Author: Guede Mazaka
“I don’t know if you’d noticed, but we’re half a decade into the new millennium. Guys don’t wear black tie to the fucking theater anymore,” Galahad snapped. He ducked the stupid bow-tie Gawain was waving around and dodged into the bathroom. One quick kick and the door shut in Gawain’s snickering face.
Where the hell had he gotten a bowtie, anyway? It wasn’t like either of them kept around tuxedos, and a bowtie without a tuxedo, a limo and an entourage looked pretty stupid. Come to think of it, mentioning to Gawain that he was taking Mariette out later so sorry, Gawain would have to make dinner for himself tonight was dumb, too. Why had Galahad done that?
Oh, wait—Galahad hadn’t. He just hadn’t been quick enough to spit out a convincing denial when Mariette had walked into the GSI common room, informed him in front of Gawain that Kitty was letting her off early so they could actually catch dinner first, and then airily gone out again. That had been just before lunch. It was now four in the afternoon, and if rent-day wasn’t tomorrow and Galahad didn’t need Gawain’s bank account, he would’ve broken Gawain’s goddamn neck.
“Hey, remember to shave!” Gawain’s voice was muffled by the door, but it was still easy to tell that he was giggling. Giggling like a little girl.
Galahad briefly thought about stealing their bottle of aspirin. Then he shook himself and bent over the sink to wash his face. “Don’t you have better things to do?”
“No, I’m serious! You’ve got way too much stubble—it’s dark in a movie theater. She hits you an inch off and she’s going to get half her skin ripped off.” Well, Gawain did sound a little more sober. ‘Little’ being the keyword.
After a look in the mirror, Galahad reluctantly had to admit that Gawain might be right. He poked around till he found a can of shaving cream. Then he poked around some more till he found one that wasn’t almost empty; he had no idea why, but Gawain could be completely anal about milk expiration dates and also constantly forget to toss out shaving-can empties. Galahad junked the two he’d found and started smearing the white stuff onto his face.
“I’m shaving, all right? And I’m seeing a movie with Mariette! Stop being such a girl about it and go do something else! Can’t you bug Tristan or something?” Galahad yelled back. Honestly. Gawain wasn’t even the one that’d gotten shoehorned into going on the stupid…thing.
Galahad sighed and put down his razor. He stared at the face in the mirror. Then he grimaced and started shaving again. Maybe he was going to look like a kid without stubble, but he just looked plain silly with shaving cream smeared over half his face.
Which wasn’t what Gawain had actually said, unless he was really losing it, but his voice had suddenly dropped in volume and coherency. He also sounded a little depressed, though that might’ve just been the fact that the cheap plywood the doors were made of did funny things to sound.
Nearly all the cream had been scraped off, and Galahad had been beginning to think he’d get through it okay when suddenly there was a stinging pain on the side of his jaw. He hissed and pressed his knuckle to the cut before it could drip all over. Then he dropped the razor in the sink and fumbled around till he had a wad of toilet paper against the nick. Every fucking time, damn it. “What?”
“I said, he’s checking out another job.” Now Gawain sounded touchy.
Hard-earned experience had taught Galahad that it was too much to hope for that Gawain would go off to brood by himself. He’d just settle down in front of the door, and when Galahad tried to open it, somebody would get a doorknob in the stomach and it’d all end in no-holds-barred wrestling on the floor. It made for a hell of a painful rug-burn. And okay, Galahad usually ended up with an even more depressed Gawain on his hands, which made him all uncomfortable and sometimes kind of…mushy.
He finished rinsing the cream and blood off his face, then poked at the cut. It was pretty far down on his jaw, so it wasn’t too visible. “Is it in the city?”
“Yeah. Brooklyn, though.” Gawain shuffled around outside. He was probably pulling his knees up to his chest. “It’s a really good job—great salary for entry-level, and the hours aren’t too bad.”
“In other words, he’s going to show up as randomly as he does now?” Though at least Gawain had trained Tristan to goddamned knock, Galahad sourly thought. Usually the wood was still the windowsill more often than it was the door, but hey, Galahad wasn’t falling screaming off the couch as often.
Random thumpings with slight rattling trail-off. This apartment was way nicer than the one they’d had when they’d first come to New York, but it was still easy to tell where the landlord had cut corners. “I think they’re going to want him to move.”
“Not all that great, then. Where’s he going to put that hawk of his? You really think he’s going to move so far that he can’t pop over to the aviary every time he gets twitchy?” Galahad called back. He poked around in the medicine cabinet, wondering if this crap required cologne. It’d been a while since he’d had to go somewhere with a girl who’d be in a position to notice that kind of thing after the first five or so minutes.
Something creaked beside him and Galahad suddenly realized he’d forgotten to lock the door. He reached for the knob, but Gawain had already shoved his head in between the door and the wall. “You know, sometimes I remember why I put up with you.”
“Because of my amazing common sense?” Galahad stepped back just in time to avoid Gawain’s punch at his ankle. Cologne probably was a bad idea. For one thing, he couldn’t remember how old the stuff in their cabinet was; it wasn’t like either of them ever really used it. He picked up the bottle of hair-gel instead. “Man, you’ve been freaking out over him way too much lately. It’s Tristan. He’s not gonna run off on you. He’s like…he’s like that ugly-ass garden gnome you’re always throwing away, but somehow it comes back.”
Gawain opened his mouth. He closed it. He looked like the spot floating somewhere over Galahad’s left knee was making scrunchy faces at him. “Garden gnomes. Galahad, the first time you ever were out of the inner-city zone was when we drove up here.”
“It’s a metaphor. Or weren’t you paying attention to the semester’s first lesson module? Tsk.” The mirror still said Galahad’s hair was frizzing all over the place. He gave it a couple more squeezes with his hands, trying to push it so at least he wasn’t getting the strands in his eyes, but he didn’t try to make his curls look all nice and neat. There wasn’t enough gel in the world to make that happen.
“Yeah. About that. I’ve got this interview in mid-February.” The expression on Gawain’s face was about as casual as a cat trying to saunter past a cranky street dog. “With the, uh, School of Education.”
“Ow!” Galahad winced, then carefully untangled his fingers from his hair. They came away with a good four or five strands. He rinsed those off in the sink, then sat down on the toilet and started wiping his hands dry with another wad of toilet paper.
Gawain stared blankly at the ceiling. He was still lying on his back on the floor, and it didn’t look like he was planning to get up any time soon. Weird for him.
“So…why do you have an interview with them? Because I know it can’t be to enroll. We’re grad students! We hate being GSIs, but we do it because the college won’t pay for us to be here otherwise! It’s a law!” Okay, maybe Galahad was sounding a little hysterical. But honestly, teaching?
He looked at Gawain, and Gawain never had been great at hiding his emotions. So yeah, honestly. Teaching.
Galahad sat back hard so he rattled the top of the toilet. He absently reached around and steadied it with his hand. “When did this happen?”
“Just…well, I just made the appointment yesterday. That’s why the meeting’s not till February—they’re really booked up, and I can’t even enroll till next semester,” Gawain said.
Yeah. Like that had been what Galahad had meant.
After a moment, Gawain rolled over and pushed himself onto his elbows, then back so he was sitting in the doorway. He was starting to get defensive. “What?”
“Well, it’s just kind of…surprising. I mean, not that you can’t pick your way to die early of stress-caused heart attacks, but…yeah. Teaching?” Galahad was still trying to wrap his brain around it. For one thing, he couldn’t picture Gawain with short hair, and he wasn’t all that sure that they let teachers wear ponytails that went down nearly to the waist. “Like, real teaching, or did the Teach-For-America people get to you?”
“If they had, then I don’t see why you’d worry. We were the disadvantaged inner-city kids a couple years ago. Can’t be any harder than trying to make you learn that not washing your laundry makes the house stink,” Gawain snorted. He pulled up his knees and started fiddling with his toes, face going sober again. “The undergrads aren’t that bad, and I like what we do—I like mapping out and writing the papers. I know you hate it and you’re counting the seconds till some think-tank snaps you up, but hey, that’s you.”
Galahad wrinkled his nose. “Never said it was you. So what, you’d be like Arthur?”
“If I’m really, really lucky.” Gawain laughed a little. “He’s not even forty and he’s got a full professorship, tenure and his own endowment? I’ll settle for a nice associate professorship somewhere that gives me enough spare time to publish a paper every couple of years.”
Which actually was a hell of a lot more than they’d ever thought they were going to get. And if Galahad thought about it, that would fit Gawain pretty well. As long as Galahad left the hair alone.
“I don’t know. The idea’s been floating around for a while, but I just sat down and thought seriously about it a couple days ago, and I think I like it.” Shrugging, Gawain stood up. He frowned and batted at Galahad’s hair. “It’s still just a maybe. I haven’t even mentioned it to Tristan yet. Or Arthur.”
“If the interview’s not till February, you probably could sneak it in with Valentine’s Day. Say it and then hand Tristan a bag of dead rats or something,” Galahad said. Then he flinched and smacked away Gawain’s hand. “Ow! What the hell? You just messed up whatever you were fixing.”
The other man rolled his eyes and walked out of the bathroom. “Don’t think I don’t know that you’re trying to get sent to a conference on February fourteenth. Jesus, Galahad. I thought Grandma Yvie smacked better manners into you than that.”
“What? What the hell else am I supposed to do? It’s not like she’s even calling me her boyfriend yet, and you know, I still haven’t even seen her breasts. Felt them, yeah, but—” Galahad started to go after Gawain, but the reflection in the mirror caught his attention. He paused, checked himself over, and then said to hell with it. “You know what we’re going on today?”
Gawain turned around and dramatically swept out his hands. “A…date?”
“No. We’re checking out the new medieval epic because Kitty’s play this semester is set during the same period. It’s a ‘learning experience’,” Galahad snapped. It definitely wasn’t a date. Dates didn’t insist that he learn something when he took them out. “We’re researching.”
“So why can’t you do it in a library? If that’s what you’re doing, it’s not like you have to go on a…date.” And Gawain was back to enjoying Galahad’s discomfort, the son of a bitch.
Well, it was time to go meet Mariette anyway, so Galahad grabbed his coat and made sure he had his wallet. His stupid roommate could go laugh himself silly in the damn bathroom if he wanted, but Galahad didn’t have to stay around for it. “It’s not a goddamned date.”
“No, it’s den~ial—”
Galahad slammed the door on Gawain’s idiotic sing-songing and stomped down the stairs. First thing he was going to do when he saw Mariette was mention that hey, if they weren’t officially dating? Then maybe she shouldn’t talk about their non-dates where people could hear about them and get the wrong damned idea.
* * *
Dinner was good. Decent food, enough people in the place that their chatter covered for any uncomfortable silences, and Mariette’s feminist streak having her offer to split the check before she even saw what it came to. And somehow, she still hadn’t managed to get off the topic of Galahad’s complaint. “I was only telling you that we could eat dinner.”
He’d brought it up once at the very beginning, and he hadn’t even been that mean about it. If she could just listen, take the advice and let it go…but no, they had to debate it. “Yeah, that might’ve been what you said, but what it—what it connoted to Gawain was that we were officially dating. I was just suggesting that maybe next time you should be more careful about your context.”
Score one for the fancy-shmancy vocabulary of higher education. Mariette actually stopped arguing and scrunched up her face, which meant she was seriously considering what he’d said. Galahad took advantage of the gap to buy their tickets.
It was pretty late, but it was also Friday night and not that far into the semester, so he was a little surprised at how empty the theater seemed to be. The ticket-seller and the concessions stand guy were the only other people he could see, and the parking lot hadn’t been very full either. “You want anything?” he asked.
“What?” She blinked and stared around till she hit on the three-foot replica of a soft drink that topped the concession stand, whereupon she figured it out. “Oh. Not really. I’m still very full from dinner. You?”
“No, I’m good.” Okay, so where were they going? The individual theaters were clearly at the back, but Galahad had forgotten to ask which one was showing what movie. There were digital signs, but they hadn’t been too reliable for the past week. For some reason, they were prone to randomly switching around…or maybe it was just because he only had time to catch a movie late at night, and that was when the staff started getting bored.
He glanced over his shoulder at the concession stand, but the guy that’d been there had disappeared. A check at the ticket desk said that the ticket-seller was too busy chatting up the groovy monkeys on the wall.
“That was not a cigarette, was it?” Mariette snorted, lip curled in distaste. “They both smelled of marijuana.”
“Yeah, well, college.” Actually, Galahad had figured the concession-stand guy for more of a coke user, given his eyes. But anyway, they weren’t going to be much help. “You had your bout with it too, remember?”
She did, but didn’t like being reminded of it. First she ducked her head and blushed, and then she started loudly and quickly talking about how she hadn’t known and anyway, he’d been the one to take her to that kind of party. Galahad ignored her and just dragged them towards the back; hopefully they could hear which theater it was. The two other movies playing this late were some modern art-house flick about fucked-up people and a one-night showing of Chinatown, so it shouldn’t be too hard.
“Huh…” He paused, picked the door that had the most sword-swinging-like sounds coming out of it, then directed them that way. “Oh, lay off. What are you, a five-year-old? It wasn’t like I held a gun to your head.”
“No, but…” Mariette tugged her wrist from his hand and crossed her arms over her chest. Her hair was coming out of her bun, and it made her look a lot less uptight. “You could’ve mentioned not to eat anything.”
It was on the tip of Galahad’s tongue to say that should’ve been obvious, but he restrained himself. One, he was getting really tired of arguing with her, and two…well, she could be kind of clueless when it came to having fun. Sometimes he wondered whether her parents had raised her in a nunnery or something; he would’ve thought she’d pick up a couple tips from TV. And he heard that the commercials in Europe were way longer and less censored than in the U. S., too.
“…weren’t very good.”
“What?” Galahad peeked inside the door, but the trailers were already over and between the darkness and the angle of the screen, he couldn’t see what was playing. He couldn’t tell from the dialogue either, since no one was talking. But the music was orchestral and wailing, so he figured he had the right one.
Mariette’s hand somehow got onto his elbow. She always followed people too closely and she was stepping on his heels. “The Jell-O shots weren’t very good either. I should have let you drink them.”
“Yeah. Man, Halloween and I didn’t even get buzzed, let alone drunk,” Galahad muttered. He still was a little annoyed about that, even though what she’d just said had basically amounted to an apology. A diffident, unspoken one, but hell, that was a huge first step for her.
“But then you would’ve woken up with a hang-over and would’ve been all grumpy.” Something tripped Mariette and they both nearly fell over the first row of seats. She caught herself pretty quickly, but then got tangled up with Galahad’s feet and had to grab onto a seat. “No, no, go that way.”
Right. As if he could see where she was gesturing. Galahad felt around till he got hold of a chair arm, then pulled himself up. He accidentally kicked her and winced; Mariette squeaked loudly and skittered back. “I was grumpy anyway. Gawain and Tristan made up and then Gawain came back and was all… goofy.”
“I don’t remember that that was how it—oh! I’m so sorry, we didn’t see you—oh.”
Mariette’s first “oh” had been startled, but not all that unusual. Her second one had that weird undertone people got when they were seeing something far, far out of their everyday experience. Like the way Galahad always wanted to sound when he walked in on Gawain and Tristan, for example. He had a feeling it’d be better not to turn around, but his curiosity made him anyway.
At first he wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but then the movie switched to a scene with more lighting and things cleared up a little. Not much, but Galahad saw enough to get that that wasn’t his fault so much as the…two people?...who were all jammed together…oh. And one of them was hastily pulling down her skirt and muttering in a cheerfully irritated voice, which Galahad couldn’t help but recognize.
“Hi, Professor Cobham,” he said. His tongue felt kind of numb, but the words still came out fine. Galahad struggled for something else to add and finally had to turn to the screen for inspiration. “Huh. This doesn’t look like the Dark Ages of Britain.”
“No, though it’s certainly too dark for this survivor of the British university system,” Cobham tartly replied. She messed around with her skirt, which was voluminous and crinkly and was a great shield for whomever was with her. “Oh, damn. I’ve lost a shoe.”
Mariette was making croaking sounds, though they weren’t quite loud enough yet for anyone but Galahad to notice. He glanced at her, then started to back out of the aisle. At least, that was what he’d meant to do, but Mariette apparently took it for some kind of offer because she dove at his shoulder and clung to it, shoving her face in his neck. Galahad had to sling an arm around her just to keep his balance.
“We were…uh…looking for the other movie. Sorry about that.” Oh, shit. The thought suddenly popped into Galahad’s head that that patch of white beneath Cobham’s shoulder was too smooth to be part of her clothing. Jesus Christ, and Galahad had thought he’d avoided ever getting into this kind of embarrassing scenario thanks to having no parents. “We’ll just…leave you to it. Really very sorry, Prof—”
“Don’t call me that, please. How many times do I have to tell you, Galahad—it’s Kitty.” Cobham sighed dramatically and tugged at her clothing, which hopefully got everything all covered and so forth again. “And I was just beginning to feel young again. Ah, well. The movie was terrible anyway—so many contrivances! No proper characterization at all.”
The good news was that she was all clothed again. The bad news was that her skirt wasn’t covering up her date, and maybe it was dark, but Galahad could still tell that the guy was on the young side. Like, twenty years. Mariette must have been peeking because she muffled a little giggle-slash-gasp into Galahad’s neck. He scooted them into the aisle and hoped she wasn’t going to start drooling.
“Well, that’s easily remedied—the youth bit, of course. I’m afraid I can’t do much for the movie,” said the guy in an amused baritone. He made a cheesy little gesture with his hands and magically produced a woman’s shoe. “You’ll be wanting this, I suppose?”
“And probably a larger space as well. I’m all for reliving the spontaneity of youth, but not at the expense of my back.” After putting on the shoe, Cobham gracefully made her way out of the row, then moved aside for her date. She kept messing with her hair and pulling at the collar of her shirt, which seemed kind of pointless to Galahad. It was a wreck anyway and she was only going to muss it up more in a couple minutes.
Galahad mentally smacked himself and squeezed his brain hard. Ew. He so wasn’t thinking that Cobham was actually looking pretty good for her age. That was just…inappropriate in so many ways, and not just because she was his advisor and everyone already had their hands full walking delicately around the Gawain-dating-Tristan-Arthur’s-semi-son thing.
Actually, what Galahad should be doing was taking a quick exit. He tried to, but Mariette wasn’t exactly with the program yet and instead they nearly ended up on their asses on the floor again. “Goddamn it, I can’t see anything,” he muttered, steadying them.
“A common problem with movie theaters,” quipped Cobham’s date. He looked really pleased with himself.
Cobham barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. She must’ve gone with elbowing instead, because the guy suddenly jerked forward so he almost went down, and when he straightened up, his expression was on the pained side. Kitty pointed at him and he made a half-hearted attempt to look nice, which she clearly didn’t believe at all. “Galahad, Mariette, this is Sam. Sam, these are two of my graduate students on the Economics side.”
She followed it up with a slightly-strained smile, though Galahad didn’t think the strain was so much him and Mariette as Sam whatever, who was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. He was going to say something as well, but before he could, he suffered another attack of unseen-elbowing. “Pleased to meet you,” Sam managed. “Ah…my hands are a bit full, so you’ll have to forgive me for not offering one.”
Yeah, sure, and Galahad wasn’t memorizing the exact position of these seats so he’d never sit in them again. Sam whatever had better open all the doors with his hips and not touch the handles. “It’s okay. Anyway, we really have to…well, go. Catch our movie. See you Monday, Co—Kitty.”
“Salut.” Mariette was still croaking, but at least she remembered to wave at the other two. Then she turned around and hauled them out of there like her ass was on fire.
“Whoa! Slow down—they’re not following!” As soon as they were back in the hall, Galahad dragged on her till they weren’t in serious danger of running into a wall.
She let him do that, but then went too far in the other direction and started walking around in a little circle, wringing her hands. “I cannot believe—I—we—they—mon Dieu. C’est tout—I mean, that is all. My God. That is…that was…”
Holy Mary, Mother of God. Somebody really had it in for Galahad.
He slowly turned around with a twitchy smile on his face that really hurt his facial muscles. “Uh, Arthur. Hi. You aren’t seeing uh, Chinatown, are you? Or Tristan and Isolde?”
Arthur quickly picked up on the weird vibe and slowed down to carefully consider the matter, plus Galahad and Mariette, who’d frozen like someone had tasered her. “No. Actually, we were just leaving from the seven-thirty—”
We? Maybe Tristan wanted to mock the legend he’d been named after? In a best-case scenario…which the approaching man proved it wasn’t going to be.
“All right, let’s go. Guin should be home by now and even if she throws pens at me, at least she puts enough butter on popcorn. Honestly, it was ridiculous. Barely enough to feel on my fingers, let alone taste,” Lancelot said, nonchalantly coming up. He’d seen Galahad and Mariette from a long way off, but he obviously didn’t care. The corners of his mouth were spasming a little, like he was trying really hard not to laugh.
Mariette sort of made a jerk at Galahad’s shoulder, but held off from grabbing it at the last minute. She distractedly said goodbye to Arthur, who seemed to be debating whether to drop his head in his hands or to smack Lancelot upside the head. At any rate, he was an impressive shade of blush.
“’lo, Galahad. Sorry to cut the greetings short, but we really should be heading to bed. Have to make sure your advisor gets enough rest and that sort of thing.” Lancelot grabbed Arthur’s arm without stopping and casually walked them towards the door.
They weren’t even out of the hallway before Galahad heard Arthur start talking in a scolding tone, but Galahad didn’t stick around to hear the details. He trailed Mariette into the one theater that hadn’t been ruled out yet and saw that the movie had actually just started to play; they’d crammed a hell of a lot of trailers and ads in before this one.
Nobody else was in this theater—Galahad spent a good two minutes making sure of that. He finished up and turned towards the front to see that Mariette was still standing in the middle of the aisle, eyeballing the seats. “We’ve got our pick,” he said.
“I know, but…anyone could have…and yes, I know that this is true on any day, but it’s more difficult to ignore that right now.” She spread out her hands at the end of it, presumably to express how weird, frustrating, yet completely understandable that opinion was.
“Yeah…man. As if I wasn’t traumatized enough by Gawain’s boyfriends.” Galahad looked at the floor. It wasn’t exactly clean either, but at least it’d be easier to pretend that the last few minutes hadn’t happened. Anyway, plain old dirt had always been a hell of a lot easier to ignore than sex.
He plopped himself down, then experimentally laid back. After taking off his coat and wadding it beneath his head, he found that the picture was a little blurry and the perspective was off, but it was workable.
Mariette stood up for a little bit longer, but when she realized Galahad wasn’t leaving, she reluctantly sat down. Hell, they’d bought the damn tickets, so they’d better get a movie out of it.
By the time the first fight scene had come and gone, she was resting her head on his arm, curled tight to his side. She wasn’t wearing jeans, but she had ditched the skirts for pants so he could feel the warmth of her knee pressing against his. Galahad hadn’t put on any cologne, but she was wearing some light perfume that did a really good job of covering up the theater’s funky smell.
“I never…” She paused to let the actors get through some dialogue before continuing. “I knew Kitty was dating, but it is odd to actually see her doing it.”
“You know what I wonder? Where she got the guy. Did he look like a student to you?” Galahad mumbled.
He wasn’t expecting the little punch Mariette gave him, and so he missed a couple exchanges on the screen. He missed some more because she was hissing at him. “She wouldn’t!”
“I never said he’d be one of hers! Maybe she just snagged him off the commons!” he snapped. His arm was really stinging, but if he wanted to rub it, he’d have to push at Mariette and she’d probably take it the wrong way.
Galahad just didn’t say anything else, figuring she’d get distracted by the movie. At first he thought it was working, but then Mariette pushed herself up on one arm and stared down at him. He had no idea why because he couldn’t make out a single detail of her face.
“Can you believe they were having sex in public?” she said. Oddly enough, she sounded less scandalized than confused.
“Uh, yeah. I mean, it’s kind of rare for somebody her age to be doing it, but sex in a movie theater’s popular in America. What, isn’t it the same way in France?” Damn it, Galahad was missing another fight scene. He tried to covertly tip his head to see around her.
Mariette bobbed up and down, like she wasn’t sure whether to lie back or not. “I don’t know. I never have had sex.”
It was a good thing they couldn’t see each other. For a second there, Galahad had blanked out so much that he didn’t even remember why the hell the dim light was flickering. Then he remembered about the movie, and the other stuff.
“Okay,” he finally said. Dumb answer, especially since he’d kind of figured she was a virgin from the way she dressed, but still the best he could do on short notice. “And you keep saying we’re not going to. Which I believe, by the way, so don’t start telling me again.”
She didn’t. Instead, she went on another tangent. “I don’t like lying to my parents. And they really wouldn’t approve of you as a…as a boyfriend. So that’s why I don’t want to call you that.”
“Isn’t that just avoiding the question?”
Galahad got the impression Mariette was wrinkling up her nose at him, mostly from the little snort she made. “You’re a philosophy student,” she said almost accusingly.
“Hey, half-economics. And you’re economics, but thanks to Kitty and Arthur’s joint class, you’ve graded enough philosophical bullshit to count as an honorary one,” Galahad shot back. He tilted his head slightly so he’d still look like he was angling her way, but could also see how the man on the screen was whacking off body parts. That was one hell of a broadsword.
A warm weight suddenly prodded and jabbed its way onto him: Mariette, using her elbows and knees way too liberally. “You’re trying to watch the movie.”
This time, she was definitely accusing, though for what reason was completely beyond Galahad’s comprehension. He also wasn’t all that fond of her shift in position, mostly because he’d really like to be fond of it, but he didn’t want to get slapped. She still was stiffer than a corpse, but the curves of her hips were there and her breasts were just grazing his chest.
Galahad bit his lip, silently reminded himself he had to see Mariette every workday no matter what happened, and pushed himself up on his elbows. He had to stop after a couple inches because he was in danger of smashing their noses. “Well, yeah. I thought that’s why we came here.”
She giggled. It was short and nervous. “I thought it was so you could stare at the actress during the sex scene.”
“And you aren’t here because the trailer showed the James Dean-looking guy all sweaty and bare-chested?” Galahad retorted. Actually, Mariette was a lot heavier than she looked. It wasn’t exactly painful to have her lying on him, but it was a lot of pressure that he could’ve done without. At least, not if she was going to insist on the no-sex thing. “Ow. You’re making my legs fall asleep.”
Something small and round poked at the base of Galahad’s throat: her fingertip. It paused, then trailed up his neck and touched the cut on the side of his jaw. He hissed and Mariette rocked back, which kind of exacerbated Galahad’s growing dilemma. She stopped there so she was straddling his waist, and suddenly he really, really wished he could see her face.
“So you want me to move?” she asked. Her voice was funny, like it was trying to go deep but instead her nerves were making it waver all over the place.
Galahad squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them. She was still there. “Mariette, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t somehow like you, but I swear, if you’re taking inspiration from Professor Cobham, I’m gonna…”
“I’m not!” She twisted nervously around. The silhouette of her arm came up, so either she was biting her nails or she was messing with her hair. “But if I were, she—she’s an excellent role model in her fields of expertise.”
“You know, taken certain ways, that’s not all that complimentary to her,” Galahad muttered. He absently glanced at the movie, then just gave up on that. Too many lines had gone by for him to know which grimy leather-dressed guy was fucking with which other grimy leather-dressed guy. “Mariette, look, I don’t think you’re thinking—”
“I am so!” She grabbed his shoulders.
Or maybe he grabbed her arms. Either way, they ended up smushing noses anyway, and Galahad could smell her breath. He turned his head slightly to clear his throat. “Well, you’re not drunk.”
“You had dinner with me. You didn’t notice that?” she tartly said, though that undertone of jumpiness was still there. She sort of pressed forward so her lips moved against the middle of his cheek.
Galahad turned his head back, and while he was pretty sure he didn’t do that so they could lock lips, that was what happened anyway. She’d gotten really good at this part, so once their mouths were properly lined up, they just sort of had to get into it.
A couple seconds later, Galahad became aware that this wasn’t exactly going like it was supposed to. Nothing was wrong with the way their mouths were moving over each other, or how she was curling her tongue kittenishly against the back of his teeth, or how her belly was pressing up against his—
--fuck. Right. With difficulty, Galahad convinced his hands to move from rubbing the sides of Mariette’s breasts to her arms. Then he got distracted by her rocking up against him, which was still awkward and not exactly on-target, but more or less got the job done--damn it. He pushed her back. “Wait. Mariette—”
“What now?” she snapped. Then she cocked her head, and he didn’t have to see her expression to know that she was doing it because she thought she’d figured it all out, and “it” was somehow insulting to her. “I am not an idiot! I don’t do this because I think it’s an American custom and I have to fit in that badly.”
“Not like you’ve ever really thought that,” Galahad mumbled. He caught himself and got back on track before she could yell at him. “No, listen, I…I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m turning down sex.”
Mariette exhaled sharply, then gave his shoulders a sudden curt push. “You are so—so much of a bastard sometimes.”
“Yeah, well, maybe this is exactly what this bastard wants to avoid. Goddamn it, this is a movie theater! And we’ve got group meeting on Monday and it’s already going to be weird enough without having you all pissed at me too!” It was Galahad’s turn to pointedly exhale. Of course, that wasn’t nearly enough to express the depths of his frustration and utter irritation, so he dropped back. His head smacked dully on the carpet, which helped a little.
On the screen, somebody died with much gurgling, which was a great commentary on their situation.
“…why would I be mad at you?” Mariette finally asked, in so quiet a tone that Galahad almost didn’t realize it was her.
“I don’t know. Because.” Because she got mad for bizarre reasons at the drop of a hat, and what they’d been on the verge of doing would be a hell of a longer jump down than that. Because Galahad always pictured Mariette with having a little more class than a goddamn movie theater. Because he still wasn’t sure that she wasn’t just with him so she could thumb her nose at her parents. Because goddamn it, he’d never had to worry about the morning-after before. “Would you be mad at me?”
Her answer was to slowly climb off of him. She took off her hand last, and it dragged its way across him so one of her nails caught in his shirt and Galahad almost grabbed her wrist. But he let it go, and Mariette sat down beside him with her knees pulled up to her chin. After a minute, she angrily jerked herself out of it and huffed down beside him, grabbing his hand so hard that he thought his wrist was going to break from the whiplash.
“I think I liked his hair better in Spiderman,” she said. She was trying too hard to sound normal, but he appreciated the effort.
“Yeah. I’m not all that fond of that belt thing the women wear, either. Makes their hips look too big for me.” Galahad hesitated, then tugged his hand free and maneuvered his arm around till it was under Mariette’s head.
A little later, they were snuggled up together and making out like the house was on fire. She was a little more feverish than usual, her nails scratching at his shoulders and her thigh occasionally slipping up to run alongside his interested dick. Which made for a slightly frustrating time, but this kind of frustration was something Galahad was used to. He could deal with it. He had his hands nicely full of her breasts, anyway—she’d let him get her shirt up and her bra unsnapped, and maybe it was still too damn dark, but it was great anyway.
Her hands ran over his back and then went down. They seemed like they were just going to keep on traveling—Galahad stiffened a little—but at the last minute, they detoured back up. And that was how it was for the rest of the movie. Hands above the waist.
* * *
Gawain was still up when Galahad finally got back, watching some History Channel special on ancient Russian burial mounds. He apparently had been dozing, because he startled up and whipped around. When he saw who it was, he relaxed and started blinking sleepily. “So how was it?”
He was still awake enough to sound teasing, Galahad sourly noticed. “We almost had sex.”
Galahad tossed his coat into a chair and wandered around the kitchenette area for a bit, trying to remember why the hell he thought he needed to go in there. Eventually it occurred to him that the beer in the fridge was a good reason, so he got himself a bottle.
It took about that long for Gawain to get everything processed. “Uh, okay. Was she really pissed off at you?”
“No. She’s the one who started it—she got pissed off because I stopped,” Galahad snapped. He stepped over a stack of graded papers on his way into the living room, then flopped down on the other end of the couch.
The TV droned on about Scythians and gold and human sacrifices. Gawain made a couple strangled choking noises.
“You mean Mariette—”
“Why the hell did I do that? Goddamn it, why?” Galahad sat up and kicked at the floor. Then he pressed the cold glass of the bottle against his temple and groaned. “Jesus Christ, I’ve been making time with my hand since…since the fucking summer because I’ve been waiting. And putting up with her temper, and with her…her fucking French attitude, and then I…tell her no. Why?”
The opposite end of the couch kept on choking. “Uh, because you’ve discovered your—”
“Because I didn’t want her to be all weird and angry in the morning! And she would be, because something would’ve gone wrong, or she wouldn’t have liked something that I did afterward because God knows what her idea of afterglow is like, and goddamn it.” The makeshift icepack wasn’t working. Galahad still had a hell of a headache, so he took down the bottle, unscrewed the cap and took a good long swig. “Fuck. I actually care whether she’s around on Monday.”
There was a long silence. Then Gawain held out the remote and turned down the TV volume. “Galahad,” he said seriously, “I think you’re admitting that you and Mariette—”
“Shut up.” One good thing about beer bottles: they were the perfect shape for holding up to block out Galahad’s view of Gawain. “I’m going over to her place next Friday. We’re going to poke fun at Adam Smith’s theories and I think she’s going to try and cook. I think she’s also going to try…yeah.”
“You never had a problem with that before,” Gawain commented. He sounded just neutral enough to not give Galahad a reason for going into the next room and getting drunkenly moody.
Galahad drank some more beer. “I don’t think Mariette’s really the same as them.”
Gawain opened his mouth.
“I wasn’t going to say ‘I told you so,’ all right?” Gawain irritably said. He tossed a pillow at Galahad’s head, but either he was really distracted by the TV or he hadn’t been trying at all, because it missed by about six feet. “So what’s the problem? I think at this point, you know each other well enough so that you’ve got a shot at not fucking it up if you really don’t want to.”
“You really sure? I mean, we’re here for two years, minimum. More if we end up going for something beyond a Master’s. And she and I are both under Kitty, and do you know how fucking awkward it’d be if we broke up? I mean, at least you and Tristan are in different departments.” Soon as he’d said the last part, Galahad winced. “Not that I was saying…you know.”
A long breath came out of Gawain’s mouth. “Yeah, I know. Though you still really, really need to learn not to say everything that comes into your head.” He jiggled the couch with his foot. “But you can’t exactly do anything about that now. I mean, whether or not you two want to say…that word…you guys are. It’d be awkward even if you never had sex.”
“Shut up.” The beer was gone and Galahad couldn’t think of anything new to say. This was bad.
Gawain sighed and tossed something else in Galahad’s general direction. It looked like a sweatshirt, but it flew over too fast for Galahad to be sure. “Galahad, this is new for you, and you should in fact be fucking terrified. It might end up being really bad. It might screw you up for the rest of your life. But you know what? It might not. And nothing is gonna tell you which it’ll end up being except actually going out on that limb and trying it.”
“Oh, that’s really helpful.” Galahad stared at the weird battle re-enactment on the TV, idly comparing the armor there to the armor in the movie. The movie’s stuff had been better tailored, but the armor on the TV looked like it’d be more efficient at protecting. Didn’t leave so much exposed.
“Well, I might share this place with you, but I am definitely not your mother,”’ Gawain said, levering himself up. He stopped to pat Galahad on the shoulder and chuckled when Galahad smacked him away. “So Friday, huh? Mind if I have Tristan over?”
Even as good as Gawain and Tristan seemed to be for each other, they still couldn’t always get each other straight. Gawain spent a hell of a lot of his time worrying about that, and he was way more patient than either Galahad or Mariette were. He usually had a much better idea about what he was doing when it came to this stuff, too.
Galahad closed his eyes, then cracked them open. He was sitting down, but he felt like he was teetering on the edge of a long drop. He closed his eyes again. “Fine. But keep it in your room, okay? After tonight, I don’t want to have to worry about our damn couch, too.”
“Right.” Obviously Gawain didn’t understand that at all, but he wasn’t going to argue. “’night, Galahad.”
“Whatever.” The TV was still on, and once Galahad had retrieved the remote and changed the channel, it was actually interesting. Outside it wasn’t exactly silent, but it was pretty quiet for in the middle of the city. Gawain was going to bed, and on Monday Galahad was going to try and talk to his advisor—to both his advisors—without accidentally saying something tactless. He and Mariette were probably also going to have coffee at some point, and sneak into one of the study booths in the u-brary for some heavy petting. And then on Friday.
Well, falling didn’t hurt. But then, he hadn’t actually hit the ground yet.
Galahad sank further down the chair and groaned to himself. He hoped…he really hoped it didn’t hurt. Really.