“Are you kidding me?” said Devon, cell phone tucked between his shoulder and his ear as he strung garlands across his apartment's Christmas tree. “Seven guys in that house, and every single one of you is too lazy to go get a Christmas tree?”
“We're not lazy, it's finals!” Ed protested.
“Okay. We're lazy too,” he said, cracking a grin that Devon could hear in his voice. “Aren't you Jewish? Do you celebrate Christmas?”
“My dad's Jewish, my mom's Catholic,” said Devon. “We went to Mass on Sundays and Hebrew school every other Saturday.”
Devon's roommates were laughing, which was never a good thing. He glanced up and saw that Jay had put down the egg nog ladle and was standing with his arms wrapped around himself, pointedly pretending to make out with himself. Someone moaned, "Ooh, Edward!" and the giggling intensified.
Devon furiously mouthed, 'I WILL CUT YOU,' lunged into the bathroom, and locked the door on them before they could laugh about how red he could feel himself turning.
“So - Hanukkah and Christmas presents?” Ed was saying.
“Sick,” Ed said, appreciative even over the phone, and he clearly thought that was the end of it.
That was not the end of it.
“I know it's, like, Charlie Brown,” Devon said through the branches when the door opened the next day. “But it turns out when you're too lazy to get a tree and you leave your super amazing friend to do it at the last minute, the options suck.”
“Holy shit,” said Ed, and while Devon couldn't see his face, he could hear him smiling. He could picture the smiling. God, he had it so bad.
“We don't - I don't think we have a stand or anything, here-” Something brushed Devon's gloves on the trunk and suddenly he wasn't carrying the tree's full weight. Ed pulled him (or, well, the tree, but Devon too by extension!) inside the house and it smelled like cinnamon and crushed pine needles and Devon's heart soared until the moment when he stepped back to let Ed take over, and he saw the devil herself.
Ed's girlfriend was sitting on the couch, wearing fuzzy slippers with her feet on the coffee table, and she was typing away on the MacBook in her lap.
“I thought you said you didn't have plans tonight,” Devon said hoarsely. His cell phone went off in his pocket, playing "Jingle Bells." Vanessa didn't even look up, though she wrinkled her nose.
“I don't, we're just chilling - oh man, it is a Charlie Brown tree, look at this!” Ed laughed, sticking his head into the biggest gap in the branches.
Devon felt like all his limbs had turned into cement. He forced his mouth to move, barely hearing his phone continue to ring. “You said to come over when I said I had a surprise.”
“Yeah, of course! I think Jordan's got a string of those chili pepper lights in his room…”
“I, uh,” said Devon, carefully not looking toward the couch, “I've got an old stand in my car, I'll just go - go get it.”
He left it on the doorstep.
If he was smart, he’d stay away from the house next door and let his roommate Hanna hook him up with the hot lab partner who she’d been talking up for two months - a guy who had the distinct advantage of not being straight and not having a girlfriend - but nobody had ever accused Devon of being anything other than stubborn and a little stupid when it came to crushes.
"You guys can't put red lights on your house," said Devon two days later, surrounded by Ed's roommates working diligently (some not-so-diligently) on getting ready for their last-minute outdoor light display. Devon's gifted Christmas tree stood proudly in the corner, wrapped up in a set of chili pepper lights and decorated with rolls of tape and other household items that were vaguely circular and could be hung on branches. They'd tried to add a package of silver tinsel to the overall effect, but Devon had emphatically disallowed it, on 'tinsel is hideous and tacky and I paid for your tree' grounds.
Marquis looked up sharply. The look on his face instinctively made Devon want to take a step back.
"We don't say 'can't' in front of Marquis," said Jordan, calmly untangling the lights spread across his lap. "He takes it like it's a challenge."
Devon shot Marquis a long, leery look and elected to ignore him. "Seriously," he said. "Only red?"
"What's wrong with red?" asked Ed.
"Oh, nothing," said Devon, "as long as you want the house to look like Murder Town."
"He is such a weirdo," Tiant said in passing.
"Hey!" Devon objected. "Right here!"
"You," said Tiant, pointing at him helpfully, "you are such a fucking weirdo."
"It's red lights, it's Christmas," said Jack. "It's not like anybody's gonna think this is the Texas chainsaw massacre."
Devon reached up over his head and turned off the overhead light. There were a couple yells of objection, and then everybody went quiet.
"Yeah," said Jordan, face lit in the blood-red glow. "We should get some white lights."
"I kinda liked the murder house vibe," said Marquis wistfully, standing outside looking at the front porch railings. They were lit up like candy canes in strings of red and white lights.
Ed glanced over. "Do you really wanna give the kids next door more nightmares?"
"More nightmares?" said Marquis, half-affronted like he knew what was coming.
"Yeah, they've already got to look at your ugly face when you shovel their driveway," said Ed, but he didn't get to "driveway" before Marquis was swearing at him and trying to shove his head into a dirty snow bank.
Devon left them laughing, Ed yelling a battle cry followed quickly by a cry for help as he got a fistful of snow down the back of his shirt.
Inevitably, when they finally came back inside, they totally f'd up Devon's Mario Kart winning streak.
Devon was in the last lap of Rainbow Road, three of the guys cursing and jabbing each other with their elbows as they jockeyed on the floor. House rules clearly stated that whoever was in the lead got couch privileges - because Ed's roommates had house rules for everything, and it was completely unsurprising that the Mario Kart rules were just as bizarre as the breakfast rules and the party foul rules - so Devon was balanced in a crouch on the cushions, furiously thumbing toward the finish line.
He was sort of vaguely aware of the front door opening, but he was in the zone and fighting not to fall off the edge of the rainbow slide, laughing as Jack swore while a homing beacon beep got louder and louder, and then it happened.
The loveseat dipped and someone shoved a pair of icy feet under his shins. Devon shrieked, "Jesus Christ," and toppled over across the armrest, and his car sailed directly into the path of a just-fired blue shell and then off the edge of the road.
The players on the floor basically turned into a knot of hysterical laughter and swearing and elbows; from the especially triumphant shout, Devon was pretty sure that Pillsner was the asshole who had blue-shelled him.
Devon had bigger fish to fry. A fish named Ed, who was liberally coated with snow and ice and had piled onto the loveseat despite the fact that it was really not built to accommodate two grown men. His side was pressed up against Devon's and his t-shirt was wet, and all Devon could think was-
"Cold! Fuck!" he yelped, and he slapped at Ed's horrible feet as he tried to burrow them under Devon's knees. "Holy shitting-" Ed kept trying to leech all the warmth out of him, poking and prodding with freezing wet hands and feet.
"Hey, you fell," Ed pointed out helpfully, drawing Devon's attention to the TV just in time for him to watch his newly reincarnated, unattended car fall over the edge again.
Devon started fighting back in earnest.
The battle lasted all of 20 seconds; just long enough for all the other guys to finish the race, and for Ed to win handily.
Devon kicked but it was futile in the end. Ed had sat on Devon's back like he was just another couch cushion. There was nothing remotely sexy about it, thank God (Ed was heavy, and his gross ice-encrusted jeans were soaking through Devon's hoodie), but... But Ed was laughing and patting his head with one big hand when Devon made a disgruntled noise, and the house smelled like balsam from the tree that he had brought, and he just - he just liked this moron so much that it made his chest feel tight for a second.
It passed before he could start to panic about a heart attack or something stupid, but he had apparently been quiet for too long.
Ed said, "Dev?" over the sound of his roommates arguing over what constituted an illegal maneuver and whether Pillsner could be punished for one. His weight lifted a little off Devon's back.
Devon opened his mouth, and Ed's phone rang. Ed picked it up and said, "Hey babe," and then there was just a wet patch where his butt once was, as he wandered into the kitchen with his phone.
Devon stared at the loveseat armrest (which his face had been shoved into) for a long minute. When he turned to the side, he found Jack and Pillsner looking and sounding like they were about to start World War III as they continued to argue, but Kinger watching him silently.
Devon struggled to his feet and said, "That was cheating, I'm going home."
Pillsner and Jack booed him; Jordan yelled, "Sore loser!" from the bathroom.
He took a deep breath, gave them all the finger, and jammed his winter cap on his head. King got up off the floor, still watching him, and said casually, "Taking a smoke break." Jack and Pillsner were already arguing over which course to pick for the next round; they didn't pay him any attention.
Devon couldn't figure out how to get out of the obvious confrontation without making an even more obvious scene, so he only stayed frozen for a second before he said, defeated, "Yeah, yeah" and grabbed his coat off the back of the couch. He heard Ed's laugh from the kitchen. He left.
On the front stoop, Kinger pulled him up short with a grab to the back of his collar. When Devon stopped struggling, King released him and lit a cigarette. "What up, Sawa?"
"Because that's not old yet," said Devon, knowing it was coming out sharp and sulky but unable to stop himself. "You guys really know your mid-nineties heart throbs. I thought I was supposed to be the gay one."
"Pretty sure you still are, bro," said Kinger peaceably. He was leaning against the front door, broad-shouldered and apparently not cold in a white T-shirt and a blue Cookie Monster baseball cap. "If you want Ed to know something, you've gotta tell him; dude's never gonna pick up on it on his own."
Devon felt a rush of something icy cold that could only be pure terror. "He, um, he doesn't need to - I don't want him to know something," he stammered. "He doesn't need to know anything."
"Okay," said Kinger. He exhaled smoke and vapor. "You're both dumbasses, but whatever."
Devon shot him an incredulous look. "Wait. Do you mean Ed isn't str-?"
"Nope," he said. "You wanna know something about my boy, you can ask him."
Devon had a fantasy of shoving Cookie Monster's brim down over his face, but in the end, he walked home in the snow.