Hello Internet! In case you haven’t heard, I’m co-writing a book with the fabulous and equally quirky Bru Baker called Some Assembly Required. In a sentence, it’s the IKEA purgatory meet-cute you didn’t know you needed in your life until now.
You heard me.
So meet Patrick, IKEA employee of the decade, and the new hire Benji. IKEA is a place that people are dying to get in.
Some Assembly Required
by Bru Baker and Lex Chase
It was so difficult to have a staring contest when only one participant is aware of the contest.
Patrick sat in the café at his favorite table with the old man. He had no idea how long the guy had been coming. But he was the one that always brought in the New York Times, Patrick’s only lifeline at learning about the outside world. He also brought the crossword books. The old man left them behind, and Patrick had collected them in his greed for entertainment. But as the days went by, Patrick grew unsure if they truly were forgotten, or were they an offering?
The old man had a name. Henry. Patrick once caught it on his credit card when he bought his usual plate of meatballs with extra lingonberry jam.
Patrick narrowed his eyes, his nose millimeters from Henry’s, but Henry seemed lost in some thought or another.
Two could play this game.
Patrick reached out and then snapped his fingers against Henry’s ear.
“Karin told me I’d find you here,” Benji said as he entered the café.
Trying to play damage control for being caught, Patrick shoved his chair back from Henry’s table and cast a beaming smile at Benji.
“Hey, cupcake,” he drawled as he gave Benji a once over. The hipster skinny jeans definitely did fit well. Really well.
“We’ve moved on to cupcake?”
“Well, you do have a sweet, creamy center,” Patrick said without a blink.
Benji coughed into his fist and averted his gaze.
“You should get that checked out,” Patrick said as he stood.
Henry sipped his tea, still blissfully unaware.
“Know of any doctors in IKEA?” Benji asked, rising to the challenge.
Patrick thumbed his chin. “Well, funny you should ask…”
“Him?” Benji asked and nodded to Henry.
Patrick’s gut clenched as Henry pulled out the Times and ran his fingers over the front page. “Him?” Patrick tried to keep his smile intact as Benji denied him his desperate moment for news. “Naw. He’s a…” Patrick snapped his fingers next to Henry’s ear only to be rewarded with no response. “Pet project.”
Benji narrowed his eyes. The skepticism was strong with this one. “Then who?”
“Me.” Patrick counted the seconds until Benji’s gaping reaction.
“You.” Benji didn’t take the bait. Dammit.
Patrick stretched with a long arch of the back. “Well…If you want to get specific, not medically. Particle physics. You know—” He flicked his fingers dismissively. “—Super boring stuff of two bodies colliding together creating a passionate explosion.”
Benji coughed and his face flushed. “Passionate?”
Patrick feigned innocence. “Do you find my vocabulary intimidating? I could use alternatives. How about concupiscent?”
“Or would you prefer something that rolls off the tongue? How about lascivious?”
“Do you ever stop?”
“But my dear, Benji, we were just reaching the climax of our verbal copulation.”
Patrick licked his finger and hissed, mimicking a sizzle as he drew a one through the air. “Gotta be faster, pussycat.”
Benji looked away, his jaw set in a stubborn way that he was denying Patrick a chance at a reaction. But his red cheeks and ears were more than enough.
“So, do you know what happened?” Patrick asked. “How you got here.”
Benji shook his head. “I drove, of course.”
Oh boy. It was going to be a long day.
Patrick led Benji two tables away, and gently brushed his elbow. His fingers twitched with the shock darting up his arm. He had to be mindful of that. He’d had a rule against casual touches for years, but Benji was somehow making him forget that. It made Patrick worry about what other rules might be next. “You’re going to need to sit down for this.”
Benji clucked his tongue. “You’re really going for that trope? Are you going to ask how my heart is next?”
“You don’t have one anymore,” Patrick said as he plopped into the chair next to him.
The silence swallowed them. Overhead the fine musical stylings of Swedish pop filtered through the showroom.
“I’m what?” Benji asked. His voice soft.
“Was I mumbling?” Patrick folded his arms behind his head and leaned his chair back on two legs. “I could have mumbled. Did you hear me say you’re dead?”
“I got that.”
“Awesome.” Patrick let the chair slam back into place. He patted Benji on the shoulder. “Good chatting with you.” He pushed from the chair and turned to go, his good deed done for the day. There was that sob story in the entertainment showroom that was a more pressing matter.
“Wait.” Benji ordered him.
Patrick grunted under his breath as he slowly turned with a pivot of the heel. His Nikes squeaked on the tiles. “May I help you?”
“You tell me I’m dead and you leave it at that?” The words were resigned and barely audible. It cut through Patrick’s defenses much easier than anger or accusations would. He had a feeling Benji’s angry face would be about as threatening as a fluffy kitten after his first bath. But right now he just looked confused and more than a little betrayed, and it came off as impossibly charming. Patrick kind of wanted to cuddle him. What the hell.
Patrick shrugged. “Well. Yeah.”
“What do you mean more? There isn’t any more,” Patrick said, bewildered by Benji’s resistance.
“Of course there’s more.” Benji scowled, and his adorable factor skyrocketed. “We’re in Hell, right?”
Patrick clapped his hands in laughter but more in an effort to silence all argument. “Hell? Fuck no. That’s Walmart.”
“So, this is Heaven.”
“What then? We’re just ghosts? There is no afterlife?” Benji swallowed. “Wait. That can’t be—you said there was a hell.”
Patrick kept his lips sealed, enjoying watching Benji puzzle it out.
“IKEA is Purgatory?”
Patrick pointed at him with a nod. “We got a winner.”
Benji blew out a breath and shook his head. “Unbelievable. How is this my life?” He barked out a short, harsh laugh. “Or I guess the point is that it isn’t my life, right? Good to know my afterlife is going to suck as much as my real life did.”
Patrick put a hand to his heart. “I’m wounded. Are you saying spending the rest of eternity here with me is a hardship?”
Benji glared at him. “I’m saying that I don’t even know how I died, let alone what I did to deserve to be here. If there’s a Hell and a Purgatory, that must mean there’s a Heaven, right? So why am I here? What did I do to deserve this?”
This? This was why Patrick usually left the heavy stuff to Karin. It was a huge adjustment, he got that. Hell, he’d lived it himself. Or not-lived it himself, whatever. The point was he understood, but that didn’t mean he wanted to stand here while Benji had an existential crisis. He had shit to do.
“I don’t know sunshine, serial jaywalking? Not sorting your recyclables before you put them out to the curb? The point is you are here, and no matter what happened to get you here.”
Copyright © 2015 Bru Baker and Lex Chase. All rights reserved.