A WEEK AGO:
The thing about this boy was that he was tall, but unfortunately for Lem, he was still kinda short. Most people are compared to Lem, so he’d be hard pressed to say that their eyes met across the room, because Lem’s eyeline is usually a foot above everyone else’s. But that’s how Lem remembers it.
Lucky for Lem, is that this boy had beautiful eyes. Stormy gray, like the sea. Lines around his face, though, like he spent a lot of time laughing. Unluckily for them, Lem knew this about the eyes because the person who was attached to them was currently punching Lem in the stomach. So it goes.
“Hey, hey, please don’t hurt my buddy!” Fero yelled from across the bar, dodging a punch.
“He hustled us at pool.” called the man to the beautiful eyed boy’s right.
Across the hightop table, Hella laughed. “Technically, I did the hustling. He just moved his stick around.” And then punched a man out cold.
The beautiful boy snorted, but said nothing. Lem wondered what the rhythm of his voice sounded like.
“Hella!” Fero whined, and Lem coughed, in unison. Hella rolled her eyes.
“Fine, fine. Take the money back.” Hella threw a wad of cash back at the ringleader. “See you next week, Brandish?” She and Brandish both laughed.
Lem would never in his life understand Hella and Brandish. He wondered what the boy with the pretty eyes thought about them.
AN HOUR AGO
Lem was starting to forget about the boy with pretty eyes. Sort of.
Lem forgot him in the way that you forget about a very good sandwich or your favorite 90’s TV show theme song: you don’t remember every detail, but you remember the feeling. And you can call on it in times of great need. This was... a time of great need.
It was starting to seem like getting into a classic pub brawl the week before the week before finals wasn’t a good idea. Lem was severely understudied for the coming weeks. On a suggestion from Fantasmo (he called himself just The Great - what a tool), Lem planned to make camp at a coffee shop twenty minutes from campus to write this paper.
In preparation for what was probably going to be a long and stressful day, he summoned those good feelings: the memory of a good Monte Cristo, the Carly Rae Jepsen version of the Full House theme, the way the Pretty Boy’s muscles were flexed (as his fist was, admittedly, going into Lem’s core, but still).
The coffee shop was.... Cute. A house turned business, it had a lot of nice couches and reading lamps and outlets and, oh no.
Oh no oh no oh no.
This coffee shop also had a very cute boy with a mean uppercut behind the counter. Did you know that gray eyes are complimented well with flour on the nose? Lem did not. There are many things you cannot know until they’re staring you in the face, waiting to take people’s coffee orders.
Lem summoned all of his courage and all of his charisma and all of his strength and, maybe most importantly, three dollars, and went up to the counter to get a cup of coffee.
“Could I just get, like, a cup of coffee? Do you do bottomless cups here? I’ve got... a lot of research to do, and three dollars to my name.”
(Was that charming? Was having a lot of work charming, or did it just make him seem like he was bad at time management?)
“I’d love to do that for you, but once you drink this coffee you can never leave,” said the very pretty boy.
“You drink this coffee and you’re here forever.”
“Like... because you’re going to kill me and I’m going to be a ghost that haunts this coffee shop?” Was this beautiful boy still mad at him?
The boy stared at him. Unblinking. And then cracked a small smile. “No, I just make very good coffee, and you’re going to become addicted to it, and you’re never going to leave.”
Leaving wasn’t even on my mind, Lem thought as Pretty Boy started doing something complicated with syrups and steamers.
“What’s your name, again?”
“For your cup? Have you been to a coffee shop before?”
“Right, yes, sorry. King, uh, Lem King.”
Pretty Boy snorted. “Of course it is. Go and sit down, I’ll bring the coffee out to you.”
Then he turned away, doing some sort of complicated movements with a block of chocolate and a cheese grater, or something. Lem’s a history major.
The Pretty Boy Coffee was divine and made Lem feel like he could write a sonnet about this coffee and several more about the boy that made it. But not even divine intervention could keep him from facing the inevitable:
Lem’s a history major who is fucked. Lem’s a history major who wanted to write a paper about the history of desserts as it relates to colonization and war. Lem’s a fucking idiot who has to read five books in the next three hours and write a paper synthesizing all of them. Lem is going to need more coffee, and a prayer.
That does mean he has to get it together enough to go up to the counter and talk to the prettiest boy in the world, which felt like an impossible task. Not quite as impossible as getting this paper done before it’s due, but a close second.
“Hey prince, d’you want a refill?”
Lem flailed, nearly falling out of his chair: Prince?
“On second thought,” said the pretty boy, “maybe you shouldn’t have any more coffee.”
“No, I’d, uh, that would be great, thanks,” said Lem.
The boy looked over the books Lem has spread over the table. “When’s the paper due?”
Lem checked at the clock on his laptop. “Oh god. Three hours.”
The pretty boy gave him a sympathetic look. “I’m sure you’ll get it done.”
Lem groaned. “I should have done an easier topic.”
The pretty boy glanced around. The place was pretty empty, and the people who were there are a lot like Lem, huddled behind a stack of books with laptops and panicked looks. He settled the coffee pot down next to Lem.
“What’s the paper on?”
Lem turned the laptop so that the pretty boy could read the screen.
His beautiful eyes widened. “Oh.”
Lem sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
“No, I mean,” The boy bit his lip (which were also perfect and beautiful), thinking for a moment. “I could maybe help you with it, if you want.”
The boy shrugged. “Sure. I mean, if you help me clean this place up.”
“Yes, anything,” said Lem, “thank you, um…”
“Emmanuel,” repeated Lem, “thank you, Emmanuel.”
It’s a long three hours, but it also feels like minutes. This is mostly due to the stress of writing one of the most important, this-is-the-difference-between-a-pass-and-fail papers in under five hours, but it’s also because for three hours he sat next to Emmanuel. Which was amazing, maybe the most amazing three hours of his life, but also stressful.
Lem had never been so glad to have electronic submission available to him in his life - for one thing, he would never have had time to print off the paper and walk it across campus to drop it off, and for another thing, it meant he got to stay in the coffee shop with Emmanuel, talking about history and desserts, and the bar fight they’d both been in.
“You must have a strong stomach,” said Emmanuel, “my hand hurt for the rest of the day afterwards.”
“Really?” said Lem, “Let me see.”
Without thinking about it, he took Emmanuel’s hand. He had about a three second grace period of pretending to look for wounds before his thoughts caught up to him.
“So, what’s the verdict, duke?” asked Emmanuel, smiling at him.
“You, uh,” Lem coughed, “you seem alright. I must not have done any lasting damage.”
“Well, if you say so,” said Emmanuel.
A timer beeped over by the counter, and Emmanuel blinked in surprise.
“Oh, I guess it’s time to close.”
“Oh,” said Lem.
“Are you still - I mean, can you still help me close up here?”
Emmanuel stood up. Lem, still holding his hand, stood with him. Emmanuel looked down at their hands, and then back to Lem’s face and raised an eyebrow, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Oh!,” said Lem, dropping Emmanuel’s hand immediately, “Sorry, I - Sorry.”
Emmanuel laughed. “It’s okay. Come on, I’ll show you where the brooms and stuff are.”
Lem wasn’t too sure, but Emmanuel seemed to make a point for their fingers to brush as he delegated tasks, his hand lingering on Lem’s when he handed him a broom.
Lem kept glancing towards Emmanuel as he swept. Lem thought he could write a poem about how the afternoon sunlight shone down on Emmanuel’s hair as he cleaned the coffee machine. Emmanuel glanced up, raising an eyebrow when he saw Lem staring. Lem blushed, hurriedly looking down at the leaves and dust.
Lem started humming as he swept. He didn’t even realise he was doing it at first, not really. He’d had to go through a lot of music for a paper the previous semester in order to compose his own for some assignment or other, and he’d found that doing something with his hands helped him process music better.
It also helped distract him from the fact that he eventually had to sweep behind the counter, which put him in close quarters with Emmanuel.
“That’s a pretty song,” said Emmanuel.
“Oh,” said Lem, blushing, “thanks.” Emmanuel gave him a quizzical look, so he added, “I, um, I wrote it.”
“I thought you were a history major, not a musician.”
“I had a big presentation on the history of the rise of madrigals - overshadowing hymns, and I got this idea that for part of it, I’d compose something in that style.” Lem rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ve done a few bits and pieces since then, for fun, and for friends and stuff, but I wouldn’t say I’m a musician.”
Emmanuel rested his palms on the counter, leaning his weight back on them. “So you’re a history major, a musician, and a pool hustler. Earl, is there anything you can’t do?”
Lem considered it for a moment. “Well, I’m not very good at bar room fights.”
Emmanuel laughed. Lem grinned back. They looked at each other for a moment, and the air felt heavy. Lem felt very aware of his heartbeat, where his feet were pointed, what his arms were doing. He fiddled with the broom, running his thumb along the worn plastic of the handle.
“Is there anything else you need help with before you close up?”
Emmanuel blew out a breath. “No, I should be fine if you’ve gotta go.”
“Oh, no, I don’t have anywhere to be,” said Lem, “but, you know, I don’t want to just hang out, if I’m bothering you, or whatever.”
“You’re not bothering me at all,” said Emmanuel, “Kind of the opposite, in fact.”
Lem could feel himself blushing again. “Oh. Cool.”
Emmanuel smiled. “I guess if you’re looking for something else to do, you could stack the chairs up on the tables?”
“Sure, yeah,” said Lem.
Lem stepped backwards, so as to not step into the pile of dust he’d swept. Unfortunately, put his foot under the brush of the broom and he tripped, over-correcting himself to fall forwards instead. He put out his hands to brace himself and - Emmanuel caught him.
“Oh,” said Lem.
“Are you, uh, are you okay?” said Emmanuel.
“Yes, I’m, um, I’m fine,” said Lem, “thanks for - um, thanks.”
They held the position for perhaps a beat longer than necessary before Emmanuel helped him back up. They were standing very close to each other now, their hands clasped together between their bodies.
“It was no problem,” said Emmanuel.
Lem’s gaze slipped, just for second, down to Emmanuel’s lips before going back to his eyes. Lem bit his lip.
“Emmanuel, I -”
It was Emmanuel who leaned forward first, beautiful Emmanuel, with his stormy grey eyes and strong baker’s hands, who kissed Lem, very slowly, as if he was waiting for Lem to catch up. Lem returned the kiss, pressing Emmanuel back against the counter, letting his hands wander to Emmanuel’s sides. Emmanuel’s hands slid up Lem’s back, pressing Lem closer.
They broke apart, breathing heavily, their foreheads resting against each other’s. Lem could feel the warmth of Emmanuel’s skin through the fabric of his uniform. It felt like it was seeping into his own body, warming him from the inside, like a hot cup of tea.
Lem’s phone buzzed.
“I should probably get that,” said Lem, not moving.
“You probably should,” said Emmanuel, leaning in for another kiss.
Lem’s phone buzzed again. And again. And again.
“Alright, alright,” said Lem, pulling out his phone.
fero: hey are you going to be home soon? I think I locked myself out
fero: lem this is serious
fero: you know i’m just going to keep texting you until you reply
fero: if i could become a mouse we wouldn’t even have this problem
“My housemate’s locked himself out,” said Lem.
Emmanuel slide his hands into Lem’s back pockets. “Isn’t there anyone else he could get to help him?”
Lem’s phone buzzed again.
fero: lem if you don’t reply I’m going to have to break in
“Apparently not,” said Lem, “I think I’d better go before he destroys our chance of getting our security deposit back.”
“Okay,” said Emmanuel.
“I guess, um, I guess I’ll see you around?” said Lem, and then winced.
“That would probably be a lot easier if you had my number,” said Emmanuel.
“Oh, you want to - I mean, obviously I,” stammered Lem, feeling his face go hot, “What I mean is. Yes. That would be lovely.”
A slow smile spread over Emmanuel’s face, making the corners of his eyes crinkle. He took the phone from Lem’s hands. Lem’s phone buzzed again.
Emmanuel raised his eyebrows at the text notification. “I guess you really do have to be going.”
fero: I found a tire iron in the garage so I’m going to use it to pry the window open
“Oh no,” said Lem
Lem: fero absolutely do not do this, I’m on my way home right now
“I’ll text you later?” said Lem.
“You’d better,” said Emmanuel.
Lem managed to disentangle himself from Emmanuel, collecting his bag on his way out the door. He paused in the doorway.
“Emmanuel, I ... this was … “
Emmanuel smiled. “See you later, your lordship.”
Even though his bag was full of heavy reference books, Lem walked home feeling lighter than air.
And, yes, maybe Lem does frequent the coffee shop a lot more after that. There’s always more papers to write. Papers about history, about the intentional work of deciding what is important for collections in museums, and some further work about the history of desserts. He’s found he’s quite interested in that.
SOME TIME LATER
The next time Hella and Brandish got into a bar fight, Lem and Emmanuel were both there too. Well, they were sitting at a booth together, trying to decide if they were going to catch a late movie when they heard the yelling and first punches being thrown.
Emmanuel leaned into Lem, joking, “Aw, doesn’t this bring you back? Do you wanna give me a shiner for good old times?”
Lem kissed him on the temple. “I am still sorry about that. Your beautiful eyes never deserve such a bruise.”
“Did you really think my eyes were beautiful?”
“I still do.”
“Not to be pro-black eyes, but I don’t mind getting bruises from you.”
They decided to skip the movie.