9. No One Likes Your Umbrella
The umbrella meant something.
Cooke knew it as a fact - it had to mean something beyond a peace offering or a gesture of goodwill or an attempt at an apology (five slushies too many, Cooke would need a lot more than one loaned umbrella before Petrovski’s comeuppance would be satisfied).
This umbrella, plain black and unsuspecting, it meant something. Cooke had it drying out on the en-suite bathroom floor as he inspected it from the safety of Seth’s bedroom. They were supposed to be studying, but Cooke couldn’t help but be distracted by the freaking umbrella owned by the school’s personal Hulk-turned-repenter.
It hadn’t done anything yet, like blow up, and Cooke had already checked it for some kind of secret spy camera (the one Nick had was been pretty cool) but it had come out clean. Cooke kept it in a separate room though, just in case. There was no need to invite misfortune on them needlessly.
He should have known that Wes still had problems.
After the whole thing with Annelea, it just figured. Not that Wes had actual problems, but the part where he kept it all to himself. That was way Wes. Sharing just wasn’t his thing.
Despite the events of the past summer, Wes didn’t really like conflict, especially conflict that was revolved around him. So instead of addressing it or calling for back up or like, telling his friends he was in trouble, Wes just kept it to himself, not wanting to bother them.
Which was ridiculous and stupid, because it wasn’t like he ever demanded much (okay so that business with Annelea hadn’t been the easiest thing to get through, but at least it had been entertaining, right?).
But Wes was stubborn, which was frustrating. It was why it had taken three weeks before Russel and Cooke, followed shortly by Gina, Nick, and Seth, had realized that Petrovski had taken to singling out Wes every Tuesday between sixth and seventh period for slushy practice.
The drama club probably wouldn’t have noticed it if it weren’t for Russel finally noticed that Wes was consistently wearing different clothes during lunch and their evening rehearsals. And even after pointing out that little fact, it had taken the tell-tale slushie stains on his socks before Wes cracked and told them what had been happening.
Yeah, see, Wes would rather go through the trouble of packing a spare set of clothes than tell his friends when he had problems.
Except for when it had to do with Nick. At least, the first time it had to do with Nick.
Cooke had the distinct feeling that whatever Wes’ new problems were, that they somehow involved his best friend.
It was troubling, because Wes had issues and didn’t want help from Cooke, or he didn’t want to bother Cooke, or whatever his reasoning, he wasn’t involving Cooke.
Which was fine and, on a distinctly unrelated note, stupid to obsess over.
So Cooke wasn’t.
But then there was this thing, this tiny, little thing that kept bugging him. And while staring at the umbrella might eventually give him some answers, Cooke knew that if he wanted something a little more concrete, he was probably going to have to talk to someone. Someone who wasn’t Wes.
The umbrella continued to do nothing. Cooke glared at it, hating not knowing what it meant.
Hating it because it meant that he didn’t know.
And Petrovski did.
So he and Wes were secret-friends, Cooke could understand that…kind of (at least, post-suspension Steve, when the slushieing had stopped).
It was clear to Cooke how it could have happened.
Petrovski had reformed himself, no more bullying (to Russel), no more hate (to Russel), and no more…well no, that was about it.
Wes, being the good guy that he was, had taken that change of heart for what it was worth and befriended the guy, because that was what Wes did. He was forgiving, even when he shouldn’t be (Cooke had the memory of a black eye that urged the fact he shouldn’t be).
So Wes and Petrovski were friends, and they talked.
Where no one could find them, but they talked.
About important stuff.
Important stuff that Cooke didn’t get to know about, stuff that was bothering Wes (his friend), that he didn’t get to know, but Petrovski, the guy who determinately harassed Russel for a year, did.
And that was not cool.
Cooke hoped Petrovski had gotten freakin’ soaked in that rainstorm.
“Dude, what’s with the glare?”
Enter Seth (fresh from a make-out with Micaela, probably), snacking on an apple. The quarterback flopped onto his bed unceremoniously, munching on the crisp fruit without a care in the world.
Cooke didn’t bother looking at him as he continued his self-appointed task of glaring like it was his only job in life. “Petrovski lent me his umbrella.”
Behind him, Cooke heard the quarterback sit up a little straighter, apple forgotten as he processed Cooke’s words.
Cooke kept his eyes locked on offending object, hoping to glower it into nothingness.
“It was raining and he lent me one. Well, technically he lent it to Wes.” Cooke paused, calling a temporary cease fire while he tried to work out the details. “I think.”
It wasn’t like it mattered; he was the one who was going to have to return the thing.
Seth abandoned his position on the bed and moved so he could get a view of the alleged umbrella. “What was Wes doing there?”
He stared down at Cooke, face concerned while he waited for an answer. Like Cooke knew all the details.
The blond scoffed. “Apparently he and Petrovski talk.”
And apparently Wes and Cooke didn’t. Not about slushies or new-Nick problems or Petrovski.
When the hell had Petrovski come into the picture?
Unbothered by Cooke’s bitter tone, Seth moved on, keeping focused on the conversation. “Why’d Petrovski lend you his umbrella?”
How the hell would he know?
Cooke sighed, not pouting because guys didn’t pout (he didn’t care what Hope and Micaela said).
“I don’t know.”
He frowned, realizing that Seth wasn’t quite as up-to-date as he was, and decided to remedy this fact. “I think something’s wrong with Wes.”
“I think Petrovski knows.” Cooke hoped the stupid ex-bully didn’t abuse his stupid knowing-things power that he didn’t deserve. He also pondered the ramifications of butchering said ex-bully’s umbrella.
He could always claim it was an accident.
Seth’s confusion multiplied, which didn’t really help because between the two of them they could easily take being confused to a level of mastery that Tiffany could only hope to attain. It probably wasn’t a great idea for them to be study buddies, come to think of it.
“You don’t know?”
“No,” Cooke murmured, wrapping his arms around his knees.
“And Petrovski does.”
Cooke continued not to sulk.
The leader of the football team frowned, not paying Cooke’s moping any attention, not that Cooke was moping.
“Why would Petrovski know and not you?”
“Why would Steve know what?”
The new voice breezed in just as casually as it pleased, leaving Cooke jolting in surprise while Seth didn’t bat an eyelash. Seth was probably accustomed to random step-brother-intrusions from Russel.
Cooke, on the other hand, was still working on it.
Seth turned towards Russel, happily filling him in. “What’s wrong with Wes.”
Cooke finally took his eyes off the umbrella to look at the other teen, knowing if anyone would be able to give them some answers, it would probably be Russel. The guy had gossip networks for days. He knew details about people he had never even spoken to in school; if something was up with Nick, Russel had to know.
There was a calm pause, maybe a hesitation, Cooke wasn’t sure, but he was thinking about something and…
Russel face was calm, but concerned. “Something’s wrong with Wes?”
It didn’t come off as natural as he had tried for, at least not to Cooke, who was looking for discrepancies. Russel might be able to fool Seth, but Cooke knew that trying-too-hard-to-play-natural expression any day.
Russel was hiding something.
“Yes,” Cooke answered, causing the other two teens to turn towards him.
Russel looked thoughtful – nothing fishy there. It was thoughtful but not…not like he’d just caught wind of a new story. He wasn’t excited about new gossip.
It was almost like he had maybe heard it before. Like he put up a front but wasn’t really trying.
Cooke narrowed his eyes, but Russel was unbothered.
“And only Petrovski knows?” he asked, perfectly reasonable considering the circumstance.
Seth and Cooke replied simultaneously. “Yes.”
Russel paused again, another look crossing his face, but this one was speculative. Okay, so there was something new, a good story, something that was important, but he wasn’t going to spell it out for Seth and Cooke.
The other teen rubbed his chin, lost in thought. “Interesting.”
The murmured, was barely audible, most likely unintended for their ears, but Cooke didn’t have a chance to further analyze it before Russel exited the room without another word.
That was…not at all suspicious.
Seth and Cooke stared after him dumbly, Seth confused, Cooke stewing in agitation.
Great, more people had decided he was unfit to help.
Seth figured it out for himself a few seconds later, snapping his fingers to indicate a true lightbulb moment. “Dude, do you think he knows?”
God, it was almost painful.
“No,” Cooke replied, going back to glaring at the umbrella.
If everyone else was going to keep this on the hush-hush, then he would too. Not because he was bitter or anything, he was just playing by their rules.
If he wanted to know what happened, he would have figure it out on his own. So long as Cooke was doing that, he would bypass Wes and Russel completely and go straight to the weakest link.
He would go to Petrovski for his answers.
As a demonstration of the stupid amount of faith he had in people, Seth shrugged, taking Cooke’s word for it without further question.
Cooke would feel bad about it, but he had learned early on in life that sometimes ignorance was bliss. This would be better for Seth in the long run.
Coming full-circle, Cooke began planning how he would tackle his new project, and when.
On the bright side, he had a definite in. But only if Petrovski cared about his umbrella.
The benefit of Gina knowing him as well as she did was that Wes was allowed to skip the pleasantries and cut to the main goal of his visit.
One glance at his sufficiently downtrodden demeanor enough for him to be herded to her bedroom, past fights forgotten.
He was sure he looked pitiful, half-wet and frazzled (he had forgotten his umbrella, and promptly didn’t care). It was so embarrassingly genuine that Wes had attempted to cover it up as best he could, consciously avoiding staring at his feet or wringing his hands.
His head was a mess, and he needed desperately for some no-nonsense, take-charging, structure to be enforced, posthaste. Gina was the only one for the job (and it helped that he kind of loved her, like, a whole lot; except then there was-), balancing uncompromised focus with delicate probing and knowing, somehow, what Wes would need.
She was even kind enough to ignore the fact he was getting her comforter wet when they settled on her bed, because his mind was already beyond it, and she probably didn’t care anyway.
She was magical, in that fashion.
It took about ten seconds of fingers running through his hair before the first of it spilled out, Wes’ unfocused gaze aimed at her ceiling while he tried to make it work, make sure he wouldn’t clumsily hurt her.
“I’m bi,” he declared. Before she could respond, he added, “But I love you-”
“I know.” Her fingers changed directions, wandering aimlessly, playfully, but were stern in their refusal when Wes tried to pick his head off of her lap. Gina chuckled, looking down on him fondly. “I had a feeling.”
He opened his mouth to ask and immediately shut it. It was a girl thing probably, no excess machismo or ego or stupidity to cloud her vantage point in the world.
His eyes flickered nervously to the side of the room, unsure of where to go next, before turning back to Gina. When he registered her patient expression, he realized that she was waiting for him to continue, knowing, probably before he did, where this was going.
Wes wondered how effective it would have been if she had given him a heads up. You know, before this whole mess had started.
Probably not very.
He furrowed his brows, hating it, or hating himself. “It’s Nick-”
Wes shut his mouth, clamping his eyes closed as he admitted it, because it was Nick. Nick who was in no way, shape, or form, comparable to Gina. It almost felt like an injustice to even like both of them at the same time.
The fingers combing through his hair were insistent, rubbing patient circles while Gina murmured quiet, calming words that sort of blurred together.
Man, he sucked.
“I know,” she repeated, the tiniest hints of exasperation edging in on her voice.
Wes frowned, because she didn’t, she couldn’t. How could she know when he barely understood it himself?
Above him, Gina sighed, like she had already figured him out.
See, see? He had this awesome girlfriend who knew him and cared about him and liked him for him, and not just for his looks. She enjoyed talking to him and put up with him and, for some dumb, unimaginably stupid reason, Wes had to go and not only want more (more than the awesome he was already so graciously given), but he wanted Nick of all people.
How could she know?
“I love you too,” Gina said quietly. The happy tone was back, the quiet, fond one Wes wished he could wrap himself in, if possible.
He wanted to do better by her.
As though reading his mind, Gina continued, cheer and enthusiasm countering his gloom.
“But you know what?” Gina stared down at him, bottom lip quirked to the side in challenge. “I’m a forward thinker.”
Wes’ expression must have been priceless, because Gina immediately released a graceless bark of laughter.
Great, he ws glad to have amused her, but how exactly did ‘forward thinking’ fit into the conversation?
“What I’m trying to say is…” she drew it out once she had composed herself, taunting Wes with lifted eyebrows and a wicked smile.
It was tempting to get distracted by that, but he was here with purpose, damnit. He had teenage angst that needed to be sorted out.
Wes glared at her, though it wasn’t heartfelt.
The smile widened, and after what she felt was an appropriate amount of time had passed, she continued, “What I’m saying here, is that I’m okay with having two boyfriends.”
Wait. Stop. Think about it. Was she actually implying-?
Gina took pity on his poor, wandering mind and steered him back into the land of the living, explaining herself because Wes just couldn’t comprehend it.
“I love you,” she said, rubbing the side of his face, (and he loved her too, so much-). “And you love both of us-”
“I don’t love-"
Even as Gina waved him off, Wes raised a hand up as a gesture of refusal. He didn’t love Nick, Wes liked him. Like, a hell of a lot more than he ever should, but it wasn’t like what he had for Gina.
It was probably just teenage wistfulness, or hormones, or the ever-pressing longing for the unattainable, that was probably what Wes had for Nick, he didn’t have this.
Gina nodded thoughtfully, hearing him out. “Okay, we’ll cross that bridge later.”
There was no bridge to cross, Wes was pretty sure he knew what he knew, and therefore-
Gina’s lighthearted air dissipated into a new kind of determined, a warrior princess, the game-is-on sort of look that would have made Wes’ knees go weak were he standing.
“Look,” she began, devilish smirk in place. “He wanted us both at the beginning of the year right? Well, we’ll just have to be the ones doing the wooing this time.”
Wes stared at her, gaping in shock. That was not the response he had expected. That wasn’t even his best case scenario (which may have featured heavy making out until the idea of Nick had completely vanished from Wes’ mind), how could she be so…
And it almost made him doubt, with how easily she was going along with this, how much she cared about him. Like, maybe this was just a game, and the more the merrier, right?
But he knew that wasn’t it. That wasn’t Gina.
He had to ask.
“How can you...?”
Be s okay with this?
Even though he didn’t finish it, Gina understood his question.
Her expression softened.
“I love you,” she said quietly. “And for you, I’m willing to make this work.” The playful smile came back, familiar and right. “Besides, he did make me one heck of a corsage, right?”
Wes glowered slightly, ears turning red as he revisited that particular admittance. Eventually, when the bean-spilling had happened, Wes’ outrage for her perspective on his poetry skills had divulged the secret behind the corsage and its fallen predecessors.
While Gina had managed to mollify Wes’ indignation by explaining she thought he was being purposefully awful, she had still taken great pleasure in reviewing the expression he had on his face when she had gotten it, falling into hysterical laughter almost every time she revisited the encounter.
His girlfriend grinned wickedly in response to his annoyance, poking at his side. Teasing, playful.
Wes couldn’t help but muse over how much he loved her. She was so smart, and kind, and badass. Nick would definitely like that, did like that (as he had told Wes several times, way back when). Sure, Annelea was a brawler (definitely a hell raiser when the time called for it), but Gina was a different kind of awesome, playing in the nitty-gritty and coming out untouched, because she was strong. Despite her calm exterior, she was determined, and she would definitely get what she wanted.
Once made aware of her availability, Nick would undoubtedly come running. She was everything he wanted.
Wes’ enthusiasm diminished as he was hit by the sudden urge to mope.
Sure it would be easy for her, but for Wes…
Nothing, Nick wouldn’t want to - okay, there had to be a way to phrase this without sounding stupid – but Nick wouldn’t engage in emotional intimacy with-
Nope, Wes couldn’t finish it.
Damn Gina and her loveable girly-bits.
Wes couldn’t help but be brought himself back to his initial plan to deal with Nick. He had felt so victorious then, so damn smart.
This was irony, schadenfreude, the world laughing at him. Nick wouldn’t want-
Gina pulled Wes up before he could fall too deep into his depression, wrapping her arms around his waist and leaning against his shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” she coaxed, already figuring him out. “Just trust me, it’ll be fine.”
Were it a pep-talk of his own, Wes would have ignored it. Clearly, his judgment and ideas were all kinds of compromised.
But this was coming from Gina, and if she trusted Wes enough to go through with this his cockamamie scheme, maybe he could trust her too.
He didn’t want to get his hopes up, but if Gina was willing to try for his sake, then the least Wes could do was try and fight for his own wants.
He was done with letting other people be in control. Now, it was his turn.
Well, it was their turn.
Wes smiled, first time since he had gotten there, and rested his chin on top of Gina’s head, returning her hold.
It was time for the Asian Fusion to storm Nicolai Roman’s world.
And while he shouldn’t think of it as such, Wes couldn’t help but feel it was time for a little payback.