"Carlos," Cecil asked, coming into the kitchen. “Have you seen the hall closet?"
The place in the hall where the closet should have been was currently nothing more than a gaping void that smelled vaguely of cucumbers and was slightly fuzzy to the touch. Cecil had peered inside as much as he dared and determined that wherever the closet had gone, it had probably taken all the clothes inside with it. That was slightly inconvenient, as he'd really been in the mood to wear his purple sweater patterned with lemons and vicious cats with blood dripping from their fangs as they stared, blinking, out of the knit wool. It was very comfy. Also, most of the rest of his clothes were in the laundry hamper.
Cecil was not actually expecting Carlos to know where the closet had gone, but it was possible he'd seen it go and just forgotten to mention it. Or it was possible he could track it down with science. Or that he'd taken it to do science on, and hadn't left a note. Anyway, it was worth a shot.
Carlos had been fixing himself breakfast, as one did at this time, or apparent non-time, of day. Cecil wasn't planning to think much of it, other than I hope my dear wonderful Carlos is enjoying his food and maybe I wonder if I should pick up more screaming celery, but it turned out that he ended up not thinking anything at all. He just stood there, transfixed, as brave, reckless Carlos brought a piece of toast to his perfect lips and took a bite. And then another. And then half the piece of toast was gone, and Carlos was saying "Cecil, are you all right?" and Cecil became aware that he had been staring.
"Um," said Cecil, and he felt a blush creep down the back of his neck, hot like the rash you'd get if you went out wearing a sweater made of something you were mildly allergic to, but much less itchy and also less heavy with the weight of prophecy.
"Cecil!" said Carlos, more concerned this time, and Cecil found he had to tear his gaze away from the crumbs clinging to Carlos's lower lip and say something.
"I'm fine," he said, his voice coming out high and not fine-sounding at all. "There is nothing to worry about."
Carlos didn't look convinced. He did look confused. In fact, he looked rather convinced of his own confusion, which is the only thing anyone can really be convinced of, isn't it? Confusion? "You just sort of zoned out," Carlos said. "For, like, a minute, probably. It was kind of unexpected. I'd expect that sort of behavior from anyone at the Ralph's, in fact it's scientifically likely that someone at the Ralph's would zone out like that, but it's much less scientifically likely for you."
Cecil, not fully understanding all of those words as he was far too distracted by not being able to think, decided to put his faith in science and agree. "Of course," he said. "Yes. Right." Science was very reliable.
"So are you okay?" Carlos pressed, and he was still holding the toast, and in fact took another bite of it while Cecil was watching. Cecil made a small whimpering noise.
Carlos said something that sounded like "Cecil?" around the partially chewed toast in his mouth, and Cecil suddenly realized that he should probably leave. The sight of Carlos eating breakfast was affecting him far more than it should, and Cecil was not sure what else to do than to make a smooth exit and think about this later, when he could actually, you know, think.
"And now, I bring you the Weather!" he said, and his voice squeaked just a little bit at the end. The room suddenly filled with Weather, a simple yet pleasing D-A-G chord progression accompanied by a burst of humidity and the scent of rotting aspirations. Carlos dropped his toast in surprise. Cecil took the opportunity to back out of the room, the house, and the street, until he was very much not at home, and in fact very much at the radio station.
He paused outside to send Carlos a text. At this distance, his head was clear enough to realize that he really should let Carlos know that everything was probably fine.
Hey Darling, I just wanted to let you know that everything is probably fine. I'm sorry I had to leave so suddenly, and you might be worried and/or scientifically concerned, but it's probably nothing and I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out myself. I love you. Also if you happen to find the closet, let me know. Cecil finished the message with an emoji depicting a rooster playing a timpani for a crowd of apathetic and poorly dressed snails. That, Cecil thought, should get the message across pretty well.
On the way up to his booth, Cecil received three different compliments on his leopard-frog patterned pajamas, all from clones of Intern Rudy. Intern Rudy's fourth clone said nothing, which Cecil thought was a bit rude of him. Then, since he was early, Cecil thought. He sat at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee, the ON AIR sign flickering slightly but remaining firmly off, and he thought.
It didn't take him long to come to a conclusion. He was only a scientist by proximity, after all, so he wasn't slowed down by tests and experiments and repeatable results like Carlos sometimes could be. His conclusion was that Carlos had been eating toast made from bread that almost certainly contained Wheat or Wheat By-Products, and that Cecil, rather than admonish him or file the proper complaint at the appropriate saguaro cactus, had let him do it. In fact, he found he wanted Carlos to eat a good deal more toast, preferably within Cecil's presence.
This was more than a little concerning.
It was so concerning, in fact, that by the time Cecil's broadcast actually started, he couldn't help musing about it on-air, in between a Paid Advertisement for Smuckers Jam (The Snack that Smiles Back) and a News segment about the possibility that all cheese in town was haunted by the ghost of a lactose-intolerance salesman. Due to the delicate nature of the situation, he was very careful about it, of course.
"Listeners," he said slowly. "I have a problem. Not so much an actual problem, you understand, as a hypothetical brain teaser, something to really get those moral quandary juices going. Let's say someone, any old someone really, had a boyfriend. Let's say that boyfriend was perfect. But, let's also say that this totally imaginary boyfriend was caught breaking city laws, which had been enacted justly and for the good of all of us. How about- oh! Here's a totally random law he could be breaking: the consumption of Wheat and Wheat By-Products! Let's assume that this event--which has definitely never actually occurred-- actually occurred. What then, listeners? And what indeed if the someone, for instance, felt not fear or civic duty, but instead felt strangely, strongly, and totally hypothetically, excited at the prospect. You might even say aroused. What should I-- I mean, the someone-- do then?"
Having said his piece, and very nearly having come to a conclusion while saying it, Cecil switched gears quickly, and got through most of the rest of his show without incident. The problem was simple, really; Cecil was turned on by Forbidden Things, or at least the Wheat and Wheat By-Product Forbidden Thing. Specifically when Carlos was the one involved.
His only concern, and it was a pressing one, was that he didn't want Carlos to get in trouble and have to go in for re-education, or just disappear like so many unlawful citizens did. That would break Cecil's heart. Now, Cecil was pretty sure Carlos had some type of scientist's permit that allowed him to investigate things that most people weren't allowed to investigate, and write reports about things that most people weren't allowed to write reports about. He was even given some leniency on the monthly blood rituals, at least until he learned how to do them himself, and Cecil was still not sure how he managed that. So Carlos should be fine. And Cecil's his boyfriend, so at least some of those protections should transfer, right? Well, maybe. Cecil was less concerned about that, though.
During the news he got two listener responses. One was from Old Woman Josie, and said Cecil, in a vaguely admonishing yet amused voice. It continued, even the Erikas know that you are not subtle, and the Erikas are omniscient and cannot understand the subtleties of being subtle. And you wonder why I always manage to beat you at bowling. I can see through every bluff you pull.
The other was an unidentified, cracked voice that said simply fuck him, and Cecil was not entirely sure which way he was intended to take that.
Steve Carlsburg also called up, to say that he wasn't sure what the big deal was, but his opinion was stupid and Cecil spent half a minute very loudly ignoring it.
Then, much to Cecil's joy and adoration, he received a text message from beautiful, perfect Carlos.
I WAS worried and scientifically concerned, but as long as you're all right I can wait to find out the scientific details. Also don't take any streets beginning with vowels on your way home, they seem to be disappearing.
It was very sweet. And informative! And Cecil could definitely pass that on during the Traffic segment of his broadcast. But he was a little bit distracted by the text that came after it.
It was an emoji of a mountain.
That was all. Just one mountain. Cecil was pretty sure that sort of emoji shouldn't even be part of the standard emoji package on Carlos's phone, as it was non-descriptive and also depicted something which definitely did not exist. He wasn't even sure how he recognized it as a mountain, except he just knew that it was, indeed, a mountain.
Cecil was definitely blushing again. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
He should probably tell Carlos that sending such provocative images over such an easily traceable line of communication was inadvisable. It would be the responsible thing to do. But what he wanted to do was send back a blushing-face emoji and see what Carlos would do about that.
What actually happened was the pre-recorded Public Service Announcement finished playing, Cecil spent a few moments collecting himself, and then in a voice that he hoped was perfectly steady but which definitely wasn't, he updated everyone on the Traffic.
A few minutes later, Carlos texted him again. The message was a picture, a very well photoshopped, very realistic-looking picture, of a mountain. There were even some clouds in the background.
Cecil thought for a moment that he might actually faint. But there wasn't a City Approved Fainting Couch in his studio, so he refrained. He did ask one of Intern Rudy's clones to find him the appropriate paperwork so he could request a Fainting Couch, just in case this became a regular occurrence. A part of him hoped that it might.
He still didn't know how to respond to Carlos, not really. So he read out the rest of the News, and his voice only trembled a little bit, and eventually, holding his phone surreptitiously under the desk, he texted Carlos back.
You've got Scientist Immunity Papers, right?
Carlos responded with a paragraph describing the moon. Cecil choked on air on-air.
It occurred to him suddenly that Carlos was almost certainly listening to the broadcast too. He had to be, assuming he was anywhere near a radio. This was a little embarrassing, but it also meant that Carlos was definitely doing this on purpose. Cecil hadn't known he could blush any harder, but it turned out he could. He reread the paragraph about the moon (it was very lovely and scientifically accurate) and squirmed more.
For the second time that day, he rather desperately went to the Weather.
You're not at the lab, are you? he asked via text.
Why don't you go to the lab and find out? came the reply, followed shortly by Wait, no, I meant it the other way. Now I've ruined the surprise. You should just come home.
That was followed shortly by a picture of some wheat-based crackers, as though Carlos was trying to distract Cecil from his awkward attempts at flirting, which were really perfect in their own right. It worked. Cecil was so thoroughly distracted that he was not entirely sure how he ended his show. He did end it, though and drove home while carefully avoiding any streets beginning with vowels.
Carlos was not in the living room, nor in the bedroom. He was in the attic, and came down as soon as he heard Cecil was home, which was after about five minutes. "I found the closet," he said. "It's wedged in between the rafters."
Carlos had a pen behind his ear, held in place by his perfect, beautiful hair.
City Approved Fainting Couch or no City Approved Fainting Couch, Cecil found that all his restraint was gone, and he collapsed to the floor, completely overwhelmed.