“I don’t drink,” says Logan, and it’s not a lie, technically, because he doesn’t drink, at least not as of this moment. Were Logan feeling more like himself, and therefore, feeling more concerned about semantics, he might have said, “I’m not drinking tonight,” but Remus has never been one for semantics, even at his best and brightest, so the response is going to be about the same either way.
As predicted, Remus rolls his eyes so long and hard it’s basically a full-out glare via sclerae. “You’re so fucking dull.” He plucks the shot from Logan, who’s holding it as if it’s going to burn him, and tips it back down his throat and swallows with a wet GULP that’s somehow, disturbingly, audible even over the incessant pounding of the music.
Dee appears over Logan’s shoulder, hopefully to rescue him, but probably to make everything worse. He wants to go home, he really does. Small party his ass. He wishes Roman was around so he could glare at him, but he’s disappeared, presumably to go get shitfaced and ignore Logan for the next four-ish hours.
Then, Virgil will drag Roman back over to him once things have progressed beyond responsible teenage experimentation, and he will force Logan to chaperone Roman on his Uber ride back to his apartment as Roman holds his hand, angry and too-tight and his hands will be sweaty, and it won’t be sweet, not even a little, as he cries into Logan’s neck with his vodka-breath. Logan’s life is so fucking predictable, and the worst part is that he allows it.
“Aw, bud,” Dee says pinching Logan’s cheeks, “Decided you’re a teetotaler again?”
Fortunately— or perhaps unfortunately, as it may soon prove— Dee is within glaring range. “Fuck off,” Logan says. It’s his new favorite phrase. Extremely efficient and impossible to misinterpret.
“Sorry, doll, not in the mood,” he drawls, “Let’s go be pathetic and antisocial in the corner.” He loops his arm through Logan’s and begins hauling his ass across the room.
“Can I come?” Remus asks, trailing behind them like an oversized and snotty and somehow-already-tipsy puppy. He definitely pre-gamed. Maybe everybody has, and that’s why the lucky fucking bastards seem to be enjoying this event. Liver disease, liver disease, liver disease, Logan reminds himself. Maybe he should try weed. He did read an article about how marijuana can fuck up your capability to naturally produce happiness hormones, but honestly, that’s pretty par for him anyway.
“You absolutely do not want to,” Dee assures him. “Go make Patton cry, or something.”
Remus brightens at the prospect and darts away. Logan sends a silent apology to Patton, currently sprawled out on the couch with his feet on Virgil’s lap, eating from a bowl of peanut butter pretzels and hiding a giggle behind his hand. He has never done anything to deserve that kind of torment. If Logan were, overall, a not-terrible person, he would pull Remus back by the collar of his ill-fitting blazer and take the suffering himself.
However, since Logan is not a not-terrible person, he thinks, better him than me and lets Dee continue to strong-arm him past a couple making out against a wall. Besides, he rationalizes, he’s already terrible, and saving Patton won’t be enough to turn the balance in his favor to make him not terrible, so he may as well enjoy himself while it lasts.
“While it lasts” meaning, operatively, until he a) graduates or b) dies, probably doing something stupid that Roman talked him into, in which case he hopes the afterlife isn’t real because he is not the kind of person who deserves to sing in choirs and smile at angels or whatever it is you’re supposed to do in Heaven. Now that he thinks about it, he probably would end up in Hell anyway, because he’s a) gay and b) Jewish, so the actual consequences of his actions are null and void, and this thought experiment is really just making him feel more justified about his shitty, shitty life choices.
Dee drops him onto a chair in a corner, as promised, and goes to kick an underclassman off a kitchen stool and brings that over. Then, he pours two different things into two different cups, and brings them over too. He hands Logan the cup from his left hand, climbs aloft his stool, and criss-crosses his legs. He looks like a very pointy, pale bird stuffed into a tailored blue suit.
“This is tequila,” he says, scowling at Dee. There’s some orange juice mixed in, on principle, but he knows Dee doesn’t like the taste of alcohol no matter how you do it up and would rather just go in on an empty stomach and chug until he feels satisfactorily plastered.
It’s exactly the kind of behavior Logan disagrees with and tries to discourage, and fine, you know, let everybody call him a wowser and a hypocrite, but they won’t be laughing when he’s the only one of their senior class not using daddy’s money to fund a heroin habit at the ripe old age of twenty-three.
“Oops,” says Dee, and they switch cups. Logan takes a cautious sip. It turns out to be lemonade. He feels like a little kid drinking grape juice at Shabbat.
“So,” Dee hums, after a moment, “You still like Roman, or what?”
Logan nearly spews lemonade out his nose. “What?”
“Oh,” says Deceit. “So no.”
“Yes,” Logan snaps, then, “No. I mean. Yes. What? Yes? I mean— What?!”
“You’ve been moping,” he says, leaning over to flick Logan’s tie up so it hits him in the nose. He frowns and readjusts it so it lies flat down the center of his chest. He feels really stiff and awkward, all dressed up like this. Everybody else makes it seem really cool and easy and hot. Even Dee, with his shoulders sharp in his jacket, his ice-blond hair in his face, the way he’s lounging back, propped up on one hand, eyes lowered over the edge of his solo cup. It is, frankly, cruel and offensive that even Logan’s friends are far more attractive and interesting than he is.
Against his better judgement, he glances over at Exhibit A, that being Roman, who’s perched on the arm of the couch that Patton and Virgil are occupying, laughing at something Virgil is saying and flicking a pretzel at him. His shirt is rolled up to the elbows, and untucked, tie dangling loosely around his neck, and, in the interest of full disclosure and observational accuracy, Logan must acknowledge that his black jeans are on the tighter side, which is. Not entirely unfortunate.
“Aha ha ha,” Dee says, following his gaze. “Fuckin’ clocked you.”
“Fine,” Logan grumbles, because Dee knows everything and it’ll end up being a million times more embarrassing if he tries lying, “Maybe. A little. But what do you mean, ‘still’?”
Dee blinks. “You know. Back in, like, sophomore year. You were obsessed with him and shit.”
Logan sputters. “Are you joking? I hated him then!”
“Weird,” Dee says, tapping a finger against the base of his chin, “I do seem to recall you saying, I quote, ‘why does he make me feel like this?’“
“Hatred!” Logan says loudly, over Dee’s cackling, “’This’ being hatred, and anger!”
Now that he thinks about it, Logan did spend an awful lot of time bickering with Roman, complaining about Roman, thinking about Roman, and reading the books that Roman recommended to him in order to tell him how much they sucked. But now they’re friends, so, whatever, all’s well that ends thus, etc. He says as much to Dee, who scoffs.
“Alright, Einstein, then why are you ignoring him?”
That’s the stupidest thing Dee has ever said, and there is significant competition. “He doesn’t like to hang out with me at parties,” Logan huffs.
Dee takes a thoughtful sip of his tequila monstrosity and tries to look like he’s enjoying it, even as his lip curls. “Or maybe you’re telling yourself that so you have an excuse to avoid him, since you know you’re no fun anymore.”
Logan glowers at him. He holds up his free hand in surrender. “Sorry, sorry, I’m a dick, yadda yadda, you’re valid and shit, we’ve been over this.”
Logan keeps quiet, because he’s really not in the mood for yet another argument, especially one that involves words like “compulsions” and “catastrophizing” and all that other shit Dee picked up from Virgil who picked it up from his therapist. Logan is the smart one here, he’s being perfectly logical, Dee can shut his fucking mouth. He watches Dee take another long drink, and Logan thinks, against his will, about his dad, and all the yelling, and the throwing up in the bathtub, and his stomach rolls.
He reminds himself, firmly, of genetic predisposition, and how shit blacking out feels, and liver disease, and white tile floors, and the twitch in his fingers recedes.
“All I’m saying is,” Dee continues, unaware, “You should talk to him. What better time is there?”
“But then who will be pathetic with you in corners?”
Dee scoffs, sticking his nose in the air. “I’m a big boy, Logan, I’m perfectly capable of being pathetic all on my lonesome.”
Logan smiles a little at that, but before he can respond, Dee’s gaze drifts over Logan’s left shoulder and his face lights up like a Christmas tree. “Wow, incredible, would you look at that,” he trills, looking worryingly delighted, “I must be going.” He springs up from his seat and darts away, messing up Logan’s hair as he goes.
Logan, scowling, twists around to see where he’s heading, and finds himself face-to-face with Roman. One hand is in his pockets, the other holds a cup, and he’s rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
“Hey,” Roman says.
“Uhhh,” says Logan intelligently. “Hi. Having fun?”
He shrugs. “S’alright. He shakes out his shoulders. “It’s hot in here, wanna go outside?”
Logan is a stupid, powerless fool, so he follows Roman as he ducks around the clusters of people in the living room, down the hall a few meters, and out a sliding glass door onto a balcony overlooking the backyard. There’s a tipped-over bowl of Doritos on a little iron table, but it’s otherwise unoccupied. Roman slams the door shut and leans heavily against it.
He beams up at Logan, his smile loose and broad and warm. “Hey,” he says again.
Logan frowns. “You already said hi. Are you drunk? What is that?”
“It’s water.” He sticks it under Logan’s nose. It’s clear, but it could be vodka, though Logan supposes Roman isn’t really a neat drink kind of guy. Perhaps sensing his hesitation, Roman prods his face with the edge of the cup and, Logan takes an experimental sip. It is, in fact, water.
“I’m not drunk,” Roman insists, and then rolls his eyes off Logan’s skeptical look. “Fine, tipsy. Just a little. It’s fine, god, Logan,” he smiles, and adjusts Logan’s tie so it lies flat down the center of his chest. “You always worry. Don’t worry. Not about me.”
“I don’t think you should drink anymore,” says Logan.
“Okay, fine,” Roman says. He takes a sip of his water. “That’s probably better. You won’t want to talk to me otherwise. This has been a shit day anyway. God, formal was so shit. Can you believe I was so excited for it when I was a freshman? Bought new shoes and everything. It gets less and less fun every year. I thought it was supposed to be the reverse.”
“I meant ever,” Logan says, even though he knows it’s a dumb thing to say, to ask for.
“I said don’t worry,” Roman says again, and fixes Logan’s tie again, even though it is currently perfectly straight. He smooths out Logan’s lapels, and it’s sweet. He runs his hands from the lapels to Logan’s shoulders and down his arms. Logan wants to say, don’t, don’t, stop it, you don’t want to do that, not with me, not while someone could look out and see you. “I’ll be okay. Bad things don’t happen to everybody, you know. And besides. You’ll look out for me.”
Logan thinks: They happen to everybody I love, though. And, What about when we’re in college. But he says, “Maybe prom will be more fun.”
Roman sighs, looking wistful. “I hope so. J-prom was shit too.”
“I didn’t go,” Logan admits.
“I know,” Roman says. “Wish you had.” He touches Logan’s arms again, closer to the wrists, closer to the hand.
This time Logan really does say, “Stop it.”
Roman’s eyes get bigger. “What?”
“What are you doing?”
Roman frowns. “I don’t know. What are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Logan snaps, and maybe his lip would be wobbling a little, if he was someone else. “I’m—,” he makes an aborted gesture, a wave, a clutch. His fisted hand comes to hang brokenly by his side. He looks down at it and realizes his jacket is too short at the arms. “You know.”
“Yeah,” Roman says, “I know.”
“I don’t get it.” Logan looks at their shoes, almost touching, toe to toe. Logan’s battered brown loafers and Roman’s shiny white Air Force 1s. One shoelace is untied. Absurdly, Logan feels the urge to bend down and tie it for him. Is that weird? Is that what intimacy is? Is that what love is, just wanting to be near someone, to tie their shoe so they won’t trip, to hold their hand in the cab and not let go even when it gets all gross and clammy, and maybe, even, to fix their tie? “Is this some kind of fucking joke? It’s not funny.”
“It’s not a joke,” Roman says. His voice is very quiet. Logan looks up in time to see him glance towards the glass door isolating them, on the balcony, from the rest of the party inside. For a terrible second Logan thinks Roman’s about to leave, but he just walks over to the edge of the balcony and leans against the railing. Cautiously, Logan sidles over to join him, a healthy distance away. The enormous garden spills out below them like something out of a British palace postcard. Logan realizes he has no fucking clue whose house this is.
“It’s so pretty,” Roman says. He traces a finger along the cool metal of the banister, leaving a shining trail of dustless metal in its wake. “I want to have a house with a yard like that. They even have a fountain. Who has fountains?” He sounds almost reverent. It’s the ugliest fucking fountain Logan has ever seen.
“I don’t know,” Logan says, instead of bringing that up, “I don’t even know whose house this is.”
Roman laughs like that was meant to be a joke and falls into silence. “How do you say fountain in French?”
“Doesn’t sound that different.”
Logan huffs. “Well, what is it in Spanish?”
“There you go.”
Another pause. “it’s cool that you speak French.”
Logan shrugs and doesn’t look at him, instead choosing to examine the ugly fountain. It appears to depict a young woman being eaten by a wolf, which is shooting water out of its tail. “I’m really not that good at it.” He’s never been able to shake that latent American drawl.
“I think you’re good.” Roman tips his head back toward the blue-grey expanse above them, starless and tangled with fat, pale clouds.“How about sky?”
“What about sky?”
Roman looks pleased. “In Spanish it’s cielo.”
“They are both Romance languages.”
Roman takes a step toward Logan. “What if I spoke to you in Spanish, and you spoke to me in French? Do you think we could understand each other?”
“Why would we do that?” Logan asks, trying not to look at any one part of him for too long. Liquid brown irises. Butterfly lashes. The single curl falling into the center of his forehead. The edge where his mouth meets his cheek. “We have a common language.”
Roman rolls his eyes. “It’s a thought experiment,” he explains.
Logan likes thought experiments. So he says, “What, you mean for the rest of our lives?”
“Yeah,” Roman says. “What if?”
Logan thinks about it. “Could we use English with other people?”
“Sure,” Roman decides. “Why not. But not with each other.” He hums to himself, a few scattered notes that don’t quite form a melody. “Maybe we’ll go to college together. Maybe in New York. I’ve always wanted to live in New York. We could buy an apartment in the city.” They probably couldn’t, financially, but Logan isn’t quite enough of a dick to point that out.
“A really pretty one,” he says instead. “With big windows. And a fire escape.”
“Yeah,” Roman sighs, wistful. “That would be nice.”
“It would be hard, though,” Logan says. His voice is softer and drier he’d intended. “There’s a lot of stuff that— that wouldn’t make sense.”
“I think after a while it would,” Roman says, also soft. He bites his lip. “I think if you spend that much time with somebody you start to understand them.”
“Do you think you understand me?”
“I think so.”
Roman touches Logan’s arm, again, and this time Logan lets him. He lets him slip his warm hand into Logan’s and tangle their fingers together, and squeeze, and Logan’s heart is pounding, and he is so greedy, so selfish, so terrible. He wants to fold his arms around Roman’s back, and tuck his face into his shoulder, and kiss his hair and his jaw and his lips and live with him in a Manhattan apartment with big windows. He wants them to buy produce together at the supermarket and argue about whether whole wheat or sourdough is better for grilled cheese sandwiches, and then get both and make them in their kitchen on a sunny April afternoon, and say soft things to each other in their own ways, in their own languages, and still have it all make sense.
“I’m tired,” Roman says, sounding petulant and small. “This party sucks. I wanna go home.”
“Okay,” Logan says. “I’ll call an Uber, okay? I’ll ride with you.”
“Okay.” He pulls him back toward the house and moves to slide open the door. Logan snatches his hand away. “What?” Roman frowns at him and reaches out, but Logan shoves his hands in his pockets. “What?”
“Everybody knows that I’m— People will say things,” Logan says. “About you.”
“I don’t fucking care,” Roman insists. “I don’t.”
“It matters to me,” Logan admits. “A little.”
Roman’s face softens. “Okay. That’s okay.”
As soon as they’re outside, shivering shoulder-to-shoulder on the curb, Roman cautiously reaches out and takes his hand again. Logan lets him, but keeps his gaze on his phone and the ETA of their approaching driver. Logan has no idea what a Nissan Sentra looks like, but the street is silent enough that he doubts there will be much question once “Sofie” shows up. He can hear, faintly, the music and the laughter of the party still resolutely chugging along indoors.
“Logan,” Roman says. “Just to be clear.”
Logan, reluctantly, turns to look at him, and wishes he hadn’t. He fights down the overwhelming urge to brush Roman’s hair out of his eyes.
“The thought experiment—” He hesitates. Shuffles his feet. Kicks a pinecone into the street. “It’s not just, like, whatever. I wish… I mean, I want that.”
“I do too,” Logan says quietly. The nice thing to do would be to leave it at that, and let Roman have it, but he can’t, okay, he can’t just do that, he can’t just pretend. He’s so bad at pretending. “But I doubt— I mean. It may not be possible.”
“I know. It’s dumb.” Roman swings their joined hands between them. “But… it is possible for you to go to prom with me.”
Logan raises an eyebrow at him. “Prom isn’t for months.”
“I think we can make it,” Roman says.
“Obviously,” Logan sniffs, trying to sound haughty but unable to keep himself from smiling, “I’m just surprised you’re not employing a marching band.”
“Oh, obviously, I will stage a flashmob,” says Roman, grinning, “And it will be spectacular, and we will win the ask contest and get those sweet, sweet free tickets, and that is a threat.”
Logan tucks his phone into his pocket, screws up his courage, steps a bit closer, and touches Roman’s face. It’s a little awkward. He feels really stiff and stupid, but he skates the pad of his thumb over Roman’s cheekbone and Roman’s eyes go very wide, so perhaps he hasn’t totally embarrassed himself.
“Roman,” he says, and then completely loses his nerve. “Um. Can I— um. How do you say ‘kiss me’ in Spanish?”
Roman makes a stifled gargling noise. “Bésame,” he manages.
“If you insist,” Logan says, and leans in, inwardly clapping himself on the back because that’s the best thing he’s ever fucking said in his life and ever will say. Great, he’s peaked in high school.
Roman’s mouth is hot and his lips are soft but slightly chapped, and his hand is twisted in the back of Logan’s blazer. It’s a short kiss, almost chaste, but Logan’s not really mad when Roman pulls back. He figures he’ll have many more chances, later. In the next few months, and at prom, and who knows, maybe, someday, over sourdough grilled cheeses in a sunny New York kitchen.