Could the Romantics be any more depressing? Please, don’t take it the wrong way, Dan absolutely loved them – they were all about nature, all-consuming love and having an existential crisis at 25 – all of these he could relate to. And because so many factors had contributed to the brilliance of the Romantic authors, depression and despair were, thankfully, only a small part. Depression and despair were what he was going through at the moment, though.
Dan had barely started the course on Romantic Literature and was already knee deep in philosophical theories, politics and, surprisingly, medieval texts. He enjoyed the type of thinking the movement promoted and could easily understand the reasoning behind it, but getting to the core of all the influences was a pain in the arse. He understood that his professor was a genius, who had spent years perfecting the course and organizing the essential information, but was all of that essential?
The boy was currently occupying his favourite table at the Two Evils Café or rather his books, notes and laptop were occupying the table, while Dan was leaning back in the old armchair. He had taken off his glasses and closed his eyes – simply listening to the caffeinated beat of his heart, reminding himself that he had done this before and convincing himself that he loved the process.
He was blindly reaching for the empty coffee mug across the cluttered table when he heard someone clearing their throat right in front of him. He opened one curious eye and his gaze landed straight on a well-worn black apron. He blinked both eyes open and sat up. The black apron was tied around the slim form of his favourite barista who was now smiling down at him with amusement.
“You okay, mate?”, he asked “You seem a bit tired”, a trace of concern in the corner of his mouth.
“No… uh yeah, I’m fine”, it took Dan a second to process the question and another to answer properly. He was too focused on the face in front of him – the small smile, the warm expressive eyes, the way the eyebrows had raised at his answer – he wasn't his favourite for nothing.
“Mhm, right. You've been sitting like this for, like 10 minutes. I figured I should bring you something to revive you.” Only now did Dan notice the steaming mug and small plate the other boy was carrying.
“But, Kyle, you know I can’t pay for this”, an uncomfortable feeling was blooming in Dan’s stomach. He was on a strict budget which allowed him one overpriced coffee every two days. A small indulgence that he still felt a tag guilty about, but he worked hard to be able to afford it.
“Don’t worry mate! I've got Charlie’s blessing. Just come and sing at the next open-mic night.”, Kyle explained while setting the mug and plate down on one of the books. Before Dan could say anything, Kyle had winked and left in the direction of the counter.
God bless Charlie! Dan was good friends with him and Bryan, the two owners, due to being one of the first ever customers the two of them had had. They knew eachother from when the coffee shop was still a coffee van and Charlie and Bryan were working hard to save up for a space where they could open a “real café”. Dan had become a willing test subject for their experiments and they had claimed him as their own personal future musical guest. Unexpected, given that both guys had a way with music while Dan had only played them a couple of old low-quality demos which showcased absolutely no talent in his opinion. But they had insisted that the owners couldn’t preform at their own place all the time because people would stop coming on account of said owners being self-centered pricks. The compromise was that Dan would come and sing every now and then only if Charlie would come up with him.
Now that Kyle had placed a cup of green tea and a cinnamon roll on the cluttered table Dan was left with no choice but to accept the sustenance and to come and sing at the café. He was acutely aware that the green tea was Kyle’s way of telling him to “relax a bit” (the alternative would have been Dan’s go-to double espresso drowned in milk and hazelnut syrup). The cinnamon roll was Kyle’s little nudge that Dan usually needed in order to get on stage. He knew that the rolls were Dan’s favourite because he always got himself one after his set. The pre-show nerves would keep his stomach empty and only after he was off stage he would feel hunger. After recent gigs at the café he noticed that a plate would wait for him near his chair by the counter.
This whole sort-of-bribery process had started about a year ago. And it was mostly Charlie’s doing, Bryan was too nice for such low tactics. Since Dan often promised but rarely came to the performance evenings Charlie had started looking into ways to guilt him into coming. To begin with, Charlie knew that Dan would never refuse a hot beverage and even less so when Kyle was the one offering it to him.
The only reason why Charlie knew how impossible it was for Dan to refuse to anything offered by Kyle was Dan’s own roommate – Ralph. In an absolute dick-move he had spilled the beans about Dan’s embarrassing crush to god knows how many of their mates under the strong influence of several types of alcohol. Generally, Ralph was not a dick and was good with secrets and was truly a great friend and Dan was grateful that he had stumbled that first day in his dorm room. The two had immediately clicked – they shared similar sense of humour and taste of music and films. Unlike Dan, Ralph was much more relaxed and chill and unlike Dan when drunk, Ralph had no filter whatsoever. As a result, Charlie, among other people, now knew about Dan’s crush and was using it to coerce Dan into performing in front of strangers.
Thankfully, Kyle didn't suspect anything, and how could he? Dan was always calm and collected during interactions even if his eyes would become brighter and his cheeks a tad warmer. More importantly, Kyle was never to suspect anything. The guy was in a relationship. With a girl. And she was lovely. Whenever Dan would run into her at the café she was always nice and sweet. Which only served to show Dan that he and his sullen personality had no chance. He knew this just like he knew that it was about time he stopped falling for straight guys.
The main reason for Dan’s ongoing crush to still exist was the fact that in the few short months since Kyle had appeared at Two Evils, he had successfully become good friends with the two owners and their small group of friends, a group which included both Dan and Ralph. This translated into random after-hours outings and even more random jam sessions at someone’s flat, or, on occasion at the café during slow days. That’s how Kyle found out that everyone who’s even remotely involved with this place was somehow musically gifted.
During one such jam session at Woody’s place, aka the other resident barista, he met Dan. He’d heard people mention the man but he’d never actually met him. Now that they were finally face to face Kyle didn't know what to say. How come no one had told him that Dan was hot but in a dorky way? Kyle was stunned into silence and openly staring into the bluest eyes he had ever seen on a person. It took him a second to come out of his trance and nod at the introduction Bryan was making, but instead of saying the polite “Nice to meet you”, he just parroted Bryan’s words from ten seconds ago when Dan first entered the room: “Mate, you gotta sing us something”. Weirdly enough, Dan looked him straight in the eye, as if measuring him up, and a blink later he complied with a simple “Yeah, sure”.
Dan sang a pretty cover of “I just died in your arms tonight” with Charlie strumming on the guitar and Woody tapping out a beat. They looked like they’d done this a million times before with Charlie allowing for Dan to play around with a riff and Woody mixing clapping, stomping and snapping for the tune.
This easy performance convinced Kyle that he had to befriend the man. And because friends take care of eachother he made sure to memorize Dan’s coffee order and even succeeded in convincing him to try Kyle’s green tea blends. Things went as far as Dan admitting that the tea calmed him down and that he wasn't opposed to drinking it instead of coffee. Which was great, because people who liked Kyle’s tea automatically entered his good books.
But when it came to Dan that wasn't really an achievement. Kyle was intrigued even before that first meeting. He’d heard only praise for Dan’s kindness and hidden talents, not to mention his brains, and naturally, wanted to see for himself if the rumors were true. In fact, the rumors were nothing compared to the man.
After that first song Kyle had sent a compliment or two Dan’s way that were quickly dismissed. Dan had, instead, steered the conversation towards this new psychological thriller type of TV show with Lovecraftian elements. Kyle had only a vague idea what the other man was on about but Dan was so engaging and animated and clearly familiar with the subject that in the next couple of hours the two of them talked about their favourite TV shows and tropes, the beauty of bad shows and the possibilities of cable TV. While that conversation was happening, the people round them were, in the most general sense of the word, fucking around with their musical instruments. From time to time one of the boys would join in for a song or just a tune. Kyle got to hear more of Dan’s singing and he himself borrowed Charlie’s small keyboard. Time after time that evening, they kept ending up next to eachother, chatting away.
After that first long conversation Dan’s visits to the café became more frequent. He was still on a budget so he couldn't go that often but everyone was happy to have him even if it was just for a quick “Hey, how’s it going!”. His official reason for the longer visits was the non-university environment that he needed in order to focus on uni work. The unofficial reason was the unrestricted access to Kyle’s smile and, in Dan’s opinion, completely made-up stories, and for when Kyle wasn't at work – Woody’s unadulterated enthusiasm for the café’s potted plants and his sound advice. Even with the two guys as distractions Dan was quite productive. The boys knew that once he got back to his table he was not to be disturbed. Unless he looked desperate and/or lost. Then someone was to intervene and distract him somehow.
That afternoon Kyle had noticed Dan’s spirits were low and had risked approaching the table. He didn't really know what Dan was working on, only that it looked like a lot of information that had to be processed. The day was slow and no customers demanded his immediate attention so he grabbed a couple of tin tea boxes and set out measuring and mixing spoonfuls of their contents. When the tea was ready he grabbed a cinnamon roll from the basket on the counter. He stole a glance at Dan, but the boy still hadn't snapped out of it. With the roll in one hand and the tea in the other he went to check on Dan. Usually, Dan felt when someone was near him but this time he didn't stir. Kyle waited in front of him and took his time simply looking at the boy. There was something magnetic about him even when he was leaning back in that chair with his eyes closed and uneasiness etched in his brow, blindly reaching for the empty coffee mug.
Kyle cleared his throat and, like a cartoon character, Dan peaked with one eye, only to see his apron-covered crotch. When both blue eyes snapped open, he looked up, his features tensed for a fraction of the second only to then relax again. A warmth settled in Kyle’s stomach and he couldn't help but smile at him.
Once he was happy with Dan’s mood, he came back to the counter only to get lost in his thoughts. He was trying to convince himself that he was in no way infatuated with the boy. He was in a relationship already, and a happy one at that. He and Emma had been together for more than a year now and this thing he was feeling for Dan was nothing but a temporary crush. He was going to get over it pretty soon. He was certain. It wasn't like Dan was special or something. He was just this guy he barely knew. He was not going to change anything in Kyle’s romantic life. No way!