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Not Always Doing Business (But We're Always Open)

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"It's two o'clock in the morning," William says, staring at the shelf of unending pink boxes. "And she doesn't even like Barbies."

Gabe frowns, looking back and forth between "I Can Be An Architect" Barbie and "Argentina" Barbie. "I thought all little girls liked Barbies."

"Thereby showing that you know very little about little girls." William shakes his head and turns "Happy Birthday Ken" Barbie around on the shelf. "Evie's into horses right now."

"Horses. Okay. I can do horses." William raises an eyebrow and Gabe flips him off. "Don't even start."

"You said it, not me." William turns and wanders down the aisle, shoving his hands in his pockets. He's a little unsteady on his feet; a full evening of Superbowl parties would tend to do that. He saw Gabe before the game and thought that would be it, but then his phone rang just when he was starting to think about sobering up, and he was informed that he was taking a trip to WalMart. At two in the morning. Sure, why not.

Gabe shoves the Barbies back on the shelf and follows him. "Okay, so, real horses or those freaky My Little Pony things?"

"I'm impressed that you know about those."

"Tripping balls and watching Friendship Is Magic is a beautiful experience."

William rolls his eyes and stops at the shelf of Ponies. He knows Gabe has mostly cleaned up his act, and he also knows that Gabe will never admit it out loud. Learning to accept these little unspoken compromises is how they managed to get back to being friends again, after...everything.

He doesn't want to think about that tonight. "She likes both realistic toy horses and My Little Ponies, but to keep you from going overboard and buying her an actual horse, let's stick with these."

"Which one's her favorite? I'll get her four of those."

"Four?"

"I want to be her favorite non-related uncle." Gabe paws through the boxes, studying each one critically. "I remember being a kid. The favorite is the one who buys the best gifts when you're her age, and the one who tells you all the shit about your parents when you're a little older."

"Use discretion when she gets to that stage, please."

"Whatever, man. You're fucked." Gabe grins at him, bright and beautiful over the box in his hands, and William has to smile back, even as he rolls his eyes and steps away for the sake of his dignity.

"It's not as if you have much competition."

"Whatever, I bet Scimeca gives mad presents." Gabe's number-three talent, after body shots and talking people off ledges, is refusing to give in to William's perfect entrapments for introspective emo. "Little shit, trying to buy my favorite niece right out from under me."

William opens his mouth to say something about his daughter not being for sale, but swallows it back as Gabe's phone chirps with a text. Gabe looks down at it, his eyebrows darting up, and taps out a quick reply. "Okay, Wentzy's going to join us."

"He's what? Who? Pete?"

"Do you know anybody else named Wentzy?"

Gabe's number-four talent: changing the subject like an asshole. "I don't think that's a good idea, Gabe."

"Why not?"

William seriously considers hitting him with a stick horse. "Pete and I aren't exactly...talking, right now."

"Because you had a fight or because you're both chickenshits who have been avoiding each other?"

The stick horse would make such a satisfying impact upside his head. "Gabe."

"I'm not putting up with this shit." Gabe takes four My Little Ponies off the shelf and tucks them under his arms. "He's coming. You're going to hug it out. Let's get some jelly beans and wait for him up front."

And since Gabe's number-five talent is being bossy, that's that.

**

Number-six talent: pulling dick moves like waiting until Pete gets there and sits down and then running away to "find a gift for Bronx." As if Bronx Wentz needs anything from WalMart.

Pete takes a handful of jelly beans from Gabe's bag and blinks at William slowly. "So, dude. How's it hanging?"

"Fine. Great." William nods and picks the black jelly beans out of his hand, lining them up carefully beside him on the bench. "Genevieve is great. Christine is great. I'm writing like crazy."

"And doing webcam shows like a porn star."

William drops his jelly beans on the floor. "Excuse me?"

"Dude." It takes William a minute to realize that Pete's smiling, because Pete's trying to hide it behind his hand. He's not very good at it, though. "Dude. Come on. You didn't realize that's what it sounds like when you're selling tickets to an exclusive live cam show?"

"I am doing my songs."

"I bought, like, twenty tickets myself just so you wouldn't be corrupting the kids with your dick and your feelings."

"My feelings are not corrupt...ing. Corruptive?"

Pete's brow furrows. "Corrosive?"

"No."

They stare at each other for a minute, then Pete shrugs. "Whatever, the point is, your dick might be, so, like, keep it in your pants on your cam series, buddy."

William throws a jelly bean at his head. "I'll keep that in mind."

"That's all I'm saying." Pete munches on a mixed handful of jelly beans, staring off across the store. "I hope Gabe isn't buying him an XBox. I don't need any more XBoxes. I have three."

"Why do you..." It's not important. William bites the tip off a jelly bean and holds it between his teeth for a moment, then swallows and speaks quickly. "You know it wasn't your fault, right? Like, not being associated with you was the very last thing any of us was even...it wasn't you."

Pete sits very still for a minute, then reaches over and carefully picks the rest of the black jelly beans out of William's hand. "Yeah. But thanks for saying it."

They sit quietly for a moment, chewing, until William gently nudges Pete in the ribs. "Gabe's totally getting your son an XBox."

Pete cracks up, resting his head on William's shoulder. "Let's ditch him here."

"That's mean." William tries to sound stern and reproving, but he starts to grin despite himself.

"He totally deserves it." Pete hops to his feet, holding his hand out to help William up. "C'mon, man. Let's run."