Oliver walked into the kitchen and over to Katie who was at the stove cooking scrambled eggs.
“Mom, have you seen my light blue shirt?”
Katie thought for a second.
“The t-shirt or the button-up,” she asked.
“Hmm…” She remembered seeing it once this morning but where? “Nope. Did you check your room?”
“Yeah, it was the first place I checked. I can’t find it.”
Maybe he could wear a different shirt? Where did she see it? Should she tell him she saw it but she didn’t know where? Nah.
“What about the hamper in the upstairs bathroom,” Greg suggested from his spot at the table.
Oliver snapped his fingers and pointed at Greg, “No, I have not.”
He jogged towards and up the stairs and Katie thought that was the last of it. So she went back to her eggs. And then Oliver was running back down and even more frantic.
“It’s not there,” he said.
“Did you check the bottom of the hamper?”
“The hamper’s empty,” he tossed Greg a deadpan look.
“Oh. Then what’d I do with my pajamas?” Greg touched the collar of his sweater with a concerned frown.
“Look, I need this shirt.” He pressed his fingertips together and brought his arms down in a frustrated gesture.
“What’s so important about some dumb shirt,” Taylor asked before taking another bite of her eggs.
“I need it for my presentation today and I’ve been planning this outfit for a week.”
“Then shouldn’t you know where it is?”
Oliver turned a glare on Anna-Kat.
“I thought I did.”
Franklin looked up from his food to add his two-cents.
“I lost my favorite shirt once. Turns out the neighbors’ chickens got it and fought to the death over it. Did you check your neighbor’s chicken coop?”
Everyone stared at Franklin in disbelief. Katie gave her head a bit of a shake before moving on, scooping up eggs out of the pan.
Oliver’s face scrunched in disgust. “You all are no help.”
“Love you. Love you too. Thanks for all your help. Oh, it’s no problem.” Katie gave Oliver a sarcastic smile as she spit out the imagined dialogue.
Oliver shook his head and rolled his eyes. He headed back towards the basement.
“Babe, have you seen my light blue button-up, the solid not the plaid?”
Katie looked up in alarm from her place at the counter. No one else seemed surprised. Why wasn’t this surprising? Who the hell was in her house?
“Babe? Who the hell is ‘babe’? He better be talking to another pig because I am not dealing with another person sleeping in this house!”
“Does that mean we can get another pig when Franklin leaves,” Greg looked her way, an excited smile already on his face.
“Hell no! You got the dog to replace the pig. You don’t get both, Greg!”
“Oh, well. Didn’t hurt to try.”
Greg shrugged before going back to his food. She’d deal with Greg’s tendencies to pick up strays later. She had more pressing matters to deal with. Trying to talk to Taylor and Trip about sex had been bad enough. She didn’t want to have to deal with anything like that again for a long time. Katie finally sat at the table and addressed the problem.
“Anyway, who is ‘babe’? Oliver didn’t really sneak a girl in, did he?”
“What? He’s cheating on Cooper,” Trip looked up in alarm, seeming to only just now be paying attention to anything going on.
“They’re not together, Trip. Apparently. ” Taylor didn’t even look up from her plate until Trip made his next point.
“But… they call each other babe, Babe.”
“That’s a good point!”
“Wait, so Oliver’s calling Cooper ‘babe’? Like, the Cooper sleeping in our basement Cooper?” Katie set her fork heavily on the table. She’d be waiting for this for so long that it’d actually surprised her now that it was happening.
“Yeah. They’ve been calling each other that for a while now, Mrs. A.” Trip smiled at her, his mouth full.
“Yeah, thanks, Trip.”
Katie rolled her eyes. At least Cooper had a bit of sense. Not much, but it was something.
“ Buenos días, Ottos! Trip, Franklin,” Cooper had a spring in his step that, while not unusual for him, was ridiculous for so early in the morning.
“Morning, Cooper,” Everyone chorused.
“Wait, isn’t that the shirt Oliver was looking for?”
That's where she saw the shirt! She saw it when Cooper was combing his hair in the bathroom this morning.
Cooper looked down at the shirt he was wearing then back at Taylor.
“Yeah, but we compromised,” he shrugged.
Anna-Kat raised her eyebrows. “How? He looked ready to put out a missing person’s report for that shirt.”
“But it’s a shirt, not a person,” Trip was slack-jawed in confusion.
“It’s a simile! I learned that in my classes.”
Greg, Anna-Kat, and Franklin looked ready to correct Taylor but Katie just shook her head at them. Trip was nodding and smiling as if he understood her. They could correct that later.
“We agreed I could wear this as long I helped him pick out something better. So, he’s wearing a nice solid salmon button-up from my post-summer pre-fall collection. We even found the perfect power tie!”
“Okay,” Katie drew out. What did a normal person say to that?
Cooper beamed once more before turning towards the door. He paused and looked back at the table.
“Oh, can someone tell Oliver that I’m going to the car?”
“Don’t you want some breakfast first,” Greg asked.
“Oh, no, thanks. We’re going to Stuart & Kingston’s then going to school.”
“Aw, that’s cute, babe. We should do that sometime.” Trip said to Taylor.
“Oooh, can we join you?” Taylor’s eyes were bright at the prospect. “It could be a double date?”
Cooper hesitated before answering, awkwardness taking over his frame.
Just then, Oliver came up the stairs, much calmer than earlier. He smiled at Cooper, not even paying attention to anyone else.
“This shirt is perfect! Thanks, babe.”
Katie didn’t know what was happening anymore. Was she having a stroke? Was 40 too young to have a stroke?
“Of course! I’m going to get the car started.”
Cooper walked towards the door as Oliver walked into the living room.
“Hey, your bag?”
Oliver grabbed it and brought it over to Cooper.
“Oh, thanks, babe.”
The bag now on his shoulder, Cooper leaned over and kissed Oliver’s cheek. Katie rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating. Nope. Everyone else seemed to be in a similar state. Hah! Finally, something surprised them.
Cooper and Oliver left after grabbing their jackets and Oliver his bag.
“That’s new, though.”
Trip was the first to speak. He was pointing at the now-closed door. Katie sighed, closed her eyes, and held the bridge of her nose. She could already feel a headache coming on.
"So, when did this first start," Katie asked.
Trip raised his hand, "Oh, I know!"
Oliver, Cooper, and Trip were sitting on the couch in the basement playing video games. Cooper and Trip were both leaning towards the screen. Oliver was dodging and weaving in place as he moved the controller around.
“Dude! Dude, On your left! No, not you! Du--Cooper!”
The words “Game Over” blinked on the screen. Oliver fell back into the couch, holding the controller slack in one hand. Cooper and Trip sat up, disappointment on their faces. Trip addressed the boys on either side of him.
“Sorry, guys.” He brought the controller up then down once as he spoke, “I just can’t tell who you’re talking to.”
Cooper turned around to face both of them and said, “Yeah, dudes. I’m confused too.”
“That!” Trip stood and pointed at Cooper in his excitement. “That’s the problem.”
Trip turned to Olivedr and explained.
“We all call each other ‘dude.’ We need new names.”
“Or we could just call each other our actual names,” Oliver suggested.
“Yeah, how’d that work before?”
Cooper raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips.
“Good point.” Oliver sighed. “Okay, what could we call each other then?”
“Well, you guys can keep calling me dude. Then I’ll always know you’re talking to me!”
Trip sat back down with a smile on his face.
“I guess I can call Oliver amigo or Ollie. You’ve been called that before so we know you’ll answer to it.”
Oliver started to nod his head, “Yeah, that’ll—”
Trip interrupted with a shake of his head, concern on his face. “No good, guys. It’ll just make me thnk of olives.”
Cooper and Oliver absorbed this information in silence.
“And my actual name— Oliver —doesn’t?”
Trip looked baffled, “No, why?”
Oliver scoffed, “Whatever.”
“Okay, so amigo then?”
Cooper shrugged while Oliver just looked on. What was he supposed to call Cooper then? Man, bro, Coop, none of those came immediately to mind when playing intense video games.
“Well, yeah, but then what do I call Cooper?”
“You could call him ‘babe.’ That’s quick and easy,” Trip suggested far too casually. If he wasn't Trip, Oliver might've thought he was up to something.
“ Excuse me? ”
Oliver gaped at Trip. What in the hell…?
“I’m cool with it,” Cooper shrugged lightly. Oliver stared at him in disbelief.
“Dude!” What the hell? You’re really going with this?
“Dude.” It’s not that big a deal. It’s just for playing video games.
“Dude.” Yeah, but are you sure? It’s a little weird.
“Dude.” It doesn’t bother me, why should it bother you?
“Ugh, fine.” Oliver gave in. “Babe. There, happy?”
Cooper smirked and grabbed the controller with both hands, ready to start another round.
“Let’s find out.”
One Week Later…
“You guys ready to get your butts kicked?”
Trip walked into the basement, a smile on his face. Cooper was in the kitchen so they did their handshake before walking over to the couch where Oliver was sitting looking smug.
“Not this week. Ready, babe,” Cooper asked Oliver as he sat in his spot.
“Oh, yeah, we’re winning this time.”
Oliver was ready. They’d been practicing all week and felt prepared for anything Trip could pull. Trip looked up from the other side of the table where he was grabbing his controller.
“Oh, are you guys going to call each other that? Should I be calling you ‘babe’ too?”
“No, Trip! That’s how we got confused in the first place. Remember? We kept calling each other dude and got confused.”
How was Taylor the smart one in the relationship? Oliver would never get used to it. He and Cooper were on mostly equal footing, at least.
“I call him ‘babe’ and he calls me ‘babe’ and we call you ‘dude.’”
Trip shrugged before beaming and jumping between them.
“Alright. Let’s get started then!”
“And that’s how they started calling each other ‘babe.’”
“Holy crap. Did Trip trick them?”
Katie looked at Greg with wide eyes. Everyone else just stared in shock at Trip’s accidental genius.
“I think he did,” Greg said.
Trip looked up from his third plate.
“Don’t worry about it, Trip.” Katie reached over and patted his arm. “You did good.”
“Oh. Cool. Thanks, Mrs. A.”
Trip smiled again, reminding Katie of Luthor. God, he and Cooper were really alike sometimes.
"Ooh, I'll go next," Greg volunteered.
“Hey, guys,” Greg stuck his head in the door to the basement and knocked on the doorway. “Dinner’s going to be ready in five minutes.”
Oliver didn’t even look up from the textbook he was studying so intensely.
“What are you studying?”
Greg stepped into the room, prompting a shared glance between Cooper and Oliver.
“We have a history test on Friday,” Oliver said, cautiously.
“And Cooper’s studying?”
Greg looked surprised at where Cooper had the same textbook out.
“Hey, I resent that. I’m going through personal growth.”
Oliver cut in, “And it’s awful.”
Cooper continued as if Oliver hadn’t spoken. “And I’m taking as many steps as it takes to be an official Otto. And having good grades is one of them.”
“Wow.” Greg stared in amazement. “I have never heard someone say that with pride.”
“Mom said the same thing.”
Greg tilted his head in consideration. He didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. Probably not.
“Well, anyway. How about I take you boys out to the guild’s latest reenactment? It’s on Wednesday. That should give you a bit of help with your test.”
“Is your reenactment on the Bosnian War,” Oliver asked.
“Because that’s what the test is on.”
“Oh.” Greg didn’t pause. “Well, the offer still stands.”
Oliver sighed heavily. He turned to look at Cooper.
“What do you think, babe?”
It took Greg all of his strength to keep a mostly straight face. He was sure it wasn’t working because his eyes felt like they were ready to pop out but if they weren’t going to mention it, he wouldn’t either.
“I mean, we had fun at the last one.” Cooper shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”
Oliver pursed his lips and gave Cooper a pointed, wide-eyed look before turing back to Greg.
“Okay, fine. We’re in. But just this once. We need to be prepared for the SAT and can’t afford any other breaks in our normal school work.”
Greg beamed and left them to their studying.
“I think, anyway,” he mumbled to himself as he went back up the stairs.
“Really, Greg?” Katie stood at the sink with a hand on her hip, head tilted. That’s your story?”
“What was wrong with it?”
“Uh, everything ,” Taylor interjected.
“There’s no detail. Where’s the pizzazz? Trip’s had more detail!” Katie raved as she went back to washing the dishes.
Trip smiled around the orange juice he was drinking.
“And he droned on about tacos for five minutes,” Anna-Kat pointed out from her and Franklin’s spot on the couch.
Trip’s smile dropped.
“Sorry, Mr. Otto.” Greg turned towards Trip who was on the barstools with Taylor. “I gotta agree with the women. You aren’t a great storyteller.”
Greg was indignant.
“I sold all my books, didn’t I?”
Katie gave him a sympathetic look and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Honey, our rich, dead neighbor bought all of them.”
“Oh, right.” He paused as she patted his shoulder. “Well, Lonnie wanted me for his book!”
“Yeah and that’s great,” Katie said. “But you do better with the real stuff. Not fiction.”
“What about it was fiction,” Greg protested. “It was real!”
“Eh, you just didn’t sell it to me.”
Katie pointed at Taylor, dishrag in the hand on her hip.
“Taylor, you’re up!”
Cooper and Oliver dropped their school bags on the ground by the door to the basement and went to the kitchen. Oliver beelined for the fridge while Cooper slowly followed, looking at his phone.
“Hey, babe, pass me a water,” Cooper asked.
“ Bueno . What do you think about that new restaurant a couple blocks from Stuart & Kingston’s?”
Oliver handed Cooper his water then started drinking from his. Cooper set his on the counter beside him and looked at his phone again.
“What kind of restaurant is it?”
“Well, it’s not going to be getting a Michelin Star anytime soon, but it’s supposed--”
Oliver shook his head and a hand at Cooper, stopping his spiel.
“No, no. Is it Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, French, or what?”
“Oh. It’s Indian.”
Oliver thought it over and nodded. “Sounds good, babe. Do we need reservations?”
Cooper once more looked at his phone to check the reviews he was reading.
“No, this review says we can just walk in. You hungry?”
Oliver shrugged. “I could eat.”
Cooper started talking about the menu as they headed back out of the house. Taylor sat up from where she had been laying on the couch, disgruntled she wasn’t invited.
“I could eat, too. ”
Katie gave Taylor a frustrated, yet disappointed look.
“Taylor, your story was even worse than your dad’s!”
She threw her hands up in surrender, “Well, that’s all that really happened.”
“Then make something up,” Katie nearly yelled.
“You do remember we’re talking about Oliver and Cooper, right?” She gave her mom a deadpan look that she thought conveyed her feelings rather well.
“Yes, yes.” Katie waved her away and looked at the others in the room. “Okay, someone else give me something, then. Franklin?”
FOUR THREE BUT BETTER
Oliver stormed into the house, Cooper follwoing at a more sedate pace. Throwing his arms out indignantly, Oliver turned towards Cooper.
“That’s the third girl who’s turned me down for homecoming. I don’t get it! What am I doing wrong?”
Cooper hesitated. He needed to break this to Oliver carefully.
“Maybe it’s not what you’re doing wrong. It’s what we’re doing wrong.”
Oliver frowned at him, anger being replaced by honest confusion.
“I’m pretty sure they all thought we were dating. Again .”
Oliver still looked confused. “But we’ve been over this before. Will cleared all that up.”
“Okay,” Cooper brought his arms down in a slow movent. “But then all three heard you call me ‘babe’ or vice versa.”
Oliver stared in horror, understanding sinking in.
“Surely not all three?”
“Babe.” Cooper gave him a pitying look. “You literally said, “‘Babe, where are we going to eat that night? Oh, and hey, Julie, would you like to go to Homecoming with me?’”
Oliver flattened his lips, put a hand on the counter and one on his hip, and practically drilled a whole in the floor with his stare.
“... I’m almost afraid to tell you to move on to your next point.”
“Most people think we’re dating. They’ll get over it again.” Cooper tapped Oliver’s shoulder with the back of his hand. We’ll just have to wait it out.”
Oliver sighed deeply, settling himself.
“Works for me. Hey, at home we have that problem every day practically,” Confidence returned to his voice. “This’ll be easy.”
“You sure about that,” Cooper laughed.
“Okay, I can see the problem,” he said.
Oliver barely took a moment to think before making a declaration. His arms went wide with his words and his chin tilted up in feigned arrogance.
“You know what? Who needs homecoming dates? We can just do what we were planning for Crom. We’ll just wear matching suits and go together.”
“Okay. If you insist.”
Oliver headed towards the basement, a skip in his step. Cooper inhaled deeply, tilted his head doubtfully, and exhaled heavily. He grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter and followed after Oliver.
“Wow. I hope my high school experience is just as wild,” Franklin said to himself as he stood from his spot on the floor behind the counter.
Taylor looked at Franklin with her eyebrows drawn in curiosity.
“Wait, Franklin, why were you just sitting on the kitchen floor?”
“I lost my M&M,” he said.
“Like a whole pack?”
“No.” Franklin shook his head. “Just one.”
“Okay, then,” Katie drew out. She turned away from Franklin and faced Anna-Kat. “Anna-Kat, do you have anything to add?”
“More than can be addressed in just one session,” she nodded solemnly.
“Not about Franklin. About your brother and his boyfriend.”
“And how he’s hiding the fact they’re boyfriends,” Trip added.
“Oh, sure! I only heard it as I was coming down the stairs, but okay.”
“Should we get her this one or this one?”
Oliver pointed at two different images on his phone. Cooper leaned in closer, squinting at the phone.
“I don’t know. I don’t really think either of these are her style.”
“Cooper, she’s my mom,” Oliver gave him a look like what he was saying was obvious. “She doesn’t have style.”
“Oliver, she’s a classy lady,” Cooper said, defending Katie. “And she deserves something nice for everything she does.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Oliver waved dismissively and gestured to the phone in his hand. “So, what are we getting her.”
“Go to the next page. Scroll, scroll, keep scrolling..” Cooper stopped him, poking the screen and exclaiming, “That one!”
Oliver studied the image in front of him before giving Cooper a grateful smile.
“Babe, you’re a genius. This is perfect.”
“Told ya,” Cooper tilted his head in Oliver's direction and grinned.
Oliver grinned back and looked at the phone again to read the details.
“Okay, it says there’s a few more in stock at the store and you’ll pick it up tomorrow when I go to the library?”
“Yeah, sure, babe.”
Anna-Kat reached the bottom step and rolled her eyes. Boys, they thought they were subtle.
Katie stared in disbelief at Anna-Kat. How was everyone in her family so bad at gossiping? She could’ve swore she’d taught them better than that.
“I take it back!" She yelled, immensely frustrated. "You’re all banned from storytelling! Except Trip. And Anna-Kat gets extra points for finding out I’m getting a present.But the rest of you suck .”
Trip beamed up at her.
“Awesome. Thanks, Mrs. A. I liked your story too.”
“Trip, I haven’t told one.” She used one hand to lean on the counter. “I hadn’t heard any of this until today.”
“Oh… Well…” Trip looked around awkwardly, not sure what to do. Finally, he stood, hands moving to his pockets then back out. “I gotta go. Bye, babe. Love you.”
They all watched as Trip practically ran out of the door to get away from the misunderstanding. Shaking her head, Taylor turned to Anna-Kat and brought them all back to the conversation at hand.
“Wait, but what’d they get Mom?”
“I’m not sure,” Anna-Kat said. “They were looking at their phones and they never left them out. And I was just coming down the stairs, it’s not like I could’ve checked their history.”
“Where’d Cooper get the money,” Greg wondered. “He gave your mother all his parents’ credit cards.”
“Oliver gave him some.”
Taylor looked confused.
“But where’d Oliver get it?”
“Doesn’t he have savings,” Franklin asked.
“No. They were spending the Bradford’s money,” Katie said.
“Oh, then Taylor,” Anna-Kat exclaimed.
“I didn’t give him any—Oh, that sneaky little—”
Taylor threw herself out of her seat and up the stairs. Katie watched her run away before turning to the others.
“Okay, now that the money trail’s been established…” She placed her other hand on the counter and leaned on it. “I think that was our last story, huh?”
“I’m a little disturbed we keep referring to these as stories,” Greg said.
Katie frowned, her head tilted.
“Because these are actual moments that happened in our kids’ lives,” he explained.
“Don’t forget the fact we still don’t know if Cooper and Oliver are dating or not.”
Greg pointed at Franklin with a nod.
“Oh, Greg, don’t worry about that. They’ll tell us eventually.” Katie started smiling in a way that disturbed him.
“Why are you smiling like that?”
“Like what,” she asked in a saccharine voice, still smiling.
“That’s where Oliver gets his evil smile from,” Anna-Kat whispered to Greg.
“Agreed,” he nodded.
Katie had to wait for what felt like forever before Cooper and Oliver came home. Maybe it was because she’d never actually wanted the kids to get home sooner than they did. As soon as they opened the door, she was on them.
“Okay, you two, sit down!”
Cooper and Oliver exchanged a wide-eyed look. They made their way to the couch and watched her as she paced in front of them. Oliver was the first to speak when a few minutes had went by and she’d done nothing but pace.
“What’d we do now?”
“Confuse all of us.” She threw her arms out to emphasize her point.
Cooper watched on, head going back and forth like it was a tennis match. Katie got straight to the point.
“Are you two dating or not?”
Oliver sounded almost bored. To be fair to him, they’d all questioned it a lot, they just didn’t flat out ask a lot.
“You heard me.” She had both hands on her hips and was leaning closer, her words more direct.
“Then no, we’re not. Can we go now?”
“I… I wanna say no,” Katie started, losing her steam. “But I don’t actually have a good reason to keep you here.”
She snapped her fingers and clicked her tongue, “Dammit! Should’ve came up with a good reason!”]
“Since when have you needed a good reason,” Anna-Kat asked from her spot at the counter where she was doing school work.
“Okay, we’re out.”
Oliver stood and tapped Cooper on the shoulder, “C’mon, babe. We have to meet Trevor in thirty minutes.”
They headed to the door and Katie could hear the smile in Cooper’s voice as he talked.
“Oooh, are we going to the cafe again? I love that place.”
Trevor looked at the cafe around him then at the two boys in front of him. He was leaing back and his arms were crossed.
“What I don’t understand,” he said. “Is why we’re meeting here instead of your house.”
“My family is overbearing and keeps getting in our business.” Oliver pressed a hand on the table, fingers bent. “We don’t need them in our actual business.”
“And why is our Chief Officer of snacks and beverages here if we’re in a cafe.”
Cooper tossed Trevor a wry smile.
“Because I’m the one paying for the refreshments.”
Trevor uncrossed his arms and sat forward.
“Now, what do you want,” Cooper asked.
“A raspberry scone with an almond milk vanilla latte.”
“Fine,” Cooper stood then turned to Oliver. “Babe, you want your usual?”
“Yeah, thanks, babe.”
Trevor gaped at Oliver and waited until Cooper had reached the counter to interrogate him.
“What the hell was that," he hissed.
“What was what,” Oliver aked.
“You two are dating now?”
“No, it was just what we were calling each other when we played video games with my sister’s boyfriend. And now that I say that, I think it’s a bit of a longer story.”
Trevor stared. What the hell did he say to that?
“You called each other babe to play video games with your sister’s boyfriend,” he repeated slowly. “And, yet, you’re still calling each other babe? Yeah, sure. You’re totally not dating .”
“C’mon, man. Not you too,” Oliver groaned. “We get enough of this crap at home.”
“What do we get enough of at home,” Cooper asked as he returned to the table, food and drinks carefully balanced.
“Everyone calling us boyfriends,” Oliver said.
Cooper sdet down everything and then sat back in his chair next to Oliver.
“So everyone points out to you, often , that you two are practically dating but you haven’t actually started dating?”
“Yeah,” Cooper said. “Oliver’s just my best friend.”
“Hey! You don’t have to say it like—Oh, okay, yeah, I get it now. No wonder you sounded so offended that morning.”
Cooper gave Oliver a pointed look. Trevor was already lost.
“See, it hurts when you say it like that, doesn’t it?”
“Not to interrupt this breakthrough or whatever, but are you two dating or what? Am I going to be seeing him,” Trevor pointed at Cooper, who looked mildly offended. “At every meeting even when it’s not necessary?”
“Well, damn, tell us how you really feel.” Cooper said, a hand over his heart.
“I have. I’ve been pretty clear.”
“True,” Oliver turned to Cooper. “Babe?” So… A point was made.
“Babe?” Wouldn’t hurt to try it . Together?
“Okay, moving on. The prototype—”
Cooper and Oliver shared a soft smile and turned back towards Trevor. Oliver started taking diligent notes while Cooper just basked in the feeling of pure joy. He was Oliver’s boyfriend, officially. Finally.