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Laughter at a Closer Distance

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The thing is, if it wasn't for his nerves and all that, Taylor would mostly just be super embarrassed that he didn't see this coming. Maybe he should have known something was up when the cheapest dude on the planet invited him out for a roommates' dinner at a pretty nice place, but somehow he just forgot to ask himself, Could this whole thing be a ploy to get me to an over-priced restaurant that Whits'll never actually show up to because he's a douchebag who thinks he's helping things by setting me up on a surprise date with Ebby?

Taylor doesn't know how that question slipped his mind, but in the future, he'll have to be more careful.

"Pretty lame of him to bail on us," Ebs says, looking around the restaurant and biting at the skin around his nails. "I don't even know why he picked this place; he'd hate it."

"He hates everything," Taylor says, and he rubs his hands over the tops of his thighs. He knows why Whits chose this place; Whits chose this place because the only people who come here are on dates, and he had no intention of ever even showing up in the first place. "You wanna dip out and go get pizza or something before our waitress comes over?"

"Kind of," Ebs says. "But I also kind of want to know what the food is like here, so."

"Yeah, sure," Taylor says, his words kind of overlapping a bit with the tail end Ebby's, but he can't fucking help it; he's nervous. Which—he knows it's stupid, because this isn't a date, but it feels like one, and that makes all the difference. Real or not, Taylor had kind of convinced himself that he'd never have this, and now that he's in some swank restaurant, sitting across a table from Ebby—a table with an actual fucking tablecloth, and an unlit candle in the middle—Taylor's brain is sort of shorting out a bit.

And that's so dumb, because if Taylor was actually taking Ebs out on a date, he sure as hell wouldn't come here; he'd take Ebs out to play laser tag, or they'd go to the movies if Will Ferrell had something out, and then they'd share the Captain Combo and eat ice cream sandwiches at The Canadian Brewhouse, and go back to their apartment and get each other off, and probably take a nap. It's not even anything different from a normal night out with the guys, except for the getting off bit, but it'd be just him, and just Ebs, and that seems pretty ideal to Taylor.

Taylor's wanted Ebby for as long as he can remember, if not when they first met at hockey camp, then definitely after, when they went to play in Russia with the U18s. Ebs was just some kid with a gap in his teeth back then, and while he still is, now he's more, because now he's the kid with a gap in his teeth, Taylor's teammate and roommate and best friend, and it's crazy to think that Taylor could ever want someone else.

“This is probably one of those places that charges you like twenty-five bones for half a sandwich,” Ebs says, reading through the menu.

And that makes Taylor laugh, makes him relax a bit, because, “Dude, this place doesn’t even serve sandwiches. It’s all like, steaks and stuff.”

“Whaaat,” Ebs says, drawing out the a like that. “And no Kraft Dinner? This is bullshit.” He looks up at Taylor, a smile on his face, and Taylor smiles back, kicks him underneath the table.

“Fuck off,” he says. “I’m not the only one who eats that stuff.”

“No, no, I’m not talking shit!” Ebs says, laughing. He looks really good laughing, the way it shows his teeth and how it makes his eyes crinkle up in the corners. He just looks good. “I’m just glad I actually eat when we’re by ourselves.”

“Yeah, my mom’s definitely surprised I’m still alive,” Taylor agrees, and he’s good at this. He can do this, this normal banter kind of thing. It’s all Taylor knows with Ebs, really, and so it’s not much of a stretch; nothing's different, just the pounding in his chest.“ What’re you getting?”

“I dunno. Maybe the lamb? I’m intrigued by the bacon jam.”

“If I get the short ribs, wanna split ‘em?” Taylor asks, and immediately wishes he could take it back because, again, not a date.

“Yeah, sure,” Ebs says, like it’s not a big deal at all. And maybe it’s not; even though Taylor’s got his hang-ups, they’re still Halls and Ebs. “What about some sweetbreads? That sounds kinda good.”

“I have no clue what that even is,” Taylor says. “It’s not dessert? Google it.”

“You’re fucking lazy,” Ebs mutters, but he still digs in his pocket for his phone. He types around for a minute and Taylor just sits there, tries to pretend he doesn't notice the way their shins are crossed under the table. He likes the way Ebby looks like this, too, completely focused on the task at hand, even though the task at hand is ridiculous and doesn't really matter at all, not to anyone but Taylor, and even then not that much. Ebs pulls a disgusted face and says, “Oh. It’s like, pancreas and stuff. That’s nasty.”

And Taylor can’t help it; he laughs and asks, “Who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to call it sweetbread? I thought we’d be carbo-loading.”

“No, man, I’m actually really disappointed right now,” Ebs says, even though he’s halfway laughing, too. “I thought it was like, cinnamon bread or something.”

“Non-beauty move by the culinary world,” Taylor says, and then their waitress walks over, putting an end to that line of conversation.

Taylor orders his short ribs and then watches the way Ebby looks when he places his own order. He's got his head turned to the side, his chin strained upwards as he looks at her, and all that does is show off the length of his neck, the shape of his chest in his shirt, and Taylor wants to bite his skin hard enough to leave a mark, hard enough to say, I was here. He wants to leave marks wherever Ebby'll let him, and so it's simultaneously the best and worst thing in the world that Ebs is his best friend. Taylor doesn't want to lose that, to lose his best friend, it's just that he also wants his best friend to kiss him, to touch the skin of his belly, to give him a handjob in the shower. Biology gave Taylor these big lips, and all he really wants to do is use them to suck Ebby off.

Taylor wants everything, and it's hard because he thought he already had everything.

"Alright," their waitress says, clapping her hands together once, and it's actually pretty impressive that she doesn't need a pad to write everything down; Taylor can barely remember his own phone number on a good day. "Can I get you anything else? Oh! Your candle's out!"

She snatches their small candle off the table and then disappears. He and Ebs just look at each other like, Okay then, and Ebs rolls his eyes.

"No candle? What kind of establishment is this?" he asks, and Taylor's a split second away from saying, A good one, only then their waitress come back, lit candle in hand.

"There you go," she says, placing it back in the center of the table. And then she smiles slightly at them, like she has no clue who they are, and says, "I'll be back with your food soon."

"Thanks," Ebs says, but he doesn't mention the candle, doesn't even seem to care that it's there, and Taylor laughs nervously.

They're at the sort of restaurant that puts lit candles on all the tables and that requires them to wear clothing nicer than Oilers sweatshirts; they're on a sort of date, and Ebby is just totally cool about it all. Obviously it's not actually a date, though, and so of course Ebs isn't thinking about it that way, but Taylor is, and he always assumed that if he and Ebs ever went out—which would never happen, but if—that he wouldn't be nervous at all, because it's just Ebs, and Taylor's seen him shuffle into the kitchen at four in the afternoon before, still half asleep and completely hungover, buffalo sauce stains on his cheek and a look on his face like he didn't know what year it was.

Then again, it's Ebs, and so maybe that's why he's feeling like this; Taylor can fuck up with anything in the world and still bounce back, but if he fucks up with Ebby, he's done for.

Ebs is biting his nails again, relaxed in his chair, and Taylor takes a sip of water just so he doesn't say anything dumb. It's not even an awkward silence, which is both the best and worst part about it, but then when Taylor goes to put his glass down, he's not watching what he's doing and places it half on top of his fork; the glass tips over, spilling all over the table and onto Ebby's pants.

"Ahh—tidal wave!" Ebs laughs, pushing his chair back quickly to avoid as much of it as he can. Most of it misses him, but Taylor still feels like a total idiot.

"Shit, sorry, sorry," Taylor says, and he tries to hand Ebs his napkin.

"Nah, I'm good," Ebs says, waving it away and not looking up as he's trying to dry off his pants as much as he can. Someone who works at the restaurant rushes over and helps them mop up the table, leaving them with fresh napkins, and so both Taylor and Ebs say thanks.

When it's just the two of them, Taylor apologizes again, says, "Sorry."

Ebs looks at him like he's crazy and asks, "You alright?"

"What? Yeah, I just feel like a total non for spilling on you."

"Soft hands on the ice, but off it..." Ebs jokes with a What can you do? shrug, and Taylor's only ever slept with one person before, but he thinks he could have soft hands with Ebby, if that's what he wanted.

"It didn't get your phone, did it?" he asks.

"No, thank god," Ebs says. "If I passed Maggie on the list of Most Phones Lost Due to Water Related Incidents, I'd have to quit hockey and forever hide my face in shame."

"Yeah, but Maggie's an idiot," Taylor reminds him. "He went down the slide at World Waterpark with his phone still in his pocket; at least you couldn't get really chirped for this, seeing as it was my fault. Sorry, though, seriously."

"Dude, quit it with this apology shit," Ebs says, rolling his eyes. "You're being weird."

Taylor knows he is, but after a beat, he still says, "You're being weird."

Ebs laughs even though there was nothing funny about it, and he says, "Stop hanging with Schultzy; you're starting to sound just as dumb as he does."

"I got sick retorts all my own, bro," Taylor defends himself, but mostly he feels like he's trying too hard to be funny. Ebs just keeps smiling, though, rubs at his closed eyes with the hells of his palms like he can't believe what he's hearing.

"Who even let you out of the house?" he says, as much to himself as to Taylor. "You're the worst."

Taylor just shrugs like, I don't know what you're talking about, or more honestly, You don't even know the half of it.

Their food comes out not long after that, artistically plated on white, rectangular plates like it was something to be looked at rather than eaten. Taylor looks up at Ebs when it's being placed in front of them, and Ebs is already looking right back at him like he's thinking the same exact thing. It's nothing new, the way he's looking at Taylor like he's asking, Are you seeing this? but it still feels like being caught, and Taylor tries not to flush, grateful that the candle does fuck all to light up the room.

"Alright," Ebs finally says after a minute of them just looking at their plates. "How do you want to do this?"

"I dunno," Taylor says, because he was kind of hoping Ebs would've forgotten about the meal-sharing thing. "Just eat half and then switch plates?"

"Good call," Ebs says, and he picks up his silverware, cuts himself a piece of lamb. When he tries it, he lets out a sound that has Taylor gritting his teeth and bouncing his knee up and down, deliberately not thinking about it. "They really know what they were doing with this bacon jam thing."

"I hope so, because that actually sounds as bad as eating gallbladder, or whatever."

"It's pancreas," Ebs corrects like, You dick. "But you'll see when we switch; it's really good."

Taylor shrugs like he doubts it, or maybe like it doesn't matter either way, and just starts eating his own food, careful to leave half of it untouched. He wonders if Ebs would ever take a girl here, if he'd share food with her, too.

Taylor doesn't really know how he feels about that thought, but maybe it's written all over his face, and maybe Ebby can make some sense of it, because he nudges Taylor's ankle under the table and asks, "Seriously, you okay?"

"Yeah," Taylor answers quickly, looking at Ebs and then over Ebs's shoulder, and then back at Ebs. "Short ribs are top notch, too."

Ebby knows him too well, though, and probably sees right through that attempted conversation change, because he pointedly ignores it and instead says, "C'mon, Cheds. I'm being serious."

And Taylor just—maybe if he gets it out in the open, they can have a good laugh about it and things can go back to normal, to them being bros and Taylor pushing everything else down and away, until it's almost like there's nothing else there to begin with.

"This is kind of like a date," he rushes out, and is relieved when nothing around them spontaneously combusts.

"What? No, it's not," Ebs says, because he's always doing that, always contradicting Taylor like a year and a half makes all the difference in the world in terms of intellect. It's annoying, and not at all part of his charm.

"Bro," Taylor says, a little less nervous now, but that's mostly just because he's ticked off.

And then it's like a light bulb going off, like Ebs finally sees what Taylor sees, because he goes, "Wait—is this the place Jonesy took his wife for their anniversary?"

"Yeah," Taylor stresses, and then Ebs—

Ebs just laughs it off.

"I guess this is kind of like a date," he says. "Except we already live together. Doing things a bit backwards, you think?"

And the worst part about it is how that's exactly the reaction Taylor was looking for, only now that it's out there, he just sort of wants to tell Ebs that he doesn't understand. Taylor's acting weird like this because he wants it to be a date, and how can Ebs be so fucking stupid as not to know that?

Ebs knows everything about him; how the fuck does Ebs not know this?

He doesn't say any of that, though, just rolls his eyes and picks up his plate, saying, "Gimme some of that bacon jam, already."

They switch dishes, the small light from the candle getting blocked out as the plates pass above it, the light flickering and casting shadows on Ebby's face when it's back a second later.

Taylor looks down as he's cutting his meat because it's easier than looking at Ebs. He takes a bite, and when he looks back up, Ebs is watching him expectantly, and so he says, 'What?"

"Good, huh?" Ebs asks, raising his eyebrows in question, and the worst part about it is that it is. The bacon jam is surprisingly really fucking good, not that he'll ever give Ebs the satisfaction of knowing it.

"It's alright," he says, and Ebs smiles wide, like he can see right through the lie. He looks like he's half a step away from laughing, his top and bottom teeth all on display, and Taylor wants to press the pad of his thumb against the gap.

"You're such an asshole," Ebs says.

"No, that's Whits," Taylor says, but it's a knee-jerk reaction more than anything else; ever since they moved in with him, Taylor and Ebs have been using No, that's Whits almost like a That's what she said kind of thing, just to fuck with him and see how long it took him to snap.

Although—maybe this dinner thing is him snapping. Maybe he's just fucking with them right back. What a guy.

"Yeah, he really is an asshole," Ebs agrees. "If he doesn't have a good excuse—if he just didn't show because he's back home, skyping with that chick from the Columbus game—" he shakes his head, like maybe he's going to say that he'll be pissed, but then finishes, "I'll probably just laugh at him, actually."

"Yeah," Taylor agrees, even though he knows that's not why Whits bailed. It feels like lying, a little, and he hates it, because he’s not in the habit of lying to Ebby, except for about the one thing. "This is at least more acceptable than that time the Nuge went out with that one girl, the vegetarian."

"That's better? No way; at least the vegetarian lived here."

"The vegetarian was also crazy," Taylor points out, because she was; she called Nuge all the fucking time, really blew up his phone after they'd only been on one unsuccessful date. Jonesy found it hilarious, though, and kept calling her The Pregator, saying that if Nuge slept with her, it was pretty much guaranteed that he'd wind up a father and be stuck with her for another eighteen years. Eventually, Nuge just had to change his phone number when it was two months later and she still hadn't laid off.

Ebs is probably thinking along the same lines, because he shakes his head as he chews and just says, "The Nuge."

"So young," Taylor says. "So much to learn." And then because it’s only just now occurring to him, he adds, “Whits better not be fucking with the DVR settings.”

“Oh, he definitely is,” Ebs says. “He just has to look at the remote for it to delete everything.”

“Literally how does that guy exist,” Taylor says, and Ebs just shrugs, like it’s a question he’s actually looking for an answer to.

When they’re finished eating, Ebs places his utensils on his empty plate and leans back in his chair. His arms are crossed and he’s looking at Taylor, smiling a little like he’s got a secret, or maybe like Taylor’s got food on his face.

“What?” Taylor asks.

“Nothing,” Ebs says, shrugging a little. “I just—I dunno. We’re always with the boys now, but it was kinda nice being just us again.”

And Taylor—it’s just not how he wants it, doesn’t have any of the nuances that would be there, hidden underneath, if Taylor had said it himself, but it still means a lot, just knowing that the two of them are still the two of them.

“Yeah,” he says, and hopes Ebs gets what he means by it.

Their waitress walks by and, noticing that they’re done eating, stops at their table.

“Let me get those plates out of your way,” she says. “Any dessert tonight? Coffee?”

“No, thanks,” Taylor says to her, because they probably shouldn’t, and definitely shouldn’t after that meal they just had.

“Alright,” she says. “I’ll be right back with your check.”

As she walks away, Taylor takes another sip of his water and straightens up in his seat. He reaches up unthinkingly to adjust the hat on his head before he realizes that he’s not wearing one, and Ebs catches that, laughs a little at him under his breath. Taylor just rolls his eyes and rests his forearms on the edge of the table.

“Alright,” he says. “Rock-paper-scissors for the check?”

“Nah,” Ebs says. “I got it. I’m sure I owe you for groceries or something.”

“Oh, you mean that time I bought two bags of chips and corn dogs, and then got publicly shamed for it on twitter?” Taylor asks.

“Here we go,” Ebs says, even though Taylor knows he finds it funny as hell, and Taylor will never let it go, because Ebby said he didn’t want anything. “That was like two months ago, dude.”

“You are the worst person on the face of this planet,” Taylor says, even though they both know it’s a huge fucking lie.

And then, as if the universe wants to prove a point, their waitress walks back over and places a slice of cake with two spoons between them on the table.

“I’ve got your check with me,” she says, “but this is a slice of our gingerbread cake. Your friend called ahead and asked us to give you a slice with the message, Xs and Os, from your loving third wheel roommate.” She doesn’t sound nearly as skeptical about the whole thing a she should, which Taylor has to give her points for.

“Right,” Ebs says slowly.

“Thanks?” Taylor offers.

“Not a problem,” their waitress says. “Enjoy.”

And then she’s gone, leaving him and Ebs staring at this slice of cake like it’s probably poisonous, and Ebby is suddenly looking pretty alright in comparison, because Ryan Whitney is the absolute worst person on the face of the planet. Taylor likes a little chirping as much as the next guy, but this just kind of fucking sucks; sharing a piece of cake is what people do when they are dating.

“Mostly I’m just surprised he was willing to shell out for that,” Ebs says. “That’s gotta be—what? A ten dollar piece of cake?”

“Something like that,” Taylor says, and he shrugs. “Well, fuck it, if it’s here, I’m gonna eat it.” He grabs a spoon and takes the first bite, just as Ebby is flipping open the little book to look at the bill.

“No, wait,” he says, “we got charged for the cake. It makes sense now.”

And Taylor just—this whole situation is so ridiculous, and his head has been all over the place tonight, and he’s happy and with Ebby, and so he can’t really help himself. He just busts out laughing, louder than he probably should in a place like this, and that sets Ebs off, too, and the both of them are just sitting in this fancy restaurant that neither of them will ever go to again, laughing their asses off.

Taylor likes that Ebs’s immediate reaction is to laugh, too, and not to be embarrassed by how loud Taylor’s being.

It takes them a while to calm down, but eventually they do, and Ebs grabs a spoon and reaches out for a bite of the cake. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes are bright, and Taylor just fucking wants him, however he can get him.

“I’m determined to slam him back, but ten times harder,” Taylor says, still looking at Ebby, always looking at Ebby. “I’m going to order everyone on the team a Shake Weight with his credit card.”

“Those things are crazy,” Ebs says, and he laughs a little again, a quieter continuation of his laughter from before. “But I think actually Whits would want a dozen or so for himself, too.”

“When you’re right, you’re right,” Taylor says. “One for everyone on the team, and a dozen for Whits.”

“Such an asshole,” Ebs says, slightly under his breath. “We didn’t even want cake.”

“It’s not bad, though,” Taylor says.

“Nah, it’s alright,” Ebs agrees, and the cake doesn’t last much longer than that.

They do end up playing rock-paper-scissors for the check, although it turns out to be pointless because Ebby loses and winds up paying anyway, and then they head out together, same as they came. They bump shoulders walking through the parking lot, and after a few times, Ebs reaches out, shoves him, and crows when Taylor almost face-plants on the asphalt.

“Hey, whoa,” Taylor says. “Don’t break the merchandise.”

“The merchandise?” Ebs repeats, and he comes so close to laughing that Taylor wishes he just would. “Way to pump your own tires, Hallsy.”

Ebs climbs into the car before Taylor can respond, and so Taylor follows after him, slides into the passenger side seat and buckles his seatbelt. Ebs’s elbow bumps into his on the center console when he looks over his shoulder to back out of the parking lot, and so Taylor just shifts away, tries not to think about how he’d rather be leaning into it, instead.

Most of the drive is quiet; Ebby’s got Theory of a Deadman playing, and so he’s kind of distracted by that, and Taylor looks out the window as they go over the river, thinking about how ready he is for the night to be over. If it was anyone but Ebby—if it was a girl or something—Taylor would kiss her goodnight and then spend the next hour debating how soon is too soon to text. But it’s not anyone else, it’s Ebs and this wasn’t a date, and so none of that is applicable and Taylor’s ready to go back to normal, to them chirping and joking with each other, and him being okay with that being all that there is.

Because he is okay with it. Maybe Taylor would choose more if he had the choice, but he doesn’t, and Ebs is the best fucking friend he’s ever had; Taylor loves playing with him and living with him, and ninety-five percent of the time, he doesn’t even feel like he’s missing out on anything. It’s just that last five percent of the time that really gets to Taylor, but he does his best to push it out of the way.

He hasn’t even thought about any of this in a while, about being with Ebs, not until Whits sort of forced him to.

“Alright, are you done yet?” Ebs asks, turning down Jasper Ave, and Taylor doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“With what?” he asks.

Ebs lowers the volume with the steering wheel controls and steals a glance at Taylor before turning back to the road. He says, “I don’t know, but you seem bummed, and I don’t like that you’re not talking to me about it.”

“It’s nothing; I’m fine,” Taylor says, because he is. “Just tired.”

“Bullshit,” Ebs says, but there’s no heat to it. “I mean, it’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it—”

“Ebs,” Taylor says, letting his head roll to the side against the headrest so that he’s looking at Ebby. “I’m fine. I mean it.”

Ebs doesn’t say anything for a minute or two, not until they’re pulling into their complex, but once he’s parked in the shittier of their two reserved spaces, he smiles, says, “Alright,” like he wants Taylor to know he’s just letting it go.

The two of them climb out of the car, and it’s real dark out, the streetlights not really doing much. And maybe that’s what does it, or maybe it’s how they’ve got Ebs’s four-door in between them, Taylor doesn’t know, but at any rate, he stops, says, “Hey, Ebs?”

“Yeah?”

“You know how that kind of felt like a date?” he asks.

Ebs rolls his eyes and says, “Dude, don’t let it bother you that much; it wasn’t actually a date.” He clicks the lock button on his keys and the car lights flash once, and then he walks around towards Taylor’s side of the car so they can head towards the building entrance together.

“I kind of wish it was, though,” Taylor says before he loses his nerve, and it’s the strangest thing, the calm before the storm; Taylor’s not nervous about it at all.

“What?” Ebs asks, and then he’s right there, almost close enough to touch. His eyes are wide and he looks genuinely surprised, like he’d never even considered the remote possibility before. He’s crazy if he hasn’t, because they’re always together, and Taylor’s not very good at hiding when he likes someone.

“That’s why I was acting like such a non,” Taylor clarifies, and he shoves his hands deep into his pockets, looks over Ebs’s shoulder at the stickers stuck to a Range Rover window. “I kind of wanted it to be an actual date. Which—I mean, you wanted to know.”

“Oh,” Ebs says, and he just stands there, staring at Taylor with a slightly confused and astounded look on his face.

“Anyways,” Taylor says. “Now that I’ve made things weird—”

“No!” Ebs cuts him off. “It’s not—I just didn’t see this coming. I thought if it was anyone, it would’ve been Gags.”

“You thought about Gags being into you?” Taylor asks, and the thing is, he doesn’t even have it in him to be irrationally mad at Sam for it, because Sam is pretty awesome.

Ebs shakes his head, and he still looks completely taken blindsided by all this when he says, “No. I just always thought that if you were into anyone, that it would’ve been Gags.”

And Taylor just stands there for a minute because—well, yeah, Sam is great, but Sam is Sam and Ebs is Ebs, and they can’t really be compared to each other. No one really stands much of a chance against Ebs, and so he just laughs a little, embarrassed, and says, “Um, no. Turns out you’re the lucky one.”

“So… hold on,” Ebs says slowly, and he’s silent for what feels like an eternity, and he just looks at Taylor like he’s thinking real hard, but about what, Taylor doesn’t know. And then Ebs reaches out with one hand, places it lightly on the side of Taylor’s hip like he’s not sure if it’s allowed to be there, and he leans in, kisses Taylor on the mouth like he knows what he’s doing, like he’s thought about it before, when he clearly doesn’t, and clearly hasn’t.

Taylor kisses back because even if Ebs hasn’t, Taylor’s thought about it almost as much as he’s thought about the Stanley, and he pulls Ebs towards him by the front of his shirt. Ebs stumbles forward over his feet—maybe surprised by Taylor tugging on him, but who knows—and the two of them nearly trip and fall until Taylor backs up against the side of Ebby’s car and steadies them. Taylor thinks that it’s a miracle they didn’t end up on the ground, and he just looks at Ebs for a long second, his heart racing, before Ebs bursts into laughter; it makes Taylor laugh, too, just at themselves and the situation and everything.

“I’m usually much smoother than that,” Ebs says, “I swear,” and his eyes scrunch up as he smiles wide, shows off his teeth. Taylor likes that.

“I’ve seen you try to pick up at bars,” Taylor reminds him. “It’s like a domino effect of non-beauty moves.”

“Shut up,” Ebs says, and he presses Taylor back into the car, even though Taylor is bigger and taller. He starts to lean in like maybe he’s going to kiss Taylor again, but then he pulls back, asks, “Should it be weird that this isn’t weird?”

“No?” Taylor says. On one hand, it’s weird because Taylor honestly never thought any of this would happen; on the other hand, none of it’s actually weird, because it’s just him, and just Ebby. “I think you’re crazy if you want it to be weird.”

“I don’t want it to be weird,” Ebs says, and then he smiles like he realizes what a complete idiot he’s being. “I’m just saying that it’s not weird, and it’s not weird that it’s not weird.”

“And you chose hockey over academics?” Taylor asks. “The world is missing out on a brilliant mind.”

Ebs laughs again, but it’s so different, his laugh from this distance; it’s so much better up close.

“Shut the fuck up,” he says, and he’s still laughing when he leans in and up to kiss Taylor again.

It’s not even that spectacular of a kiss, not that Taylor really has all that much to compare it to, but they’re new to each other like this, and it’s good anyways, because it’s them. Ebs has one hand still on Taylor’s hip, the fingers of his other hand curled loosely into the pocket of Taylor’s pants, and it’s just really fucking nice that it’s actually happening, the slide of their lips, the way Ebby’s chest feels pressed against his.

Taylor wants to pull him closer, and the only reason he doesn’t is because it’s so new, and he doesn’t really know if that’s okay or not. Ebby could do whatever, though, and it’d be okay with Taylor, so maybe it’s the same the other way around; Taylor doesn’t know.

They pull apart a few minutes later, and it’s really embarrassing, actually, just how happy Taylor is. He can’t stop smiling, and he tries to hide it a little by biting his lip.

“Your mouth is the worst,” Ebs says, smiling.

Your mouth is the worst,” Taylor shoots back, and he sort of makes the half-hearted motion like he's going to flick Ebby in the teeth. It completely ruins whatever kind of moment they had going for them, which actually—it sort of makes the moment, actually.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Ebs asks, laughing, and Taylor’s gearing up to say, We don’t have time to get into that, or maybe just to kiss him again, but then there’s the sound of sneakers hitting asphalt, and so he doesn’t.

“You’re both the worst,” Whits says, because of course it’s Whits. “Just to clear that up for you.”

He’s not wearing a jacket, but it looks like maybe he put a little effort in, because he’s wearing a scarf, and he thinks women like that, or something. And he doesn’t even say anything about the fact that he essentially just busted them making out against Ebs’s car, just unlocks his own car two spots down and opens the door.

“I’m running to the grocery store,” he says, climbing in. “You want any chips or corn dogs or anything?”

And Taylor just—Taylor just starts laughing, because it’s all so ridiculous. Whits masterminds this entire night, pretty much granting himself chirping rights for the rest of eternity over it, and then instead chooses to chirp them for something that happened months ago, and that he wasn’t even there for. It’s just such a Ryan Whitney thing to do, and Taylor appreciates that in a third wheel roommate.

“Get outta here,” Taylor says, and Whits at least listens to that. He starts his car, and then there’s like five minutes of him adjusting and readjusting his mirrors, but then he pulls out and drives away, and it’s just Taylor and Ebs again, staring out at the parking lot.

Taylor looks at Ebs, who’s kind of looking a little thrown off again, and he thinks that maybe he should tell Ebs that it’s okay, that Whits already knew and that he doesn’t care, and that actually this whole non-date thing was his idea. He opens his mouth to say it, too, but then Ebs beats him to the punch.

“Did you get a load of that scarf he was wearing?” Ebs asks, like that’s the only thing worrying him, and maybe it is.

Taylor just shakes his head, although it’s not at Ebs, and says, “That guy.”

Ebs rolls his eyes and looks Taylor, and he smiles again, a small one that’s just for the two of them.

“C’mon, let’s go inside,” he says, and it sounds like a promise.