"Cause love's such an old-fashioned word
"I mean, it was Gerard -- we would have given him a million chances."
The smell woke him up. Something reeked like vomit and ammonia and week-old hamburger that has been left out in the sun and then pissed on. Gerard sat straight up, hair flying into his face, hand over his mouth to keep from puking, and looked around for whatever it was, hoping like hell he wasn't sitting in it. He was on someone's floor -- old shag carpeting, sagging furniture, sunlight silting through bedraggled curtains -- but he didn't recognize it. He still had all his clothes on, so he guessed he hadn't fucked whoever's house it was (or been fucked by him or her, that had happened once or twice since Kansas, he suspected) and there was Ray on the couch, his hair sliding over his face like an avalanche, and there was Frank, sweet Frank, passed out in a rickety-looking LaZ Boy recliner, his mouth open, one arm above his head, so this must be the place they were supposed to stay. Gerard sighed, relieved. Everything was fine. Except for the stench.
He pushed himself up (scouting the rug carefully before putting his hands down) and staggered to the doorway. Kitchen. Worn linoleum, old brown cabinets, a pan with hardened grease on the stove, but nothing that looked like it smelled like what he smelled. He wandered down the hallway, past two closed doors, and there was the bathroom. It, too, had seen better days -- the inside of the toilet was streaked with mold, and globs of toothpaste had hardened into stalagmites in the sink -- but also did not look like it smelled like garbage.
Gerard unzipped, pissed, flushed. He ran water in the sink and cupped his hands under it, splashing it onto his face. He looked like shit. His face was pale and yellow and puffy; his eyes were bloodshot. He scooped some water into his mouth and spit it out. There weren't any towels he felt safe touching, so he yanked the hem of his t-shirt up to dry his face and almost passed out from the reek. The t-shirt was black, but closer inspection revealed the faint outline of a stain of some sort, its edges crusty and pale. It was him. The smell of garbage and trash and puke wasn't the shitty housekeeping of this shitty apartment, it was him.
Gerard fell to his knees in front of the grimy toilet bowl and puked.
Frank knew that he was going to be a musician the very first time he saw Black Flag on Mtv when he was eleven. He had been up way past his bedtime, so far past, in fact, that his parents were asleep and he was in no danger of getting caught when he'd padded over to the little television they'd gotten him for his birthday and clicked it on. It was so late that Mtv was playing nothing but videos, all introduced by some incredibly scary looking guy with tattoos up his neck and a buzz cut, the way Frank imagined a really mean Marine would look. "And this," the guy had said, "is by an old band of mine, Black Flag." The video had been black and white and grainy, and was pretty clearly just old footage of the band playing in clubs, cut with scenes of them on the road. They didn't wear shirts and a guy that Frank sort of half recognized as the Marine guy, only skinnier and with long hair, screamed into the microphone and spit on people and shook his sweat on them, and by the time it had ended, Frank was crouched on the end of his bed, shivering inside his pajamas.
The next day he'd begun pestering his parents for a guitar, and that was it.
Of course, he'd thought that Pencey was going to be his ticket to fame and fortune. The bands before Pencey had been jokes, high school things, made up of kids who just wanted to impress chicks, and Frank had been all right with impressing chicks as a goal, but Pencey Prep, with its clever name and the tight sound and the interest from the label -- Pencey was a real band, a band that was going somewhere.
It ended up going straight to hell. The deal for the first disc was barely dry (and it wasn't even that good a deal, in Frank's humble opinion) when Shaun and Neil started going round and round about who was going to get writing credit and who wasn't. Then there was the endless "image" debate, and the "musical direction" argument, and then Neil started sleeping with John's ex-girlfriend, who John was still pretty much in love with, and by the time it was over, Frank wasn't even sad anymore; just relieved.
Mikey had been the one who asked him. "Come on," he'd said. "We're getting something started, my brother and me." They were at one of the underage clubs, drinking beer in the parking lot and waiting for Pencey's turn to play. No one was talking to anyone, though, so there was no need to worry that anyone would overhear Mikey talking to him about joining some other band.
"Dude, I don't even know your brother," Frank had said.
"So what?" Mikey had said. "He's an awesome writer. A lot better than Neil." What Mikey didn't say, and Frank was glad for later, after he'd made the decision, was that Gerard was a better writer than most the guys out there, including Frank.
"Tell me who again," Frank had said.
"Gerard, his friend Matt the drummer, his other friend Ray who plays guitar, and me on bass."
"You play bass?" Frank had laughed.
"Shut up," Mikey'd said. "I'm learning."
"So, you guys are already full, then. Why the hell do you want me?"
"Ray says we need another guitar."
"Mmhmm." Frank took a swig of his beer. "So you want me to leave Pencey to be a second guitar in a band that doesn't even have a real bass player?"
Mikey had sighed. "I guess," he said. "Frank, though. We're gonna be. It's. You should at least come see us. Please?"
"Fine, dude, whatever," he'd said, laughing, and then Shaun had come outside, calling for him and he went in to play. That night, John and Neil had gotten into a fight onstage and John walked off halfway through the set.
He went to see Mikey's band a few weeks later. "Okay, it's only our seventh gig," Mikey said while they were still at a booth in the back, "so you have to, like, give us the benefit of the doubt."
"Right," Frank said. "I get it."
"Cool," Mikey said. He went to check on something, his bass (which he had learned to play off a video, he'd told Frank), or the sound system or something, and Frank sat there looking at the little stage at the far end of the room that held, maybe, two hundred people. There were maybe twenty actually here milling around tables, sipping drinks. Pencey'd played here a couple of times, maybe a year ago, before they'd upgraded to the five hundred seat clubs. They weren't selling those out yet, but they were close. The LP was getting college radio play and was doing well on the internet.
"Hey," some guy said.
Frank glanced over. Chubby guy, black hair, black t-shirt. Typical. "Hey," he said.
"You seen my brother?"
So this was the elusive Gerard that Mikey talked so much about. He didn't look like much. He wasn't very much taller than Frank and he seemed ... soft. Like he could be pushed around and tripped up. "He went somewhere," Frank said. "You're Mikey's brother?"
"Who're you?" Gerard asked.
"Oh! Wow!" Gerard stepped forward and grabbed Frank's hand, a broad sweet smile like a little kid's on his face. "Cool! Mikey said you might come out and hear us." His hands, both of them, were soft around Frank's, like a girl's hands.
"Uh, yeah," Frank said, pulling his hand away. "I'm just here, you know. Mikey asked me."
"Sure, sure." Gerard nodded. He had long black bangs that he kept brushing out of his eyes, and it looked like he was wearing eye makeup in dark smudges under his lower lashes. "No pressure, man," he said. "It was nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too," Frank said.
Gerard headed toward the bar where, Frank saw, Mikey was standing sipping something. Gerard leaned in, up on his toes, and murmured something in Mikey's ear, one hand on his back. Mikey listened, then looked at Frank. When he saw Frank was looking back he lifted his glass. Frank waved back and though about whether he could sneak out without Mikey noticing. Probably not, at least not until after they started playing. Frank sighed.
After a minute, Gerard and Frank and a guy with a giant puff of hair got up on the stage. The drummer was already up there. They fucked around for a little bit, adjusting things, Gerard leaning down to talk to one of the staff guys. And then they started to play.
Frank had heard plenty of bands in his years on the scene, good and bed, but he'd never seen anything like Gerard, his hair in his eyes, practically swallowing the mic, falling to his knees. Gerard, this Gerard, was nothing like the chubby happy kid that had just held his hands and grinned at him. This Gerard was a body of pure misery and desperation, fear and loathing, horror and sadness. Frank found himself standing, drifting away from the table, like he was trying to get to the stage. He wanted to. He wanted to put his hand on Gerard's shoulder, to help him up, to help him. The music was good, very good, but Gerard.
He was great.
His grandmother died in the afternoon. It wasn't a surprise -- she'd been in poor health for a while and everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the diabetes or the heart trouble or something won out -- but knowing that she was sick, knowing that she was old, it wasn't the same as picking up the phone and hearing his mother's clogged and teary voice telling him that she was dead.
It was a sunny afternoon, so bright that Gerard had to wear sunglasses even in the shade, the sky burning blue. Gerard made his promises to tell Mikey, to get plane tickets, all the necessary things, and then he flipped his phone shut and stood in the parking lot of the Bob Evans where they'd stopped to get lunch, one hand on the van, and tried not to think about anything. It was surprisingly easy. The Kansas sky loomed large and empty above him, absent even of clouds.
Ray came around the corner of the bus, humming something, maybe a new song, maybe something old, maybe something by someone else, stopping when he saw Gerard.
"Hey man. You all right?" he said.
They hadn't been friends in high school. They implied to the reporters who asked them -- scene kids, really, writing for the scene magazines to make money for their drugs -- that they had been, at least a little bit, but the truth was that Ray had been one of the popular metal kids who always had a concert to go to and a friend to go with and Gerard had been a loner weirdo who had only known Ray played guitar because of a talent show in their junior year.
"I'm." Gerard sighed. "My grandma died."
Ray, who'd met Gerard's grandmother once and made her laugh, frowned. "Oh man, that really sucks. I'm sorry."
"It's." Gerard stopped. "We have to go back," he said.
"Sure, yeah. Of course, man." Ray patted Gerard's shoulder. "Of course."
Gerard folded in on himself away from Ray's hand, pressing his shoulder, his forehead, his whole arm against the hot surface of the van. It was calming, somehow, the heat radiating from the metal through him, like he hardly existed, like the sunlight wove through his skin.
"Gerard," Ray said softly, and then he was hugging him, both of them curved in toward the van, Ray's soft and erratic hair clinging to Gerard's face, his arms framing Gerard in. They stayed like that for a long time, and Gerard focused on matching Ray's breathing, in and out, on the stickiness where Ray's arm touched his, on the dull pain of Ray's chin resting on his shoulder.
"Okay," he said finally, and Ray stepped back tucking his hair behind his ears.
"Okay," Ray said. "You want me to go get Mikey?"
Gerard nodded, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Yeah," he said.
"Okay. Stay here, okay?"
Gerard nodded again wondering exactly where Ray thought he was going to go. He sat down on the little curb that traced around the edge of the parking lot. It was an older Bob Evans; that asphalt was grey and faded, the yellow lines of the parking spaces barely visible. A few straggling weeds shot up through cracks. He wondered how long it took for a parking lot to get like this. Five years? Ten? Even though it wasn't that hot out, Gerard could see little heat waves shimmering up off of it, like the pavement was baking. Mikey's shoes, as he approached, shimmered too.
Frankie wanted to like Bert, in part, he thought, because Bert wanted so much to be liked. He was such a friendly guy, always willing to share his lunch or his beer or whatever pills he had in his pocket, and his band really loved him a lot even though he was sort of a fuck up, and Gerard really seemed to like him, so Frank tried. He did.
He sat in the hotel room with Gerard and Mikey and Quinn and Jepha and Bert and drank and smoked pot and laughed at seriously stupid-ass jokes and tried to enjoy himself, but the truth was that every time Bert opened his mouth or laughed his high-pitched hyena laugh, Frank wanted to smack him. Like now, Bert was arranging everyone in a circle on the floor despite the fact that there were perfectly good chairs to sit in and making them play spin the bottle with a mostly empty bottle of Seagrams 7.
"Dude, this is gay," Frank said, but Bert grabbed him by the hand and sat him next to Gerard, saying "c'mon, c'mon Frank, please," and then Gerard had his hand and was pulling him down and so now he was playing this stupid game and there weren't even any girls in the room so that they could pretend they weren't about to make out with other guys. Frank sighed and hoped Bert's bottle didn't point to him.
Bert spun first and ended up kissing Quinn, right on the mouth and with tongue, his hair hanging down over them. Then Quinn got Mikey and Mikey got Quinn again and Quinn got Frank.
"Great," Frank said. He crawled forward on hands and knees and kissed Quinn, who did not, thankfully, try to slip him the tongue. He took the bottle in his hand and twirled it. Gerard.
"Oh, Frankie, you're soooo cute," Gerard said, batting his eyes. He leaned over, slipping one hand along Frank's neck, his thumb brushing Frank's jaw, and they kissed, softly. There wasn't any tongue in that one, either, but Frank felt something flutter in his stomach when Gerard pulled away, his eyes sparkling.
Gerard spun. Bert. "C'mere baby," Bert said, even though he was the one crawling across the floor and climbing onto Gerard, tipping him over backward and straddling him. Frank couldn't see much of what was happening because Bert's clumpy brown hair curtained them, but he did see Gerard's hands, which had gone up as a defense against Bert's weight, soften and curve around Bert's waist and then slide tentatively along the edge of Bert's shirt, then up underneath it, running along the waistband of Bert's scruffy jeans. Bert settled on top of Gerard, their legs twining together, his hips moving suggestively.
"Well, that's enough of that," Jepha said, and Frank totally agreed except that Jepha was standing up and brushing off his pants like he was getting ready to leave. "Here," he said, offering a hand to Mikey, pulling him to his feet. Frank heard soft laughter from the heap that was Bert and Gerard.
"Gee," he said. "We're, um. Going." Jepha was waiting, holding his hand out for Frank now, but he wasn't leaving Gerard alone with this dirty pervert unless --
Gerard waved a hand at him. More laughter.
Frank stood up on his own and went into the hallway. Jepha and Quinn had their heads together, whispering back and forth. At one point Quinn shook his head quickly, like he was denying something. Before Mikey shut the door, Frank could see them, Gerard and Bert, still on the floor. Bert rose up and in one smooth motion, stripped his shirt off and fell back onto Gerard, the pale skin of his back glowing in the yellow light.
"You're just going to let him?" Frank asked Mikey, who was standing in the hallway, looking like he wasn't sure what to do next. It was a common look for Mikey, a sort of lonely lost look that was as odds with his height and his ferocity in a bar fight. That look was the reason he'd turned Mikey down the first time he'd met him, when Mikey had come up to him in a club and asked to be a guitarist for Pencey. Mikey probably thought it was the fact that he had sucked. He had sucked, but the reason was this passive lost look. Mikey just hadn't seemed like the type of kid who could be in a band like Pencey.
Mikey shrugged. "What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Dude, I --" Frank said, but then he had to stop, because he didn't know what he wanted Mikey to do. Stop it? Drag Gerard out by the hair? Burst in and demand that they stop kissing and act like normal people?
Jepha and Quinn were gone; just he and Mikey remained in the hallway. Something inside the room thumped, once, and was followed by Bert's screaming laugh. Frank shuddered.
"Whatever," he told Mikey. "I just. This isn't a good idea," he said. He started walking away, back toward his own room, which, until five minutes ago, had been the room he was sharing with Gerard.
"I know," Mikey said. Mikey followed him, and when they got back to Frank's room, came inside and went right over to Gerard's bed and started rummaging through his bag.
"What are you doing?" Frank asked.
Mikey shrugged. "Getting rid of some stuff," he said. He pulled out a baggie holding maybe fifteen or twenty pills. "Anything you want before I flush this?" he asked.
Frank shook his head. Mikey walked into the bathroom. After a minute, the toilet flushed and Mikey came out empty-handed. He turned on the television as he passed by. Then he took off his shoes and curled up on Gerard's hotel bed, on top of the bedspread, his arm around Gerard's duffel bag like it was a pillow.
"Mike, man. You okay?" Frank asked, disturbed. Mikey looked up.
"Sure," he said. "You mind?"
"No," Frank said.
He took off his own shoes and jeans and climbed into his bed, making sure not to touch the bedspread, which he'd seen on Dateline was, like, the most germy part of the hotel bed. He suppsed Mikey, who was hugging Gerard's nasty bag, didn't really care so much about that, so he didn't say anything. They watched t.v. in silence for a while -- some movie with Sandra Bullock in it, then another one with a blond girl who Frank recognized but couldn't name. He was drifting off to sleep when Mikey spoke.
"Do you ever miss someone," he asked.
"Hmm? Sure," Frank said. "All the time."
Silence for a minute. "You ever miss someone when they're right there, like. In front of you?" Mikey asked.
Frankie thought of Gerard, of Gerard's hand unfurling and brushing Bert's waist. "Sure," he said. "All the time."
Frankie went over to Mikey's house on a Saturday, because he didn't feel like staying at some anymore watching his mom clean, and he didn't feel like helping her clean and he sure as hell didn't feel like getting out the lawn mower, which his stepdad would have asked him to do any minute, and Mikey had asked and seemed to have some sort of crush on him or something, which was nice. Not that anything was going to happen, because it wasn't because Mikey was so not his type, and besides being a guy, Mikey also had a reputation around the scene fro being sort of a dog when it came to people he had sex with, so no, nothing was going to happen. Still, it was nice to be around someone who thought you were awesome, particularly when you didn't feel especially awesome about yourself.
Mikey lived on an okay side street in a truly heinous part of town. Frank wasn't even sure that he wanted to leave his car parked on the street, even though it was only a beat up Toyota that the radio had been stolen out of long ago. He wished the band would start making enough money that he could have a new car, but right now all they could afford to pay for was more studio time.
He went up the cement stairs and pressed the doorbell, listening to its hollow chimes echo inside. It was getting to be late autumn, and sort of cold outside, and Frank shifted from foot to foot wishing that Mikey would hurry his ass up and open the door. Maybe he should have called first.
He was halfway down the stairs, figuring the house for empty, when the door opened and Mikey's brother Gerald stood leaned out.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey Gerald," Frank said. "I came by to--"
"Gerard," Gerard said.
"It's not Gerald, it's Gerard. Mikey's not home."
"Oh. Okay. So, um, thanks."
"You want to come in?" Gerard asked.
Gerard smiled, running his hand through his hair, which, Frank noticed, was severely messed up and sort of matted up on the back of his head. He'd probably been sleeping. "Do you want to come in?"
"Oh. Okay." Frank hopped back up the stairs and slipped past Gerard into the living room. It was all dark inside and seemed sort of empty, but it was out of the late October wind at least.
"Were you supposed to meet Mikey or something?" Gerard asked.
"Um, no. I just thought I'd, you know. Come by."
Gerard nodded. "Cool. Well, I've been hanging in my room, so. You want something to drink?"
Gerard padded into the kitchen. He had on sweatpants and a grey t-shirt and no shoes. The kitchen was dirty. Not gross or anything, just some breakfast dishes still on the table and the smell of bacon grease still in the air. Gerard got sodas out of the fridge. "You want a glass?" he asked, handing one over.
"No, thanks." Frank wondered how long it would take for him to drink his soda and get the hell out of Mikey's house and away from his strange brother. He didn't even know why he'd bothered to come in. They were a decent band, almost, but that didn't mean he needed to hang out with them.
"C'mon," Gerard said, heading down the stairs. Frank followed him down a narrow staircase into a finished basement lined with old-fashioned seventies wood panelling. The room wasn't really small, but it seemed small, with Gerard's unmade bed against one wall and a huge desk underneath the tiny basement windows covered with stuff, and shelves and shelves of papers and books and what looked to Frank in the dim light to be action figures, and a table with a television on it at the far end of the room. The room was lit only by a light on the desk, one of the adjustable ones with the long neck like Mike Brady had used on the Brady Bunch, and it was warm, and music, something he recognized but was too soft to name, was playing in the background. There were papers all over the floor.
"Sorry about the mess," Gerard said, scooping up a bunch of papers carefully and setting them on the desk.
Frank laughed. "You should see my room," he said. "What is all this?" He picked up one of the sheets on top. It was a drawing, done in red pen, of a woman in a dress. She looked like she was afraid, one hand up in front of her face, her eyes wide, although she was the only thing on the page.
Gerard shrugged. "Nothing. Just some stuff I was trying out."
"You draw?" Frank asked, looking around. The papers on the desk were covered with drawings, women, animals, strange horrible looking things that Frankie couldn't quite name. It was like gazing into different worlds. He picked up a drawing of a werewolf. "These are awesome."
"Yeah, um. I went to school," he said.
"Really?" Frank asked. "Like art school? That's so awesome. I can't draw anything. These are really cool." He lifted up some of the drawings. Underneath were larger peices of paper, some done in colors, mostly black and red. There was a short series of paintings or drawings or whatever they were of the woman in red backing away from a snarling dog. There was another one, alone, of Mikey lying on the floor, looking at a book, his feet up in the air. "Mikey didn't tell me you drew."
"Well." Gerard sighed. "I'm not doing much with it, so. I dunno," he said.
"You should," Frank said. "These are totally good."
Gerald smiled. "Thanks. I'm in the band now, though. You like Morrissey?"
"Morrissey?" Frank asked. Gerard sprawled on his bed and twisted the dial on the stereo. The singer crooned: "please, please, please, let me let me let me let me get what I want this time."
"Oh, sure, The Smiths," Frank said. "They're good. Have you ever heard of a group called Charlatan UK? It's sort of the same idea only not as, like -- "
"Suicidal?" Gerard asked, smiling. "Sure. Grab a chair, man."
Frank sat down in the desk chair. It was a strange one, without arms or a back, just a seat shaped to fit someone's butt. Gerard's butt, actually, Frank thought, and felt himself getting warm.
It turned out that Gerard didn't just like The Smiths, but he was also into harder stuff, stuff that Frank could get behind more, like The Sex Pistols and Roxy Music and Iggy Pop. "I'm going through, like, a British thing," Gerard said. "Mikey's sort of making me."
"Dude, he's such an anglophile," Frank said. "I try to tell him that there are good bands from America, too, but there's no point. Who's your favorite?"
"Who's yours?" Gerard asked. He was lying on his back, throwing a ball up into the air and catching it.
"Oh, Black Flag, by far," Frank said. "I've loved them since I was, like, four."
"Black Flag, hmm?" Gerard said.
"Definitely," Frank said. "Look." He shrugged out of his jacket and tried to tug up his sleeve to show Gerard the Black Flag tattoo on his bicep, but the shirt had long sleeves and he couldn't get it up far enough. "Hang on," he said. He peeled off his shirt, baring the white t-shirt he wore underneath, and lifted the sleeve.
"Whoa, nice," Gerard said, reaching out a finger to touch it. "That's really cool."
"Thanks." Frank tossed his shirt on the floor. "You have any?"
Gerard laughed. "Ha! No. They hurt. Do you have any other ones?"
"Um. Yeah," Frank said, feeling the skin between his shoulderblades tingle.
"Can I see? Or," Gerard grinned, "is it in some place private?"
Frank laughed. He turned around and pulled his t-shirt over his head. It wasn't cold in Gerard's room, but Frank still felt uncomfortably cool without his shirt on. He wondered what Mikey would think if he came home and found Frank in his brother's room without his shirt on. Probably he would --
Gerard touched his back, his fingers trailing over the jack'o'lantern tattoo. His hand was warm and gentle. Frank felt goosebumps rise up on his arms. "This is awesome," Gerard said, almost right in his ear. "What's it for?"
"My birthday's Halloween," Frank said. He was almost whispering, his voice was so low.
"Seriously?" Gerard asked. His palm was flat on Frank's skin. "That's --"
"Gerard? You here?" Mikey. Frank jerked, but Gerard didn't seem bothered by anything.
"Down here," Gerard called. He patted Frank's shoulder. "Hey, did you see Frankie's tattoos?"
"What tattoos?" Mikey asked. "Oh, hey Frank."
Frank, who felt suddenly naked, waved. "Hey," he said.
Mikey came over and looked at his tattoo, too, his hand resting lightly on Frank's shoulder. He stood in the middle of Gerard's room with his shirt off, their hands on him, murmuring back and forth to each other behind his head in a sort of shorthand.
"Do you?" Gerard said.
"On your arm."
Gerard laughed. "Shut up," he said. His hand tightened on Frank's shoulder. "It's really cool, Frank."
"Yeah," Mikey said. "I didn--t know you had a tattoo."
"Well, you know." Frank stepped away from them, his stomach shivering. It was their hands brushing over his skin, although he couldn't say why. "I don't just . Show them, or whatever." He yanked his shirt back over his head.
"I'll draw you one if you want," Gerard said. "You know, if you're thinking of getting a new one ever."
"Well, yeah," Frank said. "I'm going to get another one, probably. Soon."
"Oh, yeah? Of what?"
Frank shrugged. "Draw me something."
"Okay." Gerard reached for his pad of paper. "Hand me that pen." Frankie handed Gerard a pen from the desk and went over to sit next to him on the bed. Gerard folded his legs up underneath him and balanced the pad on his knee. He tucked his hair behind his ear, and squinted at Frank. Frank hadn't noticed when he'd met Gerard in the club, maybe because it had been so far, but Gerard's eyes were brown, but also sort of green and he had long lashes and his skin, up close, was perfectly clear, like someone's in a commercial. "Hmmm," Gerard said. He made a thin line on the paper, carefully, like he was tracing something.
"He's awesome," Mikey said, spinning around in the desk chair. "He used to do all the design stuff for the school plays when we were in high school. He went to art school."
Gerard smiled out of the corner of his mouth and kept drawing, a line here, a line there, as if it was preordained. Frank watched as a design took place under Gerard's pen, a woman holding a heart in her hand, dressed like a nun. Sunbeams radiated out from behind her head. Her eyes were gauged black holes. Her robes flowed out from Gerard's pen and pooled around her feet. She was amazing. "Our Lady of Perpetual Misery," Gerard said, tearing the page off the pad and handing it to Frank, smiling.
"Are you serious?" Frank asked. She was beautiful, even in black and white.
"Duh," Gerard said, knocking his shoulder into Frank's. "I drew it for you."
"Thanks," he said. "Really, man. Thanks."
Gerard smiled, pushing his tangled hair out of his face. "Any time," he said.
"Hey, I'm gonna order pizza," Mikey said, standing up. "You staying, Frank?" Gerard smiled at him encouragingly.
"Okay," Frank said.
The first time he kissed Frank, they were onstage in New York. It was just a little gig at some no-name bar, but it was their first time in New York and they were getting a percentage of the door and the room was packed because they were opening for another band, who Gerard hadn't ever heard of but who, apparently, was up and coming, because a lot of the kids on the floor had t-shirts with the other bands insignia and looked at Mikey and Ray and Frankie like they were an endurance test when they got up onstage and started fiddling with the equipment. Gerard was a little afraid that someone was going to throw a beer bottle or something, but no one did and about three songs in the crowd started jumping around and screaming when Gerard said scream and then he was singing and had his arm out and Frank was leaning heavily against him, hands flying, head lolling back, and Gerard finished the line and kissed him, mouth open, breath rasping.
Frank tasted of salt and beer and seemed surprised, but kissed him back, and stayed up against his shoulder for another line or two before wandering back to his side of the stage.
They came off half an hour later, dripping sweat, grinning like maniacs. Gerard headed over to the bar and ordered a vodka tonic, elbows on the sticky wood. The other band, Sick Effect, was setting up so the crowd had gone back to milling around, chattering and drinking. A couple of people clapped him on the back and said "nice show, man," but for the most part he was just another anonymous member of the crowd, which was sort of nice. He did enough standing out on stage. He didn't need to be recognized every minute. He took his drink and headed back behind the stage, into the dingy cement block hallway that led to the green room. It was full of people, members of the other band, girls, crew guys, club guys, security guys, but Sick Effect was gearing up onstage and by the time he'd gotten the forty feet down the hall to the green room door, it was only him and Frank at the end of the hallway. Frank leaned against the cement wall, his mouth open and his eyes closed, a bottle of water held loosely in his hand. He looked sweaty and tired, but in a good way.
"Hey," Gerard said.
Frank opened his eyes and smiled, his lip ring glinting in the fluorescent hallway light. "Hey," he said.
"So, um." He hadn't thought about it before, about kissing Frank. He'd kissed guys before, many of them, but he tried not to think about it until it was actually happening, and he didn't believe in it until their hands were actually fumbling at his belt buckle. He was never going to be one of those guys who people were just physically attracted to -- he was too girly and too fat for that -- so he relied on the force of his personality to draw them in and make them forget what they were actually kissing. A bait and switch, so to speak. And he'd never thought of Frank as someone he wanted to lure like that until it was too late and their mouths were pressed together in front of a room full of people and now he really wanted to put his hands on Frank again and that was a real bad idea. "Sorry," he said.
"About what?" Frank took a drink of his water.
"You know." Gerard waved his hand down the hallway. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"No, dude, it's cool," Frank said. He smiled and it seemed like a genuine smile. That was one of the things Gerard was starting to really like about Frank -- he was very bullshit-free. "I was a little surprised, but. Whatever."
"It just seemed. I dunno."
Frank nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Things happen onstage. You have to go with the flow, man."
"Mmhmm," Gerard said. "Well, cool. I just wanted to make sure you were cool with it."
"I'm cool with it." Frank finished his water and pushed himself upright. He was shorter than Gerard by maybe three or four inches, so he had to tilt his head back a little to meet his eyes. "I'm totally cool with it," he said, seeming a lot closer than he had just a minute ago.
"Good," Gerard said. Frankie looked at him for a long minute, then took a step back, his hand on the doorknob of the green room.
"I'm also. You know. Cool with it if, like, something happens where you think you should do it again," Frank said. "You know. For the show."
"Sure," Gerard said. "For the show."
Frank grinned at him and held out his hand. Gerard took it. "C'mon," Frank said. "You're a piece of work."
"That I am," Gerard said.
On the ninth day that Gerard was sober -- he'd started marking the days in his calendar with a little star -- they did the Conan O'Brien show. They showed up on time, something that Gerard was surprised was so easy to do since he'd started remembering whole days instead of just fragments of them, and headed back into the green room to wait until it was time for makeup. Frank was excited about the fact that it was Conan and kept looking up hopefully whenever the door opened but it was always just production assistants or catering or whoever, and one of those times they brought beer.
He picked one up and cracked it, feeling the pressure release from the can, before he heard Mikey say --
-- and looked up. Mikey was standing up, his hands crammed into the pockets of his tight black jeans, his shoulders hunched forward like he was about to lunge.
"What?" Gerard said.
Mikey twitched, his whole body shuddering, and then Gerard remembered and dropped the can on the floor, jumping back from it like it was a poisonous snake. Beer glugged out onto the industrial carpeting. "Sorry," he said. "Oh my god, sorry. Sorry." He reached back for the wall and fell on to the couch almost on top of Frankie and Ray, his hands groping for thiers. "Sorry," he said. "It was force of habit."
"It's okay," Ray said softly. "It's no big deal."
Mikey bent down and picked up the can and set it on the table top. He grabbed stack of napkins from near the deli tray and dropped them onto the puddle, stepping on them. Gerard watched. He couldn--t take his eyes off of Mikey's shoe rising and falling over the napkins.
"No worries," Frank said in his ear. "No problem."
"It was habit," Gerard said.
"I know," Frank said. "I know."
"I don't see what the problem is," Matt said.
Frank fought the urge to punch him. "That is what the problem is," he said. "That you don't see a problem."
Matt rolled his eyes. "Look, I don't see what the big deal is. So he gets fucked up. I get fucked up, you get fucked up. You were fucked up last night, Frankie, so I don't see where you have a fucking leg to stand on with this whole 'Gerard has a problem' bullshit."
"He was under. The. Stage," Frank said. He was trying not to yell, because yelling was going to lead to hitting. "He was so drunk he couldn't even see straight and we had a ]gig and he was under the stage, Matt, and you don't think there's a fucking problem?"
It had been horrible. Frank felt the shame flood his face even now, remembering how it felt to stand up there in front of the crowd, his guitar heavy around his neck, his hands in his pockets, waiting for Gerard to come out from under the stage. Mikey had gestured to him from the edge of the stage, his face streaked with dirt, and shook his head and that was that. They cancelled. And then, this morning, Gerard showing up in Ray's hotel room smelling of puke, the rest of them sitting there in silence pretending to watch television, and swearing it was done once and for all. He was quitting. And Matt, laughing.
Matt shrugged. "He got a little out of control. He'll be fine."
"If he quits," Frank said.
Matt laughed. "Yeah, right. Gerard quits."
"Matt -- "
"No, you know what?" Matt said. "Fuck you, Iero. I've know Gerard since fucking junior high, and I started this band, and you're lucky we even let a little shitass player like you in. So don't start with me, you little prick, or you'll have your ass handed to you."
Frank didn't even realize that he had swung until his fist his Matt square in the jaw. Matt staggered back, his ass hitting the wall.
"Motherfucker!" he shouted. "That's it!"
He leapt at Frank, grabbing him around the neck and dragging him to the floor, slamming his head into the carpeting. They struggled for a minute, Matt's hands on Frank's throat, before Ray was hauling him away, shouting. Frankie sat back against the edge of the bed, holding his throat and gasping, glaring at Matt.
"You're fucked," Matt said, pointing, while Ray murmured "calm down, calm down man,"
Frank flipped him off.
"What the fuck was that about?" Ray asked, after Matt had stormed off, slamming the door behind him. He sat down on the carpet next to Frank, draping his hands over his knees.
Frank shook his head. "Nothing," he said.
Ray rolled his eyes. "Cut the crap," he said.
"He doesn't think Gerard can quit," Frank said. "He doesn't think there's a problem."
"Oh," Ray said.
That was it, really. It didn't matter to Frank if Gerard couldn't quit right away, like, perfectly. He was no stranger to recreational pharmaceuticals and he knew what it was like to really fucking want a hit or a drink or a tab of E. There had been times when he wondered what that meant about him, that he drank four or five times a week. But the point wasn't quitting exactly. It was quitting, but that was sort of not the most important part. The most important part was trying, and that Gerard had said he was going to, and that meant that Frank and Ray and Mikey and Matt, that his fucking band, had to try to help him if they could. If they could do something that would give him one extra minute of being okay, they should do it. At least, that was how Frank felt about it. That was what you were supposed to do for your friends.
"He said he was going to get me kicked out of the band," Frank said. "He's probably talking to Gee right now."
"C'mon," Ray said. "Let's go see." He pushed himself up and held out his hand for Frank, who took it.
Gerard's room was down the hall, propped open by one of Mikey's tennis shoes so that they could go in and out without waking Gerard, who'd crashed hard after his tearful apologies. Mikey was inside, watching t.v. with his narrow bare feet up on the bed, ankles crossed. Matt was not there.
"Have you seen Matt?" Ray whispered.
"'s okay. I'm up," Gerard said, rolling over to face them. "He's not here."
"Oh. Cool," Frank said.
"What the fuck happened to your face?" Gerard asked.
"What?" Frank touched his face and felt the stickiness of blood. "Oh. Nothing."
"Come here," Gerard said. He reached out and grabbed Frank's arm and sat him on the edge of the bed, snapping on the table lamp and tilting the shade. He took Frank's chin in his fingers and turned it. "Whoa," he said. "Who punched you?"
"No one," Frank said, unable to think of a name quick enough.
"I did," Ray said.
Gerard shot him a skeptical glance. "It was Matt, huh?" he asked. He looked awful, almost like he'd been punched himself. His face had a bruised look that reminded Frank of an overripe peach. "What happened?"
Frank thought about it for a minute. "Um. He said you weren't going to quit. That you were fine. And I said you were and weren't."
Gerard thought about that for a minute. Then he wrapped his arms around Frank's neck and squeezed him tight. He felt warm to Frankie, like he was running a few degrees hot, and he smelled like Jack Daniels and sweat and not really good, frankly, but Frank didn't mind. Gerard pulled back a little, his lips on Frank's ear. "You're a fucking good friend," he murmured into Frank's ear. "And I love the shit out of you, you know that?" He sounded emotional, like he might cry, and that made something well up in Frank's chest and Frank pushed his face into Gerard's long hair, just because this whole thing was so fucked up and right when it was getting really good, too. He hoped that Matt was really really wrong.
Gerard leaned back, his hands on Frank's shoulders. "He punched you first?" he asked. His eyes were watery and bloodshot.
Frank shook his head. "No, um. I -- "
"You punched him?"
"He was just saying how he knew you the longest--"
"I knew him the longest," Mikey said.
"--and how you were always a partier and how you didn't need to quit. So I punched him."
Gerard's eyes were intent on his, like he was staring into Frank's soul. "You know," he said, "I've never liked Matt's drumming."
"It's very heavy and simplistic," Mikey said. Frank gawked at him. The kid had learned to play bass from a videotape.
"Maybe we need someone with more experience," Ray said.
Nine days and approximately nine million phone calls to their agents and their manager and everybody else later, Matt packed his suitcase and his drumkit and caught a plane home. Frank flipped him the bird as the elevator doors shut.
He wanted to feel better. That was all he could think about. He woke up, his eyes aching and salty, his muscles hurting, and thought "I wish I felt better." He sat in the van watching the road pass by, mile after mile after mile, his forehead against the window and wanted to feel better. He ate, he talked, sometimes he smiled, and all he ever felt was empty and desolate and alone. The only thing that stopped it, even for a minute, was the singing, and half the time he started screaming in to the microphone, and acting like it was all part of the show, his misery on display. It was the only time he could do that without freaking someone out, even though the guys all knew it wasn't an act.
They wanted him to feel better, too, was the awful part. Mikey kept coming around his room after the show, hovering over him, trying to bring him tea or beer or asking him if he wanted a hoodie or something. It would have been cute if it hadn't been annoying. Gerard felt bad even thinking that -- she was Mikey's grandma, too -- but he couldn't put aside the feeling that he was the only one who was drifting.
The rest of them acted like there wasn't anything wrong. They tried to pretend that he was the same, that he wasn't sitting on the van with his knees pulled up to his chest and tears leaking out onto the denim in ever-expanding dark spots, that he wasn't sleeping every possible minute, that he wasn't forgetting to shower for two or three days at a time, that he didn't smell.
"How you doing, man?" Matt asked, slapping him on the shoulder.
Gerard smiled wanly. "Good, Matt." They let him lie, too.
"Cool. You want a beer or something?"
Gerard shrugged. "Sure," he said.
"That's my boy," Matt said.
They hadn't been friends in high school, him and Matt. They'd been friends in junior high, when Matt moved into his neighborhood and they'd spent the summer before the seventh grade blowing stuff up with fire crackers and watching t.v. in Gerard's basement room and smoking the crap pot that Matt got from his older brother's friend. They'd sort of lost touch when school started because Matt hung out more with the stoners than Gerard did and the stoners were the types of kids that would call Gerard a "fag" when he walked past, although Matt would always say hi in the hall. When Gerard had decided to start the band and called him, though, Matt had said "hell yeah, man!", the same thing he used to say when Gerard would open a new package of cherry bombs. Matt had always been enthusiastic; Gerard liked that most about him.
Matt came back with a beer and two small pills in his hand. "Here," he said.
"What's this?" Gerard asked, licking his finger and sticking it to one of the pills. It was oval and light blue.
"Something to cheer your sad ass up," Matt said.
"Can I take it with beer?"
Matt laughed. "Why the fuck not?" he said, sticking the other pill in his mouth. Gerard swallowed his and swigged some beer. He didn't usually do pills because pretty much all of them upset his stomach, but it wasn't like his night was going to be ruined if he got sick or anything. He didn't know what it was supposed to do, but it didn't feel any different from just drinking beer to him. People wandered around, drinking, talking, making out. Some guy made out with a girl on the bed, his hands under her clothes. Gerard thought she might have come right there in the room with other people, an idea that fascinated him, that people could basically have sex in public with other people looking. There were times when he couldn't imagine having sex at all. How did it even happen? It seemed like so much work. So many things had to happen, between you and the other person, and all the looks and touches and feelings had to come together. It was impossibly complicated.
"It's impossibly complicated," he said to some girl who was walking by his chair, catching his fingers in her skirt, but she just grabbed the skirt back from him and walked off.
Gerard stood up, looking for Mikey, who would want to know that it was impossibly complicated trying to find someone, trying to love anyone, and the room whirled.
Gerard grabbed for the wall and missed, stumbling into someone, latching on to someone's shoulders, falling over his own feet. "Whoa!" he said, laughing. His stomach gurgled.
"Gee!" someone said in his ear. Frankie.
"Frankie!" he said, looping his arms around Frank's neck. "Frankeee Year-ooo."
"That's me, Gerard," Frank said. "What's up?"
"It's impossibly complicated," he told Frankie, because Frank would need to know, too, that there was nothing easy or simple or good anymore. He had to tell Frankie because Frankie would need to know. He loved Frankie. He loved Frankie and Mikey and Matty and Ray and his mom and his dad and his friend Jenny who had really big boobs, but was a very nice girl anyway. "I love Jenny," he said to Frank.
"Okay," Frank said. Frank was holding him around his waist and sort of dragging him toward the bed. Bed, bed, bed.
"Take me to bed, Frank," he said, swinging around and flopping onto the mattress. Frank fell on top of him and elbowed him in the stomach really hard and all of a sudden Gerard found himself leaning over the bed and puking, once, twice in rapid succession. It was the best puking he'd ever done, effortless and tasteless and fast. He rolled back onto the mattress and wiped his mouth.
"Gerard, you okay?" Frank asked. Frank was floating above him, like a balloon, his head on a string, his voice far away like it was down a tunnel.
"Yeah, yeah," Gerard said. "Yeah. Yeahyeahyeah. Everything's impossible." He held his hand out, but everything went black before anyone could take it.
All of Frank's relatives were still alive, so when he went back to Mikey and Gerard's house after their grandmother's funeral, he wasn't sure what to do with himself. There was a lot of food, mostly desserts, and it looked pretty good, but it didn't seem polite to eat, somehow, when Mikey was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. Instead, Frank sat next to him and rubbed his shoulder and hoped that he wasn't being too annoying. People came in and out of the kitchen and smiled sadly at Frank and then wandered back out. Frank smiled back. He didn't know them, but it seemed rude not to smile back.
A big old guy with a pot belly came in and smiled at Frank and said "Mikey?"
Mikey looked up. "Uncle John?" he said and then he was up and out of the wooden kitchen chair and the big man was hugging him tightly and whispering something in Mikey's ear, while MIkey nodded and shook. Mikey was typically a pretty quiet kid and rarely showed any emotion on his face, so it was a little unnerving to hear him crying and see this man who Frank had never even heard of before, let alone seen, hug him and kiss his hair. Frank stood up and eased himself out of the room and into the living room, but no one he knew was there, either. Ray and Matt were probably still around somewhere, but he didn't see them and he was uncomfortable with the idea of looking around upstairs when he'd never been upstairs before, so he slipped back through the kitchen (where Uncle John and Mikey were sitting at the kitchen table, Uncle John's arm slung over Mikey's shoulders, talking in in low voices) and down into the basement.
Gerard's room was totally dark except for the pale light coming through the dirty basement windows.
"What do you want?" Gerard asked while Frank was still on the bottom step. Frank squinted into the dark.
"Your, um. Your Uncle John's here," he said.
Gerard didn't respond. Frank stayed on the step for a minute, then eased off it onto the floor. He crossed the room carefully, feeling with his feet for the clothes and papers that always blanketed Gerard's floor. He found the bed with his hand and sat down. Gerard was nearby, he could tell, but still couldn't see him even though his eyes were beginning to adjust. Then, suddenly, there was motion on his left and the pale circle of Gerard's face came into view. He was lying on his side on the bed, his hair curtaining half his face. Frankie could barely make out one brillant eye.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"No," Gerard said.
Frank nodded. He reached out and put a hand on Gerard's arm. "Yeah," he said.
"Can I?" Gerard said. Frank didn't know what he meant. Gerard hooked an arm around his waist and pulled, and Frank ended up lying down on the bed on his side, facing away from Gerard, Gerard's arm curled around his waist, Gerard's body pressed up against his. "Sorry," he murmured in Frank's ear and then his face was hot on the back of Frank's neck and he was shaking with silent sobs, his arm like a vice constricting Frank's breathing.
Frank lay there in the dark, helpless, unable to do anything but fold his hands around Gerard's forearm and sort of hug it to him, trying to convey the sadness and affection he felt with the press of his fingers.
Eventually, Gerard's grip loosened enough that Frank could turn over and face him. He sought out Gerard's face in the dark and rubbed the tears off his cheeks.
"Sorry," Gerard said again, sniffling.
"Nah, it's okay," Frank said. He ran his fingers through Gerard's messy hair, pushing it back off his face. They were close, only inches apart, his knees touching Gerard's, Gerard's arm draped loosely over his waist. He'd never lost anyone, not in the way that Gerard had lost his grandma, and it made Frank miserable that he couldn't do anything to make it any better. Gerard was such a good guy, a sweet guy. It didn't seem fair that just when things with the band had started getting really good, something like this should happen to him. Even though he was younger than Gerard by a lot, Frank sometimes felt that Gerard needed someone to look out for him, to protect him from the things he didn't see coming. He tipped his forehead to Gerard's. "It's okay," he said again.
He lifted his chin and kissed Gerard on the mouth, softly. He'd never kissed a guy before, but this was Gerard, not a guy, and it wasn't like that. Gerard tasted of tears.
They separated, and then it was Gerard who moved, closing the miniscule distance between them and kissing Frank, his mouth open. Frank let him, and when Gerard's tongue touched his, he kissed back, twining his fingers in Gerard's long hair.
They kissed for awhile, Gerard's hand on his ribs, their knees barely touching, their mouths moving slowly. Frank didn't know what was happening. He couldn't think about anything but Gerard and how sweet he tasted and what a good kisser he was and how they could do anything down here in the dark of the basement and no one would have to know, and then he felt his dick move and had to pull back a little, panting, because this wasn't supposed to be about nailing Gerard, but about being his friend.
Gerard was panting, too, at least. That made Frank feel a little better. Gerard pulled on him, sliding his smooth cheek against Frank's until his head rested in the crook of Frank's neck. Frank wrapped his arms around Gerard's shoulders and squeezed him as close as possible. They stayed there for a long time, breathing together quietly in the dark, Gerard's heartbeat solid against Frank's palm, until Gerard's mother called down the stairs that people were leaving and Gerard needed to come up and say goodbye. Frank stayed on the bed for minute after Gerard had gotten up, wondering if maybe he should have kissed him again, like a goodbye kiss, or if he should wait for Gerard to come back down. Finally, he got up and went upstairs and slipped out while Gerard and Mikey were saying goodbye to relatives. He waved. Mikey waved back, but Gerard didn't see him.
The Warped Tour stopped for nothing. Ray joked that it was like the mail that way - - neither rain nor snow nor dead of night -- but the truth, Frank felt, was that it was mostly because once something as huge and obnoxious and awesome as The Warped Tour got started, there was just no way to stop it.
Except for lightning.
Lightning brought the whole damn pace to a screeching halt, mostly because the last thing anyone wanted was for a semi-famous person to be electrocuted during a guitar solo, although depending on who it was, Frankie was personally sort of okay with that possibility. But, anyway, after the tour last year, he knew the drill -- all personnel off the stage, all talent in shelters, all vendors who felt comfortable open unless the lightning because the possibility of a tornado -- which was how he ended up hanging out in the grass next to the herd of tour buses, leaning back on his elbows and enjoying a cool breeze for a change. "All talent in shelters" had never been a particularly easy rule for the producers of the Tour to enforce. He lay back in the grass and scratched his stomach and stared up at the fast-darkening sky. This was going to be a great storm. From far off, he heard the faint rumble of thunder.
"I knew you'd be out here," Gerard said, coming around the corner of one of the buses.
"How long's the delay?"
Gerard shrugged, leaning up against the aluminum metal siding of the bus and lighting a cigarette. "An hour maybe. It's supposed to move fast."
Frank nodded. He closed his eyes as another rain-scented breeze blew over him. The venue was in the middle of a national park, like right smack in the middle, so the whole Tour was surrounded by trees and grass and the vendors were located down a little trail into the woods. It was pretty cool, although Frank did not envy who was going to have to resod the lawn, especially after the rain.
The first drops hit his stomach, soaking through his shirt instantly, surprisingly cold. He opened his eyes. The sky above him was black and heavy looking. Gerard had his face turned up to the clouds.
"C'mon," Gerard said, turning and holding out his hand. "You're going to get soaked."
Frank smiled. "That's sort of the idea," he said, but he took Gerard's hand anyway, and pulled himself up and they ran, still holding hands like kids. Gerard was unselfconscious about stuff like that, which was why some of the music reporters speculated that he was gay. Which he was, sort of, but this was why they thought so. Frank didn't mind. It was nice, actually, the way that Gerard would give a guy a hug or pat him on the back or hold his hand if he wanted to, and not worry about it.
The rain caught them in the middle of the parking lot, coming down in torrents like someone had dumped a bucket of water over their heads. They were soaked instantly. Frank stopped in the middle of a circle of buses and put his head back eyes closed, trying to catch rain in his mouth. He still had Gerard's hand, so Gerard stopped, too, and then, suddenly, so did the rain. Frank opened his eyes.
They were both drenched. Gerard's black dress shirt was plastered to his skin, his mascara streaked down his cheeks, the filter of his cigarette unravelling in his hand. Frank looked at him for a second, then cracked up.
"Dude," he said, "you are the ugliest girl ever."
"Tell me that while I'm sucking your dick," Gerard said, pouting his lips out.
"Shut up!" Frankie laughed. He kicked a wave of dirty puddle water at Gerard, splashing the cuffs of his black pants.
"Motherfucker!" Gerard yanked his arm and caught him around the neck, almost knocking him to the ground. They wrestled, Frank's hands scrabbling for purchase on Gerard's wet slippery shirt, and ended up in draw: Gerard had him in a headlock, but he had Gerard around the thigh and could have dumped him on his ass if he wanted.
"Okay! Okay," Frank gasped and Gerard pushed him away, panting.
"I had you, admit it," he said.
"Fuck off," Frank said. "I owned you."
"You just keep tellin' yourself that," Gerard said. "You changin'?"
"Maybe," Frank said. "Give me a ride." He jumped onto Gerard's back and hooked his arms around Gerard's neck. Gerard grabbed him under the thighs and hoisted him up.
"You need to lay off the french fries," Gerard grunted.
"You need to work out," Frank laughed, pressing his face against Gerard's neck.
Gerard dumped him next to their bus door and typed in the security code. A wave of cold air rushed over them, raising goosebumps on Frank's arms. "Dude," he said, folding his arms over his chest.
"I know." Gerard shoved his dripping hair off his face.
Ray was on the bus, goofing off with his guitar. "What happened to you guys? Hey, don't sit on the couch if you're all -- you fuckers."
Frankie, who was sitting on the leather couch peeling off his soaked socks, rolled his eyes at Ray. "Okay, mom."
"Fine," Ray said. "Just don't drip all over everything."
Gerard shook his hair out like a dog. "Okay," he told Ray.
"Hate you both," Ray said, wiping his face, and went into the rehearsal room at the back of the bus.
Frank went to his bunk and grabbed clothes out of his bag. "Dude, it's fucking freezing in here," he said.
Gerard, who had followed him and was fishing for his own dry clothes, nodded, shivering.
Frank stripped off his shirt and pulled on a clean one. He stepped to the side to change his pants. Gerard was already in his underwear, pulling on new pants, his thighs shockingly pale against the black material. Frank averted his eyes and pulled on his own jeans. Then he grabbed his socks and went back into the lounge to put them on, away from Gerard's bare skin. Gerard had issues about people looking at him, Frank knew. Not his face, but his body. Frank didn't see what the big deal was, except for the fact that Gerard was fish belly pale because he tried never to go out in the sun. Other than that, he looked fine to Frank.
"Here," Gerard said, tossing him a towel.
"Thanks," Frank said. Gerard came and sat down next to him, rubbing his hair dry until it stood up in clumps. He looked like a deranged doll, with his streaked makeup and crazy hair. Frank dried his own hair and tipped back on the couch, spreading his arms out along the back. Gerard glanced at him and then leaned back as well, tipping his damp head against Frank's shoulder.
"How long until we go on?" he asked.
Frank craned his neck and looked at the digital clock blinking in the kitchenette. "At least four hours," he said. "Five, if you were right about the delay."
"Fantastic," Gerard said. He'd closed his eyes and was smiling faintly. He put his hand on Frank's belly. "You cool?" he murmured. Frank put his feet up on the little storage chest that doubled as their coffee table and turned his face into Gerard's damp hair. It smelled of shampoo and faintly of smoke.
"I'm cool," he said.
Frank couldn't believe they were actually there, on the Conan O'Brien show, getting to play. He was pretty sure that Conan himself didn't have a lot to do with picking the guests, but still, they wouldn't have been on if the guy had hated them, would they? "This is so awesome," he said to Gerard, who was sitting next to him on the couch, still holding his hand. Gerard was still a little shaky from the quitting -- he'd almost had a beer earlier, just because it was there -- and he looked up and gave Frank a distracted smile.
"Yeah," he said.
"Conan!" Frank said, squeezing Gerard's hand with excitement. It was stupid, Frank knew, to be so excited about a talk show, but Conan was the coolest one of them, way more interesting than Jay Leno or fucking Carson Daly, or even Letterman, who had been cool but now was just old and crabby in Frank's opinion. Gerard's smile loosened and became real.
"You're such a dork," he said.
They were set to play at the end of the show and Conan was busy rewriting the monologue or something so they didn't get to see him before he went on, which sucked a little bit, but the show itself was shown in the green room, so Frank sat on the edge of the couch and watched it, a pleasurable shiver going down his spine whenever Conan went to commercial break and said "coming up, My Chemical Romance."
They were called up at the last commercial break -- "will the band please come to the stage? My Chemical Romance to the stage" -- and were barely suited up when the audience started cheering and Frank heard Conan O'Brien say their name. He ripped into the song, and everything else fell away, the audience, Conan, the sudden fear he'd felt when he'd heard Mikey's voice and looked up to see Gerard holding a beer, and it was only him and Ray playing one guitar part with four hands and two guitars.
Then it was over as suddenly as it began, and he was setting his guitar on the floor and Conan was walking over and Frank had always known that he was tall, but he was enormous, taller than anyone Frank had ever met, and instead of shaking Conan's outstreched hand, Frank grabbed him around the waist and hugged him and it was sort of like when Frank had been a really little kid and had hugged his dad, little arms circling his thigh because he couldn't reach any higher than that. And then he was turning and there was Gerard, grinning at him, and his hand was in Gerard's hair and Gerard's hand was on his back and they were kissing the way they'd kissed at a hundred shows before, his head tilted back and his mouth open and Gerard's hair brushing his cheek, and then he was leaning over and picking up his guitar and they were off the stage and it was over.
"You kissed me," Gerard whispered, while they were in the hallway waiting for their equipment to be loaded up.
Frank, who'd been watching to make sure they'd packed his guitar right, turned around. "Yeah," he said, cautious. He hadn't thought Gerard would mind, since they kissed on stage pretty regularly. Whenever Gerard wanted anyway. Frank wouldn't have minded doing it every night, but sometimes when he would go over and lean on Gerard, tipping his head back, Gerard would ignore him, or wrap a hand around his mouth and there wouldn't be kissing. Sometimes, though, Gerard would slide a hand over his shoulder and down his chest, or, once, around his waist Gerard's hand slipping between Frankie and his guitar, yanking him back against Gerard's solid body, and they would kiss in between lyrics, four, five, six times during a song. Sometimes even with tongue, which made Frank feel a little dizzy. So, he didn't think Gerard would mind and he'd been so fucking happy he could still feel it in his legs, the shiver of doing something amazing and doing it well.
"Why'd you do that?" Gerard asked.
"Um," Frank said. "I don't know?"
Gerard laughed. "You kissed me on national television, dude," he said, slapping Frank's shoulder. "My mom was watching!"
Frank laughed then, too, relieved that Gerard wasn't upset or anything. "Yeah, sorry," Frank said.
"It's fine," Gerard said. He took a step forward and slung an arm around Frank's shoulders and hugged him affectionately, kissing him on the cheek. "You're a goof," he said in Frank's ear.
Frank smiled. He loved being around Gerard when he was like this, open and expansive. It hadn't happened in a while, but back in the beginning, when the band was first getting started, it had happened all the time, every night, Gerard grinning and leaning back on the couch and draping his arm over whoever was sitting next to him.
"You are goofing, right?" Gerard said softly.
Frank lifted his eyes. "What?"
Gerard kissed him softly, briefly, his arm still over Frank's shoulders. Then he stopped and opened his eyes. Then he kissed Frank again, shoving him lightly so that his back hit the wall and he was there, pinned, Gerard's hands flat on the brick next to Frank's arm, his mouth over Frank's, their eyes locked together. Frank's hands came up and twined in the lapels of Gerard's suit jacket. His mouth opened. His eyes closed. Gerard's breath. Gerard's heart under his hand. Gerard.
"Don't be goofing," Gerard whispered against his mouth. Frank could feel the flutter of Gerard's eyelashes against his cheek.
"I'm not," Frank said. "I'm not."
Ultimately, it came down to a single question -- did he still love the band? He was sitting in their practice space by himself waiting for the rest of the guys to show up so they could figure out what they were going to do about the second album, his guitar propped up on his knees, when he thought of that question, and the answer came just as fast as the question had. He stood up.
It took longer than he thought to pack up his stuff, sifting through the detritus of the gear lying around, trying to figure out what of the equipment could fairly be called his and what he'd have to leave if he didn't want to have to punch someone later, cords and strings and mic stands and picks and straps and everything else they'd accumulated over the years. It reminded him of the day his father had come over to pick up the last of his things and the screaming fight he'd had with Frankie's mom about a frying pan (which his dad had never cooked anyway) and some old books that Frank had never seen anyone in his house even read, let alone argue over. Because it took so long, he was just loading the last of it into his Toyota when Neil showed up.
"Hey, man, you're here early," he said.
"Yeah," Frank said, shoving his hands into his pockets and trying not to act too suspicious. Like Neil wasn't going to notice when he left and didn't come back.
"Whatcha doing?" Neil asked, looking around him to the boxes in Frank's hatchback, the telltale two guitar cases.
"Oh, um. Packing." Frank shrugged.
Neil stared at him, his expression hard.
"So that's how it's going to be, huh?" he said finally. "You're just going to bail on us."
"I'm not bailing," Frank said, although he sort of was. "You guys. This isn't going to work and you know it, man."
"You don't know that," Neil said and Frank was surprised to see that Neil was practically crying, his face angry and red.
"Yeah, but I do," Frank said. "So, um. If I left anything, you can have it." He turned and slammed the hatchback shut, almost afraid to show Neil his back, like any second he could feel a knife in it. He walked around to the driver's side door slowly. "See ya, Neil," he said.
"You're going to them, aren't you?" Neil asked. His voice was flat and dead. "Those fags. Gerald and Mikey and the other assholes."
"Gerard," Frank said.
"Fuck you, Frank," Neil answered. "We don't fucking need you, you know. Pencey doesn't need you."
Frank got in the car and turned the key. He drove half a block before he looked in the rearview mirror. Neil was still standing in the middle of the street, his hands limp at his sides. Frank let out a breath. His heart was going a thousand miles a minute, like he was on speed or something, like he was in a race.
He drove carefully, his hands shaking on the wheel, making sure to use his turn signals and come to a complete stop at all stop signs. He didn't know what he would do if he got pulled over, but he felt like maybe he would scream in the cop's face. He pulled up in front of Gerard's house and parked his car, throwing an old smelly towel over his equipment to hide it from potential theives. Then he went up the cement steps and pressed the doorbell.
Gerard answered. He was wearing black jeans and a grey t-shirt and his hair was messed up and he had a line of pen down one cheek, which meant that he had been writing or drawing.
"Frank!" he said. "What is up, man?"
Frank took a deep breath. "I'm in," Frank said. "Count me in."
Gerard smiled a bright and open smile. "Fantastic," he said.