Pain Slut(7)

By: J.A. Rock

But he’d already hung up.

“You’ll have to deal with him,” I told Jason. “I need to get out of sight.”

“What? No! You’re the one who knows how to talk to people.”

“Jason, I’m wearing a sweat suit. I can’t possibly interact with him.”

“What do I say?”

“Apologize. Offer him a refund—fifty percent, since technically it was their mistake. Offer to reprint the shirts, even though the new ones won’t be ready in time for the funeral. I’m going to the back to take inventory.”

I left Jason standing there stammering and took refuge in the back room. There I didn’t have to worry about keeping my crotch sheltered. The air was warm and held the vinegary smell of new shirts. I took out my tablet and pulled up the inventory list.

I’d opened A2A three years ago. My friends had thought a T-shirt design company was a bit of an odd choice for me, since I struck them as neither particularly creative nor fashion-conscious. My cardigan-heavy wardrobe contained, as Dave was fond of saying, Mr. Rogers’s rejects, and I tended to judge harshly anyone over sixteen who wore graphic tees. But the demand was high, and I had a good head for business and a great creative team. Even Jason, who practically burst into tears if the cash register drawer was slow to open, had surprisingly viable ideas.

My friends had all been very supportive. Kamen had been adamant that I name the shop No Shirt, Sherlock, but had eventually come around to the idea of Arm 2 Arm Wear—A2A for short. Dave and Gould had helped me decorate. Our tech-support friend, Ricky, had done the website. A2A currently had a four point six on Yelp, and the store was probably the accomplishment I was most proud of.

Which made “resting with the angles” all the harder to deal with.

After a few minutes, I realized I needed a couple of boxes that were under the register counter. I hobbled cautiously into the front. No sign of Mr. Seger. Jason was out on the floor, organizing the clearance racks.

I went around the counter and soon discovered that crouching was not an option. Keeping my legs stiff, I bent at the waist and lifted one of the boxes out. Set it on the counter. As I lifted the second box, someone slapped a sheet of paper on the counter and left his hand on it. White dude. No wedding ring. Overgrown cuticles. Nice nails. Faint knuckle hair.

I looked up. And up. Until I got to his face, which was closer to the ceiling than I was accustomed to faces being.

La beauté.

I would estimate that eighty percent of the people I encountered were acceptable looking. Twelve percent were captivatingly ugly. Five percent were celebrities and had help. And three percent were outlandishly beautiful.

Mr. Seger was probably close to six foot seven. Lean, and long-limbed. He wore an odd overcoat—knee-length, black, with a belt and a Sherlockian turned-up collar. Long, dark-gold hair gathered into a ponytail, and his eyes—were they purple?

“Miles?” That same low, gentle voice from the phone.

I straightened partway, but kept my knees bent enough that my crotch was hidden behind the counter. “Yes?”

When I met his gaze, he smiled.

“I’m Mr. Seger.”

I caught Jason’s frozen expression from over by the racks. Looked back at Mr. Seger, who appeared too young to be a “mister.” “Hello, Mr. Seger. I’m Miles Loucks. I’m the owner. And I can’t tell you how sorry I am about—”

“May I see the shirts?”

He didn’t sound demanding in the least. Just cheerful and amused.

I had to reach sideways for the box to avoid leaving the shelter of the counter. I removed one shirt and shook it out, as Jason had done. Mr. Seger took it from me, and our fingers brushed. I might as well have been in high school again, jolting when Tyson Ellis handed me his Jell-O at lunch. My face heated, and I waited for the implosion.

But Mr. Seger laughed. And laughed some more.

Rich sound. White teeth. Absurdly sharp canines. My cock, despite being weighed down by a balloon filled with sand, was more than a bit interested in Mr. Seger’s laugh.

He wiped under his eye with one finger. “Oh. Oh, oh. Uncle Matt would have loved this.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said again. I didn’t really feel guilty per se—I have a hard time sympathizing with other people’s grammatical errors, or with the idea of wearing matching shirts to a funeral—but I was sorry about the potential negative Yelp review. “We can offer you a partial refund—”

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