It starts with a threesome. As things often do.
The first one is in the fall of their sophomore year. Other people bring it up before they do, in wink-wink-nudge-nudge comments like I bet you guys do everything together, because somehow, frat culture is like that, where you and your buddy can fuck a girl together and have it not be gay. There are listicles on two-guys-one-girl threesome etiquette, for Christ's sake, a slew of 'no homo' chest thumping that neither Ransom nor Holster has ever read.
It's awkward, as first times of anything usually are. In the next year, they figure things out, get a pattern, a repertoire, but that first time it's just a bunch of who does what, oh, sorry, is this okay. They meet the girl in one of their classes, of all things, a senior from Ohio taking an Econ elective. After inviting her to a couple parties and agreeing that they're definitely getting a vibe from her, loud and clear, they ask, and get a "I thought I was gonna have to spell it out for you" in return.
If you asked Ransom, he'll say he remembered wanting to kiss really, really badly, but not wanting to scare the girl off. Holster remembers the two of them just sharing a look and going for it, but really, they didn't kiss until she asked them to, or anyways said that they could. So they had their first kiss completely naked, with a girl between them, half on and half off a bunk bed that they both keep hitting their heads on. And somehow, with either insistence or permission from their third party, Holster blows Ransom while this girl watches, super into it. They're all super into it, and it's a oh, well, no duh, moment for both of them. And after that, it's a pre-talk rule that anyone they bring to bed has to be very 'yes homo.' They never find a girl who has a problem with it.
No one asks or notices a change because they've always been all up in each other's space. The word they use is ‘open.’ At first it's always threesomes, always someone else there no matter what else they do with each other, usually rare and spontaneous decisions made at the tail end of a party if they find the right person, always spurred on by alcohol, and a lot of it. They see people independently of each other, too, if it comes up, because not everyone's idea of a 'chill Saturday' is a surprisingly well-orchestrated threesome with two giant hockey players, for some reason.
But, starting in their junior year, on the nights where they don't make any connections and nothing materializes, nothing clicks, it's just the two of them, because they always click. Neither one of them can really remember whose idea it was the first time. They remember being drunk and playful, flirty, making jokes as they climbed into the attic. They kiss pressed up against the closed door, still laughing, mostly at themselves for doing this, painfully aware of the social threshold they're crossing, even while drunk.
"Is this okay?"
"No, seriously, is—"
"Yes, fuck, shh," Holster laughs. "Let's just—c'mon."
They tear each other's clothes off and end up jerking each other off, laughing like it's funny or stupid or both, like they're stupid for even finding it hot, but they do, and it's fucking great. Ransom sucks a hickey on the column of Holster's throat that Holster mercilessly teases him about the next day, even though it's on him. It's hard for them to keep their hands off each other when they're drunk after that, and they make no effort to stop.
The first time they kiss sober is an occasion, because being drunk is one thing, that's just experimenting, fun, that's college, but—they have a weird night. They have people over and they're both talking to a girl who seems really sweet. She has short blonde hair and a cool t-shirt and she seems into them, but then she just doesn't, all of a sudden. She insists that everything's cool and comes up to the attic anyways, but all three of them are too drunk to do anything right, and after a while she just sort of gets dressed and goes. It rubs them both the wrong way and they fall asleep together on Holster's bunk without saying much.
When they wake up the next morning, Holster has his face pressed into the crook of Ransom's neck. He slowly lifts his head; Ransom is already up, scrolling through his phone, which he puts down when Holster starts to stir. And they look at each other. They've been here before, the waking up together thing, but it was always easy, buddy-buddy, a pat on the back and a vault out of bed and talk of breakfast. But this morning, with a hangover beating a drum behind his eyes, with a literal and metaphorical sour taste in his mouth, Holster leans down, and Ransom meets him halfway. There's no excuses, nothing to play off, just good morning, hi, sleep-slow lips and a gentle tug of teeth. And they both think variations on the same thing: that they like to have fun and goof around, and be 'those guys' when the situation calls for it, and it usually does, but that there is nothing even remotely funny about this.
There are other times that it isn't funny.
It isn't funny the first time they go all the way. It comes out of nowhere, and they're stone cold sober. It's the middle of the week and they're squished into Holster's bunk watching Curb Your Enthusiasm at two in the morning, pressed against each other to conserve body heat in the cold attic. And then Holster puts his hand on Ransom's thigh under the quilt, and moves his thumb back and forth, petting, and something just ignites in both of them, even though their room is freezing cold, even though Curb Your Enthusiasm is arguably the least sexy show on television, like they’d been waiting. They start making out like horny, uncoordinated teenagers, laptop snapped shut and kicked away, Holster pinned under Ransom, both of them shoving, pushing, getting each other hard through their sweatpants. Like everything else they've done, it feels natural and coordinated, but they don't laugh, and it's not scary, but it's intense. Ransom's chest gets tight as he looks down at Holster's body under his, t-shirt pushed up but not off, pupils blown wide and dark in blue eyes. They each get half-words out before the other finishes the thought, "Do—" "Yes," "Can—" "Yeah," fumbling for lube and condoms always just under the lip of the bed.
They shove their sweats down, kick sheets out of the way and just go for it, uncharacteristically frantic and desperate even after so much practice with other people, like they're going to die if one of them isn't inside the other right now because that's what it feels like. The attic is far enough away from the other rooms to have decent sound insulation, but the Haus is a piece of shit and you can hear the faucet running in the kitchen no matter where you are, so they're sure someone hears them, swearing and hard breaths and a bed frame creaking under their massive combined weight.
They were never in the habit of talking much during sex, beyond drunk, mid-suck mumbles of fuck, you feel good, but Ransom hears himself trying to string something together with his face buried in Holster's shoulder, nonsensical bits of ten different things about how this isn't just fun, it's not just convenience, it's something else now and that had better be okay, you're so, this is, you're you, Holtzy, I can't, and when Holster drags his hands into his hair and kisses him, toothy, and cinches his knees to his hips and says, "I know, it's cool," completely out of breath, it's as embarrassing as it is gratifying. He comes first, which Holster gently teases him about afterwards when they're lying together, pretending neither of their hands are trembling.
It really isn't funny when Holster comes out to his parents over Skype in junior year.
It's a band-aid he's going to have to rip off at some point, he figures, so why not now, when he's actually got someone he wants to be with. It's awkward as fuck but it goes as well as he could have hoped; shock, but acceptance, an understandable amount of confusion, but then. It stops going well.
"I'm actually seeing someone," he manages to get out. It's going to be okay, he tells himself. He stressed—unnecessarily, in his opinion, but these are his parents—that he likes girls, too, and they were okay with that.
"Oh!" His mom's voice is a bit too high, but she's just surprised, he tells himself. But, it is a jump: from I like boys to I like a specific boy, which is tangible. "Someone at Samwell?"
"Yeah." He wipes his hands on his jeans. "His name's Justin. Justin Oluransi. Ransom. You've heard me talk about him."
"Oh! Yes, of course, your teammate, Ransom, right." His dad nods. "Well, that's—good, Adam, I'm glad you've found someone."
"Me too." His mom has a weird look on her face and he doesn't like it. He doesn't know what to say. "Mom?"
She asks, "What did you say his surname was?"
He gets an ache behind his eyes. This can't be going where he thinks it's going. "Oluransi."
"Where did you say he's from?"
She fidgets. "But, I mean, where—"
It's going exactly where he thought it was going.
"His family's Nigerian, if that's what you're asking."
He wishes this wasn't a video call so he didn't have to see their faces. Was he naive to not expect this at all? It's never come up. He'd know if his parents were racist, wouldn't he? On what planet would he not be aware of this after twenty-two years of knowing them? But—he knows, for some people, there's probably a difference between the abstract idea and the concrete reality of my son is dating a Black man. He feels sick.
"Please tell me," he says, trying to keep his voice level, "that I don't have to ask you if you're okay with that."
"Please tell me you understand how absolutely insane and ridiculous it would be if I had to ask you, my parents, if you're okay with the fact that my—that Justin isn't white." Using his first name is surreal, like there's the Ransom he knows and some new Justin his parents are now aware of.
"Don't get mad at us," his mom snaps. "You—you can't just drop this all on us and expect us to—"
"You haven't said yes," Holster says quickly. "Mom, tell me you're okay with it."
"Oh my God." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "I can't fucking believe this."
"No, fuck this! Are you joking?"
"We didn't say we weren't—"
"You don't have to! Any normal person would have just—Christ, I can't believe this, I don't even—" He sighs hard, pulls his hands through his hair. "We're not talking about this. I can't believe this is happening. I—I've gotta go."
"Honey, don't be like this."
That's it. He slams the lid of his laptop shut and can't get a breath in, can't feel anything beyond the blinding rage and humiliation that has him digging his hands into his thighs. It's stupid and mindless, but he picks his phone up off his desk and whips it on the floor. He can hear the glassy sound of the screen cracking, and the back pops off.
It isn't funny when he has to tell Ransom about the conversation later that night, and watch his face crumple in shame and guilt and a ton of other things he shouldn't ever have to feel, not because of Holster or anyone else.
It isn't funny when Holster's youngest sister calls him crying in anger after she hears about it.
"I can't fucking believe this," she snaps, her voice tinny over a poor connection. "Don't fucking listen to them, okay? Don't let them make you feel bad, they're not ... They're just surprised, alright?"
"That people of colour exist?"
"That you're gay, Adam."
"I'm not gay." He rolls a pencil back and forth across his desk. "I like everyone. You've seen me date girls."
"Well—okay, sure, whatever. It's just a big deal, is all."
"They were fine until I said he's Nigerian, Amy. You should have heard them." He pins the pencil under his fingertip. "All ‘we support you, sure,’ and then—dead silent, I swear to God."
She goes quiet. He presses on the pencil too hard and it skitters away from him and hits the floor.
"Bring him home for Thanksgiving," she says.
"That's sweet, but that's not how things work. They're not gonna be more okay with it just because he's there."
"They'll see you with him, and it'll be different. They're just surprised," she says again. "I know they're not—I mean, they can't be, it's mom and dad."
"I know. They...they must have just been surprised. You're right. Have they...said anything?"
"Just that you have a boyfriend. And it's that guy you always talk about."
If Holster goes red, there's no one around to see it. Boyfriend. He guesses that's mostly accurate. They haven't talked about that, not really. "Right."
"I can't believe we haven't already met him."
"Me neither, honestly." He rubs his neck. "It's...I don't know."
"Bring him for Thanksgiving," she insists. "He's Canadian, right? Isn't theirs at a different time? He won't even miss his."
"C'mon, I wanna meet him. I wanted to meet him when he was just your best friend, so now that he's your boyfriend I gotta." She pauses. "I already asked mom and dad."
"Shit, Ame, why'd you—"
"They said he's welcome. If you wanna bring him."
"Huh." That's. Unexpected. It's good, probably. "What do Tash and Ceel think?"
"They're mad you got a boyfriend before they did."
He laughs. "Well, now I have to bring him. Bragging rights, right?"
"You definitely do."
There's a brief window of time this semester where Ransom and Bitty are the only two in the Haus between classes on Thursdays. Ransom's always spent it loitering in the kitchen with him, stealing uncooked bits of whatever Bitty's making himself for lunch or baking for later, talking about class and hockey and music and whatever else. Recently, the topic turns to boys more often than not, after Bitty plucked up the courage to ask if Ransom actually was dating Holster in some way, and Ransom had said, "Something like that."
"Um." Bitty's leaning by the stove in a big striped sweatshirt and khakis, poking caramelizing onions around in a pan, and Ransom's rooting around in the cupboards for the Clif Bar he knows he left in here last week, and if Holster ate it, when he knows that 'cool mint' is Ransom's favourite flavour of Clif Bar, God help him, he is going to— "Is Holster okay? Lately?"
Ransom sucks his teeth. "Uh, kind of."
"Is it okay for me to ask? I don't mean to pry, he's just really, like...frowny, and snappy, a lot this week."
He's definitely not wrong about that. "Yeah, he's—there's some stuff going down." He pauses, hidden from Bitty's view by the open doors of the no-longer-the-Sriracha-cupboard. "He came out to his parents."
"Oh!" Bitty says softly. "Oh my God, did it go badly? What did they say?"
"It was fine. But." He knows he shouldn't be repeating this. But. It's been weird keeping it bottled up, and he hasn't talked to anyone about it, which, normally, he's fine with. But this is a weird situation, and Bitty's probably one of the most caring, earnest humans Ransom's ever met, so if he has to tell someone... "They're not exactly thrilled he's dating a Black dude."
He can hear Bitty's shocked inhale. "Oh, Rans..."
"Holtzy's really messed up about it." He closes the cupboard doors. Bitty has a hand raised to his mouth. "Which I get."
"How are you?"
"Less messed up about it." He rubs his face. "But it's fucked, yeah. Haven't had to deal with this for a long time."
"It's okay, Bits. I'm not gonna let a family from suburban Buffalo make me feel bad about myself. I can't just stop being Black, and even if I could I wouldn't, I'm fuckin' proud of who I am, like—they can feel however they want. It's not Holtzy's fault." He sighs angrily. "I wish it wasn't happening, but here we are, I guess."
"That's awful," Bitty says, and he sounds like he means it. "I can't believe that, it's 2015, and we're—we're having the same conversations we've been havin' for the past always, it's—it's so sad."
"How can they...this isn't even the south, I mean, it's New York, how..."
"I dunno, bro. Just one of those things, I guess." He jams the heels of his hands into his eyes. "It's—whatever. I shouldn't be talking about it, it's not a big deal. Holtzy's just really embarrassed."
"It'll be okay." Bitty sounds like he means that, and genuinely believes it. "I'm making a pear, brie and walnut braid if you wanna stick around. Trust me, it'll help."
Ransom laughs. "Sure, Bits."
Holster tells Ransom about Thanksgiving when they're in bed, because everything feels easier after sex, when everything's quiet and touchy-feely and slow. They're lying face to face, breathing the same air, and their feet stick off the end of the too-small bottom bunk.
"You have been invited to Thanksgiving," Holster says slowly, matter of fact. "With my family."
"By you, or by them?"
"Them, actually. Well, sort of. Amy invited you, and asked my parents."
"All my sisters all really want to meet you."
"And your parents?"
"... Can deal with it, dude." Holster moves back a bit to look at him. "I totally get if you don't want to come. Completely. It's no big deal."
Ransom blinks at him, dark eyes shining in the lamplight. Holster's eyes track over his face, trying to decipher what he's thinking, but he gets stuck on his sharp jaw, dark with a day's stubble, his lips, his high cheekbones, and he forgets what he was thinking about and goes with what did I do to get so lucky?
"I can go," Ransom says eventually. "If you want, I mean."
"Duh. It's actually fucked that you haven't met my family already."
"I know, right?" He squishes his face into the pillow. "It'll. Yeah, I want to. Probably have to eventually."
"Unless you're planning on going anywhere anytime soon."
Ransom raises his eyebrows. Even as it comes out of his mouth, Holster isn't sure if he's talking about their friendship or their other thing, where they touch each other's dicks and Ransom kisses the crown of his head when he gets out of bed and thinks he's still sleeping. If there even is any discernible difference, and he's beginning to think there isn't. Especially once Ransom says, "No," and kisses him, hand closing easily over his hip.
Ransom's torn, because on one hand, this whole thing feels so weird, like they're betraying some clause of the homosocial bro code that says it's only for fun, you can't actually be gay, like they're letting someone down; who, he's not sure. But on the other hand, it's also the most natural thing he's ever done, being with Holster. Like a chemical reaction, or two halves of something whole, or one of those hand puzzles where the two pieces of metal are all twisted around each other, transmitter and receiver, James Dean and Jerry Lewis, the logical and satisfying conclusion of a really good book.
"Shit," he says softly. He smooths Holster's hair back. "What the fuck are we doing."
He sighs, runs his thumb along one of his impossibly blond eyebrows. "You think the boys know?"
"I'm almost one hundred percent sure you were here when the bed was banging into the wall ten minutes ago. We're in the attic, Rans, the whole Haus probably shook. Plus, like, all the times before that."
Ransom laughs. "Right."
"That's cool, right?"
"Totally." He doesn't know why he's surprised when Holster kisses him. It feels sudden. He tips their foreheads together and his skin feels hot. "I don't know what we're doing either, by the way."
"Okay." He kisses him again. "Well, can I just say that whatever it is, I'm super into it?"
Ransom laughs again, and Holster is sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that making him laugh is one of the best things he ever does with his time.
"Cool." Another kiss. Ransom holds his fringe back off his forehead with one of his big palms and it's goofy and cute. "We're on the same page, then."
They become Facebook Official: Adam Birkholtz is in a relationship with Justin Oluransi, and vice versa. It's a little embarrassing, but neither of them can figure out exactly why, besides putting a name to what literally everyone who knows them already suspects. Shitty chirps them about it and Bitty gives them each the most genuinely heartfelt hug either of them have been on the receiving end of.
Most of the time, it's easy and funny and dumb. They hang off each other any chance they get, go for burritos, get drunk, fuck, give each other haircuts, bother the frogs, fuck, roughhouse over Mario Party, get drunk, get coffee, come up with Best Friends Hand Signals and use them to gossip during team breakfast, try to keep their GPAs up, binge watch Friends and play amazing fucking hockey, and if a girl comes up to them at a party and asks, "Are you guys actually dating?" and they say, "Yep," and she asks, "Are you bi?" and they say, "Yep," and she ends up in the attic with them, that's always a bonus.
November rolls around like it does every year. Holster's talked to his parents on and off, characterized by apologies and polite inquiries into "how's Justin doing," and they're still on for Thanksgiving. It's over seven hours' drive from Samwell to Buffalo, so Holster's parents insist on getting them a cheap flight despite their determination to drive, but then the roads get pretty bad and they resign themselves to flying.
They're in the attic on Saturday morning, packing for the weekend, and as Ransom digs through his chest of drawers, he quips, "White people like polo shirts, right?" and Holster laughs so hard he chokes.
"Bring, like ... socks and sandals. Dad jeans. Cargo shorts."
"I could wea—"
"Don't wear your fucking salmon shorts."
"They're from Hollister, white people love Hollister."
"Just wear whatever you want, you'd better be joking."
"So, I could ..."
"Not the salmon shorts."
"I think the whole 'fucking each other' thing makes us secure enough in our masculinity to start calling them pink."
"Salmon is more annoying. You look like a tool."
Ransom huffs and tries not to laugh. He folds a couple shirts and a sweatshirt and a second pair of jeans into a duffle bag. He feels like maybe he should be bringing a gift, a bottle of wine or something, but he's only twenty, it's not like he's a sophisticated adult. He's their son's boyfriend and hockey bro, not a lawyer. It feels stupid, but showing up empty-handed feels rude. He'll ask Holster about it on the way to the airport.
He looks over at him, searching for something to wear in his own dresser. His hair's still a little wet from his shower and he's got jeans on but no shirt; big shoulders, his little waist, tan lines and faint, shimmering acne scars. Ransom knows his body so well that it's absurd to think that they only met a couple years ago, didn't even go to high school together. It feels like they've known each other their entire lives. It's weird, but sometimes he forgets all the things Holster's done without him that have nothing to do with him; he has a hometown and friends and exes, he played in the USHL and lived in Iowa and existed for two whole years before Ransom was even born. He creeps up behind him and snags his belt loops.
"We're kind of early," he says lowly, and hooks his chin over Holster's shoulder, moves his hands over his bare hipbones. "We don't have to leave right now."
Holster laughs and leans back into him. "Rans, you are so hard for me that it's not even funny."
"It's kind of funny, though."
"Yeah, it's actually my favourite thing ever." He drops the shirt he was folding and turns around in Ransom's arms, looks down the few centimeters of height difference between them. Ransom smells like spearmint. His eyebrows are so infuriatingly immaculate. He did end up putting a polo shirt on, that golden one that makes his arms look insanely built. "We can be fast."
"Speak for yourself, quick date," Ransom snorts, and Holster manhandles him onto the bed.
They have to take a taxi to the airport, but neither of them regrets the delay. Check-in and security are brutal, with Thanksgiving weekend, and they sweat in under their heavy jackets but it's not so bad. They make it to their gate twenty minutes before boarding.
"Should I have brought your parents a bottle of wine or something?" Ransom asks. They nabbed two seats by the gate and Ransom keeps bumping their knees together, all fidgety. Holster takes his glasses off and cleans them with his shirt.
"No? Dude, we're like kids, essentially, no one expects you to bring anything. This isn't a dinner party. You're meeting your bro's parents."
"Your—bro...friend. Your brofriend's—bro-boyfriend's...parents."
"You gonna call me your 'brofriend' in front of your 'rents?" Ransom flicks his knee, pointedly doesn't look at him.
"No," Holster says carefully. He puts his glasses back on and they're still a little smudgy. "I plan on getting my shit together somewhere over Albany."
"Cool. Me too."
It's a very short flight. Thirty minutes in, Holster's trying to fold a cootie catcher out of the napkin that came with his complimentary coffee and Ransom leans in and asks, in a hushed voice, "Fanfiction aside, do you think Jack was actually doing the do with Kent Parson?"
Holster considers this. "If it weren't completely inappropriate to place a wager on a close friend's troubled personal life, I would bet the $39.22 that is my life savings on the fact that he was, or is, definitely tapping that."
"Or, getting tapped by that."
"Well, that's another bet entirely. But like, who wouldn't, right?"
"No one sane," Ransom agrees. "This doesn't leave the plane, but I would tap that like a maple tree."
When the flight attendant announces that they're beginning their descent and Holster has long since given up on his ill-fated cootie catcher, Ransom asks, "Wait, am I supposed to call you Adam? When we get there."
"Probably. That's gonna be fucking weird."
"What about Birker?"
"You need to shut up about that."
"If I hear someone call you 'Birker' I'm flipping my shit."
Their plane gets in a half an hour late. As soon as the seatbelt sign's off, Holster texts his dad. "He's here. Waiting by where the gate comes out."
"Fuck. Alright." They maneuver their way out of the plane, both of them too big to stay in an economy class aisle for long. "You said they're cool now, right? I should have talked to them or something first, we've never even Skyped."
"Seriously, man, it's fine. I think they were just...it's fine." They reach the terminal and head through towards the exit. "Pretend we're just friends, in your head, or something."
"Oh, right, okay, I'll just reach into my brain and yank out all the memories I have where you fuck me in the ass, for when I have to look your dad in the eye two minutes from now, and your little sisters oh my God I can't do this."
"Bro, trust me, they're fine, alright? They're normal people. They're gonna be polite as fuck, and you're gonna meet my sisters, and we'll all have a beer and chill."
"Also, okay, Holtzy, you know I'd do anything for you, but if they do some fucking ebonics shit or ask me if I've seen Straight Outta Compton yet, I am so out."
"They won't do the first thing, but if they mention Straight Outta Compton, trust that it's because it's actually supposed to be a really good movie."
"I'm not gonna make it. This is it. I'm done. I'm Donezo Washington."
"Oh, there he is."
Holster starts waving. "The one who looks like me. C'mon, man."
Ransom scans the sparse crowd waiting outside the gate and sure enough, there's a heavyset man with a giant blond beard the same shade as Holster's, waving at them. He's wearing a North Face jacket and dad jeans and he looks like he drives an SUV. They approach and Ransom tries to get his shoulders to stop looking so stiff.
When they get there, his dad immediately pulls Holster into a fierce hug. "Adam!" Surprisingly, or not, he's several inches shorter than Holster, which still makes him tall.
"Hey, dad, how's it going?"
"Good, good!" He has a deep, booming voice. He lets Holster go and looks at Ransom, who starts going through the periodic table in his head to have something to focus on; hydrogen, helium, lithium, your boyfriend's racist parents, beryllium, boron. "And this must be Justin!"
"Hullo." He stops himself from tacking sir on the end, he's not a schoolboy. He gets a grin and a shockingly hard handshake, and watches his eyes roam over his face.
"Nice to finally meet you!" Unlike Holster, his dad's eyes are brown, and his face is lined with age, and freckled, where it's not a beard. His nose is sort of like Holster's, or Holster's is sort of like his. "C'mon, let's get going, we'll beat the lunchtime traffic."
They head off and Holster says, "You and your traffic, dad."
In the car—which is totally an SUV—Mr. Birkholtz says, "I'll save the small talk chit-chat for when everyone's around to hear it. Don't want you to have to repeat yourself," and Ransom laughs.
"Adam's been yakking about you ever since he started college, I feel like we know you already."
From the back seat, Holster goes, "Hey."
Ransom turns around in his seat. "Dude, I know for a fact that my parents Skype you when I'm not even around, please."
"Your mom and I watch the same shows, I need someone to gush to since you're so uneducated."
"I bet. My dad and I talk about it. It's weird how you're friends."
Holster's dad chuckles at them, but it sounds amused and not derisive, so that's probably good.
Holster lives in the cute suburb to beat all cute suburbs and Ransom makes a mental note to chirp him about it later, while not in the immediate vicinity of his family. The ride there is generally quiet and Ransom looks out the window and watches highway and then neatly manicured houses go, messing with the stitching on his jeans to have something to do with his hands. Mr. Birkholtz is telling Holster a story about some people he doesn't know. He's seen pictures of Holster's sisters but can't remember what they look like now. He thinks about his own sisters, and how much they like Holster, which is arguably more than they like him. He doesn't want to be the problematic half of their...whatever, relationship, the one who no one's family likes. Everyone likes Holster. He hopes that, at the very least, he can make Holster's family like him.
The Birkholtz home is small and has white plastic siding and a garage full of so much sports and lawn equipment that it smells like a Canadian Tire. They park in the garage and the door closes behind them and it's dark and cramped and as Ransom follows Holster and his dad into the house, he thinks: he's not normally touchy, and he's not normally that nervous, but he really wants to press his face into the back of Holster's sweatshirt and never leave.
He hears voices as soon as they're inside, in a linoleum-tiled ante room full of coats and boots and house stuff. There's the smell of something baking, and Febreeze.
"They're home!" A woman's voice, obviously his mom. "Girls, come here!"
Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, respectability politics, polo shirts.
They toe their shoes off and he follows Holster into a narrow photo-lined hallway, mint green walls, soft carpet, white baseboard. He stands up straight, like he's trying to impress anyone. It's stupid. This whole thing is stupid.
Then they're in a small living room that's a little Martha Stewart but definitely lived in, with worn leather couches and a big TV and, most importantly, Holster's mom, who is taller than Holster's dad. She goes up on her toes to hug Holster anyways and he just envelops her; she's tall but slim, bony, with cinnamon sort of hair that touches her shoulders and Holster's bright blue eyes. She's wearing a peach-coloured cardigan. She looks at Ransom over Holster's shoulder.
Holster steps back and keeps an arm around her, and gestures to Ransom. "Mom, this is Justin. Justin, Mom."
Her smile looks genuine, but she just gives a small wave, puts her arm around Holster's waist. "Call me Karen."
Ransom's mind races. He didn't get a hug. She didn't hug him, her only son's boyfriend. He thinks about how his mom hugs Holster, and hugged Jack, when she met him, and all the moms he's gotten hugs from before, and why wouldn't she hug him? Nitrogen, oxygen, oxygen, oxygen.
"Hi," he tries. "Nice to finally meet you."
"Likewise! Adam's told us so much about you."
Holster drops his arm from around her shoulders. "Okay, everyone needs to stop saying that."
Ransom laughs. There's the sound of feet thundering down the stairs, clamouring voices, and when Ransom turns around there are three young women who look so much like Holster that it warrants a double take, all crammed into the doorway and staring at him, mouths agape.
Their dad shows up behind them. "For the love of God, just go say hello."
Ransom laughs and all three of them look so embarrassed. The eldest looks just a bit younger than Ransom, if at all, and the youngest is probably about fifteen. The tallest and oldest breaks free of the lump of girls and says, "Hi. Celia."
The medium sized Birkholtz waves shyly; she has their mom's darker hair, tucked into a bun. "Natasha."
"I'm Amy!" The smallest one grins, all teeth and big blue eyes. They're all pretty tall, or else Ransom has their ages completely wrong.
"Justin," Ransom says slowly. "Hi."
"Hi," they all say.
"Don't go all children of the corn, God," Holster gripes. "Get in here."
They take turns hugging Holster, who laughs and squeezes them and looks even larger than usual; his sisters aren't small by any means—Celia plays basketball, he remembers, and Amy swims—but they aren't six-four and impossibly jacked, either.
"Well, sit," Mr. Birzholtz says, moving into the room. "You boys wanna put your stuff upstairs?"
"Sure." Holster picks his bag up and gestures to the hall. "This way."
The second floor is quiet and dark, a little maze of bedroom doors. Ransom's in front of Holster, so he asks, "Which one's yours?"
"Down at the end."
"Is it yours yours?"
"Mostly a guest room. I haven't lived at home in forever, right."
He pushes the door open, Holster right behind him. The curtains are drawn and it's a tiny little room, just a double bed squashed next to a night stand and a bookshelf, and he can't imagine anyone as giant as Holster existing here for any period of time.
"Damn, dude, it's like a closet."
Holster laughs. "Shut up, I fit better when I was eighteen."
"Weird, I assumed you were born swole."
He drops his bag on the striped bedspread and when he turns around Holster kisses him; it's bizarre, something so familiar happening in such a foreign environment. He goes back to feeling like Ransom. Justin's downstairs. When Holster speaks, their lips are still touching.
"Yeah." He doesn't mention the hug thing, he knows he's overreacting. He slumps into him. "They seem nice."
"They are nice, and they like you, and when we get downstairs they're gonna offer you a beer and there'll be dinner at some point, and it's gonna be great."
"Who are you convincing?"
"Definitely just you, bro." He steps back and runs a hand through his hair. "C'mon, coat off. We can do this."
Ransom throws his jacket on the bed. "Are they gonna let us sleep in the same room?"
"They might not if we had another room to give you," Holster admits. "But they're not gonna make you sleep on the couch."
"Do they know we've shared a room for the past two years, or..."
"Dunno, actually. Probably not." He laughs. "I can't believe you're so worked up. It's just my family, like, my sisters are the world's biggest dorks. My dad's probably gonna talk to you about golf at some point. You got this."
"I'm not worked up! I haven't met someone's family since I was in high school, like this—"
"It's not a test. They're not looking for anything." He kisses him, hand closing around his wrist. "I know you're totally crazy about me, Rans, but you gotta chill."
Ransom shoves him, but he's grinning, and he doesn't wrench his hand away. "Fuck off, you're crazy about me."
"We're both fucked. Let's go get bored to death and a little drunk."
Like Holster said, as soon as they get back downstairs, his dad sticks his head out of the kitchen. "Boys? Beer?"
Holster's "Awesome" blends with Ransom's "Yes, please."
He's so glad he's finally twenty-one when Mr. Birkholtz hands him a Corona; he's been legal in Ontario for years, and twenty-one is an insultingly high legal drinking age. All seven of them pile into the living room and Ransom gets to sit next to Holster on the end of one of the couches, and makes sure their knees don't touch. He holds onto his beer like it's the only thing keeping him from flying off into space. All three of Holster's sisters keep looking at him, or, specifically, his biceps.
"So, Justin," Mrs. Birkholtz starts, and it feels like an interview. "Are you an Economics major like Adam?"
"Nooo," Ransom says quickly, and Holster chuckles. "No, I'm in Biology. I've taken a couple Econ classes as breadth electives, but. Yeah, no."
"Biology! That's fascinating. Are you enjoying it?"
"It's pretty intense, but, yeah, I am. It's all I'm really interested in."
Holster pretends to conspiratorially whisper, "Nerd shit," to Celia, and Ransom elbows him.
"Uh, dude, have you seen the other Econ majors? Jesus. A sea of poindexters."
"Did you two meet in class?" Amy asks.
Holster scoffs. "Uh, hockey practice? Please take a more vested interest in my life."
"Well! I mean! Then when did you..."
She trails off. It's still weird. There are so, so many people in this room. Ransom looks at Holster and clutches his beer and they manage to wordlessly convey do not ever mention threesomes in front of any members of either of our families for as long as we live.
"Dunno," Holster says, watching Ransom for signs of right or wrong. "It just sort of. Happened."
That much is true. Ransom adds, "Sophomore year," and Holster raises his eyebrows, surprised that he mentioned even that.
Celia glares at Holster. "So you've been dating someone for an entire year and never said?"
"Only most of a year, and what was I supposed to say? It wasn't like that."
"Do you live in that shitty old frat house, too?" Tash interrupts, propped up on her elbows on the carpet. Both boys laugh as Mrs. Birkholtz cuffs her in the back of the head.
"I do live in that shitty frat house, yes."
Holster points at Tash. "It's an amazing frat house and you're just jealous, you brat. And, anyways, the kid who took Johnson's room totally turned the place around, like, curtains and everything. You guys saw it last year, it doesn't smell like Hungryman dinners even half the time, now."
"Oh, thank heavens for that," Ms. Birkholtz says, wrinkled nose. "That house was a sty."
"Yeah, Bits is a sweetheart. Totally worth the fridge space and the shower singing."
"This a teammate of yours?" Mr. Birkholtz asks.
"Oh! Yeah, a new kid, Bittle. Cutest, gayest, fastest thing on skates that I’ve ever seen. Fits into most standard-sized hockey bags."
Ransom's watching Holster's parents. His sisters just laugh, but there's a flicker of something in the parents. He wants to change the subject, but he can't think of anything. The gay thing shouldn't have come up; first of all, it's Samwell, and second, they're sitting across from someone they know for a fact is their son's boyfriend. It's pretty out there as it is.
Before he can chicken out and say something stupid quickly, Holster calls them on it. He puts his hands up.
"Alright, I know you all know about Samwell, so I'm just gonna say, if anyone says a word about it 'turning me gay,' I'm gonna freak."
From her spot next to Tash on the carpet, bumped up against her dad's knees, Amy says, "Didn't it, though?"
"What? He's fine with it! Right, Adam? And besides, I just mean, like, he went there, and now he's got a boyfriend, so..."
Holster laughs. He lets his knee hit against Ransom's and keeps it there. "Actually, uh, you guys remember that kid, Jake, who used to live down the street?"
Holster raises his eyebrows.
After a second, his dad squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Adam, I still go fishing with his dad every summer."
The girls roar laughing and Holster beams.
"Well, now you've got something fun to talk about."
Ransom tries so hard not to laugh. Mrs. Birkholtz rises and steps out from behind the girls on the floor. "I need to start dinner. Todd?"
The girls won't stop laughing and laughing and after their parents are out of the room, Ransom joins them. He slugs Holster in the arm. "Dude, you're such a dick."
Celia comes to perch on the arm of the couch. She looks the most like Holster, super short blond hair and a strong jaw, and very pretty.
"Was that just to bug them or were you actually boning Jake Terwell in high school?"
"I can't believe you have to ask me that."
"I always wanted a gay brother," Amy says from the floor, and Holster tries to swing his foot at her.
"Little did you know, he was here all along."
"How did you not tell anyone about this earlier? You're like, twenty-four years old."
"I'm twenty-three, Ame, but thank you." With his parents gone, he shifts closer until his thigh's against Ransom's, arms notched inside each other's. "It was awkward. I like girls, too, so I just—didn't bring it up."
"Aaaand, now." Tash looks up at Ransom, who waggles his eyebrows at her in response. "There's a boy."
"Hi," Ransom says, unhelpfully, and Celia tips her head.
"Adam's always talked about you so much, even just as bros, I can't believe we haven't already met."
Holster's ears go red. "That's the last fucking time someone brings that up this weekend."
Ransom digs his fingers into Holster's leg just above his knee, where he knows it makes him jump. "You're talking about me?"
Tash interrupts, "Oh my God, all the time, it's so sick," and shoves her hands against her eyes. "Ransom's so smart, Ransom's such a good singer, Ransom's so good at hockey. I don't know how we didn't know."
Holster's blush spreads and he tries to shove Ransom away from where he's squishing into his side and leering at him. "Shut up!"
"Bro, I get it, I'm amazing—"
"I know, but—"
"—but, there is no way you're repping my hockey skills, you're insane. You did Juniors, like, no contest."
"So what? You're incredible, and at least twice as fast as me, anyways."
"Do you even remember that time that one guy from Yale just straight up ran into you behind the net, and you weren't even moving, and he broke his nose? That was the best day of my life."
Amy wrinkles her nose. "Is this how jocks flirt? This is gross."
"You guys are so lame."
Holster laughs so loudly his mom sticks her head into the room to make sure everything's okay, and then they're all laughing.
And Ransom thinks: he has no idea how they got here.
He remembers the very first week he met Holster, when he lived in the dorms and Holster had an overpriced basement suite off campus, and they instantly got along so well that he spent an entire week at Holster's any time they didn't have class or practice, babbling to each other about shows they liked and music they listened to, shoving oh bro you gotta see this YouTube videos in each other's faces to try and catch up on the twenty-some years they wasted not knowing each other, talking until their faces went numb because how could two people ever have so much in common and still be so different, and still get along so well?
He remembers the first time he realized that Holster had become the metre stick against which all other relationships were to be measured, and the first time he thought, if I get a girlfriend, I'd want her to be exactly like Holster, and then, immediately after that, whoops. He's still kind of appalled by how easily that became this, something with a name and a setting on Facebook, sitting in his parents' pretty, suburban living room, the boyfriend brought home for the holidays, getting chirped by his little sisters for being so obviously into each other. Whatever happens with his parents and all that other stuff, this is alright.
When Holster steps out of the washroom before dinner, Celia corners him in the hallway.
"Adam, oh my God, he looks like a supermodel."
Holster grins. "I know."
"You're so fucking lucky. Does he have any brothers?"
"Nah, but he's got sisters, if you wanna switch teams."
She peeks back into the living room to get a glimpse of Ransom. "Honestly, if they look anything like him, I'll consider it."
Dinner is uneventful but nice. There's more beer and more polite questions directed at Ransom and less than polite questions directed at everyone else by everyone else, family banter, and they've known Holster long enough to be able to keep up a decent conversation about hockey.
Afterwards, there's more banal dinner party talk in the living room, and Ransom puts his arm across the back of the couch and Holster slumps down into it, and they're sure everyone noticed, but no one, obviously, says anything.
Ransom gets up to use the washroom and Holster gets up for another beer, and they meet in the kitchen afterwards, alone for the first time in a while.
Holster asks, "'Nother beer?"
He hands him one and leans against the closed fridge, looking him over. "You good?"
"Surprisingly, yeah," Ransom laughs, and Holster shakes his head.
"I told you it wouldn't be bad."
Ransom lowers his voice. "You also told me your parents didn't want you dating a Black dude, so."
"I—" Holster looks at the doorway, still dark, hears voices continuing in the living room. "I was probably overreacting. They did the, like, no, where's he froooom, thing."
"Was that it?"
"No, they sort of—they hesitated, after, I don't know."
"I get you being worried, but—it's not like they said anything gross, right?"
"Not exactly. Just. Not thrilled."
Ransom laughs. "You're such a fucking loser, they—there's ‘awkward racist’ and then there's, like ‘how dare you date that’—you know. There's a big, big difference." He slips closer on the linoleum in his socked feet. "Uh. As long as you're..."
Ransom corners him against the fridge, presses his beer can and knuckles against his chest and kisses his awkward smile, eyes shut, breathing in whatever that stupid cologne he bought last month is called, the bottle's blue and looks ugly, he can't—
He whips around. Holster's mom is standing in the doorway with an empty wine glass.
"Sorry," Holster says quickly, and Ransom steps back.
"No, it's—" She shakes her head and steps carefully towards the sink. She puts her glass down, tucks her hair behind her ear, tucks her hands into the sleeves of her cardigan. "Adam—boys—I'm sorry if I've been..."
"It's okay, mom," Holster finishes, and sounds like he means it.
"No, it's...It's just new. I do support you, Adam, you know that, right?"
Holster raises his eyebrows. He didn't expect this conversation now, in the kitchen after the better part of a six pack. "Yes?"
"Good. I'm sorry. I'm trying, I just—you know me, I'm—a little old fashioned."
She looks at Ransom, so he says, "It's okay," in case that's what she's looking for.
"You seem like a wonderful boy, Justin."
"And I really am glad Adam's found someone he wants to show us. It's been so long since he's brought anyone home to meet the family, I just thought—"
"—It's really, really wonderful that it's someone he's obviously so—I mean, he's been talking about you for years, but you boys have all these hockey nicknames and it's hard to keep track, sometimes—"
"Oh my God, mom, okay." Holster steps towards her and puts his arm around her shoulders and his chin on top of her head. "Thank you. That's great, mom, I appreciate it. I like him, too. We're all up to speed here. Let's go sit."
He ushers her out of the kitchen and Ransom follows. He puts his cold beer on the back of Holster's neck, and Holster twitches and smacks him.
Holster's ears go red. "Shut up."
When they turn in for the night, goodnights said and teeth brushed, the bedroom door shut behind them, Holster says, "It's weird to have a filter."
"I was gonna say. Yeah."
"Like, we're so fuckin' spoiled at the Haus, living with a bunch of other hockey dudes. We can say whatever. They've seen us so bitch-ass shit-faced we couldn't stand."
"And now here, it's like, 'am I allowed put my hand on his knee.'"
"Yeah. It's crazy." Holster pulls his sweatshirt off and drops in on the floor. "Parents are crazy."
"You're pretty chill around my family."
"Your family's cool. My dad just talked to you for twenty minutes about the best way to make salsa. They're the worst."
"But, now I know where you get your total lack of game," Ransom chirps, and Holster comes up behind him and traps his arms.
"Fuck you, I've got so much game."
"You're such a loser."
"Worked on you, didn't it?"
"I've got a thing for losers. You make me look better."
He turns around in his arms and they kiss, and pull at each other's jeans as easy as if they were undressing themselves. Holster sets his glasses on the nightstand and gropes like he always does to find the bed again.
"I've gotta get laser eye surgery or something, this shit is getting ridiculous." He lies down and Ransom settles next to him, laughing.
"Everyone loves your shitty glasses, though."
"You'd better be including yourself in that."
"I could take 'em or leave 'em." He smooths his hair back. "It's sort funny when you can't see. Fumbling for stuff."
"I can't even see your face right now and I have to colour-code my shampoo and conditioner, but, cool, you think it's funny, you dick."
"You love it."
He kisses him, at first a can't-stop-laughing press of lips, then something deeper, sucking his lower lip into his mouth, spreading hands on his bare chest.
"I can't believe your mom caught us." Ransom mumbles against his mouth, and he laughs.
"It's not like we were making out."
"I can't believe you told your dad you were fucking the kid next door."
"Gotta shake things up." He drags his thumbs across the waist of Ransom's sweats. "Get him out of his comfort zone."
"I feel like knowing his son's sleeping with some dude in the room right next to his is—" One of Holster's hands slides under his waistband and grabs his ass. "Wait, are we doing this?"
"We could." Both hands.
"Bro, we're zero steps away from your entire family."
"We can be quiet."
"It's never quiet quiet."
"How often are we in a bed without another bed above it to smash our heads on?"
Ransom sighs. Holster's nosing up under his jaw. "I was just thinking that."
"I know." He pushes his sweats down over the curve of his ass. "You could ride me?"
"I have the home advantage."
"What, you're too macho to get fucked in your parents' house?"
"You fucked me in my parents' living room last summer."
"That was your idea and you know it."
Ransom laughs, rolls mostly on top of him so he can move their hips together. "Fuck, this bed creaks."
"Extra super quiet, then."
"What are we gonna do, look at each other 'til we come?"
"Oh my God, can you imagine? Party tricks."
"Let's practice later."
They've practiced lots of things, but being quiet has never been one of them, not living somewhere as loud as the Haus, full of rambunctious boys and men and empty beer cans rattling like tumbleweed across the floor, and the TV always at full blast. It's earned them a couple terse, awkward half-conversations with Jack regardless, who blushes so bad (and wasn't that a fact to learn), but they never thought about it too hard, beyond basic courtesy.
But tonight would mean they have to be silent. So Ransom kicks his pants off and rummages for lube and condoms in his bag, because safe sex is important and you never know. He keeps looking at Holster because it's neat to think that he can't see him back with his glasses off, sits across his thighs and kisses him more than he usually does because today was weird and he wants the tension gone from his shoulders, wants it in other places, the pit of his stomach and his curled toes. It's hard to stop the bed from creaking when he shifts his weight and gets up on his knees, hard not to swear or sigh or do something when he eases down and Holster lets out a hard, sharp breath. His hand wanders along the nightstand for his glasses, which he finds and shoves on his face, then whispers, "Shit." Ransom shushes him just as quietly, eyes squeezed shut. "Oh, shit."
They figure out that the bed doesn't make a sound if they move slow enough, so it becomes this achingly, agonizingly slow tantric thing where their breathing syncs and Holster digs his hands into Ransom's thighs and tries not to move, head ground back into the mattress, back arched off the sheets. Ransom tries not to let his head fall back but his eyes fall shut, not totally sure what he's supposed to do with his hands because they've never done it like this, exactly, and it's not like he can do what girls do, running their hands through their hair or playing with their tits; he braces his hands on his thighs, touches Holster's stomach, tense under him, his abs, his obliques. And they make up for the painful slowness with force, tightness, weight, power, hips moving in these slow, shallow rolls, Holster's hands gripping him harder against him, until he has to bow forward and brace himself on his hands, lifting up, easing back down.
Neither of them try to hold back for long because they should not be doing this in the first place, and Holster comes first, with a few still-reasonably-quiet gasps for air. Ransom's done with a few twists of his wrist, shuddering, arms giving out.
They stay like that a moment, until their hearts slow down, clutching each other, Ransom's forehead against his shoulder. Holster rubs his hands down the smooth expanse of his back and breathes, "Fuck," out of breath for not having moved. "We need to take the top off the bunk bed and make them into a normal-person bed, to do stuff like this."
"What about our space for activities?"
Holster starts laughing and Ransom kisses him to shut him up, goes oh my God how are you always so loud, but it's a while before either of them can stop.
Ransom rolls off him and whispers, "If I run into anyone on this walk of shame to the bathroom, we're packing our shit and leaving on a red-eye."
So he pulls his sweats back on and creeps into the dark hallway, and Holster stretches out, takes his glasses off even though he knows it'll scare the hell out of him when Ransom comes back. Which he does, a few minutes later, and Holster can’t make him out until he’s getting into bed behind him.
“No shenanigans?” Holster whispers.
“Nope.” Ransom presses into his bare back and closes his eyes, sleep finally edging in on him. “Fuckin’ look at us, huh?”
“Like a coupla’ grown-ups. Guest room. Meeting the parents.”
“Adam and Justin.”
Ransom nips the back of his neck. “Adam and Justin.”