Today's guest is lil_1337. We've known each other since fanfiction days and have also recently shared an anthology with our original stories. She's written a lovely, romantic story to finish off my birthday blog month. Enjoy! :).
Thyme In A Bottle
Word count: 2,474
Summary: A little bit of fluffy goodness to help Clare end her birthday month with a smile.
Christopher Wasserman, known as Chris to his friends, was late. Instead of being at the office of a client as the notation on his schedule read he was stranded by the side of the road contemplating which was worse, having his car break down or the battery on his cell phone die. The car he decided turning the key again in hopes that the last ten tries had been flukes, definitely the car. Though, it would be nice to be able to call for a tow and to reschedule his appointment instead of sitting there like... His mind shied quickly away from like a damsel in distress. He might be gay, but he was no delicate flower. At six two with a solid frame he was closer to being a hedge or possibly some kind of very masculine pine tree that never ever produced flowers of any kind.
He had spotted a roadside emergency phone about a mile or so back up the road when he had driven past and that was looking like his best way of resolving the problem currently facing him. Of course he was supposed to be meeting with a new client today so he had opted to wear his good loafers. They were comfortable enough and held a nice shine, but certainly weren't made for hiking even if it was a very mild version that involved walking on the sloping edge of the road's shoulder. Fortunately it hadn't rained for the last few days so the ground was mostly dry and not too soft. That would qualify as his only piece of luck for the day. At least thus far.
As soon as the car was out of sight, hidden by trees and a long bend in the road, the wind picked up serving as a reminder that though his dress clothes were highly effective in the work place they really were not made for extreme weather conditions. Less than five minutes later the rain started as Mother Nature joined fate in having a good laugh at Chris' expense. Swearing under his breath and longing for his jacket which was folded neatly over the back of the passenger's seat, Chris bent his head into the wind and picked up his pace. He was already wet and turning back would do him no good.
Chris was an avid reader of everything from professional manuals to the occasional romance that his sister bought, read and passed on to him. He was pretty sure this was the point where the ruggedly handsome kind stranger should appear and offer him a cell phone and ride. A heater and a pair of thick warm socks would be greatly appreciated too. Unfortunately reality did not seem to be in the mood to copy art as the cars that passed him didn't even slow down for a second look.
He'd always been the kind of person who preferred to trust in his own skills instead of waiting for someone else to take care of him. According to his mother his strong independent streak was both his greatest asset and worst flaw. Chris took that and pretty much everything else she told him with a grain of salt. She was his mom and he loved her, but when it came to relationship advice he did a lot of nodding and smiling. When it came to business though, he was all ears. She was the sharpest business woman, person, he knew.
Chris looked up, surprised, when the emergency phone appeared in at the edge of his view. Apparently his increased pace and introspection had made the time and distance pass faster then he had thought. He was certainly not going to complain about that. The phone was in a partially enclosed shelter which blocked some of the wind, but did nothing to stop the rain. Still it seemed like a little bit of Heaven in a particularly hellish day. The phone, surprisingly, was working and it put him through to an emergency dispatcher who efficiently determined the nature of his problem then promised to send a tow truck to his location immediately.
It was less than fifteen minutes later when Chris spotted the large vehicle lumbering down the road towards him. When it stopped just slightly ahead of where he was standing Chris wove his way through the quickly expanding puddles at a fast trot. Once inside the cab the warmth from the heater was almost too much for his chilled skin causing him to shiver uncontrollably. Grateful to be out of the wind and rain he turned to smile at his rescuer.
"You're a life saver. I thought I was going to freeze out there."
The driver, an older man whose graying hair was beginning to fade around the edges, nodded and spun the wheel to maneuver the truck back onto the road. "It's what we do. Where's your car?" The man's voice was gruff, but he appeared less unfriendly and more the type of person not prone to waste his time making small talk.
"Not too far up the road. Just around the curve." Chris rubbed his hands in front of the heater now that initial stinging had stopped. A small contented sighed escaped his lips as he luxuriated in the feel of the warm, dry air. "I was driving and it completely died. When I tried to restart it I got just a click and nothing else. I know I have plenty of gas because I filled up this morning on the way to work."
"Sounds like the battery or maybe the alternator. We'll know for sure once we get her into the shop."
It didn't take long to spot Chris' car and once the driver had the truck positioned he was out of the cab moving with the efficiency of someone who knew exactly what to do to get the job done. Freed from the need to try to make conversation Chris adjusted the heater vents so they blew less on his hands and more on his torso and closed his eyes. Mentally he began making a list of the things he needed to do, starting with calling his client and rescheduling the appointment he missed. Calling into the office and letting them know what was going on was second followed by get a car charger for his cell phone to avoid another case of double jeopardy.
The car was loaded on the back of the truck and they were on their way to the shop in less time than Chris expected it to take. The silence in the cab was comfortable enough as the topics of conversation had been worn out before they had picked up the car. Focusing instead on the heats from the vents and the pleasure of watching the rain instead of being out in it Chris' let the ride slip by on autopilot. It wasn't long, less than half an hour, before they were pulling into a small, but clean repair shop. Judging from the number of cars in the parking lot they did good business.
The tow truck came to a stop in front of a set of double glass doors and the driver, whose name Chris realized he had never gotten, turned to face him. "This is the end of the line. Go on in and let Mike know I'm dropping your car off in back. He'll get you all set up."
"Thank you again." Chris offered his hand and was pleased by the firm handshake he was given in return. "I really appreciate all your help."
"Just doing my job." The older man's voice was gruff, but there was a hint of smile tugging at his lips that made Chris believe he enjoyed helping people out.
Inside the building was toasty and the smell of coffee hung heavily in the air. Behind the counter an attractive man greeted Chris with a smile. "Name's Mike, what can we do for you?"
"My car broke down and it's being towed around back now."
"Right, the emergency job Toby went out on."
"Um, yes?" Chris grinned. "Older guy? Quiet, but really nice?"
"Yep," Mike confirmed, returning the smile with one of his own. "That's Toby." With one hand he grabbed a sheet of paper from a stack next to the computer and with the other he pulled a pen from his shirt pocket. "Any idea what is going on with your car?"
Chris shook his head and sighed. "Toby thought it might be the battery or the alternator. I was driving along and it just died. When I tried to start it there was just a click and nothing else."
"Yeah, that sounds electrical all right." Mike jotted a few notes on the paper before spinning it around to face Chris. "If you could fill out the top part with your information then sign at the bottom I'll have the guys get to work on it right away."
Chris made quick work of the necessary paperwork making sure he used neat, easy to write writing telling himself he wanted to make sure Mike could reach him in case he had to leave the car overnight. Any interest he might have in the man behind the counter was purely as a customer even if Mike did have the most beautiful eyes Chris had ever seen.
Handing the pen back Chris' fingers brushed against Mike's and Chris started at the rush of pleasure that danced up his arm. Trying to hide his reaction he cleared his throat and pointed at the portable handset sitting on the other side of the counter. "Would it be okay if I borrowed your phone? My cell died and I need to make a couple of calls."
"Need to call the Mrs.?"
"No." Chris' voice was firm and clear. "No Mrs. and Mr. either. I need to call a client and check in with the office before my boss starts calling the hospitals and morgues."
Mike quirked an eyebrow and gave Chris an appraising look. "Does he always assume his employees are victims of something tragic?"
"I've never missed a client meeting before. In fact, I make it a habit to be there ten to fifteen minutes early. It's a sign of professionalism and respect for the client to be ready to go at the scheduled time."
Mike pursed his lips and handed Chris the handset. "I can see why he would be thinking the worst especially if your cell was dead and he couldn't get a hold of you."
Chris took the phone with a smile and moved to a quiet corner of the lobby where he would have the illusion of privacy and still be able to watch Mike discreetly. Two calls and ten minutes later he was back in the good graces of his client and his schedule for the rest of the day was in the hands of another client services coordinator. He wasn't happy about having to drop his workload onto someone else, but there wasn't a lot he could do from where he was. Pressing the end call button on the cordless handset he crossed the lobby and handed it back to Mike.
"Is everything okay?"
"I had to grovel a little." Chris ran a hand through his still damp hair and grinned ruefully. "But when I explained they were pretty reasonable. It's not like I blew them off and I called as soon as I could. That whole never missed a meeting thing worked a lot in my favor."
"Let your reputation speak for you." Mike set the handset back in the cradle and began typing Chris' information into the computer. "That's a good plan if you have a decent reputation."
"That's the hard part. Especially in this job, it's all about making a good impression. I don't even have a product to show off because what I sell is a service. Basically I'm selling myself so a client has to feel they can trust me to do a good job for them."
"I'm almost afraid to ask what you do."
Chris chuckled taking the implication with good humor. "It's nothing illegal. Immoral is kind of a grey area though according to some people."
"That's true of most things. It just depends on who you ask."
Another customer stepped up to the counter and Chris scooted down to give him room. He was enjoying the conversation and there was no doubt it had easily been the best part of the day. Mike seemed to be too which was giving Chris more hope than he wanted to consider. Whether it was just a way to pass a few minutes and make nice with the customers or something more was the question at hand. Sneaking a look at Mike's left hand Chris noted there was no ring or sign that one had recently been removed. Open relationships be damned, being committed to someone else was an immediate deal breaker. That didn't mean he wasn't involved or straight, but Chris was a one hurdle at a time kind of guy.
"I'm sorry about that. Mr. Edgarton knew my dad and he always wants to talk whenever he comes in for anything." Mike shot a bemused grin at the door then turned his attention back to Chris. "You were going to tell me about your perfectly legal, but questionably moral job. I can't wait to hear all the juicy details."
"It's not anything that interesting." Chris could feel the tips of his ears warming up, no doubt turning an embarrassingly visible red at the same time. "I work for a temp agency recruiting clients and helping them with their screening and hiring processes."
"That sounds moral enough." Mike leaned forward and rested his elbows on the counter. "It's a good thing too because I'm starting to like you. I would hate to think talking to you might ruin my stellar reputation."
"If I was going to ruin your good name it wouldn't be by talking." Chris started, mortified that his brain/mouth filter had picked a spectacular moment to conk out. What a perfect way to end what was undoubted one of biggest fail days of his life. "Crap! I'm so sorry. I didn't to say that. I was…" He stopped rubbed a hand over his face. "I think I'll just go slink over to the waiting area and we can pretend this never happened."
"Why would we want to do that? Things are starting to get interesting."
"Oh. Oh!" Chris' nervous grimace morphed into a genuine grin. "In that case would you let me buy you coffee after work? We can discuss your good name and what it would take to ruin it."
Mike considered then nodded his head flashing Chris a teasing smile. "Make it dinner and you've got a deal."
Follow this month with Clare - and the goodies so far:
JAN 25: The release of the anthology WISHING ON A BLUE STAR at Dreamspinner Press.
JAN 26: The ornery muse who plagues bittermint!
JAN 27: The exotic illustrations that inspire author Cornelia Grey.
JAN 27: The 5 favourite tropes of tracyrae.
JAN 28: FREE FICTION DAY, including new stories and links to plenty of others. Follow my LJ-tag "free fiction day" to find all 13 posts.
JAN 29: The scene-stealing delight of a well-written secondary character, by lee_rowan.
JAN 30: What do I love about M/M? by jessewave.
JAN 17: The business/pleasure balance of writing from libby_drew.
JAN 18: Why M/M? And who wants to know? from jordan_c_price.
JAN 19: What makes fiction short and sweet for jenre.
JAN 20: The pursuit of beautiful things by wrenboo.
JAN 21: Bawdy and brazen humor in the new release from Rick R. Reed.
JAN 22: Sexy or sweet, men in fiction? asks dontkickmycane.
JAN 23: The release of my short story THREADBARE at JMS books.
JAN 24: Where are all the star-crossed lovers? asks josephine_myles.
JAN 08: A great new novel and sequel from mickieashling.
JAN 09: Fiction and beautiful illustrations from essayel.
JAN 10: Forthcoming menage release from lc_chase.
JAN 11: Fabulous mix of SF and erotic romance from Sloane Taylor and Robert Appleton.
JAN 12: Follow the bizarre photographic history of Wind in Hair Guy with egret17.
JAN 13: When only your family understands the joke, with charliecochrane.
JAN 14: A top 10 of gay books you should read from erastes.
JAN 15: Favourite worldwide travel with cdn_tam.
JAN 16: 10 cautionary tales from ZA Maxfield! zamaxfield.
JAN 01: A FREE short from me, revisiting Nic and Aidan from Sparks Fly.
JAN 01: Delicious m/m icons from luscious_words.
JAN 02: Why I want to be a Bond villain! by chrissymunder.
JAN 03: The world of inspiration between 'historical' and 'contemporary' with stevie_carroll.
JAN 04: Some fascinating Swedish proverbs from 1more_sickpuppy.
JAN 05: A round-up of a great year just gone from angelasstone.
JAN 06: The countryside and history that inspires author sandra_lindsey.
JAN 07: The challenge of trying to balance edits, with diannefox and anahcrow.