Josh woke and tried not to think about the text he’d gotten before going to bed. It wasn’t an unusual text, just a notification from his roommate, Aaron, that he’d be bringing a girl home after their date had apparently gone well. Aaron brought people home occasionally, and he was always courteous in sending Josh a text so he could handle the situation in a way that made him comfortable.
It was nice. Aaron was nice. Josh liked that Aaron was nice like that.
And in the mornings, Aaron always made his dates breakfast. Sometimes it was a bowl of cereal, usually with some sort of addition: Cheerios with bananas, Cinnamon Toast Crunch with a dash of nutmeg. Sometimes it was toast with butter and jam. Occasionally, when the hookup wasn’t great, it was just coffee. Good coffee, though, freshly pressed, brought back to the bedroom with a couple of cream and sugar options. Once or twice, for a repeat visitor, he might make pancakes.
It was Aaron’s “thing,” his “move,” his “trademark.” It’s how he avoided thinking of himself as a guy looking for just one-night stands, he had once explained to Josh.
“If you make someone breakfast, or bring them coffee or whatever, they think of you better. They don’t get as upset when you tell them you aren’t looking for something serious.”
“Did people used to get upset when you told them you weren’t looking for something serious?” Josh had asked.
Aaron thought for a moment. “Not exactly. I just wanted them to think of me as a good guy. I mean, I have dated people for more than one night. And I still made them breakfast past the first hookup. I just… I don’t know. It feels right to do it. I like doing it.”
Josh listened, wondering if Aaron usually blushed when he talked about dating. He liked the warmth in Aaron’s cheeks and the tips of his ears, the way Aaron had just the slightest uptick in the corner of his mouth, the way he wouldn’t quite meet Josh’s eyes.
But Aaron didn’t make Josh breakfast.
He had, after hearing about a fight between Josh and his parents, made him cookies. When Josh had sprained his ankle and had to use crutches, Aaron made him an amazing apple pie and then insisted Josh stay on the couch while Aaron got him whatever he needed. And, about a month ago, when Josh had spent the whole day playing video games in his room, Aaron had coaxed him out by making the most delicious smelling beef stew.
Josh had gotten laid off, and he snapped at Aaron when he tried to make light of it. The next day, Josh didn’t even open his door, isolating himself because he felt awful for snapping. He heard Aaron come home from work two hours early and briefly peeked out his door. Aaron was still in his work uniform rather than the gym clothes he usually came home in.
Aaron had knocked on the door at six.
Josh could smell the stew, but tried to ignore it.
“Hey,” Aaron said.
They stood awkwardly for a moment.
“About last night–”
“So hey, um–”
They both chuckled.
“You first,” Aaron said.
Josh took a deep breath and met Aaron’s gaze. “I’m sorry about last night. I was frustrated and too deep in self-pity to see you were just trying to help.”
Aaron smiled, a soft smile, his cheeks turning slightly rosy. “I could tell you were upset. I’m sorry I tried to minimize what you were going through.”
Josh’s heart fluttered. A guy who knows how to handle emotions and apologies?
“Anyways,” Aaron continued, “I got out of work early and figured you could use some company for dinner. I made beef stew.” He gestured towards the kitchen. “For you, I mean. I figure it’s better than the pizzas you have in the freezer.”
Josh felt his own cheeks getting pink and tried not to look completely smitten. “Oh, wow. Thanks. I didn’t even realize I was hungry.”
Aaron’s smile brightened.
They had dinner together that night, and periodically had dinner together every now and then since. Josh was grateful–he had never really learned how to cook, and Aaron had not been exaggerating about the frozen pizzas.
And now, for the first time since the beef stew incident, he had brought home yet another girl. And judging by the heart-eyes emojis in the text, Aaron had found someone he might bring home twice. Maybe more. Good for him.
Normally, Josh replied to the texts with a thumbs-up emoji, or maybe a “Get it!” or something equally encouraging. Admittedly, he had been slowly becoming jealous of Aaron’s thriving sex life compared to his own. So last night, he had sent no response, simply left Aaron on read, trying not to feel guilty.
He felt guilty anyway.
Josh slowly rolled out of bed. He pulled on a hoodie over his t-shirt, jeans over his boxers. He glanced at himself in the mirror, mussing his hair until it was just the right amount of messy. He braced himself, then opened the door and walked to the kitchen.
Wow, Josh thought. Chocolate chip pancakes, sliced strawberries and bananas, hand-whipped whipped cream, chocolate bar espresso, and ice water with lemon and lime in it?
“How long did it take you to make all this?” he asked.
Aaron chuckled. “About an hour.”
“Does she have a name?” He nodded towards Aaron’s closed bedroom door.
“Chloe,” Aaron said, eyes twinkling.
“Where’d you meet her?”
“At the gym.”
“Really? Isn’t that a little, you know, weird?”
“She was lifting as much as I was so I asked her to spot me,” Aaron said, carefully pouring the strawberries over the pancakes and topping the strawberries with the banana slices. “That was a couple weeks ago. We, uh, started flirting a little? Turns out we both work at Domino’s, but different stores. She’s at the one over on Montauk Ave. Just switched to this gym.”
“Why’d she switch?”
“Uh, I guess she hooked up with the manager, not knowing he was the manager, and it, uh, it didn’t go well. He started harassing her while she worked out. Since he was the manager, she couldn’t do anything.”
“He sounds like a tool.”
Josh paused, watching his roommate carefully putting the elaborate breakfast on a tray. “Want me to open the door for you?”
Aaron grinned. “That’d be great, man. Thanks.”
Josh led Aaron to the door, stood behind the wall, then turned the knob and pushed the door open. He gave Aaron two thumbs up and mouthed “YOU GOT THIS.” Aaron rolled his eyes, winked and smiled affectionately at Josh. Then he entered his room and nudged the door closed behind him.
Josh waited next to the door for a moment, listening, wondering what was so special about this girl. He didn’t wonder why so many people were attracted to Aaron: even this morning, Aaron had been preparing breakfast wearing sweatpants and no shirt, and Josh had yet another front-row view of Aaron's abs and biceps.
He heard Aaron gently waking her up. Then… a squeal of delight and peals of laughter, both the girl’s giggle and Aaron’s low chuckle. Josh sighed and shook his head, then went back to the kitchen.
Scrambled eggs on toast, he thought to himself, trying not to think anything else. Scrambled eggs on toast. He went to the fridge and pulled it open, grabbing first the almond milk and the butter, then going back for the eggs. Scrambled eggs on toast.
There was no egg carton.
He checked more carefully, pushing tupperware bowls with various leftovers to the side, pulling out the milk carton and putting it back, opening the drawers at the bottom.
Nothing. No eggs.
He furrowed his brow, thinking, Pancakes… whipped cream… strawberries and bananas… espresso… do any of those things involve eggs? He looked around, surveying the whole kitchen now. No sign of the carton. Aaron had put his used skillets and mixing bowls in the sink and the dishwasher, so the counters were clear.
The toaster popped. Two slices of his rosemary and olive oil bread were perfectly toasted. And there, next to it, where it always was: the microwave splatter cover that Aaron insisted Josh use.
He lifted it.
A plate of still-steaming scrambled eggs, topped with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, sat underneath.
A soft, slow smile spread across his face even as he tried not to read into it. He buttered and jammed the toast, pretending his heart wasn’t doing that annoying fluttering again, and took it back to his room.