Chapter Fifteen: “We’re all going to get mono”

Robin threw himself a birthday party in his apartment. He invited almost everybody he knew, including everybody he worked with, all of his friends, and Joey, who would be there even if he got an invite or not because it was being held in his home. Joey thrived at parties, which wasn’t the least bit surprising to Robin. For one thing, he assumed parties were just a natural setting for drug dealers, like how lions took to the Serengeti. He was also a lot of fun. He handed out shots like they were water, chose aggressively loud playlists, and chatted with literally anybody who happened to find themselves near him. Robin was half-convinced that Joey could carry on a full hour-long conversation with a tree stump and still come away charmed.

On the specific day of the party, Joey had come home earlier in the afternoon with a split lip, a bloody nose, and a spectacular black eye. Before Robin had discovered that Joey was dealing crack out of his 1997 Toyota, he had wondered what exactly Joey was doing to get himself beaten up so frequently. It made a hell of a lot more sense now. The state of his face did nothing to staunch Joey’s excitement for the party, though. He still wandered around pouring people drinks and chatting to Robin’s co-worker Evan while everybody else ignored him.

“Your roommate looks a little worse for wear,” Tallulah commented to Robin at one point. She had come with her older sister and roommate Priscilla. Robin had only met Priscilla once before, but he’d seen many Snapchats of the two of them together. No amount of visual exposure would ever help him differentiate between them. Despite the one year age gap, they could’ve been twins for how similar they looked, dressed, and acted.

“A little, yeah,” Robin admitted. It was an understatement for sure. Joey looked like he’d been tortured for information. Throughout the day, his black eye had worsened to a deep plum colour. It made his eyes look even more sunken than normal. Joey was not a healthy-looking man at the best of times.

“People are always punching him in the face,” Tallulah continued, clearly thinking back on the stories Robin had told her. “He must be very unpopular.”

Robin didn’t reply. He guessed it was more likely a result of him being too popular with certain people.

A little while later, Robin found himself opening his apartment door for his co-worker Finch. He’d invited him, because he’d invited everyone at the record store, but he had definitely not expected him to show up. Finch looked about as pleased at being there as Robin was shocked. He looked like someone had murdered one his loved ones in front of his face and was now on the long drawn-out quest for vicious revenge. All in all, it was a pretty typical expression for Finch. Robin wondered if Finch was under some sort of directive from a court-appointed therapist to socialize more. He seemed like the kind of person who both had a court-appointed therapist and who didn’t get enough socialization.

“Hey,” Robin greeted him, sounding more stunned than he’d been hoping he would. “You came.”

“Yeah,” Finch replied, looking like it pained him to speak at all. “Happy birthday.”

Not a single note of inflection or enthusiasm. Robin admired his dedication to brooding.

“Oh thanks,” he nodded, holding out the door a little further and stepping aside to let Finch into the apartment. He was hoping Joey would wander by soon so that Robin could foist Finch off on him. If there was anybody who would be able to hold a conversation with Finch and his incredible reticence, it was Joey.

“Here,” Finch said, thrusting a small, wrapped package into Robin’s hands. Then he cleared his throat and walked away further into the apartment. He kept his leather jacket on. Robin looked down at his hands, startled, and then walked over to where he’d left his beer with Oscar and Bear.

“I want to lie down,” Oscar moaned. As it was, he was leaning against the kitchen wall, slouching so much Robin was surprised he was stilling upright.

“You have to spend some of your life standing,” Bear returned blandly. Robin ignored them both and tore open the package. It was a plastic bag of Nanaimo bars. There was a card that read, “Happy birthday. Hope it’s a good one”. He wasn’t even enthusiastic in writing. He looked up, scanning the party for Finch’s buzzed head. He caught sight of him standing alone in a corner of the living room. Robin felt weirdly bad about abandoning him now. It was an odd sensation. Finch didn’t normally illicit pity. He thought about going over to talk to him, but he also thought about all the things they didn’t have in common. He had no idea what they’d talk about. Tallulah had told him about her owned strained conversation about baked goods with Finch. He couldn’t imagine his own going much better.

“I could probably lie down next to the couch,” Oscar continued, scanning the apartment as well, but for an entirely different reason.

“No,” Bear retorted mildly, then turned to Robin. “Gift?”

“Yeah, from my co-worker Finch,” Robin explained. “Prior to this exact moment, I thought he hated me.”

“Maybe he does,” Oscar replied. “Maybe he’s trying to poison you.”

Briefly, Robin wondered if Finch was bothered that several veritable strangers assumed he was capable of poisoning someone.

“Or maybe he just thought you’d like Nanaimo bars,” Bear offered, interjecting.

“Maybe,” Robin agreed, though he wasn’t sure if he really believed it.

Later in the evening, after about five more beers, Robin decided he would go and try to have a conversation with Finch after all. He still felt slightly bad and the Nanaimo bars were delicious. Plus, Finch had been stuck in a conversation vortex with Evan for about an hour, a fate that Robin wouldn’t wish upon his worst enemy. Evan only had four points of conversation; his love for Finger Eleven, dirt bikes, that one time he went to Cuba on vacation, and pit bulls. Robin knew from experience that there was only so much time one person could spend listening to someone talk about how magical their all-inclusive Cuban getaway was before they were brought to an extreme point of rage. Robin also figured Finch’s threshold was significantly lesser than almost everybody else’s.

“How do you feel about Highly Suspect’s latest single?” Robin asked as he approached Finch, launching into the middle of a conversation and cutting Evan off mid-sentence. Forgoing all small talk and polite social niceties seemed like a good move when dealing with Finch. Finch actually smiled at him for about a millisecond so it was apparently a good move.

“I don’t like it as much as ‘Lydia’, but that’s to be expected I think,” Finch answered. Robin barely heard, too busy reveling in the fact that he had actually managed to make Finch smile. He swore he could hear tiny cartoon chipmunks singing a cheery tune about friendship. This, he assumed, was what it felt like to be a Care Bear. Or the Grinch in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. Getting Finch to smile and actually participate in a conversation willingly made his heart grow three sizes. Robin was just about ready to start braiding them friendship bracelets. Evan, meanwhile, had wandered off to coerce someone else into conversation, a little miffed at being interrupted so blatantly.

“Manchester Orchestra,” Robin blurted when he realized neither of them had spoken in a while and that it was probably his turn to speak. Finch stared at him for a moment, which wasn’t unreasonable. Robin had begun shouting band names at random.

“I don’t listen too much of their older stuff, but Cope is a great album,” Finch said after a long moment of faintly confused staring. Robin marvelled at the fact that Finch was the one keeping the conversation going. He would have to remember to tell Tallulah later. She would never believe him.

“Yeah, ‘Top Notch’ is my favourite off that album,” Robin nodded, pretending valiantly like he hadn’t just been blurting out conversation starters. Finch smiled again and Robin had visions of the world ending; tsunamis, tornados, aliens, aliens riding down to earth in tornados. Even Finch’s smile was threatening and vicious. Robin wondered if Finch’s hypothetical court-appointed therapist had instructed him to smile more as well. If that was the case, they clearly hadn’t seen what Finch’s smile looked like. He smiled like he was purposefully trying to scare children away on public transportation.

Robin thought about what to say next to keep the conversation going, but was having a hell of a time coming up with something. There was a long, awkward pause, which they were thankfully saved from by the arrival of Joey, who burst into their conversation, or lack thereof, with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other.

“Shots, ladies!” He shouted, wrapping an arm around each of their shoulders, drawing them into his personal space whether they wanted to be there or not. Robin didn’t particularly care because he was used to Joey’s unique brand of chaos, but Finch looked a little on edge. His jaw clenched, teeth gritted together as his head was knocked into the side of Joey’s. Joey didn’t appear to be the least bit bothered by this.

“How are we taking these shots, bro?” Robin asked, trying to avoid turning his head to look at Joey because the proximity would either make Joey just a giant bruised blur or he’d end up accidentally kissing him. It left him looking at Finch from about half a foot away. He could see his individual eyelashes. It was closer than he’d been to most people and definitely too close to be to Finch.

“With your mouths,” Joey answered, as if it should’ve been obvious. It then dawned on Robin that Joey meant he was literally just going to pour hard liquor into their open mouths.

“Oh Jesus,” he sighed. “We’re all going to get mono.”

Joey just laughed at him and wagged the bottles back and forth so that the whiskey knocked into Robin’s ear. Robin fully expected Finch to decline and storm away, possibly with an aggressive shove at Joey. Defying all expectations, he opened his mouth and let Joey pour out an excessive amount of vodka. Robin followed suit, too stunned to protest, and ended up choking on the burning sensation the whiskey left behind in his throat. Joey laughed the entire time. He had a wild and vaguely terrifying laugh. It gave off the sense that you were about to be manipulated into doing something you really didn’t want to do, often because you were about to be manipulated into doing something you really didn’t want to do.

“Weak, dickhead!” Joey admonished Robin with a laugh. It was his preferred term of endearment for Robin, who had no idea what he’d done to deserve it. Joey laughed in his face. He had put his arms around both of them again and, if possible, had pulled them even closer. Robin could see the broken capillaries beneath the pale skin under his eye.

“But you’re a champ!” Joey turned to Finch and then, to Robin’s stunned horror, kissed him full on the mouth. Joey pulled away and wandered off to harass someone else before Finch could do anything, such as murder him. Robin had no idea what to say. He was still so close to Finch and more than a little concerned that Finch would lash out at the nearest object. That object was him. He was definitely going to be murdered and all because his insane roommate had kissed his demonic co-worker.

“My roommate is…,” Robin began to explain, but then couldn’t think of anything to say that would actually explain Joey in any accurate or helpful way.

“Friendly?” Finch finished wryly.

“Uh, yeah,” Robin nodded, amazed he wasn’t being at least lightly beaten.

“What do you think about Iggy Pop’s new album?” Finch asked, returning to their previous conversation like nothing had happened and Robin couldn’t think of a single more bizarre moment he’d ever experienced in his entire life, including the moment he’d discovered that Joey was using his car to sell drugs out of the Best Buy parking lot.

The following afternoon, he went to work for his shift. Thankfully he was working with Tallulah because he didn’t think he’d be able to handle an entire afternoon with Finch since their very confusing encounter the night before. He took a seat on the tall chair behind the counter next to where Tallulah was already sitting. She was scrolling through photos on her phone and generally ignoring everything around her, not that there was much going on anyway. The store was barren.

“Finch made me Nanaimo bars,” was the first thing Robin said to her.

“See? Now do you believe me about the butter tart squares?” She demanded in return, looking up from her phone.

“Then we had a conversation about music and my roommate kissed him on the mouth,” Robin continued as if she hadn’t spoken. She gaped at him for a long moment.

“Maybe that’s why your roommate’s always getting punched in the face,” she suggested. It was entirely likely.

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