As soon as Andie turned up at prom in that awful, ugly dress, Steff knew he was well and truly fucked. Blane stood right on cue, eyes lit with a nauseating spark of hope, symbolically abandoning his seat at the rich kids’ table and drifting toward her like a marlin being dragged out from the ocean and straight onto the deck of his father’s fucking yacht. And wasn’t it typical that Steff was left behind to fall back on his old routine, albeit one friend down, all bitter and poorly camouflaging his misery? Wasn't this, after all, the perfect culmination of their high school narrative, the ultimate comeuppance? He, Steff McKee, the villain, robed in his defeat with all the grace of a man with a particularly devastating hangover. Yep. Sounded about right.
Steff wasn’t stupid. He knew how to get what he wanted. If what he’d wanted was Andie Walsh, he could’ve put on a nice guy act that would’ve worked like a charm--he contends that he could’ve tapped that anytime, anywhere--but his stubborn insistence on acting like a total dick meant that there was no way he was genuinely interested in getting into her secondhand pants.
Again, Steff wasn’t stupid; he knew there wasn’t a chance in hell that Andie would even talk to him after all the shit he’d pulled, but that wasn't the point--at his core, he was still an absolute fucking idiot because he was totally, irredeemably in love with his best friend, and it was horrible and embarrassing and he was not feeling remotely okay with anything in his life lately, because even if it could’ve happened, even if it could've somehow become a thing, it certainly wasn’t going to now.
True to form, he’d started looking totally over it about five minutes after he’d shown up at the dance, loosening his bowtie and not even trying to hide his glassy, fucked-up eyes, not being remotely furtive with the flask he kept in his jacket. Against his better judgment, Steff had been in love with Blane since they were kids. Now that they’d grown up a bit, Blane was a devastatingly nice guy, Steff was a teenage alcoholic, and the only way he could even come close to expressing his feelings was by trying to look cool and ending up looking like an entitled, bourgeois prick with absolutely zero redeeming qualities. Besides, of course, his hair, which at the end of the day wasn't really a quality, but more of a fortunate aesthetic asset.
So now Blane was dancing with Andie like something out of a goddamn fairytale, gazing into her eyes and breaking socioeconomic barriers, and that was Steff’s cue to shuffle off-- maybe not from this mortal coil, but at least from his senior prom. He didn’t have anything in particular against Andie, really, besides the fact that Blane liked her—though that dress, was she serious?—but he cast a cursory glare at the couple and muttered something snide to the others at his table. A guy needed to keep up appearances.
Steff slithered miserably from his seat, staggering a little, and Benny tried to follow him, obviously under the impression that he was skipping out so they could bone under the bleachers or some shit, but he told her a little unnecessarily harshly to get lost. Whatever. She was used to it. It wasn't like she didn't have other options, or that she was hung up on him. He was pretty sure she was fucking at least three other guys on the regular.
Steff ended up in the boys’ bathroom, crumpled against the wall by the urinals, already drunk, utterly contaminating his tux, and coming horrifically near tears, but Steff didn’t cry. Steff, being Steff, instead remembered that he had a copious amount of cocaine on him, which he reasoned might lift his spirits.
...or maybe he’d just do too much coke and make himself sick, his heart throttling in his chest, his head reeling. Remotely, Steff noted that his body wasn’t quite within his control, the muscles in his arms tensing and untensing unpleasantly. He felt like his lungs were too big, or else that his ribcage was shrinking, crushing him out into the black spots that crowded the corners of his vision. He had something close to an epiphany then, thinking that it might not be so terrible to let it happen. Maybe pass out, maybe something a little more extreme. He wasn’t particularly invested in either of these options, but he was rapidly heading toward one or the other, so he might as well mull them over a little. He was pragmatic like that.
Just as the stars in Steff’s eyes were snuffing out, someone touched his arm, pulled away as if burned before coming back and resolutely taking his pulse, which must’ve been off the charts. He couldn’t quite bring himself to talk, though he tried to tell the person to leave him the fuck alone. Steff assumed he got his wish, maybe somehow communicated to this guy that he wasn't worth the effort (though he’d never be that direct—seriously, so dramatic), because the hand went away and he heard rapid footsteps getting further from him. But a few minutes later, the stranger came back again, and Steff wanted to look up and see who this idiot was, this total loser who was trying to rescue him, but Steff was too damn tired and just wanted this to be over, whatever “over” happened to mean. Okay, it probably meant dying. Since it might happen for real, he might as well admit it. And while he was admitting stuff, maybe he'd sort of (but like... not really) wanted that to happen.
The stranger unbuttoned Steff’s shirt (!) and began carefully covering him in ice cubes (!?) that were probably swiped from the punch bowl, which caused Steff to make a displeased sound that was probably a bit comical. He slipped a pill into Steff’s mouth and pressed a glass of cold water against his lips, and fuck it, he’d take it, he didn’t know what it was or what was happening but figured it couldn’t get much worse. He swallowed, coughing. The stranger gingerly touched his feathered hair (which was probably all messed up, ugh), brushing it aside and feeling his forehead, testing his fever. Presumably it was somewhat under control, because the guy finally spoke to him.
“Do you have a car?” he asked gently.
Steff scoffed like it was his job to scoff, which it kind of was.
“Of course I have a fucking car. Get real,” he mumbled.
The stranger sighed in resignation and started to go through his pockets, and Steff figured that at this point he probably wasn’t being robbed, but he still felt a tad indignant. Eventually, his keys were located, and the other guy stood.
“Do you think you can get up?” he asked.
“If I have to,” he replied, managing to sound petulant instead of completely miserable, and Steff opened an eye in an attempt to look at the person he was speaking with, but the lights of the stark white bathroom triggered an instant migraine and he sealed the eye shut again.
Steff could only imagine what he looked like right then, and he was morbidly grateful he'd chosen a little-used bathroom to overdose in.
The other man grabbed him by the wrists and tried to haul him to his feet, which was easier said than done. Steff, wobbly, acquiesced, bracing himself against the row of urinals so that he didn’t topple over. He already smelled like booze and sadness, so adding piss into the mix was pretty much par for the course.
They made it all the way to the parking lot before a teacher who was taking a smoke break asked them what the hell they were doing, and Steff, who was never the type to panic, found himself getting a little nervous, but his companion launched into a three-act tragedy about Steff’s fictitious history of grand mal seizures (he’s had them his whole life, he used to have to wear a helmet everywhere he went, isn't it sad, he’ll be okay once he gets home, etc. etc.) and soon they were in the clear.
The other boy’s voice was niggling at him but he couldn’t quite place it. He’d definitely heard it before, probably from some nobody who was involved in one of the many insipid little student organizations, some nameless tool who fundraised for his club.
All Steff knew for sure was that they’d stopped walking and the other guy was fumbling with his keys, and eventually he heard the car door open. Steff was shoved unceremoniously inside, and he felt a bit affronted before he realized that the stranger had reclined the passenger seat, which was actually rather thoughtful. He laid back, and now that he was done trying to escape from the prom, he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He also hadn’t realized that he was still pretty fucking close to crying, but he shook it off and tried to look bored instead.
“How did you know this was my car?” Steff asked, and the other boy sighed
“Of course this is your car. Look at it. I’m not sure if I can even start this thing without a manicure and hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place.”
“Whatever,” groaned Steff.
“Are you okay?” asked the stranger.
“Whatever,” said Steff again, covering his face with his hands. He sounded like he was being glib, and mostly he was, but he also didn’t trust himself with a longer answer. It felt like either his hands or his face belonged to someone else. In fact, he wished his hands or his face belonged to someone else. But now he was just being sentimental.
“Fine,” said the other boy, and Steff got the distinct impression he was rolling his eyes, “Where do you live?”
Steff peered between his fingers and for a moment he could see past all the spinning and the spots, but he kind of wished he couldn’t, because shit. It was that fucking square Phillip Dale.
There had been many instances in Steff’s short life when blacking out was preferable to staying conscious, and this was another one of those times.
When Steff woke up, he was in someone else’s bed and had the worst headache of his life, and neither of these things would’ve been remotely new to him if he hadn’t first taken the state of the room into account. He wondered which girl he... associated with (despite, or more likely because of the Blane thing, Steff had never been with a guy) could possibly live in a house like this. For a second he thought, absurdly, that Andie had taken him home, that he'd succeeded at last in his halfhearted seduction attempt and ruined her relationship with Blane. Then he remembered prom and all that shit, and he knew exactly whose house he was in, though the owner of the room was nowhere to be seen, thank god. And he was still wearing what seemed like all of his clothes. Small mercies.
Steff looked around the room with mingled horror and fascination. There was a framed photo of two kids at a birthday party on the nightstand next to the bed, and judging from their looks, they were a young Phillip and Andie, toothily grinning through matching masks of cake frosting, Andie savagely brandishing the severed head of a piñata. They looked totally weird even back then. Looking around the tiny bedroom, Steff saw that the walls were completely papered with concert posters for bands he’d never heard of, and although it wasn’t necessarily a messy room, it was wildly cluttered. There were clothes and knickknacks everywhere, and all in all, it looked like someone had taken up residence inside a thrift store. What high school student owned a hat rack? What high school student owned enough hats to justify owning a hat rack? And who had this many goddamn bolo ties?
The idea of wearing other people’s clothes majorly creeped Steff out. He was lying in a hotbed of communicable disease. He was going to die of some gross flesh-eating virus that only poor people got, and his closed-casket funeral was going to be a total embarrassment to his family.
His family. Christ.
His father would be fucking pissed that he hadn’t come home last night. Steff was already more than a little suspicious that his dad was heavily bribing the high school so that his son could even graduate. Steff shut his eyes and massaged his temples. His head was killing him, and looking at all the shit in this nerd's fucked-up bedroom was making it ten times worse. He needed a cigarette. He needed a drink. He needed a new life.
Steff rifled through his pockets and came up short. His would-be final night of debauchery used up all his drugs. This, he reasoned, was a good enough excuse to dig through Phillip’s stuff—he was not calling him Duckie, no way, never—threat of contamination be damned. That geek had to have a stash of something somewhere—otherwise, how would he live with himself? Besides, Steff had always found minding his own business to be insufferably dull.
He figured it couldn’t hurt too much to take a quick peek through all the standard places that people tend to hide things. Under the mattress turned up nothing besides an actual, honest-to-god switchblade and a raised eyebrow from Steff. Quaint. Then, the blonde poked through the dresser drawers, lifting the clothes with a pencil to avoid any unnecessary contact. Nothing interesting besides a ton of weird novelty-print boxers. In the closet, however, tucked away beneath a shelf of very well-organized shoes, Steff found a box that looked promising.
As he was about to open it, however, the bedroom door creaked. What Steff had been doing was obvious, and if he was the type to be embarrassed, he’d have rattled off some half-assed excuse. Instead, he raised a hand and gave a small, flippant wave, still hunched half in the closet mid-burglary.
“Get out,” Phillip said flatly, and Steff saw that he was holding two mugs of coffee, which kind of made him feel like even more of a dick than he usually did, but he shrugged it off and forged ahead.
“What’s in the box, more pictures of your wife over there?” he smirked, gesturing at the bedside photograph. “I wish you the best, I really do. She’s a real... uh... prize , man. Too bad she's probably already blown my—” Buddy. Crush. Soulmate.
“I said get the fuck out of my house.”
Steff didn’t push his luck. He still felt like shit, and he wasn’t up for being punched by this nerd again. He was still a bit put off by the first time that’d happened. The blonde shrugged, ran a blasé hand through his gloriously feathered hair in a feeble attempt to maintain his dignity, dusted off his rumpled, booze-soaked tuxedo, and strode out of the room. Thankfully the house (apartment?) was tiny, so the exit wasn’t hard to find.
So he had just acted like an absolute douche to a guy who had quite possibly saved his life, let him sleep in his bed, and brought him coffee in the morning. Okay. No big deal. Steff tried his best to put it out of his mind and instead focused on the near-impossible task of making it back to his house without getting jumped by poor people.
The road to the high school was the only place Steff ever bothered to drive the speed limit, meandering down the side-streets and studying the meticulously manicured lawns to forestall his arrival, and on Monday morning he drove extra slow, held the brake longer at the stop signs. He parked at the furthest end of the lot to preserve the sanctity of his Porsche and slowly meandered toward the school, rolling into his first period class unapologetically late and already bored stiff.
Steff was smart but decidedly unmotivated, and he languidly twirled his pen and traced the lines in his notebook throughout English class until his gaze inevitably wandered toward Blane.
The other boy was sitting behind Andie, and every few minutes he’d come up with an excuse to touch her shoulder or nudge her grotty vintage footwear with his Sperrys. Repulsed, Steff frowned and looked away, only to see something possibly more pathetic—Duckie—Phillip, he meant, that Dale kid, was staring at Andie with an expression bordering on full-on despair. Phillip, too, ultimately averted his gaze, breaking it in a manner that suggested doing so caused physical pain, only to make direct eye contact with Steff. The blonde, taken aback, manufactured a lackluster smirk and looked away, feeling like a creep. He stood up from his desk and left the classroom early, not bothering to ask to be excused.
The Blane and Andie thing was striking a nerve. It wasn’t just that the person he was... okay, he might as well just admit it, totally in love with (ugh)—it wasn’t just the fact that Blane was with someone else. It was that Steff felt this viscerally bad about it. Every time he saw them together, it was like he could physically feel the possibility of leading a normal, fulfilling life eroding away from him. Until recently, he’d taken it for granted that he’d ultimately get it together, get married to some girl like Benny, produce a few heirs, and fall gracefully into his father’s money. Both of them would have their own not-so-secret affairs and substance abuse issues, obviously, but it would function the way most marriages he'd seen functioned, it’d be mutually beneficial, and ultimately Steff would get something in the ballpark of what he wanted, albeit in a roundabout way. It used to seem glamorous, but now it was just starting to sound depressing.
Steff skulked down the hall in his beachy off-white suit and tucked himself into a corner of the stairwell. Lurking in little-used areas of the school was becoming a big habit of his. It didn’t really fit with the image he was trying to project; it was hardly the behavior of a burgeoning socialite. Oh well. Socialites had to know how to be dismissive, too. That's how you upgraded "parties" to "exclusive parties." He lit a cigarette and looked out the partially-opened window, watching the flunkies industriously selling dope in the parking lot and feeling maudlin.
He took a long drag from his cigarette and pushed up his sleeve, idly contemplating putting it out on his forearm, or maybe his inner elbow, which he figured would probably hurt the most. He was poising the cigarette for its collision-course with his flesh when right on cue, the door to the stairwell clattered open, and there was Phillip Dale again, looking at him like he’d lost his fucking mind.
The other boy must’ve left class just a few minutes after Steff had, because the period definitely wasn't close to over. Jesus. He really needed to work on his persona, because Phillip had totally followed him, which meant that he’d probably looked like a big, sad, At-Risk Teen, and with the insider information the other boy had, it wasn’t exactly an unreasonable concern. The clichés were really piling up. Well, at least he wasn’t wearing a fedora and scuffed old alligator shoes that someone had probably died in. And the dude probably had a hall pass.
“You know, I’m flattered that you’re interested, but don’t you think it’s time to give it up?” Steff drawled, but Phillip looked as if he hadn’t heard him at all.
“Were you just going to put that out on your arm?”
“No,” Steff replied disinterestedly, NOT defensively. He flicked the cigarette down on the landing and put it out with the toe of his shoe a little more forcefully than was strictly necessary.
“Yes, you were,” said Phil, with something bordering on amazement.
“You can think whatever you want, buddy,” said Steff, but he couldn’t mask the real hostility that was leeching into his voice. Phillip paused and scrutinized him.
“You’re in love with Andie, aren’t you?”
And even though it really looked that way, and he knew it, Steff was taken aback.
“I’m really not,” he scoffed, but Phillip wouldn’t let it go, and he stared at him skeptically from the high ground at the top of the staircase, arms crossed.
“I’m. Really. Not ,” he said emphatically, extracting another cigarette from his pack, and Steff knew he should’ve just run with it, yes, I am in love with Andie, she’s a total babe, sure. Jesus, Steff wished he was in love with Andie. It would be weird, but he felt like it wouldn’t be quite as potentially life-ruining as what he was dealing with right now.
“Then why do you seem so... why do you keep looking at...” and Phillip paused, his eyes widening comically.
“Steff, are you...” Duckie said softly, cautiously, like he wanted to talk or help or some pussy shit like that.
“Later,” the blonde said curtly, mortified, and he tucked the unlit cigarette behind his ear and pivoted on his heel, disappearing down the stairs.
I’m dead, Steff thought. Dead. That fucker was going to tell everyone. Or at least he was going to tell Andie, who was going to tell Blane… He wondered why he’d allowed that conversation to continue down the route it had, and whether it was more or less self-destructive than burning himself with the cigarette.
The next day, Steff skipped school. His father was away on a business trip and his mother was at their summer house, probably all fucked up on valium and playing croquet with her creepy friends, so Steff was free to sulk around the mansion unimpeded. He knew everyone expected him to throw a party that weekend. Whatever.
There was a pond in the center of the house's massive, wrought iron-gated grounds, and Steff sat on a bench and watched the koi as they swam languidly through the water. Where could he go from here? Blane was probably never going to talk to him again, and there wasn’t much he could do about that. And all the bullshit that comprised his everyday life was getting really tired.
Just as he was in danger of getting seriously soppy, Steff caught a hint of movement in the corner of his vision. Someone, in the distance, was aimlessly riding their bike through the neighborhood, and Steff had a sinking feeling that he knew exactly who it was. He stood up, intending to flee back into the relative safety of his monolithic home, but it was too late—Phillip noticed the movement and waved, making a beeline straight for him, smiling a crooked, goofy, painfully sincere smile before dismounting from his bike and leaning awkwardly against the fence. Resignedly, Steff shuffled toward him.
“Hey. Uh, this your place? Nice... um, lawn jockeys.”
“Who did you tell?” said the blonde sharply. He was not in the mood.
“No one? I know this is going to sound crazy, but not everyone does shit like that. Tells everyone everything.”
Steff sighed, and then he made a truly idiotic decision that really tested the boundaries of his earlier assertion that he wasn’t stupid.
“Ok, here’s the deal. You are going to wheel that bike around back so no one can see that you’re here, and then I guess you’re allowed to come in. Just don’t make me regret this, ok? And take your fucking shoes off when you step inside. Jesus.”
Duckie smiled and did as Steff requested.
The blonde stared balefully at the hideous wingtips that rested next to his boat shoes in the foyer. The damage was done. Steff was a consummate loser now, in love with a man and hanging out with a bonafide dweeb. Phillip followed him wordlessly into the narcotics room, known to boring old people as the den. They sat down on the couch and, surprise, surprise, had nothing to talk about.
Sorry I was an asshole to you. Sorry I was an asshole to you. Thank you. Sorry, Steff thought, but all he managed to say was “So, uh, how did you know how to deal with… you know, what I took? At prom?”
“So your mom, she’s…”
“You really don’t know how to not sound like a dick, do you?” said Duckie, with some degree of wonderment. “I mean, for real. You’re not even trying, and you’re still pulling it off. It’s kind of crazy.”
“Look, do you want, like, a drink or something?” Steff said, already reaching for a decanter on the bookshelf.
“No!” the other boy said quickly, before explaining.
“I don’t really drink. Or I shouldn’t. I get all… weird.”
He paused. Steff raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment.
“I’m sorry. For hitting you that time. I don’t usually do stuff like that. I don't want to do stuff like that.”
Why the fuck was this guy apologizing? Steff didn’t get what was going on at all. He was the one who had consistently acted like a fuckup, who always needed bailing out and never did much of anything in return. But right now, the other boy was sitting on his couch, staring down at his colorful, garishly-patterned socks and apologizing. It was all backwards. It occurred to Steff that they knew what one another’s houses looked like now. Freaky.
The other boy grimaced.
“That’s not… people don’t call me that.”
“Phillip,” Steff said with finality, “we are going to have a drink, and you’re going to tell me why the fuck you’re apologizing to me. It’s going to be a real cathartic moment, trust me.”
“I told you, when I drink I get…”
“Yeah, whatever, this shit is already weird. Anyways, we've got a full bar. Does your house have a bar? Do you even know what that means? Highballs, man. Highballs. ”
Following a chain of incredibly predictable events, Steff and Phil ended up having more than one drink, as Steff adamantly refused to continue the conversation until they were both a little less sober.
“So anyways,” Steff said, “The apology. Why?”
“Because… you know, you’re going through some stuff. Like, major stuff. With… feelings?” Phil explained, brow furrowed.
“What?” Steff replied, genuinely confused.
“The thing. The thing with you… and with the, uh, major appliance.”
“Your friend-thing. Your… Blane ,” said Phil distastefully, as if uttering the name caused him physical discomfort.
Steff put his drink down and massaged his temples.
“Look, what do I have to do to make sure you never tell anyone anything about that ever? Do you want money or something?”
“Oh my god, I already told you, I’m not going to tell anyone,” Phil said, rolling his eyes exaggeratedly. “I just wanted to talk since we’re in, uh, sort of the same boat. Pretty sure you would’ve made it off the Titanic, though, and I totally wouldn’t have, but, you know… a similar boat. First class versus like, steerage, but you get it.”
“Sure, unrequited love boat. Got it.”
Phil cleared his throat.
“Yeah, that one.”
It wasn’t a very convincing ‘yeah,’ but Steff didn’t really notice. He was way too busy thinking through his own apology, which came out as kind of a mess and not much like an apology at all.
“Hey, uh… thanks, for like… you know. I was really... You didn’t have to.”
“Didn’t have to what? Make sure you didn’t die?”
Steff knocked back a shot of whiskey and closed his eyes tightly and told himself that he was totally fine, he was just a little impulsive and none of the stupid shit he’d done lately was an indicator of some kind of problem. And even if it was, it was surely something temporary. It would go away on its own. It had to.
But even so, what the fuck was he going to do in the meantime? With graduation creeping up, he realized that he didn’t exactly have any real goals. Sure, he was going to go to college. He was going to go to Yale , as a matter of fact; his father was an alumnus and made regular, generous donations. There was a fucking lecture hall named after his family. But what was he going to actually do with his life? He’d been biding his time for so long, pining over his best friend and throwing big, stupid parties in his parents’ big, stupid house, that he hadn’t formulated any actual plans. He didn’t even know what he was going to major in, which hadn’t felt like a big deal a few weeks ago, but now it all seemed like a terrible mistake.
And Blane didn’t even like him anymore.
And the blonde realized that he wasn’t drowning his sorrows alone this time around, and the crying thing was about to happen right when it usually happened, when he was thinking about his life and drinking. He reached for the whiskey, tightening his jaw, but right before he’d secured the bottle, the other boy grabbed his wrist.
“Don’t, ok? I get it.”
And then he was fucking crying, not sobbing or anything, but it was this horrible flood of near-silent tears that was completely beyond his control.
“Hey, hey. It’s alright, man.”
Steff angrily wiped his face with his shirtsleeve.
“This is so fucking embarrassing.”
“Not as embarrassing as it’s about to be. God, I can’t believe I’m doing this,” said Phillip, and just like that, Steff was being hugged by the only person he’d ever gotten into a physical fight with. It wasn’t even a real hug, it was a weird side-hug, but still, it was sort of nice and it made him cry more.
And he must’ve lost his mind, because when Duckie asked him what was wrong, he told him everything. High school, his fucked-up family, the future, Blane. Everything. He even told him about the stray cat he’d been feeding behind the garage that his father’d had euthanized a few years back (ok, more like close to a decade back) that he was still majorly upset about.
“Pictures of my mom,” said Duckie suddenly, after Steff had exhausted his full repertoire of sad things. “That’s what was in the box in the closet. And some stuff of hers. My dad got rid of a lot of it after she died. Not because he’s an asshole or anything, he just couldn’t handle looking at it.”
“Oh,” said Steff lamely.
“And I’m not in love with Andie, you know. I used to think I was for a while. She’s just sort of one of the only people I talk to. Like, really talk to. About personal stuff. And now she's like... leaving.”
“I don’t really do that. Talk about stuff.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
Steff smiled grimly, and the conversation lapsed into silence. He could always try to get another drink, which he still felt in desperate need of, but he suspected that he’d be scolded if he did, and even though he balked at being told what to do, he knew it was probably for the best.
“Listen, do you want to like… I don’t know, uh… jesus, what do people like you do for fun?”
“Wow, you seriously can’t not be a dick, can you? I was kind of joking earlier, but… wow.”
For once, Steff decided to keep his mouth shut. He gave Phil a pained look, as if to say "no, I can't." The other boy sighed.
“Are you trying to say you want to be friends?”
Steff frowned. It was weird as hell, but he maybe sort of did.
“Alright, then let’s clean this shit up and do whatever it is that people like you do for fun,” said Steff, shooting Phillip a challenging smirk, which was met with a corresponding eye roll. Steff laughed impulsively, feeling oddly serene for someone who had just cried in front of a person who was ostensibly a stranger.
With finality, the blonde retrieved a bottle of Jim Beam from his school bag and expertly siphoned it into the bottle they’d been drinking from until it was almost full again. Phil eyed it quizzically.
“This shit costs more than most people make in a month. My dad would kill me if he ever found out, but I’ve been cutting it with this for so long that he doesn’t even know what the real stuff's supposed to taste like anymore.”
What people like Duckie Dale did for fun turned out to be watching old movies (“You’ve never seen The Maltese Falcon? Are you fucking kidding me?”) and systematically working his way through all of the snacks in the McKee family mcmansion. He also tried Perrier for the first time and declared that if this was what rich people drank, he’d rather live in abject poverty ("Who wanted to drink water, but bitter?").
“Okay, so what do you usually do?” asked Phil, after.
“Pretty much what I did earlier. Uh… drink. Get high. Party. I, uh… have girls over a lot.”
“Hey, what else do you like to do?” said Steff, hoping he’d sidestepped the topic of his sexuality, which they had kind of already talked about but also kind of hadn’t.
Really, he didn’t think about it much. Okay, that wasn’t true. He tried and failed miserably at not thinking about it much. Actually, Steff was pretty sure he’d never had sex without the aid of alcohol or coke or some pill someone handed him. Which was fine. It was normal. It was fine.
It was maybe not fine.
“Usually I go to the record store.” Duckie said, snapping Steff out of his internal monologue, before adding darkly, “but Andie works there.”
“What?” said Duckie dubiously.
“I said let’s go to your record store. Christ, Phillip, I didn’t know you were this slow on the uptake.”
“What, not your friend anymore because she’s with Blane? That’s a little fucked up, man.”
“No, that’s not it, exactly. I was… kind of a dick about the whole thing. And it would be really weird if you and me… Well, it would be really weird.”
“Shit, you’re right,” said Steff gleefully, clapping Duckie on the shoulder, “now we have to go. Besides, you couldn't have been as much of a dick as I was to her and Blane. I think I got you beat on that front."
Duckie Dale literally dragged his feet outside of the record store, studying the concert fliers that papered the windows for far longer than was strictly necessary. He seriously tried to bum a cigarette off of Steff, too, which was just absurd.
“You don’t even smoke, dude.”
“You don’t know me,” said Duckie defensively.
“I know you don’t smoke.”
Duckie snatched the pack of cigarettes out of Steff’s hand, extracted one from the pack with a flourish and lit it, glaring defiantly at the blonde before dissolving into a coughing fit.
“Shut the fuck up.”
“I didn’t say anything,” said Steff smugly.
“Hey, we don’t have to go in,” said Phil with trepidation, still staring at a poster with desperately-feigned interest and casting furtive sidelong glances through the window. Steff thought this was completely ridiculous until he looked in and saw Blane leaning across the checkout counter, talking animatedly with Andie. His stomach dropped.
“We totally do, though. Fuck,” said Steff, and he pushed the door open before he could talk himself out of it and strolled through as casually as he could manage, hands in his pockets. He began leafing disinterestedly through the rows of albums and felt like he should win an Oscar.
Meanwhile, Phillip lurked behind Steff, frowning and unsuccessfully pretending he wasn’t hiding.
“Uh, Steff? You’re in the metal section. I don’t think you listen to metal.”
“Oh yeah? And why do you think that?”
“Same reason you don't think I smoke.”
“Well, what do you think I listen to?”
“I don’t know, Huey Lewis?”
“Oh my god.”
“Oh my god , Huey Lewis . Jesus Christ, man. You think I’m like… the worst.”
“But you don’t listen to metal.”
“No,” Steff conceded.
“You totally listen to Huey Lewis,” said Duckie with finality. “And…” he paused dramatically, “Billy Joel.”
“You hate me.”
“Well, I punched you, didn’t I?”
“…you didn’t punch me that hard.”
As they bickered over the outcome of the fight, Phil abruptly turned completely red and froze in place. Steff followed his gaze and felt his own face flush, because just across the store, Blane and Andie were staring at them like they'd grown extra limbs.
Andie raised an eyebrow, her omnipresent front teeth exposed. Blane had turned around and was gaping incredulously at them.
Andie looked at Phil and gestured pointedly toward the back room, and he followed her resignedly, shooting Steff a bleak look before disappearing through the doorway.
And then Steff was alone in the record store with Blane, which was not good. After a significant span of halfheartedly feigning interest in the stack of discounted albums in front of him, the silence got so oppressive that Steff had to say something, anything, to make it stop.
“ ‘m real sorry,” he half-whispered, full-mumbled, eyes still fixed on the records. A copy of “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tennille stared ominously back at him.
“I was being really uncool. For a long time. Or probably like forever. I… have some, like, problems, I guess?”
Blane somehow managed to look both alarmed and devastatingly unimpressed.
“Cut the shit. What are you trying to do? Coming in here with her friend—what the fuck, Steff?”
“We know each other. Some stuff happened. I almost died, we watched some old movies. You know. Stuff like that.”
“Steff. Is there something you want to talk about?” said Blane carefully.
“No. Yes?” the blonde said. “Just sorry. I hope you and that… you and Andie are doing okay.”
Blane’s expression remained skeptical.
Steff paused. Felt like he still hadn't said what he wanted to say. Took a deep breath and pressed forward.
“You were right about me, maybe? Sort of? I knew you had a thing for her and I guess I tried to fuck it up for you. On… you know, on purpose?”
The brunette ran a hand through his hair, brows knitted in stark confusion.
“Jesus, what is going on with you? Are you dying or something? Did you take something weird?”
“No," Steff said, then, with more confidence, "No, I think I'm okay,” and for the first time in a long while, it felt sort of like the truth.
“You are such a horrible friend,” said Blane with a wry smile, then crossed the room and extended a hand to Steff, who shook it resolutely, trying to hide his slightly misty eyes. And of course it turned into a hug. Shit.
Just then, the door opened, and Duckie and Andie walked back into the room, looking somber yet relieved, like they'd just negotiated a hostage exchange or finalized a business merger.
Andie gave Steff a long, skeptical look before breaking her gaze and turning to Phillip, saying with a small smile, “You're going to walk out of here without buying anything again, aren't you?”
“Yeah,” grinned Duckie, and Andie punched him on the arm.
“Be careful, okay?” she said then, suddenly dead serious again.
“Okay, mom,” he replied, rolling his eyes.
Steff took this as a cue to leave the store. Duckie followed close behind, after giving Andie a quick hug. As they walked down the street in the general direction of Steff’s giant, perennially empty house, Steff figured he had to ask.
“What was that about?”
“It’s fine, she thought we were… ugh, nevermind.”
“Like on a… like we’re… you know, going out.”
Steff visibly closed off then, his default impassive expression clouding his face.
“What did you tell her?”
“Steff, I’m serious.”
The blonde pointedly ignored him and began briskly striding down the sidewalk. He made sure to walk just slow enough to avoid being described as “running away.” Still, Phillip had to scamper a bit to keep up.
“Wait. Steff! I didn’t—I wouldn't—jesus, man, what the fuck?”
Duckie angrily grabbed at the sleeve of Steff’s jacket to stop him, and for a moment, Steff thought they were going to end up trying to punch each other again. Or at least, Steff thought he was going to punch Duckie Dale. Instead, he gave him a scornful look. He felt kind of weird. They were very close.
“As if I would… with... I would never… why would she think that?” said Steff, any pretense of an insult falling away.
“Are you serious?” said Duckie, incredulity leeching into his voice.
“If you really didn’t say anything about… you know, what I told you, then why would she think that?”
“Because I’m gay, you fucking douche. Like… duh?”
“Are you for real? I hate to break it to you, but your problems aren’t that unique, dude. I swear you seriously think you’re the only one who's had a tough time in high school.”
“I’ve never really met anyone who's... that.”
“Look in a mirror.”
“I fuck girls,” said Steff defensively.
“Okay, eww, okay. But do you even like... doing that?” asked Duckie, looking doubtful.
“I don’t really know,” he said, before quickly following up with “So, Andie assumed I was… we were...”
“No, she actually didn’t. Not exactly. She figured I was… I have kind of a bad habit of going after things I can’t get.”
“What happens when you can?”
Steff realized then that they were very close to one another. They were also down an alleyway and very alone, and he had also just said something that might be construed as "flirtatious." He stared at the other boy, alarmed, his thoughts kind of fuzzy.
“What?” said Steff dumbly.
Duckie sighed and looked away.
“Are you coming on to me because I’m the only gay guy you know?”
“You're not coming on to me or you're not doing it because of that, or both?”
Steff mulled it over and realized with a substantial degree of shock that maybe he was coming on to him. He kind of liked being around him, even. He hadn't really been at it for long, but he liked the other boy’s stubborn insistence on putting up with him, his insane clothes, the way he refused to be what everyone wanted him to be.
“I don't know what the hell I'm talking about most of the time, but yeah,” admitted Steff, eliminating approximately zero percent of the ambiguity, and before he could think too hard about what a bad idea this was, he kissed him.
And fuck. He maybe didn't like girls. He was totally, objectively screwed forever but it was kind of amazing.
“Is it messed up that I've been thinking about you ever since you punched me?” said Phil breathlessly, breaking contact for a moment.
“Probably,” said Steff a little roughly. “You punched me, too, you know.”
The brunette hummed in agreement and kissed Steff this time around, biting his lower lip tentatively, earning a sharp intake of breath from the other boy.
“This is so weird,” said Phil, a half smile on his lips.
“Not really,” said Steff, blasé, even though it totally was weird, super weird. “Want to go back to my place?”
“Sure, yeah, definitely. Uh, but I've never…”
“We can watch a movie,” he said quickly. “I don't know what they all are, but we've got a ton of, like... black and white ones.” It occurred to him that he really didn't want to fuck this up. He wanted to make a concerted effort to stop fucking everything up.
Phillip smiled beatifically.
They walked closer, then, and Steff’s house was pretty far away but neither of them much cared about the walk. Their shoulders brushed every few steps, causing Steff to grin like an idiot. After a few blocks of companionable silence and tentative hand-holding whenever no one else was around, Steff asked Phil a question that he'd been asking himself a lot lately.
“What are you doing? Like, with your life or whatever?”
“I’m going to Pratt Institute, you know, in Brooklyn? For, uh… fashion design.”
“Holy shit, how did I not realize you were gay?” marveled Steff, dead serious.
“Shut the fuck up,” said Phil, but he was smiling.
“So, uh…” said Steff awkwardly, “Pratt and Yale, they’re like… not so far away, right?”
“I guess not. A couple hours.”
“I drive fast.”
Phillip’s eyes widened, and Steff realized how casually he’d made what could be construed as some kind of a commitment.
“We'll see," said Duckie, but a ghost of a smile played across his face, threatening to manifest.
"Have you ever seen Casablanca?"