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Liebgott, Joseph. 1/23/2018. Interview and transcript by Evan Wright. Easy Coffee Co., Philadelphia, PA.

“All the details? Why? You some kind of pervert? Don’t get me wrong, this is important, but what does my personal life have to do with any of it? I get that you’re looking for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and all that, but shit. Thought we had a goal here, is all. Pursuit of social justice and all that. I’ll tell you what I know, don’t get me wrong. Fuck. I’ll give you the whole play by play, cause I remember every minute of it. I remember all the way back to the exact day it all started. But first I gotta ask: exactly how many details of my sex life are you after here?”

 

 

He’s reaching for his phone before he’s even fully awake, shrill alarm cutting through the peace of the morning abruptly. He fumbles with it for a long moment, the brightness of the screen near blinding in the dark of his room. He ends up just stabbing at the screen with his thumb until the thing goes blessedly silent, the apartment still and quiet once more.

Well, almost. He can hear the rush of cars on the street below his window, and from the sound of it someone is already puttering around in the kitchen. He stretches his arm out of his blanket cocoon to nudge the curtains aside, and sunlight filters into his room. If he’d gotten more than four hours of sleep he might have been able to appreciate the good weather.

As it is, he’s exhausted.

He drags himself out of bed, the chill of the apartment instantly making him shiver and grab a hoodie from the pile of clothes on his desk chair before he heads to the kitchen. Babe is already there, muttering at the coffee maker. It’s finicky on a good day. Today is evidently not a good day.

“Joe,” Babe greets in a whisper. “Do you have any idea why this thing won’t work?”

“Did you turn it on?” Joe asks.

Babe scoffs, frustrated. “Yes, I turned it on. You think I didn’t know that? I’ve been pushing the button for the last five minutes, but it isn’t doing anything.”

Joe steps closer, squinting at it. It sits silently, plugged in and switched on and as still and silent as the grave it probably belongs in. “Why don’t you get Gene?” he asks as he flicks it on and off. “He’s the only one this thing seems to like.”

“He’s at his place. Those three have a big test tomorrow, and they’ve been studying all night. I don’t want to distract him with this.” He flicks the switch again. Nothing happens. “I mean for Christ’s sake, this is an apartment of engineers. Why the hell can’t we get this thing to work? It calls itself a coffee machine and it can’t even make a cup of coffee—”

“Maybe if you were nicer it would want to help you.”

Babe whacks the side of the machine, mostly out of frustration. It lets out a cloud of steam and a mechanical sputter before coffee suddenly begins to drip into the pot. Babe and Joe let out a surprised cheer.

Chuck stumbles into the kitchen a moment later, rubbing at his eyes. The skin below them is a sickly shade of violet-grey, and Joe frowns at him.

“Morning, Chuck,” he says warily. “How’d you sleep?”

“Call of Duty,” Chuck grumbles, like that answers everything. It kind of does. “I just wanted to finish the stupid game but then I had a term paper I almost forgot about and it was just. It was a night.”

Joe winces. As much as half of Chuck’s problems seem to be his own fault, Joe can’t help but feel bad for him. He hands him the first cup of coffee as consolation. “Are you ready for German at least?”

“Fuck no. Do we have a quiz?”

Joe nods sagely and Chuck’s frown deepens. “I’ll help you study on the way there.”

Chuck nods, taking a sip of coffee. “Babe, did you need a ride to the engineering building? I can drop you off along the way.”

Babe shakes his head. “Class got cancelled. I’m gonna stay home and see if I can get the landlord up here to fix the radiator.”

Joe snorts. “Good luck with that. If there’s one thing Dike’s good at it’s disappearing when you need him.”

“He’s gotta come eventually,” Chuck argues. “It’s getting cold. He can’t expect us to keep living in a freezing apartment.”

“I’ll find him,” Babe promises. “I’ll drag him in here kicking and screaming if I have to. That isn’t illegal, is it? Is it illegal if I kidnap him in his own building?”

“And on that note it’s time to go!” Chuck announces with false cheer. “Joe, get ready. We’re out of here in ten.”

“Yes, mother,” Joe mutters under his breath, but he takes his coffee to his room and kicks through the clothes on the floor for something to wear. He settles on a worm green henley and skinny jeans, kicking his converses into the living room as he gets dressed. He crosses to the bathroom and manages to style his hair into something windswept-yet-casual in five minutes flat, then spends another minute examining his work because honestly, sometimes he impresses even himself.

“Are you done preening?” Babe calls. “I gotta pee.”

“Yeah, yeah. Chuck, you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Chuck says. He shuts his bedroom door and pulls his jacket on. “Let’s go. We’re gonna be late.”

“We’re not gonna be late.”

“You know how traffic is in this city.” Chuck’s car keys jingle as he picks them up off the counter.

Joe scoffs. “At eight in the morning? We’ll be fine. Traffic is never that bad this early in the day.”

 

Traffic is that bad.  

 

When they finally get to class they’re out of breath and nearly late. Their asshole of a TA almost refuses to give them the quiz they’d scrambled to study for in the car, and it’s only Chuck’s baby blues and pragmatic tone that make him think twice.

To make matters worse, one of Joe’s classmates has apparently made it his mission to piss him the hell off every single day of his life. Today his success rates have reached new levels.

Joe takes a deep breath, letting the musty dampness of the lecture hall kiss the bottom of his lungs. He holds the air for a long moment, feeling his chest strain before he lets it out in one long, slow breath. The darkness behind his eyelids is soothing, and he basks in it for a moment before opening his eyes to take in the man sitting in front of him. His irritation doesn’t dissipate in the slightest.

Clearly he needs to take another deep breath.

“No, just—no,” he says in measured tones. The guy has his mouth hanging open. It makes Joe want to punch him in the face and kiss him in equal measure, and confusion over that particular idea makes him even more angry. “I am not going to be lectured on the pronunciation of a language I fucking speak, thank you very much.”

“It isn’t right, though!” the guy insists. “You said yourself that your parents are Austrian! Is it really so impossible that they pronounce it differently in Germany?”

“Just because it’s pronounced that way in Germany doesn’t mean that’s the right way to pronounce it, asshole. Germans aren’t right on everything.”

“Really? Is that why the language is called German?”

“Webster. Liebgott,” their TA calls. “We’re trying to get something accomplished here. Are you two done?”

“Not really, Sobel,” Joe says evenly. “See, this guy—”

“You know my name, Joe,” the guy hisses angrily.

“—seems pretty invested in arguing regional pronunciations are wrong just by virtue of not being German.”

Their TA glares at them both flatly. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a German class. Liebgott, you’re here to learn something. Just because you speak a little German already doesn’t mean you know everything.” Joe rolls his eyes as the man seated across from him puffs out his chest victoriously. His grin dies a second later when Sobel adds, “As for you Webster, you’re a junior in college. Stop acting like a kindergartener with a crush.”

“As if I could have a crush on this asinine—”

“Shut the fuck up, David,” Joe growls.

Across the table, Chuck gives him his best bitchface. “Joe. I love you, but if you get us kicked out of this class one more fucking time so help me God.”

Mercifully the clock changes before Sobel can harass them further. Everyone starts packing up on cue and Joe gathers his things quickly and stomps out of the lecture hall behind Chuck. Before he can throw himself into the rush of students in the cooridor a hand catches his arm. He doesn’t have to look to know it’s David—he doesn’t know much but he knows the weight of those hands, knows the warmth of them and the strength in his fingers. It’s for that reason that he doesn’t hesitate to dislodge his grip before turning around. “What do you want?”

David’s eyes are guarded, mouth pressed closed in a thin line for once. “Would you chill out? I just wanted you to know Hoobler’s shift is going long tonight.”

“Is that supposed to be news? It’s long every Thursday night,” Joe sasses, though really the offer makes something in his chest lurch.

David’s face somehow gets even bitchier. “Fine, then don’t come.” He pushes past Joe, and this time it’s Joe who jolts forward to catch his arm.

“Woah—hey, alright. I’ll text you when I’m off work, okay?” He licks his lips. “I’m sorry.”

David just raises his eyebrows at him before jerking out of his grip and leaving the lecture hall. He’s instantly swallowed by the rush of bodies. Joe rolls his eyes before following, heading the opposite way toward the parking lot. The crowd of people is enough to annoy him on the best days, and today is decidedly not one of those days. He pushes through as quickly as he can while still keeping up the semblance of not being an asshole, reaching into his pocket and working a cigarette out of the battered pack before he’s even out the door.

The cool air hits him like a slap to the face, but for once he finds it refreshing. He puts the unlit cigarette between his lips and sighs, leaning against the worn red brick next to the door. He can feel Chuck staring at him from where he’s leaning a few feet away, can already picture his carefully assessing eyes without even looking. He turns to him with a glare, half-baked snappy remark on the tip of his tongue; it dies in his throat when Chuck meets him with his own lit cigarette extended toward him, eyebrows raised in a silent question. Joe sighs again, takes it and lights his own off it before passing it back. They smoke in silence.

“Thought you said you were gonna try and quit,” Chuck says finally.

“Thought you said the same.”

Chuck huffs quietly. A quiet laugh, accompanied with a puff of smoke. It makes Joe smile wryly to himself, and they stand there for another minute before Chuck breaks the silence again. “That guy isn’t worth your energy, you know.”

“Hey, someone’s gotta call him on his bullshit.”

“On his bullshit, yeah. You and him are a little past that point.”

“What do you mean?”

Chuck raises an eyebrow at him. “You know what I mean. I just…are you happy, man? I know this isn’t about love or any of that shit, but are you happy? Because you don’t seem happy. I’m always willing to fight someone for you if I need to.”

Joe takes a long drag of smoke, turning the question over in his head. “Chuck, if you think I’d be happier dating you that’s all you have to say. I’ll treat you real nice, too. Maybe even take you to Cheesecake Factory or something, and we can—”

Chuck shoves him in the arm. “Fucking dick,” he says, but at least he’s laughing now. He stomps his cigarette out. “You need a ride to work? I’m going that way. I’ll drop you off.”

 

“Joe!” Someone yells from across the parking lot.

Joe looks up from where he’s wrestling with the lock on his cab’s shitty door. The keyhole is usually loose to the point he’s fairly sure it could be opened with a well-aimed screwdriver, but today the cold must be messing with it somehow. “Bill! What’s the good word?”

“Good word?” Bill calls. He’s making his way carefully through the sea of yellow cabs toward where Joe stands. “Uber, probably. Or Lyft. I guess they’ve sent all the assholes to us today.”

“Just what I wanted to hear. Are you just starting or just getting off?”

“Getting off. Frannie’s coming to pick me up. I’m going home to a beautiful woman and a hot meal.”

“Lucky bastard,” Joe mutters under his breath. Bill laughs like a lizard. “Ever think about the irony of how we all drive cabs and yet not one of us can afford a car with our cheap-ass cabbie paychecks?”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t bring it up with Toye. You’ll get a whole rant about it.”

Joe frowns. “How’s he doing?”

“Working his ass off, as always. He’s trying to get a second job now that the company’s trying to cut down on drivers. Better to ask him about it than me. He’s working until one tonight, so you’ll probably run into him eventually.”

“Yeah, alright.” He finally gets the key jammed into the door and swings it open. “Have a good night, Bill.”

“Yeah, you too.”

He gets into the car and adjusts his mirrors quickly, then shifts out of park and drives out of the lot. The rise of Uber has made things harder for the average cabbie, and Joe struggles to find passengers on the best of days. They’re only slightly easier to find in Philly than they were in San Francisco, and it means most of his clientele now are either traditionalists or sympathetic to the cabbie cause. He doesn’t mind it so much—there are fewer drunk kids and cheapskates, at least. It means he spends a lot of time standing around trading gossip with his fellow drivers on slow days, which he doesn’t mind either.

Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be a slow day. His cab is full of rude businessmen and harried tourists for the next few hours. He isn’t sure what kind of tourist comes to Philadelphia, much less in the winter. He halfheartedly recommends they see the Liberty Bell and just like that they choose it as their new destination, discussing National Treasure all the while. He leaves them at Independence Hall happily, only getting to savor one second of quiet before another passenger is piling into the back.

“Hey, asshole,” a voice says. “How about you take me to the nearest bar as fast as humanly possible. I’ll buy you a shot if it takes less than two minutes.”

Joe rolls his eyes. “Hey, Cobb.”

“I just got dumped, can you believe it?” Cobb says. He has a habit of starting conversations in the middle, something which never fails to leave Joe reeling. “She had the nerve to dump me at Independence Hall. Two-hundred and thirty years ago our founders debated cutting Britain loose. Ten minutes ago my girlfriend succeeded in cutting me loose. All in the same hallowed grounds.”

“That’s real poetic. You think she thought about that when she did it?”

“I’m sure she did. Fucking history majors. I was exaggerating earlier, by the way. Head toward Chinatown. There’s a great hole-in-the-wall somewhere near there with a bartender who’ll have you feeling like you just jumped out of a fuckin’ plane or something.”

“You got an address?”

“Like I said, you can’t tell up from down leaving that place. I don’t even really remember where it is, but it’s called Currahee. Two R’s, two E’s.”

Joe types it into the GPS and pulls the cab into traffic. “I’m really sorry about your girl, Cobb,” he says, and he means it. Cobb can be irritating, but ever since they roomed together in freshman year he’s been one of Joe’s friends. Cobb wasn’t part of his apartment this year, but only because of several circumstances outside of Joe’s control.

Like Cobb’s inability to hold his liquor.

Or his general dislike for both of Joe’s current roommates.

Or his extreme dislike for Joe’s enemy-with-benefits.

Joe’s pulled out of considering that last thought as Cobb waves off his comment in a rare display of good nature. “It wasn’t meant to be, anyway. You know what they say. Liberal Arts kids don’t get along romantically. Too much drama. A Liberal Arts type and a STEM type are the ultimate power couple.”

“Well gee, Cobb. If you wanted to date me all you had to do was say so.”

“I’m serious, though! It makes sense! I mean, hell—every couple we know is half STEM, half artsie.”

“That’s not true at all.”

“Sure is! Think about it. You remember Kitty Grogan?”

“From Calc?”

“Yeah. Her boyfriend’s in English or something. They’ve been together since high school. And there’s Bill and Fran, and Don and Skip last year from across the hall. Those two are as steady as they come.”

“Yeah, except they added a third,” Joe snorts.

“What?”

“Their duo has become a trio. That guy Penkala from a few rooms down.”

Cobb’s leaning forward, face between the two front seats. “Shit, really?”

“Yeah. That makes two engineers and—what’s Don in, business? And your theory doesn’t explain Gene and Babe.”

“Well then, they’re doomed to fail. I give them a semester, tops.”

“They’ve been together for twenty seven months.” He knows that because yesterday Babe was panicking about the lack of two-and-a-quarter-year anniversary cards at CVS. He hates his friends.

“Shit,” Cobb says again.

“Who knows, though,” Joe adds generously. “Maybe we’ve all got a Liberal Arts major waiting for us somewhere out there, eh?”

“Yeah, I know one. She’s at Independence Hall. Newly single. Ask for Mandy.”

“I think I’ll pass.” He stops in front of an alley. The sun set not long ago but already the streets are dark, air heavy with cold. “Is this it? I don’t see anything but the GPS says we’re here.”

“Yeah, it’s down there,” Cobb says, gesturing down the alley. There’s some sort of storefront halfway down, carnival glass windows spilling golden light onto the pavement. Cobb hands Joe a stack of bills. “Looks rundown, but I swear it’s the best bar in town. Have a good night, yeah?”

 Before Joe can answer the back door swings open and two people scramble in. Cobb is bodily shoved through the other side to make room, and he slams the door behind himself with a look of abject horror. Joe turns in his seat. There is a redhead sprawled half across the backseat, trying to scoot further into the vehicle and having little success. It’s partly due to his awkward position and partly due to the two large backpacks he seems to have thrown in ahead of himself. The man trying to shove his tongue down the poor guy’s throat probably isn’t helping either. Joe clears his throat loudly, which accomplishes absolutely nothing. They don’t even pause, but the second guy finally gets his entire body into the car and slams the door shut so at least there’s that.

“Where to?” Joe asks loudly.

The redhead finally breaks for air and the man in his lap immediately relocates his mouth to his collarbone. “Mmff—Marconi Plaza, just head there and I’ll tell you where to stop.” He’s got some sort of southern drawl. It would be charming, except his voice cracks as the other guy gets a hand up his shirt.

“You know, there are laws against fucking in cabs,” Joe says conversationally. He throws an apologetic wave to Cobb before he starts driving; Cobb laughs at him.

The man sprawled in the ginger’s lap looks up to glare at him in the mirror. He’s a little crazy-eyed, actually. Normally it would be unsettling, but Joe’s tired and caffeine-deprived and he could give less of a shit. He glares right back. “Then how about you don’t watch and no one gets in trouble, boo,” the man says, honey-slow.

“Shut up, Snaf,” the redhead snaps.

“Make me.”

Joe grumbles to himself and kicks up the speed to ten past the legal limit. He pointedly ignores the breathy moan that drifts from the backseat.

 

When he finally gets off work—cab blessedly undebauched, thanks to his sharp turns and quick driving—he still hasn’t seen Toye or any other driver. It’s midnight when he pulls into the lot, the cab station like a ghost town. He locks the car and pulls his collar off before heading in the direction of David’s apartment. The temperature has dropped again, clouds dark purple and heavy. They could get snow any day now, and he dreads the day the roads finally frost over. He doesn’t mind walking, likes the simplicity of it and the time alone with his own thoughts, but as soon as the snow comes it won’t be nearly as enjoyable.

He climbs the stairs to David’s building and pushes the buzzer a few times. The door unlocks with a soft clunking sound and he lets himself in. Within a minute he’s standing in front of David’s door as it swings open. David is standing on the other side in a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants slung low over his hips. His hair is still distinctly Disney-ish, which is really not fair. People shouldn’t be allowed to look that cozy and suave at the same time. It gives Joe a weird warm feeling in his chest that he pushes down forcefully.

“I’m only here because you have my German textbook,” Joe says by way of greeting.

“Who’s fault is that?”

“Mine. I left it here. But it’s your fault for being a dick about it.”

“I'm not being a dick. I would've brought it to you today if you'd have asked.” He steps out of the doorway to let Joe in. “Is that all you’re here for?”

“What’s that mean?”

“It’s midnight on a Thursday.”

“So?”

David shuts the door behind him, raising his eyebrows. “We have a schedule, lieb. Deny it all you want, but you know we do.”

“I’m not denying anything,” Joe protests as he steps further into the apartment. It’s a good space, small but with high ceilings and hardwood floors. Joe still wonders how exactly David and Hoobler managed to nab it, though he figures David’s wealth combined with Hoobler’s charm had something to do with it. “What makes you think I’m not busy today?”

“It’s a Thursday. It’s midnight,” he repeats. “You’re never busy. Neither am I. That’s why we have a schedule.”

Joe rolls his eyes and goes to the living room. His textbook is lying on the couch and he grabs it, trying to shove it into his bag. He sits down when the zipper decides to put up a fight. “You're so fucking annoying.”

“Are you still mad at me about class?” Joe doesn't answer and David huffs, taking the bag from him and carefully loosening the zipper before handing it back. “I'm sorry I refuse to patronize you by telling you you're right when you're wrong. I'm sorry you're too stubborn to concede a point.”

“David,” Joe snaps, anger finally boiling over. He reaches up to grab a handful of David’s shirt, dragging him onto the couch. David goes easily, letting Joe manhandle him. Joe pushes him onto his back and David’s tiny, smug smile just makes him even more pissed off. “Shut up.”

David laughs, breathless. “And let you get the last word? I get that you hate me, but…”

 He trails off with an almost silent as Joe gets a hand in his hair, tugging on the soft strands. David arches into it a little and something about that loosens Joe’s shoulders, makes his heart melt in a way he’ll never admit to. He tugs David’s head to the side so he can press his nose to the juncture of his jaw. He smells clean and sweet and Joe sighs against his neck. “I don’t hate you.”

“You sure could fool me.” He gasps when Joe nips his jaw.

“No, I don't. You piss me off, but I don't hate you.” He noses his jaw again, exhaling quietly before speaking. “Do you hate me?”

“No,” David says quietly. Joe grinds into him and his eyelashes flutter, and Joe will never get over how beautifully responsive he always is even after two years of this. He does it again. “You--no, I don't hate you. I'm sorry I called you asinine.”

“I'm sorry I called you an asshole,” Joe mumbles into his neck.

“And a dick?”

“And a dick.”

David huffs a laugh and bites at his ear, most likely just because it's near his face. Joe always forgets about his complete lack of restraint when it comes to putting objects in his mouth. He's always chewing or smoking or leaving his lips hanging open, and it's distracting more than anything. Joe puts his fingers to his lips as an offering. This backfires as soon as David takes a fingertip into his mouth. Joe stares at his mouth, forgetting himself for a moment, before tugging at David’s waistband one-handed. A hundred words in two different languages come to mind for how gorgeous he is, half of them endearments—but that’s not what this is. That’s not what they are to each other, no matter how much the line seems to blur. “Fuck,” he says instead.

It comes out sounding like an endearment anyway.

David laughs. “Stop.”

“You stop,” Joe replies, but he’s laughing now too. He tugs on David’s waistband again. “Lift up for me.”

David scoots out from under him instead of lifting his hips. He stands and tugs Joe to his feet before leading him through the apartment to his room. There he strips hurriedly before flopping onto the white down and colorful afghans that make up his bed. Joe toes off his converse before following him.

“You're overdressed,” David says.

“I’m fashionable.” David snorts and tugs at his shirt, and Joe raises his arms obediently to let him pull it off.

“How was work?”

“Awful. How was studying?”

“Boring.”

He thumbs at David’s hole, getting a shaky exhale in response. His thumb comes away slick, and his eyes widen. “Did you…”

“Like I said. Boring afternoon.” David’s tone is flippant and he holds his gaze, but Joe doesn't miss the tinge of red that rises to his cheeks. He pushes his middle finger past the ring of muscle and it slides in easily, David’s mouth falling open.

“Did you think of me?”

“You wish.” Joe adds a second just to be sure and he gasps and reaches toward the nightstand, rifling blindly through the drawer before flinging a condom at Joe’s face. “You’re the worst. Stop teasing and fuck me.”

“Bossy,” Joe gripes. He tugs his jeans down his thighs with one hand, David rolling the condom on him impatiently. And then he’s lining up and pushing in and--

“God, yes,” David breathes.

Joe hardly waits before he’s rolling his hips lazily, getting a groan in response. It’s rough without enough lube but the drag of friction makes his toes curl, and by the way David writhes under him he knows he feels the same. He bites at David’s throat. “You're so fucking hot.”

“You're so fucking slow,” David laughs. “I know you can do better than that.”

“Fuck you.”

“That's the idea. Come on, lieb.”

Joe thrusts into him hard, gathering David’s wrists into his hands and pinning them above his head. David chokes on air, and Joe sucks a bruise into his shoulder as he fucks into him fast and hard. “Like that?”

“Yes, perfect,” David says into the air between them. He groans again at a particularly well-aimed thrust. Joe releases his wrists to tug at his hair again and David keens, digging his nails into Joe’s shoulder blades. The sting makes Joe hiss, pain and pleasure bouncing off each other. He knows this is going to be over embarrassingly fast so he reaches down to get a hand around David. Less than two thrusts later David’s shooting off between them, muffling his moan by clamping his teeth around the juncture of Joe’s neck and shoulder.

Joe’s not sure if it’s pain or pleasure that has him coming a minute later. He groans against David’s ear, eyes squeezing shut and hand tightening in David’s hair of its own accord. It just makes David’s teeth tighten further until he finally goes limp, pressing a lazy kiss against the bite as Joe sags against him.

“You draw blood?” Joe asks, coming back to himself slowly.

“Mmh. No, you're not that good.”

“I'll consider it a blessing,” Joe says, stretching before getting up and crossing over to the bathroom. “Bloodstains are a bitch to wash out.”

“I don’t want to know how you know that.”

He comes back with a washcloth, tossing it at David. It lands on his stomach with a wet spat and he yelps. Joe flops down next to him, looking him in the eye, stupid warm feelings bubbling through his ribs again when David gives him a dopey smile. This isn’t supposed to be about feelings or any of that shit, just pure attraction and frustration and lust. It’s a thin line he’s walking. “I like you,” he says quietly, like it’s a secret.

“Careful. That's the happy glow talking.”

“Yeah, you're probably right. You suck.”

“Shut up,” David says, grinning. “Don’t you have somewhere to be? Preferably far away?”

“Yeah, yeah.” He gets up and pulls his shirt back on, picking his converses off the floor and loosening the laces. “I'll see you in class on Thursday if I don’t see you before.”

“Alright. Don’t forget your textbook.”

“Not gonna walk me out? You having trouble with your legs or something?”

“Like I said, you're not that good.”

“Sure, sure. Is that why you keep coming back for more?”

David flings a pillow at him and he laughs as he leaves the apartment. He shuts the door behind him, jogging down the stairs to the street.

He feels a little lighter as he walks back toward his building. Maybe David’s right and it’s the happy glow talking. When it comes down to it, Joe finds he doesn’t really care. He has slightly-better-than-average grades and a reliable source of income. He has roommates who he loves. He misses his family in California but he knows they’re proud of him. And he and his fuckbuddy might just be becoming friends at last.

He reaches his building at around one in the morning. When he stumbles into the apartment not a single light is on. The street is silent outside and the air is still, any late night partygoers forced inside as the temperature drops. Joe rifles through the fridge and finds a sandwich he saved from the day before. He unwraps it and eats half in one bite as he crosses the living room.

The walls flicker blue and white from the light of the television. Chuck is sitting on the couch playing a video game, his eyes glazed over and his brow furrowed in concentration. The only sound in the room is the clicking of the controller. Joe studies the screen for a minute. “What is this?” he asks finally.

Chuck shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s your sandwich, not mine.”

“No. I mean what’s the game?”

Chuck tears his eyes away from the television for a moment to look at him quizzically. “Call of Duty. Duh.”

“Oh.” Duh. “I thought you finished last night?”

“No. I’ve still got this stupid side story with the Nazi zombie thing. I might finish it tonight but it’s—” onscreen his character dies in a burst of gunfire, and Chuck swears quietly.

“It’s hard?”

“Yeah. It’s hard.” He puts the controller down and looks at Joe again. Joe doesn’t miss the way his eyes catch on his neck. “How was your night?”

“Same old. It looks like it’ll snow soon.”

“Getting cold,” Chuck agrees. “You should’ve called. I would have given you a ride home.”

“It’s alright. I like walking.” He crams the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and talks as he chews. “I’m going to bed. Got some sleep to catch up on. Night, Chuck.”

“Mmgh.”

The buttons of the controller are still clicking away as Joe closes his bedroom door and falls into bed, exhausted. He’s asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.