It’s nine fourty-five. I should know. I’ve checked my phone five times already. Granted, I’m also a little buzzed from the station’s bar, so I’m not entirely sure how I wasn’t hit by a bus.
I also checked the theatre’s marquee three times.
And Google Maps-checked the place so I wouldn’t get lost.
Again, I’m not super drunk. Just buzzed.
Fuck, my head’s spinning.
Apparently, I’m late because the crowd in front of the theater begins thinning out. There’s a bunch of people who look around Murph and Adrian’s age, but I don’t see them. They see me, though. I’ve never actually seen people try to avoid someone else like those people. And they try real hard, too.
I don’t see Murph. Or Adrian.
I check my phone.
The group chat tells me Adrian’s gotten sick during the first act. That was at about eight thirty. Why the fuck didn’t I get this? Fuck you, WhatsApp.
When the people clear, I see a splotch of something green on a garbage can.
And then Murph comes out. He looks exhausted.
Well, more zonked than before. A little sweaty, too.
“Hey, what happened?” I ask. I put my hand out on a lamp post and kind of lean into it.
“Adrian’s sick.” He’s still standing under the canopy of the theatre’s marquee. He checks his phone and reads aloud. “’Check the trash can. I missed it. Pray for me.’” Murph looks around, confused.
I point to the bin with the splotch of green. “I think he meant that, mate.”
Murph’s face twist in disgust. “Ew.” Then he tilts his head and steps closer to it. “What did he eat that was yellow?”
I shake my head, which makes me feel sick, and wrap my arm around his neck. I stumble, and pull him towards the station. “So. Tell me about the show.”
He pulls away.
“You smell like beer,” he says.
I scoff at him.
Murph crosses his arm.
“Might’ve had one or two.” Or five. Seven? I’m not sure.
“You don’t smell this bad with just one or two.”
I lean forward. “Oh, so you know what I smell like?” I whisper.
Okay. That wasn’t okay. No amount of me is okay with saying that to him.
“I’m concerned for you, Tommy,” Murph says back, pushing me back.
“Well, don’t worry,” I tell him, hiccuping. “’m fine – ” A car honks at me, and I stumble backwards, hitting my head on the concrete. “Fuckin’ hell.” I turn to him and glare. Or try to. “I’m fine. Fuckwit got in the way.”
Murph sighs and holds out his hand. “Please get out of the street. I’m not interested in seeing your toes get run over by a bus.”
I take it and stand up. My eyes unfocus for a second.
“Tommy, you need to be more careful. You could’ve gotten really hurt.”
I swallow and look down. There’s something about his expression that twists my stomach. “Thanks.”
He squeezes my hand. “…come on. I’ll get you back to the station. But after that, you need to be careful to not fall asleep or throw up until you get home.”
So...wait, I’m not allowed to throw up until I get home?
Murph leads me forward. He holds my hand while we cross the barmy seven-way intersection in front of the station. Honestly, I could closed my eyes and it would’ve been exactly the same thing.
Except my eyes are open. And I’m not focusing on being hit by a car. Though I probably should be.
His hand isn’t sweaty. Or hot. It’s cool to the touch, like a pillow when you first touch it at the day’s end. He has just the right amount of pressure that it doesn’t feel like he’s crushing my hand. And holy Jesus, his hands are soft.
He keeps looking back at me, as if to make sure I’m still there. And the look he has on his face isn’t disappointment, like I’d expect it to be. It’s, like. Concern or something.
And for a moment, I’m touched.
I don’t even realise when we get inside the station.
But Murph just keeps leading the way down to the Underground station like he knows I’d be a hopeless mess without him leading the way. He keeps asking me if I’m okay. Like, every few minutes. Or whenever we pass through something, like a door or a ticket barrier.
It’s when we finally get on the train for King’s Cross that he lets go of me. Murph sits next to me in a mostly-empty car towards the back.
“So, are ya gonna tell me about the show?” I ask as the train starts off.
So, I expected to hear about how the plot was. Or his favourite character. Or the, fucking dancing, at least.
You know what he talks about?
The historical context the show takes place in, and the historical inaccuracies that add to the plot.
And what’s worse is that he makes it sound interesting, waffling on and on about the juxtaposition of the lead pursuing ballet and the bleakness of the miner’s strike in the 80’s. Murph goes on about the different symbols of the show and how they interweave together to create an impactful story.
“Okay, but did ya like it?”
He makes a face. “Eeeeeeeeeeeh, it was okay.” He then goes on about how momentarily impressed he was with the intense amount of tap dancing. He stresses intense. And then follows up with, “I could probably do it.”
“Could ya?” I’d pay to see him intensely tap dance.
He opens his mouth to retort, but says, “...no.”
I snicker. “I bet you could do it.”
Murph looks at me with wide eyes. “Noooooooooooo,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s the crazy, like, tap dancing that goes...like...” He motions his hands with his improvised taping. “Tap-a-tap-tap-a-tap-a-tap-tap-a-tap-tap. You know?”
People are staring at us as we arrive at Euston Station. The doors open, and people get on. I roll my eyes and mutter, “Barmy git.”
“What?” he asks. The doors to the train close.
“You could totally do it.”
“I’d die before that happens.” The train moves off.
“What a death that would be.”
He looks at me, maybe unsure of my comment. And then he gets it. “I’d be tap dancing that way after I die.”
“Like a gross puppet.”
He shudders. “Can we change the subject?”
But I don’t have anything to talk about, really. So we just sit in silence.
And some time later, the announcement comes on, along with the appearance of the station – “This station is King’s Cross St. Pancras. Change here for Circle and Hammersmith, Metropolitan, Piccadilly and Northern lines.” The voice is perfectly enunciated, loud, and British.
I look at him and sigh. “It’s our stop.”
Murph nods and smiles. Dimples. “Yep.” He stands and holds out his hand. “Let’s get moving, Tommy.”
I don’t think I’m that buzzed anymore. Except my head feels fuzzy like I’m not really processing everything like I should be.
I take his hand and he leads me off the train into the labyrinth of tunnels under King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations. It’s so busy I almost lose him in the congestion of people. I figure, several times, that he’d just meet me by the platform, because that’s what I would do.
But no matter what, Murph waits for me around a corner, and grabs me when I just pass him.
“You’re drunk,” he insists. But, again, I don’t think I am anymore. Granted, I also don’t know what I look like, so I might just look drunk. He squeezes my hand as we step on the escalator going down. He lets go when we begin our descent, and sighs. “You’ll thank me when you’re not drunk and lost in northern London tomorrow.”
I smirk. “You’re sweet.”
He turns away. He didn’t hear me. Or maybe he did, but thought it was a compliment.
I mean, it was one.
We get to our respective platform. But we’re taking different trains at this point. My train’s first, and his comes five minutes later. He stands on the edge of the platform watching the rails. I stand next to him until I pull him back with the approaching train.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
He nods, smiling. “We’re still on for the Museum of London with Adrian, right?”
I nod. “WhatsApp me when you have a time. Okay?”
Murph nods his head again as the train rushes by, ruffling his hair. “Get a good night’s sleep tonight, Tommy.”
“Will do.” I step on the train and watch him wave at me. It’s an exaggerated wave that basically forces people to look at you, because it’s so energetic.
I wave back. Daft American.
I sway as the train starts off. I find a seat and take it, my fingers running over my palm. My hand’s sweaty and warm. But I can still feel his hand in mine.
I glare at it.
Because now my night’s gonna be wondering how I can possibly make this happen again and not have it be weird.