They arrived at Toby’s in the middle of the afternoon. Security at the gate looked bored, watching the distance with droopy eyes, handling automatic weapons as casually as always. Passing through them still made Cesario uncomfortable and they suspected it always would. Feste, on the other hand, knew everyone’s names, and the guys talked to them about football and their families for a little while. Then they went in.
There was no one outside today, so they entered the living room, and found Toby and Andrew watching football on the tv. “Feste!” they shouted in celebration of their arrival. Then they noticed Feste wasn’t alone. “Feste and… Sweetie?” said Toby, who couldn’t remember their name.
“Cesario,” they corrected, then turned to Feste: “Who’s Sweetie?”
“That’s your nickname,” they said, containing their laughter.
“But you don’t call me that,” Cesario argued.
“No, that’s what Maria calls you,” they explained.
Cesario still had trouble understanding what they were talking about, but from the couch came Andrew’s best impersonation of Maria: “Feste’s on a date with Sweetie, leave them alone.”
“And what you guys wanted to ruin my date for?” Feste asked, placing their hands on their hips.
“New shipping just arrived,” Toby said with a smile that made promises. “We have to make sure it’s good stuff.”
“Shit!” Feste perked up at the prospect.
“Yeah, but Maria laid out the rules, and we can’t have dessert if we don’t eat our food,” Andrew complained.
“Food’s on its way,” Toby promised. Then to Cesario and Feste: “You guys are just gonna stand there? Come on,” he beckoned them to the couch.
Cesario knew they’d have to choose between staying and watching Feste getting wasted with those people, or going home and possibly facing Orsino. Neither option appealed to them. But they didn’t have to decide just yet.
“I’m not watching football,” Feste said, guiding Cesario to the studio.
“Fag!” Toby and Andrew declared.
Feste made Cesario hold a tambourine, and a guitar, and took the cajon and an egg shaker. “Now they’ll have to be fags with us,” they said very seriously, going back to the living room. They handed Toby and Andrew the egg shaker and the headless tambourine, muted the game, and said it was time to warm up. “How about Reggae?” they asked Cesario.
They played the guitar, Feste the cajon, and everybody sang. Toby and Andrew’s contributions to the music were far from good, but they were having more fun now than watching the game. So they kept playing and singing until a boy came in bringing their food.
“Hey, Feste, go get Maria,” Toby said as he started digging into the fried chicken. “Help yourself, Sweetie,” he told Cesario, who facepalmed at the nickname.
“It’s Cesario,” they reminded him, sure it would go nowhere.
“But Sweetie is funnier,” Toby insisted, going for another chicken piece.
“That’s because you look like a girl,” Andrew explained unnecessarily.
“Yeah, I know,” Cesario said, taking a deep breath, in order not to lose their patience.
“You’re girly, Feste’s girly,” Andrew went on, “how does that work?”
“It works, don’t worry about it,” they muttered, having a real hard time keeping their cool.
“Just curious,” Andrew dismissed it, shrugging.
“You’d have to be more charming than that,” they said before an angry snort.
Toby laughed hard at that while Andrew looked from him to Cesario, hoping someone would repeat and perhaps explain the joke. “How curious are you, Andrew?” he asked with a sly smile on his face. “Enough to try it?”
“It’s a scientific curiosity,” he protested.
“Gotta love that gay science,” Cesario commented.
“That sounds like a conversation I wanna be part of,” Feste said, coming back to the living room in Maria’s company.
“Hi, Sweetie, good to see you again,” she told them, and the others laughed, knowing Cesario wasn’t happy with the nickname.
When they were done eating, Feste went for the guitar to play and sing All of Me, making eyes at Cesario, which was all Toby and Andrew needed to throw some more slurs at them. “Could you two stop ruining it?” Maria scolded them, and it worked, surprising Cesario and making Feste sing the rest of the song with a smug smile on their face.
Soon after, they started doing lines right there on the coffee table, and Toby turned to Cesario: “You don’t do that, do you?” They shook their head. “I knew it. You’re a good kid, Sweetie, don’t let Feste influence you.”
Instead of laughing at a drug dealer telling them to stay away from drugs while doing coke, Cesario focused on the nickname: “Are you guys just gonna call me Sweetie now?”
“Yes,” they all said at the same time.
“Not you too,” Cesario asked Feste in defeat.
“Please, let me call you that. You hate it so much,” they said it like delightful news. The others were laughing.
“Do you want me to hate you?”
“I wouldn’t ask if I did.” They winked at Cesario, who just rolled their eyes.
They thought about going home, but Feste was only growing more enthused, throwing that new found energy on the guitar, which made for a show that was too good to walk away from. The others were also in a similar mood as Feste, and they joined the music both singing and playing. Cesario didn’t want to leave now.
Between songs, Feste had beer and did lines. Two hours later, they were still playing and singing without showing any signs of being tired. Cesario, however, didn’t share their never ending energy. They had to work the next day. Even if going home, where they would most likely see Orsino, didn’t feel like a great prospect. Cesario didn’t have the energy to sing or play anymore, they just sat there, listening to Feste’s music, Maria’s stories, and Toby’s offers of more beer, weed, or something to eat. Andrew only cared about the music, and shook the headless tambourine, accompanying it, though a little too slowly.
When they said they had to go, Feste protested, and Maria joined them. Toby, on the other hand, had a much simpler solution: “You could work for me instead. I mean, you’re a teacher, I pay better than that.”
Cesario laughed in horror. “I don’t think I have it in me. We’re not all bulletproof, you know,” they said, thinking about a story Valentine had told them.
Toby was amused. “That’s not how it works,” he said. “It’s more like they don’t get the chance to shoot at me in the first place. One time this guy’s gun just jams, he’s trying to fire it but it’s Wile E. Coyote time. Midnight swoops in and bang.”
“I miss Midnight,” Maria said nodding emphatically.
“Fucker saved my life, I miss him too,” Toby laughed, and finished another beer.
“He was always yelling at me,” Andrew whined.
“He was keeping you alive,” Maria reminded him sternly.
Cesario was half curious, half afraid of the answer: “What happened to him?”
They all laughed. Toby shrugged and said: “Got out.” Maria shook her head as if it was a great pity, and added: “He had to pay his way out. Got out alive and broke, and no one ever heard of him again. I hope he’s alright.”
“He’s great at staying alive,” Feste considered.
“I could never be like Midnight, so I guess I just have to go to work tomorrow,” Cesario told them. “Good night, everyone.”
Feste walked them home, looking like they could go up and down the hill all night without getting tired. As soon as they entered the house, Curio, who was playing video games with Valentine, paused the game, and turned around to face them with a very proud smile on his face. “Hey, guys, so good to see you,” he greeted them cheerfully. “You guys had a great weekend?” Valentine rolled his eyes impatiently.
“Sure,” Cesario said, confused as to why Curio kept smiling at them like that.
“How was your weekend, Curio?” Feste asked, expecting something good in answer.
“Really, really great,” he said, his whole face smiling, while his hands said “me and two.”
Feste laughed. “Really?” Curio nodded and gave them thumbs up. “Curio’s a Chad,” they announced.
“You already knew that,” Curio said, unable to stop smiling.
“I always knew,” Feste said, giving him a congratulatory pat on the back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” They pulled Cesario to the bedroom.
After Feste left, Cesario prepared for the next day, and before going to bed, they asked the guys, who were still in the living room: “Where’s Orsino?”
Valentine laughed. “You took him to a club, it’s gonna be months before he recovers from that.”
“How you even got him to go out?” Curio was impressed.
Cesario shrugged. “I asked him, and he said yes.”
They didn’t see Orsino that night, or the next morning. They found, however, a plastic container on the kitchen counter with a post-it on it that said “Olivia’s”, which could be no one else’s doing. Cesario was thankful, they had completely forgotten about it.
They gave it back to her before class. Once again, Olivia arrived a few minutes earlier. “Good afternoon,” she said in French, in her usual cheerful manner, going for a chair by the window. “How are you today?” Cesario said they were well and returned the question. “I’m great, thanks for asking. So, you like the Elephant?”
“I did,” they admitted. “Where are all those beautiful people on weekdays?”
Olivia laughed. “That’s a very good question. My guess is they’re at work right now.” She opened her homework book and went on to finish the lesson due that day, saying nothing else until her classmates arrived, and class started.
She stayed after class to complain about irregular verbs, make sure she had them right in her homework, and finally ask: “Did you give him my number?”
“What?” Cesario was in the middle of checking her conjugation, their brain was too busy to give her words meaning.
“I had to leave in a hurry, I told your friend to get my number from you. Did he ask you?” She looked away before the answer, embarrassed.
“Sure. He’s got your number,” they told her, keeping their eyes on the paper at all times.
They didn’t see Orsino that night, either. Or Feste, but this time they at least texted to say they had partied until noon, and would sleep for the next fifteen to twenty hours.
Sebastian, on the other hand, had been sitting in a repair shop in the middle of nowhere since the early afternoon, and kept texting them in a log of his boredom. Cesario glossed over but didn’t actually read his explanation of the repair the truck needed. He wrote it was a simple one, but the rest of the words he used didn’t make things any clearer to Cesario, who only had a vague idea what they meant.
They waited all afternoon for the part they needed to be delivered there, because that’s how distant the nearest town was. And the repair itself hadn’t even started. Sebastian and Antonio had nowhere to go. He had already climbed a tree to take a selfie that showed just how isolated they were. He’d gotten Antonio to take pictures of him doing JoJo poses, and some where it looked like he was carrying boulders on his back, or flying.
Then, he sent a picture of a romance novel with a cheesy cover, and the caption: “I found this in the trash, and I hope it’s so bad it’s good.” And he would send pictures of whatever page he was reading where something ridiculous happened, asking if they agreed a description, or a character’s actions could only have been written by an alien who has at best a vague idea of human behaviour. Sebastian had to make his reading last, because he was going nowhere at the moment, so his opinions were detailed, and some made absolutely no sense.
Cesario enjoyed going through Sebastian’s self-imposed book report. He was really offended at how boring it was, and how he could only relate to minor characters he made up backstories for. Cesario commented: “You win, bro. I was never so bored I wrote fanfic to a book I don’t like.”
“It’s too dark to read now,” he replied. “But maybe tomorrow I’ll get to the end of it.”
“I’m on the edge of my seat,” they mocked. “Will Maggie and Bryce get together, or won’t they? It’s too much suspense for me.”
“I wish more stuff happened. How about a subplot, right?”
“How about a plot?”
They didn’t see Orsino the next morning either. It was uncomfortable knowing he was avoiding them on purpose. Not that Cesario knew what they were going to say when the two of them met again, but Orsino going out of his way to keep from seeing them was a bit insulting.
Feste, who didn’t bother with words like tuesday, decided it was date night. They played the guitar in a bar strategically placed across from the subway station, where they saw Cesario arrive, and joined them on their walk home. “There’s this place I wanna take you to, but it has to be tonight. You’re in? Dinner and a show?”
“What kind of show happens on a tuesday?
“The experimental kind.” That was all the information they gave Cesario.
After dinner they went to a comedy club that didn’t look that popular, but then again, it was tuesday, Cesario couldn’t tell for sure. Feste was very critical of the two first numbers, when the third got on stage, they said: “That’s my friend Nick. I helped him rehearse for this. It’s pure genius. ”
Nick was a young man whose chubby cheeks made him look childish, an impression reinforced by the wide grin on his face and innocent look in his eyes. He tripped before getting to the microphone, and looked genuinely embarrassed. He stuttered and laughed self consciously. Cesario had the feeling this wasn’t going to work so well for him. His act consisted of telling the audience he was an actor, but it was hard to find a job because he was too good, which he said without a hint of irony, almost like he expected the audience to agree. Nick told a story about an audition where he was asked what part he was trying for and he tried to convince them he could play all, and he went on to give them a small sample of how he played the hero in love, the broken-hearted heroine, the vilain, before which he reminded the audience it was all make-believe and not to beat him on account of how loathsome the character was. And that wasn’t all.
He played the extra who has one line, and even the lion. Each one was a caricature, and not a good one for that matter, and you could see that innocent look on his face, convinced people were laughing with, and not at him. Which made the audience’s uncomfortable laughter even harder to contain. But he looked so genuinely proud, like he had just received a standing ovation, and that was what got to Cesario, and they laughed unwillingly at cringe.
He built up a lot of expectation about his lion impression, which was the worst of all but became funny because he was so convinced it was perfect, saying they probably didn’t want him to be the lion because people would run away from the theater in panic. And went on to say: “Anyway, I didn’t get any of the parts I auditioned for on that one, but just last week I was playing the part of Wall, I mean, I didn’t have any lines, but no wall has ever been this unmoved for standing in the way of lovers.”
When it was over, Cesario turned to Feste, and said: “This is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, I hope it was on purpose. I wish I had it in video. Sebastian would love it.”
Feste laughed. “That really is the best lion he can do. Come, let’s say hi to Nick.”
Cesario wasn’t surprised Feste knew everyone in the club. They talked briefly to the people they passed by saying hello and making jokes Cesario didn’t completely understand, because they referred to past events. When they found Nick, Feste pulled him into a hug and said: “I don’t think you understand how great that was.”
“Thanks for coming.” He let go of Feste and made a worried face. “I think they like it, but I feel so cheap.”
“Are you kidding? You think anyone can do that?” they encouraged their friend. Then they made the introductions: “This is Cesario, I told you about them.”
Nick didn’t have the same innocent looks off stage, making no effort to hide he was checking Cesario out. “Let me guess, they played Handsome Devil and you fell for it.”
“Something like that,” they agreed, immediately imagining Feste singing that song just for them, and having to shake off thought, because it was the kind they could daydream about endlessly.
They had a beer with Nick, who told Feste old Robin was asking for them. “He wants you to drop by thursday, he says he wants to show you off to his enemies.”
“He did?” Feste was delighted at the news.
“What does that mean?” Cesario asked in confusion.
“I don’t know who Robin’s enemies are, but I’m gonna find out,” Feste announced.
“You’re gonna disappear again, aren’t you?” they asked, a lot less excited about it.
“I can’t say for sure, but it’s a possibility, yes.”
Olivia didn’t go to class on wednesday, and everyone noticed it, because it wasn’t like her, and because it meant her classmates would have to speak more often, since she wasn’t there to be the first to answer any question. Cesario wondered what happened, but one missed class would probably do no harm, specially to her.
Feste was waiting for them again, playing Simon Says with the kids in the street, telling them to do impossible things like licking their elbows or repeating difficult words they said too fast and the kids were too young to pronounce correctly. Upon seeing Cesario was there, watching them, they told the oldest child to take their place, and left the game.
“What do you want to do tonight?” they asked Cesario.
“I don’t know, but I know I’m hungry.”
“Why don’t we stay in your house, and order some food. We could play Journey to the Savage Planet.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll have much peace and quiet at home,” they said, but Cesario actually didn’t want to be in the same room as Orsino without being able to say anything about saturday night.
“But there’s no one there,” they insisted.
“No one? That’s weird. Orsino’s usually home by now.”
“He’s not,” Feste shrugged. “I called at the door earlier, to see if he wanted to hang out.”
“As long as we’re alone,” Cesario returned Feste’s shrug.
Valentine arrived at ten, interrupting a make out session that was getting a little too intense for the living room. “Aw, come on!” he complained. “Can’t you use the bedroom? I don’t wanna see that!”
Feste immediately pulled their hands out of Cesario’s clothes, and they both looked anxiously at Valentine, hoping he hadn’t seen anything that might need explanations. The staring contest confused the new comer, who was already uncomfortable having arrived home to that scene. “What?” he finally said, annoyed by their persistent gaze.
The guilty silence lasted a little too long, but Feste found their usual smug smile and asked: “Aren’t you gonna tell us about our Lord and Saviour?”
Valentine laughed. “Sure. What did he say? Uh, rich people are a problem? No, wait, that wasn’t it. It was throw stones at giants, not women. I think that’s the moral. And the end of the world will be a bad mushroom trip,” he said, making his way to his bedroom.
“That was close,” Cesario said, sighing in relief. Feste was still amused by Valentine’s words. “He really knows his Bible,” they commented.
“Let’s do what he asked, and go to my bedroom.”
Curio was lying on the couch when they got home thursday evening. There was medicine on the coffee table, and he had a bandage around his right hand. “What happened to you?”
“I killed a possum,” he said miserably.
“Why?” Cesario was so horrified by that answer, they didn’t notice it explained nothing.
“I went to check this noise I heard, and I didn’t see it, so I got too close and it bit me. You can feel the teeth breaking through you. I panicked. I killed it.”
“You have to go to the hospital,” they said, even more horrified after the description of what it felt like to be bitten.
“I was there for four hours,” he told them in an exhausted voice. “It turns out you’re not supposed to kill things that bite you, because then you don’t know if it was sick.” He touched his forehead at the memory. “So many shots. So many!”
Cesario felt bad for him, and offered to make noodles for him too. When they got back to the living room, they noticed Curio was watching Avatar the Last Airbender, and having a great time. Since they had nothing else to do, and Feste wasn’t going to show up anyway, Cesario stayed for a while.
“I love that show,” they said. “I used to watch it with my brother.”
“You have to watch cartoons when you’re sick, that’s how you get better,” Curio explained. “So far, it’s really good.”
When Valentine arrived, Curio repeated his story, but didn’t get sympathy, only laughter. When he finally calmed down, he noticed something: “Where’s Orsino?” Nobody knew. He looked worried when he said: “I didn’t see him last night.”
“I haven’t seen him all week,” Cesario said.
“You guys are terrible friends,” Curio said, going for his phone. He called, but had no answer.