Holiday Flashfiction #2: Personal Shopper
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For the most part, Dane Jericho loved his job. Every day it was something new. As the owner of a small company with three part-time employees, he got to be his own boss. He wasn’t quite successful enough yet to just be the boss, though. He worked forty or more hours a week just like everybody else.
He preferred to be called a personal assistant or lifestyle concierge, but he knew other people thought his job was frivolous. He did whatever was necessary to make the lives of his clients easier. He took care of pets, ran errands, filled out handwritten cards, waited for the cable guy, oversaw minor construction work, booked travel, helped plan events, and pretty much anything else the client needed.
Basically, he was an errand boy. A twenty-five dollar an hour errand boy.
Never was that driven home more than when he dealt with his richest and most spoiled clients. Most of the people he worked for were ordinary folks: time-strapped single moms who needed a handyman, older men and women who wanted a ride to the doctor or someone to wait for the plumber, or harried professionals who didn’t have time to shop or take their car to get its oil changed. Those clients saw him as an equal, or sometimes as a special treat if someone else had purchased his services.
Since Dane had started working through a few upscale local hotels, his clientele had changed a bit. The majority of his clients were still the ordinary people, but he now had a few demanding clients who saw him not as an equal, but as a convenience. They thought nothing of calling him at strange hours, and they expected to deal with him rather than one of his employees. Whatever they wanted was more important than anything else he could have scheduled, at least in their eyes. He only had a few of these “special” clients, fortunately. Although they paid very well, the added stress made Dane wonder if the money was worth it sometimes.
It was with trepidation that he picked up his cell phone when he noticed the caller was none other than Mr. Preston Carlisle Ascot III, the single-most spoiled and demanding client of all. Mr. Ascot had hired him to set up several dinners for himself and business clients when he’d been in town a few months prior, and been so pleased with Dane’s work that he called every time he was in town. This close to Christmas, Dane could use the money even more than usual. He’d been doing business like crazy, and he wanted to offer one of his part-timers a full-time position. Mr. Ascot’s continued business would help him do that.
With a sigh, Dane answered up the phone. “Jericho Concierge Services, Dane speaking.”
“Dane!” Preston Ascot’s overly genial voice boomed into Dane’s ear, making him wince. “I’m glad I’ve caught you. Tell me you have today free.”
Dane closed his eyes, envisioning his plans to get caught up with his own errands going up in smoke. “I can certainly make time for whatever you need, Mr. Ascot. What can I do for you?”
“Excellent, excellent. I was supposed to take my grandson shopping today, and do some sight-seeing and whatnot with the boy. Unfortunately, some problems arose with the company, and I’ve got to go back to New York to deal with them. I need you to take him.”
Dane pinched the bridge of his nose to fend off an approaching headache. Shopping and sightseeing with a kid he didn’t even know? He could think of about a million things he’d rather be doing today. Seven a.m. on a Saturday, before his first cup of coffee, and his day was already shot to hell.
On the plus side, Mr. Ascot was a high-profile client who had already referred two others to Dane’s business. He couldn’t afford to tell the man no. With false cheer, he said, “I can certainly take him. Were there any particular places you had in mind?”
Three hours later, Dane entered the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown St. Louis. All glass and metal and cushy sofas, the lobby practically screamed “money.” Dane stopped just inside, looking around for Mr. Ascot’s grandson. He had no idea how old the kid was. Mr. Ascot had just said “the boy” would meet Dane in the lobby at ten. In retrospect, Dane realized he should have asked for more details. He didn’t think he’d be escorting a toddler around, but knowing Mr. Ascot, anything was possible.
“Dane, you’re here. Wonderful.”
He jumped at the sound of Mr. Ascot’s booming voice. “I didn’t realize you’d still be in town, Mr. Ascot.”
Mr. Ascot waved a hand. “I’m on my way out, actually. My flight leaves at noon. I just wanted to make sure everything was set with my grandson before I left.”
The man’s words drew Dane’s attention to the person standing just behind Mr. Ascot. A young man stepped up beside Mr. Ascot and smiled. “Hello. Dane, right?” The “boy” held out a hand.
Dane stared. This was no boy. The man before him was in his mid-twenties, with broad shoulders and a trim waist encased in a pinstriped button-up shirt and khakis. His dark hair was short enough to be businesslike, but a bit tousled. Blue eyes sparkled above a wide, genuine smile. Mr. Ascot’s grandson was not only not a kid, but he was hot.
A slight quirk of the young man’s eyebrow jolted Dane out of his stunned state. He had been staring way too long. “Dane Jericho.” He shook the man’s hand.
Mr. Ascot was nodding his head. “You two have fun. And remember what I said, Dane.”
Dane remembered. He was to buy the “boy” whatever he wanted, and go wherever he wanted. Since it was on Mr. Ascot’s tab, not his, Dane hadn’t said anything about the extravagance or the danger of the grandson getting spoiled. Seeing the young man now, he figured he was already spoiled if he was going to be, and it was too late to worry about it either way.
Mr. Ascot patted his grandson’s shoulder. “I’ll see you soon, Preston.”
“Your name is Preston, too?” Dane wanted to curse the second the stupid question slipped out, but the other man didn’t seem annoyed.
In fact, his smile widened. “Preston Carlisle Ascot V, at your service.” He sketched a silly bow. “But please, call me Pres.” His tone conspiratorial, he stage-whispered, “The name’s a little ridiculous, but it makes Grandfather happy.”
Dane couldn’t help but grin at that. Maybe Pres wouldn’t be the spoiled brat he’d feared after all. At least he wasn’t a little kid. “So, what do you want to do? I have instructions to take you shopping and then sightseeing, but it’s your show. I’m yours all day.”
Pres’s bright blue gaze raked over him from his head to his toes. “I like the sound of that.”
Before Dane had a chance to analyze the remark, Pres headed for the door. “Let’s get started, then. I’ve never been to St. Louis before.”
Rather than choosing to head to the Galleria or some other expensive shopping destination, Pres waved off the whole idea of shopping. After telling Dane he didn’t need any more “stuff,” he asked Dane to take him to the Arch. Although he’d lived in St. Louis for most of his life, Dane had never been up in the Arch. He enjoyed watching Pres’s awe at the view even more than getting to go up himself.
Afterward, they headed to the art museum, and then the St. Louis Science Center. He laughed when Pres insisted on asking a passerby to take their picture in front of the huge dinosaurs outside the Science Center. Together, they explored the exhibits inside. Contrary to the stuffy, businesslike attitude his grandfather usually projected, Pres seemed laid-back and fun. He helped some kids build a bridge out of blocks at one of the exhibits, and then helped them knock the huge, soft blocks down while Dane watched and smiled.
“You’re a lot different than I expected,” Dane confessed as they walked through the holiday light display at the zoo later that evening.
That seemed to amuse Pres. “What did you expect? Someone more like my grandfather?”
Dane blushed at his own judgmental attitude. “Well, yeah.” He grinned. “I also expected you to be younger. He kept calling you ‘the boy’ like you were a little kid.”
Laughing, Pres sipped his hot chocolate. “I’m sure he still thinks of me as a boy. He’s been a little nostalgic ever since he decided to let me come out here and head up the St. Louis branch.”
“I thought you were just in town for a while. You’re staying, then?” Dane tried to ignore the way his heart leapt at the idea. Pres may be different than he’d expected, but they didn’t exactly run in the same circles. A guy like Preston Carlisle Ascot V wouldn’t have any interest in a simple lifestyle concierge, no matter how fancy the faux title.
Pres nodded. “I’ll be moving to St. Louis next month. This trip is kind of a scouting mission.”
“What do you think of the city so far?”
“It’s great. There are a lot of things to do. The only downside is I’ll be leaving all my friends in New York.”
That really would suck. Dane found himself wanting to cheer the other man up again. “I’m sure that part will be hard. But you’ve been a lot of fun to hang out with today. I almost forgot why we were out. You won’t have any trouble making new friends.”
Pres frowned. “I forgot why we were out, too. I guess I needed the reminder. And you probably have other things to do this weekend besides babysit me.” His voice sounded…hurt.
Way to put your foot in it. “That’s not what I meant. I don’t see this as babysitting.” Or even as a job, really. The sense of being on a job had faded hours ago. Not very professional of him.
Pres stopped walking. He hesitated as if considering his words. “Today has been the best day I’ve had in a long time. I was kind of hoping that when I come back, to stay I mean, we could hang out again. As friends. Or maybe even more.” When Dane didn’t reply right away, Preston shook his head. “Never mind. It was stupid. I’m sure you’re busy, and I’m a client, and I shouldn’t assume—”
The torrent of words cut off abruptly. Pres stared at him, disbelief warring with hope. “What?”
Dane dared to reach out and touch his hand. “Yes, I’d like to hang out with you when you come back.”
Preston’s smile took his breath away. A warm hand brushed against his. “As friends?”
Dane could feel his lips creeping upward into a smile. “Or more.”
“I’ll have to tell my grandfather thanks. He always gets the best gifts.”
Dane shrugged. “It’s easy when you have a personal shopper.”
Pres laughed, a joyful sound. Dane joined in, and together they walked along the path, through a winter wonderland of pretty lights and crisp, cold air.