“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“I mean I can’t.” Danny Ashton folded his arms across his chest and looked at his boyfriend. “What about work? What about Sam?” He couldn’t just swan off for a night and leave his kid brother to fend for himself.
James Hall rested his hands on Danny’s shoulders and gave him a squeeze. “It’s one night. And I’ve talked to Mum and Dad and they’re fine.”
Danny tensed his jaw. It had taken a while but he was settled with his job, with James. Working with James and his family at the hotel was a little strange but things were getting easier, despite James’s mother’s concerns about her son’s lifestyle choices. Sam seemed happier too.
“One night. Sam’s sixteen. He’s used to looking out for himself when you do nights. And besides, we’ll be back before you can say ‘left the hob on’.” James grinned but Danny wasn’t exactly comforted by that last remark.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
Why a surprise? Danny hated surprises. He remembered his birthday in his first year of university when his friends decided to get him a stripper in the pub. He shuddered at the memory of the big-boobed, mature lady who had showed up and damn near suffocated him with her cleavage.
“A good surprise. It’ll be nice to get away and it just be the two of us.” James looked at him earnestly. “Come on.”
Where the hell did people even go in March to ‘get away’? “One night?”
“Is this just so you can get your end away? Because if it is then…”
James shot him an ‘as if’ look. “I just want to spend your birthday with you. I want to do something nice.”
Pursing his lips, Danny studied the man in front of him. “Fine.”
“Great. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
“Seven? As in tomorrow morning, seven?”
James simply grinned as he turned on his heel.
“Seven,” James called over his shoulder before skipping down the stairs.
“What should I even pack?” Danny shouted after him. He sighed and smiled apologetically at a hotel guest who stared up at him from the bottom of the staircase. “Good evening.”
“We can’t check in until this afternoon, so…” James turned off the engine, then raised his hands and pointed to the vast grey space in front of them. “Happy Birthday.”
“You got me up at the crack ass of dawn to come to the seaside? It’s March and freezing. Are you mad?” Danny shifted in his seat. “I really need to pee,” he stated.
James rested his hand on Danny’s thigh. “I thought you liked the coast?”
Danny’s gaze softened as he looked at James. “I do. It’s just…” He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, we’re here now, in March, and we’re going to have fun.” He leaned between the seats and grabbed their jackets from the back. He handed Danny his, then got out the car. “Crikey,” he said with a shudder and quickly pulled on his coat. “Come on. The sea air will clear out the cobwebs and if you’re really good, I’ll treat you to a jumbo sausage and chips when we get to the other end of the promenade.”
Danny snorted a laugh before joining him outside the car. “Just so you know I like mine battered.” He pulled on his jacket and pushed closed the door. He stepped up onto the pavement, stopping to stare at the sea. The sky was a blanket of grey clouds. Small waves lapped up the shoreline as the tide went out. His expression changed. There was a hint of sadness around him as he turned to James.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Are you okay? Are you worried about Sam?”
Shaking his head, Danny said, “No, God no. Sam’s been looking after himself for years, ever since… Well, what with Mum and how she was, and then after the funeral and me always working.”
James glanced at the sea as he realised what it was that troubled Danny. They had talked a little about Danny and Sam’s mum, about her life, her death, about the last trip they had made together as a family ever so briefly to the coast. “I didn’t think,” he said. “We can go somewhere else if you like. Head inland.”
Closing his eyes, Danny took a deep breath. “Don’t be daft,” he said, opening his eyes. “No way you’re getting out of treating me to a chippy lunch now.”
James smiled, locked the car, and joined Danny on the pavement. “Come on then.” He held out is hand, glad when Danny took it. “And later, we’ll waste some money in the amusement arcades.”
“Oh good because I need more tat.” Danny chuckled.
The low rumble of thunder could be heard from across the sea and rain fell in heavy sheets. Danny hugged the wrapped lunch to his chest and ran a hand through his damp hair. Leaning against the metal post of the shelter, he watched the rain. “I don’t think it’s stopping any time soon.”
They had managed to buy their lunch, and were about to make a decision about where along the seafront to sit and eat, when the heavens had opened.
James stood behind him, clicking his tongue as he seemed to consider what to do. “We could just stand here and eat.”
Danny looked at the boarded up building behind them and the array of strange stains on the ground. “I think I’ll pass,” he said with a laugh.
“Car?” James rested his chin on Danny’s shoulder. He kissed Danny’s cheek. “It’s not far.”
Unzipping his jacket, Danny tucked the warm lunch inside. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
James stood beside him and eyed the sky. “Maybe it’ll stop.” He glanced at Danny who shot him a doubtful look. “Or maybe it won’t.”
“Let’s just go before my chips get cold.” Danny stopped at the line on the concrete slab between the dry protection of the shelter and the rain-wet other side. He checked the clouds, giving them one last chance. The rain wasn’t going to stop.
Danny blinked as James pushed past him and ran out into the rain. He laughed, watching as James jumped over a puddle and darted along the road. “Bollocks,” he muttered, then chased after him.
The car wasn’t far and with a head start, James had already unlocked the car and was sitting inside when Danny caught up.
“Bloody hell.” Danny swept back his sodden hair. He sniffed and wiped at his face. “Whose idea was this again?” He looked at James who sheepishly turned his attention to his fish and chips. Getting comfortable, he opened the paper wrapped around his lunch and lay it across his knees. “At least my chips aren’t soggy.” The same couldn’t be said about himself. His jeans were soaked and plastered to his thighs.
James nodded as he tucked into his chips. “Still warm, too.”
“How’s your fish?” Danny had never been a big fan of battered cod but damn if it didn’t look good all crisp and golden.
“Perfect.” James met Danny’s eyes. “Er, no chance, you wanted your sausage.” He chuckled and twisted his knees, moving his lunch a little farther from Danny’s reach.
Leaning back his head, Danny settled into his seat, then wiped at the condensation that had formed on the side window. “People will wonder what we’re up to steaming up the windows like this.” He sighed and looked at James. “Thank you,” he said.
“For what?” James narrowed his eyes.
“For today. For every day.”
James smiled, shifting in his seat so he could lean over and kiss Danny. He pressed his mouth firmly to Danny’s. Pulling back, he wiped away water that had rolled down from Danny’s hair. “And thank you, too.”
“I love you,” Danny said.
James kissed Danny again and leaned back. “I know.” He grinned. “But you’re still not getting any of my fish.”
Danny laughed. “Git.”