Martin sighed as he read Simon’s text. He had missed it because he was on the phone with Sophie.
cloudy: I’m stuck in traffic. I’m sorry, I’ll get there as soon as I can. Eat something if you’re hungry, plz
Typical Simon. He was late for everything. He shook his head and tucked his phone away.
He glanced over at Scott, who was remaking his third batch of simple syrup for the day. Scott had burnt the first two batches.
Robin was right, he was sort of accident-prone.
It’s not like he could mention that to him though. Scott was a bit sensitive.
He squinted at the pot of syrup on the stove to make sure there was no smoke before making his way to their makeshift staff room in the back. It wasn’t much, just a couple chairs, a microwave, and a mini-fridge, but he was still grateful. Some workplaces didn’t have a staff area at all.
Martin scribbled in his signature on the clock-out sheet and pulled off his apron. As he hung it up, he paused to take a look at himself in the mirror. He rubbed his face. Well, he didn’t look great. He should probably go to bed earlier tonight.
He groaned. He felt another fatigue headache coming on. But still, he had places to be and groceries to buy.
“Grateful. You have to be grateful you’re getting any help at all.” Martin said quietly to himself.
He was grateful. Incredibly so. He wouldn’t be here without everyone’s support.
With the help of some old classmates, he was lucky enough to secure a job at a newly-opened vegan bakery in Queen’s, which was coincidentally not too far from their new apartment. Bunny’s Bakery, while small, produced all of its products from scratch and offered a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items. It had one of those sleek and modern designs, with all white furniture and glass displays so customers could see the bakers at work. The front of house had only a few tables, but they were almost always full, taken up by drained university students looking for a place to study and relax.
The bakery’s owners, Jimena and Vanessa, were as lovely as the little bakery itself. They were a young couple, only a few years older than Martin, with a daughter on the way. They were sweet with Martin in a way that was unfamiliar to him. They made him feel like he belonged there.
It was nice. He hadn’t really felt that way before.
With their daughter on the way, they had recently decided to instate Martin as the manager, giving him a much-needed pay increase, as well as benefits. Jimena took to training him on each of their recipes, ensuring that he knew how to use every ingredient and where they were sourced, while Vanessa trained him on finances and how to take care of things like payroll and orders. While the work was a little more than what he was used to, he was incredibly honored to be trusted with such a role.
Martin groaned as he sat down in one of the staff chairs, back sore from laboring over fresh dough all afternoon.
He was tired. He was always tired now, even on his days off. The worry nagged in the back of his mind that something might be wrong, this constant fatigue and the headaches, but he didn’t really have the money (0r the energy) to dive into that right now.
He worked full-time now, usually 8-4, five days a week. It was mostly manageable for him. He liked his job, loved it even, so the work was largely fulfilling. He never found himself too unhappy at work, only when the odd morning commuter would purposely misgender him. After a handful of similar incidents, the owners had everyone’s pronouns sewn clearly on the front of their aprons, though that didn’t really stop bigots from fussing about it.
What could he do though? Tell them off? Absolutely not. He couldn’t put the reputation of their little bakery at risk. In any case, it was something that he was very used to by now.
Martin slid his backpack over with his foot and leaned over to unzip it. He sighed as he pulled out the thick manilla envelope that Sophie had dropped off for him. She had dropped by on her way home from work, with a sober expression.
He steeled himself before opening it, thumbing through the stack of about 20 papers inside. From what he could tell from first glance, they were mostly forms, bills, and blood work results.
Martin slowed when he reached the bills.
God, more bills. He pulled out the bill for his hormone therapy treatment. Sophie was right, the cost had increased. He closed his eyes wearily and rubbed at his temple with his free hand.
He did the math in his head. Between rent, food, utilities, and his student loans, he’d fall just short of what he needed for his treatments. Even with his new work benefits.
He resisted the urge to rip the bill up.
He didn’t want to bother Robin with this, again, for the second time in the past three months. This was the whole reason he had to take that stupid job in California.
It didn’t seem like he was going to have much of a choice though. He shoved the bill back inside. Robin would be back home in four days. They could have this conversation then.
Martin tucked the thick envelope back into his bag and zipped it up slowly. He knew he would have to tell Simon about it now, he had mentioned bad news in his text.
No, he would have to come up with something else to tell him. Simon would tell Robin about this. They were best friends. Well, they were all best friends. Maybe that’s part of what made this all the more difficult. It’s hard to hide secrets from your friends, but your best friend and your boyfriend?
He pulled out his phone and contemplated calling Sophie again. Maybe she could pull some strings and get him a better deal? No, she’d probably be blocked by some conflict of interest rule. He stared defeatedly at the screen.
“Damn it. What should I do?” Martin whispered. He gripped and ungripped his phone. Sophie wouldn’t mind, right? She always found a way to make time for him. Sure, he had anxiously called her twice today, but - no, he couldn’t.
He pushed his bangs out of his face and leaned back into the chair.
He couldn’t keep pestering her. She definitely had more pressing things to do.
Sophie was a new friend.
They had met at a trans health network tabling event that he had volunteered for a few months ago, right around the time when Robin had left for California again. Martin had decided he needed to get out of the house and do something at least sort of social. He had been put at the Planned Parenthood table with Sophie, a Planned Parenthood outreach nurse. She had originally had someone else to table with, but they had called in sick last minute. So, there he was.
He had hardly been able to talk to her at the time because of just how pretty she was. She was tall, much taller than him (maybe 5’ 9” or 5’ 10”?), with medium-toned skin, curly (like super curly) hair, and a bright smile.
They clicked almost instantly. She was funny and easy-going, not to mention incredibly witty and intelligent. She was able to match his humor easily and he felt like he could be authentic around her.
They hung out a lot after that, at least for Martin’s standards, which was anything more than once every couple of weeks. She would drag him over to her apartment Friday nights and he would help her cook dinner. It was something that he found himself looking forward to more and more.
Sophie shared the two-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and of course Scott and his fiance, who had just moved to New York at the time. Even with four people, Sophie’s apartment never felt crowded, but always warm and comfortable. It was the perfect hangout spot for those cold spring evenings.
Oh, those times were fun. Things were more easy-going then. He fondly remembered the first time he and Scott were actually able to talk and get to know each other a little better. Sophie had nudged Scott to go help Martin with some snack prepping, while she and the boys searched for a suitable movie to watch. While it had started off awkward, the pair quickly lapsed into comfortable conversation.
It would be an understatement to say that they became fast friends.
He hadn’t realized at the time how much of an impact Scott and Sophie were going to make on his everyday life. He had almost become resigned to the fact that there were going to be periods in his life where he would be lonely, working his day-to-day and doing nothing else.
But not anymore. He finally had a social circle outside Simon and Robin. He wondered what Robin would think.
Martin felt his head throb slightly. There was that damn headache again.
Suddenly, he heard a crash followed by a yelp coming from the bakery, breaking him out of his thoughts. He quickly pushed himself out of the chair and ran to the door, where he saw the entirety of tomorrow’s pastries on the ground.
“Oh my god, Martin. I don’t know what happened. It was so hot!”
Scott shook out his hands. “I don’t know why it was hot.”
He saw Scott’s face begin to redden. He was panicking.
Martin went over to Scott and took his hands gently, flipping them over to look at his palms. They were already turning red, but nothing too severe.
“Your palms are burned - let's run them under some cold water.” Martin said calmly.
“I promise I really don’t know what happened. It shouldn’t have been that hot.”
“I know. You’re right. It shouldn’t have been hot.”
Once Scott’s hands were submerged under lukewarm water he went to assess the damages.
The tray was warped, showing some damage. He hovered his fingers over the tray. He could feel the heat. The pastries still looked okay, though.
“When a tray is warped like this it means it was exposed to a lot of heat. Did you see what happened?” Martin asked carefully.
“Well, when I took the pot off the stove, I set it on the rack underneath the pastries.” Scott replied, turning halfway to look at Martin. Martin could tell that Scott was remorseful from the tone of his voice. He knew that Martin would have to stay to help him remake the pastries.
“Well, it looks like steam damage, but-”
He was cut off by buzzing in his back pocket. He pulled out his phone. Simon was calling, probably to let him know he was close.
He gathered himself before answering.
“Hi, Simon. I’m going to need ten minutes.” Martin said. He waited for Simon to finish babbling about parking before hanging up curtly.
Martin looked back at Scott. He looked like a kicked puppy.
“Okay,” Martin started, “Let’s … problem solve.” He pushed his hair back in frustration.
He couldn’t stay back today. He needed to get groceries. He would just have to figure it out tomorrow.
“Martin, I can-” Scott began.
“No, it’s alright. Just jar the simple syrup and clean the mess up. Put out Wednesday's backups for tomorrow.” Martin replied quickly, standing up again. He knew Vanessa and Jimena wouldn’t care too much, but still, it was a mess he’d have to clean up.
“Okay.” Scott said softly, a terrible silence stretching between them.
Martin took a few deep breaths. He knew this was just an accident, but something about Scott’s clumsiness was getting to him lately. Scott had line cook experience before. This would have never flown in a professional kitchen.
Still. It was Scott. He had to be gentle with him.
He went back over to Scott and took his hands out of the running water. They were okay, just a little red now.
Martin swallowed and then spoke. “Are you okay to keep working?”
“Yes, I’m totally fine. Go home. I know you have things to do.” A pause. “Plus, you look tired lately.”
Scott’s comment made him hesitate. Was it that obvious?
“Don’t worry about me. Put some burn gel on your hands, okay? I have to go.” He dried off his hands on some paper towel and looked back at him. He could see the worry in Scott’s face.
“If you say so. Text me when you’re home, please?” Scott said.
“Of course,” Martin said as he stepped back towards the staff room. “Be careful during the rest of your shift.”
Scott blushed from what Martin assumed was embarrassment. He waved him off and turned away towards the sink.
They both looked at the door when the bell jingled.
“Hey, I’m parked outside. Can I grab a coffee?” Simon said sheepishly, peeking his head through the entrance.
Scott immediately rushed over to the counter. His cheery demeanor had returned, but Martin saw him shake out his hands again. He hoped this would be a good kitchen safety lesson for Scott.
“Of course, Simon! What can I get you?” Scott chirped.
“Well, my iced coffee got spilled all over me. So, uh,” Simon said, walking over to the counter, “A large iced coffee, please?”
“Oh wow! What happened?” Scott said, frowning. He grabbed a cup and started on Simon’s ice coffee. Scott already had his order memorized.
Martin saw his exit. Before he could get sucked into Simon’s story, he slipped away to the staff room. He could hear all about Simon’s coffee accident later.