Dan was halfway through uni when he came to the realisation that there was something wrong with him.
Or rather yet another thing wrong with him.
Because the things wrong with him were long and he could list off with ease.
Actually, this realisation was forced upon him.
“Mate, what is your deal?” Ralph sat opposite of him on their worn furniture. He had his “concerned in a loving way'' look on his face. It was rare that Ralph had a sit down with him about something.
Dan clicked right away with Ralph. There was something about his energy that Dan liked. Ralph was outgoing and kind, and he did not overload Dan’s introverted sensory receptors.
If Ralph was giving him that look, it meant that it was serious.
“My deal?” Dan fought to keep his eyes on Ralph and not go directly back to the book in his lap. Before Ralph had interrupted his solitude, Dan had been reading in their shared space in peace.
It was Saturday night and everyone else was out doing their own thing.
Dan had been overwhelmed with coursework as of late and decided he would stay in to decompress. A quiet Saturday night was the perfect time for Dan to catch up on his leisure reading and reflect on the words written by people far more intelligent than him. Normally, it allowed his own brain to shut up for a few hours and give him a reprieve from himself.
“Claire and I were talking about it-” Ralph started but Dan groaned and closed his book. “Don’t be like that. She is a lovely person and she is concerned about you.”
“Fucking hell. Why do you let her fill your head with ideas that no one needs?” Dan didn’t wait for a response. Claire was new but Ralph was smitten with her and Dan knew that she would likely be in Ralph’s life for some time. Dan did not mind her, not all that much, but she had a habit of talking too much and Dan would rather have the quiet.
Ralph ignored his question and continued with what he wanted to say. “She asked me what your deal was and I had to stop and think. Because, I have known you for what, forever now? And I had nothing to say. So, what is your deal? Gay? Straight? Somewhere in between? Is there someone back in London that you are pining away for? Seriously, what is your deal?”
Dan’s eyes went to the book in his lap. His deal was books. And films. Creating music from nothing.
Anything that allowed him to get out of his head.
But, no one understood that.
Ralph must have taken Dan’s silence for an invitation to continue but Dan did not look up from his book. He hated these types of conversations. They were embarrassing and he didn’t have words to explain it.
“Claire has a mate. A nice bird that is recently single and looking to get back out in the dating field.” Ralph appeared to be waiting for Dan to look up from his staring contest with the book jacket. After Dan did not give in, Ralph continued. “I already said yes on your behalf. Tell me now if you are gay and I’m completing off about this. I can cancel for you.”
There was an uncomfortable warmth spreading in his chest that Dan tried to ignore, but it was no use. Dan hated that he had to have this conversation with Ralph. Ralph was probably one of the best mates he had ever had and still Ralph did not pick up on the fact that Dan was uncomfortable talking about this.
Or he did but he thought it was his duty to push the issue.
Dan wanted to say no. He would not go on a blind date with someone that Claire knew. Of all people to attempt to set him up with someone. No.
But there was a part of him, a part that was terrified but braver than Dan, that was curious about what a date would feel like.
Dan had his head down for most of his childhood and adolescence. If it did not have to do with science fiction, an old dusty novel, or the old records his parents listened to, Dan did not pay much mind to it.
Yet, when he lifted his head, he saw how everyone in his secondary school appeared to be pairing off with people.
It all seemed so natural for them. Had Dan missed a lesson while he was re-reading a book for the hundredth time? Did they all get information in the post about it and Dan’s letter was missing? Sent to the wrong address?
Dan could not relate.
Fictionalised romance made sense. It was a plot device. A way to keep the audience invested in the story. Give intrigue. Create tension.
But Dan had no such urge to be paired off with anyone himself.
Not that anyone paid him any mind. Dan seriously thought that he could probably stop going to school altogether and it would take weeks before anyone knew he was missing.
For as much as his physical body took up space, Dan was virtually invisible among his peers.
Dan did not mind all that much. He didn’t have to deal with any of the drama of it. Instead, he got to dive in deeper to the fictionalised drama of the screen or the library. Pour his heart into lyrics that no one would ever listen to.
All on his own.
His favourite place to be.
“Should I cancel? Tell her to piss off?” Ralph kicked at Dan’s foot when he did not answer him. “Honest, tell me if you are into lads. Claire has another mate that is eager to date and he is perfect for you.”
“I’ll go.” Dan swallowed and found his mouth was dry. His drink was empty and Dan did not feel like getting up.
“Which one do I tell her? The bird or the lad?” Ralph had a large grin on his face when Dan finally got the courage to look over at him. “Come on. Tell us.”
Dan felt like he was on the most bizarre game show ever. He was being asked to pick door number one or door number two. Only he actually just wanted to walk away from both.
Both of them had the same appeal.
“The female one.” Dan said only because it was the one first offered to him. And it was the one that appeared more safe. It would lead to less discussion. “I’ll go on that one.”
“Splendid.” Ralph stood as he clapped and then rubbed his hands together. “I will go and ring her now. And give her five quid because I lost the bet. For sure you were into the lads the way you go on and on about that Lynch fellow.”
Dan felt ill throughout the day leading up to their date. She insisted on driving herself to meet him at the pub. Thus eliminating Dan’s plan of drinking himself into oblivion to manage his nerves.
She was nice enough. She looked pleasant. She spoke about her coursework and a lot about her former boyfriend.
Dan did not say much. He listened and nodded when it seemed appropriate.
She left after 30 minutes and told him he was a great listener. Dan got that a lot. His brain blanked during social conversations and he tended to remain silent.
Dan went back to his flat and told Ralph, and Claire because she was there, that he did not care to see Sara again.
Nor did he care to go on another date ever again. The anxiety leading up to it and the utter feeling of stupidity as he lost the whole of the English language during the date was not appealing. How anyone would beg to go on a date was mind blowing to Dan.
Dan had no idea what the hell his deal was, but he knew that dating was not going to allow him to figure it out.
Ralph mentioned it again a month later. Claire and Ralph were getting serious and talking about moving in together. She felt awful taking Ralph away from Dan and asked if she could find someone for Dan to get to know better.
How Dan must be terribly lonely being on his own so much.
Dan told her as politely as he could that he was fine and he didn’t need anyone. He was content on his own.
Thrived on his own actually.
Dan knew he was different than most people. The urge to pair off and spend all his free time with another person never sparked an interest in him.
Maybe Dan did not have a deal.
Put him in a chat room with like minded nerds and Dan could waffle on for hours.
But put Dan in a social event and tell him to “find someone” and he would retract into himself.
But, before Claire, no one had ever confronted him about it.
No one had ever made Dan feel like there was yet another thing “wrong” with him. Were the others worried as well? But no one had the guts to talk to him about it? Should Dan also be worried about this? Was Dan lonely being on his own like he was?
Ralph ended up moving house with Claire the next term. Dan moved in with another group of mates. None of them bothered to notice that Dan never had anyone ‘round and never spent the night out.
And Dan was just fine with that.
He wasn’t lonely on his own. He had his thoughts and his things. He didn’t need anyone else.
He was his own deal.
Kyle was a massive flirt.
Much like a puppy or kitten seeking attention, Kyle did not care where he received the attention. Men, women, all the inbetweens and outsiders, he loved it.
Kyle's blatant love of attention threw Dan off at first.
Kyle was tactile. He would touch everyone. Strangers and familiar, all had Kyle’s hands on them at some point or another. Not in a gross way.
But soon Dan learned that was just who Kyle was. He loved attention. He loved touch. And he was not bothered by who gave it to him.
After Kyle officially gave in and said he would come to one of their rehearsals, he wrapped his arm around Dan’s shoulders and drew him in close. “This is going to be brilliant. I can feel it in my toes.”
Dan ignored the words because there was an unusual tingling sensation moving through his upper torso.
Kyle’s touch was soothing. It felt nice.
Dan was not used to that. He hated when people he did not know well touched him.
But with Kyle, the small hairs on his skin stood at attention and welcomed Kyle close to him.
Dan analysed his new sensation for far too long before he was comfortable enough to admit that it just felt good.
People did not touch him all that often. His family would hug him on occasion. His mother would kiss his cheek or forehead. But he never got close to anyone else.
Unlike everyone else he knew, he was not paired off with someone that would regularly touch him.
He researched the phenomenon, because that was the nerd that he was, and found it had a name. Dan was touch starved.
It was a phenomenon that was getting more attention as the world went more digital. It was particularly trending among males due to societal standards for masculinity. A male touching another male was perceived as sexual, even when the intention was far from it.
While he was content to be on his own and engage with his own brain, Dan’s body was seeking touch. Humans were social creatures and evolved to need others. Dan could spend all his energy in his own thoughts but he could not touch himself. [Seriously, this is not that kind of story. Get your head out of the gutter.]
Kyle, with his tactile nature, freely gave it to Dan. And Dan loved it.
Kyle would casually put his hand on Dan’s leg or arm. Wrap his arm around Dan’s shoulders or waist. Tackle cuddle him from behind. Once, Kyle even massaged his shoulders because he was standing behind him. Another time, when Dan was cold, Kyle literally gave him the jumper off his back and rubbed Dan's hands together until he could feel them again.
Kyle did not appear to mean anything by it. And Dan had no ideas that Kyle was seeking him out to touch for any secondary gain. In fact, Dan saw him do it with all of his other mates as well. And the others in the group touched Dan as well. Not as much as Kyle, but it wasn't a thing. They were mates and close together.
It didn’t mean anything.
Dan did not want anything else from Kyle other than his random touches.
He had music and his own thoughts to attend to.
The band got a small amount of attention and followers. Soon they were crammed in close quarters and learned far too much about one another.
For how much Woody talked about his old woman and Kyle and Will spoke about their conquests, no one ever asked Dan what his deal was.
Dan was sure if anyone asked them, they would say that Dan’s deal with his work. The music and lyrics running through him. Ideas for the future. Dan was very busy. There was no time for distraction.
Interviews were torture for Dan. Almost as bad as getting on stage and attempting to not make an idiot of himself. Why anyone would want to know anything about him was as baffling as people pairing up with each other.
A friendly interviewer asked about their dating life and Dan froze. Why would anyone care about that? He had nothing to say. He stuttered something about being busy on the road and the interviewer moved on to the next question.
The interviewer moved on, but the dread stayed with Dan. He would need to come up with some sort of answer for the next time someone asked him. Because apparently that was a question people would ask him.
Others would bring it up as they become more known. Dan insisted that someone come with him to interviews. Questions he was not comfortable answering could be deflected to them.
Kyle laughed at it. Telling one interview team that Dan’s ideal date was Ryan Gosling.
Will started saying that Dan was married to the band. Or, they were all taken except for Dan.
Dan hated the question. He never answered it himself.
He shared his one dating story when asked about a worst date. At least Clarie had given him that story. Something to say that made him seem like was a “normal” bloke that went on dates.
Dan got his minimal need for touch met through Kyle and he was able to create music for a living.
Until Kyle met Heather.
Heather was a rare combination of stunningly beautiful and genuinely sweet person. She had a light about her that drew your eyes toward her.
Heather and Kyle instantly clicked with one another.
Kyle went from looking at other females to instantly obsessed with her.
She followed them to a few of their tour dates and Kyle grew closer with her.
Everyone in the band and the crew fell in love with her. Kyle literally could not take his eyes off of her. Or his hands.
They stood together and sat together. Their arms around one another. Casual touches for no reason. Heather would touch Kyle just as much as he touched her.
After two months, Will was teasing Kyle about hearing wedding bells.
Woody spoke about a couple holiday they could take together.
And Dan had nothing to say.
Kyle still touched him, but it was not as common anymore. Maybe a pat on his arm. Or his leg would bounce off Dan’s if they sat near one another. No more random cuddles. No more attack hugs. Dan still wore Kyle's jumper because Kyle said it looked better on him, but Kyle did not offer to warm his hands anymore.
Because Kyle had Heather to touch.
Which was fine, because Kyle should have someone that loved him and cared about him. Kyle should have someone to cuddle with and spend all his time around.
And Heather was amazing.
She was everything that Dan was not and she could give Kyle so much more than Dan could even imagine.
Dan wanted to hate her, but he couldn’t because she was that lovely. And she made Kyle the happiest he had ever seen him.
For the first time in his life, Dan wished he was like everyone else.
He wished he was like Heather.
Beautiful and kind.
And loved by Kyle.
He wished he could make Kyle that happy all on his own.
But he shouldn’t want such things. That was selfish. Kyle deserved to be loved by someone that was as into him as he was with Heather.
Dan had never imagined himself being with someone. And he still didn’t even want to be with anyone like that.
Maybe only Kyle. He was kind and nice to look at. He understood Dan, even better than Ralph ever could. Maybe Dan could love Kyle like Heather did? Maybe he could kiss him and make his face light up like it did when Kyle would look at her.
Perhaps he was a bit lonely on his own. Maybe it would be nice to pair off with someone. Platonic mates that loved most of the same things and spending time cuddled on the sofa. It had been nice when Kyle touched him. Would Dan ever find that with anyone else? Or was it only because it was Kyle?
Even if he did not love Kyle like that; it still hurt all the same that Heather took him away.