"Rahm..." Barack’s voice was calm, but Rahm could tell he was already dreading the answer. "What did you do?"
"What did I do about what?" Rahm had his feet up on the front desk, something he had been told he was not allowed to do. The ceiling fan was making lazy circles above him, and the student federation office was dead except for Evan, who was photocopying in the back.
"I thought we only had four thousand for the Fight the Stereotype campaign, but I just talked to Howard and he told me we have six thousand now, and he told me to thank you. What did you do?"
Rahm flipped the page of his book. "I found out that the office was using over nine hundred to print more of their idiotic posters for that cafeteria campaign thing, so I went and found them and yelled at them. Then I told Dean he should try and concentrate the money instead of spreading it around, and I told him that four thousand wasn’t good enough, so he upped it." He put the book down and took another bite of his apple. "Happy?"
"The office just gave you the money from the cafeteria thing?"
"Everybody already knows about it and supports it, I’m not letting them waste our money on more trees, and besides; we’ve got bigger fish to fry than whether or not we get free refills. And no, they didn’t just give it to me, I convinced them to."
Rahm offered the apple to Barack, who looked at it for a moment before accepting. "Well, I guess that’s – good..."
"It’s fan-fucking-tastic, Barry, that’s what it is. Evan! Keep it down, I’m fucking reading here!"
Barack rocked back on his heels, giving Rahm a slanted grin. "You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?" he asked. "This whole VP-Student-Affairs thing. You like it."
"Are you kidding me?" Rahm let his chair fall forward, bracing his hands against the desk. "This place is a mess, everyone needs help all the fucking time, they need instructions on how to walk from one end of their desk to the other. I was up until two in the morning last night trying to find a place to hold your coffee house, and Evan never turns off his stupid fucking music."
"Yep. You like it," Barack said, and then he tossed the apple back to Rahm and headed out the door, looking tall and unworried.
"Hey!" Rahm tilted his chair back, calling after him. "Where are you going? Pre-exam party tonight at DeLauro’s house. You know Rosa, right?"
For a moment it looked as though Barack might keep walking and pretend not to hear him, and in that moment Rahm knew it had come, and he was idiot for ever thinking it would stay lurking around the edges. Barack turned around, slowly. "I, ah – I wasn’t going to – to go to that. You know, not really my..."
Rahm let him finish it, let him carry the sentence all the way to the place he had decided to take it. "Not really my thing. I have – some stuff I... some stuff I need to do."
Rahm took his feet down from the front counter, suggestion forms slipping off to sail and slide to Barack’s feet, half-turned as though he couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. "Oh yeah? What kind of things? What kind of things, Barry?"
The photocopier had stopped printing, but Evan was welcome to listen, anyone was, the whole world could listen if they wanted to, so long as someone was. Barack was still standing there, looking a little bit embarrassed but not the least bit ashamed. "I have a date," he said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"I know you have a date, Barry, do you think I give a shit? I don’t fucking care. I don’t care about shit like that. When the hell," Rahm squeezed the apple in his hand, knowing he wouldn’t be able to finish eating it anyway, "did you start lying to me?"
"When you started kissing me," said Barack, a quicker, more honest response than Rahm had wanted or expected. He sat back down as though punched, face still straight and not betraying anything, not like Barack and his glass face of motherfucking dearness.
Rahm pulled out a binder at random from the pile on the counter and opened it. "Have fun on your date."
"Rahm, can we talk about this, please?"
Rahm’s hand has left a sticky outline on the plastic binder cover, which was just great, another mess to clean up. "No."
Barack stepped back inside the office, his coat dangling from his hand. His face was folded in, his voice low. "Rahm, you act like I know what I’m doing, like... like I know what I want."
For some reason this strikes Rahm as funny, but he knows that if he starts laughing he’ll just keep on laughing and not be able to stop. The apple has gone brown around the edges, the soft flesh bending easily under his hand. He stares at it, waiting, until Barack makes up his mind and leaves quietly. Rahm throws the apple core in the garbage bin as hard as he possibly can, not hungry anymore. Not hungry at all.
On the very last day of classes (the third day Rahm has gone outside without a coat, three weeks after Rahm, Barack, and Joey are all elected to the student federation, only a month away from the end of the school year), someone else finally notices. "I’m worried about Jon," Joey says, peeling a banana lazily as he leans against Rahm’s door.
"Yeah. You know that prick, what’s-his-face, big nose. Defence on the soccer team. Anyway," Joey swallows. "Anyway, he stopped us in the hall the other night and – I don’t know. I just got bad vibes. And Jon just shrunk."
"Yeah, you know. Like the past couple of months, and anyway, he just totally submitted to this guy, and it creeped me out." Joey shrugs, only half paying attention to what he’s saying.
"What was the guy doing?" Rahm is careful here.
Joey shrugs again, flipping the empty peel around in his hands, looking just as unconcerned and good-natured as always. "Nothing much. Nothing at all, just his usual dickfuckery. But he just wouldn’t take his eyes off Jon, and Jon kept shrinking and shrinking... I don’t know. But I don’t like it."
Rahm held his breath.
"You seen anything like that?" Joey lines up the peel with the garbage bin, squinting one eye shut to aim.
It flies through the air, landing sadly on the floor beside its target, and Joey, of course, does not go over, pick it up, and put it back in. Joey only throws things, and after that he’s off; if Rahm doesn’t say anything now, this will hit the rim and then fall off, and then it will disappear.
Rahm looks down at the banana peel lying carelessly on the floor, and then hitches his shoulders up and looks back at his paper. "No," he says. "Nothing like that."
On the first day it doesn’t rain, Rahm and Barack meet under the apple tree, the only one on campus, the one they claimed for their own back in October when it hung heavy and low. Its scent then was pungent, warm, almost rotten; that was the day Keith published a column on gay rights that got picked up by the city paper, the day Jon scored two goals in a home game, and the day Stephen discovered that he had not done laundry since the beginning of school. (Or rather, the day Jon discovered it for Stephen, who did not seem as concerned about it as the rest of them did.)
The air was less heady now, the pace slower, the purpose somewhat lacking. Or maybe it was just Rahm who felt it, his shoes making spongy noises in the grass. Maybe it was just him getting a soaker every time he took a step, making strides but his feet not ever taking him to where he wants to be.
Barack is squinting, his skinny frame almost hidden under the tiny white blossoms that are just starting to fall, sticking to him. When he hears Rahm he turns, smiling, and then gives an embarrassed and only slightly apologetic shrug of his shoulders. "Sorry Rahm, I hope you don’t mind, I..."
"You what?" Ate Stephen? Rahm feels like saying, but doesn’t, because he sees Michelle From Law Class standing at the edge of the tree, wearing a pink headband and holding her books.
She smiles at him, her nose scrunching up, and they spend the next five minutes awkwardly arranging themselves and trying to stay as dry as they can, Barack brushing petals off the top of his head every few minutes. Barack does not sit beside her – it’s possible he’s afraid to – and so Michelle sits beside Rahm, laughs at his jokes, summarizes the chapter he skipped, and lets him correct her when she spells ‘litigation’ wrong.
Rahm wants desperately for this to be wrong, wants it to be awkward and horrible and clumsy – or at least unproductive. He wants it to be difficult for them to be together, wants it to fail, but the only disappointing part he can find is that he can’t even be satisfied when it doesn’t.
Instead he stays awake, the room small and full of stagnant damp air, their clothes smelling like wet carpet and the lightbulb flickering. There’s only one lightbulb in the room, so close to dying but staying lit because it knows that’s the last thing they need, for it to die so close to the end of term when they probably only have twenty dollars left between them and need that for the last round of groceries. Rahm stays awake in the scant space between the dirty wall and Barack’s ribcage and tries to think of ways he can be unhappy with this without any justification whatsoever.
He can’t blame Michelle, and he doesn’t fully blame Barack, and it’s likely that he’s missing the point entirely, but there isn’t much he can do about that. Rahm huffs out his breath, his head feeling stuffy in the humid room, and turns his forehead against Barack’s upper arm so that even if he can’t sleep, he can at least be comfortable. Even if this doesn’t work, at least it works for now.
Rahm groans, his head rolling backwards to hit the wall softly. He shuts his eyes, feeling too impossibly full to keep going. He makes another noise. It escapes his lips almost desperately.
"I’m going to go fucking crazy if we keep doing this."
Jon is chewing on his pen, a habit he had probably picked up unconsciously from Stephen. Their entire half of the common room is covered in a thin papering of history notes: Rahm’s disorganised and incomprehensible, and Jon’s covered in spiky thin writing, inappropriate comments scrawled in the margins. "We have to know it," Jon says, not looking up, the pen tapping against his lips as he mouths the dates to himself.
It was most likely a good thing their room didn’t have a window, Rahm thinks. Spare him from temptation. Outside there were no textbooks, no impending exams, no descriptions of Roosevelt as ‘the dashing one with the cape,’ and no Jon getting full of righteous anger over Stalin or the CIA. "Hmm, that cape thing didn’t really take off, did it?"
"Leibowitz, I’m fucking dying over here, and you’re trying to tell me about the fashion faux pas of past Presidents."
"Oooh," remarks John Oliver on his way out with a mug of hot water. He winks from the doorway. "Sounds pretty fruity to me, you two. Your gay is showing."
"Ignore him," Jon says, not looking up, as Rahm makes an obscene hand gesture.
They are quiet for a few moments while Rahm massages his eyeballs and thinks of something – anything – to say that isn’t a casualty statistic. There have been quite enough of those. "You do talk an awful lot about historical fashion," Rahm says bluntly, looking up. He doesn’t know why he’s fishing.
"Well, I’m sure you’d agree with me that Mobutu’s leopardskin tea cozy wasn’t doing him any favours," Jon says, flapping his hand and putting on a lisping voice.
Rahm snorts - what does it matter anyway, it doesn't - and stretches his legs out. It’s nearly one in the morning before their final history exam, an entire year during which Rahm has done what might be loosely described as ‘fuck all.’ Jon grins to himself, and Rahm mutters "Don’t say it. Don’t fucking do –"
"Didn’t do any favours for the leopard, either," Jon says cheekily, biting his lip. Rahm gives him a deadpan death stare, which Jon finds more hilarious than is decent, letting out a hoot and falling backwards.
It’s a horrible joke, a pun that only seems like a good idea this late at night and confronted with this many despotic dictators wearing unfortunate hats to meet with foreign dignitaries. Rahm doesn’t care, can’t bring himself to get as passionate about it as Jon does, because that’s over and the important thing is to keep going so that kind of shit doesn’t happen again. Jon is the one that has to make fun of it all to keep himself from foaming at the mouth over the past things gone wrong: the foreign interventions, the abuses of power, the back-room assassinations, the millions killed. Rahm’s not above feeling, but it’s Jon that gets quiet; it’s Jon that takes it personally.
Only Jon could take colonialism personally.
Barack had wandered in and out a few times, and Stephen had been with them for half an hour until it became obvious they weren’t going to get any work done with him blowing raspberries and Rahm kicked him out. It was a relief for more than one reason: it was hard enough to keep Jon’s attention without Stephen there to physically take it away. Even with him gone, there were still things Jon wasn’t saying, or wasn’t doing, for no foreseeable reason; and Rahm wants to shake him for it.
So he does.
He reaches out and pushes Jon, who is still vaguely giggling, violently enough so he falls over hard. Jon keeps laughing, only stopping when he tries to right himself and Rahm pushes him again. "What the hell?"
"What the hell is wrong with you," Rahm bites out.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Jon asks, frowning as he tries to sit up again and Rahm puts his hand flat on Jon’s chest.
"When are you going to stand up?"
Jon raises an eyebrow. "When... when you let me, I suppose?"
"You fuckwit. I’m not talking about now."
Jon pushes upwards against his hand, his mouth pursed and unhappy, his eyes now clouded over. Rahm looks down at him, his lost friend who gets sad when Rahm gets angry, and gets angry when Rahm stops caring. I don’t know how to help you, and I’m not going to, Rahm wants to tell him. Care so I don’t have to. Do something so I don’t have to. This is not my fucking problem, don’t make it mine instead of yours.
"There’s nothing I can do," Jon says, falling back, and Rahm could kill him for his acceptance, for giving up, for not taking what he wants. He wants Jon to punch him, to call him a dick, to tell him to leave him alone.
"I’m not telling you anything."
"You – Christ, Jon."
They stare at each other, Rahm tense and Jon betraying nothing. Finally Rahm lets him sit up, which Jon does slowly, warily. Rahm rubs his eyes, tired of all the fucking textbooks, but knowing he’s got to study for at least another hour or two. Jon doesn’t stay anything, just looks around them, and finally asks "D’you want some cookies or something?"
"Fuck yes," Rahm says, and Jon goes over to root around in the cupboards until he finds Keith’s box of chocolate chip cookies, half-empty and a few weeks old, but cookies nonetheless. He treads back over to Rahm, sweatpants and wool socks sparking on the carpet, and offers the box as a nonchalant peace offering, which Rahm takes because it’s past midnight and he’s fucking starving. The tea John left for them is lukewarm, but Rahm takes a swig of it anyways, more than willing to let this simple thing, cookies and tea, give him something. It’s a cheap imitation, but at this point, what isn’t.
Rahm doesn’t say much of anything for the next hour, just peeks at the chart when Jon tells him to close his eyes and name the dates; Jon talks a steady monotonous stream of information and offhand comments, confusing Chang Kai-Chek’s name and muttering words Rahm thinks he might be making up – like "kleptocrat" – under his breath.
Finally, when one of them tips the rest of the stone-cold pot of tea all over Jon’s textbook ("my diagrams!" he moans), they decide to give it up as a bad job and go to bed. There’re only a few more hours to sleep until the exam starts, and the dirty carpet is now infused with stale cookie crumbs, but it’s all they can do for any number of things, now. Jon picks up his papers, twitching his grey shirt on his shoulders, and Rahm just looks at him for a moment before he switches off the lights. He stops Jon before he can leave the room, his under-eye circles grown impossibly larger; "I don’t know what you’re thinking or why, but I think you’re a fucking idiot, Leibowitz."
Jon bristles, but Rahm starts again before he can speak. "Just – just do it. Don’t make me regret this."
Jon walks past him, but not before giving him a quick nod. They pad down the hallway, spines straight and feet not knowing where to fall after the doors were closed.
"How’d it go?"
Not for the first time, Rahm was extremely grateful for Barack. He eased onto the stool beside him, and fluttered his fingers at the bartender before resting his forehead on his fingers.
"That bad, huh?" Barack rubbed a hand over Rahm’s back once, squeezed his neck, and then went back to his grilled cheese sandwich as Rahm’s beer was set down in front of him. "It’s not even noon."
Rahm looked blearily up at him, feeling unfocused and giddy from lack of sleep. He was about to fall off his chair. "Let’s put it this way," he said slowly. "If that exam were to determine, say, the likelihood of one of us dying by hurricane, we might as well pack up and move to Florida now to get the inevitable over with."
Barack clucked his tongue in sympathy and then took an unnaturally large bite of his sandwich, twitching his lips. "Ow," he muttered through a mouthful, placing the sandwich hurriedly back on the plate and waving his fingers, several lines of cheese tightroping the space between his mouth and the plate. Rahm, chin in his fist, watched his friend try to chew the hot cheese and pick the strands as sophisticatedly as possible out of the air, the grease dripping from his burned fingertips.
"You’re a giant fucking dork, you know that, right?"
Barack shot him a look, but his mouth was full and he was looking in vain for somewhere to wipe his fingers. Rahm hid his mouth in his hand, but a sleep-deprived giggle escaped, and Barack glared at him before making a heroic swallow. He blew half-heartedly on his fingers before Rahm threw a napkin at him in pity. "Goddamn, that was hot," Barack exhaled, giving the rest of the sandwich an appraising, suspicious look.
Rahm offered him his beer, and they sat quietly for a while, taking stock of the burned fingertips and the spots of grease and the quiet pounding headache that started when Rahm remembered the correct answer for the question about Turkey. "It can’t have been that bad, Rahm," Barack said again. "I’m sure you did fine."
He took another ill-advised bite, making a mild face of pain but still chewing. Rahm broke off a piece of the crust and chewed on it thoughtfully. "Hmm. No, it was a piece of shit, through and through. You get that essay done?"
"Damn skippy. Handed it in this morning." Barack opened his mouth wide, cheese dripping out the other side of his sandwich.
Rahm sighed. "Shit, you should have let me proofread it first, you can’t spell worth a damn."
"Joey and Andy read it over for me."
"The title of Joey’s latest magnum opus was ‘My Fourth Essay,’ Barry. He probably doesn’t even know how many syllables there are in ‘grammatical accuracy.’"
Barack grinned at that, and offered the last half of the sandwich to Rahm, who took it. He licked his fingers and stood up, bright spring sunshine burning palely through the bar windows. Green and yellow panes of glass reflected in sliding diamonds on the wood of the bar, glasses hanging upside-down overhead. The snow had mostly melted now, dripping showers coming from the roof of every building. There had been four new leaks in The House that had ruined two costumes and driven Nancy to catch the water using crystal ashtrays scattered over the floor as thought they were about to start a ritual. Rahm only had two exams left, and would have lit his history textbook on fire to dry out their room if he thought the alarms wouldn’t go off.
They were 50 cents short on the bill but Barack had helped the bartender shovel the sidewalk once, so they walked back to campus, Barack still wiping his fingers on his jeans. "I’m sure it was fine," Barack kept saying. "You’ll be fine."
He was fine. They were fine. Rahm got a soaker and they saw Hannity the Prick walking in the other direction (Barack said hello; Rahm did not), but they were fine. When they got to the room the sudden darkness of being inside blinded them. Rahm took off his wet shoes and wet socks and held Barack’s face until his feet stopped feeling cold, and Barack was making quiet moaning noises into his throat. Rahm bit him lightly, because he could, and then harder when Barack’s long fingers clutched tighter. He hummed against Barack, turned over in the bed and was pinned down in a fortress of scratchy cotton shirts, cheesy breath, and warm skin. Barack was breathing above him, his thin wrists against Rahm’s own, and he pulled him down to bring him closer.
He was fine. They were fine. Or if they weren’t, they would be.
"Why the fuck is everyone screaming?"
Andy shrugged, turning the page of his book and making a note of something. "I think maybe Stephen stole Keith’s shoes. Or Keith thinks Stephen stole his shoes. It all boils down to the same thing: this floor is a zoo."
The common room was the only safe haven in a floor torn apart by shoe violence, a sudden flurry of cleaning, and end-of-semester nerves. "I think the vaccum cleaner is actually broken," Andy leaned off the couch to get a look. "I’m not sure what Stephen is doing."
"He’s trying to stall," snorted Rahm.
"Or he’s trying to hide the evidence."
"Or he’s trying to convince it to take him to its leader."
"Or he’s just really uneducated on the basics of housecleaning."
"Or he’s explaining his innocence through interpretive dance."
"Or he’s charming it to fly."
"Or he’s just insane."
Andy smiled beatifically, and went back to his paper. Rahm was on the floor, pretending to write a list of all the things he had to pack, and in reality trying to figure out the best way to bully Keith or Andy into writing an editorial about one of Barack’s ideas for the federation.
A scream came from the hallway. "I think Keith found his shoes."
"Or Stephen saw a spider."
"Or Bill saw what happened to his vacuum cleaner. Clinton should learn to keep a better hold of his stuff."
"Or the fungus I saw growing in the shower has come alive and bitten someone."
Rahm looked up. "You know what that thing is?"
Andy shuddered. "I don’t think it’s identifiable. Orszag looked at it last week, he’s in chemical engineering, and all I could get out of him before he left was that we shouldn’t be showering barefoot if we want to father children. I don’t actually know what that means."
Rahm took a swig of grapefruit juice and peeled his socks off, trying to block out the sounds of Keith’s whining and Stephen pretending to kung-fu. The common room was the only place the packing hadn’t started, a litter-strewn refuge of the winding-down semester. It seemed smaller than it had months ago, and smelled worse now, though they had fixed the sink after Easter so you couldn’t even tell. Once when it was late, and Rahm had been stressed and not able to sleep, he had come here in the dark to make tea, and Barack had followed him and came up behind him and Rahm had spilled hot water all over himself and the counter and had nearly pushed Barack through the window for revenge. Barack had been half-laughing, half-apologizing, but soon he’d been just gasping, Rahm’s fingers at his throat and jaw, pressed against the window frame, cool glass at his back and warm tongue against his own.
Rahm remembered that.
There was a tearing of fabric, and then the terrible choking sound from the hallway of a vacuum cleaning trying desperately to swallow something much too large for it.
"If it’s trying to eat Stephen," Andy mused, "Best of luck to it."
"My money’s on the machine," said Rahm. "Colbert couldn’t beat up a dustbuster." He spilled some juice on his pants, swore, and then asked Andy what he was doing.
"Research for my final essay. Due on Friday. It’s a piece on Indonesia, people trying to get their politicians to pay homage to ancient gods while the politicians try and convince people to just evacuate already." Andy said it guardedly, trying to mask his interest, the wealth and eager voice always showing more than he meant them to.
"What kind of gods?"
Andy smiled in a far-off way and shifted on the couch, the flat and stained cushions sliding under him. "Volcano gods. They have shamans who tell them when it’s safe and when they have to move, but the geological experts and the shamans don’t often give the same reports."
Rahm fiddled with his pen. "So basically by the time you realise your shaman was wrong, you’re burned to a crisp."
"Actually, the shamans are right most of the time. Besides," Andy said, flipping the pages, "the volcanoes are a way of a life. They’re part of the danger and the, you know. The culture."
"Rhinos, poisonous plants, dictators, and volcanoes: I’m never moving to Indonesia."
Andy laughed. "Actually, sounds like you’d blend right in. And there's more to it than that."
"Nah, Arizona’s more my scene," said Rahm. "At least you know everything there is spiky. Even the trees can kill you."
There was an almighty crash from the hallway, the sound of someone thundering down the stairwell, and then Stephen yelled something about how loafers were ugly anyhow.
In case Andy decided he needed to know about the social structure of Indonesian villages, Rahm cut him off. "You seen Joey recently?"
Andy put down his book, the cover battered and marked. "You haven’t heard?"
"There was some kind of – thing, I guess you could say, some kind of thing – yesterday, he and Reggie and Al were talking to a bunch of the guys from the other side of the floor. You know, the guys from the soccer team. Anyway, it got pretty heated, but Joey came out of it alright and now they’re scared shitless of him. Apparently."
Rahm took another gulp of the grapefruit juice, which may also have been Keith’s, and sucked it against his tongue, thinking. "What kind of a thing? What, he just went up to them and punched them or something?"
"No, Rahm," Andy said fondly. "That’s more your style –"
"-Is not." Rahm swallowed. "Coercion’s more my style. Blackmail. I go in for that kind of thing."
Andy giggled. "Anyway, I think Joey just went up to a few of them and got in their faces and told them to stay away and lay off."
Andy shrugged. "I don’t really know, I heard it from Hillary."
The vacuum cleaner had started up again in the hallway. Andy went back to his paper, making hideous little noises of interest or disbelief (the geek), and Rahm ran his tongue across the back of his teeth, tasting the bitter fruit of being surprised.
This doesn’t solve anything. Rahm pretended to read the back of the pink juice bottle. But it’s a damn sight better than falling short.
Soon Bill came back and gave Stephen heck for the broken vacuum cleaner, and the juice bottle lay empty on the floor. Barack poked his head in the door and wandered out again, but Rahm just sat with his back against the couch, feeling full.
There was another cold snap on their second-last weekend before the end of term, which escalated into a full-out thunder-hail-and-brimstone storm that lasted three days. When the power went out, Keith’s battery-operated kettle became their floor’s focal point, and there was a vicious tri-floor turf war over Orszag’s friction-powered flashlight that only ended when Bill stepped up to his RA duties and promptly confiscated it for himself.
Rahm was with Michelle and Barack at the bookstore trying to resell their law textbooks when he got the phone call, and they ran with him through the rain to The House, where Nancy and a few firefighters stood with their arms crossed.
Rahm could only see the damage by the next flash of lightning: both the hydro pole and a tree lay diagonally across the top of the studio, the wrecked innards showing as though they’d been cut open for surgery. A hanging plant, a smashed picture, and two jesters’ costumes lay on the ground in front of the building.
Barack gave his jacket to Michelle, the wind whipping the rain into their faces. Rahm stepped up beside Nancy, whose hair was plastered across her unhappy face, arms clenched around herself to avoid shivering or crying or both. Her face was pinched, and she was looking at the ruined studio watching the rain ruin the costumes and the floorboards and the stereo system, trying not to cry at the torrent of bad luck and storms. "Holy fuck," breathed Rahm, and she flicked her head to the side, not having heard him come up.
The firefighters were looking dubiously at the stairs, trying to decide whether the fallen objects were going to stay where they were or plunge any further. The Chinese restaurant below the studio was empty and dark, the forgotten sandwich sign collapsing soggily against the door. The hydro lines drooped sadly, the mess of the hydro pole looking stolidly out at them as if to say you shouldn’t build your dreams in tulle, you fools. Wood and fire and water are always stronger.
Rahm put a hand on Nancy’s tiny shoulder and she turned and ran full-force into his chest, ducking her head into him. Rahm’s immovable force of fierceness was covered in rain and disappointment, and Rahm held her tightly and thought of any number of ways this could have not happened. She was shaking from cold or anger or both, and Rahm’s grip tightened, because she was his, and this was his, and you don’t fucking take things away from Rahm fucking Emanuel. Things that are his don’t get hurt.
There was a crash that was lost in the thunder as the ceiling fan fell to the floors running with water, and Rahm was trying to figure out when Nancy is going to look up at him and wink, or make a witty remark about the jesters' costumes lying sadly in the puddle, or tell him to start climbing. The faces of the twin wooden statues look out at them, trapped in the elements and the costume-filled rafters. Rahm wraps his wet fingers around the back of Nancy’s neck, pressing her more firmly against him, pretending he can’t hear the hiccups over the hissing rain, which just keeps falling, a mortal storm flooding the road to and from any safe haven that ever existed.
The power comes back on at the university before the storm is fully ended, yellow lights flickering back to life and record players coming back on. Stephen, hooting, drags Jon out to dance in the rain like a lunatic. Jon pulls him back in half an hour later shivering and grinning, Stephen plastered against his side in a wet t-shirt with his arm around Jon’s neck. He stops halfway down the hall to drip menacingly on Andy, ignoring his feeble protests with a cackle, and then starts pulling his shirt off before the door snaps fully shut, Jon’s eyes warm and half of his mouth pulled upwards when he looks sideways at Stephen.
Rahm is wet too, from walking back from the payphone in the cafeteria, but it was quiet and warm in their room, with his head on Barack’s stomach. Barack is reading a book, and if he concentrates he can hear both the rush of rain and the rumble of Barack’s stomach, the inner noises of digestion and breathing and pumping blood. Rahm turns his head to press his ear against the warm skin, feeling Barack’s pulse and hearing the echoes of his friends shouting through the dorm. They are packing up, looking for lost or missing things, doing laundry, scouring each other’s rooms for anyone who still has money to buy groceries, and a few poor bastards are still cramming for one last academic push before the rain stops and they are free.
"What are you thinking about?" Barack asks, still reading.
Rahm pushes his nose against Barack’s stomach. "Storms," he says, though this is not true. "You?"
"Next year. I’ve got a lot of stuff planned." Barack puts down his book and looks at Rahm.
"For the student federation?" Rahm starts picking at his thumbnail.
"Yeah. I’ve got a lot of planning to do, though," Barack says. His fingers start to stray towards Rahm’s hair, and he’s chewing on his lip.
"Mmm." says Rahm. He doesn't say he'll help; doesn't need to.
"Hey." Rahm sits up and turns to look at him. "Look, are you going to be around this summer? In Chicago, I mean."
"Maybe. I might go back to Hawaii, though." Rahm nearly gets pissed off by that; screw him then, if he was just going to hang it over Rahm’s head.
They are interrupted by John and Joey tumbling into the room with a pack of cards, followed by Keith and Anderson, who are bickering. Joey claims Rahm’s bed for his own, munching on an apple, and John starts dealing out cards. Rahm decides to just stay where he is for the time being, and eases his head back down. "Who’s going first?" asks Joey.
"You, you’re on his left" "Andy, we don’t even know what game we’re playing" "Well that’s a fairly standard rule –" "– How about ‘fuck the dealer’?" "John, that’s a drinking game, it’s barely three o’clock" "Yeah, well. I have to get rid of my vodka today because I’ll never get it through customs" "You know how normal people sneak stuff through customs..." "Fuck you, Biden, I’m not sticking a 46-er up my arse, thank you very much" "Damn, lost my bet" "Pay up, Olbermann" "Where the bloody hell is Stephen, how am I supposed to cheat without him?" "Joey, if you get so much as one piece of apple flesh on my comforter I’m coming for your descendants" "Apple flesh, Rahm?" "Yeah, what is that supposed to mean?" "That’s what it’s called, idiot" "Go ahead and spit, Joey, I’m sure he’d love some foreign flesh on his comforter" "That was uncalled-for" "Suck it, Andy. It’s your turn" "I don’t even know what we’re playing!" "Just put a card down, I’ll come up with something."
Stephen and Jon slip in after half an hour, Stephen’s hair still wet and sticking up on the left side. He immediately makes a beeline for the desk, stepping on the card game and getting everyone’s pairs stuck to his feet. Joey pelts him with the apple core as Jon sits down in front of Rahm and Barack laughs, his stomach vibrating behind Rahm’s ears.
Jon and Joey lock eyes, nodding at each other, and Jon’s curls touch Rahm’s ankles; he rolls up the sleeves of his shirt, clear freckled arms reaching forward to gather the scattered cards together. Stephen confuses the game four times and finally consents to just perching on the top of the desk and spoiling people’s hands, shooting little secret grins down at Jon.
Rahm digs his shoulders further into the bed, touching Barack’s waist with his hand for a moment – fleetingly, unobtrusively – before winning five hands in a row and the rights to Keith’s espresso maker for the last few days. The last few days before they leave, before apple cores on this room’s floor are no longer Rahm’s problem; the last few days before he sees his family again, the last few days before there is no more shaking Barack at his back, laughing at Andy’s face of indignation when John takes his cards.
"W-what, Stephen told you, that’s no fair, come on!"
"Buck up Andy, it was bound to happen sooner or later. You have no poker face."
Rahm closes his eyes, pretending to shut out the chaos and inevitable yells when Stephen decides it’s time to cannonball from the desk to the bed where Joey is sitting. He closes his eyes and inhales the smell of the cards (rippled and stained from too many beer games) and Andy’s flowery hair product. Barack laughs again, and Rahm opens his eyes to grin darkly down at the others.
"Read ‘em and cry yourself to sleep, motherfuckers."
The night after Barack’s second date with Michelle in April Rahm had thrown his binder at him and called him a fuckhead, and Barack had glared back and called Rahm a child, and neither of them had wanted to split the last orange with each other but they’d done it anyway because it was the last one, and that is how last things go; not together, but apart. Rahm had shredded the orange peel into tiny little pieces, the white half-moons of his fingernails digging it apart as Barack spit the seeds into his palm.
Rahm found a place to hold Barack’s stupid fundraising coffee house at the beginning of May and Joey’s band played and Stephen did a skit and they persuaded Evan and Hillary to sing a duet, and they raised three times the money Barack thought they would. (This was mostly because Rahm refused to give anyone change and bullied the house into donating most of the food, which Barack didn’t learn about until afterwards. He huffed into his cheeks and thanked Rahm far too much, and couldn’t stop smiling at him.)
Rahm felt damn cocky coming out of his politics exam, which was either a really good sign or a really bad one. He went straight back to the dorm and stopped Barack in the middle of folding his laundry by knocking him over onto the bed and holding him there, hips pressed down and mouth hot and demanding.
Barack worried about the laundry, complaining, but Rahm told him to shut up and kissed him again, and some time later they sat up and ate soup together and Barack pressed his legs down on top of Rahm’s and held his wrist. Because that is how things don’t let go: they hang on. Apart, but not in a way that defines them. Barack spilled soup on Rahm and they creased the shirts and made marks on each other, leaving the packing to later. Rahm felt a lumpy sweater behind his back and groaned when Barack shifted, the movement of his hips and his fingers unhurried and lingering. He ran his fingers along the top of Barack’s jeans, pulling him closer and skimming his teeth against Barack’s collarbone. The room smelled like rotten fruit and Rahm was rapidly becoming too warm, but they drank it in, inhaling and touching and soaking in everything that was theirs.