For the first seven months that Robin lived with Joey, he hadn’t seen Joey invite a single person over to their apartment. It had always struck him as odd given that Joey was such a social person. The more he got to know Joey, however, he assumed it was because all of the people Joey associated with were sketchballs and didn’t invite them over in consideration to Robin. But then, all of a sudden, Joey had people over all the time. More specifically, Joey had his cousin Vinny over all the time.
Vinny was something else entirely. Joey was ridiculous for sure, but Vinny took it to another level. Every single time Robin saw him, he was wearing an Adidas tracksuit. It was always a different Adidas tracksuit granted, which meant that he owned several Adidas tracksuits. It seemed like an insane number of tracksuits for any one person to own if Robin was being honest, but then again it seemed to make up most of Vinny’s wardrobe so perhaps not. Like Joey, Vinny wore a gold chain around his neck all the time and he was frequently visibly bruised. According to Joey, this was because he was always trifling with taken women.
And then Joey started having one of his other cousins over. Her name was Sabrina and she was terrifying. She was a strikingly attractive young woman with a strong nose and more hair than Robin had ever seen on one person in his life. Every shirt she owned appeared to be at least slightly cropped and she had a belly button piercing of a cross. She swore more than Joey and Vinny combined, which was actually quite an impressive feat, and she very, very strongly disliked her brother-in-law Marco. Her older sister Sylvia had gotten married the year before to Marco, who owned his own hair salon and cheated his stylists out of their full commission.
“I hate him, but he’s family,” Sabrina explained it to Robin once, even though he had in no way asked. “He ruined my sister’s hair, though. She used to be beautiful. Now look at her.”
This declaration was followed by a photo on Sabrina’s cell phone of a very similar-looking woman with an enormous perm.
Actually, there were quite a few people Sabrina didn’t like, including her neighbour to the left, her neighbour to the right, sometimes Joey, always Vinny, her nona, who always tried to send her home with pasta, and her ex-boyfriend Todd. From what Robin gathered, Todd had cheated on her, possibly because he had a death wish. He seemed like a spectacular moron. There was not enough money in the world to ever convince Robin to cheat on Sabrina. She had the grip strength of a soccer mom and she said the scariest things, especially about Todd.
“To say I don’t like him would be putting it mildly,” Sabrina told Robin another time when he hadn’t asked. “I want him to be murdered by someone he loves.”
It was an amazingly aggressive sentiment.
One Friday evening, Robin came home from work with Miles to find Joey had set up camp in the living room for the evening with his two cousins. Vinny was hanging out the open living room window, smoking. Robin sort of appreciated the effort to not blatantly smoke inside his apartment, but it was February and consequently frigid. There was actually snow coming inside. He would’ve complained about it if Sabrina hadn’t already been doing that.
“Shut the fucking window, you fucking turd!” She shouted at him, yelling over the sound of the senselessly aggressive techno music Joey had put on. For his part, Joey appeared to be ignoring both of them, texting someone on his phone with one hand and simultaneously holding an ice pack to his cheek with the other.
“Listen, bitch!” Vinny called back to Sabrina, still hanging out the window in his all-grey Adidas tracksuit. “I don’t complain when you paint your nails in my fucking car when I take you to your fucking tennis lessons!”
“First of all, fuckface, it’s pickle ball!” Sabrina shouted. “Secondly, it’s not even your car! You just take it from Nona!”
“Well, it’s not like she’s going to use it! She’s a thousand fucking years old! She can’t even see over the fucking dashboard and she keeps hitting cyclists!” Vinny retorted. He had turned back to the window fully so he was essentially just shouting about his elderly grandmother to the street below their apartment. Miles and Robin were frozen in the doorway, startled. Miles had only taken one arm out of his winter coat.
“What the hell is going on?” Miles hissed to Robin, clearly trying not to draw attention to them. Robin appreciated the effort. He would like to still have the option to back out unseen if things took even more of a turn.
“These are Joey’s cousins,” was Robin’s answer because he didn’t know what the hell was going on and he also didn’t think he could adequately describe either Vinny or Sabrina in the undoubtedly short amount of time they had before someone inevitably noticed they had arrived.
“Good fucking Lord,” Miles breathed, a sentiment Robin wholly understood.
“Alright, assholes, settle down!” Joey interjected a moment later, not looking up from my phone. “My roommate’s home so you have to shove it or shut it.”
He grinned at Robin and Miles briefly.
“Oh, you,” Sabrina said flatly to Robin, which was terrifying.
“Uh, yeah, hi,” he nodded at her, hoping he hadn’t managed to offend her in three words, though it was entirely likely he had. “How’s it going?”
Miles looked at him like he was insane for engaging in conversation. Vinny hauled himself back inside the window, tossing his cigarette butt outside, and slammed the window closed.
“Not bad, bro, not bad,” he replied, ambling over to join them by the door. “Look, I got this deal on TVs. Real good, real good. You want? Trust me, you won’t find a better deal anywhere. I’ll even cut you a family discount.”
Robin was positive he had stolen a bunch of TVs from somewhere.
“Fuck off, Vinny!” Joey called. “I told you, no one trusts sons of bitches like you.”
“I don’t know why,” Vinny sulked.
“You have the face of a bastard,” was Sabrina’s explanation. Vinny threw a coaster at her head, which was definitely a mistake. She lunged at him and Robin grabbed Miles’ coat, trying to shove his freed arm back in the sleeve.
“Let’s go to your place,” Robin said, already backing toward the door.
“Oh my God, yes,” Miles agreed before turning and bolting.
A week later, Robin came home to noise emanating from inside his apartment. Joey apparently had people over. Robin had had a very long day at the record store dodging both Evan and the high school student Penelope, who had clearly decided that she had been being too subtle about her crush on Robin and was now devoting more and more of her time following him around like a lost puppy. All he wanted to do was go to his room and maybe read a bit before heading to bed without fearing for his life or being kept up half the night by the dulcet sounds of Sabrina and Vinny shouting increasingly creative expletives at one another. He sighed deeply, bracing himself, and reached for the doorknob. Just as he was turning it, he realized that Joey wasn’t listening to his usual techno music. Instead, he was listening to Sade. Robin had the horrifying realization that Joey was entertaining someone who was definitely not one of his cousins as he was pushing open the door and it was too late for him to turn back. Joey had romantic company over and Robin was in the middle of walking in on them. Robin at least had half a mind to be pissed that it was happening, whatever it was, in the living room. The song changed to Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You”. Robin gagged.
“Hey, man,” Joey greeted him as Robin tried to look anywhere but at the couch where Joey was sitting. “Want some wine? It’s from Nona’s homemade collection.”
He was being weirdly cavalier about Robin walking in on his tryst. As he busied himself with untying his boots, Robin wondered if it was possible Joey was just drinking wine alone at eleven on a Friday night listening to seductive R&B songs from the ‘90s. It did seem like something Joey would do. He’d probably have to look up at some point to find out. He braced himself for the second time that night and looked over, expecting to find no one or some obviously Italian woman, possibly in animal print. He choked on his own spit. What he had not been expecting was to find Joey casually sitting on their living room couch in his grey track pants and a white tank top, drinking wine next to Finch, who had taken off his leather jacket. Somehow, that was almost the most unbelievable part.
Robin had no idea what to do. Were they friends? Joey had been invited to Finch’s birthday party. Were they more than friends? They were listening to Boyz II Men. Was it actually a date? Joey was wearing sweatpants and he had invited Robin to join, but there was wine. How did Robin feel about this? He felt weird about it. Why? He had no idea. Had “I’ll Make Love to You” always been that long? He had no idea about that either.
“Uh…I don’t want to intrude,” he answered after far too long a pause. Finch frowned at him, as if Robin was somehow the weirdest part of the evening. Joey was already holding out the wine bottle for Robin to take.
“No worries, bro,” he said, which wasn’t really helpful in terms of clarification. Robin took the bottle from Joey’s outstretched hand mostly because he didn’t know what else to do. He poured himself a glass, using one of the juice glasses because they only had two, admittedly mismatched, wine glasses. Then he had to decide where to sit. Joey and Finch were on the couch, but on opposite ends. The one armchair was available, but it was incredibly uncomfortable and he felt like it would be obvious that he was trying to remove himself physically from the situation as much as possible. He’d never felt so awkward in his entire life, including the time he’d watched his grade eight math teacher hit on his mother during a parent-teacher meeting.
“Are you going to sit down?” Finch asked him, raising an eyebrow. He looked like he still thought Robin was being weird, which was fair because he was being weird at that point. Joey patted the space on the couch between him and Finch, leaving Robin no room to contemplate the armchair any further. He sat down with his glass of wine. The song changed to “PILLOWTALK”. Joey started talking about his day. Apparently he’d spent most of it helping Vinny organize their nona’s garage. There was a lot of cursing involved. Robin couldn’t focus on most of the monologue, still trying to figure out what exactly he had walked in on. Finch didn’t make it any easier. He kept shooting Robin confused and increasingly amused looks. Robin made a vow to spend more time away from his apartment.