Patrick was a good twenty minutes late the first day he was supposed to meet his fiancé.
It turned out alright, though, because when he showed up on the doorstep, his mom was waiting right inside to inform him that his fiancé wouldn't be coming at all.
It was an auspicious start, Patrick thought. Bad enough they'd never even talked - they had phone numbers and the ability to text, presumably, but it didn't seem like either of them was going to make the first move.
"You just graduated with a degree in music, I hear?" his possibly future-mother-in-law asked him, with every evidence of interest, as if Patrick's mom hadn't undoubtedly talked her ear off about it already.
"Yeah," Patrick said, and nothing else, because he hadn't mastered the skill of talking politely but vaguely about his studies, and experience had taught him that most people didn't want to hear about it at length. He didn't enjoy the expressions of polite boredom that were the usual response.
"Which isn't to say he's done with music," Patrick's mom filled in. "He's always working on something."
She smiled at him. Patrick sort of grimaced back.
"That's wonderful," possible mother-in-law said. "Well, without my son here, I think today will be pretty boring for you, Patrick."
"No, it's fine," Patrick said, because he knew his script. He already regretted getting out of bed.
"It's not," she said, and sighed in a kind, gently put-upon way. She always seemed so nice, Patrick felt bad about how uncomfortable he felt around her. "I don't know what to do with my kids sometimes."
Patrick tried to look understanding. His mom, he saw, was smiling, probably because she was laughing at him.
"But I don't want you to suffer for it. I know you'll be waiting for your mom—" Patrick would've preferred to go home, but that apparently wasn't in the cards. "—but the front parlor sort of acts like a music room. You're welcome to entertain yourself there. I'm afraid nobody in our family has any musical abilities, so the room goes pretty unused."
"He'll love it," Patrick's mom said.
Thanks, mom. Because what was more uncomfortable than sitting with his mom and possible mom-in-law while they discussed his potential marriage? Sitting alone in a disused room in a corner of a house he had never stepped foot in before while he waited for his mom to collect him like an afterthought.
"Thank you, Mrs—" he didn't get any further, trailing off. It felt awkward calling her Mrs. Wentz when she had asked him three or four times to call her by her first name, but he didn't feel comfortable calling her by her first name. Especially when he couldn't remember her first name.
She smiled impossibly harder at him. Patrick never even got the sense it was forced. "Maybe you can tell us if anything is out of tune. We really don't take enough care of that piano, especially."
Patrick nodded and followed her around the corner out of the foyer and down the hall. She opened the door for him and said, "Your mom and I will be in the living room like usual. Come join us if you want."
Patrick nodded again, said, "Thank you," again, and breathed a sigh when she left, shutting the door quietly behind her.
The room was impeccably clean. There were various instruments strategically placed for decorating purposes – a few guitars, a pair of violins, a flute, and a beautiful baby grand piano. They were all nice enough Patrick felt annoyed at the disuse. He decided he'd take Mrs. Wentz up on her offer and went over to the piano. It would probably be unplayable, depending on how long it had gone untouched, but he could find out.
There was sheet music on the top of the piano, a random page from a "best of classical" book clearly propped there for display. Patrick ignored it. When he played, the piano turned out to be wonderful, the sound full-bodied and the pedals responsive, even if it was a little out of tune.
"You're good at that," said a voice from the doorway.
Patrick jumped and stopped playing. "Sorry," he said, turning around to look at the guy who spoke.
"For what?" the guy asked. He was looking at Patrick very intently.
Shrugging, Patrick said, "Nothing, I guess."
"I don't know you," the guy said.
It was getting uncomfortable craning over his shoulder. Patrick twisted around on the bench. "Should you?" he said. He didn't know the guy either, and since they'd foregone introductions, that didn't seem so strange.
The guy looked amused. "Well, I know everyone who lives here, which means I know you don't."
"I'm Patrick," Patrick said. "Stump."
"Oh. Of the arranged marriage," the guy said. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Patrick said uncomfortably. He looked at the windows on the left side of the room. They should've shown the yard, but it was too bright to really see outside.
"Cool," the guy said neutrally. He was still leaning against the door frame.
Patrick shrugged. Most people gave him funny looks, or were envious. Patrick didn't understand either reaction. Arranged marriages were uncommon, but not entirely unheard of. And he definitely didn't think they were anything to be jealous of. He couldn't tell which side this guy fell on.
"And who are you?" Patrick asked, darting a look at the guy again.
"Pete," the guy said.
"Pete?" Patrick asked, suddenly wary. "Like Peter?"
"No, not Peter," Pete said. "Never Peter."
"But Wentz?" Patrick asked carefully. He didn't want to demand, are you the person I am maybe going to marry, but he didn't think it was unreasonable to need to know if this was the person he was maybe going to marry.
The guy stared at him. "I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you don't know much about him."
"Peter Wentz?" Patrick frowned.
Patrick shook his head. "Not really, no. Why?"
"Because if you did, you wouldn't be asking me whether I was him."
"You know, you could just say you're not."
With the start of a smile, Pete said, "Fine. I'm not." Patrick must have looked mistrustful, because he added, "Okay, look, just because my name is Peter, Peter's a really common name!"
"Sure," Patrick said, still a little doubtful.
"And I don't like it," Pete said. "Never have. So it's Pete."
"Okay, okay," Patrick said.
There was a beat of silence. Patrick started to feel uncomfortable. Then he asked again, "So who are you?"
"Pete," the guy repeated, slowly and with a look like Patrick was stupid.
"Yes," Patrick said, fighting the urge to scowl, "But why are you here?"
"Hanging around," Pete said blithely. He stepped into the room and shut the door behind himself, leaning back against it. "I'm a family friend. Long time relationship goes back generations, that kind of thing, you know."
Patrick nodded. It was really common, and sometimes made negotiating business deals difficult. The Wentz family had a lot of old friends. It was part of the reason for the arranged marriage.
Pete asked, "So what do you know about the guy you're supposed to marry?"
Shrugging, Patrick said honestly, "I've never paid a lot of attention to anything but music." It was the nicest way he'd ever found of saying that society and gossip could go fuck themselves, as far as he was concerned. His mother had had multiple conversations with him about it.
Pete nodded slowly. "Bet that makes the matchmaking thing easy for your parents."
"I wouldn't know," Patrick said.
"Haven't paid attention to that, either?" Pete asked wryly.
"Fuck off," Patrick said, stung. He turned back around and started leafing through the booklet of music as a diversion. He knew his ears were probably red, but he was angry - just because he didn't want to keep up with society didn't mean he was a bad son.
Pete finally came further into the room. "No, hey," he said, "I didn't mean to insult you. It just seems weird that you're so trusting about some guy you've never met."
"I'll meet him before we actually get married," Patrick said. "And why do you care?"
Pete said, "I'm curious who they're trying to get to marry him this time."
"This time?" Patrick asked before he could stop himself. He'd decided when his mom first proposed this whole thing that he didn't care, he'd wait to make judgements until he met the guy. Even if it was impossible to avoid all the gossip about him, Patrick wasn't going to believe it. So he had no reason to specifically talk about it, especially with someone who was probably going to turn around and report everything back to Mrs. Wentz. It's probably a vetting thing, and Patrick is probably failing completely right now. It doesn't make him retract the question, because — this time?
Pete nodded his head toward the piano. "Play again."
Confused, Patrick played. He was only a few bars in when the guy sat down next to him, bumping into Patrick without so much as an 'excuse me'. Patrick scowled and elbowed him. The guy laughed but he was watching Patrick's hands closely. After a minute or so, Patrick said, "Okay. Why am I playing?"
Pete said, "Nobody ever comes in here. I mean, we'd all play hide and seek when we were young, inside the piano was a great hiding place—" Patrick winced. Pete was laughing as he continued, "—but it's one of those things people keep for show. I don't think anyone except kids being forced to take lessons has been in here for years."
"Sounds like it," Patrick said honestly. "It's out of tune. It's nice, though."
Pete just hummed at him in response. Patrick made his way to the last line and nodded at the book. He didn't have time to worry about Pete misunderstanding before he reached up and turned the page.
"So," Patrick said hesitantly. "You're friends with him. With Peter Wentz, I mean."
"Yeah," Pete said easily. He was still watching Patrick's hands with apparent fascination, so Patrick kept playing slowly.
"What's he like?" Patrick asked.
Pete looked at him.
Patrick stopped playing.
"What do you mean?" Pete asked.
Shrugging again, Patrick said, "I haven't met him yet, and you know him. Just, what's he like?"
"Nobody's told you about him?" Pete asked. "Your parents?"
"Should I believe them?" Patrick asked dryly. "It's an arranged marriage. Everyone wants us to like each other."
Pete laughed. "Yeah, that's true."
"So?" Patrick said. "What's he like?"
"Well." Pete shrugged. "He's kind of an asshole."
"Oh." Patrick's shoulders slumped. He resumed playing, picking at the keys. "But he's your friend?"
"I mean," Pete said. "I'm kind of a jerk, so we get along, but, you know."
"I do?" Patrick asked. "I don't think I do."
"You seem nice," Pete said. It sounds a little condescending, like a near insult.
"And?" Patrick asked, indignant. All he's done is show up and play piano. Are the value judgements necessary?
"I don't know." Pete bumped into him again, and nudged one of his hands up underneath Patrick's to touch the underside of his wrist. It tickled, but Patrick didn't pull his fingers from the keys. He was starting to think this maybe wasn't part of the vetting process. "You're not really the kind of guy I'd assume people would pick for his husband."
Patrick bristled. "Why not?"
"You're nice," Pete said again.
Patrick didn't know what that meant. He huffed. "Well, our mothers mean well."
Pete sounded dubious. "If you say so."
Patrick picked his way through chords at random. Pete didn't seem to notice, shifting a little on the bench beside Patrick and humming, completely off-tune, under his breath.
"Unless he's really awful," Patrick said, "I'm going to agree to it."
Pete said, "Well, you could definitely do better."
Patrick frowned down at the piano keys. He tucked his hands into his lap. Next to him, Pete sighed. "What kind of person is named Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz, anyway?" Patrick asked glumly.
"The third," Pete added.
"Even better," Patrick said.
Pete shrugged, his elbow jostling Patrick's. "It's a family name."
"Yeah, I know," Patrick said.
"But I agree," Pete said. "It totally sucks."
"Do you tell Wentz the third that?" Patrick couldn't help but ask, smiling a little.
"All the time!" Pete said, smiling back. "It's a constant topic of conversation."
Patrick felt his smile widen, bit his lip to stop it, and watched Pete's eyes flick down to his mouth. He forced himself to stop chewing his lip.
Patrick's mom's voice echoed in the hall outside the music room and Patrick jumped. Then she called his name, and there was a knock on the door, though she didn't open it. Patrick looked at Pete, apologetic and a little panicked.
Before he could say anything, Pete said solemnly, "Patrick Stump the first, can I come visit you some time?"
Almost definitely not vetting.
"Sure," Patrick said, feeling a small rush of adrenaline, and then he went to join his mom in the hall when they call, and said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Wentz, and didn't think about how he just agreed to see his fiancé's friend for what felt a lot like a date.
That night, Pete climbed up to his window.
"What the hell?" Patrick yelped at the knock on the glass, then let him in.
"I got your address from the Wentzes," Pete told him cheerfully.
Patrick nodded. "And then you thought you'd come over around midnight and crawl in the window."
"Exactly," Pete said, nodding back.
"I'm on the third floor!" Patrick said.
"So if I asked you to climb back out the window with me…?" Pete was grinning.
Patrick closed his eyes for a second and thought about how he shouldn't be doing this. "We could take the stairs."
"The point," Pete said, solemn and weighted, "is to use the window."
Patrick said, "Well, you can use the window," and headed for his bedroom door.
When he met Pete in the garden, Pete was pouting. He was sort of disguising it as a glower, eyeing Patrick like he'd ruined some grand scheme, but the way his mouth pulled down at the corners just looked sort of despondent. Patrick stifled a smile. "So?" he asked. "Are we going somewhere? Or was the window climbing the extent of your plan?"
"I take back what I said about you being nice," Pete said.
Patrick laughed. "I came out here, didn't I?"
"Yes," Pete said, "and I think a nice boy wouldn't do that. I'm sure you frequently cause your parents worry."
It was a joke, but it hit a little close to home. Patrick looked away.
"Come on," Pete said, either not noticing or choosing to ignore it. "Let's go wander around like teen delinquents."
They caught a bus downtown. Patrick didn't have his wallet, so Pete had to pay, and Patrick spent the first minute after the bus started moving apologizing. Pete said, "Hey, you didn't stop to think about it. At least you're not in your pajamas."
Patrick was sure he wouldn't have left the house in his pajamas. Fairly sure. Pete hadn't given him a lot of notice. He asked, "Where are we going?"
"I told you," Pete said patiently. "We're wandering."
Pete had chosen the bus, though, so Patrick didn't believe he didn't have a destination in mind. He seemed determined to pretend he didn't, though, so Patrick played along.
They got off the bus at the edge of downtown and ended up walking past restaurants and boutique shops. Pete chattered at Patrick about the places they passed - he pointed out his favorite places to buy clothes, and Patrick disparaged them - there were a lot of artfully freaky mannequins, and several shop façades that had shelled out for artfully distressed brickwork to go with their artfully distressed jeans — and Pete laughed instead of getting offended; he told Patrick stories about the restaurants and bars they passed, until Patrick had to ask him what he did, because Pete's stories all sounded like they came from personal experience.
Pete said, "Officially, I'm still in college."
Patrick stared at him. Pete had to be a couple of years older than him. And the idea of college, really, just didn't seem to fit. Patrick had a hard time imagining him studying. He said so.
"That's pretty cruel," Pete said, laughing. "But yeah. I'm taking the scenic route."
Patrick asked, "Majoring in what?"
"Well," Pete said, "that's part of the problem," and then, aggravatingly, wouldn't say anything more.
At the next corner they passed a building Patrick was intimately familiar with. It was late and the music store was long past closing, but Patrick pressed his hands to the glass and peered in anyway. When he backed away, Pete was smiling at him, soft. Patrick tucked his hands into his sleeves and felt embarrassed.
"We should come back when everything's open," Pete said.
They started walking again, slowly, and Pete said, "I bet you take forever in music stores."
Snorting, Patrick said, "I'm not that bad. But I used to work there."
"Really?" Pete asked, perking up. "Like a part-time job?"
"Some of us have parents that make us work," Patrick said pointedly. It was just a guess, but Pete had that sense about him. And any parents who'd let their kid take, what, six years at least in college had to be pretty indulgent.
"Hey," Pete said, wounded, "I work!"
Patrick leapt on the opening. "Yeah?" he asked, trying to be casual. "What do you do?"
Pete just grinned at him. Patrick made a frustrated noise.
"Almost there," Pete said, bumping into Patrick so he stumbled forward a step.
The next corner they came to was crowded with people. They were standing around in groups, lined up, and Patrick looked further down the block and said, "A club?" He was unreasonably disappointed.
Pete nodded and rocked a little on his toes. "I want to show you something."
Patrick looked down at himself and said, "I'm not really dressed for this." He was also still without his wallet, and no way he was getting into a club without getting carded. On his bad days, he barely looked eighteen.
Pete shook his head and said, "We'll go through the back."
"Um," Patrick said, but Pete was already dragging him around the corner to an unmarked metal door.
They went up the four concrete steps and Pete tugged at the door. Over his shoulder he said to Patrick, "This sticks like a bitch so it's almost never actually locked."
"That sounds safe," Patrick said.
Pete shoved Patrick a few steps over, grabbed ahold of the handle, and threw his weight backwards. The door squealed open very reluctantly.
"Um," Patrick said again, more urgently. It was loud, and Patrick didn't want to get arrested.
Pete finally registered Patrick's alarm. He rolled his eyes. "This is one of your fiancé's clubs, it's fine."
That really, really did not make Patrick feel better. He had several objections, all of them important, so he didn't manage to pick one until after Pete had pulled him through the doorway and was yanking the door shut again behind them in painfully loud increments. The room they were in was a tiny, neat office. It was thankfully empty, but there were voices right on the other side of another steel door in the facing wall.
"Is he here?" Patrick asked, because panicked consideration deemed that the most important issue. Just because the office was empty now— If this even was the main office, and not a spare room that connected to—
"Nope," Pete said, and finally got the door closed. "Why, do you want to meet him?" He peered at Patrick.
"Uh," Patrick said. "No?" He thought that was fairly obvious, given how he was sort of sneaking around the city with someone else on a maybe-date, and it was almost two in the morning, and— He looked down at himself. He was wearing slippers. "I mean," he fumbled, "obviously yes, eventually, but."
"Not tonight?" Pete asked. He was sort of smiling, but the expression was strange.
"I'm in slippers," Patrick said, somewhat helplessly.
"Yes," Pete said. "You are. Did you just notice?"
Patrick had. He asked, "So why are we here?" a little frantically.
"I stalked you on the internet this afternoon," Pete said cheerfully. "And there's a band playing here I think you'll like."
"Here," Patrick said skeptically, because it really didn't seem the sort of music venue Patrick would like - the places Patrick liked tended not to have lines down the block - but Pete was already ushering him out of the room.
Before Patrick could raise further objections Pete yanked open the office door, revealing four very startled people. One of the guys said, "Pete?"
One of the women said, "What are you—"
Patrick said, "Oh, crap."
And Pete said cheerfully, "Don't mind us!" and shoved very hard at Patrick's shoulders until he went on down the hall. Patrick was getting really tired of being pushed around.
Behind them, the first guy said, "We have got to get better security here."
Patrick cringed. He tried to stop, but Pete pulled at his arm again.
"I told you," Pete said, "it's fine. He's just kidding."
"He didn't sound kidding," Patrick said. He tried to dig his heels in, but Pete's fingers in his arm hurt.
"Come on," Pete said impatiently, "I don't know for sure how late the band started. And would you stop worrying, the worst they could do is kick us out and trust me, they won't."
"They could kick us out. I don't have my ID though and isn't being in a club without ID illegal? I don't want to be arrested. Also I think we just broke in. And I'm not sure I even want to be here," Patrick said all in a rush, but Pete seemed to be ignoring him completely, and by the time he finished they were at the end of the corridor and facing a metal gate that Pete rattled and then, to Patrick's surprise, unlocked with a key he dug out of his pocket — well, out of the third pocket he tried, because he apparently had about ten keys on him, none of them on key rings.
Patrick's surprise must have shown on his face, because Pete snorted and said, "I told you we're allowed to be here. Keys make it official, right?" He started up the rusted iron stairs that were on the other side of the gate before Patrick could answer. "And give it ten minutes. If you don't like the band we'll go somewhere else."
They went up two flights and ended up on a sort of catwalk that overlooked the side of the stage, as well as the balcony and main floor of the club below. It was packed and loud, but there weren't any flashing lights like Patrick expected from a club. Instead about a quarter of the main floor was taken up by a normal wooden stage, and the band was just finishing setting up.
"Who's playing?" Patrick asked.
Pete laughed and said, "Wait and find out. You can tell me if you recognize them."
Patrick rolled his eyes and focused on the band as they started to play. It was quieter up where they were than it would've been down on the floor, but that wasn't saying much. Halfway through the first song, which Patrick did like and which moreover sounded familiar enough it was really irritating him, Pete elbowed him. He almost had to yell as he said, "I'll be right back."
Nodding, Patrick mostly ignored him.
Two songs later, Patrick was starting to wonder if he'd be able to get back down without Pete's help. If that gate locked automatically, he was probably stuck. But before he could really start to panic, Pete was back.
He came running up the stairs and almost slammed into Patrick, jamming his mouth up against his ear. He whisper-yelled, "Okay, sorry, but we sort of have to leave now."
"Why?" Patrick whisper-yelled back.
"I accidentally told some people who you were and now everyone wants to talk to the guy who's supposed to marry their boss."
Patrick abruptly lost all enjoyment in the music. He stared at Pete. "I don't want to talk to anyone!"
"I know!" Pete said. "Come on."
Patrick followed him down the walkway to identical stairs on the opposite side. They ended up in another hallway of offices, but this one was empty, and they came out on a back street instead of the crowded front one. The music went abruptly muffled when the heavy steel door slammed shut behind them.
"Well," Pete said sheepishly when they were halfway down the block. "That could've gone better. Everyone always tells me I need to learn to keep my mouth shut."
"I didn't get arrested," Patrick said, because he was pretty thankful about that. "And we didn't technically get kicked out."
"No, we didn't," Pete agreed cheerfully.
They found their way back to the bus stop, and then missed the next bus while arguing about whether Pete was going to escort Patrick home or take the bus he need to get back to his own house. Patrick won by pointing out that if Pete cared that much about going back to Patrick's, he should never have let slip that it was the wrong bus for his own house, anyway.
But Pete still had to pay Patrick's return fare, so it wasn't too much of a victory for Patrick.
The next time Patrick saw Pete was a week later in the music room again. Patrick's mom was meeting with Mrs. Wentz to discuss who was financing the wedding or something. Patrick had been willfully ignoring everything his mother said about it. Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III was again not in attendance.
"He's managing one of his clubs," Mrs. Wentz said apologetically.
"Entrepreneurship is demanding," Patrick's mom said sympathetically.
Patrick was rolling his eyes as he excused himself to the music room again.
Inside Pete was sitting at the piano, and Patrick spared a second's thought to wonder how often he stayed at the Wentz house, if Mrs. Wentz didn't think to warn Patrick when she waved him in here, and then he realized that Pete probably snuck around as, like, a hobby, because he seemed like that kind of person, and probably Mrs. Wentz didn't realize he was in here, because she really was the kind of person who would tell Patrick who he was going to have as company, and introduce them too.
Patrick considered all of this for a moment, and then he actually listened to the sounds Pete was producing.
"You're murdering the piano," he said. "Stop it."
Pete laughed at him without turning around and pushed four keys simultaneously that managed to make the most discordant sound Patrick had ever heard. He didn't say anything, but only because he didn't want to give Pete the satisfaction. He did wince, though. His apparent lack of reaction prompted Pete to try again, and the second attempt was actually marginally better. It also sounded like the piano had been tuned since Patrick was last here. He blinked and wondered if Mrs. Wentz had had it done as a precaution or whether Pete had told her, even though Patrick had only mentioned it in passing.
"I can't help it," Pete said. "Don't know how to do anything but abuse it. I got through just enough lessons to know you're supposed to use more than one finger at a time."
Patrick, before he could stop himself, said, "Oh, god."
Pete laughed again, twisting around to grin at him, and Patrick shook his head and joined him at the piano. He had to shove Pete over to make room on the bench, and Pete grumbled at him hypocritically.
"You're not even trying to read the music," Patrick said, and played the first two lines. It was nothing like Pete's attempts.
"I wasn't, no," Pete said. "I can't read music."
"Keep going," Pete said.
Patrick had been expecting this. "If I play a song, will you tell me more about you?"
"Like what?" Pete asked curiously.
"Like your last name?" Patrick said sarcastically.
Pete made a dismissive noise. "Last names," he said. "What do those tell you?"
Patrick rolled his eyes. "I don't actually care about your last name. It was just an example."
"Fine," Pete said. "Music as a negotiation tactic, I can respect that."
Patrick though negotiation was a strong word for wanting to get to know someone, but what did he know? He didn't have any secrets, and definitely none to be defensive of. Maybe Pete was a homeless squatter and wanted to hide that fact as long as possible.
Pete grabbed the book from the display stand and flipped through it.
"I was using that," Patrick said.
"Can you play something from memory?" Pete asked.
Patrick frowned. "Like what?"
"Anything," Pete said. "Do you have any songs memorized? Stuff you had to learn for college?"
"My classes didn't really work like that," Patrick said. Pete looked disappointed. "But yeah, I know plenty of songs."
Pete grinned. "Any non-classical ones?"
Patrick rolled his eyes. "I could probably play any song you can think of."
When Pete blinked at him, he realized how that sounded. He shifted uncomfortably. "I listen to a lot of music, and modern music isn't usually that complicated. It might take me a couple of tries to figure it out, but it'll probably be okay."
Pete tilted his head. "So play something."
Patrick opened his mouth, looked at Pete, and closed it.
"Well?" Pete asked, wiggling a little with impatience.
"Play what," Patrick said. "I am not an iPod, I don't have a randomize button."
Pete stared at Patrick. Patrick stared at Pete.
Pete started to laugh.
"Ugh," Patrick said, and felt himself flush. "I don't care how stupid that sounded, it's true."
"You're a marvel," Pete said.
Patrick couldn't tell if that was sarcasm. He narrowed his eyes.
Before he could work up proper indignation, Pete's hand curled around his neck, warm and a little rough. He pulled Patrick forward but Patrick was already leaning in. Patrick watched his face come closer, watched his eyes slowly close to slits, felt his own eyes closing. He felt Pete's breath on his face, and put his hand on Pete's thigh, and then he dragged in a reluctant breath and heard himself say, "I can't."
Pete moved back a little and blinked at him slowly. "You can't," he said, with the flavor of someone who'd never heard the words.
"I'm—-" Patrick gestured towards the door, dropped his hand back down, touched Pete's thigh again, realized they're still improbably close, and didn't scoot away. He swallowed and tried again. "I'm here for, I mean, I'm supposed to—-" He gave up talking, hopeless.
Pete asked quietly, "Does your business need the money that badly?"
"No," Patrick said, because they don't. They could certainly use it, but it wasn't this or financial ruin. "It's just—-I'm here for this. I'm technically engaged."
"You're being loyal," Pete asked, "to someone you've never met?"
Patrick stiffened and felt his mouth pull down. He got off the bench. "I made a promise."
"No, hey," Pete leaned forward and grabbed for him, catching Patrick's sleeve. "I'm not trying to make fun of you."
"Even if we don't end up getting married, right now I'm--" Patrick shook his head.
"Engaged," Pete said. "And you're going to marry him unless he's completely awful."
Patrick jerked his shoulders in a shrug. He wanted to say no, to walk into the other room and tell his mother he'd changed his mind, but Mrs. Wentz was so nice, and his mom had been so careful to ask him repeatedly that he was all right with everything every step of the way. And he would have to explain to his mother he met someone, when she had spent years asking if he had and he always said no. And she would ask how they met, and where, and probably what he was like and what Patrick liked about him, and Patrick couldn't answer those questions, even if he wanted to. Besides, whoever Patrick married needed to help him take over his family's company one day, because Patrick had no aptitude for it, and wanted, selfishly besides, to focus on his music. Peter Wentz the third might turn out to be an asshole but he could do what Patrick needed, any question of money aside.
But he didn't try to explain any of this to Pete, because he would rather Pete attribute it to fidelity than selfishness.
"I should at least meet him," he said, which was a complete cop-out.
The unimpressed look Pete leveled at him made it worse, but Pete didn't call him on it. He just said, "I have to leave soon."
Patrick bit his lip.
"Work," Pete added.
Patrick nodded. In a desperate attempt to overcome the awkwardness, he asked, "Which is…?"
Pete smiled at him. "None of your business, that's what."
Sighing, Patrick looked back at the piano. He expected Pete to ask him to play, and he was already thinking about what he'd choose, but Pete just stood up and said, "I'll see you around, Patrick Stump."
"Bye," Patrick said, startled and disappointed in equal measure. He didn't play anything even once he heard the door shut behind Pete.
Three days later, his mom knocked on his door and told him that it was official, Peter Wentz was not going to be absent, missing or presumed dead for their meeting that day. Patrick, therefore, had to get up and try to look presentable and pretend not to hate the world, even if it was only nine in the morning.
Patrick regarded this as slander to his character, but considering he wasn't willing to put forth the effort to protest because it was so damn early, maybe his mother had a point.
He sat in the car and sulked on the way over. His mom let him do it, probably because it was better than panicking.
The house looked almost familiar now. Patrick could pick out the front windows that belonged to the music room; there was a shape moving inside, and Patrick craned to see if it was Pete, realized what he was doing, and made himself stop. It was probably a maid, and either way, it didn't matter. He was there to meet his fiancé, finally, and he would try at least once not to embarrass himself in front of Mrs. Wentz.
Mrs. Wentz was waiting for them at the front door. She took one look at Patrick and started laughing.
"I know," Patrick's mom said mournfully.
"What," Patrick said flatly.
"You look like you're approaching a death sentence," Mrs. Wentz said, and half-hugged Patrick. Patrick felt marginally better.
"Sorry," he said. "It's early."
"My youngest is barely out of teenage years," Mrs. Wentz said. "I remember what it was like."
Patrick is not a teenager. He made a face. She laughed again, and said, "Well, through here. Moment of truth, I guess."
"No pressure," Patrick muttered, and heard his mother laugh. She was the least supportive parent he knew.
He rolled his eyes, huffed, decided he was never going to feel less nervous than he did right now, and opened the door to the living room.
Waiting on the other side was Pete.
Patrick stared, blinked, heard his mother introduce them, and realized, in quick succession:
1) Pete was a manipulative jerk.
2) Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III really was an asshole.
3) Pete and Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III were obviously the same person.
and 4) Patrick was a monumental idiot.
"We think you'll really get along," Mrs. Wentz, Pete's mother, said, and Pete smiled at him all wide, and Patrick shook his hand when he held it out, looked him straight in the eye, and said, "Fuck you."
He left before anyone stuttered out another word.
He didn't go home. Instead he rode buses until he got cold, and then he got off a few stops early and walked home. His mom was home when he got back, so he snuck around to the back door. He showered and changed clothes and finally had to go downstairs for food.
His mom left him alone until he'd eaten, and then she followed him up to his room. She tried to talk to him, and she didn't seem angry, but he wouldn't answer any of her questions and after a while she sighed, hugged him and kissed his cheek, and told him they would talk in the morning.
"I didn't realize I knew him," Patrick said when she was at his bedroom door, before he could talk himself out of it. "But we've met." He darted a look at her; she was still watching him calmly, head slightly tilted. "I don't really like him."
"Well," his mom said lightly, "I think we all figured that out. But he only had nice things to say about you."
Patrick felt his face get hot, and he looked away.
"I just want you to be happy, sweetheart," his mom said.
Him happy and a healthy dose of capital investment in the family business; Patrick nodded. Everyone really did mean well. It felt like he had been telling himself that a lot since this whole thing started.
Patrick would have been lying if he said he wasn't expecting the knock at his window. He probably would have been disappointed if Pete hadn't come by, but he still looked at the window, locked, and Pete's face beyond it, pale and indistinct, and thought about leaving it locked. Pete could climb back down.
Heaving a sigh, Patrick opened the window. He was back at his desk and focusing on his computer before Pete had finished clambering in and shutting the window.
When he was inside, he just asked, "Patrick?"
Patrick considered ignoring him, and instead said, "Peter." He didn't look away from his computer screen.
Pete's voice was tight. "Don't."
A minute of silence; another. Patrick almost turned around to see if Pete was planning on saying anything. Then he realized Pete probably was trying to wait him out, and he opened up Garage Band on his computer and started organizing old files to keep himself busy. It went on long enough he almost could've forgotten Pete was sitting on his bed, except he couldn't ignore the feeling of being stared at.
"I'm twenty eight," Pete said quietly, and it was unexpected enough that Patrick startled and paused to listen to him. "And I'm worth millions of dollars. My brother gets the worst of it, career-wise, because he has to take over after Dad, but he always liked it so I guess that turned out okay anyway. But I'm worth a lot of money and a lot of influence and not much else."
Patrick wanted to tell Pete he was wrong. He remembered Pete saying no, not Peter, never Peter and stopped himself.
"I've had six arranged marriages," Pete continued, "after the only girl I proposed to myself turned me down. None of them liked me, but only two of them were honest enough to say so. My parents want all us kids married; Dad likes tradition and Mom thinks it'll be good for all of us. They both think I'm being deliberately difficult."
Patrick swallowed. His computer went to sleep; the screen went dark. He could see Pete's reflection in it, and Pete met his eyes.
"I didn't mean to lie to you," Pete said. "I wasn't planning on being there that day. I got back early and I was just going to go upstairs, skip everything, but you were playing in the music room. Then you didn't know who I was, and I thought—"
Patrick closed his eyes, jerked his head in a semblance of a nod. "I know." It wasn't hard to figure out what happened. Patrick couldn't say he wouldn't have done the same if the situation had presented itself. He probably wouldn't have been able to carry it off, and certainly not for as long as Pete had, but he would've been tempted.
Pete said, "I didn't know how to tell you."
Patrick turned his chair to face Pete sitting on the edge of his bed, incongruous in Patrick's childhood bedroom. "You should've found a way."
"I know," Pete said.
"No," Patrick said. "So maybe you couldn't tell me in person. What, you couldn't email me? Sent me a text? Met me outside the room two minutes before so I didn't look like an asshole in front of both our parents?"
"I know," Pete repeated fervently, leaning forward. "But I knew you were going to be pissed. I thought if I told you in front of our moms, you might stick around long enough to listen. Even with them there, you just swore at me and left."
"Because I was humiliated," Patrick said. He knew, after thinking about it, that Pete's mother probably hadn't been aware of what Pete had been doing, but at the time it had felt like a joke, and he was the butt of it.
"I'm sorry," Pete said, "but I thought it would have been worse if I just told you. You would've left and called everything off and never talked to me again."
"No," Patrick said, "mostly because I probably wouldn't have left."
Pete watched him quietly. Patrick bit hard on his lip. His hands were shaking with tension and confusion. He tucked them between his knees.
"I might have been tempted to hit you, and I would have yelled at you," Patrick said, "which you deserve, for the record. But I wouldn't have left."
"I couldn't know for sure," Pete said. Patrick didn't say anything. After a minute, Pete sighed. "You know what happens next is up to you."
It dawned on Patrick, with a sudden rush of embarrassment, that Pete had known all along that they were possibly going to get married. When he agreed to meet with Patrick and his mom that morning, and tell Patrick who he was, however badly, he was doing it because he had met Patrick, and he was, by following through on the arrangements, presumably okay with following through on the marriage.
Meaning, when Patrick either called off the wedding or decided to go through with it, he would be deliberately choosing to marry Pete, or to not marry Pete, and that choice would ultimately be for both of them.
Patrick felt a hysterical laugh build and bit it back. "I don't know," he said.
Pete shifted a little, making the bed creak, but when Patrick looked at him his expression was blank. Patrick had no clue what he was thinking. "Okay," he said neutrally.
"I mean, I don't know you," Patrick said. "I knew I didn't know—" he waved his hand at Pete. "But I thought I was getting to know you, and you were lying." Trying to decide whether to marry someone he knows and tentatively likes and is fucking furious at is different than agreeing passively to marry a complete stranger. He already cares more about whether things would work with Pete, and it's terrifying.
"Only about one thing," Pete said. "Patrick, I swear. It wasn't even an important thing."
"That we were going to get married is pretty important!" Patrick yelled, and then held his breath to listen if his mom had woken up. There was no sound from the hallway. He continued in a hiss, "And you know it. You knew who I was and used it to get to know me."
"You got to know me too!" Pete hissed back.
"Getting to know you doesn't count if I didn't know it was you! It was the wrong you!"
"That's bullshit," Pete says. "There's only one me. The only thing that's changed is how you see me. Which is what I was trying to avoid! And you know what, who doesn't fucking google the person they're supposed to marry?"
"I didn't know or care who you were when I started, and I didn't want to look online because that's not necessarily true or fair," Patrick could feel his face going red. "You didn't need to lie. The only assumptions I made about you were based on what you told me! I didn't have any preconceived notions about you."
"I didn't know that until after—" Pete stopped and blew out his breath, hard.
"Until after you'd already lied," Patrick finished for him. "Did the total lack of recognition when I first saw you not give it away?"
"I shouldn't have," Pete said, with forced calm. "I know. And I really am sorry."
Patrick looked at him. Pete looked back. Patrick said, "So I don't know what to do."
Pete swallowed. It made an unattractively loud noise in the quiet of the room. Patrick stared at Pete's knees; his jeans were scuffed.
"Whatever happens," Pete said, meaning whatever Patrick decided, but Patrick appreciated he didn't say that outright, "you're a pretty cool dude. I'd like it if you could get over hating me at some point."
"I don't hate you," Patrick said, because it was true. "I'm just pissed as all hell." Which was also true, if not the whole truth.
Pete looked at him for another moment, then nodded. "I'm gonna go."
"You can use the door," Patrick said.
Pete stood up and looked at him expectantly. Patrick got up and led him out.
At the front door, Patrick couldn't stop himself from asking, "Would you do it again?"
Pete didn't hesitate in his answer. "Yes."
Patrick asked, "Why?"
Pete said, "It was fun."
Pete corrected himself. "It was real."
It was real. Or as close to it as they could've gotten. Patrick closed the door, very carefully, and watched Pete through the glass until he disappeared down the front walk.
Patrick woke up late the next morning and thought he must really have looked pitiful yesterday if his mom had been willing to let him sleep so much.
When he went downstairs, she was sitting in the kitchen, apparently lying in wait for him. "Hi, honey," she said.
Wary, Patrick said, "Hi." He opened the fridge and stared at the yogurt and juice on display. He wasn't hungry, but he didn't want to face his mother.
"I saw you walking Peter out last night," she said to his back.
For a split second, Patrick thought, Peter? Then he froze and said to the yogurt, "Oh."
"Yeah," his mom sounded amused. "Honey, will you look at me? And shut the fridge door if you're not going to get breakfast."
Miserably, Patrick turned around. He leaned against the fridge, reluctant to move any closer to her than he had to.
"So Peter talked to his mother, and she called me. I know why you were so upset." She looked at him kindly.
Pete told their moms? And Patrick had thought he'd been recovering from the embarrassment. He was never talking to Pete again.
His mom looked like she was waiting for a response. "Oh," he said again.
It sufficed. She continued, "I can't imagine how upsetting that must have been. We're both really angry with Pete—" Patrick does not believe this for a second. He'd buy that Mrs. Wentz was probably frustrated, but Patrick's mom? In a few days she'd think it was hilarious, if she didn't already. "—and we both understand why you would want to call it off."
Patrick nodded and tried as hard as possible to avoid catching her eyes.
"So," she said. "Do you have anything to say?"
Patrick said, "I'm not hungry. I'm going back upstairs."
"Okay," she said. "I'm sorry this thing with the Wentzes went sort of sideways. I hope when you and Peter talked last night, some of it got smoothed out."
She sighed at him. "Okay, well."
Patrick turned to go. In the doorway, he realized, through his mortification, that she was trying to subtly ask him a question. He'd been hoping for more time, but then, maybe less overthinking was better. He stopped, hunched his shoulders, and tried to pretend he was invisible while he said, "Mom?"
Pete didn't strike Patrick like the type of person who'd be good at business, but Patrick knows as Wentz the third he has several successful businesses. Patrick even liked one of them. It was another facet of the two images he was going to have to work to reconcile in his head. It was easier to imagine Pete managing nightclubs than grocery stores, at least. Patrick really didn't think Pete would be that much help with grocery stores. Patrick would have to do it, or would have to hire someone. On the other hand, Pete came with money so Patrick could hire someone. And Patrick trusted, at least, that Pete had been honest about liking music.
"You don't have to, if you haven't, you shouldn't, you don't have to cancel the wedding." Patrick could barely get the words out, and until he did, he wasn't quite sure what he was going to say, but having said it, underneath the desire to never look another human in the face, he felt a huge swell of uncertainty and a slow bubbling of tentative hope.
"Alright, honey," she said. She sounded happy. Patrick went to hide in his room.
A month later, Patrick met Pete before the chapel doors.
"I was thinking," Pete said.
Not even a hello despite a month's worth of radio silence. They had phone numbers and emails and addresses - all the stuff they'd had before, plus things like birth dates and favorite foods, all helpfully delivered or hinted at by nosy mothers - but Patrick hadn't been sure how to start talking to Pete again, and Pete hadn't tried to talk to him either. Patrick had been worried until he'd finally brought it up to his mother, and his mother had outright started laughing at him and said, "His mother yelled at him for hours after what he did. There were a lot of threats involved. And he almost ruined things last time. I think he's being cautious, honey." Patrick had fought, and lost, the urge to bury his face in a couch cushion.
Pete's bow tie was crooked. Patrick couldn't believe he was actually wearing one, and thought maybe he really was trying.
"Yeah?" Patrick asked.
"Maybe you could teach me to play the piano."
Patrick made a face before he could stop himself. Pete laughed, and it sounded relieved.
"Maybe," Patrick countered, "you could show me another one of your clubs? And we could stay for more than twenty minutes this time." He worried, for a split second, that that sounded meaner than he meant. He got snappish when he was nervous.
But Pete said, "No getting kicked out or arrested or anything. I promise."
Patrick made a face at him. "Those are valid concerns when you don't know you're with the person who owns the building you're breakinginto."
Pete smiled at him, and his hand darted out to run over Patrick's shoulder, fleeting touch quickly snatched back as if he thought he shouldn't but hadn't stopped himself quickly enough. Patrick flushed. "We don't even have to hide from everyone," Pete suggested. "Though I'm still expecting you to talk to all my horrible friends."
Inside the chapel, the music started up.
"No, I want to," Patrick said, though he didn't particularly. He was starting to think it wouldn't be so bad, though.
Pete smiled harder at his agreement as the attendants opened the doors in front of them. The organ music swelled. Patrick took Pete's hand.