Craig was ready and eagerly waiting to pick Ryan up by eight thirty. The rest of the studio had reluctantly returned to their desks by this time, but they took it in turns to peer into the hall and report to the others on what Craig was doing.
"He's straightening his tie."
"He's pacing up and down."
"He's just standing there, that's so boring, why is he just standing there when it's my turn?"
They fell silent when Ryan hurried out of the bathroom, dressed in a blue shirt and fancy jacket he'd stored in his locker for what he called 'manager emergencies'. When he was called to an impromptu meeting and he felt the need to wear a posh jacket. He'd put contact lenses in, but now regretted it as his eyes were red and watering. He only felt slightly sick.
Kelly was waiting by the door with a huge smile on her face. "Oh Ryan, you look lovely." She straightened his collar. "Have fun, ok?"
Chuck, who was stood behind her in the doorway, scowled. "Rough up the competition for me a bit, kid. You've got some muscle on you, I'm not against physical violence." He gave a weak attempt at a jab-cross in the air.
Ryan faltered. He didn't know what to say.
"Chuck, just leave him," Kelly snapped. "He's a young man and he likes a guy and they're going on a date. This has nothing to do with work."
Chuck stalked off, mumbling something about how he'd thought Ryan liked Montana. It made Ryan feel nauseous and not in a good way.
Kelly patted Ryan comfortingly on the shoulder. "Ignore him, I hope you have an amazing time." He nodded and thanked her, then hurried into the hall to greet Craig. Who looked stunning. Who was smiling at him. Who was making his heart beat at an incredible rate.
"He-ey," he exhaled shakily.
Craig leaned in and kissed him gently on the cheek. It made Ryan light headed. "Hi Ryan. I love your jacket." He stroked a hand down Ryan's arm, making him shiver. The urge to grab Craig's hand and never let go of it was almost overpowering.
Craig peered back into the studio, where people were still desperately trying to catch a glimpse of them. Ryan felt hot embarrassment at his co-workers burn in his chest. Now Craig would see that they didn't respect him, he had no authority, and no one had any regard for his boundaries. Not exactly the characteristics you'd want in a date.
But Craig just placed his hand lightly on Ryan's lower back, turning him away from the studio and walking towards the elevators. "Your studio looks like a riot," he chuckled. When Ryan just sighed sadly, he continued, "Don't worry, mine's exactly the same. And they treat people's love lives just like they treat the news; people want to know everything.
"Oh," was all Ryan replied.
"Hey, it's alright." They stepped into the elevator. When Ryan leaned against the bar he made sure his fingers overlapped with Craig's. "Everyone loves you." Ryan wondered if Craig was included in that everyone, but then he felt stupid. They hadn't even had a first date yet, of course Craig didn't love him. And he hadn't been very loveable so far: all he'd done was worry.
Outside was a dry, warm dusk. Craig had parked his car right outside the studio. He opened the door for Ryan, then offered to drop him off back at the studio to pick up his own car.
"Oh, thanks, but I don't drive," Ryan admitted. "Life just sort of jumped from one crazy place to another and I never had the time to learn." Craig's car was modest and simple, but it had the air of a family car. All it needed was a child seat in the back. Stickers on the window. A few toys strewn about. Ryan had always wanted a family car: a little messy, always with at least one bump in it, but a place his kids could safely fall asleep, exhausted after a long day out.
"Yeah, tell me about it. Life in news is hectic. And you have the hardest job, I admire you. You have to be so calm under pressure, how do you do it?" Craig took his eyes off the road for a moment to smile softly at Ryan. He turned away to hide his blushing cheeks.
"Well, you know, I'm just calm. Calm. Under pressure. Yeah, super calm." Even the question ad given him a mini panic attack.
Craig laughed musically. "You're hilarious!"
They stopped a few blocks from the restaurant and walked along the brightly lit streets. Ryan used the bustling sidewalk as an excuse to press his shoulder against Craig's, which made his skin tingle. Craig made no attempt to pull away as he chatted to Ryan over the noise of the crowds. "I feel like last time was kind of overwhelming for a first date, I'm sorry. It was a lot of romance. So this time I thought we'd go a bit more commercial, if that's ok."
I'd die for you, Ryan thought. "Yeah, that's totally fine. Commercial places always have good garlic bread." He licked his lips slightly and giggled. Craig's eyes widened. He leaned in for a second, as if he was going to kiss him, then he laughed and straightened up.
"That's true," he smiled.
After rounding another corner they arrived. A warm glow spilled from the windows, illuminating the street and silhouetting the people inside. It was one of those chain restaurants where each branch was unique and still maintained a friendly ambience. And had great garlic bread.
The pair sat in the window, where Ryan thought the soft lighting made Craig look enticing and ethereal. He hid his gaze behind the menu, only risking a glance at Craig ever so often, but every time he looked up Craig already seemed to be staring at him. He was smiling widely, but not the fake smile he used to do the news. This one was gentle, warm, and loving. It gave Ryan butterflies.
"So, now I can finally ask you some first date questions, right?" Craig enquired, tilting his head endearingly to one side. The thought made Ryan nervous, but he nodded anyway. "Great! I want to know everything about you, so forgive me if the questions are boring." His hand inched tentatively across the table until he slid it in to Ryan's, looking shyly up at his date to make sure this was ok. Ryan just shrugged, but stared down at their intertwined hands. His hand was sweaty and shaking, but Craig's was sturdy and warm. It made him feel calm enough to take deeper breaths.
"So, umm, you from Pennsylvania?" Craig asked.
"I don't really know," Ryan said before he could stop himself. His heart began to race again. "Well, no, umm, no, I have lived here for a long time. But I don't know if I'm from here originally." Craig was frowning slightly, confused. "My parents died when I was really small," he continued quickly, only realising how much of a mood killer that was after the words had left his mouth. He was in too deep to stop now. "I didn't even have a name yet. Some drunk loser got to name me after an actor or sportsman or someone he liked. I think I moved around a bit before I got to California, but I don't really know."
Ryan waited for Craig to pull back, look uncomfortable, even leave, but instead he tightened his grip on Ryan's hand. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "But you got a nice family eventually, right?"
"That's how it goes in the movies, huh?" Ryan was gripping Craig's hand unbelievably tightly. "No, I've never had anyone. One of my parents, God I don't even know which one, was an immigrant, and you know how American's hate immigrants." His voice was bitter. His eyes burned with tears of anger and overbearing sadness. "That's-" He bit his lip hard as a tear crawled down his cheek, "That's something they don't tell you in the brochure!"
A young waiter began to approach the table, but after a glance at Ryan breaking down and Craig gently wiping his tears he panicked and rushed back to the kitchen.
"Fuck, this is even worse than the last date," Ryan said pitifully, trying to wipe his tears away without knocking his contact lenses out. "I'm really sorry."
"Don't be sorry." Craig tucked Ryan's curls behind his ear. "I shouldn't have asked. But you can tell me anything you like, even if it's something... Not so nice. You deserve a loving family." He took Ryan's hand again.
"Why-" Ryan sniffed and wiped his eyes once more, "Why don't you tell me where you're from for a bit?"
"Of course," Craig smiled. "I grew up in California, but it's not what you think. Poor little place by the sea where people grow marijuana on their terraces and teenagers tattoo themselves with pins. It was just me and my mum in this tiny apartment. And we had this really shitty old TV, and the only channel it consistently played was the news. This is going to sound so dumb, but the anchors felt kind of like my family, I guess that's where I got my passion for news from."
"That's not dumb at all. I think it's sweet." Ryan clung to Craig's words. He remembered all too well his wasted childhood in front of a television set, a different one every few months. How every character, every news anchor, every weatherman had felt like the only constant things in his life. He'd always assumed his passion for television was a waste of time, but after he secured an internship at the studio the speed with which he rocketed to manager proved him wrong.
Craig blushed and for the first time that evening looked away from Ryan. "Thanks."
Trying to turn the conversation to a lighter note, Craig asked Ryan about his hobbies. He told him he loved film and television, obviously, but especially current things. "I think people put too much emphasis on old movie," he said. "I admire things that were good for their time, but film is just getting better and better, I think we should appreciate that."
Craig loved team sports and swimming and sci-fi. Ryan admitted that he detested team sports, he could never grab anyone's attention, but he loved to box. He'd never started a fight but he could certainly defend himself if hassled. Craig was impressed but not shocked; he said he'd always been rather in awe of how broad Ryan's shoulders were.
The garlic bread was very good.
Growing up Craig had had a labrador he took to the beach every morning. Ryan laughed and said that no matter where he went there always seemed to be a chihuahua nearby; whether that was in the house or somewhere down the road, barking at three am. Despite that, he still loved dogs.
"Have you ever had a boyfriend before?" Ryan asked Craig, although his question was rally directed at the table.
"Yeah, I've had two actually. One was just sort of a 'I've just discovered my sexuality, let's hold hands' thing in high school. The other was a proper relationship a few years back." He gave Ryan a lopsided grin. "What about you?"
Ryan squirmed. "I've actually never had a boyfriend." His voice was soft and barely audible. "Don't worry, I'm not a complete loser, I've had a couple of girlfriends. And I've had crushed on guys before, but I'm not really the sort of guy to make a move on anyone. If you're not cool with that I totally get it."
"No, hey." Craig gently placed a hand under Ryan's chin and tilted it up, so that he was looking into his eyes. "That's fine, Ryan." The sound of Craig saying his name was comforting. He said it vibrantly, as if saying Ryan's name made him happy. "And even if you'd never had a girlfriend that wouldn't make you a loser. We judge people too much on how many people the dated."
Craig's eyes made Ryan's heart melt.
The sky had faded to a deep blue and the dry air had become sharp and cold. Ryan feebly tried to pull his thin jacket more snugly around him.
"Oh, here!" Craig slipped his own jacket off and wrapped it around Ryan's shoulders, then he pulled the shivering boy against his chest. "Your hair smells like cinnamon," he whispered.
Ryan rested his head against Craig's shoulder. "Thanks, I eat a lot of cinnamon. In coffee and on muffins and stuff, I don't just eat cinnamon." Craig kissed him on the forehead and told him he was cute. That, more than anything else, made Ryan feel warm.
In the car Craig turned the heat on, even though Ryan still had his jacket draped over his shoulders, which made Ryan feel drowsy. He sunk back into the seat and enjoyed the serene conversation, trying not to blink for too long.
Craig gently tapped his thigh when they arrived at his apartment. "I'll walk you to your door." His door was one meter of pavement and three steps away.
"Thank you so much. I had a super awesome time tonight," Ryan said, starting to slip Craig's jacket off. "I'd umm... If you'd like to... Yeah, umm, I want to..."
"Keep the jacket," Craig said firmly, pressing it into Ryan's hands. "And I'll come pick it up sometime soon. And, if you like, you can ask me on a second date."
Ryan nodded gratefully, clutching the jacket against his chest. "Thank you." He looked between the door and Craig, but made no move towards either.
"There is one more thing I wanted to say," Craig blurted out rapidly. A moment of silence. The street was still. "I really like you, Ryan."
"I really like you too," Ryan beamed. "Is-is that what you wanted to say?" Craig's hand was on his forearm now. He'd leaned in slightly. His lips were pursed and his eyes wide.
"No," Craig exhaled. He leaned in closer. Pressed his nose against Ryan's. "I actually wanted to kiss you. Is that ok?"
"That's, it's, umm, I..." Ryan took a deep breath. "Yes."
Craig tilted his head slightly and pressed his lips against Ryan's. Softly at first, then more deeply and passionately as he pulled Ryan closer, one hand tangled in his hair. "You're so hot, Ryan," he sighed.
"Sorry." Ryan shuffled back a bit. "I get really hot when I'm nervous. And kissing a cute boy makes me really nervous."
"No, not like that." Craig tugged on Ryan's sleeve and pulled him back against his chest. "You're attractive. You're cute. I like you."
"Oh. I like you too." He hopped on to the first step then kissed Craig on the cheek. "So, do I have to wait three days to call you or is that just a myth?" He took another step towards the door. Craig grabbed his hand.
"You can call me whenever you like. Don't worry." For a moment they just stood, holding hands, Ryan blushing down at the floor and Craig staring at him intensely. Then Craig stepped up beside Ryan, kissed him chastely, and jumped back down again. "Thanks for the best first date ever," he smiled, and then he was gone.
Ryan stood on the steps, Craig's jacket clutched in one hand, the other pressed against his lips, which tingled electrically. He hadn't had many first kisses, but that was certainly the best he'd ever experienced. Craig's lips were soft, one hand firm and protective on his back, the other gently caressing his hair. As Ryan clutched Craig's jacket to his chest the only thing on his mind was kissing Craig again.