Carlos is alarmed the first time he notices his shower curtain drifting back and forth, without any explainable influence from beyond the bathroom. However, the alarm going off in Carlos' head is just a drill. The shower curtain sways because of the exhaust fan he stuck in the window. Of course. He has no reason to infer that shower curtains just, you know, move in Night Vale. There is air hitting the shower curtain, and that's why it swifts so lightly while he sits on the toilet, watching the little fishies swim chipperly across his bright blue shower liner.
He's sick of it, really, having to accuse every little happening of being part of Night Vale's everlasting wonder. He can't make a goddamn piece of toast without assuming the sound of the toaster is just Something Weird That Happens. Hell, he can't make a piece of toast at all, ever since the wheat and wheat by-product extinction of 2012. That was just an example, of course, of how sensitive Carlos' weirdometer has become. Its antennae are perked, twitching at the mere sound of a door creaking, like a cockroach responding to nearby sodium and sugar.
He's watching the fishies swim when he hears vigorous knocking, and he figures that's just the sound that the toilet bowl makes when you take a shit for about the second time at like, two in the morning, because there's no way anyone's knocking at his door right now, and Carlos is going to accept the fact that the toilet is knocking annoyedly at him. He shouldn't be pooping this much, he knows. The toilet doesn't have to rub it in his face. But it's in that moment of unraveling the last bit of his two-ply toilet paper that he realizes the knocking is real, very real, and it is, in fact, coming from his front door. Silently, he apologizes to the toilet for thinking it was being so rude. He groans as he flushes, knowing it was just his luck for him to have visitors during the slim windows of the day where his pants are around his ankles.
He hopes it's not the Secret Police here to ticket him for thinking about the dog park today. Oh, shit, he did it again.
It turns out (after Carlos remembered to put his bottoms on, and to wash/exfoliate his sandpapery hands) that the person at the door is wet. Dripping. It's not raining outside.
"They turned off my water," Cecil says.
Carlos sneezes. He wipes his nose with his sleeve, and apologizes. "What?" he says. "Who's 'they'?"
"Building management. They must have forgotten to put a dead assassin beetle in my mailbox this morning, because I did not get any prior memo about a water shutdown during my nightly shower hour—oh, may I come in?"
Carlos rubs his nose frantically. "Of course, Cecil. Do you wanna maybe rinse that shampoo out of your hair, or…"
"Oh, this?" Cecil steps in. He's wearing slippers of an unidentifiable animal. They're fluffy and brown. He gestures with a bony finger to the greasy tuft atop his noggin. "This isn't shampoo, it's olive oil and baking soda. Keeps my hair as soft as a teacup Pomeranian, after all the bleaching I put it through."
Carlos' eyes light up with an instant conclusion. "That bust be why by dose is stuffigg up. I'b super allergic to olibbs."
Cecil furrows his dark brown brows, amazed with how quickly Carlos' body reacted to the olive oil. But that expression makes an instantaneous transition from "wow, olive allergies sure don't waste any time" to "shit, I'm killing Carlos as we speak."
"Shit. Your water's not turned off too, is it? Can I wash my hair as soon as possible? I'm not gonna contaminate your house, right? I'm so sorry!" Cecil covers his head with his hands.
"Yeah, you cad use the bathroob. Why didn't you just dry yourself with a towel before you cabe here?" He sneezes. Cecil's already running to the bathroob. "Wait. Why did you cub here? It's two in the dabb mordigg."
Water's running. "My towels are gone, Carlos."
"Where did they go?"
"So you just cabe for by water a'd towels?"
Cecil's running his fingers through his yellow-blond hair, which is actually almost one third black roots. "You're more to me than water and towels."
Carlos' sinuses clear up slowly. "Oh."
Carlos hears the knobs in the bathtub squeak toward the off position. Cecil emerges with his head wrapped in Carlos' favorite dolphin towel. "Feel better?"
Carlos sniffles. "Kinda."
"By the way, your shower curtain's moving a little bit."
Carlos nods. "Yeah, it's the exhaust fan."
Cecil shakes his head in response, causing the towel to half-topple over. He does nothing about it. "Nah, it's off. You think maybe you should change a lightbulb soon? That's the annoying thing about shower curtains, they never tell you which lightbulb to change."
Carlos just gives up. "Can I offer you anything to drink?"
"You have iced tea?"
Carlos smiles warmly. "Of course."
When he flicks on the kitchen light, it flicks right off. "Oh," he says.
"You gonna fix that?"
Carlos shrugs. "Nah." Opens the fridge. That light illuminates the whole kitchen. "I'll just keep the fridge open," he says, taking out the tea pitcher.
"It'll get cold," Cecil remarks.
"Certainly is. You don't want the Secret Police ticketing you for attempt to create an unnatural winter, do you?"
Carlos pours himself a glass, too. Cecil's mug has a flamingo watercolor on it. Carlos' is some sort of Bahamas tourist mug. "I'm not attempting to create an unnatural winter, I'm attempting to light the dark."
Cecil nods approvingly. "Guess that's true." Cecil opens his mouth to explain the concept of being charged for winterslaughter, but decides against it, and sips the tea as soon as it's handed to him.
Carlos sits at the table, right in front of the current of cold air emitting from the fridge. "So what did you say about this… memo about the water? A beetle?"
"Yes," says Cecil. "Building management informs tenants of impending water shutdowns by leaving the corpse of an assassin beetle in your mailbox. I guess the only flaw with that method is that, not everyone checks their mailbox that often. But I checked it this morning! I did! Nothing! And of course it had to be when I love taking showers most. It's the time when absolutely no one is performing showerly rituals. That gets loud. And the apartment floor plans are generally mirror images of each other! I'm always just inches away from a naked person, and only the angels know what rituals they pursue and how they'll affect my shower. But you can't just let these things happen. That's why I shower so late. Because no one else does! And I guess building management had the same idea as me, shutting off water when they think no one is showering. But I was. I was."
Carlos' hands are folded and his eyes are narrowed and he seems to be deeply invested in Cecil's lament, but he needs to take it a step back. "So… what's the significance of the beetle?"
Cecil still isn't sure if Carlos listens to him sometimes. "It's just memo, Carlos, I don't know why you find the mundane so interesting."
"I'm not sure if you and I have the same ideas of mundane and interesting."
Cecil slurps his drink obnoxiously and slams it on the table, missing Carlos' beautiful coaster completely. "Can I tell you something we both might find interesting?"
Carlos is intrigued. "Try me."
"I didn't always want to be a broadcaster."
Carlos takes a swig of his drink, in a way that says "wow, I am impressed". His voice actually says, "Oh?"
"It was kind of an accident. As most things are."
"What did you really want to be?"
"Well," Cecil says, "it's a little weird."
"You know my weird and your weird aren't the same weirds."
Cecil exhales. He does it again. Longer. All his breathing now is a continuous sigh. Finally, an intake of breath, then words. "A roach wrangler."
Carlos is just all like, "What?" And Cecil is all like, "You heard me right, I think. A roach wrangler."
Carlos imagines roaches the size of ponies, being wrangled with lassos in a rodeo. He thinks he's right.
"Well, not just roaches," Cecil explains, grinning now, pushing his tongue between the gap of his two front teeth. "I mean, someone's gotta catch the bugs to put in mailboxes, right? And they need bugs for TV and movies and stuff. They gotta, you know, call a bug guy. I wanted to be the bug guy."
Carlos is smiling into his cup. "So there is a spot where my interesting and your interesting overlap."
Cecil is looking at the flakes of the iced tea swirl in his cup. It's a little hard to make out, considering the limited light of the fridge. It's flickering sporadically, too. "I guess there is."
"You like insects that much?"
"Enough to own a farm of ten thousand cockroaches?" Cecil finally achieves eye contact for a moment. "Yes. Oh, yes. I would breed them all myself. That's what roach wranglers have to do. That makes them seem so much more personal, and not disgusting. And especially not proprietary. My roaches would be organic and domesticated. Strong. I would probably name five thousand of them Lucy, and the other five thousand would be Muhammad."
"Are you listening to me, Carlos?" Cecil courageously asks. "Because sometimes, I think you don't."
Life snaps into Carlos' eyes. "Of course I'm listening to you. Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know," Cecil admits. "You could be thinking of other things. Science?"
Carlos chuckles genuinely and it sends Cecil's heart into a marathon. "Everything is science. Please, go on with what you're saying. I'm listening."
Cecil's stomach turns with feelings that he hasn't sure have been delivered to him yet. He did check the mail this morning, after all. He hates when feelings arrive late.
"Anyway," he says. "I just think bugs are… kind of cute. And they deserve spotlights. Have you ever held a tarantula?"
Carlos shakes his head, his hair tussling in the process. Cecil adores it.
"It's magical. I mean, if you consider the fact you probably have a spider on your person as we speak, you probably have held a tarantula whether you know it or not. But, you know, pet spiders are punishable by law in Night Vale. They'll come and burn your hair and it'll smell like rotten eggs. So I guess that made the desire all the sweeter when I was a child, to know I could never actually have it."
"That sucks, doesn't it?" Carlos says.
"Well, yeah. But I mean, you got what you wanted, right? Science is your… calling." Cecil internally hits himself for the poor choice of words. "You know?"
Carlos is done with his tea. "Wanna know something we both might find interesting?"
"I didn't always want to be a scientist."
Cecil gasps and knocks over his mug. Thankfully, he's done with his drink too. "Carlos! That's the worst thing I've ever heard you say. What world would I live in where Carlos the Scientist isn't a scientist? Would there even be science? … Would I even be here?"
"I'm positive science would continue to exist without me."
"I'm not even positive science exists with you."
Carlos leans in closer to Cecil's pondering face, lips twitching with words to come. Cecil gets a better view of every stubbled follicle of hair on the man's face. He likes that closeness. "Science has always existed. It exists now, and it always will. Trust me."
Cecil does trust him. "Okay."
"Wanna know what I wanted to be?"
"I'm still getting over the horror that is a universe without you as a scientist," Cecil admits.
"Take your time."
Cecil closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "I'm ready."
"I wanted to be a dancer."
Cecil slaps his hands to his cheeks in adoration. "A dancer! Oh, Carlos. My charismatic and conversationally capable Carlos. What ever in the world stopped you?"
The fridge light flickers and buzzes rapidly. The two think nothing of it.
"I have two left feet," Carlos says with a shrug.
Cecil gasps dramatically, bouncing up and down in his seat. "No way. Me too. Look, look, look-" He points below the table, where he kicks off his fuzzy brown slippers. "-see?"
Carlos gets on the floor to see just what the hell Cecil is talking about, and, just as Cecil had promised, he had two left feet. He should have frickin' known.
"And you can walk with those?" Carlos asks, resisting the urge to touch them (for science).
"Can I walk with them? I can run faster than more than two thirds of Night Vale."
"I don't see how that's possible." Carlos rubs the lenses of his glasses with his sleeve.
"You can trust my science too, Carlos. Most of Night Vale has homopodiasis. They either have two left feet or two right feet, and the other third has heteropodiasis. You can assume the kind of feet that they have."
Carlos continues to sit under the table in awe. Cecil wiggles his toes. "And this affects no one's ability to walk?"
"Why would it?"
Carlos pinches the bridge of his nose, putting his hands on Cecil's knees. "Come on."
"Come on what?"
"Let's get up."
"I'm tired, Carlos. Can I spend the night?"
Carlos stumbles out from under the table, hands still on Cecil. "Course you can. Let's dance."
"There's no music," Cecil says airily, fully knowing that "there's no music" is the thing you say when you're invited to dance, and there is indeed, no music, but that won't stop the invitation. It's not like the whole dancing thing, you know, shuts down once someone points out there's no music, because that defeats the entire romantic purpose of dancing in the middle of the kitchen, illuminated by nothing but the flickering fridge light, with no music, right?
That's just what they do, and neither of them are sure where to put their hands. Is it slow? Is it fast? They don't know, but Cecil puts his hands on Carlos' waist, and Carlos' on Cecil's shoulders. How good could a dance be with three left feet and one right?
Good enough. They trip, and laugh, and shake their booties.
"I don't know whether to direct you left or right," Carlos says, laughing. "I'm a little confused."
"It's okay to be confused."
"What kind of dance are we even doing?"
Cecil shrugs. "I don't know. Is it the one with the dip? I hope it's the one with the dip. I like the dip."
"We can make it the one with the dip."
Cecil grins. "Okay. Who dips who?"
"We can both dip," says Carlos.
"I wanna go first."
"You mean like, you want to be the dipper or the dippee?"
Cecil looks down, embarrassed. "You're confusing me."
"It's okay to be confused." Carlos keeps one hand on Cecil's shoulder, and uses the other to scoop up Cecil's right hand. "I'll dip you. You ready?"
"Yeah! Wait. No. Yes. Wait. Can I think about this?"
"You can think about it forever," Carlos tells him.
"I don't want to wait forever!" Cecil initiates the dip and Carlos is caught offguard, but he manages to hold Cecil up well. They laugh again as Cecil swoops back up.
"That went well," Carlos says.
"Ready for dip-off?" asks Cecil.
"I don't know. I'm heavy. What if you drop me?"
"Then I could go to prison."
Carlos takes him seriously. "Really?"
"I'm kidding," says Cecil, cupping Carlos' rough face, and stroking lightly. "That's not a law. At least not yet."
"Oh." Carlos is relieved. "Thank goodness."
"Readier than I'll ever be."
Swoop! Carlos was right. He is sort of heavy. Cecil should have trusted him on that. He's a scientist, for crying out loud. How else would he have been able to estimate Carlos' weight.
"You look like you're struggling," Carlos says.
"I'm good. I'm good. I'm good," insists Cecil.
"You can bring me back up now."
"Nope. Gonna. Stay like this. For as long. As possib-" And Carlos hits the floor. The most impact is on his ass. Ouch. "No! NO! I'm sorry! Oh, God, Carlos, I'm sorry! Are you okay? Shit, I should go to jail. This is the second time tonight I've hurt you. I may as well spoonfeed you some olives, because it's over. It's all over. I'm going home. Oh, Mr. Christ."
Carlos holds his sore ass as he hoists himself back to his feet, with a smile on his face. "It's okay. Please don't go home."
"I should... at least go to bed," Cecil says quietly. "I'm so sorry I dropped you on your ass."
"It's very all right. But yeah, we should both get to bed. It's chilly, too." He eyes the fridge. "I'll pull out the sofa bed for you."
Cecil shivers at the thought. Oh. He doesn't get to sleep in the same bed as Carlos. He doesn't want to impose, so he says nothing.
"You should get around to changing that lightbulb," Cecil says. "Or your shower curtain's gonna fly off the rod. You don't want that. You'll get water everywhere."
Carlos shrugs while pulling out the metal frame. "That's okay."
"Do you want me to bring you a lightbulb on the way home from work tomorrow? I'll bring you lots of lightbulbs. Your house will be so bright."
"You don't have to do that, Cecil."
"I don't have to, but I want to." Cecil plops onto the thin mattress.
"Blanket?" Carlos offers, holding it up, getting it from seemingly nowhere.
"Oh, it looks so soft. Throw it to me." Cecil catches it in his arms, falling backward onto the stiff couch pillow.
"I don't have any extra pillows. I'm real sorry about that."
"That's okay. Really."
Carlos smiles, and he goes to close the fridge. The apartment is nearly pitch black, with the exception of the moonlight from the window, the stars that are just as consistent in Night Vale as they are in the rest of the country, and the Arby's sign-red and reassuring-with its mysterious lights. They happen somewhere, far away, but even in the smallest of ways do they light the dark apartment.
Cecil can't see beautiful Carlos anymore, but he still speaks. "It's a shame you're allergic to olives."
"Why's that?" asks Carlos.
"I can't tell you olive juice."
"You know. Olive juice," says Cecil.
"I'm not following."
Cecil then mouths it. Olive juice. But then he remembers that it's dark, and Carlos can't see his lips.
"That's just something about Night Vale I still don't get, I guess. Ah, well." Carlos heads for his bedroom. "Goodnight."
Cecil holds the blanket close to his chest, staring at the dark ceiling. "I'll tell you tomorrow, then, Carlos." He closes his eyes. "Goodnight."