“Shopping, really?” Darren says. “It’s this nice out and you want to go back inside?”

I laugh. “It’s one thing, Darren, it’ll just take a sec.”

“It’s the last nice day of the year, I bet,” Darren grumbles, but he follows me inside.

I walk towards the back, where I remember the mugs being, and stop short when I realize they’re right next to me. I guess I haven’t been back here in a while. Darren bumps into me, stumbles, and digs his nails into my neck trying to hold himself up. I grab his arm to keep him upright.

“What the hell, Fox?” he says.

I point to the mugs. “They rearranged the store.”

“Mugs?” Darren says, gesturing in exasperation, “this is what you dragged me in here for? This is why we’re inside while outside smells like fall, is mugs? You really need more mugs, immediately now?”

“It’s doesn’t smell like fall, it smells like pollution,” I tell him.

He raises an eyebrow. “Maybe you can’t detect the changes in the air, city slicker, but I know what fall is like, and this is it.”

I grin. “Anyway, it’s not even for me.”

Darren rubs his forehead. “Shit. I forgot a birthday, didn’t I?”

I shake my head and try not to laugh at him. “I’m buying you an agenda.”

“Say it and I’ll bite you,” he tells me.

I give him a Look. “I’m getting you a calendar so you can write down the dozens of birthdays you keep forgetting, because I don’t know any of your team’s birthdays, so I can’t even help you there.”

“Yeah, I know. I was using an app to keep track of it, but it kept emailing me,” he says.

“Is it not supposed to do that,” I ask.

He huffs at me. “Look, by the time it notifies me of someone’s birthday, I’ve already forgotten to buy a card and/or present, okay.”

“Hence the calendar,” I tell him.

“Whose birthday is it, anyway?” He waves a hand. “Or are you pointedly avoiding the question? It’s not yours. I know it’s not yours.”

“No one’s,” I say, “it’s for Arsenal.”

“Arsenal? Why?” Darren frowns slightly. “Did he get bumped up a level or something?”

I shrug. “The poor kid doesn’t have any mugs. It’s sad.”

I push various mugs to the side looking through them, trying to decide whether duplicates are badly organized, or if there just mostly aren’t more than one of any given design. There are a lot that look similar to each other, and I can’t tell whether they’re different colors of the same mug, or just mugs that happen to look the same. There are a lot shaped like owls, though, and I can see Darren debating over whether we really need more owl mugs.

“So?” Darren snorts, “give him one of yours. Hell, give him ten of yours.”

“He had a special request,” I say, reaching towards the back and, ha, pulling out exactly the mug I’m looking for. They always have at least a few.

Darren takes one glance at it and says, “aw, Fox, no, that’s not okay. He’s going to think you’re in love with him.”

“It’s just a crush. It’s harmless. Let him have his fun,” I say.

Darren sighs. “You’re going to break his heart. You know that, right? Has he ever even had a crush before?”

“I’m sure he’s had a crush before,” I say, trying to decide between owl mugs.

“No, I mean,” he gestures absently, “like, an actual adult crush on another adult, one that he’s considering in that sense.”

“In what sense?” I ask.

“The relationship sense,” Darren says, giving me an inscrutable look.

I stare back at him. “Arsenal knows I’m not going to date him.”

“Does he?” Darren shrugs. “I’m not sure, and I definitely think this will send the wrong message. Maybe you could just buy him a regular mug, and not a special subtext mug.”

“It’s not a subtext mug,” I say.

Darren rolls his eyes. “I know that. You know that. Eighteen year olds? Don’t know that.”

“Whatever,” I say, “I’ll just stick it in my mug cabinet and pretend I had it all along.”

“Sure,” he says, “and then you can just be like, ‘oh, keep it’ and he’ll be all like, ‘wow, Travis drank out of this mug, it’s like I’m kissing his face,’ and like make googly eyes at you or something.”

I frown at him.

“Or, worse yet, he’ll be all like, ‘oh, I couldn’t take your property,’ and use it as an excuse to constantly come into your office and ‘borrow’ your mug,” he concludes.

“I feel like you’re speaking from personal experience,” I say, “and also my office door is literally constantly open and anyone’s free to come and use my mugs.”

“Yeah, well, you better get the rest of your team on that, just saying,” he says.

“Well, I was planning on,” I tell him, trying hard to cross my arms with a mug in each hand.

“You could always buy a mug for everyone,” he says, “then it wouldn’t seem weird.”

Darren sighs at what must be an enormous grin, but goes off to get a basket, anyway. I look through the many, many glorious mugs, trying to figure out which unique and artistic drink container is absolutely perfect for each and every member of my wonderful team. I probably shouldn’t get Boomerang the ‘I’m with stupid’ mug. Fuck, what does he actually even like? I settle on a pretty, marbley looking enamel thing that matches his suit. The handle’s kind of weird, but it’s fine.

Which is the hard part down, anyway.

Laces gets one with little grinning cartoon airplanes. I don’t know why they grin. It’s like someone took one of those unbreakable plastic cups they make for little kids and remade it out of actual ceramic and paint. I consider getting the same one (in a different color) for Bartok, but a handpainted violin catches my eye, and I end up picking out a mug with a little orchestra dancing around it instead. (Literally, they’re dancing, they have little arms and legs.) Stranglehold gets the always classic, ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m decaffeinated’, and I’m really, really tempted to get the cat mug for Sass, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t appreciate the joke.

Darren quietly makes fun of me as he adds that last mug to the basket. I think I may have bought it before. Once or twice.

I finally settle on a drip-design mug for Sass, light blue on dark blue, very shiny. It almost looks like waves. It’s very relaxing to look at, and it’s got a nice balance to it, so hopefully she can stop using styrofoam cups, what, does she just do that to annoy us I mean there are mugs right there, honestly, I already told her she could borrow any of mine even if she didn’t have her own, which she does, she has a lot of them, what is this a pointed protest of.

Hunch gets a #1 Boss mug, because I know he’ll glare at all of us and then drink out of it constantly, plus this one has an ugly tie.

“Ooh,” Darren says, sarcastically, “this means you can get one for yourself.”

I beam at him, and yank that cat mug off the wall after all.

He rolls his eyes so hard he almost drops the basket.

The bored cashier happily chats with Darren about the weather, and they reach some sort of consensus about the changing fall atmosphere, which, seriously, does not exist, I have no idea what they’re even talking about, and the cashier scans through my mugs (and a couple other items Darren must have found while I was distracted).

When he gets to the rainbow flag, he winks at us and says, “you kids have a nice weekend.”

Darren shoots a look at me, hurrying out the door while I make sure all the mugs are snug in my tote bag. I smile and wave to the cashier, then follow Darren outside.

Also, I think he added a second one of the owl mugs to my purchase, because I swear I picked out the green one, not the orange.

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