But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You
Title: But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You
Series: The Best Moves
Disclaimer: Wholly original work.
Characters/Pairings: Julian, Riley, Full-Cast.
Rating: MA overall.
Summary: Sometimes relationships end just because they do, and sometimes magical things happen just because they can. And sometimes starting over isn't the worst thing in the world.
Julian Lanford took one last look at himself in the mirror, hoping the disaster he was expecting had somehow been averted. It had not.
Outside it was raining, but inside the modest apartment he shared, it was simply damp.
And Julian's hair did not like anything having to do with dampness.
"Fuck it," Julian muttered, grabbing for the bottle of hair gel that he'd set down not two minutes before. The hair on the top of his head was defying both gravity and hair gel, causing a frizzy brown halo that was mostly likely not even visible to anyone beside Julian himself.
He wanted to look good, though. Today was his first chance in quite awhile - he was going to land himself a new job. Well, he was at least going to try.
Hopefully a suit was not necessary - not for a place that paid six dollars an hour. He was wearing his nicest pair of pants and shirt that he owned, and his shoes were clean for once.
Julian only owned one jacket - hopefully that could be overlooked.
Looking at his hair again, Julian wondered if a baseball cap would go over as badly as he feared it might.
From age sixteen until a few months ago, Julian had worked in some capacity or other at his Uncle Henry's factory - SuperKwality Plastic Mold, Inc. However, his uncle had passed away and things had gone downhill, eventually causing the factory to close. Julian, along with dozens of his peers, had simply been left with nothing other than a partial final paycheck.
He wasn't really cut out for anything besides working at SuperKwality, either - Julian had been well on his way to becoming a unit supervisor and getting a clipboard of his own, a change from his usual job of making little parts to fit inside car doors.
He'd really wanted the clipboard.
Julian knew that he didn't have the most versatile people skills, either. Most of the time at SuperKwality, he had dealt with people too doped up to care what he had to say. Sometimes, though those days had passed, he had been too doped up as well.
In the end, he was going to try his hand at retail, stocking and cleaning a new store in the local mall. It wasn't making little plastic bits, but it was a job. And he really, really needed one. The small savings that Julian had accumulated over the years was gone, fed quickly to bills, rent, and two new rear tires for his car.
He hadn't meant to mooch off his phone-company salesperson boyfriend, Arden, but unemployment only went so far as well. So that was exactly what happened - he was mooching.
Arden was the one with the apartment. Arden paid the bills. Arden was a little older and definitely the force that kept Julian together and moving forward during stressful times. He was a centering point - a rock.
With one last look in the mirror, Julian reached to turn off the bathroom light. His hair was going to look bad no matter what he did. It was a fact. All he could do now was try to be charming and not say anything overly stupid.
If he could find his car keys.
They weren't on the kitchen table, which is where he knew he'd left them. And while they had to be somewhere, well, the apartment always seemed much bigger when Julian was trying to locate something in it.
After a couple of minutes of scrambling around, Julian's eyes caught on the key-rack near the door. His keyring hung there, plain as day, mocking him. Julian sighed - Arden's doing. Arden was neat and organized. Julian was... running late.
"Fuck," Julian muttered. He'd wanted to leave five minutes before. "Fuck." And now he was stuck in what he considered his 'swearing mode', which was not good.
"Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck fuck," he sang sharply as he stepped into the hallway. After making sure the door was locked, he ran. "Fuckity fuck fuck fuck..."
Cussing like a sailor hadn't been a problem at SuperKwality, but Julian could well imagine that it wouldn't be welcome anywhere dealing with the public. Hopefully, if he just kept swearing for a few minutes, it'd clear his system.
His voice wasn't bad, he decided as he exited the building and headed towards the parking lot. He'd never been told that he could sing, but Julian thought he could. He knew he sounded good when he sung along to the car radio. But he didn't consider himself particularly talented at anything, though he'd played basketball for a year in high school, which had to count for something.
In the parking lot, Julian winced and wished he had a coat with a hood. But it was too late - he was getting thoroughly rained on. Not wasting seconds, he ran to the covered parking space his tiny Ford Tempo occupied. Yet again, he'd forgotten to lock the doors. However, it didn't look like anything had been stolen. There really wasn't anything worth stealing, after all. Even the cassette deck didn't work and the button that swapped between AM and FM had fallen in, leaving Julian with a choice of three local AM stations that were rarely ever worth listening to.
The car stalled and died three times before it stayed running, leaving Julian cursing yet again. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he turned the radio on, just in case. One of the stations played oldies on occasion and could be tolerable.
Julian had nearly bought a new car just before SuperKwality had closed. In hindsight, he was glad he hadn't, though he knew the Tempo wasn't long for the world. It was the first thing he'd bought on his own - the combined total of his first four checks from SuperKwality just covering it.
The second thing to come from SuperKwality was Arden. And while Arden had five years on Julian, at sixteen, Julian had thought Arden owned the world.
Julian's parents, however, hadn't thought so. After a year of denial and tension, they politely arranged for Julian to live with his Uncle. At eighteen, Julian moved in with Arden.
Arden had short blond hair, sometimes spiked. He was tall, muscular, and generally the last person anyone ever thought to be involved with someone like Julian. Julian was small, but not overly so. His darkish hair covered his ears and generally looked better when hidden by a ratty baseball cap.
The last three years of living together hadn't been easy, but they had settled into a comfortable routine. The closing of SuperKwality, though, had been a bit of a kick in the head. It had been right around that time that Arden had started to pick up extra hours and work a sixth day every week.
Arden had left SuperKwality after a car accident had left him unable to stand for long periods of time. In the end, that too had worked out for the better, but at the time, it had been catastrophic. And after that, Julian had decided that he and Arden could make it through anything.
But with Arden gone so often, Julian had to admit that he'd picked up a few bad habits. Like drinking. Not that he'd done any in the last few hours, of course.
"Fuck!" Julian exclaimed as he missed the third traffic light in a row. It would take a miracle to get him to the interview on time.
A girl group was cooing to their true love on the radio, and Julian couldn't help but start singing along. No matter how annoyed he got, a good song always broke through to him.
The mall parking lot wasn't overly packed. It was still early, Julian told himself, and it was a Tuesday. No one went to the mall on Tuesday mornings.
He parked outside the discount store. He almost always did when circumstance forced him to visit the mall. It wasn't one of those trashy discount stores. In fact, he wasn't sure 'discount store' was the right term for the place. But 'department store' made him think of Sears or something in New York City. Whatever the store was, he liked their stuff.
A sign on their door announced that they were hiring and Julian made a mental note to grab an application if his interview wasn't successful.
Just inside the door he saw a group of the store's employees lounging in the little cafe area, most likely on break. He watched them a second, wondering if he could really manage to be as happy as they all appeared while dealing with the public.
He was still watching them as he headed into the mall. Walking right behind them, he could hear snatches of what a red-haired man was saying.
"Matthew will be back today - you'll have to give up Halloween, Claudia," he said, looking at the girl who sat across from him. She pouted in response, and before she could reply, Julian found himself in the corridor of the mall.
He kept walking, glancing at the shops to either side of him, reminding himself that there was really nothing he wanted. Besides, he didn't exactly have the money for anything anyway.
He almost walked right past TrendBeat, a unisex clothing shop. He had applied for a part-time morning shift - cleaning, stocking and generally being a salesperson. And he would be out of there before the evening mallrats arrived.
The girl at the counter explained that she was the manager and that the interview would be very, very informal. She looked younger than Julian currently felt.
Trying to smile, he reminded himself not to cuss. And then he proceeded to prove just why he shouldn't be working with anything besides plastic door parts.
Afterward, somewhat dejected, Julian found himself wandering through the mall, looking for any other 'help wanted' signs on places that didn't repulse him and/or sell pink things. It was still early and the corridors contained more fitness walkers decked out in weights and sweatbands than actual shoppers.
There was a certain hesitation forming in the pit of his stomach. He wasn't a mall person and it wasn't somewhere he really wanted to work. And he'd just been rejected.
But in the end, work was work and these places were hiring.
As he headed back towards the discount store to get an application, he noticed that the shop just before it, a strange little place that looked like a bad mix of tourist junk and general tackiness, had a sign up.
Julian shrugged and went in.
The man behind the counter was eating an egg sandwich, probably purchased down in the food court. It smelled delicious and Julian instantly wished that he hadn't skipped breakfast.
"Excuse me," Julian said softly. He sort of hated to bother the man, but...
Julian nearly froze. Somehow he'd processed 'man' and not 'handsome, slightly older man with long, curly brown hair and eyes that seemed to go on forever', which had been an error. He was speaking with the latter, not the former.
"Um, sign," Julian managed. "Help wanted sign."
"Shit," the man replied, "I forgot to take that down. I hired someone last night just before close."
"Oh..." Frowning, Julian turned to go.
"Know anything about books?" the man asked.
"Um... not really," Julian admitted, turning back. While he wasn't really interested in a conversation with a random, handsome man who wasn't going to give him a job, Julian wasn't really doing anything else anyway.
"Oh... Well, do you show up every day, mostly on time?" Smiling, the man reached down under the counter and pulled out a still-wrapped sandwich. "And would you like breakfast? For some reason, I happened to buy two today."
Julian frowned again. "Well, I... Attendance is important," he stammered. He tried not to reach for the sandwich. The situation was just too weird.
"Take the sandwich," the man said, smiling wider. "And come back tomorrow. I'm good friends with the owner of the bookstore down the corridor. He needs a salesclerk who doesn't mind learning things and shows up every day, mostly the latter. However, he has been on vacation for the last week and won't be in til tomorrow."
Julian blinked a couple of times. Somehow, he ended up holding the sandwich.
"You're... helping me?" he finally asked.
"Mmm-hmm," the man replied. "Name's Riley, by the way. Riley Mingan Hart, but you can call me either 'Riley' or 'Mingan'. Your choice."
"Julian. Julian Lanford," Julian replied. He would have offered his hand for a handshake, but he was holding an egg sandwich. "Ah... Thank you!"
"Come back tomorrow," Riley repeated, just as a couple of shoppers wandered into the store.
With Riley distracted, Julian quickly back-stepped out of the store, a little too confused to remember he was supposed to be picking up more job applications.
He bolted out of the mall and only stopped when he realized it was still raining.
And he was still holding the sandwich.
Marching to his car, Julian wondered what to do with himself. He could go home and clean, or he could watch movies and drink. He could sleep... The rain had not let up at all, forming small rivers on the edges of the road. The truck in front of him kept spraying mist up onto Julian's windshield. What Julian really needed, he realized, was a new pair of wipers. He probably needed an oil change too. And possibly a new battery. Besides that, there was a slightly unsettling rattle that had gotten louder during the last couple of months.
Julian turned the radio up. The Supremes had the uncanny ability to ward off any sort of foul car-related mood, thankfully, as they filled the space with the soul of the sixties.
Somewhere between the mall and the apartment, he ate the sandwich. The crumpled wrapped was pitched into the backseat, something Arden would complain about later. Not that they ever went anywhere together anymore. And certainly not in Julian's car.
Throwing his keyes down just inside the door, Julian tried to shake the damp feeling from his body. He felt as though the rain had soaked through his soul, not just through his shirt to coat his skin with it's cool dankness.
He tried not to think about Riley and how odd that all had been. He kicked off his shoes and sighed - was there any point in going back? Was Riley being serious.
Julian supposed it wouldn't hurt to find out. A sort of anxiousness was forming over him, making him jittery. He wanted to work on something, but he had no clue just what.
There was an old Dreamcast plugged into the television, but Julian couldn't quite bring himself to get wrapped up in a video game. Pulling off his shirt and heaving it at a kitchen chair, he settled down onto the sofa and turned on the television.
Arden liked movies, so they had all of the movie channels. Julian wasn't a particular fan, but if he could watch something from the beginning, he was happy. Arden had no problems watching movies from the middle, but it drove Julian crazy unless it was something he knew very, very well.
Surfing, he found himself the 'coming next' screen for a comedy. He was asleep by the time it was half over, his adrenaline spent and the warm blanket he had pulled over himself lulling him into a calming state.
Despite having slept well the night before, Julian didn't wake up until his stomach and bladder teamed up to let him know that they really deserved some attention. At least there were some edible leftovers in the fridge, Julian discovered once he'd returned from the bathroom.
The entire apartment complex seemed painfully quiet. Usually there was a ruckus somewhere, but that had dwindled as summer moved into early fall. Julian looked out the window after setting the microwave and wasn't overly surprised to see the leaves turning. The rain was still falling, casting a gloom over everything. It was prematurely dark outside and Julian found himself compelled to look away.
He had a half-formed notion that perhaps he was being given a sign. But before that could come to fruition, the microwave beeped and warm potatoes and chicken distracted Julian from any thoughts more complex than calming his growing stomach.
He'd gotten used to eating most meals alone. Arden just seemed to always be gone, working longer and longer hours almost every month. But they were financially okay, so that was what was important on the base level. They were okay.
Still, Julian found himself quite missing the intimacy of having Arden around, even for simple touches or smiles. Somehow not having Arden physically around was forming a sort of hole, despite the fact that Arden came home every night and crawled into their shared bed, quiet and almost apologetic for his consistent lateness.
That night was no different than any other.
And with that, Julian didn't even get a chance to mention what had happened at the mall. It wasn't the first thing on his mind. And Arden probably wouldn't have wanted to hear about a stranger offering him a sandwich anyway.
What Julian really wanted was a nice enthusiastic romp, just like they had used to have all the time when first living together. It didn't have to be drawn out lovemaking, it just had to be a quick, intense moment of sex and togetherness and everything Julian needed. He knew Arden loved him, but he was only human.
Instead, Julian settled in to sleep, trying to take comfort that Arden was warm beside him, offering comfort from the wind that had taken to howling a whipping around the outside of the apartment complex.
"Arden, are you awake?" Julian whispered a few minutes after Arden had finished getting comfortable.
There was no response. Julian was afraid that it would be a very long winter ahead.
Julian arrived outside the strange little tacky import store just as Riley was rolling the gate up.
"Morning!" Riley said, offering a genuine smile. "I was wondering if you'd come."
Julian nodded, trying to figure out just why Riley unnerved him so much. There was just something very strange about the man, or quite a few stranges.
"Well, Kevin is waiting for us, so we'd best head off," Riley continued, gesturing down the corridor.
"But..." Julian pointed at the shop - surely Riley couldn't just walk away from it.
"Remember, I just hired someone," Riley said, grinning again.
"Leah?" Riley called into the store. "You remember how to run the register, right? And dust everything while I'm gone..."
"Yes, boss," came in response as a young woman poked her head up from behind the counter. She had long, red-streaked blond hair and heavily shadowed eyes.
"Isn't she pretty?" Riley asked as he steered Julian into the corridor.
"Well..." Julian stammered. "I suppose."
"She just moved in with me," Riley continued, grinning. "Cooks well."
"Oh..." Julian wondered if he should be hearing what he was hearing. "Um..."
Riley leaned over and whispered in his ear - "She's my sister."
Julian tripped over his own feet and Riley started laughing.
"Sorry," he said with a grin, "I just wanted to say it. Though I don't think she's quite your type anyway. Definitely not mine."
"I... I have a significant other," Julian said quickly.
"That means a dog or a boyfriend," Riley replied. "Doesn't matter to me. You seem like a nice enough guy."
"You've known me a combined total of ten minutes," Julian stated, despite knowing he shouldn't be so rude to someone trying to help him.
Riley shrugged. "I just know things," he said as they arrived at the bookstore. "You'll get used to it."
Julian wasn't sure how he made it through the interview - he spent most of it trying to figure out how he'd made a very strange, very random new friend.
"I have a job," Julian announced when Arden arrived home that evening. He did not think it was worth mentioning that he'd also had a lovely breakfast bought for him or been fussed after by punk girl who thought he should be wearing dresses.
"Where?" Arden asked as he took his shoes off. It was early compared to when Arden usually arrived home - only a little after six.
"Bookstore in the mall," Julian replied. Arden started laughing.
"You? Books?" he asked, making a face as he turned to look at Julian.
"I'll learn," Julian replied. He longed for a bottle of beer but was holding off.
"Eh, it's a job," Arden said as he looked around. "You cleaned?"
"A little," Julian admitted. He didn't want to say that one of his new duties involved vacuuming and he thought to get a little practice in.
"What do you think about Chinese take out?" Arden questioned as he walked through the apartment. "Because it looks like you cleaned the kitchen even."
"Nervous energy?" Julian suggested as he stood and tagged along after Arden. "You want me to go get it, right?"
"Do you mind? I can change and I have a couple phone calls to make," Arden said as he reached to pull Julian close. "It's been awhile since I've been home this early."
Julian smiled. It felt like everything was going to be okay.
"Hey, you, Julian!"
Julian turned just in time to see Leah waving to him from inside the tacky import store. He'd been trying to sneak by, just because he was tired and his head was full after his first six hours as a bookstore employee.
"Come on in!" she called, gesturing for him to enter.
"Afternoon," Julian managed, frowning as he walked in. The mall was mostly-desolate, which suited him fine, though he assumed it was bad for business.
Leah had her hair up in pigtails, which looked odd because she was at least Julian's age if not older. To complete the look, she was wearing a plaid jumper and kneesocks.
Apparently, she'd caught his appraisal of her outfit.
"You want me to see if I can find this in your size?" she questioned, circling around him. "I bet you're not too much bigger than I am. Bet your boyfriend would like it..."
"How do you...? Don't dress me up like you!" Julian exclaimed as he turned to leave. "I should be going. I'm tired."
"Keep me company," Leah pleaded, quickly jumping in front of Julian. "I'll be good, don't worry."
"Mostly good," she corrected. "And just for a bit. Riley's taking the day off so it's boring here. I've dusted everything twice already."
Julian glanced around the shop for other customers, hoping to send Leah after them, but he was out of luck.
"How does this place stay open?" he questioned. "I never see..."
"Hmmm, actually..." Leah interrupted, smiling, "there are a ton of things that sell well to the kids at night. Japanese candy, plastic bracelets, Mexican Day of the Dead stuff... You'd be surprised."
"Speaking of candy, you want some?" Leah questioned. "Or lunch? I brought mine but made way too much and have leftovers."
"No thanks," Julian said. "Have I kept you company enough yet?"
"Nope," Leah replied. "C'mon and sit down and talk to me, okay?"
"Must I?" Julian didn't think there was any reason for him to keep hanging around, though he was grateful to Riley and that probably extended to Leah. Except... Leah was far too enthusiastic for her own good.
"For a little bit," Leah said, looking at him with the same endless eyes that Riley had.
Julian found himself nodding, a little unsure as to why. Somehow, he couldn't help but think his life was changing. Everything was changing.
And Leah ended up feeding him anyway.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!