After a whole morning of looking all over town, Jeff still hadn't found Peedee. The fry shop was closed for cleaning, and nobody seemed to be home.
He looked around all the other shops too, even the Big Donut, wondering if there was perhaps another meeting of the ‘Connie Maheswaran Fan Club’. But only Sadie was there. The other guy, Lars, wasn't even in the break room.
Jeff then remembered Peedee sometimes getting dragged to the lighthouse to help his weird older brother, and made it the final place to check.
Before he could open the door, he swore he could hear the faintest noise from inside: giggling .
Quiet as a mouse, Jeff had poked his head in, wanting to see the source of the noise.
“You big dummy”, Lars squealed, giggling, “That tickles…”
“What?”, Ronaldo questioned with a teasing grin, “ This ?”, and gave the other boy another round of kisses on his neck and face.
Erupting into another peal of giggles, Lars almost fell off the couch the two were cuddled on, random research papers scattered around behind the couch, “Heeheeeee….” he squeaked, muffling his laughter against Ronaldo's shoulder.
Oh my goodness… Jeff watched this from the door, glad neither of the teens had turned their heads to see him. He kind of wanted to keep watching.
“I spent years searching for the sources of the strangest noises in Beach City,” Ronaldo narrated in his ‘drama’ voice, “Particularly ones like these.”
“Oh yeah?”, Lars grinned, holding back more laughter.
“I thought...maybe vampires...maybe a pygmy sasquatch…,” Ronaldo listed, before looking down and grinned as he dropped the voice, “But nah, it was just you,” and fell on top of his partner, leaving them both hidden behind the back of the couch, so Jeff could only hear the shrill giggling and kissing.
A devious grin spread across Jeff's face. He had to tell Peedee about this.
When he ran back into town, Peedee was conveniently outside the fry shop, wiping down the counter.
“Oh hey Jeff,” he waved, “Sorry I was gone, I had to go help my dad buy cleaning supplies.”
“You're never gonna guess what I saw? You know Lars right?”
“Y’know how he's always teasing about us and Steven and Connie and whatever right?”, Jeff giggled, “He's even worse than us!! I just saw him with someone and-” he snickered, “ -turns out he's a big goofy giggling mess when he's in love!!”
“I always believed the mess part,” Peedee smiled sardonic as he continued deep cleaning the counter, “Who with, the donut girl?”
“Nope!!” Jeff slapped his knee, finding the whole thing hilarious, “Your brother!”
The cleaning bottle in Peedee's hand dropped and his face went cold, “ What ?”
“U-um,” Jeff was taken aback by the sudden hostility in Peedee's reply, “Ronaldo, I uh...saw them kissing in the lighthouse and-”
“That little weasel,” Peedee hissed murderously, and grabbed the cleaning bottle in a vicegrip, almost cracking it.
“But I thought we'd find it funny since he-”
“I DON'T WANT HIS SCRAWNY HIDE WITHIN TEN FEET OF MY BROTHER!”
Jeff took a step back, surprised at the sudden outburst, “...I-Is something wrong?”
Peedee caught his breath, gripping the edge of the counter, “J-jeff look, I gotta...I gotta go,” he mumbled suddenly, rushing inside and leaving Jeff alone and absolutely confused.
He’d been old enough to just remember when his brother lost his first and only friend. The day where the household had already been tense since Mrs. Fryman was in one of her bad moods, and Ronnie bursting through the front door in tears only made her angrier.
Poor Ronnie had ended up with a cut on his nose at the end of the night, and a bruise on his arm the next morning.
Peedee had remembered it. And knew that if Lars hadn’t made his brother cry, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt.
He grumbled to himself as he peeled potatoes in the kitchen that next morning, making reserve fries for the freezer. He didn’t know what got into Ronaldo’s head to date Lars anyway. The donut clerk had been, on every encounter Peedee had with him, a rude, obnoxious teenager who had the wits of a brick and probably picked his nose. Why would he even be interested in someone who he probably mocked on a daily basis?
And how soon before he got tired of Ronaldo and would go out of his way to hurt him and leave him fearful? He wouldn’t have anyone to protect him from that if he didn’t have anyone to protect him now.
Ronaldo was in a good mood that morning, saying something about a movie date. He missed hearing his brother’s dry question as to if that was really a good idea, instead just affectionately ruffling Peedee’s hair as he hurried out the door. Through the window, Peedee could see him meet up with Lars, the latter cracking some inaudible joke that made the other laugh.
When they walked close enough to the window that Peedee could hear their conversation, he heard Lars call his brother ‘babe’.
He wrinkled his nose in disgust.
Even if Ronaldo was all too forgiving or at the very least, forgetful, Peedee wasn’t going to wait around and watch him get hurt again.
‘People can change’ , Jeff had texted him during his rant about it earlier.
‘ No. ’ Peedee had responded, fingers tense, ‘ They can’t .’
“You better have not done anything to my brother,” Peedee warned.
“Do what?”, Lars asked with disinterest as he read a magazine.
“You better not be dating him for your own means.”
“Ahaaa. Look shorty,” Lars grinned sardonically, turning the page, “If I was dating him for that, I would have broken up with him a long time ago. Maybe I’m just dating him because I want to date him.”
“And why would you want to date him? Isn’t he a little too nerdy for your tastes??”
Lars looked up, not smiling, “I can date whoever I want ok? And so can your brother. If you don’t like it, then tough cookies.”
“I don’t even think you know my brother.”
“I’m pretty darn sure I do.”
“Alright then what’s his favorite show?”
“Favorite place to scratch?”
Peedee planted his hands on the counter, “Favorite number?”
“Color?”, he got in Lars’ face.
“Want me to tell you where all his birthmarks are too?”, Lars asked with a smug face.
Peedee’s mouth went agape, “You SICK SON OF A-”
“Oh hey Peedee!” Ronaldo waved as he came in the store.
“Hey babe,” Lars waved with a cool grin as Ronaldo hurried over to the counter with excitability.
“You’re never gonna believe what I found in the basement!”, he held his hands behind his back.
“A dead skunk. I can smell one.”
“Well, that was in there, but that’s not it. I tipped over an old box and found these!” Ronaldo grinned, pulling out a very old pile of comic books.
“No shit!”, Lars got excited, “I’ve been looking everywhere for those!”
“Same!!”, Ronaldo grinned, “We gotta go through them this weekend and see how well they held up.”
“Heck yeah!!”, Lars cackled, tucking the magazine under his arm as he chattered eagerly away with Ronaldo, both of them recalling memories of spending so many afternoons as kids going through those comics with such a voracious appetite for reading. Then Lars brought up a comic swap at the old shop they used to frequent, and the two quickly scheduled what was, in their mind, a date.
Neither of them had even noticed Peedee storming off.
Peedee tried to ask his brother why he even was dating Lars.
“Seems kind of out of the blue, wouldn’t you think?”, he suggested, trying to be as casual as possible.
“We’ve been hanging out for like the last year,” Ronaldo shrugged, texting Lars another one of his theories mixed in with plans for another visit to a rave later that night.
“Weird,” Peedee shrugged, “I’d never have known, since you guys don’t really hang in public. And that fight you had...”
“That fight we had when we were like five ? We got over that,” Ronaldo rolled his eyes ignoring Peedee’s interjection that he was ten, “Neither of us are too big on PDA, he gets antsy and I get awkward,” he then explained, “He’s only free on weekends nowadays.”
Peedee crossed his arms. Ok so maybe it was slightly believable that Ronaldo would be spending his weekends with his old friend...and maybe at least tolerating him. But dating? Really?
“Well, if he’s too busy to be there for you all the time, why are you dating him?” Ronaldo could literally date any other guy or girl other than stupid Lars and Peedee wouldn’t care.
Ronaldo gave a bit of a puzzled look to his little brother, “Uh, because he’s cute? And also not your business?”, he teased.
Peedee almost puked in his mouth, and forced a smile, “Right.”
“We’re both complex individual teenage boys. Romance is weird,” Ronaldo shrugged, then gave an optimistic grin, “I guess that’s why I like it so much!”
For a moment, Peedee almost wondered if Ronaldo perhaps had a point. Maybe he just didn’t understand romance, or dating, or feeling anything beyond mistrust of everyone besides the few people he did let into his life.
But then he saw the ripped pieces of the photograph that had started the fight long ago, all taped up, with a few bits missing, he recalled the letter from his mother that he'd just shredded to bits after his father read it, and he immediately glowered.
Lars wasn’t going to hurt his brother because he wasn’t even going to get the chance. Not if Peedee could help it.
“Where’s Ron?”, Lars asked as he approached the counter of the fry shack, hands stuffed in his pockets, and a few old comic books tucked under an arm.
“Why do you care?”
“Uh, because we’re going somewhere?”, he picked at his teeth with his pinky finger momentarily.
“Where?? The lighthouse again for whatever it is you do up there?”
Lars smirk fell, and he gave an irritated look, “Look man, I don’t know what your deal is with me, or why you don’t like me, or that I’m dating your brother, but if you have something to say to me, you better say it now, aight?”
“Fine,” Peedee rolled his eyes, “I just don’t know why he had to pick someone like you.”
Lars’ expression dropped with incredulous surprise almost looking disgusted, and his voice dropped in anger, “Someone like me? Like a dude?? Is that it? ”
Peedee clenched his fists and immediately stood up, “NO! I don’t care if he dated a HUNDRED guys, so long as none of them are you . You are the worst possible person I could ever imagine as a good partner for my brother and I’m just waiting for the day when he comes home with his heart torn to pieces and you moving onto your next victim,” he spat viciously, jabbing a finger into Lars’ chest to get his point across.
“Woah, I don’t-”
“And I can’t even understand how Ron could even trust you again, when you’re the reason he’d always come home and end up in even more trouble!!”
“Wh-?”, Lars looked puzzled.
“You knew she was shit, and you just had to make Ron’s life even worse, didn’t you?! When he got home from you throwing him out of your life, it certainly didn’t do any favors when it came to her!!”
Peedee didn’t even have to mention who ‘she’ was, Lars obviously knew, since the color drained from his face, and he visibly shrank in surprise.
“I...I didn’t know,” he choked, “Oh god.”
“Yeah like hell you didn’t,” Peedee glared, “You know him well enough you SHOULD know, or maybe you just don’t care enough because you didn’t see it as a big deal!! Well I do!! And I’ll be damned if I ever let my brother get hurt like that ever again!!”
Lars’ mouth was covered, and the teen was shaking, looking absolutely aghast at what Peedee told him, and backed away.
Peedee’s anger had only frozen for a moment when he saw the teen’s eyes filling with tears.
“...I...I didn’t mean to hurt ‘im,” he spoke lowly with a whimper, and wandered off towards the donut shop, face unreadable.
Ronaldo, unaware of the event that just transpired, came downstairs minutes later, and asked his little brother if he'd seen Lars. Peedee stuttered out a no, and Ronaldo opted to walk towards his boyfriend's workplace to meet with him instead.
Peedee wrung his fingers together. He'd always wanted to say that to Lars, but the pay-off wasn't feeling as thrilling as he'd hoped.
Later that night, Ronaldo had returned home, looking despondent and a little puzzled, and sank onto the side of his bed. He stared at his phone wearily and sighed, “Lars broke up with me.”
“Oh uh...that’s...too bad,” Peedee answered, trying to look incredibly interested in the random magazine he’d just pulled up from the floor to avoid looking at the other.
“I don’t even know why...I thought things were going ok. But when I went to go find him he was all upset and told me he didn’t want to see me anymore...” Ronaldo mumbled, “I wonder if it’s something I did.”
“Wh- nono, it’s definitely nothing you did,” Peedee assured, “He just doesn’t know how good he’s got it. Let me tell you Ron, you deserve better than what he ever could offer you and you know I think that nice Jane girl is still in the dating pool if you get over your disappointment with Lars. Maybe I can set you up with her tomorrow night and then you two can go and-”, he kept going on, wanting to fill the awkward space between them with words and resolution to forget Ronaldo’s newest ex.
While Peedee kept on rambling, Ronaldo ignored him and kept texting Lars, apologizing for whatever it is he did that caused Lars to decide to break up with him so abruptly and shut himself out. Lars immediately texted back:
‘Its not you its me. Im no good for you. Im just as bad as her.’
Ronaldo was even more puzzled, ‘Her? Who? Whats going on?’
‘Your bro is right, i suck.’
Brow furrowing as he saw his brother’s name, Ronaldo looked over to his still chattering brother, and sat up rigid, face blank, “ What did you say to Lars? ”
“Wh- Lars who? Who’s that?”
“Peedee,” Ronaldo’s voice was stern.
The boy gave a sigh, “Look, Ronaldo, you could have done so much better than him. If it wasn’t for him ditching you, you wouldn’t have come home upset and peeved off mom-”
“Is that what you told him??”, Ronaldo suddenly looked angry, “That it was his fault?”
“Well it is…. isn’t it?”
“No!!”, Ronaldo snapped, looking immediately infuriated, “Mom was a shitty abusive person without Lars or not, and she was gonna lay into me anyway because if she couldn’t take it out on me, she was gonna take it out on you!”
Peedee’s gut twisted as he felt the angry truth sinking in, remembering the night he frantically tried to call 911, while also crying for someone to help his big brother who was crumpled on the ground with a bloody cut in his head. Almost five months after Lars and Ronaldo’s fight. Peedee had angered her, and Ronnie had stepped in to protect him, like always. It resulted in twenty stitches and a trip to the hospital, and a jail sentence that hardly seemed long enough.
“W-well it’s not like Lars was gonna be a much better-”
“Are you seriously gonna compare Lars to her?? Really? So Lars is a grouch! Big deal! It’s not like you’re an absolute ray of sunshine to be around either!! And at least when he’s being too shitty, you can tell him so, and he fucking stops and won’t try and fucking punch you in the face like mom did! And he’s at least trying! He’s got his own shit to deal with and is backlogged on who knows how many years of therapy, but he’s trying to get his shit together and be a better person! Lord knows I’m trying to do that too!”, Ronaldo ranted, standing straight up.
“B-but I just didn’t want you to get hurt,” Peedee tried to explain.
“Peedee, for god’s sake, I’m not five- or ten, or whatever you think I am. I’m a fucking adult, and I can make my own choices. And who I choose to date, and who I choose to forgive is none of your fucking business,” Ronaldo glowered at him, “And because you decided to go and make it your business, Lars probably has another complex he has to get through, and I don’t have a boyfriend anymore. Thanks, you really helped me.”
“I’m sleeping downstairs,” he grumbled, grabbing a pillow and blanket, and slammed the door behind him.
Peedee stared down at his lap, guilt sinking in the pit of his stomach.
All he’d done was hurt people because he just couldn’t admit he was wrong...was he really turning out like her?
When it came to opening up the Big Donut that morning, Lars wasn’t of much use. It wasn’t like he was completely useless, but Sadie had to watch him respond at the speed of slow, sad molasses, and his face looking so heartbroken and ready to crumple, it just depressed her, especially since he’d cried half the night over the phone about it.
He went out to the back after Sadie told him to take a minute to himself, sitting on the concrete step outside the back door, slumping in place and watching the dawn sky with sadness and self loathing filling him up.
Being alone and feeling guilty loathing was even worse than feeling the same but being with someone. Maybe it wasn’t the most healthy, but it felt better than the loneliness he was subjecting himself to.
He almost texted Ronaldo, wanting to ask him to forgive him and take him back, but what if Ronaldo didn’t buy it? After all, Lars certainly wasn’t trustworthy, and he didn’t want Ron to think he was just toying with his emotions. And he didn’t want to subject Ronaldo to the pain he probably was already inflicting on him just by being with him.
...maybe they could still be friends?
Before he could even message him, Ronaldo approached with a soft ‘hey’, which startled him a little, and he looked up.
“Look, my brother’s an idiot,” Ronaldo rubbed the back of his neck, “The bad stuff that happened to me as a kid doesn’t have anything to do with you, and I don’t blame you for any of it. You’re nothing like my mom, not even close. I asked you out because I like you alright? We’re not stupid kids anymore, we’re both different people, and I like you ok? I’m not stupid,” he offered a hand out to help Lars stand up.
After a long pause, Lars took his hand, and stood, still looking at the cement. His eyes filled with tears.
“C’mere,” Ronaldo sighed, pulling him into a hug, squishing him tight.
“I’m sorry,” Lars cried into his shirt, “I didn’t know that happened-”
“I would have told you eventually,” Ronaldo assured, “It’s not like it’s something I like talking to people about anyway. I had my share of therapy, and you don’t need any more piled onto yours.”
After a few silent moments of sniffling and feeling his hair getting pet, Lars cleared his throat, and tried to speak calmly, “Can we uh...pretend what happened last night didn’t happen and just keep-”
“Hey, neither of us changed our facebook statuses and it’s not blog official, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s water under the bridge,” Ronaldo grinned, kissing his boyfriend’s head.
Lars gave a small giggle when he suddenly felt the other slide his finger through one of his gauges and poke his cheek, “Y’dweeb,” he snickered, laughing through the last few tears that leaked out, and settled comfortably in the embrace, relief flowing through him.
Sadie had come out in time to see the reconciliation, and relieved to see Lars was happy again, ushered the two inside, letting them both have a couple’s breakfast before the shop officially opened to the public, glad to see the two subtly being affectionate with one another over donuts and coffee.
Peedee had spent the last half hour rooting through his brother’s room to find that stupid re-pieced photo that he swore he’d seen the day before, and when it wasn’t in its proper spot, he wildly threw apart the room to try and find it...only to realize it was in his hand to begin with.
Rushing to the Big Donut, he wildly banged on the still locked open door, almost elbowing it down right before Sadie opened it, and he looked around for Lars, and immediately saw him at the table by the window. He didn’t even acknowledge his brother sitting across from him, contently munching a donut, when he stamped over and pointed at Lars, “You.”
Lars glowered at him from his coffee cup, not too keen on talking to the kid who wrecked his self esteem.
“Look. You suck. And if I was stuck in a room with you, some intergalactic terrorist, and a gun with two bullets, I’d shoot you twice, but- You’re not as bad as my mother, and whatever shit she pulled wouldn’t have been affected by some idiot kid who made my brother cry. And I still don’t know why the hell my brother would ever want to date your ass because, I repeat: you suck, but I guess I have to acknowledge that you’re a teenager...in therapy...which can probably make you suck less in the coming years, so I can only hope that maybe by the time I’ve inherited the family business, and you’re in jail for grand theft auto or arson, you’ll even then somehow manage to be a decent boyfriend for my brother and-”
“Cool, we already made up,” Lars spoke with disinterest, “You can leave.”
“Like I said, I’m an adult, Peedee,” Ronaldo rolled his eyes, “I can handle my grown up problems like the member of the 19-25 range demographic I am.”
“...Oh,” Peedee realized he was here, “...Cool. Ok. Well, I just thought I’d bring something and-”
“Go away, we’re eating breakfast,” Lars waved him off, not even caring to let this cockroach of a child finish his speech.
“Whatever,” Peedee gave up, slapping the taped up photo on the table, “Take this or whatever. Happy trails.”
“Hey, that was on my desk,” Ronaldo frowned.
“Oh my god, you actually taped this up?”, Lars looked over the old photo, seeing his face was still torn out, “Dang, that must have taken forever.”
“I couldn’t find the parts of your face, sorry,” Ronaldo shrugged sheepishly, “We were like five when that all happened.”
“I thought we were seven.”
Peedee didn’t even bother correcting them. In their case, ignorance was bliss.
“Hm,” Lars thought, then pulled out a sticky note, drawing a stupid face on it, placing it over the hole, “There, recreated with photo magic,” he snickered.
“Spitting image,” Ronaldo laughed, and both boys were in snickers as Peedee watched from a short distance, and a weak almost wistful smile.
Steven approached beside Peedee with a grand smile, steaming coffee in his hand, having watched this entire event from the shadows, “Ah, l’amour . Isn’t it great?”
“Yeah,” Peedee sighed, still smiling, even as Ronaldo pulled Lars into a hug with a kiss right on the nose, “I’m going to go throw up.”