Kelly and Tiger had shown up by the time Leonard and Riley had found a tall, large cocktail table and finished half their drinks. Leonard was still smiling from the way the men had apologized for being so late. He was smiling less when Kelly pulled a fifth tall chair up to their table, saying another person was joining them.
Please don't let it be some guy Kelly met who he wants to fix me up with. Or worse, someone Riley picked!
Riley was a good guy and Leonard liked him, but single-and-gay didn't necessarily mean right-for-Leonard, as Leonard had ample reason to know.
Kelly and Tiger ordered a pitcher of beer, which was rather surprising. Leonard had never actually seen Kelly drink beer before. At the Habitat, Kelly always drank Citrus Explosions, some odd concoction that Leonard had tried once or twice, but wasn't in the mood for even though it was definitely fruity. Tiger, on the other hand, didn't ordinarily drink as far as Leonard knew.
"So this person who's joining us... he's not, you know... for me, right?" Because Leonard might not be anything like as up-front as Riley, but the last thing he needed was to give his friends the impression that he was interested in their matchmaking skills.
Kelly laughed. "No, he's actually Riley's uncle. He's not looking for--"
"Dude!" Riley interrupted. "Peter's coming? That fucking rocks! Wait. Is it Peter, or Peter and Dex? Because if that fucker's gonna be here, I'm going home. Seriously, Kell."
It wasn't exactly a new refrain. Leonard had heard it over and over, whenever Riley's uncle was mentioned. Riley had never said why he so obviously disliked his uncle's boyfriend, but Leonard had the impression that it was something personal. As such, it was none of his business, unless it was going to make his birthday party -- such as it was -- less of a party and more of a... whatever the opposite of a celebration was.
"I think I'll just go get another drink," Leonard announced, standing up and tossing back the rest of the liquid in his glass. "It's getting busy over at the bar, so I might be a little while."
He didn't wait to hear whether anyone had a problem with that. He just made his way calmly to the bar, as he'd said. Then he set his empty glass down on the wood and offered a slight smile to the bartender when the man looked his way. "I'll want another drink soon, but right now I really need some air."
The bartender smiled. "Oddly enough, I hear that a lot. Go chill. I'll have your drink ready when you get back. You want the same?"
Leonard thought about it, then shook his head. "No... can you send a round of Cosmos over to the table? For five. It's my birthday and we'll drink what I want to." Besides, the guys did all drink Cosmos sometimes. He wasn't sure if the uncle did or not, but screw it. If not, Leonard would just have two.
A laugh left the bartender. "Happy birthday, man. You want the Cosmos on the tab?"
Leonard hadn't actually known there was a tab, but it was his birthday, so why not? "Sure. I'll be back in a minute."
He'd planned on walking outside and leaning against the wall a few feet away from the door. He'd planned on taking a few deep breaths of the chilly night air and letting it soothe him. Hell, Leonard had planned on resting his head back against the stone building and appreciating the coolness while it seeped into him.
He hadn't planned on pushing through the street-door and walking straight into someone, but that was what he did. He slammed right into someone who'd obviously been about to enter the pub.
"Sorry," Leonard gasped, his heart racing from the unexpected collision. "Sorry! Um, I didn't hurt you, did I?" That would be the last thing he needed. Then the man he'd just run into laughed and there was something so joyous about it, Leonard couldn't help looking at him. Looking and actually seeing. Staring, really.
Dark eyes. Dark but light, somehow, which Leonard was sure could be attributed to the way the man was smiling. Deep brown hair -- almost black, really, but for the small streaks of silver at the temples. His features were less refined than those most people considered to be conventionally handsome, but they somehow worked together, making the man look more intriguing than should have been possible.
The stranger was wearing clothes that only accentuated the sort of medium build Leonard had always found so appealing and the man was clearly in shape, though not gym-toned. He appeared to be in his mid to late forties, and he wore it well. Well enough that Leonard wanted to get to know him better. Much, much better.
"It's okay," the man said simply. "These things happen. Are you all right? You look a little... I don't know. Out of it, maybe?"
Oh, great. That was exactly what he wanted the man to think of him. That he was out of it.