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Can I Tie Your Shoes?

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“Lenny! You’ve got a package!” Lisa called from downstairs.

Len put down his book, got off his bed and walked out, trying to remember if he had ordered anything recently. When he got to the living room there was a large padded envelope on the coffee table with their address on it. There wasn’t a return address, though someone had written ‘Happy New Year’ across the back in blue marker. He ripped the edge off one side and pulled out the cloth inside. Once he shook it out, he realized it was a shirt. He stared at it for several seconds before a small smile tugged at his lips. It was sapphire blue with the words Ice Puns Are The Coolest in white across the front.

“Where the hell did you find that?” grumbled Mick as he walked into the room.

Len shrugged and folded the shirt over his arm before throwing away the envelope and heading back toward the stairs. “I think it’s the wrong address,” he said over his shoulder. “I like it, though.”

Mick grunted and flopped down on the couch, reaching for the remote. “Whatever.”

Len walked into his bedroom and opened the closet for a hanger. He smirked slightly as he stared at the shirt. He had no idea who sent it, or where it came from, but he had to admit, it was a cool shirt.

***

Len glanced up from his book as the front door opened and Lisa walked in with Barry in tow. He fought the urge to trail his eyes over the young man, settling instead for a smirk and nod hello.

“Hey, Len,” Barry said with a bright smile.

Lisa dropped her purse and the mail on the recliner and grabbed Barry’s wrist. “Hi, Lenny,” she smirked before dragging Barry toward the stairs. “Barry’s staying the night. Don’t disturb us!” Barry shot him an eye roll before disappearing from view.

Len heard Lisa’s bedroom door open and close and he slumped down in the cushions. Great. Another long night of tossing and turning as he tried to ignore the fact that the guy he was crushing on was in his sister’s bed.

Len closed his book and sat up, letting his head drop forward. From the moment they met Len had been attracted to Barry. His sweet smile, his perfect body, even his adorable rambling way of talking. Everything about Barry appealed to him. It was just his luck that they met three months ago, at 2 o’clock in the morning, as Barry was leaving Lisa’s bedroom to go to the bathroom.

Len still couldn’t get a handle on their relationship. Barry rarely stayed over. In fact, this was only the fourth time in those three months. Lisa went on dates with other guys, like that Ramon kid last weekend. Barry did come over at least once a week and spend time with Lisa, usually curled up on the couch together, either with Lisa on his lap, or the two of them stretched out with their feet tangled together. Mick was certain they were just friends-with-benefits.

Len sighed and stood up, grabbing the mail. There was another padded envelope with his address on it. On the back it said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ in red sharpie. He ripped it open and pulled out a second shirt. This one was a soft gray with a picture of a smiling vanilla ice cream cone in the center. It read I'm A Big Softie underneath.

A jolt of pleasure raced through him as he stared at the design. Who was sending these? Why? After a moment he headed up the stairs to his room. As he passed Lisa’s door he briefly wished it was Barry sending him the gifts. With a heavy sigh he went into his room, hung up the new shirt and pulled out his pajamas.

***

“Hi, Len.”

Len swallowed his food quickly so he wouldn’t choke as Barry sat down beside him on the couch. “Hey. I, uh, didn’t know you were here,” he said, setting down the slice of pizza in his hands. Of course, he had just gotten home from work, and as far as he knew, Lisa had a date tonight, so he hadn’t expected to see Barry, period.

Barry shrugged as he tucked one foot under him. “I was upstairs.”

Mick walked in from the kitchen and paused when he spotted Barry. “Thought Lisa had a date tonight,” he grumbled.

Barry smiled as Mick sat down in the recliner. “She’s out with Roscoe,” he said. “How’s work, Mick?”

“Put out a fire over on Weston Ave yesterday,” he said, snagging his own slice of pizza. He bit off a big chunk and chewed it before frowning at Barry. “I don’t get you, kid.”

Barry raised one eyebrow. “You know we’re the same age, right?”

Mick waved his words off with the hand holding the pizza. “Whatever. I gotta ask, how are you so relaxed about this?”

“About what?” asked Barry.

“Mick,” Len hissed, knowing exactly what his friend was about to say.

“You seem like a pretty nice guy,” Mick continued, ignoring Len. “Type you take home to the parents, if you got parents worth anything. So why do you let Lisa screw around on you? Don't it bother ya when she steps out with other smucks?”

Len groaned and turned to Barry to apologize, but the words died as he took in Barry amused expression. Then Barry started to laugh, softly at first, then more and more loudly. Soon he was bent over, arms wrapped around his stomach as he gasped for air between chuckles. It took a full two minutes for Barry to quiet down enough to speak.

“Mick,” he wheezed, “I’m gay. So, unless Lisa’s secretly hiding a penis, which I wouldn’t know about since I’ve never seen her naked, I’m not dating Lisa!”

“You’re gay?” Len couldn’t believe what he was hearing! Barry was gay! He wasn’t dating Lisa! He was gay! “Wait! But you and Lisa hook up! You’ve slept with her!”

Barry turned back to him and rolled his eyes. “Yes. Slept. Occasionally I have to escape my nosy family and Lisa lets me crash in her room. I use that old army cot in her closet.”

Barry uncurled his leg and stood up. “Thanks for the laugh, Mick. See you guys in the morning.” Barry headed toward the stairs but paused before going up. “Oh, cool shirt, Len.”

Len looked down at the latest one he had received. It was delivered two weeks ago with the words ‘Happy St. Patty’s Day’ on the back and was his favorite, so far. While not a cold pun, the image made him chuckle. This one was black with a yellow caution sign across the front that read May Pun Without Warning!. He blushed and looked back up but Barry was already gone.

Mick finished his slice of pizza and reached for another. “You’re welcome.”

“For what?” Len asked, his mind still on Barry’s admission.

“Now you know he’s gay and available,” Mick smirked. “Thanks to me.”

Len rolled his eyes and grabbed his slice again. Mick was right. Barry was single. Now he just had to figure out what to do to change that.

***

This shirt was red and had a small igloo ice chest on the front. Fancy script writing declared Don't hate me because I'm a little cooler. above it. Len smoothed his sweaty hands down his sweatpants before walking into the kitchen. Barry was flipping sausages in a pan while Mick and Lisa sipped coffee at the kitchen table. He had spent most of last night trying to plan the perfect date he intended to take Barry on.

“Good morning,” Barry said, smiling over his shoulder. “Hungry?”

Like you wouldn’t believe, he thought to himself, his eyes straying down to Barry’s ass. “Um, sure. This is new.”

“Not really,” Lisa said, looking bleary-eyed. “Barr always cooks for me.”

Mick nodded. “Every morning after he stays over.”

Len sat down and shot them both annoyed looks. “How come I didn’t know that?”

“Because you usually sleep in,” Lisa pointed out, yawning widely as Barry set plates of hash browns, sunny side up eggs and sausage in front of her and Mick.

“How do you like your eggs?” Barry asked, turning and smiling at Len.

Len swallowed as he moved a little closer to Barry. “Hard,” he gulped. Mick snorted, mouth full of food. Len slapped him on the back of the head as soon as Barry turned away.

“New shirt?” Lisa asked with a smug grin.

Len nodded. “Got it yesterday,” he told her. There wasn’t a message on the back of the envelope, this time, but he had no doubts that it was from the same gifter.

“That’s like, what?” she asked, her grin growing wider. “The third one?”

“Fourth,” he corrected.

“And you still don’t know who’s sending them?” she giggled.

Len sat down and shook his head, looking at her with suspicion. “There’s no return address,” he answered. “All I know is, they have great taste in humor.”

Mick rolled his eyes. “Only you would find those shirts funny.”

Barry set a plate in front of Len and smiled slightly. “I think they’re funny,” he said softly.

Len smirked up at Barry, loving the slight blush on his cheeks. “You’ve got good taste, too.”

Barry nodded, the blush darkening, before turning and putting the pan in the sink and washing his hands. “Well, I have to go. The shop won’t open itself.” He kissed Lisa’s cheek and waved to the guys before hurrying out of the room.

Len slumped slightly before picking up his fork. Lisa rolled her eyes and began eating but Mick decided to give his best friend a much needed push. ‘Just ask the kid out, for fuck’s sake,” he grumbled.

Lisa looked up quickly, her mouth hanging open. “Wha…???”

Len shot her a disgusted look. “At least finish chewing before you try to speak,” he ordered. “It’s not that simple, Mick, and you know it! It has to be perfect!”

Lisa quickly swallowed and pointed her fork at her brother. “You want to ask Barry out? But you don’t even like him!”

Mick chuckled. “Are you kidding? Lenny’s been foaming at the mouth over Barry since the day they met.”

Len groaned as he felt his face turn red. “Shut the fuck up, Mick!” He used his own fork to push Lisa’s away from his face. “What makes you think I don’t like Barry?”

“Well,” she said drolly, “you hardly ever talk to him, and you said no the one time he asked you out.”

Len’s fork clattered onto the table. “What?! Barry never asked me out! I sure as hell wouldn’t have said no!”

“Yes he did and yes you did,” Lisa insisted. “About a week after you two met. He asked if you wanted to go see a movie with him.”

Len thought hard, but the only thing he could come up with was the day Lisa and Barry were arguing about the latest Resident Evil movie. Lisa was complaining about horror movies in general while Barry was defending the genre. He remembered that Barry had asked him if he wanted to see the movie and he had said... he said... shit! He said he had no interest in going!

Len dropped his head into his hands. “I thought he was inviting me to go along with you both!” he groaned. “I thought you and Barry were a couple!”

Lisa’s jaw dropped again. “But Barry’s gay!”

“I didn’t know that!” Len argued. “Not until last night when he told us.”

“But... but you’re gay!” Lisa pointed out. “Shouldn’t you have some sort of gay-dar?”

“That’s not a real thing!” Len growled. “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I automatically know when someone else is!”

Lisa groaned and dropped her head into her hand. “Of course you didn’t know,” she muttered. “You still haven’t figured out the shirts. I swear I have the most oblivious brother in the whole damn world!”

Len froze and glanced down at his shirt before looking at her with narrow eyes. “Are you sending the shirts? Is this some sort of prank?”

Lisa lifted her head and glared at him. “Lenny, where does Barry work?”

“Hot Topic,” he answered.

“And what does Hot Topic sell?” she asked.

“Emo and nerd crap,” he replied.

Lisa rolled her eyes as Mick suddenly began to chuckle. She looked at him with exasperation. “Has he always been this dense?” she asked.

Mick shrugged as he continued to laugh. “To be fair, I didn’t connect the dots till a moment ago.”

“I swear,” she huffed, “there’s something about having a Y chromosome that makes a person stupid.” She turned back to Len. “Hot Topic sells shirts. Lots of shirts. Like the one you have on now. Like the other three in your closet. Like the one Barry’s probably already picked out to send you next week.”

Len stared at his sister with a slack jaw and a numb brain. Did she just say... surely he heard that wrong... no way would Barry…

“I think you broke him,” Mick mumbled.

Lisa stabbed at her hash browns forcefully. “Idiot,” she mumbled. “Barry sends the shirts because you were complaining about how much you hate shopping, but you needed some more casual shirts to wear around the house since your old ones were getting stained and torn at the garage. He also knows how much you hate owing someone or accepting gifts, so he’s been doing it anonymously.”

Len quickly began shoveling food into his mouth. He ignored the looks of disgust from his sister and friend as he gobbled it all down and shoved away from the table. He took the stairs two at a time as he raced upstairs to shower and dress. Twenty minutes later he was back down the stairs, hair still wet and socks on inside out, but now sporting a button up shirt he usually saved for dates and his best tight jeans. He shoved his feet into his boots and grabbed his jacket out of the closet.

“Where are you going?” asked Lisa.

Len shot her an irritated look. “You couldn’t have told me all that BEFORE Barry left for work? Now I have to go to the mall! I hate going to the mall!”

“Whatcha gonna do at the mall?” asked Mick with a grin.

“Get myself a boyfriend!” Len said smugly.

***

Len stepped into Hot Topic and looked around the shop. There was a purple-haired girl behind the counter, popping bubble gum and attaching stickers to little skull shaped bottles of nail polish. Two teen girls in plaid tights and band shirts were sifting through a bin of discount costume jewelry. Near the back wall he finally spotted Barry.

Who was smiling.

At some guy in a hoodie and hipster glasses.

Len’s jaw clenched as he weaved his way between racks of anime shirts, pokemon toys and Walking Dead merchandise. He was only a few feet away when the hoodie guy smiled slyly and inched closer to Barry.

“You were right. I loved the Pet Shop of Horrors series. Maybe we could grab some coffee later and talk more about it?”

Barry immediately blushed and began rubbing the back of his neck. Len hurried forward and grabbed Barry’s hand, making him startle. Barry spun, eyes wide, but he relaxed almost instantly when he realized it was Len.

“Need to talk,” Len said firmly, shooting hoodie guy a dark glare.

Barry frowned, studying Len intently. “What’s wrong? Is Lisa okay?”

“She’s fine,” Len grumbled, feeling awkward now that he had Barry’s attention. “Talk? In private?”

Barry nodded, looking a bit worried. “Cheryl? Are you okay while I take a quick break?” The girl behind the counter waved a hand in the air without taking her eyes off the little bottles. Then Barry turned back to hoodie guy. “Sorry, Hart, but I need to talk to Len. We’ll catch up later, okay?”

Hart shot Len a withering look before giving Barry a coy smile. “Of course, Barry. You know me. I’m in here all the time. It’s not hard for us to find time for one another.” Barry’s blush deepened as Hart turned and sauntered away.

Len barely resisted the urge to trip the guy into some shelves holding Funko Pop toys. Barry moved further down the back wall to a door and held it open for Len to walk through. Len stepped inside and looked around the storage room briefly before turning to Barry.

“So,” Barry began hesitantly, “who’s dead or dying?”

Len frowned at the unusual question. “What?”

Barry raised one eyebrow. “Len, you’re in the mall. Lisa once threatened to paint your motorcycle gold and you still refused to bring her to the mall to find a birthday present for Mick.”

Len shifted from one foot to the other, suddenly nervous. “Who was that guy?” he asked, instead of answering. “He didn’t seem too thrilled that I interrupted.”

Barry shrugged. “Hart? He’s a regular. He’s an anime fan.”

“Do you like him?” Len asked.

Barry blushed and looked off to the side. “Yeah, no. I’m not big on discussing my personal life.”

Len bit the inside of his cheek hard and took a deep breath. “Do you like me?” he forced himself to ask.

Barry’s jaw dropped and his eyes went wide as his head turned back quickly. “What?”

Len took a step closer. “Okay, at the risk of humiliating myself, here goes. I didn’t know until last night you were gay. I thought you and Lisa were, um, involved. Now that I know you aren’t I would really like to take you out. On a date.”

Barry stared at Len as if he didn’t understand anything Len was saying. “You… but you don’t like me,” he said. “I mean, we get along okay, but you hardly ever talk to me and when I walk into the room, you leave really fast.”

Len cringed. “I had to,” he admitted hesitantly. “I didn’t want to watch the guy I like flirt or kiss my own sister! It was hard enough just knowing you were in the house! Watching you and Lisa touch drove me nuts. Barry, I’ve had a crush on you since the night we met!”

“You have?” Barry mumbled.

Len saw the way Barry’s eyes lit up hopefully and it made him bolder. He moved closer and placed his hands on Barry’s waist. “I’ve been absolutely jealous of Lisa.”

Barry slowly smiled as his own hands settled on Len’s shoulders. “I like you, too,” he admitted.

Len grinned widely before swooping in and kissing Barry like he had been dreaming of. Feeling Barry immediately respond made him pull Barry flush against him. After a long, heated kiss they finally pulled back.

“Go out with me?” Len asked, breathing heavily.

Barry grinned and nodded, equally breathless. “I’d love to, Len.”

Len started to pull Barry into another kiss, but Barry pulled away. “I have to get to work,” he pointed out with regret. “Can I call you later?”

Len shook his head. “No need. I’ll pick you up after work. Take you out to dinner.”

Barry quickly agreed before pressing a quick kiss to Len’s lips and pulling him out of the stock room. Barry walked him to the entrance and they said goodbye softly. Len caught sight of a shirt by the doors and reached out to pluck it off the rack. It was hunter green with the phrase Can I Tie Your Shoes? I Don't Want You Falling For Anyone Else in black font. He pressed it into Barry’s hands before stepping out of the store.

“Send that one next,” he called over his shoulder. He could hear Barry giggling as he walked away.