Every weekday, at the same time. The door would swing open. And he’d walk in.
Shawn Anderson remembered the first day it happened – or the first day he made note of it, to be exact. For months, he’d made a coffeeshop nestled in the heart of Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse neighborhood his writing spot, and for months, nobody of note walked through the swinging glass doors of the café. An occasional, flamboyant person would spark his interest and sometimes, he spotted the obvious sign of a tourist wandering in from the street. When the universe broke its humdrum cycle, however, somebody could have accused it of being cliché.
On that fateful day, it had been raining, and as the door opened, a tall man with strong arms and a trim, muscular build hurried inside. His brown hair wet, it dripped onto his coat while he shook out an umbrella and folded it up. Shawn paused with his pen hovering over the page of his notebook, eyes fixed on the entire progress of the newcomer from the door to the counter. He didn’t remember what the stranger ordered, only that he shot a quick glance and an even quicker smile at Shawn before settling in with his drink.
In subsequent visits, the stranger told a story about himself in vignettes. Sometimes, he brought a satchel and drew sketches of the people who walked into the café. Shawn laughed when a dog ran up to greet him during another visit and though it warmed his heart, it broke it at the same time to watch how genuinely affectionate the stranger became with the animal. It wasn’t the first week, or the second in which Shawn realized what had happened to him, but when the third week rolled around, a string wrapped around his heart and played the opening notes of a melody.
When the first song lyrics appeared on a page, Shawn knew he was in too deep.
It had been on a sunnier day – a stark contrast to the first day he’d seen him – when Shawn wrote the opening stanza. His muse sat tables from the back, next to the afternoon sun like he’d received a memo about where the right light would hit him. He took out his sketch book like he had many times before and started to draw, but in that moment, Shawn would have sold his soul for the ability to do the same.
Your smile belongs on a painting, Shawn wrote on a fresh notebook page. On posters or framed photographs. Shawn didn’t look up again until those lines and several more followed and the longer he sat there, the more words continued appearing in his head. Shawn walked back to his apartment whistling the notes which matched the melody he heard, clinging onto them until he could get his hands on his guitar. After plucking out the first chords, he dressed and left for work. And that night, Shawn had fallen asleep thinking about him.
Only two days after his descent into infatuation, Shawn found himself sitting in his usual spot, admiring his muse while the other man extracted a book from his satchel. While he read, Shawn saw the cover image – depicting two men lost in the throes of passion – and both laughed and groaned internally, burying his nose in his notebook and gritting his teeth while hashing out the remainder of the song. It took until the chair opposite him pulled out for Shawn to return to reality.
Looking up, Shawn smiled at the familiar person. “Dom, I swear you have a sixth sense,” he said. “You always show up when I’m about to get into trouble.”
The man who occupied the other chair smirked. Leaner and taller than Shawn, Dominic Cochran had piercing green eyes that beheld Shawn with amusement while he sipped from a fresh cup of coffee. “What kind of trouble?” he asked. “I admit, I’m out of the loop, but I’ll blame that on auditions.”
“Did you get the part?”
“Won’t know until tomorrow, but I’m feeling confident. If I did, though, I’m forcing you to come.”
“I was waiting for that threat. Believe me, I had no intention of missing it.” As if on reflex, Shawn glanced at his muse and sighed at himself again before looking down at his notebook.
“Uh oh.” Dominic leaned closer to Shawn. “What’s that you’re working on? Another song?”
“Yeah.” His eyes shifted around, not knowing where to settle and afraid to confess the song’s source until he finally flipped the notebook around and slid it closer to Dominic. While Dominic sipped his coffee and read, Shawn folded his arms across his chest. “Had a little inspiration. I think this could be ready by the gig I’ve got on Saturday.”
“Ooh, where is that?”
“The pub on Sansom Street. Between 19th and 20th.”
“Sadly, I won’t be able to make it, but break a leg and all that.” Dominic continued to read and as he reached the end, he raised an eyebrow and looked up at Shawn again. “Inspiration, huh? What kind of inspiration?”
Shawn frowned and nodded in the direction of the table in the back. Without looking there himself, he waited while Dominic studied the stranger and met his friend’s gaze when Dominic looked back. “So, you’re going to tell me that book isn’t telegraphing something?”
With a shrug, Shawn slid his notebook back in front of him. “Could be trying to keep the girls at bay,” he said. “He’s popular with the ladies who like eye candy just as much as I do.”
“Still, he has to know that he’s been registering on your radar.” The longer he stared at Shawn, the more it unnerved him, until Shawn made eye contact again with the man he considered his best friend. A smile danced across Dominic’s lips, his eyes alit with mischief while regarding him. “You need to go and ask the guy out,” he said. “Right now. I won’t forgive you if you don’t.”
“I’m not going to go and invade the guy’s quiet. Not on a gamble.”
“I don’t take you down to Atlantic City enough, apparently. Where’s the gamble on a guy reading a gay romance book?”
“It’s a gamble because it presumes that he’ll be interested in me just because he’s gay.”
“How about this? I’ll think about it, so long as you don’t think aggravating me about it is going to get me to cave in. Because it won’t.”
“And threatening me is going to get me to stop.” Dominic took another long drink from his coffee. Weighing Shawn carefully, he seemed to fight against the continued presence of a grin, his next comment failing in its mission to sound serious. “In the meantime, how’re you getting off?” he asked.
“Jesus Christ.” Shawn shot his friend a warning glance that made Dominic laugh. It was in that moment that Shawn remembered his friend came from the kind of world where he could have anything he wanted, whenever he wanted it, replete with a silver spoon. His teeth were a little whiter and straighter than Shawn’s were, his hair finely coiffed while Shawn wore his dark chestnut hair short and rarely combed it. They were both in their late 20s, but Dominic didn’t need to wait tables at the gastropub on 21st and Walnut to support himself while booking small-time gigs to build a music career. “Look,” Shawn said, “the moment after I get him in bed, I’ll send you a text message. How about we leave it there?”
Dominic set down his coffee to hold up both hands in surrender. “Alright, alright. I’ll ease up for now.” He nodded at the open notebook in front of Shawn. “Your second stanza needs a little adjusting in the third line, but otherwise I like it. When are you going to put this to some music?”
“Already started, but I still need to figure out what I’m doing with the bridge.”
“And you want to reveal it on Saturday? That’s ambitious, but if it’s the right crowd to experiment with, then why not?” Dominic reached to pat Shawn’s back before plucking his coffee from the table. “Call me when you want an audience. I should get back home before Rocky needs to go out for his walk. Just get to work on you-know-who, because I’m saving you two tickets for opening night.”
Shawn looked up while Dominic rose to a stand. “I’ll bring your dog if all else fails.”
“You bring my dog and I’ll stage an intervention.”
With a salute, he ended the discussion, sharing the same soft chuckle Shawn breathed before turning his back on him. It took a moment for the world to settle and a sigh to bring Shawn back to where he’d been before - seeking out the pretty man who held him enthralled. When he looked in the direction of the western windows, though, he found his muse had left.
“Well, shit,” Shawn said, picking up his pencil again. At the same time, he’d dodged a bullet. Only time would tell how much the stranger would let him get away with staring awkwardly in his direction. And when he did notice, Shawn would have a lot to answer for.
‘Maybe that’ll finally give me the kick in the ass I’ve needed,’ he mused while reading over the line Dominic advised to amend. Distantly, though, he knew the truth. The stranger was aware of his admirer.
He had simply chosen not to say hello as well.