"Come on, Joe, out!"
"You know what we agreed," said Lance, implacably. He turned back to his notes, of which there were several pages. He had spent hours on the phone with Diane, obsessively checking through every detail. Joey was sure Lance was nervous. Lance never cooked anything more complicated than eggs or barbecue, and he wasn't as good at those as he thought he was.
That being the case, Joey was not prepared to trust him with the fabled Fatone Chicken. He, Joseph Anthony Fatone Junior, was more than capable of creating delicious food, whereas Lance expected, as a rule, to be catered to. Which, being Lance, he mostly was. And Lance would be concentrating so hard on getting his own, his momma's, recipe perfect, that he'd forget little details like turning both ovens on to heat up. Man cannot live on Mississippi cornbread alone. Sure, Lance said he would put the chicken in the oven at the proper time, but...
Joey really ought to be in the kitchen, just to make sure nothing... unfortunate happened to his marinading ingredients. If Lance couldn't handle being observed while he, heh, "cooked", that was Lance's problem. Joey would be sure to tease him mercilessly about it later. "You know," he began.
"Anybody wanna beer?" Chris wandered past the pair of them and opened the refrigerator door.
"Not until I'm done cooking," said Lance. Yep, definitely nervous.
"Sure." Joey caught the bottle and waited for Chris to slide the opener along the kitchen counter.
Chris, taking a casual pull at his own beer, wandered out again.
Joey and Lance looked at one another.
"You have any idea what he's fixing for dessert?" said Lance, eventually.
"I have no clue."
"He hasn't forgotten, has he?"
"That we're celebrating our anniversary? Don't think so," said Joey, with caution. "He seemed just fine with it this morning." The sex had been spectacular.
"You wanna... go ask him if he needs oven space?" Lance sounded very dubious, and Joey knew why. The two of them had had an epic battle yesterday over who got to use which oven, because when one of you needed to cook something a hundred degrees hotter than the other, sharing was not an option. Joey still hadn't entirely reconciled himself to being relegated to the smaller oven. Normally these little domestic details did not bother him, but he was, after all, the kitchen god in this particular household, and it didn't seem unreasonable to him that his dish should get to be in the main oven. However, Lance had overruled him. Joey suspected it was the terrible power of Lance's eyebrows that had made him give way.
If Chris was going to need oven space for the mysterious dessert he had promised to produce, there was going to be real trouble.
Leaving Lance to frown over his notes, Joey took himself and his beer through to where Chris was communing happily with the X-box.
Chris shrugged indifferently. "No, man, no problem. Did my cooking yesterday. Die, scum!"
Joey eyed him with skepticism. Chris's idea of 'cooking' was to take stuff out of foil trays. Though, when he thought back, years ago it had been Chris who prepared a lot of the basic meals back in the house in Orlando. He'd, yes, Joey remembered now, Chris had learned to cook when he was a teenager, cheap hamburger being more economical than McDonald’s. Come to think of it, that was probably why Chris thought going to Mickey D's was a treat. Lance, whose mom had only given them takeout when she was too busy to cook, despised the Big Mac for more reasons than its high fat content.
Feeling an unexpected rush of love for the dork sitting on the floor shouting at the screen, Joey sat companionably next to Chris, watching him slaughter his way through another level. He'd just have to trust the other dork to handle the kitchen stuff.
* * *
To Joey's secret surprise and Lance's not-at-all secret pride, the Mississippi cornbread was excellent. His Fatone Chicken was, naturally, superb. He'd cooked some green beans, too (he'd remembered, rather late, to go check that the chicken was cooking, but Lance had raised his eyebrows at him, so Joey had seized on the beans as an excuse for being in the kitchen at all)—and even persuaded Chris to eat a few. Though that again might have been the power of Lance's eyebrows. Somebody should patent those, he thought. Somebody not Lance.
Chris twitched all through the meal, and as soon as the chicken had been devoured, hopped up and bounced over to the refrigerator. His body shielded most of what he was doing, but Cool Whip was brandished, and then something in small pieces. From the rain-like pattering sound it was obvious that a lot of it, whatever it was, was landing on the counter instead of the target.
Proudly, Chris brought to the table a platter containing an enormous, glistening cake.
"Whoa," Joey said, appreciative and a touch apprehensive.
"You know there's just the three of us here, right?" remarked Lance, his eyes enormous.
"This, you ungrateful bums, is the best dessert known to man." Chris carved a generous slice and passed the plate to Lance.
"What's in it?" Joey asked, as Chris cut a larger slice and slid it across to him.
"Chocolate cake mix, and condensed milk, and caramel ice cream topping, and—"
"Oh my God," said Lance. "Are we seriously going to let him eat that?"
"And Cool Whip and crushed chocolate bars on top." Chris took a forkful from his own mighty serving, and closed his eyes blissfully as he ate.
It was good. It was... probably more sugar than anyone ought to eat in a month, Joey thought, as the different textures assaulted his palate with variations on the themes of sweet and chocolate.
"So, no sleep for you tonight," Lance observed, selecting a careful forkful.
"Dude," Chris's words were somewhat muffled, "it's our one-year anniversary. Ain't nobody sleeping tonight!" No kidding, Joey thought. If Chris ate all that cake, he'd be hyper until Wednesday, assuming they didn't murder him before then. "My grandma used to make this for us, for birthdays. Best cake ever."
"It's good," Lance admitted, to Joey's surprise. Joey could understand how this cake had been like a piece of heaven to Chris and his little sisters, and silently thanked God once again that he'd never had to go hungry. But he hadn't been sure Lance would be willing to eat something that went way beyond mere carbs and was probably calorie-counted in six figures.
"It's Better than Sex!" Chris announced unexpectedly.
"I wouldn't go that far," Joey said. It was very good indeed, but he was fairly sure nothing was better than sex.
"No, dude, that's what it's called. Better Than Sex Cake."
Lance smiled his little enigmatic smile, and his eyelids drooped in the most sultry way. Oh, God, thought Joey, he was doing that thing he did, where he switched from everyday dork to siren without even blinking.
"Now, that's just false advertising," Lance said. "I mean, it's a fine cake an' all, but I'm ready for some sex now." He was drawling, the manipulative bastard, he knew Joey had a practically Pavlovian response to that. "In fact, I'm gonna go upstairs and have me some. If either or both of y'all would care to join me..." Lance got up, and sauntered out of the room.
Joey wasn't sure whether Chris was actually drooling, or some of the condensed milk had escaped into his beard.
"Man," Chris moaned, "that's a tough decision."
"You know what," said Joey, "it doesn't have to be. We could do both. We could eat the rest of it right off Lance." They looked at one another.
"Man, he'd hate that." An evil glint brightened Chris's eyes. "Let's do it!" He snatched up his plate and ran for the stairs. Joey, grinning, sauntered after him.
Happy Anniversary, he thought.