It's dark and cold and loud when it happens. Wheels is sitting on Heather's porch, hair sweaty and chapstick smeared on his face, wondering what the hell just happened and how. It was only a few minutes ago, but it feels like it's long in the past. He's already at the let's never speak of this again phase of a bad decision. Heather's not there yet. Then again, she probably doesn't think it was a bad decision. She looked so happy. He was just swept up in the suddenness of it, in her grabby hands and sloppy kissing, but she was so thrilled.
And then he said I'll call you tomorrow and made it about a billion times worse. There's no way he's going to be able to call her, because how do you tell someone you just made out with that you don't really like them— especially over the phone? And that's assuming she doesn't ask why he won't go out with her. What's he going to do then? No one ever asked why he never did it with Steph because, thankfully, her mom saved them both from humiliation. No one ever asked why he kept LD at arm's length at the graduation dance in grade nine, because that was grade nine and it was still kind of normal then. But now? He had Heather basically lying on top of him. How's he going to excuse that?
So of course things get even worse when Snake slams open the door and crashes next to him, laughing like a maniac, making some kind of dumbass joke like hur hur, it was getting pretty hot out here, wasn't it? Something like that. Wheels is busy trying to ignore everything around him, but whenever Snake's there, everything gets a little harder to ignore. Snake puts his arm around him (and Joey would too if he was here, so don't read into it, Wheels) and it's so heavy across his shoulders that he has to shrug his arm off. He stands up and tries to walk away.
Like always, Snake has to follow. Great. "Hey, where're you going?" he calls, and follows after him.
"All tired out, eh?" Snake cackles. Everything's just so hilarious to him.
"Right. Sure, Snake." He doesn't look at him. Even at this point, when he couldn't possibly make this worse than it already is, he can't look at him.
"What's wrong?" he asks. Oh, nope, he was wrong. It did get worse, because now he's thinking about how Snake's always been looking out for them both, always wondering what's wrong, always making sure that he and Joey don't kill each other or whatever else. Great. Fucking perfect.
"Nothing's wrong, I just… I didn't want to kiss her." Even to himself, he sounds stupid. She didn't force you, he thinks. Which is true, even if it's meaningless.
Snake shrugs. "Well, you looked like you were into it."
"What, were you staring?" he asks.
"No! I'm not a creep!"
Wheels doesn't know what the hell it'd mean if Snake said, oh yeah, I was totally watching you get felt up by Heather Farrell, and yet he can't help being just a little hurt at Snake's rush to deny it. He shoves past him as they walk out the back way through Heather's yard.
"Well, there's nothing wrong with making out. Heather's cute," Snake continues. "Or Erica's cute, anyway— I was dancing with her inside. I guess if they're identical twins, that makes sense—"
"Shut up, Snake."
"What? Don't you think Heather's cute?"
He hesitates a little before he replies, but there's no way he'll risk Snake picking up on that, so Wheels says the first stupid thing that comes to mind. "I don't know, I guess, but I just don't like her like that."
"There's nothing wrong with her."
If only the problem was on her end. "Did I say there was?" he says, his voice covered in contempt.
Snake doesn't back off, but he steps back a little, like he's looking at an optical illusion. "Well, geez, don't snap at me. I'm just wondering what's up."
"Nothing's up, okay? Just because I don't want to go out with Heather doesn't mean something's up!" Wheels can feel himself getting flushed again, so it's a good thing it's dark. No one can tell.
Snake puts his hand on his shoulder again and it feels like it's on fire. Wheels snaps back. "Look, Wheels, if you don't want to go out with her, that's fine, but— "
"Stop touching me."
"Just tell me why you're being weird." Snake shoves his hands in his pockets and shrugs his shoulders. "Aren't we friends?"
They are, but it'd be better if they weren't. If they weren't, maybe things would be different, and he would have made out with Heather without feeling like something was just off. He doesn't say anything before he starts to walk away.
Snake grabs him by the back of the shirt, and maybe any other time that'd be okay, but right now he can't handle it. "Come on, I bet you'd tell Joey."
"Joey doesn't have anything to do with it, okay? It's not about Joey, or Heather, or anybody!" For the third time he tries to walk away, but it still doesn't work. He's still glued to the ground.
"Is it about me?"
He lies so much that he should be able to do it instantly now, but it always takes him half a second too long. "No. It's just me."
"But you'd tell Joey."
Because Snake knows everything about how friendships work, especially when shit like this gets thrown in. "No, I wouldn't! Now stop bugging me!"
"Well, you're gonna have to tell Heather why."
Another mention of Heather and he snaps. "You know what, Snake? You're right! I'll just call her up and say, 'Sorry I can't go out— I'm just not into girls!'"
The words fall to the ground in front of them. Good that they're sticking around. The only other words going through Wheels' head right now are I am so fucked.
Snake glances around. They're in the yard, a good few feet away from the house, and no one else is around back. It's quiet, but not quiet enough.
A minute passes, and Wheels is still so fucked.
"What do you mean, 'not into girls'?" Snake asks carefully. He doesn't look nearly as pissed off as Wheels would have thought. But then again, if he had to say it some time, at least it was here and not with Joey prompting him with something like were you just checking him out at rehearsal? Joey didn't even come to the party. Small favors.
"What do you think I mean?" he says, trying to sound angrier than he is. Hell, if Snake has to find out, Wheels might as well go all in and scream it at him. A little bravado might cover him now and scare Snake away.
Snake stumbles over his words a little. "Well, I don't know. I haven't really dated that many girls either, you know, and that's all right. Everybody's inexperienced at some point."
"Oh, come off it," Wheels says, glaring up at him. "You know that's not what I meant."
Snake looks like he's trying to say something, but whatever it is, it's not working.
"I'm going home," Wheels says. If it were Joey, even, or anyone else, he might be able to add a Tell anyone and I'll kill you. But Snake knows now, and that was the most important thing. He was the one person who couldn't know, and now he knows. If— or when— it gets out, everyone else will hang him out to dry anyway. Best case scenario, that's what'll happen. Anyway, he can't even threaten to beat up Snake, and they both know it. Joey and he have gotten into some knock-down, drag-out fights before, but not with Snake. Never with Snake.
He's starting to walk home when he hears the best thing Snake could realistically say: "It's not the end of the world."
Wheels still doesn't look at him. "It kind of is."
"I mean…" Snake's still stumbling over his words. "I thought you were going to tell me you were a terrorist or you had AIDS or something." Wheels predicts the next question, but Snake still asks, "You don't, though, right?"
He pours on the sarcasm. "Yeah, I got AIDS shooting up heroin."
"Well, I don't know. If you're…"
"That's not how it works," he says, as if he's supposed to know how it works. How anything works.
"I know how it works!" It's getting quieter now. The party is cooling off. "My brother— "
"What, your brother's a junkie?"
"No, he's gay."
The word sinks in. "Don't call me that," Wheels mumbles.
"Well, you don't like girls. What do you think that makes you?"
Wheels stands there, trying to think how to explain that putting a word to sleepless nights and locker-room conversation would make it permanent. Putting a word on it would make it real. "I know what it makes me," he says instead. "You don't have to say it."
Snake runs a hand through his hair. "Maybe you're just confused, then. I don't know."
Yeah, I wish. Wheels just shrugs.
"My brother," Snake starts again, and for a minute Wheels thinks they'll be stuck on this point for the rest of the night. "He told us he was gay back in February. And that was pretty confusing."
All things considered, Snake's taking things well. Joey would laugh it off, say, c'mon, man, we'll just find you some chick to get your motor running and you'll snap out of it. Either that or go to hell, freak. Could go either way, really.
"What's there to be confused about?" Wheels asks. He's a bit calmer now. Snake isn't going to beat him up or make a billboard telling the whole world.
"I don't know. He told me I wasn't going to be... like that— and I don't know, I don't think I am— but you know, it was really weird for a while."
"Snake, man," Wheels says, "You're not gay. I saw the way you were looking at Melanie." That's all he says. He doesn't add and it fucking hurt, but it crosses his mind.
Snake stoops down conspiratorially, as if he could have an even bigger secret, somehow. "I never even kissed Melanie."
"You went out for months!"
"Off and on," Snake says, like that's an answer. He shrugs one shoulder. "I couldn't do it. Didn't know how."
They stand in the silence for a while as Wheels tries to pick apart what Snake told him. Maybe there's no greater significance and Snake just has about as much game as a pile of dirty laundry. Or maybe it means something.
Either way, standing around in the Farrells' yard isn't going to get that question answered. "Don't tell Joey," Wheels says as they start to walk toward the street for the fourth or fifth time that night. "Seriously. Don't tell him."
Snake gawks at him. "Joey doesn't know?"
"Of course Joey doesn't know." Of course. It sounds so smooth, so easy, as if it's not such a massive change from the way things have always been. Of course Joey doesn't know, even though Joey knows everything else there is to know about him. Wheels looks away again and for a minute he feels like he's a little kid sitting in the principal's office. Then again, he never had this problem when he was a little kid. There wasn't anything he would have had to preface with don't tell Joey because everything used to be okay to tell.
Joey should know, and he would be able to tell if he wasn't so clueless all the time. There have been some pretty close calls before. Hey, Wheels, your walls are kind of sad. We need some pinups in here. Or, You can't just tell us you like blonds and leave it at that, man! Give us some details! Little things like that, little moments that everyone else could shrug off. But no, Joey can't tell. If he could, everyone would know, because Joey wouldn't keep his mouth shut for ten seconds. The realization stung when he figured it out, some time in grade eight. He can't even trust his best friend with something like that.
After all this, after Wheels spilled his guts and said all this personal stuff, Snake still can't find his words right away. He has to grab around for them. "Sure, I'll keep quiet," he says. "But, I mean, if you want to tell him—"
"Okay, but," Snake says, lagging a little behind him despite his longer legs, "if you ever do, I'll back you up."
"Why?" Wheels has to ask, even though he knows it's just going to get his hopes up for no reason.
"I don't know," Snake says, and Wheels knows it's the truth. He doesn't have a clue what to do. Neither of them do. "We've been friends for a long time, even if it is... weird. Joey can't flip out on both of us. If I was there, that might help you out."
Wheels looks up at him, and for a second, things are good enough. Not perfect, and not great, but Snake's there, and that's good enough. "We're still friends?"
"Yeah, we're still friends," he says. For the first time since Wheels dropped the bomb, Snake cracks a smile. A weak, awkward, nice little smile.
And, of course, because he's fucking stupid and he always has to push his luck, Wheels asks, "Hey, uh, do you maybe want to go get some fries tomorrow? No school, you know. We can talk about... whatever."
He nods slowly. "I've got homework. Is it cool if I bring it along?" For the first time, Snake looks like he understands, really, what's going on. And if he does understand, then maybe it means something that he's accepting the invitation.
"Yeah, that's fine. I just figured maybe—" Maybe he'd want to talk about tonight. Or maybe he'll pretend like nothing ever happened.
"Maybe you need a break from studying your ass off all the time." He smiles.
Snake looks unconvinced. "Well, in that case, let's invite Joey. No one ever studies around Joey."
He tries to play it cool. "Uh, I guess—"
"I'm kidding," Snake says. "Trust me, I've had enough Joey exposure for the week already. If I have to hear about how awesome the video came out one more time, I'm going to smack him in the face with Lucy's camera."
For Wheels, the party's over and the air is cold, but for now, at least, things aren't horrible. He'll have to call Heather, and he'll have to cut out a big chunk of his reasoning behind not wanting to go out. And with Snake, things aren't quite steady, not even a steady friendship like it was. But even still, maybe things are going to be alright.