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Save my soul; I swear I may never die

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Robert Leckie fully believed the sound of his alarm in the mornings was the number one absolute worst sound in the world.

Then he fully woke up and realized nothing could ever rival the grating noise of his family downstairs.

He slammed his pillow down over his ears, not even bothering to turn his alarm off. Anything to add to the headache inducing household. He tries to think of his dream against the pound of the alarm and it's the same as always: heavy fire punctuated by the sounds of something heavy falling, topped off with screams and the smell of dirt and smoke. It's the same dream he's been having since sixth grade and even though it's always a haze of dreamlike mist, he knows the pattern like the back of his hand.

A hand pounds against his door, not much unlike the gunfire from his dreams and he groans.

He rubs the pillow down his face roughly and throws it at the door. As he rolls out of bed and stumbles to the dresser, he turns his alarm off and scans the notifications from hoosier and sid. Nothing important, hopefully.

Breakfast is, as with every meal in the Leckie household, a loud and quiet affair. Bob used to wonder how this phenomenon could ever occur since it seems to go against every known law but after 17 years, he's got it down to a science- his mother blabbers and chats with the only sister who's still in the house while his two older brothers tussle together and dodge questions about jobs like they're in PE class and its dodgeball day: nerds against jocks.

The silence comes from his father when Bob sits down to eat and all he gets is a glance. That's the worst part. No one has the time to give him a look longer than a second.

Bob putters around the cupboard looking for his cereal for a healthy duration of 2 minutes until he gets bored and finally pours a bowl. He sits down next to the brother that looks less like a weed addict and tucks in. The commotion continues and his presence is barely acknowledged. After a while, he clears his throat.

“So- uh…” he trails off, thinking about how to go about this. “I’m thinking of applying to some more schools today,” he chances a glance around the room. No one has stopped their activities. “Would any of you want to help and give me advice?”

His brothers don't even grunt while his mother coos.

“Oh, that's a good idea! We can do that after dinner tonight, right, honey?”

At this, his father finally looks up from his newspaper.

“Weather looks good today, marion.” Then he looks over at Bob as if his presence finally sank in.

“The car is shot; you'll need to get a ride with one of your friends. And yeah, I suppose we could look it over.”

And thats…. it. He goes back to the paper and his mother turns back to the dishes.

Bob rolls his eyes so hard they practically fly out of his skull and he throws his spoon into the bowl of cereal. He feels a little nauseous. Fucking typical of them.

“I'm also thinking of becoming a circus freak. I'm gonna get tattoos all over my arms and legs and shave my head and paint my face with blue paint every morning before I start the show.” And maybe that's laying it on a bit thick but he needs this.

His father looks up again but it's only at his mother.

“Don't be ridiculous, Bob. Marion, I'm thinking of rebuilding our fence around the front yard. Might make it a bit lower so Able’s dog can't crawl under- I don't want any more holes in our lawn.”

Maybe it wasn't too thick.

“I'm going to leave for peru and never return. You'll never see me, your son, ever again. I'll overdose at 27 and you'll find out about it through a newspaper clipping you see blowing down the sidewalk five years after the fact.”

His father looks at him and Bob raises his eyebrows, waiting for him to say something. Anything to acknowledge that this is Bob’s senior year and he really will be leaving. He desperately wants his father to give him college suggestions or maybe give tips on how to decide between two similar schools. He's also not really joking about the never coming back part, either. He speaks again but this time it's serious.

“I'll be gone for awhile. Might even be too bogged down with school to come back for holidays.”

“Yeah,” his father practically grunts. “I’m sure you'll be fine out there.”

“That's not the point, dad, the point is that I won't be around you guys anymore. I'm going far away. Everywhere I'm applying is out of state.” Bob can feel himself getting heated. He just wants them to understand-

“You’ll be okay out there, kid, dont worry too much about it.” His father claps him on the shoulder and fols his newspaper, standing to leave, but Bob is faster. Bob grabs his father's wrist and stops him from leaving the table. His mother leaves the room in such a hurry she's basically running. He hadn't even noticed his siblings leave.

“Won't it bother you that i'm gone? I won't be around to, I don't know, help with the dishes? Help you paint the new fence you build?”

His voice is getting too loud for the house . His father looks lost as hell and if Bob wasn't so mad, it might be funny. His father looks at him and swallows. Opens his mouth. No sounds come out so Bob tries for his final trick.

“Won't you miss me?”

His father flinches back at that and says “Oh of course we’ll miss you! Don't be ridiculous, Bob. You'll be back so we dont worry.”

Bob looks at his father and really looks at him. Takes in his weathering and wrinkled face and wide eyes. There's nearly nothing there- nothing meaningful for Bob to see.

Bob knows he’s pleading but he wishes he was more than a second thought meant to be fixed up with platitudes from parents who couldn't give less of a shit if they tried. He scoffs and tosses his father’s wrist out of his hand. He takes his bowl and washes it out in the sink while behind him, his father still stands.

As Bob is walking out of the doorway, he sees his father slowly sit back down at the table and Bob can do nothing but shake his head and choke back hysterical laughter.

——-

Bob doesn't even flinch when the locker next to him crashes closed and Hoosier leans against it, looking at Bob and fiddling with the stick of the lollipop hanging from his mouth. His hair is messy today and he looks like he rolled out of bed five minutes ago. It's a good look on him- Well worn and comfortable.

Bob closes his locker door in an exaggeratedly gentle way, if only to make a point. Hoosier doesn't blink.

“Do you need something from me? Chem didn't have any homework last night so don't ask me for it. English was easy so you better not ask me for it.”

“Nah,” Hoosier drawls all slow and easy like he couldn't be bothered to speak at all. “You’re looking so tired I had to make sure you wouldn’t drop right here in this hallway like a sack of potatoes.”

Bob huffs out a laugh. “Well, you can report back to HQ that i'm absolutely fine. Never been better, in fact. Tip-top shape if I do say so myself.” He finishes it off with a grin.

Hoosier huffs. “That's a load of bologna,” he mutters and trails his gaze down Bob’s body. He represses a shiver.

“Anyway, it's not my business if you won’t tell. I just wanted to let you know practice is going late today so you and Runner can hang around for the tail end and we can get food at Haneys once we’re done. Chuckler’s been craving the onion rings again.”

And with that, he pushes off against the locker from his previous slump and begins to meander down the hallway possibly to his first period or possibly to the library to nap through said first period. The decision usually depends on Hoosier’s mood, the weather, and what day of the week it is. Senior-itis had hit all of Bob's friends hard but it probably got Hoosier the hardest. The guy always had a lazy streak, but underneath the blankets and hoodies and sweatpants, he was a hard worker and put his best foot forward with his schoolwork. Sometimes, you just couldn't bring yourself to fake-care anymore and it usually results in sleeping through three whole class periods. Thank god that has only happened once.

Bob files the information about the practice into one of his mental filing cabinets and promises to remind himself to tell Runner about the situation. Haney had good food and the singing in the kitchen from some of the student staff was always good entertainment. Even if they weren't there today Haney himself was good fun. Eddie would take their orders with a laugh and a wry joke and whistle a tune as he went back into the kitchen to make their food, then Haney himself would come in- maybe take a seat with them if he was in the conversational mood- making some sort of scene about some solicitor who was harassing his customers or maybe a bird that shat on his car that morning. Haney’s Diner, which was technically called (COME UP W SOMETHING GOOD!!!), was always an experience but the ice cream never failed to put Bob in a good mood.

Bob checks his watch. 7:05. He had time to find Vera and maybe convince her to make out behind some bleachers before school started and it might even work if he really turned on the charm.

As he's walking, he pulls out his phone and taps his Runner’s contact in his messages.

Lucky: hey bastard hoos and chucklers practice is going late so we’re sticking around for Haneys’ aftwrward
Lucky: afterward*

Bob waits five whole minutes for a response, which is actually somewhat of a personal record. He's notoriously impatient.

Lucky: dickhead are you even awake???

He rolls his eyes and puts his phone away. Runner will see it. Eventually.

The STEM building of their school is known among the students as ‘the penis palace’ due the unfortunate design and architecture. Bob just feels bad that someone has to live with the fact that they built a giant penis at a school. The “balls” are the biology classrooms and computer science classes while the “shaft” has stairs leading up to engineering. Math isn't even a part of the building since some people who take math aren't in STEM. Another one of life's great mistakes. Bob groans internally as he climbs the stairs, wishing, not for the first time, that getting to Vera’s first period didn’t require physical exercise so early in the morning.

Once he reached the top and located Vera's bright red backpack, he grinned. It was early enough that maybe no one would notice the two pairs of shoes in one bathroom stall. The only question on Bob's mind was which bathroom would they use- girls or boys? He crept over, with the intent to startle Vera and get her laughing that pretty, breathless laugh she always did when she had been spooked but was relieved to see she was not in danger. Bob loved that laugh. Coming closer, though, he could hear two voices, which gave Bob pause. Vera was usually alone in the mornings.

“...oh yeah! And then he comes over to me with all his footballer bravado and asks for a date! Can you imagine? The nerve!”

Bob came closer and turned the corner sharply, coming up onto the scene of Vera with her laptop and a notebook out and Stella, who had her sketchbook propped up one knee, laughing up a storm at the story she was in the middle of.

Vera did indeed startle and she whirled around on her ass to face Bob, already laughing her breathless laugh.

“Bob! You startled me!” She got out, between her chuckles. “I wish you had texted me, I would've gotten here earlier or something”

Bob just grinned. “Now, where's the fun in that, huh? He said as he slid down the wall to sit next to her. He peered over at the notebook and at the jumbled mess of numbers and lines and figures. “That for engineering or math?”

“Engineering,” she replied. Bob looked back over to Stella who had a strange look on her face.

“You alright?”

She shook herself as if snapping out of a daze. “Oh yeah, I'm fine,” she laughed. Bob tried not to be charmed by her accent. “Just thinking about some asshole from yesterday. I'm alright, though, obviously. It was actually quite funny what happened! I was in the middle of telling Vera what had happened when you walked up!” After that, she trailed off almost awkwardly, making Bob feel like he interrupted something by sneaking up on his own girlfriend, who he thought had been alone at the time. It left a bad taste in his mouth.

Vera kept her eyes on the screen of her laptop, enthralled with the math question. Her eyes lit up, suddenly, and then her pencil was scratching furiously at her paper, eyebrows furrowed lips pursed.

Bob looked at his watch. 7:17. He sighed.

“Well, ladies, i'm off. Schools about to start so I would head to class now if I were you,” he picked up his backpack, dusted off his ass, and offered his hand to Stella. She took it with a smile that crinkled her eyes and Bob felt absolutely charmed. She looked down at Vera and seemed to hesitate before she said a quick “see you later, Vera!” And walked out into the main hallway and over to the stairs.

Vera was still on the ground and Bob leaned back down to kiss her cheek. She looked back at him with her cheeks slightly red and Bob caught her in a kiss, savoring the moment before school and classwork further ruined his mood.

He got back up and Vers looked after him, eyes soft.

“Have a good day, yeah? Say hi to your buddies for me,” her eyes were already back on the screen as she tried to finish one last problem before she inevitably had to pack up and wall downstairs for her computer science class.

“Yeah, you too,” he said softly. He turned and walked out into the main hallway before suddenly remembering his meeting with Hoosier earlier. “There's been a change of plans. Chucklers and Hoosier’s practice is running late today so me and Runner are gonna wait up for them and then eat at Haney’s. Want to join us? I can get us a private booth.” He finished off with a wink and grin that got Vera to laugh. His grin turned into a more genuine smile at the sound.

“Oh, i would love to, honestly, but I have so much work for my project and with this field trip for engineering coming up, i gotta have it all done or my parents wont let me go,” she sounded actually sad at the prospect of missing out on dinner with Bob and his hooligan friends. He was so lucky she got along with them. He knew they were a lot to handle- hell, he was a lot to handle! But Vera took it all in stride, laughing at their jokes, coming to their games and meets, and even hanging out with them on her own. Out of all of them, she probably got along with Chuckler the best but then again, who wouldn't?

“I’ll try to make it though, promise. Maybe I can get most of it done if I focus real hard.” She began packing up and Bob had been taking small steps back for the past 30 seconds. He knew she wouldn't be able to finish, but it was honestly fine with him. Her work came before a lot of the other things in her life and Bob completely understood.

“Yeah. Good luck with it.”

The bell rang and Bob let out a quiet curse, not meaning to have gotten caught up with Vera like this- wishing they had instead been spending their time in a much more enjoyable manner- and hightailed his ass down the stairs and out the door.

————

“Hey, asshole! You know I usually sit in that very exact spot, right?”

Bob looked up, bringing his hand up to shield his eyes from the blazing sun. Fucking christ it was hot out.

“Yeah, sure, Runner, i'll be sure to pass that along to whatever dickhead tries to steal your precious view from you!”

“Oh yeah, he's a dickhead alright,” Runner grumbled as he climbed up the stairs of the bleachers. Bob did move slightly over to make room for him. “Thanks.” Runner said quietly.

Runner enjoyed that seat the most because it gave him the best view of the baseball field and, thus, the best view of Chuckler down at home plate. Bob hated that he found it kind of cute.

“So, what's up, Professor? Writing your next epic in the form of a high school sports editorial?”

Runner said all this while digging through his bag so he didn't see Bob roll his eyes.

“Yeah. Imagine the epic of Gilgamesh but modernized and full of one hundred percent more existential dread.”

“I would expect nothing less from you, Leckie,”

He was still digging around in his backpack muttering to himself so Bob left him to it. He took the chance to look Runner over for any new bruises or scrapes he could've gotten at practice. For as agile and graceful as he could be, he was still a dumbass.

The slowly setting sun made Runners skin practically golden, and the sweat that had yet to dry made him glow. His hair was wind-tousled and messy and his shirt sat askew on his shoulders. One of the legs of his shorts was riding up and Bob saw tanned thigh. God, this lighting-

“You want half of this granola bar that's about a week old and only slightly crushed?”

Runner started to pull his head from his backpack and Bob tore his head away from his direction so fast he heard wind in his ear and stared straight ahead down at the field. Then he realized how stupid he probably looked, like a statue, and looked back at Runner, who had a hand out with a smooshed packet. Runner shook his hand in anticipation for Bob to take it, his eyebrows raised questioningly.

Bib cleared his throat. “Yeah, thanks but no thanks, Bud. “About a week?” I wouldnt trust that estimation if it came from Einstein himself.”

“Your loss,” he shrugged and tore open the wrapper, taking one large bite.

Bob looked down at his laptop, taking stock of the work he had done in the time it took for Runners practice to end. He managed to finish the editorial he had due the next day, some problems from his math homework, and he completed the final touches on his english project. The topic of the project was “emotions” and since Bob deemed himself a poet, and claimed that since he had a girlfriend he was thus a connoisseur of romance and emotion, he had it in the bag. He decided to, rather than write a short story or an autobiography, write a series of letters from a man at war to his lover back home. The title of each letter was “dear” followed by some sweet pet name and in each letter he described the war with harsh details and jarring stories to compliment the happiness of the pet name. He ended each with “thinking of you always” or some other positive and dismissive phrase to turn the reader around and make them contemplate the words of the letters and the emotions the soldier must be feeling. How tired of war and killing he must be. Bob was quite proud of them.

He looked back at Runner who also had his laptop out but it was sitting closed and balanced on his knees while he looked out the field, probably at Chuckler, who had since been moved to centerfield. Bob rolled his eyes.

“Hey Moon-Eyes, you think you can tear your eyes away from beavis out there long enough to help me with some math?”

“Chuckler asked me out today,”

Bob froze.

That was.. not what he was expecting Runner to say. Not in the slightest.

“He did it real sweet too. Took me out behind the gym while we were waiting for everyone else to get changed and he looked super nervous so i asked him what was wrong and he basically blurted it out! His face was so red, you and Hoosier totally would have laughed at him- i certainly almost did. Anyway, we’re planning on going to that place that has really good Chinese food- do you know that place? You could take Vera there one night.”

He was absolutely rambling, but his face was pink and his eyes were bright and Bob could barely stop himself from grinning back once Runner turned to face him. He looked so nervous, as if needing Bob's approval or support.

“Well, well, well! Who knew Chuckler had the capacity for such romance!” He put his arm around Runners shoulder, bringing him close. “I’m happy for you, you know that right? You've been pining after each other for so long you practically grew a forest and now look at you: all grown up and going on dates and shit,” Bob wiped a fake tear away. “It's enough to make a grown man cry!”

“Yeah, thanks peaches,” he laughed and shrugged Bob's arm off. “Maybe we could all go on a double date or something: me and Chuckler and you and Vera. I think it could be fun.”

Bob thought it over. While Vera did get along with his friends, he prefered their dates to be quieter and more peaceful. If Runner and Chuckler were there then all hope for that went flying straight out the window. But.. mixing up the activities might not be so bad..

“As long as it isnt mini golf or something juvenile like that, I'm down for it,” he concluded. Runner just smirked.

A whistle blew and the baseball coach started yelling out instructions. Bob let out a sigh and began packing up.

“Man, I got here just in time, huh? Didn't even need to do any work.” Bob just grunted, not seeing that he needed to reply.

They stepped down the bleachers while the team was filing into the dugout and Runner went to go throw the granola bar wrapper away. The hot sun, though slowly setting, beat down against Bob's cheeks and he lifted a hand to shield his eyes.

Hoosier passed him to enter the dugout and sent him a quick wink and an air kiss. Bob winked back and batted at the air around his face. Hoosier huffed a laugh. The coach was out in the middle of the field talking to Chuckler and some other kid- probably the other captain- about what Bob assumed to be captain business. When Chuckler announced last year at the end of the season that he was going to be the captain his senior year, the group had celebrated appropriately with good drinks, good laughs, and good fun including but not limited to: truth or dare where the dares were always wild and outrageous and the truths sordid, fucking terrible kareoke because if any of them knew how to sing sober, they certainly lost the ability once drunk, and a eulogy-slash-rap-slash-slam-poem that Bob gave in memory of Chucklers free time with Hoosier beatboxing in the background. They knew once he was captain, he would devote most of his time to the team and game which is what made Chuckler such a good captain, but made for a few lonely friends.

Runner returned to Bob's side and nudged him harshly. Bob gave back as good as he got and soon enough they were play-fighting. Just as soon as Bob got Runner in a headlock (not at all hard to do since he was so much shorter and at the perfect height to do so) Chuckler turned around from his coach to head back to the dugout. He caught sight of them scuffling around and let out a loud laugh, drawing the attention of the coach.

“Hey you there! Stop screwing around or I'll give you both lunch detention!”

They separated promptly, Bob laughing along with Chuckler who began jogging over to them and Runner panting and sporting a red face. Chuckler threw his long arms around their shoulders, smile wide and just as charming as the rest of him.

“Ahh, I should've known you two buffoons wouldn't miss a chance to beat each other up. How's the underground boxing ring, huh guys? Getting good pay down there? I might have to join ya!” With that, he patted their backs and ducked into the dugout.

“Jesus, leckie, maybe you should've joined wrestling,” Runner griped, patting down his rucked up hair. “You really had me for a second there, thought i was gonna die at the hands of a man who jacks off exclusively on wednesdays.”

“Oh you know I quit doing that in tenth grade, Runner. Keep up with the times.”

“Damn, leckie, you still doing that tuesdays bluesdays shit? Hoped you'd grown outta that,” Hoosier’s drawl came from the doorway of the dugout as he shouldered his bags and pushed past them. “I'm gonna drop this in the car and take a piss. Don't wait for me if im not done by the time y'all get to the cars.”

The rest of the team moved out quickly after that, saying vague goodbyes or nodding in their direction. Runner was leaned up against the fence, furiously typing away on this phone. Bob felt a buzz in his pants and rolled his eyes.

Wilbitch: ur so mean and ugly i was totally awake!! I was just taking a shower >:(

Lucky: ok so why did you just now see this? I know you check your phone in class

Wilbitch: maybe today i wanted to actually learn something mr professor

Lucky: if you didnt see this how did you even know abt the late practice anyway??

Wilbitch: chuckler told me ;)
Wilbitch: it was afted we made out for all of gym class before u ask, nosey bitch
Wilbitch: after**

Lucky: oh believe me. I didnt want to know

He put his phone away, effectively ending that conversation before they could get into the details of Runner and Chucklers make-out session. Something turned over in Bob's stomach and he suddenly found himself not as hungry as he had been. Before he could give anymore thought to it, Chuckler appeared. He waved goodbye to his coach and they all started walking down the sidewalk to the parking lot.

Runner usually biked to school and left his bike up at the front but it was already hooked up to the rack on the back of Bob's car. What a sneaky bastard.

“I'm gonna ride with Chuckler, if you don't mind not having company on your travels,” Runner said, looking over at Bob with a question in his eyes. Bob knew that if he gave a certain answer or even breathed weirdly, Runner would be over climbing into the passenger side of his car to brave through Bobs assortment of CDs and audiobooks.

“Nah you guys go together. I'll even keep your bike for you,” he started his car and slid into the seat, sighing blissfully at the feeling of the air conditioner working its magic. Bob heard a faint “lets rock and roll, boys!” As he closed the door and he smiled. God, how he loved these assholes.

They sat for a while waiting for Hoosier to come back from the bathroom. The only reason they had their cars running was the October heat and hot sun. Gas was gonna be a bitch this time around.

When Hoosier did appear, he was throwing his hands up in the air, flinging his lanyard around and Bob could hear him yelling some bullshit. He rolled down the window.

“Yeah we could have gone on without you but then Eddie would've asked questions and we would have had to explain how you died over the weekend from a knife fight with criminals in Kentucky! No way am i letting Eddie get teary eyed over your slow ass!” He yelled, poking his head out of his car. Hoosier flipped him off and he dropped back into his seat. Job well done.

They pulled out of the school parking lot with Chuckler leading the way and Hoosier as the caboose. Bob turned the volume up and found that “vogue” by Madonna was playing and he muttered the lyrics to himself, fumbling and slipping over the words he had heard maybe only twice before now. He wondered if the seating was going to change. Usually, Runner sat next to Bob and Hoosier and Chuckler sat across them at the booth. Now, with two of them dating, would they want to sit next to each other so they could more easily share milkshakes and fries and other cute shit like that? At least, that's what Bob would want to do.

With Vera, of course.

Shit, he should text her to see how her day went. He wasn't able to meet up with her in the library since he was spending more time in the journalism room setting up pages and getting a theme down for this year's yearbook. They had it planned as some sort of cubist theme that Gibson picked but in Bobs opinion, just looked like minecraft.

C’est la vie, Bob thought to himself. There were just some things that weren't worth freaking out over.

——

“Crowded” at a place like Haneys meant more than three booths were filled at once, but when they filed in, Bob was shocked to note that at least five tables and those three booths were filled. Bob counted the days. It was a wednesday, he thought, might be from a church service.

“Hey, you!” A gritty voice yelled across the diner and a girl at one of the tables flinched. “Sit your asses down and close that door!” Haney exclaimed, finally coming into their view. “You better find your table soon. There's only so many people I can turn down before I find no reason to lay claim to your table,” he started handing out the three menus in his hand. Chuckler stuck a hand out to grab one but Haney reached over and gave it to Runner instead. Chuckler slowly lowered his arm.

“Eddies gonna have a cow when he hears one more group has just arrived.” Handy grumbled as he walked away, leaving the group to amble down the aisles of tables and to their booth in the back.

The booth had been Their Booth since freshman year when Bob asked Hoosier, who had been the only person sitting there, if he could join him because there was an outlet by that booth and he needed this article finished. Hoosier answered with a smartass comment about Bobs work ethic and clothing choices and since then, there had been a play rivalry between them that continued to this day, even after Hoosier invited Chuckler and Bob brought Runner, thus creating their dysfunctional, sitcom friend group. The group technically extended to some mutual friends like Sid Phillips or Ron Gibson, but Sid was off with his new girlfriend nowadays and Gibson had always been a bit of a flake. Bob should probably check up on him.

They sat themselves and even though they had been handed menus, there was no need for them. They all basically ordered the same thing every time except for Chuckler who switched it up sometimes when he was feeling “frisky” as he would put it.

Hoosier and Runner began a conversation about something a teacher had said in their science class while Chuckler flicked through the menu, leaving Bob to his own devices. He pulled out his phone and thumbed through his messages before opening Ronnie’s contact and sending him a quick text to see what he thought about their history exam coming up and if he felt he was prepared. It was a lousy conversation starter but it was the best Bob could do.

“Alright boys, what’ll be today?”

Eddie’s voice broke through the din of their background conversations, the strong accent washing over Bob. he grinned.

Eddie Jones was probably the tallest man Bob had ever seen. Chuckler would definitely protest that notion on the grounds that he technically wasn’t done growing yet, but for now Eddie was coming in first by a longshot. He had the kind of hair that on anyone else might look unkempt, but it fit in well with the general restlessness the man exuded. He had an easy smile and a brilliant take-no-shit attitude that Bob admired.

He used to go to their school, but graduated a few years back. He had worked at the diner during his sophomore year and apparently Haney had taken him under his wing so he ended up staying. It also helped that his boyfriend was attending the state college in the area and interned at the high school under a history teacher.

“I’ll have the number two with the large onion rings and a rootbeer. Thanks, Eddie,” Chuckler said as he handed over his menu.

“Changing it up I see,” Eddie muttered, writing it down. He took the rest of their orders and disappeared back into the kitchen with the promise of returning for some quality conversation.

Chuckler was showing Hoosier a picture of a giant Great Dane he had seen on his walk earlier in the week when the food arrived and the table quieted, save for the odd chewing noise or suggestion that someone try this one super burnt fry or wilted piece of lettuce. It was business as usual and for the first time that day, Bob felt something inside of himself settle, like he was finally anchored back home after a day of being at sea.

The outside sky darkened and the diner was lit up with the little ball lights strung up around the outline of the place and the atmosphere felt softer somehow. Bob was full of food and content among his friends as they talked and laughed and playfully argued through mouthfulls.

They finally finished up their meals and Hoosier cleared his throat, wiping his face.

“So,” he looked pointedly at Runner and Chuckler across the table. “Y’said you had something to say?”

Bob tensed. He knew what was coming, but that didnt make the reveal any less dramatic.

“We, uh-“ Runner began. His eyes were wide and he looked caught off guard, like he had forgotten about the monumental change made to their dynamic earlier that day. He probably did; it hardly seemed like anything was different.

“I took your advice, Hoos, and finally asked Runner out!” Chuckler cut in with a huge grin on his face. Hoosier raised his eyebrows and nodded his head in appreciation. Chucklers cheeks were tinged red along with Runners, and the gleam in his eye was so charming Bob almost missed what he said.

He whipped his head around to glare at Hoosier.

“Wait, you helped him?”

Hoosier's eyebrows quirked and he glanced away from Runner and Chuckler competing to see who could fit more french fries up his nose to look at Bob.

“Yeah, I did. Big guy came to me all sulky and asked “how do you do it?” So I said “i suck it up and repress that shit”, however,” he paused when Runner laughed so hard at something Chuckler said, fries flew out of his nose like mushy, boogery projectiles. “I said “if you repress your shit, I'll kill you myself. And then I gave him a foolproof plan to ask our dearest Runner here out to the festival coming up in a few weeks.

Bob had never felt more lost in his life. Between hoosier suddenly turning back around to shove napkins in the direction of tweedle dee and tweedle dum and Eddie coming back with the cheque, he decided to leave that conversation for later and just be thankful as all hell there wouldn't be any tension between his friends.

He had enough on his plate as it was.