“Use the bomb! Use the bomb! USE THE FRICKIN’ BOMB!”
“I’M OUT OF GODDAMNED BOMBS!”
Fox screams and the screen goes black. You drop the controller and throw your head against the cushions. “I hate Andross.”
Ryan shakes his head and picks up the controller. “It’s the eyes. They weird me out, and they’re super annoying.”
“Their frickin’ little electric tails keep doing me in,” you mutter, crossing your arms over your chest.
After a shitty five-year reunion of your high school graduating class, Ryan coerced you into coming to his apartment, taking shots, and playing Star Fox 64. Normally you could flatten Ryan no problem—you still had the high score, even though you hadn’t played on his console or cartridge in about four years. And normally, you get to Venom with no problem. But maybe the shots were making you see double—you only remember four members in Star Wolf, not the six or eight or whatever that kept flashing across the screen. And the somersaults—you began to think “What the heck?” along with Wolf as you desperately oriented yourself after each one. And whenever you face Star Wolf, there are a shit ton of somersaults.
Ryan absently scratches his beard just Andross appears behind him. “Ah!” Ryan yelps, jerking and smashing the c buttons.
“You suck,” you inform him.
“See how we have no lives left? Yeah, you took five of those,” Ryan shoots back, maneuvering the Arwing out of Andross’ range.
“But I gained the extra two,” you argue. Ryan kept missing every gold ring from Corneria to Venom. It’s quite a feat, really.
Ryan fires all three bombs into the green expanse. “Screw you,” he mutters.
You mumble something incoherent and lean on his shoulder. “You can’t really use bombs on this level, anyway,” you mumble. “Targeting doesn’t really work.”
Ryan kisses the top of your head, startling you. You sit up and lean away, staring at him with wide eyes. He ducks his head. “Sorry,” he mumbles, eyes downcast. Andross’ eyes destroy the Arwing again. Mission failed, game over. Ryan glances at the television and leans forward to switch off the N64.
You gently touch his arm. “It’s fine,” you whisper, smiling softly. More than fine, you think. You pined after him a long time in high school, but settled for friends like every cliché movie out there. You could see you were headed down different paths, him to business school and you to an out-of-state liberal arts college. The only thing that remained the same was you coming home every summer and working at McDonald’s while living with your parents.
He gives you a sad smile. “Is it fine? You’re fine playing Star Fox with an addict and ex-con?”
“Recovering addict,” you correct, placing a hand on his back and gently rubbing it. A thought occurs to you. “We shouldn’t have had shots.”
“I only had two,” Ryan admits, rubbing his eyes and leaning into your touch. Although his hands shake and guilt fills your chest. “The rest were water.”
You scoff. “Were you just trying to get me drunk?”
Another sad smile that you’re not used to seeing. You’ve always been used to smug, cocky Ryan, even in high school when the other kids made fun of him for being all bones and no muscle and playing the saxophone too well. “I wanted it to be like old times,” he confesses.
You gesture to the water. He grabs it from the coffee table and hands it to you. You drink deep, even though it makes your stomach frown at you and gently slosh with queasiness. “I don’t want old times,” you inform him, setting your water on the floor nearby. “I’m glad to be done with high school and I’m glad we’re here now.”
“There’s nothing you like better about then?” he asks, looking into your eyes. You realize that’s the first time he’s looked you in the eye all night, even when he asked you to get out of the stuffy restaurant and away from people you both actually still hated.
You slip your arm around his shoulder and lean close, resting your forehead against his. And you know he’s feeling shitty, because he has never let anyone this close that wasn’t making out with him, and especially not you. He went to great lengths to avoid physical contact with you before, but you always chalked it up to his fabricated image. But now his eyes slip shut and he wraps his arms around your waist. “I miss hanging out with you,” you admit. “But I don’t see why we can’t do that now, when we don’t have to hide in garbage cans because you cut holes in the basketball team’s crotches.”
He chuckles. “You don’t miss that?”
“Call me crazy.”
He moves his head to nuzzle your neck. You hold him close, closing your eyes and breathing in his cologne.
“I can’t believe we’re playing Star Fox,” he finally says, and you both start laughing.
“Can’t believe you’re working in a bowling alley.”
“And you’re back to your high school job.”
“I love that song.”
You chuckle, thinking of the Reel Big Fish song, and press your lips to his cheek. He stiffens in your arms. “Sorry,” you murmur, taking your arms back. “I shouldn’t have… Sorry.”
Ryan shakes his head, uncharacteristically thoughtful, blue eyes concerned. “Don’t apologize. I just… you’ve been drinking. A lot.”
“Still beat you at Star Fox.”
“Oh, shut up about it,” he laughs.
You take another gulp of water. “You going to talk about New York at all? Crazy stories? How you got laid at clubs every night?”
Ryan chuckles and ducks his head, cheeks getting red. “They’re Fear and Loathing worthy,” he confesses.
“Oh my god. Lizard people?”
“More like nuclear holocaust and guerilla warfare. But the same level of paranoia,” he says, and you shudder. He slips away from you and stands, holding out his hands. “But let’s not talk about that. Why don’t we get you to bed?”
You take his hands and stand, but once you’re on your feet you don’t let go of his hands. His eyes flick from your hands to you. “Let’s talk about this in the morning,” he whispers, face far too sober and serious for your liking. You miss the douchebag Ryan that you could always yell at and get money from. The “douche accords” you called it. He could say whatever he liked, but he had to pay for particularly upsetting things. That’s how you got money for the two of you to go to concerts together. Between Ryan’s humor and your McDonald’s job, you two got to see all your favorite bands.
That humor’s gone now as he leads you from the living room to his bedroom, his fingers intertwining with yours. Once in his room, he uses his other hand to pull out sweatpants and a sweatshirt from his closet. “These okay?”
“Yeah,” you answer. “Thanks.”
He hesitates a moment. “Cool. G’night. Let me know if you need anything,” he mutters after a few moment of silence, and before you can argue he’s exited and shut the door. You sigh and carefully change into his clothes, which takes more time and coordination than you’ll ever admit to in the morning. You also know you should insist he takes his own bed, but you’re too tired.
However, the moment you lie down, your eyes alight on Ryan’s blackberry. An idea pops into your brain. You pick it up and dial.
* * *
Ryan shaves the next morning.
You stare at him after you get up, stunned enough that you don’t even notice the scent of coffee wreathing through the apartment.
“What?” he asks as you stare at him. He sits on the beat-up couch, coffee in one hand, his blackberry in the other.
“Nothing!” you state. “Just surprised, is all. You look a bit less like a woodsman without the beard.”
“Eh. Is that coffee?”
“Cups are above the sink.”
“You’re the best.”
Once you have the mug in your hand, you sit on the couch next to him. He stiffens, then sets his blackberry on the table. “How are you feeling?” he asks. It’s a normal question, but for some reason it feels like he’s flying around what he really wants to talk about, purposefully avoiding it.
You shrug. “Surprisingly well,” you answer. “Just tired, No headache or anything.”
He nods, fiddling with his coffee. “Good. Um, I don’t really have anything to do today, so you can stay as long as you’d like,” he slowly says, shifting uncomfortably.
“I quit McDonald’s,” you reply.
That finally turns his head. “You what? When?”
“Last night after you left me alone,” you answer, grinning.
Ryan curses. “I knew I should have grabbed that,” he mutters, glancing at his blackberry. You idly wonder when he slipped in to finally grab it. “So that’s it? You’re unemployed now?”
“It’s about time,” you say, sipping your coffee. “I’m sick of working with high school buddies.”
Ryan sets his coffee on the table and you follow suit. He turns to you, looking you in the eyes. “Who’d you meet at college? Which guy is gonna give those letters before your name instead of after?”
You slap his arm. “I did not go to college to meet some rich guy! And that joke only works for a Master’s.”
Ryan laughs and shrugs. “That’s what most people like you do, isn’t it?”
“Douche,” you growl, grinning.
He smirks and pulls a dollar from his pocket. “Will this cover it?”
You swipe it. “Yup.”
Ryan adjusts his position on the couch to face you. His still-wet hair sticks to his forehead. Give it an hour, and you know the very ends of his hair will start to curl. “You remember last night?” he softly asks, returning to the gentle Ryan with too much on his shoulders.
“Of course. You shot three bombs into the green expanse of Venom and effectively screwed us out of saving the Lylat System.”
Ryan rolls his eyes. “I screwed us? I think you did with your three tries on Star Wolf.”
“Those somersaults were trippy,” you protest.
Ryan grins and places a finger under your chin. “Anyway, I was talking about something else.”
You lean forward, eyes flicking from his lips to his eyes. You can smell the coffee on his breath. “I’m not good with words,” you whisper.
Ryan’s grin softens and he closes the distance. His soft lips press against yours, moving slowly, and his hand slips from your chin to the back of your neck. Your hand brushes along his jaw, marveling at the smoothness before burying into his hair. “Mm,” he quietly moans. A jolt of excitement runs through your stomach—you made him moan.
“Why’d you shave?” you mumble against his lips.
He pulls away, just enough to gaze at you. “I didn’t want to think about New York,” he finally manages, voice impossibly quiet and eyes all at once dark and vulnerable, like he’s waiting for you to walk out. “Or high school. I wanted to think about you and now.”
He wanted to forget it all, he reflects, and maybe he could if he left Dunder Mifflin. But he can’t land a job anywhere else, not with his history. This, though, with you, could maybe do the trick. Sure, he’ll never be able to forget what he did to himself and his family, but at least with you he knows where he stands.
“That’s more of a reason than I expected,” you answer honestly, eyebrow raised. “But I like this Ryan. You’re thoughtful. Can this thoughtful Ryan help my find a new job today? I’m going to need lots of thoughts to turn six years of McDonald’s into marketable skills.”
“Oh, I can do that.” He smirk and pulls you in for another long kiss. “But this Ryan’s made a lot of mistakes,” he says once you pull apart. “A lot of baggage. “
“Worth it. As long as you listen to my college horror stories.”
He pauses and pretends to think for a moment. You lightly smack him in the chest. He laughs and nods, hands hooking around your waist and leaning you back on the couch. “Worth it,” he says, latching onto your neck. “I’ve waited too long for you.”
That sends your stomach into somersaults. “All this time?” you ask and then gasp as he finds that spot just beneath your earlobe.
“I didn’t really try to hide it,” he replies, mouth moving up to nibble along your ear.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
You tug at his belt. “Let’s talk about this after,” you tell him. He happily obliges.
You’re glad it took this many somersaults and U-turns to get here. It makes the victory so much sweeter.