Dan loves the city. Always has. Which is ironic for his introverted-ass but he thinks it has something to do with being able to blend in when he’s surrounded by life and the anonymity that brings him.
It’s dark now, or as dark as it can get in the heart of London. The streets are in that weird in-between period where the shops are closed and remaining daytime shoppers and tourists are heading back home but the nightlife is not yet in full swing.
He has headphones on, listening to music and is startled as a couple of lads race past on skateboards from behind. He watches them go as his heart rate slows back down. Further down the road, a large group of friends pass him from the other direction. They’re talking in too loud voices and wearing too few clothes that make Dan think they must have started their night early. They take no notice of him as they pass, flowing around him like liquid. Someone cracks a joke and then they’re all laughing, voices surely echoing all the way down the street. Dan glances back at them, and he can’t even find it in himself to be annoyed because, if he’s honest, there’s not much he wouldn’t give to have that. He did have that once, or at least he was allowed to tag along with a group of friends who had that a couple of times in school.
He turns the corner and sees the not-yet lit lights of his workplace. It’s probably one of the worst jobs a person like him could have, but, after applying to thirty plus jobs when he first moved here, this was the only one who even gave him an interview so he didn’t have much choice. Anyways, as much as he isn’t a people-person, he’s good at pretending. So he punches in the code to the side door and lets himself in.
The first person he sees is Al when he pushes open the door to the staffroom. They’re sat at a table shovelling rice into their mouth, headphones over their ears, eyes fixed to the phone screen propped up in front of them, which Dan assumes must be playing an episode of whatever Al’s latest obsession is. He doesn’t bother them as he heads over to the toilets to change into his work clothes.
Dan steps out of the cubicle and up to the mirror above the sinks. He straightens out the collar of the black polo now adorning his torso. It may be the ugliest rendition of the all-black aesthetic, but he can only be grateful that it wasn’t something worse like green or, god forbid, brown. He pushes around his curls until they’re in an acceptable position and doesn’t bother doing up his buttons; he’ll only have to undo them later when he’s sweating his tits off. Finally, he searches around in his bag for the small tube of mascara he’s taken to wearing lately.
The speakers in the bathroom, and indeed in every room of the bar, crackle. The DJ must have arrived. Dan hopes it’s a good one today; he’d be the last to criticise someone still learning their craft, but a good DJ sure does make the night go quicker. And it’s student night, which means he’ll rarely get a moments breather.
Dan leaves the bathroom and heads to the lockers, Al, who must have finished their dinner is already there.
“Hey,” Dan says.
“Hey!” Al says, lifting up a rather large bag which Dan thinks must surely be bigger than the locker itself. “How’s you?”
“Alright,” Dan says, throwing in his own bag and coat. “You?”
“Never better,” they say, a grimace on their face now as they try to close the locker door around the bag. They must have come straight here from a study session, Dan thinks.
Dan watches for a few moments as they struggle. “Need a hand?”
“I’ve got it,” they say, finally slamming the door closed and turning the key with a sigh of relief. “Boss is here, by the way.”
In the few moments of respite he does get between waves of customers, Dan likes to people-watch. He likes to imagine the lives of others, why they’re here, where this night might lead them.
The booths at the back are filling up and on the other side of the bar, there’s a couple having what looks like a very heated discussion. Dan decides a section of the bar close to them needs cleaning and subtly slides his way along toward it. He manages to catch a few more words, and at first Dan thinks there’s genuine anger there, but then they’re all over each other, lips on necks, hands in hair, and Dan raises an eyebrow and slides back down the bar to help Al with the next wave of patrons. He settles back into the rhythm he and Al have perfected over their many hours of working together, and Dan’s mind is focused back on the task in hand.
It’s a good while before he notices just how full the really quite small bar has gotten, even for a student night, it’s easily three deep at the bar and everyone is trying to get his or Al’s attention. He scans the faces in front of him and picks one that isn’t actively yelling at him, he makes their drink and is just finishing payment when he spots him.
Usually Dan and Al stick to their own sides of the bar, but this time Dan crosses behind them. Al turns to give him a questioning look before a glance to the side tells them all they need to know. They smirk, before taking Dan’s place further down.
The guy is sitting alone. Dan doesn’t know how he managed to get a seat or how long he’s been there, but there’s the dregs of a pale liquid are sat in a glass in front of him, which the guy has his hands wrapped around. Dan can tell he’s still sober and would definitely rather be somewhere else if the straight line of his lips and slight crease between his eyebrows is anything to go by. Not that Dan is studying his face that closely to know for sure.
The guy looks up, and, when he meets Dan’s eyes, he breaks out into a smile.
Dan grins back and takes the order of the person who has pushed their way into the non-existence space next to him. When they’re gone, the guy seems to relax a little, shoulders sinking back into their normal position and elbows spreading out a little more. Dan leans in a little over the bar.
“Can I get you anything?”
Piercing blue eyes are looking back at him.
He shrugs. “Surprise me.”
This is what had caught Dan’s attention the first time they’d met, when all the other guys that the bar had been ordering beers, the guy had ordered the fruitiest, sugariest cocktail they had. The second thing had been the eyes, and then the awkwardness as they’d chatted for a few minutes, until the guy’s friend had come back from the toilet and they’d gone off to find a table.
So Dan thinks he knows the perfect drink for this guy. He doesn’t rush, making sure he gets the proportions exactly right. He tops it off with a cherry and a little umbrella and hands it over. Dan waits while he takes a sip and watches the guys eyes light up. Dan feels a little burst of something in his stomach.
“You like it?”
“That’s amazing! What is it?”
Dan winks, “Call it the Danny Special, on the house.” Dan doesn’t know if he can actually do that, but it feels cool to say and no one’s going to notice.
“Oi, we have a job to do here mate, stop flirting,” Dan hears Al say by his ear. Dan glances to the side to look at them, but they pretend not to notice. He looks back to the guy who is looking directly at him. Dan hopes he didn’t hear that; he’d probably be blushing if not for the heat in this room already making his cheeks rosey and moisture build on his forehead. He gets back to work.
Some more time passes, and things start to calm down a little as people come and go, mainly go, that is all except this guy. Every time Dan turns away for a minute he expects him to leave, maybe to move on to the next bar like everyone else, or at least to have met up with friends. But no, he stays right where he is the entire time, alone, on that bar stool. He does get up a couple of times, once for only a few minutes, the next for longer, but always returns to the stool. He thinks about going over to him, but feels weird about starting a conversation without the pretense of serving a drink and the guy hasn’t finished his last one yet.
Dan’s cleaning up at the other end of the bar, when he happens to glance across at Al. They’re leaning across the bar towards him just like Dan had done and appears to say something then they’re looking at Dan.
Dan quickly looks back down at his task, pretending not to have seen. He watches the interaction continue though out of the corner of his eye. They carry on talking. The guy laughs at something Al says and Dan burns with curiosity.
Suddenly Al is at his elbow.
“I can’t take this anymore, go talk to him.”
“You’ve been making eyes at each other all night.” They grab the cloth out of Dan’s hand, I’ve got this. You’re welcome.”
When Dan still doesn’t move, they roll their eyes and shove Dan in the direction they’d come from.
“What- I don't-”
They give Dan a pointed look before turning to serve some patrons.
Dan is left feeling stranded, like he doesn’t know which direction to go in. He knows which direction he’d like to go, but when he turns to look at the guy sitting at the other end of the bar, who’s clearly pretending to not be watching him back, his feet won’t move. His palms start to sweat and a burst of nerves prickle his stomach. Why is he nervous? Why can’t he move?
He feels a hand on his lower back give him another none too gentle push forward and it’s the motivation he needs. When he arrives at his destination he doesn’t know what to do, so he picks up some stray glasses and puts them where they need to go, in an attempt to make it look like he came over with a purpose that pertained to the actual job he’s being paid to do. But when he runs out of things to do, he stops and looks up. The guy is looking back, with a quirk to his lips that suggests he was watching Dan make a fool of himself the entire time.
“Hi!” Dan says, too loud and forcefully even for this room.
The guy giggles anyway. “Hello.”
“Err…” This is new for Dan, usually he’d be rambling by this point, tripping over himself with too many words, but now his brains giving him nothing. Traitor. “How’s your night going?” he lands on, finally.
The guy tilts his head to the side slightly, like he’s really thinking about it. “I’m not sure yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I was only going to stay for a bit, my brother’s the DJ and I promised him I’d pop by.”
“You’ve been here all night.” Dan scolds himself internally.
He shrugs, “Something changed my mind.”
“Oh,” Dan says. “What was it?”
“A guy?” Dan suddenly gets even warmer.
“Oh.” Neither has broken eye contact the entire time, and they’re leaning toward each other slightly over the bar. Dan feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
“You, you idiot,” the guy laughs and the tension eases.
“Yeah.” When Dan doesn’t respond the guys face falls. “Shit, wait, sorry- I just assumed you-” he leans away, eyes darting all around the room like he’s trying to find the best escape route. Dan can’t let that happen.
“No, I am! I mean, some kinda, at least, but I am. Sorry, I just didn’t think you were- I mean, that you would be-”
“I am,” the guy says.
They both laugh.
“Okay,” Dan says. “Me too.”
“Great. My name’s Phil by the way.”
“Dan,” Dan says.
“The Danny Special,” Phil says.
They talk for a while longer, inbetween Dan serving patrons and helping Al, who has a shit-eating grin on their face whenever they look at him. Then Phil starts yawning and saying how long he’s been up passed his bedtime.
“I think I’ve shown my brother enough support for the night,” Phil says.
“Definitely,” Dan says. “I think you’ve shown your brother enough support for the year.”
Phil laughs, “I’m gonna go say bye to him then head home, it was nice talking to you Dan.”
“You too, have a good rest of your night.” Dan watches him leave with a hint of sadness in his chest.
Al appears at his side again. “Did you get his number?”
“What? No, of course not-” but Al is already walking away again.
Dan’s back in the staffroom, unloading his locker when there’s an unfamiliar voice behind him clearly their throat and say, “Hi, you’re Dan right?”
Dan turns around, “Yeah, er, great set tonight, man. Hope they bring you back.”
The guy chuckles self-consciously, “Cheers.”
It’s odd, Dan thinks, he remains Dan of Phil instantly yet Dan can’t quite put his finger on anything specific that does it.
But the guy is holding out his hand, and at first Dan thinks he wants to fist bump but then he notices the small scrap of paper between his fingers.
“My brother said he was chatting with you earlier and wanted to give you this but forgot? Honestly if his head wasn’t screwed on he’d probably lose it.”
They don’t laugh and Dan takes the paper, “Thanks.”
“Yeah, well, have a good night mate, later.”
“Later,” Dan repeats, confused. The guy is walking away and Dan turns the paper over in his hand. The writing is almost illegible, but he just about makes out:
Hi! I wanted to ask for your number because you seem cool and I want to get to know you but then… I didn’t so he’s mine instead. Hoping that you'll text me, Phil x
There’s a doodle in the corner and a phone number written across the bottom. A smile slowly forms on Dan’s face as he rereads it before getting out his phone and typing in the number.
hi phil it’s dan
i’d like to get to know you too x