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Leading the Blind

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Antonio really thought he had wandered through Roderick’s front door last night. Well, perhaps wandered wasn’t the right word – he may have had to shake the doorknob a fair amount and ram his shoulder against the wood once or twice to get the darn entrance open. He did stumble around however, after that unpleasant fact, in a rather wandering way, so he decided when the grumpy musician confronted him the next morning, sprawled out shirtless on his couch, he would indeed try to soften the blow with that gentler word.

Antonio groaned and buried his face in the sofa cushions. They were a deep rusty orange, and smelled strongly of basil and fruity alcohol. He gagged at the scent, having had too much of such liquor the night before, when Gilbert had all but hijacked his car on his way home from work and directed them to the nearest club. Their old friend Francis had been waiting outside, fanning himself haughtily with a hefty paycheck that he and Gilbert would use to dually get Antonio wasted. There was a faint memory of karaoke, and Antonio cringed, knowing how downhill his musical talent went while under the influence. There had been some blonde lady as well and…was that a donkey?

He hadn’t had that much to drink, and he wasn’t exactly a lightweight; Francis must’ve spiked his water or something. Antonio certainly hoped so as vague recollections came back to him, hurting to think about in his pounding head. Groaning again he flipped over, ungracefully flailing and half-falling off the couch, elbows hitting the rough tile floor. He hissed and cursed Roderick, and Gilbert, and Francis. And heck he cursed his mailman because the guy was never polite to him and Antonio was quite beyond reason at this point. His head spun, all muscles aching like he had been repeatedly run over by an eighteen wheeler. He felt like death itself. Reaching one hand up to grab at the arm of the furniture, his other hand gave out beneath him, sending him sprawling back onto the tile. His head hit the slate with a snap and his legs were tangled with the cushions, day old slacks half unbuttoned and missing a belt.

 Letting out a yelp he slammed his palm on the cool floor, face contorting as the impact rang through his whole head. His temples imploded –Maybe I really am going to die this time – and in a split second through the pain he remembered something rather important. Not where he had left his keys, though that was important too, but something that pertained to the exact here and now. Roderick’s apartment was all pine and white plaster. He didn’t have tile floors.

A click resounded through the room and in a moment of hung-over stupidity Antonio considered that it may be his brain finally turning on. It proved to be something much more concrete and realistic as he pulled himself up and onto the couch, just in time for what he assumed was the front door to swing open, revealing a cranky looking young man with a duffle bag pulled over one shoulder. They locked eyes for a moment, and Antonio noted dimly that the man’s irises were a bright polished gold, visible even from across the room. The next thing he noted was that this was probably the owner of the apartment and he should probably offer some sort of explanation and/or put on a shirt before the guy called the cops.

“Who the fuck are you?” He wasn’t fast enough. The man gripped the strap of his bag tightly, face screwing up into a highly unpleasant expression. His voice held a charming Italian inflection – he must be a migrant directly from the country, unlike Antonio himself, who’s only connection to his heritage lay in his senile Spanish grandmother who lived halfway across the country. Antonio watched, half amused and a little alarmed as the Italian grabbed an umbrella, jabbing the metal point in his direction and dropping his duffel bag. “You better be listening to me, bastard,” he spat. “I’ve seen types like you and I know how to deal with them, so you just keep your stinking ass sat right down on that sofa-” Antonio waved his hands in front of him rapidly in an attempt at peace that only seemed to agitate the young man more. He made a growling sound and held the implement in front of him like a broadsword as he took a step back into the hallway.

“No, no, no! This isn’t what it looks like!” Antonio smiled shakily, sitting upright and putting one hand to his pounding head. To his surprise the man gave a startled squeak and gritted his teeth, bracing his legs apart as if expecting Antonio to charge at him bull-style. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

You didn’t fucking mean to break into my house?” The Italian’s voice was shrill, becoming more accented as his temper flared.

Antonio laughed very nervously. “Break in?”

“What else would you call the fucking broken lock, bastard?!” He gestured wildly at the door-jam and sure enough, in his alcoholic haze, Antonio had busted the deadbolt clean through the wood. He gave the homeowner a shy smile, silently going through his list of blamed subjects and cursing them over once more.

“I hadn’t realized; it was an accident-”

“How in all of godforsaken hell do you manage to accidentally break through a lock?!” The Italian was having none of it. Antonio winced and lowered his head to his hands, pushing out a faint groan as the yelling worked like a subwoofer in his temples. It was quiet for a moment before the man called out, just as cagey but considerably more softly, “Hey, bastard. What’s wrong with you?”

Antonio directed a wary smile at him, answering his previous question. “Ah, alcohol may have played a part.” The man looked at him for a moment, seemingly confused before he let out a heavy sigh, anger fading away to intense irritation.

“You’re fucking hung-over.” Antonio nodded sheepishly and the homeowner groaned, lowering his rain-repelling weapon ever-so-slightly and running one hand through thick auburn hair. He waited a moment as the man muttered foul sounding things under his breath before offering some explanation.

“I needed a place to go, so I planned on, uh, visiting my musician friend,” He bit his lip. “Obviously I messed up somewhere.”

The Italian looked confused. “Wait, you mean the pimp next door?”

“Roderick?” Antonio inquired.

“Edelstein,” He confirmed. “He’s…a friend of a brother of an acquaintance. Of mine, I mean.” The man scowled, apparently realizing that his ramblings really didn’t pertain to anything and he was supposed to be quite murderous at the moment. “You really are a stupid bastard,” he continued, weakly trying to pull back together his standoffish façade. He slid forward carefully and shut the door behind him, giving Antonio a look before stepping through an archway into the kitchen. Antonio could see him over the bar.

“My name’s Antonio,” Antonio supplied, shakily supporting himself as he stood and wandered over to a stool. In the kitchen the Italian grabbed a glass out of a cupboard and filled it with water.

“I don’t give a single shit,” he responded matter-of-factly and slid the glass across the counter top to Antonio, who took it gratefully and drank. He could feel the water drain down his throat.

“What’s yours?” The redhead paused, his curiously bright eyes flashing.

“None of your fucking business. Stop being all friendly; it’s creepy as shit.” He growled while treading over to a linen closet. He shoved a thin blanket in Antonio’s direction. “The only reason I’m not setting the police on your sorry ass is that I don’t want to get involved in all the paperwork. Now sit down, drink your water, and cover up. You look like a striper.”

Antonio did as he was told, draping the fabric given to him around his shoulders like a cloak. He settled back against the back of the bar stool, sending an appreciative smile the Italians way which was only returned with a scowl. “Thank you very much,” he beamed, forgetting already the warning that his outgoing behavior was ‘creepy’; he had gotten too many similar comments to care much anymore. The man grunted and leaned against the wall, training his eyes anywhere else. “You know,” the unwitting intruder continued. “If you don’t tell me your name then I’ll have to call you something else.”

“I don’t care.” Antonio blinked. Wow, not one cuss or insult in that sentence. We’re getting somewhere.

“Alright. Can I ask for some aspirin, Mr. Tomato?”

The man choked on nothing. Face turning red and sputtering he whipped around. “Che cazzo?!”

“My head hurts,” Antonio explained, but the Italian shook his head, his flustered expression assuring Antonio once and for all that no, this was not someone he needed to be afraid of.

“No, no, no, no, no.” He slammed a palm against his face, pulling it down with exasperation. “Why would you choose that, out of all things?” He held up a hand as Antonio tried to formulate a reason. “No. Nevermind. I don’t even want to know what goes on inside that bastard head of yours.” He stalked past Antonio and headed down a short hallway.

“My name is Antonio!” He called after the man, getting somewhat tired of his degrading nickname.

Two hands raised in response, as if pleading with the heavens. “And look at all the fucks I give.”

The homeowner returned with two white pills, a too tight tee-shirt, and a bucket he said was for ‘vomitare’, though Antonio wasn’t sure what that meant. He popped the pills and pulled on the shirt, his head clearing up and the awkwardness of his situation finally settling in.

“So…” he murmured uncomfortably. “Have you ever pole danced with a donkey, Mr. Tomato?”

“Do not fucking call me that,” he growled in response.

Antonio brushed it off. “It might have actually been on the donkey.” He frowned. “For the donkey?”

“Stop. Talking.”

Focusing on the redhead face he saw it turn at least three shades darker red. Golden eyes fluttered over to him, all long lashes and hypnotizing color. Antonio watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as his gaze wandered over the shirt he had lent the gatecrasher. He felt an itchiness rise up under his skin, unwarned, and the room was suddenly too hot, too quiet. He was aware of the man’s scent and his closeness, the light waves of his hair…

Antonio bit his lip, convincing himself he was just curious for coincidences sake. “Mr. Tomato… are you, by chance…” Those unique eyes flashed up to meet his immediately, openly scandalized anger replacing thinly veiled fear.

“What? No! What are you saying?!”

“You don’t even know what I was going to ask,” Antonio reasoned. I was going to ask if you swung that way.

“I’m fucking Catholic!”  The Italian snarled. “You damn pervert, I was just going to ask if you wanted something else to wear since that shirt is too tight!”

“Oh,” Antonio sighed, trying not to sound too disappointed. Preying on people you just met- get a grip, Toni, you’re turning into Francis. “Well then that’s very kind of you.”

He snorted, though the action was half-hearted, his muscles very tense. “I’m just a good host. My grandpa taught me well.”

“Your grandpa…” Antonio tried to steer the conversation in a new route. “Was he Italian?”

“Yes.” He spoke after a moment.  “As was my father and mother.” He said the last part slowly, quietly, surprising Antonio with his willingness to share. “My younger brother and I moved here five years ago, when I turned eighteen.”

That would make you twenty three; just four years younger. “You have a brother? What’s his name? How old is he?

He grimaced. “Where do you get off asking such creepy ass questions? Are you a pedophile?”

Antonio’s pitch rose defensively. “I’m just trying to make small talk!” The Italian sighed and slouched.

“Well I don’t have time for it. My shitty boss expects me in thirty minutes, and thanks to you and my ‘you-can’t-leave-until-you-have-coffee-and-talk-with-me’ brother I haven’t even gotten a shower.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Antonio smiled despite the leaden sensation he felt building in his chest. For some reason he wanted to stay and watch the man whose home he had unintentionally barged into. He wanted to listen to him talk and find out who he was and maybe clean up the couch because it looked like he had drooled in his sleep. He also didn’t want to venture out into the world and find out what he had ruined and how much money he had blown last night. “I guess I caused you a lot of trouble.”

“Damn straight,” he grumbled in response, though he too seemed less fiery, almost reluctant for the conversation to end. You’re just imagining it.

“I’ll see you around, uh…” Antonio caught himself, feeling it wasn’t the time to prod at the man with silly epithets and wanting to know his name in any case.

He finally relented. “Lovino,” he supplied broodingly as he lead Antonio to the door. “And no, you won’t.”

Antonio smiled, feeling rather brave. “We’ll see about that. Goodbye, Lovino,” and shut the door gently on the sight of tousled chestnut hair and eyes that seemed too sharp and reflective.

He let out a sigh, partially out of stress, and partially out of something he was afraid to put a term to. Lovino. For some reason the name wouldn’t leave his head. It rolled off his tongue so easily when he had said it. Lovino. Lovino. Lovino.

He recognized where he was now; of course he did – he was just one door down. The plaque in front of him read ‘302’ in shiny brass letters. It was understandable that those could morph to ‘300’ in the middle of a drunken stupor. He tried to remember those numbers, put some kind of importance to them, because he would find a way and a reason to come back here and God, I really need to stop, this is creepy.

He shook his head, still feeling slightly nauseous, and all but tiptoed towards the elevator, faint memories of crawling through here on all fours permeating his brain unpleasantly. When he reached Roderick’s door he had to force himself to keep moving. He didn’t even let himself stop to catch up with the old friend; if he allowed that, it would only end badly. After all, he had something really stupid planned for the next time he saw the musician. He wanted to ask him how to write a love song.