Snake wakes up the next day with the distinct feeling of being hungover. Which is weird, because he doesn't remember drinking. Maybe he did— it would explain the headache, the disorientation, and the vague sense of impending doom, all of which are bearing down on him as he sits up in bed. Then again, his parents would've known if he'd been drinking, and he doesn't remember any kind of argument between the three of them. He even made it back before curfew.
No, as he slowly moves to pull some clothes out of the hamper, he recognizes the stink of a nervous sweat on his sheets. How late was he up last night?
"How was the party?" he remembers Mom asking as he came in the front door.
"Fine. Boring." Had he stuttered? She must have known he was lying. "I'm going to bed."
She couldn't have been convinced, but there he'd stood, no smell of alcohol on his breath, no lipstick on his collar. Always the dutiful son.
But he barely got any sleep. Sure, he was in bed by eleven-fifteen— the quicker he went to bed, the less chance he could be intercepted and interrogated. But he was definitely awake until at least one in the morning with his thoughts racing. Apparently, he was sweating through his sheets too. Gross.
What are you worried about? he thinks as he heads for the shower. You didn't do anything wrong.
As he stands under the water, just him and his thoughts, he can almost believe it. It's not his fault Wheels spilled his guts to him, is it? They've been friends for a long time, and honestly, he can even understand keeping it from Joey. It's not like the guy's known for his sensitivity, after all. If he were in Wheels' place—
You wouldn't be in Wheels' place, he thinks reflexively. You would never be within a hundred miles of Wheels' place, because Wheels is gay.
God, why does this keep happening to him? Maybe he has something on his back, like an invisible "kick me" sign. It'd say something along the lines of, "Gays of the World, Tell Me Your Woes." (He laughs at his own joke.)
At least with Glen, it made more sense. He didn't have any kind of ulterior motive, no personal baggage to unload. He was only confiding in him brother-to-brother. And Glen was so self-assured— nervous, but confident, sure that what he was saying was true.
Wheels, he'd had to pry it out of him, put words in his mouth. Hell, maybe he's not gay. Who knows? But then again, isn't that the kind of accusation you'd fight if it weren't true? Snake nearly punched BLT over it once, almost a year ago now. Sure, he wouldn't do that now, but Wheels has always been so hot-blooded; he would have punched Snake if he felt slighted. So yeah, he's probably gay. Fuck, that's heavy. What does that mean? Glen's the same guy as he always was, as far as Snake can tell.
Then again, their phone calls have been brief. At best.
He lets the water run over his hair until it turns cold.
By the time he gets out of the shower, it's nearly lunchtime. Shit. Lunchtime. And Wheels wanted fries. The sickly feeling floods his stomach again, thick and sludgy, and with it comes a healthy serving of guilt. He should be happy to see Wheels again, especially in a calmer setting. No music, no pressure, and no Heather. But no Joey either— that was his genius idea. Maybe it'll be better for them, though, in case Wheels wants relative privacy to talk. At the very least, Joey won't be stealing all their fries.
The diner is the same as it's always been: vaguely stuffy, smelling like grease, vinyl booths torn-up and graffiti'd. The jukebox is blasting some terrible synth pop he can't recognize offhand. Wheels is late as usual, he notes with a smirk, so Snake picks a booth in the back and tosses his backpack next to him. It's loaded up with homework, but between the sleep deprivation and the upset stomach, it's impossible to focus. On second thought, he decides to pick up a Sprite and an order of curly fries. Wheels always gets curly fries.
Wheels arrives after fifteen minutes or so with nothing in his hands but a Walkman. He crashes into the opposite seat with all the grace of a baby elephant. "Oh, you got curly fries. I thought you like the regular ones better."
"They're fine. I figured we could split them." Or what's left of them. As he looks down at the tray, Snake realizes he's been absently eating through the pile for the last few minutes.
Wheels gives him a funny look and digs in his pocket. "I've got a dollar in here somewhere."
"It's fine. You can spot me at lunch sometime," Snake replies, not adding that by his count, Joey owes him at least fifteen bucks' worth of lunch.
"Seriously. I have a dollar." He pulls his hand out of his pocket and flings a handful of quarters across the table. Then with the other hand he scoops half the fries toward himself, cutting a wide swath of blue plastic between them.
Snake scowls back at him. "Wow, thanks. I love it when my fries taste like coins."
Great, Wheels is in a pissy mood. It must be a day ending in Y. "What's your problem? Half the time you're too broke to buy your own anyway."
Wheels just shrugs one shoulder and shoves some fries into his mouth.
Guess someone's grandma tore him a new one last night. Hopefully, anyway. Otherwise he's just being a jerk again. Who turns down free food? Snake's paid for them both before plenty of times, just because it's easiest to go up the counter with one order. And what's up with the germaphobe routine? Forget about eating from the same fry pile, they've drank after each other a few times, and that was never a big deal.
"I thought you said we were still friends," Snake says, lowering his voice.
Wheels stares him in the eyes sullenly, but his voice sounds remarkably even when he replies, "Yeah, of course. So what?"
"So friends don't flip out on each other when they do a favor."
"A favor. Yeah, right."
Damn, Snake might as well have stayed home. He pulls his trig textbook out of his bag and slams it on the table. Cosines can't be worse than this pissing contest, or whatever it is that Wheels is trying to pull. Snake wades through the paragraphs as the jukebox warbles on.
The music drills into Snake's ears. It's like being on an endless elevator. Finally, Wheels decides to get them out of pop music purgatory. "Look, Snake, I didn't ask about fries because... you know, because of the Heather thing. I don't— I just want to forget it."
"I didn't even bring up 'the Heather thing,'" he replies, sounding a bit snippy even to himself. "If you don't want to talk about it, then stop being all weird."
"Stop treating me weird, buddy."
"I'm treating you weird?! I'm not the one who flipped out at free food!"
"It's not about the food!"
Silence. Wheels glances around and lowers his voice, but the venom only intensifies. "Look. I'm still the same guy. I didn't— I didn't change or anything last night. And I don't need you paying for shit like I'm little Melanie Brodie, okay?"
"Oh, come on. What's Melanie got to do with this?"
"I can pay for my own damn food." He scowls at the fries. "I'm still a guy."
Snake blinks. Maybe Wheels is on drugs after all. That would explain a lot of things, honestly. "It's not a 'guy-girl' thing. Joey owes me, like, fifteen bucks."
"Yeah, right." Wheels doesn't meet his eye. He's glaring at the tray.
"Look," Snake says with a sigh. "Do you want to talk about yesterday or not?"
Wheels plays with a ketchup packet, rolling it between his fingers like a homemade cigarette. His eyes soften a bit. He doesn't look up.
Finally, Wheels asks, "What's the textbook for?"
So Wheels doesn't want to talk. Maybe that's for the best. Maybe, Snake supposes, he's made Wheels say too much this weekend already. How should he know, really? What does he know about this kind of thing? He would never have kept asking Wheels last night if he knew it'd make him crawl up inside himself again.
Instead of pushing back, Snake replies, "It's just trig. Oh— did you hear?" he adds with mock spontaneity. "Last week's sub had his fly down all class."
Wheels laughs— right now, it's almost a startling sound. But he still doesn't look Snake in the eye. He's hidden under the reflection of his glasses. "No way!"
"Yeah! Nobody had the heart to tell him."
Wheels grins and grabs a few fries. Thank God.
As they leave the diner together, laughing and chatting about nothing in particular, Snake dimly realizes that they never really talked about Heather herself. They didn't talk about Joey either. What have they been talking about for the last hour? It's gone by so fast and so naturally, but there's so much they haven't said. Fleetingly, Snake thinks of Jaws, of the still, clear water with a shark stirring underneath.
If nothing else, someone should be thinking of Heather. Snake clears his throat. Well, here goes nothing. "Did you, uh... Are you going to call Heather or something?"
Wheels keeps walking, but he doesn't look at him. "What for?" His voice sounds normal, but he's gone a little pale. If Snake reached out and touched him, he'd probably feel cold and clammy like he just came in from the rain (not that he would touch him, of course, but if he did).
"Well, you can't ignore her forever." Even as he objects, Snake knows it's a weak line.
"I'm pretty good at ignoring stuff."
"Sure, but that's a pretty crappy thing to do."
"Snake, come on. You know I can't call her." Wheels' voice is low, but it's getting harsher. The edge is sliding back in with every word.
"You don't have to tell her everything, just—"
"I can't tell her anything!" Wheels glances around. Just in case. "I can't tell anyone anything, okay?"
Despite his protests, Snake knows he's right. "Well, I'm 'anyone'. You can tell me— if you want," he adds quickly.
"No, I can't." Wheels slogs through the fall leaves littering the sidewalk. The air is crisp. Snake is shivering in his windbreaker; Wheels must be even colder in his thin jean jacket. Snake should've brought an extra sweatshirt. "I'm fine. I've been handling it."
Wheels always thinks he's been handling it.
Before he can stop himself, Snake asks, "How long have you known?"
"Like two years," he mumbles.
Two whole years. What's it like having to deal with that knowledge alone for two years? To go to every school dance, every party, knowing you had something you had to hide from everyone there? Wheels has always been a pretty solitary guy, but two years ago things were so different for both of them. Hell, his parents were alive then. And they would never have known. Even when he had them, he had no one. Snake feels like the wind's been knocked out of him.
And two years ago, no one knew about Glen either. If Wheels had confided in him then… Snake feels a rush of shame remembering all the things he said to his own brother less than a year ago, things he would never say now. How could he? But he did say those things, callous things he can never take back. With Wheels it would have been even worse, he knows without a doubt, no matter how much he wishes that it weren't that way, that Wheels never really had to be alone.
Snake almost says: Wheels, man, I'm sorry. I'm your friend— I should have been there to help you. Or, I told you I'd back you up with Joey and I mean it. Or, I wouldn't have made stupid gay jokes if I knew. Or most of all, You shouldn't have to deal with this alone.
But he doesn't say that. All he says is, "That really sucks."
Wheels looks up at him, and for a moment it's like he's said it all anyway.