I wanna be the light
Mikey had always known that life wasn't fair, but that knowledge was never so painful as it was when he watched his brother kiss his best friend on the mouth. He had been the one who had met Frank first, in the rutted backyard of a girl he'd known in high school. Frank had been playing in the band and had come over to the keg where Mikey was standing (he always stood by the keg--it made him feel like he was talking to people, even though he really wasn't) and said "hey."
Mikey said "hey" back and watched him pour a beer, his tanned hand on the tap. Frank had had bad hair then, sort of long and stringy, white boy dreadlocks, and he'd been thick through the middle, which Mikey didn't like in guys (it reminded him of his brother, who was also thick through the stomach), but then Frank had looked up and said, "hey, don't you work at Eyeball, man?" and smiled and Mikey had thought "oh," and said "sure, yeah," and they were best friends from that point forward.
Frank didn't mind that Mikey didn't like to talk too much, and he didn't mind that Mikey didn't smoke dope because he didn't like dope too much himself--"it slows me down," he said once, waving off a joint, "and I like to be fast"--and Frank was almost always in a happy mood except when he was fighting with his girlfriend, Jamia, and Frank liked to have Mikey around, although Mikey couldn't say why, because he never did anything special, just sat there and listened to Frank talk and agreed with him for the most part, except about the fact that Frank loved Black Flag and all these other bands that spent all their time onstage screaming and bellowing and hadn't even listened to all of The Queen Is Dead album before Mikey came along. But besides filling in Frank's music education, Mikey couldn't think of anything in particular that he brought to the friendship. Frank didn't seem to mind.
Then Gerard came back from art school and spent all his time in his room in the basement with music on so loud that it shook the floor boards of Mikey's upstairs room and Mikey thought "I should introduce him to Frank." Not for any particular reason, but just because hanging around Frank always made him feel better. Maybe it would have the same effect on Gerard.
Gerard liked him and all, but he didn't seem to care one way or another about Frank then, not until after September 11th. Gerard had gone back to his room for a couple of days after that, and when he came out he said "I'm quitting art, man. I'm going to start a band. Me and Matt. You want in?"
Mikey had nodded, although he didn't know how to play anything, really, but Gerard already knew that.
"What about your friend, that kid? Frank. Would he be interested, do you think?"
Mikey shrugged. "He's already got a band, so--"
"Well, ask him. We need another guitar," Gerard said. He looked pale and tired, but also determined, like this thing was actually going to happen, which wasn't always the case with some of Gerard's ideas. He wasn't so good on follow through.
Frank had said yes--"Pencey's going to fucking hell anyway, so what the fuck, right?" he'd actually said, smiling his slanting smile at Mikey--and taught Mikey how to play chords on his bass by curling his smaller hands around Mikey's, his fingers warm and strong.
And it had been great, being in a band with Frank and Gerard, and Ray and Matt, too, who were cool guys, and Mikey thought that his life was pretty much going as good as it ever was, especially after Frank and Jamia broke up because of all his time on the road.
Frank had cried that night, which Frank didn't do much, Mikey knew. Frank was not some emo boy, not like Gerard, and had only cried once before that Mikey knew of. It had been at Mikey's grandma's funeral, and even then had been just one or two tears, "just because I felt bad for you guys, you know," Frank had explained afterwards. "It sucks for you guys."
But, so, anyway, Frank had cried when he and Jamia broke up for good, and Mikey had sat next to him and patted his shoulder awkwardly and handed him a kleenex and tried not to think "finally, finally," because he had actually liked Jamia after he'd gotten to know her. And for all his secret love for Frank, and his dreams about him and the dirty fantasies that played behind his eyelids when he jerked off, he really just wanted Frank to be happy and had resigned himself to Jamia's presence for that purpose.
Mikey went to bed after Frank had cried himself out, curling up in the other bed in the motel room and folding his arms around his own torso and smiling into his shoulder. Now, maybe, he thought. Not any time soon, of course, because Jamia was important to Frank and he needed some time to recover from that, to let her memory fade a little bit in his mind, but then. Then Mikey might step forward, he thought, and say "how about me?" and see what happened.
A month, he thought, closing his eyes. Thirty days.
Two weeks later, he caught Gerard and Frank making out in the back of the van.
Mikey'd gone into the van to get the spare set of strings he'd bought, which he'd left in the glove compartment because at the time it had been too much trouble to climb over everyone's legs and junk and haul out his case and put them away. He yanked the door hard, compensating for the rusty and creaking hinge and almost knocking himself in the head in the process, then leaned in and rummaged around in the glove compartment under the napkins and the insurance papers and an old package of Twizzlers, gone hard from exposure to the air. He found the paper envelope with his strings in it, coiled loosely, and he was leaning out of the van when something happened and he looked up.
He wouldn't know later what it was -- a noise, the flash of movement at the far side of his vision -- but something made him lift his head and there they were, in the second bench seat. Gerard was hunched over Frank, his hands still curved around Frank's jaw like he was holding him in place, their eyes wide. Gerard was on top of him.
"Hey," Gerard said. Gerard. "Don't say anything to the others."
"Okay," Mikey said. Frank was propped up on his elbows, craning his neck to see over the seat. Gerard was on top of him. Gerard was on top. "I just came to get my strings," he said, waving the envelope. Gerard.
"Okay," Gerard said. "Shut the door."
Mikey shut the door, banging hard to make sure it caught, and then he put his hand on the seam where the door and the frame of the van came together. The metal was warm beneath his palm. He could hear, barely, the sound of someone's voice mumbling something and then everything was quiet again.
He went back to his motel room and sat down on the hideous ugly violent bedspread and set his strings down next to him. He did not turn on the lights or the television. He did not restring his bass, which sat naked and unplayable in the ugly chair in the corner. He did not answer the door when someone knocked.
The worst part was that they wanted to talk to him about it.
Gerard came by first, maybe two or three hours after Mikey had caught them, and when Mikey didn't answer the door, jimmied the lock with his drivers' license to get in.
"What the fuck, Mikey?" he asked, clicking on the lamp. "Why didn't you answer the door?"
"I didn't want to talk to you." In the light diffused by the sickly yellow lampshade, Gerard looked like a demon or a ghost, his skin sallow and unattractive. Mikey wished Frank could see him looking horrible like this. Maybe that would change his mind.
Gerard blinked. "Dude," he said.
Mikey scowled. "What?"
"I thought you were cool with it."
Mikey squeezed his eyes shut and bit his tongue. He couldn't. He couldn't possibly tell Gerard, not now, not about Frank. "Cool with what?" he choked out.
"Man, Mikey, c'mon. You knew I was gay. You had to."
Mikey rolled forward shoving his face into his hands to keeping from laughing out loud. Did he know? He wanted to punch Gerard in the face. "That's not it," he said into his palms.
"Then what?" Gerard sat down next to him, shoving the bass strings out of the way, and put his hand on Mikey's shoulder, rubbing gently. "What's wrong, man?"
Mikey turned his head, looking past the protective tent created by his hands. Gerard was leaning against him, sort of a body hug, his cheek pressed against Mikey's shoulder, his eyes wide and sincere. Mikey sighed. He could feel the tears gathering under his eyelids and he took a deep breath to stave them off. "It's just. It's the band," he said.
"Oh." Gerard smiled, and rubbed Mikey's back with vigorous cheer. "Don't worry about that, man. It's cool."
"Um, what about. You know. Jamia?"
Gerard shrugged. "They're broken up," he said. "Frank says that he wants to try, you know. Exploring other things or whatever." Gerard's smile at the phrase "other things" was quick and dirty and Mikey wanted to slap it off his face. "And she's not really understanding. So they broke up."
"He likes boys," Mikey said.
Gerard shrugged again. "Sure, to some degree. But he told you that, right?"
Mikey shook his head. In their whole year of being friends, including the six months that they had lived together and Mikey had been forced to listen to Frank and Jamia having sex in the room next to his and watch as Frank got her name tattooed above his heart and see her sunny smile in the morning when she poured him coffee, Frank had never mentioned that he might possibly like boys. Even with his plan, Mikey's thirty day plan for love, he'd only ever really thought that maybe he would get to kiss Frank, once, before Frank put his hands on his chest and pushed gently away. Frank wasn't bi or gay or whatever. Frank didn't like boys. It had been the one thing that had made Mikey's obsession with him bearable.
"Oh," Gerard said. "Well, you should talk to him about that."
"So," Mikey said, drawing in a shuddering breath. His chest felt tight and awful, like someone was sitting on him. "Are you and he, like, together? As a couple?"
Gerard's bright and sunny smile was all the answer he needed.
Frank came by the next afternoon, as Mikey was packing his bag. They were driving through the night, straight to the club, something Mikey wasn't really excited about. He hoped that Gerard and Frank didn't sit together. A couple of times, he and Frank had shared a seat and Frank had leaned up against him and dozed off. Once, Frank had curled up with his cheek on Mikey's thigh and slept for almost an hour with Mikey's hand on his shoulder.
Frank knocked his rapid fire knock, ba dup bup, and opened the door without waiting for Mikey to even ask him to come in.
"Hey, man," Frank said, plopping down onto the bed. "Gerard says you're fucked up."
Mikey coughed. "I. What?"
"You know, about us. Him and me. He says you're mad I didn't tell you I was gay."
"I'm not--you're gay?"
Frank shook his head. "Nope," he said. "I mean, maybe. But probably not. I dunno. But are you mad about it, though?"
"I." Mikey sighed. "I'm not mad," he said.
"Cool," Frank said. He stood up. "Can I talk to you, then?"
Mikey squeezed the t-shirt he had in his hand. "Um. Sure," he said.
"Okay, this is really fucked up, okay, but I need to tell you something. Gerard and me. We're together. Like together together. And it's freaking me out." Frank flopped back on the bed. His t-shirt rode up, exposing the tattoos on his belly. He had the pink belt on that he'd bought in the mall in Belleville, New Jersey, the day that Mikey had found his Anthrax shirt in a vintage store. "How does this look?" Frank had asked, lifting his shirt up and exposing the pink leather. It had looked great then, too.
"Freaking you out how?" Mikey asked. Maybe they weren't really together. Maybe this was just something Frank had tried because he was so torn up about Jamia and he'd just needed something. Something different. Maybe it was already done. "Like--how?"
Frank closed his eyes. "Okay," he said. "Promise me you won't tell anyone, especially Gerard."
"I promise," Mikey said. His fingers knotted in the t-shirt.
"I think." Frank sat up. "I mean it," he said. His eyes were large and earnest. "You can't tell anyone."
"I swear," Mikey said.
"I think I might be in love with him," Frank said.
Mikey groped for the headboard, the t-shirt falling from his hand. "Really?" he said, sitting down. "That's, um. Great."
Frank grinned, covering his eyes with his hands. "I know, right?" he asked. "It's totally fucked up."
"I. What about Jamia?" Mikey asked. He folded his hands together between his knees and pressed the palms together tightly. "Didn't you? I mean, you just broke up."
"I know!" Frank shouted happily, flinging his hands into the air. "That's what's so fucked up! I don't know. Maybe it's just, like, infatuation or something. I don't know. But I just haven't felt like this ever before, and I had to tell someone so congratulations."
Mikey closed his eyes. "Thanks," he said.
"Hey, are you okay?" Frank asked. He scooted over and put one hand on Mikey's shoulder. "I'm sorry. Am I freaking you out too much?"
Mikey swallowed and chose his words carefully. "It's just. A lot. All at once," he said.
"Sure, yeah," Frank said. He hugged Mikey, arms around his waist, chin digging into his shoulder. Mikey didn't move. He wanted to. He wanted to grab Frank by the arms and pin him to the bed and kiss him until they were both gasping for air. It was either that or burst into tears, so Mikey did neither.
"All right," Frank said finally, releasing him. "Well, I'll let you chill and figure all this shit out, okay?"
"Okay," Mikey said.
"Cool." Frank slapped him affectionately on the back. After he left, Mikey got up and finished packing and hauled his gear out to the van. Ray was there already, tuning the radio, even though it was Mikey's turn to drive.
"You mind?" Ray asked. "I just really feel like it."
"Nah, I don't care," Mikey said. He climbed in and crawled all the way to the very last seat in the back of the van. It smelled musty back there and the air conditioning didn't quite reach. Mikey balled his jean jacket up into a little pillow and laid down facing the backrest, his head in the patch of sun streaming through the window, his butt hanging off the seat a little. He closed his eyes. No one bothered him, although he heard Gerard whisper "he's asleep" to someone else before the van got moving and the roar of the road filled his ears. When he woke up they were in Pittsburgh.
The house party was large and anonymous and they didn't get to go to too many anymore what with being on the road all the time, so Mikey was actually sort of looking forward to it until he actually got there and realized that he was going to spend the entire time watching Frankie and Gerard, making sure. They hadn't fucked yet, at least, Mikey hadn't heard them fuck yet, so that was a small blessing except for the fact that he spent every day all day dreading the minute that finally happened. That afternoon, in fact, Frankie and Gerard had gone into the hotel room next to Mikey's and shut the door and Mikey had sat on the edge of the bed and waited for it, for the final nail in his coffin, but he hadn't heard a thing.
He couldn't really hear a thing now, either, although it was because everything was too loud instead of too quiet. He stood behind the keg, leaning against the wall and sipping cool beer out of a red plastic cup, and watched Frankie drift around the room, laughing, drinking, talking. He wasn't with Gerard--they didn't touch or smile or cast meaningful glances or anything--but in another way he totally was.
In some way it had always been Gerard. Even before he started the band, before he became this crazy dramatic frontman, there had been something about Gerard that drew people to him, some dark charisma. People saw Gerard and they wanted to know him, be with him, take care of him. Mikey felt it, but he'd thought it was just because Gerard was his brother and brothers loved each other. Then he'd brought his first girlfriend, Ann Tremont, home in the ninth grade. Ann had been skinny and dyed her hair black and was almost completely flat-chested, and she was super smart and liked only English and Irish bands and Mikey thought she was awesome and after three weeks of kissing under the bleachers at school, he'd invited her to his house.
And Gerard, who'd been in the eleventh grade at the time, had come up the stairs from his basement room with a dirty t-shirt on and his hair snarled up on the back of his head to get a can of soda.
"Hey," he'd said to them.
"Hey," Mikey'd said. Gerard grabbed the can and went back downstairs.
"Is that your brother," Ann had asked, her eyes on the basement door. Five days later she'd broken up with him over the phone and said, before she hung up, "um. Does your brother have a girlfriend?"
Mikey hadn't brought another girl home ever, at least none that he wanted to keep.
He sighed and finished his beer. He closed his eyes. Maybe he should go home. Back to the hotel. Away.
"Need a refill?" someone said.
Mikey opened his eyes. It was a kid, a boy. He was in his late teens or early twenties, his hair falling in an arch over his dark eyes. He had on eyeliner and, maybe, lipgloss. "What?" Mikey said.
"I'm Ben," the guy said. "You need a refill?" He gestured with the tap.
Mikey didn't. He could feel the cotton in his head thickening into opacity. The room around him was blurry. But the guy, Ben. He was sharp. "Okay," Mikey said.
They staggered into a dark hallway past the kitchen, near a door that was half blocked with shelves. The guy's hands were hot on his waist, pulling at his shirt, yanking on his belt. The kisses were wet and hot and sloppy.
"God," the guy said. Mikey leaned back against the wall. He was taller than this guy, and the guy's hands were hooked over his shoulders, one leg wrapped around Mikey's thigh. His hands unzipped Mikey's pants.
The blowjob was fast and wet and maybe the best blowjob that Mikey had ever had, his shoulders braced against the wall, his hands locked onto the chair rail, legs spread as far apart as his pants would allow. The guy swirled his tongue and then sucked, swirl and suck, and then something happened and Mikey was completely engulfed and he arched away from the wall and came, hard, his breath leaking out of him in a small high whimper.
The guy slid up Mikey's body, his hands clinging to Mikey's skin, his lips trailing over Mikey's neck. "You're gorgeous," he whispered. Then he kissed Mikey on the cheek and walked away, fading to nothing more than a silhouette as he got closer to the lighted kitchen.
Mikey sighed and reached for his pants. For one second, while his dick was in the kid's mouth, he'd felt better, like everything would work out. Now, he felt worse. He headed out of the hall, tucking his t-shirt in as he went. He stumbled as he passed the kitchen, his hand still stuck in the waistband of the pants, and fell face-first into Gerard.
"Whoa, man," Gerard said, catching him by the arm.
"Sorry," Mikey muttered. He yanked away, running his hand over his hair. "You're gorgeous," the kid had said. He probably hadn't met Gerard, who was all hair and eyes and shining skin.
"What's going ð" Gerard stopped, his eyes scanning. "Mikey," he said, his voice dropping. "What the fuck were you doing?"
Mikey tried to smile, but his mouth didn't feel like it was attached to his face anymore. "Nothing," he said.
"Jesus," Gerard hissed. "Come here." He grabbed Mikey's wrist and dragged him down the hallway, past the light and noise of the kitchen and into a dim corner of the living room. Like most parties, this one migrated--when they'd gotten there the living room had been a pulsing den full of people--now it was empty, although Mikey could hear people out on the front porch through the screens, see the dim red lights of cigarettes bobbing in the darkness.
"What the fuck, Mikey?" Gerard said again.
"I don't know," Mikey said. He sat on the couch and hunched over. Misery and beer had formed a knot in his stomach and he thought he might throw up.
Gerard leaned over him. "Well, you better fucking start knowing," he whispered. "Because if you get caught fucking someone ð"
"It was blowjob," Mikey muttered.
Gerard shook his arm violently. "Whatever, Mikey! If you get fucking caught, you could fuck up everything. Everything."
Mikey laughed a little. "Everything's already fucked up," he said. His stomach really hurt and he could feel the sweat beading up on his forehead. "Everything."
Gerard sat next to him on the couch, his arm around Mikey's back. "Mikey, what the fuck are you talking about? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Mikey said. He wrapped his arms around his stomach, pressing close to relieve the pressure. "Everything's fine."
Gerard lifted his hand to Mikey's forehead, plucking Mikey's hair away from his skin with the gentle tips of his fingers just like their mom used to do when Mikey was sick. "Mikey," he said softly and that was it.
"I knew him first," he said, lifting his head and meeting Gerard's eyes. "Okay? That's what's wrong with me. I knew him first."
Gerard's eyes narrowed, then widened, twinkling in the light. They were so close, almost as if they were kissing, Mikey thought, and then he was overwhelmed, the knot in his stomach loosening and turning into tears, and he was sobbing bent over his knees, hugging them close in, ignoring Gerard's hand on his shoulder, his voice in Mikey's ear.
It passed like a summer storm, violent and scary, and then Mikey was left there, Gerard's hand warm on the back of his neck. He sat up and Gerard pulled him in until their foreheads were touching, Gerard's luminous skin cool against his own. Gerard's eyes were large and sparkling and almost overflowing with unshed tears of his own. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Mikey, honey. I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
From far off, a distant planet perhaps, or maybe just the kitchen, Mikey heard Frank's laugh, high and light and free.