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Authors: Amy Lane

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BOOK: Bitter Taffy
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“Uhm,” he said, looking around, but Mari and Mr. Stewart were busy working what had turned into the lunch rush. Mari gave him a distracted wave, so he left more money on the table and trotted across the boardwalk and down the stairs to hop into Finn’s minivan.

“Did you get lunch?” Finn asked without even a preamble.

“Uh, no. Still sort of floating in coffee.”

Finn nodded. “Yeah, I get that. You lose time when you’re trying to do your homework there—at least I do. Anyway, I’ll take you home, you can eat lunch and crash, and then Adam and I will bring home dinner tonight.”

“Where are you going?” Rico asked through a yawn.

“Dad needs me there to help in the afternoon. Mari was supposed to do it, but I guess she got a call about her kid being sick at day care, so, you know, we’re doing this now.”

Rico laughed a little, feeling helpless. “Is your life always this… I don’t know—”

“Tide of chaos washing ashore on the beach of what the fuck? Yeah. But we’re used to it, you know? Clopper won’t need walking until after six, so you can even sleep in the bed if it’ll be better for your back. Apparently Darrin told Adam that once you talked to Huston, you’d be all done at the café.”

“And you
believed
him?” Rico asked, baffled. “How could he possibly know that’s true?”

“Because he’s
Darrin
!” Finn said, rolling his eyes without shame. “You know… didn’t Adam tell you about Darrin?”

Rico yawned. “No, and he didn’t tell me about Derek either. Have you
met
Adam?”

Finn laughed. “I hear you. I’m lucky he told you about me.”

“I hear you.”

Silence.

“And you two have a little bit in common,” Finn said, exasperation thick in his voice.

“Besides the brown eyes?” Rico said, only half kidding, and Finn cut a left-hand turn that practically smushed Rico against the window.

“And other fun heritage,” Finn grunted. He straightened the car and then screeched to a halt in front of a crosswalk.

“And brown shorts,” Rico muttered, wondering how Adam had survived this long.

“Very funny. I’m saying.”

“Saying what?”

“Your family—doesn’t sound particularly warm.”

Rico made an indeterminate sound in his throat. Yeah, that was actually understating things, but Rico had been schooled not to talk about your family to people outside of it.

“Like I said,” Finn responded dryly.

Rico yawned—not because he was trying to be funny but because he’d gotten off a plane thirteen hours earlier and had turned his life upside down in less than a week. “I’ll brain human contact tomorrow,” he mumbled through his yawn. “Today I’m just going to sleep and wake up to my rebooted life.”

“Yeah, okay. Sorry about that. I just really need to see you happy, if that’s okay.”

“Why?” Rico asked as Finn pulled a hairy U-turn to end up right in front of the Victorian apartments. “Why does Rico need to be happy?”

“So Adam can believe it happens. He
reveres
you.”

“He shouldn’t. He was always okay on his own.” Finn opened his mouth again, but Rico was through. “No brain, remember? Thanks for the ride, Finn—you and Adam, you’ve got this considerate relative thing down.”

“Well, you’re the one letting us crash at your place.”

Rico nodded, and… apparently really
did
lose what was left of his brain. “Uhm, you two… don’t go looking for another place right away, okay? I, uhm….” Oh God. They were coming home that evening with dinner. They’d gotten him a job and carted him around the city and introduced him to nice people who could make beignets.

Finn nodded like he’d finished his sentence. “Yeah, no. Roommates. It’s good. We’ll make it work.”

“Good. You guys keep the bed, okay?”

“Well, it’s actually our bed,” Finn said, and Rico blinked, because he hadn’t seen the bedroom yet. “We put yours in storage. We were sort of gathering furniture for when we move out, you know? But it works out good, because there’s a chest of drawers under the television, and you can use that when you unpack.”

“Oh God. Head hurts. Brain blown.” He hadn’t noticed
any
of that the night before. He’d been exhausted and heartbroken and just
so
willing to sit and let Adam feed him soup and coffee.

“So don’t think about it,” Finn said, putting the car in park and popping Rico’s lock. “Go inside, strip to your skivvies, and crash.”

From anyone else, Rico would have thought that was a come-on, but not from Finn. In fact, he sounded a
lot
like his dad. “Gotcha,” he said. “Now
that
I can brain.”

He’d worn slacks and a polo shirt to sit in the café, the creases from his luggage just barely shaken out. After walking through the door and checking on Clopper, then taking a leak—Lord, that had been a lot of coffee—he barely remembered to lay his clothes neatly on top of his suitcases before crawling between the sheets on the couch and passing out.

 

 

H
E
WOKE
up to Finn and Adam walking through the door, talking intimately about something that made Finn giggle.

They had takeout bags with them, and as Rico stretched and then threw on a T-shirt and some cotton sleep shorts, they turned on the kitchen light and started to set the table and open the containers, still talking. Occasionally they stopped and touched—Adam’s hand on Finn’s hip, Finn’s hand on Adam’s back. The kitchen was amazingly small—two counters with about four feet of space in between—and once, when they had to pass each other, Finn stopped, hugged Adam, and swung him around so he was on the other side, near the stove. Adam laughed and fetched the cloth napkins (cloth napkins?) from the drawer and then hugged Finn and swung him back around to get to the table.

By the time Rico was decent—and turning on the living room light—dinner had been served.

“Do I need to dress better?” he asked, only half kidding. The plates matched, and they had cloth napkins and placemats, and cups for milk. He’d eaten so much takeout when he’d been working in advertising that the only dishes he’d had were of the plastic variety.

“Are you kidding? That’s gonna be us as soon as we eat,” Finn told him, and then they sat down at the table and started dishing out the food.

Rico sat in the seat to Finn’s left so as not to get elbowed and took stock. They had lettuce, tomatoes, chopped red onions, sliced almonds, blue cheese, grilled mushrooms, grilled onions, bacon crumbles, bacon pieces, a big stack of hamburger patties, salad mix, and a bottle of ranch and a bottle of Italian dressing. There was also a bag of wheat bread and some ketchup.

“What are we eating?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“Free food,” said Adam. He was cutting up a substack of hamburger patties and scattering the pieces over a pile of lettuce. As Rico watched, he added pretty much everything else on the table, then poured ranch dressing over it and dug in. Finn was apparently a traditionalist. He stacked two patties between two slices of bread, added lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions, poured some ketchup, and ate it like a sandwich.

Rico used the salad fixings on a pile of lettuce, and the hamburger fixings on a slice of beef on bread, and kept
his
meal in discrete piles like a human being.

“Hey, Adam,” Finn said, chewing on his lettuce and tomato burger.

“Mm?” Adam was plowing through his salad with a single-minded intensity that bespoke a long day.

“What do you think? Rico’s eating a salad
and
a sandwich.”

“So?”

“What does that say about his personality?”

Adam looked up at Rico’s food and then at Finn’s plate. “It means he’s going to spend less time in the bathroom tomorrow. Eat more vegetables, Finn. I’m begging you.”

Finn rolled his eyes—and picked up a tomato, raw, and ate it. “I mean, your meal bespeaks an integrated life.” Finn nodded, wide-eyed, like this made total sense.

“And yours says you eat like a twelve-year-old.”

Finn nodded again. “See? What does Rico’s say about him?”

Rico took a bite from his hamburger and closed his eyes in bliss. The mushrooms and onions had been grilled to
perfection
,
and the meat wasn’t just a frozen patty—it had been seasoned with something secret and sexy and amazing.

Adam grunted. “It says he knows a good thing when he sees it. Now leave the man alone and let him eat.”

Rico smiled shyly at his cousin over his burger. Adam always spoke the best kind of sense.

 

 

T
HEY
FOUND
a kind of balance.

The next day, Rico’s boxes were delivered, and he spent a couple of days going through his stuff to try to figure out what to keep at the apartment and what to put in the storage facility, which was less than a mile away.

Turned out Adam and Finn had so little, they had a surprising amount of room for him in his own apartment.

While Clopper danced around his feet, Rico wiggled into their personal space. His suits went in their closet, because both of them lived in jeans, khakis, and T-shirts, so there was room to spare. His underwear and casual clothes went in the nice antique dresser under the television. Adam had apparently refinished it, along with some antique frames filled with his own artwork, in his spare time.

“He says he feels stupid with his own stuff on the walls,” Finn confided as he helped with the great “shit shift” as they were calling it. “I keep telling him I don’t have anything else we can put up there, but the truth is, I just like looking at it.”

Rico had to agree. It
was
good to look at. Adam liked all sorts of different styles, and he was still playing with them as his fancy dictated. Rico liked the pen-and-ink drawings colored with pastels the best, but the watercolors came a close second.

And it sure as shit beat the blank walls Rico had left him with.

In the end, all they needed to buy was a long, low dresser that doubled as a coffee table and a twin-size mattress pad and new pillows so Rico didn’t dig a hole in the couch with his ass as he slept. During the day he put the bedding in the top of the “coffee table,” and in the evenings they could watch movies or play video games together on the couch. The video game set was Finn’s, and as Rico and Adam engaged in duels to the death on
Assassin’s Creed
and Finn and Clopper cheered them on, Rico had to wonder what had been wrong with him that he’d never invested in a game system of his own.

Sunday night, after they’d finished moving him in and eating dinner—Finn had made what he named “fake fish salad,” which had worked well in the rising heat of late April—they were doing the video-game thing when Derek called.

Rico trashed his character when the phone rang from the charger, and as Adam and Finn called after him, “Hey, dude, what the hell?” he felt an absurd surge of excitement in his chest and wondered why he’d done that. “I, uh, think it’s the boss,” he apologized, trying not to run for the phone like a teenager. “Hello?”

“Hi, Ricardo Gonzalves-Macias?” Derek slurred playfully into the phone.

Rico looked at Adam and pointed to the bedroom, then got the wave-away as permission. It figured—they’d had sex a couple of times in the past five days, but Rico got the feeling that all the magic was between the two of them and didn’t involve monkeys on the ceiling or a giant ice-squirting Splorch! There was no reason a friend couldn’t go sit on their bed.

“Yeah, this is Rico. Derek?” Because he’d promised to be drunk at his sister’s wedding, and it sounded like he very much was.

“Yup. Told ya I’d be hammered. But I really wanted you to know I was serious. But I’ve been up to my balls… uhm, eyeballs in wedding for the last five days. But I really wanted you to know I was serious.”

Rico had to laugh. He sounded so… serious. “Yeah, I hear you. I’ve got your address. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Derek sounded disappointed. “That was easy. I thought I’d have to do more talking.”

“Well, it’s just a job, Mr. Huston. It’s not an, er, marriage.”

Derek’s laugh over the phone sounded low and dirty. “Oh, so you
are
going to be a challenge.”

“A challenge implies success,” Rico replied primly, leaning against the doorframe of the bedroom. Finn must have brought in his own comforter—this one was blue and purple. Not exactly Adam’s colors, but they went nicely with the watercolor of the river as seen from Front Street that Adam had put up on the adjacent wall. “I really don’t think you can get your hopes up.”

Oh, that laugh. Didn’t get worse the second time around. “Are you talking to me from a darkened room? You’ve got dark-bedroom voice.”

Rico’s eyes widened and he searched for the switch, almost forgetting it was on the wall right behind him.

“No!” he said hurriedly as the lamp switched on. “What the….” He looked up to where the ceiling fan used to be and saw that the lights had been rewired. Now, apparently, he had two end-table lamps instead.

The effect was disconcertingly intimate, in spite of the light.

“Something wrong?” Derek asked, amused.

“No, just my cousin improved the holy shit out of my apartment when I was gone. It’s confusing.” He sat down on the bed and realized it really
wasn’t
his bed. The mattress was a little softer, a little more welcoming, and that comforter was
really
sweet—nice thread count, really fluffy.

“Your apartment was a dump when you lived there?” Huston sounded suddenly alert, like this mattered.

“Not a dump,” Rico admitted, still looking around. “Just… just not personal. Adam and Finn made it personal.”

“Oh, well, you’ll miss them when you kick them out.”

“Not kicking them out,” Rico told him. Adam had added a pegboard for what must have been Finn’s hats—there were goofy fleece ones, and a few souvenir baseball hats, and a giant Day-Glo squid hat from an amusement park.

There was color here, when he’d left four white walls. He’d had dinner
at the table
for three out of the past five days. His dog was here, and from what Rico could see, the big doofus loved Adam more than he loved Rico. And the cat was here (literally
right here
sleeping on the pillow next to Rico’s hand), and while Jake did not seem to have any loyalties, per se, he didn’t mind sleeping on Rico’s neck during TV time or on Finn and Adam’s faces at night.

BOOK: Bitter Taffy
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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