This year had turned into a shit storm of mammoth proportions. Separation. Moving out. Divorce. Getting riffed. Maybe twice. At least Greg had enough weeks left on his teaching salary that he wouldn’t be without income while the restaurant was closed. Thank God he didn’t have the house payment anymore. He still had rent and utilities and food and gas and... He would have to see about deferring the loan payments. He shuddered to think he might have to invite himself to his mom’s for a few dinners.
When he’d realized he was waiting on the new owners Saturday night, he’d gotten nervous. He believed they were there to check out the staff, no matter what Hayden said. He liked Hayden, at least so far. She was direct, smart. He didn’t know what to make of Finn, though. He had been sure the man was hitting on him, with all that business about the menu, but the next time Greg went to their table, Finn was almost reserved. Maybe with his good looks and smooth talk, he was used to men falling over themselves to get close to him, which was not something Greg was going to do, no matter how much he needed a job. No matter how flustered Finn’s amber eyes made him.
Meeting up with friends after work that night helped Greg manage his worries. Three others had also been pink-slipped, but he got bonus points for potentially losing his second job in as many days. They shared their misery, drowning their sorrows in beer until they could laugh, and agreed to keep their support system strong. At least by meeting regularly for drinks and fried food.
On Monday Greg faced classrooms full of students in a high state of moral outrage. Even though they were eighth graders getting ready to move on to high school, the idea that one of their favorite teachers wouldn’t be around the next year bothered many of them. Managing their wide range of emotions kept Greg on his toes.
After the announcement of Château’s closing date, business improved markedly. Greg took extra shifts, and what with his classes and all the associated work, he fell exhausted into bed every night, which was actually a good thing; the days flew by.
Until Thursday, that is, when time moved so slowly it felt like walking through molasses. He had an interview scheduled with Hayden and Finn Sparks that afternoon, and if they didn’t hire him for the pub, his job situation would turn from difficult to dire. During school, he tried not to let himself get distracted with thoughts about the twists and turns his life was taking, but that was a battle he couldn’t win.
His characteristic patience with the students ran out when nervous anticipation about the interview set in. Of course the kids sensed it and acted up accordingly, which further vexed Greg’s composure. Worksheets and silence took the place of the usual amusing examples and banter he shared with the kids. It was a relief to everyone when the school day ended. He decided to let the students play games in tomorrow’s classes.
Coco resurfaced while Greg drove to the interview. “Don’t worry. They’ll hire you.”
“You know that, do you?”
“Yes. I knew the other stuff too.”
“Which other stuff?”
“The layoff. The restaurant.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Greg could hardly believe she’d keep things like that from him.
“I didn’t want to upset you. What is, is.”
“That’s so philosophical of you. But I think you could have softened the blow a bit.”
“When you move on to hang out in someone else’s head, you can make your own rules. Till then, you’ll just have to put up with mine.”
“What else do you know, Coco?” She didn’t respond. “Coco? Aunt Coco... Damn.”
The rest of the way, Greg tried to think happy thoughts, count his blessings, remember jokes -- all the things he advised his students to do when they were nervous. He couldn’t recall if there was a patron saint of job hunters, so he shot a quick hello to the one saint he could remember. Saint George had killed the dragon, so he could be helpful, maybe.
“You are a poor excuse for a Catholic,”
Aunt Coco teased.
know the patron saint of riffed teachers?”
“Honey, the things I know would boggle your brain.”
“Sorry. That’s for club members only.”
The interviews were being held in the basement of the restaurant. It contained an orderly array of shelving units, crates, linens, canned goods, and equipment, plus the odds and ends that accumulated in the storage area of a place that had been in operation for decades. White walls, extensive lighting, and regular cleaning kept it bright and airy despite the lack of windows. The Sparks siblings had commandeered a space not far from the stairs. Tall stacks of boxes draped with tablecloths provided an L-shaped backdrop for spare dining room chairs and a table. They’d scrounged up a floor lamp that gave the area a homey glow.
As Greg approached, both Finn and Hayden stood up to shake his hand and exchange pleasantries. Finn’s firm grasp lingered longer than Hayden’s, and the heat of his palm was so strong that Greg felt his own hand warm up in response.
Hayden gestured him to a chair, and they took their seats. “That’s an interesting tie.” Finn nodded at Greg’s neck.
Greg couldn’t remember which tie he had on, so he lifted the end of it for a look. Oh damn, it was the black one with the ABC’s on it. He shrugged. Nothing he could do about it now. “One of the perks of being a male teacher -- a never-ending supply of ties as Christmas and year-end gifts.” Greg felt underdressed in his slightly baggy chinos and button-down shirt next to Finn, whose light blue sweater and navy pants caressed his solid build.
Greg resisted the urge to let his gaze linger on Finn, and straightened his tie. He was relieved when Hayden started the discussion. “The first thing we want to know, of course, is if you’re interested in working for us when we reopen.”
“I am interested. I’ll want to know more about it all: what you expect it to be like, the kinds of shifts you’ll have, wages, expected tips, and all that.” Greg would be happy to have what they could give him, but he didn’t want to come across as too desperate.
“We’d have been surprised if you didn’t.” Finn slid a manila file toward him. Finn’s professional demeanor was an improvement over the behavior he’d exhibited the other night. “This packet contains information about the Green Lady Pub. Now, tell us about yourself and what you’re looking for.”
Greg handed over the resume he’d prepared and gave them a summary of his work history, which included a number of part-time jobs waiting tables and bartending. They were impressed that he’d worked for a year in construction to make money before going to college. When he told them his current teaching job was at White Water Middle School, both Finn and Hayden laughed.
“Small world.” Hayden shook her head.
“Why’s that?” Greg asked.
Finn answered. “Our nieces are in seventh grade there. Twins, Leila and Lindsay Kovac. Do you know them?”
Greg shook his head. “Sorry. I teach eighth graders.”
“Well that explains why I haven’t run into you there,” Finn said.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m one of the volunteers who goes in once a week to help out with kids who need a hand with their reading skills. I’ve been doing it since we found out that the twins have special needs. But since each grade has its own hallway, I only ever see the section the girls are in.”
“Wow. It’s great that you do that.” They had trouble getting parents to volunteer at the school; to have another relative give up time was almost unheard of.
“I’m sure I’ve learned more from the kids than they have from me.”
“Oh, this means you’ll get them next year,” Hayden said to Greg. To Finn she said, “Maybe you’ll get to work together, then.”
Greg felt a blush creep up his neck. “Well. I...” He looked toward the ceiling for a moment. He hadn’t actually said the words to anyone but his teacher friends yet. Not even his family. He’d been avoiding his mother’s calls. “I’m one of the casualties of last week’s school layoffs.” Knowing he would miss the chance to see Finn at school gave his stomach a lurch.
Hayden’s eyes widened. “Ouch. You’ve had a rough go lately, haven’t you?”
He laughed a little. “You might say that.”
“I’m so sorry.” She patted his hand. An awkward moment passed.
Finn cleared his throat. “Your manager here had nothing but praise for you.” Finn smiled and glanced at Hayden. She gave a nod. “We think you’ll do a fine job with us.”
Greg blinked, surprised by how easy this had been. “That’s great.”
“Seeing you at work the other evening is what sold us so quickly,” Hayden explained. “We just have to work through the details. Do you think you’d prefer tending bar or waiting tables?”
If they got a lot of college students, he might be happier with the bar between him and them. But the tables might be good for tips. Except on nights where people sat forever to talk or listen to music. But if they mostly served beer, bar tips could be slim. He couldn’t make a prediction. “To tell you the truth, I’ll do whichever you need me for.”
“Good,” said Finn. “Flexible is good.”
“Would you be looking for more hours given the, ah, situation with the teaching job?” Hayden asked. “Or, you know, for the summer, anyway?”
Greg felt as if a band that had been constricting his chest fell away. He let himself smile widely. “Yes. That would be great. Although you should know I’ll be job hunting over the summer, and I hope to have a new teaching position for next year.”
Finn smiled in return. His teeth were perfect. “That’s understandable. Until then, we’ll probably be able to give you a lot more hours than you’ve been working.”
Hayden drummed her fingers on the table and shared a look with her brother. “All right, then. Barring any unhappy surprises in the paperwork, it looks like you’ll be joining us.”
Greg nodded in satisfaction. “Good. Thank you.”
“We’re glad to have you.”
Greg stood up. “I appreciate -- I mean I know we all appreciate -- that you’re giving us a chance to keep our jobs.” He took the file and shook Finn’s hand, then Hayden’s. “I’ll get this back to you in a couple days.”
“Thanks, Greg. We’re looking forward to this new beginning,” Hayden said.
Greg left feeling good about the situation and trying to get Finn’s amber eyes, perfect teeth, and strong hands out of his head.
* * * * *
“That went well,” Hayden said as she gathered up the résumés and other paperwork from their day of interviews.
“Yes, it did.” Finn had good feelings about this group of people. He had good feelings about Greg too, but those were a little more complicated than the rest. Greg was good-looking, yes, but Finn knew lots of good-looking men. Clearly he was smart, experienced with the work, and he had some sense of humor, or why else wear that tie? He’d had a bit of bad luck lately but was dealing with it. None of those things made him stand out above many of Finn’s friends and acquaintances. At first glance, Finn was attracted to Greg in the usual way, wondering how he’d be in bed. Now that he’d spent a little time with the man, Finn had a peculiar urge to know more. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to get Greg into bed; on the contrary, Finn was excited by the thought of seeing the cool-mannered Greg warm up. No, he wanted more than that. There was something beneath that uptight exterior, a light shining from under a locked door that Finn very much wanted to open. He would have to find a key.
Hayden’s voice penetrated his thoughts. “And then my dining room table turned into a cat, bit me on the arm, and ran away.”
Finn shook his head, clearing cobwebs. “What? What did you say?”
Hayden gave him the look that meant he was an idiot. “I’ve been talking for five minutes, but you haven’t heard a thing, have you?”
He shrugged. “Sorry? I promise I’ll listen this time.”
“I was trying to tell you what I thought about some of the interviews. I suspect you were focusing on one particular interview though, weren’t you?”
“I might have been thinking about it.”
She huffed. “Finn. I don’t think he’s your type.”
“And what, exactly, do you think my type is?” He was offended that he might be that easily read.
“Out and proud, for one thing. Confident. Agreeable. Looking for a good time. Dressed for attention.”
Well, hearing it put so succinctly made him feel sort of shallow. Finn opened his mouth to argue, but he realized she’d hit close to the mark after all. “I’m sure he’s gay.” It was the only response he could come up with.
“I understand you have a seventh sense or whatever, and maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t want you to have one-nighters with employees, Finn. Especially if it’s just to prove a point.” Hayden shoved the stack of applications into her briefcase.
“I can’t believe you think I would do that.” Finn knew he had a history of noncommittal sex, but every encounter he had was mutually desired and agreed on. He’d never used sex to prove a point or abuse his authority. “Tell me you don’t think that.”
She stilled her hands and looked up at him. “No, I don’t. Not really. I’m a little stressed, I guess.”
“I can tell.”
The grim line of her mouth softened. “So, what are you thinking about this guy?”
“I’m thinking he’s a late bloomer, or maybe he’s plastered to the back wall of the closet.”
“And what? You want to drag him into the light?”
Finn thought about his own coming out. He’d been a lot younger than Greg, still in high school. It was accidental and embarrassing and made him a target for every bully in school. He’d survived those years because he had the love and support of his family. Without that, he would be a very different man today. If he even existed. “Everyone’s got reasons for their decisions. I’d like to know what his are. I’d like to get to know him. There is something different about Greg Capello.”
“This sounds more like Finn the puzzle solver than Finn the player.”
He squirmed under her stare.
“Finntan Sparks. Are you growing up?”