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The New Guy

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Sunday was a short day. Cesario woke up in Feste’s bed, listening to them singing in the shower. It was late, they saw on the phone. Sebastian had sent them a picture of a disgusting poem about backsplashes written on a bathroom stall, and the caption: “So much wisdom where you least expect.”

Cesario laughed more at Sebastian’s sense of humor than the poem itself. And since Feste was leaving the bathroom at that exact moment, they shared the “wisdom” with them, and the laughs that followed. They forgot about the phone quickly, and found a better way to have fun in bed together. It was only interrupted by hunger. Feste went out in a mission to hoard the party’s leftovers, and Cesario took that time to have a shower.

Their clothes were crumpled on the floor, dirty and sweaty, so they took the liberty of borrowing some of Feste’s. All their t-shirts were really tight so there was no avoiding the sweaty binder. They were also both surprised and relieved Feste owned a few pair of ordinary boy shorts, sure the pattern was flowery, but men wore flowery shorts around there, so it should be no big deal.

Since Feste didn’t return from their mission, Cesario left the room and went looking for them. They were in the kitchen, talking to Maria about the success last night had been. “Good morning,” they said, but then remembered how late it was. “I mean, good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon,” Maria replied, looking at Cesario in a mix of surprise and approval. “Look who’s still here. Is Feste being a good host?”

“Sorry, I was coming right back,” Feste said before Cesario had the chance to say anything. Then they took a closer look, and said: “I’d never wear those shorts with that t-shirt.”

“Do I look weird?” Cesario asked, looking down, trying to see what was wrong.

“Quit it, Feste!” said Maria impatiently. “You look fine,” she assured, “he’s only saying that because he doesn’t like looking like a boy.”

“Oh, okay, then,” Cesario shrugged in relief.

The microwave beeped, and Feste served them with reheated pizza, which according to Maria they had forgotten about at some point last night, so there was still a lot of food untouched in their original containers. It wasn’t a healthy breakfast, but it sure was tasty. Maria also volunteered the information that Toby’s charity project was going really well, she expected their goal to be reached by wednesday.

They ate together in the kitchen, and to make it better Feste got the acoustic guitar in the studio, and played a few songs. Then they passed it on to Cesario, saying it was their turn. They had no objections to that, and helped making that good moment last a little longer.

Finally, Maria decided she was going to take a nap, leaving them alone. Cesario and Feste went back to the bedroom, but not for a nap. They eventually took one, however, and it was dark when they woke up.

Feste took them home and stayed for a while, hanging out with the rest of the guys, who were playing fighting games against each other. Cesario thought about asking Feste to spend the night, but didn’t go through with it: they didn’t even have a proper bed to share, only a narrow mattress thrown over some pallets which were already there when they rented the room. The rest of the guys would probably be uncomfortable, too, since they never brought their dates home, but that was more of a secondary problem, one they might not have considered if they had a good enough bedroom to offer. So they said good night to Feste much earlier than they wanted to.

“Can I come see you tomorrow night?” Feste asked after kissing them outside like it was no big deal.

“Of course,” Cesario said, already excited about it but still looking everywhere to make sure they weren’t displaying affection too publicly.

Feste noticed what they were worried about, and assured: “It’s okay, I told you, Toby and Maria have adopted me, I could kiss you in the middle of the street and they’d still have to suck it up. I’m their fucking princess.”

Cesario laughed. “Maybe you are, but I’m just a lowly commoner, whose teeth Tie-dye’s gonna break if I smile too much.”

“You’re serious? I’ll have that creep in a ditch if he said that to you.”

They’d never seen Feste angry before, and the change so intense, they got scared for Tie-dye. “No, he never said that,” they cleared up in haste. “It’s a joke.” Feste gave them a sideways glance, like they weren’t sure. “I swear, he just looked at me funny, it was Curio who told me to stop smiling at him.”

Feste laughed. They kissed again and Cesario went back inside. They were greeted by a sarcastic chorus of “ooh,” made by Curio and Valentine in their girliest voices. “Cesario loves Feste,” they sang like little kids.

“Grow up,” they said, too content to actually care.

“Man, I have to stop working saturday nights,” Curio complained to no one in particular. “All the action went down last night!”

“You can’t be that surprised Feste wasted no time marking his territory,” Valentine said, shaking his head. Cesario was slightly worried about those words, but they didn’t have the time to form a question.

“No!” said Curio. “I’m talking about what’s her name.” He turned to Orsino: “What is her name, bro?” Valentine looked interested, so Cesario knew they weren’t the only one. “I swear it was the twerk queen in person, here, in this shitty living room, and guess whose bedroom she came out of?” The answer was obvious, he was already looking at Orsino, who simply stood up and left. “You!” Curio shouted at Orsino, as he left. “You’re my new hero!”

“Twerk queen? Really?” Valentine looked confused. “I’d never shut up about it! What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know,” Curio shrugged. “It’s Orsino, he’s probably planned his whole life with Twerk Queen by now.”

“We’ll have to pay to get stuff fixed if he moves out,” Valentine said, sounding worried. A second later both he and Curio were laughing at that.

Cesario realized they weren’t actually a part of that conversation and left. They knew they had better things to worry about when their head hit the pillow, but they couldn’t get rid of the feeling Orsino’s hook up was an attempt to prove something. And that was all the fuel their overactive brain needed to start picturing events in their head they didn’t want to think about. Thinking they may have contributed to such events, made it even worse.

What’s wrong with me, they wondered. What did they care who Orsino shared his bed with? But they did, and hated it. Why their feelings for Feste didn’t overcome their pointless crush on Orsino? But frustration didn’t change how they felt, except for making it harder to fall asleep.

*

Olivia entered the classroom a few minutes early and started a conversation with Cesario. Since it was in French, they encouraged it, even though she was asking about their weekend and being very informal about it. Actually, Cesario felt really funny being addressed formally by students who were clearly older than them. They told her about going to parties and meeting new people without getting into details, then looked at her like it was a challenge and asked about her weekend. She did struggle with vocabulary, but her grammar was nearly beyond reproach, which unfortunately wasn’t the rule for Cesario’s students.

Olivia talked about going out for drinks with her college friends and being so bored she decided to stay home, studying and watching movies for the rest of the weekend. She talked about rewatching her favorites instead of going for something new. When she said she couldn’t make herself watch L'enfant Sauvage again because it was so sad, Cesario just spoke without thinking: “One of my friends thought it was like The Jungle Book when he decided to watch it. Oh, was he disappointed!” Olivia had a good laugh at that, and the few students who had arrived by now looked envious at her ability to laugh at something in French when they still struggled with every sentence.

Class started and Cesario realized Orsino had never paid them to find out Olivia’s favorite food, but it was now part of their class plan, so they went along with it. Her favorite food didn’t have a french name, and she enjoyed practicing, so she took some time describing the food, even though everyone knew what she was talking about. Her classmates didn’t resent her for it, on the contrary, the more she spoke the less they would have to.

After class, Olivia stayed behind and told Cesario she had something for them. Those words made them immediately worried, and they studied Olivia’s movements very carefully. She went for her backpack and produced a plastic container. She opened it and a mouthwatering smell hit Cesario. “Food in that snack bar downstairs is terrible,” she said. “You deserve better. Go ahead,” she encouraged, holding the container in an offer. Cesario took a sandwich wrapped in a paper napkin, wondering how something so simple could smell so good. “Do you mind if I eat here with you?” she asked, helping herself to the other sandwich.

Cesario had learned by now that the “no eating in the classroom” rule wasn’t reinforced, and really meant “clean after yourself,” that was not what worried them. The idea it might encourage Olivia’s possible teacher crush was more complicated. Even more because they knew too well how better they used to do on a subject when they had any kind of crush on the teacher. Also, in hindsight, half the time the crush was more on the subject, and the actual person behind the teacher figure didn’t matter at all.

Because of their doubts, they kept a polite distance the whole time. Olivia telling how she had seasoned the roasted beef in their sandwiches, Cesario nodding, and wondering what nut meg was. “I heard someone calling you miss Cesario,” Olivia commented.

They thought they knew what she was trying to ask. “Miss, mister, I hate them equally,” they confessed. “Make me feel so old.”

Olivia chuckled. “Sure, but I was wondering, what’s your first name?”

“Viola,” they said, deciding it was no big deal, but adding: “but it’s Cesario in class, alright?”

“Alright,” she agreed like it made no difference for her. Then she said to herself: “Viola.” And to her teacher: “Like a guitar?”

They laughed. People’s usual response was some variation of “so you’re a girl,” Olivia was the first person ever to apply non-binary logic to their first name. They nodded, pretending Olivia’s guess was right, when most likely mom and dad had a flower in mind when they chose the name.

It was a small moment of epiphany, because they had for so long felt like that name was too feminine, and along came Olivia reminding them people didn’t all picture the same thing when one says Viola. And much like a misguided teacher crush, the love for that realization borrowed Olivia’s form in Viola’s mind. It wasn’t instantaneous, but when their mind was idle, commuting back home, Olivia crossed it, and the idea of her was more comforting than it was supposed to.

As they started the walk home, however, Feste’s promise to come visit when they got back from work became more and more urgent to them. Surveillance greeted them politely, saying “good evening, Cesario,” which they responded to accordingly but didn’t even take a second to think how “good evening” was an excessive amount of manners coming from those guys, who usually reserved manners for old ladies. All they could think about was their memories of the day before with Feste.

They ran straight to the shower, hoping Feste wouldn’t take long. They tried to be patient, when they were done getting dressed but still had no news from Feste. They sat in the living room, where Orsino was watching some superhero movie and having pasta. Cesario wasn’t surprised this time when Orsino offered them food, but still was grateful. They sat, eating, delighting in Orsino’s homemade sauce, when they noticed the movie, and tried to have with Orsino a conversation they usually had with Sebastian: “I know Thor is objectively hotter, but I’m not sure I’d choose him over Loki.”

“Loki’s a shapeshifter, everybody wants to tap shapeshifting ass.”

Cesario laughed. “Shapeshifting is the best power.”

“No way. Mind control. Think of the possibilities.”

“I’d use it to get free stuff,” they said, ignoring the creepy possibilities the best they could.

“Sure, that too,” Orsino laughed.

Cesario decided not to say anything about it. “Do you have Feste’s number?” they asked Orsino when the movie was over.

“I have a number but Feste can’t keep a phone, I doubt this is still his.” It wasn’t. There was some silence after that, which Orsino ended up breaking with a suggestion: “I could call a bike to take you there.”

But they didn’t think it was a good idea. If Feste didn’t keep their promise, they either couldn’t or didn’t want to, in both cases it was no use forcing their presence on them. His words however reminded them of a question they hadn’t asked Orsino yet: “Why did you send a bike for me saturday night?”

“Because you needed to get there?” Orsino both sounded and looked very defensive saying that.

“I did. But why you? Why not Feste?” they said, breaking, unable to keep faking cool. “They don’t care, do they?”

“Whoa!” Orsino was surprised, perhaps even worried. “Are we reversing roles?” he played the part uncomfortably. “Are you the one with no chill now? I suck at cool.” Cesario wanted to laugh at that one, but not right now. “I called that bike because I knew I stole your ride. You want my guess why I did it before Feste?” he gave them no time to speak. “Because I finished my part first, that’s all.”

“I’m not so sure they’d have remembered me if I didn’t show up.”

They wanted reassurance, but Orsino just stared at his feet for a while. Cesario was beginning to withdraw into their own darkness when he said: “You don’t set time and date with Feste, he just shows up in ungodly hours to make a mess. He’ll turn up sooner or later, with a weird story that’s probably true. It’s what he does, it has nothing to do with you.”

“Sure,” Cesario said bitterly, going to the bedroom.

They had no news from Feste that night, and no energy to reply to Sebastian. They tossed in bed miserably for a while, then finally fell asleep.

*

Tuesday went by in a blur, but as soon as they got home, Orsino announced: “He’s here, let’s go.”

“What’s going on?” Cesario asked, looking at the guys in the living room.

Orsino was standing there looking anxious, urging the others to leave the couch. “We’re having a Death Wish burger,” he announced.

Cesario had seen the ads for the burger and it was good not to be completely ignorant about local stuff for once. It was a ridiculously tall burger with layers and layers of unhealthy food. “You know you’re probably going to die, right? You can’t even sue, it’s right there on the name,” Cesario said, trying to sound interested, but unable to share his excitement.

“I don’t think you understand, we’re all eating a Death Wish burger tonight,” he said in an epic voice, “you’re dying with the rest of us, you ready?”

“I can’t, I’m broke,” they said, turning to the bedroom.

“I didn’t ask if you have money, I asked if you’re ready.”

Cesario’s stomach was convinced. The rest of their being didn’t really want to carry itself through it, but no matter how long you ignore it, the stomach always wins in the end. So they followed the guys down the alley, to the burger place a few blocks away.

It took them a while to be affected by their friends’ much better mood. At first they only felt tired and wondered if coming along was a mistake, but the guys’ silly stories were funny enough to make them feel better, even if still far from well. When they were served one giant burger, Cesario’s stomach rumbled in anticipation. They took pictures and counted the layers of beef, cheese, bacon,sliced sausages, onion rings, french fries, tomato slices, chicken, and fried eggs.

“It’s so disgusting!” said Valentine shaking his head.

“I know!” Curio agreed, but his eyes were shining and he smiled like a little boy.

“I think we can die for real if we eat that,” Orsino looked doubtful.

“I’ll eat it,” Cesario volunteered.

“Not so fast,” said Curio.

“We’re all eating,” Orsino reminded them.

It really was a job for four, but they all felt like they had slain a dragon together, celebrating their victory on the way home. Now Cesario was glad they’d come along. Later, they regretted eating so much crap, when they had a stomach ache that disturbed their sleep several times, which was still better than whoever kept running to the bathroom all night.

*

Orsino was standing in the kitchen, a mug on his hand, and a look of discontent on his face. “Hey, did you get sick too?” he asked.

“Just a stomach ache,” they moaned tiredly. “You?”

“Big stomach ache,” he said before taking a big gulp from his mug. “You want some?”

Cesario noticed there was no coffee smell in the air. “What’s that?”

“You know that thorny bush by the entrance?” he poured them some. “That’s medicine.”

“How do you know it’s the right one?” they asked, but didn’t wait for an answer and started drinking.

“I know it’s right for me because grandma was never wrong.” Cesario couldn’t tell if he was serious, but Orsino added this: “There’s only one way to find out if it’s right for you.”

Cesario was less than reassured by his words, but it turned out it was the right medicine for them as well. It worried them for the next half hour. But they got a text from Orsino on their way to work saying he was better, and asking if it had worked on them. Only then, they noticed it had.

“I cured you,” he texted. “What’s Olivia’s favorite food? Find out in return.”

Cesario wondered if he knew the word please. It looked like he didn’t. “So you poison me, give the cure, and now I owe you?”

“I paid for that damn poison. It should count for something.”

“Why don’t you cook for Twerk Queen?”

“Me and her is like you and Tie-dye.”

“That’s Curio’s bullshit.”

“Exactly.”

They texted Orsino all they could remember from Olivia’s detailed description, and got an answer that gave them something to believe in for the rest of the day: “That’s what we’re having for dinner.”

*

Olivia stayed after class again, this time to make sure she understood her homework. She didn’t really have any doubts, but she didn’t play dumb either, she confirmed what she already knew and that was it. But she wasn’t finished. “I brought you some of the chocolate brownie I made last night.” She placed it on the desk. “This is one of my good containers, don’t lose it,” she warned.

Cesario had never heard those words from a young person before, so they laughed. “I’ll give it back next monday,” they promised. “By the way, my friend’s making baozi tonight, what was the one you told me about, again?”

“Egg yolks and vegetables,” she said, but it was something else that caught her attention: “Do you live with your friend?” she put a lot of stress on that last word.

“It’s actually four of us. All I can afford in the city, unfortunately.”

“Oh, right. See you monday, then. Unless I see you saturday at the Elephant.” She didn’t wait for an answer.

*

As soon as they walked in, they heard Orsino’s angry voice coming from the kitchen. “Son of a bitch! No!” They ran and found him by the sink, holding a piece of dough in his hand from which yellow liquid oozed. The kitchen was a mess, dirty pots and containers piled up, egg shells on the floor, spilled flour on the counter, and the fridge door open.

“What’s going on?” they asked, fixing the latter problem.

Orsino stared at them with desperate wide eyes for a whole, very uncomfortable, second before saying: “These eggs are trying to fuck with me, and I’m not gonna let them.”

“Okay,” they said, stepping back. The look in his eyes was just too intense for their liking. They retreated to the bedroom.

A few minutes later, Orsino knocked on the door and came in looking defeated. “They keep breaking, I can’t do this.”

“It’s alright, you can take a break and try again,” they said, using the words their favorite teacher had told them countless times. They got the guitar, and started warming up: “Have a seat. And sing along, it helps.” They did it as joke, and Orsino only recognized it when they sang the chorus: “Always look on the bright side of life.” And that was all it took: he was laughing.

“The others are really good,” he said when the song was over. “Except for the ones she likes. But you like pork, right? Tell me what you think,” he beckoned them back to the kitchen.

Cesario was yet to try food cooked by him that they didn’t like. If he could make eggplant taste good, there was no way he could screw up pork or dough. And that raised the question: “What’s so difficult about the other one?”

“The egg yolks, I keep breaking or dropping them, a real mess.”

Cesario had noticed the mess, it was hard not to. But it was even harder not to see the amount of effort he put in the recipe. “I think you have to admit it was huge success for a first time.” Orsino frowned and pouted, unable to see it that way. “I have chocolate brownie, want some?”

They went back for the container in the backpack and brought it to the kitchen, where they cut the piece in half. After one byte, Orsino said: “Mine’s better,” then he proceeded to eat the rest of it. “Was this from a student? Like ‘I got you this apple, mr C.’” Cesario laughed. “Do they do that?”

“I get gum, sometimes chocolate. The day I get an apple, I’ll be surprised.”

Orsino nodded. He examined the empty container, and said: “You have to give this back.”

Cesario laughed and brought their hands to their face. “It’s Olivia’s,” they told him.

He looked confused at first, then he smiled. “I guess I’ll have to send her something, what do you think? ”

“Is your brownie really better than hers? You could make a competition. I’ll be the judge.”

“I’ll think about it,” Orsino said between his chuckles.

Their moment of peace was disturbed by knocks on the front door. “Cesario?” Feste called.