Not So Different

an excerpt



Chapter One

Clay Young was sitting cross-legged on the floor behind the counter, his back resting against it as he played Free Cell on his phone. Boring. He hadn't had a customer in almost two hours. Seems no one needed anything from the computer store where he worked. He doubted if management was going to come around again tonight and he was tired of standing. Everything in his area had been cleaned, twice, and nothing was out of place. Reaching up he tried to get his hair out of his eyes, but it was too long and kept falling over his face. He tilted his head back and rested his head against the counter. His long blond hair, silky and fine, was about to lose all the rainbow-hued color he'd had in it. Now it was muted and dull looking, but still faintly visible. He let his eyelids droop and wished he could rub them without ruining the liner he'd so carefully applied to enhance one of his best features: his big brown eyes. He needed to sleep in the worst way and was glad it was only a short walk to his apartment.

Clay thought he might die of sheer boredom. If he had more money and a better phone he might find something more challenging to play, but, well, he didn't. He had a degree in Computer Science and he was forced to work here. Someday he'd get on with his life plan, he promised himself. As soon as he took care of a few more things.

"Oh, for shit's sake!" The voice over Clay's head was full of anger, and a little disdain.

He popped up, turned, and nearly swallowed his tongue before he could say anything. His walking dream was right there in front of him, pissed off, admittedly, but gorgeous just the same. He did like a slightly older man and this one was drool worthy.

Both the man's hands, big ones, moved up to scrub his face and then push up into his thick, dark hair with just the smallest bit of gray at the temples. Clay tried not to imagine doing the same thing. Too late, he was imagining it! His fingers curled up in his hands.

The man should be proud, Clay thought. Just proud of how f'ing gorgeous he was. Think George Clooney, younger, but just as "in your face" handsome. Clay noticed again how thick the guy's hair was and he liked that it wasn't super short. It was just begging for fingers to go through it, Clay's this time. Fat chance of that, he knew.

A nice square chin below full lips that begged to be kissed made Clay squirm inside, and hope he didn't follow through outwardly and look like an eager puppy begging for a scratch. There was stubble where the man's beard had grown in this late at night. He had dark skin and that gorgeous hair. A long, straight nose, nice forehead. You'd think Clay was taking inventory, but he couldn't help himself. He was intrigued, to say the least.

Clay could tell the man had a ton of money from the über nice suit he was wearing to the manicure and the diamond on his hand. Not the wedding ring hand. He couldn't imagine why that observation made his night. The man was just polished from head to toe and Clay realized he liked it.

The man's eyes were blue and so very different. The outer edges were a blue green and the area near the pupil was lighter. Clay would like to be able to look at them more closely and for a long time. When he heard the man clear his throat, Clay realized how long he'd been doing just that. Uh-oh.

"For shit's sake? I've heard for God's sake, for heaven's sake, for pity's sake, even For Gom's Sake, but that's a book. I've got to say I've never heard ‘for shit's sake.'" Clay couldn't help it. He was a smartass.

"Are you high?" the man asked, looking sternly at Clay.

"Not at all. I'm just a smartass. I'm sorry. Can I help you?"

"I highly doubt it. I have a problem that needs immediate attention from someone who knows what they're doing. Clearly that isn't you," the disdain in the man's voice did not sit well with Clay.

Maybe not the complete man of his dreams after all. Just because Clay looked, what he liked to call unique, wasn't any reason for the man to assume that he didn't know what he was doing.

"I'm going to ignore the ‘clearly' remark and say just, if you tell me what you need, I could try to help you," Clay suggested, mildly. Clay was not one to get angry. Well, it took a lot.

"Son, I..."

"Not." Clay was firm.

"What?" The man looked taken aback.

"I'm not your son. I mean I never knew my father, or mother for that matter, but I'm certain you're not him." Clay could be pretty literal at times, too.

"Of course I'm not. Look, is there a manager around who could help me?" With that the man put two folders on the counter and crossed his arms, uncrossed them, then crossed them again.

"I'm more likely to be able to help you than the manager, sir. This is my specialty and he's more, uh, generic." Clay was being diplomatic now. The manager, Richard, was a dipshit, know-nothing asshole.

"Hell! Where is everyone?" The man looked around as if expecting hordes of people to be wandering about at eleven thirty-something or other.

"It is almost closing time and most people know that. If you would just show me what you need..." Clay left it out there. He thought he was being calm and respectful.

"Look, I don't think some twink who's likely to go all flappy hands on me when I've got this crisis going on..."

"Flappy hands? A twink? Could you be more condescending, more stereotyping? Maybe you want me to what, be more dramatic? I'm not the type, thank you, though. I'll ask you again, is there something I can help you with? Sir, I have a degree in Computer Science and Technology from the University of Louisville. I think I'll be able to figure it out. We only have a few minutes before closing." Clay didn't get snippy from hurt feelings very often. He was used to letting things roll off his back but he'd liked this guy's looks and it hurt that he wasn't what he'd expected. Wait. Was he doing the same as the other guy? Did he have expectations and now he was upset that they weren't being met?

He watched the man straighten his back and realized that they were the same height. Clay was five ten and he was able to look right into the man's gaze, which seemed to be filled with remorse. Clay raised his eyebrows and waited.

"That was uncalled for and I apologize, young man. I don't even know where that came from and it was very rude, even bordering on harassment."

Before Clay could tell him that it was fine and he'd heard worse, his manager's voice slid right into the conversation.

"Harassment? Really, Clay? Rude? You know I can't have that. I've told you before that you barely qualify as professional in appearance, but this is beyond what I'll accept from you. You will clock out and you may consider yourself fired. Tech Support doesn't need your type here." The evil smile on Richard Harrey's face was clear. The man had wanted to get rid of Clay since he'd gotten the job. Clay knew it was because he was so much smarter than Richard and Richard knew it, too. And it pissed him off something awful.

"I'm sorry, but you misunderstand the situation," the man said to Richard, surprising Clay. "Clay, here," he said, pointing to Clay, "is trying to help me with a problem and I'm the one who got a little rude in my frustration. I was apologizing to him. That's what you heard. We've got things well in hand. I know you're about to close and I'm sure you have more important things to do. You can go along while we get my problem figured out."

The man seemed much taller in Clay's eyes as he dismissed Richard as if he were a lackey. Inside Clay was almost having a "flappy hands" moment. He stood as tall as he could as Richard looked at him and mumbled, "Carry on, then."

"Thanks," Clay whispered, as Richard left, turning to look back at them twice. Dipshit. "We are about to close. Maybe you better tell me your problem." Clay had no doubt he could help.

Finally, the man relented and said, "This report, all ninety pages of it has to be copied and sent out tonight. For some reason I can't get the place I'm sending it to, to accept it. It keeps coming back saying something about compressing it. How do I do that? My secretary had an emergency and I had to finish this and it took me longer than I expected, but I thought it was all okay when I got it done and tried to send it, but I don't know what to do now."

"Is it hard copy?"

"Huh?" The guy looked up at Clay, confused.

"Is it on paper, or do you have a USB drive or something with the report on it?" Clay asked.

"Oh, I have this and I have it in the folder." He pulled a small USB drive out of his pocket. "Megan showed me how to put it on here. I did that, but, what if I did it wrong and it's not even on there and then there's no way to send it?" Panic was now on the man's features and even that didn't make him less enticing.

"Would it be so bad if it went out tomorrow? Surely your boss..."

"I am the boss, son, I mean kid." Frustration was back.

"Clay. My name is Clay Young and if it's on the drive, I can tell you, and if you have the address we can send it on."

"But how will you get them to take it when I couldn't? This isn't what I usually do. I run the business, but with Megan having to leave so suddenly and this having to be out and Mark failing to get his part to me until late this afternoon, well, you can see how it is." For the first time the man was looking right into Clay's eyes instead of all over the place.

"Let's take it a little at a time. Let's see if the report is on there. Is it confidential, I mean like top secret stuff I can't even glance at when I open it?" Clay figured it was better to be sure.

"Uh, no. It's okay. It's a financial report, building plans and a bid on a big job my company wants, but I don't think you're any danger to our plans. Please, go ahead." The man handed Clay the small drive. "Can I come back there with you and watch? I mean, it's not that I don't trust you, but..."

"Sure. We don't usually let customers back here, but since it's so late and no one else is around, I'll talk you through what I'm doing. It's not a big deal to compress it if you have all the information on it." Clay moved to a computer station that was set up in the back of the tech area where he worked.

"I'm already lost, but if you can do it for me, I'll make it worth your while." The man sounded relieved.

"Sir, you don't have to do that. This is my job. I'm glad to have something to do other than Free Cell."

"Free Cell?" The guy was confused again.

"It's a solitaire game on my phone. I've got such a cheap one that's all I can get on it. I was playing it when you came in just to stay awake. It's been way too quiet tonight. I'm happy to have a challenge."

"I just hope you can do it."

"Sir, if it's on here, I can do it." Clay wasn't bragging.

"My name is Joseph, Joseph Danshell. I'm sorry I was so rude before." Ah, the man finally had a name. Joseph. Clay liked it. It was a good strong name.

"Hello, Mr. Danshell, let's see what we have on here," Clay said, putting the drive in the port and waiting for it to open.

"Joseph."

"Hmm?" Clay muttered as he watched the screen.

"You can call me Joseph. If you can do this, I'll owe you big time."

"No problem. Like I said, it's what I do. Our only snag might be that we close in just a little bit and that might not be time enough to get it all done. I'll try for you." He didn't add that there were a myriad of things he'd like to try with him.

"Eureka!" he said when the file came up on the screen. "Is that what you're looking for?" Clay asked, turning to look at Joseph behind him.

"Whew! Yes, that's it." Joseph's relief was clear in his voice.

"Mr. Young, what is going on here? You know customers are not allowed in the service area. What were you thinking?" Richard, though he was a good six feet, had little-man syndrome. Maybe it was just because he was incompetent in regards to technology.

"I'm helping Mr. Danshell with a file he needs to send," Clay answered, his fingers flying over the keyboard.

"Stop what you're doing and talk to me, young man." Clay always loved it when Richard called him that, since his name was Young and he knew that Richard didn't even get the joke. He heard Joseph cough to hide a small snort of laughter. See? He got it.

Clay stopped and turned to Richard and said, "I wasn't sending it. He needs a copy made so that he can send it from his computer at home. He just needed some assistance. He's back here to make sure the file is complete on the drive." Clay was cleaning it up a little for him, but it was mostly true.