I actually don’t remember how I got here.
But it’s Saturday night and DAG and his American friend have been talking about their upcoming trips – DAG to Brighton and his friend to Wales – with their study abroad groups for the past two minutes. And I fucking hate the fact that this daft American’s asked me to come along. It’s not the third-wheeling that’s pissing me off. It’s the fact that I’m paying for my own goddamn meal.
And then DAG looks at me. “Oh my God,” he starts, literally wiping his face with his hands. Like it’s a movie. “We’re talking and you probably have zero idea about what we’re talking about.” He chuckles and looks at his friend, then me. “Have you, have you ever been to Brighton?”
“I have.” Their Pride Festival’s fucking amazing.
“Have you ever been to the Palace Pier?” DAG asks. “I’m dying to go there.”
His friend leans forward. “What about the Pavillion?” He speaks quietly, enunciating each words so carefully like he’s making sure I can hear him.
I shrug. “Don’t remember?”
“Why did you go to Brighton?” His friend’s watching me. Well, more like glaring. I don’t think it’s angry, though. I just get that vibe from him.
But I’m not going to say the Pride Fest because that ended with me in a drunken orgy. Granted, it was fucking ace, but this guy’s just rubbing me the wrong way. And we’re in public.
So I say, “I was visiting…friends.”
DAG’s friend leans back in the chair and crosses his arms. “No...sightseeing? You just sat in a living room and stared at a wall?” He swallows.
DAG looks at him. “What?”
“Becuase you seem more like...” His eyes look me over. “...uh, like...” He clears his throat. “...you’d be doing something else.”
I’m confused. “Why do you say that?” I ask. He’s not that cute, so if this’s his way of hitting on me, it isn’t working.
He shrugs and says, “Honestly, it’s just how you look.”
I take a sip of my beer and put it down.
DAG’s friend takes my beer and slides it toward the middle of the table. “You’re going to need your wits about you tonight,” he says, taking a sip of his water.
...okay, who the actual fuck is this guy?
“Adrian, be nice. You said you’d be nice.”
His friend looks at him. “It’s not that, and you know it.”
“You said, though.”
He frowns and sighs. “Fine. Fine, sorry.”
DAG smiles. “Thank you.”
A minute later, after we put in our orders, DAG stands and announces his intent to use the loo. He wanders towards the back and then fumbles past a couple as he heads downstairs.
His friend puts his hands together on the table and licks his lips. “Why did you come tonight?”
I blink. “Wha?”
He frowns. “You heard me.”
Okay, I’m done. “Listen, mate – ”
“Listen, Adrian, I don’t know why you’re tryin’ to pick a fight, but I am more than happy to give you one.” I roll up my sleeves.
Adrian sighs, still frowning. “No, it’s not that. I’m not here to fight with you. I’m here to – ” He pauses and glances at his hands for a second. “I just...wanna know he’s okay.”
I pause. My sleeve’s rolling back down my arm. “...what?”
Adrian runs his fingers through his bangs. “Look, Murph’s a good – ”
“His name is Murph?”
“Murph’s a good – wait, you didn’t know his name?” He stares hard at me, mouth open.
I look away.
He shakes his head and sighs. “I...oh-okay, wow, I...” Adrian scoffs and covers his mouth. “I’m...just going to ignore that for right now, because oh my god.” Then he looks back to me. “Murph’s a good kid. He’s dumb and unobservant, but he’s a good guy.” He points to me. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
I shrug. Not my place.
“My point is, why are you letting him think you’re friends when - ” He leans back to let the waiter place down our waters. He brings Adrian a Diet Coke, SAG a strawberry daiquiri (which he said he shouldn’t get because of there’s white rum in it), and walks away. He continues, “Why are you letting him think you’re friends when you, clearly, have zero interest in any sort of friendship with him?”
“I’m not,” I insist. “We’ve run into each other, like, three times. He keeps thinking we’re friends. I’ve never once said that.”
“Then why are you here?”
I open my mouth to answer him but nothing comes up. I actually don’t know why I’m here. It isn’t like there weren’t other things I could’ve done. Could’ve gone out. Found an online class for something. I had some restocking for the flat I had to do. A million excuses are in my head, but I don’t have one for why I’m here.
“Murph said you guys swapped numbers last you guys talked. You couldn’t have said ‘no’, or given him a fake one?”
I came for the food. And not to think.
Adrian sighs. “Look, Tommy...you had every right to say you were busy tonight. And you said it yourself, you’re not friends with him. So, why are you here?”
I look away. Suddenly I notice DAG’s still not back and it bothers me. I shrug.
He taps the table, and I look back at him. “Look, I want to level with you. Tommy, okay?”
I lean back. “How kind.”
He clicks his teeth together. He shrugs. “You look a sleezeball, and if my gut’s right about you, you are. But Murph’s a good guy, and I don’t want to see him get hurt. If I can avoid it happening without him knowing, I’ll try to make it so. So please make the choice to either let Murph be or actually be his friend.”
I really don’t fucking like the way he’s talking to me. “What happens if I don’t pick?”
He doesn’t skip a beat. “Then I’ll tell him the truth. That you’re fucking scum and you don’t give a shit about him.” He whispers “fucking” and “shit”. Like a true Brit.
Well, a true Brit wouldn’t say that shite, but whatever. He’s closer than DAG. Murph. Whatever.
I’m still unfazed. “Big words from an American.”
Adrian shrugs. “Murph keeps talking about you like you’re his new best friend. He might be dumb and childishly excitable, but he deserves the truth in all this.”
I lean forward, grinning. “You’re into Murph, aren’t ya?”
Adrian tilts his head tot he side. He kinda looks surprised. “Why do you say that?”
“A hunch. I’m right?”
He blinks, also unfazed. “I have a boyfriend, who I’ve been dating for four years.” Adrian snorts and leans back. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of person who’s petty enough to throw something like that away just because something pretty caught their eye.”
I snicker. “Didn’t answer m’ question.”
“He’s my friend. I want to make sure he’s okay. And if that isn’t enough for you – ”
“Still didn’t answer m’ question, mate.” My smile grows.
He sighs and rubs his chin. “I don’t find him attractive. He’s kinda meh, if you ask me. But how...slightly absent-minded, and how passionately driven he is, it makes me feel like, like his older brother, you know?” Adrian asks, tilting his head to the side. “Like, I just want to make sure he’s okay, more than anything.”
Aw. So cute.
“Ya still didn’t answer m’ question.”
“I am not into him.” Adrian takes a sip of his Diet Coke, muttering to himself.
DAG reappears. He drapes his napkin on his lap before sitting down. “Hi, sorry about that, guys. Did you guys talk about nice stuff?” He smiles, mostly at me. “Ooo, is this my strawberry daiquiri?”
It’s literally the only thing on the table with a strawberry on it.
“You’re not going to like it,” Adrian reminds him, taking another sip of his fizzy drink.
I have to stop calling him DAG.
Murph smiles. “I like strawberry daiquiris. Why wouldn’t I like this?” He takes a sip for a good two seconds before coughing. It’s this horrifying throaty cough that sounds like he’s trying to cough out a foghorn. A foghorn which’s also on. His tongue’s freaking out, switching between being in and out of his open mouth before Murph takes a swig of water. He downs the whole glass, eating half the ice cubes in the process, and then states, “That I - ” He foghorn coughs again before hissing, “That is not a strawberry daiquiri!” The tables around us heard that, and I cringe.
Adrian’s trying hard not to smile. “Y-you like the virgin strawberry daiquiris, dude. That’s white rum.” Adrian’s tone stays perfectly British, except for the American accent. “I did say you wouldn’t like it.”
DAG’s got this look on his face. Like he’s just seen a kicked puppy. “I feel so lied to, Adrian.”
They look at each other, snort, and begin laughing. I feel left out before that feeling passes. DAG – fuck, Murph looks at me and then asks, “Hey, I’m planning a trip up to York to see the National Railway Museum. Would you be interested in coming along?”
My eyes narrow. “Why’re you inviting me? Take him.” I point to Adrian.
“He doesn’t know if he’ll be free,” Murph says, his gaze switching to Adrian. “Besides, I want both my friends to come. It’d be during the spring break – ”
“Our spring holiday,” Adrian clarifies.
“ – and I know it’s far off, because I’m planning it for, like, April or May or something, but I want to begin planning ahead of time so everything’s in place. Would you want to come along?”
Adrian leans back, out of sigh of Murph’s line of vision, and looks at me. I can read the message pretty clearly - “Make your choice.”
I have zero interest in trains. I fucking hate them for the most part. Spring holidays usually means more part-time work for me, if I’m not fired. The ticket prices for London to York would be fucking expensive, and that’s thinking, like, regularly. I could lie and say I’m getting the longer shifts at work. I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed on the Pendolino anymore, either.
I lick my lips.
Murph keeps his eyes on me.
“...can I get back to you on it?”
I blink. I was supposed to say “no”. That should’ve been a “no”. Why wasn’t that a “no”?
Adrian blinks and takes in a slow breath.
But Murph smiles and turns to Adrian. “Please say you’ll come, Adrian. I really hope you do.” All I see are dimples, and I’m irked. “Tommy, shouldn’t he come?”
I don’t care. I really don’t. I’ll try to weasel my way out of this later. “I-I mean, yeah. You totally should.”
Adrian gives me a disappointed glare, but I can’t help but feel satisfied.
“Please try to come,” Murph insists, leaning into Adrian’s arm. “I know you don’t find that stuff interesting – ”
“It’s not that, Murph,” Adrian says.
“ – but you could see it as an art exercise.”
This visibly intrigues Adrian, who cocks his head to the side again, thinking. “You make a good point, but I don’t know right now. I’ll try. But I can’t promise anything, okay?”
Murph bounces in his seat.
Fucking stop, Murph.
“So, Adrian, what’re you studying while you’re here?” I ask.
He raises his eyebrows. “Wait...you really want to know?”
“If I’m gonna be stuck here with you, I might as well be civil,” I reply, nonchalantly.
Adrian’s face hardens. He grabs his fizzy drink. “Because at least ten people here can call the police if you’re acting out.” He takes a sip.
“What?” asks Murph.
Sharp as ever, mate.
But Adrian sighs. “I’m studying history and design.”
I look to Murph.
He looks at me, and then Adrian, and then back to me, “What?”
I sigh. “What are ya studying while you’re here?”
“Oh!” he says, attracting the attention of at least two tables. “I’m studying psychology, architecture, some writing – ”
Adrian looks at me and points to Murph. “I wasn’t kidding when I says he was passionately driven, Tommy,” he says. “Name something, and he’s probably studying it. Or studied it.”
“Wait, aren’t ya workin’, too?” I ask
Murph nods. “Yeah. Oh, oh my God! Our meeting last week, I sat in on, and one of the clients came in – ”
“Waitwaitwait. When do ya have time for this?” I ask. If Adrian’s right and he’s taking literally everything I can imagine, that a fuck ton of modules.
Murph goes red. “Wh – I like learning, stuff.” He shifts in his chair and then looks back to me. “Why would I want to restrict myself when I’m in a city that’s bursting with...everything?” He looks out the window onto Hoxton Square and smiles. Dimples. “Every street seems to tell another story, another layer added to the story of civilization. Of art. Progress, society, everything. How can you just close your eyes to it all?” He looks back to me. “I mean, certainly, London is just one example of this, and I don’t really have the financial means to travel around, but...” His smile softens a little. “I just...want to see it all. Be awake for it.” He yawns without covering his mouth and scratches his arm. “I think I’m just excited about it all.”
“I can’t blame you,” Adrian sighs, rubbing his back. “It’s, honestly, really exhilarating being back in a city, especially one where history’s always on display.” His eyes drop to the table and he whispers, “Ryan’d love this.”
Murph goes back to justifying why he’s taking the course load that he is, and from what I gather, it’s abnormally high for a study-abroad student who’s also working, but I stop listening at some point in it all. I scratch the side of my head.
I’m not going to lie, I’m a little envious of that. That drive. That passion.
But nothing’s really worth –
“What did you study?” asks Adrian.
“Maths ’nd – ”
“He didn’t,” Murph says immediately, without skipping a beat. “He didn’t go to college.”
Adrian looks at me and tilts his head to the side. “Huh,” he says, and takes a sip of his fizzy drink.
Our appetizers comes in that moment. They almost mix up my plate with Adrian’s.
I’ve fucked up so bad.