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Ending on the Rhyme

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So Snake Juice gets recalled a week or so after its big launch. Something about illegal additives and ruptured stomach linings and other big words he doesn't bother remembering because he's too busy sneaking two cases out back into the trunk of his Acura Legend. He decides the obvious thing to do is throw a party for the T-Man. What with having to give up his shares in the club and now Snake Juice…he just figures the dude probably needs to be shown a good time and fun is Jean-Ralphio's middle name.

 

He gets on it immediately. Buys decorations with the words Happy Holidays! scrawled across paper banners in bright colors because there's nothing with Sorry You Had to Give Up Your Dream to Keep a Job You Hate! Jean-Ralphio would know, he's checked everywhere. He cleans up the crib, orders food, even buys a cake and rents extra chairs so everyone can have a seat. Then he sits on the edge of his bed and pulls out his cell phone, starts to round up the gang.

 


An hour later and he hasn't been able to get half of them on the line. The ones he actually speaks to all say some variation or combination of: Who is this? or You wanna do what? or How did you get this number? When he says he wants to throw a party tonight, they all say the same thing: I'll see if I can make it.

 


He puts on his best suit, makes sure his shoes are so shiny he could see up one of the girls' skirts if he wanted and sets out the food so it's displayed just right. He moves to the couch, bouncing with excitement. All he can do now is wait.

 


 


The calls start coming in twenty minutes after eight.

 


I got called into work. I think I might have Consumption. I actually have to leave the country. I'm not a hundred percent certain who you are.

 


Even Tom calls with some story of a chick picking him up in the Target's parking lot when he was on his way over and Jean-Ralphio lets them all off the hook as gracefully as he can. People are called in and have to leave town and don't know who he is all the time. There's nothing weird about that. They're not blowing him off. Obviously.

 


His palms are sweaty, so he rubs them on his slacks.

 


By ten, he's starting to wonder what he's going to do with all this food when the doorbell rings. He jumps up, practically runs to the door and when he throws it open, Donna's on the other side. "Hey, sexy!"

 


"Hi," she responds, distracted. There's no way she'd let him get away with that endearment if she hadn't been. "I thought I was lost. There were no other—" she looks into the apartment behind him, then at his face, then back into the apartment before gazing out at her Benz longingly like she's just realized this is a trap and she's trying to decide if she should make a run for it.

 


"Nope, you're at the right place," he assures, opening the door wider. He's not letting her get away. Not when she's already in front of him. Donna doesn't move and he looks out behind her, acting nervous. "You might want to hurry. I live close to the border and the raccoons around here can get pretty hostile."

 

She almost knocks him down on her way in and Jean-Ralphio checks twice to make sure the door's locked. Not just to make sure she stays inside, either. Closing it isn't enough to keep them out; they've got human thumbs. He saw it on TV. She goes to the window and twitches his curtain aside. "My car will be okay, right?"

 

The memory of his neighbor's destroyed Subaru pops to the forefront of his mind. But that dude had tried to call pest control on the raccoon living in his attic and pissed them all off. Jean-Ralphio knew better than that. If you didn't start with them, they didn't start with you and as long as you left out your weekly tribute (it could be a head of lettuce, fish bones, the one who lived closest to him seemed to like carrots), you were fine. "Most likely," he answers slowly, starting toward the back hall. "Why don't you pick some music? Something we can grind to," he adds in his sex voice as she rolls her eyes.

 


As soon as the bathroom door shuts behind him, he starts shaking he's so keyed up. Jean-Ralphio splashes his face and thinks of his mantra (If you have someone hating on you right now, you better think of how to get five more people hating by Christmas. You need haters to make you stronger), nods his head at the familiar words. He murmurs, "Katt Williams is my power animal and the greatest philosopher of our time," before drying his face, taking a breath and strutting back out.

 


When he sees Donna, she's got something in her hands and starts reading it aloud when he comes into her line of sight. "Selena Gomez and the—"

 

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he says with a shaky laugh, speeding up and plucking the CD from her fingers. "I don't know where—someone must have left—my little cousin maybe—I didn't buy that," he finally settles on but Donna just watches him, hands on hips and narrowed eyes saying without words what she thinks of that. Jean-Ralphio stuffs the CD in a drawer (carefully, he doesn't want to scratch it) and clears his throat before leaning against the wall seductively. "Come here, come here."

 


"I can hear you fine."

 


"Cool, cool. Can I get you anything else? We've got Lays, some mini pretzels, maybe." He moves toward the kitchen. "I can go make some chicken fettuccine if you want that instead. My mom—"

 


"No, I'm—"

 


He picks up a tray from the table. "Crudité?"

 


"Please sit down. Not next to me," she amends quickly, before they can even make it around the couch, "somewhere else. What about that chair?" she suggests, pointing clear across the room as she takes a seat. "It looks cozy."

 


He goes and sits, his foot tapping impatiently as he tries not to stare at her and think up something really mind-blowing that she'd love to do at the same time. When nothing comes to mind, he says, "I guess there was a bigger party poppin' someplace else tonight, huh? Wish I would've been invited."

 


"Why did you call us so late?"

 


"Everyone showed up to The Snake Hole last week without much warning."

 


"Well, that's cause we're Tom's friends, not—" She breaks off just short of saying yours but he hears it anyway. Donna has always been one to tell it to you straight and he sees the truth in her words. When Ann and Leslie and Ron and the others picked up their phone, none of them had been too happy to hear his voice.

 


He tries his mantra again but it doesn't seem to be working. Jean-Ralphio clears his throat carefully, looking for something else to focus on. He hopes his face doesn't look as broken as it feels. A beat of silence expands into something uncomfortable around them.


Donna takes a deep breath and starts to speak. "Now seems like an awesome time to break out the Snake Juice, huh?"

 


"Yeah," he agrees swiftly. "Sounds good."

 


 


She's the type of girl who thinks everything's funny when she starts to drink.

 


The two of them are watching a screaming woman in a wedding dress being chased by a swan on World's Dumbest and Donna's laughing so hard he's half-afraid she's going to choke.

 


“Damn girl! Breathe,” he orders, having worked his way back across the room and onto the couch cushion next to hers. Something comes on TV then and she gasps in excitement, hollers, “Bingo!” and punches him in the arm.

 


Jean-Ralphio grimaces at the unexpected pain, turns to see what she's so excited about. "A Dodge Ram?"

 


"Oh yeah, part of me has always wanted to be a farmer."

 


He’s confused by that but Jean-Ralphio’s used to being in such a state. He rubs his forearm, mumbles, "That really kind of hurt," and she starts giggling, making some of her drink slosh over the glasses rim. Donna rights it quickly, staring at the remaining liquid with fondness.

 


"It know it’s probably made from insecticide, but it’s so good."

 


“I’m right there with you, boo” he co-signs, stealthily raising his arm to rest along the couch at her back when she pushes him away.

 


“Don’t touch me.”

 


“Of course.”

 


 


Repeat, -peat, -peat, -peat, -peat, -peat

 


Three drinks in and they're up on their feet, singing along. She's got her hands in the air and he's doing that chest-popping thing he always does in the club. He's pretty sure the ladies think it's sexy.

 


"I like this song," she says after their fifth listen.

 

"It's good, right," he agrees. "People write her off because she dates Justin Bieber and was on Disney but she makes decent music." He actually thinks she makes amazing music but even mostly wasted he knows to introduce that idea slowly.

 


Donna goes to the table and fills up two more shot glasses, downs them at the same time. "Let's listen again."

 


"Again?"

 


"Again!"

 

He does this weird jump, then karate kick thing he immediately realizes makes him look stupid but when he glances behind himself, she's smiling. Donna either doesn't care or didn't see and either of those options is good enough for him. "Get ready to be freak danced on," he says and pushes play.

 


 


Four drinks in; she stops dancing and teases breathlessly, "You know what would be fun?"

 


He stops whatever he's doing so he can give her all his attention; he doesn't want to miss a word. "No, what?"

 


"When I was a kid I liked HungryHungryHippos and Chutes and Ladders and—"

 

 

He thinks of the board game he has stashed in the top of his closet, The Game of Life. It's been up there for over a year now, still shrink-wrapped. "What about Life?"

 


"I love Life," she answers, her voice deadly serious, her eyes going wide and round.

 


 

 

It's three drinks later and they haven't bothered to finish the game.

 

 

They're lounging on the couch: shoes off, shirtsleeves rolled up and Jean-Ralphio may or may not have his hand on Donna's thigh. He honestly doesn't know one way or the other. Somewhere around his fourth glass of Snake Juice, his eyesight started to go all fuzzy around the edges. His hand is… somewhere, though. It's definitely on her body, he knows that much.

 


"It's late, I should call a cab," she slurs, getting up to grab her purse. He can hear her voice, low and fast, behind him before she comes back and his hand returns to its prior position. She doesn't try and move it.

 


He swallows thickly, (his heart beating as fast as it was the first time he saw Take The Lead) tries hard not to look at her before (screw it!) he gives in and turns to find her staring back. He's sort of shocked by the look in eyes, by the realization that he could kiss her if he wanted to and he wants to, but he hesitates.

 


Donna's hot. She knows it, he knows it, all of greater Pawnee and Baraqua, Venezuela knows it. It's not the knowledge he has a problem with, it's deciding what he's going to do about it that he can't quite figure out. Jean-Ralphio looks down into his lap shyly before focusing his gaze on a point somewhere over her right shoulder. "Want me to make up a rap about your name?"

 


"Uhhh—"

 


"D to the O to the N-N-A, she's so fine in her Benz no need for P.B.A, too much swag to jack, statuesque and stacked, she'll take you for a ride, you'll never wanna look back."—ward.

 

He wants to say it. He wants to say it so badly his teeth ache (or maybe that's the Snake Juice, he vaguely remembers the report saying something about the insanely high level of acidity and how rapidly it burns through tooth enamel) but he holds his tongue. Jean-Ralphio wants to call T and tell him. He'd be so proud. Jean-Ralphio brings his arm up around her shoulders; forces himself to look her in the eye. "You're fly enough for a second verse girl."

 


She wants to smile, he can tell, but she doesn't. Just watches him for a second before finally asking: "You know what statuesque means?"

 


He watches her pointedly, slowly raises one brow. "There's lots of things you don't know about me, Donna Meagle."

 


When she grabs the front of his shirt, he almost shrieks but then she's pulling him in, slanting her mouth over his, licking the seam of his lips and tugging the plump bottom one between sharp teeth, making him catch his breath. Jean-Ralphio freezes a split second before he slips his hand beneath her hair and copies her movements; it's all he can do to try to keep up.

 


After a moment, when she still hasn't stopped him, he feels more confident. Cups her shoulders and pushes gently until he can almost lie on top of her and she smells like baby powder and flowers and sunshine and ravioli and the mall and all the things he likes.

 


They're both too tall to be trying to do this on the couch but then she lifts her knees and shifts and he finds his hips fits perfectly between her thighs and he doesn't have the brain space available to think about how uncomfortable he's going to be later on because everything's too filled up with her.

 


He's worked his fingers down to the neckline of her shirt when someone honks exactly three times outside of his front door.

 


"My cab!"

 


He shakes his head, no, and kisses her again. Steals a page from her book and licks the seam until she opens up and lets him in. She's sinking back into it, her arms around his neck, and when he rolls his pelvis against hers she makes a sound he'll be hearing in his dreams for the rest of his life. She's just about got her legs hooked around his waist when the guy honks again and she pulls away.

 


"I have to go."

 


"You don't have to."

 


She moves so that he rolls off her into the back of the couch as she sits up. "Yes I do."

 


"Of course," he relents, sitting up next to her.

 


They don't speak, both of them still trying to process what they've just done, what they almost did and what it means. Donna licks her lips and turns to him. "Okay, look. I—"

 


She goes on but he's only listening with one ear. Jean-Ralphio's too focused on what he can make out of the way her chin curves into her neck slopes into her shoulders and the way they frame the best pair of chesticles he's ever sort of seen. He shivers, kinda wants to shove his whole face right up in there but he doesn't. Gotta play it cool, man. Gotta play it cool.

 


"Did you hear what I said?"

 


He watches her with a wide smile, bites his bottom lip and reaches to tweak her nose before she can bat his hand away. "I like your face."

 


The cab driver honks for the third time and she mutters "Thank God," under her breath, tries to stand twice before making it onto her feet.

 


"Sure you're making the right choice, girl?" She actually looks torn until he goes on to say, "We could be like Bonnie and Clyde." Then she just looks annoyed.

 


"They die at the end."

 


"Do they," he asks, confused. "I always fall asleep."

 


"I have to go now," Donna mutters, making her way to the door.

 


"What about Beyonce and Jigga?"

 


"If you tell anyone about this," she threatens, ignoring his last question as she turns on her heel and wags her finger in his general direction, "I will snap your scrawny ass in two. Got me?"

 


"Gotcha."

 


"I'm not kidding."

 


"I'm counting on it," he says slyly and she narrows her eyes at him.

 


"I'm really leaving now."

 


"See you tomorrow, girl!"

 


"Don't call me that and don't even think about making eye contact with me," she orders but the words lack their usual force. She doesn't try to leave either as her gaze darts from his eyes to his hair to (score!) his mouth and whatever uncertainty had arisen in him since she left his side is gone. He could kiss her again if he wanted to.

 


Jean-Ralphio smiles and Donna straightens her spine as she walks out of the apartment, closing the door tightly behind her. He leans back slowly and covers his face. He really needs to go lock up but he just kissed Donna. More than that, he made out with Donna; he came this close to touching Donna's boobs. He needs a moment to process this. To celebrate.

 


Jean-Ralpio breaths in, tries to stand but his stomach sort of rolls and the floor drops out and he falls back down onto the couch, decides that maybe his position right now is just fine for his celebration. Perfect actually. He rolls on his back slowly and raises his arm parallel to his body with a triumphant grin.

 

"Best! Party! Ever!"