Joel very carefully taped the phone list on the refrigerator, and then his itinerary, and then the magnetic calendar with the dry-erase reminders, all in bold, black, square, print-block writing.
"Ian... Ian? Ee, are you listening to me?"
Joel's roommate, Ian Cooper, pulled his head from whatever genius realm it usually occupied and aimed his slightly crossed blue eyes at the list. He nodded soberly and focused his Siamese-cat gaze over his crooked beak of a nose, and then smiled. That goofy, game smile was probably the only reason Joel had made it through five months as Ian's roommate, but it did nothing to reassure him now.
"I've got you, Joel; don't worry, mate. I've lived on my own for a lot of years now. I'll survive four days without you."
Joel wasn't so sure. In fact, he was reasonably certain that Ian's survival to this moment was a matter of sheer stinking luck.
"It's five days, and if you're so sure it's going to be easy, repeat after me: this is my itinerary in Colorado, this is where I'll be and when I'm going to be there. Here's my mom's number, my sister's number, my cell phone number, and when the returning flight gets here. Can you deal with all that?"
"I have your cell number, you goofy bastard," Ian protested, and Joel refrained from rolling his eyes. Yes, Ian did have his cell number, except it was in Ian's cell phone, and Joel knew for a fact that Ian had needed to buy at least five new cell phones in the last four months.
"This is just in case your cell phone gets lost or stolen," Joel explained patiently, and Ian interrupted him with an earnest nod of his head.
"But even if it gets lost, mate, I've got your number in the regular phone!" Ian smiled triumphantly, and Joel had to concede. Yes, his number was in both handsets of the house phone. Because Joel put them there. After he bought the house phone. After Ian had lost his third cell.
"Okay," Joel conceded after he looked twice at the kitchen table to make sure that both handsets were plugged in, charging, and not broken. (They'd had to replace one of them after Ian's ill-advised in-line skate parabola/hyperbola experiment. For that matter, they'd had to replace the table too.) "So, the phones are set. Now, don't forget Manky Bastard's vet appointment on Tuesday."
Ian blinked, a sudden look of panic crossing his appealing features. He had one of those faces where the cheekbones left shadows in the hollows of his cheeks. Not even a goatee could make Joel's broad-cheeked, square-chinned Hispanic face look anything better than plain in comparison to Ian's narrow, Roman-nosed, Aussie profile. Typically, Ian truly didn't seem to notice his own good looks.
"Uhm, what day is it again today?" Ian asked apologetically, and Joel squeezed his eyes shut in an attack of good humor. Of course, his own looks weren't the only thing Ian Cooper didn't notice.
"See here--this is the calendar. Today is Saturday, see? Big plane, says 'Joel goes bye-bye'?"
Ian's giggle was as endearing as his open-hearted goofy smile. "Go ahead, treat me like a child, mate! I'm good for it!"
Joel shook his head and resisted the urge to fall into that smile. "How long were you up with your paper?"
Ian blinked, and because Joel knew him, he could see the light red patina of sleeplessness in Ian's spring-blue eyes. "Haven't been to sleep yet--Riemann, he was calling me, right?" Joel nodded. He knew. Ian was a genius--a certifiable, IQ in the stratosphere genius. U.C. Davis was willing to pay for Ian's room and board, just so Ian would write them a paper and give a few guest lectures. Ian made the rest of his money working as a CPA for the faculty and their high-toned friends, which explained why he could replace things like cell phones and kitchen tables on a whim, because he was cracking good at it. It was the day-to-day that needed a little work.
"I gotcha, Ee. Now try to focus here. The cab will be here in a minute. There's frozen food in the freezer, milk, bread, and lunchmeat in the fridge, fruit on top of the microwave, and peanut butter and jelly in the cabinet. For Christ's sake, eat! Right?"
Ian nodded soberly. "I won't make that mistake more than once, I promise."
Joel couldn't even think about it; it made his stomach hurt. "I'll hold you to that. Now Manky Bastard has been barfing more than usual. I made her a vet appointment on Monday. You've got to take her, E. I'll give you a call to remind you, but you need to be able to find the phone and get your ass in gear, you hear me?"
Ian nodded earnestly. "I hear you, mate. She's been a good cat. I hate to see her feeling so sickly, right?"
Joel's smile softened. "Right."
And that right there was the thing that kept Joel from leaving, in spite of the chaos of living with Ian Cooper.
Ian's heart was as big as the goddamned sky. It was as simple as that. How could you desert a guy who would take in a mangy cat, give all his cash to the homeless people who abounded in the city of Sacramento proper, and who would, no matter how angry Joel got at his goofiness, simply smile that open-hearted, guileless, spring-blue smile and say, "You're right, mate. I'm a disaster. I'm lucky you're here."
There was a knock on the door, and Joel had his answer.
He could leave Ian because his mother called him and asked him to visit before the holidays.
Ian blinked at the door and the open, cheery expression he usually wore changed drastically. "Oh right," he murmured. "You're going."
"I'll be back Wednesday evening," Joel said, reaching up from his stocky five foot nine inches to embrace Ian's rangy six four. It was a quick, "manly" hug, the type with the double-thump with the fist. "Don't worry, I've got a Thanksgiving dinner ready to cook in the freezer, and I can catch a cab home--"
"No!" Ian was neither dreamy nor sleepy now. In fact, his arms tightened for a moment around Joel's shoulders. "I'll come get you."
Joel didn't want to contradict him--it would hurt his feelings--but he didn't want to be waiting at the airport for hours either. "I'll call you when I land," he temporized, thinking that if he could get Ian's attention when he landed, the wait wouldn't be that long.
Ian was a genius. "And I'll answer that call at the gate!" he said with dignity, and Joel grinned, rolled his eyes, and grabbed his luggage. "Have a nice visit, mate!"
"Take care of yourself, Ee!"
"If I must," Ian replied mildly, and then, as Joel disappeared out the door, he hollered "Take care!" at full volume.
Joel tried to wince while Ian could still see him. It was six-thirty in the morning, and Ian probably just woke every last tenant in their three-story refurbished Victorian. Oh well, he would be out of the city before old Mr. Pomerantz could move his ass from bed to his doorway to complain.