1. Life is Pandemonium
Nick getting dumped was an inevitably Wes had embraced about a year ago.
Partly because Nick was crazy, and partly because his girlfriend was equally, if not exceptionally more, crazy. Contrary to popular belief, two crazy trains did not equal the ‘glamorous rockstardom’ Nick had so frequently theorized. The logic had always been flawed, which was why Wes wasn’t surprised when that relationship had crashed and burned like the doomed vessel it had always been. Nick had set his aspirations too high for something that had essentially been built on oblivious self-involvement and what was, at best, duel grasps-on-reality that were tenuous in their finest state, so yeah, the whole ‘rockstar’ thing had been doomed from the start.
Figured that Annelea would dump Nick, if only to spite Wes. He had been betting (hopelessly, but still) on Nick to come to reality long enough to get rid of the terror that was Annelea.
He should have known better than to bet against his own girlfriend, Gina. ’Female intution’ she had explained with a wink, but Wes and Nick and everyone in the whole world knew it was because Gina was a shameless gossip monger, and could read the trends in their social circle like a voodoo-psycho woman. It was one of the things Wes had found attractive (and mildly terrifying) about her, so he couldn’t complain about it too much.
Still, he would miss those ten bucks.
The bright side in all of this though, was that things would at least revert back to their normal level of crazy. Nick would mope, spend all of Spanish class sketching vindictive half-doodles of an ambiguous female stick figure being set upon by tanks and ninjas and pirate bears (it was a phase that Wes had decidedly looked over), and that would be that. Nick would make Wes and Gina’s lives hell for a week, have some kind of wild night out (Wes made a mental note to hide any and all eggs in both his and Gina’s house – they did not need a repeat of last time), and then boom, Nick would move on to the next girl.
It would be fine. It would be great, even, because the ‘next girl’ wouldn’t be Annelea and, therefore, would automatically be a vast improvement to Wes’s life.
It was a simple, if predictable, assumption, and Wes had welcomed it with wide open arms and a weary kind of relief.
Having expectations…that had been Wes’ first mistake. Assumptions were a promise for destruction, and Wes’ were no different. Because somehow, Annelea found a way to screw him even after dumping Nick’s dumb ass.
If anyone had ‘effortless evil’ perfected as a pastime, it was Nick’s ex-girlfriend.
It had not started off innocently. That, Wes suspected, was the major problem.
Wes did not look up from his Call of Duty match when he heard Nick crawl in through his bedroom window. He had long since gotten used to Nick resisting the societal practice of using doors. It was a quirk that devolved from one too many action movies and a love of James Bond, and Wes couldn’t fault Nick for either of those. He had a quiet passion for Power Rangers himself that Nick respected (when the other wasn’t drunk off cheap beer he had stolen from the corner store), so Wes wasn’t going to judge the window-thing.
Nick clambered into the room with distinct finesse before slamming the frame down behind him with a resounding thud. This was a tactic with which Wes was intimately familiar. It was a ploy the other teen resorted to using when he was in desperate need of attention but was attempting to be subtle about it.
This generally guaranteed that he wasn’t going to be subtle at all, but Wes always gave him points for trying.
The bed dipped behind him as Nick threw himself down gracelessly, a pitiful excuse for a human being that Wes ignored because his team was winning for once, and that was not a glory he often achieved. Nick could suck it up for a few minutes, even if…Yes, there was a melodramatic sigh, undoubtedly followed by the part of Nick’s act where he flung an arm across his eyes, despairing.
If Wes didn’t like keeping his face in such pristine, un-punched condition, he would have commented that the school’s resident drama queen, Micaela, was infecting Nick (Wes’s friend had not been nearly this bad before they had joined theater last year).
Wes was on a kill streak though, so he kept that tidbit to himself.
See, he was capable of kindness. He had depth.
Nick may not second this opinion, if his discontented sigh was any indication. He was probably unappreciative of Wes’s apparent lack of concern.
It wasn’t like he did this at least twice a month or anything. No, Wes should drop everything he was doing to listen about Nick’s latest fight with Annelea, because if Wes’s years of being the quiet, respectful guy in the background were any indication, he loved gossiping.
It had been this way since middle school, and as much as Wes would rather do just- anything else, he understood the need.
A foot nudged against the base of Wes’s spine, followed by a sigh that was a little louder, more insistent.
Three more minutes. If Nick could just hold out until the match was over, Wes would have all the time in the world to tolerate Nick’s bemoaning of the world’s ‘cruel injustices’.
An enemy soldier jerked and crashed to the ground on the TV screen, brought down by Wes’ sniper shot. The teen smirked, tapping the reload button as he began to move to a new position. He had already killed about five guys from this spot, they could probably figure out where he was by now and he didn’t-
Wes flailed, letting out an undignified squawk as a fist jabbed into his side, hard.
Shit, he hadn’t even noticed Nick had moved.
Wes’s controller clattered against the carpet, accidentally triggering the grenade button. He tried to scramble for it, to move his character out of harm’s way, but Nick jabbed him again, making Wes lose his balance.
Wes landed in an awkward sprawl, unable to do anything but watch as his character exploded on-screen.
Clearly, this was Nick’s way of saying he would no longer tolerate being ignored. Wes was willing to bet that he wouldn’t get to play the rest of his match either.
“Nick,” he growled, batting the offending hand away. “You couldn’t wait two minutes?”
His best friend shrugged, showing no signs of remorse. If anything, he was the one that looked irritated.
“Nope,” he drawled, watching Wes’ motionless character get mowed down by the other team with subdued interest. “We have more important things to talk about.”
“I was almost done.”
“More. Im-por-tant,” Nick reiterated, one eyebrow raised as he pointed to himself.
They stared at each other for a moment, Wes scowling at the other teen’s thoughtlessness while Nick did very little to restrain his boredom of things that didn’t pertain to him.
Another explosion on the screen broke Wes out of his one-sided glaring contest. This wasn’t getting him anywhere. He would like to think it was, but nope, Nick was past the point of caring.
It has always been like this, Wes reminded himself. Sort of.
With as much dignity as he could muster, Wes sighed, reaching down and to snatch up his controller. He logged out of the game and turned to face Nick expectantly; waiting for him to get to sharing so he could get back to playing.
Usually, Nick just needed a little attention before he could feel satisfied with life. He was like some kind of overgrown golden retriever, desperate for affection and unskilled in how he demanded it, being that it went against his whole ‘bad boy’ reputation.
In truth, Wes didn’t know how they had become friends. Switching lunches during fourth grade should not have been enough of a catalyst to maintain their relationship through high school. Especially after Annelea had entered the picture.
It wasn’t that she was evil. She was just like, the female version of Nick. So…yeah, she was evil, but honest enough to own up to it, so that was something. Maybe.
Now that Nick had Wes’s full attention, the teen flopped back down on the bed and resumed his pity party. As though nothing had happened. As though he had not just forced Wes into compliance.
Drama queen. Stupid, communication-deficient, drama queen. Wes should leave him to stew in his own misery. Abandon the room to Nick’s hubris.
Damn him for being so kind. Why did his parents have to raise him to be descent? Why?
“Alright,” Wes grumbled, holding onto his annoyance so Nick wouldn’t think he had gotten off easily. “What’s the problem?”
If Annelea had hidden Nick’s guitar again, Wes was going to punch him. She always hid it in the same place. Always. It was never different. Wes had tried to drill ‘the closet under the stairs’ into Nick’s brain on at least three separate occasions, but much like the patience-thing, it hadn’t stuck.
“The world is ending,” Nick lamented, throwing his free arm out overdramatically. Wes was torn between suppressing a sigh or a snicker, because seriously, drama queen.
He chose to distract himself by settling in, hands curled beneath his chin and elbows braced against his knees, staring his best friend down while Nick continued to passionately insist on the upcoming apocalypse.
“Annelea broke up with me,” the despairing teen continued, disbelief mixed with just the tiniest hints of genuine sorrow. “She said that I wasn’t cool enough anymore. Can you believe that? I’m a frickin’ pimp man, and she dumped me!”
Wes nodded along with the tirade, fully aware of how deeply this must have hurt his best friend. Annelea was…she and Nick had a weird relationship, but he was happy and she was happy and that had been all that mattered at the end of the day. Losing her like this was…well, for Wes it was a mild relief because she was intimidating as hell. Seriously, she was scary. Perfect for Nick, but scary.
So yes, Wes was kind of glad, but Nick was legitimately hurting, so Wes did his best to offer him comfort.
This would be a good thing, Wes decided. No more Annelea meant less arguing for all of them, and while she and Nick had worked in their own kind of way, no more Annelea meant-
As Nick went on and on about the injustice of it all, Wes froze, stewing over a sudden realization.
No more Annelea meant no more friends-with-benefits.
Not with her. Hell no, not with her.
It was complicated, sort of. A mixture of Annelea random whims and Gina’s appreciation of slash fiction and a series of circumstances so freakin’ inconceivable that Wes wouldn’t be surprised if Annelea had set the whole thing up herself (as opposed to just taking advantage of a situation and warping it to her needs like the evil mastermind that she is).
Wes and Nick were friends with benefits (strictly when their girlfriends were around), but it started, as most things did, with an incident that had very little to do with feelings or physical attraction, and everything to do with an accordion.
It wasn’t a memory of which Wes was particularly fond.
They had been in New York for competition, their theater group ranking high enough in the fine state of Texas to take their one act play to the big apple.
Nick and Wes had joined the theater program at Lakeside High when they had discovered the female-to-male ration had worked strongly in the favor. That had been more of Nick’s doing than Wes’, but the teen couldn’t really complain with the odds.
All they had to do was take up the position of much-needed background characters in all of the school’s shows, and boom, they were in.
The extracurricular had done its trick, earning them a fast-pass to some of the more outgoing ladies of their class, but it had also brought the unintended side effects of ‘theater equals eccentricity’.
That was how Nick had found Annelea, which had worked up until the point where it hadn’t.
So they were in New York, loosely chaperoned (what the adults had in passion for ‘the craft’ was counterbalanced with bouts of flightiness), and on the prowl for a good time.
Kind of. Sort of.
So really, they had a two-part plan that involved raiding the overpriced vending machines of the hotel, with a follow-up scheme to see if they could bust out the pay-per-view in their room.
Look, they weren’t complicated individuals. Why take in once-in-a-lifetime sights when they could just as easily live it up in the comfort of their cramped hotel room?
It was the simple things in life, after all, that got you through the day.
At this point, it may seem ridiculous that such a fairly-innocent story could end in Nick and Wes’ girlfriends agreeing to a friends-with-benefits situation for the referenced males, but bear with him, there was a point here.
Step one had been achieved easily enough (despite Russel’s complaints about nutritional facts and balanced eating). They were mid-step 2, Nick armed with the remote and serious eyes that promised some kind of results, when Seth asked them for a favor.
If the theater troop/football team had a leader, it was Seth. The guy was 6’2” of goodwill and honesty. What he lacked in book smarts, he made up for in altruism so genuine it kind of hurt to watch.
Because of this, there was a silent agreement that if he ever asked for something, you would be kind of awful not to give it to him.
Mostly, because Seth generally asked for them to help out other people (’Could you please help Tiffany run lines?’, ‘Cooke missed Spanish yesterday, could he borrow your notes?’), and denying those wished kind of felt like drop kicking a puppy over a waterfall. Terrible in almost every regard.
It had been a simple request.
“I know you guys can sing,” Seth explained, one hand tucked behind his head in a bashful manner – that was his thing, bashfulness. The perfect condiment for guilt. “From the musical, and stuff, so I was just wondering…”
“You want us to wow your girl with a musical grand finale to your super-special date,” Nick drawled, reclined across the hotel room’s lone couch in a lazy sprawl. “Bro, we can do that.”
Despite the fact that they were supposed to be locked in their hotel rooms for the evening. Mr. Powel had sworn them to it on the honor system while he went to take in a Broadway show, which was a plan about as hopelessly flawed as it sounded.
Seth grinned, his trepidation disappearing now that he had Nick’s agreement. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t our anniversary.”
“And if Micaela wasn’t a drama queen,” Russel muttered, which everyone ignored because they all knew Micaela and Russel were BFFs-for-life regardless of whatever fight they were having this week. They were probably arguing about Broadway shows again; did it really matter who was the best Mama Rose?
Wes knew the name from repetition alone, and mourned every part of that fact.
“Thanks guys!” Seth chirped, then exited in a flurry of grins and fistpumps to wow his girlfriend (who was a legitimate drama queen, she did get all the leading parts) with a New York date she would never forget.
Their part in the plan was simple. All the guys had to do was prepare some kind of love song and wait for Seth to text them the signal. They would meet the loving couple and serenade them at the entrance to the hotel, Micaela would be wowed by Seth’s dramatic thoughtfulness, Seth would get brownie points, and the rest of them could take satisfaction in holding up the bro code.
The whole ordeal was sweet enough to have Nick gagging, but he agreed nonetheless. Wes’ motivations had been more along the lines of basic decency, but with Nick, you took what you could.
It seemed like a relatively simple plan. Between the four remaining roommates (Nick, Wes, Cooke, and Russel), they could whip up something good enough for Micaela.
“Russel,” Cooke began around a mouthful of Doritos. “-what’s something Micaela would like?”
Russel rolled his eyes. “I don’t know why you’re asking me.”
“You gonna be like this all night?” Nick shot back.
Cooke gave Wes a look that was pure panic eyes, urging the other teen to intercede. Wes didn’t blame him, Cooke wasn’t really the best at negotiations (guy was dumb as dirt, though he did have a heart of gold) and had enough self-awareness to acknowledge that fact. There was also the compounding factor of being the new kid in town, which wasn’t going to help him when faced with the overwhelming personalities of Nick and Russel.
Thankfully, Wes was a well-practiced peace-keeper, since he tended to be, you know, reasonable, so he cut through the argument with an ease that came from dealing with Nick’s shenanigans on the regular.
“Focus, people.” Wes clapped his hands together, earning two sets of annoyed eyes, and one relieved. “Seth’s counting on us. Who has a song idea?”
Nick stared at him for a moment, then broke eye contact with a laze stretch, rolling out his shoulders with a drawn out groan. “I got this covered,” he declared.
“Great.” Wes stepped in before Russel could argue. “Lay it on us.”
It wasn’t until ten minutes later that Wes had determined a slight flaw in their grand scheme.
See, there were some things Wes had learned not to ask about.
Like, when Gina had paid him twenty buck to get a shirtless picture (Wes would have done it for free, but she did offer), he didn’t ask what she was going to do with it, because twenty bucks was twenty bucks, and he was all for sharing his mad abs with the world anyway.
And it was the world, because the next day she had posted it up on Facebook as bragging rights (not that he was complaining).
Wes didn’t question things, he was more a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. So when Nick confessed that he not only knew how to play the accordion, but had the sheet music to Bella Notte memorized, Wes didn’t ask how or why. With Nick, those questions would ultimately be irrelevant. Instead, Wes nodded and went along with it, committing the lyrics to memory so he could help Seth have the perfect ending to the perfect date.
What he did ask, when they were done and still had hours left to kill, was where Nick was secretly keeping this accordion. They didn’t have any guitars this trip (Mr. Powel had forbidden any and all musical instruments after the affair in Chicago), but Wes wasn’t going to put it past his friend to somehow sneak in some ‘unethical’ contraband via obscure musical instrument. If Nick was anything, it was spiteful. Nonsensical, and spiteful.
When Nick had given him a confused look response, Wes realized that they had planned their grand finale (which Seth had eminently entrusted to them) around an instrument they did not actually have.
This led to a fight of sorts.
‘Of sorts’, because Wes didn’t ever want to admit to listening to or partaking in an argument that revolved around an accordion.
Just…no. He couldn’t do it.
“Why the hell would you suggest playing an accordion when we don’t actually have one?” Wes hissed, pacing the length of their hotel room frantically. If asked, he was trying to corner the market on freaking out so well that Russel and Cooke could just sit back and watch the master work. Because someone had to, and it wasn’t going to be Nick.
For the most part, Nick refused to look even slightly abashed at the problem he had caused, instead choosing to lounge across the couch he had claimed earlier with complete ease.
It partially his fault, Wes supposed. They should have checked for the instrument before they had gotten their heart set on the song.
“Relax dude,” Nick drawled, reaching up to stretch his back casually. “We’re in New York. There’s got to be at least eight different instrument shops on this block alone.”
“Do you even know how much new accordion’s cost?” Wes honestly wanted that answer. AP Algebra, he knew. Instrument prices, not so much.
“Pawn shops,” Russel suggested, being an unfair voice of reason – Wes had at least five more minutes of being mad at Nick still in him. “It’s New York right? I’m sure there’s an accordion in at least one of them.”
Wes and Nick had been nominated to hit the streets in search of the allusive accordion. Nick was chosen because this was mostly his fault, while Wes had been picked because out of the three remaining guys, he was the only one who had any sense of direction.
The first shop the found produced nothing, though Wes had to drag Nick away from the “used DVD collection of all used DVD collections”.
He didn’t care how many badly-dubbed martial arts movies it had, they were on a mission damn it.
The second shop (two blocks down) only generated a few broken down guitars. Nick insisted on a moment of silence in respect to the instruments, and Wes couldn’t help but agree. They deserved a few seconds of mourning for their past-glory days.
The third shop, across the street, had one too many shady looking guys in hoodies loitering about front, so the two teens skipped it, intent on not getting caught up in a gang war or soon-to-be-robbery.
It wasn’t paranoid if it was true, and Wes had seen too many episodes of Law and Order to recognize a potential victimization setup when he saw one.
The fourth shop was closed. It looked like it had been for some time, based on the amount of debris visible through the smoggy windows.
Shop five was on fire.
They stopped to take pictures.
By this point, they had exhausted all of their initial options. They got a text from Russel saying that Seth and Micaela were moving from Central Park to Sardi’s.
They didn’t have much time left, but thankfully, the wonder of smartphones did not fail them. With the aid of Yelp, they were back in action, moving on to the next set of pawn shops in the immediate area.
Pawn shop number six was now an ice cream shop. Yeah, Wes didn’t understand that particular change in career path either, even if building ownership had switched over.
While Wes spent several minutes typing up a scathing review for the website that hadn’t bothered updating its information, Nick decided to partake of the shop’s delicacies. Always the optimist, that one.
They must have walked up and down the next block twelve times. After a certain point, Wes hated it, hated the concept of it, its very existence, the existence of all the buildings and stores on it, and his stupid smart phone for insisting a pawn shop existed there for sure.
He wasn’t even certain why they were still trying to find this stupid place after the first ten minutes, but Nick had that determined damned-by-pride expression on his face, his honor offended, so they had to find it now.
Turned out, the elusive shop was located on the second floor of a building they had been cursing at for not being what they had wanted it to be. Figured. After another twelve minutes of building navigation, they managed to actually make it up to the second level. Freedom, glory, salvation, this had to be the one, this had-
Shop number seven had closed up early.
Nick made a tempting to offer to break into the place to find what they wanted, but Wes had to decline. On the grounds of moral decency, and the looming threat of a murderous girlfriend (along with the rest of the troop) should they be caught (and they would, because that was just their luck today)
They let the pawn shop win that one.
They ran helter-skelter for shop number eight when they received a warning text from Seth.
He would owe them, by the way. So much. Micaela better be wowed, no, scratch that, she better be bamboozled, because if there wasn’t at least a touch of astonishment in her expression after all the work they were putting into this, then Wes was abandoning the bro code. He was abandoning it, and no one and nobody could-
Off in the distance, as though a chorus of angels had descended from the sky to hail the modest brownstone with the glory it deserved, stood lucky pawnshop number eight.
There, in the window, displayed proudly for the entire world to see, stood an accordion.
The case was crimson, shining in the dwindling rays of the sun. It looked to be in almost perfect condition, glimmering like a bright beacon of hope in the distance. If Wes had not spent the past hour and a half pounding the pavements, he would have questioned the owner’s advertising strategy (were accordions really in such high demand that they were used to attract business?), but by this point he did not care.
It was everything they needed.
Unfortunately, the funds needed to acquire said instrument were about twenty bucks greater than the sum of Nick and Wes’ spending money.
Haggling was not an option. Wes would know, because this one time, he let Nick try it. He had done a good enough job on the guys who were attempting to sell them those fake Rolex’s earlier, why not now?
Wes should really learn to stop thinking that.
It was as though the old man behind the counter could smell they weren’t locals. He wouldn’t budge on the price. Not for puppy dog eyes, not for tales of love, and not for outright betting.
It must be a New Yorker thing.
The owner cut Wes off with vicious precision, telling them to either dish out the twenty bucks, or get out.
You could guess how that ended.
They walk-of-shamed back outside. It shouldn’t have been this difficult. Why couldn’t they have just switched songs? They could have done it acapella. Why hadn’t Wes thought of that earlier? What good was being an AP student if he never exercised his intelligence in a practical manner? What good would that get him in life?
Wes was still stewing in anger and mild despair when Nick spoke up, seemingly halfway through a conversation they hadn’t even started.
“We need a hat,” he declared.
He didn’t elaborate when he took off, but that was kind of a thing he did. Nick’s non sequiturs were an unfounded expression of faith in Wes’ ability to read his mind. He did this all the time, and Wes had no choice but to keep up with him (mentally, and now literally). This was no different.
Exasperated, Wes had no choice but to follow Nick into a nearby gift shop where he…bought a hat.
Yep, apparently now was the time for souvenirs.
“Stop,” Wes hissed, tugging at Nick’s arm. He was like a child battling a giant for all the good it did him. “I mean it man.”
The goal was to save their money, not spend it. What about that did Nick misunderstand?
Wes frowned. “Would you-?”
Nick ignored him, bulldozed Wes aside when he attempted to block the other teen at the cash register.
They did this, they roughhoused, all the time. Wes would make a point, Nick would ignore that point, it was their dynamic. It was fine, it was great, it was-
Forcing Wes to reevaluate his ‘laid back’ approach to life.
Clearly, people refused to see laid back individuals as a threat.
Wes faintly registered that Nick had paused at the door. He was probably waiting for Wes to catch up to him, but how could he when he was busy marveling at the sadness of his predicament?
A hand grabbed Wes’ forearm, dragging him back onto the streets, but Wes didn’t care anymore.
Was he really that big a push over?
Did people even register him as a human being? Or was he just another mass of bones and tissue that took up their space, that breathed their oxygen?
Did he simply exist just to bear witness to other people’s achievements?
This wasn’t a new thing, this had been going on forever, it just hadn’t really bothered him until now. He hadn’t minded before but…come on, they were in New York. Shouldn’t that mean something?
Blindly, Wes stumbled into Nick’s back. It took him a few seconds to realize the other teen had stopped, and a few seconds more to see that they were on the outskirts of Central Park.
“Wes,” Nick tried again, this time getting his attention. The other teen grabbed onto Wes’ arms, forcing him out of his introspective tangent. “Stop worrying like a girl. I got this.”
“You got this,” Wes replied, skeptical.
Coming from the guy who had gotten them into this mess in the first place, the sentiment did not offer much hope.
They had known each other long enough for Nick to understand the things that Wes hadn’t said. The other teen rolled his eyes, gesturing to the moderate amount of foot traffic passing them by.
“We need twenty bucks right?” Wes opened his mouth to remind Nick that they had to make up the money they spent on the hat too, but the Nick shushed him with a wave of his hand. “We’re two super-talented, good looking guys. All we’ve gotta do is provide a little late night entertainment.”
That did not prompt a set of comforting set of mental images. Wes shuddered at the implications. They were desperate, but no, not that desperate.
For his troubles, he received a slap to the back of his head.
“Not like that moron,” Nick muttered. “Drop a beat.”
Nick was serious about this. Wes almost, almost objected to the plan on principal (he was really tired of being pushed around), but it actually was a good idea. With this many people, surely they could make up the difference, right?
All they had to do was tap into their inner street performers, get some cash, get the accordion, and save the day. By singing.
It was a thespian’s dream. It almost made Wes wish he was a better actor.
Sighing, Wes gave in with dignity, wiping his hands against his pants in a defeated way while Nick placed the hat on the ground in front of them.
It wasn’t as bad as Wes had expected.
Nick wasn’t nearly as good at free styling as…say, Cooke, but he wasn’t awful. Between Wes’ beatboxing and Nick’s slightly questionable rhymes, they soon had spare bills, pocket change, and the odd, undesired condom showered into their money hat.
They could do this. They could do this.
All they needed were a few more dollars, and they could go and rub it in that stupid pawn shop owner’s face. After they had the accordion, they could meet up with Cooke and Russel and serenade the lovebirds, who would kiss, and then everyone would be happy, and then they would win Nationals.
Hey, Wes wasn’t in charge of the natural progression of things, he was just an observer.
For example, he observed - but did not fully comprehend - the young, unmemorable teenager jogging their direction. And then he observed the unmemorable jogger reach down, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, and steal their money hat.
Just, grabbed if off the ground.
And then Wes got to observe the back of Nick’s head as they abandoned their audience and began to chase their mugger down, because they did not need the true New York experience. They didn’t actually want to recreate the beginning of a Law and Order episode, they just wanted an accordion. That didn’t seem like an unreasonable desire.
As the fates would have it, this was an unreasonable wish indeed.
The sad truth of it was, the thief obviously hadn’t spent the past two hours running around New York like Wes and Nick had. After three blocks, they had lost him, and their hat, and subsequently most of their money.
Wes released a few choice expletives that would have made his mother blush before he kicked a nearby trashcan.
Stupid, stupid, stupid- He barely even noticed when Nick pulled him away from the offensive garbage bin and forced him to move down the street, muttering something about a cop nearby. Like that mattered.
“How much is left?” he asked, deciding to bite the bullet.
There wasn’t much they could do, but maybe they could find another pawn shop-
“Thirty seven bucks,” Nick muttered.
Thirty seven, that wasn’t to bad-
Wait. Thirty seven?
Either Wes had become amazing terrible at math that very instant, or (the more likely culprit), that was indeed only half of what they had needed for that stupid accordion in the first place.
Wes stopped, turning on his heel and latching onto Nick. no way was he sneaking out of this now, Wes wanted to stare him dead in the eyes (because he didn’t want any confusion, because he wanted to soak in every. Single. Detail).
“What happened,” Wes asked, barely able to contain his anger. “To the rest of it?”
“Well,” Nick began, less-tactful than he should have for Wes’ agitated state. “There’s the hat,” he began, counting off on his fingers. “And then there’s the cash I put in to encourage-”
“The what?” Wes bit out, visibly shaking. He couldn’t be hearing things right. There’s no way Nick would have-
The other teen snorted. “Who puts money in an empty hat? That implies we have no skill. And dude, we definitely have skill-”
“So,” Wes interrupted, staring at the ground in a poor attempt to restrain himself. Think cool, laid-back thoughts. “You’re saying we actually have less money than before?”
“Yeah.” Nick managed to sound mildly upset by this predicament. “Sucks right?”
There were some things in life, Wes had learned, that you didn’t ask about.
He didn’t ask how much money Nick had put into the hat to “encourage” people, because odds were, he didn’t want to know.
He didn’t question why Nick wasn’t as bothered by this as he should have been, because Wes honestly didn’t care.
And finally, he didn’t ask if Nick thought they would have enough time to hunt down another accordion, because Wes already knew and had accepted the answer as just another disappointment in life.
What he did do, when it finally came down to it, was feel a little part inside of him snap.
There was a chance after this that he may, or may not, have gone raging-Asian postal on the source of his distress, with the dignity and eloquence befitting a teen of his usually calm stature.
“I’ll kill you!” Wes shouted suddenly, hands fisting in Nick’s shirt. He didn’t care if he caught the attention of any of the strangers around them – the cop included. The only thing he cared about was justice, and if the world refused to deliver that unto him, then Wes was going to obtain his own, vigilante-style.
Fueled by rage, Wes kept going, needing to get this out before Nick could open his stupid mouth and respond.
“I will kill you!” he shouted again, leaning into Nick’s face.
It was with muted satisfaction that Nick looked to be taking Wes seriously for the first time that evening.
“You will die!” Wes declared, attempting to throttle the other teen. It didn’t work, Nick had always been the stockier of the two, whereas Wes was all gangling limbs, great for speed, but not so much for strength.
That didn’t stop him from trying though, even as Nick held fast to his arms, motionless. The other teen kept shooting the crowd gathering around them “oh, don’t mind him look”. Like this sort of thing happened all the time. Like Wes was always crazy, like this was just the norm.
It was all just fuel to the fire, and Wes latched onto it gratefully.
“There will be death! There will be death and destruction, and I will hide your body, and no one will ever find it because you will be dead, because I will have killed you!"
His voice had descended into a murderous growl by the end of it, and Wes forced himself to take several deep breaths in a futile effort to calm down.
There were frantic whispers from the mass settling around them, most of them wondering if he really was deranged.
It only served to make Wes angrier, and by the time one of the observers was brave enough to come see what the problem was, he’d recharged himself.
A voice, deeper with a little southern twang, tried to intervene. “Son-”
“Don’t mind him,” Nick, ever so helpful Nick, interrupted the voice, his tone daring to be casual. “He’s just a little stressed.”
A little stressed?
“No!” Wes exploded.
He released his death grip on to turn and address the crowd.
“Mind me! All of you,” he shouted, pointing at the mass of gawking strangers. “Mind me! I will not be ignored; I will not be pushed around!”
He turned back to Nick, who, finally, almost looked as bothered as Wes. It was a mild thing, a dumb thing after years and years and years of this, but for Wes, it was enough. He would be pushed aside, no more. He would dumbly follow Nick’s lead, no more. Wes was done being the yeah-guy, the guy who echoed affirmations anytime Nick said something. He was tired of keeping to the shadows, of being a quiet voice of reason that was ignored.
But most importantly, Wes was tired of Nick’s shit and he finally had a chance to do something about it.
This was not an opportunity he intended to waste.
Snarling, the Asian teen jabbed a finger at Nick’s chest, wishing he had Jedi mind powers so he could do some actual damage.
“You think you can push me aside,” he growled bitterly. “And shove me around, and pretend I’m not there!”
Nick flinched at his sudden raise in volume. It was delicious.
“News flash,” Wes exclaimed, jabbing at him a few more times. “I exist!” He turned back to their audience, pointing at himself frantically. “Look at me, I’m existing!”
They were frozen, just like Nick was frozen, unsure of what to do. Distantly, Wes recognized this as an appropriate response when dealing with a crazy public menace. Maybe this was a daily occurrence in New York. Hell, maybe this was free entertainment for them.
Or maybe this was all for nothing.
The thought made Wes deflate a little, now that his tangent was over. Still, he couldn’t deny that it had been liberating.
Before he could think of something else to say, a man in a business suit cut in. “I think you owe him an apology.”
Rage boiled under his skin – Wes wasn’t sure what to say, but the words ’Ah, hell no’ seemed like tempting options. Who did this guy think he was for suggesting-?
For suggesting that Nick apologize.
Wes had trouble processing the idea, it almost seemed too good to be true.
The rest of the crowd was murmuring in agreement though. There was an older lady with her hands on her hips, shaking her head in disappointment. One guy even reached out to pat Wes on the shoulder comfortingly, which should be weird, but it wasn’t. Because for once, Wes was the one who was being listened to.
He looked at Nick expectantly, but the other teen wasn’t paying attention to him. No, Nick’s eyes were on the business man. “This isn’t any of your business.”
The crowd practically booed in response.
It was enough to get Wes worked up again. “No! He’s right!” He turned back towards the businessman. “Thank you!”
“Chang,” Nick warned.
They had been best friends long enough that Wes knew that flavor of irritation when he heard it, the one that promised recompense swift and brutal at the earliest opportunity.
Screw it, he could throw that tone around all he wanted, Wes didn’t care.
One more delay wasn’t going to kill them. Beside, Wes was not willing to give up his spotlight just yet.
He turned to the guy who was patting his shoulder. “He doesn’t even call me by my first name.”
“He doesn’t?” the guys asked, disbelieving.
Wes didn’t know why a random stranger would care about him more than his best friend, but for once, he was not going to search for logic or reason.
“Nope.” Wes shook his head sadly, prompting the group to make assorted sounds of sympathy.
"Dude," shoulder guy murmured.
Nick made and exasperated sound. “Oh my god,” he grumbled, running a hand across his face. ”Wes, stop being such a girl.”
The crowd did not like that response, and disapproving tones, along with insults and barbs and other delicious misfortunes, were thrown Nicks way.
“See what I deal with?” Wes appealed to the people around him.
A lady stepped forward, partway between him and Nick. “You need to treat him better,” she declared, scowling at Nick.
“Yes, yes he does,” Wes agreed, and the audience agreed ,and soon everyone was nodding except for Nick.
“What is this?” Nick glared at the hodgepodge of people surrounding them. “Oprah?”
The old southern voice from earlier interrupted again, but Wes couldn’t connect it to a face. It came from the other side of Nick, causing the other teen to aim his glare over his shoulder.
“Son, just apologize.”
So…he was Wes’ favorite.
Sure, Wes was a big fan of shoulder-guy and hands-on-hips-lady and treat-him-better woman, but apologize-cowboy had definitely leapt to the top of the list.
“I didn’t do anything,” Nick insisted, still refusing to give up his losing battle.
The words ignited something in Wes – maybe that cracked place from earlier – and the anger that had settled into despair boiled up once more. Furious, he made a mad lunge for Nick.
Shoulder-man and a few miscellaneous others held him back before Wes could make his mark, leaving him awkwardly clawing at thin air.
“Let me go!” Wes bit out, thrashing against them. “My fist must meet his face!”
Nick, what little glimpses Wes could see, almost looked afraid. He should, even as the crowd grew around them, the old people catching the new people up on everything they had missed, he should be scared. For once.
The southern gentleman voice was back, and Wes still couldn’t see him, but that was fine. Fine, because he was talking to Nick.
“Apologize,” he ordered in a tone that expected to be obeyed. ”Now.”
Cowboy man – seriously, Wes’ favorite.
“Fine," Nick sighed, defeated.
Wes stopped his struggle, waiting in anticipation.
"Wes,” Nick began, and from the look on his face Wes could tell that he was going to be in for it later. “I’m sorry.”
Wes really, really wanted to see if he could milk him for more, and by the looks of it the people around him wanted to see more too. It was tempting, maybe he could just-
His phone vibrated in his pocket, breaking him from that train of thought. The guys- right, there was a reason they were out of the hotel in the first place, and it didn’t involve street justice.
They still needed to make it back to the hotel, and besides that, Nick would only let this go if Wes ended it now (lifetime of friendship be damned).
Wes nodded in acceptance, flashing his friend a thumbs up before he could give into temptation.
Their audience gave a few disgruntled murmurs, disappointed that the scene had ended so anticlimactically. Wes would sympathize, but it wasn’t their studly teenage body that would be trapped in the same room with Nick later, it was his, and as nice as momentary recognition was, Wes still wanted to get back to Texas in one piece.
He made his way over to Nick, pulling out his cell phone to see what the news was, and looked up in time to realize that the cowboy, southern gentleman who had been his favorite actually turned out to be…
The cop from across the street.
Wes had just threatened to kill someone, multiple times, and hide the body, and punch someone in the face, in front of a cop.
He was going to jail.
Wes froze, phone in hand, and saw his life flash before his eyes
He couldn’t go to jail in New York- he had never even gone to jail in Texas! You know who went to jail in Texas? Nick. Nick went to jail in Texas, and guys like Wes stayed on the straight and narrow and went through life without attracting any unwanted attention and stayed on the straight and narrow forever and ever and ever until they died.
Did Wes mention the straight and narrow?
He was going to die in jail. That was what they did right? He was pretty sure there were hardened criminals in there, and he couldn’t-
As though he could read his mind, the cop interrupted Wes’ frantic train of thought. “Tell you what,” he began. “You two agree to seek out counseling, and I’ll let you off with a warning.”
Wes could do counseling. He could totally do that and not go to jail/prison/death.
Nick had started talking before Wes had fully accepted the gift fate had bestowed upon them. “What the hell would we need-?”
“Yes!” Wes interrupted, loudly, unwilling to be caused more pain by this imbecile. “I mean…” he started again when the cop gave him a strange look. “We accept your terms.”
As they turned to leave, one of the women reached out and grabbed Wes’ arm. “Don’t let him push you around, okay?”
Wes just nodded numbly, still shocked at his near scrape with jail time.
Who said New Yorkers weren’t friendly?
It was an anticlimactic ending to the evening’s shenanigans that resulted from a problem of entirely their own making. In a depressing way, it seemed fitting. Story of their lives.
They set off back down the street, heading towards the meeting location empty handed. They’d just have to do it a cappella, and if Seth tried to give them any grief for it, Wes would be more than willing to recap their little hunt around New York.
There were a few minutes of uncomfortable silence before Nick spoke up.
“What’s it say?”
Nick gestured to the phone in the Wes’ hand. The Asian teen had pulled it out earlier when the text had come in, but completely forgotten about it.
When he had finished reading the text, he stopped, looked up, and cursed at the sky as quietly and effectively as possible. Before he could ask, Wes shoved the phone in Nick’s direction.
After that Wes kept walking, thrusting his hands into his pockets.
Nick could keep the phone, Wes wouldn’t need to read it again for a long time, the words etched into his memory.
Abort mission, it had read. Cooke borrowed an accordion from another school. Meet up as planned.
What a load of malarkey.
As though it were a silent pact, neither Wes nor Nick spoke of the incident in the park for the rest of the trip.
It was just one of those things you learned not to talk about.