“John, my dearest friend, stop fretting over your tie, you look perfectly respectable,” sounded William Laurence’s voice, tinny over the Skype connection. John Granby glared at the cracked screen of his phone and continued to try and pull his tie straight. This was more challenging one handed than he had initially thought. He tugged it loose again, wishing his prosthetic was more mobile and cursing the doctors that had decided to amputate once more.
“He said to dress up nicely, Laurence,” Granby responded, frustration evident in his tone, “How am I supposed to dress nicely if I can’t even tie a damned simple Windsor?” Laurence said nothing, but Granby knew it was taking his friend everything to not comment on how this specific tie was not supposed to go with that specific jacket for just a simple second date. Problem was, Granby genuinely liked the guy he was going on a date with and while he generally couldn’t give a rat’s arse about tie-conventions, this was the one time he could have used Laurence’s advice. He’d been quiet but sharp witted and apparently an old Eton classmate of Laurence, which meant Granby hadn’t had to explain how... Well, Laurence Laurence tended to be. It also meant that his date was much fancier than Granby could ever aspire to be.
Granby and Laurence had met in the air force years ago and despite a rocky start had launched a steady friendship. Well, for a good three to four years Granby had harboured something of a persisting crush on the man and who could blame him? Objectively, Laurence was a handsome man, and Granby was a hopeless homosexual. It took Laurence a long while before he had caught on to Granby’s feelings- although Granby had blurted it out after Laurence had tried to set him up with a Brazilian exchange student. He had taken it all in typical Laurence fashion, which is to say incredibly awkward and with apologies and stumbling. It had hurt, to learn that Laurence merely looked upon him with the affection of a rather close friendship, but eventually Granby had learned to live with it and had even begun dating once more.
Which is what brought him to this situation, of him trying his best to look presentable. With a groan, he chucked the tie down on the ground, much to the delight of his cocker-spaniel Iskierka. She pounced on the tie with a low growl, undoubtedly dragging it off to her hidden prize stack behind the couch. Granby cleared it out once every month, when Emily Roland from next door was walking her. He was halfway through the process of buttoning down the stiff dress shirt he had picked out for the occasion when Laurence cleared his throat. Startled, Granby looked up to find Laurence with his eyes averted upwards as if by looking upon Granby he would somehow harm his modesty.
“I dare say,” Laurence said, still not looking up and with his cheeks slightly coloured, “By the ways you described your previous rendezvous, mister Little has not changed much from when I briefly knew him and is still a respectable gentleman. If he truly is interested in you, which he sounded much to be, he shall not mind whatever it is you wear, he will be glad you have sho- Temeraire! Get off the bookshel-“
Granby rolled his eyes when Laurence’s thoughtful monologue was cut off by his cat knocking a book clean off again and disconnected the Skype call. He stared at Iskierka, who had returned and had taken position on the suit jacket he had laid out on the bed. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth, and she just stared at him as if trying to say ‘this outfit was not the nicest anyway. Wear that green button down, it looks striking with your eyes.’ Granby threw his hands up in the air.
“Fine, fine, have it your way,” he told the dog, opening the closet and pulling the button down out, “But if we get kicked out of this place because I’m not dressed well enough, it is your fault.”
Iskierka just responded with a delighted bark.
Two and a half hours later found him running down the street to where Little had asked to meet him. He huffed a little when he arrived, leaning against the wall of the establishment. He looked up, realizing it was decidedly not the type of arrangement he had expected; no French waiters or crystal chandeliers, for example. Instead he saw some neon flashing signs, a rather obnoxiously dressed bouncer, a pink carpet laid out and Augustine Little dressed as a pirate.
Why was Augustine Little dressed as a pirate?
Just as that thought had formed in Granby’s brain and his face had taken on a rather confused expression, Little spotted him. A small but warm smile made the man’s eyes light up as he made his way over.
“Hello John,” he said, resting a hand on John’s good shoulder, “You made it after all.” He leaned in to press a chaste kiss to Granby’s lips, before pulling back with a more serious expression on his face. “Where on earth is your costume, though?” he asked, looking him up and down. That did absolutely nothing to clear Granby’s confusion.
“Costume?” Granby repeated, still half occupied by that simple kiss, “Uh- right, costume.” He blinked a little bit, looking around him and catching sight of a poster on the doors of the club. He groaned, dropping his head so it was resting on Little’s shoulder. “You said to dress fancy,” Granby accused, “So I was trying to put my good suit on, but the tie wouldn’t work with me.” Little let out an audible laugh, tilting Granby’s chin up with a plastic hook around his left hand.
“No, no, it’s a fancy-dress party,” Little said, amusement still evident in his voice, “One of my co-workers, Chenery, I’ve told you about Chenery, is throwing it to celebrate his birthday. I’ve told you about Chenery. Our dogs are siblings.” Now Granby just felt like an idiot.
“I made a mess of this,” he said, moving to run his missing hand through his hair but quickly correcting himself and using the other one, “I spent the past four hours fretting over not being able to tie my tie, and picking out the wrong suit. I even called Laurence, and then Iskierka sat on the jacket, and I could have just… Dressed up in something silly.” He gestured to Little’s get up, quickly adding: “Not that I think you look silly! Quite the opposite. I’m just sorry, I suppose.” Little shook his head and scratched his nose for a moment.
“Nonsense,” he decided, in that quiet but stern no-nonsense way of his, “Here, have this.” He took off his large feathered hat, putting it on Granby’s head. He then took out an eyeliner pencil – “Cost me a quid at poundland, sorry if you get a rash.” – and proceeded to roughly draw stubble and some fake scars on Granby’s face. When his face had been sufficiently used as a canvas, Little decided he needed one final touch.
“Close your eyes,” he said, a glint of mischief sparkling in his eyes. Granby wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – or if he could trust that glint. He hadn’t seen that in his date yet, but who knew what else could be behind Little’s quiet exterior. Granby was rather keen to find out and so he closed his eyes, eyebrows still knitted together. He startled when he felt Little’s calloused fingertips on the stump of his arm, and then something a little uncomfortable, sharp and sweaty slip over it.
“What in the devil-“ he began, at the same time as Little said: “You may open your eyes.” The first thing he saw was Little, still with that same twinkle as before, and when he lifted his arm, the plastic hook that previously endowered Little’s left hand. He was quiet for a beat, before bursting out in laughter and drawing Little in close for a less chaste kiss.
Out of breath, he pulled back and threw his head back in laughter. Lord was he relieved. When he had left the house, Iskierka barking at him not to go from the Rolands’ window next door, he had genuinely thought this would be the last time Little would ever ask him out, or that he would get them kicked out of some Michelin star restaurant. Instead, he now looked like a character from some second-rate Pirates of the Caribbean knock off and was standing outside of what looked to be a chaotic fancy-dress party.
It was going to be a good night, Granby thought, initial embarrassment at misunderstanding already having vanished, as he looped his arm through Little’s and motioned for his date to lead the way.