It’s been exactly eight days, seven hours, and thirteen minutes since Damien saw Elias last, and as he cranes his neck to look for his bus pulling in to the station, Damien is convinced he can feel the seconds ticking by adding extra tension to his stomach.
Not that he’s been counting all that time passing, of course, nor spent hours mournfully staring up at the ceiling of his room unable to concentrate on anything but the fact that Elias isn’t with him. And it’s not even that long really since Damien’s been able to call Elias his boyfriend; only nine months and seventeen days. But with Elias being away for the past eight days, seven hours, and fourteen minutes, does that somehow wipe hours off that total? Since time has stolen Elias from him for all those days, does he have to reduce the time he can proudly boast of being his?
Of course not, Damien grumbles under his breath, apologising to the woman stood beside him also waiting as he jostles her, who scowls at him briefly from behind wide-rimmed glasses, then softens her expression into a kinder smile.
“I hate bus stations,” she sighs, turning her gaze back to the gap between two buildings that everyone around them is focussing on, where in a few short minutes, traffic being willing, Elias’ bus is going to come screeching around the corner and change Damien’s own grimace into a smile. “It’s the anticipation. Every bus that comes in, you think is going to be the one you’re looking for. And then you’re disappointed when it isn’t.”
It’s a little too profound for this cold, Monday morning, though Damien thinks he’s not being too melodramatic when he declares to himself that all Mondays are cold. All mornings, every moment when he’s not got Elias with him; which makes him sound like a possessive bastard, he then chides himself, and nods in answer to the woman waiting with him.
“Yeah,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to, and shuffles in discomfort on the spot. He knows he set off far earlier than was necessary to meet Elias at the station, but the waiting there in his bedroom with nothing providing adequate distraction had him curling his fists into tight balls in the duvet one moment, then pacing the few metres of floor space there the next.
A bus appears then, the protest of its engine echoing around the bus station, making Damien’s blood surge until he sees it’s a local bus instead of a national one, and he’s sinking into disappointment all over again. That’s the seventh bus that’s taunted him with not being the one to deliver Elias to him, and though he knows it’s no one’s fault he’s cursing traffic jams, rude drivers that haven’t given way, and lane hoggers for delaying Elias getting back.
The bus isn’t even late yet, Damien sighs with a quick glance at the large clock suspended overhead to their side, glaring at the ticking of the seconds and not sure if he’s willing them to speed up to get Elias back to him, or pleading with them to stop, so this awful stretch of time without him doesn’t ache so much. Eight days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes might not sound all that much to anyone else, but to Damien, it’s like he’s been aware of every passing second.
The collective group anticipation of all those waiting for arrivals doesn’t help, Damien thinks, nudging a little closer to the woman stood beside him who he’s decided to name Chloe instead of profound woman, because she looks just like the librarian in his university library, even favours the same autumnal colours, apparently, in everything she wears. No; the air is thick with the tension of everybody waiting. He’s convinced he could bottle it, preserve it, then sell it to cinemas for films that are lacklustre, perk them up a little to get better reviews.
Damien’s housemate, Joanna, says he’s been like a tightly coiled spring all the time Elias has been gone, though she did admit she appreciated that his constant need to keep busy meant the bathroom’s never been so clean, and the kitchen cupboards never so meticulously organised. And it hasn’t helped at all seeing Joanna loved up in their lounge with her boyfriend; it’s been exactly like a serrated knife plunging into his gut every time the oaf has leaned in for a kiss.
Kevin’s not an oaf, Damien corrects himself, thinking of the smile he’s put on Joanna’s face ever since they’d stopped making eyes at each other from neighbouring tables in the local cafe half the university seems to go to. It’s just that he’s missing Elias so badly, that any unnecessary reminder that he’s gone is adding further greyness to his perpetual gloom without him.
Elias walked into his life around a year ago now, charging through the stiff door of the print shop where he works three days a week declaring it an outrage that his lecturer demanded a paper copy of his assignment when the entire world was now digital. He’d knocked into a stand of leaflets advertising their various services, nudged into a customer already waiting and sent the business cards they’d been inspecting at the counter scattering far and wide. Damian had looked up at the commotion and got stuck on the view of a cute, flustered student who he’d noticed around the campus a few times, and earned himself an embarrassed smile.
Damien swipes a thumb across his phone to see the same warm brown eyes smiling up at him from a face framed with thick curly hair, and unconsciously lets out a deep, longing sigh. Elias is cute, there’s no other way to put it, and he’s kind, gentle, clumsy as though everything in his path is either a target or an obstacle to get snagged to. He’s also a really good friend, as well as boyfriend; Damien’s excited to spend his time with Elias whatever they’re doing, even if it’s something as mundane as studying together on his couch.
What he’s going to do if Elias decides to change his mind about doing his masters at the same university next year, Damien doesn’t know, but he pushes the cruel concern about it to one side for another day, determined to enjoy every second of Elias’ company when he’s got him back with him and leave that conversation for another time. It’s now eight days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes since he saw Elias last, and he’s not going to ruin things by imagining all sorts of future possibilities, when the only future he’s currently interested in is the one that involves Elias stepping off that bus.
Another bus arrives, and then another, and a third in quick succession, and Damien’s mind decides to whisper things to him about potholes, careless drivers, buses veering off and down verges in the middle of nowhere, or crashing into the barrier of a motorway in a mangled heap. Should he call? Would Elias have kept his phone charged enough to let him know which hospital he’s been taken to? Would he even think to call him before anyone else; is Damien in his thoughts even half as much as Elias is in his?
“Enough,” Damien announces in answer to his overactive imagination, then realises belatedly that he’s said it out loud. Chloe looks up at him in sympathy, and probably even amusement, and Damien has a new distraction; the creep of blush up his neck and cheeks that is bright enough to match Chloe’s coat. Damien stamps to get some feeling back into his legs for how long he’s been standing there in the cold, fantasises about walking hand in hand with Elias back to his house, tiptoeing around Elias’ housemates who are the reason they spend so much more time in Damien’s place than his.
What if he’s tired? What if the week-long field study he’s been on has exhausted him so much that all Elias wants to do is crawl into bed alone? What if he doesn’t want to see him at all? What if he’s got the location wrong, and the bus returning the group is dropping them off at the university instead of the bus station and Elias is waiting for him on this cold Monday morning growing increasingly annoyed with his absent-minded boyfriend for misreading his messages?
Messages, Damien thinks in a panic, frantically searching through their messages and slumping in relief that he’s got the place right. Then scrolls through to their latest messages, with Elias announcing they were setting off and what time they were due to arrive, and Damien’s heart gives a little pleased thud at the softness of his words. Can’t wait to see you either, he thinks, remembering not to say it out loud this time.
And then the private hire bus is pulling in around the corner, and Damien’s heart is thudding, sending blood rushing to his ears. He barrels forward with the rest of the crowd, each of them telling themselves they have the right to be first to welcome their passengers since they’ve been there the longest, then smiling at each other falsely as though they’re not thinking such things at all.
Chloe’s obviously not waiting for anyone on Elias’ bus, because as Damien’s stepped forward she has stayed in place, frowning down at her phone and probably wondering when her own person is going to arrive. But for Damien his eight days, seven hours, and twenty-one minutes is drawing to a close, as he searches through the passengers stood in the aisle on the bus pulling bags down from overhead storage, and tries to work out which one of them is Elias.
The doors open and passengers begin to step off, and Damien’s heart protests even louder for every stooped head he doesn’t recognise, every pair of legs not adorned with Elias’ favourite jeans. And then he’s there; slowly lifting his head to search the crowd for Damien, his face splitting into a smile, and he’s waving, gesturing with this thumbs towards the underside of the bus to say he’s got to pick up a bag.
Okay, Damien thinks, his heart beginning to settle, and warmth swirling its way through his gut, he’s fine now, he can see him. And in literal seconds he’ll be right there with him, and he can get him home, tuck him up, spend the day he’s taken off from everything else in only Elias’ company. Honestly, he can’t wait.
Damien watches Elias bend down to pull a bag out and loop it over the girl stood next to him, then retrieves another for a guy in front. And then he’s grabbing his own, hoisting it up and swinging it across his chest, adjusting it with a wriggle to get it comfortable, then turning and beaming at Damien.
Damien’s got about four hundred things he’s planning on telling him, several thousand clever sentences he’s rehearsed in clever greeting. But as Elias begins to pace towards him, Damien loses the ability to speak at all. The relief for seeing him has stolen the words from his tongue, and apparently, all he’s capable of doing is continuing to smile.
Elias comes to a stop in front of him, eyes flitting over his face as though to drink him in, relearn every one of his features as Damien knows he’s doing with him. And then he’s smiling even wider, closing the gap between them, pressing bodily against his chest and claiming a kiss that’s all relief, warmth, comfort, and want. Damien wraps his hands around his waist pulling Elias in tighter, splaying his fingers as wide as his gloves will allow, and for the first time in eight days, seven hours, and twenty-four minutes, feels that he can breathe deeply. He slots his fingers through Elias’ and squeezes, tugs until they’ve found a path through the still-gathered crowd, and proudly listens to all the details of Elias’ week away as he leads him home.