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You‘ll recognise me by the roses

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Aaron takes a big gulp of his beer and enjoys how it’s cooling him down a bit. Honestly, he needs it. Not because this pub he’s in is overly hot or something. 

It’s because his guts are feeling like they’re burning and they’re heavy like a stone and slowly twisting.

He curses his best mate Adam, who brought up this ridiculous thing a week ago and then guilt tripped him into agreeing to it. And then he curses himself for saying yes to this bullshit. He is such a pushover. 

A blind date. Seriously. On Valentine’s Day. 

Here he is, waiting for his date on the most cliché day of the year. In this fancy pub in Hotten, he’s never been to before. Sipping his mediocre pint that costs almost twice the money compared to Bar West. 

Whereas Bar West spreads an almost homey atmosphere with its dark walls, wooden floor, pool tables and dart boards - this pub is one of those flashy new things that uses birch trees as room dividers and offers only one brand of beer, but about 40 cocktails named after dead Hollywood actors. 

Aaron rolls his eyes at the absurdity of this moment. He feels so damn out of place, in between of those typical hipsters with weird glasses, extravagant moustaches  

Seriously are moustaches a thing again?? 

and the women with their big Makeup on. 

It wasn’t his idea to come here. Cory brought it up. 

Cory.

What kind of stupid name is that? 

Cory is his blind date, a guy Adam knows from gym. According to Adam he is ‘super nice’ and ‘cute’ and ‘single’ and ‘gay’ and that’s obviously all it takes to be ticked off on the list to qualify for a date with Aaron. 

He’s been single now for years - there hasn’t been anyone since Ed and although he is all in all content with his life, of course it sucks sometimes. When he sees Adam with his girlfriend kissing and giggling and making plans for their future, he feels that pang inside his chest and the loneliness hits. It would be nice if there was someone to spend the evenings with. To watch a move with. To tell about the day at the scrapyard. 

It just would be nice if he could jump right to the good bits without the awkward first meeting of some stranger. Aaron sighs and takes another mouthful of his beer. 

He pulls his phone out to check the time. It’s still early, so Cory has 10 minutes left to show up. Aaron opens the whatsapps they exchanged and reads them over and over

He is aware that he came across somewhat rude, but he couldn’t help himself. And damn, only after he agreed to this blind date nonsense, did he realise that Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Aaron can’t fathom why someone would pick the cheesiest day of the year for a blind date , where there is a 50:50 chance that it might end as a disaster? He kinda felt tricked by Cory - although that’s probably irrational - and it made him dislike the guy already. 

Cold air hits Aaron’s face when the door of the pub is being pushed open. He puts his phone back in his jeans pocket and looks up. A blond bloke just came in, tall, nice hair. Aaron takes a closer look and is immediately mesmerised. The guy has such a perfect face, it’s bloody unfair! With a cute nose and lush lips. Warmth spreads in Aaron’s chest as he watches how this man takes off his ridiculously cool tan leather jacket to put it on the coat rack next to the entrance. The moment he turns around to do so, offers a great look at his arse and hot damn, what an arse it is.

Fuck me.

Aaron clicks his tongue as he shamelessly checks out the peachy bubble butt and wishes it wasn’t covered by dark blue jeans. His eyes travel up again, landing on the shirt the man is wearing. 

There are little red dots and green lines. Wait. Not red dots. Are those... flowers?

Roses.

Oh my god, that are roses on his shirt. You’ll recognise me by the red roses.

Oh my god, that’s Cory!

Aaron’s heart speeds up and tries to jump out of his chest. His hands are getting clammy in a nanosecond. He suddenly regrets that he was so snippy and rude towards the poor bloke during their whatsapp convo. Oh damn, if he’d only known how insanely hot this Cory was? How could Adam simply describe him as ‘cute’? That guy was pure sex on legs! 

Cory turns around and looks over the tables. When he makes eye contact, Aaron stops breathing, and Cory’s gaze lingers on him, travels quickly down to the parts he can see behind the table and then up to his face again. 

Aaron forces himself to smile, to not just stare like an idiot and the other man smiles back. It’s a small smile and it looks so damn soft and nice and Aaron needs to see this close and not across that stupid pub! 

As if he could read his mind, Cory starts making his way through the room now and Aaron swallows thickly at how nice the shirt hugs his broad shoulders and the slim torso. This guy emanates self confidence and elegance and style and although it’s quite intimidating, Aaron can’t believe that this is his Valentine’s Date! He rolls his shoulders, straightens his back and takes a deep breath, before he gets up.

Cory is walking in his direction, still looking at him with that tiny smile around his lips.

His heartbeat is so loud, Aaron fears people around them might actually hear it. 

“Hiya! I’m Aaron!” he blurts out, even before Cory has reached their table. 

The other man stops and his smile gets a bit wider. “Oh, um. Hi.” His voice is deep and perfect and sinful and it definitely does things to Aaron’s groin. 

“Look, I haven’t done this before,” Aaron presses out, face heating up. “So, err… yeah. Sorry.”

God, he wants to dig a hole and hide in there forever. Why does he have to be such a duffer in situations like this? Why can’t he just make social contact with a bit of small talk like everybody else he knows? Surely Cory is a master of talking easily to strangers, never feeling awkward, never running out of words. 

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Cory offers and points to the table. “Wanna grab a drink?”

“Yeah.” Aaron lets out a relieved breath, glad that he didn’t blow it already.

They sit down at the table and Cory’s gaze lands on Aaron’s pint and only then he realises that it is totally impolite that he already ordered something instead of waiting for Cory! With burning cheeks he downs it, silently praying that it might loosen the awful knots he feels in his guts. 

“So. Is there something you’d recommend?” he asks and simply pretends the last minute didn’t happen as he grabs the card on the table. 

“Definitely!” Cory’s eyes are lighting up at that, “You should try a cocktail next, this place is quite famous for them. What do you prefer? Vodka? Rum? Gin? Or non-alcoholic?”

Wow, this guy really must come here often, he doesn’t even look at the card. 

“Errm. Gin?” Aaron says carefully and thinks beer.  

“A good decision!” Cory agrees and nods, before he lists off several drinks without breaking eye contact with Aaron for one second. He even explains their tastes. 

And honestly, Aaron doesn’t know shit about Gin, but he thinks he might be falling a little bit in love with Cory right then and there. 

Cory’s eyes are incredibly green, but also a bit blue and Aaron can’t remember if he’s ever seen such wonderful eyes before. 

Suddenly he notices a silence at the table and indeed, Cory has finished his little monologue about the drinks and looks at him with a bright smile, as if he is waiting for Aaron to say something.

“What?” he stutters.

“Well, which drink?” 

“Oh. Uhm. The last one.”

Please ground, just swallow me up now.

Aaron wants to slap himself. He reminds himself to focus and to keep his shit together, because he wouldn’t forgive himself if he blew this date before it even began. 

If they decide afterwards that it won’t work between them because they are playing in different leagues, that’s fair, but Aaron is not willing to give up yet.

But Cory seems thankfully oblivious and nods over Aaron’s shoulder towards the bar. Only two seconds later a waitress is stepping up their table. 

“Hello, Mr Sugden,” she says towards Cory and greets Aaron with a smile. “What can I get you?”

He really must come often here if the staff calls him by his name.

Cory Sugden.

Aaron is starting to like the name Cory. Cory Sugden has a nice ring to it. 

His date orders their drinks and Aaron feels the phone vibrating in his pocket, signalling a new message. Surely it’s just Adam being nosey about this date, so he ignores it. 

“So, tell me something about you, Aaron,” Cory says and leans back on his chair. 

The dim light above their table hits his face in a perfect angle and Aaron notices some freckles on the nose and cheeks. There is also a tiny dimple on his chin, that he wants to kiss instantly. 

“There’s not much to tell,” Aaron clears his throat and feels his hands getting clammy again. “I own a little business…” And that’s about it, he realises. It’s a bit sad that he can’t say more about his life. It’s boring. It’s just his work and the occasional pint in the pub. 

“Yeah? What business?” Cory’s long and slim fingers start playing with the card on the table, but his gaze never leaves Aaron’s face.

He feels his skin heating up once more, the green-blue eyes burning into him. It’s not like he is embarrassed that he is a scrapper - it’s just… admitting that to Cory is like admitting that they’re definitely in different leagues. 

“It’s err. Scrap.” He looks down at the table and scratches his eyebrow. “I own a scrapyard.”

With hot and heavy dread he waits for Cory to laugh at him, but all the other man says is: “Oh, really? That’s interesting!”

“It is?!” Aaron looks up, shocked almost and that causes Cory to let out a little chuckle, where his face lights up and little laughter lines around his eyes are showing. 

“Is that a surprise to you?”

“Didn’t think someone like you would be interested in the scrap business,” Aaron mutters before he can stop himself.

“Is that right,” Cory smirks, eyes sparkling now. “Someone like me, huh?” Aaron blushes again. “Tell me then, what exactly do you think I’m interested in?”

Is he flirting?

Oh fuck, he’s flirting!

Cory is still grinning at him, raking his gaze down and back up again and oh fuck! He is so flirting right now. The phone in Aaron’s jeans is vibrating again, but he can’t be arsed, because Cory is fucking flirting with him!

“I dunno,” Aaron starts and takes a deep breath in, before he puts it all one card: “I bet you like flashy cars and expensive holidays. I bet you order your shampoo and hair gel online, because the cheap stuff at Tesco won’t do for you. I bet you are in the financial sector somewhere, maybe selling overpriced insurances to poor old women.”

His heart is drumming like a jackhammer and he digs his fingertips into his thighs until they hurt. It’s meant as a tease, a joke and there is a big chance that Cory might take his bad attempt on flirting back for an actual insult. 

Cory’s eyes are flashing up, like he discovered something really fascinating and he’s still smiling, but Aaron doesn’t dare relax.

“So, basically you think I’m a posh twat,” he summarises right in the moment when the waitress comes back with their drinks.

She coughs and looks at them, flustered and puts the glasses on the table to leave again quickly. Aaron swallows the panic down, reminds himself that Cory seems pretty relaxed about all this.  

The phone starts vibrating again, this time frequently. This is not just a message, this is a call he’s getting, but Aaron can’t bring himself to pull it out and break eye contact with Cory. The look they’re sharing is almost magnetic, drawing him in. 

“Is that your phone or are you kinkier than I suspected?” Cory asks smugly and lifts his left eyebrow. 

Aaron’s cheeks heat up at the innuendo. And yes, he does have a vibrator in his bedside table and yes, he’s totally imagining Cory doing all sorts of things to him with the little toy right now. He shivers slightly. 

“It’s my phone and I don’t care,” he states. 

He will call Adam back later, but not now! They wait until the buzzing finally stops and then Cory leans forward.

“So, where were we?”

Aaron bites his lip and looks in the freckled face across the table. So far his little teasing seemed to please the other man, so why not continue? 

“We just agreed on you being a posh twat.” 

Cory throws his head back and laughs, loud and deep and it’s a sound that Aaron loves and wants to hear more often. Finally he allows his stiff muscles to relax a bit. This is going well so far, surprisingly well. And oh does he enjoy this little banter between them. And the intense looks. 

“Cheeky.”

Aaron makes a big movement of looking under the table at Cory’s brown leather shoes. 

“If the designer shoe fits?” he shoots back and grins. 

Cory snorts and shakes his head, but his expression is still fond. “So, Aaron,” he says and grabs his cocktail, “let’s drink to this evening that definitely took a pleasant turn.”

Aaron’s fingers are shaking a little bit when he takes his glass and raises it. Cory thinks their date is pleasant so far. Biting the insides of his cheeks to stop himself from giggling like a lovestruck teenager, he clinks his drink against Cory’s.

“A very pleasant turn,” he agrees.

They share another intense look and Aaron wonders how those lips might feel. He wants to kiss the other man so badly. It’s insane, he barely knows the lad. They’ve only been sitting here for about 15 minutes, but damn. Aaron can feel that there’s more. 

There is a tension between them. A good tension. It’s exciting and makes his skin buzz.

He hasn’t felt like that in ages. Maybe forever. 

The cocktail is actually tasty and Aaron is surprised. He makes an approving noise while he sips it. Although he will never be a fan of Gin in general, this combination might be a new favourite of his. 

“Good?” Cory asks and Aaron nods and takes another mouthful.

The other man looks pleased at that and plays with the glass on the table.

“Do you come here often? You seemed to know all the drinks on the card.”

“Oh yeah, I do! Do you like the place?”

Aaron looks around and debates for a moment if he should just lie to be polite, but then again… nah. Cory seems to be a bloke who can handle honesty. Besides, Aaron sucks at lying and he hates it.

“Yeah,” he stretches the word and scratches the back of his neck, “No. It’s not really my thing.” 

“Why not?” Cory doesn’t sound sour, he seems just genuinely interested in Aaron’s opinion.

His phone vibrates again, but Aaron ignores it once more to form his answer: “Well, first I don’t like bars that are all… poncy.” Cory raises his eyebrows and smirks. “BOOZOOKA? Really? What kinda name is that even? And those fake trees and wannabe-industrial style… I dunno. It’s so… hipster-ish. And the prices. Mate, you can have two drinks elsewhere for the price of one here. Proper rip-off if you ask me.”

Aaron bites his tongue. Fuck, he didn’t want to sound it so brutal. He totally insulted Cory’s favourite pub. Amazing.

But instead of being pissed off, his date looks amused as if Aaron said something totally funny. 

“Let me guess,” Cory starts and narrows his eyes at Aaron as if trying to solve a mystery, “you like those old school pubs, who are offering at least 20 brands of beer, dark, wooden, with classic rock music coming from the speakers?”

“You’re totally wrong!” Aaron informs him with a sly grin, “They play  alternative rock.” 

Cory snorts and Aaron is happy that he considered this weak joke as funny. “Oh yes, because there’s a really big difference, right?” 

“Definitely.” Aaron never wants this date to end. He swallows again and says: “Maybe next time I can show you my favourite place in town?”

His heart stops. He just invited Cory for another date. 

Please say yes please say yes please say-

“You’re on!” Cory agrees and raises his glass again. “And just for the record, I am not selling overpriced insurances to poor old ladies,” Cory surprises Aaron by repeating the exact same words he used earlier, “I am in the event business, so to say.” Cory smiles at himself as if he just made some inside joke, before he takes a sip of his cocktail. “But, I’ll have you know that I am very well capable of hard work with my hands.” Aaron does not look down at said wonderful strong hands with their nimble fingers. “I was a mechanic before.”

“Really! I was a mechanic too!”

And that’s how Aaron finds himself enwrapped in a conversation with Cory about cars and their experiences in the garages they’ve worked for. It’s a nice convo, easily flowing and it makes Aaron all mushy inside that they can switch between the exciting bickering to an honest and serious talk in a heartbeat. 

He sooo will kiss Adam’s feet for setting him up with Cory. This is the best date ever. Who would have thought that there might actually come something good out of a blind date? Surely not Aaron. Not before tonight. 

His phone vibrates again. Aaron rolls his eyes, finally having enough.

“Wait a sec,” he says and pulls it out, “I’m sorry, I know it’s totally impolite, but…” He waves his phone and shrugs apologetically. 

“No worries, you check your phone, I’ll order us a second drink. Deal?” Cory smiles at him.

Aaron wants to kiss him. So bad. Instead he just nods, bites his lip and looks at his display.

And then his body goes hot and cold when he sees it’s whatsapps and calls from Cory.  

From Cory!

He lifts his eyes slowly, staring at the amazing, beautiful bloke who’s sitting at his table and currently saying something to the waitress. Aaron doesn’t understand what he’s saying, because there is just white noise in his ears and his own heartbeat, deafeningly loud.

His shaky thumb slides over the screen and  opens whatsapp.

After he skimmed the messages, Aaron closes his eyes in horror. When Cory was out there all the time… who the hell is that guy across the table?! He blinks his eyes open, looks right into the handsome face of the stranger and damn, there are butterflies in his belly! That wonderful warm feeling of buzz and joy.

Right above Not-Cory’s shoulder, Aaron sees the door opening and a bloke stumbles in with a huge bunch of roses. 

Oh. Oh no.

Cory. This is Cory. The real Cory. And unfortunately he is not half as good looking as Not-Cory. He’s got light-brown hair, a bit curly, and a beard that is a too much facial hair for Aaron’s liking. He suddenly wants to hide under the table and pretend these past 2 minutes didn’t happen. He wants Not-Cory to be his Cory again. He definitely doesn’t want this Cory. 

Right in this second, their eyes lock and Cory - the real one - smiles immediately and Aaron supposes that Adam must have shown him a picture of him. Then Cory notices that the second seat at the tiny table is already taken and his face turns sour. 

“Are you alright?” Not-Cory asks him with a slight frown. “You look a bit pale.”

“You’re not Cory,” Aaron says, feeling numb. And like an idiot. He feels like an idiot.

The other man snorts at that. “Not last time I checked, no.”

Every word gets stuck in Aaron’s tight throat when he sees that Cory and his ridiculously big bouquet are making their way to the table. Is this really happening?

“Hi Aaron,” Cory says a bit stiff, glancing at Not-Cory. “I see Robert Sugden has kept you company while you were waiting?”

Robert.

Aaron would give literally anything in the world to dwell on this new knowledge. Robert suits the bloke so well. Robert is so much better than Cory. In all the ways, honestly. But reality kicks him in the guts.

“You know each other?” he blurts out, staring dumbfounded at the two men. 

Oh god, can it get even worse? What if they’re Exes? Oh dear. Oh my god. This is horrible.

“He is the owner of this bar,” Cory explains.

Aaron’s eyes widen in shock when they are landing back on Robert’s face. He is the owner of this bar. The bar that Aaron basically called shit earlier. A poncy, hipster-ish rip-off. His cheeks are flaming hot  and he just wants to die. 

Robert Sugden smirks back at him and even winks. He looks unbelievably smug right now as if all of this is totally hilarious. Arsehole!

But he’s an adorable arsehole.

Aaron can’t believe that Robert sat there and listened to his rambling about how shitty his pub was. And although he didn’t take it badly, he didn’t inform Aaron about him being the boss either. Event sector, my arse. 

“And you thought I was him?” Robert asks and points to Cory. 

“He’s my blind date…” Aaron says slowly and swallows, “And he said ‘you’ll recognise me by the roses’ and you…” He gestures weakly to Robert’s shirt. “There are roses and I-... I thought…and you were walking to my table...”

“Actually I was on my way to the office behind the bar,” Robert admits sheepishly. 

There is an awkward silence and Aaron wishes once more that he could disappear in thin air. He has no clue how to get out of this weird situation, stuff like that usually happens only in bad Hollywood movies. 

The truth is, if he had met the real Cory at 8pm like they planned it, he might have given him a fair chance. Now though… after he spent the past hour with Robert Sugden… 

It was one of the best hours Aaron had in years. And he wants more of that.

He wants Robert. 

“You thought I was your blind date?” Robert says with the softest voice on earth and Aaron melts inside. “Is that why you flirted so badly at first?” He smiles when he says it and his green-blue eyes are sparkling with the same intensity they had the past hour. 

“It was enough to make you stay at least.”

If anything the smile gets even wider and Aaron’s heart makes a weird flip. Maybe Robert feels the same?

“So, are you leaving now, or what?” Cory is asking Robert and he sounds impatient. 

How dare he be so rude? And Aaron doesn’t want Robert to leave!

The waitress has an incredible knack for bad timing, because she chooses this moment to bring their new drinks. Cory’s stares sulkily at the glasses. 

“Actually we were just having our second round,” Robert informs him casually and seriously, Aaron is falling so quickly for this arrogant, posh twat.

“Aaron?” Cory asks tight-lipped and stares at him.

And god, he is still holding that stupid bunch of roses and Aaron feels the looks of the people around them on his skin. Suddenly he has two Valentine dates - how the hell did that happen? He tries to think back to the moment where he might have entered the freaking Twilight Zone.

He looks at Cory and starts: “I’m sorry…” 

It all happens very fast then: the flowers are being thrown with a dramatic huff on the floor and Cory storms off without looking back. 

There is another silence and Aaron lets out a shaky breath and tries to get his heartbeat back under control. 

He just hopes that he didn’t make a mistake. 

It doesn’t feel like a mistake. 

“Yikes. That was awkward.” Robert grins and takes his cocktail. “You should try yours. I ordered you a different one this time. Cheers.”

Aaron gapes at him while he drinks. “Are you really pretending that none of this just happened?” 

Robert puts his glass down and looks at him. The green-blue eyes are glistening and Aaron thinks that this is Robert’s flirt face again. He can’t help but stare back, the butterflies flapping their wings rapidly. Robert is nothing like the men he’s met before, he’s exciting, intoxicating, infuriating, challenging. 

“Nah,” he finally decides, “I won’t forget how you insulted me. Or my pub.” Aaron ducks his head in shame. “Or how adorably bad you were flirting with me.” 

He blushes furiously and his heart feels too damn big for his clenching chest.

He thinks I’m adorable.

Aaron isn’t used to being referred to as adorable. People call him grumpy, monosyllabic, rude sometimes. But hardly adorable. 

“You’re still here though,” he mumbles and fiddles with his glass.

His eyes travel slowly up over Robert’s hands, the bare forearms with the rolled up sleeves, the biceps that’s stretching the shirt deliciously, the broad shoulders, up to the freckled face that looks at him with overwhelming affection. An affection that shouldn’t be there after spending only one hour together.

And yet, Aaron feels just the same.

“Yeah,“ Robert says, “I‘m still here.“