Rob checks into his hotel, plops his bag on the bed, whacks the aircon up to full, strips off his clothes and heads into the shower. He’s just arrived in Sydney from London and is feeling gross from the long flight. He stands under the hot water and feels the sweat and grime disappear. He stays under the water long after the soap and shampoo is washed away. He’s feeling vaguely guilty ab0ut wasting the water but unable to move. Getting out the shower and getting dressed will make it closer to the time to meet him and meeting him is scary.
Ben steps out the shower and spends a lot more time styling his hair and Picking out an outfit that he normally would. He stands in front of the mirror and takes a few deep breaths. Double checks the time and tries to relax. It is impossible. He finally gets to meet Rob today. Rob, his Robbie. It is just a drink, not a date. They agreed it isn’t a date, not yet. Still scary.
Rob puts on his clothes without much care, then changes his shirt in case they go on somewhere smarter. Then takes his shirt off, finds the iron, makes it look worse, picks another and gets it looking half decent and puts it on, then changes his jeans and shouts at himself for not being able to Pick an outfit that matches and looks good. He needs to look his best for Ben.
Ben checks his hair once more, checks for his wallet and opal card and heads out the door. He gets the train then gets out a stop early, his heart is beating a million miles a minute and he needs to calm down.
Rob is pacing up and down outside the pub they are meeting at. It was only a short walk from his hotel and he’s early. Deciding whether to stay outside or go in and bag a table and get the first drink in. He really wants a drink and decides to head inside. Shit what if Ben is already inside, he might be early too, Rob worries and heads inside.
Ben walks around the pub twice, not sure if he should go inside. Will Rob’s phone work? Should he text? Should he go in? Would he seem too keen? Should he buy Rob a drink and be ready. Ben stops still and tries to talk himself down. Takes a deep breath and opens the door.
There he is Ben realizes and his stomach flips over. He’s here and it is happening.
Ben?” Rob asks tentatively as Ben approaches the table.
Ben nods not sure what to say.
Rob moves to stand up to greet his friend just as Ben sits down, missing the moment. Rob sits back down sad that they didn’t get to hug yet.
“I got you a coke, I know you don’t drink often. I can get you something else.” Rob says.
“A coke is fine.” Ben stutters out, berating himself inside for not being more grateful. Rob remembered he doesn’t drink much.
“I didn’t think you would show, or you’d see me and leave.” Rob says.
“Am I late?” Ben asks worried that he got the time wrong.
“No, not at all.” Rob says mad at himself for making Ben feel uncomfortable.
Ben smiles a little, not sure what to say. Fuck this sucks. Why can’t his brain work and create conversation like a normal person.
Rob looks at Ben and is amazed at how good he looks, for sure Ben has played down his looks. He’s beautiful. Rob reaches his hand across the table wanting to squeeze Ben’s hand and let him know it is all okay but as he reaches out Ben lifts his hand away to scratch his nose.
Ben watches Rob’s hand in slow motion. Shit, shit, shit, he’s blown it.
“Was your train okay?” Rob asks feeling stupid.
“Yeah it was quiet. How was the flight?” Ben asks steadying himself and remembering how to be human.
“It took forever, it was hell. There was a baby crying for the first ten hours.” Rob says.
“I thought you were flying business class.” Ben says.
“I was, so was the baby. Oh I got you a gift but I left it at the hotel.” Rob says, shit, not it sounds like he’s trying to get Ben back and they’ve only said two sentences. Shit, shit, shit.
“Thanks.” Ben says feeling stupid, Rob has come all this way and he hasn’t bought anything.
“I didn’t want to bring it, I thought it would be awkward if we went on somewhere else.” Rob says.
“Okay.” Ben says losing all conversation again.
“Do you want another coke? Should we order food? You could get dessert.” Rob says.
“I’ll get more drinks. What are you having?” Ben asks.
“I’m good still. I’m so nervous I can barely swallow.” Rob admits with a smile, then feels stupid. Who would want a man who can’t manage to take a sip of a drink?
“I am nervous too.” Ben says and heads to the bar.
Rob watches him go and sighs. Maybe it’s the jetlag. Maybe he’s just not that interesting. Maybe it will all be over tonight and he can spend the time sightseeing and visiting friends instead.
Ben tries to glance back at Rob as he queues at the bar. It is Friday and groups of office workers are now filling the place and the bar is crowded. Ben gives up and heads back to the table.
“Let’s get out of here. Go for a walk, get some air. You’ve been cooped up on a plane all day.” Ben says sounding a lot more in control that he feels.
“That sounds good. It is too loud in here now.” Rob agrees.
“You’re taller than I expected.” Ben says.
“I never corrected you on any of your guesses on my appearance, too scared. How did you know it was me?” Rob asks.
“I just did. You?” Ben asks.
“Same. I like your hair. Not just your hair, I mean all of you is amazing. Your hair looks really good.” Rob blunders on unable to stop.
“It’s a mess.” Ben says.
“A sexy mess.” Rob says.
Ben runs his hands over his hair worried that he looks a mess.
“Really it looks perfect. You look amazing, really amazing.” Rob says seeing the worry in Ben’s eyes. He reaches for Ben’s hand again and this time he catches is and squeezes it. They both need the contact and start to calm. The Rob has to pull away as he starts to sneeze.
A single sneeze turns into a comical sneezing fit and he just can’t stop. Ben starts to laugh, he can’t help it. Rob is convulsing and making insane noises, he just can’t stop.
“I’m sorry, it’s so funny.” Ben giggles when Rob finally stops.
“Sorry I always sneeze when I’m over tired.” Rob says once he’s caught his breath.
“Maybe we should have left it for a day.” Ben says.
“I wanted to meet you. I’d have gone insane with the anticipation if I had to wait another minute.” Rob says and Ben relaxes for a second and feels good, really good.
“I hated not being able to contact you when you were flying. I missed you.” Ben says and immediately worries he’s come on too strong.
“Same.” Rob says and steps forward to hug Ben but again gets the timing wrong as Ben turns to look at a restaurant menu.
They walk along in silence for a bit until Ben starts pointing out local landmarks and finally the conversation is less stilted and they relax together and talk freely.
“Do you want some food?” Rob asks.
“I need to get my train soon.” Ben says and kicks himself for being so stupid.
“Okay, can I walk you to the station?” Rob asks.
“Its fine, it’s just up there.” Ben points and kicks himself again, knowing he’s totally blown it now and nothing will ever happen.
“Okay.” Rob says and feels totally dejected. He knew it was a risk and he knew it was likely Ben wouldn’t like him when they met. He walks in to his hotel and sits at the bar and orders a double whiskey. He’s been awake for 40 hours but isn’t feeling like he can sleep now. What a monumental waste of time and money. He knocks the drink back, orders another and proceeds to block out the worst parts of the evening.
Ben holds the tears back on the train. He texts his friends to let them know he’s okay and that Rob wasn’t a serial killer. He gets home and throws himself on his bed, bashes his pillow with his fists in a fit of rage and then curls up and cries himself to sleep.
Rob wakes no idea of the time, jetlag has him all mixed up. His head is surprisingly clear. He knew it was a mistake to come here. Knew that he should have let Ben know what he looked like before coming. He knew it was a risk. Was certain that Ben wasn’t shallow, that he already loved him.
“Never should have put myself back out there. The last thing I needed was thinking myself in love again when it was just another unrequited crush. I’ve been such a fool.” Rob says into the mirror. He shakes his head and unpacks his bag as the tears flow.
Ben wakes up feeling sore and grumpy, his eyelids stuck together. He feels utterly confused. Rob came all this way and barely said anything other than he was tired which had to be code for being bored. He should never have agreed to meet, kept what they had, fun and no risk. His phone knocks him out of his slump.
“Hey Ben. How was it really?” Ben’s friend Fiona asks.
“Just a disaster, I was a disaster. He offered to walk me to the station and I said no and that was it. That’s totally it. I’ll never see him again. I totally ruined it.” Ben grumbles, reliving the worst moments of the evening in his head over and over.
“So you talked him out of a goodnight kiss. It must have been going okay that he wanted an extra few minutes with you. Was it okay before then?” Fiona asks, used to talking Ben back from the edge.
“It started out badly. I just kept messing up. I was a total idiot. He didn’t ask to see me again. It’s done. Over.” Ben says and tells Fiona about every detail.
“Do you still love him?” Fiona asks.
“Of course I do. My feelings haven’t changed. I just don’t think he ever felt as strongly and has cut his losses. Ben says.
“He was jet lagged and you kept giving him the brush off. You twice turned him down for dinner. He came all this way, you should have asked him out. I thought you were going to suggest the zoo.” Fiona says patiently.
“I can’t now. I feel so stupid.” Ben says and feels even worse. He did keep turning Rob down, he should have invited him out for the day, offered to show him round. Oh hell what has he done?
“So you’d lose him for pride? Just call him.” Fiona says and hangs up before Ben can protest further.
Rob is unpacking the last of his bag, the gifts he bought for Ben, chocolate and biscuits from home, things for his sweet tooth. He grabs his phone and sends an email to Ben.
“I know yesterday didn’t go to plan. I understand you couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I wasn’t what you expected or wanted. I should have warned you what I looked like or been more forceful in my warnings.
I brought some gifts for you and wondered if you had a friend who worked nearby that I could pass them on to. Just drop them off at their office or hand them over during their lunch break.
I don’t want to use the gifts as an excuse to see you again, as clearly you don’t want that, even as friends. But I would really like you to have them.
I wish things had been different. I wish I was different. I wish I looked like the man you loved.
Ben reads the message confused. Why is Rob going on about how he looks? That wasn’t an issue. Ben smiles as he remembers Rob’s sexy voice but struggles to remember what he looked like. It can’t have been that bad. It certainly had nothing to do with why things went so badly. He quickly replies.
“Can we try again?
We can go to the zoo and eat ice-cream. Meet me at the ticket gate at 2pm.
I’m sorry about last night. I was a mess.