Working The Dream
Michael Shaw has big dreams. He dreams the king-size crush he has on his boss, Erik Harris, will turn out to be more than a bad case of wishful thinking. He also dreams of earning enough to start a business of his own and become as successful as his father. But the store where Michael currently works is in financial trouble and with his job in jeopardy, it’s time to exchange those dreams for reality. Once the store closes it’s unlikely he’ll ever see Erik again. As for having his own business… That depends on him first finding another job in a town where employment opportunities are few and far between.
Erik doesn’t have time for dreaming. A visit to the store by two suspicious-looking strangers confirms his belief the store owner is in debt to the wrong people. The kind who’ll stop at nothing to exact repayment. With no idea as to the owner’s current whereabouts and Michael and himself directly in harm’s way, he realizes they need to disappear temporarily. A decision that forces Erik to face the one dream he’s spent a ton of sleepless nights trying to ignore.
Bored, fed-up and frustrated described my mood to perfection. Mid-afternoon on what should have been our busiest day of the week, and Luigi’s Gentlemen’s Fine Apparel was deserted. I’d only taken the job to earn what I needed to realize a long-held dream, but at the rate business was going downhill I couldn’t see it lasting long enough for that to happen.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and back again. The same thing I’d been doing over and over for the last hour or more.
A few short weeks ago, we were so busy we’d barely had time to breathe, but those days were long gone. Staff had been reduced to the bare minimum, and we’d had exactly two customers since the store opened at nine-thirty.
I was bored from standing around, doing nothing but staring at the walls and counting the seconds. And fed-up with listening to Benny Milano, Luigi’s current owner and the great-grandson of the store’s founder, keep saying everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about.
Fine? Not to me it wasn’t. In fact things had reached the point where I was having a hard time believing anything that came out of Benny’s mouth.
The cause of the problem was the recent and much needed revitalization of downtown that had redirected our customers’ interest to the new stores that were springing up like weeds in Fountain Square. I doubted the customers would be back and said so. Benny disagreed. He insisted they most certainly would return since our current situation was no more than temporary. He wasn’t about to close up and go out of business, and he hadn’t been sleeping. He had plans which included various options he needed time to consider. If we could just be patient, in due time all would be revealed.
If what Benny said was all true, something solid in the way of details to back it up would have been nice. That hadn’t happened. He’d not given even the tiniest hint as to the nature of his future plans. I didn’t know if he actually had any or if he was stringing us along while he figured out what he hoped would be a workable solution, and it was driving me nuts.
I glanced around the immediate area on the off-chance there was something that needed taking care of. Something I’d missed that would help what was left of the afternoon pass a little faster. If there was, I failed to see it. The pristine glass counters I’d already cleaned at least twice, once before lunch and once after. I took a deep breath and released it slowly as I rechecked the carefully organized racks of suits and outerwear, the shelves containing every type of shirt from business to casual to formal, the displays of ties, socks and sweaters, and lastly the highly-polished dark wood floor. But everything was exactly the same as the last time I’d looked. Nothing out of place and not a speck of dust in sight. There was nothing for me to do but breathe, try to stay awake, and wish the hands on the old-fashioned clock above the cash register would move a little faster.
As for my frustration… That was a whole different ballgame. I swallowed a sigh and looked across the store to where the one other remaining employee, Erik Harris, continued to arrange and re-arrange the same new merchandise over and over on the main display unit. First, he placed the pale blue cashmere sweaters on the bottom shelf, the mid-blue in the middle, and the navy at the top. Then he reversed the order with navy at the bottom. A moment later, he’d changed it all again and put navy in the middle.
I knew he was simply trying to look busy in the unlikely event a customer showed up, but the constant fiddling with perfection made me want to yell at him to stop. Except Erik was more than just another employee. He could turn me on with a single look, and I wanted him in a way that bordered on obsession. If he was aware of my interest, he’d made no sign, and no way was I about to make a move on him. Erik was also the store manager, my supervisor, and in total charge of all things Luigi whenever Benny, who hadn’t shown his face in days, was absent.
Irritated with the constant repetition of watching Erik open, fold, unfold and refold, I switched gears and concentrated on the man rather than on what he was doing. His perfectly styled dark hair, handsome good looks and nicely toned body made for great eye candy. And spending a little time admiring the man’s physical attributes was definitely better than trying to look busy or just staring into space.
I let my gaze travel slowly downward from Erik’s head to his feet. Then, as I made the return journey, I tried to imagine him in something more casual than the pale grey suit, black shirt, and discreetly patterned tie all store employees were required to wear. Something really cool to show off those six-pack abs. Such as a pair of ripped jeans hanging low on his hips and nothing on his feet.
The thought filled my mind with a flood of images, followed by a sudden surge of need that turned my knees to water. I gripped the edge of the counter, hard, took a deep breath, and went back to staring at the walls.
A guy who used to work here told me that before coming to Luigi’s, Erik had worked as a fashion model in New York, and I could so easily imagine him doing that. Strolling down a runway or adorning the cover of one of those glossy magazines. What I could not imagine was why he’d exchange that kind of glamorous life for a small town like Barton Bay and a low-paying, run-of-the-mill job managing a menswear store.
Erik was a few years older than me and way out of my league, but I liked older men. I liked the confidence that suggested experience way beyond my own. Erik had that in spades, along with the body, the looks and charm to spare. In other words, the man was smoking hot. The customers loved him, and if his social life was anything to go by, he got more action in a week than any one person had a right to. He literally had the world by the balls. And, yes, you bet I was jealous.
If he showed me even the tiniest scrap of interest, I’d be over the moon. But no. The most I ever got from Erik was Mikey fetch me this or Mikey do that like I was his fucking dog. I swallowed my frustration as I turned away, took out my cell and checked the time.
When I was hired, Luigi’s was the number one go-to store in Barton Bay for any man who cared about his appearance. Everyone, from the young business professional looking to impress to the older, establishment types who wouldn’t be caught dead in anything that wasn’t custom tailored, did their shopping at Luigi’s. Back then, there had been six fulltime sales’ assistants, a couple of tailors who worked on the premises, and two or three student part-timers who came in on weekends. We hadn’t had time to be bored.
Then the city fathers’ plan to revitalize the center of town most everyone thought had long since died was finally approved and overnight everything changed. The first step had been to revamp Fountain Square by making it more user-friendly with pedestrian walkways, seating areas, and flower beds. Once that was finished, it wasn’t long before new stores and restaurants began taking over the empty buildings bordering the square and suddenly downtown was back in fashion.
Luigi’s location wasn’t that far from the Square. A five-minute walk max. But in a few short weeks, sales were down to a trickle and the writing was on the wall for anyone who wanted to read it. The only reason I was still here was because I’d been unable to find anything else. There was barely enough business coming in to keep even one of us busy, so I figured that must be Erik’s excuse as well.
If it were my store, I’d be worried sick. Benny had admitted the city’s sudden turn around took him by surprise, but he didn’t appear to be particularly concerned. Apart from constantly reassuring us our jobs were safe and his options were taking longer to consider than expected, he behaved as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
I’d hoped Erik would know what these vague options were, but he said no, Benny hadn’t discussed them with him. Neither one of us had the slightest idea what was going on and the way Benny kept repeating “this is only temporary” every time he showed his face was getting old. I needed more than vague promises and the growing suspicion I was being played. If our employment was as secure as Benny wanted us to believe, the least he could do was offer us a little insight as to his plans. Preferably while he still had a few customers left.
Maybe he thought there was no urgency, that he could find somewhere to relocate and play catch-up later whenever it suited him. If he did, he was in for a surprise. Going by what I’d heard via the grapevine, anyone who hadn’t planned ahead and snapped up space in one of the buildings bordering Fountain Square was well and truly out of luck.
A movement to my left caught my attention. Erik had finished fussing with the sweaters and was now heading my way with a stack of boxes.
The topmost box started to slip sideways. I stepped forward to save it as Erik tried to do the same, but before I could reach him, he tripped and lost control of the entire stack. The boxes went every which way, strewing their contents across the floor. As he hurtled toward me, I put out my arms and stood firm, barely managing to save him from crashing head-first into one of the glass counters.
I didn’t know if it was me who said it or Erik. The shock of having Erik in my arms, feeling his heat and smelling his scent was too much for me to just shake off. My vision blurred and I swallowed hard. I couldn’t even move a muscle. For one brief moment, I was frozen to the spot as I dared to dream, unable to control the surge of need that ripped through my body and set my pulse to pounding before landing right on target.
My feelings were in desperate need of an outlet, and I could tell Erik wasn’t as immune to my charms as I’d thought. It wasn’t his knee I could feel pushing against the lower part of my body. and I wanted to take things to the next logical step. I wanted to bend him over the counter and—
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