The James Family Panto trip was usually…an experience.
Eve meant that in the best way, because even though she was twenty-one now, she still loved going to the Hackney Empire every year, but there was no denying that getting almost twenty people anywhere was always something of a challenge - especially when ten of those people where under ten. That didn’t matter though, because by the time they got off the train at Hackney Central, walking to the theatre, and finding their seats, all the difficulties was forgotten in the excitement of seeing the pantomime.
And they weren’t the only ones.
There were a group of three guys and a girl next to her, and they were all just as excited as Eve and her family. They were a little loud - but Eve couldn’t really judge, considering that there were ten children sitting in front of them, and Eve was technically meant to be keeping an eye on them and trying to get them to keep the volume down. She was totally failing at that, so she couldn’t complain about him and his friends laughing boisterously.
Besides, he was pretty cute: with bright red hair, big hazel eyes, and an adorable up-turned nose. If Eve was going to talk to him, it wasn’t going to be to tell him to shut up.
Honestly, she wasn’t going to speak to him at all; Eve was no shrinking violet, but she also didn’t think family outing was the best time to start potentially flirting with a stranger, because picking someone up while her grandparents were sitting a few seats down from her…that was just weird. But the red head must’ve seen her looking over at him out of the corner of his eye, and he turned to her with an apologetic expression:
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be loud.” the man blushed.
Eve just laughed: “You? I’m here with about ten children under ten, if anything I should be apologising to you. They’re not going to be quiet to sit behind.”
The man brightened considerably, his face splitting into a wide grin: “Ah, they’re kids ain’t they? They’re supposed to be loud at this kind of thing.”
“I’m glad you're the one who said it.” Eve laughed: “Last year we sat behind this middle-aged couple, and they spent the whole second half turning round to glare at them for being too loud.”
“What twa- its. Twits.” he rolled his eyes: “I hope I’m not like that when I get old - also, I’m Dom.”
“Eve,” Eve held out her hand, smiling and trying to ignore the small fluttering sensation she got in her stomach at the feel of his slightly calloused fingers closing around hers.
Dom looked like he was about to say something else, but all of a sudden the house lights went down, and the band started playing. Eve saw his face absolutely light up with excitement, before both of them turned all their attention to the stage.
Eve was instantly sucked into the world of Ha-Ka-Ney, watching as Aladdin interacted with his mum, and the police men, Jafar, and the Genie as the story unfolded before the interval. She laughed at the Dame, and at the scenes where she bickered with the policemen, telling them she’d been married sixteen times: “four richer, four poorer, four better, and four worse”. She heard Dom cracking up next to her, and when she looked over, she saw his face lit up with laughter, before she was pulled back into the slapstick going on on stage.
Cute as he was - and that was very cute, if Eve was being honest - Eve didn’t actually pay any more thought to Dom until the interval came around, and the houselights came back up.
He lightly tapped her on the shoulder while she was talking to her cousins about the panto, pulling her attention back to him so he could ask her if she wanted an ice-cream.
“Ice-cream?” Joanie, Eve’s youngest cousin, twisted round in her seat to face Eve and Dom: “Are we getting ice-cream, Evie?”
Eve winced - the little pots of ice-cream they sold on theatres were about five pounds each, way more than her family could afford for all of them: “Dom is, sweetie, but we’re not. We’re going to have some when we get home, remember?”
Joanie looked disappointed, but nodded and turned back round in her seat, leaving Eve to deal with a shame-faced Dom: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it awkward.”
“It’s cool,” she reassured, getting the feeling Dom genuinely hadn’t meant his offer as anything as something kind: “It’s just a bit much to buy ice-cream for all of them, you know? There’s ten of them, so it racks up.”
“I mean…” Dom looked a little awkward, carefully checking that Joanie wasn’t going to overhear him again, before slowly offering: “…I don’t mind paying?”
“I’d take advantage of the offer, love.” one of his mates leant forward: “He’s loaded.”
“Shut up!” Dom smacked his friend, glaring at him over his shoulder, before he turned back to Eve with an embarrassed look: “I, um…could pay though. But, you know, only if you don’t mind. I don't want to be creepy.”
Eve was torn; she didn’t want to take advantage of a stranger’s kindness (especially because it might not turn out to be kindness for kindness’s sake) but Dom seemed genuine…and she could see Joanie’s eyes trying to look anywhere else as she was turned to talk to her brother, obviously eavesdropping on Eve and Dom's conversation, and she knew she couldn’t disappoint her cousin. Or Dom: who was looking so eager to do something nice, Eve didn’t want to deny him either.
She just had to agree.
Joanie whooped as soon as she did, confirming that she’d been listening the whole time, and making Eve and Dom laugh.
Eve took her cousin’s orders, explaining to her aunts and uncles that her new friend had it covered when they looked confused. Dom smiled politely, but was a lot shyer than he had been with just Eve.
It was cute…cute enough that she couldn’t resist the urge to accompany him to go and buy everyone’s ice-cream.
How else was she going to get to talk to him without her family listening in? And Eve really wanted to get the chance to talk to Dom. He’d been cute to begin with, but after offering to treat all her cousins to ice-cream?
He might just be the most attractive man she’d ever come across.
“Thank you for this.” she told him when they were in the queue: “It means a lot to them - and me.”
“It’s really nothing.” Dom responded: “I like making people happy. Don’t know what else I’m going to do with my time and energy.”
Eve bit her lip…and then went for it: “Maybe going for a drink some time? With me. And without my whole family present?”
Dom stared at her, his jaw slack from surprise, for long enough that Eve was starting to get worried that maybe she’d misread the situation - only for Dom to see her embarrassed expression and reach out to grab her hand.
“I’d really like that.” he grinned: “I can’t wait. I mean, I know I’m with you now, but I can’t wait to meet you again and - I…um…I don’t know where I was going with that. But I’m excited!”
Eve beamed back at him, butterflies fluttering in her stomach at how adorably awkward he was being: “Same.”
Dom’s responding smile was the brightest thing she’d ever seen.
It was beautiful.