“My shift changed again,” these were James’ first words to Brian that early Monday morning.
Brian zipped up his jeans while entering the kitchen. The sight of James leaning on the counter surprised him. Between the two of them, Brian always woke first. “Why are you up at five in the morning?” he broke the collar of his uniform. Crissy’ Coffee required all employees to wear white polos. On the left breast was its logo containing a coffee mug.
James sipped a beer nonchalantly. He wore a tank top and shorts as pajamas. Under the bright kitchen lights, his blue eyes sparkled. They didn’t match the brown coils on his head. “Because my boss called at three a.m. saying to come in at midnight from now on,” he crushed the empty can against his forehead. “After that I couldn’t get back to sleep,” he took two steps to their bin in the corner. James threw out his can then opened the mini fridge. It came with the apartment. Since they couldn’t afford a full-sized refrigerator, they just learned to live with the limited food space.
Brian sighed on his way to the sink. “Okay so from now on you’ll be out at night while I sleep?” he opened the pipe which violently shot water all over his clothes. “Ugh!” he beat the faucet. “Why is it still doing that?” his actions jump started the pipe which now behaved itself.
“Told you we should get it looked at. I think I have about enough savings to cover it,” James yawned then sat at the table. “By the way, my new shift starts tonight so I’ll be in here sleeping all day,” he rested his head on the rickety old table.
Brian washed his hands before heading to the mini fridge. He picked out two eggs for breakfast. “Why don’t you call a plumber to check on our sink? You’re the one who suggested it,” he left the eggs lying on the counter to retrieve a frying pan from an overhead cupboard. Brian ignored the termite holes and pulled out what he wanted. “And if you get one, you’d need to stay awake while he works.”
James scoffed, leaning back. “If I stay awake all day, I won’t stay awake at work.”
“It’s not all day,” Brian crossed his arms. “It’s just while the plumber does his job. We don’t know if he’ll steal something.”
To that, James groaned. “Why don’t I get Ellie in room 9 to oversee this?” he put his head down, closing his eyes and yawning. “She’s a good girl. Plus, she works remotely. She can housesit while I catch z’s until work.”
Brian was ready to reject James’ plan but realized its potential. “Oh yeah,” he pictured the girl next door. “If she’s up for the challenge then maybe she can stick around at night while I sleep and you work,” he snorted while laughing, getting back to breakfast.
James sat up to pick his ear. “Not a bad idea actually.”
James had a skill for sleeping through noise. He laid back on the couch with opened eyes, listening as the plumber worked hard. His banging and clanging made no difference to James. It was Ellie’s tardiness that kept him up.
“Sorry bro. Am I disturbing you?” the plumber yelled. He was just a freelancer who lived downstairs. James chose him since his rates were cheapest.
“Nah you’re good,” James fought his own tiredness. Water marks in the ceiling kept his gaze focused. With something to look at, he could stay awake. The couch’s rough material helped too. “Not that I think plumber boy will actually steal but—”
Knock, knock! “James I’m here!”
Finally, he got up and opened the front door. “Ellie why are you so late?” James let her in though disappointed.
“Sorry. I had a deadline this morning,” Ellie came in wearing a crop top and shorts. In this summer heat, people dressed down. James had seen a guy walking shirtless just yesterday. “But I’m here,” she peeped in the kitchen at the plumber on his knees.
He slid out from beneath the sink to wave. “Hey,” an easy smile appeared on his lips.
Ellie went with James to the couch. “That’s your plumber?”
James let her sit beside him. “Yeah. So?” he watched how she crossed both legs. They were flawless. Slowly, James’ attention moved up her body. He stopped on her face which shone with enthusiasm. She’d just put her laptop on the center table. Did Ellie always have such amazing skin? They usually exchanged hi’s and bye’s in the corridor. In those moments, he never really looked at her.
“Nothing. Just asking,” Ellie flipped her blonde hair off her shoulder. She leaned forward for her device then put it on her lap. “Okay you can rest now. I’ll look over things,” she smiled at James with a wink.
James rubbed sleep from his eye. “I’m actually not that tired come to think of it,” he put a suave arm on the backrest behind her. “So, if you’re not too busy we can…”
Clang! Clang! Clang! There went the plumber doing his ‘work’.
“Sorry for the racket guys,” the guy whistled before continuing in the kitchen. Somehow his whistles rose over his crashing and banging. Now, James was beginning to find him irksome.
With a shake of his head James massaged his brow. “Nah it’s okay bro. Just do your thing,” he saw Ellie typing away. She really was busy, wasn’t she? He’d hate to disturb her work but… “Do you ever take breaks? Looks like you’re always working.”
Ellie paused to smile at him. “Yeah. I take naps every other hour or just do something fun. I’m actually about to have a break. I just need to send a few emails for someone,” she continued typing. “Didn’t you say you had a night shift? You should get some rest.”
James sprayed his mouth with breath spray while she said this. “No, it’s alright. I think we can talk during your break if you don’t mind,” he checked the scent then put on a debonaire act, facing her. “Unless you’re tired.”
Ellie hit ‘send’ then closed her device. “I’m not,” her long lashes batted over those beautiful brown eyes he’d never noticed until now. “What do you want to talk about?”
That evening, Brian got home to a noisy living room. The plumber’s still working? He saw a guy with an afro, examining tools at the counter. He locked the front door behind him then came further in, searching for James or Ellie in the living room.
“They’re in his room,” said the plumber pleasantly. He spun a wrench in his hand then got back to work. The kitchen seemed messy with tools and pipes but Brian wouldn’t question it. He did have questions for James and Ellie though.
Quickly, he went to James’ room. “Dude what are you—” to his complete confusion, James and Ellie sat side by side on the floor in partial darkness. The two leaned against James’ bed, giggling over a video. They were hunched over James’ phone, completely unaware of Brian’s presence… and probably the presence of their plumber. “Hey why isn’t anyone back there with the plumber? James what’s going on? Ellie?”
Ellie looked up with eyes shimmering brightly. “Oh, hi Brian. I was just heading back to the living room,” she got up. “James here still needs to sleep before his shift but he wanted to show me something,” she went up to Brian with her gorgeous chestnut eyes somehow visible in the dark.
“Yup,” chimed James, rising from the floor. His cramped sleeping quarters never looked cleaner. Made-beds and arranged shelves weren’t typically his thing but today it was. Did he change in the span of eight hours? Brian had to wonder. “Ellie here’s been doing a great job.”
Brian scratched his face as his roommate stood beside the slender blonde girl. “A great job?” His exhaustion from the day hit like a truck. “You’re supposed to be supervising the plumber. And James I expected to meet you napping. You only have a few hours until your shift,” he checked his watch.
“Really?” James flipped on the lights which bathed his room in brightness.
“But his shift is at midnight which means I can head to my apartment since Brian’s here. The plumber won’t stick around when he goes to bed,” Ellie stalked out of the bedroom.
James zoomed past Brian and held her arm. “Wait no don’t do that. You can stay. We should talk more,” a knocking hammer from the kitchen cut through his speech.
Brian stood with them behind the small sofa. “But James you literally have a late-night shift. You should sleep.”
Ellie looked to agree. “Brian’s right. He’s always looked so sensible from far and now I know for sure that he is,” she walked to the couch where she’d left her laptop. “Your uniform is cute by the way Brian,” she picked up the device.
While James curved the sofa to meet her, blush heated Brian’s face. “You think so?” he popped his collar, sitting on the couch’s arm. “Well while James is getting sleep for work, you and I can talk a bit more about my sensibility. I mean, if you want,” it was just a measly compliment but after such a long day at work, hearing something positive eased his exhaustion. Was Ellie always this cute? He took in her even skin and gorgeous smile.
Ellie held her laptop under-arm. “You think I should stay?”
James’ eye twitched when Brian invited her to. Just then, it suddenly dawned on him that Brian could keep her here as long as he wanted. She might be alone with his roommate while he went to work all night. Brian wasn’t one to stay up late but Ellie’s sweet charms seemed to be taking effect right now. No. He scowled. “Isn’t your next nap supposed to be literally right now?” he nudged Brian, giving threats with his eyes.
Brian’s arm hurt from James’ rough elbow. “Bro what the heck?” he whispered.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Their plumber continued the racket. “You guys’ sink is in bad condition,” he commented with half his body inside the cupboard. His echoey voice hardly carried.
Ellie sat. “I guess I can just nap on your couch if Brian’s okay with that. I am pretty sleepy,” she chirped. She looked past both Brian and James into the kitchen. “Do you guys think your plumber’s thirsty? What did you say his name was?” she twirled her hair.
“Nothing,” James held out a finger in front of her. “Look. Lie down, to take your nap while I take mine, okay? We can both wake at twelve to keep talking while Brian here—” he hit Brian’s back. “Heads to bed.”
Did Brian hear right just now? “Twelve is when your shift starts. What are you talking about?”
James sniffled and coughed. “What shift?” he rubbed his eye too, looking at the confused Ellie. “I can’t go to work when I’m this sick.”
“Sick?” asked Brian and Ellie simultaneously.
James whipped out his cell while Brian’s mouth hung open. “Calling in sick right now,” he pressed it to his ear while marching around the sofa. “Ellie, sleep and Brian, get out of that stupid uniform,” he left for the bedroom while laughing internally. Not today, Brian. He saw the guy’s smitten appearance. Brian wanted Ellie too. Who could blame him? She looked great and seemed sweet. Which is why I deserve to get to know her. He smirked at Brian on his way out.
Brian’s eyes narrowed in disgust, watching James vanish to his room. You son of a… he watched Ellie stretch out on their couch. “Wait Ellie,” he called.
She sat up again. “What is it?”
“What were you and James watching in your room?” there was no way he’d let James have this. Ellie seemed pretty cool and Brian wanted to explore that. He might have been loopy from working all day but it didn’t change his interest.
“A compilation video of top ten anime betrayals,” Ellie explained. “Look. I think I can find it online,” she yawned while opening her laptop. “But I’ll take a nap after you see it.”
Brian sat next to her. “Want some coffee? It could help you stay up,” he might have a cup himself. He didn’t want James alone with Ellie after midnight. If James was willing to go extra miles just to get to know her, Brian would follow.
“Sure. Why not?”
Empty packets of instant coffee littered their center table. The small flat screen played YuYu Hakusho reruns in loops. Somehow, even after two a.m., the plumber still hadn’t completed his job. He’d run out for other appliances and pipe parts while working but was yet to be through.
Brian had to say he admired his tenacity. Even if the crashing equipment sometimes interrupted his date. Double date but with just one love interest. His sizzling eyes turned to James who desperately tried keeping a wide-eyed Ellie engaged. Each of them held half drunken coffee mugs. He saw based on Ellie’s shaking leg that she’d had a couple cups too many. He had too. They all had work and yet here they were. Unless James decides he’s calling in sick just to cramp my style again.
Ellie rubbed her eye while James laughed at nothing. “You’ve told this joke four times James,” she checked her half drunken mug. “Guys look, it’s been fun but if James isn’t heading to work and Brian is wide awake then I can go right?” red lines infected her innocent eyes which now looked troubled. In the time between six p.m. and now, neither she nor either of the boys had rested. They’d spent the time jumping from topic to topic with James and Brian fighting for Ellie’s attention. Whenever she brought up leaving or tiredness, they’d pour her more coffee to keep ‘the vibes going’.
“What? How can you leave when we’ve only just gotten started?” James’ normally hooded eyes popped like saucers. “Come on. We should be talking movies. Pick a movie. We can watch one,” he picked up the remote and opened a popular streaming service. “Which did you say your favorite was Ellie?”
“Psh,” Brian put his arms on the couch’s backrest. “If you’d been listening to her, you’d know,” his pulse raced like a jet. “Wasn’t it that Smash horror movie Ellie?”
The girl shook her leg while nodding. “Yes, but I don’t know if we should keep this going. Guys—”
James barked a crazed laugh. “I did remember her favorite movie. In fact, it’s right here,” he pulled up the horror film while leaning forward, glaring into Brian’s soul.
Brian’s irrational mind spiraled in anger. “Well, no one likes a Simp so I think you should cut it out with all this desperate stuff and leave for work! You still got a few hours, don’t you?” his eye twitched.
With a hand on his chest, James gasped. “Simp? Me? You’re the one who forced her to stay up when she wanted to nap!” he shouted over Ellie who sat between them.
“I did no such thing—”
“Yes, you did!”
“You’re way more desperate than I am. Like I said, you called off sick for a girl you just started talking to!”
“Oh, be quiet!”
“You be quiet!”
“I fixed the pipe!” the plumber suddenly hopped in front of them with water, grease and sweat on his face. He spun his wrench in one hand while grinning pridefully, blocking their TV.
James and Brian’s screaming match halted as they both looked at him. Seeing him up close felt strange. Had he really been here all day?
Ellie- who’d buried herself in the sofa to avoid all the screaming- sat forward. “Oh, you’re done?” she asked.
“Yup,” the guy wiped his sweat away. “If you want, I can show you how smoothly the water runs now. I think I did a pretty great job. You guys wanna see?” he sounded just a tad bit too gleeful for James and Brian’s liking.
The cranky boys rolled their eyes. “No,” they said. Now they tried getting back to winning Ellie’s affection but she…
“I wanna see,” she got up with her laptop and followed the plumber. “And can I just say that I admire your work ethic? You’re so determined.”
“Thanks,” the plumber smiled as they left James’ and Brian’s sights. “My name is Aaron by the way.”
“Ellie,” the conversation continued in the kitchen. “Mind walking me to my apartment when we’re done here? If you want you can… stay a little while. That is, if you’re not tired.”
Aaron chuckled while opening the faucet. “Sure. I’d love that, Ellie.”
Both James and Brian twisted themselves on the couch, looking on as Aaron stole Ellie’s heart by just talking pipes and tools. Her twinkling eyes showed admiration as the tall, lanky, dark-skinned guy went over his process.
“Wow,” said Brian.
James blew a raspberry and sat forward. “Wow indeed.”