AN: a long, long belated chapter. I honestly have no excuses, it's embarrassing how long this took and how embarrassingly rough it is, but well. Someday I will come back to this fic and fix everything I want to.
That said, thank you to everyone who's stayed with this story so far! I heart you all many, many times over, because you are all more wonderful than this procrastinator deserves. Hopefully, I'll be better about updating in the future...
"You know," Michelle says, "Valentine's Day is pretty stupid, when you think about it. And no," she says, raising a finger at Lovino's involuntary sigh, "this isn't one of those feminism things – I just happen to think it's a stupid holiday, that's all."
"Never said anything about it being a feminism thing," Lovino says, shrugging as he leans back in his chair, "or that there was anything wrong with feminism – the whole no-bra thing? Wouldn't mind too much if you started doing it."
"Aaaand there we have a perfect example of the whole feminism thing," Michelle sighs, rolling her eyes. "There are sooo many things problematic with that – "
"And about Valentine's Day?" Matthew asks, steering the conversation back in the hopes of avoiding another heated debate/one-sided flirtation session. Honestly, if the sexual tension between the two got any thicker, he'd be able to cut it with a knife.
"Well, right, about Valentine's Day," Michelle says, kicking the table a little as she waves a hand, "it's mean, it's not like I have anything against happiness or couples or whatever – and hey, if you want to do it on the fourteenth of February, good for you. But Valentine's Day," she says, shrugging as she stirs her latte, "institutionalizing it and everything – it just seems kind of silly, you know? Buying chocolate and taking people out to eat just so you can have sex with them, like some sort of elaborate mating ritual – I mean, what's the point of that?"
"Free chocolate," Matthew points out.
"Okay, true," Michelle concedes, "but it's all just so complicated, you know? You go to the store, pick out a card and flowers – good flowers, too, gotta be the nice ones or you're not trying hard enough – and maybe chocolate or wine or a stuffed animal of some sort. Then wrap it all up, pretty ribbons and everything, then go over to the person's house. And for what?" she asks. "Just so some guy can build up enough courage to ask a girl out. I mean, come on, just, like, step up and just freaking do it already. Not that hard," she says, shrugging as she sips her latte, "right?"
To which neither Lovino nor Matthew say anything. Neither of them meet Michelle's eyes.
The thing was –
Oh, screw it all.
The thing is, whatever the thing was, it didn't really matter anymore. Not that it'd been resolved or that it didn't bother him anymore – every time he looked at Gilbert, felt that odd sense of confusion/doubt/(possible) attraction (?), he couldn't help but wondering if it was really real, wondering if maybe it wasn't just some sort of psychological projection or something, some false and potentially codependent attraction brought about by a mix of fear about his roommate's health and the desire to help –
That was one of the downfalls of being a psych major, Matthew supposes, the ability to endlessly psychoanalyze yourself.
But the thing was? In the end, it didn't matter Because every time he looked at Gilbert, it didn't matter if he was lonely or projecting or just bicurious and not really attracted at all – because, in the end, the feeling was the same. And even if it was false, some sort of projection or feeling his brain had cooked up out of nothing, it was there.
"So," Gilbert says, not looking up from where he is, back on his bed and laptop balanced on his stomach as he types, "there's this new Moroccan place opening this weekend."
"Hm?" Matthew asks, taking off his headphones. Hoping, teenage girl butterfly-in-the-stomach hopeless hope, that what he had just heard was right, what Gilbert had just said was –
"There's this new Moroccan place," Gilbert says, still intent on his computer, "and it's, what, a couple minutes by bus from us, and I think the college's giving us all ten dollar gift cards to it? Supporting local businesses, getting students out of their dorm rooms and all that whatever."
Matthew waits. Waits, with baited breath, for what will come next –
"And?" he asks finally, unable to bear the silence. And then, before he can think about it, "wouldyouliketogo?"
For a moment, a terrible moment as Gilbert looks up, eyes slightly wide, Matthew is seized by the fear that he is wrong, that he had read all the signs wrong and that no, there had never been nothing there –
"Oh," Gilbert says, looking slightly startled as he looks up, "uh, sure. This weekend? Saturday?"
Saturday was Valentine's Day.
"Sure," Matthew says, feeling just a little breathless, just a little dizzy "Saturday is good."
Except, of course, for one fact:
Saturday is two days away.
Damn, Matthew thinks as he browses the flower aisle, shit, damn, shit –
Most people, upon meeting Matthew, often assumed that he didn't swear, and in general, it was true; back in Connecticut, he had never sworn (had hardly spoken at all, to be true). That didn't mean he didn't know the words, though, hadn't managed to pick up the vocabulary – and now, staring at an endless aisle of flowers and pink teddy bears, he felt it was a more than appropriate occasion to use it.
That was the thing about gaining all your romantic knowledge from rom-coms, Matthew thinks glumly as he ran a hand over a floral-wrapped coffee set (did Gil like coffee? He had to, all those late night rants over Freud and O-chem, and besides, college students liked coffee, right? That was the stereotype, right?), the utter lack of preparation for the actual romance thing. Even Google had failed him – typing in gifts for men had given him nothing but a list of dead ends – snow boots? Watches? Cologne? Who actually enjoyed getting cologne? And why, Matthew thinks as he stares helplessly at the aisles of soft toys and chocolates, was everything so pink?
"Ooh!" a brown-haired girl next to him squeals as she picks up a bottle of cologne. "This is the new one from Hugo Boss – the one we saw all the commercials, remember? Roddy would like it, don't you think, Katyusha –"
Well, Matthew thinks with a sigh, that would make one person, at least. Lucky girl, not having to guess what to buy for a fickle German.
He took heart, though, from the fact that (lucky girlfriends excepting) everyone else in the store seemed to be in the same situation – quite a few of whom he seemed to know, actually. It was funny, just looking around, seeing kids he remembered from English or Psych 101 browsing the aisles – half of NYU seemed to be there, skeptically examining the chocolates or scowling over universally pink cards. And yes, there was Heracles, Professor Hellen's son whom he'd interviewed for his professors – and over there, to his right, that was Yong Soo, the Korean kid who seemed vaguely related to Yao while also being vaguely obsessed with him, and a little beyond him – wait, no, no, it couldn't be – was that Lovino?
Curious, Matthew cranes his neck for a better view – and yup, no mistaking it: no mistaking that hair and that distinctive angry scowl as he stalked purposefully towards the register. And in his hands...
Oh dear, Matthew thinks sadly as he watches Lovino go. He thinks of Michelle, the way she had laughed so easily when talking about Valentine's Day, and wonders, for a moment, whether he should talk to Lovino, break it down to him as gently as he could before she did –
Except there was Lovino, walking away with a bouquet of roses and a scowl on his face as he stared at his phone, looking up occasionally to glare at the line in front of him.
And Matthew – with a slight twinge of guilt, the gentle nagging sense that he should do something – lets him.
Right now, after all, he had his own problems to take care of.
Matthew decides, many Google searches and Cosmopolitan articles later, on a copy of The Hedge Knight. It isn't quite Game of Thrones, but Gilbert had all the other books, and the cashier had given him funny looks when he had asked if they had any craft beer – the perils of looking perpetually sixteen, he supposes. And okay, giving a book was a little nerdy, but it fit all the first-date categories, as enumerated by Seventeen – not too expensive, but considerate, something causal that still showed you paid attention to his interests. He hopes Gilbert would like it.
In the check-out line, Matthew checks his phone, decides it's too early to text Gilbert about dinner – would be too early, probably give him away for the probably romantic intentions he hoped Gilbert would probably reciprocate (he would reciprocate, wouldn't he? It'd been the one factor he'd desperately been trying not to factor into all of this, based on some perverse logic that if he didn't acknowledge it, it would therefore have the possibility of coming true –
Because if Gilbert said no, if he said no –
Well, Matthew tries not to think too hard about that. Though he assumes, in a general way, that avoiding eye contact and pretending not to exist for the rest of the semester is always an option.)
It's early, but Matthew heads for the Alhambra Cafe anyway; the place is new, it's New York City, and they'd just given gift certificates to a bunch of college students, so it was bound to be crowded already, right? Spots probably impossible to get by now. Best to get there early, just to be sure. Plus, Matthew had to rehearse what he was going to say first, after all.
He'd tried it in the mirror a few times before he'd left – went through the list of phrases, trying to put together the right string of words. "I like you" was good, straightforward, but it would have to be preceded by something like "Gil, I think I have something I need to tell you," and that just sounded like something you said before telling your parents you were pregnant, not before confessing to your potential crush. "So um, yeah, remember that time you were drunk and kissed me?" was better in terms of casualness, but it also incredibly awkward, so full of potential for regrets or bad memories – and oh god, that would be bad, wouldn't it? First time – Matthew refuses to call it a date, won't call it a date until it's over and done with – and a whole bucket of awkwardness. No, Matthew had practiced – had Googled 'how to confess to your crush' the same way he had Googled 'gifts for men' and 'first date clothes' – practiced over and over again in the bathroom mirror, and this was how it was going to go:
He would walk in. Find a seat (hopefully there be one available) and, if any waiters came to solicit an order, tell them, "no thank you, I'm waiting for a friend." There would be more than enough people there; hopefully no one would have too much time to hover over one lone occupant. And when Gilbert came at six-fifteen (they had decided on six in the end, but Matthew thinks six-fifteen might be more realistic), he would smile, pull out a seat for him. They would order their food; and in between ordering food, Matthew would slip (casually, oh so very casually) the book out of its pink gift bag.
"Hey," imaginary-Gil would ask, "what's that?"
"Oh," imaginary-Matthew would say, letting Gil see the title, "it's something I thought you would like."
"Oh my God," imaginary-Gil would gasp, "isn't that the new GRRM?"
"It is," imaginary-Matthew would say. "I saw it at the bookstore, and I thought, well, I think Gil would like this. So it's a present."
"Well," imaginary-Matthew would say, possibly leaning over at this point – Matthew didn't know, he would figure out the details later – "it's because I think I like you."
Casual, simple, direct. It would be easy, that easy, and there were oh, oh so many ways it could go wrong.
When he gets to the restaurant, there is a moment when Matthew wonders if he is at the right place, if – after all his plans for it to work out smoothly – it had gone wrong and no, this wasn't actually the place, but actually another restaurant two hours away and in the suburbs. He even checks the address on the gift certificate, twice.
But no, it's the right place: 537 LaGuardia Place, right next to Cuban restaurant and an intimidatingly fancy burger joint. Not a great place to set up business, Matthew privately thinks, but the Alhambra Cafe fits right in, looking exactly the way it'd been advertised on the one of the many brochures he'd seen around campus: bright lights, cracked-stone floors, and just cutesy enough with its menu to be trendy and not cheesy. The food – from what Matthew could smell of it, wafting over from the kitchen – lent weight to the Yelp reviews too, all buttery lamb and warm spices. Everything was as advertised; everything was as he had planned –
Except the fact – slightly alarming in how it alarms him, when it should have made him giddy, glad – that the place, barring two or three patrons, was empty.
Just to check, he looks at his coupon. No, still the right place – and he was early, but he wasn't all that early –
"Excuse me," Matthew says, walking up to the hostess in front, "are any of these seats available?"
"Of course," the hostess – a skinny, dirty blonde whose tattoos poke out from under her neat uniform – says, giving Matthew a customer-service perfect grin. "Any seats you see, feel free to go for – we have a few reservations coming soon, but there should be enough room for one more person."
"Oh," Matthew says, "er, it's two actually – I'm waiting for a friend, but they're, um, not here yet."
"Not a problem. Inner or outer tables today?"
"I'd recommend one of the inner tables," she says. "There's a courtyard in the middle – and you'll have a nice view of it there, and it's warm enough today that some of the flowers have started coming out. More romantic, in my opinion."
Matthew blinks. Tries, valiantly, to say something, but then stops.
There is a glint in the girl's eye as she watches him, silently takes Matthew in from the dress clothes to the colorful gift bag in his hand.
"Um," Matthew says. "Sure. Inner room it is then."
"Excellent choice. A waiter should escort you to your seat soon – Elena?" she calls, looking back. "Can you come out real fast?"
"Er, it's okay, actually," Matthew says, smiling quickly. "I don't think my friend'll be here for a while, so I can just, um, wait and tell you when we're ready. So that I won't have to keep you from anything."
The hostess looks confused for a moment, but recovers quickly. "Alright," she says, nodding. "I'll give Elena your table, and whenever your friend arrives, you can just come back up here to tell me."
"Thank you," Matthew says, smiling at her, more genuinely this time, and she smiles back.
"Just one more question," he says, digging in his wallet – and ah, there it was. "Are these still valid?" Matthew asks, holding out the folded green gift certificate. "My school gave them out to us last week, and I'm not sure if you're still taking them –"
"Let me take a glance," the waitress says, reaching a hand forward; obliging, Matthew hands it over.
"Looks like it," she says after a moment, handing it back to him. "Although, it's kind of confusing to say we're new, since Alhombra's been in the city for seven years now. New here, yeah, but that's just because we decided to switch locations. I don't know if all of our patrons have found it yet," she says, gesturing at the rows of empty tables, "but it should start getting full, in a little while. We don't begin serving dinner until five, you know."
"But please," she says, smiling as handing him a menu, "feel free to order drinks or just wait until then."
"Sure," Matthew says. "That would be wonderful."
And, taking the menu, he walks inside.
It's a cozy restaurant, all soft chairs and chintzy orange light, and there is a nice courtyard, the flowers starting to bud through the snow. Matthew finds a table by it, sits down and looks around for a moment.
It is four forty-eight.
There is, for obvious reasons, no sign of Gilbert.
Slowly, Matthew takes The Hedge Knight out from its bag, and begins to read.
It's a familiar voice, and it shouldn't make Matthew start as much as it does, blinking as he stares up at Francis's face. "Ah, c'est tu! Quelle merveille, to see you here, mon ami!"
"Et tu, aussi," Matthew says, smiling as he puts his book down. "Quelle chance, I haven't seen you much lately – although," he says, frowning as he remembers Francis's disdain of any restaurant with less than two Michelin stars, "what exactly are you doing here?"
"Moi? You need to ask?" Francis asks, smiling. "C'est Saint Valentin, Matthieu – all the young lovers are gathering together, celebrating or perhaps merely hoping that today will be the day they shall be lucky, and l'amour will strike. Et moi? Quoi d'autre, what else could I be doing?"
Somehow, that surprises Matthew. It isn't that he doubts Francis's ability to be charming – he'd seen him in action too many times to doubt that, leaning over coffee counters and smiling at unsuspecting servers at restaurants – but it's harder to wrap his mind around the idea of Francis actually dating. Matthew's sure he did it – took his various paramours out on dates, had nice dinners and all the usual frippery of rom-com love – but on Valentine's Day? In that kind of suit, superlatively formal and well-tailored even by Francis's standards?
That was the part Matthew could not understand, could not in a hundred years connect with the name "Francis Bonnefoy."
He doesn't say of this, of course. Instead, Matthew says, "that's nice. Do you know what time they'll be here?"
"Ah, bien," Francis says, smiling, "non – not really. It's more of a waiting thing – early love, tu sais? Pour être franc," he says, smiling down at his coffee, "I don't know if she would even like – mais, bon, c'est la vie, c'est la vie."
"Oh," Matthew says. The idea of it catches him a even more off guard – smooth, experienced Francis uncertain about charming someone? Smooth, experienced Francis nervous?
"Et tu?" Francis asks, smiling as he sits in the chair next to him. "Attends que quelqu'un, aussi, a date of your own, hmm?"
"Oh," Matthew says, trying his best to look casual as he waves a hand, "the university was handing out free gift certificates and I thought I would, you know, have dinner here. With, um," he adds, "a friend."
"Oh?" Francis asks, doing something spectacularly expressive with an eyebrow, eyes quickly running over Matthew's tie to the gift bag at his feet. "Et tu, when is your friend arriving, sais-tu?"
"Six-fifteen," Matthew says promptly, before realizing that he might have been a little too prompt in answer. "Er, we were planned for six, but my friend's not always punctual, so I just factored in a little time –"
"I see," Francis says, in the tone of voice that said he had clearly heard this line many times before and did not buy Matthew's charade, not in the least. "Puis, bien," he says, brightening as he leans over, smiling his most charming and Francis smile, "just enough time for a drink, non?"
They're at the bar, waiting on their first round of drinks – a Merlot for Francis and an Italian soda for Matthew, which Francis had insisted on paying for, despite his protests – when suddenly Francis perks up, taps Matthew lightly on shoulder as he stands up.
Matthew looks up, for just a moment, and Francis smiles, the kind of cat-like, ready smile that Matthew knew meant mischief.
"Allons-y," Francis says, lightly touching him on the wrist; Matthew hesitates for a moment, but then gives up and follows him.
"Have fun!" the hostess – the nice hostess, the one who had let him sit wherever he wanted and told him the best seats in the house – calls after him. There's a sly grin on her face, and Matthew blushes, remembering the thumbs-up she had given when she saw them, undoubtedly thinking that Franciswas the mysterious friend he had spoken about.
Well, she'd been partially right – Francis was his friend, after all. Just not the right one, and certainly not the one he wanted to be following right now, headed towards God knows where and undoubtedly trouble.
"Francis," Matthew tries to ask, "what are you –"
And then he stops. Stops, because he sees him, a familiar, overdressed figure sitting at the table and scowling at his menu.
"Lovi, mon ami!"
Lovino looks up, the scowl on his face automatically widening before it stops, freezes as he sees Francis standing in front of him.
Matthew sees the thoughts cross through Lovino's mind as simply as though they were written there: automatic disgust, interrupted by the sudden realization that was the brother of his potential girlfriend, horror at that, then tempered by a slow wariness –
"Um, yeah," Lovino says, swallowing. "Nice to see you too."
"Et tu aussi, mon ami!" Francis cries, wrapping his arms around Lovino; Matthew sees Lovino squirm slightly, then slowly resign himself to the embrace.
"Um," Matthew says from behind Francis, "hi, Lovino."
"Hi," Lovino says, raising one hand flatly.
"So, um," Matthew says, knowing where the conversation is going to go (obvious to know, obvious to see as easily as he sees Lovino's discomfort) and desperately clawing at some way to help change its course, "how's second semester going?"
"Oui, bien sûr!" Francis exclaims, letting go of Lovino but invading his personal space no less. "It's been such a long time, et, oui, I have been so busy, mais je ne peux simplement pas croire – but today! Matthieu, et tu, aussi! Such luck, I cannot believe – and today, too, of all days!" and there is something in the way he says those last two words that makes Matthew feel instantly wary, instantly worried.
"Puis," Francis asks, smiling his most dangerously sweet smile as he leans over, ruffling Lovino's over-combed hair, "what brings you here on such a day as this, mm? Such a pretty face, je penserais – mais, oh," he says, holding the last note as his eyes catch on the roses at Lovino's feet, the box of wrapped chocolates, "ah, I see."
"See what?" Lovino asks, and there is more than just a touch of the ordinary anger in the word – is streaked in, a piece of dark and trembling fear.
"Nothing," Francis says, but there's a gleam in his eyes that is far too bright to trust as innocence. Matthew thinks of a cat, some sleek and well-groomed predator, about to pounce. "Nothing," he says, again, slowly turning around, sighing dramatically, "only, well," turning around, smiling one hand on Lovino's table, "mais, I was just wondering," leaning in again, smile widening, "qui elle est,the lucky lady you're waiting for, hmm?"
"I think I'm going to order something to eat," Matthew murmurs as Lovino sputters incoherent noises of rage; "see you later!" Francis calls after him, a cheery noise completely at odds with the look in his eyes.
Poor Lovino, Matthew thinks as he hurries back to his seat, echoes of "is she pretty? Do we know her? Oh, do tell, do tell, s'il vous plaît," trailing behind him, poor, poor, Lovino –
And then the worst of it, suddenly coming from behind:
"So, Lovino," a familiar, high voice says, "um, you never told me why'd invited me to this place anyways – oh, hey, Frère, didn't think I'd see you here –"
Oh dear, Matthew thinks, wincing a little against he knows is coming even from several tables down, oh no, no, no, that was bad, wasn't it? He probably should have done something earlier, given Lovino some heads-up while they were in the store – maybe then he wouldn't be here, frantically reading as he pushes down the urge to glance over, to hear the words that were coming from three tables down –
Normally, Matthew hates talking on the phone, but this time, when he hears the familiar opening, he all but dashes to answer it – not looking at the caller ID, not caring if it was a telemarketer or a pollster, merely grateful because thank God, now he wouldn't have to listen –
"Hello?" he says. "Matthew Williams-Jones, how can I –"
"Mattie, hey! Yeah, so I know I could have just texted you, but texting's always super-slow and you know, text and talking and stuff not carrying over –"
"Gil?" Matthew asks, blinking a little in surprise. "Why are – where are you – did you get lost on the way to the restaurant?" he asks, a sudden horror-vision of lost Gilbert filling his mind – Gilbert going by muscle memory, frowning in front of a row of abandoned buildings as Matthew sits there, the light outside his window slowly fading into darkness –
"Um yeah, about that," Gilbert says, and Matthew's stomach instantly drops three stories, does a loop-de-loop, then plunges down three more, "the whole restaurant deal – this is super last-minute, but I kind of realized that there's uh, thing I have to do – this thing, you know? Labs and tests and all that shit, you know the deal, a million things a minute, blah blah blah science. So um, yeah, sorry to split, but I don't think I can do it today, roomie. But I'll be back at seven-thirty!"
There is a moment of silence.
"Oh," Matthew says finally, faintly.
"Seven-thirty," Gilbert repeats. "Seventy-thirty, okay? I'll be back then and you can tell me alll about it then, how the place is and if the food's worth the trip. Seven-thirty."
"Sure," Matthew says, but the words feel hollow, as if they are coming from a long, long distant. "Seven-thirty."
In the end, Matthew leaves without ordering anything. The gift certificates would keep and after Gilbert's phone call, he'd realized that he wasn't that hungry, anyway.
When he leaves, neither Lovino nor Michelle are anywhere to be seen. And that, Matthew supposes, is a small mercy, because he was no in mood to watch anyone else's romantic interests plummet to a halt.
He goes back to his dorm in a daze, automatically walking to the nearest stop and getting on the right bus without noticing anyone on the way there. All the seats are already taken, full of chattering teenagers and couples holding hands – doubtless come here for a nice trip, Valentine's in the city – but Matthew manages to grab onto a handrail, mind too blank for his stomach to protest as the bus quietly lurches through the streets.
Of course. Of course it wouldn't have happened, of course it would have happened like this. It'd been silly, hadn't it, for him to think otherwise? Stupid. Cliché. He shouldn't have expected anything of it, even if it had been a normal day and not the fourteenth of February, when hope ran through the streets more unbidden than on Christmas Eve – and oh, speaking of, how utterly stupid it had been to believe it, to be suckered in and pin all his hopes on this, on the simple fact of the date! Confessing to your roommate on Valentine's Day? Ha! As if. That was the kind of stuff reserved for rom-coms and Nicholas Sparks novels, not college freshmen with fewer social skills than sense.
"Spring and Greenwich," the automated voice announces from above, and Matthew automatically pulls the cord, mindlessly continues staring into the blue-green cloth of the coat in front of him as the train hurries on.
There was – Matthew thinks as he gingerly steps off the bus and makes the practiced turn left with his feet still on autopilot – nothing all that surprising about it, really. Gilbert had been drunk; it'd been the end of the semester; they'd had a rough couple of weeks. Not that surprising, in the end, that it would happen – that someone at a frat party would do something they didn't mean, that a drunk college student would end up kissing his roommate.
The only surprising thing about it, Matthew supposes, sighing as he reaches for his keys, was how much he had let himself make out of it.
Inside, Greenwich Hotel is quiet. Empty, all the occupants – pretty Mei, chatty Feliks, probably even quiet Kiku, judging from the looks Heracles had been giving him lately – out, doubtless having first or third or thirty-first kisses in cafes somewhere. At other times, the recognition of this emptiness would have made him self-conscious, would have made him sad – but not now. Now, Matthew thinks as he reaches his door, gratefully finding it unlocked – his fault or Gilbert's, it didn't matter – now, it was better than it was empty, was quiet, because all he wanted was some sleep –
Matthew blinks, squints at the brightness of it for a few seconds – the too-bright lights, the sudden abundance of gold and silver and jarringly reflecting red – and then manages to make out, amidst the balloons and banners, a figure frozen in the midst of it all.
"Mattie?" Gilbert asks, blinking like an animal caught in headlights as he stares back, a strand of streamer paper trailing guiltily onto the ground. "It's not seven-thirty yet – what are you –"
"I came back early," Matthew says, slowly staring around the room – the red balloons on the ground, the cooling cake on the table next to a half-oozing bag of frosting – "Didn't you say you had a lab?"
Gilbert, if possible, looks even more uncomfortable at that.
There is a moment, a quiet, oozing second as Matthew continues staring –
"So, um, yeah," Gil says, scratching his neck as he sighs, "I know I said I had something to do, but okay, I kind of lied about that – but I wanted to make the place halfway decent, you know? I mean, it's fucking Valentine's Day, place is supposed to be fancy or some shit, you know. And sorry about bailing on you again – I said that already, right? – I feel super skeezy about it, except then I got to thinking about it, and it was kind of like, really? In front of like, what, fifty people who'd probably be recording it on their iPhones – nah, I thought, that's not Mattie's style. And okay, he said yes, but does Mattie even like Moroccan food? Who knows, maybe he had some sort of freak accident with hummus when he was two – so yeah, logical conclusion, nix restaurant, go traditional –"
"Gil," Matthew says, shaking his head to clear it of the words bombarded at him, "could you, um, start over again? From the beginning," he adds, stepping inside and placing his keys on the table (decorated, his brain slowly tells him, with garish pink and purple paper hearts). "Slowly."
Gilbert looks away at that, and for a moment – just a moment – Matthew swears he is blushing, just slightly, in the over-bright lights.
"Um, well," Gilbert says, crossing his arms as he continues to avoid Matthew's gaze – and there was no mistaking it this time, the faint flush of pink on that pale skin, "I mean, okay, so I was going to – oh fuck," he says, sighing as he raises his eyes to meet Matthew's. "I thought this was going to be so much easier, like, way to fucking go Gilbert – but um, yeah, anyways," he says, taking a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly before he continues, "so um, yeah, do you remember that time I kissed you last semester?"
This is not happening, Matthew's brain whispers as he stands there, watching Gilbert – confident, brash Gilbert – fidget in front of him, feet tapping out a rhythm as he stares at that ground. This is not happening. This is a fever dream, some strange hallucination where up is down and gravity works wrong-side up –
Gilbert takes a deep breath, then turns to Matthew again, an odd, nervous determination in his eyes.
"So yeah, the reason I did it was because – well, uh – was because, um – Imightjusthaveabitofacrush. On, um. You."
Amazing, Matthew thinks as he watches him, sees Gilbert's face change from pale to pink to red. Astonishing how the world works, sometimes.
"I mean, kinda presumptuous, isn't it?" Gilbert says, nervously laughing. "Like, I don't even if you're bi or gay or whatever – fuck, for all I know, you might have some underwear model girlfriend who lives in Canada or some shit – long-shot anyway, good job Gilbert! Home court in the lead for stupidity! Not that I'd be bitter, of course," he adds quickly, "it's okay if this makes everything awkward or something – I'd totally understand, wouldn't mind at all or anything, okay – "
Quietly, Matthew reaches over, takes The Hedge Knight out of its battered gift bag. Gilbert stops talking to as he does, slowly gnawing on his lip as he watches Matthew move.
"Gilbert," Matthew says, gently taking a step forward and putting the book in his hands, "here."
Imaginary-Gilbert, glancing down at the book and seeing its title, would go instantly into paroxysms of joy. Real-Gilbert, however, only stares blankly at the object in his hands, as if not quite comprehending what it is.
"Why did you –"
"It's um, a gift," Matthew says, suddenly just as tongue-tied as Gilbert. "For, uh, Valentine's, too."
And because he is suddenly too shy to look up, he doesn't see it, but he hears it, the slow way Gilbert's mouth rounds into a soft, "oh."
"Well, " Gil says, looking down at the book again, "I guess, then – um, thanks. Hedge Knight, huh? I always wanted to get into Martin's other stuff. Well. Uh. Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Matthew mumbles. Tentatively, he gives Gilbert a small smile, and is surprised to see Gilbert's face is still red.
"So does this mean," Gilbert says, then stops, bites his lip again, "that we're a thing?"
"Um," Matthew says, "I guess? If you want us to be, I guess."
And there is a long, long silence in which they both contemplate the meaning of that, of being a thing.
"Well," Gilbert says slowly, turning to Matthew with a small, tentative smile, "if we are – and if it's okay with you – then I guess that means I can do this again, then."
"This," Gilbert says, and gently leans in to kiss him.
And whatever else Matthew was uncertain about – his sexuality, his attraction, whether any of it true or false or mere psychological projection – this, the steadiness of Gilbert's lips on his, this was real, this was true.
Quelle merveille! = how wonderful
Quelle chance - what luck!
C'est Saint Valentin - it's Valentine's Day
Quoi d'autre = what else
tu sais - you know
pour être franc – to be frank
Attends que quelqu'un aussi - waiting for someone too
bien sûr/entendu - of course
mais je ne peux simplement pas croire - but I simply can't believe
Je penserais - I would think
qui elle est - who she is