Andrew and Aaron stared up at the bodacious pink flyer that adorned every available hall, wall, door, and floor in their twenty-story office building.
THINK YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO PROVE YOUR LOVE? the flyer started, letters bold and large and red. JOIN US NEXT WEEK DURING EXYSS’S FIRST ANNUAL VALENTINE’S DAY EVENT*. Underneath the commercial came the list of events, each to take place during one day of the week:
Tug o' War
Below the events was a cutesy rendered Cupid wearing workout apparel and lined up to race, followed by the words: EACH EVENT MUST BE COMPLETED AS PART OF A PAIR. EVENTS ARE JUDGED ON A POINT-BASED SYSTEM. WINNERS TO RECEIVE TWO FREE VACATION DAYS**.
And, the fine print: *this event is to boost office morale and community. everyone who participates will be actively playing games during work hours. you’re getting paid to play, people. why wouldn’t you join? **vacation days won during the Valentine’s event can only be redeemed on February 14 and February 15 of this year.
CAN YOU PROVE YOUR LOVE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE?
When there was finally nothing left to read, still Andrew and Aaron stared at the flyer.
“This is fucking dumb,” Aaron said.
Andrew said nothing.
“What do they expect to accomplish with this? What in the hell am I supposed to prove by winning at dumb games?”
Andrew turned to his brother. Aaron was still glaring at the flyer.
“And partners? Really? You’re gonna force me to interact with someone just to win two free vacation days?”
“So you won’t do it,” Andrew said.
Aaron huffed. “Oh, I’ll do it. I’m ‘getting paid to play.’ Why the fuck wouldn’t I?” Aaron turned away from the flyer and raised his eyebrows at Andrew. “You in?”
“Not with you,” Andrew said, and then turned to the elevator so he could go to his department and begin work.
“Really, asshole? Who else do you fucking know?” Aaron called, just as the doors opened.
“I’m sure I’ll find someone,” Andrew said.
The doors closed to Aaron’s annoyed scowl.
Aaron almost walked out of the cafeteria when he first entered and suddenly remembered that he sat with Katelyn every day for lunch and she would probably say yes to the Valentine’s event if he asked her.
“Fuck,” Aaron said under his breath. Katelyn looked up from her phone and noticed Aaron lingering by the entrance, not quite entering the room but not fleeing from the scene, either. She smiled at him as she put her phone back in her purse. “Fuck,” Aaron said again, a little desperately, and then ventured to their table, wiping sweaty palms on his pants.
Andrew was smoking during his lunch break, perching his hip on the ledge at the top of the parking garage and staring down when someone standing two cars away and holding their door open asked, “They pay for smoke breaks here?”
Andrew turned in the direction of the voice and saw a man with dark red hair and scars on his face staring at Andrew’s cigarette.
“No,” Andrew said, staring back and exhaling. The man, after a pause, closed his car door and walked to Andrew. Andrew’s gaze traveled down the pale blue button up shirt straining over limber shoulders, the creased black slacks hugging thick thighs, the shiny black shoes covering silent steps. The man’s sleeves were buttoned and pinned to his wrists, but he couldn’t quite hide all the burns and slices adorning his hands.
Once he was beside Andrew, the man braced his forearms on the concrete ledge and leaned as far forward as he could, holding his body upright by his arms and lifting his feet off the ground. Andrew stared at him as the man stared down at the ground, holding his body balanced on the edge.
“New?” Andrew asked.
“First week,” the man answered.
The man snorted, setting his feet on the ground and looking at Andrew once again. “Am I so transparent?”
Andrew’s gaze circled around the burns on his cheek, the slices on the other, stopping on his eyes—icy blue and unwavering. “Yes,” Andrew said.
“Hm,” the man said, leaning his back on the ledge and staring at the parked cars. Andrew hadn’t stopped staring at the man since he walked up.
“What are you doing next week,” Andrew said.
The man looked to Andrew with a raised brow.
Andrew and Aaron commuted home together. They lived in the same apartment building. On the same floor.
“I’m gonna need to go costume shopping,” Aaron said right before they separated at their front doors, 201 and 202.
Andrew paused with his key in the lock. “The cheerleader,” he guessed.
“She’s not a cheerleader anymore.”
Andrew turned to Aaron, gave his body a long once over, and said, “Cardio.”
Aaron, scowling, said, “At least I’ll be getting paid to run.”
“What the fuck?” Aaron asked. “You actually found someone?”
“You actually asked the cheerleader out?”
Aaron, scowling harder, snapped, “Who the fuck did you even find?”
“Who the fuck is Neil ?”
“He’s in accounting.”
“Oh my god, you don’t even know him, do you?”
Andrew spun his key in the lock.
“Oh my god, I’m going to win,” Aaron said. “Why are you even doing this if you’re okay with some dude off the street?” Andrew took a step inside. Aaron put his foot out to stop Andrew from closing his door. “You’re really going to compete?” he asked, dubious.
Andrew met his brother’s eyes and thought of you don’t even know me. Can I join you on your smoke lunch? Yeah, I’ll be your partner. I’m Neil. Andrew thought of a scarred face and mottled hands. He thought of a man balanced on the edge of a very tall building.
“Yes,” he said. “Are you?”
Aaron held his brother’s gaze and thought of oh my gosh, really? I didn’t think you’d want to do it! I’d be so happy to be your partner! We are going to kick so much ass. Aaron thought of a delighted smile and an excited laugh. He thought of a girl he sat with every day for the past year.
“Yes,” he said, and let Andrew close his door.
Bright and early Monday morning, each division’s director announced to their department that the Valentine’s Day event would start around 11AM, and lunch would be provided after. Participation was not mandatory, and just watching the event would be acceptable. Most of the people in the building were over the age of fifty, so they gladly abstained from participating, with a few excited to prove their finesse “at their age.”
Andrew did not turn from his computer during his boss’s announcement, but he did stand with the rest of them at 10:30 when they were corralled to the field outside the building.
“Today’s the big day, huh?”
“You’re with Katelyn, right?”
“You got this, big guy!”
As soon as everyone was outside, Aaron sidled up to Andrew and hissed, “Why is everyone and their fucking mother aware that I’m in love with Katelyn and we’re participating in this event together?”
“Embarrassing,” Andrew replied, and then turned and made eye contact with his partner. Neil was standing ten feet away, wearing track pants and tapping the toes of his scuffed white tennis shoes on the ground. He wore a black muscle tank over an orange long-sleeve underarmor shirt, and he had a bright orange sweatband snapped tight around his head, pushing his fringe up. Neil had drawn two black lines underneath his eyes, and his face and neck were already damp with sweat from his pre-workout. Andrew immediately walked in his direction.
“I hope you trip and die!” Aaron called to him.
Andrew raised a hand and flipped his brother off without turning around.
“A button up?”
“You’re going to burst right out of that, as stacked as you are. At least you’re wearing shorts.”
“What do you want to do about the three-legged portion?”
“Don’t touch me.”
“Do you want to tie our legs together?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Where do you want me to put my hands?”
“At your side.”
“I might accidentally brush against you, considering we’ll be tied at the ankle.”
“I’ll put my arm around your shoulders.”
“If that’s okay with you.”
“How fast are you?”
“Is that supposed to be a joke?”
“I don’t know how fast you are. We just met.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll win.”
Katelyn was stretching out her legs in the grass, head bowed over her knees. Her hair was pulled back with a magenta pink velvet scrunchie, and Aaron could see a bright yellow lycra leotard worn over a long sleeve teal spandex shirt, shoulders exposed due to the low start of the sleeves. She had vibrant pink tights on, and yellow leg warmers, and teal tennis shoes.
Aaron plopped on the ground beside her and started stretching. Katelyn looked up at him and smiled.
“The costume contest is tomorrow,” Aaron said.
Katelyn laughed, shoving his shoulder.
“First of all,” the CEO of the company started, “thanks to everyone for coming to this. We know it’s not easy to give away forty hours of your week to the grind…”
Andrew tuned out the rest of the speech in favor of watching Neil stretch. Neil was staring back at Andrew, holding a foot behind his back.
“Which department are you in?” Neil asked.
Neil nodded, switching legs.
“People say you’re scary,” Neil told him.
“Hm,” Neil said, giving Andrew a dubious once over. “Maybe.”
Aaron and Katelyn were standing at the starting line.
“Did you want me to go first?” Aaron asked.
“Or I can go first?” Katelyn offered.
“Maybe I can—”
“I think maybe—”
A whistle went off. The first race was about to start. Aaron, frantic, looked around and saw his twin at the starting line.
“Shit,” he said. “I guess I’ll go first.”
The relay went like this: the first runner runs all the way around the makeshift track and passes the embarrassing rose-shaped baton to their partner. The second runner runs all the way around the track and meets up with their partner. They tie their feet together and do a three-legged race halfway around to the finish line. They are showered in rose petals. Everything will probably end in sweat.
Andrew was running first. Neil was standing behind him. The rest of the runners in the first group lined up. Aaron was two people away, Katelyn rubbing his back in reassurance. Aaron was nodding at whatever she said.
They called on your marks and Andrew got in position. He glanced back at Neil and saw Neil bouncing on his feet in excitement. At get set, Andrew tensed his muscles and Neil met his gaze and grinned fiercely.
On go, Andrew went.
“Who’s the jackass wearing his work shirt and shorts?”
“LOL, someone just fell.”
“Was it Aaron?”
“No, he’s keeping a steady pace.”
“I hope he and Katelyn win.”
“Oh my god, is that Andrew Minyard?”
“Who’s his partner?”
“I don’t recognize him.”
By the time Andrew passed the baton to Neil, they were in fifth place out of fifth. Aaron had passed his baton a while ago and Katelyn was currently in second.
Neil was vibrating with excitement for the pass.
“Fuck you,” Andrew said, gasping, as he let go of the baton and Neil gripped it.
Neil had the audacity to laugh—and then he was gone.
“Um, who’s the fucker?”
“Who’s that guy?”
“Jesus Christ, he’s in first already? They were just in last!”
“He’s not stopping!”
“FUCK YEAH, RANDOM DUDE!”
Neil skid to a stop at Andrew’s side and pointed his toe, and Andrew bent down and tied their ankles together. Neil’s sweaty, warm body slotted into the cracks and creases of Andrew’s side, and Andrew reached around to grip Neil’s shoulder.
“Fast,” Andrew panted.
“Fuck you,” Neil replied, his tone amused. He matched Andrew’s pace, not trying to force them to go any faster. None of the other participants had even tied their legs together yet.
“What are you doing for lunch,” Andrew asked.
“Probably the same thing you’re doing.”
They crossed the finish line with almost a twenty second lead. Petals rained down and cheers enveloped them, people swarming and screaming. Neil, without stopping, pushed them through to the other side of the crowd and bent to unwrap their legs. Andrew rested his hand on Neil’s spine, not letting go until they were no longer tied together.
“That was fun,” Neil said. He was grinning again. The black marks under his eyes were smeared and smudged, tracking down his scarred cheeks. “Thanks for asking me to do this with you.”
Andrew stared at Neil for two seconds before he reached up and slid a finger under Neil’s moist sweatband, pulling it out and letting it snap back on his forehead.
“Hey!” Neil protested, stepping back. Andrew turned from him to search for his brother. He found Aaron and Katelyn tangled on the ground in the middle of the track.
“I’m so sorry!”
“It’s okay! Can you stand up?”
“Maybe if you stop laughing!”
“I can’t! The look on your face—”
“We’re in last place!”
“I’ll carry you across that finish line.”
“Sure, sweetie, good luck. I think I have about four inches on you?”
“Stop laughing at me!”
“How’s it feel to be last,” Andrew said that evening on their commute.
“How’s it feel to have Gatorade dumped over you on a cool February day, asshole.”
“Better than being last.”
“Your hair is blue.”
“Your balls are blue.”
Andrew drove them to the party store that night.
“Katelyn won’t tell me what she’s dressing up as,” Aaron was saying, rifling through the wigs. “She just said, ‘prepare to get wet.’”
“That’s what she said,” Andrew said, picking up a fox onesie and moving to the register.
“Yeah,” Aaron replied. “That’s what she fucking said. You’re such an asshole.”
“There’s a costume idea.”
Aaron sighed, holding up a crayon outfit.
Meanwhile, as Andrew’s outfit was rung up, he took out his phone and pulled up Neil’s number that he had coerced out of him during lunch today and texted what are you wearing
Neil replied immediately: is this a sext
Andrew: for tomorrow
Neil: don’t worry about tomorrow
Andrew: i never worry about anything
Neil: weird flex but okay
Andrew put his phone away just as Aaron walked up with his costume. “What’s with you?” Aaron asked, frowning at whatever look he could glean from Andrew’s passive expression.
“Nothing,” Andrew said, grabbing his bag from the clerk and moving out of the way.
The next day, at 10:30 in the morning, Andrew charcoaled his eyes and drew whiskers on his cheeks with the various other participants from his department in the bathroom just before the event.
Once he was ready, Andrew met his brother in the hall, where Aaron promptly tugged on Andrew’s tail.
“Cute,” Aaron said.
“Wish I could say the same.” Aaron was dressed like a mummy, wrapped and stiff and trailing linen in his wake.
“I’m adorable,” Aaron said, and then they walked toward the random auditorium their office building had.
“Oh Jesus fuck,” Aaron said once they entered the room and saw the other costume goers, giggling and mingling. Andrew had expected to find Aaron staring at Katelyn in some Cleopatra getup, but he couldn’t see the cheerleader anywhere.
Andrew followed Aaron’s gaze and the first thing he saw were the heels.
Neil towered eight inches above Andrew.
“You look cute,” Neil said, rubbing at the ears of Andrew’s onesie.
“Turn around,” Andrew said.
Neil turned around and then craned his head so he could also look back at what Andrew wanted to see.
“Why,” Andrew asked, and Neil wiggled so the giant poofy white tail could shake.
“I’m here to win,” Neil told him, very seriously.
“Are you looking for Katelyn?”
“Good luck today, man!”
“You look great!”
Aaron stopped his search when he eventually came across a looming shower curtain walking around the floor and bumping into people.
“Uh,” Aaron said, and then the curtain was swept aside to reveal Katelyn, wrapped in a towel and hair tucked away in a shower cap.
“Hey!” she greeted.
“Uh,” Aaron said again, a helpless smile spreading across his face. “Room for one more?”
“Are you just going to keep staring at my legs?”
“We have to get on stage. Should we do something couple-y?”
“You could climb on my back and—”
“Oh, uh, okay. Don’t you want to hear the rest?”
“We could make it look like you’re devouring me or—”
“Oh. Uh. Okay.”
When Neil walked out on stage wearing a black leotard with long sleeves, ending on white cuffs and a high white collar, paired with dark fishnets and five-inch white heels and a headband with giant bunny ears, the crowd went wild. They didn’t even need to appreciate his makeup—the abundant lashes, the dark eyeshadow, the blush, the glitter, the lipstick, the little white nose and little white freckles and little white whiskers.
The crowd violently screamed when Neil turned around.
Two seconds later, Andrew walked out on stage and immediately jumped onto Neil’s back. Neil stuttered but didn’t fall, wrapping his arms under Andrew’s legs and holding him close. Andrew’s arms were wound around Neil’s torso, chin resting on his shoulder.
The crowd screamed louder.
“ Oof. ”
“God, you’re heavy.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have let you eat the rest of my pizza slice yesterday.”
“I will eat you right now.”
“I’m not afraid of you—ow!”
Aaron dropped his head in his hands when Andrew bit Neil’s neck and the crowd screamed.
“This is so embarrassing,” Aaron said.
Aaron heard Katelyn giggle through her shower curtain.
“Are they cute?” she asked.
Aaron couldn’t look at them anymore. “No,” he said. “I thought he didn’t even fucking know this guy?”
“It’s fine. We might win this yet,” she reassured him, and then they waited for their turn.
“We have a lot of great costumes up here, guys. Unfortunately, we’ll have to judge based off the pair, meaning the shower and mummy—”
“Let the shower win!”
“Shower girl for president!”
“Shower girl forever!”
Aaron slammed the trunk of Andrew’s car closed in frustration.
“Katelyn is up on the stage half naked and in a goddamn shower and you still fucking win?” he griped, running his hand through his hair to dislodge the static electricity from his cap.
Andrew leaned against his closed trunk and took a drag from his cigarette. He was staring at the screen of his phone, ignoring his brother.
“Can you stop staring at that picture for five fucking seconds and sympathize with me? We should have won. Neil is a try-hard piece of shit. Where did he even get that outfit?”
Andrew did stop staring at that picture (a candid shot of Andrew on Neil’s back on stage) and instead swiped to the next one, which was a close-up Andrew had taken of Neil eating a snack-sized carrot with one eye open and one squinted over his snarled lips as he viciously snapped off a bite.
“His roommate Jim does improv,” Andrew explained.
“As a fucking Playboy Bunny? God, I wish you had never met Neil.”
“Hm,” Andrew agreed, swiping to the next picture: Neil laughing after he had attempted to make little bunny sounds—Andrew hadn’t even given him a look, but Neil somehow could still tell that Andrew was mocking him.
When Andrew and Aaron walked up to the front doors of their office building the next day and noticed some people carrying in boxes of honey, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and packing peanuts, a sense of foreboding settled around them.
Aaron shot a nervous glance at Andrew’s beefcake arms and sighed.
“Hope you like the taste of defeat,” Andrew said, pushing through the front doors.
“Guess it’ll taste like honey,” Aaron lamented, following his brother in.
“There will be a winners’ bracket and a losers’ bracket,” the CEO announced once everyone had arrived for Wednesday’s exciting event. “The final round is the top of the winners against the top of the losers. Or is it the bottom?” The CEO and a few of the other employees laughed.
Katelyn leaned into Aaron’s space and whispered, “Does he know what a top and bottom is?”
Aaron snorted. “He’s definitely a bottom.”
Aaron turned to search for his brother and found Andrew and Neil standing beside each other, Neil poking and prodding at Andrew’s arms and Andrew, surprisingly, letting him. Aaron frowned, but before he could think much more into it, his own arms were being poked and prodded.
He turned back to Katelyn, currently massaging his bicep.
She grinned. “Are you ready?”
“What do you have hidden in your armbands, twenty pounds of muscle?”
“I meant besides the obvious.”
“You’re the only one who’s noticed.”
“What, are these people blind? Anyways, don’t let me fall.”
“I won’t let you fall.”
When Andrew and Neil grabbed their side of the rope and rose to face their opponents, the other couple took one look at Neil, in front, and Andrew, standing behind him and peeking around his shoulder, and said, “Son of a bitch.”
Neil, glancing at the pool of honey between them, shifted his grip on the rope. Behind him, Andrew did the same. The couple across from them grabbed their side of the rope a lot less enthusiastically.
“Aaaannnd…go!” the CEO called. Andrew and Neil pulled.
Their first round, Katelyn was in front and face-planted in a pool of honey. Their second round, Aaron was in front and slipped in a pool of syrup. Their third round, Aaron swallowed mouthfuls of whipped cream. Their fourth round, Andrew and Neil pulled them so hard into the pool of packing peanuts that both Aaron and Katelyn suffered through the tiny plastic sticking to every bit of their sticky, syruped bodies.
“You’re a piece of shit,” Aaron called up to his brother, spitting out a peanut. Katelyn was shaking some out of her hair.
Andrew and Neil gave them matching unsympathetic glances before turning to the water table.
Katelyn had the gall to laugh. “You know, they are kind of cute,” she said. “You’re sure they didn’t know each other before this?”
“No,” Aaron said, brushing off his pants. “I’m pretty sure Neil didn’t exist until Andrew dreamed a dream so hard it manifested into a walking nightmare.”
“Aw, so you do think they’re cute,” Katelyn crooned, picking a peanut out of Aaron’s sticky hair.
“No,” Aaron said, and Katelyn laughed, pinching one of his pouting cheeks.
“I really wanted Aaron and Katelyn to win this one.”
“But watching them get decimated has been fun, too.”
“Oh my god, right?”
“You’re not getting in my car like that,” Andrew said, flicking his cigarette. He danced the arm of the company’s Valentine’s gift—a fluffy little teddy bear hugging a pink little heart—tauntingly in Aaron’s face. They were both standing in front of Andrew’s car. It was the end of the workday. Aaron had given his stuffed animal, a turtle with heart-shaped sunglasses, to Katelyn. Andrew did not have a single spot of honey, syrup, whipped cream, or packing peanuts on his body.
“What else am I supposed to do,” Aaron snapped.
“Don’t you have a cheerleader.”
Aaron smacked the bear out of Andrew’s hand before huffing and moving to the passenger side door. He delicately put down a jacket to sit on before taking off his shirt and throwing it in the backseat. Andrew went to pick up his bear. He stared at its face—crooked eyes, brown fur, a lopsided smile—and lifted his cigarette to its mouth so it could take a drag.
“Can we fucking go? I’m tired of being sticky,” Aaron called.
Andrew dropped his arms to his sides and went to his own door, the bear hanging limply in his hand.
Neil: stop sending me gifs of bad dancing
Neil: you really think im going to let you down now
Andrew: i don’t know you
Neil: don’t worry i don’t fuck around when i want to win
Andrew : you say that a lot
Andrew: “don’t worry”
Neil: maybe you should start trusting me
Andrew: maybe i should
“What’s your boyfriend going to do today,” Aaron snarked that morning on their drive into work. “Fuckin, show up in gangster threads and start breakdancing in the middle of the goddamn floor?”
“You wish,” Andrew replied.
“No, I don’t wish. I wish me and Katelyn would win just any event at all so I can stop looking like an absolute buffoon in her presence.”
“ Buffoon .”
“ You’re a buffoon. Are you even going to dance?”
Andrew pulled into the parking garage. “Not if I can help it,” he said, but he glanced at his workout attire he threw in the backseat that morning.
Aaron sighed, leaning his head back. “What even kind of dance are we going to do? I’ll shit my pants if I have to make up a dance with Katelyn.”
“Like an absolute buffoon.”
“Yeah,” Aaron agreed, in dire straits. “Exactly.”
“ Just Dance! ” the CEO announced once everyone was congregated in the auditorium for their fourth Valentine’s event. “We’ve got judges, and a monitor for the people in the back to see all the action, and we’re hoping that as long as we don’t put too much pressure on our participants, we’ll all have a good time out here, hey?”
There were a few pity cheers from the people who had no idea what Just Dance was, and a few more grumbles from people disappointed that they wouldn’t be seeing full-on epic dance battles between bored people who worked a mediocre nine-to-five in a twenty-story office building.
Neil smoothed his hand down his neon green mesh shirt over a thin black tank top and sighed, disappointed. “I worked on a routine all night.”
“Did you,” Andrew drawled. He was studying Neil’s winged eyeliner and glitter eyeshadow.
Neil shrugged. “Well, I thought about what we could do. Are you any good at ballroom dancing?”
Andrew raised a brow. “Are you?”
Neil shook his head. “No, but I thought a tango might be fun.”
“Where’s your rose.”
Neil grinned before he turned back to the CEO. “This should be interesting,” he said.
“It should,” Andrew agreed, staring at the scars he could vaguely see the impressions of through Neil’s shirt, only visible to someone standing right next to him.
“Do you think we can do this?” Aaron asked as they watched the first couple begin dancing. There were three judges to score their performance as the pair performed a duet dance on stage.
“I’ve been playing Just Dance since I was thirteen years old,” Katelyn told him, rather gravely. “If we don’t do this, I’m pretty sure the spirit of my sister will appear before me and strip me of my family rights and privileges and leave me destitute.”
“Wow,” Aaron said.
Katelyn nodded, somber. Aaron smiled, watching Katelyn’s face as she watched the dancers.
“Next up, we’ve got the dream team, Andrew Minyard and, er, what’s his name again?—oh yes, right. Neil Jortston!”
“Josten,” Neil said mildly, before he moved to take his place in front of the monitor. He looked to Andrew one last time and said, “I will probably have to touch you. Is that okay?”
Andrew turned to Neil just as their song, “Want to Want Me” by Jason Derulo, started. Neil’s gaze was penetrative and serious, and Andrew didn’t think at all before he said, “Yes.”
“Oh my god, is Jortston the girl?”
“What is he wearing ?”
“I am living for all of this forever. Where’s my phone.”
“Oh my god, oh my god. They’re twirling . ”
“Um, are we seeing this grind? I would never want my body anywhere that close to Andrew Minyard, let alone my pelvic region. ”
“I want this entire choreography tattooed on my forehead.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Aaron said.
Katelyn, snickering, teased, “Oh, what, was the dip too much?”
“All of this is too much. Did they fucking practice beforehand?”
Katelyn watched as, sweaty and red-faced, Andrew walked off stage immediately after the dance and Neil took a mocking little bow before following him.
“Hey!” the CEO called. “Don’t you want to hear your results?”
The audience, already so loud during their dance, cheered louder just at the memory of Neil sliding his hand slowly across Andrew’s back as he walked around his body. The CEO sighed, but he sounded fond.
“Okay then! Next up, we have the other Minyard boy: Aaron, and his partner Katelyn...er, what’s her last name again?”
“Fuck,” Aaron said, and Katelyn grabbed his hand and tugged him up the stage.
“Wait, what’s our song?”
“Shit, I think this is—”
“Oh my god!”
“Do you want to switch places—”
“It’s too late! We’ve got to start now! Let’s go!”
Andrew watched as his brother followed the female lead in “(I’ve Had) the Time of my Life” from Dirty Dancing . Katelyn was laughing too hard at Aaron’s stiff motions and awkward twists and turns, light touches and little trips, to properly focus on her steps.
“Katelyn!” Aaron pleaded. “That’s the wrong hand!”
“I’m distracted!” Katelyn called back, smirking right into kissing the back of Aaron’s hand.
“No, you’re not!”
The crowd’s excitement grew palpable and intense as the end of the song grew near, where the female lead was supposed to run into the arms of the male lead and be lifted off the ground and held overhead the male lead.
“Please god,” Aaron said.
“It’ll be fine!”
“Go!” Katelyn pushed him lightly, and then she ran to one side of the stage and held out her arms.
And Aaron shook his head and swallowed before he ran toward her.
“I think my ass is broken,” Aaron grumbled as they trudged up the stairs to the apartment.
“Buffoon,” Andrew called him.
“Well, I’m sorry we can’t all have perfect synchronicity with our random-stranger-we-met-off-the-street.”
“A shame.” Andrew unlocked his door and disappeared without a goodbye.
“Yeah,” Aaron said, rubbing his bruised ribs as he entered his own apartment and barely washed his face before collapsing on his bed. He allowed the memory of Katelyn’s laugh usher him into a deep sleep.
Aaron was particularly smug the next day on their drive to work.
“You really only met Neil just last week?” he double-checked.
“Yes,” Andrew said. He did not seem fazed by this news, but Aaron grew more smug.
“Cool,” he said.
They drove the rest of the way to work in silence.
“Aaron, my man!”
“You got this, buddy!”
“We’re rooting for you!”
“If anyone knows Katelyn, it’ll be the guy she’s been eating with everyday for a year!”
Neil and Andrew stood side-by-side as they watched the set up for the final Valentine’s event.
“You can be the person who answers the questions,” Neil told him.
“You think you can guess what I’ll say so easily?” Andrew asked.
Neil turned to Andrew. “Yes,” he said, and then laughed. “Oh, so that’s what finally makes you mad?”
Andrew, annoyed, turned and walked away from Neil.
“I’ll see you on stage, partner!” Neil called out to him, sounding amused, but Andrew didn’t turn around.
“Okay, folks, this is it!” the CEO said. “The final event, the true test of love: the Newlywed Game! One contestant will be tasked with answering a question, and their partner has to guess what they wrote and match it. The points from this event, plus all the other events from this week, will be tallied, and the winners will be announced after lunch. Are we ready?”
The crowd cheered.
Aaron, beside Katelyn, said, “Do you want to answer the questions and I’ll match?”
“Sure! Good luck,” Katelyn said, and then she walked away to join the other partners answering questions first and all of Aaron’s confidence left his body.
“Shit,” he said. “Fuck. Shit.”
His brother materialized at his side.
“Get away from me,” Aaron said, still staring at Katelyn.
“No,” Andrew said. They stood beside each other and waited for their games to start.
Andrew and Neil sat on stage, facing each other, with the CEO in a chair between them. They each held whiteboards, Neil with an orange marker and Andrew with a black.
“Here they are!” the CEO said. “How long have you two known each other?” he asked.
“Seven days,” Neil answered. The CEO laughed as if it were a joke.
“Okay! Shall we begin?”
The crowd cheered.
“We’ll start with an easy one! What is Andrew’s favorite book?”
Andrew wrote: what’s a book
Neil wrote: Andrew reads?
The CEO laughed. “I’d count that as a win!”
“Next question! What is Andrew’s dream vacation?”
Andrew wrote: drive
Neil wrote: probably road trip
“Ho ho! Two for two! Let’s try for three, shall we?”
“What charity is Andrew most likely to support?”
Andrew wrote: orphanages
Neil wrote: something with children
“Well, I’m not sure why that answer warranted a glare from Andrew to Neil, but it’s still a win! Let’s move on to the final question!”
“Who is the first person Andrew would save if there was a fire?”
Andrew wrote: aaron
Neil wrote: his brother
“Wow! A clean sweep! Though, shouldn’t Neil be upset that he wouldn’t be saved first?”
The crowd light-heartedly booed Andrew for not saying he’d save his “boyfriend” first, but Neil just shrugged and handed the whiteboard to the CEO and walked off stage. Andrew followed a few paces behind.
“You don’t have to be so upset,” Neil told Andrew, not even bothering to turn and look at him as they snaked their way through the crowd to the very back. “I’m good at reading people.”
Andrew kicked at the back of one of Neil’s knees, causing him to stumble. Neil righted himself and turned to Andrew, glaring.
“What’s your favorite book,” Andrew demanded.
“I don’t have one,” Neil answered, still glaring.
“I don’t care.”
“I’m not very charitable.”
“Just you?” Andrew asked, mocking.
“I don’t have anyone else to save. You, maybe.”
Andrew didn’t ask anything else. They glared at each other in silence until they heard Aaron and Katelyn’s name get called to the stage.
“Oh, so close! But Katelyn’s favorite movie isn’t Sense and Sensibility but actually Pride and Prejudice! ”
“Tough break, Aaron! But Katelyn wrote ‘Iceland’ as her dream vacation destination.”
“Alas, wrong again! Katelyn’s first job was actually a dishwasher and not a waitress!”
“Oh no! That’s game! Unfortunately, Katelyn’s mother’s maiden name isn’t ‘Smithfield.’ But wow, made it close with that ‘Greenfield’ didn’t you, buddy?”
“Aaron, wait!” Katelyn called, trying to weave her way through the crowd of people as quickly as Aaron had, but he was pushing people out of the way like he had a flight to catch five minutes ago, and she could just barely hear his, “Bathroom!” before he was gone and gone, no wake to follow, no trace at all.
Katelyn stood in the middle of the crowd and looked to the space Aaron had last been, heart in her throat.
Andrew eventually found Aaron staring at himself in the mirror in the bathroom.
Once Andrew entered, Aaron turned his attention to Andrew through the mirror and stared at him instead.
After a minute, Aaron asked, “You’d save me first?”
After another minute, Andrew asked, “You’d run away from the cheerleader just because you lost?”
Aaron turned back to himself. He didn’t like what he saw, never liked what he saw, never saw anything different, but he sighed and shook his head.
“No,” he said, and then pushed past his brother and went to find Katelyn.
The CEO was in the middle of another big speech and Neil was munching on snack pretzels nestled in the palm of his hand when Andrew returned to his side.
“We were announced winner while you were gone,” Neil said.
“Nice,” Andrew said, stealing a pretzel out of his hand.
“...times are tough, I know. And it isn’t always fun or easy to give half of our days away to work…”
Aaron eventually found Katelyn chatting with a few of their friends from the safety recall department. “Hey,” Aaron greeted her, and Katelyn turned to him with a relieved, hesitant smile.
Aaron took a steeling breath before holding a hand out. “Can we talk?”
Katelyn’s smile turned less hesitant and more relieved. “Sure,” she said, reaching out to take his hand.
“...we wanted to do something to show our appreciation for all you do, to make it exciting to come to work again…”
“Sorry I couldn’t prove my love,” Aaron said once they were out of the crowd, away from the people, relatively alone. “But thanks for doing this with me. It was a lot of fun.”
Katelyn nodded, somber. Aaron didn’t really know what else to say, if he should walk away, apologize again, but before he could do anything, Katelyn reached slow hands out to Aaron’s face and cupped his cheeks.
Aaron’s eyes widened as she leaned in.
“...thank you everyone for all of your hard work and perseverance! We hope to see all of you again, working hard and playing hard!”
Katelyn was beaming as she pulled back, cheeks red, lips puffy. Aaron stared at her, dazed. Her hands were still holding his face.
“You proved enough,” Katelyn said.
“Finally,” Neil said. “I don’t even know them and I’ve been waiting for that kiss all my life.”
Andrew nodded. When Aaron leaned in to kiss Katelyn again, they both turned away.
“I forgot this event was supposed to prove our love,” Neil said, looking at Andrew searchingly.
“Hm,” Andrew said. He was looking back.
Neil cocked his head. “Well? Did I succeed?”
“In proving your love?”
“Yeah. Do you feel loved?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hm,” Neil said. After a pause, he continued, “Well, this was fun. See you next week at lunch, right?” He saluted Andrew with two fingers before turning on his heel and walking toward the auditorium doors, no doubt about to return to work before he enjoyed his extra long weekend.
Andrew only allowed Neil three steps before he followed and reached out, sliding the tips of his fingers along Neil’s palm to grab his hand and pull him to a stop.
Neil turned around, his eyebrows raised.
“What are you doing the next four days,” Andrew asked.
Neil, a slow smile creeping up his face, crinkling his scars, shifted his hand around Andrew’s to give it a quick squeeze before letting go and saying, “I don’t know. What are we doing?”