This short story was written for the release tour of Starting With the Unexpected. It takes place after events in the book, but doesn’t really contain any spoilers since Zach’s relationship with Marcus is kind of a given.
I swear to God there are some mornings that make me wonder if I’m the only sane person on the planet. Seriously.
For instance, Marcus and I had gone with Jordan to pick up the papers for his deliveries that morning, only to come across one of the other carriers having sex in their VW Beetle. Their convertible Beetle. With the top down. Keep in mind the parking lot that distribution takes place in is crowded as hell when people are picking up their bundles.
“Wow, she’s flexible,” Marcus said casually as he looked out the window from the back seat of Jordan’s SUV, where he and I were curled up together as we waited. This was the first morning he’d gone with Jordan and I to pick up, and it would be the first morning he went with us to deliver. He was getting a hell of an initiation.
“Why are you even watching?” I asked him, despite the fact that I couldn’t look away either. It was like a train wreck. “You aren’t remotely interested in women.”
“Hell, I’m interested in women and I still feel like I need to go buy a bottle of brain bleach,” Jordan remarked with a shudder from the front seat, his eyes also held hostage by morbid fascination. “She just had her seventieth birthday. She introduced her grandkids to me last week.”
Marcus frowned and thumped Jordan’s headrest. “Hey, senior citizens have needs too.”
“They don’t need to take care of them in crowded parking lots for everyone to see,” I argued. I agreed with Jordan, I was going to need a bottle of brain bleach. Or at least several stiff drinks. “No one does. Is the guy with her even legal?”
I heard Marcus sputter a laugh, but I couldn’t seem to drag my eyes away to look at my boyfriend. “He’s a dishwasher at the diner,” he managed to say. “He’s in his second year of college.”
“To each their own, I suppose,” Jordan muttered. “And to be fair, she doesn’t look too far out of her forties.”
“Next time you work with him, tell him he might want to do a little manscaping before the next time he has sex in public with his very own GILF.”
Jordan laughed so hard at that he almost choked, but Marcus just shook his head. “Oh hell no,” he told me. “The next time I work with him, I’ll text you, and you can come in and tell him. There’s no way I’m bringing this up.”
There was a moan and a wail and a shout that might have been a dirty old lady yelling something about her nether regions that I was glad I couldn’t understand clearly from inside the vehicle. The parking lot was in complete silence for a moment, and then the applause started.
Well of COURSE we joined in the applause. It would have been rude not to.
When the noise died down, I was relieved to see that the line of waiting vehicles had begun to crawl forward again – everything had come to a standstill when the vehicular arcrobatics had started.
“Does this sort of thing happen a lot?” Marcus asked after several minutes of silence.
“We’ve seen worse,” Jordan and I answered promptly.
“There was the orgy at the house in the country club that spilled into their courtyard,” Jordan added.
“Right,” I said with a nod. “Even better, it was one of the houses that requests porch delivery, where you have to actually get out and put the paper by their door. We couldn’t see the courtyard from the car, but man was Jordan green when he came back.”
“I will never look at wine bottles the same way again,” Jordan said solemnly.
Marcus stared at me with wide eyes, and I gave him a reassuring grin. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “This morning will be fun. You’ll see.”
“It’s almost May,” Marcus said, blinking at the sight before him.
“Yes,” I agreed calmly. “Yes, it is.”
“Why do these people still have a pumpkin in their yard?”
We were stopped in front of one of the houses that Jordan and I kept on our mental list of weirdoes. There was a good reason for the place to be on said list, as my poor boyfriend had just found out. He hadn’t believed me when I told him about the pumpkin, but there it was. In all its massive, completely-out-of-season, paint-slathered glory.
“Probably because the paint is the only thing holding it together,” Jordan answered. “If it were mine, I’d be afraid to move it, personally.”
Marcus turned to look at Jordan, his expression a mix of confusion and horror. “And it’s been here how long?”
“Since September,” Jordan told him. “But they didn’t paint the entire thing red until December.”
And they had, too. One day, the thing had been a normal pumpkin—old, to be sure, but it hadn’t looked gross or anything—and the next, it was completely coated in fire-engine-red paint. Jordan had suggested that they were trying to keep it around a little longer. I’d suggested that they were trying to keep the evil spirits that had obviously moved into the thing contained. Between the two of us, we’d decided my opinion was probably closer to the truth.
My boyfriend’s look of horror focused on me then, and I nodded in agreement. “Yes,” I told him. “Seriously. I tried to tell you…”
Jordan snickered from the front seat. “Just throw the paper,” he told Marcus. “I’d like to get away from the mutant red pumpkin.”
Marcus gave me another look, and I made a shooing motion with my hands. He shrugged, and threw.
And hit the pumpkin.
All three of us went completely still, holding our collective breath for a moment until it appeared that the poor thing had survived.
“Wow,” Jordan said, turning to look at me. “I guess the paint is thicker than we—“
“Roll up the windows!” Marcus barked suddenly.
Jordan’s head whipped around to look, and the windows went up immediately. It took me a minute to figure out what the problem was, but then I realized that the pumpkin was, for lack of a better word…well, it was deflating. God knew what all was being released into the air at that point, but spores were probably involved, and we left the scene of the crime so fast that I was amazed we didn’t all get whiplash.
We were still laughing hysterically when Jordan pulled up to the gate at the country club, and I figured it was a good thing that the guard knew us, because otherwise they probably would have thought we were high or drunk and not let us in. As it was, poor Gary was giving us odd looks when he took his paper from Jordan and opened the gate.
“If we’re haunted by a mutant pumpkin, I’m totally blaming you,” I told Marcus, setting off another round of laughter.
“Maybe the fumes we set free will give us super powers,” Jordan snickered, wiping his eyes. “Instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider, we were subjected to mutant pumpkin mold spores.”
“Oh great,” I groaned, trying to hold back another giggle. “We’re going to end up as some lame cross between the X-Men and Strawberry Shortcake. Fuck you, man. I didn’t want epic pie-baking skills to be my mutant power.”
Marcus had officially reached the point where I could see he was still laughing, but he couldn’t breathe in enough air to do more than wheeze.
“Did we break him?” Jordan asked me.
“I think so,” I said, reaching over to pat poor Marcus on the back. “Breathe, babe.”
He managed to suck in a breath, rasping something that sounded like “ow” as he put a hand on his side before he started laughing again.
There was only one cure for that. I leaned over and kissed him soundly, and he quit laughing. I heard Jordan snicker and could feel the car start to move again, but I was too busy to care. When we finally pulled apart, Marcus looked dazed, and I was feeling pretty smug.
“You okay now?” I asked him, and he just nodded. “Good. Let’s help Jordan throw shit. Sooner we’re done, sooner we can go home and pick up where we left off.”
In my experience, when people hear “country club”, they tend to think of a bunch of wealthy snobs. While there’s some truth in that, it only applies to about half of Jordan’s customers. The other half? Well, they’re odd ducks.
Take the lion lady’s husband, for example. We always referred to her as “the lion lady” because of the massive stone lions guarding her house. When Jordan initially took over the route, he had no idea she was married, and when I met her I honestly got the impression she was a lesbian.
Bob proved us wrong. Bob’s a nice guy, and we don’t see him often, but I sometimes wish he’d put clothes on.
“Morning, Bob,” Jordan said, handing over the paper to the lion lady’s husband, who had been waiting for us by their garage. Completely naked.
“Morning,” Bob said cheerfully. He glanced in the back seat, smiled widely, and leaned his head in to talk. “Hi Zach.”
“Hi Bob,” I said, somehow managing to keep a straight face as poor Marcus just sat there, his face bright red. “How’s life treating you?”
“Oh, can’t complain,” he answered cheerfully. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is my boyfriend, Marcus,” I told him. “Marcus, this is Bob.”
“Nice to meet you,” Marcus said, his voice breaking halfway through the sentence.
Bob beamed at him. “The pleasure’s mine. You boys have a good morning, okay?”
“Will do, Bob,” Jordan said as he backed out of the driveway.
“So,” I told Marcus. “That was Bob. He’s a nudist. We had no idea he even existed for the longest time. The first time we pulled up and he was in the garage naked, he was kind of embarrassed. As you can see, he’s comfortable with us now.”
“Do you not have any normal people on your routes?” my boyfriend demanded of Jordan.
“No,” Jordan and I answered in stereo.
“For instance,” Jordan said, waving at the house we were slowing down in front of, “this guy’s always in his kitchen when I show up, and he watches me from his window. Every morning. Frankly, I’d rather deal with Bob than have someone perv at me through their window. At least I know what to expect from Bob.” He tossed the paper into the creeper’s driveway, and we could indeed see him staring out at us.
And then he left the window, which he never did. As Jordan started to back up, the garage door opened.
“Oh hell,” I swore. “Hurry up and get going before he comes out to talk to us or something. Knowing our luck he’s probably an axe murder rapist or something.”
Marcus gave me a perplexed look and mouthed “axe murder rapist” silently as if he was trying to figure out what the hell I’d just said. I ignored it, since people tend to do that a lot around me. Instead, I watched the creeper’s house as Jordan pulled up to a house down the street to drop off their paper. I could see a car pulling out of the driveway.
“Huh, nice Porsche,” I said. “I wonder where’s he’s going at five in the morning, though. Seems like an odd time to take a drive.”
“Unless you’re us,” Jordan pointed out, but he was watching the creeper as he drove by, too.
I’d expected him to turn at the end of the road, but instead the Porsche came to a stop in front of the street’s nest of mail lockers. The old creeper got out of his car, checked his mail, and got back in. Then he turned the car around, headed back for his house, and closed the garage after him.
“Am I the only one who was vaguely disturbed by that?” I asked.
“No,” Jordan answered. “That was…weird. Why on earth would someone drive a hundred yards in a Porsche to check their mail at five in the morning on a Sunday?”
“Because the Lamborghini’s in the shop, obviously,” Marcus shot back.
“Seriously,” Jordan said. “Everyone knows you don’t check your mail in the Porsche. How gauche.”
I rolled my eyes at their antics, but I was amused. “Can we go?” I asked. “The sky’s getting lighter, and it’d be nice to be at the diner before the blazing orb of doom is at the perfect angle to blind us all.”
“Good plan,” Jordan agreed, backing out of the driveway we’d been sitting in. “Let’s hope the rest of the morning is a little less odd.”
I winced at his words. You’d think he’d have learned not to tempt fate at some point in his life.
“What do you mean I’m not on your list? I paid my damn bill!”
Sometimes I wondered how Jordan managed not to assault his customers. I really did. The one that was in the process of screaming at him had been waiting at her mailbox, robe wrapped around her, terrycloth turban over her hair, and a scowl that would turn milk to cheese firmly in place. The moment we’d pulled up to deliver the paper to the box next to hers, she got in Jordan’s face and started ranting.
“As I said already,” Jordan answered calmly, “your subscription expired. It normally takes a while to restart. Hopefully by Monday you’ll be getting papers again.”
“You should have informed me of this!”
Marcus leaned into me so he could whisper in my ear. “Does this happen often?”
I shook my head. “No, this is a first for me. Usually they’re shouting about how their paper needs to be in their driveway by five in the morning because they’re early risers, never mind that Jordan has until six-thirty to deliver.”
“I had no idea a problem even existed, ma’am,” Jordan was explaining patiently to the woman, whose face was rapidly turning an interesting shade of purple. “I only get notified to stop delivering or to start delivering. All I can do is deliver the papers they give me. Until I get notified to start at your address, I can’t deliver to you.”
“You need to call and find out if they got my check!”
“I can’t do that,” Jordan said, this time through clenched teeth. “I do not have access to that information. You need to call them if you want to know that.”
“I won’t be giving you a tip!”
“That’s perfectly fine,” Jordan snarled at her, leaning closer to her until he was practically nose-to-nose with the old bat. “I won’t be giving you a damn paper. Not until I’m told to.”
I groaned softly and grabbed one of the freebie papers that Jordan was forced to deliver to non-customers on Sundays in hopes of drumming up more business. It was mostly sales ads, but maybe it would shut her up and keep me from having to post bail for my best friend. I tapped it against Jordan’s arm, and when he saw what I was prodding him with he gave a sigh of relief.
“Here,” he said, offering the junk paper to the screaming woman. “This is the free Sunday paper. I can give you this, and I’ll be sure to let my supervisor know that you’re dissatisfied with the paper’s service.”
“I’m not dissatisfied,” she yelled at Jordan as she snatched the freebie from his hand. “I’m outraged!”
“Clearly,” Jordan snapped at her before pulling away. “Jesus, what a cunt!”
“Uh, Jordan?” Marcus asked, looking behind them. “I think she heard you.”
“Probably,” Jordan agreed, still sounding pissed. “Truth hurts.”
Marcus gave me a worried look, and I shook my head. Jordan would calm down after a few minutes of stewing.
Or at least, he would have if his phone hadn’t rung two minutes later, and his supervisor hadn’t asked him if he’d really called one of the customers a cunt. Which meant that Jordan had to go through the entire incident again, which just pissed him off a second time.
On the plus side, his supervisor agreed with him that the woman had definitely been a cunt.
“That’s it?” Marcus asked, shocked, when Jordan hung up the phone. “You don’t get in trouble for something like that?”
“Not really,” Jordan said, sounding much more cheerful now that he’d been vindicated. “You have to keep in mind that my boss started off doing deliveries, and still does them if we’re short of carriers. He gets it. He probably just told that old biddy that he’d speak to me about it and check on the status of her payment. And he spoke to me about it, totally not a lie. I seriously doubt he mentioned to her that he was likely to agree with me.”
“You have an incredibly surreal job.”
“Yes I do,” Jordan agreed happily. “I also have a growling stomach, so what do you say we hurry up and finish this so we can go get some breakfast?”
“Morning, boys,” Gloria said in her usual perky voice when we dragged ourselves into the diner. “How did it go?”
Marcus whimpered and gave his coworker a hug. “You know the guy who comes in and asks if we offer vegan options and then orders three sides of bacon? He seems perfectly normal now.”
Gloria gave us a worried look as she patted my boyfriend on the back. “It’s okay, hon. I’ll put you guys in the far end where no scary people will bother you.”
“We tried to tell him,” Jordan informed her as she managed to get Marcus to let go of her.
Gloria nodded. “I believe you.” She grabbed menus and gave us a wave. “Come on. Let’s get you boys fed and see if we can reduce the trauma for him.”
“I need coffee,” Marcus said with a sniffle. “And maybe therapy.”
I heard Gloria make a noise that sounded suspiciously like she was trying to bite back a laugh, but she managed to contain herself as she led us to a booth near the employee entrance. I prodded Marcus to slide in first, then sat down next to him.
“I’ll be right back with drinks,” Gloria promised. “Same as always?”
“Same as always,” Jordan confirmed. “Thanks, Glo.”
“Seriously, are you okay?” I asked Marcus after Gloria left.
He looked at me as if I’d taken leave of my senses, then turned his attention to Jordan. “How the hell do you continue to do that job without losing your sanity?”
“Sanity’s overrated,” Jordan answered immediately. “Besides, I’ve lived with Zach for years. I’ve got a high tolerance for the bizarre.”
“Bite me,” I told him before I was distracted by the employee entrance opening. “Oh, hey,” I said gleefully when I saw who it was. “It’s the bushy banger of Beetle babes. Did you even get any sleep before coming in to work?”
The poor kid gave me a mortified look and rushed for the kitchen without comment, ignoring Jordan’s howls of laughter. “Manscaping is your friend,” I called after him as he made his hasty retreat.
“Do I even want to know?” Gloria asked as she returned with our drinks.
“No,” Marcus said firmly before he practically swallowed his entire cup of coffee in one gulp, not even bothering with sugar and cream.
I cackled, then bobbed my eyebrows at Gloria. “Your dishwasher has been a naughty boy.”
“A cougar sunk her claws into him,” Jordan added, grinning. “In a very public manner.”
Marcus whimpered, then hid his face in his hands, elbows resting on the table.
“Normal morning, then?” Gloria asked.
“Normal morning,” Jordan agreed. “I know it’s out of season, but is there any chance you guys can still make those pumpkin pancakes you were making in the fall? I’m really craving pumpkin for some reason.”
“Stop it,” Marcus said into his hands, his voice muffled.
Jordan snickered. “Fine, I’ll behave. How about my usual?”
“Pancakes, eggs, and enough hash browns to sink a small ship coming up,” Gloria said with a grin before taking my order and coaxing one out of poor Marcus.
When she’d left the table, I reached over and ran my fingers through my boyfriend’s hair. “Feeling a little better, gorgeous?”
He let his hands drop from his face with a sigh. “I thought you guys were kidding when you talked about all the weird shit that happens. I mean, it’s newspaper delivery. What can be more normal than that?”
“There is no such thing as normal with my job,” Jordan said, smiling when Gloria came back to the table long enough to refill Marcus’s cup.
I was glad to see that Marcus took the time to doctor his coffee in his usual manner before taking a sip. “Yeah, I see that now,” he agreed before setting his mug down again. He stared into it for a moment, then looked up to offer Jordan a grin. “So, think you can top that next week?”
“Oh, next week?” Jordan asked as an answering grin settled on his face. “You’ll love it. Next week is when we start planning the great lawn flamingo migration. It’ll be awesome.”
Written by Andi Van
Copyright © 2015 by Andi Van
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this work are either products of the author’s overactive imagination or are used fictitiously.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author.
In other words, get permission before using stuff that isn’t yours. It’s not difficult, you know. I don’t bite unless asked.
For information, contact Andi at www.andivan.com or on Twitter (@DefiantAndi).