I arrived to the store early, opting to drive myself rather than riding with my dad. I didn’t want to be stuck there all day if I didn’t have to be.
If I was going to get started on this project with Maddox, I needed to formulate a plan. Success began with a solid project plan.
Looking around at what should have been a familiar space right now, I was a bit lost.
The store was a good size, for a small-town hardware. We carried the basic necessities for home improvement/home repair projects—paint, tools, nails and screws of all shapes and sizes—plus a few extra items. My parents bought the store right before I was born, so I knew it pretty well. I practically grew up here. Which was why I stood in the middle of the back room looking around like I’d never seen the place before.
The back room, where we kept some of the larger items and any excess inventory that couldn’t fit on the shelves, was all turned around.
Once upon a time I’d organized it alphabetically, started with Allen wrenches and ending with zip ties. I couldn’t even begin to figure out how the hell it was organized now. Sockets were first and then paint brushes. What backward logic was this?
I found the new shelving units easy enough. They were off in the corner, still in their boxes. Apparently we’d be replacing most of the shelving for the items on display. Should be easy enough. If Maddox let me run things, we would be done in no time.
I grabbed a box cutter and sliced through the tape holding the box shut. We needed to have the instruction manual, so I could start formulating a plan. That would give me a good estimate on how long it would take to assemble each unit, and from there we could calculate the amount of time it would take to disassemble the old units.
The bell chimed, telling me that someone had entered the front door. Since it was before opening time, I figured it must be Maddox. Time to meet him I guess.
“Good morning, Jim. How was your weekend?” The deep voice resonated through me.
I had a thing for deep voices. Not expecting it, it made me shudder. A slight tremor rolled through my body, starting at my neck and trailing down to my toes, stopping briefly at my groin so my dick paid close attention. I tried to pull myself together.
“Maddox!” The excitement in my dad’s voice gave me pause. What the heck was so great about this guy anyway? And why did I even care? “We had a nice weekend. Seth made it home last night.”
“Yeah, I actually saw him at the park.”
I stopped dead in my tracks, standing in the doorway of the back room, out of sight. Never mind the sexy voice—he saw me? Did he see me gawking at the skater boy? Shit. People in this town knowing I was gay was one thing; seeing me ogle another man was another. Christ, I could be driven out of here by the end of the day if word got around.
That was a slight exaggeration, but still, people wouldn’t like it.
“Did you introduce yourself?” Dad rummaged around under the counter for something, making it hard for me to hear. I stepped closer.
“Nah, I didn’t want to be a creeper.”
I wanted to die. Well, not literally, but I did want to run away. When did he see me? Where? Before or after I ogled the skater boy? I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.
Instead he and my dad went on and on about the new truck he’d bought and the fact that Maddox would still be staying at the house, even though I was there. Great. Would the embarrassment ever end?
I didn’t do well with people. Which was part of the reason why high school was so damn miserable. Sticking three hundred hormonal teenagers in one building for eight hours a day was a recipe for disaster. In college I could come and go as I pleased, and I wasn’t stuck being around the same people every single day.
I had roommates, but that was out of necessity. They were pretty cool guys, so it worked out all right, but if I could manage it, I would live alone. Too bad shelving books afterhours at the library didn’t pay the big bucks.
Maddox’s laughter brought me back to the present. Where I was an idiot stuck working with some guy who had probably caught me checking out another guy.
His laughter was just as sexy as his voice. Good God. Thoughts like that had gotten me shoved into lockers around here and worse.
I sighed and closed my eyes.
Just a week. I could do anything for just a week.
I practically sprinted back to the seclusion of the back room. Sooner or later I would have to face Maddox, but I preferred later.
The sound of footsteps reached my ears before I was ready.
“Might as well get started as soon as possible,” Maddox said.
Just as I stood and turned to meet him, he walked in to the room.
His hair was black today, but I recognized him immediately as the orange-haired skater boy.
Up close he was even more gorgeous. Slim build, wearing a pair of jeans that sagged low on his hips. Not like he wore them there on purpose; that just seemed to be where they sat. He wore a band T-shirt, someone I didn’t recognize, and a studded belt. A touch of punk, but not overwhelming. His eyes appeared black against his pale skin, but they had to be a dark brown.
His hair caught my eyes the most. The black was a drastic change from the bright orange. Today it lay flat, like it had been straightened, rather than spiked.
I couldn’t even style my hair. It had a mind of its own. I envied others whose hair looked cool, like Maddox’s. What kind of gay guy couldn’t style their hair? This gay guy.
“Seth, this is Maddox. Maddox, Seth.” My dad gestured between us, as if we couldn’t figure out who was who.
I nodded. I suppose the thing to say would be “nice to meet you” or something along those lines. But I wasn’t very suave. And I was still unsettled about the fact that he caught me being a creeper.
Perfect white teeth practically blinded me. Was there anything about him that wasn’t designed to make me weak in the knees? I had a thing for teeth. Yeah, I know it sounds weird.
After a moment of awkward staring, I turned away and gestured to the pile of new shelving that still remained in boxes.
“We better get started. I’ve already begun thinking about what our best course of action is. I think if we work from the back of the store forward, left to right, we’ll be able to get done quickly. I’ve managed to find the instructions— What are you doing?”
Maddox bent over the box, knife in hand, and started slicing it open. He cut a line through the cardboard, not even bothering to open it via the top of the box, where it was taped shut. That would have been the most logical thing to do. “Getting the pieces out.”
I looked to my dad for help, but he had walked away.
“But we haven’t laid out a plan. We don’t know where we are starting. I am not even sure if we have enough room back here to build. We aren’t ready to start opening up boxes and taking out pieces. I haven’t read the instruction manual yet. We don’t have a plan.”
Maddox shrugged one shoulder. “We’re building new shelving to replace the old. That’s the plan.”
I cringed. This is why teams never worked out for me. “That’s the objective. Our plan will give us a step-by-step process so we get it done quickly and efficiently.”
A half smile from Maddox had my heart doing jumping jacks. For fuck’s sake. Of all the times to get a crush, it had to be now? Apparently my dick didn’t get the memo that we didn’t like this guy.
I continued, “Research has shown that building projects get completed quicker if you follow the instruction manual.”
“Dude, it ain’t that serious. We’re building shelves, not launching a spaceship. Your dad said we could do this however we want, and I say we just jump in and get it done.” Despite his playful tone, I couldn’t get past the flawed logic in his plan
No. That wouldn’t work for me. “We should put together a plan, a task list, find out who would be best suited to do which tasks. We need to make a plan.” I talked in circles. Repeating myself and I knew it. He wasn’t going to listen. I put a hand on my hip and stared at him. Hard.
It wasn’t working.
Maddox laughed. He laughed at me. Great.
“How about you do it your way, and I’ll do it my way, and we’ll see who gets done faster.” He said it like it would be a fun challenge. I got the feeling he was teasing me, but I wasn’t sure if I should be on the defensive or not. Better safe than sorry, though.
Damn him for sparking the competitive fire in me. I huffed out a breath. “This isn’t a race.”
“It is now.” Maddox winked and my knees went weak. Did he even know how fucking hot he was? Of course he did. They always knew.
I turned away. I couldn’t stand to look at him any longer or I might say something stupid. At least he didn’t bring up the fact that I gawked at him yesterday. Maybe he would assume I didn’t recognize him.
We worked side by side, but totally separate for the next few hours. Never had a project felt like it took so long, and it was only day one. The minutes crept by, seeming more like hours. The tension thick enough to cut with a knife. I couldn’t ignore that Maddox was there. I saw every movement he made, heard him every time he spoke his thoughts aloud. Which was a lot. It was a constant stream of measurements not written down, and guessing which screw belonged where.
Would the rest of the week be like this? Of course it will, if I keep up the attitude and Maddox keeps being difficult.
My dad came in to check on us, see if we needed anything. He shot me a questioning look, probably because we were working in silence, ten feet apart. There might as well have been a wall between us. Maybe we could build that next.