1 Chapter 1

Dustin checked the time on his cell phone and compared it to the clock in the receiving area. The clock was four minutes fast, as usual, but even so, the delivery guy was late. “Late” was a relative term for Dustin and the rest of the overnight crew. The grocery store closed at eleven every night, and it was only after the last of the customers had left that the night staff could move the pallets into the aisles to distribute the products. However, the products were supposed to be in the receiving area by then, yet here it was, five after eleven, and still nothing.

Moira, Dustin’s co-supervisor, tapped her foot and sighed. “I know they said they were sending a new guy, but this is ridiculous. We’ll be stocking shelves until an hour after opening if he doesn’t get here soon.” She flipped her long dark ponytail over her shoulder and added in sign language, “Bored.”

“Me too,” Dustin signed back. He had always been interested in learning languages, and since Moira’s older sister was deaf, she was fluent in ASL and had been teaching him since he was promoted to night supervisor. Only a few other of their co-workers bothered to learn anything past “good night” and various insults, so Dustin and Moira could make silent comments to each other without anyone eavesdropping.

Out loud, Dustin said, “I’m going to check the break room fridge, see if anyone left something good.”

“Dibs on the first soda,” Moira said. “I’ll stay here and wait for Mr. New Guy.”

To Dustin’s relief, he wasn’t halfway to the break room when he heard the distinctive beeping of a backing up truck outside. It would take a few minutes for the driver to get everything set up to move the pallets inside, so Dustin continued on his quest for snacks. He passed a few people on their way out, heading home or out with friends for what remained of the night. The majority of his crew was waiting in the break room itself for something to do.

“The truck is pulling in,” Dustin told them. “Wrap up your texts and get ready for the long night.”

They grumbled, but slowly made their way out while Dustin sought his snacks. The refrigerator yielded little. There were some sodas in the door with no indication as to whether or not they were spoken for, so Dustin grabbed two, set them aside, and continued rifling through the left behind Styrofoam containers and labeled bags of food. There was nothing appetizing, so he checked the cabinet by the sink instead.

“Aha!” Dustin exclaimed. Inside there was a crumpled box of cookies with a note taped to it. “‘Broken but tasty; free to good home.’ Works for me.” Dustin triumphantly claimed his prize and headed back to the receiving area, trying to remember the best way to sign, “Should we share these or be pigs?”

Moira was speaking to the new delivery guy, or so it sounded as Dustin walked down the hall. He had the sodas tucked under one arm and was helping himself to the broken cookies with his free hand, but he stopped chewing to hear better. The new guy had a smooth young voice, not like the good-natured gravelly voice the usual guy spoke with. Whoever this was, he sounded highly attractive.

Dustin peeked around the corner. He could see Moira, but if there was a cute guy to talk to, he didn’t want to make a first impression of showing up stuffing his face. Dustin set down the box of cookies and clicked his tongue twice to get her attention. When he had it, he signed, “Hot guy?”

Moira responded by working an exaggerated sign for “Yes” into her conversational gesticulation. Dustin frantically wiped the crumbs off his face, adjusted his glasses, and carried one soda in each hand.

“Hey, Moira, I brought you your soda,” Dustin said in his best suave voice. He turned to face the new delivery guy, intending to keep up the fa?ade and hope he got a good response. That plan developed a hiccup when he recognized the man standing in front of him. “…Hey.”

The delivery guy grinned, just as Dustin remembered, though back then Zach hadn’t needed to shave so his smile wasn’t framed by a strong stubble like it was now. “Dusty? Is that you?”

Dustin tried to control his awkward smile that didn’t know if it should be a grin or a grimace. “Yep, it’s me. Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Nah, it’s been, what, eight years? Nine?”

“I think it’s closer to eight.”

Moira crossed her arms and subtly signed “W-T-F” to Dustin. She smiled to Zach. “Oh? You two know each other?”

Zach smiled back. “Yeah, we went to high school together. Haven’t seen him since graduation, though. How’ve you been?”

“I’m alright,” Dustin said, heart in his throat. He was glad he had left the box of cookies behind, but he wished he could have left thirty pounds and his glasses behind with them. Zach looked better than Dustin remembered; Dustin looked nearly the same as he had in high school, but with less acne. He had briefly worked off his pudge during college, but his metabolism couldn’t keep that up forever. Dustin cursed his genes and his luck. “Um, how are you?”

Zach shrugged. “Well, other than making a wrong turn and having to backtrack for ten minutes to fix my mistake, it hasn’t been a terrible evening. Kind of embarrassing, since I grew up around here. You’d think I remembered the streets better, but nope.” He eyed the cluster of stockers waiting by the door. “Anyway, I’ve got sixteen pallets for you, eighteen pallets for the Buckton location, and a two-hour drive back to the warehouse, so how about we catch up later when we’ve got more time, alright?”

“Sure.” Dustin could barely comprehend what was happening. From what Dustin had heard, Zach had moved to Arizona to be a geologist. He was the last person Dustin thought would show up back in their hometown, let alone working as a delivery man.

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