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The New Guy

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They woke up to the alarm, and soon heard a conversation going on in the house. Going from the bedroom to the bathroom they could hear an unknown voice say: “I heard you were in deep shit last night last night.” So they knew whoever that stranger was, they were talking to Orsino. When they left the bathroom however the stranger was standing in the living room, they both stared at one another curiously for a second.

“That’s a nice bracelet you’ve got there,” Cesario commented seeing it had the same colors as the non-binary pride flag

“Oh, thanks,” said the skinny visitor, who rocked both a goatee and a bright pink satin top with thin straps on the shoulders, whose shorts were too short for a man, and too long for a woman, and whose dyed green hair was braided in cornrows. “I’m Feste, nice to meet you.” They had a deep voice and a cheerful tone, both of which Cesario liked immediately, but they didn’t recognize the meaning behind Feste’s smile until they said: “Sorry for getting him out of bed so early, but I need the ground shaking with that bass, and if your boyfriend doesn’t lend his skills, I’m probably starting a fire.”

That was a lot of information, and they had no idea what most of it meant, but they were awake enough to correct Feste quickly: “I’m not his boyfriend, I live here. My name’s Cesario.”

“Oh?” Feste looked surprised, squinting and moving their had this way and that to look at Cesario from different angles. “My eyes played a trick on me, sorry about that,” they smiled, looking just too friendly, and Cesario didn’t know what to think about that.

“Don’t let him bully you, Cesario,” Orsino said from his bedroom.

“He says I’m bullying him into this. Can you believe it?” they laughed, and Cesario joined in because it was hard to imagine scrawny Feste bullying Orsino. “So how long have you been living here?”

“Stop bullying him, Feste!” Orsino said coming out of his bedroom with a huge toolbox in hand, and a huge roll of electric wire hanging on his left shoulder.

“It’s called flirting, but I guess you wouldn’t know what it looks like.”

Orsino laughed, and told Cesario: “Don’t encourage him.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Feste protested. “Encourage me all you like. You’re coming tonight, right?”

“Where?” they asked, looking more at Orsino than at Feste, and the latter noticed it.

“Just the most awesome dance party this place’s ever seen,” Feste said. “You should come. Who knows? My first guess may come true,” they winked.

Cesario felt their face burn, they knew Feste had first guessed they were Orsino’s girlfriend (they knew the look.)

“What’s that about?” Orsino asked and got no answer. “Is he bullying you, Cesario?” he gave Feste a fake hit on the shoulder. “Don’t bully my friend.”

“I don’t think you know what bullying looks like either,” Feste shook their head. “What I was getting at,” they told Orsino, “is if your friend here is really lucky, I myself could help him find the best of outcomes tonight. If he’s lucky, that is,” they added, now smiling at Cesario.

They could guess the implications behind that smile, and it was way too early in the morning for that. “I have to go get dressed,” they said, retreating to the bedroom.

“Ten thirty, tonight,” Feste shouted to make sure they’d be heard through the closed door, even though Cesario had no problem hearing the rest of their words, which were directed to Orsino: “You have to bring him tonight.”

“I’m not coming.”

“Of course you are.”

*

The beats could be heard all the way home, but only as they approached the building they could feel the trepidation under their soles, like Feste had promised. The outside was like a warm up party with food and liquor stands along the street, and people both young and old eating, drinking, meeting friends, practicing dance steps, flirting, and talking loudly to one another to be heard over the music.

They stood by one of the liquor stands and placed their orders. Orsino and Curio did cheap vodka shots and had energy drink, but Cesario didn’t join them. First because energy drinks were out of their budget, but also because the supersized cups of smoothies with vodka were very pretty and a real bargain. Sure they were pink, and Cesario should probably stay away from pink stuff when they had to pass for a man, but guys were drinking it, right? They looked around to make sure, and saw as many boys as girls with one of those cups in their hands. It was very sweet and icy, and they took a big sip trying to taste the alcohol in it, only to get a brain freeze.

“That’s a very manly drink you got there,” Orsino joked.

“Nothing says ‘I’m a grown up,’ like a pink drink with a straw,” Curio joined in.

“Who says I’m a grown up?” Cesario shrugged and took their phone out. “Come here,” they said to the others, “I want my brother to think I have friends.” And they stopped to take a selfie that included the drink, because Sebastian would probably be interested in it, as he was always asking for more details when they texted.

“You have a brother?” Orsino sounded surprised, and Cesario nodded “yes”, wondering what was so surprising about it. “You never said you have a brother,” he said, like he wanted to have a loud conversation about their families in that noisy street.

“You never asked,” they reminded him.

“Guys, it’s starting,” said Curio when the music changed.

Lots of people also reacted by going inside. The club wasn’t really a dance club but a gym, and a the dance floor was a sports court on weekdays. Everyone was given a tequila shot at the door and told it was on Toby. Inside, it was darker, the music was deafeningly loud, and the vibration from the many amplifiers felt like a little earthquake. There was a stage on the other end of the place, and on top of it was Feste, who wore combat boots and a camo jacket going with a silver sequined top and very short shorts. Cesario loved the look, which didn’t exactly reflect what everyone else was wearing, but made them feel better about being the only one in jeans and converse, not to mention they missed wearing shiny things while Feste was all accessories.

“Thank you all for coming,” they said on the mic, and people cheered. “Now that everyone’s here I’d like play some very personal music I wrote about my last break up.” They booed Feste, which made Cesario confused for second, until Feste laughed and said: “Just kidding, just kidding. Welcome to our twerk battle! You already know our beautiful contestants, give’em some love.” The crowd cheered loudly for the girls, who had lined up as Feste spoke.

Cesario was about to ask their friends if it was always like that, but their friends had disappeared in the crowd. They got on their tiptoes, trying to find the guys, but they weren’t tall enough to do that, and most guys were wearing the same black baseball cap as Curio. By then, Feste was dropping beats and the girls on stage were twerking, so they figured the guys were taking a closer look at the show, and decided to do the same.

The dancers caught their eye, and Cesario didn’t know if they were attracted or envious, but they couldn’t stop staring. They applauded enthusiastically when it was time to choose which one was the best, and became slightly disappointed when it was over. The music, however, improved a lot, so that was a good distraction. Now that people weren’t all packed up against the stage, they saw Curio doing some sort of choreography along with a few other guys as muscular as he was, all wearing very similar clothes. They watched from a distance trying to figure out how to dance like a man, though to be honest those beats made them want to move their body uncoordinatedly and they were already half dancing.

There were lots of couples making out against the wall, or right in the middle of the dance floor. Straight couples that reminded Cesario this wasn’t a safe place for someone like them to hook up with a stranger. They’d hoped tonight would be about hanging out with the guys, but Curio was bonding with the alpha males, and Orsino had disappeared, and could probably be found against a wall, they thought bitterly. To shake off the thought, they danced like a crazy person for a little bit, until they were so embarrassed that people could see them, the bitter thought was forgotten.

They had to pee but discovered there were no doors to the stalls in the men’s restroom, which was very annoying for someone with a secret to keep, so they decided to leave the club and use the disgusting chemical restroom outside, at least it had a door. They found Orsino doing tequila shots with the box office guys. “Cesario!” he shouted sounding very drunk. “You’re leaving? No!” he laid a heavy hand on their shoulder.

“I have to find a bathroom,” they said weaseling out of Orsino’s grip.

“It’s in there,” one of the guys informed, pointing the direction.

“I know, but I can’t go when there’s people watching, I need doors.”

The guys laughed, and only now Cesario noticed Orsino wasn’t the only one who was majorly drunk. When the laughter came to an end one of the box office guys said: “It’s true, you can’t take a decent shit when there’s people walking in and out,” which prompted the rest of the guys to debate the optimal conditions for taking a dump. But he wasn’t finished: “You can use that one,” he told them, pointing to a door with a “staff only” sign behind him.

“Thanks, man,” Cesario ran to the door before he changed his mind.

When they came back, Orsino announced Cesario was doing tequila shots with the rest of them. Though the way Orsino said it, without asking if they wanted to do shots, was annoying, a free drink was a free drink, so they didn’t object. They did two shots before Orsino got in his head he needed to buy cigarettes. He threw an arm around Cesario’s shoulders, and said: “We’re going on an adventure,” pulling his friend along.

It wasn’t much of an adventure, since all they did was walk to a liquor stand, where Orsino asked for two cigarettes and said Cesario should join him. Neither of them usually smoked but the recent tequila shots made them forget the good reasons for that. As they stood there silently smoking, they saw a police car park by. Two officers came out, one stood by the car, the second made a straight line to the club. It was lieutenant Malvolio, Cesario recognized.

“Yep, we’re leaving now,” Orsino said, grabbing Cesario by the arm and giving them a push start. “Let’s go,” he whispered nervously, taking long strides. Cesario only knew enough to shut up and follow, but they had no idea what they were running from. “Keep walking,” he said as they turned the corner.

“What just happened there?” Cesario asked as they walked away.

“Don’t look back,” Orsino said when Cesario was about to. “And don’t run.”

“Okay.” Cesario was scared by the sudden seriousness in his tone and face, but still didn’t understand why. “What happened back there?” they tried again.

“Nothing yet,” he said nervously.

“So why?” they asked breathlessly, taking the uphill alley home. They could hear the music stop suddenly, making the howling dogs in the distance very clear.

Orsino didn’t say anything until they were home, but first he tried calling Curio several times getting no answer. Then he explained cops weren’t supposed to go to the club and stop parties like they obviously had, which meant things might easily get ugly. They tried calling Curio again and again but still got no answer. There was only worried silence for what felt like a long time, then from the street came laughter and excited shouts.

Curio arrived breathing hard like he’d been running and laughing at the same time. And he wasn’t alone, Feste came behind him, also laughing and covered in sweat. It took the pair a while to control their breaths and their laughter, which sounded more nervous than amused. Curio placed both his hands on Feste’s shoulders and declared in a parody of awe: “Dude, you’re my hero!” And to Orsino and Cesario: “You guys have got to see this.” He pulled out his phone and showed them a video he had recorded in the club minutes earlier.

The officer was telling Feste to come down from the stage, while Feste made conciliatory gestures in a farce of negotiation, when it looked like they had come to an agreement, Feste jumped off the stage in a somersault and already landed bouncing sideways in what was a clear invitation for the policeman to try and catch them. Feste pretended to play football with an imaginary ball, confusing the officer. They looked left and ran right, looked right and ran left, their imaginary ball so tangible, when they kicked it aimed at Malvolio’s face, he flinched. That’s when Feste made an escape towards the camera, running with open arms like they’d just scored a goal.

Now they were all laughing nervously. “I can’t believe this actually happened,” Orsino told Feste. “You’re insane! A genius, but completely insane!”

“Oh, that? I do it all the time,” Feste laughed.

Cesario couldn’t help feeling pleased that the man who had treated them in that demeaning way had been humiliated in video, it felt like a revenge of sorts. And having the one who’d done it standing right before them was even better. They were impressed. “That was brilliant, dude,” they told Feste.

“I know, but thanks,” they said looking really proud. They shouted energetically for no reason. “Wow! How I’m gonna sleep after that? You guys have weed?” Cesario shook their head, Orsino pointed to Curio, who was busy sharing the video with everyone he knew. “Hey, Curio, how about some weed for your hero?”

He rolled a joint that looked like a cigar, and before they were half way through it, Feste was the only one who still had the energy to keep smoking. “Do you even get high?” said Cesario, who couldn’t understand the adrenaline rush Feste was trying to get rid of.

“It was kind of a crazy night, you know,” they shrugged, “my brain’s still a little confused.”

“As long as you’re so alert, why don’t you play the guitar for us?” Orsino suggested.

“Because I’m not a cartoon,” they answered. “You think I have a guitar in my pocket? I have chocolate, you guys want some?”

“I do,” Cesario accepted, perking up at the prospect of chocolate.

“Cesario has a guitar,” Orsino insisted.

“Stop offering other people’s guitars,” Cesario complained, jealous of their instrument.

“Oh, come on, I’m giving you chocolate,” Feste pretended to be offended. “I’ll be a lady with your guitar, I promise.”

Cesario was convinced and let Feste use it. Nobody was expecting the first song to be Roulette by System of a Down but they were too high to say anything. Orsino cocked his head to the side in interest, like he was listening to it for the first time, Curio bounced his leg, and Cesario was both flattered and uncomfortable that Feste sang the chorus looking directly at them and smiling. When the song was over there was silence, and Feste wanted applause even if the audience was too wasted to clap hands, so they played a very difficult tango, going faster and faster, until Cesario couldn’t hold their amazement any longer and paid a compliment: “Holy shit, that’s awesome!”

“Finally,” said Feste, ending the song. “You guys could say something, you know,” they told Curio and Orsino. They both applauded without energy, which offended the artist, who turned to Cesario: “I guess it’s just you and me. Any requests?” Their mind went blank and they shrugged. Feste played Sympathy for the Devil, which got more enthusiastic applause from the guys. “Ah, that’s more like it!” they said, finally satisfied, putting down the guitar.

“Oh, come on, play some more,” Orsino asked.

“I don’t play for zombies, that’s against my principles.”

But Feste wasn’t tired, all they wanted was the attention, and after some persistence they played Come Together, and What a Little Moonlight Can Do (altering the lyrics so it said “you can’t resist me.”) They finally decided to call it a night, and go to bed. Feste crashed on their couch after insisting Curio lended them something to sleep in, saying they wanted to look cute in an oversized t-shirt. Cesario, who knew the feeling too well, said: “Mood,” only to be stared at by the guys. There was no unsaying that, so they just embraced the weird: “Wow, look at the time!” and left.

They checked their phone before bed, and saw Sebastian had sent a text. He commented their picture: “Your friends are hot. I bet you like the one on the left. What’s in your hand?”

How did he know? Was he joking? Was it so obvious? Better assume Sebastian had just been lucky in his guess and ignore it. They explained the drink instead.

*

They woke up to guitar music the next morning. It was a great way of waking up, except they soon realized someone was playing their guitar. Suddenly, the delight from the good music became anxiety about their most valuable possession. They left the room, remembering it was probably Feste, but didn’t find them in the living room, the music came from outside. Cesario opened the door to find them standing by the step, playing and telling a story about a frog who wanted to go to a party only birds could go to. Feste’s audience were a bunch of children who looked entranced by the performance. There was no way Cesario would interrupt that, they just stood there and listened to the story, maybe not quite as impressed as the children by it, but the story teller’s many talents were impressive in a different way.

Twenty-four hours ago Cesario only knew Feste’s wardrobe was interesting, since then, however, they’d seen their skills making music, hosting a twerk competition, defying the authorities, and now they saw Feste even had a good heart. Only when the story was over they noticed Cesario was there. By then the children were commenting what they liked about the story.

“Do you guys know Cesario?” they asked.

“No!” the children said in unison.

“Cesario’s the one who let me use his guitar. Say thanks to Cesario.”

“Thanks, Cesario,” the kids said all together. One in particular asked: “Are you a girl, Cesario?”

“No, I’m not,” they said smiling, trying to hide the discomfort one little question could put them through.

“All right, all right, show’s over,” Feste said suddenly cranky, trying to shoo the children off like they were pigeons. “Go home. I’m done with you, little monsters. Get lost.”

Cesario was confused: “Why do you have to call them that? They’re just kids.”

Feste handed them the guitar: “I’m in for the fun but when they start with the questions--” they frowned. “I’m not here for the questions. And of course I was next.”

“Okay,” they nodded, finding it easy to see the reason.

“Hey, you wanna grab something to eat in the street market?” Feste suggested, sounding excited about the prospect.

Cesario didn’t know the street market, and decided they wanted to see it. They walked down the alley, into the street, and found themselves in it. The market was crowded, noisy, and smelled of spices and fried goods. Different song played at the same time coming from stands selling second hand electronics, car parts, fruits, vegetables, fish, sausage, homemade sweets, handmade hippie jewelry, toys, liquor, stinky tan leather items, beauty products, and much more. Feste found a cheese bread stand, and that was their breakfast.

“Well, now we can start drinking,” Feste announced, full of energy and good humor.

“Are you kidding? It’s morning,” Cesario unnecessarily pointed at the sky.

Feste laughed: “It’s saturday. And if you’re gonna keep up with me, you’re gonna need a drink, little boy,” they winked.

Cesario was once again between flattered and embarrassed by Feste’s smile and persistent gaze. The words “little boy” still echoing in their ears with that dirty ring Feste had managed to give them. “Yeah, let’s have a drink,” they said, getting in motion immediately to escape the desire to find out what Feste would do if they returned the gaze and smile.

As soon as Feste stepped in the bar, they were greeted by the patrons who had seen their video and loved it, they payed compliments, trash talked lieutenant Malvolio, commented Feste’s moves, and asked them to do the mimic football, which they refused: “I’m too sober for that.”

Cesario thought they were going to have a beer, but Feste ordered two cognacs, raised their glass, and looked expectantly at their friend. “I can’t drink this,” Cesario told them.

“Just take a deep breath after swallowing,” Feste advised and then demonstrated.

It still tasted like death to Cesario, but they went along with it anyway, enduring the burning sensation on their tongue and in their throat and stomach. Only then Feste ordered a beer, and it soothed the cognac’s aftertaste so well, Cesario didn’t worry they might get drunker than they could handle.

Three old men invited Feste and Cesario to their table, telling both to help themselves to some fried fish. They wanted to discuss how pissed Toby probably was that Malvolio had ended the party, and wonder what he would do about that. One said Toby would get some of his boys to get back at Malvolio personally when he was off duty and far away from his turf so they couldn’t link it to him. Another thought Toby had enough cops on his side that they’d get rid of Malvolio themselves. The third man considered it more like Toby to do something big and public just to show he couldn’t be stopped.

“It’s hard to say but he’s doing something about it, you know, he’s a politician,” said Feste like it was some inside joke, and the old men laughed, so Cesario could only figure it was.

Cesario didn’t have much to say to those strangers, no matter how welcoming they were and felt uncomfortable about it. Fortunately Feste also got restless, and said goodbye to them, leaving the table and inviting Cesario to shoot pool.

It was better than hanging out with strangers but there was a comical imbalance of skills going on. While Feste played like it was the easiest thing in the world, Cesario was happy when their ball hit anything (now they regretted not trying harder when Sebastian attempted to teach them.) They lost amazingly quickly, and Feste insisted on another match, saying: “I didn’t even feel it.” So Cesario agreed to another humbling defeat. At least the beer let them laugh about it.

They both left the bar, back to the street market, and navigated through the crowd to the square, where a very informal string quartet played old music under the shade of an almond tree, music so old and popular it sounded familiar even if it wasn’t the listeners’ style. It wasn’t long before a big guy wearing a golden chain around his neck approached Feste, gave them a bro handshake, and said something too low for anyone else to hear it.

“Hey,” Feste said really close to Cesario’s ear, using the music as an excuse, “I have to see Toby now. You wanna meet him?”

“I don’t think so,” they laughed nervously and shook their head.

“Are you afraid?” they sounded skeptical. “It’s ok, trouble has to climb all the way up the hill before it gets there, safer than here,” they shrugged.

Cesario knew they should say no, but they were having fun going here and there with Feste, and it wasn’t like they had anything better to do. So they ignored that inner voice saying don’t go, and tagged along.