When is a date not a date? When one of the people on it has no idea that it even is one…
For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise
“Have dinner with me tonight, Seth?” Ryan’s voice was hesitant even to his own ear, betraying the nervousness in the simplicity of his question. The clink of the mug of coffee against the table seemed unfairly loud when he put it down, leaving him wondering how he could even hear it over the blood rushing in his own ears.
Seth nodded without looking up, continuing to turn the pages of the heavy book laid out on the table at the same steady pace he had been doing for the past hour, curling his free hand around the offered coffee. “Of course.”
“Just you and me. Okay?” Ryan’s words came out in a rush, and he flinched when Seth raised a curious eye to him, falling briefly to the mug in Ryan’s own hands then back up to his face.
“What about Louise?”
Louise. Ryan’s long-suffering housemate and self-adopted little sister would probably shriek with laughter at his pathetic efforts later when he told her, and then curl up next to him on the couch for all the gruesome details of his embarrassment. But she wasn’t home, so couldn’t see him suffering first hand, and Ryan felt it was only normal to be thankful for the small mercy that was.
“Louise’s busy. Doing Louise stuff. Besides,” he added, still rushing through his words as he crosses his arms tightly across his chest. “Thought it’d be n- good… for us. Catch up. You know?” although catching up from what, and since when, he didn’t know, since there had been exactly two days in the past three weeks when he had not spent at least a few hours in Seth’s company.
Seth gave a curious smile, nodding again. “Of course, Ryan. That would be good.”
“Good! Good. Okay then. I’ll… I’ll let you get back to your…” and Ryan stopped mid-sentence to glance along the length of the book spin and smile. “To Louise’s compendium on Middle Earth,”
Seth smiled in answer, his eyes fixed on Ryan as he turned away quickly on his heel and returned to the couch, picking up the magazine he’d not been reading and looking up when he was sure Seth had returned to his book.
Seth looked out of the passenger window of Ryan’s, fingers idly tapping along to the music against the frame of the glass. They passed an all-you-can-eat buffet, and something that looked like a giant steakhouse, before turning into a parking space outside a beautifully-lit restaurant with a warm glow spilling out of its windows onto the pavement outside.
Noticing this was not the typical kind of place they went for food, Seth looked over the restaurant in interest then and turned back to Ryan, a question clear in his expression.
Ryan cleared his throat. “Thought we’d try something new seeing it’s just us. Saw this place yesterday when we were passing. Figured we’d give it a go.”
Seth smiled, “Of course. It looks Italian?”
Ryan nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Italian. Are we heading in?” He cracked the door open and stepped out into the cold night air, watching his breath cloud in front of him as he waited for Seth to climb out of his side of the car.
At the door of the restaurant, Ryan cleared his throat again and stopped Seth with a hand lightly on his forearm. Reaching forward, he tugged on the cold metal handle and gestured for Seth to go in first. Once inside, they were greeted by a waitress, who studied them for a moment at the ‘wait here’ sign, then smiled knowingly, giving Ryan a wink, and led them to the furthest side of the restaurant into one of the boothed tables offering a little privacy.
They slid in either side of the booth, Ryan studying Seth’s every reaction as he took in their surroundings in interest, then turned back to him with a pleased smile.
After a brief discussion over the menus they ordered, bruschetta to start, and two unpronounceable pasta dishes for main. Ryan played nervously with the edge of his napkin as they waited for their drinks, uncomfortable with their comfortable silence, and scratching around in his brain for an opening to conversation.
Finally he settled with, “So Seth. This okay?”
Again, Seth looked confused. “I don’t know-”
“This. You, me, dinner. It’s okay?”
“We have eaten together numerous times before, Ryan.” Seth replied, reasonably. “The restaurant is a little… different, but that is all. We’ve never had a problem eating together before.”
“Right. Right. Same as always…” Ryan’s voice trailed away with a forlorn edge to it, the napkin between his fingers shredding in one violent twist.
Their drinks arrived then, and Seth’s eyes stayed intently on Ryan, aware something was on his mind. Ryan shrugged the look away in dismissal.
The beer in Ryan’s hand calmed him a little, giving him something else to focus on besides his nerves. He took a long pull of it, then launched into their usual small talk, speaking about Louise, their friends, Seth’s excitement over a new delivery of books that he was looking forward to cataloging and adding to their local library, and Ryan’s own day attempting to make the periodic table interesting to a bunch of 11 year olds.
The bruschetta was announced a messy success, with both of them dropping pieces of it onto their pristine plates with embarrassed laughs. Ryan’s tension lessened every time one of them laughed, his eyes crinkling up at the look of concentration on Seth’s face as he fought to keep everything in one place.
Their pasta dishes met with approval too; Ryan nudged his plate towards Seth so he could try some of his, and Seth offered the same in kind. In fact, by all standards, the evening was enjoyable, and comfortable, and any awkwardness he’d initially been feeling had gone without any trace.
Ryan insisted Seth try tiramisu, even when Seth protested that he was too full to even suck in a breath. After a little debate they agreed on one piece to share, and before Ryan could stop himself, he’d slid a fork through the layers, then leaned across the table, pausing it just in front of Seth’s mouth.
Ryan’s eyes fixed firmly on those lips, licking his own as he waited for Seth to move. Seth opened his mouth slowly, leaning forward to taste, dragging the full piece of tiramisu off the end of the fork and into his mouth, unaware of how still Ryan had become as he did. He chewed, savouring it for a moment then swallowed it down with a wide smile of approval.
“This is very good, Ryan. I think I like tiramisu. I am surprised I have never tried it before,”
Ryan smiled, gathering another piece onto his fork and reaching out again. Seth accepted it with no complaint, huffing out a little sigh of contentment.
“Are you not having any?” Seth asked, when Ryan didn’t take any himself.
Ryan dragged his eyes away from Seth, taking a bite, and when he raised his head again he found Seth watching him in thought.
“Something is different about this meal.”
Seth’s statement set Ryan’s heart off thudding in protest, and he broke eye contact, fingers nervously strumming against his beer. The truth was, he always thought Seth was a little oblivious to things unless they were set out clearly to him, but if it had taken him the entire meal to notice something was up, it didn’t bode well for what Ryan was hoping him to understand.
“Ryan,” Seth prompted softly when he had quite found what he wanted to say back.
Ryan’s hand flew to the back of his neck, his unconscious thinking spot for when he got nervous. “It doesn’t have to be different. Not if you don’t want it to be.” was all he could offer, the words he actually wanted to say stuck in his throat, and Ryan closed his eyes in disappointment at himself, letting out a small sigh.
“How can I want it to be anything when I don’t know what’s different?” was Seth’s bewildered answer, Ryan felt his face flush.
“Seth. Come on. I know you’re not… fluent in people sometimes, but come on, man. I’ve been pretty obvious,”
Seth continued to stare at him blankly and Ryan let out a small whine of exasperation.
“Alright. Pretend you’re doing your observing thing like you do when you’re people watching in the library, making up lives for them, and watching us instead,”
“Okay,” Seth agreed cautiously, suspicion tinging the tone of his answer.
“From the outside. I’ve asked you out to dinner – alone. Taken you to a place we’d never normally come to. We’ve sat here, just us, and… I’ve even fed you dessert off of my own fork.” Ryan hated the feeling of blushing raging across his cheeks, though forced his eyes to stay on Seth’s even when they tried to drop to his own lap. “Don’t make me say it, Seth. What’s it look like to you?”
Seth took in the flush to Ryan’s face, the uncomfortable way he was sitting, and narrowed his eyes in thought. And what seemed to Ryan like several decades later, answered uncertainly, with, “It would look to me as though we were on a date, Ryan.”
“It would.” Ryan’s own response was part confirmation, part embarrassment.
Seth’s face remained a mask, but the thoughts rushing through his mind then made his response curt, and sure. “But this can’t be a date, Ryan.”
And in that moment, Ryan wanted to slide from the seat and run. The plummeting of his heart into his stomach made him feel sick and sweaty all over, fearing the few scoops of that dessert he’d so willingly shared might be about to make a reappearance.
Seth noticed the immediate change in Ryan’s stature and frowned even harder, trying again. “It can’t be a date, Ryan, because in order for it to be a date, you would have had to have asked me.”
Ryan startled at that, his eyes blowing wide. Had he not been obvious enough? “I did ask you, Seth,”
“You asked me to have dinner with you,”
When Ryan said nothing, Seth felt a solitary clutch at his chest and tried for a third time. “But you did not say it was a date.” Seth maintained to himself that he was right. Even if his heart was beating its own excited little rhythm. Even if perhaps his naivety had meant he’d found himself in the middle of something very, very good.
“Well. I know you haven’t dated much, but. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to say the word ‘date’ for the event to ‘be’ a date. You just… you know. Assume.” and Ryan kicked himself again for overestimating Seth’s understanding of, well. So many things. He liked order, and form, arguments to be presented with clear cut statements, and absolutely nothing that even resembled ambiguity would ever stand a chance of being understood.
“Oh.” was all Seth could manage say, because it looked suspiciously like that was a confirmation of what he was thinking.
“Out of interest. If I’d have used the word date. What would you have said?” Ryan’s fingers started up their nervous worrying of everything within his reach, and he avoided eye contact, bracing for the worst.
“I would have said yes, obviously.”
Ryan’s fingers paused and the fork he’d been spinning clattered loudly to his plate. “You… would?”
Ryan stared back at Seth, temporarily lost for words.
Impatience crept in on Seth, and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the table. “Ryan,”
“It’s a date, Seth.” Ryan blurted out, fists bumping against the table. “It’s a date. I’ve been wanting to do something about… this thing between us for… so long. But I keep coming up with excuses.”
“Why?” and there was genuine bafflement in Seth’s question.
Which was exactly why Ryan didn’t do this kind of stuff. He didn’t know how. Didn’t have the words for it. “This is me we’re talking about. I’m not good at… this. Besides,” he added, shifting in his seat, “I’ve never really figured out if you knew what you were doing.”
“What I was doing?”
Ryan laughed, but there was no humour in it at all. “The way you are with me. The way I am with you. How we’re… different. With each other. To the way we are with other people.”
Seth looked away, and swallowed nervously. “I am aware.”
Ryan pressed his fingers into the table then, watching them as they splayed splayed. “If you’re aware, does that mean you feel something? For me?”
“Of course, Ryan, I-”
“I meant beside the friendship thing and the… marathoning shows together thing. Book recommendations. Clothes shopping together ‘cos we both suck at it. Something else. Something more than all that,” and Ryan couldn’t keep the hope from his voice no matter how hard he tried to.
Seth bunched his fingers into the legs of his jeans and let the squeeze of it settle him a little. Took a deep breath. Looked Ryan directly in the eyes. “Yes, Ryan. I’ve always felt something ‘more’ for you. Always. Ever since we met,”
Ryan thought back to the time he’d been finding some book titles for his students to do real, honest-to-god research with in the library, when he’d walked straight into Seth’s book trolley and ended up sprawled out on the scratchy library carpet. It hadn’t been love at first sight, but it had sort of been head over heels, with him instantly fascinated by Seth, and steadily falling for him afterwards and ever since.
Ryan raised his hands in a gesture that screamed about his helplessness. “Then how come you never said anything either?”
Seth shrugged. “I assumed you did not reciprocate.”
Ryan glared then, and without warning leaned across to grab the collar of Seth’s shirt, dragging him forward. “Reciprocate this.” he grumbled, pressing his lips hard against Seth’s and showing in no uncertain terms what he’d not been able to verbalise for years.