The Serpent wasn’t his real name. His name was Peter. The nickname came from childhood. Not many people knew that The Serpent could not walk until the age of five. He had crawled instead.
His uncle James used to make fun of him. ‘This child of yours, Dorothy, is ugly like a devil. And he crawls like one too. You know what? Why don’t we call him The Serpent? ’
‘Why don’t you go to hell, James?’ Dorothy used to say. But James never stopped calling him The Serpent and soon enough everybody else called him that too. Eventually, after some years passed, even Dorothy started calling him The Serpent.
People took his new name as a reflection of his personality, assuming he was sneaky and devious.
The Serpent and Hercules met when they were both about ten years old. When Hercules’ family moved to the village, the boy had been properly introduced to class by the principal. Mr. Hornick sat Hercules next to The Serpent, giving him precise instruction on how to take care of the new boy. Fifteen minutes into the Geography class, Hercules pushed a note onto his mate’s side of the desk and said ‘I have two awesome sandwiches. Want one?’ They had been desk-mates and best friends ever since.
Unlike The Serpent, ‘Hercules’ was his class mate’s real name. His mother named him after a drink she used to have when she was pregnant with him. If it wasn’t for Hercules’s close relationship with The Serpent probably a lot of youngsters would have made fun of his name. But that wouldn’t have been the only thing to poke fun at him at; Hercules weight was something one couldn’t ignore.
They made a good pair, those two.
They grew up together riding their bikes in the afternoon; only the two of them because nobody really wanted to waste their time on a pair of losers, one ugly as hell, the other one fat as hell. They went to the same local college, which was fine by them; nobody really had any high expectations of them. When they were old enough they decided to take an important step in their lives: they moved to the city - together. There were approving nods from family and Dorothy’s friends; yes, it was a good idea for Hercules and The Serpent to make this step together. They have been watching each other’s back for a while, so it was just the right thing to do.
They rented a small flat in the city. Each one had his own bedroom room and they shared the living room, the kitchen and the bath. But they shared everything really. Not one time did night fall to find them asleep in the living room, on the sofa and under a woolly blanket, with the TV on.
One night, when a fire alarm woke the neighbours up, The Serpent left his room to go and check on his friend. Hercules was sobbing in his sleep, aware of the alarm but unable to wake up. The Serpent contemplated on waking him up, but changed his mind and tiptoed under the blanket, next to him. He put his arm on Hercules’ shoulder and rubbed it slowly to calm him down. Hercules stopped sobbing after a few moments but didn’t open his eyes. He put his arm around The Serpent. They stayed like that for a while, both awake but keeping their eyes closed. Hercules waited for a sign of sleeping from his friend and then opened his eyes. He looked at The Serpent’s peaceful face.
The idea had come to him a long time ago; but he had pushed it to the back of his mind for some years now. Not until now though did Hercules have this kind of opportunity, to be inches away from The Serpent’s face in the stillness of the night.
So he kissed him.
His lips were soft and his breath smelled like freshly boiled milk. It had been a delicate, innocent kiss on the lips and The Serpent didn’t seem to sense it. So Hercules got bolder. He moved his head closer and touched his lips again, this time opening his mouth a bit and letting his tongue touch The Serpent’s lips. Hercules wasn’t breathing at all, too scared not to ruin the moment. Then he stayed silent in bed, looking at the ceiling and smiling inside.
‘How was it?’ asked The Serpent, in a whisper.
Silence followed; a silence that didn’t allow time to pass anymore. Blood rushed to Hercules’ face and his reactions were frozen by the uncertainties of his actions.
‘I liked it.’ continued The Serpent. ‘I have been thinking about it too but never had the courage... I’m glad you did it.’ Hercules smiled and pulled him closer. They did it again; they kissed, this time holding each other’s heads, stroking each other’s cheeks, searching for ways of getting closer together. It was beautiful and pure. Sincere.
They slept holding hands. Without speaking they both knew it had been enough for one night. Enough for the first night.
They were still desk-mates and best friends. But now also lovers. They enjoyed their new way of spending time together but neither of them wanted to talk about the implication of it. They were living being driven by that feeling and that feeling only.
After a while Hercules started to accept that he was not straight. He was happy to be with The Serpent, to share his life with the only man in whom he trusted and believed in most, who shared his experiences, who meant everything to him.
The Serpent, on the other hand, had his doubts. He had never been with a woman, with anyone really apart from Hercules ever since he was ten years old. He didn’t have any doubts about not loving Hercules, he knew he did, but sex with another man... he wasn’t so sure.
And there was a girl. The Serpent spent quite a few nights out with Ann. She had chased after him and made him go out on a date with her. But he didn’t really seem to mind that.
‘I know all about you.’ said Ann from across the table.
The Serpent doubted that, but you can never be sure. ‘What do you mean?’ he responded cautiously. She meant that she knew he was not romantically involved with another woman, which was true.
‘And I’m attractive. Am I not attractive? Come on, I’m not asking you to marry me, maybe I’m not your type, but you have to give me the chance of one date.’
‘Why would I want to go on a date with you why?’
‘Yes.’ Said The Serpent, turning red all the way to his ears.
‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you never seem to mind anything around you, nothing really catches your attention.’
‘Plus, you spend too much time with that fat friend of yours. Are you guys together? Maybe that’s why you don’t...’ The Serpent stopped her. ‘I’ll go on a date with you, but don’t make stupid assumptions.’
And mostly for the sake of not raising suspicions about Hercules and himself, they both decided that he should go out with Ann.
In the beginning The Serpent’s feelings hung in the balance between liking and disliking her. She was so loud. But she was also funny and witty. . She knew the answer to every question. But she would ask more questions than one could imagine. One thing was for sure. It was like a breath of fresh air and The Serpent admitted that to himself. Also she was really cute and she had managed to surprise him with some really good poems.
‘You will never believe what I heard.’ said Hercules angrily as he came in one day.
‘Ann is bragging all around that she’s your girlfriend and that you two are going away together for this romantic weekend or something. She is lying, isn’t she?’
‘What if she isn’t? Would you be jealous?’
‘No. But nevertheless I would have to kill her.’ A moment of silence passed and then they both burst out laughing. Though it wasn’t a joke, The Serpent thought.
‘She did mention something, but we haven’t decided.’
Hercules eyebrows rose with surprise. ‘And when were you going to tell me about it?’
‘It’s no big deal, don’t sweat over it.’
‘It’s not... Fine! Just fine! You’re going on a romantic weekend with another...’
‘You’re not a girl, Hercules, and she is not your rival. I thought you knew that. Don’t act ridiculously, we’ve both agreed on this.’
‘I knew they didn’t call you The Serpent for nothing, you sneaky bastard.’
‘Hercules! Don’t talk like that!’
‘Or what? You’ll fight me like a man?’
The Serpent did go on that romantic weekend with Ann. It was an amazing weekend; they walked in parks, sharing cigarettes, glasses of wine and stories. Ann questioned him about his relationship with Hercules and he had put it in a very casual light. It gave him a feeling of freedom to do so.
One other time Ann came with the idea of inviting Hercules out for a movie with her and The Serpent. The Serpent didn’t know how to put it in the right words, she insisted, so they did it. The three of them went out. It wasn’t as bad as one would have thought, but bizarre moments occurred during the night. The movie, a chick flick, would have been a nice way to spend an evening if only the tension had not thrown them all into a rigid politeness. Ann figured out that something wasn’t right. She told the Serpent that she had this theory about his best friend, Hercules. Ann strongly believed that Hercules was in love with The Serpent and that his attempts at excessive good manners were springing from jealousy.
There is a point when someone dear to you, or a stranger, a child on the street, an advertisement or something sends you the message that you’ve been waiting for, to make your decision. For The Serpent that was the moment, the only moment in which he could’ve escaped, the last moment.
He told Hercules he would go for some days to visit his uncle James.
Now, ten years later, Hercules and his wife Ann have a beautiful daughter, Tamara. They live in the suburbs. Ann commutes every day to the city, working as a journalist and Hercules teaches geography in a school nearby.
No one ever heard about The Serpent again. But everybody who knew him said that the true nature of oneself eventually comes out. And he did prove himself to be a sneaky bastard.