“So, how often do you and Andrew go on dates?”
Neil coughed a little as his raspberry sorbet rushed down his throat just a bit too fast, his brain freezing immediately.
Allison’s frown kind of didn’t bode well. Her expression twisted into the one she always gave him when he was obviously missing something that was absolutely common knowledge or considered “normal”. “Yes, Neilio, dates. You know, like going to a fancy restaurant or going to the movies and have some nice sexy times afterwards.”
Neil sent a pleading look to Renee who was sitting next to Allison.
“Alli, I think Neil and Andrew don’t really go on dates.” Renee gave Allison’s hand a small pat and Neil one of her slightly pitying smiles. One of the likes he didn’t like.
“Oh god, okay. Neilio. Neil. You can’t be in a relationship without going on dates. Dates are important. Dan.”
Dan looked up from her fries and hotdog, quickly swallowing before she replied, “Well, I think it’s Neil and Andrew’s business, isn’t it? I mean, Allison isn’t all wrong. Dates can keep relationships going but as with everything, not all people need it.”
Neil just hummed, cogs already churning. Andrew never asked him on a date. He never asked Andrew. Sure, they did things together. They did most things together. But they never labeled it. Why was everyone so keen on labeling stuff?
“I mean, we do things together,” Neil eventually snapped, crossing his arms over his chest in defense. It wasn’t fair of them to assume his and Andrew’s relationship would eventually fail because they didn’t go on conventional dates.
“We all do things together, Neil. But dates are just for you two. And dates are time you spent together on purpose, with the only intention being to spend quality time together.”
Neil didn’t really know what to answer to that. He spent most of his time with Andrew. He’d been with Andrew for almost three years now and his departure was looming over them. Andrew would go pro in a couple of months. They wouldn’t see each other very often for some time. Hopefully only for a year, but getting signed together was close to impossible.
“I think Neil isn’t really comfortable talking about it,” Renee jumped in, all caring. For once, Neil liked it.
Allison huffed but that was that. That’s what Neil thought.
When he was lying next to Andrew later, Allison’s words were still floating around in his mind.
“Neil thinks we should go on a date.” Andrew took a last drag of his cigarette before he crushed it with his boot.
Neil had brought it up a week ago. He had tried to be casual but Andrew knew Neil like nobody else and the same went for Neil and himself. Andrew had smelled the lie before it had been out of Neil’s mouth.
“And, is that a bad thing?” Renee asked, picking her sandwich apart to share it with Andrew.
Andrew stuffed a piece into his mouth and mumbled around it, “Everything Neil does is a bad thing.”
Renee grinned at his words, nudging his shoulder with her own. “Lying doesn’t suit you, Andrew Minyard.”
If it had been anyone else, they would have taken a blow in a sec but this was Renee, lovely Renee, and she had a much bigger scope than others.
Andrew sighed. Renee was right. Denying Neil stuff wasn’t his strength. Everything about Neil made him go weak. “I don’t know, Renee. We do stuff together. We’ve been doing almost everything together in the past years. Why now?”
Something in Renee’s eyes flitted past, too fast to grasp it but Andrew had a vague idea what it was about. Renee knew why Neil asked for a date. Allison.
“It’s Allison.” It was a statement. He didn’t need to ask.
Now, it was Renee who was sighing. “Okay, yes. We were at the diner and Allison asked Neil if you two go on dates and that was that.”
Andrew nodded and shook another cigarette into his hand. “Thanks, for telling me.”
“I think it stuck with him. Maybe you just need to tell him how you feel about it.”
“You sound like Bee,” Andrew said and huffed, taking a deep drag. “I’ll figure it out.”
“I’m sure you do,” Renee said and smiled. “So, kicking your ass tonight?”
Andrew allowed his lips to turn upwards. Just a tad. In the end, it was Renee. “Kicking your ass tonight,” he said and laughed just a little bit.
Andrew was self-destructive. Not like he’d been all the years before Neil. This was new. It meant doing things for Neil because he knew Neil would like it, like listening to trashy pop songs or eating fruit on cake. Or going on dates.
For their first one, Andrew wanted to do something special. Maybe that was it what Neil really needed. Feeling seen, special, loved . Maybe Andrew couldn’t tell him, but he could show Neil what he meant to him.
He booked a table at a restaurant Aaron had recommended. Disgusting. He was sure Aaron and Katelyn were eyefucking in that thing most of the time but Aaron had sworn the food was incredible.
It ended in a total disaster. The restaurant was vegetarian. Neil absolutely hated vegetables. Andrew swore he’d kill Aaron later. At least they could observe the other guests and Neil could make his funny remarks about goggling couples.
Okay, it wasn’t a total disaster but it surely wasn’t what Neil wanted. This couldn’t be it.
Andrew decided it would be better to let Neil choose. Unsurprisingly, Neil had no idea about how a date was supposed to be and to be frank, neither did Andrew. He’d never gone on a date before Neil and even now being with Neil and spending time with him didn’t feel like dating.
They were breathing the same air, creating their own little cosmos. They were Neil and Andrew. Andrew and Neil.
Going on dates felt forced. Unnatural. But Neil wanted to do this, so Andrew agreed to another one and then another one.
Movies. The zoo. Another fancy dinner. These moments were nice but for Andrew, they had nothing on sitting on the roof at night, smoking and finding constellations in the vast sea of stars. Or going on a long drive together, sitting in silence as city after city passed by, until the gas was used up, until they parked at a clearing and made out endlessly in the Maserati. These moments meant something to Andrew. And somehow he wondered why Neil needed more than this.
It was date night. Yes, obviously Thursday night was date night now. It was Neil’s turn to choose. Again. But instead of being absolutely planless, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
After class, he took the Maserati while Andrew was napping on the sofa after a couple of fitful nights. He drove to the supermarket, bought his favorite fruit, some of the soft baguette Andrew liked, some cheese, and plenty of chocolate and ice cream. He made a quick side-trip to the housewares section where he grabbed a basket, a bunch of soft blankets and an isolated picnic blanket, some battery-driven fairy lights he’d learned to like when Nicky had gotten him some to have a soft source of light for nightmares, and a couple more things that came in handy.
He checked out with a pack of beer, a bottle of whiskey, and some juice for himself, hauled the bags into the trunk, and set to work once he was at the dorm. Andrew was still asleep, a sign for how exhausted he had to be.
At 6.30 pm, around an hour before the sun was setting, Neil woke Andrew by gently touching his forehead. They had tried to find ways for waking each other up without sending the other into a panic attack or fit, and Andrew had reacted very well to being touched to his forehead.
Neil adored how Andrew’s face transformed from sleep to wakefulness, features so soft and pliant exchanged with vigilance.
“Hey,” Neil replied, raking through Andrew’s hair. “Date night, lover,” Neil added and grinned while Andrew kicked him softly.
“Go away. I don’t date menaces.”
“Yeah? Well, it’s one menace, isn’t it?” Neil said and laughed, offering his hand for Andrew to pull himself upright. “Come on let’s go.”
“Where are we going this time?”
“Surprise,” Neil singsang and walked over to the kitchen where everything was packed and ready to grab. “Grab a warm sweater!”
Usually Andrew was driving but today Neil got into the driver’s seat and started the engine, ignoring Andrew’s puzzled look.
They drove for forty-five minutes, up a hill outside of Palmetto. They’d come here a few times, mostly at nights where they both were too haunted by old demons to go back to sleep. It was one of their favorite secluded spots.
The sun was already setting, tinging the world with a bazillion shades of orange. Andrew’s hazel eyes turned golden at the reflecting light, making Neil want to stare at them endlessly. Andrew was handsome. Andrew was kind. Andrew was so far from soulless and the last years had been proof of it over and over again. Neil couldn’t imagine ever being without him again. Watching him leave next summer would be a challenge but for now they were here. Still together.
Maybe always together, Neil thought to himself as he offered his one hand to Andrew and grabbed their equipment with the other.
They found a place where they could look over Palmetto. Neil unpacked all the things he’d brought, not missing Andrew’s smile at the sight of his favorite ice cream and the whiskey bottle.
Once they were comfortable and full, Neil accepted Andrew’s offer to rest his head on Andrew’s belly, both of them watching the last rays of sun slipping under the horizon and dragging the dark blanket speckled with stars behind them.
“You know, Drew, I think dating isn’t for us.”
Neil had thought about it plenty. All their forced dates had been okay because they had been with Andrew but not because of the places they’d gone to. To Neil, it didn’t matter where they were or what they did. As long as Andrew was by his side, every minute felt like a date. Like spending quality time together. Everything they did, they did on purpose.
Andrew hummed and turned his head down to look at Neil, blowing cigarette smoke into his face. “I think you’re a junkie.” Andrew stabbed Neil’s cheek with his finger, making him laugh.
“Okay, I admit it,” Neil said and grinned, catching Andrew’s fingertip with his lips to press a kiss to it.
“I think you like dates, Neil. Just because it’s not what Allison or Dan or whoever thinks they should be like, it doesn’t mean we can’t define what we have as dates.”
Neil thought about it for a few seconds before he hummed and nodded. He leaned up to meet Andrew midair for a kiss.
“Idiot,” Andrew muttered when their lips separated, his hand cupping Neil’s cheek.
“Your idiot,” Neil said and blew Andrew a kiss, nestling his head back into Andrew’s tummy.
Maybe Andrew was right. Just because Andrew and Neil didn’t need what the others needed, like a special date day or a fancy restaurant or holding hands at the movies, it didn’t mean that they never went on dates. Every moment Andrew wanted to share with Neil, their drives, their rooftop nights, their shared moments in Columbia, going to Eden’s and making out in the backroom – these were dates, and so much more than Neil had ever expected to live to see.