They were in the back room making out. What else were they supposed to do on a slow afternoon when nobody came into the store? Michael had taken his goggles off and John was kissing the soft skin of his eyelids while simultaneously groping for some kind of access point into Michael’s extremely tight pants.
Out front, Bella was reading the music feeds in her goggles and not even remotely pretending to ignore them.
“You sound like rutting moosen!” She’d taken to using a fake plural form of “moose” for her own whimsical reasons. “Don’t get any fluids on the goddamn merchandise!”
For some reason, John could not stop laughing at the moose plural joke. Every time he caught his breath, another fit of giggling would rob him of it, until at last he sank dizzily to his knees. He steadied himself by hooking fingers into Michael’s waistband and looking up at his friend, also laughing, amused by John’s amusement.
Michael was studying paleontology at the University of Saskatchewan, and had been trying to grow authentic dinosaur feathers on his head for weeks. Thick red and white down stuck out of his pale blond hair on flexible quills, perfectly framing his wide blue eyes and the short puff of his beard. John thought the full effect made him look almost comically Western, like an English barbarian from the old anime feeds he liked to watch.
But it was also kind of sexy. And here he was, right in the perfect spot to unlock the grippers holding Michael’s tight pants in place. Even when Bella started making extremely realistic moose noises, John was undeterred in his quest to make Michael tremble with more than laughter.
Afterward they both slid to the floor, resting their slightly damp backs against the wall. A languid sense of goodwill spread from John’s extremities upward to his brain. He liked it back here beyond the Employees Only sign, staring at the dusty, half-biodegraded boxes of recent arrivals. Bella bought most of her merchandise from estate sales and warehouses on the prairies, but a lot came from customers in Saskatoon too. Tuesdays and Thursdays were buyer days, and there was always a boisterous line of what seemed to John a completely random assortment of people: aging hipsters with party clothes from the ’20s; college students wanting to trade armor for shreds or vice versa; grandmothers with unbelievable treasures like the ash pleather 2090s boots he was wearing right now; and people from far up north who’d heard the kids were obsessed with old all-weathers and wanted to make a few credits while their families loaded up on supplies at the farm co-op.
It made John think of times before he was born, long before his shit life, or at least the shitty parts of his relatively okay life. Last year at this time… he didn’t want to think about it. Every night he told himself he was safe now, gone legit with a name and a franchise. Nobody owned him anymore. He stared harder at a box overflowing with self-repairing scarves from indeterminate time periods. Maybe they were made yesterday. Maybe sixty years ago.
Michael was nuzzling his neck, dinofuzz tickling John’s ear. He tugged John’s collar down to get a better angle and made a murmuring noise when he saw the brand.
“I like your sexy scar. What do these numbers mean? Zed-nine-one-four-three-zed?”
John pulled away and felt every muscle in his body stiffen. The familiar numbness oozed down his neck into his torso, killing contentment as it spread.
“It’s nothing. Just from when I was young and stupid.”
“Is it a special date or something?”
“That was my identification number when I was a slave, sweetie. Didn’t you know?” John made his tone so sarcastic that Michael snorted out a chuckle. Sometimes the truth, told right, was the best lie.
Beyond the door, John heard the sound of customers—a big group, their voices merging into a wave of indistinct, excited sounds. Probably party shopping. Bella might need help. He stood up abruptly and left Michael lounging among piles of textiles that proved the world had existed long before John was in it.