There is a boy with mocha hair and caramel eyes that turn slightly mahogany in the sun who has a dimple in his pale cheek and has long fingers that shake slightly whenever he talks or even when he reaches for things or writes. There is a boy with dark circles under his eyes who comes to school sometimes with curly hair and wears baggy sweaters that he constantly pulls over his hands like he’s nervous about something.
Phil didn’t know what he was nervous about.
There is a boy who misses school for days and comes back with eyes the colour of charcoal and the absence of a smile, who doesn’t talk for three days until he is forced to by teachers who are worried about him. He always says the same thing, with an unconvincing grin and a dismissal in the form of a shaky hand: “Im okay.”
For some reason, this is enough for the teachers, but Phil doesn’t buy one bit of it. Perhaps he knows from personal experience from year 7 when his best friend had been involved in a car crash and passed away too early, or maybe it was just common knowledge that smiles should not be that forced and that happy people do not have anything to hide under baggy sleeves.
Maybe this is the reason that Phil finds himself taking out a piece of paper and his favourite blue pen, scrawling down word after word before folding it into a perfect square.
’Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are the colour of cinnamon on Christmas day? You are so very beautiful and I hope you are having a wonderful day, my friend. x’
He knows the brown haired boy by the name of Dan Howell, and asks the school’s office for the number of Dan’s locker, stating that Dan had asked him to get a book he had forgotten out of it, but forgot to tell him the locker number. Surprisingly, it worked, and he found locker 2156 fairly easily.
As it was after school, and nearly everyone was gone, Phil had no trouble slipping the paper into Dan’s locker. He smiled proudly at himself as he walked away, praying that this would make that dimple come to life and those brown eyes brighten just a little bit, because Dan really was beautiful but he was sad and no one deserved to force a smile upon their face.
“Why are you so cheerful?” Phil’s mum asks when she calls him down for dinner, reaching over to rustle her hand through his black fringe. He leans into her touch, not understanding why kids his age - seventeen - always seemed so regretful to show their mother some affection.
“Nothing much,” Phil answered despite his obvious glowing attitude. He couldn’t wait to see Dan’s reaction the next morning. “I just really hope I can help this person. They’re sad and I don’t know why so I left a nice note for them in their locker.”
“That’s very nice of you, Phil. I’ve raised you well.” His mum brought him into a large hug, kissing his forehead in a way that made him feel proud of himself.
He couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
Except, Dan wasn’t there the next day. Or the next. Or the day after that.
Phil felt unease growing in the pit of his stomach (along with disappointment) when a full week passed and Dan was no where to be found. He had even resorted to asking his friends - “Do you know where that Dan Howell kid is?” - but the only response he was met with was blank stares and Chris asking who the hell that was.
It was Wednesday, a week and two days after Dan Howell had mysteriously disappeared, that he had returned, his face fatigued and hair curly. Phil watched as he tried to open his locker, messing up the combination three times because his fingers were shaking worse than usual that day, and as the door swung open, a slip of paper fell onto one of Dan’s black shoes.
Phil resorted to staring out of the corner of his eye then, not wanting to give up his identity just yet while he pretended to listen in on the conversation his friends were having.
Dan stared at the slip of paper for a few moments too long to be normal, and then he bent down slowly to pick it up with slender fingers, unravelling it with a little too much difficulty. Phil watched as his eyes scanned the paper before lifting up to then scan the room without so much as a smile or any change in face. Then, without seeing anyone lingering by his locker oddly, he crammed the note into his jumper and sauntered away, leaving Phil feeling disappointed but adamant.
Because this only fueled him to write more notes.
It became sort of an addiction after that, writing little notes to be left in Dan’s locker to find in the morning. Notes telling him how beautiful he was, or sometimes just dumb little drawings of Pokémon and lions to make him crack a smile, but nothing ever worked.
He still tugged sweatshirts over his hands and dropped his pens because he was trembling so badly, and his eyes were always aimed at the ground and Phil hadn’t heard him talk since he had gotten back. There is a rumour going around that Dan was in the hospital, and Phil had the sinking feeling that he knew exactly why.
Maybe it was quite stalkerish, but Phil couldn’t stop looking at this beautiful boy, so much that he noticed when Dan had accidentally left his book in the history classroom.
Glancing around the room to make sure no one was observing him, Phil picked the book up (the title read Impulse by Ellen Hopkins and he reminded himself to read it later because books tell a lot about a person). He then turned to the marked page and slid the daily note inside of it before hastily putting it back on the desk and leaving.
’Hello again, friend. I’ve noticed you have been quite sad lately. I hope you’re doing alright. Here are some tips to help if you’re feeling particularly down in the dumps:
1. Pet some cats (or dogs)
2. Write a story
3. Draw an angry picture
4. Get a bath bomb and have a relaxing bath
5. Sit someone down and talk about it. It’s not good to bottle things up, you know.
If you ever think you are a danger to yourself, I promise everything will be okay and as I’m in most of your classes, if you ever feel especially bad in school then say ‘watermelon’ and I will be there for you. Stay safe, friend. x’
It was the most he had written in a note, and maybe it was a bit too personal, but Phil was getting desperate as it seemed Dan was getting worse instead of better.
He was paler, his cheekbones were beginning to show, and his eyes were completely void of emotion. If no one was going to help this poor boy, then Phil was, because he was showing some obvious signs of depression.
Phil hadn’t heard Dan talk for about a month and nobody, not even the teachers, cared to bother with him anymore. That was why he was so surprised when he saw Dan’s lips move out of the corner of his eye while sitting in their history class.
He wasn’t sure at first, so he turned his head to look fully at the brunette sitting diagonally across from him, watching as Dan ran his fingernails through curly brown hair and then bringing them down to scratch at the inside of his wrists. Dan took a deep breath before he muttered the thing again, slightly louder this time.
Phil’s mouth opened slightly in shock at the recognition of what he was saying, before he cleared his throat loudly and raised his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dan’s head shoot up to stare at him.
“Miss?” Phil asked politely when the teacher called on him. “Dan feels like he’s going to throw up. Is it alright if I walk him to the nurse?”
The teacher nodded dismissively, allowing Phil to make his way over to Dan and carefully help him out of his seat, hiding the relief he felt when Dan just followed through with the lie. He really must be having a bad day, then.
Instead of going to the nurse, Phil led him out of the school completely and to his car so they could talk without interruption. Phil helped him into the back seat, closing the door behind them, and when he turned to look into those mahogany eyes, he wasn’t surprised to find tears welling up.
“It’s okay to cry,” Phil said simply, giving him a timid smile and holding open arms, inviting the slightly younger boy in for a hug. “You’re only human, you know.”
And then Dan was lunging forward, sobbing into Phil’s chest in a way that made Phil’s heart ache. He began to rub circles into Dan’s back, whispering encouragements into his ear about how amazing he was and how strong he was for asking for help. Dan smelled of strawberries and flowers and it was nice and made Phil bury his face into his hair. Maybe he had developed some sort of crush of Dan Howell after nearly a month of trying to make him find the joy in life again.
Finally, Dan’s tears were dried up and he was hiccuping when he backed away from Phil, rubbing his eyes furiously like he was ashamed of his outburst. “I’m sorry,” was the first thing out of his mouth, and Phil didn’t have time to tell him there was nothing to be sorry about when he went on, “I’m usually not this lame. I just- I’m having a bad day, I guess.”
Phil grinned at him, brushing a stray hair out of his eyes. “No worries, Dan. I told you I would be here for you and here I am!”
Dan chuckled, but it was a bit wobbly and he wouldn’t meet Phil’s eyes. “I’ll have to admit,” he said, and Phil thought his voice was beautiful just like the rest of him, “I never would have guessed it was you leaving those notes. You seem too cool to want to associate yourself with a depressed kid like me.”
“I think you’re cool, Dan.”
His lips rose into the slightest of smiles, making the dimple in his cheek grow, along with the fluttering in Phil’s chest. “Thank you for this. I thought they were a joke at first, and it made me sad thinking someone was just messing with me. But then they kept coming and I tried to believe that someone actually cared for me. And then the one where you gave me the emergency word… That made me realize for sure that I wasn’t alone and it- it meant so fucking much.”
He had started tearing up again, little crystals in the corner of his eyes, so Phil leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Of course I care about you, Dan. From the very first note, all I wanted was to see you smile.” Phil hesitated, contemplating whether he was going to admit it or not. Go big or go home though, right? “Honestly, I like you. I like you a lot. I think you’re absolutely fucking gorgeous and I love your curly hair and the way your eyes turn slightly red in the sun and the way you bite your lips while you concentrate. And I love the little dimple you get when you smile. I like you a lot, Dan, and I would try nearly everything to make you happy.”
Dan’s hands were shaking again as he locked eyes with the older male, before his trembling fingers were reaching for Phil.
Then they were kissing, and it was a bit awkward because they were two very tall guys in the back of a very small car, but Phil was happy and he hoped that Dan would realize he was not alone in the world.
There is a boy with mocha hair and caramel eyes that turn slightly mahogany in the sun who has a dimple in his pale cheek and has long fingers that are steady whenever he talks or even when he reaches for things or writes. There is a boy with bright eyes full of energy who never comes to university without straightened hair and wears short sleeves that show off the tanned skin of his arms and the stories he had once written on them when he was only seventeen.
There is a boy who never misses uni and comes out of class with eyes the colour of hot chocolate on a cold day and the biggest smile anyone’s ever seen, who doesn’t stop talking even when the teachers tell him to. When someone asks him how he’s doing, he always says the same thing, with a loud laugh and a dismissal in the form of a grin: “Im great.”
And Phil believes it.