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KH AU:: Through Thick and Thin Ch. 5

This took an obscenely long time for me to write. I don't even know why. It's Braig, honestly -- I just had a mental block against writing him. Still, I enjoyed writing this chapter. I have a feeling that things might take a more serious turn with the next chapter, so we'll see where that takes me!


------------------------

Dilan was, to say the least, not looking forward to attending his Eastern Religions class on Monday morning. He didn't relish having to be in the same room as the guy who dumped him so harshly in front of his best friend and his boyfriend. Stupid fucking cheating lying stealing son of a bitch, he thought viciously, envisioning the numerous ways he could pound him to a pulp if he wasn't in a lecture hall at the moment.

Even as he was thinking these thoughts, his feet carried him to his usual seat, until he came to his senses halfway down the aisle. Clearly, he couldn't sit in the spot he'd been sitting in all semester anymore. Mercifully, Rudol, who was shifting in his chair and not paying any attention to the steady flow of students in the aisles, didn't notice him.

The blond tugged absentmindedly on the small silver ankh that dangled from his left ear, using the side of his pen to tap out the beat to a song. Dilan remembered the good-natured arguments over music they'd had and realized with a sharp pang that he wouldn't be able to hear a Lady Gaga song on the radio without being painfully reminded of his ex.

He shook himself out of his daze and occupied himself with finding an empty seat to call home, preferably one as far away from Rudol he could manage. He fell into an aisle seat a reasonable distance away and glanced back quickly, but Rudol was using the last few minutes left before the lecture started to text someone. Dilan couldn't help but feel slightly disgruntled. It seemed like Rudol had already moved on, or worse: maybe he was so inconsequential to him that he didn't even notice that he wasn't there.

A vaguely familiar voice startled him out of his pensive musing. "Dude!"

Dilan turned to find himself seated next to a boy with slicked-back black hair, amber eyes, and a surfer accent that reminded him of someone whom he couldn't quite place…

"Do I know you?" the boy asked, squinting at him as if that would jog his memory.

"Uh," Dilan said intelligently, racking his brain. "I think so?"

The other boy snapped his fingers triumphantly. "Dilan!" he said, proud of himself for remembering.

A metaphorical light-bulb flashed on over Dilan's head. "Dude!" he exclaimed, a grin breaking out across his face. "Braig! Holy shit, the last time I saw you was…"

"Sophomore year of high school, I know." Braig grinned, still slightly dumbstruck. "I had no idea you went here!"

"Me neither. Man, did we go through four years of college without even crossing paths once?"

"Actually, I just transferred here last semester," Braig admitted somewhat sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I've got a boyfriend who travels the country a lot, so I've been jumping around to be with him."

"Oho," Dilan said with a knowing smirk, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back in his seat. "Didn't know you were such a romantic."

"Ah, fuck you," Braig said amiably, waving off his subtle jibe. "So, you still in touch with Aeleus?"

Dilan snorted. "Seeing as how we're roommates, I guess you could say that yeah, I am."

Braig let out a bark of laughter. "Should've known! You guys always were tight. No wonder you went to the same university."

"Yup," Dilan replied, tipping his head back. "Us bros stick together."

"Alright, settle down, settle down," the professor called out, clapping his hands together for silence, and, without further ado, he began his lecture.

"Picking up from where we left off last time, I'd like to draw your attention to the following Chinese character, as illustrated on the projector. Now, this is the earliest character for 'ancestor.' What does it remind you of?" He nodded at a raised hand at the back of the room. Dilan reflexively looked over his shoulder, only to realize that it was Rudol who was volunteering information. He swiftly redirected his gaze, staring intently at the screen at the front of the room.

Rudol studied the symbol carefully before suggesting, "A sandwich?"  Several students chuckled, and a few called out affirmations.

"Maybe, if you're hungry enough," the professor conceded with a smile, "but it's actually supposed to be a phallus."

"Yeah, that's what it reminds me of," Rudol amended, and Dilan could picture the cheeky grin on his face perfectly without needing to look at him.

A ripple of laughter surged across the room. Braig snorted in amusement. Dilan remained stony-faced. He refused to give Rudol the satisfaction of laughing at his lewd witticisms. Instead, he spent the remainder of the lecture brooding in between spontaneous bouts of note-taking. He was in the middle of replaying past encounters with Rudol and trying to figure out what other clues he had missed when the professor announced that class was dismissed, and he was forced back to reality once more.

"Dude," Braig began, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. "I gotta split, I've got class on the other side of campus, but hey. Tomorrow's Tuesday. Barbeque wing night at Queen's. Bring Aeleus, we'll catch up and all."

"Hell yeah," Dilan said, deciding to put Rudol out of his mind, for now, at the very least.

"Sweet, see you at seven," Braig called, already halfway down the aisle, and lifted his hand in farewell.

Dilan shook his head, still marveling over the strangeness of the whole situation, and headed back to the apartment.

------------------------

"Bro, you are not going to believe who—" Upon stepping through the front door, Dilan caught sight of Ienzo sitting neatly on the couch, perfectly at home in the apartment, and interrupted himself mid-sentence. "Seriously, don't you have somewhere else to be? You don't live here. Go home."

"Unfortunately, that is not your call to make, Dilan," Ienzo said witheringly, looking over the top of his textbook at the behemoth who towered over him in a futile attempt to intimidate him into leaving.

"I live here too, so yeah, it is. Go away."

"Ah, but so does Aeleus," Ienzo replied in a lazy, self-assured voice. "And he knows all too well that if he kicks me out, he will have to suffer the consequences."

Dilan looked at Aeleus, who shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "Okay, I'm not even gonna go there." He would have to have a talk with Aeleus about his sheer lack of balls when confronted with the slightest threat from his controlling boyfriend. And by "talk," he meant "relentlessly take the piss out of him until he did something about his deficit in manliness." In the meantime, he would have to settle for pretending that Ienzo didn't exist.

"Anyways, Ae, you're not gonna believe who I saw in class today," he continued, dumping his bag on top of Ienzo, who protested indignantly.

"Rudol?" Aeleus guessed, taking a bite out of an overflowing sandwich.

"…No. Well, uh, yeah, but… shut up. D'you remember Braig, the dude who transferred into our high school class during our sophomore year?"

"The one who moved back to California after the year was up? Yeah, of course. Wait, what? You ran into him here?"

"Yup."

"Dude! I haven't seen him in…"

"Six years, yeah. Freakin' bizarre, isn't it?"

"Twilight Zone, more like it. Okay, okay, remember when…"

"Braig," Ienzo said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "Where have I heard that name before…?" Neither Aeleus nor Dilan was listening to him, too engrossed in their own reminiscing.  

Suddenly, Ienzo gasped dramatically. "Oh my god, Braig! I do know that name!"

Aeleus and Dilan glanced at him. "What, you know him?" Dilan asked, arching an eyebrow questioningly.

"Noooo," Ienzo said carefully. "But if what the tabloids say is true, then he's this mysterious guy who is dating Myde-from-Flaming-Oceans!" He dug around in his messenger bag and pulled out one of the sleazy celebrity magazines he had bought from the convenience store that morning in addition to his breakfast croissant. It was his guilty pleasure.

"What other Myde is there?" Aeleus muttered sullenly, putting down his sandwich and glaring at it as if it was the source of all his problems.

"Come to think of it, he did mention that his boyfriend travels the country a lot…" Dilan mulled, gazing up at the ceiling thoughtfully. When he looked back down and caught a glimpse of the magazine Ienzo was brandishing, he snickered. "Dude, you are such a girl. Ae, man, hate to break it to you, but I think you're seriously gonna have to reevaluate your sexuality."

"Oh, shut up," Ienzo said, as Aeleus flipped Dilan off, but there was none of the usual annoyance in his voice; he was far too excited about the thought of being the boyfriend of a guy whose best friend was friends with the significant other of his favorite rockstar.

"And I suppose you wanna meet him now?" Dilan asked, clearly amused by this turn of events.

"Well, I won't deny that it would be interesting…"

"I can't believe I'm actually inviting you, of all people —'cause I'm sorry, but I really can't stand being around you—"

"Oh no, the feeling's mutual, I assure you. I quite understand. Do go on."

"— to come along, but here goes. We're all going out to dinner tomorrow."

"We are?"

"Yeah, man. Tuesday night. All-you-can-eat barbeque wings at Queen's for $9.99."

"Fuck yeah."

"So I guess you can come along," Dilan finished with a long-suffering sigh.

Ienzo took a deep breath and swallowed his pride for once. "Dilan," he said formally, extending his hand in gratitude. "As much as I dislike admitting it, I… owe you one. Thank you."

"It's fine. Really. Don't touch me."

------------------------
It was tradition for L'Erena, Lumaria, and Rudol to have a "Boy's Night Out" at least once every two weeks. The term "boy" was very loosely defined, as L'Erena was, in fact, female. Granted, she was decidedly more masculine than Lumaria, who was a particularly effeminate male and did not fit society's standard definition of a "boy." Even Rudol, who walked the middle path, had his moments. Technicalities notwithstanding, L'Erena and Rudol reassured the third member of their trio that he did the right thing by not asking Even out on a study date tonight, which was his original intention, as their hostess led them to their usual table.

"We haven't had a Boy's Night Out in ages! Come on, we deserve a break from our significant others, and homework, and life in general. And we need to catch up!"

"And anyways, it's a Tuesday night," Rudol reasoned. "Even can stay at home and actually study for once, since I don't think he'd get much studying done with you around. Think of it this way: you're actually doing him a favor by letting him get some work done. He's got a scholarship to maintain and all, right?"

"Besides," L'Erena added slyly, "you get to spend the night with me instead, and I am so much better company than he is, you know." She linked arms with Lumaria, who already looked much cheerier than before.

"Ladies, ladies," Rudol said airily, breaking them up by squeezing in between them and hooking arms with his two best friends, one on either side of him. "We don't flirt in public, remember? It's unseemly."

"No, that's your job, isn't it?" L'Erena shot back, cackling with laughter.

Rudol childishly stuck his tongue out at her, and she noticed an unfamiliar flash of silver.

"When did you get your tongue pierced?" she asked.

"Eh? Oh, this?" He stuck out his tongue to show off the metal stud. "Yeah, that's new. I got it done on Saturday. And it didn't cost me anything either! The guy owed me, said he'd give me a free piercing. It was either this or a nipple ring, but I opted for the tongue. Ought to make things interesting. I look forward to, ah…" he flicked his eyes up at their waitress, as if making sure that he had an audience for his innuendo-laced words before returning his gaze to his friends. "…testing it out, if you know what I mean." He flashed them a wicked grin, arching an eyebrow suggestively.

The waitress looked like she sincerely regretted being saddled with this table, but plowed on resolutely, pretending that she didn't hear a word. "Hi, I'm Cindy, and I'll be your server this evening," she said briskly. "Can I start you off with something to drink?"

"I'll have a pink lemonade, please," L'Erena said.

"Just what I was about to say. Pink lemonade for me too. You know what they say, great minds…"

"…think alike," Rudol finished. "Yeah, pink lemonade does sound quite delicious."

"All right, I'll have those out for you in a jiffy." She scurried away, giving off the distinct impression that she wanted to escape as quickly as possible.

"Thank you, Cindy!" Rudol called after her, ever the gentleman.

L'Erena collapsed into peals of laughter, and Lumaria was overcome by a fit of the giggles that he had been suppressing for several minutes.

"I love making people feel uncomfortable," Rudol announced, a broad grin on his face. "It's such good sport."

"Oh god, did you see her face?" L'Erena gasped, clutching a stitch in her side. "You could just tell that her mind went straight to the gutter."

"Another winner for the 'who can be the most obnoxious in public' game!" Lumaria applauded appreciatively.

"It's a gift," Rudol acknowledged with a demure little bow. "She was rather pretty, though. Wonder if I could get her number…"

"Oh, please." L'Erena rolled her eyes.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think that you were casting aspersions on my number-attaining prowess."

"Maybe I am."

"Ooh, a challenge!" Rudol said gleefully, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "That's a bet you're going to lose, m'dear. I can get anyone I set my sights on. I mean, I've got it all: boyish good looks, suave charm, sexy British accent—"

"—modesty—"

"Yes, that too." He had the decency to grin sheepishly and accept the slight. "I can always count on you guys to keep my ego in check."

"Really, what would you do without us?" Lumaria said.

"Oh, I imagine that I'd be completely lost in the world without a true friend to my name. You two are my anchor."

"And we love you too," Lumaria said, reaching to squeeze both Rudol's and L'Erena's hand affectionately.

There was a brief moment of silence where the three of them smiled and shared a moment before L'Erena announced, "Okay, enough mushiness, let's move on."

"Agreed," Rudol conceded, and reached for one of the salad plates and began playing with it. He found it nearly impossible to sit still for too long and felt the insatiable need to keep his hands occupied. Unfortunately, he was also notoriously careless, and it only took a few spins for the plate to slip off the tabletop and shatter on the floor.

"See? This is why we can't have nice things!" Lumaria scolded him as the waitress hurried over to clean up the mess.

"Oh, suck my dick," Rudol scoffed, using the toe of his sneaker to nudge the pieces of the broken dish away from him.

"Sorry, the only dick I suck is Even's, but thank you for offering. It was very polite of you."

"I was being facetious. And I really did not need to know that." He shook his head slightly to rid himself of the mental image that had formed.

"Why? You can tell me about sucking that guy Dilan's dick if it makes you feel better."

"We're in public, boys. Can we please stop talking about sucking dicks?" L'Erena interrupted, raising her voice unnecessarily and attracting even more attention to them. The waitress who was cleaning up the mess appeared to be thinking that she was decidedly not being paid enough for this.

"Hey, speak of the devil," Lumaria whispered conspiratorially.

"What, d'you see a dick?" Rudol grinned, twisting around in his seat to see what Lulu was staring at. The laughter in his voice died instantaneously. "Oh god." His face blanched white at the sight of a group of four being seated, and he slid further down in his chair to avoid being seen. "Oh god oh god oh god."

"What?" L'Erena asked impatiently, turning around herself to figure out what was petrifying them so much.

"Dilan," Lumaria stated simply.

"Ooh, if I cross paths with him tonight…" L'Erena cracked her knuckles, still slightly bitter over Friday night's debacle.

"Please don't," Rudol begged her. "It'll only draw attention to me, and the last thing I need is to be pulverized."

"Never mind that," Lumaria said, waving away any concerns of Rudol being reduced to a pulp, "who's he with?"

Rudol chanced a glance at Dilan and his companions. "The other big guy is his roommate, Aeleus, and the little twerp next to him is his boyfriend, Ienzo. He's quite annoying, but in a rather entertaining fashion. And he has horrible taste in music. And I… don't know who Dilan's sitting next to." He glowered at the unknown boy, clearly laboring under the delusion that Dilan was on a double date with Aeleus and Ienzo, the obligatory pre-established couple. Why else would there be a fourth wheel?  

------------------------

To his credit, Ienzo waited a full ten minutes after meeting Braig to casually inquire about his relationship with Myde.

"Oh god, here we go again. Remind me why I invited you to come with us again?" Dilan asked, rolling his eyes long-sufferingly. Ienzo glared at him and gave Aeleus an imperious look, silently requesting him to intervene on his behalf; the last thing he needed was for Dilan to ruin his first impression. Aeleus, however, steadfastly pretended that he didn't notice anything. Defending Ienzo would have diminished him in Dilan's eyes, and Dilan already thought that he'd gone soft. Besides, he had his personal reasons for not wanting Ienzo to discuss Myde, the same reasons that made him want to crush the stereo every time a Flaming Oceans song aired on the radio.

Braig, for his part, took the question in stride. "Why, you a fangirl?" he asked amiably.

Aeleus could have sworn that he saw Ienzo blush at the comment but quickly decided that it must have been a trick of the light, because Ienzo never blushed. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if he was physically incapable of doing so.

"No," Ienzo said icily, and the frost in the air was palpable (Oh, good, Aeleus thought with some relief, he's back to normal). "I am most certainly not."

"Whoa, chill out, little dude," Braig said, holding up his hands in surrender. "Just asking. But really, there's not much to say. He's just an ordinary guy, nothing special – well, I mean, he's special to me, but you know what I mean. But there's more to him than just being a rock god, more than most people realize. And he's alllll mine." He grinned and sat back, but there was a note of finality in his voice that said that he considered the subject closed. Ienzo got the hint and backed off, reasoning that there would be plenty of opportunities to learn more about Myde in the future, as long as Braig remained friends with Aeleus.

"Deep, man," Dilan said, holding up his glass of beer in a sign of respect.

"Yeah, I don't ordinarily get all philosophical like that," Braig said, scratching the back of his neck, "but I made an exception this time."

Aeleus glanced sideways at Ienzo, trying to gauge what he was thinking, but found Ienzo's expression to be perfectly inscrutable, a careful blank mask. He opened his mouth,  intending to say something to him as an aside, when their waitress reappeared at their table to take their orders. By the time she left, with an order pad bearing promises of red meat and buffalo wings (and a salad, in Ienzo's case, because he was always the difficult one, not caring much for burgers, ribs, or steak), he'd missed his opportunity.

"So, Dillhole," Braig began the moment she left, propping his chin in his hand. Some things never change, including, apparently, Braig's favorite nickname for Dilan.

"You are such an ass," Dilan said, but he couldn't help but grin. Aeleus cracked up, and even Ienzo had to crack a thin, appreciative smile at the good-natured jibe. Then again, the smaller boy always did approve of instances where Dilan was the butt of the joke.

"While we're on the topic…" Braig continued. "I've got Myde, Aeleus is with Ienzo. Who're you banging?"

"No one at the moment," Dilan answered shortly, giving off the distinct impression that he didn't want to talk about it. However, Braig never was very good at picking up on subtle clues, so he continued to pester him until Dilan finally gave up and talked.

"I was dating this guy, but he dumped me a few days ago. Long story short, he showed his true colors and it turns out he wasn't who I thought he was. Now can we please shut up about it?"

Heedless of his request, Braig burst out laughing and started singing off-key, "So don't be afraid to let them show, your true colors, true colors!"

Ienzo winced and said delicately, "Leave the singing to your boyfriend. Please."

"Yeah, well, his true colors aren't beautiful like a rainbow," Dilan said, voice laden with sarcasm. "And Ienzo's right, you suck at singing."

"Agreeing with me, Dilan?" Ienzo commented loftily. "This seems to becoming a startling trend."

"Come on, dude, I had to. It was funny," Braig said, still laughing. Dilan finally conceded that he had a point, which was a cause for much celebration in Braig's eyes and resulted in beers all around.

Ienzo sighed in exasperation at the antics of his dinner partners. He muttered to himself, "You're just like they are," and sat back in his chair. Braig's novelty had worn off on him, and he settled for sipping his water and observing the shenanigans with a critical eye. Without making eye contact, he casually placed his hand on Aeleus's knee, rubbing his thumb back and forth. Contrary to what his boyfriend may have thought, he was not unaware of the other's jealousy and worrying, as foolish as he thought it was.

Aeleus looked over at him in surprise and his face visibly lit up, clearly pleased. He wordlessly covered Ienzo's small, delicate hand with his own, much larger palm. Ienzo finally caught his eye and smiled enigmatically, and he somehow felt strangely reassured that Ienzo wasn't going anywhere, Myde or no Myde, and that everything would be just fine.

------------------------

"Okay, who peed in your cornflakes?" L'Erena finally asked, after their meals had arrived without a single change in Rudol's disgruntled behavior.

"No one," he grumbled in reply, stabbing his fries with his fork as if they had grievously wronged him. "I'm just saying that it seems too soon for him to be going on a date with some other guy, that's all."

"You dumped him, remember? Why do you even care whether or not he's dating someone else?"

Rudol ignored her and began meticulously shredding the remains of his chicken. "And I don't even like cornflakes."

"Rudy." Lumaria put down his fork and addressed him directly. "I hate to break it to you, but you're acting like a total hypocrite."

"I'm not being hypocritical," he said petulantly. "What kind of friends are you guys? You're supposed to be supportive of me, and I am so sick of being told that I'm all these things that — that I'm not. I'm grabbing a smoke." He tossed his napkin onto his plate and skulked away from the table, taking the longest route possible to avoid crossing paths with Dilan's table.

L'Erena heaved a sigh and rested her chin on her hands. "Okay, what is his deal? We never even heard about this guy until Friday night, and now he's pissing and moaning when there's the slightest chance that he's found someone else. For someone who supposedly doesn't do relationships, he's certainly taking this hard. Is he blind as a bat or just plain dumb?"

"I know, right? I mean, he's not dumb. Usually. But don't you think that he'd realize that the reason why he's reacting this way is because he probably regrets dumping Dilan in the first place?"

"I don't know, Lulu. He can be thickheaded when he wants to be. But you're right, there's definitely something fishy about this. Ready to do some sleuthing?"

"You know it, girl." Lumaria grinned, a manic gleam in his eyes.

"Okay, well—" Out of the corner of her eye, L'Erena spotted Rudol's approaching figure and abruptly stopped talking.

"What were you two talking about?" Rudol asked accusingly, glancing back and forth at his two friends.

"Nothing. God, Rudy, what's your problem tonight?"

"What problem?" He craned his neck to see what was occurring at Dilan's table. The four boys were laughing together, and he scowled darkly, slumping down into his seat.

"That problem. The pissy attitude. In case you've forgotten, we haven't done anything wrong, Rudy."

There was a moment's silence as the blond digested this. "Sorry," he finally apologized, the anger dissipating and glumness settling in.

"It's okay," Lumaria said, patting him on the hand affectionately. "Why are you back already, anyway? You didn't even have time to get outside, let alone smoke a whole cigarette."

"I forgot that I'm not supposed to smoke for two weeks after I got my tongue piercing," he said, sounding utterly dejected.

"Okay," L'Erena said, clapping her hands together. "I think we're all forgetting the purpose of tonight. It's a Boy's Night Out, guys. That means that you need to stop obsessing about your ex, and you need to stop texting Even underneath the table."

Lumaria jumped and looked up guiltily, snapping his phone shut and pocketing it without arguing.

"Thank you. You two, switch spots. That way you can't see Dilan." When her two companions obediently followed her directions, the blonde smiled. "Good. Now, Rudy, I think it's high time you told us just what went on between you and Dilan."

"Hang on," Rudol interrupted. "I thought you just said this was a Boy's Night Out."

"Well, duh, but we can still gossip, right? Besides, I think you have a lot that you need to get off your chest." Lumaria nodded encouragingly, his eyes wide.

"I have nothing that I need to get off my chest. I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."

"Puh-lease," Lumaria said, rolling his eyes. "You've been in a rotten mood ever since you saw Dilan, all because he's supposedly on a double date with someone else. Rennie's right, it's about time you told us about your relationship with this guy. 'Cause other than what we overheard when he confronted you at the bar on Friday, I have no idea what happened. Do you, Rennie?"

"Not a clue."

"There's really nothing to tell," Rudol warned. "I didn't tell you about my relationship with him because it wasn't anything serious to begin with. I met him in my religions class at the beginning of the semester, I decided I wanted to bag him, I did. End of story."

"Beginning of the semester…" L'Erena said, drawing the words out. "So you dated him for two months before dumping him recently, then?"

"We weren't dating, I told you that. I don't date."

"Yeah, but you still saw him regularly, right? And you didn't fuck every time, right? I'd call that dating."

"Not necessarily," he argued. "I mean, prostitutes can have regular clients, but they're not dating them."

"Oh my god, Rudy, please tell me you're not a prostitute."

"Well, I'm not denying that I could use the money," he quipped, "but no, no I'm not. It was an example, you great prat."

"Okay, well, whatever you want to call it. Two months, right? How fast did you move? Come on, you didn't tell us any of this while it was happening. Indulge us."

Rudol looked from one to the other, both faces shining eagerly, and sighed. He might as well humor them, since they clearly weren't about to let the matter drop. "Two weeks. I saw him for two weeks before shagging him on the kitchen counter in his apartment. Happy?"

"Ooooooh!" L'Erena and Lumaria gasped in unison, exchanging excited looks.

"I love getting the juicy details," Lumaria said gleefully. "But, you know, there's one thing I want to know. Why'd you dump him anyway? The sex had to have been good if you stuck with him for two months, whether or not you were exclusive. And I mean, he's pretty hot, if you're into the whole beefy linebacker thing. Which, you know, I'm not." Lumaria wrinkled his nose.

"Halfback," Rudol corrected automatically.

"What?"

"He wasn't a linebacker, he played halfback."

"For someone who supposedly wasn't emotionally invested in this relationship, you sure know a lot about him," Lumaria said shrewdly, wagging his fork at him.

"Lulu. Shut up. You know why I know what his position was on the football team? Because I bet on him, that's why. I bet on him and lost, which is exactly why I'm in so much debt right now."

"Really?"

"Really." He took a sip of pink lemonade. "So technically, it's his fault that I owe the bookie over $1700." He very nearly let slip a comment about how the money he swiped from Dilan was fair payback but caught himself just in time. Somehow, he didn't think L'Erena and Lumaria would approve of his kleptomaniac tendencies. He couldn't even use the excuse of paying back his debts as an alibi, seeing as how he began filching a few dollars here and there to fund his gambling ventures in the first place, back before he found out that he was knee-deep in debt. But honestly, if people had the cash to burn, what was the harm in borrowing a couple bucks every now and then? He needed the money to gamble, they didn't. And it wasn't like he was stealing significant amounts of money, anyways. In fact, they probably wouldn't even notice anything was amiss.

He quickly covered up his mistake by adding, "S'not like I held it against him or anything, though. I took a risk by making a prop bet in the first place. God knows I won't be making that mistake again."

"Did you ever tell him that you bet on him?" L'Erena asked curiously.

Rudol looked at her like she was insane. "No, of course not. I lost. Why would I mention it?"

"You didn't answer my questionnn," Lulu prodded, leaning into him and nudging him with his shoulder. "What made you dump him in the first place if things were going well? You had a regular lay, isn't that what you wanted?"

"I don't know." He thought about it for a moment. "He had a picture of us." His voice sounded slightly odd.

"Well, what's weird about that? You were dating for two months."

"I told you, we weren't da—"

"Yeah, there's nothing weird about that," L'Erena chimed in, overriding Rudol's exasperated protests. "I've been dating Nami for a week, and I've got a picture of the two of us. She took it when we went to the movies the other day."

"Yeah, well, you're you, and you move fast," Lumaria informed her.

"Oh please, I do not move fast," L'Erena scoffed. "I'm being a total Girl Scout here, Lulu. I haven't even touched her yet."

"Not even over the bra?"

"Nope."

"Wow, she really must be special," Lumaria mused. "But like I was saying, that's you. And Rudy here apparently can't handle going steady with anyone. I bet what happened is that he saw this picture of him and Dilan and freaked out, so he decided that he had to cut things off then before the relationship got too serious for him to deal with."

"Ooh, commitment issues, you think? Definitely a possibility, considering his track record."

"Did it ever occur to either of you," Rudol asked, raising his voice to be heard, "that maybe I dumped him because I got bored of him? Or that I was ready to move on?"

"Don't be stupid, of course not. You were freaking out when you saw him."

"Well, of course I was freaking out. The last time I saw him, he almost throttled me. Now can we please get off the subject?" Rudol said testily.

"Well, I thought we'd save 'how much money do you have towards paying off your debt?' for dessert, but if you want…"

"Anything would be better than dissecting my love life, thanks."

"Alright, then, how are you doing with the money? You haven't mentioned it in ages. Are you having trouble?"

"No, no, I'm doing good," he said vaguely, stirring his lemonade with his straw. "About halfway there, I think." Lies. He hadn't even thought about his growing debt in at least a week, let alone figured out how much money he had yet to earn. He felt a small twinge of guilt in the pit of his stomach; lying to his best friends was a lot more difficult than lying to, say, Dilan.

"Well, that's good, but you only have two weeks left, Rudy. You still need, like, $850, and that's a ton of money. Have you thought about what you're going to do to get the rest of it?"

He looked up from his drink to see two concerned pairs of eyes looking at him, and he realized that they were a lot more worried about his situation than he was at the moment. "Dunno," he mused. "I could always become a con artist. I'm a natural."

"Oh, would you be serious for once?" L'Erena cried in exasperation. "Stop messing around. Do you even know what Seifer and his crowd are going to do to you if you don't come up with the money in time? This isn't just one of your games, Rudol, this is the real thing."

"Don't be so surprised, Rennie," Lumaria said. "He doesn't even know how to be serious, which is probably why he's in this situation to begin with. And he's always messing around with anything that has two legs and can walk. Why do you think he can't handle a normal relationship, let alone hold onto his money?"

That was the last straw. Ticked off, Rudol threw his napkin on his plate and stood up. "If you've finished discussing my every flaw, I'll just be going now. I'm sure you'll be much happier without me here." He tried to leave the table, but L'Erena's hand closed around his wrist.

"Rudy, we're sorry, that was over the line," she pleaded, her voice apologetic, "We'll stop harassing you now, I promise. But please, just listen to me — even if you don't do anything about Dilan—"

"— There's nothing to do. Why can't you two understand that? I dumped him, I don't care about him, I never did care about him to begin with. I've moved on to bigger and better things—"

"— I know, I know, but let me finish. Right now, your biggest worry shouldn't be about any of that stuff. You've got to get the rest of that money, or there won't be any you left."

"I gotta take a leak," Rudol said abruptly and tugged his wrist out of L'Erena's grasp, ducking away to the men's restroom. Once he was safely locked in a bathroom stall, he leaned against the graffitied door and closed his eyes. He counted to ten and exhaled through his nose.

"Man," he muttered under his breath and ran his hand over his face. "I love them and all, they're my best mates, but they can be as annoying as all get out. They just don't get it."

Still, it was kind of unnerving, how shaken up he was by this. Ridiculous, really. It was shock, that's all. After all, the last time he ran into Dilan, he barely escaped with his limbs intact, and his ego had certainly taken a bruising.

"Okay, okay, snap out of it, Rudol," he mumbled, trying to shake himself out of his funk. "You just need a confidence boost, that's all. Forget about him, he was a mistake. He doesn't know what he's talking about. You can do better than him. You can get in anyone's pants, because you're just that good." As he tried to psych himself up, a flash of inspiration hit him. Keeping his voice low, he sang under his breath, "Hey now, you're a porn star, get your freak on – get paid! Hey now, turn that flash on, take your clothes off – get laid!" He grinned, suddenly feeling much better. His confidence returned and his laid-back manner restored, he unlatched the door to find a man washing his hands at the sink and looking at him oddly.

"S'up?" Rudol said in his best macho impression. He bit back a laugh at the stranger's facial expression and left, his mood much improved.

L'Erena and Lumaria watched his face carefully as he sat back down at the table but tactfully chose not to say anything. They didn't breathe another word about Dilan or Rudol's debt that night, instead choosing to chatter about the prospects of their favorite competitors on America's Next Top Model, or the houseplants that Lumaria was illegally keeping in his dorm room, or L'Erena's latest date with Nami, whom she was still smitten with. They split a dessert like they always did, a decadent chocolate brownie topped with vanilla bean ice-cream and a rich chocolate sauce. Like always, L'Erena hogged more than her fair share of ice-cream, and like always, Lumaria and Rudol waged battle over the last bite of brownie, ending only when Lulu sent Rudol's fork clattering to the floor and the waitress shot them a reproachful look.

When Dilan's table got up noisily and left the restaurant laughing, neither Lumaria nor L'Erena said anything, simply exchanging a quick glance with each other. Rudol stared at the bill to avoid the impulse to look over at Dilan, and it was with some hesitation and much arguing that he allowed his friends to pay for his meal. He made a mental reminder to pay back Lulu and Rennie for everything they did for him once he paid off his gambling debts.

They left the restaurant together, and Rudol slipped away from the others with a fabricated excuse about needing to buy some groceries at the campus convenience store (lies, swift and smooth, spilled all too easily from his mouth), when he was really seeking to spend the night in somebody else's bed in a misguided attempt to erase the doubts that lurked deep within him.

Comments

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une_insomniaque
Sep. 26th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
Sorry? I'm confused -- this has nothing to do with Snape or Harry Potter in general. D: But... thank you for the compliment?
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