Charles Bowman was having a bad day even before his friends showed up to kidnap him for his birthday. He lost his nametag, missed the bus, and was late for his shift in the sandwich shop, but that isn't the worst. The worst is he's accidentally been poisoning Hubert, the owner of the candy shop across from the sandwich shop, with gluten despite Hubert ordering gluten-free sandwiches.
When Charles finds himself soaking wet on a deserted road in the chilling October night, the worst gets an entirely new meaning. But right as he's about to give up, Hubert comes driving on his motorcycle. Being responsible for gluten poisoning aside, Charles has never been as glad to see his knight in black leather, but is going home with Hubert a good idea? Or will the worst get even worse?
When there finally was a lull in customers, he wrapped the sandwich and headed out the back door. He hurried the few steps over the aisle and crossed the threshold to Hubert’s shop. He’d never been in. He liked candy, but Hubert made him nervous.
There wasn’t much room, and Charles feared he’d knock something over. How did Hubert walk around in here? He was far broader than Charles.
“Hi.” He gave Hubert a flighty smile.
“Charlie.” The grin had heat spreading in Charles's body -- not good. Lusting for the tattooed candyman across the hall? Not smart.
Hubert only grinned which had Charles shifting his weight and almost knocking over a shelf. He reached out to steady it, taking in the gums and ... condoms. A flush crept up his cheeks. “Erm ... your sandwich.”
“Did I order one?” There was a teasing glimmer in Hubert’s eyes, and Charles straightened his jacket with the hand he wasn’t holding the sandwich in.
“I feared you’d be hungry by now.” It took several seconds before he dared look at Hubert again, and when he did, he almost wished he hadn’t. He’d hoped for appreciation or joy, but Hubert was studying him with a frown.
“That’s kind of you.”
“Not really, you did try to order earlier, but I messed up.”
“Everyone messes up now and then, Charlie. Don’t beat yourself up.”
Charles swallowed around the lump forming in his throat. “Lucile will fire me.”
“Ah ...” Hubert grimaced. “That’s one pro of having your own business, hard to get fired.”
Charles nodded and placed the sandwich on the counter. “I have to get back.” His eyes fell on the trashcan next to Hubert. There was bread in it -- his bread. The chicken, avocado, lettuce, and onions were gone, but Charles could’ve sworn it was the bread from the sandwich shop. “You don’t like my sandwiches?” They weren’t his.
“Of course, I do. Why else would I buy one every day?”
Charles gestured at the trashcan.
“Ah, yeah ... gluten doesn’t sit well with me.”
Charles grabbed the sandwich on the counter again. “Why didn’t you tell me?” God, how embarrassing. Every day for months now, he’d tried to poison Hubert with gluten. Or he hadn’t actively tried, but damn.
Hubert sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “The first couple of times, I asked for gluten-free bread, but you ...” He shrugged. “And the filling is good.”
“Oh my God!” He’d asked for it. Charles had been super nervous the first few times Hubert had walked up to the window. He looked like a leather daddy every morning when he arrived, and Charles didn’t do those. He changed clothes before ordering his sandwich, and Charles had realized the leathers were because Hubert rode his motorbike to work -- he didn’t wear them as a statement. At least not the statement Charles had first assumed. But given he’d believed he was speaking to a grunting, tattooed, leather daddy out to spank his mostly innocent ass, it was likely he’d missed the gluten-free part. “I’m so sorry. I’ll get you another one. A gluten-free one.”
Hubert waved a hand and Charles hesitated. “Why didn’t you tell me later on?” If he’d told him a month in, he’d have heard him. By then he’d stopped freaking out in panic-attack proportions and only got a little nervous every time he saw Hubert.
The a-little-nervous had stuck.
Charles didn’t know what it was, but Hubert made him tingly. Which he, of course, never would admit to anyone. Not only did he look like a leather daddy, but he was also about fifteen years older than Charles, which, if they by some strange reason would get together, would turn Hubert into a real leather daddy.
Charles shuddered. He didn’t do daddies, and Hubert probably had a wife and eight children or something.
When he looked at Hubert again, he was smiling. Damn, what if he was a mind reader?
“I didn’t want to embarrass you.”
“Oh ... eh ... You should have anyway. You’re paying for it and only eating the filling can’t keep you full for the entire day.”
Hubert grinned. “Not to worry, I bring lunch.”
“What? Why the heck do you buy sandwiches from me every day then?” They weren’t cheap. The entire business idea was to offer sandwiches to people who were traveling and therefore didn’t have many options.
Hubert laughed. “You think about that.” Then he winked, and Charles forgot how to breathe.
“I’ll ... eh ... make you a gluten-free one.” He clutched the sandwich and hurried out of the candy shop.
What had happened? He must’ve imagined the wink. Must have. People like Hubert didn’t wink.