And if ever I suspect that in your head you're somewhere else or you are faking, or maybe you don't think of me at all, and if ever you conspire to woo another, I will not be forsaken.
‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,’ said Dave’s Mum, giving him a hug. Her husband was already at the car, looking rather annoyed at being kicked out of his own home. ‘Have fun tomorrow.’
‘Thanks,’ said Dave. ‘Have a good trip.’
‘Bye, Aunt Abigail,’ said Mellie, hugging her as well, and then they were gone. Mellie turned to Dave. ‘Having your mum for an ally has its perks, eh?’
Dave smiled. ‘They were certainly easier to convince than last year. Come on, we’ve got a party to plan.’
They walked back inside and sat down in the living room. ‘This is going to be a right sight easier now that you’re eighteen and I can just send you to Tesco to buy all the booze we need,’ said Dave. ‘Especially since my actual birthday isn’t until Sunday.’
Mellie laughed. ‘Okay, so we need a drinks list.’ She pulled out her phone to take notes.
Dave thought for a moment. ‘Vodka, for mixing. Can be super cheap. Maybe some rum, too. The rest will be BYOB, so a box of wine or something for us and anyone without booze?’
‘Sounds good.’ Mellie put away her phone. ‘Lots of people coming?’
Dave shrugged. ‘About twenty. You’re not gonna believe this, but Mandi’s actually gonna be there.’
‘Oh, yay! I’ll finally get to meet her after you raving about her for a year.’
‘Not sure how she managed to convince her parents. But she’ll be eighteen soon, too, so maybe they think she should be able to make her own decisions now. Or maybe they’re testing her. Or, maybe they trust me to protect her from the other guys, should the need arise.’
Mellie giggled. ‘Or maybe a bit of all three. Anyway, I’m glad she’s coming. Anyone else from Dorcrest?’
‘Yvonne and Russell are coming, a bloke called Mark, girl called Sophia . . . Erin, Mae, Raymond . . . Oh, and Patrick.’
‘You’ve mentioned him before, I think.’
‘Yeah, last year he was a bit of a prick, but then . . . Well, we’re friends now. He came out to me and Mandi first day of term. He’s kind of a flirt.’ Dave felt his cheeks redden slightly, and Mellie raised an eyebrow.
‘Is that so? And do you flirt back?’
Dave smiled, looking away. ‘Sometimes.’
‘Well, I look forward to meeting him. What about the rest?’
‘Well, there’s Alan and Matt, Chas and Ellie, a couple of their friends from Sapswell, and a couple of my old teammates from football. Should be a fairly varied bunch. Cool people only, obviously.’
‘Obviously,’ Mellie echoed and nodded. ‘So, what about food?’
* * *
The next morning, Mellie went out for supplies, while Dave got to work tidying the house and making sure the cabinets with the fine china and the liquor were locked, just in case. Mellie returned with a boatload of booze, plastic cups, paper plates, and other useful things. They went out again a bit later to buy food at Tesco.
‘Damn, the self check-out is closed,’ said Mellie when they neared the exits. They turned to the registers and found that only one was open, and that that one was manned by a very familiar face.
‘Fuck,’ said Dave, at the same time as Mellie said, ‘Shit.’
‘He wasn’t at work this morning,’ said Mellie. ‘Well, we don’t have much choice. You, er . . . You want me to handle this, and you can go outside?’
Dave shook his head. ‘No, I need to get this over with. We can’t keep avoiding each other forever.’ They joined the queue. Dave’s heart hammered in his chest. He couldn’t not look, couldn’t not think. When it was their turn, Nick looked up at them and froze, like a deer in the headlights.
‘Hey Nick,’ said Mellie softly.
Nick blinked and seemed to compose himself somewhat. He looked tired. ‘Hi, Mel.’ He avoided Dave’s eyes and returned to scanning their items, cheeks flushed. The silence was deeply uncomfortable.
‘Er, would you like a 5p or a 10p bag?’ Nick mumbled, not looking either of them in the eye.
‘Three 5p bags, please,’ said Mel, and Dave was glad he didn’t have to speak. Instead, he paid with his card at the bank terminal, muttering a ‘cheers’ when Nick handed him a receipt, still not looking at him. Mellie was already packing their items into the bags, and Dave made to join her in the task when Nick spoke.
‘Hey,’ he said softly. ‘Happy birthday, tomorrow.’
Dave turned to him and sad, grey eyes met his for a brief moment. Dave exhaled a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. ‘Thank you.’ Then he joined Mellie, who was nearly done by now, and left Nick to the next customer.
‘So, that was . . . awkward,’ said Mellie as they walked out of the shop. ‘You okay, babes?’
‘Yeah. Better than him, probably.’ Dave sighed. ‘That wasn’t fun, though. Did you see how tired he looked?’
Mellie nodded. ‘Yeah. Best not dwell on it too much. You’re supposed to have fun tonight, remember?’
Dave nodded. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be okay.’
* * *
As soon as he was able to get away, Nick rushed out the back and, doubling over with his hands on his knees, began to hyperventilate. Why was it so hard to breathe? He tried to slow his racing heart, but started to sob instead. He slid down to the ground with his back agains the wall, face in his hands, and tried to calm down. He felt like he might be sick. Why couldn’t he just stop?
He heard a noise and looked up to see his manager, Jen, peek around the door at him. ‘You okay?’ she asked softly.
‘Yeah,’ said Nick automatically. ‘No. I dunno. Fuck . . .’
She came outside and squatted next to him. Jen was in her mid-twenties, a friendly woman with a kind face, blue eyes, and short, dark brown hair in a pixie cut. ‘What happened?’
Nick let out a shuddering breath and wiped his tears away with the back of his hand. ‘Nothing. Just . . . just my ex. Bad break-up. Haven’t seen him since, so . . .’
Jen gave him a pained smile. ‘Yeah, that kind of thing sucks.’ She put her hand on his arm and gave a little squeeze. ‘If you wait ten minutes until Alejandro gets in, you can go home, if you like. It’s a slow day, anyway.’
He nodded and stood up. ‘Thanks. Just let me go splash some water on my face, okay?’
‘Of course,’ said Jen.
When Nick got home, Zoë came out of the kitchen with a cup of tea, looking surprised. ‘I thought you were working until five today? It’s only two.’
Nick met her eyes, and then he couldn’t stop the tears anymore. She ran to him, helped him into the sitting room and sat him down on the sofa, putting her teacup on the coffee table. She knelt in front of him, rubbing his arms reassuringly. ‘What happened, sweet?’
Nick tried to answer, but it took a couple of minutes for him to compose himself enough to speak. Zoë sat down next to him on the sofa and put her arms around him. At last his breathing returned to some semblance of normal.
‘Dave was in the shop. I was the only one working the register just then, so . . .’ He sniffed. ‘Zoë, I haven’t seen him since we broke up. He had Mel with him. Tomorrow’s his birthday. I think they’re having a party tonight. He . . .’ Nick sighed. ‘He looked good. I mean, he always did, just . . . I dunno.’
Zoë smoothed back his hair and kissed his cheek. ‘It’s okay.’
‘Anyway, I kind of had a panic attack, and Jen said I could go home.’
‘That was sweet of her.’
‘I just miss him so much.’ Nick’s voice was barely more than a whisper. ‘I . . . I don’t know how to do this, Zoë. I keep . . . I need him.’
Zoë pulled away a bit, studying his face. ‘Hey. I’m supposed to head back to Nottingham tomorrow evening for an early lecture on Monday, but I’ll stay an extra day, or the whole week, if you need it.’
Nick shook his head. ‘No, I’ll be okay, I think. You shouldn’t skip lectures on my account.’
She pursed her lips. ‘If you say so. But seriously, just give me a ring if you need me, okay? Cause I’ll come home if so, or we can just talk.’
Nick nodded, feeling the tightness in his chest let up somewhat. ‘Okay.’
* * *
By the time his guests began to arrive at six, Dave had mostly managed to put Nick out of his mind. Alan and Matt were first, bringing more booze. They were closely followed by Mandira, who was as thrilled to be meeting Mellie as Mellie was to be meeting her. She had also brought a home-made chocolate cake. She and Mellie immediately sat down together and started to bond, much to Dave’s joy and amusement.
Not long after that, Patrick showed up. He looked good out of uniform, sporting a blue v-neck t-shirt and black jeans. He gave Dave a hug and ran a hand through his auburn hair, blushing a little bit, which he seemed to do a lot lately. It was cute.
‘Happy Birthday, birthday-boy,’ he said, passing Dave a green envelope with his name on it.
‘Aww, you didn’t have to get me anything,’ said Dave. ‘I’m just glad you came.’ He placed the envelope on a table where a couple other gifts were already laid out.
‘Yeah?’ Patrick gave him a half smile.
‘Yeah.’ Dave smiled at him. ‘Gives me something nice to look at all evening.’
Patrick laughed. ‘Pretty sure there are nicer looking people here than me. Even not counting you, as you are always the hottest guy in the room.’
Dave felt his face flush slightly at the compliment. Then he led Patrick over to Alan and Matt to introduce them.
‘Patrick, this is Alan, my best friend since infancy, and his boyfriend Matt. Patrick is a classmate from Dorcrest, we take Maths together.’ Hands were shook and Patrick sat down, and then Dave had to go chat with some more guests. When he returned about half an hour later, Alan and Matt had snuck off somewhere and Patrick had joined Mandira and Mellie instead. Dave went over to them and sat down.
‘Hey, Dave,’ said Mellie.
‘I see you’ve met Patrick.’ Dave smiled.
‘Yeah, he and Mandi were just telling me about the thing that you told me about yesterday, so I am now up to speed from three different angles.’
Patrick looked a bit embarrassed and Mandira giggled. Dave put his hand on Patrick’s shoulder. ‘I’m sorry, I should have warned you about my cousin. She’s basically the female me, only much more snarky and devious. She inspires trust, and then she uses that trust to brutally take the piss out of you.’ Mellie stuck out her tongue at him and he returned the gesture, standing back up. ‘So, either of you guys want anything to drink? Wine? Thought I might try my hand at mojitos, which I’ve never made before, so that could be interesting.’
‘I could go for some wine,’ said Patrick.
‘Not for me,’ said Mandira. ‘I don’t drink.’ She smiled.
‘I might go for one of those untested mojitos,’ said Mellie. ‘I’ll join you in the kitchen.’
She stood and they made their way out into the kitchen together. ‘He’s cute,’ she said, giving Dave a conspiratorial wink. ‘I get why you like him.’
Dave went to the counter and got out the limes and the cutting board. ‘I don’t know if I like him, you know, like that . . .’
‘Yeah you do, I can always tell. Plus, as we already know, you and I have literally the same taste in boys. So if I think he’s hot, you think he’s hot. That’s just a fact.’
‘He is, isn’t he?’ said Dave, grinning while he sliced up the lime. ‘And he’s really nice, too. It’s almost like the person I met last year never even existed. Which I guess he didn’t, it was just a mask of sorts. I . . . know what that kind of mask can be like, you know?’
‘Well, he clearly likes you, anyway. While you were running around playing the good host, he kept looking at you any time he could see you, and I swear he was checking out your arse on at least two separate occasions.’
Dave sighed, adding lime, mint leaves, and sugar to two plastic cups. ‘Is that really a good thing, though? I mean, if today taught us anything . . .’ He got the ice out of the freezer as he spoke.
‘It’s natural that things should be awkward, babes. It’s the first time you’ve seen each other since you split up. But it’s been nearly two months. You’ve got to move on some time. Why not with a hottie like Patrick, who’s so obviously into you?’
‘Maybe you’re right.’ Dave handed Mellie her drink while he filled another cup with wine from the carton. Then he picked up his own mojito and tried a sip. ‘Oh, God!’
Mellie tried hers as well and made a face. ‘Oh, that is way too much rum!’ She took another sip. ‘Well, better drink it anyway, pouring it out would be alcohol abuse.’
* * *
By all accounts, it was a fantastic party. They ate pizza, and Mandira’s cake was amazing. By ten o’clock, most of the guests were transitioning away from tipsy and well into drunk, aside from Mandira, of course, who didn’t drink, and at that time bid them farewell as her dad came and picked her up. Dave walked her out and tried very hard to pretend that he hadn’t just had a vodka and orange juice with far too much vodka in it. He was trying to control his intake a bit, but it was hard to do when he was having so much fun.
When he came back inside, he saw Patrick talking to Matt, Alan, and Chas, and started towards them.
‘It’s the best gig we’ve ever played,’ Matt was saying as he approached, and Dave halted in his tracks, listening. ‘Nick was just . . . I mean, he’s a good musician, he sings well, his guitar playing is cool, but it’s the stage presence, man. That part is so insanely awesome, you have no idea. And last night he blew everyone away. Stuart basically lavished him in praise, and he’s notoriously hard to please.’
Alan grunted his agreement. ‘Yeah, and even I’ll admit he was pretty awesome. That fucker Brian, though . . . Did he have to be all over him like that?’
The words sent a chill through Dave’s chest, and he suddenly felt stone cold sober. Brian. Brian had been there. Brian had been all over Nick. His Nick. Then he had to remind himself that Nick wasn’t his anymore, that he, Dave, had dumped him, that Nick had every right to be with someone else, and that he probably needed it, too. And that he himself was currently flirting shamelessly with a guy he was really quite attracted to. Even so, he couldn’t help but picture Nick in bed with someone else, and suddenly his throat felt tight and constricted and his hands balled into fists in anger. He turned away and went out into the kitchen, which was thankfully empty, taking a moment to try and compose himself.
So Nick was still seeing Brian. They were still fucking. That image again, Nick in a bed, some guy in shadow behind him, on top of him . . . Did it have to be Brian, though? Surely, knowing that your ex was still shagging the guy he cheated on you with would fuck with anyone’s head, no matter how over your ex you were. He turned to the counter and poured some vodka into a plastic cup, tossing it back with a grimace. Mellie really had gone with shit vodka.
‘Hey.’ Dave turned around and saw Patrick in the doorway. ‘There you are. You okay?’
Dave nodded, forcing a smile. ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ He leaned back, resting against the counter, arms crossed.
Patrick cocked his head, frowning. ‘I thought I saw you, when . . .’ He paused. ‘Nick is your ex, isn’t he?’
Dave sighed. ‘Yeah.’
‘And he’s with someone else now.’
‘He’s with the guy he cheated on me with.’
‘Ouch. I’m sorry.’ Patrick came over and leaned his back against the counter too, so they stood next to each other. ‘I didn’t know he cheated.’
Dave shrugged. ‘He made a stupid drunken mistake after we’d had a fight. I might have been able to forgive him for that, but . . . He went months without telling me. Months, letting me think everything was okay, and then . . . If I hadn’t figured out something was up on my own, who knows if he’d ever have told me. I dunno. It’s been a bit of a time, I guess.’
Patrick reached out hesitantly and took Dave’s hand, entwining their fingers, and Dave glanced at him and smiled sadly. Patrick returned the expression. ‘Look, Dave . . . I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m kind of really into you.’ Patrick’s cheeks flushed a bit as he said it. ‘And if you’re not into me, just say so, and if it’s too soon or you’re not ready, that’s fine too. We can be friends. I want to be friends. I just . . . I wanted you to know.’
‘Sure this isn’t just ’cause I’m the only other gay guy you know?’ Dave elbowed him playfully and Patrick gave a short laugh, looking down at their joined hands.
‘Pretty sure,’ he said with a shrug of his shoulder. ‘I mean, we’d barely even talked, but I sort of liked you before you even came out. I mean, you’re gorgeous, how could I not? Then I find out you’re gay and, fuck me, did I make a total arse out of myself at the winter dance, but I had no idea how to even act around you. And on top of all that, you turn out to be a really nice person to boot? Recipe for disaster.’
Dave frowned. ‘Why do you say that?’
‘Because you are so clearly still in love with your ex it’s fucking painful, and once you realise that properly, you’ll leave me in a heartbeat. Still . . . I think I like you enough that I don’t care, so.’ He pushed away from the counter and faced Dave, still holding his hand. He leaned in, but stopped a couple of inches short of Dave’s lips. ‘Is this okay?’ he whispered.
Dave answered by closing the distance and kissing him gently. Patrick’s lips were soft and he tasted of red wine when Dave let his tongue slide into Patrick’s open mouth. Patrick groaned softly and kissed him back, pressing him back against the counter with his body. Dave slipped his arms around his waist, gripping the fabric of his shirt and pulling him closer still, while Patrick grabbed the back of Dave’s neck, fingers going into his hair.
They stayed like that for a while, just kissing. It made Dave feel warm inside, made his heart pound and his jeans feel uncomfortably tight, and he sighed happily because until this moment he hadn’t been sure if anyone other than Nick would be able to make him feel that way. Part of him had worried that Nick had spoiled him for anyone else. That he had never been gay or bisexual or straight, but simply Nick-sexual, while Nick was clearly capable of wanting someone other than Dave. The fact that he could want this, that he could want Patrick, gave him a feeling of peace he hadn’t felt in a long time, perhaps even since before he and Nick had fought back in March.
They came up for air for a minute, and Dave took the opportunity to brush Patrick’s messy, auburn hair out of his eyes. ‘Mate, what kind of shampoo do you even use to make your hair this silky?’ he muttered, and Patrick burst into silent laughter.
‘Interesting way to compliment a bloke,’ he said between sniggers.
‘I am genuinely curious,’ said Dave with a grin. Then he cupped Patrick’s cheek and kissed him again. It was soft at first, but it didn’t take long before it gained more intensity again.
There was a noise, and then someone said, ‘Oops, sorry!’
They broke the kiss, and Dave looked over Patrick’s shoulder towards the doorway, where Matt stood, arms crossed and a smirk on his face. ‘Thought I sensed something there,’ he said. ‘You guys been at it long, then?’
Patrick blushed, taking a step away, but Dave took his hand again and smiled. ‘Since literally ten minutes ago,’ he said.
‘Well, don’t stop on my account. Mind if I get a beer out of the fridge?’ asked Matt, smirk still in place.
‘No, help yourself.’
Matt walked over to the fridge, took out a beer, and as he left the kitchen again, said, ‘Carry on, then, gents.’
Dave looked at Patrick and they both laughed again. Patrick touched his forehead to Dave’s and sighed.
‘We could go someplace else,’ Dave murmured, running his fingers up and down Patrick’s arm. ‘You know, somewhere more private. Like my room, maybe?’
‘You don’t think you should be attending your own birthday party?’ asked Patrick with a smile.
‘They can manage without me for a bit,’ said Dave dismissively. Then he bit his lip and looked away. ‘Hey, listen . . . Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, things with me are kind of messed up. I don’t want to, like, hurt you or anything like that.’
‘I may be new at this, but I know the risks of being someone’s rebound guy,’ said Patrick. ‘I kind of figure it’s worth it. We’ll take it slow. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I’m okay with that, I think.’
Dave nodded. Patrick was clearly like him, analytical, had already in his head explored most angles and calculated the risks for himself. Dave respected that. ‘Fair enough,’ he said. ‘I’ll let you call the shots here, then.’
They kissed again, and then Patrick let go of him and stepped back. ‘In that case, my call is to get you back to your party before people start thinking I kidnapped you.’
* * *
An hour or so later, the Dorcrest gang started getting ready to leave. Curfew was lax for upperclassman boarders on the weekends, but the ones under eighteen were still expected back by midnight, and they were sharing a large taxi back. As the others filed out, Dave drew Patrick aside as discreetly as he could so he could kiss him again.
‘You could stay, if you like,’ he said softly. His head felt pleasantly fuzzy from the alcohol, and Patrick’s arms around him made him feel warm and happy.
Patrick smiled. ‘We were gonna take it slow, remember? Doubt we’ll be able to help ourselves if I spend the night, don’t you?’
Dave sighed. He knew Patrick was right, and he was clearly the more sober of them, too. ‘Okay.’
‘I’ll see you on Monday,’ said Patrick and pecked him on the lips. ‘We could go out . . . some time.’
Dave nodded and smiled. ‘Yeah. I’d like that.’
After seeing them off, he returned to the living room. The Sapswell people had also left not too long ago, so now only the Windfield Green folks, plus Ellie, remained. Dave and Matt’s old teammates, Jeffrey and Will, were still there, engaged in conversation with Chas and Ellie. Alan, Matt, and Mel were finishing off the wine carton. Matt was draped all over Alan and appeared piss drunk, though still happy.
Dave would have liked for his eighteenth birthday party to last all through the night, but with the emotional rollercoaster he’d been on today, it was probably just as well that it looked to be reaching its natural end.
As Dave sat down, Alan clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Good for you, mate.’ He slurred ever so slightly, but was smiling. ‘He seems like a nice guy.’
Dave felt himself blush. ‘Yeah, he is.’
‘Cute, too,’ said Matt, a bit louder than necessary. ‘He recently out?’
‘Very,’ Dave confirmed. ‘And not completely out to anyone but Mandira and me, either. Not at Dorcrest, anyway. Though I guess maybe he’s out to the gang who were here tonight, too, by now. Which is okay, cause they’re cool. They won’t out him.’
‘I’d say never date a guy in the closet, but . . .’ Matt placed a wet kiss on Alan’s cheek. ‘Turns out it really doesn’t matter.’
Mellie shrugged. ‘Most important thing is that you like him.’
‘I do. I really do.’ Dave smiled. Then he turned to Alan again. ‘You know, if you don’t want to carry this one home, you can probably have the guest room, and Mellie can sleep in my room. Right, Mellie?’
‘Of course,’ said his cousin emphatically.
‘I’m cold!’ Matt pouted, and Alan put his arms around him.
‘That’s probably a good idea,’ he said. ‘You okay with that, love?’
Matt nodded, burying his face in Alan’s armpit. ‘Mm, sweaty boyfriend smell,’ he murmured into the fabric of his shirt, and Alan was either too drunk or too tired to be embarrassed. He kissed Matt on the top of his head and smiled tenderly down at him.
‘Hey,’ said Mel, looking at her phone. ‘It’s midnight. You’re officially eighteen, Dave. Happy birthday!’
‘Happy birthday . . .’ Matt echoed, voice muffled by Alan’s shirt.
‘Happy birthday, mate,’ said Alan.
Dave beamed at them all. ‘Thanks, you guys. There’s no one I’d rather be celebrating with than you.’
As he said it, his mobile buzzed in his pocket as a text rolled in.
Patrick: Happy actual birthday! See you soon. Xxx Patrick
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