Ok, wow this took me forever to update, and I've been working on this chapter forever, and I finally sat down and got this out, seven pages in all. Whoo, I think that's the most I've done in a long time. Ok, so it was going to be a oneshot but it's been bugging me to go further on it, so here you go. There are going to be flashbacks of when Ash first met James and those were going to be in Italics but it looks tacky, if that's possible :). The flashbacks will have a line between the what's going on now and what happened. Let me know if its confusing please and I'll do the tacky thing and add Italics in later chapters. Anyway, let me know what you think please.
He entered the bar looking up when his name was called and made his way to where his two friends were sitting at a table, waving him over.
"Hey Angel," he said kissing her on the cheek, "hey Dave," he said hugging Angel's husband and his best friend.
"Hey Ash, we ordered you a beer," Dave said as Ash sat on the chair across from them.
"Thanks," Ash said and took a sip of his beer.
"We brought you someone to meet," Angel said and Ash groaned.
"Please tell me you are joking," he said, laying his head down on the table.
"What do you mean?" Angel asked and Ash looked up and Dave just shrugged.
"It's all her," he said.
"Well Ang," he said and glared at the woman, "the last four men you have brought to see me have turned out to be disasters to say the least."
"That's not true!" she cried and both Dave and Ash snorted. "What?!" she cried.
"Well let's see, the last one, Brandon, asked if I would have a threesome with him and his dog!"
"Ok, so he was… eccentric," she said, shrugging and Ash laughed.
"That's an… interesting way to put it," Dave said. He loved his wife but he thought that she tried to set up their best friend with some really weird people.
"No, look he works at my office, he's actually a really nice guy, he's funny, really attractive and is excited to meet you." Ash looked up and studied Angel, she worked at a law firm as a receptionist and found most of the guys she set him up with there.
"Look, I think I'm going to go before he gets here," Ash said, taking another sip of his beer before standing.
"No, wait, please don't go," Angel cried, standing and getting in front of him and putting her hands on his chest. Before he could open his mouth someone walked up behind them and Ash stared at him.
"Hey Angel, sorry I'm late," he said, not noticing Ash at first.
"Oh hey James," she said, forgetting Ash for a moment as she smiled at him. "Don't worry about it. Anyway, this is my husband Dave, you've met him and this," she said and turned to Ash, "is Ash."
"We've met," Ash said and smiled at the man behind Angel.
"What?" Angel said, turning to look between Ash and James. "How?" she asked.
"Angel, he is the owner of Michaela's," Angel stared between the two of them, realization dawning and she slapped her forehead.
"You mentioned that, didn't you?" she asked James and Ash couldn't help notice that James had not stopped looking at him.
"I think I might have," he said, finally turning his eyes to her and smiling. "It's nice to see you again Ash," he said holding out his hand and Ash shook it, noticing that James held on a little longer.
"Same here," he said smiling.
"Hey Ash, weren't you leaving?" Dave spoke up, smirking and the other man and his wife threw him twin glares.
"Of course not," Ash said and Dave had to take another drink to hide his smile as his best friend sat down with a possible new love interest next to him.
"So," James said, shoving his hands into his pockets and watched as Dave and Angel drove away, "I didn't know you knew Angel."
Ash chuckled and rubbed his arms. "I've known Angel and Dave since high school, have been best friends with them since."
"Well that's great," James responded and they fell into a slightly uncomfortable silence.
"So I had fun," Ash said smiling as James held up a hand to call a taxi. Once it pulled up he turned to the younger man.
"So did I," he said and they stood staring for a moment before moving forward and kissing Ash, leaving the younger man breathless.
"Come back to my place with me," he said once they had pulled away from each other.
The jolting stop of the bus woke Ash from his sleep and he sat up, looking out of the window to see a small town. He turned to his companion but saw that the young woman who had replaced Mitch two towns ago was not there. Sighing, he climbed to his feet, grabbing his carry-on and walked off of the bus.
"Where are we?" he asked around a yawn, talking to the bus driver who stood outside the bus.
"We are outside of Boise Idaho, there was a bus that broke down, we have to switch busses."
"When will we be heading out again?"
"Tomorrow morning," the driver said before he walked off, leaving Ash to stare after him. Sighing he turned around, slung his bag over his shoulder and walked across the street where he saw a small diner. Entering he looked around the small diner which was packed. He recognized several of his bus mates hanging around, waiting for food.
"Find a place where you can," a young woman said as she ran past with food in her hands. Turning around, he spotted a seat across from a young man who looked like he was grading papers.
"Do you mind if I sit?" he asked and the other man looked up and Ash felt his breath hitch. He was beautiful with dark brown hair and light blue eyes and an easy smile.
"Sure," he said and Ash felt blood starting to pool in the bottom part of his body so he quickly sat down.
"Can I ask what you are doing?" he asked and the other man looked up again, smiling.
"Grading papers," was the easy response.
"What can I get you?" a voice asked and Ash looked up startled. The waitress from before standing there looking frazzled.
"Um," he said and picked up the menu and the waitress huffed.
"He will have the Cordon Bleu Kim," the other man said, not looking up and Ash was surprised to have the menu pulled out of his hands.
"Anything to drink?" came the terse question.
"Pepsi," he replied.
"We only have Coke products," she snapped.
"Mr. Pibb," Kim said and turned away, leaving Ash feel completely floored.
"Don't take it personally; she's the only waitress today, the other one called in and when a bus breaks down around here, it's hell on our town." Ash stared at the man for a long moment.
"Who are you?" he finally asked and the guy grinned at him again.
"Brian Crocket, high school history teacher, and voluntary fireman," he said holding out his hand and Ash grinned again, shaking it.
"Ash Crawford, looking for an out from my life," he said and sat back as Kim practically threw his food and drink at him before spinning around and leaving.
"We get that a lot," Brian said before turning back to his papers as Ash took a bite of his food and almost moaned. "Amazing huh?" Brian asked and Ash looked up nodding. It was good enough to be in one of the high end restaurants in New York.
"That is wonderful," he said quickly taking another bite.
"Yeah well, Annette is an amazing cook."
"Oh yeah, I know a lot of people in New York would love to get their hands on her." Ash didn't notice the shift from the other man until he started to gather his papers and he looked up, noticing the hard look on the other man's face. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No," Brian said sounding angry and he quickly left without looking back.
"Do you need anything else?" Kim the waitress asked, walking back into his line of vision.
"How about a room? Do you have a hotel around here?"
"We have one hotel, I'm sure it's already booked," she said, setting the check on the table and turned around. Sighing, Ash pulled out his wallet and left enough money for the bill and tip and stood up, grabbing his bag and left the diner.
Standing outside the diner, he looked around, wondering if there was somewhere he could go. He turned back and saw Kim running around and turned back to the town before going back in and snagging Kim's arm as she rushed by.
"What now?" she snapped and Ash smirked.
"Do you need help?" he asked and she rolled her eyes.
"Oh no, I love being here alone. What, are you offering?"
"Yes," he said and she stopped and blinked for a moment, opening her mouth and closing it a few times.
"Oh," she said and looked around. "You'll need to talk to Annette," she said pointing to the kitchen before pulling her arm away and rushing to another table. Walking back through the swinging doors he found a older woman with her shirt sleeves rolled up, a spatula in her hand as she walked back and forth over the stove.
"Excuse me, Annette?" he said and she barely gave him a glance.
"What can I help you with hon?" she asked.
"Well I was hoping I could help you."
"And how would you do that?"
"Well I see you're short handed and I was a waiter in New York for three years and wanted to know if I could help you out." At this Annette stopped and looked at him for a long moment.
"You know your way around food?"
"Yes ma'am," he replied. She stared at him for a few more moments before she nodded and pointed at a white apron behind him.
"Put that on, there should be a order pad in the pocket, we'll work out pay later," she said and turned back to the stove as Kim sent another order back. Turning Ash placed his bags on the floor, picked up the apron and tied it around his waist, pulled the pad out and headed out into the dining area.
Two hours later, the diner was almost empty, a few stragglers hanging around finishing their cups of coffee and Ash sat down at the counter as Annette walked out, a dish rag over her shoulder.
"How'd it go?" she asked, mostly asking Kim who was wiping a table down behind them.
"He knows how to wait tables," Kim replied and walked to the door, turning the "Open" to "Closed".
"You close early," Ash observed and Annette smiled.
"We close at three o'clock and open again at five for dinner," the older woman said.
"Ah," Ash said, sipping at his drink.
"So what's your story hon?" Annette asked, leaning on the counter, staring at Ash.
"Lived in New York for most of my life, found myself in a situation I didn't want to be in anymore and decided to buy a bus ticket and head west." Annette nodded her head.
"You might be surprised at how many people we have who come through here that have the same story." Ash pulled out his tips, pulled off a few bills and handed the rest to Kim as she walked up to place some dirty dishes on the counter. She looked at the bills then at Ash, an eyebrow raised.
"Do I look like a charity case to you?" she asked archly and he laughed.
"Not at all, I just figure if I hadn't been here, these would be yours."
"No, if Tanya had been here," she said, shooting Annette a look, "those would be hers."
"Tanya is pregnant Kim," Annette replied, "and is due any day now, I told her take the rest of the month off."
"Well we need to find a replacement then," Kim shot back.
"Kim," Annette started, sounding tired of the argument.
"Well I'll be here for the rest of the night, I can help with the dinner rush," Ash spoke up, knowing he would be bored out of his mind later on.
"You sure hon?" Annette asked.
"Of course, I'll need to have something to occupy me."
"You want to work to keep from being bored?" Kim asked, sitting next to him.
"It keeps my mind off of things," he said, shrugging.
"Sure Ash," Annette said, "I won't be able to pay you much," she said and Ash held up a hand.
"That's ok, I just might ask for a part of the tips is all." Annette thought about it and nodded, holding out her hand.
"Deal," she said and Ash grinned.
"Well get out of here, both of you, be back here at four," Annette said, waiving them out the door once the other customers were gone. "Go explore the town Ash, see if you can't find anything interesting yeah?"
Ash followed after Kim as she left, turning right as she left the diner, ignoring him and he turned left towards the center of the town.
An hour later, he returned to the diner and found Annette waiting for him with a smile. She fed him and then he helped her refill the ketchup bottles, the salt and pepper shakers and napkin dispensers. At almost five, Kim finally showed up with some excuse and just received a glare from the older woman.
For the next five hours Ash helped Kim and Annette deliver food and drinks to customers, barely taking a break in that time, but he enjoyed meeting the people of the town, almost everyone ate there. He kept his customers smiling and laughing and got to know a few of them, including the mayor's wife, a nice white haired woman with spunk.
"What can I say to keep you here?" Mrs. Forrester asked as he picked up her plate once she was done and Ash laughed. She was a very sweet lady who had been flirting with him all night.
"Well Mrs. Forrester, I'd stay for you, but you're married," he said winking at her.
"My husband wouldn't mind," she smiled at him and he laughed again.
"Well then we'll have to run away together," he turned to go back to the kitchen to put the plates in the sink when he ran into someone, the leftovers going all over the other person's shirt.
"I am so sorry," he said, placing the plates on the table and pulling his rag out and wiped at the shirt.
"Stop," a strong voice commanded and Ash looked up to see Brian standing there, glaring fiercely at Ash. Stepping back the other man shook his head and turned towards the kitchen and Ash picked up the plates and followed him.
"Oh Brian, what happened to your shirt?" Annette asked.
"It's my fault," Ash said, placing the plates in the sink.
"Don't worry about it mom," Brian said, ignoring Ash and kissed the woman's cheek. "I was on my way home anyway, I just stopped by to say hi."
"Are you going to be at dinner tomorrow?" she asked, and feeling like he was eavesdropping, Ash left the kitchen to finish cleaning up in the dining area.
"Hey Annette?" Kim asked walking back into the kitchen, "I'm going to take off." Ash looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost eleven and Kim had already turned the "Open" sign around.
"Ok sweetie, see you Monday," Annette called and Kim walked out, stopping by Ash and she held out her hand.
"Thanks," she said, almost reluctantly and Ash grinned before shaking her hand.
"Not a problem," he said and followed her to the door and locked it as she left. He finished cleaning up, refilling the ketchup bottles and napkin dispensers, trying to keep busy, not thinking of the fact that he didn't have a place to stay for the night. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Brian left and stood up straight as Annette joined him.
"Ok Ash, let's call it a night," she said, turning off the lights, leaving a light in the kitchen as she walked towards the door. Ash nodded and stood, stretching and walking into the kitchen and hung up his apron before he picked his bags up and headed out and waited as Annette locked the door.
"Do you have a place for tonight?" she asked as she headed towards her truck around the back of the diner.
"Uh, no not right now," he said.
"I thought so," she said and turned back towards the back of the diner where a truck was parked next to a set of stairs. She headed up the stairs, pulling out her keys in the process and unlocking the door. Ash followed her inside to find a small apartment, a kitchen to his right and beyond that a small living room with an ancient television.
"It's not much, but you can stay the night here," Annette said, leading the way down a short hallway. "The bed linen is clean, we have a regular tenant that is here every few months and I come in once a month to chase away the dust and cobwebs. The TV is old but it works, picks up the local stations, there is no food in the fridge as no one lives here but you can go down in the morning and make something. This is the bedroom," she said opening a door to a room with a queen size bed against the far wall, a small dresser to the right. "And this is the bathroom," she said opening the door across the hall. The bathroom was decent sized with a bath/shower combination.
"Thank you," Ash said, feeling grateful for her generosity.
"Of course," she said, heading back to the front of the apartment and handing him a spare key. "You know," she said before she left, "Kim is going back to school in a couple of weeks and right now I have no one to replace her."
"Ok," Ash said, not getting what she was hinting at.
"I mean, I know your looking for something, somewhere to settle and if you were interested, you could rent out this place, you're a good worker and this would help me out." Ash's eyes widened at the offer.
"Are you serious?" he asked feeling confused.
"Of course," she said.
"But… you don't even know me," Ash said, no one he knew in New York would offer someone off the street a place to live or a job without knowing everything about them.
"That's true, but I have a good feeling about you, you're a nice kid, friendly and know your way around a restaurant, so I'd like to offer you a place to stay and work." Ash felt like he was reeling he could see that she was quite serious and didn't know what to think. Annette seemed like a nice woman, and she was offering him something that he did not expect, especially to someone she did not know.
"May I think about it?" he asked and she beamed at him.
"Of course, if you're here tomorrow, I'll know your answer, if you leave with the bus, well I'll know the answer also. Good night Ash," she said and left the apartment. Sighing, Ash turned back to the bedroom, pulled out his pajama's from his bag and changed before climbing under the covers.
A woman in a sharp, dark gray business suit entered into the kitchen through the backdoor, looking around as people rushed back and forth.
"Excuse me," she said, her manicured hand reached out and snagged Ash's arm as he ran by, carrying a tray of dirty dishes.
"Yes?" he asked, trying to remember to be nice, more than likely this woman was related to James.
"Have you seen James Gellar?" she asked, looking over his shoulder towards the office.
"Last time I saw him, he was in the office," Ash said, pulling his arm free as George called his name. "Excuse me," he said and ran towards the back.
"Took you long enough," George, the kitchen manager snapped as Ash dumped the dirty dishes in the sink.
"Hey George," Ash said, keeping his eye on the woman as she went into the office and watched as James stood to greet her with a kiss, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"What?" the other man demanded.
"Who is that," he said nodding towards the office and George turned to look.
"Oh, that's Abigail Hewitt, Mr. Gellar's fiancée," he said, turning back to the steak on the grill, barely noticing the fact that Ash had gone very pale. "What's the matter with you, did you sleep with her?" George asked and Ash turned and closed his eyes.
"Yeah right, you think someone like me could get someone like her?" he asked, giving a weak laugh. George eyed him for a moment and sighed before pushing him towards the back.
"Go sit down for a few minutes, I don't need you passing out."
Ash stood in front of the bus, watching as the bus driver took the bags of his bus mates and stowed them under the bus and the others climbed onboard. Turning back, he looked at Annette's diner and what it was offering him. The apartment was not bad, the job was something he knew and the town was small, small enough where everyone knew everyone and everyone's business. Hell the town didn't even have a stop light, probably had one actual cop, and several voluntary cops, like Brian was a voluntary fire fighter.
"Could I actually live here?" he asked himself as he turned around, looking at the small shops, the mom-and-pop grocery that was run by an ancient couple. The small book store that didn't have anything new, he knew, he had been in there yesterday. The town was old, newcomers weren't very welcome, he was sure, but could he do it, could he stay here?
"You coming?" a voice asked and he turned to the bus driver who was staring at him expectantly and noticed he was the last one.
"No," he said finally making a decision, "I'm staying." The bus driver shrugged, closed the baggage area and climbed on the bus. He watched as the bus drove out of town and wondered if he had made a mistake as he turned back towards the diner.