Eugene Sledge watched, complacent, from a spot on the wall where the dorm was being transformed into a giant, swaying party for Sid's early graduation. He gave a half-hearted wave to the man of the hour, who was currently talking to a pretty female co-ed with a spray-on tan. Sledge personally thought she looked like a human cheese-puff. She kept laughing at whatever Sid was saying. Sledge found the action grating.
He still couldn't believe Sid had, just a few hours ago, graduated and yet he could vividly recall it all. Sitting next to Sid's older sister and chatting up Mr. Phillips until Sid walked onto the small stage, the school colors of his graduation gown flattering, he strode forward and took his diploma with that slightly confused-looking grin he always wore when he was embarrassed. He had turned with a sheepish expression, his and Sledge's eyes locking for a moment before he let out a smile. The same one Sledge had known all these years and something in Sledge's chest felt like it was pulling down a lead weight.
Sid would be leaving for med school and for the first time since they met in grade school, they'd be apart.
Sledge swallowed thickly, recalling the thought and suddenly feeling like the beat of celebration was too much. He still wasn't sure if he really wanted to tell Sid everything: how he really was going to be lost without him and that, he knew it was crazy but, he'd been holding a flame to him since high school and didn't he think the same?
Sledge rubbed his temples, feeling a migraine start to blossom between his eyelids. All of this was ridiculous. He knew this was his only shot. That his feelings had been dragging him down and it made him feel like second guessing himself.
This was Sid—this was his best friend. Someone who'd been with him forever. They knew each other inside and out.
And this would be his last chance to ever really talk to him without distance in the way.
With that resolve, he wove through the crowd--past Talbert trying to appease the two females he was trapped against, away from Babe (who was eagerly introducing a slightly older med student to Leyden), and finally past Snafu, who oddly enough was leaning against the kitchen door and surveying the scene with a red cup in his hand--to Sid, who just turned and smiled at him with a tap on the shoulder.
"Eugene! Just the man I needed to see!" he crowed, wrapping an arm around him. Sledge instinctively relaxed. "You've been weird this evening, brother. It's my party, we gotta celebrate!"
"Sid, about that…." For some reason it was harder than usual to break away but Sledge slid out of his grip, trying to keep his tone light. "Can I talk to you outside, please?"
"Sure?" Sid was immediately serious, concern spilling onto his face. Regardless, he gave the girl he had been entertaining a laugh. "'S’cuse us for a minute, will you?"
Snafu watched Sledge and Sid take their leave with a set stare. He took a bigger chug from his drink than he’d intended but swallowed it all down anyways. Feeling the burn shoot up to his eyelids, he still had no idea what the hell it was he was drinking. Only that Luz, the designated bartender for the night, had just gave handed it to him with a, "You look like you could use it."
He just kept drinking it. He was drinking for the hell of it.
"You never stood a chance with him, anyway," he snapped to himself, shaking his head at his own naïveté. "Fucking dumbass."
He downed the drink, feeling it fall through him like a liquid fire, scorching its way down. He crushed the cup, throwing it away as he made his way to the kitchen counter for another.
He needed to get Sledge out of his mind for what would have been the first time in years and he didn't care if it involved him tossing it all up the next morning.
"What'd you think of that girl inside?" Even though Sledge was the one who led the way to the concrete benches outside, it was Sid that began the conversation. "She's kind of cute right?"
"If you like oranges," Sledge remarked with a slight disbelieving laugh. "Why?"
"Well I was of kind of hoping that you did; she seems nice enough." Sid shrugged, patting him on the arm. "And I thought the tan made her seem exotic. You like that, right?"
Not at all, Sledge corrected mentally. Outwardly he commented, "That was a little too exotic. Thanks for the offer but I can come up with my own choices, thanks."
"Well hurry and rustle up a girl by May 5th then, Casanova." Sid stopped to look forlornly at his dorm off in the distance. "Man, I'm going to miss this place."
"What's going on in May?" The lead weight had moved to Sledge's stomach and he felt a prickling at the back of his neck—a bad feeling. Sid just grinned in response. "Can you keep a secret, Eugene?"
He laughed and moved to sit with Sledge on the bench, edging closer to him. Sledge felt the pinpricks rise up to his arms even in the suits they were both wearing.
"I'm getting married." The minute he said those three words, Sledge felt his stomach drop to his knees. He tried to give Sid his best laugh.
"Yup. You remember Mary Houston, right?" Sid rose up from the bench, clapping his hands. "I asked her to marry me before I go off to Med school and she said ‘yes'."
Sledge tried to focus on breathing. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest almost like it wanted to burst out. He let out a shaky exhale.
"I want you to be my best man," Sid continued, not yet noticing Sledge's slight panic attack until he looked up. "It would mean everything to me if you could mak--Eugene, are you all right?"
Sid was never going to be his, after all.
Sledge tried to concentrate on keeping calm.
"You just shocked me senseless for a minute." He tried to laugh it off, even though Sid laying a concerned hand on his forehead was making him feel even more restless and upset. "You old greaser—you want me to just have a heart attack?"
"I can't help it; I know she's the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I'm gotta marry her before someone snatches her up." Even in the dark of the night, Sledge could see the way that his eyes danced just speaking about it. Sid paused peering closer at him. "You're going to love her, Eugene. She's a great girl, I think she has a sister, too."
"Hey, now, I thought you were letting me pick my own date." He could feel his mouth running on its own. He couldn't really think too deeply on everything. "Don't trust you to pick me another girl."
"All right, all right." Sid rose up from his knees, dusted himself off, and added after a moment, "Katherine is off limits."
"Don't worry, Sid, I'm not interested in your sister." He forced a laugh and got up, eager to get back to the party, his head buzzing. "They're probably wondering where we are."
"Doubt they noticed we even left," Sid remarked, stalking after Eugene. "What was it you wanted to talk to me about, anyways?"
Sledge's hand stopped on the door knob but he kept his gaze locked forward. "Nothing. It was nothing."
Snafu blinked; bleary eyed as Sledge and Phillips returned to the party. Sledge muttering something to Phillips who nodded, gave him a slight one-armed hug to Janovec's and Hoobler's cooing noises, and then hastily made his ways upstairs. Snafu kicked himself off the wall and, still cupping another red cup of whatever-the-hell, he followed. He wasn't much for parties, anyways.
When he did find Sledge he was sitting in Snafu's bed and staring glumly into space. He barely even acknowledged Snafu was there until he stepped into his line of sight.
"Somethin' happen between you and Phillips?" Snafu didn't feel like beating around the bush—not when everything had a slightly watery feel and look to it. "You guys ain't talkin’ as usual."
"Shelton, go back to the party." Eugene didn't look up from whatever he was staring at, didn't move; just waited for Snafu to take his leave.
Instead, Snafu closed the door behind him and sat down on the bed.
Sledge just gave him a rather unpleasant glare.
Snafu ignored it.
"Sho' your boyfriend ain't gonna get lonely down there?" Snafu could play nonchalance better than Sledge could ever dream to.
"He's not my boyfriend. He's getting married."
Snafu felt like wincing; felt like telling Sledge that Sid wasn't worth it anyways and fuck he could do so much better.
Instead he just nodded and offered out: "At least you're still friends."
"--Only because I never told him how I felt about him," Sledge grumbled, pulling off his shoes and just settling back into the bed to lean against the wall. "And now I never will."
Snafu didn't say anything. He placed the cup on his night stand and kicked off his shoes, joining Sledge.
"Probably for the best," he agreed, trying to carefully choose his words. He was never good at comforting people. Never had much practice in the first place. "Hell, it ain't the end of the world. You won't be dragging your ass all over the place moping anymore whenever Sid's got a new fling. I'll finally be able to nap without having to listen to you pace all around the damn place. "
Sledge laughed despite himself.
"I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you all this time," he remarked with a dry tone and slight smirk. "You suck at this."
"Yeah well, I don't do it for just anyone, so fucking be grateful." Snafu reached for his drink, smirking. "Wanna taste?"
"You know I hate drinking," Sledge said with a suspicious glance before shrugging and taking the cup from his hands. He took a small experimental sip and immediately turned green. He shoved back the cup to Snafu, coughing.
"What the hell is that? Lighter fluid?" he sputtered. "Jesus Snafu, how many of those have you had?"
Snafu laughed and took a drink just cause he could.
"Enough of it to make you curl over." He swayed slightly, finding the whole situation in general funny. He let out another laugh.
Sledge made a disapproving sound in his throat, leaning comfortably against his shoulder and Snafu continued drinking the concoction in his cup, needing not to react. He just determined to finish the cup in his hand.
Maybe that night wouldn't be so bad for Snafu after all.
Nixon waved amicably from his place on the fainting couch. Leckie already made his way to the liquor cabinet--hidden of course in the antique globe—and Webster frowned at the both of them. Barely a week after that weird encounter with that man named Basilone and still Leckie was being evasive. Even this morning, he'd been silent on the drive to and from the meeting.
"The wounded scholar's in a foul mood, I see," Nixon commented as Leckie handed him his own VAT 69 in the usual choice tumbler while Leckie helped himself to a glass. "Please tell me it's because you didn't try to put 'plot' in another of your ‘works’. Excuse me for being blunt but I don't think Starla Juggsalot would really appreciate or understand the symbolism of her situation with the plumber and the struggle between classes."
"Haha," Webster sighed as the other two happily clinked glasses and drank. "You do know that you're still on the clock, right?"
"What are you, the fun police?" Nixon scoffed at his expression. "Believe me, I NEED this."
"Don't mind him, Nix. Had another bad date with you-know-who," Leckie remarked, rolling his eyes. "Believe me, you didn't have to be the awkward 3rd wheel."
"It wasn't a date! We were discussing the terms of the accident--you were a witness!" Webster all but fumed. "I can't believe the sheer nonchalance you have about this! That asshole could've KILLED us!"
"Except not," Leckie cut in, eyebrow raised. "And if you hadn't sped up to cut him off he wouldn't have hit us. Can't die from a fender bender."
"Have you been behind the wheel with Ron Speirs? You'd feel differently about that," Nixon interjected, tone somber. "Christ, even Haldane was breaking a sweat."
"Speirs needs to get his kicks somewhere?" Leckie offered and both cracked their tumblers again, faces all mock-sincerity, Web honestly wondered why he put up with both of them.
"Are you two done being five yet? Usually in times of need, friends are supposed to HELP you--"
"--And we aren't? We're letting you blow off steam by ranting to us so you don't burst a blood vessel or take it out on the rest of the world." Nixon nodded appreciatively and Webster pulled a face. "Calm down, Ivy League."
"Nixon went to Yale!" Webster hated how the two of them together was always enough to reduce him to acting childish, complete with finger pointing.
"Really?" Nixon and Leckie exchanged glances. “Doesn't drink like it."
They were a breath away from high fiving; Webster could just FEEL it.
"Anyways, my work's been antsy about the whole thing because I was driving a company car," he tried to press on, to which Nix looked vaguely horrified and slightly intrigued.
"Is that even sanitary?" Leckie began to chuckle next to him while Web gave him a stern look and cut in, deadpan, "Yes Nixon, it is. They don't have sex on everything--this car is just for show."
"Oh, so they can go as-seen from a distance in Naughty Nurses 4?" And there was the high five. Webster waited with what he thought was extraordinary patience for the laughing to stop. "You make it seem like everyone in the industry is some kind of sexual deviant."
"Well, isn't it implied with the job description? I mean, obvious exceptions aside." There was a pointed look his direction that Webster ignored as Nixon continued. "Aww, come on, Web, you can't be THIS offended."
"No, I'm offended at the notion that a) you think that the whole experience is enjoyable to me when it very clearly isn't and---" Leckie made sure to sigh good and loud as, once again, Webster gave him an accusing glare. "—b) apparently Leckie can be buddy-buddy with you, drinking and mockingly openly but when it comes down to telling his own roommate of five years what's bugging him, he can't even confide with him without it turning into some giant argument."
"Web," Nixon sobered at that, straightening on the couch. "Maybe you should back down a little. You can't expect everyone to tell you everything. I mean hell, you still hide that you write porn to your parents."
"That's different!" Webster argued defensively. "There is a distinct difference in hiding something from your parents and hiding something from your friends."
"Not in essence. You're still hiding something from someone," Nixon informed, back into therapy-mode and complete with a sympathetic nod. "Unless you are saying that you, David Kenyon Webster, are above it all."
"Stop defending him," Webster snapped, crossing his arms.
"I'm not defending him; I'm just stating the obvious," Nixon answered evenly. "Just drop it. It's not like it's that big of a deal, is it Leckie?"
"It isn't," Leckie agreed quickly, making sure to keep his focus on the drink in hand.
"Fine, be that way," Webster yelled, exasperated and dropping his arms. "I give up."
There was an awkward silence that ended the conversation. Webster fuming and Leckie determined not to talk.
"Mr. Nixon, you've got a guy here," Snafu cut in from the intercom, the timing suspiciously precise.
"Well, you heard him guys. I hate to be an ungrateful host…" Nixon finished off his glass with a finesse only someone as constantly inebriated as he was could ever attempt to achieve. "I gots to kick ya out."
"It's all right. Thanks for the drink, Nix." Leckie handed him his glass, rising up to follow Webster out. "Till next time."
"Goodbye, Nix." Webster deflated. "Thanks for Candide."
He made no attempt to move forward, instead making sure to get behind Leckie.
"Are you still afraid of my receptionist?" Nixon surmised with an amused expression. "That's almost cute."
"Shut up and see us to the door. All the way to the door."
For someone who said he’d 'given up,' Webster was unsurprisingly on his case as soon as Leckie pulled out on the highway and remained that way until Leckie pulled up in front of Hoosier and Skinny's apartment. Leckie had learned far long ago that, for his own sanity, sometimes it was just best to tune Webster out. He only started paying attention when Hoosier opened his door, brow raised.
"Didn't expect you all to be here," he greeted, motioning for them to come in.
"Funny, I wasn't either, but apparently the trend isn't to tell me anything at all," Webster added. Hoosier just ushered him in the direction of Skinny.
"Can you go in there and make sure Sisk doesn't burn our dinner? You can? Thanks, Web." Skinny, who'd been tying an apron around his waist, took the hint and yanked Webster to him.
"Hey, Web, help me set the plates, would ya? I saw this recipe on Food Network and wanted to try my hand at it but it's, uh, not turning out so good." Skinny's voice drifted off as he more-or-less dragged Webster two rooms over to the kitchen. "You cook, right?"
Hoosier smirked before finally addressing, all business, "Let me guess: it has to do with Boy Wonder again, doesn't it?"
Leckie just made his way to the game room, feeling odd that he still needed to put more distance between Web and the conversation. He plucked a pool cue off the wall.
"That obvious?" Leckie offered up a cigarette to Hoosier, seemingly uncomfortable.
"You saw him, didn't you?" Hoosier frowned, taking the offered cigarette anyways, not breaking his gaze from Leckie's. "What did he do?"
"Nothing, just started acting all uncomfortable around me like the good little military man he is." Leckie reached out for a pool cue and some chalk, needing something to occupy his hands. "He's engaged now. Pretty little matching military girl."
Hoosier didn't say anything and continued to observe from a distance.
"You're not jealous, are you?" Leckie stopped furiously rubbing the pool chalk and made a face. "Of course not."
"I was his dirty, little, gay secret. I'm not jealous so much as ... offended?" Leckie rationalized. "I mean, Jesus, Bill, we never even went on dates."
"Well that's your fault. You're the one that agreed to all that," Hoosier reminded, settling in one of the chairs around the room. "Can't change it now, though. Question is, why not tell your little wife over there?"
Leckie set-angled his cue and aimed. "Surprisingly, for someone of Webster's ... career choice … he's amazingly judgmental. I'd rather not have his pity or his condemning thanks."
"You never gave a shit about what we thought," Hoosier reclined in his chair. "Why would you care what Webster thinks? I know you guys are close but hell, Leckie, you guys aren't going out."
Leckie cast a glance at him, considering.
"No, and I've realized that, through watching him and Liebgott, courting dear Kenyon apparently involves a lot of screaming, which I'm very much against." He leaned against his pool cue, thinking over it some more. "I just can't tell him. You know Webster, rich college boy with ideals and morals. "
Hoosier didn't say anything more, continuing to drag on his cigarette.
"I know you and him have some weird relationship where you go on vacations and actually hang out but fuck, Leckie, if he's your friend he's going to find out eventually," he casually warned. "Might as well tell him before he finds out from someone else."
Leckie didn't say anything, preferring to scowl slightly and aim for the 8-ball to his left.
"How do you feel about that Liebgott guy?" Leckie veered slightly off course and hit the nearby 9-ball, it clacked but otherwise didn't move very far. He bent over farther for a better position.
"Why do you ask?" He didn't look up from his target and aimed again.
"How do you see him and Webster?" A clear shot and the 9-ball sailed into the pocket. Leckie stopped and straightened.
"I'd say that while I joke that they have some serious unresolved sexual tension, I highly doubt those two could ever do anything but bitch," he stated dryly, walking around the table for a better hit on the 8-ball and repeating, "Why?"
"No reason." Hoosier lounged back in the chair and shrugged. "Just wanting to see what Operation Jaws' prospects were."
Leckie did pause at that and looked up from his solo game.
"What?" he prompted Hoosier shrugged in response.
"The so-called 'brilliant plan' to set up Webster and Liebgott." At that, Leckie did a most-likely Webster-approved frown of, "Good sir, are you fucking serious?" causing Hoosier to shake his head. "Don't ever do that again. I can only take that from one person. Not two."
"You know how insane that idea is, right?" was all Leckie responded with. "I'm pretty sure that, jokes aside, they would, and could, kill each other. I'm positive that Webster's even planning how to get rid of the body."
"Yeah, I knew you wouldn't agree with it but Runner, Chuckler and their friends are dead-set on it." Hoosier fished for another cigarette in his shirt pocket. "Probably won't work, anyways, if they're as stubborn as you say."
"Damn right it won't," Leckie grumbled disapprovingly, face distraught. "God I don't want even picture the lovers’ spats those two would have."
Hoosier laughed and rose to pat him on the shoulder with a, "Well then, don't. You're going to kill yourself being Webster's dad at this rate."
"God, if I'm his father then you can be his negligent mother," Leckie scoffed, wrinkling his nose at the notion. "And Skinny is his sister."
"Skinny would be his sister," Hoosier agreed easily, grabbing a spare cue off the wall. "Now come on, Pa, show me what you got."