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the etiquette of a farmer’s market

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Phil’s in pain - lot of it. Ash keeps prodding and poking at all the tender parts of him, says he’s being a baby and there isn’t even a bruise. Which - maybe. But there is a bruise on his ego, his pride, maybe even his brain that’ll force him to relive the moment every night at three a.m.

 

“Stop it,” Phil whines, jutting out his lower lip like that’ll do anything to dissuade them. “All my bones are swollen.”

 

“There’s only—“

 

“No!” Phil shrieks. “Not the horny bone, all the other ones. Like all my ribs are big enough to serve at a bbq.”

 

“Phil.”

 

“Mhm?”

 

“Stop being a baby, it was one shelf.”

 

Phil shakes his head, closes his eyes because if he can’t see then he also can’t hear. Apart from he can still hear - hear Ash doing some weirdo dramatic soliloquy in the background of his nightmare. 

 

Yes it was one shelf. Doesn’t matter though. Walking into a shop and accidentally pulling any number of shelves off the wall is still a crime - or at least bad. They’d not tried to arrest Phil but they had basically shooed him out of the shop with a broom. 

 

“Stop recreating it in your brain.” Ash flicks him and in retaliation Phil gnashes his teeth but - old threat. Doesn’t do anything to make them move, if anything it spurs them on. “I’m sure people pull shelves off walls all the time.”

 

Phil cracks an eye open, hopes that’s enough to convey the glare he’s really trying to give. They’re all blurry so he can’t even tell if they’re reacting to all the malicious intent he’s trying to convey. They’ve got two heads, both of them awful - he says that part out loud and gets a death threat back. 

 

And maybe they’re not awful heads. Maybe his flatmate is too good looking for Phil to even think about having a crush on, because he’d honestly surprised himself with that. Walked in to tall, to cheekbones, to all those blonde curls that made his heart go a bit funny. And then - nothing. He’d expected at least this little moment of pining, but they’d immediately fallen into this overwhelming sort of friendship - something Phil can’t ever remember having had before. 

 

Maybe he’d locked himself in his room - just sometimes. Maybe he’d avoided them in the hallway. Maybe he’d showered at three a.m. to lower the risk of small talk. And then he’d realised - this is fine. People can be friends, people can make friends quickly and that doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t make it anything less. He can know someone for two years and like them less than the person he’s been living with for two weeks. That’s just how life works, he can stop cautiously sniffing at Ash’s metaphorical hand every time they offer out a fun activity. 

 

Sometimes he wonders if Ash regrets letting Phil live in their flat, but then they’ll bring him breakfast in bed after he’s had a particularly stressful week and it’s - fine. Phil knows he’s found someone good. 

 

“I’m never going in a supermarket again,” Phil decides, “gonna... forage. I’m going to eat dirt.”

 

“Yeah?” Ash asks, hand in Phil’s quiff - trying to make it stand back up straight. “Gonna become an exclusive farmers market guy? Live off homemade cheese that you hate?”

 

He must get some sort of look in his eye, because Ash groans out loud, says something about how their own genius is their downfall. 

 

“It’s every Sunday?” Phil asks, ignoring the amateur dramatics. “Because I could live with the food I have until Sunday.”

 

“You know they don’t sell Haribo’s, yeah? It’s like... actual produce and shit,” Ash says. “Vegetables.”

 

“I like vegetables, broccoli is good,” and it is, but he still asks, “if I give you the money you’ll get me sweets when you go shopping?”

 

“Yes, Phil.” Ash falls down the arm of the sofa and into the little gap beside Phil. “Want me to come with?”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Phil says, and it’s a bit of a lie but he knows Ash has stuff going on on a Sunday. An actual routine filled with adult things like going to the gym, making green stuff in the blender, food shopping in the supermarkets Phil has banned himself from. “I’ll brave it all alone, I’m thirty-four.”

 

“You know, I can still put you in touch with someone for that.” And by that Ash means Phil’s ongoing anxiety, by someone he means one of his therapist pals. 

 

“You could do it, but no, you hate me and won’t therapy me.” 

 

“I can’t give therapy to my live-in house-husband, it’s against the code of ethics.” Ash digs their chin into Phil’s shoulder until Phil relents and budges over, gives them more than one inch of space. “I know good people.”

 

“I know,” Phil smiles. “Another day, just… bit busy right now.”

 

Ash is good - Ash gets him. He wouldn’t have to explain everything so much, wouldn’t have to talk to a complete stranger, but Ash says that completely goes against the point of therapy. Phil thinks all the rules should be changed so he can spill his guts out to his flatmate of ten years, get some professional advice from a not stranger. 

 

It’s odd now. Ten years ago, them living together made sense. Fresh out of university, both not making enough money to live on their own. Now Ash is making enough money to kick Phil out, but they never do. Phil keeps meaning to offer to leave but can never bring himself to actually say the words out loud. He’s comfortable in the arrangement they have, terrified of living alone when he’s constantly used to another presence. 

 

Plus - good apartment. Ash had lived here first, managed to get the rent cheap because it needed a bit of work, but their dad ran some sort of house repair business and fixed it up for free. Now it’s all exposed brick walls, dark wood flooring, big windows looking out over the little park in the centre of the street. He likes it here, likes the familiar. 

 

“What you thinking about?” Ash asks, softly. Because they’re good at that, seeing right into Phil’s soul and knowing he’s gone too deep into his brain - needs pulling back out. 

 

“Just… life,” Phil shrugs. “I don’t know. How’s Matthew?”

 

“Good,” Ash shoots for nonchalant, but the smile is too big and obvious. And that’s the other reason Phil’s suddenly rethinking their entire living arrangement, up til this point there had never been anything serious, anything long-term. But now there’s Matt, and Matt makes Ash look like they’ve won the moon - or at least a lot of money. 

 

“He can come over this weekend, I’ll fuck off to Mar’s.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I’m sure,” Phil smiles. He feels in the way, like he’s plonked down in the middle of all their dates demanding they pay attention to him. And - he doesn’t. He always makes sure he’s out of the way, holed up in his room, but he knows he’ll have to leave at some point. Accidentally ruin a romantic moment in the kitchen, knows Ash feels the need to invite him along to watch whatever movie they have on in the living room, get Phil in on the takeaway they’re ordering. 

 

It’s a proper adult relationship and Phil accidentally feels like the baby of the house. 

 

“Thanks.” Ash squeezes his hand, and Phil suddenly really needs to go to bed.

 

He doesn’t sleep, wasn’t ever tired. Just needed to be alone. Just needed to think about how everything is going to change soon, maybe if he’s prepared it’ll terrify him less when it happens. 

 

He googles apartments, but then that feels too much like admitting to something. 

 

So he researches farmers markets instead, just to make sure he’s not going to turn up and act incorrectly - does it for everything. Google history filled with stupid crap like: how to be on a train, what if someone is sat next to you on the bus when you need to get off, how do you ask a doctor a question. 

 

Eventually he falls asleep, halfway through an article about how good the selection of cheeses usually are at a farmers market. 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

There aren’t exactly any rules, besides don’t go around poking at the produce with filthy little hands. He’s sort of dressed up anyway, gone full on farmer in a way that he’s starting to think is… mocking. He’s accidentally come here and made a mockery of everyone.

 

No one else is wearing denim overalls, no one here is looking ready to jump on a tractor. It’s also mid June, there’s a heatwave rolling through England which means he’s a sweltering mess with sweat-damp hair. Shorts would’ve been a good idea, he misses shorts so much.

 

He undoes one strap and lets it drape down his shoulder, tries to make himself look more casual. The red plaid shirt underneath is fine, he wears them all the time so Ash couldn’t shout at him for that. They did shout at Phil when they found out they were their overalls though. 

 

Phil is good at borrowing things because he absolutely always returns them, apart from once he did return something broken and he and Ash are still working though that. He did apologise - a lot. 

 

“Hi!” There’s suddenly a lady beside him, holding out a leaflet that Phil takes with a slightly shaky hand. “Just to let you know what’s going on here today, we highlight a stall every week that we think is really worth visiting.”

 

“Ok,” Phil smiles, trying to read from the white piece of paper but not really being able to. There are definitely words there, but his brain is refusing to make any sense of them. “Thanks.”

 

She nods, then goes off to hand more out. There was nothing said about the farmer cosplay, so he doesn’t think he’s broken any laws. When his brain finally lets him read he discovers the stall is cheese. He pulls a face, then he throws the leaflet in the bin in some odd fit of rage that he feels guilty about a second later. 

 

It’s massive and Phil doesn’t know how he never managed to spot it before. He’s usually drawn in by bright colours, by places that look peaceful. Because it oddly is, there are people but nowhere near as many as in a supermarket. And all the people working actually look happy to be doing so. Phil can’t remember ever having been happy in retail, but he does remember crying in the back when someone threatened to choke him with a carrier bag. 

 

He stops at a stall filled with vegetables, some Phil has definitely never even heard of before. They’re for another day, another time. 

 

Tomatoes are - weird. Weird in the mouth texture. And he really doesn’t understand soup. Vegetables are used in soup a lot and he doesn’t know if he’s going to be forced to make soup with them when he gets home. 

 

Vegetables are different in a supermarket because they do not look so - unprepared. The ones Phil buys are all chopped up and in a bag for him already, and he knows that’s lazy but he’s clumsy and knives are probably his worst enemy. He had no idea butternut squash was so big, and he definitely has no idea what to do with it. 

 

Maybe this will be the making of him, force him to grow up via proper adult cooking. He feels a bit stupid as he just - stares. Reaches out multiple times for something and then changes his mind. The person working there is talking to someone else, so Phil decides to loop back ‘round later and ask his questions when no one else is about to hear them. 

 

The cheese stall is next and obviously he’s walking right past that because he hates - hot guy. 

 

Oh. Really hot guy. So Phil’s type he might actually have been planted there by the big cheese industry. Wants to get all the research on the cheese hater, lure him over with false promises - and hot people.

 

“Hey.” The guy waves, probably wondering why Phil has stopped dead in his tracks like he’d seen a ghost. 

 

“Hello,” Phil smiles back, trying to act casual, trying to act like cheese is his best friend and he is near it all the time. He leans on the table, then decides against it when it makes the overall strap hang all funny. “Cheese?”

 

“Yes,” the guy laughs, and he has dimples which seems unfair given all the rest of him is really good. “I’m the cheese dude, Dan the— no I thought I could alliterate but C and D are definitely different letters.” 

 

“They are,” Phil nods, because he remembers the alphabet even if he doesn’t remember anything else. “Phil Person. That’s alliteration.” 

 

“Does it have to be three words to count?” Dan asks. 

 

“No, my English degree never said that,” Phil says, then immediately feels like he’s just dropped the most misplaced humble brag. “Anyway, that was a bad example. Phil Person just sounds like my name, which it isn’t… my surname isn’t person.”

 

“But your first name is Phil?”

 

Phil nods, then starts forming plots for time travel because he really needs to start this conversation in a new and less insane way. 

 

“Ok then, Phil, would you like to try some samples?”

 

And Phil nods again, even though that actually sounds like his worst nightmare. 

 

He gets something yellow and on a stick. An innocuous looking thing that is going to slightly poison him. Phil doesn’t tell Dan he’s a bit lactose intolerant, just opens his mouth and attempts to swallow it down whole. It doesn’t work and he has to chew, it overwhelms every taste bud he owns in the worst way. He’s definitely pulling a face - something intense, something aimed right in Dan’s direction. 

 

“Erm—,” Dan looks alarmed, and Phil realises the face he’s pulling is an evil little glare.

 

“Sorry!” Phil swallows, finally. “Really intense cheese taster, just want to savour all the flavour, you know? Like wine.”

 

“You didn’t swill it around your mouth, did you?” Dan laughs. “Want a cup to spit it back out into?” 

 

And honestly Phil wants to say yeah, but instead he just laughs like it’s a really funny joke and not something he wishes he could do. “It’s good!”

 

“Thanks.” Dan - is a bit red. “I can give you more, if you want? Got millions of little sticks back here.”

 

Phil does what he always does when a hot person is involved, he ruins his own life.  He eats exactly five samples of cheese, every one somehow worse than the last. But every time he gives it a compliment Dan’s face lights up, so he suffers through and promises to take something later to help his stomach. 

 

In the end he has to make a decision: stay here and die, or buy something so the sampling stops. He doesn’t exactly mean to buy an entire cheese wheel, but at least it’s something to give to Ash in exchange for the good supermarket food he misses so much. 

 

Ash is a bit like a child, or a dog, in the sense that Phil gets home with bags and Ash wants to peek inside them for treats. So when he gets home and slaps a big cheese wheel down on the table they look absolutely delighted, and forget to be even a tiny bit suspicious - for a second. 

 

“For me?” 

 

“Yes.”

 

“A bribe?”

 

“No!”

 

“Hmmm,” Ash - dithers. Then settles on something. “Ok, thanks. I’m going to, I’m going to… I don’t even know where to start.”

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

“That’s better,” Ash smooths down the collar of his shirt, makes sure it’s laying flat against his chest. “No more sweating to death at the farmers market.”

 

“You could’ve told me it was the hottest day of the year,” Phil points out, checking himself out in the mirror. He looks - decent. And he thinks he’s getting better at least that, not putting himself down. 

 

“This is a very gay outfit.”

 

“All the outfits I wear are gay, because I’m gay.”

 

“Yeah but now you’re like, a fashion gay.” Ash looks - mildly proud? “Go out there, show off.”

 

He walks this time, takes in all that Manchester has to offer. The flowers lining the streets are in full bloom and he stops to take a photo, tries to live in the moment and not focus on - everyone. He’s missed out on a lot of life by trying to move through it too quickly, said no to things he really wishes he hadn’t, stayed at home because the idea of new people seemed - awful. 

 

There’s zero chance he’s ever going to win awards for socialising, but he’d at least like the option of saying yes without overthinking - without trying to calculate the amount of people who could fill the room. He sticks to the corners in everything, and just once he’d like to stand in the middle. 

 

His instagram is looking a bit more lively by the time he gets to the farmers market, filled with photos of spring and one risqué outfit photo taken in the rearview mirror of someone’s car. He’s not exactly trying to put himself out there, he’s just trying to - exist. Make this little place for himself that’s filled with colour, with things that make him happy. 

 

Another Sunday, another leaflet. This time highlighting the importance of milk which is just - bad. It’s like they’re purposely trying to make him ill. There should be a separate leaflet for people allergic to all dairy and the hot people that sell it. 

 

A brief scan indicates that - Dan isn’t here. And Phil suddenly wishes he had some rocks to solemnly kick along the ground. He hadn’t come here for Dan, is what he’s been telling himself all morning, but now Dan isn’t here he’s realising he definitely had come to see Dan. Just catch a little glimpse of him, see if it was a one time thing - a fluke - or whatever. 

 

Butternut squash stall it is, this is the week he conquers vegetables. Apart from he can’t find that either. He walks in the direction it was definitely in last time, but this week it’s the milk stall he’s not allowed to be at. Supermarkets don’t do this, move their produce around every single week. 

 

He misses supermarkets. 

 

“Hi,” that’s a voice he recognises, coming from the general direction of left? He wants to do the thing where he holds his hands up, sees which one forms an L, but that would look weird. “No overalls?” 

 

Phil looks over his shoulder and there he is, and no it was not a one time thing. Not a fluke. Phil’s heart still cartoon beats out of his chest. 

 

“No overalls,” Phil confirms, trying to do a good walk over - a sexy walk. Sometimes he watches runway videos on YouTube just to see how people walk. “I thought everyone here would also be roleplaying a farmer.”

 

Dan is dressed in all black again, a t-shirt on that wraps around his biceps in a way that is - threatening to Phil and all his feelings. He does not look like a farmer, and Phil really can’t imagine him in a field.

 

“No farmer role-play here, just some farmers and some people who live in apartments but work at a farm.”

 

“You don’t live on a farm?” Phil asks, feeling a bit scammed because - because the movies. “How do you make cheese in an apartment?” 

 

“I do not,” Dan grins, like it’s some big conspiracy they’re both in on. He must get that Phil does not know what is happening, because he pulls a face and tries to explain a little bit. “I live in an apartment, but I work on a farm that I go to? Like, I just… go there.”

 

“From your apartment?” Phil asks. “Everyday?”

 

“Five days.”

 

“A week?”

“Yes, Phil.” Dan laughs, throwing his head back and just distracting Phil with neck. “A week. Five days a year would not give me much cheese.”

 

Phil absolutely wants to say that’s a good thing, but instead he frowns like it’s really sad - really upsetting to even think about a lack of cheese. “Oh no.”

 

“Exactly,” Dan says, but then he has to go pay attention to someone else who looks interested in something blue - something that is mouldy but technically apparently isn’t.

 

Phil waits, because of course he does. Not done with whatever they were talking about, not done with Dan in general. He wants to talk to him, but then he starts panicking about the ethics of hitting on someone at a farmers market. Not that he’s being - obvious. Not trying to wink or touch or call Dan pretty. 

 

“Why do people come here and ask me for weird shit—god, sorry. I didn’t just say that to someone who is literally a customer.”

 

“It’s fine.” It actually calms Phil in the weirdest way, he had no idea how badly he needed casual over whatever it had been before. “Swearing releases… toxins.”

 

“Does it?”

 

“Probably not,” Phil rocks back on his heels, eyes travelling over the table in attempt to find the least offensive thing. Cheddar is alright, cheddar he can just about deal with having in his house. “But it’s probably in a book somewhere.”

 

“If it’s in a book then it must be true?”

 

“Exactly,” Phil reaches out, then retracts, then pulls a face because it’s not cheddar at all. 

 

“Do you want to try a sample?” Dan asks, his mountain of little cubes on a stick now in view. 

 

“Yeah,” Phil doesn’t even pause to think, because he knows how today will end - him slightly sick later on. No point in delaying the inevitable, or sorting out his life and not lying to strangers. “Thanks.”

 

“It’s back,” Dan seems - delighted. Phil has no idea why. Watching a grown man struggle to not throw up at the farmers market is right at the bottom of his fun time list. 

 

“Huh?”

 

“The face,” Dan says, and Phil still has no idea what is going on. He brings a hand to his own cheek, checks nothing funky is going on. “The intense one, you know, the cheese face. Whatever you said last week, god, I promise I didn’t just like— memorise your entire being.” 

 

Phil swallows, audibly. “Dunno. First the overalls… now this, you write about me in your diary?”

 

Dan raises an eyebrow, and Phil doesn’t even know him at all but he thinks that’s the signal for - cheek. “In invisible ink, yeah.”

 

“Ah, smart.” Phil nods, being a little gremlin and using the cocktail stick to dig dirt out from beneath his nails. “I wrote about you on twitter, not as smart.”

 

“You didn’t?” Dan sounds - bit stressed, honestly. 

 

“No!” Phil giggles, waiting until Dan looks away for a second to put the stick into his pocket. “That’d be well weird.”

 

“I dunno, I talk about strangers all the time. Like oh this guy on the bus hit on me and it was like… alright, thanks, you’re hot, but I just saw you kissing someone else goodbye at your stop? Twitter needs to know all that.”

 

“Offft,” Phil pretends to be in pain, when really he’s fucking ecstatic because that’s some sort of gay signal - gay confirmation. “My flatmate says men do hit on me but I’m just too oblivious to notice. Like there’s people in my dms and I think they want a friendly conversation.”

 

Phil thinks Dan’s trying to hold back a smile, not cheer out loud at the confirmation of same hat. He just - Phil likes it when that happens. His shoulders loosen up a bit, he stops being so careful with his words - not that he’s really been careful with Dan at all up to now. 

 

Ash would probably tell Phil to go for it, to go against the ethics of a farmers market and turn it into his own personal speed dating service. But when he opens his mouth - nothing. He’s not that brave for a start, and secondly the idea of putting anyone on the spot, making them uncomfortable, makes him - uneasy. Makes his brain feel like it’s throwing up inside of his skull. 

 

“Phil,” there’s some clicking which means he’s wandered off into his own head again. “You good? Lost you there.” 

 

“Sorry,” Phil crash lands back to earth, points at a random wheel of cheese and demands he have it.

 

It’s not his finest moment, but when Dan hands the bag over their hands brush and he gets this bashful little goodbye. 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

 

“Mate, please just start coming shopping again.” It’s the third week of Phil handing over a list, this one incredibly longer than the last. 

 

“No,” Phil is stubborn, digs his heel into the dirt so much that sometimes he ends up on the other side of the planet. “I like this, like, trip. It’s got… good vibes.”

 

“Then at least stop buying me cheese every week as some sort of bribe.”

 

And - yeah. That works. That’s a lie Phil can tell because it sounds true enough. “Do you like it?”

 

“Yes,” Ash sounds reluctant to admit it, but they’re not good at lying - have this huge tell of their voice going up about fifty tones in octave. “You know I like it, you see me stood in front of the fridge like twelve times a week eating it with my hands.”

 

Phil hasn’t taken a photo, he’s taken twelve. It’s just - funny.

 

“Then stop complaining, it’s literally free cheese for your good friendship.”

 

Ash whines, pushes Phil out the door with all these little mutterings.

 

“Stairs!”

 

“Sorry,” Ash doesn’t sound it. “I’m at least walking there with you today, could use some actual fresh air and not just… uber back seat air.”

 

“Ok,” Phil smiles, looping their arms together. It’s June and he always feels more - alright. “That means you want to talk to me.”

 

He has a feeling that it’s going to be about Matt, coming up on two years is probably a milestone. Phil wouldn’t know, every relationship he’s ever been in has crashed and burned after six months. 

 

“I want to talk to you, yeah.” They’ve got this soft tone, comes out to play whenever bad for Phil news is coming. “Me and Matt.”

 

“You and Matt,” Phil narrowly avoids tripping over a crack in the pavement, too busy staring ahead and trying to - zone out. He’s listening but he doesn’t really want to take it in right now, maybe when he gets home and can digest it all in private. 

 

“We’ve started talking about the future.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And… you know, moving in with each other. Not kids because I don’t think we ever want that, but a dog and a—“ Ash tugs at Phil’s sleeve, tries to get him to at least make a noise of acknowledgement. He’s being a dick - he can feel himself being a dick. “Phil.”

 

He’s going to be - a grown up. Going to congratulate his best friend instead of collapsing in on himself, worrying about what he’s going to do. “That’s amazing, Ash, you look… you always look really happy together. I’m glad you found him.”

 

“You good?” Ash asks. “You can tell me to piss off and find a new place if you want, you keep that one.”

 

“Na,” Phil lets out a big breath, braces himself for all the chance headed his way. Maybe he should properly start yoga, maybe being bendy would help him somehow. “You suit the place, both of you.”

 

They lapse into a comfortable silence, one Phil’s grown attached to over the years. And that’s his problem, how settled he gets and how reluctant he is to leave once he’s made a home for himself - be it in a person or a place. But he’s getting - better. Got a little folder filled with links to new apartments, even a couple for jobs bigger than his own. 

 

“No cheese,” Ash warns, but it falls on deaf ears. Maybe Phil feels a bit bad, that Ash thinks this is a completely selfless act. 

 

“Just a little bit of a cheese.”

 

“Useless.” They sound fond though, pat their pockets down for Phil’s list before running off and leaving him with the vegetables he’s warming up to and the Dan he’s - something to. 

 

Dan’s stall has moved right up front this week and he’s already talking to someone, all wild hand gestures and bright eyes as he laughs. Phil leaves him to it, actually pays attention to his surroundings. He likes fruit, fruit he can cope with. The textures are all - pleasant. He feels a bit vindicated when he actually comes away with a carrier bag full of the stuff - raspberries, blueberries, some sort of melon he’s never tried but is excited about. 

 

It’s Dan who calls him over again, Dan who looks pleased to see him. Today he looks - different. It takes Phil a second to realise he’s had a haircut, all cropped up tight around the ears and his curls look - crispy. He doesn’t say that out-loud because he thinks crispy is the opposite of a compliment, even though he definitely means it as one. 

 

“Haircut.” 

 

“Oh, yeah,” Dan reaches up to pet his own hair, looks pleased that someone has noticed. “Thought it was time for the chop, kept tickling my ears.”

 

“Looks nice.”

 

Dan stutters out a sentence of absolute nothing, offers Phil a handful of cheese samples that he unwillingly takes. “New.”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Cheese is new,” Dan clarifies. “Like it’s a new type of cheese that I made, testing stuff. It’s got caramel in it.”

 

“Oh?” Oh. That’s something Phil can get behind that’s—oh it’s worse than all the others combined. It takes him so long to get down and not once does another customer come along, give Phil the time to spit it out into some tissue. “S’good.”

 

“Thanks! You can have some to take home, I made a random piece that literally looks like it’s gone through a blender so I can’t sell it.”

 

“Thanks…?” 

 

“That does sound like an I hate you gift, doesn’t it?” But still Dan hands over the little Tupperware container. “It isn’t, it’s more a you’ve somehow given me more money in the last couple of weeks than anyone else has ever.”

 

Phil doesn’t comment, doesn’t want to think about how much the entire cheese wheels he keeps buying actually are. He unzips his backpack, shoves the container inside and makes a promise to himself to remember that it is there. Once he left his gym kit inside a backpack for a month, came back to the smell of a boys locker room filled with - well, boys. 

 

“Do you like it?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Your work, like… you know how some people say if you find a job you like you’ll never work a day in your life.”

 

“Fuck no,” Dan cackles and that’s new - a new noise. “It’s getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning and having back ache… and barely making any money.”

 

“Oh,” Phil frowns. “Then… why?”

 

“I like it, but it’s definitely work. It definitely feels like work. Everything feels like work,” Dan’s doing what he did earlier, talking with his hands and it’s making Phil dizzy trying to keep up with them. “I’d just rather do work I enjoy, as opposed to work I hate… you know?”

 

Phil nods, even though he doesn’t know. He thinks he likes his job, he just wants it to be… more. He wants out of the little back office he’s crammed into editing commercials or - on the odd occasions - tv shows. 

 

“How do you even make cheese?”

 

Apparently asking Dan that is the equivalent of kicking a hornet’s nest, the only thing missing is a powerpoint presentation. But Phil - listens. He properly takes in every word because it’s fun to listen to someone who has so much passion. 

 

“That sounds like… a lot, many processes.”

 

“It’s quite a lot yeah,” Dan excuses himself for a second, serves someone who actually likes the cheese on offer and Phil thinks about owning up to his crimes. He doesn’t - can’t - not when Dan’s just gone out of his way to save him some weird mangled blender cheese. 

 

“Did you know that guy owns this place?” Dan’s biting at his thumbnail, anxious about something Phil feels he can’t ask about. “He’s on about— downsizing. Like getting a smaller pitch with less stalls because apparently it’s not as popular as it used to be.”

 

“What guy?”

 

“The guy who just walked past,” Dan says, like Phil has eyes in the back of his head - or something. 

 

“But you’re good right?” Phil doesn’t reach out, even though he really wants to. “People are always looking at your… erm, selection? Is that what it’s called.”

 

Dan smiles and that stops the biting, “or an array.”

 

“Have you ever thought about selling pre-made cheeseboards? That’s an array.” Phil just - picnics. He always sees them at picnics. And people who come here probably have a lot of those, sit on little gingham blankets and drink out of plastic champagne glasses. 

 

“What the fuck,” Dan mutters it, but Phil’s close enough to hear. He’s about to apologise for overstepping but then he gets this loud shriek right next to his ear. “You’re a genius!”

 

“Jesus,” Phil’s hand flies up to his chest, trying to calm the rapid rate of his own heartbeat - he thinks he can hear it in his own ears. “And you are loud.”

 

“I’m known for it, yeah.” Dan smirks, and it feels again - like flirting. Like Phil is supposed to say something back and keep it going along. 

 

“Like an air horn.”

 

“Thanks,” Dan snorts. “I love being compared to one of the most annoying things on earth.”

 

He hadn’t - kept the flirting going. Instead stamped all over it with his massive feet, with his fear of change. He thinks if Ash knew about all this they’d be proper pissed off, print out a photo of Dan and point out all his good bits. Maybe on any other day he’d be up for it, but the conversation with Ash had left a bad taste in Phil’s mouth. 

 

He’s happy, but at the same time he wants to throw a tantrum. Limbo isn’t a place he can live in forever, but he’d been happy there - even if it had felt like something was missing. His entire life was wrapped up in another person’s, but that life was never meant to go on indefinitely. Always the chance for it to alter, always the chance Ash was going to meet someone else to get wrapped up in. 

 

Phil just needs a minute, or a few hours, to get used to the fact it’s all happening right now as opposed to way off in the future. 

 

“You’re not annoying,” Phil says. “You’re just… er— you’re not annoying.”

 

“Encouraging.” Dan slumps over a clean part of the stall, looks up at Phil all puppy dog eyed and Phil starts thinking about flirting back. “Can you do math?”

 

“I can not not do math?”

 

“Ok,” Dan murmurs, and Phil realised he’d not just slumped over the desk to look pretty, he’s actually working on something. There’s this scrawl of numbers on, what looks like, the leaflets they hand out at the gate. “Today’s takings. The cash register is broke and I’m having to do it manually… like in my actual brain. It’s so fucking hot outside too, it’s like soup floating around in my skull.”

 

“Give me some numbers.” Phil gets his phone out of pockets, absolutely ready to go and to - be impressive. “I’ll solve all your problems.”

 

“All of them?” Dan asks, and this has gotta be flirting again. “Every single one?”

 

“Just this one,” Phil smiles. “For now.”

 

He gets too many numbers, can barely keep up with the speed of Dan’s mouth. At one point he fumbles and has to start again which just - Dan is so whiny. 

 

“Many.”

 

“Many?”

 

“Quite a bit of money for cheese, yeah.” Phil turns the phone screen around and Dan swipes it. “Oi!”

 

“I’m doing it myself, this is wrong. There is no way.”

 

“Do you not have a phone?” Phil isn’t exactly worried, not like he has anything incriminating on there. But maybe he’d repeatedly googled Dan in his sleep without even realising. 

 

“I have a phone,” Dan snarks. “It’s got no battery.”

 

“You forgot to charge it?” Phil gasps, because he can be a bit dramatic too when he wants. “Cardinal sin, I think.” 

 

“Oh yeah,” Dan agrees, but the tone he says it in suggests he actually absolutely does not agree. “The bible says if you don’t charge your that phone you get thrown into the sea.”

 

“It does in the new testament, yeah.”

 

Dan laughs at that, gazes up with all this light in his eyes like Phil has made his day via silly little comments. “Idiot. About the bible and about todays takings. I absolutely did not make three thousand pound selling a few wedges of cheddar.”

 

Phil feels a bit sheepish then, gnaws on his bottom lip until Dan hands his phone back over. “I don’t know how the cheese stock market works.”

 

“Not like that.”

 

The phone goes back into Phil’s pocket, along with his non-impressive mathematical skills. “I would give you three thousand pounds if I had it.”

 

The smile on Dan’s face turns into something softer, something that means maybe they really are flirting. Properly. Not just - having fun. 

 

“I wouldn’t take it, but thanks.”

 

“You’re correct not to, it is all stolen from crimes like… accidentally ripping shelves down at the supermarket.” 

 

“You didn’t?”

 

“Yeah,” Phil admits. “It’s my why I’m at the farmers market origin story. I leaned on it when I was reaching for some really good stuff and… crash.”

 

“You’re so silly.”

 

“Yeah,” Phil agrees. “I am so silly, silly Philly is what they call me.”

 

“Is it?” Dan seems invested, but Phil can’t tell anymore lies. 

 

“No, I’m actually the only person to have ever called me that.”

 

“Silly Philly,” Dan says. “See now two whole people have called you that, so you can go around telling everyone that’s your name.”

 

And it’s then Phil realises he feels comfortable, and that is new - unexpected. 

 

“Just let me buy some of your cheese and then we’ll discuss your new and weird nickname for me.”

 

“You said it!” Dan protests, and he’s right but Phil still acts a bit wounded about it. “Ugh, what’d you want?”

 

“Erm…” Phil points wherever, because it really doesn’t matter. “That one.”

 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

 

Phil decides seeing someone three times makes it legal to have a little snoop, to try and find their Instagram and figure out if they’re actually some sort of cannibal - or married. 

 

Dan, it turns out, is impossible to find. Mainly because he doesn’t have his surname. Typing Dan Cheese into google really isn’t giving him what he wants at all. It’s only a weird loop around the farmers market Facebook page that gets him somewhere: to a separate page for the stall Dan runs. It has a bizarrely high number of likes - maybe buying bots for a cheese page is good business practise?

 

There’s nothing about Dan, no photos of him, just happy reviews and photos of a dark dank room that Dan must spend most of his hours in. 

 

The option to message the page pops up - maybe he should find out some actual info, like times and dates and… he’s honestly just bored enough to press all the buttons. He clicks on what time does the market open, expecting some bot to reply but instead he gets:

 

Dan: you know that!!!!! u were literally there this morning 

 

Phil: no! no. I know that I just get there and hope it’s open. I do not know what time it actually opens

 

Dan: god. 7am

 

Phil: that’s rank. Who wakes up that early?

 

Dan: people who wanna get all the good stuff. U know I had some red leicester this morning? Get there early… you missed out on a cheese literally called you 

 

Phil: cheese being named after me is a crime

 

Dan: why?!?!?!

 

Phil: you know… I’m technically red. This is all very much a bottle of hair dye slapped on my head once month

 

Dan: oh!!!! Pics or I don’t believe you

 

Phil: believe whatever you want m8

 

Dan: pictures for free cheese next week?

 

Phil: sorry :( still no

 

Dan: is your Facebook open?

Oh it is 

Oh I’m going to go so far back 

 

Phil: no!!! No! That is actually illegal! I’m locking it. I am going to privacy settings I am deleting 

 

Dan: we both had the emo fringe I see 

 

Phil: I do not see because your page IS locked

 

Dan: :)

 

Phil: this Is literally illegal. 

 

Dan: yeah huh

 

Phil: you saw me in 2007!!!!!

 

Dan: block hair. same. 

 

Phil: I have to know what you looked like when you looked bad

 

Dan: I look good now?

 

Phil: shut up

Lemme seeeeee

 

Dan: just send me a friend request dumbo

 

Phil: dan. your square hair is worse than me square hair

 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

After about a week of non-stop Facebook messenger, Phil finally admits that he hates the website with a burning passion. It’s just seeing too many people he knows with children. Dan says he needs to learn to appreciate the fine insanity of the website, but hands over his phone number when Phil calls him old and weird. 

 

Phil: see :D this is better

 

Dan: It’s literally just texting. It’s the same thing

 

Phil: yeah but I can text you in peace without seeing a minion meme. Or a baby. Or a homophobic long lost aunt

 

Dan: fineee. You win. I’ll try and kick the Stalking on my friends from school habit 

 

Phil: :) I always win in the end

 

Dan: sounds like a threat m8

 

Phil: It is! Can’t wait to win the cheese stall

 

Dan: OH. Speaking of. Not there tomorrow. Gotta go do some stuff so someone is covering for me. They will not give u as many samples just fyi

 

Phil: Oh? Then maybe I just won’t go

 

Dan: makes sense. Considering I never see u actually buying anything else. 

 

Phil: oi! I got some berries once. 

 

Dan: what are you? A fucking bird?

 

Phil: do birds eat berries? I thought it was worms

 

Dan: what eats berries? 

 

Phil: creatures, I think

 

“Earth to Phil,” Ash shouts, and it’s enough to make Phil jump about twelve feet in the air. “Finally.”

 

“Sorry.” Phil tucks his phone away even if he really doesn’t want to, doesn’t matter that they were only talking about - shit. They’ve fallen into this rhythm, this back and forth that feels effortless. It might be flirting, it might be friendship, it might be a combination of the two.

 

“I said, when you go tomorrow do not buy anymore cheese. The last one is still in the fridge, and a bit of the one before that. We are running out of space.”

 

“I’m not going,” Phil says, because Dan was right about the whole not buying anything else. “Gonna have a week off because — you know, just because.”

 

“Oh?” Ash latches onto it like a goddamn sniffer dog, too good at his job to believe the more obvious of Phil’s lies. “Because.”

 

“Because.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Ash sounds stunned and Phil hasn’t even said anything. “Have you been fucking falling in love with farmers?”

 

“No!” Too quick, too goddamn quick. He should’ve relaxed back in his chair, gave a little shrug of the shoulder rather than an immediate scream. “Not in love.”

 

“But…”

 

“There’s someone that I might like seeing at the farmers market.”

 

“Tell,” Ash doesn’t really give Phil much of a choice, because they’re sat down at the coffee tables with a metaphorical note-pad ready to go. “Tell me everything. The last time this happened we were in uni.”

 

So Phil tells them the entire story, or at least some of the story. He leaves out the part about blowing his weekly food budget on something he detests. There’s also a full half an hour of photo showing, Ash losing their mind every time they sees Dan in a new pose. 

 

“God.” Ash stops looking, because apparently it’s getting too much. “He can’t be real.”

 

“He is real and I think…yeah. I know it’s only been three weeks and… three in person conversations—“

 

“You’ve been texting non-stop!” Ash knows, because Ash had looked. “And he’s obviously into it.”

 

“Is he?” Phil asks because - he’s uncertain. He’d like to think it goes both ways, that he’s not been reading it all wrong, but there’s still this little hint of doubt that creeps in when he closes his eyes at night. 

 

“I’m going to hit you.”

 

“No!” Phil shrieks, curling up on himself. “No hitting the Phil.”

 

“Matt is going to die when I tell him this, he keeps trying to set you up with someone from the other floor at work but you zone out every time he starts talking about love.”

 

“I do?” Phil asks, feeling a bit guilty because he really doesn’t mean to. It’s just - finance. This guy works in finance and Phil doesn’t want to date someone who likes money in that way - the rich person way. 

 

“It’s ok,” Ash pats Phil’s curled up form. “I think I’d kill someone who works in finance too.” 

 

“Is he coming over tonight?”

 

“What?” Ash asks, then one second later they catch on and nod.

 

“Want me to clear off?” Phil asks, and it’s fine because he’s excited to go see his niece. “Thin walls.”

 

“Fuck off.”

 

“I can go.”

 

“You don’t have to,” Ash says, because they’re nice. 

 

“I’m gonna go.” 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

 

 

Dan: oooo that sucks. 

 

Phil: it doesn’t. Like I’m happy for them because … they’re my bestfriend and they deserve it. I just like the apartment

 

Dan: can u afford Big City rent on your own? I cannot lmao

 

Phil: yeah? Technically I can.I work in video editing and it pays like fine. It’s just I like having money for stupid shit so it worked having to only split rent

 

Dan: rent is a scam

 

Phil: yeah, don’t let me think about how much I have spent on rent. I’ll get really sad. 

 

Dan: with your adding up… probably a billion

 

Phil: hey!!!! That was apples fault

 

Dan: sure pal. 

So have they kicked you out rn for some … alone time

 

Phil: they didn’t kick me out. I offered to go stay somewhere else for the night but my niece is ill and I think I am just being evil being here. Like a bad distracting omen

 

Dan: if you are near u can come here? My flatmate is out for the night and yeah. Free room 

 

Phil: I don’t wanna impose

 

Dan: I’m offering, doof

 

Phil: ok. Thanku

 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

Week five of farmer market escapades aren’t different - Phil thought they might be a little different. He’d spent the night at Dan’s, and nothing had happened but… seeing him stood at the stall makes him wish something had. 

 

They’d eaten a crap takeaway from down the street, something with peppers that were soft instead of crunchy. Dan offered to cook something else, started raiding his fridge for ingredients but everything he pulled out was his flatmates - or something that would make Phil ill.

 

But it was cute, all the effort. It never once felt - awkward. Phil never felt like crawling out of his own skin and pretending to be somebody else. He’s thought about it too much the past week, how right he feels in Dan’s presence. 

 

How - maybe. 

 

There was this moment when they were heading off to bed, after a few hours of films and Mario kart, where Phil thought braveness might kick in. It didn’t. Just some lingering in the hall, soft whispered goodnights.

 

“Hi,” Dan smiles, sat down on a little chair and Phil’s really upset that Dan is getting an up the nose view. “How’s the apartment hunting?”

 

“Alright, found a few nice ones that aren’t like a million pounds a week.” One is in Dan’s apartment building, but he isn’t willing to talk about that yet. 

 

“You should definitely go already furnished. Me and my flatmate when unfurnished and nearly had a fucking breakdown when we realised how much sofas cost.” Dan’s scribbling away on something, then he’s suddenly handing Phil a piece of paper with a phone number on it. “There’s a free apartment in my building, the landlord wants someone in like… asap.”

 

“Oh!” Phil squeaks, feels slightly caught out even though Dan obviously hasn’t got a clue. “Thank you. I liked your building.”

 

It had been in a good place, close enough to work that he could walk it on the nicer days. The fact Dan is also in the building is well - an added bonus. He thinks it must’ve been an old mill at some point because there had been a metal bridge connecting one side of buildings floor to the other. Dan had said he didn’t use it much - too tall, too scared of falling over the edge. 

 

“I think they’re getting properly serious now, went to Ikea together this morning which means… something right?” Phil wishes he had a chair too, could talk to Dan on a bit more of an even ground. He feels awkward up here, like an actual customer all over again. Brains are… weird. Maybe he should sit on the ground, talk to Dan from beneath the stall like he’s in some sort of fort. 

 

“Oooo,” Dan nods, curls all wild and bouncy today - maybe he needs another haircut. “Yeah. That means big things. That’s like we’re thinking about getting engaged and starting a family home together.” 

 

Now someone else is saying it, it seems even more - real. He’d been half joking but that really is where they’re at. More and more of Matt’s stuff is being left behind, knick-knacks on shelves and clothes in draws. He keeps the note safe by jamming it into the back of his phone case, vows to properly think about it when he gets home. 

 

“Should I warn them about the cost of that?”

 

Dan looks up, squinting in the hot afternoon sun. “Yeah, I would. Good friendship duty.”

 

“Did you fix the plant?” Phil asks, because he’s been thinking about it all week. He breaks shelves in stores, he accidentally kicks plant pots over in people’s houses. Dan had been - lovely. Too nice. Told Phil it was his fault for having it in such a random place. 

 

He’s a bit like the opposite of Ash, babies Phil when he wants to be babied. Ash just calls him a twat. 

 

“It’s not dead dead anymore, just a little bit dead… and in a less stupid place.”

 

“It wasn’t it a stupid place!” Phil says, just like he had when it happened. “I’m just a stupid man who kicks stuff that is right there.”

 

“Agree to disagree?”

 

“You’re just a coward,” Phil taunts, pushing he glasses up his nose in some weirdo act of defiance. “Don’t wanna fist fight at the farmers market.”

 

“I don’t wanna fist fight at the farmers market when my boss is stood over there,” Dan tips his head secretly, and Phil stares right over at him and makes it all obvious - he hadn’t seen him last time, wanted to make sure to get a really good look. “Fucking hell, Phil. Stop it.”

 

“He looks like a weasel.”

 

“He’s a bit of a cunt.”

 

“Dan!” Phil covers his own ears. “That is a bad word, the worst word.”

 

“It is not, it’s an accurate word.” Then there are hands on his wrists, gently pulling his arms back down. “He is.”

 

Phil love to reply - he really would. It’s just… Dan’s hands are so warm. And they’re so close together. The sun is bouncing off Dan’s face, and he thought every time  he read about people’s eyes being gold in books it was just some fake romantic lie. But they are, Dan’s eyes are. 

 

“A cunt.”

 

“Dan!” Phil says again, arms trapped in Dan’s grip so he can’t even defend himself. “There are children.”

 

“There literally are not any children here, I stand at the door and send them away.”

 

Phil giggles and Dan stares at his mouth. 

 

“Liar.”

 

“Maybe.” Dan squeezes and then lets go - Phil misses it immediately. “But in an ideal world I would. Sometimes they come and poke big gross hand holes into my cheese and I have to launch it in the bin.”

 

“You should launch the children in the bin, then they won’t ruin your cheese.” Phil feels bad immediately, thinks of his niece and how Cornelia would not be impressed with his new children in bins campaign.

 

“I should.”

 

“We actually should’t.”

 

“Probably not, bit mean.”

 

“Let me buy something,” Phil taps his fingers along the gingham cloth, lands in front of something that is actually edible. “You made a cheesecake?”

 

“Yeah,” Dan looks a bit proud of it, like he doesn’t actually want to sell it. “And cheeseboards, did you see the cheeseboards? I’m expanding.”

 

He had seen the cheeseboard, but he still didn’t want them because they weren’t filled with sugar and crushed up biscuits. But it was a nice feeling - that someone had listened to his idea, thought it was actually a good one. 

 

“I do, they’re very professional.”

 

“But you want the sugar?”

 

“I want the sugar, yeah.”

 

Going home with a cheesecake is fun and right. 

 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

“Did you see him?” To give Ash some credit they at least waited a week to ask, to pry. 

 

“I saw him, yeah.” And he’s probably going to see Dan again tomorrow, still probably won’t do anything because he’s enjoying this state of hope. “Did you?”

 

“Haha,” Ash deadpans, poking and prodding at Phil until he relents and collapses onto the couch. “Right I’m not going to give you therapy. But I’m going to give you something. I have to stare at you looking at your phone all day with heart shaped pupils.” 

 

Phil sighs, and he’s not going to be stubborn but he is going to have this conversation with his back turned. The creases of the sofa are not interesting, but it does cause a mini realisation - a mini crisis.  He absolutely hates the texture of the sofa, curls himself up in a blanket every time he sits down to avoid touching it. And it’s - odd. That he’s put up with something he hates for ten years just because, at some point, he’d gotten used to it. 

 

He can hear Ash sitting on the arm chair, making themselves comfortable because they like the texture. They like all he furniture in here because they’d picked it. 

 

“You like him.”

 

“Yeah,” Phil talks to the bad material. 

 

“And from the looks of things he likes you, what’s stopping you from pursuing that?” Ash sounds - serious.

 

“Because you know what I’m like.”

 

“I do, and I love you, but you’re a nightmare sometimes. You know you hate this sofa, right? And you’ve never suggested we change it.” 

 

Phil blinks, trying not to cry over something bizarre. “You could’ve suggested it.” 

 

“I wanted you to do it.” 

 

And I didn’t.” Phil bites his tongue and it just brings more tears to his eyes.

 

“You don’t change the things you hate, and you definitely don’t change the things you think are alright. You’re going through life just… accepting things that are fine. You don’t ever let yourself have things that could be more than just that.” 

 

And maybe Ash has a point, maybe Phil accepts fine because at least nothing is going wrong. At least fine isn’t scary. 

 

“You’re not just fine, Ash. You don’t think—“

 

“We’re not talking about me,” And this must be the patient side of them, that all his clients get to see. “I know our friendship isn’t that for you, I’m talking about the rest of your life. You turned down a promotion because you had to move office.”

 

“I know every one at my place.”

 

“And your place makes you miserable half the time.”

 

“But what if—“

 

“Look Phil,” Ash doesn’t snap, but they do sound - tired. “I hate seeing you fucking miserable. You’re my best friend and I want you to love your life. You know sometimes bad change is still at least change?”

 

“That is terrible advice.” 

 

Ash laughs and it grounds Phil a bit - Ash isn’t mad, Ash just wants Phil to be happy. “I think giving you good advice is the opposite of what you need. You need different advice to everyone else. Back to front advice.” 

 

“I want to do all the things, I want… to like work and I want someone to look at me like Matt looks at you,” Phil admits, picking at a loose beige thread - who buys a beige sofa? “It’s just… if it all goes wrong then I’ve given up an alright life for a crap one.”

 

“But what If it does work out, Phil? What if it all works out? You can’t tell me that you don’t think that sometimes.” 

 

And he does, thinks about where he’d be now if he’d have said yes to the job offer. Thinks about what would have happened if he’d kissed Dan in the hallway. “All my other relationships… you know how they went. They always saw me as some little clown, this fun spectacle they got bored of when they realised I wasn’t just like that as a joke… but I was actually like that. Would be forever.”

 

“Phil,” And now Ash sounds upset, the soft padding of feet against the carpet and then a hand on his back. “You’ve got all your guards up, you wouldn’t have let Dan in if you thought he was like that. Remember I’ve seen the texts, he gets you and all those people who didn’t were shit anyway.”

 

Phil rolls over, squishes Ash’s hand in the process. “He’s so fucking good.”

 

“Ow,” Ash whines, ripping their hand free and cradling it against their chest. “That hurt. And yeah, he seems like a good kid.”

 

“God, what are you? A cowboy?”

 

“I might be in a former life.”

 

“Thank you.” 

 

“And on the slight chance that the change does suck,” Ash’s hand comes back, a light slap against Phil’s left cheek. “I’ll be here, yeah? You can always come back here and go back to that alright you like so much.” 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

 

Dan: new offer

 

Phil: yes? 

 

Dan: buy four dan products get the fifth one free. 

 

Phil: no I like 2 buy things. Give u three thousand pounds

 

Dan: cheesecake? Free cheesecake? 

 

Phil: I am … being persuaded by the sugary biscuit 

 

Dan: free cheesecake for people called Phil tomorrow

 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

 

Phil thinks today has got to be the day. Ash had given him a weird pep talk on the way out, slapped his back like they were two dudes at a football game. Phil has also vowed to return to the supermarkets, stop handing Ash an entire weeks worth of food shopping list. He’ll go to a different one. Not the Tesco’s he ruined. Probably a little Asda or a - literally anything but that Tesco’s. 

 

Dan is right at the back today which is stupid, putting him at the entrance has to draw people in. 

 

“Cheesecake for a Phil,” It’s in its own box, name scrawled across the top in that scratchy writing he’s somehow come to learn over the past couple of months. “I put chocolate in it.”

 

“Would you think less of me if I just started eating it right now with me hands?” 

 

“I would actually think more of you,” Dan grins, but produces a fork from seemingly nowhere and the gesture is so big that Phil almost says something there and then. 

 

“We have to share it at least? Like an illegal breakfast cheesecake that only weird sugar addicts eat.”

 

“Duh,” Dan laughs, producing a second fork.

 

And then it happens - the worst thing imaginable. They’re eating a cheesecake on separate sides of the stall, giggling around forkfuls of the stuff. Then there’s a tap on his shoulder, this familiar voice. 

 

“Alright, mate. Thought I’d come see what all the fuss was about.” And Phil knows that’s code for see how hot the hot guy is in real life. 

 

“Erm—Hi, Ash. No fuss, just— Hi.”

 

Ash peaks over Phil to see what is happening, and he doesn’t even have to see his friends face to know their eyebrows are up in their hairline. “Are you fucking actually eating cheese? You hate the stuff.”

 

Phil thinks he dies. Passes out there and then. His soul has left the building, gone off to buy some butternut squash. Time is moving very slowly - or very quickly. He just knows he’s scared to look up because he heard Dan’s fork clatter against the table. 

 

“Fuck,” It’s audible, but barely so. “Fuck off…”

 

He does look up. Dan is wild eyed. Looking between him and Ash like this is a prank, and when he determines it’s not his face does - something. Phil really couldn’t explain to anyone what.

 

“Dan, look—“ 

 

But he doesn’t really get a chance to explain what needs listening to. Dan is laughing so loudly that everyone looks over to see what the fuss is about. Ash prods and Phil but Phil isn’t paying attention, knows he can explain later but right now he needs to work out if Dan wants to stab him with a pitchfork.

 

“Dan,” he tries again, poking at him with the blunt edges of his own fork. 

 

“I gave you so many samples. I wish you’d have told me,” Dan says, apparently done with all the hysterics. “Fucking hell. I give everyone else here one, did ya know that? I give you five to keep you around talking, but you don’t even like them? I love bankruptcy via a cheese hater.”

 

“Phil, mate, what the fuck? Have you been buying cheese as a gift for me but actually… not.” Ash at least has the decency to whisper this time.  “You been buying cheese just to impress this guy?” 

 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

Dan: I am losing my mind still, you doof

 

Phil: I think it’s good if you like cheese? like… cheese that is good for cheese people?

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

“He returns, the traitor.”

 

He feels a bit tail between his legs, like he’s walking into the headmasters office asking for forgiveness after accidentally setting a bit of the science class on fire. But they should be - fine. Dan’s still been talking to him all week, albeit a bit dramatically and all betrayed. Phil doesn’t think it’s serious, but then he doesn’t really get other people’s brains when they’re upset. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Phil says, because it feels like the right thing to do. He’s already apologised a million and one times - Dan only accepted the first one.

 

“Stop it. I’m actually about to go on lunch if you wanna come?” Dan asks, and Phil realises it’s the first time he’s seen him out from behind the stall whilst here - feels like a bit of a crime. Then he realises he’s wearing ripped jeans. He sort of short circuits, stares at the skin on show through the rips in the black denim. “Phil?”

 

“Yes!” Phil says - too loud, too obvious. “Lunch is food.”

 

Dan nods, then he shakes his head. He does that a lot, get’s baffled halfway through a Phil sentence, can’t make up his mind on whether or not he gets it - wants to get it. But then he’ll always laugh, always hand Phil another sample of evil on a stick. It’s different, to how other people are with him. Dan likes how Phil is - others want to change it.

 

“Sure is, pal.”

 

“Where we going?”

 

“I know the person who owns the food truck in the corner, she’ll give us a discount,” Dan looks over his shoulder to offer Phil a smile, and Phil averts his gaze - acts like he hadn’t been staring in fascination at his legs. 

 

It’s just - they’re good. All of Dan is good, all of Dan is something that makes his heart flip. He’s never wanted to please anybody in his life so badly before, but he’s slowly starting to realise he doesn’t even have to try. Dan just likes him. There’s not this need to change, this need to tone himself down. When he’s with Dan Phil is just everything he is.

 

And maybe he shouldn’t be so sure in that, it’s been two months and he’s only just learning the guy definitely has skin on his legs as opposed to like - alien legs. But not everything in life needs to make sense - barely anything does. Sometimes it’s just enough that it’s making you happy. 

 

“Are we scamming the food truck?” Phil catches up, flinches when their hands brush and then leans into it a little. Dan doesn’t move, doesn’t try to create any distance at all, just jostles their shoulders together a bit too hard - nearly launches Phil into a bin. 

 

“We are not scamming the food truck,” Dan laughs, and from this angle he’s getting a good view of the dimple on his left cheek. Paying attention to how it looks like a frown. He’s got the sort of complexion that probably allows for freckles in the summertime, and suddenly all Phil wants to do is walk the streets with him until they appear.

 

He’s a bit fucked, but he’s having fun with it. 

 

He’s a bit fucked, but at least Ash had eaten all the cheese he’d spent a small fortune on. 

 

“What is the food we’re not scamming?”

 

“Taco truck.”

 

“Ooooo,” Phil does a little skip, honestly just happy to not be eating anymore cheese. He’s walked past it a dozen times, but then ignored it in favour of making a beeline for Dan. He’d sort of failed the rest of the farmers market and his mission of actually buying any food. He’d begged Ash to grab him some bits every time they went to Tesco, and yeah he could’ve shopped online but, then what would his excuse have been for coming here?

 

It’s big - maybe house sized. Phil thinks he could live in a truck if he absolutely had to, throw a few fairy lights up and beg the broadband company to somehow get him some internet in it. Maybe he’ll move in to save Ash the awkwardness of asking Phil if he’s found a place yet. Because Phil thinks they’re definitely at that point, at the point where he’s now leaving every time Matt comes over - as opposed to just every other time. It’s time for him to leave and that phone number for the apartment is still in the back of his phone case. 

 

He stares up at the menu, squinting in the morning sun. Everything seems - a lot. Too many options, too big a choice to make when he’s never eaten here before. He has no idea what is good, what’s bad, what’s got some sort of secret cheese in it.

 

“Phil,” Dan’s tipping to the side, ducking that extra inch so he can whisper into Phil’s ear. “Do not order the everything taco, it’ll kill you.”

 

That narrows it down - a bit. But he still feels all weird inside, like he can’t make any big life decisions because he can’t even make a decision on what food to eat. He isn’t going to cry, apart from he really feels like he’s going to. There’s never been so much change going on at once, not since uni. He doesn’t know what to do about Ash, doesn’t know what to do about Dan. 

 

Well - he knows what he wants to do about Dan. There’s this constant niggle in the back of his brain reminding him that he wants Dan, wants him in every conceivable way. 

 

“Hey,” there’s this soft gentle whisper, then a hand on his shoulder pushing him out of the queue and around the back of the truck. “What’s up?”

 

Phil opens his mouth to say nothing, then he realises his cheeks are wet. 

 

“Allergies.”

 

Dan raises an eyebrow, clearly not buying it at all. But he doesn’t - push. Doesn’t ask more questions. He just patiently waits for Phil to decide if he wants to tell the truth or not, gives him the option most people usually don’t. 

 

“Not allergies,” Phil says, scrubbing at his face with his sleeve. “Just—stupid. Felt overwhelmed with a menu so how am I going to cope trying to find somewhere to live, or— cope with anything I’m supposed to be making decisions on right now.” 

 

Dan does little tippy-tappies against Phil’s shoulder, and it goes a long way in calming Phil down. His breath evens out, the tears stop and Dan hasn’t even said anything yet. “Everything is overwhelming, life is… a lot. You can get upset about it and it isn’t stupid, don’t call yourself stupid.”

 

“Ok,” Phil sniffs, trying to - compose himself. He’s not expecting the warm arms, the pull of himself forward into a solid chest. Tripping over his own feet, he settles in. Dan feels safe, Dan feels like something he’d been missing his entire life. There are no more tears and no more questions, just this brief moment of complete calm. 

 

It’s as though there’s nobody else around them, and Phil can quite easily believe Dan comes with an entirely separate world to everybody else. He keeps waiting for this bubble to pop, for all the loudness of real life to come crashing in but it never does.

 

Dan squeezes, Phil grips onto the back of his t-shirt. 

 

“Better?” He can hear the rumble of Dan’s voice, the steady beat of his heart. He feels better. He knows what he needs to do now.

 

“Better, yeah,” but neither of them let go, content to let the moment linger for a little longer than it maybe should. This has got to be - something.

 

“Wanna ditch the cheese? We’ll go frolic in the fucking fields or something.”

 

“How far are the fields?” Phil’s speaking into Dan’s shoulder, but he’s still somehow understood. 

 

“Bout half an hour away.” 

 

“Ok,” Phil manages to drag himself away, away from the warmth and the smell of Dan’s cologne. “You know I’ve never even seen your leg skin before.” 

 

Dan hyena cackles, does a weirdo lunge on the concrete to properly show them off. “Sexy, I know, long enough to strangle you to death.”

 

“That isn’t sexy,” Phil whines, shocked at how easily they’ve fallen back into normal - what’s normal for them. “Can I like someone who’s leg skin I’ve never seen before?”

 

Dan nearly goes over, only manages to avoid crashing to the ground because Phil gets a hold of him. “Are we actually doing this here? Behind a taco truck?” 

 

“Doing what?”

 

“Phil,” Dan whines, pulling himself upright. “You know what.”

 

“I’ve already said my bit.”

 

Dan is trying to look - mad. But the rosy patch on his jaw always gives him away, the way his cheeks cave betray him every single week. “That we like each other, that we’ve maybe been flirting for two months even though you’ve never seen my bottom half flesh.”

 

“It’s some good bottom half flesh.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

They make - faces. Two people overwhelmed by serious, two people both trying to calm each other down. “I like you, and I liked you the minute you stepped up to my stall in fucking overalls.”

 

“I was trying to be respectful!” Phil argues, and now they’re just two strange guys arguing about how much they like each other behind a taco truck. “I liked you when you handed me cheese which is… saying a lot, you know my thoughts.”

 

“I still can’t believe you were slowly letting my poison you to death.” Dan tugs and Phil goes, welcoming the closeness again even though he’d barely just left it. “So.”

 

“So,” Phil grins, eyes bright behind his glasses. “We like each other, what should we do? Two men who like each other, what are they gonna do?”

 

“I think,” Dan murmurs, and the hand on Phil’s cheek - it knocks all the air out of him. “Two guys who like each other should kiss behind the taco truck.” 

 

And they do - and it’s weird. But only because someone walks around midway and asks Dan why he’s away from his stall when there’s no one to cover it. 

 

But the actual kiss - fuck. Dan is the best change Phil has ever decided on. 

 

There’s a conversation Phil doesn’t pay attention to, then the person is gone and Dan doesn’t run away like a good stall owner instead he leans in again. 

 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼

 

 

“Give me it then,” Phil’s packing up the last of his things, trying to decide on whether or not he actually needs half of it. He’s been lugging his past about with him for so long, it might finally be time to let go. He’s had a seven weeks to decide but he’s finally getting around to it the morning of. 

 

“Give you what?” Ash asks, neatly folding Phil’s clothes up in a suitcase. They’ve been alternating between that and - hugging. Keeps grabbing ahold of Phil like they’re never going to see him again. 

 

“The number of the therapist you think I’ll like the best.” 

 

“Really?” Ash grins, looking halfway between proud and bursting into tears. And it’s been a long time coming, and now seems like the right time to face everything head on. Go into all the new without all the old chasing him. “Because I made a list, a proper in detail list. Like even down to the colour of their office and what they smell like, cos I know you get distracted when someone smells too strong of perfume… or, let’s just look at the list later.”

 

Phil goes in for the hug this time, squeezes Ash so hard it’s got to be bordering on painful. He just - loves them. And he might be letting go of a lot, but never them. 

 

“Ow.”

 

“Accept the pain, it’s good pain.” 

 

“Mmmf,” Ash squeezes back, and now they’re just both roleplaying boa constrictors. But it’s a good goodbye, a very them way - being evil whilst expressing how much they care. 

 

“You’re going to be living with Dan in a year, I’m calling it now.” 

 

“Shutup,” Phil grins into their shoulder, doesn’t let himself think too much about the future - just wants to focus on the now in a way he never has before. “You’ll jinx it.”

 

“Na,” Ash lets go, straightens out the front of Phil’s hoodie just as an excuse to touch. “You look at each other how I look at Matt.”

 

Phil doesn’t argue, just pulls a weird little face that’s supposed to convey gratitude. 

 

"Are you proud of me for going back to the supermarket?" 

 

“The most. Now go on, out, go start your new life. Am sick of the sight of you.” Ash says, but they still help Phil with all the packing, insists on helping him carry all the boxes up the stairs because the elevator in the new building is undergoing maintenance. 

 

Maybe they both cry in an empty hallway, maybe they make promises to each other that they’re both not going to keep. They won’t see each other every day, they won’t even remember to text sometimes, but it’s fine - Phil knows they’re fine. 

 

The minute Ash is out the door he texts Phil the number for a therapist, someone with a bright office who smells of lemons and not old lady perfume.  

 

And one person leaving just means another person arriving. He’s barely got the chance to sit before Dan comes waltzing through the door he’d forgotten to lock. For a second he thinks he’s about to get murdered, takes on fighting stance with his fists raised and Dan laughs so hard he nearly throws up. 

 

“I’m threatening, I’m tall!”

 

“What were you planning? Gonna punch me in the dick?”

 

“No,” Phil shakes his head so much he almost turns dizzy with it. “I need that for later.”

 

“Oh?” Dan asks, mouth downturned. “That all I am to you?”

 

Phil nearly spiels out a whole apology, but Dan breaks a second too early and Phil realises he’s going out with someone who’s too good at acting - much too good at taking the piss. 

 

“Yes,” Phil says.

 

“Samesies.” 

 

“C’mere,” And Dan goes, meets Phil in the middle of his new kitchen. It’d taken a while to find the place, somewhere close enough to everything he thinks he needs in life, but far enough away he doesn’t fall into relying too much on the past. “How so you feel about me being in your apartment building but not in your apartment?” 

 

“Think I’m gonna come visit you everyday until you decide that I’m a nuisance and start hitting me with a broom.”

 

“Never a nuisance,” Phil tucks a curl behind Dan’s ear, and he’s decided he likes it better longer. Whined when Dan started going on about getting a haircut again. “Apart from when you force fed me cheese that one time.”

 

“I did not, you willingly ate it from my hand like a horse.”

 

“Wanna help me unpack?” Phil asks, and by that he means please stay for a while. 

 

“Of course I want to help you unpack, want to be nosey.” Dan slumps into Phil’s chest, and it doesn’t feel like unpacking at all. It actually feels like Dan is trying to suggest they do anything but. “Later? Right now we should see if your new kitchen has good vibes for kissing in.”

 

“Oh?” Phil laughs, and he wants to argue a little at least but he can’t manage it when Dan is literally right there being pretty. “That is important. Maybe we should’ve done that pre the whole rent agreement. Started fucking in front of your landlord.”

 

“I mean…I said kissing, but if we go somewhere else, we go somewhere else.” 

 

“Horny creature.”

 

“You fucked me behind a taco truck.”

 

“I did not!” Phil shrieks, and now he’s in the mood to do some arguing. “I think you would’ve let me, but I respect the farmers market too much.”

 

“I wouldn’t fuck a traitor near the thing it… traited.”

 

“Betrayed?”

 

Dan rolls his eyes, all huge and dramatic. “Ok, show off, not all of us went to university.”

 

“I knew that was a bad accidental humble brag.”

 

“Mhm,” Dan hums in agreement, then decides that kissing is a much better alternative to talking about - whatever they were talking about. 

 

Dan feels a lot like home, a lot like understanding, and like a change that is going to be more than the alright he’d settled for his entire life.

 

With Dan the corners are the middle.