Scott Riley has lived his whole life in the Town of Sunridge but spent most of his childhood certain that the first thing he would do when he got old enough was leave. That was until Sid's Tavern came up for sale, though. With a little bit of money and a lot of hard work, he is confident that he will be able to refresh the bar and add a little bit of life to the town. He also knows that's going to be hard to do all alone. So, when a slightly disheveled but desperate and willing to work young man shows up asking for a job, it seems as though fate has intervened.
Lee Warner brings a dark past with him, but he's sober, hungry, and willing to try just about anything if it will bring him a sense of purpose and renew his energy. Walking into that tavern was meant to be nothing more than a chance for opportunity, but that was before Lee got a good look at Scott. With hair the color of a sunset and a nervous energy to match it, Scott is revitalizing Lee in ways Lee never expected.
That seems to be contagious energy, however, and as Scott is as straight as they come, he can't understand why Lee is awakening feelings in him. Or how to turn those feelings off.
"Vinegar and water."
Scott startled so hard that he almost dumped the container of Brasso. He hissed at himself and then looked at the entrance. Sunlight streamed through the door and all he could make out was the silhouette of what was probably a human being. That was annoying ... he usually kept the front door locked but must have forgotten to close it behind him. He also usually came in the back way, through the kitchen, but it had been easier to unload his car through the front door. So, pushing the annoyance aside, he put on a smile and greeted his first official guest even though that was the last thing he wanted to do. "Oh, hey there. I'm sorry, but we're not open yet."
The door shut, the sunlight was extinguished, and a thin blond man in his early to mid-twenties smiled back at him. "Yeah, I got that." He thumbed at the window with the sign. "Closed."
He had a nice smile. Warm. Sincere. But his eyes were tired, and he looked like he hadn't seen daylight in a very long time. "Yep, for a bit still," Scott agreed. "Are you with the permit department?"
The blond shook his head. "No. I wish. I'm not with anything. Actually, that's kind of why I'm here."
"Can I come in?" The young man pointed at the bar, referring, Scott assumed, to the barstool in front of where Scott sat. He shrugged and the blond advanced.
"So, yeah," the blond continued, "as I was saying, vinegar and water will work on that. It's hard on the eyes but it'll rip right through that build-up. You won't want to use it often because it can eat through the brass, but as a one-time thing, just to get the bulk of it, it'll be good."
"All right, I'll try that. Thank you. I'm Scott. Scott of the Riley clan, horse and crop farmers. Not me though. I'm Scott of the bar clan now, I guess." Scott laughed, held out his hand, and then immediately pulled it back. "Whoops. Sorry. I'm a little too grubby for handshaking, I guess."
The blonde extended his hand anyway. "I'd probably be a wiser man if I were a little more cautious of the dirt I let myself get into, but it has yet to scare me off of anything. I'm Lee. Lee Warner. Of the nobody clan. Nice to meet you, Scott."
They shook hands and once again Scott was struck by Lee's smile. A little devilish, but freakishly cute. If he were into guys, of course. Which he wasn't. "So, Lee, if you're not here to my first customer, what can I do for you?"
Lee's grin deepened. "I have no doubt you could many things for me."
Scott cocked his head. Was that a weird attempt at a joke? Or was he being hit on? Because that wasn't going to work, not on him. There wasn't anything wrong with being gay -- his best friend was gay for God's sake, and they'd been tight as thieves for years. He just wasn't. And it kind of freaked him out to think he was giving off those kinds of vibes to a stranger. "I’m not ... sure ... what you're ..."
"Actually, I wanted to see if you had started doing any hiring," Lee added quickly. "I have a lot of experience."
Scott nodded, wondering if he was getting flushed. His skin was so pale that the stupidest little thing, be it joke or flirtation or even a moment of frustration, could have him looking as red as a cherry tomato. The last thing he wanted was Lee thinking that he had misinterpreted Lee's joke in a weird way. "Oh! Okay, um. Where have you worked before? Do you have your AST certification?"
"I can get you a resume," Lee said, and Scott watched him fumble nervously with the cuff of his sleeve. Lee had long, thin fingers that were surprisingly delicate. As they pulled, flicked, and twisted, he almost seemed to be playing the fabric like an instrument. "But, honestly, I'm not sure what you mean by AST?"
Scott forced himself to look back at Lee's face and leave the hypnotic plucking alone. "Alcohol server training?"
Lee shook his head, disappointment dulling his expression. "Oh. Yeah, no. I didn't know I'd need anything like that."
Scott smiled. "I don't think it's legislated or anything, but it's mandatory for my insurance coverage. Liabilities and what have you. They want to cover their own asses." Scott paused, suddenly and inexplicably feeling like a total jerk. It had probably taken a ton of nerve to walk in off the streets and ask someone who wasn't even open yet for a job, just to have the guy shoot the question down without much more than a sentence or two. Especially if that guy was a few years younger, because Scott was pretty sure Lee had to be at least five, if not ten years, his senior. Scott distractedly ran his hand through his hair, only remembering his blackened hands after he'd done it. "Fuck." He wiped his hands on his pants. "And as much as I hate to continue to rain on your parade, I kind of got someone in mind to help out around here already."
"Oh." Lee's expression fell further. "That's too bad." He chuckled without any sense of humor to it. "I was kind of hoping I'd get in before you had a chance to get running." He swung his arm, hand flat, like an airplane. "Swoop in under the radar."
It actually was too bad, Scott thought. A guy like that, blue-eyed blonde, good talker, funny ... he'd look good behind the bar. Great for business. Still, a promise was a promise. "It's just, he's kind of been my friend since forever," Scott said, silently asking himself why he felt like he needed to offer an explanation, but not letting that thought stop him one bit. "He doesn't like relying on his boyfriend for spending money, and he knows all the locals and even a few bands, so ..."
Lee's gaze flew up to meet his and this time Scott felt his blush start to heat up his cheeks. "Not mine... I mean, he's not my boyfriend. For me he's just a friend-friend. Like, he's a boy, and he's a friend, but he's not my boyfriend. He has a boyfriend. But it's not me."
Lee held up his hand, laughing. "Careful now."
Scott frowned. "Hunh?"
Lee pushed his shoulders back, brought up his chin and in the most awful English accent Scott had ever heard said, "The barkeep doth protest too much, methinks."
Scott smiled. "William Shakespeare."
"I'm not just a pretty face, you know."
"Un huh. But I believe the quote is, 'The lady doth protest,' not the barkeep."
"Ten points to the boss."
"Boss, huh?" Scott slipped off the barstool, stretched his back muscles, and dropped the rag in the trash. "Tell you what ..." He fished out a clean rag from under the bar and then dropped it on top. He raised a finger, walked into the kitchen, and returned with a bottle of vinegar. "I got twenty bucks that wants you show me what you can do with those taps there. I still have a few things to do around here before we open, so maybe you can impress me enough that we can work something out."
The light that lit in Lee's eyes made Scott feel good. Damn good. Weirdly good.
With a bright smile Lee nudged his cuffs up an inch. "You got yourself a deal."