"'Bigger Than a Bread Box'?" Civic called, tapping a pen against the spiral he was holding. He was near the bottom of the list he'd compiled, and all the entries above this one had already been scratched out.
Charlie sat down onto the couch next to him and handed him a glass of iced tea. "Unsweet with lemon," he said with a smile. "And what on earth is a bread box?"
Civic sighed and closed his eyes, then took a long sip of his drink. "It's a box that you store bread in. It's a joke. When you play Twenty Questions, you find out how big something is by asking if it's bigger than a bread box."
"Uhh... No. No you don't. What are you, eighty years old? I mean, sure, you're a baker. You know what a bread box is because it's a trick of the trade or something. I get it. But why not ask if something's bigger than, I don't know... An iPad? Or a microwave? And who even plays Twenty Questions any more?" Charlie asked, staring at Civic as though he'd just sprouted an extra head.
"It's a traditional question, Charlie. You ask it because it's just what you do. And lots of people play Twenty Questions... Only when they have nothing else to do, admittedly, like when they're in detention or on a road trip, but they play. Let's just drop it, okay? How about 'A Crust Above'?"
Charlie buried his face in his hands and smothered a noise that could have been a laugh, and could have been a groan, but was probably a little of both. "That's what the problem is," he said despairingly. "You have the soul of an octogenarian. You look like you should have your picture splashed across the front of Revolver or something, but now I know what the problem with our apartment hunt has been: you're holding out for a retirement home. And let me tell you, Civic." He uncovered his face, snatched the spiral out of Civic's hands, and looked the other young man straight in the eye. "When you find the one of your dreams, I just don't think I'll be able to room with you there." He wasn't sure how he managed to maintain a straight face, but he did, and he was proud.
Civic wasn't half as successful. He shoved his tea at Charlie, somehow managing to avoid any spillage, then slid off the couch, shrieking with laughter until he could barely breathe. "Oh my god," he panted at last. "I haven't laughed that hard in months. Longer than that even. Oh, Charlie, you are amazing."
This time Charlie knew that his face was probably an even darker shade of read than his hair, but he couldn't help himself: he longingly imagined Civic saying those same five words, panting hard just like this, but lying on a bed instead of the floor... How could he not blush? Fortunately his eyes were still scrunched shut to hold back any further tears of laughter, so Charlie had a few seconds to compose himself.
"Do you have any better ideas?" Civic said after a few seconds, and Charlie had one panicked moment of wondering how on earth Civic had read his mind, and why wasn't he getting upset? Then he realized that they were still talking about bakery names, and his crush was still a secret.
"How about 'Lovin' the Oven'?" he offered.
Civic opened his eyes, but only so he could roll them and sit up with a little huff. "No way," he responded immediately. "That makes me think of that Quizno's commercial with the pervy oven.
"That commercial was hilarious, though!"
"Not going to happen, Charlie. Next suggestion, please."
"Fine, fine, whatever. Prude. 'Half Baked'?"
"I'm not a stoner, and I'd never sell a loaf that wasn't perfectly made. Next!"
"'Flour Power'?" Charlie said.
"I'm a full-grown gay man, not a little girl with an Easy-Bake Oven. Come on, Charlie, we can do better than this!"
Charlie frowned. "At least mine aren't a few centuries behind the times," he muttered, but kept thinking about names. "'Batter Up'?"
"I know nothing about sports, especially baseball. I'd disappoint my customers." Civic sat up and leaned back against Charlie's legs, using his knees as a headrest. Charlie barely managed to keep breathing. "This is so much harder than I thought it would be..."
"Hey, do you know how to make tarts?"
"Well, sure. They're not my specialty or anything, but I can make a really mean pecan tart, and a savory tart that's caramelized onion and olives... Oh, and my spinach bacon tart is to die for! Even I can't stop myself from eating half of it all at once, sometimes. Why do you ask?"
"We could play off of that," Charlie explained. "Like, 'Cheap Tart' or 'Salty Tart,' or even 'Saucy Tart,' something like that. Worst case scenario, people might think you're a tease or something, but I think it'd be hilarious."
Civic narrowed his eyes at Charlie. "Just what are you implying about my character?" he said. "I think I might resemble those names—oh, wait. I meant resent. Definitely resent." He grinned. "It's a good idea, actually, but if I'm going down like that, then so are you. How about 'Two Tarts'?"
"That's not particularly funny though, Civ. Let's just go with 'Salty Tarts' instead. I could be a Salty Tart. Especially if I get a customized T-shirt. Or apron. Or both. Please tell me we do!"
He was joking around and acting playful and enjoying himself, but Charlie was still incredibly aware of the fact that he was sitting here with Civic, discussing the future of the man's bakery, and his input was being not only considered, but actively sought. He was really a part of this, and he was just newly found hired help. It was a heady feeling, and it was not going to help him lose his attraction to Civic. Sort of like how it wasn't helping that Civic didn't believe in wearing pants around the house unless there was company over, and there was never company over, and good lord how did he expect Charlie to get anything done around the apartment when he was preoccupied with not staring at Civic's undies? Today's were black boxers covered in pink cupcakes. How was he supposed to ignore cupcakes? It was against their very nature to be overlooked!
"Yes, we'll have shirts and aprons," Civic said, drawing Charlie's attention back to the world outside of his brain. "'Salty Tarts' sounds good to me, especially if I'm going to be going with a couple of savory tarts to back up the name. Emily will think it's hilarious too, I just know it."
Charlie's stomach took up a sudden, new-found interest in gymnastics and tried to jump high enough to reach his tonsils. "Who's Emily?" he asked, confused as to why he was so worried. After all, she wasn't Civic's girlfriend, so what did it matter? It was just a little strange that there was someone else with input on the bakery, but he hadn't even known she existed until now.
"My little sister," Civic replied with a smile. "She'll be helping out at the bakery too—prepping in the mornings, for the most part. Before she has classes. She doesn't really enjoy baking, but she's good at it after all these years of helping me. And she needs a part-time job for spending money, so yeah. She came by the other day, actually, but you were in the shower and she was gone before you were out. She wasn't trying to be rude," he clarified hastily when Charlie's eyebrows shot up. "She was just dropping off some stuff for me, and she had to get home and finish up a paper she was working on. You'll probably meet her sometime in the next few days."
"Okay," Charlie said, mulling over the fact that there'd been a stranger in his apartment and he'd never known. Sure, she was Civic's sister, and the place was sort of half his too now, so he didn't mind... But it was still weird. "So, is it just the three of us working at the bakery, or are there more employees I don't know about?" He hoped he didn't sound as bitter as he thought he did. Civic didn't look at him funny, so Charlie assumed he was in the clear this time.
"It's just us for now," came the response. "I want to hire at least one more person once we've really started to get things going... But until then, I'm hoping the three of us will be able to manage."
"Do you think we'll be able to?" Charlie asked. "I've never worked at a bakery, so I have no idea how busy things get."
Civic shrugged one shoulder, a tiny frown flitting across his face. "I think we'll be okay," he said. "I know this sounds awful, like I'm rooting against myself or something... But I figure that we won't be too busy the first month. We'll be getting established, waiting for word of mouth to start drumming up the business. Once things pick up, we'll be able to afford a fourth person, and everything will be okay."
Charlie stared down at Civic, once again amazed by how unconcerned a business major was about the details of his own business. It made no sense whatsoever, and it worried him more than he liked to admit, but there was nothing he could do about it. If Civic made mistakes that ended up biting him in the butt, Charlie would just have to be there to run damage control for the fall-out. He rubbed one hand over his face, then through his hair.
"Okay. So we're going with 'Salty Tarts'. I'll swing by the college tomorrow, see if any of the kids in the art department want to draw up a logo for us for some quick cash," Charlie said. "Now... How about we stop thinking and watch some TV? I bet something suitably awful and mindless will pop up on Syfy if we wait long enough..."
Civic laughed and handed him the remote. "Sounds good to me." He got himself situated so that his head rested on a pillow at the far end of the couch, and his legs draped over Charlie's lap. "If I pass out, just turn the TV off before you go to bed, would you?"
Charlie cast a sideways glance towards him and nodded. He wasn't sure why the world had decided to complicate his life by throwing a boss, roommate, friend, and crush at him all in the form of one man, but he knew why he was going along with it. Even if everything fell apart at the bakery, he'd still have Civic in his life, and that was enough. He just wondered which of Civic's roles in his life would be the starring one by then.