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Frog year

Lardo had a crush.

She could deal with a crush. They could be fun, if you were chill about it -- a little harmless admiration getting your heart rate going. And she thought it was understandable, really.

Shitty worked the whole soft bro look, and he had a great ass (though nothing could hold a candle to the unholy glory that was Jack Zimmermann's butt, and Shitty would enthusiastically agree), and he was the first guy she'd ever met who could hold up his end of an incisive, if profane, conversation on intersectional feminism. He had -- despite her initial dubiousness given his volume, his interests, and his name of choice -- turned out to be a very excellent bro this year. He hooked her up with the most ridiculous work-study job on campus. He reigned supreme with her as the Haus beer pong all-star doubles champions. He held her hair back when she puked up the entire bottle of peppermint schnapps that she drank after Serena broke up with her. He glued all the stuff on her mixed-media sculpture final that was at tall-person level, and he cheerfully did it all to her stressed-out, exacting specifications.

That was fine. Lardo could deal. Shitty was a good guy and it was a situational crush, no biggie. She'd go home over the summer, she'd do her awesome study-abroad in the fall, and she'd get over it.

And then he turned to her at the last team breakfast before graduation, and he said, "Good news -- my dad called off the father-son bonding trip of the century."

"Really?" asked Lardo, around a giant mouthful of Cocoa Puffs. She was going to be late for her fencing final (bless Samwell's gym credit system) if she didn't shovel breakfast faster. "I thought he was really set on all that miserable white people stuff."

"Brah, it was your idea that saved me!"

She stuffed more cereal in her mouth and raised her eyebrows at him.

"Last week, you said it -- wait til he gets a load of what I'm gonna wear to go golfing at St. Andrews. So I started sending him pictures of some of my best ensembles--"

Lardo nearly choked on her cereal. Their backup goalie Jason, sitting beside her, started to laugh.

Shitty's favorite outfits included: denim short shorts, so many crop tops, a whole lot of lumberjack chic, at least four different flowered snapbacks, any clothing he could conceivably steal from Jack, and a collection of printed T-shirts that included gems such as "pizza rolls not gender roles," "Dedham Middle School Boys' Basketball 2009," and (Lardo's personal favorite) "cats against catcalls."

"--And what do you know, he canceled the whole thing," Shitty said, grinning from ear to ear. "You're a genius, Lards."

She saluted him with her coffee. "I accept payment in beer and waffles."

"You got it," Shitty said, getting up. "One waffle sandwich to go, coming up. Whipped cream?"

"You know it," she said, and they bumped fists.

The team's usual table in the dining commons was, by design, right next to the waffle making station. Shitty only had to take three steps to grab the bowl of whole wheat batter and pour it onto the griddle.

"So I'm gonna be around all summer now," he said, leaning against the waffle table with his arms crossed comfortably, like it was no big deal and he wasn't wrecking her summer plans to make money, get high, get laid, and get over this totally casual thing she had for Shitty.

"We'll hang," he continued, "it'll be great!"

"Awesome," said Lardo, and she viciously chewed the last bite of her cereal.

Shitty handed her a perfect foil-wrapped waffle and whipped cream sandwich on her way out the door.

Fuck.

*

"It's not a big deal," Lardo told her roommate Rebecca, who was sitting on her bed with a hand mirror, obsessively plucking her chin hairs, as Lardo threw the last of her stuff into battered cardboard boxes. "I'll probably see him, like, twice; Cambridge and JP are different planets. And we're friends; it's fine."

"Is it fine, though?" Rebecca asked, and her tone said, no, it was not fine.

"Yep," said Lardo, sealing up her boxes with a roll of packing tape. "It'll be cool."

"Uh huh," said Rebecca.

"I can hear you judging me," said Lardo mildly. She grabbed the Sharpie and started labeling her boxes. 'Property of Lardo - touch on pain of death and bag skates.' She doodled skulls for emphasis.

"It's out of love, girl; I judge because I love." Rebecca's stuff was already packed into two enormous suitcases and a few boxes, which she would load into her parents' car when they showed up later. Lardo didn't have the same luxury -- she was taking Peter Pan to Boston with a layover to change buses in Worcester, so she had had to get creative with her packing.

"Yeah, and--" Lardo started, and then somebody drummed a fanfare on their door. "Get in here!" she yelled.

When Shitty popped the door open, Lardo didn't even want to see the look that Rebecca was undoubtedly giving her.

"I'm ready to get my pack mule on, brah," he said, "and I brought some extra muscle. Hi Rebecca."

"Hi B," said Rebecca, who still refused to call him Shitty, and then Jack leaned in around Shitty. Lardo grinned to see him. She loved Jack.

She loved Shitty, too, but that was potentially more complicated.

"Hey," Jack said. "What're we taking?"

"Any box with a skull and crossbones on it." Lardo capped her marker and shoved her feet into her sandals. As the boys each grabbed two boxes, Lardo said, "I'm just going to the Haus to store some stuff in the basement; I'll be back to say bye."

"Okay," Rebecca sang, still searching for errant chin hairs in her mirror, and Lardo escaped with her backpack and a box of art supplies.

"She seemed, uh, nice," Jack said, as they made their way out through the freshman dorm lobby, and Lardo and Shitty both cracked up.

"She's going to approve of me eventually," Shitty vowed.

"You're running out of time there, bro," Lardo said. "We're leaving campus today."

"Next year," he said. "I've got a whole semester to work my charms while you're in Kenya. You'll come back and we'll be BFFs; you'll see."

"Gross," she said.

"There's not enough time in the world, Shits," said Jack, looking pleased with himself for the chirp.

"You dirty fucker!" Shitty objected, laughing, and then Lardo's boxes were discarded in favor of Shitty trying to aggressively wrestle and/or hug (hug-wrestle?) Jack to the ground in the middle of the quad.

Lardo rolled her eyes and stepped around them, smiling.

*

The Haus was in even more of a state of rickety disarray than usual, with the seniors not nearly as packed as they should be considering that graduation was tomorrow, and at least two of the frogs already starting to move their own things in. Lardo picked her way through piles upon piles of stinky hockey equipment, stolen lawn ornaments, and empty beer bottles, and she directed Jack and Shitty in placing her boxes in the emptiest corner of the basement. There was a huge collection of traffic cones down there -- either stolen or left by a former teammate who used to work construction jobs during the summers -- and she placed three of them around her boxes.

"We'll make sure nobody touches your stuff," Jack promised, because he was a very nice Canadian boy.

"That's why you're my favorite," Lardo told him, and she turned and put her arms around him. He went stiff for a second, like he wasn't used to the affection off the ice and coming from anyone other than Shitty, but then he lifted his arms and hugged her back. He was big and solid and he smelled nice, which was especially impressive considering that it was an 80° swampy central Massachusetts spring day, and he'd carried heavy boxes across campus.

"Have a great summer," she told him. "Do lots of stuff that Shits and I would do."

"So much stuff," Shitty agreed nostalgically.

Jack laughed softly, which Lardo always counted as a win. He laughed more, even as he tried to protest, when Shitty yelled, "Group hug!" and threw his body and his freakishly long arms into the mix.

It would be fine, Lardo told herself, as she laughed and elbowed Shitty in the nearest kidney. The summer would be great.

*

There were benefits to working at a Dunkin Donuts. For one thing: free coffee and doughnuts, even if employees technically were supposed to pay for their food unless they were on break (nope). For another, Lardo had been at one of the Back Bay branches for almost three full years and she'd worked her way up to shift manager, which mostly meant that she got to run a chill ship and make 75 more cents an hour.

There was one huge downside, though, and that was opening the store at five o'clock in the morning.

She was wedged into a corner seat on the first orange line train of the morning, letting the train rock her into sleepiness, when her phone started buzzing in her pocket. It had to be her mom, telling her she'd forgotten something at home -- nobody else was ever awake at this hour of the morning.

Lardo picked up her phone without looking and said, "Á-lô?"

"Lardo!" said a familiar voice, and she blinked.

"Shitty?" she asked incredulously, pushing herself upright in her seat. She lowered the phone from her ear and checked the screen. It said SHITS, so yeah, it was actually him. They'd texted off and on since leaving Samwell last week, Shitty sending an especially killer picture of a tiny hat-wearing guinea pig last night, but this was the first time he'd called. "Do you know what time it is?" She was actually kind of concerned for his well-being.

"Oh, fuck," he said, suddenly hushed. "Are you not working today?"

"No, I am, but what are you doing up?"

"Never went to bed," he said, which explained a lot. "When do you get off work?"

"After the lunch rush," she said. "Like 1 or 2."

"Want to chill?"

"Sure, if you don't mind that I'm gonna smell like glazed doughnuts, hazelnut coffee, and bleach," she said.

"My favorite combination!" he said cheerfully. "You want to hit the Museum of Science?"

There were a handful of other people commuting this early, spread throughout the car, but no one else was talking; the one woman sitting across from Lardo was giving her the evil eye. Lardo rolled her eyes and ignored it. "The Museum of Science, really?"

"Yeah, brah; I haven't been since I was, like, ten. It'll be good."

"Okay," said Lardo. "Sure."

"Cool! I'll come meet you. 1:30?" said Shitty.

Lardo threw up her free hand. Why not, at this point? "Okay," she said. "I'll text you the address." The doors rolled open at Ruggles and only two people stepped into the train. There was hoarse shouting on the platform behind them -- apparently the preacher who wore sandwich boards about the end of the world and screamed at commuters about the fire of God's healing love had moved away from his usual spot at Downtown Crossing and was getting an early start today.

Lardo gave the guy the finger out the train window.

"Get some sleep, Shits," she said. "We've got science to do."

Lardo herself definitely didn't sleep. Her store was tucked away on a weird little side street off of Stuart Street, so they didn't see the kind of traffic that the franchises right in Copley or the Prudential got, but they had their regulars and business was steady as usual. One of the new hires didn't show up for his mid-morning shift, which made the day especially hectic -- the high school kids were still in school for another month, so instead of calling in Yoacir, Mandy, or any of her regulars, Lardo picked up the extra slack herself.

Time passed so fast that she was almost startled when she looked up from the register and found herself face to face with a familiar mustache. "What's the hardest thing to make?" said Shitty, leaning on the other side of the counter. "Because I'll take that."

"Shut up," she said, grinning. "You'll get a black coffee and you'll like it." She tipped her head at Glendy, who nodded and went to pour a coffee. "What's up, dude?"

He was wearing cut-off shorts and one of those tank tops he loved with the gaping open sides, his hair pulled back off his face. He had dark circles under his eyes, so he probably hadn't followed her 'sleep' directive, but he was grinning back at her easily enough. "Ready to get my science on."

"Cool. Hang on; I'll be done in a few minutes."

Lardo ducked into the back to update the next shift manager on the state of the cash register (and on how fired the new kid was going to be). By the time she clocked out and changed out of her uniform, Shitty and Glendy were already becoming fast friends out front. Typical Shitty. Typical Glendy, too, really -- she was a sweet girl.

Shitty was listening intently as Glendy told him about the tough custody battle she was having with her kid's dad. Lardo knew that look -- it was Shitty's 'lawyer in training' face. He was a good bro and he had the best of intentions, but she in no way wanted him dispensing non-pro legal advice to someone she worked with on a daily basis every summer. "Hey, you ready?" she interrupted.

"Yeah, for sure," said Shitty. "Glendy, so nice to meet you; good luck with the court case."

"Thanks so much," Glendy said, and when Shitty turned his back, she made a comically approving face at Lardo and gave her two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Lardo slit her fingers across her own throat at her, but then Shitty was looking at her, so she pretended she'd been rubbing her neck.

"After you," Lardo said, with a little bow, and they took turns bowing and ushering each other out the door, laughing, while the customer coming inside looked at them like they'd been dropped on their heads.

Making their way through Copley station to get to the green line was dicey -- from the sheer number of people wearing Red Sox gear flowing around them, there had to be an afternoon game at Fenway Park today. It was times like these when Lardo was grateful for her six-foot hockey player friends. Shitty plowed straight through all the day-drunk bros and lost tourist families, and she stuck close and didn't get stepped on or catch somebody's elbow to the head, which was a nice change for being on the green line on a game day. They were going in the opposite direction, away from Kenmore, so when they managed to fight through the crowds and get on a Lechmere-bound train, it was full but not nearly as miserable as the trains heading the other way.

Lardo scrambled for the last available seat and triumphantly threw her backpack under it, then plunked down to rest her feet. Shitty took hold of the top railing with both hands -- it must be nice, she thought, to be able to reach it -- and comfortably leaned over her.

"Have you heard from Jack at all yet?" she asked him.

"Nah," said Shitty. "Last summer he tried to go all incognito for like a month, but I wore him down eventually. We'll have that beautiful fucker Skyping with us by June."

"Just get somebody to start talking about all the junk they're eating, on the group chat," she said. "He'll show up to loom disapprovingly."

Shitty cackled and pulled out his phone. "Holster will totally do it," he said. "That frog has no sense of self-preservation."

"Jack's all bark and no bite," Lardo said, waving him off.

"He was a little more bite last year," Shitty said. He was furiously texting. "You're seeing the kinder, gentler Jack Zimmermann. Jack 2.0, if you will."

Lardo found that hard to believe, but she let it go. "How's home?" she asked him.

"Mom's good," he said. "My dad's a dick, but what's new? It's not like I have to see him, anyway."

"Fuck him," she said decisively, just to see Shitty grin. "Now that you're out of that trip, what're you doing all summer?" A girl from Lardo's Impressionist painting class got a summer internship working at an art gallery on Newbury Street. There was a really cool artists' collective in Roxbury that Lardo would have loved to have worked with, but they didn't have the resources to pay an intern, so it was back to Dunks for the summer. She had a hard time conceiving of what you did all summer long if you didn't have to get a job to pay for your college books. Shitty certainly didn't have to -- his parents were loaded.

"Whatever comes up," he said, shrugging. "My dad wanted me to do an internship at my grandfather's office, but I'd rather shit spikes, so my mom helped me get out of it. Maybe I'll try to get an internship with the public defender's office or something, I dunno. I'm clinic escorting in Packards Corner and I'm doing Big Brothers Big Sisters -- I just met my kid; he's hilarious, it's the best."

"Is that what we're doing at the Museum?" she asked, amused. "Checking it out for your new little bro?"

"Nah," said Shitty. "I just figured it'd be fun to get baked and play with science shit."

She raised her eyebrows at him, and he waggled his eyebrows back at her until she laughed.

When their train emptied out at North Station, Shitty went up the stairs and threw himself into an entire empty line of seats, stretching his arms and legs out. "This is the life," he declared.

Lardo dropped into the seat beside him. He kept his arm spread across the back of the seat -- she imagined she could almost feel its heat on the back of her neck. Her phone started to buzz in her pocket with a whole bunch of incoming texts. Holster and co. were probably working their Shitty-orchestrated Jack-baiting magic.

Shitty reached into his pocket, but he didn't pull out his phone. Instead, he pulled out a couple of saran-wrapped little packages, and he handed her one.

"Brownies?" she said. "Classic. Whole or half?"

"Whole should be okay," Shitty said. "I tested the merch last night and it wasn't, like, kick your fucking teeth in."

Lardo leaned against his shoulder, watching the train roll out of the tunnel and the Boston skyline appear across the water, and she ate her brownie.

*

At the entrance to the museum, Shitty offered to pay as his treat, but he also stepped down immediately when Lardo said she'd rather pay for herself. She had always liked that about him.

She was already starting to feel a little floaty, and fucking fascinated by the temperature change from the muggy heat outside to the crisp cool air-conditioning inside, but Shitty was a man on a mission. He went straight for the staircase where little kids were running up and down, giggling, each stair ringing out a different xylophone note as it was stepped on.

Lardo grinned and hopped up, and they ran around each other and the kids (and a few other adults) on the stairs, laughing at the discordant crashing noises that echoed through the huge, open space.

When Lardo paused on the landing to take a break for a minute, Shitty stopped beside her and then took a deep breath, staring down at the stairs.

"Shits," she said, "what're you--"

Then he moved. He went back and forth four times on the same two steps in quick succession, then leaped down several stairs, came up two, then down two more, and down two more. He was playing, Lardo realized, the opening notes of "Fur Elise." He hadn't been just idly running up and down the stairs for fun -- he'd been tracking stairs to musical notes. He looked ridiculous, long limbs flailing everywhere, hair streaming behind him.

At the bottom of the stairs, he threw his arms up in triumph.

Lardo didn't just have a crush, maybe.


Senior year

Lardo has the very last scheduled final exam in the Haus, because life is cruel.

She feels that she has been more than fair in dealing with the sheer amount of noise that the boys are making. Most of the time, she's right there with them causing a racket, but right now she has to learn all of the material that she didn't read during the course of the semester. She needs to get at least a B on this final in order to maintain her GPA and keep the last year of her academic scholarship.

The crashing sounds coming from the attic overhead, the music playing downstairs, and the general loud conversations aren't helping. But she's more than fair about it. She gives them a chance. She closes her bedroom door; she sticks her earbuds in and puts on an Ani DiFranco album and pulls her sweatshirt hood over her head, and she grits her teeth and reads about digital design techniques.

That state of affairs lasts for about ten minutes.

Then there's a crash that shakes the entire house and thunders straight through Ani's voice, and absolute mayhem kicks in downstairs. Lardo rips her earbuds out. There's a buzz of excited voices and somebody is laughing, so presumably no one is hurt. She throws her book on the floor, stomps across her room, hurls the door open, and goes to the top of the stairs.

"What," she yells down the stairs, "in the fuck are y--"

The whole Haus smells like gingerbread cookies, and somebody has turned on the Christmas lights that Bitty and Chowder strung up in the living room last week when everyone was in the finals doldrums and they decided the Haus needed Christmas spirit.

And Shitty is standing in the open front door, still wearing his coat and covered in snow. He's also covered in members of the Samwell men's hockey team, though his face lights up and he shoves Ransom and Holster and Chowder off him the second he sees Lardo standing on the landing.

He's supposed to be at Harvard, taking his torts final exam.

"Lardo!" Shitty calls, and then he's coming up the stairs, jumping two at a time, and she shrieks as his cold body collides with hers and he tackles her right off her feet into the hall.

He does manage to twist so that she lands on him and not vice versa, which she appreciates.

What she doesn't appreciate is that he immediately starts giving her a noogie, right there on the hallway floor.

"Oh my god, get off, you loser!" she yells, laughing and trying to whack his hands away from her head. "Aren't you supposed to be taking a final?!"

"It was a take-home; I killed that shit," Shitty says gleefully. She finally succeeds in grabbing his wrists, and he lets her pin them over his head. They look at each other, for a minute, Shitty lying flat on his back and Lardo holding his cold hands down and sitting on top of him.

She lets go of his hands and catches his face, and she kisses him hard. He grins against her mouth and grabs her around the waist, and makes a very creditable attempt at getting up, while lifting her, without ever stopping kissing her. He doesn't quite succeed, but she appreciates the effort.

Somebody catcalls them. They should be out of view, for the most part, but the guys downstairs can probably still see their legs on the landing. Lardo gives them the finger even though they can't see it, and she lets Shitty pull her up to her feet.

They're still furiously kissing, lurching together toward her bedroom, when Bitty's door opens.

"Oh, goodness!" Bitty yelps. Lardo fucking loves Bitty. She loves her stupid boyfriend, too, and Bitty's stupid boyfriend, and everyone in this ramshackle house, in this moment.

"Bits!" Shitty cheers, and Bitty is really only safe from another flying tackle-hug because Shits has his hand on Lardo's butt and he's very goal-oriented (Lardo has always appreciated that about him). "How many fucking squats have you been doing?! You're a sight for sore eyes!"

"I thought he had a final!" Bitty says to Lardo, beaming.

"He killed that shit," she says, grinning back at him, and then she drags Shitty into her room and slams the door behind them.

"I thought I could help you study," Shitty says, as she shoves his coat off his shoulders.

"Liar," says Lardo, laughing.

"I had a whole reward system worked out!" he says. "For every chapter you read, I could--" She pulls him down and kisses him again, cupping his face in her hands.

"I want it all now," Lardo tells him. "I'm greedy like that."