“Hey Willow what’s up?” Andy asks.
“Are you still single? In the market for a set up?” Willow asks.
“Always. Tell me about him.” Andy says intrigued, after all Willow essentially set up Blue and Birch.
“He’s called Curtis, a little older than you 24, he is at culinary school and interning with Cheryl a couple of days a week. He’s on the chubby side, I mean he really looks like a young chef but he has a beautiful smile and twinkly eyes, seriously his eyes could turn me. He’s fun, doesn’t take life seriously at all.” Willow says.
“You had me at culinary school.” Andy laughs.
“Yeah he’s doing a farm to table program so he visits farms and suppliers and as he was telling me about it all I could think was wow Andy needs to date this guy.” Willow laughs.
“He sounds perfect for me. Is he single?” Andy asks feeling excited. He needs something to look forward to.
“Yes, very single, very ready in to meet someone who cares he said.” Willow says.
“Give him my number.” Andy says.
“Actually there is a favor attached.” Willow says.
“It this about Bonehead and Stubborn boy?” Andy asks.
“Yeah. I don’t know why they’ve not sorted themselves out. Can you invite Blue and I’ll invite Birch and make it a double date? They are both too polite to screw it up for you.” Willow asks.
“Hey it sounds good to me. Blue is in a major funk, he knows he shouldn’t have run off but he also thinks Birch is going to dump him for Gervais and is putting off having it confirmed.” Andy says.
“Birch is crazy about Blue and has no idea how to fix things. So he’s ignoring it and waiting for Blue to come to him. I knew they would both be waiting on the other.” Willow sighs.
“Okay text me the details and I’ll get Blue there.” Andy says.
“Is there nothing at all? I’ll take anything.” Blue says in the housing office.
“This late in semester everything is assigned. You should have applied sooner.” The housing officer says.
“I had a dorm room its just I can’t use it now.” Blue says exasperated.
“Wait there is one double room, the second occupant just left.” The housing officer says and gives the details.
“No thanks.” Blue says with a sigh.
“You said you’d take anything.” The housing officer says exasperated.
“That was my murdered friend’s room. I’m sorry it would be too weird.” Blue says sadly and turns to leave.
“Wait are you from the penthouse suite? It’s been released by the police for you to collect your things. The cleaning crew are in today, you can move back in. I understand if you wouldn’t but I will put you top of the list to move elsewhere.” The housing officer says.
“Okay. I can just move back in?” Blue asks.
“You’ll need new keys, a new door is being fitted. Come by at 4.30.” The housing officer says feeling awful that they can’t offer anything else.
“Thank-you. I just can’t afford a hotel anymore.” Blue smiles.
It’ll be weird being back in the suite but its about warm enough to use the pool again and he never has to go in Gervais room. He texts his friends that they can get their things that evening. He’ll need to get the rest of his things from Birch’s place.
“Hey Andy did you bring the car today?” Blue asks.
“Yeah you need it?” Andy asks.
“Yeah I do. I’ll have it back in time for you to get your things out of the suite.” Blue says.
“It’s in east parking. Hey want to get dinner tomorrow?” Andy asks.
“That would be great. Can we go for Indian?” Blue asks.
“Sounds goooooood. I need you back in my life I am starving without your snacks.” Andy laughs.
“I’ll email you some recipes. Hey sorry for missing Sunday dinner. I left my charger at Birch’s place and only got a new one this morning.” Blue says.
“You need to check in more bro. Where are you even living right now?” Andy asks.
“A motel. I’m moving into the dorms again though.” Blue says evasively.
“We have room in the apartment. Robin is never there anyway.” Andy says.
”I don’t want to live with Gervais. You will be putting pressure on me to be nice and I just don’t want to.” Blue says.
“He needs us Blue. I understand you keeping your distance before but we all need to come together now.” Andy says.
“You know I’m actually already busy tomorrow. Maybe some other time.” Blue says and heads to the car.
Andy cries out in frustration after hanging up and texts Willow to tell her he failed in his mission.
Blue gets to the studio and as expected Birch isn’t there. He quickly packs up the rest of his things.
Leaving anything he bought for the room and drives to the motel to get his things and check out. He meets the other guys at the housing office at 4.30 and they get keys to the apartment.
Spence has hired a u-haul so he can get the furniture. Blue hadn’t thought they’d take that already but at least he’ll have a bed even if he hasn’t a couch or TV.
“So can I keep the car for a few days?” Blue asks.
“Yeah like I said I don’t need it, I only brought it in so you could have it back.” Andy says as they walk back in.
Gervais things have been neatly piled in the main room and they are all relieved they don’t have to go into his room to get anything.
“Is it all there?” Spence asks.
“Mostly. I mean I didn’t expect to get the bed linens back.” Gervais smiles picking up the pictures of Blue’s he had on his wall, the frames have been cleaned and they’re okay. He feels happy, even if Blue isn’t his friend any more he has these pictures.
Blue helps the guys taking their stuff out in the hope they don’t notice he isn’t taking his own anywhere.
Spence offers to help Blue with his bags at the end but Blue waves them off and it is only after they’ve left he realizes they’ve taken all the kitchen stuff including his ice-cream maker. He gets his things from the car and makes up one of the beds in the double he first shared with Robin. It’s eerie being in there alone. He remembers his thanksgivings with Gervais and then stops himself as they only lead to pain.
He checks his phone again. Nothing from Birch. Next time he really will take it slow he promises himself. He can’t believe they blew out so fast, he feels almost as bad as when Gervais left him. He just doesn’t understand how he can go from utterly in love to utterly alone in such a short space of time.
Next time, who is he kidding? If he can’t make it work with Gervais or Birch he doesn’t deserve a next time. He just can’t do relationships. He doesn’t understand how to deal with a fight or how to cope with differences of opinion.
Blue puts some music on and unpacks in his room.
Robin unloads his things quickly before packing up a bag and heading to Grant’s place. He just doesn’t want to be around his friends right now, its all too much of a reminder. Grant is interesting and fun and Magnus is good to talk to when Grant is in his art zone.
“You’re welcome to stay, but Grant is staying late at school and I have a date.” Magnus says.
“Oh are you sure?” Robin asks.
“Yeah, you should just move in, we both like having you around.” Magnus says.
“Thanks. I just feel weird around my friends right now. I can only do small doses.” Robin says.
“I hear you. That’s why I live with my brother.” Magnus says.
“But you’ll consider living with us next semester. Grant wants to.” Robin says.
“I think so. I like the idea of living with you guys and I’ll be over Spence by then. Having a backyard would be great. I love this apartment but sometimes I need more air.” Magnus says.
“Good. So who is tonight’s date?” Robin asks.
“A man I met at the benefit last week. He’s actually a postgrad at your school. Brad.” Magnus says.
“Oh my god. He was Blue’s first encounter. I’ll say no more.” Robin says.
“Noooo this city is too small when you know the suite boys.” Magnus laughs.
“Brad is cute and I’m sure you’ll have a good time.” Robin says with a grin.
“Do I look okay?” Magnus asks, his usual immaculate self.
“You look great, I’m proud of you getting back out there after the disappointment with Spence.” Robin says.
“Thanks.” Magnus says and heads out.
Robin feels at a loose end so gives Blue a call. The two have had hardly any connection since the murder.
“Hey I’ve missed you. Want to go to dinner tomorrow? I have a craving for Indian.” Blue asks.
“That sounds good.” Robin says.
“So what’s going on with you? You seem to be avoiding our friends as much as I have.” Blue asks.
“Yeah. Too many memories right now. Its more fun to hang out with Grant who doesn’t need anything from me other than an ear.” Robin says.
“He liiiiiiiiiikea you.” Blue says.
“Yeah just like you freshman year. So what happened with you and Birch?” Robin asks.
“We had a huge fight about how I’m just not a good enough person and I never will be. I can’t be who he wants me to be.” Blue says.
“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.” Robin says shocked.
“It was. I couldn’t handle it and I left and I know that was stupid but what could I do? I was going to explode. Anyway he didn’t come after me and he didn’t call. It’s over.” Blue says.
“Did you call him?” Robin asks.
“No.” Blue says.
“You have to if you want to save it. Are you really going to find someone who fits you so well?” Robin asks.
“I don’t want to. You can accuse me of playing games but I want him to make the first move, to show he wants me. I feel like I always do the chasing and I’m too tired to fight for him.” Blue says quietly.
“You’re throwing it away being stubborn.” Robin says.
“Yes I am. Which I guess means he doesn’t mean as much to me as I thought. I just wanted someone to play house with.” Blue says.
“Blue that just isn’t true. You have been after him for ages.” Robin says trying to talk some sense into Blue.
“And all that time he was sleeping with Andy.” Blue says.
“But he never did anything else with Andy, he was dating you.” Robin says.
“Ugh enough I just can’t deal. Any girls out there for you? Or boys?” Blue asks.
“No one. No girls and you know if I were going to date a boy it would be you.” Robin says.
“Not Grant?” Blue asks.
“No.” Robin says.
“Sorry for being such a downer.” Blue says his lip quivering.
“It’s okay. You’re allowed to be yourself with me.” Robin says.
“I promise I’ll be fun Blue tomorrow.” Blue smiles.
“Good. Looking forward to it.” Robin says with a smile.
On Wednesday evening Blue and Robin, Willow and Birch and Andy and Curtis all arrive at the same restaurant within minutes of each other.
“Hey why don’t we all eat together? Take the pressure off me on my blind date.” Andy says as they wait at the hostess stand.
“Sounds good.” Willow says happy her plan has worked by accident.
“We’ll go elsewhere. Don’t want to ruin your night.” Blue says and makes to leave.
“Come on you’ve been craving the paneer tikka for ages.” Robin says firmly and Blue huffs. It’s true he really wants that dish.
“If Birch can cope being around such an unsympathetic cock.” Blue says.
Birch smiles and nods. Typical Blue has clearly blown everything up in his head.
“Everyone this is Curtis. Willow set us up. Curtis you know Willow, this is her brother Birch and my besties Blue and Robin. Birch and Blue are the sweetest couple in the world but in a fight right now so there may be some awkwardness. Can you deal?” Andy asks.
“I can deal. Bit soon to be meeting the best friends. I may be a little scared.” Curtis says and guffaws.
The other laugh at his laugh and the tension is broken.
Birch grabs Blue’s hand to stop him as the hostess starts to lead the group to a table.
“I still love you and don’t think you are a cock at all. Can we forget I ever mentioned Gervais?” Birch asks and leans in to kiss Blue on the cheek.
“Let’s not spoil Andy’s date.” Blue says.
“It would go a lot better if we made up.” Birch says.
“You didn’t call.” Blue says.
“Neither did you.” Birch says.
“I knew you were safe.” Blue says.
“I thought you’d be with your friends.” Birch says.
Blue walks on to the table and Birch stares at his back confused. He never thought Blue would be this high maintenance and isn’t sure he’s worth the bother.
They sit down and discuss the menu.
“How come you’re interning at Cheryls?” Blue asks Curtis once they’ve ordered.
“When I could just volunteer? The culinary institute assign us all various internships to learn in a real kitchen. Honestly given some of the restaurants people get assigned I thought I had drawn the shortest straw but Cheryl is an amazing chef and she makes me work a different area every shift so I am learning loads. Some of my friends only peel vegetables and gut fish so I feel super lucky.” Curtis says.
“Cheryl makes some of the best vegetarian food in the city.” Willow says.
“Right and the chefs at school told me to embrace it because it is always useful to know tasty vegetarian dishes and I’m learning how to make sides that are used everywhere. They’ve promised me a steak house or seafood restaurant next but I think I’ll keep a shift with Cheryl too.” Curtis says.
“So how did you end up cooking?” Andy asks.
“I graduated in engineering 2 years ago and I got a job straight out of school, in house tech support in a bank. It was hell. I was living alone for the first time and cooking helped me save money and relieved stress. Shopping the markets on a Saturday and batch cooking on a Sunday were what I lived for. Then my stepdad, well my mom’s boyfriend, they never married but they’d been together since I was 12, he died last summer and I took stock, decided life was too short to be miserable and quit my job to do what I love. I started culinary school full time in January and I don’t regret a thing.” Curtis grins.
“Willow said it’s a farm to table program, we are so going to be picking your brains. Blue and I want to grow and produce something, wine most likely, maybe hard cider if I can convince Blue. So we’d love to hear what you’re learning.” Andy says.
“Yeah, maybe it’s a course we should look at doing.” Blue says.
“We have a lot of field trips, urban farms, a vineyard, small market farms, we visit wholesale markets and understand the pricing. I even spent the morning shadowing a guy delivering mushrooms to restaurant kitchens.” Curtis says.
“I’m going to spend the summer on a couple of farms learning everything hopefully and Blue is off to Australia to see some wineries.” Andy says.
“So you want to do the farming side?” Curtis asks fascinated that this young guy might fit with his own dreams.
“Kind of, when I first heard Blue’s idea for a vineyard I thought I’d fit in on the logistics side but spending the summer working outdoors I knew that I’d found what I loved. Whether we reach the dream of wine or have a restaurant where I grow and Blue cooks, or have an orchard. I know I’ll be outdoors with nature a lot of the time.” Andy says with a smile.
“So are you two exes or something?” Curtis asks confused at what he’s stepping in to.
“No. Andy’s family moved up near mine mid freshman year and we became close friends. Andy has the same attitude to my dream as I do and we see a future together as business partners but nothing more.” Blue says firmly.
“I would love a restaurant that sourced everything locally and grew what it could. I want to be able to pick peas in the morning and serve them in the evening. Have whole tasting menus built around one main ingredient. I have a long, long way to go but it’s a definite ambition of mine.” Curtis says and Andy grins like crazy.
“You know we’re dating now,” Andy says.
“Oh. Do not get any say?” Curtis asks.
“Have you any objections?” Andy asks.
“I barely know you.” Curtis says,
“So ask me anything.” Andy says with a wink.
“How are you so confident so young?” Curtis asks.
“I was very lucky to have a wonderful boyfriend from 15 until a short time ago. Our breakup was mutual. I know I am lovable and desirable and I am awesome in bed. Why shouldn’t I be confident?” Andy says.
“Maybe you’re a bit cocky for me.” Curtis says.
“You don’t want a bossy top dealing with that ample ass of yours?” Andy asks and Curtis pops wood, turns red and can’t answer.
“Andy you have forgotten how to behave on a first date.” Blue says laughing.
“Yeah you’re scaring the poor guy.” Robin says laughing.
“He is a good guy though. You should let him have a second date, alone this time.” Blue says.
“And if you decide you like him bake him something and he’s yours forever.” Robin says.
“Oh I am so easy.” Andy grins.
“You’re all so cute. Willow how did you end up mixed up with these guys?” Curtis asks.
“So I was at one of the student sports centers and I was looking for a studio to use and saw Blue doing yoga, he was mesmerizing and I had to stop and talk to him. He invited me to his class and invited him to brunch and we became friends. Birch and I grew up in a commune and Blue in a hippie community so we had a lot of shared background.” Willow says with a grin.
“And where Blue is us lot are not far behind.” Andy smiles.
“We have dinners every Sunday and Willow and Birch braved it and met us all.” Robin says.
“You should come on Sunday. Last weekend Blue deserted us and I had to cook.” Andy laughs.
“That means you have to have a one on one date before Sunday.” Blue grins.
“Looks like you have me cornered.” Curtis says.
“So what about your life before culinary school. You mentioned your stepdad, do you have a real one?” Andy asks.
“My stepdad was a real father. The biological one left when I was 3. My mom was amazing raising me alone with no help from him. We were poor but okay until my stepdad came along and turned things around for us. He was in the military so not always around but he did his best to be there for all the big events. He said he couldn’t make it to my college graduation, he had something on. That was the only time I remember him and my mom arguing. She convinced him in the end, threatened to end things if he didn’t come. My mom is pretty lost without him.” Curtis says.
“He sounds great. My stepfathers were all the worst.” Andy says.
“Your mom has the worst taste in men of any woman who ever walked the earth.” Robin says.
“Really?” Curtis asks thinking they must be exaggerating.
“Well she never married a terrorist. But yeah one beat me to a pulp when I came out and another was a total pedophile.” Andy says.
“Who tried to kill us last spring break.” Robin says.
“Both of you?” Curtis asks.
“Four of us, they ran our car off the freeway. It was so scary.” Andy says.
“You have to be warned our group attracts trouble.” Blue sighs.
“One of our friends was murdered a couple of weeks ago.” Robin says.
“I’m so sorry. That must be so hard, you’re all so young.” Curtis says.
“We’ve been around a lot of deaths in the last year.” Andy says.
“But we’re all surviving.” Blue says.
“Together.” Robin grins.
Birch looks at Blue and thinks about all the group have been through in the last year. All the things Blue has done for his friends, especially fighting off Justin with Spence. He feels guilty that he expected even more of him when he’s clearly been damaged by everything and is barely hanging on any better than Gervais.