Chapter 1: One Medium Earl Grey Tea
If I leave at 8:20, and I’m fast, and timing works out perfectly, I can still make it there by nine.
Ian looks over at the clock on the bedside table again.
It’s not gonna take me more than 20 minutes to get ready anyways.
On any other day, Ian would've been out of bed before the sun was up. He's the textbook definition of a morning person, awake and ready to start the day far earlier than anyone else feels is necessary. But he has to work today, and the shop is always either stressfully busy or completely dead at this time in the morning, and there are so many things he could be doing instead of spending four hours of his morning making overly fancy drinks, and it's so uncomfortably warm today, too…
Eventually, Ian drags himself out of bed and throws on some proper clothes. He still feels half-asleep as he continues getting ready for the day ahead, and the bright morning light coming through the windows isn’t really helping. It’s only four hours today, he reminds himself. It could be worse.
The rest of the morning continues on like any other Tuesday morning: hop on the train around half past eight. Spend the 15-minute commute daydreaming and mentally writing poems that’ll probably never make their way to paper. Arrive at the shop just on time, and prepare to spend the next four hours taking orders and trying to avoid burns from hot coffee. Nothing unusual happens. Nothing unusual ever happens at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday.
“Have you finished that history essay yet?” asks the only other barista in the shop.
Admittedly, John- or Evans, as he likes to be called- is not the type of person who Ian usually enjoys spending time with. He's loud and impulsive and he insists on being called by his last name simply because he thinks it makes him sound cooler. However, he and Ian have always gotten along well. Maybe it’s because they only see each other a couple of times a week on average. Best not to think about these things too much, figures Ian.
“No. Honestly, I don't even know why I picked that topic. Eighteenth-century farming innovations are… dull, at best.”
“They sound dull.”
“Yeah. They are. There's only so much one can say about seed drills. I could probably write a better paper on the inventor’s name, to be honest.”
Evans giggles under his breath. “Heh. What a good name- Jethro Tull .”
“Yeah. Anyways. It’s not due for another week and a half… you think anyone would mind if I worked on it a little bit right now?”
“Maybe. I guess there’s really only one way to find out… oh, hey Barrie!” Evans turns around to greet the boy standing at the till. “What can I get for you today?”
“Ooh. Lemme see… I’ll get a small lavender tea with two sugar, and a medium vanilla latte.”
Evans scribbles the orders down on paper cups. “Sounds good. Is John on his way, then?”
Barrie grins. “Yup.”
“Nice. Ian, would you like to prepare some tea? Maybe a latte too, if you feel like it?” asks Evans.
“No.” Ian's slight smile gives away his sarcasm. “Here, gimme the cups.”
“Thanks, Ian!” Barrie calls out as he drops his hoodie and backpack at a table. Sure enough, John- Barrie's boyfriend/partner-in-musical-adventures- arrives within a few minutes.
“How are you doing today, my sweet Barriemore?” John asks in an exaggerated tone as he sits down.
“Oh, I’m doing just wonderfully today,” Barrie replies, his own voice taking on the same fake-serious tone as John’s. “And what about yourself?”
“I’m feeling just splendid today, thank you for asking.” John takes a sip of his coffee. “So anyways. I added some more stuff to the composition we were working on the other day, and it’s sounding ridiculously good.”
Ian wonders how they can be like this all the time- so caught up in their joking mock-formality one moment, and then completely casual the next. He’s known Barrie for maybe two and a half years- they’d been roommates for a semester, before Barrie transferred to his technical college, and they’d bonded over a shared love of writing and playing music (though neither one considered themselves good enough to ever make a career out of that). Even when they weren’t living together, they’d managed to stay in touch, even to the point where Ian was Barrie’s go-to for romantic advice. (“Ian, John asked me if I wanted to go to an orchestra concert with him, what do I do? ” “”Say yes, dumbass!”)
The next hour or so passes slowly.
Evans takes an order for two large chai tea lattes and Ian whips them up quickly because he’s made probably two million chai tea lattes in the past year, or at least, that’s what it feels like, and at this point he could probably make one with his eyes closed. The next customer orders a peppermint latte and it’s the same thing- Ian makes the drink without even really thinking about it because it’s just muscle memory at this point. No real effort or thought involved.
Eventually he and Evans decide to switch for a while, with Ian running till and Evans making drinks, just for something different. The first customer to order a drink from Ian is a dark-haired boy in a striped denim jacket.
Ian’s immediate impression of the boy is that he looks like something from another era- his wavy hair cascades past his shoulders, but doesn’t look untidy in the least. He’s slouching a little, but he still looks sure of himself, somehow. His eyes are wide and dark, and his clothes are just slightly too big, and that wide-brim hat must have been bought at a thrift shop.
“Uh, hi, what can I get for you today?”
“Let me see…” The boy looks up at the menu for a moment. “Can I just get a medium earl grey tea?
“Sure, sounds good. That’ll be £2.10, please.” Ian feels compelled to say something else. “Also, uh… I like your jacket.” Ian’s voice cracks as he pronounces the last word. “The stripes are, um, nice.”
The boy looks down slowly, as if he’s forgotten what he’s wearing. “Oh. Thanks.” He hands Ian some change and makes his way to the end of the counter.
Evans hands him his drink and wishes him a good day before turning to Ian with a hint of a smile on his face. “I like your jacket, Ian,” he says in a mocking tone.
“Shut up! ”
“Why? I really do like your jacket.” Evans is reluctant to give up the joke. “The stripes on it are so nice. ”
Ian looks him in the eye, a slight blush spreading across his cheeks. “You’re not funny.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll stop. That really was amusing, though.”
“Hey, I was just trying to give him a compliment. I mean, that was a great jacket. You saw it, right?” Ian asks.
“Yeah, I saw it. It was… different. Anyways. Your awkwardness is so entertaining sometimes.”
Evans clocks out a short while later- he's the type of person who has no issue with starting his shifts at 6 a.m., which means he gets to leave as early as 11 some days. Today is one of those days. He says goodbye to Ian (who’s stuck working for another two hours) and heads off.
The rest of Ian’s shift drags on. However, 1 o'clock rolls around eventually, and he leaves to go to his one class of the day- an elective on basic linguistics. It’s not a particularly interesting class, but Ian figures the lectures are preferable to being at work. After class, the rest of the day is spent in the library, where Ian attempts to finish this week’s assignment for the class.
Wednesdays are generally uneventful and Thursdays are generally more uneventful. Ian manages to get a sizable chunk of his history essay finished and decides to reward himself with a trip to the little music shop about half an hour north of his flat.
He spends a good long while just looking around, imagining what he could do if he ever actually learned to play an instrument properly. He’s been playing guitar for maybe two years now, so he's got a bit of experience behind him on that, but he's never actually learned any proper technique- he's always just experimented with different ways of playing until he finds something that feels right. He’s also got his flute, which he hasn’t touched in what feels like forever. Although he has virtually no time to play the thing anymore, Ian can’t bring himself to sell it. Keeping the little instrument around is nostalgic in a strange, yet pleasant, way.
Eventually, Ian just picks out a new set of strings and heads home.
Chapter 2: One Small Chai Tea With Milk
Fridays somehow seem to be the most uneventful day of all.
“What time are you working til?” asks Evans, wiping down the counter (as if he hasn't already done it several times in the past two hours).
“6:30. I'm closing today,” replies Ian.
“Wow. Hell shift.” All the sudden something catches Evan’s eye off in the distance. “Hey, that looks like that guy who was in on Tuesday. The one who you tried to flirt with.”
Ian looks at Evans disapprovingly. “I didn't try to flirt with anyone .”
“Okay, sure. The one who you got all weird around, then.” Evans tries to get a closer look out the window. “Well, I think that is him… and it looks like he's coming in-”
“Shit,” Ian mutters under his breath.
“Does someone have a crush?” Evans asks in an almost-mocking tone.
“No!” whines Ian. “I absolutely do not have a crush on anyone, and you know that, and you need to just stop-”
“Hi, how's it goin’?” Evans calls out to the mysterious dark haired boy as he enters the shop.
“Oh, good, thanks,” the boy replies quietly. Perhaps boy isn't the right word for him, Ian thinks- in fact, he looks close to Ian’s age, maybe a year or so older. There's something about him that makes him seem younger, though- Ian figures maybe it’s the ill-fitting clothes, or the way he speaks, with an air of hesitation in his voice.
“Can I get… um… can I just do a small chai tea, with milk?”
“Yeah, for sure.” Evans punches the order into the till. “Ian, would be so kind as to get that started for our customer here?”
Ian can feel himself blushing. “Um, yeah, I'll just, uh… yeah.”
“Real smooth,” Evans whispers as the boy pays for his drink.
From behind the counter, Ian tries to get a better look at the boy, who's now waiting at the other end of the counter. His hair is tied back into a loose bun, and he's got a huge wool coat draped over his shoulders. He's also got a messenger bag over his shoulder. Ian can't help but wonder what's inside it.
Stop that, he thinks to himself. You're just being weird now.
Ian finishes making the drink and sets it on the counter. Mystery Boy murmurs a quick “thanks” and leaves. Ian watches for a moment, and then turns to face Evans… who’s already looking at him, with amusement and curiosity in his expression.
“That was excellent. Were you trying to be subtle there?”
Ian tries to keep a straight face, as if he has no idea what Evans is talking about. “What do you mean?”
“ What do you mean? ” Evans repeats in a mocking tone. “Ian, you just spent, like, 30 seconds staring at the guy while you were making his drink.”
“That’s an exaggeration.”
“Hardly,” Evans laughs.
Ian’s next Tuesday morning shift begins with Evans telling another of their coworkers ALL about the whole situation with Mystery Boy.
“You should talk to him the next time he comes in,” Martin suggests. “He sounds interesting.”
“He is. Or, at least, he looks like he is. And I have talked to him. I took his order last week and I told him I liked his jacket.”
“Oh yeah. That was great. But anyways, you should, like, really talk to him,” Evans chimes in. “Obviously you've taken his order. But you could try making small talk with him as you're making his drink, like… I dunno, ask him a question or something.”
Ian sighs. “How do I do that? I'm not gonna just… ask him how his day’s going. That just feels so inauthentic.”
“It's a good first step, though,” Martin says. “And what's the worst that could happen? He decides you're a boring conversationalist and never comes in again?”
“That could happen,” Ian replies.
“Ian…” Evans starts. “If he comes in today, I'll bet you 10 bucks you won't talk to him.”
“Seriously? Okay, you’re on. I hope you know that I actually am capable of talking to customers,” Ian says half-jokingly.
Evans laughs. “But are you capable of talking to weird-looking boys who drink a lot of tea?”
Ian can’t help but blush a little. “You’ll be quite pleased to know that I’m very capable of that, actually.”
As if he's following some sort of pattern, Ian’s mystery customer comes in at quarter to 11. He orders his tea and waits at the end of the counter.
Ian’s mind races as he begins preparing the drink. He’s not about to lose that bet, because it’s such a silly thing to lose a bet over, and talking to this guy shouldn’t be that difficult, except for it is, for whatever reason, and-
“How’s your day going?” Ian’s train of thought is interrupted by Evans’ voice behind him.
“Um. Good.” Mystery Boy looks around awkwardly. “How about you?”
“Oh, not too bad,” Evans replies. “It looks beautiful outside. Looks like a nice day.” Mystery Boy hums in agreement.
Ian’s thoughts are even more scrambled now than they were before. He has to say something - otherwise Evans will win the bet, and he’d never let Ian live that down.
“Uh, do you like whipped cream?” Ian asks Mystery Boy, simply because it’s the first thing that pops into his mind.
Why the hell did I say that?
After realizing almost immediately that his question must’ve sounded really odd, and really out-of-nowhere, Ian tries to backtrack. “Like, on your drink. Do you want me to put whipped cream on your drink?”
“Oh. Um, no thanks,” replies Mystery Boy. Out of the corner of his eye, Ian can see Evans trying not to giggle.
“Okay. Here’s your tea, then…” Ian places the drink on the counter. “And, uh, have a nice day.” Mystery Boy thanks him and heads off.
Ian waits until Mystery Boy is out the door before speaking.
“That was awkward as hell, but technically I win the bet, Evans.”
Evans smirks. “Hmm, but you only asked him about his drink, which is technically sort of like taking his order, and you only really said a couple of words to him…” He stops when he notices Ian looking annoyed. “Ha. I’m kidding. Yeah, I guess you win. I’ll give you the ten bucks before I leave today.”
“Good. Honestly, I don’t know why I asked like that. I think you threw me off a little bit.”
“Did I now?” Evans asks.
“Yeah, you did! Why’d you have to ask him how his day was going? Hadn’t we agreed that I should be the one to talk to him?”
Evans laughs. “I just figured if I talked to him first, you might follow. And look! It worked!”
“Yeah. But it also caused you to lose the bet,” Ian points out.
“Hmm, yeah. I think losing the bet was worth it, though.”
Ian looks at Evans, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Well… okay, here’s the thing: you’re so shy. And you kinda hate people. Like, there are times when I wonder why you even work in a coffeeshop, because you seem to hate interacting with people so much.” Evans thinks carefully about his words for a moment before continuing on. “But then, you also seem weirdly fascinated with this guy. Like, you couldn't stop looking at him that one day… and before that, you said you liked his jacket, and I've never seen you randomly compliment anyone like that before.”
“Have you been watching for that sort of thing?” Ian interrupts, and Evans can't tell if he's joking or not.
“Well, no. But it just struck me as interesting, I guess. Like, ‘oh Ian actually says nice things sometimes’. I know I teased you about it, but that's just because I didn't know what else to do! So I guess what I’m saying is, I think it’s sweet that you’re trying to get to know one of our regulars better. Well, I guess he’s not really a regular yet, since he’s only been in a few times… but anyways. Seeing you trying to be just a little bit more outgoing is nice, I guess.”
Ian nods. “Okay. Fair enough. I wouldn’t say I’m being outgoing though.”
“Yeah, maybe that wasn’t the right word. Maybe awkward is more accurate. You’re being awkward.”
“Fine.” Evans spots a customer at the till and rushes over to take their order. Ian follows him, because someone’s gotta make the drinks, and if nothing else, it’s something to keep him busy for, oh, maybe 30 seconds.
After the customer leaves, Evans turns to Ian with a mischievous smile. “Just wondering, but do you have a crush on that one guy? The one who you asked about the whipped cream?”
“Well. That’s a little forward.” Ian feels his cheeks burning. “Uh, I dunno? That’s kind of… hard to say, I guess. I’m bad at these things.”
Part of Ian’s issue is that he really can’t tell what sorts of feeling he has for this boy. On one hand, yeah, he’s decent-looking enough, and Ian’s always had a thing for artsy types. But maybe what Ian’s feeling is just curiosity, or some sort of bizarre admiration. Maybe he’s envious of how well Mystery Boy can pull off weird clothes. Maybe he just thinks Mystery Boy is an interesting people-watching subject.
Mostly, Ian just doesn’t want to believe that he’s falling for some guy he sees at work occasionally.
“Okay. I was just wondering. And yeah, I get that. It’s not the easiest thing to figure out,” Evans says. Ian hums in agreement. It’s sort of odd to see Evans talking about feelings, especially possibly-romantic ones, since Evans has always struck Ian as someone who’s completely uninterested in anything even vaguely romantic. However, Ian’s learned not to question these things.
The last half of Ian’s shift feels like an eternity, but it comes to an end eventually. After he gets home, Ian heads to the library in an attempt to get the last bit of his history essay done, so he can finally hand the damned thing in.
Once the essay is finished and submitted, Ian retreats back to his room for some quality time alone- as in, time to strum on his guitar a little bit, and possibly attempt to write something. He seems to be in a writing mood today. Maybe that finally getting that stupid essay done has something to do with it, he figures.
Ian tries out different chords and scribbles down any patterns that sound good. It’s calming, in a way, being able to play whatever he wants without worrying about how bad it sounds. Eventually he settles on a progression of alternating bars of Csus4 and F major chords, and starts building a melody from there.
Chapter 3: One Saturday Evening In Late April
Two chapters today, because they're short ones. Here's the first one!
Ian would be lying if he said he wasn’t secretly hoping to see Mystery Boy again.
Two days have passed since Evans asked him if he had a crush on Mystery Boy. Ian still thinks it’s a ridiculous question- Evans himself had said that these things are so hard to figure out sometimes, so why did he even ask in the first place if he wasn’t expecting Ian to give him a straightforward answer? Plus, who the hell calls it a crush, anyways? Ian can't help but feel slightly annoyed with Evans for that.
Since Mystery Boy’s only been in three times, Ian wouldn’t consider him a regular, but it’s been three times in the past two weeks, so it’s not like he’s only coming in every once in a while.
An hour passes.
No Mystery Boy.
Another hour passes.
No Mystery Boy.
Another hour passes.
Martin finally asks Ian why he’s acting more angsty than usual.
“I think I’m just tired, is all,” Ian replies. “I had that essay to finish… the, uh history one… so that was, uh, tiring.”
“I thought you got that done, like, two days ago.”
“Oh. Yes. Well, I needed time to recover from it, so I’m still tired right now.”
“That makes no sense.” Martin lowers his voice. “Is there another reason? Maybe a reason that has something to do with a certain someone who comes in here sometimes?”
Ian sighs. As much as he absolutely does not want to admit that Martin’s right… well, Martin is right. Sort of. Still, Ian decides the best thing to do is act oblivious.
“A certain… what?”
Martin gives him a don’t play dumb look. “A certain dark haired boy who Evans seems to think you have a crush on.”
“He told you about that?”
“Yeah. He didn’t go into details, though.” Before Ian can say anything else, Martin has already gone over to help a customer waiting by the tills.
Ian spends the rest of his shift- or, rather, the rest of his day, if he's being honest with himself- wondering what the answer to Evans’ question actually is.
It's not like Ian's never been interested in boys before, and Evans knows that.
And yeah, okay, he's spent a lot of time thinking about Mystery Boy.
And as much as he hates to admit it, Evans is absolutely right about how Ian gets nervous and awkward whenever Mystery Boy’s around.
But still . This is someone Ian’s only seen on three separate occasions and hasn't exchanged more than a few sentences with. He doesn't know a thing about Mystery Boy other than that he dresses weird and likes tea.
There's no way Ian feels anything for him other than casual curiosity.
Weekends have become an optimal time for overthinking for Ian. With the semester winding down, it's just a matter of finishing up a few last minute assignments, and then studying for finals, and Ian’s not particularly concerned about either. So, any time he's not working is now spent either writing or attempting to figure out exactly how he feels about his mysterious dark-haired coffeeshop regular. ( Stop calling him ‘yours’ , Ian occasionally reminds himself, but the habit is difficult to break.)
Of course, when Ian’s not in the mood for either of those things, there’s always the option of being dragged along to uninteresting social events by classmates.
On Friday afternoon, Ian gets invited to a Saturday evening show at a little club called the Marquee. Glenn- the kid who invited him- is a fellow English major, and Ian considers him a friend only in the sense that they occasionally chat in class, and they seem to have somewhat similar tastes in music.
Glenn promised that the show would be great- said he knows the singer and the drummer and claims that they've got a great little band, and that it's really only a matter of time before they make it big.
The inside of the Marquee is dark and smoky, with warm lighting pointing towards the stage and the sounds of idle chatter filling the air before the show begins. Ian thinks it would actually be a reasonably nice venue if it weren’t so damned crowded. Along with Ian, Glenn has invited a handful of other classmates- mostly people Ian knows from school and has talked to once or twice, but not enough to really call them his friends. Ian figures that any attempt at conversation would probably be a wasted effort.
The show turns out to be dreadfully boring, exactly as Ian had expected it to be- just another unoriginal white-boy blues band playing the same sort of stuff everyone’s heard before. The lead singer, who's introduced himself to the audience as Mick, is mediocre at best. The rest of the band isn't bad, but they're certainly not as spectacular as Glenn claimed they'd be.
After maybe an hour of subpar cover songs, Ian decides he's got better things to do than sit through the rest of this.
“Hey, uh, I think I'm gonna head off now,” says Ian, trying to make himself heard over the music.
“Aw, really?” Glenn turns to look at Ian. He sounds a little disappointed, but Ian figures that he probably doesn’t actually care if Ian stays or goes.
“Yeah. I've, uh, got a headache,” Ian lies, using the first excuse that comes to mind.
“Okay, well, feel better, then. Have a good rest a’ your evening. I'll see you on Monday.”
Ian mumbles a quick goodbye and makes his way to the exit.
The back of the venue is a little less crowded, and more people here seem to be talking amongst themselves than actually paying attention to the music. Before Ian walks out, he notices a figure leaning against the wall by the doors, reading a copy of The Times.
Who the hell reads a newspaper at a show?
If that part weren’t strange enough, there’s also the fact this individual is dressed in all white, marking a sharp contrast to the dark tones coloring the rest of the room. White jeans, white trench coat, wide-brimmed white hat that looks oddly familiar to Ian, along with the shock of dark hair spilling out from under it… wait a second .
This is too much of a coincidence to be real.
Ian is tempted to stop and take a closer look to confirm his suspicions. In the end, he decides against it- figures it would just make things weirder if he got caught staring- but he spends the entire train ride home fantasizing about what would’ve happened if he had.
Chapter 4: One Answer And Many More Unspoken Questions
After some careful consideration- as in, analyzing his feelings as much as he possibly can without going completely mad- Ian comes to the conclusion that maybe he does have more of an interest in Mystery Boy than he’d initially thought.
On Monday morning, Mystery Boy comes in at quarter to eleven and orders his tea, as per usual. Ian happens to be on till. He makes an effort to take his time writing Mystery Boy’s order down, in order to buy himself more time to make casual conversation- or attempt to, at least. Ian considers asking Mystery Boy about the show, but ultimately decides against it. Instead, he opts for a different topic that had crossed his mind just a little earlier.
“Hey, I didn’t see you in here on Friday.”
Mystery Boy looks at Ian, trying to figure out how to respond to that. “I wasn’t working on Friday.”
Now Ian’s the one left to try to figure out what the hell that means. He wasn’t working on Friday? How does THAT have anything to do with this?
As if he can read Ian’s thoughts, Mystery Boy adds, “I mean, I work at the art supply shop across the street, and I sometimes come in here before shifts. I wasn’t working on Friday, so I just didn’t, uh, have any reason to come in here.”
“I see. Um, anyways, that’s £2.60.” Mystery Boy pays for his tea and makes his way to other side of the counter, where Martin’s already got the drink ready to go.
Ian’s face burns pink. If Mystery Boy didn't think Ian was incredibly strange and awkward before, well, he probably does now.
As the day wears on and the sun grows hotter, the shop gets more crowded with customers in need of iced coffees and teas. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing today- it keeps Ian busy, and in turn, keeps him from getting too lost in his own thoughts. 1 o’ clock rolls around soon enough, and Ian is off, ready to get home and add a little more to the guitar melody that he’s been working on for the past week or so. Originally it had started as nothing more than an exercise in building chord progressions, but Ian’s been adding on more and more, and the thing is really starting to come together.
Spending the entire night painting has never been an unusual thing for Jeffrey Hammond. He figures that it was maybe 5 years ago that he started doing this- sometime back when he was just starting to get serious about his art, he ended up staying up all night to finish a project for school, and discovered that painting into the early hours of the morning is actually really, really enjoyable.
It's not usually an intentional thing. He doesn't simply start painting late in the evening and decide he's gonna keep going through the night. It's more just losing track of time, like oh. It’s 6 a.m. now. That was a quick eight hours .
As the sun starts to rise outside his window, Jeffrey rinses his brushes off in the bathroom sink and takes a look in the mirror. He doesn’t look as bad as he thought he would. Sure, his hair’s a tangled mess, and there are a few questionable-looking splotches of green paint on his face, but really, it could be worse. He rinses his face off after he’s done with the brushes and goes back to his room to get dressed for work.
The art supply shop has become sort of a perfect fit for Jeffrey. It’s quiet and out of the way and almost everyone who comes in already knows what they’re doing, which means Jeffrey doesn’t have to answer a lot of questions or interact much with customers at all. The shop also happens to be located within walking distance of a nice little coffeeshop by the name of Cup of Wonder, which Jeffrey has started visiting whenever he has a few extra minutes before a shift.
Jeffrey’s shift isn’t ‘til 11, but he decides to leave early, simply because it’s nice outside and he can use the extra time to take a longer walk to the train station. He’s also in the mood for a cup of tea, and Cup of Wonder is usually good for that type of thing. By the time Jeffrey gets to the coffeeshop, he’s still got an extra half hour or so before he has to be at work. He’s suddenly thankful that he remembered to bring his sketchbook- this might give him a chance to finish the illustration assignment he meant to work on last night.
The atmosphere in the coffeeshop is just about perfect- there’s sunlight streaming in through the big windows in the front, which lights up the whole space. It’s busy, but not to the point of being too overwhelming. The air is filled with the sound of conversation and hushed laughter and the occasional “I’ve got a small caramel macchiato here!” from one of the baristas.
After looking over the menu for a moment, Jeffrey orders a lavender tea. The barista who takes his order- Ian, by what’s written on his nametag- seems to be working every time Jeffrey goes in.
“Okay, so that’s £2.10 today,” Ian says, writing Jeffrey’s order onto a cup. “Have you tried that tea before? The, er, lavender one?”
“Can’t say I have.” Jeffrey hands over a five and tries to think of something else to say. “Is it supposed to be good?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t tried it either.”
“Well then. Guess I'll find out.”
Another barista- a blond-haired boy with ‘Martin’ written messily on his nametag- pours Jeffrey's drink and places it at the other end of the counter. Jeffrey grabs it and sits down at a little table close to a window, right in the path of the sun’s light.
With a full half hour left before he has to leave to go to work, Jeffrey is confident he'll be able to get a fair bit of his assignment done. At this point, it's really just a matter of putting on the finishing touches- adding some more shading here and there and fixing some of the leftover pencil marks. He thinks he sees Ian glancing over at him every once in a while- rather, he thinks he sees Ian glancing over at his drawing.
As the morning goes on, Jeffrey almost loses track of time. It's only by chance that he glances up at the clock on the wall and realizes that oh, shit, it's five to 11 . He packs up his supplies and heads off, half-finished cup of tea in hand.
It's gotten even warmer outside, which feels unusual for this early in spring, but Jeffrey’s not complaining. He’s tempted to stay outside and walk around for a little longer, but he’s already running late and he doesn’t wanna risk losing track of time again.
Jeffrey’s been working at Baker Street Muse for about a month now, and he continues to be amused at the strange combinations of things that people buy. One customer purchases eighteen red ochre coloured pencils, and asks Jeffrey if they’ve got any more in the back. Another buys three large canvases and a tub of white acrylic paint. Since it's shaping up to be a slow-ish day, Jeffrey grabs his sketchbook and finds his work-in-progress illustration assignment. He figures this is a good chance to get some more of it done.
By the time his shift is over at 5 p.m., Jeffrey is satisfied enough with his drawing to consider it finished.
So there's our first Jeffrey chapter. :o It's not a particularly long one, but it's something different, I suppose.
Chapter 6: One Medium Iced Green Tea
“Late April should never be this hot,” Martin complains. “And it’s only 10:30, too. Rest of the day is gonna be hell .”
“Well, it’s your own fault for wearing that sweater,” replies Ian, hardly focused on what Martin’s saying because he’s too caught up in thinking about something completely different.
During his last shift, Ian caught a glimpse of two very out-of-the-ordinary things:
- Mystery Boy actually sat down to drink his tea for once, instead of just running off.
- Mystery Boy can draw.
Martin sighs, and Ian is startled out of his thoughts and back into the real world of iced tea and a loudly complaining coworker.
“Do you think it's gonna get worse throughout the day?”
Ian can't help but feel slightly annoyed with Martin for breaking his train of thought. “Er, probably? It's only, what, 15 degrees out right now?”
“Hmm. It feels warmer than that.”
“You’re so dramatic sometimes. Next time it's supposed to be warm, maybe don't wear wool,” Ian teases. Martin turns and heads towards the other side of the counter in a huff.
As if on cue, Mystery Boy comes in at 10:45 and places his order with Martin. Ian can hear the exchange from his place by the coffee machines- Mystery Boy asking for an iced green tea- must be trying something different , Ian figures.
Ian pours the icy drink and places it on the counter, and in a burst of courage and optimism, decides that he might as well try the whole casual conversation thing again.
“So, uh, are you an artist?”
Mystery Boy’s face seems to light up. “Yeah, how’d you guess?”
“Well, you said you worked in an art supply shop, so I just kind of assumed, and then I was watching you draw the other day.” Ian registers what he's just said, and immediately backtracks. “Uh, I mean, I noticed that the other day, you had, um, a sketchbook, and you were doing… something…”
Ian will never stop being frustrated with the fact that, for some reason, he can't seem to string together words properly in front of Mystery Boy.
“Oh. Well, yeah, I mean, I'm an art student- been studying painting at Blackpool College for the past couple of years- it’s, uh, it's kinda my thing.” Mystery Boy smiles slightly on the last word.
“Painting is your thing?”
“Yeah. But also art in general, I guess.”
“Huh.” Ian is suddenly thankful that the coffeeshop is oddly quiet- he's never had a chance to have this much of a conversation with Mystery Boy before. “So what kinds of of things do you paint? And draw, too, I guess, if that's a thing that you do…” Of course he draws, Ian thinks. He had a damn sketchbook in here the other day.
“Oh, well, all sorts of different things. Still lifes are fun sometimes, but I find I get tired of them quickly. When I was in here the other day I was working on an assignment, so that was just a drawing of a scene at Leicester Square, which I’d actually started a while ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to finishing it until just the other day… anyways, I like to draw and paint things I see around me- like, pictures of the scenery around me, basically.”
Ian realizes that he's found a solid way to get a conversation going with Mystery Boy- get him to start talking about something he cares about, and he'll never shut up. In hindsight, that probably would’ve been a smart thing to try much earlier on.
But it's not like I would have known what sorts of things he cares about!
“...oh, and I like drawing portraits too, like on the train I like trying to draw people I see, y’know, trying to copy faces and stuff.” Mystery Boy blushes a little and looks down. “Sorry. I tend to ramble about this stuff.”
“No, no, don't worry about it. This is interesting.”
For what feels like the first time, Ian takes a good, long look at this boy. He’s got dark, intense eyes, and eyebrows that arch in a way that make him seem curious. His hair looks like it’s been put in curlers overnight, but somehow this doesn’t seem like someone who would put that much time or effort into his appearance. He’s taller than Ian by a couple of inches, and he’s wearing that black-and-white striped jacket again, today over top of a worn black button-down shirt.
Mystery Boy laughs softly before speaking again. “Well, thanks. I think so too.”
“Yeah. Art really does seem like your, uh, thing.” Ian realizes that he’s been talking to Mystery Boy for what’s probably been a whole five minutes, and decides that he better stop while he’s ahead.
“Anyways, I guess I should let you go. Your tea is probably getting cold. Oh, and by the way, my name’s Ian.”
“Jeffrey.” Mystery Boy smiles and grabs his tea. “Nice talking to you, Ian.”
“ Jeffrey .” Barrie seems to turn the word over as he says it, as if he’s trying to get a feel for it. “Not a bad name at all. Personally, I like J names.”
“Of course you do.” Ian rolls his eyes. “Well, anyways, we’re not here to talk about his name. We’re here to talk about what the hell I should do now that I’ve actually had a full conversation with him.”
Ian is sprawled out on the little couch in Barrie's apartment, wrapped up in a blanket and clutching a mug of coffee. Originally he'd gone to see Barrie for help with a linguistics assignment- Barrie's always had a knack for the logic problems that seem to be common in that field- but the visit has turned into a heartfelt give-Ian-boy-advice session.
“You could talk to him again,” Barrie suggests, as if it's really that easy.
“About what, though?”
Barrie shrugs. “Anything, I guess.” He looks lost in thought for a moment, as if he's worried he’ll say the wrong thing. “You could ask him about his art. Like ask what he's working on, since it seems like he enjoys talking about that stuff. And then later on, ask him if you can see some of his work.”
“You think he’d actually let me see any of his stuff?” Ian certainly has thought about that more than he’d like to admit. He’d only caught a few glances at Jeffrey’s drawing the other day, but from what Ian had seen, it looked intricate, as if Jeffrey had tried to pack in every single little detail he could, but somehow it still worked without being too confusing.
“He might. Only one way to find out, I guess.” Barrie takes a sip from his mug of tea.
“That’s true.” Ian opens his mouth to say something else, but the sound of the doorbell cuts him off.
“That must be John.” Barrie grins and heads over to the door. “He only has class until, like, noon on Mondays, so he’s coming over to work on this new composition thing that we’ve been putting together.”
Sure enough, John is waiting at the door, with a bass guitar-shaped black bag in one hand.
Ian gives John a quick wave and Barrie invites him in. He drops his bag on the other side of the couch and goes to sit beside Barrie.
“So how was class?” Barrie asks, and John launches into a monologue about what he learned in theory class, and how his history prof doesn't know how to hold the attention of a group of students for longer than a couple of minutes. Barrie looks completely captivated by everything he says. He rarely interrupts, just occasionally nods and murmurs a quick “yeah” or “I see”.
“I mean, Baroque concertos could be a really interesting topic, but… something about being in that class just makes me wanna take a nap.”
“Ah, I get that. Seems like the sort of thing that’s only fun if you have a decent teacher,” muses Barrie.
“Yeah, I’d say so,” John replies, before jumping right into a story from his 8 a.m. sight-singing class.
Ian almost feels like he's intruding on something here. Barrie and John speak like they're the only ones in the room. They’re not deliberately ignoring Ian- it’s more like they’ve forgotten he’s there altogether. Ian figures his two best options here are to either quietly leave, or to attempt to join Barrie and John’s oddly intense conversation.
Once John’s through with his story, Ian asks, “So what’s the, uh, project that you guys are working on?”
“It's for his theory class!” explains Barrie. John smiles at his enthusiasm.
“Yeah, so basically, I have to write a sonata form exposition, and then perform it in class. My prof lets us bring in guest musicians, too, so Barrie-” John gestures to his boyfriend- “is going to be playing snare drum for me.”
“So it's a sonata for bass and snare drum?” Admittedly, Ian isn’t too sure how that would work, but it’s not like he knows how a lot of composition-related things work anyways.
“Yeah! Well, just the beginning part of a sonata. And there's no rules on what instruments we can use, so… yeah, bass and snare.”
Ian nods. “I see.” He tries to come up with something else to say- music theory projects aren’t exactly something he’s familiar with- but John speaks up again before he can say anything.
“Do you wanna hear what we've got so far?”
“Oh, uh, sure.” Might as well , Ian figures- it’s not like he’s got anything better to do. He’s already decided that his linguistics assignment can get finished later.
“I’ll go get the drum!” Barrie leaps off the couch and heads for his room, leaving Ian and John together in a moment of semi-awkward silence.
“What day do you guys perform this, uh, piece on?” Ian asks, trying to fill up the quiet in the room.
“Uh, this Friday, actually,” John replies. “At this point, it’s really just a matter of getting another few bars of stuff written at the end, just to sort of finalize the modulation, y’know, make sure it sounds like it’s moved into a different key. So, nothing too difficult… oh, and if you have any suggestions for anything to add, just lemme know. Barrie said that you’re a bit of a musician yourself, so I’m curious to say what you think of it.”
“Well, I dunno if ‘musician’ is the word I’d use,” Ian starts, but Barrie returns before he can argue any further.
“Okay, there we go.” Barrie places his instrument carefully on the coffee table. “John, do you have the sheet music? I don’t think I have it all completely memorized yet.”
John chuckles and digs through his backpack. “Yeah, it’s right here. I guess I should set my stuff up, too.” He takes his bass out of its bag, and plucks at the strings to make sure everything’s still in tune. “Okay, ready to go, then?” Barrie nods, and John counts them in with a quick one-two-three, four-five-six .
The piece is certainly more advanced than Ian expected it to be. John’s bassline is catchy and complex, and Barrie’s drum part complements it nicely. Ian’s also surprised by how in sync John and Barrie are in their playing. He assumes they haven't been working on this project for longer than a few weeks, but they sound like they’ve been playing together for years.
“So what do you think?” John asks after he and Barrie have played their final cadence. “When we do it on Friday, I’ll have my amp, so my part will be louder, but… yeah, that’s how it sounds so far.”
Ian doesn’t know what to say. Truth be told, he’s a little envious of how damned good the thing sounded. “Well. It was… better than I thought it would be.”
“Thanks, I guess,” John laughs.
“How long did it take you to write that?” Ian asks.
John shrugs and looks at Barrie. “About a week, would you say? And then we’ve been practicing it for maybe two weeks.” Barrie nods in agreement.
“I see. Well, yeah, it sounded great.”
“Glad you liked it. Now I think we’re probably gonna go through it at least once more twice more, and then maybe try to work out another few measures for the end, ‘cause, like I said, I don’t think it’s quite finished yet…”
Ian takes that as his cue to get going. “Sounds good. I guess I should, uh, leave you to it, then.” He says goodbye and wishes the pair good luck with the project.
As he’s walking to the train, Ian lets his mind wander. He starts thinking about relationships, starts thinking about how things just happen so easily sometimes. If he remembers correctly, Barrie and John have only been together for about six months, yet somehow they seem so perfect for each other. He wouldn’t say he’s jealous- it’s just that he wonders how the hell things worked out so well for the two of them.
Maybe some people are just lucky like that, he figures, before reminding himself that luck is a silly concept, and deciding he should probably just try not to overthink so much.
Chapter 7: One Small Lavender Iced Tea
“I feel like you haven't worked a Thursday in forever,” Martin comments as he swirls espresso in a paper cup.
“Maybe because I haven't,” Ian replies. “I had class on Thursday mornings all semester, remember?”
“Yeah.” Ian fills a cup halfway with black coffee and tops it up with lukewarm water. “Okay, here's your drink. Enjoy.”
Ian and Martin have decided to make each other elaborate drinks to celebrate the end of winter term classes, but the whole thing has turned into more of a contest to see who can make something nastier. Ian can't think of anything worse than watery coffee, so that's what Martin’s getting.
“Oh, excellent. I think it needs one finishing touch, though.” Martin pulls a small flask from the pocket of his jeans and pours a splash of gin into the cup. “There. Now it's perfect.”
“Wait, that's not fair! You can't do that!”
Martin simply looks at Ian, gives him a flat “well, I just did,” and downs the entire drink in one long sip.
“You are so odd . And you're lucky we’re the only ones here, y’know.”
Martin laughs. “Yeah. Benefits of working the really early shift, I guess. Oh, also, this is your drink.”
Ian looks at the sticky brown and green mass inside the cup. “Good god. What is that?”
“Oh, lots of things. Espresso, caramel sauce, soy milk, tap water, and a scoop of matcha.”
“But why does it look solid?”
Martin shrugs. “It's a mostly caramel sauce, I guess. I’ll get you a spoon.”
By this point, it's late enough in the morning (which isn't actually that late at all) that customers are starting to show up. Martin offers to take the till, leaving Ian to eat his… well, he wouldn't all it a drink, so he'll just think of it as breakfast.
The next hour or so is steady, but not busy enough that Ian doesn't have time to daydream. He wonders if he’ll see Jeffrey- does Jeffrey work on Thursdays?- and then decides that it doesn't matter anyways. Jeffrey's been in 5 different times over the past three weeks (not that Ian’s been counting or anything). He’s basically a regular at this point. If he doesn't come in today, Ian won't be too worried.
However, there is still a small part of him that’s holding out hope, so he’s pleasantly surprised when Jeffrey comes in at quarter to eleven, as per usual, and orders an iced lavender tea. Ian notices that he has his sketchbook in hand again. Since Jeffrey had been so eager to talk about his art on Monday, Ian decides that right now might be a good chance to ask him about it again.
“So, uh, did you finish your illustration assignment?” Ian asks, handing Jeffrey his oddly floral-scented drink over the counter.
“Yeah, I did, actually! Got it handed in and all that, too.” Jeffrey pauses and glances at his watch. “Um, I have to head off- my shift starts in ten minutes- but I’ll tell you more about it sometime, if you want.”
Ian tries to hide his smile, but he figures it’s a wasted effort. Jeffrey has actually expressed interest in talking to him. More than that, Jeffrey’s ‘sometime’ gives Ian hope that their little conversations might one day be a regular occurrence. Suddenly, this no longer feels like a one-sided effort on Ian’s part. (Of course, maybe Jeffrey just really loves talking about his own work, but Ian doubts that.)
Ian finally manages a “oh, sure, that would be nice” and just like that, Jeffrey is off, sketchbook in one hand, iced tea in the other.
For once, Evans is working a late-ish shift, which means he arrives about five minutes after Jeffrey leaves.
“So how's the morning been so far? What have I missed?” Evans asks, taking a sip from the iced coffee he’d made for himself just before his shift started.
“Well, Ian is basically an overprotective parent now, so that's something,” Martin laughs.
Evans turns to look at Ian with mock delight. “Aww, Ian, I’m so proud of you!”
Ian shoots Martin a look. “I’m a what? ”
“You’re an overprotective parent,” Martin replies, giggling again. “Honestly, do you hear how you talk to that one guy who's in all the time? ‘Did you finish your illustration assignment?’ ” Martin tries to imitate Ian’s tone of voice. “You sound like you’re asking a kid if he finished his homework.”
Ian starts to respond, but Evans cuts him off. “Okay, so, jokes aside- this was the same guy who was in before, I’m guessing? The one who you asked about the whipped cream?”
“I can’t believe you’re still hanging onto that,” Ian sighs. “But yes. It’s the same guy. I talked to him for a bit the other day. His name is Jeffrey and he’s an art student, so that’s why I was asking him about an illustration assignment.”
“Okay. Nice. Good for you for actually talking to him. So what else happened, then?” Evans asks, suddenly curious.
“What do you mean ‘what else happened’?”
“I mean, there’s no way that was all you found out. I very highly doubt he just walked up to you and introduced himself by name and told you he’s an art student. I think there’s more of a story here,” Evans says, and Ian isn’t sure whether to be excited or terrified at the thought of telling Evans what really happened. By this point Martin has gone over to take an order at the tills, so Ian takes the opportunity to give Evans a quick account of how things went with Jeffrey.
“Alright, so, last Friday I noticed he had a sketchbook with him, and he was drawing something. I couldn't tell what it was, but it was something , and it was really detailed and neat-looking and… okay, anyways, he was in again on Monday, so I asked him about it, and he got really talkative and told me all that stuff.” That part might not be completely true- there was definitely some asking of questions on Ian's part- but he decides it's easier to just not explain that to Evans. “And then when he was in today, I asked him if he’d finished the assignment. He said he had, and he was rushing off to work- I guess he works at an art supply shop- but he said he'd tell me more about it sometime.”
“Oh wow. That's… hmm. I didn't realize so much had happened.” Evans looks down as if he's searching for some bit of ridiculous advice to give Ian. “Sounds like he likes you.”
Well, it's not advice, but it's still ridiculous.
As much as Ian wishes that were true, he's not naive enough to believe it. Sure, Jeffrey comes by all the time, but chances are, that’s only because it’s so convenient for him. He probably just likes having a cup of tea to sip on while he’s… doing whatever it is he does at the art supply shop. And yeah, he seemed excited to talk to Ian about his art, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he likes Ian.
Ian mumbles a “yeah, maybe,” which is clearly not enough of an answer for his coworker.
“Do you not think so?” Evans asks. He doesn’t seem to want to let this go, much to Ian’s annoyance. “Listen, I’m not saying that he’s romantically interested in you. I’m also not not saying that, but… anyways. I just think this guy- Jeffrey, or whatever- really likes talking to you when he’s in.” Ian nods but doesn’t say anything, so Evans keeps on going. “From what you told me, at least, it sounds like you two get on well enough. And maybe he’s just as shy and awkward as you are- maybe he wants to get to know you, but he just doesn’t know how.”
Ian almost argues against the ‘shy and awkward’ comment- he is not shy or awkward, and Evans doesn’t need to be calling him either of those things- but decides that there are more pressing matters at hand here. “Okay, so let’s say Jeffrey does want to get to know me better. And let’s say, hypothetically, that I wanna get to know him better too. How do we make that happen?” Ian realizes that this is starting to feel a lot like a repeat of his conversation with Barrie from earlier in the week.
Evans shrugs. “Keep making small talk with him when he comes in, and then just try to keep that going as long as possible. Hell, you could even ask for his number at some point.”
“Seriously? I’m not gonna ask him for his number .”
“Well, yeah, not yet. But at some point, you could- like, once you feel like you actually know him a little bit.”
“Hmm. No. That sounds like it wouldn’t end well.” Ian silently hopes that the shop gets busy soon- he needs a way out of this conversation that doesn’t involve admitting he’s too nervous to take Evans’ advice.
“You don't know that, though,” Evans points out.
“I think I've got a bit of a hunch.”
“Okay, well, if you don’t think you wanna do it, I guess I can’t force you to,” Evans says. “But, really, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe he’ll find it odd, and he won’t come in for a week, and then that’s the end of that. That isn’t really that bad.”
“True,” Ian muses. “It’s still not a risk I’m willing to take, though.”
“You’re very bad at taking risks, do you know that?”
Ian doesn’t say anything. He’s not sure whether to argue, or just make some snarky comment and see if that'll get Evans to shut up.
Evans seems to realize he’s not gonna get a straight answer from Ian, so he starts talking again. “Okay, so, maybe you need some perspective here. The way I see it, we’re all just little specks in comparison with the rest of the universe. Like, even our planet is tiny, when you think about how big everything else is, so-”
“Are you trying to give me advice or a science lesson here?”
“I'm trying to give you a fresh perspective on your situation, Ian. So anyways, when you think about all that… nothing in life is really that big of a deal, right?”
Ian sighs. “Yeah, I guess? I’m not sure what you’re you’re trying to say here, though.”
“Okay. Well, I guess I'm trying to say that in the grand scene of things, it’s not gonna matter if you do or don’t talk to Jeffrey- so you have nothing to lose, really. And if you think about it, we all get, what, 80 years on this planet? And we can spend that however we choose, so I don't wanna see you being miserable because you don't know how to take risks.”
Ian opens his mouth to speak, but then realizes that he doesn't really have a good response to that. All he can think is that this conversation has taken a really bizarre turn, and that Evans’ advice is… well, interesting, to say the least.
“Hey, can one of you two jump on till?” Martin calls from across the counter. “It’s gettin’ kind of busy.”
Ian takes this as his opportunity to escape his increasingly-deep conversation with Evans, and runs over to give Martin a hand. The rest of the morning stays fairly steady, which is never a bad thing- makes the time go quicker.
On his way home after his shift, Ian considers taking a different route and searching for the art supply shop that Jeffrey apparently works at. In the end, he decides it’s not worth it- even if he did happen to find it, it’s not like he’d have the courage to go in.
Ian glances over at the clock again. He can just barely make out the hour hand right between the 1 and 2, and the minute hand around the 6.
If I fall asleep right now, I’ll still get about 6 and a half hours. Could be worse. Ian rolls over onto his back and looks up at the ceiling. The day had been warm, so it's not a particularly chilly night, but the room feels too cold, even with Ian wearing thick socks and a flannel coat. For a quick moment, he wonders what Jeffrey would think of the coat- would he jokingly tease Ian for wearing the thing to bed? Would Ian have to explain that it's better than any blanket on cold nights?
Ian stops himself before he gets too deep in his own thoughts.
He considers getting out of bed and going for a walk- maybe that would be helpful in getting him feeling tired- but in the end, he figures maybe tiredness isn't the real issue here. His mind keeps going back to what Evans said at work. The whole monologue about how the universe is a ridiculously large place and how we are nothing more than specks trying to navigate our way through feels a little forced, at least to Ian. It does seem like a very characteristically Evans thing to believe, though.
However, he did bring up a decent point.
We all get, what, 80 years on this planet? And we can spend that however we choose, so I don't wanna see you being miserable because you don't know how to take risks.
At the time, Ian had tried to ignore Evans- he doesn't need any advice on taking risks, and he certainly doesn’t need Evans’ advice regarding Jeffrey (even though he did kinda ask for it). But now it’s 1:30 a.m. and Ian’s got another shift in seven hours and he knows he’s gonna spend a decent part of it silently wishing Jeffrey would just show up already.
Maybe Evans is onto something here.
Chapter 8: One Sketch of a Sunny Friday Morning
Another chapter from Jeffrey's perspective, heh.
Jeffrey wakes up to early-May sun streaming through his window and scattering across the bedroom. Panic hits him for a moment. If it's already that bright outside, surely he's missed his 8 a.m. illustration class… and then, as quickly as it appeared, his worry vanishes, as he remembers that classes finished two day ago.
He considers sleeping in for a little longer, but he’s found that he can never really get back to sleep once he’s awake. Plus, it’s so bright outside that the light would probably keep him up anyways. He looks over at the clock on the wall and decides that right now is as good a time as any to get up and get the day started.
With classes over for this semester, Jeffrey’s been thinking about starting a new project- something just for fun, something he can do without worrying about expectations. Getting a good idea is often the hardest part, though. Jeffrey figures that getting out and putting himself in an environment other than his little flat might be a good place to start. Even though he was just there yesterday, he decides today would be a good day for a trip to his favourite coffeeshop.
“Are you working again today?” asks Ian after taking Jeffrey’s order.
“No, actually,” Jeffrey replies, secretly sort of pleased that Ian keeps finding new things to ask him. “Just here to work on a project. Jeffrey realizes that this sort of implies that he’s already started on his new project, so he changes the subject quickly. “So did you want to, um, hear more about my illustration assignment?”
Oh, that sounded awkward.
Ian doesn’t seem to pay any attention to the clumsy wording of Jeffrey’s question. Rather, he gives him an enthusiastic “yeah, of course”, which Jeffrey takes as a cue to dive right into the story that he may or may not have rehearsed in his mind about a hundred times this morning.
“So the assignment was meant as a study in perspective and composition, so I thought Leicester Square would be a good subject, 'cause there's so much going on there, y’know? Lots of places to show that, uh, perspective.”
Ian listens on, never interrupting, just paying attention like this is the most fascinating thing he's ever heard. By the time Jeffrey’s done, he thinks he sees Ian smiling a little, although it's hard to tell under all the auburn fluff on his face.
“Oh. Wow. That's, uh, that sounds really interesting.” Ian seems to be at a loss for words, but it's hard to say whether he's impressed or just really uninterested; Jeffrey's always been bad at reading these things. “So, uh, what are you working on today? Another assignment?”
Jeffrey laughs. “No, not today. The semester’s done now.”
“Oh. Guess I should've known,” Ian says, and wow, he's oddly cute when he gets all bashful like that.
“That's okay. Anyways, I don't really know what I'm working on today. I wanted to start on a new project- y’know, something… not for school.”
“I see,” Ian says. He sounds like he wants to add something else on, but he's cut off by another barista calling out an order from the other side of the counter, which Jeffrey recognizes as his.
“Okay, well, I guess I'll let you get back to work. Nice talking to you again.” Jeffrey wishes he could take this conversation further despite not quite knowing what else he’d say. Ian simply bids him goodbye as he goes to retrieve his drink.
A few of the tables near the window are free, but Jeffrey opts for a seat closer to the counter, figuring maybe all the activity on that side of the coffeeshop will be a good source of inspiration. He unpacks his supplies- sketchbook, bundle of pencils, and a couple of stray felt-tip pens that seemed like they might come in handy- and gets to work. The first subject that comes to mind for today’s sketching session is a bustling coffeeshop scene, so that’s what he starts with.
As he sketches, Jeffrey makes a point of observing all that’s going on around him- customers ordering drinks, cars passing by outside, conversations taking place behind the counter. He can’t help but notice one of the other baristas teasing Ian (or at least, that’s what it looks like, based on the looks exchanged between the two). He also can’t help but notice how adorably pink Ian’s face gets when he blushes, but he pushes that thought aside. No need for distractions like that right now.
After a couple hours have passed, Jeffrey’s got himself a fairly detailed little coffeeshop sketch (complete with accidental green tea stains up in the top right corner). Well, it’s a start, he figures.
Ian’s weekend is uneventful, save for one hellish 7 p.m. Renaissance literature exam (seriously, who decided evening exams were a good idea anyways?) and a Sunday morning trip to a new record shop with Barrie and John. (It had been Barrie’s idea to invite Ian- Ian thought he would just be making things awkward for his friends, but Barrie had insisted.)
“So where is this place?” Barrie asks when they're en route.
“Not too far, actually; just on the corner of Ashfield and Hastings. We just get on the Green Line to get to Crossharbour, and then transfer to Gray Line and take that to Stratford, and then transfer onto the Red Line and take that to Newbury, and then it’s pretty much right there.”
Barrie and Ian look at him incredulously. "You might have to give us a refresher on that," Barrie says.
John just laughs. "Yeah, I can navigate, if you guys want."
The commute is maybe 50 minutes long, including all the transfers between trains, and the walk from the last station to the shop. John promises it'll be worth it, though.
The shop is nondescript, blending in with the rest of its surroundings in this little northeast corner of the city. Ian thinks he probably wouldn't have noticed it had he not had Barrie and John with him.
"I know it doesn't look like much from here, but it's a lot more exciting inside," John says as they approach the doors, and yeah, he's not wrong.
John says as they approach the doors, and yeah, he's not wrong. The shop looks about twice as big from the inside, with shelves of records lining three walls and covering a decent portion of floorspace as well. Fluorescent lights illuminate the whole area, lighting up the one wall at the back of the shop that's covered in concert posters instead of shelves. Barrie and Ian are practically speechless at the sheer amount of stuff - apart from the rows and rows of records, there's a corner towards the back that looks to be full of band t-shirts and other merch; another corner and part of a wall are full of scores and chord charts.
Ian thinks he could probably spend days in here.
"Not bad, right?" John grins at his friends' reactions- they still haven't said a word since entering the shop.
"Yeah, not bad at all!" Barrie says. This is kind of amazing, actually."
"Yeah, I thought you guys might like it. So- shall we take a look?"
Barrie and John end up looking around together for a while, which leaves Ian on his own to see what this shop has to offer. Everything seems to be sorted loosely by genre, so he starts at a bluesy-looking section close to the doors and goes from there.
As he looks around, Ian realizes he was wrong before- he could spend weeks in here and still not see everything. He'd not been planning on buying anything, but with this much music, it kinda feels wrong to leave empty-handed. After a bit of searching around, he picks up a couple of folksy-looking records; not things he's heard of before, but things that look like they might be interesting. For a fleeting moment, he wonders if there's anything here Jeffrey would like, but then pushes the thought away; tells himself he doesn't need to be thinking about that right now- why should he be concerned with Jeffrey's music tastes, anyways?
"Have you found anything?" Barrie catches Ian off-guard. Ian turns to see him and John, both with armfuls of music (and in John's case, plenty of complicated-looking sheet music, too).
"Uh, yeah, a couple of things." Ian holds out what he's found. "There's… a lot to look through here."
"Yeah. Impossible to get through it all on one trip, really," John says, looking over what he and Barrie have picked.
Upon deciding they've taken a good enough look around, they pay for their stuff and head back down south, with Barrie and Ian spending the train ride back looking through the scores and tabs that John's picked up.
"How do you read this stuff?"
"Oh, it's actually not that hard- so each of the lines here represents a string, and then the little numbers refer to the frets, so they're basically telling you where to hold down each string."
Barrie stares at the lines and symbols on the sheet for a good minute or so before declaring that none of this makes sense and none of it will ever make sense.
"That's okay," John laughs. 'I'm sure there are tons of percussionists out there who can't read tab. Anyways, I'm just impressed that they had all this stuff in the first place. I've never found anything like this at a record shop before."
"Yeah, that was cool," Barrie says, still trying to decipher John's music. "Ian, can you read this?"
"Um, kind of?" Ian looks at the sheets; studies the numbers marked across four lines. "I mean, I've never actually played bass, but this is the same idea as guitar tab, so… yeah, it makes sense."
"I don't think I've ever actually heard you play," John muses.
"That's probably for the best," Ian says, not meaning for that to sound as self-deprecating as it does.
Barrie gives him a look. "Come on, you're not that bad… er, I mean, you think you sound a lot worse than you actually do. You have confidence issues ."
"I don't, though. I just don't have the same experience as you two- I think you both take the, uh, music thing a bit more seriously than I do."
"Maybe." John thinks for a moment, and Ian is pretty sure he's about to come up with either the greatest or the worst idea ever. "You should come and jam with us sometime. Maybe that would help."
Ian's not sure whether to consider that a great idea or an awful one, but it's definitely something interesting to think about.
At this point, it feels like Ian can't work a shift without someone bringing up Jeffrey in some way or another. (It doesn't help that Jeffrey's in all the time, but Ian's not complaining about that; just wishing Martin and Evans would learn to calm down a little.) So when Ian's shift begins at nine a.m. on Monday morning, he's not surprised that his coworkers are already formulating today's pay-way-too-much-attention-to Jeffrey plans.
“Here, Ian, look at this.” Evans grabs the little chalkboard on the counter and wipes it off with his sleeve. He scrawls out a new message and places it back on the counter. The sign now reads, in Evans’ handwriting:
Your barista today is: 1) hella fucking gay and 2) tragically single. For your order today, we recommend that you: give him your number.
“Evans, are you serious ?”
“Uh, yeah, I am, actually.” Evans grins, pleased with his new sign.
Ian sighs. “Take that down.”
“Because it’s silly. And unprofessional.”
“Since when do you care about being professional?” asks Evans. Before Ian can come up with a decent answer, he sees Jeffrey enter the shop, as if on cue. He approaches the counter, and Evans takes his order, somehow managing to keep a straight face.
If Jeffrey notices the sign, he certainly doesn’t mention it.
Ian’s next shift with Evans and Martin isn’t much different.
“Next time your regular comes on, I’m going to give him this.” Martin scribbles a note onto a stray napkin- it reads do you wanna hang out as soon as my shift is over?
“First of all, he’s got a name, y’know. Second of all, he is not my regular. He is a regular here, but he is not mine.”
“Yeah, he’s not yours… yet!” chimes in Evans.
“Shut up! Anyways, Martin, you are not passing any notes to anyone, ever.”
“Really? Never?” Martin puts on a fake-disappointed expression.
“Never.” Ian tries to keep the joking tone in his voice. "But really- you two don't have to get involved in this. You probably think you do, but you don't."
Evans fakes an offended expression. "Who said we were trying to get involved? I know that I , for one, would never do such a thing."
"Oh, come on, Ian," Evans complains. "Nothing exciting ever happens with you- or at least, if it does, I never hear about it. I'm just trying to help you out here, and I'm sure Martin is too."
"Well, I don't think that's necessary," Ian snaps. "I'll deal with this however I decide to deal with it, but I don't need anyone's help."
"Fine. No more help, then. This is all up to you now." At times like these, Ian's never quite sure whether Evans is being sincere, but the joking tone's gone from his voice, and it sounds like he means what he says.
Fine indeed, Ian thinks.
I feel like this one was a biiiit rushed towards the end.... but we'll see what happens with that whole situation! Also haha I had to include the "your barista today is...." line, it sort of feels like a classic coffeeshop au thing. :o