Unstylish, Watery Blue
rating: +7+x

They first spoke when Anselman came out of his disciplinary hearing. They had seen each other before that, glances stolen in cafeterias and hallways, looks uncompleted, conversations not started. They had passed like parallel lines before this, and more than he was angry about his conduct slip, about his emotional outburst, Anselman was upset that they had to speak for the first time now, like this.

Lavoie was waiting for him, fine blond hair, watery blue eyes, white hot anger. “You really fucked with her, you know?”

Anselman bristled, brown eyes flickering behind unstylish glasses. He didn't want them to meet like this. “I just got chewed out in there. I don’t need more here.”

“She’s my patient, she—”

It. It’s an it, not a she. It’s not your patient.”

Lavoie stepped back, narrow eyes, buck teeth. “You had no right.”

“None of us has a right.” Anselman hunched, a big man feeling very small. He had done wrong, he had allowed weakness, he hated himself. “I didn’t mean to fuck anything up. I’m sorry.”

“You ought to be transferred.”

“They can’t. The lemon doesn’t trust anyone else. I’ve tried to get it away from me, but.”

“So what are you supposed to do?”

“My job.”

Lavoie rolled his watery blue eyes, turned on his long legs. The hallway was empty as he walked away, his leather shoes making a soft echoing squeak like a dying mouse as he left Anselman behind.

They didn’t speak again for two weeks. They had no reason to, they were assigned to different projects, they had different disciplines. They passed each other once on the way to their respective children and once on the way back, and they looked at each other, unstylish glasses and watery blue eyes, and they tried to figure out how the other one worked.

Lavoie confronted him outside of the dormitory snack machines, because of course he did. Psychiatrists were very good at confronting. It was late, they were both in pajamas, Anselman was clutching two Snickers bars.

Lavoie approached him and said, without preamble, “Why do you hate them?”

Anselman tried to find a witty retort, but he was too distracted by Lavoie’s matching pajamas, button down and sky blue and white slippers. Who dressed like that? “Who?”

“The SCPs. The human ones.”

Anselman blinked, slow. He didn’t wear matching pajamas. His pajamas were plaid flannel pants and a dirty ‘Where’s the Beef?’ t-shirt. “I don’t hate them.”

“Yes you do. I saw the 2118 tapes, I saw how you put 3424 in a locker. Why would you put them through that if you didn’t hate them? Your pain—”

“My pain,” Anselman snarled, smacking Lavoie in the chest with a Snickers so hard he stumbled back, “is my pain alone. No one here knows—”

Lavoie barked a laugh, rubbed his chest where the chocolate had hit it. “Everyone here knows. Everyone here has felt your pain, or some version of it; it's basically required if you want to work here. It feels special to you, but it’s not special. No one's pain in the Foundation is special.”

Anselman wanted to yell, but he settled for flinging a candy bar at Lavoie and storming back to his room. He slammed the door and it didn’t reverberate, which he resented. If he had stayed, he would have seen Lavoie stare after him, head cocked to the side like a golden retriever, blond hair, watery eyes. He would have seen Lavoie eat the candy bar.

Two more weeks passed. They didn’t look at each other in the hallway anymore.

They didn’t see each other again, really see each other, until they really saw each other in the snack machine alcove, late at night. This time, Lavoie was getting something—a Nature’s Valley granola bar. The hard kind that turned to dust when you unwrapped it but still managed to break your teeth.

Anselman had seen the figure down the hallway, but when he saw who it was, he stopped short, snack tokens held tight in his sweating hand. Lavoie looked at him like a raccoon caught in a motion sensor light. They were both still, afraid to blink, like two cryptids catching sight of each other in the woods.

Slowly, like one backs away from a bear, Lavoie stood and smoothed down his matching sky blue pajamas. “I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Anselman lowered his hands, straightened his spine, adjusted his unstylish glasses. “For what?”

“For what I said. I shouldn’t have belittled—”

“Not belittled,” Anselman said before he could stop himself.

“Minimized,” Lavoie corrected, unaware. “I shouldn’t have minimized your pain.”

That’s right, Anselman thought. You shouldn’t have. “Thank you.”

Lavoie nodded and stepped aside for Anselman to get his candy. Anselman approached, dropped his coin in the machine, perused the options. He was about to press a button when Lavoie said, “You lost your son.”

He said it softly. It was nearly gentle if it wasn’t so devastatingly accurate. Anselman swallowed. “Yes. He was eight.”

“How long ago?”

“Seven years.”

“Were you married?”

The hum of the snack machine, the bright white lights. Anselman jabbed at his selection. “Yes. She divorced me not long after. I threw myself into the Foundation.”

Lavoie laughed, but this one was hollow. “Like embracing the void.” He picked at his granola bar. “Where is she now?”

“Why do you care?” Anselman demanded. Lavoie shrugged. “Remarried. She has a new family. She seems happy, but I don’t know.” The Snickers bar dropped. “Now you.”

“Now me what?”

“Yours. Tell me yours.”

Lavoie hummed, picked at his granola bar. Fine blond hair brushed his forehead, and Anselman wanted to touch it. “There’s not too much to tell. My siblings died when I was nineteen. Brother and sister. Car accident, they were hit by a semi.” He shivered. His voice was soft and factual. “I was in school, six hundred miles away.”

Anselman placed a big, soft hand on Lavoie’s sky blue shoulder, and felt the thin man shudder. “It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I wanted to….”

“I know. Me, too.”

“And everyone here, we’ve all lost someone. In emotional or physical ways. Maybe it makes it easier for us to accept everything else here.” Lavoie’s voice dropped to a whisper, and he said, lips barely moving so the cameras wouldn’t catch it, “I started working here because I loved it, the weird stuff, the wrong stuff—but when I met the humans they were all my sister, and they were all my brother. I can’t help but humanize them.”

The hairs on Anselman’s arms stood on end. “Don’t say that.”

“Don’t tell anyone I did.”

Anselman nodded, and pocketed his candy bar, and went back to his dorm without looking back.

They asked questions in the hallway, now. They crossed paths twice a day, once on the way to their assignments, and once on the way back. They each got one question a day, because they were always in too much of a rush to ask many more.

Anselman asked, “Is that your actual hair color?”

Lavoie tilted his fine blond head and said, “Yes.” On the way back he asked, “Do you really need those glasses?”

“Yes,” Anselman said, adjusting his unstylish glasses. The next morning he asked, “Why do your pajamas match?”

“I like the way they look, and how they feel. They’re very soft,” Lavoie said. He ran his fingers down his arms absentmindedly, and Anselman felt the hair on his own stand on end. He thought all day of what Lavoie would ask him that afternoon, but was still caught off-guard when he asked, “What did your t-shirt mean?”

“Where’s the beef? Like Wendy’s? Come on, Lavoie,” Anselman said, laughing. They were falling into a rhythm, preparing questions during the day and overnight, presenting them like offerings when they passed, no longer parallel lines but overlapping waveforms. Anselman asked, “How do you stand those granola bars?”

And Lavoie said, “I crush them up and eat the bits out of the bag.” And that evening: “Do you ever get cavities from that much candy?”

“No, I’ve got strong teeth. Worst I get is a headache. Who do you hang out with outside of here?”

“No one. My best friend is Dr. Wu, she’s in observation. What are you in?”

“I got my doctorate in botany, so they put me with the plants a lot. I guess that’s why I’m with the lemon. You?”

“Child psychology. Do you have any friends?”

The question gave Anselman pause, ticking clock, furrowed brow, but he answered, “I have you, I think.” Lavoie made an expression, and Anselman couldn't tell if the expression was pity or fondness, and he tried not to dwell on it. He asked that afternoon, “Do you play any instruments?”

“A little cello. Do you play sports?”

“A little football. What’s your name?”

Lavoie smiled. Anselman realized while he had seen Lavoie laugh many times, he had never seen him smile. The sight made his heart race. “Charles,” Lavoie said, and without pausing for the time to pass, he asked, “What’s yours?”

Anselman swallowed and said, “Peter. Nice to meet you, Charles.”

“Likewise, Peter.” Lavoie winked and leaned forward to whisper, “I like your silly pajamas.”

“Thank you,” Anselman said. He was trying very hard not to blush. “I like yours, too.”

They asked questions in the hall, but it was another two weeks before they saw each other at night again. This time, Anselman swung his door open, snack tokens tight in his hand, and found Lavoie staring back at him, fist raised as if to knock. They stared at each other, watery blue, unstylish glasses. Bated breath.

Lavoie lowered his hand and raised the other one, proffering a Snickers bar. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“So you came to me?”

“Wu is in dorm C. You’re closer.” He smiled again, and Anselman could not fight the blush this time. Lavoie didn't notice, or pretended not to, and he said, “Can I come in?”

“Yes.” Anselman stepped aside, and he watched Lavoie walk into his room, a sight made real that had been plaguing his dreams for months. Lavoie’s hair stuck up at the back, and Anselman wanted to fix it. He wanted to touch it. He wanted to touch him.

Lavoie had turned and was looking at him, eyes shimmering with their constant moisture. They almost glowed in the dim light of the glow-in-the-dark stars Anselman had stuck to his ceiling. Anselman closed the door. Lavoie blinked, and looked around. “Nice room. I like the stars.”


Lavoie poked at the desk chair, totally covered in dirty laundry. “No chairs.”

“Didn’t anticipate company,” Anselman replied, and he knew he sounded gruff, and he knew he sounded nervous. “You can sit on the bed.”

“Thanks.” Lavoie did, he moved to the bed and perched on the edge, looking at Anselman with an expression he couldn’t parse, like code, like anart. A self-contained anomaly. Anselman sat next to him, and their knees almost touched. Lavoie stared at them, at the knees that almost touched like parallel lines, and then he said, “I’m gay.”

Anselman jolted like he’d licked a lightbulb socket. “What?”

“I’m gay. I just…wanted you to know that. I thought it might be important.”


“Because—I don’t know. Because of what we’re almost doing.” Lavoie looked up into Anselman’s unstylish glasses. “What are we doing? I didn't…misread?”

“No, I…” Anselman swallowed. “I haven’t, in a while. Not since my wife left.”

“We’ve been flirting, right? In the hallways?”

“I've been trying to. Have you?”

“Of course. Do you want to…?”

Anselman’s heart was pounding and his throat was dry. Unthinkingly, he tore into the Snicker’s bar, cheeks burning bright like the sun. He wanted to touch Lavoie. “Yes, I think so.”

“If you don’t want to—”

“I want to.” Anselman swallowed the bite of candy and set the rest, unwrapped, on his bedside table. “I want to, but it’s hard. Not because you’re a guy, but because—I’ve told you things I haven’t told anyone here, and I don’t know why. I don’t talk to people, but you’re pushy, and you’re honest, and I like your smile, and I haven’t kissed anyone in nearly ten years. It’s been a while. I don’t know how to do this anymore. I want to touch your hair.”

Lavoie wasn’t looking at him, he was looking at his bedside table. He wrinkled his nose at the unwrapped chocolate. “That’s how you get ants.”

Anselman laughed, a real laugh, one from his chest, and Lavoie looked up at him with his watery blue eyes crinkled in a smile. Without pausing to let his brain come up with more excuses, Anselman pushed his big hands into Lavoie’s hair, letting them glide over the fine blond strands, and he kissed Lavoie. He kissed him and it tasted like granola, and chocolate, and it knocked his unstylish glasses askew. He kissed him and he felt safe. He kissed him and light began to bloom inside of them both like the light from the snack machine, reaching down the empty corridors where terrible things were contained and beyond.

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