14: “Don’t fish, man, it’s unbecoming”

Bear and Jemima were becoming fast friends. She appeared to be determined to make it so. When she had first told Bear she just wanted to be friends, he’d assumed that it was just something she was saying to soften the blow of telling him she no longer wanted to date him. But it seemed she had genuinely meant it. Either that or she was determined to stick to it so as not to make a liar of herself. If that was the case, he admired her gumption. Besides, he appreciated the effort. Although, on the other hand, he didn’t feel it was totally necessary. They had only gone out twice. It wasn’t as if they’d been a year deep into their relationship and they had already become best friends. Bear already had friends. Presumably she had some of her own as well. They could’ve just as easily gone their merry, separate ways and it would’ve been completely fine. Of course, Bear had also told her that he would love to be her friend so there really wasn’t any way to get out of it unless he wanted to make himself a liar.

In an attempt to further cement their budding friendship, Jemima invited Bear out for dinner with her and her new paramour Noel, the snakeskin-wearing band frontman. Noel was undeniably much cooler than Bear was. Noel wore shirts that were likely women’s blouses with incredible confidence. Of the few times Bear had seen Noel, he’d been wearing heeled shoes every single time. Bear wore the same pair of brown leather oxford brogues to work every single day. The thought of sitting at dinner with Jemima and Noel, the man who was much, much cooler than Bear was, was not all that appealing. Noel was, after all, undoubtedly the reason Bear and Jemima hadn’t progressed any further in their romantic relationship. It wasn’t that Bear was jealous exactly; he and Jemima hadn’t been nearly close enough for that to be the case. At the same time, however, spending an entire evening across a dining table from the man Jemima had chosen instead of Bear seemed just about the worst.

Graciously, Jemima told Bear to invite a friend so that it would be more of a casual dinner. Unwisely, Bear chose Oscar. Having spent quite a significant period of time peeling Oscar off of various horizontal surfaces while he was getting over Katy, Bear figured Oscar owed him.After having this pointed out to him, Oscar came to the same conclusion. But then, on the night of the dinner, Oscar bailed.

“You’re bailing?” Bear asked into the phone, having answered Oscar’s call with trepidation. Oscar hated speaking on the phone. He only ever called if it was absolutely dire.

“I wouldn’t call it bailing,” Oscar returned. “I’ve thrown up, like, six times in forty minutes. I have the flu.”

“Are you absolutely sure it’s the flu?” Bear asked mildly and optimistically. The thought of sitting at dinner alone with Jemima and Noel was uncomfortable.

“No, I’m not,” Oscar answered. “But it doesn’t really matter what it is because no matter how we label it, I’ll still be vomiting on the cutlery.”

Bear supposed it was a valid excuse.

“Well if you’re sure,” he replied.

“Am I sure,” Oscar grumbled on the other end of the line. “Just invite someone else.”

Bear pondered his options.

“I bet Joey’s free,” Oscar continued.

“Thanks,” Bear replied.

He didn’t invite Joey. Instead, he went to dinner by himself and third-wheeled what was essentially Jemima and Noel’s date. Noel had turned up to dinner in a magenta army jacket, complete with gold-fringed epaulettes. The shirt he had on underneath was unbuttoned to his navel and he was wearing at least six necklaces. Bear lost count after a while, deciding that it would be too weird for him to continue staring at Noel’s exposed chest. Bear tried to envision what he would look like in Noel’s outfit. It wasn’t a pretty mental image. He said as much to Oscar, Frank, and Ramsay the following morning, having stopped by primarily to complain, but also to check that Oscar was alright. He wasn’t. He was lying on his back in the middle of the living room floor with a cold compress on his forehead and a bucket next to his shoulder. Ramsay and Frank were watching baseball, generally ignoring Oscar’s presence. Now that the weather was beginning to warm, the fruit flies had made a vengeful return. They hadn’t ever really left entirely, but there were certainly more now. Oscar kept swatting at them and groaning.

“Jesus, what a sight,” Frank said, clearly also envisioning Bear in Noel’s outfit. “Like an enormous, white Prince.”

“I can’t believe you went,” Ramsay said, eyes on the TV.

“Well, I didn’t want to be rude,” Bear replied. Ramsay snorted.

“You thought third-wheeling her date with Knock-off Steven Tyler would be better?” He returned.

“Remember when Taylor Swift was dating Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran third-wheeled them?” Frank interjected, surprising everyone with a very specific pop culture reference. “You’re like Ed Sheeran. You’re the friend she’s going to rope into, like, making jam and cross-stitching only to leave behind to go bone her rockstar boyfriend.”

“I love jam,” was Oscar’s contribution from the floor.

“How the hell do you know any of that?” Ramsay asked Frank. He sounded angry about it; angry that Frank had that knowledge, angry that he’d shared it, and angry that Ramsay had to be one of the people he shared it with.

“I work in radio,” Frank shrugged. “We have to stay up to date on current events.”

Ramsay just shook his head like he was genuinely and seriously disappointed in Frank.

About an hour later, Miles turned up with Iggy. Bear explained his dilemma to them as well, hoping to garner insight from people who weren’t permanently emotionally detached or lying on the ground lethargically swatting at fruit flies.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out between you and Jemima,” Iggy told him, looking guilty. As she was the one to set them up, Bear supposed she had reason, but he didn’t really blame her for anything.

“That’s alright,” he told her sincerely.

“I will find someone to love you, don’t worry,” she assured him, as if this was a great concern of his. It wasn’t. He was fine, but he appreciated the support.

“You make it sound like he’s hideous and unloveable,” Oscar said to Iggy, even going so far as to turn his head to look at her, which was more effort than anybody else had gotten. “But you’re the most loveable of us all.”

It was very nearly a nice sentiment.

“And not hideous?” Bear checked.

“Don’t fish, man, it’s unbecoming,” was Oscar’s charming response.

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