By the time the show ended, Crandall was staring at the ceiling giggling intermittently. Ash was on the floor, using the couch as a backrest and the coffee table as a place to spread out potato chips, organizing them by wholeness, flatness, and size. Mike slouched in the corner of the sofa, staring at the TV, nursing his last beer.
“What are you doing?” Mike asked.
Ash glanced over his shoulder. “I’m…” He waved a hand over the chips. “Uh, sorting. Never mind.” He swept them into a bowl and set it aside.
“Not going to eat them?”
Ash sighed. “I think I need another smoke.”
Crandall laughed, paused, and then fell sideways in a fit of giggles.
“What’s wrong?” Mike slid to the floor to sit beside Ash. He ate a chip.
“It’s a weird OCD thing,” he said. He laughed, but it was full of uncomfortable self-awareness. “I eat all the little, broken pieces first, and save the whole chips for last.” He shrugged and offered Mike a weak, wary smile.
Mike snickered, but threw an arm around Ash. “We already knew you were a “little” OCD, man. No need to worry about that.” He looked back at Crandall who’d stopped giggling, but remained curled on his side across the sofa.
“He didn’t mean it,” Ash said.
“You are special to him.” Ash looked away when Mike looked at him. “You two have something great. I can see it.”
“Yeah,” Mike said with a sigh. “I know. I might need that smoke too, if we’re going to talk about relationships.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s not my favorite topic.” Ash pulled the chip bowl forward and started sorting chips again. “You know, I don’t even realize I do this half the time, but even if I don’t have a place to line them up, I eat them in the same order right out of my hand.” He made a face and lifted a whole chip to his mouth. Instead of eating it, he set it on a paper towel next to another large chip and ate two broken pieces instead.
“What about that girl?” Mike asked.
“Huh?” He looked at Mike. “Oh, that one Crandall met? You need directional signals on your conversations when you’re high.”
“I blame him,” Mike said. He slapped Crandall’s thigh.
Crandall sat up. “Hey! I’m not into the kinky shit.”
“If anyone’s going to get spanked, it’s you,” Crandall said pointed a finger in Mike’s face.
Mike grabbed his hand and kissed the offending finger before returning his attention to Ash. “Maybe you should meet her.”
“No…” Ash shook his head. He laid out a few more chips, and then added, “No, I couldn’t.”
Crandall crawled across the sofa and slid down on the other side of Mike. He snaked an arm around Mike’s waist and leaned against him. He took Mike’s beer, drained it, and handed back the bottle. While Mike frowned at the empty, Crandall ignored his reaction and said, “Because if they hug, she’ll know.”
“Know what?” Mike said. He set the bottle on the coffee table and put his arm around Crandall.
“Moron,” Crandall muttered.
“Not exactly,” Ash said. “But yeah, I can’t lie about something when she’s bound to find out eventually.”
“You don’t have to,” Crandall said. “You don’t say anything until you’re ready to.”
“And when I do, she’ll freak out. I can’t start a doomed relationship.”
“You’re a moron too. You don’t know what she’ll think. For all you know she’s…” Crandall waved his free hand, “too.”
“Yeah, that word. Giggle weed makes me forget shit.”
“I doubt that,” Ash said.
“No, it does.”
“No, I meant—“
“I know what you meant.” Crandall grinned. Mike chuckled. “You could meet her for coffee,” Crandall said.
“Isn’t that what people do?”
“Sure,” Mike interjected. “Just meet her. Tell her you want to take things slow. That you have some personal stuff to deal with or something.”
“Stuff,” Ash mumbled doubtfully.
“It couldn’t hurt to meet her,” Mike said.
“It could,” Crandall said. “She could be a psycho stalker bitch.”
Mike snorted trying not to laugh. Ash smiled. “I could tell her – I don’t know – maybe that I’d like to be friends first, while I’m sorting out what’s left of my life.” His smile became more genuine. “See if she’s got an open mind.”
“Oh sure,” Crandall said. “Girls love to hear that. ‘Let’s be friends.’ Uh-huh. Do that.” He rolled his eyes.
Mike caught Crandall’s chin and tipped his face up to look him in the eyes. “Shut up, Crank.”
“You just went from helpful to hindering,” Mike said, but he said it in a sweet, tender voice.
Crandall froze, staring deep into his eyes, a move that used to unsettle Mike. Crandall blinked and looked away. Fucking Ash, he just had to be right. Mike had a bit of a romantic streak, and that streak loved that Crandall was helping Ash see there was potential in this mystery girl. Shit, he got it now, and he was glad Ash had vehemently declined his marriage proposal. It still made sense – marrying Ash – but it sure as fuck wasn’t romantic.