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You Had Me at Hello

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“Dana, it’s time.”

“Is it?” Dana responds absently, not looking up from her desk.

“It is indeed.”

“Care to tell me what, exactly, it is time for?”

“It’s time for me to ask Casey on a date.”

Dana finally looks up at Dan. She blinks, unimpressed. “Oh, that.”

“Hey now.”

“Dan, every couple of months since you turned thirty-five–“

“It’s not—“

“You’ve come to either me or Natalie and made this grand declaration—”

“Related to my age—”

“Which also happened to coincide with Casey coming out to you—”

“I didn’t know he knew what bisexuality was!”

(Sure, Dan had come out to Casey himself a few years earlier but they’d rarely ever talked about it and part of Dan thought Casey just blocked it out until Casey said, “Danny, I’m pretty sure I’m bisexual” and upended Dan’s worldview.)

“And every time we give you advice you ignore it. So tell me exactly why exactly it’s ‘time’ again?”

Dan sighs, dragging a hand over his face. “He wants me to help make him an online dating profile.”

Dana stares at him, then bursts out laughing.

“It isn’t funny.” Dan scowls, crossing his arms over his chest.

“It’s a little,” she hiccups, “funny.”

“Whatever. So it’s time for me to just bite the bullet before I inadvertently help him find his dream man.”

Dana sobers, then salutes him. “I wish you luck, my good man.”

“You don't believe I’m going to do it.”

“Not a chance.”

“I’m offended, Dana. Truly.”

“Go back to work, Danny.”

Dan goes.
________________

It’s Friday night after the show, and the plan is for pizza, beers, and Match.com. Dan has had four days to work himself into a panic, which is directly related to ensuring that third thing on the agenda does not happen. In the end, he can’t get the words out, just like he hasn’t been able to for the past eight months and if he’s honest with himself: the past sixteen years as well.

Ultimately it’s a lot easier to help Casey make a profile and laugh at all the uncool shit he wants to put on it, like the Starland Vocal Band and Matchbox Twenty. Dan fully admits he’s a chicken, but it isn’t exactly a piece of cake to ask your best friend out. He’s been nursing this crush long enough that it’s like a second skin at this point. It’s waxed and waned over the years, in between relationships and Casey’s marriage (that was no fun) but it’s never disappeared. If Dan were honest with himself, like Abby tells him to be, it’s clearly more than a crush. But saying those three words in his own head isn’t healthy for anyone, despite what his therapist might think. Especially if Dan can’t manage to pull the trigger on this.

It was a lot easier when he thought Casey was straight. At least then he knew it was one half of the population that was out of luck. But now Dan gets to be the supportive best friend while Casey attempts to navigate dating within a new demographic.

“Should we say something like ‘discretion a must?’”

Dan rolls his eyes. “You aren’t Tom Cruise levels of famous, Casey.”

“Is Tom Cruise gay?”

“I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.” Dan continues typing. “I’m putting in ‘career-oriented, works long hours, and must like kids.’”

“Danny, I’m trying to land a man, not scare one away.”

“Please never say land a man again.”

Casey laughs. It’s such a good laugh. Dan wants to press his face to Casey’s throat and feel it rumble against his lips.

He coughs. “It’s important to be honest, Casey.”

“I thought you said everyone lies on the internet.”

“They do, but you don’t have to.”

Casey starts babbling about how Dan should include the fraternity, how it might make him sound experienced, but Dan is hardly paying attention. He just had an idea. An awful idea. A terrible, awful idea.

Everyone lies on the internet. Dan could. Dan could—

No. It’s wrong. It’s idiotic.

And yet… it might be the only way he can finally fess up to his feelings. Sure, with a little deception at first, but...

Dana and Natalie will kill him. Dan will take his chances.
________________

That night after arriving home, Dan creates a Match.com profile. He doesn’t necessarily fib in his likes and interests, but he doesn’t include every single thing so as not to make it too obvious. Tom Waits and Joy Division get left on the cutting room floor, but Peter Gabriel and R.E.M stay. He uses a picture of Wayne Gretzky as his photo, his middle name as his display name, and says he’s looking for someone who doesn’t mind a busy schedule and that he likes kids. By the time he finishes he realizes that, aside from some omissions and tweaks, he basically made an accurate profile.

The next day he gets an email with his matches. Casey is #1 with 96%. Dan stares at the screen. He always knew they were compatible; you don’t stay friends with someone for sixteen years while also working with them without some degree of chemistry. Still, seeing it spelled out in black and white is a lot. If this doesn’t work out, it might possibly break him.

Dan has laid the groundwork, now all he has to do is wait. He doesn’t want to reach out to Casey first. It feels too much like being a puppet master.

He doesn’t receive a message from Casey for the rest of the weekend, and instead gets ones from fifteen other guys. It’s Casey’s weekend off with Charlie (Dan is doing the show with Bobbi) so Danny isn’t completely surprised, but he’s still anxious.

Come Monday morning Dan has checked his email at least hundred times and he’s fidgety as he gets to the office.

“Hey.”

“Hi, good show this weekend.”

“Thanks. How was it with Charlie?”

“Nice. Took him to the Mystic Aquarium.”

Dan nods, biting his lip. Luckily he doesn’t have to wait long.

“I’ve got, uh. A lot of interest in my profile.”

Dan grins, face tight. “Oh yeah?”

“Mmhmm. It’s a bit, uh, overwhelming. I like that they tell you your top matches, though. There’s one guy I might message.”

“Mm. He cute?”

“Dunno, he uses a picture of Gretzky. Could be a psychopath, could be a good sign. Seems really into sports.”

Dan bites back a smile. “Well, that’s incredibly unique.”

“Shut up.” Casey laughs.
________________

Dan expects Casey to need him to hold his hand and dictate what to say, but Casey surprises Dan by saying he wants to do it himself. Dan wonders what he’s going to say. It will probably be incredibly dorky while somehow managing to be charming. In other words, Casey to a T.

Dan goes to his actual office and sits there, grinning. He’s still grinning when Natalie pops her head in. “So you did it, then?”

“Huh?”

“The thing. You told him?”

“Oh.” Dan scratches the back of his head. “No.”

“Great, now I owe Dana twenty bucks. Huh. I could’ve sworn you did, you’re glowing.”

“What? I’m not— glowing.”

Natalie squints at him. “You are. And you’re uncomfortable. Daniel Rydell, just what are you up to?”

“Nothing!”

Forty minutes later Dan is dragged into the janitor's closet by both Dana and Natalie; he cracks out of pure fear.

“This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done,” Dana says flatly after he finishes.

“I don’t know about that.” They both look at Natalie, Dana with betrayal, Dan with triumphant surprise. “Oh come on, Dana, you love Rom-Coms as much as I do and this usually works out in the end.”

“Yeah, after lies and anger and hurt!”

“Because characters in Rom-Coms wait too long to reveal themselves! Tell her, Dan!”

Dan rubs at his eyes. “I can’t believe we are equating my life to a romantic comedy but yes, Natalie is correct. I have no plans to draw this out. I just need to get on a date with him and you both are well aware I can’t manage to ask him out as myself. Once he knows it’s me, the ball is in his court.”

“I think you are both certifiable,” Dana declares. “And if I notice this becoming a Truth About Cats and Dogs situation, I’m pulling the plug.” Then she walks off.

Dan looks at Natalie. “Truth about what?”

Natalie pats him on the shoulder. “You have much to learn about Rom-Coms, Dan.”
________________

Dan rents The Truth about Cats and Dogs from Blockbuster that night.

Yeah, no, that isn’t happening is what he texts Natalie after it ends. Although the phone sex part...

Dan wonders what phone sex with Casey would be like. He’d probably be awkward; he’d attempt to have game; Dan would most likely laugh. Dan’s never thought about it before. Now he can’t stop.

Fucking Rom-Com’s.
________________

It takes Casey two days to message Dan and they are the longest two days of his life. Dan was correct; Casey’s message is cheesy yet charming and Dan is almost jealous of his fake persona before realizing how insane that is.

Hi there,

New around these parts so not totally sure what I’m doing but according to algorithms you appear to be my highest match out of current possible matches.

“Johnny, tell him what he’s won!”

“One incredibly awkward email, Bob.”

But seriously, you seem interesting and you like both kids and sports which are pretty much my two main prerequisites. Along with a good sense of humor.

Not sure what else to say, a lot is already on my profile along with my picture (my best friend said I couldn’t use my headshot, that it’d just make me look pretentious). Still not out but also not totally hiding it. Even so if you do recognize me I’d appreciate discretion (my best friend thinks I’m egotistical for saying that but some of the other guys who messaged me thought I’m just someone pretending to be me so I personally don’t think he gives me enough credit).

Casey

Dan rereads it three times, hates how in love he is, and downs a shot before writing back. He’s also feeling pretty smug about Casey mentioning him not once but twice.

Casey,

Wow. Casey McCall. Love the show, man. Hang on a sec…

Okay, back. Sorry, had to call The Post and give them a blind item.

Kidding!

Pretty new to all this myself, tried it once a few years ago and crashed and burned. Makes me a bit gunshy. Still prefer the old-fashioned way of meeting people.

You have pretty suspect taste in music, Casey, and your interest in soccer is concerning but who am I to question the impeccable algorithm of Match.com. That being said, I’m not kidding when I say I do prefer the old-fashioned way. You seem like the old-fashioned type (Starland Vocal Band, cough) so what do you say we bypass the weeks of messaging back and forth and just meet?

E.

________________

Dan doesn’t get a response that night. Nor does he the next morning. When he gets to work Casey is pacing in his office.

“What’s up?”

“I need your advice,” Casey blurts. And then he pulls Dan around to his computer and shows him Dan’s message. “He wants to meet.”

“I see that. He’s also completely accurate in his assessment of the things you like.”

“Very funny. This is serious, I haven’t replied but I think I want to? Meet, that is.”

“Casey, he’s a stranger. Who made a joke about tipping off the press. What happened to discretion?”

He’s a little shocked at how down with the idea Casey is.

Casey scowls. “What happened to you laughing at me for that? And if he actually wanted to do that he wouldn’t have joked about it.”

“You don’t even know what he looks like!”

“There’s general physical characteristics in his profile and looks aren’t everything, you know.”

Dan snorts. “Yes, because you and Sally started up due to all those long, meaningful conversations.”

“Why are you so opposed to this?”

Dan blinks, realizes that he’s trying to talk Casey out of meeting himself. He idly wonders how people in Rom-Coms keep their sanity.

“I guess I expected you to be more picky,” he finally mumbles, which isn’t necessarily untrue.

Casey stares at him for a moment before nodding. “Well, I suppose I’m maturing. After all, Danny, I’m not getting any younger here.”

So Casey agrees to meet ‘Elliot’ and suggests some wine bar on the Lower East Side because it’s “more inconspicuous than a sports bar, right?”

Dan secretly replies back from his computer later and says that he’ll be there with a copy of The Dreyfus Affair. Seems fitting.

“It’s like You’ve Got Mail!” Natalie coos in the hallway later, while Casey is out getting sandwiches.

“Shop Around the Corner is highly superior,” says Isaac, passing them by without a second glance. Dan does a double take; he decides he doesn’t even want to know.

“This is going to be a disaster.” He groans dramatically, banging his head against the wall.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Natalie corrects.

“No, it’s going to be a disaster,” a rogue Dana replies without missing a beat, before disappearing into Isaac’s office.

Dan just bangs his head against the wall again before Natalie pulls him away and begins talking dinner date attire.
________________

Dan’s impressed that Casey was able to find a wine bar that’s open late enough to accommodate their post midnight schedules. He vaguely wonders if Casey’s taken someone here before, or if he just had help from Dana. Not that Dana has the most vibrant and dazzling social life. Natalie, maybe.

It was weird to say “goodnight” to Casey earlier before hightailing it to his apartment and changing into a black button down shirt (“tuck it into your pants, wear a belt, unbutton the collar”) and dark jeans (“they make your ass look good”). Dan feels slightly full of himself at Natalie noticing his ass. Now he has to hope Casey will.

He takes the subway and his hands shake the whole time. Dan keeps picturing Casey’s face, bright and hopeful and then falling when he sees Dan is the one he’s meant to meet. It's the worst case scenario, and yet it’s the only one he can envision.

Dan arrives five minutes early. The hostess shows him to a small table in the back of the dimly-lit Parisian-style bistro. She leaves a jug of water on the table and Dan downs two glasses while rearranging the stupid book on the table for the millionth time. He finally settles it along the top right corner and puts his hands in his lap.

Dan looks up and spots Casey, who hasn’t seen him yet. His expression is open and friendly. He nods at the hostess, turning on the charm. He’s wearing a button down himself, beige, with black dress pants; he looks criminally good. Dan sometimes forgets just how badly he wants Casey, a necessary defense mechanism when you’re constantly around the object of your affection.

He swallows past the sudden lump in his throat and then Casey spots him, eyes drifting to the book and then up again. His face doesn’t fall. His face doesn’t do anything at all actually, as he walks steadily toward Dan. He looks… resigned.

That might be even worse than disappointment.

“Daniel,” Casey says formally as he approaches the empty chair. “Or should I say Elliot.” He sits down.

Dan opens his mouth but they’re immediately interrupted by the waiter dropping a basket of bread and asking if he can start them off with some wine.

“I think we need a moment,” Casey replies, firm but still kind. His eyes don’t leave Dan’s.

The waiter retreats. Dan wipes his palms on his jeans before reaching for his water glass again.

“So,” Casey begins.

“Case, I can—”

“I knew it was you.”

Dan blinks at him. “You— you did?”

Casey snorts and pours some water for himself. “Please, Danny, do you think I’m an idiot? The soccer jabs, the music elitism. Listing Shoeless Joe, which was your favorite book in college, using your middle name. I think I know my best friend. You could’ve tried a little harder.”

Dan opens his mouth, closes it once more. “You, uh, you didn’t say anything.”

Casey shrugs. “Figured I’d see where you were going with this.” He eyes the book again and then sighs. “Really, Dan, isn’t there an easier way to prank me instead of pretending to be a potential love interest? It wasn’t exactly easy for me to ask for your help making that profile.”

Dan’s eyes widen. “You think— you think this is a prank?”

Casey’s eyebrows knit together, his lips turned in a scowl. “Of course it is, why else would you—”

Dan laughs. Then he laughs some more. He can’t seem to stop. Of all the outcomes he anticipated, this truly wasn’t one of them.

“Casey, Casey, Casey,” Dan sighs when he’s got himself under control: Casey hasn’t stopped scowling. “If you don’t want me to think you’re a moron then you really need to stop acting like one.”

“What are you—”

“There’s no prank,” Dan says in a rush, because it’s now or never. Sure, during his fits of laughter he did consider taking the out. Casey would be pissed for a while, but he’d get over it eventually. He could go right back to online dating and Dan would go right back to pining.

Dan is no closer to knowing how Casey feels, and he might be about to put a stick of dynamite in their friendship, but he can’t walk out of this restaurant with the status quo unchanged.

“It was never a prank, Case.” He lowers his voice. “I’ve been trying to find a way to ask you out for months now. This seemed like… the easiest way.” When he says it that way it sounds ridiculous.

Casey must agree, by the incredulous look on his face. “The easiest way.”

Dan shrugs. “In retrospect I might’ve overestimated the power of the Rom-Com.”

Casey’s lips finally twitch upward into the faintest of smiles. “I’m not totally sure I want to know what goes on in that brain of yours.”

“It’s a dark place,” Dan agrees solemnly.

Casey smiles for real now; Dan’s heart flutters in his chest. He’s such a cliche.

“So, um.” Dan drags a hand through his hair. “I guess this is the part where I say I’ve been crazy about you for years and I really don’t want you online dating or real life dating anyone who isn’t me.” He bites his lip and awaits his fate.

Casey stares at Dan so hard it’s like he’s trying to look through him. It feels like a lifetime before Casey talks.

“I guess this is the part where I say I’ve been falling in love with you for a long time but didn’t realize what those feelings truly were and by the time I did I figured we might’ve already missed our chance. If you felt that way at all, that is.”

Dan’s lips part on a shocked breath and then he’s laughing again. “We really are idiots.”

Casey nods. “The worst.”

Dan looks around. The place is mostly empty, no one is paying them attention. He reaches for Casey’s hand and squeezes. Casey flips his hand over and squeezes back, his smile blinding.

“What do you say we get out of here?”

“Why, Casey McCall!” Dan gasps, scandalized. “You’re not even going to wine me and dine me first?”

Casey rolls his eyes. “You’re no Meg Ryan, Danny.”

“Ouch,” Dan replies, already standing up. They walk out shoulder to shoulder, receiving confused looks from the waiter and hostess. It feels like a long drive to Casey’s apartment and even longer still for them to get the door open and shuffle inside.

Finally, they’re kissing, tentative and slow. Casey’s hand is gentle when it cups Dan's jaw, his lips soft and careful like he wants to do this right. Like it’s the most important thing. It’s awkward after so many years of longing, but it isn’t bad. It’s actually kind of perfect as Dan opens his mouth for Casey and lets him in.

Later, with Casey’s arm thrown over his chest and leg tangled between Dan’s own, he realizes he left his book on the table.

He’ll make his boyfriend buy him a new copy.

The End