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Pride and Pretention

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Ray leaned his head back and called out “Patrick” in his lilting voice. Apparently, David would not be working with Ray on this after all. David continued to be slightly confused about this whole process. None of his previous business ventures had required this kind of bureaucratic nonsense, and he had a feeling that dealing with Ray would only make things more complicated.

Instead, a young man stepped out from the next room.

Slightly shorter than him, Patrick wore a cerulean button down, the top two buttons undone leaving his shirt open just low enough that David could presume a mostly-hairless chest. His sleeves were folded up, exposing his forearms, which looked strong and no-nonsense. Patrick’s haircut was cheap and uninspiring, his coppery-brown hair flicked up ever-so-slightly in the front and the sides trimmed close to his head, perhaps with a pair of clippers he owned himself. Patrick’s face seemed kind, his stubble growing in as the day went on from a presumably clean-shaven face this morning, and his eyes somewhere between earnest and playful.

David couldn’t imagine someone better-suited to business. Though even David had to admit to himself, that chest was tempting.

“B13,” Ray announced, as though they had enough visitors to merit not only numbers, but numbers and letters. David sincerely doubted even Ray’s many businesses had gone through A1 all the way through to B12 before he arrived today.

As Ray turned away to refocus on the increasingly awkward and overly-complicated engagement shoot, David offered his hand with the ticket. “Ah, this is for you,” he said as he offered it.

Patrick extended his hand, introducing himself, and David shook it as he said his name in response. It was a strong handshake, firm, and brief. Their eyes met, and David was so clearly the one who didn’t know what he was doing in this situation, his confidence failed him momentarily. Patrick, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what he was doing. This man was a practiced professional, and he seemed completely at ease with the situation. If David didn’t know any better, he would have sworn that Patrick had been working for Ray in this ghastly-decorated house for years.

“David Rose—you bought the General Store,” Patrick said, recognizing the name and raising a pointer finger in acknowledgment.

Okay, so maybe this man didn’t know everything. He had leased the General Store, hadn’t he? Patrick’s confidence made David question himself briefly, before he corrected the man. “Leased,” he said, his eyebrow and lip curling up in that snarl-like movement that was so much a part of how he expressed himself to the world. “Leased the general store,” David confirmed, his brow and mouth resetting as he subconsciously moved to worry the rings that always graced his fingers. Today, the platinum rings were spread across both his hands, rather than all on one.

Patrick’s eyebrows raised at the correction, a brief smirk crossing his lips as he nodded. “That’s a big deal,” he said, with a hint of… congratulation in his voice. Or was that teasing?

“Is it?” David asked, although to him it very much was a big deal. He just didn’t go bragging about that to strangers. Okay, well, he did, but only about things he was very sure of. And he really had no idea what he was doing here.

“Yeah, it’s pretty big.” Patrick reiterated his sense that this was a Big Deal, which only made David more concerned that he was going to completely fail at this, his very first all-on-his-own business venture. His mother had made that very clear.

“Yeah, you wanna have a seat?” Patrick continued, gesturing to the chair in front of the desk for David to sit in. He moved casually behind the desk with a confidence and ease that David was slightly jealous of.

David pursed his lips, sat down, and waited for this man’s very direct guidance on how to complete his incorporation papers.

Patrick retrieved the blank paperwork and clicked a blue ballpoint pen as he prepared to fill it out, the epitome of professionalism. “Okay, let’s start with the name of the business,” he said, inviting David to respond.

“Oh,” David said, gesturing with his hands as he explained, “I’m oscillating between two names at the moment, so if we could just leave that one blank, that would be great.” David closed his eyes and leaned his head back, as though he knew how that sounded.

“Sure, sure,” Patrick answered, smiling to himself as he glanced down at the papers. “Give you more time to…oscillate.”

Suddenly, instead of the professional businessman David had thought him to be, Patrick was something else. He was…teasing him? Flirting? No, not flirting. The man couldn’t look any straighter if he tried (though David had been proven wrong before). Was he quickly becoming the butt of this man’s jokes?

David’s mother was usually the one whose vocabulary was questionable and often laughable, but now David had himself doubting his word choice. No, no. He was oscillating. Rose Apothecary sounded good, but Rose Provisions was good too.

“Um, business address?” Patrick continued, moving down the page as he set aside for the moment the business’s name.

David was still thinking about the tone of Patrick’s voice as he critiqued his oscillation. The man was getting under his skin, and they had been interacting for less than a minute.

“Okay, so I’m working on that,” David explained, though the look in Patrick’s eyes said he already knew what was about to happen. Patrick’s mouth opened just slightly as he took in David’s words, his eyes dancing with mirth. “Um, I’m currently staying in a motel,” David continued, “and I think it might be confusing if I gave you the address to another business.”

Patrick’s face was doing something very odd, as though his own facial muscles didn’t know how to respond to David’s words. He nodded his head, the only thing he could do.

David wondered briefly if Patrick meant the address for the general store – or rather, whatever he was going to decide to name his store. But, like, the address for the business’s physical location. Or maybe he did mean David’s address, which would be the motel, and that wasn’t likely to change any time soon. Ugh. This was complicated, and the banter that had unexpectedly arisen between the two of them wasn’t making things any more straightforward.

“Yeah, for sure,” Patrick answered nonchalantly. “We’ll leave that blank as well.” Despite the tone of his words, David could see even without knowing this human very well that there was a sardonic lilt to his voice.

“Battin’ a thousand here, David,” Patrick commented, his voice now somewhere between joking and jibing.

What the hell did that mean? Was that some sort of sports metaphor? Ugh, this was the last thing David needed. He was already obtuse enough about business without introducing sports to the equation.

“I don’t know what that means,” David responded honestly, a grimace crossing his face as he ground his teeth.

Patrick let out a little laugh under his breath, smiling as he refocused on the paperwork in front of him. “Uh, hey, here’s an easy one. A brief description of the business.”

Easy, right. David launched into his complicated explanation of what he planned to do with the general store. “Um, well, it’s um, it’s a General Store, but it’s also a very specific store.” He mimed the precision he was going for with both hands, his face conveying the seriousness of his explanation.

“Huh,” Patrick exhaled, indicating his attention. There was still that ghost of a smile that reached his eyes as he listed to David’s explanation with rapt attention.

“And it’s also not just a store,” David continued, “it’s like a place where people can come and get coffee, um, or drinks,”—David noticed as he said this that Patrick was covering his mouth with his fingers as though to stifle a smile—“but it’s not a coffee shop, um, nor is it a bar.”

“Okay, so we’re pretty clear on what it’s not,” Patrick summarized, stroking his chin in an effort to keep a straight face.

“Yeah, it’s an environment,” David explained, gesticulating defensively as the expression on his face began to betray his insecurity. “And, yes, we will be selling things, but it’s more like,” he paused for a moment. “More like a branded immersive experience.”

There, that should be clear enough.

“Right, I love the buzzwords, David, but I do need to put something down here,” Patrick said, clearly not accepting this very comprehensive and articulate description David had just offered him.

David pursed his lips, tilting his head slightly in disbelief. “Mmkay, you couldn’t use anything I just said?”

God, that smile. Patrick was smirking at him again. Patrick thought he was a fool who didn’t know what he was doing.

“I’ll tell you what,” Patrick said, clicking the pen closed and gathering the still-blank paperwork. “Why don’t you take these home with you, and just fill them out when you have a, a clearer idea of what you want to do with your business.”

A CLEARER IDEA. A clearer idea. This man. This man thought he didn’t know what he wanted his business to be. Patrick clearly didn’t understand. And he was smirking again. He was smirking at David like a little know-it-all.

“Okay, um, I do have a clear idea,” David insisted. He did. He really did. He and Stevie had talked through this idea thoroughly, so much so that she had gotten legitimately annoyed at him and kicked him out of the office.

“Oh! You’ve settled on a name, then,” Patrick suggested sarcastically. The look on his face made David’s stomach flip.

“Um,” he replied, screwing up his face, “You’re either very impatient, or extremely sure of himself.”

“I threw you a bit of a change-up there, huh?” Patrick asked, interlacing his fingers and this time, giving David a smile wide enough to show all his teeth. He looked very pleased with himself.

“Yeah, again, I don’t know what that means, I don’t play cricket,” David insisted. If Patrick was going to continue to use what he assumed were sports analogies and metaphors, they were certainly not going to communicate well.

But through it all, Patrick continued to give him that bright smile, all the way up to his twinkling brown eyes. He reached down, pulled out a card, and offered it to David. “Look, take this, it’s my card, and I feel like you will… need it.”

David’s jaw dropped open at the confidence of this man. Extremely sure of himself, then.

“Uh, you know what, I think I’m good,” David protested, trying to match Patrick’s self-assuredness. He turned to leave. “Um, so thank you, for this,” he said, leaving with his still-empty paperwork.

“It’s nice to meet you, David,” Patrick said from his desk area as he watched Patrick walk away.

“Yeah,” David answered, not sure if it was.

~

David looked at the multi-colored wood floor strewed with crumpled paper, covered in dust, and scratched all to hell, not sure what he had gotten himself into. He moved the lone chair from its current place. That wasn’t right. He moved it again. Still not right. A third time, now in front of the pillar in the middle of the open room.

Tears in his eyes, David sat. He did know what he was doing, right? He could do this. He wasn’t a failure. Patrick hadn’t actually called his business a failure, and Stevie didn’t think he was a failure, and just because his mom and dad had previously supported his businesses so he wouldn’t be a failure did mean he was going to fail at this.

David looked around. He could not do this. Not alone anyway. Pulling Patrick’s business card out of his pocket, he considered it for a moment before also taking out his phone. With the decision made, David decided he just had to be more confident about this whole thing and ask for the help he needed while also asserting that he definitely knew what he was doing.

The phone rang a few times, and David tapped the cleanly-designed business card on his leg while he decided what he was going to say. When the voicemail beeped instead, he was completely taken off-guard. “Hi David, it’s Patrick,” he greeting, before pulling the phone away from his face, cursing under his breath, and wishing he could disappear into a black hole.

“I, um, was just calling to run my business plan, uh, by you in a little more detail.” That was fine, this was all fine. He had a business plan. He could prove to Patrick that he had a clear, sensible, totally adequate business plan. “So… feel free to give me a call back, and I will be happy to walk you through it. Okay, ciao.”

CIAO? Ciao. “Ciao. I said ‘ciao’ to that person.” He said “ciao” to that person. Good god, what was wrong with him?

David sat there, going over what he had just done in his head. He could fix this. Another voicemail, he could make this all better. He hit the number again, and again it rang a few times before directing him to leave a message.

“Hi, Patrick,” he said, enunciating the man’s name pointedly. “Yeah, I think I—I think I called you David,” he said as he laughed, like he didn’t know exactly how embarrassing he was being right now. “Which, that’s not—that’s not your name. You can just delete that text, the me—the voicemail that I left you.” OH MY GOD what was wrong with him? This was a special type of idiocy that he usually only exhibited when he was on certain kinds of drugs. “Um, just thought it might be a good idea to give you some background information about… the—the store. It’s basically a General Store. Um, that will support local artists under the brand of the store, which—which would also be my brand—oh.”

His phone dinged. David pulled the phone away from his face to look at the notification.

“Sorry, I just got a text,” he said to the voicemail, before realizing that it had disconnected him.

David let out a groan. This was not going well at all. Here he was trying to be assertive and confident and he was royally screwing it up. And Patrick was probably laughing at him. Definitely laughing at him.

He looked at the business card, contemplating how the hell to get out of this one.

Oh well, he was already in too deep. He called Patrick’s phone again, this time not even offering a greeting. “Yeah, the text cut us off.” He took a deep breath, then continued, “So as I was saying, I’ll develop relationships with local artists and artisans to curate a selection of products that I’ll sell on consignment in the store under the umbrella of my brand, which will be a low stakes, low cost way to serve both the store and the artists. That way, I don’t have to sink money into inventory, and local artisans can get exposure and profit. Okay, so hopefully that makes sense.” David hung up without saying goodbye.

Fuck. He hadn’t told him what kinds of products they would carry. He called again.

“Oh, and so we’ll have skincare, cosmetics, food, drink, crafts, home goods, décor, clothing, all sorts of things, so it really is like a—like a General Store. But everything will be branded under Rose Apothecary. Oh, right, so I decided on Rose Apothecary. I thought it sounded more on-brand than Rose Provisions. Anyway, everything would have the artist’s information but would be sold as a Rose Apothecary product. And I have a few clients lined up already. So there.” He hung up.

God, he was really starting to sound defensive. Like, really defensive.

David took a breath. The phone rang again. “And I’ll be more than just a sales location. Rose Apothecary could host weekly and monthly events to develop relationships between featured artists and the local community. We could hold classes or craft nights. Once I save up enough to buy an espresso machine, I want to work on some barista skills and offer an elevated coffee and tea experience, so people don’t see it so much as a transactional space but a social environment. And because the store isn’t tied to a regular stock or inventory, there’s flexibility to change things up, feature more or less items from clients, and cater to what seems to interest the locals most.”

David hung up. Why did he keep calling? What drove him to continue to embarrass himself in front of this man?

He couldn’t stop himself. He called again.

“Just a couple final things, Patrick. The ambiance will be very clean and open, with a sand and stone color palette. Some greenery, and black accents. No clutter, no metro shelves. Well, except maybe in the stock room. Very modern and sleek and me.” Why he added that last part he had no idea. Patrick probably thought his style was “funky” just like everyone else.

“Anyway,” David continued, “That’s all. Just wanted to make sure you knew that I do have a very clear idea what I want to do with my business. So I guess I’ll fill out that paperwork now. You probably haven’t listened to these anyway.” He hung up the phone, putting the card back in his pocket. He probably had the number memorized by now.

David went over to the counter, one of several large pieces of wooden furniture that the previous owners had left. It was stunningly charming and would fit his aesthetic just fine. The paperwork lay there on the wood countertop, just waiting to be filled in. He pulled out his pen, now confident he could do this, without any assistance from Patrick.

On the first line, he misspelled his own name. Fuck.

~

Patrick was leaned over a round table, writing something and not paying attention to anything else. David tiptoed in, taking a quick look at Patrick’s ass as he did so. The man was wearing dad jeans, for God’s sake, with a belt that did not match his shoes. It was all very incorrect, yet David couldn’t stop himself from appreciating the view.

When he got close enough that the tiptoeing no longer worked with his very expensive and bulky shoes, David gave up and whispered, “Hi.”

Patrick turned around, a little shocked at David’s presence.

David continued, holding his scratched out paperwork up as evidence. “Um, so I messed up my form.” He winced and continued, “And I’m going to need another form from you,” he said slowly, the vulnerability seeping into his voice as he admitted what he had done.

Patrick listened as he made his request, looking something between patient and amused. He had his thumbs hooked into his jean pockets, mouth closed and trying not to smirk. “Oh,” he agreed, “Okay.” Patrick took the form from David, glanced at it, and smiled at the attempt David had made to fill it out.

David twiddled his fingers as Patrick looked on at his obvious failure. Now Patrick was smirking. David wanted to look anywhere but at him. He couldn’t believe he had left all those voicemails.

Patrick smiled knowingly at him, prompting David to ask, “What?” as he shook his head, wondering about the joke he clearly wasn’t in on.

“Nothing. I’m just… I’m so glad you made such good use of my business card.” David’s jaw dropped. Wow. Patrick was really calling him out on that. David looked quizzically at Patrick as the shorter man moved around him towards his desk. David did not know how to respond to that. Patrick was clearly making fun of him. “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up; I was at a thing.”

“Well, best you didn’t,” David decided on. When in doubt, self-deprecation was always a way to go.

“But, I uh, got all your messages,” Patrick confirmed as he picked up a maroon file folder and turned back toward David.

David winced. “Ah, um, and just listened to the first one, and then erased the rest?” he asked hopefully as he gesticulated accordingly.

“No, no, no, no…” Patrick said as David’s query finished.

“No?” David asked in horror.

“No, I listened to all of them. I kinda had to, to piece them together.” Patrick said all this with total seriousness.

David’s jaw was permanently agape as his eyebrows continued to rise higher.

“Actually, I played them for a few friends of mine, I was at a birthday party, so there were a lot of people weighing in,” Patrick admitted.

“Okay, um,” David started, shaking his head. He didn’t know the man well enough to tell whether Patrick was joking, or if he had actually become the laughingstock at a party of strangers. Then again, he was sure it wouldn’t be the first time.

“Just kidding,” Patrick said, crossing his arms. “I didn’t play them for anybody.”

From behind him, Ray chimed in to the contrary. “I thought the first few were very humorous, David, and then I lost interest.” David turned to look at Ray, sure that he was in a nightmare.

When David turned back, Patrick winced and admitted, “I may have played them here on speakerphone.”

“Okay,” David said, ready to flee. “Can I just get the paperwork, and then I can—”

Patrick interrupted him. “You know, the good thing about the messages was that I was able to get enough information to fill out your forms,” he said, handing the file of completed paperwork to David.

David took the folder in surprise. “Oh,” he said, looking down at it. Looking anywhere but Patrick. “I wish I could remember.” He had blocked out a lot of that time from embarrassment.

“It’s a good idea, your business,” Patrick said. Wait, an actual compliment? “Rebranding local products and crafts, it’s very inventive.” The look in Patrick’s eyes was complimentary and maybe something else? Probably not. It was probably in David’s head.

“Thanks,” David accepted the compliment, very out of sorts.

“And I like the name,” Patrick continued. “Rose Apothecary, you know, it’s just pretentious enough.”

Just pretentious enough. Just pretentious enough. This man.

David closed his eyes and pursed his lips again. “Would we call that pretentious, or… timeless?” he asked, sass entering his tone again. He really liked the name, and he’d be damned if Patrick, whose taste could clearly not be trusted, tried to take that from him.

Patrick smiled and gave a small nod of agreement.

“So I’ll call you when I hear something,” Patrick said, a clear dismissal. “And hey, if I don’t get ahold of you, I’ll just, uh, leave a message.” The deadpan tone of his voice with the look on Patrick’s face made him want to scream.

David screwed his face up in that way that suited so many of his expressions. “Okay, thanks,” he ground out, trying to not flush with embarrassment.

When Ray re-entered the room and said “Ciao,” though, David couldn’t exit quickly enough. He had nothing to say and no way to make this whole horrible situation better. He could only leave and hope Patrick and Ray both had spontaneous bouts of amnesia. Maybe he would find one of his mother’s pills to induce the same so the next time he had to look at Patrick, he could do it with a straight face.