Gerard tries to stay open to things, to feelings, to love, which is why he's cool with it when Frankie, who they've only really known for a month or two, gets on the van and slides across the chapped naugahyde bench seat and puts his head on Gerard's shoulder. Frankie's smaller than he is, and thinner, and probably better looking if you want to get right down to it, and they found him wasting away in a crappy metal band in a club one night about three months ago and had to play him the demo tape three separate times before he agreed to join the band, but he fits in real well now.
"Hmm?" Frankie murmurs, and Gerard tightens an arm around his waist reassuringly. It's fine. He doesn't mind. Frankie curls in closer and is asleep by the time they're on the turnpike.
They drive through the night, first Ray, then Matt, then Mikey at the wheel, sleeping in shifts on the bench seat behind Gerard and Frankie, the radio down low. They don't let Gerard drive at night because he gets lost in his thoughts and occasionally crosses the yellow line a little bit, which is no big deal and he tried to tell everybody that the one time when he sort of almost hit a truck and had to veer really quickly, but whatever. Frankie usually does drive at night, but for some reason no one asks tonight so Gerard and Frankie doze, their legs twined together, Frankie's head on his chest. Once, when they stop for gas, Gerard wakes up from the fluorescent light in his eyes. Frankie shifts on top of him, tilting his face upward and Gerard kisses his forehead. When Gerard wakes up again, it's daylight. The van is hot and everybody else is gone.
They're in the diner the van is parked in front of, a Denny's rip-off on the outskirts of a town too small for an actual Denny's, and when Gerard walks in, the place basically screeches to a halt. Seriously, it's like a movie or something. Gerard expects someone to do a spit take. He's wearing all black, of course, and the remnants of the show makeup from last night, and his hair's probably a disaster and it's stupid, he knows, but he still gets a thrill from stopping at the hostess station and surveying the whole restaurant before sauntering over the band's table in the smoking section. He's always loved being the center of attention, no matter the reason.
"What's up, my sweethearts?" he says to the table. Ray flips him off. Mikey and Matt continue looking at the menus. Frankie smiles his fox-like smile.
"Darling Gerard," he says. "Join us." He scoots over and Gerard slides into the booth, an arm over the back of the seat behind Frankie.
"Um." It's the waitress, a girl a little younger than him, who looks nice. Sweet. "Can I get you anything?"
"Coffee," he says. "And -" Frankie nuzzles his cheek, rubbing his nose against Gerard's face. "Pancakes," he coughs out. Frankie licks his cheekbone. "With sausage."
"Uh," the girl says.
Frankie draws his hand across Gerard's throat, his fingers turning Gerard's face into a kiss. It's open mouthed and soft, but there's no tongue. He can feel the cool metal of Frankie's piercing against his lip. He has his eyes closed, but he still hears the gasp.
"Um, ah. So. Um. Do you want cream?"
Gerard opens his eyes and there are Frankie's delighted eyes staring into his. God, he's pretty. "Yeah," Gerard says slowly. "Lots."
The waitress gets the order from the rest of the table. Gerard doesn't stop looking at Frankie, his soft mouth, the narrow lines of his face. His hair falls over one eye and Gerard pushes it back gently. The whole thing is too funny.
"If you cocksuckers get us kicked out before I get my eggs, I'm kicking your asses," Matt says. Gerard laughs and leans back, away from Frankie. He eats with his left hand, though, leaving his arm around Frankie's shoulders. When they get up to pay and Gerard holds out a hand to pull Frankie up, he catches the scowl of some asshole in a trucker hat at the counter. He folds Frankie's fingers into his.
"Let's roll, baby," he says. Frankie's smile is wicked and gorgeous.
They get into Chicago with three hours to spare, just enough time to shower and have a couple drinks and then get their asses on a small stage in a crowded back room. The crowd rocks, though, warmed up by a successful local band, and Gerard sings his fucking heart out and is actually crying by the end of one of the new songs, "The Ghosts in You," which they do as an encore.
He comes offstage and Mikey's there already with the towel and a tight hug, which Gerard accepts gratefully. After a minute he sits down on the ratty green couch and dabs at his face and tries to get his emotional shit together enough to join in the party. The music isn't something that opens him up, so much as it is something that keeps him open. Writing the songs is a little like bleeding, but singing them, god. It's the best therapy Gerard's ever had, like lancing a wound and draining the poison. It's still scary, though.
"You okay?" Frankie asks, bringing him a beer.
Gerard nods. "You know," he says. Frankie nods back. He's seen it once or twice before. The first time, Gerard thinks Frankie was a little freaked out, but he seems to have adapted.
Gerard leans back and sips his beer and watches the party go on around him. There's a song to be written about the small dramas that make up a party, the heated glances and inevitable sadness when it's all over. Gerard just hasn't figured out what it is yet. He drinks whatever people bring him and smokes and watches the story unfold, looking for hooks.
Frankie comes over after almost everyone's left but the group and sits on the arm of the couch and puts his hand in Gerard's hair, pushing it back off his forehead. It feels good. Gerard leans over and rests his cheek on Frankie's thigh and lets him play with his hair. He read somewhere that people with Aries birthdays like to have their heads touched and he doesn't know if he thinks that's really true or if it's just some astrological bullshit, but he does like it. Frankie's fingers thread through his hair, tugging it gently away from his face, pushing it behind his ears.
"Ready to go?" he asks. Gerard nods against his thigh. "All right." Frankie holds out his hand and pulls and Gerard stumbles to his feet.
"Whoa," he says. He hooks his arms over Frankie's shoulders.
"How many beers did you have?" Frankie asks.
"Seven," Gerard says. "No, wait. No. I stopped counting at seven."
"Fuck," Frankie says. His hands are warm on Gerard's waist. They feel good.
"Your hands are warm," he tells Frankie, leaning down so that he can look into Frankie's eyes. "Your hands are warm and you have a pretty mouth."
"Yeah, thanks, you drunk fuck," Frankie says, but not meanly.
"You're welcome," Gerard says.
The motel's shit, just like they all are, but Gerard's too drunk to care. He yanks back the bedspread and curls up on the lumpy mattress and passes out.
He wakes up because someone's in his room, whispering his name.
Gerard squints, but can't tell who it is. "What?" he says.
"It's Ray," Ray says. "Are you okay?"
"Sleepin'," Gerard says.
"I know. But aren't you cold?"
Gerard pushes himself up to a sitting position. Now that Ray has mentioned it, he is cold. His clothes seem chilly against his skin. "What?" he says again.
"The heat's broken," Ray says. "In my room and Mikey's. And yours, I guess. C'mon."
"Okay." Gerard stands up and gropes for the door. The guys are piled into a room two doors down, with the television on.
"His heat's broken, too," Ray says. Mikey and Frankie scootch over on the bed and make room for him.
"Hey," Mikey says.
"Mmm," Gerard says. He sits on the edge of the bed and shoves his hair out of his face. He feels like shit. He needs water and aspirin and maybe some more beer if he's going to stay up.
"How's it goin', Gee?" Frankie asks, slinging his arm over Gerard's shoulder and leaning up against his ear.
"mmm," Gerard says again. Frankie pulls him back, so that they're reclining on the pillows, Frankie's arm across his chest like a bandolier. Gerard turns his face into Frankie's neck and dozes to the smell of sweat and Frankie's skin. He likes being with them, his boys, his band, listening to them talk shit in the middle of the night, feeling the soft thud of Frankie's heart against his back.
Gerard remembers when Mikey was just a little kid, maybe seven or eight and he would run down to the end of the driveway when Gerard came home from school and fling his little kid arms around Gerard's waist and squeeze hard and say "I love you!" It was embarrassing at the time, especially when some of the other kids were out on the street - they had plenty to laugh at Gerard about without his little brother being all lovey dovey - but Gerard never told Mikey to stop. Not once. It's one of his favorite memories, Mikey's tight hug and open happy face.
He wakes up to Mikey's tight hug, like his dream has crossed over the thin line into reality, but it's not Mikey, it's Frankie, his face pressed into Gerard's chest, his breath hot and moist against Gerard's collarbone. Gerard runs his hands over Frankie's back, his thin t-shirt, his heated skin. Frankie sighs and moves.
"Gee," he whispers, half-asleep.
"Yeah," Gerard says, speaking into his messy hair.
"I love this band," Frankie says.
Gerard chuckles a little, trying not to wake up Mikey, who's also asleep on the bed. "Yeah," he says. "Me too."
Frankie pushes himself up on his hands until his face is above Gerard's, his eyes barely visible in the faint light from the parking lot filtering through the curtains. His breath feathers over Gerard's mouth. Frankie's little, but for the moment he's Gerard's full world. "Okay," he says. The words come out so softly they're almost only breath.
"Yeah," Gerard says again.
Frankie's not heavy. He settles onto Gerard, propping his elbows on either side of Gerard's head, careful to avoid his hair. He slides his rough cheek against Gerard's.
"You're so fuckin' pretty," he says.
"Shut up," Gerard tells him. His hands are on Frankie's waist, pushing up under his shirt.
"You are," Frankie says. "Sometimes I just look at you."
Gerard closes his eyes. "Shut up," he whispers again, but he doesn't really mean it this time. He's come to terms with his looks and the way people talk about him - pretty, girly, feminine - but he almost likes it when Frankie says it; he likes thinking that Frankie notices him.
"I can't," Frankie says. Then his weight shifts and Gerard opens his eyes just as Frankie leans down to kiss him. His mouth is cool and his lip piercing is cold and his tongue slips into Gerard's mouth easily. Gerard's arms slide around Frankie's waist and hold him close.
"God," Gerard says, after a moment. He can feel himself getting hard against Frankie's leg. He wishes that Mikey were somewhere else, on the floor in the van, in one of the other rooms, because he wants to roll over and push Frankie back into the mattress and kiss him hard. He wants to rip Frankie's pants off and suck his dick. He wants to fuck him.
"God," Frankie echoes and leans in for another kiss. Gerard shoves at his shoulders.
"Wait," he whispers. "Mikey."
"Fuck Mikey," Frankie whispers, but he settles back a little. He's still on top of Gerard, but it's not as desperate somehow. Gerard tips to one side and dumps Frankie off onto the mattress, curling around him, drawing his knees up behind Frankie's, his nose next to Frankie's ear.
"Have you," Frankie asks.
"Fucked Mikey?" Gerard asks.
Frankie laughs. "Don't be a dick."
"A couple of times. You know. Experimenting with stuff."
Gerard smiles. "It's pretty cool," he says. "You haven't."
"Blow jobs," Frankie says. "Also pretty cool."
Gerard laughs again. "Look, whatever," he says. "This is just. You know."
"On the road," Frankie says.
"Right," Gerard nods and presses his face into the back of Frankie's neck. It smells like cigarette smoke and shampoo and sweat.
They're on the road the next day, heading west on Interstate 80, the windows down. Gerard drives. He's got his arm on the window sill. It'll burn, but he doesn't really care. Road sun is different, grittier. More real.
"Hey," Frankie says, leaning over the back of the driver's seat. "When do we eat?"
Gerard focuses on the road thinking he watches me and trying to answer the question. "Um," he says. "An hour?"
"Gee says an hour," Frankie yells over his shoulder.
"Now!" Ray shouts. "Food now!"
"Food now! Food now!" the others chant. Frankie's voice is sharp in his ear.
"Bite me!" Gerard shouts, and everybody laughs, which means they aren't really hungry, they're just asses.
"Cool," Frankie murmurs in his ear. He kisses Gerard on the cheek and leans back into his seat. Gerard smiles at the road through the windshield. The yellow line winks back at him.
He was worried when they first started touring that he was going to run out of things to say in the songs, that separated from everyday life he was going to turn into one of those songwriters that wrote about "life on the road" and "fame" and shit. Like Journey. Or J-Lo. He'd never had much use for songs about the music business because, like, how were they supposed to be relatable to fans, who hadn't ever been in the music business? What did they have to say?
"That' s why I don't like rap," he says to Ray and Frankie over lunch.
Ray coughs up a french fry. "That's why you don't like rap?" he said. "Because it's too ?"
"Self-referential," Gerard says. "Yeah."
"I call bullshit," Frankie says.
"What? You can't call bullshit on my own personal reasons for not liking something. That's bullshit."
"I can too," Frankie says, "if your reasons for not liking rap are full of shit."
"Man, I'm telling you, the reason why-"
"Look, fucker, I know why you said you don't like rap but you're full of shit. You like rap. NWA, you like them."
Gerard shakes his head. "Sure, but, come on. It Takes a Nation of Millions? That's a good album."
"And you like Public Enemy," Ray pointed out.
"Get, g-get, g-get, getdown -" Frankie says.
"9-1-1 is a joke in your town!" Ray answers.
"Okay, but still." Gerard is waving his hands now, trying to get them back on track. "Those are exceptions to the rule, which is, basically, that I don't like rap."
"You like Eminem," Mikey says from the next table over.
There's silence for a full thirty seconds.
"Eminem?" Ray says finally. "Seriously?"
Gerard buries his face in his hands. Fuckin' Mikey. He knew there was a reason he should have said no when Mikey asked to be in the band. "Yes," he says into his palms.
"What? What was that, Slim Shady? I don't think I fucking heard you?" Frankie grasps his wrists and tries to pull his hands away from his face.
Gerard slaps his palm down on the table. "Yes! Okay? Yes. He's a fucking lyrical genius, okay, and I respect that."
Frankie nods, his eyes wide. "Okay, homey. Whatever."
"You." Gerard points at his little brother. "I am going to kick your ass when you are not looking, you little punk bitch."
Mikey does not seem concerned.
"So, you were saying something about how you don't like rap music, Marshall?" Frankie asks in his best innocent voice.
"Oh, fuck off," Gerard says.
They call him Slim Shady for a week after that, the bitches.
That doesn't happen to him, though, the drying up. He gets out on the road and they start touring and it's like he can remember every fucking thing that every asshole ever did to him and every single hurt feeling he's ever had and the songs come rushing out of him like water down a river in the spring thaw.
Frankie sits next to him on the motel bed, flipping channels. The motel is shit, again, yet, still, but for some reason, this one has really good cable and even cheap pay-per-view porn. "It's for the lonely truckers," Matt had said, when everyone was expressing confusion about why they had a hundred cable channels and yet the glasses in Ray's bathroom still had lipstick marks on them. "You know, so they can," he said, but then he got embarrassed and wouldn't finish the sentence, even when Frankie was all "oh, but Matt, whatever do you mean?" Gerard wonders sometimes why a pretty normal guy like Matt puts up with their freak show. It's not like he's in it for the money.
So, Frankie sits next to him, holding the channel button down, and Gerard writes a song about this girl he used to like who fucking kissed him and then the next day went and took naked pictures with her boyfriend and showed them around school. He remembers her half-ashamed half-triumphant face when he finally saw them. "Like I was ever," she had said. He'd walked away from her before she could say anything else.
Gerard sets the notebook down and sprawls on his stomach on the bed. "People are asses," he tells Frankie.
Frankie looks down at him, amused. "You're just figuring this out?" he says. From this angle Frankie seems sharp and wild, like a hero out of a comic book. Gerard wants to draw him, but Frankie keeps saying no. He likes attention, but not scrutiny.
"No, no." Gerard has his chin in his hands, so his head bobs when he talks. He feels a little stupid. "No way. Things just. Remind me."
"Yeah," Frankie says. He stretches out next to Gerard on his stomach, too. It's been a week or a couple of weeks since they kissed on another motel bed maybe four states away and Gerard feels his stomach loop at the sudden thought of doing it again. Frankie crosses his arms in front of him and rests his chin on his wrists. He wears make-up for the shows just like Gerard does, but he looks almost better without it. His eyes are clear and light-colored and strange.
"What," he says.
Gerard blinks. "Nothing."
"You're staring at me."
"You stare at me all the time." It's not true - Frankie doesn't stare - but he has to say something.
"That's 'cause you're gorgeous," Frankie says, his eyelashes fluttering. "Oh Gerard!" He rolls onto his back and clutches at Gerard's arm.
"Shut up." Gerard tries to pull his arm away, Frankie struggles and they end up closer than before, Frankie on his back under Gerard's arm, staring up at him. Frankie's pretty fucking smart, Gerard thinks. He gazes down at Frankie's sharp face, the angle of his jaw line, the dark slant of lashes over his hazel eyes.
"Are you gonna kiss me or what?" Frankie whispers, and Gerard does.
It's like last time, overwhelming. Gerard feels himself falling in to Frankie's mouth, his body. His clothes, an old t-shirt and jeans, are suddenly too tight. He can feel his skin tingle where he wants Frankie to touch it. Frankie twists underneath his arm and then he's on top, pinning Gerard to the mattress, his arms above his head. He's little, Gerard thinks, and then Frankie slides his hips over the crotch of Gerard's jeans and arches his back and Gerard thinks oh god.
The first time he was with a guy - and there haven't been many times, just, like, three or four or five since the first time in high school - it was sort of rough and scary and that had been part of the turn-on for Gerard. Kissing a guy, touching a guy's dick, it wasn't something that you were supposed to do, and part of the fantastic complication of doing it was that the guy could get angry at any minute and stay "hey, what the fuck?" Not that that had ever actually happened because Gerard had never tried anything with a guy who was all butch and protective of his straightness, but it could, and the risk was enough. Gerard liked pushing boundaries, but he wasn't a fucking danger junkie.
But this, with Frankie, wasn't the same as those other times. Frankie leaned down and kissed him, his hand brushing over Gerard's cheek, pushing his hair back off his face. He was going to be here tomorrow, touching Gerard's elbow, making some stupid joke, driving the van way too fast. He was going to be around.
"You're so," Frankie says, kissing him again, grinning. Gerard smiles back. Frankie surges back, up into the block of sunlight that comes through the dirty window. He pulls off his shirt. His skin is pale where it's not mottled with tattoos. Gerard doesn't have any tattoos. He can't think of anything he wants to remember forever. Maybe this.
He squirms and half sits up and pulls his own t-shirt off. Frankie's hand lands in the center of his chest and pushes him back down, sliding his arms around Gerard's neck. They're pressed together, skin to skin. It makes Gerard dizzy. He runs his hands up Frankie's sides, over his ribs, back down to his waist. He doesn't know why he expects the tattoos to feel different under his hands, but they don't; Frankie's skin is all sleek and warm beneath his palms. He slips his hands beneath Frankie's belt and under the elastic of Frankie's boxers.
Frankie moans into his mouth and pulls back a little, settling on Gerard's erection and undoes his belt, yanks his jeans open, without ever stopping the kiss. Gerard runs his fingers over Frankie's ridged stomach and down into his underwear. His cock is smooth and hot in Gerard's hand.
It's hot, Gerard can feel sweat forming at his hairline, and Frankie's breath is like steam on his neck, his body hunched over Gerard's, arching into Gerard's hand. "stop," he gasps, moving in and out of Gerard's hand. "gee, stop."
Gerard lets go reluctantly. Frankie backs up slowly until he's sitting on Gerard's thighs, his thin chest heaving.
"God," he says.
Gerard smiles. "Call me Gee," he says. He shoves and Frankie falls over backwards and now he's the one on top, Frankie's hands shoving his pants they and pulling him tight. They still have their pants on when they come, first Frankie, his back bowed in a perfect arch, his hand scrabbling at Gerard's shoulder, then Gerard, mouth open, head back, sliding through Frankie's wet heat.
"This is sick," Frankie says, wiping his hand off on Gerard's t-shirt before he hands it over.
"Very nice," he says. He swipes the t-shirt over his stomach and drops it over the edge of the bed.
"Yeah, I hope you got other clothes clean," Frankie murmurs. He's inched back toward Gerard and has his nose pressed against Gerard's shoulder and one arm over Gerard's chest.
"If I don't, guess whose I'm wearing," Gerard says. He puts his hand over Frankie's.
"Heh." Frankie smiles against Gerard's skin.
They lie there for a minute. Gerard feels Frankie's breath flutter, then even out, fanning over his arm. He rubs his hand over Frankie's fingers. He's got a boy on his bed and a patch of sunshine on his stomach and a clean t-shirt in his bag. He's all set.
When he wakes up the light in the room is orange and swiftly dwindling. Frankie is sprawled over him, one hand hooked over his shoulder. They've sweated together as they slept, but Gerard is chilly. His skin ripples in goosebumps. His pants are still open and Frankie's have slid down so far that Gerard can see the smooth pale skin of his hip. Gerard touches it.
"mm," Frankie says.
Gerard presses his face into Frankie's short hair. "Hungry?" he asks.
"Okay," Frankie says. He presses a kiss into the middle of Gerard's chest. "You pay."
Frankie pushes himself up, his hair hanging into his eyes. "What? You think I'm going to pay? It's our first date. And I already put out."
"You're easy. Everybody says so," Gerard answers. He sits up. Frankie straddles his lap and kisses him once, twice.
"Everybody's right," he says. He twines his arms around Gerard's neck and kisses him again.
The best parts of life are like the best parts of art, Gerard thinks in the split second before he walks onstage in Lincoln, Nebraska, the opening act for someone else. They make you feel things, like this, this moment when everything is possible. The others mill around him, adjusting their straps, checking the wires. Matt spins a drum stick rapidly on his fingertips. Gerard's mother told him once, after the first time she saw them perform live, that he was brave. He hadn't know what she meant.
Mikey had, though, when Gerard told him after the show.
"It's like. I dunno. You don't have anything. You get up there just, you know, by yourself. And sing. I think that's what she means."
"It doesn't make sense," Gerard told him, but it sort of did in this final second, when the lights went down and the roar went up from the crowd and he was just about to step forward.
"Hey!" Frankie shouts over the sudden din.
Gerard looks up.
"I love this band!" Frankie says.
When he steps out on stage, Gerard is still laughing.