When the bell over the door rang, Matt looked up with an impersonal retail smile and immediately froze.
The kid who had just walked in was hot, in that sort of carelessly casual way college students seemed to have perfected. His brown hair was a tad too long, and his T-shirt stretched across strong shoulders. With the slightest upturn at the end of his slim, perfect nose, he might have been just cute, if it weren’t for the way his clothes clung to him, the jeans sinfully tight and worn thin in all the right places.
Matt guiltily looked away from the kid’s crotch. “Hi,” he managed, meeting the kid’s eyes. “How can I help you?”
“Hey,” the kid said, smiling. “I’m new in town, and I spotted this place last night. Thought I’d come in to check it out.” He looked around. “Magic shop, huh?”
“Among other things. Not magic tricks, though. I deal in witchcraft and folklore with a sideline of crystals, healing, and some decorative stuff.” Matt got out a dustrag and started wiping down the counter, not that it needed it. He just didn’t know what else to do that would keep him from staring at this beautiful boy.
“Hmm.” The kid came closer and leaned over the counter, close enough to touch. “You might want to move that chamomile away from the catnip,” he said, pointing at the jars of herbs on the wall behind Matt. “Chamomile can cause diarrhea and vomiting in pets. Last thing you want is some baby witch accidentally poisoning her familiar.”
Matt raised an eyebrow. “Know a thing about herbs, do you?” he asked.
“A thing or two, yeah. My name’s Conor, by the way.”
“Matt,” Matt said, extending a hand for Conor to shake. “Good to meet you. So if I shouldn’t put it near the catnip, where should I put it? Or should I just set the catnip off to the side?”
“You could put it by the lemongrass or the mint,” Conor said. His hand was warm and strong. “It makes a nice, soothing tea with either of those two. Might be a good way to upsell kids coming in strung out from too much studying.”
Matt realized he’d held Conor’s hand a tad too long and let go. “Good idea,” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to need a part-time job, would you? I can’t pay a whole lot, but it would be worth it to have someone who knows what they’re talking about. And I can definitely work around your class schedule.”
Conor tilted his head, looking at Matt curiously. “I’ve never had a job before,” he said and shrugged. “Sounds like a good experience. When can I start?”
“Right away. As soon as you’d like.” Never had a job? How had he reached his age without having had a job. Unless…his parents had to be rich.
Conor smiled. “Cool,” he said. Then he looked Matt up and down, a slow, deliberate caress of the eyes. “Will we be working together much?”
Matt could feel himself flush. “Well, I’m here from open to close. Once you’ve learned the ropes, that might change some, but I enjoy being here.” He shrugged. “It’s my store. I just bought it from the previous owner a few months ago, so I’m kind of learning some things as I go.”
“Learning on the job, huh? That’s cool.” Another one of those long looks. “Do you own it with anyone? Wife? Girlfriend?” Conor paused significantly. “Boyfriend?”
“No, it’s all mine.” Matt ran a hand over the counter proudly. He debated telling Conor he was single and gay but decided not to encourage him. He was so young.
Conor looked around the shop. “I love it,” he said. “It reminds me of home.”
Matt raised his eyebrows. “My store? Lots of herbs and books on witchcraft?”
“Yeah.” Conor laughed. “Dad’s not much for all the formal stuff. He loves to wing it more often than not. But he does the big holidays with Mom every time. And the kitchen’s more of a workshop than a place to just cook food, I swear.” He waved at the chamomile. “I grew up with this stuff.”
“Then your first assignment once you start will be to sort the herbs. I’ve just had them in alphabetical order,” Matt said. “Of course, then you’ll have to show me where everything is, because I won’t be able find anything.”
“Sounds great.” Conor leaned over the counter to give Matt a thorough look this time, lingering in all the places a kid his age had no business checking out on a man Matt’s age. “I look forward to spending lots of time with you.”
Matt laughed a bit nervously. Maybe he’d made a mistake in impulsively offering Conor a job. “Well, I don’t want you to neglect your classwork. School’s important.”
“I do most of my learning on my own time,” Conor said, backing off. “The Internet’s a wonderful thing, even if I am crap with computers. So you just let me know when you need me, and I’ll work around that.” He brightened. “Hey, boss, can I have some sugar and cinnamon? Just a pinch or two. I want to do something.”
“Sure,” Matt said, cocking an eyebrow. He turned to grab the jars from the shelf behind him, moving the catnip to the side as he did. “I didn’t think there was a kid your age who was crap at computers.”
Conor shrugged. “I grew up with magic and spellbooks,” he said, taking just enough sugar and cinnamon to fill the palm of his hand. “Technology really wasn’t a priority.” He ground the two powders together with his thumb, using small, clockwise motions. Then he cupped his free hand over the full one and whispered something into them. “Be right back,” he said and turned away.
At the front door, Conor carefully sprinkled a line of sugar and cinnamon, the sugar crystals almost seeming to glitter in the sunlight as they fell. Then he dusted off his hands, pressed his fingers to either side of the door frame for a few seconds, and came back to the counter.
“Just a basic charm to draw more customers,” he said, looking very proud of himself. “Got to keep things busy in here so you don’t regret me.”
“Uh-huh.” Matt felt like his eyebrows had been raised almost since Conor had walked through the door. The kid was one surprise after another. And maybe if Matt kept calling him the kid, he could stop thinking about how hot Conor was. “Hope it works. We could use a few more customers.”
Conor gave a small, closed-mouth smile that still managed to crinkle his brown eyes adorably. Before he could say anything, the bell over the door chimed as a small group of students wandered in, all four of them looking around with wide eyes. Right behind them was a middle-aged woman with messy hair and black clothes all in different stages of fading to gray. Behind her came a man in a business suit, who went straight for the green candles.
“Too much sugar, maybe?” Conor mused, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
Matt didn’t want to believe the charm had worked, but this sudden rush of customers was a little too much for coincidence. “Huh,” he said. “Thanks.”
That got a laugh out of Conor as the door opened again, admitting a pair of sorority girls in yoga pants and UGGs. The first batch of students had finished their circuit of the store and were headed toward the counter now, two of them clutching small stacks of basic spellbooks. While Matt was ringing them up, Conor drifted away and over to talk to the businessman.
“Definitely try carving the candle,” Conor was saying as he swapped out the small candles the man had selected for a more substantial–and more expensive– candle. “Something that really means something to you.” He added a brass candleholder to the man’s collection of purchases. “Did you need any herbs or incense?”
The man shook his head, looking a little spooked but determined. Conor just smiled and steered him over to Matt. When the sorority girls cut them off so they could buy a deck of tarot cards, Conor kept the man chatting, lightly cajoling him about buying parchment and ink that he clearly didn’t need or want. By the time they got up to the register, the man was smiling and relaxed.
“I can’t believe I never came in here before,” the man said as Conor walked away, headed for the middle-aged woman who was browsing the crystal selection.
Matt smiled. “We’d love to have you come again,” he said as he rang up the man’s purchases. He couldn’t believe how easy Conor was with the customers and how great he was at the upsell. “Did Conor help you find everything you needed?”
“Oh, he certainly did,” the man said. “That kid is a terrific find. Definitely a born salesman, not to mention he clearly knows what he’s talking about. I’ve been buying off websites for years instead of shopping in person, but I really like it here. It’s comfortable.”
A peal of feminine laughter rang out from the crystal section. Conor was making exaggerated eyes at the woman, teasing out girlish laughter and a surprisingly pretty blush. She was at least old enough to be his mother, but Conor seemed undeterred in his flirting.
The man turned to look at Conor with a soft laugh. Matt grinned. “He was a very lucky find.” Matt refused to acknowledge the quick stab of disappointment. Clearly Conor flirted with everyone, and it hadn’t meant anything before.
He handed the man his bag. “Since Conor helped you, you should have everything you need.”
With more thanks and a wave to Conor, the man left, holding the door open for a couple of teenage boys dressed in overpriced goth gear. Just then, Conor brought the woman to the register, along with a mortar and pestle, three red silk cords, and a pentacle wind chime.
“Joan’s a hedgewitch,” Conor said, grinning happily. He had the slightest gap between his front teeth, but it only seemed to make him more attractive.
“Oh?” Matt asked politely. He had no idea what made a hedgewitch different from a regular witch, but Conor was clearly delighted to meet one. “Well, I’m glad you found us. Did Conor help you find everything you need?”
“For now,” Joan said. “I’ll be back in a few months to get my garden ready for spring.” She patted Conor’s cheek, making him blush. “I’ll be sure to tell my friends to come see you two.”
“Wonderful,” Matt said with a smile. “We’d love to have them come in. And if there’s anything we don’t have, I’m happy to order it in for you.”
Joan thanked them both and left, carefully stepping over Conor’s cinnamon-and-sugar line at the entrance. She shot them a knowing look as the door closed behind her, and then it was just Matt, Conor, and the two boys who were obviously there more for browsing than anything else.
Conor leaned back against the counter, propping himself up with his elbows. “This is fun,” he said.
“I’m glad you think so,” Matt said, putting his elbows on the counter as well. It put him too close to Conor, close enough to smell his fresh, clean scent, almost like a forest, fresh pine but with a hint of citrus. He smelled good. “You want to start today for real?”
“Oh yeah,” Conor said. “Before you know it, you won’t know how you ever lived without me.”
That’s pretty much exactly what Matt was afraid of.
This is the first chapter of Love Will Out, a new book by Elizabeth Silver and Jenny Urban published last month by MLR Press. It is available as ebook on Amazon.