Aaron was due to come in the door of The Grind any minute now, looking impossibly gorgeous for eight am on a Tuesday morning (though Aaron would argue with him on that), all sleep soft and needing coffee to kickstart his day at work.
They had a routine, these days - one that worked, one that made them both happy.
God, Robert was so happy.
It was strange, really, how quickly they’d settled into an unapologetically happy relationship. They’d hardly been apart since that first night they’d spent together, a year down the line now.
Their first anniversary was around the corner, the first real one. Robert had surprised himself by becoming the kind of boyfriend who wanted to celebrate every silly, small, insignificant anniversary, from their one month anniversary, to six months, and everything in between - if only ever for the soft smile that would appear on Aaron’s face as he realised what Robert was up to, cooking them a romantic meal in, or lighting candles all around their flat, making a ridiculous fuss of the one month anniversary of when they’d moved in together.
Robert knew he didn’t need to woo Aaron. Aaron had told him as much, his boyfriend curled into his chest as they watched a film on Netflix, the fire on, Aaron’s cold hands tucked up underneath Robert’s jumper, icy against Robert’s bare skin.
“You have me, you know,” Aaron murmured, tilting his head a little so he could look at Robert properly, his hair wild after his shower, product free and unruly, making him look so much younger than the twenty four he was.
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t need to try and win me over, or anything,” Aaron said, tucking himself impossibly closer to Robert. “You’ve got me. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
“I’m not trying to woo you, you know,” Robert shook his head, absently running his fingers through Aaron’s hair, enjoying the way his boyfriend seemed to melt at the touch, eyes fluttering closed contentedly as Robert tugged at his longer than usual hair.
He’d been too busy to get a haircut.
“I love you,” Robert said, as though his reasoning was obvious. “I like celebrating silly anniversaries, because I love you - I like remembering all the firsts we’ve had together.”
Aaron smiled, the kind of smile that always had Robert’s heart twisting in his chest, the kind of smile that made him want to explode, as though his body couldn’t quite contain the love he had for the younger man.
Robert wasn’t sure if he could, sometimes - handle how much he loved Aaron, he meant. After a matter of months, Aaron had become the most important person in his life, and he was so sure if he ever lost him, it would ruin Robert once and for all.
Aaron wasn’t going anywhere.
Robert knew he wasn’t, as he drunk in Aaron, his appearance, the way he was so happily tangled around Robert, legs tangled together under the thick fleece blanket Victoria had given them as a house-warming present, the blanket they curled up under nearly every evening, the novelty of being near each other having yet to wear off.
(Robert wasn’t sure it ever would, if he was being honest.)
It was so sickeningly domestic, and Robert loved every second of it.
“I think,” Aaron trailed off, shifting a little so they were nose to nose. “It’s not the firsts that count.”
“Really,” Aaron confirmed, cheeks flushing the lightest shade of pink as he spoke. He’d never been much of a one for grand romantic speeches, his Aaron, but he had a lot to say when he felt he needed to say it. “It’s when we lose track of everything, thats when we know its forever. When we - when we don’t know how many kisses its been, you know?”
Robert nudged his nose against Aaron’s cheek, kissing him softly. “I haven’t been keeping count, you know,” he murmured, pressing tiny, featherlight kisses to Aaron’s nose, his cheeks. “I just never want to forget the first.”
Robert held Aaron a little tighter, pressing his cheek to his boyfriends as he spoke, revelling in the feeling of his whole world being wrapped up in Aaron. “Because it’s the kiss that changed my life, isn’t it?”
Robert grinned to himself as he finished the doodle he was drawing on Aaron’s cup. It was two cartoon little figures, one blond, one with brown hair, and they were kissing, tiny little hearts all over the side of the cup.
“The kiss the changed my life” it said in Robert’s neat, looping handwriting, the lettering a deep purple, Victoria having recently bought him even more markers. His sister was the best person to indulge his hobbies, really - she’d decided Robert was drawing out the table plans for her wedding, when she realised he actually had a lot of drawing talent, for funny little cartoons at least.
“Morning,” Aaron greeted, leaning over the counter. “You back drawing on my cups again?” he asked, squinting at the drawing. He was wearing a jumper of Robert’s, the sleeves too long and the chest tight enough to make Robert melt into a puddle behind the counter.
“Yup,” Robert said, offering no more explanation. He’d stopped doing it after a while - there was only so much space in their tiny little flat for the coffee cups Aaron refused to throw away, and well, he had Aaron’s attention now, didn’t he? He didn’t need to impress him anymore.
But Robert had a plan, this time.
“What for?” Aaron inquired, taking a grateful sip of his coffee, smiling to himself as he ran a finger over all the drawings.
“You’ll find out!” Robert grinned. “Do me a favour, and keep that one, yeah?”
Aaron raised an eyebrow. “You’re not going to tell me why, are you?” he asked, knowing Robert was being oddly secretive for a reason. Aaron knew Robert well enough to know when he wasn’t going to get very far with his questions.
“No, I am not,” Robert confirmed. “Just go with it, yeah?”
“Fine,” Aaron pretended to pout. “I’ll see you after work, yeah?”
Robert nodded. “Love you!” he called after Aaron, laughing as his boyfriend blew him an exaggerated kiss from the door.
“What are you up to, Robert Sugden?” Victoria asked, leaning against the doorway into the kitchen. She had a wide smile on her face, the last of her honeymoon tan making her blonde hair seem even brighter.
“You’ll see,” Robert shrugged, playing his cards close to his chest, even with Vic. “Do you fancy a coffee?” he asked, already going about making one for his sister, all too aware she was in the kitchen before 7am, getting ready for the day.
Victoria rolled her eyes, laughing. “Sure, I’ll have one before the breakfast rush starts.”
Robert waits a few days before he does the next one. Its mostly because Aaron hasn’t been up early enough to come in for a coffee before work, but Robert wants to savour these moments too, he really does.
He draws their first date.
They’d gone to Wagamamas, of all places, but Aaron loved the food there, and Robert had been eager to please. If he was being honest with himself, he’d have gone on a date with Aaron behind the bins at McDonalds, if he’d asked.
There had been this moment, when Aaron had been trying to use the chopsticks provided, and he was failing miserably. Robert had tried to show him a few times, and it had resulted in nothing but rice all over their table, and a grumpy look on Aaron’s face.
Robert thinks that might have been the first time he’d decided he wanted a real future with Aaron. Everything about them had felt so comfortable, so natural, from the beginning, but there had just been this moment where everything had clicked, sitting in a busy Wagamamas, eating Katsu curry with his new boyfriend, and Robert just knew.
He just knew Aaron was all he wanted.
“Wagamamas?” Aaron raised an eyebrow, clearly remembering the date as he looked at Robert’s cartoonish drawing of him on the side of the cup.
“Yup,” Robert confirmed, still unwilling to offer any other information. “Keep that one too, please.”
Aaron rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “I love you.”
“I love you more,” Robert called after him, excitement bubbling in his stomach as he realised that can been cup two of four.
“Are you going to let anyone else in on this weird plan of yours?” Victoria asked, arms folded across her chest, having had watched the entire interaction between him and Aaron.
“Nope,” Robert grinned. “You want a coffee?”
Victoria sighed, realising she wasn’t going to get anywhere with him. “Go on, then.”
Aaron told Robert he loved him for the first time, one quiet evening in bed. It hadn’t been this earth-shattering declaration, it hadn’t made the world spin around twice as fact, but it had settled in Robert’s chest, and spread across his entire body, lighting up his every nerve ending with love, and it had been perfect.
“I love you too,” Robert murmured, voice full of wonder as he looked at Aaron, took in his sweaty, blissed out appearance, dark hair stuck to his forehead, his blue eyes wide and sincere.
“Yeah?” Aaron grinned at him, clearly delighted his words had been reciprocated. “It’s not too soon?”
“It’s perfect,” Robert shook his head. “You’re perfect. God, I love you Aaron.”
Aaron beamed, his smile so wide it was practically splitting his face in two. “I love you too.”
They had said it over and over, that night, revelling in the feeling of being able to say it aloud, of having their feelings out there in the open, no secrets, no is it too soon’s. The words felt right, in a way they never had before, and Robert still got that excited feeling in the pit of his stomach every time Aaron said it to him, every time he got to be wrapped up in those gorgeous, three little words, the words sounding practically lyrical as they rolled off Aaron’s tongue.
It was Robert’s favourite sentence.
The cup had two little cartoon versions of them, tucked under a purple duvet, only their foreheads visible, tiny speech bubbles declaring matching ‘I love yous’ over their heads.
“That was a good night,” Aaron murmured, finger tracing over the lettering. “I guess I’m keeping this one too, yeah?”
Robert nodded, leaning in to kiss his boyfriend softly. “I love you.”
“You’re absolutely mad, but I love you too,” Aaron returned the words, that comfortable, happy feeling settling in Roberts stomach again as he heard the three every best words in the English language.
I love you was never going to get old.
Today was the day.
Robert has asked Aaron to come to The Grind that morning, and had pleaded with Victoria to leave for a half an hour, his little sister reluctantly agreeing when he’d put his best ‘please do it because you love me and I’m your big brother’ face on.
He’d turned the sign on the cafe door to closed, but left it unlocked, waiting for Aaron to get here.
8:05am, like clockwork.
“How come you haven’t opened up yet?” Aaron asked, looking suitably confused as he stepped into the empty coffee shop. “And why - why did I have to bring these?” he asked, waving the three coffee cups with Robert’s most recent drawings on them about.
“Because, I have something to ask you,” Robert said, taking the coffee cups from Aaron, neatly lining them up on the counter, alongside the fourth and final one.
“What are you up to?” Aaron raised an eyebrow.
“Just, trust me, yeah?” Robert said, guiding Aaron to the first cup. “Our first kiss really did change my life, you know.”
“I’m that good, am I?” Aaron joked, leaning back against Robert, content to have his boyfriend wrap his arms around him tightly, Robert tucking his face into Aaron’s neck for a second, trying to slow his rapidly beating heart a little.
(It didn’t help.)
“It was like the first moment of the rest of my life,” Robert admitted. “I’d wanted you for so long, and then - then I finally got to have you. It was the best first kiss - even if you ruined my shirt.”
Aaron snorted, clearly remembering how upset Robert had been when they’d tried to get the coffee stains out of his shirt the next day, the coffee well and truly dried in and not budging.
“It was worth it, though,” Robert murmured, pressing a kiss to the skin behind Aaron’s ear, before he gestured to the Wagamamas drawing. “Our first date.”
“Whats so special about that?” Aaron asked, genuinely curious now.
“It was the moment I knew I wasn’t going to want anyone else,” Robert said. “We were sitting in Wagamamas, and you were making an arse of yourself with those chopsticks, and I just knew. That was the moment everything clicked for me - I knew I was never going to want anyone who wasn’t you.”
“Robert,” Aaron’s voice was thick with emotion now.
“Let me finish,” Robert shook his head, directing Aaron to the next cup. “The first time you told me you loved me.”
Aaron turned slightly, blue eyes shining with tears, happy tears. “I’d wanted to say it for so long.”
“Me too,” Robert admitted. “That night - it was special for so many reasons, Aaron. Hearing you say you loved me, it was the first time in my life I think I ever really felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. With you.”
“Me too,” Aaron agreed, holding a little tighter to the arm Robert had slung around his middle, voice still thick with unshed tears.
“Look at the last one,” Robert said, untangling himself from Aaron so his boyfriend could pick the empty cup up.
“It’s the first morning I came in here, right?” Aaron said, studying the little cartoon scene.
Robert had drawn himself behind the counter, his eyes like hearts as Aaron walked in the door of The Grind for the first time. He’d gone as far as drawing a halo of hearts around the little cartoon Aaron, and his boyfriend laughed as he took in the little scene Robert had sketched out.
“This is so cute, Robert.”
“Turn it around,” Robert commanded softly.
Aaron’s breath hitched in his throat as he read the words written on the back of the cup, the neat purple lettering Robert had sketched out with shaking hands that morning.
Will you marry me?
“Now you turn around,” Robert said, easing himself down onto one knee as Aaron turned around, tears rolling down his cheeks as he put all the pieces together, and realised what was happening.
“Robert, I -“ Aaron tried to speak, clutching the empty coffee mug for dear life.
“I’ve got a whole speech planned,” Robert said softly. “Let me say what I want to say, yeah?”
Aaron nodded, wiping at his teary cheeks with the sleeve of his jumper, letting out a nervous little laugh.
“A year ago, you walked into this coffee shop, and ordered a double shot vanilla latte, and you changed my life,” Robert began, holding out the ring box. It was simple ring, a matching one in his jacket, a simple platinum band with a circle of black onyx in the middle. “I want to spend the rest of my life loving you, Aaron. Will you marry me?”
“Yes!” Aaron nodded furiously, a smile spreading across his entire face. “God, yes - of course I will, Robert.”
Robert couldn’t help but scramble to his feet, pulling the ring out of the box, sliding it onto Aaron’s finger. It was a little big, but it was as perfect fit as he could have gotten with guesswork - and well, it looked good on Aaron’s left hand.
Robert could imagine seeing the ring he’d bought his boyfriend sitting there for the rest of their lives.
“You soppy romantic idiot,” Aaron shook his head, laughing through his tears as he threw his arms around Robert’s neck, hugging him close. “I love you so much, you know that?”
Robert returned the smile, pressing a kiss to Aaron’s teary cheeks, his nose, his lips. “I love you too - fiancé.”
Aaron had a look of absolute wonder on his face as he replied. “I like the sound of that, you know.”
Robert did too.
At 8:05am on a perfectly normal, nondescript Tuesday morning, Aaron came into The Grind and changed their lives forever -
and a year later, well, Robert changed it all over again.