Year 3, June XX
Ace is laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He’d taken out his tuxedo from his closet and put it over his torso to gauge how it looked on him in the mirror, but only ended up tossing it onto his sheets and throwing himself right beside it. The more he thinks about himself actually wearing it, the more that the butterflies in his stomach start fluttering around, making him feel unlike himself.
That’s when his phone buzzes in his pocket.
He lifts himself up, bed springs squeaking underneath him as he fishes for the device and pulls it out. His screen is lit up with a message.
It’s five words that stare soulessly up at Ace from his smartphone screen. Five seemingly harmless words that send Ace’s train of thought screeching to a deadly halt.
Deuce went to the library with Yuu to study. Is that where they had found out?
Fine, go be a pair of little goody two-shoes, he’d said. Now he wishes he hadn’t.
Ace doubts the meaning of the word ‘home’ for a beat. After all, hasn’t Yuu’s home always been Ramshackle Dorm? Hasn’t Ramshackle been the place they’ve eaten, slept, went back to every day after school? Isn’t it the place that they’ve put so much love and care into making feel like home? Ramshackle Dorm is one spot on campus he knows he can visit to be greeted with a smile by the person who holds his heart in one hand.
Yuu is going home tonight. That implies that Yuu belongs to a place far away, somewhere that Ace doesn’t know outside of anecdotes. A place that Ace can never reach.
Yuu is going home tonight. And that means that before midnight, before the last set is played, before the last streamer comes down, before only the last dregs of party punch are left, Yuu is leaving Twisted Wonderland.
Yuu is going home on prom night.
“Are you really going to—” Deuce trips up on his words. He can’t seem to get his voice to scrape through the lump in his throat, so he simply raises a hand to his mouth to hide his quivering lips. He’s never prepared himself for a situation like this. Deuce has learned to overcome most things through sheer effort, but this is something he has now been thrown into without even getting a chance to rehearse. It is making him a wreck.
Main Street rolls out like a red carpet before the pair. The statues of the Great Seven cast long shadows over the path that send them into the dark for a moment. Yuu’s footsteps clack over the rock until they slow to a halt in the light, looking back at the shadowed Deuce.
"Deuce, I have to go," Yuu says. “It’s the place I belong. I can’t use magic. I barely managed to squeak my way through these past three years.”
Both students and seasonal visitors alike pass them by with only a glance, excitement buzzing from their whole being. In comparison, all the energy seems to have been sucked out of Deuce. His vision tilts as he feels the ground give from underneath him, reality slipping from his very hands like water through a drain. The vertigo that hits him makes Yuu’s face seem that of someone he’d never met before, someone that would look his way and see a stranger instead of their best friend.
In summer the temperature on the school campus tends to crawl up a bit. Now, though, the sun begins to bow from the horizon, a chill in the air pricking needles at Deuce’s cheeks. Or is it the heat that’s flowing to his face, gathering behind his eyes? He keeps walking. Taking long strides, he passes Yuu.
"I really treasure all the time we've spent together, you, me, and Ace," Yuu calls out to him. "Grim too. I promise I won't forget about you guys."
When he turns his head, he can’t bear to look at them dead on.
“Are you still going to prom?” Deuce asks. He hates how frail his voice sounds as it catches in his throat.
Yuu laughs at that. They close the distance between them and Deuce and puts a friendly hand on his shoulder from behind. They lean forward and peer up into his face, the biggest smile he’d seen from them yet rooted on their face.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” they say.
Year 3, April XX
Ace Trappola and Deuce Spade are near exact opposites, but they have two things in common. One is that they are both junior Heartslabyul students about to end their third year at Night Raven College. The second is that they both have been brought to their knees by an affection for their friend they’d never seen coming until it hit them.
Ace is the first to find out that the other plans on asking Yuu out to the dance. In their shared room, he sees Deuce anxiously scribbling away. He scrawls away at the paper for a few minutes, furiously scratches at his head, then crumples it up and tosses it onto the floor to join the rest of the pile of discarded scribbles. The two other roommates are laying on their beds, watching a television show on one of their smartphones, eyes directed in a completely opposite direction. Without making a sound so Deuce doesn’t see him do it, Ace sneaks over and picks up one of the crumpled balls and flattens it out to read. And he raises his eyebrows.
Ace already had an inkling of how Deuce felt for their friend in the first place. He’s a rather easy one to read and Ace is the only one in their trio who’s noticed how often Deuce’s eyes are following Yuu. At least Ace is aware of how much space Yuu is occupying in his brain. He heaves a sigh on the inside. He’s got not just one air-headed friend, but two. And he’s—yuck—in love with one of them. Ace thinks that his predicament deserves a little sympathy.
This is what the crumpled up paper says:
I was wondring Do u have time after schoolHow are you doing? I hope you are eating all right and getting propper exersize. I alreaddy know that you are but I might as well ask.
I wanted to ask if you have a date to the promDo you have plans for prom? If yes, I’d like toLet me know.
The window curtains flutter as a warm breeze filters into the room. The scrap of paper shakes in Ace’s hand, though not from the wind. It slips from his fingers to the floor as his roommates and Deuce alike both start from what they’re doing to watch Ace utterly lose his shit. He busts out in maniacal laughter, an arm braced over his torso and the other extended to point a mocking finger at Deuce. All the white noise you’d hear in the dorm seems to fall away from Ace’s loud performance.
“You suck at love letters!” Ace cries out before submitting to another fit of laughter that bounces off the room’s walls.
Ace pauses midway to heave a few breaths. He coughs, trying to calm himself, but the hilarity of the moment makes his voice wobble as he talks to Deuce. “’I hope you are eating all right’? This isn’t asking Yuu out, this is something you’d get from your mom in the mail. Nice work on the spelling though, it’s way better than two years ago.”
Deuce knits his eyebrows tight. “It’s not a love letter, it’s an invite, like you said,” he says.
“An invite to prom,” Ace cuts in. “Close enough.”
The other two roommates start excitedly whispering to each other at the sudden development. Deuce, not noticing, swivels forward, glaring once more at the paper in his hands.
“Is it really too motherly?” he asks.
The malicious intent in Ace’s earlier remark totally and utterly flies over his head. Normally, he’d pick up on the fact Ace is insulting him regardless of whether he understood how Ace was doing it or not. Taken off guard by the genuine question, Ace clears his throat, temporarily robbed of words.
He walks up to Deuce’s desk and takes a seat on the edge of his bed. His pointer finger lands on the paper and Deuce shifts away, a question plain on his face. Ace ignores it and simply begins talking.
“Get rid of the ‘hi,’” Ace says. A mask of seriousness falls over his features as he shifts his gaze to look Deuce in the eye. “Make it straight forward. And don’t ask Yuu if they have plans. You want their plans to be a date with you.”
Deuce’s expression warps into that of mild disgust. “You’re helping me?”
Ace grinds a fist into Deuce’s head, face reddening with fury. Afterwards, he sighs and gets to his feet. “Fine, don’t take my advice then, Deuce, master of romance.”
Deuce, a hand on his abused head, grumbles in Ace’s direction. “Thanks.”
Ace’s back still faces Deuce. He raises a hand and flutters it in the air.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. He turns his head and smiles crookedly. “Oh, and? Better write that letter quick.”
Deuce shifts in his chair. He’d been around Ace enough to know exactly what look he has on his face when he’s up to mischief. For a long second, he reconsiders asking for the reason. Something tells him he doesn’t want to know. His curiosity wins out, though, and he ventures the question while clenching his hands into fists to still the shaking.
“Why?” he asks.
Ace’s smile broadens as if he were already ready to answer. He puts a finger to his lips like he’s sharing a secret. “Because I’m asking Yuu out too.”
Ace sees the change on Deuce’s face right away. His eyes widen to saucers, his mouth falling slightly open. He scans Ace’s face for the slightest trace of a lie and he doesn’t find any. His gaze falls to the floor as he knits his eyebrows tight. He opens his mouth to speak, but he’s interrupted by Ace slamming both his hands into his roommates’ bed.
“Get back to your damn baking show already!” Ace shouts, cheeks burning. The pair just laugh at him.