The next day on his lunch break Aaron got his phone out and dialed. “Iukekini, we need to talk.”
“About what?” he replied; his voice a mixture of hurt and anger.
“Is there an us?” Iukekini’s voice was now more anger than hurt.
“I want there to be.” Aaron replied quietly.
"I sense there's a 'but in there somewhere, and I think I know where it is. I was such an ass to Clark and Danny. I was so far out of line I don't know if there is any way to get back TO us."
"I'm going to be completely honest with you. Yes, Clark was my first boyfriend, but before that he was my best friend. He was always there to support me, especially when I totally lost it after my first fire-related death. How can I not show him the same level of support after he lost the ability to do what he loved best - firefighting?"
“I understand your need to support him. My brother asked me what I would do if I could no longer fight fires. I told him I’d be totally devastated. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for him, but I want to support him as well. I owe him and Danny an apology. You, however, are a different story.” He held his hand up when he saw Aaron start to bristle. “There’s no way in hell I could make up for being such an ass-wipe.” Tears started flowing down his cheeks. He fell to his knees and bowed his head, whispering “Even though I don’t deserve it, I can only ask for your forgiveness.”
Aaron reached down and grabbed him by the armpits, pulling him to his feet. “Baby, I forgive you. I just wish you could tell me why you were so jealous of him. You’re not the jealous type, or at least I didn’t think you were.”
Iukekini let out a mirthless laugh. “I’m not really. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve never been anyone’s first boyfriend. I’ll never know what that’s like.”
“We’re together now. That’s all that matters.”
“Are we together?” Iukekini asked with hope in his voice.
Instead of saying anything, Aaron took Iukekini’s hand and led him into the bedroom.
The following month saw Aaron as a civilian again, this time for good. His and Iukekini’s relationship was stronger than ever. He even managed to get a job with the Honolulu Fire Department, unfortunately at a much lower pay than his original job was. However, he was making enough between the HFD and Candle Crafts so that he was able to pay his fair share of the rent, utilities and food so he didn’t feel like he was a burden to Iukekini.
One afternoon after he finished his shift at the firehouse his cell rang. Glancing at the caller ID display, he flipped his phone open. “Hey, buddy, how’s everything over there in the mainland?”
“Just great” Clark responded. “You sound like you’re in a good mood. Everything still okay between you and Iukekini?”
“Yeah, they are. Thanks for talking with him and letting him apologize to you and Danny. It meant a lot to him.”
“No problem. Once I understood what his problem with me was, it was easy. To tell you the truth, if our roles were reverse, I’d probably react the same way. Anyway, the reason I’m calling is to let you know the great news.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Candle Crafts will soon be a reality. We found a huge storefront and the renovations are almost complete. We’re a fully licensed business and once the renovations are complete, sometime next week, we’ll be able to start setting everything up.”
“That’s awesome news. I can’t tell you how happy I am for you.” Aaron was almost giddy in his excitement at the news. “I can’t wait to tell Grace.”
“She already knows. I’ve been talking to her just about every day now that it’s getting closer and closer. She’s sending me a list for a starting inventory for the store and she helped me find a local distributor for everything. I tell you, she’s something else.”
“Isn’t she? I’ve never met anyone like her. She’s awesome.”
“So are you. None of this would have been possible without you.” Clark’s voice was filled with emotion.
“Ah, you’re forgetting something. It was you who taught me everything I know, so for all intents and purposes, it wouldn’t have been possible without you. If you hadn’t taught me, I never would have gotten the job at Candle Crafts in the first place.”
“Maybe so, but I still owe you a lot.”
“Just do well and we’ll call it even. Listen, I gotta run or I’ll be late for the studio. Talk with you later, Clark. Aloha!”
Grace walked into the studio just as Aaron was finishing tidying up and getting ready to leave. “Grace! What are you doing here so late? I thought you left hours ago.”
“I did, but I came back because I wanted to talk with you for a couple of minutes. According to Clark, the renovations to his store will be complete sometime next week. What he doesn’t know is that his initial inventory is just waiting to be delivered, already paid for.”
“He’s going to shit his pants over that.” Aaron grinned.
“Probably, but what I’m about to propose is that, if you can get the time off, I want to send you to San Diego for a month to help him get things organized and up and running. The computers, servers and software for the cashier, office and retail store are all set to be delivered and set up just as soon as Clark takes possession of the store.”
“Grace, there’s no way I can afford that. I’ve just been laid off due to the city budget not passing on time. Iukekini just got a transfer to Search and Rescue, and since he was the low man on the totem pole, he got the axe as well. However, since he’s been a full time Firefighter for a long time, he’s able to draw unemployment until he gets recalled. I can’t because I haven’t been there long enough.”
“Are the two of you going to be okay financially? I can try to get you more hours here.”
“We’ll be fine. He’s getting the full amount allowed by law for his unemployment and I still have a couple thousand dollars in the bank to help keep us afloat until we’re both back to work. I just can’t spend any of that money on a trip when I don’t know how long I’ll be out of work.”
“Okay, so as your boss, I’m ordering you to go to San Diego, all expenses paid, for a month to help get the new store up and running. You will be getting a full-time salary and you are to take Iukekini with you if he wants to go, again all expenses paid. End of discussion. What I don’t think you’ve considered is the fact that if Clark is successful, this will open the door for franchise opportunities. Imagine Candle Crafts stores all over the country.”
“That’s an awesome idea, but how do you think Clark would feel if I just showed up and started organizing things? Wouldn’t it be like stepping on his toes? I couldn’t do that to him.”
“I’ve actually discussed the possibility with him and he’s excited about it. With you and Iukekini there to help get the retail store and studio set up, he can concentrate on interviewing, hiring and training employees. The quicker all that gets done; the sooner the doors can be opened for business. He’s also mentioned that he would like you to be a second interviewer when it comes time to hire the instructor. He would do the first interview then you would do a second interview as the certified master instructor from here.”
“You’re sure he’s okay with all of this?”
“You can ask him yourself.”
“I wonder why he didn’t say anything to me on the phone earlier.”
“I asked him not to say anything to you until I had the chance to talk to you first, and you had the chance to talk with Iukekini. For the record, he has no problem with Iukekini accompanying you. I cannot pay him anything since he’s not on the payroll, and I don’t want to mess up his unemployment, but if he does help out, I want you to keep a record of the hours he puts in, and however many hours he puts in be converted to a dollar amount that will be put on a gift card.”
“Wow, that’s very generous of you. I’ll talk it over with him and let you know what he says in a couple of days.”
“Okay. Have him call me if he has any questions. Goodnight, Aaron.”
“Good night, Grace. Have a great night.”
After finishing tidying up the studio, he called Iukekini. “Hey, baby, how are you doing?”
“I’m a little tired. Since I have the time off, I decided to clean the apartment from top to bottom. How are you doing?”
“Good. Why didn’t you wait for me? I would have helped you.”
“I know you would, but you were busy at the store. How’d everything go tonight?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Grace stopped me and had an interesting conversation with me. Up for some company?”
“Since when do you need to ask? Get your ass over here ASAP! What did Grace want?”
“Since we broke up and are just getting back together.” He said quietly.
“We’re not JUST getting back together, we are back together. I love you, and I want you here. Don’t you want to be here?”
“Yes, more than anything. I’m just…” Aaron broke off, not knowing how to express his fear, fear of rejection.
“Baby, I know what you’re thinking. Please, come home. This is your home now as well.” Iukekini responded in a voice choked with emotion as he quickly reassured Aaron.
“I’ll be there in a few then we can talk about my conversation with Grace.”
“Good or bad?”
“Awesomely awesome” Aaron quickly replied; excitement and enthusiasm replacing the fear in his voice. “See you in a few.” He hung up and practically ran out the door to his car, waving to everyone as he left in a rush. True to his word, in a few minutes he was in Iukekini’s arms.
“Okay, the suspense is killing me. What is it that you and Grace talked about?” Iukekini asked after finally releasing Aaron from his arms, having kissed him senseless.
“Well, as you know, Clark and Danny are setting up their own Candle Crafts store in San Diego.” Aaron paused to see what kind of reaction Iukekini had to the mention of Clark’s name. He didn’t have to wait long.
“Yeah, I know. It’s pretty cool that Grace is branching out. From what you’ve told me about Clark, if he puts half of the dedication and commitment into the store that he did in his firefighting, I think the store will do well. Who knows, perhaps Candle Crafts can become a franchise.”
“That’s what Grace said. Anyway, the renovations to the storefront will be completed next week, and what he doesn’t know is that his initial inventory for the retail store and studio are already paid for by Grace and ready to ship to him as soon as he has ownership of the store.”
“Cool. How long does he think it will take to get everything set up for the opening?”
“Well, that depends…” Aaron’s voice trailed off in an attempt to build up the suspense for his big reveal of Grace’s plans.
“Depends on what?”
“On you and me” Aaron replied slyly.
“You and me? What do we have to do with it?” Iukekini inquired.
“Well, it seems that, if you are willing, Grace is going to send the two of us for a month to help get the store and studio set up so that Clark can concentrate on hiring and training employees. She also wants me to do a secondary interview of the applicants for the instructor position. She’s going to pay all of our expenses. She’s going to pay me a salary. She can’t pay you a salary since you’re not a Candle Crafts employee and she doesn’t want to mess up your unemployment, but whatever time you put in is going to be paid to you via gift card.”
Iukekini sat back in his chair. “Wow.” He was silent for a couple of minutes. Aaron could tell by the expression on his face that he was giving the matter serious consideration. Finally he looked Aaron straight in the eyes, a serious expression on his face as he asked “what does Clark think about all this? Would he have a problem with me accompanying you?”
“He’s all for it.”
“When would we leave?”
“I don’t know, but there’s one way to find out.” He got out his cell and dialed, putting it on speaker.
“Hi Aaron” Grace’s cheerful voice came on the line.
“Hi, Grace. I just talked with Iukekini about your proposal. Say hi, Iukekini.”
“Hi, Iukekini! So what do the two of you think of my idea?”
Before Aaron had the chance to reply, Iukekini spoke up “Grace, are you sure Clark and Danny won’t have a problem with me being there?”
“Not at all; what I didn’t tell Aaron was that when I first mentioned sending Aaron to help out, it was Clark’s idea to have you come along.”
“Cool. I can’t speak for Aaron, but I’d love to go. It really sounds like fun.”
“So when do we leave, Grace?” Aaron inquired.
“Clark takes possession of the store this coming Friday, so I’d like to have the two of you leave on Thursday. That will give the two of you time to get settled in. I’d also like to have you call me and let me know for sure if Clark takes possession of the store so I can get the supplies and stuff delivered.”
“Okay, so what do we have to do?”
“Nothing, Aaron. I’ll make all the arrangements and give you a call when everything is settled. As of now, you are relieved of all duties at the shop so you can take whatever time you need to get ready to go for a month. Iukekini, do you have someone who can watch over your apartment while you’re gone?”
“I’m sure my brother will. I’ll call him tomorrow after he gets off work. He’s in court all day.”
“Great. I’ll let you guys go and call you in a couple of days. Good night.”
“Good night, Grace” Aaron and Iukekini chorused as Aaron hung up. They talked long into the night about the trip and made a plan of attack for the following month. While not expressing his thoughts, Aaron was looking forward to the possibility of meeting up with Clark’s family. He mentally kicked himself for not staying in touch with them and promised himself to rectify that situation quickly and permanently.
Time passed quickly and the boys found themselves checking into their hotel in San Diego, only slightly surprised to find that Grace booked them a suite. After an amazing dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf, and getting a map from the hotel front desk, they hopped into their rental car and drove around the city, checking out a few sights before returning to the hotel to prepare their little surprise for tomorrow. Aaron had called Clark, wishing him luck. Clark thanked him and expressed his wishes that Aaron could be there to see the new place. Little did he know that Aaron was actually calling him from his hotel. Clark was definitely going to shit his pants in the morning.
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