Four Brothers Chapter 1 by MacKenzie Kennedy

Seth and Drew Meet

Seth pushed the door to the caf open and stood in line for his usual. No one was new, so they didn't give him a glance. For some strange reason, he was deemed as attractive to some of the human race. He kept his dark blond hair short, he was usually seen in dress clothes for work, and his stomach didn't fall over his pants. That was enough for some people. He wished the rest of the human race would leave him alone.

With his coffee in hand, he chose a seat secluded from the others. He put his coffee down on the table beside him, sat, and opened his tote bag. His eyes narrowed at the remembered comments of people telling him that he carried a 'purse'. He worked in a library. A tote bag was almost required attire.

He unzipped the top and pulled out a book of find-the-word puzzles. Easier on his mind than crosswords, especially after work. He uncapped the pen attached to the book and started with the puzzle he'd left half-finished.

Ten minutes later, Seth was interrupted. Not something that most people did. He raised his eyes slowly, meeting the other person's cheerful face with a scowl. "Yes?"

"Do you need another coffee, sir?"

Seth shook his head at the interested brown eyes. "I'm fine."

"All right," the younger man said easily. "I thought I'd ask." He walked away and Seth returned to his puzzle.

***

Despite the disturbance in his routine yesterday, Seth went back to the same caf . He liked this place. He'd tried several others and none fit him so well. They had good coffee and the privacy he desired. Plus this one was of an older style without the metal counters and uncomfortable chairs of the same material. It felt homier with the wooden chairs and patterned seat covers.

A few minutes after he'd arrived, Seth was interrupted again by the same brown-haired young man. "What?" Seth asked, glaring at the shorter man.

He shrugged. "Need anything?"

"No." The words 'go away and leave me alone' were unspoken, but there for anyone to hear.

Except this newcomer. He smiled at Seth and took the chair nearest to him. "Mind if I sit here?"

"Yes."

He blinked. "Oh. Sorry." He got up and moved a few more seats away. He looked at the caf and smiled again when another employee came over. "Hi, Natalie!"

She rolled her eyes and returned the smile. "Drew, I just saw you two minutes ago. Here's your turnover." She handed him the paper-wrapped package.

He inhaled deeply and sighed. "Thanks." Natalie winked at him and left them alone. He looked at Seth and asked, "Want half?"

"No."

"Just a piece then? They're really good and this one's right from the oven."

Seth put his puzzle down on his lap and looked at him. "I am not that stupid. You've gone out of your way to talk to me for two days. Now you offer me something that I haven't seen you take a bite of. Is there a possibility you may have tampered with my coffee?"

The man stared and wilted. "Sorry," he said quietly and got up. He walked several feet past Seth and turned. "I just thought Never mind." He went away and Seth returned to his puzzle.

***

Seth gave the caf another chance. He had warned the man off. He didn't want to start searching for another quiet place to have a coffee.

He walked in and saw Drew handling the tables. Seth retrieved his usual from the counter and sat in the same place he usually did.

People stayed away from him. He was a cataloguer at the library. He stayed in one room most of the time and didn't have contact with the rest of the library, much less the patrons. That was how he liked it.

But there was that nagging need for human contact. So he sat in a caf for a few minutes a day, drinking coffee, working on a puzzle, and listening to the hum of conversation around him.

"Excuse me, sir?"

He sighed and looked at the girl from the day before. "Yes?"

Natalie smiled at him. "Drew wanted me to tell you that he wasn't hitting on you. He just thought you looked lonely and he had a break coming." She gave him a sympathetic look. "He hadn't even thought about how offering you half of his turnover looked. It's not something guys usually think about. I can take you back into the kitchen and let you choose one if you want."

"No, thank you," he said. "I don't usually have anything except coffee." He picked up his puzzle and Natalie took the hint to leave.

***

Seth walked in and Drew was at the register. His eyes widened as he saw Seth and he filled his last order. He smiled at the next person in line, said something, and Seth watched the man nod. Drew left the register and went into the back.

Another man came out to the register and Drew shuttled new pastries back and forth into the case. He handled everything else while the man rang Seth up. He tagged Drew on the shoulder and he went back to the register.

Seth watched the counter as Drew filled orders. He smiled, laughed, and joked with a few of the customers he knew. He was being friendly. Was that what he had attempted to do with Seth?

The puzzle slipped a little in his hand as he considered what other people saw. He was a man with a sour expression who carried a tote bag and a cup of coffee to the same chair every day at the same time. He chased people away with his eyes long before he needed to say anything.

If that wasn't off-putting enough, he obviously needed to work on glaring at people.

Why would Drew be interested in talking to him? Why had he tried? Lots of people looked lonely. It had to be something else.

Drew looked over and straight at Seth. He saw Drew try to give him a tentative smile, but it failed halfway through. He looked away and was happy for a customer to take his mind off the man in the corner.

Seth frowned. If Drew was acting that way, the turnover had probably been safe. He was awkward.

Seth finished his coffee and put his puzzle away. But then his routine changed.
He got up from his chair with his tote bag over one shoulder and approached the line. Drew switched again, this time with the girl working the case. Seth reached the head of the line and glanced at the pastries. "Are there any fruit turnovers?"

"Yes, there's apple and blueberry."

"I'd like an apple, please."

Drew hesitated. "Are you sure, sir?"

Seth gave him a look that lasted several seconds. "Yes. An apple turnover." Drew retrieved one and the girl packaged it for him in a thin paper wrapper when he said he'd eat it on the way home.

***

Drew wasn't there for the next few days, but Seth assumed he worked a shorter shift like most people. Seth worked one of the longest by choice. The library had another cataloguer and several people that could have taken over a few days of his job if he chose to take the shorter shift of three and a half days. But what would he do with it? He didn't like most sports, had no friends or family he cared to spend time with, and the few hobbies he had were enjoyed by himself.

The turnover had been quite good and Seth stopped in on his way to work to try other things the caf had. He skipped a day where he didn't go to work, but was back the next day.

So was Drew.

Without looking at Seth, he asked, "How was the turnover, sir?"

"Good." Seth looked at the board in back of him, telling him his choices. "I'd like the cherry cheesecake this morning." Drew got it for him and Seth handed over the money for it. "I'll let you know how it was this afternoon." Drew finally looked at him and Seth gave him a nod. Drew's eyes brightened and he smiled.

***

Drew started taking his break when Seth showed up in the afternoon. The other employees knew to cover for him when Seth walked in.

A few weeks after they'd met, a new employee came over with Drew's suggestion of the day to Seth. "Coffee cake," Drew explained. "Mary, this is Seth."

"Nice to meet you, Seth. Drew, is he family?" the young woman asked.

Drew started shaking his head. Of course not. Seth barely tolerated him.

"Perhaps someday," Seth said smoothly. Mary smiled and left them alone.

"What?" Drew asked, confusion written all over his face.

Seth picked up his slice of coffee cake and took a bite. Lots of cinnamon, but a little too much sugar. "A bit sweet," he said. Drew wanted him to try almost everything in the caf . He was going to end up gaining weight.

"Seth. Family?"

They had large families in their society. Most of the people in this cafe had blood parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. Plus they had their large adopted families like the rest of society. People they had grown up with, who were just as important as their blood family. All it took was the acceptance of the new relationship and the person had more family. No paperwork necessary unless the relationship became unwanted. A simple piece of paper filed and that was all.

Seth didn't have that.

He drank from his coffee and raised an eyebrow. "It's possible, isn't it?"

Drew nodded. "Sure. I just haven't heard you talk about anyone."

"I have an aunt. She raised me after my parents decided I wasn't intelligent enough to be their child. I don't have any contact with my parents, but my aunt and I talk occasionally."

Drew blinked. "But you're a cataloguer." From Seth talking about his day, he knew that cataloguers had a lot to do. If Seth had to catalog a book about dogs, he had to consult another book to find the subject heading for dog, what breed, and whether it was a general book about dogs or specific like training. There were a lot of other things like a record with a lot of numbers in it that he couldn't remember the name of. Seth had to put in the title, author, the ISBN, subjects, publisher, copyright, how tall the book was, and a lot of other stuff. It was complicated.

"Both my parents are in the sciences and do quantum physics in their heads for fun," Seth said flatly. "Since I don't like people and you're one of the few who don't stomp on my nerves, it's possible I'll ask you to be family. Someday."

Drew grinned. Time to reciprocate. "My dad raised me out in the sticks. He died a few years ago and I moved here to live with my cousin. I don't have any other family. Or none that's claimed me anyway." He tilted his head slightly. "Why don't we be brothers?"

It was Seth's turn to sound confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Family. Being brothers. We don't have family and you already said there aren't a lot of people you like. Why not?"

Seth glanced around at the caf . "You seem like you could have all the family you want."

Drew picked up his cake. "I, uh don't really " He sighed. "It's easy to make small talk and say how good the cake is today. It's harder to try and keep someone close. To be really interested in them." He put a bite of the cake in his mouth and averted his eyes.

Seth knew what he meant. People were so tiring sometimes. To continue to care about someone even when they repeated stories you'd heard a thousand times, argued, aggravated you "Fine."

Drew's head came up. "Huh?"

"Brothers."

A hopeful look sprang on Drew's face. "Really?"

Seth scowled. "If you keep asking me after you're the one that offered "

Drew held up a hand. "Okay! Brothers. When's your next day off?"

"Why?"

Drew rolled his eyes. "Because I want to spend time with you. Introduce you to my cousin. Some kind of brother I'd be if I only saw you for a few minutes every couple of days."

Seth sighed and found out Drew's next day off so they could spend the afternoon together. He was already thinking this was going to be a bother.

It might be good for him, though.