The guy in line in front of him is beautiful. Make-you-lose-your-train-of-thought beautiful. Patrick can see his reflection in the mirror behind the counter, all dark hair and eyebrows and high cheekbones. His eyes flick between the mirror and the broad shoulders inches from his own face. Patrick wonders what his voice sounds like.
He lets out a sigh. Even his thoughts sound pathetic. What if he could just get his shit together and talk to cute guys? (Well, he isn’t sure he would talk to this specific guy, even if he had mustered up the courage to ask men out yet. This guy might actually be too hot to speak to).
Lost in his thoughts, he doesn’t realize the line has moved until he hears the man order his coffee.
“Caramel macchiato, skim.”
God, his voice is lovely too. All deep and soothing and somehow familiar? Patrick wonders idly if he’s met the man before, but no. He wouldn’t forget that face. He’s pretty sure he’s never going to forget that face. How does someone just look like that?
He orders his green tea, still sneaking glances at the stranger, who has moved to the other end of the counter to wait for his coffee.
Patrick grabs his cup from the cashier and shuffles over to the condiment stand. He busies himself with the honey and lemon, loading up his tea in the hopes of warding off the tickle in his throat that has been nagging him for a week. He doesn’t notice that the dark-haired man has moved from the counter until he’s standing next to him again.
Patrick’s heart rate kicks up. He should just say…something to this guy. Anything. The most inane small talk. He needs to practice talking to guys, or the closest he’s going to get to dating is going to be calling in to that phone sex operator for the rest of his life. And as much as he loves talking to Dana (that’s the name he uses for work, anyway), he’s getting desperate to make a real, human connection again.
“That uh, that smells pretty good. What’re you drinking?”
He’s lying. It smells disgusting, sickly sweet like no one over the age of twelve should enjoy. But surely a white lie to start a conversation is better than the eight dick pics he’d gotten in the hour he used Grindr before promptly deleting the app.
Plus, it’s a step up from cartoonish drooling-and-staring, the most he’s managed to direct at cute guys so far. He’s going to count it as a win.
“Mmmm. It’s a caramel macchiato,” he says without looking up. “With some cocoa powder,” he adds as he sprinkles a dusting out of a shaker.
Patrick is fascinated by the man’s hands. His fingers are long and adorned with four big, silver rings. He watches the light catch them for a few seconds.
“And you’re putting in…more sweetener?” asks Patrick with a smirk, watching the man drop two Splendas into the coffee.
See? He could do this. It was just mindless chatter.
“Mhm,” nods the guy, still not having made eye contact.
He’s mesmerized. Patrick wants to keep talking to him, but the guy plainly isn’t interested. He gives it one more shot.
“So, do you like all your drinks to taste like a pre-teen made them, or is it just the coffee?”
Shit . He may have just tipped past “cute flirting” into sounding like an ass.
“Well, aren’t you charming,” the man says with a grimace. Great. Now he makes eye contact.
Damn . He wishes he hadn’t messed it up. Those eyes .
Patrick tries for a smile. It doesn’t salvage the situation.
“Well, kindest regards to you,” says the stranger, words dripping with sarcasm. He picks up his coffee and takes a step to leave.
The voice finally clicks.
Oh . Oh my god.
Patrick’s hand jolts from the shock, knocking over his lidless cup, hot liquid spilling all over his hands and onto —
“What the FUCK?”
The guy’s sweater is drenched now, the grey-and-white fabric dark where the tea has instantly soaked in.
“Shit, I’m sorry!” says Patrick frantically, grabbing napkins and shoving them at him.
After a few seconds of dabbing, the guy seems to decide it isn’t worth the effort and strips the sweater off. Patrick is rendered momentarily speechless at the sight of the tight white t-shirt pulled across his shoulders and chest, and the exposed arms. He shakes his head like a dog shaking off water, forcing himself to focus.
“I really am sorry,” he says, and clears his throat. “At least it was just tea?”
“No, it was tea with honey , and do you know how much that sweater cost?”
“Well, judging by the steam coming out of your ears, I’m gonna guess a lot?”
The man looks Patrick up and down. It sends a shiver down his spine.
“More than your entire outfit. A lot more.”
Patrick puts both his hands in the air, palms out, in what he hopes is a non-threatening gesture.
“I’ll pay for the dry cleaning.”
“Damn right you will,” the man says, but he sounds mollified.
“And hey, how about you let me buy you a drink?” Patrick says. It comes out a lot braver than he feels. But what does he have to lose? “I won’t even make fun of you if you order something with watermelon vodka in it.”
The man’s eyes are sparkling now; a dimple has appeared on his left cheek. And boy, does Patrick like that . This guy isn’t just hot, he’s cute as shit.
“Oh, well, you don’t have to do that ,” he says, voice quieter now.
“No, I’d like to,” Patrick says. He rakes his eyes over the man’s body. “Consider it an apology for getting you…sticky.”
He can hardly believe what just came out of his mouth. He somehow manages to keep his face neutral.
The guy gives Patrick another once over, and the corners of his mouth quirk up. There are deep dimples on both sides.
“Oh, ok,” he says.
Hell yes .
Patrick grabs his wallet from his pocket and pulls out a business card.
“Here’s my number. Text me? I’m Patrick, by the way,” he says, extending his hand.
Grabbing the card with his left, the other man offers his right hand to shake Patrick’s.
Drinks are going well. Really well. It’s the best date Patrick has ever been on. Which isn’t a high bar, to be fair. But if it were, it would still be the best date.
David, as it turns out, has equally bad taste in alcohol as he does in coffee. He orders a polar bear shot and a glass of knock-off champagne ( zhampagne , he calls it). He looks Patrick dead in the eye as he orders, daring him to say something. It’s unbearably charming.
Patrick is learning very quickly that everything David does is unbearably charming.
They’re sitting in raised chairs the corner of the bar, facing each other. They’re knees are touching, and Patrick had even braved resting his hand on David’s thigh for a few seconds. He can’t stop smiling.
They talk about a little of everything, their favorite movies (David really likes romcoms, it seems), favorite books (both of them love nonfiction, and Patrick tucks that away for later. He hopes there’s a later), and where they grew up (David is from Toronto, a far cry from the small New Brunswick suburb Patrick spent most of his life in). At one point, David lifts his foot and rests it on the bottom bar of Patrick’s chair, and now his leg is slotted between Patrick’s knees, and Patrick thinks he could die like this and be happy. David smirks when Patrick puts a hand on his knee again, but says nothing. This time, Patrick keeps it there.
It’s going so well that Patrick has almost forgotten that David moonlights as Dana, the sultry-voiced sex worker he’s been calling regularly for the past few months. That is until —
“So, your business card says you’re a realtor. That sounds thrilling.”
His adrenaline spikes. Talking about jobs feels dangerous. They’re on an uneven playing field, and Patrick has been avoiding leveling it.
Just keep it cool , he thinks.
“Uh, yeah. I mean no, that’s just the office I work in. I handle a lot of the paperwork. Writing lease agreements, incorporation papers, that kind of stuff. How...how about you?”
Fuck . It had slipped out automatically.
“Oh. Um, I work at a call center. Thrilling work, but I can do it from home. And, uh, I’m thinking about starting a business, there’s a storefront for rent that I—“
The pressure is too much.
“I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore.”
He jerks his hand off of David’s leg.
“What?” David’s face goes from startled to crestfallen in a matter of seconds. It makes Patrick ache.
“No, not this. Umm,” he huffs out a nervous laugh. “I recognized you, earlier. At the coffee shop.”
“I um...we’ve spoken before.”
David looks confused.
“On the phone.”
“Wha—oh.” His eyes go wide for an instant before his entire face slides smoothly back to the stoic mask Patrick had seen at the coffee shop that morning.
“So you were just talking to me because...”
“No, no! I was trying to talk to you because, well...you look like this,” he says, gesturing vaguely at David’s everything. Smooth . “But then I recognized your voice...and that’s when I ruined your sweater.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Okay, but you do know it’s just a job, right? That none of what I say is actually—“
“I know that!” says Patrick, and it comes out more frantic than he means it to. “I really wasn’t trying to like, live out a weird fantasy or anything. I don’t care...Anyway, I’m really sorry, again. For everything. I’ll just settle up the tab and head out. Sorry for ruining your day.”
He gets up, clumsily extracting himself from the tangle of limbs they’d been sitting in. He heads toward the first bartender he sees, desperate not to spend another second drowning in humiliation.
“Hang on. You could stay...if you wanted.”
“What?” Patrick whips around so fast he’s surprised he doesn’t tweak his neck. David hasn’t turned in his seat. All Patrick can see is the back of his head. He steps around to look at him, trying to dial down the hope he’s sure is plastered on his face.
“Listen. Here’s the thing,” says David, and takes a big breath. “Telling people about my job? That’s usually the shittiest thing about dating. I’m not embarrassed by what I do but people don’t usually…
“So if we’re already past that hurdle, and if you’re as nice as you seem, I think it’s probably worth it to at least finish our drinks.”
Patrick is smiling so hard that his face hurts a little. He doesn’t care. He sits back down.
David’s mouth is twisted into a smile he’s trying to hold back.
Patrick is so happy .
“So, you were saying something about a storefront for rent?”