That Day, Part 7: That Night


Change happens a lot in life. Things rarely stay the same forever. Sometimes changes happen gradually over time. Other times, you can look back and point to a specific time, a moment, a night, a day, and say that's when things changed, that's when my life was sent along a different path.

The day I met Oliver and saved his life is one of those times. The night of my dinner date with him was definitely another.

I spent several hours before the date simply trying to figure out what to wear. I reached a point where I was stood in my bedroom, various items of clothing I had tried and rejected strewn across my bed, shaking my head in both frustration and disbelief at what I was doing. Why the hell was simply picking out some clothes proving so difficult? I wasn't usually like this.

But I knew exactly why. I wanted this night to be perfect. I wanted to make the best possible impression on Oliver as I built up the courage to tell him how interested in him I was.

It was because this was going to be our first date.

After my talk with Chuck the night before, I had started to think of my dinner with the badger as a definite date. And as such, I wanted it to go well. Even though it was still several hours away at that point, it seemed to be occupying my every thought. I had already tried and failed to distract myself with other things and had come to accept that until it was over, the date was all I was going to be able to focus on.

It had been a hell of a struggle keeping my mind off the date during work that day, and I think it had been pretty damn noticeable. I was somewhat slower and more distracted than normal.

Chuck was of course very understanding. He even let me leave a little early, saying it was to give me some extra time to make sure I was ready for my 'big night' and he wished me luck.

With I sigh, I abandoned the simple act of selecting clothes for the moment. I made myself my third cup of coffee since getting home and flopped down on my couch, trying to just relax and get my thoughts in order.

I was driving myself crazy for no good reason, I knew that. Whatever way I looked at it, I could only do my best tonight. Whatever happened, happened.

Sounds simple enough, right? Have a nice dinner with Oliver, during which I say 'Hey, I like you a lot, would you be interested in being more than friends, in continuing to date after tonight?'

But the reality was, it was far from simple. It was nerve-wracking. It was mind-bogglingly terrifying. And it was wonderful.

I mean, I hadn't been on an actual date, hadn't met a guy I had wanted to date, in a long time. And now here was Oliver, turning my life and emotions upside down and making me crazy and confused and.... well, it was simply wonderful.

In fact, if I was brutally honest with myself, I hadn't been like this thinking about a guy since Evan...

I immediately shut down that line of thinking. This day was about me and Oliver and thinking about... him... well that would accomplish nothing useful.

Of course, that was hardly the only negative thought rattling around my head. There was the problems with Marcus. There were my worries and concerns about my future career, whatever it might end up being. There was...

With a deep sigh, I forced all those thoughts away, determined not to deal with them tonight. This night was me and Oliver and I didn't want any worries or negative thoughts filling my head and possibly spoiling it, not if I could help it.

And so I sat there drinking coffee and trying to plan for that night, trying to figure out ways of bringing up the subject of how much I liked him while talking to Oliver.

Eventually, I got back to the selecting of clothes. And after much deliberation settled on something smart and simple. A nice white shirt, and casual suit jacket and trousers.

Then it was just a matter of getting myself cleaned up, having a nice long shower and grooming my fur, making myself look perfect. It wasn't until I emerged from the bathroom and glanced at a clock that I realized that I had spent so much longer at it than I usually did.

Once I was dressed, I still had some time before Oliver was due to turn up. I spent that time once again doing my best to calm my nerves and build up my courage for what I wanted to tell the badger tonight.

Well, that and double checking that my apartment was neat and tidy. Before starting to get ready for the date, I'd had a bout of obsessive cleaning, wanting my home to be presentable. This would be Oliver's first time seeing where I lived and it was another area in which I wanted to make a good impression. And even though I knew my apartment was spotless, I couldn't help checking and re-checking in case I'd missed something.

It wasn't much of a place, to be sure, a simple living room with adjoining kitchen area. A bathroom that I often found slightly too small for my liking. A nicely sized bedroom that had a less than wonderful view of an ugly parking lot. But it was mine, it was home.

The ringing tone of my doorbell snapped me out of it a little while later. I bounded over to the door. Briefly pausing as I reached it, I took a deep calming breath. Then I opened it.

Oliver was standing there, looking just as cute and handsome as he always did. He looked up at me as the door opened and smiled that wonderful warm smile of his. I couldn't help but smile in return.

“Hey there, Oliver!” I said, standing aside. “Come on in.”

He glanced about my apartment as he stepped inside before turning his attention to me, looking me up and down. “Looking good!”

“Thanks!” I replied. “Is this okay for where we're going?”

“It's perfect!” He grins at me as his compliment fills me with warmth.

“You're looking great yourself!” I said. He was wearing some smart black trousers and a navy blue sweater over a light blue shirt. The sleeves on one arm were rolled up to accommodate the cast.

“Thank you!” Oliver nodded appreciatively. “Are you ready to get going?”

Before long, I was locking up my apartment and following him out to his car. Every step of the way, nervousness knotted my stomach more and more. I'd had to take several deep calming breaths by the time we made it to his car.

As we drove to the restaurant, things were a little quiet between us, just some quick and basic small talk. I was still trying to figure out how to get around to saying what I wanted to say. And Oliver being a little quiet, sort of distracted, wasn't helping. Did he really want to be doing this? The paranoid side of myself wondered. Was he just taking me to dinner out of some sense of gratitude and obligation rather than actually wanting to spend time with me?

It was pointless to speculate, I knew. There could be any number of reasons for the badger being distracted. I couldn't know for certain.

We eventually arrived, pulling into the parking lot of a classy looking restaurant with rustic decorations. The big lit up sign on the building's front identified it as the 'Oakside Steakhouse'.

I had vaguely heard of the place, but had never thought of ever actually eating there. It was the kind of place that was too expensive for the likes of a humble mechanic such as myself to consider, even for a special occasion.

I stood surveying the place as Oliver locked up his car. This was not what I'd been expecting.

“Well?” Asked the badger as he walked over to stand beside me. “Is this place okay for you? You like steak?”

“I love steak.” I nodded. “But... are you sure you can afford a place like this?”

There was a brief moment of hesitancy before he answered. “Yeah, I can...”

“Oliver...” I said, with a shake of my head. “You don't need to...”

He placed a paw on my shoulder, looking me in the eye seriously. “Harvey, I really can afford it. Maybe not often, but I can manage it once, for a special occasion. And thanking the guy who saved my life is definitely a special occasion.”

“I just...” I began, still rather uncomfortable with him spending more than was necessary just for the likes of me.

“I mean it, Harvey.” Oliver said. “This night is my treat, so I want you to enjoy it and not worry about the cost, okay?”

Letting out a sigh, I said. “Okay Oliver, I'll try not to worry about it too much.”

“Thank you.” He said, shooting me another smile. It really was amazing just how much better a small smile from him could make me feel.

We proceeded inside and found that the interior was, if anything, even more well decorated than the exterior, continuing the 'rustic yet classy' theme. Oliver confirmed our reservation with the maître d' and we only had to wait a few minutes before our table was ready. A waiter then led us to a private table for two in a quiet corner of the restaurant.

Our waiter, a smartly dressed and uppity looking weasel, handed us our leather-bound menus and said he'd be back in a few minutes for our drinks order.

I spent a few moments looking over the menu. And I couldn't help looking at the prices, and in particular, how high they were.

Looking up to protest  to Oliver, I found the badger was already looking at me expectantly, apparently having anticipated my reaction. “I said I can afford it, Harvey, and I meant it. So again, please relax and don't worry about the cost...”

I sighed and shot him a wry smile as I returned my attention to the menu. Doing my best to put aside my worries about how much this meal would be costing Oliver, I started to think about what I might like to order.

It had been a long time since I'd last had a good steak dinner, so examining the menu I saw plenty that I would like.

When the waiter returned, Oliver ordered some red wine and I did likewise, asking for the same, as I wasn't a big wine drinker, and trusted that what the badger had ordered was good. As the weasel went to fetch the drinks, Oliver and I made some small talk about some of the stuff on the menu.

So when our drinks arrived, we were ready to order, asking for starters and nice medium rare sirloin steaks with all the trimmings.

Once the weasel waiter had scurried off, Oliver raised his glass to me. “To Harvey, my life-saving hero. I can never thank you enough for what you did for me.”

With a smile, I graciously accepted his toast, clinking my glass against his and taking a sip of the wine. I was not at all surprised to find that Oliver had good taste in wine, it had a nice full flavour to it and I liked it a lot.

I looked at the cute badger seated across from me, smiling warmly at him. He still seemed slightly distracted. I groped for something to say, to get some conversation going.

“This really is a nice place.” I said, glancing about.

Oliver nodded. “Yeah, I've never actually been in here before. I just researched the reviews online for a number of places. This restaurant has a good reputation and their steak is supposed to be excellent.”

“You researched?” I said. “I hope you didn't go to too much trouble just to find a place. I would have been happy with dinner out anywhere...”

“I wanted to take you somewhere good, Hero.” Oliver explained. “And it was really no trouble. If anything, it helped give me something to do. I've been somewhat bored out of my mind without going to work.”

“Even though it's work you don't like?” I chuckled.

He shrugged. “At least it would keep me busy. I imagine I'll be back there soon enough. And be back to complaining about it whenever I get the chance...”

“You could always change your job.” I said. “I mean, I know you said you look now and again, but you could always keep trying. Maybe look into trying to pursue acting?”

A wistful look crossed his face at that idea. But only for a second. Then it was gone, and he was shaking his head. “No. It's a nice idea. But... I gave up on that dream a long time again and its too late to change.”

“Oh, its never too late to change.” I assured him, hoping that was true. “I mean... I want to try and change. Find some hobbies. And find a job better suited to me than being a mechanic.”

“Really?” Oliver was surprised. “You're going to be looking for a new job? Since when?”

“Since yesterday.” I explained. “Although on some level I suppose I've always known the mechanic thing wasn't for me. I'll still be working at the garage for the moment while I figure out what to do with myself...

“Wow.” Was all Oliver had to say, blinking in surprise.

“The point is.” I continued. “It is possible to change, if you really want to. I mean, it's not going to be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is. But I can change, and so can you.”

He looked away at that moment, uncertain. “You might be able to, but I don't know if I can...”

Our conversation was interrupted with impeccable timing by our waiter, who arrived with our starters, derailing our thoughts as the pleasant smells of food hit us.

I had a nice Caesar salad, while Oliver had some sautéed mushrooms. We were momentarily distracted from talking as we started eating.

The food really was excellent. Maybe not quite worth the outrageous prices I had noticed on the menu, but close.

Oliver and I exchanged happy glances as we ate. He seemed to be liking his food as much as I was liking mine.

As we finished, he smiled at me. “Good?” He asked.

“Very good.” I nodded. “How was yours?”

“Superb.” He said.

There was a pause, a moment of awkward silence as our weasel waiter took our plates away. Perhaps now was the time, I thought to myself, summoning up my courage. Just get it out now, tell him how I feel and...

“So, did you talk to your raccoon friend?” Oliver asked, suddenly. “Did you keep your promise?”

This new line of conversation took me by surprise, but I went with it anyway. There was still plenty of time to get out what I needed to say tonight.

“I always keep my promises.” I said. “Or at least, I try my best to keep them. And yeah, I did talk to him. Although it didn't go too well.”

“Oh?” Said Oliver, concerned. “What happened?”

With a sigh, I sat back in my chair, shoulders slumped. “He didn't seem to understand what I was trying to tell him.” I explained, careful to leave out too many details. Marcus was right about one thing. I really didn't want Oliver to know I'd slept with the raccoon because I was afraid he wouldn't like it. “He couldn't seem to accept my point of view that what happened was a mistake.”

The badger nodded thoughtfully. “I see. Surely if he's your friend, he would try and see things from your perspective?”

“Ideally, yes.” I agreed. “But Marcus can be somewhat...” I struggled to find the right word to properly describe my friend. “Obstinate at times, always thinking he's right. Sometimes he even is...”

“But he's wrong this time?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

Oliver shrugged. “Then the way I see it, all you can do is keep trying to tell him that, keep trying to get through to him.”

“I know.” I sighed. The badger was right. I had to figure out how to make Marcus understand, not let myself get sucked into the raccoon's game of emotional blackmail with his claims of me being a bad friend taking advantage of him. I had to...

I shook off that line of thought. This night was supposed to be about me and Oliver, not Marcus. I could figure out what to do on that front later. Oliver and my feelings for him were my priority tonight.

So I decided to move the conversation on. “How about you? Did you talk to Justin?”

That was apparently not the best thing to say. A pained look crossed the badger's face. A pang of guilt struck me. It obviously hadn't gone well and I'd stupidly just asked him to talk about it. What a damn idiot I was!

I mentally kicked myself for my stupidity. Well, I'd hear him him out, offer what advice I could, and then steer things onto the subject of us and how I felt about him...

“Yeah.” Said Oliver, sighing deeply. “But it didn't go as expected. Far from it.”

“So what did happen?” I asked.

“Justin, he...” He faltered, looking distracted and confused. “Before I could tell him anything, he revealed he still had feelings for me, that he was still in love with me...”

My train of thought came to a crashing halt at that revelation.

“It kind of stunned me.” Oliver said. “I didn't get as far as telling him I couldn't see him any more.”

“I can imagine.” I said, feeling a little stunned myself. “So are you going to...”

At that moment, our waiter turned up with our steaks, once again displaying an incredible ability to interrupt our conversation at the worst possible moment.

The fabulous smell of cooked meat took my mind off things for a moment and I started eating, hoping it would allow me a little time to gather my thoughts with regard to the revelation regarding Oliver's ex.

The steak really was incredibly good, probably the best I'd ever had. And considering how much Oliver was going to be paying for it, I wanted to make sure to enjoy and savour it. I chewed slowly, taking my time to enjoy the taste and shot Oliver an appreciative smile.

The badger was smiling back at me, but still had that mildly distracted look in his eyes. And now of course, I knew what that was all about. His ex, the one he loved a great deal, had confessed he still had feelings for him. Having that at the back of your mind would be enough to distract anyone.

And there had been me, on the verge of confessing my feelings for him! I couldn't do that now, could I? I didn't want to confuse him any further, pile more distraction on him by making him choose between me and Justin.

But then, it wouldn't be much of a choice, would it? Oliver loved this fox, this Justin, he'd told me as much. Now that he knew Justin loved him back, it was surely a certainty that they'd be getting back together, right? Some bear he'd just met didn't stand a chance, no matter if I'd saved his life. If anything, it would just lead to Oliver feeling guilty at having to reject me.

As I continued to eat, I lapsed into thoughtfulness. It would probably be for the best if I kept my stupid muzzle shut about my interest in Oliver tonight. I didn't want to make things difficult for the badger. Obviously he was going to be happier and better off with Justin, someone he definitely loved, someone he knew well. Better than he would be with some big dumb bear like me...

This was a good thing, I tried telling myself, unconvincingly. I'd dodged a bullet. If I'd got as far as telling the badger how I felt, I would have just made a fool of myself, then Oliver would have had to reject me, and then things would be very awkward between us, likely leading to us drifting apart as friends.

With a deep inward sigh, I picked at my steak. I'd be keeping any feelings for Oliver buried then. It was for the best...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was for the best...

That was what I kept telling myself as I sat there eating what was easily the best steak I'd ever had while thinking about Justin.

Telling Harvey about what had happened had opened up a whole slew of doubts about my decision to leave things with the fox I loved, to accept that he and I were just not right for each other and move on.

At the time it had seemed like the right thing to do, but since then, nagging doubts had started to creep in that maybe I had been too hasty, hadn't properly thought it through, that I was throwing away a chance at happiness...

I had been doing my best to remain strong and stick to my decision. After all, it was for the best. I was certain of that. Well, mostly certain. Sort of.

But talking about it, saying it out loud to Harvey, had just managed to dredge up all the uncertainties regarding the decision. Was I really making the right choice by just abandoning any hope of being with Justin again? Was I...?

I got a grip on myself. Now was not the time to be thinking about this. This night was supposed to be about showing my appreciation to Harvey, not drowning in my own self-doubt. I pushed down all those churning thoughts about my ex and focused on the wonderful bear sat across the table from me.

He looked like he was enjoying his steak, for which I was glad, but there seemed to be an edge of thoughtful resignation to his expression. Or maybe I was imagining it...

Or maybe whatever was going on with his friend was more difficult that he had let on? He hadn't revealed any solid details, and I didn't want to pry if he didn't want to share. But it must be bothering him a fair deal. And I'd started blathering on about my problems with Justin. What an idiot I was! I should be focusing on making this a good night for Harvey. I needed to figure out a more cheerful line of conversation...

“So, you must be pretty happy then.” Said Harvey suddenly, smiling at me over his meal. A smile which looked a little forced to me.

“Well...” I wasn't too sure what he was talking about. “Yeah, of course I'm happy to be here with you.”

“No I mean... about Justin.” The bear clarified. “Knowing he still has feelings for you, that's got to be pretty good, gives you two a chance to get back together...”

Ah, of course. That was an obvious conclusion for him to jump to. “Actually no, I don't think I'll be getting back together with Justin.”

Harvey paused, wide-eyed in surprise with a forkful of steak halfway to his muzzle. “Huh? Why not? You love him, he loves you...”

This was really not what I had wanted to talk about. But it seemed I had to get it out of the way with. “Me and Justin...” I explained. “However we feel about each other, we're just too different to really work out in the long term. I might love him, but there's still plenty about him that bugs me. It would likely just be a matter of time until we split up again. I thought about it, but decided that it would be best if I tried to finally move on from him.”

“Seriously?” Harvey had stopped eating altogether, leaning forward. “You're sure that's what you want?”

I sighed. “I think so. I think its probably for the best. But there's a good chance I'll always be wondering in the back of my mind if I made the right choice. There's a chance I'll regret it later. But for now, I remain resolutely single.”

The bear sat back at that, frowning and thoughtful.

“Look, I'll be okay.” I assured him. “But tonight is supposed to be about me showing my appreciation to you, not me moaning about my love life. Please, finish your meal, enjoy it.”

Harvey nodded silently and resumed eating, but a serious look remained on his face.

I was mentally kicking myself. He was obviously now concerned and worried about me. I was really making a mess of this evening, wasn't I? I tried to figure out how to get things back on a more appropriate track...

As my mind raced, both Harvey and I finished our steaks. The food there really was fantastic, and I hoped the bear felt the same way.

“Did you enjoy that?” I asked.

He nodded enthusiastically in response, wiping his muzzle with his napkin. “Yes, it was excellent. Thank you.”

“No need to thank me, you deserve something excellent, Hero.” I said, putting on a smile.

The bear smiled back at me with his adorable smile. There was a sudden glint in his eye, although I wasn't quite sure why.

The weasel waiter came by and collected our empty plates, and I asked if we could look at the dessert menu. As he hurried away, I returned my attention to Harvey, fumbling for something to say.

Somewhat out of desperation, I decided to reveal something. “Speaking of you deserving something excellent, Harvey... I feel a little like simply taking you to dinner isn't really enough to fully show my appreciation.”

“Oliver, this dinner is great, more than enough, you don't have to...” Harvey tried to protest.

I interrupted him. “Harvey, you saved my life. I doubt I'll ever do enough to completely thank you. But I do want to do a little more at least. I'd like to get you a gift of some kind.”

“A gift?” The bear frowned slightly. “What kind of gift?”

“I have no idea right now.” I admitted. “But it is something I'm thinking about. And if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them. If there's anything you'd like, let me know.”

Harvey lapsed into thoughtful silence as the waiter returned with the dessert menus. I looked it over and encouraged the bear to pick anything he'd like. He simply nodded, distracted, glancing down at it.

Had I said something wrong? Maybe the offer of a gift had been too much? My heart sank as I once again seemed to be ruining what was supposed to be a nice night for Harvey and I had no idea what to say next.

Things remained silent between us until the waiter returned and took our dessert order. As the weasel departed our table, I looked Harvey in the eye.

He had a strange look on his face, a sort of mix of thoughtfulness and determination. “Okay,”he said, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. “You really want to give me a gift?”

“Of course.” I nodded, a little relieved that he was apparently okay with the idea. “If I can. You have something in mind?”

“Yes, I do.” The bear's smile widened.

“Well, if it's something I can give you...”

He chuckled, leaning back slightly in his chair. “Oh I think it is...”

“Well...?” I prompted. I was extremely curious about what he might have in mind.

“Very well, buddy.” He said, grinning broadly. “If you want to give me something... I would like a second date.”

That was... Well, not even anywhere close to anything I might have been expecting. My brain momentarily short-circuited from the shock as I tried to process this.

“What?” I spluttered.

“I'd like a second date.” Harvey reiterated. He smiled his big wonderful smile and explained further. “I have spent the whole of this dinner trying to build up the courage to tell you that I am interested in you. I almost abandoned the idea when you mentioned  Justin... but if you're certain you're not going to be with him, I thought I should probably give it a shot after all. And then you gave me a great opening with the whole gift offer and I had to take it...”

“You...” My head was spinning a little. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. “You're interested in me? Like actually seriously interested in me?” My heart was a flutter. This... this couldn't actually be happening could it? This wonderful bear interested in a dull, unimportant badger like me?

“Of course.” Harvey said with a nod. “Oliver, you're a great guy and the more I've got to know you, the more I've wanted to know. The more I've wanted to spend time with you. I want to date you more.” He sighed, and looked away, suddenly nervous. “I know this may seem kind of sudden, and I know you probably want to be just friends or something, and that's okay, but I just had to...”

I spotted the sullen look in his eyes at the possibility that I might not be interested in him in that way. It tugged at my heartstrings and made me realize it was time for a confession of my own, made me want to banish that heartbroken look from his face.

“Harvey.” I said, drawing his attention. As he looked up, I stared him in the eye and said. “I'm interested in you too. In maybe being more than just friends...”

The way his face lit up and his eyes seemed to sparkle at that... well, it set off an explosion of warmth in my chest and forced a wide grin onto my muzzle.

“Really?” He said, fidgeting excitedly like a cub on Christmas. “I mean, I sort of suspected, but I wasn't sure, I thought I might just be misreading your gratitude. I'm hardly a great catch, after all...”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said, confused. “You are a handsome, friendly, thoughtful, compassionate, magnificent guy. I'd have to be crazy not to be interested in you.”

He let out a laugh, his eyes full of warm emotion at my praise. “Yeah, but there's so much you still don't know about me. I have my problems and issues...”

“Doesn't everyone?” I shrugged. “I know there's still stuff to learn about you, Hero. But everything I've learned so far has left me wanting to know more.”

The bear just sat there for a few moments, looking shocked and ecstatic in equal measure. “This is fantastic! I... I can hardly believe it!” He reached out and placed his paw on mine on the table.

I didn't mean to, but I flinched and pulled back my paw, ears flattening slightly, instinctively glancing about to see if anyone had seen, acutely aware how we were in a public place. And how two guys holding paws might look...

When I looked back at Harvey, a cold sliver of embarrassment and shame struck me. The bear was frowning at me, looking hurt. I had done that, I had put that horrible expression on his face.

“I'm sorry, I...” I stammered to explain, ducking my head to avoid looking him in the eye.

Our waiter really had an uncanny sense of timing, returning at that moment with our desserts, interrupting my attempt at an apology.

As the weasel waiter departed yet again, there was an awkward silence between me and Harvey as we tucked into our food. Harvey had gone for the tiramisu, while I had opted for a nice slice of cheesecake.

It was delicious, but I had trouble enjoying it. I hoped I hadn't offended Harvey, and was almost afraid to ask if I had, in case my action had resulted in him deciding not to continue dating me after all. If that was the case, then I wanted to put if off for the moment, but I would eventually have to...

“I'm sorry, Oliver.”

I looked up Harvey, pausing in my eating. I was confused. “Sorry for what?”

“For not taking your feelings into consideration.” The bear sighed. “I know you are still kind of in the closet, and then I go and get ahead of myself and grab your paw in public...”

I was stunned. He actually thought he was at fault here?

“I'm the one who should be apologizing, Harvey.” I said, firmly. “I'm the one who's overly nervous about being out and gay in public...”

“After what happened to you just last week, that is perfectly understandable...” Harvey said.

He was right, of course. I had been riddled with paranoid fears about what would happen when people found out I was gay ever since I first came out to my dad. Nearly getting murdered by a group of strangers for being gay hadn't helped any, to put it mildly.

But still, no matter what fears I might  have had on an emotional level, I knew they were unfounded, that times were changing, things were getting better and not everyone was like that. Yet it seemed knowing that did very little to help how I felt...

And here was this great guy, who wanted to date me and get to know me more. He wasn't hiding in the closet like me, wasn't afraid like me. That made me feel almost sort of unworthy of him. It made me want to get over this problem.

“No, I should try to do better...” I said, adamant. “I can't let what happened simply add to my paranoia about being out... I have to...” 

“Hey now.” Harvey said, his voice soft and understanding. “You don't have to do anything. You yourself said everyone has their issues. You can deal with this in your own time, there's no rush...”

“So...” I was hesitant to ask, slightly fearful of the answer. “Do you still want to date a badger with such issues?”

“Of course I do, you silly badger!” Harvey chuckled. “It would take a lot more than that to put me off!”

I simply smiled and returned to my dessert, Harvey doing likewise. I enjoyed the relief of knowing I hadn't driven the bear off so quickly. Of course, my paranoid side told me it was just a matter of time until something about me drove him away. But I suppressed that thought. Even if it were true, it wasn't happening tonight, and I could be satisfied with that for now.

We finished up our desserts  and sat back in our chairs, exchanging warm smiles and meaningful looks. I didn't know about Harvey, but I was full. The food was really excellent here, it was just a shame it was so expensive. Oh well, at least I enjoyed it, and Harvey seemed to as well, that was what mattered tonight.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” I asked, wanting to make sure.

“It was superb.” Harvey nodded. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome, Hero.” I said. “I just wish there was more I could do to show my appreciation.”

“You really don't have to do anything.” Harvey assured me. “Besides, with the promise of a second date, I have all I could want.”

“So does that make this our first date?”

“Of course!” The bear laughed. “Two people interested in each other going out for dinner. Sounds like a date, doesn't it?”

“In my defence, I didn't know you were interested in me like that before tonight.” I shrugged. “I was kind of uncertain whether to actually consider this an actual date or not...”

“I know exactly what you mean.” Harvey said with a slight chuckle. “I had some similar thoughts and doubts myself.”

It was actually kind of comforting that we'd apparently been thinking along similar lines. It gave me a warm burst of hope that maybe Harvey and I weren't too different, maybe something lasting was possible between us. At that point, it was just a vague hope, but it was hope nonetheless.

“So what would you like to do for a second date?” I said, taking another sip of wine.

“I hadn't thought about it too much.” Harvey shrugged. “I was kind of just focused on actually getting out how I felt and getting the second date.” He looked kind of equally happy and slightly embarrassed. It was really rather adorable.

“Well, I'm sure we'll come up with something.” I said.

Harvey shook his head. “No. I will come up with something. Next time, I want to be the one taking you out.”

“You sure? We could...”

“Oliver, I'm sure.”

I sat back, draining the last of the wine from my glass. “Okay, it's in your paws.”

He shot me one of his wonderful warm grins. “Don't worry, I'll come up with something fun and interesting. Trust me.”

“I do.” I smiled back at him. His grin somehow managed to get even larger at that and I couldn't help but adore the look of warm appreciation in his eyes.

He gulped down the remainder of his wine as the waiter returned to clear away our dessert plates and ask if there was anything else we'd like. I was full and couldn't really have another drink as I'd be driving. And Harvey said he was good and full, so I asked for the bill.

The two of us made some insignificant small talk while we waited. Once the bill arrived I examined it and did my best not to wince too much at the total. I could manage it of course, but it was still an awful lot.

I paid the bill quickly with a credit card and before too long, we were leaving the restaurant and walking back to my car, the cool night air feeling pleasant against my fur after the warmth of the restaurant.

We got into the car, but before I could start it, Harvey reached over from the passenger seat, his paw taking mine, giving it a light affectionate squeeze. In the privacy of the car, I didn't object. He brought my paw to his muzzle, leaning in slightly to kiss it gently before releasing it.

“There.” He said. “That wasn't so bad, was it?”

“Far from it...” I smiled. But the smile quickly vanished as the memory of recoiling from him before caused a sting of shame. “I'm really sorry about before, back in the restaurant. I...”

“Oh hush.” Harvey interrupted me, reaching over and pacing a comforting paw on my leg. “You don't have to apologise. I really do understand and it's okay.”

I smiled my appreciation as I started the car. “Thank you.”

We were both pretty quiet on the way back to his apartment, but the quiet was more relaxed and thoughtful than awkward as I would have expected.

Once we arrived at his building, he turned to me and said. “Want to come in for a cup of coffee?”

I hesitated at that. Did he actually mean a cup of coffee? Because I was certain that asking someone in for coffee had another meaning, but I'd been single for a while and couldn't tell if he really meant coffee or if he...

“Oh crap!” Harvey blurted out, burying his face in his paws. “I just realized what I said.” He looked up at me, apologetic. “Sorry, I meant an actual coffee. I wasn't asking for sex.”

I laughed at that. “It's okay, Hero. Although, I was a little confused and was about to ask. I'm a little rusty at the whole dating thing and wasn't sure. But I'll come in for an actual cup of coffee.”

“Great!” The bear beamed back at me. As we made to get out of the car, He put a paw on my arm for a moment. “Just to be clear, I have nothing against us getting to... that... eventually. But I don't want to rush it. Not with someone as special as you.”

He got out of the car before I had a chance to respond. I was sat there for a few seconds, digesting that, enjoying the flush of warm emotion at the thought of a handsome wonderful bear like Harvey considering me to be special.

Then I realised he was already halfway to the front door of his building, and hurried to lock my car and catch up to him.

I remained wrapped in that warm and fuzzy feeling in the elevator up to his floor. It was partly the idea of me being 'special', but my thoughts had also moved on to the thought of some day having  sex with Harvey. To say it was an appealing thought was a big understatement.

But I had to agree with the bear that we shouldn't rush it. After all, he was most definitely special to me too.

Once we were in his apartment, Harvey stepped towards his kitchen. “How would you like your coffee?”

“Milk and two sugars.”  I told him.

“Sure thing.” He nodded. He motioned to his couch. “Take a seat, make yourself at home.”

I sat down, glancing about at the place I'd only had a brief glimpse of earlier, as Harvey headed into the kitchen.

It was somewhat smaller than my place, but still with a nicely sized living room, with attached kitchen area. Across from the front door were a couple of doors leading to other rooms. Bedroom and bathroom I assumed.

The place was neat and tidy, if a little barren. He had all the basics you'd expect to find, couch, coffee table, TV, DVD player, some bookcases half-filled with books and DVD's and the occasional CD. But that was all, no decorations or personal touches. I supposed that fitted with what I knew about Harvey and how his life seemed to be focused mostly on work. Apparently making his mark on his home wasn't a high priority.

The only personal thing I noticed was a framed photograph on a small table by the front door. It seemed to be a family picture. A young bear that resembled Harvey being hugged by two loving parents.

I found myself looking at that picture and wondering where Harvey's parents were now. He hadn't mentioned them at all to me yet. Was he still in contact with them? Was their relationship with them still as happy as in that photo? I hoped so. I certainly hoped it wasn't anything like the relationship between me and my father.

As Harvey busied himself in the kitchen making coffee, I sat down on his big comfortable couch, trying to relax some.

I glanced at his shelves and his books and DVDs. It seemed to be a somewhat haphazard collection, both in genre and organization. There were a wide variety of things on display with little in the way of consistency. Comedy movies sat alongside detective novels. Manuals on engine repair and maintenance were mixed with action movie DVDs and a couple of classical music CDs. What looked like some old law textbooks were sharing space with some movie soundtracks and a seemingly out of place romantic movie.

The disorganization on display niggled a little at me, my sense of order. But not much. I mostly found it kind of adorable that the bear apparently didn't care. This was just the way he apparently did things.

Harvey returned from the kitchen with two mugs, which he placed on the coffee table before us. He set himself down on the couch beside me, sitting close.

My heart skipped at little about being so close to the big handsome bear. Yeah, I'd been this close to him before. But we were technically dating now, we were both aware of the interest we had in each other. The atmosphere between me and the bear, especially here in private, felt so different now. Like it was warmer, more electric and meaningful.

We sat simply smiling at each other for a few minutes, sipping at our coffee. And then he reached out and placed a paw on my leg. A second later, I placed a paw on top of it and looked him in the eye, loving the look of warm adoration I found there.

“It feels so weird, doesn't it?” Harvey said, softly.

I looked at him, one eyebrow raised, ears flicking in confusion.

“I mean, it's a good kind of weird.” The bear chuckled. “We've known each other just a week, and now here we are. Boyfriends. It's a bit strange and going to take some getting used to...”

Boyfriends. It only really struck me then. If we were dating, then yeah, Harvey and I were technically boyfriends now. That... that was definitely a weird feeling, but as Harvey had said, it was a good kind of weird, the kind you could get used to. The kind you wanted to get used to.

“It's such a relief to have got out how I felt.” Harvey was saying, gently rubbing my leg. “I'm so happy to be able to date you and see what happens...”

A sudden cold blast of doubt hit me. What would happen? Was it just a matter of time before Harvey realised he could do so much better than me? Was I just setting myself up for eventual heart break here?

I looked away from the bear, not wanting him to see the frown of doubt that creased my features. But I wasn't quick enough and he seemed to notice.

“Hey, what's wrong?” He asked, concern filling his voice.

I sat in silence for a few moments, gulping down some coffee, trying to figure out what to tell him. I ultimately decided to just be honest with him.

“It's just...” I said, slightly hesitantly as I put down my mug. “I... I suppose I just have a little trouble understanding what you could possibly see in me. I'm a dull boring accountancy clerk. I'm in the closet, nervous and paranoid. And let's face it, I'm not exactly much to look at...” I had started wringing my paws nervously.

Reaching out a paw, Harvey took my chain and turned my head to face him. He looked me in the eye, seriousness radiating from him. “Oliver, you are probably the cutest badger I've ever met, maybe one of the cutest guys I've ever met period...”

“You're just saying that to make me feel better...” My self-consciousness rebelled at the notion of being in any way cute or attractive.

“Yes.” Harvey admitted. “But also because it's true. You are cute and wonderful. You are friendly and caring and, even though I know you don't believe it, you have hidden depths of strength.”

I didn't know what to say to that. It differed quite a bit from my own view of myself, and yet I didn't want to disagree out loud for fear he'd agree with me and take it all back.

He leaned over and placed an arm around my shoulders, hugging me against him. I didn't resist.

“I want to date you and carry on getting to know.” He said, soothingly. “I want to help you see how special you are, Oliver. And I want to try and be worthy of being with you...”

That shocked me. What did he mean by that? I pulled away from his hug and looked at him, confused. “Worthy of being with me? What are you talking about?”

The big handsome bear looked away, shyly. “Well... I kind of...” He trailed off.

“Wait...” I said, figuring it out. “Do you... do you actually not see why I want to date you?”

Harvey sighed and nodded. “Come on, let's be honest here. I'm a big dull workaholic bear with no social life who doesn't reveal anything about himself. I'm hardly good boyfriend material...”

I was a little lost for words that he should feel that way about himself. And I immediately wanted to do something about it. “That's not true, Harvey.” I said, firmly, placing a paw on his arm. “What you are is friendly and thoughtful and compassionate. You're my big handsome wonderful hero and I feel honoured to be your boyfriend.”

He didn't say anything in response and he didn't need to. He simply looked up at me, smiling his big warm smile, and as our eyes met, I saw the depths of appreciative emotion there and it told me all I needed to know about how thankful he was to hear me say that.

A second later, he wrapped his big arms around me and hugged me fiercely. I hugged him back as best I could, pressing myself against his muscular body. 

We must have hugged like that for several minutes. It felt so good I didn't want to end it, and I suppose he must have felt the same way.

But we couldn't sit there hugging forever, so eventually we did pull apart., sitting back on the couch. Harvey smiled at me, perhaps the biggest, warmest smile I'd ever seen on his face, and that was really saying something.

The bear took a moment to gulp down some of his coffee before returning his attention to me. I can tell he had something he really wanted to say before he finally managed to say it a few seconds later.

“Okay, since we are now dating, there's something I'd really like to do.” Harvey said, an adorable hint of nervousness to him. “And I realize it might be a little forward of me and I hope you're okay with this, but...”

I was way ahead of him. I'd taken a wild guess at what he was talking about and, feeling buoyed by the joy of how great it felt to be able to think of Harvey as my boyfriend, I took the initiative.

I leaned in and kissed him.

It only took a second of my muzzle pressed against his, the bear's eyes wide with surprise, before he returned the kiss, leaning into it and closing his eyes, wrapping his arms around me and hugging me close again. A second later, our muzzles opened slightly, allowing our tongues to explore each others' mouths.

I lost track of time, lost in the pure delight of kissing Harvey. I don't know exactly how long we sat there, muzzles locked together.

But eventually we broke apart, gazing into each others' eyes. The goofy happy grin on Harvey's face matched the one on my own.

“We kissed.” Said Harvey, dreamily. Almost as if he couldn't believe it.

“Yes, we did.”

He looked thoughtful. “How did you know that was what I was talking about?”

“I guessed.” I said with a shrug. “It's what I wanted to do as well. So I showed you how okay I was with it.”

The bear giggled. “They do say actions speak louder than words.”

“Exactly.” I smirked.

A few seconds passed. “So...” I asked. “Was it good?”

“Oh yes!” Harvey nodded vigorously.

I chuckled at his response. “So... what to kiss some more?”

“Oh yes!” Harvey repeated, a twinkle in his eye as he leaned in.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, Harvey and I sitting there, incessantly kissing and cuddling. I enjoyed every second of it, any and all worries about my life banished from my head as I revelled in the being so close to the wonderful bear, pressed up against him, getting to repeatedly press my muzzle against his and push my tongue into his mouth as his entered mine.

At one point, he accidentally leaned too hard against my injured arm, crushing his body against my cast, causing me to yelp loudly in pain. This led to several minutes of profuse apologies, despite my assurance it was fine. I eventually had to kiss him again to shut him up. And he was noticeably a lot more careful after that.

Even though we were both seemed to be in agreement that we should talk things slowly and not rush to the sex, it became more and more tempting to ignore that, my desire to be with the bear growing the more I hugged and kissed him, the crotch of my trousers seeming to get uncomfortably tighter.

And I could tell Harvey felt the same way. I could practically smell the barely restrained desire on him. Several times, his wandering paws tugged at my clothes as if he wanted to start pulling them off, but he always managed to stop himself. And of course I couldn't help but notice the slight bulging at his groin.

But as great as it would have been to spend the night with the bear, I knew I had to go. I was certain that rushing into sex so soon would be a wrong move. We'd only just had our first date after all. Hell, I'd only really accepted it was an actual date part way through it.

So it was with a lot of regret than I pulled out of the latest kiss and said. “I should really get going. It's getting kind of late...”

Harvey put on a smile, but I spotted the hint of disappointment in his eyes. “And if you stay too much longer, we might not be able to stop ourselves going too far too soon?”

“That as well...” I admitted.

“Okay.” He nodded. “When do you think we'll see each other again?”

“You're the one planning our second date.” I pointed out.

“That probably won't be until next weekend.” He said. He reached out and gently stroked at my cheek. I couldn't help but nuzzle at his paw a little. “I'm not sure I want to wait that long to see my boyfriend again.”

Boyfriend. Hearing him call me that really set my heart skipping. “Me too.” I said. “How about you come by for lunch tomorrow? We can hang out, maybe go for a walk...”

“Sounds good to me!” Harvey grinned. “Shall we say 1pm?”

“Suits me.” I said, standing up.

He saw me to his front door. But before I could open it, he placed a firm paw on my arm. I turned to look him.

Harvey was looking at me with an endearing expression of hope. “How about one last kiss goodnight?”

I laughed and leaned in. The bear needed no encouraging and we were soon deep into another passionate kiss, wrapping our arms around each other and hugging tight.

When we pulled apart again, he was smiling so happily. “Goodnight, Oliver.”

“Goodnight, Hero.” I smiled back at him, just as happily. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you then, boyfriend.” Harvey said, as I opened his door and left. It still felt so good to hear the bear call me that.

That good feeling followed me all the way home. I just wasn't able to let go of that thought, even if I had wanted to.

Boyfriend... I was now Harvey's boyfriend. And he was mine. It was both staggering and marvellous.

All in all, this night had not gone as expected. In the end, it had turned out far better than I had ever dared dream. Not in a million years would I have expected my dinner with Harvey to lead to us becoming boyfriends and making out on his couch for a considerable length of time.

To be perfectly honest, I seriously could not remember the last time I had felt so enormously happy with my life.

Whatever happened between me and Harvey from this point on, whether things between us ultimately worked out or not, I knew I would always treasure the memory of that fantastic night...

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It had been a truly fantastic night with Oliver.

I was lying in bed as that thought hit me, having trouble getting to sleep. My mind was racing, reliving the wonderful first date with the badger. And above everything else, my thoughts kept returning to with one simple incredible fact.

I was now dating Oliver!

To put it simply, I could hardly believe it. Of course, I had hoped this night would go well, but it had gone better than I had ever hoped. It was a night to remember, a night that had changed the course of my life, just as that day a week ago had. And once again, the change was a result of a certain amazing badger, Oliver...

Oliver, who was actually interested in being with me. With me! A simple bear with a metric ton of repressed baggage and issues. But it seems he saw something in me, he'd somehow decided I was a guy worth investing his time in...

And now there I was, trying to sleep, but failing because I couldn't stop thinking about him. The cute and adorable badger who was now my boyfriend...

Oliver was my boyfriend. Fucking hell, that felt so damn good, being able to say that! And we'd even kissed for the first time. And then again and again and again...

I raised a paw to my muzzle, happily remembering when it had been pressed against his that first time. That had been wonderful and unexpected and had just felt so damn right and perfect. And each following kiss had been just as great. I could hardly wait until I got to kiss him again.

More than that, I could hardly wait to just see him again, hang out with him again, talk to him again, hug him again...

Which I'd be doing tomorrow, I reminded myself. And I wanted to be properly rested for it. It would be terrible to be exhausted and yawning while spending time with my new boyfriend if I could help it.

And so I relaxed, feeling better than I had in so many years, and was finally able to get to sleep...


To Be Continued...

Raging Tiger/Kuman the Barbarian/Mitchell and Michael/Going Under/Beware the Transformer/That Day/Servus Inc./Farewell to Free Will

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