The studio was already crowded and lively by the time Ryan arrived. People complained loudly about the loudness of others. Coffee was passed around by bleary eyed technicians. Papers and sleepy 'good morning's were exchanged. Ryan hunched his shoulders. It was a lot to manage so early in the morning and he'd had a stressful evening.
Making straight for the coffee machine, Ryan poured himself a black coffee with just enough sugar for it to be drinkable. It steamed up his glasses as he drank, rendering him momentarily defenceless. Once his glasses cleared he was shocked to find Kelly stood inches from his face. He stepped back, knocking into the cabinet.
"Well?" She cooed, leaning in closer. Ryan's eyes darted side to side, desperately seeking an escape route. "Everyone's waiting to hear how it went!" Sensing Ryan was uncomfortable she leaned back, instead offering a warm smile. Ryan relaxed.
"Umm, how-how what went?" He stuttered. A small group was beginning to gather behind Kelly.
"Y'know." The look she gave Ryan told him he should know. "Your date with Craig!" A mumble of agreement came from his audience.
Ryan frowned, his face becoming adorably crumpled. "I-I didn't go on a date with Craig." The statement gave him butterflies. "It was just a business meeting. We talked about news and cameras and... Stuff." Craig's eyes were bright and beautiful, and in the candlelight Ryan could look at nothing else, but despite the romantic setting everything else was very business-like. Ryan had even brought a briefcase.
"What do you mean it wasn't a date? Of course it was a date!" Now Kelly was frowning. "Did he tell you it wasn't a date?"
When Craig had called him last week he hadn't told him it was a date, he'd simply asked him out to dinner. Naturally Ryan had assumed it was a business meeting. However they had gone to a nice restaurant; a small, homey Italian place with candles on each table and romantic music played by a live string band and... Oh God it was a date! It was a date, and Ryan had brought his brief case and his papers and all he'd talked about was work! No wonder Craig had looked so disheartened.
"Oh God!" Ryan fell back against the cabinet. The coffee machine burned his back. "Oh God! That was a date!" He knotted a hand in his hair and took shallow, uneven breaths. "A cute boy asked me in a date and... And I didn't even go on a date with him!" A sudden thought hit Ryan. "A... A cute boy asked me on a date!" He straightened his glasses and brushed his hair out of his eyes.
Not that Craig would ever want to go on a date with him again. At best he'd think Ryan simply wasn't interested, but he probably just thought him rude or annoying or too invested in his work. Probably all three.
Ryan felt tingly and sweaty with everyone staring at him. Now he'd embarrassed himself in front of Craig and the entire studio. They had such little respect for him to begin with he barely even dared do any work today. Let someone else deal with the rabble. Someone like...
"Chuck! Chuck!" Gary was calling him over, much to Ryan's dismay. "Guess what?"
"Oh, don't. Leave the poor boy alone." Kelly elbowed Gary lightly in an attempt to get him to shut up.
Ryan was torn between appreciation at Kelly saving him from embarrassment and indignation at being called a boy. "Thanks, but I'm not a little kid," is what he settled on. Gary continued to beckon Chuck over and Kelly stepped back.
"Chuck," Gary grinned, "Craig St Claire asked Ryan on a date and he didn't even realise it, so he acted like it was a business meeting!"
Chuck smirked and clapped a hand on Ryan's shoulder. "Good for you, kid. Confuse the competition, I like it. And who'd have known that St Claire was gay?"
"I-I wasn't confusing anyone. It was an honest mistake. An-and he's not gay, I-I don't think he's gay. I don't know." He sighed heavily. "I didn't mean anything, I just didn't know what he was asking! You're all stressing me out so much right now, I'm so hot!" Ryan fanned his face with both hands and tried not to lean so hard on the coffee machine. His skin prickled uncomfortably.
"Oh Ryan, it's ok," Kelly soothed. "I'm sure Craig will understand if you just explain everything to him." She began to gently guide him towards his office.
"Do you think he'd go on an actual date with me now? I'm so embarrassed." Ryan watched his feet as he walked.
"Of course sweetie, of course. Now, go on," she pushed him into his office. The crowed was now gathered around his window, not even pretending they were working. Chuck lingered in the background, uncomfortable and disapproving.
Hands shaking, Ryan picked up the phone and dialled Craig's number. Of course he knew it by heart. Craig answered almost immediately. "Hey." The word seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. "It's Ryan."
"Oh." That wasn't a very pleasant 'oh'. It was overly cheery, hiding a lingering melancholy. "Hi Ryan. What can I do for you?"
Kiss me, fall in love with me, marry me, Ryan thought immediately. "Just, just a thing," he said airily. "A thing I wanted to ask. To ask you. I wanted to ask you a thing." Ryan was all too aware of how tongue tied he was becoming, and how disjointed his sentences must have seemed.
"Go on then," Craig chuckled. "Ask me something." Ryan leaned heavily on the desk; even Craig's voice was beautiful.
"You know how last week you called me?" He stopped. He didn't know why he'd stopped. But suddenly he couldn't carry on.
"Yeah, I remember," Craig prompted softly.
"And you asked if I wanted to go out to dinner?"
"Uh-huh. Of course."
"So we went to dinner."
"Yeah, we did."
"In this super romantic restaurant and there were candles and love songs and spaghetti." His speech was getting faster and slightly more panicked with each word. "And I was talking to Kelly and she thought it was a date and was it a date or not because I am so freaking out!"
Silence. Ryan could hear his blood pumping through his veins far faster than it had any right to be. He moved to perch on the edge of his seat, but the wheeled chair slid from beneath him and he landed on the floor. A jolt to the phone cable sent the receiver flying across the desk and into his lap. Laughter erupted from behind the glass.
"What's that? Are you ok?" Craig asked.
Ryan cradled the receiver protectively. "Yeah, that's just the sound of people disrespecting me."
"It was a date," Craig said hurriedly. "At least, it was meant to be a date. I even called Kelly to ask her, gosh this is awkward, to ask her some stuff about, where you'd like to go and stuff." He laughed to himself and Ryan imagined he was blushing. "She said you like Italian food."
"I do like Italian food," Ryan beamed. "But I'm really sorry I acted like it was a business meeting. I just couldn't imagine you asking me on a date. I'm sorry."
"Are you kidding?" Craig exclaimed. "Half the girls in my studio have a crush on you. Some of the guys too. They're absolutely in awe of you! Plus, you're super cute, so there's that."
Ryan grinned stupidly and screwed his eyes up in delight.
"So, correct me if I'm wrong, but does this mean you would like to go on a date with me?" Ryan had never heard him to hopeful and unsure. He decided it felt good making someone else flustered, rather than being the flustered one, for once.
"Well, I'm really, really embarrassed, so ideally I'd never see you again in my life to avoid a potential heart attack." Ryan was certain he never could've had this conversation face to face. "But also I really, really, really, really, really want to go on a proper date with you." Brilliant, he was back to being flustered.
"Great!" Craig seemed to dial his excitement back a little. "Great. So we'll have a proper first date, and I'll bring a defibrillator."
Ryan laughed uncontrollably, desperately trying to cover his mouth. He probably sounded crazy. "Sorry, sorry," he panted.
"No, you have a really happy laugh. I like it." He paused for a moment. "So, umm, you still like Italian food?"
"Definitely," Ryan nodded happily.
"Think you could eat more Italian food?"
"Ye-ah." Ryan would have eaten gravel it meant he could go on a date with Craig.
"Think you could eat more Italian food tonight? Can I pick you up after work?"
"That would be-" Ryan sighed dreamily and leaned his head against the desk, "So awesome."
"Great! Great. Great! I can't wait!" Craig paused and laughed lightly. "And this is a date, right Ryan?"
Ryan's cheeks glowed bright red. "Yeah, this is definitely a date."
"Amazing. See you tonight then."
"Yeah, cool." Ryan listened to the disconnected phone line for a little while after Craig hung up, basking in the glory of what had just happened. Craig has asked him on an actual, proper date, even after the disaster that was their last 'date'. And he was excited about it. So excited he wanted to pick him up tonight. Plus, he got more Italian food, and that was always a good thing.
Eventually he turned round to face the glass where most of the office was waiting eagerly, as if they hadn't heard half the conversation. Ryan gave an awkward thumbs up, causing the studio to burst into a round of cheers and clapping. Everyone seemed to be grinning, everyone happy for him. He smiled shyly. Maybe they respected him a little better than he thought.
Then he hit his head on the desk as he tried to get up and the studio exploded into laughter once more. So maybe they didn't respect him, but they certainly liked him, and that counted for something.