Nobody stared while Rachel and Ana Marie walked along the sidewalk, though that might've had something to do with the fact that nobody was out at this time of night on a Tuesday. Why Stephen insisted having an apartment-warming party on a Tuesday Ana Marie couldn't begin to guess (nor could she understand why he was having the party now, seven months after they'd moved in). She was pretty sure of one, thing, though.
They were definitely not going in the right direction.
Only the way Rachel kept steering her away from puddles made it really obvious that she was still paying attention to where they were walking. Arms looped together, they'd matched their footsteps, and the mist was starting to weigh Ana Marie's hair down. Rachel was warm, but she was starting to get cold anyway. And she'd been expecting food at the party so she hadn't eaten.
They walked for a couple more blocks in the wrong direction before she cleared her throat. "So … the guys piss you off for anything in particular?"
Rachel sucked in a breath and let out half a laugh. "I'd be bringing my girlfriend over to meet my boyfriends."
Their footsteps broke apart for a moment, and Ana Marie had to skip to get back into rhythm. "I could see how this would be potentially awkward," she conceded, and the corner of Rachel's mouth quirked. "Except I've met them all before and I've even been to the apartment."
"Not when everyone was there."
"I've been mauled by all the dogs."
"Anderson hasn't forgiven you for introducing Molly to chicken and cheese."
"Oh please, like Stephen doesn't cook for them when nobody else is around."
They rounded a corner and then another one just after that, swinging them back around from where they'd come. Ana Marie guessed they'll spend fifteen minutes walking before getting to Stephen's. She was going to be cold and damp and Stephen had better have food still hot for them when they got there.
Rachel kicked at a pebble. "This is going to be really awkward. Anderson's going to be all shy and Keith's going to be grumpy and Stephen's going to spend the whole time fawning over you, so I'll have to get out Jon's inhaler because he thinks it's hilarious when Stephen flirts."
Snickering, Ana Marie drew her coat closer around her neck and fumbled to button it closed. "I think you're forgetting the part where I've met them before."
The noise Rachel made faded off by the time they were at the next street. They stopped at the light, still arm-in-arm, Rachel's toes hanging over the curb. Cars eased by them and some jackasses sped forward to turn when the pedestrian light came on, giving Ana Marie time to shift her grip and slide her fingers through Rachel's before they began walking again.
"They'll understand," Ana Marie finally said. She hesitated and added, "They understand."
Rachel inhaled. "Do you?"
Ana Marie missed a step. Rachel latched onto her elbow to keep her upright. "Sorry," Rachel said, just the tips of her ears turning pink.
"It's fine," Ana Marie said, squeezing her hand. They took a turn that she wasn't expecting, and it took a few steps before she recognized the building on the next corner. "I don't. I don't know."
"I'm thinking tonight will help."
Rachel half-smiled and punched in the code to open the door.
Anderson was sitting in the hallway when they got upstairs, legs sprawled out in front of him and novel open in his lap. He looked up when Rachel kicked him in the knee, and for a second Ana Marie had a moment of 'huh, I didn't know his hair could do that' before she had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at his red ears.
"Did you get exiled?" Rachel asked, hands in her pockets. "Or are you avoiding carnage?"
He shrugs. "Keith and Jon got into an argument about baseball. Hi, Ana Marie."
Rachel shifted from foot to foot and scuffed at the carpet. "How's Stephen?"
"He fed your dinner to the dogs."
Rachel kicked him again.
He crawled onto his knees to get to his feet and shuffled in after them, carefully folding over the corner of his book before Stephen knocked it out of his hands entirely. If the stumble had followed through and landed them on the floor, Ana Marie would've called it a tackle, but since Anderson managed to catch himself on the wall the only word she could use was hug.
"I told Keith you hadn't run away," Stephen said.
From the way Rachel tensed up next to her, Ana Marie figured he was talking about them, but then Anderson muttered a word she didn't know he knew and batted Stephen away. He sighed and glanced at them, briefly, before shooting past and disappearing into the kitchen.
"They're here! We can eat!"
Rachel shot her an apologetic look. Stephen pulled out their chairs for them at the table.
"No no no no no--" Jon started, waving his hands around. "Stop right there. You're telling it all wrong."
Stephen, his head in Jon's lap and his legs tossed over Anderson's at the other end of the couch, sputtered. "You're so negative. Why are you always so negative?"
Jon's eyes flashed. "That's not what happened!"
"It is so what happened!"
She'd lost track of Stephen's story when Keith had interjected about the gas mileage of limos, like he would know, and when Anderson had calmly corrected him, and then they'd lost who knew how much time with Stephen teasing Anderson about knowing that in the first place. From the way Rachel kept hiding her face behind her hands, Ana Marie wasn't even sure this was a true story.
At first, she'd thought Keith looked a little lonely, sitting in an overstuffed easy chair in the corner with his legs propped up on the ottoman. Now she was pretty sure it was just pain from the dog pinning his legs to the leather. Molly was sitting under the rocking chair that Ana Marie was very. carefully. not. rocking. And she hadn't seen the other dog all night.
"I wasn't there, don't ask me to fix this."
"Jon's version is right."
Keith adjusted his glasses and shifted his legs a little, earning a glare from the dog. His circulation must've been cut off all the way to the knee. "Well, when you can start telling stories without contradicting yourself every five seconds, maybe we'll believe you more often."
"I don't hear anybody else offering up stories. You want entertainment, we either get six people to agree on one movie or you listen to my stories."
"I'm pretty sure the people in your stories would welcome me coming to their rescue by halting that charade, Colbert," Keith said. He raised an eyebrow along with it, which only made Stephen laugh and clamp his hands over his mouth.
"Man I'm going to push you off if you jab me again."
"S'not my fault, s'Keith and his eyebrow--"
"All right all right. I didn't bring Ana over to baby-sit," Rachel said.
Stephen grinned. "Oh Miss Maddow, do tell us a story," he chimed. Rachel made a face and he sat up, elbows digging into Jon's thigh with much protest. He raised a hand to snap his fingers and pointed at her. "Tell us the story of the Long Walk Home."
Rachel glared at him.
"What?" Stephen batted his eyelashes behind his glasses. "We were worried."
Rachel shook her head. "We took the long route back," she said, which wasn't entirely untrue. "I figured we would give you guys some time to calm down from the 'accidental' sugar high."
"I'm not buying diet soda just because Stephen can't control himself," Anderson said in a way that made it sound like this was the hundredth time that day he'd had to say it.
"But it's cold! You were walking around in the cold--"
"I can be very distracting, you know," Ana Marie cut in.
He blinked and grinned again. "Really now."
Jon pushed him off the couch.
Keith and Anderson shook her hand, and she even got a giggle out of Anderson. Jon started to go in for a hug and faltered, ending with some complicated handshake involving at least two high-fives and that Ana Marie was sure Stephen would demand they replicate at some point in the future. Stephen hugged her and said that Rachel prefers the left side of the bed, which earned him a sharp smack to the back of his head.
The dogs crowded in around the crack in the door as it shuts, confused about why anyone is leaving at that time of night.
In the hallway, Ana Marie clasped Rachel's hands in hers. Rachel squirmed a little but met her eyes, hers squinting behind her blue-framed glasses. Rachel's hands were warm, almost hot -- they'd shared dish-washing duty after dessert, some kind of pie Stephen refused to name topped with ice cream Keith had picked up from a local store. She squeezed Ana Marie's fingers and tilted her head to one side.
Ana Marie sucked in a breath and murmured, "Do you want to come back to my place and sleep?"
Rachel flushed a bright pink. "Ana, I."
"Because those guys are exhausting. How do you ever ever get any sleep?"
Rachel laughed so hard she had to bend over, her head bumping against Ana Marie's neck. "I generally lock the door," she wheezed.
Peering up at her, head still on her shoulder, Rachel squinted one eye against the light. "So it wasn't so bad?"
"Nah. I can take them any day."
The kiss tasted like no-name pie.
(And there were at least two wolf-whistles from behind the peephole, though it was kind of hard to tell.)