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Many a Poor Boy

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Prologue

He’d been working at the bookstore for a couple of months now. He knew that his co-workers watched him and talked about him behind his back, but he ignored it all and focused on learning the new routine of creating displays, scheduling book signings and story times, customer service, and shelving and re-shelving. Lots and lots of shelving and re-shelving. An endless amount of it. He found the newness of it all refreshing and the fact that he didn’t know anybody even more so. He’d needed a new start, and this was it for him.

Of course, he knew that his new co-workers wondered what he’d done prior to this, as obviously he had had very little experience working in a bookstore. But he worked hard, never complained, and kept to himself, always declining the casual invitations to join them for a night out for dinner or drinks, or in any way socialize with his new co-workers. In fact, he did everything he could to actively discourage any kind of relationship and refused to make any new connection with anyone. He didn’t care about them, didn’t want to care about them, and that was the way he wanted to live the rest of his life. It was for the best.

But maybe because he kept to himself, that seemed to pique their curiosity. They seemed to want to know more about him. There were, of course, quite a few of them in their twenties or late teens, given that he was working in a bookstore. He barely even glanced at them, even if they tried to engage him in conversation. He stayed clear of the purple-haired barista in the Starbucks attached to the bookstore, who always seemed to want to flirt and chat and ‘get to know him better’. He was too old for them age-wise, plus he felt so much older than them anyway. After all that had happened to him, he no longer had the energy to try to even fake any kind of enthusiasm when they spoke to him, or even correct any of them should their pop culture references be wrong, something that used to be anathema to him. He certainly couldn’t muster any interest in them in any non-platonic manner, despite the hints some of them were not so subtly dropping. Maybe they had some kind of daddy kink. He didn’t know. Didn’t want to know.

There were those who were older, of course. But equally, he stayed away from the co-workers who were closer to his age – most of them married, or divorced, or a combination of the two, always wanting to know his own status. He wore no rings on his fingers and remained tight-lipped about practically everything about himself. He always volunteered to stay late or even overnight to do inventory or displays, something most people hated, and something he could do alone and without the company of others. So although he was never unfriendly, his co-workers could all see the non-tangible signboards he’d put up – stay away, not interested, and variations thereof. Unfortunately, instead of making them stay away, it intrigued them even further and they continued to try to engage him in ways that he wasn’t prepared to do, which frustrated him to no end. All he wanted to do was go to work every day, and do a good job, and forget about all the things that had led him to this point in his life. He didn’t want to strike up a conversation with someone and talk about his interests, or what he used to do before, or any of that. He wanted to just come to work, do the work, and go home, keeping to himself as much as possible.

Of course, it didn’t help that, despite everything that had happened, he remained a good looking man. Still tall, broad shouldered and slim hipped, his muscles still nicely toned. Age hadn’t softened his belly too much. Not that he was old per se. He just wasn’t in his thirties anymore. But he still kept his body in shape, and despite the fact that he no longer wore his expensive designer suits, his clothes were still of good quality and fit him beautifully, highlighting his toned ass. He still had standards for himself, whatever else. He pretended to be completely oblivious to it, but his supervisors tittered when they gave him the task of hauling boxes of books around as they did this to witness his biceps flexing and bulging as he completed his task. He just did as he was told with a minimum of words and fuss. It also didn’t help that his eyes were expressive green pools, and his facial bone structure classic. His brown hair he kept short but unfussy, usually somewhat messy. Sometimes they wondered if he even combed his hair that day, which somehow added to his allure for some reason. The women whispered about the kissable-ness of his full, shapely lips, the shape of his toned ass, and wondered how his honey gold skin would taste.

They noticed how he always brought a packed lunch, and it always seemed to be something homemade and healthy. Perhaps he had someone at home who made him his daily lunches? But their new co-worker never talked to them about that (or anything else). At lunch, he would sit in the employee lounge, head in a book, quietly eating his lunch. He never joined the other groups eating, never asked to sit with anyone. In fact, if there wasn’t an empty table, he would warm up his food and then eat it alone at the Starbucks attached to the store, sitting alone at a table, reading intently or if the weather was lovely he would sit outside in the parking lot, reading as he ate.

But when he spoke to the customers he was always charming and even slightly flirtatious. He showed an amazing ability to calm even the unhappiest of customers, and with his wide knowledge of books and movies, they always left having purchased more than what they had come into the store for. And once he had dealt with the customer, he reverted back to the quiet, unassuming man who never complained when he had to re-shelve the same books for the umpteenth time that day.

The first time he worked during a Saturday morning story time, after helping to set everything up, he melted into a dark corner and watched as Grace, their most popular story time reader read to a handful of pre-schoolers. His expression was, for a moment, unguarded, and the look of sorrow and loss almost broke the hearts of the few people who caught it. But he wiped it all away, his face assuming an expectant and slightly amused expression, as soon as realized what he was doing. And those who looked at him again, having seen the sorrow and loss believed that they had imagined what they had seen earlier. But they did speak about it amongst themselves, not that he ever paid any attention to the whispers behind his back.

All this made him even more mysterious and intriguing, and they wondered even more about the man. They tried to google him to find out more about him, but he did not even seem to have a facebook page or twitter or Instagram, or any other electronic footprint. One of the part timers working at the store was an IT major in grad school, and a budding hacker, and she and a friend actually found some information about a deleted facebook page and even dug out a few pictures, confirming that it was indeed, their quiet co-worker. But a minute after that happened, both their hard drives were wiped clean and reformatted. Apparently a worm had piggybacked a ride back to them and had systematically erased everything, reformatting their machines back to factory settings.

They whispered that he was perhaps in witness protection. But why would someone in witness protection not have a better background story? Or even a different name? The lack of electronic footprint in and of itself would have been suspicious. So, no, probably not witness protection. The budding hacker mentioned that the photos that she had seen (before her entire machine was wiped clean) had shown that their new co-worker had, at one time, been a ham and an outgoing person, who smiled and made funny faces in the few pictures that they’d managed to see. Nothing like the quiet, unsmiling man that they faced on a daily basis.

But they learned their lesson. No more trying to dig up dirt on their co-worker on their computers. Or they’d lose the contents of their hard drives. Someone was protecting the man’s privacy online, as fiercely as he was protecting himself in person. It wasn’t worth the risk to their computers to try something like this again.

Then one day, about a week before Christmas, a silver-haired man with sharp blue eyes and military bearing swept into the store with a small blonde woman in tow. The woman went to the Customer Service desk but the man stood and surveyed the store with eagle eyes. When the new co-worker emerged from behind a bookshelf, they spotted each other at about the same time.

The quiet man lit up with a smile that could only be described as brilliant. He smiled wide, exposing his perfect teeth. His cheeks creased into attractive dimples, his green eyes lighting up and twinkling happily, laugh lines crinkling his eyes, making him even more beautiful than they’d ever seen him. The blue-eyed man’s lips quirked into a grin and he strode up to the other and engulfed him in a bear hug, eyes closed, face buried in the man’s neck. The small blonde woman bounded over energetically and threw her arms around the man as well in an awkward group hug. The watchers tried not to begin whispering right away when they saw that both newcomers had badges and guns clipped to their belts.

For the first time since he started working there, the quiet man took an early lunch out with his companions and forwent his packed lunch. When they walked him back to work – not a minute late – the blond woman hugged him tightly and he leaned down and kissed her cheek. The silver-haired man pulled him into an embrace, kissing him squarely on his lips, and the watchers saw how their co-worker melted into the man and kissed him back hungrily, mouths open, slanting against each other. His eyes were closed, one hand fisting the silver hair, the other clutching the back of the other man’s shirt. But eventually, he pulled away, his face the picture of grief.

The watchers thought they saw the older man’s mouth form the word “Please”.

The green eyed man shook his head and smiled sadly, jerked his chin at them, and then turned away, walking back into the store without looking back. When his co-workers asked him about his visitors, he grunted noncommittally and just went about his day as usual, revealing nothing, discouraging any further questions.

The memory of the visitors gradually faded from the watchers’ memories, but nobody still knew anything about the quiet man other than he worked in a bookstore, he drank copious amounts of hazelnut coffee, he was very good with customers, he rode a bicycle to and from work regardless of the weather, and he was quiet and kept to himself.

Spring was almost upon them and the green eyed man had gone about, doing his work quietly and efficiently. He worked weekends and holidays without complaint, which made his co-workers very happy. But he never said much to them, and continued to eat his lunches with his nose buried in a book, ignoring the world around him as much as he could.