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Gabriel helps Miles celebrate his 18th birthday despite Miles not feeling so festive.

Turning 18 had its ups and down. There was something existentially exciting about being a legal adult even if true independence were still a bit out of grasp. And college would begin in only 3 weeks, a whole new world to colonize in which Miles could make his mark. But being a newly minted adult also means some things had to go away.

Miles's first girlfriend, for example. Becky had months ago accepted admission to college in California, and though they had stuck it out as long as they could, the impending move had cast a pall over their relationship this summer. There was no way it could continue without making them both miserable. Not that officially ending things made either feel any better.

He tried to push this all out of his head as he trudged up the stairs to Gabriel's suite, where his birthday surprise awaited. He had no idea what "experience" his friend had planned for him, but he fiercely hoped it would bring back the celebratory mood.

The door was open, and Gabriel was on other side of it, humming along rather unabashedly to the Shakira album blaring out of his laptop's tinny speakers. He was, considering his location, uncharacteristically clothed. It was rare enough when he was fully dressed inside his home; let alone with his shirt tucked in or with a vest and tie on top.

But your reincarnated surrogate little brother only turned 18 once, and special occasions called for something extra. Gabriel pursed his lips as he surveyed the array of glassware and bottles in front of him. Then he turned, swaying to Shakira's yodels on his way to the freezer.

His mother was a fan of the Colombian singer, and with the exception of that one song with Calle 13, she wasn't Miles's thing. And walking in on her singing all about the love of her life and how she wanted to "practice" making babies with Gerard Pique wasn't winning her any favors in his current mood.

Miles knocked of the door frame before stepping into the room, which he suddenly realized, he had never seen before. He wasn't sure what he expected. Simple and tasteful, much better decorated than the suite he shared with Bobby (and certainly than the dorm he and Ganke would have in a couple weeks). Still homey, though. For all Gabriel pretended to not have any roots, Miles surmised he'd grounded himself quite firmly here. Now that made him smile.

"Yo!" Gabriel shouted from the freezer. He spun around, an ice tray in hand but miscalculated the velocity, and a few cubes skittered across the floor. In a second, he'd scooped them up, thrown them in the sink, placed the ice tray down and switched Spotify playlists to something more tropical, which was apparently a genre of music now. "Welcome. Happy fucking birthday. I actually got you a real gift, but I didn't wrap it, so sit somewhere," he gestured to a bar stool in front of his kitchen counter, "and I'll do that thing where I make something appear out of nowhere."

"Ooh, magic." Miles took the proffered seat and leaned forward expectantly on the counter. "Que guapo estás. You didn't have to get dressed up for me."

"Just trying to cover up and respect your delicate sensibilities." Gabriel shrugged. "It's in my closet, so it might take me a little while. Just give me a few seconds." And he was gone. A quick ruckus in the bedroom followed, and then a small toolbox appeared next to Miles's left elbow, and two rolls of quarters on his right. "These are like, stupidly practical, but actually genius," Gabriel called from the bathroom, where he'd rematerialized, straightening his tie in front of the mirror. "So let me explain before you storm out of here."

For the life of him, Miles could not figure out what Gabriel was getting at. He picked up one of the rolls and twirled it between his fingers. "You gonna teach me to pick locks? I usually just climb in through a window or air duct or something."

"No, okay, so." Gabriel reappeared in the kitchen. "Here's the thing. There's a lot of value in being the guy who has the stuff. Like, let's picture this. Some girl needs help putting up a poster or a makeshift shelf or whatever. Who's got the tools?" Gabriel gestured to his gift. "People always need hammers and screwdrivers and shit. Nobody has them. Same with extra quarters for the laundry, if that's still a thing." He shrugged. "There's a lot of value in just being resourceful. You make friends real easy that way. And then, you know. Who knows?"

It took Miles a quick minute to think it over. Gabriel made a compelling case. Even if Miles didn't know how to use any of the tools right, he could pretend. And looking like he knew what he was doing even if he actually didn't was, like, halfway there. He'd caught Gabriel's implication, too, and opened the toolbox to give him something to look at that wasn't Gabriel so he wouldn't catch the mild discomfort that provoked. "Thanks, cuz. This is really cool."

"Oh, sure," Gabriel waved a hand, as if gesturing this conversation along before it veered toward earnestness in a way that he knew neither Miles nor he could abide. "I'll show you how to hang a poster or some shit. Basic construction. Anyway, that's all just supplementary. The real gift is, we're going to teach you a thing or two about drinking."

Miles looked up, eyebrow raised, and fiddled with the screwdriver. "Uh, I don't do that." He couldn't have lied less convincingly if he tried. His glance turned to the array of bottles Gabriel had assembled. "What's there to teach?"

"Uh, a lot." A beat. "Well, not a lot, but enough, and anyway, just go with it." Gabriel shrugged. "If the college parties I crashed are anything to go off, you'll spend at least 3 of the next 4 years drinking shitty punch and cheap beer, because everybody thinks that's what alcohol is. But it doesn't have to be, my friend. You can be the slightly mature, mildly pretentious co-ed who rises above it all."

It did not take very much convincing to get Miles to go along with Gabriel's plan. He slammed on the countertop (gently, at least for him) to concur. "Show me how to be popular, then!"

"Well, let's not get too ahead of ourselves, bud." Gabriel stepped in front of the bottles he'd lined out. "But, you know, at the very least, we can teach you about whiskey." He grabbed a lowball glass and popped a few ice cubes in it, then reached for a nearby bottle of rye. "This one's mild. Good for sipping."

Miles accepted the glass and sniffed the drink. Compared to other things he'd tried, it actually smelled good. So he shot back half of it . . . and nearly coughed it up over the counter.

Gabriel couldn't help but grin and chuckle. "Yeah, okay, so. Lesson one. That's not a thing we do with our friends' fancy alcohol." He plopped a glass of ice water down in front of Miles. "And lesson two, drinking as fast as you can to get drunk is stupid." Actually, Gabriel wasn't sure he honestly believed that, but he was trying to be a responsible adult with this gift, which meant steering Miles away from anything that resembled Gabriel's drinking habits.

"Then what's the point?" Miles took the chaser and, once he stopped spitting up, followed directions and actually sipped the whiskey. "Huh. It's actually not so bad? Like, I could drink more of this. But it's probably too expensive for a bunch of freshmen. Except, well, it's Columbia so maybe not . . ."

"Yeah, I dunno." Gabriel scratched the back of his head. Then he grabbed a few bottles and a cocktail shaker. "I can't imagine they'll all have, like, Worthington money." To his credit, he managed not to spit Warren's name out, and he was hiding his disdain. "Austin was a state school town, so..." he shrugged. "I guess I have no idea what the Ivy League is going to be."

"Me neither. Not gonna lie, I'm already mentally preparing myself to be the only person who looks like me in my dorm, you know? Gonna have to deck myself out in college gear so they know I live there." Or just camo his way in and out all the time to avoid potential unpleasantness altogether. "You've been in New York for a while and you've never crashed a party there?"

"That far uptown? Ew." Gabriel made a face somewhere between disgust and disappointment. "No güey, I am a downtown boy. Plus the L train, I guess, because it's expensive to hang out downtown. And anyway," he tossed a handful of ice into the shaker, "I don't — I mean, what am I going to do with a college man?"

Miles shrugged. "Same thing you do with any other guy? Just maybe in a cap and gown. That actually reminds me of this thing that me and Beck . . ." His smile faded and he looked everywhere except at Gabriel, eventually landing his gaze on the cocktail shaker. "Never mind. Dumb. What're you mixing now?"

"Cocktail." Gabriel said matter-of-factly. "You gonna tell me what's on your mind, or what?"

"It's nothing. It's just, you know. Becky and I broke up." Miles shrugged again. "Whatever, it's dumb. She's moving to California, I'm here, and no one wants to be dating across coasts, you know? Whatever, it doesn't matter."

"Well, that sucks," Gabriel said as he squeezed lemon juice into the tin. He grabbed a spoon and stirred gently. "And I'm sorry." He meant it. "You never know. Maybe you'll find your way back to each other. Maybe you won't. Life takes turns you wouldn't expect. But it's okay to feel some kinda way about it." He poured the mixture into two glasses with ice, then grabbed a bottle of soda water and topped them up. "Here. Tom Collins." He put one in front of Miles and dropped a maraschino cherry on it. "Pretty basic, but a good starter. Gin, lemon juice, syrup, seltzer."

"Thanks. and I know, it's just." Miles sipped his drink and tried to not make a face at the sourness. "First girlfriend and she was so cool about being a mutant and Spider-Man. She was actually excited. And she was also really good at . . . Am I ever gonna find someone like her again? I mean, that's dumb to think. It's New York City. There's ten million other girls."

"Yeah. There are. And many of those ten million other girls love these by the way." Gabriel could tell this wasn't his most helpful comment. "Honestly, you're fucking great, and first love is — " He was about to say imaginary or idealistic, but that wasn't the talk he needed to be giving right now. "Look, I dunno. Distance is hard. It sucks when it gets in the way, but honestly, it sucks more to do it." Not that he really knew, but he'd heard it. "And you'll find someone else. You're smart as fuck, strong and fucking Spider-Man. That all adds up, man."

"Maybe I should just go solo for a bit," Miles considered. "Girlfriends take up a lot of time. Gonna be back in the city, which means I have to be ready to drop everything in a second if there's trouble, you know what I mean? If I leave in the middle of a date then I might as well be single out of choice. It'll save money on condoms, too." Did he just say that out loud? He busied himself with his drink.

Gabriel snorted at that but decided to mostly leave it alone. "You're gonna have enough on your plate with school," he conceded, "but I think you're overthinking this. Just, you know, go with the flow of life. See where things take you. If that's dating, date. If it's not, fine. They say that freshman year is all about exploring new ideas and opening horizons and all that shit." He took a sip of his drink.

"How come you always know the right things to say?" Miles asked, smiling softly again, his voice full of admiration.

"Old age," Gabriel quipped. "But also, it comes with bartending. You get a few bottles in your hands and learn how to be a sage. It's remarkable."


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