25: “Then your internal body temperature is the same as hot lava”

One week into October, Oscar hosted himself a birthday party at his swelteringly hot apartment. The heat had eased slightly since the temperature outside had begun to drop, but having several people crammed into his small apartment didn’t as such help to keep the temperature cool. Dick had dressed in layers specifically. Somewhere along the line, someone had told Oscar to put his jars of apple cider vinegar away for the party. Dick assumed this had been Priscilla as she was roughly three times as practical and reasonable as Oscar. Of course, this meant that the apartment was once again riddled with fruit flies. Oscar was angry about it. Dick didn’t blame him; he was angry about it too.

“Either you people need to move or we need to stop spending time here,” Dick complained darkly, standing in the kitchen, trying to dodge fruit flies. Robin snorted from a few feet away. A group of Oscar’s closest friends had come over earlier than most of the other guests. Dick was both honoured to be invited as one of Oscar’s closest friends and annoyed that he now had to spend more time inside Oscar’s stupidly hot apartment.

“I honestly don’t think it’s that bad,” Frank protested from the living room, but Dick could tell he was lying. Besides, Oscar had told him that Frank had spent a lot of time at his friends’ apartment during the summer to avoid the heat.

“Then your internal body temperature is the same as hot lava,” Miles retorted and Robin laughed again. “Because it’s outrageously warm in this fucking hellscape of an apartment.”

Frank merely shook his head, but Dick offered Miles a fist bump in solidarity.

The next people to arrive to the party were Jacklyn, Helen, and Helen’s boyfriend Carey. Jacklyn entered the apartment not-so-subtly searching for Joey. For a woman who clearly didn’t want any of her friends to know she was dating him, she didn’t hide it very well. Dick felt a little bad about lying directly to her face and telling her that he wouldn’t say anything about her and Joey to any of their mutual friends when he already had and continued to do so, but, at the same time, he wasn’t so sure it really mattered to him. For one thing, he loathed being made to keep other people’s secrets. In his opinion, if it was meant to be a secret, it shouldn’t be said out loud to anyone ever so long as it was still a secret. The minute it was said out loud into the world to someone, it was no longer a secret.

For another thing, though he would never admit it out loud so long as he lived, Dick was slightly concerned about Jacklyn. He wasn’t generally a sympathetic man nor were he and Jacklyn particularly close, so he was most likely going to keep his concern to himself until forever, but he was concerned nonetheless. It wasn’t about Joey so much as a person, like it was for Miles and many of their other friends. Miles figured Joey was bad for her because, at one point, he used to sell drugs. That definitely wasn’t great, but Joey didn’t sell drugs anymore and, generally, was pretty alright as far as human beings went. Dick would go so far as to admit that he liked Joey. He was incredibly charming, for one thing. He was also interesting and funny and, against all odds or reason, had decided that Finch was something precious to love very deeply. Most people would not have had that reaction and Dick respected Joey for it.

Dick figured Joey was bad for Jacklyn because she was clearly far more invested in him than he was in her. He didn’t think Joey even realized how much she liked him because she hid it very well. She was too occupied with trying to keep their torrid affair a secret from her friends. If Dick had been on the other end of that, he would’ve assumed, as he was sure Joey had, that that meant she was somewhat ashamed of him and their relationship, when in fact she was smitten.

But again, all of this was part of a concern that he would keep to himself and never mention to anyone, least of all Jacklyn.

When Joey finally did arrive for the party, he made a direct beeline for Oscar to wish him a happy birthday. It involved a smack on the ass, a very overzealous hug, more than a few scandalized looks from Melly, and, surprisingly, a birthday card. Oscar opened his card, laughed at whatever Joey had written on the inside, and then suffered another exuberant hug from Joey, who was grinning like he’d just gotten away with murder. Jacklyn watched the entire exchange with something akin to envy written on her face. And then Joey made for the kitchen. He was carrying an enormous bottle of red wine with a homemade label stuck to the side. Dick moved aside to give him room to get a glass. He got pinched in the ass for his trouble. Then, with his bottle of wine in one hand and his empty glass in the other, Joey walked over to where Finch and Robin were talking to Tallulah. Joey kissed Finch on the mouth and then basically threw himself at Robin, winking at Tallulah. It was like watching a tornado of dubious sexual appropriateness.

“He’s wild,” David remarked to Dick, who, up until that moment, hadn’t realized he was even standing next to Dick.

“Yeah, that he is,” Dick agreed.

“Did you know that he and Jacklyn are dating?” David asked in a low voice.

“Uh,” Dick returned, not sure which way he was supposed to answer.

“It’s a secret, though,” David added as an afterthought.

And that was the problem with secrets.

The next time Dick saw Joey, Dick was out on the small balcony that jutted off from the living room, smoking. Jemima had been with him for a while because apparently she liked to smoke when she drank. She’d bummed a cigarette off of Dick and they’d smoked in tandem silence for a few minutes. It had been kind of nice actually. The party was loud and hot, but the night air was cooling quickly.

“Can I have one of those?” Joey asked, stepping out onto the balcony with Dick. Dick fished the pack out of his back pocket and held it out to Joey, who took one. Then Dick shoved them back into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. He lit the end of Joey’s cigarette. Joey grinned at him wickedly around it. His teeth glinted in the dim light from the streetlights just above them. Dick looked at him for a long moment. He thought about telling Joey to be careful with Jacklyn. It would be the perfect opportunity. She was inside, probably waiting for Joey to come back in so that she could watch him longingly from afar while she pretended not to be interested in him.

He didn’t say anything in the end. It felt too much like sharing someone’s secrets. Instead, he leaned both his elbows against the railing of the balcony and looked out at the rooftops in the neighbourhood at nighttime, smoking his cigarette idly. Eventually Joey did the same, only leaning on one elbow so that he could face Dick, watching him until the remainder of Dick’s cigarette turned to ash and he let it drop into his empty plastic cup.

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