Thanks to all the bright overhead lights, Dad’s dealership was probably visible from space. It was quarter after ten at night, but may as well have been daylight under the banners and flags that fluttered in the late summer breeze. Meticulously detailed finishes sparkled, and windshields and headlamps glittered alongside polished chrome.
This time of night, especially in the middle of the week, I wasn’t too worried about customers showing up. We were technically closed at nine, but every once in a while, some stragglers came strolling in right when the managers and I were getting ready to leave. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any tonight. The minute that clock hit ten thirty, I was out of here. There was a cold beer and a DVR full of mindless sitcoms waiting for me at my apartment, and every time a car went by on the four-lane highway in front of the lot, I silently begged it not to slow down and make the turn.
Please, please, don’t let me be here until midnight again.
And please, please, don’t let me still be here when I’m forty.
I wandered between the rows of new cars, depressing the hell out of myself by looking at the prices in the windshields. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have batted an eye at buying a twenty-thousand dollar car. This year, I’d be lucky to make twenty thousand dollars.
After three months, it was still weird to be working here. The family had owned the place since before I was born, but I’d vowed not to be the one to inherit it when Dad retired. I’d worked here off and on as a teenager, even sold cars for a while after high school, but no way in hell was I doing this in the long term.
So, I’d gone to college, gotten a degree, and gotten a job. My student loans were paid off, and I was ten years into a promising job at a solid corporation.
Well, it was a promising job and a solid corporation right up until the economy had gone tits up and I was laid off a year ago. The job hunt hadn’t gone well. Even an MBA couldn’t get me anywhere near a job in this town. After nine months, I gave up, came crawling down to the dealership, and here I was, working for my dad to pay rent on a one-bedroom apartment in a less than ideal part of town. And still single at thirty-four, too. The last year had been awesome for my ego.
Shaking my head, I kept walking. At the end of the aisle, three brand-new sports cars were parked at a different angle so they’d stand out to passersby. The cars had just come in this afternoon. One red, one silver, one yellow, all convertibles. The tops were up now—Dad always had us put the tops up in the evening just in case it rained—but the cars were sexy as hell anyway.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”
The general manager’s voice startled me. I turned around, pretending my heart hadn’t just jumped into my throat.
I wasn’t worried about him catching me slacking off and then getting me fired. He and Dad both knew I worked my tail off in this place, and everyone slacked a little at this time of night. There simply wasn’t much to do except wait out the clock.
No, the reason Jackson Rayburn screwed up my blood pressure was that I’d had a thing for him since long before I’d started working here. Back before time had grayed the dark hair at his temples and added a little salt to the rest of it. He’d been working for my dad since I was a sophomore in high school, back when he was just a good-looking young salesman who didn’t know much about anything, but could sell sunlight to vampires, as my mother had often said. Now he was the general manager, and time had tempered his looks—and mellowed his personality—to the point he was absolutely irresistible.
Now here he was, stepping out from between glittering cars with his gray jacket unbuttoned and his hands in the pockets of his slacks, and there was nowhere to run. No taking off under the guise of unfinished work or a customer showing up. I was in his sights and he was coming right for me.
He freed one hand and gestured at the red sports car beside me. “You ever driven something like this?”
I shook my head. “Not this model, no.”
“You should take it out for a spin.”
I blinked. “But it’s only got a few miles on it.”
Jackson shrugged. “An extra ten won’t hurt the value. Besides, if you’re going to sell it, you ought to drive it.” The grin he flashed me spun my head around. “Should I get the keys?”
“Right… right now?”
“Hell yeah. I don’t have anywhere to be for a while, and your dad’s the one who told me we should drive what we’re selling. If you’re game, I’ll go sign it out.”
“Uh, sure. Okay.”
He flashed me a grin that was nothing like the smiles he displayed when customers were near. Then he headed for the showroom, and I just stood there like a fool and watched him go. That beer and DVR full of sitcoms were apparently going to wait.
Jackson returned a couple of minutes later. He tossed me the keys and then went around to the passenger side of the gleaming sports car.
I hesitated, less because I was taking out one of Dad’s high-end cars and more because of who I was taking it out with, but finally opened the door and got in.
The interior was top of the line. Buttery leather. Chrome edging around the gauges. Seats you could sink into comfortably for hundreds of miles on end.
“You planning to sit here and look at the dashboard all night?” Jackson asked playfully. “Or see what she can do out on the road?”
“Just…appreciating a well-made car.” I turned the key, and the engine rumbled to life. Jackson and I looked at each other, both grinning.
“Doesn’t she sound amazing?” he asked.
“She does.” I put it in gear, released the parking brake, and eased the car into motion. The rumble became a low roar. God, with that many horses under the hood, this thing was an erection on wheels.
“Why don’t you hang a right out of the parking lot?” he suggested. “We’ll go up by Pine Boulevard. See how she handles on some of the turns.”
“I like the sound of that.” I pulled out onto the highway, and headed toward Pine Boulevard. The dealership was near the edge of town, and Pine took us out into the rural areas. Lots of hills and turns. Perfect for putting a high performance vehicle through her paces.
“Your dad ever let you drive the good ones when you were a teenager?” Jackson asked.
I laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m lucky he lets me near them now.”
I threw him a look. “Please. You know my dad.”
“Fair point, fair point.”
I eased the car around a hairpin at a few miles over the suggested speed, and she held the road beautifully. As the road evened out, I said, “You know I learned to drive in a trade-in.”
I nodded. “Some guy was upgrading from an old piece of shit Honda. Dad took the trade-in and brought it home for me.”
“He get you something better after that?” Jackson asked. “Once you had experience?”
“Fuck, no. And let me tell you, high school’s a bitch anyway without explaining why you’re driving a twelve-year-old beater when your dad owns a dealership.” I chuckled. “First world problems, am I right?”
“No kidding,” he said. “My first car? Chevy S10 that barely ran. And I do mean it barely ran. I think I jumped it more times than I actually started it.”
“Ouch. How long did you drive that thing?”
“Only a few months. Some jackass ran into me and totaled the thing, so I ended up getting upgrading to… Well, to what you were driving. A piece of shit Honda. But at least it ran.”
“There is that.”
Neither of us spoke for a little while. I tried to focus as hard as I could on the way the car handled, but that was easier said than done with Jackson in the car.
Especially when he cleared his throat and not-so-casually scratched the back of his neck. “So, I might not have been entirely honest. About, um, why I suggested going for a drive.”
“Oh. Uh…” I gripped the wheel a little tighter and was thankful he’d waited until a straightaway. I wasn’t so sure I could navigate those curves right then. “Okay…”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you. I figured it would be better to do it away from the dealership. Where no one could eavesdrop.”
My heart stopped. Somehow, I managed to say, “Such as?”
“Well…” He was quiet for a moment. “Listen, ever since you started working for your dad, you’ve seemed a bit…nervous around me.” He looked right at me. “Do I make you nervous, Sean?”
Funny you should ask.
I swallowed. “A little bit. I guess.”
“Why?” he asked. “I’m not out to get you or anything.”
“No, no, it’s…it’s not that.”
I stared out the windshield. My nerves weren’t job-related at all. Sure, I was afraid of losing my paycheck, and Dad wouldn’t hesitate to fire one of his own kids—my brother and sister could both attest to that—but I worked damn hard and didn’t fuck up. No more than anyone else, anyway. And Jackson had never given me any reason to believe he was out to get me. He wasn’t the type to feel threatened because the boss’s kid might one day inherit his job. Dad would have fired himself before he let Jackson go, and we all knew that.
I cleared my throat. “I don’t even know, to be honest.” Ooh, yes I do. I resisted the urge to make things worse by stealing a glance at him. Blue eyes and five o’clock shadow, dark hair and sharp lines. I had it all memorized anyway. No need to risk wrecking my dad’s car in exchange for a quick look.
Jackson gestured up ahead. “Pull in there. On the right.”
“The park?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s a—” He hesitated. “It’s a good spot to, um, turn around.”
“Okay.” Heart racing, I turned like he’d indicated. The park’s entrance was fairly narrow, with no room for even the most agile sports car to turn around without running the risk of a scratch or dent, so I continued until we were in the small, deserted parking lot.
“Pull into a spot.” It wasn’t a suggestion.
I pulled into a spot. The engine idled, adding a low rumble to the background but not filling the silence between us. I nervously cleared my throat. “You want to drive back?”
I glanced at him. The only light was the reflection of the headlamps from the bushes in front of us, and that faint glow just barely illuminated one side of his face.
I quickly shifted my attention to the gauges, all of which were at rest except the tachometer. The needle hovered, wobbling a little as the engine idled.
That is, until Jackson reached over and turned the key. The car shuddered before falling silent.
“Look at me, Sean.”
I took a deep breath, and then turned toward him.
“If it’s any consolation,” he said, barely whispering, “I get nervous around you, too.”
Jackson nodded slowly.
I couldn’t breathe. “Why?”
He held my gaze for a long moment. A long, unnerving moment.
“I think,” he whispered, “we make each other nervous for the same reason.”
Jackson didn’t answer. He unbuckled his seat belt, and I thought my heart was going to explode as he reached across the console.
“What are—” I swallowed hard as he pressed the button on my own seat belt. The shoulder strap snapped back against my arm and, never taking my eyes off him, I shrugged it off me. “What are we doing?”
Jackson leaned closer, sliding his hand around the side of my neck. “Just something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time.” And then he pressed his lips to mine.
I froze for a moment, paralyzed by utter shock and disbelief. Was this really happening?
His thumb ran along the edge of my jaw, and his lips nudged mine apart, and yes, this was really happening, and I wrapped my arms around him and let it happen.
His faint cologne—or maybe aftershave?—made me dizzy. His five o’clock shadow grazed mine, adding a soft hiss-hiss to the faint squeak of leather yielding to shifting weight as we leaned into each other.
My heart went wild. A first kiss was always exciting and hot, especially when it was unexpected, but this went beyond the new and novel experience of kissing someone for the first time. This was Jackson.
He broke the kiss and pulled back a little. “I can’t even tell you how long I’ve been wanting to do that.”
“I hope you’re not planning on waiting to do it again.”
Sean Waters is down on his luck thanks to the economy, and winds up working for his domineering father’s car dealership. It’s not the greatest job, but it’s a paycheck. The only problem? He’s got a wicked crush on the general manager, Jackson Rayburn.
When Jackson suggests a drive in one of the brand new sports cars, Sean has no idea it’s not the car Jackson really wants to take for a spin.
They both need this job, though, and the boss isn’t keen on employees getting involved with each other. But it’s just a lusty little crush anyway, so they can move on and pretend nothing ever happened.
This short story was previously published, and has been revised and expanded to 15,000 words.