Chapter 1: first time feeling.
"How did you two meet?"
"It just kind of happened."
When confronted with the question as to how he and Dan Smyers met each other, Shay Mooney's reply would always be the same, an answer that was as rehearsed as it was spontaneous. It was a truth that was based off of facts as well known to Shay as those printed in history textbooks, as if his chance meeting with the fellow dark-haired man was stamped, in each crystal clear, vibrant detail, on his brain with a burning hot iron. It was a day that he remembered as expertly as the lyrics to his songs; he could still feel the summer heat, sticky and damp, on his skin, could still hear his friend inviting him to the party in the lower middle-class section of Nashville that he had never before visited. He had almost declined; after all, it was the middle of June, and he would have rather remained on the faded couch in his own cheap apartment than be dragged to a stranger's house for a get-together that may or may not be enjoyable. On the other hand, the cliche movies that were playing on one of the few stations he could receive on the old television in the center of the room were beginning to grow tiresome, and with nothing better to do, Shay had eventually obliged, slipping on a more comfortable T-shirt from his already slim collection and waiting patiently for one of the few friends he had made while in Tennessee to arrive.
Upon entrance to the modest brick-faced home in a strangely quaint neighborhood, Shay was both perplexed and intrigued to find the tiny living room covered in an array of blankets and makeshift curtains strung haphazardly from a rusty wire dangling from the low ceiling. It was even warmer inside of the building than out, and beads of sweat were already forming on his forehead as Shay made his way into the crowded room, maneuvering awkwardly through unfamiliar faces and coming to standing in the corner. It was as his eyes grazed across the pale-painted walls that his focus came to rest on the tall figure standing near the kitchen, and although his vantage point was limited, over the tops of heads and above the swarms of cramped bodies, Shay could make out black hair paired with tan skin, muscular arms and hands gripping a half-full SOLO cup. Instantaneously and indescribably, everyone else seemed to fade out of view, morphing and blurring into irrelevant nothingness until no one existed besides Shay and this dark stranger, and whether he could feel the lingering stares on him or if the movement was governed by something entirely different, the stranger suddenly disappeared, and Shay released the breath he wasn't even aware he had been holding. There was something about the man that drew him in, although, that couldn't be possible. He didn't know him, didn't know his name or where he was from or even what he was doing at this party, but Shay's attention had been led to him so quickly and fiercely as if he had been a long-lost friend that he hadn't seen in ages. "Deep in thought?"
A husky voice broke Shay out of the trance-like state he had been lost in, and he turned to find that the stranger was now at his side, offering him a full cup of liquid that he could only assume to be alcoholic. Up close, he was even more intriguing, long eyelashes covering hazel eyes the color of mixed honey and chocolate, and there was an almost invisible indentation on his right cheek, as if it previously held a scar that had since disappeared. He had a sharp jawline, high cheekbones, and he was the most attractive human Shay had ever seen. "I saw you come in," the stranger continued when it was evident that Shay had no intention to, his tone light and with traces of amusement. "I know Nashville is no small town, but I don't remember seeing you around before." He paused, glancing at Shay out of the corner of his eye, delicate lips pulling up into the hint of a smirk. "My name is Dan, by the way. Dan Smyers."
Shay somehow found the nerve to speak, and the words sounded shaky and nervous even to his own ears. "I-I'm Shay," he stammered, internally scolding himself for making what could only be described as a completely idiot of himself. His normal air of self-confidence had evaporated like rain on scalding pavement, and the worst part was that he couldn't understand why. "Shay Mooney. My friend..." he struggled to remember the name of his best friend, shaking his head as if to clear his mind of the fog-like haze that had wrapped around his brain. "I think he's over there, by the door."
"Are you from here?" Dan was enjoying this, Shay realized, his eyes twinkling as he stared down at the shorter man, noticing his discomfort, finding humor in the way he couldn't form sentences or directly answer questions.
"No," Shay took a deep breath, trying to will control, any sort of control, back into his voice. "I mean, I live in Nashville, but I'm originally from Arkansas. What about you?"
Dan positioned himself on the windowsill, his back resting against the cool glass. There was something graceful about the posture, this beautiful stranger possessing the ability to make a normally trivial gesture so poised and fluid, effortless and precise. "I'm from Pennsylvania," Dan took a sip from his cup and continued to stare at Shay with a calculating expression. "I moved here a few months ago. This is my house, in case you weren't aware."
"What's with the bed sheets?" Shay asked without thinking, motioning one hand to point towards the fabric around them while the other still cradled the glass he hadn't touched since Dan had handed it to him moments earlier.
"Oh, those?" Dan laughed, a melodic sound that, to Shay's trained ears, was even more enchanting and wonderful than all of the pieces of music he himself had ever put together. "In case you hadn't noticed, the air conditioning is broken, and I had to find ways to circulate the air somehow. Sheets just seemed like the cheapest and most sensible option." He paused, opening his mouth and then closing it, as if he were debating whether or not he should speak what was on his mind. "You're sweating," he pointed out, and he slowly lifted a hand, wiping it against Shay's forehead. It was a simple touch, nothing more than a brush of skin against skin, but it was enough to send a jolt of electricity through both of their bodies, and after staring at Dan in shock for a moment Shay diverted his gaze, staring down at the carpet to avoid letting the other man see the blush that was rising on his already flushed cheeks."There's a tent that I've set up in my room with some of the left over blankets," he spoke carefully, and when Shay glanced back up, he was surprised to see hesitation and anxiety chasing each other across Dan's features. "It's probably cooler in there."
Shay nodded his head without feeling himself do so, and he allowed Dan to lead him away from the crowd, towards a small hallway lined with three wooden doors. The second opened into a large room with a medium-sized bed in the center, and around it lay four blankets, folded and positioned into what was, indeed, a makeshift tent. Dan crawled underneath first, lifting the flaps open until Shay was inside as well, closing it back behind him. The muffled sounds of music and voices were audible through the walls and the blankets, but Shay felt as if he had entered another universe, a world of white and strange tranquility.
"So," Dan began, folding his legs underneath of him and peering across at Shay with a guarded look. "What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a musician," Shay said quietly. "Singer-songwriter, professionally, as it says on the resumes I've handed to almost all of the record labels in the city."
Dan lifted his left hand to run it absently through already tousled hair, and Shay noticed that the tips were bruised and bloody, injuries that were immediately recognizable as trophies from countless nights spent strumming guitars, unending hours holding pen to paper resulting in calluses on his index finger. "That's interesting," Dan half-smiled, and in an action that was against all of his control, Shay's eyes landed on his lips, watching the way they curved and formed the words he was speaking, the way they moved so delicately yet fiercely, the intensity and passion behind the subject he was speaking about becoming evident. This man was as dedicated to the art of music as Shay himself was, and this combined with his dark looks and charming personality brought Shay in even deeper, spinning and falling until he became dizzy, wanting to know everything, every quality, every fiber of his being, every part of him. "we both have the same hobby, the same lifestyle, so to speak, and yet we've never come across one another until now. It's a shame, isn't it? Aspiring musicians, especially in a place as hardcore and as dangerous as Nashville, should stick together. We should stick together, don't you agree?" Dan repositioned, folding his arms out behind his head and crossing his legs, and Shay wondered if it was his overactive imagination, or if he truly had used this as an excuse to move closer to him. The space that separated them was crackling with tension, with electricity as palpable as those running through the telephone wires outside. "I'm sure you're a wonderful singer, if you don't mind me saying," Dan continued, and for the second time that night, Shay had to avert his gaze to hide the fiery red that was beginning to color his cheeks. "you have this...quality about you."
Shay wanted to tell Dan that he thought the same thing about him; after all, just his way of speaking was musical enough, containing a sort of deep tranquility, like cool waves crashing on a rocky shore, like glass coming into contact with snow, something edgy and warm yet peaceful and relaxing at the same time. "Thank you," he managed to whisper. "but I can't be that wonderful, seeing as I've been ignored by every producer and label in Nashville."
"I don't believe that," Dan said conversationally, as if his compliments were the most natural topic of conversation in the world, and truthfully, they may have been. Shay wasn't certain what was happening between the two men in that moment, whether it was simply a pair of musicians finding a common thread that they shared, or if it was as intimate as Shay was imagining, if there actually were hidden meanings shading Dan's words. "I mean, I haven't even heard you sing, and I can already tell that you have amazing talents." Dan stopped, distracting himself by picking at one of the many rings on his fingers, accessories that were as mysterious and eccentric as he was. "I'd love to hear you sometime, though, if that's alright. Maybe work on a couple of songs together?"
Shay nodded quickly without even the slightest hint of hesitation. "Of course, man. That sounds awesome."
Dan drifted off into silence, and Shay was content with this bout of quiet, intent on simply allowing himself to sit back and watch, his eyes drinking in this other man in a way he hadn't been able to do before. He watched the rippling of muscles in his chest as they moved underneath his tight-fitting shirt, the veins in the base of his arms, the silky black hair that occasionally fell across his face, begging to be pushed away by someone else's fingers. He watched the way he eased his broad shoulders back, his eyelids fluttering shut ever so gently, and if Shay hadn't of already been staring, he wouldn't have noticed the slight twitch of Dan's lips, as if he were fighting back a smile. "You're staring." He sat up then, suddenly, a movement that was so quick that, startled, Shay found himself toppling backwards. Dan hovered above him, an apologetic glint in his brown irises. "Sorry, man. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm just...I'm curious."
"Curious about what?" Shay's heart was beating rapidly in his chest, and he was afraid that, somehow, Dan would be able to hear it. It roared in his ears, causing them to ring dully, sound now being muffled yet amplified at the same time. "What are you curious about?" He repeated, as if rewording the question would allow him the response that it was currently lacking.
"Many things," Dan's words were shaky, and he chuckled, as if embarrassed or amused by his own actions. "but you, mostly. I'm curious about you, Shay Mooney." He was close enough that Shay could smell the alcohol on his breath, could feel the heat rising off of his skin. "I'm curious about you as a person, I'm curious about your music, and I'm curious about why I'm feeling this way about a stranger."
Shay could barely focus; all he could hear was buzzing and the sound of air trying to fill his lungs and the deafening thud of his own heartbeat. "Feeling what way?"
"The same way you are, I assume," Dan smiled, and it was blinding, a beautiful sight that Shay wanted to see more of, every morning and every day and every night. "judging by the way you've been staring at me ever since I walked over to you."
"I-I-" Shay wasn't certain what Dan expected him to say, especially when it seemed that he had stolen from him the ability to speak or properly form sentences. He turned his head, forbidding himself from staring into Dan's eyes any longer, afraid of what his face may convey if he continued to do so. "I didn't intend on you noticing that."
Dan moved closer, staring down at Shay from his place above him, and he truly was above him now, his arms placed on either side of his head, his body pressing against Shay's in a way that should be uncomfortable but instead caused his veins to crackle with burning fire, as if the blood pumping through them had been replaced with wild flames. "I'm certain you didn't," he whispered, and his breath tickled against Shay's neck, sending shivers down his spine. "but I'm very perceptive, Shay Mooney." He pulled away ever so slightly, fingers finding Shay's chin and slowly pulling his face back towards him, willing the other man to meet his gaze. Reluctantly, he glanced up at Dan through his lashes, and he was shocked to see the concoction of emotions that resided in the eyes staring back at him, the fear, the excitement, the sense of wonder. "Can I--" he broke off, his words sounding forced and choked, as if slipping through an invisible wall that had lodged in his throat. "May I kiss you?"
Shay felt as if the world around him was crashing, spinning at unbelievable speed yet simultaneously coming to an abrupt halt. His actions were being governed by something that he couldn't control nor explain, and at that moment, he simply didn't care, the knowledge of what was right and what was wrong fading out of view, the haze in his brain clouding his judgement. "Y-Yes," he heard the whisper leave his throat as if it had been spoken by someone else, barely recognizing the sound of his own voice.
"Good," Dan breathed, and his gaze drifted from Shay's wide eyes to his parted lips, down to his throat and the pulse that jumped there. "because I've been wanting to kiss you ever since I first saw you."
Dan leaned down, trembling fingers gently caressing Shay's cheek, and Shay felt as if he were in a dream, in some sort of beautiful forbidden trance-like state that he never wanted to break away from. He felt his breath catch, felt the sensation of another pair of lips meeting his own, and after pausing in shock for a slight second he found himself kissing Dan back, a soft, gentle, exploratory kiss that, although brief, heightened Shay's senses, fueling the fire in his veins even further, his heart racing at a speed that he was certain couldn't be healthy. When Dan pulled away, his eyes were calculating, gauging the other man's reaction, and there was a question in his gaze, the unspoken words of is this okay hanging between them like translucent clouds. Shay nodded, daring not to breathe, and he lifted his hand to grasp the back of Dan's neck, pulling him towards him, holding him in place. This action gave Dan the permission he needed, and he kissed Shay a second time, his lips slightly firmer against his. His mouth was moving against Shay's so perfectly that it surprised both of the men; they felt as if the other were a missing piece of a puzzle that had just now been found, and although Shay didn't know anything about this stranger but his name, he was getting to know Dan in a way that was oddly more intimate and satisfying, exploring the taste of his lips and the curves of his chest with fingers that were shockingly steady, slipping underneath of his shirt and resting just below his collarbone.
Dan pulled away to catch his breath, his eyes darkened with desire, glassy and unfocused as they stared at the man below him, and Shay barely had a chance to do the same before Dan was kissing him again, his own fingers tangling in his hair while the other wrapped around his waist, pulling him impossibly closer. There was urgency in the way his lips were moving, as if Dan were afraid that Shay would disappear from within his grasp.
"Y-You don't know me," Shay stammered as Dan brought his lips to the crook of his neck, moving along his shoulder. "I-I don't know you. This shouldn't be happening."
"That's true," Dan spoke against Shay's skin, his voice even deeper now, and this alone was causing Shay to begin losing the tiny grip he had managed to maintain on his self-control. "but I want to get to know you."
Shay was silent, both because he was being rendered speechless with every movement that Dan made, and because he wanted the same thing. He wanted to know more, things that this other man had never told anyone, secrets that belonged to them and only them. He wanted to spend more time with him, and this thought struck Shay as odd, because he had never before wanted to spend everyday with a person he had just met.
Dan, on the other hand, wasn't quite sure what was happening, either. He didn't know if it was the alcohol he had consumed, the liquor driving his actions, guiding his lips across Shay's as if he were a map that needed to be explored. All he did know was that there was something about this stranger, something mystifying, enchanting, luring him in the way an angler might lure in a fish. Everything he had told Shay had been true; there was a quality about him, a magnetic pull that seemed to draw in everyone and everything he came in contact with, and Dan had fallen victim to his charm as soon as the two had locked eyes, across a crowded room full of familiar and unfamiliar faces.
Eventually, however, Dan realized that if he did want to keep seeing Shay, it would be the better choice to start off slower, calmer, more traditionally. Reluctantly, he pulled away, although it was clear by the small whine he made in the back of the throat that this other man wanted nothing more than to continue. With swollen lips and glazed eyes Shay tried to pull Dan back towards him, but he was stronger, sitting up and gazing across at him with an apologetic expression, his tousled hair a black mess atop of his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered, and his voice was still raspy, still sent shivers down Shay's spine as he too struggled to move to an upright position. "that was probably a stupid thing to do."
"N-No," Shay tried to speak, but words failed him, and he paused, taking a few deep breaths as an effort to try and regather his composure. "It wasn't stupid. Not at all." He watched Dan out of the corner of his eye, looking for any sign of regret in his eyes, but there was none. "Why? Do you wish you hadn't of kissed me?"
"Of course not," Dan replied quickly. "Trust me, I definitely wanted to kiss you, ever since I laid eyes on you, which is crazy seeing as we've only known each other for what, twenty minutes?" He chuckled awkwardly, picking at an invisible thread on the denim jacket he was wearing. "I just...I don't want to scare you away, Shay. I want to get to know you, like I said. I want to spend more time with you, to truly learn about you, your likes and dislikes, your musical preferences...everything. I don't want to rush into things too quickly, and I'm afraid if we were to continue tonight and do something so spontaneously before we even properly get to know each other, we'll ruin what we have before it even begins."
Shay smiled, a small, timid grin that Dan found insanely adorable. "Are you asking me out on a date, Dan Smyers?"
Dan returned the smile, and the way the corners of his eyes crinkled became Shay's new favorite aesthetic. "I guess I am, Shay Mooney." He leaned forwards again, this time using his hands to intertwine their fingers, a soft and gentle motion. "How about tomorrow? There's a diner that just opened right down the road. It's a pretty chill place, from what I've heard, basic but with great food."
Shay wanted to tell him that he doubted he would have cared if the place served nothing but cardboard, just as long as he was with Dan. He remained silent, deciding not to voice everything that he was feeling. "That sounds amazing." He looked down at their intertwined fingers, and he was hit with a sudden feeling of pure untouched bliss, the kind that came from knowing you were touching your world, and he shook his head as if to clear his mind of any more of these outrageous propositions. They had just met. They were still practically strangers, still had years of information to find out about one another.
But the way Dan was staring at Shay made it hard for him to believe that they had known each other for mere minutes instead of a dozen lifetimes.
The remainder of that evening was spent exchanging stories, talking about everything and nothing in particular, until the moon was nothing but a distant glowing orb of silver in the star-blanketed sky. Sometime during their conversations, Shay had ended up in Dan's arms again, his head resting idly on his shoulder, their hands still intertwined, and with some effort he pulled himself away as he glanced out of the sliver of window that was made visible by a crack in the blankets surrounding them. "I need to be getting back to my apartment," Shay muttered, the thought of leaving Dan already causing an ache to creep into his chest. "but we'll see each other tomorrow, right?" Even he could hear the vulnerability, the hope, the desperation in the tone of his own voice as he spoke the words, glancing at Dan through eyes hooded with exhaustion.
"You can count on it," Dan reassured him, "I promised you that date, and I'm not one to break my promises." With a grand flourish he retrieved a black pen and a piece of paper from his jeans pocket, quickly jotting down a set of numbers and handing them to Shay. "We haven't even exchanged phone numbers yet," he said, noticing the other man's confused glances.
Shay nodded and slipped the paper into his own pocket. "We really did rush into things, didn't we?" He hit Dan's shoulder playfully, beginning to creep outside of the tent, and once he was in the full extent of Dan's bedroom he already missed the protection and privacy he had felt surrounded by the sheets.
"I'll text you tomorrow," Dan was saying as he too made his way out of the tent, coming to stand in front of Shay, one hand placed on his shoulder for either stability or just for the comfort of contact; neither could be sure. "What time do you usually wake up?"
"Six, usually," Shay admitted, "but for you, any time. All though I would think that later would be better, for lunch, anyway."
Dan smiled again, and Shay couldn't help but do the same, this action being so contagious and irresistible. "We musicians always have a habit of waking up way earlier than most people, don't we?" He leaned forwards, preparing to brush his lips against Shay's cheek, right as the other man was turning his head. Their lips collided, connecting in a kiss that was both tender yet gentle, and Shay had to almost physically tear himself away, his mouth never wanting to leave Dan's, his arms never wanting to wrap around anything or anyone who wasn't this tall, dark, impossibly flawless stranger.
Dan turned, preparing to walk away, stopping just before he reached the threshold of the door. "It was great getting to know you, Shay Mooney." And with that, he was gone, a single lingering smirk thrown over his shoulder towards the man who was still trying to process that night's events, so much so that he realized he had arrived at the party with a friend, an acquaintance that he was certain had long since departed. "Dan!" he called out, and he returned within seconds, as if he had been standing just outside the door, waiting for Shay to call him back. "I just remembered I don't have a way to get back home," he said quietly, an ashamed and embarrassed glint in his own brown eyes. "Would you mind driving me?"
"Of course I wouldn't mind," Dan brushed off his question as if it were the most ludicrous one he had ever been asked. "I was wondering how you expected to get back home, myself."
Shay chuckled as he followed behind him, the two men entering the living room that was, as he had expected, entirely empty, with the exception of a few carelessly discarded plastic cups and crumb-covered paper plates. Dan, muttering to himself about cleanliness and treating other people's belongings with respect, held the door for Shay and led him to a second part of the home, a makeshift garage that was nothing more than a shed, tinted red with rust, cut apart so that an older-model Silverado could park underneath of the low-hanging ceiling. "Nice truck," Shay smirked, noting the way sparks flew from the engine's ignition as Dan slid the key in, the leather interior cracked and barely recognizable, the floorboards littered with empty Gatorade bottles and folded napkins. Upon closer inspection Shay found that most of these napkins were covered in words, and a quick glance proved that they were indeed lyrics to songs, ones that Dan had undoubtedly written but hadn't yet paired with melodies.
"Yeah, well," Dan, if noticing Shay's inquiring ways, remained silent, only a half-hearted laugh escaping from his lips as he carefully maneuvered out of the driveway, barely missing the mailbox that was already leaning haphazardly in the corner. "unless you actually make music that people pay to listen to, you don't have much options to choose from when you're buying cars."
Shay nodded in understanding, squinting in the darkness to distinguish the lyrics in Dan's scrawled handwriting. "Are these your lyrics?" he asked without giving himself time to consider the possible repercussions his words may have.
"Yeah," Dan's tone was quieter, more reserved. "before I gathered up enough money to rent this house, I was forced to live in my truck for a few days, and I passed the time by writing songs--songs that weren't very good, apparently, because every record label I took them to all but told me as much." He shrugged and lifted a hand to turn up the volume dial on the radio, shaking his head when only static crackled through the one speaker that was still working.
"I'm sure they're amazing," Shay reassured him, "you just have to find the right tune that works with them. I'll help you with that," he offered cautiously, gauging the reaction of the man beside him out of the corner of his peripheral vision.
Dan's eyes sparkled with so much force that not even the overhead streetlights could drown out their glow, shadows passing over his face and covering the smile that resided there. "I count on it."
From there, the rest of the journey to Shay's apartment was relatively silent, Dan asking the directions and the address before drifting off into a quiet that wasn't even the slightest bit uncomfortable. Occasionally, his fingers would find their way across the dash, and he had to physically pull them away, placing his hand awkwardly in his lap until Shay, having noticed Dan's surreptitious ways, reached across and laced it with his own, earning himself yet another blinding smile that was comparable to the rays of the sun and the light of the moon as it shone down on them, the feelings that were coursing through the two men as apparent in the fading silver illumination as reflections on the surface of the lakes they passed.
It took them only ten short minutes to arrive in front of Shay's apartment, the truck tires sending shards of gravel and rock flying out behind them as it rattled to a stop in the small driveway. Shay couldn't mask the disappointment on his face; he was hoping, even at this late hour, that the downtown streets would be filled with traffic, if only to allow him more time spent with Dan. With a small, sad sigh he released his grip on the other man's hand, reaching for the half-broken handle on the passenger's side door instead. "I really enjoyed tonight," he said, stepping down onto the pavement before he gave himself the chance to listen to the other side of his brain, the one that was urging him to stay where he was, wanting nothing more than to remain beside of Dan for as long as he possibly could. He felt as if he were a mirage, a beautiful hallucination that would fade out of view the second he turned his back. "and I look forward to lunch tomorrow."
"Me too," Dan smiled another dazzling grin, the kind that stole all of the air from Shay's lungs and caused his head to feel light and dizzy. "and as I said earlier, Shay Mooney, I can't wait to get to know you better." He leaned forwards, his elbows resting on the leather interior of the passenger's seat, just far enough that his lips could lightly touch Shay's, a goodbye kiss that held the promise of new beginnings and the exhilarating sense of the great unknowns that may lay before them.
With a second and final smile, his teeth a ghostly glow of white against the blackened night sky, Dan was gone, but Shay continued to watch him, his eyes following the truck's taillights until they morphed into one and disappeared around the corner. Only then did he turn, fishing the key out of his jacket pocket, his mind still in that dazed, fog-encompassed state as he ascended the staircase, not even bothering to change out of his clothes. After all, his shirt still retained the intoxicating scent of Dan's cologne, a heady mixture of evergreen trees and old leather, of sandalwood and the essence that was utterly and exclusively his. He couldn't help but smile as he brought the fabric to his nose, breathing in the smell that he would come to know as familiarly as the back of his own hand, and Shay was still smiling as he crawled underneath of the covers and closed his eyes, remembering the taste of Dan's lips and the way his hand had fit in his as he drifted off into a deep, uninterrupted sleep, a slumber filled with dreams of green pastures, blue skies, and the face of a certain dark haired stranger with the enchanting brown eyes.
Chapter 2: home.
When Shay awoke the next morning, he was greeted immediately by bright sunlight, the kind that assaulted his vision and alerted him to the time of day even before he had the opportunity to glance towards the clock on the wall. It was mid-morning, just after twelve, and as he lay there he was hit with the sudden, striking realization that he had never slept this late, not when he lived in Arkansas, and definitely not since he had moved to Nashville. The streets around him were always unusually and annoyingly loud; myriads of car horns, dogs barking, and the occasional, ear-piercing wails from a siren were constantly sneaking in through the paper-thin walls, rarely allowing him even an hour of a good night's rest.
Shay was so shocked at the fact that he had managed to sleep for more than five hours that the reason he had awoken at a certain time in the first place had slipped his mind, and with a jolt of alarm he reached for his phone, where, as he had feared, two new messages flashed on the screen. Good morning, cutie, the first read, Shay having to squint at the device in his hands in order to properly distinguish the contents of the text. I'll be at your apartment at twelve-thirty to pick you up.
He didn't have to look at the number at the top of the message to know who it was from; indescribably, he knew immediately, and tossed the phone back onto the table, all but shattering the already-cracked screen. He went through his morning routine of a shower, styling his hair, and changing into a fresh T-shirt paired with his favorite leather jacket in a record-setting fifteen minutes, and, glancing at his reflection briefly in the dust-covered mirror, Shay couldn't help but wish he had some nicer clothes, especially when faced with the prospect of a date with an extremely and unusually handsome man.
The sound of a vehicle pulling into the driveway broke Shay out of his self-condemnation, and by the time he locked the door behind him and stepped out into the summertime heat, his heart was already racing, and the sight that greeted him was enough to stop him in his tracks, his eyes wanting to drink in this beautiful scene, burning it into his memory so that he could relive it each and every day.
Dan was leaning against the hood of a vintage sky-blue Mustang convertible, his eyes covered with tinted Ray-Bans, those muscular arms crossed over his broad chest as he watched Shay's approach with the hint of a grin pulling up the corners of his lips. The red shirt he was wearing accentuated his tan complexion, standing out against his skin like blood in a pool of liquid caramel, and the way he was positioned against the antique vehicle reminded Shay of the scenes he had seen documented in photos and black-and-white television shows, an image from a forgotten time period where things were simpler and life was somehow easier. "Wow," Shay, at last, found the words that he always seemed to lose at the mere sight of this other man, and he couldn't help but stare open-mouthed at the striking car that, although a masterpiece in itself, paled in comparison to the work of art that owned it. "This is definitely a far cry from that rattletrap you drove me home in last night."
"Yeah, well," Dan chuckled, holding the passenger's side door open so that Shay could carefully climb inside before walking around the side of the vehicle and maneuvering himself behind the steering wheel, folding his legs and pushing the seat back so that it more comfortably fit his tall frame. "I'm just full of surprises, aren't I?"
"You are," Shay agreed. "What year is this? A sixty-six?"
Dan shook his head and adjusted the rear-view mirror. "Close. It's a sixty-five."
"I don't know much about cars, as you can tell," Shay admitted, "but where was this beauty last night? Do you have an invisible garage holding more invisible cars somewhere behind that marvelous mansion you live in, or am I just blind?"
Dan laughed, and Shay was reminded of windchimes clattering together in a spring breeze, musical and pure and airy and good. "You're funny," he said in amusement. "but the answer is neither. You're not blind, because I didn't have this car home last night. It was in the shop; the top had been damaged in a hailstorm a few months ago, and I just now got the money to have it fixed. I got a call this morning saying it was ready, and it couldn't have had more perfect timing--I mean, what more could you want, being picked up by a wonderful man in an equally wonderful car?"
"Your confidence is truly remarkable," Shay hit his shoulder playfully, but Dan caught his hand before he could return it to his side, intertwining their fingers and using the other to steer the vehicle through the crowded streets of downtown Nashville. "That is true," Dan agreed, his tone light and dripping with amusement, and even though his eyes were hidden by his sunglasses, Shay could somehow still see the sparkle that resided in them, an internal flame that he wanted to keep lit for as long as he possibly could. "but my confidence is one of the many things you'll learn to love about me."
Shay struggled to ignore how his pulse jumped irregularly in his veins at the mention of the four-letter word. "Oh, so you think I'll learn to love you?" He brought a finger to his chin in mock contemplation. "I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you, Smyers."
"You will," Dan said confidently, without a hint of reluctance or uncertainty. "I'm sure of it. It won't happen overnight, of course. It'll take time, but soon enough, it'll happen. Probably when you least expect it," he added, and as if to prove a point, squeezed Shay's hand. The jolt of electricity that passed over his skin was enough to convince the other man, knowing deep in his heart that he may very well already be in the process of falling in love, if the way he was feeling in this current moment was any indication. It was crazy, Shay thought absently. Crazy how things could change so quickly, how his belief that love at first sight was nothing more than a fairytale, a fictional feat created by the minds of people with imaginations as wide and as endless as the Tennessee sky, could evaporate so instantaneously. Yet, here he was, in the passenger's seat of a sixty-five Mustang holding hands with a man he had only just met, feeling as if he were in a movie or one of the songs he himself had written, a world that was as real as text written in a history book but equally as unbelievable as words thought up by a complete stranger.
"What are you thinking about over there, daydreamer?" Dan asked him suddenly, and Shay had been so enveloped in the contents of his racing mind that he hadn't even realized they had arrived at their destination, the Mustang now positioned between a black Chrysler and a red Audi in a makeshift parking space, a marked-off section of gravel in front of a small brick diner on the outskirts of the main city. The skyscrapers loomed behind them in the distance like industrial mountains of glass and metal; around the building lay nothing but pastures and wooden fences, and as Shay exited the vehicle he paused, taking a moment to inhale the rare delight that was clean, unfiltered air, the pungent odors of the city being replaced with the crisp scents of freshly cut grass and stacked hay. "This is a nice place," Shay said instead, purposely avoiding answering his question. "It's something different."
"Very different," Dan, if bothered by the change in subject, didn't show it; instead, he led Shay into the restaurant, their hands still intertwined. Neither man seemed eager to lose contact with one another; in fact, it was quite the opposite, Dan positioning himself as close to Shay on the maroon-colored leather booth as he possibly could, their legs touching and their shoulders brushing whenever the other would move. "This is one of my favorite places in Nashville, even though it just opened." Setting the car keys down on the corner of the table, Dan reached for a menu, and after spending a minute debating on whether or not he should do the same, Shay opted to simply read over his shoulder, if only for an excuse to be even nearer to him.
The waitress, a petite girl with long black hair and striking emerald eyes, sauntered over to the table, and Shay couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy at the way she looked at Dan, her gaze raking over him as if she were a lion on the Sahara and he were a gazelle, a predator watching its potential prey. "May I get you two something to drink?" she asked, her voice as sweet as synthetic sugar.
"Sweet tea," Dan said, and Shay silently indicated that he wanted the same.
"I'll be back," the girl continued to smile, but only at Dan, as if he were the only person in that crowded diner. "My name is Lauren, if you need anything else." As she walked away, Shay was pleased to find that Dan remained unfazed by the attractive waitress; his interest had remained locked on the menu through the entire exchange, as if she were nothing more than an annoying pest that would disappear if he ignored it long enough.
Less than three minutes later, Lauren returned, carrying two glasses of dark liquid and placing them in front of both Shay and Dan. "What would you like to order?" she retrieved a pink notepad from her apron pocket, lounging against the table while twirling a strand of ebony hair with a black-painted fingernail.
"A BLT, please," Dan replied simply, "but without the bacon."
Lauren tilted her head in confusion. "You just want a lettuce and tomato sandwich?"
"Yes," Dan spoke as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "and a side of French fries."
Lauren shrugged and turned to Shay, who was staring out of the window to hide the grin that had found its way onto his face. "And for you?"
"Just a hamburger," he said, and he was still smiling when Lauren had disappeared once again, leaving the smell of perfume and roses in her wake. "Alright," he whispered when he was certain she was out of earshot, "Explain yourself, Smyers."
Dan lifted his eyebrows. "Explain what?"
"Bacon is the eighth wonder of the world. Who in their right mind orders a BLT without it?"
"I'm a vegetarian," Dan explained, chuckling. "Have been for almost ten years now."
Shay couldn't hide the shocked expression that crossed his features at the other man's confession. "That's...very admirable," he decided, unsure of how else to properly word his thoughts. "I never would've assumed that about you, though."
Dan put his arm around him and pulled him even closer, a feat that Shay didn't think was possible, seeing as it didn't feel like there was an inch of them that wasn't touching in some way. "I told you, Shay Mooney. I'm full of surprises."
Shay nodded, and a loose strand of black hair fell in front of his eyes, Dan releasing his grip on his shoulder long enough to carefully brush it away, his fingers lingering against his skin for the slightest of seconds. "I'm starting to believe that," Shay's tone was quiet, awestruck at how immediately he responded to Dan's touch, his words coming out in barely a whisper. When he continued, his voice was a few octaves louder, and he prayed that he was hiding the way Dan was making him feel as expertly as he thought he was. "So, aside from being a wonderful musician, what else do you do in your free time?"
"I volunteer at an animal shelter a few blocks from my house," Dan replied, taking a sip of tea from his glass before gently setting it back down on top of the already wet napkin it had been resting on. "Puppies are my passion."
"'Puppies are my passion'?" Shay smirked. "Is that a catch phrase you made up or something?"
Dan smiled sheepishly. "Maybe."
"It's cute," Shay admitted. "and it also, in a way, explains why you're a vegetarian. Do you have any dogs of your own? I didn't see any at your house last night."
"I have two. Chief, and Joy," Dan replied, and Shay loved the way his eyes lit up whenever he was talking about a topic that he loved, his hands moving around animatedly. "but seeing as my house is the smallest shack in all of Nashville, I have to keep them at the shelter. They're better off there, honestly, at least until I can make some money and buy a nicer place with a fenced-in backyard."
His statement alerted Shay to something he had been wanting to ask ever since they had arrived at this diner. "That reminds me," he spoke cautiously, intrigue and interest lacing the words as he said them, "What are our plans for the rest of the day?"
"Well," Dan paused, and whether he truly intended on taking another sip of his drink or did it just to add a dramatic affect to their conversation, Shay couldn't be certain. "seeing as I spent all night last night dreaming about this particular topic, I was thinking we could go back to my house and I could finally get to hear what an amazing singer you are." Dan glanced at Shay out of the corner of his vision, gauging his reaction, before staring down at their fingers that were still intertwined, pretending to study a scratch on one of Shay's nails. "I wrote a couple of songs that I think would fit your voice, if you wanted to try some of them out."
Shay laughed in spite of the fact that it felt as if his airway had been blocked by something rough and thick, Dan's compliments never ceasing to derail his train of thought. "That sounds amazing," he said quickly, not wanting Dan to fear that his amusement meant any disappointment or reluctance on his part. "I just have one question for you, Smyers--how in the world is it possible to write songs based off of someone's voice when you've never even heard that someone sing?"
Dan blushed, a hint of red on tan cheeks, a shy glimmer in his brown eyes. "I've never tried it before, honestly. It's just...there's something musical about the way you speak, something beautiful and angelic just in the way you form your words, and I thought of that as I was writing. After all, if the way a person talks is mesmerizing, you know that when they sing, it'll be absolutely breathtaking."
"I..." Shay's voice trailed off, and he never remembered a time in which he had been so awestruck, so speechless, and it was in that moment, as he watched the sun's rays lighten his hair to a deep golden, changing his irises from honey to silver, that he found himself wondering how in the world he had managed to get so lucky as to cross paths with the miracle that was Dan Smyers. "You amaze me," he said at last, shaking his head in disbelief at the happiness that coursed through him, the sheer, unmatched joy that he hadn't experienced prior to stepping into that fateful house party the night before. They had only known each other for less than twenty-four hours, yet Dan was already completely changing Shay's life, the reason behind feelings that he had thought were impossible for a simple human like him to be the host of.
"Not half as much as you amaze me," Dan smiled, and the tone was suddenly light and playful again, the intimacy of the moment fading away slowly, like clouds after a rainstorm. "If that waitress doesn't hurry up and bring our food, we're not going to have any time left together. It'll be dark by the time they fry up your hamburger and put lettuce and tomato between two pieces of bread." He sighed and gave Lauren an exasperated look as she walked past, an expression that the woman either overlooked, or simply ignored completely.
"I'm surprised," Shay couldn't help but say, and the acid in his tone was obvious even to his own ears. "Lauren really seemed to like you. I thought our order would have been the first one out."
Dan shrugged off his comment good-naturedly. "Really? I didn't notice."
Shay wanted to tell him that he was glad he hadn't noticed, but remained silent. "Definitely," he said instead. "Not that I blame her, but she definitely seemed interested in all things Dan Smyers."
"Well, 'all things Dan Smyers', as you so cleverly put it, is not interested in the waitress Lauren, nor any other person in this diner, female or not." He stopped, turning his head to send a wink in Shay's direction. "The only person Dan Smyers is interested in is currently seated right next to him."
"Really?" Shay played it off in his usual joking manner, but the truth was that his heart felt as if it had suddenly grown wings and was prepared to take flight at any given moment. "Is that your way of saying that you're interested in me?"
Dan rolled his eyes, the corner of his lips twitching as if he were fighting back a smile. "You should have known I was interested last night when I kissed you ten minutes after finding out your name," he pointed out. "You really are an oblivious man, aren't you?"
Before Shay could reply, almost as if on cue, Lauren suddenly appeared at the table, a full tray in her hands and that same candy-coated smile stretching across her porcelain skin. "Sorry for the delay," she said apologetically, and Shay wanted to ask her if the way she leaned towards Dan when she was placing his food in front of him was necessary. "The kitchen is packed today. For some reason everyone in Nashville decided to come here to eat lunch." Flipping her hair over her shoulders, the bracelets on her arms clattering together like musical instruments, she let out a dramatic sigh, and she was so close to Dan now that her breath tickled against his skin. "If you need anything else," her tone was deeper now, more sultry. "Please, don't hesitate to let me know." With a final grin that reminded Shay of a shark, something predatory and animal-like, Lauren turned, and he was pleased to find that Dan began muttering about personal space and taking a hint before biting into his sandwich. "I think you were right," he said finally, "that waitress does seem a bit interested in me."
"A bit?" Shay chuckled. "Trust me, Smyers, she is way more than just a bit interested."
Dan picked up his napkin, and Shay could see his smile even behind the white cloth, shining with a sort of contained intensity, like lightning bugs captured in a glass jar. "What can I say? I guess it's just my incomparable charm. Everyone loves me, women and men alike."
"I can attest to that," Shay agreed modestly, popping a few French fries into his mouth before turning back to the man beside of him. "but if for some reason I wasn't here, and you walked into this diner alone and a beautiful girl like Lauren started flirting with you, would it change anything? Would you give her more attention if I wasn't in the picture?"
"You are in the picture, though," Dan said, his humor suddenly morphing into seriousness. "and you will always be in the picture, as far as I'm concerned. We only met yesterday but I already intend on keeping you in my life for as long as you want to be in it. Otherwise, though, the answer to your question is probably not. In case you haven't noticed, females aren't really my specialty, nor have they ever been. I've had a few girlfriends in the past," he added, "and I guess that was what it took for me to realize that women are not my type. You, on the other hand," he tightened his grip on Shay's shoulders, and Shay couldn't help but admire his ability to eat with one hand and hold onto him with the other. "are exactly my type." He paused, twirling the straw in his red glass around with the tip of his finger, seemingly entranced by the way it moved around the cubes of ice and the liquid that surrounded it. "What about you? What are you interested in?"
Shay stopped in his tracks. He hadn't precisely thought about his preferences; after all, up until the previous night, he had had no reason to. It was true, he himself had gone through his share of girlfriends, but none of them, not a singular one in all of the twenty-five years he had existed on this Earth, had made him feel like Dan had. He was attracted to him in every since of the word, both emotionally and physically, and as he sat there pondering over what exactly his sexual orientation was, a small voice in the back of his mind warned him that he already knew. It was evident in the way Shay looked at Dan, in the way he longed to be close to him, apparent by the way he was falling for him so carelessly and so recklessly, something that happened as instantaneously as a bolt of lightning or a sudden clap of thunder. "You, Dan Smyers," he whispered eventually. "I am interested in you. I have been ever since I laid eyes on you twenty-four short hours ago, and although I don't exactly understand it, I'm not going to question it."
"Well," Dan drew out the syllables of the word as he leaned back in his seat, staring at the sandwich on his plate as if it had suddenly become something foreign and alien that his mind couldn't comprehend. "I don't understand it, either," he admitted, "but I'm with you on the idea that we shouldn't question it. I feel like..." his voice trailed off, and he glanced out of the window, transfixed on something in the distance that Shay couldn't see. "I don't know what I feel like. It's hard to explain. All I know is what I've been telling you all day, that I am very into you, although we still barely know anything about one another. It doesn't make any sense, truthfully, because I had always assumed that to begin falling in love with someone, you had to spend at least a few weeks with them, not a few hours, yet here I am. Here we are. Love at first sight has a way of showing itself when you least expect it, doesn't it?"
Shay avoided an immediate reply by taking a few minutes to cut his hamburger into two seperate pieces, pushing around the items on his plate with a fork, doing so if only to avoid making any direct eye contact. He had never been a man that was good with words; all of his literary skills went into writing songs, finding it easier to put pen to paper and create lyrics with his thoughts than to speak them aloud. He wanted more than anything to tell Dan, in no uncertain terms, that he felt the same way, that he wasn't a believer in love at first sight, either, yet had fallen victim to it so fiercely, without even a second to contemplate why or what exactly he was doing. However, he simply sat there, staring at his food with a racing mind and a permanent red coloration to his cheeks. "Life is full of the unexpected," he said at last, so quietly that he wasn't entirely certain that Dan would be able to hear him. "We just have to learn to embrace those uncertainties."
"There's no uncertainty, though," Dan corrected him. "at least, not on my end of things. I don't know about you--I can't read your mind. I wish I could," he said, a little wistfully. "because it would make things infinities easier to say. I don't know if you're feeling as strongly as I am, or if you're wanting to take things slower, to go on a few more dates and wait and see where this goes, to see if I'm truly worth giving your heart to. I don't know," he repeated, and Shay could see that his eyes were sparkling even brighter now, whether from the angle of the sun or from tears, he couldn't tell. "What I do know, though, is that my heart has been yours from the minute I laid eyes on you last night. It's scary," he continued speaking as if Shay wasn't right beside of him, as if he were simply alone in his room with only the moon and the night sky to converse with, inanimate objects that would always listen and would always be there, yet would never offer him a reply of their own. "and I can say that without being ashamed of it, because that's what love is. It is scary. In fact, it's the most frightening thing to exist on this Earth, because it's so spontaneous, ever-changing and something that you can never count on, even when you think it's the one constant in the hectic thing we call life. I don't know why I'm telling you all of this, seeing as we still have so much to learn about one another, but I want you to know that even if you decide this isn't what you want...that I'm not what you want..." Dan's voice trailed off, and Shay was beginning to think that he was finished, his emotional show-and-tell over as quickly as it had begun. "I will always be here for you and with you, Shay. Even if decide that you want to stay friends and only friends, I will never leave you, not for one solitary moment."
"I don't want to be your friend," Shay said after what felt like a hundred individual heartbeats had passed between them. "I never wanted that. Not last night, not this morning, and not now. Not ever, as a matter of fact." He dared a glance in Dan's direction, all too aware of the disappointment, the misunderstanding, that began creeping onto his features. "Do you want to know why, Dan Smyers?"
Dan shook his head, but his gaze was steady, almost pleading. "Yes," he confessed, "I do."
"I don't want to be your friend," Shay moved closer, and the words brushed against Dan's neck, melting when they came into his skin as if they were physically seeping into him, permeating through the layers that separated him from his emotions, from his heart. "because I want to be so much more. I want to be the one who gets to wake up next to you every morning, the one who sees every smile, every tear, every laugh. I want to be the last face you see before you fall asleep, the voice you hear when there's nothing left but silence. I want--" he paused, lifting a hand to gently caress his cheek. "I want you."
Dan smiled, that Earth-shattering, breathtaking grin that Shay would fight armies and burn down cities for, if only to have the opportunity to catch a mere glimpse at such a spectacle. "I never would have thought a stranger would be saying those things to me."
"I'm not a stranger," Shay countered. "not anymore. We were never strangers; the more I think about it, I've realized that you and I...we're connected, in a sense, bonded by something beyond our control or understanding. It may be the hands of fate, or something else entirely, but you and I were meant to find each other. That much I know."
"Soulmates?" Dan guessed, only half-joking.
"Perhaps," Shay agreed, and as he continued to stare into Dan's eyes, he felt himself drowning, tumbling into an endless abyss of black waterfalls and brown skies, of color and darkness, of wind and rain and thunder and ice. By the time his lips had connected with Dan's, it was as if the diner had faded out of sight, the walls tumbling down until there was nothing left but rubble and bricks, the people around them dissolving into irrelevant nothingness. There was only the two of them, alone in this newfound love that they shared, surrounded only by the incomparable sense of wonder that they had found one another and the exhilarating excitement that came with the knowledge of the unknowns, the fears, the surprise, the crippling hope. Both of them knew that they were in a crowded public place, but in their minds no one existed but each other, the eyes that were on them only adding to the intensity of the fireworks display that was currently occurring in the small booth by the window.
Dan was the first to pull away, chuckling lightly when the haze of the kiss had subsided and the realization once again set in that they were indeed in the presence of others, the subjects of dagger-like looks and silent judgement from almost everyone around them. "I think we've caused a scene," he said, but although his tone was reserved, his eyes were void of any sort of shame or regret. Instead, they only seemed to glow brighter, like a candle that had just been lit, a match that had just been thrown into an open flame. "What do you think?"
Shay shrugged, a tiny hint of a smile playing at the corners of his lips. "I don't think it matters, honestly. I'm sure these people in this diner have seen much, much worse."
"I wouldn't count on it," Lauren, who had seemed to appear out of thin air, said as she approached them, and Shay wasn't half as surprised as he should have been to find that her own gaze was disapproving and only slightly disappointed. "the Nashville community--the older ones, at least--are very strict and very set in their ways." She grabbed Dan's half-empty glass of tea and began to refill it, continuing to speak as she did so. "You two, to most people around here, are what's considered an abomination. Personally, though," she shook her head, tendrils of wispy black hair escaping from where they were now pulled back into a loose ponytail and getting caught in her lipstick. "I would simply consider it a complete and total waste." Letting out a dramatic sigh, Lauren ripped a blank sheet of paper from the notepad she carried in her apron, retrieving the pen from behind her ear and hastily scribbling down some words that Shay couldn't make out before slapping it down unto the table and looking at Dan with an unreadable expression. "If you ever decide you want someone more..." her emerald eyes shifted to Shay and then back to Dan again, "exciting, don't hesitate to call me. It's not too late to change your mind," Lauren added, and she leaned down to whisper something in his ear before sauntering away a final time, blowing a kiss over her shoulder as she disappeared back into the kitchen.
"What did she say?" Shay wondered aloud, although he wasn't certain he truly wanted to hear the answer.
Dan rolled his eyes. "Something along the lines of, 'I could do it better than he ever could', though I don't think I understand the meaning of the 'it' she was referring to. What is she talking about? Cooking? Cleaning? What can she do better than you can?"
"I think you and I both know the answer to that question," Shay teased, hitting his shoulder playfully. "I, on the other hand, don't understand why it's very clear, now more than ever, that you're not interested in women, yet she continues to flirt with you."
"Females are strange creatures," Dan replied, reaching past Shay to pick up the bill that was still laying on the edge of the table. Neither men had touched their food much in the ten minutes since it had arrived, instead spending their time conversing and simply enjoying the other's presence, and after debating on whether or not he was finished picking at the edges of the sandwich on his plate Dan stood, reaching into his wallet and pulling out a five dollar bill. "You're really going to tip Lauren that much?" Shay asked incredulously, nodding toward the cash in his hand.
"She needs all the tips she can get," Dan mused, "although I do agree that she isn't worth five dollars. This is all I have, though, so I have no other choice." With a shrug he began walking towards the cash register set up in the center of the diner, sliding his credit card into the machine and waiting for the older woman behind the counter to tiredly hand him his receipt before turning and walking towards the door, stopping to throw the sheet of paper that held Lauren's phone number into the trash can on his way out.
It was once they were back in the Mustang, Shay pausing to first buckle his seatbelt and adjust his seat, that he noticed what time it was, his eyes widening as he stared down at the faded leather watch on his wrist. "How in the world has it been three hours since you picked me up?"
"Three hours?" Dan asked, equally as surprised. "I thought we had only been in the diner for less than one." He lifted the hand that wasn't intertwined with Shay's to turn up the dial on the radio, remaining in the parking lot for a few seconds until he found a station that wasn't all static, smiling in contentment when he found one that he approved of and carefully backing out onto the main road. "I guess the saying is true--time really does fly when you're having fun."
Shay nodded, but remained silent, enjoying the strange solitude that came with traveling, the sounds of tires on gravel, the gentle hum of the engine, and whatever music was coming through the speakers. He didn't immediately recognize the song that was playing, but he began to hum along anyway, getting lost in the music and the peace that he always felt when he was with Dan.
"Your humming skills are phenomenal," Dan said quietly, a knowing look on his sharp features. "but I want to hear you sing. That's why when we get home--" he stopped himself, remembering that his house wasn't Shay's home, at least not yet. "I mean, when we get back to my house, I want to show you something."
Shay glanced at him curiously, and by the time they had pulled into the driveway that was somehow already familiar, he had been racking his brain for ten straight minutes, desperately trying to form a guess as to what this other man possibly could have to show him.
After stepping down onto the pavement, Dan took Shay's hand once more, pushing open the front door with a boot-covered foot and leading him down a flight of stairs that Shay hadn't even noticed the previous night. The walls were much narrower, the space tighter and more compact, and Shay was prepared to voice the claustrophobia that he hadn't even been aware of until that moment when, suddenly, what had previously been darkness suddenly became enveloped in light, and Dan turned towards him with a grand smile.
The 'basement', as Dan had called it, was a large room with painted white walls, a small picture window being the only source of natural light, the rest of the illumination being provided by four lamps placed haphazardly across wicker tables and patio furniture. It was meant to resemble a garage but Dan had visibly done his best to transform it, changing it into a makeshift recording studio, complete with a keyboard, a microphone hooked up to a set of tall speakers, and three guitars propped up against the far wall. "Wow," Shay breathed as he took in his surroundings. Absently, he picked up one of the guitars, feeling the familiar heaviness of the instrument, the way it fit perfectly in his arms as he cradled it against his chest. "This is truly amazing, man. How in the world did you manage to get all of this stuff?"
"I brought the guitars from Pennsylvania when I moved," Dan told him, wiping invisible specks of dirt off of the pockets of his jeans. "in fact, they're about the only things I have from back home that I still use today. As for the rest of the stuff, I found them at thrift stores and abandoned buildings all over town. In a place like Nashville where music is what the city revolves around, you never know what sort of treasures you might find, or when."
Shay had occupied the solitary chair in the room, a red velvet futon that looked hilariously out of place in the room that was otherwise void of any color. "I haven't held a guitar in years," he admitted, inspecting the item as it lay across his lap, fingertips running over the smooth wood. "in fact, I can't remember the last time I did pick up one, at least not one that I actually played. Songwriting is usually my specialty; I leave the instruments to the experts."
Dan sat on the floor across from him, peering across the space to meet his eyes. "I don't know what I'd do without my guitars," he began, and even if he hadn't, Shay could have guessed how important they were to him, just by the way his face lit up like a thousand individual suns. "Writing songs is my escape from reality, but playing the guitar is my reality. It's all I've ever known for so many years, since I was little. When I had no one, I always had my guitar, and although this may sound insanely crazy and sad, it was the only friend I had for almost five years, especially when I moved to Nashville."
"That doesn't sound crazy," Shay reassured him. "not in the least." He was quiet for a moment, and he hadn't even realized that he had begun strumming the guitar until the soft sounds of music emanated from the instrument. "Hold on," Dan chuckled, and suddenly he was behind him, one hand guiding Shay's to the correct chords while the other led his fingers across the strings, the movements slow and precise. "There we go," he whispered, his breath tickling against Shay's neck, his chin resting idly on his shoulder. "That's better."
Shay knew that Dan was trying to help him properly hold the instrument, but he had a hard time focusing on anything besides the fact that his lips were brushing the skin just behind his ear, the warmth from his body pressed against his causing shivers to run down his spine. "I guess I wasn't doing something right?" he guessed, surprised at how steady his own words were. He could feel Dan chuckling, almost silently, behind him, and he couldn't help but do the same, peering up at the taller man through his lashes. "No, that's not it at all. I just wanted to show you the correct technique," He hesitated, as if debating whether or not he should speak the rest of what was on his mind, before deciding that there was no reason to hide his true intentions. "or who knows. Maybe I simply used it as an excuse to be closer to you." With a brief kiss pressed against his temple Dan moved away from Shay's side, walking over to the largest table in the center of the room and picking up the faded journal that lay underneath of it. "This holds all of the songs I've written since arriving in Nashville," Dan was saying, walking back over to Shay and handing the book to him, watching as he flipped through the pages. "The last three are the ones I wrote for you."
Shay didn't immediately reply, instead taking the time to read over each precious word, to drink in every single detail, from the ink smears in the corners to the way each letter was written and formed. He hadn't even paired them to a melody yet, but Shay could already tell that these lyrics told stories, the kind that were better heard than spoken, the results of countless hours Dan spent awake, gazing overhead at the cloudless sky and feeling the pen move underneath his fingertips as if the object were being governed by something out of his control. "These are absolutely incredible," Shay finally said, shaking his head in awe. "and even I admit that I don't pass out compliments lightly when it comes to songwriting. I've been doing it so long that critiquing it is like a second job to me, but this..." he gestured towards the journal, "this is unbelievable, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart."
"Would you sing one for me?" Dan asked, somewhat sheepishly, his gaze remaining on the string in the carpet he had been picking at ever since he had repostioned himself on the floor a second time. "It doesn't matter which, and if it would help you if I played the guitar while you're doing it, I will. I just--I wrote these songs to fit your voice, and I can't wait to see if I did a good job of guessing your range or not."
Shay hesitated for a split second before the hopefulness in Dan's eyes caught his attention and completely erased all of his doubts. "Of course," he replied softly, flipping to the very last page, the one with the song named Show You Off written in Dan's bold block lettering. "but just remember, if by some strange chance I sound absolutely terrible--"
Dan interrupted him. "Shay, I don't think it's possible for you to do anything terribly. Now sing," he urged, lifting his head so that his stare met Shay's own, his gaze strong and unwavering and confident.
With a deep breath, Shay began to sing the lyrics that Dan had written, first quietly, then louder, more defined. He closed his eyes, and the words were burned on the back of his eyelids, as if he had spent weeks reading them instead of mere hours. He allowed himself to succumb to the lyrics and the gentle tune that accompanied them, and it was only when he reached the chorus that he realized that Dan was no longer playing the guitar and the only sound in the room was that of his own voice, proud and true. "Was I that bad?" he wondered cautiously, opening one eye so that he could see the man across from him, who, in turn, was staring back at him with a look that could only be described as complete and utter admiration, of disbelief and love and a million other emotions that Shay couldn't pinpoint. "What?" he asked again, becoming nervous. "Say something, Smyers. You're freaking me out here."
"You," Dan breathed, and for the first time in his entire life, he could honestly say that something, someone, had rendered him completely and utterly speechless. "You are..." he glanced up towards the ceiling, as if the adjectives he was searching for were painted in bright letters on the plaster, as if by doing so he would find the sentences that he was currently lacking. "I could spend an eternity trying to describe to you what I'm thinking right now, but not even that would be enough time to put it into words," he said finally, and he tried to soften the emotional extent of what he was saying with a small smile. "I guess what I'm trying to say..." his voice faltered, and after a moment spent trying to regain his composure, he tried again. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've lived in Nashville for a long time now, and I have met some wonderful and talented people, but no one, and I mean not a single solitary human being that I've come across before, has the sheer unmatched talent that you do, Shay Mooney. I may be biased, and you might not believe that I'm not just saying this because I'm falling in love with you, but you have the most beautiful voice that I have ever heard."
"You really think so?" Shay asked, amazed and only a little confused. "Why'd you stop playing the guitar then? You scared me, man. I thought I was terrible and you stopped playing as a hint to get me to stop singing."
If Dan was lying to him, his face didn't show it, nor did the light in his eyes dim, reflecting patterns of fractured light as if he were watching the sunset dip low over the horizon, as if Shay was a natural miracle that he couldn't believe he was blessed enough to witness. "I stopped playing the guitar because you rendered me completely motionless. I couldn't have played another chord even if I would have wanted to; your voice...it transfixed me. Mesmerized me, if you will."
"It would be nice if you were telling the truth, Smyers, but I just find it so hard to believe that I'm truly as talented as you keep saying I am. After all, if I'm 'mesmerizing', as you called it, why haven't I been able to get anywhere since moving to Nashville? Why have countless record labels done nothing but shoot me down?"
"I don't know," Dan admitted. "but they're insane. Someone like you, with a voice as powerful as yours, deserves to be heard, not only here in Nashville but in the entire state of Tennessee. In the entire country, actually. You have a gift, a gift that God gave you with the intention of you sharing it."
Shay sighed, running his hands through his hair absently. "I doubt the labels would give me a second chance. They've already told me no once, I can't bear to hear it a second time."
It was in that moment that a figurative lightbulb lit in the back of Dan's mind, a wonderful and risky idea that caused him to turn back towards Shay with an expression of unbridled excitement. "It was you who they said no to, though," he began, his voice rising as he spoke. "not us. What if you and I...what if we did this together? What if we made music together? With my guitar-playing skills and your voice...we'd be unstoppable."
"We?" Shay asked, dumbfounded. "Do you even sing?" He paused, realizing that the way he had worded his question was wrong and slightly offensive. "Wait a second. I didn't mean it like that. I--"
Dan lifted a hand, ceasing the rest of his apologies. "No worries. I was expecting that question, and yes, I do, but I don't want to be anything but background vocals. You are the star, and I don't want to do anything to risk compromising that. You have a range that can only be added to, not overpowered in any way, and I want to be that extra something, that stability that you need." Noticing the way Shay continued to stare at him with hesitation and uncertainty, Dan moved to his side, grabbing his hand and intertwining their fingers, squeezing reassuringly. "You trust me, don't you?"
Shay answered without thinking. "I trust you with my life."
"Then trust me on this," Dan pleaded. "I have a feeling. I have a feeling that this is what we're meant to do. You said that we're soulmates, and that is very much the case, but we're also meant to be together musically as well as romantically. Do you see what I'm saying, Shay? It was fate that brought us together, and this..." he gestured towards the guitars and the microphone in the back of the room, standing out like beacons against the stark white walls. "this is our fate."
"All of this sounds amazing," Shay said finally, after what felt like an eternity of silence had passed between them, a bout of quiet that was filled with static electricity and unspoken questions. "but what if it doesn't work? What if we don't work?"
"We were created to find each other," Dan reminded him. "That's what soulmates are. You and I...we're the perfect duo, in each and every sense of the word, the missing half to each other's whole, the lost piece of a jigsaw puzzle that we weren't even aware we were needing until last night, but if by some chance this doesn't work out, and things don't go as planned?" He lifted a hand, gently caressing Shay's cheek, pushing a few strands of unruly black hair out of his eyes. "At least we'll always have us."
Shay pondered over the details of this spontaneously created conversation until he became dizzy, staring past Dan at a crack in the wall until his vision became blurry and he could no longer make out anything except for discolored shapes. "We'll always have us, that's definitely true," he started, and Dan stepped back a few inches so that his hand was now resting on Shay's shoulder, moving slowly up and down the top of his arm as if he were afraid that he would vanish if he let go of him too quickly. "and although I have my doubts about this whole musical duo thing, I also have my doubts as to what will happen if we don't pursue this. I trust you, and if you truly feel like this is what we're meant to do...I guess we'll never know if we don't try." Before Dan could reply, Shay pressed a finger against his lips, quieting his next exclamations. "I do have one favor to ask, though--let's try a few things before we go rushing to the nearest record label, okay? This is serious, and we need to work out what songs we'll sing in front of the executives, what sort of things we'll ask them, and where we'll go from there if we do indeed get signed."
"Of course," Dan grinned, and instantaneously the entire room became brighter, as if he held all of the sun's rays in his smile. "that's exactly what I was thinking."
"You're crazy, Dan Smyers," Shay told him, but his eyes were glowing, and there was something in his tone that led the man in front of him to think that he didn't entirely believe what he was saying, either.
"I may be," Dan said, a small chuckle escaping from his lips, his arms snaking around Shay's waist, pulling him closer. "but just like my confidence, it's something you'll learn to love about me."
Shay didn't reply; instead, he closed the distance between the two, and there was something strangely pleasant about the way he had to stand on his tiptoes to kiss Dan, the way his chin rested perfectly in the crook of his neck, as if he truly was meant for him, as if heaven itself had created them to be apart only to gift them the happiness of finding each other.
It was a slow, lingering kiss, the kind that communicated more than words ever could, and neither were certain how long they stood there, reveling in the warmth that came from the open window and the other's embrace. In fact, when they were together, time was something that was incomprehensible, a foreign concept that they didn't bother keeping track of. It could have been five minutes after midnight when they ascended the staircase into Dan's bedroom, sitting together on the bed and watching television, conversing about everything and nothing until, eventually, their trading of stories faded into exhaustion, or it could have been five in the morning; Shay wasn't certain, and he made no effort to look at his watch. He was still talking when he realized Dan was asleep, and with a quiet laugh he reached past him to turn off the TV, finding the sleeping man in his arms infinities more pleasing than anything a television screen could ever offer.
Shay himself was having trouble closing his eyes, unable to tear his vision away from Dan for even the slightest of seconds; Shay was noticeably shorter than Dan, and the fact that he was the one holding him was the most beautiful concept he could have ever imagined, amazed by the way his head was resting both on his chest and the pillow, one hand draped lazily across Shay's waist while the other remained on the bed for support. His lips were parted slightly, his chest rising and falling slowly with each precious breath he took, his hair curled at the ends from where he had spent countless hours tossing and turning until, eventually, he had decided that Shay's arms were where he wanted to rest. Shay had seen many pieces of artwork; priceless paintings hung in various museums across the country, meticulously created sculptures in the parks around his hometown, glossy photographs in windows of downtown Nashville, arrays of vibrant colors and contrasting black and whites--but there was something unique about Dan, something that not even a million dollars could compare to. It was in his smile, the bright dazzling kind that could put the Tennessee stars to shame, evident in the way he carried himself, in his muscular arms and reflected in his deep brown eyes, in his voice and his aura and his personality. For all of his life, Shay had thought that the definition of home was a place; a building, perhaps, or the house that people grew up in when they were younger, a combination of bricks and drywall and tiled floors, of foundations and front porches and glass windows, of something that could be physically touched, physically inhabited and lived in. After all, that's what a home was--it was the sense of stability that kept you grounded, the one thing that you could always return to, even when it seemed as if all else had long since been lost.
Never, not even for a split second, had Shay dreamed that he would find his home in the form of a 6'3'' man with hair the color of midnight, tan skin like melted honey, and eyes that could hold a thousand individual galaxies in their irises, planets and stars and entire universes reflected in his gaze and an unsurpassed, indescribable love and affection in his heart.
Chapter 3: all of the love songs were about you.
Shay eventually must have dozed off during the night, because when he awoke a second time warm sunlight was filtering down upon him and the curtains in the window were blowing idly in a cool morning breeze, the watch on his arm ticking incessantly in his ear from where he had fallen asleep cradling it against his cheek. Slowly, he began to sit up; Dan was still resting in his arms, and he did as much as he could to avoid waking him, idly tangling his fingers in his hair and watching as the soft tendrils slipped through them like black feathers. There was something ethereal about this image, something indescribably beautiful about the way the rays from the sun shone down upon Dan's features, causing his tan skin to appear as if it were glowing, his eyelashes resting gracefully on the curve of his high cheekbones, the covers wrapped halfway around his waist, one leg draped across Shay's own while the other dangled awkwardly off the side of the bed. To anyone else, this position may not have been comfortable, but Shay couldn't imagine anywhere else he would have wanted to be in that very moment, instead feeling as if the entire world was resting against his chest, as if he were holding a living and breathing angel in his grasp. Shay was so caught up, as usual, in the beauty that was Dan Smyers that he didn't even realize the other man was now awake, gazing up at him with one eye cracked open and an amused smirk on his face. "Are you staring at me again?" he asked, and the sound of his voice in the morning, deep and raspy, was Shay's new favorite thing, a wonderful noise that he wanted to hear for the rest of his days.
"I always stare at you," Shay admitted, and Dan's skin was soft and cool against his as he leaned down to lightly press his lips against his forehead. "therefore, you shouldn't be surprised."
"I never said I was surprised," Dan said, chuckling. "I was simply stating facts." With some effort he began to sit up, reluctantly unwrapping himself from Shay's embrace and resting his back against the headboard, already missing the protection and solace he had felt in the other man's arms. Shay noticed this and immediately intertwined their fingers, Dan sighing contentedly as he rested his head against his shoulder. The need to touch each other was a desire that never left, even after hours spent together; after all, Shay was like a second lung that kept Dan breathing, an extra heart in his chest that kept blood coursing through his veins, a part of him that was as natural as if he had been there all of his life. "You know something that's insane," he whispered, more to himself than to Shay, who glanced down at him with an expression of genuine curiosity. "What's insane?"
Dan lifted his hands to gesture between the two of them. "This. Us. The way I feel about you," he continued, his tone one of pure disbelief and awe. "I never thought in a million years that I would meet someone in my lifetime that would ever make me feel the way you have in two days. In fact, seventy-two hours ago, if anyone would have warned me that I would be falling in love with you as intensely as I am in this very moment, I would have told them they were crazy, because it is. It is crazy, and it's something straight out of one of those cheap cliche romance novels, but it's also the truest, most realest thing I've ever experienced in my entire life." He glanced up at Shay, into those wide brown eyes that were only a few shades lighter than those of his own, and the affection, the love, that he saw reflected there was enough to temporarily render him speechless. "Would it be too soon to tell you that I don't know how I ever existed before you walked into my life and completely turned it upside down in the best, most beautiful way possible, or should I save that line for later?"
Shay shook his head as if he were awaking from some sort of dream, which would have been fitting, seeing as he couldn't imagine a realistic scenario that would have been as perfect as this. "It wouldn't be too soon," he reassured him, "not too soon at all, because I feel the exact same way. It's true that this is crazy and insane and completely messed up, but that's what makes it so special. The best love is the kind that's unconventional, unexpected, and without any rules or conditions, and that's exactly what this is. It's exactly what we are. I can honestly say that before I met you, I had no idea what I was doing or what purpose I had in life, but you, Dan Smyers...you are my purpose, and I realized that as soon as I laid eyes on you. I knew, inexplicably, that you were going to either completely ruin me or make me the happiest man alive, and thankfully, the latter became reality, although I still don't fully understand it. I don't think I'll ever fully understand it, actually. After all, why should I have believed that someone like you, so perfect and beautiful, would fall for someone like me?"
"What do you mean, someone like you?" Dan's smile had faded, Shay's words washing away the last traces of humor from his tone as if they were raindrops on a windshield, his expression now serious as he readjusted, repositioning himself so that he was at eye-level with the man beside of him.
"I mean exactly what I said," Shay replied, and his gaze drifted downwards, as if he were ashamed of what he was confessing. "I'm no one special. I'm just a simple human with flaws and imperfections and here you are, this spectacular angel who I feel blessed just to be in the same room with. You'll always be better than I am, and I will accept that with open arms, but I guess I'll always have this fear that you'll find someone better, someone who's as equally attractive, as equally magnificent, as you are, and honestly, you deserve that. You deserve better."
Dan lifted his hand and placed it against Shay's cheek, his fingers gently caressing his face as if he were holding a doll that would break if handled too carelessly. "Hey," his voice was soft, as light as a leaf being carried on an autumn breeze, as soothing as water trickling over rocks. "Please, don't ever let me hear you say that again, okay? You are you, and you are beautiful. You are the most one-of-a-kind individual I have ever met, and you are attractive, in all of the ways that count. You have the purest heart, the purest soul, of anyone I have ever come across in my twenty-five years of being on this Earth. The 'imperfections', as you call them, are what make you you. They're what make you unique, and they're what make me love you. Actually, I love every single part of you, inside and out, and I will always love you. I won't find anyone better because, in my eyes, there is no one better." He smiled, and Shay was reminded of light at the end of a tunnel, a sudden burst of color and life in the midst of black darkness. "Don't ever doubt your worth, Shay, and don't ever doubt how much I love you and will continue to love you, alright?"
"I thought you said you were in the process of falling for me," Shay tried to play it off, tried to hide how his words were affecting him, struggling to speak through the lump that had lodged in his throat and to blink back the tears that stung the corner of his vision. "Falling in love and being in love are two different things."
"Seeing as it's impossible for me to fall any harder for you than I already have," Dan started, that wonderful grin never leaving his face. " I'd say it's pretty safe to go ahead and tell you that yes, Shay Mooney, I am in love with you, and I have been from the beginning, from the moment you told me your name to last night, laying here and listening to you tell me stories from your childhood and your past, and I will love you, as far as I'm concerned, until I die. Again, this sounds crazy, and a lot of people wouldn't believe that you mean so much to me after knowing you for such a short amount of time, but as long as you believe it, that's all that matters."
"I love you, too," Shay admitted, and tears were flowing freely down his cheeks now, staining Dan's fingertips from where they remained pressed against his skin. "More than I thought I would. More than I thought was possible, and I just want to say that if this is a dream, if you're a dream, I never want to wake up."
Dan was silent, and he wondered if Shay could tell that he himself was trying not to cry, suddenly overcome with emotions that he would have never expected yet trying to hide them in the only way he knew how. He diverted his gaze, staring down at his fingers that were still intertwined with Shay's, marveling at the way they fit together so perfectly and flawlessly, and when he finally found the words, he was surprised at how steady his voice was. "I can reassure you that this isn't a dream, but if by some strange chance it is, I never want to wake up, either." It was in that moment that he became done with conversation, wanting to express to this other man things that he couldn't say, needing to show him that he was what he wanted, what he would always want.
Leaning forwards, slowly but not hesitantly, Dan connected his lips with Shay's, and although they had kissed multiple times during the past three days, somehow, this one was his favorite. Starting off slow but soon gaining intensity, Shay wrapped his arms around Dan's waist, clasping his hands together behind his back and pulling him closer, so impossibly close that neither of them could tell where one ended and the other began. "I love you," Dan said for the second time that morning, whispering the words against Shay's lips. "and I'll always love you."
Shay was prepared to repeat the words back to him but was cut off by yet another kiss, and he could feel Dan's pulse fluttering rythmically in time with his own underneath of his fingertips, a wild embrace that conveyed how much they meant to each other, the sort of affection that broke all barriers of language. He felt as if the entire world were crashing and spinning incessantly all around them, yet in the same sense, Dan was the tether that kept him grounded, the anchor that prevented him from sinking. Shay saw fireworks bursting against his eyelids, bright reds, neon greens, metallic blues, and he wondered if he had been existing in a world that was completely black-and-white, and Dan's kiss had shown him a beautiful, incomparable land of life, of love, of color. He was touching him so delicately, so honestly, as if he were the most fragile thing in existence, afraid to be too forceful for fear that he may shatter.
When Dan finally pulled away, breathless and with flushed cheeks, his eyes were sparkling with so much intensity that Shay couldn't help but wonder if he had somehow managed to capture the entire night sky in his irises, brown with flecks of gold and silver staring down at him. "So," he chuckled, "what are our plans for the rest of the day?"
Shay shrugged, not wanting to say that he would have been fine with simply laying in bed with him for the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon. "I was hoping you could tell me."
"We could work on some music," Dan offered, "seeing as we still haven't sung together yet."
"That's exactly what I was thinking," Shay told him, and he was praying that Dan couldn't hear how badly he was lying, hoping that a smile would cover up the fact that he actually hadn't thought about music, not when he had other things to distract him, such as the taste of Dan's lips and the feeling of his hand in his.
Dan glanced at the man below him out of the corner of his eye, a knowing expression crossing his features and a small laugh escaping from his lips. "I can tell when you're lying, you know," he reminded him, and Shay looked away guiltily. "but honestly I wasn't thinking about music, either. I would much rather stay here with you for the rest of the afternoon--in fact, I want that more than anything. However, if we want this whole duo thing to work out, we need to actually make some progress, even if said progress is nothing more than writing one song or recording one set of vocals." With a reluctant sigh Dan pushed himself up off of the bed, pressing one final kiss to Shay's cheek before standing.
Shay watched him as he walked away, and he continued to do so until his silhouette had disappeared around the corner and the sounds of running water from the bathroom became audible. He remained sitting on the edge of the bed for what felt like a million heartbeats, and it was as he was doing so, his eyes now moving to the ceiling, counting the various cracks in the plaster and tears in the drywall, that lyrics began to flash in his brain, hints of words and fragmented sentences dancing around his vision. Humming softly to himself, Shay grabbed a pen and a piece of paper from the journal that remained on the nightstand, eagerly flipping to a blank page and beginning to write down this new song that had mysteriously and instantaneously formed in his mind, thinking of the protection he had felt in Dan's arms and the way it had felt to kiss him in the early morning sun's rays, the dark-haired angel with the brown eyes never failing to inspire him in ways he had never dreamt possible. He was so caught up in the action of writing that he barely noticed Dan's approach, the sound of footsteps and the rustling as he rummaged through one of the drawers in his closet only a faint, muffled background noise compared to the intensity of the song that was currently playing in his head. "Writing already?"
Shay looked up, almost dropping the pen he was tightly cradling between his index finger and his thumb, smearing the ink and staining his skin with the thick black liquid. "Yes," he smiled sheepishly, closing the notebook and standing so that he was meeting Dan's gaze, taking in his newfound attire of dark jeans and a black tank top with a picture of a small dog printed on the front, along with the phrase 'puppies make me happy' etched unto the fabric in bright yellow lettering. "Nice shirt," he added, although the way the fabric stretched across his muscles and showed the veins in his arms made it hard for Shay to catch his breath, causing him to pause and regather his composure before continuing. "of course, from someone who once proudly confessed that puppies were their passion, I shouldn't expect anything less."
Dan smirked and reached past him to pick up the journal that was now facedown on the bed, an expression of deep concentration passing over his features as he struggled to find the content that Shay had just created. Once he had done so, he glanced over the material in front of him three separate times, unable to comprehend that something as thoughtful and as precise as this could have been prepared by someone in less than ten minutes. "You seriously wrote this while I was in the shower?"
Shay nodded once, a feeling of dread beginning to creep up on him, afraid that Dan's actions and silence meant that he was disappointed in what he had read. "Yes, but it's still very much a work in progress."
"No," Dan shook his head in bewilderment, still cradling the leather-bound book against his chest as if it were a precious jewel that needed to be protected. "This....this is a lyrical masterpiece." There was amazement reflected in his gaze, Shay now noticed, that unspoken, unsurpassed sense of wonder that his presence seemed to always create. "A song like this, that's as complex, as beautiful, as this one is, usually takes even the most gifted of songwriters years to write, and yet you put pen to paper and within minutes you have created something so special, so wonderful that I can't even begin to explain or describe. Shay, you..." his voice cracked, and he ran his fingers through his hair absently before using them to grip Shay's shoulders and bring him closer, spinning him around and sending him crashing against him. He was so close, in fact, that he could smell Dan's aftershave, and it mixed with the scent of his shampoo and the soap that lingered on his skin in a way that caused Shay to temporarily lose all train of thought, rendering him speechless for a few moments as he paused to breathe in this beautiful work of art standing before him. "you never cease to amaze me." Dan said finally, and it was only then that he released his grip on the journal, laying it gently down on the bed as he turned his attention back to Shay. "Do you have a name for it yet? The song, I mean. Have you named it?"
Shay paused contemplatively. "No," he admitted, "but if I had to choose, I'd probably say an appropriate name would be Close Your Eyes."
"That is appropriate," Dan agreed. He continued to stare at him, brown eyes twinkling with so much ferocity that they shone even brighter than the fluorescent lights surrounding the two, a knowing half-smile stretching across his features. "If I may ask, what inspired you to write such a song?"
"You," Shay said quickly, without sparing a moment to consider whether or not he should freely admit this fact. "and if you're surprised, you shouldn't be. Every song I write, from this moment on, will be about you."
Dan, for what felt like the millionth time that morning, was rendered speechless, the words tumbling from Shay's lips never ceasing to steal all of the air from his lungs. "And suddenly all of the love songs were about you," he whispered, more to himself than to the man across from him. "Sorry," he muttered apologetically, noticing the way Shay tilted his head in confusion. "I was just repeating something I've heard a few times over the years." He lifted one hand and placed it gently on Shay's cheek, feeling the comfort of soft, skin underneath his fingertips, using the other to wrap around his waist and pull him even closer. "Well, in case you couldn't tell last night, that song I asked for you to sing, the one called Show You Off? I may have lied a little when I told you that I wrote it just to see if it would fit your voice--the truth is, I wrote it for you. I wrote it about you. Actually, I've written four songs about you, which, once again, seems a bit crazy seeing as we haven't even known each other four days, but..." he bent down to retrieve the journal a second time, flipping through a few pages before he finally found the ones he was looking for, proudly turning it around and showing it to a smiling Shay. "The first one, Stop Drop and Roll, I wrote yesterday, even before we went on that spectacular date. I have a way of predicting things before they happen, you see," he chuckled as Shay read the first line and glanced up at him in amusement. "You had to mention the sixty-five Mustang, didn't you?"
Dan shrugged modestly. "What can I say? I love my car. I also mentioned the truck," he added, flipping to the next page, the one with the song titled Parking Brake written in sloppy cursive.
"You mentioned a two-toned Ford," Shay jokingly corrected him. "in case you've had a lapse in memory, your truck is a rattletrap Silverado with a terribly faded paint job--so terrible and faded, in fact, that you can't even tell what color it is."
Dan ignored his remarks and continued speaking, pointing towards the very last page of the journal, Shay following his movements with wide, interested eyes. "The very last song, I wrote the first night we met, after I dropped you off at your apartment. It's called What You Do To Me," he began, turning his head to hide the blush that had started to color his features. "and that reminds me. I do have a word of warning for you--if we were to take these to a record label, which we will, eventually, we may have to change a few things so that they'll accept it." He spoke carefully, the humor suddenly disappearing from his tone and being replaced with a stark sense of seriousness that Shay wasn't used to.
"Change what things?" Shay asked, just as hesitantly, unsure of whether or not he wanted to hear Dan's reply. A thought was beginning to form in his brain, a warning sign that blinked in his mind like a stoplight, something dark and red and frightening.
"Well," Dan sighed deeply, absently picking at the ripped pages of the journal with his free hand, the rings adorning his fingers glittering underneath the overhead lights. "the music industry, especially here in Nashville, is very...fickle," he decided eventually. "and I'm not certain that they'll be very accepting of the fact that these songs were written by a guy, about a guy. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I've thought about the same thing," Shay admitted. "and I do understand what you're saying. Before we bring this journal to the record label, we'll have to rewrite some of the songs using different pronouns. It shouldn't be too difficult; all we have to do is pretend to be singing about some random girl instead of each other."
Dan rolled his eyes. "Oh, sure. That shouldn't be too difficult at all." He shook his head, but defiance had replaced the evident worry in his tone when he spoke up once more, a fierce strength that was yet another one of the infinite things Shay loved about him. "It doesn't matter if they accept us, though, because we know what we're truly singing about--who we're truly singing about. We know the stories behind our songs, the inspirations, and we know about the love we share. Even if we have to keep this, us, a secret for the rest of our lives..." he stepped forward, and Shay could see sprinkles of amber in his eyes, tiny individual stars shining back at him. "we'll always have each other, and no one can ever take that away from us. They may can change what we write songs about, but they will never, not in a million years, change the way I feel about you, because the way I feel about you is timeless." He was prepared to say something else, but Shay took the opportunity to kiss him, and instantaneously everything else around Dan, all of the fears and uncertainties and concerns, evaporated into irrelevant nothingness, darkness being replaced with sheer, blinding light. His solitary focus was Shay and only Shay, the way it felt to tangle his fingers in his hair, the familiar taste of his lips, the sensation of his skin against Dan's. "I love you," he said quietly, and it wasn't only a confession of emotion but an unwavering, unbreakable promise. "Today, tomorrow, and forever."
"Today, tomorrow, and forever," Dan repeated, and he was in the process of moving to kiss him again when he remembered why exactly they had stopped their earlier intimate embrace. "You're so distracting," he told Shay, earning himself a wide smile that caused Dan's heart to feel as if it were swelling, contracting and filling with so much love that he feared it may burst at any given moment. "but we do need to get in the studio, or either we will continue to get absolutely nowhere." Without giving Shay a chance to protest Dan took his hand, leading him down the flight of steps and into the basement, immediately picking up his guitar and glancing over at him expectantly, Shay returning the glance with an expression of alarm. "What are you doing?" he asked nervously, noticing the way Dan was pointing towards the microphone in the center of the room, the one with wires leading to a complex computer system.
"We've already done our writing for today," Dan told him, "and you know what the next step is as well as I do. You record your vocals first, and I'll join in."
Shay sighed reluctantly but did as he was told, positioning himself in front of the microphone and taking a deep breath. Soon, the only sounds in the basement were the sounds of singing and Dan strumming the guitar, a beautiful myriad of noise that sounded angelic even to Shay's own ears. It was when the song was halfway finished that he realized that Dan was singing along, and everything the other man had promised him turned out to be true in such a way that it surprised not only Shay, but Dan as well.
Whereas Shay's voice was like water, something calm, clear, and smooth, Dan was the moon that pulled the tides, the jagged rocks that kept the waves from crashing onto the shore; a deep, powerful, rough yet tranquil force that, paired with Shay's range and incomparable high notes, resulted in a beautiful harmony that was unlike anything either of them had ever before heard.
This continued on for the remainder of the evening and into the early morning, the next few days holding the same chapter of events until hours turned into weeks, and weeks turned into a month. Soon, before either men knew what was happening, summer had reached its climax; the days grew longer and hotter, and each extended second felt like individual blissful lifetimes.
For as long as Shay could remember, summer had always been his favorite time of year. It was sunshine and joy, barbecues and picnics, ripe watermelon and endless blue skies. It was casual Sunday drives in his Jeep, tires kicking up rocks on the dirt roads between Dan's house and the city, hair blowing in the wind and the speakers blasting whatever music was drifting through the speakers. It was lakeside rendezvous in Dan's Mustang, intentionally getting caught in rainstorms just so they could lift the top and seek shelter in the backseat. It was wet clothes sticking to damp skin, smeared handprints on fogged-up windows, passionate touches as the thunder roared above them. It was days spent sleeping in late and staying up all night, evening recording sessions in Dan's basement that, more often than not, resulted in the exchange of tender kisses more so than the trade of any ideas or lyrics. It was afternoons spent on Dan's porch, sunburned hands gripping Mason jars filled with alcohol-laced lemonade, watching as honeybees pollinated the flowers in their garden while storm clouds rolled in the distance. It was heat lightning tearing across the heavens and casting shadows across Dan's features as they lay in the back of his truck, a blanket on the tailgate and their arms wrapped around each other for protection, Shay wishing he had a camera so that he could capture moments like these for eternity.
It was also the summer that both Shay and Dan would remember for as long as they lived, a season that completely changed and altered the course of their futures, bringing with it tears, joy, heartbreak, and the kind of memories that would never fade, no matter how many years tried to dampen their intensity.