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Taking The Nicky

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- IN ROD'S APARTMENT -

On his way back to the sofa, Nicky skidded on a carelessly abandoned chip packet, like a clumsy green hippo skating on a banana skin. He chuckled to himself, "Woo-hoo! That was fun!" However, the instant the disheveled dimwit pulled the tab on his soda can, the fizzy pop within erupted. Agitated by the stumble, the nervous bubbly beverage released its wrath, causing a sticky froth to spurt onto a photo of him and his blue workaholic roommate, Rod.

Nicky gasped, as the cola droplets trickled down the image of his best friend's face like rusty tears. "Whoops! Sorry Rod buddy!" He grabbed the frame and propelled his tongue out to slurp up the fleeing soda globs from the cold, rigid glass that encased the picture.

"Jeez, that was a close one!" Nicky brushed his tongue across the photographic Rod one more time for luck, letting the tip linger upon his best buddy's slender smartly dressed body. Maybe his impulse was slightly weird on reflection. But he couldn't let any soda seep into the delicate wooden frame surrounding such a nostalgic image, could he?

"Don't worry Rod buddy! I got your back! My tongue will protect you from soda fizz!" Nicky promised. Still struggling to rouse himself from his typical extended slumber, he yawned deeply, before he tilted his head backward to look at the clock on the kitchen wall behind him. Struggling to make out the numbers from the couch, he muttered, "Five to… Um, twelve, I think? Sweet! Just enough time to finish breakfast!" He grinned, snatched the crushed and crumpled chip packet from the floor, and tipped the remaining Cheezit dust into his mouth.

"Mmm... Delish!" Nicky licked his lips and surrounding stubble. "Cheesy, with a zing of pineapple! Such a genius combo! Just like me and my buddy Rod! I'm the cheesy genius, must be!" He chuckled at his reflection in the window and pulled a few goofy expressions to keep himself entertained. "And Rod's the zingy one. Yeah, Rod's got a definite zing about him!" He scrunched up the empty packet, and tossed it over the back of the sofa, aiming for the trashcan behind, but missing by several feet!

"Damn it! How could I have missed again?!" Nicky looked around the grubby apartment, at the carpet contaminated with heaps of gooey crumbs, and groaned. "Oh crap! What a dump! How does this always happen?! Rod sure is gonna go crazy again when he gets home!"

Nicky exhaled a long melancholy breath. 'Poor Rod. He's so obsessed with cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, washing, scrubbing, ironing, organizing, sorting. And a whole lotta other words ending in 'ing' too no doubt! Wiping? Wait. No. Not wiping. That sounds wrong somehow.' He frowned slightly and sucked the chocolate paste and chip powder from his green fingers.

The apartment was eerily quiet without Rod about. And a sporadic swoosh of cars zooming past, and a low hum of a tumble dryer was all that disturbed the peace. Still, Nicky felt like he needed a few moments of calm contemplation. Besides, he couldn't seem to find the TV remote anywhere!

Nicky ran a sticky hand through his dark mahogany brown hair. 'Jeez, all Rod ever seems to do around here is clean these days! I swear, if I made a Rod action figure, the little guy wouldn't be complete without a duster! Cuz I never see that busy buddy of mine without a cleaning caddy by his side! And when he's not cleaning, he's down in that fucking laundry room or ironing his tighty-whities! And when he's not doing either of those, he's working from home, sitting at that damned computer analyzing crappy bank charts and whatnot!'

Nicky sighed, 'I sure wish Rod would take a break once in a while, and chill with me like he did in the good old days!' He stared longingly at the photo of him nuzzled by Rod's side, and smiled as his college memories bobbed to the surface of his mind.

The photo had been taken by Mia, one of Nicky's many ex-girlfriends. He barely remembered her now. But he remembered that night. By some miracle, he'd convinced Rod to sneak into a frat party with him. A rare instance to be sure. However, that night, to Nicky's amazement, Rod drunk two cosmopolitans, and performed both the 'Brooklyn Shuffle' and 'The Hustle' under a glitter ball in front of a stunned crowd! The two best friends even danced together for a short while. Well, until Rod realized it had gone 10 pm, and promptly abandoned Nicky to complete his nightly routine.

No matter how flashy or electrifying the party, Rod's dorky desire for schedules and planning always reigned supreme! Nicky shook his head in bemused admiration, as he remembered how Rod used to recite statistical formulas to himself before bed each night.

'Okay, so Rod is always responsible.' Nicky reminded himself. 'But I swear, Rod used to stop, at least sometimes, to have fun. And I know he enjoyed it. Our pillow fights. Our games of checkers. Our little squabbles over silly things. Gee, he could be so cute sometimes. Like how his face lit up when I suggested we watch a movie just the two of us. Or like how his cheeks blushed bright pink when I mucked about with him in our dorm room.' Nicky sighed wistfully. 'I swear, he got so flushed with joy sometimes, I thought he was gonna burst! God, I miss those days. I miss that old Rod.' He thought sadly.

'You've gotta love him though! He's still cute in his own Rod-ish way. So stuck up at times. Yet, soft as a blueberry and sweet as a peach beneath the surface!' A warm fuzzy feeling filled Nicky's heart, and a smile as colorful as an upside-down rainbow graced his lips.

'But I can always tell when he's faking it. And when he's not. And I know….' Nicky sighed heavily again, puffed up his cheeks and tapped them with his hands to make popping sounds. 'I know he's been faking it more than not lately. Which is strange, seeing how I finally got him out of that damn closet he's lived in his whole life and all!'

Nicky practiced his fish impression. 'Suppose it must be work bringing him down.' He glared at Rod's overflowing basket of business suits, ties, and shirts, ready to take down to the laundry room. 'Jesus Christ Rod! How the hell can you work ten to twelve-hour shifts on Wall Street every day! Five days a week. Sometimes six! Only to come home and do nothing but housework 'til it's time to sleep! Then repeat the same cycle indefinitely with no down-time!' He added a bitter sting of resentment, 'With no time for me!'

Nicky exhaled his frustration. 'It's crazy! So crazy. And all that stress! If only he could learn to be more like me! Just relax and not worry 'bout things so much.' He leaned over to blow down a tower of candy wrappers he'd built on Rod's chair earlier and chuckled as the wrappers tumbled onto the carpet like gooey confetti. 'See! Things can be so much fun when you don't worry about making a mess! If only Rod could see that!'

Nicky winced, as sharp pangs rippled through his stomach. Whether the pangs were brought on by his suppressed guilt, or last night's curry, he wasn't sure. But regardless, somewhere deep down inside, Nicky knew that Rod's OCD (obsessive cleaning disorder) was, at least partly, his fault.

An exhilarating surge of adoration swept through Nicky's body, as he gazed with deep-seated affection at the photographic Rod. 'Poor guy. He's lost all his joy.' He grabbed the photo frame again. 'I have to help him get his groove back! I have to cheer him up somehow! I can't stand to see him so glum all the time. But what else can I do? I mean jeez, I already found him a smoking hot dreamboat boyfriend! What more could he want in life?'

Nicky noodled over the question. Though, his online bait had snagged one hell of a gay bae for Rod. And that introducing the two had livened up Rod for a short while. Ricky's effect on Rod had been all too fleeting.

- FLASHBACK (ROD RETURNS HOME FROM HIS DATE WITH RICKY) -

Nicky stood in the center of the living room, bag of nuts in hand, and a scattering of nuts at his feet. He was about to catch another incoming nutty missile in his gaping mouth, when Rod burst into view, and he missed his target.

"Rod!" Nicky whined, but remained unperturbed from his mission.

Rod flinched like a gazelle and spun around to lock the apartment door behind him. Hiding his face from his preoccupied roommate, he wiped away any signs of sadness from his cheek.

"Hey, Rod! Have fun on your date?" Nicky hollered obliviously, his gaze glued to the flying nuts.

Rod mopped up any remaining tears with his soggy sleeve and sniffed. He had tried to stop crying before he got home. And he thought he'd succeeded. But a few more stray tears had somehow escaped. Suffering from post-date blues, he had wandered the streets in a despondent haze. But back in the familiarity of his apartment, Rod slowly began to feel himself again.

"So, did you? Have fun?" Nicky repeated.

Rod sighed. "Um… Well, it was..." He began but trailed off the moment he caught sight of Nicky, the saliva dripping from his cavernous mouth, and the peanuts all over the floor. "Wait, what on Earth are you doing Nicholas?" Rod shrieked as he stared in horror at the state of his carpet.

However, as agitated as his best friend made him feel at times, oddly Rod secretly enjoyed their little squabbles. And he felt his zig reawaken in the presence of Nicky's zag. "Come on! Let's hear it! What excuse are you going to try and fob me off with this time?!" Rod fixed his messy reckless roommate in his sights with a glare of disapproval.

However, Nicky paid no heed to Rod's grumpy scowl. "I'm practicing my peanut catching Rod! Think I'm becoming a pro! So far I've caught five peanuts in my mouth! Four in my hair! And seven down my shirt! Isn't that amazin' buddy?! A new record! You know, I'm even thinkin' about signin' up to perform at the Around The Clock Cafe! I think it could be a great party trick! People could even buy a bag of nuts at the door. Then throw nuts for me to catch! How about that for a show? Don't you think that'd be great? I mean gee, you'd pay to watch me catch your nuts in my mouth, wouldn't you Rod?"

Rod stared at Nicky in complete disbelief. How on Earth did his dopey roommate keep coming up with such preposterous, innuendo-tinged ideas?!

"Nicky! No! No, I would not! And how many times have I told you?! Don't do that in the living room!" Rod squealed as he rushed over and snatched the bag of nuts from his friend's sweaty grip. "You know what, don't do that anywhere for that matter!"

"Huh? Jeez, really Rod? Why not?" Nicky moaned and ruffled his hair to dislodge the MIA peanuts snagged in his unkempt mop.

"Because…" Rod stressed, trying his best not to lose his composure to the swoon-inducing sight of his secret crush swishing around his sexy, albeit decidedly grubby, locks. "Even ignoring the obvious mess! Which I must say is very hard to ignore Nicky! You could choke! And well, I really do have better things to do than rush down to the ER because you've been stupid enough to clog up your esophagus with a peanut again!"

"Aw… But Rod!" Nicky tried in vain to grab the packet of nuts back off his spoilsport roommate. "Why do you always have to be such a party-pooper Rod?! I was just messin' about is all! I wasn't gonna choke this time! I told you, I'm a pro now! Besides, we wouldn't need to go down the ER! Remember! You gave me the Heimlich maneuver. Saved my life. And everythin' was right as rain again!" After a few additional failed grabs for the bag, Nicky gave up and slumped down on the sofa.

"Nicky, I'm only looking out for you. And well, it's not safe! Gulping down nuts whole like that! I thought I'd nearly lost you last time! And I just… Well, I don't want anything bad to happen to you, okay?" Rod could feel the tears welling up in his eyes again, his emotions still running high.

"Huh?" This time Nicky sensed the sadness in his buddy's voice, so scooched around on the sofa to face him. "Gee Rod, I'm sorry buddy. I know you're just tryin' to look out for me and all. But really, I wasn't gonna choke this time, I promise. Most of them didn't even get close to my mouth anyway!" He gestured to the mess at his feet, a school-boy grin flickering across his face. "Anywho, enough about me and my nuts. How was your date with Ricky? What happened? You know, you look way more stressed out than you should for someone who's just had his first romantic dinner date."

"I do?" Rod said as anxiety fizzed ever more feverishly in the pit of his stomach.

"Yeah. What happened?"

Rod plucked one of the more trivial reasons for his stressed state from his overcrowded mind. "Well, if you must know, my office rang. Apparently, there's some problem with the Margate account."

"You mean you left your phone on during your date?!" Nicky gasped in disbelief.

"Yes, Nicky! Of course I left my phone on! I have responsibilities! I can't just turn off my phone whenever I feel like it! And I especially can't turn it off when I'm on the verge of securing the deal of a lifetime for one of my major clients! Just because you can leave your phone behind the toilet for days on end without consequence! It doesn't mean that those of us with jobs can do the same!" Rod frowned.

"But surely…" Nicky trailed off, realizing he couldn't win the argument. He didn't even have a clue what the Margate Rod was on about. So how could he argue with him? "Anyway, forget all that! How did the date go?" Nicky beamed, his eyes still innocently awaiting some happier news.

Rod sighed, ignoring his roommate's persistent line of interrogation. "You know what? I think I'm going to run myself a nice hot bubble bath. And after that, it's your turn to have a wash! Look at the state of your hair!" Rod fussed over Nicky, picking the remaining nut fragments out of his shaggy mop.

Nicky ignored Rod's fussing. "But Rod? I want to hear all about your date? I know that you're new to havin' a boyfriend and all. But…"

"Ricky is NOT my boyfriend!" Rod shrieked.

"So you didn't get on?" Nicky couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice.

"Look. It was…" Rod sighed. "All right okay. But it was just a date. That's all! Just one date Nicky! That doesn't make him my boyfriend! Anyway, I really don't want to talk about it right now." Rod grabbed some paperwork from his briefcase. "So just drop it, please. I'm tired."

"But…" Nicky paused. Rod looked so exhausted. "Okay, buddy. You have a nice long soak. That always helps me feel better." He smiled. "Look, I was gonna order a pizza. Do you fancy some?"

"Well, let me see... I've just had a huge three-course dinner with Ricky. So, no. I think I'll pass on the pizza." Rod rolled his eyes. "Wait. Nicky, didn't you have pizza last night?"

"Yeah. So?"

Rod shook his head. "You know Nicky, you really should cut down on all the junk food. It's not healthy! It can't be doing your heart any good."

"Yeah, yeah." Nicky grinned and waved as Rod disappeared into the bathroom.

- END OF FLASHBACK -

'Poor Rod.' Nicky thought. 'He has so many worries. And he puts up with so much crap from people.' He paused. 'He puts up with so much crap from me!' Nicky sighed, as his guilty thoughts came into focus. 'Rod is such an awesome friend! My bestest buddy. The bestest buddy I've ever had!' He punched his fist into his hand. 'It's not fair he has all the worries of the world on his skinny blue shoulders! He deserves better from people. Better from me.' Nicky leaned over to gather up the wrappers from the floor.

"Rod works so hard to pay the rent, to keep me fed, to keep this place nice for us! Hell, he spent virtually all last night cleaning up my mess!" Nicky paused for a moment to look around. "And in less than an hour, I've turned it back into a pig-sty!" He slapped his palm onto his forehead. "Wow! What's wrong with me?! Maybe Rod's right! Maybe I am a slob! How on Earth does he put up with me?!" He thought, as he dropped the wrappers in the trashcan. 'Wait, why does he put up with me?'

Nicky scoured the very depths of his mind, searching for an answer. But try as he might, he couldn't explain Rod's perpetual tolerance. 'I guess he just enjoys having someone to mother.' He settled on. But he knew there had to be more to it than that.

'Whatever Rod's reasons… ' Nicky thought, collapsing back onto the couch. 'I'm sure they're beyond me! I mean, Rod has a business brain. He's probably made a pie-chart to analyze the pros and cons of our friendship or some shit.' He paused. 'Huh. I wonder if you could use a real pie to make a pie chart? Hmm.' Nicky pondered. 'That'd make for some yummy statistics! I bet more people would pay attention if math dorks used real pies!' He chuckled at the idea, his mood rapidly rebooting to its default optimistic setting, as he pushed his guilty thoughts back into his subconscious.

"Okay." Nicky said, inhaling deeply. "No more excuses! Time to get busy! Need to straighten up the place before Rod gets home tonight!" He paused. "Wait. No. That's not right! I can't straighten up the place! Rod's not straight. At least not anymore! So that wouldn't do! No. Instead, I need to gay-en up the place!" Nicky, amused by his juvenile word-play, rolled about in a fit of giggles on the sofa. "Heh! Gay-en up the place! Instead of straighten up the place! Classic! I really must run that one by Rod sometime! Sure he'd love it!"

Nicky pondered the term for a minute. 'Huh? I wonder what gay-ening something up would involve? Maybe adding some rainbow decor? Anywho, better get to it!'

But before Nicky could spring into action, the TV flickered on. "What the…" He squidged forward and pulled the remote from under his leg. "Ah-ha! There you are!" He beamed, as he stared at the TV remote and sniggered at the sight of Daffy duck dancing around Bugs Bunny in a bikini on the screen!

"Hmm, well. What the hay? What harm can a couple more minutes of cartoons do? I'll just watch 'til the adverts." Nicky reassured himself. "Then I'll get right to gay-ening up the place!"

- TWO HOURS LATER -

Nicky was finally on his feet, ready to obliterate the wasteland of scrunched up packets, wrappers and soda cans that he had created. When the apartment phone rang.

Nicky slumped over to answer it. "Yellow?"

"Nicky? Hey! It's Ricky."

"Ricky? Oh, sorry, buddy. Rod's not here at the moment. He's at work. But I could take a message? He's usually back by eight-ish. Sometimes earlier, but that's pretty rare these days." Nicky sighed sadly.

"Err… Actually, it's you I was after. I meant to ask you for your number before. But jeez, guess I forgot in all the confusion. You see…"

"Me?!" Nicky said, in shock.

"Um yeah. You busy?"

Nicky looked around the cluttered apartment. "Nope. Not busy at all."

"Cool. Well, keep an open mind. But I've kinda got a proposition for you."

Nicky listened intently, his eyes widening, as Ricky outlined his proposition.

- IN ROD'S WALL STREET OFFICE -

Rod stared vacantly at his computer screen. He was supposed to be checking the Walmart stock prices, but his mind was elsewhere.

It had been nearly a week now since his dramatic confession on Avenue Q. A week since his life had been turned upside down and inside out. But his head was still swimming with a myriad of jumbled emotions.

In the past week, not only had he finally plucked up the courage to out-himself in front of all his friends, which for Rod was trauma enough for a lifetime! But he'd also had the deepest desires of his heart plucked out of tune, by the surreal nature of it all. And now his emotions vibrated erratically, blending together to create a seemingly incomprehensible froth of feelings. And his future was at the mercy of the strange juxtaposition between Ricky and Nicky.

True, deep down Rod was in no doubt with whom his heart resided. But on the surface, the similarities between the two green men baffled his senses. It was as if his heart was the central point on a tug o' war rope between them. His best friend, roommate and lifelong unattainable love, Nicky, naturally, on the winning side. And his one-time blind date, Ricky, barely able to sustain his grip, at the other end.

Still, Rod couldn't deny how eerily alike they were. Well, ignoring the obvious differences in body shape. Clearly Ricky, with his six-pack and well-toned biceps, took care of his physique. Indeed, no doubt Ricky would win hands down, if Rod's suitor were literally chosen by a tug o' war match!

Whereas Nicky, a self-confessed couch-potato addicted to junk food, had never been concerned with health and fitness! Sure Nicky would still tug hard on the rope in an attempt to win the game, as he could get pretty competitive too! But physically he knew Nicky would be no match for Ricky. Rod sighed. He really wanted Nicky to win! 'Why, oh why, do they have to be so similar?!' He despaired.

And the resemblance didn't stop at appearance, as Ricky also sounded, and acted, just like Nicky! The melodic tones in Ricky's voice, mirroring Nicky's otherwise unique, cheerful bouncy inflections.

Rod frowned. On some level, it infuriated him that Ricky had 'stolen' so many of Nicky's quirks. But he knew that was ridiculous. Ricky had stolen nothing. Ricky was just being himself. It wasn't his fault he was so very like Nicky. Was it?

To be fair, even the most stoic of individuals would likely struggle to untangle such an insanely twisted knot of emotions! But Rod, being the hypersensitive, over-analytical guy that he was, found the knot damned near impossible to unravel!

Rod sunk deeper and deeper into his thoughts, losing all track of time, until his computer chimed, "You've got mail!"

Rod flinched at the sudden PING. 'Why on Earth did I log in to my personal email account at work?' He thought as he opened the email box somewhat absentmindedly. Well, until he caught sight of the name on the message.

"Ricky!" He gasped.

Rod hovered his cursor over the message in a state of shock. When BANG BANG BANG! There were three loud knocks on his office door.

Startled out of his contemplation, Rod hastily exited the email box, inadvertently deleting it in his flusterous panic.

"Um… yes? Come in!" Rod called.

One of his interns popped his head around the door. "Mr. Periwinkle there's a pizza delivery guy here to see you. Shall I send him in?"

Rod spotted what he was convinced was a smirk on the underling's face. And he could feel his blood boil with defensiveness.

Admittedly, he'd become somewhat paranoid, especially lately. Rumors about his sexuality had spread throughout Wall Street like wildfire since he'd come out on Avenue Q. He had no idea how the gossip had gotten out. But it had. And now he had to deal with it!

But honestly, he was just getting so fed up with the whole thing. He'd been pranked so many times with the supposed arrival of fictitious sexy delivery guys over the last couple of days. So many he was this close to putting a sign on his door that read, 'The next person to pretend there's a delivery guy to see me… GETS FUCKING FIRED!'

"Oh please. You will have to do better than that!" Rod rolled his eyes.

"No, really!" His subordinate insisted.

"For God's sake!" Rod exclaimed, gesturing to the pile of papers on his desk, his impatient sarcasm seething just below the surface. "Okay. Fine. Please, by all means, send him in with the pizza! Get him to lay the greasy boxes down there, on top of the Margate paperwork. Then we can all dig in! That's what gay guys do, right? Have pizza orgies?!"

"Really?" The underling questioned, unsure if his boss's request was genuine or not, given the circumstances.

"Yes, really!" Rod pinched the bridge of his nose. "For the love of God! Of course not really! Can't you see how snowed under I am! I have a ton of paperwork to complete! And three accounts to settle before seven! Also, I didn't order any damn pizza! Oh, and for the record! Not all gay-guys-have-pizza-orgies!" He screeched hysterically, his words blurring together.

"Sorry, sir." The secretary disappeared for a moment, before returning sheepishly, shaking his head. "Um, never mind. False alarm. He's gone. Guess he wasn't a delivery guy. Just a guy holding a pizza. Oops. Sorry. My mistake, sir. He said he'll catch you later tonight after the Yankee's match." He smiled nervously, as he carefully closed the door behind him.

Rod rolled his eyes. "Gah!" He grumbled. He could easily guess who it had been. "Nicky!" He tutted and shook his head. "How many times have I told him not to bother me at the office?!"

But Rod wasn't really mad at Nicky. How could he be, when secretly, he loved it when his dreamboat called in to see him at work? He always loved it! Even if it was shockingly inappropriate!

'Oh, Nicky.' He moaned a lovesick sigh.

Oh, how he wished Nicky really was a pizza delivery guy, arriving for a hot steamy pizza orgy, just the two of them. He bit his lip feverishly, briefly indulging in a fantasy kiss with imaginary Nicky.

***** ROD DAY DREAMS *****

"Hey, Rod buddy? Wanna try some of my pizza? Please! I promise it'll be delish!" Nicky begged, his eyes deep with hunger. He opened up his luminous rainbow box to reveal a pepperoni-laced, tasty cheesy treat with a heart-shaped crust.

"No. But I want to try you." Rod flirted, swaying his hips as he shuffled towards him.

"Sure thing, buddy." Nicky's grin tripled in size and he engulfed Rod in a warm familiar embrace.

Rod bathed in his sweetheart's intoxicating scent. Nicky's skin smelled like freshly baked cookies and his hair sparkled like chocolate syrup. He swooned. It felt like him and Nicky were in the eye of a hurricane of lust, as the colorless paperwork morphed into prismatic pearls, flew into the air and encircled them. He wrapped his arms tightly around his beloved, edging forward to kiss Nicky's sticky greasy lips.

The moment was like something out of a magical fairy tale, only to Rod it was at least a quadrillion times more enchanting! A passionate luster swirled around the amorous couple. And Nicky's mouth melted against Rod's lips like a marshmallow dissolving in a mug of hot cocoa.

Rod beamed, as he all but burst from the breathtaking happiness. "Oh my God, Nicky. I just want to hold you so much!" He tightened his grip on his best friend's t-shirt. "Please never leave me again!" He said in profound desperation.

"Don't worry Rod buddy, I'm not goin' nowhere! I'm yours now. Yours forever. Jeez, I've always been yours!"

The ring of papers above them morphed into origami-cherub cheerleaders, which danced around the happy couple in the air, like acrobatic synchronized swimmers.

Nicky tipped Rod in his arms and stared deep into his soul. "I love you so much, Rod! So, so much! I've always loved you."

"I love you too, Nicky!" Rod smiled, as his heart melted with pure joy.

"You know, you can always talk to me, buddy. About anything. Right?" Nicky whispered.

Rod swallowed hard. "Really?"

"Course." Nicky caressed Rod's silky blue face with his soft green thumb.

"Gosh, Nicky... You put me in heaven with your touch! I just want to snuggle up to you and never let you go!" Rod mumbled, hugging his arms around his friend's waist and snuggling against his chest.

The office glowed a delicious shade of turquoise, and the paper cheerleaders showered the romancing roommates in confetti and rose petals. Before the delicious divine image faded.

***** END OF DAY DREAM *****

"Heaven." Rod sighed wistfully. "If only fantasies could come true." He muttered, his heart sinking into a deep pit of hopeless oblivion. Massaging his temples, he spoke firmly to his fervid imagination. 'Right! Enough Nicky indulgence! Back to work!'

All but suffocated by an avalanche of trivialities, facts, and figures, Rod pressed on through the monotonous misery of the day. However, between his imaginary escapades, real-life deadlines, and bouts of hysterical paranoia, he soon forgot about the email from Ricky. And the potentially life-altering message lay dormant in his recycle bin, like an undetonated landmine, waiting for a fatal click.

Chapter Text

- WALL STREET STATION -

Eager to leave his suffocating office, after a 12-hour shift, Rod rushed down the subway steps, and waited for the next train to arrive. He was desperate to get home and see Nicky.

Exhausted, Rod's twig-like legs buckled beneath his slender body, causing his feeble, fragile frame to sway like a leaf in the wind. With the help of a nearby wall, he steadied himself as his vision fogged. However, it did little to ease the dizziness, and the world around him became a hazy blur of flickering capitalization-weighted indices.

Rod took off his glasses for a moment and rubbed his eyes. He hoped that might restore his vision to its default setting. But it didn't work. 'Curses! I hope I'm not having a stroke or something.' He thought, as his nerves unraveled like frayed wool. 'I really don't have time to have a stroke!'

Rod yawned deeply, and gave his glasses a quick clean before he pushed them back into position. However, his vision remained somewhat hazy, so he leaned his meager 105 pound body weight, fully back against the wall behind him. He had hardly slept at all last night, for reasons he wasn't ready to acknowledge, even to himself! And it had, without question, been one of the longest, most taxing days of his life!

True, he had secured several good investment deals for his clients. However, every financial transaction was riddled with problems and unforeseen consequences! All of which, of course, had to be clinically ironed out, before he could even contemplate leaving the building!

Rod groaned. He was so sick of analyzing constantly fluctuating stock markets. So sick of carefully interpreting economic indicators. Sometimes he hated being an investment banker! But he needed the money to pay the rent. He needed the money to cover his therapy costs. And most importantly, he needed the money to ensure a secure future for him and Nicky.

Still, sometimes he wished he could at least slow down a bit, cut back his hours, perhaps switch to a less demanding role? Rod sighed. 'Alas, my predicament prevents me from ever having a peaceful life-style.' He groaned. Truthfully, he needed the relentless distractions to keep his mind off Nicky as much as possible!

Besides, Rod's parents left him little choice, making it clear they expected him to repay every cent they'd spent on him over the years, plus interest. Frankly, sometimes Rod felt like his mother resented his very existence! Because every time he called home, his mother repeated the same tyrannical lecture on the importance of parental repayment. And each week she sent the same impersonal text, demanding that he repay his debts to them as soon as possible!

Since Rod was little, his mother had practically drilled that notion into his head. 'Don't forget, your life isn't free! You owe us! We've sacrificed so much to bring you into this world, spent so much to ensure you're well educated! And we expect you to repay us for everything we've ever done for you since the day you were born!'

Rod clenched his fist. It's not that they'd ever really done much for him anyway, except leave him with emotional wounds so deep, they never seemed to heal. Hell, even now, 7 years after escaping from their narcissistic hell-hole, and moving over a thousand miles away to be with his beloved Nicky, those same scars still ruled the roost of his mind. And the pain of his past continued to engulf his soul in a torture chamber of shame!

Sure, financially his parents had helped him get his Master of Business Administration degree. But in every other way that mattered, they left Rod to fend for himself. Indeed, the only thing his parents had given him freely was a legacy of childhood trauma. Because his mind and body still ached with the pain inflicted by their emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse.

Rod tapped his foot impatiently, as he waited for the train to appear. He couldn't wait to get home, collapse in his favorite chair and watch something daft with Nicky for a few hours. Before it was time to return to his nightmarish dreams. Then rinse, wash and repeat, the same arduous routine for the rest of eternity!

'Why does my life always have to be such a struggle?' Rod thought. 'I mean, now I'm out of the closet. Now I can be myself. Shouldn't things be easier? I was so sure they would be. Perhaps...' He hesitated, 'Perhaps, it's because I'm not completely out of the closet? Not while my Nicky secret remains under lock and key?' He shuddered. 'But if that's true. Then surely I'll never be free!'

Rod put his hands to his jittering temples. The anxiety reverberating through his weary mind, like a lightning bolt in a hall of mirrors. 'Please stop thinking about it! Please stop! Please stop!' He chanted internally, trying to establish a mantra that would sooth his raucous mind.

But it wasn't working. And the inner emotional turmoil he was desperately trying to suppress, bubbled up once more. It was no use, he needed a few extra minutes self-contemplation before he had to face Nicky's heartbreaking heterosexuality again. And an uncontrollable urge compelled him to flee from the swarming subway.

However, it soon became clear that Rod had left it too late to change track. He gasped as a stampede of commuters ushered him into a cramped carriage. And a claustrophobic sensation washed over him! He knew he had to get off at once! If he didn't, the overcrowded climate of the carriage, combined with the overcrowded contents of his mind, might suffocate him! He spun round and pushed through the hordes of people blocking his path.

However, poor Rod was so immersed in his tumultuous emotions, that he failed to notice the doors had already pinged shut. And SMASH! THWACK!

Everything went purplish black for a second, and he slid down the glass onto the floor.

***** ROD'S FAINTING NIGHTMARE *****

Sucked into an icy abyss of anguish, Rod shivered, as flashes of Nicky and Ricky swirled around him ominously.

'What the hell is happening?' He thought, as the toxic treacle engulfed him. 'Oh my God! Am I dying?! Has the Lord tossed me down into the cauldron of Satan?! Is he going to punish me for my blasphemous ways? Is he going to burn my sinful homosexuality from my soul, just as my mother foretold?!'

The ferocious fissure fed upon his fear and Rod plunged deeper into the poisonous pit. He frantically flapped his arms, hoping it would stop his descent. Yet his flailing proved futile and he continued to tumble into the charcoal chasm.

The blackness had no end.

Rod used every ounce of willpower he could muster to avoid his psychological pain. And by some miracle he'd been able to bury his mother's most recent reproach in the deepest darkest depths of his psyche. He didn't have a choice. It was imperative that he suppressed her vile condemnations by any means necessary. Because if he didn't, he would never have been able to function, let alone go to work for a 12-hour shift!

Rod felt so very alone, so very afraid, so very abandoned, so very ashamed.

But there was no escape. And his mother's rage ricocheted painfully around his mind like a spinning dagger, plunging deep into his soul from all directions.

"Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle! Enough! Enough of your nonsense! Take that back this instant! You are NOT gay! Because if you were gay, I promise you, on your father's soul, that you would burn in the fiery pits of hell for all eternity! And don't expect any sympathy from me if that happens! Are you listening to me?! I warned you so many times over the years! If you are gay, God will forsake you! Simple as that! And I sure as hell would disown you too! Probably even cast you into the fiery cauldron of Satan myself! And after all I've done for you! This is how you repay us?! Well, maybe you need Satan to teach you a lesson for once! Maybe he's the only one who can get through to you! The only one who can punish you for your blasphemous ways! The only one who can burn the homosexuality from your body! And save your soul! Because it's evil, you know! Pure evil! And if you were gay, we'd have no choice but to toss you into the flames to rid you of its wretched wickedness! For your own good! And for the good of God!"

Rod scrunched his eyes shut, as the caustic castigation dug its claws into his heart.

But the torment had no end.

And poor Rod could not evade his mortification, as a hailstorm of hurtful memories pelted down upon him. The first included one of the last things Ricky had said to him, after their dinner date last week, alongside his related worry.

"Well, this was a total washout."

Rod thought, 'Oh God. Maybe my mother was right. Maybe I am unlovable. Maybe I will be alone forever!' Rod had cried for hours after that date, unable to purge the deafening despair.

Next came Nicky's most cutting lyrical statement.

"But I'm not gay!"

Rod thought, 'Oh God. Why does Nicky always have to rub his heterosexuality in my face?! I know he's not gay. I know he's straight. So why does it still hurt so much? Why does it crush my very spirit into the dust every time I'm reminded of that fact? For God's sake, we've known each other for nearly 16 years now! Hell, we've been living together 7 years! I should be acclimatized to the fact that Nicky is straight. I should have accepted it. I should have moved on! Jesus Christ, I hate living like this! I feel so ashamed, so trapped, so tormented! Am I really going to be alone forever?'

Rod had cried for hours after that song. If it hadn't been for that brief four syllable lyric, that Nicky had jammed in at the last second, the song would have been perfect. But with it included, the song had become one of Rod's most painful memories. Because that short statement of truth cut through his poor withered heart like a knife through soft butter.

Rod continued to fall, paralyzed by shame, as the most painful thoughts repeated to form a torturous loop of auditory hallucinations. The hurtful phrases spun faster and faster, creating a haunting hurricane of humiliation. Maybe God had forsaken him. Maybe Satan was punishing him for his sinful ways. Rod covered his ears, and prayed that the nightmare would end!

But it didn't.

Instead, an apocalyptic avalanche thrashed poor Rod against the rocky horizon. And he trembled, as his sinful love interests spitefully regurgitated his mother's pernicious condemnations.

First Ricky spoke his mother's words to remind him how pathetic he'd become. "Why haven't you called me once in two months?! Leaving me all alone with your pathetic father! How could you?! You are such an unlovable waste of space! You know you are! You can't deny it! I hope you rot in hell!"

And then Nicky re-enacted his mother's final fury. "How could you?! Why won't you repent?! Don't you know how much you're hurting me?! How could you destroy our relationship like this? With your sick abhorrent depravity! You are a disgrace to this family! You're a repugnant sinful being! And after you've repaid all your debts to us! We're done! And I sure as hell want nothing more to do with you! Do you hear me?! Nothing more to do with you!"

Rod sobbed, as the sharp chastisement punched through his shaken soul, and reverberated through his eardrums like a demonically demented tuning fork. And he whimpered as the hateful words pierced his skin like poisoned darts.

"How could you destroy our relationship like this? With your sick abhorrent depravity! … You're a repugnant sinful being! … We're done! And I sure as hell want nothing more to do with you! Do you hear me?! Nothing more to do with you!"

Coming from Nicky, that closing promise of rejection struck his heart with perfect precision and detonated with a million times the explosive force it had yielded in reality.

"No! Nicky please! I love you! I'm sorry I love you! Come back! Please don't leave me! I need you!" Rod screamed desperately, as he continued to plunge into the void.

But his purgatory had no end. Would it ever end?

The dark volcanic landscape below consumed him in flames. Before POP. Everything went blackish purple again.

***** END OF FAINTING NIGHTMARE *****

Rod groaned. "Ugh!" He winced in the bright lights, as he slowly regained his grip on reality. The nightmare faded. But the torment lived on in the form of a thumping headache.

"Ouch." Rod muttered. He awoke to find his body slumped awkwardly against the subway doors. His face squished into the glass.

"You okay pal?" A voice boomed from behind him.

Rubbing his head, Rod jerked back away from the door. But he didn't get far before knocking into someone behind him. Startled, Rod flinched. And his already shaky legs crumpled, causing him to topple backward onto the dirty floor.

"You had a nasty fall there, buddy."

'Sure did.' Rod thought, shivering as the haunting day-mare echoed in his mind. However, luckily, the haunting imagery quickly evaporated, and his emotional suppression barrier bounced back. He did his best to brush off the dust from his suit, while a huge beefcake of a dude loomed over him. Realizing what a disaster he must look, Rod cringed inwardly, 'Terrific! Fantastic! Just what I need!' He thought, as his inner sarcastic wit re-established its cynical supervision of his senses.

"Oh… Um…" Rod stuttered, as he scrabbled about on the floor, trying to get his shaky legs to cooperate. He knew he needed to get back onto his feet as soon as possible. "Sorry. Didn't mean to…"

"No worries. I know it's hard not to bump into people…" He offered Rod a helping hand, then turned to stare at the security guard and boomed, "The way those idiots pack us in on these things! I swear it should be a crime!"

"Uh huh." Rod agreed, dusting himself off and straightening his jacket. "Yeah, it's terrible!" He stared at the subway doors in frustration for a moment. But it was no use. No matter how hard he stared in vexation, no matter how many imaginary telepathic laser beams he shot at the emergency exit button, the doors didn't budge. He was trapped. 'Damn it!' He grumbled, but took a deep breath, steadied himself, and grabbed onto the rail.

The gallant gentleman squinted at Rod somewhat suspiciously. "Wait, a minute... Do I know you?"

Rod's eyes darted up at the stranger. "Um, no. I don't think so."

"Oh, yeah." The guy laughed. "I saw you at Opecki's the other day!"

Rod's eyes widened in horror, and he looked like a deer caught in headlights. "Um? Wha..?"

"You know Opecki's, the restaurant. You were having an asthma attack or something I think."

"Oh. That Opecki's." Rod blushed.

"You were with Ricky, right? On a date?"

Rod gulped hard and his heart raced. "Um, yes I guess. Do, do you know him?" He stuttered.

"Yeah, me and Ricky go way back! Well, a little ways back anyways. We're gym buddies, so to speak. Between us we keep Ludlow Fitness in business. I'm Terry." He chuckled. "So, you guys are going out?"

Rod didn't know what to say. But luckily he was saved by the bell, as a loud PING pierced through the awkward tension. He took the handkerchief from the top pocket of his suit and mopped the sweat from his brow. He could swear that the rumbling carriage walls were rattling towards him in the muggy stagnant air.

Terry hit the door release, "Sorry, this is my stop! So gotta dash! Nice meeting you though! Hope things work out for you and Ricky! He's a great guy! And you two make a cute turquoise couple!" He winked at Rod as he squeezed past him.

Rod forced a smile. However, all he really wanted to do was hide in the restroom! His skittish eyes scanned the surrounding crowd, hoping in vain that no one had overheard the conversation. But it was blatantly obvious that they had, as one guy looked at him in disgust, turned around and muttered something under his breath to the man beside him.

Rod couldn't quite catch the context of the conversation. And some might say he was being paranoid. But he got the distinct impression they were discussing his somewhat unorthodox sexuality. It was then he realized he'd been staring a little too long.

"Hey queerbo! Keep your eyes to yourself!" One of them shouted at him.

"Yeah, faggot!" The other added spitefully.

Rod whipped round and shielded his gaze with his hand. The urge to hide in the nearest restroom had become almost unbearable. He couldn't help it. It's how he'd always responded to awkward social situations. It was a coping mechanism, a fight-or-flight instinct. A defense strategy, beaten into him, both at school and at home.

However, pinned in a prison of sweaty armpits, it was clear bolting to freedom was impossible! So Rod squidged into the 'passenger smush' until the obnoxious ruffians were no longer visible.

'So many people!' Rod wheezed, as panic pounded in his chest. Struggling to breathe, he grabbed his inhaler and took a few quick puffs. 'This is a living hell! Why spend $127 a month on a Premium TransitCheK MetroCard, for such an unsatisfactory service?!' He thought. But he knew customer complaints were futile. Rush hour was rush hour, and that would never change.

Rod tentatively touched the sore patch on his forehead and flinched. It was so painful, in so many ways. 'Damn it! Bet I'll have a huge bruise there now! Great, another thing to draw attention to myself! Just what I need!'

Not able to move, let alone open a newspaper, Rod couldn't help but tumble back into his thoughts surrounding the whole Nicky vs Ricky mess he'd gotten himself into. He knew his mother's words were there too, on the periphery of his subconscious. But luckily they lay just beyond his focus, at least for now.

Thinking back to when he first met his roommate's double, Rod began to re-live the roller coaster of emotions he'd encountered that day.

The moment Nicky had agreed to move back in with him, was easily one of the best moments of his life. The euphoric embrace which resuscitated their friendship, the fleeting proximity to Nicky's neck... God, the joy he'd felt in that instant… Oh my gosh! It was almost indescribable! The electrifying enchantment had catapulted him over the moon! He was so ecstatically thrilled to secure a reunion after their apocalyptic fall out!

So much emotion, packed into such a short space of time! Hell, those few seconds alone could have easily made it to the 'Top Twenty Five Nicky Swooning Moments Of His Life' list! And yes, that list existed. Rod hadn't looked at it for years. But he knew it lay hidden in a drawer somewhere, its emotional power suppressed, like the unspoken passion that he kept locked beneath his stiff frigid exterior.

After their heartwarming reunion, Rod had barely extinguished his powerful urge to smother Nicky in hot steamy kisses, before his innocent yet pushy roommate announced he'd put a personal ad on the internet, and found him someone special. Oh my God! He had all but hyperventilated! And that was before Nicky had even introduced him to Ricky! Heck, he'd been so overwhelmed by it all, that he had to get Kate to sing him his happy song, just to quell his panic attack!

The first time Rod set eyes on Ricky, he had been so shocked by the mere sight of him, that he had practically drowned in his own hysteria! A hysteria that, in the heat of the moment, and in the presence of an audience, had quickly morphed into an extremely weird, and somewhat disturbing, frenzied-melodrama!

Rod couldn't deny the initial prospect of having both Nicky and Ricky, twice the Nicky around, had swamped all logic! Or, in other words, his 'Cup runneth over!' to coin the phrase he had squealed during his melodramatic scene! Indeed, in the midst of that manic first encounter the exorbitant Nicky-ness had been almost too much to bare, inducing an almost dreamlike delirium!

However, after Rod had calmed down, and actually thought about the concept of dating his best friend's - and secret sweetheart's - doppelganger. Well, it didn't feel right somehow. Sure, it felt like seventh heaven from a lust stance! But from a love stance? No. No, from a love stance there was definitely something eerily disconcerting about the whole situation!

Rod knew that Nicky meant well setting him up with Ricky. But seriously, why had he chosen a guy who looked, and sounded exactly like him?! Did he not notice? How could he not? Did he suspect? Did he know that Rod had a secret crush on him? That Rod had been in love with him since the day they first met? Was this Nicky's way of giving his best friend the next best thing to himself? Surely not! Rod frantically replayed Nicky's words in his mind.

"I think I know your type."

What the hell did that mean?! Maybe he… Rod gasped, his eyes widening to the size of saucers, 'What if… My God! What if Nicky knows my secret?!' He bit his lip. 'No.' He shook his head decisively, in an attempt to escape his disturbing trail of thought. 'He can't know my secret?! Can he?!' He took in some deep breaths, trying his best not to pass out again. People on the subway were already staring at him, and the last thing he needed was to make another huge scene and have everyone fuss over him!

'No!' Rod reassured himself, 'Nicky does not know my secret. Absolutely not! That's crazy. Ridiculous, in fact! Nicky can't read my mind! True, he figured out I was gay. I suppose that was fairly obvious… But, no. Just no! It's a coincidence, must be! A coincidence that Ricky is the spitting image of Nicky. Just a coincidence. That's all. A really weird coincidence! But a coincidence none the less.' He breathed in deeply and dismissed the notion from his mind. Still, he couldn't stop his roller coaster of thoughts. And Rod cringed, as he replayed his recent dinner date with Ricky in his mind.

- FLASHBACK (ROD'S DINNER DATE WITH RICKY) -

After ordering, Ricky and Rod stared at each other across the table for a moment, Rod ridiculously nervous, Ricky just searching for a good question to ask.

"So…" Ricky started, "How long have you known Nicky?"

Rod stuttered, "Well, um… Since we were kids, really. Back in the fourth grade, we bumped into each other in the corridor one day. And, well, as they say, the rest is history!" He chuckled nervously.

"So, you're best friends? That's it?"

"Yes. Just friends." Rod rested his head on his hands, his trembling lips unable to subdue a sizable somber sigh.

"And you share an apartment?" Ricky asked, as his brows narrowed. "Isn't that… Awkward? How's that working out for you?"

Rod swallowed hard, 'What's with the 20 questions?' He thought. "Yes. It's all right." He confirmed, before he took a sip from his water. "Not awkward at all, really." He gulped hard. That was a definite lie!

"Don't you just get on top of each other all the time?"

Whoa! That was it, Rod couldn't hold back the flood of mental imagery that surged into his mind. "Um…" He spluttered, almost choking on his water. His cheeks flushed, "No. Um… We get on okay, actually. Well, most of the time." Rod thought, 'God, this is an absolute nightmare! What on Earth is he going to ask me next? Whether me and Nicky sleep in the same room almost every night? Whether there have been nights when I accidentally fell asleep in Nicky's arms?! Well, yes Ricky! Yes we do and yes I have! I wonder what he'd make of those little revelations?'

"You each have your own lives I suppose? You're out a lot, right? Working on Wall Street? And Nicky? What does Nicky do?"

Rod regained his composure and tried to maintain a professional decorum. "Yes. I work 10 to 12 hours a day on Wall Street during the week, as an Investment Manager. And Nicky… Well, let's just say, Nicky hasn't chosen a career path just yet." Rod rolled his eyes.

"Uh huh. So Nicky?" Ricky gestured, as if to say, 'What does Nicky do all day?'

"Um… Well, he doesn't have a vocation as such at the moment. He has a lot of… Um... Activities at home to keep him busy."

"He works from home?"

"Um… No. No, not exactly." Rod thought, 'Nicky?! Work from home?! That's hilarious!'

"Right. But he has a lot of free time on his hands?"

"Yes, you could say that." Rod thought, 'A lot of free time on his hands?! Ha! He has 24 hours a day of free time on his hands! Not to mention melted chocolate, pizza grease and potato chip dust!'

"Cool." Ricky smiled, drumming his fingers on the table.

For a moment things went quiet between them.

Rod twiddled his fork. "So… Ricky. What do you do for a living?"

"Well, several things. I work…"

Ricky's voice fizzled into faint distant murmurs, as Rod's focus on reality dimmed and his mind bombarded him with disturbing questions.

'When is Nicky going to get a job?' Rod thought, 'What does he think? That I'm just going to let him live with me rent free forever?! That I'm just going to wash his underwear and iron his socks for him forever?!' He rubbed the back of his neck. 'Who am I kidding? Of course I am! But still… Doesn't Nicky want a life of his own?'

That thought terrified Rod more than any other. And an all too familiar heart-wrenching void of loneliness washed over him. He nibbled at his lower lip to diminish the dread. Though, luckily, before his thoughts could snowball, a waiter plonked a bowl of tomato soup down in front of him, which jolted him back into reality.

"Huh…." He muttered, regaining his focus on the table. "Wait… This isn't right! Is it? Is this what I ordered?!"

Ricky wrinkled his brow in thought for a moment. "Um… Yeah, I think it is."

"Uh uh. No way!" Rod shook his head furiously. "This has got basil floating in it! I specifically told them, no basil! Hold the basil! You heard me right? I told them no-basil!" He squealed.

"Well… I guess they must have forgot."

Rod put his head in his hands. "I'm sorry Ricky. I didn't mean to take it out on you. It's not your fault. It's just… I've been working all day. And well, it's been a hard day. You know?"

"It's Sunday." Ricky said flatly.

"Well, yes, but we have this important client. And they want to invest a lot of money. But the value of the stocks they were interested in has been fluctuating wildly." Rod paused, realizing that he was going into way too much detail. "And well, I've been trying all day to sort it out! To solidify their investments. It's just such a mess. But if we lose this client… Well, you know how it is? An investment banker's work is never done!" He laughed, his jittery fingers twitching as he rubbed his sweaty hands together. "Sorry, I know, I'm wittering. I just…." Rod fidgeted in his seat, before he leaned across the table, "This is my first… Um..." He whispered with as much subtlety as he could manage, "Gay date." He sat back and tugged at his shirt collar in agitation. "And well, um, I guess I'll admit it. I'm a little nervous."

'A little?!' Ricky thought. 'What an understatement!' But he shot Rod a reassuring smile. "No worries."

"You see, I only came out the other day. Out of the Closet, I mean. And well, it's all getting a bit much. All this at once. You looking exactly like… Oh figs! I'm not making any sense, am I?"

Ricky rolled his eyes. "Well, no." A frown flickered across his face, "Not really."

"I'm sorry." Rod was blushing bright pink now, which was some achievement for him being blue skinned!

"You know what, it's fine. Let's just get that soup changed." Ricky summoned over a waiter. "Sir, there's a problem with this soup. It's not what my date ordered."

Rod cringed, 'Did Ricky just call me his date? Out loud? For the whole restaurant to hear?' He shuddered, he had barely come to terms with his friends and neighbors knowing his sexual orientation! And now Ricky was announcing it to the world?! He loosened his tie.

"Really?" The waiter raised an eyebrow. He was clearly new to the catering business. "It's not what you ordered sir?" He looked over at Rod, who was now dripping in sweat.

Rod struggled to find even the word 'no' in his flustered state.

But luckily Ricky had the situation under control. "Yes. He ordered tomato soup with no basil." Ricky said calmly. "And this has…" He gestured towards the soup.

"Oh… And that has… Oh, oh dear. No problem, sir. I'll just fix that for you." The waiter grabbed the bowl of soup. "Sorry to interrupt your date."

"Thank you." Ricky turned to smile at the waiter before he disappeared into the kitchen.

Rod looked around the restaurant. To him it seemed as if everyone was staring at him. In reality, a few people may have glanced at him briefly, but really no one had batted an eyelid.

'Wait?' Rod thought and did a double take. 'Do I know that guy?' His heart rate soared. 'No. He looks like Tim from accounting. But it's not him.' He reassured himself. Rod used the handkerchief from his top pocket to wipe the sweat from his forehead and took some deep breaths. He spoke harshly to himself. 'Calm down Rod! It's just a date! Just dinner! Pretend Ricky's a client!'

However, just when Rod thought he'd recovered, he began struggling to breathe again. "Um… Sorry about this… But I can't… I need my…" He wheezed.

Ricky, who had been discussing New York's unusually warm spring weather with the lady opposite, looked up at his wheezing date. Concerned, he quickly stood up and went over to pat Rod on the back. "It's okay. Where's your inhaler?"

"In my… Um, jacket... Um, pocket." Rod coughed, gasping for air.

Ricky rummaged around, "Got it!"

"Thanks." Rod puffed.

"No problemo." Ricky forced a smile.

Rod straightened his tie and checked his hair was still as it should be, before preceding to act as if nothing had happened. "So…" He took a sip of water. "Where were we? You were telling me about…?"

Still concerned, Ricky ignored Rod's question, "You sure you're okay? Cuz if you wanna go home or something we can always have dinner another time. This was all a bit of a rushed job anyway. All Nicky's doing!" He leaned back in his chair slightly and stared at the door.

"No. It's okay. I just... Um. Get short of breath now and then. But a few puffs, and ta-da! I'm right as rain again! Really, I promise. Everything's perfectly fine now. I'm fine, thank you. How are you?" Rod forced a smile. "Your soup must be getting cold. "Ricky looked at Rod suspiciously, but his cheeks had returned to their natural blue color, and he seemed to be breathing normally once more.

"Well..." Ricky sighed heavily. "Okay then. If you're sure? But if you change your mind, it's not a problem. In fact, you'd probably be doing me a favor!" Ricky chuckled. "Boy, that Nicky sure does have a lot to answer for, doesn't he?!" He half joked, rolling his eyes. "Anywho, if you want to call it a day? Or whatever. Just let me know, okay?"

"Yes, I will." Rod said, barely registering Ricky's words. His head now buried in the menu, as he tried his best to avoid any more awkward eye contact with his blind date. "So, do you think we should order a plate of garlic bread, to accompany the main course? You're having pizza, I'm having pasta. Both of which are quintessential Italian dishes. So garlic bread would complement them both perfectly, don't you think? Yes?"

"Um. Yeah. Sure. Sounds good." Ricky agreed apathetically.

"Good." Rod lowered the menu and smiled at Ricky. However, just as things were starting to resemble a normal dinner date, his cell phone buzzed loudly. "Oh sorry, hope you don't mind. I've really got to get this." Rod pulled his phone from his jacket and disappeared outside, leaving Ricky alone at the table.

- END OF FLASHBACK -

'That date was a complete and utter disaster!' Rod thought. 'Surely Ricky never wants to go out with me again after that fiasco! I mean, he did say - Well, this was a total washout. - But, then again it was raining outside at the time. And he did also say - This was fun! Guess I'll see you around? - when he dropped me off on Avenue Q. Does that mean he likes me? Does that mean he wants to go out with me again? Does that mean we're actually going out!? Nobody said that we're going out. I definitely didn't say it. And he didn't. So we can't be going out! Right? At least not officially. Surely?'

Rod grasped onto the hand rail, as the carriage jerked about on the track. 'He didn't say when he'd see me around though, did he?' He mentally skimmed through their conversations, but he didn't remember any requests for a second date. He breathed a sigh of relief.

However, deep beneath the crushing pain in his heart, Rod was still missing one key clue to Ricky's intentions. The email Ricky had sent him, which still sat in his email trash can. His typically infallible memory was just so inundated with everything else that had been thrashing his poor battered ego, that Ricky's email had completely slipped from his mind. Besides, during the day he'd read hundreds of emails, so it was easy for one to slip through the net, even if Ricky's name had been slapped on it.

Consequently, as Rod stared out the window his thoughts instead returned to the overwhelming similarities between Ricky and Nicky.

'This whole situation is just so bizarre!' Rod thought. 'On our date, Ricky ordered pizza for Christ's sake! Pizza! That's Nicky's meal of choice! In fact, Nicky ordered pizza that very night too, the moment I got home! They are just so unbelievably similar! How can I even tell them apart?! My mind barely has anything to work with!'

Rod despaired. 'I mean, seriously? How on Earth can Ricky look and act so much like Nicky and yet not even be related?! The chances of that are beyond ridiculous! And yet, both Nicky and Ricky are adamant that they're not twins, that they are not related at all. Besides, I know Nicky's family better than my own! I know they're not related!' Rod reminded himself. Although, there was always a chance that Ricky was some long lost relation? An adopted twin separated from Nicky at birth, perhaps?

Rod held his head in his hands. All these thoughts spinning around his brain, like a carousel on speed, were making him feel dizzy. Nicky becoming Ricky becoming Nicky again in his mind! It was giving him a migraine!

Poor Rod wished so badly he had someone to confide in, but Christmas Eve was still away, and he had no family he could call.

'No! Don't go there!' Rod warned his brain. 'I don't think I can handle that right now! Not on top of everything else!'

Rod felt so alone. Christmas Eve had helped him a lot, over the past couple of weeks, before he came out to the world. She had helped him make sense of his troubled childhood, helped him make sense of his abusive mother. And mostly, all her advice and support had been a great comfort to Rod. However, Christmas Eve had also been the one who had encouraged him to come clean about his sexuality to everyone in his life. Oh, what a terrible mistake that had been!

Rod had only just plucked up the courage to call home last night, when Nicky was out with Princeton. And he'd almost dodged the issue. Almost. But he couldn't take any more of his mother's orders, and snapped on the phone. Everything had come pouring out at once. How he'd been secretly gay for years. How ashamed his parents made him feel. How especially ashamed his mother made him feel.

And well, naturally, that had gone down about as well as you would expect. Like a skydiver without a parachute, in fact! Like a freshly pumped up helium balloon, just before it pops. Rod slowly exhaled his anguish. That was the perfect metaphor for the whole conversation, actually, for his whole life perhaps! Rod gasped. It was true. He did feel like a balloon, a balloon who had been pumped up with so much hot air over the years, that his eventual pop was inevitable.

As soon as Rod had uttered the words, 'I'm gay.' Things had deteriorated pretty quickly. Rod trying to explain how he had felt all these years, barely getting a word in edge-ways. Before a splat! A few torturous minutes of his mother's sanctimonious outrage. An explosive blitz of verbal abuse. Abuse that brought back so many awful memories.

If he'd ended the call sooner, or, at the very least, covered his vulnerable ears, Rod could have saved himself a lot of anguish. But every time his mother raged at him, he froze. And when paralyzed by such spine chilling fear, he regressed back to his traumatized childhood. Besides, that would've only made things worse, because his mother could become incredibly vindictive if she didn't get to have the last word.

No, ultimately, it was better to let her speak, as at least that way he could be sure she truly had washed her hands of him, and that she wouldn't seek revenge for being ignored. So on the fateful night he stood there and took the abuse, like the punching bag he'd become. He let her say the most hurtful humiliating things to him, perhaps some of the most horrific things she had ever said. Then without warning, poor Rod was quote, 'Banished from the family forever!' Before BEEP! She hung up the phone. And that was the end of that, probably forever.

Not that it mattered much to Rod. He'd never been close to his parents, and he didn't have any siblings to worry about. Indeed, in a way, Rod felt free. Freer than he'd ever felt! Free to be himself. Free to explore his new life. He only wished he had someone to explore his new life with! But now he didn't even have Christmas Eve to call on. She had been such a great comfort to him through all this pain.

But now she was gone. And Rod was alone again. Oh, how he wished he could talk to Nicky about his inner turmoil! But he couldn't, because their friendship would surely be destroyed, if Nicky ever so much as suspected he'd been secretly fantasizing about him all these years.

A tear trickled down his cheek. 'Pull yourself together, Rod!' He spoke firmly to himself, as he roughly brushed it away with his fingers. 'Everyone is watching!' He rubbed the bridge of his nose to ease his angst and loosened his tie.

As Rod peered out into the pitch-black abyss of the subway tunnel, he wondered what his future had in store for him. Was Ricky really the Prince Charming he had been waiting for all this time? The one that would finally cure him of his Nicky infatuation? The one that would finally save him from his Nicky demons?

It didn't seem possible. But if Nicky wouldn't be around forever, Rod needed to find someone else to share his life with, didn't he?

Chapter Text

It was dark outside, as Rod stumbled down Avenue Q. He was so relieved to finally be free. To be out in the open and away from the claustrophobic subway crush. It had been such a torturously long day. In so very many ways!

Rod checked his smartphone. Nearly 8pm. Maybe not that late in the evening for some. But poor Rod already felt so tired, that he could’ve easily fallen asleep on his feet, given half a chance. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for some lunatic revving his engine and honking his horn at him. He may well have dozed off crossing the street! Not the safest way to take a power snooze!

“Oi! You! Strawberry shortcake! Move it or lose it!” Some asshole boomed down the street.

Startled by all the commotion Rod nearly jumped out of his jacket.

“Yeah, you! Limp wrist! Watch the curb!” The maniac shouted out of his window. Before zooming off at 50 miles per hour down the avenue, splashing through a puddle, and spraying mud all over Rod.

Rod stared down in horror, at what had been only moments before an immaculately clean suit. “No! Why me?!” He wailed, “Brilliant! Just brilliant!” He grumbled sarcastically.

“Hey!” Rod screamed after the maniac, although completely in vain, as the douchebag was already miles out of ear-shot. “Slow down! This is a residential area, you know! And this…” He pointed to his once clean jacket, with his frantically jabbing, angry finger. “This is an original Emporio Armani! A top of the range business suit! It doesn’t deserve to have its fine micro-textured blend of wool and silk ruined by mud spray!” He muttered under his breath. ”I don’t deserve it.”

Rod sighed. ‘Great! Another thing to clean!' He pulled a tissue from his pocket, and wiped the gunk from his glasses and face. ‘At least I won’t have to clean the apartment again.’ He paused. “Who am I kidding?!” He cried out, ‘Nicky can’t go five minutes without creating a mess! Let alone 12 hours!’

Rod sighed, trying to mentally prepare himself for the night of cleaning that lay ahead. ‘I really hope Nicky hasn’t walked Cheezit dust and chocolate into the carpet again! It took me nearly a damn hour to get that out last time!’ He wiped as much muddy water off his suit as he could, before heading up the steps to his apartment block.

----- BACK IN THE APARTMENT -----

Upon unlocking the door, Rod barely made it two steps inside, before he was knocked off his feet, by an all too familiar green bouncing blur. And as he stumbled backwards, he couldn’t help but remember the first time him and Nicky had met like this.

----- FLASHBACK (ROD & NICKY’S FIRST ENCOUNTER) -----

Roderick shuffled nervously along the endless bustling corridor in front of him. He hated having to start a new school. Especially knowing there was only a couple of years of elementary level to go anyway! He felt like such an outsider, as all the kids pushed past him. Shoving him this way and that.

In fact, as one kid stopped to laugh at him, Roderick had to physically brace himself against the lockers, just to prevent himself from rushing into the nearest restroom to hide. Why oh why, did his mother have to make him wear a suit to school. No one else was wearing a suit. It was almost as if she enjoyed setting him up as a target of ridicule.

Rod loosened his tie slightly. Oh how badly he wanted to crawl into a corner and hide right now! Maybe there was a cupboard around here somewhere? Or a closet he could sneak into perhaps? Just for a little while? Just so he could cry out some of the many painful emotions he had been bottling up all summer.

You would think Rod would be glad to finally be out of the house and away from his mother. But Rod was terrified. He knew one wrong move, one slip-up, and he would be forced to pack up all his things yet again, and move back to another awful, painfully strict, religious school. That was the last thing he wanted! However, it was starting to seem as if this school might not be much better, as Rod truly did feel so very lost. So very alone. Still, he knew he couldn't hide. He couldn’t cower in a corner somewhere. He had to make a good impression on his teacher. He knew if he didn't, his mother would make sure that she left a painful impression on him!

Rod sighed. 'What am I going to do? I need to make sure I'm early to class. I need to be punctual. I need to be organised. But how can I do that if I don't know where I'm going?!’ Rod looked frantically around the seemingly endless maze of corridors and rooms around him. He had no idea where he even was! Let alone where he was going!

'Gah!' Rod despaired inwardly. But it was no good. He had to admit to himself that he was completely lost. Indeed, Rod felt so utterly lost, that he had made up his mind. He would just have to take a deep breath, and do the unthinkable. Stop by the head teacher’s office, to get the directions he needed to help him find his new classroom. After all, he couldn’t ask another student. If he did that, all his peers would surely laugh at him even more!

Rod was about to turn round, and head back in the direction he’d come from, to the front desk at the entrance of the school. When CRASH!

Poor Roderick was knocked off his feet by a green bouncing blur, and tumbled backwards onto the floor.

“Oops! Sorry buddy!” The kid said, as he stumbled on top of Rod. “Didn’t see you there!”

“Ow!” Roderick exclaimed, as he rubbed his sore backside. “Wha... what is go... go… going... going?” He stuttered, as he looked up into the boy’s kind, deep brown, apologetic eyes. “Going. Gone?” He spluttered nonsensically. Quickly becoming lost in the endless abyss of kindness, that saturated the boy's warm orbs.

“Huh?” The kid said. “Wait. You new here? Don’t think I’ve seen you around before is all.”

“Um. Er... Yeah.” Rod continued to stumble over his words. He felt so incredibly transfixed by the boy’s gaze, for reasons he could not yet fathom.

“Nice to meet you. They call me Nicky.” The boy smiled, offering up his hand for Rod to shake.

Rod took Nicky’s hand in his own, although somewhat sheepishly. “Rod.” Is all he could manage in the moment.

“Awesomo! I always love making new friends!” Nicky grinned wildly, causing a tiny trickle of chocolaty residue to dribble from his mouth.

“Me… me… Um, me too.” Rod mumbled quietly. Although, the truth was that he’d never really had a friend before.

“Sweet! Look, I’m sorry I knocked you over there buddy.” Nicky stumbled to his feet, grabbing Rod’s hand to help him up too. “I just always get so excited on the first day back at school! Not for the learnin' or nothin'. Gosh, that’d be so dorky! Bit like your suit." He teased his new friend.

Rod blushed a little in embarrassment, only able to muster a little murmur in response.

Nicky smiled at him. "Don't worry. Looks good on you!" He chuckled, and winked at Rod. "Anywho, yeah, learning's no fun. I just love catchin' up with all my friends is all! Is always so much fun finding out the cool, awesome stuff everyone's gotten up to during summer break!"

“Erm… Yeah.” Rod replied, still in a daze. But he knew he could never tell anyone what had happened to him during the summer break. ‘No, please don’t think about that right now!’ He pleaded with his brain.

“Anywho, gotta dash. Still so many people to bounce on before the bell goes!” Nicky chuckled, raising his hand in anticipation of a high five from his new friend.

But sadly Rod, naive to such a gesture, merely stared at it in perplexion.

“Come on! Don’t leave me hanging buddy!” Nicky prompted.

“Huh?” Rod said, still bemused by what had just happened, by what was still happening.

“Jeez. Don’t tell me you didn’t have high fives at your ol’ school!” Nicky shook his head. And grabbed Rod’s limp wrist with his other hand, in order to physically guide him through the celebratory gesture.

“Oh.” Rod said softly. For some reason he still couldn’t regain complete control over his mouth.

“Hooray!” Nicky exclaimed gleefully, as their hands smooshed together in the air. “Woohoo! Yay! Now we’re best buds forever!”

“Yeah.” Rod nodded his head. Before returning to his previously stiff formation. And once again staring statue-like at Nicky. He felt as if his poor weary soul had been engulfed in Nicky’s kindness. Soothed by the comfortingly warm pools of affection, that lay behind his new friend’s eyes.

“Anywho, see ya!” Nicky smiled and announced abruptly. Before he began to run down the corridor, away from Rod.

“Wait!” Rod screeched, as the threat of Nicky’s abandonment, suddenly snapped him back into his confusing new reality. “Please wait! Come back!” He called out, with way more desperation than he had intended.

Concerned by Rod’s cries, Nicky turned round to see what his new friend wanted. “Yeah?” He shouted through the crowded hallway.

Rod rushed over to where Nicky was now standing, and asked nervously. “I don’t suppose you could do me a favor?”

“Sure thing buddy. What’s up?” Nicky said, still cheerfully staring back at Rod. However, it was obvious that his focus had become somewhat compromised, as several of his other friends were waving at him and calling out for him to join them.

“Um. Well, it’s just... This is my first day. Um. Here. And I confess, I’m a little lost. I’m about to start the fourth grade, you see. And well, I was looking for Mrs Taylor’s classroom? I don’t suppose you happen to know where that is?” Rod inquired tentatively.

“Do I ever!” Nicky’s grin widened even further at the mention of the name. “That’s my class!”

Rod could feel the butterflies in his stomach multiply. “Really?”

“Yeah! Really! But it’s better than that!” Nicky started to chuckle.

“It is?” Rod looked confused.

“Yup!” Nicky said, as his smile morphed into an even cheekier grin.

“You see, I’m Nicky Taylor! And Mrs Taylor’s my Mom!” He beamed, ecstatically.

Rod gasped, and started to feel sad for the kid he’d just met. He really couldn’t understand for the life of him, why his new friend seemed so happy to have his mother for a teacher! Thus, he concluded that Nicky must be just putting a brave face on it. After all, he knew if such a thing ever happened to him, it’d be unimaginably horrible! Indeed, it would be a scenario worthy of his worst nightmares!

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Rod’s face drooped, as he gave Nicky a comforting pat on the back.

“Don’t be sorry! It’s awesome!” Nicky jumped into the air with joy.

“It is?!” Rod said, confused.

“Course!” Nicky smiled. “Now I’m bound to get straight A’s! And I don’t even have to put any effort in!” He held his hand to the side of his mouth to attach an additional whisper. “But don’t tell her I said that k?”

“Wha?” Rod said, still unbelievably confused.

“Come on buddy! I’ll take you there! You’ll see! My Mom is the most awesomest person in the world ever! Promise! And she’s gonna love you! I know she is!” Nicky grabbed hold of Rod’s reluctantly sweaty palm and tugged him along the corridor a few paces. Skidding along the polished floor, as he reached the appropriate door. “Mom! Mom!” He hollered. “Look who’ve I’ve found! A new friend! And he’s gonna be in our class and everything!”

A plump friendly-looking lady smiled down on them from above, and ruffled Nicky’s hair lovingly. “Nicky, honey. We’ve talked about this, remember? I know you are excited. No doubt still on a sugar rush from that packet of chocolate buttons you snuck out of the snack cupboard earlier.” She shook her head in loving disappointment, and rolled her eyes. “But just slow down a bit sweetie, okay?”

"Mom!" Nicky protested, as his mother wiped the melted chocolaty ooze from his face. But he didn’t really seem bothered, as he smiled back at her. “Mom! We’ve talked about this! You need to learn how to be cool! Just like I showed you, ‘member?”

His mother sighed, cheerfully. “I remember Nicky. Okay. I promise I’ll try to be a better student next time. But you need to stop sneaking chocolate for breakfast! Deal?”

“Deal!” Nicky nodded.

Rod stood aghast, as he struggled to take in the light-hearted nature of their bickering. He’d never seen anything like it! It all seemed so calm. So relaxed. So easy. ‘What on Earth is happening?’ He thought to himself. ‘Maybe I’m dreaming again.’ He pinched himself on his thigh, but he didn’t wake up. ‘Nope. Guess this must be heaven then! Maybe my mother was wrong! Maybe God does love me after all!’ He felt a warm feeling of joy wash over him. But he still felt mesmerized by the placid scene playing out in front of him. And he couldn’t help but continue to stare at Nicky and his mother in astonishment.

Mrs Taylor turned to look at Rod, and her eyes widened in concern. “Nicky, what have you been up to? This kid looks startled out of his senses, poor thing!” The lady leaned over, so she was eye level with Rod. “You okay sweetheart?” She cooed softly in his ear.

Rod stared at her in total disbelief. ‘Is this what a mother was supposed to be like?’ He thought, as he shivered thinking back on all the times, his own mother had lent over to shout at him, slap him or painfully squeeze his fragile blue wrists. He panicked as he remembered. Quickly glancing down to check that his arms were still perfectly covered, and that the bruises were not visible. “Um, yes Mrs... Erm… Taylor.” He remembered, just in time to redeem himself.

Nicky continued to jabber on excitedly. “I just bumped into him in the corridor, Mom. He’s new, you see. But seriously! You shoulda seen it! I was skidding along the floor, as I do. Like whoosh! And before you know it. We were all like pow, boom, clang, kablamo! It was so funny!” Nicky re-enacted their collision with his hands. “I wish you coulda been there Mom!”

“That sounds pretty. Erm… Dope Nicky? Is that right?” She looked over to her son for confirmation.

“Um, yeah. Sort of. We’ll have to work on it later!” Nicky teased her.

Mrs Taylor nodded at her son, and turned to smile at Rod. “So you’re my new student?” She reached out to shake his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

Rod’s eyes widened. He’d never been offered so many friendly hands to shake in his life! “Nice. Um. Nice to meet you too, Miss.” He tried his best to formalize his greeting. And slowly reached out his hand to meet her welcoming palm. Making sure that he took extreme care not to disturb the vitally important positioning of his jacket and shirt-sleeve fabric.

Rod cringed, as his mother’s words echoed about in his mind, to remind him how important it was that he keep his arms covered at all times.

"Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle! Whatever you do at school today, you better be sure to keep your sleeves perfectly straight! Do you hear me?! If other people see how angry God is with you, they’ll surely forsake you! And don’t come crying to me if they do! Don’t come crying to me when you’re all alone in Hell with no one to talk to! Why oh why, do you always have to make me so angry?! I swear! You’re such an impossible ungrateful little brat sometimes! All you had to do was sit still for two short measly little hours and finish your Sunday school essay about Jesus’s sacrifice! Was that really so very hard a task?! Christ! You really need to learn how to sit still! I’ve never seen anyone fidget so much in all my days! You’ll never be anything more than a pathetic waste of space if you keep up that nonsense!"

Rod scrunched up his eyes. Quickly forcing his brain to switch its attention back to his surroundings, and the comforting feel of Mrs Taylor’s friendly hand in his. “Thank you. Um. Mrs Taylor.” He forced himself to smile back at her, and did his best to make it as convincing as he could.

Nicky was completely distracted now. Clearly anxious to get back to his playmates, as his grasp on Rod’s sweaty hand faltered.

Concerned by the terror she sensed in Rod’s eyes, and seeing how clearly lost and alone he looked. Mrs Taylor smiled lovingly at Rod, and whispered. “Well aren’t you just adorable! Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” She winked at him. “You’re going to fit right in here! I know you are!”

Nicky still impatiently jiggling about, tugged on his mother’s sleeve frantically. “Mom, Mom! Look, can you help my new buddy Rod find a seat? He can have the desk next to me if he likes. I just have to catch up with Donny, Johnny, Freddie, Stew-ball and Samson!” But he didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he just slipped his hand out of Rod’s surprisingly sweaty grasp, and ran off back down the corridor.

Mrs Taylor sighed. “I’m sorry.” She said, looking genuinely apologetic. “Nicky’s quite a little scamp I’m afraid. But you’ll get used to him I suppose. Actually…” She said, the smile returning to her face. “I have a feeling you two are going to be the best of friends!” She winked at Rod again, and ushered him gently into her classroom. “Okay. Come along now! No more dawdling in the corridor like a lost puppy!” She teased him. “Welcome to your new home!”

Rod’s eyes lit up like a thousand watt light bulb. He’d never felt so happy. Just that morning he’d been dreading starting his new school. Indeed, even in the busy corridor, just a moment ago, he had still felt so very scared and alone in the world. But now, little more than ten minutes later, he had a new friend to get to know, and a kind motherly teacher to watch over him. How could things get any better than this?

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Rod sighed nostalgically, as all the memories came flooding back. But his nostalgia fest didn’t last long, as Nicky soon shook him back into the real world with his obnoxious hollering and boisterous bouncing.

“Rod! Yay! You’re back! I’m so happy!” Nicky quickly reached out his arms to scoop Rod up, before he inevitably fell backwards any further, and ended up splat on the floor.

“Nicky!” Rod yelled in annoyance, as he stumbled in his arms. Immediately brushing Nicky’s hands from his waist, and pushing his friend firmly away, the moment he regained his balanced. “What are you doing Nicky? What’s wrong with you!?”

Nicky panted heavily. “Sorry, Rod buddy. It’s just I’ve got a surprise for you! I’ve been waiting all day for you to get back! It’s amazing Rod! I still can’t believe it. You’ve got to…..”

“I’ve got to do what Nicky? I don’t have to do anything!” Rod straightened his glasses. “By the way, why did you come to my office today? I told you not to come to my office unless it’s an emergency! I’m an investment manager now, and that means when I’m at work it’s even more important that I’m able to concentrate.” He trailed off. “It’s not an emergency? Is it?!” He grabbed Nicky by the shoulders and shook him frantically.

“No. No it’s not an emergency Rod.”

Rod heaved a sigh of relief. Before futilely trying to wipe the Cheezit fragments off his now thoroughly battered jacket. “Nicky! You just got that Cheezit crap all over me again!”

“Oops. Sorry Rod. But…” Nicky paused a moment to catch his breath. “I came to your office cuz… Well, cuz I had to tell you something amazing. And gee, I know you told me not to and all. But I thought... I don’t know. You might be on a break or something is all.” Nicky stopped abruptly, as he suddenly noticed the huge red-purplish splodge on Rod’s blue forehead. “Gee, Rod…” He said, his voice quickly filling with concern. “What happened to your head buddy? That looks nasty.” He reached out to touch the bruise.

Rod flinched, wincing noticeably from the pain. “Nicky! How many times have I told you?! Personal space remember!” He brushed Nicky’s arm away again.

“How did you do that?” Nicky asked, still very concerned.

“I banged it on the subway doors.” Rod sighed, more irritation seeping into his voice than he’d planned. “Now can we please just drop it? Okay?”

“How did you manage that?”

Rod sighed heavily. "I don't know Nicky. These things just happen sometimes."

Nicky stared at Rod for a moment, with what looked like tears in his eyes. But they can’t have been tears? Right?

Nicky gave his friend a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. But unfortunately, as his hands were still very sticky, it didn’t work as well as he hoped. He gulped, as he slowly removed the offending sticky hand from Rod’s shoulder and proceeded to lick his fingers.

Rod stared at his roommate half in lust, half in irritation. A very confusing combination of emotions to be sure! As he looked at his messy friend, he sighed ambivalently. Nicky was in a right state. His t-shirt was covered in all manner of stains. Not that that was unusual. And, Rod glanced down, he only had his Spider-Man boxer shorts on. He shivered a little at the sight, and felt his heart flutter. Usually he was relatively good at maintaining his rigid composure. However, after the stressful day he’d had, it was all too easy for him to drift off into fantasy land, and his vision blurred.

“Um, yellow? Rod? Come back to me Rod. You sure you're okay, buddy?” Nicky waved a hand in front of his spaced out friend and clicked his fingers to get his attention.

“Huh?” Rod shook his head. Slowly returning to the real world.

“How many fingers am I holding up buddy?” Nicky held up his out-stretched palm in front of Rod’s glazed expression.

“Um. Four fingers and one thumb.” Rod answered pedantically.

“Okay, okay. I guess your dorky business brain is still fully functional!” Nicky joked, as he gave Rod a playful shove. “Still that does look like one hell of a nasty bruise buddy. Better get some ice on it!” Nicky dashed off to the freezer, to grab a bag of ice that he’d brought back from the store, to make snow cones with the other day.

“Fine.” Rod agreed. Reluctantly complying with Nicky’s nurse-maid routine. Although, he flinched again and shivered, as Nicky held the bag of ice cubes wrapped in a towel against his sore head. “Ah!” He winced. “Thanks Nicky.” He forced a smile. He really didn’t want his friend to start worrying about him too much.

“Jeez Rod! You look so stressed out! Come over here. Come sit down awhile! Put your feet up buddy! You need to rest that poor head of yours! And anywho, like I said, I’ve got something amazing to tell you!” Nicky beamed.

Rod reluctantly followed Nicky over to the sofa, as he continued to hold the ice against his head. “All right.” He sighed in weary frustration. “But don’t come to my office again unless it’s an emergency! Oh, and don’t bounce up on people like that! Wiping Cheezit dust all over my best jacket!” He stared down at his sleeve in dismay. “Oh look! There’s chocolate on there too! That’s fantastic Nicky!” He shrieked sarcastically. “I’ll have to wash this now! It was clean on this morning!”

Nicky started to apologize, but then noticed the mud. “Sorry Rod. I didn’t mean to… Wait. I only touched your sleeve, but looks like your jacket is covered in…” He trailed off and couldn't help but snigger a little. "You been mud wrestling Rod?"

Rod glared at him. “No Nicky! And that’s not the point! Okay. So I already got sprayed with mud! So what?! That doesn’t mean you have to add Cheezit dust and chocolate stains to the canvas!” Rod screamed, the anger really pouring out of him now.

Nicky grabbed Rod by the arm. “Rod, Rod! Never mind all that! Listen, this is awesome!” He smiled from ear to ear. His eyes so wide, they were almost brimming over with excitement.

Rod sighed again. Not really expecting any Earth shattering news. Last time Nicky had told him that something amazing had happened, it had been a talking rubber duck in a bubble bath commercial that had caused all the commotion.

“So are you ready to hear the news Rod?”

“Yes. I’m ready. What is it?” Rod sighed wearily. Holding the bag of ice to his head himself now, as he leaned precariously against the side of the sofa. Reluctant to sit, as he didn't want any more gooey substances to ooze onto his once pristine upholstery!

"You're not sitting down though Rod. You're not sitting comfortably."

"I'm plenty comfortable enough here Nicky!" Rod lied. The truth being he felt anything but comfortable. “Now please, Nicky! Just get on with it! Will you!”

Ok, Rod. Brace yourself. Cuz you’re not going to believe this! Dun, dun, dun!” Nicky paused for dramatic effect. And the apartment fell silent for a few moments, as Rod rapidly lost more and more patience.

“Well, I won’t know that, until you tell me now, will I?! Rod shouted, exasperation heavy in his voice, as he pulled the ice bag away from his face and put it down on the side.

“Rod, whatcha doing? You need the ice to heal your bruise up! ‘Member?” Nicky said firmly.

“Nicky, I’m going to get frost bite in my brain, if I keep holding that against my head!” Rod said, as his teeth started to chatter.

Nicky looked Rod up and down, as his friend was already shivering like a camel in a snow storm, he relented. “Okay. But please. Come sit down! Snuggle up to me on the couch! I’ll warm you back up again, buddy!” Nicky stared at Rod longingly. His eyes seemingly inviting Rod into his heart.

However, as much as Rod wished that was an accurate interpretation of Nicky’s expression. He knew that wasn’t the reality of the situation. “I can’t Nicky!” He said crossing his arms in front of his chest, both in an act of defiance, and in an attempt to keep himself warm.

“Come on! You know you wanna?” Nicky cooed back, winking at him in hopes it would win him over.

“No Nicky! I told you! I can’t! I’ll get this Cheezit shit you just smeared on me, all over the sofa!”

“Oh.” Nicky sighed deeply in disappointment, as he reluctantly abandoned his charm foray. “Okay, okay. You win. You can sit on the stool over there.” He pointed over to the edge of the kitchen. Which in this tiny apartment was barely three feet away!

Rod looked sadly at the stool, immediately regretting his cold bitter tone. But he had no choice, right? He couldn’t sit that close to Nicky, could he?! He couldn’t snuggle up next to him. No matter how much he wanted to, he just couldn’t let himself do it! But boy did he want to! More than anything else in this cold uncaring world, he wanted to snuggle up next to Nicky and never let him go! But he couldn’t. And that was that. I mean, think what might happen if he did snuggle up that close to Nicky?! He cringed inwardly. It didn’t even bare thinking about. He shuffled over to the stool, and glumly pulled it out from under the breakfast bar.

“Okay. So, you ready? You sitting, um, somewhat comfily?” Nicky asked, his voice laced with excited impatience.

“Yes Nicky! I’m so comfy here on this rickety wooden perch! See how it squeaks!” Rod rocked the stool back and forth to emphasize his point. “That sound Nicky, is the music of comfort! In fact, this seat is so comfortable, that I think I might just sleep out here tonight! Perched here, like a parrot!” Rod squawked, as all the anger he’d bottled up over the last couple of hours, quickly flowed out in a gust of sarcasm. Again, he was behaving true to his metaphor, as the irritation escaped from his mouth, like hot air from a recently pricked balloon. Rod bit his tongue hard. Again immediately regretting his tone.

But Rod need not have worried, as Nicky paid little heed to his friend's freak out sessions. He’d grown so used to them over the years. Besides, nothing much bothered Nicky.

“Okay then.” Nicky rolled his eyes, all but ignoring his friend’s mini-freak out, and continued unfazed. “You know your new boyfriend, Ricky?”

“For the millionth time Nicky! Ricky is NOT my boyfriend!” Rod protested profusely. “We’ve only been out on one date! Just one single date, Nicky! That’s it! Just one dinner together! That, and a few moments of silly champagne dancing together on my first night out of the closet! That does NOT make him my boyfriend!”

“Jeez Rod! No need to get all defensive about it!”

“I am NOT getting defensive!” Rod squealed, close to hyperventilating.

“Huh. Well okay. But just so you know...” Nicky continued. “He’s asked me to be in this play with him!”

“Huh?” Rod lifted his head in surprise. That wasn't where he thought this conversation was going at all. “What? Ricky, my… Um. The guy-I’ve-been-on-one-date-with. Asked you, my... Erm. The guy-I-share-an-apartment-with, to be in a play with him?”

“Well, yeah." Nicky confirmed, despite being somewhat perplexed by Rod's weird wording. "Actually, it’s more of a musical. I think.” He scratched his head, as he tried to remember exactly what Ricky had told him. But admittedly, he had all but zoned out after Ricky had uttered the words, 'And I’ve suggested you for the part…'

Rod stared at his roommate in disbelief. At his stained t-shirt. At the Cheezit dust laden, chocolate-smeared, stubble around his mouth. “What!?”

“Isn’t it great Rod?!” Nicky beamed. “It’s like the most awesomest thing to happen to me ever!”

Rod very gently rubbed his poor aching head. Had he just heard Nicky correctly? He bit his lip, still struggling to absorb the news. “Wait a minute? Let me get this straight. You are going to be in a musical? With Ricky?!” The puzzlement swirled around his eyes.

“Yup! Isn’t it fantastic Rod?! I’ve always wanted to be in a play!” Nicky beamed.

"You have?" Rod said, somewhat shocked. “Really?” He honestly would never have guessed that Nicky of all people, had a dream to be in a play! Especially, given Nicky's tendency to protest going to Broadway musicals with him, on the very rare occasions he managed to book a couple of days off work and get tickets.

"Yes!" Nicky bounced up on the sofa. His boxers slipping a little, before he yanked them up by the waistband again.

Rod felt his heart race at the sight. So looked up at the ceiling for a moment. And upon glimpsing a fresh set of cobwebs, brought himself back down to Earth by concocting a future spider-proof cobweb-obliterating technique. Usually Rod would have immediately scolded Nicky. And told him to dismount the sofa at once. But this time he hesitated, not wanting to ruin the mood.

“And it’s even better than that!” Nicky panted enthusiastically. “Rod, you’re not going to believe this buddy! But… Dun. Dun. Dun! I’ve got a job! Yes, yes, yes! At long last! I’ve truly, really, actually got a job! Hooray! Oh yeah! This is so awesome! I’ve gotta call my Mom! She’s gonna be so proud of me!”

As Nicky giddily bounced on the couch cushions, Rod stared at him in bemusement. He’d always loved Nicky’s happy-go lucky nature. But he never imagined his habitually lazy friend, would be quite so happy to get a job! Still, feeling the feverish elation emanating from his sweetheart's grin, Rod couldn’t help but smile broadly at his gleeful friend. “Well that’s brilliant Nicky! I’m so happy for you! And yes! You should definitely call your mother! She’s going to be so thrilled to hear about this!”

Rod sighed inwardly. He wished so badly that he could call his mother, just once, he wasn’t greedy! And have her tell him how proud she was of his success in the investment banking industry. But alas, that hope, if not already dead on arrival, was now for certain, truly and utterly dashed from existence. His ill-advised phone call home had seen to that!

Rod gently touched his pulsating temple, trying desperately to focus on the here and now. But he couldn’t deny on some subliminal level, he still harbored feelings of jealousy towards Nicky’s luckiness in life. Wishing he too, could have had at least a few sprinkles of it in his own! Wait. On second thoughts, maybe he did? Maybe Nicky was his sprinkle of luckiness! Rod smiled at the thought.

Finally beginning to feel the infectious nature of Nicky’s jubilant rhythm, Rod leapt off the stool. And began gleefully bouncing across the floor towards him, clasping his hands tightly together and shaking them under his chin in zingy prayer. Indeed, it wasn’t long before he became a little too hyped up! Almost leaning over to kiss his roommate on the cheek, as Nicky bounced back down onto his backside! Luckily, he stopped himself just in time! Instead, settling on a congratulatory hug over the back of the couch, as Nicky once again leapt back onto the seats as if they were a trampoline.

“So Nicky, look, why don’t you stop bouncing on the sofa now! Before you break the springs!” Rod suggested urgently, as he frantically pulled Nicky down off the couch. And away from his once immaculate cushions. “My apartment is not a playground Nicky!” He shrieked, though he really was trying his best to tame his temper, so as to not tarnish the currently joyful atmosphere.

Once Nicky was back at eye-level with him, Rod quickly became lost in Nicky’s deep brown orbs again. And couldn’t help but gaze at his friend with a loving air of enthrallment. “Look, instead of jumping on the furniture, Nicky! Why don’t you tell me all about this play you’re going to be in?! It’s a musical, right? What’s it about? You know how much I love musicals!” Rod said, beginning to feel genuinely excited.

“Well. It’s a community play I think. Other than that, I don’t really know much yet. Just that it’s about this guy. Oh, and technically it is a job. But, yeah… Um, it doesn’t pay much I’m afraid.” Nicky rubbed his neck sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s okay.” Rod reassured him. “So, tell me more!” He insisted, excitement now filling his voice. Now that the news had sunken in, and he’d finally calmed down after his mini freak-out session earlier, Nicky’s euphoria had all but enveloped him. "You’ve got to tell me everything!"

“Well, it’s about the two alternative lives this guy leads. Or two possible lives this guy leads. I donno. Something like that.” Nicky paused. “I’m really not sure to be honest. Anywho, the details don’t matter. The point is…” He grinned. “I’m in a play Rod! I’ve got a job!” Clearly still ecstatic, he danced about on the rug for a moment, in his typically silly Nicky-ish way.

Rod beamed. A thrillful grin now plastered on his face. “That’s great Nicky!” He loved Nicky’s child-like nature! It was just so incredibly cute! And the combination of two things he loved so much, Nicky and musicals! Well, his cup runneth over again!

“High five Rod!” Nicky smashed his hand against Rod’s limply raised wrist.

“Ow, ow, ow! Nicky! Not so hard!” Rod winced, as he nursed his poor, long-suffering, and recently, carpel-tunnel afflicted, floppy blue arm.

“Sorry Rod!" Nicky apologized. Giving his buddy a sympathetic rub on the back, with his now freshly licked fingers. "Anywho, Ricky will be here soon with the script! Just after eightish I think he said. Somethin’ like that. He’s bringing the director round to meet me! So yeah, I guess it’s not completely in the bag. Well, not just yet. But I'm sure he's going to love me! Ricky says he will! Ricky says I’m perfect for the part!"

“Wait. What? Ricky’s coming here?! With a director?!” Rod panicked. “Any minute now?! Any second?!”

“Well, yeah Rod. But don’t worry ‘bout it. I’m sure the audition won’t take long. Then Ricky’s all yours! I’m sure he’ll love to see his boyfrien… I mean the-guy-he-went-out-with-once, again too!” Nicky winked.

“Shit Nicky! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?! I have to get changed! I can’t let people see me like this! In a suit covered with Cheezit dust and chocolate all down the sleeve! Not to mention all the mud! They’ll think I’m some kind of ragamuffin! They’ll think I’m some kind of slob!”

Rod hopped around in panic for a moment. Before he stopped in his tracks, and looked over at Nicky. A guy who was pure slobbiness personified! Indeed, if there was a picture to illustrate the concept of ‘slobbiness’ in the dictionary, it would definitely be a photo of Nicky!

“Nah.” Nicky slouched back on the sofa, hands behind his head. “You worry too much Rod.” He licked some of the chocolate Cheetzit dust from round his lips. And wiped the rest onto his t-shirt sleeve. How he even managed to crick his neck at that angle, Rod would never know!

“Wait. Nicky! You’re going to be auditioning for a play any minute now! Any second now?! And you’re going to wear that! A two week old, sweaty, beer-soaked and stain-splattered t-shirt?! Gah! You're even still in your..." Rod stuttered "Bbb… Boxer shorts for Christ’s sake! Are you insane?! Come on! You need to smarten up too!” Rod grabbed hold of Nicky’s arm and yanked him towards the bedroom. “Right now! This instant! Let’s go Nicky!”

"But Rod..." Nicky protested, barely budging an inch, as Rod tugged feebly on his arm. "Ricky said not to do anything special!"

"You really don't have a clue about life? Do you Nicholas?!" Rod despaired, bolstering his grip on Nicky’s arm, and intensifying his heaving, as he continued to frantically urge his reluctant roommate towards some semblance of decency.

Nicky reluctantly relented to Rod’s ceaseless tugs, and slowly stumbled back onto his feet. “Come on Rod!” He whined. “You’re acting crazy!”

“I’m not acting crazy, Nicky! You’re the one acting crazy!” Rod screeched. “Now, come on! Enough nonsense! What would your mother think if she saw you now?! You need to get dressed! At once!” He said, his desperation reaching a crescendo.

But it was too late, as a loud series of knocks echoed around the room, interrupting their pseudo-marital squabble.

Chapter Text

The two paused their squabble for a moment, as Rod stared in horror at the door. “Nicky?! Why do you always do this to me?!” He shouted in agitation, as he clung to Nicky’s midriff, still attempting to maneuver him towards the bedroom.

“Do what Rod?” Nicky asked in bemusement. Because despite Rod’s frantic efforts to get him to cooperate, he was still mostly unfazed by his roommate’s tugs.

Rod let out an exasperated gasp, as his cheeks flushed pink. “Do this!”

Nicky shrugged. A cheeky grin returning to his face, as he stared at Rod, and licked his lips again, to mop up any lingering chocolatey Cheezit residue with his tongue.

Rod scrunched his eyes tightly shut for a moment. And a voice echoed through the door, from the corridor. “Hey guys? It’s me!”

“Wait. That’s Kate?! Isn’t it?” Rod exclaimed in surprise, as he slowly opened his eyes again.
“Hey Kate!” Nicky said cheerfully.

Rod, still with his arms around Nicky’s waist, asked through the door. “Um, hello? Kate. How can we help you?” He really didn’t want to open the door just yet, if he could avoid it, in case the director wasn’t far behind.

Kate shouted back from the corridor, “Look guys, I know you can be as loud as the hell you want, when you’re making love. But if you’re not making love, maybe you could turn the shrieking, squabbling and squeaky spring sounds down a notch? It’s just my parents are coming over to meet Princeton. And well, they already kind of don’t approve of where I’m living! Also they’ve had a nightmare of a journey getting here! They were supposed to be here 3 hours ago! So yeah. Um, we are just trying to make the best impression we can. If you get what I’m saying?”

Rod didn’t feel like his eyes could be any wider, and his arms fell away from Nicky’s waist. He felt so utterly stupefied by Kate’s words, that a barely discernible, stuttery mumble was all he could muster in response. “Wha… Wha… Wha… What?!”

“Sure. We’ll keep it down! Won’t we Rod?” Nicky smiled at his shocked roommate. Giving him a light nudge to coax him back to the land of the living. “Rod? Cooey, Rod?!” Nicky clicked his fingers again, to try and snap his friend from his daze. But Rod continued to stare statue-like across the room, the vacant expression unmoved from his face.

As Kate’s muffled gratitude echoed through the door. “Thanks guys! Means a lot! You know, if me and Princeton are ever being too noisy, um, anytime. And you need us to return the favor. Just let us know, okay?”

“Sure thing Kate. I’ve got some exciting news to tell you later!”

“Cool. I’m kind of busy right now, getting everything ready. But we’ll catch up soon. Yes?” Kate replied.

“Yeah! See ya!” Nicky shouted back.

Before returning his attention to Rod, and resuming his attempts to shake him from his daze. He sighed, as initially nothing seemed to be working. He had seen Rod fall into these dazes so many times over the years. But the current situation they had gotten themselves into, waiting for Ricky and the director to show up, was definitely ringing some bells. Because it reminded him of a time he and Rod had squabbled in a very similar manner, preparing for a dorm party in college.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY & ROD SQUABBLE BEFORE THEIR DORM PARTY) -----

“Nicky! Where did you put my hors d'oeuvres?” Rod asked, as he looked frantically around the dorm room for the plate of crackers, assorted European cheeses and grapes he had spent so very long assembling.

Nicky gulped. ‘Shit!’ He thought, as he switched the TV off. ‘Better confess. He’s going to find out soon enough anyways.’ He sheepishly grabbed hold of Rod’s arm, to stop his relentless search for the now nonexistent cheese and cracker snacks. “Um. Look, Rod buddy…”

“Nicky! Let go of me! I’ve got to find the hors d'oeuvres! And put them on the table I’ve prepared.” He gestured towards his desk across the room, which now free of textbooks and pens, was adorned with a deep red sparkly tablecloth.

Nicky gasped, as six crystal cocktail glasses sparkled in the light flickering from two tall golden dinner candles. And a rainbow assortment of miniature cocktail umbrellas cast a series of stain glass effect, kaleidoscope patterns, onto the usually dull white wall behind.

“Woah Rod! Looks amazing! Looks awesome! But you really didn’t have to go to all this trouble buddy! My buds are easy to please you know! Like me! Just put on the football and layout some take out, and they’d be happy!”

“Well, I promised a cocktail party Nicky! So that’s what we’re doing! It’s going to be a sophisticated evening. Classical music from Handel and Mozart to create a nice relaxing ambiance. And most importantly, no beer and no greasy junk food!”

Nicky sighed, as he tried his best to confess, “Okay, okay! But Rod I’ve gotta tell you something buddy.”

“Seriously, let go of my arm, Nicky! I know those hors d’oeuvres are round here somewhere! I only put them down for a second while I straightened by tie. But now your friends will be here any minute! Right?! So why don’t you stop dossing around in your underpants and help me look?! Then you better get dressed and help me prepare the drinks. I thought we could make Tangerine Rosemary Mocktails! They supposedly taste like creamsicles! So, you’re going to love them Nicky, I’m sure! Also, thought Pineapple Coconut Water for a tropical refreshment, might be nice. And Shirley Temples of course, as I have ginger ale, grenadine and cherries for the top! But we have to get a move on Nicky! Else we’re not going to get it all done in time. We need to…”

Nicky exhaled a long guilty breath. Before interrupting his friend’s seemingly endless anxiety-driven to-do list, “Rod, they’re gone.”

“What? What’s gone?!” Rod said, as Nicky held out the now empty plate.

“Oh my God! Where are they?! What happened to my hors d'oeuvres Nicky?!” Rod shot his guilty looking friend a suspicious glance. He was already in an incredibly agitated state, so it wasn’t going to take much to tip him over the edge. And Nicky knew this all too well. But unfortunately, the crimes of his impulsivity hadn’t left him much choice.

“Um. Yeah. About that…” Nicky gulped.

Rod’s eyes darted around his roommate’s sloppy attire. First at the crumbs around his neckline, then at the cheese smeared down his t-shirt. He gasped. “Oh Nicholas! Please tell me you didn’t?!”

“Um. Yeah. Sorry Rod.” Nicky mumbled bashfully, before regaining his typically buoyant bouncy rhythms. “But my God were they delicious buddy! You did a great job! Delicious cheeses! So scrummy! And the grapes! So juicy!” He licked his fingers. “My friends are going to love them! You’ve got some more, right?” He said hopefully. And smiled broadly, as he attempted to hug Rod and ease the tension between them. But Rod was clearly not in the mood for any of Nicky’s lovey-dovey nonsense, and promptly shoved him away.

“No Nicky! I haven’t got any more! It took me all afternoon just to put those together! And there were some really expensive cheeses on that plate! You didn’t really eat them all?! Did you?!” Rod stared at him in disbelief, as the excess stress in his system quickly tipped him over the edge, and tears began to form in his eyes.

Rod had worked so very hard trying to get everything perfect for this cocktail party. Nicky had been urging him to hang out with his friends for months now. The whole year in fact! And since test season was finally over, and nothing but summer break lay ahead, Rod had finally relented. Agreeing to throw a dorm party for Nicky and his friends, on the condition that no alcohol or greasy food was involved. Because every time Nicky and his friends got drunk… Well, let’s just say, it didn’t benefit their 'bonding experience'!

“Jeez Rod, I’m really sorry. They were just so yummy is all. You know what I’m like with cheese! I just can’t resist a nibble!”

“Gah!” Rod exclaimed. “But that wasn’t just a nibble! Was it Nicky?! You ate the entire God damned plate full! How could you even eat all that cheese without making yourself sick?!”

Nicky bit his lip, he really didn’t know what to say to make things better. “That just proves how scrumptious they were Rod! Once I popped, I just couldn’t stop! I can’t help it Rod! You’re always making me pop! And then I can never stop! What am I supposed to do?”

Rod’s mouth dropped open and his cheeks flushed, “Why do you always do this to me Nicky?!”

“Do what Rod?” Nicky asked. Unable to conceal his cheekiness for long, as he licked the remaining cracker crumbs, cheese residue and grape juice from around his lips with his tongue.

“Do this!” Rod screeched, as his eyes widened to the size of saucers. “What the hell am I supposed to do for snack food now?! The guests… No. Your friends! Will be here any minute! Any second!”

“Um. Order pizza?” Nicky suggested, his face quickly brimming over with anticipatory joy at the thought.

Rod rolled his eyes. “No!” He said emphatically. “I told you Nicky! I do not want a bunch of guys guzzling down greasy messy pizza on my bed! Where I need to sleep later! I don’t want to wake up and find bits of mushroom and half eaten tomato under my covers like I did last time! Never again Nicky!”

“But Rod, pizza?! Everybody loves pizza! And think about it! If me and my buds order pizza then you don’t have to worry about people liking different stuff. Cuz everyone can just choose their own toppings!”

“I don’t know Nicky. Pizza is so messy! I really don’t want all that mess near my bed!”

“Don’t worry Rod buddy! Don’t worry ‘bout tiding up or nothin’. Cuz I’ll do all that! So hows about it Rod? Pizza is just so good for party food! Don’t you think buddy? And all my friend’s love it! You know they do!” Nicky stared at Rod longingly with his deep brown pleading eyes.

“Gah!” Rod exhaled his frustration. “Oh, all right! But you’re in charge of that Nicky! You can take all the pizza orders and call out for them! I’m done!” He threw up his hands in exasperation and collapsed onto his bed.

Nicky felt half-happy, half-worried, now that he was in charge of proceedings. “Um, yeah. Sure thing buddy. But, well, you know…”

“What?!” Rod said, his irritation level still near its maximum setting. “What Nicky?!”

Nicky elaborated, somewhat reluctantly, “Well, you see Rod... Um, buddy. It’s just I don’t have any moolah.”

“Well that’s not my problem! Is it Nicky?!” Rod said, unsympathetically. “I spent all my money on those damn cheeses you just gulped down!”

“Do you think everyone will pay for their own?” Nicky asked tentatively.

“Well, this was supposed to be a dorm cocktail party. So I should think your friends will be expecting us to serve the food! After all, that’s what we promised, isn’t it?”

“Gee, really Rod? You think?” Nicky’s voice dropped into sadness, as he realized without help, his pizza party dreams were never going to come to fruition.

“Yes. I really think, Nicky!” Rod rolled his eyes again.

“Oh.” Nicky muttered sadly. “Well, maybe I could cook some pizza myself? From the store?” His spirits slowly started to pick up again, as other options occurred to him.

“Nicky!” Rod sighed deeply. “Nicky, why did you have to eat all the hors d'oeuvres? You knew that your friends were arriving any minute. What did you think was going to happen?! That I’d just be able to magic up some more?!”

“Um. I donno Rod.” Nicky shrugged. “They were just so tiny! Barely a mouthful each!”

“There were 30 on that plate though! Enough for five each! Plus grapes! How the hell could you eat 30 crackers and cheese cubes?! On top of an entire bunch of grapes?!” Rod said, looking very defeated.

Nicky tried his best to suppress his guilty burp. “Um, I’m sorry Rod. I guess I’m just greedy is all. You make me greedy.”

“Nicky, I didn’t make you greedy! You made yourself greedy!” Rod buried his head in his hands.

“Yeah.” Nicky hung his head in shame, as several loud knocks echoed around the dorm room.

“Oh great! Now they’re here!” Rod uttered sarcastically. Before he remembered Nicky’s current state of undress, and leapt up from his bed in panic. “Nicky! They’re here!” He shrieked, as he began frantically tugging on his roommate’s arm. “Go and get dressed! This instant!”

“Aww! But Rod!” Nicky whined. “My friends don’t care. You know they don’t!”

“No buts Nicky! Just get on with it! Just go and put some pants on! That’s all I’m asking! Maybe your friends don’t care! But I do! So no buts!” Rod wheezed.

“Oh, but Rod! Why no butts? Butts are awesome!” Nicky joked. “Especially your butt Rod!” He winked at his friend.

Rod’s eyes widened again and he started to fall into another one of his dazes.

Nicky sighed, and started clicking his fingers in front of his roommate’s vacant expression. ‘Oh no! Not again Rod!’ He thought, as he grabbed hold of his friend’s shoulders and shook him.

The guests were clearly beginning to get impatient waiting in the corridor, and began voicing their disgruntlement through the door. “Come on! We’re waiting here, Nick! What’s taking so long?”

Another more cheeky friend of Nicky’s joked, “Yeah, you guys aren’t making love in there or some shit are you?!” A loud collage of laughter and giggles rippled through the air. “Cuz that’s what it sounds like! With all that shrieking and panting! Like some sort of sex-crazed hippie love-in!”

“Um, yeah!” Nicky joked back. Unable to stop himself from being swept up by the comical ludicrousness of the conversation. “We’re having a hot steamy hippie love-in! That’s totally what we’re doing! Right, Rod buddy?” Nicky shouted through the door sarcastically. And smiled widely at his roommate. But the instant he saw the look on his friend’s face, he immediately knew he’d taken the joke too far.

“Nicky! How could you?!” Rod slapped him much harder on the arm than usual, before running into the bathroom at hummingbird speed. Moving much too quickly for Nicky to stop him.

“Rod! Come on buddy! I was only jokin’! I didn’t mean it in a bad way!” He sighed, as his excited happy demeanor was rapidly replaced with one of shame and regret. ‘Damn it! Why do I always just blurt out such stupid things without thinking?!’ He slapped himself on the forehead. ‘God, I’m such an idiot!’ He quickly rushed after Rod. But it was too late, as his mortified roommate had already locked himself in the bathroom.

Nicky tapped lightly on the door. “Rod buddy, come on out so we can talk about this. Will you?”

“Go away Nicky! I do not want to talk about it!”

“But Rod…”

“This conversation is over!” Rod shrieked hysterically.

“Come on buddy, don’t be like that! Come out here and talk to me!”

“No Nicky! It’s over! I don’t even want to look at you right now! How could you say such a thing in front of all your friends?!”

“Rod, I’m sorry buddy. I didn’t think...” Nicky leaned against the bathroom door, as tears began to well up in his eyes.

“That’s your problem Nicky! You never think!” Rod muttered, in between clear bouts of sobbing.

“Rod, please buddy! I can’t do this without you!” Nicky pleaded.

“Nicky, I’m done! I don’t want to see anyone tonight! Understand?!”

Nicky sighed deeply. But as he was barely able to keep his own tears at bay, let alone Rod’s, he knew his friend was right. “Okay, buddy. Don’t worry. I’ll just tell them you’re not feeling well. All right?” Nicky thought it best to get his dumb idea approved this time. He really didn’t want Rod to suffer anymore because of him and his big stupid mouth.

“Fine!” Rod shouted back. “Then you can all saunter off to some frat party! And laugh about me behind my back like you usually do!”

“Rod, nobody laughs at you buddy. Promise.” Nicky knew he was bending the truth slightly. But he hated when his friends made fun of Rod. And he definitely didn’t want his best buddy to think that he was the subject of ridicule! Even if, on occasion, he had been.

“I don’t believe you Nicky! Now goodbye!” Rod screamed angrily, clearly still very upset. “Just don’t forget to blow the candles out before you leave! I really don’t want to burn to death while you’re out getting drunk!” He shrieked.

“But Rod, I…”

“I said goodbye Nicky!”

Nicky wiped away the tears from his eyes. And slowly stumbled over to Rod’s cocktail desk to blow out the elegant golden candles.

“What the hell is going on in there?!” One of his friend’s shouted through the door.

“Yeah, come on!” Another yelled. “We wanna watch the game!”

Nicky gulped down his sadness, best he could. Before shuffling over to the door and slowly opening it. He rubbed the back of his neck, and spoke as plainly as possible to his impatient friends. “Look, uh, sorry guys. But Rod’s… Um. Well, he’s not feeling so good. So we’re going to have to call it off.”

“Oh come on! We’re here now! You’re having us on! Right?! This is some kind of joke?” Nicky’s rowdiest friend tried to push past into the dorm room. But Nicky blocked him with his arm.

“No. I’m sorry dude. But Rod’s really feeling ill. Rain check?” Nicky suggested.

“Fuck that!” His friend responded angrily. “We’ve been waiting weeks for this end of year booze up! But first, I wanna laugh at some God damned cocktails! Rod promised us cocktails! Remember?! We were going to go out for pizza! Just you, me and the guys! But you insisted we include Rod. Well, we did! And look where that got us!”

“Cut that out Donny! Rod spent ages trying to get everything perfect for this party! He made fancy cheese snacks and everything! It’s not his fault he doesn’t feel well.” Nicky retorted.

Donny rolled his eyes. “Whatever Nick. We’re going to that frat party down the street, right guys?” All his friends nodded in agreement. “You comin’ Nick or what?”

“No.” Nicky shook his head. “Rod needs me.”

“Oh come on! He don’t need you! He needs a slap in the face. That’s what he needs! It’s like he’s always having a hissy fit or some shit! I swear! He’s worse than a God damn tween-age girl!” Donny glared at Nicky, clearly not happy to have his invitation rejected. While the others looked shocked by Donny’s outburst, clearly not knowing which of their friends to side with.

But Nicky had heard enough. “Right. That’s it! We’re done Donny! Forever! Don’t call me!” He swiftly pushed him back, away from the doorway, and slammed the door on them.

“Screw this! I’m outta here! Fuck you Nick! I told you this shit wouldn’t work! Rod’s not like us! He’s a dweeb! A dork! An ass-kisser! And you’d have so much more fun with us! So much more fun all round! Without that nerdy loser crampin’ your style! Just sayin’!” Donny bashed his palm against the door heatedly. “You know I’m right Nick! Come on guys! Let’s get outta here! Have some real fun! With some real liquor! Who wants to sit around sipping gay ass cocktail shit at some tween-age girl tea party anyway?! I only came here for the LOLs!” Donny yelled spitefully through the door. Before him and Nicky’s other friends slowly wondered away down the corridor.

“Sorry Nicky!” A couple of them whispered through the door.

However, Nicky was too angry to talk to any of them right now. How had he gotten it so wrong? How had he been so naïve?! He scrunched up his fist in anger, and thought, ‘What a bunch of jerks! I know they’ve made fun of Rod at times, teasing him, like I do. But I didn’t realize they were such complete and utter douchebags! Good job I found out what they’re really like! I’m not going to be hanging round with those assholes anymore! That’s for damned sure!’ He punched his fist into his other hand. ‘And that Donny! What a sleaze bag! I should have thumped him one!’

Nicky spun round and gave the door one swift rageful kick. ‘Can’t believe I hung out with those morons for so long! Can’t believe I let them near my best buddy Rod!’ Nicky’s anger slowly subsided, as the noise outside in the corridor faded and the dorm room fell quiet once more. So quiet that only his best friend’s sobs were audible again.

Nicky hurried back to the bathroom door. “Rod, buddy? It’s okay. They’re gone now. It’s just you and me here. Why don’t you come out and talk to me buddy?”

“Nicky, please, I just need a moment by myself.”

“I’m really sorry Rod. It just slipped out! I didn’t mean anything by it!”

“I know you didn’t. That’s what…” Rod trailed off, barely able to talk now, let alone stop his sobs. “Please, Nicky…”

“Rod…” Nicky sighed deeply and sniffed, as drops of sadness began to leak from his tear ducts. “Oh, okay buddy.” He surrendered reluctantly. “But when you feel like talking. I’m always here for you, buddy! You know that right?”

“Please Nicky, just go away!” Rod shouted.

Nicky slowly slumped over to the sofa and turned the TV back on. There was nothing much worth watching though. Well, not while he felt this depressed. ‘Jeez! What the hell is wrong with me?!’ He roughly rubbed his face with his hands. ‘Why do I always do this shit? Why do I always end up hurting Rod? That’s the last thing I ever want to do in this world!” He wiped away his tears with the bottom of his t-shirt. ‘What the hell am I going to do? How am I going to patch things up with him this time? He must be getting so sick of my nonsense! I’ve really gotta stop letting my impulsive stupidity take the lead all the time!”

----- AN HOUR LATER -----

Nicky’s ears pricked up, as Rod finally unlocked the bathroom. He looked over to the door, but his best buddy hid his face behind his hands, dashed over to his bed, and darted under the covers at lightning speed. Not even giving Nicky a glimpse of his tear stricken face.

Nicky sighed deeply again and turned the TV off. “Rod? You okay buddy?”

But a low indecipherable moan from under the duvet, was all he got in response.

Nicky went to crouch down next to Rod’s bed. “Look, we can get through this buddy? Right? I’m really sorry.” He tried to lift up the blanket, but Rod tugged it tightly down over his head.

“Buddy?”

Rod sniffed and slowly peeped his head out from under the covers. “Nicky, were you eating pizza in my bed earlier?”

Nicky gulped. “Um. Yeah.” He confessed.

Rod pulled a bit of mushroom from under the blanket and held it out in his palm.

Nicky, still a slave to his impulsive hunger, quickly slurped it up from Rod’s hand.

“Eww! Yuck! Nicky!” Rod said in disgust, as he frantically wiped the slobber onto Nicky’s top. Still, he couldn’t help but giggle a little at the ridiculousness of the situation. “Nicky! What the hell is wrong with you?!” He exclaimed, with an exasperated tone of endearment.

Nicky chuckled. “I donno Rod.” He smiled, as his roommate stared up at him, with only his hazel, spectacled eyes peeking out from beneath the covers.

The two gazed at each other for a few seconds. Before Rod popped his head out from under the duvet somewhat reluctantly, and sat up in bed. A smile slowly returning to his face too. “Oh Nicky, why do you always do this to me?” He said softly, as he slowly shook his head and sighed wistfully.

“Do what Rod?” Nicky replied, his cheeky innocence regaining control of his emotions.

Rod rolled his eyes.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Chapter Text

The apartment fell silent for a few moments. Before there was another series of loud knocks at the door. “Hello! It’s me, Ricky!”

Rod gulped, as he slowly phased back into reality. “Oh God. We’re out of time!” He muttered, as he grabbed hold of Nicky’s arm once more, and pulled him with all his weight towards the bedroom. “What’s wrong with you Nicky?! Why have you got no sense of modesty?!”

Ricky knocked again. “Hello? Anyone in there?! The director is on his way, he’s just getting his clip board!” He shouted, “Hello Nicky, you there?! I can see the light on! So I know someone’s home!”

Nicky squirmed, as he attempted to free himself from Rod’s grasp. “Let go of me Rod! I’ve gotta get the door!” Once free, he shouted, "Yeah, Ricky! I’m here buddy! Sorry, just having a bit of a domestic with Rod! But I’ll be right there!"

“Nicky! Come on! Stop being silly! I know you’re fashion blind! But you’re still in your underpants for Christ’s sake!” Rod stressed, as he resumed tugging wildly at his shameless roommate’s arm. “At the very least put some proper pants on! And cover up those t-shirt stains with a sweater or something! I’ll get the door!”

“Oh, all right, all right Rod.” Nicky groaned, as he slumped off to the bedroom to pull on some jeans.

Rod glanced at himself in the mirror to check that his hair was still gelled in place, and that his tie was still perfectly straight. But grimaced at the sight of the bruise on his forehead. So, despite the many fashion faux pas warnings from his elegantly apt flair, decided to cover it up with a Yankees baseball cap, Nicky had left hanging on the coat rack.

“Hello?! Nicky?! What are you doing in there?!” Ricky’s calls were starting to sound impatient, and the door rattled as he bashed it with his fist.

“Just a sec!” Rod yelled. But then remembered the chocolate stains and mud on his suit! “Oh for the love of…” He quickly wriggled out of his jacket and tossed it into his ‘to wash’ laundry basket with his other dirty suits, before hurrying over to open the door.

Outside Ricky stood next to a rather flamboyant looking, yet stern-faced man, clasping a clipboard. Rod stared at the man for a moment. There was definitely something eerily familiar about him, and not in a good way.

“Finally!” The director exclaimed. “Have you any idea how long we’ve been stood out here in this freezing cold corridor?”

‘About 30 seconds? And it’s got to be at least 60 degrees out here.’ Rod thought unsympathetically. But he knew it would be better to apologize rather than quibble over semantics. “Sorry.” He uttered.

The director rolled his eyes, before glaring at Rod in annoyance. And Ricky’s face broke into a smile at the sight of Rod’s unexpected hat. “Nice cap.”


“Thanks.” Rod said, as he searched his mind for a memory to match the director. He knew he had seen this guy before, somewhere. But where? And when? Then it hit him. This was the guy who had crushed his theatrical dreams in high school. None other than the notorious Tarquin Tasslebry!

Rod thought back for a moment. He had all but forgotten the drama that had unfolded that day.

----- FLASHBACK (ROD'S THEATRICAL DREAMS ARE CRUSHED) -----

Rod stared at his reflection in the dingy mirror, adjusting his tie to the left, then to the right. Striving for perfect positioning. But of course there was no such thing. He could feel himself shaking. He was so nervous! In less than twenty minutes, he had the audition of a lifetime! An audition that could change the path of his future forever!

Rod did feel a little guilty not telling Nicky. But he had his reasons. The audition was for a part in the high school production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. And well, he knew that a musical about princesses and fairy tales wouldn’t be Nicky’s scene. Moreover, Rod knew that if he had told him, then his best buddy would have likely felt obliged to be his escort again. Because his long-suffering friend always seemed to inexplicably jump at the chance to join Rod in his hobbies. Well, in any hobbies that didn’t involve mathematics, politics or economics! Because Nicky, by his own admission, had no clue when it came to super ’nerdy’ subjects like that!

True, Rod’s greedy younger-self wouldn’t have thought twice about telling Nicky, putting his name down, or hell, even dragging him along to the audition by his sweater sleeve, just so they could spend more time together.

However, Rod had grown up a lot in the last few years. And he’d shored up his realization, that if he truly loved Nicky, and if he really was his best friend, then he had to give Nicky some space. He had to step back and let him live his own life. He knew if he didn’t, Nicky would no doubt resent him one day. Because whether Rod liked it or not, Nicky had his own interests. The most difficult for Rod to deal with of course, being Nicky’s ever growing interest in girls!

True, Rod still struggled terribly with jealousy whenever he saw Nicky with a girl. But, for the most part, he’d learned to except the fact that Nicky was straight. And well, if his best friend needed a girlfriend to make him happy, then so be it! After all, when you truly love someone, their happiness is more important to you than anything else in the world! Even if the cost of that happiness, means enduring regular bouts of soul-splitting torturous heartbreak!

So this time Rod was going it alone. Indeed, he’d decided that he wouldn’t even tell Nicky about the audition at all, unless he got the part. Why worry his friend with his ventures needlessly? Besides, Nicky had his own endeavors! Most of which revolved around the dreaded ’G-word’ again! Girls!

Rod tapped his fingers on the rim of the sink, as he emerged from his heart-wrenching thoughts. He looked down at his watch again. 9.46am. He gulped. ‘Fourteen minutes to go. Not long now.’ He smiled, winking at his reflection. 'Sleeping Beauty, you're about to have a wild awakening!'

Rod half chuckled, half grimaced at the thought that in order to be Prince Charming, the role he'd lusted after for months, he'd have to bury his disgust and kiss a dreaded ’G-word’ himself!

'Damn it! Why can't Sleeping Beauty be a guy? Imagine if it were Nicky!' He felt a lubricious wave wash over him. 'Um, no. On second thoughts, let's not imagine that right now!' He made a deal with his brain, promising that if he expunged that image from his thoughts for the next few hours, then later tonight it could go to town with it!

For now, Rod tried to imagine what Nicky would say if he were here. What words of encouragement he would offer him. ’Good luck buddy! You can do it! Just pour your heart and soul into the performance!’ Seemed about right. But the enamored Nicky in his imagination added, ’Only, don’t pour in too much heart and soul, Rod buddy! Save some for me! I need a big dollop of your heart and soul too!’, and blew him a kiss. Rod smiled and sighed wistfully, wishing so badly that his imagination was real! That anything from his amorous imagination was real!

However, after reminding himself that he had less than ten minutes to finish getting ready. Rod did his best to snap himself out of his Nicky lust. By checking that his hair was still seamlessly flat for the dozenth time. And making sure that his quiff was still perfectly straight. Everything had to be perfectly straight if he was to get this part!

Unfortunately, as he stared into the cracked and dreary mirror, Rod felt his spirits crash. He really wished he could go somewhere a little nicer to prepare himself for this moment. Deep in his indulgent imagination, he had always dreamt of owning a Hollywood-style vanity mirror. Because he knew it would help him better emulate the classic awe-inspiring appearance of the actors in his beloved Broadway musicals. A real star would have their own dressing room after all!

However, finding a restroom that was even remotely pleasant in this school was a near impossible task. So instead, Rod had settled for his familiar refuge. The least frequented bathroom in the entire building. The hiding place, to which he regularly retreated, when bully attacks threatened.

‘My God Rod!’ He cursed himself, as he stared at his dull reflection. ‘You really are ridiculously pathetic aren’t you?! Why the hell are you still hiding out in restrooms?! At your age?! You are fifteen years old for Christ’s sake! Why can’t you just grow some courage and stand up for yourself?!’ He could feel the angry tinged tears welling up in his tired eyes. ’Seriously, I shouldn’t still be getting bullied at my age! It’s so humiliating! Nobody else is still getting bullied.’ He frowned and shook his head, frustrated at his own cowardice.

‘But on the positive side…’ Rod thought. ‘At least Nicky doesn’t have to suffer with me anymore!’ He put his hands together in prayer for a moment. Because to him, truly, that was the most important thing! ‘Please lord, protect Nicky. I know you’ve probably forsaken me by now. But please God, please watch over Nicky.’

A tear trickled down his cheek, as his guilty feelings intensified. ‘Poor Nicky has suffered way too much over the years, because of me! Because of the irremovable kick me sign I seem to have permanently glued to my back!’ He wiped the tears from his eyes in a surge of defiance. ‘So I’m glad he’s not chained to me anymore! I’m glad he’s free to make lots of new friends. He deserves it! After all, we’ll be picking out colleges soon. Surely then we’ll have to go our separate ways. Right?’

Rod sighed deeply, as he realized Nicky’s close proximity obviously wouldn’t last. He hated to think about it. But he knew that their eventual ‘split up’, for want of a better term, was inevitable. ‘If only I had other friends to hang out with! Why on Earth is it so difficult for me to make friends?!’ Rod slapped his palm onto his forehead. ‘Probably because I’m studying all the time!’ He thought, as a cloud of loneliness descended upon him. ‘At least Nicky need never worry about being friendless.’

It was true, Nicky’s laid-back attitude and natural comedic charm, had earned him many friends over the years. Indeed, now that he had completely separate classes to Rod, and the two were no longer joined-at-the-hip (as they had been in elementary school), Nicky had become surprisingly popular.

Conversely, as the gap between the two had widened, things had once again worsened for poor Rod. With Nicky frequently MIA, due to his increasingly party-based lifestyle, Rod was often left on his own. Although admittedly, in some ways, this fitted perfectly with his ever more intensive, parentally regulated, studious self-discipline. Because now Rod habitually camped out in the school library during lunch recess, and stayed up late to wrestle complex math calculations, and learn barely-comprehensible, barely-pronounceable business terminology.

Rod felt like his heart was slowly being tugged from his soul, as him and Nicky’s paths diverged before his eyes. Still, as much as it hurt, Rod had come to terms with this ever-growing rift in their friendship. Because he knew it was just part of the price he had to pay for his unrequited Nicky love. However, unfortunately, an additional unintended consequence of Nicky’s absence, meant that Rod was now routinely left to fend for himself. And as high school was a hostile reality for a ginger-haired, spectacle-wearing, socially-inept geek, such as himself, being alone, being unchaperoned, didn't usually end well for Rod.

Yet, no matter how badly Rod was bullied, no matter how badly he was beaten, he never told Nicky. He could never drag his sweet, innocent, happy-go-lucky friend down into the dark squalid depths of his own personal hell. It just wouldn’t be fair!

True, Nicky had been Rod’s hero for years. His knight in shining armor. His very own Prince Charming! And Rod adored him for that. But now he was a sophomore, Rod was determined to protect Nicky, no matter what the cost! And the best way to do that, was by keeping his problems to himself. Besides, he was too proud to admit the abuse he tolerated, the indignities he endured, all because he was too much of a wimp to stand up for himself.

Rod sighed again and gulped, as his thoughts returned to the impending audition.

Trying his best to dispel his nerves with stress-relieving breathing techniques, Rod rummaged through his bag to find his water bottle. The disgusting stench of the bathroom, combined with his stomach churning nervousness, incurable heartache, and bitter self-loathing, was making him feel more than a little queasy.

After taking a few sips of water and an anti-acid tablet to calm his digestive juices, Rod felt a little better. And checked his watch again. 9.54am! “Shit! I have to be there in six minutes!” He shrieked, nearly knocking his pastel peach satchel onto the decidedly filthy floor. But luckily he caught it just in time and pulled the strap back over his shoulder.

Rod was just about to leave his sanctuary and dash off down the corridor, when CRASH! He ran straight into the foreboding figure of Rufus Ragwort.

‘No! Please God not now!’ Rod screamed internally, as his heart jumped up into his throat! He had spent the entirety of last week trying to avoid him. ‘Hell!’ He thought, plunging into panic-mode. ‘How on Earth did he find me?!’

“Ah ha! At last! Got you!” Rufus prodded Rod with his finger. “So this is your secret hide out? This is where you come to play with your Barbie dolls?!” He knocked Rod backwards against the grime-encrusted wall.

Rod dropped his bag in shock. “I do not play with dolls!” He protested, but immediately wished he hadn’t used such a confrontational tone, as Rufus slammed him against the damp wall at full force.

Poor Rod tried his best not to cry out in pain as the bones in his back smashed against the concrete, or cry out in horror as the spider webs above the bathroom window got caught in his hair gel.

“Don’t ever contradict me!” Rufus yelled. “Now, tell me the truth! Have you been hiding from me?”

“No! No, no, no! Of course not!” Rod stammered, as he regained his footing, and tried desperately to remove the cobwebs from his hair.

“Liar!” Rufus accused him, shoving him back against the wall again.

“No, no really… I haven’t! I was just…”

“Hiding from me!” Rufus bellowed, grabbing Rod’s bag off the muddy floor and brutishly swinging it against his victim’s legs, before dumping it roughly back on the ground again.

“Ow!” Rod yelped in pain, as the corner of his economics textbook smashed into his knee. Then stared in horror, as his once immaculately clean shoulder bag, quickly accumulated a large collage of muddy stains. “No! I wasn’t hiding! I swear! I’ve just been…” But failing the think up a good excuse, Rod resorted to pleading. “Look, please, please let me go! I’ve done those math calculations you asked for! Honest I have! It’s just, I don’t have them on me right now. And well, I kind of have a meeting to get to. So please, please let me go!” Rod panted, trying his best to keep his breathing steady. But he was finding it difficult to hold back the battalion of tears lining up in his tear duct.

“Aww, what’s wrong? Is the little ginger gay kid crying? Do you want your mommy?” Rufus teased.

Rod frowned. His mother was the very last person he wanted right now! Sure, he wanted Nicky. He always wanted Nicky! And failing that, a motherly hug from Mrs Taylor (Nicky’s mother) always made him feel safe and secure. But he definitely did not want his own mother! Hell, he would hire an exorcist to cheer him up, before he sought out the soul-destroying vitriol of that narcissistic prattling bimbo!

“I’m not gay! And I don’t want my mother!” Rod whimpered under his breath. But Rufus either didn’t hear him, or simply chose to ignore his denial.

“I’m right aren’t I?” Rufus laughed. “Man, you’re such a little bitch Penis-wrinkle!”

Ignoring that all too familiar insult-laden version of his surname, Rod continued to plead for his freedom. ”Look, please, please... Just let me go! I have a meeting. I wouldn’t usually ask like this, but it’s just… Well, it’s important!” He begged, no longer able to stop the tears from streaming down his cheeks.

“Well, you should have thought about your precious little meeting before you started hiding from me! Now, I need those calculations! And you better have them!” Rufus grabbed Rod’s bag from the floor and dumped out its contents. “What the fuck is all this junk?! Where the hell are my calculations?!”

Seeing no sign of what he was looking for, Rufus thrust Rod onto the floor, where, although Rod was now a quivering wreck, he quickly gathered up his things and put them back in his bag.

“Now, stop being a little fag and get up!" Rufus roughly yanked Rod's arm and twisted it behind his back. "I'm only going to ask you one more time! Where the fuck are the calculations?!” Rufus snorted, as he ferociously spun Rod around, grabbed his neck, and shoved him back against the wall. Snorting, as he held his victim in place by the shoulder. “I’m waiting!”

Rod sniffed and stuttered. “But you said, you said, you needed them by the Wednesday. That’s, that's... Um. Two days away.” Rod gulped, as the nervous flutter in his stomach was replaced by lightning bolts of fear.

Rufus pulled back his clenched fist, as if preparing to thump Rod right in the face. “Yes I did say that." He admitted gruffly. "But the deadline has changed! I need them today! Understand!”

Rod closed his eyes and pleaded. “Please don’t! Please, I promise, I promise I’ve done them! Just please, please don’t hurt me!” He wheezed heavily.

At that moment there was the sound of footsteps outside, and the bathroom went silent. Rufus lowered his fist and removed his hand from Rod’s shoulder. “Where are they?!” He demanded, lowering his voice to a whisper.

Rod prayed that someone would come in and save him. That anyone would come in and save him. But, alas, no one did, and the sound of footsteps faded.

“Well?” Rufus sounded impatient.

“I... I... I put them in my locker.” Rod gulped.

Rufus was about to demand that Rod go and fetch him the calculations this instant, but he was interrupted by the sound of the school bell. “Look, Penis-twinkle, I need those calculations by lunchtime! Got it?! But I have football practice now, so I’m going to take your handbag hostage to make sure you do bring them to me at lunch!”

“It’s a satchel! Not a handbag!” Rod protested, trying to squeeze past Rufus. “And I need it!” But the bully pinned him roughly against the wall again.

Rod tried to wriggle free, but Rufus grabbed hold of his wrist and squeezed it hard.

“Ow!” Rod cried out.

“You’ll get it back.” Rufus spat in his face. “Just meet me back here at one! And make sure you have my fucking calculations! Or a few cobwebs in your hair is going to be the least of your worries! Got it bitch?!”

Rod nodded, gasping for breath.

“Good.” Rufus rubbed Rod’s head roughly, completely ruining the perfectly gelled quiff hairstyle he had spent so very long trying to achieve.

As Rufus loosened his grip on Rod’s shoulder, his quivering blue body slid down the grimy wall onto the muddy floor. “I’m glad we understand each other. I’d hate for you to see me get really nasty.” He tapped Rod on the cheek. ”See you later princess!” A cruel grin spread across his face as he snatched up Rod’s satchel and disappeared off down the corridor. Leaving poor Rod slumped against the wall. He couldn’t help but sob profusely, as he once again nursed his poor bruised wrist. Wheezing heavily, he grabbed his inhaler from his pocket. Luckily it still worked, but it was clearly cracked. ‘Oh no! No!’ Rod despaired. ‘Now my mother is going to punish me when I get home too! Bet I’ll have to pay for this out of my birthday money!’

After crying out his feelings of despair and regaining his breath, Rod scrambled to his feet. He looked a right mess now. ‘Oh no! I can’t go to the audition looking like this!’ He gasped.

Rod gazed sadly into the mirror. Falling into a dismal daze for a few minutes. Before slowly managing to reestablish his grasp on reality. And repeat his frantic efforts to tidy himself up best he could. Belatedly limping off to the audition hall as fast as his poor battered legs would carry him, at gone 10.10am.

However, when Rod finally opened the door to the main school hall, he was horrified to see it so empty inside, like the Mary Celeste. “I’ve come to audition for the play.” He panted.

In charge of the auditions was a pretentious little prick by the name of Tarquin Tasslebry. He shot Rod a somewhat indignant, confused look, as he headed towards him.

Rod asked, his voice still shaky. “Sleeping Beauty? Prince Charming Auditions at 10 ‘o’ clock?”

Tarquin looked at Rod’s scruffy hair and disheveled clothing in distaste. He checked his clipboard for unticked names. “Roderick Periwinkle?”

“Yes.” Rod said, a hint of hope in his voice.

But Tarquin just glanced critically at his watch. “I’m sorry.” He said with no hint of sympathy. “It’s 10.26am. The first round of auditions for the role of Prince Charming is over! You missed your slot!”

“But… But I can come back for the next session right?!” Rod said, desperation heavy in his voice.

“No second chances!” Tarquin snapped. "Factum fieri infectum non potest, alea iacta est." He rolled his eyes, as Rod stared up at him blankly. "Seriously? You never learnt latin? It means, it’s impossible for a deed to be undone, the die is cast. Or, in other words, está terminado, c'est fini! It's over!"

“But… But…” Rod stared in disbelief, tears rapidly welling up in his eyes again. But Tarquin merely pushed past him, indifferent to his pleading gaze.

"Goodbye." Tarquin uttered coldly.

Then, without giving poor Rod a second glance, he strode off nonchalantly into the corridor, leaving Rod all alone.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Ever since that fateful day back in high school, Rod had completely abandoned any theatrical aspirations he may have had when he was younger. Focusing solely on becoming a successful and influential investment banker, just as his parents had insisted. And he never told anyone what happened that day. Not even Nicky.

“Rod?” Ricky waved his hand in front of Rod’s blank gaze and peered over his shoulder. “Where’s Nicky gone?”

“Um, yeah he just went to, um...” Rod struggled to think of a good excuse. He could hardly admit that Nicky had left it this late to get ready. Not in front of the director. Not in front of the notoriously stuck up Tarquin Tasselbry! That would not make a very good impression! And he really didn’t want Nicky to miss out on his dreams like he had. Rod stuttered, “He just, um, went to the bathroom. He’ll be out in a second.”

“So, are you going to let us in? Or do we have to wait out here in the hallway all night?!” Tarquin grumbled.

Rod stared at him for a moment. He clearly didn’t remember him, and why should he? After all, it had been years. Indeed, it was almost a lifetime ago! And besides, it wasn’t really Tarquin’s fault. Sure, he was a pompous prick, but Rod couldn’t deny the fact that he had been late for his audition that day. Even if the reason for his lateness wasn’t really his fault either.

Chapter Text

Rod plastered a fake smile on his face and turned on the false charm he had become so adept at. “Do please come in gentlemen. Take a seat. Make yourselves at home!” Rod insincerely welcomed the two into his apartment. Although, before he could step over the threshold, Tarquin’s cell phone rang, and he rudely strode off down the corridor to answer it.

Rod rolled his eyes. ‘He’s not changed.’ He thought cynically, but took the opportunity to both thank and warn Ricky on Nicky’s behalf. “Well I must say this is a wonderful surprise! Thank you so much for suggesting Nicky for this part Ricky! He’s always wanted to be in a play!” Rod leaned in to whisper in Ricky’s ear. “I know he can seem like a bit of a slob at times.” He leaned back. “But he really is passionate about this, and if you give him a chance, maybe some pointers, I know he won’t disappoint!” Rod winked.

Ricky nodded, but Rod was talking so fast that he could barely get a word in edge-ways!

Rod continued to waffle, “It’ll be so great for Nicky to finally have a job of his own! He’s been unemployed for so long you know. And well, it can’t be good for him can it? Sitting around the apartment all day long, watching cartoons and drinking beer! It’ll be so much better now! Instead of wasting his life here, just sponging off me all the time, like a useless house-maid! He can go out and earn his own keep!” Rod joked, but on reflection really regretted his choice of wording.

“No problemo” Ricky forced a smile, still not looking Rod in the eye.

Rod cringed, as he thought back to the conclusion of their dinner date.

----- FLASHBACK (ROD & RICKY’S FIRST DATE COMES TO AN END) -----

As the waiter handed the final check to Ricky, Rod could swear he saw a scowl flicker across his date’s face. He gulped hard, and started reaching for his wallet. ‘It’s all right Ricky. I know the drill.’ He thought, before announcing his plans aloud. “Look, it’s okay. Um, my treat. I mean, I was the one who was away on the phone 80 percent of the time after all! It’s only fair I pick up the tab, right?” He joked, adding in a fake chuckle to ease the obvious tension between them.

“Oh.” Ricky said, still somewhat grumpily. “Good.” He uttered. But you could tell that a big part of him had tuned out of this date a long time ago. He practically forced the check folder into Rod’s hand, as he stretched his arms and got up from his seat. “Just going to the restroom.” He mumbled despondently, barely looking at Rod once!

Indeed, Rod felt almost invisible to Ricky in that moment. Perhaps even an annoyance to him. Still, he unfolded the bill. And his eyes widened as he skimmed down to the total. ‘Oh my God! I didn’t realize this place was so expensive!’ He gulped again. Almost choking on his saliva, as he took in the price. ‘Okay. Well, that’s pretty much an entire month’s rent down the tubes! Thanks a lot Ricky! Such a gentleman!’ He thought sarcastically.

However, Rod knew he had no real right to complain, seeing how he’d spent most of the last hour in tele-conferencing. Returning only for a few sips of soup, a couple forkfuls of pasta, and a spoonful of ice cream for dessert. Indeed, by the time he got back after the final phone call, the ice cream had completely melted. And he was left with nothing more than a vanilla milkshake to guzzle down, after the server came over to politely tell them to shift on out, so the next booking could be fulfilled.

Rod reluctantly slid his credit card from his wallet and counted out his remaining $100 in notes for the tip. He sighed deeply. ‘What a disaster this was! Ricky was right! That Nicky sure does have a lot to answer for! Why did that dopey roommate of mine book this fancy joint?! Whatever possessed him?!’

Rod paused for a moment to consider what his friend’s motives might have been. ‘Suppose he thought it’d be romantic?! Well it’s not Nicky! It’s just bankrupting! I know you think I’m loaded because I work in the Investment Banking industry. But after rent, groceries, therapy, student loan repayments, health insurance costs and parental reimbursements, I’m lucky if I have enough left over to scrape together your Nicky-care fund! Gah! I bet he’d think twice about booking us into such an expensive place if he was the one paying the check! Who am I kidding?! There is no way in hell Nicky could ever pay the check! Probably not even for McDonald’s, if I didn’t give him an allowance!’

Rod clenched his fist, at the thought. He hated that place! ‘I really wish Nicky wouldn’t eat at such crappy joints! They serve such unhealthy toxic slop!’ He frowned. ‘Maybe I need to make that a condition next time? I’ll give you your $50 spends for the week Nick, but no eating at Micky D’s! Deal?! Not now, not ever!’ He paused, as his mind illuminated the stark contradiction. ‘Wait, Nicky eats at cheap joints all the time! In fact, he exclusively eats at cheap joints! So why switch from one extreme to the other?! What on Earth is wrong with him?!’

Rod forced a smile at the waiter as he came to collect the card and tip. “Thank you. Was a lovely dinner.”

“Thank you, sir.” The waiter said, as he picked up the payment tray and proceeded to count out the notes. But it wasn’t long before he stopped abruptly and shot Rod a hard scowl. “Did you not enjoy your meal sir?” He stared pointedly at Rod.

Rod stared back at him in disbelief. “Yes. Um, I think you’ll find I did.”

“Are you sure you counted correctly sir?” The server said, as he quickly recounted the notes

“Yes.” Rod said firmly, beginning to get annoyed.

“Uh huh. Very well.” The waiter said, clearly displeased with Rod’s meagre $100 tip. He spun on his heel and stormed over to the cash register.

A couple of minutes later, he returned with Rod’s credit card and the slip for Rod to sign. “You can leave now, sir! The next customers are waiting!”

‘Well, I never! How rude can you get?!’ Rod thought. ‘I’d be over the moon to get a $100 tip! Especially if I mixed up two of the orders!’ He exhaled grumpily and began putting his jacket back on, before he glanced outside to see his next bad luck incident of the day. ‘Damn it! It’s raining now too?!’ He gulped again, as his mother’s words echoed in his mind.

"Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle! If you don’t mend your ungrateful ways, God will surely punish you from above! I guarantee it! And don’t come crying to me when he does!"

Poor Rod sighed, and massaged his temples to calm his anxiety demons. But he was startled as Ricky tapped him on the shoulder from behind.

“Ready?” Ricky asked flatly, still looking decidedly nonplussed by the whole affair.

“Um, I didn’t bring an umbrella.” Rod confessed.

Ricky put his disgruntled head in his hand. “Fine. I’ll give you a lift back. Okay?”

“Thank you. Appreciate it.” Rod smiled gratefully, but Ricky was still avoiding his gaze. “So, you drove here? In New York City?! You’re brave aren’t you?!” Rod giggled nervously again.

“Well, like I said, I work as a part time taxi driver. So, yeah. It has it’s perks.” Ricky forced a smile.

“Cool.” Rod forced a smile back at him, trying his best to sound relatable. “So, where you parked?”

“Just round the corner. Tell you what. I’ll go get my cab, and pick you up at the front entrance? Deal?”

“Sounds good. Thank you again.”

“Don’t sweat it.” Ricky said, though the tone of his voice seemed to imply the opposite.

As the two neared the door, the torrential monsoon and high winds outside seemed to thrash against the glass ever more violently. Ricky shrugged. “Well, this was a total washout.”

“Um. Yeah. I suppose. Sorry again.” Rod offered out his hand for Ricky to shake. But his date ignored it, rushing out into the rain and across the street as fast as he could.

Rod stared sadly at Ricky through the gloomy sheets of rain. ‘See, you’re such a disaster of a person! He can’t escape fast enough!’ Rod slapped himself on the forehead to reprimand himself for being such a bad date. Before his mind drifted back to his thoughts. ‘Why did Nicky think this was a good idea? I suppose he meant well. But seriously, why didn’t he at least ask us first, where and when we’d like to go for our first date?! I’m surprised he didn’t invite himself along too! Table for three, sir?! Ménage à trois?! Nicky would respond, ‘Why thank you sir! Don’t mind if I do!’ What the hell is wrong with him?!’

Rod couldn’t stop a small smile returning to his weary face. ‘Menage a trois?! With Ricky and Nicky?! If only!’ He paused to remind himself that perhaps that wouldn’t be the best idea. ‘Okay I suppose it would be somewhat awkward. No. Better if it’s just the two of us, Nicky.’ He felt a warm wave of passionate love wash over him, as he continued to stare into the bleakness of the wet and windy streets outside.

It didn’t take long for Ricky to return with his cab, and begin frantically signaling for Rod to get in. But Rod, still stuck in a heartache daze, took a few moments to respond. He pulled his jacket up over his head and dashed across the pavement into the open door of the cab.

Still feeling terrible about his first date behavior, Rod began to apologize to Ricky best he could. “Look, I just wanted to apologize again. I’m really sorry I was so distracted with work calls.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Ricky said simply.

However, Rod, still feeling guilty, decided to elaborate on his excuses. “It’s just that the VIX… Sorry, the Volatility Index, or Fear Index, which measures expected price fluctuations in various stocks, has been so high lately. Shockingly high! And well, it makes everything so much more difficult for us investment bankers! Because it makes it almost impossible for us to assess the stability of future stock markets for our clients. I tell you, all these extra tariffs! What a disaster! And I’m a Republican saying that! So you know it’s bad!”

“Uh huh.” Ricky muttered distantly.

“There’s even a Volfefe Index now! Which measures the instability in market sentiment caused by the President’s tweets! Unbelievable right?! What do you think of all these tariff wars?” Rod asked, trying to move the conversation along, and establish a better connection with Ricky. “Total nightmare, right?”

“Um, I suppose.” Ricky mumbled. However, in truth, he was so focused on trying to forge a way through the forest of traffic ahead, that he had barely registered a word Rod had just said. Let alone understood his industry lingo enough to offer a suitable response. “Look, I don’t mean to be rude. But do you mind if we have the radio on for a bit?”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Sorry, know I waffle too much sometimes.” Rod chuckled nervously yet again, as Ricky reached for the dial and clicked the radio on.

In an attempt to stop any further investment jargon gibberish escaping from his quivering lips, Rod tried his best to center his thoughts. And considered the perils of the currently high levels of price volatility present in the stock market. It was strange, but the same concept seemed to apply to the fluctuating instability of his unrequited love for Nicky.

‘If only there was some way to calculate the fear index of my love for Nicky.’ Rod thought. ‘If I could assess the future stability of our relationship together, and the stability of my emotional reactions towards him, then I could better prepare myself for any volatile choppy storms of love that might lie ahead.’ He mulled over the feasibility of actually implementing such a ’Fear Index of Love’ for a few moments, before reluctantly dismissing the idea as unfortunately absurd.

Rod closed his eyes for a few seconds, and tried his best to relax into his seat. Intertwining his fingers together in an attempt to stem his anxiety driven twitches. However, his moment of calm did not last long. And Rod’s anxiety levels soon skyrocketed again, as the topic being discussed on the radio show slowly became soul-joltingly clear.

”So, what you’re saying Dr Burbeck, is that unrequited love is like an illness? An illness, which in some cases deteriorates over time, into what essentially, amounts to be an incurable, distorted state of mind. Is that correct?”

”Yes. I suppose. In a sense.”

”So how might one go about treating this unrequited love disease?”

”Well, I think Rob… It’s okay if I call you Rob, right?”

”Sure.”

”Well, to be quite candid, Rob; I think that the best treatment for unrequited love, is to move as far away from the subject of your affection as possible. Nothing beats removing the root of the problem with a nice brisk clean cut, as it were. You have to get rid of the cause. Get that person who is causing you such heartache out of your life! Get as far away from them as possible! If you don’t, the price you end up paying may well be your very sanity itself!”

Rod’s eyes widened, as he shuffled around his seat in an increasingly agitated state. “Um, perhaps some music?” He suggested to Ricky.

“Sure. Knock yourself out.” Ricky agreed, clearly preoccupied with his own problems and the maze of traffic that lay ahead of him.

Rod reached over to twist the radio dial to tune it into the next station. Before heaving a deep sigh of relief. That psychoanalytical discussion about unrequited love, was hitting way too close to comfort. And he really didn’t feel like battling his Nicky demons head on in that moment.

Indeed, if he was being honest with himself, Rod never wanted to confront his Nicky demons! And he certainly never wanted to leave Nicky! Never again! In fact, he had promised himself categorically, that he would never leave or kick out Nicky again! Not after their last apocalyptic split up! Sure, maybe Nicky would want to leave him one day. And he’d face that nightmare when it arose. But he’d pretty much decided, that as far as he was concerned, him and Nicky could live together as they were, forever, so long as Nicky wanted that too of course.

Rod felt comforted and soothed by that decision. And he smiled inwardly at the thought, that no matter what, he’d always be there for Nicky. Even if Nicky was never there for him in the way he wanted him to be. He sighed wistfully, as he pictured Nicky’s all too adorable face. But was soon harshly snapped from his daydream, as his ears pricked up at the strangely topical song playing in the background.

“I can eat a meal at a pricy posh restaurant. But nothing, I said nothing can take away this pain! Cuz without you, life’s only endless rain!”

Rod gasped. ‘What the hell?!’ He thought in disbelief, as the radio blasted such prophetic lyrics at him. “Sorry Ricky, but maybe we can have some more upbeat music? Mind if I?” Rod leaned over and adjusted the radio knob to change the station again, not giving Ricky a chance to even answer. He really didn’t feel like listening to such a poignant song right now!

“Sure.” Ricky said, after Rod had already helped himself to the dial, and the next station was already tuning into audible words.

“He’s everything I thought I want. But he’s not you.”

Rod stared at the radio in annoyance. “Next, yes?” He twisted the knob some more.

“You’re always the best! Better than all the rest!”

‘This is just getting silly now!’ Rod thought, his irritation with the radio growing ever stronger.

“And ever since we met, you’ve had your arms round me. Oh yes, it sure is true! I only want to sleep with you!”

“Mmh!” Rod grumbled. “No, no! Next!” Ricky, trying to concentrate on the road, was getting more than a little distracted by Rod’s incessant radio tuning.

“Cuz I’m only alive, for you.”

“Nope.” Rod forced a fake chuckle in an attempt to alleviate Ricky’s growing irritation.

“It’s like I can’t sleep, without you right next to me.”

‘My God! What the hell is going on?!’ Rod thought, starting to panic, as he couldn’t seem to find a single radio station that was playing a song with innocuous lyrics!

”Only you, can make the darkness light.”

‘Okay next.’ Rod thought, as his anxiety levels continued to ramp up exponentially.

“I'm sure we'll set things straight and be together. Stay with me, hand in hand. I promise to be there forever, and ever!”

“Gah!” Rod exclaimed. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?!’ He thought.

“What’s wrong?!” Ricky asked in annoyance. The level of disgruntlement in his voice now almost matching Rod’s agitation.

“Sorry, sure I’ll find a good station soon. I’m just, um, very picky when it comes to songs.” He giggled somewhat hysterically.

“I shouldn’t love you. But I need you. I just can’t walk away!”

‘Nope.’ Rod furrowed his brow, as he continued his battle with the radio knob.

“Cuz any place I go, there’s a love song, that reminds me of you. And even though I know I have to move on, I’m still not over you.”

“Can you just stop messing with it?! Please!” Ricky said firmly. “You’re going to break it!”

“Sorry Ricky, almost there! Promise!” Rod shrieked.

“You are my destiny! When you grab my hand, I feel the love, the beauty inside you! You’re my dreams come true! The one. Yes, only you!”

“Okay, good. Can we just leave it on that one now, yes?” Ricky asked.

“Um, just one more.” Rod’s fingers were growing ever more sweaty, as they mercilessly fiddled with the dial.

“Without you I just go crazy! And yes you know, that all I think about, is where you are! And yes it’s true, that only you can save me sweetie! From going through this life all alone!”

‘Oh no! Maybe this is my punishment!’ Rod covered his ringing ears with his hands.

“What’s the matter?!” Ricky said, as he drove closer towards the traffic light at the end of the street.

“Nothing! I’m fine!” Rod proclaimed, completely unconvincingly.

“Will you do a small favor for me? Just get a ring and go down, on one knee?”

“Can you please just turn it off?!”

“Um, yeah maybe that would be for the best. Which one is the off button?” Rod asked, whilst still twiddling the knob frantically, as he couldn’t stand to listen to any of the songs that emanated from the speakers.

“Why can't I sleep? Why won't my fantasies come true? I feel alone. Without you I'm forever blue.”

“Help! How the hell do you turn it off?!” Rod shrieked again, quickly moving beyond hysteria.

”But without your touch it don’t seem right!”

“No!”

”True love never dies! Let’s always be together!“

“Look, just stop it, will you! You’re acting crazy! We’re almost at Avenue Q. Then I can pull over.” Ricky said, rapidly raising his voice, as he attempted to extinguish his date’s increasingly psychotic freak-out explosion with some harsh reality. But random songs continued to chime around the car, in an unstable frenzy.

”Why am I only your friend?”

”Nobody makes me feel better! But at times I wish some guy would! Not a thing thrills me, quite like thoughts of you! Why are you the only way?”

“Okay.” Rod heaved a huge sigh of relief again. “It’s off!”

“What was all that about?!” Ricky asked in bemusement, as he pulled over to the sidewalk outside Rod and Nicky’s apartment building.

“Um, I don’t know. Think maybe, um, my first gay date anxiety levels are still, uh, running a little high, perhaps?” Rod giggled hysterically.

“Right.” Came Ricky’s somewhat sardonic, monosyllabic response.

Rod took another puff on his inhaler. If he kept up this rate of asthmatic panic attacks, he’d have to get a new one before the day was out! ‘What the hell?!’ Rod thought. ‘Why did all the song’s seem to be about Nicky?!’ He couldn’t prevent some of his anxiety boiling over into real mumblings again.

“Gah!” Rod gulped, as he realized Ricky was shooting him some very odd looks. “Um. Sorry. It’s been a long day. And I didn’t sleep much last night. Think I’m having a bit of a stress lapse or something.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with a tissue. “That, and I guess it’s impossible to find a good radio station these days!” He chuckled nervously again.

Ricky, managing to soften any anger back into his normal Nicky-ish joviality, did his best to end the date on a lighter note. “Well look, don’t sweat it. Okay?” He gave Rod a slight nudge and shot a reassuring smile at him. “And look, the rain has stopped! So at least you shouldn’t get too wet out there!” He gestured towards the now clear skies above and smiled again. “Look, before you go. Don’t suppose you could do me a favor in exchange for the lift?”

“Um, I suppose.” Rod said, somewhat nervously, as he had no idea what Ricky wanted.

“It’s just, well I wondered if you could confirm a couple of things about Nicky?”

“How do you mean?” Rod gulped, fearing that maybe Ricky was on to him.

“He’s unemployed right? And he doesn’t go out much during the day?”

“Yes.” Rod confirmed. Feeling a little relieved upon hearing the questions. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason.” A broad smirk spread across Ricky’s face.

Rod shot him a quizzical look. But decided, seeing as he was already in such a state, it was best not to press the issue. “Okay.”

“Anywho, this was fun! Guess I’ll see you around?” Ricky offered up his hand for Rod to shake.

Rod nodded. “Um, yeah. That’d be nice.” He was trying his best to look calm and collected, but just beneath the surface, he had undoubtedly become a jittering wreck. He gulped, quickly darting out his wobbly limp arm to complete their farewell handshake, before leaping out of the cab as fast as he could. And dashing across the street to the reassuring familiarity of his neighborhood.

Rod was just about to head inside, when he caught sight of Nicky in the window, joking around with Lucy below.

“Well, you look better now!” Nicky laughed. “After your near death experience and all.”

“Yes. Now that the Lord is looking out for me, things are looking up.” Lucy cooed back.

“Including you, looking up at me!” Nicky chuckled.

Lucy frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean chump?!”

“Nothin’!” Nicky rolled his eyes and shut the window.

Rod quickly rushed to hide around the corner, as tears started to well up in his eyes uncontrollably. ‘Oh Nicholas. Why, oh why do I love you so much, when you will never be able to love me back?’

Unable to stop his sobbing, Rod decided it might be better if he walked around the block for a little while. Because he felt like he needed some time to regain his composure and clear his head. Before he returned home to face Nicky’s heart-breaking heterosexuality again. ‘Why, oh why do I keep falling for Nicky over and over again, when I know full well that he’ll never be there to catch me?! Surely, I’m going to reach the bottom of this well of Nicky love one day. Then what will I do?! How will I escape again, without Nicky to pull me up?!’

Rod rushed away from his home and through the puddle-strewn streets. Why did the price of his love for Nicky always seem to fluctuate so wildly? One minute all it cost him was $50 a week for some junk food, and the next it threatened to cost him his very sanity. Did he even have a purpose if Nicky wasn’t in his life? He didn’t know. All he knew, was that there seemed to be a fine line between love with a purpose, and love that was ultimately fated to be nothing more than a waste of his time.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Rod froze, as all the embarrassment of that day came flooding back. But he was quickly jolted back into reality, when Tarquin shoved past him and stormed into the apartment.

‘How rude!’ Rod thought. He was about to ask Ricky, why he wanted to know so much about Nicky the other day. But he knew there was no time for that now. ‘Wait.’ He thought. ‘Of course! Ricky must have been asking so many questions about Nicky, because he was already considering him for this part in the play! Yes! That must have been the reason!’ Rod felt relieved to know Ricky’s odd line of questioning now made perfect sense to him.

“Oh. My. God!” The director gasped. “Well, well, well, I must say! This place is simply fabulous!”

“It is?” Rod said aghast, looking around at the bomb-site that was his apartment. He had spent hours cleaning it just the night before, but already Nicky had turned it back into a pigsty, as per usual. He hadn’t really noticed when he first came in, as he’d had other things on his mind. But now that he looked, really looked, there was no denying it, the place was filthy!

Nicky’s clothes were sprawled all over the floor, along with an array of scrunched up packets, Cheezit fragments, empty beer cans and all manner of stains. The nature of which, Rod barely dared to contemplate.

No matter what angle you took, or which direction you turned, there was certainly nothing ’fabulous’ about their apartment. At least not in its current state! After a meticulous Rod-style cleaning session, it might look half-decent. Might. But before one, no chance! Especially given Nicky had been left alone to wallow in his own filth unsupervised for 12 hours!

“Huh?” Ricky also looked confused.

The director glanced around. “Yes! Amo illum! I love it!”

“You do?” Rod asked in astonishment.

Tarquin wondered around the room. “Yes! Prorsus iustum! This is it! This setting is just what I pictured for my magnum opus! It will fit perfectly with my masterpiece! Don’t suppose you’ll mind me taking a few photographs for my inspiration wall?” Tarquin started lining up shots of different piles of trash with his smartphone camera.

Rod stared at him aghast. Trying his best not to collapse into a fit of giggles. ‘He can’t be serious right?!’ He thought, as he sniggered to himself.

“This is exactly how I imagined the dwelling of the infamous slobby Bobby would look!” Tarquin squealed in excitement, as he continued to take photos of the messy apartment from all angles.

“Slobby Bobby?!” Rod couldn’t help the mild tone of disgust in his voice.

Tarquin immediately, turned to glare at Rod with piercing eyes. “Yes!” He said defensively. “That’s the role your roommate Nicky is supposed to be auditioning for, if he even still wants the part?! Where is he?!”

Chapter Text

Nicky bounced upwards off the edge of Rod’s bed. ‘Nearly, nearly, almost!’ He stretched his arm as high as he could. “Ah ha! Yes! Got you!” He exclaimed in gleeful triumph, as he pulled his lucky hooded sweater down from the top of Rod’s closet. He had no idea how it had gotten up there, but he was much too excited to worry about trivialities like that right now!

This was the first time he had a chance to become an actor in a proper play! Well, technically, it was his second chance, but he didn’t count the first time. Besides, even if he did miss his first acting opportunity back in high school, he most definitely did not regret his actions that day.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY MISSES HIS FIRST CHANCE TO GET INTO A PLAY) -----

Nicky was on his way to his first ever audition. He hadn’t practiced or anything, naturally, but he thought. ‘What the hey? How hard can it be to be a horse’s head? All you need to do is pretend to eat some hay! Mmm, imagine eating hay?!’ He chuckled to himself for a moment.

Nicky could barely believe that he was actually going to do this! That he was actually going to try out for the school production of Sleeping Beauty! And for the second largest role no less! The noble steed. Loyal companion to the lead, Prince Charming!

Nicky was so lucky really, as it was only because his friend in Art class had surprised him by putting his name down on the list, that he even had this chance! He had been meaning to sign up for weeks, but being the unorganized, undisciplined blob that he was, he’d kept putting it off and forgetting. Indeed, he had almost forgotten again today! That was, until his friend had reminded him for the umpteenth time about 5 minutes ago!

However, now that his memory had been jogged, he was, as usual, burning with excitement, in his emblematically goofy, Nicky-ish-way! He just wished so badly that Rod was with him right now, so that he could tell him all about it!

After all, Nicky’s most favorite thing to do in the whole world, was to coax a smile onto Rod’s (all too often) clammed-up sour-pussed face! And if there was one thing he knew about Rod, it was that he loved musicals!

Nicky beamed, dying to see the look on Rod’s face when he told him what he had been planning! Considering how he was always teasing Rod about his love of theater, and going off on random tirades about how much he hated musicals and fairy stories, Nicky knew for sure that his best friend would be well and truly gob-smacked by this revelation!

However, sadly, Nicky had not seen Rod all day. Indeed, Nicky hadn’t seen much of Rod at all in the past few months! Anyway, rather than go looking for him, Nicky had decided not to tell his best friend anything unless he actually got offered a part.

Besides, Nicky knew how much Rod hated it when he snuck up behind him and started blabbering on about random things that happened to him during the day. The last time Nicky had snuck up behind Rod in the library and whispered in his ear about how he’d asked first Suzie, then Zoe, then Becca to the school dance with him. He had ended up chasing Rod half way across the empty football field, just to return his friend’s abandoned math calculations, and apologize on bended-knee for disturbing Rod’s, quote, ‘Zen mode’.

Nicky smiled, as he stared down at the grass stains he still had on his jeans from that day. He continued happily bouncing along towards the main school hall, determined to give the audition his best shot, when he saw his best buddy Rod limping towards him. In the blink of an eye all trace of his happiness vanished.

“Rod?” He shouted out, concern filling his voice. “Buddy? You okay?”

Rod hobbled towards him. “Hi Nicky.” He said sadly, as a tear slowly trickled down his cheek.

“Rod? Are you… crying?” Nicky brushed away his tear with his thumb.

Rod tried to push Nicky away, but his wrist still ached, and he could only manage a gentle tap. “Nicky, how many times have I told you? You can’t just do things like that! Personal space! Remember!”

For once Nicky didn’t apologize. “Rod? What’s wrong?” He stared down at Rod’s mud stained trousers. “What happened?”

Rod sighed. “Nothing Nicky. I just… Um, slipped. Okay?! I was in the bathroom. And, well, I just slipped on the wet floor. No big deal.”

“Slipped?” Nicky wasn’t convinced. Doubly so, as he caught sight of Rufus Ragwort joking around with his friends at the other end of the corridor, seemingly pointing and laughing at poor Rod’s limp. “Come on Rod! It was him! Wasn’t it?!” Nicky glared over Rod’s shoulder, shooting daggers at Rufus, who was now too busy gloating about his latest football victory to notice. “I’ve seen him picking on you!”

“Who?” Rod turned around in panic. But as soon as he glimpsed Rufus, he quickly turned back to face his friend, trying his best to disguise his face with his hand. “Who? I don’t see anyone.” He continued to play dumb. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Nicky! I just slipped! That’s all! Case closed!”

“Rod? Why won’t you just tell me what really happened? And where’s your bag?” Nicky really wished his friend would just admit when he was being bullied and tell someone! But he knew he wouldn’t. It wasn’t Rod’s way.

Rod sure was stubborn when it came to things like this.

‘Why Rod?’ Nicky thought. ‘Why do you think you can take on the world alone? Why won’t you let me help you?’ By now, Nicky knew that Rod’s parents probably wouldn’t care much. But his family would be devastated to find out that Rod was being bullied again.

“That is what really happened Nicky!” Rod insisted desperately.

Now that Rod knew Rufus was just down the corridor his heart raced, and panic began to set in again. He had yet to collect the math calculations from his locker, and he was all too aware of the ominous one 'o' clock deadline looming over him. ‘I have to get away’ Rod thought. ‘If that thug sees me with Nicky, he might start bullying him too!’

Nicky sighed. “Where’s your bag Rod?”

Desperate to get away, Rod blurted out the first half-plausible excuse that came into his head. “I left my bag… Um, in my locker! I had, erm, swimming practice. But, I’m going to get it. Er, in a moment. Now, if you'll excuse me Nicky, I’ve got an Economics class any minute. So I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go!”

“Rod stop, I know you don’t swim.” Nicky grabbed Rod’s arm lightly, but unfortunately it was his bad wrist. “Ow! Nicky!” He cried out in pain.

Nicky immediately let go. “Huh? Rod, I barely touched you. What’s going on buddy?”

“Nothing! I told you! I… I… I just slipped okay?! And… Er, fell on my arm. Now please Nicky, I’m going to be late! I’ll see you later. Okay? After lunch?” And with that Rod hobbled off down the corridor, too terrified to look back, even though all he wanted to do was turn around, run into Nicky’s arms, and never leave him again!

Watching his best friend limp off down the corridor Nicky’s heart sank and he felt emotions swirling around inside him that he could barely label. Mostly a weird mix of anger and sadness. For a moment, he went completely numb inside.

Then, as Rod disappeared out of view, Nicky turned around to fix his gaze on Rufus, who was still too busy showing off to notice Nicky’s death stare.

Finally, the last straw, Nicky snapped. Gasping as he spotted it, the McGuffin! Rufus had Rod’s bag at his feet! Sure, it looked a little worse for wear. But it was definitely Rod’s bag. No one else in the school carried a pastel peach shoulder bag like that! Let alone beefy quarterback Rufus Ragwort!

Nicky’s eyes, which only moments earlier had brimmed with excitement, now burned with rage.  Seeing Rufus with Rod’s bag was all the evidence he needed to confirm his suspicions. He felt a surge of anger rushing through his veins. ‘That son of a bitch!’ He thought, and without thinking twice about it, he stormed off down the corridor to confront him!

As Nicky approached his target, he could feel muscles awakening, that he didn’t even know he had! He launched himself like a missile and pelted towards Rufus at full force, knocking half the football squad over in the process. The corridor was crowded with people, all of whom were now staring at him in astonishment. But Nicky didn’t care. All he cared about was Rod.

Nicky stared up at his nemesis menacingly. Rufus was much bigger than he was, much bigger, but Nicky had adrenaline on his side. He shoved Rufus against the wall. “You leave Rod alone! Or you’ll have me to deal with!” He shouted heatedly. “Understand?!”

Quickly regaining their footing, the group of burly quarterbacks weren’t at all phased by their momentary tumble. They merely reformed their circle around him and Rufus, and stood about laughing, like a pack of wild hyenas.

Rufus scowled. “Look bitch! I don’t know who you think you are?! But nobody pushes me like that and gets away with it!” He shoved Nicky backwards.

“No! No one pushes my buddy Rod around like that and gets away with it!” Nicky yelled. “That is his bag isn’t it?” He accused fiercely.

“So what if it is?” Rufus grinned at his friends, signaling for them to stay back. In a kind of, ‘No need to intervene. I can handle this little bitch’ gesture.

Nicky glared at Rufus, using a tone that was more serious then he’d ever used before in his life. “Look, I’m only going to say this one more time. But I’ll say it slowly so even you can understand. Leave. My. Friend. Alone. Got it?!”

However, Rufus merely laughed at him. “Aww. What’s wrong? Is he your boyfriend? Are you two fuck buddies or something? And what about this?" Rufus dangled Rod’s satchel right in front of Nicky. “Is this your boyfriend’s handbag?” He mocked, “Is this where he keeps his dildos?”

Nicky grabbed for the bag, but when Rufus inevitably pulled it away, he didn’t think twice about it. He just screwed his hand into a fist and THWACK! Punched Rufus right on the chin. Rufus went dizzy for a moment, before he jumped on top of Nicky, and punched him hard in the eye.

Everyone around was now chanting. “Fight! Fight! Fight!” In the age-old high-school tradition.

“I’ll kill you for that!” Rufus yelled, as the two of them scuffled on the floor. Rufus’s mates were about to jump in too when the fight came to an abrupt end. Because the unmistakable voice of Principal Stricklin boomed down the corridor.

“What on Earth is going on out here?!” Principal Stricklin said.

Everything went silent except for the sound of Nicky and Rufus rolling around on the floor. ”I’m going to fucking kill you! You faggot-loving bitch! You’ll be eating out of a tube by the time I’m done with you! I can promise you that!” Rufus blasted.

“Enough!” Principal Stricklin demanded. And the crowd parted, as the principal marched right over to them. “Stop this nonsense at once! You are seniors in high school for heaven’s sake! Not toddlers in kindergarten!”

Rufus stumbled to his feet, and brushed himself off. “Sorry sir. We were just… Um, having a misunderstanding, sir.”

“He stole my buddy’s bag! And he attacked him! I know he did!” Nicky accused.

“Liar!” Rufus retorted.

“Right, that’s enough! Calm down this instant! Or I’ll have you both expelled from this school! And I’ll report this incident to the police for good measure! Now, both of you! Into my office!”

Neither boy moved for a moment, both still glaring at each other.

“Now!” The principal yelled at the top of his voice. “And as for the rest of you! Why are you all just standing around in the corridor?! Don’t you have classes to go to?!”

Everyone scattered, leaving Nicky and Rufus alone to face the music in the principal’s office.

By this time Nicky had long since missed his audition. But he didn’t regret his actions. Not in the slightest.

Although Rufus tried to invent some lame story to explain why he had Rod’s bag, luckily the principal didn’t believe a word of it. Apparently, Rufus was already on his final warning and this fight in the corridor with Nicky was the final straw. He was expelled from the school on the spot!

Nicky on the other hand, with the evidence on his side, was lucky enough to get off with a warning and a couple of weeks detention, cleaning dishes in the school kitchens. Nicky hated cleaning! But it was a small price to pay to teach that bully a lesson and ensure his best friend’s safety.

----- LATER THAT DAY AFTER SCHOOL -----

As the final alarm rang out, Nicky left the Graphics studio with a broad grin on his face. Rufus was really gone! Gone forever! Desperate to see Rod and return his bag to him, Nicky practically ran full pelt to their after school meeting place outside the main gates.

As Nicky approached, Rod stared back at him in shock. He had been about to ask him where he’d been all lunch, but that question now seemed somewhat redundant.

“Oh Nicky! What the hell happened? Your eye?! It's all swollen!“ Rod gazed in horror at the dark red bruise that scarred his secret sweetheart’s face.

“Oh that.” Nicky had almost forgotten about his eye. “I got into a fight.” He beamed.

“A fight?!” Rod gasped.

“Yeah with Rufus Ragwort.” He answered happily.

“What?!” Rod shrieked.

“Yeah” Nicky shrugged, as if it were no big deal.

“But why?!” Rod asked. He could barely believe his own ears! Nicky in a fight? He could hardly picture it. And why the hell did he look so happy about it?

“Well, it turns out he stole my best buddy’s bag.” Nicky pulled out Rod’s pastel peach satchel from behind his back. “And well, I couldn’t let him get away with that!” He grinned.

“But Nicky your poor eye?!” Rod thought, ‘Why on Earth is he still smiling?! Why in the world is he so happy about being beaten up and punched in the eye?! It’s not normal!’ Then it hit him. ‘Oh my God! He must be delirious! He probably has concussion or something!’ He shrieked almost hysterically, "God! That eye looks terrible Nicky! Doesn't it hurt? You need to see the nurse this instant!"

Nicky flinched, as Rod brushed his hand over his swollen eye. “Calm down Rod! Yeah, it is a bit sore. But it was a small price to pay to give that asshole a taste of his own medicine!”  

Not hearing a word Nicky had just said, Rod fussed. “Nicky! We have to get you to a hospital! You might have concussion! An internal hemorrhage! Brain damage! It’s okay, I know your family doesn’t have the best health insurance plan. I’ve managed to save up a bit in secret, birthday money etcetera. So I can use that to…” Rod was talking faster than the beat of a humming bird wing now.

Nicky swept his friend’s hand away from his eye, and interrupted his hysterical panic attack. “Jeez Rod! Personal space remember!” He grinned. “Look I’m fine! I’ve already been to see the school nurse. And she says it’s just a surface wound. Nothin’ to worry about! She said in a few days it’ll have completely healed and no one will know it ever even happened!”

“Really?”

“Yes! Really buddy! I'm one super tough cookie me! And anyway, like I say, it was well worth it to get rid of that son of a bitch!” Nicky punched his hand into his fist, as the anger he had felt earlier echoed through is mind.

“Nicky! Language!” Rod scolded, still in shock. Rufus hadn’t turned up for his calculations at lunchtime like he had threatened. But Rod had just assumed that he must have had extra football practice or something. “Wait? Rufus… is gone?” He searched his surroundings for any sign of his former oppressor.

“Yeah! Seems he was already on his last warning, so Principal Stricklin expelled him! And well, good riddance that's what I say!”

Rod didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know what to think. ‘Rufus, gone?’ It just didn’t seem real somehow. But slowly, as reality sank in he felt his adoration for Nicky multiply exponentially. Nicky was his hero! His heart melted, and heavenly images of Nicky dressed as his own personal knight in shining armor or his very own super hero, flooded into his mind.

Sure Nicky had defended Rod from bullies before. But this was the first time that Nicky had actually gotten into a full blown fight to protect him!

‘Damn it!’ Rod thought. ‘Why the hell did I have to miss that?!’ Yet, at the same time, he also thought, ‘Why on Earth does Nicky always jump into these situations without thinking?! He could have been killed!’

Rod’s thoughts must have somehow migrated to his mouth, as he shrieked hysterically at his friend again, ”Nicky, why on Earth did you do that?! You could have been killed!”

“Nah.” Nicky grinned. “That bully didn’t stand a chance against me!” He gloated.

“Nicky! He’s almost twice your size!” Rod shrieked.

“Nah. Well, okay, maybe a little taller, I guess. “Nicky conceded. “But he’s not so tough really. Nothing but a little bitch when you stand up to him. Just like all bullies!”

Rod didn’t know what to say. “Um, well thanks.” He smiled, now fighting back tears of happiness.

“No worries.” Nicky beamed. “So, what film do you want to watch tonight?”

Rod’s joy immediately faded, he sighed. “Weren’t you going out with that Suzie?”

“No.”

“Zoe?”

“No.”

“Beccy?”

“No. Tonight I’m hanging out with you, Rod buddy, ‘member? We always hang out on Friday nights! Rod and Nicky’s excellent adventures, watching movies from across the Universe, every Friday night 5pm to 7pm. Eastern Standard Time, of course!”

“Nicky, we haven’t done that in nearly three months!” Rod folded his arms and shook his head.

“But it was a tradition!” Nicky insisted.

“Not anymore Nicky! The new tradition, involves you gallivanting around town with every girl in school! And me, stuck with my head in a textbook all night! Just like every other night.” Rod sighed sadly in defeat.

“Well, not tonight buddy! Tonight is Rod and Nicky movie night! And it’s your turn to pick!” Nicky winked at Rod with his good eye. “Just, no more mushy romantic films, okay? Or fairytales! If I have to see yet another clueless love-sick Prince, climb over another rose bush, to save another helpless damsel in distress, I think I’ll go crazy!” He joked.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Nicky had never told Rod that he had missed an audition that day. That he had sacrificed his dreams to be Rod’s knight in shining armor. But if he could go back, he’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Without a second thought. He’d do almost anything to protect Rod.

Nicky pulled his chocolate-stained lucky sweater over his head, to complete his ‘semi-decent’ outfit. It was the very same sweater he had worn all those years ago when he’d tackled Rufus Ragwort and saved Rod. Despite Rod’s frequent attempts to get him to throw it out, Nicky had kept it all these years. He'd kept it as a reminder that if he could confront the biggest bully in school, then he could do anything he set his mind to! He just hadn’t set his mind to anything in years.

Chapter Text

“Nicky! What on Earth are you doing in there Nicky?!” Rod called desperately. But he needn't have bothered. Because at that very moment, Nicky bounced out of the bedroom.

“Oh no…” Rod said. Putting his head in his hands, as he saw the shredded, grass-stained pants and tatty, decade-old hooded sweater his roommate was wearing. ‘That’s it!’ He thought. ‘Nicky’s never going to get a job and I’m going to be paying to keep him in junk food and beer for the rest of my days.’ He sighed wearily. 'Why me?' Although, of course, really he knew exactly why him.

Still, Tarquin looked more intrigued then anything. “So you’re the Nicky, Ricky has been telling me so much about?” He quickly hurried over, offering out his hand.

“Yup. That’s me!” Nicky rubbed the remaining chocolate Cheezit dust from his mouth, and put out his grubby mitt, smiling warmly at the director. “Nice to meet you!” After all, he’d never made it to his first audition with Tarquin, so he had no idea what an arrogant snob he was.

“World-renowned director, Tarquin Tasselbry.” He introduced himself arrogantly, almost reaching out to shake Nicky’s hand. But one glimpse of the malodorous gunk, and he soon whipped it away again. “Charmed, I'm sure." He uttered, barely hiding his disgust, before quickly moving on. "So, Nicky, I must say, I am very impressed that you went to all this trouble just to get into character!”

“Well, no I didn’t….” Nicky began to answer honestly, but before he could finish, Rod quickly stepped in.

“No, it wasn’t any trouble. Was it Nicky? No trouble at all.” Rod gave his friend a light nudge. “Nothing’s too much trouble when it comes to preparing for the audition of a life time? Isn’t that right Nicholas?” He stressed, staring pointedly at his dozy roommate.

“Huh?” Nicky said, sounding somewhat confused, until Rod elbowed him in the stomach. “Um… Oh, yeah. Nothing’s too much trouble. I really want this part! Sounds like great fun!” He beamed.

Rod interrupted again. “Um… I’m just going to get myself a glass of orange juice. Does anyone else want anything?”

“No thanks.” Ricky and Nicky announced in unison, and then, also in unison. “Whoa, weird.” As they stared at each other.

“Well, actually, waiting all that time in the cold corridor has left me rather thirsty.” Tarquin huffed, as he swallowed hard. “Is it freshly squeezed juice?” He inquired pointedly.

“Um. No, I’m afraid not.” Rod did own a juicer. But he’d been so busy working and cleaning up after Nicky lately, that he hadn’t had a chance to replenish their fresh fruit supplies in days.

Tarquin scoffed. “Not fresh! Humph! Well, thank you, but no thank you then!”

“Okay, can I get you something else?” Rod asked, trying to remain patient. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate?” He was trying his best to keep things pleasant, but Tarquin wasn’t making it easy for him. ‘A bucket of mud on your head, perhaps?’ He thought, as he clenched down on his irritation.

“Hot drinks?!” Tarquin rolled his eyes in disdain. “Hot drinks won’t quench my thirst! Have you no understanding of hospitality?!” He glared at Rod, as if to insinuate that he was some kind of moron. “And coffee?! At this time in the evening?! Do I look like I want to be up all night?!”

“Water then?” Poor stressed out Rod was beginning to lose his temper with Tarquin’s obnoxious behavior, but he swallowed his frustration. The last thing he wanted to do, was ruin Nicky’s chances!

Tarquin pulled a face. “Water!? Tap, I presume?”

“Well, yes.” Rod answered, trying his best to remain calm. "It’s quite refreshing, I assure you. We have very high quality tap water here in New York." He maintained his fake smile, but thought resentfully. ‘You know, I could always pour an ice cold glass of water down your shirt! I’m sure that would be refreshing!’

“Humph. Have you any idea how many bacteria live in the average kitchen faucet? Are you trying to poison me?!” Tarquin snapped, seemingly fed up with Rod’s many unsatisfactory beverage suggestions. He sighed resignedly. "I really fancied some nice sweet orange juice. But if it’s not freshly squeezed, then I’ll just have to wait I suppose!” He put his hand to his head dramatically. “Hopefully I won’t pass out from dehydration!”

‘Well la de da, mister I’d rather die of thirst than drink shop bought fruit juice!’ Rod thought. ‘I’ll just pour a nice cool glass of refreshing orange juice for myself!’ But he kept his actual response monosyllabic. “Fine.” He forced a smile at Tarquin before disappearing into the kitchen.

Tarquin turned back to face Ricky and Nicky. Who, for the duration of Rod and Tarquin’s conversation, had kept themselves entertained by making funny faces at each other, and starting a staring contest.

“Well Nicholas, you’ve met your counterpart, Ricky.” Tarquin gestured towards Ricky, who in turn grinned over at Nicky.

“Yup.” They announced, again in unison. “We met on Simili-Dude dot com!” They both gushed, as they went to high five one another.

"Well, technically we first met on the subway. But then we rekindled our connection online. Didn't we Nicky?" Ricky winked at his somewhat baffled potential stage partner.

“No way!” Nicky gasped. "That was you?!"

"Yup. Guilty as charged." Ricky grinned, as he thought back to the day he'd first flirted with Nicky on the subway.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY’S FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH RICKY) -----

Nicky yawned and slumped against the window. It was already 11.40am, but still much earlier than he was used to going out. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been out in the morning! Likely sometime in college. But even then, doing a Media Studies degree, he'd barely had any lectures to attend.

Unfortunately, this morning, Nicky didn’t have a choice but to be out. He had a mission. A milk mission. And all because of his late night cookie addiction!

Usually Nicky would get off with a warning after one of his midnight milk raids. However, this time Rod wasn’t having any of it! Indeed, his furious coffee-deprived roommate had practically shoved Nicky, half-dressed, half-asleep, out onto the street! Insisting that he go and restock the milk immediately! So that he could make his oatmeal for once! Either that, or else face eviction! No excuses! 'No milk. No apartment.' Had been Rod's final words on the matter.

Nicky sighed heavily. Because it was a Sunday, the only place he could get milk was from the out of town Walmart. And thus, he had to go on the subway. There really wasn’t any other option. If he had the money, he would have called a taxi, or failing that, an Uber. But Rod had only given him the bare minimum in notes, so there was no wiggle room for extravagances like that!

Nicky sighed. ‘I guess I brought this on myself.’ He thought, as he snuggled up against the cold glass, trying his best to get comfortable. There was only maybe ten minutes left until his stop. But Nicky being Nicky, he wasn’t really that bothered if he overslept and ended up in ‘No-where’s Ville’ for a few hours. To him it’d just be an adventure! Besides, he had his cell with him, and he knew Rod would never leave him hanging like that! Even if he was in the doghouse!

Nicky was just starting to doze off, when he was startled back into life by a green hand on his shoulder from above. He jumped slightly, looking up to see a jubilant face. A face almost as smiley as the one that greeted him in the mirror after he slumped out of bed each day.

“Hey. Sorry to interrupt your power nap. But don’t suppose you come here often?” The man inquired, with a glint in his eye. “Only, I come often. And I’ve never seen you around before.” He grinned cheekily.

Nicky yawned deeply. Still half-asleep. Half zombified. “Um, afraid not buddy.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“No worries. Name’s Ricky by the way.” The guy leaned over to shake Nicky’s hand.

“Sweet.” He replied simply, giving the stranger a quick ‘Nicky trademark special explosive pop’ handshake. However, he was still barely able to open his dozy eyes, and completely unable to stop his yawning spree.

“Cool.” Ricky’s grin intensified. He loved the unique flare that came with Nicky’s unusual quirky handshake.

“So, you work out?”

Nicky couldn’t help but laugh at the mere idea. “Me?! Work out?! Good one buddy!”

“Makes sense. I suppose you’re so good looking, you don’t really need to put much effort in.” Ricky winked.

Nicky could feel his ‘gay detection’ senses tingling. “Um. Yeah. Thanks.” He uttered somewhat suspiciously, yawning for the umpteenth time in a row.

Ricky was about to grab the seat next to him, when luckily for Nicky, he was saved by the bell. Because the tannoy system echoed around the carriage, reminding everyone what the next stop was going to be.

“Shit!” Nicky gasped, quickly staggering to his feet. “That’s me! Gotta go!” He hollered, as he scooched past Ricky.

“Oh. Okay.” Ricky said, somewhat disappointedly.

“See you around!” Nicky shouted, without looking back, as he pushed through the crowds to get to the door. For a moment, he tried to remember the stranger’s name. But nothing. His mind had gone blank. “Nice meeting you and all.” He added, in an attempt to cover his rude lack of attention. However, he still didn’t look back, as there was barely room to move! Let alone turn around!

Finally, with Ricky far from sight, Nicky made it to the unavoidable ‘doorway passenger smoosh’. ‘Boy, this thing is more packed than a strip club!’ He thought, as he pushed his way through to the platform. ‘That was a lucky escape though! My gaydar definitely flashed pink back there!’

Nicky suddenly had an idea. ‘Ah ha! Maybe there’s some way I can use this little encounter to help coax my buddy Rod out of his closet?’ He pondered his options for a moment.

‘Shame I didn’t give that guy Rod’s number. You never know, maybe Rod would’ve fallen head over heels for him and voila! One proud-to-be-gay bestest buddy!’ Nicky beamed at the idea. But soon dismissed it. ‘Nah. Rod’s too entrenched in his straight-persona to flip that easily. Mmm... Let's see. How else might I be able to get him out of that damned closet of his? Um…’

Nicky scoured the depths of his mind for ideas. Haphazardly interviewing his many somersaulting cerebral clowns, in order to gather suggestions. When, bingo! A rainbow colored light bulb flickered on in his whimsical imagination.

‘Wait a minute! That’s it! That's a genius idea! I can turn this entire experience, this notable close encounter of the gay kind, into a supportive, yet enticing and homosexuality-affirming song! Yes! Oh my God, yes! Jeez, that’s perfect! Cuz Rod loves musical numbers! He can’t resist them! He’s always dancing around to songs when he thinks no one’s watching! He’s so cute. Hell, he’s even jiggled about to an ad jingle on occasion! So that’s bound to work!’

Nicky grinned from ear to ear. ‘That’s so awesome! I can’t believe you came up with that brain! I owe you a cookie!’ He winked at a reflection of himself in a ‘Les Miserables’ poster. Before he got to work trying to think up the perfect lyrics.

Nicky started singing, “If you were gay.” He thought, ‘What next? Um… Wait! I know!” He continued to sing, “It'd be okay. I mean cuz hey, I'd like you any-way.” A tune came to him almost instantly. 'Wow! This stuff writes itself!' Nicky thought, chuckling euphorically, as he continued to think up more lines for the song.

Some passers-by were shooting him very odd looks, but Nicky didn’t care. This was more important to him than anything else. Perhaps more important than anything he’d ever done in his life! He continued, “If you were queer, I'd still drink beer.” He stopped. ‘Wait no! No, let’s not mention my possible alcoholism in the song! That’d probably ruin the mood. What could it be instead? Um… Oh yes!

Nicky re-sung the line, “I’d still be here.” He thought, ‘Yes! Much better! This is so awesome! What next? Oh yeah, of course!’ He continued to sing, “Year after year! Because you're dear to me.” He beamed, as he envisioned the prospect of spending the rest of his life by Rod’s side. He loved that all his thoughts and feelings about his bestest buddy seemed to fit into the song so perfectly too!

Nicky felt so incredibly happy. Maybe at long last he would be able to complete his life’s mission! And bring a gigantic smile to his best friend’s face, as he helped him on his journey to self-acceptance. He hummed the catchy beat out-loud, as his flamboyant imagination geared up to churn out more lyrics. “Yes!” He punched his hand into the air in joy! “I’ve got it!” He continued to sing, “If you were gay, I'd shout hooray!”

Nicky flung his arms into the air again and waved them around in excitement. “Woo! Woohoo! Oh yeah, Rod!” He screamed, as he skidded down the platform, making himself look like a completely insane lunatic! But he didn’t care! ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ He thought, as he all but orgasmed at the Rod-outing power of his own creativity. ‘I love you so much buddy! So so much! Everythin’ is going to be okay!’ He continued to sing, “And here I'd stay! Cuz oh God Rod, I love your way!”

Nicky smiled wildly. His creative juices were on fire, as he felt the song near a crescendo. “You can count on me! To always be…” As his desperate need to be close to Rod intensified, he thought, ‘Oh my God! Yes Rod! I need you so much buddy! Now, let’s finish this thing!’ He continued, “Beside you every-day, to tell you it’s okay.” Nicky thought, ‘Oh please Rod! Please let this work! I need you to get out of that damned closet! Then we can snuggle up together super close! Just like I’ve always wanted!’

Nicky did his best to conclude the song, “You were just born that way!” He thought, “Yes buddy! There’s nothing wrong with liking guys! Nothing wrong with being gay! No matter what your stupid parents say! Wait, needs a little more.’ He pondered what would make the best final lyrics for a moment. When it came to him. ‘Yes!’ He licked his lips before hollering out the penultimate line, “And as they say, it’s in your DNA!”

Nicky put his palms together in prayer. And fell to his knees for a moment, as he wailed the final line that came to mind down the echoey subway tunnel, “I pray!” He could barely believe how awesome the song sounded! And he paused for a moment, as he felt his heartbeat wildly. ‘Please Rod! Please realize just how awesome you are buddy! Please realize just how okay it is to be gay! I need you. I mean, I need you to be happy!’ He thought, as his impassioned desperation slowly subsided.

Nicky gulped. Suddenly becoming aware that not only was everyone staring at him, but now several people were recording his actions on their smartphones too! He addressed the crowd, “Jeez, thanks guys! You’ve been a great audience!” As he quickly scrambled back onto his feet. However, sensing that some of the more disgruntled onlookers may be starting to contemplate whether or not to alert the authorities, he added, “Shows over people! Nothin’ more to see here!” Because as much as he loved to be the center of attention, he didn’t want that kind of attention! Still, he grinned wildly with anticipation. His body buzzing with eagerness to perform the song for the object of his devotion.

Nicky had been waiting years for Rod to finally come out of the closet. For years and years! Indeed, on one level or another, Nicky had always been feverishly anticipating the moment when Rod would at long last step out of the closet! Well, for at least 11 years, certainly! There was nothing weird about that though, was there? Nothing weird about perpetually waiting for your best friend to announce that they're gay? Right?

If so, Nicky didn't care. In fact, he had always seen it as his mission, nay, his life's purpose to make Rod happy. Ever since the first day they had met back in Elementary School. And he knew that yanking his uptight friend out of his solitary closet confinement, would go a long way to achieving that goal.  

Nicky couldn’t wait for the day when he could finally kiss Rod feverishly all over to congratulate him on his sexual acceptance. Not in a gay way or anything. That would be weird, right? No, just in a platonic, best buddy, ’sloppy kiss’ congratulatory way.

Nicky had never been able to get that close to Rod before. He had tried many times to snuggle up next to his friend on the sofa, give him a hug, or hell, even a foot rub! But every time he tried a move like that, his uptight friend just immediately pushed him roughly away again. Nicky sighed. He couldn’t deny that Rod’s unwillingness to be close with him, was starting to feel akin to when a girl he liked refused to kiss him. Was it odd? Nicky just hated being rejected by Rod all the time! I mean, jeez, all he wanted to do was snuggle up next to his bestest buddy and never let him go sometimes. What was wrong with that? Nothing, right?

However, maybe this was the solution to all Nicky’s Rod-rejection problems. Maybe once Rod was out of the closet, he’d finally let Nicky snuggle up close to him like he’d always wanted!

Nicky beamed ecstatically at the thought, as he danced along the subway platform. Indeed, he felt so euphoric, that he couldn't help but continue his dance up the subway steps. Much to the continuing annoyance and amusement of his fellow commuters.

“Hey! This isn’t a God damn Broadway stage show!” Some guy yelled at him in annoyance, as Nicky bumped into his suitcase.

“Screw you buddy! I’m inventing my own Broadway show in my head for my buddy Rod!” Nicky shouted back.

The guy rolled his eyes. But figuring Nicky must be some kind of nut job, decided not to press the issue.

Nicky, completely unfazed by the interruption, whistled the tune of his new gay-acceptance song cheerfully to himself. Continuing to whistle, as he emerged from the subway and sauntered off along the street. He felt on top of the world! Now that he had a plan to get his buddy Rod on top of the world with him!

But first, he had to fix this milk crisis he had created!

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

"It all makes sense now!" Nicky grinned back at Ricky, still not really making sense of anything!

However, Nicky did feel a rather odd sensation wash over him. He frowned for a moment, as he peered at his look-alike somewhat suspiciously. "You know what, Ricky? I never noticed before, but... Well jeez, you kind of remind me of someone. I’m not sure who. Just that it’s got something to do with a toothbrush. I think. It’s really weird." Nicky scratched his head in puzzlement.

The two green men gazed awkwardly into each other's eyes for a few moments. Mimicking each other’s silly gestures, as if they were in some goofy hall of mirrors.

The director paused, and looked back and forth between them in astonishment. “Oh. My. God!” He exclaimed, again in a gleeful shrill squeal. “Remarkable! Truly remarkable! I know you said he looked like you Ricky. But... but this is beyond incredible! You guys really do look exactly alike! Quasi geminos! Well, except for Ricky’s notably brawnier physique, of course.” He trailed off.

Nicky frowned, as a broad smirk spread across Ricky’s face.

Ricky tensed up his arm muscles to show off his well-toned biceps. And splayed open his crumpled checked shirt to brandish his strapping six-pack. He leered at his look-alike. “It’s like looking into a mirror, isn’t it buddy?” He gloated.

Nicky’s frown lifted slightly, but his poor beer-addled neurons still weren’t fully illuminating the situation. “Huh? Yeah. A bit. It’s kind of weird.”

“We could merge into one if we’re not careful, huh?” Ricky winked at Nicky.

Nicky looked at his double in confusion for a moment. “Wait? What?” Then his mind clicked. “Oh yeah! It’s like we’re shape-shifters who have morphed into the same image, right? Able to revert to our liquid form, like the morphing Terminator in Terminator 2! And then mix together, like the changelings in Star Trek Deep Space Nine! Jeez, if only, Rick! That’d be so awesome! I’ve always wanted to try that!“ Nicky grinned wildly, with child-like excitement at the idea.

“Um. Wait, what? Yeah, I guess that’d be, um, cool.” Now Ricky was the one who looked puzzled.

Ignoring the strange nature of the conversation taking place before him, Tarquin stood back watching the uncannily similar facial expressions and reactions of the two green men. “Incredible!” He clapped his hands together in delight. “Utterly incredible! I’ve never seen anything like it! Are you sure you two aren’t twins?”

“No! We’re definitely not twins!” Nicky and Ricky both exclaimed emphatically, again almost in unison.

“Freaky!” Nicky shivered. “We’ve really got to stop doing that Rick! It’s seriously starting to freak me out!”

Ricky gave Nicky a playful shove. "Well, I'm sure we could get even freakier if we wanted to, huh Nick?" He raised his eyebrow suggestively.

"Huh?" Nicky scratched his head again, he could swear his gaydar was starting to bleep at him again. But he already knew Ricky was gay! So why was it still making unsettling bleeps at him?!

Still filtering out the actual meaning behind the words being exchanged, Tarquin turned to Rod, who had just returned from the kitchen. “What do you think? Don’t you agree? They look identical, do they not? I mean, even being in love with one of them, you must find it hard to tell them apart, right?”

“Wha?! Who?! Who… who… who said love?! In the what now?” Rod spluttered, almost choking on his orange juice.

“You are going out with Ricky, are you not?” Tarquin cocked an eyebrow at Rod.

Rod gulped, pressed his lips together and nodded. “Um, well yes. I suppose. In a sense, you could say that. We’ve only been out on one date though!” Rod thought, cringing inwardly, ‘If you can even call it that?! It was such an apocalyptic disaster!’

“Ah, but say in time, you were to fall deeply in love with Ricky. Head over heels in love with him. And then later, say he were to switch places with your roommate here, Nicky, to whom you feel nothing but a purely platonic connection. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them, true?”

‘He’s got it all backwards!’ Rod thought, his demeanor fluctuating wildly, as he tried his best to regain his composure. “Why… why… why on Earth would they do such a thing?” He stuttered.

Tarquin was beginning to get frustrated. “Look, the reason for the switch does not matter! But for the sake of argument, let’s just say it was all simply a bit of tomfoolery on their part. Nothing but a lark. You wouldn’t notice the switch? Am I right?” Tarquin articulated, before quietly awaiting Rod’s inevitably jittery reply.

“Um, well... Erm… I… I… I… I’m pretty sure I, um, er, could still tell them apart. But sure. Yes. I guess. I suppose I see your point.” Rod stumbled over his words, only just managing to salvage his sentence, as sweat dripped from his brow. Suddenly finding it hard to breathe for the umpteenth time that day, he haphazardly put down his glass and tugged at his shirt collar.

Tarquin stared at him somewhat suspiciously for a moment, before returning to his two look-alike actors.

Rod gasped for a few seconds, before luckily he managed to re-establish a somewhat stable breathing pattern. And wiped the sweat from his now crimson face. ‘Why did Tarquin have to ask that?!’ He thought. Did he sense something? Had it just been one of those off-hand remarks? Just a ’for instance’ inquiry? In any event, for poor Rod, it was way too close for comfort! And he really needed some air!

However, while Rod had been away in a daze battling his thoughts, the audition had already started. Barely registering the time that had elapsed, he broke free from his mind palace to announce abruptly. “Look, it’s been very nice meeting you Mr Tarquin Tassel.”

“Tasselbry.” The director scowled at him in annoyance.

“Sorry, Tasselbry.” Rod grimaced as he corrected himself. “Anyway, my apologies. But I just remembered…” He grabbed one of his unclean, yet unmuddy jackets out of the laundry basket, as discretely as he could. “I’ve got to... Um, got to dash. Because, you see… Um, I have er… A thing! Yes, a thing! Good luck with the audition Nicky! Ricky, see you around.” And with that a very flustered Rod made a swift exit from the apartment.

Tarquin sighed heavily, signaling for the audition to continue. Though, he did not look at all impressed by Rod’s interruption and rude departure!

“Bye Rod!” Nicky shouted after his roommate through the closed door.

“Huh hum.” Tarquin glared at Nicky, still somewhat disgruntled. “Enough nonsense! Continue! Act 1, Scene 1!” He tapped sharply on the first paragraph of dialogue in the script.

“Okay, let’s do this!” Nicky smiled and read from the script again, somewhat clumsily. “What’s going on here? Who are you?”

“No, no, no!” Tarquin barked at him! “Where’s the emotion?! Remember, you’ve just found an impostor in your house! A man who looks exactly like you! I want to see shock! I want to see confusion!”

Ricky shot Nicky a reassuring smile, and offered him a few words of encouragement, "You can do this buddy!"

Nicky gulped and read the line again, “What’s going on here? Who the hell are you?”

“Better!” The director interjected. “But still a bit bumpy. And technically that hell isn’t in the script! But as it emphasizes the emotion, I suppose I can approve your improvisation. Just this once, mind you!” Tarquin nodded at Ricky to continue, "Come on! Let's get this right!" He ordered.

As his boss returned his focus to the script, Ricky scowled and rolled his eyes in resentment. However, although noticeably irked by Tarquin's tone, he still proceeded to answer Nicky’s scripted question as professionally as he could, “I am you! Or more precisely, an alternative version of you.”

“What? You can’t be me! I’m me!” Nicky read aloud, putting all the emphasis at the end of the line for dramatic effect.

“Cut!” Tarquin yelled, startling Nicky. “Too much! Less emotion on the me, and more on the what!

Nicky swallowed hard and tried again, “What?! You can’t be me! I’m me?”

“Fine. Close enough. I suppose.” Mr Tasselbry sighed and pointed at Ricky. “Go!”

Ricky, who had grown used to Tarquin's overly fastidious and controlling ways, sighed heavily. Before he continued, “But I am you! I am the more intelligent version of you! The healthier version of you! The wealthier version of you! Put simply, I am the better version of you!”

“Huh?” Nicky said, raising his eyes from the script to look at Ricky, who seemed to be mocking him with his gloating superiority.

“Wow! You are slow on the uptake, aren’t you?!” Ricky snorted.

Nicky lowered his script, annoyed at Ricky’s insults. “What? You trying to imply I’m dumb or somethin’?”

“Um. No.” Ricky broke character to reply, rather taken aback by the accusation.

“Cut!” Tarquin yelled in annoyance, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“But you said…” Nicky frowned in confusion.

“No, I don't think you're dumb Nicky. I think you're awesome!” Ricky insisted.

Tarquin shook his head and glared at Nicky. “It’s in the script! You imbecilic simpleton!”

“Oh!” Nicky said realizing his mistake. “Oops! Sorry. Sorry buddy.” He said, shaking Ricky's outstretched hand as way of an apology.

Ricky tugged apart his shirt again. Struck an amplified peacock-ish pose. And beamed at Nicky.

Tarquin rested his weary head in his hands. “Right, enough! You get the part Nicky! But practice your lines! I expect you to have act one word perfect for rehearsal tomorrow! No mistakes! Now, I’ve no idea why…” He said, his voice laced with sarcasm. “But for some reason I feel a migraine coming on! So I’m going home for a White Zin and a nice long hot bubble bath!”

“I what?!” Nicky stared in bewilderment.

“You got the part Nick! Congratulations buddy!” Ricky cheered, grabbing his new stage partner’s arms and jumping up and down. Before embracing him in a brief hug. “I knew you’d get it!”

“I got the part?! Sweet!” Nicky bounced up and down with excitement alongside Ricky. ”Thank you! Thank you so much! I’ll practice my lines all night long! I promise!” He shouted in excitement, as he attempted to hug the director.

“Yes, yes. Good.” Tarquin muttered, as he rapidly backed away from Nicky, and headed for the door. “Do you want a lift Ricky?”

“Um. No, it’s okay. I think I’ll stay here and help Nicky practice his lines. If that’s all right with you Nick?”

“Yeah, sure!” Nicky beamed. “High five!”

Ricky smashed his hand into Nicky’s raised sticky palm. “Cool!”

Unimpressed by Ricky and Nicky’s relentless juvenile behavior, Tarquin frowned. “Okay, I bid you both good night. See you tomorrow Nicky. Twelve ‘o’ clock sharpish! Ricky will tell you where we meet.” Mr Tasselbry muttered in a fluster, reaching for the door handle. “Oh, and remember! Do not be late! Delays will not be tolerated!”

“We won’t!” Ricky and Nicky promised, as the director slowly closed the door behind him, and headed back to his car.

“Oh. My. Goody F-in Gum Drops! This is so awesome!” Nicky punched the air with his fist. Briefly glancing down at his sweater. “Thank you so much lucky sweater!” He beamed, as he kissed it ferociously. “I can’t believe Rod almost put you out with the trash last month! I’m so glad I saved you! I love you so much! I could kiss each and every one of your lucky cotton fibers!” He looked up at Ricky. “But we have company now, so maybe later.” He grinned at Ricky, who was now looking at him rather strangely. “Thanks so much for recommending me for the part Rick! You must let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in return.”

“Sweet. Well, I’m sure I can think of something!” Ricky’s eyes gleamed.

“Come on then! Think of something!” Nicky said, overjoyed that he had his first ever part in a play! And it was no small part either! It was the second largest role!

“Um.” Ricky thought hard and looked around, until he noticed the Xbox on the floor. “Well, we need a break right? So I suppose you could let me kick your ass on the Xbox! How about that?” He grinned.

“Well I don’t think you’ll be kicking my ass! But sure, you got it Rick! It’s on!” Nicky searched around the messy apartment for the TV remote. “So, what do you want to play?”

Ricky’s eye’s widened as Nicky bent down to pick up the remote control and the band of his Spider-Man underpants became visible.

“Come on! Surely you can think of somethin’!” Nicky coaxed, as he turned the TV on.

Ricky licked his lips, and scoured his mind trying to think of a game. Before noticing a Master Chief action figure perched on the shelf. “Well, how about Halo?

Nicky laughed. “Sweet! Let’s do it! But I warn you, I am the undefeated master of Halo! I've completed it on the Legendary setting five times!”

“Oh, is that so?” Ricky teased.

“Yup! Prepare to have your ass well and truly whipped my friend!”

“Sounds good.” Ricky winked at Nicky again. “But just for the record, undefeated by who exactly?” He teased.

“Um… well-Rod.” Nicky slurred under his breath.

“Rod!” Ricky burst out laughing.

Nicky huffed. “Look, who I haven't been defeated by is not important. The point is, I am a legend at Halo!

“Yeah, yeah. Sure you are!” Ricky spluttered sarcastically, trying to hold back the tears of laughter welling up in his eyes. “Rod? Oh my God? Really?” He shook his head.

“Hey! Rod can play! He’s pretty good too! True he doesn’t really like playing, and he’s only really played once. But when he did, well, he wasn’t that bad!” Nicky trailed off into a murmur. “Sure, he blew himself up a few times.” Before raising his voice again in Rod’s defense. “But he got me a couple of times too!” He added quickly under his breath, “When-I-let-him.”

“Okay, okay. Well, I’m sorry that I have to tarnish your undefeated record!” Ricky said, adding air quotes to indicate the position of sarcasm in his sentence. “But you just met your match buddy!”

Nicky’s brow wrinkled into a frown. “Oh yeah?!”

“Yeah!” Ricky challenged.

“Nah, you’ve got no chance Rick. I’ve wasted practically my entire life playing video games!” Nicky admitted proudly.

“Uh huh.” Ricky coughed. “Hey, mind if I have a beer? My throats a little dry after all that acting.”

“Sure buddy.” Nicky grabbed a couple of cans from the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Nicky and Ricky hadn’t been playing Halo for long, when there was another loud knock at the door.

“Shit!” Nicky said, “We’re supposed to be keeping it quiet for Kate!”

“Huh? What? Why?” Ricky looked puzzled. “It’s not even that loud, is it?”

“Her parents are visiting. They’ve come to meet her boyfriend, Princeton.” Nicky explained, “And, well, the walls are paper thin round here. So, um…”

“Excuse me! What on Earth is going on in there?! A sex-crazed alien invasion?!” Kate shouted angrily through the door.

“Yeah!” Ricky joked, laughing into his beer can. “That’s exactly what’s going on in here! Isn’t it Nick?”

“Sorry Kate!” Nicky shouted back, “We’ll turn it down, won’t we Rick?” Nicky shot Ricky a hard stare, and he muted the sound.

“Yeah, I guess we’ll keep it down!” Ricky shouted in reluctant agreement, “Sorry!”

“Thanks!” Kate said, still clearly somewhat annoyed. Before she headed back across the hall to her apartment.

“Oh shit, Nicky!” Ricky said, as he put his beer down. “Looks like you’re in the dog house! Oops! My bad. Sorry buddy, didn’t realize we had to keep the volume at a minimum.”

“My fault!” Nicky held his hands up. “I forgot.” He took another gulp of his beer, accidentally spilling some onto the carpet. “Damn it! Not again! Rod’s gonna lose his shit when he gets back! I wonder where he’s gone?” Nicky walked over to the window, to see if he could spot his friend outside. But nothing. No one was out there. “Jeez, I hope Rod’s okay.” He muttered in concern, as he continued to scour the dark streets for any sign of his friend.

Ricky sighed in frustration, clearly eager to get back to the game. “Come on Nick! He’ll be fine. Sure he’ll be back in no time! But until then, let’s just try and have some fun! Yeah?” He picked up his beer again, and took a big gulp. “Oops, me too I guess!” He laughed, as a stream of beer foam frothed out of his can and onto the carpet, joining Nicky’s damp patch to form an alcoholic pond. “Ah well. Sure Rod won’t mind! He’s cool right?” He grinned, as he stared over at Nicky.

Nicky sighed, ‘Ricky sure doesn’t know Rod very well yet, if he thinks he won’t mind.’ He thought, as he continued to stare hopefully out of the window. ‘Where is my uptight bestest buddy? I hope he’s back soon. I really want him to join in our celebrations!’

“Come on Nicky! Get your sexy ass back here!” Ricky cried out impatiently, “We’ve got aliens to blast! And space ships to blow up! You love blowing things up, right Nick?!”

“Okay, okay.” Nicky muttered, as he reluctantly headed back over to the sofa, “Let’s get those Covenant forces Cortana!

“Hell yeah!” Ricky started to shout, before he realized he was supposed to be keeping it down, and switched to a whisper, “I mean, yeah. Let’s do it Nick!” He raised his hand to receive another high five from his alien fighting comrade. And smiled wildly at Nicky, clearly getting over-excited by the game. “Then later we can play match making, and see which of us does the best job at blowing up stuff, right?” He winked at his lookalike.

Nicky sighed in resignation. Before once again smashing his own sticky mitt into Ricky’s hand. “Cool.” He uttered meekly, as he collapsed back onto the sofa next to Ricky.

“This is the life Nick!” Ricky cheered, as he guzzled down the remaining dregs in his can of beer, and cracked open a second. “Cheers!” He said, as he clinked his second can into Nicky’s, and beamed at him.

“Um, yeah.” Nicky agreed, “Is awesome Rick. I just wish…” He sighed deeply, “I just wish Rod was here too.”

“Come on, Rod sucks at this game! You know he does! Plus it’s just not his thing, right? He’s not into gaming like us!” Ricky tried to nudge Nicky from his despondency.

“Yeah, I guess.” Nicky said, still looking somewhat distracted. He considered asking Ricky how the date with Rod went. But decided against it. Realizing that it might be better if he consulted with Rod again about the matter first. He really didn't want to accidentally put his foot in it and make the situation worse for his friend. Still, he felt kind of sad that Rod wasn’t here to enjoy this moment with them.

However, as the game ramped up again, they were soon both passionately boozing and shooting aliens once more. And time, along with any sense of responsibility, was rapidly gobbled up by their alcoholic binge fest.

----- BACK ON WALL STREET -----

Rod had not intended to return to his office. But upon realizing that he’d left his briefcase behind and a pile of vital paper work, he had no choice but to hurry back to retrieve them.

‘How could I have just left like that without my briefcase and not even noticed?!’ Rod slapped his forehead before jabbing wildly at the elevator up button. ‘That’s not like me! I’m usually so organized! It must be those insidiously imaginary, impish Ickyies I have running rampant in my head!' "Gah!" Rod wailed. 'I can't seem to focus on anything anymore!'

As the elevator doors pinged shut behind him, he rubbed his eyes fiercely. ‘Seriously Rod! What’s with you lately?’ He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, trying his best to dispel his demons. But it was to no avail. Because images of Nicky and Ricky ceaselessly flooded through his mind, like an overly erotic, nonsensical pop music video stuck on repeat.

‘Damn it! Why won't you two just leave me alone?!' Rod implored. Though really there was only one green dude Rod wanted to permanently evict from his mind palace!

‘Look, imaginary Ricky, would you be so kind as to do me a favor, and just fuck-off!’ Rod cursed his fictitious love interest. ‘It's hard enough trying to focus on the real world with thoughts of Nicky rushing through my mind 24/7! But now, with Ricky in there too! I can’t stand it! There’s not enough room in my head for both of them!’

Rod screamed in despair! “Wah! What’s happening to me?! They’re making me insane! Yanking me down into nutty fruitcake land! At this rate, I’ll end up losing all my mental whatchamacallits before sunrise!“ Resting his briefcase at his feet, he roughly rubbed the sides of his face in vexation.

“Gah! That’s it! I've completely lost it! I’m officially becoming Miss Havisham! I might as well stop all the clocks and start wearing a wedding dress everywhere I go! I mean really, what am I doing? Talking to myself in an elevator?! What the hell is that going to solve?!”

However, before Rod could continue his descent into craziness, he was startled by a loud PING, as the elevator doors creaked open. He took a deep breath, swiftly standing up straight as a flagpole. He knew he must not let anyone else see him in this state! He clenched his quivering lips tightly together, as the familiar face of one of his many minions emerged. “Mr Periwinkle”. The guy nodded to him as a sign of respect.

For a moment, Rod could swear he saw a smirk on the intern’s face. He gulped and rolled his eyes, as he caught sight of his Yankee’s cap in the elevator mirror. ‘Damn it! I forgot I was still wearing Nicky’s hat!’ He thought. But if there had been a smirk on the intern’s face, it quickly faded. And Rod’s subordinate stood silently, statue-like, beside him. Rod gulped, as he struggled to control his wildly palpitating body and maintain his rigidly vertical silhouette.

However, it wasn’t easy. And Rod bit his lip harder, as he battled to hide the quivering wreck of emotions that lay just beneath the surface. The intern glanced at his boss briefly, but immediately diverted his gaze after glimpsing Rod’s bloodshot eyes. Mr Periwinkle was well known for his unpredictable outbursts, and the last thing he wanted to do was risk provoking him further!

At that moment Rod’s cell phone buzzed loudly, echoing round the elevator. He pulled the phone from his pocket and glared at his assistant. “Excuse me. Do you mind!?” He said forcefully, still holding back the tears.

The young man’s eyes widened, and he stuttered timidly. “Um. Sure. No problem. Mr Periwinkle. Sir. I’ll just…” He pressed the button for the next floor. Fearfully rubbing his hands, until PING. The elevator doors flew open, and he bolted off out of sight. Desperate to keep his job!

Rod, feeling a little better that he was now alone again, took a deep breath and answered his buzzing phone. “Nicky?

“Hey Rod buddy! Yes! It’s me! Your lovable roommate Nicky!”

“I know it’s you Nicky! Like everyone, I have caller ID on my cell!”

“Um, look Rod buddy, I don’t know where you are right now? But just wondered if maybe you could pick up some more beerskis?”

“Nicky! What the hell is wrong with you?!” Rod groaned heavily.

“Jeez Rod, no worries if you can’t buddy. But just, you know, if you happen to be passing by a liquor store, is all. Anywho, sorry gotta go. Damn it! Ricky just fucking blew me up! Oi! Rick! You can't just sneak up behind me, and take advantage of me like that!”

Rod rolled his eyes. “So how did the audition…” He began asking. But Nicky had already hung up.

“Nicky? Nicky?!” Rod screeched, his voice trembling with equal parts desperation and agitation.

He felt his body go limp, as he collapsed against the elevator, unable to fight back his emotions anymore. The stress. The tiredness. The inner turmoil. The chronic hunger. It was all just too much. Much too much!

Rod slammed his palm against the emergency stop button and slid down the side of the elevator in despair. Tears streaming down his face, as he wept out some of the frustration, irritation and anguish he’d been bottling up all day.

Poor Rod didn’t know what to do to get rid of his demons. So out of pure impetuous recklessness, he impulsively bashed his head against the metal elevator wall behind him. Naturally, he immediately regretted it. “Ow!” He winced in pain, as his head throbbed.

‘Mustn’t stop! Got to get rid of Ricky!’ Rod thought assuredly, as he continued lightly banging his head backwards. ‘Out! Damn you, out!’ He had become so desperate to purge his mind of Ricky-related anxieties, that he persisted through the pain. At this point he barely cared if he ended up unconscious again, let alone with another bruise for a trophy!

Unfortunately, his body did care. And the dizziness, combined with sheer exhaustion and lack of adequate nutrients, soon led to the inevitable, as his vision blurred and the purple blackness returned.

***** ROD’S FAINTING FLASHBACK *****

Rod gasped, ‘Oh no! Please not again! I didn’t mean to do that!’ He slapped himself in the face, in hopes it would revive him. But no such luck. And he sighed, as he realized there was no escape.

Rod gulped hard, as the tornado of anguish once again engulfed him. ‘What this time?!’ He thought in panic, as his memories of childhood trauma began to swirl around him. And his mother’s voice echoed ominously through the cavern of despair.


“Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle! How could you sneak out like that?! Behind our backs!” Rod’s mother slapped him in the face very hard. And it hurt more than it usually did, because he already had a bruise on his head.

Rod whimpered, “I’m sorry mother.”

“Enough! Get in that closet! Right this second! And no dinner tonight!”

“Please mother, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again!” Rod pleaded, “And I’ll go into the closet, I promise. Just please don’t make me go without dinner! I’m so hungry! Please!”

His mother grabbed hold of his wrist, as his father opened up the cupboard under the stairs.

Rod gulped. He knew resisting would only make it worse, so he walked towards his punishment dungeon voluntarily. After all, he knew this would be the consequence of breaking the rules to sneak out with Nicky. But it was worth the price! Definitely worth it. It had been such an amazing day, with so many new Nicky swooning moments to add to his fantasies! He smiled as he thought about it. But instantly wished that he hadn’t. Because his mother spotted his smirk, and tightened her grip on his wrist.

“Ow! Please, you’re hurting me!” He cried out, as she dug her nails into his skin through his shirt sleeve. “That’s it! If you’re not going to take this seriously, then we’re going to have to get your father involved! Johnathon…” She said angrily. “Get your belt!”

Rod collapsed onto his knees. “Please mother! Please!” He put his hands together in prayer. Luckily, just at that moment there was a loud knock at the front door and the doorbell chimed.

“Don’t think this is over!” She spat at Rod, as she roughly pushed him away. And his father shoved him into the closet.

“Get in there!” His father yelled. “And be quiet! Else I’ll use two belts this time!”

Already feeling dizzy from the concussion-inducing bang to the head he had sustained earlier in the day, Rod toppled backwards, and collapsed onto the floor. He shivered. Terrified at what his punishment might be this time. ‘Why did I smile?’ He cursed himself. ‘Never smile in front of your mother! You should know that by now!’ He gulped back his sadness, as he pressed his ear to the closet door.

The doorbell buzzed again. He could just about make out the conversation.

“Hello?” His mother asked in annoyance, “What do you want?”

Rod bit down on his lip, as Nicky’s unmistakably cheery voice echoed through his cell. “Oh, um, just wonderin’ if Rod’s still there?”

“Yes he’s here.” She said sharply, barely suppressing her anger. “He’s got to study now! He’s got a lot of extra studying to do, if he’s going to make up for all the time he’s wasted today!”

“Oh.” Nicky said simply. “Can I see him? I’m just worried about him is all. My Mom said he could come over for dinner. She’s made a special meal.”

Rod felt his heart flutter and his stomach rumble. ‘Nicky, I love you so much.’ He thought, as he sniffed back his tears. ‘You’re my hero. You’ll always be my hero. But please, I don’t want you to get involved in all this. I don’t want you to suffer like me!’

Rod’s mother, clearly stunned by Nicky’s request, called his father over, “Johnathan, Nicky’s mother has made Rod a dinner.”

“Oh. That’s nice.” His father muttered. “But Rod can’t go out again. He’s got too much work to do I’m afraid.”

“Oh, please!” Nicky pleaded. “Hey Mom, come and tell them about all the trouble you’ve gone to!” He hollered.

“Oh, um.” Rod’s mother seemed to be lost for words, which was very unlike her.

“Hello there. Nice to meet you. I’m Mrs Taylor, Nicky’s mother.”

Rod’s eyes lit up with hope at the sound of Mrs Taylor’s soft caring voice. She sounded like an archangel, and Nicky sounded like her deputy angel.

“Yes. Um, nice to meet you too.” His mother stuttered. “I’m Mrs Periwinkle, and this is my husband, Johnathon.”

“We were just hoping Rod might be able to join us for dinner. I know, it’s short notice. But Nicky’s been so worried about him since he had that little bump earlier. And well, you know what it’s like with teenagers! Sometimes a big slap up meal is the best way to make them feel better. And keep them quiet!” She joked and chuckled. “Besides, it’s the least we can do after Nicky dragged him out to sneak off to that amusement park earlier!” She nudged her son.

“Um, yeah, sorry ‘bout that.” Nicky muttered.

“Yes. You won’t be doing that again, will you Nicky? You must tell us before you do something like that, okay? I know you’re fifteen now, but we still need to know where you are. It’s a dangerous world out there, even for teenagers.” Mrs Taylor sighed.

“Yeah Mom.” Nicky muttered.

“Uh huh!” Rod’s mother’s said, her anger still seeping through slightly.

“So, you see. We really must treat Rod to dinner.” Mrs Taylor insisted, “To make up for everything he’s been through at the hands of my mischievous son! Poor thing.” She joked.

Rod’s mother sighed in agitation, “Oh, um, yes. But Rod…” His mother was clearly struggling to come up with a reasonable excuse. “Look, I suppose. Maybe. If you’re sure it’s no trouble?”

“No trouble at all.” Mrs Taylor said cheerfully.

“Yay!” Nicky cheered. “Thanks!”

“Nicky.” His mother prompted.

“Oh, sorry. Thank you Mrs Periwinkle. Mr Periwinkle.”

“Okay.” Rod’s mother sighed deeply, the irritation still clear in her voice. “How about you two wait out here. I’ll let him know, and send him out in a second.”

The door slammed.

“Roderick!” She called out, in a much softer tone than normal. A few moments later the closet door flung open, and Rod squinted in the bright light. Before she grabbed him by the wrist again and yanked him up and out of his confinement. Tugging him roughly into the dining room and shutting the door. “Look, Mrs Taylor has been very kind and offered to cook you dinner. If we let you go, you promise to behave yourself, right?” She stared at him intensely. “You promise to keep your arms covered at all times? Right?!” She tightened her grip threateningly.

Rod nodded. “Yes. Yes mother. I promise.”

“Swear on Jesus’s soul!”

“I swear on Jesus’s soul!” Rod gulped.

“Good.” His mother sighed in annoyance. “Well, I suppose we can put this little incident behind us?” She said with cloyingly insincere sweetness, before letting her harsher tones return. “So long as you promise never to sneak out behind our backs ever again?! Do you understand?!”

Rod stuttered, “Yes, yes. Yes of course mother. I promise. I swear on Jesus’s soul.”

“That’s better. You see how much better we can all get along when you do as your told?! And follow the rules?! So much better for everyone, is it not?!” She scowled at him.

“Yes mother.” He nodded again.

“Good. Now, hurry up! They’re waiting for you out there!”

His father shot daggers at him. “You better behave this time! I wasn’t joking about the belts!” He rubbed his fist in his hand menacingly.

“Um, yes sir.” Rod quivered, and did his best to swallow his fear.

Still clearly enraged, his father punched the wall, before storming off into the other room.

“Now, don’t forget to say please and thank you! And don’t forget to say grace! You hear me?!” His mother grabbed his arm. And frowned as she looked at his face. “Your face is still a little red, so tell them you slipped against the wall. Right? You understand?!” She said, the agitation in her voice becoming ever more desperate. “Repeat after me, I slipped against the wall!”

“Yes.” Rod nodded again. “I slipped.” He gulped. “Against the wall.” He repeated. And forced a smile at his mother to try and ease her anxiety. He knew if he didn’t she might never let him leave again!

“Good. Okay, hurry along now!” She ushered him along the hallway to the front door. “It’s rude to keep your hosts waiting you know!” She said, quickly lowering her tone back to socially acceptable levels, as she slowly opened the door again.

“Fine.” His mother said with as much gentle sweetness as she could muster, “He’s all yours. But if he causes any trouble over there…”

“Oh, I’m sure he won’t.” Mrs Taylor interrupted and smiled at Rod. “He’s such a polite young man. In fact, I would go as far as to say Rod is the most polite and respectful kid I’ve ever known. And I’m an elementary school teacher! So that’s saying something!” She smiled warmly. “Anyway, it’s very nice to finally meet you after all these years. So sorry you couldn’t make it to any of the parent teacher meetups while he was in my class. But he was such a diligent bright student. Always had top grades! But I guess you know that.”

Rod’s mother nodded. “Yes. He’s always been at the top of his class! Should have been moved up a grade really!”

Rod bit his lip. Mrs Taylor couldn’t seem to stop gushing about him, and he was worried his mother might snap. “You know, Rod has practically become an honorary member of our family! I’m so glad Nicky has such a well behaved friend like him. Rod’s such a good influence on our little scamp!” She gave Nicky a playful shove.

“Mom!” He complained.

Mrs Taylor continued, “And to have such a good friend who lives just round the corner! Nicky’s so lucky! So lucky to have a friend like Rod! Indeed, we’re all so lucky to have Rod in our lives.” She offered her hand out for Mrs Periwinkle to shake.

Rod’s mother reluctantly shook Mrs Taylor’s hand. “Well, um, yes.” She uttered, somewhat dismissively. Before turning to Rod. “Roderick, you will behave yourself, won’t you? And you’ll be back before eight, yes?!”

“Yes mother.” Rod nodded.

Mrs Taylor reassured her, “Yes, don’t worry Mrs Periwinkle. We’ll make sure he gets home safely. I know poor Rod’s been through a lot today.” She looked sadly at Rod’s bruise. “Goodness, he still looks so red in the face. You sure you feel up to coming out?” She asked in concern.

Rod’s heartbeat soared, as his mother furrowed her brows at him. “Um, I slipped. Er, against the wall.” He remembered just in time. “I feel okay though. I’m really looking forward to partaking in your delicious cooking again Mrs Taylor.” He smiled somewhat shakily, still terrified that his mother might change her mind.

“Splendid.” Mrs Taylor smiled again.

“Well then, see you at eight Roderick! And remember, not a minute later!” Mrs Periwinkle reminded Rod, before slowly closing the door and adding a brief. “Goodbye.”

Rod shivered, but smiled in relief, as Nicky did a little dance and hugged him. He felt so happy in Nicky’s embrace, that part of him wished the hug would never end. But he still felt very on edge, especially standing right outside his parent’s house. “Nicky!” He gulped, as the hug continued, and looked around nervously, worried that his mother might still be watching him.

“I’m just so happy we get to have dinner together is all. Gonna be so much fun!” Nicky grinned wildly. “We’ve got raspberry donuts for dessert! Don’t we Mom?”

Mrs Taylor nodded. “Yes, we sure do.”  She confirmed, as she walked ahead of them down the street.

Rod still felt pretty wobbly on his feet, but luckily the Taylor’s only lived a couple of blocks away. Just round the corner. So it was only a short walk.

“So how’s your head, buddy? Still looks nasty. And your face looks real red!” Nicky reached out to touch his friend’s face, but Rod flinched and pulled away.

“It’ll be okay Nicky. Just going to have a bruise for a while I think.”

“How ‘bout your parents? They weren’t angry at you right?”

Rod gulped hard. “No. No, not angry really. They just want me to catch up on my studies as soon as possible. That’s all.” He forced a fake chuckle.

Nicky squinted at him suspiciously for a moment. “You sure everythin’s okay buddy?”

Rod nodded. “Yes.” His stomach rumbled loudly again. “I’m just really hungry.” He forced a smile.

“Well, we’ll soon fix that! Won’t we Mom!”

Nicky’s mother nodded, “Nearly there.” She reassured him. “I’ve made my special extra cheesy lasagna just for you. Because I know it’s your favorite!”

Rod beamed. “Oh thank you so much Mrs Taylor! I love your lasagna! It’s so delicious!” His stomach rumbled again.

“You’re very welcome.” She smiled back at him.

“Then later Rod buddy, I’ve got a surprise for you!” Nicky tried to grab hold of Rod’s hand. But Rod pulled it away and crossed his arms over his stomach, as his shivering intensified.

“Oh, Mom. Rod’s really cold.” Nicky said in concern, as he took off his jacket and wrapped it round Rod’s shoulders, hugging him tightly again for a moment. “Don’t worry buddy. Just a few more minutes and we’ll be in the Taylor pad! All warm and snuggly!”

Rod smiled back at Nicky, at his hero. He felt so lucky right now. So incredibly lucky to have Nicky in his life. However, he also felt so hungry from lack of food, and so wobbly on his feet, that all his focus was taken up just trying to keep his balance in that moment. So he couldn’t manage much in response. “Thanks Nicky.” He said softly, as he snuggled up in Nicky’s jacket.

***** END OF FAINTING FLASHBACK *****

As the light became brighter, Rod’s vision slowly adjusted back to consciousness. ‘Oh, Nicky. I love you so much. How can I ever be with Ricky? I can’t. Not when I still love you so much.’ A tear trickled down his cheek. ‘At least that wasn’t another nightmarish vision of hell.’ He thought in relief, as he took out a tissue, wiped away his tears, and blew his nose.

Rod knew that for the sake of his sanity, he had to find a way to deal with these emotions! Usually he would pop in to see Christmas Eve for his daily therapy session. But she and Brian were still away on holiday. So this time he was on his own. And boy did he feel alone right now.

Then Rod remembered. Whenever he’d experienced this kind of emotional turmoil in the past (primarily when he’d been riding the teenage hormone coaster) he’d written about his troubles in a diary. And well, he’d always felt some relief after getting all his thoughts down on paper. It just allowed him to analyze everything in a slightly more logical light.

Rod hadn’t written a diary for years. He’d been much too busy for anything like that. But, he’d reached red alert! He needed an outlet. And without Christmas Eve to bare his soul too, he needed an alternative!

’I have to find that diary! I have to write down all these painful thoughts!’ Rod spoke harshly to his own conscience, as his schizophrenic frenzy intensified.

‘But you don’t have time! You’re an investment banker now! No time for that! Do you want to end up unemployed?!’ His overly diligent nature argued back.

‘But Rod, you have to make the time! If you don’t, it’s likely our impending insanity will get us terminated in any event!’ Rod pleaded with his workaholic side.

‘Gah! Fine! Fine. But if you lose your job and can’t pay the rent, don’t come crying to me!’ Rod slapped himself out of his hysteria.

‘Now where did you put my old diary? Tell me!’ He interrogated his inner workaholic.

‘In the bottom drawer of the desk! Oh, yes! I remember!’ He smiled.

It had been many years since Rod had last made an entry in his diary. Yet, he had often gotten it out when he wanted to reminisce about the countless happy times he and Nicky had shared in school and college. Rod swooned at the mere thought of re-immersing himself in his and Nicky's past syrupy moments together.

“Okay. That settles it!” Rod wiped the remaining tears from his cheek with his sleeve. “Tonight I do it!” He thought tenaciously, as he staggered up onto his feet once more. ‘Tonight I break out my old diary!’

Rod took a few deep breaths and swallowed the bitter taste of his misery, in an attempt to bolster his steadily rising mood. ‘I just have to make sure that no one else ever sees it. Because no matter what, no one must ever see it! No one can ever know my secret obsession! My secret inner shame! No one must ever see the unclean daemons of love that tug at my soul! The impure thoughts that rule my mind. No one! But most importantly Nicky must never find out! Never!’

‘Nicky my hero! My sweetheart! My secret inamorato!’ Rod squeed, clutching his briefcase to his chest. 'Never must you know the true lustrous depths of my amorous devotion!'

Finally, after all but climaxing on his nostalgic Nicky lust, Rod’s breathing slowly returned to normal.

‘I’ll have to be discrete. Do this covertly. Cover my tracks. And never ever leave my words unlocked!’ Rod swore to himself, as he breathed a sigh of relief. He felt much better now that he knew he had a clear procedure in place to help him battle his indecent rumination. It was like he was an undercover agent on a secret mission! A mission, that would hopefully help him regain some sense of normality!

----- BACK IN ROD'S APARTMENT -----

Nicky and Ricky slouched back next to each other on the sofa. Each fiercely grasping an Xbox controller and staring like brain-dead zombies at the TV screen. A jungle of empty beer cans lay scattered at their feet. And, thanks to a maze of alcoholic rivers and lakes, Rod's once immaculately clean carpet, now glistened in the dimly lit room.

“You, you’re dead man!” Nicky garbled.

“No you. I have you in my sights. Prepare to be blown!” Ricky replied, sounding equally, if not more, sozzled.

Nicky was about to throw another grenade at Ricky, when he felt something brush past his leg and flinched. “What the…?” He looked down to see Ricky’s hand sweep against his thigh.

“Oh, sorry. Had an itch.” Ricky smiled drunkenly at Nicky.

“Huh? Wait, what time’s it?” Nicky asked, suddenly remembering that he was supposed to be practicing his lines!

“I don’t know. Um, ten-thirty-ish? No wait, eleven-ish? Eleven-twenty-ish, maybe?” Ricky slurred trying to make out the numbers on his phone in the now dimly lit room.

“Jeez, Ricky! We’ve been playing for nearly three hours!” Nicky rubbed his eyes. “And where’s Rod?”

“No idea.” Ricky said shaking his head. “Hey Nick, is it okay if I sleep here tonight? Don’t think I can make it…” He hiccupped, “Back to my place.”

“Huh? Yeah. Sure man. I’m sure Rod would love to have you sleep over.”

“Rod’s not here. Is he?” Ricky mumbled, staring into Nicky’s eyes.

“Ricky! Jeez man! Cut it out! This is no time for a staring contest!” Nicky turned his head and blinked fiercely.

“Sorry Nick. I’m just a bit… Um, out of it. Think I had a few too many.”

“Yeah, me too.” Nicky agreed.

At that moment the door creaked open, and seconds later Rod’s head emerged over the top of the sofa.

“Hey, Rod’s back! Yay!” Nicky cheered with drunken excitement.

“Hi Nicky. Hi Ricky.” Rod cursed inwardly upon seeing Ricky. ‘Damn it! Why the hell is he still here?!’

Ricky yawned, looking decidedly nonplussed at Rod's sudden reappearance. “Oh, hey.” He murmured, as he slumped back in his seat, and closed his eyes.

Nicky pulled himself up to look over the sofa. “Hey Rod buddy, where’ve you been all night? Bit late for you to be out isn’t it? You’re usually in bed by ten on a work night.”

“I forgot some paperwork. So I had to go back to the office to get it. Then I thought, I might as well just finish it up while I was there.” Rod yawned deeply.

If Rod looked exhausted before, now he looked like the walking undead! His eyes were still red from crying. And, though he had returned Nicky’s cap to its hook, his hair was no longer gelled down perfectly, but instead stuck up in clumps.

“Jeez Rod! You look terrible! You went back to work?! At this time of night?!” Nicky stared at Rod like he was insane. “I mean, Jesus Christ! I know you're a dedicated investment banker and all, but wow! You sure do work too hard buddy! Way too hard! I swear, you’re becoming more and more like God damn Cinderella! You need to take it easy for a while. I’m getting worried about you, you know. You’re starting to look like the grim reaper!”

“Well thanks a lot Nicky! You know, I really needed that cutting remark about my appearance to cheer me up!” Rod uttered sarcastically, again close to tears.

“Sorry Rod.” Nicky paused. Now that the alcohol had chased all his guilty thoughts back into the very depths of his subconscious, his selfish side was free to flourish once more. “Hey Rod buddy…” He whined. “I’m so hungry! Do you think you could, um, make me a sam-wich?”

“Nicky! For God’s sake! It’s the middle of the night!” Rod said, the irritation rising in his voice.

“Oh! Please Rod! Pretty please with glitter on top! You’re my bestest buddy in the whole world! My bestest buddy in the whole entire universe!” Nicky pleaded, dilating his pupils into puppy-dog eyes, to amplify his desire. “It’d save my life!”

Rod's blinking accelerated, as he tried desperately to ignore the intense pleading stare of his sweetheart. ‘Damn it Nicky!’ He thought. ‘Why do you always do this?! You always know just how to make my heart melt! Penetrating my soul with those big gorgeous eyes of yours! It’s almost as if... Oh God! He knows!’ But Rod shook his head fiercely on the re-emergence of that idea. He had to snap out of this dangerous ‘elevator bound for hell’ way of thinking! But he'd become so exhausted, that he was finding it ever more difficult to control himself.

“Nicky, if you want a sandwich, you know where the kitchen is!” Rod rolled his eyes. But, leaning a little too close to his blatantly drunken roommate, he gasped, pinching his nose in disgust. “Hell Nicky! How much have you had to drink?!” Rod said, fanning his face with his hand. “Your breath stinks!”

“Hey! Nothin’ but rainbows and unicorns in my breath!” Nicky protested.

“Seriously Nicky, how many?” Rod insisted, as his mothering instinct kicked in.

“Well, gee Rod, just a few beerskis is all. We’re celebrating! Right Rick?” Nicky nudged his spaced out companion who was rapidly falling asleep.

“Huh? Oh. Yeah.” Ricky yawned again.

“Nicky! How many times must we go through this?! You really shouldn’t drink so much! And look at the state of this place! It’s even worse than when I left! How in the fig is that even possible?!” Rod exclaimed in annoyance, before backtracking. “Wait, you’re celebrating? You mean… You got the part?” He uttered in astonishment.

“Yup! Sure did Rod buddy!” Nicky said smugly, before singing cringingly out of tune. “I may have flunked X-Factor! But you’re now looking at a soon to be Broadway actor!” He grinned. “Yes! Just like those guys in your musical books! Huh, Rod?!”

Rod clasped a hand to his ear at the shrill sound of Nicky’s raucous drunken singing. “Well, I don’t think a small community play will make it to Broadway Nicky. But that’s great.” Rod trailed off, and whispered in Nicky’s ear. “What’s wrong with Ricky?”

“Oh... Um, nothin’. He just had a few too many I think. But don’t worry Rod. I said he could sleep here tonight.”

“You said what?!” Rod shrieked.

“Well, gee Rod. I didn’t think you’d mind since he’s your boyfriend and all.”

“Nicky! How many times?! He’s not my…” Rod was about to protest, but Ricky, stirred from his nap by all the shrieking, slumped round in his seat and stared up at him ominously.

“Hope I’m not causing any trouble for you?” Ricky muttered gruffly.

“Trouble?” Rod spluttered. “No, no, no. Of course not! No trouble at all.” He tried his best to sound as genuine as possible, but couldn’t help glaring at Nicky.

“Cool. I promise you won’t even know I’m...” Ricky hiccupped, falling back against the sofa and passing out onto the floor below, before he could even finish his sentence.

Rod stared at the snoring green whale in front of him. ‘So much for getting Ricky out of my mind!’ He rolled his eyes. ‘I can’t even get the guy out of my apartment!’

Chapter Text

Now gone midnight, Nicky and Rod were finally both tucked up in bed. Although, it was almost impossible for either of them to get to sleep. Because Ricky’s thunderous snores echoed around their small apartment, like the noise from a Boeing 747 jumbo jet engine echoing around an airport.

Rod pulled his pillow over his head. “Why me?” He whimpered, the will to live slowly seeping out of him. After the day he’d had, he really needed his sleep!

Nicky yawned, “Huh, Rod? What do you mean buddy?”

“Nicky, why do you always have to make such a mess of everything?” Rod sighed in frustration, as he flipped himself over to face his friend. However, he was so indescribably tired and stressed out, that he didn’t even really know what he was saying anymore.

Nicky felt his guilty thoughts surge up from his subconscious again. “Jeez, I’m sorry Rod. I can’t help it. I guess I’m just a messy person is all.

Rod sighed sadly, and muttered under his breath, “That’s not what I meant.” He rubbed his face roughly, as he thought about what a mess his love life had become.

However, not hearing him, Nicky continued, “But today I really wanted to straighten things up for you. Well, to gay-en things up for you, actually.”

“What?” Rod rolled his eyes. “Nicky, that’s so ridiculous!”

Nicky chuckled. “Yeah. Well, I just wanted to make everything nice for when you got back is all. Honestly I did! But well, jeez, I’m sorry Rod. I guess in the end I didn’t.” He confessed.

Rod sighed heavily and uttered in vexation, “Never mind Nicky.” Before he added an additional mumble, “I just wish you didn’t have the power to mess with my emotions too.”  He buried his head backwards into his pillow, as he continued to battle against the imaginary Nicky and Ricky love rivals in his mind.

However, Nicky (his head still fuzzy from all the beers) struggled to make out his friend’s faint words in the midst of Ricky’s snores. “Huh? Sorry Rod. Didn’t quite catch that buddy. What'd you say?”

Rod sighed again, thankful that his roommate had neither heard nor understood what he was saying. Although, at the same time, a big part of him wished like hell that Nicky did understand! Because then he wouldn't have to endure the torment of his hidden shame alone anymore. “Look, never mind. Just try to keep things a little tidier around here, all right? I don’t have time to clean up after you every single day!”

“Jeez, I know Rod. I know I’m a slob. I really don’t know how you put up with me sometimes.” Nicky trailed off, hoping for an answer. But nothing. The room fell silent. “Rod?” He continued, “Why do you put up with me? Really I mean? Why do you do all these things for me? I know you can’t really enjoy doing my laundry, picking up my smelly underwear, scrubbing my beer stains out of the carpet, picking my green pubes off the soap. So why do you do it?”

Rod blushed, but luckily it was too dark for Nicky to see him properly. “Oh my, look at the time! Let’s just try and get some sleep? Shall we?”

Ignoring Rod’s request, Nicky continued to press him for an answer, “But Rod, why?”

“Why do you think?! Because I have work tomorrow! And I have to get up at like five-thirty!” Rod sighed heavily.

“No. I mean, why do you put up with me living here rent free? Why do you buy all my food for me? Why do you give me spending money? Why do you cover my student loan repayments, when you must know I’ll likely never be able to pay you back?”

Rod swallowed hard, as Nicky continued to ask more and more awkward questions. “Well, you are going to pay me back one day, right?”

“Well, gee Rod. Yeah, sure buddy. That’s the plan. But you must know how unlikely it is to happen anytime soon? Yeah? So, why do you…”

“Nicky, please! Just shut up and go to sleep!” Rod snapped, and flipped back over to face away from his irritating roommate.

But Nicky, in his inebriated state, didn’t stop talking. Instead, he just moved to another topic of conversation. “Rod, I have to be up early tomorrow too. I have a rehearsal at twelve, and I don’t even know my lines yet!”

“Well, you should have spent more time rehearsing! And less time drinking and playing Halo! Shouldn’t you Nicky?!” Rod sighed heavily again. And thought, ‘Why does he never do what I tell him? Why does he never shut up when it’s time to go to sleep?!’ He despaired, but rolled his eyes and tried to keep calm. He had grown well accustomed to Nicky's meaningless midnight conversations.

Nicky sighed, “Yeah, I know Rod. But I thought, well, maybe you could wake me up before you leave tomorrow is all?”

“What?! Rod said in astonishment, as he scooched around to face Nicky again. "You want me to wake you up? Before I leave?! Are you serious?!"

“Yeah. I really need to get some practicing in! And I’m too drunk to even make out the words on the page at the moment. So yeah, will you wake me up Rod? Please buddy?”

“What?! Before seven, you mean?! Because that’s when I leave Nicky!” Rod knew he was yelling more than he should. But he was just so exhausted and stressed out, that he couldn’t help it. All he wanted to do was sleep!

“Jeez, that early?!” Nicky said in disbelief. He couldn’t remember when he last saw eight in the morning! Let alone seven!

“Yes Nicky! That early! I have to be in the office before eight! Why don’t you just set an alarm on your phone or something?!”

“Nah, that never works.” Nicky sighed, “Cuz I always snooze it. So will you wake me Rod? Please buddy?”

“Fine! If you’re sure? You’ll probably throw a fit in the morning though!” Rod snapped.

Not fully understanding what a pre-seven ‘o’ clock wakeup call request actually meant, Nicky agreed, “Well, okay then. Thanks Rod buddy. I owe you one.”

Rod thought in annoyance, ‘Just one? Oh please, and the rest!’ But tried his best to tone down his actual response. “Fine, I’ll wake you up at six fifty just before I set off for the subway station. But no complaining when I do! Now let’s just both try and get some sleep, shall we?” Rod muttered. “If we can!” He groaned, as he yanked his pillow around his ears, to filter out Ricky's snores.

“Wait Rod, before we go to sleep, can I ask you something else?” Nicky leaned over to face Rod directly, resting his head on his hand.

“Yes, I suppose Nicky. If you must? But make it quick, will you?! I’m so tired!” Rod said, the exasperation in his voice now undeniable. Still, he eased his grip on his pillow.

“Do you like Ricky?”

Rod swallowed hard. “Nicky, I barely know the guy.”

“But you want to get to know him right? You had fun on your date?”

Rod sighed heavily, “I thought we’d been over this?”

Nicky continued, “I know. And I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it. But I just wondered if you had fun is all? It’s just, I set you up on that date to cheer you up. And well, I’d feel really bad if you didn’t have fun.”

Rod thought, ‘Damn it Nicky! You’ve backed me into a fucking corner again!’ But succumbing to the emotional blackmail his roommate had foisted upon him, he uttered, “Um, well, I guess it was okay, Nicky. I really wished you’d consulted us before you went ahead and booked that super expensive restaurant though! Nearly bankrupted me!”

“Gee Rod, I just thought it’d be romantic is all. You’re always going on about how you wish we could go out for nice dinners once in a while. Also you’re an investment banker, so I figured…” Nicky trailed off, realizing that perhaps trying to read Rod’s mind on that occasion may have been a mistake on his part.

“Well it wasn’t romantic Nicky! It was just fucking expensive! I know you think I’m made of money! That I grow it in my office! But I work like fucking Cinderella for my pay check! As you so aptly pointed out earlier!”

“Jeez Rod, I’m sorry buddy. I just thought…” Nicky trailed off again, sensing he was only making things worse. “Um, but the cost aside. You had fun with Ricky, right?”

Rod sighed in exhausted exasperation, “I told you Nicky, it was okay, all right?! So can we please just drop it, and get some sleep! So I can earn the money to pay the fucking rent!”

Ignoring Rod’s mini freak-out, Nicky continued like a dog with a bone, “So you’re happy to go out with Ricky then? You’d go out with him again I mean?” Nicky said hopefully. He really wanted Rod to be happy. No matter what it took, that's what he wanted more than anything. But the lazy part of him hoped that Rod was already happy with Ricky.

“Well, um…” Rod stuttered, trying to find a balance between honesty, keeping his dark secret hidden, and bringing the conversation to a swift end as soon as possible. “Nicky, I’m just not sure.” He sighed deeply, “Look, to be honest, I don't think I'm really ready to go out with anyone at the moment.”

“But Rod, I know you’re lonely buddy. I hear you talking in your sleep all the time.”

Rod could feel his heart rate soar yet again. Thank goodness the lights were out and Nicky couldn’t see his face clearly, as he was sure it must have flushed bright red. “You, you do? Wha, wha, what, what sort of things do I say?” He stuttered. Hoping and praying to God that his roommate hadn’t heard him utter his secret. Or worse, moaning his name!

“Well, gee Rod. Don’t worry! Nothin’ embarrassing or anything. Just that you wish your fantasies would come true. That you want someone in your life. Someone to make you feel special. Someone to make you feel safe.”

“That is embarrassing!” Rod mumbled into his pillow.

But Nicky didn’t hear him. “So, why not Ricky? It’s just, he seemed like the best gay boyfriend a man could ask for when I stumbled upon his profile. But I’m starting to think maybe it’s not working out, cuz he's not your type? Did I get it wrong buddy? Is that why it’s not working Rod? Cuz Ricky’s not your type?” Nicky fell silent for a few moments, awaiting Rod’s all important response.

"Well, no. No, it’s not that. Well, um, wait, I mean yes. Yes, it is that. I mean... Gah! You just don’t get it! Do you Nicky?!” Rod snapped.

“Um. Nope.” Nicky agreed matter-of-factly. “But maybe you could explain it to me? I mean, I know I’ve not got the business smarts that you have. But I want to help. And well, if you explain it to me, maybe I can find someone better. I can even help you with the pie charts! I just want you to be happy is all, Rod! I’m willing to do whatever it takes!”

Rod felt yet another stream of tears trickle down his cheeks. “Nicky, please, can we just drop it and go to sleep?!” He could feel his heart breaking in his chest, and his soul dissolving into mush. What would his sweet and innocent roommate say if he knew the truth? The truth that only he had the power to make him genuinely happy.

“But Rod, you deserve someone special. And well, if that’s not Ricky, then I’ll find someone better! We can find someone better together!”

“Nicky! No! There won’t be anyone better! Now can we please for the love of cookies just drop it? Okay?!” Rod blurted out, but as soon as he did, he wished like hell that he hadn’t.

“Huh? But, you just said…” Nicky was really confused now. “I don’t get it Rod.”

“Exactly! I know you don’t get it Nicky! I told you that you didn’t get it!” Rod shrieked, his voice hitting notes that even a professional soprano opera singer would struggle to reach! “Now please, just shut the hell up and go to sleep! Will you?!”

“But Rod, don’t you think you should give Ricky a chance?” Nicky knew he’d hit a nerve. He just wasn’t sure which nerve.

“Nicky! This conversation is over!”

“But Rod…”

“Over!” And with that last yell of avoidance, Rod stubbornly turned away from Nicky again. Pulling his duvet up over his head, and his pillow down tightly around his ears, to create the most effective sound barrier possible with the materials at hand. Next, once satisfied that his double puffed shield was firmly in place, Rod scrunched his eyes shut. And proceeded to count imaginary paperclips. It was a rather boring thing to imagine for sure. But he felt like he needed a boring fantasy to distract himself from all his overwhelmingly exotic and erotic ones!

However, as poor Rod could still hear Nicky’s muffled voice and Ricky’s snorts, he decided his ears needed reinforcements. So he reached out to open the nightstand drawer, and pulled his earbuds from their case. Shoving them against his eardrums, in a final foray. In one last-ditch attempt to block out Ricky’s snoring, along with anymore of his inebriated friend’s exasperating inquiries! He sighed in relief, as all the bothersome sounds slowly faded into the background. ‘Yes. Thank God! Peace and quiet at last!’

After a minute or so of asking his unresponsive roommate fruitless questions, Nicky finally gave up. He rolled onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. And retreated into his thoughts.

‘Poor Rod, he must be so confused. I think he does want a relationship with Ricky, but he’s afraid of rejection is all.’ Nicky mulled over the idea for a few moments. To him, it seemed the most logical explanation for his friend’s behavior. ‘But how can I be sure that Ricky is the one for him? That Ricky won’t reject him?’ Nicky thought hard on this for a moment, and after a couple of minutes, PING! A light bulb lit up in his mind. ‘That’s it!’ He thought, ‘I’ll ask Ricky how he feels about Rod! Then I’ll know if Rod’s heart is safe with him!’

For an instant, Nicky felt a somewhat disconcerting feeling wash over him again. The same one he had experienced earlier that evening. He thought hard for a moment. Trying to put the puzzle pieces together. 'Wait, if Ricky was that guy on the subway, the one that inspired me to write the ‘If You Were Gay’ song for Rod. Then that means…’ He gasped, ‘Ricky was initially flirting with me!' He realized in a nanosecond of horror. Yet quickly dismissed any relevance that notion might have. 'But nah. That was in the past. And the dating profile I set up for Rod had his name and photo on it. Then, when we met up, we talked about getting Rod out of the closet. And he agreed to go on a date with Rod. So, he must like Rod now, right?'

Though still a bit unsettled by these musings, Nicky decided to ignore them and focus on the present. So he squelched his brain back into submission with his intrinsically blind optimism. 'Nah. There's no way Ricky still likes me in that way. No way. No chance in hell! Cuz he's Rod's boyfrie... I mean, dating buddy now. Besides, Rod's far better looking than me! So next to him, it’s no contest! Cuz there’s no way I can compete with Rod in the looks department! In any department really! I mean jeez, look at the state of me! I'm a blob! And a slob!'

‘A blobby slob!’ Nicky teased himself. His mood rapidly rising, as he made his way back to his obliviously optimistic track. ‘Rod on the other hand. He’s gorgeous! Drop dead gorgeous! Like a supermodel or somethin’! I mean, jeez, he’s even better looking than most of the girls I’ve dated. Maybe better looking than all of the girls I’ve dated! Jeez, maybe better looking than all the girls I’ve dated combined! And I’ve dated a lot of girls over the years!’ He tried to count how many girls he had dated on his fingers, but quickly ran out of digits.

Nicky smiled, as he pictured Rod on the beach in his swimming trunks and long sleeved shirt. ‘Rod’s just so ridiculously cute! So freakin' adorable! And God, smoking hot! What with that sexy fiery red-orange quiff of his, and perfectly chiseled cheekbones! Not to mention his delicately slender body! And elegantly stylish fashion sense! Jeez, in some ways he’s even better looking than Benedict Cumberbatch for God’s sake! Yes, I like to think I’m a dreamboat and all. But honestly, I got nothin’ on Rod! Even in his grim reaper state, he’d still win a million beauty contests against me!’

Nicky bit his lip. ‘Also, I bet Rod’s an awesome kisser! Much better than me, with my forever greasy sticky lips! Just wish I’d gotten a chance to see for myself. Not in a gay way or nothin’. Just curious, is all. I’ve kissed so many girls, and well, it get’s borin’ after awhile, right? Need to spice things up a bit and lay one on my best buddy for a change! See what the difference is! Take notes maybe?’

Nicky’s eyes widened, as his thoughts took on a more lustful vibe. ‘Wait, that doesn’t make me gay, does it? Nah. Can’t do, cuz I’ve hooked up with zillions of girls. Yeah, no, I’m straight.’ He convinced himself, while sighing somewhat sadly at the thought. ‘Yeah, I’m definitely not gay. Can’t be. But if I do ever get to kiss my buddy Rod someday. And I really hope I do! I’m sure that kiss would be pure heaven!’

Nicky sighed happily, and dribbled slightly, as he contemplated what a kiss with Rod might be like. He sighed again, this time with a regretful tinge, ‘If only Rod had kissed me back at my seventeenth birthday party. I know he thought I was jokin’, but I totally would have kissed him. Why does he always have to push me away?’ Nicky thought sadly, as his mind drifted back to that day.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY TRIES TO KISS ROD) -----

“Hey guys! Let’s play Spin The Bottle!” Nicky hollered excitedly over the loud dance music. However, sadly for him, most of his guests seemed less than enthused at the prospect. Some even groaning their disinterest out loud.

“What the hell Nicky?! Aren’t we a bit old for that shit?!” One of his friends replied.

“Yeah, we’re nearly adults for Christ’s sake!” Another agreed.

“So?!” Nicky said, annoyed that his party game suggestion seemed to be getting so much hate.

“Come on Nick! There’s only like two girls at this sausage fest of a party anyway! What’s even the fucking point?!” Donny said.

“So, you’re chicken then?! Is that it?” Nicky teased.

“Yeah, whatever Nick. I’m not playing Spin The Bottle with a bunch of dudes! That sounds fucking gay as shit! Count me out!” Donny took another swig from his beer can.

Nicky mocked him with the chicken dance, before continuing to rally for his cause. “Come on! Who’s with me? Surely you can’t all be chicken? You’ll play won’t you Lily? Jessica?”

The girls nodded, somewhat reluctantly. Though Lily said, “Depends which of you dorks are playing! I’m definitely not kissing Donny! He’s a total douchebag!”

Donny rolled his eyes. “Fuck you Lily!”

“Nah, he’s not playing.” Nicky reassured her. Before continuing to look for potential participants, and spotting Rod over in the corner.

Rod always felt somewhat out of place at parties. So he was trying his best to fade into the background, while he not so subtly read from the pocket-sized edition of his ’ Investment Banking And Business Consulting’ textbook. Nicky beamed, as his eyes locked on their target. And hurried over to where his best friend was standing.

“And Rod? I know you’ll play, right?” Nicky grabbed hold of Rod’s hand and tugged him towards the area he’d prepared behind the sofa.

“Play what Nicky?” Rod asked, somewhat annoyed that his low-key study session had been interrupted. He pulled his hand from Nicky’s sticky grasp, but closed his book. “I was just trying to brush up on a few important corporate valuation facts before my test next week. I keep forgetting what an EBIT is! Must remember, it’s Earnings Before Interest and Taxes. And DCF stands for Discounted Cash Flow.” He pressed hard on his temples for a moment, doing his best to ensure that he had absorbed the information.

“Jeez Rod! You’re not really trying to study at my birthday party? Are you?!” Nicky stared at him, half in disbelief, half in disappointment.

Rod suddenly felt very guilty. “I’m sorry Nicky. I just thought, while you were having so much fun dancing over there, I could just fit in a few minutes…”

Nicky interrupted, “Come on buddy! Put the book away! That’s an order! It’s time to party!” He grabbed hold of his nerdy friend’s hand again, as Rod slipped his book back into his jacket pocket. “We’re gonna play Spin The Bottle buddy! It’s gonna be so awesome! Been waiting so long to show you how much fun it is!” He said, dribbling with enthusiasm, as he tugged Rod over to where Lily and Jessica were now sitting on the floor.

Rod gulped hard. “Nicky, no! I can’t play that! Why don’t we, um, play something else?” He could practically feel the sweat beads forming on his head, as he struggled to think of an alternative. “How about, um…” He looked around the room for inspiration, before catching sight of the stack of Taylor family board games. “Um, oh yes! Monopoly?! Yes! That’d be perfect Nicky! As then I could put some of my economic knowledge into practice as we play!” Poor Rod was trying his best to make his idea sound favorable. But unfortunately for him, connecting his party game suggestion to studying, had the opposite effect!

“Nah, that’s no fun at a party!” Nicky sat down next to Sadie and Jessica on the floor. “Let’s play Spin The Bottle Rod! You’re gonna love it!” He stared up at his friend longingly with his deep brown pleading eyes in full ’adorable puppy mode’.

Poor Rod looked really flustered now, as he struggled to find an excuse to get out of the game. “Nicky I can’t play that. I… I… I, um… I don’t know the rules!” He lied. Pretty obviously, as he had witnessed Nicky playing ’Spin The Bottle’ before, from the side lines. Indeed, it had been one of the most painful things that he had ever witnessed Nicky partake in! So naturally, the last thing he wanted to do was witness it again! Only this time it would be so much worse! Because now he would have ring side seats, and be up close and personal with the action! Rod shivered at the thought. Also what if the bottle selected him to kiss a girl?! It didn’t even bare thinking about! “Um, I've got… Got… Got to go to the bathroom Nicky.” Rod stuttered, dashing back into the crowd of sweaty teenagers.

“But buddy!” Nicky whined, as his friend disappeared from sight. He sighed. “Well, we can’t play with just three of us! That’s no fun!” Disappointed, he slumped his head down onto his hand.

Lily rolled her eyes, as she stood up and tapped her glass with her finger nails to make an announcement. “Hey, everyone! Listen up! It’s Nicky’s birthday! And he wants to play Spin The Bottle! So get your asses over here!”

Three guys slowly sauntered over, but the rest of them just rolled their eyes and continued with their dancing and conversations.

Nicky still looked less than impressed at the selection of participants, so he staggered to his feet again. “Wait! I need my best buddy Rod to play!” He said in desperation, as he pushed through the crowds to find his friend.

Unfortunately for Rod, Nicky caught him the moment he stepped back out of the bathroom.

“Yay! There you are! Found you buddy!” Nicky cheered, as he grabbed his friend’s hand again.

“But, but Nicky, I wasn’t hiding!” Rod protested.

“There’s no escape now buddy! You’ve gotta play!”

Rod’s eyes widened in horror. And he immediately put on the brakes. “Stop!” He yelled. But as everyone turned to look at him, and he realized he was making a scene, he gulped, “Um, I mean, um, don’t stop! Don’t ever stop the fun! Don’t ever stop rockin’!” He added, in hopes it would go some way to restoring what little remained of his street cred.

Nicky smiled at him. “Don’t worry Rod buddy! You’re gonna love this game! I know you are!”

Rod gulped again. ‘Shit! What now? How the hell can I get out of this?!’ He thought in panic, as he tried his best to slow his pace towards one of his worst nightmares! But he couldn’t think of anything.

As soon as they were back sitting in a circle, Lily took charge of proceedings. “Right, we have five guys and two girls. So, yeah, some of you might have to kiss each other!” She joked, as she giggled at the boys.

The guys rolled their eyes. “This is so stupid Nick. I’m not kissing any dudes!” One said.

“Don’t make me do the chicken dance again!” Nicky threatened.

“Look…” Lily suggested, “Tell you what, if you don’t want to kiss the person the bottle lands on. You can do a dare instead. A dare suggested by the person the bottle selects. Sound fair? But we girls reserve the right to have the same alternative, if we don’t feel like kissing any of you losers! Don’t we Jess?” She turned to get confirmation from her friend.

“Yes! Definitely!” Jessica shook her head in distaste, as she looked around the circle of guys.

Rod gulped, but froze as he sat in the circle of doom. A circle which included four other guys, including Nicky! And two girls. ‘I guess I can always just pick the dare.’ He tried his best to reassure himself. ‘I just pray to God Nicky doesn’t have to kiss Lily or Jessica in front of me! Hell, that’d be horrific! Christ, it was painful enough when him and Lily were dating! But since they’re not together anymore, I guess they’d pick the dare option anyway, right?! God I hope so!’ He rubbed his suddenly sweaty hands together anxiously.

Lily added an additional caveat to her improvised rules, and finalized her compromise, “And no stupid dares involving sex, kissing anyone else, alcohol, drugs, illegal activities or creating an unholy mess! Yes?! So, is it a deal?”

“Jeez, what does that even leave for the dares?!” One of the guys complained. But quickly agreed, as Lily glared at him. “Fine! Whatever! Let’s just get this over with! I’m only doing this for you Nick!”

“Thanks buddy. I owe you a pizza!” Nicky smiled wildly, clearly the only one excited to play the game.

“So, who goes first?” Lily asked.

“Well, it’s Nicky’s birthday, and he’s the one who wanted to play. So he should be the first to spin, right?” Jessica suggested. “Wait? Where’s the bottle?”

A crowd had now gathered around the perimeter of the circle, intrigued by how the game was going to play out.

Nicky grabbed one of his empties from earlier. “Oh yeah! I knew this’d come in handy! Here we go!” He cheered, as he placed the bottle into the center of the circle and spun it as fast as he could.

Rod cringed, squinting his eyes half shut. He could barely bring himself to look at who the bottle was going to land on. “Please not Lily, please not Jessica! Please not Lily! Please not Jessica!” He chanted over and over in his mind, as the bottle continued to spin. Just as he felt like his nightmare was never going to end, the bottle gradually slowed it’s pace of rotation. And everyone in the circle and crowd around gasped.

Rod closed his eyes and swallowed hard again. ‘Why do I always let Nicky drag me into these situations?!’ He thought, as his heart rate soared. He couldn’t bring himself to look.

“Whoa! Who's it gonna be?!” Everyone shouted in unison, as the neck of the bottle neared Lily, then Jessica, then finally stopped on its target.

“Hooray!” Nicky cheered again, as everyone shot him odd looks, and fell about giggling.

Rod slowly reopened his eyes to see the result of the bottle spin. But as soon as he did, he almost passed out from the shock. Because the neck of the bottle was pointing towards him! ‘Oh God, got to think of a dare now!’ He panicked, as he tried his best to come up with something that would sound relatively cool, but not too extreme.

However, Nicky didn’t seem to be requesting the dare option. “Yay! Come here Rod! Let me lay one on you buddy!” He said excitedly, as he slowly leaned over to where Rod was sitting.

‘My God! He’s not coming in for a kiss?! Is he?! What the actual f?! What the hell is wrong with him?!’ Rod thought, as his panic intensified, ‘Got to get out of here! Can’t breathe! Can’t kiss Nicky! God I want to! But I can’t do it! Especially not in front of all these people!’ He forced a fake chuckle, “Nicky please, stop joking around!” He said, as Nicky’s face drew ever closer to him.

Eventually, Nicky’s lips got so close to his own, that Rod couldn’t take it anymore. And he threw out his hands to push his overly excited friend away. “Wait! No! Stop! Sorry Nicky, but I just can’t do it!” He screeched, as he quickly stumbled to his feet and rushed back to the bathroom. He cringed inwardly, as everyone fell about laughing behind him. But still sped up to get to the bathroom as quickly as possible.

Nicky shouted after him, “Come on Rod buddy! You have to let me kiss you! It’s in the rules! And you love rules!” But it was to no avail. And Nicky sighed in defeat, as Rod disappeared out of sight and his disappointment consumed him.

However, as his friends continued to tease him and shoot him odd looks, Nicky shook his head to shake himself from his despondency. “Jeez guys! Why am I the only one with any balls around here?! Everyone else seems to be chicken when it comes to kissin’! What’s the big deal?!” He joked, as he leaned over to kiss another one of his unwilling friends.

“Ew! Gross Nicky!” The guy exclaimed, before proceeding to frantically wipe the side of his cheek, which was now covered in Nicky’s pizza grease rich slobber.

Nicky chuckled, “I know! Why don’t we put the ‘I Kissed A Boy’ song on?! Bet that’ll get you chickens in the mood!” He began singing some of the lyrics, “I kissed a boy, just to start shit!” As he continued to grin suggestively at his male buddies.

A number of his friends gave him a shove and rolled their eyes. “Fucking hell Nicky! You’re so gay!” They teased him, as he continued to lick his lips and eye up potential male targets.

“No one’s safe from the kissin’ monster!” He teased them back, as he jumped onto the nearest guy, and they tumbled onto the floor together. Everyone falling about in fits of laughter and giggles, as he proceeded to cover him in sloppy kisses. “Right, who’s next?!” He asked, a cheeky glint still in his eye.

However, although he was laughing in that moment, Nicky couldn’t help feel somewhat rejected by his best friend. ‘Oh Rod, why do you always push me away?’ He thought sadly, ‘You know I wasn’t jokin’, right buddy? I totally would have kissed you!’ Nicky sighed again, as he grabbed his red solo party cup, and took a long gulp of alcoholic punch.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Nicky sighed heavily, as the memory resurfaced. But knowing that he had to get up early to rehearse, he tossed and turned, desperately trying to get to sleep. Unfortunately, it was completely futile. He just couldn’t stop thinking about what it might have been like to kiss Rod! ‘God, how I wish I was gay sometimes!’ He thought in frustration, as he returned his focus to how he was going to ensure his friend had a happier love life than he’d had.

Nicky knew the best plan probably would be to ask Ricky how he felt about Rod. ‘Yes.’ He thought sadly, ‘That’s gotta be the best way to help Rod find happiness! Cuz as much as I wish I was gay sometimes, I’m not. And jeez, even if I was, what kind of a gay boyfriend from hell would I make?! Yeah, no! God, what a disaster that would be?! Rod deserves so much better! Gotta find him the best gay boyfriend on the planet! And jeez, Ricky’s a dreamboat beefcake of a dude! So he's gotta be the perfect pick! Just need to find out what his intentions are towards my buddy Rod. To be sure that he won’t break his poor heart!’

As Nicky continued to mull over the idea, he soon became so eager to put it into motion, that yet more and more adrenaline surged through his veins. So much so in fact, that eventually his hormonal rush, plus the added incentive of hunger pangs emanating from his stomach, was more than enough to tip him over the edge. Leaving him no choice, but to leap out of bed and head for the fridge.

Across the room, Rod gulped, as even through his earplugs, he heard the all too familiar loud thump of his restless roommate jumping out of his bed. 'Shit, he's not going to try shaking me awake again? Is he?! Why won't he ever just let me sleep in peace?!' Rod panicked for an instant, before realizing he was probably safe. However, still feeling very on edge, he decided he better remove his earplugs, just to be sure. And so that he could better pinpoint Nicky's now shifting location.

His ears back on audio-surveillance duty, Rod sighed in relief, as he heard his friend creek open the bedroom door and stagger off into the kitchen. He really needed to be alone with his thoughts for a few moments. And although hiding under his blanket helped. He still felt constantly on edge, worrying that he’d accidentally mutter his thoughts out loud. Or worse, drift off to dreamland and start talking in his sleep while Nicky was still awake! Heaven knows he was tired enough!

And yet, as much as Rod hated to admit it, even to himself. He knew Nicky was right, when he said that he shouldn’t judge Ricky too harshly. After all, he’d only been out on one date with the guy. Maybe in time his feelings for Ricky would grow. And perhaps, maybe, one day, even displace Nicky from his golden throne of hearts. Rod shuddered at the thought, as just thinking about how similar he was to Nicky, still sent shivers down his spine. It was difficult to explain in words. But the mere prospect of hooking up with a guy who was the spitting image of his childhood best friend, still seemed so wrong somehow.

To make matters even more confusing for Rod, he was back living with Nicky! So how could he possibly have a relationship with a guy who looked and sounded exactly like his best buddy?! A guy who was the spitting image of his roommate. A guy who was the double of his life-long secret crush. When day in day out he was cooking, cleaning, shopping for, thinking about, and dreaming about Nicky?! I mean, Christ, the whole scenario had already become such a mindfuck. So if him and Ricky started officially dating, surely it would only get worse!

‘Christ!’ Rod thought. ‘Imagine the drama! Because my mind has already become a green tinged mud puddle, with Ricky and Nicky blending into a indivisible ooze! So if we were going steady, surely it would be all too easy to slip up and say the wrong name! Or, heaven forbid! Mix up the laundry!’ He gasped. The sheer idea of it seemed utterly insane!

Rod shivered in his blanket cave. Worried that Nicky might be on his way back. But no. He could still hear him rattling around in the kitchen. So decided to use this opportunity to put his plan into action. And get out his old diary. He turned on his bedside lamp and stumbled over to get his keys from his desk table.

He knew Nicky could come back any moment, so he reassured himself that he wouldn’t make any entries tonight. He’d just check there was space in there for all his problems. Because it would be stupid to get up extra early with the intention of writing an entry, only to discover that there was no space left in his diary to write anything!

Crouching down, Rod unlocked the bottom draw on his desk and slowly slid it open. Inside, beneath a couple of old ‘Risqué Businessmen’ magazines, was a stained a musty pink notebook covered in doodles, many of which were distinctly floral in design. He carefully took it out, coughing as he blew away a thin layer of dust.

'Shit!' Rod froze for a moment, listening intently, in case Nicky had heard him. But he needn’t have worried, because his roommate was far too busy banging about in the kitchen to pay any heed to a few coughs.

‘What the hell am I doing?’ Rod thought. ‘Why do I even still keep this thing?!’ Rod felt butterflies flutter their wings wildly in his stomach. But he really wanted to read a few pages now, it might be just what he needed to calm his shredded nerves. ‘Nicky will probably be up for hours.’ Rod reasoned with himself. ‘Although, he won't be able to watch TV with Ricky zonked out on the floor! And he does have to get up early to practice for his rehearsal tomorrow.’  Rod hesitated. But ultimately, despite the danger, he decided that he couldn’t resist a quick look. Promising himself that he’d hide his diary under his pillow at the first sign of trouble. He sighed happily, ‘Nicky may be trouble, but he’s my trouble.’

Whipped up into a whirlwind of excitement, brought about by the prospect of re-living some of his most treasured moments with Nicky. Rod tiptoed quickly back to bed, and flipped the diary open to a random page.

Chapter Text

Excitement buzzing through his exhausted body, Rod began reading a random entry from his diary.

----- ROD READS HIS DIARY -----

Today it happened. I knew one day it would. But sadly forethought didn’t make the sight any easier to bear. As my mind was unprepared, and now it withers away. Pain has taken hold. And, as it continues to destroy what little is left of my dreams, I’m left alone. Stranded in a bitter sea of misery and tears. Tortured by images so shockingly horrific, that they will likely forever haunt my soul!

Strangely enough, I was actually kind of happy this morning. Skipping along in the summer sunshine. Minding my own business. Little did I know, that happiness would moments later be violently ripped away from me! My fragile smile smashed into dust.

But I saw it! I scrubbed my eyes until they were blood red! But I can’t deny that I saw it! The sweet rosy lips of my beloved Nicky locked with the poisonous, gossip-spitting gob of that bitch! That slut Laura Birchwood!

Now, no matter how hard I scrub, it seems my eyes will be forever tainted by the indescribable humiliation of that sight! And it feels like the brain splitting misery it brought me can never be eased!

Yet, Nicky still needs me. As a friend. He needs me. Oh how it pains me to write that F-word, the most distasteful of all the F-words! But, nevertheless, he does need me. So I’ll bury my heartache and stick by his side. I know that cheap harlot doesn’t love him. Not like I do. Not in any real way! And when she leaves, I’ll be there for him. I’ll always be there for him. And I must stay strong for him. No matter what happens. I must stay strong for my Nicky.

----- END OF DIARY ENTRY -----


It was hard to make out what he’d written, the ink was so smudged with tear stains. But Rod knew all too well. And he felt the pain of that moment all over again, as he read his bitter heart-broken words. He bit his quivering lip. “The misery did ease.” He whimpered, wishing he could send that message back in time to his younger-self. “And she did leave. Indeed, they barely dated for a week in the end.”

However, despite knowing that the pain didn’t last, Rod could feel the misery returning. 'Oh my God, it’s all coming back! The heartbreak!’ Tears streamed down his cheek.

However, before the misery could properly take hold, he shook his head fiercely. ‘Okay. That’s enough! This is not helping! I need to read something more cheerful! I need a happy memory to make me feel better! Not to torture myself any further by reliving all the worst days of my life! If I fill my mind with any more heart shattering agony I may never get to sleep again! Let alone get to sleep tonight! And what if Nicky comes back to find me crying? How would I explain that away?!’

Rod roughly wiped away his tears with his pajama sleeve and flipped back to another page, to relive a day before that horrible moment.

----- ROD READS HIS DIARY -----

Ok, so today was the most embarrassing, and yet, at the same time, quite possibly the most wonderful day of my life!

Now, I must admit, that when Nicky first bounced into my bedroom (Oh my Gosh! I still can’t believe he was here! In my room!) to tell me the “good” news, I was more than a little skeptical. After all, roller coasters and I don’t exactly mix. And true, the first part of the trip was a living nightmare! But Nicky is just so unbelievably sweet and caring in all the most fabulous of ways! If only he loved me the same way I love him. Then I would be in heaven!

----- END OF DIARY ENTRY -----


“Gosh!” Rod gasped, ‘That’s the same day my Dad threatened to whip me with two belts! And Nicky saved me!’ He hugged his arms across his stomach, as all the memories came flooding back. ‘Oh Nicholas.’ He sighed heavily, ‘I remember! You dropped me off at my door like a perfect gentleman! Then I rushed upstairs to my room and wrote this! Before that second nightmare started and you came back to save me again! Oh my God, Nicky! You’re my knight in shining armor! You’ll always be better than all the superheroes combined in my eyes! Because you saved me twice that day!’ Rod felt his heartache fade and a small smile return to his face, as he remembered that weekend.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY DRAGS ROD TO AN AMUSEMENT PARK) -----

As Rod stared out at the brilliant sunshine that shone down on his suburban neighborhood, everything the light touched seemed to glimmer almost magically in the brightness. He looked down longingly at the kids playing baseball in the street.

‘Those kids are all so lucky! They look like they’re having so much fun out there.’ Rod thought wistfully, although his pessimistic side couldn’t help but worry for their safety. He sighed dispassionately, as he turned away from the sunny sights of the window. Slumping back down in his chair next to the plethora of economics and mathematics textbooks that he had been trawling through since seven that morning.

Poor Rod had to follow such a heavy schedule of studying set by his overly tyrannical parents, that he barely had time to have any fun. Indeed, since he had turned fourteen, they had ramped up his study routine yet another notch. And now during the week his toil started from six in the morning before school each day, until nine thirty at night after school. Except Friday, when if he had been good, he was allowed to visit Nicky for a few hours.

Then at the weekends and on holidays, studying started at seven in the morning until ten at night. With only a few breaks for housework chores and meals to look forward too. Oh, and occasional play dates with Nicky, again if he had been sufficiently well behaved. Of course, Rod with his mastery of self-discipline, was always as obedient as he possibly could be. But even so, all too often his mother seemed to find a reason to punish him, and take away his dinner or Nicky privileges.

Rod lamented, his head falling heavily into his upturned palms, “Why is it only me trapped inside on such a gorgeous day? Why do all the other kids get to go out and have fun, while I'm shackled to these tedious tomes of statistics and gibberish for hours on end?! Why me?!”

Rod groaned. But he knew with Nicky visiting his other friends today and tomorrow, there would be no play date to look forward to, and he was on his own. Besides, even if Nicky had been about, it seemed doubtful that his parents would have let him out. Because today they had practically locked him in his room. So there was no escape! Indeed, he could barely make it two steps down the stairs before his mother began lecturing him incessantly about the value of hard work. And how if he hadn’t finished all his extra homework and reading assignments before sundown, he wasn’t allowed any dinner that night.

Rod’s stomach rumbled at the thought. ‘I’m so hungry. Wish I could just have an extra sandwich or something. One cucumber sandwich and an apple really didn’t feel like enough to quell my hunger pangs.’ He sighed, as he knew there was no arguing with his mother. No chance an ’Oliver style’’Please mother, can I have some more?’, request would ever work.

However, exhausted from burning the candle at both ends, and feeling light-headed from lack of food, Rod decided to take another break to flick through his diary. He was just about to turn the cover when, THUMP, THUD, BANG! "Yellow?! Yoo-hoo? Where's my buddy Rod?!" Nicky burst through the door.

Startled by all the commotion and stunned to see Nicky in his bedroom, Rod gasped, “Nicky! Nicky, what the figs?! What are you doing here?! You’re in my, my, my bedroom!” He stuttered, and quivered at the sight of his secret crush.

“So?” Nicky looked confused. “You’ve been in my room loads of times! What’s the big secret?” He grinned. “It’s not my birthday, so you can’t be doing anything secret. Right?” Nicky darted curiously around his buddy's room, in an attempt to see what his friend might be trying to hide.

Still in shock, Rod struggled to sort out his words. “But, Nicky? What? My parents! How did you? Get in?”

“Um, well gee Rod, that bit was easy! I just saw your parents leave in their car. And well, the door was open, so I just snuck in.” Nicky beamed, as he walked over to where Rod was sitting at his desk and peered over his shoulder. “So, whatcha doin’?”

“Nothing!” Rod shrieked, as he hastily dumped his heavy 'Principles of Economics' textbook on top of his diary.

“Cool.” Nicky paused for a moment. But couldn’t contain his excitement for long. “So Rod buddy, guess what?! I’ve got a surprise for you! Come on! What do you think the surprise is?! You’re never gonna guess!”

Still completely bewildered and overwhelmed by the presence of his secret sweetheart in his bedroom, Rod ignored Nicky’s questions and continued along his own train of thought. “But, but, but my parents never let me have friends round. Especially not when I’m doing my homework!”

“Really?” Nicky said in astonishment.

“Yes really! I’ve told you that before Nicky! I’ve told you many times in fact! Why do you think I’m always round your house?! For the aroma of smelly socks?!” Rod snapped. However, as soon as he saw the child-like excitement fade from his friend’s face, he instantly regretted the harshness of his tone.

“Oh gee, sorry Rod. I must have forgot.” His smile quickly returning, he restated his purpose for being there. “I just wanted to surprise you is all.” He paused for a moment. "Oh, and for the record, the smelly socks have been dealt with. Promise. Also I went to town spraying everything in my room with that Antonio Banderas cologne you got me, so sweaty feet smells should be a thing of the past!"

Rod’s heart melted. ‘God I’m such a jerk! My best friend comes round to see me, to surprise me! And what do I do?! What’s the first thing I do?! Yell at him! And rage against his smelly socks!'

Getting up from his desk to face his friend, Rod apologized, “Nicky, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. It’s just, well, I’ve been feeling rather down lately, because I’ve…” But before he could finish his train of thought, Rod was interrupted by the full force of 'Antonio Banderas Seduction In Black' bombarding his sinuses. He gasped. "Jesus Nicky?! You weren't kidding were you? How much did you use?! The whole bottle?!" Rod wheezed, as he took a couple of puffs on his inhaler.

"Only a dozen or so sprays." Nicky conceded. "But never mind all that Rod. What's wrong? Why’ve you been so down lately?" He stared into his friend’s eyes with concern.

Rod cursed his past decisions, ‘Damn it! Why on Earth did I get Nicky that cologne?! The aroma, it’s just so… So mind meltingly heavenly! Gah! Fantastic work Rod! Genius move!’ He thought sarcastically. ‘Because now with that irresistibly juicy, sensually spicy fragrance emanating from my Romeo, it’s going to be even more difficult to stop myself drifting off into my sinful fantasies! Wah! My God Nicky! Why do you have to look and smell so good?! It’s beyond swoonable! Almost like you’re becoming a sexy sombrero wearing, masked Mexican cowboy before my very senses!’

Nicky waved his hand in front of his friend’s spaced out gaze. “Yoo-hoo! Rod! Sorry buddy! Didn’t mean to suffocate you with my scent! But anywho, why’ve you been feelin’ so down? You gotta let me help cheer you up buddy!’

As Rod grew acclimatized to the intoxicating fragrance that now filled his room, he struggled to think up a good excuse for his undeniably bad mood. Then he remembered. The report! The one he’d been wrestling with all morning. Well, in between swooning over his previous diary entries at least. That had to be the perfect reason for feeling blue!

“It's just this damn essay Nicky!” He moaned. “I can’t decide how I should word my conclusion. Re-iterate the key points separately? Or compare them all in one long paragraph?”

Nicky hated to see Rod so stressed out. “What’s the essay about? Maybe I can help you?” He offered, “You’re always helping me with my math. So it’s my turn!” He beamed at the prospect of helping his friend. "What's the title?"

“The effects of globalization on multi-national corporations and the implications of corporate governance for investor protection and economic performance in emerging markets.” Rod rattled off, barely stopping to take a breath.

“Oh.” Nicky’s face went blank. “Um. Yeah. Well. Jeez. Sorry buddy. Think you’re on your own with that one.”

Rod smiled, “It's okay. It doesn’t matter. I've written the majority of it anyway. It’s just the conclusion I'm struggling with. But I suppose I have four weeks left to cobble something together before the submission deadline.”

“Four weeks?!” Nicky said in shock. "Are you serious?! You still have four weeks til its due?! And you're already fretting over it?!" He could hardly believe his ears! He had an art project due in next Monday, an assignment that he hadn’t even started yet! And he still wasn't worried about it in the slightest. Indeed, he’d barely thought about it. “Rod, that’s insane!”

Rod frowned, “It’s not insane Nicky. It’s Economics.”

“Exactly! It’s insane!”

Not wanting to get into another argument about the importance of economics to the world, Rod changed the subject. “So, what’s the surprise?”

“Well buddy, you’re not going to believe this!” A wide grin returned to Nicky’s face. “But you know my friend Evan? Do you know Evan?”

“Um, yes I think so. He’s the one with the Beatles mop-top, right?”

“Yeah. Well, he was going to go to Fan-tazimo World today with his brother, but they’re both sick. So anywho, I just went round to see him. And guess what?!"

"What Nicky? I hope you didn't bring his germs round here!" Rod covered his mouth.

Nicky shook his head. "No Rod! He gave me his tickets! Look!" He grinned, as he pulled the tickets from his pocket and waved them in front of his friend's face. "I mean jeez, can you believe it Rod?! We get to go to Fan-tazimo World! Today!” Nicky jumped around in excitement.

“What’s Fancy World?” Rod asked. Mispronouncing the name of the amusement park in disinterest, his hands still shielding his mouth.

“You’ve never heard of it?!” Nicky said in shock, as he gently swiped Rods hands away from his face.

“No.” Rod trembled slightly, as Nicky's hand brushed past his own.

“It’s only the most awesomest place on the entire planet!”

“Uh huh.” Rod nodded, struggling to muster even a fraction of Nicky’s enthusiasm.

“Fan-tazimo amusement park! Don’t tell me you’ve never seen the adverts!” Nicky fell back onto Rod’s bed and bounced up and down in a fit of giddy elation, as he sung the jingle. “Fan-tazimo, is awesomo! It’s the place to go! We can all shout whoa! So unless there’s snow, let’s all go to Fan-tazimo! Yeah! Let’s go now Mom!”

“Nicky! I just changed those sheets this morning!” Rod snapped. Although, the truth was that the sight of Nicky jiggling up and down like that, on his bed (especially with Nicky only wearing shorts and his Mr Messy t-shirt) was making him way too hot! And not just in a temperature sense!

“Oh, sorry Rod.” Nicky stood up and stared at his friend, as Rod hastily straightened the covers.

‘Got to keep everything straight. Can’t have any creases or kinks! Got to keep everything straight!’ Rod chanted to himself, as he smoothed out the sheets with his hands frantically.

Nicky looked at him in befuddlement for a moment. “So, seriously. You’ve never seen the ‘Fan-tazimo Is Awesomo’ ads on TV?!”

After a few deep breaths and a few more harsh words to himself, Rod could feel his heart rate slowly return to normal. And once satisfied that his sheets were satisfactorily straight, and he’d cooled down to socially acceptable levels, he turned back to Nicky.

“Rod?” Nicky said impatiently, “You’ve really never heard of it?!”

“No. No I've really never heard of it Nicky. And look, as much as I’d love to come. I’m afraid I can’t. I’ve just got so much school work to do, then housework chores. Besides, my parents would never let me go. So thank you for the offer, but…” Rod tried to hide the disappointment in his voice. Secretly, he was desperate to get out of the house. And spending time with Nicky, well, that was always pure heaven compared to his painful and dreary life at home.

Nicky interrupted, “Come on Rod! It’s Saturday! I'm sure your parents won’t mind if we go out for a few hours of fun!”

‘They will.’ Rod grumbled to himself. But on this occasion he kowtowed to his rebellious side and decided to sneak out anyway. ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ He reasoned. ‘They shove me into that closet for a few hours! Hell, it’s become like my second bedroom anyway! They take away my birthday allowance from my grandparents! So what?! I’ve almost saved up enough over the years to escape this wretched hell hole and go live in Canada if it came to it anyway! So why not go out and have fun? After all these weeks studying, surely I've earned a few hours of Nicky indulgence! Besides, I’m almost 15 years old now! Surely I’m allowed some independence!’

Feeling better at the mere prospect of sneaking out with Nicky. Rod decided that this time, to hell with the rules! To hell with the consequences! And especially, to hell with those narcissistic prison wardens that call themselves his parents! Screw them and their posh dinner parties! And fancy lunches! He deserved to have fun too! Didn’t he?’

“Okay Nicky!” Rod agreed, “Let’s do it! Let’s go to Fantasy World!” He cheered and shook his thin arms in the air in excitement.

Nicky corrected him, “Fan-tazimo World!" Before he cheered too, “Yay! Hooray! Woohoo! Fan-tazimo, here we come! You rule Rod!” He grinned wildly and plunged forward to hug his bashful friend.

Rod blushed, “Nicky!” He exclaimed, as he quickly brushed his friend’s arms away from him. Before adding in a more serious tone, “Look, Nicky, I’ll come all right. But first I need to leave a note for my parents, to let them know where we’ve gone.” He grabbed his fountain pen and a piece of his best writing paper, and wrote out a message as neatly as he could, to briefly explain his departure to his parents.

----- ROD’S NOTE TO HIS PARENTS -----

Dear Mother and Father,

Me and Nicholas Taylor left the house at 1.15pm to visit Fan-tazimo World amusement park, for a short study break and play date. However, please do not worry, as I promise I will be back in a couple of hours to finish my extra reading, homework assignments and housework chores.

Many thanks again Mother for the lovely cucumber sandwich you made me earlier. And many thanks to both of you for all your support and understanding today. It honestly is very much appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle

----- END OF ROD’S NOTE -----


“Why you writing an essay Rod?! Just put, gone to park or somethin’. We’re only going to be gone a few hours!” Nicky tapped his foot impatiently, as Rod continued to worry about the wording in his note.

Rod frowned, “Nicky, I need the note to be as accurate and respectful as possible! I must get the wording just right!” He nervously nibbled lightly on the tip of his pen. Poor Rod still felt very worried about leaving without talking to his parents face to face first. But as they had gone out and left him alone, he didn’t have much choice. Did he? He gulped hard, as Nicky patted him on the shoulder.

“Come on buddy! I’m sure they won’t mind, right Rod? You’ve been working all week non-stop after all! When did you start studying this mornin’ buddy?”

“Seven.” Rod answered bluntly.

“Jesus Christ Rod! God your parents are such slave drivers! I didn’t even get out of bed ‘til gone eleven!”

Rod rolled his eyes. “Well, that’s the difference between our parents, isn’t it Nicky?” He smiled somewhat shakily at his still uneasy looking friend, as Nicky squeezed his hand.

“You sure you’re okay buddy?” Nicky asked, the concern clearly evident in his tone.

Rod gulped again, as he slid his hand from Nicky's sweaty grasp. “Yes. I’m fine Nicky. How far is it to this place?”

“Just ten to fifteen minutes on the bus I think. Should be one along soon. So better get movin’!”

“Have you got money for the bus fare?” Rod asked.

“Um, oh. Oops. Good point buddy.” Nicky’s face dropped in disappointment.

Rod sighed, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a little change in my piggy bank.” He quickly opened his secret savings pig, and tipped out a few dozen quarters. Before tipping them into his largest coin purse and handing them to Nicky.

“Yay! You’re the best buddy!” Nicky beamed.

“All right! Let’s do this thing!” Rod cheered again, with as much excitement as he could muster, to disguise his clearly anxiety ridden expression. “I’ll just put this note on the table in the hall way. My parents should see it there as soon as they return.”

Nicky smiled in anticipation, as excitement flooded back onto his face too. “Yeah! This is gonna be so awesome!”

----- LATER AT THE AMUSEMENT PARK -----

“Come on Rod! Let’s go!” Nicky grabbed hold of his friend’s arm and tugged him towards the biggest, most daunting roller-coaster ride in the park. The Thunder Bolt.

Rod stared up at the immense metal structure towering above him, at its many tangled spaghetti networks of loops, twists and turns. He gulped, and stuttered, “Look Nicky, I… I’m not sure. I'm not sure I feel up to a big ride yet. How about a nice quiet ride instead? Like, like that!” He pointed to something that looked much less intimidating and tranquil.

“The Tea Cups?!” Nicky said in distaste.

“Yes.” Rod confirmed. Although really he’d much rather just sit quietly on the all too enticing bench he’d spotted in the distance, eat some candy floss and stare fervidly into Nicky's deep brown eyes. Or you know, something more like that.

“Oh.” Nicky said, sounding somewhat disappointed. But realizing how anxious his friend must be, given that he’d never even been to an amusement park before, he agreed. “Um, okay. Let’s do it Rod buddy!”

They were just about to head off to the Tea Cup ride, when someone grabbed Nicky’s arm. “Hi Nicky”

Rod cringed. He knew that voice all too well. Laura Birchwood. Or, as he nicknamed her, Laura Bitchwood! She’d been flirting with Nicky for weeks now! But so far, thank goodness, Nicky hadn’t picked up on it. Not that Rod was jealous or anything. Of course not! How ridiculous would that be? No, he wasn't jealous! It was just that she was a terrible tease! A notorious slut! And Nicky deserved better!

Nicky span around in surprise. “Laura?!”

“So, cutie!" Laura flirted. "You going on the Thunder Bolt?” She asked, the sickly sweet shrillness in her voice almost compelling Rod's heartsick stomach to fetch up his lunch.

“Um, no.” Nicky smiled at Rod. “We’re going on the Tea Cups.”

“The Tea Cups?!” Laura burst out laughing, “You’re kidding, right?!”

“No.” Nicky frowned. “Look, its Rod’s first time at an amusement park and he’s a little…” He trailed off, realizing that he was probably embarrassing his friend.

“Oh. Right.” Laura said, trying her best to stop laughing, but failing miserably. “Well, how about Rod goes on the Tea Cups then. And you and I go on the Thunder Bolt!” She smoothed down her hair, and twirled a loose lock with her finger seductively.

Rod thought. ‘Oh please! You wish your hair was as smooth as mine you skank!’

Nicky, completely ignoring Laura’s flirtatious attitude, stared over at the ride longingly. But he couldn’t ditch Rod! Could he? He turned to Rod and stared at him expectantly. “Look Rod buddy, do you mind if maybe…” He trailed off.

Not able to ignore that pleading puppy-like stare in his sweetheart’s eyes, Rod sighed inwardly. He knew that Nicky was dying to go on the Thunder Bolt, so he couldn’t deny him that wish. But, at the same time he couldn’t risk leaving him alone with that slut either! Who knows what she might do to his sweet and innocent Nicky if he left them alone together! So, there was only one solution.

Rod swallowed hard. “Um, look, maybe I was being a little hasty before. Er, maybe I do feel up to going on the Thunder Bolt, after all.”

“Yeah?” Nicky didn’t sound convinced.

“Um, yeah. Can’t wait!” Rod said, feigning enthusiasm.

“Awesome! You’ll love it buddy! I promise!” Nicky bounded after Laura, as she swaggered ahead of them, her hips swaying to an obnoxiously exaggerated extent.

Rod scowled at the back of Laura’s head, as she interlocked her arm with Nicky's, and the three of them joined the long queue for the Thunder Bolt.

After an agonizing fifteen minutes in the queue, finally it was time. Rod could feel explosive bursts of anxiety in his stomach. ‘What the hell am I doing?’ He thought. ‘What the hell was I thinking?! I can’t do this! I can't even ride on a bus without feeling giddy! I have to get off right now!’ But it was too late, the ride attendant grabbed hold of his arm and practically shoved him into the front seat.

“Um…” Rod said shaking fiercely. “I… Um... I don’t feel so good. I don’t think I can do this.” He tried to stand up.

But the attendant didn’t seem to care, as he blocked Rod's attempts to escape with his arm. “Look kid, just buckle up! And it’ll all be over in a couple of minutes!” He firmly pushed Rod back into the seat by his shoulder, before disappearing out of view. “Next!”

Nicky, who had been completely preoccupied by Laura’s flirting, turned to his flustered friend. “You okay buddy?”

“Um… Not really.” Rod said shakily. “I think I want to get off.”

“Aww, don’t worry buddy. You’ll be fine! I’ll be right here next to you!” Nicky reassured Rod, as he clicked his safety harness into place.

Rod gulped hard and closed his eyes, as the carriage jerked forward and slowly edged towards the first ramp. That was until he felt a warm soft hand on his own. He half opened his eyes. “Nicky?” His heart fluttered.

But any fuzzy romantic thoughts that may have momentarily fluttered into his mind, were instantly replaced by pure terror, as he felt himself plummeting towards the ground at 50 miles an hour! “Nicky!” He wailed.

----- AFTER THE RIDE -----

After one of the most nauseating experiences of his life, Rod stumbled spasmodically off the roller-coaster. His legs shaking like leaves in a hurricane!

As soon as they were out of the exit path he doubled up, and stared down at the cold hard concrete. Concrete, which to him, seemed to be spinning a mile a second!

“Rod buddy? You okay?” Nicky asked, putting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.

“Um, no, not really.” Rod choked. If Laura had made him feel metaphorically sick earlier, well, now it seemed she had inadvertently made him feel genuinely physically sick too!

Laura bent down in front of him. “Aww poor little Rod. Was that ride a bit too scary for you?” She asked, in a very patronizing tone.

Rod felt so dizzy, he could hardly stand. And the taunts of his arch nemesis, only made his nausea all the more unbearable. “Um, I really don’t feel so good.” That was it. He couldn’t contain it any longer! And he threw up bits of apple and his half-digested cucumber sandwich, all over Laura.

“Eww yuck! Gross!” She screamed. “Your friend is disgusting Nicky!”

Nicky frowned at her and tenderly turned to Rod, but for Rod everything was turning a very blurry shade of purple, as he started falling towards the concrete. Until THWACK! He collapsed on the ground.

----- ROD WAKES UP -----

As Rod opened his eyes, at first all he could see was a green blur. He winced in the bright light and felt to check that his glasses were still intact. They were. And as his vision gradually sharpened, the green blur slowly came into focus.

“Nicky?” Rod strained, his head still spinning. Brushing his hand to his forehead, he could feel something cotton. He winced at the pain.

"Jeez, careful Rod buddy! You have a nasty bruise there. But the doctor gave me some painkillers to give you. Said if you take them when you wake up, than you should start feelin' better soon." Nicky smiled down at him cheerfully. However, the concern in his eyes was undeniable. He passed the Tylenol tablets in his hand to Rod, and handed him a glass of water.

“Huh? What? Nicky? What happened?” Rod wheezed in confusion, as he somewhat reluctantly swallowed the tablets.

“Well, first you threw up all over Laura. That was hilarious by the way!” Nicky grinned. ”But don’t tell her I said that.” He winked. “And then, well then you kinda passed out and banged your head on the ground.”

“Where am I?” Rod asked in panic, now realizing that he was lying on a bed.

Nicky’s face wrinkled in thought for a few moments. “Um, a kinda hospital I think.”

“Hospital?!” Rod said in alarm. ‘My parents are going to ground me for a year!’ He thought, as he began to freak-out. 'They'll probably expect me to pay the hospital bills out of my saved up birthday money too!' He gasped, as he realized he may have to wave goodbye to his escape fund.

“Rod calm down! You’re okay! But you really need to take it easy buddy!”

Rod looked around, and upon seeing a man in a rabbit suit with the headpiece off, he realized that this wasn’t a real hospital. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Nicky, when you say kind of hospital, do you really mean the amusement park First Aid Station?” Rod asked.

“Oh. Yeah.” Nicky slapped himself on the head. “Doh! That’s what I meant! Sorry Rod. Couldn’t remember what it was called.” Nicky rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“How did I get here?”

“I carried you buddy.”

“You, you, what?!” Rod said, trying to get up, but he was still too dizzy.

“Jeez, take it easy Rod buddy! You don’t wanna end up having to go to a real hospital too do you?” Nicky said jokingly, yet still clearly concerned.

“You, you, you carried me?!” Rod squealed, “But, but, but I’m too, too heavy to carry!” He could hardly believe it. He’d been carried, actually carried by his secret sweetheart! Possibly quite a distance. And he’d been unconscious the whole time?! ‘Just my luck!’ He thought. ‘Why, oh why do I always have to miss out on the best moments of my life?!’

“Nah. Don’t be silly buddy! You’re not heavy Rod. Not in the slightest! In fact, carrying you was a breeze! Cuz you’re light as a feather!” Nicky smiled down at his friend. But soon frowned in concern again. “You know, you really need to eat more Rod! I’m gettin’ super worried about you buddy! Cuz you’re lookin’ shockingly thin! Even for a healthy nerd like you!” Nicky stroked Rod’s poor fragile hand, but then gulped down his guilt. “Hey Rod buddy, I confess, I couldn’t resist! I um…”

“Couldn’t resist what Nicky?” Rod asked, as he put his hand to his poor throbbing temples.

“Well, gee Rod. I was just so hungry is all.” Nicky looked down, as he picked up the object of his earlier craving, and held it up for Rod to see. “I spent the rest of your quarters on this super sub, while the doctor was looking at your bruise. I had to buddy! It was calling out to me!”

“Nicky.” Rod shook his head slightly, but he wasn’t really mad or anything.

“Anywho, here buddy, why don’t you have the rest of my super sub? I think that’ll help.” He passed the remaining third of his mostly eaten cheese sandwich to Rod.

As Rod stared up at Nicky, he felt mesmerized by the way his deep brown eyes seemed to sparkle in the soft glow of the afternoon sunlight. He gulped. At times like this, he could swear Nicky's lovable caring nature radiated from the very depths of his soul, through those warm eyes, and into his own. And, as he gazed into those mystifyingly compassionate pools, for a brief moment, Rod felt truly and completely safe.

Maybe it was sheer adoration. Maybe it was because the painkillers had just started to kick in. But Rod could feel his head swimming with pleasure.

“Thanks.” Rod smiled up at his hero, at his Nicky.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Rod sighed sadly, as Nicky’s ’But I’m not gay!’ announcement forced its way back onto the center stage of his mind. In an instant, it felt like a million poisoned needles had been thrust upon his chest. And the heartbreaking statement quickly drowned out any warm fuzzy romantic feelings that were beginning to rekindle in his soul. He despaired inwardly, 'Why, oh why does my love life have to be such a turbulent never-ending roller coaster ride?!'

Still, knowing that Nicky could return at any moment, Rod stumbled out of bed to re-hide the tear stained diary in his desk drawer. Whatever happened, he knew that his roommate must never find this sinful document. Because if he did, surely the shame of his secret desires would destroy their friendship forever! He sniffed, as he staggered across the dark room back to bed, and torturous thoughts continued to bombard his poor weary mind. He knew that Nicky would hate him if he ever found out the truth. And that one thought hurt more than any other.

Rod pulled his duvet back over his head to hide his imminent breakdown. ‘I swear, this roller coaster love will be the death of me! One second I’m in heaven! And it feels like I’m floating on a euphoric cloud of pure ecstasy, wrapped in a rambunctious rainbow of adoration! Then the next, I’m in hell. Sinking into a deep dark black hole of hopeless oblivion! Constantly ricocheting from one extreme emotion to another! Stuck forever in a short circuiting cycle, alternating between nightmare and fantasy! My poor heart can barely take the strain! I feel like I’m losing my mind!’ He dragged his fingers roughly through his once perfectly styled hair.

Rod shivered, ‘Surely it can’t be emotionally healthy?’ He shuddered at the implications of his train of thought, as he remembered the advice Dr Burbeck had given to suffers of unrequited love, on the radio documentary earlier.

”I think that the best treatment for unrequited love, is to move as far away from the subject of your affection as possible. Nothing beats removing the root of the problem with a nice brisk clean cut, as it were. You have to get rid of the cause. Get that person who is causing you such heartache out of your life! Get as far away from them as possible! If you don’t, the price you end up paying may well be your very sanity itself!”

Rod gulped, as a waterfall of salty tears trickled down his cheek for the umpteenth time that day. “Come on! Not again!” He whimpered. He had lost count of how many tears he had shed over the last few days!

‘You know what you have to do!’ Rod’s rational side reminded him harshly, with no sympathetic edge.

‘I can’t leave Nicky! I just can’t!’ His heartbroken center yelled back defensively, as he broke down into yet another fit of uncontrollable sobbing.

Chapter Text

Startled out of his sobbing fit by a loud PING on his smartphone, Rod reached out his shaky arm from under the duvet and pulled it inside his blanket cave.  After wiping away his tears again, he clicked on the news alert. And began reading the article to distract himself from his heartache woes. However, unfortunately, he didn’t get far before he gasped in astonishment. ‘You have got to be kidding me?!’ He thought, as even the news article seemed relevant to his current relationship crisis.

----- ROD READS FROM HIS SMARTPHONE -----

Climate Change Induced Stress, Creates A Toxic Relationship In Coral Reefs!

As you probably know, relationships are always best when they are equal. Because unequal relationships inevitably result in the suffering and downfall of at least one, if not both, of the individuals involved. Relationships also fare better when stress is limited. And both of these factors influence the outcome of all types of biological relationships, including those found in the ocean.

Just a quick reminder for all the non-scientists reading this article. Symbiosis, a word originating from the Greek phrase ‘living together’, involves any close relationship between two individuals, where at least one individual benefits from the arrangement. In mutualistic relationships, both individuals benefit from the association. However, in parasitic relationships, one individual (the parasite) benefits at the expense of the other (the host).

----- ROD STOPS READING -----


Rod gulped, ‘Oh God.’ He thought, ‘I wonder which type of relationship applies to me and Nicky?’ He looked away from the screen for a moment, as he continued to hear Nicky bang about in the kitchen. ‘Please don’t say it’s the parasitic one! Nicky can’t be a parasite? Surely?! He’s much too cute to be a parasite, right?!’

However, just as Rod started to panic at the possibility, he heard a loud SMASH echo through the walls from the kitchen. And he rolled his eyes, as he shouted out from under the duvet, “Nicholas Taylor! What on Earth are you doing in there?!”

Nicky shouted back, “Sorry Rod! Nothin’ buddy! Promise! Go back to sleep!”

Rod groaned, “Well, it doesn't sound like nothing Nicky! But I'm much too tired for your antics! So whatever it is you've done in there! It better be fixed by the time I wake up in the morning! Yes?!"

"Sure thing buddy!" Nicky hollered back.

Rod sighed heavily, and returned his attention to the article on his phone.

----- ROD READS FROM HIS SMARTPHONE -----

A coral polyp cannot produce its own food. So, to ensure its needs are met, it forms a symbiotic relationship with a photosynthetic energy generating algae. The hard working algae provides food (mainly sugars and proteins) for the coral polyp, via photosynthesis.  And in exchange, the coral polyp makes the algae feel at home. Protecting it from predators and keeping it safe from harm.

However, when under stress the algae becomes disturbed. And when overly stressed, produces toxic chemicals that repel the coral polyp. Causing the relationship between the two organisms to break down. Leaving the algae alone and vulnerable. And the coral polyp without a source of food.

----- ROD STOPS READING -----


Rod could barely believe it! Because the description seemed strangely applicable to his and Nicky’s relationship! It seemed crazy! And yet, he was clearly the algae. The algae working hard on Wall Street to generate food for the Nicky coral polyp, via investment banking. And in exchange, the Nicky coral polyp made him feel at home. Protecting him from bullies and keeping him safe from harm.

Then, when Rod became overly stressed, like the algae, he became toxic. And ended up repelling the Nicky coral polyp. Causing the relationship between them to break down. Leaving him, the algae, alone and vulnerable.  And the Nicky coral polyp without a source of food.

Intrigued, Rod continued to read.

----- ROD READS FROM HIS SMARTPHONE -----

In recent years, scientists have been researching ways to save these threatened symbiotic coral relationships. The most effective solution to the problem, seems to be to reduce the level of stress experienced by the algae. Because this prevents the algae from becoming toxic. And thus, ensures that the relationship between the two organisms can be sustained. In time, it is hoped that with help from scientists, endangered coral reefs can be saved.

----- ROD STOPS READING -----



Rod gasped, as he remembered yet another layer of importance to this whole story. Because, weirdly enough, just over three years ago, endangered coral reefs had almost caused a huge rift to form in his and Nicky’s friendship.

Could it be a sign? A sign that he needed to let go? Or a sign that he needed to hang on? He put his phone back into standby mode and dropped it back on the nightstand. Before rubbing his hands roughly down his tear stricken face, frustrated that he couldn’t figure out what the sign meant.

Rod and Nicky had lived together for over 7 years now. A long time for a symbiotic relationship to last for sure. But was it a mutualistic relationship, that benefited both of them? Or was it a parasitic relationship, where Nicky benefited at his expense? Or worse still, was it a parasitic relationship where he benefited at Nicky’s expense?!

Rod’s head spun wildly, as he wrestled with all these new ideas. And struggled to figure out which category his and Nicky’s symbiotic relationship might belong in.

However, overwhelmed by his emotions, poor Rod quickly abandoned his scientific assessment of the situation. He tugged his pillow back down over his head. “Gah!” He exclaimed. Before after a few moments of silence, he popped his head back out from his cave. And sighed wistfully, as he remembered the day Nicky had accepted his invitation to continue living with him after college.

----- FLASHBACK (ROD  OFFERS TO FINANCIALLY SUPPORT NICKY) -----

“Okay Mom. Yeah, I love you marshmallow loads too. I’ll think about it. Promise. Yeah, I’ll let you know tomorrow. Love you! Bye.” As Nicky hung up the phone, he stared blankly at the wall. His face one of utter shock.

On his way back to his desk from the bathroom, Rod smiled over at Nicky. And asked, “So, how’s your mother doing?” But his usually joyful friend didn’t even return the cheerful gesture, let alone answer the question. In fact, he was barely moving, he’d become so uncharacteristically somber and statue-like. And as soon as Rod spotted the look of bleak dejectedness on his roommate’s face, that was it! He knew something was amiss! And his own face quickly took on an anxious configuration in response.

“Nicky? Hello, Nicky? Can you hear me? Nicky, is everything okay?” But still getting no reply, Rod rushed over to him, to shake him out of his despondency by the shoulders. “Nicky, you’re scaring me! What’s wrong?! Talk to me Nicky!” His volume increased, as he rapidly became more and more agitated.

Nicky looked down sadly, and swallowed hard. “That was my Mom.”

“I know that Nicky! What, what’s wrong? Has something terrible happened?! Has someone been in an accident or something?!” Rod stared at his roommate, with intense desperate concern.

Nicky slowly shook his head. “Um, no. No, no one’s had an accident Rod.” He sniffed, as his eyes continued to look dull in the midst of his glazed expression.

“Then what’s the matter Nicky?! Talk to me!” Rod shook his roommate by the shoulders again, as he frantically tried to get more information out of him.

“It’s my parents Rod, my family…” Nicky began slowly, with long pauses between his words, “They, um. They’re moving.”

“Moving?” Rod asked somewhat nervously, “Where are they moving to? A different state? Are they going to move nearer New York?!” Rod started to feel excited by the prospect, as unusually for him, his guess spun off on a more optimistic track.

Nicky gulped, “Um, no Rod.” He shook his head.

“Oh. Um, they’re moving to a different part of the coastline then? I know your Dad has been struggling to find work as a marine biologist in Mississippi.”

“No Rod. They’re not movin’ to another state. They’re movin’ to Australia.”

“What?! Australia?! You’re joking right?!” Rod started laughing hysterically. “Right?!” He stared at his dazed roommate pointedly. “Please tell me you’re joking?!”

“Nah. Not joking Rod. They want me to go with them.” Nicky said, still looking out of phase with reality. “They have to move to a place called Brisbane in Queensland. My Dad got offered a job at the Queensland University of Technology. Workin’ on a project to save the Great Barrier Reef from climate change and all. And well, gee, like you said he’s been struggling to find another job for months now. You know, after he lost his last one. So, yeah, he couldn’t turn it down. Besides, he’s always been passionate about savin’ the reef and all. So, I know he’ll be happy out there.”

Rod gulped hard, still hoping this was all just one of Nicky’s jokes that he didn’t get. And that his friend would come out with the punch line any minute. But nothing. Just silence between them.

Rod started breathing ever more erratically, as the full horror of the news sunk in. So he loosened his tie, and took a few puffs on his inhaler. He knew with his investment banking internship on Wall Street confirmed, his fate in New York was sealed. And there was no way he could get out of it. No way he could move with Nicky to Australia if the need arose. No matter how much he wanted to, and boy did he want to! Indeed, there was no doubt in his mind that he’d follow Nicky to the end of the universe and back, if that’s what it took to be by his side! But he just couldn’t afford to move to Australia right now. Probably not ever! Especially, given his long list of financial commitments back home.

“Nicky? What? Why? How? When?” Rod began firing off every question at once, as he struggled to wrap his mind around the situation.

“Tomorrow.” Nicky gulped.

“Tomorrow?! Don’t be silly Nicky! No one moves to Australia over night! That’s ridiculous!” Rod rolled his eyes.

“Nah, I mean. They want me to decide if I’m goin’ to go with them by tomorrow. They have to start making arrangements and stuff.” Nicky shuffled his feet around restlessly on the floor.

Rod, shaking like a leaf, slowly lowered himself onto the bed next to Nicky. “You, you, you can’t go to Australia Nicky!” He stuttered, as he felt a crippling feeling of loneliness wash over him.

“What am I supposed to do Rod? College has finished now, and our tenancy agreement here runs out in the next couple of weeks, right?”

Rod gulped hard. “Um, yes. The agreement ends at the end of the month.” He confirmed. But quickly added, “Just over three weeks left.”

“And jeez, I don’t have a job sorted like you. So, I gotta go, right? Don’t I buddy?” Nicky looked over at Rod sadly, tears quickly forming in the corners of his deep brown eyes.

“No, no, no. I mean, no. No you don’t Nicky!” Rod stuttered again, struggling to organize his thoughts.

“Well jeez, yeah I kinda do.” Nicky sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. “Like I said, I was gonna go home soon, just chill for a bit. You know, ‘til I get myself sorted and all. But now no one’s gonna be there. Cuz they’ll be in Austria.”

“You mean Australia?” Rod corrected him.

“Oh, gee.” Nicky uttered a half-hearted chuckle. “Yeah. Silly me.” Before he continued to stare dejectedly at the wall, over Rod’s shoulder.

“Nicky, you can’t…” Rod trailed off, as he felt his emotional barrier break down, and his eyes quickly well up with tears.

A tear seemed to be trickling down Nicky’s cheek too, as he sighed heavily, “I’m gonna miss you so much buddy. So so much! I wish I didn’t have to go.” He sniffed hard, and quickly wiped away his tear with his sweater sleeve.

Rod gulped back his sadness, and for the first time in his life, let his instinct take charge, as he did something that he had never done before. He leaned over and threw his arms around his friend. “Please don’t go!” He sobbed onto Nicky’s shoulder.

Nicky hugged Rod back. “I have to Rod. I can’t afford the rent round here anywho. Not without my student loan money and parents help. You know that, right?”

Rod whimpered, as he tightened his grip on Nicky’s sweater hood. “No, don’t go! You can live with me!” He blurted out in the midst of his sobs.

Nicky sighed again, “No Rod. I can’t.” He hugged his friend as close as he could. “I would. I mean, jeez, course I’d love to buddy! I’d love that more than anythin’. I just, um, can’t afford the rent is all. Jeez, to be honest, I can’t afford much of anythin’ round here without my loan money, buddy. So I wouldn’t be able to pay for groceries or nothin’. I know, sucks don’t it?” He muttered, as he rubbed his friend’s back to comfort him. Moving his other hand up to stroke the back of Rod’s neck lightly. “Jeez, I suck!”

“I’ll… I’ll… take care of all that!” Rod offered, as he pulled away from Nicky, straightened his glasses, and did his best to pull himself together. Swiftly wiping away all his tears with his jacket sleeve.
“Huh? Buddy? What?” Nicky looked slightly skeptical, and somewhat shocked by Rod’s apparent generosity.

Rod rubbed his hands together nervously. “Yes. Look, I was going to suggest that anyway Nicky, actually. I was just, um, waiting for the right moment. But I guess, this is it. I’ve got an apartment lined up. And well, I’d love it if you would come and live with me.”

“You serious buddy?” Nicky stared across at Rod longingly, as hope slowly returned to his deep brown eyes.

Rod nodded, as he swallowed back his remaining sadness. “Yes. Of course I am.”

“You sure buddy? That seems like too much to ask, and I don’t wanna take…”

Rod quickly interrupted him, “Course I’m sure. Don’t be silly! You’d be doing me a favor actually.” He forced a smile.

“Yeah?” Nicky didn’t look convinced.

Rod nodded again. “Yes. I really don’t want to live all on my own. And you know I haven’t really got any other friends round here. Well, anywhere really, so…”

Now it was Nicky’s turn to throw his arms around Rod. “Oh Rod. You really sure buddy? I’d love that, you know! I’d really really love it! You’re the bestest best buddy in the world!”

“Sure Nicky.” Rod smiled, as he switched from a state of utter terror to one of ecstatic happiness. For weeks he had been dropping hints here, there and everywhere. All of which, his dopey companion seem to have missed. Poor Rod had just been so scared of rejection, that he hadn’t been able to bring himself to ask Nicky to live with him directly. He had been beyond nervous actually. Terrified in fact. Terrified that Nicky would say no, then go and move back with his parents over a thousand miles away in Mississippi anyway. But as it turns out, Rod needn’t have worried, as his soppy best friend was clearly delighted by the prospect.

Rod could feel his tears shift from ones of sadness to ones of joy, as Nicky continued to hug him tightly. But wait, maybe Nicky was hugging him a little too tightly? Maybe his friend was getting a little too close? As panic rapidly set in, Rod soon felt all too vulnerable in Nicky’s grasp. He gulped, as his body stiffened. Then, keen to restore their socially acceptable boundaries, he abruptly, but gently, pushed his friend away again. “Um, good. I’m glad that’s all settled Nicky. I will let the landlord know that he can stop looking for a roommate for me.” Rod had no idea why he included that last lie. But for some reason he suddenly felt very exposed, after so desperately asking Nicky to live with him like that.

Nicky forced a smile at his friend, “Oh. I thought you said?”

Rod’s eyes darted around the room, as he nervously avoided his friend’s gaze again. “Um, yes. Well, you’re my number one pick for a roommate. But, well, you know how it is?” He forced a smile back.

However, still feeling very self-conscious, Rod decided maybe it was best to put out his hand for Nicky to shake. Because that seemed like a more straight friend way to formalize the agreement. Right?

Nicky’s face contorted into one of puzzlement for a moment, as he somewhat reluctantly took Rod’s outstretched hand in his. “Oh, gee. Yeah.” But he didn’t stay puzzled for long, quickly switching back to his jubilant celebratory outlook. “Hooray! I’m so excited buddy! This is going to be so awesome! The most awesome of all the awesomes!” He cheered and bounced up onto his bed.

“Nicky?!” Rod rolled his eyes, as he stood up and frantically tried to pull his inappropriately bouncy friend off the bed. “Nicky! You know we can still be charged extra for damage, right?” He stared at his dopey friend pointedly. And Nicky slowly realized maybe he was getting a little too carried away.

“Um, oh, jeez. Sorry Rod.” Still, Nicky continued to beam at his friend, as he leapt down off the bed, and grabbed hold of Rod’s arms to dance around him. “This is beyond awesome! Oh, oh yeah! Woo, woo, hoo! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” He sung a little celebratory song, making up the lyrics as he went. “I love Rod! Yes I do! And I love living with Rod! Yes it’s true!”

“Nicky.” Rod rolled his eyes again, and shook his head, as his over-excited roommate continued to dance around him. Still, he couldn’t help but smile back widely at his all too adorable friend. A big part of him wished that he had been braver, and asked Nicky to live with him much sooner. But he remembered why he didn’t, as he briefly imagined what he might feel like now if Nicky had said no. He gulped again, quickly dismissing the thought from his mind. And forcing his brain to focus on the joyous present.

“Um, look, Nicky. I know you’re going back to your house soon. To spend some time with your family. And, um, say goodbye and everything. Well, I’ve got a few weeks left before my internship starts. So, I thought maybe?” Rod cursed his lingering nerves, as he struggled to complete his request.

Nicky stared at him, as confusion quickly consumed his face once more. “Maybe? What Rod? Just ask me buddy! I promise, whatever it is, I’m so happy right now, I’ll almost certainly say yes!” He beamed at Rod again.

Upon hearing those words of reassurance from his friend, Rod fought back the remainder of his nerves, and forced himself to properly elaborate on his question. “Um, well, you know my parents are having some house renovations done? And, um, things are very hectic over there at the moment?”

Nicky nodded, “Oh yeah. You said buddy.”

Sadly, it seemed that Nicky’s slow brain hadn’t yet fathomed the subtle implication of his reminder. So Rod continued, “Well, look… And you can say no, of course you can! Because I know it’s a lot to ask! And it’s a lot to ask your parents with all this going on! But, well… Um, I just wondered, if maybe…” Rod trailed off, still struggling to get his words in the right order.

“Maybe what Rod?” Nicky rested a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Maybe, I could come and, um, stay at your house for a while?” Rod gulped for the umpteenth time. And shivered with nerves, as he waited for Nicky’s all important response.

“Is that all?!” Nicky laughed. “Yeah! Course you can buddy! I’m sure my parents would love to have you stay over! And I’d love it! You might have to sleep on the floor though, not sure. Well, unless you don’t mind snuggling up next to me in my bed?” Nicky paused for a moment, to lick his lips, as he stared over weirdly longingly at his friend again. “My bed’s pretty small. So might be a bit of a squeeze buddy. But I’d squeeze up for you!” His smile widened further still, as he winked at Rod.

Rod’s face quickly flushed bright pink. “Um, well… I… I… I… I don’t know about that Nicky!” He stuttered, as he visualized the idea all too vividly in his head. So vividly in fact, that he soon had to dash over to his bed and cover his shame.

Nicky shot him an odd look. “Why you goin’ to bed Rod?! It’s only eight thirty?”

Poor Rod now looked very flustered indeed, as he faked a deep yawn. “Well, I’m just, um…” He forced another yawn. “Feeling so tired Nicky. Been a long day, right? A very long day for me actually. I’ve been up since five thirty this morning you know!” He quickly latched on to the excuse, as it was reassuringly true. Indeed, the fact about him feeling overwhelmingly tired, was also true. And Rod struggled to keep his poor long suffering eyes open, as a string of genuine yawns soon took over from his fabricated ones.

Nicky still looked confused. “But Rod, you didn’t even get into your pajamas buddy?! Jeez! You’ve still got your suit and tie on for monkey’s sake!”

Rod’s cheeks continued to flush, as he realized Nicky was right. “Um, well, look all my pajamas are still in the wash Nicky! And, I’m just too tired to get changed now! It’s only one time right? You go to sleep in your clothes practically every night!” He yelled defensively, as he pulled his duvet up to his chin and agitatedly snuggled against his pillow.

Nicky rolled his eyes. “Jeez, no need to get all defensive ‘bout it Rod!”

“I’m not getting defensive!” Rod screeched back.

Nicky smiled and shook his head in loving adoration. “Okay Rod. Whatever you say buddy. I can’t wait for our sleepovers though! It’s gonna be so awesome! Everythin’s gonna be awesome from now on buddy! Promise!”

As Nicky continued to grin wildly at him, Rod couldn’t help but feel his heart melt. He felt like he was in heaven, as a cascade of comfortingly passionate sensations flooded onto the inherently jagged landscape of his soul. Because when he was with Nicky, Rod felt truly at home. More at home than he had ever felt anywhere else.

Nicky said, “Look buddy, you get some rest okay? You need it! I’ll call my Mom back and fill her in on everythin’. Let her know I’m gonna move in with my bestest buddy!”

“Okay Nicky.” Exhausted, Rod sighed happily, as his eyes slowly closed. And even though he was still in his suit and tie, it wasn’t long before he quickly drifted off into zonkland. And his highly skilled imagination conjured up one of the most delicious Nicky dreams he had ever had in his life!

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Rod sighed happily again. That Nicky dream had been so wonderfully vivid, that he could almost walk into the memory. And as he thought about the enticing details, Rod’s adept imagination rapidly took over once more, as his exhaustion defeated him. He moaned happily, as he snuggled against his soft squishy pillow. “Oh my God Nicky! You’re so warm and cuddly! We really need to do this more often.” He muttered, as he quickly fell into a deep passionate sleep.

Chapter Text

While Rod read about symbiosis and wondered how the concept might apply to the bond between him and Nicky, the Nicky in question, as usual, had been thinking with his stomach.

----- IN THE APARTMENT KITCHEN TEN MINUTES BEFORE ROD FELL ASLEEP -----

Unable to resist an intense craving for his favorite midnight snack, cookies and milk, Nicky relentlessly clattered about in the kitchen. His grumbly stomach refusing to give up the cookie search, no matter how badly the rest of his organs wanted to sleep!

Unfortunately, Nicky’s earlier alcoholic binge fest had severely hampered his hunger quashing endeavors, as he had failed to pinpoint the snack in his usual swift stealthy fashion. Indeed, on this occasion, all subtlety had been thrown in the trash, as Nicky had chaotically emptied every single one of Rod’s meticulously organized cupboards. Stacking everything haphazardly on top of the work surfaces around him, he felt like he was playing some demented game of Jenga! And well, naturally, that hadn't made his cookie hunt any easier! Because Nicky now stood in the middle of a disorienting kitchenware jungle, surrounded by a mountainous landscape of pots, pans, and dishes! He sighed in frustration, as the maze of objects became like a prison for his sugar lust.

‘Jeez, how did a simple search for a cookie jar become such a post-apocalyptic nightmare?’ Nicky thought, as he tried his best to keep his balance, and not tumble backwards into one of the unstable towers behind him. However, sadly, it had become increasingly difficult for him to maneuver his wobbly drunken body around the chaotic assortment of items, without jeopardizing his mission! And the last thing he wanted to do was provoke the wrath of his exhausted grouchy Grinch of a roommate!

Nevertheless, it was only after Nicky had emptied out the very last cupboard, that he had a sudden, yet rather obvious realization. Well, a realization that would have been obvious, had he not been so intoxicated! Because it wasn’t that he couldn’t remember where the cookie jar was kept. No. It was that his roommate, in typical Rod style, had hidden it from him!

Nicky groaned and muttered in annoyance, “Jeez, not again Rod! I'm a grown man for monkey’s sake! And if I wanna sneak a few cookies in the night, that should be up to me! Cuz we live in America! And sweet land of liberty, means freedom to eat sugary snacks when you get the munchies!”

Nicky was just about to give up, when he caught a glimpse of something resembling a jar, on top of one of the cabinets. He leaned back to get a better view. And voila! There it was! The holy cookie grail he’d been searching for all this time! He cheered, happy to see the jar’s familiar red stripes, “Ah ha! Yes! At last! I found you! You lose Rod!” He cried in triumph, as he reached up towards it. But it was no use. He wasn’t quite tall enough, no matter how hard he stretched!

‘Damn it!’ Nicky cursed his predicament, ‘I can’t wait any longer! Jeez, why do you always deny me my pleasures Rod buddy?! You know I need my sugar fix!’

Now, at this point, any sensible person would have gone to get a chair or stepladder to stand on. But not Nicky. Well, at least not drunken Nicky! Oh no! He had a different solution in mind!

His desire fueled purely by grumbles from his stomach, Nicky jumped up repeatedly to inch the jar forwards with his fingers. ‘Yes! Almost! Nearly there! Just a smidge further!’ He thought, as it slowly slid towards him, moving a little closer with each nudge. Until, unfortunately, just as he was about to grab hold of it properly, SMASH! It slipped from his grasp and shattered on the floor.

”Whoops!” Nicky cringed, as he heard Rod shout from the bedroom.

“Nicholas Taylor! What on Earth are you doing in there?!”

“Sorry Rod!” Nicky shouted back, “Nothin’ buddy! Promise! Go back to sleep!”

"Well, it doesn't sound like nothing Nicky! But I'm much too tired for your antics! So whatever it is you've done in there, it better be fixed by the time I wake up in the morning! Yes?!"

"Sure thing buddy!" Nicky hollered back. Before he gulped down his burning guilt. And trembled, as all trace of excitement vanished from his body, and shame quickly filled the emotional void. He knew he must act quickly to clean up the mess, if he was to keep his cookie crime a secret.

However, still in shock, Nicky froze for a moment, staring in dismay at the pottery shards and crumbs around him. It seemed ridiculous. And yet, in some strange way, it was as if his very spirit had been smashed open alongside the jar. The jagged fragments sprawled across the floor, representing all that was left of his jumbled disorganized emotions.

A few years ago, just before they had moved into this apartment, Rod had told Nicky the jar had been one of the only gifts his parents had ever given him. So he knew how important it was to his friend. He sighed heavily, as Rod’s words about the cookie jar echoed in his mind.

“Nicky, please, always be very careful with this jar. Won’t you? Only, it’s one of the few gifts my parents have ever given me. So it’s very important that it never gets damaged. You understand? I can trust you not to break it? Right? Because I really need to keep it in the kitchen, so that my parents can see it when they visit.”

Nicky felt so annoyed with himself! His impulsive selfish greed always seemed to get the better of him. And now it had caused him to destroy one of his best friend’s most treasured possessions. He felt a sharp pain in his heart, as he picked up a few of the glossy red pottery shards, and placed them in his palm. It was a weird sensation to be sure. But for some bizarre reason, as his hazy alcohol-tinged vision focused on the fragments, they seemed strangely akin to the remnants of his poor splintered soul.

Nicky shivered. The different disconnected regions of his mind twitching in frustration, as he continued to misinterpret their calls to his conscience. He winced, as he struggled to zoom in on their flummoxing treacle-like gooeyness.

’Nicky, to find the clues you seek. Please look to love that’s strong, not weak! And never trust an easy pick. That’s not a cure, it’s just a trick! Pain will persist if you swallow your soul. So play the right role, to reach your true goal! Hope will fade if you hesitate and hide. So let the heart inside, serve as your guide! If only you could comprehend. Your friend would have a happy end. Cuz for a bond to truly stick. You need to make your feelings click! Look to yourself, and the answers you speak. Else the fallout will forever be bleak!’

‘Jeez! What on Earth is my brain trying to tell me?!’ Nicky thought in vexation, as he heard the rain outside thrash against the window. He did his best to focus in on the gloopy muffled messages a moment, keen to find the answers he needed to solve his and Rod’s relationship woes. However, try as he might, he was still unable to interpret the meaning behind the murky ooze of whispers from his subconscious. ‘Damn my marshmallow-ish brain! Why is it always so full of syrup, when I most need it to make sense?!’  He exhaled in frustration, as he screwed his eyes shut to escape the gooey sticky cries, and quickly forced his mind to shift its focus back to reality.

‘Maybe, maybe I can glue them back together?!’ Nicky thought in optimistic desperation, as he tried to jam random fragments against each other. ‘Come on! Please fit! I need you to fit! Please, you belong together! Not apart in pieces!’ However, it quickly became evident that this time, the mess his impulsive selfishness had created, couldn’t be fixed so simply. Because, despite his best efforts, the impossible puzzle of pieces didn’t seem to slot back together as easily as he’d hoped. And he felt a strange cloud of loneliness descend upon him, as he gently caressed the pottery shards in his hand.

A moment ago, Nicky had felt so happy to have found the cookies his roommate had hidden. And his focus had been entirely on satisfying his hunger. But now, all that seemed so trivial, as his best friend’s precious jar lay in bits at his feet. Nicky shuddered. He felt like he had smashed open Pandora’s box, and released all these new troubles upon his and Rod’s relationship. And he could feel his heart beat in wild panic, as he contemplated how upset his bestest buddy was going to be, when he found out what he had done.

Still, unable to cope with such a pessimistic outlook for long, Nicky quickly amped up his optimism to compensate. ‘Maybe Rod won’t mind so much? I mean, jeez, it’s not like he even gets on with his parents, is it? In fact, I don’t think they’ve even visited once! And maybe I can find a replacement. Maybe I can switch it, without him even noticing? Yeah, surely there must be loads of other cookie jars like this one! Think I even saw some in Walmart the other day!’ Now in somewhat happier spirits, he hummed softly to himself, as he continued to collect up the pottery shards into a pile.

Unfortunately, it was difficult for Nicky’s drunken mind to put together a coherent plan to fix the symbolic totem. ‘Rod won’t notice the jar’s missing? Right? Surely. I mean, jeez, he never even eats cookies! Does he?’ He bit his lip, as he tried his best to remember which jar might make the best substitute. ‘Damn! I think the cookie jar in Walmart had blue and white stripes! Not red and white stripes like this one. But, gee, I guess I could just paint the blue stripes red? Yeah? That’ll work, right? Won’t it?’ He did his best to reassure his disturbed conscience, ‘Yeah, I’m sure it would! I’ll buy that jar from Walmart and paint the blue stripes red! Genius! Rod’ll never know the difference!’

Nicky scavenged all the salvageable broken cookies onto a plate, so that he could dispose of the jar fragments and eat the remaining evidence. However, before he could finish concealing his transgression, he was startled by a sudden tap on the back.

"Ah ha! Caught you!" Someone whispered in Nicky’s ear, as they grabbed him by the shoulders from behind.

Nicky quickly stood up and spun around. “Ricky?!” He said in shock, “Christ! Holy-moley man! You scared the living bejesus out of me buddy!”

“No, you scared the living bejesus out of me more like!” Ricky chuckled, "I didn't realize this hotel would be so noisy! Else I would never have booked in!" Noticing Nicky was now only wearing the Spider-Man boxer shorts he had glimpsed earlier, his eyes widened. And he licked his lips slightly at the sight.

“Oh sorry Rick. Did I wake you? Gosh, I didn’t mean to buddy.” Nicky trailed off into a whisper, realizing that he was talking too loudly, and Rod really needed his sleep.

“No worries. What's the damage?” Ricky whispered back, with somewhat surprising cheerful excitement, considering he had just been woken by a loud smash.

“Jeez, okay! I confess! You caught me red-handed! Or rather, cookie-handed!” Nicky forced a chuckle, as he did his best to snap himself out of his lingering panic. “I was just tryin’ to get myself a snack is all. But I couldn’t find the cookie jar anywhere. And well, jeez, turned out Rod had hidden it again! I found it on top of that cupboard!” He pointed. “So being the dope that I am, I jumped up to get it. And well…” He gestured to the mess of broken cookies and jar fragments at his feet. “As you can see, I dropped it! Oops!“ He smacked his hand against his forehead. “Doh! And it was a present from his parents! So he’s gonna be so disappointed in me if he ever finds out! I always do stupid stuff like this!”

“Well, your secret’s safe with me.” Ricky reassured Nicky, as he bent down to help him clean up the mess. “And it’s not your fault Nick.” He muttered emphatically, before he looked behind him, to check that they were indeed alone. And added critically, “Christ, Rod’s such a control freak, isn’t he?”

Now sitting on the floor, at the scene of his crime, Nicky frowned. “Well, I wouldn’t put it like that Rick. He’s just tryin’ to stop me piggin’ out is all. He knows I can’t stop eatin’ when I get the munchies!” As his hungry optimism returned, Nicky’s frown quickly shifted back to a grin. “Jeez, I guess the damage is done. And I have to eat the evidence anyway! So might as well make the most of the plunder I suppose!” He reasoned, as he gobbled down a couple of the cookie fragments. “Mmm, delish! They’re just so good! So yummy! I can’t resist!” He licked his lips, as he held the plate out for Ricky. “You want some too?”

However, Ricky declined, staring at Nicky with all the seriousness he could muster, before sitting down next to him on the floor. “Listen Nicky, hiding a cookie jar is not normal behavior!” He stressed, “I mean, who the hell does Rod think he is? Your mother for fuck’s sake?!”

At first Nicky wasn’t really sure how to react to this. But decided it must be a joke, so chuckled. After all, he often accused Rod of over-mothering him himself. “Yeah, I know buddy. Rod sure can act like a mother hen at times!” He trailed off, quickly adding, “But he means well. It’s just his way is all. It’s kinda cute really.” He smiled wistfully.

Ricky pulled a face in disgust. “Cute?! You're kidding right?!"

Nicky blushed, realizing that maybe cute wasn’t the best word to use. “Well, yeah. Jeez. It’s just one of his little quirks is all.”

“Uh huh. A little quirk, sure.” Ricky rolled his eyes.

Nicky stood up with his plate of salvaged cookie fragments and shrugged, ignoring the sarcastic tone in Ricky’s response. “Anywho, I always find them! It’s like a game really!” He grinned. “Like hide and seek! But with cookies!”

“Right. A game.” Ricky muttered sarcastically again, as he stood up and rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, look Nick, thanks for letting me crash out on your floor and all! But I don’t think even my Schwarzenegger bod can stand it much longer!” He laughed, “So think I’m gonna head back to my pad. You wanna come too? Cuz it’s only a couple of blocks away. Then we could run through some lines together, to make sure you’re up to speed with the script and all. And later you could just crash in my room.”

Nicky was surprised by Ricky’s suggestion, “Um, jeez, I donno Rick.”

Ricky licked his lips, adding an incentive to sweeten his proposition, “Think it’d save time in the mornin’. Cuz, jeez, the rehearsal hall is right across the street from me! So if you sleepover at mine, then tomorrow we could just saunter across together! What do you say buddy? Would be cool, yeah? I mean, you’ve shown me your Xbox, so it’s only fair I show you my play station, right?” He winked suggestively.

“Um…” Still oblivious to Ricky’s unusual flirtatious euphemisms, Nicky felt compelled by his pleading stare to ponder the offer for a moment. He knew he really needed to practice his lines! And with his tendency to always sleep in, being so close to the rehearsal hall in the morning, would surely be nothing but a benefit! However, Nicky still felt kind of woozy from the booze, and he didn’t want his roommate to worry about him, so ultimately decided against it. “Um, jeez. Thanks for the offer Rick. But, um, I’m still a bit out of it is all. He blinked his eyes to ease his hazy vision. And added, “Besides, I can’t just leave in the middle of the night. Rod’d go nuts!”

Ricky groaned in frustration, “Just leave him a note or somethin’. I’m sure he won’t mind.”

“Yeah, he would Rick. He really hates it when I go out without tellin’ him. I mean, jeez, sometimes he even loses his shit if I come back from the movies an hour later than I promised!” Nicky laughed.

Ricky’s eyes widened in horror, “Man, I’m telling you Nick! You’ve gotta get out of this place! Get some independence!” He shook his head in disbelief, "If I were you, I’d run for the hills buddy! Jeez! God, Rod must be a fuckin’ nightmare to live with!"

“Nah.” Nicky shook his head in disagreement, “Sure, Rod has his annoyin’ moments. And I know he can be a bit of an oddball fusspot at times, who does weird shit like iron his underwear! But I love him anyway! He’s an awesome roommate! The awesomest! You’d love livin’ with him too Rick! I know you would! And, jeez, he’s my bestest buddy in the whole world! Has been since the first day we met in the fourth grade! So yeah, there’s no place I’d rather be than by his side! Even when he’s mad at me!” He beamed, as he thought about how adorable Rod was when he was angry.

“Jeez, I don’t know Nick. I think anyone could find a better bachelor pad on Craigslist or somethin’ after like a five second search!" Ricky rolled his eyes again.

“Nah really, I shouldn’t complain. Rod treats me so well! I mean, jeez, he lets me live here rent free! Even covers my student loan repayments and gives me spendin’ money!” He smiled in happy bemusement. “I have no idea why! You got any clue, Rick?”

Ricky’s brow wrinkled in contemplation for a moment. And he stroked his chin somewhat suspiciously. “Really? He pays for everything, you say?”

Nicky nodded and giggled with slight embarrassment. “Yeah! It’s nuts, right? I mean, jeez, he must know I’m likely never gonna be able to pay him back! Surely? So why does he let me get away with it? I’ve got no clue! Don’t suppose you got any ideas Rick?”

A broad smirk spread across Ricky’s face, as he shrugged his shoulders. “Nope. No idea Nicky. He must be crazy, right?”

Nicky smiled obliviously. “Yeah, crazy for me!” He joked. Before suddenly remembering his plan, and blurting out his question, “Ricky, do you like Rod?”

The question had obviously taken Ricky off guard, and he struggled to find his words. “Um, do I like him? Well yeah. Sure I like him. I mean, true, he’s a bit uptight and all. No doubt a workaholic. And like I said, I think he’s a bit of a control freak! So sure he’d be a nightmare to live with! And God, definitely somewhat emotionally unstable! Jeez!” He cringed, as he thought back to the radio chaos in his taxi cab. Before noticing Nicky’s frown, and trying to end on a more positive note, ‘But yeah. Sure, I guess. Rod’s okay by me I suppose.”

“So gee, you’d go out with him again then?” Nicky asked hopefully, as his frown subsided.

Ricky firmly shook his head. “Um. Nope.”

“Huh? Why not?” Nicky asked in confusion. He hadn’t expected that response! Of course, he realized that Ricky probably didn’t love Rod yet. After all, as Rod kept so desperately insisting, they had only been on one date together. But Nicky assumed that Ricky must, at a bare minimum, fancy Rod! After all, Rod was irresistible! So how could Ricky turn him down so quickly? It boggled Nicky’s mind! Indeed, he could barely wrap his head around the response! Because his poor brain was unable to fathom how anyone could turn down such a sweet, kind, adorable, drop dead gorgeous guy, such as Rod, so bluntly! I mean, surely, even if Ricky wasn’t certain how he felt about Rod yet, he would at the very least want to go out on a few more dates with him, to get to know him better?! Right?

Ricky suddenly looked very apprehensive, clearly unsettled by Nicky’s line of questioning. Still, he tried his best to bring the subject to a close, “Look, um. How can I put this? He’s just, um… Well, not really my type is all.” He sighed heavily, and looked away from Nicky a moment, as his painful past flashed back into his mind. “At least, not anymore.” He shrugged. Before slowly returning his focus to Nicky and the present.

“Oh.” Nicky sighed in disappointment.

“Yeah, sorry Nick. But people like me and Rod… Well, jeez, we're like oil and water, we just don’t mix!” Ricky forced a smile, and added, “But people like me and you, on the other hand… Well, jeez, we had a great time playing Halo earlier, right? And we get on really well, don’t we? We're a good mix? Yes?” He winked, as he put a comforting hand on Nicky’s shoulder. “So, just cuz me and Rod aren't dating anymore, it doesn't mean that me and you can’t hang out?” Ricky gave Nicky a lopsided, hopeful smile. "Right buddy?"

Nicky felt another wave of uneasiness wash over him. But at this point he had suppressed its meaning so deeply in his subconscious, that he had lost all grip on its implications! That, and the alcohol was still clouding his gaydar sensors! So again missing the flirting, he agreed somewhat despondently, “Gee, I guess not buddy.” And nodded sadly, still focused on how devastated his best friend was going to be when he found out. ‘Poor Rod. This is gonna break his heart! And after I’ve already broken his most special jar!’ He thought with a pang of intense dismal guilt.

Imagining Rod’s broken heart almost brought tears to Nicky’s eyes, and he felt a deep sense of inner sorrow. Well, until he replayed Ricky’s closing remarks from his ’not really my type’ statement in his mind, and suddenly saw a glimmer of hope again. “Wait… How’d you mean Rod’s not your type anymore?”

Ricky sighed deeply again and shrugged, “I donno.”

However, staring into his doppelganger’s eyes, Nicky sensed there was a lot more drama behind Ricky’s words than he was letting on. “You mean, Rod was your type? At one point? So, jeez, maybe he could be your type again? If you give him a chance?” As his hope returned, Nicky smiled expectantly at his new stage partner. “Cuz I know Rod can seem a bit up tight and stuck up at first. But once you get to know him, I promise, he’s awesome!” He beamed, doing his best to convince Ricky that Rod deserved another shot.

Ricky gulped. “Anywho, I’m beat!” He said, completely ignoring Nicky’s suggestion. He arched his back and stretched his arms out by his sides, in an attempt to brush the topic aside. “So even though I love staring at you in your underpants Nick, think I better head back to mine!” He winked again.

Still oblivious to the flirting, Nicky continued to press Ricky for answers, “But Rick, what do you mean, when you say Rod isn’t your type anymore? Please, talk to me buddy? I wanna help is all.” He stared deeply into Ricky’s sad looking eyes again, longing to hear his new friend’s story.

Ricky flinched away from Nicky’s piercing gaze. “Look, Nick, it’s a long story. And well, gee, we’ve only just met and all. Plus we’ve both had way too much to drink! Way too much! And jeez, it’s like gone midnight or somethin’! Also we both have a rehearsal tomorrow. So, maybe we should, you know, just try and get some sleep? Yeah?”

Nicky’s brow twitched, he knew his stage partner was right. But he really wanted to get to the bottom of Ricky’s reasoning. He hadn’t had much success getting any answers from Rod. So if he could get some details from Ricky instead, well, maybe that would at least go some way to helping his friend find love. And, of course, as always, that was his top priority! Also he was still very drunk! And, naturally, all the alcohol sloshing around in his brain didn’t help make his logic any more rational! Or his impulsive instincts anymore responsible!

“Come on buddy! Just tell me! You know you want to!” Nicky intensified his pleading puppy dog expression.

Ricky had never told anyone about his toxic past before. But for some strange reason, he felt compelled to tell Nicky. “Well, okay. But I think we should sit down for this.” He said, as he wondered over to the couch.

“Okay buddy.” Nicky agreed, as he followed his new friend. And plonked himself down on Rod’s chair, so that he could face Ricky directly.

“Look, I was like you once.” Ricky began, before taking a long pause, “Stuck living with a workaholic, emotionally unstable control freak.”

Nicky frowned again at the implication of Ricky’s words. But tried his best to remain quiet, and let his new friend speak, “Yeah? How so?”

Ricky gulped, “Well, you met Tarquin, the director…” He trailed off, waiting for Nicky to catch on. But of course, this tangent went right over drunken Nicky’s head!

“Um, yeah. Go on.” Nicky urged, keen to get to the substance of Ricky’s tale.

“Well, jeez.” Ricky sighed again, “Me and Tarquin, we dated a long time ago. In fact, um…” He gulped again. “I lived with him for several years back in college.”

Nicky’s eyes widened in shock, “You and Tarquin?! Really?!”

Ricky nodded somewhat somberly, “Yeah, not my finest hour!” He tried to lighten the mood by throwing in a fake chuckle, but it did little to change the atmosphere. And he fell silent for a few moments, as his painful memories slowly resurfaced.

“So, what happened?” Nicky prompted.

“Well, let’s just say, nothin’ good.” Ricky had planned to end the conversation there. But still under the spell of Nicky’s compelling pleading expression, he reluctantly continued, “You see Nick, Tarquin used to try and control my whole life too! He used to stop me eating what I wanted. Used to stop me goin’ out. Used to stop me seeing my other friends! And nothin’ was ever good enough for him! I was never good enough! And for a long time I put up with it! Even convinced myself that things were awesome for a while, cuz he had a lot of money and paid for everythin'. But eventually I got sick of his smug superiority! Got fed up of him pushin' me around all the time! Got fed up of him telling me what to do! So I started workin’ out more and more. Defied his rules and spent all my time down the gym. Buildin’ up my confidence. Buildin’ up my muscles! Til I could push him back! And shove him outta my face!” He flexed his biceps.

“Gosh!” Nicky exclaimed, as he was left mostly speechless by Ricky’s seemingly tragic backstory, “Jeez, that sucks Rick!”

Ricky admired his undeniably powerful muscly arms for a moment. Before he punched his fist into his hand and continued, “Then finally, I built up enough courage to tell him I was done! I stormed out! And things went very sour between us. For several years. Don’t get me wrong. Leaving Tarquin wasn’t easy! And I struggled a lot, on my own, trying to make ends meet! And even now I barely make enough to pay the rent! Let alone the bills! Some days I have to crash at my friend Terry’s house, just so I can pinch some of his food! Cuz most of the time I can’t afford groceries or nothin’! Cuz I only make a very small income from my part time taxi job! And the tiny pay check I get from Tarquin the dragon is insulting! Especially when I know how much money he’s got up his ass!” Ricky put his head in his hands for a moment, as he felt his body start to pulsate with anger.

Nicky felt sad for his friend, “Jeez buddy. That sucks!” He paused a moment. However, his optimistic ego, as always, wanted to find the silver lining in the situation. So he felt compelled to add, “But, gee, you guys are friends again now, right? You’re acting in his play and all? So things are good again, yeah?”

Ricky scowled, “Look Nick… And I’m not proud of this! But I had to go back to Tarquin, and grovel for help! He’s just got all these connections in the acting world! And all this money he inherited from his parents to bring his artistic visions to life! So I need him to help me get famous! I need him to help me get a foot up in this broken world. But we’re definitely not friends! Not even close! Not anymore. Not ever again! You get it?!”

Ricky balled one of his hands into a fist again, as a venomous hatred of Tarquin surged through his body. Thumping it down on the sofa as hard as he could. And almost bellowing in anger, as his acrid resentment of Tarquin consumed him, “Screw that God damn sanctimonious asshole! He doesn’t deserve anyone’s friendship! Let alone mine! I wish I could just…” He trailed off, as he visualized Tarquin sitting next to him on the sofa.

Nicky recoiled slightly, as his new friend repeatedly slammed his fist into one of Rod’s innocent sofa cushions. And stared in shock, as Ricky’s eyes seemed to ignite with pure rage! “Um, look Rick, maybe that’s not the best…” He began, but Ricky was too lost in his own bitter animosity to hear him.

Nicky froze in fear, not knowing what to do to end Ricky’s onslaught. Because his words didn’t seem to have any power to stop him. And his new stage partner continued to brutally thump the pillow, like it was some sort of heavy duty punching bag! Despite its clear vulnerable squishy flaccidity! “Um, Rick? Buddy?” He tried again, and this time Ricky paused for an instant, but Nicky still didn’t get a response.

Instead, Ricky only growled in fury, his anger morphing into an almost savage animalistic instinct, as his display of aggression intensified.

‘God, I hope Rod doesn’t wake up! Why on Earth did I have to start this conversation?! How do I stop him?! What do I do?!’ Nicky thought, shivering a little in horror, as his new friend resumed his merciless attack on the cushion, mauling it furiously. Until, all of a sudden, there was a loud RIP! ‘Hell, not Rod’s best cushion! Isn’t that another one of Rod’s rules, no messin’ about with pillows?! Think it was! Shit!’ Nicky cringed, as he witnessed Ricky’s relentless abuse of the cushion, cause one of its seams to split open. And fluff and feathers to pour out into the air!

“Jeez. That sucks buddy!” Nicky agreed somewhat nervously, as he did his best to calm Ricky back down, and extinguish his somewhat alarming hostility. “Look buddy, it’ll be okay? All right? I promise! I’m here to help you now. So we can sort all this stuff out together? Yeah?”

Realizing that he was letting his temper get the better of him, Ricky grasped his sweaty hands together and took a deep breath. While little fluff balls and feathers flew into the air from the battered cushion, and slowly glided to the floor below.

“Look, buddy… Do you, um, maybe want a drink or somethin’? Maybe that’d help?” Nicky suggested tentatively. Still feeling a little on edge, unsure how Ricky might react.

Ricky slowly shook his head, “Nope. No thanks Nick. Sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He trailed off, as he sniffed and buried his head in his hands again. “God damn it! I just hate that pompous son of a bitch so much! So so much! You don’t know how hard it is to bottle up all these feelings Nick!”

Nicky gulped hard and nodded slowly in agreement, “Yeah, I donno what it’s like. You’re right buddy. But jeez, I think I can help. If you let me?” He smiled reassuringly at his distraught stage partner. Although, under his seemingly unfazed surface, he was still trembling in shock from Ricky’s unsettling outburst.

“I mean, jeez, all I want is some respect! What’s wrong with that?!” Ricky exhaled the remaining anger from his body.

“Jeez, nothin’ buddy.” Nicky tried his best to placate him, as his drunken mind very slowly digested all the new information Ricky had hurled his way.

“Yeah.” Ricky roughly rubbed his temples, to help him refocus his mind on the present.

Still concerned that Rod may have been woken by all the commotion, Nicky listened out for any signs of movement in the bedroom. But nothing. Only the sound of Ricky’s somewhat gruff and erratic breathing filled the apartment. ‘Jeez, poor Ricky.’ Nicky thought. But mainly he was just happy that Rod wasn’t awake to hear his potential dating buddy’s disturbing breakdown! ‘God, maybe it’s for the best if Rod and Ricky don’t hook up! Cuz Rod deserves someone who’s more easy goin’ and care free! Like me! Not someone who’s gonna fly off the handle so easily, and take his anger out on innocent pillows!’

Slowly regaining his composure, Ricky breathed in deeply again. And paused for a moment to stroke his chin in thought, as he contemplated how best to salvage his reputation, and regain Nicky’s trust. “Look, um, Nick, you ever wonder if maybe Rod gets off on controlling you? The same way Tarquin got off on controlling me? Only, I think you might be livin’ in denial like I was, cuz there seems to be a lot of similarities in our situations buddy. I mean, jeez, think about it! It would explain why Rod always pays for everythin’ and gets so angry when you don’t do things his way? Wouldn’t it?”

“No!” Nicky frowned again, shaking his head firmly in disagreement, as he automatically dismissed Ricky’s idea. “No way! You’re wrong Rick! Dead wrong! Rod’s nothin’ like Tarquin!” He flinched backwards in Rod’s chair, his brain refusing to accept any validity in his doppelganger’s words. Still, after a moment of denial. Nicky decided to ask his new disturbed friend to elaborate on his musings. Just so that he could better understand his point of view. Because even if Ricky was wrong about Rod, he still wanted to better understand his new friend, “But anywho, how do you mean?”

“I mean, jeez Nick! Look at all these crazy rules he’s got you followin’!” Ricky gestured towards the list of ’Rod’s Top Rules’ magnetized to the fridge, that he had spotted earlier.

Nicky’s brow furrowed in contemplation for an instant. Before he quickly dismissed Ricky’s suggestion again, “Nah! Seriously, you’ve got it all wrong Rick! Rod’s just worried ‘bout me is all. He’s not tryin’ to control me or anythin’ sinister like that!” He shook his head resolutely, and chuckled off the idea.

Ricky shot Nicky a very serious look, and asked him, “Really? He’s just lookin’ out for you? You sure Nick?” Before he stood up quickly, headed over to the fridge and proceeded to read out a couple of the more extreme, authoritarian sounding rules on Rod’s list, “No milk to be consumed after 10pm! No putting sweaty feet on the furniture! And no more than five cookies maximum to be taken from my cookie jar per day!” He raised his brow at Nicky, as he stood back somewhat smugly, assuming surely he must have proved his point.

However, Nicky just continued to laugh. “Come on Rick! It’s not serious! None of it’s serious! Me and Rod, we’ve always had squabbles over stuff. And creatin’ rules and drawing up additional contracts and shit. Well, gee, that’s just Rod’s way of havin’ fun is all!”

Ricky’s mouth dropped open, and his eyes widened in horror at the mention of contracts. “Fun?! You’ve gotta be jokin’ Nicky! Seriously?! Rod draws up fuckin’ contracts for you to sign?! Actual contracts?! No fuckin’ way?! It’s even worse than I thought!”

Nicky nodded slightly, as he continued to chuckle, “Well, jeez, not real contracts or nothin’. More like lists of rules he wants me to follow. But yeah, I guess Rod can get a little crazy at times!” He conceded, quickly adding, “But it’s just his way is all. You gotta love him for it!” He laughed heartily, as he remembered some of the quirkiest creations, resulting from the perplexing concerns of his overly anxious roommate.

Unfortunately, as alcohol was still impairing his judgement, Nicky let his impulsive need to entertain take the stage uncensored, “In fact, there’s a whole bunch of silly contracts that Rod’s written up for me to follow! Maybe I could show you sometime or somethin’! They’re so funny! He keeps them in that drawer on the sideboard over there.”

Nicky paused for a moment, as he suddenly felt a mega-tsunami sized wave of guilt wash over him. Rod had explicitly told him on many occasion, never to show those roommate agreements to another living soul! Even making him sign a separate contract to swear that he would keep their mere existence a secret! On pain of eviction! ‘God, how could I betray Rod’s trust like that?!’ He thought in panic, as he gulped. “Oops. Sorry, um, forget I said that Rick!”

“Huh?” Ricky muttered in confusion, “Why?”

However, sadly, Nicky didn’t have time to worry about his slip up just now! Let alone explain his reasoning to Ricky! Because as soon as his imagination envisioned a tidal wave of trouble heading towards him, he suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to dash to the bathroom! He fidgeted about restlessly in Rod’s chair, as his body geared up to release the large quantity of alcoholic fluid that his bladder had collected from his kidneys!

“Jeez, sorry Rick. Just, um, gotta go take a wizz! Really really bad!” Nicky said, as he continued to squirm about in the chair. “But seriously, you won’t look at any of Rod’s rule lists or nothin’ without me! Right?! Only, I just ‘membered! Rod told me to keep them a secret! And well, jeez, I guess I slipped up! Whoops! Seriously though, you’ve got him all wrong Rick! I promise! And I know I said those things were funny and all. But you won’t sneak a look at them while I’m gone or nothin’? Yeah?!”

Ricky pondered the request for a moment. However, he didn’t seem to be offering Nicky the reassurance he was so desperately seeking! “Hmm, well… I donno. Maybe I will look!” He joked.

“Come on Rick! Stop jokin’ around! I’m serious buddy!” Nicky tried his best to control himself, while he waited for Ricky’s reassurance. But his panic grew, as he became ever more concerned that a puddle might form under his Spider-Man boxer shorts, if he didn’t take action soon! And the last thing he wanted to do was accidentally contaminate Rod’s chair with a damp patch! Because that would be far worse than any stain his sweaty feet or sticky hands had ever inflicted upon its long suffering upholstery!

Ricky grinned at him, “Okay, okay! I guess, maybe I won’t look.” He paused, before he added with school boy cheekiness, “Or maybe, I will.”

“Rick, please. Stop messin’ about! You won’t look? Right?” Nicky repeated his request, as the desperate signals from his bladder intensified.

“Oh, all right. Sure. No problemo. I won’t sneak a peak or nothin’. Promise.” Ricky agreed, trying his best to suppress his smirk.

“Thanks buddy! I owe you one!” And with that sorted, a very uneasy Nicky leapt out of Rod’s chair. And rushed off towards the toilet at lightning speed, so he could make sure that he emptied his bladder in the appropriate location! “Back in a sec!” He hollered, as he skidded into the bathroom and shut the door behind him.

Chapter Text

 

The instant Ricky heard the bathroom door click shut, his crooked smirk extended across his face. And he rushed over to the sideboard, faster than a hastily launched nuclear missile! ‘Yes! Come to papa!’ He thought triumphantly, as he yanked open the drawer and snatched up the sheets of rules from inside. ‘Oh my God! Jackpot!’ He grinned with gleeful animosity, as he stared in fiendish awe at the collection of neatly typed laws.

‘This is it! This is exactly what I need to help me get the lovin’ relationship I deserve! And put stuck-up, self-righteous, lucky rich snobs like Tarquin and Rod in their place! Just cuz they got spoilt by their parents, they think they get to lord it over the rest of us forever! But I’ll make sure that they don’t! Cuz no matter how entitled they act, or how much money they’ve got, they don’t deserve any kind of love or friendship! They deserve to be alone for the rest of their pathetic pointless lives!’ Ricky thought angrily, as he began brewing a revengeful scheme in his intoxicated brain.

‘Yes! I’ve got you now Tarqui… I mean Rod! You’re going down buddy! At first I thought we could be friends. But now I know what you’re really like, you can rot in your lonely void of fake condescending pleasantries for all I care!' Ricky tossed every last ounce of sympathy he had for Rod into the flames of his wrath, as his drunken mind fixated on all the ways his blind date seemingly mistreated his lookalike. 'Your authoritarian tyranny is doomed! And your selfish dictatorship is over! Say goodbye to Nicky! Cuz he doesn’t deserve to be bossed about by some asshole like you! He deserves someone who loves him the way he is! Someone who always wants to have fun with him! Someone who’s always there for him no matter what! Not some phony fair-weather friend, who ditches him at the drop of a hat, to focus on himself and his elitist career all the time!’

Ricky felt his blood boil with rage, and an inferno of venomous envy burn inside his heart. He screwed up his hand into a fist again, scowling, as he thought about how Rod abandoned Nicky during his audition, to flee to his ivory tower on Wall Street. However, he paused when he spotted a photograph of Rod and Nicky together on the pinboard above. Glaring at the picture, he roughly tugged it from its tack.

‘And you know what, Rod?' Ricky stared down at the image of his nemesis, as he plummeted into a deep craggy chasm of bitter resentment. 'You can’t be that special someone to Nicky! You can never be his special someone! No matter how much you want to be! Yes, I know you think it’s a secret. But it’s not anymore, cuz I figured it out. I see you tryin’ to use your money to control things! And now I know you want Nicky! I know you want him to be your toy!' He began to slowly tare the photograph in two. ‘I know you want him to be your permanent plaything!’ He snarled at the thought.

'But you can forget all that! Cuz Nicky’s not some useless house-maid for you to ridicule! He’s awesome like me! Awesome in every way that you aren’t! And I can’t let him waste another second of his precious life waiting for you to start treatin’ him right! No matter what you’ve brainwashed him to believe, he doesn’t need your money! And he definitely doesn’t need you!’ Ricky clenched his teeth together, as he continued to split apart the mismatched pair in the photograph.

‘Cuz guess what Rod? I can be what you’ve always wanted to be! Yes, that's right! I can be Nicky's special someone! You see, me and Nicky, we’re soulmates. We have a connection that you and him could never have! Cuz me and him, we're one and the same! Two of a kind! Like peas in a pod. Destined to be together! And unlike you, I’ll make sure Nicky is never ignored! Never left alone! And always loved! Cuz that’s what he deserves! And you don’t deserve a sweet, caring, fun-lovin’ guy like him, you pompous rich asshole! So you can’t stop me taking him from you!’ Ricky finished taring the photograph with one last swift rip, and scrunched the Rod half into a ball. Before carefully sliding the Nicky half snuggly into his wallet.

Once satisfied the image of his rival was destroyed beyond all recognition, Ricky tossed the crumpled Rod into the trashcan behind him. The hatred whirling like a tumultuous hurricane within his inebriated soul, he seethed with anger for a moment. Before he felt compelled to slam his fist into the wall beside him. THWACK! The plaster around the impact sight crumbled slightly, as he slowly unscrunched his fist. ‘God damn it! I can’t wait to take Nicky from you Rod! And save him from your Machiavellian hell! You smug, emotionally unstable son of a bitch!’ He thought, as he breathed in deeply and did his best to regain his cool calm composure.

Realizing his mission had become somewhat hampered by his alcohol-addled inner-monologue, Ricky snapped his attention back to the lists of rules. Still, he knew that he wouldn’t have time to read through the roommate agreements in their entirety before Nicky returned. So, he quickly pulled his smartphone from his pocket, and selected the camera function. Before carefully lining up the three sheets along the edge of the table, to ensure that he could take a clear photograph of each contract for future analysis.

‘Yes! This plan is sure to set Nicky free! And it’s gonna be so much fun too! Cuz I’m gonna enjoy knockin’ that narcissistic, manipulative Rod from his self-appointed throne! God, I’m such a genius!’ Ricky thought with drunken egotistical maliciousness, as he took the final photograph. Because even after skimming over just a few of the rules, he had already noticed several possible ways to sabotage Rod and Nicky’s bond.

To thrust his treacherous plan forward as quickly as possible, Ricky spitefully yanked the cable from Nicky’s charging cell-phone, leaving it’s battery all but depleted. Next he grabbed the last carton of milk from the fridge and emptied it down the sink. And finally, he snatched Nicky’s apartment key from the bowl on the side, shoving it into his pocket to use later. ‘Right. Excellent! That’s a good start!’ He thought with bitter smugness, as he heard Nicky flush the toilet. ‘I’ll read the rest of Rod’s egomaniacal rules as soon as I’m alone.’ He reassured himself, before he put away his phone and moved back to the sofa.

Ricky sighed deeply, as he collapsed beside the ravaged cushion shell. ‘Screw your fancy cushion Rod! I’m glad I split apart its elitist seams! Just gotta finish what I started and rip you and Nicky apart next!’ Still under the influence of his alcoholic fury, he shook the cover furiously to maximize the feather and fluff dispersal. Once satisfied he had caused enough chaos, he sat patiently, waiting for his oblivious, brainwashed damsel in distress to return.

Nicky stumbled clumsily over to the sofa where Ricky was sitting, clearly struggling to keep his balance, as alcohol tightened its grip on his sluggish body. “Jeez, sorry ‘bout that Rick. But when you gotta go, you’ve gotta go, yeah?” He chuckled, “And well, gee, took longer than I thought. Cuz um, guess the alcohol threw off my aim, if you know what I mean? Whoops! God, what a mess! Cleaned up most of it though. So with any luck Rod won’t be mad or nothin’. I hope.” He gulped and blushed a little in embarrassment. His impulsive honesty always seemed to rocket into oversharing territory, and doubly so when he was drunk.

Ricky chuckled back, deciding that he might as well make one last attempt to coax his oppressed lookalike back to his apartment with him, “Look, Nicky, you sure I can’t convince you to come back with me? To my place?” He stared at him longingly for a moment.

“Nope. Sorry buddy! Gotta go to bed I think! Can barely keep my eyes open another second!” Nicky turned down the offer again, as his eyelids continued to droop, and he struggled to maintain his focus on reality.

Ricky sighed in annoyance, “Fine.” Before expanding on his previous offer, “But if you ever what out Nick, you know that you’re always more than welcome to crash at my place. Right?”

“No really, I’m happy here!” Nicky insisted, “With my bestest buddy!” He smiled wistfully. “Thanks for the offer though Rick! Appreciate it!”

Ricky rolled his eyes, stood up from the sofa and headed for the door. “Ok then.” He said, but muttered under his breath, ”Your funeral!” Leaning on the edge of the apartment door, he checked the time on his smartphone. “Jeez, I better be off before the vampires come out to play! You really sure I can’t persuade you to come with me Nick? We could have a lot of fun together me and you!” He winked yet again.

Nicky was starting to wonder if Ricky had an uncontrollable eye twitch or something. But he knew his own vision was equally blurry, so decided to ignore it. Indeed, still feeling very unsteady on his feet, he leaned back against the wall, before he lost his balance entirely! The last thing he wanted to do was tumble onto the floor! “Yeah, we had a lot of fun tonight.” He agreed. “And I’m glad you told me your story buddy. Means a lot that you trust me."

“No worries.” Ricky forced a smile, before adding with a more genuine grin, “Thanks for givin’ me your number.”

Looking increasingly drunk, Nicky smiled back at Ricky. "Well, I’m happy to give everyone my number! But seriously, this is my home. Here with Rod. And well, even if Rod didn’t mind me sneaking off in the middle of the night, I’m wiped out. Think I’ll just crash after scoffing down the rest of these cookie crumbs.” He grabbed another handful of biscuit fragments and crunched them up in his mouth to release their sugary sweetness. “Gotta get rid of the evidence, yeah?”

“Whatever.” Ricky exhaled his frustration, “Just don’t tell anyone what I told you, right?” He glared at Nicky with a threateningly cold edge, as he rubbed his clenched fist in his other hand.

Nicky shivered slightly under Ricky’s serious and somewhat intimidating gaze, as he swallowed his mouthful of cookie mush. “Sure buddy. I promise, I won’t tell no one! Not even Rod!”

Ricky continued to stare at Nicky intensely, as he furrowed his brows further still. “Not even about the cushion? You swear you’ll keep it zipped, yes?”

“Um, sure.” Nicky agreed somewhat reluctantly this time. He knew keeping Ricky’s pillow abuse a secret, meant that he would have to take the blame for the damage. “I’ll um, tell Rod I accidently ripped it when I was drunk or somethin’ I guess.”

“Good.” Ricky smiled broadly and ruffled Nicky’s already scruffy mop of hair, with a loving touch of thankfulness. “Tell you what Nick, I’ll come round tomorrow mornin’ about ten thirty-ish, yeah? To run a few lines with you. Then we can head to the rehearsal together? And form a united front against Tarquin the dragon! Sound like a plan?”

Nicky nodded, “Yeah, sounds good.” Before yawning again, “Gosh, I think I hear my bed calling my name Rick!”

Ricky, mirroring Nicky’s movements, also forced a yawn. But it was all just an act. Because, in truth, with all the extra adrenaline pulsing through his body, he didn’t feel the slightest bit tired! Indeed, he was fully awake! And he felt nothing but an impatient desire to read through all of Rod’s rules the second he was alone. He knew he needed to add multiple ingredients to his cunning plan, if he was to ensure that Rod and Nicky’s bond was severed as quickly, and as conclusively, as possible! And he didn’t want to leave anything up to chance, so he knew he had to read the rules in their entirety to find the weakest points in their nonsensical friendship.

However, not wanting his oblivious brainwashed stage partner to catch onto his underhanded schemes, Ricky continued to play the role of the exhausted house guest, “Jeez, I’m beat!” Ricky forced another yawn, before throwing in a joke to lighten the mood, “Think you’re right Nick! We both need our beauty sleep don’t we!”

“Yeah, we sure do Rick.” Nicky yawned yet again too, his eyelids heavy, “See you soon buddy!” He gave his new companion, a quick friendly pat on the back, as he bid him farewell for the night. Then stood in the doorway for a moment, as Ricky staggered down the corridor towards the stairway. ‘Gee, I sure hope Ricky’s gonna be okay.’ Nicky thought somewhat uneasily, as Ricky waved at him one final time before he disappeared into the darkness.

As soon as Ricky was gone, Nicky went to inspect the extent of the cushion damage. He gulped, as he took in the sheer scale of the wreckage. Somehow the fallout looked even worse than he remembered! ‘Jeez, Rod’s gonna kill me in the mornin’!’ He jiggled about a moment, unsure of what to do with the slaughtered pillow carcass.

Nicky felt very uneasy covering for Ricky, but he always tried to keep his promises. Besides, despite Nicky’s many attempts to play cupid, Rod and Ricky both seemed pretty adamant that they weren’t going to continue dating. Indeed, after witnessing Ricky’s meltdown, Nicky had to agree that the two weren’t a good match. Rod deserved so much better than Ricky! So much better! Still, as long as the two went their separate ways, it couldn’t do much harm to keep his promise, and hide Ricky’s breakdown from Rod. Right? Because the last thing he wanted to do, was fall out with his new stage partner and end up losing his first and only job!

Nicky stared despondently at the clumps of feathers and fluff that surrounded him for a moment. He really didn’t even know where to start. He bit his lip, as he contemplated his options. However, in the end, he decided the best solution would probably be to leave the cushion remains alone, and confess the first chance he got. Because he knew nothing much got past Rod! And his highly observant, obsessively organized roommate was sure to notice something was amiss if he moved it! Especially since the lacerated pillow was in the center of the apartment, and the chaos had spread all over the floor!

Nicky’s eyes widened, as he tried to predict Rod’s likely reactions. He knew that if he tried to hide the ruptured cushion, Rod would inevitably find it, then start asking awkward questions. Questions Nicky had sworn never to answer! And before he knew it, he would have inadvertently dug himself into an even deeper hole! And end up in even bigger trouble, than had he simply confessed upfront!

So instead, Nicky focused on his actual transgressions of the night. Of course, there was the smashed cookie jar that had kicked off events! However, his guilty conscience was most preoccupied with the umpteenth instance of his traitorous loose lips stabbing his best buddy in the back. ‘Curse my gossipy gob! Why do I always blurt out Rod’s secrets without a second thought to how it’s gonna hurt his feelings?!’

Nicky smacked himself on the forehead very hard, as bubbles of self-hatred began to fizz in his tired drunken body. He still got annoyed at himself for publicly outing his best buddy, behind his back, after Brian and Christmas Eve’s wedding. He knew Rod had forgiven him, and that the whole nightmare had been swept under the rug (a rug which covered up many of the darker moments in their friendship). However, Nicky couldn’t help but feel haunted by his shameful past at times. He had made many mistakes over the years. Many many mistakes! But the mistakes that he regretted the most, the mistakes that caused him the most grief and anguish, were the ones that had hurt his best buddy Rod.

Nicky buried his head in his hands, as the memories of his worst friendship blunders flooded into his mind. ‘Why do I always do such stupid shit?! Why do I always end up hurting my bestest buddy?!’ He sniffed, as he remembered how utterly heartbroken and defeated Rod looked, after the worst of his indiscretions had come to light. ‘Jeez, I suck! I suck so much! I just really hope you know Rod, I never meant to hurt you buddy! I never meant to make you cry! I never meant to put you through so much pain!" His eyes now saturated with tears, Nicky stared up at the framed photo of him and Rod on the side table. 'I never meant to weaken your spirit and split your soul in two! I still don't know why I did it. I still don't know why it hurt you so much. But jeez, I hate myself sometimes for what I put you through! I just hope you know buddy, that I would never have done such things, if I knew it was gonna make you so very sad! Scratch that! I would never have done such things, if I knew it was gonna make you sad at all!’

Nicky sighed. Try as he might, he couldn’t escape the deep sense of shame that filled his heart. Still, he knew he had to clear up his other disgrace. So he did his best to snap out of his malaise, so he could carefully dispose of the pottery fragments from his jar smashing crime. He wrapped the pile of shards in some paper towels and pushed them down to the bottom of the kitchen trashcan. 'Jeez, I belong in the trash too, don't I buddy?' He did his best to gulp back his sadness, but it didn't seem to be working.

And Nicky felt a couple of tears roll down his cheeks, as his guilty conscience continued to whisper about his many ineptitudes. However, ultimately, despite his ever-rising inner shame, exhaustion and hunger were to be the victorious motivating forces of the night. And after a quick snack of dry cookie fragments (sadly, there didn’t seem to be any milk left), he promptly collapsed on top of his duvet cover, true to his word.

Slumped across the bed, Nicky's drunken mind spun wildly with thoughts of Rod and Ricky. Yet, strangely, kept missing the rather obvious implications of Ricky's offers.

Nicky had always prided himself on the sensitivity of his gaydar, and he was usually always quick to pick up on gay come-ons from other guys. Hell, he'd even picked up on Ricky's flirtation once! But for some reason, his gaydar seemed to be malfunctioning. And after pushing his feelings of uneasiness and apprehension regarding Ricky, back into the depths of his subconscious, he'd become utterly clueless once more. Perhaps it was because his focus was elsewhere?

Nicky yawned deeply. With a little help from his high blood alcohol level, he quickly drifted off to dreamland. However, as sleep took hold, things rapidly started to get kind of freaky. For starters, his salivary glands (coaxed into action by his midnight feasting), seemed to have gone into over-drive! And his pillow was soon soaked with beer flavored slobber! Next, as he fell deeper into zonkland, Nicky started to process the events of the day in a somewhat peculiar way. Maybe it was just the lingering effects of the booze sloshing around in his subconscious and invigorating his waking preoccupations with Rod. But during the night Nicky had some very odd dreams indeed.

***** NICKY DREAMS *****

As Nicky stumbled into the kitchen, his eyes lit up to see Rod sat at the table grasping a giant cookie jar in his arms.

“Hey Rod buddy, can I have a cookie?” Nicky asked, employing his usual puppy-dog staring routine.

However, Rod refused, “No!”

“But Rod?! Please! I’d really like a cookie! It’d save my life!” Nicky tried to grab the cookie jar from his roommate, but Rod just pulled it away.

“No Nicky!” Rod snapped, “I let you live here rent free! I do everything for you! Washing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, paying your bills! Everything!” He lowered his tone, “So, if you really want a cookie, well, then you’re going to have to do something for me for once!” Rod winked. And reaching into the cookie jar, he pulled out a large chocolate chip cookie, which expanded to the size of a dinner plate in his hand.

Nicky could feel his mouth watering at the sight. And he licked his lips in anticipation, “Please buddy, I just want to try a nibble.”

Rod shook his head, but smiled at Nicky for a moment. Before he lifted the giant, dinner plate-sized cookie, to his mouth. Unfortunately, the cookie was so huge that Rod couldn’t fit it all in at once, so most of it remained visible to exacerbate Nicky’s cravings.

Nicky stared longingly at the cookie. And the more he stared, the more the cookie appeared to have a life of its own. “Come closer!” The cookie called out to him. So he lurched towards it.

“Nicky please, get back!” Rod pushed Nicky away.

Nicky frowned, as Rod continued to reject all his attempts to move closer. “Come on buddy! Just let me get close! I need to taste your cookie!”

The cookie seemed to gloat at him, almost as if it was daring him to take a bite, and taste its sweet crumbly, chocolaty contents. "Bite me! I dare you!" The cookie taunted, “Come on! Suck on my chocolate chips! Run your tongue along my deliciously crumbly edge! Come on! You know you want to! And you're gonna love the taste! I promise!"

Nicky swallowed hard. So lascivious was his desire for even the most minuscule nibble of the biscuit, that in seconds, he'd dribbled saliva all down his T-shirt. "Come on Rod! Just a little lick! Please buddy!" He pleaded, as he pulled a beer bottle from his pants, and pointed it directly at his friend. “Look, the beer bottle agrees! You’ve gotta give me your cookie Rod!” He demanded. “I need it! I can’t live without it!”

But Rod continued to shake his head in perpetual denial of his desperate roommate’s requests.

Finally, unable to bare it any longer, Nicky leaned forward and propelled his tongue out to lick the exposed part of the cookie. Overcome by his desperation to dissolve its crumbly exterior, he hastily suctioned his lips onto its sweet surface to lock it in place. And, readying his mouth for its irresistibly exquisite taste, he slowly began the munching process.

However, instead of a mouthful of cookie, all Nicky got, was a long passionate kiss from Rod!

***** END OF DREAM *****


Nicky sat up in bed. Eyes wide. “What the…?!” He wiped the sweat from his brow and the saliva from his chin. “Oh gee. That was... Um, new.” He lay back down panting heavily. “It was just a dream is all.” He reassured himself. Though he couldn’t deny a big part of him felt weirdly disappointed. “Just a dream.” He muttered again, as he tossed and turned, trying to get comfy once more. However, dream or not, Nicky couldn’t deny the fact, that he’d really enjoyed his fantasy cookie kiss with Rod.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time Nicky’s imagination had conjured up a homoerotic vision of his roommate. Because he had experienced many such sexually suggestive, passionate steamy dreams about Rod over the years. In fact, the last time it had happened, he had sleep-walked right into the kitchen. And woken up convinced that he had followed a unicorn, worn purple shoes, seen a painted kitten, and told Rod to put earmuffs on his cookie! Before he had dismissed the entire episode as some drunken lapse in consciousness. And promptly ’gone to bed’, even nudging Rod from his sleep-mutterings, as if he had been awake the whole time! Still, his memory of these occasions was very hazy. Because Nicky very rarely remembered his dreams. Usually, as soon as he woke, the fantasies instantly faded, and it was as if they never happened.

After a few moments of tossing and turning Nicky gradually drifted off to sleep again, still slumped out on top of his duvet cover. You might think Nicky would get chilly in the night, lying on top of his covers like that. But it wasn’t that cold in the apartment. Besides, his sensual dreams about Rod were inspiring his sweaty passionate body to generate more than enough internal heat to keep him warm.

----- IN RICKY’S APARTMENT -----

Ricky was so eager to start planning out his Nicky theft, that the second he got home, he immediately whipped out his smartphone!  And jumped into bed to examine each of the three contracts he had photographed in detail. He knew he must find every single vulnerable spot in Rod and Nicky’s ridiculous friendship, if his mission was to succeed, and Nicky was to be freed.

----- RICKY READS ROD’S KITCHEN RULES -----

1) No milk to be used after 10pm! (Because I need milk for my morning oatmeal and coffee! And it’s been proven time and time again that you can’t be trusted to drink milk in moderation Nicky!)

2) No more than five cookies to be eaten per day! (And no! Getting the “munchies” is not an excuse for binge snacking! Nobody should be eating a whole packet of cookies a day! That is NOT healthy Nicky! You know it’s not!)

3) As soon as a bottle, carton, jar or packet of food is empty, please clean it out and place it in the correct recycling bin or waste disposal receptacle! (Exception! Remember, mason jars and Tupperware boxes need to be cleaned and reused! Also, chip packets and candy wrappers belong in the trashcan Nicky! Not on the floor!)

4) Please return unfinished bottles, cartons, jars and packets of food or drink to their corresponding storage locations! (In other words, please put them back where you found them Nicky!)

5) Please wash and dry any dishes or utensils you use! (But do not put them back into the cupboards or drawers until they are completely dry! We do not want any more mold nightmares!)

6) Please never use the blender! Unless I’m there to supervise you! (Because too many times now you have “experimented” and tried to blend stupid things like marshmallows or chocolate buttons! Or worse, not screwed the lid on properly before you activated it! And as much fun as we had together that day, I never want to have to waste another Sunday cleaning strawberry goo from the kitchen ceiling ever again Nicky!

7) And lastly, but most importantly, no food from McDonald’s is allowed inside the apartment! No exceptions Nicky! If you must eat that trash! Please eat it elsewhere!

Note – Pizza take out is acceptable.

Agreement Signed By Nicholas Taylor

----- END OF ROD’S KITCHEN RULES -----


“Hmm.” Ricky pondered over the rules for a moment, considering whether there was anything else he could exploit in this section. “Well, I already got rid of the milk! That can’t hurt. But what else? I guess now I’ve got Nicky’s apartment key, I could sneak in there and blend up some strawberries without the lid or something? Nah! I’d end up getting goop all over me too! No, that would be too difficult to do stealthily!” He pondered the rules for a moment, “Oh yes! Of course! McDonald’s! Burgers on the cushions!” He sniggered to himself, “Now that I can do!” His smirk returned to his face, as he moved to the next photograph, to read through the next sheet of rules.

----- RICKY READS ROD’S BATHROOM RULES -----

1) Urine belongs inside the toilet bowl Nicky! Not around the toilet edge or on the floor! I don’t have any problems getting my trajectory accurate! So neither should you! (And if you do miss, please make sure you clean it up afterwards! Every last drop!)

2) Baths should last no longer than 40 minutes! Any longer and you’ll end up with dangerously dried out skin again! And I cannot afford any more trips to a dermatologist for you! So stick to the 40 minutes maximum please!

3) Please do not use any of my heterosexual man creams or lotions without asking first! (I had to throw out a $30 tub of under eye moisturizer because I found cookie crumbs in it!)

4) Please never use my hairbrush or comb! I haven’t got time to be constantly removing your clumps of dark brown tangles from my hair implements Nicky! Also, please never use my shaver! Especially not down there! I bought you your own complete grooming kit! So please use that instead!

5) Please make sure you remove all hair from the plughole (or anywhere else!) after you wash! Because as much as I love picking your green pubic hair out of the soap! That’s YOUR job Nicky! Not mine!

Agreement Signed By Nicholas Taylor

----- END OF ROD’S BATHROOM RULES -----


Ricky laughed. “Well, this one’s easy! Cuz nature’s given me all I need to set Nicky up here!” He paused for a moment, “But it’s not enough! I need to find a more serious rule to break! I need a rule I can break that will be relationship ending! A rule I can exploit which will push their stupid friendship over the edge once and for all!” He moved onto the final photograph, to read the final section of Rod’s rules.

----- RICKY READS ROD’S GENERAL APARTMENT RULES -----

1) If you’re going out (for any reason), please leave a note to let me know where you’ve gone, and what time you’ll be back! (Also, please take your phone and leave it switched on! That includes making sure your phone is fully charged before you leave Nicky! I manage to do it every day and I set off for work before 7am! So you shouldn’t have any problems! Just plug it in at night! I even put in an extra USB socket and cable near the sideboard! To make it even easier for you! But I didn’t buy you that smartphone just so you could waste your life playing Candy Crush!)

2) Please ensure you are back no later than 30 minutes after the return time you specified (unless you text to let me know what’s happening!) Also please always try to be back in the apartment by midnight (unless you ring to tell me that you’re ok), so that I’m not awake all night worrying about you!

3) Never take my keys! (You’ve got your own damn keys Nicky! 3 copies now in fact! So there should be no excuse for losing your keys! Or for locking yourself out of the apartment! The spares are kept in the secret spot. You know where!

4) Please clean up any spillages immediately! (Do not let them sink into the carpet and create stains!)

5) Never jump on the furniture! (That includes the sofa Nicky! I’ve told you a million times now! It’s not a trampoline!) Also, please never put your sweaty feet on my chair! (It ruins the upholstery!)

6) Please only use cushions and pillows for their intended purpose! (They are not there for pillow fights Nicky!)

7) Please turn off electrical devices when they are not in use! (That includes the TV Nicky! And no, the TV should not be used as a radio while you are taking a bath!)

8) Please always keep the volume on the TV below setting 18! (And below setting 8 when you are blasting aliens or whatnot on that Halo thingamajig!)

9) Never use my computer! My computer is purely for my out of office investment assessments, extracurricular stock charting, and personal investment portfolio management! Period! It is not there for you to waste hours online playing World of Witchcraft or any nonsense like that! Also, never go near my locked drawers! They contain highly sensitive customer information, and I do not want your perpetually sticky hands to touch that paperwork under any circumstances Nicky!

10) Please do not watch porn in the apartment! (Especially not while I’m in the apartment or when my return is imminent!) Because that just ends up embarrassing both of us!

11) And lastly, but most importantly, please do not hook up with girls in my apartment Nicky. I appreciate your quest to find love, and of course, I support you as a friend. I’ll always support you, no matter what. However, if I ever find another half-naked woman or item of lingerie in my home again (And I mean anywhere! Especially in MY bed!) I think I may have a complete breakdown! (Just to clarify, as there seemed to be some confusion! By lingerie, I of course mean any female under garments, including - bras, panties or any unmentionables of the frilly or lacy variety! Because I really don’t want to find any female underwear in my apartment ever again Nicky! Well, unless it's female underwear that I recognize as belonging to one of the many ladies I’ve dated or I’m dating of course!) You know I love living with you Nicky. Genuinely I do. So it truly pains me to have to say this, but if you ever hook up with another girl in my apartment, I think our current living arrangements will have to end. And like I said, I really don’t want that to happen! So if you don’t either, please take your girlfriends elsewhere for sex!

Agreement re-signed by Nicholas Taylor after ‘the incident that shall never be spoken of again!’

----- END OF ROD’S GENERAL APARTMENT RULES -----


“Yes! That’s it! That’s the silver bullet to end Rod and Nicky’s relationship for good!” Ricky let out a somewhat ominous sounding cackle. “Yes. Rod will never forgive Nicky for breaking that rule again! I’ll make sure of it!”

 

Chapter Text

As the long night dragged on, Nicky rolled about like a demented hamster in his sleep. Unfortunately, his steamy passionate dreams had gradually morphed from a euphoric sugary pleasure pantry, into a frosty bitter desert covered in scratchy grains of regret. 

While he wriggled around on top of his covers in discomfort, Nicky’s arms flew up to shield his poor aching chest. And he winced, as his soul was battered by chilling sand storms of remorse. Shivering in the strong gusts of guilt, Nicky’s weary heart all but burst under the heavy harrowing shame that pressed down upon it. And he felt his optimism buckle, as the stark contrast between his heavenly fantasy kisses with Rod, and the hellish echoes of his unresolved crudely buried betrayals intensified.

However, no matter how much Nicky wanted the memories to vanish, there was no escape from their wrath. Because despite his many moans of anguish, his painful nightmares persisted, forcing him to experience bleak foreboding omens of loneliness. Indeed, it wasn’t long before his guilt-ridden mind reconstructed a horrifying vision from the hazy drunken memories hidden deep within his subconscious. And still half asleep, Nicky cringed, as the heartbreaking mistake he had made a couple of years ago replayed in his mind.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY IS LEFT ALONE) -----

Nicky was so desperate for Rod to return, he felt like he was going stir-crazy! Of course, he had drunk-dialed his best buddy several times during the past four nights of boredom. And naturally, unable to keep his impulsive urges in check, he’d left his friend many rambling voice messages. All about silly trivial things, like new ad jingles, weird food combos he’d tried, and funny videos he’d watched on YouTube. Not to mention, the countless random texts he had haphazardly fired into his overburdened buddy’s already bulging inbox! Hell, he’d even texted Rod a photo of a spectacled smartly dressed gingerbread man he’d drooled over! Because the delicious biscuit had kind of looked like his absent friend to his beer-addled eyes. However, sadly, his stressed out roommate had been much too busy to call him back. 

Indeed, poor exhausted Rod had only managed to squeeze in a couple of short texts and a 30 second video chat since he had left. True, Nicky’s eyes had lit up at the sight of his bestest buddy during their brief FaceTime session. But sadly it had been all too fleeting, as his overworked friend had barely had time to splutter out a confession, before he had to dash off to yet another meeting. Rod felt so guilty leaving Nicky alone for so long, but his boss had insisted that he stay in California an extra three days, to quote 'Damn well finish what he started! Or else pack up and kiss fucking goodbye to Wall Street forever!’

Nicky checked his smartphone for the umpteenth time that night. He groaned. There were still no reassuring words from his distant lifelong companion to ease his ever ravenous Rod cravings.

Nicky sighed, he felt so incredibly lonely on his own. He had only been without Rod for four days, and everything was already falling apart around him! The apartment was looking increasingly like a landfill site! And he had done nothing but drink alcohol until he passed out on the couch in front of the TV every single night! He knew it was ridiculous, but he couldn’t even bare to sleep alone in the bedroom, without his roommate by his side. 

In fact, Nicky didn’t know how much longer he could cope without Rod. Sure, his perpetually generous friend had left a fully stocked larder of food, and a whopping $200 in notes to tide him over until he returned. But sadly Nicky’s reckless spending had already stretched that emergency fund pretty thin. Indeed, last night, Nicky had further dwindled the remaining funds, when he had guzzled a dozen pints of beer in an attempt to dull his loneliness! Worse still, consequently, he had become so intoxicated, that he had accidentally tumbled into a police officer, and almost been arrested for his flagrant drunk and disorderly conduct! He was so lucky that Kate and Christmas Eve had been there to argue his case, otherwise he would have spent the night in a jail cell for sure! 

Nicky staggered dejectedly down the street. He felt like a ticking time bomb without Rod to watch over him, like a puppy running lose in a velociraptor paddock without a leash! However, unfortunately, his responsible roommate wasn’t due back from his business trip, ’Hunting Elephants’ in California, for at least another five days! So he was on his own! 

"God! This is so borin'!" Nicky muttered, as he scuffed his shoes against the cold barren asphalt beneath his feet. 'Gee, I wonder how Rod’s gettin' on Hunting Elephants and all?' He pondered the unusual business phrase for a moment, trying to imagine what his investment-banker buddy might be doing over there. Poor Nicky always struggled to understand Wall Street jargon. So when he had asked his stockbroker friend to send him some photos of the ’elephants’, he had been utterly confused by Rod’s response. He chuckled to himself and shook his head, as he remembered the playful banter they had exchanged the day before Rod had left.

----- MINI FLASHBACK (THE NIGHT BEFORE ROD’S BUSINESS TRIP) -----

Nicky tapped his friend on the shoulder to get his attention, “Um, gee, Rod buddy, you know how you’re goin’ down south to hunt elephants and all? Well, I was hopin’ maybe you could text me some cute photos of the jumbos?”

Rod pulled his head from the closet, to turn round and look at his friend, ”Oh Nicky, you’re so adorable. Um, er, I mean… Um, not adorable, just… Um, sweet? I mean…” Rod blushed, though he couldn’t help but laugh at Nicky’s childlike innocence, “Look, don’t be silly Nicky! Of course I’m not going to hunt real elephants during my business trip to California! That would be ridiculous!”

”Well, jeez Rod! I never thought you were gonna shoot them or nothin’. I know you love elephants! Besides you couldn’t hunt a bug, let alone an elephant! You’re much too weedy for that!” Nicky teased his friend by wrapping his hand loosely around one of his incredibly skinny arms.

“Nicky please! Let go of me! I’m trying to pack!” Rod protested, as he pulled his arm free from his friend’s gentle grasp.

“You’re just gonna hunt them down to take photos, right? That’s what you meant, yeah? So you can text me some cute pics, surely? Please buddy! You know I love elephants too! They’re one of my favoritest animals! What with their silly trunks and all. They’re so much fun! I know you said I couldn’t come along this time, but I just wanna feel like I’m there with you. Come on, I’m only asking for a few pics is all. Surely they’ll be time for that? Right Rod?” Nicky collapsed to his knees and pleaded, “Please Rod buddy! Pretty please with glitter on top! I need those pics to feel like I’m there by your side!”

Rod rolled his eyes and ignored Nicky’s overly dramatic display of desperation, as he focused on folding up his suits as perfectly as possible. He needed to make sure that they didn’t get crumpled during the flight. 

Nicky stood up, but continued to jabber on, “Jeez, I’d come with you if you’d let me buddy. You know I would, right? I’d love to come!” He beamed hopefully at his best friend, as he watched him carefully pack his pristine pressed business suits into his case.

Rod sighed, “I’m sorry Nicky. You know, I’d love for you to come too! But like I said, it’s a very important business trip. Could be make or break for our bank. So we’ve all been given strict instructions to follow. And sadly, one of the top rules was that no partner… Um, I mean, that no roommates are aloud along this time.” He gulped, ‘God, that was too close!’ He cursed himself for his perpetual over-romanticization of his and Nicky’s friendship.

Nicky’s face dropped, “But Rod, what if I?”

Rod shook his head sadly, “No. Sorry Nicky. You know, if there was any way, of course I’d take you with me. I wish I could! But I just can’t this time. I’d get in too much trouble. Besides, I need to concentrate. And I’ll be in wall to wall meetings nearly every day!” He groaned, quickly adding, “So sure you would be bored out of your mind if you came along anyway.”

Nicky cut in, “I never get bored when I’m with you buddy!”

A small smile returned to Rod’s face, as he continued, “But don’t worry, I should be back in a week, ten days at most. And then…” His smile quickly spread across his face, as he paused a moment.

“Then what Rod?” Nicky asked.

“Then I’ve booked two days off!” Rod’s eyes seemed to sparkle with pure joy for an instant, “So we can spend lots of time together when I get back. I promise. And well, we can do whatever you like.” He smiled at his friend, in hopes his promise might cheer him up, and of course, it did!

Nicky’s frown immediately flipped into a humongous grin, “Gee Rod, you sure buddy?! That’d be awesome! The most awesome of all the awesomes! You’re always workin’ too hard buddy! You need some Rod and Nicky fun times too! So, you mean it this time, right? You’re not gonna cancel again or nothin’?” Nicky’s eyes shined with his desperate desire to be close to his bestest buddy.

Rod slowly nodded, “Look, I’m sorry I had to cancel last time. A big deal came up at the last minute that my managing director wouldn’t let me ignore. But this time, I’m ahead of the game. Because I told my boss that the vacation days had to be one hundred percent confirmed before I agreed to go on this trip.” Rod had barely finished his sentence, before Nicky threw his arms around him. He gulped, soaking in as many of the warm fuzzy feelings as possible, before he slowly pushed his overly excited roommate away again.

Nicky did a little dance, “Yay! Rod, I love hanging out with you so much buddy! So so much! You know that, right? And we’re gonna have so much fun together! I promise!” He managed to sneak a sloppy kiss onto the side of his bashful buddy’s face.

“Ew Nicky!” Rod exclaimed, but secretly he always loved it when Nicky got overexcited and kissed him on the cheek like that! Still, he didn’t want to risk getting overly excited himself! Luckily he’d become very adept at focusing on unsexy thoughts over the years, so he was able to quell his rising lust relatively quickly.

Nicky repeated his earlier request, “Anywho, you’ll text photos of the elephants, right?”

Rod chuckled and shook his head in loving dismissal, “Nicky you silly muppet! You know Hunting Elephants is Wall Street slang for hunting big clients, right? There aren’t even any elephants in California! Well, maybe in zoos I guess. But I guarantee there won’t be any time for exciting recreational expeditions to fun places like that!”

Nicky’s brow furrowed in confusion, and a frown quickly replaced his joyful eager expression. “Huh? You mean, you won’t be seeing any elephants?” He asked in disappointment.

Rod sighed again at Nicky’s childlike naiveté, “No. Just lots of fat CEOs, big company offices and long tedious boardroom meetings I’m afraid. Sure it’ll all be very boring.” He exhaled his excess stress, before he switched to a lighter note, “Still, I’m going to be travelling around the San Francisco Bay Area between meetings. And it’s supposed to be gorgeous out there, especially near the coast. Doubt I’ll get time, but if I do, I’ll try and take a couple of photos of the Golden Gate Bridge or something. I remember you telling me how most of your favorite action movie scenes were shot there. Is that right?”

Nicky beamed again, “Oh my gosh! Yes! Can’t believe you remembered! X-Men Last Stand, the original SupermanGodzillaRise of the Planet of the Apes! Jeez, so many movies destroyed that thing! So yeah, if you could take some selfies of you standin’ in front of it or somethin’, that’d be so cool Rod! Seriously, I’d love you forever if you could do that buddy!”

The cutest smile flickered across Rod’s face, and he nodded, “Well, if it’ll make you that happy Nicky, I’ll do my best. I’m not wearing a Godzilla suit or anything though!”

Nicky cheered, “Hooray! Thanks so much buddy! That’d be so awesome! And don’t worry, I can always photoshop the Godzilla suit in later!” He winked.

Rod rolled his eyes, and his smile wavered, as he said firmly, “No suit Nicky!”

Nicky laughed, “Well, gee Rod, I’d need to see you naked buddy in order to get all the details right for that!” He winked again.

The flush in Rod’s cheeks rapidly deepened, as he bit his lip and scrunched his eyes shut for a moment. ‘Think unsexy thoughts! Think unsexy thoughts! I know, Donald Trump! The orange egotistical moron that will be the death of the Republican party!’ He shivered at the image, before his focus quickly snapped back to his inappropriate friend, ‘God, why do you always throw out such homoerotically charged notions Nicky? Seriously, I swear, you’re always coming out with these weird sexual jokes! And coming up with such queer one liners! Always saying things I’ve never heard any other straight guy say!’ He thought, as he did his best to pour imaginary ice on his poor sexually aroused brain. Before he slowly returned to the reality of Nicky grinning at him.

“Nicky! Please! How would you like it if I photoshopped you naked?!” Rod blurted out. But immediately wished he hadn’t, as yet more overwhelmingly erotic imagery of Nicky flooded into his poor tortured mind. ‘Gah! Why the hell did I say that?!’ He thought, as he began to hear Nicky’s inevitable playful flirtatious response.

“Jeez, I wouldn’t mind at all buddy. I’d even pose for you like that lady in Titanic if you wanted me to!” He licked his lips, as he stared deeply into his friend’s slowly opening eyes. 

“God, why do you always do this to me Nicky?!” Rod said in exasperation.

“Do what Rod?” Nicky uttered with his typical school boy cheekiness, as he continued to grin like a Cheshire cat at his poor flustered roommate. 

“Anyway…” Rod did his best to redirect the conversation, “I’ll do my best to get those… Fully clothed!” He made sure to emphasize the last two words, before he continued, “Pictures of me in front of the bridge. But no promises mind you! I’m going to be snowed under with all the stock market forecasting, and contract analysis I have to get done!” He groaned, as he continued to tuck each of his twenty neatly rolled up underpants snuggly into his suitcase. 

“Jeez, why you taking so many pairs of underwear Rod? Thought you were only goin’ a week?”

Rod rolled his eyes, “Assuming a worst case scenario of ten days, a spare for each pair.”

Nicky chuckled, “You mean, in case you’re caught unaware?” He gave his roommate a playful shove.

Rod shook his head and pulled a slight face in disapproval of his friend’s childish taunts, “Nicky! Don’t be so gross!” He pushed him away, and sighed again, as he grabbed his pocket sized ‘Broadway Musical Classics’ book, to slip into his hand luggage.

Nicky’s momentary enthusiasm dimmed again, as he looked across at his friend in concern, “You sure you’ll be okay on your own, Rod?”

Rod looked very sad again for an instant, but nodded slowly, “Yes. I, um, I suppose Nicky.” He forced a smile.

Nicky put a comforting arm around Rod’s shoulder, “Cuz I could always sneak along somehow buddy. I’m sure I could. You know, in the suitcase or somethin’!” He laughed, as he stared longingly at Rod’s case, and genuinely contemplated if he could fit inside. “You know Rod, I mean it buddy! Just say the word! Cuz I’d happily hide in the cargo hold for the whole six hour flight, just so I could be there with you at the other end!” He half joked, but really he meant every word!

Rod smiled, “No, don’t be silly Nicky! That’d never work! You’d probably end up getting arrested by airport security or worse!” He rolled his eyes again, but reemphasized, “It’ll be okay. I’ll only be gone a week. Ten days at most. Then when I get back, like I said, I promise we can spend lots of time together. Just the two of us.”

----- END OF MINI FLASHBACK -----

Nicky sighed wistfully. He loved it when Rod showed his more light-hearted side. He really wished he would do it more often! ‘Oh well, at least Rod’s gonna take a couple of days off when he gets back! Finally! He never seems to have any vaycays! I don’t know how he keeps goin’! Jeez, I’m amazed he’s never had a heart attack or nothin’! Sure if I’d have kept up that level of stress and all, I’d have collapsed within the week! Still, two days of Rod relaxin’ with me! Oh my goody gum drops! I can still barely believe it! I really hope he doesn’t cancel this time! Gonna be so awesome! Just the two of us hanging out together! Gosh, I can’t wait! Rod and Nicky, the fantastic duo! Just chillin’ out together and messin’ about! Just like we did back in college! Gonna be so old school!’ Nicky thought, as excitement filled his body. But he had to be patient! There was still five days to go until Rod got back.

Nicky’s face drooped, as the excitement faded, and his feelings of boredom and loneliness quickly returned. He sighed again, this time with a distinctly sad edge. ‘Gee, I wish Rod didn’t have to go away on his own. Bet he’s super lonely out there too, all by himself in that hotel room. I could have snuggled up next to him and cheered him up after his long days in those boardroom meetings out there. Sure I could’ve snuck in somehow. Oh well, at least I know that ’Hunting Elephants’ is investment banker gibberish for ’searching out new clients’ or some shit I guess.’ Nicky kicked a can along the street for a moment. It didn’t really matter if Rod had gone to hunt real elephants or not, because either way, the result was the same. Rod was gone. And he was alone. 

‘Jeez, this sucks!’ Nicky thought, as he staggered along the street. He had tried to get back into the Around The Clock Café. All he wanted was one more alcoholic nightcap to help him forget his Rod woes, before he headed back to his comfy makeshift sofa bed. However, he had been promptly ushered out again, the second the bartender caught a whiff of the overpowering stench of beer on his breath! 

Poor Nicky had to steady himself against the wall, because he’d had so much to drink he could barely see straight! But he still felt indescribably lonely without Rod around! He sighed heavily, ‘God, what am I supposed to do for ten days without Rod! I’m already bored outta my skull, and it’s only been like five days!’ He thought sadly, ‘I’ve hung out with Kate, Gary, Brian, and even Christmas Eve! But it’s just not the same without my bestest buddy.” He sighed heavily, “Hell, I even considered givin’ Trekkie Monster a call. Cuz he said he had just the thing to take my mind off my old buddy Rod. Gee, yeah, didn’t he ask me to come round tonight? Said he’d was havin’ a private party or somethin’? Jeez, why didn’t I go over there sooner! Sure it’d be a right laugh.’ 

Nicky paused, as he reconsidered Trekkie’s offer. ‘Hmm, why did I turn it down again? Crystal meth worries? But jeez, that crystal meth incident was a once in a life time slip up! Sure neither me or Rod will ever do that again! Jeez, I certainly won’t ever do it again! Christ was that a bad trip! Why else? Oh yeah, cuz Rod warned me not to, I ‘member now. But Rod’s not here, right? So he’ll never know, will he?’

Nicky collapsed backwards against the wall, as two cackling care bears materialized in his mind.

”Yeah! That’s a great idea!” The blue and yellow bears chimed in unison, as they danced around Nicky’s head, like mischievous intoxicated gremlins. “Let’s do it! You’re already wasted! So a private party with the horniest monster on the block will be even more fun!”

Nicky’s eyes widened. His head spinning wildly, as the blue and yellow bears all but blurred together into a green mist of ill-thought-out impulsive plans in his mind, “Gee, does sound like fun guys.” He muttered, quickly adding, “But jeez, I can’t. I promised Rod I wouldn’t get involved with Trekkie again. Not after last time.” He gulped. 

Last time Nicky and Trekkie, had quote ’partied’, his overly horny friend had dared him to break into a strip club dressing room and steal some panties for him! And, of course, poor easily influenced drunken Nicky, had bowed to the peer pressure, and shuffled sheepishly over to the changing room door to complete the dare. However, as soon as he’d grabbed the handle to sneak into the staff only rooms, he had immediately been apprehended by the club’s bouncers! And promptly told it was company policy to ring local law enforcement if he didn’t pay an on the spot $100 fine! 

Indeed, Nicky had only gotten off the hook because his best buddy Rod had come along to save his neck. He was so lucky to have a friend like Rod. Because his best buddy had not only offered to cover the fine. But he had also coughed up an extra hundred bucks for each bouncer to help them forget the incident. And spent 30 minutes divulging stock market tips, in order to ‘persuade’ them not to seek revenge for the damage Nicky had caused to their suits when he’d thrown up on them! 

Nicky cringed, as Rod’s departing words echoed in his mind.

”Nicky, please, promise me you won’t hang out with Trekkie Monster while I’m gone. You know, I can usually grin and bear you’re little shenanigans. And I know you would never be stupid enough to try crystal meth again. Or any other hard core drug for that matter. Because neither of us would after last time! But it’s just, well, if you get into any kind of trouble while I’m away, I won’t be here to bail you out. You understand my concern, right? I’m not saying you can’t ever see Trekkie again, of course you can! It’s just that I don’t want you to end up getting arrested while I’m away or anything like that. You promise you’ll stay away from him until I get back, yes?” 

Nicky bit his lip, as a battle broke out between the tempting persuasive calls of the devilish bears and his judicious loyalty to Rod’s warning. ‘God, I know I shouldn’t go round there. But hell, what else am I meant to do without Rod!’ He thought, as he looked over longingly at the enticing flashes of purplish light coming from Trekkie Monster’s window. ‘Guess I could just pop in? See what’s up over there. Then I could leave, yeah? So I wouldn’t really be breakin’ my promise, right? If I just took a quick peek or somethin’? I mean, jeez, it’s not like it’s a strip club or nothin’! So how much trouble could I possibly get into over there? Surely it’d be impossible to get into any trouble in his apartment, wouldn’t it?’

The badly behaved bears in his mind cheered him on with their whispers of brazen brash depravity, “Yeah! Do it! Do it! Do it! Come on Nicky! Let’s just do it! Rod is probably at some fancy business party over there in the Orange County anyway! Hell, he packed all those super expensive posh suits! What are we supposed to believe? That he’s not going to go to a single party out there?! Please! He’s probably tipsily tap dancing through a room of champagne glasses this very second! Yeah! He’s probably hooked up with all kinds of fun rich douchebags already! So you deserve to kick back and kick things up a notch too, yeah? Besides, it’s not like he’s your boyfriend!” The bears sniggered, “Yeah, he’s just your friend. So he’d want you to have fun and party, right?”

Nicky covered his ears for a moment. But ultimately, he couldn’t resist the allure of the flashing lights from across the street, so he reluctantly agreed. “Yeah, okay guys. I’m in! But just a quick dance and I’m done mind you! Cuz then I gotta go home to catch that late night Wheel of Fortune rerun! I really really love Wheel of Fortune! So you won’t let me forget ‘bout it or nothin’ guys? Right?”

”Oh, we won’t!” The bears chimed again in unison, before they fell about in fits of giggles in the hazy beer saturated clouds within Nicky’s mind.

“Well, okay then. Let’s go check out Trekkie’s private party!” Nicky said decisively, as he strode off purposefully towards the flashing apartment block.

----- OUTSIDE TREKKIE’S APARTMENT -----

Nicky was starting to have second thoughts, as he heard the loud sexually explicit music and orgasmic sounds emanating from Trekkie’s bachelor pad. ‘Gosh, am I really gonna go in there without Rod? It just seems wrong to go to such a sexy party without him.’ 

The bears were growing frustrated with Nicky’s delay tactics. “Come on! Just get in there! Rod wants you to have fun! You’re not a chicken are you? You’re not a baby? You don’t need Rod to babysit you everywhere you go, do you?” The bears fell about laughing at him, “Hey, everybody, Nicky’s a baby! A big giant baby in a diaper! Who can’t make his own decisions! Who can’t do anything without his anally retentive friend’s approval! Why don’t you call Rod, if you’re so worried about what he’d think Nicholas?! We could use a good long laugh!” The bears continued to giggle and mock him, “Yeah, why don’t you call him, you big baby?!”

Nicky frowned, “Guys! I’m not a baby! And I don’t need Rod’s approval for nothin’! Let’s go!” He knocked on the door and waited for Trekkie to answer.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Still deep asleep, Nicky wailed out from his dream, in a futile attempt to stop himself repeating the tragic mistake of his past, “No! Please stop! Don’t do it! I don’t wanna hurt Rod anymore!” But of course, his cries fell on deaf ears. Because no matter how loud you scream, you can’t change the past.

Chapter Text

Rod tossed and turned in his sleep, as his dreams began to remind him of one of the most emotionally confusing experiences of his life.

----- FLASHBACK (ROD RETURNS FROM HIS BUSINESS TRIP) -----

Rod smiled out of the taxi cab window, as excitement pulsated through his poor weary body. He had done it! He had actually done it! He had secured long-term business deals with all the major corporate clients on his agenda. And he had written up and analyzed all the contracts that he had been asked to prepare. All in double-quick time! Sure, it had nearly killed him! But he had done it! And in less than half the time his boss had expected. 

Indeed, Rod’s boss had been so overjoyed by all the big profitable deals that Rod had secured for the bank that day, that he had even agreed to his top Investment Analyst’s one and only request! And dismissed him early from the San Francisco Bay Business Team to enjoy a few extra vacation days back in New York.

Poor Rod had toiled non-stop since he arrived in California, working through the night, almost every night! In fact, on top of the jet-lag, Rod had only gotten in about eight hours sleep in five days! So he felt like a zombie, like the walking undead! But it was worth it! It was all worth it! Because now he got to head home five days earlier than planned! He was so happy! So incredibly exhausted for sure! But so so happy! He couldn’t wait to see Nicky again and surprise him! He just couldn’t wait! 

Indeed, Rod felt even happier than usual to be returning home, because he knew his best friend was desperate to see him too! And he couldn’t help but grin wildly, as he imagined the all too cute look of confusion that would no doubt grace his sweet Nicky’s face, when he walked through the door five days earlier than planned! That look was going to be so priceless! 

Last time he had spoken to his friend, poor Rod had only had time to relay a short confession. Because moments before the call, his boss had cornered him, and bombarded him with an embarrassing public diatribe. Reminding him that he better quote 'Damn well finish what he started! Or else pack up and kiss fucking goodbye to Wall Street forever!’, before laughing at him in front of all his colleagues the moment his back was turned. 

Rod screwed his eyes shut, as he remembered the humiliation. 

“Well, what are you fucking waiting for?! A prince to save you?! Go on! Get lost Princess Periwinkle! Get back to fucking work! Or else kiss goodbye to everyone in the audience like a good little boy! He’s gone right? God, what a fucking pathetic cuck! I hope the rest of you losers never beg to return home early like that! He’s lucky I don’t fire him on the spot for even suggesting such ridiculous snowflake nonsense! I swear, he’s such a fucking fag sometimes! I don’t think he’s even got a girlfriend! But if by some miracle, he’s managed to bag some unfortunate bimbo, I’m sure she cheats on him! He deserves it too! Because no one could ever truly love a pathetic cuck like that! God, what a loser! But we can’t afford to be cuckold wimps like him! We’ve got work to do! It may not be fun, it may not be pretty, but we’ve gotta get all those suckers nailed into long-term cast iron contracts by Sunday! Else you’ll all be living in a cardboard box come Christmas! Mark my words! So put up, or shut up!”

Rod clutched his hands to his chest, as the horrible things his boss had said about him a couple of days ago replayed in his mind. True, his boss had never been one to mince his words. Indeed, he had always been one of the most brutal bullies on Wall Street, in an industry that was already notorious for its ’unfriendly atmosphere’! However, despite his familiarity with his boss’s ’tough love’ managerial style, Rod couldn’t help but tremble under the impact of his words. And he couldn’t deny that the things his boss had said about him on that occasion, had cut especially deep into his vulnerable fragile psyche. Because every harsh word in that tirade, highlighted inner-condemnations Rod himself had harbored just below the surface for years.

‘Got to focus on Nicky now!’ Rod reminded his wobbly mind, as he tried to return to his optimistic outlook.

Nicky had left Rod so many text and voice messages over the past few days! So many in fact, that it was probably going to take him half the flight home just to fully absorb them all! But that didn’t bother Rod, not in the slightest. On the contrary, he couldn’t wait to devour each and every one of those swoon-licious recordings, and bask in the warm fuzzy feelings they would inevitably induce within his poor aching soul. Rod did feel a bit guilty that he hadn’t been able to listen to the voice mail straight away. But unfortunately, his schedule had been so jam-packed with meetings, that he hadn’t had time for any such personal indulgences! 

However, Rod would soon be free to catch up on all the funny adorable little messages that his easily excitable roommate had sent his way. And he intended to revel in each and every one of those recordings and texts the moment he got settled on the plane. Still, he wasn’t going to send any more replies. No. Of course, Rod wanted to call his best friend to share the joyful news of his early return. He wanted to call him more than anything! But he couldn’t do it. Because if he did, it would ruin the surprise. And Rod really wanted to catch Nicky unawares for once! 

Nicky was always springing surprises on Rod! Indeed, his perpetually bouncy playful friend frequently startled him with surprise hugs, surprise parties, surprise gifts, surprise songs he had conjured up from his random imagination, and the list went on! So now it was Rod’s turn to surprise Nicky for once! Still, in order for the surprise to truly work its magic, he had to resist his temptations, and keep it zipped! 

Rod rubbed his hands together anxiously, as he did his best to quell his irresistible urge to hit the green phone icon next to Nicky’s adorable face. ‘Must not ring Nicky! Must not ring Nicky!’ He chanted in his mind, to try and ensure he remembered what to avoid. But of course, it only made him think about how heavenly it would be to hear the whimsical cheerful tones of his sweetheart all the more! 

So instead, Rod did his best to focus on what he would need to pack when he returned to his hotel room. ‘When I get back, I must carefully fold up each of my six suits, and make sure the correct tie is matched to each one. So that I don’t end up miss matching them when I start work again next week. God, I can’t wait to get back to New York! I swear, my heart belongs in that city, with Nicky!’ He smiled again at the thought of returning home. He honestly couldn’t wait to see his Nicky again! 

However, Rod had one last thing to do in San Francisco before he could return home. He had to take a photo of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. With elephant sightings being rare in California, he had promised Nicky that he would do his best to take a selfie in front of that famous landmark! And he intended to keep that promise, because he knew how ecstatically happy the picture would make his sweetheart. So, no matter how indescribably tired he felt, he knew he must stay awake to complete this last mission. Before he packed up all his business suits and headed back to the airport to catch his six hour flight home. 

----- AT THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE -----

Rod held out his smartphone to take the souvenir shot. Typically, he had to force smiles for photos, but this time he actually felt genuinely happy, so he didn’t have to fake it. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon Nicky!’ He thought, as he checked to see how the pictures had turned out. Usually he never looked good in photos, but for some strange reason he actually looked kind of good in the last one. 

Rod couldn’t stop thinking about Nicky. Even in the midst of the chaotic atmosphere around him, Nicky was always there, in the back of his mind, waiting for him. He loved his friend so very much, in so many ways, but it was the deep romantic love that swirled the most euphoric adoration around his heart. He needed Nicky, and Nicky needed him, right? Just maybe not in the same way? 

Rod sniffed and sighed deeply, as a light breeze swept past his still perfectly gelled hair. ‘Nicky, I wish you knew just how much I love you. Sometimes I even feel like you love me the same way too. Is it crazy? Is it wrong? I swear, sometimes when you’re near me I feel like our souls collide and sparks fly! And when you touch me… Wow. Words can’t even describe the passion that explodes within me! God, what’s wrong with me? Sometimes I even convince myself that you love me back, in some strange way. I know, it’s insane, isn’t it? Because you’re my best friend, and you always will be. Still, I swear, at times it honestly feels like you love me, just as I love you. But I know you can’t. Right? Or can you?’ 

Rod looked at his smartphone a moment, and scrolled through the endless pages of texts and voice mail alerts that his adorably mischievous roommate had sent him. ‘Would Nicky really send me all these messages, if he only loved me like a friend? There are so so many!’ A smile spread across his exhausted face, ‘Seriously Nicky, what on Earth are you trying to tell me? Why do you always send me so many messages? Why do you sing me so many songs? Why do you surprise me with so many hugs and kisses? Because it feels like you give me so many more hugs and sloppy kisses than a straight guy would give someone he only thought of as a friend? Right? Am I right?’ 

Rod stared intensely at Nicky’s image on his phone for a moment, praying that the answer would come. But it didn’t. And Rod was left to wonder what Nicky’s motives might really be. Still, he couldn’t help but feel a rush of amorous devotion surge into his spirit. Thinking about Nicky always made him feel so special, so safe, so much less alone on this unfathomably large planet.

Rod beamed, as he stared out from the Fort Point parking lot, across the choppy ocean to the Marin Headlands in the distance. It seemed ridiculous, and yet, in some strange way, Nicky was like the Golden Gate Bridge over the troubled waters of his life. He didn’t know when. And he didn’t know how. But at that moment, Rod truly felt like one day Nicky would be the one to save him from his swampy tomb of torment. And that on that day, his lifelong devotion to his friend would finally make sense. Rod sighed, ‘Maybe on that day, the muddy waters swirled up by Nicky’s confusing behavior will at long last become clear?’ 

It was late in the afternoon, about 5pm, so the sun was very low in the sky. However, the warm dusk glow only made the bridge look even more stunning! And he couldn’t help but gaze in awe at the magnificent intricately engineered structure that towered over him. 

‘Gosh. It’s truly beautiful.’ Rod thought, as he sighed wistfully, ‘I only wish Nicky was here to see it with me. He would be jabbering on about some movie explosion or something I’m sure.’ He giggled to himself, ‘Oh well, he’ll see the photos soon enough I suppose. Better take a few more, just for good luck.’ He snapped a dozen more shots of the bridge before he turned back to the taxi cab waiting for him. He lingered a few moments, to fully absorb the stunning sights. Before he carefully climbed back into the cab. 

“Gorgeous view, isn’t it?” The taxi driver commented.

“Yes. It’s truly stunning!” Rod smiled at him, “Thank you so much for bringing me here.” He pulled out $40 from his wallet. “Could you take me back to the Palace Hotel now please? I’ve got to pack for my flight.”

The taxi driver’s eyes lit up at the sight of the money, “Well, thank you sir! That’s very generous of you! You off home then?” He inquired.

“Yes, back to New York. My flight departs at six this evening from the San Francisco International Airport.”

“Right, better get you back to the hotel to pack then!” The driver reassured him, “Don’t worry, I know a short cut.” He was a very friendly guy, albeit a little chatty, “You know, my ex-girlfriend dumped me next to that bridge.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.” Rod said in slight surprise. “It’s hard to imagine how anyone could break up with someone next to such a beautiful landmark.” 

“Yeah, well… Her departing words to me were, It’s like the bridge between us is broken, and we’re standing on the opposite sides of the country, with no line of communication between us. To this day, I’ve no idea what on Earth she was on about! But I found out later that she’d hooked up with some other dude behind my back! So good riddance I guess! No worries though, plenty more fish in the sea? Huh? How about you? You got a special someone back home?”

“Oh, um…” Rod was taken somewhat off guard by the question, and he wasn’t sure how to respond. But he thought he best keep things vague, “Um, yes, kind of… Um, it’s complicated.” He settled on.

“Well, I’m sure she’s a very lucky girl whoever she is! You’re quite a catch!” The driver winked at him in his mirror.

Rod blushed, “Oh. Um… Well, gosh… Um, thanks. I always try to dress to impress!” He blurted out in the midst of their small talk.

“Well, gosh, you certainly impress! In fact, I’d date you in a heartbeat if I wasn’t straight as a flag pole!” He joked. “Sorry, I’m just messin’ with you! Hope I’m not embarrassing you sir? Only, you seem like such a nice guy! I just hope your special lady back home knows how lucky she is to have a guy like you on her arm! Polite, handsome, well dressed, generous… Lord, you’re the whole package!” The driver winked again, as he turned back to head towards the city center.

Rod blushed profusely, he was starting to feel more than a little awkward now. “Um, well, yes… I’m, um, I’m sure she knows.” He muttered, smiling, as he thought about how happy Nicky was going to be to see him.

----- LATER ON THE PLANE -----

Rod struggled to get comfortable in the somewhat cramped economy class seat he had booked. On the flight out to California he had of course been granted the luxury of a business class seat, with plenty of legroom and full recline. However, no matter how impressed Rod’s boss had been with his achievements in the boardroom, he had drawn the line at paying for his minion’s additional travel expenses! Thus, poor Rod had to cover the cost of his own ticket home. And unbelievably, even an economy seat was costing him a whopping $1200! So there was no way he was going to blow three months rent on the additional jaw-droppingly ridiculous $4000 needed to upgrade to a business class seat! 

Nevertheless, as Rod kept reminding himself, all these little extra costs and struggles were worth it to be back by his beloved’s side ASAP! Definitely worth it! True, Nicky would likely be fast asleep by the time he finally made it to the apartment. Because he probably wouldn’t make it back to Avenue Q until gone 2am the next morning. But Rod didn’t mind. He would happily snuggle down in the bed next to his sleeping beauty of a roommate, and wait for him to wake up! Indeed, surely it would only emphasize the surprise all the more! Because no doubt Nicky would be even more shocked to see his best friend suddenly appear in his bed like that! He would probably think he was still dreaming, or that Rod had beamed in on one of those Star Trek transporter gizmos he was always raving about!

Rod plugged his headphones into his smartphone, and began to play each of the recordings Nicky had left him over the past few days.

“Hey Rod! I know you said not to call unless it was an emergency and all. But jeez, I just saw somethin’ amazin’! And it’s so unbelievably awesome that I had to call you right away buddy! I had to! You’ll never guess what I saw! A talkin’ duck! Yeah, I know, you’re probably thinkin’… Come on, stop being silly Nicky, talkin’ ducks don’t exist! But they do now! Cuz there’s this new ad with this funny talkin’ rubber duckie! God Rod! I know you’re gonna love him! He’s so adorable! I might even buy six bottles of the bubble bath in the promo, just to get the free poster for you! Cuz he’s just that cute! I know, I know, you’d say… Nicky, that’s ridiculous! But it’s not Rod! It’s really not! Besides, you know how much I love my time in the tub and all! Gotta have my nice long soak in the bubblies! So I’d probably use up that stuff in like a week anyway! Anywho, hope you’re okay out there on your own? I’m worried about you is all. And I miss you so much buddy! So so much! Anywho, please call me! I long to hear your cute Rod voice! It’s so borin’ here without you. BEEP! End of message.”

Rod felt his heart melt from pure joy upon hearing Nicky’s sweet melodic tones. ‘Oh Nicky, what is this strange obsession you have with rubber ducks? I swear, you’re nothing but a big kid at times!’ Rod shook his head in loving befuddlement. However, a smile quickly spread across his weary face, as he clicked on the icon to play the next message.

“Jeez Rod! Where are you? God, I miss you so much buddy! So so much! Gee, I know this is gonna sound kinda silly and all. But I can’t sleep in the bedroom without you! So I’m campin’ out on the sofa ‘til you get home buddy! It’s kinda fun, I guess. But it’d be so much more fun if you were here next to me! Think about it buddy! We could have a real life slumber party, just like the ones we had when we were kids! Jeez, we could even have a pillow fight! I know, it’s against your Rod rules and all. But I’m sure you could bend the rules for some old-school Rod and Nicky fun-times, yeah? Just once. Anywho, please call me. I need my old buddy Rod back! I miss you more than a snowman misses the snow. Yeah, that’s right, I’m meltin’ into a puddle without you! BEEP! End of message.”

Rod sighed, ‘I miss you so much too Nicky. More than you know.’ He clicked to play the next recording.

“Rod! Guess what buddy?! I ate this business gingerbread man earlier! Check your texts for the visual. But I swear, he looked so much like you buddy! Like your biscuit twin! He had your tie, your glasses and everythin’! Anywho, I had to text you a picture of him, cuz he was so adorable! Hope you got it? So cute right?! He was so tasty too! I licked each one of his little icing buttons from his jacket! And I swear buddy, I was thinkin’ ‘bout you with every lick! BEEP! End of message.”

Rod gulped, as he pulled a tissue from his pocket and dabbed the sweat from his brow. ‘What the hell?! God Nicky! How do you manage to make even the most innocent of things seem so sexual?! I swear, you have a gift for creating homoerotic tension from nothing! Jesus!’ He took a deep breath, as he tried his best to banish any overly erotic gingerbread man imagery from his mind. Before he moved on to play the next recording.

“Rod, where are you buddy? I don’t know how much longer I can survive without you! The boredom is killin’ me! Jeez, I drank so much last night! I almost got arrest… Um, oops. Sorry, I wasn’t supposed to… Um, never mind! Don’t worry! Christmas Eve and Kate are lookin’ out for me and all. So I’ll be okay buddy. Promise! Just come back soon, yeah? Please buddy! I need my Rod by my side! BEEP! End of message.”

Rod sighed again, though this time with an edge of disappointed concern. ‘Oh Nicholas, when will you learn to do things in moderation and not drink so much? I swear, if you keep up this drinking you’re going to end up needing a liver transplant or something! And I’m going to end up bankrupt paying for it!’ He exhaled his lingering fears and frustration. ‘Please, just learn to drink sensibly will you?!’ He made a mental note to give Nicky another serious lecture about the dangers of alcoholism when he returned. Before he moved along to the next recording.

“Hey Rod! Where are you?! I’m so lonely without you buddy! Please come back soon! I need you so much you know! So so much! I can barely function here alone is all! I’m nothin’ more than a useless blob without you by my side! It’s like I’m a sandwich fillin’ and I’m spillin’ out all over the floor without my Rod bread to keep me smushed snugly together! So please come back and wrap your bready Rodness around me again soon! BEEP! End of message.”

Rod grinned wildly and chuckled to himself, ‘God Nicky! How do you always manage to come up with such adorable, yet at the same time, decidedly gross metaphors?!’ He shook his head in loving bemusement, as he moved along to the final three recordings.

“Rod! I love you so much buddy! So so much! I keep watchin’ all these old game show reruns to try and take my mind off the borin’ nights and all. And it helps a bit I guess. But it’d be so much better if you were here with me! God Rod! Some of the answers people give on these shows… Jeez! Especially on the Family Feud show! They’re just so hilarious! Gosh, I nearly choked I was laughing so hard! Don’t worry, not for real or nothin’. But, for example, one of the questions was… Name something that you might have strapped to your body... BEEP! End of message”

Rod rolled his eyes, as he clicked the next message to hear the supposedly hilarious answer the contestant had given.

“Sorry, think I pressed the wrong button or somethin’. Anywho, the answers were supposed to be things like a watch, or a seatbelt or somethin’. But the guy said… A dildo! God, I laughed ‘til I cried buddy! I wish you were here to see it! The look on your face would have been priceless! Gosh, you’re so damned cute when you’re left all blushin’ and speechless! Another question was… Name somethin’ you might hurt yourself riding on... BEEP! End of message.”

‘Jesus Nicky! You better not be about to say what I think you’re about to say!’ Rod thought, as he clicked onto the final recording.

“Sorry buddy, don’t even know what happened that time! But holey moley Rod, your face would’ve turned bright red for sure! Cuz the answer was supposed to be a horse or a bicycle or somethin’, as people often hurt themselves riding on things like that! Jeez, even an elephant would have made a good answer I think! But the lady didn’t say any of those! She said… Dun, dun, dun! Yeah that’s right, you guessed it! A penis! Gosh, everyone was falling about on the floor gigglin’ and all. Then there was one that started… Name a famous sayin’ that begins with the words… The tip of the... And oh Christ! The answer was supposed to be somethin’ like… The tip of the iceberg, or the tip of the tongue! But everyone was in hysterics! Cuz the lady said… Yeah, you guessed it again! The tip of the penis! Cuz it was the first thing that came into her mind! You know, that well known expression?! It’s on the tip of my penis! Jesus Rod! You should’ve seen Steven Harvey’s reaction! Oh my God! I almost tumbled the entire sofa backwards onto the floor I was rollin’ around laughing so much! Don’t worry, not for real or nothin’! The couch is still alive! But you would have turned into a tomato from embarrassment for sure Rod! I know you would! Anywho, please please call me buddy! I need you! I really really need you! BEEP! End of message.”

Rod burst out laughing. He couldn’t help it! Nicky was so funny! ‘God Nicky! Why do you always do this to me?! Even when you’re nearly 3000 miles away, at the opposite end of the country, you always seem to do this to me somehow!’ He continued to chuckle loudly. However, soon everyone in ear shot had turned around to look at him, and he blushed with embarrassment. 

“Sorry people, just listening to… Um, er, a funny podcast! Yes, a very funny podcast! That’s all!” Rod did his best to brush off his new audience’s interest in his fit of hysterics, and bit his lip in an attempt to stop the chuckles from escaping. But he couldn’t stop giggling to himself! ‘God! What’s wrong with you Nicholas?! Why do you watch shows about such nonsense?!’ He continued to chuckle for a few moments. But luckily he managed to tame the wildest of his instinctual responses to Nicky’s little anecdotes. And everyone eventually rolled their eyes and returned to their own business.

As Rod slowly regained control over his exhausted giggling body, he breathed in deeply and stared out of the airplane window beside him. There was still several hours to go before the plane landed in New York. So he did his best to snuggle down in the uncomfortable seat, to try and catch up on some much needed sleep. ‘Oh Nicky. You do love me in your own Nicky-ish way, don’t you?’ He smiled happily, as his heavy eyelids slowly fell shut.

----- PAUSE IN FLASHBACK-----

Rod continued to roll around his bed, as his dream got closer and closer to the painful dark depths of his subconscious. It was as if his duvet was rapidly turning into a muddy pool of quick sand. And no matter how frantically Rod squirmed in the pit of his misery, he couldn’t seem to get free.

Chapter Text

As the endless night continued to maul its victims, Rod winced in his sleep. Sadly, his confusing heavenly Nicky fantasy, as usual, had morphed into a torturous nightmare. Only this time, it was a nightmare that had the power to rip Rod’s poor lacerated heart in two, and crush his spirit into a chaotic wasteland of lonely shards. Indeed, tragically, Rod’s merciless memories had already trampled all traces of his dreamy optimism into dust. And the tears torn from his sad eyes, trickled down his cheek onto the damp pillow below, to form a salty lake of despair beneath his battered head.

Desperate to escape the sharp talons of his dream, Rod twitched around in agony. But there was no refuge from his nightmare, as his subconscious reminded him of the most painful experience of his life. And he called out from the dark abyss of his hellish apocalyptic zonkland, his voice saturated with anguish, “No! Please stop! Don’t go back there! I don’t want to see Nicky like that again! It hurts too much! Please! My poor soul can’t take the pain!” But of course, Rod’s cries fell on deaf ears. Because no matter how loud you scream, you can’t change the past.

----- FLASHBACK RESUMES (BACK IN ROD’S APARTMENT) -----

Rod turned the key in the lock. He groaned. The apartment block seemed to buzz with annoying little noises, which he thought for sure would keep him awake all night! In fact, he could swear he heard suspiciously orgasmic sounding feminine moans coming from somewhere. 

Rod sighed heavily, ‘God, I guess Kate Monster has found herself a new boyfriend again! I’m happy for her, of course I am. I just wish she’d go about her love making a little more quietly!’ He struggled to get the door open, banging against it to un jam it. “Damn it Nicky! I thought I asked you to oil these hinges!” He muttered loudly. However, luckily the door creaked open upon his final push. It was odd. But as soon as he stepped into his apartment, the noises came to an abrupt end. Only to be replaced by what sounded like very girlish giggling and barely audible desperate whispering. 

Rod’s brow furrowed in puzzlement, as he turned on the light. He had expected to see Nicky sleeping on the sofa, with the TV still on. Because his dopey roommate often zonked out in front of the shopping channel when Rod wasn’t there to protest the waste of electricity and meaningless marketing drivel. But nothing, the room was quiet and empty. And the couch was home to nothing but a pile of somewhat sticky looking cushions. 

Rod rolled his eyes at the sight of the slovenly hovel. He knew he would be walking into a junk yard, but he hadn’t anticipated quite how overpowering the stench of smelly socks, four day old pizza, festering curry sauce and knocked over beer cans would be! 

‘God Nicky! What on Earth have you been doing in here?!’ Rod held his nose to soften the onslaught from the putrefied milk for a moment, as he looked around to see if he could spot Nicky anywhere. However, there didn’t seem to be any sign of his lovably rebellious roommate. He shrugged, ‘Guess he went to the bathroom? Or back to his own bed?’ He concluded, as he pulled his case inside his home and shut the door behind him. He checked his smartphone for messages, but the battery was completely dead, so he plugged it in to charge on the sideboard.

Rod yawned deeply, as he rubbed his tired eyes behind his glasses. He could still hear some faint giggling sounds, but he thought nothing of it. Because Kate often had late night giggle-fests, especially when she had recently stumbled upon a new love interest. Still, Rod sighed. He wasn’t jealous, of course not! That would be ridiculous! But it did seem a little unfair that straight people seemed to have all the luck when it came to love! 

Rod reprimanded his brain, ‘No! That’s not fair! Kate’s had her heart broken so many times! She deserves a little luck in the love department for once! Besides, as far as anyone else knows, I’m straight too.’ He gulped, as he realized how deeply he had buried himself in the closet. Some days he even managed to convince himself he might be straight, but then he saw Nicky, and the truth smacked him in the face like a wet kipper! He just had to make sure that no one else ever uncovered his shamefully sinful secrets!

Rod couldn’t stop yawning! He knew he had to go to bed, and sooner rather than later! True, he had managed to catch a few extra zonks on the plane. However, the chair had been so uncomfortable, that he’d ended up with nothing but a stiff painful neck for his troubles! He rubbed his poor aching shoulders a minute, before he headed towards the bedroom. Usually he would go to the bathroom first, to complete his nightly ablutions. But he couldn’t wait to see Nicky! Besides, his body was so utterly exhausted, he didn’t feel like he could maintain his verticality much longer! 

Rod grabbed the bedroom door handle and slowly entered the room. It was pitch black, and deathly silent, so he couldn’t see or hear his roommate. He contemplated turning on the light for an instant, but quickly decided against it. He didn’t want to wake his sleeping friend. Still yawning, he loosened the tie around his neck and slipped it over his head. 

‘Gosh, I’m so tired. Maybe I’ll just go straight to bed tonight, sleep in my suit again, like I did that one time back in college. After all, Nicky’s always sleeping in his clothes! And it never seems to do him any harm.’ Rod stumbled slowly across the floor past Nicky’s bed, and towards his own. He carefully edged forward in the darkness. He didn’t want to accidentally trip over any of the random objects Nicky would have inevitably left strewn across the floor! He glanced over at Nicky’s bed, as the room was momentarily lit by a car’s headlamps, hoping to catch a glimpse of his sweetheart. But the bed looked empty. ‘That’s odd.’ He thought, but figured Nicky must just be in the bathroom, or maybe sleeping over at a friend’s place? The room did smell like a brewery though, so Nicky must have been there recently. 

Rod rolled his eyes, ‘God Nicky, when are you going to grow up and stop drinking like you’re at a frat party beer chugging contest?!’ He thought, as his mothering instinct returned. Still, he was so tired, he didn’t really feel up to worrying about it too much right now. After all, Nicky had reassured him that Christmas Eve and Kate had been looking out for him, and he trusted them to look after his friend. Of course, part of him wanted to go out and search for Nicky right this second, and not stop looking until he was certain his friend was safe. 

However, poor Rod was so indescribably exhausted after his practically non-stop five day shift and six hour flight! So utterly exhausted that he barely had enough energy to remain standing! Let alone enough energy to go back out into the cold windy night to search aimlessly! No, his Nicky worries would have to wait until morning.

Rod couldn’t see a thing in the pitch black darkness. But he reached out to feel for the bed. And he was just about to grab the duvet so that he could clamber beneath the covers, when he was startled by a loud squeal. He shrieked and fell backwards onto the floor, “Wha… Wha… What?! What?” He kept repeating over and over again, as he reached up to turn on the lamp on the nightstand. And the full horror of the situation slowly sank in. “God Nicky! What the hell is go... Go… Going… Gone?!” He spluttered nonsensically, as he felt his heart plummet to his feet.

Rod’s eyes burned, as they rapidly adjusted to the bright light and the horrific sight. There in his bed, was a half-naked blue skinned woman perched precariously over his friend. Nicky still had his boxer shorts and t-shirt on, thank God! But the woman was only wearing a very skimpy out-fit, consisting of nothing more than an incredibly revealing set of lacy red lingerie. She winced a little in the bright light, but remained straddled just above Nicky. 

“Hey! Do you mind?!” The woman muttered in annoyance, as she flicked her orangey red hair forward, so that it fell down beside her eyes and over her clearly bountiful bosom. “You’re kinda ruining the mood!”

Rod felt like he had been shot and stabbed in the heart at the same time. It was as if he had been paralyzed by a tranquilizer dart designed to stun his poor weary heart in the most painful way possible. He couldn’t speak anymore. He just sat. Utterly dumbfounded. On the floor. Hugging his legs with his quivering arms. His body was still there. But his soul had been torn from his mind, leaving only an empty shell behind to shiver in its place.

The pale blue woman started to laugh, as she draped her skimpily adorned body seductively on top of the covers. And she ran a hand through her long flowing ginger locks, as she waited for the interruption to be resolved.

However, Nicky looked almost as horrified as Rod. Although, he was clearly incredibly drunk! “God Rod! Um, you, um, didn’t tell me you were comin’ back early buddy! If you had, I never would’ve…” He trailed off, as he struggled to find the words. “Jeez, this is kinda embarrassin’ and all.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, “I’m so sorry buddy. Honestly I am! So sorry! I didn’t mean to, um…” He trailed off again, as words still failed him, and gulped hard.

The woman continued to giggle, “Guys! This is so funny!” She stared down at Rod, and flicked her fiery ginger locks back over her shoulders again, “Tell you what, you can join the party too if you want honey? It’ll cost you double though!” She winked at the blue man who sat trembling on the floor. Before quickly adding, “But no touching or kissing allowed! I’m not a hooker! I’m an erotic dancer! Got it?! And don’t even think about trying anything! Because my colleagues know where I am! They’re still around the corner at Trekkie’s! And I’ve got my back up muscle on speed dial the moment I suspect any funny business!” She warned, as she gestured to her smartwatch.

However, Rod wasn’t even looking anymore, and he didn’t say a word. Instead, he only continued to stare blankly at the nightstand, hugging his quivering legs as tightly as he could. Whilst he slowly rocked his shocked and shaken body back and forth in an attempt to quell his ever rising despair.

Nicky stuttered out some more lame excuses, in his somewhat drunken stupor, “Look, um, Rod… I swear buddy… I told her… I told her to go out the window, as soon as I heard the door creakin'! I swear, I told her to leave before you came in!”

The woman frowned, and gave Nicky a hard stare, “Look chump, I’m not climbing out the window for no man! No matter how many $100 bills they shove into my hand! Let alone for a measly fifty bucks!” She waved the note in the air, before holding it up to the light to check it was genuine.

“Look, I’m sorry, um, what’s your name again?” Nicky clearly wanted the woman gone, but she wasn’t budging from Rod’s bed.

“Rhodesia.” She shot her decidedly scruffy-looking customer another hard stare, “And I’m not going anywhere until you give me the extra $150 you promised me! Trekkie paid the rest upfront for the party. But I told you, I only go back to do private dances for an extra two hundred bucks!”  

“Sure, sure.” Nicky gulped again, as he grabbed the other $100 Trekkie had kindly loaned him, along with the remaining cash Rod had left him from the desk. He shoved it into her hand. “Happy? Look please, just go all right!”

The woman huffed, but after quickly counting through the cash, slowly got up from the bed and collected up her clothes. “Fine. But I’m going to warn the other girls to stay clear of this place!” She spat angrily, as she slowly began to get dressed.

“Jeez, look, do you mind?” Nicky glared at her.

The ginger haired woman exhaled her disgruntlement, “God, you’re really pushing it mister! Fine! I’ll get dressed out there! But you’re getting blacklisted for sure!” She swaggered off into the other room, leaving the two men alone in the bedroom. 

Rod still sat motionless and speechless on the floor. It was as if all the life had been sucked from his cheeks, and he looked as pale as a ghost. Nicky sat down next to him, still only wearing his boxer shorts and t-shirt. The stench of alcohol on his breath was almost enough to send Rod dizzy.

“Rod, Rod, please talk to me buddy? I’m so sorry, yeah. Honestly I am.” Nicky sniffed, as a tear trickled down his cheek.

Rod still couldn’t find the words to respond, but he knew he was on the verge of a major meltdown. So he gulped back as much of his despair as he could, before he stumbled to his feet.

Nicky tried to help him up, but that was probably the worst thing he could’ve done! Because Rod immediately snapped, “Get the hell off me Nicky! Don’t you dare touch me!” He yelled heatedly through his tears, as he roughly pushed his friend away. 

“Rod, please, um… Don’t be mad buddy! God, I’m so sorry, really really sorry! You know that right?!” Nicky backed off slightly.

Rod couldn’t even look his roommate in the eye another second, so he stared dejectedly at the floor. “I, I, I, um, need to, um, be alone… Um, um... Right now.” He spluttered between the sobs. “Don’t, don’t… Don’t follow me!” He cried out, as he took off out the bedroom at lightning speed.

“Please don’t do this Rod! I didn’t mean it buddy!” Nicky called out after him, “Please Rod! Come back! Talk to me! Let me explain buddy!” 

But Nicky’s pleas fell on deaf ears, as Rod ran past the disgruntled stripper and out into the corridor, as fast as his wobbly legs would carry him. He didn’t even know where he was going. He just knew he had to get away. Get away from the pain, get away from that woman, get away from Nicky! God, did he really just think that?! He didn’t really want to get away from Nicky? Did he? As the pain continued to mount in his mind, Rod could feel his legs fail. And he collapsed near the top of the apartment block stairs, as he broke down into a seemingly endless flood of tears, and tumbled into a seemingly bottomless pit of despair.

‘How could I have been so stupid?!’ Rod smacked himself on the forehead as hard as he could. ‘Of course Nicky doesn’t love me! He’s straight! He’s always been straight! He’s always been my friend… But, but…’ He sobbed into his jacket sleeve, ‘But that’s it!’ He had lost all control over his body now, and he curled up into a whimpering ball on the stairs. Of course, it was an incredibly uncomfortable position to lie in. But Rod didn’t care. He just prayed that any minute he would wake up, and all this would just be some kind of bad dream. However, sadly, he didn’t, and it wasn’t.

Rod didn’t know how long he had been crying, but it felt like an eternity. He contemplated whether or not he should get up and climb to the top of the building. Maybe he could… No, he wouldn’t do that! But maybe he could hide up there? Maybe he could hide from Nicky… Forever? He gulped back his relentless tumultuous tears, as he slowly staggered to his feet, and stumbled forwards.

However, just at that moment, Rod heard someone shouting his name. ‘God, no! I’ve got to get out of here!’ He thought, as he began running up the stairs as quickly as he could again. 

Unfortunately, Rod’s poor exhausted body couldn’t keep up the pace of retreat demanded by his poor broken heart. And he passed out on the last step, falling suddenly onto the ground. THWACK! His vision blurred, as the nightmare faded. And the last thing he saw was an angelic green face staring down upon his now motionless body. “Nicky, why?” Was all he could manage, before everything went completely black. 

----- ROD WAKES UP -----

Rod winced in the bright light, as a green hand dabbed his head with a warm moist flannel. “Nicky?” He muttered, as he slowly remembered what had just happened. “Was it real?”

Nicky gulped and slowly nodded, as he pulled the flannel away. However, he couldn’t bring himself to confirm it in words.

Rod’s lip quivered, as he quickly rolled over on the sofa to face away from his friend. “So, has she…” He began, but was quickly interrupted by Nicky’s reply.

“Yeah, um, she’s gone Rod.” Nicky stumbled around to the other side of the sofa to try and get a look at his friend’s poor bruised face. “Rod, come on buddy, let me see!”

Rod grabbed a cushion from beside him and pulled it down over his head. The cushion was very sticky with chocolate and pizza grease, but he didn’t have time to worry about that right now! “No! Stay away! Leave me alone! I asked you never to bring women back here… For, for… Um, that! After the last time I found those… those, those under, um, under lady garments, um, on my chair!” He cried, his voice muffled by the pillow squished against his face.

Nicky tried to apologize again, “I’m, I’m sorry Rod. I didn’t think. We didn’t, um, do it or nothin’ though. I promise buddy! She just, um, sorta danced a bit is all. Then when I heard the door creakin', and you mumblin’ about hinges and all... I, um, kinda panicked I guess. But she wouldn’t go out the window or nothin’, so I got her to hide beneath the covers with me. Jeez, I know it was dumb Rod.” He rubbed a hand down his sticky stubble. “Really, really dumb. I just, um, thought maybe you’d go to the bathroom or somethin’, and she could sneak out while you were in there. God, I suck! I really really suck! But, please let me see your face, I need to make sure you’re okay is all.” 

“No! I don’t want to even look at you right now Nicky! How could you?!” He resumed his despair mode, but quickly added, “In my bed!” In an attempt to conceal the true reason for his monumental meltdown. He felt like his heart had been ripped out of his chest, and replaced with an ugly plastic doll that would haunt him for the rest of his life!

“Um, jeez buddy… I, um, I donno.” Nicky muttered, as he went back round to the other side of the sofa, to crouch down beside his sobbing friend. “Please buddy, I, I, was, um, very drunk is all… And well, I was so lonely without you here buddy.”

Rod suddenly felt another wave of anger boil up from beneath the tears, “So, you’re saying it’s my fault you got drunk and hired a hooker?!” He snapped, as he turned around to glare at Nicky a moment.

“Not a hooker Rod. An erotic dancer.” Nicky answered, as he smiled slightly at the sight of Rod’s chocolate smeared face, “Rod buddy, I’ve missed you so much you know. So very much! And gee, I’m so happy you’re back is all!” He reached out to wipe the chocolate from his friend’s cheek with the damp cloth. But of course, Rod immediately flinched away, grabbed the flannel, and turned back to bury his head in the cushion. 

“Well?!” Rod demanded, ignoring all Nicky’s attempts to lighten the mood, “Answer the fucking question Nicky! Is it my fault you got drunk and hired a fucking hooker?!”

Nicky gulped hard, “Um, jeez, of course not buddy. I was just tryin’ to um, well, gee, explain why I did it is all.” He was about to reach out to stroke the back of Rod’s head, but he instantly decided against it. “Um, look Rod, I’m honestly sorry buddy. Truly, truly sorry. I know it was wrong. I was just so lonely is all. And then these blue and yellow bears… They convinced me to go to Trekkie’s party and…”

Rod yelled into the pillow, “God Nicky! I should’ve known! I told you to stay away from Trekkie while I was gone! Was that really too much to fucking ask?!”

“Um…” Nicky hung his head and trailed off. He really didn’t have any good excuses to offer, so he thought maybe he better stay quiet for a bit and let Rod say his piece.

“Nicky you have no fucking clue what I’ve been through the past few days, do you?”

“Um, nope.” Nicky answered briefly.

“My boss said that no one would ever truly love me! He said that if I ever had a girlfriend, that she’d always cheat on me, and that I’d deserve it too…” He trailed off, as his sobbing fit intensified again, “Well, um, you know what Nicky?” 

Nicky didn’t know what to do or say, so he remained quiet.

Rod was crying so hard now, he only managed to splutter out three more words, “He was right!”

Nicky couldn’t help but reach out and wrap his arms around his friend, “No! No he wasn’t Rod! Don’t you listen to that stuck up douchebag! You are worth a zillion of him! A zillion zillion! I mean it buddy! You are super duper lovable! Super super duper lovable! Jeez, you’re the most lovable person in the whole damn world Rod! You know that, right? I’ve never met anyone more lovable than you! Never in my whole life! So don’t listen to jerks like that! They’re just jealous, cuz they know they’re gonna die alone, with no friends or nothin’. But you won’t Rod, cuz you’ll always have me!” He was beginning to feel somewhat angry now. He hated how badly people treated his friend sometimes! It made his blood boil!

Rod wanted to push Nicky away, but he was in too much of a state. So he just lay on the sofa, shaking in despair, as Nicky hugged his arms tightly around him. 

Nicky hated seeing Rod like this. It always tore his heart in two. However, for some reason, this time it was so much worse. Because Rod was at least ten times more upset than he’d ever seen him before. And Nicky hated himself for triggering such a breakdown in his best buddy. But he wanted to be there for him. He wanted to be there for Rod no matter what!

Eventually Rod could feel his tear ducts gradually run dry, so he slowly turned around to face Nicky. His eyes were red from sobbing so hard, and his face glistened in the light it was so wet with salty tears. “Nicky, why?” He repeated his earlier question, as his lip quivered from the intense inner pain that continued to mercilessly thrash his poor broken heart.

Nicky stared deeply into Rod’s indescribably sad eyes, and he felt his own eyes immediately tear up again too. “I donno Rod.” Was the only answer he could find in his chaotic drunken mind.

Rod wiped his already soaked sleeve across his face, “You, you, know… what Nicky?” He muttered in the midst of his relentless sobbing.

“What Rod?” Nicky asked, his voice deep with concern, as he reached out to lightly stroke Rod’s cheek again.

Rod pushed Nicky’s hand away, “It, it, um, weakens my spirit when you, um, do things like this. It splits my soul in two.” He blurted out, in between yet more sobs.

Nicky threw his arms around Rod again, “I’m so sorry buddy.” He began sobbing too. “You know I never meant to hurt you or nothin’! I swear! You believe me? Right buddy?”

Rod gulped, “Nicky I don’t know if I can keep doing this. Maybe we need to go our separate…”

Nicky cut in, “No! Don’t say that Rod! Please don’t say that! I need you buddy! I need you so so much!”

Rod stared sadly at the floor, he couldn’t bring himself to look at Nicky, because he knew if he did he wouldn’t be able to say what needed to be said.

“I can’t do this anymore. It hurts too much.”

“But why Rod? I, I, um, I know I messed up and all. But jeez, we can get through this. Right buddy?!”

Rod couldn’t help but look up, as Nicky moved his face ever closer to his own. He scrunched his eyes shut for a moment.

“Rod, come on buddy! We need each other, right? You know I didn’t mean to hurt you? You know, yeah?” Nicky asked tentatively.

Rod couldn’t help but open his eyes to meet Nicky’s deeply pleading gaze. He sighed sadly, and nodded, “I know.” He mumbled softly. Before he paused, and slowly stood up to walk away towards the bathroom. Nicky tried to grab his hand, but he immediately pulled it free, “I know.” He repeated, as he dashed into the bathroom and swiftly locked the door behind him. 

Nicky tried to stop him, but he was too late. And there was nothing he could do to ease the all night sobbing session of his clearly inconsolable despairing roommate. He leaned against the door all night, waiting for Rod to return. And eventually, of course, he did. In the morning, Rod rushed out, barely stopping to take a breath, as he explained what he was going to do to try and fix their friendship woes. He would add an additional rule to their roommate agreement, Nicky would sign it, and they would never discuss this horribly painful incident ever again!

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Chapter Text

Rod woke up suddenly from his horrific nightmare, only to feel his mental anguish multiply exponentially. Because as soon as he stirred from his sleep, he immediately remembered the heartbreaking reality of his situation. It felt like someone had stabbed him through the chest with a poisoned tipped rusty dagger. And the toxic shards in his heart seemed to become ever more venomous with each passing second! ‘Please no! I don’t want to love Nicky anymore! It hurts too much!’ Rod wailed internally, as tears streamed down his face. Unfortunately, the sobbing fit he had experienced during the torturous dream seemed to have intensified too.

And Rod was worried that if he kept crying this loudly he might accidentally wake Nicky up! So he quickly scrambled out of bed and dashed into the bathroom, where he collapsed onto the floor. He buried his head in his arms, as he felt his usually rigid composure melt into a muddle of jumbled emotions once more. ‘What on Earth is wrong with me?! Maybe I’m going to end up in Hell after all! A hell of my own making!’ Whimpering under the weight of the soul-crushing agony generated by his heartache, he promptly curled up into a despairing quivering mess.

‘Why do I have to love you so much Nicky? Why can’t I just love you like a friend, the same way that you love me? God, why do I have to be such a broken sinful person?!’ Rod thought, as he sniffed back his tears and grabbed for some toilet paper to blow his nose. His head throbbed from the overwhelming troublesome turmoil thrashing about in his brain.

Rod shivered. He felt so cold. So very cold. He wailed out impulsively, as the icy pain continued to mount in his mind, “I’m so sorry Nicky! God, I’m such a terrible friend! I’m so sorry that I love you in a way that I shouldn’t!” He quickly covered his mouth with his hands to stop anymore shameful secrets escaping from his trembling lips.

‘Nicky I’m sure you’d hate me if you discovered my dark desires. So I lie to you and hide my true feelings. But I can’t lie to myself. Because the truth is I love you so much, in oh so many sinful ways. I love you so much that I can’t live without you! You’re my best friend and my only real family. And with you by my side I feel so much less alone, less afraid, and less ashamed. And yet, when you live here, the truth breaks my heart every single day! Because I know you’re straight, and you can’t help that. But it kills me inside! So you see, either way, in or out, with or without you, I can’t win!’ Rod scrunched his eyes shut to try and escape the pain, but it didn’t help. Because images of Nicky with girls and women flooded into his mind.

Rod hugged his legs close to his chest and bunched his poor shaking body into a fetal position. ‘I just don’t know what to do Nicky. I know I should let you go. I know I should set you free from this prison and send you off to Australia to live with your family. But I just can’t! I can’t live without you! You’re my whole world! My whole reason for being! My everything!’ He resumed his somewhat hysterical sobbing session.

Nicky slowly stirred from his sleep as the sound of sobbing intensified. “Huh?” He mumbled, as he rubbed his eyes. He looked across the dark room, but he couldn’t see any sign of his roommate. “Rod? Buddy? Rod, where are you?” He called out with increasing desperation, as he quickly stumbled to his feet and headed in the direction of the sobbing sound.

‘God, I hope Rod’s not cryin’ cuz of the cushion Ricky punched apart or that cookie jar I smashed.’ Nicky gulped, before he asked somewhat hesitantly, “Rod buddy? What’s wrong?” However, as Nicky approached the source of the despair, his guilty anxiety quickly morphed into a purely selfless deep concern for his best friend’s well being. “Rod, buddy, please come out and talk to me. I’m here for you buddy!”

The heartbreaking sound of sobbing was coming from the bathroom. Nicky knocked on the door, “Rod, please buddy, what’s wrong? Why you cryin’ so much?” But when he didn’t get an answer, he added, “That’s it, I’m coming in!” And he didn’t think twice, he just grabbed the handle and burst into the room.

Rod suddenly realized that in his emotional state he had forgotten to lock the door, and cried out, “Nicky please! Don’t come in!” However, it was too late. Because Nicky stood in the doorway and stared down at his shameful sobbing body. Panicking at the sight of his roommate, Rod leapt up from the floor, clambered into the bathtub and pulled the shower curtain across to hide his tear stricken face. “Nicky, please leave! I’m… I’m having a shower! Do you mind?!” He spluttered unconvincingly between the sobs.

“Rod buddy, why are you hiding from me?” Nicky asked, as he slowly edged towards the tub. “You don’t have to hide Rod. Please, let me help you buddy. Come out and talk to me! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me hold you close ‘til you feel better.”

Rod shrieked, “Nicky no! Please leave me alone! I’m having a shower!” He insisted, as he rashly turned on the water even though he was still wearing his pajamas.

However, Nicky didn’t leave Rod alone. Instead, he only looked ever more alarmed, as he rushed over to pull the curtain back and turn the shower off. Before he scooped up Rod to rescue him from the freezing water that had spurted out over his already disturbingly cold body.

“Nicky!” Rod continued to protest, as his worried roommate grabbed a large fluffy towel and immediately wrapped it around him.

“Rod, what are you doing?! It’s the middle of the night! Jeez, you’re really scaring me buddy!”

Rod was shivering like crazy. He had managed to sniff back the worst of his tears, but a few random ones tumbled down his blue cheeks. “I… I… I told you Nicky! I’m… Um… Um… Having a shower!” His teeth began to chatter, as his shivering intensified.

Nicky hugged his arms around his friend, but quickly realized it was going to take more than that to warm Rod up. “Come on buddy! We need to take this wet pajama top off! We need to get you warm!”

Rod pushed Nicky away as hard as he could, but his arms felt incredibly weak for some reason. “No! Please! Stay away! I can’t do that! I can never take my shirt off in front of you! I told you!”

“Come on buddy! I won’t look, I promise!” Nicky grabbed Rod back into his bear hug, as he did his best to warm him up with the towel over his wet pajama top.

Rod stuttered, “Um, Nicky… You… You… You really promise you won’t look? You swear?!”

“Sure. I promise! I swear I won’t look! You can trust me buddy.” Nicky stared deeply into Rod’s sad hazel eyes, his gaze thick with concern. He knew his overly anxious friend was a very private person, who always got extremely nervous whenever there was a chance someone might see him shirtless. Even at school, he had always managed to get notes from his parents to get him out of swim class, and any sport where he couldn’t wear a long sleeve top.

“Um, okay. Turn around then!” Rod ordered, as he began slowly unbuttoning his pajama shirt. He gulped hard. He felt so weak. So very weak. He had barely eaten anything in the past 18 hours. “I… I… I… Um… I… Can’t… Nicky…” He mumbled, as he tumbled backwards.

Nicky immediately broke his promise, as he moved at lightning speed to catch Rod in his arms. “Rod! What’s wrong buddy?!” He asked, as his concern intensified. “Please, talk to me buddy!”

Rod’s vision faded, and all he could manage was a few disjointed words, “Um… Need… Food… Energy… Gone…” He collapsed against Nicky’s stomach.

Nicky cried out, “Rod?!” But getting no response, he quickly acted instinctively and gently lowered his friend onto the soft rug on the floor. Before he removed Rod’s soaking wet pajama shirt, so that he could dry him properly with the towel. His eyes widened in horror, as he spotted the long scars on his friend’s back, and the smaller scars and burn marks speckled across his arms and chest. ‘God Rod, what on Earth happened to you buddy?!’ He gulped hard, as he continued to wrap the towel as snuggly around his friend as possible.

Rod slowly woke up from his momentary daze, “Nicky? What? What happened?” He murmured, before adding in a sharp alarmed tone, “You… You didn’t see?!”

Nicky continued to hug him close, “It’s okay Rod buddy! I got you!” He lifted up Rod’s incredibly light body and carried him back to his bed. “Don’t worry, I’ll, um… I’ll get you a sandwich or somethin’ buddy. You need to eat! You’ve not been eatin’ properly again. Have you?” He sighed heavily, as for once, he took on the mothering role in the friendship.

Rod looked terrified. He never ever wanted Nicky to see him like this. Especially without his shirt on. Because now his deepest darkest scars had been revealed. He stuttered, “It’s… It’s… Um… It’s not what you think Nicky!”

Nicky looked incredibly sad, as he carefully lowered Rod onto his duvet and turned on the light. Indeed, Rod had never seen his friend look so sad in the entire life! And seeing Nicky so miserable scared Rod even more than his best friend accidentally catching a glimpse of his scars!

Rod quickly scrambled under his duvet, pulling his covers as tightly around himself as he could. “It was, um… Just an accident… That’s all. Just an accident I had when I was a kid.” He didn’t know if Nicky was buying the explanation, but he kept going with the story, “Um, see I was at the park once and I, um… Well, I hurt my back when I fell from the climbing structure… Um, onto this, um, other kid holding a candle…”

Nicky cut in, “Please Rod, you don’t have to lie anymore buddy. I know it was them, wasn’t it? It was Rufus and those other bullies, right? Or someone in your family?” His brows furrowed slightly, as his protective anger seethed just below the surface.

Rod gulped hard, and nodded slightly, still not wanting to acknowledge the shame in words. “I’m so sorry Nicky. Part of me wanted to tell you. I just, I couldn’t! I never wanted you to find out! I never wanted you to worry about me!” He stared down at the covers, avoiding Nicky’s shocked gaze.

Nicky kneeled down next to his roommate’s bed, “Rod, I’m always worried ‘bout you buddy.” He reached out to stroke his friend’s cheek. “I don’t know how anyone could do that to you!” He sniffed.

Another tear trickled down Rod’s cheek too, “I’m sorry.”

Nicky frowned, “Don’t apologize Rod! What you apologizin’ for buddy! It’s not your fault someone did that to you!”

Rod sniffed, he knew now that it wasn’t his fault, after his many therapy sessions with Christmas Eve. However, he couldn’t help still feel partially to blame. “I know, I, um… I just… I couldn’t stop them! I tried to follow their rules all the time, honestly I did. I tried to always do as they said. I really did. Truly I did. You know I did, right?” He started to cry again.

Nicky put his arm around his friend, “Jeez Rod, don’t be silly. It’s not your fault at all buddy! They were horrible people if they were able to do such horrific things to you. You didn’t deserve any of it! You know that, right?”

Rod gulped back his sadness and slowly nodded again, “I just… Um, I always messed up somehow.”

Nicky grabbed his friend by the shoulders and gazed seriously into his eyes, “No! No you didn’t Rod! It’s not your fault! You hear me?! It was never your fault! No matter what you did, you didn’t deserve to be treated like that! Jeez, they should be in prison whoever did that to you buddy! It was Rufus and those spineless jock assholes, right? Or was it…?” He asked again somewhat hesitantly, as his protective rage pulsated through his veins.

Rod burst into yet another flood of tears, “They hate me, you know. My parents. I… I, um, made a mistake the other day. I told my mother… Um, that I was gay on the phone. I know it was stupid. I know she will never understand. But Christmas Eve suggested maybe it would be better if I told her. And well, I tried to explain it best I could, how I’ve been feeling all these years. Honestly, I really tried! But she refused to listen. She, um, told me I was going to burn in hell… And that she never wants anything more to do with me!” He was sobbing really hard now, as all the pent-up emotions drained from his exhausted body.

Nicky hugged Rod tighter still, “God Rod, they don’t deserve a sweet kind caring guy like you for a son buddy! Jeez, I can’t believe you’ve been dealin’ with this by yourself! All this time buddy! For all these years! Why didn’t you talk to me?!”

“I just, um… I didn’t know how.” Rod sobbed onto Nicky’s shoulder.

Nicky sighed deeply, “Well, you don’t need to worry anymore buddy. Everythin’ is gonna be okay now. Cuz I’m gonna look after you and get you somethin’ to eat and all.”

“Nicky you don’t have to…” Rod mumbled.

“I insist. You’re always treatin’ me to awesome sandwiches buddy. So now it’s my turn to treat you!” Nicky leaned over to kiss his shivering terrified friend on the forehead. “You’ll be okay, yeah? I’ll be back soon. I just really think you need to eat buddy.”

Rod nodded, before his eyes widened in horror, as he suddenly remembered Ricky was still asleep out there, “Wait, won’t you wake Ricky?!”

Nicky smiled at him, “Nah, he’s gone home Rod. He left earlier after you fell asleep. Now stay here and try not to worry buddy. Let me look after you for once.”

Rod still couldn’t find the words to answer, so he nodded again, as he snuggled up in the towel and duvet.

----- NICKY RETURNS WITH A SNACK FOR ROD -----

Nicky wasn’t gone long, and he soon returned with a very tasty looking cheese sandwich. Rod smiled, as his adorable nursemaid approached with the plate. And he slowly sat himself up in the bed.

“Here you go buddy!” Nicky smiled, “Your midnight feast is served!” He carefully sat the plate down on Rod’s duvet covered lap. His friend still had the towel around his shoulders.

However, Rod felt very exposed without his long sleeve pajama shirt on, so he gestured to his drawers, “Please Nicky, could you get me another…” He gulped, unsure of what his roommate’s response would be.

Nicky nodded, as he grabbed another pajama top from the drawer and passed it over to his friend.

Rod smiled appreciatively, “Thank you.” Before his worried expression quickly returned.

Nicky took the hint and turned around, “Why didn’t you tell me Rod?” He sighed heavily.

Rod sniffed, “I… Um… I don’t know Nicky. I just didn’t want to worry you! They’re my scars to bare.”

Nicky could feel his eyes tear up again. “Rod, you know I would have helped you. Right buddy?”

Rod sighed, “Yes, I… I know.” He gulped again, “But, you had so much else…”

Nicky cut in heatedly, “No! None of that was ever as important as you! Nothin’ was ever as important as you buddy! You know that, right Rod?!”

Rod cowered slightly, at the sound of Nicky’s uncharacteristically raised voice, “Um, yes. I know. I just didn’t want to bother you… You had all those girlfriends and…”

Nicky cut in again and turned around this time, “Rod, they never meant anythin’ buddy! But you… You mean everythin’ to me! You hear me! Everythin’!” He rushed over to his friend’s side, as Rod buttoned up the pajama shirt over his scars.

Nicky grabbed Rod’s hand and smooshed it between his own somewhat sticky mitts, “You know, I’ll always be here for you. Right Rod?”

Rod smiled at him, “Yes. I know.” He lightly squeezed Nicky’s soft warm hand beneath his icy cold palm. ‘Gosh, even these innocent hand touches are giving me goosebumps and heart fluttering bursts of passion! God, what the hell am I doing?! I mean, really?! If Nicky’s hand so much as brushes past my own it seems like sparks fly and I’m left in a state of euphoric bliss! I wonder what this friendship would be like if I was just a normal straight guy? Surely if I was normal, these delicious heavenly explosions of zest between us would never sparkle? I wonder how dull our friendship might be without those sensations? Shit! I’m never going to be able to quell this Nicky lust, no matter how much I try, am I?’

Rod sighed wistfully. He lightly stroked Nicky sticky hand for a moment, before slowly pulling his own hand free, “Now, do you mind if I eat this delicious looking sandwich, I’m starving hungry!”

Nicky chuckled, “Nah, go ahead! Gobble it down buddy! Before I start gettin’ the munchies too!”

Rod began nibbling at the sandwich somewhat daintily.

Nicky rolled his eyes, “Seriously Rod?! You need to practice your gobblin’ buddy! Jeez, I’ll have to give you a demo sometime!”

Rod giggled, as he took a slightly bigger bite. “Better?” He mumbled, as he chewed up the bread and cheese.

Nicky nodded, “Yeah, much.” He smiled, before his face gradually dropped again, “Why were you cryin’ Rod?”

Rod gulped down the mouthful of sandwich, as the terror quickly returned to his eyes, “Um, I, um… Just had a bad dream. A very bad dream.” He sighed deeply and shivered slightly, as the memory echoed around his mind.

Nicky grabbed Rod’s free hand again and gave it another squeeze. “Gee, that sucks Rod! I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you buddy. But you could have woke me you know. Jeez, I know I zonk out like Sleeping Beauty and all! But just lay a smooch on me buddy and I’ll be all yours! I swear!” Nicky beamed at his friend.

Rod blushed profusely, “Nicky! Don’t be silly!” He giggled again, before throwing in a joke to try and put Nicky off the scent of his blushing love, “Besides, kissing you would be more like kissing a sleeping frog, right?” He teased, as he continued to chuckle.

Nicky chuckled too, “I could still be a frog that turns into a prince though. Jeez, I’d turn into a prince for you if I could buddy.”

Rod raised his eyebrow at Nicky slightly, before he concluded it was just another joke, and blushed and giggled some more.

Nicky grinned wildly, “Gosh. I miss times like this buddy. I miss these moments so much you know. Jeez, I miss you so much.” He stared deeply into Rod’s hazel eyes again.

Rod gulped, as Nicky’s eyes penetrated his soul and his lips seemed to get ever closer to his own. He flinched backwards, “Please Nicky! I need to eat my sandwich!” He took another bite, but his heart continued to fall into the deep loving pools in his best friend’s eyes.

Nicky smiled, “Jeez Rod, you’re so cute when you’re gigglin’ and blushin’ and all.”

Rod swallowed another mouthful of sandwich, “Nicky, why do you always do this to me?”

Nicky looked very perplexed by the question, “Do what Rod?”

Rod sighed, “Nothing. I’m sorry I woke you up. I, um, know we both need our sleep. I just, um… I couldn’t stop crying. It was just such a horrible nightmare. I thought if I went into the bathroom, you wouldn’t hear me. But I guess I was crying too loudly. I truly am very sorry Nicky.”

Nicky shook his head, before he leaned over to kiss Rod on the forehead again. “Don’t be silly Rod. I’m glad you woke me. Jeez, I hate when you’re cryin’ buddy. But I especially hate when you’re cryin’ all on your own! I want to be by your side to look after you. You know that, right?”

Rod shot Nicky a very quizzical expression, at times like this he really wished he could read Nicky’s mind. But of course, he couldn’t. He sighed again, “Yes, I suppose. But why Nicky?”

A very puzzled look spread across Nicky’s face again too for an instant, “Gee Rod, I donno buddy. I just do is all. I love you so much you know. So so much.”

Still feeling a little dizzy, Rod decided he better maintain his focus on the sandwich. However, Nicky’s words, as usual, were stirring up some very strange feelings within his weary body. He sighed for the umpteenth time that day, as he took another nibble of cheese.

Still feeling somewhat drunk, Nicky felt compelled to tentatively ask his friend an extremely personal question, “Um, gee Rod, um, don’t feel you have to answer buddy. If it’s too painful. But jeez, I just wondered is all, um…”

Rod looked like a deer caught in headlights, as he stuttered, “Wonder… Wondered, um, wondered what Nicky?” He stared at his friend intensely, scared of what he might say next. Had he figured out Rod’s other dark secret? Was he going to ask him his most feared question? And what was his response going to be if he did?!

Nicky’s brow furrowed in concern again, as his drunken curious mind blurted out a rather ill-conceived, frankly triggering question, albeit a question that had been plaguing his worried mind. “Um, well, you know when we were kids, in the fourth grade… And you, um, had a very sore back? Cuz you said you slipped, um, down some stairs, but not to tell my Mom? Was that cuz…?” Nicky trailed off, immediately wishing that he had never started the sentence, because he had no idea how to finish it.

For an instant Rod relaxed a little upon hearing the inquiry, relieved that Nicky hadn’t figured out his most shameful secret, at least, not yet! However, as he thought back to that day, it dragged up some very painful memories. Memories that had haunted him his entire life! Rod winced and scrunched his eyes shut a moment, as he remembered the horrific sensations he had experienced that day.

----- FLASHBACK (ROD IS SCARRED FOR LIFE) -----

Rod added a couple of extra hearts to complete his picture. A broad smile spread across his face, and he swooned, as he gazed upon his finished masterpiece. Doodle Nicky looked so adorable by doodle Rod’s side. He sighed wistfully, ‘If only I could tell him how my heart tingles each and every day we meet in the school playground! Still, I think he’ll like my drawing. True, it’s not quite the same as his picture of us! What with all the extra robots, aliens and spaceship battles he drew in the background. But my sketch is cute in a way too, I think? Isn’t it?’ He thought, as he anxiously bit his lip.

Rod rested his head on his hand a moment, as he looked over his artwork with a critical eye. He was a perfectionist at the best of times! But when it came to presenting his new best friend with a personalized portrait of the two of them, he needed to make sure it was extra perfect and extra special! He quickly squiggled a couple of additional hearts between the two friends for good luck.

Rod smiled, as he looked over at Nicky’s chaotic patchwork of scribbles beside him, and sighed happily. He had been so surprised when Nicky had handed that picture to him after class yesterday. Totally shocked in fact! So much so that he had practically been left speechless! Nicky was so kind, thoughtful and caring, it honestly made his stomach flutter just to think about it!

True, Rod had been left a little perplexed by Nicky’s animated, somewhat over enthusiastic explanation of the scene. But he still adored the thought Nicky had clearly poured into the surprise gift! Rod felt his heart beat a little faster, as he remembered the energetic bouncy commentary, that had accompanied the picture.

"Rod buddy! I’ve got a surprise for you! Close your eyes! Dun, dun, dun! Yay! Okay, you can look buddy! See! It’s a picture of the two of us in outer space together! This is me, this green blob in a spacesuit, next to this friendly robot. And this is you, this cute blue alien friend I’ve just bumped into on this cool candy planet! Look, I even added some extra glitter to your outfit to bring out the sparkle in your eyes! I made it special, just for you buddy! Jeez, I know it looks a bit messy and all. Cuz my hand sorta slipped here and I kinda spilt some chocolate milk in this corner bit. So yeah, sorry ‘bout that! But gee, I had a lotta fun making it and all! And now you can take it home with you, so you can always remember that we’re best buddies no matter where you are! Isn’t it awesome Rod?! Look, I even drew our hands together so we’re doin’ that high five I taught you when we first met! ‘Member? In the corridor before class? Anywho, hope you like it buddy! I gotta go! But jeez, we’ll have to have a sleepover party sometime at mine! Then maybe we can doodle more Rod and Nicky space adventures together! My Mom says we can have all the sleepovers we want as long as it’s cool with your parents too!”

Rod knew his mother would likely never let him go to a sleepover party. However, he couldn’t wait to see Nicky at school so that he could return his new friend’s kind gesture with a carefully crafted Rod and Nicky scene of his own! He was just about to carefully fold up the paper to put in his backpack when he was startled by his mother shouting up the stairs.

“Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle! What in God’s name are you doing up there?! It’s time to leave for school! You don’t want to be late do you?! It’s rude to be late!”

Rod twisted around nervously in his chair to look at the clock. It was still only 7.30am, but Rod’s mother insisted that he spend an extra hour in the library before class each morning to get a head start on the topic of the day. “Sorry mother! I’m getting ready! I promise!” Rod shouted out, in hopes that it would reassure her that he was indeed prepared for the long day ahead. However, unfortunately, it didn’t stop her from angrily bursting into his bedroom.

Rod gasped, as he quickly folded over his painstakingly illustrated Rod and Nicky friendship scene and slid it into his school bag.

“What are you doing Roderick?! What was that you just put into your bag? I don’t remember checking that piece of homework! Come on! You know the rules! Pass it to me this instant! I need to check over every piece of work you submit if you’re going to maintain your perfect record and continue getting top grades! And there better not be any mistakes this time! I swear, if you get a single apostrophe in the wrong place after I spent two hours explaining the concept to you, you’ll be sleeping in that cupboard all week!”

Rod gulped. He stuttered, “Um, it’s not homework mother. I promise! It’s just, um, a drawing I did for my friend.”

His mother scowled at him, “Please don’t tell me you’ve been wasting your time on nonsense like that again! God, what is wrong with kids today?! Real friends understand the importance of hard work!” She rolled her eyes, “I told you not to waste your time on such pointless endeavors! Well, you’re not taking it to school with you! Whatever it is! Come on! Let me see what ridiculous thing you’ve scribbled this time!”

Rod could feel his whole body tremble as his mother’s shrill yells continued to blast against his eardrums. “Um, please mother. I… I… I need to take it to school. It’s just a doodle for my friend, that’s all.”

She stormed over to where Rod was trembling, “Don’t you ever talk back to me like that! Do you hear me?!” She slapped him in the face pretty hard. “Now let me see!” She snatched the bag from his hands, pulled out the folded picture and opened it up to inspect Rod’s drawing.

Rod hoped that once his mother had seen how silly the picture was, that she would change her mind and agree that he could take it to class with him. However, sadly, the artwork provoked the exact opposite response, as his mother began to scream at him at the top of her lungs.

“Roderick Isaiah Periwinkle! What in God’s name is this sinful shameful blasphemy?! Why have you drawn all these hearts between two boys?!”

Rod shivered, terrified what his punishment might be this time. He knew his mother might forbid him to take the picture to school, but he didn’t anticipate that it would trigger quite such a rageful outburst! He nervously rubbed his hands together, as she continued to bombard him with questions that he didn’t understand, let alone know how to answer.

“You know homosexuality is a sin against God, right?! Why the hell did you draw this?! Is this why Jesus died on that cross?! So you could draw some homosexual horror show between you and your friend?! Do you know how shamefully inappropriate this abomination is?! You don’t have a brother! So there should never be any hearts between you and another boy! Understand?! Let alone this many! God! I can’t leave you alone for five seconds can I?! Come here this instant!”

Rod felt so scared, all he wanted to do was run and hide. But he knew there was no escape. So he edged backwards slowly, hoping maybe his mother would calm down this time if he gave her some space. However, unfortunately, that probably only made things worse!

“Get here!” She snapped with shrill venom, as she reached out to clench her hand around Rod’s quivering blue wrist.

“Ow… Ow… Mother please! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you! I… I… I won’t take the picture to school if you don’t want me to! I promise!”

“It’s too late for that now!” She shrieked, as she tugged him roughly downstairs. “Your father is going to have to teach you a lesson I think! One that hopefully you’ll never forget!”

Rod could feel the fear morph into tears in his eyes, “Please mother! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Please don’t let father hit me again!”

“Enough! If you behaved yourself we wouldn’t have to do things like this, would we?! But it’s for your own good! You don’t want to burn in hell for all eternity when you die?! Do you?! Because if you draw things like that, both you and the boy you draw are going to end up burning in a lake of fire forever! You don’t want that, right?!”

Rod couldn’t hold back the tears any longer and they streamed down his cheeks, “Um, no.” He spluttered out between the sobs, “But I… I… I promise mother! I’ve learnt my lesson! I won’t ever draw hearts next to boys again! I swear!”

His mother exhaled her anger, “Too late! This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you! Believe me! But it must be done! We’re only trying to save you from an eternity in God’s hell fire! Besides, your friend would surely end up hating you if he saw this shameful love! And you don’t want that, do you?!”

“No! No I don’t want him to hate me!” Rod cried, as his eyes widened in horror at the thought. He had never considered that Nicky might end up hating him when he saw the drawing. Indeed, that was the exact opposite of what he had hoped Nicky’s reaction would be!

“And you don’t want him to burn in hell with you? Do you?!” His mother shot Rod the coldest look. A look so cold that it sent shivers down Rod’s spine.

“No! No I don’t want him to burn in hell mother!” Rod whimpered. Tears streamed down his eyes, as he imagined Nicky suffering because of him. ‘How could I have nearly damned my friend to such a horrible fate without even realizing what I was doing?!’

“Well, you better promise that you’ll never do it again then?! You promise, right?!”

“Yes, I promise mother! I won’t ever do it again! I swear on Jesus’s soul! I don’t want anyone to suffer because of me! I don’t want my friend to suffer because of me!” Rod cried out in desperation, as he squirmed in his mother’s grasp and tried his best to get free. But it was no use, he couldn’t escape.

And his mother only tightened her grip around his poor fragile wrist. “You’re only making it worse for yourself you know! Johnathan!” She yelled angrily, as she stormed into the living room and held out Rod’s picture for his father to see. “Look what our son has been drawing! Hearts between boys!”

Rod could feel his whole body stiffen with fear and pulsate with adrenaline. He wanted to run away more than anything. He wanted to run right over to his friend Nicky’s house and snuggle up in his mother’s friendly arms. But he couldn’t move. He just froze with fear, as his father grabbed hold of him. And his mother ripped the picture he had spent so very long drawing in two.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Rod gulped hard, but kept his eyes scrunched shut. He could still feel the fear he had felt all those years ago! He froze again for a moment, as his breathing grew quicker and he hugged his arms around his stomach.

“Rod?! Rod buddy are you okay?! Rod?!” Nicky shook his friend by the shoulders, in an attempt to snap him from his terror.

It took a few minutes, but Rod slowly reestablished his grip on reality. He breathed deeply, but kept his eyes closed, as he tried to stop himself breaking down into another sobbing fit. Resting his trembling blue hand on Nicky’s sticky green one, Rod did his best to rebury the painful memories, “It’s ok Nicky.” He reassured his friend. Eventually he felt safe enough to slowly reopen his eyes, and he stared apprehensively at his roommate. “Um, look Nicky, I’m… I’m sorry. But um… Well, I’d rather not talk about it right now. You… you understand, yes?”

“I’m so sorry buddy. I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories or nothin’… I um…” Nicky trailed off, not sure what to say. But he felt an impulsive urge to hug Rod again briefly. Before he sat back down on the bed next to him, and looked sadly into his friend’s clearly traumatized hazel eyes. “Jeez, I really am so sorry buddy. I never knew you were sufferin’ so much.” He sniffed, as a tear trickled down his cheek.

Rod shed another tear too. But he did his best to steady his twitchy nerves and return his focus to the sandwich in front of him.

----- TEN MINUTES LATER -----

As soon as Rod finished the last bit of bread and cheese, naturally, he attempted to get up with the plate. But Nicky immediately stopped him. “Nope. You stay there Rod. I’ll take that.” He grabbed the plate and disappeared off to the kitchen a moment, before he dashed back to Rod’s side. It was still a chaotic mess in there, and he knew that was the last thing Rod needed to see right now!

“You’re gonna call in sick tomorrow, right buddy?” Nicky asked seriously, his eyes once again full of concern.

Rod bit his lip a moment, “I can’t Nicky. I’ve got a very important meeting tomorrow and a lot of accounts to…”

Nicky interrupted, “Rod, no! You’re over doing it buddy! You need to take some time off! Nurse Nicky’s orders!”

Rod rolled his eyes, “Nicky, but I…”

Nicky quickly cut in again, “No. No buts Rod! No matter how cute your tush is!” He grinned and winked.

Rod blushed, but frowned slightly, “Look, stop being silly Nicky! I need to…”

“Nope.” Nicky shook his head.

Rod tried again, “See an important client and…”

“Uh-uh.” Nicky put his finger on Rod’s mouth. “Shh! Nurse Nicky knows best!”

Rod rolled his eyes again, but decided he better play along. After all, he could always sneak out in the morning, when Nicky was fast asleep. ‘Wait a minute…’ He thought, before he muttered, “Nicky don’t you have to go to work tomorrow too?!”

Nicky’s drunken mind slowly remembered, “Oh yeah. I’ve got that rehearsal, for the play and all… Don’t I? Gee, guess you’re right buddy! Maybe you can do the sleepin’ tomorrow and I can do the workin’ for once! It’s only fair, right?”

Rod sighed, but smiled. “Yes. I suppose. Okay, whatever Nicky.” He rolled his eyes yet again, “Now, let’s just try and get some more sleep, shall we? I promise I’ll do my best to wake you up in the morning before I head out.”

Nicky groaned, “Jeez Rod! You never take any vaycays?! How on Earth do you keep going buddy?! I swear, if you keep up all this workin’ nonsense, you’re gonna end up havin’ a heart attack or somethin’! And well, I can’t let that happen buddy!” He snuggled up next to Rod in bed, and wrapped his arms around his roommate’s waist. It was only a narrow single bed, so there was hardly any room, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to make sure his best friend was safe.

Rod immediately started wriggling to free himself from Nicky’s inappropriately close grasp. “Nicky! Please! We can’t sleep like that! Go back to your own bed!”

“Only if you promise to take tomorrow off Rod.” Nicky raised his head, so that his deep brown pleading orbs were level with his squirming friend’s hazel eyes again. “Do we have a deal?”

Rod groaned and squealed in annoyance, “Fine! Fine! We have a deal Nicky! But just one day! That’s it! I’ve got to be back in the office on Thursday! And I might have to complete a few stock market assessments from home.”

Nicky rolled his eyes, he knew this was probably the best deal he was going to get from his workaholic friend, so he reluctantly loosened his arms from around Rod’s waist. He didn’t move from the bed though, as he snuggled his head against Rod’s pillow. “Night buddy!”

Rod promptly began pushing his green lump of a friend towards the edge of his bed. “Nicky! That’s so… So…”

“So what Rod?”

“So inappropriate!” Rod screeched.

“Fine.” Nicky muttered in annoyance, as he stumbled to his feet and headed back to his own bed. “But one day... I’m gonna sneak in there next to you when you’re sleepin’, and you won’t be able to stop me!” He winked and grinned cheekily at Rod, before he turned off the lamp on the night stand.

Rod rolled his eyes and yawned deeply. Now that his stomach was full for once in 48 hours, he suddenly felt really tired again. He snuggled down against his pillow. “Night Nicky.” He mumbled, as he rapidly tumbled back to sleep.

Nicky smiled, as he too snuggled under his covers, “Night Rod buddy. ‘Member, kiss me if you need me!” He reminded his friend. However, Rod didn’t hear him, because he was already halfway back to zonkland.

Chapter Text

At 5am Rod let out a sluggish sleepy groan. He didn’t want to wake up, he didn’t want to go to work. But he knew there was no escape from the Wall Street treadmill, no matter how many times ‘Nurse Nicky’ ordered him to stay home. Still, he grumbled as the siren echoed through is skull, like a military horn compelling him to get up and charge at the day ahead. And he grimaced, as he was rudely catapulted back into the nightmare that was his life. 

‘Damn it! It can’t be that time again already, can it?!’ Rod moaned in frustration. Just moments earlier he had been having the most wonderful dream, starring Nicky dressed only in his swim trunks and a tub of whip cream. But that fantasy was quickly obliterated by the incessant buzzing, as the shrill tones from his phone plunged into his brain like a platoon of jackhammers drilling into solid granite.

‘God, why did I set my alarm to go off so early?!’ Rod tugged his pillow around his ears, before he reached out to silence the irritating bleeping. ‘Oh yes, I remember! I was going to write an entry in my diary before I left for work, wasn’t I?’ 

Rod yawned deeply, panic quickly returning to his face as he remembered all the chaos that had taken place the previous evening, and… He gulped, ‘Last night!’ He gasped. ‘Oh shit! It happened! It actually happened! Nicky saw my scars! He knows the tragic truth now! He knows about my shameful past! Well, not everything. But still…’ He bit his lip.

Rod opened up his phone case to shine a light over Nicky’s bed, to see if his roommate was still asleep. Luckily, he was. ‘God, I don’t know how Nicky can sleep through that alarm!' He thought, as he rubbed his ears, which were still ringing from all the high pitched buzzing. 'He must be well and truly comatose! Like sleeping beauty, a sleeping Nicky can only be woken by a long passionate…’ He slapped himself in the face. ‘No Rod! Don’t even go there!’

Rod carefully lowered his smartphone back onto its wireless charging pad, to ensure that its battery was fully replenished before he had to leave for work. ‘Lucky thing! I wish Nicky could be my charging pad and replenish my battery!’ He thought, but immediately regretted his jealousy! Because before he could stop his rogue imagination, it had whipped up an erotic fantasy of Nicky kissing every inch of his body. ‘Gah! Stop it!’ He slapped himself again. 

After rubbing away the gunk from his eyes, and grabbing his glasses from the nightstand, he slowly stumbled forward in the darkness… Until THWACK! He banged his leg into his desk. “Agh! Shit! Fuck! Ugh!” He winced in pain.

Rod rubbed his shin and grumbled, as he collapsed back onto the edge of his matrass, to inspect the sore spot. He couldn’t see anything in the blackness, but he was sure he would have yet another bruise. And he already had a huge bruise in the worst place possible! On his forehead! 

“Why me?!” Rod murmured. But when he glanced again at his sleeping roommate, all the pain and frustration faded into insignificance. 'Just remember, everything you do is for Nicky.' He reminded himself. In the dimly lit room he could only make out the faint outline of his sweetheart. But it was enough to bring a new wave of warmth to his soul and return a smile to his face.

As usual, Nicky had not been disturbed by the alarm in the slightest! Let alone awoken by the muffled profanities muttered by his perpetually clumsy roommate, as he bumped around in the dark. Thus, still Nicky lay, slumped awkwardly across his bed, stomach first, flat-out on top of his duvet, legs spread wide.

Rod shook his head and muttered to himself, ‘Oh Nicholas, how do you manage to sleep like that? It looks so uncomfortable. And yet, at the same time, delectably dreamy.’ He swooned, and put his hand to his ear in an attempt to hear what Nicky was waffling on about in his sleep. Although, unfortunately, Nicky’s face was half pressed against his pillow, so it was difficult for Rod to understand every word.

Nicky mumbled into the cushion, “Rod, my hoodie will protect your delicate rainbow heart! So don’t throw it out, cuz it loves livin’ here! Jeez, bouncin’ like a kangaroo is so much fun! Especially on your bed buddy. I didn’t know my sweater was on top of your closet though! Weird, huh? It was like it was hidin’ from me or somethin’! Hoverin’ just above my head, cursed by a dancin’ blue witch dressed in a red feather boa! Sure you’d win in a dance-off against her though, no contest!” 

Nicky hummed for a moment, before he continued to ramble, “Hey Rod, we gotta get you a golden duck! Without a duck, your life must suck! I promise I’ll get you the best one. Only the best for my buddy Rod. But no mirror changelings, no evil robots, no blue and yellow care bears! Those bears are like gremlins! Don’t trust them! Also, jeez, a cheesy Cheezit has no taste without its zing! So please bubbly beer bottle, help me kiss the cookie deep and sweet! Cuz we need to snuggle like sandy marshmallows on a snowy rainbow beach to properly combine our flavors. Master Chief wants a blue gingerbread man with tinsel cuffs for Christmas.” 

‘Gosh, what on Earth are you talking about Nicholas? I swear, you’re always babbling on about some silly nonsense, even in your dreams!’ Rod rolled his eyes.

Nicky continued to murmur gibberish, as he snuggled against his pillow, “Dumpsters are dull without you. Jeez, I wanna be Rod! I really really wanna be! You have no idea how much I wanna be! But I’m not. God, it sucks to be me! But maybe… Um, yeah, maybe I can pretend to be buddy? Maybe for you I can learn to be! Just let me get close to the cookie and smooch away it’s crumbles.” 

‘Heavens Nicky, the absurdity of your imagination truly knows no bounds!’ Not able to understand his roommate’s barely audible gobbledygook, Rod gave up trying to interpret the random melodic whispers emanating from his sweetheart’s bed. And instead, he focused on gathering up a carefully considered set of professional, yet stylish, and sufficiently comfortable, ‘Wall Street appropriate’ clothing items and accessories. Something he did each day, to ensure that he always had a perfectly coordinated business suit to wear after his early morning shower.

----- FIVE MINUTES LATER -----

Rod stumbled into the bathroom like a zombie. However, as soon as he saw the puddle next to the bathtub, his eyes sprung open. And he sensed a shot of adrenaline surge up his spine. ‘God, that’s the exact spot Nicky held me last night! The exact spot he removed my pajama shirt!’ He felt butterflies flutter in his stomach, before he grabbed a cloth from the bathroom cleaning caddy and quickly soaked up the excess moisture. 

Rod could barely believe Nicky had been so kind to him after such a shocking revelation. He had worried for years what Nicky might think about him if he ever found out about his scars. Indeed, a big part of him had been convinced that his friend would be angry at him for being so weak and letting such horrible things happen so many times. But he wasn’t. Of course he wasn’t. 

A huge smile spread across Rod’s face. He was so happy he had Nicky for a friend. So so happy. For most of his life, Rod had been terrified that one day he would be abandoned, that one day he would be alone in the world. For most of his life he had felt hopeless and desperately lonely. But he didn’t feel so alone with Nicky by his side, he didn’t feel so ashamed, he didn’t feel so afraid. 

Rod sensed a familiar feverish flutter of fuzzy feelings flittering about inside him. Only this time, the frenzied feelings were tempered by his recently reinforced perception that Nicky’s friendship was unsinkable. Nicholas Taylor had always been such an awesome friend to him, such a supportive loyal friend. 

True, Nicky was an undisciplined, unmotivated, unorganized, silly goofy muppet! But he was Rod’s silly goofy muppet! Because Nicky’s playful nature always put a song in Rod’s doleful muted spirit, and kept a spring in his otherwise lifeless step. He swooned. Just one glance into Nicky’s deep brown orbs of kindness was enough to soothe Rod’s traumatized inner child. At times, Nicky was the antidote to his anguish, the remedy for his depression, and the cure for his anxiety, all rolled into one cute cuddly package. He sighed wistfully.

Rod shuffled towards the bathroom window and opened it for a moment. It was the middle of spring now, so the cool air was somewhat refreshing. As he gazed up at the stars in the sky, they looked like tiny diamonds embedded in a deep navy canvas. In a weird way, Rod was glad that he had woken up early, because he knew twilight would soon wash away the awe-inspiring sight before him. He had always loved looking at the stars, staring out across the vastness of the cosmos, finding patterns in the glittery sequins of light above. But this morning the little flickering specks, seemed to twinkle with an almost magical sparkle.  

Rod took a deep breath of the fresh spring air, before he slowly closed the window again. Now that he knew Nicky wasn’t going to abandon him because of his painful past, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He just wished he had been braver and told his best friend everything a lot sooner. Well, maybe not quite everything, but still… 

Rod gulped, as he remembered one of the many close calls he’d had over the years, a close call that was eerily similar to what had happened last night.

----- FLASHBACK (NICKY ALMOST SEES ROD’S SCARS IN COLLEGE) -----

“Hey Rod buddy, why don’t you put that book down for a bit and come to the pool with me? I know you don’t swim and all. But jeez, you could come along and watch me splash about, right? Like you did when we were kids each swim class in school?” Nicky frowned at the textbook that was competing for his best buddies attention, and yanked his inanimate opponent from Rod’s feeble grasp.

“Nicky! What are you doing?! Give that back this instant! I told you I can’t be dealing with your random nonsense today, I need to study!” Rod squealed, as he desperately tried to retrieve his Economics book from his irritating roommate.

“Nope! You’re not getting it back until you agree to join me Rod! You need some fun times buddy!”

“Nicky no! Now give it back!” Rod shrieked, as he jumped up and attempted to pluck the book from his friend’s disturbingly sticky looking hands.

Nicky rolled his eyes, as he relented, and slowly lowered the book back into his nerdy roommate’s out stretched arms. “Okay, okay. You win. You always win. But please Rod, please buddy, I don’t want to go to the pool all on my own-some!”

“Nicky there is no such thing as own-some, it’s lonesome!”

“Whatever Rod. Jeez, why do you always have to be such a party pooper?! Why can’t we just hang out and have fun once in a while? Like we did in the good ol’ days?” Nicky sighed in exasperated defeat, as he lightly kicked his foot against the wall, and boredom took his joy hostage once more.

Rod rolled his eyes, “Fine. Fine! Let’s go to the pool!” Contrary to his better judgement, Rod found himself surrendering to yet another one of Nicky’s random impulsive whims. It seemed that his desire to gaze lustfully at his secret sweetheart’s gorgeously God-like body, had risen up to claim victory over his puritanical sense of responsibility on this occasion! “I’ll sit and watch, but I’m taking my textbook with me!”

“Oh, but Rod! I need all of your attention buddy! I need your eyes all over me!”

Rod blushed slightly, before he said firmly, “That’s my final offer Nicky! Take it or leave it!”

“Okay, okay. Yay! Woohoo! Swim time here we come! Let’s go!” Nicky quickly snatched up his swim trunks from his drawer and tossed them into a bag alongside his goggles. 

“Don’t forget to pack clean boxer shorts Nicky!”

“Yeah, yeah, Mom!” Nicky said sarcastically, as he grabbed hold of Rod’s hand and pulled him towards the door.

“Wait!” Rod put on the brakes, “Just got to get my study bag packed.” He carefully slid his not so pocket-sized ’Principles Of Advanced Investment Banking’ textbook into his shoulder bag. 

“Come on Rod!” Nicky whined, “Jeez, seriously?! Why can’t you just take an afternoon off for once! I’m not asking for much buddy, just an afternoon is all. Is that really too much to ask?!”

Rod ignored the question as he slung the bag over his shoulder, “Okay, let’s go Nicholas. Before I change my mind.”

----- LATER AT THE POOL -----

While Nicky mucked around in the water and jiggled about like a goofy octopus with a purple noodle, Rod sat a few feet from the edge of the pool. For the past hour, the battle between his relentless Nicky cravings and his studious conscientious side had raged on, with no resolution. He held his textbook in front of his face, as he attempted to concentrate. But it was impossible! Because he felt compelled to sneak stealthy glimpses of Nicky in his swim trunks, whenever the opportunity arose… Which currently, was every few seconds! 

Rod lowered the book for a moment, and lightly stroked the side of his neck with his fingertips. Nicky had tucked the foam noodle between his legs, and was riding on it as if it were an imaginary sea horse! 

“Woohoo! Giddy up noodle! Rod! Look, you’re missin’ all the noodly awesomeness buddy!” 

Rod squinted at the sight. Nicky had wrapped the foam tube around his waist and twisted the tip up to his mouth. Wait, was he? No, surely not! It looked like he was licking it!

“Ew, yuck! Rod, this pool water tastes super bitter buddy! Gross! I wish they’d add a strawberry flavor or somethin’! Cuz the taste of this makes me wanna hurl!” Nicky hollered out, after pulling a face in disgust.

Rod rolled his eyes, “Well of course pool water tastes bitter Nicky! You’re not supposed to drink it! It’s full of chlorine! For heaven’s sake stop being so silly! You’re going to make yourself sick if you keep doing stupid things like that! So stop being so ridiculous!”

“But Rod buddy, it’s so much fun!” Nicky winked, before he pulled the noodle out from under him and quickly swum to the side.

‘Oh. My. God.’ Rod gulped hard, ‘Sweet suffering Jesus Nicky! Why in the name of all that is holy do you always do this to me?!’ He thought, as he bit down on his lip, but he couldn’t hold the position for long! 

Rod’s mouth dropped open, and he was unable to avert his gaze, his eyes transfixed by the irresistibly divine sight before him! Angels played harps in his mind and cupids thrust a million love potion tipped darts into his heart. 

‘Gosh, surely my parents were wrong when they told me that my sinful thoughts would bring about a hellish punishment. Because when I’m lusting over Nicky, I feel like I’m in seventh heaven!’ Rod swooned, as he watched his hunky heartthrob climb out of the pool. And he sensed his heartrate soar, as water droplets dripped down his friend’s ridiculously sexy body in oh so many tempting and tantalizing ways! 

It was almost as if time itself had been put into slow motion. Because Nicky’s stunningly sumptuous, sublimely soft, glistening green skin, shined like an emerald sparkling in the sunlight for what seemed like an eternity to Rod’s eyes. 

Nicky beamed, and he swished his sopping wet mop of dark brown hair around in his somewhat flirtatious, cheeky playful manner. Chuckling, he continued to grin wildly, as he slowly walked over to his friend, who was still fully clothed and snuggled up on a deck chair under a towel. “Jeez Rod, you sure you don’t wanna give swimmin’ a try? I could teach you buddy, you know? And we could chill together in the shallow end. So you wouldn’t have to worry about your glasses getting’ wet or nothin’, promise!”

Rod gulped hard again, as much as he wanted to splash around in the pool with his friend, he knew he couldn’t, for a variety of reasons! But one reason in particular made certain that such a scenario was fated to be forever banished from existence. “Um, sorry Nicky. You know I can’t swim.”

Nicky’s brow furrowed into a frown. And he decided to put on his ‘Sherlock Holmes hat’ once more, to see if he could finally solve the mystery behind Rod’s lifelong aversion to swimming pools. “Jeez Rod, why’d you never learn to swim buddy?”

Rod could feel his heart begin to race, as he frantically searched for a good reason, “I told you why Nicky. Because I have asthma!”

“Yeah, but Rod, loads of kids had asthma at school and they all still learnt to swim buddy.”

“Yes, yes, but… But my asthma was more intense, so…” Rod did his best to hide his clearly anxiety ridden face behind his open textbook.

Nicky shrugged, realizing that he wasn’t going to get any better answer out of his very private roommate. “Jeez, okay Rod. Whatever you say buddy. I just gotta go take a whizz, you gonna be okay here?”

“Of course I’ll be okay Nicky. I’m just sitting here, reading a book.”

“Yeah, I know but…”

“Look, the lifeguard is right over there. I’m sure he’ll keep an eye on me and make sure I don’t accidentally drown in my towel or something.” Rod muttered sarcastically, as he rolled his eyes.

“Okay, if you’re sure buddy. Be back in a jiff!” Nicky headed off to the changing room to use the facilities.

Rod sighed happily, as he watched him leave. He felt like he was on cloud nine! And he reveled in the peace and quiet, putting his book down for a moment to close his eyes. 

However, unfortunately, Rod’s tranquility didn’t last long, and he was startled back into the harshness of his reality by someone whispering offensive slurs directly into his ear, “Hey you, queer face! Yes, you! Wiener whistler! I owe you a cannon ball!”

Rod barely had time to wrap his head around what was happening, when his towel was roughly tugged from his lap. And he saw his pristine textbook flung onto the wet tiles beside him. 

“Wha, what’s going, going on?” Rod’s eyes widened in horror, as he looked up to see his arch enemy, Donald Johnson, stood towering ominously over his now quivering body. And he all but screamed, as Nicky’s vengeful ex-friend reached out to grab his fragile wrist and yanked him upwards. He wriggled, trying frantically to get free. But sadly Rod’s limp slender frame was no match for Donny’s burly quarterback physique. And the jock forcibly gathered him into his arms. 

“There’s no escape now you fuckin’ fairy snowflake!” Donny spat with venomous rage, as he tightened his grip around Rod’s squirming body.

“Wait, Donny please, what, what are you doing?!” Rod squealed in terror, as the muscly twenty one year old roughly carried him over to the pool. “Gettin’ revenge! You took Nicky from me you fuckin’ fag! And now you’re gonna pay! Enjoy the water bitch! I hear it’s lovely and cool in the deep end!” 

Rod did his best to grip his arms around Donny’s shoulders, but his hands slipped off the angry man’s wet skin… And SPLASH! Before he knew it he found himself submerged under the chlorinated water. His eyes stung and his glasses were no longer where they should be, so he could barely see a thing! 

“Help! Please help! Please! I can’t… I can’t swim!” Rod spluttered, thrashing his arms about wildly in the water. He felt like he was drowning. And the lifeguard was nowhere to be seen! “I, I, I can’t…” He choked, fearing that a blurry image of Donny with an evil looking smirk on his face, maybe the last thing he ever got to see! Indeed, maybe it would have been, had Nicky not returned at that exact moment.

“Donny you complete and utter douche! What the fuck man?! What the hell is wrong with you?! You know Rod can’t swim!” Nicky shot daggers at Donny, before he rushed forward and called out to reassure his friend, “Rod, don’t worry buddy! I’m comin’ to save you!” He quickly dived into the water, and swum over to the epicenter of the commotion as fast as possible, to help his spluttering friend to safety.

Rod could no longer keep his head above the water, and he took one last gasp of air before he descended beneath the choppy waves around him. He thought he was going to die! But suddenly, just as his vision was beginning to turn black, he felt a warm arm hug him around his waist. And his head was quickly pushed back upwards into the lifesaving oxygenated air above, by a green superhero dressed in Spider-man swimming trunks! He took a long deep breath, before he continued to splutter, wheeze and choke. 

Nicky lay on his back and cradled Rod in his arms. Before he quickly pulled him to the side and turned around to face his shaking friend. Rod’s eyes looked so red, and so tiny without his glasses on. “You okay Rod?” Nicky asked with deep concern. 

However, Rod didn’t answer because he was coughing and wheezing too much to manage even a brief ‘okay’. Still, he immediately flung his shivering arms around Nicky’s shoulders, and clung to him like a baby monkey clinging on to its mother! 

Worried by the look of pure fear in Rod’s eyes, Nicky hugged his wet friend close for a few seconds in the water. “Rod buddy, I’m so sorry I left you. I didn’t realize that asshole was here! He must have been hiding from me! Jeez, what a fuckin’ pussy! Look, just grab hold of the sidebar, okay? And I’ll go get your glasses, then climb up to pull you out, yeah? It’ll be okay buddy, promise!”

Rod was very reluctant to let go of Nicky, but he knew he had to get out of the pool as soon as possible. Because he needed his inhaler! And his shirt was already soaked, so he feared that if he passed out or something, Nicky might catch a glimpse of his shameful scars.

“Rod, please buddy. We need to get you out of this water!”

Rod slowly nodded, as he somewhat reluctantly loosened his grip around Nicky’s shoulders, and instead clung to the metal bar beside him. 

Once freed from Rod’s grasp, Nicky immediately dived down to retrieve Rod’s spectacles. With his goggles firmly in place it didn’t take him long to find them. Then, as soon as he’d restored Rod’s vision, Nicky quickly hauled himself up onto the side, so that he could help his traumatized wheezing friend out of the pool. Where the lifeguard was, he had no idea! But he wasn’t going to let anything distract him from his most urgent of missions!

Still gasping for air, Rod continued to cling onto the metal rung in front of him for dear life! He was still in a state of shock, but relieved to have his glasses back and see a green hand reach down from above. Rod felt his body tingle with passion, as he transferred his trust from the sidebar back to Nicky, and his hero finally hoisted him out of the terrifying water. He wanted to thank Nicky for being his knight in shining armor yet again. But he could barely breathe, let alone talk! So instead he settled for worshiping his heroic roommate with quiet awe.

“Don’t worry buddy! I’ll get you to the med bay!” Nicky promised, as he gently lifted Rod into his arms. He carried his soaking wet friend towards where he at long last spotted the irresponsible, inattentive lifeguard in the distance. However, the guy still didn’t seem to be aware of the potentially life threatening incident that had transpired under his watch. Because he was still staring like a zombie at his smartphone screen! 

“Hey, my friend was dumped into the water while you were taking your fuckin’ phone break! And he could’ve died because he can’t fuckin’ swim!” Nicky shouted angrily at the guy, and shot him a hard scowl. “Where’s the med center?!”

The clearly inexperienced lifeguard looked utterly stunned by Nicky’s confrontational tone, “Um, sorry dude, first day. Um, it’s um, through there.” He gestured to the door beside him.

Nicky still looked very unimpressed by the lifeguard’s attitude, but quickly carried Rod into the room, where luckily a more competent-looking First Aid specialist was on duty.

Rod could feel himself losing consciousness again. But he was terrified that someone might discover his scars. So he forced himself to squeal out defensively, “Please don’t take my shirt off! I um, I have a skin condition!” Before his head flopped backwards against Nicky’s chest.

“Rod!” Nicky wailed in horror. However, luckily the First Aid Officer seemed to know exactly what to do, and she immediately wrapped Rod in a towel, and had Nicky place him down onto a sofa in the staff room. 

The medic said seriously, “He has asthma, yes? He needs his inhaler!” 

Nicky nodded, and immediately rushed back to retrieve it.

Rod slowly awoke from his momentary daze, to see the First Aid Officer gazing down upon him with a very concerned look in her eyes. He gulped. But he could hear Nicky on his way back. So he quickly pulled the towel tightly around his now shirtless body. And shook his head at the woman, in a silent plea for his privacy to be respected.

The First Aid Officer nodded back at him to signal her understanding, “Don’t worry, we’ll have you fixed up in no time!” She reassured him, as she pulled a spare long sleeve promotional t-shirt from the shelf behind her, and handed it to her shivering blue patient.

Nicky skidded back into the room, “Okay, got it!” He shouted triumphantly, as he held out Rod’s inhaler.

“Nicky, thanks, but could you?” Rod wheezed, and stared intently at his friend, hoping he too would take the hint and turn around. And of course, he did.

“Jeez buddy. You had me really worried back there!” Nicky said, as he passed the inhaler to him and spun around.

Still wheezing, Rod gave himself a couple of much needed puffs, before he took a few deep breaths, and did his best to reassure his guilty friend, “Um, I’m sorry Nicky, I didn’t mean to cause a scene…” He began, but Nicky quickly interrupted.

“No Rod! It’s not your fault at all! Donny’s a total douche! And I’m the one who should be sorry! Cuz I never should have brought you here buddy! It was selfish of me! I knew you didn’t really want to come, but I dragged you along anyway! Jeez, I suck!”

“No! I wanted to come Nicky, I just, um… I had so much work to do and…” Rod trailed off, unsure of what else to say. However, once he was satisfied that the long sleeve shirt he had been given sufficiently concealed his scars, he gestured to the woman that it was okay for Nicky to turn round and face him again. The top was very baggy on him, but it still did the job he needed it to do.

“Rod, I’m so sorry buddy. You forgive me? Yeah?” Nicky’s deep brown eyes looked a little sad, but, at the same time, happy to see that his best friend was okay.

“Don’t be silly Nicky! It wasn’t your fault! And you, you saved me! I should be thanking you! Not forgiving you!” Rod smiled gratefully at his friend.

“But Rod I…”

Rod rolled his eyes, “God Nicky! You really need to learn when to stop talking! It’s not often I say this, but… But well… You were right! I did need some fun today, okay! Maybe not thatsort of fun, but still… I know your heart was in the right place.” He couldn’t help but giggle, as Nicky shot him one of his adorably goofy expressions.

“Well, jeez Rod! I could throw you in again if you enjoyed it that much!” Nicky teased, before quickly adding, “Sorry, just kiddin’. You know I’d never do that!” He dropped to his knees a moment, and took Rod’s floppy blue hand in his own somewhat wrinkly green one, “Look, shall we get you home buddy? We can even watch one of those soppy musical romance movies you’re always secretly swooning over if you want? Would you like that, my damsel in distress?” He chuckled.

Rod pulled his hand free, but couldn’t help but giggle wildly after a quick bout of protesting, “Nicky! That’s so… So inappropriate! But, um…” He couldn’t seem to stop laughing for some reason, “Um yes. I, um… I think I would like that Nicky. Very, very much!” He smiled down at his cheeky hero, as he felt warm fuzzy feelings of romance bubble inside.

However, any romantic ‘moment’ between the two best friends was instantly obliterated, as Lola burst into the room. “Hey, what on Earth happened Nicky-kins?” She asked in alarm, “Someone told me Donny threw Rod in the pool? You okay Rod?”

Rod nodded somewhat somberly. And any trace of his smile vanished, as Nicky immediately let go of his hand, and stood up to face his girlfriend. 

“Hey Lola! Don’t worry, Rod’s gonna be okay.” Nicky twisted his neck slightly to wink at Rod. Before he began reenacting the entire incident via hand gestures, in an enthusiastic attempt to explain everything to his significant other. 

Poor Rod’s legs still felt very wobbly from the shock. So unfortunately, he didn’t have any choice but to grin and bear the deep pain brewing inside, while Nicky flirted with Lola to a sickening degree. ‘God, please don’t kiss! Please don’t kiss!’ He chanted in his mind. However, sadly, the chant didn’t work. And Rod’s heart sank into a void, as the love of his life gave his girlfriend a long passionate kiss right in front of his face.

----- END OF FLASHBACK -----

Suddenly Rod felt compelled to write an entry in his diary. So he scampered over to his desk drawer to retrieve it, along with a pen. Before he returned to the bathroom, locked the door behind him, and flicked to a new page.

----- ROD WRITES IN HIS DIARY -----

I may be able to lie to Nicky about Ricky, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t deny my true feelings. Because my love is so deep, so painful and so paralyzing. And what hurts the most, is that I know Nicky will never understand the torment of unrequited love I must endure every day.

Oh how I wish I could just tell him how I feel. But I dare not. For our friendship would be forever lost. Instead, I must keep up this ridiculous charade, and continue to hide my shameful love.

It’s true, sometimes I wish I’d never met Nicky! Because ever since the day I met him my life has been turned upside down and inside out! All the stress in my life seems to revolve around him! He just messes with my mind so much!

For years Nicky has been so utterly dependent on me. But now that he finally has a job and money of his own, the day will soon come when he moves out. Then maybe I can move on with my life. But while he’s still here, living with me, sleeping in the bed next to me, I can’t think about anyone but him. And I’ll never be able to have a proper relationship while he’s still in my life.

----- END OF DIARY ENTRY -----


Rod sighed sadly and a single tear trickled down his cheek. He stared at himself in the mirror for a moment. And wondered what he was going to do to conceal the gigantic bruise on his forehead. It looked even worse than it had last night! He gulped, as he realized that he was just going to have to endure the inevitable taunting that came with such a facial mark. 

Poor Rod could feel a snow storm of sadness building just above his head. However, he knew that he didn’t have time for another sobbing fit, so he put his diary to the side, and forced himself to jump into the shower.

----- FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER -----

Rod sighed and opened his smartphone to check his messages, when a horrible sting of anxiety struck him full force in the chest. With all the chaos going on around him, he still hadn’t read that email from Ricky. He scrolled through his inbox, but he couldn’t seem to find it. Had he imagined it? Was its existence only a dream? He opened up the recycle bin, in case he had accidentally deleted it. And yes, he had! Because there it was, right at the top of the list. 

‘God, no! It’s real!’ Rod could feel his heart race. ‘What on Earth could be in Ricky’s email?!’ He felt the panic sink deep into the pit of his stomach. ‘Don’t think, just click on it!’ He spoke sternly to his anxious side, as he quickly shot out his finger to open up the message. However, still feeling very on edge, he instinctively screwed his eyes shut, as his brain tried to hide from reality.

‘Enough!’ Rod finally managed to pull himself together, and he slowly opened his eyes to read through Ricky’s words. It was a very painful email to read. But he knew he needed to learn the truth. No matter how soul destroying Ricky’s words might be, he had to know the truth.

----- ROD READS RICKY’S EMAIL -----

Hey Rod,

Look, I’ll keep this brief. You and me, we’re not going to work out. I think you already figured that. But thought it best to clarify things. See, when I answered the personal ad on Simili-Dude that Nicky posted… Well, let’s just say it was a case a false advertising! Cuz you’re not my type at all! 

In fact, I’ll give you some free advice, as you seem like a reasonable guy. Talking to Nicky made me feel terrible for him! Cuz he’s stuck in a dead end life and I think a lot of that is your fault. I’m sure you never meant for things to turn out this way. And I’m sure Nicky would never blame you. But this codependent relationship between you and Nicky isn’t healthy. And only you can set things right. You need to set Nicky free, once and for all. 

You know I’m right. You know that he’ll have a much happier life without you holding him back all the time. So just do it ok. I know it’ll be hard, cuz you guys have been best buds forever. But in the end you’ll both be better off. Trust me, I’ve been where Nicky is now, and it didn’t do me any favors! My life only turned around for the better once I struck out on my own. And I’m sure the same will be true for Nicky.

Anyway, now we both know where we stand. Hope everything’s cool. But I’d prefer if we not bring this up again. Probably best for everyone involved if we just zip it, yeah? And go our separate ways. You might see me around with Nicky, cuz I’m gonna try my best to help him get some independence. And I don’t hate you or anything. Or want things to be awkward between us. But I’d prefer if you kept your distance, if you get me. And please think about what I said. Cuz I truly feel both you and Nicky will be better off apart.

Cheers,

Ricky

----- END OF EMAIL -----


Rod could feel the tears streaming down his face, and he put his quivering blue hand to his mouth to muffle his cries, as salty droplets splashed onto the screen. ‘My God, have I really been holding Nicky back? All this time?! For all these years?!’ Rod tried to swallow his ever rising despair, but it didn’t seem to be working. He took both his musty old diary and his now wet phone into the kitchen.

Rod gasped at the mess that flickered into view the instant he turned on the lights. ‘God! What on Earth has Nicky been doing in here?!’ He thought. However, he didn’t feel in any fit state to focus on that part of reality right now. So he ignored the pillow carcass that lay amongst a pile of feathers on the floor, and collapsed onto the couch to sob into the nearest cushion. ‘Nicky I don’t want you to suffer any more because of me! I know I’ve got to do what’s right and let you go! But, but it’s just so painful!’ 

Rod curled up into a ball on the sofa, as his negative emotions consumed him. How many more of these despairing sessions was he going to have to endure?! ‘Nicky I love you so much! I love you more than anything else in this world! You’re my best friend and my only family. But I know you need to be free! I know it, as much as it hurts… I know it!’ He continued to sob until he was shocked back into reality by his smartphone vibrating against the upholstery.  

Rod roughly wiped his tears away, and did his best to clear his throat of phlegm. The vibrating stopped, but started again moments later. It was his boss, so he couldn’t ignore it. He gulped, before he reached out his wobbly blue arm to answer it.

“Roderick Periwinkle? Why the fuck didn’t you pick up?! Where are you? Never mind! No matter where you are, I need you to get in early today! There has been another problem with the Margate Account and we need your expertise to get it back on track! So you can get in for seven this morning? Yes?” Rod’s boss boomed angrily down the phone. 

Poor Rod could feel his lips trembling. But he did his best to even out the shakiness in his voice as he answered, “Um, yes. Yes sir. I, I, um, I’ll get ready and be on my way. See you, you, at, um, seven.”

“Good. Look, you’re not crying again are you?! Because I told you, any more of that nonsense and manager or not, you’ll be out on your ear!”

“Um, no.” Rod closed his eyes, as he did his best to calm his frazzled nerves. “No, don’t, um, be ridiculous sir. Of course I’m, I’m not crying.”

“Well good. See you at seven sharp! And don’t be late! Because there are plenty of other people who would be more than happy to get promoted into your spot! You’re easy to replace and no one would miss you if you got fired. Don’t ever forget that!”

“Yes. Um, yes sir.” Rod did his best to keep his manner as professional as possible, despite feeling nothing inside, but an empty hole in his heart, that he knew would never be filled. His boss shouted at the minions already in the office, making Rod flinch back and pull the phone abruptly from his ear. He had never felt more alone in all his life. But he knew he deserved it, as weird as that sounded, he knew he deserved to be alone.

----- TEN MINUTES LATER -----

Rod continued to sob until his eyes hurt from crying and the cushion below his face was nothing more than a soggy salty sponge. However, gradually he felt himself go numb inside. ‘You know what you have to do.’ His rational side reminded him.

Rod grabbed a pen, opened his diary to the first blank page and began scribbling down his thoughts.

----- ROD WRITES IN HIS DIARY -----

I feel so alone. No matter how hard I try, I just never seem to fit in anywhere. I never fit in at school. I never fit in at college. I don’t fit in at work! And I sure as hell don’t fit in with my family! The only place I’ve ever felt like I truly fit, was by Nicky’s side. But now even that seems fake, like I’ve been living a lie my whole life! I know I need to send him off to live in Australia. I know I do, but I just can’t do it!

----- END OF DIARY ENTRY -----


After a few more minutes of sobbing, Rod stumbled to his feet and carefully placed the diary back into its drawer. He was just about to lock it away again, when he was startled by Nicky’s phone ringing from the kitchen side table, and he dashed back into the other room. 

Normally Rod would never invade his roommate’s privacy. But it was very unusual for Nicky to get a call so early in the morning. And Rod was worried that it might be an emergency call from Nicky’s family in Australia. So he decided to check the caller ID, just to put his mind at ease.

However, as soon as Rod picked up the phone it stopped ringing. He opened up the case and almost passed out from shock at the number of unread message alerts on the screen. ‘What on Earth?’ Rod’s eyes widened in horror, as he began reading some of the short texts left during the night.

----- ROD READS NICKY’S TEXT ALERTS -----

Hey babe, you gonna come round later and smooch me up? I need my Incredible Hulk to sex me better! Love you Xx

Hey sweetie, could you pick me up a lacy number for tomorrow. I wanna look my best for my green hunk! Can’t wait for you to kiss me all over again! Love you so much babe! Xx

Hey babe, will your roommate be out at work again today? I need to come round and see you again for more hot sex! Call me as soon as you get this, yeah? Lots of love Xx

----- END OF TEXT ALERTS -----


The alerts didn’t have any name attached to them. But the messages alone were enough to send another explosive blast of anguish crashing through Rod’s already shattered heart. ‘I guess maybe fantasies don’t come true. But nightmares sure do!’ He thought, as he plummeted into yet another deep dark pit of despair, perhaps the deepest darkest pit he had ever had the misfortune to tumble into!

If Rod had been unsure what he needed to do before, now there was no doubt left in his mind. It was the end of an era. The end of his deluded Rod and Nicky fantasies. And Rod was well and truly on his own.