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the apartment, or: how i learned to forget cooking and love take-out

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i.

They lived in complex number 2F, a two bed one bath kind of deal which would have been fine and dandy if you were talking about two people. They were three, and most of the first month was spent arguing over who would sleep on the couch and how they would arrange the beds so that each could have his turn on the master king. The couch looked like it had been owned by Wilde and maybe a giraffe or two. Antonio volunteered Gilbert. Gilbert said no fucking way. Francis suggested the two of them share one room and he would sacrifice himself for the master bed. This notion was overruled in a two to one decision and Francis complained enough that he was essentially strongarmed into the sofa during a night that also saw a lot of empty bottles and pleasant feelings.

Two weeks later, Francis realized that the sofa really was not so bad, even if it was going to kill his back once he turned thirty. When Gilbert saw that Francis was happy with his situation, he demanded the sofa for himself. He was surprised to see Francis willing give it up for him, and he turned angry when he saw Francis mount his former bed with satin pillows and an embroidered sheet cover that had his initials on each corner.

"What the shit," said Gilbert, who was now stuck with the sofa.

"You are an idiot," said Antonio, and went into the room he had occupied all along.

"Good night," smiled Francis, and he too went into his room. He also locked it.

In the morning, Francis woke up first and when he woke up, Antonio woke up. They both entered the living room expecting Gilbert to be sprawled out uncomfortably. They found him crouched by the wall with his feet wrapped in his sheets and this is how they found out he was an insomniac. But the pity did not last long. Francis toasted bread, Antonio made the coffee, and with all the lights on and the ruckus in the kitchen, then Gilbert fell asleep. So the two would leave out the food and coffee for him.

Antonio hogged the bathrooms and he refused to let Francis in even when he was only brushing his teeth. Francis, who was a Ph.D candidate in philosophy, had papers to write and he had many more obligations and societal concerns to worry over and solve by, say, noon, than Antonio, who was the perennial Employee of the Month at Starbucks. Antonio replied that unlike Francis, he actually made money and also had health insurance. By then it was nearing eight o' clock and Francis was going to be late for the daily bus that came precisely at eight-oh-eight.

So he always did his shaving and hygienic enhancements at the kitchen sink. It annoyed Gilbert, mostly because he was the one stuck cleaning it. By eight-thirty, both of them were out the door. Only when it was completely empty in the apartment, with the bathroom fan still on and the water leaking, did Gilbert wake up. His classes at the local JC didn't start until noon and his mornings were spent doing homework. Gilbert's mornings went very slowly and sometimes he did his homework on the bus. Once he was so involved with his statistical analysis of manatee deaths in southern Florida that he ended up missing his stop, causing him to be exactly fifty-six minutes late to class, only to realize that the assignment due date had been, in fact, pushed back.

ii.

Gilbert was a fifth-year senior; that is, it was his fifth year as a senior. He could have been a perfectly capable student had he possessed the motivation and ambitious desire to accomplish something in this often complicated and convoluted world. That was how Francis put it. But then again, Francis had spent $200,000 to get a B.A. in sociology. He had worked through graduate school and now he was going to get a Ph.D, but that was an awful lot of money for a stinkin' piece of paper and what did he have to show for besides a shitload of fancy language and bookstore discounts? Meanwhile, Antonio dreamed of opening his own coffee shop. All of the Starbucks regulars loved him and told him that if he went his own way, they would follow him.

"Really?" said Antonio, eyes bright with hope and caramel syrup. He had a dispensable charm and a habit of spelling customers' names wrong. They loved him anyway. Francis said it was because he was European with an accent. Antonio knew most of the regulars by name. One of them was Corrine, a high-school junior who could have made her own coffee at home for thirty cents but bought it for three dollars at Starbucks just so Antonio could spell her name wrong. She was big on international relations and G20 and Antonio thought she was going to be president one day. He said if he were a United States citizen, he would vote for her. That made her laugh but she said she couldn't. She hadn't been born in the States either. Her family immigrated from the Netherlands when she was seven.

"But I'm actually Italian," Corrine said to clarify.

"Do you speak Italian?" asked Antonio, who could understand it but not speak it.

"No, I'm learning Chinese in school."

"Is it hard?"

"I guess," shrugged Corrine, "in class we pretty much just pretend to speak Chinese while the teacher feels sorry for us and gives us an A. It's chill."

"Oh. Ni hao?" he said, which was the only thing he knew how to say.

He said it with all the wrong accents and Corrine tried to correct him: "Ni hao," though she didn't do much better.

Antonio liked talking to his customers and he was good with juggling names and professions in that jumble of introduction while making a chocolate mocha or double espresso. He always got fabulous tips, and he put this money in a fund that would one day be enough to finance his own coffee shop.

*

On the weekdays Francis went to the school's library to do research. His research consisted of looking Intensely Concentrated while accessing blocked sites at the computer labs. The Internet here was free and nobody bothered Ph.D candidates who were obviously very steeped in their in-depth research of pornographic works. It was all a matter of art. Francis had been in school longer than Gilbert and Antonio and by now he had mastered the art of obtaining degrees that would unfortunately not help his prospects in the job market.

He thought about teaching, occasionally. And there was nothing better, he was absolutely certain, than an incredibly well-learned, incredibly handsome Distinguished Professor of Philosophy who was also French. He could teach the young ripe ones at Williams or Swarthmore and eventually become a tenured and respected scholar; or if he wanted a change of scenery he could always go out west to Chapman or any of the Claremont Colleges (he opposed Stanford on principle). He had his options open and nothing what his roommates thought of the academic's life was true. He thought these passionate ideas with great fervor and got work done without his ever knowing it.

*

Gilbert called Antonio at noon. "Say, are you working late today?" said Gilbert.

"No, why?"

"We should go surprise Francis at the university. Whadja say?"

"I am currently trying to fend off five middle-aged ladies from Marine League. They keep changing their orders," said Antonio, who sounded a bit sad. "Okay! Okay, just a second," he said to someone else. "Also, there's this new customer. I've never seen him before, he must be new to these parts. And would you believe it? I spelled his name right! On the first try! I was so amazed I almost cried. I'm so happy. Aren't you happy too?"

"Sure, sure," Gilbert said, "if you're happy I'm happy."

iii.

Francis was about done at the library when someone covered his eyes from behind.

"Oh God," said Francis, "not this game again. Who is this?"

"Your kidnapper!"

"Monsieur Kidnapper, you are failing miserably."

"Well, I did try," said Antonio.

"You sound too happy."

"I am happy."

"Oh?" Francis said, and quickly deleted his recent browsing history.

"I spelled someone's name right at work today. On the first try. And I'd never seen him before," Antonio beamed. "Clearly this means something."

"No it doesn't. You're being absurd."

"Am I?"

"Why does spelling someone's name correctly have to correlate to some greater meaning? Why do we humans consistently try and find meaning in topics inherently separate? No, sorry, don't listen to me. I've been upset today, and I was temporarily brainwashed by Camus."

"Oh?"

"I found an astonishingly inaccurate Wikipedia entry on Absurdism. I shed metaphorical tears on behalf of my fellow academia, but that is over," Francis said. "Was he nice to look at?"

"He overpaid me and when I told him, he got embarrassed and told me to keep it," said Antonio.

"Hmm."

"And he had a very nice, shy smile."

"He doesn't sound American, that's for sure," said Francis, who had quickly rebounded from his earlier despair. (Francis was, indeed, nothing short of adaptable.)

"He's a foreigner," said Antonio.

"An Englishman?"

"Wrong!"

"German."

"Too skinny!"

"Danish?"

"Too short!"

"Polish?"

"Nope," said Antonio. "Sicilian!"

"No!" said Francis.

"Yes!" Antonio was confused.

"Anyone but a Sicilian," Francis said.

"And why's that?"

"How do you know he's not part of the mafia on Long Island?"

"Of course not. I can tell. He's not the right type; if anyone, he'd be the fall guy."

"Oh but you never know," said Francis in that hushed "we are talking scandalous rumors in a public area" voice of his.

"Either way, I don't know if he'll come back."

"He will. That's not the problem though."

"It isn't?"

"He'll be back all right. But he will have to talk to Gilbert and myself before entertaining any ideas beyond a date. Maybe holding hands, if his looks are good enough. Definitely not more than that, it's much too early. Definitely not marriage. Then there's a matter of money for the honeymoon, however. Well, we will make sure of everything, o-hon."

"Marriage?" said Antonio.

*

By seven o' clock, all three were back at the brownstone complex. Francis was fishing for his set of keys because Antonio had forgotten them and Gilbert never bothered. Thankfully, the girl who lived in 3F happened to be stopping by and she had her key, and they entered the building. The girl was called Aubrey and she was either a photographer's model or a high-class escort, none of them had ever figured it out. She was wearing a gown with a mask in hand for a masquerade ball and as she brushed past Gilbert she smelled of smoke and perfume and something else.

They had bought takeout, as they often did. Francis, in that delightful but unreliable French way, often promised dinner but the days would pass and he would remember that they needed flour and eggs, or maybe it wasn't the right pan that they owned. Anyway, takeout wasn't so bad. You got used to it to, just like you got used to MSG and the fact that high cholesterol and diabetes were going to be part of your imminent future. There was less to clean up, and when they had Chinese, they took time to read their fortunes to each other.

"You will make an important decision in the shower," read Antonio.

"You will find happiness with someone you think you love," said Francis.

"What the fuck," said Gilbert, "mine says that I've got five days left to live, so 'live to it a most full capacity'. Fucking Chinglish."

Antonio laughed with his eyes.

"No. this is serious, man, what if I really die? Get hit by a car or pushed in front of a subway? Oh. My God. Oh my fucking God I don't even have a will. And what about my parents? My brother? God, I don't remember how old he is. Can't think straight right now, I'm gonna cut a fucker. Maybe he's graduated. He'd be old enough, Christ."

"I thought he was married," said Francis.

"That's my cousin," said Gilbert. "But he's divorced. The chick couldn't handle him after a few years. Figures, when you're dealing that kind of neuroticism 24/7. She's cool though."

"There, there," said Francis, and kissed him. "Antonio and I will remember you, just as we will remember the time you set fire to the toilet on New Year's. Won't we?"

"It was at Tino's house, right?"

"I remember his friend's most striking glare. His tall friend."

"Ooh, him."

"So you see, there is no need for concern."

"That is not helpful," he whined. "This is my life we're talking about!"

"Anyway, I'm tired," said Antonio, not really listening, "but I feel really happy."

"Still?"

"What was the guy's name? You never told us."

"Mm," he said. It was a secret.

iv.

On Sunday, Francis was nowhere to be found. That was to be expected, since Saturday nights were his literary benders with Ph.D candidates from other schools. They went to 21 and drank rye and water while talking neuroscience and existentialism. When they got particularly drunk, they were liable to start yelling and arguing about the history of currencies and what had really happened with Monica Lewinsky. Everything was a conspiracy. Hands-on demonstrations were appreciated and encouraged. Antonio and Gilbert had met one of Francis's literary friends before. His name was Arthur and he was the Englishman in New York. He had gone to Oxford and was now stuck in the Anthropology department at Columbia. He hated America because the government was incapable of properly clearing his papers; also, he'd been molested at the hands of LaGuardia's security more times than he could remember.

They had met Arthur once and that was enough. They much preferred the bars on West Forty-ninth Street, where they would be among "normal people who didn't think champagne was something to drink."

With Francis gone on the weekends, that left a lot of time for Antonio and Gilbert. Usually Gilbert watched The Price Is Right and Antonio wrote poetry or went to the movies with a Dutch co-worker. He wrote damned good poetry, too.

"You think so?" said Antonio.

"I know so," said Gilbert.

"Ha, you're funny."

"Fuck you bastard," and they wrestled until Gilbert fell asleep on top of Antonio and they just stayed like that until Francis came back.

Gilbert wasn't sure when it first started, their sleeping together. In the past, the only thing he got out of it was that Antonio was a kicker and a jerk because he stole the blanket for himself. So he didn't like sleeping with Antonio unless it was absolutely necessary. There were times when it was necessary. Take when he had just broken up with this cute girl from New Haven fifteen months back and he wasn't sure what to do with himself. He supposed he had to feel sorry for himself and drink a lot, so that was what he did. Antonio had put his arms around him in a comforting way and then one of them—Gilbert wasn't sure which—kissed the other.

It felt nice. That was all he could say. They had grown comfortable with each other, all three of them, which is what happens when you bring three young men in their mid-twenties and cram them in a space that can just as well accommodate a girl with questionable means of attaining her personal income.

They had found that it was pleasant to kiss and even nicer to touch each other. Gilbert had touched Francis only once, but that was different. Francis was slightly different, not in a bad way but nevertheless different because he knew Francis would always be there. Antonio was a flash of brilliance with unpredictable moods and sometimes he had the feeling that if Antonio thought it best for himself, he'd leave. They had known each other for two years. Two years was a long time but two years out of twenty-five is not, relatively speaking. Not to mention, Antonio had a tendency of losing his keys. One day, he might lose them and simply decide not to look for them. And if that happened, then what would happen to them all? What would happen to this group that dared to call themselves friends?

Then he realized that he was thinking dumb things, that Antonio was never going to leave him or Francis, and he was speculating groundless facts. In many ways, Gilbert was in love. As much in love as he was capable of being; or, as accepting as he could've been of an individual's flaws and idiocies. That was good for a lot of people, and it was more than enough for Gilbert, who was not the sentimental sort unless he was thoroughly stewed.

Antonio remembered birthdays and Gilbert laughed at his Spanish jokes that lost all their humor in English. Admittedly, he was closer to Antonio than he was to Francis. Admittedly, Antonio held a similar relationship to Francis, which was about as frustrating as being left-handed and using a right-handed gravy ladle, which really meant it was just better to not fucking think about it at all.

"You look tired," mentioned Antonio.

"You don't say," he replied, and changed the channel to Joel McHale talking about horse sex on The Soup.

v.

Gilbert had a four hour break in between his twelve o' clock class and his evening labs. His seven o' clock class was the worst because it was on organic chemistry. Neither Antonio nor Francis knew shit about organic chemistry (Francis, the magnificent motherfucker, claimed he was allergic to the lab sciences). It meant he actually had to do the homework by himself. This sucked for several reasons, including the first and most important one: it sucked.

The professor was a nice enough guy, not that it helped his grade. He was in his fifties, with graying hair and a pair of specs last popular when Nixon was president. His name was Bob and he let some of his students call him that. Gilbert was one of them, but only because he'd taken the class so many times. He was going to keep taking it until he passed; that was the kind of stubborn bastard he was.

Fifteen minutes to nine, the class filed out. It had been a test day and they took their tests in the lab. No calculators. Not that having a calculator would've helped but Gilbert liked having it for its security. At nine minutes past, the bus came and Gilbert reached the station, from which he took the subway back to their apartment. It was quiet when he entered and he remembered that Francis was on a date and Antonio had staff meetings every first Thursday of the month. He wanted a drink but that would have only made him more lonesome, so he drank milk straight from the carton and played around with Sudoku until Antonio came back.

It was like they hadn't seen each other in years and it was a funny feeling. Gilbert told him so and when they kissed as they sometimes did, Antonio was laughing.

"You're so funny," he was saying, not meanly but endearingly, almost as if he found the gesture touching.

*

Friday was spent in a near coma. Gilbert overslept and Francis had left early for a conference in upstate New York. The professor whom Francis studied under was ill with the seasonal flu and Francis had been called to take his place. That was the official reason, at least. It was not a big deal, the conference being only another congregation of intellects who gathered and talked about intellectual things (there was also the inevitable exchange of vegan cookies recipes) while sipping mineral water. A popular user on Twitter, Francis often tweeted his keen and amusing observations of his fellow colleagues. In fact, one of his favorite stories to tell involved Twitter, duct tape, and a banana and peach.

Antonio was gone, too. He'd left a note, a reminder to buy milk even though they should've had enough to last the weekend. That was what the note said, but Antonio also had atrocious handwriting. Twenty minutes went by before Gilbert realized that he'd been misreading tube for lube and a bit disappointed with himself, he threw the note away.

*

After suddenly mustering up the initiative to finish homework, he decided to turn on his phone. He saw that he'd missed a call from Elizaveta. Elizaveta was currently attending school in Boston as an adult student, studying Psychology. She had spent all her life in Hungary studying calculus and physics because girls were encouraged to devote themselves to science. She came to America, ostensibly to continue these studies, but then an incredibly young and enthusiastic tenured professor at Wesleyan introduced her to Freud. Within a month, he had her smelling ether. She ended up marrying him, and they moved to New York where Roderich assumed the role of head chairperson of a non-profit association. The three used to go out on town a lot. Gilbert couldn't really remember when exactly they'd divorced, or why. For one thing, it wasn't his business. Another thing, people fell out of love just as quickly as they tumbled in. It was normal.

Anyway, Elizaveta still considered herself a kind of kin to Gilbert and occasionally she called him to ask if he had found himself a girlfriend. After years, the question became grating but Elizaveta hadn't caught on. When he called back, she was in the middle of a lecture. He called again an hour later.

"Miss me?" she said.

"Miss you? Man, who's the one calling me every other week?"

"Shut up, you know as well as I do that I worry for you. I can't help it. Does my little Gil get enough sleep?"

"You're not my mother okay."

"Oh hush. How're the others?"

"Alive, I guess. Antonio's at work right now. Francis has been in Ithaca since six o' clock today and he keeps texting me every twenty minutes, reminding me how cold it is there and that I need to get on Twitter."

"Ithaca's rather dreary, I remember. Professor occasionally taught there. Took me out once, and we had ice-cream in January." Professor was her name for Roderich when she didn't want to call him by his name.

"It's a pretty cool place. There's that bridge."

"The one where everyone jumps off?" She laughed a little. "No, I'm sorry. Let's meet up sometime. Come to Boston for Christmas and you can stay at my loft."

"Yours, or someone else's?"

"For the record, I'm single."

"Does he have a lot of money?"

"God, I forgot what a bastard you were."

In the background, Gilbert could hear hurried footsteps and the distinct ring of a bell. "You at the T?"

"On my way back home, actually."

"Hmm."

"You know, I do miss you. Only occasionally, mind you. We had such good times, didn't we?"

"Yeah, sure did." They talked a little longer; it was inconsequential chatter, a skill he had never quite acquired but nevertheless exercised for risk of appearing socially inept. Elizaveta was a good talker and he supposed that was why Roderich had married her. Maybe they had even loved each other. That didn't matter anymore though. Elizabeta was happy in Boston and Roderich had returned to Connecticut, and it was as if their time spent together had already been lost to the past.

vi.

All though Saturday, Francis typed. Because he could, he owned one of those archaic typewriters from 1948 that still somehow worked, a novelty that had yet to be explained by modern science. Francis typed all of his first drafts on the typewriter, after which he transferred his works its distressingly uglier cousin, the word processor. He'd been quiet since returning late Friday night. Gilbert and Antonio had been home, and Antonio was telling Gilbert about one of his regulars, a Belgian girl who came every Tuesday and Thursday. She always ordered the same drink, tall Caramel Macchiato. But today, she blanked on her order and he had to remind her.

In the afternoon, Gilbert begrudgingly set out for a long overdue dentist appointment and Antonio slinked off to Spanish Harlem. It was a calm December, the kind of day where you wished something could happen but knew nothing would, and Francis was still typing when the two returned at separate times.

"You're not going out tonight?" Gilbert asked.

"Busy," Francis explained. He wouldn't tell his roommates what exactly he was typing but he did let it slip that it was inaccrochable.

"Which is to say it will never be published," said Francis, "but alas!"

"Then why write it?" asked Antonio, who had never told Francis that he wrote poetry.

"Because publishing is not the point of writing, mon cher."

"No?"

"To write is to fulfill a higher purpose, it is almost a spiritual journey. You purge yourself onto paper, so that when you are done, you are looking at yourself. That is the idea. You've transformed thoughts, wants, and needs into words. I write to satisfy my inner longings and hopes and feelings, taking them one by one and manifesting them all into a beautifully written work." He had worked himself up quite well. It was an impressive display.

"In other words," said Gilbert, crossing his arms, "this is yet another sign that you need to get laid. Intellectuals." He said intellectuals the way a person might have said, "That person just came out of the restroom and he didn't wash his hands."

"You know, I could just as well ask you both why I've been left out, but I won't! I have more dignity than that."

"Left out?"

"You and Antonio copulate every Thursday night at ten thirty. If you don't think I don't realize these things, then you are poorly mistaken! Did I miss the invite or was it simply a closed off event?" he said tearfully.

"Oh," said Antonio.

"Oh," said Gilbert.

"You never asked," Antonio pointed out.

"That's right," Gilbert agreed.

"All this time, all by myself, I've had to deal, no, cope, with my torn feelings by giving them a voice, albeit small, so that they may sprout wings and thereby gain your notice in whatever shape or form! Pure devastation and loneliness have been my mentors," and he wrapped his arms around his body in loving embrace of himself.

"You've been writing porn?" asked Gilbert.

"Were you writing porn of us?"

"Aw, how sweet of you."

"I write tasteful stories," Francis insisted.

"Let's read them out loud then," suggested Antonio. "We can take turns."

"I'll get us a few drinks, heh."

"W-wait just a second here."

"Dude, we got any more scotch?"

"Not since Francis gave it away to one of his friends."

"It was scotch from the Highlands. I'll have no such drink in my house!"

"You mean apartment?"

"And isn't this our apartment?"

"Dolts, both of you!"

"But we can still love each other, no?" said Antonio. Then, suddenly: "I love you both. I love you even when you leave out the cream on the countertop and it spoils or when Gilbert forgets to flush."

"I do not forget to flush!"

"Oh, oh. Sure."

Francis made a suspicious little sound and Antonio threw his head back.

"What is this, a fucking love confession scene?" Gilbert quickly recovered and solemnly held up his right hand: "Guys, I have something to say. I'm so much in love right now, I'm gonna shit my pants. I might even have an emergency."

"You didn't do it right. You need to flutter your eyelashes and pout."

"Like this?" he even blushed.

"Oh, you shouldn't have!"

"I'm about to faint, my head feels light!"

"I'll catch you!"

"Here, let me serenade you. Because that's the solution to life, really, serenading."

"Let me sing you a Spanish lullaby. While massaging your feet and gazing into your corneas. Or was it the pupils?"

"Let me sing you some Rammstein. Or Wagner. Take your pick."

"Good God, what is going on and why am I still living here," Francis cried, and undid his belt buckle.

vii.

Imagine a ballistic pendulum, except with a coffee can as the pendulum and a crossbow as the shooting gun. This was Gilbert's physics analogy—not that any one of them could attest to it—in explaining why Antonio usually ended up with the blankets. There was some jibber-jabber of the difference between initial and final velocity, multiplied by the mass of the object, and somehow this correlated to Francis's snoring patterns and Antonio's systemic kicks that could be graphed linearly by finding the amount of force involved and the displacement of his kicks. Mostly it was an elaborate attempt. What was more important, of course, was the fact that the Sicilian boy whose name Antonio spelled correctly on the first try never returned. "Maybe he was only here on vacation," Gilbert said on reflex.

"Maybe he went back to Sicily," Francis offered.

"Maybe he died."

"Maybe he was deported."

"Maybe he found another Starbucks to go to," Antonio said sadly. "Maybe another Barista spelled his name right on the first time."

"Maybe," said Francis, "he simply doesn't like coffee."

"You think he didn't like my coffee?" Antonio looked heartbroken.

"You are despairing over nothing, silly pooh."

"That's right! Forget the mafioso. You've been Employee of the Month for how many months in a row now?"

"Five."

"How much money have you got saved up?"

"Um, four thousand dollars and thirty-three cents last I checked."

"How much more do you need?"

He paused. "A lot, that's for sure."

"Get another job."

"No time, my friend!"

"Why don't you publish your poetry?" said Gilbert.

"You write poetry?" Francis said, and threw a temper tantrum because Gilbert and Antonio were always keeping secrets from him.

"Um," said Antonio.

"Say, I'm hungry. Let's go eat breakfast. A real breakfast. Let's eat at the Colony. I'm sure you know someone there, Francis. Oh see, look, it's lunchtime."

"No money, no money. I got no money but I got your lurve, love! Oh oh rah!"

"Idiot, that's not how the song goes! It's rah rah not oh oh rah."

"It all sounds the same to me."

"Raising money isn't so hard. We can start a foundation: Antonio's Coffee. We'll make money in no time. What if we just ask Clinton? He likes foreigners, right? Are you ingrates even listening?"

"I'm so fucking hungry, man, I could eat five horses."

"Thanks, guys," said Antonio, and if they had been gal pals they would have group hugged before going to splurge at Sephora, but since they were not, Gilbert burped, Francis beat him for it, and Antonio began humming the chorus of Meat and Potatoes, only very much off-key. They rolled dice to see who would pay; Francis won the first round and Gilbert won the second, but since Antonio hadn't gotten his paycheck yet, the other two felt sorry for him and they ended up paying individually. When Antonio couldn't afford the third drink (or was it the fifth?), they left for a cheaper place known to be frequented by poivrottes, not that they meant any harm. It was a rowdy, small room and really, it was quite lovely.

viii.

What they had, they believed, was not love; it was something even better. Francis had yet to coin a phrase for it, but one day he would find the right inspiration and until then it was this: three and only three. In many regards, it was easier. Fewer secrets, more fun, and transparency is a beautiful thing until you realize you don't want to know every minute detail of your friends' intimate lives. Like when Francis, in the midst of preparing for his dissertation, decided to become enamored with his Anthropology friend, Arthur, and thought the world was going to end because Arthur rejected him for reasons too silly to divulge here. That took a long time to get him to feel better, though it helped that Arthur later moved to San Francisco for a post teaching Linguistics.

Antonio said that Arthur couldn't cook and besides, he was a lightweight. Francis conceded he had a point and that night, they picked up one of Francis's girl friends for a bender that started in Greenwich Village and ended in Trenton. In the morning that came as an afternoon, Gilbert remembered the running faucet he'd forgotten to turn off, and it was a mad mess of tossed clothes, crushed out cigarette butts, and one-dollar bills as they high-tailed it back to 2F.

As they were struggling with the key, the three new tenants in 2E were moving in. They were international students from Japan who were visiting America for the first time. Everything was a meaningful and exciting experience. Takeru waved hello to Antonio while Touji struggled with a box that appeared to contain three kinds of rice cookers. Kiku, the youngest but brightest of the three, was deeply engrossed with playing, on his DSi, Professor Layton VS Gyakuten Saiban.

Work at Starbucks proceeded as well. In March, Antonio created the most perfect Java Chip Frappuccino and as a result, found himself presented with a marriage proposal. He later had to turn down the person, the sweet Belgian girl who worked as a professor's assistant at N.Y.U., because Gilbert and Francis adamantly objected to her particular shade of blond hair.

"It's not that I've anything against blonds," said Gilbert. (He was, of course, silver-haired, like Anderson Cooper.) "But it's not the right kind of blond. You wouldn't look right together."

"And to think, how would you survive? How can you provide for a family when you live with two men and must continue to help pay their obscenely high New York rent that is too damn high? Think of the gossip! The scandalmongers!" said Francis, who not-so-secretly did not mind it at all.

"You know," said Antonio, "it was just a joke. I think."

*

Also, Gilbert dropped out of school once and for all; he was sick of failing organic chemistry and he was tired of paying for and attending classes he'd stopped caring about five years ago. So he began work as a DJ at a third-tier dance club on the lower East Side. His hours changed drastically. His drinking tolerance increased. He fell in love with a girl whose name he forgot to ask (since she had looked like a Melissa), and when morning came he remembered how much he loved Antonio and Francis. Nevertheless, there was a time (it lasted about a week) he hated them both because they had bought a new sofa without consulting him.

"That was my bed," he bitched and complained.

"Yes," said Francis, "and this is your new one."

Utilizing his new found appreciation for American slang, Antonio said: "So suck it up."

It was stiffer. And the pattern was simple. But the fabric was clean, the size was large enough that he could fit his entire body on it, and for the first time in God knows how many years, Gilbert slept for nine hours straight. He woke up to Antonio burning milk and Francis scrambling eggs. He yawned a bit and contemplated going back to sleep. He checked his phone and his voicemail was full of spam but when was it not? Making his way to the too-small kitchen in the too-small apartment complex 2F, he said good morning and pantsed his two best friends.