Squirrels leapt across the grass and up into trees. Daffodils were in bloom and blossoms were just beginning to unfurl from their buds. It was warm, with a cool breeze that played across the back of his neck.
He meandered through the park at a leisurely pace, taking in the view of the river that divided the park from the luxury flats with their floor-to-ceiling windows. Nate had always loved this park. Especially in the morning, before anyone else got to it.
It was short-lived, though. It took twenty minutes, if he dragged his feet, to walk from one end to the other, and soon he was on the other side of it. Looming over him was a red-brick block of offices, the lights off and blinds drawn. He pressed the buzzer on the door and waited for Gladys, the cleaning supervisor, to let him in. He greeted her warmly, but she barely acknowledged him in return. He got the sense Gladys was not a morning person. That, or she just didn’t like him very much.
He wasn’t the first person into the office, for once. Someone was in the staff kitchen, clinking cutlery, and the kettle was rumbling to a boil. He peered around the doorway to see a young man he didn’t recognise. His hair was short, curly and bed-rumpled, but his suit jacket was wrinkle free, well-ironed. As Nate walked through the door, the stranger turned, a teaspoon in his hand.
“Oh, hello,” he said, all Welsh vowels. “I’m Steffan. I started last week. D’you want a cuppa?”
Nate looked him over. He must the be the new sales assistant, Tina’s replacement. He was short, with wide eyes and a slightly pointed chin. Kind of cute, Nate decided. That was good. They needed more of that around here. His liked his colleagues, but none of them were very good eye candy. Except maybe Dianne, but she was the boss, and married. Or he supposed there was Isaac, from accounting. Okay, so maybe not none of them, but it had been a while since Nate had had someone new to look at.
“I’ll take that as a no then, shall I?” Steffan asked, and Nate realised he’d been staring, silently.
Great, he thought, I’ve creeped out the new guy. What a way to start the morning. “Sorry, yes,” he said, before feigning a yawn. “It’s too early. Not quite with it yet. I’m Nate. And I’ll take two sugars.”
Steffan nodded and turned his back to Nate, busying himself with the mugs. He was careful to choose only the plain white ones, Nate noticed, which was good. If he accidentally used Lisa’s kitten mug, this place would become a living hell for him very quickly.
“So where you from, Steffan?” Nate asked, taking a seat at the nearest of the three tables, and stretching his legs out.
Steffan turned, a steaming mug of tea in each hand and his eyebrows raised. “What? You can’t tell?”
“Ha. Well obviously. But where abouts, I meant.”
At Nate’s blank look, Steffan smirked; clearly he’d assumed Nate wouldn’t know where that was, and he’d been right.
“Powys,” Steffan clarified. “About half an hour from Swansea. What about you?”
“Bristol born and raised,” Nate said, a hint of pride leaking into his voice.
“Huh. You don’t have much of an accent.”
Nate chuckled. “Get me drunk, and you’ll hear it.”
Nate couldn’t help but enjoy the way Steffan blushed.
Steffan had quickly come to realise he didn’t need to be early to make a good impression. No one cared what time he got in. More days than not, Winston, who sat at the desk opposite him, was ten minutes late and no one blinked an eye. So he knew he didn’t need to come in early. Still, he arrived at the office half an hour before anyone else. Anyone but Nate, that was.
They sat at the table nearest the kitchen counters, sipping tea with one eye on the clock. It was nice, having the extra time to chill out after the rush of catching two buses into the city centre. He was fast beginning to consider Nate a friend. One of the few he’d managed to make since moving here.
His housemates were alright, but he wasn’t sure he really gelled with them. They’d share the odd brew, or a pint at their local when everyone was off, but aside from that he didn’t see much of them. It was lonely, moving to a strange city, and sometimes he wondered why he’d done it.
Except Nate made sure he was starting to fit in here. Nate had introduced him to everyone, and with Nate sitting at the desk next to him, he felt like he had something to anchor him.
“You coming out tonight?” Nate asked, looking slightly to the left of Steffan rather than directly at him. His short blond hair was sticking up at the top, probably from where he kept messing with it.
“Depends what’s happening?” Steffan asked, unsure whether he was being invited, or being asked if he’d been invited. There was a difference between the two, and he didn’t want to make some horrible faux pas.
“Just work drinks down the Stag. You in?”
“I could be convinced,” Steffan said, draining his tea. “If you’re going.”
Nate smiled. “Oh, I’m going,” he said.
Steffan grinned as he turned to wash up the mugs. That decided it then.
Steffan found himself feeling a bit out of place. Everyone was laughing at jokes he didn’t quite get, talking about people he didn’t know. He clung to his pint and sipped it slowly. His binder was beginning to feel tight, and he took a deep breath to steady himself. One drink. He’d stay for one drink and then he’d go home, get into his pyjamas and watch one of his Torchwood DVDs.
“So, Steffan, why don’t you tell us something about yourself?” Lisa was looking at him, waiting for an answer.
“Yes,” Nate said. “Dispel some of that mysterious aura.” He waved his hands around the word mysterious, like a magician, and Steffan chuckled.
“What do you want to know?” he asked, taking a gulp of his drink to prepare himself for whatever was coming next.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Lisa asked. “A boyfriend? Are you a dog or a cat person?”
Steffan relaxed, just slightly. “I’m single,” he admitted. “And I prefer cats.”
Nate hissed in a breath and fixed him with a stern glare. “I don’t think we can be friends,” he said. “Cats are bastards.”
Steffan shrugged. “That’s why I like them.”
“Okay,” Lisa said. “But would you prefer a girlfriend, or a boyfriend?”
Steffan looked at her for a minute, debating whether to tell her off for asking such personal questions in public, or just to suck it up and answer honestly. He didn’t think anyone here would be judgemental, and he knew from office gossip that Lisa herself had recently broken up with a woman who worked on the floor below theirs.
“I prefer guys,” he said eventually. “But I’m also asexual.”
“Oh,” Lisa said, and Steffan thought maybe he was going to have to answer some questions about that, face an interrogation. Instead, she just said, “Cool,” and that was that.
“So how does that work?” Nate asked, when they were at the bar. There was a small crowd around them, but no one they knew. “Being ace and gay? Like, do you date?” He paused, then grinned. “I’m asking for a friend.”
Steffan raised his eyebrows at him. “A friend? Which one? Please tell me it’s Isaac.”
Nate scowled at him. “I think I’m beginning to see how you’re a cat person.”
“I date,” Steffan said. “Sometimes. If I find someone worth dating.”
The bartender nodded to them, and they ordered their drinks. Half of their group had already peeled off home after the first drink, so the round was small. As they waited, Nate cleared his throat. “So… Would I be worth dating?”
“I don’t know if I could date a dog person.”
Nate shoved him, and Steffan grinned. “Maybe,” he admitted. Definitely, he thought.
“Well that’s good,” Nate said. He looked like he was about to say something else, but then the bartender returned with their drinks, and whatever it was was forgotten.
By nine, there were only four of them left. Lisa was yawning, and made her excuses, while Winston peeled off to join a group of punky-looking people, presumably friends from outside of work.
Steffan stretched out his shoulders. “I should get going,” he said.
“I can’t tempt you?” Nate asked, gesturing to Steffan’s empty glass.
“Not tonight,” Steffan said, and stifled a yawn. As he stood up, he stumbled slightly, and caught himself on Nate’s shoulder.
“Lightweight,” Nate chastised. He drained the last of his pint and got up, following Steffan to the door and outside. The air smelled like rain, although it was still dry. A storm was forecast for later. He supposed it was probably a good idea to leave now, before the heavens opened.
Steffan turned to him, and without even thinking about it, Nate leaned down and kissed him.
Steffan’s eyes were wide, his cheeks a little pink, but a small smile was spreading across his face. Yeah, Steffan was pretty damn cute, although Nate didn’t think he’d appreciate that sentiment much.
“I’ll see you on Monday,” Nate said.
“Yeah,” Steffan agreed. “See you Monday.”
As Nate walked home, a light pattering of rain beginning to dampen his shirt collar, he felt light, as though he weighed next to nothing. For maybe the first time since he’d begun his working life, he couldn’t wait for the weekend to be over.