The first time Shitty sees Lardo, he doesn’t think twice about the tiny girl with the bad haircut. It’s morning practice, he’s more than a little hungover, and he has no attention to spare for anything that isn’t avoiding getting checked into the boards or not throwing up all over the ice.
That all changes, of course, when she pulls out a clipboard, climbs up onto the bench, and starts screaming.
“I’m your new team manager,” she yells, “you can call me Larissa, and no, I’m not happy that it’s 6am either. Get over it. Come find me after practice because I have a fuckton of paperwork I need to take care of, and I’m not going to hunt you guys down to do it.” She coughs, suddenly looking embarrassed and nervous again, and climbs off the bench. “Carry on,” she says, and tucks her long shiny hair behind her ears.
By this point, Shitty might be paying a little attention.
He finds her after practice, and not only because he’s a little afraid of what damage she might wreak with that clipboard if he forced her to hunt him down for the paperwork. “Hey, so, I have a favor to ask,” he asks her, after signing his customary indecipherable scrawl of a signature on about ten different release forms.
“Okay,” she says, and she still looks a little nervous but her voice doesn’t hint at that unsurety even a tiny bit. “What’s the favor?”
“Don’t tell anyone my name, please,” he asks, and she blinks.
“Do they not … already know?”
“Not my legal name,” he says. “Look, it’s not a huge deal but I’d just be more comfortable if we could keep it between us, if at all possible.”
“This is just a work-study, honestly,” she tells him bluntly. “I don’t care either way. It was this or serving chicken nuggets in the caf, and this paid better. You are chicken nuggets to me, B. Knight. Luckily for you, I like chicken nuggets.”
“Does that mean—“
“Yes, dude,” she says softly, and smiles. “I won’t tell anyone. Look, okay, I don’t even have to know if you don’t want me to. You’re on the roster and everything as B. Knight, and while I totally could go through the other paperwork and look for it, I promise I won’t. It’ll be your secret.”
“Thank you,” Shitty tells her sincerely. “You can call me Shitty, by the way.”
“You have got to be kidding,” she snorts, but grins at him. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Shitty.” She punches him on the shoulder, almost falling off the bench when she does so, and he barely feels it through his hockey pads, but that’s when he falls the tiniest bit in love with her.
November 2012 – April 2015
It only gets worse from there.
“God,” Shitty says despondently, and drapes his upper body across the kitchen table like a teddy bear with its stuffing falling out, “I’m going to miss you all so much.”
“I know, bro,” Ransom says sympathetically, and pats him on the head, “we’re going to miss you too.”
“Dude, don’t worry,” Lardo says, and pokes him gently in the shoulder, “Harvard isn’t that far, and I’ll be back and forth on the red line all the time. You won’t have time to miss me, because I’ll be harassing you non-stop like the annoying little shit I am.”
“Aww, Lardo,” Shitty says, feeling his heart melt a little, “babe, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Lardo blushes slightly and tugs at the sleeves of her sweater. “I’m doing it for me, not for you,” she maintains, “I couldn’t care less about whether you miss me, it’s just that I won’t know how to get by without your daily rants on national politics. Purely selfish motivations, obviously.”
“You can’t fool me that easily,” Shitty says with a grin, and sits up so he can reach over to ruffle Lardo’s hair, loving how soft the messy strands are as they slip between his fingers. “I knew there was a reason I was in love with you.”
Lardo laughs and shoves him away, shaking her head until her hair falls back into place. “You’re such a …” she starts to say, and then pauses, and the smile slowly slips off her face.
“Wait,” Lardo says suddenly, “you’re in love with me?”
Shitty feels the tiniest bit trapped. “Um, yes?”
“Like, love love?” Lardo asks.
“I mean, yeah,” Shitty admits, “like, not exclusively. You’re my best friend so I love you like my best friend, but I also love you in almost every other way and yeah, that includes romantically.”
“Whoa,” Lardo says, and stares down at her drink. “How - how long?” she asks, as though she doesn’t really want to hear the answer.”
“I dunno for sure,” Shitty tells her, “but probably since the first time I met you.”
“Fuck,” Lardo says softly, looking like she’s just had the wind knocked out of her. Shitty doesn’t know how to react to this, so he waits. “Bro,” Lardo says eventually, voice dead serious, “that’s like … seriously uncool.”
“I thought you knew,” he tells her, and he can hear the hurt and the surprise in his own voice. Shitty feels a little bit like he’s been punched in the face. He’d anticipated a lot of different reactions to this—indifference, mostly, or mild surprise, and maybe, in his wildest dreams, Lardo being delighted and telling him she was in love with him too—but this angry disappointment hadn’t been one of them.
“I’m sorry,” he says desperately, even though he’s not sure exactly where he went wrong, but Lardo just shakes her head and frowns.
“Not now, Shitty,” she says quietly. “I’m going to go back to my dorm. I need some space.”
“Okay,” Shitty says helplessly, “walk safe, I guess.”
Lardo just smiles sadly at him and walks out the front door.
“Yikes, bro,” Ransom says, leaning in through the kitchen doorway. “What was that?”
“I dunno,” Shitty says heavily, and sighs. “I fucked up, I guess.”
“By being in love with Lardo?” Ransom asks. “What’s wrong with that? Also, I can’t believe she didn’t know you were in love with her, you tell her like six times a day.”
Shitty shrugs. “I broke the bro code,” he tells Ransom. “It’s like, totally not buddies to fall in love with your best friend.”
“Yeah, but I mean, everyone does it at some point,” Ransom counters, “I know I’ve been there,” and, wait, what? Is he talking about Holster? Shitty is so going to come back to that one.
Later, though. Not right now.
Right now he’s going to go sulk on the biohazard couch, because he’s a terrible friend who doesn’t deserve the non-biohazard couch, and also probably eat a slice of pie. In terms of coping mechanisms, Shitty could be doing a lot better but he could also be doing a lot worse.
Shitty’s phone rings right after he settles down onto a mildly disgusting green cushion with a slice of lemon meringue. It’s Lardo. He picks up.
“You fell in love with me the first time you met me?” she asks, with absolutely no preamble.
“Only a tiny bit,” Shitty tells her. “The rest came later, when I got to actually, like, know you.”
“Huh,” Lardo says, and it’s a tiny noise. Speculative. “But the first time you met me, you didn’t know anything about me. I was a weird freshman. I think I had bangs, Shitty.”
Shitty grins just thinking about it. “Fuck yeah, you did.”
“Okay, dude,” Lardo says, “but it was seriously not a good look.”
“What can I say? I’ve got fucked up taste,” Shitty says. “And like—okay, you’ve definitely had much better hairstyles in the time I’ve known you, but—you were still you. I’d only known you for like three minutes but I could tell you were fun, and weird as hell, and that you didn’t give a fuck what I thought about you, and I thought that was so goddamn cool. And I still do, I guess.”
Lardo is quiet for a long moment; Shitty can hear the creak of her bedsprings as she flops down on her mattress in frustration, as she tends to do. “Okay,” she says eventually, “I give up. What do you even want from me?”
Shitty blinks to himself in confusion. “Want from you? I don’t want anything.”
“Okay, Shitty, that’s obviously not true,” Lardo says shortly. “You’re in love with me. That means you want something.”
“I mean,” Shitty begins, unsure and confused, “obviously I would like it if you also had feelings for me, but I’m not expecting anything from you. If you don’t want anything to change, then that’s totally fine with me. All I really want is to stay friends no matter what.”
There’s a long pause, and then - “Is that what this has been this whole time?” Lardo asks, voice breaking. “You just hanging around, waiting for me to let you out of the friendzone?”
“Lardo, what the fuck,” Shitty says, gobsmacked and kind of angry, “you know I don’t believe in the friendzone, right? I’m – I’m not some mouthbreathing Nice Guy who’s just waiting for you to cave to my questionable charms and put my dick in your mouth – I mean, I do breathe through my mouth, but that’s not. That’s not the fucking point. Yeah, I love you, Lardo, but more than that, I really really like you. And it’s not that I wouldn’t be super fucking into dating you, because I’m not going to lie to you. I would be all over that shit. But you’re my best friend in the entire world and I’d give up the chance to date you a hundred times over if it meant we could stay bros. That’s what’s important to me, okay. That you’re happy.”
Shitty hears Lardo swallow, hard. “You’ll stay, then?” she asks, voice barely louder than a whisper. “No matter what I say, you won’t just leave and forget about me?”
“The only way I’m ever leaving is if you explicitly tell me to,” Shitty says, “Lardo, you don’t seriously think I would treat you like that, do you?”
“I guess I don’t know anything anymore,” she says, voice sad, and hangs up.
Shitty sits on the couch for a long moment, listening to the dead air on the other end of the phone line and hating everything, and then he makes a decision. He needs Jack for this.
“No pants then no bed, Shits! I’m serious this time!” Jack yells as Shitty bursts in through his bedroom door and flings himself down onto Jack’s mattress, and Shitty is totally wearing boxers, thank you very much. Boxers count as pants, it’s definitely a thing.
“I’m just a brah tryna tell his brah about his day,” Shitty drawls, bitter and sad, and Jack looks at him for a second, intense and piercing, before he stands up to close the door.
“I guess I’ll allow it just this once,” Jack says, unexpectedly kindly, and grabs his desk chair and flips it around, straddling it with typical Canadian grace while still staring at Shitty. “Hey, Shitty, are you okay? You seem a little … off. Do you want to … talk about it?” Jack finishes, stiff and awkward but well-intentioned, and Shitty knows he was right to come here and talk to his best friend.
“I’m in love with Lardo,” Shitty tells him despondently, and tries to smother himself with one of Jack’s pillows. It doesn’t work.
“Oh God in heaven, please no,” Jack says slowly, after a long moment, “did you – did you not know that? We all assumed you were aware of your thing for her, but – I mean, if this is some sort of new revelation then—”
“What?” Shitty snorts. “Nah dude, of course I knew; I’ve known since day one. And everyone else knew, obviously, because it’s not like I’m subtle about it. No, the issue is that Lardo didn’t know, and then Ransom told her and now she’s pissed as hell at me.”
“Oh, thank God,” Jack says, and then frowns at himself, “I mean, that’s still not good, though. Why is she mad?”
“Because she thinks I think she’s friendzoning me,” Shitty says. “Which is absolutely fucking absurd, for the record. I’m a Woman’s and Gender Studies major, I know that the friendzone is a misogynist construction invented by bitter, rejected men. I turned in a twenty page essay on that last week, for fuck’s sake.”
“Does Lardo know you think that?”
“Yes,” Shitty says frustratedly, “because we have had multiple conversations about it over the years, plus she proofread my essay, plus I told her how I felt about it over the phone just now. I just don’t understand how she could be so untrusting of me, Jack. I know she’s really hurting now and that’s my fault, but I am also really hurt because of her, so everything just pretty much sucks all around.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, “I don’t really – I mean, Shitty, I’m not good at this part. Like, people and feelings and talking about your feelings to the people you have them about? Seriously not a thing that I am good at.”
“No fucking shit,” Shitty says, with a nasty half-laugh, and Jack frowns at him.
“Okay, first, rude, man,” he says, “I know you’re upset but that doesn’t give you a free pass to be a dick to me. And secondly, I wasn’t finished. I may not be good at the talking to people about feelings, but often it’s the only thing to be done and I’m pretty sure that for you it’s the only way you have out of this mess. I can’t tell you what to say or how to say it but, Shitty, just be honest and it’ll all work out. You’re great and Lardo’s great and I’ve had to personally prevent Ransom and Holster from setting up a betting pool on when you two are getting together three separate times.”
Shitty blinks at him. “Three times?”
“I’m pretty sure they succeeded the fourth,” Jack admits, “but I just didn’t have the time to worry about it anymore, the season was picking up. Seriously though, Shitty. It’s not easy, but you’ve gotta do it.”
“You’re saying there’s no easy way out and that I have to handle myself like a real actual adult who possesses some modicum of dignity,” Shitty says glumly, muffled through the pillow.
“More or less,” Jack agrees.
“Here’s the thing though, Jack,” Shitty says, sitting up and letting the pillow fall onto the floor, “I’m only technically an adult and I’ve met circus clowns with more dignity than me.”
“Well that’s your issue, now isn’t it,” Jack says tartly, “stop dropping my things on the floor, you’ll get them all dirty,” and that’s how Shitty finds himself shoved rudely out the door with a glare and an encouraging pat on the back from his best friend.
Shitty looks at Bitty’s door consideringly, cracked open an inch, but he decides against it. Jack was supremely unhelpful, but he wasn’t actually wrong.
Shitty’s had enough of emotionally honest conversations for one day, though. It’s time for shower beer.
Shitty is lying on his back on the biohazard couch, naked except for his favorite Star Wars boxers and a Samwell Men’s Hockey hoodie that he’s not so much wearing as holding over his face in a futile attempt to smother himself.
“My life is a sham,” he moans, the words getting lost in the cotton sweatshirt. “Everything I touch turns to absolute garbage, Bits.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Bitty agrees dutifully from where he’s lying on the floor next to the couch, frantically highlighting his English notes. “That’s right, sweetie.”
“You’re not listening to a word I say, are you, Bits.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Bitty agrees.
“I’m offended,” Shitty says, “I really am,” and he’s about to launch into an only mostly joking speech when the doorbell rings.
Shitty stops breathing for longer than humans should probably stop breathing, and then he races to the door, wrenching it open, hoping desperately that it’s Lardo outside and then having no clue how to react when she actually is there.
“Lardo,” Shitty says dumbly.
“Hey, Shits,” Lardo says softly, “can we talk?”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Shitty says, and moves to let her in the front door, but Lardo shakes her head.
“Out here would be better,” she says nervously, “I want some semblance of privacy for this, I think.”
“Oh,” Shitty says, “uh, yeah, let me grab—“
Bitty tosses the abandoned hoodie at his head from across the living room, and he tugs it semi-reluctantly over his head with a grunt of thanks. Shitty steps out onto the front porch, closing the door firmly behind them, and lets Lardo tug him down into sitting on the splintered wood of the front step.
There’s an uncomfortably long pause while they both try to gather their thoughts.
“You first,” Shitty says, and smiles crookedly at Lardo.
“Right.” She takes a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s the thing,” Lardo says, “and don’t fucking freak out or anything, Shits, but I’m kind of in love with you too.”
Shitty has no fucking idea what he had been expecting, but it sure as hell wasn’t this.
“But okay,” Lardo continues, staring down at the tips of her sneakers, “I love you kind of a lot, but I never even dreamed that you could ever love me back. Which I am realizing now was probably a bit purposefully obtuse, but what the fuck ever. It’s just – I think like ninety percent of why I loved you in the first place is because I knew I never even had a shot. You were safe, Shitty.”
“Ninety percent?” Shitty echoes. “Really?”
“Okay, like thirty five max,” Lardo concedes, “whatever. Shut the fuck up, Shits. You were safe because I didn’t want you to think of me romantically. I love you because you never treat me like a girl – or, well, that’s not really true. You don’t treat me like you treat Jack or Ransom or Holster, but that’s fine, because I’m not Jack or Ransom or Holster. But I’m still, like, your bro. I’m your friend Lardo who’s super cool and can kick your ass at flip cup and who also happens to be a girl, and that’s exactly how I like it.
“Earlier, when I said all those things about friendzoning, I didn’t really mean them. I mean, I meant them when I said them but I’ve cooled down since then and I don’t mean them now, not even a little. I know you, Shitty, and I know you’re not like that. It’s just – when you’re friends with someone and then you realize, after a week or a month or three fucking years that they want to date you, you start looking back and just … questioning what was real and what wasn’t. And Shitty, I know that you’re not like that. I know that every single thing that you’ve ever said or done to me was genuine, because you’re so fucking weird like that. But like, even though I know I can count on you to like respect me and shit, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to look at me the same. And I’m – ”
Lardo stops talking for a moment, still staring at her shoes, and when she starts talking again Shitty can hear her voice breaking and he has to practically sit on his hands to stop himself from reaching out to comfort her.
“And I’m in love with you,” Lardo continues, “but I never wanted you to love me back. Because I was always worried that if you loved me then you’d start seeing Larissa, some cute funny girl, instead of Lardo your best friend. And it’s not that I mind being Larissa, because I don’t. I like being Larissa. But not – not all the time, and not with you. She’s not yours, and I don’t want you to expect her, because that’s jut not in the cards.”
Shitty looks at her for a long moment, at her messy hair and paint-smudged hands and wide hazel eyes, and he doesn’t bother to keep the sappy fondness out of his voice, because he’s sure it’s a futile effort at this point anyway. “Lardo,” he says softly, “Lardo, babe, you can be a beautiful girl and my best friend at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive—you don’t have to like, pick. But at the same time – if you don’t want me because you’re worried about me, like, treating you differently? I won’t. I mean, I think you’re beautiful all the time, and I can’t promise that I can stop thinking you’re beautiful all the time. I’m not saying that artist Larissa isn’t awesome, because that’s a lie - I really like artist Larissa and I would really like to make out with artist Larissa, but Lardo is my best friend in the entire world and I’m kind of hopelessly in love with her so… that’s kind of the end of the line for me.”
Lardo opens her mouth to say something, but then closes it again and just looks at him, eyes wide and startled and hopeful.
Shitty looks at her and swallows nervously, and then continues, “You’re still gorgeous when you kick my ass at flip cup and you’re still my bro when you spend three hours painting your nails and you’re absolutely fucking incandescent when you’re out in the backyard working on some installation. I love you because you’re my friend, not despite it, and—shit, Lardo. I’m doing a really bad job of explaining this. It’s just—I just really—“
“Shitty,” Lardo cuts him off, and there’s a tiny smile on her face, “stop. I get it. You love me, I love you, we’re ride or die for each other for forever. All that sappy shit.”
“Yeah,” Shitty agrees, “that does pretty much cover it.”
“So,” Lardo says, and licks her lips nervously, “I’m sorry I flipped out before, that wasn’t cool, but in my defense, it was kind of a lot to deal with. So here’s the thing—I’m in if you’re in.”
“I’m in as fuck,” Shitty says immediately.
“Good,” Lardo says softly, “because I’m going to kiss you now,” and then she’s leaning up and pressing her lips against his.
One of her hands is on his shoulder and the other is on his knee, and he can feel her eyelashes brushing his cheekbones, and she smells like paint thinner and French fries, and this kiss is, quite literally, the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
She leans in closer and Shitty dares to put one hand on the dip of her waist, rubbing a thumb gently across the sharp angle of her hipbone. His other hand goes to cup her elbow and Lardo licks into his mouth, hot and wet and intense. She bites at his bottom lip and Shitty makes a really embarrassing noise and it’s fucking excellent.
Of course, that’s when the porch lights flicker off and back on again, and they hear Ransom shout out the open kitchen window, “Get it, Shits!”
It’s followed by a brief scuffling noise, a muffled ‘ouch, you fucker!’, and then Holster shouts “Get it, Lardo!” at least twice as loudly as Ransom had. Shitty is pretty sure the lacrosse bros across the street heard him. Shitty is pretty sure that his great-aunt in Iowa heard him, actually.
Lardo laughs and drops her forehead onto Shitty’s shoulder. “I guess that’s a hint for us to move this elsewhere,” she says, voice muffled in Shitty’s hoodie. He just smiles down fondly and presses a gentle kiss to the crown of her head. They stay like that for a moment, just sitting there in each other’s presence, and it’s so fucking good. The scent of Lardo’s strawberry shampoo is overpowering the smell of paint thinner, and for probably the thousandth time in his twenty-two years on this planet, Shitty wants to get her alone and blow her fucking mind.
The difference is, now there’s actually half a chance that she’ll let him.
“So here’s the thing,” Shitty says, voice coming out a little rough, “I want to take this slow.”
Lardo blinks. “That’s—that’s fine, I guess,” she says, “slow is probably a good idea—“ and Shitty cuts her off.
“I want to take this slow,” he repeats, “and take you out to some really fancy dinner, and make you a mix cd and hold your hand while we watch the sun set over the river. But I also want to take you up to my bedroom and go down on you for like 45 minutes, until you’ve come at least four times and you’re absolutely fucking wrecked. But I’d be cool with either of those things, so like, it’s up to you.”
Lardo looks at him, eyes going wide and dark. She licks her lips. “Yeah, let’s go for the second one,” she says decisively, “you can buy me food some other time, that sounds pretty good, come on—“
Shitty laughs as Lardo tries to pull him to his feet by the neck of his sweatshirt. “All right, all right, hold your horses,” he says, standing and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, reveling in the fact that he gets to touch her like this.
“I told you to move, bro,” Lardo says, and smacks him on the ass. Shitty’s life is truly excellent.
“Wait, so Shitty,” Lardo says, after, her head resting on his bare chest, “what actually is your real name?”
He looks down at her, surprised. “You never looked?” he asks. “You’ve had access to the official roster and stuff for like three years.”
“I wanted to,” Lardo admits, “but you asked me not to. I wasn’t gonna violate your trust like that.”
“Oh,” Shitty says, “I always just assumed you checked.”
“Nope,” Lardo says, popping the final syllable, “not even a peek. You’re Shitty Knight forever to me, baby.”
Shitty grins, and then reaches over to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, suddenly serious. “If you really want to know, I’ll tell you,” he says.
“Names … are important,” Lardo says, and Shitty can hear from her tone of voice that she really does know, she really does get it. “You don’t have to tell me, obviously, I’m just—“
Shitty cuts her off. “No, it’s okay. I’ll tell you.” Because the thing is, Lardo made her own name too, created a second self out of a nickname and a work-study and a lot of epic friendships, just like he made himself out of a joke and a team and an excruciating family history. Shitty once thought that there would be never be anyone who ever fully understood how deeply he wanted to be someone other than who he was, but he realizes now how foolish and naïve that was.
Nobody ever wants to be who they’re supposed to be, and everyone around him is constantly, actively reinventing themselves with every joke, every smile, every new introduction. The only difference between them and Shitty is that he’s more intentional about it than most of the rest of humanity – but even then, he’s far from unique on this planet, at Samwell, even on the team. Lardo, among a short list of others, understands fundamentally who Shitty is and who he isn’t, and Shitty would trust her with basically anything. Shitty trusts her with this.
“You have to promise not to laugh,” he warns her.
“I promise,” Lardo says immediately. “Come on, Shits, I would never.”
“I know, babe,” he says, “I just had to make sure.” He takes a deep breath, and kisses her lightly on the forehead, steeling himself for the truth.
Shitty tells her.
She doesn’t laugh.