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Face the Strange.

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Shitty hates being mad. He hates the way it makes his chest feel tight and his stomach ache, how all his muscles feel tense to the point of snapping. How it transmutes his way of thinking into something base and spiteful, everything clouded. It makes him lash out in weird and stupid ways.

It starts with him being fucking incandescently angry at his father, but now it’s all falling back in on himself, and it transmogrifies into some kind of thick, pitiful practice in self-flagellation. And that’s why after he leaves his father’s house in a righteous fucking huff he finds himself back at his own apartment with scissors in one hand and all the hair below his ears clutched in the other.

This isn’t healthy, the shrunken, rational part of his brain meekly supplies.

Fuck it, the bigger, louder part he hates says, drowning it out.

The strands flutter away down either side of his face and it feels uncomfortable, wrong like losing teeth or having your nails fall off.

“Fuck,” he says, this time out loud. The haze of anger finally clears, but by then there’s a nest of brown hair in his fist, a snowfall of it on his shoulders, dark lines in the white sink. He looks up into the mirror again and his brow is hard and ugly, his lips pressed pale together.

He drops the scissors and the hair onto the floor, collapses on the lid of the toilet and cries.

It’s almost as ugly as his anger, but it feels a hell of a fuck better.

There’s snot. And lots of tears, and a little spit, maybe. Shitty doesn’t care. He runs his fingers over the messy chop he’s made at the back of his head and cries harder. He’s such a fucking idiot. Now he’s gonna have to walk around looking like a deranged fucking nineties grunge wannabe for weeks until it grows back to a semi-normal length. Or he’s just gonna have to cut the rest.

He can’t do it himself. And he doesn’t want to leave the bathroom, let alone walk out of his apartment and into a barber shop looking like he just tossed a pissbaby fit and hacked off his own hair. Which is of course what he actually literally did – but he doesn’t want anyone to know .

When he finally gets his breathing under control, blows his nose a couple of times and splashes some water on his face, he sinks to the floor with his back to the side of the bathtub and digs out his phone.

lards. i just did something really fucking stupid, he texts her.

Immediately: What

Are you okay

Where are you

In answer, he holds up his phone and sends her the most pitiful selfie ever taken. His face is still blotchy and his eyes are still puffy and red from crying, but he doesn’t care. It’s Lardo. She’s seen him through this and worse.

Oh my god, she texts back. I’m coming over.



1: Lardo.


She’s nervous in a way that seems ridiculous, standing there in Shitty’s green-tiled bathroom with the clippers plugged in over the sink, the small ambidextrous silver scissors in her hand. They’re not really meant for hair; they’re meant for fabric, but they’re the sharpest pair she owns, and they fit in her left hand. She hopes her hands aren’t shaking bad enough that it’ll mess with her trimming.

He won’t have anyone else do it, he insists it be her.

He’s pale and thin-lipped in the mirror, but the set of his eyes is determined.

This isn’t quite the first time. She’s cut his hair before – trims, mostly. Once at the end of his Junior year when she gave him layers like her friend Judy showed her. She cuts her own hair from time to time, carefully snipping each section until it falls across her forehead the way she likes. But she’s been letting it grow since the spring. If she does this – no, not if. Not with that look in his eyes. When she does this, it’ll be the first time since her Frog year that her hair will be longer than his.

She wets it, rakes through the uneven chunks he’s left, first with her fingers and then a comb. He’s sitting on the edge of the tub and she’s standing inside it. He’s taken his shirt off – he’s got a tan line around his neck, she notices. It’s the first time she’s ever seen such a thing on him. She frowns, but it only looks like concentration. She hopes.

“Okay,” he says, nodding to their reflections, but it’s quiet, as if it’s really only meant for himself. A quiet Shitty is never an okay Shitty, in Lardo’s considerable experience, but he’s already had this argument and she doesn’t want to be the one to hash it out with him again.

She sections off the longer pieces he’s left in the front, and starts snipping before she loses her nerve. Shitty’s hands are in fists, pressed to the tops of his knees. He won’t look at himself in the mirror.

Lardo concentrates on what she’s doing, making sure both sides are even. When it’s as short as she thinks it should be, she grabs the clippers, fits the plastic guard over the blade and turns them on. Shitty jumps at the sudden noise of the buzz in the quiet bathroom.

She cleans up the sides, the back of his head, the nape of his neck. It’s not a bad job. But when she finally finishes and looks up at him in the mirror, she’s a little shaken by how different he looks. His eyes are still hovering somewhere near the base of the toilet. She turns off the clippers. The silence is sudden and heavy; her hands feel raw at the nerves from the vibration, from the rasping texture of his hair.

“There,” she says, trying to keep her voice sardonic and light. “Now you look like a Harvard nerd.”

She hands him a hand mirror so he can check the back out. He looks up at his reflection finally, and seems to have the same reaction she did. He stares for a long time. Then he looks closer at it in the hand mirror. He raises a hand to touch his own head, and she knows the moment his fingers touch the strands that only then does it becomes real to him.

It’s bigger than just his hair. Lardo knows it. The haircut is just a mnemonic stand in for all of the changes he’s gone through already. Graduation, moving, law school. The Haus is gone, the team is gone, Jack’s gone. And now this internship, not earned like she knows he wanted, but given – forced on him, really, by his dad who has the unfortunate duality of never taking no for an answer and no qualms about making your life as difficult as possible if you do refuse him. Even if that life is his own son’s.

This is just another piece of himself that he’s losing.

“Thanks, Lards,” he says. His voice sounds almost normal, but his expression is full of sorrow. He sighs deeply before getting to his feet. Then he picks up the clippers and takes the guard off. He turns them on, holds them up to his face, and before she realizes just what he’s doing, half his mustache is gone.

Lardo is still standing in the tub. She watches as he finishes trimming it off, the shiny auburn hair falling into the sink. It’s the opposite of every night she spent perched on the lid of the toilet in his and Jack’s bathroom watching him go through his pre-game routine – hot oil and the special little comb and the wax for the ends that came in the retro-looking little round tin almost exactly the size of a puck. When he’d be humming off-key or talking about some article he’d read and she’d feel warm and content. Now he’s silently, grimly running his razor over the last rasp of stubble below his nose, and when she looks at him again it’s like she’s looking at a different person.

But he’s not.

He isn’t, and that’s the entire problem with him giving up like this.

She recognizes this as A Moment, the kind you only ever see looking backward, that you stay awake at night staring at the ceiling wondering what you could have done differently. But here she is standing at the fulcrum, her best friend on one end, expecting to overbalance the wrong way. This is a rare thing.

She hopes she’s making the right move.

“Hey,” she says. “I’ve got. Let’s smoke and watch cartoons, huh?”

When he looks back at her, his face softens, and the tension in his shoulders loosens a little. When she looks at him then, she knows she chose right, even as simple and common as it is. Sometimes you have to wrap up in something familiar before you face the rest of it. So you can carry these stupid little memories in your pocket like good luck charms.

When it comes to Shitty, her pockets are full – and here she is, hopeless and hopeful all at once, still trying to cram more in. She wishes she could explain why, but there aren’t words.

They take a few hits each, then huddle up on his secondhand couch and fire up a random season of Adventure Time. By the second episode, he’s zonked out. Crying always did make him tired. She leaves him there with the laptop still playing and sneaks away to clean up the mess for him in the bathroom. The less he has to dwell on it, the better.



2. Jack.


“You look like you did when we were Frogs,” Jack says.

“I look like my father,” Shitty says, with not a small amount of disgust.

“Or your sister,” Jack volunteers.

“Screw you, I couldn’t look as good as my sister on my best fuckin’ day.” Shitty leans back from the screen and ruffles his fingers through the short bristle behind his ears. Jack can almost hear it.

“My head is cold all the goddamn time now,” Shitty says. “On the upside, though, I don’t have to spend fifteen minutes brushing knots out of my hair after I wake up from a bad sleep.”

Shitty sounds facetious when he says it, but Jack knows him better than that. He leans forward. “You been doing okay?”

“Meh,” Shitty says, waggling his hand, then letting it drop to his chest. “Aside from the dress code at this stupid fucking internship, torts are fucking tricky as shit, and case studies are just hella depressing. It’s like every fucking week I’m writing my thesis over again. It’s just – a lot. And all at once. You were always so much better at managing your time than I was.”

“I kinda had to be,” Jack admits. “Managing my stress to curb my anxiety is like –” he smiles, remembering something Shitty had said almost a year ago now, though it seems like even longer. Surprise me and do like, competitive fucking horticulture. “It’s like gardening.”

It’s clear from Shitty’s giant toothy grin that he remembers exactly what Jack is referencing. Jack notes in his own mind that Shitty’s smiles seem a lot sharper and bigger without the mustache in the way – it makes his customary exuberance that much more pronounced. It’s funny, but Jack won’t say anything about it out loud.

“How the fuck is it like gardening? Enlighten me.” Shitty sounds indulgent and incredibly amused, and Jack is happy that he’s able to cheer him up, even with an entire country between them at the moment.

“You know. Like, make sure that everything you can control like homework and deadlines and workouts are lined up and corded off and tended to, so that if you get infested by bugs or there’s a panic attack monsoon or something, you can spend all your energy getting the disaster under control, and everything else is still in its place when you come to.” Jack sighs. “Does that make any sense?”

Shitty is nodding, stroking his upper lip with a crooked finger. His mannerisms still give him away as a man used to having facial hair.

“I get that,” he says. “Change the things you can so you can mitigate the things you can’t.”

“They taught us that prayer in rehab,” Jack says. “I mean, I was never particularly religious and I know you aren’t at all, but as a secular thing it’s still pretty good advice.”

Shitty smiles at him. “You’re pretty smart for a professional jock, bro. You go to college or something?”

“Fuck off,” Jack says, but it sounds nothing but fond. Shitty is braying with laughter, so Jack plays up his mock offense. But he softens up soon enough. “Bitty used to call you a casual genius,” Jack says.

“He’s ridiculous.”

“It’s true though. I’ve never met someone as, like, naturally smart as you.”

Shitty leans his chin on one hand, tilting his head. “Zimmermann, you trying to make me propose or something?”

Jack laughs, feels himself blush a little. He’s let himself go too long between Shitty’s bouts of platonic flirting; he’s not used to anyone talking to him like that anymore. “No, I’m just saying. If anyone can handle the constant academic scrum that law school seems like, it’s you.”

“You’re still a pretty good captain, you know.”

Jack rolls his eyes. “Yeah, tell Bellsy next time you see him, eh?”

Shitty grins. “I’m gonna hold you to that.”

“I really wouldn’t put it past you,” says Jack. “I’ve seen how you argue. You just might win.”

They talk a little longer, but Jack tells him he has to get to bed soon because of his game tomorrow. Shitty tells him he loves him when they disconnect. Shitty always does.

He knows Shitty took care of him when they were at Samwell. Shitty still takes care of him, honestly. He’s the first person Jack calls or texts when he’s feeling like he’s sliding back down into a slump, and Shitty manages to pull him right back up nearly every time – and the times when he can’t, he slides right down next to him and waits until Jack can do it himself.

Jack thinks it’s only fair that he take care of Shitty when he can too. He’ll never do as much for him as he’s done for Jack, but he’ll do what he can. And that means even staying up past nine on a game night to give him a pep talk about law school and make him feel better about his sudden lack of hair.

Before Jack plugs his phone in for the night, he texts Shitty: btw your smile looks bigger without that broom in the way. So handsome.

Shitty sends him a row of middle finger emojis, but then immediately after that he writes: FINE, I’ll marry you already! twist my arm why dontcha

Jack sends him back the emoji with its tongue sticking out, because it’s in his recently used ones since he sends it to Bitty all the time now, and because he knows Shits will get a kick out of it coming from him. He falls asleep quickly for once, his mind on his friends instead of worry about tomorrow.



3. Bitty.


This is Bitty’s third emergency ingredient run in one week; he keeps finding recipes to try that require more and more uncommon ingredients. He knows full well he always picks the more challenging ones when he gets himself worked up. But who would have known that Murder Stop and Shop actually stocked fresh medjool dates and locally-made small-batch lemon curd?

It’s Family Weekend, and almost everyone in the Haus has someone in town, plus the Tadpoles’ new additions, so people have been in and out of the Haus for the past two days. After a particularly brutal series of all-nighters – Bitty banged out the last of his homework using up what he probably figures is the last of his ambitious new-school-year-drive – then immediately applied himself to baking as many things as he could think of. There’s now space for two more pies in the fridge since Wicky’s little sisters came through and demolished the raspberry Danish ring and the last of the Oreo cheesecake. So it’s not like his extra goodies have been going to waste. Besides, he needs desperately to keep his mind off the fact that this is yet another last for Rans and Holster, and Lardo. He tries to ignore the fact he’s losing three more friends this year, because it’s silly to be sad about a future that hasn’t happened yet (even though he knows all too well already how it feels) and forget to live in the present.

Lardo in particular has been mysteriously absent all day, which is – he’s not worried, really, but it’s concerning in a way that makes his stomach ache. His instinct is to coddle her and cling to her and just bask in her presence for as long as he can before she’s gone too. But she likes her space, needs to be alone and away from the hectic excitement sometimes, and he knows her well enough by now to understand the value of her solitude. Unfortunately, it makes him dwell on her absence even in a Haus full of people.

So: baking. His favorite band-aid for any and all ailments.

All of this means he’s understandably distracted when he walks in the kitchen and starts putting eggs and butter and whipping cream away in the fridge, and doesn’t immediately notice the man standing at the sink, looking out the window.

“Oh!” Bitty says, closing the fridge door and straightening up. “Where are my manners? Hi, welcome to the Haus. You lookin’ for someone in particular?”

The man turns, and smiles. “Hey Bits,” he says. He looks incredibly young and familiar in a way that has Bitty running through the roster of Frogs and known team siblings in his head.

It’s embarrassing, honestly, the length of the stretch of time he spends staring at the man’s face trying to place him. Almost a full half a minute before it clicks – the voice, the smile, the familiar green eyes.

“Jesus in heaven!” Bitty exclaims, “Shitty!” His hands fly to cover his mouth. Shitty suddenly looks sheepish, and Bitty can’t have that. He practically runs across the kitchen to gather Shitty up in a hug, and Shitty enthusiastically accepts it, reciprocating by lifting Bitty clear off the ground. When he sets him down again, Bitty pulls back and puts both his hands on either side of Shitty’s head.

“You – your hair! And your mustache! What happened?”

“The flow is no mo’,” Shitty says. “Got a new job, got dress coded by my boss, got in a big ass fight with my dad.” Bitty knows there must be more to it, but that’s enough for him to know to let Shitty shrug the rest of it off. “What ya think?”

Bitty steps back, plays up his considering look (even though his eyes may or may not have gotten a little misty for a minute there.) Shitty’s trying valiantly not to smile, but it’s easier to spot his lips twitching without the mustache to hide them.

“I think I wish you weren’t straight, and had done that two years ago,” Bitty says.

Shitty dramatically puts his hand over his heart, but it doesn’t escape Bitty’s notice that he straight-up blushes right to his ears. “Bits, you absolute wolf . What happened to the southern gentleman I thought I knew!”

“You left him alone in a frat house full of jocks and bros, Shitty, Lord!” Shitty’s laughing outright now, full and obnoxious and delighted. “Really though, you look just lovely, hair or no. Though I do have to get used to it.”

“Yeah, it’s still a little bit of a trip even for me, looking in the mirror first thing in the morning. But I trust your taste in men, Bits.”

“As you should.” Bitty nods primly. “Now, lemon meringue, or chocolate silk? Nevermind, you know I’m gonna make both.”

He worries for Shitty – differently than he worries about Jack. Seeing him de-hair-ified is a shock, an all too present reminder that things change, and often all-at-once, and without your complete control. But right now Shitty looks much less sheepish than when Bitty had first seen him, and by the time Lardo comes in to meet them, he’s shouting about some corporate law douche he has a class with, and just how badly he wants to shove him off a cliff with great gusto. It feels just like it used to, bright and warm and easy. Even though Bitty knows he can’t keep it like this he’s glad it’s happening right now, and that Shitty’s laugh still sounds the same even if the face it comes from looks very different.





The show is in the Koetter Center, like Lardo’s Junior Show, but there are fewer pieces here. Where the Junior Show was a frenetic riot of experimental application often resulting in exuberant messes of color and sound and texture, the Senior Showcase is much more subdued. It feels more like an actual gallery; the observers spend more time with each piece, and instead of the high-ceilinged room being filled with excited chatter and laughter, it’s blanketed with a pensive silence. Shitty, early for once, passed by a knot of students near the cheese and fruit table excitedly whispering that there were buyers here tonight. It’s evident even in the quality of the work that most of the students have leveled up in noticeable ways.

Shitty’s always loved Lardo’s stuff. Even when she was a Frog, dropping water balloons filled with paint onto a nail-spiked canvas from the Reading Room, sewing together a tapestry of felt stars, or dripping a translucent pink wash over cutouts of gay nudie mag pinups – even the work she claimed was cliche beyond reproach, he loved. Shitty was certain that in a room of paintings of the exact same still-life, he’d love Lardo’s the most because she was the one who put the paint on the canvas. Because she’d explained once that it wasn’t what you did, it was how you did it, and why, and if you bothered to do it at all.

He’s expecting to see the seven-foot-tall nudes she’d focussed on most of last year, or even a revamped display of what he affectionately titles in his head as Things Unlikely to Be Embroidered/Beaded/Encrusted With Sequins, But Are. There is a pair of painstakingly lace-paneled BVDs laid on a table, along with one of the sequined jockstraps he’d helped her with, and other male-coded accessories either covered in glitter, dyed bright pink, or restructured with strategic cutouts. Shitty’s favorite of these turns out to be a pair of wingtips covered in gold lamè fabric with bows on the heels and the toes cut out. It’s all humorous and scathing in one fell swoop, and he loves it so fucking much.

Her paintings are a little more introspective and much less facetious. He comes across a series he hasn’t seen before. Shed , 2016, says the little description placard. Mixed media: oil on cotton, wood, glass, teeth, blood, hair. He spends a long time looking at them. Whereas Lardo’s work is often amusing or sardonic, these feel like they’re coming from a much different place. They’re like shadowboxes, almost – some hybrid of painting and sculpture. The painting inside is maze-like, and she’s included small objects at the center of each; there’s a little pouch of teeth in one, a tiny jar of pinkish liquid in another, and in the third a nest of hair.


Shitty steps closer.

“Don’t be creeped out,” Lardo says. Shitty whips around and she’s standing there, quiet and demure in a deep plum colored dress that matches her lips almost exactly.

“Is that my –?” he asks, reflexively putting a hand up to the back of his head.

“Yeah,” she confirms.

His hair is growing out again; it’s almost past his ears now. Another six months and he won’t look like the reject fifth member of an early 2000s boy band. He’s also been letting his facial hair grow in again too, though he hasn’t yet decided whether to go for the classic ‘stache, or maybe experiment with a more full-bearded look. Long story short, his new internship is much more forgiving in their dress codes, and on the super plus side, he’s using his growing knowledge of the law to help people instead of ruin their lives. So yeah. He’s in a much happier place now than when he first lost the hair he’s looking at.

“The teeth are definitely creepier.”

“They’re Bits’s, you know.”

Shitty’s eyes go wide. “That’s fuckin’ nuts, Lards. How the hell did you ever get Bitty’s teeth? He didn’t get into a fight or some shit, did he?”

Lardo laughs. “Oh god, no. They’re his wisdom teeth,” she explains. “He had them out over the summer last year. Saved them for me.”

“Isn’t he thoughtful.”

He could spend an hour easy looking only at this triptych, and listening to Lards go Full Art Mode on the description.

“I’m thinking of adding more to the series,” Lardo tells him. “I wanted it to be about masculine rites of passage, drawing a parallel between these types of physical loss and regeneration and the feminine rites associated with menstruation. The blood is Holster’s, from when he busted his knees open trying to jump over the porch railing. I soaked his gauze out in distilled water. Had to get a special permission from my advisor to use it, since it classified as biohazardous material.”

“I fucking love you,” Shitty says.

Lardo stares at him. She doesn’t continue speaking.

His words catch up a moment late, and his heart is suddenly ramping up into overdrive. He hadn’t even been thinking. It just came out – but he doesn’t regret it at all, he realizes. He means it.

“I love you,” he says again, before she can laugh it off or roll her eyes. “I love this. I love the way your brain works, and I love that you’re able to make shit like this so that other people get a chance to peek inside. It’s a fucking gift. And I mean that your talent is a gift, yeah. But more so I mean the fact that we get to look at what you make is a gift to us.”

“You’re rambling,” she says.

“I know. I ramble when I’m nervous.”

“No you don’t,” she says. “You clam up when you’re nervous. You ramble when you’re excited.”

She’s really, really close, and he’s gonna kiss her in the middle of this art show.

“I love you,” he says again, because true things should always be said in threes, and he can’t think of anything else he wants to say more than that. Nothing else is as important as her knowing, now, finally.

But now almost a full minute has passed and all he’s done is look down into her face as she looks up into his.

“Now you’re nervous,” she says.

“Yep,” he says, and is so, so glad that he has hair to run his fingers through and tuck compulsively behind his ears.

“You shouldn’t be,” she says. “Or, it’s okay if you are because I am too.”

“You never get nervous,” he says.

“Because I’m nervous all the fucking time,” she says. Her voice is low and Shitty wishes the room was louder or possibly smaller because he feels like he’s as on display as any painting or sculpture. Idiot , 2016 , his placard might read. Mixed media: oblivion, awkwardness, twill suit, silk tie. “I’ve always been nervous around you.”

“I never knew it,” he tells her.

She smiles; a soft, secret curl of her perfect purple lips. But it’s a sad kind of thing, too. He can see it in her eyes. “I never wanted you to know.”

His whole body feels ready to vibrate through the floor. He can feel the collar of his shirt pressing up against his neck, his feet inside his shoes, his hands suddenly catatonic in his pockets.

“I – I can forget about it,” he says. “If you want.”

He takes a step backward, but before his heel even hits the floor, she’s reaching for him, grabbing him by the forearms. It’s a gentle tug – there’s no scene to be made in the echoing quiet of the exhibit hall. He lets his hands be drawn out, up, into hers. It’s almost exactly like those few times, sparking and raw in his memory, when he’d convinced her out onto the ice. But now instead of her, it’s him on wobbling feet feeling like his legs will leave out from under him at any advancing second.

Jesus Christmas . He’s all in for her. Close the window, cash the fuck out.

“No,” she says. “I think it’s time you know.”

“Lards,” he says. His voice is squeaky and hoarse all at once, too quiet for her to hear, too loud in his own head.

She looks around, then tugs him toward the door at the side of the gallery. Outside the day is bright and hot, but the fresh air does a little to keep his heart from bursting. When the door closes, Lardo turns to him. She’s close again; he’d never realized how much space they’d kept between each other until it had vanished.

Lardo reaches up and runs her fingers through his hair. He leans into it, can’t help it. Despite the heat, he has to suppress a shiver.

“We wasted a lot of time, huh?” he says.

She shakes her head. “Nah. Still counts.”

Shitty feels dizzy, drunk, high – just wasted in the best way on the way she smiles at him then. Except everything is clear and perfect, and real. Her hand settles at the back of his head, and it only takes the suggestion of pressure for him to lean down to her, let her press her lips to his.

The kiss is soft, but plush, saying a lot but promising even more.

“Heh,” she says, pulling back. “Tickles.”

Shitty smiles wide, all teeth. He feels like a hiccup personified. This is real, this is real. His best friend, the person he loves most in the world. It’s just the same as always, but it’s completely different too.

“Am I purple?” he asks, and mugs a duckface at her.

She levels him with her fantastically familiar you kidding me bro? stare. “Dude, come on. It’s smudge proof.”

In demonstration, she lifts his hand (which, Shitty realizes giddily, she hasn’t yet let go of) and presses a thick kiss on the back of his palm. It’s just the perfect amount of courtly role reversal that makes Shitty want to gather her up in his arms and shriek with laughter. She knows him so fucking well. She does, she does, better than probably anyone, and she knows it because she’s giving him an eyebrow that tells him she knows exactly what she’s doing.

All he can do is look down at her and smile like a damn fool.

“Still nervous?” he asks.

She shakes her head again. “Excited,” she says. Anyone else, Shitty thinks, might miss the genuine meaning behind the deadpan delivery, the blink-and-miss-it stars in her eyes.

They go back into the gallery, clink a plastic cup of white wine each. The rest of the boys will be there soon, and Shitty doesn’t know how cool Lardo wants to play it, so he enjoys how close she’s staying to his side for as long as she’s there. He’s willing to take it as slow as she wants – he’s accustomed to following her lead, he realizes. He so often feels like he’s spinning around in the dark, but never when Lardo’s around. There’s some sappy thing he could say about her being the light in his life that she’d probably punch him really hard in the kidney for saying, but he’s never until this moment really gotten why people say that. He supposes these things are cliche for a reason.

“Hey,” he says a while later, sidling up to her and keeping his voice low. The boys have since come stampeding in, given Lardo all of her congratulatory back slaps and fist bumps and have moved on to guzzling free wine and taking selfies with her paintings. “How much are you selling that tryptich for, anyway?”

She cuts a look up at him. “It’s not for sale.”

“No? Why not?”

“It’s a gift.” She looks down into her cup. “For this guy I’m in love with.”

If Shitty’s heart hadn’t quite completely exploded with joy yet, hearing her say that sure did the trick.

“Sooo – Holster, then?” he says, because he can’t resist. “Or Bits?”

“You’re an ass,” she tells him.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “But you love me.”

She looks up at him again. Her face is so dear and familiar, but now every time their eyes meet it’s like he’s seeing something new. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of that.

“Yeah,” she says. “I really do.”

And then slips her hand into his.

This is definitely a change he’s going to enjoy getting used to.