By Amanda Corlies
Aren placed the cash box into the safe and locked it. Both of his knees gave their usual pop as he stood, but it was the cracking of the neck and back as he stretched that gave the most relief. Time for streaming with Velvet.
The bell above the front door sounded just as Aren was headed toward the back stairs. He groaned. "We're closed, mon. Must have forgotten to lock..." Aren realized his mistake. "Why you using the front door, brah?"
The look on Elliot's face slowed Aren down. His stomach tightened. The boy looked sad, but also determined, and for just a moment, there was a glimpse of something that made Elliot look way too old for his years. The expression was there and gone. Elliot shook himself and visibly put on his usual easy-going charm, like Aren put on a shirt every morning. Not sure if he was flattered or sorry to have been given the glimpse, Aren leaned on the counter, trying to act casual as he waited for Elliot to speak.
Opening his mouth, Elliot's voice cracked. He pressed his lips together for a moment, swallowed, then cleared his throat and tried again. "So, my bags are packed and my flight leaves early tomorrow." He gave a lopsided smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Then, it's nothing but plantation life for me."
"I seem to recall that as the plan, brah. Since your bags are packed, join me for a Kiss?" Aren gave a cheeky wink, knowing full well Elliot would understand he was referring to the Velvet drinks in the back fridge. Though to be honest, Aren wouldn't mind the real thing followed by a romp or two with the boss.
"Sounds pretty perfect." Elliot gestured toward the kitchen. Aren managed to hide his surprise as he led the way to the fridge to retrieve the pitcher. He handed a cup over to the boss.
"Before we get a good buzz on, we have a couple of important matters to discuss." Elliot ran a hand through his hair.
"Sure 'ting, boss man. Come upstairs, take a load off, and we can talk shop." Aren didn't wait around. He grabbed the pitcher, his drink, and headed up the back stairs to his apartment.
Elliot didn't speak again until they were both sprawled on the couch with feet on the coffee table. "To a good day's work." He lifted his cup for a toast. Aren gladly met him halfway. "So..." Elliot's head flopped to one side against the back of the couch.
Aren did the same. Their noses almost touched. "So..." Aren tried to keep his body calm. He wasn't sure what, if anything, Elliot was game for. But since, in the morning, he'd be leaving on a jetplane, it seemed like the perfect time for a free pass. Still, Aren didn't want to push and make things weird.
"I can't thank you enough for all you've done for me this past year, keeping everything running smooth, especially after Dad died..." Elliot's eyes were suspiciously bright when Aren held up a hand to stop him.
"No. No. No." Aren's throat suddenly felt thick. "I just worked my ass off, brah. And you are leaving dis place come sunup. We got no time for sap..."
Elliot reached over and put a hand on Aren's thigh, effectively stopping him cold, or hot as the case may be. "This isn't sap, Aren. I need to tell you that I'm grateful, but also that I want you to take over the shop while I'm gone. Actually, that's not right. I want you to take over permanently as manager. It means a raise, of course, but it also means leaving you in charge of everything. I'll help if I'm truly needed, but I need to focus on the plantation. I need someone I can trust. Someone I know Dad would approve of. It's important, man." The Air currents in the room had started to pick up and swirl around Elliot. He was obviously getting agitated.
Putting his hand over Elliot's, Aren gave it a squeeze. "Dude! You know I wil...hold up a sec. I got one condition.
Elliot's brow furrowed and he looked a little suspicious, but he nodded.
"I only say yes if I can hire more help. I can't be tied down to no shop all the time. No beach time makes for one cranky bradda, you feel me?"
A bark of laughter bubbled out of Elliot. "Dude." He was grinning as he shook his head. "You had me worried there for a minute,"
"'I ain't joking, brah. 'Dis be the deal breaker." Boy needs to take this shit seriously.
"Sorry. I'm not laughing at your deal. It's just that Darci totally called it. It's exactly what she thought you would say." He shook his head in disbelief. "How does she do that shit?"
"And what did you think I would say?"
"Actually, I worried you would turn me down flat. Didn't figure you'd want to be tied down." Elliot shrugged, a slow smile creeping over his face.
"You down with hiring help?" Aren wanted to be clear.
"To more help." Elliot held up his glass for another toast.
"Here, here." Their cups made a dull thud when the paper tapped together. "Been great working with you, brah." Aren made sure Elliot was looking right at him. "And I don't mind being tied to this. I love this place. It's like a good tattoo, you know. Gets under the skin."
Another bark of laughter burst out of Elliot. This was much better. Aren didn't like seeing Elliot sad. Tonight's mission was decided. Keep the boy smiling until he flies away.
"Well, since we have reason to celebrate, not to mention we need to cast you off on a high note, I vote we finish 'dis here pitcher and see where it takes us. You down with that?"
"I am so down with that. And ready to get dutty, too." Elliot winked before chugging back his drink in one long swallow.
"Boy, we'll romp if you ain't careful." Aren followed suit chugging his drink. He sat up and grabbed the pitcher to pour a second round.
"Careful is overrated." Elliot lifted a brow. "To us." He lifted his drink in the air.
"To Greene Beans," Aren added. They grinned at each other for a long minute. Elliot nodded, and they both went for another Kiss.