Frank squinted, uncomprehending. "You...sold your souls to rock and roll. Isn't that a Bette Midler song?"
"Ryan," he croaked, as his skinny coworker whacked at the light like it was a tree and the broom was an ax. "Dude. It's not the light's fault."
"Who the hell's fault is it, then?" Ryan glared up at the ceiling. "Stop fucking buzzing!" he shouted at it, and banged the handle into it again.
Frank giggled, mostly from exhaustion, and let his head fall forward to rest on the greasy laminate. They were possibly maybe going fucking insane. It was just after three in the morning, they'd both been working since six, and as usual, no one had bought anything or even come in for hours. Which made zero sense to Frank. They were one of two convenience stores on the entire east side, which should have meant customers like gangbusters, but the other one was apparently that much more convenient because he and Ryan never saw more than a dozen people between midnight and the time the douchebag day guys took over (who never ever showed up on time no matter how much Ryan bitched to Brendon about it). It sucked balls all the time, but it sucked particularly big, hairy balls tonight, because on top of the nine hours he'd worked already, Frank had to stay until ten to cover one of the douchebag day guys' shifts. Ugh. Fucking douchebags and their bullshit excuses. "Grandfather-in-law's funeral," his ass.
"Just break the goddamn thing," he offered to Ryan, who snorted.
"Yeah? Cause I can totally afford to replace it."
Frank forced himself upright, squinting against the artificial brightness of the store. Fuck, he was tired. His eyelids wouldn't stay all the way open. "Brendon wouldn't make you pay, you know. You're, like, his pet."
"Just because we're friends doesn't mean that he wouldn't make me eat my paycheck for hurting his store." Ryan laughed under his breath as he stabbed at the light again. " 'This place is really important to me, /guys/, be extra syrupy nice to the customers, /guys/, lick the floors clean before you leave, /guys/,' " he mimicked, punctuating each line with a stab. He dropped his arms, red-faced, and huffed. "Shit, he should just marry it."
"I don't know that the LDS higher-ups would be okay with that union."
"He's not Mormon anymore," Ryan replied automatically. "And they'd be fine anyway, as long as the store converted." For good measure, Ryan hit it one more time, and then glanced back at Frank. "You want a turn? It's kinda cathartic."
Frank shook his head and laughed. "You are one crazy bastard, Ross."
"Certi-fucking-fiable, obviously." He twirled the broom between his fingers, or tried - it went sailing into the potato chip shelf instead and knocked most of the bags onto the floor. "Shit."
Frank cracked up, burying his face in his arms as his shoulders shook with laughter. He could hear Ryan grumbling over the squeaking and crumpling of plastic, and when he pulled himself together enough to look up, Ryan had put all the bags back and was sitting on the stool he'd used to reach the ceiling, forlornly eating a bag of Cheetos.
"I hope you like your schadenfreude with artificial cheese dust," he said, chucking a Cheeto at Frank. "Asshole. What time is it?"
"Time for you to get a watch," Frank grinned, and dodged another Cheeto. "Three-twelve."
Ryan pulled a face as he stood up and grabbed the broom. "Witching hour. Awesome. Watch the electricity blow just to spite me." He tossed the broom to Frank, who caught it and propped it up in the corner next to the break room door. "Remind me why we insist on taking this shift?"
"For me, because it pays more." Frank rested his chin in his hand. "I'm also running an experiment to see if I can reverse my sleep schedule and become nocturnal. So far the subject has made no advancement in this field, although he has developed what we in the lab have dubbed 'living zombie syndrome.' More testing will be required." He slumped over the counter. "Or just plain old death would be welcome."
Ryan slouched back over to where Frank was fighting to stay conscious, dragging the stool behind him, and offered Frank the bag. "Look alive, dude. We've only got three hours left."
Frank moaned and pushed the bag away, covering his face with both hands. "No, you have three hours left. I have seven. Seven whole hours, Ryan, that's practically another day. Tobey or whatever that fucker's name is better have a blowjob with my name on it when he comes back."
Ryan patted his head, and then vaulted over the counter. "I wrote a couple more poems you could read. To keep you awake." He grabbed his bag from the cubby under the register, and fished out his hot pink poetry journal and a pencil that he stuck behind his ear. "Probably better that you stop with the coffee, anyway," he added, nodding to the row of empty paper cups Frank had collected.
"Nah, I'll just stick to caffeine. Your poetry requires a lot more brainpower than I'm capable of right now. Thanks, though." Understatement of the year. Ryan's poetry was so full of arcane references and what Frank suspected were acid flashbacks that you basically had to be Ryan to fully understand them. Not that it wasn't good. It was. Frank just had zero patience to puzzle through lines like "His arms were the branches of a Christmas tree/Preached the devil in the belfry" and "Spark your heels up against the picket fence I built" at three in the goddamn morning.
"Suit yourself." Ryan shrugged, and grabbed the other stool next to the cigarette cabinets, kick-sliding it under Frank's ass as he perched on the other one. "I made up another a couple minutes ago," he said, as Frank took a grateful seat. "I'm calling it, 'Brendon Will Not Hear the End of This Until He Gets That Sonuvabitch Light Fixed.' "
Frank smirked. "You know, all this stuff that's been breaking around here lately seems pretty convenient."
Ryan gave him a weird look. "Strange. I'm of the opinion that stuff breaking is actually pretty /in/convenient. But I guess it's just me." He spread his notebook over his knees and pulled the pencil out from behind his ear.
"Well, yeah, it makes our jobs harder. But every time something breaks or someone shows up late to take your shift, it ends up with you spending a healthy chunk of time with our favorite Mormon store owner."
"Brendon. Is. Not. Mormon."
"Recovering Mormon, whatever. He still looks like one. With the bowl cut and cheesy grin and all."
Ryan heaved a put-upon sigh. "What's your point, Frank?"
Frank shrugged, his smirk growing wider. "I dunno. I seem to recall a conversation a few months ago in which you went on and on about what you would give to take Brendon out for a round."
Ryan blushed scarlet all the way to the tips of his ears as the penny dropped, and spluttered, "I didn't - he's not - are you suggesting I'm ruining the store on purpose to flirt with our /manager?/"
"What? Not at all! I'm saying that it's provided a ton of extra face time, that's all. Just an observation."
Ryan glared. "Yeah, well, if you're wondering, I still haven't asked. And I'm not gonna. He's my boss." Indignant, he dragged his headphones up from where they were hanging around his neck and shoved them over his ears. Before long, Frank was treated to a secondhand, tinny Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Frank sighed, slumping forward to rest his head on his arms and watch the store stay empty.
A long, painful hour passed, where neither spoke and nobody came in. Ryan scribbled in the notebook without pause, and Frank drifted in and out of consciousness, stuck in a trippy, viscous half-sleep. He woke up more than once by way of his forehead colliding with the counter. Finally, he felt his brain teetering on the ragged edge of necrosis, and decided the time had come to give up the fucking ghost. With a vigorous shake of his head, Frank launched himself over the counter, and sprinted back to the coolers, grabbing one of the insta-death ZINGergy! energy shots Brendon liked so much and slamming it to keep any of the poison from actually finding his tongue.
"Oh my God," he gasped, and gagged. "Oh, fuck, that is foul." He spit into the now empty bottle and shuddered as an awful burn clawed its way into his stomach.
Ryan pulled off his headphones. "You say something?"
Frank held up the bottle, grimacing as he wiped his mouth with his other hand. "These things are evil. Pure fucking evil in its liquid state. I don't know how Brendon can stand them."
"Says they keep him 'peppy.' " Ryan gave an almighty eye roll and nodded in sympathy. "I swear to God, it's rat poison. It's amazing they can still sell the shit."
Frank coughed as the familiar aftertaste bubbled up in the back of his throat, and grabbed a Coke, swilling it as he headed back over to the register. "They can sell it because it works. Ugh. I am never doing that again."
Ryan gave him a weird smile. "You keep saying that, and yet, you keep crawling back to it night after night."
"Yeah, well, I keep having to work night after night." Frank scowled as he stacked all of his coffee cups and dropped them into the trashcan, tossing the ZINGergy! bottle in after them. "I need a cigarette. Let me know if any biological terrors emerge from the dregs of that bottle." He made it all the way to the door, smokes and lighter in hand, and then it swung open into his face.
"Oops," someone giggled, as Frank cursed and clutched at his nose. "Sorry. Didn't see you there, little man."
A familiar wave of eau de pretty-boy cologne and alcohol washed over him as a very drunk Gabe Saporta lumbered inside, grinning like a lunatic jack-o-lantern. He was dressed to the nines and missing his shoes, but if he noticed the latter he didn't seem to be lucid enough to care. He was one of the few people that showed up at unholy hours of the morning, and even more rare, he was a regular. Frank wasn't sure if it was because they were the only store that would put up with him, or he just liked them better, or what; but he and Ryan could always count on at least one appearance a week. To date, Frank had never talked to a sober Gabe. Sometimes he didn't mind him - he was pretty entertaining under the influence - but tonight Frank was tired and cranky and Gabe had hit him in the face with the goddamn door, the fucker. Frank shoved him away impatiently when Gabe bent to give him a lime Jello-scented kiss on the cheek.
"Gabe, you're an asshole," he complained. "Don't you have better things to do at four in the morning? Jesus." He gingerly prodded his face and winced.
"Already did 'em." Gabe giggled. "Things. People. Mos'ly people. Shudda been there, dude; there was this bachelorette party goin' down, right, and the bride, she picked me to do the Blow Job Shot with!"
Frank groaned and edged past him. "Ryan, deal with this, would you?" He escaped outside before Ryan could protest, sticking a smoke between his lips and lighting up as he walked the health-department-required fifty feet away from the door (which was stupid, no one was there to die by secondhand smoke or anything) and leaned against the dirty brick wall. The night was balmy and just the right amount of breezy, making the leaves rustle in the elm trees. Frank grinned. Summer was so close, he could almost smell the chlorine and baking asphalt. This was Frank's favorite time of the year for two reasons: one, he could spend all day outside and not worry about getting sick; and two, summer concerts. Bamboozle. Skate and Surf. Bonnaroo. Lollapalooza. Local shows and dive venues. Summer was rife with live music, and Frank had spent each of them since he was sixteen drunk, sore, and happier than a pig in shit. This year would be no different - at least, he hoped. After the guitar, his finances were going to be less than hospitable to a season-long beer and rock fest.
Ah, the guitar. It made Frank's heart ache just to think of it. The beautiful, custom, slick white Gibson Les Paul hanging on the back wall in the secondhand music store on 4th and Campbell. Used, but God, gorgeous. Frank wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything in his entire life. Including that time sophomore year when he threatened to jump off the roof if his mom didn't lend him twenty bucks to get a Bouncing Souls ticket. That guitar was the reason Frank was making himself miserable working hours no mortal should have to. Originally he had been doing it to save up for a car - a decision that had been made in January, on a walk during which Frank had been hit by an icicle - but as soon as he'd seen the Gibson in passing, he knew he had to have it. His last guitar had been pawned in favor of feeding himself, and his skills were starting to get rusty. Couldn't let that shit fall by the wayside. It was one of his only talents.
He took a long drag, the smoke in his lungs distracting him from his roiling gut. All the fucking ZINGergy! shots he'd been surviving off of were going to burn holes in his insides, he knew it. Any more extra shifts and they were going to look like Frankenstein's leftover experiments. Ugh.
A pair of headlights snapped on at the other end of the store. Frank started a little; he hadn't noticed any cars coming out, but then, he'd been busy avoiding Most Likely to Get Slammed With a Felony DUI. And shit, Frank couldn't believe he hadn't noticed this car, because when he glanced over, he recognized a black Porsche. A new, shiny black Porsche. He didn't think of himself as a car guy, but he knew an expensive one when he saw it, and this one looked like Frank couldn't afford one if he worked every hour the rest of his life. This must have been Gabe's ride to the store, but Frank had never seen it before. Who the hell had Saporta started making friends with? Rock stars? He wished it wasn't too dark to see the driver; upon closer inspection, he realized the windows were actually tinted. Holy shit, maybe it was a Mafia boss. Those still existed, right?
It dawned on Frank that although he couldn't see in, the driver could most definitely see out. Embarrassed, he ducked his head and stared at the curb. What if it was a Mafia boss? Maybe it was like the movies and they'd gun you down if you stared at their car too long. Maybe he was a witness by accident. Brendon was going to be so pissed if they shot up the store because of Frank.
"'Scuse me, smoker dude?" a voice called across the parking lot, the sound edged by leaked rock music.
Frank risked a glance up. Someone was leaning out of the Porsche's driver window, and they waved him over when he raised his head. Frank gulped. Shit. He was so getting shot.
"Yeah?" he called hesitantly, taking a few steps forward.
"Would you mind going in and yelling at the tall, drunk guy to come back out here? We're late," they said, and started to roll up the window. Frank caught a brief glimpse of them before it slid home; they were wearing sunglasses. At four-thirty in the morning.
Frank dropped his cigarette half-finished on the cement and left it to ash as he ran back into the store. "Gabe, your ride wants - what the fuck!"
Gabe had a terrified-looking Ryan pinned to the register side of the counter, and appeared to be trying to bite Ryan's work shirt off, but was only getting so far as gnawing at his shoulder.
"Help," Ryan squeaked, as Frank dashed over and jumped the counter. "He said something about zombies, and then he - "
"Imma zombie," Gabe slurred. He didn't fight as Frank ripped him away from Ryan and shoved him toward the door. "Want. Braaaaaains."
"It's a miracle you have one left," Frank muttered, rolling his eyes as Gabe clumsily struggled through the swinging gate and staggered toward the front door. He turned back to Ryan, who was straightening himself out and staring dubiously at the wet patch on his shoulder.
"That's a new one," he said, and shuddered. "Oh God, he was gnawing on me."
"Asshole," Frank said absentmindedly, watching through the front door as the headlights swung out over the parking lot and vanished. "It's okay, buddy. Here, put the headphones back on. Some nice soothing Bob Dylan will make you feel better." He let Ryan zone out on folk while he went back and sat on his stool, watching the sky turn predawn gray and wondering who the hell wore sunglasses to drive at night.