Growing up, he never celebrated his birthday much. If his mom remembered, there'd be a store-bought cake on the kitchen table when he got home from school.
He can count on one hand the number of times there was a store-bought cake. Sophie tried to celebrate his birthday once, in college, with some cookies she'd made from scratch.
They'd burned in the oven and were hard to chew but he ate every single one of them. Then threw up in the bathroom but he never told her that, still hasn't actually.
Doctor Purnell got a good chuckle out of that story, then asked Simon how he felt having his birthday remembered, how it felt to have someone do something nice for him.
It didn't dawn on him until then how many birthdays he'd spent alone, doing nothing and having nothing to look forward to.
He'd thought it was normal.
The year after the cookie incident, Sophie was sick with flu but sent him a happy birthday text. The weekend after that, she invited him out to lunch, but she wasn't alone.
Seeing the guy with her made Simon's chest clench.
He almost wanted to turn heel and go home, maybe tell her he was sick and couldn't make it, but she caught eyes with him and waved, and he had no choice but to wave back and walk over to them.
Each step felt as though he were weighed by bricks, but he forced a smile, dropped his shoulders, and let Sophie introduce him to her... Brother.
Just her brother. Simon almost sighed with relief, the weight lifted from him almost immediately.
The man was about a foot taller than Simon, dressed in a black hoodie and tracksuit and sporting a mean-looking scar dragging down one cheekbone.
Simon almost couldn't believe that he and Sophie were related.
She was so soft and sweet, cute too, with mousy brown hair and a button nose, whereas her brother was sharp, hard edges, shaggy red hair and eyes so deep and dark they were almost black.
Yet, Simon spent most of that conversation staring at him rather than Sophie. And the guy stared right back.
"This is David," Sophie had said, one hand patting the guy... David's... shoulder, "He's just on his break. I wanted you to meet him."
He didn't ask at the time, purely because he didn't want to come across as rude to both her and her brother. But he'd find out a few months later when Sophie told him she was moving.
She'd been accepted to a better college, one where she could pursue the courses she really wanted. And she didn't want Simon to be left alone again.
Simon broke down when she told him, he tried getting her to stay, tried to tell her he loved her.
Sophie didn't love him back.
The next year, on his nineteenth birthday, he took a walk downtown, the night air crisp and cool and quiet. He was alone again, only this time he realized it. And he hated it.
He wanted to call Sophie, tell her he was sorry, but what good would that have done? He was a year too late for that.
Still, he took out his phone anyway and searched through his pitifully small contact list.
His mom was working the night shift, Doctor Purnell told him he could call anytime but Simon didn't want to bother him this late. That was when he came across the number he'd forgotten he had.
David's. The man had given Simon his number just before he left, telling him to call him sometime. Simon never did. In fact, looking at the number made knots twist in Simon's stomach.
He stood there on the main street, thumb shaking over the "call" button. A car sped past and made him jump, almost dropping his phone.
His thumb landed on "call" before he could stop himself and Simon's heart lurched as his phone rang.
Instead of ending the call he stared at the screen, fear, dread, and embarrassment all rolling together in an ugly cocktail of fuck that made Simon want to vomit.
His hands were sweating so bad he almost dropped the phone again. Then David answered.
Oh, God. Simon wanted to hang up. He wanted to hang up so bad and pretend this never happened and go home and crawl under his bed covers and sleep away this shithole day.
"Hey," he said instead, voice small.
"...Hello?" David's voice came again, and Simon's heartbeat quickened. "I can't hear you. Who's this?"
"Simon... You know... Sophie's friend." Simon swallowed thickly.
David was quiet for a few seconds. "Simon? Yeah, I remember you. Shit, been a while. Uh, how're you doing?"
"Okay." The tension slowly rolled off Simon's body the more he heard David speak.
Even though they'd only spoken once a year ago, the way David was talking to him now was like they were old friends. "Uh... Are you doing anything?"
"Right now? No. I'm just on my way home from work. Why, did you want to do something?"
"Maybe. I don't know."
David was quiet again, only this time there was rustling on the other end. "Shit. Sorry, just checking something. Yeah, how about we get something to eat? Do you like pizza?"
"Y-yeah. Pizza sounds good."
"Okay. Where are you? I'm just cutting through the park now."
"Main street. I can meet you there."
"Alright. See you."
"Bye," Simon hung up, his heartbeat fluttering. God, what the hell did he just do?
His hand shook as it held the phone, damn near dropping it again before shoving it into his pocket. Thoughts of running back home anyway and pretending nothing happened flashed in his mind.
And shit, it was tempting. Thinking about meeting up with David, alone, right now had his heartbeat thudding so fast he could feel it in his throat.
Fuck, it would've been so easy to run away and hide, to ignore David for the rest of his life, but Simon found himself walking towards the park anyway.
The streets were empty and a cool wind swept in, rustling the tree branches and making the leaves shiver and dance.
He would've liked the gentle calmness of it all if it weren't for the twist in his stomach, both fear and... Excitement? Maybe? All buzzing together in his blood.
Hot and cold and terrifying and thrilling and all of it made Simon's head dizzy. He wasn't sure what the fuck he felt anymore.
David stood by the entrance, pizza box in hand, wearing the same hoodie and tracksuit Simon first met him in and puffing on a cigarette.
Simon approached slowly, hands shoved in his pockets and hood pulled up. His face burned.
"Hey," David said, slow and easy.
"Hey," Simon's voice came out small and weak, he coughed, "Hey."
David's lips quirked at the corners. "Hope you don't mind pepperoni," he tapped the box.
"You got it already?"
"From work. They didn't come in for their order so that means one of us gets to take it home. I drew the lucky straw."
David beckoned him to follow, so Simon did, and together they headed to the picnic area inside the park.
The benches were old, worn and covered in graffiti, but still better than sitting in wet grass.
They ate and talked, well, mostly David talked, about work, his friends, stupid stuff he did when he was a teenager.
He was twenty-five, six years older than Simon, and thinking about going back to school and finishing his degree.
Sophie was never mentioned once, and Simon couldn't tell if David was deliberately avoiding the topic.
Simon mostly listened, sometimes he asked questions, but he didn't talk about himself much.
They were down to their last two slices of pizza and David was handing him a cigarette when it slipped out.
"It's my birthday today."
David blinked. "Is it?" His fingers brushed Simon's and they were warm and rough and made Simon's heartbeat stutter. "Happy birthday!"
"Thanks," Simon tried to ignore how cold his hand felt when David pulled away. He lit the end and inhaled the cigarette smoke deeply, let it burn and curl inside his lungs before exhaling slowly.
"Got any plans?" David asked.
Simon gestured to the table.
"This?" David raised a brow. "Well, had I known this was a birthday pizza picnic outing thing, I would've brought candles. Maybe a cake."
"I don't like cake," Simon said, taking another deep drag.
"What do you like, then?"
Simon glanced at David and tried to ignore the tingling in his stomach. "Don't know. Stuff."
"Helpful," David snorted, and Simon couldn't help but smile back. "All right, next time I'll bring some stuff and you can decide what you like."
"Next time?" Simon's breath almost caught in his throat.
"Yeah. Next time," David smiled again and inhaled from his own cigarette. "Unless you don't want to."
"No... I mean... Maybe?" A questioned gnawed at the back of his skull and it fell out of his mouth before he could reign it in. "Is it a date?"
David watched Simon carefully as he smoked, those dark eyes seemed so intense but instead of feeling intimidated, Simon only felt warmth. "Depends. Do you want it to be?"
Simon bit his lip again. "I don't know. I've never... Not with a guy... Or a girl."
"I have. With both. Honestly, there's not much difference to me. But nothing has to happen if you don't want it to."
"I'm not sure..."
"No, that's not... I think I want to but I'm scared. No one has ever made me feel this way, not even-" He almost said Sophie's name, but bit it back. David tilted his head.
"I'll take that as a compliment."
Simon didn't reply. He stared down at his hands, feeling stupid and small and pathetic in front of David. Then David's hand rest on his and gave a gentle squeeze. Simon didn't pull away.
"You're thinking too deeply into this. Nothing serious has to happen.
We can keep this light and casual, test the waters you know? And if you're still confused or uncomfortable we can break it off and just be friends."
Simon looked back up to find David watching him earnestly. He smiled, and Simon swallowed nervously before giving a short nod. "Yeah, okay."