He was looking out the window of his lecture hall, watching the trees with the golden-red leaves struggling to keep their hold on the branches, most of them eventually giving up and letting go, spinning gently in the air before joining their fallen friends on the ground.
There were people walking outside. Some in couples, some in small groups and some by themselves. The sun was peeking out of the clouds every few minutes, only to disappear again after a moment.
Dan always made sure to sit in the far end of the lecture hall, next to the window. It made the whole thing a lot more pleasant. With one look to his left he wasn’t a student anymore, listening to a professor talking about something that may or may not be interesting, he was a person enjoying a lovely autumn day, watching the clouds in the sky and the wind in the trees and wondering if it’s going to rain and if he still had his umbrella somewhere in the bottom of his backpack.
It made the long hours of sitting next to his fellow students, typing typing typing on their laptops in the attempt not to miss an important information that will probably be in the test, move a lot quicker.
And it wasn’t that Dan hated university. He was fine with it really. He and his university co-existed peacefully with each other for two years now, and had no big problems between them.
But sometimes escapism was a good thing, even if just in the form of looking out the window and thinking about random, mundane things.
Generally, Dan considered himself a pretty mundane guy. He liked reading books and playing video games and thinking about the weather and had all the characteristics that made a very ordinary, regular person.
He lived in a dorm room with a cliché, weird, mostly absent roommate. Had parents that were mildly interested in his life but never too invested. Had a younger brother he always used to fight with before moving away and a dog he probably missed more than anyone in his hometown.
He wasn’t a picky eater and didn’t have a feud with anyone at the campus. He liked flowers and stars and animals, but didn’t know too much about any of them.
And when being asked “so, tell me about yourself,” usually in a loud bar, by a guy or a girl with a big, flirtatious smile looking at him expectedly, he would laugh awkwardly and say, “oh, I’m nothing interesting, really.”
And he wasn’t, really.
What he always found weird was that Oliver was generally a regular person as well.
They knew each other since primary school, became friends instantly when Dan moved to the house next door. Dan’s mum dragged him along with her to say hello to all the neighbors and bring them store-bought apple pies (which she took out of the box and put in a baking tray and heated in the oven. “No one needs to know,” she said with a wink.)
Oliver was a little shy but not reserved. He was taller than Dan at the time, which he mentioned in the first two minutes of their first meeting. He had dark, curly hair and light grey eyes and he waved at Dan from behind his mother’s skirt but then moved forwards and offered him to go play in his room politely.
They grew up together. Went through every step of their childhood next to each other.
He was there when Oliver got his braces, comforting him and telling him they looked fine. Was there when Oliver’s fish died, helping him organize the funeral, because it was a good fish and it deserved to be remembered. Was there when Oliver got his acceptance letter to his first-choice university, spent the night in his bed talking about how they’re going to make it work even though they’d be living in different ends of the country, how it didn’t matter, it’s just 4 years anyway.
And Oliver was really a regular, normal person, just like Dan. He had normal, boring, problems and regular family life and friends and Dan by his side.
And that’s why it came as such a big surprise, a shock even, when Dan was called out of his math class one day and asked to go to the counselor’s office with no explanation.
He and Oliver spent time together the day before. They had a lovely day skipping school and feeding the ducks in the lake in their favorite park.
As they both knew their days together were few (Oliver was heading off to uni just after graduation for his summer courses), they made sure to spend as much time with each other as possible.
And Oliver was fine. He was a little quieter than usual, a little more distant. But he held Dan’s hand and fed the ducks and smiled at the way they gathered around them.
And besides, they were both pretty quiet in general, spending a lot of time in silence in each other’s company. So really, nothing could have prepared Dan for this.
They said he left no note. Not to his parents, not to Dan.
He did organize his room before, moving a lot of his books and games to his sister’s room. They said it looked like he planned it for some time now. They asked if he knew anything, if Oliver had showed any signs.
When he shook his head and said nothing else they looked at him sympathetically and petted his shoulder, telling him to go home for the day.
That’s when Dan realized that you can never know what’s going on in someone’s mind, even when you think they have the most mundane, regular thoughts in the world. Even if you considered them an extension of yourself.
“Can I sit here?” a cheerful voice asked, and Dan blinked up at it in confusion.
Dan was sitting in his regular spot in his usual coffee shop on campus drinking coffee and reading a book when the stranger approached him.
The person was around Dan’s age, probably. He had black hair and small lips and his eyes shined blue behind black rimmed, a little bit crooked glasses.
He was wearing a big, puffy coat and a long, warm scarf that was wrapped around his neck a few times. His cheeks were red from the cold and he had mittens on his hands and a vibrant pink hat on his head with a pom pom on top. He was holding a brown bag in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.
Dan looked around the half empty coffee shop in confusion, returning his gaze to the guy in front of him.
“Yeah, sure.” He said eventually, moving his bag from the chair opposite him, gesturing for the guy to take a sit, putting down his book.
“Great!” he said enthusiastically, throwing his backpack on the floor and flopping on the chair Dan just offered him.
He started taking off his layers of winter clothes, pealing them from his body one by one before locking his eyes with Dan.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said with a serious tone, catching Dan off guard.
“Do you?” honestly, it wasn’t that hard to guess.
“Yes. You’re thinking that this hat totally clashes with everything else I’m wearing, and you’re not wrong.” He was looking at Dan with round, shiny eyes. Dan blinked at him a few times, dumbstruck.
“You see, I couldn’t find my hat this morning, so my brother’s girlfriend lent me hers. And I didn’t have any clothes to match it, so we ended up with this,” he finished, gesturing to his outfit, before lifting up his coffee and taking a loud sip. Dan looked at him for a few moments, lost for words.
“It’s not even that cold outside,” he ended up saying, because really, nothing rational was coming out of this boy’s mouth, might as well go along.
The guy let out a high pitched laugh, his eyes crinkling, making Dan physically jump from the surprising noise.
“That’s what everyone’s always saying to me! But I’m just constantly cold, see?” he said, bringing his hands that were just out of the mittens to touch Dan’s across the table, making him flinch from how cold they really were.
“Oh! Sorry! My brother told me to stop touching people with no permission, I should really stop doing that.” He said, suddenly looking a little sheepish. Was this guy serious?
“It’s okay, just cold hands, like you said,” Dan reassured.
The boy’s face perked up immediately, smiling wide at Dan. Dan noticed the side of his tongue peeking out of his mouth when he did that.
“You’re Dan, right?” he asked suddenly, leaning forward, resting his elbows on the table and his face on the palms of his hands, looking up at Dan. Dan couldn’t be more confused.
“Do we know each other?” Dan asked, even though he was pretty sure the answer should be no.
To his surprise, the guy seemed to consider his question for a second.
“That depends, do you know me?” he asked, smiling cheekily.
Dan looked at him intently.
“I… don’t think so?” he asked more than said. Honestly, Dan wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
“Oh,” he sounded a little disappointed, and Dan couldn’t stop the small feeling of guilt from making this bizarre guy loose his smile, even for a second.
“I’m in your Greek mythology class. And last semester I was in your English literature class.”
Dan felt his cheeks blush a little. He just never really took the time to get to know anyone in his classes, but to not even recognizing someone who he saw at least two times a week and who actually knew his name was very embarrassing.
“I don’t- “
“Oh don’t worry about it! It was actually a silly question on my side,” he cut Dan off, leaning back on his chair and waving his hand dismissively.
“I used to look very different up until a week ago, so no worries.” He added, taking out a muffin from his brown bag and started to pinch little slices, putting them in his mouth one by one.
“I had this mousy brown hair, a little ginger maybe, and it was a lot longer. And I was wearing contacts instead of glasses” He said, covering his mouth with his hand while chewing.
Now that he mentioned it, Dan could kind of connect the dots. There was a guy that fit that description in his class. Not that Dan ever talked to him.
“Yeah I think I remember now. Philip, isn’t it?” he asked. He had a vague memory of the professor saying that name at some point.
The guy’s eye’s sparkled with joy.
“Yes! I mean, kind of. It’s Phil actually.” He said, wiping his hand on his jumper and reaching it across the table for Dan to shake.
Dan took it awkwardly, just kind of holding it, not quite sure what to do. He was always horrible at hand shakes. Phil didn’t seem to mind though.
“Ah! Your hand is so warm!” he announced, a little too loudly, launching his other hand towards Dan as well and clasping Dan’s hand between both his own.
“Lucky,” he pouted, letting go after a few seconds. Dan couldn’t help but chuckle, just a little.
At that Phil looked at Dan up and down, a little mischief in his eyes, making Dan shuffle a little uncomfortably in his seat.
“So, what do you think?” Phil asked, leaning on his elbows once more.
“About what?” Dan asked, trying to sound nonchalant and not at all like he had no idea what was going on anymore.
“My new look obviously! What do you think of it?” he exclaimed, like it was the most normal question to ask a stranger.
Dan laughed a little, shaking his head. “Oh, sorry, how stupid of me,” Dan said, hitting himself in the face with his hand for dramatic effect.
Phil giggled, a small melodic sound that made Dan’s smile involuntarily grow wider.
“I can’t judge like this. I need to see from all angles,” Dan added jokingly, but wasn’t even surprised when Phil stood up and did a twirl, giving Dan what he asked for before sitting back down in front of him.
“Well?” Phil asked, smirking a little at Dan.
Dan gave him a considerate look.
“It’s nice, I like it.”
Phil’s eyes sparkled again. Dan never met a weirder man-child in his life.
“Really?” he asked, bringing his hand to his hair and ruffling it a little.
“Not too short?”
“A very good length if you ask me.”
“And the glasses? I used to hate myself in them.”
“I think they suit you.”
“Great!” he said, bringing his palms together in delight. Dan couldn’t help his smile at this point, humming a little in agreement.
A silence settled on them, and Dan finally picked up his own, now cold, cup of coffee and took a few sips, looking at Phil from above the rim of his cup.
Phil looked a little uncomfortable now that there wasn’t a constant stream of words between them. His confidante aura diminishing and replaced by a nervous fidgeting and constant side glancing to every possible direction, like he was trying desperately to come up with the next part of this surreal conversation.
“Umm… I actually came here to ask you something.” He said eventually, looking back at Dan.
“What, besides my opinion on your looks?” Dan teased, trying to help Phil relax again. He was so peculiar, it was strangely endearing, and Dan didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. Besides, Dan hated uncomfortable moments himself, hated when people got shy or nervous around him. Made him get shy and nervous as well.
To Dan’s relief Phil giggled at him again, letting his tongue peek out of the side of his mouth.
“No, that was just to break the ice.” He said, and Dan was a little taken aback by this answer, even though it was pretty obvious.
“You don’t say,” Dan said coolly, a little sarcastically, sipping again from his drink.
Phil giggled again. “Don’t be mean! I’m nervous and you’re not helping!” he said, voice whiny and doing something funny to Dan’s stomach.
Dan lifted his hands up in surrender, “sorry, go on.”
Phil took a big breath, looking straight at Dan with sincere eyes.
“I wanted to ask you for your notes from the last lecture. I was absent and I don’t know anyone on that course.”
Dan blinked at him a few times, surprised. That was really not where he thought this conversation was heading.
“Umm, yeah, sure.”
Phil smiled at him big and bright and Dan felt a little bit disappointed.
“Really? That’s great!” he said, clapping his hands a few times in excitement.
He took one of the napkins that was lying on the table, taking out a pen from his backpack and scribbled something on it in a big, messy handwriting, shoving it in Dan’s direction unceremoniously.
“Thank you so much Dan! You’re a life saver.”
“Happy to help.”
Phil got up then, picking up all of his winter clothes, pulling his hat on his head to cover his ears and giving Dan one last toothy smile before walking straight out of the coffee shop without saying another word.
Dan looked after him, stunned and a little bit dazed.
When Phil disappeared around the corner and Dan couldn’t keep track of where he was anymore, he looked down to the napkin. There, with a blue ink, Phil wrote:
Email the notes to this address please, thank you so much!
(btw, I also came over to say that I think you’re cute, but chickened out in the end. If it’s okay, I would love it if you’d give me another chance to say it in person? <3 ) ‘
At the bottom of the napkin he left a barely readable phone number, and a whole line of x’s and o’s.
Dan couldn’t help the smile spreading on his face. He folded the napkin neatly and put it in his pocket, picking up his backpack and leaving the coffee shop as well, feeling the chilly autumn wind ruffling his hair and letting himself think of big blue eyes and hideous pink hats with a pom pom on top. Just for a little.