Despite not believing I could, I ended up falling asleep at some point since I woke up to a phone ringing. I had moved to the chair I pulled over after Dan had fallen asleep and apparently followed him to unconsciousness in that, so I was stiff and sore as I stood up and looked around for the source of the ringtone as I switched off my lamp. It wasn't mine so I could only assume that it was Dan's, but the other man was still asleep – rotated 180° and on his back again, which made me smile despite the circumstances – and I wanted him to get as much rest as he could.
I found the device in his jacket that was exactly where I had left it. The screen showed that a Nancy Bates was calling and that it was already 10:04 AM.
Feeling a bit guilty and invasive, I answered the call, "Hello?"
"You're not Dan," a woman's voice immediately stated.
Chuckling lightly, I replied, "No, I'm not. I'm Lesley, a friend of Dan's. He's not feeling too well and is in bed right now. May I ask who this is?"
"Nancy, Dan's coworker. He didn't show up this morning and he's never late so we were a bit worried. You said he wasn't feeling well, is he okay?"
No, he was definitely not okay, but I couldn't tell her that.
"He's sick, that's all. He's doing much better than last night and is probably going to gather his strength in bed today. I'll let him know that you called when he wakes up."
"Thank you. He must have caught something from overworking. He's been a bit off recently. Tell him not to worry and get himself back to tip top condition."
"Will do," I answered absently, saying goodbye and cutting the call when my mind had already moved on from the conversation.
I set Dan's phone on the coffee table and went back to my room to check up on him. He was fast asleep, covers a tangled mess about him, and mouth hung open with a bit of drool running down one side of his jaw.
Stretching, I quickly went to my bathroom to brush my teeth and all that daily morning stuff, and then gently closed the door to my bedroom before going to the kitchen to prepare a late breakfast. I had to be at the studio for my 4 PM junior guitar class so I had a good couple of hours to figure out what to do about Dan.
Feeling the need to make a great breakfast that would put a smile on any face, I started whisking some eggs and flour, the beginnings to some delicious crêpes that Yvette had taught me to make. I had lots of berries and a few different flavored jams, as well as a canister of whipped cream for toppings so Dan could mix up whatever he wanted. And if he wanted something savory, I had eggs, sausages, and bacon that would be easy to prepare however he wished.
I zoned in on cooking, humming Daisy, the ending theme song to Kyoukai no Kanata, as I worked. It was one of my favorite songs, even though I didn't understand the words. It was just an extremely beautiful song that I loved to listen to as well as play on my guitar. Yvette absolutely hates it, but only because I had played it nonstop for weeks after first hearing it when the anime premiered.
As I was just about to slide another fresh crêpe onto the plate I was piling them on, a loud thud from behind me made me jump and spin around, holding the pan out in front of me like a weapon, nearly flinging the thin pancake across the room.
Dan was pushing himself up off the floor near my couch, groaning in pain. I set the pan down to the side before rushing to him and helping him get back to his feet.
"Are you okay? What happened?" I questioned, scanning him for injuries.
"I tripped," he muttered. I pulled back and gave him space when I felt him tense under my hands that were holding his arm and shoulder.
Smiling softly, I gestured to the kitchen, "I'm almost done making breakfast. Are crêpes okay with you?" When he didn't respond, only stared, I added, "If you want something else, just ask. I've got bacon, eggs, sausages, I think I have some slices of ham too, bread, whatever you want. It'll be no trouble, seriously."
"Uh, um, I should get going. I'm late for work and—"
"Oh right, that reminds me, someone from your office called, Nancy Bates. I answered – sorry, I didn't want to wake you up – and told her you were sick and wouldn't be coming in today. She said not to worry and get back to 100% before coming back to work. And part of that would include a nice filling breakfast.."
I raised a brow when he didn't move, just played with the bottom of his wrinkled shirt and nibbled on his lip.
"...Do you still have an extra toothbrush?" he mumbled.
I smiled, "Toothbrushes are where I showed you last time, same as everything else. Coffee again?"
He nodded, but just as he was about to turn away, I added, "If you want to take a shower, feel free. Your clothes from last time are hanging in my closet so you can change into those after if you want and dump what you're wearing now in my laundry hamper."
"I still have your stuff..." he murmured.
I shrugged, smirking cheekily, "Then I guess I'll just keep your clothes hostage. Now, go get cleaned up. Breakfast shall be ready by the time you return."
Dan pursed his lips, eyes wavering hesitantly and I felt the urge to ruffle his already messy hair. He had this adorable disheveled appearance that was miles a part from his behaviour last night. I couldn't tell what his real personality was like. He was defensive one moment, anguished the next, and then adorably innocent for moments in between.
Eventually, he turned and headed to my room and the bathroom and I returned to the kitchen. I finished up and soon had a plateful of crêpes set on my kitchen table, surrounded by a bowl of assorted berries and sliced banana, three jars of different jams, half a canister of whipped cream, and a small tub of Nutella. Coffee was almost done, two mugs waiting to be filled, and everything else was resting in the sink to be cleaned up later. All that was missing was Dan.
I left the kitchen and went to my room, knocking on the closed door, "Dan? Food's done, you ready?"
I waited maybe five minutes for a muffled reply and my door opening. Dan's face was red and he was staring steadfast at the ground before me.
"Everything okay?" I asked, stepping to the side and leading the way to the kitchen.
"Yeah," he mumbled as he took the seat I offered while I put one of the crêpes on a fresh plate, setting it before him.
"You get your pick, but if you want something else, don't hesitate to ask," I told him, walking around to start on my own breakfast.
"Oh, uh, no this is fine. Thank you," he replied, reaching for the Nutella. He still refused to look at me even though his skin had faded to a more pink than red hue.
Deciding to leave that matter alone, I started preparing my breakfast, grabbing the raspberry jam.
We prepared and ate our food in silence for a while. Dan, apparently had a major sweet tooth. He coated his crêpe with a thick layer of Nutella and added a generous amount of whipped cream before adding a few banana slices and strawberries. He was on his second serving of that. He had also been glancing at me every so often, before his cheeks colored and he'd focus intently on his food again.
"If you want to say something, go ahead," I said, chuckling gently when I caught him staring for the nth time.
"Um... I was just wondering if you knew a cop or someone," he answered hesitantly.
I frowned at the random question, "Uh, no, I'm afraid not. Why?"
Dan's face was on fire as he looked away and nibbled on his lip, "It's, uh, just, you...there were...handcuffs..." he trailed off.
I frowned for a moment longer before realizing what he was talking about. I had a few different padded handcuffs, but they were always left in the bottom most drawer of my closet with the rest of my sex paraphernalia.
My skin heated up as I realized that I may have forgotten to put one away and it had been within sight when Dan was looking for his clothes. I could only imagine how awkward he must have felt. Before I knew I even had the kink, I was mortified when I accidently found one of my old boyfriends' spiked cuffs. Although, for me, that embarrassment quickly turned into arousal.
"Oh. That's, uh, sorry. I have a light bondage kink so that's what those were for. I must have forgotten to put them away or something."
"No, it's fine, uh, I was just...surprised. Is the coffee ready?" he changed the subject abruptly, already standing up and heading to the coffee machine.
I got up quickly and stopped him from grabbing the red mug, "Ah, wait. That one's mine." I grabbed the white one next to it and filled it with coffee before handing it to him, "This one is yours for the day."
Dan frowned and turned the mug around so he could read what had been written on it.
"My friend, Yvette, made it for me a few years back when I was sick," I explained, smiling fondly at the memory. I had broken my leg and then came down with the flu and a had a ridiculously high fever while I was in the hospital. It was just a huge pile on of bad luck. Yvette had made me that mug as a get well gift. It was decorated with doodles of chibi-styled cabbages that were sick - classic white towel on the head, thermometer sticking out of its mouth, etc. - as well as a handwritten list of general things to do to get better. It was my pick-me-up mug and if anyone could do with a bit of a pick-me-up, it was Dan.
As he was about to take a sip, I asked, "Do you want more sugar in that?" I didn't remember how he had taken his coffee the last time and considering his apparent sweet tooth...
"No, this is fine," he replied. When he caught me glancing at his partially eaten second serving of a diabetic attack, he cleared his throat, adding, "I like sweet food but not sweet drinks. It's weird, I know."
His lips took on a self deprecating smile that tugged my heart the wrong way.
"It's not weird at all," I replied. "It's actually rather cute." He flushed again, huffing quietly and I couldn't help but grin. "It's true, now, let's finish up breakfast. Eat as much as you can, I made more than enough."
We returned to our seats and ate in relative silence before Dan began to grow comfortable around me and we made idle chitchat. I asked about his work and learned he was an accountant. At the mention of such a math heavy job, I couldn't help but make a face.
"Math and I never got along," I told him. "Red plus blue equals violet, I can get on that. Add numbers and symbols and imaginary numbers to that? No way."
"Math's not that bad," Dan replied.
"No, it's worse. You have no idea how relieved I was after my math exam senior year. Never had to take a math course ever again."
"You didn't have to take math in university?"
I shook my head, "I took a gap year and ended up never looking into uni. I spent most of that year interning at the art gallery over by the public library on 7th and took up teaching some kids guitar. When my internship at the gallery ended, I got another one at the studio I currently work at. I was pretty lucky."
Dan stared at his plate for a moment before looking back at me, "So, what do you do?"
"I teach art and guitar." I replied, a smile automatically coming to my face. "I've got classes for both kids and adults and it's fun and rewarding. The kids classes are my favorites though, I've always loved children and seeing them light up when they understand something and are proud of their progress...there's nothing better."
Dan's expression was unreadable. It's not that he was expressionless, but his eyes were swimming with a mix of emotions and I couldn't pick out and identify individually.
"Which do like to teach more, guitar or art?" he asked, curiosity overshadowing his previous look. It was still there, but his interest was stronger.
"Oh god, that's difficult," I replied, biting my lip in thought. "I guess art if I really had to choose. I'm more comfortable with it as well since I've been drawing and painting and whatnot since I could hold a crayon. I only picked up guitar right before high school. Can I get you more coffee?" Dan had brought his mug to his lips but set it back down when he realized it was empty.
Dan nodded, giving his thanks when I took the mug and filled it with the last of the coffee, handing it back to him as I took his empty plate and piled it with the other empty dishes. I set those in the sink and glanced at the digital clock built into my stove.
"Hey, do mind joining me on some errands today?" I turned around to face Dan.
Dan frowned, "What?"
"I've got a class at four and I need to do a few things before that. It's a bit past eleven, so I was thinking I could check off some things on my to-do list, we could grab a late light lunch, finish off my errands, and then go to the studio. You could sit in on my class, too." I was actually really excited about the last idea, as well as a bit amused at the mental image of Dan sitting with my Tuesday kids.
"What?" Dan repeated.
I grinned at him, "I'm saying I want your company today. Besides, I'm not letting you spend your day off alone. I know I originally asked a question, but I'm not really going to accept 'no' as an answer for this."
"...Are you sure?" he asked instead of arguing.
I nodded, "If I wasn't I wouldn't be enforcing it. Give me like ten minutes to get ready and we can head off. Your stuff is with your jacket on the couch, just chill until I'm done."
Dan nodded and I went to my room while Dan went to his stuff. I closed the door behind me and hurried through getting dressed, pulling on fresh clothes and then arranging my hair with some green bobby pins that matched my hair color to keep it down and reasonably controlled. Some of the kids would complain, I knew, they loved my hair when I didn't leave it down.
Before leaving the room, I put my guitar in its case, slinging it over my shoulder, and shoved my phone and wallet into my pockets. Dan was sitting on my couch, fiddling with his phone. When he looked up at me, I nodded towards the door, grabbing my keys on the way.
"Ah, I forgot to ask how you got here," I said. "I drive a motorcycle but otherwise just walk everywhere."
"I parked my car just around the corner," Dan replied. "I can drive us?"
Grinning, I agreed and led the way out. It didn't take long for us to leave my building and walk the short distance to where Dan had parked his grey Honda Civic. Dan popped open the trunk and I kept my guitar in there, shutting it before settling into the passenger seat next to Dan. The inside of the car smelled clean with a hint of lemongrass from the fancy air freshener that hooked onto the air conditioner. The floors were visible, no loose papers or used wrappers to be seen. It was rather sparse though, no hint of individuality save for the air freshener.
"So where to?" Dan asked.
"First stop is Splatter, an art store about two blocks down from the McDonald's on Hemming Street."
Dan nodded and he pulled out onto the road. I directed him when we got to Hemming Street about a half hour later, and he found the store easily, parking in front of it.
When I got out of the car, I realized that Dan was planning on just sitting and waiting for me. I tsked to myself and ducked my head down to look at him through the open door, "C'mon. You'll be much less bored looking around the store as you wait. There's a ton of cool stuff in there."
Dan pursed his lips but relented and turned his car off before getting out and locking up. We walked into the store and were immediately greeted by Josy, the ever chirpy daughter of the store's owner.
"Lesley!" she called, even as she was ringing up a mother who had two boys about the age of five who were running around pretending to shoot each other. One of them tripped and went sprawling to the floor on his knees, landing right in front of my feet. The boy looked up and stared at me and Dan for a few seconds, unsure how to react like most little kids did. His brother stared at him too and Josy and the mother looked about ready to gasp and fuss over him.
Before anyone could react, I winced slightly and crouched down, helping him up, "Are you okay?"
He nodded hesitantly, blinking back the tears that were about to form.
I gave him a sympathetic shake of my head, "Floors are big meanies, aren't they? Always trying to make people fall. Shoelaces too, they're the biggest meanies, I would know."
The little boy giggled at that, his fall forgotten. His brother giggled and I sent them off back to their mother who looked surprised.
Josy chuckled as she handed over the family's purchases, "Lesley, despite how he looks, is a child whisperer. I don't think I've ever seen a kid cry in his presence."
I rolled my eyes, "I take offense to the how I look part. I kept my hair down today too."
The mother, and the boys after slight prompting, thanked me before they left the store. I waved and chuckled when I heard the boy who had fallen ask, "Mommy, can I have green hair, too?"
"Captain Lesley, to the rescue as always," Josy said when the door closed. She looked to the side of me and her face brightened at seeing Dan. "Oh, you brought a friend that's not Yvette."
"I have friends other than Yvette," I drawled. "Josy, this is Dan, and Dan, this is Josy. Her father owns the place."
"Nice to meet you," Dan said, pasting on a polite smile. He stuck close to me and looked around the area.
"You too. So what are you?" she asked.
Dan frowned and I replied for him, "Dan's just accompanying me today."
"Oh," Josy replied. "So you don't do any art?"
Dan, realizing what Josy had meant earlier, shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck, "Uh, no. I'm better with numbers than I am with anything creative."
"I doubt that but whatever you say," Josy replied. "So, what can I do for you today, Les?"
"I just need to restock on a couple things and ask your dad about the canvas I wanted to order. Is he here today?"
"Dad's at home on bed arrest by orders of mom," Josy answered. "He fractured his leg a few days ago."
"Ow, how'd that happen? He's alright now though, yeah?"
Josy rolled her eyes, "The old man was trying to grab a paint bucket from the back and ended up knocking over a bunch of easels with the bucket landing on his leg. And from his constant complaining of being trapped in bed, he's doing just fine."
I laughed at that and glanced to see Dan hovering beside me looking uncomfortable.
Turning to him, I nodded towards the aisles, "Why don't you have a look around. I'll find you in a bit."
"Uh, sure," he replied, after being startled by my voice. He left immediately, disappearing behind shelves of jewelry paraphernalia in a rush. I felt guilt tug at my chest.
"Anyway, he told me about the canvas. Did you want to finalize the order?" Josy asked me.
"Yeah," I nodded, heading towards her as she pulled out a journal and set it on the counter. "It's too big for my apartment so I wanted to wait until Xiao gave me permission to keep and work on it at the studio."
We went through the formalities and Josy told me that the canvas would arrive and be delivered at the studio sometime next week. When all was said and done, I turned around, scanning the store for Dan. I saw the top of some brown hair near the spray paints.
"Soooo, is he your new boo?" Josy grinned cheekily, pulling my attention back to her.
"He's a friend," I replied, watching her pout in disappointment, "who I'm going to go and check on now."
Josy sighed and muttered something about me being no fun as I left her to her own devices, grabbing a basket on my way towards Dan. I found him looking at a wall of oil paints in awe.
"Find anything interesting?" I asked as I walked up to him, grabbing a few tubes and dropping them in my basket. I was running low on greens, black, and white.
"There's so much stuff, I don't think I've ever seen so many different colors," he replied.
"Well it is an art store," I chuckled. "And I'm sorry about leaving you out back there."
"No, it's fine," he said. "You know the owners pretty well, huh?"
I nodded, leading the way down the aisle and grabbing a few more tubes before stopping in front of shelves filled to the brim with brushes, "This is my go to store for supplies. The studio I work at also buys most of their stuff from here so we're all pretty close."
We walked around the store and I found myself enjoying shopping with Dan. While I always loved walking through art stores, with Dan, his questions and interest added a new aspect. He was almost child-like in the way he examined various items and asked about how they could be used. When I asked for his input on some things I wanted to buy, asking him to help me decide between a few items, he was hesitant and tried to avoid answering, claiming he was an unreliable source. When I refused to move on until he gave his opinion, he groused and grumbled with a faint flush on his cheeks, especially when someone else was nearby and watched us in amusement. We lost track of time but eventually, .Josy was ringing me up. She hinted heavily - to the point it wasn't even hinting, really - that I should really hurry up or else Dan would get snatched away by some suave, normal hair colored man - or woman, non-binary, whatever he preferred. Dan stammered and I ignored her teasing, grabbing the bags before Dan could, and bid Josy farewell and my well wishes for her father.
"Mind walking down the block? There's a music store and I just need to grab some sheet music, strings, and picks."
"No, you can put your stuff in the back," Dan replied, unlocking the car. I set the bags on the floor at the back before we headed off down the street. We walked in silence until Dan's phone started ringing just as we approached the store. When he looked at the screen, his whole body tensed. I was about to ask what was wrong but he wiped all emotions from his face and muttered, "I need to answer this. I'll be out here."
He turned his back to me before I could reply and walked to the corner of the shop, phone already pressed to his ear. I was torn between going up to him and letting him handle whatever was happening on his own. My mind told me it was none of my business, especially since we barely even knew each other. My heart, didn't care, pulling me towards him to make sure he was okay and find out who had caused the immediate change. In the end, I let him be, but was still worried as I went about the store grabbing what I needed even though I was barely paying attention to my surroundings. A teenager who should have been in school let me know of my lack of awareness quite clearly. I kept glancing out the window but Dan wasn't in sight so my worry only grew.
When I got out of the store I looked around and my heart rate picked up, throat tightening, when I couldn't find Dan. My breath returned shortly, however, when I saw him walking out of the alley next to the store. I sighed in relief before questioning why I was so concerned. He was a grown man, probably older than myself. But last night was still fresh in my mind.
I pasted on a smile and went up to him. He was staring down at his phone, a frown marring his features.
"Hey, everything okay?" I asked, even though it was quite obvious that not everything was okay.
Dan snapped his head up and his eyes clouded briefly before they turned blank. He nodded stiffly, "Yes."
"Okay. You up for some food, something to drink? There's a café nearby." Food and a warm drink never hurt even if we did just recently have breakfast.
I put on my best puppy face which I'd been told tends to sometimes make people uncomfortable since an innocent expression did not look quite right with my appearance. Sometimes it worked in my favor and sometimes it did not.
This time it was one point for me as Dan nodded and I smiled, leading the way to the first café I saw. It was pretty nice, nothing special, white furnishing with hints of yellow and green. The place was neither busy nor deserted, a few free tables were scattered about with patrons of varying ranges.
"You wanna grab a seat while I order for us?" I asked Dan as we entered.
His eyes hardened, making me almost step back from the sheer force of his glare.
"I'm not a child," he bit out, tearing away from me and going to the counter. I stood stunned for a moment before I followed cautiously, lining up behind him.
He ordered his drink, the sweetest concoction possible, requesting extra caramel, which made me raise a brow. He paired his drink with a slice of chocolate cake that was drowning in icing and even the employee behind the counter looked amazed by the amount of sugar Dan was ordering. I ordered a gooey looking brownie and a small coffee. By the time I paid for my order, Dan had found a table in a corner for two people. I took a seat across from him, hanging my shopping bag on the back of the chair, and watching as he stirred more sugar into his drink.
"Just this morning you were saying you didn't like your drinks sweet," I brought up lightly, smiling with a quiet little laugh. It was forced, my mind still trying to figure out why he had reacted like that.
"Sometimes I do," he replied quietly, pursing his lips into a faint pout as he brought the drink up to hide behind. The stiffness of his shoulders ebbed and the hardness of his eyes had softened down to a warmer brown. I grinned as I forked off a piece of my brownie and popped it into my mouth. Dan went for his drink first and the visual effect of him gulping down several mouthfuls of it was astounding. I knew food could make people feel happy, but Dan completely relaxed into his seat and even smiled faintly. Whatever was bothering him before had either been not too much of a big deal, or he was putting it to the back of his mind. I was sure it was the latter and wanted to press him on it, but that would've done more harm than good. God it was frustrating. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how for him.
"How's the cake?" I asked after he took his first bite, trying to take a page from his book and focusing on something else.
"So good," he sighed, licking the stray chocolate icing off his lips. His tongue snuck out and swiped across his bottom lip before he pulled his lip into his mouth to completely clean it off. "What else do you have left to do?"
I tore my eyes from his mouth. When I wanted something else to focus on, I didn't mean something like that. It was beyond wrong and inappropriate.
"Oh, uh," I stalled by sipping at my drink, "not much. I mainly needed supplies. We've got about an hour and a half before I want to get to the studio. Do you want to go anywhere?"
Dan chewed on another bite of his in thought, "Well...I do kind of need to buy a present for one of my coworkers."
"Oh, presents!" I cheered. Who didn't love presents? "What's the occasion?"
Dan's eyes were wide in surprise, probably due to my reaction and excitement on something that, granted, another person above the age of ten would not be so excited by.
"It's just a birthday party. She's turning fifty-five and wants to celebrate."
"Fifty-five?" I echoed. It was an odd age to celebrate. After twenty-one, birthday parties became a rarity as far as I knew. Usually only the tens called for parties.
"She's Thai," Dan said by way of explanation. I didn't see the correlation. He chuckled and continued, "In Thai, five is pronounced ha. She's a bit quirky, honestly, so none of us were surprised when she demanded we attend her ha-ha birthday party."
I couldn't help my laughter, "That's amazing! Is fifty-five really ha-ha in Thai?"
Dan shook his head, "No, it's ha hmun ha, or something like that."
"Still amazing," I insisted. "So what do you plan on getting her?"
"That's the issue, I have no idea. She's...eccentric in a way and I have no clue what to get her. I was thinking jewelry or something but I don't know."
"If you want, I could help." Gesturing to my hair and visible piercings, I added, "I think I may pass for 'eccentric in a way'."
Dan smiled, "Well, she does have piercings. She wears, uh, what are they called, the things you wear to hide piercings?"
"A retainer," I supplied.
Dan nodded, "Yeah, that. She wears those for work."
"So you want to buy her a new piercing?"
"It's the only thing that's come to mind," he shrugged, sipping his drink.
"I know this little place we could check out, although I'm not sure if neon, black, and steel, is up your coworker's alley."
"Your style is definitely closer to hers than mine ever could be," Dan replied with a small snort. "Are you sure you don't mind helping me out?"
Rolling my eyes, I didn't even think before I put one of my hands over Dan's, "Seriously, I'm sure. I dragged you out on my errands so it's only fair to help you out. And even if I hadn't I'd still love to help."
Dan pulled his hand from mine, running the limb through his hair, "Okay. After we finish up we can head down to wherever it is you have in mind?"
I nodded and it didn't take long for us to finish up and throw our trash away. We walked back to his car and I kept my purchases from the music store with my art supplies in the back before sliding into the front with Dan. I didn't have to direct him to our next destination as it was a nearby mall that had one of the better cinemas in the city. He parked in the underground parking lot and I led the way inside and up to the fourth floor.
"What type of piercing do you want to get her?" I asked Dan as we walked side by side, passing various shops with bored looking employees. It was the middle of the afternoon on a workday so the mall was not as crowded as it usually was.
"Er, what types are there?" Dan asked.
"Depends on the body part," I replied, and then gave him a brief rundown on the most common ones after he told me where he knew his coworker was pierced. She had her lip, ears, tongue, and septum pierced.
"We're here," I said, stopping us in front of a store that would typically attract kids labeled as delinquents, emo, goth, etc. They had affordable stuff though, and I had never been able to resist my blacks, silvers, and neons.
Dan was staring in disbelief and I grinned, waving my arm in an overtly dramatic fashion to gesture towards the shop's entrance, "After you." Dan ignored my teasing grin as he hurried inside to get away from me.
I followed after, nodding in greeting to the employees, and glanced around the cramped aisles. They had all sorts of jewelry and the piercings were near the back, next to the hair dyes. Dan was scanning a shelf of wrist accessories.
"Piercings are in the back," I said, my voice raised slightly to be heard over the music playing from the overhead speakers as I tapped him on the shoulder. The aisles really were cramped. Had I stood behind him, I would have been completely molded to his back with the shelves behind only pushing me further into him. So I had to wait for Dan to move forward and direct him from behind. When we reached the piercings, we had to shuffle around until we could stand shoulder to shoulder.
"You weren't kidding when you said it was a 'little' place," Dan said. He wasn't looking at me though, rather, and almost fearfully, his gaze was on the various hoops and hooks and studs of various sizes, colors, and metals.
"You know," I chuckled, "if I didn't know any better, I'd think that you've never even set foot in a store like this before."
Dan didn't reply, only resolutely turned his head away from me and picking up a random set of hoop earrings.
Dan huffed, "I never had reason. Besides, none of this stuff suited me then, or now."
"You'd look great in anything here. In fact..." I trailed off my lips turned up into a small smirk as I eyed his hair, "I'm certain that you would look super cute with cotton candy blue hair." I reached over to try and spike his hair between my palms as he spluttered. "A little gel to style up a mini faux-hawk, you'd be drooled over by more people than you already are."
"Okay, okay, stop!" he exclaimed, slapping my hands away from his hair. For a second I thought I had overstepped my boundaries, but when Dan self consciously tried to fix his hair, he didn't look the least bit angry with me. "Jeez," he grumbled.
"Sorry, but it's true," I replied, smiling in relief.
"Right," Dan said, rolling his eyes and putting back the earrings he had picked up. "I'm too broad shouldered and bulky to ever be considered cute."
His tone cautioned me against insisting otherwise, like I really wanted to do. Instead, I grabbed a set of studs, asking, "Anything caught your eye?"
"Er, no. Not really," he replied apologetically.
"There're a couple more shops we can check out. This place probably is a bit too teenage/punk-esque," I assured him. I put the packet back and urged Dan to lead the way out. As we passed by the hair dyes, my hands automatically picked up a box. It was cotton candy pink.
Dan had stopped a few steps from me. He turned around and I grinned, waving the box, "If not blue, how's pink?"
Dan pursed his lips and glared at me. It fell flat though as his face turned red, even under the dim lighting. I laughed and set the box back down, following him out of the store.
"You're not funny," he told me as we walked through the mall.
"Many would agree with you," I replied, nodding solemnly. "But I will always believe that I'm goddamn hilarious,"I finished with a grin.
We went into two more stores before Dan spotted a decorative gold septum ring. The ring had intricately designed leaves attached to it, the center leaf tipped with small purple gems. Purple was apparently Dan's coworker's favorite color so the ring was perfect, according to him.
When he paid for the ring, getting a pretty little bag to but the jewelry box in, we went back to his car.
"Anything else to do?" I asked him once we left the parking lot.
"No. So, where to?"
The clock on the dash let me know that I had a little less than an hour until my students were due to arrive. I let Dan know and I directed him to the studio. We parked and I grabbed my guitar from the boot before we entered.
The studio had two floors, the first being the reception/student gallery. When you entered, the reception desk was directly to your right. It was originally white, but every time we got a new student, they had to make their mark on the wood, no matter how old they were. There were all sorts of markings from handprints to doodles to text in various mediums and colors all over it. The rest of the space was the gallery, filled with all sorts of student work that changed every week or so. For the non visual art students, we had pictures of them doing their craft on the walls.
"Cutting it close today, Lesley?"
I looked up to see Xiao walking down the spiral staircase. Her ink black hair was down up in a messy bun held together by some sort of magic paintbrush. She was a short woman but it did not make her any less intimidating than an aggressive, six foot tall football player.
"We were running errands and lost track of time for a bit," I shrugged apologetically.
Her sharp brown eyes landed on Dan who shifted on his feet as he greeted her, "Uh, hello. I'm Dan."
"Xiaoling, but I generally go by Xiao. What kind of friend are you; fuck, boy, or friend?" Xiao was nothing if not blunt.
"Friend, Xiao," I answered when Dan began to imitate a hungry goldfish. "Mind if he sits in on my class?"
Xiao raised a brow, eyes meeting mine. Even though I physically had to look down, I felt like I was looking up at her. It was an odd feeling that I had gotten used to after first meeting her. She shrugged eventually, "Okay. So long as the kids are fine with it. Did you order that canvas yet?"
"Yep. Josy said it'll arrive sometime next week, they'll give me a call."
"Great. Head on up." She nodded once more to Dan before turning on her bare heels - she hardly ever wore footwear in the studio - and heading to the reception desk.
"Well," I turned to Dan, "let's go?"
He nodded and I led the way to my music room, pointing out the other rooms we passed as a mini tour.
I opened the door to the room I taught guitar in and let Dan enter first, "I've got four kids today, so just grab a seat anywhere. Oh, and be prepared to answer a lot of curious and probably probing questions."
"How old are they?" he asked. I could feel his eyes on me as I moved about, prepping for my class. I set my guitar case on the desk and unzipped it but kept my guitar in the case.
"Youngest today is ten, the others are thirteen or fourteen."
Once I had the chairs and music stands set up, I grinned at Dan. He was hovering by the desk looking nervous.
I chuckled, "They're just kids, Dan."
"That's what worries me," he mumbled.