Keagan wandered somewhat aimlessly across the campus. He was in too much of an emotional hurricane to pay attention to where he was going. He was angry, disillusioned, confused, worried, and more than just a little frightened. He had been so excited to learn of his scholarship to Tulane. His acquaintances in high school and at the Baptist children's home had wondered about his decision to attend a school all the way across the state for a degree in architecture when there was a better program at Louisiana Tech, and it was only an hour away from the group home he had lived in ever since his grandmother's stroke.
Of course, Keagan had never told any of them that he planned to switch his major once he was enrolled in the school. Keagan dreamed of writing. The architectural plans, pun intended, were there as a backup plan in case his writing was no good. Tulane had the best creative writing program in the state, plus it was in New Orleans. He was sure he could fit in somehow, somewhere, in a town like New Orleans. He never had anywhere else.
Keagan had no idea how long or how far he had been walking. All he could remember was the slightly less than friendly tone of the woman at the housing office of the school who had told him that even if they hadn't overfilled the dorm, he still wouldn't be allowed to live in one until he was of legal age. It didn't matter that he had graduated at 17, or that the children's home refused to keep him beyond two months after his high school graduation. She also didn't seem to care that he had started school in Mississippi where they started children in first grade at five, not six. Keagan had even pointed out that he would be 18 on Thanksgiving Day which was before the end of his first semester. Her rules were her rules and they would not be broken or even bent for anyone.
To make matters worse, because he couldn't live in the dorm that changed his school expenses. This meant his financial aid award had to be reevaluated by the school. Now he wasn't sure that he would be able to attend school even if he could find a way to stay in town. He needed a place to live and a job, and he needed them both as soon as possible. He was just beginning to consider sleeping on a park bench when he noticed a fantastic aroma in the air around him.
The rumbling of his stomach reminded him of the other immediate need he had. He had not eaten since before he had left Monroe that morning at 5 am, and thanks to the mess at the school, he had missed lunch as well. It was the middle of the afternoon now. It didn't help that he was standing outside a pastry shop. The very air was starving him, as it was rich the smells of chicory coffee, fresh bread, and pastries.
As if on autopilot, Keagan entered the shop and stood at the counter. He was looking from the menu board to the money in his hand that he had been given as graduation presents, so he didn't notice the man on the other side of the counter at first. He suddenly became aware however when his stomach growled again, and the man laughed softly.
"Sounds like you got here just in time," the man said with a smile.
Keagan blushed and looked back at the money in his hand. He was mentally trying to calculate how much he would need to pay for a hotel room for the night. Unfortunately, he had never paid for a hotel, so he had no information on which to base his figures.
"I'll have one donut and a cup… No, just the donut," Keagan finally told the baker. He paid the man, then picked up his suitcase and the bag with his books, and then walked over to a table in the corner. Rethinking, he walked back to the counter and asked for a phone book.
"If the call isn't going to take too long, you can use my phone here at the counter," the baker told him.
"Oh, thank you, but I may have to make several calls," Keagan declined politely.
"Several?" the man questioned. "Look, if you need a mechanic, I know one just over on…"
"Oh, no sir, I don't have a car," Keagan responded as he started writing down numbers for hotels. "I have to try to find a place to stay and a job to help pay for my college classes." He then picked up the complimentary paper and pulled out the classified ads. He was scanning the want ads as he walked back to his table. He didn't see the man as he walked closer, but he did notice when his chair was bumped.
"Oh, sorry about that," the baker told him. "I was just standing this help wanted sign up in the window. It keeps falling down." Keagan scooted his chair over a bit to give the man room, and missed the baker rolling his eyes. "I'm looking for someone to work the counter, so I can get more work done in the kitchen."
Keagan's head popped up and his eyes practically glowed when he heard the word kitchen. "You're hiring?" he asked excitedly. "Would the job just be at the counter? I mean would I... I mean the person you hire ever get to work in the kitchen too?"
"Well that will depend on their skills and experience, but I would think sometimes they would need to help at least a little bit," the baker answered.
"Oh cool," Keagan whispered in awe. "I love baking. My group moms were always asking me to help with desserts for dinner."
"Oh," Keagan blushed a bit and explained. "I got put into the children's home when I was ten, after my grandmother had a stroke. She had been raising me since my parents died when I was three."
"I'm very sorry to hear that," the baker said sincerely. "You said you helped cook for groups before?" he asked with interest.
"Well, just the guys in my cottage. That's what they call the individual group homes," Keagan answered. "There was only 20 of us in my home, plus the two sets of group parents."
"You cooked for 24 people?" the baker asked and watched as Keagan nodded. "Every night?" he questioned.
"Oh no, they wouldn't let me trade chores every night, so I only got to do it usually four times a week," Keagan told him. "See we were supposed to take turns doing all the chores, but I would trade jobs with the other guys, so I could do more kitchen and laundry duty."
"So, you cooked for 20 boys, plus four adults, four nights a week?"
"Yeah, but it's not like it was a lot of people," Keagan protested. "Not like when we would have fundraiser bake sales and I got asked to go around to all the boys' houses and help the other group moms. Some of them really weren't good at baking. I wasn't allowed to cook in other houses, so I just told them what to do and watched over them to make sure they didn't mess it up. I helped with some of the girls' houses too until I got turned in to the regent's office. One of the girls complained about me being in their house and being a boy. She was just mad because I turned her in for stealing. She was using store brand flour and oats, so she could pocket the extra money. You can't skimp on the ingredients if you want a good cookie."
"Do you realize that you just described management experience?" the baker asked him.
"I never thought of it that way," Keagan admitted. "I just thought it was like normal kids helping out in a real home."
The baker made an obvious show of leaning in to look closely at Keagan's face and head. "Hmm… two eyes, two ears, two lips…" His voice trailed off there, but it was covered by Keagan giggling softly.
"I just meant that it was like kids from regular families," he said with a small smile.
"I know that," the baker returned. "I was just making sure that you know that you are as normal as anyone else in the world."
"Well, maybe," Keagan said quietly with a tone that clearly showed he wasn't convinced.
"So, why don't you go get settled into your dorm, and then come back in... say an hour and a half," the baker suggested, after introducing himself as Chay, pronounced Shay, but spelled Chay, and taking his help wanted sign back out of the window.
"I don't have a dorm to settle into," Keagan said, failing to keep the bitterness out of his voice. Before he realized he was doing it, Keagan had laid out his entire disastrous first day of college life. He hoped that Chay didn't notice the fear in his tone or the shake of his hands as he talked about his thought of sleeping on a bench for the night.
"You will do no such foolish thing," Chay said firmly. "You will be staying in your room here on the fourth floor."
"My room… fourth floor…."
"Oh, did I forget to mention that the job comes with a room?" Chay asked.
Keagan leaped out of his chair to practically wrap himself around the baker. "Thank you so much," he gushed. While he held the embrace, his senses took in the man in his arms. The smell of pastry, but something more, something very masculine and very exciting to Keagan filled his nose. His skin broke out in goosebumps as he felt Chay wrap his arms around Keagan's shoulders and then begin to massage his neck and upper back gently. Another part of his body started responding to the contact as well. Keagan quickly broke away from Chay and spun around to pick up his suitcase and hold it in front of himself. When he looked back up, Chay was behind the counter untying his apron, and grabbing a closed sign which he put in the window of the door to the shop. He locked the door and motioned for Keagan to follow him.
"The room will need some cleaning because it hasn't been used in a long time," Chay said apologetically as he led Keagan through the kitchen.
"I don't mind," Keagan assured him. "My classes don't actually start until Monday, so I have some time to kill. Even then, they are all afternoon classes, so I will be able to work every day if you want me to. I can't wait to get to work under you, learning everything you want to teach me."
"Awfully hot today," Chay said as he grabbed a wet cloth from the sink and wiped at the back of his neck. He pointed out the doorway that led to the alley behind the store, and directly across from it a flight of stairs going up. At the top of those stairs was the living room of the owner's quarters, and the private kitchen. Up another flight, Chay showed Keagan the bathroom and the door to his own bedroom. "Further up and further in," he announced as they started up one more flight of stairs.
"That's from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia," Keagan grinned. "I love those books. One of my first group moms used to read them to us at night just before bedtime. It was about the only nice thing the woman did."
"This will be your room here," Chay told him as he opened a door. "I'm sorry but there isn't a window up here. There were some in here and in the storage room right next to your room, here," Chay added, indicating another door. "Both of them got sealed up a long time ago and turned into shelves."
"That's great, I can put my textbooks on them when I'm not using them," Keagan said with a smile as he looked around the empty room as if he were viewing a grand mansion. "I can't believe I get a room this big all to myself," he whispered.
"Well it won't seem so big once we go down the street later and get you some furniture," Chay warned him.
"I don't…" Keagan stammered nervously. "I mean I wasn't expecting…"
"I will pay for the furniture, and you can pay me back a little each week, if that is ok with you," Chay told him. He suddenly found himself with an armload of boy again as Keagan wrapped arms and legs around him hugging him tightly.
"You're the best boss I've ever had," Keagan gushed.
"How many bosses have you had?" Chay questioned, both curious to learn more about Keagan and to tease him a bit as well, knowing that at seventeen he couldn't have had too many paying jobs.
"Counting you?" Keagan returned. "One, but that automatically makes you the best one," he added with an impish grin.
"I can see already that having you around is going to do wonders for my ego," Chay smiled. "You get started cleaning up here, and I will get back down to the shop. I'm not supposed to close for another hour and a half. Cleaning stuff for up here will be in the kitchen or the bathroom."
When the time was up, and he came back upstairs and was amazed to see that the living room had been dusted and vacuumed, the dishes in the kitchen had all been put away, and the dirty ones were soaking. On the next floor up, the bathroom floor had been swept and mopped and the sink counter was cleaned and sparkling just like the kitchen counters had been. As he walked up the last flight of stairs he could hear Keagan singing "Dancing Queen" by ABBA. When he looked into Keagan's room he saw the teen dancing and singing as he mopped the floor. The boy was shirtless; in fact, the only thing he seemed to be wearing at all was a rather tight pair of very small athletic style shorts.
Keagan whirled around when he heard a moan. "Hi," he said as he blushed again. "I'm sorry. I got really hot cleaning up here…."
"You don't have to apologize," Chay assured him. "You look… I mean you made the apartment look great. You didn't have to do the whole place, though."
"It's the least I could do," Keagan insisted. "I thought I would have to sell stuff on the street corners to find a place to live. Not that I have anything anyone would pay for, though."
"You will not work the street corners, and you will not sleep on park benches," Chay said firmly. "You seem like a really nice kid, even if I do think I should card you to make sure you really are seventeen."
"I am I swear," Keagan vowed. "But you can't card me. All I have is my new college ID card. Hey, having that people would believe that I am eighteen already," the boy grinned impishly.
"No, they wouldn't, Keagan," Chay burst his bubble. "You barely look fifteen, so trying to claim eighteen would never work."
"You're probably right," Keagan agreed. "My grandma told me once that my grandpa had been part Native American. Did I get gorgeous black hair? No. Did I get chiseled features like the guy that used to do trash commercials? No. I may never have hair on my face. I could live with that I guess, but it would have been nice to not be the very last kid my age to get hair around my……ummm…. Never mind…. Shutting up now."
Chay cleared his throat as Keagan blushed intensely. "I came to see if you were ready to go find some furniture for your room?"
"Oh yes," Keagan agreed enthusiastically. "I can't wait for tonight. It will be my first time."
"Your… what did you say?" Chay sputtered.
"My first time," Keagan explained. "My first night on my own, my first night in New Orleans, first night in my own room all by myself," he rattled off dreamily. "No more snoring from Blake in the next bed, no more squeaking springs from Jake on the other side." Once again, Keagan blushed and stared at the floor. "I'm sorry; sometimes I talk way too much."
"You should stop saying you're sorry all the time," Chay told him. "You haven't done anything wrong, yet, and I promise I will tell you if you do. Besides, if you hadn't talked to me, you wouldn't have the Executive Assistant Chef position at the best pastry shop in the city, or this bright, airy, and spacious penthouse room."
"There you go again," Chay scolded lightly.
"I'm… umm... well…." Keagan stammered and blushed a little more. "I really do love the room and I promise I will do everything you say boss man, sir. I will be the best employee you have. How many employees do you have?"
"Counting you?" Chay asked. "One, but that automatically makes you the best one," he added with a mischievous wink. Surprisingly, Keagan blushed more at that small bit of praise than he had at anything else that day. "Shall we go?"
"Yes, but I'd better put clothes back on," Keagan answered. He walked over and bent at the waist to pick up his shirt and pants.
"I… umm… I will wait for you downstairs," Chay said as he turned quickly to leave the room.
"Oh, it won't take me but a minute," Keagan told him. He hurried to put his shirt on and then slid his pants up. He was sliding the zipper up and buttoning his jeans as he walked down the stairs. Chay was walking out of his own room just at that moment. "You should get more exercise," Keagan said with a small frown. "You moan and groan a lot."
"I… I overwork a lot, I guess," Chay answered.
"Well then it's a good thing you have me to use now," Keagan told him with a happy smile. "You can make me do all the physical stuff and you can just sit back and relax."
"We had better get going so we can get you something to sleep in tonight," Chay said.
"I usually just sleep in my gym shorts…. Oh, you meant the bed." Keagan's face flamed up once again. "Well at least you know my blond hair is natural," he added with an embarrassed giggle.
"Come on, Big Mouth," Chay teased. "You didn't say you had a driver's license, so I will assume you don't drive. We will have to fix that at some point though, so you can make deliveries."
"You want to teach me how to drive?" Keagan squealed excitedly.
"How else would you be able to use the official company car?" Chay asked as he opened the door to the alley and pointed at an old van painted purple, green, and gold. "It's a bit cliché, but it is very classy. At least it was in 1960."
"I've never seen anything like it," Keagan announced.
"Is that a polite way of saying it is ugly?" Chay asked with a smile.
"Oh no," Keagan assured him quickly. "I think it's great. That is the International logo," Keagan pointed at the grill in confusion. "I thought all they made were tractors."
"Yes, International used to make trucks and vans. You may not think it is so great when I tell you that you have to ride on the floor of the van though. It only has the one seat for the driver."
"Oh, I don't mind that," Keagan told him. He crawled in on his hands and knees and then lay down on his stomach with his knees bent so that his feet were hanging over his butt. He rested his chin on his hands and grinned at Chay.
"You look comfortable," Chay laughed. "Don't you want to see where you are going?"
"Nope," Keagan replied. "You're the boss. Take me anywhere you want." His smile faded as he looked into Chay' face with concern. "You're groaning again. We don't have to do this right now if you don't feel up to it."
"I'm ok, really," Chay assured him. "Let's go get you into a bed. I mean let's go pick out a bed for you."
"Ok then," Keagan said as he rolled onto his side in a pose exactly like the jeans advertisement with Brooke Shields. "To the furniture store, driver," he quipped with a wave of dismissal.
"Yes sir, Mr. Keagan, sir," Chay answered with a laugh and a goofy salute. "And once around the park."
Keagan responded with a giggle not too unlike a small child's. "You're so fun to be around," he told Chay as they started down the street. "I don't know how to thank you enough. When I walked in your door this afternoon, I thought this was the worst day of my life. You've made it the best day instead."
"Well, Chipper, you have brightened up my day pretty well, too."
"Chipper?" Keagan questioned.
"Sorry," Chay apologized. "I didn't mean anything by that. It's just that you seem so happy and cheerful now, so chipper."
"I like it," Keagan assured the man. "It's just that it is a lot like the nickname my grandmother used to call me, when I was little."
"Oh?" Chay questioned. "What did she call you?"
"Chippendale," Keagan whispered with a blush. When Chay prompted him, he repeated it a little louder with an ever-redder face.
"Oh, like the Disney chipmunks," Chay grinned.
"No…umm…. It was from something else," Keagan admitted turning redder still.
Chay looked down at Keagan's glowing face and mused, "I suspect there is a story here."
"Well, when I was a little kid, like really little, apparently I kinda sorta didn't like to wear clothes very much," Keagan confessed shyly. "Grandma said I was a little stripper."
"Your grandmother named you after the exotic male dancers?" He looked down at Keagan, and noticed his lip quiver a little bit and attributed that to the boy's embarrassment. "Hey, brighten back up, Chipper. Almost everyone has terrible names from their family. I once knew a boy whose nickname was cardboard."
"Why would anyone call their kid cardboard?" Keagan questioned.
"Well, his given name was Cyril…"
"YUCK!" Keagan commented.
"It gets worse," Chay told him. "The family name was Boxx."
"I don't get it," Keagan said slowly.
"Cyril Boxx," Chay explained.
"Oh my god," Keagan laughed so hard he was rolling around on the floor of the van. "That's terrible." He suddenly stopped laughing and looked up at Chay accusingly. "Did you make that up?"
"I swear it's the truth," Chay vowed. Just then the van stopped. "We're here. Everything here is second hand, but Miss Dixie has good stuff cheap. And I can't wait to hear her when she meets you. I bet she'll hug you at least six times before you leave the store."
"AAAAAIIIEEEEE!!!! If it ain't de sweetest man in Nawlins. You come right over here and give me some loving, Sugarman!" Keagan looked over to the counter of the store and saw the biggest, oldest, and darkest woman he had ever seen in his life. "Did you brought me some beignet, Sugarman?"
"I forgot them today, Miss Dixie," Chay told her as he seemed to be engulfed by the woman's arms. "I brought you something else instead, actually someone."
"Well, don't worry about them beignet, sweetie," Miss Dixie told him. "That fool doctor done told me no more anyways. Who you brought to meet me?"
"My name is Keagan, Miss Dixie, ma'am," Keagan introduced himself politely.
"Oh, Lawdy child, you prettier than a whole plate of beignet any day," the old woman gushed. "You come right on over here and get some loving." He stepped closer and was suddenly crushed in a surprisingly strong bear hug by the old woman. When she let him go, there were tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry, baby. I musta done squeezed you too hard. You such a little thing. Sugarman, you got to fatten this boy up. A strong wind and he be blowing clear to Texas."
"Oh no ma'am, you didn't hurt me," Keagan assured her as he wiped his eyes. "I just keep getting reminded of my grandmother today. She was the last person to hug me like that."
"Your granny passed on, baby?"
"Yes, ma'am," Keagan nodded. "On my thirteenth birthday. Two of my group home parents snuck me out of the house to go to the funeral."
"Now why you got to go sneaking out you own house to go to your granny's funeral?" Miss Dixie asked.
"The director of the children's home said that they couldn't afford to take every child to every funeral in their family, so he said I couldn't go, even though Grandma was the only family I had," Keagan explained. "One set of my group parents snuck me out and took me in their car. I felt really bad after because they got fired for doing it."
"Ain't no baby ought to ever go through all that," Miss Dixie whispered as she wiped tears from her own face. Keagan suddenly found he was unable to breathe as the old woman grabbed his face kissing his forehead three times, then once on each cheek as well and then hugged him even tighter. "You gots family now, little one. You don't call me Miss Dixie ever again, you hear? I'm Aunt Dixie to you, little sunshine."
Chay seeing Keagan's eyes wide like a deer in headlights, peeking at him from between the old woman's enormous breasts, choked back a laugh and instead said, "Keagan here needs some bedroom furniture, Miss Dixie. He is going to be living in my spare room and working at the bakery with me while he goes to school."
"Won't that be nice? Now with two of you sugar babies down there, maybe you won't forget to bring your old Aunt Dixie beignet now and then," the old woman laughed. "Sunshine, you just go right on back there and pick out what you want."
"Miss Dixie, I thought your doctor said you couldn't have any more beignet," Chay pointed out.
"Hush you mouth, I eat what I wanna eat," She scolded him. "What's that little scrap of a doctor know about staying alive anyways? He ain't been alive as long as some of my grandbabies." She turned and looked to see Keagan gazing at some almost institutional looking furniture near the front of the store. "I got a real nice bed and chifferobe at the back of the store in that corner over there. I think you like that. There is a lady's make up dresser there too, but I don't expect you got a use for that, and the mirror is broke anyways."
"Oh, yes ma'am," Keagan corrected. "I might be able to use it as a desk."
"Keagan is a college student," Chay pointed out.
"Good looking and smart, too," Aunt Dixie announced. "I best be selling you dat old pirogue paddle, back there to beat off all the girls what's going to be chasing you, sunshine."
"They won't catch me if they do," Keagan mumbled. "OOOOO! Is this the set you were talking about, Miss…. I mean Aunt Dixie?" He called out from the very back of the store.
"Dat's it, baby," the old woman answered. She turned to Chay and said, "Dat boy so precious you could just eat him up." She didn't hear the man's mumbled response.
"It's perfect, Aunt Dixie," Keagan gushed as he came running back up to her. "It's just like the set my grandmother used to have in her room, except she had a chest of drawers and a little bed that all matched. I slept on the little bed until they put me in the children's home and grandma went into the nursing home." He suddenly got really nervous and shy. "How much is it?"
"It doesn't matter how much it is," Chay told him. "Just make sure it will fit in your room."
"Oh," Keagan said as his face fell. "I didn't think of that. That bed is pretty big."
"Let's go back and look at it," Chay smiled, as he grabbed a tape measure from the counter in front of Aunt Dixie. "I'm sure we can find some way to make it work." Moments later he was calling out, "Miss Dixie, this set looks just like the one that you sold me the twin bed and the chest of drawers from a few years ago."
"Does it really?" the old woman answered with a look that just screamed faked innocence.
"It is the same set, isn't it?" Chay countered. "You told me I should buy the whole set back then. I remember it clearly."
"I told you one of these days you would want the rest of that set," Aunt Dixie said with a mischievous twinkle. "People never want to listen to crazy, old Aunt Dixie, but Aunt Dixie knows, baby." She sat up a little straighter and looked Chay directly in the eye from the front of the store. "Aunt Dixie knows."
"What you said was that one day I would want a bed big enough for two," Chay corrected, then suddenly cleared his throat and looked back at the furniture very closely. "Yes, we can get this set. We can put this bed in my room and Keagan can have the twin bed that I have been using." He looked back up toward the front of the store and said softly, "I have the strange feeling I have been set up somehow."
"Love don't always show up when we want it to," Aunt Dixie told them both. "It shows up in its own time, usually when we need it but ain't looking for it. Sometimes it don't look like most people expect it to, either. You 'member that, both of you sugar dumplings."``
"How much do we owe you, Miss Dixie?" Chay asked once they had the furniture loaded into the van.
"Chay is going to pay you, but I will pay him back a little out of my paychecks each week," Keagan told her with a big smile aimed at Chay. "He's taking such good care of me it's like we're family instead of boss and employee."
"Family don't always come from being born into it," the old woman told him. "Give Aunt Dixie some more loving from my baby sunshine and then you boys scoot on home."
"Miss Dixie, you still haven't told me how much to pay you," Chay pointed out as she bear-hugged him.
The old woman looked from Chay to Keagan and back again. "I think you might ought to start calling me Aunt Dixie too," she said thoughtfully. "If you wasn't already family, you will be soon enough. And I don't charge my family. You just come back to visit me more with baby sunshine here, and next time bring me some beignet." The man suddenly looked like a little boy being scolded by his grandmother. Keagan couldn't help giggling a little bit, especially when Aunt Dixie swatted Chay playfully on the butt before grabbing his face and kissing him three times on the forehead as well.
Chay and Keagan headed back to the bakery and got the new furniture unloaded up to the living room on the second floor, and then headed back out to the van. This time they went to a shopping center to buy a mattress set for the new bed. They had just walked into the store when a salesman approached them.
"Hi there," he said as he walked up smiling at Keagan. "Hey, I saw you on campus this morning. Were you there moving in your big brother or sister?"
"No, I was enrolling," Keagan corrected. "I'm a freshman."
"Really," the salesman asked in surprise. "Well, what can I do to get you into one of my beds, freshie?"
"I need a mattress set for an antique bed I just purchased," Chay said sternly as he stepped between the salesman and Keagan.
"You must be big brother," the salesman responded.
"This is my boss," Keagan told him. "I'm Keagan, and this is Chay."
"My name is Macon. It's nice to meet you both." He then looked at Chay thoughtfully. "You say it is an antique bed? Do you know the size of the bed?" Chay gave him the dimensions they had gotten at Aunt Dixie's store. "Well, length you are ok with any standard size mattress. As for the width, a queen would be a little bit smaller and a king would be a little bit wider. Here's the deal though. They are both pretty big beds, but the queen has a box spring the same size as the mattress. If you have tight corners to navigate to get it into place, it could be really difficult. With a King, the box spring comes in two pieces both about the width of a twin sized mattress. It can make moving the bed a lot easier."
"That makes sense," Keagan agreed.
"Well come on over and try some out, guys," Macon told them. He led them over to the side of the showroom.
"WHOA! Are these beds or football fields?" Keagan gasped.
"Well there is plenty of room to play," Macon said with a grin. "Hop on there, Chay and see if you like it. Keagan, why don't you try this one over here? It's extra thick."
"Wow! It's too tall to get into for a short guy like me," Keagan giggled.
"That's okay; I'll give you a boost." Before Keagan knew what was happening, Macon's hand was on his butt, lifting him into the enormous bed.
"I would need a step ladder to get into a bed like this," Keagan laughed. He crawled around on his hands and knees on the big mattress. "Not to mention a parachute to get out."
"Not to worry, little dude, I'll be glad to help you go down," Macon told him. "Who knows, one of these days maybe you can help me get off too."
"Maybe we can speed this process up a bit," Chay said sternly. "Which mattress sets do you have in stock right now for immediate purchase?"
Macon checked on the stock in the back of the store, and then led them to the three he would be able to sell and deliver that day. While they were walking he told Chay and Keagan that the store was shorthanded on delivery men, and that he would be helping with the delivery personally. One of the beds was queen size, so it was ruled out immediately. The second one Chay decided was out of his budget. When Keagan heard that, he got very quiet and was rather distracted the rest of the time they were in the store.
"Did something happen to you in the store?" Chay asked as they were driving back home.
"No, nothing," Keagan answered quietly.
"It sure seems like something did," Chay returned.
"What do you mean?" Keagan asked.
"Well, you have been all smiles and giggles ever since you took the job with me, but once I picked out the mattress, you got all quiet and withdrawn. Aunt Dixie's sunshine went behind a cloud. Did that salesman say or do something…."
"No, Macon was really nice. Nothing happened," Keagan said a little sadly. He suddenly looked up at Chay and asked, "I don't giggle, do I?"
"Just like a twelve-year-old girl," Chay answered in a serious tone. "It's kind of annoying, really. It's almost as irritating as that near blinding smile of yours. I'm thinking of wearing shades and earplugs around you."
"I'm sorry," Keagan whispered. He scooted around on the floor of the van so that he was behind the driver's seat and out of Chay' sight.
"Hey, where'd you go?" Chay asked. "No tickling the driver while the van is in motion."
"I would never…" Keagan began to protest and then suddenly squealed when he found himself being tickled instead. Still giggling, he squirmed his way out of Chay' reach, and then gasped loudly. "Oh my god, I do giggle." His voice dropped back to a saddened whisper and he started apologizing again. "I am so sorry."
Chay pulled into the first parking space he could find. He spun around to see Keagan huddled on the floor of the van with his arms wrapped around his knees which were tucked up under his chin; a chin that was trembling because the young man was obviously fighting tears.
"I am the sorry one, Keagan," Chay told him. "I was teasing you about your giggling. I actually like it and your smile very much, really."
"But I do sound like a girl," Keagan whimpered. "It would annoy me if I wasn't me. It bugs me now and I am me, so it has to bother you because you don't have to hear it and I'm supposed to work for you, even though I haven't started yet and I already owe you for all this furniture, and I promise I will pay you back every penny and even interest as soon as I get working no matter how long it takes me and I will work really, really hard for you and….." He was stopped by a shrill whistle.
"How do you get enough air in you to talk that much that fast?" Chay asked him with a smile. "You could get a job on television reading commercials, but then you would move to New York or Hollywood and I would have to wait for another starving, giggling college kid to walk in needing a job and a place to stay so I could….." His voice trailed off and he took an exaggerated deep breath. "See? I can't do it."
"That's because you are an old geezer," Keagan said softly. He looked nervously up at Chay.
"I know you did not just call me an old geezer," Chay sputtered melodramatically. He was rewarded with a smile and a tiny giggle from the teen. "All right you little giggler," he growled in mock anger, "When we get home, I will race you up those stairs and we will see who is an old geezer." He smiled at Keagan who returned the expression with megawatts. "Now get back up here beside my chair so if you fall over I can giggle at you." Chay smiled even more as Keagan scooted forward quickly to the indicated spot.
"I'm…" Chay clamped his hand over the boy's mouth and silenced him.
"No more apologies from you," he said firmly but gently. "If I need or want an apology from you, I will ask for it, understand?" Using the hand still clamped tightly over Keagan's mouth and chin he nodded the boy's head up and down for him. "This means yes master, greatest boss in the universe, I will obey." His hand jerked away, and his mouth fell open in shock when Keagan licked his palm.
"And that means don't push your luck, boss man," Keagan grinned. They resumed the drive home, but Chay noticed that Keagan was making faces and sticking his tongue out and rubbing it on his shirt. "Yuck! You taste like flour."
"I'm a baker," Chay laughed. "What did you think I would taste like?"
"I thought powdered sugar, maybe," Keagan answered honestly.
"You're a college student," Chay began. "What are you most likely to taste like? Pencil lead or ink, I would expect."
"More like sweat right now," Keagan pointed out. "I didn't wash up before coming with you. I just threw my pants and shirt on over my old gym shorts. I never went out in public without underwear before," the teen giggled again. The van veered suddenly, and Keagan almost toppled over. "Pothole!" he called out with a giggle. "This is like a thrill ride at the fair."
Once they arrived back at the bakery, Keagan reminded Chay of his challenge to race up the stairs, saying that Chay would only see his butt, not seeing the baker bite his lip as he ran up the stairs ahead of his boss. Keagan reached the living room landing and turned to see a very red faced Chay behind him on the stairs breathing heavily.
"Maybe you should sit down for a bit," Keagan said with concern. "I'm sure Macon could help me with the beds."
"No!" Chay said firmly and quickly. "He has done quite enough already. I'm just fine."
"I get to see the last room in the house," Keagan mused quietly as the climbed to the next floor of the building.
"Yeah… about my room…"
"Don't worry," Keagan said dismissively. "I grew up in a boy's group home. I have seen dirty rooms before," he added with another of his giggles.
"Well, it's not that…" Chay began as Keagan stepped into the room.
"Oh wow, you get your own balcony," Keagan gushed as he looked around the room. "This furniture does match the new stuff." His eyes fell on the twin sized bed and he collapsed to the floor suddenly. "That's my bed," he whispered.
"Well yeah, you get this one and I get the new one, remember?"
"No, you don't understand, that is MY bed," Keagan emphasized. He got to his knees and crawled over to the headboard rubbing his fingers over a small sticker of an angel on the wood. "I got this sticker at the hospital the day my parents died. It was a car wreck. I was laying down in the back seat asleep when a big log fell off a lumber truck in front of us. Their heads…. They were de… killed instantly." His voice broke into sobs for a moment. "When Grandma got me from the hospital, the nurse gave me this sticker and told me that my mommy and daddy were angels watching over me now." Chay rested a hand on the boy's shoulder and hugged him tightly. Keagan wiped his face and sat up a bit. "I thought this bed was huge when I got in it that first night. I was scared of sleeping in it. Grandma told me to go ahead and put my sticker on the bed right here, so this angel could help my parents watch over me." He stared at the little sticker with a smile that was hard to describe, it was half sad and half happy.
"Your grandma clearly loved you very much," Chay murmured. "I am so happy that you are getting your old bed back. I'm sorry that I don't have clean sheets for it though. This is the only set…. OH CRAP. This is the only set of sheets I have at all, for either bed."
"I don't care about that," Keagan told him. "It's my bed," he added literally hugging the side of the bed. "I don't care if I have to wait another night for it. I know it's here, and it will be mine again." He sat up blushing intensely and cleared his throat. "You can sleep here tonight, and I will sleep on the sofa downstairs…."
"Oh, no you won't," Chay protested. "You will have your bed tonight. I have slept on that sofa before. That's why I bought this furniture. I have an old sleeping bag upstairs in the storage room somewhere. I will be more comfortable on the floor than on that sofa."
"I can't make you sleep on the floor," Keagan returned. "You're the boss, and I'm younger so I can handle it better."
"Did you just call me old again?" Chay asked with the Leonard Nimoy arched eyebrow. "I just know my brand-new employee is not insulting me before he even starts to work." He then gave an imitation of Bugs Bunny and said, "Of course you know, this means war." He gave out a battle cry and pounced forward tickling the teen without mercy. Keagan squealed and squirmed and giggled until tears came to his eyes, then suddenly those eyes opened wide and he stared at the wall over the bed. "Ummm…. About that picture…." Chay began to stammer.
"That is so romantic," Keagan whispered. The picture he was staring at showed a shirtless man facing away from the camera, standing at a door with a rose behind his back. "Someone will be really happy to see him, I'll bet."
"Hmmm, most people see it and wonder what he did wrong," Chay mused. He watched as Keagan scanned around the other art in his room.
"I don't understand," Keagan said slowly.
"Well, I should have said something sooner," Chay began.
"This picture is my favorite, I think, even though it doesn't seem to fit in here," Keagan continued without paying any attention to what Chay was saying. "All the other pictures have people in them, but this one is of fruits and vegetables. It looks like it should be hanging over the kitchen table instead of here."
"I'm glad you like that one. I took it myself," Chay said with a smile. "You don't see anything odd in that picture, though?" he questioned.
"Well, it is a strange assortment of food," Keagan thought out loud. "I can't think of anything you would make that would have all of that in it."
"Most people see that pepper in the foreground of the picture and think of a person lying there with their back to the camera," Chay pointed out.
"I don't get it," Keagan said as he tilted his head side to side. "I just see a pepper. You took this picture? I would learn to love photography."
"I'm not a professional, of course, but I would be glad to help you get started."
"I want to learn everything you can teach me," Keagan told him with a smile.
Chay's face glowed soft red again as he turned away and said, "Well, let's get to moving this bed."
It only took a couple of minutes to get the twin sized bed up to Keagan's room. They had just put the chifferobe in place when they heard the bell from the delivery door downstairs. Keagan ran down the stairs to open the door for the delivery guys while Chay put the frame together for the larger bed in his room. Chay met Keagan and the delivery guys in the living room. He didn't look happy to see that Macon had indeed come along to help with the delivery.
"You can just leave the mattress set here," Chay instructed. "Keagan and I can move it upstairs later."
"Are you sure," the unknown delivery guy asked. "There's no extra charge for another flight of stairs."
"Yeah, we can handle it," Chay assured them.
"I don't know," Macon mused as he looked Keagan up and down thoughtfully. "You wouldn't want to wear him out too much before bedtime."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Chay demanded.
"I think you know what I mean," Macon replied.
"I think you had better go now," Chay told him shortly.
"Ok, fine," Macon agreed with a shrug.
"I'll go downstairs and let you guys out," Keagan volunteered. Before Chay could say anything, he was halfway down the stairs with Macon and the delivery guy.
Once they were outside, Macon turned to Keagan and tweaked the teen under the chin, getting a giggle and grin in response. "I'll see you around campus, blondie."
"That would be awesome," Keagan smiled. "I need someone to show me around."
"There's all sorts of stuff that I want to show you, blondie," Macon said with a smirk. "Say, why don't you come to the mixer that my frat is having tomorrow night. It's nothing fancy, just a chance for us guys to check out the fresh…men… on campus this semester."
"Really?" Keagan gasped. "You want me there?"
"Oh yeah," Macon agreed. "I definitely want you. The other guys will too as soon as they see you."
"That is so great!" Keagan nearly squealed. "I thought it would take forever to make new friends."
"You come to that party and I can guarantee that you will have new friends all over you," Macon grinned, then got into the delivery truck and left with a wave.
Keagan practically flew back up the stairs. "I'm invited to a frat party tomorrow night," he told Chay excitedly. "I can't believe I am making friends so easily here."
"Did Macon invite you to that party?" Chay asked him.
"Yeah, he did," Keagan gushed. "This is so different from living in the children's home. None of the cu…cool guys wanted anything to do with me at school, because of the home. We were like the scum of the school. But no one here will know about the home, or care."
"Keagan, I'm not sure…." Chay began, but his words trailed off as he looked at Keagan. "Just be careful who you make friends with, ok? Some people may seem like friends, but they really aren't." He shrugged and then said, "Well enough about frat parties, we have to get this bed upstairs or you and I will have to have a slumber party on the living room floor."
"Oh, that sounds like fun," Keagan grinned. "We could make popcorn and tell scary stories. Well maybe just a little bit scary. I get nightmares sometimes if they get too scary."
"What would be really scary is my back if I had to sleep on the floor all night," Chay told him. "So, let's get moving."
It wasn't that late in the evening when they finished with setting up the beds and the other furniture for Keagan's room. They were both exhausted though. Chay headed for the storage room to get the sleeping bag but Keagan stopped him.
"You don't have to do that," the teen said. "We can share this bed. It might be tight, but we could both fit." He paused then added, "Plus if you are already up here, you can make sure I wake up in time for my first day of work."
"Yeah, I hear your new boss is a real tough guy," Chay told him.
"Oh yeah, he is a really grouchy old geezer," Keagan giggled.
"Watch it, little boy," Chay growled, but the twinkle in his eyes proved he wasn't upset at all. His eyes got wide as Keagan peeled off his tee shirt. He frowned slightly as he heard the boy exclaim sadly.
"What's wrong?" Chay asked him.
"I should have taken my jeans and shirt back off before we started moving the furniture," Keagan said worriedly. "I don't have any other clothes to wear tomorrow."
"You mean your other clothes are dirty?" Chay asked.
"No, I mean this is all I have," Keagan whispered as he stared at the floor. "The home couldn't afford to give away too many clothes when there are so many other boys living there." Chay reached out and wiped a tear from the teen's face.
"Hey now, none of that," Chay said softly. "You give me your clothes while you are in the shower, and I will take them downstairs to the washer and dryer in the bakery kitchen. I can give you a few of my tee shirts to wear too. They might be a little big on you, but they'll do until we can get you some more clothes to wear."
"Thank you for being so nice to me," Keagan murmured as he hugged Chay tightly. He suddenly squealed as Chay started tickling him.
"That's better," Chay said as he pulled away and looked at the grinning teen. "There's my Chipper again." His face fell instantly. "I'm sorry. I won't call you that if you don't like it."
"No, it's ok," Keagan told him quickly. "I like that you have a nickname for me, Sugarman." He suddenly started laughing out loud. Chay looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "I'm sorry," Keagan said, still giggling softly. "I just had this mental image of us as comic book heroes, Sugarman and Chipper." He giggled a little more and then said in his best Burt Ward impersonation, "Holy Donut holes, Sugarman!"
"You are a goofy boy, you know that?" Chay smiled. "Now, why don't you head to the shower and leave your clothes outside the door. You can wear the robe on the hook in there while I wash and dry them."
Keagan smiled and headed downstairs while Chay opened the door to the roof and checked the latch on the screen door. A little later, Keagan opened the door of the bathroom and almost bumped into Chay as the man was headed into his room. He looked up at the man with a blush and giggle.
"It's a little big on me," the teen said as he indicated the robe. The hem was touching the floor, and the sleeves were hanging just past the tips of his fingers. "I feel like a little kid playing dress up in Grandma's old… umm trunk." The blush deepened intensely. "She had an old trunk in the closet that she kept old clothes in," he explained. Just then he caught sight of the sleeping bag in Chay' arms and looked up at the man in confusion.
"I.. umm… I got to thinking about it…" Chay was stammering nervously. "You…uhh… You don't have to get up until I am ready to open the doors tomorrow… so I figured I would sleep down here so I don't wake you up when I get up. Why don't you go ahead and go to bed? I can bring your clothes up in the morning when I come to wake you."
"You really are the best boss in the world, Sugarman," Keagan smiled sleepily.
"Goodnight, Chipper," Chay told him.