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Three's Company

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Her dress was laid on the bed, flat and wrinkle-free. She’d ironed it and left it hanging off the closet door for three days in preparation. Her shoes were on top of the shoebox by the armoire, freshly buffed and polished after the unfortunate incident with the dog and trash can. She was already wearing her stockings and corset, sitting primly on an absurdly decorative stool in front of the bathroom mirror. With a delicate and unwavering hand, she applied her eyeliner.

She was almost ready to go.

Pari leaned away from the mirror, squinted at her reflection. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this color. She’d wanted to try something new, something bold, but she was so used to wearing muted colors that this shade of blue just looked…almost clownish. She wrinkled her nose. It would have to do now, wouldn’t it? She didn’t have time to redo her entire ensemble.

She’d been planning this date for nearly a month now. There was no way she was going to let it go down the drain because she wasn’t feeling this new makeup. Tests and family emergencies and stomach viruses had pushed their “anniversary” so far out that they couldn’t even reasonably call it “belated” anymore. It was their “anniversary and then some.”

All the more reason to look nice, though. He’d really like this shade of blue, if she could figure out how to make it look less ridiculous.

Her phone buzzed, twice in quick succession. She eyeballed her reflection for a few more seconds before grabbing it. Two messages, two senders. One from WV, one from AR. WV’s first.

HEY, I’M ON MY WAY. ARE YOU READY?

She couldn’t help smiling to herself. Punctual as always, her beloved. She was sure he would knock on her door the second she finished dressing up. Before she replied, she checked AR’s message.

hey i am a few minutes away. got tied up at work and will be a bit late. looking forward to tonight though <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <# <3 <3

Oh.

Huh.

She put the eyeliner down and devoted full attention to her phone. She checked one message, then the other. Yup. They were both definitely sent today. Both definitely sent right now. Both definitely meant for her. Both definitely referencing taking her on a date.

Uh-oh.

She stared apprehensively at her phone, switching between the two message threads quickly. This couldn’t be right. Surely AR was confused. They didn’t have a date tonight. She had a date with WV tonight! She thought back on the last time she’d seen the two men, going over their parting conversations. Uh-oh.

She ran from the bathroom with all the grace and speed of a four-consecutive-year hurdle champion, leaping over piles of books and clothes and boxes, sidestepping cat and dog and empty aquarium.

She checked her calendar, the one hanging beside the door that reminded her of important things, mostly related to work, placed in such a way that she had to look at it every day when she left. It was still on August, which wasn’t helpful, and she took a moment to struggle to take it down and turn it to the right month. She put it back up and traced her finger over the days one by one.

There it was. Yesterday’s date, October 22nd, and written in bright blue glittery marker, circled once and underlined twice: “ANNIVERSARY” DATE WITH WV 6PM DRESS REALLY NICE!!!” And then, in thin blue pencil, an arrow moving the event to the following day with the note (big study on sat. move date to sun.)” written just below it.

Uh-oh.

She swallowed, and looked at her phone again. She opened the calendar, and scrolled to find today’s date. Yup. There it was. Today’s date, October 23rd, and typed in flowery red script (she never figured out how to do that; he was so much better with technology than she was), marked with High Importance: date night with ar 5:30p byob

Uh-oh.

She looked at the clocks, both the digital one in the kitchen and the analogue one above the door. Both read 5:17. If Wafai was just now leaving his lab, he’d be here in about twenty minutes. If Andre was just now leaving his apartment, he’d be here in about ten minutes, with no traffic.

She opened a group message, chewing on her bottom lip apprehensively. It tasted like green apples.

Hey, guys. Funny story.

She regretted it as soon as she sent it. That was definitely the wrong way to open this conversation. And anyway, Andre wouldn’t pick up his phone while he was driving. Not unless she called him. Assuming he had his Bluetooth. Well. At least she knew Wafai would get the message. He didn’t care about texting and driving.

Well, it was worth a shot. She sent a quick text anyway, explaining,

I may have accidentally planned all of our dates on the same night. The original plan was to see W yesterday night and A tonight, but W and I ended up postponing until tonight. Which means W and I have reservations for 6:15 and A and I have reservations for 6 across town. Please respond when you can.

She paused, thought for a moment.

Don’t text and drive, please.

Only a few seconds later, though, she had a reply, a private message from Wafai.

FUCK.

ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE?

I’m positive. I’ve got our date at 6 and a date with AR at 6:15.

FUCK.

DON’T PANIC. I CAN THINK OF A WAY TO MAKE THIS WORK.

FUCK. HE PROBABLY MADE RESERVATIONS TOO. HE DOESN’T HALF ASS ANY SINGLE THING.

WHICH OF US HAVE PLANS EARLIER?

WAIT FUCK YOU ALREADY TOLD ME THAT.

DO YOU WANT ME TO TURN AROUND? WE CAN DO THIS ANOTHER TIME. WE CAN FIGURE SOMETHING OUT.

Wafai’s anxiety was contagious. She let out a soft whine and began to pace as much as she could in the narrow hallway. Before she could formulate a response, her phone buzzed several times in quick succession.

GIVE ME A SECOND. I’LL FIGURE THIS OUT. I CAN DEFINITELY FIGURE OUT A WAY TO MAKE THIS NOT A DISASTER.

PUT YOUR TRUST IN THE MAYOR.

I WAS VOTED MAYOR OF THIS TRIUMVERATE FOR A REASON AND IT WAS MY PEERLESS INTELLECT AND GRACE UNDER PRESSURE.

WHY DON’T ANDRE ANSWER HIS FUCKING PHONE.

Andre was still under radio silence. Pari didn’t expect him to text back, or even read his texts, until he arrived.

Oh God, did she call him? She felt a flutter in her stomach, shame and amusement and guilt and anxiety. What the hell was she supposed to say? How the hell did she even explain this?

Oh, this was ridiculous.

She dialed Andre. With every ring, her heart pounded harder, and she brought her palm to her forehead. (She almost started rubbing at her eyes, but remembered last minute what a mistake that would be. This blue would look even worse smeared all over her fucking face.)

“Why are you calling me when I’m driving?” was how he opened the conversation, firm but not unkind. That was Andre in a nutshell, really. Very firm, very strict…but not without kindness.

Agh. Focus, Pari. Not the time to wax romantic.

“I also texted you,” she pointed out, rather than getting straight to the point, “but I figured this was safer. I don’t want you to text and drive.”

“Well. That was very considerate of you.” She could hear the soft hum of traffic, and the distant honk of a very displeased driver, and the soft buzz of the radio. He grumbled about someone’s turn signals, adding a soft and very soulful, “It’s the law, motherfucker…” Then he raised his voice again, addressing her. “I am almost there. Are you ready? I thought we would stop over by Ralph’s and pick up some smoothies before we went. They are half off.”

“Ooh, that sounds great,” she agreed, and then remembered. “I mean…yeah. No. That’s not why I’m calling. I made a mistake.”

“…a mistake?”

Her phone buzzed, once, right in her ear, and she winced. She wasn’t brave enough to read that text yet. Better to deal with one slighted boyfriend at a time. “I kind of…remember how Wafai and I were going to celebrate our anniversary in June?” she started.

“…yeah.”

“Remember how it kept getting postponed?” she continued, still staring dumbly between the clock and the calendar. Her phone buzzed again. Wafai was texting regularly, probably once at every red light.

“Yeah. He was really upset about it, but he was pretending he wasn’t, because he can be such a child about these things sometimes.” Andre’s voice was warm as he said it, and she heard him hit the horn one more time, perhaps with a little less force this time.

“Right. Well, we finally figured out a date!” She was not handling this conversation well. This was not the direction she needed to be steering it.

“Oh? That is good. I bet he is really happy about that.”

“Oh, well, yeah, he is, but…” This wasn’t easy at all. She lifted her hand to rub at her eye, and then remembered and rubbed at her hip instead. “Well, I…I kind of…I accidentally scheduled my anniversary date with him the same night as my anniversary date with you.”

There was only silence. She heard the revving of an engine (probably his, for as much as he denied it, Andre got really competitive when driving), but he didn’t say anything.

“I’m so sorry,” she continued, starting to babble in that manic manner that only nerves and exhaustion could produce. “I don’t even know what I was thinking. We were gonna go out yesterday, and then you and I would have our anniversary tonight, but then I had this huge study session I needed to attend for my exam on Tuesday, and so we decided to put it off a night and I was so relieved that we were finally having our date that it completely slipped my mind that you and I were going out tonight too.”

“So…you have…two dates tonight?” There was a rustling as he readjusted his earpiece. “Can’t you just have one and then the other?”

“Well…not really. I also…kind of accidentally scheduled them at the same time.” The more she explained it, the more ridiculous it sounded. Who had this problem?

Another long moment of silence.

Pari tried to breathe deeply, but the complete absurdity of the situation was making her feel a bit woozy. It wasn’t as if their relationship had been without its odd mishaps, but they were three level-headed and mature individuals, and these kinds of mistakes were just plain juvenile. It was like a soap opera.

“So…where is Wafai now?” Andre’s voice was quiet, but not unhappy.

“On his way to my place.” She did the math again, and again it came up Not Good™. “You guys’ll probably run into each other on the stairs up.”

“Are you guys…” He trailed off, cleared his throat. “…do you have reservations somewhere?”

“I…yeah?” She searched her mind and tried to remember if Wafai had ever actually specified where they were going. Their original plan was for it to have been a surprise, like it always was, and for once she felt like that tradition wasn’t the best to keep. “I mean, maybe? I don’t really… He was planning on surprising me again. That’s what we do, you know.”

“I know.”

“He just said I should dress really nice, so I assume we have reservations,” she admitted falteringly.

“Do you want me to…cancel tonight?”

He didn’t sound disappointed, and that made her feel worse. She and Andre hadn’t been on a proper date in ages, and while they hadn’t had a big fancy night planned, she had really been looking forward to spending the night with him.

“No, I don’t—want to cancel…!” Pari’s voice broke and she let out a huff. “I don’t want to cancel…”

Her phone buzzed one more time, cutting off her despairing negative. Andre huffed in amused annoyance.

“I can hear him blowing your phone up,” he said, interrupting her rambling. “Have you answered him yet?”

“I…hold on.”

She fought with her screen for a good twenty seconds before she managed to pull up Wafai’s texts. Her phone was such a pain in the ass sometimes! The screen blacked out every few seconds while she was on a call, and the touch screen didn’t respond right, still warm from the side of her face. She wiped a bit of blush from the corner and ended up nearly ending the call, but eventually she managed to pull up the group message and read Wafai’s rapidfire responses.

WAIT.

STOP PANICKING PARI. I KNOW YOU’RE PANICKING AND STOP NOW.

I GOT IT. THE PROBLEM HAS BEEN SOLVED.

THREE’S COMPANY.

WE HAVEN’T HAD A DATE ALL TOGETHER IN AGES.

TELL HIM TO THROW ON THE JACKET I LEFT IN YOUR CLOSET. THE GREY ONE WITH THE YELLOW.

ARE YOU ON THE PHONE WITH HIM? TELL HIM TO GRAB THAT CHARCOAL JACKET FROM YOUR CLOSET. HE DOESN’T NEED PANTS OR ANYHING. THE COAT MAKES THE MAN.

OH.

HEH.

HE DOESN’T NEED PANTS WHERE WE’RE GOING.

This was followed by a string of vibrantly colored grinning emojis, half of which she had never seen before on any of their phones.

She stared for a few moments. She read the messages again. She put the phone back to her ear.

“He’s taking it very well,” she said softly. “Better than…a second ago.”

“How well?”

She scrolled down looked at his last few messages.

WE’LL FLIP A COIN FOR WHICH DATE PLAN WE GO WITH.

OR WE’LL DO BOTH.

ALL!

IT’LL BE GREAT.

“Better than me, I think,” she admitted. Her voice was shaking.

She heard a rustle and a beep as Andre checked his own texts. She heard a snort and a sudden curse and a loud honk.

“The law, motherfucker,” he muttered as he brought the phone back to his ear. “Listen, how about I just swing by and we’ll wait for Wafai and just see what happens?“ It was a complete contrast to Wafai’s highstrung reactions, and she was sure no matter what they decided, he would be

Pari huffed into the phone. That made too much sense. It was too logical. None of the soap operas had prepared her for common sense. “Alright. I’ll…see you in a few minutes,” she conceded.

“See you in a few minutes,” he confirmed. “Love you.”

“Love you.”

She hung up with some hesitation, and crossed her arms over her chest, and turned back to the calendar, glaring at it as if it had personally offended her. How dare it let her do this. How dare it allow her to make these mistakes.

Andre arrived first, somehow. When he came in, Pari was still standing in the hall in front of the door, staring at the calendar trying to figure out how she could have done this. He stopped dead in the doorway, eyes wide and cheeks dark. It took her a second to realize what was wrong until he looked her (very slowly) up and down, and whistled low.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” he asked, in a tone far sultrier than this dire situation gave him right to be.

She opened her mouth to scold him for thinking of her clothes at a time like this— and then she realized she was still in her underwear. She flushed, and threw the nearest soft object (a stuffed kitten plush that made a pathetic squeak as it struck his face) AR-ward.

“Don’t! Look!” She scrambled away, ducking around a wall. “You weren’t supposed to see this yet!”

She heard a soft hopeful, “…yet?” from the hall as she dove into her room, face hot and heart racing. She slammed the door with more force than was strictly necessary, and glared at the wall as if it were to blame for this entire mess.

Great. Now she would have to change.

She sighed, and began digging through her piles of clothes to find something suitable. They weren’t, as Andre repeatedly accused her of, “giant hazardous piles” of dirty clothing. They were, mostly, clean, and they were organized by color. They were also, for the most part, laid flat. She just…didn’t have time to hang them up, was all. Besides, she could find what she needed. Most of the time.

She supposed this was just as well. She’d chosen this set with Wafai in mind, but if Andre would be joining them tonight, she would need to include a little something for him to.

It was their anniversary, after all.

By the time she came out again, decently covered in the dress she’d bought last week for the occasion (it matched the absurd eyeliner), Wafai had arrived. He was wearing one of his nicer suits, black and blue and slate grey, with the bright MAYOR pin she’d made him when they were seven at his breast. He and Andre were standing in the hall still, talking while Andre stole some of the muffins she’d made this morning for her classmate. Neither of them sounded upset, which was better than she expected.

”…not a bad idea,” Andre was saying around a mouthful of blueberry apple. He was eating like he hadn’t seen food in seven years. “We could…I mean, I could definitely go for fancy dinner. So long as we get to do my idea after.”

“Your idea?”

“Yeah. Laser tag.”

Pari coughed softly to announce her presence, stepping over the organized chaos that lay between her room and the front entrance.

Wafai turned to her and immediately his eyes brightened. Moving through the clutter of her apartment with nary a stumble, he grabbed her hands. They had been together too long for her to be surprised by the strength of his grip, but apparently not so long that her heart didn’t flutter a little bit as he pulled her closer. She found herself, as always, leaning eagerly into him as he kissed her, and felt laughter bubbling up in her chest for no reason other than the fact that they were touching. The entire room felt a bit brighter with him in it, and words a little harder to string together in coherent sentences.

“Did you hear that?” he asked as he pulled away, holding her hands to his chest. “Fancy dinner and then laser tag!”

His enthusiasm was infectious and Pari grinned widely in response.

She tried not to look too closely at his face, but she did try to gauge his mental state on such superficial details as the bags under his eyes and the lines in the corners of his eyes. He looked tired, but not too bad. His laughter lines were deeper than the wrinkles in his forehead, which was always something to be thankful for. She leaned in and kissed him again, and the laughter lines deepened.

Her eyes slid over his shoulder to Andre who…was very obviously dressed for laser tag. She suddenly felt a bit bad, being all dolled up while he was dressed so casual. Wafai followed her gaze, still grinning. He obviously didn’t feel bad.

“I already told him about the jacket,” he assured her, pulling her to his side and patting her arm. “But I think he looks good regardless!”

“Ah, yes. Very good!” she agreed, beaming at him.

Andre squirmed under the brunt of their combined affection. He would never admit aloud to feeling awkward being so obviously underdressed compared to the two of them, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to try and soothe his worries. Pari stepped forward, offering the jacket. He muttered his thanks, and a pitiful, “Don’t I get a kiss?” as he pulled it awkwardly on over the loose white button down he was already wearing.

“You look wonderful!” she declared, clapping her hands. “Absolutely the most handsome man I’ve ever laid eyes upon!”

Wafai’s gasp behind her was both dramatic and completely genuine. “Absolutely breathtaking!” he agreed. “There’s no one luckier than Pari and me! We have the most beautiful boyfriend ever!”

Andre gave him a deadpan look that almost masked how flattered he was. “Aren’t you laying it on a little thick?” he asked, as he made absolutely no move to stop them. He leaned in to Pari’s kisses, lazily masking his eagerness at first. His hands rested on her waist. His affection grew more intense until she was giggling and breathless. Every time she tried to move back, he pulled her in again, equal parts desperate and adoring in his affection. Her entire body tingled and she felt the irresistible urge to pop her leg.

“Not at all,” she murmured against his chin, and kissed him once more before she pulled away.

“So…dinner?” he mumbled hopefully, leaning in to rest his lips against her forehead.

She turned to see Wafai, who was looking at them both with barely concealed delight. His delight, like his anxiety, was infectious, and the dread that had been growing in her chest seemed to blossom into something warmer and joyous.

“Dinner,” Andre agreed, hand sliding down to rest on Pari’s waist.

“I could eat,” she agreed, leaning into him.

“Great!” His sudden increase in volume made Andre cringe, but he hid it behind Parsi’s head. “I’m driving! We’ll take your car!”

He was out the door before either of them could argue. Andre hummed.

“He’s taking this a lot better than I expected,” he said softly, in case he came back.

“He’s been doing much better,” she responded, though she too was almost suspicious of how cavalier Wafai was being. Ordinarily having plans upset like this was a disaster, and he would end up spirally into a controlling frenzy. “Maybe all the times this has been cancelled has cancelled out all that.”

“Hm. Maybe.” He pulled away and offered her his elbow. “Shall we?”

She took his arm with a grin, leaning in. “We shall.”

Fancy dinner and laser tag, it turned out, were a magnificent combination, though they all agreed that next time, perhaps they should do the strenuous physical activity first, and eat their weight in heavy and expensive foods second. Wafai went all out on dinner, and strongly resisted any attempts by the others to pay for anything. It was a bit awkward at first being the only people super dressed up at the seafood bar, but soon Pari was too enamored to care. She ate until she felt sick and still got leftovers, which was great until she had to run around a dim room in a tight dress for twenty minutes. She spent the last half of their laser tag tournament doubled over, and Wafai won the tournament through sheer force of will and also because people kept tripping on her prone form right in front of him.

They ended up going back to Andre’s place because he had the biggest bed, and the biggest TV, and the most soundproof walls. Wafai and Andre played games while Pari pretended not to be studying on the couch behind them, and all three of them managed to sleep through all seven of their alarms the next morning. Pari woke close to noon with her arms wrapped around Wafai, face buried in his hair. Andre was laying on his other side and their arms crossed over his waist. They’d all kicked the blankets and some of their clothes away in the night, and Andre’s dogs were lying across their feet. She still felt full, and sore, and over-tired, and she was mildly freaked out by the fact that she was definitely absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt very late for class.

Wafai mumbled drowsily and somehow his hand found hers, dragging her arm tighter around his middle. He tried and failed to roll over to face her, and ended up with his cheek awkwardly pressed against her cheek. Her chest fluttered again, and she moved to better accommodate his tossing and turning.

Pari let out a contented sigh and closed her eyes again. She could sleep a little longer.