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shot in the dark

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In October, Billy makes the mistake of posting on Facebook that he hates the campus coffee shop.

Turns out he has a couple people on his friends list who work there who take minor offense.

On the bright side, Red -- his roommate -- texts him that afternoon: Teddy says you should drop by the place he works at, it’s just off campus called Hotshot Coffee, and Billy texts back i will try it and then the love hotel emoji and the hot pepper emoji alternatingly like a dozen times.

You should be banned from using emoji, Red texts back.

-

The Friday before midterms are set to properly start, Billy finally decides trying to choke down campus coffee isn’t worth it and wakes up early enough to stop by Hotshot Coffee before his first class. He has four separate design assignments and two papers due in the next two weeks and has started none of them.

There’s a long line of other desperate-looking college students, which is a good sign. Billy barely has the attention span to check the menu. By the time he’s at the front of the line, he’s kind of hopeless enough to just ask the barista, “I just want something with caffeine in it.”

The barista is older than he expected and wearing a garish yellow apron that says HOTSHOT COFFEE on it, and his nametag says “Goodnight,” which is a weird name, even for a white person in California. “Maybe a shot in the dark would do the trick,” he says knowingly.

“A shot in the dark,” Billy repeats.

“Drip coffee with a shot of espresso,” Goodnight says. “Or you can get two shots of espresso for a double shot in the dark.”

“Just one, I think,” Billy says.

“Excellent; may I have your name?”

“Billy,” Billy says.

He pays and waits at the other end of the counter for his name to be called. When someone does yell it, it takes him a second to realize the second barista working is Teddy. Teddy takes a second to recognize him, too, though, so he doesn’t feel so bad.

“Glad you finally dropped by,” Teddy says.

It’s pretty good coffee. Better than the campus place for sure.

Until finals are over, until the day he drives back to San Fran to visit his mother, Billy comes in every morning for a shot in the dark and chocolate croissant. When he comes back from Christmas, he cuts back on the croissants, but he still likes the caffeine most mornings. He waits for school to start, picks up a few freelance clients from his old internship supervisors. Sometimes sits in the back booth at Hotshot with his headphones in and Illustrator open, thinking harder about fonts than anyone ever should.

There’s just four months and a few credits between him and graduation, and he’s not going to fuck up this semester.

-

During the end of fall semester, Billy and Goodnight would talk sometimes about dumb stuff. Turns out Goodnight is Teddy’s roommate, that Goodnight’s been working at Hotshot about as long as Teddy, that he got them both the job. Goodnight knows the owner somehow, a guy named Sam.

Goodnight seems -- seems some way, Billy thinks, not that he can put his finger on what exactly. Nice, sure -- nicer than Teddy, maybe. Older than Teddy, both steadier and unsteadier at the same time, somehow. He looks haunted sometimes. He’s attractive, in a sort of roughed-up way. He has blue eyes and light brown hair and there’s a little bit of gray in his beard even though he can’t be that much older than Billy.

Billy nearly leaves his number once after a particularly good conversation about how neither of them follows college football but doesn’t because another pushy customer shows up and Billy has to wander over to where Teddy already has his shot in the dark sitting on the counter, Billy’s name scrawled on the side. Just as well, Billy thinks to himself, leaving for a final, it’d be annoying to have to find a new coffee place just because he couldn’t stop himself from flirting with the probably straight barista.

-

Billy doesn’t really have occasion to think about it until he finally tracks down the lecture hall that his American History class is in.

He shouldn’t have to be taking freshman American History this semester. He’s a senior. But during his freshman year he’d wanted to rush into art classes, during his sophomore year he’d managed to get accepted to the graphic design program, during his junior year it just seemed embarrassing.

So, his senior year, he’s in one of the random buildings in the middle of campus, the ones he hasn’t stepped foot in since taking biology. The first thing he sees, stepping in, is that in the back row, there’s Goodnight. Like, the barista from Hotshot.

Billy forces himself to not do a double-take and determinedly marches down the stairs closer to the bottom of the room. But he’s nearly late, and there’s people everywhere, and the idea of sitting next to most of these people is kind of -- well, distressing.

Fuck it, Billy thinks. He doubles back up the stairs towards the last row of seats and climbs over two frat-type guys who refuse to stand to let him pass. He sits a seat down from Goodnight, settles his bag between his feat. Goodnight doesn’t even look at him.

Billy’s breath kind of catches in his chest, and the back of his neck goes hot with embarrassment. Maybe the guy doesn’t like interacting with anybody off the clock -- Billy could understand that; he’d worked as a server for exactly two weeks and quit after resigning himself to the fact that he just wasn’t a people person, couldn’t lie through his teeth about having a good day and being interested in what customers thought about the weather. Not like Eddie, who waited tables at some fancy diner and earned enough to pay rent and then some. And he’s been reckoning that Goodnight is like Eddie that way: good at people, good at conversations.

He grits his teeth together and considers getting up and picking another seat. But that would somehow be worse, he thinks, so instead he takes out his laptop and leans back in the awkward lecture hall seat and tries to get comfortable while Goodnight just sits there still as a statue. If Goodnight is gonna pretend he’s not there, he’ll do the same, and maybe they’ll ignore each other so effectively that it won’t be awkward when Billy goes in to get his shot in the dark tomorrow morning.

Mercifully, it’s only a few minutes before the professor clears her throat and starts with the same polite introduction that Billy easily tunes out. First day of class, it’s always the same -- the professor’s name, office hours, then reading the syllabus out loud for some reason. Always somehow takes forty minutes. Billy downloads the syllabus, scrolls through it, doesn’t see anything surprising. Ten quizzes, two tests, two group papers, a final. Shouldn’t be too hard -- after all, this is a class most students take as freshmen. It’ll be nice to have an easy class in addition to his two studios.

He’s spent twenty minutes dcking around on a brochure design in Illustrator when he sees movement out of the corner of his eye. Without thinking, he glances over to Goodnight, who’s hunched over, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes.

Billy can’t help but stare for a moment. It’s strange seeing Goodnight not wearing the garish yellow coffee shop apron, and it’s easier to tell here, in the flourescent light of the lecture hall, that Goodnight is older, maybe in his mid-twenties. Definitely older than Billy. A “non-traditional student,” the brochures would say. The backs of his hands are freckled.

Billy forces himself to look back to where Professor Cullen is explaining what pop quizzes are. He’s trying not to think about the little flicker of hope in his chest: maybe Goodnight wasn’t deliberately ignoring him. Maybe he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open or something -- just zoned out for nearly half an hour.

He glances back over again to see Goodnight staring at him in something like shock. Billy suppresses a grin and winks at him instead, then goes back to Illustrator to distract himself from how relieved he feels. He shouldn’t feel relieved. He shouldn’t like the fact that Goodnight’s stressed or tired enough to space the hell out for half an hour better than Goodnight politely ignoring him. So he toys with font options instead of thinking about the hollows under Goodnight’s eyes, the prospect of making small talk, instead of thinking about Goodnight at all.

Or at least that’s the plan. It doesn’t work that well.

Professor Cullen dismisses them after not too long, and Billy’s shoving his computer back in his bag when he hears Goodnight mutter something under his breath. Billy stands, slings his bag over his shoulder before looking at Goodnight, who’s staring hollowly at the front of the hall. “You didn’t miss much,” is all Billy can think to say.

“That’s good to know,” Goodnight says. His voice sounds strange, kind of distant, like he didn’t really hear Billy but knows he’s supposed to say something in response anyways. He shakes his head like a dog drying off, knocks the back of one hand against his forehead a couple times.

Billy doesn’t really know what to do, so he leaves. As he’s about to push through the door, he glances over his shoulder at Goodnight one last time to see him running his hands through his hair.

He fumbles with his phone and jams his headphones on, trying to think about anything besides the image of him threading his fingers through Goodnight’s hair instead.

-

The next morning, Billy nearly doesn’t stop at Hotshot. He parks and locks up his bike and stares across Boulevard at the storefront. It’s still half-dark out, and it’s cold, and he does have forty minutes before studio starts, but the prospect of seeing Goodnight is downright unnerving and he doesn’t know why. He’s got half a crush on the man, sure, but Billy’s not the sort of person who’s normally this off-balance around people he’s attracted to.

Before he realizes it, he’s standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to turn.

-

There’s a few people ahead of him in line -- suited-up business types, one of them on the phone, talking loudly about stock options. Billy keeps staring at his feet; through his bangs, though, he can see Goodnight and Teddy darting behind the counter, Goodnight punching in orders and Teddy messing with the machines.

Luckily or unluckily, by the time Billy steps forward to place his order, no one else has wandered in after him -- no pressure to spit out his order and move aside. He thinks he might look a little sheepish when Goodnight emerges from behind the espresso machine, looking harried, but after a second Goodnight grins at him, looking a little embarrassed. Billy ignores the heat rising up the back of his neck, the way his heart stutters. “Let me guess, shot in the dark?” Goodnight asks, before Billy can say anything.

“You know me,” Billy says, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket. “I’m reliable.”

Goodnight waves him off. “This one’s on me,” he says. His smile is slanted towards the left side of his face, a little awkward. “For zonin’ out on you before American History. Uh, fair bit rude of me.”

“That’s not…” Goodnight is already messing with the register though, and he sees the displayed balance zero out. Billy is momentarily very, very glad he mustered up the courage to come in. “Thanks, then. Totally unnecessary; I’m sure you’re not the first person to zone out in freshman history.”

“Maybe not,” Goodnight drawls, disappearing behind the machines again. “Still rude, though, my friend, still rude.”

-

The next time he sees Goodnight is Thursday, sitting in the exact same seat in the lecture hall for American History. There’s no frat boys to climb over this time, though, when Billy goes to sit next to him.

Goodnight nods at him this time, mouth twisted into that same lopsided smile. He’s got a notebook out already, and he’s drumming his fingers on its surface. “How’s it goin’,” he says as Billy sits down, all at once like it’s one word.

Billy shrugs, digging through his bag for his laptop. “Can’t wait to learn how history ends,” he says. “No spoilers, please.”

“Now tell me why a man makin’ a Francis Fukuyama joke is in a freshman history class?”

Billy catches himself grinning, refuses to look over to Goodnight. “Well, it was the assigned reading for today, hate to break it to you.”

“Assigned reading?” Goodnight says, mock-horrified. “You do the assigned reading?”

“Fuck if a general ed credit gets between me and finally graduating,” Billy says easily, tapping in his password. “And there are quizzes, you know.” He pauses while his home screen loads, then turns to stare at Goodnight. “Wait, you’re asking me that and you just happened to know off the top of your head the name of the author of The End of History?”

Goodnight flicks his wrist lazily, settling back in his seat. “I took freshman history once already,” he says.

“Well, I took freshman biology,” Billy fires back, “but that doesn’t mean I remember anything.”

“Fair ‘nough, fair ‘nough. Let’s just say when I took freshman history, I happened to have some differences with the author…” Goodnight’s voice trails off as he lolls his head against his shoulder, eyeing Billy through his lashes. “And Lord knows strong opinion helps forge memory, wouldn’t you say?”

“Luckily there’s not too heated debates in graphic design,” Billy says. He’s still fussing with the same brochure design -- nothing seems, not the colors, not the fonts, not the photos.

“No heated ideological conflicts about serif versus sans serif, men and women comin’ to blows over color palettes?”

“Well,” Billy admits, “a little bit of that.”

“If the rest of the graphic design department is as caffeinated as you are, I wouldn’t wanna risk testin’ any of you lot’s patience,” Goodnight says. Billy steals a glance of him and sees him staring back at the front of the lecture hall, looking maybe a little wistful.

“You said you’ve...taken freshman history before.” Billy should feel more cautious, being direct, but he can’t help himself. “Is this your...second degree?”

“I did a year at LSU before dropping out and enlisting,” Goodnight says, casual as anything. “Doin’ freshman year all over again now.”

That’s when Professor Cullen starts lecturing. Based on the little humming noises Goodnight makes, it might even be an interesting lecture, but Billy just glances up from Illustrator every once and awhile to check the clock. He hates Tuesday/Thursday lectures -- too long by half.

After Professor Cullen finally, finally dismisses them, he’s a little surprised when Goodnight starts talking again: “I like that you do the required reading but don’t pay attention to the lecture,” he says. It doesn’t sound sarcastic, just amused.

Billy shrugs as his computer powers down. “I just need a C,” he says plainly. “I’ll read the powerpoints later.”

Goodnight kind of laughs at that, but not unkindly. “Makes sense, I don’t reckon American History’s too useful for graphic design.”

Billy yanks the zipper to his bag closed, not looking over to Goodnight. Doesn’t know what it is about this man that makes him feel so awkward. “Are you a history major?”

“Just a French major right now,” Goodnight says. “We’ll see about the rest. I got a few years to make up my mind.” He sounds a little bitter.

Goodnight follows him out of the building and onto the quad, then stretches dramatically in the afternoon sun. Billy stumbles as he’s turning to stalk towards the art building at the way Goodnight’s button-up rides up -- of course he wears an undershirt.

“I’m headed to my freshman art history class,” Goodnight drawls, this time with real spite. “Where’re you headed?”

Billy could -- Billy could lie. He could say he was headed somewhere else, cut through the botanical gardens and make sure he didn’t cross Goodnight’s path -- sure Goodnight would take the same inefficient route everybody else does. But something about Goodnight makes him betray himself every time. Billy’s always been careful, so careful to make sure he doesn’t end up with walking buddies from class to class. He likes having fifteen minutes of solitude between classes, enough time to listen to some music and recharge.

But what Billy says is, “Is that in the art building?”

“Yeah, yeah, room 103, Professor Callahan.”

“I’m headed that way,” Billy says. “I’ll show you a shortcut.”

Goodnight likes the botanical gardens -- coos admiringly at something flowering in the greenhouse that they pass. “Didn’t expect to see that all the way on this coast,” he says, voice all distant again. He keeps walking, though, instead of lingering.

“What is it?”

 

“Wisteria,” he says. “It’s all over in Louisiana, sometimes like a vine, sometimes a shrub. The flowers are -- well, they got these long stems of flowers, real big.” He spreads his hands maybe a foot and a half apart. “Some of them are white, some of ‘em purple, only white at my granddaddy’s place, though, he pruned away all the purple ones.” His voice lifts out of wistfulness, into something like joy. “No idea why, nothin’ pure about that man. Woulda thought purple would suit him better, what with its connotations of luxury, least far as I know, though I’ll defer to the esteemed graphic design department on that one.”

Billy laughs a little bit at that. They’re reaching the edge of the gardens, the art building in sight now.

“Fragrant like you wouldn’t believe, aggressive growers. Poisonous, though, like a lotta plants.”

“Have you thought of majoring in horticulture?”

Goodnight laughs, low and indulgent, maybe, thought that’s a weird way to describe someone’s laugh, Billy thinks -- but that’s what it is -- indulgent. Goodnight seems like someone accustomed both to pleasure and its absence, a rich boy who shipped away for the army, maybe.

“No horticulture for me,” Goodnight says, and then his voice goes a little bitter again. “I’ve got a black thumb.”

It’s not an expression Billy’s heard before, but it’s easy to knit together the implication from context clues: Goodnight is used to killing the things he touches.

When they hit the art building, Billy heads for the stairs while Goodnight takes a left down the hall. “See you tomorrow or Monday, I suppose,” Goodnight offers, not waiting for confirmation as he ducks into a classroom.

Billy privately figures it will absolutely be tomorrow.

-

Friday morning, Hotshot Coffee Shop is emptier than usual. Billy is bold enough to take one of the counter seats where he can drink down his coffee and rewarded with another one of Goodnight’s wide, crooked smiles when he sees where Billy’s sitting.

“Friday mornings are always slow,” Goodnight says. The hollows under his eyes are more obvious than usual. They make his whole face look more gaunt. “You know, we get new pastries in on Saturday mornings, so they’re all half-off after three on Fridays.”

“I didn’t know that,” Billy says.

Goodnight shrugs and leans over the counter a few feet down from where Billy’s watching steam rise from his cup. “Might be worth swinging by. You used to get those chocolate croissants all the time, right?”

Billy wonders when it was that he got used to the taste of black coffee, then when it was that he got used to the taste of black coffee with espresso -- when he stopped eating breakfast, when he stopped going out. He takes a long drink, ignores the way it stings the roof of his mouth. “How long’s your shift?”

“Oh, I’m off at three,” Goodnight says, a little too casually. “Got a class at 4:40, though. Revolutionary French Literature.”

“Sounds riveting,” Billy says.

Goodnight snorts at that, and then there’s the sound of the bell on the door that means a new customer has wandered in. Goodnight pushes himself up off his elbows and disappears behind the espresso machine on his way over to the register.

Billy can really only justify staying five, ten minutes longer -- he has got studio, after all, and it’s fairly long walk from Hotshot to the art building. But after Goodnight’s punched the customer’s order in and Teddy’s started concocting whatever the hell a light white chocolate peppermint mocha is (okay, it sounds a little bit good) -- well, Billy steels himself.

“So when Professor Cullen makes us do this group paper,” he says to Goodnight, who’s wiping down the counter, “please tell me you’ll partner up with me.”

“Billy, that’s music to my ears,” Goodnight says. There’s no crumbs on the counter for him to be wiping away, but maybe he’s just keeping himself busy, who knows. “Compared to the hoards of eighteen-year-olds in that classroom, you’d be a blessing to write eight pages with.”

“How old are you, anyways?”

“Older than you.”

Billy rolls his eyes, would flick Goodnight if he was within arm’s reach. “I turn twenty two next month,” he says.

“That’s how you know somebody’s still young,” Goodnight teases. “You’re still rounding up.”

“That must be hard for you,” Billy deadpans, “being, what, thirty five?”

Goodnight momentarily sputters, and Billy can’t help but grin all sharp at that.

“I’m twenty five,” Goodnight says, flicking the rag he’s holding dramatically.

“Whatever you say, old man,” Billy shoots back. When Goodnight glares at him, he’s smirking, and something in whatever Goodnight finds in his face makes Goodnight roll his eyes right back. Maybe there’s a hint of a blush on his cheeks, it’s hard to tell.

“Well, I guess you still technically still have seniority,” Goodnight says.

Sounds a little bit too bitter to be entirely a joke. Billy grabs his bag off the seat next to him and swings it over his shoulder. “Well, you have taken freshman history more than I have, so when it comes to this paper, I’ll defer to your elderly wisdom,” he says.

When Goodnight glares at him, he summons up his best impression of innocence.

Billy gets his number before he leaves, though. “In case she assigns this shitty paper next Tuesday,” he says.

Nevermind he’d see Goodnight the Wednesday afterwards anyways, right? Neither of them mentions that as Billy enters Goodnight’s number into his phone, as Goodnight spells out his last name so Billy can enter it in correctly.

“By the way,” Goodnight calls out as Billy’s just about to push open the door outside, “my friends call me Goody.”

“Like two-shoes?” Billy says back.

“I’ve never heard that one before,” Goodnight -- Goody -- drawls, sarcasm dripping from every syllable.

Billy winks and leaves.

-

It’s two weeks after the next Tuesday that Professor Cullen assigns the group paper. Groups are supposed to be three to six people, she says, though she’ll allow exceptions if absolutely necessary.

Billy, who now sits next to Goody rather than one seat over, looks over from his nearly finished brochure to skeptically check in with Goody, who’s looking a little horrified as he surveys the lecture hall all sprawled out in front of them.

“I’ll go to her office hours and tell her we’re the only adults here,” Billy murmurs, “and beg her to let us do this thing without a third group member.”

Goody reaches for Billy’s knee and grabs it hard. “Billy, I’ll owe you one,” he says faintly.

-

There’s two people lined up in front of him for Professor Cullen’s office hours that day, but Billy waits patiently. It’s twenty, maybe thirty minutes before he’s inside her office, sitting down in the one chair across from her desk.

He’s never attended office hours for a professor not teaching an art class. He’s a little surprised by the stacks of paper everywhere, the enormous map covering one wall.

“Remind me what class you’re in,” Professor Cullen says.

“Uh, I’m in your Tuesday-Thursday 1:30 American History section,” Billy says. “I was wondering if you might be willing to let me and my friend do the group paper as a pair? I’m a senior, and he’s a -- he’s a vet, he’s older than anyone else, and no offense to the rest of the class, but I think he’d rather not work with a bunch of teenagers.”

Professor Cullen hums knowingly and clicks at something. “Just give me your full name and his, that’ll be no problem,” she says. “We’ve always got a few older students in this section who usually pair off together, wouldn’t be the first time.”

He doesn’t have to check his phone to spell out Goody’s last name -- already has it somehow committed to memory.

“I’ve got you down as working in a pair,” she says. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No,” Billy says, standing, picking up his bag. “Thank you very much.”

-

He tries to wait until Wednesday morning to tell Goody he’s got permission from Cullen, but then Red wants to toast to Teddy agreeing to move in with him next leasing cycle and insists on popping open a bottle of champagne and then Billy’s drunk and in bed, restless and lonely, and he texts Goody for the first time: btw got permission from prof cullen.

And then he passes out.

He wakes up with a new text message, sent at 4am: Thank the lord for small mercies.

-

Wednesday morning, Goody suggests they meet Friday afternoon before Goody’s French class to decide what they’re writing their paper on. The assignment is comfortably broad: Discuss the American myth of manifest destiny in relation to American colonialism.

Billy’s hardly worried, not even when he oversleeps and has to skip getting coffee on Friday morning. When he shows up at three and collapses in one of the booths in the back but can’t find Goody anywhere, though, that’s when he gets a little nervous.

After a little bit, he gives up and texts Goody: in one of the booths in the back, then six of the hot drink emoji.

It’s just a few minutes later that Goody emerges from the back room, messenger bag crossed over his chest. It’s more attractive than it should be, the way it presses up against his chest despite his loose military surplus jacket. “When you didn’t show up I thought you might’ve had second thoughts,” Goodnight says. It sounds like it’s supposed to be a joke.

“I overslept,” Billy says. “It’s unfair that when I need caffeine most, I’m most likely to sleep through my alarm.”

Goody seems to relax a little bit at that, which sends a shiver up Billy’s spine. He and Goody are friends, right? Why do things always seem so -- so fraught between them?

“What, and you didn’t get any for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up?” Goody asks, lightly kicking Billy’s shin under the table. “Have you been cheating on Hotshot with some other coffee place? Chugging energy drinks behind the bookstore before you got here?”

Billy lifts both hands into the air, a gesture of surrender. “Never,” he says. “Just wanted to make sure you were here before settling in.”

“Well,” Goody drawls, “I’m honored.”

Billy gets up and orders his coffee, comes back to find Goody squinting at his own laptop, looking content. It feels like something’s settled between them, but he doesn’t know what. They work for nearly an hour before Goody realizes what time it is and bolts up, apologizing. “It’s a long walk to the French building,” he says.

“I wasn’t aware there was a French building.”

 

“I think it’s a Romance languages building, actually,” Goody says, thoughtful.

“Are you free this weekend?”

Goody, despite standing still, seems to nearly trip. “For the most part, I reckon,” he says.

“I was thinking,” Billy says, a little awkwardly, “maybe we could finish this paper sooner rather than later.”

“Right,” Goody says, “make sure it isn’t hanging over our heads.”

“Exactly,” Billy says, and it feels like a lie, though he’s not sure why.

-

Red says he’ll be gone ‘til Sunday afternoon and leaves the apartment sometime just before noon on Saturday. He doesn’t explain where he’s going or why, and Billy’s too tired to really question him.

He doesn’t make it to 2pm before texting Goody: roommate is gone if u wanna get some work done today.

-

Goody shows up just before five with a Greek pizza, and Billy breaks into Red's beer as payback for last time Red had sex on the communal couch (not that Billy mentions this to Goody). They get a little bit of work done. Mostly they sit in the living room and talk about classes and work and what they want to do someday in the future. Goody’s absurdly interested in Billy’s experience freelancing; Goody seems flustered whenever Billy asks him questions about Louisiana. Goody doesn’t talk about deployment, and Billy doesn’t ask.

-

On Monday when Billy comes in for coffee, he’s only sat down at the counter -- the only place he sits now, as long as Goody’s working -- when a vaguely familiar song comes on the overhead speakers. He sees Teddy roll his eyes, relaxed against the back wall, and suspiciously watches Goody nod along to the first verse of the song.

Then, when the chorus rolls around, he gets a sudden sinking feeling.

Goody ignores him at first, sings over the real lyrics of the song, “Shot in the dark, and you’re to blame…” He twists on the balls of his feet and points at Billy a little threateningly, then dramatically finishes singing: “You give love a bad name.”

“I’m never coming here again,” Billy groans to Teddy while Goody cracks up, laughing at his own joke.

-

Goody swings by that night so they can finish their outline. It’s just for an hour or two -- they kind of both huddle over Billy’s laptop while Red cooks in the kitchen, arguing good-naturedly over what sources to use. It’s an easy paper. Billy thinks privately that if they’d wanted to be done with it by now, they could have been. But there’s something nice about taking their time with it.

Red wanders in and offers them beer; Goody says no, he’ll have to drive soon, but Billy takes one.

“So you met in a history class,” Red says, a little skeptical, curling up in his armchair.

“Well, technically we met at a coffee shop,” Goody says, glancing back at Billy for confirmation. Billy nods. “But I guess that’s how we got to know each other, sure.”

“Billy said you were armed forces.”

“Army,” Goody says, yanking his gaze away to the computer. “Biggest mistake of my life, let me tell you.”

Red’s shoulders ease a little bit at that.

-

That Wednesday, Goody isn’t there. There is a strange barista standing in front of the register, looking bored.

Billy immediately searches for Teddy, who’s texting from behind the espresso machine and looks unimpressed at Billy’s frantic, betrayed expression. “Goody’s called in sick,” he calls out. “You’ll just have to put up with Matt, our manager. Matt, this is Billy, Goody’s favorite customer.”

Billy glares at Matt and still tips, but not as much as he usually does. He doesn’t sit at the counter, just makes small talk with Teddy until his drink is ready and leaves. He sits in the atrium of the art building and reminds himself that he’ll probably see Goody tomorrow for American History, and then they’ll walk through the gardens to the art building together like they always do.

It's reassuring, but not enough to keep him from texting Goody, teddy told me u were sick, get well soon, then the thermometer emoji eight times.

Goody’s favorite customer, he thinks during studio, when he’s supposed to be paying attention to his classmates’ work. It’s a satisfying thought.

-

He doesn’t get a reply until he’s already home: Thanks.

Which annoys him, for some reason. He gets high with Red and begs him to ask Teddy if he’s really Goody’s favorite customer, at which point Red refuses, then starts listing their names all together over and over while laughing: Teddy, Billy, Goody. “They all end with Y,” Red explains, tears in his eyes.

“Should I call you Reddy?” Billy offers, kind of annoyed but mostly really high.

Red threatens to kill him, and Billy starts repeating the phrase “Ready, Teddy,” until Red does actually knock him off the couch, and long story short Billy feels better by the time he passes out.

He considers skipping American History on Thursday but doesn’t; instead, he shows up and Goody isn’t there. He considers taking notes to send to Goody but can’t make himself concentrate for long enough. There’s a pop quiz at the end of class, a Scantron-type thing, that he figures he probably passes, though not by much.

He texts Goody, u missed a pop quiz in history ) : and doesn’t get a response.

Friday morning, Matt is there again. Billy is a little nicer this time but regrets it when Teddy hands him his drink and, long-suffering, says, “Yes, you really are his favorite.”

He won’t elaborate further, though, even when Billy tries to get him to. “Red just told me you were concerned,” Teddy says, looking kind of pained. “But Goody’s my roommate, he knows where I sleep, if I tell you anything he wouldn’t want me to, he could kill me.”

“What the hell,” Matt says.

-

He wakes up just past noon on Saturday to a text from Goody, sent at 2am: Sorry for radio silence, feeling better now. You want me to finish that paper?

Billy rolls onto his back and scowls at his phone, texts back no its a group paper we have to finish it as a group and then the whale emoji like maybe thirty times.

What do whales have to do with group projects, Goody texts back ten minutes later.

b/c they r majestic like our group paper will be, Billy texts back, with just three whales this time.

Very fair. When/where?, Goody texts back.

Which is how Goody ends up knocking on Billy’s apartment door exactly fifteen minutes after Red had left to go visit Teddy. He looks kind of guilty, which Billy immediately forgives because he’s brought pizza again.

“Greek pizza?” Billy asks.

“You seemed to be a fan last time,” Goody says, a little awkwardly.

Billy beckons him in.

 

It doesn’t take them two hours to finish the paper and submit it. It feels -- awkward, somehow, the way they’re sitting on the same couch but as far away from each other as possible.

Before Goody can awkwardly excuse himself and hurry home, Billy excuses himself and texts Red from the bathroom: are u planning on comin home tonite and then the red question mark emoji four times. He follows that text up with: i used the red question mark emoji bc ur name is red and then the red car emoji four times.

Why do you need to know, Red texts back nearly immediately.

bc im about 2 make a move on someone if not, Billy texts back.

Wow no emoji that must mean you’re serious, Red replies. Go for it make me proud. Red then sends the eggplant emoji more times than necessary. Billy ignores him.

When he ends up back in the living room, Goody’s already stuck his shitty laptop back in his messenger bag, is sitting on the edge of the couch kind of precariously. His hair is all stuck up like he’s been running his hands through it, which makes Billy’s stomach drop in a kind of nice way. “I should get going,” Goody says. He sounds -- well. Nervous.

Billy thinks fuck it and says, “Okay, but I was going to try and do this first.”

Goody stares back in him at confusion as he sits down immediately next to Goody.

Which is when he leans in and awkwardly just goes for the kiss.

It takes Goody a second to respond, but that’s what Billy had expected -- and Goody responding evidently means Goody grabbing Billy by the shoulders as he twists around to get a better angle, kissing Billy back hard, then dropping his hands and gasping air in hard, going tense. “Uh,” Goody says.

“I’m listening,” Billy deadpans back.

Goody’s hands go back to Billy’s shoulders, just resting there this time, light, more tentative than Billy had expected. “I’m -- I’m a bad person to date,” Goody says warily. “I get -- I get night terrors sometimes, I go days without sleeping.”

Billy half-flops against the back of the couch, staring up at Goody. Goody’s hands follow him, still resting on his shoulders, and Goody adjusts himself so he’s leaning against the back of the couch, too. His eyes look feverishly bright, and Billy can’t stop staring at his mouth, his close-cut beard now that he knows what it feels like.

“I’m difficult too,” Billy says, shrugging. “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll sit somewhere else in American History. What the hell.”

“You’ll have to get coffee somewhere else, too,” Goody says faintly. He’s rubbing faint circles into Billy’s shoulder with one hand; Billy wonders if he knows he’s doing it.

“Eh,” Billy says, “I’ll risk it,” and yanks Goody into another kiss.

It’s fifteen minutes of making out on the couch before they stumble back to Billy’s bedroom.

-

The next morning:

“Do you know why Teddy just texted me asking if I’d managed to get laid?” Goody asks, voice strangled.

Billy frowns to himself, rolls over to grab his phone from the charger. There’s a text from Red: Teddy says if you hooked up with someone other than Goody he’ll spit in your coffee, which doesn’t seem healthy to me but what do I know.

Billy sends back the fishing pole emoji twelve times.

What the fuck does that mean, Red texts back immediately.

Billy drops his phone and rolls over to nuzzle Goody’s chest. There’s three starburst scars over his ribs that Billy tries to ignore. They’ll get to that someday, the story of why Goody bolts up in the middle of the night sometimes, if Goody wants to -- not yet. They can take their time. Goody isn’t gonna graduate for a while, after all. “Kind of,” Billy mutters.

“Kind of,” Goody says.

“I just checked if Red was planning on coming home,” Billy says. “I guess he and Teddy made an educated guess.”

Goody kind of chokes on a laugh, and when Billy angles himself to look up at him, Goody’s got one arm flung over his face. “I thought I was being subtle,” he says, helplessly.

Billy skims his fingertips down Goody’s chest to his bellybutton, circles the soft skin there, enjoying the way his fingertips catch on the thin trail of hair. “Nope,” he says. He dips his hand lower, enjoys the way Goody kind of curses under his breath. “Subtle is not your strong suit, Goody.”

“What, pray do tell is my strong suit?” His voice wavers a little bit.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Billy says lazily. “Charmingly discussing flowers from Louisiana. Good jackets. Grammar.”

“Good to know,” Goody says. He sounds a little strangled.

Billy decides to take mercy, rolls himself over on top of Goody. They’re both half-under Billy’s topsheets, his comforter kicked away during the night -- Goody throws off heat at night like a furnace. He straddles Goody’s hips and kisses him all demanding. “Shots in the dark, too,” he says, when Goody pulls away to catch his breath.

“Shots in the dark,” Goody says faintly, unbelievingly.

“Shots in the dark,” Billy affirms, leans in for another kiss. “Shots in the dark.”