Chapter Thirty-Eight: “Happy birthday, Sweet-cheeks!”

Robin got invited to Finch’s surprise twenty-fifth birthday party on New Year’s Eve by some guy named Gord, who tracked him down on Facebook. Supposedly, Gord was one of Finch’s roommates. He had used the phrase, “as I’m sure you know, I’m Finch’s roommate” in the private message he had sent. Robin had not known that Finch had a roommate named Gord. He hadn’t even known that Finch had any roommates at all. Gord, as it appeared from his profile picture, was a dark-haired twenty-something dude with a Freddie Mercury mustache and a deep love of The Eagles. In his message, Gord gave the date, the time, and the address of the apartment where he lived with Finch. Robin wanted to go if only to see where Finch lived. In his mind, he pictured an apartment painted entirely in black or maybe a cave. As it turned out, the apartment was nothing like that, which was probably for the best.

Robin went to the party with Tallulah, who had also been Facebook messaged by Gord. No one else from the record store had been invited, which made sense because Chuck was their fifty-five year old boss, Penelope was a teenager, and Evan was the worst. At the same time, as Tallulah so readily pointed out, Robin wasn’t sure that they were all as close as Gord made it seem. From the sounds of it, Gord had invited only Finch’s closest friends to his surprise party. That was another reason Robin had so readily agreed to attend; being referred to as one of Finch’s closest friends when he hadn’t even realized he was one of Finch’s closest friends instilled a fairly heavy sense of guilt and obligation.

“I didn’t realize we were so close,” Tallulah said as they took the subway toward Finch’s building together. “I mean, he’s only made me butter squares one time. He ignores me a lot of the time.”

Robin, who was arguably closer to Finch, having spent more time with him outside of work, also didn’t feel like they were particularly close.

“It’s because he has a crush on you,” Robin told her, mostly to see the horrified look on her face.

They emerged from the subway stop together and began walking toward the building. Tallulah hadn’t bothered to pay attention to the address when she’d received the message invite, which left Robin in charge of directions.

“My friend Jacklyn lives in this building,” Tallulah said as they approached their destination. Robin continued to lead the way inside and up the stairs at the far end of the lobby.

“Uh, my friend Jacklyn lives on this floor,” Tallulah said as Robin pushed open the stairwell door to the eighth floor. He walked down the hall and stopped in front of the apartment Gord had specified in his messages.

“Oh my God, Hot Neighbour,” Tallulah whispered, stunned, as Robin knocked on the door. It made no sense to him so he continued to ignore her. A moment later, the door in front of them was pulled open to reveal Gord in all his mustached glory, wearing a black button-down shirt that had roses embroidered on the breast pockets. He grinned at them, stepping aside to let them in.

“How’s it going?” He greeted them brightly. “I’m Gord. Finch’ll be here in about fifteen minutes. Amare’s taken him for drinks.”

He said all this like they should know who Amare is. Robin nodded, not sure what else to do, and looked around at Finch’s home. It was nonsensically bright inside. The couch was a rust orange, there was a blue bookshelf in one corner of the living room, and the chairs shoved around the small, circular kitchen table had been painted kelly green. There were two bikes hanging on racks on the wall by the front door and a haphazard pile of shoes underneath. There was a record player next to the TV, which was playing Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. There were a handful of other guests already gathered in the living room, casually drinking beer and chatting merrily to one another. There was a small, black kitten curled up in a ball on the back of the couch. It was so far removed from what Robin had been expecting that he was literally left speechless.

“Oh my God, your roommate is here,” Tallulah hissed to him as they started to take off their boots and coats. It was half-question, half-accusation.

“What?” Robin asked, turning to her before scanning the crowd to follow her gaze. “What.”

She was right. Joey was standing next to one of the living room windows, chatting to his cousin Vinny.

“Jesus, he’s found someone even sketchier than him to hang out with,” Tallulah continued, whispering so as not to draw the attention of Gord, not that it likely would’ve mattered. Gord was too busy shouting at someone named Gavin about beer to notice what they were doing.

“That’s his cousin Vinny,” Robin answered in a daze. He was still stuck on the fact that Joey had somehow also been invited to Finch’s surprise birthday party. He was wearing his black ripped jeans and a white t-shirt with his gold chain. Robin was amazed that he wasn’t wearing a tank top. He had dressed up for Finch’s surprise birthday party. It was like entering the Twilight Zone.

“His cousin Vinny looks like he just escaped from prison,” Tallulah remarked. She wasn’t exactly wrong. Vinny was taller than Joey, less thin, but still wiry. He had greying, perpetually messy black hair and greying, scruffy facial hair. He didn’t dress exclusively in white tank tops, but he had equally as ratty jeans and he was only wearing one sock.

“He may have,” was Robin’s reply.

“Hey, dipshit!” Joey called to him across the apartment, waving at him and grinning like he was about to devour a small, helpless woodland creature.

“Oh dear God,” Tallulah said flatly. Robin waved back weakly, but generally shared her sentiment.

Ten minutes later found them shoved into a dark corner, listening to the sound of a key being turned in the lock of the front door. Gord had stopped the record, turned off all the lights, and told everybody to hide two minutes previously because Finch and Amare, whoever the hell that was, were on their way up from the lobby. Robin had a brief moment to contemplate how much Finch would actually enjoy being surprised on his birthday before the door was being pushed open and everyone in the apartment was yelling “surprise” and cheering. Finch looked about as pleased as expected, which was to say not at all. Robin could hear Joey laughing maniacally from across the living room.

“Are you surprised?” Gord asked Finch as he began kicking off his motorcycle boots, generally ignoring his supposedly closest friends who had come to celebrate his birth.

“No, dumbass,” Finch answered. “I heard you and Amare talking about this three days ago.”

Gord only laughed, not at all upset.

For the next twenty minutes or so, Robin and Tallulah hung around awkwardly on the periphery together. The issue was that they weren’t actually Finch’s closest friends, despite Gord’s misunderstanding. They didn’t know anything about his other life outside of work. For instance, Robin had been unaware that Finch and Joey were so close. It seemed like something he should’ve known. Apparently Joey had given Finch a cat. He hadn’t known about that either and it bothered him for some reason.

Eventually, after spending quite a bit of time with his real friends, roommates included, Finch made his way over to Tallulah and Robin. He stopped in front of them, holding a beer in one hand, the other shoved deep in his front pocket. He was glowering, but that was his resting facial expression so there was a very good chance he was actually overjoyed.

“Happy birthday,” Tallulah said to him after a long, silent moment. She threw up her arms to halfheartedly jazz-hand. Finch stared at her for another long moment, then nodded.

“And happy New Year,” Robin added, mostly just for something to say. He could see Joey petting the cat he’d given Finch out of the corner of his eye and it was quickly becoming unsettling.

“Thanks, man,” Finch said to him, offering a half-smile. Robin saw Tallulah’s mouth drop open in shock. He mentally urged her to close it because it wouldn’t do anything to make the situation less awkward. It was already so uncomfortable. There would be no coming back. Maybe if one of them caught on fire or dropped dead. Robin was searching frantically for something to say and coming up empty. Dropping dead was beginning to look increasingly preferable. And then Joey joined them, his cousin Vinny trailing behind him.

“Hey, bitches!” Joey greeted them, throwing an arm around Robin and Finch’s shoulders, tugging them into his personal space as per usual. Tallulah looked offended for about thirty seconds before she seemed to realize that he had not in fact been referring to her.

“Hey, bro,” Robin replied, leaning his head to the side so that he wasn’t quite as close to Joey’s face. He could feel his breath.

“We should do some shots,” Joey said. “Really get this party going. Yes? Yes! Vinny, get the vodka.”

“We should do tequila,” Vinny replied, seemingly unbothered that his cousin was effectively sandwiched in a too-long group hug. “It’ll be a better night if we do tequila. Trust me.”

“Jesus fuck, no one trusts you,” Joey said, loosening his grip slightly so that Robin could slip out from underneath his arm. “You’re dodgy as fuck.”

Vinny merely shrugged before sauntering off to grab a bottle of tequila from the kitchen table. He wandered back and handed it over to Joey, who had had his arm around Finch the entire time. Tallulah kept shooting Robin sidelong shocked and confused looks, which Robin was trying to ignore because he really had no answers for her.

“Open wide, bitches!” Joey called, attracting attention from the rest of the party. Then he began pouring tequila into Vinny’s open mouth, moving on to Tallulah next. She looked horrified.

“I might pass this time,” she said, holding up a hand like she thought she may have to physically fight Joey off. He shrugged with one shoulder and turned to Robin instead, who opened his mouth and let Joey attempt to drown him in tequila. He choked and Joey laughed wildly at him, eyes shining and smile vicious. Finch was next.

“Happy birthday, Sweet-cheeks!” Joey exclaimed as Finch swallowed. Then he smacked him on the ass, kissed him full on the mouth, and wandered off to goad strangers into drinking tequila as well, Vinny following after him. Tallulah stared at the place where he’d been, eyes wide in shock. Finch wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Your roommate’s insane,” he told Robin.

“Yeah,” Robin nodded, watching Joey wrap an arm around Gord’s shoulders. Finch didn’t actually seem all that bothered that Joey was insane. Joey had been invited to his surprise birthday party. He’d given Finch a cat. Robin didn’t know what to do with any of that information. It had been an extremely bizarre night thus far. It was just another example from his life that could be used in a PSA about living with strangers found on the internet.

“I’m so confused,” Tallulah hissed a little while later while Finch was distracted.

“I’m amazed that Joey doesn’t have mono all of the time,” was Robin’s response.

“I’m amazed he’s only punched in the face as much as he is,” Tallulah replied. “It seems like he should be hit way more frequently.”

Robin couldn’t disagree with that. And she didn’t even know Joey sold drugs from his backpack in a Best Buy parking lot for a living.

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