When Roy’s phone makes the chime that he chose for text messages, he glances at it without expectations. FedEx’s automated system has a habit of texting him at bizarre intervals some evenings, and if it is a real person, it’s most likely to be an illustrated Elicia Hat Update from Maes.
Her collectible accessory of choice is hats right now. Roy is delighted for her. He would be much more delighted if he didn’t know so much about every single hat that has ever been set upon her angelic little teenaged head and made her even cuter somehow, which her daddy didn’t even think was possible, but apparently the universe is full of wonders, and her cuteness tops the list, and she coordinates them with her braces, and etcetera and so on.
But isn’t from Maes.
It’s from Ed.
All that the message says is Hey are you busy??
In half the space of an indrawn breath, Roy’s heart has already done the anticipatory squeeze; his brain has already started calculating what the intentions of that could be, and what avenues he could guide it down by giving different responses. The lower-function parts of Roy’s imagination have already returned Ed to the guest bedroom, in just his underwear again—though it’s slightly tighter this time, because an ass like that should never be sold short by ordinary cotton boxers. Roy’s imagination adds a black satin ribbon two inches wide, looped artfully around the back of Ed’s neck and coiling down over his torso, spiraling down his left arm, trailing on the sheets.
Roy did this to himself. He knows damn well, and always has, that the universe howls with laughter every time that he thinks that he has a handle on his life, and it stomps on his sandcastles for fun.
He had expected Ed to be fun, and possibly amusing—a good, moderate distraction.
He had also expected Ed, as a semi-desperate twenty-something flashing the goods all over a sugar daddy app, to be loud and self-centered and immature and… annoying. Roy had been counting on a fair bit of annoyance. He’d intended for this to be entertaining, but slightly begrudged. It’s business. Ed provides a service, and Roy pays.
That was the theory, anyway.
The theory is not panning out.
But Roy can’t say that—it would be a bait-and-switch. How the hell could he articulate it, anyway? I think I actually like you quite a bit, even though you’re weird in a different way than I am. Sonja likes you, too. Maybe we should start over but take this seriously?
Ed needs the money. This is what they both signed up for. Roy can’t change the terms of the agreement after it’s already begun. Besides, he knows too damn well by now how it goes when he tries to date people in an ordinary way, but they know about the bloated bank account. He can’t just confess it and let the rest run its course, either; it would scuttle the delicate power balance of this whole situation. Ed has something that he wants, and he has something that Ed wants. It’s an exchange. If Ed has an endless number of things that he wants, and he’s more emotionally invested in it by half than Ed is, and he’s just flinging money at the problem in the hopes of buying Ed’s affections back—
Well. He’s not exactly an expert on the specific semantics, but he’s fairly sure that at that point he would have transitioned from being a sugar daddy into being a fucking sucker.
Roy picks up his phone. To Ed’s question, he is, in fact, extremely occupied with the task of gradually merging with the couch while Sonja watches Dog TV to calm down after a particularly exciting walk. There were geese, which are fast replacing black squirrels as her sworn mortal enemy species.
He’s also been watching his phone screen intently at intervals in the hopes of simply willing some members of the board to respond to an email that they’re more likely to pointedly ignore. Grumman might pretend to bite just to unsettle the others, but Roy won’t be counting on anything like unconditional support.
Not really, he writes into the text window, because they’re not close enough for him to share personal bullshit like that. Which is fine. They’re at a safe distance. That’s where they ought to be.
K, Ed sends back. Roy manages to suppress a sigh at an iteration of the least-helpful text response that humankind has yet produced. At least Ed has apparently continued typing. I had a killer day in lab and I feel like I could conquer the fucking world so is now a good time to send you some raunchy text messages or what??
Roy is smiling at his phone. Fuck. He was so hopeful about the annoyance factor after that K, but the optimism was tragically short-lived.
You say that, he writes, like there’s such a thing as a bad time.
Of course there is, Ed writes back. I can think of like 10 bad times and I’m not even trying. Like a FUNERAL?? come on hahaha. shit I hope you’re not at a funeral. sorry. are you??
As of the last few seconds, Roy is at a funeral. It’s an existential one, but he figures that that has to count. He is mourning the loss of the person that he used to be, and should have stayed.
He doesn’t particularly want raunchy text messages. It would be weird, for one thing, when Sonja has her head resting on his thigh; but more than that—more than that, which is a whole new category of awful—he just finds the idea of regular conversation with Ed more palatable than the prospect of Ed producing smutty messages on command.
He’d warm up to it, of course. The thought of Ed sprawled out on top of some cramped bed in some little off-campus apartment—presumably, anyway; for all that Roy knows, Ed could be out waiting in a line for late-night tacos and a large Mountain Dew right now—and biting his lip and flushing slightly as tries to imagine what Roy would want to hear is… well, shit. Roy sure as hell wouldn’t turn it down.
But all the same…
All the same, Roy is a stupid, stupid man.
No such thing as a bad time if you’re an exhibitionist, I suppose I should say, he writes back. When you say ‘killer day in lab’, though, what sort of genius breakthroughs are we talking about?
Ed types for a long time, and Roy realizes too late that he’s smiling again. He scratches behind Sonja’s ears. The dog on the television is sitting in a sunbeam next to a little bed of pansies, panting contentedly while whimsical elevator music plays.
Roy’s phone makes an unobtrusive blip noise, which draws his attention back down to the screen. Ed has fastidiously inserted several paragraph breaks into a single lengthy message.
Ok it wasn’t like. Genius genius. First of all. Ground was not broken. Paradigms were not shattered. The world as we know it was not changed forever. Etc.
IT WAS REALLY FUCKING COOL
Bc Al and I have been working on ways to concentrate the lasers and it’s complicated so I’ll tell you sometime I don’t have to text but we now have atomic bonds WIGGLING and that is just the fucking coolest, we might be able to reconfigure molecules but without the whole fission problem where things explode. Explode more than we would want I should say. Only controlled explosions are allowed now after some incidents.
So yeah I’m on cloud nine (uncontrolled explosions relegated to cloud 8 and below) and I am no longer experiencing emotions outside of elation so as long as you are not at a funeral or on public transit or out actually enjoying yourself with friends or whatever what do you think??
Roy manages to resist the impulse to write back What’s a ‘friend’? with a series of progressively more pathetic laughing emojis.
I am none of those things, he writes instead. We’re on the couch.
Ed’s response comes very quickly despite the fact that he has to type one-handed:
With a cold tall glass of mtn dew I assume lol
You know it, Roy writes back. I spiked it with some more Mountain Dew to make it exponentially more frightening. How much of that stuff do you drink on a regular basis?
Nice try, Ed sends. Not about to incriminate myself tonight.
Roy sends, Another time, perhaps.
You wish, Ed writes.
An insidious voice in the back of Roy’s head reminds him how long it’s been since he connected with anyone—reminds him how rare it is for him to enjoy the company of another human being like he does Ed’s. Reminds him how precious this is; reminds him that lies, whether of omission and withholding or of deliberate deception, have cut him down every other time. Reminds him that his two choices are to leap off of the cliff or to drag them both into the quicksand.
Surely it’s not that serious. It can’t be. It’s just a couple of texts. It’s just a little bit of time.
It’s fine. All of this is fine.
Hey, Ed sends while Roy sits there, fingers curling into Sonja’s fur as the indecision grips his throat. So that jacuzzi ass fucking monster of a bathtub in your master bathroom. Have you ever had sex in that thing??
At least if Roy dies tonight, he won’t be so much trouble to so many people anymore. Riza will take good care of Sonja, although she’ll spoil her a hell of a lot less.
Ed is holding up his end of the bargain. He’s handing Roy a golden opportunity for Maes-proof screenshots; he’s fulfilling his obligation.
Is that a proposition? Roy writes.
Ed sends him the green-faced nauseous emoji. That sounded like a business email. why are you like this. It’s just a QUESTION.
Roy writes back, It was a very suggestive question, and I think that you’re perfectly aware of that and phrased it that way on purpose.
He adds a little halo-adorned emoji for good measure.
Ok, Ed writes, which is strangely ominous. Let me rephrase then and be super fucking clear
Roy fears for his life for a grand total of five seconds.
The next text bubble that loads is a string of emojis. In order, Ed has selected the unoccupied bathtub, the water droplets, the eggplant, a wide-eyed blushing face, and a question mark.
Roy laughs hard enough that Sonja looks up at him.
Ah yes, he writes before he can help himself. Thank you, that really clears it up. For the record, no, by the way, the one time that I tried to have sex in a shower it ended in stitches and a lot of very awkward explanations and I now drive to an ER that is five miles further away so that I never have to show my face in that one ever again. I am positive that they have a picture of my face on the wall in the staff room or something, and I refuse to give them the satisfaction of asking me if I was doing something dirty.
Maes will love this part, since that whole incident was his fault.
That, Ed writes, is HILARIOUS. still can’t believe you’re wasting the potential of your giant fuckoff bathtub, though. I have some personal experience with falling in showers believe me. but like. The question is would you be up for it?
Roy should have known that Ed would somehow find a way to make fake sexting sound tantalizingly sincere.
As he stares in abjection down at his phone, another text bubble appears: It would obviously be way more like hot tub sex than like shower sex anyway so probably nobody would get hurt.
Too late for that.
God help me, Roy writes. Is this the part where you ask me what I’m wearing and then ask where the jets are in the bathtub and then describe in some detail what you would do while the water heated up?
Ed sends him the emoji with flat lines for its eyes and its mouth—in a message by itself, so that it shows up larger.
Then Ed writes, That first time we talked you made it sound like I was bad at sexting. But it’s YOU. YOU’RE the one who’s bad at sexting. You’re SO BAD!!!
Maes will love this part even more.
I AM NOT, Roy writes back, which is a very stupid little time-bomb of a lie.
PROVE IT, Ed writes.
Roy attempts to collapse back into the couch, which is a bit challenging because he was slouched pretty low to begin with.
He strokes his hand over Sonja’s head for a few seconds as he bids a tragic farewell to his dignity and the paltry remains of his human decency.
“C’mere, beautiful,” he says. “Let’s get you a snack. You want a snack?”
If Sonja were ever so slightly more self-aware, she would, of course, say Roy Mustang, I am a snack, but as it is her ears perk, her eyes light up, and her tail starts smacking the couch cushions, which is close enough.
He hauls himself up off of the couch, and she dances around him for the duration of the brief journey over into the kitchen. He keeps a cookie jar of the nice biscuits on the very top shelf next to a vaster selection of wineglasses than anyone as antisocial as he is ought to own.
He lays two down in her bowl for her, rubs her ears, and returns to the couch.
He’s always had such a stunning natural talent for ruining his own life. Don’t people say that you should play to your strengths?
If, he types, very deliberately, since one should be deliberate about obliterating one’s own existence; we were, in some parallel universe in which I did not expect it to end in blood and tears and ruling out another local ER for the rest of time – IF we were to fuck in the bathtub, step one would be positioning the tensest part of your right shoulder directly in front of one of the water jets, step two would be pinning you against it, and step three would be fingering you for fifteen uninterrupted minutes.
He puts his phone down on the cushion next to him and watches the little fluffy dog on the television gaze at a forested hiking trail and receive gentle pats.
His phone makes a decorous little plink noise to notify him of another message.
If you think you could do anything to me for fifteen minutes straight without me biting you to get you to let me participate then you are unhinged.
On the other hand, obliterating things is fun. Even if you regret it later. Maybe especially then.
It wouldn’t be fifteen minutes straight, Roy writes. It would be fifteen minutes very, very gay.
I was right, Ed writes back almost immediately. You are so bad at sexting that you make me look brilliant. I can’t believe this. all right you better give it to me HARD or you’re going to get more teeth than you were betting on. you also better have some lube that isn’t water soluble or we’re only figuratively fucked
Roy stares at his screen.
No one is perfect. Ed just happens to be the worst sexter in the history of mobile phones. That’s… fine.
listen, Ed writes next, as if Roy would survive if any of this was being said aloud. Rewind. Aren’t baths supposed to be relaxing and shit? especially one as nice as yours. We should lean into that. Do it totally the other way around, like REALLY slow.
Roy’s mouth feels quite dry, but Ed keeps going before he can call a timeout and go get some water.
like start out with the candles and a bath bomb or whatever the fuck and undress each other one piece of clothing at a time and then get in and then i swear to god if you wash my hair and you get your nails on my scalp while you do that I will do ANYTHING you want. It makes me so stupid. pro tip.
maybe we should have martinis again, that was kinda fun. Or wine??? I was going to ask if you have wine but you have a wine cellar, it probably comes with wine. They probably show up with a truck. Lifetime membership. I think you can get bath bombs with biodegradable glitter on etsy.
Thinking about Ed’s skin gleaming with soapsuds while wet hair cascades down his naked back was bad enough; adding glitter—
Roy swallows, which requires some concentrated effort. He writes, carefully, I could send you some extra money tonight if you’d like to buy a few.
Hold your horses, Ed writes. He follows it immediately with Haha sorry, I’m sure you’ve never heard THAT one before, and then follows that with But let me see if I can find anything that looks good and THEN I’ll bill you, how about that.
Ed is remarkably bad at accepting money, especially for someone who deliberately signed up to receive it on a relatively regular basis.
Why don’t I just send you some, Roy writes, and you use whatever is left over to buy Al some cat-shaped chocolates?
He’ll complain about me promoting unhealthy habits or something, Ed writes. While eating them all, obviously, but. still.
Roy thinks that maybe he’s off the hook, but then—
yknow, Ed writes, that sounds really good now. I would really like to get fucked in your bathtub.
It does not escape Roy’s notice that Ed has framed that desire in a purely conditional sentence construction, and has not in any way indicated that he would want Roy to be the one who does it.
Roy’s imagination, however, is not deterred by petty little things like logic, or even by the sting of what has to constitute a very roundabout sort of rejection.
Roy’s imagination is, as it happens, too preoccupied with conjuring up an image of Ed from last weekend—Ed wearing a much tighter pair of underwear and Roy’s open shirt; Ed climbing up onto this couch and planting one knee on either side of Roy’s thighs to settle that impossibly nice ass in the center of his lap. Ed grinding it against Roy’s dick; Ed arching his spine as Roy pushes the shirt from his shoulders and then peels it off of him; Ed rolling his whole body as Roy runs his palms down Ed’s back, down Ed’s sides, over his hips to grab two handfuls of that ass and drag him in closer; and only after dangling his silken hair all over Roy’s chest and shoulders, only after laughing breathily into his mouth, only after biting his lip hard enough to make Roy groan does the little demon finally kiss him, and…
And Roy has now officially violated the rules.
He leans his head back against the couch and closes his eyes. Sonja must have finished crunching her way through both of the biscuits; he can hear her nails clicking on the tiles of the floor as she wanders around the kitchen looking for crumbs she might have missed. He opens his eyes again. He looks down at his phone.
He types out, At least it would be easy to clean up afterwards, and he sends it.
It’ll all be much tidier if he just sets fire to everything at once, after all. This conversation veered dangerously close to personal, and dangerously close to real. That’s not the arrangement. That’s not the deal. If he lets himself get in over his head, he’ll pull Ed in with him, and they’ll both wind up halfway drowned. He always does. He knows better. That was the whole point of this—of making it about business; of keeping it transactional; of holding someone at a safe distance on a fundamental level so that he couldn’t be himself.
Hold on a sec, Ed writes.
Roy hopes that, in the intervening sec, Ed changes his name and moves to another state. Roy hopes that he ‘loses’ his phone and never tells Roy about a new one. Roy hopes that he ‘accidentally’ forgets his password and locks himself out of the app that originally gave them a communicative venue. Roy hopes that he blocks Roy’s number and disappears forever, and they never speak again.
Things look very promising on that front for six minutes. Sonja returns, looks around like Riza might reprimand her for breaking rules that Roy never enforces, and leaps back up onto the couch. She curls up next to Roy again and bats her tail against the cushions, eyes glued to the television, which is currently displaying a very serene overhead view of a lakeside scene. Roy scratches behind her ears again. That’s always especially good when things abruptly go to shit. It reminds him that he’s alive. It reminds him that he cares that he’s alive.
Midway through the seventh minute, his phone gets another text.
Sorry, Ed has written. That took longer than i thought.
The next thing that appears on Roy’s phone screen is an absolutely ungodly abuse of the unrivaled power of sparkle-text generators.
Ed has made him a scintillating digital award certificate that proclaims him the World’s Single Worst Fucking Sexter LITERALLY Ever. The hot pink cursive is a particularly sophisticated design touch. There are some little bouncing hearts and animated shooting stars.
Roy only realizes that he’s frozen when Sonja nudges her head up at his hand. That jars him into moving again, at least, and then he carefully types out, May I use this as my phone background?
Ed writes back lmao sure. It’s yours now. You earned it.
I’m honored, Roy writes, and in the strangest way, it’s true. I will bear this title proudly for the rest of my natural life.
Huh, Ed writes. Planning to have an unnatural life after that? zombie or vampire? This is important. I need to know what to expect.
Roy can’t show Maes this conversation. Maes will see it for everything that it is and read Roy’s doom in the infinitesimal gap between every single pixel.
I don’t think that question is very fair, Roy writes. Obviously I would classify myself as a classical vampire with all of the grace and dignity and cool shapeshifting that that entails, and you can make as many “wood impalement” jokes as you like, but I think that anyone who has ever talked to me would say that I have no brain. Especially before coffee. It’s not my fault.
He adds some very sad emojis after that, which Ed greets with a predictable amount of cry-laughing, and all in all, it is…
A disaster. It is a disaster.
Roy is going to send five hundred dollars to Ed’s PayPal at one minute to midnight, and then send another five hundred a minute later. With any luck, Ed will think that it’s just a doubled notification, and he won’t notice until he goes to transfer the total to his bank account later on, and by then maybe he’ll have something in mind for the money, and he’ll just take it, and… And they’ll be square. Right? They’ll be even. It’ll be fine.
Everything will be fine.