Length: 1-5k words
Notes: Sort of in the Shoebox ‘verse, but sort of not. Kind of the same story, just much, much shorter.
1. Be tidy: a place for everything and everything in its place!
As Luis enters the Shoebox, he trips over a folder that Averman flung at the plant a couple of weeks ago (during a particularly violent bout of Plant Death Match with the Bashes), he flies the two steps of clear space before hitting the corner of their shared desk. He bounces off and lands in an inelegant heap on a pile of laundry that seems to incorporate both clean and dirty clothing. The TV and VCR wobble dangerously—and, just for a second, Luis wonders if he’s going to die in the Shoebox—but they do not fall. Luis curses loudly and creatively. Then he decides, “That’s it! We’re tidying up!”
“Uh-huh,” Averman replies with a calculating glance around the room. “And how exactly would that manifest itself?”
Luis gets to his feet, walks the single step to the center of the room and evaluates. There is a long moment of silence. He comes to a decision. “I’m going to hold the bed up, and you’re going to ram stuff under it, ok?”
Averman frowns. “That sounds like a lot of fetching, carrying and shoving on my part, while you get to stand still.”
“While I hold the bed up,” Luis replies.
Averman shakes his head and crosses his arms, pouting like a child.
Luis stares at Averman for a few moments without speaking, and Averman, oddly, finds himself blushing. Finally, Luis speaks, “How about we do this on a Tuesday, when you’ve got all that nervous energy before drama?”
“How about you do it while I’m at drama?” Averman counters.
“How about I threaten to beat you to unconsciousness with your folder that I just tripped over?”
“How about we just burn the folder and call it even?”
2. Paint in bright, airy colors to give the illusion of space.
“I don’t think that paint is going to go very far,” Luis says.
Averman eyes the pot with suspicion, then smiles. “Mendoza, just how much paint do you think we need? We live in a shoebox!”
They get painting, but it seems that painting walls takes a lot more talent than the adverts let on. That guy effortlessly using a roller to re-paint a wall in thirty seconds? Yeah, he sucks, Averman decides. Why doesn’t that guy turn around and show you just how much spatter-back you get? His clothes are ruined and his vision is blurred by the speckles on his glasses.
Also, this paint reeks. Of course, they shouldn’t have trusted Taz, but when it comes to repairing dorm rooms, she’s the resident expert.
The paint doesn’t really cover the walls, it spreads a thin layer on top of the nicotine-yellow walls, but doesn’t really hide the ugly color. In fact, it seems to be making it worse. It now looks like rotten milk splashed liberally over mustard. And wow, it really does stink.
“Is this going well?” Averman enquires, gesturing at the wall.
In response Mendoza starts humming what Averman believes is the school song. He doesn’t know what is worse, that Mendoza is singing it, or that he recognizes it.
He flicks some paint in Luis’ direction. “Luis! This paint isn’t really taking.”
Luis gives him a goofy grin. “You got a headache?” Luis asks. “I’ve got a headache.”
Averman shrugs. “I’m ok.”
“That nice.” Luis gives him an even larger grin. “Being ok is… nice.”
Averman pauses and stares at him. “Are you sure you’re ok?”
“You’re huffing paint, that’s what you are,” Averman notes. “We ought to leave.”
3. Go out.
They wind up sitting in the “ornamental garden”, a terrifying hidden courtyard filled with the rarest plants that will grow in Minnesota, given more care, love and funding than the rest of the school put together. Even the rich kids don’t have the nerve to goof off here, even though their parents could, in theory, afford to replace the things they might break.
Luis thinks it’s all breathtakingly beautiful and has to be restrained several times by Averman when he attempts to stroke the flowers. They’re just so incredible. Luis is captivated by a very red rose, there are no words to explain just how red the rose is, and there is no way in this universe that the rose can look so amazingly red in the moonlight. He wants to touch it. He knows it would feel like velvet, but he would not be able to explain it to Averman. He would have to touch it too. They could share the beauty.
“That paint did not agree with you,” Averman says, pulling Luis back to the bench. Averman sighs. “I’m sure it’s an amazingly red rose, and I’m sure you’re right, it would be velvety, but I am not putting my family’s home on the line when you blunder over there and decide to eat it because it would be like ingesting beauty.”
It would probably taste like heaven. It would be—
“No, Luis. It would taste of flower. I’ll pick you some grass if you really must eat something.”
Averman can hear his thoughts! This is a life-changing night.
“I can’t hear your thoughts, you stoned fool. You’ve been blabbering ever since we got here. Now sit still.”
Averman yanks him back against the bench once more and Luis loses his balance and slides sideways, and finds himself leaning against Averman, with his head on Averman’s shoulder. This is amazingly comfortable. Whatever fabric softener that is used on his clothes is nectar from the gods, he can feel every fiber in the shirt and it is welcoming his face and—
“Seriously, Mendoza, what the hell? My shirt is welcoming your face?”
Luis forces himself to sit while Averman laughs himself into a coma. It’s hard not to be distracted by Averman’s hair. At the best of times it’s wild and curly and pointing in a hundred different directions at once, but when he laughs each strand wobbles. Each twist and turn of every curl is like an homage to Tim Burton. It’s like a maze that leads to the brain of Averman, a place that some may think might be filled with silliness and empty candy wrappers, but Luis knows is filled with little-known facts and witty retorts and great conversations that keep them talking until four in the morning, even when they have hockey practice at six.
Averman gives him a tired, yet fond, look. “My hair is a maze?”
Luis suddenly makes a decision. He makes it without thinking and—thankfully—without speaking. He lunges forward and kisses Averman squarely on the lips. This is the perfect solution to all problems, with his lips occupied he cannot talk—and when Averman kisses him back, he can’t even think so there’s no chance of verbalizing his thoughts.
Luis learns that talking is not the only thing Averman can do that keeps them both occupied until four am.
4. Rearrange the furniture to maximize what space you have.
“Right, so you want us to move the beds so they’re together?” Portman repeats, when they explain the situation to him.
Averman nods. He and Luis discussed coming out to the Ducks but neither were keen. Then they found a self-help book in the room of Luis’ friend, Annie, that seemed to make sense. It was called “Because I Am Perfect: Achieving Your Goals Through Positive Visualization”, and they gleaned from the back cover was that the way to have a perfect life was to act as if you already had one, instead of saying when I do X… you had to tell yourself because I have already achieved X…
In order to apply this philosophy to their lives, they simply acted as if they had already come out and everyone had taken it well. Perhaps Fulton and Portman weren’t the best candidates for their trial run though. Or maybe they were, but asking them to move the cabinet that separated the beds in order that they could be pushed together might have been the thing that was the problem.
“If we move the cabinet to the left, then the beds can be side by side,” Averman expands. “It would make life easier.”
Luis nods. “We keep falling down the gap between the beds.”
Fulton tilts his head and appraises them both, then the room, then he shakes his head. “No, that’s not going to work. I’m not ok with that.”
“What’s your thinking?” Portman still looks confused, as if he’s worried that he’s missing something here. That the obvious seems too obvious and maybe there’s a hidden trick.
Averman just keeps telling himself, when we came out to the Bashes, it was fine, and they helped us move our furniture.
Fulton shakes his head. “That’s just not working for me. I can’t get behind that as a plan.”
When we came out to the Bashes, it was fine, and they helped us move our furniture.
“We’re going to want to put that cabinet under the window, Portman,” Fulton adds. “If we move it the other way, we’ll never have a good shot at the plant when we’re playing Plant Death Match,” Fulton replies.
Portman pushes Luis over to Averman, to make room for him to stand next to Fulton and look back over the room. “You’re right. Unless we put the plant on top of the TV.”
“I think that’s asking for trouble,” Averman puts in.
“Could take the game to a whole new level…” Fulton muses.
“Yeah, that’s not an option,” Luis says. “Beds together, cabinet under the window. Plant stays where it is. Nothing changes. Except for the sleeping arrangements.”
Fulton shrugs. “You got it. Nothing changes, except for the sleeping arrangements.”
5. Move out.
If they were girls—like Annie, for example—they’d leave sweet little notes to the future occupants of their room. Annie had done just that. She and her roommate had written a lengthy letter to the people who would take their room next year (on pink paper, scented with perfume and decorated with glitter), telling them just how happy the two of them had been in there, how wonderful senior year had been, and just how awesome life was going to be.
Luis and Averman had contemplated leaving a post-it note to explain why the largest wall was such an ugly color, but realized that doing so would be admitting that they were the ones who tried to paint it, and since they didn’t want to draw any more attention to their wrong-doing than was already apparent, they decided not to.
Nor did they want to go the route of the bashes, who had left a series of post-it notes explaining that one of them had a lot of… inappropriate dreams, but not which bed that person had taken, and gosh, wasn’t the new occupant really looking forward to choosing a bed now?
Instead, they just stood, hand in hand, in their small room, the Shoebox, surveying the room they had learned to live with: the hole behind the door where the doorknob had smashed into from every person who had ever barged in; the plug socket near the TV that had given Luis a bit of a fright; the ugly wall that lead to their first kiss; the wardrobe door that would not slide open, no matter how well-oiled the runners were; the bottom drawers of the chest of drawers, which had fallen to pieces and eaten all of their socks, and despite moving it, they had never gotten them back.
Finally, Averman came up with the perfect note to the next occupants.
“Be careful, the Shoebox bites back.”