Character(s) or Pairing(s): America, England, America/England.
Warnings: Language and sexual situations.
Summary: In desperate need to keep his apartment with Arthur and to sort out his feelings for him, Alfred takes up a job at a strip joint. He only prays that it won't affect his emotions or his sanity...
“I got it all, thanks! I’ll be out in a minute.”
After listening to his words echo softly amongst the tiles of the bathroom, Alfred faced his reflection in the mirror. Bright, determined blue eyes behind a pair of glasses and a small frown were the most definitive parts of what he saw. Maybe this would be the one, maybe he would be able to stop worrying if he landed this job... Maybe the fluttering within his chest at the sound of Arthur’s accented voice would relax if he had a steady income to prove his worth. Maybe he could start focusing on Arthur rather than his lack of finances.
... Although, it wasn’t as if he truly needed to focus on Arthur in anything more than a friendly way. There was nothing serious between them, no romance or relationship. Still, that didn’t mean he wasn’t looking to start making something between them. Now that they were in their freshman year of college at the same university and were sharing an apartment, so long as Alfred could afford his half of the rent by getting a job, the other half of the rent being taken care of by Arthur’s parents, they had more freedom together. Living with Arthur and having more alone time with him gave Alfred the chance to really settle down and get his feelings straightened out - he had wanted to do so for some time now, ever since back in the beginning of their sophomore year when Arthur had confessed to him that he was gay. Prior to that, they had known each other for five years, Arthur having moved here to Seattle from England in the fifth grade, and Alfred had never suspected him to be homosexual. His learning of his friend’s true sexual orientation had come both as an obvious shock and an odd thrill.
“I think I’m gay, Alfred. I mean, I’ve never had a girlfriend or even wanted one. A-And I told you about what happened at that party last week, how I danced with and kissed that guy, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. But are you totally sure? I mean--”
“Yes! I've thought it over, and I’m certain that I would rather have one good boyfriend than all the pretty girls in the world. They're just not appealing to me, it’s the boys that are... Do you understand? I can’t explain it any more than that, and I trust you enough to understand. Please, please understand.”
“I do. I promise, Arthur.”
As Alfred recalled the conversation, he additionally recalled how Arthur had giving a sob of appreciation and embraced him, the action being the start of seeing his friend in a whole new light. He had the potential for making deeper connections, a concept that had always been in the back of Alfred’s mind that had never fully come fourth until this revelation. This was the opening that he had been involuntarily searching for in the years of their friendship, what drove him to wonder about Arthur’s emotions and likes and dislikes each summer vacation that he was away visiting family in London, when Alfred was left with nothing but raw imagination of what they could be.
Life for them had gone on as usual after the confession, no major changes occurred other than Alfred having frequent daydreams of what it would be like to ask Arthur out. Despite the fact that there was now a real possibility of them becoming a couple, he failed to act on it, lost in the worries and wonderings of his own mind. For the remainder of their high school career, Arthur wasn't included in any of Alfred’s romantic ventures. He had flings with a few girls here and there, hell, he had once made-out with another boy at a party in his junior year, if only to please a drunken crowd. And hey, he wasn't so high and mighty to refuse such a thing, and he certainly wasn't homophobic... Not that he was one to give into peer-pressure, having chosen to live with Arthur while all of his other friends had pleaded with him to come live in the university’s dorms. No. He had passed on the crazy college dorm life of excessive drinking and random hook-ups in favor of a quiet apartment with Arthur, where tea cups and embroidery projects were much more common.
This arrangement was perfect for him, for what he believed he wanted, Arthur was so easily in reach, so kind and accepting, so unattached to anyone but him. Really, they were best friends. Best friends that he was dying to turn into boyfriends, and all he had to do was come out and say what he felt, to make a confession of his own. But, for the time being, he needed to land this job first - his fourth interview in the past two months and with less than a week before the fall semester began in August - the hopeful income acting as the key to maintaining his perfect arrangement with Arthur. He drew in a breath.
Popping an aspirin pill to calm his head pounding with nervousness and stepping out of the bathroom, Alfred was greeted by a pajama-wearing Arthur who also happened to be sporting a bedhead. The poor British boy had been torn from sleep no more than twenty minutes ago to assist with the preparations for the interview, which was scheduled for seven o’ clock this morning, an early hour for the two of them. What’s more, as he stood there with one arm outstretched toward his flat mate, it appeared that he had even gone through the trouble of packing a little something extra for him.
“Here, you know I’m not too great at cooking, but I did manage to heat up one of those nasty Hot Pocket things you enjoy so much. It’s not badly burnt, either,” he said with a small grimace, presenting a neatly-folded paper bag to Alfred. It was accepted with a nod. “Eat it out of the bag, and hopefully you won’t get any artificial cheese or meat from who-knows-what on your tie.”
On the word ‘tie’, Arthur had reached out to playfully flip at the mentioned accessory, the black satin fabric raising up for a moment before flopping back against Alfred’s dress shirt. They laughed.
“Hey, thanks, I’ll eat it on the way there,” Alfred chirped, leaning forward to catch him in a hug, the action lasting just long enough to allow for a good inhale of the shorter blonde’s herbal shampoo scent. When he pulled away, he was unable to do so completely, his hands gripping the lean forearms across from him. “And I’m sorry about making you wake up so early with me, it’s the damn coffee shop’s fault...”
"Now, now, there’s no need to get angry at the place that will hire you. Yes, they will hire you, I’m confident of it, and you know that. Stop frowning," Arthur scolded him, shaking his head in disapproval when the previous facial expression had reappeared. His arms were folded, his words and actions reminding Alfred so fiercely of when they had first met in the fifth grade, Arthur having huffed at him for being emotionally foolish over a lost game of baseball on the playground. They had squabbled and babbled and exchanged raised brows during class time. Although, they had warmed to one another faster than anyone could have foreseen, despite their differences, and together created today’s strong friendship without many changes. Arthur still reprimanded Alfred, Alfred still teased Arthur, and they both truly care for each other in the end, beyond all the pet peeves and jokes.
After a few final adjustments to his outfit and a brief discussion of what they should have for lunch later, Alfred headed to the front door, his right hand reaching for the knob when something that was said caused him to pause. He listened intently, Arthur’s voice quiet and coming from behind him.
“I hope you get this job, I hope we can keep living together. Ever since we moved back in June, the idea of being here without you hurts. I want you to stay with me.”
Alfred turned around, his right hand now on the doorknob and his mouth twitched upward into a gentle smile, “Don’t worry, I’ll do my best, okay? I want to stay with you, too.”
And with that, he slipped past the front door and headed out into the world. There was a light rainfall occurring, he noticed, walking down the stairs that led away from their apartment on the second story of the complex. It was typical summer Seattle weather and it blurred his view of the university that was a couple of streets over, he and Arthur having wanted to live close enough to simply walk to their classes. Their location was a delight, being nearby the downtown area’s most enjoyable shops and eateries, as well. In fact, the coffee shop that he was being interviewed at was no more than a twenty minute walk straight along their current street to the left.
He walked past several boutiques and cafés along the way, munching idly on his packed breakfast while glancing at his watch every minute or so, the inner pocket of his jacket patted to assure himself that his folded résumé was still there. It was five minutes before seven when he arrived at the door of the shop, his paper bag tossed in a nearby trashcan. Grinning once he was inside, the scent of coffee beans and the urban interior decorating momentarily distracted him. Ah, he could definitely work here! He was soon waved over by a young woman behind the counter, asking how she could help him, her green apron flashing as she spun around to holler to the back when told that he was here for an interview. He was soon guided behind the counter by the young woman and instructed to wait there with his résumé out. Waiting to meet the manager and sitting in a plastic folding chair beside an empty one, he watched the young woman and the other employees with the expectancy that he would be joining them, that he would keep his perfect arrangement with Arthur.
The manager, a middle-aged gentleman, greeted him with a firm handshake and an exchanging of names. He was Mr. Doan, and he immediately asked for the résumé and a brief introduction with an explanation of his qualities and talents. He sat there bearing a keen expression.
In the middle of Alfred’s story of the volunteer work he had done throughout his senior year of high school, he was interrupted by the mam, “Wait, if this was done in your senior year of high school, does that mean you’re in college now?”
“Yes, I’ll be entering my freshman year at Seattle University next week. I even have a partial scholarship there,” he stated proudly, knowing that this information would impress the manager and would possibly help to land this job. He mentally crossed his fingers.
Unfortunately, a college student was the last type of person that Mr. Doan wished to hire. He explained to a blinking Alfred that this job required a large amount time where he would be on-call for work, a situation that wasn’t ideal for a college student attempting to maintain good grades, especially a full-time student like himself. Fuck. He was being rejected, and for a reason frighteningly similar to his other failed interviews.
Not again! he thought as he thanked the manager for his time and trudged out the door, one hand crushing the résumé. What the hell am I supposed to do now!? That was the last interview I had set up! Oh, no, Arthur...!
He was going to lose his chance to live with Arthur! They would be separated and he would never straighten out his emotions. He would be forced to live at his parents’ house, his friend left all alone in the apartment... And what if he wasn’t alone? What if Arthur, having no one else to share that space with, began to bring boys home for company? He knew that Arthur had said that he wanted for him to stay, but everything could change once he had the apartment, and the freedom, to himself. He could be forgotten. Who’s to say these things weren't possible? Besides, he had no idea as to whether or not there any mutual, romantic feelings between them, and that’s exactly why he needed this opportunity to be close to Arthur! He had to discover if they really could be a couple and if--
Now hiring - Physically fit young adults.
Alfred broke his thought process to read the sign over again, which was posted outside of some boutique that he had passed by earlier and been too busy to notice. Huh. Wait, this wasn't a boutique, he realized while taking a second look, seeing that the posters on the building’s windows weren’t of models wearing the latest fashions, but rather scantily-clad men and women in provocative poses. Oh, it was a strip joint. And, well, fuck, he doubted that they were hiring 'physically fit young adults' to lift heavy boxes in the back, they just wanted people who looked good with their shirts off. People who were desperate.
Though he continued to stand there, rereading the sign and glancing at the posters and noticing the joint's name of ‘Scarlet’. He raised a hand to repeatedly knock on the glass of the nearest window, wondering if anyone would answer him at such an early hour and wondering how he could be so rash and pathetic. He waited, and, frighteningly enough, the front door was pushed open less than a minute later.
“Whatcha want, kid? The girls are asleep, and the boys are, too, so get lost. We’re closed,” a tall man stated, stroking his brown beard in irritation. The suit he was wearing clashed with his unhappy features, giving him a sense of elegance that he didn’t seem to deserve. He rubbed the side of his shaved head when Alfred said nothing and gestured weakly to the sign. The tall man then made a humming sound of realization, stroked his beard once again, and questioned him, “Your face is nice enough, but do ya got any I.D. on ya? We don’t take kids under eighteen.”
Nodding silently, his own actions had shocked him into a current inability to speak, Alfred reached into his pocket and produced his wallet, a state-issued I.D. pulled from it and handed to the tall man. It showed a photograph of him and his date of birth, Independence Day, in fact, which had passed about a month ago, making him eighteen. His heart skipped a beat and plummeted to his stomach like a sack of stones when he was given words of approval and asked to come inside.
Alfred’s, ahem, interview was started once he was standing with the tall man, who now demanded be called ‘Sir’, at the front of the joint’s inner parlor. He wasn’t offered a seat, though a few florescent lights that could reveal even the most beautiful person’s physical flaws were switched on to their brightest setting. He squinted and answered the flurry of questions that followed.
“What’s your name again?”
“Alfred F. Jones.”
“Do ya have any experience with dancin’ or strippin’?”
“Are ya gay or straight?”
“I-I’m not sure… I guess I could swing either way.”
“Are ya a virgin?”
“How many hours can ya work per week?”
“… No more than twenty. I have school and stuff.”
Of course, by ‘stuff’, he meant spending time with Arthur. That was the whole reason behind this crazy venture! He needed this job to pay for his half of the rent in order to keep close to his beloved Briton, no matter how disgusting and low it was! He held his breath when told to hold still while his shirt was lifted up and the front of his dress pants were roughly brushed over. The breath was released a moment later, Sir’s hands removed and his face thoughtful with the results of the uncomfortable interview and assessment.
He snorted softly and nodded his head, “Yeah, all right, I’ll hire ya. I’ll start ya off at eight bucks an hour, since ya don’t have any experience, but I’ll probably bump it up to nine real soon if ya work hard and maintain that pretty body. Anyways, hm, today’s Thursday… So, come back here on Saturday night at eight o’ clock, and that’ll be your first day. Ya don’t need to bring anythin’ with you, just ask for me when ya get here and don’t be late.”
Alfred was sent away then, Sir telling him that he had more important items to attend to than his freshly-picked employee. That was that. He had been hired as a stripper in a fraught motion and twist of fate. He had received his wish of being able to stay with Arthur, although, at the same time, he had a horrible feeling that he was going to struggle in upholding his sanity, dignity, and love life. Nevertheless, it was just a feeling, wasn’t it? How legitimate could it be?
He walked back to the apartment in the sprinkle of rain that continued to fall, cold.
“Alfred! How did the interview go?” was what Arthur greeted him with, hopping up from where he sat using his laptop at the kitchen table when Alfred entered through the front door. He moved to stand with less than a yard between them, his expression simultaneously concerned and anticipative, both hands partially raised and green eyes glinting.
“Well,” Alfred began, forcing his slightly shamed features to beam with happiness, instead, “the manager really liked me and… I got the job. My first day of work is this Saturday. I can stay with you, Arthur.”
The moment that followed his announcement made the filthy truth behind it seem worthwhile - Arthur rushed forward in sheer delight at the information, clapped his hands on Alfred’s shoulders, and kissed him without a second thought.