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the other half of the package

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The ad reads: 3 mid-twenties men seeking a roommate. Pref. clean. Rent controlled apartment, one room available. Shared bath. Must be ok with spontaneous floor hockey games, tv marathons, and overenthusiastic SportsCenter debates. Rent due on the first of the month.

At the bottom there’s the address and a phone number. Jamie takes a deep breath and dials the number.

“Hullo?” a soft sleepy voice asks on the other end. “What, who, uh?” he continues, clearly confused.

Jamie is startled out of his silence, “ I was, uh, wondering if I could come look at the room?” He pauses, and after a lapsed moment continues, “The one for rent. If it’s still available—I mean, the ad was on Craigslist.”

He goes to continue, but the guy cuts him off. “Yeah, uh, sorry, just woke up. The room’s still empty don’t worry. Just swing by tomorrow, like, anytime after noon.” There’s a groan, “…make that after one.” The line goes abruptly dead, and Jamie is left with a dial tone.

--

Jamie squints down at his phone, trying to ignore the heat of the sun that’s beating down the back of his neck. He scans the ad for what must be the hundredth time, and then looks at the apartment building again. It’s nice—nicer than the place he lived with Jordie before—well, before everything. It has an all brick exterior, large windows that cascade down the building, and it’s close to his job that he could walk to work at the advertising firm every day. It also happens to be the only building he could find within his budget on such short notice, so he’s hoping everything goes well.

He takes a deep breath, and trudges forward.

--

The apartment is what he expected; maybe a little cleaner and a little less organized. Two of the three roommates are home when he arrives, and they don’t look like mass murders, criminals of any sort, or the kind of people that keep snakes as pets.

The first one, the guy who he spoke to on the phone, is named Tyler—“The better one,” he adds when he introduces himself. It doesn’t make much sense to Jamie, but he’s not going to call him out on it. Tyler is decently tall, a little shorter than Jamie. His grin is wide and looks slightly out of place on his face.

The other roommate’s name is Jason, and the first thing that Jamie notices is that he’s missing one of his front teeth. He seems nice, a little more excitable than Tyler.

They seem like normal, average guys.

The interview portion, however, is decidedly not.

Jamie has no one to blame but himself, in all honesty. It had started out fairly average, just answering a bunch of questions about himself. He’s wedged into a lawn chair that resides in one corner of the living room. Tyler and Jason are sitting on the couch across from him, the fabric a faded blue. A coffee table sits between them, stacked with miscellaneous pieces of paper and various pens. It’s an organized mess of post-its, stickers, and colorful string.

Jason starts off the questions, but Tyler pokes in every so often with a question of his own. Soon, it turns to alternating, one after the other. “Where are you from?” “Uh, Canada. Vancouver.” This is where he discovers that all three of the roommates are from Canada, including the one that’s not here. Tyler nods, “That’s actually where uh, our other roommate is right now. Canada. Visiting his mom.”

Jamie nods, intending to ask more about this third mysterious roommate, but is interrupted by Jason asking what he does for work. “I’m in advertising.” Neither Jason or Tyler look particularly interested, and instead they push onward through the interview questions.

“Do you have any pets?” Tyler asks, his eyebrows lifted.

“No, I’m allergic to cats though.” Jason makes a face when he mentions this, and coughs lightly. Jamie hurries to add “I take meds though, and the allergy isn’t severe or anything.”

It all comes to an end though, when Jamie rambles for just a few seconds. “So, uhm, yeah. It was pretty much the worst moment of my entire life. I’d moved out of my brothers’ apartment—and like, I can’t move back now. It was fine when I just moved here, but like, not as an adult adult. He’d offer, for sure but I have to say no. I’d made the decision to move in with Mike and have to live with the consequences.” He takes a deep breath, “Even if those consequences include walking in on him getting his dick sucked in the middle of our living room. By a girl.”

The room is silent for a minute and then Tyler leans forwards on the ratty couch, elbows resting on his knees. “You know that the question was if you had any other allergies, right?

Jamie flushes, feels the heat rushing up his face. “Uh, no. No, I don’t have any other allergies.”

Tyler breaks in then, and he’s been strangely silent in the few minutes it took for Jamie to bring up Mike and that whole disaster of a relationship. “You read the ad though, all of it? It specifically mentions floor hockey, tv binges, and—“ Jamie nods throughout, and at the same time Tyler and Jamie say “Sports Center debates.”

Jason grins, leans back to rest against the couch, “When can you move in?”

--

Jamie moves in later that day without meeting the other roommate, though he’s assured by his new roommates that he’ll be back in Texas by the end of the week. He carries the one duffle filled with clothing he had scrambled to pack in a fit of rage up the three flights of stairs and sets it down on the bed with a satisfied smile. This is going to be home, and he never needs to see Mike ever again.

--

Jamie spends the next four days alternating between one pair of jeans, one pair of too large basketball shorts with a hole in the crotch, two shirts, and one pair of underwear. That is to say he does a lot of laundry. He also spends those four days avoiding Jordie’s calls, watching Netflix on repeat, and eating all of the girl scout cookies he finds in the apartment.

He’s steadily working his way through his second box of Toffee-tastic bites, waiting for his laundry to finish in the drier, when he meets the third roommate. His self-indulgent meal of cookies is interrupted by a loud “Who the fuck? What the fuck?”

Jamie coughs a little, and swallows down his last bite of cookie. The most handsome man Jamie has ever seen is standing in the doorway, one hand resting on the handle of his suitcase, a backpack resting in disarray by his feet. Jamie doesn’t think he’s ever thought of a guy as handsome. Hot? Sure. Cute? Uh, duh. Attractive? Yep. Fuckable? Yes. Handsome? That’s like, old-timey and romantic.

Anyways, the new guy. He’s tall—Jason’s height, maybe, not Jamie’s---with short brown hair that curls by his ears. His arms are lined with tattoos that Jamie’s eyes trail down. He’s distracted, so much so that when this new attractive man steps in front of Jamie who’s practically been living in the small nest of blankets he’s created on the couch, Jamie does not say anything. He just stares.

“Uhm, hello?” The guy asks, voice tight. He rolls his eyes, “Brownie! Daddy!” he yells, and the odd combination of words is enough to startle Jamie into alertness. He quickly stands, tugging blankets of himself and brushing crumbs to the floor.

“I’m Jamie, your new roommate.” Jamie says, holding out his hand for a handshake. He wishes he looked better, or at least was wearing clothing of his own. Right now, he looks akin to the homeless. He’s borrowed Jason’s robe (which when asked for Jason simply grinned and said “mi casa, su casa”) and that’s wrapped around him. Besides that though, he’s simply wearing a slightly too small Canucks shirt. It’s his last resort clothing, for sure. He wants to point that out to Tyler, so he does. “I’m doing laundry.”

Tyler looks at him like he has three heads. “Brownie! Daddy!” He yells again, finally looking away from Jamie and whirling around to face Jason and Tyler, who’ve skidded into the room. “What does he mean, he’s the new roommate?”

--

When everything calms down again, Jamie feels a bit like he’s stepped back in time. He’s crammed into the folding lawn chair opposing the couch, and the roommates are peering at him from the couch. Only difference is, this time, that there are three of them instead of two. “So…” He says slowly, arms crossed over his chest, “you’re the roommate.”

Tyler—the new one, not the one Jamie has been living with for nearly a week—nods. And it’s then that Jamie discovers everything, for the most part. Jason and Tyler (first Tyler) go by their old hockey names, Daddy and Brownie respectively, and this new Tyler alternates between Segs and his first name. Brownie and Daddy had told Segs they were looking for a new roommate, but they hadn’t told him they’d accepted Jamie’s application.

So in short, Segs had walked in after a week and a half with his mom in Canada to discover a mostly naked stranger cocooned on his couch steadily working his way through his emergency supply of Girl Scout cookies. There’s a long sigh from Segs, and he rubs his face wearily before peaking over at Jamie again. “Well, at least you’re a hockey fan.”

Jamie grins and it seems like almost everything has fallen into place.

--

Jamie has never been so fucking wrong in his entire life. He wakes up the following morning with all of his roommates standing over his bed, Jason leaning up close and breathing onto his face. “Jamie.” He’s whispering—or, like trying and failing to whisper. “Jamie.” He says again, and Jamie wishes he hadn’t opened his eyes. One finger slowly comes to his face, pokes it and pulls away again. “Jamie.”

The way they say his name, long and drawn out, makes Jamie want to roll over and sleep for a thousand years. Instead he rolls over and glares up at the three of them. “What?”

“There’s, uh, a guy here. Looking for you. Big beard and a police badge.” Brownie says, frowning. “Says if we don’t get you, he’ll have us arrested for kidnapping.”

Segs raises an eyebrow, “I’m really hoping you know him and he’s not some psychopath stalker of yours.”

Jamie rolls back over and pulls a pillow over his head. He groans and pulls the pillow away, slowly getting up. He glares at the three of them, but the normally steely glare doesn’t work all that well when combined with what Jamie is sure must be a disastrous case of bed-head. “Of course I know him, you idiots. It’s Jordie.”

The three trail him out of the bedroom and down the hall towards the wide-open doorway. Jordie is standing there, dressed in his blues and armed with his badge and gun. “Who’s Jordie?” Daddy badly attempts to stage whisper and fails.

“Jordie is his older brother. His older brother who’s been worried sick, and fielding calls left and right from their mom for about a week. His older brother who literally,” Jordie says, talking in the third person. He stresses the sentence as he crosses the threshold of the apartment and towards Jamie, “had to use professional police resources for personal reasons to find out that his brother was living here and not in the home that he shared with Mike.” As he finishes the sentence, his arms wrap themselves around Jamie. He instantly feels at home, and all off the stress he didn’t even know he had seemingly evaporates from his body.

--

Jamie is starting to hate this lawn chair—because seriously, why the fuck do they have a lawn chair inside the apartment? Also, why is he the one always forced into it?—and he’s starting to hate the smug faces of his roommates and Jordie peering back at him from the couch. He’s halfway through explaining everything; why he left Mike, how he left Mike, how he came to live with the guys, and his dire laundry situation when all of them stop him at once. Jordies frown deepens, Daddy’s eyes go wide, Brownie stops sipping his mug of tea, and Segs waves his arms around in a complete panic.

“Hold on, wait a fucking second, you’re telling me you still haven’t gotten your stuff from Mike’s place?”

“Jame, it’s been a week. You’re telling me you’ve worn the same underwear for a week?”

“I’ve washed it.” Jamie mutters defensively.

“That’s it,” Jordie says after a moment of stunned silence, “we’re going to get your shit.” And that’s how five grown men all over the height of six feet end up crammed into an early 2009 model sedan.

Jamie belatedly thinks, as they slowly make their way to the house, he has no idea how his stuff is going to fit. He makes them drive past the house twice before stopping, and he has to breathe deep to steel his nerves before exiting the car. All four exit after him, but they stand by the car while he walks up the brick path towards the door. He knocks twice, three times. Nothing happens.

He frowns, peers at the driveway to make sure the dusty, Cheeto colored jeep is still sitting there. It is. “Mike,” he yells, knocking again. “I know you’re home.” And that does it, he assumes, because the next thing he knows Mike is standing in front of him, only wrapped in a towel and his face flushed red.

He’s still as handsome as ever, and Jamie feels some of his anger dissipate at the sight of him. His long, wavy blonde hair and his bright blue eyes. His eyes drift to the tattoo on Mike’s shoulder, a mistake of being dumb and drunk and seventeen. He’s lost for a moment, staring at Mike dumbfounded for a moment when Jordie’s angry words break him out of his daze. “Hey Dipshit! My brother wants his stuff back!”

Mike swipes one hand through his hair and grins at Jamie, “Your brother always was a charmer…” He squints for a second, looking at the other three guys in confusion. “Who’re they?” Before Jamie can reply with something snarky—he’s heavily weighing his options of “guys who won’t let a girl go down on them” or “my new boyfriend's asshole”, which, let’s be honest neither of these are quite true. A feminine voice floats out of the house and through the doorway.

“Mike?” The feminine voice says, and a pretty girl pops out from the kitchen, dressed simply in an oversized Canucks jersey. An oversized Canucks jersey that happens to belong to Jamie, which he knows because Mike’s never really given a shit about hockey, and only bothered to come to the rec league Jamie plays in a few times over the year and a half they’d been dating. Mike also happens to be from fucking Wisconsin and isn’t a Canucks fan. He certainly would never own a Brad May jersey—probably couldn’t tell you jack about the guy. Her light voice snaps Jamie out of his rambling revere once again when she tugs at the jersey uncomfortably and asks “Mike, who are they?”

Jamie’s vision whites, just for a moment, before he looks at Mike with hatred burning his eyes—not tears, he tells himself quietly. “She’s wearing my jersey.” He says, and his voice comes out flat. “Mike, she’s wearing my jersey.” The takes a deep breath, and flips around to look at the guys, who are watching this wonky exchange between him and Mike happen with wide eyes. “The girl who fucking gave my boyfriend—ex boyfriend—head in my living room is standing here right now, wearing my fucking jersey.”

Jason lets out a low whistle, and frowns. “That’s a piece of shit move.” He mutters, and gets an elbow in the side from Segs as a response.

“I’m coming in and getting my shit,” Jamie says, his voice flat again. His eyes dart to the girl, then back to Mike again. “And I want my fucking jersey so you better go find something else for her to wear.”

Jamie collects his stuff by the armful, trudging back and forth through the open door and passing piles to the guys who are waiting by the car and glaring at Mike. Jordie looks furious, glaring as he stomps to and from the car in anger. Jamie is gathering one last armful of belongings; his ripped death metal t-shirt from college, that one hoodie missing the strings, an old TXPD t-shirt he stole from Jordie when they first moved down, and his lone pair of cowboy boots he’d bought on whim as a joke when the jersey is handed to him by the girl.

She’s changed into jeans and a men’s hoodie—Mike’s clothing, this time. Her smile is sheepish, and it looks out of place with all of the anger that Jamie feels churning in his gut. “This is yours?” She asks, and her voice is soft again. Jamie nods. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

He doesn’t know whether or not she’s only referring to the jersey or if she’s talking about Mike in general. It doesn’t matter, his anger decides, and he grabs the jersey, pulling it into the last armful of items. “Yeah, well, that didn’t stop you from taking my boyfriend either.” He closes the door behind him, but not before he sees the look of hurt flash across her face.

All five guys are bundled back into the car, which looks full to bursting with all of Jamie’s crap in it, and they’re pulling away from the curb when Jordie speaks up. His voice is tight with anger, “I always knew Mike was an asshole. I’ll kill him, Jay, if you want.”

Jamie makes the right onto the main road, heading back towards their apartment. “Thanks Jor, but he’s not worth losing your badge over.”

--

After that, settling into the apartment decidedly is easier, as Jamie now has all of his crap and can stop doing laundry every day. He also manages to better his relationships with all three of his roommates.

Brownie and Jamie vibe pretty much straight away. He’s quiet and respectful of Jamie’s choice to spend his days re-watching SportsCenter highlights and Ice Age whenever he can find it on TV.

Jason—who Jamie refuses to call Daddy on principle—makes Jamie laugh pretty much every day. He works at the corner bar that they frequent—“It’s a side job man, I’m working on my hockey zombie novel.” “Bro, you’ve been working on chapter one for three years.” “Writing is a process!”—and comes back from happy hour frequently with insane stories.

Jamie quickly figures out that Segs has to be an old nickname, and while it works, Jamie prefers sticking to calling him Tyler.

Tyler is a kindergarten teacher, and he’s the source of all colorful strings and the many pens that Jamie has found in a variety of places within the apartment. Over the few weeks of living with him, Jamie has made some discoveries. During the school year, he hangs student work on the fridge. He also seemingly has everlasting patience with his roommates. He also only ever eats one Poptart out of the package, which Jamie will never understand. They come in pairs for a reason.

Jamie tries to ignore that Tyler makes him feel sweaty and nervous when they’re alone together. He also tries to ignore the feeling of butterflies in his stomach whenever he thinks about Tyler working with small children. It, uh, doesn’t mean anything. Jamie is sure of it.

--

They fall into a routine of being roommates that is so nice and easy, Jamie forgets that it has been less than a year since he moved in.

Jason has some very strict opinions on hockey, which Jamie should have been well aware of, due to the requirements listed in the roommate advertisement. He, however, is wildly unprepared for the actual event.

In October, Jamie walks into the living room on a Sunday morning after he’s been woken by a large bang that can only mean they’re being invaded by aliens or Brownie drank all of the milk and left the empty carton in the fridge.

Jamie is wrong.

Jason and Brownie are in the living room, each standing on the couch and yelling at each other. A paused SportsCenter Top 10 is on the television screen and Jamie briefly regrets moving in. He rubs a hand over his weary face and looks at two of his three roommates. “Do I even want to know what is happening?”

Jason whirls on him, a slightly manic look in his eyes. “Jamison Benn,” he begins, “do you think that the hit on Kariya by Scott was dirty in 2003?”

Jamie does not bother correcting him that his first name is simply, and has always been, Jamie not Jamison. He can tell that it is apparently not the time. “Uh, yes?”

Brownie whirls on him, “Uh, yes?” The incredulousness reverberates around the apartment.

In November, they throw a traditional American Thanksgiving at the demand of Jason. It results in one badly burnt and raw Turkey, two broken hockey sticks shattered and left in the kitchen sink, the best mashed potatoes Jamie has ever eaten, and leaves Tyler with a black and blue on his forehead that weirdly looks similar to the shape of Kentucky.

Tyler is holding a make-shift ice pack to his rapidly blooming forehead, watching Jamie eat spoonfuls of mashed potatoes. Jason has been banished to the rooftop until “you can fucking find your chill man” and Brownie is sitting with his head in his hands.

“Today was horrible.” He mutters.

Tyler lifts the bag of frozen corn off his face and glares. “We’re Canadian.” He stresses their nationality, his face not softening as Brownie makes a whine that Jamie would call pathetic. “We’re Canadian. Thanksgiving is not in November.

Privately, Jamie agrees. However, Brownie looks so sad and defeated that Jamie pushes his bowl of mashed potatoes in his direction. He nudges Brownie. “Uh, they’re making me feel better.”

Brownie looks at him, misery a cloud over his face, and nods.

Christmas goes off much smoother, but really Jamie owes it to Jenny. She arrives three days before Christmas in a whirlwind, without much notice to either of her brothers except a text that says: get ur guest rooms ready.

Jenny arrives with two bags stuffed full of clothing, three boxes of maple candy, and the aura of someone who knows how to not burn the turkey.

(She proves this on Christmas Day. They’re sitting around the table; all three Benn siblings and Jamie’s roommates. The turkey is golden and beautiful. Jason swivels ever so slightly and stares at Jenny wide-eyed. He swivels back towards Jamie. His whisper is laced with longing: “I think I love your sister.” Jordie rolls his eyes and cuts a thick slab off the bird.)

Jamie and his roommates do a simple gift exchange, the day after Christmas once Jordie vacated the apartment and Jenny has hopped on a plane back to Vancouver. (She had given each of them a fond hug and a wave as she exited the apartment. Just before she left, she pushed her sunglasses down slightly and grinned at Jason. “Bye, hun.” Jason was too stunned to reply, but Jamie hasilty shoved his sister out the door and rolled his eyes.

“Do you realize what you’ve just done?”

Jenny laughed, and blew a kiss before the elevator doors closed.)

They ring in the New Year with the Winter Classic and a bottle of wine each. They don’t particularly care who wins the game, Minnesota versus Calgary, and spend much of the time discussing the many better options for the game, location and team wise.

During the countdown, all of them scream at the top of their lungs. “Seven!” Jason bellows, leaning towards Brownie.

Brownie yells back at him, “Six!”

Tyler skids across the living room in his socks, reminding Jamie of that Tom Cruise movie Jenny had made him watch. “Five!”

Jamie lays his body across three couch cushions, smiling at the ceiling. “Four!”

“You sound like a golfer!” Brownie yells then quickly to catch up, sputters out a laughter filled, “Three!”

Jason looks affronted, clearly realizing he’s been skipped. “Two!” He yells, tossing a pillow in Brownie’s direction.

In unison, Tyler and Jamie scream, “One!”

--

Jamie’s blissful ignorance of his massively huge crush on Tyler Seguin comes to an end with a wedding invitation. He’s lived in the apartment for nearly a year now, March rapidly approaching, when it arrives.

Jamie walks into the apartment after his morning run to find Jason standing on top of the coffee table in the living room reading aloud the invitation. Tyler is laying on the floor next to the couch, looking very much like Jamie assumes he did when he was eating a box of girl scout cookies a day. Brownie is steadily ignoring everything, slowly scooping rice krispies into his mouth like this is an everyday occurrence.

It is decidedly not, as Jamie has lived here for nearly four months and this has never happened before. As to make this point, he takes out his earbuds and surveys the apartment. “What the fuck?”

Tyler groans into the floorboards.

Jason hops off of the coffee table and presents the invitation with a flourish.

Jamie squints at the gold-plated cursing lettering and begins to aloud.

“Together with their parents, you are cordially invited to the wedding of Mr. Zdeno Chara and Ms. Tatiana Biskupicová on April 3rd at 4:30pm. The wedding will be located at Jupiter Gardens. Please RSVP by emailing zchara@gmail.com by March 23rd.” Jamie absolutely butchers the name of the bride and groom. He’s still confused.

“A wedding invite for some Europeans results in this?” Jamie is surveying the dramatics of Tyler, the excitement of Jason, and the nonchalance of Brownie. None of this makes sense.

Jason chokes on his laughter and Brownie chokes on his cereal.

--

This is the fourth time Jamie has been shuffled off into the folding lawn chair in the living room. Once again, he’s not a fan.

Jason starts. “So, y’know the three of us met in college, right?” He doesn’t wait for Jamie to answer, and instead pushes forward. If he had waited, Jamie would have said no, he hadn’t known they all went to college together. “Well, Brownie and I didn’t join any fraternity, but we were pretty friendly with all the bros on campus.” He nudges Tyler with his foot. Tyler is still lying face down in his cocoon.

Jamie distantly thinks he should offer some of his emergency Toffee-tastic bites.

Jason continues, “Tyler happened to be one of those bros. Big Z—”

“Zdeno,” Brownie pipes in.

A glare is directed his way by Jason. “Don’t interrupt. Big Z used to be president of Sigma Chi, which is the frat Segs joined. Big Z, well,” a grin slides across his face, “was Segs’ big.” He snorts like this is a familiar joke. Brownie elbows him.

Rolling his eyes, Brownie picks up the explanation. So far, Jason has done nothing to clear Jamie’s confusion. “Z’s wedding is a need-to attend event, which would be fine except—”

Jason cuts him off. “Except Tyler’s ex-boyfriend is the best man!”

--

Tyler is lured off of the floor with what remains of Jamie’s emergency stash of Toffee-tastic cookie bites. They devise a plan. Jamie is guilted into the plan.

--

Jamie meets with Jordie the next day on his lunch break, fully intending to eat his burger in amicable conversation about sports, dumb customer complaints, and their mutual distaste for Jenny’s new boyfriend. And much like everything in Jamie’s life, it does not go as planned.

“You’re seriously pulling some sort of fake boyfriend schtick?” Jordie looks distinctly unimpressed, one eyebrow arched and chowing down on Jamie’s fries. There’s ketchup in his beard. Jamie decides not to tell him as revenge.

“I’m just helping out my roommate, Jor.” Jamie snatches back the plate of fries. “Stop eating my fries. And, he’s my friend Jordie. He needs a date for this wedding so that he can avoid his ex.” Jamie dips the last fry in the remains of the ketchup. “No big deal.”

Jordie laughs. It’s a mean laugh, and Jamie feels a kind of younger brother indignation boil in his body. “Phillip,” he watches as Jordie’s laughter comes to a halt. “It’s nothing to be worried about.”

Jordie drops a twenty and a ten on the table, uses the napkin container to keep them from flying off in the slight breeze. “Yeah, Jame, I believe you.” He stands, leaving Jamie sitting among the remains of their supposed to be amicable lunch. “You’re acting as the fake-date for a boy you’re in love with. No big deal.” Jordie takes one last swig of water from his glass, shakes his head and tosses a wave over his shoulder. “I was supposed to be back at the station ten minutes ago. Love you Jame. Feel free to call when you realize this plan is dumb.

And with that, Jordie leaves Jamie sitting at the table. He’s slightly dumbfounded but he feels righteous with indignation. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

--

April 3rd comes quick.

Jamie puts on his nicest pair of pants and matching jacket. His tie is a deep green that Jordie helped him match to his socks via FaceTime. He exits his bedroom to a wolf whistle from Jason, and Brownie declares him a ‘snack’. He does this with a smirk, “Only I have the authority, considering I am named after a delicious dessert treat.”

Jason makes a face. “That’s not a thing.”

Tyler comes out of his bedroom and Jamie actually does a double take. Tyler looks great no matter what—lounging in sweatpants, running around the apartment searching for crafting supplies, returning from work with green paint stuck in his hair—but the suit he’s wearing only ups the attractive factor. Jamie’s mouth goes dry and his brain shorts for a minute. He startles when Jason slaps him on the back. “Uh, you look nice.”

Tyler grins, lopsided. “Thanks, you look nice too.” Jamie smooths down the front of his shirt, suddenly self-conscious. Tyler grabs his hand as they walk out of the apartment towards the elevator, stopping him and slightly separating him from Brownie and Jason. “Uh, also thanks for doing this. It means a lot.”

Jamie nods, tries to shrug it off like it’s no problem. “It’s no big deal.”

The apartment door closes behind them with a bang, and Jamie tries to convince himself it wasn’t a lie. It’s totally no big deal that Jamie and Tyler are pretending to date for this wedding. Not a big deal at all, Jamie thinks. Considering I’m kind of in love with you.

--

The wedding, Jamie only has one word for it, is beautiful. The ceremony is simple and elegant, done in both English and some other language that Jamie has no hope of learning. Jamie does not cry, but it’s close. He sticks close to Tyler the entire time, keeping the ruse of a sweet boyfriend.

He is introduced to a multitude of frat brothers, all grinning and smiling when they see Tyler. They all call him Segs, and Jamie is briefly introduced to who Tyler must have been in college. The stories they share of a kid who was the life of the party, had capabilities of smashing any six pack you put in front of him, and dedicated his time not partying to the children he volunteered with.

Jamie meets the groom, and he’s never felt small before, but Big Z makes him shrink. “Thank you for coming!” He’s tugged into a hug that maybe shatters a rib, “A boyfriend of Tyler’s…” He grins, grabbing at Tyler and pulling him into the hug as well. “A good boy, I hope.”

Jamie nods, feeling intimidated by this large and jovial man. “Yes, uh, Zdeno.”

“Call me Big Z! All friends do.”

Jamie is tugged every which way throughout the party, meeting people and trying to keep up the façade without falling deeper into it. He will not forget that this is fake.

Tyler and he eventually make their way to the dance floor, meeting up with Brownie and Jason. Jamie’s not a very good dancer, pulling out some of the moves he remembers from the few sweet sixteens and bar mitzvahs he attended as a kid. The array most definitely includes the sprinkler and that snorkeling move, but it’s the best Jamie has. The boys laugh, not in a mean way, and show off their own dance moves.

Brownie does the worm, gathering a small crowd. Jason can actually breakdance and the crowd cheers, wildly waving their arms. Tyler does what Jamie assumes used to be part of his hockey celly, waggling his eyebrows in Jamie’s direction. A few catcalls head his direction, most notably one from the bride, her arm wrapped loosely around Big Z.

The fun is interrupted by a snide voice that seemingly echoes over the dance floor. “Well, it looks like Segs is doing what Segs always does.”

Jamie can feel the mood dissipate over his friends, and he turns to see a man in a suit very similar to Big Z’s near the edge of the dance floor. Nobody else seems to have noticed, still dancing and celebrating.

The smile slides off his face and he can feel Tyler grab his hand, almost like a lifeline. Brownie and Jason stop dancing too, frowns adorning both of their faces. “Hey Brad,” they say icily, and Jamie now knows why the mood has so quickly changed.

This is the ex-boyfriend, the one that Jamie was tasked with maneuvering Tyler away from should the situation arise. Brad is nothing like Jamie expected. He’s short, with thin lips and a large grin. While not Jamie’s type, he has some sort of aura around him that does suggest a kind of attractiveness. It’s easy to imagine him and Tyler together, college aged and causing trouble.

“Hi Brownie, Jason, nice to see you’re still with Tyler.” His grin widens, “And you’ve bought a guest.” He seemingly gestures to Jamie, no malice in his words, just curiosity.

Jamie pulls himself up to his full height, tries not to be intimidated by the charm that’s oozing out of Brad. “I’m Jamie. Tyler’s my boyfriend.” He pulls Tyler close at the last part, squeezing him close.

Tyler nods, as though suddenly remembering now is the time to speak. “Yeah, uh, Jamie and I have been dating for a while now.”

Brad raises his eyebrows. “Really? Tyler, I didn’t know you were dating anyone.” There’s the appearance of a slick smile, “Though I guess you must have all that free time—weekends and the summer being off. Plenty of time to find a boyfriend when you’re not babysitting.”

Jamie clenches his teeth, feels Tyler go stiff next to him. Brownie and Jason look pissed, but they’re mid-process of being hauled off by two drunk former sorority girls for ‘recreating that spring semester 2009 photo’. Jamie has heard more than one rant about “the dumb fucking assumption” that kindergarten teachers are just “acting as an overqualified babysitter”.

“Apparently, though,” Brad continues, either not noticing the mood or not caring, “not enough free time to teach your boy over here how to dance properly.” He looks at Jamie then, teeth glittering in an ‘aw, shucks’ kind of way. “You got two left feet, big guy?”

Jamie now knows why the invitation caused Tyler to eat his way through the emergency box of girl scout cookies. Brad is an asshole. He’s the kind of asshole that picks on people’s insecurities, narrows in on the things that people are nervous about, and claws them open with piqued ‘not to offend’ questions.

Jamie fucking hates him.

They leave the wedding relatively quickly after that, the celebration vacuumed out of the room by Brad’s entrance.

--

They arrive home and quickly shed their wedding clothing, meeting in the living room. A 24-pack of Molson awaits, paired with three sleeves of girl scout cookies. Jamie walks in, slacks replaced by a grungy pair of sweats, and slouches into the corner of the couch.

Tyler is already there, mid-bite of cookie and holding a beer. Jason and Brownie too, arguing about whether they should binge old Tim and Sid episodes or watch the Mighty Ducks movie.

They eventually settle on the Mighty Ducks movie, although Tyler pushes for the second movie in the series with sad eyes. When Jamie looks at him quizzically, Tyler shrugs and stays silent. Jason rolls his eyes, “Tyler, are we seriously watching the second Mighty Ducks movie because you had a childhood crush on the Bash Brothers?”

Brownie nods, taking a long drag off his beer. “Yes, we are.”

It’s decided.

They watch the movie and they don’t talk about Brad.

--

While Jamie has not yet forgotten about his unfortunate crush on his roommate and the whole fake-boyfriend ploy, it’s been relocated to the back of his mind. That whole thing is firmly nestled between seventh grade mathematics and college statistics. Jamie has decided that it has no relevance to his life, much like the quadratic formula and categorical variable, and therefore it does not need to be thought of frequently. In order to do this, Jamie has been staying late at work recently, trying to impress his workaholic boss with a new multimedia campaign to get online foot traffic. So far, based on Melissa’s eyerolls and her growing long sighs, Jamie does not think it’s working.

Melissa is nice and everything, but she’s never been really open to trying anything new within the world of advertising. Which, uh, no shit considering that’s why she hired Jamie in the first place.

The fake-dating incident is catapulted forwards when Jamie walks back in from his late-night meeting with Melissa. He has Chinese food in one hand and is desperately seeking a beer for the other. He pushes open the door, intending to grab a beer and to eat his take-out by his lonesome, and instead finds Tyler sitting cross legged on the couch. He’s clearly been waiting for Jamie, judging by the relief that washes over his face.

It can also be heard in his voice, a very loud “Oh, thank God, Jamie!”

Jamie once again, forever a good friend—and not because he’s in-love with Tyler, ha Jordie—grabs two beers from the fridge and sits down on the couch. He hands one beer to Tyler, cracks the other open, and opens up the container of moo-shu pork. “What’s up, Tyler?”

He lets Tyler nervously flap around the couch for a moment, pace the narrow strip of flooring. He’s midbite finally when Tyler speaks, and Jamie nearly chokes on his moo-shu. He coughs twice, desperately trying to clear his throat. He takes a large mouthful of beer to wash his near-death experience down, and looks at Tyler like he’s insane. “You need me to do what?

At least Tyler looks flustered when he repeats it. “I need you to go on a double date with me. With Brad and his new boyfriend.”

So, Jamie’s whole effort to cram the fake-boyfriend experience to the back of his brain is futile. With the cobwebs dusted off and Tyler’s pleading smile, what seems like a million” thank yous” tossed in his direction, Jamie gives in. He ignores a voice that suspiciously sounds like Jordie in the back of his head and takes another bite of now-cold Chinese.

--

Jamie slides on his nicest pair of jeans and a button down, forgoes a tie at Jason’s direction and meets Tyler in the living room. He stops dead in his tracks, once again, and is met with a feeling of overwhelming joy at the sight of Tyler.

Tyler, wearing an outfit similar to the one he wore for Meet the Teacher night only a few weeks ago in September, is more handsome than Jamie could have imagined. Khakis and polo shirts, Jamie decides, have never been so flattering.

--

The double date begins fine, with a glass of red wine for everyone paired with re-introductions. Jamie is actually surprised it’s going so well, one hand clasped in Tyler’s as they sit and chat, waiting for their entrees.

They’ve been talking about Jamie’s job, a nice and neutral conversation about the buzz of social media as a marketing tool. It’s easy, casual, and Jamie is relatively surprised considering the asshole-ry he witnessed of Brad during the wedding. He takes a sip of wine, watches Tyler drain his glass, and politely asks if he wants another.

That’s when things go to shit.

Brad smirks, sips his own glass of wine delicately. He raises one eyebrow and sits his glass down slowly. “Tyler always wants another glass of wine,” His grin widens, “shit just tell’em to leave the bottle.”

Tyler freezes, looking more like a deer in the headlights than Jamies’ ever seen him. (Jamie was naked and wearing a borrowed robe when he met Tyler, the look of shock and confusion that happened then is nothing compared to what Jamie is witnessing now.)

Brad’s date--Patrice--twists and looks at him with disgust plain across his face. He reacts before Jamie can. “Excuse me?” He says, voice tight.

Brad doesn’t see this as a warning, just continues his mockery of a conversation. “Yeah, hun, Tyler here--” he gestures, wide and sweeping over the table.

Jamie has heard enough. He stands, chair scraping back at the sudden movement, one of his hands still firmly clasped in Tylers. “Brad, you need to apologise right now.

--

Jamie, uh, isn’t really quite sure what happened after that. Well, that’s not exactly true.

Jamie knew in theory what happened. It boiled down to this: Brad refused and kept up his pestering, the restaurant guests and staff had swiveled all of their attention onto the upcoming fight or argument, and then Patrice and Tyler had watched with wide eyes as Jamie launched his fist in the direction of Brad’s face.

Jamie had gotten pretty good at fighting, and Brad hadn’t expected a fight in a public setting.

Brad has one black eye, a bruise on his cheek, and bloody knuckles from trying to hit Jamie back.

Jamie has a few minor cuts and bruises, but Brad had landed one lucky shot to Jamie’s jaw and he’s pretty sure that now there’s either a tooth loose or missing.

--

The police roll up to the restaurant, and when Jamie looks Jordie is lording over him in the same manner he did when Jamie got in trouble in the 4th grade for defending himself against Travis McDonald.

(“He called me Chubbs,” Jamie had wailed. “That’s your nickname for me.” He took in one big breath of air, trying to stop his hiccuping. “It’s mean when anyone else says it.”)

“They called the police?” Jamie asks, sheepishly. An EMT is tsk-ing over his bloody knuckles, frowning as he cleans them with some antiseptic.

Jordie looks at Jamie like he’s dumb. “You were fighting in a restaurant Jamie, of course they called the police.” He shakes his head. “Y’know, I was gonna let you squirm and think about it for a minute, but you look damn pathetic.”

Jamie looks up at him, still sitting on the concrete sidewalk, although his judgy EMT had long ago vanished. “What?”

“They’re not going to press charges, considering a few of the patrons heard what an asshole apparently that--and I quote ‘mean little man’--was being.”

Jamie hadn’t even considered that, but a wave of gratefulness washes over him. “And, uh, Tyler?”

He’s seemingly vanished, and Jamie cannot see him among the throng of emergency personal or angry restaurant patrons.

“Tyler,” Jordie starts, but he doesn’t get to finish as Jamie suddenly catches sight of Tyler, Brad, and Patrice.

Brad’s holding an ice pack on the eye that Jamie knows he hit square. Tyler and Patrice have rounded on him, each yelling their own spiteful words at him.

“Jamie is such a better boyfriend than you ever were!” Tyler shouts, hands in fists at his side. “You’re mean, and belittling, and and and--” Tyler looks frustrated that he can’t find another derogatory thing to toss in.

Patrice takes his silence to start his own tirade. “Don’t you ever contact me again! Not only is this the worst date I’ve ever been on, but,” He grabs at Tyler with one hand, looking to tug him closer. “You only took me on it to be an ass to your ex!”

--

Jamie pays for Patrice to take an uber home. “I’m, uh, sorry I fought with your date.”

And although Patrice laughs at him, it’s a laughing with you kind of laugh not a laughing at you kind of laugh. “I’m happy you gave him what was coming,” Patrice admits. “I’d have never gone out with him if I’d known how rude and disrespectful he could be.” He shakes his head, “It’s shameful.”

Tyler nods, and although he’s been quiet in a way that Jamie’s never seen, he looks at Patrice with a weak smile. “Well, you’re not the only one who fell for the image that Brad puts out.”

--

Jordie drives Jamie and Tyler back to their apartment and he makes Jamie sit in the back of his squad car. “You’re the one who literally started a bar fight, Jame.”

Jamie mutters a “it was a restaurant fight,” but he doesn’t argue.

Jordie drops them off at the front of their building, still technically on duty. “Behave. I don’t want another call to bail you out of jail.”

--

Brownie and Jason are out, so Tyler and Jamie walk into an empty and silent apartment. It seems kind of anti-climactic. They both shower and change, Jamie trying to clear his clothing of any blood and Tyler trying to wash away the last traces of Brad’s vitriol.

Jamie is the first one to speak once they’ve both settled in the living room. “I know you didn’t invite me to fight him, so I’m sorry about that.” He takes a deep breath, thinks back to his lunch with Jordie. “But I don’t like people making people I care about feel bad. I, uh, I had enough of tha growing up.”

He feels his face flush.

Tyler looks at him curiously.

“I don’t like bullies.” Jamie says, and it sounds lame. What self-respecting 28 year old says bullies?

Tyler cracks a smile. “Most teachers don’t like bullies.” He says it with the air of someone who settles squabbles between six year olds on the daily, which, as Jamie knows, he does.

“I, uh,” Jamie says, willing himself to be brave. “Tyler, I don’t know if it’s the fake-boyfriend thing, or the real, uh, feelings I have, but… I just couldn’t let him.”

Tyler looks at him like he’s got whiplash. “Real feelings?”

Jamie nods, “Uh, yeah.” He rubs one hand on the back of his neck, uncertain. “You walked through the front door that first day? I thought you were handsome.” Jamie watches Tyler flush, and pushes on. “I’ve never thought any guy was handsome before. And then, I realized you were amazing.” Jamie thinks back to the passion Tyler displays whenever he speaks about his students, the thoughtful gestures of friendship he displays, the always smiling attitude he pushes forwards with (even when he’s tugged into the dumb antics of his friends), and… Jamie stops. “Tyler, I could ramble on about every wonderful thing I’ve seen you do while living here, but…man,” He rubs at the back of his neck again. “Y’know, how you only eat one Poptart out of the package?”

He watches Tyler nod, looking stunned and a little confused.

“Man, I just want to be the person that gets to eat the other half.”

Tyler looks dumbfounded at him, a smile slowly appearing on his face. He shakes his head a little, and something in Jamie’s gut feels like lead. “Jamison Benn, do you know that’s the most I’ve ever heard you say at one time?”

Jamie only nods, ignoring the unfortunate elongation of his name, waiting for the rejection that Tyler is so obviously padding with humor.

“Jamie, I’d be delighted to share Poptarts with you.” Tyler launches himself from his seat on the couch toward Jamie. They bump heads, and the movement causes a push of pain on Jamie’s swollen face.

“Ah, shit,” Tyler says, apologizing.

“No, no,” Jamie mutters, “it’s fine. Just, uh,” He gives a sappy grin at Tyler, smile lopsided and cheek swollen. “Just kiss it better. “