Happy Valentine’s Day, Piper
SAM SCORES A DATE
A Valentine’s story for Piper
Copyright © Melanie Tushmore 2013
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, nor transmitted, nor translated into a machine language, without the written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real locales or real people are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual events, localities or persons, either living or dead, are entirely unintentional.
A big thank you to Kay and Anna for their help
Sam’s car squealed through the roundabout, swerving past the car whose driver clearly didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Sam cursed under his breath, fighting the impulse to glare at the driver through the windows. Road rage wouldn’t make that person drive any better, and Sam was already late.
A horn honked, and Sam snorted. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “Same to you, you fuck-wit.”
He let the other car go first – impatient arsehole – then indicated left, and swung into the loading bay in front of Debenhams department store.
His mum, Angie, was waiting, shopping bags in hand. Sam stopped the car, yanked up the handbrake, and leaned across to open the passenger door.
“Don’t you think you were going a bit fast, dear?” she chided, opening the back door to stow her shopping away. Sam wondered how many variations of the same outfit she’d bought this time.
“No,” Sam replied, as she got into the passenger seat. The scents of perfume, hairspray and make-up wafted in with her. She was cabin crew, had been for years, and always dressed to the nines.
Angie pulled the door shut, and strapped her seatbelt on. “Well, try not to dent my car again, dear. We can’t afford to get it repaired.”
Sam’s mouth opened to retort, but he decided it wasn’t worth arguing over. “Yes, mother,” he said tersely. He looked through the window and manoeuvred the car, waiting to pull out. “How’s Janette?” Sam asked, mostly to change the subject. He knew they would’ve met for coffee in the mall.
“Well!” Angie declared, and Sam spotted her grinning.
“What?” he asked, wary.
“You can thank me later…”
“Ugh. What have you done?” Sam spotted a gap in traffic, and sent the car flying out, grinding the clutch and gears.
“Sam,” Angie nagged. “Ease up on the clutch.”
“Yes, mother.” Sam got into gear, then sped off for the main road in the direction of home. “So, tell me what you’ve done?” he asked.
“Well, I know you’ve been looking for a date,” Angie said.
“What!” Sam had to force himself to keep his eyes on the road. “I am not!” That nosy…! His sister had blabbed to Mum, hadn’t she? About his recent dating trials and tribulations.
Wonderful. Bloody wonderful.
“Well whether you are or you aren’t,” Angie said, “you now have a date for tomorrow! Janette’s friend’s son. He’s twenty-two, only a year younger than you.”
“Wha-?” Sam’s jaw hung open. He grimaced to himself as he ploughed the car through traffic. “But- but-”
“Janette said he’s very handsome,” Angie trilled. “He’s a writer, or he wants to be. I thought he sounded just your type, Sam. I know you like intelligent people.”
“Hah!” Sam snorted a laugh. “No, I’m just intolerant of dim-wits.”
“Who isn’t?” Angie laughed too. “But the point is, he’s gay, he’s handsome, he’s available, and he’s expecting you to pick him up tomorrow. Yes-” She patted Sam’s knee. “You can borrow the car, dear.”
“Why, thank you, mother.” Sam frowned. Writer, eh? Very handsome? “What’s his name, then?”
“Kieron,” Angie said. “Isn’t that lovely?”
“Yes, lovely,” Sam grumbled.
They drove the rest of the way home, Angie reporting back the sparse details she knew of Kieron, Sam’s date, while Sam listened, half annoyed, half overjoyed. When they got home, and Sam had carried in all the shopping bags, his sister, Maria, peered around from the kitchen.
“Sorry,” she mouthed.
Sam frowned at her. Angie was still rabbiting away about the possibilities of an artist – Sam – dating a writer. Ignoring her, Sam approached the kitchen doorway, standing next to the secured pet-gate. Maria’s beagle jumped up to say hello, yet Sam ignored her. “Can I have a water?” He held out his hand.
As the beagle was young and got over-excited, Sam often elected to stay the safe side of the pet-gate. He’d been peed on enough to take precautions.
Maria poured him a glass of filtered water, then handed it over the gate. “Thank you,” Sam said, turning to leave.
“You can text me when you meet this guy,” Maria said. “Give me an update.”
“If he’s a minger, I’m blaming you.” Sam pointed at her with his free hand, pretending to be mad.
Maria smiled. “If he’s fit, pass him onto me.”
“If he’s fit, you can bugger off,” Sam replied. “You’ve already got a fella.”
Angie was still talking, mostly to herself now, as she opened up her shopping and spread the goods over the dining room table.
“Er, Mum, I’m gonna head off,” Sam said, excusing himself. She barely noticed. Sam smirked, then left to go upstairs. He’d delayed his usual gym visit after running errands in the car, and he was itching for a good work-out. Maybe he’d take a swim too. It would give him an opportunity to think about what the ruddy fuck he was going to wear tomorrow.
The next day
Sam studied himself in his bedroom mirror. His jeans weren’t comfortable; they were new, and stiff. His shirt was even worse; not his usual style at all. What the hell had possessed him to buy it? Maria and their mum had been with him at the time, convincing him it’d be a good purchase.
It brings out your eyes, Angie had said. The shirt was dull brown.
Sam decided his eye colour was best left a mystery, and started unbuttoning the horrid shirt.
“Fuck it,” he mumbled, tossing the shirt to his bedroom floor. Other clothes lay discarded, and most of his wardrobe was still on his bed. All he had were gym clothes. He worked from home, doing graphic design on his computer, and the rest of the time he was at the gym, or meeting friends for a run in the park.
Could he get away with gym clothes? What the fuck did one wear to impress a writer anyway? Apparently this Kieron had just finished a creative writing degree in London.
Sam didn’t stand a chance. And if he already knew this much about Kieron, second-hand, what on earth had Angie blabbed about him? Sam winced at the thought. College dropout, self-taught graphic artist, Sam had been lucky he had a gift with computers, and Photoshop. At the age of twenty-three he was still living at home, though he had to admit, he was in no rush to move out.
Not until an opportunity presented itself, anyway.
Sam looked at his clock, noting the time. “Shit.” He had less than an hour to pick up Kieron, and he still hadn’t decided what to wear. Sam strode out of his room, leaning over the stairs and bellowing, “MARIA!”
“What?” she called back.
Their mum was at work, thankfully. Sam didn’t think he could cope with her fussing, but Maria was more laid back. When she appeared in his bedroom, she cast a sceptical eye around at the mess.
“Hm.” She smirked at him. “Well, I can’t lend you a dress. Unless you want to wear one?”
“Just tell me what won’t be a complete disaster?” Sam pleaded.
“Where are you taking him?”
Shrugging, Sam picked up a couple of t-shirts. “Haven’t decided. He texted me his address, but we didn’t arrange anything else. I thought just something to eat? It’s only two o’clock.”
“Hm,” Maria said again. She perused Sam’s clothes. “Okay. You gonna head to the Plex?”
“Like there’s anywhere else to go,” Sam retorted.
“Go to the mall?”
“Pfft.” Sam tossed the t-shirts away. “And get milkshakes and cookies, like a couple of teenagers? No, thanks.”
She laughed at his sullenness. “Cinema?”
“On a first date? No way. One of the restaurants at the Plex, that’ll do.”
“Something casual then,” Maria said. She picked out a faded, grey shirt. It was an oldie, but a goodie, with pockets over the breast. “How about this, and wear a t-shirt underneath.” She fished through clothes. “The burgundy one. It matches your skin tone.”
“Really?” Sam wasn’t sure, but accepted the clothes thrust at him. “Can I wear different jeans? These ones are stiffer than… Well, you know.”
Maria grimaced at him. “I’d rather not know.” She looked him up and down. “What’s wrong with those jeans?”
“They’re not comfortable!”
“God.” She rolled her eyes. “Wear your battered ones, then. Luckily for you, that look’s in fashion right now.”
“Thank fuck for that!” Sam started unbuttoning his jeans, and Maria beat a hasty retreat from the room.
“Don’t forget to trim your nose-hair!” she called.
“Oi!” Sam shouted after her. “How dare you.” Half-dressed, he shuffled to the mirror to check. He examined his face, wiggling his mouth around, looking for nose-hair. Thankfully, he couldn’t see any protruding.
Just relax, dummy. She’s teasing, and you’re fine.
He switched jeans, pulling on his comfy, old pair with the ripped knees. Then he put on the burgundy t-shirt, followed by the grey shirt. Buttoned or unbuttoned? Sam deliberated, finally deciding to leave a gap at the top, enough to show his t-shirt.
What about accessories? Should he wear a belt? Necklace, bracelets?
Sam wasn’t used to panicking, but he hadn’t been on a proper date in a while. Having been immersed in work lately, and with all his friends busy at Uni or in their jobs, he’d taken to internet dating instead.
It hadn’t been a great experience, so far. A few messages, a couple of cancelled meet ups, and Sam was no closer to getting a date. Now his mother had organised one for him. How lame was that? Did this Kieron guy feel as embarrassed as Sam did about it?
Sam checked his reflection. Maria was right, the burgundy against his skin did look nice. Sam liked spray tan, but he didn’t over-do it. Just a subtle glow, no Ross-from-Friends, Oompa Loompa-style horror. His hair had been cut last week, thank God, so the brown curls were relatively tidy. He was clean shaven – and free of nose-hair – and he’d brushed his teeth, flossed, and used mouth-wash.
This was it, then. Time to pick up the very handsome writer he’d been promised.
Kieron’s directions were minimal, but he didn’t live far away, only over in Poundhill. Sam entered the postcode into his Sat Nav anyway, just to be sure. It was a nice day, so he hadn’t bothered with a jacket.
He drove the car as directed by Sat Nag. Then, quicker than he’d been prepared for, the Sat Nag’s monotone voice informed him his destination was up ahead, in fifty yards.
Sam’s heart began to thud. Should he call Kieron and tell him he was almost here?
The houses were close together, but no more than the houses on his own road. A figure waited outside a house. Was that Kieron? Sam pressed the button to lower his window, the warm spring breeze flowing in. He slowed the car, pulling up alongside the curb. Yanking up the handbrake, he looked at the person waiting for him. Sam’s lips parted in surprise as he stared.
What. The. Fuck.
“You have reached your destination,” informed Sat Nag.
Sam fumbled to shut it off, still staring at the…the Cousin Itt on the pavement. A tall, skinny boy, dressed entirely in black, his face half covered by black, shaggy hair.
Sam was speechless. His mum had set him up with some freaky-looking emo kid.
I’m gonna kill her.
The emo’s mouth twisted in a sneer. “You Sam?”
Sam’s first thought was, could he lie? No, mate, no, I’m just…looking for directions, is all.
Then the front door of the house opened, and a woman with long dark hair, wearing a dress that showed far too much cleavage, waved to him.
“Hello, Sam!” she trilled. “You all right?”
Sam recognised her instantly; Shannon. His mum’s brother’s annoying friend, who he often had to suffer through at family get togethers. She had a habit of getting too drunk and trying to flirt with him. The last function they’d been at –a genteel Sunday roast dinner – she’d had too much wine and discussed very loudly about how much she’d enjoyed reading Fifty Shades of Gray.
Sam shuddered at the memory. “Er, hi.” He waved back self-consciously, then looked again to Kieron. He must be her son, then.
“You do book covers?” Kieron asked.
Sam blinked. Kieron’s voice was more manly than he’d been expecting. “Er, that’s me, I guess,” Sam said.
Kieron nodded, then picked up a messenger bag at his feet – black, like the rest of his outfit – and walked around the bonnet of Sam’s car.
Shannon was still waving from the door. “You boys have fun!”
Sam almost died on the spot. He would’ve loved to stick his middle finger up, and tell her to do one.
Although… Sam watched Kieron as he opened the passenger door, and got into the car. He had a nice, slim figure, displayed in tight clothes. Sam didn’t object. He also couldn’t help but notice pouty, full lips, a smooth jawline, and straight nose.
That was all he could see of Kieron’s face.
Sam pondered how hilarious it would be to tell Shannon that he’d fucked her son, for the only reason to piss her off. Although, knowing Shannon, she’d probably find that funny.
Sam sighed quietly, disguised under the noise of his engine. He put down the handbrake once Kieron had shut his door, and drove the car away. Before Shannon tried to join them.
Good God…why me?
“So…” Sam ventured. “You hungry?”
Kieron shrugged, muttering something.
Sam was busy concentrating, as he pulled onto the main road, so he couldn’t eyeball Kieron the way he wanted. “Er…thought we’d go up to the Plex –”
Sam risked a glance at him. “What?”
“Nothing,” Kieron said. His lips turned in a half-smirk, half-sneer. Sam wanted to slap him, but had to keep his hands on the steering wheel.
I’m gonna kill Mum. This is going to be the worst date ever.
The restaurant wasn’t too busy, and Sam was relieved that he didn’t see anyone he knew.
He’d been horrified at the prospect of being given a window seat, lest any of his friends strolled past the car park en route to the cinema or gym, but he was in luck. Kieron insisted on sitting in the corner, as far away from windows or any other customers as physically possible. The waiter seemed only too keen to put them there, and Sam breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t exactly a high end restaurant, more like a place to get a nice pizza. Vaguely Italian themed, with quiet classical music played over the distant hub bub of chatter. The waiter handed them menus – which Kieron accepted only between his thumb and forefinger, like it had a disease – then left them to it.
Sam hid behind his menu, panicking about what to say.
Kieron said suddenly, “I hate that guy.”
“Hm?” Sam lowered his menu. “What guy?”
Kieron’s hair glanced out at the restaurant, but Sam didn’t know if he was glaring or not.
“The waiter. He’s a dick, I used to go to school with him.”
“Oh.” Sam glanced around, but couldn’t see the waiter anymore. He debated what to do. If he suggested they go some other place, perhaps he could feign suddenly remembering that he’d…left the bath running, or something, and had to go home. Immediately. Thus ending the already doomed date.
Swallowing, Sam asked, “Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“No,” Kieron huffed, black hair rising briefly as he breathed out. “I’ll likely get my food spat in wherever I go. Doesn’t matter.”
Sam opened his mouth to say, should I play a violin accompaniment to your tragedy? But changed his mind. He brought his menu up again, like a shield. Bloody miserable, stuck-up emos, he thought. What did they expect when they dressed like freaks anyway?
A few awkward moments of silence passed. Sam sunk lower and lower into his seat, wishing the floor would swallow him whole, when a chirpy waitress bounced up to their table.
“Hi!” she greeted. “Can I get you some drinks?”
“Banana milkshake,” Kieron ordered.
She wrote it down. “And would you like cream and sprinkles on top?”
Sam peeked over his menu just in time to see Kieron shift, as if embarrassed. “Yes,” he said stiffly.
“Oh-kay. One banana milkshake with cream and sprinkles on top.” The waitress grinned, then turned to Sam.
“Um…I’ll have a latte, please.”
“Latte. Thank you, your drinks won’t be long!” she chirped, then escaped their table.
Sam was left with Kieron once again. Great, he thought. What the hell do we talk about?
“So…” he started, then trailed off when Kieron opened the bag beside him, and pulled out a notebook and pen. The notebook was A5, and covered in anime stickers, from what Sam could see.
To his amazement, Kieron opened a fresh page and started writing. “What publisher do you work for?” he demanded.
“Huh?” Sam blinked. “Um…I don’t, I –”
“Mum said you worked for a publisher?” Kieron glanced up at him, though Sam could only see a bare hint of eyes behind all that hair.
“I…well, actually, I work freelance,” Sam explained, sitting up in his seat. “I’ve done covers for a couple of e-publishers. Mostly Photoshop work.”
Kieron wrote furiously. Sam felt like he was being interviewed. “What are their names?”
“Why?” Sam asked, being awkward.
Kieron bristled. “’Cause I want to publish my stuff, and I don’t know where to start.”
Sam held up his hands. “Okay, just asking.” Jeez, bite my head off. He cleared his throat and gave Kieron the website addresses of a few publishers. “It would probably help if I knew what style you wrote?”
Kieron ignored him, and kept writing.
Sam took a deep breath, then declared, “I’m just going to the bathroom.”
“Okay,” Kieron said, still writing.
Twat, Sam thought.
After he’d used the facilities and washed his hands, Sam gave himself a wry look in the mirror. All that effort fussing with his clothes, his face. Checking for nose-hair, as well.
What a waste of bloody time.
By the time Sam returned to the restaurant, he was in two minds whether to just escape. Kieron could get a bus, or walk home even. It wasn’t up to Sam how some stroppy brat got home. Although his family were bound to get it in the ear from Shannon when she found out Sam had ditched her son. But surely that happened fairly regularly?
Who’d want to hang out with someone so obnoxious?
Sam toyed with the idea, but wasn’t sure he could go through with it. He’d been raised too well, damn his parents. His sulk deepened as he made his way back to the table, only mildly lifting when he noticed their drinks had already arrived.
Then Sam did a double take. Kieron had pushed his hair off his face in order to drink his milkshake through the straw. Intrigued, Sam approached the table. He’d been expecting to see something worth hiding, but it turned out that Shannon hadn’t exaggerated; Kieron was very attractive, with perfectly smooth, peaches-and-cream complexion skin.
Bright blue eyes turned up at him, and Sam hastily revised his evaluation of Kieron. Especially when he noticed a small blob of cream on the end of Kieron’s nose. He didn’t know people actually did that.
Grinning, Sam sat down again. Kieron frowned slightly. “What?”
Sam couldn’t help it. He chuckled. “You’ve, um…got some cream on your nose.”
Kieron’s blue eyes went wide, and he touched a finger to his nose to check. The expression on his face when he confirmed Sam told the truth was endearing. His cheeks flushed rosy pink, as he hurriedly swiped a napkin over his nose.
Sam smiled, but Kieron wasn’t looking at him, turning his face down with obvious embarrassment. Sam didn’t want Kieron’s hair to flop down and cover him up again, so he fished for something to say.
“Um…my sister gets so mad when we all make a mess on restaurant tablecloths,” he said. “She likes to keep her area spotless, so sometimes me and my dad purposely spill food around her plate, just to annoy her. It’s pretty funny.”
Despite the statement, Sam winced at how un-funny that sounded. “Well, maybe it’s funnier when you’re there…”
To his relief, Kieron looked up. “My mum’s fussy like that.”
Sam smiled broadly. “Yeah, I know… Um, I mean, I have met her before.”
Kieron rolled his eyes, but a smile teased his lips. “She means well, but she’s a pain. I can’t go out with her ever, she’s so embarrassing.”
“Isn’t that what parents do best?” Sam said.
“No one’s better at it than my mum.” Kieron picked up his milkshake again. “She found one of my notebooks last week and read my stuff. I swear, I thought she’d hate it, but now she wants me to write the next Fifty Shades of Shit.”
Sam laughed. “She loved that book. She told us all about it over Sunday dinner.”
“Ugh.” Kieron pulled a face, but was still smiling. “See why I can’t go out with her? Even Dad finds it embarrassing.”
Sam picked up his latte and took a sip. A thought occurred to him, and he voiced it. “Are you writing romance?”
Kieron’s hands slipped, almost dropping his milkshake. The blush darkened on his cheeks. “Um…sorta.”
The admission, and watching Kieron get flustered, had Sam’s pulse quickening. “Um, like, traditional stuff? ‘Cause there are publishers for traditional stuff…you know, like, boy meets girl, they fall in love…”
“No, I just write guys.”
“Oh.” Sam felt a curl of anticipation in his belly. “You mean…slash?”
That blush again. Kieron fiddled with the straw in his creamy milkshake. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Oh wow. “Um…that’s cool. I read that,” Sam admitted. “My friend writes it, that’s how I got into designing covers. She pointed me towards this whole genre online, proper published books and everything.”
Kieron looked at him, somewhat hopeful. “Really?”
“Yeah, there’s tons. My friend, Nat, she writes all the time, makes quite a bit from it too. Um…I can forward you a link to her profile? If you want…”
Kieron nodded eagerly. “That’d be good. Thanks.”
Sam couldn’t help grinning. “You’re welcome.”
The smile Kieron gave him was so sweet, Sam decided he was more than welcome.
“So have you heard from your hot writer?” Maria asked, as they strolled side by side.
Sam huffed, kicking the pavement. “No. Well, apart from one very vague text after I sent him a bunch of links…then, nothing. It’s been four days!”
“Calm down,” Maria said, as they turned the corner to head into the Megaplex. “How did you leave it?”
“It was going great. After we got over that awkward start, I mean. We ate lunch, talked about books, writing, artwork. He draws, too. Did I tell you that?”
Maria smiled sidelong. “No, you didn’t mention that bit.”
“Well, he does.” Sam sighed again. “And obviously he was only using me for information, as he hasn’t replied to my last two messages.”
“Give him a chance, Sam. Four days isn’t that long. He might just be busy.”
“Yeah, busy ignoring me,” Sam muttered.
They stopped at the curb, letting a car pass before crossing the Plex’s car park. Sam tried really hard not to gaze at the restaurant where he and Kieron had sat last week, but he couldn’t help remembering their date.
He had a crush.
How infuriating. And Kieron hadn’t deigned to reply to him.
Maria led the way past the restaurants and cinema, to the bowling alley. They’d arranged to meet her boyfriend, Mark, and his friends, for Mark’s birthday. Maria hated bowling and had insisted Sam accompany her.
Sam didn’t mind. Hanging out with ‘M’n’M’, as he called them, was fun. Mark and his buddies were usually at the same gym, so Sam knew them well.
The noise and clamour – and the smell – of the bowling alley on a busy Sunday afternoon hit them like a wall. Sam was pleased he didn’t have a hangover.
Maria nudged him. “Mark booked us in. Let’s go see if he’s on time.”
“Hah.” Sam followed her. “Unlikely, but maybe he’ll surprise us.”
They headed for reception, dodging small children and harried parents, and spotted two of their friends. Mark hadn’t arrived yet; apparently he’d been out drinking the night before. Maria rolled her eyes at that, but in the end Mark only kept them waiting fifteen minutes, which was a record. He arrived in a flourish, wearing a huge birthday boy badge pinned to his t-shirt, and was clearly excitable.
After he’d hugged her, Maria asked him, “Aren’t you hungover?”
“I think I’m still drunk!” Mark declared. “And it’s hair of the dog, today.”
“When isn’t it?” Sam replied, dodging a thump from Mark.
After paying at the counter, they all received their worn-to-death, skanky bowling shoes, and queued at the bar for a drink. Mark declared he was going to thrash everyone, then bought the first round as their “consolation prize.”
Holding their drinks, Sam smirked at Maria. “He’s so cocky.”
She waggled her eyebrows at him, which made Sam laugh. They followed Mark and their friends to the bowling lanes, threading through the other players engrossed in their game. The loud knocks and tumbles of pins echoed around the hall. Bright lights flashed, and banging pop music played.
Their station was situated roughly in the middle of the lanes, the only one left. As his friends set up, arguing over which balls to have on their rack, Sam stretched, yawned, and looked around the alley.
A group of kids dressed entirely in black occupied the far end lane. Sam’s heart sped up. He scrutinised them, but couldn’t see Kieron. Dammit. And since when did emos go bowling? Though the majority of them were watching from the side-lines, nibbling on chips and sipping fizzy drinks.
Fighting disappointment, Sam turned away from the funeral-brigade, and back to his friends. He liked bowling. He was going to have a good time, dammit. Mark was going to have to fight for best score.
After only one round, Sam remembered how annoying it was to bowl in a big group. He had to wait ages for his turn to come around again. This meant idling, return trips to the bar, nibbling on chips he shouldn’t really be eating, and buying bottled beer which was far too expensive.
“Cheer up,” Maria told him between games. “Mark’s getting drunk, he’ll be easier to thrash now.”
Sam put on a cheery face for her. He couldn’t stop gazing over at the emos in the corner. They looked about the right age. He felt almost certain that Kieron would know them, at least. Should he go over and talk to them?
Don’t be stupid, he chided himself. Go over and say what? Hey, you dress like some other guy I know; he’s really hot, and cute and shy and just nngh!
Yeah…better not, Sam decided. Don’t want to look like a stalker. They may not know Kieron at all. Sam sighed, and Maria noticed. “Come on,” she said, just as Mark scored a strike and yelled loudly, fist punching the air. “Bar?”
“Why not?” Sam replied. There wasn’t much else to do, and they had a while until their turns were up. Maria led him out of the lanes. Sam cast one more glance to the corner, but still no Kieron.
Had he expected him to magically appear?
“Something stronger?” Maria asked, getting out her wallet. She leaned on the bar, inspecting the beverages displayed while they waited to be served.
“Nah,” Sam said. “I’ll stick to beer. Gives me the excuse to hit the gym tomorrow and work it all off.”
“Why don’t you come for a walk with me and Ellie in the park?” Maria offered. Ellie was her beagle. “You know, instead of just sweating it out in a room with a bunch of straight guys.”
Sam snorted a laugh. “They’re not all straight.”
“Have you gotten a date from the gym?” she said pointedly.
Sam frowned in response. “Not exactly, but –”
“So come to the park,” she insisted. “There’s tons of gay guys walking their dogs. I guarantee you’ll meet someone.”
It was on the tip of Sam’s tongue to say, I don’t bloody like dogs, when someone edged in beside him and lightly touched him arm.
He turned, and when he saw who it was, his heart skipped a beat. “Er, hey.”
Kieron’s hair was tied back in a messy pony-tail, showing off more of that striking face. His blue eyes lit up as he smiled. “Hey!” he said excitedly. “I thought it was you! Oh my God, you wouldn’t believe the things I found online after you told me about those publishers, I went and looked and, oh my God! I just can’t believe I’d never even heard of it before, and –” Kieron paused, taking a breath. “I saw one that specialises in ancient historicals, which are my favourite, right? And they had a submissions call for an anthology, so I’ve been writing nonstop trying to get a story to them.” He leaned against the bar, placing an empty Slush Puppy cup on the counter. “I’ve had like, three of these already ‘cause I’m so tired.”
Sam took a closer look at Kieron’s face, noticing the dark shadows under his eyes, and the pale complexion to his skin. “You, er…do look a bit tired.”
“I’m exhausted!” Kieron grinned. “But it’s so exciting!”
Sam found himself smiling along with him, until he felt a nudge at his side, and Maria leaned round. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
“Oh, sorry.” Sam cleared his throat. “Kieron, this is my sister, Maria. Maria, this is Kieron.”
“Hello!” Kieron said, offering his hand.
Maria smiled an amused smile, then shook his hand. “Nice to meet you. You bowling as well?”
Kieron snorted. “No, I’m rubbish.”
Sam glanced down, noticing Kieron wasn’t wearing the skanky bowling shoes, but his own black boots. He looked back to Kieron’s smiling face. “So, you just came to hang out?”
“It’s my best friend’s birthday.” Kieron pointed across the hall, sure enough, at the crowd of emo kids in the corner. “To be honest, I’d completely forgotten. I was so wrapped up in writing that I lost a few days there.”
“Ah.” Sam nodded. I see. “So…you’re just along for the ride?”
“Yeah, spectator only.” Kieron looked at him, then away shyly.
Sam could feel heat rise in his face – and other places. “Um…do you want a drink?”
Kieron examined his empty cup, biting on his lower lip. “I probably shouldn’t, but I so need the sugar right now.” He pushed the cup to Sam. “Slush Puppy, mixed.”
“Mixed?” Sam said, incredulous. “How old are you?”
To his delight, Kieron blushed as he smiled. “Shut up. It tastes better when it’s mixed, all right?”
“Why don’t you have one, too?” Maria poked Sam in the ribs. “I’m going back. See you later.” She left before Sam could poke her back.
“Yeah, see ya.” Sam noticed she’d gotten herself a drink, then made herself scarce. He pulled out a tenner from his pocket and turned to find a barman waiting for him. “Er, hi…can I get a–” He flashed a smile at Kieron. “– mixed Slush Puppy, please?”
God, he hadn’t ordered one of those for years.
“You have one, too.” Kieron flicked Sam’s arm lightly. “Go on.”
Sam was ecstatic. “Okay, er, make that two, please.”
“Both mixed?” asked the barman, with a wry grin.
“Why not?” Sam said, feeling daft, but not giving a shit because Kieron was right next to him.
The barman fixed their drinks, and Sam paid, despite Kieron trying to give him some change in twenty pence pieces. Sam gazed into his large Slush Puppy, stirring the bright blue and red ice to make deep purple. “This looks weird,” he said.
“It tastes good,” Kieron insisted. “Trust me.” He took a long slurp from his straw. Sam watched him, then had to avert his eyes before he got hard.
Straws in Kieron’s pretty mouth were too much to handle.
He breathed deep, and sucked in some of his drink. Hey, that’s not bad.
Kieron started coughing. Sam patted him on the back, even though Kieron recovered quickly. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” Kieron wheezed. “Chest freeze.”
Sam watched, amused, as Kieron stuck the straw in his mouth again. “Maybe you should drink slower?”
Kieron shook his head, throwing Sam a sly glance.
Sam had to laugh. “You’re nuts.”
“I know,” Kieron mumbled around his straw, then he had another coughing fit. “But it sure beats bowling.”
“Not keen, huh?”
From the face Kieron pulled, Sam suspected not. An idea formed in his head. “How soon can you get away?” he asked.
Kieron blinked at him, blue eyes showing interest. “Um…maybe another hour? I wanted to run into town quickly, I haven’t got Stephanie a birthday present yet.”
“You read my mind.” Sam smiled. “Well, about the going into town part anyway. How about…” He couldn’t believe he was even suggesting this. “…we go up to the mall, get a milkshake and –”
“Cookies?” Kieron was wide eyed. “Oh God, I could so eat a tonne of fresh cookies right now.”
“I thought as much,” Sam said. He fought to contain his smile, but it bloomed across his face. “Yeah, we’ll get some cookies.”
Kieron looked down shyly, but returned his smile. “I, um, I like the triple chocolate ones best.”
Of course you do. Sam couldn’t stand chocolate, but he wasn’t going to say so. “Sounds good to me. So,” he added, a little unsure. “Is it a date?”
Kieron stirred his drink, clearly bashful. “Okay,” he said quietly.
“Cool,” Sam stated, about to explode from happy.
Kieron gave him another look, this one with a hint of a smirk. “Very cool,” he said.