Authors: B.G. Thomas
Bean still couldn’t believe it. Punched. Knocked out! Who’d have thought something like that would happen? He’d only been unconscious once: he’d fainted in fourth grade when he broke a Christmas ornament in his hand at K-Mart and bled like a pig. He’d taken one look and hit the floor. Scared the shit out of management while he was at it.
But he’d never been in a fight. Not even in high school. No one had even cared that much when he came out at seventeen. He had managed to squeak by in one or two scary situations abroad with some American-haters with nothing much more than a few shoves. Well, and the time he’d had to deal with an angry family—
(He remembered always the eyes. Hurt eyes. Angry eyes—flashing danger.)
—and had feared for his safety, perhaps even his life.
Bean shook himself.
Don’t go there.
Maybe he was getting old? Was thirty-five old?
Bean headed back to his office, accidentally kicking a box of something heavy on his way (more mugs, was it?) and stubbing his toe. Hell!
This was not his day.
It had started well enough. Beautiful, indeed, and he’d taken his bike to work, enjoying the sun and the lovely, cloudless blue sky. He had introduced a new Haraaz Red Marqaha bean from Yemen, and even though it was four dollars a cup, people were already excited about it. He’d seen a few tweets, and customers were asking if he was selling any beans.
(“Not yet, I’ve only roasted enough for today—give me ’til next week, okay?”)
Then a beautiful man showed up in the store and actually caught his attention. When was the last time he’d really noticed a man? When he wasn’t running on months and months of no physical human contact—or, to be blunt, of not getting laid—coupled with maybe a little too much alcohol, that is? Was it three years ago? That farmer’s son (and how stereotypical was that?) in Guatemala? Surely not that long ago?
Well, anyway—he’d noticed a man, only to get his lights knocked out five minutes later.
That’s what you got for looking.
He was better off without.
… then Bean remembered how nice the guy had been—H.D., wasn’t that what Poindexter said he called himself? H.D. had fought for him, and how many people could Bean say had ever done that? The young man had been sweet. And apologetic, even though the incident hadn’t been his fault.
It would be nice to at least talk to H.D. See if he was half as nice as he seemed.
It surprised Bean how attracted he was to H.D.
?” Bean muttered.
But oh, H.D. was so pretty with those huge blue eyes that crinkled at the corners and that wide mouth that could transform into the most dazzling smile…. And he was so slim and had the sweetest little bubble butt and—
“—and stop!” Bean commanded himself. “He’s not coming back. Forget about him. Out of sight, out of mind.”
“There you are, boss!”
Bean let out a cry of surprise and spun about (which caused another little wave of dizziness—God,
he gotten a concussion?) to find Poindexter standing there.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.” She had one eyebrow raised and a bemused look on her face.
How much had she heard?
“There’s somebody out here to see you.”
He started to shake his head, then thought better of it. He closed his eyes. “Tell them I’m not here.”
“You sure?” she asked.
Bean opened his eyes.
She shrugged. “If you say so. I’ll tell H.D. you went home—”
“Wait!” Bean cried. He pushed past her, surprising even himself at the speed with which he’d moved. Then he froze. He turned back to Poindexter. “I look like shit, don’t I? Don’t I look like shit?”
She smiled. “Not as bad as you could. Of course, you could ditch the bloody towel. You’ve stopped bleeding. Maybe splash some cold water on your face, and I’ll stall him?”
Suddenly, he felt like a teenager. “Thanks, Mara.”
He headed back into the small bathroom, feeling silly and dorky and lighthearted all at the same time.
H.D. said, giving him a huge smile with that big sexy mouth.
Bean couldn’t help but smile back. “Hey.”
H.D. took a step closer, cocked his head forward, and examined Bean’s face with narrowed eyes. “Not so bad. You’ll probably have a shiner, but you might get lucky enough not to get too squint-eyed.” He nodded. “But I ran to the Thriftway down the block and picked up a couple things that’ll help. You got some place we can sit you down?”
Poindexter intercepted the question, grinning. “Sure. Bean’s office.” She took Bean’s elbow and shepherded him to the back of the shop. “Follow us,” she called over her shoulder.
What the hell?
thought Bean, but allowed himself to be pulled along. Poindexter guided him toward his desk chair, but they were both stopped by the sight of slim and wiry H.D. carrying a big leather chair in from the front of the shop.
“I want you to be able to relax,” H.D. said. “Looks like this tilts back a bit.”
“It does,” Bean confirmed.
H.D. set the chair down outside Bean’s office. It was a small room, and the chair wouldn’t fit with the desk and chair already there. “Sit,” he said in a tone just shy of command.
H.D. went down on one knee between Bean’s legs, and without thinking, he spread them. Bean blushed. He had no idea why. H.D. was examining him again, and he found himself almost squirming under the scrutiny.
“Mind if I touch?” H.D. asked.
Bean gulped. “Touch what?” And then he blushed some more.
Sheesh. I don’t blush!
“Your face, man. I don’t think this is the time or place for anything else.” He wagged his brows and gave Bean a sly wink.
Bean closed his eyes. “Oh… ah… go ahead. Touch away.” It was practically a whisper.
Nothing happened. After a moment, Bean opened his eyes.
“Touch what?” H.D. said with a grin.
Bean grinned, unable to resist. “My face,” he replied. “I don’t think this is the time or place for anything else.” And then his face was blazing hot.
H.D. chuckled and told him to close his eyes. Bean complied and then felt the most gentle touch in he didn’t know how long. H.D. was touching his face tenderly—here, there, but especially around his left eye. The man didn’t touch his nose at all. “Hey, Poin. You got a damp paper towel? We still have a little bit of blood here.”
Bean opened his eyes to see Poindexter nod and disappear. H.D. gave him a little encouraging smile and told him to relax. “Make it two towels,” he called out.
Bean shut his eyes again and tried to relax. He heard Mara come back and offer H.D. what he’d asked for. H.D. then asked her to put “this” in the refrigerator, if they had one. They did, of course; after all, they served lattes and espressos now.
Then he nearly jumped as H.D. began to wipe his upper lip. “There’s a little dried blood in your ’stache, dude,” he said in a soothing voice. “I got it.”
H.D. obviously didn’t mind blood. Bean swallowed. This should be uncomfortable—and for a few seconds it was—but that voice, the gentleness of that touch. To his surprise, he felt himself melting back into the leather chair.
“Okay—now I am going to touch your eyes, okay? I’m gonna put a little olive oil on them.”
“Ahh—olive oil?” Bean managed.
The gentle touch was back, this time dabbing something smooth and wet around his eyes and over his eyelids. “Oh,” he said. “Th-that’s nice.”
Then the fingers again. “Let me know if this hurts, okay, man?”
“Bean,” he replied.
“That’s what people call me. Bean.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Okay, I am going to massage the area just a bit. Let me know if it bothers you. This will help with the swelling. Even though it really hasn’t yet, it will some. Or could. I got a little bottle, and you do what I am doing tonight and tomorrow, ’k?”
Bean gave a slight nod and found himself almost leaning into H.D.’s delicate finger movements. He was being so gentle. Funny that this young man could be all—what had Mara said?—“kung-fu-dancing guy” one minute and so tender with those hands the next.
“Olive oil has shitloads of bruise-healing properties,” H.D. was saying. “Coconut oil or castor oil is good too. But that little Thriftway was too small to carry anything like that. I’ll head down to The Village Herbal and get you something better later.”
“Look, you don’t have to do all this,” Bean said.
“You were my knight in shining armor,” H.D. replied.
Bean gave a quiet little chuckle. “Hardly. I was out. You were doing all the knighting.”
“Don’ matter. I gotta do something. This would’na happened if not for me in the first place.”
The gentle massage went on for another few minutes and then came to a slow stop. Bean almost whimpered when it did. It had felt so nice. So nice to be touched. Even through the pain. So long since he’d been touched. He opened his eyes and found H.D. looking deeply into his face. H.D.’s hand was now cupping his cheek, and to his surprise, Bean felt a stirring in his crotch.
, he thought.
He’s only touching my face
Neither of them said a word for what felt like a century. The expression on H.D.’s face…. If Bean hadn’t known better, he would have expected the guy to kiss him. And… was he leaning forward?
“How’s it going, boss?” came Poindexter’s voice, and both men jumped.
The look on Poindexter’s face was one of wide-eyed surprise. “Oh! Shit! Sorry!” She vanished so fast it was as if a trapdoor had opened beneath her.
So it did look like H.D. was about to kiss me….
H.D. stood up. “I got to get back to Four-Footed. What time do you get off? I want to get a few more things for your eye.”
There was a sad little flip in Bean’s stomach as he realized H.D. was leaving. Bean didn’t want him to go.
You’re being silly. You don’t even know if this guy is gay or not.
But he knew. H.D. was gay. He would bet on it. He would also bet they really did almost kiss. And when did that happen outside a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Except in this case it would be Tom Hanks and Victor Garber maybe? Or Greg Kinnear?
Only this wasn’t a movie. All that was happening was that a nice guy was feeling guilty Bean got punched and was trying to make amends. And maybe they both had a moment of horniness?
“Well?” H.D. asked.
“Well what?” Had he missed something?
“What time do you get off?”
“Oh.” Bean gave a slight shrug. “Anytime I want. I am the boss, after all.” He gave H.D. a foolish grin.
H.D. smiled back. “Unfortunately, I
have some work to do. You close at three, is it?”
“Yeah. Three. Except on Wednesdays and Fridays. We get people who come in and play and sing and read poetry and stuff.”
“I’ll be back at three. How you getting home? You ain’t drivin’, are you?”
“Oh, well, damn.” Bean hadn’t even thought about that. He hadn’t driven. But he had brought his bike. “I—”
“I’ll figure it out. Don’t you worry. I’ll be back at three.”
Then H.D. did something a little strange. And sweet. He reached out—with what Bean saw as impossibly long fingers—and ever so gently touched his cheek once more.
Unwittingly, Bean drew in a deep breath—
Then H.D. was gone.
—and slowly let it out in a long, long sigh.
the difference in H.D. the minute he got back from the coffee shop.
He was… bouncing. Was he singing under his breath? Was that Corrine Bailey Rae? H.D. was hardly a Corrine Bailey Rae kind of guy. But yep, he was singing something about records and letting your hair down…. Did he just shake his hair?
“What’s up?” she asked.
H.D. turned from the phone list he was checking before making some calls and looked up. “Hmmmm…?”
“You’re happy,” she said, putting a hand on her hip.
“I’m always happy,” he replied.
She raised an already high brow even higher. “Give,” she stated, no nonsense.
He shrugged and began to run a finger down the list.
“Ah ha….” Now she had to know. But waiting would tell her. Pretending she didn’t care would be even better.
“We’ve had several people call about mothers and grandmothers going into assisted living and having to give up their dogs,” she remarked, as if she had forgotten what she’d been asking him. “They sound like sweet dogs. Potty trained, of course. One broke my heart, though. Sheltie. You know they can pine away without their owners.”
H.D. muttered something and then looked up. “Sheltie? Damn…. They can just give up living if they’re separated from their human.”
“Really?” Elaine nodded. That is what she had just said.
“Really,” he said and looked back down. “But you know, we had a call last week….” He began to turn pages. “Here. Woman called who just had to put her Sheltie down. It would work. And she can drive. Maybe we can get the ladies together and see if there is a fit.”
Elaine smiled. The one real worry of her day was instantly gone. Leave it to H.D.
Suddenly a black-and-white cat jumped up on the counter. “Well hello, River,” she said. The lovely cat was one of two who had taken up residence at Four-Footed Friends. Not that they would turn away a potential adopter, but she and her gray-and-white sister Bella had become fixtures at FFF. The adopter would have to be pretty special.
River meowed loudly and turned her head away.
“Sorry your majesty,” Elaine said and reached out and ran her hand down River’s soft back. River lashed her tail as if she wasn’t liking what Elaine was doing. She surrendered when Elaine began to scratch her behind the ears. She loved River. The cat was enigmatic and kickass and afraid of nothing. That didn’t mean she didn’t like to get petted.