Who We Are: College

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Classes had ended, the excited and wonderful sensation of freedom swept the campus with a wave of students eager to go home, to relax and to enjoy the holidays. Though it wasn't the euphoria shown in movies with papers flying through the air and people running through the campus, the sense of release was real… a weight lifted off everyone's shoulders. Couples hugged and kissed, finally allowed to spend time together. Groups of friends hung out, planning what they would do these Christmas holidays. The topics revolved around activities, family, food, etc. and everyone was rather loud about it.

The caffé was cramped with people talking, laughing or just relaxing, but it meant heavy work for Edd. He never complained about his job, his shifts or being a barista, but he had had heavy weeks and little sleep. Edd managed the store, directing his fellow baristas as they tended customer after customer. It was hectic and Edd felt himself relying a lot more on his fellow workers and his quality dropping a little as he was rather sleep deprived. His time out of work was always dedicated to his classes, but his even shorter free time and sleep hours had been consumed by his new experiments.

Since their return from the Cul, Edd had become obsessed with the concept of Lewin's equation. It was a mathematical yet completely abstract equation about "who we are" and "how we behave". Ever since he had stepped into campus his mind focused on one single concept, a new hypothesis: "what if the equation COULD actually become mathematical?".

His life had become a rather misbalance between work- school- relationships. Marie had been rather upset, but she never said it to him. Not directly at least, but he knew her…didn't he? They were talking less, seeing each other less. Marie had even gone to his labs, sitting and watching him work for hours, being reprimanded if she messed with some instrument or if she distracted Edd too much. He was never harsh or strict, he was always kind in his words and demeanor, but he felt her frustration. He tried making it up to her: romantic dinners, teaching her how to be a scientist (which was rather playful and enjoyable for both), even opting for sex (which tired him even more). He was always a people pleaser, "NO" was a word he had difficulty saying. Yet… he had always managed… even now.

Kevin: Double Mocha Latte with hazelnut...

Edd: No foam

Edd looked up as he wrote the order down and smiled tiredly at his… friend, across the counter.

Edd: Hey.

Kevin: You look like shit, Double D.

Edd: Manners Kevin. Please?

Kevin smiled.

Kevin: Add another one… same as mine.

Edd looked back at him confused.

Edd: What? Don't abuse with caffeine Kevin, it's harmful…

Kevin: It's for you dork.

Edd smiled.

Edd: Thanks. How did you...?

Kevin: I've noticed you always make my drink twice. You're flawless, so…

Edd blushed.

Edd: Flawless is a rather…

?: Hey! What's taking so long?!

Kevin: Mind your fucking business asshole!

Edd: Kevin!

Edd giggles girlishly as he motioned and urged Kevin to move down the counter. He charged him the two drinks, a huge smile on his face…the most genuine smile he had felt in days. He felt warm…why? As he prepared passed Kevin his drink and began to work on the next customer's drink, he looked back at Kevin one last time as he left through the door. He was such a mystery to him…especially because of how…

Edd shook his head, he focused on his work. Kevin had been around him quite a bit since they got back… mostly for study nights with Lyon. He had to admit, he had doubts on how things were going to be since… Thanksgiving. Thankfully, Lyon was the bridge between them, making them be around each other like nothing had happened. They laughed, they hanged out, they teased, they studied. He had controlled his body and mind around Kevin and Lyon. He was their friend, he wanted to help them. If he were to be completely honest, he had been spending more time with them than with Marie. It was just natural… or so he thought. Being perfectly honest though…something lured and pulled him towards them.

He made him feel warm, warmer than ever before. His heart beat slow, steady and hard every time he looked at Kevin, every time their eyes made contact. They hadn't been close…physically… but it made him wonder. Limits, emotions, behavior… how could "the way we are" be altered by a simple situation, by a condition… by someone. It was the base of his experiment… the foundation of it.

Marie: Hey gorgeous.

Edd lifted his gaze, startled a bit as he saw an elegant and rather scientific looking Marie: her head tied back in a small onion, only a flock of hair covering her left eye, a reserved long sleeved white shirt with a black checkered vest, and rather fake but elegant glasses looking at him across the counter. Edd couldn't help but laugh as he took the glasses off her and placed them on her head, she laughed and pouted when he took them off. She filled him with new energy… she always knew how to give him a second wind.

Edd: Hello Marie.

Marie: So formal.

Edd giggled.

Edd: What can I get for you…miss?

Marie laughed and pushed him playfully across the counter.

Marie: I'll like a doppio ristratto with nutmeg.

Edd: Strong, refined, forward and spicy… just like you.

Marie: HEY!

Marie pushed him again playfully as both laughed. Edd moved along the line with Marie's order, he couldn't help but steal a gaze at her and giggle at her appearance. She looked stunning, as always, and Edd found her fascinating… as his partner, his friend and as a person. He smiled and watched with awe as she swatted the boys that hounded her for her looks. Her eyes could only see him and heart could only beat for him. Such dedication, her blind security in love, the unfathomable willpower to stay by his side… it was beyond him. Edd saddened a bit as he called her drink, remembering how he always felt… lacking, compared to her emotions towards him. Yet, as their fingers touched, Edd couldn't help but blush, making Marie giggle and wink at him as she turned away; her black leggings and heeled feminine boots showing off her legs as she walked to a far table. Edd sighed, both in affection, relief and remorse.

Marie: So… doctor… what do our patients need?

Marie bit on the tip of a pen as she looked teasingly at Edd, leaning on a table with 6 rats. Edd laughed as he moved towards her, clutching his tablet with notes to his chest. Though Marie looked like a scientist… she was a sexy scientist. Edd, wore his usual white long lab coat over his clothes. A true scientist. He found Marie's attempt of being part of this…world, both cute and heart-warming.

Edd: Now now, you will unsettle them and ruin my experiment.

Marie: Aww, why you so strict and uptight? They're just…

Marie looks down at the rats and makes a face of disgust. Edd laughs and kisses her on the cheek.

Edd: They are my specimens, part of a very elaborate and controlled experiment I'm developing about… behaviors.

Marie: I… have no idea what you just said.

She giggles and kisses him, deeply, passionately and pushing up against a shelf… her breathing becoming heavy. Edd got dazed, but his rational mind clung on.

Edd: Marie… this is a lab… a professional work area where indecent behavior…

She kissed him again, sinking her hands under his black beanie and caressing his hair and head. Edd moaned softly as she bit his lip playfully and provocatively.

Edd: Marie…

Marie: Please… I've missed you a lot.

Edd: but… this is important… I've been working on this…

Marie got off Edd, looking at him straight in the eyes.

Marie: You've been in here for days. You see me only at night, you don't answer my calls or messages. Sometimes you come back late at night since you're studying with Lyon and that asshole…

Edd: Marie!

Marie scoffs and steps away, stomping a foot on the ground.

Marie: It's not fair.

Edd: Marie…. i'm sorry.

Marie: It's all you say lately!

She sits on a shelf at the other side of the room.

Marie: Sorry for being late, sorry I forgot, sorry I didn't come back in time… sorry sorry sorry! I mean… I understand… I'm the disorganized one… the one with free time. You have this lab you've worked so hard for and these…

She looks at the rats which seem to attack each other.

Marie: Eww…

She sighs. Edd turns to look at the rats… interested and curious.

Marie: You are an amazing person Edd… but… I sometimes wonder if you actually even notice me… like right now.

Edd knelt beside the rats, mumbling under his breath. The experiment was simple: 6 rats placed in 2 separate conditions in groups of 3. They were bred to be calm and docile, they were chosen even at a genetic level, seeking rats who had no biological or genetic predisposition for aggression. The control group where in a glass container with food, shelter, and ideal living conditions. The other 3 were in a container where they had shelter, but to get food they had to cross a thin bridge and stand on it- the floor beneath caused electrical shocks, painful but not deadly. What sparked his attention was that the docile and peaceful rats had begun to fight and become rather aggressive. Edd immediately thought of the Lewin's equation…was this enough proof? Was his hypothesis proving to be correct… or… did he need… more?

Marie: Edd!

Edd stood up quickly and looked at Marie. She was mad, tears sliding down her cheeks.

Marie: You didn't hear me… not one word…. did you?

Edd: Sorry… I was just…

Marie: Sorry!? Again?!

Marie moved towards Edd in a fierce and angry strut. Edd closed his eyes, expecting some sort of aggressive female reaction. Instead, he felt a warm sobbing body press itself against his. Marie grabbed both his hands, placing one on her moist cheek as she guided the other one slowly down her body. She lifted her blue eyes to him, glistening, big and hurt.

Marie: Cant you see me? Cant you feel me? I'm real… I'm here. I'm always here Double D… always …I don't want to be without you… I cant…

Edd opened his mouth, trying to find words of comfort as Marie bowed her head and moves his hands to her waist.

Marie: Why cant you love me?

Edd froze, his body went cold… his heart stopped. He had always been careful with Marie, trying to prevent her from noticing his… lack of emotions. He had tried to show her all of his affection, to give her all his love. He thought he had done a great job. How did she... notice? Did… emotions have something that makes them… real? More than words or actions? A surreal metaphysical aspect? Was… it… something linked to… who we are?

Edd looked down at Marie, she was crying… right before him…the distance between them seemed like miles… despite them being so close. Edd couldn't see her like this… it killed him...

Edd: Iloveyou.

The words slurred out… barely even comprehensible. Marie lifted her gaze at him, shaking her head… confused.

Marie: Wha…

Edd: I love you!

Edd choked a bit and coughed, a comical relief as Marie, crying harder than before, laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. She cried, she laughed and she clung to him with all her strength… making him choke for real.

Edd: Marie…Mari….you're…

Edd clawed carefully at her arms trying to tell her she was…literally killing him. Marie let him go immediately and laughed between tears as Edd gasped for air, clinging to her.

Marie: Sorry, sorry, sorry!

Edd: I said it…

Marie: You said it…

Edd: I said…

Marie: You love me?

Edd: Yes.

Marie: You love me!

Edd: Yes!

Marie kissed Edd, deeply, lovingly, no lust, just pure honest love. Yet, as Edd enjoyed this new kiss his body was feeling and analyzing, his mind jumped to the rats… "More". The only words his mind could muster. "MORE". As Edd looked at Marie, he understood this single powerful word. But… tonight was not the night.

Edd: Well… I don't think the rats will give me more than… that.

Marie: Still looking at the rats?

Edd: I'm looking at you now.

Marie covered his eyes, giggling.

Marie: Not anymore.

Edd: Marie…

She laughed as she kissed him, still covering his eyes.

Edd: So mean…

Marie: Shush… You love it.

Edd: Well… if I can't see, we wont be able to leave.

Marie: It's nearly midnight! Where would…

Edd removed her hand from his face, carefully, and kissed her neck softly, deeply and sensually. Marie moaned softly, sinking her nails a bit on his collar.

Marie: Got it… we're leaving.

Edd laughed as he moved to hang his coat, turn off the cameras on the rat's containers, disconnect all the equipment and place his notes on the small safe hidden in the farthest wall by retina security. When he turned to look at Marie, she was already holding the door, fixing her little onion on her head. She was adorable… it made him smile… yet… it felt… hollow. Had he actually been able to say "I love you" without any emotional foundation for it? Or did loving someone imply so much more than just labels, words, emotions and actions? What did it mean to "love"… or… perhaps… "love" was just a word… a simplified and diluted label for something far more powerful. Edd shook his head as he walked towards her, kissing her one last time as he turned around to turn off all the lights. In the absolute darkness, he smiled as to how much he had discovered and learned about human behavior, not just because of the rats. Human experimentation….was vital now. Edd looked down at his hand as he turned the lock… these hands… belonged to him. Who was he?

Test Subject H001: Eddward Marion Vincent

He would be his own experiment… he needed it… he needed to know who he was. He needed to know before… she got hurt… or was it too late? His new equation:

B = f(P,E,S)= P*E- S*E

Our behavior is the product of our genetics and environment when placed in a situation...

Edd: Still not there.

Marie: Huh?

Edd shook his head and smiled at Marie as she held his hand and nearly dragged him towards her motorcycle, waiting in the parking lot just a couple steps down from his Lab. A sudden vibration made Edd remember he hadn't checked his phone the whole day. He pulled it out and quickly noticed that his cover screen showed 52 unread messages. As Marie stopped beside her bike to give Edd his helmet and get hers, Edd unlocked his phone to check the messages:

18 messages from Lyon

34 messages from Kevin

Edd smiled, a warm, heartfelt smile as he read all of the messages quickly- he was a fast reader after all. Lyon was just foolish, sending him pictures of his own projects, of the new office he had bought 2 blocks left of World Avenue, more into the heart of the city. Edd was glad, seeing how Lyon's charming persona, elegant attire and clear smile showed an absolute happiness and sense of success. The messages weren't all "business" though. Lyon also asked about his whereabouts and his well-being. They were brief but repetitive, mostly asking him if he wanted to "go out", if he was "ok"… so on and so forth. It was Kevin's messages that interested him the most. Despite his heart racing as he read it, or his inevitable laughter, the messages were varied and did not focus neither on one subject.

They were a testament of intimacy and trust…of his "life". Kevin had shared with Edd how his day was going, asking Edd how his day was going, sending pictures about certain events he had seen or activities he had done. Edd laughed as inside jokes pop along the messages, or witty comments about some material they had studied… or teachers. It was something Edd had found out recently actually. Kevin wasn't… dumb or didn't like to study… he simply lacked attention or some dynamic method of learning. Kevin was smart, witty and a fast learner…their studying sessions had gone faster and more fluent.

Marie: What you reading?

Edd yelped as Marie peered at his screen over his shoulder. She giggled and placed his helmet on his head, strapping it on carefully as she had done the first time. Edd smiled.

Edd: Nothing. Lyon and Kevin messaged me.

Marie: As always.

Edd: I know… seems I've been ignoring them too.

Marie: That does not make me feel better.

Edd and Marie giggled as Marie sat on her bike and patted the space behind her, urging him to get on.

Edd: Well, they are my friends.

Marie: Somehow.

Edd: Hey! You like Lyon… I think…

Marie: He isn't a total ass.

Edd laughed as he sat behind her, wrapping his hands around her waist. Marie moaned softly and giggled.

Edd: I'm amazed you still react this way despite us riding to your place almost daily.

Marie: You've been staying at your dorm these last weeks do to "studying".

Edd laughed as Marie quoted in the air the word, he hugged her. Soon Marie rode her bike slowly out of the parking lot…which Edd thanked. They did speed down World Avenue, turning a couple blocks in and heading towards Marie's apartments. Edd focused on the hanging lights, the Christmas ornaments and the happy ambience the end of classes and the coming of Christmas brought.

Edd: Christmas.

Edd mumbled to himself, troubled. He had forgotten all about it, he had no plans, he hadn't talked to anyone about doing something, he hadn't even bought gifts. And time was ticking.

Marie moaned, her nails sinking into her pillow as she bit on it, her orgasm sweeping down her body, making her tremble. She smiled, her eyes closed, her breathing heavy and her body sweaty. Edd laid beside her in the same state. Panting, breathless, sweaty and exhausted they simply laughed and exchanged glances. It was already 5am, the sun rose slowly over the city skyline, filtering its light unto Marie's bed, illuminating first Edd- a halo of light enveloping him. To Marie, he seemed… dreamy, the perfect silhouette of the man she loved… but no face… like her dreams… but she knew it was him, her Edd, it had to be.

She stretched a hand to his sweaty brow and cheeks, laughing as instead of a caress she instead tried to remove the moisture with her also moist hands. Edd, smiled and kissed her hands as the light slowly crept up her face, revealing her… like the veil of a bride being pulled up… slowly. Each centimeter of skin revealed by the light was perfect… clean, no imperfections, smooth, no makeup… Marie was a natural beauty. She squinted and closed her eyes, burying her face in the pillow as the light went up to her eyes, Edd laughed and caressed her head.

Sex with her was wild, emotional, passionate… their bodies intertwined in a rhythmic and sensual dance of lust and desire. Yet, Edd always felt a bit detached. He knew Marie and she knew him, they knew each other's bodies perfectly… their pleasure spots. Yet… he found it… too… hollow. Was it because he still couldn't make up what he felt for her? It DID feel better this time… after he had said "I love you"… but… it still didn't feel quite right. Edd closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he spooned Marie, smiling as his slight germ-phobia didn't trigger when he felt their hot and sweaty bodies pressed together.

Exhausted and drained, Edd had no idea how much he had slept, woke up by the sound of metallic clattering coming from the kitchen. 12:00pm with simple mathematics, Edd understood he had slept hopefully 7 hours, and somehow Marie had woken up before him to… cook? Edd smiled and giggled at the thought, he slowly walked out of bed, placing his underwear on (which he had left folded on a chair) and looking for his shirt… which he did not find anywhere. Rather unlikely of him to misplace or lose his belongings, he concluded surely Marie had grabbed it, she loved wearing his shirts… which, he had to agree, flattered her figure. Opting for one of his T-shirts he had now begun to move (since he was basically living with Marie). Edd walked downstairs just to hear a second scandalous banging of metal pots, and a female voice cursing. He smiled, as he leaned on the archway.

Edd: Good afternoon.

Marie: Hey! No….

Marie slipped on a bit of water as she held a pile of pans and pots. She freed one hand to balance herself but caused the pile to fall unto the floor. As the metallic clang bellowed throughout the loft, Edd moved toward her and helped her put the stack down. Marie, a bit ashamed, allowed Edd to comfort her and to check her for injuries.

Edd: What were you doing?

Marie: I was trying to make lunch for us. You always cook, I wanted to try this time.

Edd looked at all the pots and pans now on the floor.

Edd: Why all these?

Marie: I wasn't sure which pan or pot I had to use so I tried to look which one would work best.

Edd: You could've used the internet.

Marie: I… didn't think of that.

Edd giggled as he began to pick the pans and pots, putting them away in their respective places. He gave Marie the pans she wanted and the pot for sauce, she smiled and kissed him on the cheek. With little words said, Edd gave Marie an apron as he put one on himself. Together, they created a work station, Marie would cook and Edd decided he'd help out with cutting ingredients. A typical Italian lunch: spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and meatballs. Things went smoothly as Edd cut and chopped while Marie tended the stove. They were enjoying themselves, stealing glances at each other every once in a while. However, as Marie finished most of the food, letting things either cool down or cook and Edd cleaned all their utensils, they began to talk.

Edd: Someone has been reading recipes.

Marie: I did not!

Edd: Last time you tried cooking…

Marie: Accidents happen to the best of us!

Edd: Marie…

Marie: What?!

They both laughed.

Edd: Ok, so…how did you know that spaghetti has to be sauté after being cooked with olive oil…

Marie: Sauté?

Edd stared at Marie seriously and with squinting eyes as she smiled nervously. She sighed.

Marie: I've been going to Ruzzo's.

Edd: I guess it was kinda obvious.

Marie slapped Edd on the chest playfully and they both giggled.

Marie: So mean!

Edd: That's my line.

They kissed, quickly as Edd pointed the boiling sauce at Marie.

Edd: Hey… it's already the 21st.

Marie: UU, 3 more days 'till Christmas.

Edd: Exactly… soo… did you have any plans?

Marie turns and looks at Edd.

Marie: Being with you?

They smile at each other.

Edd: But… no party? Nothing?

Marie: You celebrate Christmas?

Edd: If by celebrating you mean I like spending it with others and actually having Christmas dinner…yes.

Marie: You want to go back home?

Her voice a bit sulking.

Edd: It's a bit late for that. But… I was thinking… maybe…

Edd swallowed.

Edd: If you do not mind.

Marie: Want ME to host a party?

Edd: Only if…

Marie: Hell no…

Edd: Marie!

Marie moved quickly to Edd and kissed him as she returned to cooking.

Marie: Don't "Marie" me. I don't do parties… but… I know how we can settle.

Edd: Are you proposing meeting halfway?

Marie: Ruzzo.

Edd: What about….. oh!

Marie: He's family to me… so… how about we ask?

Edd: Sounds excellent! But… think we could… invite…

Marie: May already said she and Lee and…her "hubby"- her words not mine- are coming.

Edd looked baffled.

Edd: What?

Marie: Hey, I've been talking to my sisters lately. They told me that this week.

Edd sighed.

Edd: Why didn't you tell me?

Marie: You were never here?

Edd: Fine. I'll post it to the rest to see who else can come.

Marie: By "the rest" you mean…

Edd: The "Cul".

Marie: I bet only Eddy and Nazz will make it.

Edd: Lyon and Kevin could come too.

Marie stiffened up, taking in a deep breath.

Marie: I forgot that those too also count.

Edd: Don't be mean. Santa won't visit you if you're mean.

They laughed.

Marie: But I already have my gift.

She wrapped her arms around Edd's neck, a wooden spoon with sauce dangling behind him. They kissed and Edd quickly moved her back to focus on finishing the food, which was almost done.

Edd: Don't stain my clothes. Please?

Marie: Yeah, yeah… any way… I expect you being with ME and not THEM. You see them at school and even study with them. I've missed you.

She pouted and Edd laughed, kissing her and helping her move all the pots and pans to begin serving the food.

Edd: Then it's settled… dinner at La Famiglia. And, tomorrow we part ways.

Marie: WHAA..?!

Edd laughed and hugged her as Marie pouted, her mouthful of spaghetti and looking at him with big blue eyes.

Edd: I can't let you see your gift!

Marie: Hmph… fine.

Edd laughed and kissed her face while Marie swallowed her mouthful. They dined, enjoying an Italian wine of Marie's selection, and talking about Christmas and plans for the next 3 days. It was going to be hectic, thankfully they had agreed to buy presents as a couple for Marie's sisters and Ed, but gifts for Eddy, Nazz and the rest would be… individual. Edd didn't actually expect Marie to buy anything for them, especially Lyon and Kevin. It was ok though, he wouldn't force her to.

The day became a stay-in as they sat to watch movies with popcorn and to simply snuggle and cuddle. It was nice, warm and heartwarming to be able to share a day with someone doing… nothing. However, Edd's mind quickly slipped into his experiments… or last experiment.

He wanted to understand not only who he was… but why he acted as he did. What triggered him? What was the reason of human behavior? Could it be anticipated, measured or calculated? Could there be an actual science on what human behavior is? Science… to perceive the individual as a science…now that was something he hadn't thought of in a while.

The 24th arrived in a cold and quick breeze and a rather sudden snow storm. Edd had barely any time to pick out his presents, hiding them in his dorm, away from Marie and curious personalities (Lyon). It was easy to say they both pestered him incessantly over the last days over the presents. To his… demise and happiness, Marie and Lyon had bonded in his… rather extensive absence do to studies and previous experiments. Though Marie had been clear and loud about her disapproval and feelings with his long absence, she had not mentioned that she and Lyon had been texting. Edd was not really surprised as Lyon… always seemed to be free. He did study though… though his grades were… either excellent or decent. Edd didn't judge him though… he was excited and focused on… other areas. It made him smile that he was fulfilling his dreams.

Over the last days, Marie had… tattle-taled Lyon that he (Edd) was buying presents for Christmas. Whether at "home" (Marie's) or in campus he was always met with either or both, asking and begging him to tell them what the gifts were, how many they were or if they could get theirs beforehand. It didn't actually annoy him as much, nor did he find it endearing… but it amused him and they both made him laugh more than usual. However, Kevin had disappeared… Lyon didn't even know anything about him. Edd worried about him quite a bit, wondering where he could be, why he was being so weird lately or why would he act so caring and indifferent at the same time. Kevin… his mystery… his enigma. His?

Edd sighed. He had dozed off a bit as most of Ruzzo's male family members (nephews, both sons and cousin's sons) had invited him upstairs to the terrace to "finish decorating"- turned out they had popped some wines and drank merrily. Edd liked the bonding experience, the Italian culture was a rather warm and happy one… especially in festivities apparently.

It was already getting dark, perhaps around a quarter past 5 or something. It had been a tiring day. With a help from Lyon and Ruzzo's family he had managed to transport his gifts to Ruzzo's home- the third story of the building where La Famiglia was located. It was a rather rustic and warm place, very Italian, and where only Ruzzo and his immediate family lived. Apparently, the family was close in heart and spirit but they physically lived in different areas of the city. However, a family business relies on Family and everyone, near or far, loved to just work and run the place… to socialize, to serve, to entertain and to gather…family was key. As Antoine, Ruzzo's eldest 26 yr old son, filled Edd's cup for the 3rd time the topic quickly shifted to him and Marie's relationship- probably taking advantage of his meek and rather foggy mind do to alcohol. Edd laughed and talked about them moving in together, about them always being together, their past, their history, their re-encounter, their differences…etc. Each experience was met with "aw"s and cries of celebration and approval. It was a fun ambiance which was cut short- thankfully- by Anya, Ruzzo's gorgeous, honey haired 18yr old daughter, and Marie. The guys laughed and promptly got to work, moving garden chairs, illuminating the roof garden (reason why all the ingredients of Ruzzo's was fresh) and cleaning everything. The girls, the majority of Ruzzo's family, had taken care of Ruzzo's home and the restaurant, adorning it with Christmas stuff, cleaning, adding light and…feminine, fun details like a mistletoe at the entrance, Christmas trees, lace, etc.

The air was filled with laughter, teasing, bonding and the smell of alcohol from the wine which, apparently, was essential in the Italian daily life. By the end of the preparations, perhaps a bit around 7 at night, Edd was exhausted, sitting beside Marie who cleaned his sweat with a towel and teased him. Time for the party was always upon them, they had to get ready. With quick farewells and waves, the couple left Ruzzo and his family as everyone took their own ways home to prepare for the night. They were to meet at 10pm, sharp… or at least that was how Edd had requested and expected (if Marie didn't stall too much). Their walk home was quiet, laughing and keeping close as they enjoyed and marveled at the snow falling, the heaps that had already formed along the side walk and the frozen lights which seemed even more magical from the shops. It was a white Christmas and all of World Avenue had gotten in sync, putting the same music disc on at the same time, creating a homogeneous and constant melody throughout the whole strip. The smell of hot Cocoa, marshmallows and the shop's own smells and hot air mingling, becoming more prominent as they passed through each shop. It was… perfect.

The clock struck 10 the first time and Edd dashed down the stairs, followed by Marie. They were laughing, giggling, kissing and teasing each other as they tried to hurry their way downstairs to get to Ruzzo's place. It was the first time Edd had seen Marie so peppy and eager to leave. Whether it was the festivity, the sense of family that Ruzzo's family gave her, or the fact that May and her real sisters where coming over, he loved seeing her so happy… genuinely and absolutely happy. They walked quickly down World Avenue, Marie becoming a little girl as she jumped in the heaps of snow and starting a snowball fight with Edd. Their trip took shorter than they expected as they ran down the street throwing snowballs at each other and Edd finally catching up to Marie when she stopped in front of the restaurant. He hugged her tightly, both laughing and sharing a quick kiss as they looked at the entrance and Ruzzo smiling, door wide open. Family felt amazing.

Of course, Edd and Marie were the first at the place, even before some of Ruzzo's family. Edd preferred it this way and Marie didn't mind as she flung her coat on one of the coat hanger and ran to hug and enjoy her girl time with Ruzzo's daughters and some of his nieces. Edd, a bit more reserved and rather… mature, hung his coat neatly and proceeded to go back to the kitchen and talk and help Ruzzo and his family with preparations and cooking… he soon surprised everyone with his ease and dexterity at cooking, kitchen utensils and especially his barista abilities. As Edd was praised and was integrated into the family, Marie smiled at him across the orders counter, placing a Santa hat on his head, making sure the beanie went smoothly inside. She smiled at him, dearly and lovingly.

The invitees soon began to arrive and by 11 at night everyone had arrived. Nazz, the social and open Nazz had become the shy and quirky Nazz as she saw the amount of people and Italian guys in the place. Eddy laughed and teased her, which didn't help her condition, clinging shyly and lovingly to him…they looked like a real couple. Guys and girls talked and teased them, asking about their relationship… they were all quite nosy. Speaking of couples, Ed and May were quite a hit as Ruzzo's family badgered them with questions, praises and toasts about their upcoming wedding. They were very reserved about it… at least May was as Ed answered all the questions asked quite simply and with little detail. It made everyone want to know more. Edd and Eddy laughed at this as Marie, Lee and May talked and secreted as… girls do. It was a happy time, and the fact that Lyon had mingled and blended with the Italian boys, or that Kevin was being his usual isolated self near the food bar didn't affect anyone. For the night, this night, they were all family. They dinned together, they talked, they shared tips, experiences, secrets, dirty gossips, love crushes, etc. It was no surprise when even girls of nearby restaurants started walking in- girlfriends of some of the boys. Ironically most of Ruzzo's female side were either: A) married, or B) 18 yrs old or younger; which meant their jealous and overprotective brothers/cousins/parents didn't allow them to invite their "boyfriends". They did arrive though… past midnight and they were soon the target of most conversations and the men in the room as they pried into the relationships. The Eds and The Kankers, along with Nazz, Lyon and Kevin found themselves together by this moment, laughing at how families behaved…and… how similar they behaved like them.

A couple of drinks later, which made the clock chime 1am, everyone was in party mode as Italian Mediterranean music filled all the floors of the building. Having discovered the mistletoe, photos of couples soon became a thing. Laughter, teases and cries soon filled the air, especially of brothers and sisters quarreling as the older brothers tried to terrify (with great success) their sister's "boyfriends" on taking the photo. The shouts and screams echoed and rang everywhere. Edd, smiling and laughing sat on a bench on the roof, beside a rather drunk Marie. Some of the married couples, Lyon and Anya (one of the few singles of the party) and Kevin who laughed and enjoyed his time with the youngest (8-14 yrs old) siblings and family members made the night rowdy as well. As Marie slowly dozed off, Edd watched at Kevin laugh, chase and pick up the small children like toys, roar like a giant monster and laugh. Fatherly. It was the word Edd found fitting for him. The rough, arrogant, bully, tough, reserved, sometimes antisocial Kevin was one huge father figure. Edd couldn't take his eyes off him. Mesmerized.

Kevin was aware of Edd's deep stare, turning to look at him and smile occasionally, each time more honest and more profound than the last. It was their secret, they were bonded by it… that one thing that had happened. They never talked about it… they didn't have to… they just… shared it. Time and space breaking every time they just watched each other. Their own personal and secret space and language… far from reality and the understanding of others. Each sigh, each stare, each smile, each gesture packing more meaning than words could possibly explain… a code each tried to decipher, and the reason why neither said a word.

Marie: I'm tired.

The words slurred out of Marie's lips and into Edd's ear, making him giggle and hug the already half asleep Marie falling onto his lap with an empty bottle of wine on her hand. It snapped Edd out of his dreamy state, making him smile at the silly little girl his girlfriend could be at times. Kevin, looking at this, simply frowned and kept on playing with the kids, moving them downstairs as he saw them yawn and become less and less active.

Edd: Well… it will be 3am soon.

Marie: Thiwas fun.

Edd: It was very fun, I'm very glad you enjoyed yourself.

Marie: Shhhh, shhh… not so loud

Marie tried to press to fingers to Edd's lips, but missed and instead pressed them on his nose. Edd laughed and so did Marie.

Marie: I'm prettydrunk.

Edd: It's not a problem, we can still walk home…

Marie: UUh, Edd wants tabe naughty?

Edd: Ok… you may be a bit too drunk.

Marie giggled.

Marie: Jus' a lil'

She hiccupped and burst into laughter, the hiccup cutting the laughter short and making her sound comical. Edd laughed and kissed her forehead.

Edd: Let me go for your coat.

Marie hugged him, loosely.

Marie: No!

Edd: Marie, darling, you need your coat...

Marie: No!

Edd: Marie…

Marie: No!

Edd smiled and simply slipped out of her grip as he headed quickly downstairs. Marie protesting with a pout and getting clumsily up.

The party was getting quiet, most of the people were already leaving since… well… they still had to work tomorrow. Though they partied hard, they were quite the responsible family. They loved the restaurant. Edd smiled and waved goodbye at a Nazz who was holding a rather drunk Eddy up. She was tough, strong and watching her push Eddy up and out of the restaurant showed it… along with her love towards him when Eddy pointed at the mistletoe of the doorway. They kissed. Ed and May sat in a corner, big Ed quite tired as May also rested on his chest… their size difference making the image far too cute. Edd smiled but it didn't last long as he noticed the coat hangers weren't where they had been when they had entered. He asked everyone and they directed him to the kitchen cellars, where the coats had been moved to avoid them being knocked over by anyone. Edd thanked them as he moved back to grab his and Marie's coat. It was hard locating them though. The darkness of the kitchen, plus the dim light of the cellars made the colors almost impossible to differentiate. He did manage to get both coats though, sighing in relief as he began to close the door, only to feel himself bump against a hard body behind him.

Kevin: Hey, easy there Double D.

Edd: Oh! Kevin, i-I'm sorry I-I didn't notice you.

Kevin: Relax. You're tired… just as me. Damn, those kids sure like to play.

Edd smiled, as he passed a hand by his ear, moving a flock of hair back.

Edd: Yeah, you seemed pretty awesome taking care of them.

Kevin laughed.

Kevin: They're kids, it's easy to entertain them. Besides…

He moved beside Edd, the distance between them minimal.

Kevin: It's Christmas.

He motioned the door open again. Edd swallowed.

Edd: Yeah… I hope you liked your gift.

Kevin laughed.

Kevin: You are one crazy bastard, you know that? I loved it.

Edd: Really?!

Kevin looked at him questioningly as he smirked and raised his shirt, revealing the black, skin tight underarmor shirt Edd had gotten him. Edd had bought it at a sports store; long sleeved, thick, tight to the skin and supposed to keep you warm, he had thought it was perfect for the athletic Kevin. Edd smiled and went idle as his eyes scanned the shirt that seemed like a second skin on Kevin, marking his perfect, strong and hard abs. Kevin pulled down his shirt and Edd shook his head, placing a hand on his forehead.

Edd: Oh dear, I'm terribly sorry Kevin.

Kevin: Nah, don't worry... i guess… it's just…

Kevin tugged a bit and got his jacket and Lyon's out from the cellar clamped with hangers.

Kevin: Natural.

Edd: You're leaving too?

Kevin: Might as well. Better get the dumb ass home before the whole Italian community here beats us with sticks.

They laughed.

Edd: Oh please…

Kevin: Hey, the asshole is hitting on that hot chick up there…and I saw how the guys get over their… lil' sisters.

Edd giggled as he stepped back to let Kevin out of the cellar. He closed it.

Edd: Ok, it's a very responsible and appropriate course of action.

They walked back by the kitchen, almost getting to the archway when Kevin nudged Edd's arm.

Kevin: Umm… so… I hope you… don't think i…. forgot to get you something.

Edd: You got me something?!

Kevin: Why you sound surprised?! I didn't forget! I'm responsible.

Edd laughed as Kevin looked rather flustered and offended. He scoffed.

Kevin: Just… I just thought that if you gave me something I should too.

Edd: How did you…

Kevin: Never mind.

Kevin handed Edd a small long box. Edd took it, carefully. He looked up at Kevin with big moony eyes, only to watch Kevin blush and look away toward the archway… they were concealed by the darkness. Edd grinned, his feature quite girlish. He carefully lifted the lid of the box only to find a gold fountain pen inside. Clean, gorgeous, elegant and refined. Edd gasped, and took it… speechless. He turned it, inspecting it and found to an even greater surprise his named carefully carved in perfect English cursive on the side: "Eddward". Edd was awestruck, his eyes watering, unable to muster a word as he looked from the pen to Kevin.

Kevin: What? You don't like it? Do you already have one? Shit I knew it was silly. I mean I'm not…

Edd tackled Kevin, wrapping his arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.

Edd: Thank you.

He whispered in Kevin's ear. Kevin blushed, his blood boiling as he slowly and carefully hugged him back. Edd slowly separated from Kevin, he was standing on his toes, getting on eye level with him. The distance between them was barely even there and a spark of light over them caught their eyes. A mistletoe. Edd remembered the girls arguing about where the mistletoes should've been placed, they had wanted them to be in fun and public places… but… the younger girls had a different say as they were also in charge of their placing. It was only logical that they, knowing how the men of the family were, would seek more private locations. Edd laughed, covering his mouth as Kevin looked at him crimson red.

Edd: I'm sorry, I just remembered something.

Kevin: Not so loud, they'll see us.

Edd: What do you mean…

Edd's laughter and smile were cut short as Kevin pulled him in and kissed him. A strong, powerful and imposing kiss. Edd felt his legs give away, but strong arms keeping him up, lifting him, keeping him close. His mind went blank, in an instant…troubles, thoughts, problems, fears, insecurities… gone. They fit… their bodies encased perfectly, Edd's hand resting on Kevin's chest. They separated their lips slowly, Edd opening his eyes first… he felt girlish… fragile, weak. Kevin kept his eyes closed. He smiled, breathing again.

Kevin: Sorry… I just…

This time Edd pressed their lips together, a soft and tender kiss. Kevin moved his hands: one behind Edd's neck and the other around his hips. Edd moaned softly at the touch and sensation, intimate, protective, manly. He was not rationalizing… he was consumed by desire. As their lips parted, their bodies hot and burning, they stared at each other…panting, breathless. Their eyes were full, honest and pure, just looking at each other. Finally a single thread of rationality speared through his mind. WHY? Edd blinked once, reacting immediately. He coughed once and immediately turned to see himself on his toes.

Edd: Um… Kevin.

Kevin: Yeah?

Edd looked at him once more to the eyes.

Edd: Could… you… put me down?

Kevin shook his head and smiled, noticing immediately the situation they were in. He chuckled and lowered Edd to the ground. Edd straightened his clothes and tidied himself, Kevin simply looked at him, leaning on the wall… smiling. Edd looked at him.

Edd: What?

Kevin: No… Nothing… nothing at all.

Kevin smiled and Edd smiled, shyly, back at him. Kevin coughed once and motioned that they should go leave. They did. Kevin went out first and walked back upstairs, searching for Lyon, calling his name out… along with some curses in between. Edd, coming out later, smiled and laughed as he saw the athletic ginger dash up the stairs. He sighed, shaking his head, pressing a hand to his forehead and turned his head looking for Marie. Beside the archway he had just come out of, he saw her. She had her makeup smeared a bit, as if she was crying, her eyes dead serious as they stared back at him. She smiled at him… almost painfully. Edd frowned and approached her, but she stopped him with a single hand.

Marie: Let's go.

Edd: Marie!

Marie: No, I'm fine… don't say anything… please.

Her voice cracked at the last, as she raised a hand to her mouth. She turned her back to Edd and extended her arms, waiting for him to put her jacket on. He did. As Edd dusted the shoulders of Marie's jacket, leaving his hands on her for a moment Marie turned around abruptly, tears streaming down her cheeks. She kissed him… again and again. Edd felt a pit in his stomach. Marie grabbed his hand and lead him out.

Edd: Marie….

Marie stopped on the doorway, kissing him passionately one last time.

Marie: Merry Christmas, love.

Edd simply looked at her, broken... she looked damaged and hurt. Edd hugged her, dearly, his heart aching… a couple tears coming out of his eyes. He didn't know why he was crying… and he feared knowing. He simply held her and walked with her, hugging her and comforting her… reminding her that he loved her. Loved? Past? What was he thinking… why was he…doubting? Christmas… Merry Christmas… some Christmas it turned out to be.

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