Cyberlove, Book 2
Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
The smell of bagels permeated the entire shop.
Even in the back room, I caught whiff after whiff of a mixture of onions and poppy seeds baked onto a yolky dough and the four pots of sludge my pops kept brewing all day long. You’d think he’d stop making fresh coffee after the morning rush, but nope. The man stayed on his feet grinding beans all day long. Maybe he liked it. Maybe he even liked this bagel smell after twenty-seven years. Me? I was one thousand and fifty percent over it.
It was sort of a funny thing. After two enlistments in the army and eight years of either living on the base in Jersey or going on a tour overseas, the smell of the shop had been a fond memory. Now I was back home and working at Hot Bagels & More six days a week. If I never saw another bagel in my life, I’d die a happy man. Even happier if I could get some dick.
I tapped at my phone to send an urgent text.
Dominic: Bro. this is important. You got infoz that I need, my man.
Garrett: I’m at work.
Dominic: me too, motherfucker! I’m taking a break.
“Nicky! Where the hell are you?”
Scowling, I hunched as if that would keep my father from busting into the narrow office. My shoulders barely fit in the space unless I shifted sideways. No ideas on how the old man functioned back here long enough to run reports and make the numbers work. I had nothing to do with that end, and stayed away from the growing stack of bills he never seemed to touch. Since returning from Afghanistan, I’d become the deli-counter bitch whose payment was free rent.
Garrett: Where are you working?
Dominic: A catering company.
Technically, Hot Bagels did cater to the type of Staten Islanders who wanted Boar’s Head deli meat at their events instead of the imported shit from the fancy salumerias dotting Richmond Avenue. But ain’t nobody had time for that in the Costigan family. We were here to function as the corner store with everything ranging from hot food to Pop-Tarts and dry cereal. Basically not making as much bank as we could be since my father had zero imagination. Not that Garrett Reid needed to know that now that he had himself a real job in the real world making good money.
Garrett: Who would want you to serve them food?
Dominic: Shut the fuck up. I didn’t text you for examples of your stunning sarcasm and subzero personality.
Garrett: Right. You asked me how to use Grindr. While you’re apparently handling food.
Dominic: Your point being…?
Garrett: Just tell me exactly what you want.
Dominic: School me on Grindr, fool. Worth the app subscription?
Garrett: You’re hesitant to spend $3.99 a month.
Dominic: You suck at being my gay friend, my man
Garrett: It’s worth the download. I assume you’re not out yet, so use a picture of your abs on the profile. Give face pics after messaging someone if you’re serious about meeting them. You look like Chris Evans, so they’ll respond with thirst. Don’t meet a murderer.
Dominic: That it?
A few seconds ticked by without an answer. Safe to assume Reid was finished with me. He was the type of guy who hated extended text conversations and never picked up an actual call. I’d expected him to rebuff my attempts at post-deployment bonding, but it still kind of stung. I’d been fond of that tall, dark and glaring mofo, and it was impossible to tell if he hated me less than other people despite the number of times we’d gotten each other off while overseas.
Ah well. The fact that he had expended the energy needed to reply was probably a sign of friendship in his world.
The door burst open and slammed into my side. “Fuck!” Cringing, I scooted out of the way. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
My father barreled in, nearly colliding with me. Duffy Costigan took up all the space in a normal-sized room so he was the size of a colossus in here. I’d thankfully grown enough to be eye-level with him, but the guy still had an MMA heavyweight build, whereas I was having trouble keeping my muscle mass up now that I wasn’t strength training on the base several hours a day.
The thought sent me right back down the hook-a-dude path, and I glanced at my phone again, considering Garrett’s advice regarding ab pics. Damn. I didn’t know what guys liked. Big? Rangy? I was somewhere in the middle, but my abs were cut like diamonds so that ideally made up for lack of bulk.
“Me?” Duffy demanded, cutting into my internal struggle. “What the hell are you doing hiding in here? You playing with yourself?”
I might have been had he not nearly broken my arm with the side of the door.
“I’m trying to make a phone call,” I said. “There’s no customers right now. You don’t need me manning the meat slicer 24/7.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Nicky.” My entire family called me Nicky despite my name being Dominic. Never mind that it made me sound like a twelve-year-old with an attitude problem. “Running the store isn’t just about knowing the difference between capicola and prosciutto, or—”
“Bran and pumpernickel?”
Duffy mashed his lips together and exhaled through his nose. “You think you’re being funny?”
“I think I’m being hilarious.”
“You know what, Nicky?” He loved repeating my name. It was like an incantation. He was trying to summon a better son. “Go home.”
My eyes probably lit up. “Really?”
“Yeah.” His Staten Island accent grew thicker the madder he got. “Get the fuck home before I lose my fucking temper and ream you in front of a customer.”
Some of my sass upgraded to actual irritation, but instead of rising to the bait, I brushed by him and breezed out of the room. I dropped my apron on the counter. As soon as the door slammed, I heard him bellowing at whoever else would listen. Probably my poor mother. She usually had the patience of a saint, but had recently resorted to long cigarette breaks on what should have been the back patio but was now a storage unit for broken junk my father wouldn’t throw away. I didn’t know how she put up with him.
Coming back to Staten Island wasn’t turning out to be the amazing homecoming I’d pictured for the past eight years. After working on the base between tours and only returning to Port Richmond on the holidays, I’d changed a lot. In some ways I was still the big, brash blond with the smart mouth and quick temper, but in other ways I’d matured. I wasn’t Nicky anymore. I was barely Dominic. I was Staff Sergeant Costigan, who’d survived countless patrols, several ambushes, and a couple of exploded IEDs.