When Matthew Morrison put a roommate ad on Graiglist ("For all your wants and needs! Created and run by your reliable dwarf friend Graig") he didn't really know what to expect. Hopefully someone reliable who could pay their rent on time, or at the very least not a serial killer. However, Tyrone Elwood was both exactly what he expected and… exactly not.
When the guy accepted his ad and they met up for coffee for the first time, he seemed perfectly fine. Had worked a number of odd jobs over the years, currently waited tables at a restaurant in town, didn't have any family nearby, and said he spent much of his free time out and about. He'd dressed nice for their meetup—a pressed, white dress shirt tucked into black slacks—and held conversation well. All-in-all, he seemed like a fine roommate for Matt.
Now, about a month later, he'd learned a few things about Tyrone. One, he hadn't dressed up for their meetup, he just dressed like that always. Two, his work hours were weird; sometimes he worked all day, sometimes only for a few scattered hours, sometimes not at all. And three, the guy was odd.
Matt supposed no odder than like… your average "wacky" roommate, but in a totally different way. He didn't invite people over for parties when Matt wasn't home, he didn't create more of a mess than Matt usually did, and he didn't touch Matt's stuff (usually). No, instead he sometimes disappeared for a few days or more, or smiled too wide when he won a bet or something went his way, or tried to haggle and con his way out of doing tasks. Just little things that made the guy stick out.
Matt didn't mind, though. Hey, he paid his rent on time, so he couldn't really complain. Living with Tyrone was a blessing compared to his last roommate, so Matt just shrugged off his oddities.
Besides, Matt thought as he sat back from his tablet, Tyrone was fun to be around. He knew some good jokes, and he got along with Matt's friends well. Chris particularly liked him, because he somehow understood all of Chris's references to old movies. Matt didn't know anyone else who had watched all those movies except those two.
Matt glanced at his roommate, lounged back on the couch with headphones on, dressed in the same nice clothes he always wore, though today he'd opted for a dark blue shirt instead of white. He looked comfortable enough, engrossed in whatever he was watching on his phone.
"Everything alright?" Tyrone asked from the couch, headphones now around his neck. When had he taken them out? Matt turned red.
Okay, maybe spending forever zoning out about his roommate was a bad idea. He hadn't even meant to stare. He grimaced at the drawing on his tablet; how long had he been drawing on the wrong layer? Matt groaned.
"Will be once I fix this." Matt leaned toward the tablet and Tyrone shrugged before putting his headphones back on.
Luckily it was a quick fix, but still. Annoying. How many commissions did he have left?
Matt put his head in his hands and scrubbed his face. He'd been at it for hours, and even with the special screen protection eyewear he had, his eyes burned. Whether that was from the tablet or sheer exhaustion though, he didn't know.
He checked the time. 10:05 pm. Well, he could afford a break and a snack right now.
Matt went to the kitchen and pulled a bag of barbeque chips out of the cabinet.
"We got any of those sour gummies?" Tyrone called. "The ones shaped like gnomes?"
"Yep," Matt replied, grabbing the half empty bag. He returned to his tablet, the light dimmed after a few moments away, and tossed Tyrone the bag. He dug in, shoving whole handfuls into his mouth and chewing so loudly that Matt couldn't help but make a face.
Yeah, that was another odd thing about Tyrone; despite how nice he dressed, he was a horribly messy eater. Matt couldn't figure out how those two aspects could possibly go together, but Tyrone managed it.
Matt picked up his tablet pen and sighed. Just a few more hours and he could get some sleep.
A few more hours had turned into five, and Matt felt like death at work the next morning.
The opening shift at the coffee shop was either the best or the worst, and there was no in-between. Some mornings, when it was just Matt and two others and the soft music coming from the radio, he didn't mind it. But other mornings, when people eagerly rushed into the shop as soon as the doors opened, it was miserable.
This morning was the latter.
Matt sighed and scrubbed his eyes. What he would give right now to take a nap. Or to get a better job.
He could do it. His shift ended at noon, and then he had lunch plans at his apartment with his friends. That alone kept him going through the never-ending morning rush.
"I got in!" Anthony announced, cracking open a can of Pitt Cola. "Grad school here I come!" He took a swig and grinned.
Rounds of congratulations and claps on the back came from around the table as Anthony beamed.
"Yeah! I took Dr. Melbourne's graduate assistant position," Anthony continued. "But it's a really new thing so keep it on the down low okay? The other applicants don't know yet."
Jia grinned. "Worthy cause for celebration." She lifted her can of Pitt. "To the future Dr. Rodriguez!"
A chorus of "to Anthony!" sounded before they all took huge drinks of their soda. Chris started coughing.
Matt watched as Anthony smacked Chris on the back in a poor attempt to help. Despite Chris's coughing fit, Anthony couldn't keep the small smile off his face, excitement still radiating off him so strong it felt almost tangible. Anthony was one year behind Matt in school, currently in his final semester of senior year, but he'd had a steadfast dream of becoming an art professor since he was nine years old and he made sure everyone knew it. He dreamed of becoming Dr. Anthony Rodriguez, PhD.
Matt had considered grad school before, and he hadn't necessarily ruled it out yet, but he didn't really see it necessary for what he wanted to do. He wanted to focus on freelance work as he waited for job openings, hopefully at the animation studio located about an hour from where he lived.
After Chris got it out of his system, Matt said, "Anyone up for Wario Party? I've got the new one."
Everyone chorused their agreement and headed to the living room. They settled down to play the game, spread out between the one couch and the various mismatched chairs Matt owned. Just as they booted up the console, Tyrone walked through the door, a strange look in his eyes that Matt couldn't place, a mix between glee and agitation. He looked pristine, as usual.
It took him a few moments to notice the group of friends gathered around the coffee table, and when he did, he froze in the middle of the living room, staring at them. At Anthony. A tense silence filled the air between them. Right, he forgot Tyrone was sometimes weird around new people, and he didn't know Anthony. Shoot, he should've texted him. Would Tyrone get angry about him having tons of people over without asking? He was about to get up when Chris broke the silence by standing with a grin. "Dude, Tyrone! It's been a minute, wanna play Wario Party? We've got another controller."
The silence broke like a dam, and air returned to the room in a rush. Matt breathed out. Why had that felt so weird?
Tyrone contemplated for a few seconds before smiling back at Chris. "Pass it." He took the controller from Chris's outstretched hand and pulled a chair in from the kitchen to sit on. Other than the nice clothes—nicer than what they were all wearing, at least—nothing about him looked out of place. He fit in like another member of their little friend group.
So why, in the few moments after he entered the apartment, had he felt so out of place? There were a few times when Tyrone had frozen people to the spot with a glare (not literally, of course), but it had never felt like that before, where it felt like the whole room was filled with molasses and all sound disappeared. Tyrone could be intimidating, but that wasn't even intimidation. He didn't know what that was.
Matt shook it off. Tyrone could be a little weird, he knew that, and maybe the sight of an unfamiliar face had scared him. Of course the whole room would freeze when Tyrone, when anyone, suddenly froze to stare at their friend. Besides, Tyrone was already back to normal, chatting with Jia and Chris and bragging about his Wario Party skills.
His bragging didn't hold up. Per usual, Jia crushed them in Wario party. If Cassie had been there, she probably would be in second place, but she had work, so Chris came in second, Matt and Anthony tied for third, and Tyrone in dead last. By the end of the game, it was like the weird moment with Tyrone had never happened.
Tyrone threw down his controller and crossed his arms with a huff. "This is nothing like Mario Party! I would decimate you guys at that."
Chris snorted. "Dude, Mario Party? They haven't made a new Mario Party in decades. What kind of outdated gaming systems are you playing on?"
Tyrone glared at him. "Good gaming systems, thank you." He threw out a hand to the TV, gesturing wildly. "Mario Party is far superior to this."
"Here we go again," Jia mumbled as Chris's eyes narrowed.
"Are you implying that the new Ninten—"
"Tyrone!" Matt interjected before Chris could actually get heated. Tyrone probably didn't know how passionate Chris was about his favorite game companies just yet, and Matt wasn't quite ready to watch him find out. "Have you met Anthony? This is Anthony!" He grabbed Anthony's arm and pulled him forward, ignoring his friend's "hey!" at the sharp motion.
Tyrone raised an eyebrow at Matt before turning his attention to Anthony with a smile. "Nice to meet you." He stuck his hand out. "Tyrone Elwood."
Anthony grasped his hand. "Anthony Rodriguez."
Tyrone pulled his hand back, smile still in place, and grabbed some chips he'd somehow managed to haggle from Chris. He popped them in his mouth and said, "so what's everyone doing over here anyways?"
Matt shrugged. "Anthony said he had something to announce but he wanted to do it in person, so I invited them over. Sorry I didn't tell you, thought you'd be working." He added with a sheepish smile.
Tyrone shrugged. "I thought so too. I don't mind." He munched on a few more chips, swallowed, and asked, "What was the announcement?"
"I got into grad school!" Anthony beamed.
Tyrone's eyes widened and he matched Anthony's grin. "Congratulations! That's quite the achievement."
Was that genuine affection Matt spotted in Tyrone's eyes?
Matt glanced between the two as they started discussing Anthony's future studies as a graduate assistant and, sure enough, it was.
"…and then once the second semester starts I might even be able to teach a section of basic art history!" Anthony said, smile so wide it looked like it might split his face. Tyrone smiled right back, chin resting in the palm of his hand as Anthony rambled on. Matt wasn't an empath—his mom was—but he didn't need to be to see the proud, affectionate gleam that shone in Tyrone's eyes.
Was that why Tyrone had acted so weird earlier? Did he know Anthony from a long time ago? That much, Matt couldn't tell. Honestly, though, he was just glad Tyrone got along with him so well. Matt desperately wanted his friends to like Tyrone, and vice versa.
His friends stayed a little longer, Jia and Chris facing off in another quick round of Wario Party that Chris managed to win (just barely). They popped in another game, Waluigi Kart, ("What?!" Tyrone spluttered. "Waluigi Kart? What ever happened to Mario Kart?") and faced off for a good few rounds before the others had to leave.
As Anthony shrugged his jacket on and headed for the door, Tyrone shot a hand out and grabbed his wrist. "Feel free to come over whenever you like," he said quickly before releasing Anthony's wrist with a sheepish smile. "And, uh, be safe going home."
Yeah, Matt thought as Anthony waved goodbye, Tyrone definitely knew Anthony from somewhere, but Anthony didn't know him.
Matt didn't understand why the thought made him so sad.