Chapter 1: Ultimate Wingman
“Okay, that’s $45.62 for electricity this month,” Race said, looking up from the power bill after easily dividing it in half in his head.
“What the fuck?” Albert asked. “Why so much? It’s never that high.”
“We’ve had the AC on pretty much all the time,” Race replied.
Al’s brow furrowed. “You think we can just like… set up a ‘Race and Albo Need Electricity’ tip jar at work?”
“You get right on that.”
It had all started freshman year, when Race and Al were randomly paired up as roommates. Move-in day was awkward, with Al’s mom and Race’s parents hovering in the tiny dorm room, helping to make their beds, hang up clothes, and affix posters to the walls. Race and Al grinned shyly after they noticed how well their posters matched. Race had a poster of the Apollo 11 shuttle and a photo of Saturn, and Al had a number of UFO and alien themed prints. Late that night, after their parents were gone, Race and Al sat on Race’s bed eating Cheetos and watching Space Jam, and were instantly cemented as best friends.
Albert and Race did everything together. It only made sense when they decided to move out of the dorms the next year that they would go together. They searched all over the internet until finally finding a small two bedroom apartment a mile from campus. And when Al got fired from his job selling shoes at Macy’s, Race put in a good word for him and got him a job at The World, the very same coffeeshop that he worked at.
Now, their life had fallen into a comfortable routine. Al and Race scheduled themselves for the same shifts whenever possible and carpooled to work, went to class (although Race went significantly more than Al), and watched whatever TV show they were binging at the time at night. They always had enough money for rent, but never quite enough to do all the things they wanted to do.
Somewhere in between Al yelling about aliens and Race explaining the science behind extraterrestrial life, late night mac and cheese, and episode after episode of Project Runway, Al found himself falling for Race. Hard. He was experiencing the kind of love that felt like the Hulk was smashing his heart on a near-constant basis. Every time Race looked away, Al couldn’t help but admire the set of his jawline, the spark in his eyes, or, frankly, the shape of his ass.
Although Al was constantly dropping hints that they should get together, Race only took them as jokes. Either that, or they flew right over his head. “Did you hear Jack and Davey got together?” “Finally. When’s that gonna be us, huh?” “Say the word and I’ll take you to Vegas, babe.” But as much as being painfully in love with Race hurt, the idea of losing him as a friend hurt more. If Al ever made a comment that crossed the line or confessed his feelings for real, and Race left, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. So he ignored it and went about his life however possible.
Al and Race both dated around, although neither of them was ever serious with anyone. They both used Tinder and Grindr all the time, comparing conquests when they were done. Sometimes, they just sat on the couch together, swiping left and right together and commenting on their respective matches.
One afternoon while they were at work, Albert was manning the drink station while Race took orders. Jack, who was serving as shift leader, was back in the back, prepping a batch of scones. The door over the bell chimed and a short, muscular guy walked in. He seemed to have a permanent scowl etched across his face, but beyond that, he was hot. “What can I get you?” Race asked the guy.
“Large coffee. Black.” The guy had a heavy New York accent, which kind of matched his beefy Italian look perfectly.
“What name can I put on that?”
Race raised an eyebrow, but wrote the name on the paper cup, which he slid down the bar to Al, who quickly poured the coffee while Spot paid. As abruptly as he came in, as soon as his debit card had been accepted, Spot grabbed the cup and left, doorbell chiming behind him.
As soon as the door was closed, Race turned to Al, eyes gleaming. “Did you see him?” Race asked excitedly. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah, bro. He was hot,” Al said good-naturedly. It was true, after all, although Al really wished that Race was saying that about someone else. Namely, his head-over-heels roommate.
Two days later, Al was in his room, watching a video on YouTube about the top ten cryptid conspiracy theories when he heard Race screech from his own room. “He’s gay! He’s gay and I fucked up!”
“What?” Al yelled, pausing the video.
He could hear Race running to his room before the door was ripped open without even a knock. “Spot was gay! I just saw him on Grindr!”
“Spot who?” Albert asked, looking up from his laptop.
“The short hot guy at The World!”
“Oh, yeah. Did you match?”
“No,” Race admitted. “I panicked and swiped left.”
Al rolled his eyes. “Dude, you’re such an idiot. Didn’t you say he’s been in the shop pretty much every day?” Al had been working different shifts for a couple of days to cover for Specs, who was out of town for a dance competition.
“So just ask him out.”
Race looked doubtful. “I don’t know, man.”
Albert shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He went to start the video he was watching again, but Race stopped him.
“Want to watch the Kardashians?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Al replied, shutting the laptop. “Start some water boiling for mac and cheese while I get it set up.”
In the morning, Albert and Race dragged themselves out of bed and, yawning, slumped into Race’s car. It was almost as old as they were and made a weird squealing noise every time it got over fifty miles per hour, but it got the job done a whole lot better than Al’s Vespa scooter did. As soon as they got to work, they each knocked back an espresso shot, which Jack had already made for them. Jack, like always, was wide awake. The roommates had a sneaking suspicion that Jack never slept- he just kept himself wired on coffee and paint fumes all the time.
The morning passed by as usual, with rushes of tired middle aged people ordering plain coffees on the way to the office, as well as students ordering frozen blended drinks on the way to class. In a city filled mostly with Starbucks coffeeshops, The World had cemented itself as something of a hipster paradise, and trendy English majors and boutique owners were regular customers, thirsty for cold brew coffee and pour overs.
A lot of their customers came through in a daze, barely coherent enough to place an order, but some of the regulars were chatty and open, and the morning shift employees knew all about their lives and jobs.
After the biggest rush was over and they finally had a chance to breathe, the bell rang as the door opened and Spot walked in, somehow seeming to take up the entire store with his presence, even though he couldn’t be more than five foot four. Before he could even order, Race was writing on a cup. “Large black coffee for Spot?” he asked.
Spot nodded. “Yeah,” he replied. “Thanks.”
As Spot was digging for another quarter, Al caught Race’s eye. “Do it,” he mouthed silently. Race shook his head a tiny amount, just enough for Al to see. “ Do it ,” he mouthed again. Race just slid the cup down the bar to Al before engaging Spot in a conversation about his tshirt.
Al was about to pour Spot’s coffee, but instead grabbed the Sharpie from his pocket and scribbled Race’s phone number on the cup before filling it. He didn’t know why he did it. He could have just let Race chicken out, and that would be the end of it. But instead, he was practically handing Race over to someone else. Just because he knew Race wanted Spot. Barely breathing, Al handed the cup across the bar to Spot, who didn’t seem to notice the phone number just yet.
As soon as Spot was gone, Jack dismissed Race to go on break, since they were in a lull. He would take over the register for a while. Race clocked out and disappeared into the back towards the breakroom, and Jack turned on Al. “What’d you do that for?” he asked.
“What?” Al responded innocently as he wiped down the espresso machine.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Why’d you give that guy Race’s number? I saw that.”
Jack had known about Al’s crush on Race for ages, and he was constantly trying to get Al to tell Race how he felt. “I’m just being a good bro,” Albert said.
Jack shook his head. “Don’t bother with being a good bro if you’re just going to make yourself miserable.”
“I’m not miserable,” Al protested. “I have a date tonight, actually.”
“You have a hookup tonight,” Jack corrected. “Which is fine, of course. Nothing wrong with that.”
Al adjusted his hat in annoyance. “What am I supposed to do?” he demanded. “Just be like Bert and Ernie? Live together forever without anything happening between us? Just give up dating and all that because Ernie’s enough, even though we aren’t together? Come on, man.”
“You’re Bert in this situation?” Jack asked, a smile twitching at the edges of his lips.
“Of course I’m Bert. I’m Albert.”
“I’m going to start calling you Bert.”
“And I’m going to kill you.”
Jack shrugged. “Whatever. But you either need to tell him or get over it.”
“I’ll get over it,” Al said confidently, although he didn’t really believe that. It had been this long and he hadn’t gotten over it. The longer they lived together, the harder he fell. Every time he watched Race in the living room whizzing through his physics homework or solving a Rubik’s cube without even looking, every time Race yelled at the tv while watching the Kardashians or fell asleep on the couch, he ended up a little bit more in love with his best friend and roommate.
Chapter 2: Constellations on the Ceiling
Al spends an evening with Jack and gets an eyeful.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Albert! What did you do ?” Al was greeted by Race’s yelling from the couch as soon as he opened the door to the apartment after his history class. He dropped his backpack by the door and headed toward the kitchen to get something to drink.
“I don’t know,” Al said dryly. “I do lots of things. Can you be more specific?” He grabbed a Gatorade from the fridge and came back to the living room, where he flopped down on the oversized beanbag chair.
“Spot has been texting me,” Race said, holding up his phone. “Hot Spot. How would Hot Spot get my number?”
“Because I gave it to him,” Albert said casually.
Race looked like he was about to choke. “ When ?” he asked.
“This morning. Wrote it on his cup.”
Race faked a fainting spell before rousing himself. “You are the realest homie, you know that?”
“I try,” Al said in the cheeriest voice he could muster. “So what’s Hot Spot saying?”
“We’re gonna hang out,” Race said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “I’m going over to his place tonight.”
“Oh,” Al said. “Well, have fun. Make good choices.”
Race didn’t come home that night.
The next morning, Race met Albert at work, wearing the same shirt as the night before. He winked at Al before going to grab a spare shirt from his locker to change into. “How’d it go?” Albert asked as they shared their traditional morning espresso shot.
“ Bro ,” Race said emphatically. “As suspected, Hot Spot is hot. It was a good night.”
“Nice,” Al said with a forced grin. “So is that it, or are you gonna hang out again sometime?”
At this, Race almost looked shy. “I’m gonna see him again,” he said. “We didn’t just hook up, you know? We actually ended up like… talking. And he’s kind of awesome. We were up pretty much all night.”
Al felt his stomach drop. Race didn’t talk with the people he hooked up with. And he definitely didn’t come into work the next day gushing about how awesome they were. “That’s great,” he finally said.
Race waxed poetic about Hot Spot for a while longer in between waiting on customers, before remembering that Al had had someone over, too. “Didn’t you hook up with someone last night?” he finally asked.
“Yeah,” Al replied. “She was cool, you know. Probably just a one-time thing.”
“Yeah.” They fell into a semi-awkward silence, which was made even worse by Spot coming into the shop. Jack, who had been listening in on the conversation, ordered Al to go check on a batch of baked goods that were cooking in the back while Spot was inside. Getting away from Race and Hot Spot helped, although he could still hear them talking from the counter. Al couldn’t make out any words, but Race was using his unmistakably flirty laugh. Al checked on the muffins in the oven, which were nowhere near being ready, and hovered in the kitchen until he finally heard the bell on the door ring again.
Jack came into the back room then, shaking his head. “Dude, I’m sorry,” he said.
“How bad was it?” Al asked.
“Physically painful to watch,” Jack confirmed. “Look, I know it’s really convenient for you two to share a shift, but I’m starting to think I should switch you to afternoons. Specs has been wanting to pick up some earlier shifts, anyway.”
“I’ll be fine,” Albert sighed.
Jack studied him for a minute. “Okay. But if I have to watch another awkward moment like that, you’re switching. Oh, and while I’ve got you here, you should come over to my place tonight.”
“Because Spot’s going over to yours.”
“Good looking out,” Al said with a small salute, before heading back out onto the floor.
That night after classes were over, Al found himself at Jack and Crutchie’s apartment, playing video games while eating dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets and tater tots. Davey was there, propped on the edge of Jack’s chair, and Al and Crutchie shared the futon, leaning toward the tv as they focused on the race in front of them. Crutchie as Toad pulled ahead of Al’s Yoshi, but a well-aimed green shell knocked him out of the lead as Al pulled ahead easily, just in time to cross the finish line. Jack, playing as Princess Peach, had been behind since the beginning of the race and he leisurely steered his cart while Davey absently stroked his hair. “ Fuck ,” Crutchie cursed loudly, slapping his controller against his knee.
“You can’t beat the master,” Al taunted.
“I want a rematch,” Crutchie seethed.
“You want a turn?” Jack asked Davey, offering him the controller while Al set up the next match.
“Okay,” Davey replied. “I haven’t played in a long time, though, so I’m probably pretty rusty.”
The race began and Al pulled into an early lead, but Davey immediately pulled ahead, effortlessly drifting and boosting around the tight curves. His casual, almost bored facial expression didn’t change at all and Jack stared in stunned disbelief until the match ended with Davey more than half a track ahead of Albert and Crutchie. “What the fuck ,” Al choked out. Crutchie’s jaw had been hanging open since the beginning of the match.
“I used to speedrun Mario Kart competitively,” Davey admitted with a small, smug grin. “It’s been a while, but I guess I’m still okay. Got a bad start, though.”
“What?” Jack asked dully.
“I was fourteenth in the world at one point,” Davey replied.
“What the fuck ?” Albert said again.
For the rest of the evening, Davey taught the guys tricks to get faster in Mario Kart until they were doing better than they ever had before, although they still couldn’t come close to beating him. At eleven o’clock, an alarm sounded on Al’s phone, signalling the time for him to take his medication. “Shit, I don’t have my meds. I’ve gotta go home. Think it’s safe yet?”
Jack shrugged. “Who knows. It’s Friday night, and it’s still pretty early.”
“Don’t let them chase you out of your own apartment,” Crutchie said sternly. “You live there, too. If it bothers you, just have them hook up at his place.” Crutchie didn’t know about Al’s crush, and just thought that Al was annoyed about being sexiled.
“You’re right,” Al said slowly. “Okay, I’m gonna go. Davey, you’re a nerd but you’re also a god. Crutchie, get better and maybe you can beat me someday. Jacky, I love you. Never change.”
“I love you , Albie,” Jack gushed. Jack and Al theatrically kissed each other on the cheeks before Albert left, got back on his scooter, and drove home. He only lived a few blocks away from Jack and Crutchie, so they all hung out a lot, either at Al’s apartment or their’s. Al hadn’t known either of them before Race got him the job, but he and Jack immediately hit it off and became instant best friends. And there was no Jack without Crutchie.
Al made the trek back to his apartment, where he chained his Vespa to the side of the staircase before climbing to the third floor, where he unlocked the door and went inside. Directly in front of him, a shirtless Race was straddling Spot on the couch, making out heavily. They ripped apart as soon as they noticed Al there. Albert redirected his gaze to anywhere but there . “Uh, sorry guys. I’m just… going to my room.”
“I thought you were hanging at Jack’s tonight,” Race said with a smirk, settling back into the couch.
“I was,” Albert said, still not looking at either of them. “But I’m home now so I’ll be in my room. Just… don’t mind me.” Albert hurried past them to his room, shutting the door behind him. He opened his medication bottle up and shook a couple of pills out, swallowing them without water. Al pulled out his phone out of his pocket and sent a text to Jack. “guess who i just walked n on”
A reply came back in under a minute. “o shit. were they havin sex?”
“nah. just didnt wanna see all that.” From the living room, Al could hear low murmurs of conversation from Race and Spot, which soon fell into suspicious silence. He sighed and put on a pair of headphones, blasting a song by the Arctic Monkeys, and laid down on his bed staring at the stars on his ceiling. His little sister made fun of him for the stars- apparently they were baby-ish. But Race had gotten the glow in the dark stars for him as a birthday gift, and they spent a night once a few days after his birthday making up their own constellations, including stories behind those constellations.
Albert drifted in and out of sleep a few times until around two AM, when Race opened the door without knocking. “Sorry about that,” Race said jovially after Al took his headphones off. He didn’t sound very sorry.
“You’re fine,” Al replied. “How’s Hot Spot?”
Race crossed the room in two steps and flung himself across Al’s bed. “Amazing,” he sighed. “I mean, seriously. He’s not just hot, you know? He’s like… really great to talk to, and like… I don’t know. Everything seems really straight in my head when he’s around.”
“Didn’t look very straight,” Al commented dryly. Race threw back his head and laughed.
“Okay,” he said after composing himself. “Not straight. But you know, there’s just always a lot of noise in my head and it kinda shuts up when I’m hanging out with him.”
Al sat up and Race laid across his outstretched legs. “You really like him, huh?” Al asked.
Race nodded, blond hair brushing against Al’s shins. “Yeah, I actually do. Weird, huh?”
“Yeah… just promise you won’t leave me for Hot Spot,” Albert said teasingly.
Race settled his expression into a stern mask. “I would never, babe. You know you’re my one true love.” They sat in silence for a moment, both lost in thought. Al didn’t notice how his own face had fallen as he stared down at his phone, but Race did. “You okay, bro?”
Al looked back to Race, startled. “Yeah,” he said. It didn’t sound nearly as convincing as he meant it to. “I’m fine.”
Race obviously didn’t buy it. “Okay. That sounds fake. What’s going on?”
There was no way Albert was going to tell Race what was really going on. He had always been okay watching Race go about his various hookups, but there were never any feelings attached. Now, though, it looked like he and Spot were going to make things official at any moment. And it hurt. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay,” Race said. He reached over to the desk next to the bed and grabbed a Rubik’s cube, which he had left in there, and started to solve it. “You don’t have to talk about it, but that’s what bros are for, you know? I got your back.”
“Thanks, bro,” Al replied, watching as Race flicked the rows into place with ease. He knew he could tell Race anything. Race was the first person he told when he got arrested for vandalism, he was the first person Albert came out to, and he was the only person that knew Albert’s entire celebrity crush list. But there was no way they could talk about this.
im not doing daily updates! i promise!
Chapter 3: Grindr
Albert gets some sense knocked into him.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Over the next few weeks, Spot became a nearly permanent fixture at Race and Albert’s apartment. He and Race finally made things official, and Albert found himself spending more and more time either at Jack’s apartment or locked in his room.
One morning after a long lie-in, Albert got up to go get some breakfast from the kitchen. He froze in the living room, though, upon seeing Spot and Race intertwined on the couch, watching Space Jam. “Morning, Al,” Spot said casually.
“Morning,” Albert replied. “You guys are watching Space Jam?”
Race glanced over at Al. He actually looked guilty. “Yeah. You wanna watch?”
“Uh, no,” Albert replied. “I’m going over to Jack’s. You guys have a good one.” He grabbed a bagel and, without even changing out of his pajamas, headed over to Jack’s apartment.
A sleepy-eyed Davey opened the door, wearing no shirt and a pair of paint splattered sweatpants that Al was sure were Jack’s. “Good morning, Albert,” Davey said. “To what do we owe the pleasure?” Albert made his way inside, and he spotted Jack in the kitchen, scrambling a huge pan of eggs.
“They’re watching Space Jam,” Al said miserably, taking a seat at the kitchen table.
“Great movie,” Jack commented.
“Yeah, it is,” Al said. “But it’s like… our thing. You know?”
Jack and Davey exchanged a significant look and without a word, Davey stepped up to take over on the eggs while Jack took a seat across the table from Albert. “You don’t own Space Jam,” Jack said gently.
“Yeah, I do,” Al argued. “It’s my DVD.”
Jack shook his head. “No, man. I mean you aren’t the only person that gets to watch that movie. I know you like Race, bro. I get it. But this is getting ridiculous. He’s happy. A lot more happy than he’s been in a long time. Spot’s cool, and they’re really good together.”
“Thanks, bro,” Al said miserably. “That makes me feel so much better.”
“I know you don’t want to hear it,” Jack continued. “But you need to.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?”
The eggs were finally finished, and Davey brought over platefuls for the three of them. Crutchie, who was definitely not a morning person, was still in bed. “You’ve got to get over it,” Jack said. “Or ignore it, either one. Stop being so bitter about Race finding someone else, because it was bound to happen sometime if you didn’t tell him you liked him. Go on some dates or something, I don’t know. But stop obsessing over this. It’s not good for you or Race. Or me, to be honest. Bro, I love you but you’re here all the time.”
Albert sulkily ate his eggs in silence, processing everything that Jack had said. Jack was right, and he knew it, but that didn’t make the truth any easier to bear. After they finished, Albert dutifully rinsed everyone’s plates- it was the least he could do after barging in. “Albo,” Jack said, throwing an arm over Davey’s shoulders. “I love you, bro, but I had plans with Davey this morning that don’t involve visitors, so I’m gonna have to kick you out.”
“ Jack ,” Davey protested, but Jack planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
“Okay,” Al said. “I get it. I’m leaving. Thanks for breakfast, though.” He left, cruising around town for a while, just trying to kill enough time that he wouldn’t have to watch them watching Space Jam when he got home. Finally, though, it started to rain, and Albert made his way home as quickly as his scooter could. As he pulled up to their building, Al noticed with a sigh of relief that Race’s car was gone.
He made his way up the stairs and unlocked the door of the apartment, but it wasn’t empty. Just inside, Spot was sitting expectantly on the couch. Albert jumped about three feet in the air. “Sorry,” Spot said hurriedly. “Race had to run out to finish up a lab and he left me here.”
“Oh, Albert said awkwardly. “That’s cool.”
“Yeah…” An uncomfortable silence hung between the two of them. “Can we talk?” Spot asked. He motioned for the empty space on the couch, and Albert took a seat, leaving as much distance between the two of them as possible. Spot seemed to be planning his words very carefully in his head before speaking. “You don’t like me,” he finally said. It wasn’t a question.
“It’s not that,” Albert said slowly. It didn’t sound very convincing.
“No, you don’t,” Spot argued. “It’s okay, you don’t have to. I just want to know what your problem with me is.”
“I don’t have a problem with you,” Al insisted. “I don’t even know you.”
Spot crossed his arms. It was probably meant to be a casual move, but came off as menacing. “Nah, you don’t. So why are you acting like you and Race aren’t even hardly friends anymore since I came around?”
“I-” Albert froze. “What?”
“Race told me last night. You and him never hang out anymore and he misses you, and it’s obviously cause of me.” Albert opened his mouth to speak, but Spot held up a hand in warning. “Don’t say it isn’t. He’s really upset, and he really misses you, so whatever you have against me, can you just like… ignore it for him?”
“ I like Race ,” Albert blurted out. As soon as the words escaped his lips, he wanted to grab them and shove them back in before they could hit Spot’s ears.
Spot, to Albert’s surprise, didn’t look mad. He just leaned back, eyebrows shooting upwards. “Yeah? Since when?”
Al hung his head. “Pretty much since the first day of freshman year,” he admitted. “Do me a favor. Please don’t kill me.”
“Why would I kill you?” Spot asked. His tone was kind, but his general voice was gruff enough that Albert almost wanted to flinch. “That fucking sucks for you, though. He doesn’t know, does he?”
“No, of course not.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell him? I mean, I’m happy you didn’t for my sake, but you probably should’ve.”
Albert rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. That wasn’t happening. It would make things too weird."
“So you don’t hate me?” Spot confirmed.
“You just hate that I’m dating Race.”
Spot nodded. “Okay, I’m cool with that. Because I don’t know that many people here, and you seem really cool when you’re not being all weirdly jealous, so maybe we can just be friends or something.”
“I’ll only be your friend if you don’t tell Race what I said,” Albert replied.
“I won’t,” Spot promised.
“Ever,” Al added. “I mean it. You breathe a word, you die. The idea of killing you seems kind of impossible but I’ve got friends who can find a way.”
At this, Spot burst out in deep, booming laughs. “What the fuck , Al? We’ve been friends for thirty seconds and you’re already threatening my life. What are you, part of the mafia?”
“No,” Albert replied. “But I have friends.”
Spot smirked. “Ooh, I’m so scared.”
That night, Albert bought pizza for himself and Race as a sign of goodwill. After a heartfelt apology about how Al had prematurely judged Spot (they had settled upon that reasoning after a long talk about their workout schedules), the two roommates sat down in front of Keeping Up With the Kardashians like any normal night. Albert had his phone out and was swiping his way through Tinder and Grindr while Race leaned over his shoulder, giving suggestions. After a long row of duds, a familiar face made both of them freeze. Spot’s face stared up from Albert’s screen.
“Uh… did you know Spot was still on Grindr?” Al asked.
Race’s face took on a weird expression. “Yeah, actually. We kinda had a talk about it. Spot’s poly.”
“Polyamorous,” Race explained. “Means he can date multiple people, as long as I’m okay with it.”
Albert frowned, still holding his phone with Spot’s face staring at him. “Isn’t that cheating? Come on, Race.”
Race shook his head quickly. “No, I thought that at first, too, but it’s not. It’d be cheating if he didn’t tell me or if I wasn’t okay with it.”
“Yeah, but he’s your boyfriend.”
“Yeah,” Race replied with a nod. “And right now, I’m his only boyfriend. I mean, he’s gone on a few dates, but that’s it. But he might get another someday, but only if I say it’s okay.”
Albert sighed. “I don’t know, Race. I don’t want you to like… get hurt, you know?”
“Thanks, bro. But it’s honestly fine . I mean, it makes sense, you know? Like, you can have crushes on multiple people at once, right? So why can’t you go out with them both?”
“So, are you poly then?”
Race shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not mad about it. I mean, I really like Spot, and he’s definitely keeping me busy, if you know what I mean, but if someone else came along? Maybe, bro. I’m open to it.”
“Huh,” Albert said thoughtfully. Suddenly, Spot’s cavalier acceptance of Al’s crush made a lot more sense. “Well, I’m swiping right on your boyfriend.” He swiped his thumb across the screen and after a second, a notification popped up that they had matched. Laughing, Race and Al cheered and high-fived.
That night, Al went to bed, pulled up Google on his laptop, and typed in “polyamory”. After sorting through some cases about the legality of polygamy, a lot of fanfiction, and more than a little bit of porn, he found himself up well into the night researching and by the time he fell asleep, was pretty well-versed in all of the different lingo and types of relationships out there, especially for a boy who was only interested in one person.
sorry this chapter was so short! i feel like it covers a lot of ground, though, and i don't want to overload things. i promise im not doing daily updates!
Chapter 4: Four.
Albert wallows, and your humble author makes a triumphant return. It's always darkest before the dawn.
HOO BOY BETCHA DIDNT EXPECT THIS.
I'm back! (For now. I make no promises, but we're doing our best.) Quick note, after rereading what I've got so far, I decided to change the rating to M. I'm still not going to write anything explicit, but there were a few too many innuendos or straight out mentions of mature themes to continue with a teen rating.
After Albert and Race talked, things started to get better. Race stopped inviting Spot over every minute of every day and spent at least some time with Albert. They started watching Stranger Things together, carving out at least two hours every night to watch.
Albert ran into Spot at the gym one day, and they started talking about their personal fitness goals and workout plans. Spot was studying exercise science and helped Albert fine tune his routine. Before long, they were meeting to work out several times a week. They fell into an easy friendship, but there was an unspoken understanding between the two of them that they didn’t talk about Race when Race wasn’t immediately relevant to the conversation. A certain tension still hung in the air between them regarding Race.
No matter how good things got, though, there were still moments. Sometimes when Spot stopped by the coffee shop in the morning, he and Race would share a quiet, private conversation over the register that left Race smiling for the next two hours. There were the times when the two hour Stranger Things time ended and Race dashed out of the apartment to go see Spot. It made Albert feel like he was just a scheduled obligation.
One day after he finished classes, Albert met up with some friends on campus to play a game of Frisbee. As the sun was setting, he saw Spot across the quad, walking with some guy. The way they walked, hands bumping periodically, it was obvious that they were on a date. A Frisbee hit Albert in the shoulder as he watched.
The next morning, Spot and Albert went to the gym. Al didn’t have work, and he had always preferred a morning work out. He stayed mostly silent. Normally, they chatted about music, sports, life, or whatever else came up. Spot wasn’t really one to start a conversation on his own, but he was trying. He kept bringing up new topics, trying to engage Albert. “Have you tried that new Impossible Burger at Burger King?”
“No,” Albert said simply.
“What’s your problem?” Spot demanded.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been weird all day.”
Albert did a couple more reps before setting the weights to the side. “Why isn’t Race enough for you?”
Spot blinked quickly. “What?” Albert didn’t say anything– he just stared at Spot, waiting for a response. “Are we seriously doing this right now?”
“Yeah. I saw you last night. You were out with some guy.”
“Yeah, I know. Race knows about that. You know I see other people. I thought you were cool with that.”
“I am, but…” Albert sputtered, looking for the words. “I don’t know why you need other people when you have him.”
Spot ran a hand over his forehead, wiping away a slight sheen of sweat. “Dude. You can’t tell me how to act. You aren’t a part of this relationship.”
It was like Albert had been slapped. Without another word, he stood up, put the weights back on the rack, wiped off the bench, and left. Spot didn’t try to stop him. Al grabbed his duffel bag and ran the two miles back to his apartment.
When he came inside, he slammed the door behind him. Race was on the couch, eating a Pop Tart and watching something on Food Network. “Whoa, what’s up with you?”
Albert didn’t respond. He retreated into his room, slamming the door once again. For the first time since he had moved in to the apartment, he locked the door behind him. Race tried the door only seconds later. Once he realized it was locked, Race knocked several times. “Let me in, Al.” When Albert didn’t respond, he knocked a few more times. Finally, there was silence. A minute passed, and it seemed like Race had left. Albert was just about to put headphones on to drown out his thoughts when he heard Race’s quiet voice on the other side of the door. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
Albert buried his face in his pillow and pulled another pillow over his head. He took several gulps of air, breathing in the scent of the laundry detergent that he used for his sheets. And with no warning, before Albert even knew what was happening, he was crying. What started as a few quiet tears turned into huge, painful racking sobs, which he did his best to muffle with the pillows. He was already embarrassed enough for Race and Spot seeing him freak out. They didn’t need to see him cry on top of everything.
After he had cried himself into a headache and the tears had stopped, Albert rolled over on his bed. He opened a message to Jack. i cant do this , he wrote. its fucking killing me.
Jack replied quickly. race? he responded.
i kno ur tired of hearing abt it , Albert said. sorry. im just kinda freakin out .
u need to talk to him. just tell him how u feel. hell be cool .
Albert stared at the message, thinking through how that conversation would go. Hey, I’ve been insanely in love with you for years now and now you’ve got a boyfriend and he’s great, but I don’t know why he should get every guy and you while I can’t have you at all . Absolutely not. no. He replied.
An ellipses popped up, showing that Jack was typing, but Albert locked his phone and laid it facedown on the bed next to him. Several messages, came in, but Albert ignored them. He put his headphones on, started his saddest playlist, and eventually fell asleep.
He was woken up by someone opening the door. He hadn’t realized that he fell asleep and sat up, disoriented. Spot stood in the doorway. “How’d you get in here?” Albert asked. “I locked the door.”
Spot held up a tooth pick. “You just have to poke something in the hole in the doorknob and it unlocks.”
“Why aren’t you with Race?”
Spot rolled his eyes. “Because he’s in his room, too miserable to be any fun.” He glanced over Albert’s disheveled appearance. “You look like shit.”
“Get out of my room.”
“Nah.” Closing the door softly behind him, Spot came inside and sat cross-legged on the floor. “Why’d you match with me on Grindr?”
Of all of the questions that Al expected him to ask, it wasn’t that. “What? Uh, just because I know you. I always match with people I know. It’s funny.” His depressed tone didn’t sound like he found it very funny anymore.
“Then why didn’t you make a joke about it? Why didn’t you ever mention it?”
“I just didn’t,” Albert snapped.
Spot was quiet for a minute. He stared at the glow in the dark constellations on the ceiling. “Look, I know it doesn’t change anything,” he said gruffly. “But I like you.” Albert’s gaze snapped to Spot. “I know you don’t feel the same way, and that’s cool. I just wanted to put it out there.”
Albert suddenly felt very much like he might cry again. Not from sadness, but from being absolutely overwhelmed and exhausted. “You need to go,” he managed to choke out. “Now.”
Spot nodded once and hoisted himself to his feet. “Alright. That’s fine. Forget I said anything. I’ll be in Race’s room.” He let himself out of the room, leaving Albert, once again, alone. He stared in stunned silence at the door, feeling as though all of the breath had been punched out of him.
You aren’t a part of this relationship .
Chapter 5: The Boy on the Milk Carton
Albert takes off.
where are you?
did you come home last night?
where r u? race is looking for u.
jack says he hasnt seen you. im not trying to be a stalker or anything.
Are you avoiding Race because of me?
i was gonna order pizza tonight. you can pick toppings if you come home.
r u coming to work tomorrow?
nvm i just found ur note. u cant call out by leaving a sticky note on my door.
jack says youre not coming to work tomorrow? dude, where are you?
Can you at least say where you are? Race is about to send the police out looking for you.
okay, its 3:30 am and you still arent home. you better be with the best hookup of your life or something, because youre freaking me out.
please just come home and talk to me. i dont know what i did.
Race tossed his phone across the bed after yet another call to Albert went straight to voicemail. He had been missing for days now. He had even gotten desperate enough to call Albert’s mom, but Helena assured him that there was nothing to worry about. That didn’t stop him from worrying, though.
When he went in to work that morning, Albert wasn’t there. Jack had already started setting up and gave him a sympathetic shake of the head before Race even had to ask. “Haven’t heard from him,” he said. Throughout the rest of the shift, every time the bell over the door rang, Race whipped his head around from whatever he was doing to see if it was Albert, coming in late.
Around nine, the one person that he really didn’t want to see came in. Spot stepped up to the counter and made his usual order. “Have you heard from Al yet?” he asked.
Race’s stomach clenched. “Nope. Nothing.”
A couple of nights before Albert left, Spot was over. He and Al had just gone on a run together. Spot was lying on Race’s bed, playing a game on his phone. “I need to talk to you about something,” he told Race.
“What’s up?” Race asked.
“So, you know how I’m polyamorous, right?”
“I kind of like someone– not that it changes anything with us.”
Race’s attention was instantly torn away from his homework. “Yeah? Who?”
“Okay, don’t get mad.” Race waited silently for Spot to continue. “It’s Al.”
“Al who?” Race asked. “ Al Al? Albert? Albo?”
“Yeah. You’re mad.”
“I’m not mad! Why would I be mad? Albert’s great! He’s my best friend!”
Spot nodded slowly. “Yeah, which is what makes it weird, right? It’s cool, I’m not going to do anything. He doesn’t like me like that, anyway.”
“What makes you say that?” Race asked.
“Trust me, I know he doesn’t.” The way he said it, Spot sounded so confident. Like he knew without a shadow of a doubt.
Race surprised even himself with what he said next. “You should tell him.”
“Alright,” Spot said. “Keep me updated, alright?”
“Yeah. I will.”
Jack reached over Race’s shoulder and handed Spot his coffee. After Spot left, he turned to Race. “That was weird. You’re acting weird. Why are you acting weird?”
“I’m not acting weird.”
“I mean, not technically,” Jack said with a shrug. “You’ve just got a weird vibe today.”
“I’m just stressed about Al, that’s all.”
It wasn’t all. He was stressed about Albert, but not just about him missing. Ever since Spot had confessed that he liked Albert, there had been a nagging worry in the back of Race’s head. He told Spot that he was okay with it, but the truth was, he wasn’t okay with it. He was afraid that Al, who had always been funnier and nicer than him would have more of a connection with Spot. That Race would have to sit back and watch while his two favorite people hit it off and developed a relationship stronger than the one he had with either of him. They certainly had more in common than he and Spot did. Apparently Spot told Al the night before Albert left, and Albert didn’t show any sign of reciprocating. That helped some, but not enough.
Race went straight to class after work, but had trouble concentrating, even through his favorite class of the semester. His lab partner had to call him back to reality several times. As soon as they were dismissed, he was out the door, getting to his car in the parking garage as quickly as possible. He drove home, not even stopping at the Wendy’s for nuggets and a Frosty like he normally did. At the apartment complex, Race looped around the building to check the staircase where Al usually chained up his Vespa. Nothing. Crestfallen, he went inside and immediately fell into a restless nap.
Race wasn’t sure how long he slept, but he was woken up by the sound of the front door opening. He dragged himself out of bed and into the living room, where the door to Albert’s room hung open. Race let himself in and found Albert there, unpacking a duffel bag. “Oh, hey,” Albert said casually, looking up. There was an almost tangible uneasiness in the air.
“‘Oh, hey’?” Race repeated. “What the fuck, man?”
“Where have you been? You’ve been gone for three days.”
“Oh.” Albert’s cheeks flushed pink. “I went camping.”
Chapter 6: Albo's Big Idea
Jack gives Albert an idea. Spoiler alert: It's a bad one.
Race looked furious. Albert felt himself shrinking under Race’s gaze. “Are you planning on elaborating?”
“Uh, yeah. I just sort of needed to get out and think, so I just. Uh. Got out. And thought.”
Race shook his head slowly. “What did you even have to think about?”
“Well, things have just been kind of stressful, and…”
“Nah, don’t give me bullshit,” Race interrupted. “You’ve been avoiding me. We’re best friends, Al! At least tell me you’re leaving!” His voice softened and he looked at the Arctic Monkeys poster on the wall, looking anywhere except at Albert. “Tell me what I did wrong.”
Albert shoved the contents of his duffel bag out of the way and sat heavily on the edge of the bed. He took a deep breath, trying to get past the vice grip on his windpipe. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“So why’d you take off?” Race demanded. “Why are you avoiding me?” Realization dawned on his face and he pointed at Albert. “Oh. Oh . I know what’s going on.”
“Spot told you he likes you. Yeah, he told me about that. You’ve been avoiding me. You’ve been acting weird. You’re into Spot .”
A million thoughts raced through Albert’s mind. On one hand, Race was wrong. On the other hand, Albert knew he wasn’t going to rest until he got an answer. And he couldn’t tell Race what was really going on. Before he had time to fully think it all through, he was already opening his mouth. “Yep. That’s it. You got it.”
Race nodded. “Okay. Okay. That’s something. Okay, we can work with this.”
“Yeah. I mean, is it kind of weird? Yeah. But I told Spot it was okay and–”
“I’m not going to do anything with Spot,” Albert said, interrupting.
“Because he’s your boyfriend.”
“He and I had an arrangement,” Race said. “I told him it was okay.” He put a hand on Albert’s shoulder. “I said I’d always be your wingman, and I will.”
Albert gently shrugged Race’s hand off. “Okay, that’s great. Thanks. Uh, I left something outside. I need to go get it.” He walked quickly past Race and out the front door. Outside, Albert broke into a run, tearing around the side of the building to the stairwell, where he unlocked his Vespa. He jumped on and took off toward Jack’s apartment.
Jack opened the door after only a few knocks. “Oh, hey. You’re–”
Albert breezed past him. “Oh, man, Jacky. Oh, fuck. Oh, I fucked up.”
“Welcome to my home,” Jack said, closing the door. “Please, come inside.” Albert noticed for the first time that Davey was there, looking up from a book in his lap with mild interest. “What’s up?”
“I went camping. That’s where I’ve been.”
“That does sound like a fuck-up,” Davey said. Albert ignored him.
“And I came back and Race was asking why I left and I said I needed to think and he told me not to bullshit him and then he asked what he did wrong and I said he didn’t do anything wrong and now he thinks I’m in love with Spot.”
“Whoa, hang on,” Jack said. “I think you skipped a few steps. Sit down. Back it up. Try again.”
Albert dropped to the floor, sitting cross-legged on the carpet there. He took a few deep breaths, collecting his thoughts. “Okay. So. I told Race he didn’t do anything wrong, right? So he started trying to figure it out and was like ‘Oh shit, you like Spot’. And– oh, wait. That’s another thing. Spot told me he likes me. Anyway–”
Jack interrupted him. “What?”
“Yeah. It happened the night before I left. Anyway, I panicked because I couldn’t tell him that I was freaking out because I’m like, stupidly in love with him.”
“So I told him he was right! And I said I wasn’t going to do anything about it and he told me that he’s going to be my wingman .”
“Albie,” Jack said gently. “You know I love you, right?”
“That better not be a confession,” Albert said. “I can’t handle another.”
“Trust me, it’s not. I like smart boys.” Davey ruffled Jack’s hair fondly and went back to reading. “Anyway, I love you, but holy shit , Al. You’re so dumb .”
“I don’t know what to do!”
“The first step would be to get a time machine and go ahead and blast back to this morning so you can stop yourself from saying you’re into Spot,” Jack said. Albert scowled. “I think you should just go home and tell Race the truth.”
“I don’t think you understand how much I can’t do that.”
“Won’t,” Davey corrected.
“You can do it, you just won’t .”
“Yeah, same thing.”
“Anyway, I can’t tell Race how I feel because it would just make everything complicated.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “It’s definitely not complicated now.”
“Just tell me what to do,” Albert whined. “And don’t tell me to tell him the truth, because that’s not happening.”
“You could just pretend to date Spot to get Race off your back.”
“Do not do that,” Davey said sharply, but it was too late.
“I should pretend to date Spot to get Race off my back!”
Jack looked alarmed. “No. No, I was kidding. Al. Albert. Don’t do that.”
“No, listen!” Albert protested. “Spot knows how I feel about Race, and Race knows how Spot feels about me, so maybe we can just pretend to date and it’ll make Race jealous.”
“Schemes to make people jealous never work out,” Davey said.
Albert shook his head. He was already working it out in his mind. “This one will.” He leapt to his feet and ran to the couch, where he leaned down and kissed Jack on the top of the head. He reached over and patted Davey’s cheek. “Thanks for the idea!”
“Well, fuck,” he heard Jack say as he ran out of the apartment.
Albert’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. When he came home, Spot was seated on the couch in the living room. “Hey,” Spot said cautiously. “Race said you needed to talk to me about something?”
“Where is he?”
“He went out. He wanted to give us some privacy?” He shifted, obviously uncomfortable.
Albert nodded, trying to remember the speech that he had practiced in his head on the way home. “Okay. You know how I feel about Race, right?”
Spot sighed. “Yeah.”
“Well, I kind of fucked up and told him that I’m into you.”
Spot’s eyebrows shot up. “You did?”
“And I assume you’re not.”
“Oh. Yeah, no. You know, I just… with Race, and… no.”
“So why did you tell him that?” Spot asked.
“I don’t know. I freaked out. But now I can’t tell him the truth, because he’ll think I’m a liar, or crazy, or something.”
“Which you obviously aren’t.”
The sarcasm was lost on Albert. “Right. So anyway, I was thinking. Maybe we could just go along with it, you know? Pretend.”
“You want to pretend to date me.”
Spot shook his head. “Why the hell would I do that?”
“To help me out?” Albert asked. “I thought maybe I could make Race jealous.”
He was stopped when Spot held up a hand. “Let me get this straight. You want to make my boyfriend jealous so that he’ll leave me?”
“No!” Albert said quickly. “He doesn’t need to leave you! Just… both?”
“And what happens if it works, huh? Let’s say he decides that he likes us both. You ride off into the sunset together and I get fake dumped? Is that the deal?”
“Well, we wouldn’t need to pretend anymore,” Albert said. “So yeah, I guess. You can break up with me, if you want.”
“I’m not doing it,” Spot said, clearly angry.
“Maybe you want to think about it a bit?” Albert suggested.
Spot stood up from the couch, shoving a couch cushion aside. “No.” He started out the front door, then paused in the door frame, looking back. “You’re really fucking selfish, you know that?”
Albert found himself alone again and went to his room. He finished unpacking his duffel bag and laid down on the bed, staring at the stars on the ceiling. Race’s voice flashed through his head. There’s just always a lot of noise in my head and it kinda shuts up when I’m hanging out with him . Albert couldn’t relate. The more time he spent around Race, the noisier his head got. It was like every cell in his body was constantly screaming out for Race, and Race just wasn’t noticing. Spot shut the noise in his head up so well that it blocked out the noise that Albert made.
Halfway through a depressed listen through the Arctic Monkeys’ AM album, Albert’s phone vibrated. There was a text from Race. is it safe to come home ?
yeah , Albert replied. Five minutes later, Race barged into his room and sat on the end of Albert’s bed, barely avoiding sitting right on his feet.
“So?” Race asked. “Did you tell him?”
“No,” Albert said. “I’m not ready for that.”
Race nodded. There was something odd about his expression, but Albert couldn’t put his finger on what it was. “He’s coming over tonight. Is that cool? We’re just going to hang out in my room and watch a movie or something. We don’t have to.”
“No,” Albert said quickly. “Go ahead, it’s fine. I don’t mind.”
Later that evening, Albert got up to use the bathroom and bumped into Spot, who was on his way out, heading back to Race’s room. They met eyes for a moment. “‘Scuze me,” Spot said, before brushing past Al.
A couple of minutes later, Albert got a text. It was from Spot. I’m down if you still are. We need to make some rules. Gym tomorrow?
Chapter 7: New Beginnings
Albert and Spot come to an arrangement and there is a new addition to the Ralbert household.
When Albert met Spot at the gym the next morning, it seemed at first like Spot was never going to bring it up. He started his warm-up, just like he always did, without any more than a “good morning”. Albert waited anxiously for the topic to come up, but didn’t plan on doing it himself.
It wasn’t until the second half of their workout while Spot was spotting Albert on the free weights that he said something. Albert would have rather waited until he wasn’t trying to lift two hundred pounds to talk to him about serious topics, but he’d take what he could get. “So like, what’s your plan? With the whole making Race jealous thing?”
“Uh–” Albert took as deep of a breath as he could from his position on the bench. “I just thought–” He hoisted the weight onto the rack and slowly sat up. “We could just tell Race that we’re together, act like we’re hanging out. Stuff like that.”
“You really didn’t think this through, did you?” Spot asked as he passed Albert a water bottle. Al said nothing. “You two live together. He’s going to think it’s weird if we’re never doing like, you know. Dating stuff.”
“If you mean making out on the couch, Race knows that’s not really my jam. I have my own room for a reason.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
“I don’t know! We’ll figure it out.”
Spot sighed heavily. “You can’t tell Race about this. Promise .”
“This is a really bad idea.”
“You don’t have to do it, you know,” Albert said.
“I already said I would. I can’t back out now.”
“I mean, you can back out. I’m not going to force you to pretend to date me.”
Spot shushed Al. “Try saying that a little louder in the middle of the gym. Anyway, I’m not a coward.”
“So, do we just… go back to my place and tell him we got together?”
“No,” Spot said, shaking his head. “I need to talk to him first.”
“Didn’t he give the go-ahead?”
“I’m not going to fuck things up with him just for you. It’s bad enough that I’m even agreeing to do this.” Spot started removing the weights from the bar. “I think I’m done here. Give me a ride back to your place– I walked here.”
“Dude, I drive a Vespa.”
“I’ve seen two people ride on those things before.”
A very slow, very uncomfortable scooter ride later, they made it back to Albert’s apartment. He locked his Vespa to the side of the stairwell and after letting Spot in, went straight to his room to give Spot and Race some privacy. There was an uncomfortable twisting in his gut every time he thought about the situation that he had landed himself in.
After trying unsuccessfully for a long time to take his mind off of things, and even after straining his ear at the door to try to listen in, he took a seat on the floor, right next to the black cherry Mike’s Hard Lemonade stain in the carpet, and turned on an episode of Bob’s Burgers on the small television. He could hardly concentrate on the episode, but it helped.
It took almost an hour for anything to happen. When that hour was up, though, there was a knock at his door. It had to be Spot. Race never knocked. “Come in,” he said. The door opened and Spot stepped inside, closing it behind him. “So?”
“Race gave us the go-ahead.” Spot’s expression was grim and somehow, nervous. He wasn’t the kind of person who often looked nervous. “So we’re supposed to be getting together right now.”
“Oh,” Albert said. He turned the tv off. “So, should we be making kissing noises right now?”
Spot did not think that was funny. “No.” He grimaced. “He, uh, also said that we should get dinner tonight. Like, all three of us.”
“Like a… date?”
“Like the most fucked up double date in history.” Spot took a seat on Albert’s bed and pulled out his phone, opening up a game.
“What are you doing?” Al asked from the floor.
“I figure this oughta take at least half an hour. Gotta kill some time.” They sat in an awkward silence for a while, punctuated only by Albert periodically reading a tweet out loud to Spot.
“Are you okay?” Albert asked after about twenty-five minutes of relative silence.
“I’d like to not be here,” Spot grumbled.
“Where else would you be?”
“Uh, maybe with my actual boyfriend?” Spot rolled his eyes. “Honestly, you’re incredibly stupid sometimes.” When the half hour was up, Spot got up. “I’m going home. I’ll see you guys at dinner.”
They both left Albert’s room. After Spot had gone home, Race ventured into the living room. “That was quick,” he said.
Albert quickly scanned Race’s face for any trace of jealousy. There was something off with him, but Al couldn’t tell what it was. It didn’t seem like he was jealous, though. “Yeah, well. He had to run home.”
“Yeah…” The silence that hung between them was heavy and dark. “Are you down to come to dinner tonight?”
“Yeah. That’s cool.”
“Cool.” Again, that awkward silence settled. It was never like this between them. Race looked around the room, looking for something– anything to talk about. “I bought a new TV,” he said, pointing at the cinder block shelf they propped their TV up on. Where there was once only one TV, there were now two. “So we can play games and watch TV at the same time.”
This perked Albert up some. It was something they had talked about doing ever since seeing the setup at a party. There was a TV for football, a TV for regular TV, and a TV for playing FIFA. It was basically the dream setup. “Bro, that’s sick ,” he said with actual enthusiasm. The new one was larger by several inches and had a much clearer picture quality.
Race picked up on the improved mood and ran with it. “You want to play a game?” he asked. “I’ve already hooked my Xbox up.”
“ Yes .”
“ Wait ,” Albert said while Race got the game ready. “What about TV?”
“Oh, shit. Mad Max?”
They sat next to each other on the couch, feeling for the moment like things were pretty much back to normal. “Why’d you buy a new TV now?” Albert asked as he tried to run Race off the road.
Race shrugged, righting his course and speeding ahead of Albert. “Impulse buy. It was on sale.”
“You’re the best roommate ever.”
“Yeah, I know.”
The time got away from the two of them and before they realized how much time had passed, Spot was back, ready to go to dinner. They were still on the couch and had begun to work through the Pirates of the Caribbean movies while still playing Grand Theft Auto. “Hey,” Spot said when he walked in. “You guys ready?”
Albert could feel Race stiffen slightly beside him. “Uh, not quite,” he said. He and Al had both switched back to pajamas after the first movie finished. For Race, that meant a pair of striped green flannel pants and an old, soft t-shirt. For Albert, it was a pair of old sweatpants with the word “SENIOR” emblazoned down one leg and no shirt.
“It’s seven o’clock.”
“For real?” Albert asked. “Shit. Okay, once this race is done.”
When the race finished, they both went and changed and met Spot back in the living room. He had taken over Race’s game and was crashing a car through the streets. “ Now are you ready?”
“Yeah,” Race said. “I’ll drive.”
He always drove too fast and too reckless, but Albert couldn’t complain. When it was thirty degrees and raining, he would take Race’s maniacal driving over the Vespa any day. Spot rode shotgun while Albert was relegated to the back. They sped through back roads to a local Italian restaurant.
Inside, it was dimly lit, with small lanterns at each booth, casting a soft glow over the table to give the impression that your booth was the only one in the world. Slow music played quietly in the background. They were led to a table and Race and Albert slid into opposing sides of the booth. Spot stood next to the table, clearly torn about where to sit. After what looked like some serious deliberation, he took a seat next to Albert. Spot locked eyes with Race, seemingly trying to impart some kind of message to him.
“So…” Race said awkwardly after their orders were taken. He trailed off, waiting for someone else to pick up the conversation.
“So…” Albert repeated.
Race picked at a breadstick that had been brought to the table. “So, how’d this happen?” he asked, pointing two fingers at Albert and Spot.
“Uh,” they both started. Albert realized that they had never taken the time to get their origin story together. “Well,” he continued. “Spot told me he liked me, which you know.”
“Yeah,” Race said. “But I thought you weren’t into him.”
Al shrugged. “I guess I was. You know, we went to the gym… and Hot Spot is hot, I guess.”
Race didn’t look satisfied with “Hot Spot is hot” as an explanation. “So that was it? You decided he was hot and then you got together? Aren’t you normally a hook-up first guy?”
Spot jumped in. “He is, but I said I wouldn’t do random hook-ups because I’m with you.”
“I don’t know if I’d count as random ,” Albert grumbled.
Race winced slightly. “Sorry,” Spot said, after apparently trying to kick Albert under the table and hitting Race. “Yeah, so… we talked. I guess I sort of gave Al an ultimatum.”
Race nodded slowly. He reached into his pocket and pulled something out, which he slid across the table. It was a silver key. “I was going to give you this anyway but I guess you’ll be around more now, so you should have this.”
Spot took the key, turning it over in his hands. “Thanks.” He continued to stare at the key for long enough that both Albert and Race were beginning to get concerned, but finally twisted it onto his key ring and put the keys away.