"Correction: you are. I'll be at the 7-11 eating ice cream and fried chicken until you're done."
Miguel cast an exasperated look at Tristan. After 'The Incident', Tristan decidedly quit whatever job he had to focus on writing and was bunking and vlogging it up at Miguel's apartment. They shared rent, dinner, and responsibilities. But now, some of Miguel's friends were dropping by for a visit and some nights to themselves, and Tristan was reluctant to join them. "Tristan, they're not that bad. They're great guys. And this is just a pub."
"Miguel," Tristan similarly intoned, and wow, Tristan was a little shit when he was pissy. Miguel almost forgot about that. "What is there for me to talk about with them? I don't know anything about the military. I may as well be a bloody wallflower while you all catch up or something."
"It's just a bunch of discharged guys. Chill, will you? And we're getting to know each other, so just like meeting any stranger: basics."
"Basics," Tristan scoffed. "I don't think there was any improvement since that circuit party you dragged me to before you went on tour."
Miguel recalled seeing Tristan huddled to a corner of the bar nursing a full cup of rum and coke. Yeah, that memory was depressing.
"This is different. More relaxed. Trust me," Miguel assured him, but Tristan didn't budge one bit. "Tristan, please."
Tristan let out a long-suffering sigh. "Why can't I ever say no to you?"
"Goes both ways," Miguel murmured, but was smiling either way. "Just be yourself; you'll be fine."
"Shall I remind you of my bedroom?"
Miguel shuddered at the thought of that memory. It may have been a couple of weeks since 'The Incident', but it was enough of an image and a potential thought to run his blood cold. "That's not funny."
Tristan shrugged, not caring. "Sorry. My humor is hit and miss. Might as well shoot and see where it lands."
Tristan was being a little shit on purpose. Miguel wasn't letting him back out, however. And he knew Tristan would behave once they settled down.
Meeting with what amounted to Miguel's old team was interesting for Tristan. They reminded him of people who bullied him in high school and ignored him in college but with a look in their eyes that said they wisened up. When asked who he was, Tristan fumbled over the word 'friend' for a moment.
They sat at a booth just beside one of the windows and all had a beer. Save Tristan, who much to everyone's laughter, ordered a literal glass of milk. On the rocks.
"You sure he's over twenty, Miguel?" Robby, one of the bigger blonds in the group asked. "He's kinda small to begin with, then he orders the milk."
"Beer and whiskey aren't my thing," Tristan argued, not at all fazed; he's had this discussion before. "Plus, milk is awesome."
"Well, I like him," Jazz, a lady sporting a ponytail made from dreads, announced, ruffling his hair. "He reminds me of my brother. So good-natured."
"Yeah!" Will agreed, the smaller-but-still-big blond said around a mouthful of burger. "Heesh ador--bul Mi-. Wher- -ou ge- -im?"
Miguel made a face at his pig of a friend. "Bro, don't talk with your mouth full."
"Oh, that's what you told me last night."
Everyone choked on their drink, sputtering, coughing, snorting and laughing. They snapped their eyes to Tristan, who sipped at his milk.
Will was saving whatever remnants of burger was on the table. Jazz was cackling with the others while Miguel grinned. "Dude, I didn't think he knew sex jokes."
"What do I look like, four?" Tristan shot back, downing his drink. The milk moustache killed the serious look on his face. "I'll have you know there is nothing wrong with drinking someone's milk at a bar."
"This is going to go so badly," Jazz snickered. "Didn't think you'd know that kind of language, young'un."
"We're not that far apart in age," Tristan argued, leaning back into his seat, just the slightest bit tilted Miguel's way. "Otherwise, I can't regal the one time I turned tricks at the library."
"W-What?" Miguel sputtered, but Tristan shot back a wink. Miguel was caught between dumbfounded, impressed, and outraged. "Tristan, that was--"
"How Miguel and I first met," Tristan lied, blatantly. The entire table was crossed between believing him or not. "How about this? I tell a story, and try to piece together what isn't bullshit. Sound fun?"
Will rubbed his hands together, damp from whatever he spilled and eager to play. "Oh, this is so much more fun than our drinking games."
Tristan hunched over the table, fingers steepled like the little devil he was. "Then you'll get a kick out of this."
Miguel didn't think they could do three stories, but there it was. Tristan managed to whip out three half-baked, ridiculous stories laced with only a sliver of truth in little under an hour, each one detailed and entertaining, further exemplifying his creative imagination. Anyone who got their guess wrong had to drink a shot, and Tristan managed to get them all just a few drinks short of drunk.
Miguel was impressed, even as they settled the tab and noticed how Tristan had just finished his milk. He found his friend to be a continuous ray of light.
Tristan was beaming as he chatted up Jazz. The two were like long-lost siblings, having found each other after being decades apart. It was clear that Jazz was now fond of Tristan, and it wouldn't be long before she found him as someone worth keeping around.
They all filed out of the bar and headed for the playground, where they splayed out on the sand and the jungle gym to admire the stars, some of them falling asleep on the spot while others maintaining enough sobriety to talk.
Jazz was clearly a heavyweight. She only looked just a bit tipsy. But then again, she didn't chug down like the others did. Miguel was having trouble keeping his eyes open but he could still make sense of everything around him. Jazz and Tristan were talking more quietly than normal, but Miguel could make it out as he tried desperately not to conk out. "You must be really fun at parties."
"Not really," Tristan laughed. "I was just never invited. People don't think I'm fun just because I don't drink, and it was always something to make fun of. I stopped trying after the last circuit party Miguel dragged me in."
Jazz cooed apologetically while Miguel could barely hear Robby snicker from the bottom of the jungle gym. "He must have felt like shit."
"I left early. He only found out weeks later that I skipped out."
Jazz offered a wry smile in sympathy. "You sound bitter."
"Do I?" Tristan asked earnestly. He turned on his side as he faced Jazz. "Guess it's hard. I try so hard to fit in, but I don't, and it just frustrates me how it's so fine with everyone then give me hell for it when I don't. I got tired of standards. I think Miguel did, too, at some point."
"At some point?"
"He was frat boy material back then. Absolute fuckboy who flexed every chance he got. Only nicer," Tristan began, glancing over fondly at Miguel, who looked to be asleep, at least. But at this point, it didn't really matter. "Even back then, I loved him."
"Oh wow, you two?" Jazz asked, pleasantly surprised if her grin was anything to go by.
"He didn't mind me one bit, but his friends were another story." Tristan laid back down and stared at the stars, letting his fingers trace over old memories that played with the starlight. "I was either given the cold shoulder or messed around with because of it. I was keeping it under wraps, but when he found out, he went ballistic on them and spent a month trying to tell me that I was enough. Silly bastard."
"...Guess he loves you, too."
"Maybe, but... I don't know. There weren't any words."
"Do you need them?"
Tristan sat up to gesture more openly. "In my course, there's a thing called context. What is something for me may be something completely different for someone else. That often leads to misunderstandings."
"Don't you have a pretty good context of your best friend?"
Tristan met Jazz's eyes with a strange sense of finality. "I was there when he decided to enlist in the military. And I was just around here while he was there and no doubt keeping his troop alive with every fiber of his being, like the rest of you do. We've been years apart. How do I know I still hold so much value?"
"He came back for you, didn't he?"
"He came back for his family. I'm just a detour."
Jazz had a soft look in her eyes. Tristan watched as she sat up to level him with a look. "I don't think so. He talked about you a lot, you know. At base. Often said he had a friend always waiting for him, writing him letters."
Tristan sat up, huffing and stomping down a laugh. "Well, we were pen pals for a while. Eventually, we both wound up busy."
"I heard you two send each other letters and emails constantly."
"I was just there to answer back."
"It's still more than what some people get," Jazz argued. "Look, Tristan, half the time, he tells us you're the only reason he hasn't lost his mind yet. It was... bad, when we were out there. I was glad they even discharged him."
"And the rest of you?"
"Our psych evals didn't deem us fit to return to duty," Jazz muttered. "Not all of us, but a lot of us relied on Miguel. When he left, well, things just went downhill for a lot of us. I just couldn't seem to work well with my new squad and that put all of us at risk. Everyone else with us right now has it differently, but it basically amounts to us having a major breakdown."
Tristan was quiet as he considered that information. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. We enlisted because we didn't really have much of a direction to go to. But I think I had some chance to think about it those last days after Miguel left. Not sure what made me think, but I did. And I guess some time with my own family will help clear up the details."
"You sound like you're still hunting down that path."
"Well, I know where I want to go now. Just need some help clearing up the details."
"It'll come to you," Tristan found himself promising, and he knew this to be a truth. "Just ring me up if you need a second opinion. I hear I help people come up with the best ideas."
"Well, you're pretty sharp. I don't doubt it."
They laid there for a while, just staring at stars. Miguel watched Tristan shift in his place before the smaller man decided to jump lithely off the jungle gym. Tristan made his way to him and pulled him up from his spot. "Come on, let's get your friends to their motel and we can go home and sleep."
"Actually, how about we all crash at Mig's place?" Jazz suggested. Miguel was overruled by three resounding votes. "Good! It's settled."
And that was how Tristan found himself helping Miguel sort out the sleeping arrangements in the living room. In all honesty, it was like arranging a sleepover for a bunch of kids. Some called dibs on the couch while others just laid on the floor with practiced ease. Even Miguel managed to finaggle himself close to the television. Tristan was about to head to his bed when he was gracelessly put into the armchair, for 'solidarity's sake'.
Miguel was by the foot of the armchair, looking up at him. "Comfy?" he asked his dear friend.
Tristan shrugged. "Been better, been worse," he answered, bringing a foot down to tap the man's shoulder. "There'll be hell to pay in the morning."
Miguel laughed softly, giving his friends one quick glance. "You were never a detour, Tristan."
It took a moment for Tristan to recognize what he meant. "A little hard to believe, but okay."
"Good night, Tristan." Miguel shuffled closer to Tristan's feet, even giving the toe a quick kiss. "Love you."
Tristan found himself smiling, stabbing his big toe on the man's cheek. "Love you, too, you goof."