On the side of my apartment there was a fox. Not a real fox, obviously, but a painted one.
Its slender body was a fiery orange; it looked ready to pounce at any given moment. Though everybody complained about it, I thought it was quite beautiful. Every orange, black and white hair seemed handcrafted. If it hadn't been hovering four foot off the ground you'd believe it to be real. Though there are no foxes in my city, especially not levitating ones. On my way to work I'd always glance back at it, feeling its dark eyes watching me. I wasn't afraid of it (though many children were), but wary of it.
It was stupid, a fully grown man being cautious of a painting. Well… I wasn't exactly a fully grown man. I was only nineteen; expected to act like an adult but still be treated like a child. My parents, however, had treated me like an adult from the day I stopped breastfeeding. I knew all about taxes by age seven, had a firm understanding of politics by age ten and had my first Saturday job age twelve. Every penny I earned went into a savings account, for when I turned eighteen my parents kicked me out. Well, not kick me out exactly, just make me feel uncomfortable and unwanted like I was a burden onto their lives until I eventually left 'of my own accord'. After getting myself a cosy council flat, the money dried up faster than I had anticipated. My job at the local supermarket (where I'd been working since my pre-teen years) was only just keeping me afloat. My vast understanding of politics has yet to aid me in my daily life.
Today started like any other; my alarm blasted at 06:15 and again at 06:30. I woke up, washed myself over the sink (my water bill couldn't stand a shower), got dressed, dined on two slices of bread and jam (the breakfast of kings) and set off for work. Sure enough I felt the heavy gaze of the fox on my back as I walked past it; glancing back to make sure it had stayed a painting. The one day I'd refuse to look back will be the day it hops down from the wall and attacks me. I know that's ridiculous, but better safe than sorry.
So there I was; independent, grown up, afraid of fake foxes and with absolutely no desire to give up the job I'd had for seven years to reach for the stars. Reaching for said stars would require qualifications, experience and ambition, all of which I possessed very little of. As it turns out being able to recite useless information about parliament and an elegant dialect won't get you as far in life as you'd have hoped. Obviously I couldn't work in Ultra-Mart for the rest of my life, but for now it suited me just fine.
But how I loathed Ultra-Mart. I hated the shoppers who thought they were superior to you, the kids who shoplifted chocolate bars, the teenagers attempting to buy alcohol with hilariously fake IDs, the elevator music that blasted through the speakers. The only aspect I could tolerate was my co-worker, Daniel.
Daniel was the sort of person who never took anything or anyone seriously. He'd address customers as 'My lady', 'my lord', 'your highness' and his fellow co-workers as 'peasants'. He'd ride trolleys up and down the aisles, sing merrily as he stacked shelves or stick a 25p kid's headdress on his head for the entire day. The customers adored him, as did the co-workers. He'd bring in boxes of donuts or yum-yums on people's birthdays and could make even the most miserable worker laugh like a loon.
Yes, if it wasn't for Daniel the majority would have blown their brains out by now. Lord knows why he was always so cheerful; you'd think he worked in Disney Land, not a discount supermarket.
Sure enough, I arrived to find Daniel sporting a very fetching headband with sparkly pompoms, stocking up boxes of ice-cream into the freezer singing away like no one was watching (which of course they were).
"Just one cornettoooooo!" He was belting out, "Give it to meeeee!"
I knocked his headband askew to get his attention, "Save it for show time, diva."
He clutched his chest, "Oh, Cole, you're stepping on my dreams." He sighed dramatically.
"Anyway," I continued, "you'd better pack that in before the boss hears you. Remember what she made you promise?"
He nodded eagerly and raised three fingers in a Brownie salute, "I promise to not scare away customers by singing gay-ass show tunes but if I really insist on being a twat then sing something more… low key." He grimaced at that last part.
"Can you do low key?"
"Daniel Von Westerberry does not do low key!" He announced, raising a finger at me.
"…Your name is Daniel Wester."
"Ah, details, details." He sighed, shutting up the freezer.
I chuckled. Yeah… Daniel was not a low key kind of guy. He was more of the 'I am what I am' kind of guy. On the outside he was a skinny, fair-haired supermarket worker, but he insisted he was really an obese opera sensation trapped in the body of a skinny, fair-haired supermarket worker.
"Now then Cole," He slung an arm over my shoulder as we walked, "unless it has escaped your attention but in all the years I've had the privilege to call you my co-worker, I've never seen you with a lovely lady on your arm."
"Oh God, I know where this is going…"
"Shush. Now, what I'd like to know is how somebody as deliciously excellent as Cole Griffin could be single? And if he was not, more importantly, why I have never met her?"
"Maybe because you're a psycho and you'd scare her away?"
"You flatter me, my good man. So, out with it. Whooo is sheee?" He grinned; he always took pleasure in other people's discomfort, especially mine.
"She doesn't exist." I glared, shrugging his arm off, "why are you so interested anyway?"
"Because I'm secretly in love with you. He shrugged, batting his eyelashes at me.
I knocked off his headband, "Jerk."
"What's the real reason?" I asked as he retrieved his ridiculous headband.
He fished a leaflet out of his back pocket and handed it to me; it was for a new nightclub. "Because I have scored us two passes to Fantasy!" he announced, expecting me to scream or cry or both.
Instead I looked at him, blankly, "… A nightclub?"
"… A night… club?"
"That's correct, sir."
I handed him back the leaflet, "No." I walked away, but he followed at my heals.
"Cole! Cole, Cole, Cole. Cole? Cooole! Cole-y Cole-y Cole! Cole-meister! Cole-madegon! Cole-man! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! Cole! C—"
He dropped to his knees and clasped his hands together "Pleeeeeaaassseee? Please please please?" He begged, making his eyes as wide as possible to make himself look adorable, when it actually made him look more demented.
"Daniel, I hate nightclubs."
He jumped to his feet, "So do I, but you know what I don't hate? Girls!"
I snorted, "You want me to come with you to a nightclub… to pick up girls?"
He chased after me as I walked away, "Cole, do you know the difference between me and you?"
"You're a whackjob?"
He pouted, "You're mean today…"
I sighed, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he grinned, "it's sexy." I knocked off the headband again, this time he caught it, "Stop taking out your rage on my beautiful hats!"
"Stop hitting on me!"
"I'm practicing for tonight." He shrugged, gripping onto my shoulders, "Cole, I need a wingman, you need a wingman, and we both need girls. Where's your sense of adventure?"
'Probably lost along with my heterosexuality' I thought to myself. "My answer is no." And with that I marched off to collect my duties for that day.
It seemed that Daniel didn't have any duties to attend to, as he took it upon himself to follow me around the rest of the day. Every time I turned around he was right behind me, pressing his face up to mine and pouting. After about three hours of this I snapped.
"Are you stalking me?"
"Yes." He nodded.
"Can you stop?"
"If I agree to go to that God forsaken nightclub will you get back to work?"
"Answer is still no."
He followed me around for another hour.
"Daniel, I swear to God I will take out a restraining order!"
"It'd be less hassle to just come with me."
"You expect me to help you pick up girls? It'd be less hassle to find the Holy Grail, or take a trip to Atlantis or go dragon hunting!"
"Coooooooooole." He sighed, "Come on, I'll buy you all the drinks you want. Let's just go out and have some fun, please?"
I sighed, looking at him. He didn't know… nobody knew. I really didn't want to be dragged off to pick up drunken girls in a nightclub because… girls were not really my area. I wasn't ashamed of this, don't get me wrong, but I knew people would make a huge deal over it. I didn't want to be labelled as 'the gay guy who works at Ultra-Mart'. I could see it now; teenagers making snide comments, male customers fretting that I'd find them attractive whilst the female ones asked me for advice on fashion and makeup. It was nobody's business but my own, so whenever Daniel would invite me out somewhere I'd decline, making up some excuse. I knew he just wanted to fix me up with a girl; he's weirdly loyal and thinks it's his responsibility.
However… all the drinks I'd want?
"Okay, listen up." I sighed. His face lit up. "Ground rules. I help you find a girl and you pay me back with drinks. You will not, I repeat, not try to set me up. I don't need a girl right now. Okay?"
"Yes sir, Mr Griffin." He saluted and skipped off, singing loudly in celebration.
I shook my head, exhaling deeply. What had I just agreed to…?