“We’re going speed-dating,” Frank announced as he flung open the door to their room, and that was how it started.
For the record, Brendon had no desire to go speed-dating at all. Finals were coming up and everything was a huge ball of stress and all Brendon wanted to do was hide under his bed, and bash his textbooks against his face until all the knowledge inside magically soaked through his skin into his brain, and maybe it would be cool if he could find time in there to play his guitar without Frank going, “Ugh,” every five seconds because apparently guitar music that wasn’t just bad noise wasn’t cool.
The last thing Brendon wanted to do was go and have a lot of three-minute conversations with a bunch of strangers, especially when the only reason Frank wanted him to go at all was so he’d have someone to keep him company while he stalked Creepy Comic Book Guy.
“He’s not creepy,” Frank scowled when Brendon voiced his reservations. “And it’s not stalking if we’re both in attendance at a public event.”
Brendon sighed and closed his laptop, resigning himself to getting absolutely no work done for the foreseeable ever. “How do you even know he’s going to be there?”
“That’s not important,” Frank said, which was really obvious code for ‘I stalked it out of him’. “But you have to come with me, okay? It’s tomorrow night.”
Brendon pushed his fingers under his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Remind me why I have to be involved at all?”
“You’re my roommate,” Frank said, like it should have been obvious. “We’re supposed to support each other.”
“You don’t support me in my desire for you to leave me alone,” Brendon pointed out, and then said, “Oof,” because Frank threw a pillow at his head. “Okay, soft furnishings to the face are not making me sympathetic to your plight.”
“Whatever.” Frank got his washbag off the shelf over his bed, and then started taking off his clothes without warning, which was another reason why Brendon was pretty sure he must have done something to really piss off the roommate gods in a previous life. “You need to get out of this room anyway, dude, you’re like an old person. You went to bed at nine-thirty last night.”
“I was tired!” Brendon protested. “You kept me up the whole night before playing video games!”
“I was wearing headphones!”
“But you do a victory scream every time you kill something, Frank, I’ve told you.” Brendon risked a pleading glance in Frank’s direction, which was a mistake because Frank was now completely naked and standing there looking irritated with his hands on his hips. “Oh my God.”
“Your obvious issues with intimacy and the human body are clearly indicative of-”
“Stop,” Brendon held his hands up in a futile attempt to ward off the incoming flood of Psychology Major. “Please. I’m begging you.”
“-a very serious need for you to get laid,” Frank finished triumphantly. “You need to meet someone, Brendon, I’m not even kidding. That bed needs to get used for something that isn’t studying and torturing me with folk music.”
Brendon threw his hands up in defeat. “Fine. If I come speed-dating with you, then will you leave me alone and stop complaining when I play my guitar?”
“Will you stop complaining when I play my guitar?”
“Will you stop screaming about zombies at four in the morning?”
“Will you stop being my Grandma?”
“Will you put some fucking clothes on?”
“Deal,” Frank said happily. He wrapped a towel around his waist – towels totally didn’t count, what an asshole – and went off whistling in the direction of the bathroom.
Brendon groaned and flopped back on his bed. As if it was any of Frank’s stupid business what state Brendon’s love life was in, anyway. Brendon totally got laid. Or, okay, he hadn’t lately, but whatever, everyone went through dry spells. Brendon would meet someone when he was ready to meet someone, and he seriously doubted that the someone in question would be at any organized dating event that Creepy Comic Book Guy saw fit to attend. Probably everyone there would be dressed in black and call themselves ‘Figaro’ or something. Brendon didn’t want to date anyone called Figaro. Figaro was not a name you could moan in the throes of passion, he didn’t think.
“Figaroooooo,” he breathed, trying it out, and then laughed. He did it again when Frank came back, and Frank laughed too, and then put his underwear on before taking his towel off, which was his way of being nice. He didn’t put any more clothes on, which was annoying, but he did start rolling a joint.
“I’ll come speed-dating,” Brendon said after a few hits, because you couldn’t smoke a dude’s weed and then not go speed-dating when they asked. That wouldn’t be cool.
When they got to the bar the next night, Frank made a huge deal out of wanting to be number thirteen.
“Because, see, I was born on Halloween,” he told the harassed guy who was assigning numbers. Frank held out his hands to demonstrate his commitment to his own birthday. “And it’s Friday today, and so if I’m number thirteen then it’s like two classic horror movies instead of just one, and-”
“Dude,” said the harassed guy to Brendon. “If I let him be number thirteen will he stop talking?”
“To you,” Brendon said glumly. He took his own number, which was fifteen, and followed Frank into the bar.
There were a few people there who were wearing black and did look as if their names might be Figaro. One of them was Creepy Comic Book Guy himself, who was lurking in the corner with a skinny dude who Brendon vaguely recognized from around. But there were also a lot of normal-looking people there, and Brendon started to relax when he was halfway through the first of what Frank assured him would be many, many free drinks. The harassed guy came in after a while and told them where to sit and what the bell sounded like and that they should tick the boxes of people they’d like to see again.
“He can tick my box any time,” Frank said dreamily, staring at Creepy Comic Book Guy. “If you know what I mean.”
“Everybody knows what you mean,” said the barmaid, setting two more drinks in front of them. She looked at Brendon, who pointed immediately to Frank.
“He’s paying,” he said firmly.
“You will only be informed of mutual matches,” harassed guy was saying now. “And your results will not be revealed to anyone else, so don’t worry about ticking people who don’t tick you, or vice versa.”
Part of the problem was that Brendon was terrible with names. He could never remember them, not even when he really tried, so he usually ended up giving people descriptive nicknames inside his own head (and once or twice had gotten himself into trouble by greeting Frank’s buddy Bob as, “Frank’s Giant Blond Friend,” out loud) until the name finally sunk in.
Which was why, when he found himself sitting down with his third Frank-sponsored drink and his first speed-date of the night in front of him, he picked up his pen and wrote, ‘Woody the Cowboy’ next to Number Two.
“Ryan,” said Woody the Cowboy, holding out his hand.
Brendon shook it. “Brendon.”
Ryan didn’t look like a cowboy in a Stetson-and-spurs way, it was true, but he was wearing an awesome plaid shirt and a brown vest, and he had a little button on his lapel with John Lennon’s face on it.
“The Beatles!” Brendon said, and Ryan smiled and nodded, and they talked about that for three minutes until the bell rang and Brendon realized he hadn’t actually asked Ryan about anything other than whether he thought Hey Jude or Eleanor Rigby was a better song.
Still. He waved goodbye to – Brendon checked his sheet – Woody the Cowboy, and put a tick next to his number. He’d sort of forgotten to try and be charming or anything, but at the very least he wanted to talk to the dude about music some more.
“Brendon,” Frank hissed, leaning over. “Brendon, look, he’s coming.”
Brendon looked up, and sure enough, there was Creepy Comic Book Guy in the flesh, heading over to Frank’s table.
“Hi,” he said shyly, sitting down. “Frank, right? I think my brother Mikey knows your band.”
“Mikey Way is your brother?” Frank said, making his eyes all big and round and innocent. Brendon snorted, and was ignored.
“I like your tattoos,” Creepy Comic Book Guy said. “Oh hey, look, you’re number thirteen. And it’s Friday! You’re like a walking crash course in classic horror movies.”
Frank’s entire face transformed into a big flashing heart, and he said, “I am,” and beamed all over his flashing heart face, and it was actually cute, but Brendon had to pay attention to his own table, because a dark-haired dude with a beard had just sat down.
“Hi,” he said, doing a cute finger-waggle wave. “I’m Jon.”
Jon, Brendon discovered, worked at Starbucks and was adorable. He had sleepy eyes and had once rescued a kitten from a tree, and there was a flower stuck through the top buttonhole in his jacket, and he kind of seemed like he’d just walked straight out of a romantic comedy.
“It was really nice to meet you,” Brendon said honestly when the bell rang. He ticked the Number Eight box, and wrote ‘Rom-Com Barista’ next to it, then looked over to see how Frank was doing.
“Bye,” he was saying, beaming up at Creepy Comic Book Guy, who was standing up. “You’re awesome.”
Creepy Comic Book Guy kind of laughed and moved his hands around, said, “You too. I mean, uh,” and then walked backwards two steps, bumped into Brendon’s table, and sat down quickly. “Hi! I’m Gerard.”
“Nice to meet you,” Brendon said, taking Gerard’s hand and giving him a little eyelash flutter just to piss Frank off.
“I don’t usually ever do things like this,” Gerard confessed, playing with the straw in his drink. “But my brother dragged me.”
“Roommate,” Brendon said, rolling his eyes, like, what can you do?
“But I’m glad I came,” Gerard said, trailing off and looking back at Frank, who was ignoring his current date in favor of staring at Gerard like the creeper he was.
It was cute, but Brendon was kind of bummed. Not because he wanted Gerard to want to date him or anything – he seemed like a nice guy, but he was still a Figaro – but because it didn’t seem fair that all of Frank’s creepy stalking should be rewarded with some kind of soulmate scenario, when Brendon’s much more reasonable Love Will Find Me attitude had left him single for seriously ever. Maybe, he thought hopefully, maybe Woody the Cowboy or Rom-Com Barista would tick Brendon’s box and then they could go on a date and turn out to be soulmates after all. He hadn’t gotten an anti-soulmate vibe from either of them, anyway.
“Do you think this is the kind of place you can find a soulmate?” he wondered out loud, and was horrified for a second, but Gerard nodded hard.
“I think you can find one anywhere,” he said earnestly, leaning forward. “Love is out there for all of us, Brendon. I believe that for sure.”
He was, Brendon thought, kind of sweet when he wasn’t being creepy. Brendon said goodbye to him, and then, after a minute’s hesitation, put a tick in his box.
“See that guy over there, the one with the Tim Burton hair?” Brendon heard Frank say then. “Swear to God, I saw him on To Catch a Predator last year.”
Brendon whirled around and stared at Frank, who was waving goodbye to his date. “What are you doing?”
“What?” said Frank innocently, and then gave a big smile to Woody the Cowboy, who was sitting down opposite him.
Brendon shook his head and turned back to his own table. It seemed like there were two guys sitting there instead of one. He blinked, wondering what the hell Frank had put in his drink, and then blinked again, but there were still two of them, and now Brendon could see that they didn’t look alike at all so he probably wasn’t seeing double.
“Hi!” one of them said. “I’m Pete. This is Patrick.”
“We’re soulmates,” Patrick said heavily. “Or so he tells me.”
“Um,” said Brendon, “I don’t think this event is for couples.”
“We’re not,” said Patrick. “He wouldn’t let me get up from his table unless I said he could come with me.”
“Soulmates,” Pete said again, beaming.
Seriously, what the hell. Was everyone at the bar going to find someone except Brendon? ‘Two-Headed Soulmate’ he wrote on his sheet, and scowled.
“It’s not fair,” he complained to Bob, who appeared at his table next. “I didn’t even want to come here tonight. I should at least meet someone as compensation, shouldn’t I?”
“I don’t think that’s how the great love stories of our time start,” Bob said thoughtfully.
Brendon scowled. “Yeah, what do you know about great love stories?”
Bob waggled his eyebrows, said, “You’d be amazed what I know,” and then totally abandoned Brendon to go and talk to the barmaid, who wasn’t even wearing a number at all. Brendon hated Bob.
“Listen,” Frank was saying now. “You seem like a nice guy so I’m going to do you a solid and warn you – the kid in the corner, in the busted denim jacket? Totally slept with my sister and then put pictures of it on the internet.”
“You don’t have a sister,” Brendon hissed at him. “What the hell? I thought you liked Creepy Comic Book Guy?”
“I do!” Frank said, surprised. “I just want to make sure nobody else does. Is that so wrong?”
“Yes!” Brendon said, this close to tearing at his own hair. “Even for you, it’s a whole new level of wrong!”
“Did you tick Gerard’s box?” Frank demanded, grabbing Brendon’s sheet and yanking it across the table towards him. “Brendon! I thought we were friends!”
“We are,” Brendon said defensively. “But Frank, I don’t want him to be bummed when nobody picks him.”
“I’m going to pick him,” Frank said. “You know I’ve been planning this!”
“Fine,” Brendon amended. “I don’t want him to be bummed when nobody except his crazy stalker picks him.”
“He supported apartheid, you know,” Frank said, apparently driven to dementia by his desire to keep Creepy Comic Book Guy to himself.
“Oh my God,” Brendon said, covering his eyes.
“He hates rainbows!” Frank said wildly. “He yells at Spanish people in the supermarket!”
Brendon took his hand down and snatched his sheet back. “That was you!”
“Oh.” Frank’s brow creased. “Shit. I forgot you were there.”
Brendon rolled his eyes. “Look, you have to stop worrying. It’s not like he isn’t gonna tick your box. He was obviously into you.”
“He was?” Frank smiled, suddenly, doing that super-fast switch from crazy douchebag to sweet guy that made Brendon wonder if his claims of multiple personality disorder weren’t just attention seeking after all. “He was, huh.”
“He definitely was,” Brendon promised him. “And besides, dude, you can’t force fate, okay. True love is just meant to be. You have to wait for it to find you. Like Aladdin.”
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Frank scoffed, like, BOOM, back to douchebag again.
Whatever. If Frank didn’t want Brendon’s totally awesome advice about love then he shouldn’t have dragged Brendon speed-dating in the first place.
At the bar, Bob had taken off the barmaid’s glasses and perched them on his own nose. She was laughing and playing with her hair. Ugh.
“Okay, seriously,” said a voice, and Brendon looked up to see a dude with longish hair and a beard sitting down at his table. “Someone as pretty as you should never ever look so sad.”
Brendon stared at him in what he hoped was undisguised horror, and the dude stared back for three seconds before cracking up, shaking his head and saying, “Sorry, man, I just always wanted to say that.”
Brendon stared at him some more. “It was a joke? I don’t have to run for the hills?”
“Please don’t,” the dude said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table. “I’m Spencer.”
“Brendon,” Brendon said warily.
Spencer laughed. “Okay, point taken, I’ll avoid any more experiments with cheesy opening lines.”
“You have more?”
“Only about a billion.” Spencer started counting off on his fingers. “Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven, if I could rearrange the alphabet I’d put U and I together, my lenses turn dark in the sunshine of your love-”
“What?” Brendon gaped, and then cracked up, shoving his drink out of the way so he could fold his arms and drop his head down on them, laughing until his throat ached. “Lenses?”
“I read it on a website,” Spencer grinned. “It doesn’t really make sense because I don’t wear glasses.”
“Right,” Brendon hiccupped, trying to get a hold of himself. “That’s why it’s a bad line.”
Spencer wrinkled his nose. It was cute. “Do you think they ever really work? I mean, in a non-ironic way?”
“Someone once grabbed my ass and asked if that seat was taken,” Brendon said, pleased when it made Spencer tip his head back and laugh. “It totally didn’t work, though.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Spencer smiled.
Oh, thought Brendon, and when the hateful bell rang, he put a very firm, definite tick next to Spencer’s number, going over it a few times so it definitely wouldn’t be missed. ‘Spencer’, he wrote next to it, so that he wouldn’t forget.
The evening kind of fell apart after that, because apparently the Two-Headed Soulmate’s example had caused these four guys in the corner to stage some sort of revolution against the tyranny of one-on-one dating, and wanted it to be free love instead, and harassed guy’s explanations of the whole idea of speed dating were falling on deaf ears.
Whatever, Brendon was just happy to see Spencer, who found him at the bar and bought him a drink. So far it was an extremely cheap night for Brendon.
“Who’s Terrifying Hair Guy?” Frank wanted to know, looking over the copy of Brendon’s ticksheet that he’d gotten from somewhere despite the whole totally confidential thing. “I don’t remember him.”
“You don’t remember anything after Creepy Comic Book Guy,” Brendon said, and Frank’s face went all dreamy again.
“You got something against names?” Spencer wanted to know.
“I can’t remember them,” Brendon explained. “So I make up nicknames instead.”
“Mine’s Wish he Wasn’t my Roommate,” Frank put in. “He thinks I don’t know.”
Brendon rolled his eyes. “I was the one who told you.”
“What’s my nickname?” Spencer wanted to know.
Frank frowned down at the sheet. “You don’t have one.”
Shit. Shit! Now Spencer would think that Brendon didn’t like him enough to give him a nickname at all.
“You do! You totally do! It’s, uh,” Brendon improvised wildly. “Beardy…beardy great smile long hair…black shirt…person,” he trailed off lamely, looking down at his feet.
Spencer hummed. “You didn’t give me a nickname?”
“No,” Brendon admitted. He stared miserably into the drink Spencer had bought him. Now Spencer would never buy him another drink, and Brendon would never see him again, and it was all Frank’s fault as usual.
“So what,” Spencer wanted to know, “Did you write down on the sheet?”
“Well,” Brendon started, and then he realized, like oh, oh, of course! “Spencer!” he beamed, lunging forward and grabbing Spencer’s hand. “I just wrote Spencer.”
“Okay,” Spencer grinned, and he really did have a great smile, Brendon hadn’t even been lying about that. “I can live with that.”
“I remembered your name,” Brendon told him happily.
“Yeah,” Spencer smiled, then waggled his eyebrows and added, “Now let’s see what you can do with my number.”
“You’re so cheesy,” said Brendon, thrilled, and got out his cellphone.
He’d just finished punching Spencer’s number in when Creepy Comic Book Guy’s brother appeared, loomed ominously over Frank and said, “What the fuck did you tell people about my brother.”
“Nothing,” said Frank innocently. “Where is he, by the way?”
“He’s in the bathroom,” said the brother. He sort of sounded like he was mad, but it was hard to tell. “Washing his face because someone just threw a drink in it.”
“What? Who?” Frank demanded. “I’ll kick their ass!”
The brother moved his mouth around, sighed, and said, “They said you told them Gerard hits dogs with his car for fun.”
Frank paled and looked at Brendon, but Brendon totally told him this was going to happen so he just leaned smugly back into the press of Spencer’s arm a little bit and raised his eyebrows.
“I didn’t,” he started, and then Spencer interrupted him.
“You told me he doesn’t think women should be able to vote,” he said.
Brendon stared at Frank. “You’re such a jerk, dude.”
“But I didn’t mean it,” Frank insisted, turning back to the brother. “Mikey, I totally made all that shit up.”
“Why?” said…Gerard, Brendon’s brain managed finally, thank God. Gerard was standing half behind his brother and frowning deeply. He looked angry and damp. “Why would you make up all these terrible things about me? I actually liked you, you asshole, what the fuck?”
Frank glowered at the floor. He poked it with his toe. Finally he admitted, “I didn’t want anyone else to tick your box.”
Gerard kept frowning. “You made it all up so you could keep me for yourself?”
“Yes,” Frank said hopelessly. Brendon started to feel bad. He promised himself he wouldn’t rub it in Frank’s face when Spencer totally turned out to be the love of Brendon’s life.
Gerard’s face melted into a brilliant smile, though. “Frank!” he said gleefully, and pushed his brother out of the way so he could grab the sides of Frank’s head. “You’re so sweet!”
Then Gerard kissed him, and they went flailing sideways along the bar because Frank was trying to climb Gerard or something, and Gerard wouldn’t let go of his head, and it was kind of romantic, in a weird, car-crashy sort of a way.
“You know he totally stalked you,” the brother said dismally.
“I know,” Gerard said, his face the very picture of bliss.
Spencer walked Brendon back to the dorm, and held his hand the whole way. “Do you play guitar?” he said at one point, holding Brendon’s palm up to his face for inspection. “My best friend Ryan has these exact same calluses.”
“I do,” Brendon said, stealthily turning his hand in Spencer’s to lace their fingers together. Then he had a terrible thought. “Spencer,” he said, “Spencer, what about the other boxes we ticked? People will call! They’ll want dates!”
“That is a problem,” Spencer agreed. “Well, we know that I can just scare them all away with terrible pick-up lines. What can you do?”
Brendon thought about it. “Introduce them to Frank?”
Spencer laughed and shook his head. “Look, don’t worry about it. We just met. If you want to hang out with another dude you met tonight, that’s cool.”
“Hang out,” Brendon agreed. “But not make out.”
“You haven’t made out with me,” Spencer pointed out, and that was a challenge if Brendon had ever heard one, so he tugged on Spencer’s hands and pulled him around to face Brendon, and then leaned up and kissed him.
It was really nice. It was interesting, because Spencer’s beard wasn’t all scratchy like Brendon had thought it might be. Also it turned out that smiling wasn’t the only thing Spencer’s mouth could do really, really well, and he did this thing where he folded his hands around Brendon’s hips, and Brendon liked that, he liked it a lot, and he liked the way Spencer teased Brendon’s tongue with his own, and the way he sighed when Brendon put his hands in his hair, and really, there was nothing that he didn’t like, to be honest, nothing at all.
When Brendon got back to the dorm, he sent Frank a text message that said ‘thanks dude prmise no flk music for a week.’ Frank sent back ‘Fucking liar p.s. gerard not creepy in BED’.
Brendon was almost asleep when his phone beeped again. He fumbled it open and grinned when he saw that he had a text from Spencer. It read ‘Forgot one: was your daddy a baker, bcuz that’s a rly nice set of buns’.
Brendon sent back ‘srsly does that ever work’.
‘you tell me’
Brendon grinned at his phone. ‘Signs point to yes’, he replied, and closed his eyes to get a good night’s blissful zombie-victory-scream-free sleep.