Boots really should have drowned Edward in the bathtub when he'd had the chance back when he was in the fifth grade and Edward was not very large or very fast.
Now--Edward was both as well as mouthy, and Boots could not, even with the very vast resources of his incorrigible and nerveless roommate think of a way to murder him quietly.
"You told Mom what?" Boots demanded.
Edward looked back at him placidly. "I don't see what the big deal is." He glanced at Bruno, who was sprawled in an undignified mass of limbs on his bed, entire body shaking from guffaws, clutching at his pillows. "Bruno doesn't seem to care."
Boots' eyes bulged out of his skull, and he could feel his entire head turning the color red of a beefsteak tomato.
"He's laughing too hard to breathe!" Boots shouted, hysterical. "Of course he doesn't care!"
Edward rolled his eyes, as if he was the one being slighted.
"Look, Melvin, I really don't see the problem. Mom was on my case about not doing so hot in Trig, so I told her something so she'd lay off a little. It's not like you're going to get disowned or anything--they always liked you better," Edward confided.
Boots rubbed his temples so hard he worried he'd puncture his skull. At that point, it'd be a positive.
"You--I--I can't even think of a word for you!" Boots exploded. "You rat! You ass! You little shit!"
Bruno, who seemed to have managed to catch his breath again, rolled over in his bed. Wiping at his eyes, he gasped out, "Now, Melvin, keep your voice down. You know how it upsets me when you shout."
Boots glared and pointed at Bruno, yelling, "You! You with the laughing! You stop right now or I drown you in the tub tonight!"
But because Bruno really was as incorrigible and nerveless as Boots liked to tell people he was, Bruno just winked and said, "Kinky."
"I think it's good that he's getting into the spirit of things," Edward argued.
Before Boots could launch himself across the room and give his little brother a tracheotomy through his left nostril, Edward raised one eyebrow and said, "Anyway--the only reason she believed me at all is because all you ever talk about when you're at home is how awesome and great and cool Bruno is."
Boots turned six shades of red all at once.
From his bed, Bruno said to the ceiling, "And it's all true."
"Whatever," Edward muttered, and went on, "My point is, you know how Mom and Dad are. They're going to go into nuclear meltdown for about a week, and by the time they finally get up the balls to call you up and ask about it, you can just laugh and be like, whatever, I sleep with six girls an hour. End of story, happily ever after, nobody has to wear a purple triangle and we all go home happy."
Boots stared forlornly at his brother. His morning had been going so well, too.
Swim practice had been good, and Bruno had swung by to pick him up for breakfast, which he made it to because he'd spent the entire night before writing a paper on Canadian involvement in World War II. They'd gotten to Physics on time--for once--and Bruno had surprised everybody in the room by knowing what the hell he was talking about. There'd been some lunch in the middle there, and nobody got detentions, confinements, or painted orange like last week. But most of all, Bruno had been in a good mood, mellow like the Indian summer weather and laid back. He'd convinced Boots to go climb one of the enormous trees out on the west lawn and they'd chucked twigs at passers-by for about an hour.
"We're graduating soon," Bruno had wheedled. "The least we can do is to enjoy Macdonald Hall's--no, Canada's natural splendor at least one last time before we're ripped cruelly away from one another to attend so-called institutions of higher--"
"All right!" Boots had laughed. "All right! I'll climb the damn tree!"
But then they'd gotten back to their room to find Edward waiting for them expectantly at the door.
And now, Boots had to commit homicide, which was going to put a serious crimp in his life plans.
"It's really not a big deal," Bruno said and his voice was even and gentler than most people would ever hear it. But then again, mostly it was Boots pacifying Bruno, and not the other way around.
"Yeah, well your parents think you're heterosexual," Boots sulked, and threw himself down on the edge of Bruno's bed, still glowering at Edward, who now looked curious--which made Boots scared.
"Yeah, but my sister doesn't," Bruno said cheerfully, and sat up, thumping Boots on the back. "Anyway--come on. We'll all keep our lips tightly sealed, and no one will be the wiser."
"I always liked you, Bruno," Edward said earnestly. "Always."
"Right," Bruno said, and Boots covered his face in his hands. "And in return, you'll be paying ten dollars for every day your brother likes guys."
Edward's mouth fell open, aghast, just as Boots burst out into laughter.
Boots had spent his entire life in the middling-to-upper echelons of good, respectable Canadian society, and he knew enough about things he wasn't supposed to know that his brother had just committed social suicide for him. Not to mention he'd heard enough under-the-breath comments from his father to last a lifetime. Melvin P. O'Neal did not possess the asbestos fortitude Bruno seemed to have, and he wasn't meant for it. Life was hard when you lived every day like it was the last battle of the war, and Boots was nineteen and tired of fighting already.
What bothered him more than the fact that his brother had sacrificed Boots' heterosexuality for the sake of his grades was that there was an uncomfortable iota of truth in it which Boots was determined not to examine. He couldn't deny that for a brief, immeasurable moment between Edward saying, "I kind of told mom you're gay," and knee-jerk fury, he'd felt a kind of horrible relief, thought, "Oh--this is the easy out."
But obviously it wasn't, because everybody was regarding it as the hilarious untruth.
Edward--the little shit--was going around telling everybody and their best friend's roommate about it and moaning about how Bruno was blackmailing cash out of him. People who saw Bruno and Boots in the hallway laughed and said, "How's the honeymoon?" which really only encouraged Bruno to do ridiculous, horrible, confusing things like throw his arm around Boots' shoulders and yell back, "Fantastic. Haven't sat down in a week." Which made Boots groan and punch Bruno in the arm, grab him by his collar, and drag him to class.
It shouldn't have bothered Boots that nobody thought it was true--at least, no more true than anybody had ever thought it, and there were rumors, there had always been jokes--but it echoed strangely in his head and kept him up at night. Bruno was commenting on how Boots looked a little bit crazy in the mornings now and then.
Sixty dollars richer and six days closer to total whacko breakdown, Boots caught Bruno trying to grind a Benedryl into Boots' soda.
"What the hell are you doing?" Boots demanded.
Bruno looked sheepish for approximately four point six seconds. "You look tired," he argued.
"So you were going to drug my drink?" Boots asked, incredulous.
"It's just Benedryl. It puts you out like a light," Bruno said soothingly. He folded the pink tablet into Boots' palm and patted it reassuringly. "Here, just take it with your soda, it'll help you sleep, and then everybody can stop asking if I'm keeping you up all night with my voracious sexual appetite."
Bruno's grin looked a little brittle, which was always a sign that Boots was worrying him more than usual, so Boots muttered, "God," and took the Benedryl. He fell asleep thinking about Bruno's voracious sexual appetite and woke up six hours later humping his bed.
A few seconds after that, he was in the bathroom, taking a hot shower and jerking off.
He closed his eyes, leaned against the old, yellow and white checked tiles, wondered what it'd be like to fuck a boy, and came all over himself.
It was, Boots reflected glumly, probably a bad sign.
Eight days and eighty dollars later, Edward caved--whether because Bruno was surprisingly persistent about shaking him down or because he was getting sick of Boots attempting to clobber him every time they passed one another in the hall was a toss-up.
"Couldn't even do your little brother a tiny favor," Edward muttered hatefully, rubbing his ear distractedly. Boots would bet all the money Bruno had extorted from Edward that the phone call home in which Edward had firmly shoved Boots back into the closet (supervised by Bruno) had been loud and unfortunate for Edward's hearing--not that Boots was inclined to care.
"I don't think making me play for the other team was a tiny favor," Boots snapped, irritated and still on edge, finding in the edges of his mind a terrifying melee of images: Bruno's voracious sexual appetite, intriguing things which could be accomplished in a secluded dorm room.
Edward scowled. "Aren't all of those sports you play supposed to make you a good loser?"
"No," Boots snapped back, seeing Bruno approaching the lunch table, backpack slung dejectedly over his left shoulder. "They just made me strong enough to strangle you with one hand. And don't say anything about Communism and the Cold War," he warned.
Edward blinked, forkful of spinach--there was something seriously wrong with that kid, Boots thought darkly--halfway to his mouth.
"What?" he asked, perplexed.
Boots winced as Bruno flopped down next to him at the lunch table.
"Just trust me on this one," he muttered just as Bruno threw down his bookbag dramatically and shouted, "The nerve--the absolute nerve of that man!"
College applications were starting to roll into the mail room at the Hall, the signs of which were apparent from an array of overjoyed, downcast, and conflicted expressions on the faces of the boys in the dining hall.
Predictably, Elmer had been accepted on full scholarship to every university to which he'd applied, and along with his acceptance to McGill, Harvard, and MIT had been hand-written letters from the chancellors of the university expressing their hope that Elmer chose them, and how much they had been pining for his academic brilliance. (NASA as well as the CIA and various members of the US Military Industrial complex had also expressed interest in fully-funding and eventually hiring Elmer, though by the time those letters had come, the college funding had been a redundant point.)
Chris has been snapped up by a prestigious design school, Mark was shuffling off to the University of Toronto and furiously researching internships already, fully prepared to hurl himself face-first into the gruesome world of print journalism. Wilbur said something about automotive engineering or culinary school, about which nobody saw it fit to comment.
Bruno wasn't saying anything about college, but was rumored to be holding frequent, spirited arguments with somebody back home in the phone room. Larry, the office messenger, stopped Boots in the hallways to keep him abreast of the situation, because whenever it came to Bruno, everybody pooled their information with Boots.
"Something about not wanting to go to Georgetown," Larry confided on Thursday.
Boots frowned. "Why not? It's a good school."
Larry rolled his eyes. "What are you--slow?" he asked. "Where're you going?"
Boots looked confused for a moment. "I got accepted to--oh," he said stupidly, and Larry smirked, slapping him on the back.
"Look, you guys have been roommates for a long time, and I get the codependency, you know? I mean, where would Bruno be if you weren't doing his laundry--" Boots thought about arguing the point about the laundry, but figured it was pointless since it was true "--but you should talk to him, man, tell him he's being a moron. It's not like there's not air down there."
Down there, Boots thought later, wandering aimlessly through the hallways, was Washington D.C., a mystical, American place that Bruno sometimes talked about when he was groggy or sick or extremely bored. "Down there," Boots understood, was hot and vaguely southern--even if their iced tea wasn't pre-sweetened with a mysterious syrup. There was a Metro system, marked by colors and plagued with a red line which was pretty consistently broken. Bruno talked about Capital Hill and Eastern Market and Nova schools, about Tenleytown and Foggy Bottom, Georgetown where there was no subway system but a Hugo Boss retailer across from a college. Sometimes, Bruno talked about Bethesda, where he lived in a house he didn't describe.
"I was there for the whole part of my life where I was a person I didn't like," Bruno had said uncomfortably one time, one of those rare nights when they laid in their beds and talked at their ceilings--long into morning. "I mean, I was messed up. You think I'm crazy now. You don't know the half of it. It was horrible. I made everybody miserable."
"What were you doing?" Boots had asked.
"I was being stupid. I mean, I had a lot of black t-shirts," Bruno laughed.
Boots had felt a pinch in his chest, thinking about an eleven year-old Bruno Walton sulking around a tree-lined street in a black t-shirt and his oldest jeans, about to be told he was being shipped away from his family--across borders, out of sight, out of mind.
"I think you probably looked good in a black t-shirt," Boots had said gently.
It'd made Bruno laugh, wildly like this was the most wonderful thing he'd ever heard, and now, two years later, Boots wondered if maybe up to then, it was, and it made something in his chest soften, like the flesh of a peach, sweet and dizzying from the sun
But Boots, more than he was afraid of dealing with himself, was afraid for Bruno.
"We have to talk," Boots said nervously.
Bruno stared at him with the morbid expression of somebody who had just exited a long, endless Literature and Composition class from the very darkest depths of hell. His backpack was still hooked over one shoulder, and he was midway through toeing off one dirty sneaker, one arm braced against the side of a dresser in front of their closed, dorm room door. Bruno's shirt collar was a wreck and all in all, he looked like a lost cause; but apparently Boots had a fondness for those, because the image made him flush.
"Boots, I just listened to Dr. Hetter talk for an hour about the sexual metaphysics of Shelley in Prometheus Unbound," Bruno said in a hamstrung voice, the expression in his eyes wild. "Do we really have to do this now?"
Boots debated mercy, but then thought about the expectant, pitying look on Larry's face.
"So I hear you got accepted into Georgetown," Boots forged onward.
Bruno groaned, collapsing on his bed with one sneaker still on, bookbag flopping across the rumpled sheets. "Oh, God. Not you, too--what, did my dad call you and offer you money to be on his side?"
"No," Boots said reasonably, "but you have been having really loud arguments with him over the phone a lot this week, and everybody who's anybody feels like they should be telling me about them." He stared at his roommate hard. "So, you got into Georgetown."
"I got into Georgetown," Bruno admitted grudgingly, and there was a short pause before he added, "But seriously? I'd have to have been like, publicly convicted of bestiality or something not to get grandfathered in--like, every Walton male for the last four hundred billion and six years has gone there."
Boots figured Bruno was actually referring to some sort of legacy program, and let it pass.
"And you're upset about that why?" he asked gently.
Bruno lolled on his bed. "It's in Georgetown, Boots," Bruno complained. "It's--" Bruno's hands went into the air in some attempt to shape the indefinable unbearable nature of D.C. "--governmental. It's like, an hour and a half from my house. It doesn't have a Metro."
"You said that was because--"
"I know what I said!" Bruno snapped. "Look, I don't want to go, all right?"
Boots sighed. "Where do you want to go?"
"McDonald's," Bruno said sullenly.
"That's great," Boots replied. "I meant for college."
"UBC and UToronto and McGill," Bruno suddenly burst out, sitting up and looking angry. "That's three good schools, three places which are not Georgetown. Three places that aren't an hour and two transfer stations away from my house. And incidentally--"
"Bruno, I'm just saying," Boots tried to interrupt.
"--three schools which are in Canada," Bruno finished angrily, and that, apparently, was that, because despite Boots' many, many attempts thereafter Bruno completely and totally refused to entertain any discussions pertaining to college entrances.
"Is Bruno even going to college?" Wilbur asked a few days later, munching through his third sausage biscuit with a vaguely constipated expression on his face.
"I don't want to talk about it," Boots muttered.
"I think that means 'no,'" Pete whispered.
"I hate all of you," Boots insisted.
Nothing could ever rival the Wizzle War, but even without the line of masking tape through the middle of the room, the tension was palpable, which was why Boots was sitting in the cafeteria with the last of the dinner crowd, picking at his English composition and trying to convince himself that the incredibly homoerotic dream about Bruno he'd had the night before was neither homoerotic nor about Bruno.
He was scribbling out the fourth appearance of "FUCK!!!" on his rough draft when Edward barreled into room and headed toward him like a guided missile, collapsing into the seat across the table and staring at Boots intensely.
"What?" Boots asked warily.
The last time he'd seen his little brother so wrapped-up Edward had set their dad's sailboat on fire and wanted Boots' help to charter a trip to Alaska in the remnants of the boat in order to have a tragic and pitiable death and avoid an equally tragic but probably much more painful death at the hands of their parents.
"We have a problem," Edward said seriously.
"We?" Boots squeaked.
"Well, okay," Edward admitted. "You have a problem?"
"How do I have a problem?" Boots demanded, and all the while, he was thinking, Oh God, Bruno packed my stuff and put it in the hallway again.
"Mom and Dad got this zany idea that you're gay," Edward said seriously, and frowned. "You know, you have always been a little too chummy with Bruno. And I mean, you talk about him all the time during summer. I can't really blame them."
"You told them I was gay!" Boots hissed.
Edward sighed. "And do you honestly think they would have believed me if they didn't already see you shooting rainbow hearts at Bruno's postcards?" Boots thought he might be having an aneurysm. "Anyway--the point is that they're planning on driving down this weekend and--"
Boots reached across the table to kill Edward.
By the time Bruno was informed of the commotion and came to pry his normally mild-mannered roommate off of his rapidly-expiring brother, it appeared that bygones were bygones because Bruno just gave Edward a shove down the hall and barked, "Go," before dragging Boots back to their dorm room.
"I'm fine," Boots muttered around his split lip.
"Oh, sure, that blood is just an accessory," Bruno said sarcastically. "You're just lucky Chris ran down and told me before the Fish heard about it."
"Sure, fine, whatever," Boots said humorlessly, and sat down on the edge of Bruno's bed, shoulders slumped miserably.
Bruno raised his eyebrows and said, "O--kay," before disappearing into the bathroom and returning with a dripping wet wad of toilet paper and some bandages, left over from Bruno's two and a half weeks in shop where he managed to injure himself a record twenty-two and a quarter times. "This is just not your day, man," Bruno said when he came back to sop the blood from Boot's mouth.
"Ow," Boots muttered. "Fucking Edward."
"Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on?" Bruno demanded, tossing the splotchy pink tissue away and frowning at Boots darkly. "Edward's a tool but pounding the crap out of him isn't your style."
"I picked it up from you," Boots said hatefully, and couldn't help but wonder what else he'd picked up from Bruno--if that's why his mother and father were driving down on Friday afternoon to probably have some sort of horrible, sobbing with him about a sexual orientation he hadn't even thought about until Edward started failing Trig and ruining peoples' lives. They were probably going to call in Fudge and maybe even the Fish, say things like, "My kid was straight when we sent him to you!"
"Oh my God," Boots moaned, and put his face in his hands gingerly.
"Hey, come on," Bruno said, more softly than probably anybody other than Boots had ever heard, and put his hand between Boots' shoulder blades, rubbing slowly.
And it said a lot about Boots and Bruno and Bruno and Boots that after everything else--it was that touch that made the tension roll up in a knot along his spine, made it constrict to pain and his chest tighten and his face go splotchy like the tissue in panic, because--holy fucking Christ--Edward had been right.
"Come on, Boots, knock it off," Bruno said. "You're freaking me out."
"So my parents still think I'm gay," Boots moaned, because there had never been any point in lying to Bruno about anything--Boots had never really wanted to.
"Oh, hey, well. I'm sure Edward will stop failing Trig eventually," Bruno comforted him.
"The thing is," Boots said, "maybe I am."
"Um," Bruno said, but didn't move his hand, and Boots figured that was the closest thing to acceptance he was going to get that night.
"They're driving down this weekend," Boots continued morosely. "I was thinking about hanging myself. Could I borrow your red tie?"
"I kind of burned it," Bruno said, but he kept his hand on Boots' back, and even if it didn't fix everything, it was nice to know that if he was fucked, then at least Bruno would be crusading for justice as the ship went down.
Originally, it would have only been a problem of embarrassment and annoyance at Edward for telling lies to save his own skin and making Boots' life harder than it already was.
In light of recent revelations--which included even more homoerotic and richly detailed dreams after Bruno had all but tucked Boots into bed--the order and magnitude of the problems had mushroomed overnight and Boots was starting to wonder if they'd disown him before or after he graduated from school.
"You'll write me, right?" Boots said fatalistically. "When my parents pull me out of school and scribble me out of their will for being their big gay son?"
"Oh my God," Bruno muttered, voice heavy with sleep. "They're not going to disown you."
"Sure," Boots said humorlessly. "It's just--I was so close to graduating, you know? I got into McGill. I could have really done something with my life."
There was a long silence before Bruno said, "Okay, seriously, Boots? If your parents disown you for this, I'll…"
"You'll what?" Boots asked, curious.
"Jesus Christ, Boots!" Bruno exploded. "I'll--I don't know! I'll marry you and put you through school, all right? Everything will be fine!"
Boots lay in a stunned silence until Bruno amended, "Okay, fine, you don't have to marry me. I'd still put you through school, all right? It'll be fine, Boots. Really, stop worrying about it. I'll be you know, right outside the door when they come. I can hide in the bathroom if you want, and if there's trouble I'll just give some sort of secret signal and--"
"You'd marry me?" Boots interrupted.
"Can we just pretend I didn't say that?" Bruno asked, pained.
Boots shoved up out of bed and glared into the darkness, and he could imagine Bruno's wincing face. "No, we can't. You'd marry me?" he demanded.
"You heard that totally wrong," Bruno lied.
"Oh my God, you'd marry me," Boots breathed.
"We need to get your hearing checked immediately," Bruno said frantically.
And suddenly, everything made perfect sense--it was like Bruno had been laying out another of his grand schemes and Boots had looked at each of the pieces in isolation, never drawling the connections when they were so nakedly there. Boots wondered if he wasn't the last person at Macdonald Hall to realize Bruno would marry him and put him through college; if he wasn't the last person to realize that Bruno didn't want to go to college because it'd mean leaving this; if he wasn't the biggest moron on the face of the whole entire Earth.
But all of that really didn't matter all that much because he was crawling out of his warm but lonely bed and into Bruno's messy but welcoming one, and when he finally, finally shut up Bruno's panicked litany of "I'm serious, Melvin. It was just a joke, there's no need to become physical," with his mouth, it was perfect.
"Okay, so I'll be hiding in the bathroom. If the situation gets too hot, you cough three times and I wave the white handkerchief out of the window and Elmer sets off a small explosion on the lawn, which should be just enough to--"
"Does Elmer know why he's doing this?" Boots asked. He felt torn between the desperate need to throw up and throw Bruno down on the bed--but they'd already been doing a bunch of the latter and if he lost any more brain cells to his penis before he managed to have this conversation with his folks, it'd be all over.
"He knows that I said you were in mortal peril," Bruno insisted.
"So I'll take that as a no," Boots laughed.
"Well, Elmer totally thought we were doing it anyway," Bruno said. "He told me once that statistically speaking, and based on the empirical evidence, if we weren't engaging in sexual relations, he'd--"
"Hey, Bruno?" Boots asked, hearing the sound of his parents' voices, echoing faintly and growing louder coming from down the hall.
"--eat all of his fish posters what?" Bruno finished in one huge, glassy-eyed breath, sitting on the edge of the bathtub.
"Remember what I told you about college?" Boots said.
Bruno made a sour face. "Unfortunately."
"Don't go to Georgetown," Boots told him and--pausing just a split second, enough to see the way Bruno's face brightened like clouds illuminated by sun--kissed him long and sweet and indulgently, because even if Edward was failing trig, he'd figured this one correctly.