47: “How did we become friends and what can I do to change it?”

Robin had been invited to a Christmas party at his co-worker Evan’s place. Evan had invited the entire record store staff as a matter of fact. Robin was pleased to have both Finch and Tallulah with him, but he was still dreading spending an entire evening with Evan and his pitbull. Their manager, store owner Chuck, would be there as well, along with Penny, the high school staffer who only worked on weekends. She was very excited about the party, Robin assumed because she was going to an adult party and also because she was infatuated with him and delighted with any time she got to spend with him. He hated that a little bit. Both Tallulah and Finch found it deeply amusing.

Evan lived on the east side of the city with his mother and his pitbull. It was his childhood home. He’d left to go to university, but he’d returned after graduating because he didn’t have the money to live on his own. Robin didn’t begrudge him that. If he thought he could handle living with his mother, he might’ve done that to save money as well. As fate would have it, listening to his mother’s nose whistle on a regular basis was a special kind of hell and so he’d moved out and into rented accommodation with a drug dealer. It was difficult to say which of them were faring the best, though Robin reluctantly felt it might be Evan.

Evan led the way to his place after work one Friday evening. Robin had been working a shift with him and Tallulah. Since the holidays were rapidly approaching, Chuck had begun scheduling three of them for each shift so that they could adequately the Christmas rush. It was completely unnecessary. Finch, Chuck, and Penny met them at the store so that they could all leave together. According to Evan, it was just a short forty minute subway ride.

“Christ, what the hell am I going to say to these people for a forty minute subway ride?” Finch hissed to Robin as everybody gathered their things and got ready to leave.

“You do realize you’re going to have to spend the rest of the evening with them as well?” Robin pointed out shrewdly. He got the impression that that had not in fact occurred to Finch. Watching him come to that realization was very entertaining. He looked truly horrified.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Finch said after a moment. “I don’t want to go.”

Robin gave him a shrewd look, one eyebrow raised. They were thirty seconds from leaving. There was no way of getting out of it now, short of faking some kind of horrible and sudden illness.

“How did we become friends and what can I do to change it?” Finch continued. “I’m not even his friend on Facebook. That’s not real friendship.”

Robin ignored him. If he had to go, so did Finch. There wasn’t a chance in hell that he would be going on his own. It was bad enough that he had to work with Evan on a regular basis. The last thing he wanted was to spend time in his home with his mother and his beloved pitbull.

The subway ride was awkward as predicted. Fortunately, Tallulah had the good sense to insult Fleetwood Mac in favour of Nsync, which sent Chuck on an irate rant for a solid thirty minutes. His main arguments seemed to be that Fleetwood Mac were a collaboration of creative and talented musicians and lyricists whose longevity had spanned multiple decades and also that Nsync were shit.

“If it hadn’t been for old Noodle-Head,” Chuck rounded out his argument, presumably referring to Justin Timberlake. “They wouldn’t have had any success at all.”

“I almost want to ask him how he feels about Backstreet Boys just to see if he’ll have an embolism right here,” Robin said to Finch under his breath.

“Do it,” Finch urged in return. Robin refrained because he figured at least one of them had to be relatively kind. Oscar had once said that it was good he and Finch couldn’t conceive a child together because he was fairly certain that purely hypothetical child would be Satan himself.

After they emerged from the subway, Evan led them on a brisk walk toward his home. The closer he said they were getting, the more Robin began to worry. It wasn’t a necessarily great part of town. He didn’t think anything would actually happen to them, certainly not with Finch present, but it was a tad eerie, especially at night. Penny stuck close to Tallulah, as if she was afraid she’d be abducted at any moment. It was probably for the best. Penny was an adorably innocent girl and Robin had once literally seen Tallulah growl at someone.

“Here we are!” Evan announced, gesturing to both sides of the street with his hands. Robin looked over to the left where there sat a charmingly quaint house draped in twinkling Christmas lights. It looked cozy and warm. There was an older woman sitting behind a bay window in a living room that held a beautifully dressed Christmas tree.

“Oh, is this it?” He asked Evan, pointing to the house.

“No, it’s on this side,” Evan replied, pointing to the house across the street. Robin turned to follow his outstretched hand. It was like the realization dawned on him in horrifying slow-motion. One minute, he was revelling in the cheery quaintness of the house across the street and then the next, he was making his way through a series of complex, but mostly negative emotions about Evan’s real home.

“Arrrgghhh—it’s nice,” he returned, starting off on a purely impulsive note, before managing to contort it into something resemblance tact. He was at least pleased to see he wasn’t the only one experiencing a similar response. Tallulah’s mouth had dropped open and Chuck was eyeing the house with blatant disdain. Finch had narrowed his eyes suspiciously, as if he suspected that Evan was actually playing a trick on them.

“Thanks!” Evan said, blissfully unaware. “Come on!”

“Are we about to be murdered?” Tallulah hissed to Robin as they began to slowly trudge their way toward Evan’s front walk.

“I think we might, yeah,” Robin said in what was undoubtedly not a very reassuring answer.

The front window of Evan’s house was lined with porcelain dolls. There were more of them than Robin could count in the time it took to make it up the front walk. Some of them were dressed in delicate laces and petticoats. Others were wearing tiny overalls and plaid shirts. All of them were staring at him with alarming, unblinking eye. He couldn’t figure out why on earth they would have been placed facing the street, unless it was a specific tactic to deter people from approaching the home. If Evan hadn’t been nattering about Christmas cookies in the lead, driving Robin to adopt some kind of politeness, he would’ve bolted in the opposite direction as fast as his legs could take him.

But then they finally entered the living room and Robin realized that there were even more dolls surrounding the room, facing in all directions so that it was impossible to avoid being in the direct sight of at least three of them at all times. There was even a glass cabinet in the corner of the room that was packed full of dolls. Presumably these were the most prized. One of them in particular had an unnerving gaze that Robin couldn’t seem to shake no matter where he situated himself in the room.

“This sure is an awful lot of dolls,” Tallulah remarked in a forced cheery voice. She was perched on the edge of the overstuffed love seat next to Chuck, staring straight into the eyes of a ginger doll in a yellow floral sundress.

“Oh yeah, my mom collects them,” Evan replied, as if that hadn’t been obvious.

“Why?” Chuck flat out asked. Evan spouted off something about the beauty of porcelain dolls that Robin was sure he’d heard form his mother many, many times in the past. Robin couldn’t really focus, too distracted by the multitude of creepy eyes blankly watching his every move. In fact, he couldn’t focus on much of anything for the duration of the party. He was a little surprised when Finch nudged him and told him it was time to leave. Evan’s mother had joined them at some point, but Robin had been too transfixed by the stare of the unnerving doll in the glass display cabinet to notice.

No one said anything until they were all safely back on the subway, heading back in the direction of the record store where Penny’s father would be picking her up.

“Christ, what a creepy fucking nightmare of a home,” Chuck said, the first to break the silence. Robin was pleased he’d said something, glad to know that he wouldn’t be the only one not sleeping that night.

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