The first thing Kade became aware of when the door swung shut behind him was how cold the supermarket was. So cold, he fancied he might not be too far off being able to see his own breath when he exhaled. A fine wet mist hung over the front half of the store, and Kade found the cause when he looked at the fresh produce section. Small pumps had been fitted to the shelves there, and those pumps were intermittently spraying cold water over the fresh fruit and vegetables. Kade did a double take. They certainly didn’t have kit like that in his regular supermarket.
A group of children seemed to have invented a game that revolved around grabbing items for their parents without getting sprayed. Or maybe, judging by the sleeves on one girl’s T-shirt, the object of the game was actually to try to get wet.
Regardless of the temperature, the place looked like a hive of activity. Kade had expected the inside of the store to look as sparse as the outside, but although the aisles were wider than Kade was used to, most of them were jam-packed with people, trolleys, and unattended baskets. The shelves were overloaded with stock, and produce was piled high to maximize space. At the end of each aisle, pallets were stacked with multipack boxes of soy sauce sachets, bottles of water and juice, and the sort of cardboard, plastic, and foil containers that takeaway restaurants used.
Kade decided to grab a basket and start on the aisle closest to him. He would work his way up to meat and fresh vegetables.
In his usual supermarket, Kade had managed to get the weekly shopping down to a fine art. He could be in and out in twenty-five minutes, and he had a route around the store mapped out in his head that he followed religiously. If something wasn’t on one of the aisles Kade already planned to go to, then clearly that product wasn’t really needed. Here, he was flying blind.
The first aisle was filled with packets of rice and noodles. Rather incongruously, there was also a small section displaying bags of German pasta. Kade gave that a wide berth, but threw a few different types of rice into his basket before heading on to the next aisle to poke around among the tubs of dried shrimp and seaweed. He had no idea what he was supposed to use either ingredient for, but he chucked them both into his basket anyway.
Before Niall left, they had been dutifully working their way through the recipes in a Venetian cookbook, so their diet had been mostly centered around fresh fish, homemade tomato sauces, pulses, and caponata. If Kade was going to make use of this week’s shopping, he was going to have to look up a lot of new recipes when he got home.
The next aisle Kade came to held an array of glass bottles so vast that he wondered if he had stumbled into the alcohol section. He couldn’t believe how wrong his first impression about the shop being sparse had been. The place was a veritable Aladdin’s cave.
There was an aisle that seemed entirely dedicated to woks of all sizes. These were piled between delicate soup bowls with matching spoons and large metal pots that looked like something that might once have been used to boil missionaries in the tropics. Kade couldn’t imagine what size a restaurant would need to be to require a pot that big.
He was so distracted with trying to read the broken English descriptions on the shelf-edge tickets and trying to plan a route around the rest of the store that when he reached out to grab a random bottle of fish sauce, he felt his fingers brush against something infinitely more human than a glass bottle.
Kade looked up and flinched away when he found his hand resting on a stranger’s bare forearm. He felt himself redden, although he had no idea why. He fought to get his gaze off the floor as he mumbled an apology. The effort of looking up was met with a lazy shrug and a sloppy smile.
“S’all right. No harm done.”
Kade didn’t have to fake his smile when he heard the man speak. He had always liked Australian accents, and although this man’s sounded a little faded, it was still enough to get Kade thinking about all those sex-on-the-beach fantasies he had enjoyed over the years.
Sue him if that sounded like a cliché, but his obsession with the land--and the men--down under had started when he had been a horny teenager, and it was yet to leave him.
Back in the late nineties, just around the time when Kade had worked out he was gay, his mum had decided that watching three hours of homegrown soap operas a day was no longer enough.
She had started to watch shows imported from Australia. Kade, sitting in the living room doing his homework, had watched them too and had quickly realised that the Australian actors were much better looking than their British counterparts and seemed, mercifully, to be working with a much more limited costume budget. And so a sexual fantasy had been born.
Kade gave the man another smile before nodding and stepping around him to focus on the different bottles of soy sauce. Eyes that blue had never figured in any of Kade’s sexual fantasies. The man must have been wearing contacts, Kade decided as he loaded sweet, dark, and light soy sauce into his basket. There was no way that shade of blue was natural.
As he was heading back to get the fish sauce he had forgotten about, Kade got a funny feeling he was being watched. He turned, and at the end of the next aisle, Mr. Australia was standing watching him. Kade quirked his head. Normally, his initial reaction to a stranger staring at him was to throw a glare and stalk away, but he didn’t. Instead, in homage to his fourteen-year-old self, Kade stood up tall, pulled back his shoulders, and winked. Then he walked away.
Kade was glad the man only had a view of his back. He had started cringing as soon as he’d turned around. He couldn’t remember the last time he had winked at anyone, wasn’t even sure he ever actually had. He turned into the next aisle and busied himself looking through bags filled with what the tickets described as “dried fungus.” It didn’t sound particularly appealing, but Kade picked up a bag anyway. In his defense, his mind was elsewhere.
Mr. Australia wasn’t too bad a description. The man was tall, broad shouldered, very muscled, and very tanned. And he was wearing flip-flops. Flip-flops, in Scotland, in November. Clearly he was lacking a bit of substance in the upstairs department, but Kade doubted the same could be said for down below. Not judging by the way the man filled those baggy jeans.
Kade shook his head, trying to shake the thoughts away as he headed for the back of the store. Beside the normal butcher’s counter were three rows of glass tanks filled with water and fish. In one, a selection of sea bream swam around in cramped conditions. In another, lobsters wandered around the floor of a tank while crabs dozed in the corners. Kade had never seen anything like it in a supermarket before.
He didn’t know how long he had been standing there, just watching like a kid in a pet shop, when he felt someone crowd in behind him. Warm breath danced across the back of Kade’s neck as Mr. Australia muttered into his ear.
“At least you know it’s fresh,” he said.
Kade turned. Even in the cold of the store, Kade could feel the warmth radiating off the man’s muscular body. He looked up into those too-blue eyes and nodded. “Guess so.”
“You getting anything?”
Apart from an awful lot of heat spreading between us?
Kade shook his head. “Don’t think I fancy chasing a live lobster around my apartment as a prelude to dinner.”
Mr. Australia laughed. He had a nice laugh. Nicer than Niall, who made a strange barking cough that sounded like he was trying to clear his throat of something unpleasant.
“That could be pretty fun entertainment for a dinner party. My mum used to do something similar when I was little. She’d sit me down on the kitchen floor and then put a lobster beside me to see what it would do. More often than not it chased me.” Mr. Australia paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. “That sort of thing would probably earn you a call from the animal rights brigade now.”
Kade nodded. “Or child services.”
Mr. Australia laughed again. “You know, if you want to buy something, they will kill it and prepare it for you.” The man didn’t sound like he was mocking Kade. Kade appreciated that, since having those bright blue eyes on him already made him feel like blushing.
He shook his head again. “I don’t eat that much meat. I’m a bit of a halfhearted vegetarian.”
Mr. Australia didn’t reply. He just nodded. He wasn’t showing any signs of backing away, and for the briefest of seconds Kade wondered what would happen if he reached up and brushed the back of his hand against that shoulder-length blond hair.
“You come here often?”
Kade laughed. That question broke the spell, and he slipped to the side and moved away, putting some distance between himself and that tight T-shirt. He could see the man’s abs perfectly under the thin material, could see his hard nipples and, God help him, could see the man’s nipple piercing. It was easier not to stare when he was laughing.
“Now that’s an old line,” Kade said.
“I mean it.” Mr. Australia gestured to Kade’s basket. “You seem to know your way around, but I know for a fact that I’ve never seen you in here before. I would have remembered you.”
Kade laughed again, and the man reached out for his hand.
“I’m Blake, by the way.”
Kade nodded and shook Blake’s hand. “Kade. And no, I don’t come here often. This is my first time actually.”
“Kade.” The man seemed to roll the syllable around in his mouth as if trying it on for size. When Blake smiled, Kade assumed it had passed the inspection. Blake still hadn’t let go of his hand, and Kade wondered if he ought to be pulling it away. Blake’s grip was strong, the pads of his fingers as rough as his palm.
“Are you sure you don’t want to get some fish?”
Kade hadn’t been expecting that. He thought they had been flirting, but maybe he was mistaken. He had been out of the game for nearly a decade.
“Like I said, I don’t eat much meat, and I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.”
“I could show you,” Blake said. Kade pulled himself free, but as he did so, Blake let his index finger stroke across Kade’s wrist and palm. Kade hoped the temperature in the store was a good enough explanation for the shiver that little gesture forced through him.
“How could you show me?”
“I have a few hours going spare this afternoon. I could pop back to yours, we could make something nice, eat it together...”
Kade laughed. He was relieved he hadn’t been wrong about the connection between them, but times must have changed since he got with Niall, because he was sure he had never heard of anyone getting picked up in a supermarket. He wondered if Blake was going to suggest they go have a look at the vegetables and select out some of the most phallic items on offer to complement their impromptu lunch.
Kade shook his head. “That’s a very kind offer, but I can’t. Sorry.”
“Are you sure?”
Blake shrugged. “Okay. Well, if you change your mind I’m heading for the butcher’s counter.” Blake bent and picked up his basket. When he straightened up, he looked at Kade and bit his lower lip, releasing it on a smile.
Kade’s words gushed out on a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. “You’re very forward, aren’t you?”
Blake leaned into Kade. Blake was a few inches shorter, but somehow the way he held himself made Kade feel small. Blake brought his free hand up and pressed his thumb against Kade’s cheek, cupping his fingers on Kade’s neck just beneath his earlobe.
“My mum, in addition to trying to mutilate me with lobsters, always told me that shy kids get nothing.” He flicked his head back in the direction of the butcher’s counter and, with another smile, left Kade standing alone.
Kade’s breathing was a little rougher than it should have been, and his cheek felt like it had just been touched by fire. He took a few minutes and pretended to stare at the fish as he tried to work out what had just happened. He wasn’t stupid. He was pretty sure he had the basics down, but he still didn’t understand.
A gorgeous man had just walked up to him in the middle of a packed supermarket and propositioned him, admittedly only to share lunch, but Kade had no doubt there had been more going on behind Blake’s eyes than the simple thought of sustenance.
And Kade had said no, had said he couldn’t. But why couldn’t he? He was single, he was still young even if he didn’t feel it anymore, and he had left his bedroom looking relatively tidy. Why couldn’t he take a random stranger home for fun? Kade turned and looked at the queue for the butcher’s counter. Those broad shoulders and the long blond hair were easy to spot. He looked Blake up and down and caught himself before he could start laughing.
Flip-flops, in Scotland, in November. That was why not. Blake might be hot, his accent might be the stuff of Kade’s teenage sexual fantasies, but if the man thought that was appropriate footwear for a Scottish winter, he was obviously a few chips short of the full fish supper.