms wrapped around eachother's shoulders, cheek resting gently against bearded cheek, several hearty pats are exchanged, and the two of you rock back and forth slightly. As the two of you rock, you can hear the frames of his glasses creak behind his ear.
After a few seconds, the two of you break apart and share wide smiles. He nods. You nod, and [[head on your way.|willbeok1]]You hurry along to your interview, which goes by uneventfully. The owner of the store says they'll call you, but you're pretty sure they wont.
Your shift at Crackhouse crawls by, and you get home more tired than you should be for such a short shift. You clean late into the night, then send off a few more resumes before falling asleep.
The next morning, you have an message about an interview, so you get up and [[hed to work early again.|sogood2]]Your interview for a sales position at ToasTea - a luxury hand-made tea cozy boutique - goes smoothly. The manager asks when you can start and you tell him tomorrow. Your last shift at Crackhouse flies by, and you head back to Dave's house to hunt for a place of your own.
Unfortunately, the apartment hunt proves to be much harder than you anticipated. You send letters every night after the scrubbing of the bathrooms, but the reply you hear most often is, "Sorry, we've already filled the apartment."
Today starts with no less than a dozen of these replies - which is a little weird since you thought you only sent out eight letters last night. You send out a few more letters before [[you leave early for work.|willbeok2]]Plodding your way down the sidewalk, you find yourself going out of your way to walk by the young man at Artisanal Affection. You peruse his sign for a little bit, and "Everything will be alright - `$5`" catches your eye. Near this, the phrase "certified organic," is noted, which strikes you as a bit odd.
[["I can spare five bucks."|willbeok3]]
[["This is stupid."|wllbeokL]]You proffer your `$5`, and the young man accepts, folding the bill into his breast pocket.
He brushes himself off a little bit before holding his arms out in front of himself at just about the same level as your head, and waving you in with his hands. He wraps his arms around your shoulders, pulling you close. Your arms reflexively wind around his middle - a motion unconsciously remembered from childhood, and your face is buried in his shoulder. He rests his chin on the top of your head, and gently rubs your back, rocking ever so genty.
You stay like this for some time before you break away. He gives you a little smile, and you smile back before you [[continue on your way to work.|transition1]]"This is stupid," you tell yourself as you loop around the block and back toward ToasTea, "This guy can't help me wait any better."
Your shift at ToasTea goes by slowly, with few customers. As a result, you are less than comfortable with your commissions on cozies that night. When you get home, you do your cleaning, and then send letters about apartments until you fall asleep.
The next morning, you're up early again, which is stupid because you don't really have a reason to be up early. Unable to get back to sleep, you [[head out for work ahead of schedule again.|willbeok2]]Your shift at ToasTea is uneventful, but profitable. A group of women in their late twenties came by and decided that they all had to have matching custom cozies for their hilariously ironic quilting circle, and as it turns out, the commission on a sale like that is rather impressive.
You head home a little late, and find that you have a message about an apartment, which is a good thing, since Dave is none too happy about your slightly longer than average day at work. You write back to the landlord, and prepare to [[finally move out of Dave's place.|transition2]]It's been a couple of months since you moved out of Dave's garage and into your own apartment. You've moved up to a management position at ToasTea, and have a lot more free time, but you still haven't made many friends. Felix at the burrito place you go for lunch, maybe, but you never really see eachother outside of lunch time. Claire, one of the other managers at ToasTea, calls you occasionally on your day off, usually to clarify something left hanging at the end of your last shift, but that counts, right?
Today, you get off early, and [[you decide to walk around the neighborhood a bit.|big1]]You wander around aimlessly, passing by Everything Burrito and waving at Felix as you do. You think about maybe swinging by Crackhouse to say hello, but before you can make up your mind, you stumble across a familiar face.
There on the sidewalk, sandwich board sign as immaculately lettered as ever, is the young man of Artisanal Affection. You wave, and he gives you a nod. You wander over and look over his sign, eyeballing what you can only assume is his finest offering - "Come what may, I'll be with you - `$500`."
You'd never considered it before, since straits were so dire, but now that you're in a relatively comfortable position, your curiosity begins to get the better of you, and you actually consider it for a moment.
[["Why not? He's been there for you through a lot - he's earned it!"|big2]]
[["`$500`!? That's ludicrous!"|bigL]]You reach into your coat pocket, pull out your checkbook, and present it to the young man, who nods in approval. Before you change your mind, you quickly scribble out a check, sign it, and hand it to the young man. He quietly pockets the check, holds up a finger, asking you to wait for a moment. He folds up his sign, walks it into the indie zine shop behind him, and returns a moment later without it. He rubs his hands together in preparation, and then comes in for the hug.
His arms come up under yours, and he puts his face in your shoulder, clasping you snugly. You put your arms around his shoulders, resting your head against his, and stay like this for [[several minutes.|big3]]You smile and shake your head before waving again and moving along.
Once you get home, you watch a little TV, and then head to bed.
The next day, [[you decide to go for a walk after your shift.|big1]]It's been about seven minutes since the hug started. You can't help but notice that his hair is soft, and smells a bit like rosemary and honey. You appreciate that he goes the extra mile to condition, and use nice product while he's at it.
You attempt to signal that the hug is over by loosening your grip, but he doesn't budge. Man, the poor guy must be having a rough time lately. You go back into the hug for a little bit longer before [[you attempt to let go entirely.|big4]]Your arms hang at your sides, and you look down at the top of the young man's head, nestled into your shoulder. You tap him gently on the shoulder, and he responds by shaking his head vigorously. Or perhaps nuzzling further into your shoulder. You figure either gesture would look the same and mean the same thing - [[he isn't going anywhere.|big5]]After standing still for a few more minutes, you decide to try to move.
To your surprise, instead of disengaging, the young man moves his leg with yours. After a few more steps, you resign yourself to the situation, and - looking like a pair of overzealous Tango dancers - [[the two of you carry on down the sidewalk.|big6]]
Arriving at the bus stop, you pause for a moment while to try to puzzle out how sitting would work. You decide against attempting it, and [[wait standing.|big7]]Closer to your apartment, you stop at a coffee shop. Navigating the door is a little tricky with the young man attached to you, but you manage. As you order your drink, the barista shoots you a quizzical look. You shrug, she nods, and a minute later hands you your beverage.
[[You exit the shop considerably less gracefully than you entered.|big8]]The two of you arrive at the door to your apartment, where you pause and try to detach the young man once more. You tap on his shoulder, and he replies with the same shaking/nuzzling movement. You sigh as you put your key to the door and start to puzzle out how you're going to [[manage the stairs.|big9]]Miraculously, you survive the ascent. Tired, you head for the couch and turn on the TV. As you sit down, the young man pivots so he is sitting next to you, his knees pressed into the back of the couch. You watch TV until [[you fall asleep.|finale]]You wake up on your couch alone, covered with a throw you don't remember grabbing. Morning light filters through the curtains, and as the fog of sleep slowly lifts, you remember the young man. You look around, but he is nowhere to be found.
You head to work, and your shift goes smoothly. Afterwards, you decide to go for a walk. You wander around aimlessly, passing by Everything Burrito and waving at Felix as you do. You think about maybe swinging by Crackhouse to say hello, but before you can make up your mind, you stumble across a familiar face.
There on the sidewalk, sandwich board sign as immaculately lettered as ever, is the young man of Artisanal Affection.