I hear the drums echoing tonight...
The call comes at midnight and it's a miracle Mikey even hears it over the pound of the house music, but he does, and presses it to his ear, plugging his other ear with a finger and ducking down, as if the music will go over his head and leave him in peace.
"Yeah," he says. It's his mother, her voice high and panicked and incomprehensible, but she doesn't have to be comprehensible; he knows what she's saying. His brother is coming home.
I stopped an old man along the way
Alicia knew this was coming--Mikey had made sure to tell her when he'd gotten the first call from Frank--but she's still a little pissy about it.
"I didn't know it would be so soon," she says, sipping out of the thin stirring straw in her drink. Diet Coke and Rum, with three limes. She's really predictable that way.
"Well," he says. There's no answer for that. Gerard is coming home now, tomorrow morning, and he's got to go, whether she knew it would be this soon or not. He shrugs, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"God, okay, fine," Alicia says. She rolls her eyes, looking back out onto the dance floor. All the people out there, lifting their arms above their heads, sliding up against one another. Mikey wished he hadn't heard his phone. Alicia touches Mikey's arm. "It's okay, really," she says. Her face is soft, even in the red flashing club lights. He loves her. Her farewell kiss out in front of the club is open mouthed and, even though he's only going across the river, he misses her already. He loves her.
He gets into a cab.
He sleeps in the cab, a little. He thought about getting out and taking the train over, having his mother pick him up at the station--she's up, he knows--but he figures what the fuck's the point of being rock star if you can't take a cab to New Jersey when you want to? He hands the driver two hundred bucks, tells him that he gets another two hundred when they get there, and folds in on himself.
Mikey wakes up when they're about two blocks away from his house. He recognizes the convenience store on the corner. He and Gerard used to ride their bikes down to this store and buy candy with change they found under the couch cushions and in their dad's jacket pockets. He looks at the guys standing on the sidewalk in front of the store, sipping beer out of paper bags. They look familiar and he realizes that they might be guys he went to high school with, kids he knows. He'd be with them, he knows, if it hadn't been for Gerard and his dreams of getting out.
He pays the cabbie and gets out in front of his house. He wishes, not for the first time, that his parents would move out of this shitty neighborhood and into a real house. He and Gerard have offered a hundred times, once it became clear that the album was going to fly and the money was real, but his mother always laughs and says "oh honey, where would we go?" and his dad likes being able to brag to his old buddies about his sons the rock stars, buddies who would never make the drive to the suburbs, so they stay here, in this run down brick split-level with a cement yard. Mikey remembers liking that he could bounce a ball on the cement when he as a kid and stupid.
His mom opens the door. "Mikey," she says. Her voice, lowered out of respect for the neighbors, still sounds thrilled. She hugs him as he comes up the stairs and she still smells of cigarettes and hairspray and his childhood and he pretty much wants to cry right there, but he just hugs her instead and blinks and then everything's cool. "You want some food?" she asks. "Where's your stuff?"
"I didn't bring any," he says. "Where's dad?" His dad's a truck driver, still, and is out on the road, which is what his mother says, sitting down at the kitchen table.
"You okay?" his mother asks, pushing his hair back from his face. She hates his hair. She liked it when it was big and poofy, like hers, and he wonders if all parents love their kids most when they act like them.
"Just tired," he says. "When does he get here?"
"Nine or ten."
"Okay." He stands up. "I'm going to crash. You should sleep."
His mother shakes her head. "I won't be able to. You go. There's stuff still up in your room."
His feet drag as he heads up the stairs; he almost trips twice, catching himself with his hands on the steps in front of him. His room is just the same as it was the last time he was here. He and Alicia have an apartment in the city, but it doesn't have the same smell as his room. That fact is both is frightening and depressing. He pulls his shirt and pants off and crawls under the covers. The light from the kitchen seeps up from under the door. Mikey takes off his glasses and puts them on the floor just under the edge of the bed frame, so that he doesn't step on them when he gets up. He is home.
The wild dogs cry out in the night
He has a dream that night, about swimming with Gerard in a lake. The sun shines on the water like coins, and reflects off the water on Mikey's glasses. "Look at this!" Gerard shouts, swinging on a rope out over the center of the lake, but Mikey is blinded by the sun in his eyes and doesn't see Gerard go under. When he doesn't surface, Mikey wakes up.
Gerard looks good, Mikey thinks. He's standing in the kitchen, smiling and talking to their mom, when Mikey comes downstairs in the same t-shirt and jeans he had on last night. His clothes were cool at the club, just the right amount of style and indifference, but now they smell a little and fell too tight.
"Mikey!" Gerard says, and hugs him. Gerard has dyed his hair a pale pale blond in rehab and it falls around his face like duck feathers. It's soft against Mikey's neck.
"Nice hair," Mikey says, and Gerard laughs and lets him go.
"You like it?" He ruffles it with his hand, his smile twisted up with irony, and then turns back to their mom.
Ray and Frankie show up after breakfast, to show support. Bob is back in Chicago, visiting his mom, and won't be in until tomorrow, which he apologizes for on the phone until Mikey almost hangs up on him. "Dude, it's fine," Mikey tells him, again and again. Gerard says that Bob is a white knight and it's true. While Mikey will be glad when Bob comes because he loves Bob and misses him, sometimes Bob thinks he's the only one who can save anyone.
Ray and Frank are not white knights. They hug Gerard and say shit like "glad you're feeling better, man," which is cool, but they have no words for what they really feel about Gerard's relapse. Ray has no words because he doesn't use words to express himself. He uses his guitar, and without it, Ray is mute on all but the most mundane topics, like the latest Street Fighter game or horror film, topics with which he keeps Gerard occupied for hours.
Frank has no words because he is afraid. He's afraid because he and Gerard are alike, although Frank doesn't think this is true. They both feel things too deeply and let things build up inside of them until they have no room left for anything, and they both will always believe the bad over the good because the bad will always sound more like honesty to them. Mikey thinks that this is why Frankie is his best friend in the world, because Mikey understands him. How could he not? He's been dealing with Frank his whole life. It's how he knows, at some point in the afternoon, while they're watching the old black and white Frankenstein movies, to call Frank into the kitchen to help him order pizza.
"What the fuck?" Frank asks, once the kitchen door has swung shut behind them. "Has Alicia got you so whipped that you can't even order pizza?"
"Shut up," Mikey says, and hugs him. Frank is very short and Mikey is tall, so his hug goes around Frank's shoulders and he lifts his chin to rest it on top of Frank's head. It takes a second or two, but then Frank hugs him back, his arms tight around Mikey's waist. They stay like that for a second, and the smell of Frank's hair product takes Mikey back to their first apartment together, him and Frank's, when they were so poor that they slept next to each other on mattresses on the floor in a single bedroom, their sheets and pillows intermingled so that, by the end, they didn't know whose was whose. It's a good memory.
"So what do you want?" Frank asks, finally, stepping away, even though he knows full well that Mikey likes only pepperoni on his pizza with nothing else.
Mikey shrugs and sits down at the kitchen table, smiling up at Frank. "Whatever," he says.
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
His eyes open and Gerard is standing there in front of him, scratching in the bends of his elbows like a junkie. "Hmm," he says.
"I didn't mean to wake you up," Gerard says. This is a lie. Anyone who doesn't want to wake you up, doesn't come into your room and stand there and watch you sleep, Mikey knows. Mikey also knows Gerard.
"What's up?" Mikey asks.
Gerard shrugs. He sits down with his back to the bed. His hair sort of glows in the darkness. His neck looks really thin. Mikey rolls onto his side and sort of curls around the spot on the mattress where Gerard would be sitting if he were sitting on the bed. They sit in silence for a long time, so long that Mikey actually dozes off listening to the sound of Gerard's breath. He wakes up when he realizes that Gerard is crying.
It's a soft sound, a gentle hitch the normal rhythm of Gerard's breath, a damp sniffle muffled by Gerard's hands over his face. Mikey reaches out and curls his hand over the thin stem of Gerard's neck. "It's going to be okay," he says.
Gerard laughs a little, a wet laugh laden with misery. "You're fucking funny," he mutters.
"Don't fucking talk like that," Mikey says, squeezing a little.
"Why not?" Gerard says. "This is the third fucking time, Mikey," he says, wiping angrily at his eyes. "How many more times do I have?"
Mikey thinks about it for a minute. He doesn't know, of course, he can't know, but he tries to think of an answer will make Gerard feel better. Finally, he gives up. "As many as it takes, I guess," he says. Gerard laughs again. It sounds like he's dead, already. "Oh, Gerard," Mikey says. He grabs Gerard's arm and pulls until Gerard is on the bed with him, Gerard's head on his shoulder and his leg thrown over both of Mikey's. Mikey tangles his hand in Gerard's new soft hair.
"This is fucked up," Gerard murmurs. "I shouldn't be doing this."
Mikey pushes Gerard's hair aside and kisses his forehead. "Shut the fuck up," he says. Gerard sighs against his throat.
"What if I never get better?" Gerard asks. "What if this is just who I am and I'm fucked up forever?" His voice is rising in volume and pitch and Mikey can tell that any second he's going to fling himself up off the bed and start pacing the room. He squeezes Gerard's shoulders against that possibility and curls his free arm around Gerard's waist under his shirt, turning them both so that they're facing each other, forehead to forehead. Gerard's eyes blur into one big eye, strangely colored and luminous.
"Shut the fuck up," Mikey says again. "Okay?"
Gerard doesn't say anything, but his breathing slows a bit and when Mikey pushes his hand into Gerard's hair, Gerard closes his eyes. Mikey kisses him once, a soft open- mouthed kiss that he hopes tells Gerard "you're fine" and "I love you" and "don't worry" and anything else Gerard wants or needs to hear. He's not a big talker, Mikey, not like Gerard, who never shuts up about how things are and how they ought to be. He and Gerard are different that way, Mikey thinks. He strokes the soft skin over Gerard's ribs with his thumb. Gerard sighs again, but this time it's a peaceful sigh, and Mikey kisses him again, for luck, just before he falls asleep.