Inside Out

"Fuck. Yeah, yeah, I heard you."

"Could you be nice for one second, Steve?"

He looks at his sister before looking towards the door, hoping that a customer would walk into the empty bookstore.

"I already said I'd be nice to the pipsqueak, didn't I? And fuck, I'm doing both of you a favor by letting him work here. You should get off my back already, Sherrie."

"Fine. I'm backing off." She stands at the counter fiddling with her sunglasses before looking up. "I really do appreciate you doing this, Steve. Richie doesn't have the greatest home life. And he really needs this job. He's been looking around for the past month but no one will hire him. He's a real sweet kid, one of my best students."

Steve can't ignore the almost-maternal pride in her voice.

"Yeah, well, he can't be that bad if you like him so much."

"I better go. I have a class to teach. Richie is done with class at 1:30 so he should be here by 2:00." She leans up to kiss her brother's cheek. "Thanks again, Steve. I really do appreciate it."

Steve sighs as the door closes. He really doesn't know how he let his sister talk him into hiring this kid. With the exception of a few regulars, the store isn't even really that busy. There isn't much work that he could give the kid to do. He shakes his head in an attempt to clear his mind and goes behind the counter to sit down and read a book.

ooooooooo

The bell above the door rings and Steve looks up from his book to examine the new customer. He's tall but still a couple of inches shorter than Steve. And while Steve is reasonably fit, the kid at the door looks too thin for his height, making him appear lanky and gangly. His pale skin is in direct contrast to Steve's tanned skin. And to top off the awkward-looking boy at the door, he has a head full of curly read hair. Steve watches as the boy walks up to the counter and offers his hand, presumably to be shaken.

"My name's Richie. I'm Ms. Richardson's student."

Steve's automatically a little irritated that he promised to be nice to the kid. He reaches out to shake the extended hand.

"Hi, I'm Steve." For a moment he's disarmed by the kid's bright smile.

"I've actually never worked in a store before. Is there anything I can do to get started?" He says it all with a smile, and Steve has a feeling that he is rarely without one. He tries to search his brain for something that Richie can do. There is really nothing that needs to be done in the small store. But then he remembers that he had been toying with some ideas for reorganizing the layout of the place.

"I'm planning on redoing the layout of the store. I don't have any definite plans, but you could help me out with that."

"Sure."

Steve and Richie sit in the sitting area at the back of the store, coming up with new plans that would make the store a little more pleasing to the eye and a bit more organized. The few times the bell rings, Steve goes to the counter to help the customers. And he must admit that he is pleasantly surprised that Richie has a few good ideas. Within a few hours they had come up with a basic idea for the layout, and he thought they were both deserving of a break.

"Hey kid, do you want an early dinner?"

"Sure." Steve is completely shocked when he finds himself returning the kid's blinding smile. "You know," Richie begins, "I think that's the first smile that I've seen from you since I've walked into this place. I was beginning to think that you never smiled."

Steve simply mumbles a "whatever," for lack of a better response. The food arrives and Steve returns to the back of the store and sets the cartons on the tables. He rolls up his sleeves and reaches for some chopsticks. He looks up to see Richie's eyes focused on his arm.

"What happened?"

The thought of having to explain the scars once again automatically puts Steve on the defensive.

"What does it look like?"

"It looks like you got burned."

"Give the boy a prize!" Steve doesn't do much to keep the sarcastic tone out of his voice.

"Well, if you ask me, it doesn't make you any less attractive." He's blushing and he looks down a bit as he says it, and Steve can't help but think that he almost looks cute, you know, if scrawny 17-year-old redheads could be cute.

"I didn't ask."

ooooooooo

They keep working on the new layout as they eat. A few hours later, they have the design completely drawn out and it's time to close the store. As Steve's putting away the plans and Richie is packing up his backpack, they hear a loud clap of thunder. Steve looks out the window, only to find that large pieces of hail are falling from the sky.

"Man, I have to walk home in that."

Steve is startled by the closeness of the voice. Richie's standing right behind him, looking through the window. He steps away from the boy's thin, warm frame to clear his mind of the somewhat inappropriate thoughts he's having.

"You can't go out there. You can stay here." At Richie's look of skepticism, he clarifies, "I have an apartment upstairs."

"Oh. In that case, I'd love to stay with you." He says it with a blistering smile and a large amount of excitement.

Steve decides to ignore what that could possibly mean and walks over to the door leading to the staircase, motioning with his head for Richie to follow him. They walk into the loft-style apartment and Steve leads Richie up the second staircase, where the bedroom and bathroom are located. He rummages through a couple of draws and pulls out a pair of sweats.

"Here, you can use these for pajamas. They're a little tight on me so they might be okay for you."

Steve ignores the kid's blush when their fingertips brush as he's handing over the clothing and goes downstairs to get something to drink. He finishes his class of OJ and walks to the stairs. He's about to go up when he notices Richie coming down and he can feel himself hardening at the sight. First of all, Richie has chosen to go without a shirt, which is unexpected, and furthermore, all of the sweats Steve loaned him are too big for the boy's small waist. They are hanging precariously low on his hips, low enough to see his hipbones.

Richie makes it to the third step from the bottom before tripping and suddenly Steve's arms are filled with a warm body. Steve is hesitant to let go and, unconsciously, his hand begins rubbing up and down Richie's lower back, stopping at the top of the sweats. Richie can't help but shudder at the slightly sexual stroking. Richie leans back a bit so he can look the older man in the eye, and Steve's completely surprised when the boy leans in to press his lips against Steve's own. So surprised that he doesn't respond before Richie pulls away, stammering and walking towards the door.

"I…I'm so sorry…I shouldn't have…" his voice keeps trailing off. "I…I can go if you want. Yeah…yeah, I'll w-walk home."

He makes it to the door before Steve has the presence of mind to stop him.

"Don't leave."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. I really should go. I understand if you're not interested."

"I don't want you to leave."

"Really?"

Steve gives one of his rare smiles to reassure the boy before settling his hands on Richies hips, his thumbs touching the bare skin. He kisses him properly this time and pulls away for a few moments.

"I want you to stay."