Alright, alright. I know there are people out there going, "Oneshot!? She promised she was writing a multi-chapter fic!" and I am! I just took a break to write this real quick! Please don't hurt me!
Anyway, for all those reading this who currently, or have ever, worked in a grocery store, this ficlet is dedicated to you, from one cashier to another.
(PS: Grab your toothbrushes folks, it's going to be a sugary ride)
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII. If I did, Aerith wouldn't have fallen 80 bajillion miles when Cloud put her in the lake, because the water was clearly only waist deep. I understand it was dramatic, but we have to take the laws of physics into consideration here, people.
There comes a time in every college-bound student's life when he or she comes to terms with the fact that somehow, someway, they're going to have to find a way to afford their higher education. For some, this isn't a big deal. These are usually the "My parents will pay for me" types. For others, they decide to worry about it when the time comes. Life's all about the present, after all. For the rest, they're forced to all but throw their social lives out the window, buckle down, and get a job.
Cloud Strife fell into the latter category. In Junon, the minimum age one could be hired for most businesses was 16. When Cloud turned 16, instead of having a party, he went and turned in all the job applications he had collected and filled out over the past two weeks. He didn't get a lot of calls back, because most places weren't hiring at the time, but eventually his local Moogle Mart called him up and before he knew it, he was a proud grocery store employee.
That was one year ago, which was enough time for Cloud to learn to hate his job. But he got paid decently (60 gil per hour), and he got good hours, but Gaia did he ever meet some weirdos. After all, everyone has to eat, so he ended up dealing with all sorts of types.
There were plenty of normal people in Junon, of course. Some were friendly, others didn't like talking much (those people were his favorites), but they made his job easy enough. There were rude ones, and then there were very rude ones, but Cloud was a pretty mellow person. It took a lot to ruffle his feathers. Then there were the old people, who came in three categories. First were the sweet old people, who complimented his kind nature and boyish good looks, and told him his mother must have been wonderful to have raised such a boy (Cloud didn't mind this category of old person, because his mother was a wonderful person, and anyone that spoke well of her was A-OK in his book). The second category were the old people who thought they were entitled to whatever the hell they wanted, based on the sole fact that they were ancient. Even when they got what it was they wanted, they just kept on complaining. They tended to avoid Cloud if they'd dealt with him before, because he was too complacent, and they couldn't get a good argument out of him. Third were the crazy old people who, for one reason or another, were, well, crazy. Cloud didn't speak much to them and he would nod his head and pretend to listen when they spoke, which they thought was wonderful because they loved a good listener and they were too crazy to notice that sometimes he nodded at the wrong times or that every question they asked him was answered with a neutral, "Hn."
After the old people were the perverts. The typical pervert was usually male, and old enough to be his father or grandfather. Occasionally an older woman would "cougar" on him, but most women let him be. Tifa told him this was because women could smell gayness. He doubted that, but he didn't question her. Sometimes people his own age would perv on him too, but he saw that more along the lines of "sexually charged flirting" then straight on pervertedness. Reno had laughed at that, and told him it sounded even worse than being a pervert.
Out of all his customers, perverts were generally the worst. Most people don't realize just how incredibly awkward it is, being forced to be polite to some stranger who calls you "baby" and keeps telling you how beautiful your eyes are and asking if you work out because, baby, you are fiiiiine. But Cloud could deal with them, because there was generally a counter separating him from his customers. And if he was on the floor, well, he could just walk away. Screw getting told off by the boss for being rude. He wasn't about to let himself get groped by strange middle-aged men.
The last category were his peers, and those slightly younger than his peers. Dealing with other teens and young adults was slightly disconcerting, and sometimes a little embarrassing. He didn't want to call them "sir" or "ma'am" because they were his age, and that would have been weird. And if they were younger than him, it was even weirder. It was especially weird when he knew their name from school, but they weren't actually someone he ever spoke to. Would they think he was odd for knowing their name? What if they didn't recognize him? But at the same time, if he spoke to them formally, there was the chance that they did recognize him, and then they'd think him weird for pretending to be strangers. Dealing with teenagers was a tricky affair, which was why, unless they were an established friend or acquaintance of his, he generally didn't talk to his peers while working. It was easier that way.
Of course, teenagers often had a lot of energy, and sometimes they forced it upon him.
"Hi! How are YOU doing today?"
Like the guy he was waiting on now. There were two of them. One Cloud recognized as Sephiroth, a senior at his school that he didn't talk to, and the other he couldn't place. The stranger was the one talking.
"I'm fine, how are you?" He spoke in a monotone and started scanning their items.
"I'm great, thanks for asking!" he said, leaning against the counter and flashing him a dazzling smile.
"Do you have a moogle card?" Moogle cards were reward cards given to customers so they could get the sale prices. Most teenagers didn't have one, and he felt kind of weird asking when he already knew the answer.
"Nope! Should I?"
"Only if you plan on shopping here often. If you don't want one, I'll put a card in for you, so you'll still get the discounts."
The guy grinned wolfishly at him. "Oh, I think I'll be coming here pretty often. How do I get one?"
Cloud handed him an application and a pen. "Just fill that out and give it back to me."
"Sure, sure." He started filling out the form, which would have shut most people up, but apparently this guy was a multitasker, because he just kept on talking. "So, do you like your job?"
Cloud shrugged. "It's money."
The stranger laughed too loud. "I guess that's typical right? Hey Seph, pack our stuff. So, how long have you worked here?"
Cloud side-glanced at Sephiroth who, much to his surprise, actually started bagging their groceries. He didn't look happy about it though. Embarrassed (because this was Sephiroth, the most popular guy in the history of the universe!), he started bagging as well, trying to scan their items more quickly as he went. "I've been here a little over a year."
"Hey don't worry about that, he has it," the other guy said, gesturing to Sephiroth, "We can bag our own stuff."
Sephiroth made a noise at the "we" but Cloud stopped bagging. At least for now. Once all the items were scanned, he was going to do everything he could to hasten their exit from the store.
"You know, you've got really nice eyes. Has anyone ever told you that?"
A red flag went up.
"Thank you. And yeah, I've heard it before."
"You're really well built too. Do you work out?"
Another red flag.
"Me too!" the guy said (like it wasn't obvious, the guy was a total beef cake), "What gym do you go to?"
"Ramuh's Fitness Center," he replied without thought. He probably should have lied. For all he knew, this guy could have stalking tendencies.
The guy handed him the application back. "Say, are you going to be checking my application out personally?"
Cloud handed him a Moogle card. "No."
"Oh. . .well, in that case, can I have it back real quick? No sense putting my real PHS number on there if you're not going to look at it," he said with a cocky smirk.
Third red flag.
Cloud handed the application back without a second thought and pretended he didn't notice the way the man's face fell in disappointment. At the end of the register, Sephiroth made a noise that could have been a laugh. It probably wasn't, because he was Sephiroth and Sephiroth didn't laugh, but still. It could have been.
The guy finished changing the application and handed it back it a pout. Cloud put it in his drawer. "That'll be 300 gil."
"Sure thing babe."
A forth red flag. That made it official.
The man payed the bill and, together with Sephiroth, took their bags. "It was nice talking to you, Cloud (Cloud hated it when customers used his name like they knew him. Name tags were the bane of his existence). Maybe I'll see you around."
"Maybe. You two have a nice day."
"Thank you. You as well." That was the only thing Sephiroth said during the entire exchange. Cloud immediately pegged him as a perfect customer.
Tifa was at a register several lanes away, but she didn't have any customers. Sephiroth and his friend were Cloud's last for the moment, and after they left she quickly walked over.
"I didn't know you knew Sephiroth!" she exclaimed, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't know Sephiroth. He just came through my line is all."
"Oh. So, you know his friend then?"
Tifa frowned. "That's weird. I figured you knew one of them, cause I offered to take them in my line but they said no, and made a beeline to you. They skipped Reno too."
If four red flags weren't proof enough, then what Tifa had just told him most certainly was. He'd just finished checking out the groceries of a sexually charged flirt.
After that day, the sexually charged flirt started coming every day. Cloud knew it was every day because Reno (who loved to amuse himself at Cloud's expense) cheerfully informed him that not only had the man come in on Tuesday and Saturday, his days off, but he had even asked if he was working (he had asked Reno both times, which is why he knew). The next week, he did the same thing and, apparently realizing that Cloud had off every Tuesday and Saturday, promptly stopped coming in on those days.
Each visit was generally the same. He always came in with a friend (so far it had been an alteration between Sephiroth, Genesis (another senior), a black-haired guy that Cloud didn't know, and a girl with reddish brown hair that Reno identified to him as Cissnei) and he never bought a lot, which was typical of customers his age. He always came through Cloud's line, even when it was obscenely long and he had few enough items to go through the express lane. Genesis was the only one who ever complained about the wait (or at least, the only one who complained loud enough for Cloud to hear all the way at his register), and eventually he stopped tagging along unless Sephiroth and/or the black-haired guy were there as well.
When it was their turn to be waited on, the other person would always bag while the sexually charged flirt leaned against his counter or propped his elbows up on his receipt machine in what Cloud felt was surely a desperate attempt to violate his personal space. Sephiroth never said a word, acting like his cashier and his friend were in a different universe, which reaffirmed Cloud's belief that he was the best customer of all time. The black-haired man would also stay silent, but every now and then Cloud would catch him glancing at him and grinning before quickly adverting his gaze. Cissnei didn't talk, but her eyes would dart back and forth between the two of them while the stranger hit on him, and she'd giggle incessantly at every pick-up line. One time, the stranger had been complimenting his hair and had reached across the counter to finger his bangs. Cissnei had started giggling so violently that she had to cover her mouth, and when that didn't help, she ran away.
Genesis was the best bagger, because he downright refused to do it. If the stranger so much as implied that he bag, they'd both be treated to a long-winded explanation (that typically made use of alliteration, internal rhyme, metaphors, and probably a billion other figures of speech Cloud just wasn't noticing) as to why he would not bag, under any circumstances, and to do so would be beneath him. As a result of his refusal, the flirt would end up at the bagging platform, which put a marginally larger space between them than the counter offered. Cloud had offered to bag all their groceries for them, but the flirt was adamantly against it, giving him a big speech about how hard he worked all the time, and how he deserved more breaks (and a raise, even though the man couldn't possibly have any idea how much he was making), and bagging his own groceries was the very least he could do. With the lengthened distance between them, the worst the man could do was brush their fingers together whenever Cloud handed him a bag. It was annoying (it was even more annoying that he couldn't control the blush that spread across his cheeks whenever this happened, and whenever the other man saw this, he'd get this big stupid grin on his face, like he'd just won the lottery), but Cloud could handle it.
Whether he was bagging or standing at the front of the counter made no difference to conversation, however. The flirt was always talking, nonstop, and he never seemed to run out of topics. He wasn't subtle at all, starting out conversations with questions like: "What's your favorite color? Mine's light blue.", "Do you have a favorite animal? I kind of like chocobos; they're cute.", or "Do you have a car? I have a motorcycle. Do you like motorcycles?" (The last conversation actually wasn't too bad, because Cloud did like motorcycles, he just couldn't afford one himself. They ended up talking about extreme sports, like racing and snow boarding and, if he ignored the bit about the stranger vowing to take him for a ride on his bike someday, Cloud had to admit it was actually a pretty nice chat).
This went on for a little over a month and most of Cloud's coworkers (much to his dismay) came to recognize the man on sight, fondly referring to him as "Cloud's stalker." Tifa was constantly telling him how cute the guy was, and that he should give him a chance and, at the very least, find out his name. Reno laughed and told him he'd play guard if Cloud ever wanted to take his stalker into the backroom for some "playtime." His absolute lowest point was when his boss, Tseng, had come over and stood next to him awkwardly for a few minutes before telling him that he thought Cloud was not only a good employee, but a good person, and he hoped he realized how important it was to be "safe" and that he had to "protect his body." His face had burned so badly afterwards that an hour later, his customers were still asking him if he had a fever.
Sunday's were always the busiest day of the week, but his stalker would come in anyway and wait in the massive line to get his few, unimportant items (Cloud was beginning to suspect he didn't even want the food, but that would mean he was coming in for the absolute sole purpose of seeing him and that was a thought he wasn't quite ready to deal with). That Sunday he was there with Sephiroth and the black-haired man, and they were next in line. He could feel his stalker's eyes on him and tried to not let it bother him while he dealt with his current customer.
"Here's my moogle card, sweetheart. So, how are you doing today?"
Oh Gaia, it was another one!
"I'm fine thanks. How are you?"
"I'm just wonderful, baby doll. It's not every day I get waited on by a cutie like you, you know?"
Cloud blushed slightly. "Um, thanks. . ." This one was even worse, because he definitely was old enough to be Cloud's dad. That fact alone bumped him up from "sexually charged flirt" to "bonafide pervert." Wonderful.
"Of course baby, I'm only telling the truth. Say, haven't I seen you around here before?"
"I've worked here a while," he replied with a shrug, trying his best to sound boring and uninterested.
"Do you stock shelves?"
"Yeah, that's where I saw you then. You were on a ladder, and I came this close," the man held his thumb and forefinger up, "to giving that sweet behind of your's a squeeze. You were at the perfect level to do it." The man laughed, playing off his sexual harassment as a joke.
Cloud blushed even harder, feeling humiliated. He hated these types. He quickly scanned the rest of the man's groceries, eager for him to leave. "That'll be 560 gil."
"Sure thing, sugarlips." Cloud cringed and bagged his groceries as fast as he could while the man slowly counted out his money.
"Well that was fast," he said, handing Cloud his gil, "Any chance you want to come home with me and put them away too? I'll give you a reward."
"Have a nice day, sir," he said quietly. He was painfully aware that his stalker, Sephiroth, and their friend were right there, watching him be polite to this creep. It wasn't his fault he couldn't tell the guy off; he'd lose his job if he did. Still, he was mortified at his own behavior, and he had a feeling his stalker was going to tease him about it.
"Oh, I will baby doll. I'm going to go home and make myself dinner, and when I go to bed tonight, I bet I'm going to have a nice, long dream, all about you," he said with a wink.
Cloud didn't have a chance to respond (not that he planned on saying anything anyway), because suddenly his stalker was in front of him, being restrained by Sephiroth and the other guy, and his current customer was skittering away from him with a look of total petrification.
"Leave him alone, you goddamned pig!! Who do you think you are, talking to him like that!!? I oughta beat you within an inch of your no good, worthless, piece of shit life, you son of a bitch! Apologize to him, right now! Do you hear me, you piece of trash!? Angeal, let go of me!!"
Tseng and Reeve, the assistant manager, were both standing at the customer service counter and immediately rushed over. The pervert immediately started wailing about being verbally assaulted and demanded the other man be banned from the store, while his stalker hollered about sexual harassment and suggested he be banned from the store instead. Reeve quietly came over and asked Cloud if he was okay. Cloud told him he was and watched distractedly as Sephiroth smooth talked Tseng and, almost in the blink of an eye, somehow dragged his two friends out of the store, leaving their groceries behind.
The pervert came back grudgingly and took his items, glaring at Cloud like it was HIS fault he'd just got yelled at by some stranger, then hightailed it out of there. Tseng repeated Reeve's question, then asked if he was all right to continue working. Cloud told him he was, and Tseng and Reeve cleared away his stalker's items from his belt, apologizing to the next customers in his line for the commotion as they did.
His next customer approached the counter with a sympathetic smile. "Rough day kid?"
Understatement of the year.
Cloud didn't see his stalker for a week after that. The first few days of his absence, Tifa had bewailed him about why he didn't take the guy's PHS number when he had the chance and why, oh why, did he never ask for his name!? Reno had offered (quite generously) to sexually assault him in the street to see if his stalker would pop out from behind a bush or something to save him. Cloud thanked him, but declined.
He honestly didn't know how he felt about losing his stalker. He knew he should be thankful, because stalkers generally weren't a good thing, but his seemed fairly harmless. And he'd gotten used to seeing the man almost every day. He often found himself waiting for him to show up, wondering what stupid thing he was going to ask him, and which of his features he was going to fawn over for the five minutes he saw him. He always told himself that it was annoying, being so obviously hit on by a stranger, and he tried to tell himself that now. It would have been silly to be disappointed that he was gone.
It was Saturday, and he normally would have had off, but Rude had called out sick and Reno had called out to take care of him (That wouldn't have worked for anyone else, but Tseng had been so shocked at such a show of consideration coming from the ill-mannered "brat" that he forgot to scold him for not taking his job more seriously), so they were underhanded. Reeve had called Cloud and asked him to come in, and Cloud relented since he needed the money. Rude usually did stock, which was why Cloud was currently down aisle three, standing on a step ladder (that Rude probably wouldn't have needed), and stocking the top shelf with Behemoth Breakfast Bars instead of working at his register. He didn't pay much mind when two kids ran down the aisle, a boy chasing a girl, and he didn't notice that they clearly weren't watching where they were going until after they bumped into his ladder.
Cloud pin wheeled for a second, then reached out to grab hold of the shelf. He missed. He clenched his eyes shut, waiting to make impact with the floor, when he suddenly felt a heat against his back and arms around his waist. His eyes snapped open.
"What?" The person let go like he'd burned them, and he absentmindedly noticed the kids run off in his peripheral vision. He turned around.
"I'm sorry! I was just-I didn't think you-I mean, I was walking by, I wasn't trying to sneak up on you, I swear! And I couldn't just let you fall, so, I mean-
His stalker was standing in front of him, moving his hands erratically while he spoke and shifting awkwardly. Cloud didn't even think as he broke out into a large grin and said, "You! Where have you been!?"
The stranger (was he still a stranger?) faltered, and Cloud realized how odd he was being. He stopped smiling and ducked his head, feeling his face heat up. "I mean, I haven't seen you around, and you're normally such a steady customer. I was just wondering. . ."
His stalker started to blush too and rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I haven't been in much. Trying to keep a low profile. Today's my first day in since. . . you know." He blushed harder and averted his eyes.
"I thought you never came in on Saturdays."
His stalker looked up and grinned, a little less awkwardly, and the tension between them lessened a bit. "Oh? Have you been keeping tabs on my shopping habits?"
"No!" he yelled. How dare his stalker accuse him of stalking! "You're the one who. . ." He tapered off. It was impolite to accuse someone of stalking, and he was on the clock.
The man laughed. "I know, I know. I was just joking." He reached forward and ruffled his hair. "I'm kind of surprised though. I thought you'd be mad at me."
Cloud pushed his hand away. "For what?"
"The other day I. . .I guess I overreacted. I didn't mean to embarrass you or anything. That guy was just. . . I got really mad, you know? He shouldn't have spoken to you like that. You probably think I'm a violent weirdo, right?"
Cloud couldn't believe his ears. This guy was so unbelievable! He could feel laughter bubbling up and tried to control it, but it was just too ridiculous! The man gave him a strange look and he burst out laughing.
"Hey! What's so funny?" He hovered around him, completely flabbergasted while Cloud howled with laughter. The other customers were staring, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
He wiped a tear away and tried to speak. "You-You come in here, every day, ask me all kinds of stupid questions about myself, ask my coworkers what days I work (the flirt muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "pain in the ass redheads")," he paused to laugh, gripping his stomach and trying to keep himself upright, "and shamelessly flirt with me, and you, you think I'm going to think you're weird for-for, oh Gaia," he gasped for breath, "for defending me against a creepy old pervert!"
The man looked amused, but sort of confused at the same time. His lips kept twitching, like he wanted to smile but he wasn't sure if he was supposed to. Eventually he seemed to realize that Cloud really was not mad, and he settled on smiling. "You've got a really cute laugh."
Cloud's laughter died down to giggles and he rubbed his eyes again. "You're such a freak. What's your name?"
"Zack." A pause. "Fair." The guy was grinning like a fool.
"Zack Fair, huh?" He got his laughter under control and stood up straight, running a hand through his hair. "Well thank you, Zack."
"No problem! I should have told you my name sooner. It's not really fair, you have a name tag and all, I should have-
"That's not what I meant."
Zack stopped and waited for him to explain.
Cloud found himself blushing again. "Thank you, for the other day. Guys like that come in a lot, but no one ever. . ." Zack was staring at him and he looked away, continuing in a rush. "No one's ever done anything like that before. It was really sweet. So thank you."
Zack didn't say anything so he chanced a glance at him. He was smiling fondly at him. "You're really cute when you blush too."
"I-I have to get back to work," he said hastily. He left the box of Behemoth Breakfast Bars on the floor with the step ladder and practically ran away before Zack could respond. He ran up front just in time to see Tifa clocking out and almost collided with her in his haste.
"Woah! Cloud, what's wrong? You look flushed." Tifa held his arms to steady him and gazed into his face with concern.
Cloud met her eyes. "Tifa," he took a deep breath, "I think I just got seduced."
After that day, Zack started coming in every day again (Minus Tuesdays and Saturdays. Cloud explained that he was covering for a coworker that last Saturday, and he normally didn't work, so he didn't have to bother coming in. Zack had grinned and pointed out that he was implying the only reason he came to the store was to see him, and Cloud had clamped his mouth shut, turning a thousand shades of red). He stopped bringing his friends in with him, so he should have had to bag his own stuff, except every time he came in, inevitably, some employee would run out of work to do and come over and bag for Cloud. If Cloud mentioned it, they all told him he was just being paranoid.
The nature of their conversations started getting a little more personal. Instead of asking stupid things like whether he preferred Wutainese food to Mideelian, he would ask Cloud about his plans for after high school, his hopes for the future, his views on family and what his family now was like. Did he want kids? Did he plan on moving out of Junon? What were his religious views? Did he care about politics? Of course, he asked stupid questions to. He begged Cloud to tell him his birthday, but Cloud refused and made sure all his coworkers knew not to tell him either. He wasn't really sure why he didn't tell, but for some reason Cloud thought it was fun withholding that small piece of information that Zack so desperately wanted to know. Tifa told him he was being a tease. Reno told him he was flirting in a sexually charged manner.
Cloud told himself none of that was true, because he would never flirt with someone like Zack. He was just a customer, after all! But he couldn't deny that, whenever Zack walked into his line, his face would get warm, his heart would beat a little faster, and his palms would get kind of sweaty, making him drop quite a few of the other man's items and fumble around, which in turn would cause his face to grow even warmer and his heart to beat even faster. Sometimes Zack would laugh at him when he did this, or else he'd just smile in that soft, gentle way that Cloud thought might have possibly been just for him, and he couldn't help but notice what a nice laugh he had, and how beautiful his smile really was.
It took about two weeks for Cloud to realize he had a crush. He was afraid to talk to one of his friends at work about it, even Tifa, because somehow or another, Reno always found out anything he ever said about Zack, and he always hunted the man down in the aisles while he was shopping and relayed the information. This, more often than not, lead to a whole heap of embarrassment on Cloud's part and it was in this way that Zack and Reno, much to his dismay, seemed to become friends.
Keeping this in mind, Cloud decided to confide in Aerith, his oldest friend next to Tifa, who didn't work at Moogle Mart. Aerith was one year older than Cloud and was a senior at their highschool. She listened patiently while he spilled his heart, telling her how stupid he felt for falling for a smooth talking stranger, and confessing his worries about whether or not Zack actually liked him or if he was just a flirt by nature. When he was done, he was almost in tears and Aerith had given his hand a reassuring squeeze and told him to meet her at her locker Tuesday after school and she'd help him.
That Tuesday he met her at her locker, like she'd asked, and she took his hand and promptly led him away. She brought him to an empty classroom and had him sit on one the desks and wait, promising that she'd return in two wags of a chocobo's tail. He started to protest, but she left before he could really say anything and he was left alone in the room. She was gone considerably longer than two wags of a chocobo's tail, and Cloud started to get bored. He left the desk and moved to the heater by the window, lying down on it and staring up at the ceiling. He started counting the tiles.
It was a warm day out and the sun was beaming on him through the windows at just the right angle. He wasn't quite sure when it happened (quite possibly at tile #31), but at some point he fell asleep, stretched languidly out on the heater.
"Come on Aerith! What'd you want to show me?"
The door squeaked when it opened and Cloud groggily opened his eyes. Who was talking? He leaned up slightly and glanced at the door, blinking the sleep from his eyes. He blinked several more times, not quite believing his eyes, then sat bolt upright.
The man in the doorway was half-turned, talking to someone behind him, but looked up at the sound of his name. His eyes widened almost comically. "Cloud!?"
The door shut behind him with a slam and Zack spun around. "What the-Aerith, what are you doing? Open the door!" He jiggled the handle and cursed when nothing happened.
Cloud slid off the heater, leaning his back against it. He ran his hand through his hair, hoping he hadn't messed it up while he was sleeping (not that his bed head looked much different than his normal style, but still. . .). He thanked his lucky stars he had been sleeping on his back, so he didn't have to worry about lines on his face. He cleared his throat. "Zack? What are you doing here? How did you know this was my school?"
Zack gave up on the doorknob and hesitantly turned to face him. "Um, well, it's funny you should mention that. Uh, that shirt looks really great on you, by the way. Totally brings out your eyes."
Zack coughed and adverted his gaze, rubbing the back of his neck (Cloud had come to recognize it as a habit of his)."Right, um, well, you're not going to believe this, but, this is kind of my school too. Crazy, right!?" he said with a grin, forcing a laugh.
Cloud let that process for a few seconds. "You. . . go here? Did you know? That I went here too, I mean."
"Sort of." Cloud raised an eyebrow. "Okay, yeah. I knew."
Cloud was more than confused. If Zack knew they went to the same school, why didn't he say anything? If he wanted to talk to him so badly, why wouldn't he. . .
Cloud dropped his gaze. That was it. Zack didn't want to talk to him that badly. He really was a flirt by nature, and he had just been another face in the crowd. He probably really did want all those groceries he'd bought. It was stupid of him to think otherwise. Why would a stranger (and Zack was a stranger) go to all that trouble for someone they didn't know? He was so stupid. The biggest fool in the world.
He kept his head down. His eyes were burning. "Why didn't you say anything?" He already knew the answer. Why was he asking? Was he hoping for a lie? Something to make him feel better? "How long have you known? How did you know I worked at Moogle Mart?"
Cloud waited for him to say that he didn't know. He just happened to walk into the grocery store one day and fell in love at first sight. That was a pretty Zack-like thing to say, he thought. He'd tell him that he just found out they went to school together, but he was too embarrassed to say anything.
Zack was looking at him funny. He ducked his head again. "I asked Kunsel."
Cloud didn't need any more explanation than that. Kunsel was notorious in their school for knowing everything there was to know about everyone. No one knew how he did it, and a lot of students thought of him as a school wonder.
"Of course. You're not shy, after all. You've known all along. . ."
Zack frowned and took a few steps closer. "Cloud? Are you okay? You sound funny."
Cloud rubbed at his eyes. "I'm fine."
Zack was suddenly right in front of him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. Cloud flinched away. "Babe, are you crying? What's wrong?"
"Don't call me that!" So what if he was crying? Guys could cry! It was Zack's fault anyway! He was so stupid! "Do I even mean anything to you? This was all a joke to you, wasn't it? All this time, I thought," he stopped himself. He couldn't say that out loud. "I mean, I knew you were weird, but I honestly thought. . . Was this all just a joke? Am I just a joke?" He was sobbing now. He felt so stupid. What kind of complete moron would fall for some guy they met at a grocery store? Tons of people flirted with cashiers; he knew that!
Zack pulled him against his chest and Cloud struggled to get free. "Don't touch me!"
Zack shushed him and stroked his hair, holding him in a vice grip with his other arm.
Cloud eventually gave up and settled for crying into his shirt. If the bastard wanted to restrain him, the least he could do was get his shirt wet.
"You're not a joke Cloud. Of course you mean something to me. You mean a lot!"
"Then why didn't you tell me?" he mumbled into his chest. "You act like you can't get enough of me, but I've been right here all this time, and you knew and didn't say a word! You're just a. . .a. . . a sexually charged flirt!"
Zack's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Look, babe, I had a reason for not talking to you. I wasn't just messing with you. I promise."
Cloud looked up, silently demanding an explanation. A good one.
Zack swallowed thickly. "Well, the thing is, I've kind of, sort of had a crush on you for like, two years now."
Cloud glared. Zack looked away. "You haven't known me that long Zack." He pointed out. If he was going to lie, he should at least make it believable.
"But I have!" Zack said, focusing his gaze back on him, "We were both in the same Wutainese I class, two years ago. You sat in the front."
Cloud frowned. He took Wutainese I his freshman year, and he DID sit in the front. He didn't remember Zack though. He certainly never spoke to him.
"I sat in the back, near the window. The teacher thought I was getting distracted though, so she moved me to the other side of the room. That's when I noticed you. I was in the next row over, and still in the back, but I had a perfect view of you. I spent most of the class watching you. I flunked it."
The story rang a faint bell in Cloud's memory. There was a student in his class that changed seats, wasn't there? He hadn't really payed attention, but it sounded familiar. His face flamed up. Zack had been watching him? "Why didn't you just talk to me?" he asked quietly.
"It was halfway through the school year when I noticed you. I figured you'd think I was weird if I just came up to you one day and introduced myself. I didn't even know your name for a while."
He looked up. "So you what? Stalked me? For two years?"
"Well, stalk is a pretty harsh term. . ."
Cloud decided not to mention that the whole of Moogle Mart had referred to him as a stalker before he learned his name. "Why didn't you come to my work sooner? I've been there for a year and a half now."
Zack flushed. "That's what my friends all said. Aerith kept saying you wouldn't hate me, cause she knew you, but I don't know." He licked his lips anxiously and looked away. "I guess I was nervous. Seph ended up dragging me there, cause he said he was tired of me complaining, and a few of my other friends started making sure I went everyday to see you." He grinned. "I wanted to chicken out so badly."
"You never struck me as the shy type," he mumbled, painfully aware of how close they were. He could hear Zack's heartbeat. It was fast.
Zack laughed. "I'm usually not." He buried his face in Cloud's hair. "You make me feel different though. I act funny."
Cloud considered that. It seemed believable enough a reason. He could relate. "I'm not actually clumsy," he confessed.
Zack hummed. "I know."
"From watching me?"
"You're a stalker."
Zack released him and took his face in his hands. Cloud's breath caught in his throat as Zack leaned forward and started kissing the tear trails on his cheeks. "I'm your stalker though."
Cloud smiled faintly. "I guess that's all right. So long as you don't start stealing my boxers or something."
Zack smiled. "You know, I was planning on asking you what your stand was on the boxers vs. briefs debate next time I went grocery shopping. Guess that answers that though, huh?"
Cloud's smile grew. "That's not a very romantic thing to say."
"No, I guess it's not," Zack whispered as he lifted Cloud's chin and closed the distance between them in a gentle kiss.
In a year's time, Cloud Strife had learned to hate his job. But as he stood locked inside that empty classroom, smooshed between his stalker and a heater, and dimly aware that Aerith was probably listening to them on the other side of the door, he thought that maybe his job wasn't so bad. After all, there was that cute Zack Fair guy that came in every day.
They broke the kiss and his eyes locked with Zack's. He smiled.
No, his job wasn't bad at all.
For the record, I work at a very large grocery store, and I've been there for about 3 years. In my time there, I've had a customer pet my hair, I've been called all sorts of names like "baby," "toots", and "sweetheart," and in one instance, a man (who looked older than my father) told me he was going to go home, go to bed, and think about me. He then asked me where the bathroom was and didn't come out for about an hour. My friend was bagging for me once, and my (very old) customer told me he wanted to smack her cute little butt. My very male friend got told by a middle-aged man that he wanted to take him home with him. So the pervert in this story is in no way an exaggeration. Grocery stores are scary.
Anyway, PLEASE REVIEW!!! Whether it's 8000 words long, or it's just an emoticon, I don't care! Just tell me what ya thought! (And tell me my grammatical errors!!! PLEASE!!!)