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i don’t know how (but i’m taller)

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It’s raining on the Pacific. The ocean hugs the boat with shaking fingers and pats an erratic waltz on the deck. Troy is sitting in the captain’s quarters with both hands on his knees. LeVar knocks and opens the door.

“We’re reaching California in half an hour, Troy.”

The boat rocks.

i.

Troy’s packing up. Annie’s in her room, door closed, and Abed’s out grabbing groceries. They’re going to help Annie make sesame chicken (and by help, we of course mean knock over salt shakers until she asks them to go wait at the table) and then watch The Goofy Movie (Troy’s request). He’s leaving tomorrow.

He crumples up a final t-shirt and crushes it into a duffel bag. Dresser empty, he sits on the floor. The emptiness in his room doesn’t particularly bother him. It’s just a place. Mostly, it’s the emptiness in Abed’s expression every time they look at each other that makes him sweat.

He leans back against his stripped bed and shuts his eyes. “Annie, baby?” He calls. He hears her door squeak open and her feet running on tiptoe across the hall.

“Yeah, honey bear?”

She’s bouncing on her heels, one hand clinging to the doorframe that they never quite got all the black paint off of (not that they tried very hard). Her hair is tucked back in a floral headband and the tips of her fingers are shimmery with glitter glue. He smiles. Her grin is bigger than his. They both know they don’t quite mean it.

“Are you done hiding in your room now? I wanna get my Annie time in.”

Her eyes crinkle. “I guess I can finish after you go to bed. I just want your send-off to be perfect.” She steps into the room and sits on the floor next to him.

“It will be,” he says, “as long as you guys are with me.”

ii.

Tijuana is a very nice first stop. Troy quickly realizes that his grade school level Spanish isn’t going to get him very far, but plenty of people speak English. He gets along just fine.

He and LeVar slide into a small restaurant and people-watch from the big window. It really doesn’t feel much different from home, weather conditions notwithstanding. He’s eating a plate of papas con carne asada and trying really hard not to get any cheese on his lap while LeVar sips his soup.

“¿Como es la comida?” LeVar asks, because Troy insisted they work on their Spanish.

Es muy sabrosa,” he responds. “Y tuyas?”

El mismo,” LeVar says. He smiles. “So, I’ve graduated to informal greetings?”

“Hm?” Troy asks. His mouth is full.

“You said ‘tuyas’ instead of ‘suyas’. Seems like a big step.”

“Oh!” Troy wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. His face feels hot. “I mean, we kind of live together. It would just get uncomfortable if I kept treating you like... well, like LeVar Burton.”

LeVar laughs. “I’m glad. I’ll admit, when I got the call from Mr. Hawthorne’s lawyers, I was afraid that it wasn’t gonna go well. You’re a good kid, though, Troy.”

Troy shrugs. “Thanks.”

Outside the window, a gardener is watering the flowers that sit along the sidewalk. The water makes the bright reds and oranges gleam against the pavement. He tries not to think about how nice of a shot that would’ve been, if somebody with a camera were there.

iii.

Troy is slumped against a crate that he assumes is filled with drugs, or severed doll heads, or spider egg sacs. His wrists are raw from the thick rope that binds them and his mouth is dry. The pirates don’t even have eyepatches. He doesn’t know why they bother.

A middle aged white guy with a combover steps into the hull, the rainy light from the surface following him until he closes the door.

“How’re we doin’, gentlemen?” He asks. He knocks his hand against Troy’s head and tugs at his hair. LeVar is leaning against the wall a few feet away, and the white guy shakes him a little. “Huh? I asked you fellas a question.”

“Could be better,” Troy says, just as LeVar heaves: “You’re despicable.”

The guy laughs. He laughs hard, clutching his stomach and coughing. “You think I’m gonna bend to a little bullying, huh, Geordi?” He pauses to take a breath and wipe at his eyes. “Listen, pal, you’ll be outta here before you know it. Somebody’s gotta pay your ransom sometime.”

LeVar is silent. Troy is, too. The guy sighs. “You aren’t any fun. Here’s your lunch.” He tosses a plastic bag with some granola bars and water bottles in between the two of them. He walks back out, leaving them alone in the dark.

LeVar scoots towards the food. Troy remains still.

“You gotta eat, Troy,” LeVar says. He nudges a bar towards him. Troy uses his elbows to pick it up and tears it open with his teeth.

“I miss Abed so much,” he mumbles. He takes a bite of granola and doesn’t chew. He can’t bring himself to move.

iv.

He’s in Peru. LeVar is back in California to settle the legal issues, but Troy is still set on his mission. He doesn’t know if his companion will come back, but he’s trying not to care. He lounges in his hotel room until his skin feels like it’s about to crawl off of his body, and then makes his way to the gym.

The fitness center is empty as he walks in. He peels of his shirt and looks at himself in the wall mirror. He has a little beard, and his hair is growing out. It’s a little fried. He lost his good product with the pirates and has been doing his best with what he has since, but most drugstores only carry white people conditioner. Maybe he should do locs, or something.

He does some warm-ups. He doesn’t have earbuds (or a phone, actually) so he listens to the top forty humming quietly through some seemingly invisible speakers. It feels so good to get his muscles working again. Once he’s warmed up, he grabs some barbells and gets in some reps.

Back at the apartment, he hadn’t had a good workout area. The gym on campus was good enough for his purposes (if he ignored the weird residue over the floor) and he got around enough to feel like he was exercising. Some nights, though, he needed to get out of his head and he’d do sit-ups in the kitchen until his abs screamed. Abed would sit on the kitchen counter, those nights, and rattle off details about the Rocky franchise. Troy wouldn’t respond. It was comfortable for both of them.

Now, he’s alone. Selena Gomez is crooning to him over the speakers in vague romance that could apply to anyone. “Let me show you how proud I am to be yours,” she says. He puts his weight down. He doesn’t bother to grab his shirt before he shuffles back to his room to see if there are any movies on-demand at this hotel.

(They’re all in Spanish, no subtitles. He watches them anyway.)

v.

The Childish Tycoon turns up, largely unharmed, on the shores of Guatemala. LeVar lets him know, and buys him a ticket to Antigua so they can head down to Montericco and sail back home.

(“We can continue, if you want,” LeVar says on the phone. “I know this was really important to you.”

“I think escaping from pirates is a pretty solid way to become a man,” Troy says. I miss Abed so much, Troy doesn’t say.)

The flight is around nine hours. Troy orders a dry sandwich and a ginger ale and leans his head on the window to avoid the eyes of the frantically typing Peruvian woman in the seat next to him. He takes his complimentary ear buds and scrolls through the movie options. He ends up watching Muppets: Most Wanted and fighting to keep his eyes open. He always gets nightmares when he sleeps on the move.

The dim lights and ambient recycled air pushes him off eventually. He doesn’t know it as he falls, but he knows when he finds himself kicking at white-hot water and coughing to keep it from his mouth.

The Childish Tycoon is there. It’s right ahead of him, chugging in the opposite direction. There’s a silhouette at the prow. He expels a shout from his lungs and forces himself to move through the current, gripping the stern. As he does, the water drains from below his feet. He’s holding the doorframe of his apartment. He walks in. The lock sticks like it always does.

His friends are inside, sitting around the table. They glance at him, but don’t acknowledge his presence past that. They’re eating papas con carne asada, which is weird because none of them like spicy food. None of them except Abed, who isn’t at the table.

Troy moves unthinking to the fort. As he turns the corner, he falls to his knees and finds himself in Fluffytown. Abed is there. He’s cross-legged on the ground in his nice lime pajamas. He reaches out and touches Troy’s jaw.

“Please,” Troy says, and then he’s back on the plane.

y entonces.

The San Diego Bay is hot and cloudy. Troy heaves his duffel bag over his shoulder and turns to LeVar, who smiles and pulls him in for a hug.

“I’m proud of you, Troy,” he says. Troy presses his eyes into his shoulder before they can get wet.

He makes a few phone calls inside a car rental building. He calls Shirley first, which surprises even him. Hearing her cooing into the receiver fortifies his heart. He calls Jeff, and then Britta, and then Annie. Annie cries. She puts him on speaker so the receiver doesn’t get wet.

“I was so, so worried about you,” she sobs. “Please don’t ever get kidnapped by pirates again.”

“I’ll try not to,” he says solemnly. “Hey, can you tell me something?”

The cab ride to LA is long and quiet. The driver is listing to NPR, and Troy realizes he has no idea what’s been happening in America. There’s a lot of talk about the next presidential election, which makes his skin crawl. He hums to himself in the backseat and tries to keep the tingling out of his fingers. He doesn’t succeed.

They park in front of the apartment complex. It’s not pretty. There’s a meager patch of grass lining the front entrance, but other than that, it’s barren. Troy tips his driver and steps in the door, buzzing the number Annie gave him and mumbling the one word he needs to let him in. He walks up the stairs to the fourth floor and knocks on the second door on the left. Abed opens it, eyes huge.

“Hi,” Troy says, and he has never been more content.