On the Road 4
by Synchronik

Frank thinks maybe he'll sleep. They're on the bus for a whole two days and Jamia's gone back to Jersey and he's trapped on the bus and he thinks maybe he'll sleep. He's sitting in the lounge with the rest of them except for Ray, who's in the back or something. Mikey and Bob are playing video games and he should join them, get stupid and rowdy and end up dumping soda over Mikey's head or some other such shit, but it seems like a lot of work to get up and go over there and muscle in on the game, so he doesn't. Gerard's on the other side of the couch looking out the window. He likes looking out the window.

At least, Frank thinks he does. He spends a lot of time doing it, since he quit drinking, his chin lifted, a soft washed-out look in his eyes, like he's seeing something past the horizon. It's dark out, and Frank can see Gerard and Gerard's reflection in the window, both pale and shimmering like ghosts.

Frank should say something to him. He's been thinking about it for a week or so. Gerard's been quieter than usual, brooding about something, but Frank's been so busy that there hasn't been time. Skeleton Crew is just getting started and there's always fifty things to look at and make decisions about and he's got maybe ten messages on his phone all asking him what he wants to do about this or that, and then there are the shows and the rehearsals and Ray's been on a writing jag so there's new songs to learn and consider for the album, and there are still details for the headlining tour and saying something to Gerard keeps slipping further and further down the list, especially when Gerard doesn't seem to want anyone to say anything to him. Maybe it would be easier to talk to the reflection, the ghost of Gerard. Maybe it's not as closely guarded.

Frank sighs. It would take more energy to talk to Gerard than it would to shove Mikey over at the Playstation, so he doesn't, he just stands up, rubbing his palms on the thighs of his jeans.

"I'm --" he says and that's when they hear the thump and the bus skids in slow motion toward the side of the road and Frank falls back into the seat.

"What the fuck was that?" Mikey asks.

The bus rolls to a stop and Alan, their driver, turns around and shouts down the hallway "we hit something." They all look at each other for a second, unsure what to do, but then the bus hisses and the door opens and that's not a question anymore.

Frank still has his shoes on, so he's the first one out, the others following behind, shouting about shoes and yelling for Ray and generally being loud. His feet crunch on the gravel. Cars whizz by, going so fast that Frank is afraid for the people in them, worried that they'll be crushed by the force of gravity. He walks past the end of the bus, his hands in his pockets, head down. He's never walked by the side of a highway before and the noise and wind make him feel exposed, like he's be stripped of some essential protection.

After a minute or two he hears Ray shouting behind him and turns. The others are standing in a clump about twenty feet back -- whatever they hit he must have walked past it in the dark. For a second he looks ahead, into the empty darkness. He could keep walking, keep going, disappear.

"Frank!" Mikey shouts, and Frank turns around.

It's a deer, normal-sized, Frank guesses, although he doesn't have a lot of experience with the normal size of deer. It doesn't have antlers, so Frank supposes it's a female. The others are standing around it, Ray and Bob and Mikey, Gerard slightly behind them, Bob's arm in front of him as if he were warding off danger. That's how they stand with Gerard now, in front of him, pushing themselves to the outside so that Gerard can be in the middle. Frank wonders when that started. At some point, Gerard stopped being the leader and started being the center and Frank doesn't know when. When they fired Matt and got Bob? When Gerard quit drinking? When Elena died? Frank doesn't know, but just looking at Bob's outstreched hand makes him tired.

Mikey leans down to get a closer look and the deer rears up, its eyes wide and white in the flash of passing headlights, and Mikey takes two steps back into Ray, who catches him. "Oh god," he says. Frank knows how he feels.

"What should we do?" Mikey asks, but it's obvious what they should do. The deer is fucked up even in the dark Frank can see that its back legs don't work and there's a dark pool of something seeping out from beneath it and there's only one thing to do when something's that fucked up.

"Kill it," Gerard says.

"We already did," Frank says, even though the deer is still moving, its front legs scrabbling for purchase in the gravel.

"How?" Ray asks. "We don't have a gun or anything."

"Crowbar?" Bob asks, shrugging when everyone turns to look at him. "Or we could. Run it over again."

"That's fucking disgusting," Mikey says. "Jesus."

"Well," Bob says.

"Don't freak out," Frank says. "We'll figure something out." His head hurts from the rushing cars or the cool night air or the exhaust or something, but this is what he does. He steps forward. "We'll ask Alan or something."

"Alan?" Gerard laughs. "What the fuck does Alan know about shit like this?"

"Nothing," Frank says. Not for the first time lately he wants to slap Gerard. "Snap out of it," he wants to say. "Get your fucking head out of your ass and come back to us!" but no one says shit like that to Gerard, not now, not for a while. "What the fuck do you know?" he says instead.

Gerard laughs again and goes back to the bus. "Hey Alan," he shouts, "Frank's got a question."

Frank stands next to the deer. The other guys are watching him now instead of the animal. He can see from their faces that they're wondering if he's going to get pissed, but what the fuck difference would it make for him to get angry now? He just wants this whole thing to be done with so he can get away from everyone looking at him all the fucking time. He just wants to pull the curtain shut on this whole goddamn day and forget who he is for a while.

By the time Alan gets outside, Gerard following behind him shaking his head, the deer is dead. Frankie's not sure when it happened, exactly, but the deer is dead when Alan nudges it with one steel-toed boot.

"It's dead," he says. "Get back on the bus."

Frank follows them. He wants to look back, to see the outline of the deer's corpse in the lights, but Alan is behind him. He gets on the bus.

The rest of them have gone back to their lives, Mikey and Bob already in front of the Playstation again, Ray on the phone to someone, tapping his fingers on the Formica table. Gerard is curled up in the corner of the couch, again, his shoes lying on the floor, his eyes already on the window, on the eyes of his ghost.

"Fuck this," Frank says to himself and heads back to his bunk. He pulls his shirt off and unbuckles his belt and by the time he's stripped down to his underwear the bus is rolling again, pulling away.

He slides into his bunk. His sheets are all twisted up and don't smell very good and he should change them probably, one of these days, but he pulls them up over his shoulder and kicks around until they're sort of straight, like he made the bed. He lies there for a minute, hoping for sleep, and his mind drifts to the deer, its feet kicking out while everyone stood around and talked bullshit and its mangled corpse lying by the side of the road already attracting flies and he didn't even know when it died.

The tears surprise him. He doesn't cry often or easy, not since he was a kid, but suddenly he's gasping for breath, his body curled in on itself, tears dripping, his nose clotted with snot, his hands pressed to his mouth. He doesn't want them to hear.

It starts to hurt after a minute, his breath rasping in his throat, his stomach trembling. He wants to stop. He wants to forget the deer, Gerard, the band, every thing, but it hurts, the whole thing hurts and he can't breathe.

The curtain sweeps back with a clank of metal rings, and Frank sees someone standing over him though the water, outlined in the light from the lounge. "What the fuck, Frankie?" Gerard says.

"Shut up," Frank gasps, groping for the curtain.

Gerard squats down next to the bunk. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" he asks. He rests his hand on Frank's bunk.

"Nothing. Leave me the fuck alone," Frank says.

"Fine," Gerard says. He doesn't stand up, though. Instead, he puts his hand on Frankie's head, pushing his fingers into Frank's hair. Frank tries to pull away, but the bunk isn't very big and Gerard just moves with him, leaning in to the bunk. "Stop being an ass," he murmurs.

"Leave me alone," Frank says again. He's struggling, trying to get away, but Gerard's hand is warm and tangled tightly and there's no avoiding it without pushing him out of the way and getting out of the bunk, which Frankie is just about to do when Gerard says

"aren't you alone enough?"

Frank stops. Gerard stays where he is for a minute, his hand still in Frank's short hair. Then he moves it, stroking Frank's cheek, cupping his shoulder. He rubs his hand across Frank's shoulder blades. "You okay?" he asks after a while.

Frank laughs. "No."

Gerard laughs, too, tipping his forehead to Frank's mattress. His hair spills forward and brushes Frank's face, sticking to the damp spots. "Me either," he says.

They stay that way for a while, Gerard's hand on his back, his nose in Gerard's hair. Then Gerard pulls back and sits on the other side of the aisle, his knees drawn up. He sighs. "If you ever " he begins.

"I know," Frank says. He does. He knows that Gerard wants to be there for him, that Gerard wants to support Frank the way the others in the band support him. He knows that Gerard means it and that it will probably never happen.

"Okay," Gerard says. "I just wanted you to know."

"I know," Frank says again. Gerard surges forward, then, and kisses Frank on the forehead. His eyes so close up are dark and liquid. Then he kisses Frank's mouth, gently, his palm on Frankie's face.

"Sleep well," he says. He pulls the curtain closed. Frank doubts that's going to happen at all, but before he can finish the thought he's asleep.

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