10. Nuking the Line
So there were these two boys Hope knew.
They were mostly harmless, adorably dopey (yes, both of them, including Chang. Scratch that, especially Chang), and so wrapped up in each other and retardedly unaware of it that it was painful to watch.
There was being oblivious, and then there was complete and outright denial.
Actually, denial made it sound like they had some form of acknowledgment towards their feelings; as far as Wes and Nick were concerned, there were no intimate aspects of their relationship. In fact, the “relationship” factor was up for debate as well.
For the better part of a year, Hope had sat back and watched their interactions as her own private form of entertainment. Nick wasn’t her problem, and she and Wes had never been close, so interfering was not necessary. At least not on her part.
She knew attraction when she saw it (thought Russel would have been all over this, and shame on him for missing), knew from personal experience just how insufferably agonizing dealing with Nick could be - an irresponsible, attention-deficit toddler with daddy issues, and mommy issues - (Hope was actually impressed he hadn’t dropped out of school yet, wondered how much Wes had to do with that), and knew the fireworks that were to come would be nothing short of amazing.
Wes was smart, but quiet (another word for ‘repressed’, by choice or by fear, it was irrelevant because it was still repressed). While he tolerated a lot, eventually there had to be a breaking point.
Hope had almost thought about warning Chang. He wasn’t that bad, he didn’t deserve the monstrosity that was Nick’s advances (especially considering the fact Nick wouldn’t be able to perceive them as advances), but then…
She had a thought.
Because maybe this would work.
Nick had a natural tendency to attract people who were his complete opposites; the only thing he and Seth really had in common (besides genitalia and astoundingly low IQs) was a love for football. Personality-wise, Seth was more of a gentle giant while Nick was a spitting pit bull with displaced anger.
Once upon a time, Hope had fallen for Nick’s charms herself, knew how different their futures would be, what she had and what she lacked, but Wes-
Wes was way left field for Nick. Quiet, respectful, dedicated, strong values. Then add in the fact he was also male, and Nick’s long-time best friend, and it was so brokenly wrong that it could only be a winning combination.
Now if Nick wasn’t so busy screwing that up, maybe they would be making plans for college or trying to figure out how many children they would be adopt into their strangely-balanced household, instead of making Hope’s life aggravating.
It had started last year, when Petrovski’s bullying towards Russel had intensified. It was like Nick had realized the fragility of life, he decided to act on this epiphany by being ridiculously overprotective of everyone. He was even nicer to them (without actually giving the appearance of it, and they allowed him that delusion, since it made him feel better), with the exception of Wes.
Wes got the protection but none of the love. Hope would go so far as to say that Nick went out of his way to be critical of most of the things related to his best friend, or give Wes a harder time (again, without looking like he was putting too much effort into it, because he was Nick and that shit wouldn’t fly).
It was cute, when Hope eventually figured it out. Wes was just a little bit extra special in Nick’s world, and the only way the stupid lug could process that, could actual handle those emotions, was with the first grade, pigtail-pulling kind of approach.
So Nick went out of his way to make Wes mad, because he liked seeing Wes mad (or maybe that was just the only way he could interact with him), and Wes, bless him, reacted the way any normal person would, by assuming that he meant nothing to Nick.
It should be noted that this was, in essence, all Nick’s fault. In case anyone ever got confused, they could reference this fact.
(t should also be noted that Wes cared enough to do whatever the hell Nick wanted, that was how badly he needed “respect”, so yeah, clearly oozing out declarations of love right there.
It was clear that when left to their own devices, Wes and Nick would only ever flail around each other and continue to make everyone else’s lives unbearable.
Feeling generous, Hope had decided set things straight with the smart one of the duo during the summer. She figured if Nick actually got what he wanted (without ever having to actually ask, because he would never be able to manage that, the moron), Wes would eventually figure out that he wanted it too.
Then boom, they would get their fairy tale ending and stop dragging the rest of them into it.
It was entertaining, it really was, but enough was enough already.
With Nick involved, it was never going to be that easy though.
Hope should have acknowledged that if anything was going to stick, it would have required a slide show presentation with plenty of visual effects, demonstrations, and an oral confirmation from both of the teens-in-question.
They were boys, and simply saying they were stupid did so very little justice for the actual stupidity they exhibited. They could actually have everything they had wanted, everything they had built up towards, without ever being aware of it.
And then, whenever it was lost, they could make stupidly depressed faces (but trying to hide them), because they were boys and emotionally incompetent.
It made Hope wants to slam her head into a desk the few times she could actually spend thinking about their problems.
Secret time: Hope actually cared about the people in drama club. They were down-to-earth, surprisingly decent, and accepting a person as they were, quirks in all. She was invested in their happiness from those credentials alone, but add in the fact that she had befriended both Wes and Nick before they had taken to the stage, and Hope was quietly indebted.
She wasn’t going to scream it, but it was true. And it shouldn’t have taken any intervention on her part to fix something that should have fallen into place so easily.
They wanted each other. Nick had even put in a legitimate effort to win Wes over. Problem should have been solved right there.
But no, Wes wouldn’t have it. And now, now that he had finally gotten with the picture? Yeah, now Nick was too busy trying to chase after an unobtainable substitute-teacher fever dream.
Nick had something, something good, and then he had just thrown it away when the going got tough.
Part of her wanted to hate Nick for it, did hate him for it, because he could run around and punch out homophobes and try to steal atm’s and cause a scene in New York City and still get everything he could have ever needed, opportunities the rest of them might never have, and then turn his stupid nose up from it because it didn’t fit into some cougar-chasing fantasy that he was probably just using as an escape.
Because if Nick had something to strive for that he couldn’t really have, then it was okay if he was always failing, because he wasn’t supposed to succeed.
But give him something within reach-
Hope was probably over-analyzing this. Guys who drew epic stick-figure ninja battles instead of taking notes in economics didn’t have the depth to manage such motives. Hope was giving him too much credit.
Screw it, she didn’t care why, she just wanted Nick to get his head in place and stop moping around the high school like an idiot.
It was possible that a small part of her cared about Nick and legitimately wanted him to be happy, but no one was going to ask and she was never going to tell so-
It was simply a question of how.
She needed to get Chang back involved (with the utmost discretion, otherwise she’d spook him and they’d come too far, were too close for that), it was the best way. To wake Nick up and then present him with his reward, no work, just “there you are” and boom, instant happy ending.
After that, Hope’s good deed could be done for the year, and she could got back to focusing on her campaign for prom queen.
All she had to do, was talk with Nick, and then deliver Chang unto him.
Shouldn’t be too hard.
Hope set a perfect Nick-trap, promising booze, pizza, and maybe a little something ‘extra’ should he choose to visit her abode Friday night. With her parents out of the picture on a date night, she couldn’t have planned a better evening.
Nick came, despite his love-struck eyes for Mrs. Thompson (another point that it wasn’t serious, that he didn’t care).
Hope didn’t wait before she started in on Nick; the ruse would only last for so long.
“You should be dating Wes.”
He looked at her, half-confused by the choice of topic and half-confused by the fact Hope actually cared enough about his relationships to bring up said topic.
She got it, they weren’t close, but this was bothering her. The force was disrupted in her domain, and she wasn’t going to take it.
His eyes narrowed into suspicious, defensive, like he was about to object, but Hope continued before he could tell her to step off.
“No, you listen.” Hope folded her arms across her chest.
She was the Queen Bee at Lakeside, she knew how to make people focus on her. If she was going to bother herself with Nick’s problems, then he had better freaking pay attention.
“You like Wes. Which is cute, by the way.” Nick frowned and she kept going, “But just to illuminate the depth of your relationship, because clearly you are incapable of doing this yourself, you really, really like Wes.”
Nick stance shifted, seeming to draw into himself.
Good, that meant Hope was hitting close to home.
This was going to be easier than she thought.
“I’ll admit, it was entertaining to watch you try and figure this out, purposefully going out of your way to irritate him. Any attention is good attention, right?”
Nick started an objection, but Hope waved him off, because yes, he did have the mentality of a five-year-old, but they weren’t going to waste time arguing about it.
She smirked. “You made him so desperate and so needy for your good graces that he was wrapped around your little finger, willing to do whatever it was you wanted. And you know what?”
Hope leaned her hip against the back of the sofa, trying to appear more casual. Across the living room, Nick eyed her warily.
“You didn’t abuse that power nearly as much as I thought you would.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “Aside from the fact that most of your little speech is pure insanity, I would like to point out that I never wanted to get into Wes’ pants.”
“Of course,” Hope replied, grinning. “That was all Annelea.”
The jock looked to the side, mind drifting to thoughts of his ex-girlfriend. “She was so badass.”
Of course she was.
“She was basically a female version of you.”
Nick frowned. “What’s wrong with that?”
And now comes the explanatory portion of the evening.
Or, if Hope were to be exact, here came the more in-depth explanatory portion of the evening.
“What’s wrong with that is the fact you knew it couldn’t last. You purposefully picked someone you couldn’t keep a steady relationship with.”
Hope had known the news would not be well received, and her expectations had been correct.
Nick pulled back, personally offended by her suggestion. “Hold on there blondee, there’s a few things wrong with that particular statement, the biggest being that Nickzilla is not a one-gal kind of guy. And if he was, there is no way he would lose someone that he really wanted.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Clearly, Annelea wasn’t the one. She was a super, ass-kicking beast-lady, but she obviously couldn’t appreciate pure awesomeness incarnate.”
Hope was about three seconds away from strangling the stupid lug herself; dear God she could not properly describe this stubborn denial.
Nick had addressed all of her points right there, but he was still acting like the wounded party.
It was easier, Hope knew, to play the victim than it was to take responsibility for your actions. But Nick saying that Annelea didn’t appreciate him when the stupid jock himself didn’t appreciate Wes-
Okay, so this was going to take a little longer than Hope had previously anticipated.
She would attack this one point at a time.
“First of all,” she began, rubbing the side of her head. “Just look at yourself. Look at what you have become. You are the school’s number one anti-bully. You ran around New York looking for an accordion just to help your friend out. You are trying to grow up and mature and can you honestly say-” She looked at him, beseechingly, because they had bypassed stupid such a long time ago. “-that you are still into one night stands? No real relationships; just love em’ and leave em’ and damn everything else?”
It was a minor victory that Nick had begun to look a little cowed, because it was bullshit and they both acknowledged that.
Hope moved on.
“And, second of all-” She jabbed a finger at him. “You, just like everyone else in the world, are scared. You’re afraid of failing, you’re afraid of taking a chance on something and having it blow up in your face. You’re afraid you’ll get hurt, or humiliated, or end up losing what little you have. It is, granted, understandable. Reasonable, even. But instead of manning up, you go ahead and throw it all away, because then what? You’re the one that gets to be in charge, you’re the one that’s doing the hurting or humiliating, and you get to remain perfectly untouched.”
Nick looked confused again, but it wasn’t overpowering, not enough that Hope would have to stop and start over.
Good, she was past that.
She kept going while the iron was hot, while he was still willing to listen.
“You don’t even realize that you’re still losing. You had something Nick, and you just threw it-”
“Will you shut up?”
Hope stepped back, surprised by the sudden outburst.
Nick looked back at her with wounded eyes. He was serious now. “Look, I know I’m not that smart, okay Hope? I get that, I won’t ever claim anything different. But I tried with that guy, I did, I tried, and I can take a freaking hint. He doesn’t want me, and even trying in the first place-”
So that was the problem.
Nick wasn’t not as stupid or detached as he acted.
He must have known, way before Wes had known, and he had tried.
Hope could see the pieces fall together with horrible clarity.
Nick had tried, and what had he gotten in return for his efforts?
Nothing. Rejection. Outrage.
In the end, Nick had come out as the more emotionally aware of the two. He had recognized what they had and accepted it before Wes (which could possibly be the reason why Annelea dumped him).
While this would probably be the only moment Nick would ever show that weakness, that hurt, Hope needed him to see what she saw, was Annelea saw (because Annelea was a bitch, but she wouldn’t have thrown Nick to the wind if she hadn’t thought Wes would be there to catch him, if she hadn’t thought Nick would be taken care of because she had a soft spot for the guy).
And Hope needed Nick to see it before things got too out of hand, because she had been cocky and made some very bad time-management decisions.
“Nick-” she started, but he cut her off.
“No, just, I get it.” He shook his head. “It was stupid; it was a dumb plan. Wes is a smart guy, and he knew it was a bad idea from the start.”
It wasn’t about that damn it; she’d get Chang back later for doing this, for being so damn stupid, but right now-
She reached for his arm. “Nick you just have to show him-”
“What else am I supposed to do?” he asked, jerking out of reach.
“Talk to him.”
“And lose the rest of my dignity?” Nick glared at her, the most sober Hope had ever seen him. “The rest of my self-respect?”
Nick shook his head, like he was answering some unspoken question. “Maybe I went about it the wrong way. Maybe I wasn’t serious enough, but I’m not going to-”
The jock cut off as a series of knocks against Hope’s front door, the raps quiet but insistent.
Damn it, she had thought they’d be done with this sooner. She hadn’t known the wound ran this deep.
“Nick, I promise if you try-”
“No!′ Nick interrupted with a snarl. “I am done. Wes Chang is a waste of time. He is a waste of effort, he is a waste of my Goddamn attention. Guy’s a good friend, can really help out when you’re in a pinch, great back up, but that’s about it.”
He stared at her, cold and bitter.
“Let’s not try to give background pieces any more importance than they deserve.” He smiled, getting back into his joking, dumb-but-lovable Nick mode, his fallback, his armor. “We had fun while it lasted, but it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.”
He started walking towards the door at the prompt of the knocks and leaned against it. A smirk slid into place like the final nail into his coffin.
He was casual, because he was Nick and he couldn’t let anything hurt him, and look, look at nothing hurting him; not heartbreak or rejection or people closing him down. He was still there and strong and he would rather keep spitting out anger and abuse to others than ever let them know how badly he had been wounded.
Hope was starting to hate those words.
Nick unlocked the deadbolt, looking over his shoulder. “Not that it will be hard.” He unhooked the door chain. “It’s just Chang, after all.”
The jock pulled the door open, not bothering to check who had been on the other side in the first place.
It had the potential to be a dramatic exit, were a shaken Wes Chang not standing on the other side of the entryway, hands paused in the air as though he had been reaching for the door.
There was a crushed expression on his face - the most crushed, if ever there was one - and Hope felt like a total heel all over again.
“I got a…I got a text from Hope,” Wes offered, quietly.
She had arranged for him to come just minutes after Nick to keep the other guy from running away, but this wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
Wes looked like he just wanted to bury himself in a hole somewhere. He shrugged, eyes squinting (anger and abuse spat onto him). “You guys look busy so I’m…” He gestured behind him, refusing to take his eyes off of the floor (wounded, wounded, wounded). “I’m just gonna go.”
Hope would never be able to argue in favor of her scheduling abilities ever again, because even if her concern had sprung from her own selfish motives, she had royally screwed up the lives of two other people who didn’t really deserve it (and who she could quite possibly care for, if she wasn’t an ice queen, if she didn’t have to remain detached to survive).
Wes left before either one of them could say anything, though in his defense, neither one of them really had anything to say.
As hurt as he was, even Nick knew he had crossed a line, was still attuned with Wes enough to know that his riend had not only heard every word, but taken it all to heart (another unfairness because it wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t Nick’s fault, it was just bad communication, with each other, with themselves).
Nick closed the door and sagged against it, heavy with defeat. “Well, shit.”
Yeah…that sounded appropriate.