The party was in full swing. All Dory’s family and friends were here, as well as almost the entire apartment building. Everyone was brimming with excitement for when Dory would arrive and generally having fun, well everyone except for one person: Marlin.
Marlin had been stressed all day, as he usually was, and was currently madly putting coasters under all the cups, even some empty ones…
“Dad everything’s fine, relax.” Nemo said sunnily, suddenly at his side as he began to zealously polish the punch bowl.
“Oh what? Yes, yes Nemo I know. I’m fine.” He said, not sounding all that fine as he kept scrubbing, only being shaken from the action by the sound of the door opening, his eyes widening. But instead of Dory entering it was her parent’s Jenny and Charlie, smiling warmly. Marlin went back to the punch bowl.
“Dad it’s fine, everything came out great. Hank is going to text us before they leave and Bailey going to alert us when she’s coming, you know that.” Nemo said gesturing to the bay window where Bailey stood positioned strategically, the spectacled man waved goofily before turning back to the window.
“I know, I know…” He started before they were interrupted by the crushing dual embraces of Dory’s parents.
“Oh my goodness Marlin!” Jenny enthused, “everything looks so wonderful!”
“Good to see you Nemo!” Charlie said happily, ruffling the boy’s hair.
After Charlie took his turn hugging the “host”, despite Marlin trying to go for a handshake fruitlessly, Jenny locked eyes with him once more.
“Oh Marlin I just want to thank you.”
“You’ve been such a wonderful friend to our daughter. There was a time where we worried…” Her voice faltered, Charlie putting his hand on her shoulder, “we worried about her a lot. But you and Nemo having taken her into your lives and she’s just blossomed.” The older woman finished with a teary smile.
“She’s given us, as much or more than we’ve given her.” Marlin awkwardly smiled back, Nemo nodding along with him. Jenny and Charlie shared a look with each other before looking back at Marlin knowingly.
Elsewhere at the party a group had gathered to watch these four interact: Peach, Bo, Destiny, Gregory, Luke, Rudd and Bubba all looked on Marlin, Nemo and Dory’s parents with curiosity.
“I wonder if they’re talking about, what I think they’re talking about.” Gregory pondered in a somber monotone.
“Marlin is still deep in denial mate, those two won’t drag it out of him.” Rudd scoffed leaning on Luke’s shoulder. Luke, for his part, laughed and kissed to the top of Rudd’s head.
“I wish…” Peach started wistfully, “I mean they’d be so happy. They’re practically a married couple already.”
“Wait you think they’re in love?” Bubba gasped practically all in one breath.
“Of course! Are you blind?” Bo laughed thunderously before stifling himself, ashamedly, and looking at the smaller woman to his left, “Sorry Destiny.”
“That’s okay Bo, I’m used to it.” The legally blind woman smiled at what she thought was Bo but was really a houseplant.
“No but…” Bubba fidgeted, “I don’t think Dory… likes Marlin like that. You’ve known her longer than anyone.” Bubba said turning back to Destiny.
“Well yeah she’s never really had a boyfriend but…”
“You’ve known her since you were kids and now she’s in her mid-thirties and she’s been single the entire time. What does that tell you?” Gil said in his intense voice, suddenly appearing as if from nowhere behind Peach, putting his arms around her stomach as he did so. Peach was the only one of the group not startled by her husband’s sudden appearance, she just smiled as she playfully swatted him on his head as he rested it on her shoulder.
“Some people are late bloomers.” She chided him, “Look at Deb.” She smiled motioning to their old friend Deb who was chatting incessantly with her ever silent girlfriend Becky looking cross-eyed back at her. “It took Dory, herself, introducing them at her out patient psych group to get her out of her own head. She hardly ever brings up Flo anymore.”
“Look she’s only half the problem.” Gregory bemoaned, “Marlin will never get out of his own way and you know it.” He sighed. Bo looked at him disapprovingly.
“Don’t let him talk you out of it Peach you’re right.” Destiny smiled though she was actually facing Bubba, “I know what I said but I’ve always thought someone would come along that would be just right for Dory.” They all smiled and played along, knowing that without Bailey by her side Destiny was pretty stubbornly useless when it came to seeing and direction in general.
“I’m telling you I think Dory isn’t interested in people like Marlin,” He said awkwardly looking back in Becky and Deb’s direction for emphasis.
“Hey when I said she’d never had a boyfriend, I meant to imply she’d never had a girlfriend either.” Destiny smirked.
“Maybe she’s happy alone?” Gregory said sullenly, “Some people are.” He said as depressed as a sentence like that called for, perking up a bit only when he saw the building maintenance man Jacques walked toward the refreshment table. “Listen I’d love to talk about lost causes but I need to catch Jacques.” They all looked that germaphobe knowingly, “He won’t return my calls anymore and I really need my apartment looked at…” With that he ran off.
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Bo boomed.
“Maybe he’s right? In his own way. There’s no saying a person /has/ to be part of a couple.” Bubba took a sip of his drink.
“Bollocks.” Luke laughed, “My life was in the gutter till I snapped up this one.” He said slinging his arm around Rudd’s waist, pulling him in close.
“Yeah we’re pretty perfect.” Rudd smiled kissing his boyfriend’s cheek.
“Well Misters Perfect I hate to bust up your self-aggrandized image of yourselves but Gerald’s here.” Peach smirk waving her drink vaguely behind them. Both of the English men got very heated, very quickly.
“What!” Rudd snapped, while Luke pulled aggressively him towards him even closer. They both took turns looking over at the gangly man who was talking with Crush and shouting their outrage at the group.
“How could Marlin invite him?” Luke raged, “After he tried to break into our house!”
“He didn’t try to break into your…” Destiny started but was cut off as they continued ranting.
“After what happened there is no going back!” Rudd snapped.
“He dare show his face!” Luke said matching his boyfriend’s volume and raising it.
“Guys!” Gil shouted, “Reign it in. Listen he dated Rudd, BRIEFLY” He clarified as he saw they were about to implode again, “It went really badly we know. You two got together and he didn’t handle it well, we also know that. He DID NOT try to break into your house, he tried to slip an apology note into your open window for god’s sake. He lives in the very next house, you’re going to see him occasionally…” The scarred man sighed.
“Nevertheless” Rudd started only for Luke to take his hand.
“We’re gonna go get another drink.” Luke said with finality as they stormed off.
“Maybe people are better off alone.” Bubba sighed, causing Bo to look at him very intently and very sadly.
“And maybe not.” Peach countered kissing Gil on the forehead.
Little did they know that most of their conversation had been overheard by Marlin, his encounter with Dory’s parents long since over which went unnoticed by the gossipers as their own drama boiled over. He wandered away before they spotted him and walked back towards the hall, away from the assorted revelers. They’re entire conversation was practically a play by play of his own inner monologue. He’d been wrestling with this ‘something’ between him and Dory for a long time now.
He found himself pacing near the rear bathroom, his thoughts storming in his head.
At first she annoyed the hell out of him but somehow… over time, as she insisted on helping him over and over even as he practically begged her not to, as she bonded with Nemo who adored her beyond words, as she came to live in the apartment just across the hall, openly admitting she chose it to be near him. No games or coyness, he wasn’t used to that. He was comfortable with his cynical world view and she insisted on shaking him from it.
But even with all this openness, her lack of filter, she never once expressed any interest in taking things further.
He should say something, do something, but he just couldn’t get passed this wall of doubt in his mind: he felt like he was repeatedly bashing his head against it.
Suddenly the toilet flushed taking Marlin by surprise as he thought he had been alone. Crush walked out wiping his hands, his usual bright smile on his face.
“Dude!” He said in his usual Californian twang.
“Oh, Crush hey.” Marlin stammered.
“All free.” He said extending his arm in a “after you” gesture.
“No, no, I don’t need to… I mean, I was just thinking.”
“Ah.” The surfer said knowingly, “Thinking about Dory? Eh?”
“It’s so obvious Jellyman.”
“…What do you think I should do? I mean I just, I can’t decide. What if she doesn’t want what I want or what if she does and I don’t really want that or I’m not ready for that?”
“Dude. We’re never ready for life. Life surprises you, so you should surprise life! Sometimes you’ve got to stop overthinking things and just go for it. When you know, you know!” He clapped Marlin on the shoulder again, a little harder than the studious man would like but his words had hit just as clear. Marlin knew.