Part One

Gun opens the empty fridge and growls. It's a feral sound originating deep inside her throat. 'Small!' she bellows, 'Small, get down here!' and uses a broomstick to jab at the ceiling. The whole first floor shakes with the sheer force of her rage and Small's teeth rattle in his skull.

Small Pie purposely drags his feet. It takes three entire minutes for him to get downstairs, a number he's quite proud of. His shoulders are slumped and his head is down. He knows he deserves what's coming, but is too stupidly stubborn to face things like a man.

Gun has her arms crossed, she's like an angry wooden totem with boobs and golden earrings. Small lifts his gaze, reluctance dripping from from every inch of his body. He's like a grouchy street cat with overgrown whiskers.

'Where is the quiche I made yesterday?' Gun asks, putting visible emphasis on every sharp syllable.

In my stomach, Small signs, face flat. He uses his pinky nail to pick his teeth.

'And the melons?'

Small shrugs. Got hungry.

'Paprika? Tomatoes? Cucumber?'

I made cucumber salad.

Gun is very pissed, eyes shooting fire and everything. Small knows she stayed up late last night to bake the quiche. He also knows she meant for it to be consumed at dinner tonight, since Small is too much of a lazy bum to cook for himself and mom will be out of town for oh, uh, a full fucking month.

It hadn't been appropriate to wake up late last night and stuff his face during the early hours, Small knows that. He shouldn't have finished the pie all by himself without saying thanks. For all her angry grouching, Gun secretly treasures their family time at the dinner table.

Small flips Gun the bird and ducks out of the kitchen, because he is a rude little shit. Fuck manners when the world gives you a label and looks down on you for it.

On the way out Small sends a text to his best and only friend, Slow. He uses a tone of text he thinks is neutral, as opposed to catty or annoyed. It takes great effort. Slow is a sexy motherfucker. Small once upon a time offered to give his longtime friend a blowjob, trying to sound seductive and not desperate, which is tough when you're fucking signing the words. Small asked because he thinks Slow's cock must be huge. He's been secretly harbouring a crush since high school.

Slow gracefully declined, a look of pleasant surprise on his gorgeous face. He's a proper guy, a proper church guy. He didn't blame Small for his insolence. Small thinks that's disgusting. He's made a habit of telling Slow how gross his pious church-loving makes him.

There are cities and villages and pathetic little hick towns. Small used to be the proud inhabitant of a capital city, until Gun decided it would be a wise choice to emigrate. "A place with trees, Small', she'd said. 'Where we can breathe."

Small had been feeling too drained to properly voice his opinion at the time, which would've consisted of a solid No. One miserable year has passed since then, one year in which he's had the glorious opportunity to thoroughly explore his new place of residence. There is a gas station and a railway station and a shop that sells homemade pralines. There are three grocery stores total. Small makes his calculations as he goes;

The big supermarket's out. It's not accessible on foot and mom took the blue Chevrolet when she left on her trip. The quaint little mini market lies just around the corner and would normally be Small's establishment of choice, had the lady behind the counter not purposely driven him up the wall. It was the staring and the whispering, the sucking on her glossy pink lips. Last week Small finally lost his cool. Lady had it coming. He stared her down, kept staring for over five long minutes until the customers behind him in line had started huffing and puffing and the manager nearly lost his mind. The cashier's pink bottom lip had been trembling uncontrollably.

Small is no longer welcome there, which leaves him with one final option. He's never before tried the small grocery store two blocks away. It's conveniently located near the old playground he frequents on dreary, joyless days, when the ugly kids stay home.

The store is mashed in between a butcher's and a flower shop. The front is decorated with dark green panelling covered in white, gold-rimmed letters. Bombastic flower pots block part of the display windows, giving the place a friendly look, gently inviting the customers in rather than screaming at them to enter. It's all very fucking quaint; Small's palms start sweating the moment he approaches.

He steps through the smooth glass sliding doors and swallows his reluctance, taking out his wallet prematurely in hopes of a quick and painless endeavour. A flash of red behind the register catches his eye.

Small ignores everything that doesn't directly enter his central vision, even though there might have been a greeting in there somewhere. He doesn't care. Small might be deaf, not blind, but that doesn't mean manners suddenly matter. Quite the opposite; blind people need help, they need to be friendly. Small can be as big a dick as he chooses to be and it won't affect his mobility, not one bit. His dickishness can be the abstract equivalent of Slow's actual dick, which he's never seen before but is sure to be a slap in the face to all of mankind. In the end, he'll function just fine without tedious etiquette to complicate things.

Small's heart is beating fast as he cruises rows, yanks fridge doors open, fills his bag with shit he knows Gun likes. It's a side-effect of his anxiety, but nothing he can't handle. Mom once told him she's got something similar.

Small starts to believe he'll actually come off unscathed, until he walks up to the register and remembers why he hates people. The guy with the red hair, fucking blood red hair, has said something and is now staring expectantly at Small, a dumb grin plastered on his face. When the compulsory reaction stays out, the guy opens his stupid mouth and laughs, which pisses Small off, because he can't fucking hear it, can he?

'Hey dude', the guy mouths. 'You can talk, I don't bite.' He's got narrow, deep brown eyes, which Small decides is fucking hideous. He's not looking at the guy's eyes, though, but at his mouth.

Small slams his wallet on the counter. He uses enough force to make the cute glass jars on top of it rattle.

The guy's big eyes widen. 'Okay', he drawls, passing Small's items under the scanner. It takes a long fucking while. Small taps his foot, crosses his arms, looks right and left: all non-verbal signs of impatience. He's very good at those.

By the time his groceries are bagged and payed for, Red has a large scowl on his face. Poetic justice, Small thinks. It's all about nipping unwanted attention in the bud. To kill an idea before people start letting it go to their heads. That might as well be Small's life motto.

Red is in the middle of a sentence when Small whirls around and resolutely walks out the door. Seven minutes spent out on the street, another seven wasted spending money, and seven more to go before he's safely back home. Can't afford to waste time when you've better things to do.

Part Two

Small knows he's not the most fine-looking of men around. His eyes are droopy and his hair's an unkempt mess. His teeth are a bit crooked. It's the kind of crooked Gun used to call: "Fuck, Small, get your ass to the fucking dentist right now!"

What Gun didn't know at the time, was that Small had already met said nameless fucking dentist. Made an appointment and everything, waited for his name to be called through the waiting room.

The appointment lasted all of five minutes. After recovering from the initial trauma, Small emerged a stronger man. Turning his tears into joy and his stuttering humiliation into one of those things that never happened, he's jacked off to the nameless dentist's image several times, panting and writhing into the wee hours of the night. He's a winner like that.

One week after the incident at the grocery store, Gun is having an early dinner in the kitchen with her best friend Twist. Contrary to Small's wobbly relations, Gun actually has loyal friends. They're hard to come by, she sometimes wisely imparts. Small expresses his appreciation for wisdom with a flip of the finger.

He jumps a bit when he spots Twist at the table. Twist waves apologetically. Small flushes and turns away. He watches his sister's reflection in the kitchen cabinet, throwing him a look of disapproval. Small shifts his gaze to the contents of he fridge.

'Small drank all the beer and ate all the food again', Gun says while she pokes a fork into her soggy takeout. 'I usually go to the supermarket after work, but there's only so much I can stow on my bike, and I can't ask Yam to drive, he only finishes work at seven.'

'Where's all that food go?' Twists asks, smiling at Small's bent back. 'He's in good shape.'

'He's a stick.'

'It suits him', Twist mutters, still smiling. Small peeks over his shoulder, keeping his eyes fixed on her lips. Can't look people in the eye and give the impression he's actually a nice guy or something.

Gun is demanding his attention. The demand is in her pose, her movements. It's something they've learned to do, so as to make communication a little less impossible. Small reluctantly gave in and stopped running to his room. Everything is preferable over a curse storm through text.

Go buy a few beers at the grocery store, please, and be quick, Gun signs, and the hair on the back of Small's neck comes erect. He promptly turns away, grabbing and rinsing a glass in the sink. From the corner of his eye, he sees Gun slam her palm down on the table.

'Fucking do it, Small!' she yells. He's happy he can't hear a thing.

Twist reaches out to touch his sleeve, slowly and carefully. 'Should I go with you?' she asks.

Small curtly shakes no. He grabs his wallet and stomps out the door. It's true he ate the veggies and drank the beer. He made a giant omelette, a bacon sandwich and toast with jam. He ate three juicy peaches and had to lie down clutching his stomach. Afterwards, he emptied the newly-opened bottle of coke.

The automatic doors open and Small prepares himself, staring at the multitude of rows filled with foods. He goes right for the cereal, the eggs, the cheese, the beer, the chocolate milk and the onions. He fills his demented basket to the brim and eventually turns to face the inevitable.

Before him stands the guy from last time, arranging a display of olive jars. Almond-filled olives! Have a Taste! says the small sign he's placed on top. It's handwritten in curly red ink. Someone, and Small is assuming it was him, doodled a fat little dog in the corner. It's a passable sketch, if you ignore the smudge that's to pass for a tail. Small stares long and hard at it, wondering what the fuck it is he's been doing with his life.

The guy straightens his apron and walks behind the counter, not taking his eyes off Small the whole time. He's wearing a nameplate Small doesn't care about and a plain purple sweater. His red hair is in disarray. Small bangs his basket on the counter and watches the guy flinch and scowl.

'The fuck is wrong with you', he mutters, snatching a pack of crisps off the heap.

The fuck is wrong with You, Small thinks, deepening the crease between his eyebrows. He doesn't voice his thoughts, however. In fact he'd rather die. Small just watches the slanted-eyed bastard empty his basket, muttering nonsense and growing increasingly agitated when it becomes apparent that Small is not going to grace his dumb ass with an answer.

The guy pauses with Small's last item in hand. He gnaws the inside of his cheek and glowers. Guy's at least a head taller than Small and pretty buff. Small doesn't like his type, the type that looks like they could easily beat him in a fight. Gun and Slow are included in that category, which leaves only old grannies and grandpas and little children. He doesn't like children. He doesn't like most people. Most people don't like him, so what's this guy's fucking deal?

'What's your name?' the guy asks, and Small thinks Oh hell no, because who knows who might come knocking on his door in the middle of the night, demanding explanations? Small doesn't need to explain shit.

None of your business, he thinks while glaring at his last item. He's spent more time in this guy's company than he can afford. He swallows and his throat feels scratchy.

'Hey!' the guy says, waving a large hand in front of Small's face. 'Don't play deaf, it's fucking annoying.'

Small blinks. Somewhere in the back of his mind cymbals are clanging together, but he's not paying attention to that. He's paying attention to the guy's lips and the last two words he's just uttered. Fucking annoying. Well isn't that a happy coincidence, those were Small's thoughts exactly!

With careful deliberation, he takes a jar of olives from its shiny display and turns it over in his hand. He looks at grocery guy and mouths You suck. And then, with the graceful precision of a fucking cat, he lets the jar slip from his fingers.

Small would have loved to hear the sound of boundaries shattering, the sweet melody of shameless provocation. As it is, he's already half out the door, savouring his revenge from a distance. This is a war he's going to win. Small is going to crush his oppressor. The first drop of olive juice has already been spilled.

Small doesn't have the energy or willpower to fall asleep. He lies flat on his back and stares at the ceiling. He's tried texting Slow, but the asshole apparently has better things to do because he's not fucking texting back. So instead, Small texts Marty the annoying loser. Marty is a short mute guy with curly hair, they met at a dumbass convention. Marty's shy and a dork and easily gets attached. Of course he answers Small's text in under thirty seconds. Of course Small doesn't text back.

The house is eerily silent with just the two of them; just Small and Gun that is, because mom left, she's been out of town for quite a while. Must be a pretty important trip to last this long, Small had signed five minutes ago, to which Gun had answered by not saying anything. She sent Twist home with endless apologies and hugs and call-you-tomorrows. Small didn't hear, he knows, because Gun has been standing in his doorway for a little over eight minutes approximately. She was surprised when Small stumbled through the front door and stormed up the stairs with an empty grocery bag and no beer.

She sits on the edge of his bed, her face a mask of concern. Her eyebrows droop and her mouth twists into a sad frown. Small plucks at a loose piece of plaster on the wall.

'Small', she mouths. 'What's wrong?'

He hates when she does that, the talking without sound. He knows she's doing it right now, has been doing it for a while, when no one else is around.

Small absently rubs at the dust in his right eye.

He's out of bed in an instant, yanked up by the arm and dragged through the hallway. He doesn't even complain as Gun forces him into his jacket and out the door. She's wearing faded blue slippers that slap against the heels of her socked feet. He follows their track all the way to the grocery store. Gun takes two looks around, then points at the guy behind the counter. Him? her eyes ask, and Small nods without realizing he's doing it.

Gun is exceptionally tall for a lady. She goes through twenty mascaras and twelve eye pencils a year and wears her short hair in a threatening bun.

'I'm Gun Pie', she tells Guy, glaring daggers. 'You got beef with my brother?'

The guy's eyes grow wide. He was in the process of sticking price tags to a batch of ripe avocados, but is now frozen in mid-movement. Carefully, he puts the fruit down.

'No offense,' he says, showing the palms of his hands in surrender, 'but your bro's kind of a weirdo.' When Gun's glare intensifies, Guy takes a step back. 'He started it! Anyways, it's no big deal, I already cleaned up the mess and everything.'

Gun throws a puzzled look over her shoulder. She stares at Small, who stares right back and feels oddly exposed. A flash of something resembling pain crosses Gun's face, but only briefly. It's gone the moment she sighs and grabs her wallet. 'How much?'

'Uh', Guy says. 'Four ninety-five. You get the second one at half price.'

'No thank you', Gun deadpans, handing him the cash. She beckons Small, who reluctantly joins her at the counter. He can't help how ridiculous he finds the guy's spiky red hair, or that the left corner of his mouth sometimes trembles when he's not speaking. He can't help the fact that the humiliation that is his forced reconciliation with grocery guy actually makes him feel relieved.

How that asshole passed his job interview when most customers must be repelled by the sight of his monstrous flaming hairdo, Small can't fathom.

'Small', Gun says. 'You okay with this?'

Small gives a curt nod, because he's not about to make more trouble.

The guy extends a hand. 'Look man, I'm sorry', he says.

Small takes the offered hand, looking sideways at the olive display table. He doesn't look at Grocery Guy, doesn't notice the guy actually means what he's saying.

Part Three

'Hello again.'

Small has been in bed for days. It's not like this visit to the grocery store is the social highlight of his week. It's not like he's actually relieved to see this guy's ugly red-rimmed mug.

It's Slow's fault Small is such a pathetic fucking loser. He's been neglecting his best friend's needs, only texting twice a day at most. It's a fucking joke, this friendship of theirs. Small makes a mental note to give Slow a lecture sometime in the near future.

Red is grinning. He strokes a lock of hair behind his ear. 'Since you're obviously not a talker, I won't comment on the weather.'

Small resists the urge to roll his eyes and starts browsing. He's in the mood for coffee and glazed cake. He'll buy donuts and tarts with cream. He'll stop gazing through the racks to make sure Guy is not sneaking up behind him.

If Small's ears worked properly, he would've heard the bell chime and the doors open. He would turn in time to notice Mr Oscar's bright beaming smile. 'How's it going?' Blink Oscar says, striding through the entrance like he owns the place. Blink is a happy seventy-year-old bachelor with a passion for gardening and cats. He spots Small's hunched form and his smile widens.

'Hi Small! How are you?'

Obviously Small doesn't hear, he's too busy creeping. A blush spreads over Mr Oscar's sun-burnt face. He takes long strides into Small's field of vision and gently pats him on the shoulder.

'How are you, Small?' he asks, articulating clearly, a bit too clearly. 'I heard from Gun about, uh, well, you know... yeah. It's a sad story. Anyway, Mrs Lips and I've been talking, if you ever need help with the cooking and cleaning, or anything else for that matter...'

Small fixes his eyes on Blink Oscar's chin and nods, playing a cheerful tune in his head.

Behind Blink Oscar, Grocery Guy keeps his eyes and ears wide open. It's a rare feat, to see a person like Quiet Guy try his hand at civilized conversation. He used to think his youngest cousin was an antisocial little shit, until reality promptly smacked him in the face. As far as Grocery Guy knows, Quiet Guy hasn't opened his mouth once. Even now he stays silent, only waving his hands about every so often, gesturing, nodding, moving his fingers...


'Right, right', Blink Oscar says. 'Cecilia's cat, she's a real sweetheart. What was that last one? Nevermind? My bad, Small, my bad, I'm gonna have to work on this whole signing business. Mrs Lips got me a book, you know. She says everything's possible if you put your heart into it. Anyways, time to go, see you 'round!'

He leaves Small to go about his usual business and heads off with an armful of fresh grapes and marmelade. Small wipes the sweat off his brow, cakes and cookies forgotten. He grabs a pack of crisps and drags his feet to the counter. Blink Oscar is one of the grandpas he tolerates. The man's done nothing wrong, he just has a fondness for gossip and long, pointless conversation. It's what happens after more than fifty years spent taking care of your long-deceased parents' flower garden.

Small reckons there are worse prospects, but then again he's never been on his own before, not really.

When he reaches the counter and dredges up his droopy gaze, grocery guy is staring. There's a blush on his cheeks and his mouth is hanging open, which is never a good sign. Small flinches. He's unwashed and unkempt, but surely it can't be that bad...

'Dude', Grocery guy says, red all the way up to his hairline, and beyond. 'Are you...'

Small doesn't have a clue, until the guy gestures vaguely at the area around his ears and everything becomes awfully, painfully clear. In an instant Small grows cold. He drops his crisps under the guy's nose and glares until they're scanned and safely tucked away.

Small leaves the shop in a hurry, as always. Now that things are in order and all misunderstandings have been cleared up, he might just get the peace of mind he so desires.

Part Four

Small was trying to do things his way, the painless way. Sadly people are fucking idiots.

When he walks into the grocery store on a Thursday afternoon, just minding his own business, the guy greets him with a wave, which wouldn't be such big deal if it hadn't involved an unmistakable come-hither motion. Like Guy actually wanted Small to come over there and start a friendly conversation.

Obviously Small acts as if his nose bleeds and walks right past him. Ignoring a gesture twice, however, might give people the impression you're retarded, and Small's deafness doesn't come with tricky side effects. He's also got his pride.

He fumbles with the zipper on his sleeve and wonders if the sweat that's dripping down his forehead is leaving streaks in the caked mass of older sweat accumulated over days of jacking off in unclean sheets. He wishes he cared less, but realizes that caring about personal hygiene doesn't necessarily have to be connected to grocery guy's opinion and the extent to which that opinion matters to Small. That makes him feel a little better. He chews his lip and spits out a stray lock of hair.

Guy's eyes are everywhere except on Small. It's a startling change. He's stalling and smiling at his own hands. 'Uhm', he says. 'Well, err...' and Small thinks what the fuck, until Guy shyly raises his hands and signs Hello, I'm Die. What's your name? and his heart skips a beat. Small's heart skips a beat. For a moment, he thinks he must be caught inside a horribly unpleasant dream. Then he remembers he woke up this morning in a puddle of his own sweat and semen and his bubble of hope pops dramatically.

He stares at Die's hands, then a his face, then at his obnoxious hair that spikes in all directions. No one should be forced to watch such a thing. Then, slowly and steadily, Small lifts his hand and signs the letters of his name.

He waits patiently for a reaction. Grocery guy gapes dumbly at his lowered fingers. 'Uhm', he says, for the second time in thirty seconds. 'Well, alright. Uhm, wh-what was that?'

Small decides this is ridiculous and turns on his heels. He doesn't have time for a bumbling idiot with a hero complex, or whatever it is that drove Die to pull his embarrassing stunt. How shameless can a person get? How fucking shameless?

Small strides through the doors without looking back. He thought he was on to something, had found a fleeting source of entertainment. But Small was wrong and almost paid the price: his precious dignity. He decides this farce has lasted long enough; it's a dog-eat-dog world out there and when in Rome, folk do as the Romans do, all that crap. He's done with this.

Small snatches his phone and flips it open, intent on texting Slow. He resolutely ignores the unopened messages popping up on screen. They're probably Marty's pathetic attempts to get attention. Fuck if Small is giving in to peer pressure.

Where the fuck are you? he types, before realizing he doesn't care. Why aren't you at my house? Another dumb question, too desperate, too clingy. Can I see you? I feel like shit. Shit shit shit shi-

Small is suddenly grabbed by the arm. The sickening sensation - being dragged to a halt against all expectations - sends a gust of bile up his throat. It's like falling in the dark. Small lets out a scream he doesn't hear. The unearthly sound reverberates through his skull, settling somewhere at the back of his tongue with dizzying finality. His jaw aches. He instantly wants to puke his lungs out.

This all happens in the span of seconds. Small instantly whirls around. The shame that courses through his blood is like a splash of icy water. Die falters and stops.

There's a glint in his eyes, the type of reaction Small expected and despises. He's seen it before and vowed to never see it again. It's a wince and an objection all at once. It's the reason he keeps his mouth tight shut.

Die, the dumbass, doesn't get it. 'I'm sorry', he sputters, face a sea of glowing red. 'I didn't think, I'm sorry.'

No shit, Small wants to cry, spit in his face, but he can't control his own damn voice. All he's able to produce is an aborted sound, as of a voice mumbling behind a corner, the screeching of iron against iron, an old man's laboured cough. He hates this guy, this fucking guy, who forced it out of him.

'Dude, are you alright?' Die asks, managing to be insufferable even when he's not trying. The imbecile is still holding onto Small, like Small is the flighty animal he needs to keep under control.

Small tugs himself free, rage burning on his face. He makes sure Die understands that look, grasps the severity of it, before he storms off in a fury, never to return to that dreadful shop again.

Part Five

Small jacks off and plays videogames for the remainder of the day and the days that follow. Slow can't come around because of family issues. Small is fucking pissed. He cussed Slow out by text, then apologized via email. Slow asked if he should maybe still make the trip, despite the time he so desperately needs to spend with his needy brothers and sisters, his bedridden grandma and the crippled housecat. Small said it's fine, Fine! If you must, we've all got problems, some people hate kittens, what else is new?!

He's got a doctor's appointment he doesn't go to and a sister who hovers outside his bedroom. These past few days he's been subjected to a steady gaze, increased paranoia accentuated by the occasional twitch of an eyebrow.

On Wednesday Gun has her boyfriend over. They're in the kitchen cooking dinner.

Yam is a decent enough guy. He's a tad chubby with a very pretty face and bright eyes. When Small huffs for the third time in a row, draped over the kitchen table with drool trailing down his chin, Yam feeds him a chunk of sweet orange carrot. He gingerly shoves it in between Small's lips, sweeping up a line of spit in the process.

Small turns his head, neck groaning under the weight. With what remains of his strength, he paints a look of gratitude onto his lifeless face. How to convey, to the big soft man before him, the elation evoked by that small act of kindness?

Yam the lovely boyfriend smiles a gentle smile. He puts a stripy piece of celery in his nose and sticks his tongue out. Small grins. His grin widens when Yam accidentally knocks into Gun and makes her spill green beans all over the kitchen floor.

Gun chases Yam out while Small chortels into the crook of his elbow. It's a series of short sounds stuck in his throat. In front of his sister and her gentle boyfriend, he doesn't mind his own weirdness. It's heartfelt laughter that makes him feel light again.

Gun hands Small a bowl of potatoes to peel. He raps his knuckles on the table and she looks up.

What's for dinner?

Some soup and roast lamb with salad and potatoes. Good?

Whatever, you and Yam going out tonight?

I've got work tonight, Gun signs, scowling. Yam's got work tomorrow.

After work. You sound like a forty-year-old.

After work there's chores. Who do you think is taking care of the house?

Whatever, Small signs, just to spite her. What about mom?

Gun's wrist hangs limply in the air. She studies Small's face intently, thinking long and hard before she signs You need something?

I want yoghurt.

Then buy some.

I want the special kind they only sell at the big supermarket.

Gun glares him down, reverting back to her own voice: 'You see that, Small?' she says, pointing out the living room window. 'It's another person's car in front of our house. That's because we have no car. Because mom took the car and didn't come back. Now if you want to take the bus into town to do your shopping, be my guest. Otherwise, zip it.'

Small looks down at his bony hands. Long ago he fantasized about getting a tattoo on each separate knuckle. Slow talked him out of it.

Will you go with me to the grocery store?

The annoyed look on Gun's face slowly fades. She's got big brown eyes lined with creamy black kohl. When she's not glaring or frowning but just staring into space, deep in thought or just daydreaming, momentarily unconcerned, Small wants to hug her tight. Gun opens her mouth but doesn't say anything.

Finally she nods, signing a simple Okay.

Small has been stalling, but to no avail. Unfortunately Gun is far from stupid, which means she's figured him out. Figured out Small's unease might be vaguely connected to grocery guy's presence. Now she's leaning in close, talking in hushed voices, and the guy on the other side is copying her stance. Small knows the signs and feels very annoyed.

He slams his fist into a rack of bottles. Gun's head snaps up. The fuck are you doing? he signs, furiously moving his right hand. What are you two talking about?

You, Gun answers without a single trace of shame. She looks at Die, then back at Small. He doesn't seem like a bad guy.

'What's up', Die says, waving timidly. Small ignores him. I've got my yoghurt, let's go already.

Shouldn't you talk to him?

I don't wanna talk to him.

'Small!' she cries. 'Don't be such a baby.'

His cheeks flush pink. Shut the fuck up.

'Look', Gun says, signing so Small can keep up. 'I think you two got off on the wrong foot. Small can be a nasty jerk, but he doesn't really mean it most of the time.'

If only you knew how wrong you are, Small thinks bitterly.

Gun turns to him, hands raised in a gesture of surrender, though he's not so easily fooled; she's only trying to trick him into being compliant. Just try and get along. You've been sulking all week, it's unbearable.

Small huffs and crosses his arms. It's nothing to do with him.

'Small', she says, 'You big fat lying cheat.' She grabs her handbag and whirls past him. 'I'll be waiting outside, you talk to the guy and say whatever it is you need to say. Don't leave this place until everything's sorted.'

Then all he sees is Gun's back as she leaves, abandoning Small in the place he hates most, with the guy he hates more than anyone else. Die's face screams earnest regret. He's expecting something Small is unwilling to give. Small wants nothing more than to run home and hide under the covers. Throughout their little finger battle earlier, he's lost his initial resolve.

Small takes a deep breath. With unsteady hands, he reaches into his back pocket and conjures up a small square notepad. His handwriting is bold and scratchy, all capitals.

I'm Small Pie, he writes. I'm sorry for acting the way I did. I'll come by again tomorrow.

He feels like a freaking kindergartner, being forced to apologize by his meddling older sister. It's taking all his might to squash the burning shame in his gut. If Small was any more of a man, he would be punching himself in the face with his bare fist. If he had a pair of fucking balls, he'd be punching the dumbass behind the counter.

Die's eyes are sparkling. His red hair is blinding. He looks so fucking happy it's tragic.

'Alright', he says, barely pronouncing his consonants. 'Awesome, that's awesome. I'll see you tomorrow, Small.'

Small stares with dead eyes. The fact that he's not barfing worries him more than the barrage of questions Gun will undoubtedly fling his way when he walks out the door. The sense of foreboding that hijacks his brain should be ample warning; this can't have been anything but a mistake. He's waiting for his lungs to shut off and the hyperventilating to begin. Instead, his stomach gives a lone grumble. And Die is still smiling.

Small used to think he had issues.

Part Six

When Small is very much in need of a snack and Gun refuses to serve him, Small is forced to ignore basic instinct and head straight for his doom.

There's a notepad on the counter. Right under Die's bright smiling face. He shouts an enthusiastic greeting over the shoulder of another customer, happily waving his arms, and Small ducks in between the rows.

His poor heart is hammering in his chest. From the corner of his eye he picks up steady movement. Someone is entering his row, someone tall and red-haired and obviously Asian, and Small keeps his head down ostrich-style. He's sorely disappointed by the result.

Die stands in front of him. He's mumbling small sentences. Despite his reluctance, Small is curious to hear what's being said, and angry that he can't. He lifts his head, eyes fixed on Die's lips. Die reaches out.

He touches the lapels of Small's vest with trembling fingers. His words are a jumbled mass behind his teeth. It's quite annoying, Small thinks, holding his breath for dear life.

He can only make out bits and pieces like "sorry", "really cool guy", and a rather ominous "grab a drink sometime", but those snippets are enough to reveal Die's dreadful intentions. Die appears to be slightly out of breath, which is just great. Now Small feels like the bad guy, like he's been stressing this dude out on purpose, which is not the case.

Die's deep brown eyes are puppy-shaped. He's got thin lips and pointy cheekbones. His wild hair stands in waves around his face. 'So?' he asks, still looking far too optimistic. 'We can just, like, sit down and talk for a while. Get to know each other better.'

Small just nods and rushes out the door, before the skies burst open and liquid fire starts raining down on him.

Die is twenty-four years old and an avid star watcher. He studies Psychology and owns a dog named Cliffer. Small thinks that's a weirdass name and doesn't have any ambition beyond his next masturbation session, so he wisely keeps his mouth shut. Die doesn't seem to mind.

They're seated at a square table in cushioned seats against the wall. Their little corner is shielded by plants and strategically-placed half walls. The smell of cakes and coffee hangs in the air. Small has to do his best not to close his eyes an drift off on a cloud of his own blissful imagination. He's been furiously texting Slow all morning. Slow answered to every third text and told him not to worry, Just bring your notepad.

Small brought his notepad. He's been staring at Die's mouth all morning. His hair is waxed and styled today and he's wearing a spicy cologne. There's a bracelet on his right arm, a thin piece of braided leather, and his dress shirt has a pleasant light blue colour that clashes horribly with the fiery red of his hair.

Die fumbles with his creamy white mug, blushes when he makes eye-contact and rambles on about his studies. He's barely obtained his second bachelor's but already has great plans. His job at the store is a temporary solution. He's lucky to have met Small during that time.

Small just nods, dumbfounded.

Their legs brush under the table. Die startles and laughs. He fumbles with his bracelet and tries to hide his flush.

'So what about you?' he asks, slinging the dreaded question in Small's face. Small gingerly takes up the pen and bends over his notepad.

Nothing much.

Die looks unblinkingly at his answer. 'Uhm, well, is there like, something you like? A hobby or something?'

I play video games, Small writes without thinking. And I like anime and stuff. And action movies.

'I love video games!' Die says, with more enthusiasm than Small can technically handle, 'And I watch all kinds of movies. Do you have favourites?'

Small lists his favourites while Die gushes. He sips his hot chocolate with extra cream and eyes the neat red hair, the small wooden earring he's only just noticed, the tilt of Die's lips as he laughs and spouts words with the force and regularity of an old steam train.

They leave the café around noon and decide to take a stroll. Die steals glances while Small pretends to love the view. They end up on a low wall in the sunlight, Die enjoying the gentle rustling of a nearby tree, Small soothed by the feel of the breeze on his skin.

Die touches Small's hand, the faintest brush of warm fingers against his. Small tries his best not to give Die the wrong idea, like he actually wants to run or something. He doesn't.

Die takes Small's knuckles in a secure grip. It's a good feeling, Small decides. It's all good, he's in a safe place, it's okay.

They lock eyes. Hesitating only for a moment, Die lifts his hand and signs I like you, will you go out with me?

A startled laugh escapes Small's lips, and he doesn't even mind.

Part Seven

Gun enters the living room in her new black dress. She checks her handbag for the third time and goes over the list on the table. Small and Die are sitting on the couch. Their sides are pressed together. An octopus is crawling on a rock on TV.

'What are you watching?' Gun asks, giving Small a look. Don't make people watch your boring shit.

Small throws a sideways glance at Die, who smiles warmly. 'I don't mind.'

'Yo', Yam says, coming up behind Gun. He gives her a tight hug, pats Small on the shoulder and shakes Die's hand. 'You ready, baby?'

'Let me grab my phone', Gun says, rushing up the stairs.

Yam stares at the TV screen, a dreamy look on his face. 'So you guys together now, huh?'

Small nods and receives a gentle nudge from Die. 'It took some prodding but we're finally there', he says with a smile in his voice.

'Cool, man.' And that, apparently, is it for Yam. He gives Small a thumbs up and trudges out the door.

Gun comes rushing back in on her heels. 'It's gonna get late I think', she says. 'Don't wait up for dinner.'

Small lifts his hand in a listless salute. If Gun knew he wasn't going to wait up anyway, she might save herself the endless trouble and worry about whether or not he's heard a word she's said. Alas, efficiency isn't reserved for everyone. Die waves happily and shouts a goodbye.

Dolphins are surfing the waves on screen. Die lifts his hand and signs Fish.

Small snorts. He grabs Die's hand and plays with his long fingers. Die's cheeks flush. He presses his nose into Small's huge mob of hair and inhales, making Small's belly flutter. Die turns his face and presses a soft kiss to Small's lips. Small answers with a sweet, soft sound at the back of his throat, lips pressed into Die's cheek.

Die nibbles. He flicks out his tongue and softly grazes his teeth on the sensitive skin around Small's earlobe. There's a puff of breath, a muttered endearment.

Small looks up and glares. How can Die expect Small to understand anything if he's going to be whispering so close to his ears? Fortunately Die's gotten used to Small's crankiness. His lips pull into a fond smile.

While they're both gazing longingly into each others' eyes, a tall black man walks into the room. He's wearing chains and bright blue sneakers. The metal around his neck jingles in tune with his steps. Not that Small can hear, he's too busy being a fucking idiot.

Die does notice the intrusion, however. 'Uh, Small', he mutters, in a slightly panicked voice.

Small locks eyes with the tall intruder. Long seconds pass. Suddenly a second guy steps through the door. He's petite and mousy and the sleeves of his woolen sweater fall a little past his fingertips.

Small gapes. He's just about eloquent enough to sign a brisk What the fuck?

The big black guy frowns. It would be intimidating if only his expression wasn't so mild. Die only now notices the small bouquet of flowers he's holding.

'I should be the one asking that', the guy says in a deep, dark voice. 'You didn't answer my texts, dumbass.'

A bright blush spreads over Small's cheeks. His scowl has returned full-force. When did you and Marty become friends?

'When you introduced us', Slow answers, rolling his eyes. He drops the flowers on the table.

Small turns to Marty with a glare that could split glaciers. The fuck are you doing in my house?

Marty cringes, guilt creeping into his eyes. His tics always start when he's nervous. Small can already see his arm twitching.

'I invited Marty because I thought you were sick or something, but apparently you're just fine.'

We were kinda worried, Marty signs, the most apologetic of smiles plastered all over his freckled face.

Go suck a dick.

'No', Slow says calmly, patiently. 'That's what you do, Small. Marty actually has a job.'

Small is burning with jealousy. Marty's a fucking retard.

'He doesn't mean that. Could you go make us some coffee, Mart?'

Marty rushes into the kitchen, smiling bashfully up at Slow even though Slow's a church-loving asshole, which in turn makes Marty's affections completely pointless. What a fucking idiot.

'This him?' Slow asks, reaching out to shake Die's hand. 'I'm Slow.'

'I'm Die. You guys, uhm, friends?'

Small gives him the flattest of looks. What? We don't look it?

'Uhm.' Die stares in confusion at his boyfriend's swift fingers. 'I don't...'

'Don't listen to him', Slow says. 'What do you do for a living?'

Die straightens the wrinkles in his shirt, appearing nervous all of a sudden, as if he's obliged to impress. 'Well actually, I...'

Marty walks into he room, juggling their cups. His small hands are far too brittle to support the weight of three large mugs filled to the rim. Small could have predicted what was coming, could have calculated the outcome before the action was even in motion, but he's not an asshole, not really. So when Marty stubs his toe on a chair and nearly spills hot liquid all over the carpet, he only sighs. Slow catches Marty with one strong arm, thus preventing a total fiasco. He expertly surveys the damage.

'You okay? Nothing's hurt? That's good. Thanks a bunch, Mart, you're a lifesaver.' He takes a few large gulps of piping hot coffee, smiling gracefully. Small stares at his best friend's muscled neck.

'Oh, thanks man', Die says, taking his cup from Marty. He burns his tongue on the first swallow. Marty winces and averts his gaze, like somehow it's all his fault, while Die splutters helplessly and Slow pats him on the shoulder.

'Hey', Slow says to Small, frowning. 'Why'd you say the red hair looks dumb? It don't look dumb to me.'

Small closes his eyes, letting the darkness engulf him. At least that way he can pretend it's silent for a while.