|The Commentary for
primitive radio gods
[Justin says: For some reason, I'm really inspired by songs. The lyrics, sure, but also the sound of certain songs determines how the story will go. If you've never heard the song "Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Pocket" by Primitive Radio Gods, then you haven't heard a key element of Ride, because this story is really my attempt to embody how the song makes me feel. It sounds like summer evenings to me, like drinks with friends, like recognizing that something more meaningful is happening in your life but right now the moment is too perfect to care about that. The atmosphere of this song is, for me, what Ride is all about. Go. Listen to it, now.]
The girl's name was Joanna and she had three cats and she wasn't really so much a girl as she was a woman, with her large old house and her ancient stretched-out Ramones tank top and her bare feet and hemp ankle bracelet.
[J: I never start stories like this, in such a random way. My first lines are typically very planned. But this one ... I don't know. I think the idea of the story is that everything isn't planned, so this line seems to work, though normally I wouldn't have used something like this.]
"Hey!" she said to Gerard when she opened the door. He was standing on the porch, the rest of the band hovering on the steps behind him like the chickenshits they were.
"Whatever," Frankie had said when Gerard called them out for cowardice. "This looks like the house from The Chainsaw Massacre."
"What are you gonna do without a singer?" Gerard had asked, pressing the doorbell.
"I can sing," Mikey had said, [J: Mikey cannot sing.] which had cracked everyone up until the woman came to the door and said "hey!" with the biggest smile Gerard had seen on anyone looking at him besides his own mom.
"You must be the band! I'm Joanna." She stuck out her hand, bracelets jangling. She looked older than them, maybe somewhere in her late thirties or early forties, but it was hard to tell. Joanna wore a lot of eye makeup. [J: I've known several women like Joanna, and they all wear a lot of eye makeup and they're all wicked cool.]"What's your name?"
Gerard introduced everyone and Joanna beamed at them all and made little comments about everyone. She loved Ray's hair and thought Frankie was "the most adorable little thing" and said "so cute!" to Mikey and "ahh, the strong silent drummer" to Matt. "And you must be the frontman," she said to Gerard, taking his hand and pulling him into the house. "You have a dramatic quality."
Gerard felt stupid, but he blushed anyway. Joanna folded her fleshy arm through his and squired him around the large old house, showing them the kitchen (large, light, old grey linoleum), the downstairs bathroom (small, dimly lit), the upstairs bathroom (which had a real cast iron claw foot tub nestled under a window and made Gerard's skin itch with desire for a bath despite the red rust stain streaked from the faucet to the drain), her bedroom (which she showed them without pressing Gerard's arm meaningfully, just a matter-of-fact arm gesture and the plain statement "this is my room") and finally, something she called "the band room."
[J: I wanted to set the tone immediately that Joanna is an Original Character, but she's not a Mary Sue. (Although she does ending up sleeping with Ray, it's off-screen and not a center of the story. Joanna instead is a sort of maternal figure, a character that makes Gerard feel comfortable enough to allow other things to happen. That's why this passage mentions that, while Joanna grabs Gerard in an overly familiar way, she's not interested in nailing him.]
The Band Room was actually two rooms connected to each other by a narrow doorway. [J: This is actually the one aspect of the story that's my particular wish fulfillment. Don't we all want two quaint little rooms in the upstairs where cool hot band members come and stay? Yeah, that's what I thought.]There was a twin bed and a set of bunk beds in the front room, made neatly with mismatched quilts, and Gerard could see another bed in the far room. Both rooms had been painted blue at one point, but the walls were crowded with scribbles of magic marker and paint, and looked almost black in some spots. He stepped closer to the nearest wall. Nico DeGrave, 1998, it read. [J: SHOUT OUT! (Hi, xoverau!)]
"Yeah," Joanna said. "Someone started it by writing lyrics on the wall and now all the bands sign. The markers are in the top drawer of the dresser."
"Cool," Mikey said. "Do you have anyone good? I mean, um --"
"I know what you mean, honey," Joanna said. "And I don't know how good you think they are, but c'mere." She headed over to the closest bed. The signature was right above the headboard, right where someone would have signed if they had pushed themselves up on one elbow and written in the most convenient spot.
"Wow," Mikey said softly. Gerard leaned in and read.
"Michael Stipe," he whispered. "We are the dreamers of dreams." There was no date.
[J: The quote "we are the dreamers of dreams" is actually half of the quotation "we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams," written originally by Arthur O'Shaughnessy and made (more) famous by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It seems like something Michael Stipe would say, to me.]
"Yeah, that was, like fifteen or twenty years ago, when Becky ran the house," Joanna said. "But it's still pretty cool."
Gerard put his hand out over the signature. The plaster wall was cool to the touch. He could not feel where the signature began or ended -- it felt no different from the rest of the wall -- and that seemed meaningful to him, somehow, in the middle of this shady room, that he could sense the history here, feel himself breathing it in, but it was not tangible. None of the best things were.
"So, this is where you'll be tonight," Joanne said, waving her hands around the room. "The bar's gonna give you dinner, but I have chips and stuff in the little cupboard in the other room and soda in the mini-fridge through there." She pointed into the other room. "And if you want something else, you can check out the kitchen, but I warn you, I'm totally vegan, so good luck. We're gonna have a bonfire after the show and it usually gets pretty crazy, but there's no neighbors, so no worries. Breakfast's at ten tomorrow morning, if that's early enough. Donuts, coffee, cereal, bacon and eggs if I love you enough to serve dead animals. That cool?"
"Um, yeah, that's cool," Ray said, his eyes wide with shock and love for her.
"That's totally cool," Mikey said. He was still kneeling on the bed.
"Cool," Joanna said. "Well, get settled in. It's one now and the bar will order food for around eight, so you got plenty of time."
[J: Yeah, that's a little clunky, but my major concern here was that people wouldn't wonder why they were all lazing around when they had a show to get ready for. Of course now I can think of at least three ways to do it differently, but hindsight is 20/20.]
"Can we use the tub?" Gerard asked.
"Knock yourself out, honey," Joanna said. "Just don't leave it gross. [J: An author tries to stay out of things, but I'm sorry - people leaving the tub dirty is gross.] I'll be outside if you need anything."
Matt grabbed her hand as she walked by. "Thank you sooo much," he said.
Joanna smiled up at him. "You're welcome, sweetie."
They waited until they heard her feet on the stairs before they moved.
"I get this one!" Mikey shouted, bouncing on the Michael Stipe bed.
"Dude, this is seriously awesome," Frank said. "She's like a rock 'n' roll mom!"
"It's a punk rock bed and breakfast," Gerard answered. [J: For one brief shining moment, I considered calling the story "Rock 'n' Roll Bed and Breakfast," but really, that title is too cheesy for words, right? But it did cross my mind.]
"I love her," Ray said, collapsing onto the bottom bunk bed. "I'm going to marry her."
"Top bunk!" Frankie shouted, but Matt caught him around the waist and leapt up onto the top bunk before Frank could get there. "No way!" Frank said, but Matt was much bigger than him and that was all the way he needed.
Gerard stepped over to the narrow doorway. The second room was much like the first, only it was dominated by a high queen-sized bed with a wrought iron frame.
"Oh, man," Frankie moaned in Gerard's ear, leaning up against him. "Where'm I gonna sleep?"
"We can share," Gerard said. "It's big enough." He ignored the sudden rushing feeling in his chest. It was probably from the heat.
They unloaded their personal stuff from the van, the screen door banging behind them, their feet clomping up and down the stairs, but Joanna didn't seem to mind. Gerard caught a glimpse of her in a lawn chair in the weedy back yard, her feet up on a stump and a beer in her hand. He wondered how she made her money.
[J: In some ways, Gerard is the stand-in for the reader here, in the way that all point of view characters are. Because Joanna's house is so idyllic and perfect, I wanted to make sure that the reader's possible questions (like, how does this chick afford to eat?) were answered. The question arises here and is answered toward the end of the story, when Gerard finds out that Joanna is an artist. If you don't answer this question, the story loses a little of the tinge of reality it has now.]
He dragged his duffel bag up the stairs and dropped it under the window, rooting through it for his bathroom stuff and clean underwear. Frankie was already lying on the bed on top of the multicolored quilt, his iPod headphones lodged firmly in his ears, his eyes closed.
"I'm going to take a bath," Gerard said. Frankie opened his eyes.
Gerard held up his shower kit and Frankie waved at him, his eyelids sinking slowly. The outside room seemed a lot louder than his own, what with Ray already chatting to his mom on his cell phone and Mikey playing the band's lone ancient GameBoy, Matt leaning over his shoulder and moaning at Mikey's crappy moves. "Not there!" he said, slapping Mikey on the back. "Put it -- God! You need a square for that spot now."
"Shut up," Mikey said. "You don't know my plan."
[J: Yeah, sorry, but my impression of Matt has always been that he's a dick. So there you go.]
The bathroom, by comparison, was as dark and shady and cool as a cave. Light that had managed to filter through the trees outside dappled the insides of the tub; its curved surface seemed to ripple like the hide of a fat pony. Gerard found the tub stopper and ran water until it was up to the edge of the safety drain. He stripped, folding his clothes and setting them on the closed toilet lid, his body pale like a fish's in the strange afternoon light. Then he eased into the water, careful not to splash too much, and leaned back against the sloped wall of the tub until the water was up to his chin, the ends of his hair floating around his face like seaweed. He could almost feel his skin, dust-clogged and grimy, open up like a million tiny sponges and suck the water in. Outside, there was the creak of a rusty lawn chair, and then the tinny sound of a radio playing The Eagles, a song Gerard knew, but couldn't name. He hummed along, quietly.
[J: This is probably as descriptive as I get, ever (count the metaphors!), but I wanted this particular scene to be very vivid in the reader's mind. This is the scene where the reader gets to spend time alone with Gerard. Nothing happens - it's not a revelatory moment or anything - it's just an opportunity for Gerard and the reader to be alone.]
He'd been in there a while, eyes closed, humming to classic rock, when someone knocked on the door.
Frankie. "Come in," he said.
Frankie did, but stopped in the doorway. "Gee, man, you're naked."
"I'm in the bathtub," Gerard said.
"Good point. I gotta --" Frank made a gesture at the toilet.
"Go ahead," Gerard said. "Just don't put my stuff on the floor."
Gerard closed his eyes again. Frankie moved around, shifting Gerard's clothes to some non-floor place, unzipping, peeing, flushing, washing his hands. Then there was some more shifting and then silence, but not the sound of the door opening.
Gerard opened his eyes.
Frankie was leaning against the sink, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes barely visible in the watery dark.
[J: And here's the part where Frankie gets to spend time alone with him. :) Them being together like this is meant to be very intimate. How many people do you pee in front of?]
"What?" Gerard said.
"You're really pale," Frankie said. His voice sounded far away, like Gerard was underwater. "You're pale like a girl."
"You're weird like a pervert," Gerard answered and that did it; Frankie snapped a goofy smile at him.
"Shut up, you sun-fearing vampire-like freak of nature," he said, throwing a washcloth at Gerard.
"Pervert," Gerard said, catching it before it fell in the water and throwing it back.
"Exhibitionist," Frankie said.
"Short!" Gerard shouted. He scraped his hand along the top of the bathwater, sending a small wave over Frankie's feet.
"Oh, motherfucker! These are my good Vans!" Frankie said. "Now they're going to smell like feet!"
"They already smell like feet," Gerard said, sinking back into the tub and turning on the hot water with his foot. "And you're short."
"Jealous," Frankie said, and left.
Gerard washed his hair after Frankie left the room, rinsing it by dunking his whole body under water and then standing up really quickly so the soapsuds slid off his skin in a single white sheet. There were a ton of dingy white towels in the cabinet by the door, so Gerard took one for his hair and dried off with one, careful to drape them both over the edge of the tub to dry when he was done with them. He brushed his teeth and pulled on his clean boxers and headed down the hall to the band room feeling at least ten pounds lighter, water still evaporating from his skin, his clothes in a bundle against his chest.
[J: There's nothing like the light clean feeling after a really great bath, is there?]
"Sex-ay!" Matt said when Gerard came in. [J: Told you. Dick.] He was on his bunk playing with the GameBoy, but Mikey was asleep curled on his side with his glasses still on, so Gerard didn't say anything. Gerard stuck out his tongue at Matt, who didn't see, and went over to Mikey's bed.
"Mikey," he murmured. "Hey."
Mikey blinked and lifted his head. "Hmm?"
Gerard pinched the bridge of Mikey's glasses between his thumb and forefinger and pulled them off, setting them on the floor just under the edge of the bed so Mikey wouldn't step on them if he got up to go to the bathroom or something.
"Mmm," Mikey said. He groped for Gerard's hand, but he was already mostly asleep again, so Gerard just patted his hair and went through the doorway to his own room.
[J: It's important to me in a lot of my stories to have the main character interact with the tertiary characters, just so we get a feeling about who the main character is. I wish I could say that I knew at the time that I wrote this passage that Mikey's subplot would become so significant, but I didn't. I just wanted to show that Gerard loves his little brother and watches out for him.]
Frankie was back on the bed with his headphones on, lying on his stomach in a patch of sunlight, his eyes closed like a cat's. Gerard dumped his clothes next to his bag and pulled out a notebook and a felt-tipped pen and sat down cross-legged on the floor. From that angle, Frankie looked sharp and pointed, elvin, and Gerard exaggerated those features as he drew, pointing Frankie's ears up through his hair, making his faint smile more Pan-like, lengthening the fingers curved under Frankie's chin.
He drew for a while, until the sun moved and Frankie, genuinely asleep, rolled onto his side and out of Gerard's line of sight. Gerard shoved the notepad back in his bag, combed his damp hair, and sprawled beside Frankie on the bed. The real old-fashioned clock on the side table on Frankie's side of the bed said that it was 3:17, plenty of time to relax and enjoy the day before dinner, but Gerard was asleep in five minutes, the hum of Frankie's iPod buzzing in the background like a lazy fly.
When he woke up, the light had changed, turned into the rich yellow sun of late summer afternoon. He opened his eyes slowly and saw Frankie there, his forehead no more than three or four inches away, almost curled into Gerard's bare chest. Their hands, Gerard's left and Frankie's right, were tangled together, but they weren't touching otherwise, and Gerard was rocked by the sudden feeling of well-being and happiness that rushed over him, warming his body.
"Frankie," he whispered.
It happened suddenly, Frankie's eyes fluttering open, his bright gaze locking on to Gerard's, his head shifting back on the pillow, and Gerard, drawn by Frankie's rare and unguarded look leaned forward the minute distance between them and kissed him right on the mouth.
[J: If you've ever slept with someone, just slept, you know that it can have a strange degree of intimacy, particularly in the moments while you're both waking up. It's the rise from unconsciousness that does it, the feeling of being present when another person comes to life. That's the idea I was trying to get here, before we move into the sextastic.]
He felt Frankie's hand tighten around his and Frankie's mouth tighten, and then it was all relaxation and loosening and Frankie was sinking back against the mattress and Gerard was pushing forward and Frankie's mouth was open under his and his tongue touched Frankie's lightly, briefly, before he pulled away, his heart racing, and his dick stiff in his shorts.
Frankie was still looking at him, but the look had changed from something open to something wary and hesitant and Gerard didn't know what to say about that, so he removed his hand from Frankie's and used it instead to cup Frankie's face, to brush the hair back off his forehead. "Don't worry," he said, although he didn't know what he was saying that about. He put his arm around Frankie and pulled him in until Frankie was pressed against his neck, his bare chest, his whole body. "Don't worry, okay?"
"Okay," Frankie mumbled against his skin.
They stayed that way for a long time, their bodies tight together, the rasp of Frank's breath in Gerard's ear, until Frankie wiggled a little and said "I have to pee."
Gerard released him reluctantly, unwrapping himself and rolling onto his back. After Frankie had left, he didn't know what to do, to wait there until Frankie came back or what, and he didn't want to think about it, so he got up and got dressed in his old clothes and went out into the other room, where Matt was still on the GameBoy and Mikey was sitting cross-legged on his bed reading a comic book and Ray was flipping through a guitar magazine wishlisting his latest line-up.
"Gee, you should see these pedals," he said, waving the magazine at Gerard, even though he knew that Gerard didn't give a fuck about guitar pedals as long as the guitar made the right sound at the right time. Only guitarists could care about that shit. [J: As someone whose ex-boyfriend learned how to play the guitar while we were together, I know whereof I speak.] Still, Gerard went over and sat on the bed next to him and looked where he pointed and nodded and asked about the differences between stuff and didn't really notice when Frankie came back into the room.
They got dressed after that, because it was getting to be around seven and the light was fading a little, and Matt brought up a case of beer from the van, Milwaukee's Best, because there was nothing so nasty as The Beast warm, and Frankie and Gerard, the only ones who wore makeup onstage, sat on Mikey's bed and applied eye shadow to each other. [J: Ah, yes, another scene a faire in the MCR story - "the boys apply makeup to one another" - but it's another one of those intimate scenes. I wanted to make the progression in this story from Frank and Gerard's current friendship to their romantic relationship feel like a natural movement, like a single step in a direction they were already going.]
"Okay, now, hold still," Frankie said, his fingertips light on Gerard's chin, the eye pencil poised. "Ready?"
Gerard, who had been wondering if they had always sat as close as this when they were doing each other's eye makeup, grunted his assent. Frankie hadn't worn makeup before joining the band, and none of the other guys did except Mikey from time to time, so Gerard had been surprised the first time Frankie came and asked to be shown how to do it.
"You don't have to," Gerard had said. "It's not required."
"I want to," Frankie had said, and he had almost every day since then, even just when all they were doing was traveling from one gig to another. At first, the makeup had looked strange on him -- the image that came to Gerard's mind was the way the girls had looked at his high school prom, self-conscious and gawky in their finery _ but Frankie got used to it or it got used to him or something and now he just looked like Frankie, with or without makeup, the same way he looked like Frankie whether he was wearing a black t- shirt or a white one.
When Frankie put on Gerard's makeup, he always ended up wearing red in great rings around his eyes, like a devil raccoon. He liked it, but he didn't understand it, since when he did his own makeup he favored black. But it didn't really matter, he supposed: red was cool, and made him look like he'd been terribly wounded and hadn't slept for days from the pain. [J: Gerard would think this was cool. He's so deep and tragic.]
"Hold still," Frankie said. His mouth was open and he was squinting with concentration, drawing red lines (it was actually a pencil that was supposed to be used for lipstick that Gerard had bought at a Walgreen's a few towns back, but it stayed on better under the lights than plain old powder) and smudging them with his fingertips. It was Frankie's makeup face.
Gerard had one too, and it also involved his open mouth, [J: My sister claims that it in impossible to put on makeup without opening your mouth (or at least thinking about not opening your mouth). My limited experience says that she's right.] and he kept catching himself making it while he was drawing the giant Xs Frankie favored over his eyes. Frank wouldn't do them himself and he wouldn't let Mikey do them: only Gerard had the steady hand required to make sure that the Xs were properly aligned whether his eyes were closed or open. Gerard didn't tell anyone, but he secretly liked that there was something only he could do for Frankie, that he was in some way indispensable.
[J: Isn't that what we all want? To be indispensable to someone? To be special?]
Joanna knocked on the door at about 7:30, calling "everyone decent" before coming in. She looked different in her tight jeans and a black top that showed off truly shocking amounts of cleavage, although Gerard couldn't quite say why, since she still had on the same amount of eye makeup, namely, lots. Maybe it was her boots, which were real motorcycle boots, [J: Of course, Joanna rides a motorcycle. She is kickass!] black leather with low heels, or the clump of bracelets that circled her wrists, but Joanna seemed tougher than she had when she opened the door in her bare feet. Gerard wondered if she still had her hemp ankle bracelet on.
"Ready? You guys can follow me to the bar."
"Sure," Gerard said.
They piled into the van and Joanna took off on a highly polished Harley-Davidson, sans helmet. "Dude," Matt said. He was driving. "Your new wife is going to crack her head open on that thing."
Ray shook his head sadly. "I know," he said. "I tell her and tell her, but she's a wild child. What can I do?"
"I bet she's a wild child," Frankie said. "In the sack."
"Oh, eww," Mikey groaned. Gerard patted his shoulder. Mikey was too young and cute to understand that sometimes the best sex wasn't about what people looked like on the outside. Gerard had found that out the first time he'd had sex with a guy. He'd been twenty and in college and the guy had been older and sort of scruffy looking and had rolled Gerard over and fucked the hell out of him and Gerard had skipped classes the next day in favor of lolling around in his bed, running his hands over his own body, playing with his nipples, remembering the sex.
[J: This is something that's particularly true of younger adults, I notice. They're all about the outside. And sure, yes, the outside matters, and I have to admit that one of the things that attracted me to Gerard was his pretty pretty face, but even that's not entirely true, since when I became attracted to Gerard he was about fifty pounds heavier than he is now and often had his hair in his face because he didn't particularly care about how he looked. In other words, I was attracted to his outside because it wasn't perfect. The Mikey of this story will get to that, I think, but he's not there now. Maybe after his alternate lifestyle experiments. :) ]
The bar looked like nothing, just like every bar they played at, a cinder block square in the middle of a gravel parking lot surrounded by trees and overgrown weeds. Gerard knew by now, though, that the outside didn't matter so much -- some of their best shows had been in the middle of Hicksville, U.S.A., where people were starved for something new and different -- and a place that had someone as cool as Joanna living nearby couldn't be all bad.
[J: You may notice that the bar not looking great is sort of a reflection of what Gerard thinks about Mikey's comments about Joanna - it's not the appearance that matters always.]
They hauled the gear in through the back door and set up on the little raised stage in front of the pitted dance floor. The place smelled of stale beer and old cigarette smoke and something fried and delicious, chicken or homemade french fries or something. Joanna helped them unload, plugging in the amps and the small sound board in secret outlets that only she could find in the darkness of the empty bar.
"Is this your place?" Ray asked her after they'd finished and were all sitting on the edge of the stage. Gerard pressed the cold can of Budweiser that Joanna had liberated from the cooler in back to his forehead.
"Nope. I'm an artist," she said. "I make quilts and paint and stuff. This is Rex's place."
As if on cue, the back door slammed open. "Joanna!" Someone bellowed. Gerard stood up, reflexively, like he was going to meet a teacher or parent.
"In here," she shouted.
Rex was a tall guy, bearded, in a black t-shirt and a leather vest. He was thinner than Gerard expected a bar owner to be and had deep blue eyes, and looked like he could kick ass. Gerard liked him immediately. "You must be the band," he said to them.
Joanna introduced them, starting with Ray and ending with Gerard, who held out his hand. Rex took it, folding it in his own callused hand. "You look like a fag, boy," he said to Gerard, leaning in to look at his face. "You a fag?"
[J: Rex surprised me with this comment. I didn't know what to make of it, exactly, but it just struck me as something he would say but not actually mind.]
Gerard paused. Rex hadn't said it meanly, like there was something wrong with being a fag in Rex's book, but more like someone would say "are you left-handed?" Gerard decided to go with the truth.
"Sometimes," he said.
Rex reeled back with laughter, yanking Gerard with him until he had Gerard's head in his grip and was actually giving him head noogies. "Sometimes!" he roared. "Sometimes! I was a fag sometimes, too," he said. "But most a those times was when I was up to the prison. You ever been in prison?" he asked, releasing Gerard, who rubbed his head where Rex's knuckles had dug in.
"No, sir," he said.
"Nah," Rex said. "You never been to prison. You know what they do to pretty boys like you up there, though, sure."
[J: Okay, yes, a lame shout out, I know. But it still cracks me up. The whole character of Rex cracks me up.]
Gerard, uncertain if there was a question in there somewhere, smiled at him, still rubbing the sore spot on his head.
"All right," Rex said, stepping back, his hands on his hips. "Who the hell wants barbeque?"
The food was fantastic old-fashioned picnic food, with corn and potato salad and chips, and they ate at a couple of sagging old picnic tables out behind the bar and Gerard wondered if somewhere on a bathroom wall there was a note saying "outside Birmingham, Ohio, is band nirvana" and ate until he felt like he was going to throw up.
"You a fag, boy?" Frankie boomed, coming to sit next to him, his plate loaded with seconds.
Gerard smiled at him. "This is a pretty cool place," he said.
Frankie nodded through a bite of potato salad. "We should become the house band," he said. "We could live at Joanna's."
"Excellent plan," Gerard said. "You tell her."
"I'll have Ray tell her," Frankie said, nodding over to where they were sitting shoulder to shoulder, Ray talking about something with his hands, a plate balanced precariously on his lap, while Joanna looked up at him and smiled.
[J: Chicks dig guitarists, man, what can I say? I'm sure Joanna's actually interested in Ray's new pedals.]
"Even better," Gerard said.
Rex got up after a while and opened the front doors and if he leaned forward until he was almost flat stomach-down on the picnic table, Gerard could see through the screen door the shadows of people sitting at the bar, drinking and talking.
The "opening band," a little band made of local high school kids who didn't get dinner, showed up at about eight, when the sky was shifting from yellow to blue in anticipation of night. There were four of them, and they seemed like nice enough kids although Gerard could only remember their lead guitarist's name, Ben, because he was small and really fucking cute and looked up at Mikey like Mikey was a goddamn angel or something. Gerard wondered if Rex had ever asked Ben if he was a fag. [J: Ah, the omnipresent Ben. You may notice that in every story I write where Mikey hooks up with someone who in not in the band, that person's name is Ben. Why? I don't know. But Ben sounds like a nice guy, a guy Mikey can hook up with and like, if he's not going to be tragically in love with Frank or Gerard. Or even if he is. ]
The band, whose name was Orange Crush, [J: I didn't notice this at first, but I've got sort of an REM theme going on here. Strange what the subconscious will do.] which was okay, but not great in Gerard's own opinion, seemed very impressed with the fact that the band they were opening for was from New Jersey and had been playing on the road for almost a year and had actually recorded something in a studio.
"We want to," said the lead singer, "but we just don't have the cash yet."
"I hear you, man," Gerard said. "It took us a while to get it together. You just have to keep playing."
The lead singer nodded. "You staying at Joanna's?"
"She's cool," he said. He was a blond kid, sort of good looking, sort of mean looking, like a movie bully. He seemed nice enough though. "My mom doesn't like me hanging out at her house because she's sort of a hippie freak or something, according to my mom, but whatever, right?"
Gerard, who had never had any such problem with his own mom, nodded like he understood.
"Hey," the lead singer said, tipping his head in toward Gerard's. "Can I ask you something?"
"What's the story with your boy, man?"
Gerard looked around. "Frankie?" he said. [J: A tell-tale sign that Gerard's already made some sort of switch in his head. Frankie's his boy, automatically.]
"No, dude, your boy. That guy." He nodded toward Mikey, who was sitting on top of one of the picnic tables gnawing on a piece of corn on the cob.
"Mikey?" Gerard asked, stunned. "He's my brother."
"No, dude, I know. I'm asking, you know, about does he, like. Play."
"Play," Gerard said. Sure, Mikey played. He played bass, he played Tetris, he even played D&D if Gerard made him, but that wasn't what the kid was asking and Gerard was hesitant to commit Mikey to something when he wasn't sure what it was.
"I'm sayin' my boy Ben is interested, if your boy is interested," the lead singer said.
Gerard caught himself just before he laughed in the poor kid's face. Truthfully, he wasn't entirely sure whether Mikey "played" or not. It wasn't something he wanted to think too much about, Mikey's penis and what he did with it. "Tell him," Gerard said. He paused and took a deep breath. "Tell him to give it a shot. He should go for what he wants, man."
The lead singer smiled and for a minute Gerard saw a ghost of real charisma flit across the kid's face. This kid had it if he wanted it, the weird ability to make strangers love him. "Cool," he said. "Thanks." He headed back over to the clump of his band and whispered something in Ben's ear.
"What was all that about?" Frankie asked, coming up behind him and standing on tiptoe to speak directly in Gerard's ear, his hand on Gerard's shoulder. Gerard tipped his head to Frankie's so that their foreheads touched, sort of.
"Mikey's got an admirer," he said. They watched as Ben kicked some rocks around and then shuffled up next to Mikey, who looked up, corn still stuck to his mouth. Ben said something, then Mikey said something, then Ben said something else and smiled. He was really fucking cute, a little dark-haired big-eyed waif of a kid in black jeans and a studded leather belt, his hands shoved in his back pockets, his smooth face radiating waves of hope. Mikey shrugged and nodded and Ben's smile stretched until Gerard thought his whole face would be swallowed by it. Then he got control of it and nodded coolly and walked back to his band.
[J: Ahh, young love. I just adore the idea of Mikey meeting and having a brief romantic love affair with a Ben. This took my by surprise in the writing, which happens to me fairly regularly, as I don't outline my stories in advance, and in this case, I think it really added depth to the story by giving the reader something to care about besides Gerard/Frankie. It makes the story more rounded.]
"Aww," Frankie crooned in Gerard's ear. "Mikey has a date."
"I wonder what the age of consent is in Ohio," Gerard said.
[J: The age of consent in Ohio is 16, but not for the kind of stuff Ben wants to do, I'm sure. :) ]
Orange Crush went on maybe five minutes later, after a group hug that made Gerard smile to see it. His band didn't do anything like that, any superstitious ritual crap, [J: Unlike *nsync. :) ] but that didn't mean it wasn't cute to see, all of them supporting each other like that. They didn't go in to watch, except for Mikey, slinking through the screen door while Ray and Matt hooted after him. The rest of them stayed outside, sitting on the picnic table, smoking cigarettes in the dusk, until all Gerard could see of anyone was the vague shift of shadows and the orange tips of their smokes. Crickets began to chirp on the edges of the gravel lot, and Gerard could see fireflies blinking on and off like little tiny mirages that vanished when you looked directly at them.
Orange Crush wasn't too bad. The lead singer had a naturally high voice, which was interesting, and they had a good feel for how to break up a set and were reasonably tight players for being a high school garage band, but their lyrics totally sucked. "I'm over you, what can I do, but say it to you, say that we're through," the kid sang at one point. Frankie's cigarette dropped to the ground, a casualty of his laughter.
"Hey," Gerard said. "Don't laugh. We sucked that much once."
Frankie, close enough now that Gerard could see him in the faint light coming from the neon signs over the bar, shook his head furiously. "No," he said. "No, we didn't, dude."
"We totally sucked," Ray said. "Don't you remember?"
"No," Frankie said. "It was two years ago not even and I have no recollection. My memory's been wiped clean."
"I'm going to wipe your ass clean with my boot," Ray said.
"Whatever. We didn't suck that much. We already knew how to play, except Mikey, and Gee's lyrics were never that bad."
"Wow. I'm overwhelmed," Gerard said. "Thank you so much for that ringing endorsement. Maybe I'll have it put on my tombstone. 'Here lies Gerard. He was never that bad.'"
"Shut the fuck up," Frankie said, nudging his shoulder into Gerard's. "You know what I mean."
"Mmm," Gerard said. They sat out there, the four of them, in companionable silence, smoking cigarettes and listening to the trill of crickets and the deep rasp of something Gerard thought might be a bullfrog. The night was dark, especially out around the edges of the parking lot where the one sodium light from the front of the building gave way to utter blackness, but it was nice, sitting outside, listening to live music with his friends.
[J: One of my favorite things about bandfic is that when you get a bunch of guys together, straight or gay, they talk smack to one another. They rip on each other and make fun and call each other asses, even if (especially if) they really like each other. I think it's something that attaches to the Y chromosome.]
"Okay, motherfuckers," Rex said, finally, leaning out the screen door. "Get yer asses up on stage and do what we paid you for." He ducked back inside.
Gerard stood, brushing off his pants. "Okay, motherfuckers," he said.
"Those who are about to rock, we salute you," Ray said. [J: Ray's old-school, what can I say?]
They went in and down the short hallway past the long narrow bar and into the open dance area. Mikey was already onstage, his bass strapped across his chest, talking to Ben, who was standing near the corner of the stage peering up at him.
"Mikey Way, Rock God," Frankie said in Gerard's ear. He grabbed Ben's ass as they passed, but by the time Ben turned around Frankie had already hopped up onstage and was shrugging into his Pansy guitar as if nothing had happened.
Gerard stepped up, flicked the mic once or twice to make sure it was on, and pulled it off the stand. "Hi," he said into it. "We're My Chemical Romance and we're fags."
"I'm not," Ray said, into his own mic. The crowd laughed. There were some rednecks, or what looked like rednecks to Gerard, guys in trucker hats and shirts that looked stained from real work, but most of the crowd was younger, and there were a surprising amount of girls, a surprising amount of club kids for the middle of nowhere. He turned to look at Matt, to make sure they were ready to go. Matt nodded.
"And away we go," he told the crowd, and started screaming.
It was strange, watching himself onstage, as he had from time to time when someone videotaped a show, because what seemed clear and in control to him at the time he did it came across as crazed and painful in later viewings. The thought that he could, possibly, see himself at some point rolling around on the floor, his shirt untucked, his belly flashed at an unflattering angle, was almost enough to make him stop doing it, so he vowed not to watch any more videos and kept doing whatever he felt like onstage. He screamed at the audience (most of whom got it, and screamed right back). He jumped off the edge of the little stage as if it were a cliff and he were committing suicide. He flung his arms out wide like Jesus and crawled on his knees and rolled on the floor and got himself tangled in the microphone cord and he sang into Frankie's mic, ignoring the screech of feedback from his own, and at one point, toward the end of the set, when Frankie came over to tell him something or ask him something or say something, Gerard kissed him.
[J: Okay, here's the thing - I'm not a performer. I mean, I was in the high school musical, and I have enjoyed the intoxicating power of the drunken karaoke, of course, but I'm not talented in that way. So I don't really know what it's like to be onstage, but I imagine in some ways it's like when you hear your voice on your own voicemail, like, "hey, I don't sound like that", or when you get ready to go out to a party and think you're looking fantastic, and then you see a picture of yourself and are all "when did I get fat?" So that's what Gerard goes through here.]
It wasn't like that afternoon on the bed, which had been accidental and sweet. This time Gerard put his hands on either side of Frankie's head and slammed their mouths together. Frankie tasted like sweat and metal and after an instant his hand went to Gerard's waist and twisted in his shirt. The crowd, about two or three hundred people, roared, and although Gerard couldn't tell if it was a good roar or a bad one, he chose to think of it as a good one and smiled at Frankie when they pulled apart. He had warned them, after all.
Frankie smiled back, casually, and fiddled with something on his guitar.
When they started the next song, Frankie came over and stood inside his outstretched arm to play, leaning heavily against Gerard's shoulder, his face turned upwards, and didn't leave until Gerard licked his neck.
[J: Some day I'm going to luck out and Gerard and Frankie are going to make out at a show that I attend. Until then, I have to compensate with this. sigh.]
There were just two more songs after that, then Gerard was saying thank you into the mic and wrapping it up and stepping over to bar. People came up behind him, slapped him on the shoulder, said congratulatory things in his ear, but he didn't really hear them, although he nodded as if he did. Compliments were diluted when they had to be repeated seven times to be heard over the din of conversation and the jukebox.
"Hey!" Rex shouted, stretching over the bar and grabbing Gerard's hand tight. "That was motherfuckin' awesome! You motherfuckers are great!"
Gerard felt his face break open in a smile. He couldn't help it; Rex's enthusiasm was contagious. "Thanks man!" he shouted back.
Rex pushed a mug of beer at him. "On the house," he said. "Have a couple on me!"
Gerard, who had actually come over looking for water so as not to dilute their fee with a huge bar tab, said "Thanks, man!" again and grabbed his mug and headed back out the back door for a little peace and quiet before the party began.
"Hey, where'd you get that?" Matt asked. He was already out there, his cigarette already lit.
"Rex," Gerard said. He took Matt's smoke from him as he passed. Ray was next, then Mikey and his shadow, the drummer from Orange Crush, Frankie and finally Matt again, back with his own beer. Gerard sat on top of the closest picnic table, his beer next to him, his hands dangling between his knees. The night breeze cooled the sweat on the back of his neck.
"So where are you guys going to next," someone asked.
"Toledo," Gerard said. "You ever been?"
"Once or twice," the kid said. "It's, you know. Ohio."
"I sort of like it," Ray said. "It's real green."
Gerard listened with amusement. He hadn't been close friends with Ray when they were in high school, but he suspected that if he had been high school would have been a lot more fun. Ray always seemed happy pretty much where he was. He liked every place and every person and he didn't get angry very often and he remembered people's birthdays. He was maybe the sweetest person that Gerard ever met. [J: It's true, I get the feeling that Ray is very much a "glass is half-full" type of guy, a ray of sunshine (if you will forgive the pun) in a group with a naturally bleak outlook.]
"He likes Ohio," Frankie said, lifting up one of Gerard's hands and sitting on the bench between Gerard's knees. Gerard hunched over so that he was whispering in Frankie's ear, his arms draped over Frankie's shoulders. [J: Have you sat like this, with someone's breath on your neck and their voice in your ear? I highly recommend it.]
"It's Ray," he said softly. "He likes everything."
Frankie was perfectly still beneath his hands for a minute, like he was holding his breath. Then he turned his head just a little, a corner of his smile visible. "Yeah," he said.
The conversation went on in the dark, swirling around them like sparks from a campfire. Gerard listened and laughed and talked a little himself, but if someone had asked him what he'd said that night, he wouldn't remember. He would remember only the feeling of the cool air on his neck and the feeling of Frankie's body between his legs, the slim line of Frankie's neck beneath the finger he brushed over it, the sweet chemical scent of Frankie's hair gel under his nose. At one point, after Rex had brought out even more beers and a demure white envelope that Gerard assumed contained their money, Gerard slipped his arms down between his own knees, underneath Frankie's arms and around Frankie's waist, folding his hands over Frankie's stomach and tucking his nose into Frankie's neck near the collar of his t-shirt. He could feel Frankie's smile against his cheek. [J: Again, I wanted to show the gradual shift from friendship to something else. Gerard's focus goes from outside to just the loop between Gerard and Frankie. External to almost internal.]
His back started hurting after a minute, so he sat up and settled for looping his arms around Frankie's neck. People drifted back and forth between inside and outside, bringing beer and chips and cigarettes in and out, but Gerard just kept sitting there, his arms over Frankie's shoulders. At one point, Frankie put his hand up and folded it around Gerard's wrist.
Ben, the guitar player, came over and sat down next to Frankie on the picnic bench. "You guys are awesome," he said, peering up at Gerard. "Seriously."
"Thanks," Gerard said. It wasn't like he didn't appreciate the comments, because he did, but it was strange hearing over and over and over again how awesome they were at every venue they played and still not being able to move into his own place because he couldn't afford to pay the rent. Still, he thought, to this kid he must have looked like a total success, driving around backwoods Ohio playing music for money. He guessed it could seem a little bit like a dream life. [J: Ah, the disconnect between other people's imaginations and your real life. Isn't this always the way?]
"So, um. Did you listen to us from out here?" Ben said. "I mean, I didn't see you in there."
Frankie squeezed Gerard's arm and stood up. "I gotta, um. Get something," he said in a way that meant he was totally going inside to laugh at Orange Crush. Again.
"Yeah, you guys sounded all right," Gerard said. "Good set."
"Thanks," Ben said, looking after Frankie. "He's really cute."
Ben boosted himself up onto the top of the picnic table next to Gerard. "Is he your boyfriend?"
Gerard coughed. "I thought you liked Mikey," he managed.
"No, I do. I mean, I don't, you know, I mean, he's really cool and everything and, but, we just met and so I don't know, you know if. What's going to happen is just, like --"
Gerard patted the kid's shoulder, relieved. "It's cool," he said. "I get it." [J: This is one of those small scenes that I like to include that reminds the readers of the fundamental traits of the main character. Gerard's a big brother, and he's always struck me at the type of guy who likes to help out other people, at least when he feels like he's got something to say. So here, he talks to Ben, not about sex, because that would involve thinking about his own brother's actual penis, which, eww, but redirects the conversation to something he is comfortable giving advice about - music. And if you thought that I had that all planned out when I actually wrote this snippet of conversation then you are sadly mistaken. It's one of those things that happens naturally when I feel like I know a character.]
Ben nodded, sitting on his hands, his shoulders hunched over. "It's. You know. Hard."
"Sure," Gerard said. "So how have you guys been playing together?"
They'd been together for about six months, Ben said. They were all in the same class in high school, but he hadn't really known any of the other guys, "for, you know. Reasons." Gerard, who'd been called a faggot roughly three times a week every week of his high school career, understood. Ben liked the band, and thought the music was good, but "the lyrics, man," he said, lowering his voice and keeping his eyes on the lead singer, who was standing near the other table talking to some girl in a short skirt. "I tried to tell Alan, but he doesn't want to listen. He's all into expressing himself and shit, and that's cool or whatever, but he's never, like, read a book."
[J: This is another pet peeve of mine, bands that sound good, but don't have anything to say. What they say doesn't have to be important, but it does have to MEAN something. Even *nsync, with its factory-produced pop hits, had songs that said something, even if that something was only "I Need Love."]
Gerard nodded. He'd seen that a lot, especially in bands made up of young guys. They knew that they wanted to say something, but they just didn't have any way to say it. It was sort of sad, actually. "You gotta keep pushing that, though," he told Ben, "because the lyrics mean something to the audience. Most of them don't play an instrument and can't understand exactly what you're doing on guitar or drums or whatever. They like it but they don't understand it. The lyrics are something that the audience can understand right away. They don't have to be the best thing ever, but they do have to not be crap."
Ben nodded, shaking his hair out of his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "I mean, I want the song to be about something."
"Then keep pushing it," Gerard said. "Write your own stuff if you have to."
Ben turned toward him. The kid was just stunningly cute, with his big blue eyes and his dark hair and his finely shaped bones. Gerard didn't know what Mikey was going to do, but if he had even the slightest inclination toward boys, he'd get on this kid. "Thanks, man," Ben said. "Really. I super appreciate you even, like, talking to us."
"No problem," Gerard said.
Ray came up to them, a glass of something that wasn't beer in his hand. "Joanna says we can head back whenever," he told Gerard. "Are you guys coming?"
Ben's eyes widened. "Um. If that's cool," he said.
Gerard shrugged. "Sure," he said.
"Awesome!" Ben hopped off the table. "I'll get the guys."
"Ahh, young love," Ray said, watching him go.
"Whatcha got there?" Gerard asked, leaning in to sniff the glass.
"Get your nose out of my drink, ass," he said. "It's Coke. I'm driving your happy asses back to Joanna's so we don't end up smeared on the side of the road."
"Thanks, Dad," Gerard said, tipping his head to Ray's shoulder.
"Anytime, son." Ray patted him on the back. "Now let's round up the jailbait and get on the road."
"Yes, sir," Gerard said. He shoved himself off the picnic table, slipping their envelope into his pocket, and headed back into the bar. The crowd had made a shift from the club kids and young guys that had been there earlier to an older and more resigned crowd, men in t-shirts with beer slogans and truckers hats, older women in skirts that were too short and shirts that were too tight. They were all looking for something, these people, just like the kids that had been there earlier, but the difference was that this late crowd, nestled into their drinks like they were blankets, had already given up hope of finding anything. Gerard was a big fan of alcohol and, as a result, bars, but there was nothing more depressing than a dive at the end of the night, and the end of the night was fast approaching at Rex's. A couple of the barflies turned to look at him as he walked by, but he ignored them. Rex was on his side, Gerard figured, as long as he didn't start anything.
He found Joanna at the end of the bar finishing a glass of something. "You ready, honey," she asked.
"Yeah, um, some of the kids from the other band, they wanted to --"
"Invite 'em all," she said. "I've got plenty of floor space if they want to crash later. It's fine." She patted his arm.
"Has anyone ever told you, Joanna, that you rock?" he asked her, sincerely.
She patted his cheek. "Don't I?" she said smiling. "C'mon, baby. Let's roll."
"We gotta tear down," Gerard said, "so--"
"Rex!" Joanna leaned over the bar, almost knocking over her glass with her breasts. Rex, who was washing glasses in the sink at the far end, looked up like an obedient dog. "Gerard here wants to leave the band's gear overnight. Is that cool?"
"Fine with me, darlin'," he called back.
She sat back and smiled at him. "Cool?" she said. [J: Yeah, this is totally the scene of convenience, and I thought about cutting it, like, a hundred times, but it kept bugging me - what about the GEAR??? - so finally I left it in and the necessary return to the bar made for a lovely little good-bye scene between Mikey and Ben, so that hopefully balances out the boringness of this short conversation.]
Gerard nodded. He was a little nervous that they'd come back in the morning and all their shit would be gone, stolen and placed in new homes in other more crappy bands than Orange Crush, but Joanna had him by the hand and was pulling him through the sparse crowd to the front door. Ray had pulled around and Gerard joined the obscene amount of people climbing into their van, girls, boys, people he didn't even recognize. He squeezed into the corner of the bench seat right behind Ray.
"Frankie!" he said, when Frankie's head came through the door. "Here!"
Frankie came over, crouched low to avoid hitting his head, clambering over other people's legs. "Hey!" he said. "This is going to be some party." He moved around until he was situated, his back against the window, his legs over Gerard's, half in Gerard's lap, supported by Gerard's arm.
"Seriously," Gerard said, scanning the crowded van for everyone else. Matt was in the far back, sandwiched between two girls in bustiers, grinning like an idiot. Mikey was in the third row with the rest of Orange Crush. Ben, his face flush with joy, was sitting on his lap.
"We good?" Ray called from the front seat. A cheer went up from the occupants of the van. Ray turned, doing, Gerard realized, the same head count that he'd just done. Satisfied that everyone necessary was present and accounted for, Ray turned on the ignition and pulled out of the driveway, inching along to avoid killing anyone by knocking their heads on the ceilings.
It was nice once they got going, Frankie's weight comfortable across his thighs, his arm loose around Frankie's waist. It was a night of good feelings, Gerard thought. A night of possibilities. He looked out the window, watching the shadows of tree branches brush by like feathers, the thin slices of moonlit sky flickering past.
"Gee," Frankie whispered in his ear. "Gee, look."
Gerard looked up at Frankie, but Frankie was gazing past him, into the back of the van. Gerard squinted. It was Mikey, he realized, Mikey, who'd been sitting there with Ben on his lap and was still, only now Ben's hand was on his shoulder and their mouths were pressed together and moving slowly, like they were underwater. As Gerard watched, Mikey's hand came up and cupped the side of Ben's face and drew him in.
Gerard faced front.
He could feel the heat in his face. Frankie's legs felt like they weighed tons and he was hot and Gerard wondered how much further to Joanna's where he could get out of the van and away from the disturbing image of his brother making out with someone. [J: Nothing's more embarrassing than catching a sibling making out. As someone who lived with his sister for nine years as adults, I can speak from the heart on this one. (But, of course I had to include enough prurient details for you sick people. :)]
"Frankie!" he hissed. "Turn around."
Frankie did, his eyes bright in the darkness of the van. "Dude, he's not my brother," Frankie said, but he was smiling slyly, one corner of his mouth turned up. His hand slipped up Gerard's chest and curved around his shoulder. His breath smelled not unpleasantly like beer and cigarettes and Gerard found himself opening his mouth and craning his head forward until their lips met.
"Third time's a charm," he thought as he felt Frankie sigh.
It was strange tilting his head back to kiss Frank, who was usually shorter than him, his neck outstretched and exposed, Frank's fingers lined up along his jaw, but he didn't mind it. He sort of liked being weighed down; it was as if he was being forced to kiss Frankie, to give in to the inevitable force of their strange attraction, like being pulled under by waves. Frankie shifted so that he was on Gerard's lap entirely, no longer pressed against the van window, and Gerard arms circled his waist. He was so narrow. Frankie was loud and obnoxious quite a bit of the time, and he sought out attention and affection and jumped on people and yelled a lot, so for Gerard to put his arms around Frankie's waist and feel how slim he actually was, how Gerard could reach past his own elbows with Frankie in his embrace was a surprise. It was touching, in a way, Frank's hidden smallness, and made Gerard hold him tighter. [J: In some ways, I conceive of Frank as a lot like Chris Kirkpatrick. Less damaged, and less obnoxious, but still very much a little guy with a big personality. You can see this in this particular paragraph.]
Frankie broke the kiss, gasping, his forehead pressed to Gerard's. "Gee," he whispered.
But Frank didn't say anything else, just leaned in for another kiss and another, his tongue touching Gerard's mouth lightly then retreating.
Somewhere, outside the little circle that had become him and Frankie, Gerard was aware of the van crunching on gravel and coming to a halt. He uncrossed his arms so that he was palming the sharp edges of Frankie's shoulder blades. "We could stay here," he murmured in between kisses while the other passengers clambered out, shouting and laughing to one another. Frankie's smile was quick and fox-like. He moved into the space freed up by exiting partiers, his weight gone from Gerard's lap in an instant, and then he was back, straddling him on the bench seat, settling his weight over Gerard's hips, rocking back and forth gently over Gerard's erection.
"God," Gerard breathed, closing his eyes, his fingers tightening on Frankie's belt loops.
"Hey, Gee," Ray said, from outside the van. "Oh, sorry!" The door clanged shut. Gerard laughed into Frankie's mouth.
But something changed when they were alone together in the van and what had formerly been hot and daring now seemed frightening to Gerard. Were they really going to fuck in the van in some woman's driveway? Him and Frank, who had been such good friends from the very first minute they met? Were they going to jack each other off in the tour van? Really? It was still hot, Frankie on his lap, Frankie's tongue in his mouth, but there was something wrong, something Gerard couldn't figure out, and Frankie seemed to feel it, too, because he stopped moving and stared down into Gerard's face, his hands still lined up on Gerard's throat.
"What?" Frankie said.
"I dunno," Gerard answered, truthfully. "It's just."
"You told me not to worry," Frankie said.
Gerard blinked. He'd said that? "No, you shouldn't," he answered. "It's not ... worrisome. It's just. I dunno."
Frank pursed his mouth and nodded shortly. "Okay," he said. "Sure." He pulled back, standing awkwardly in the cramped space of the van, hunched over as if his stomach bothered him. Gerard watched as he adjusted himself perfunctorily. "I'm. Um. I'm going to go outside," he said. "I'll see you out there."
"Frankie," Gerard said.
Frankie paused, his face hopeful, but Gerard didn't know what he meant to say and so didn't say anything and Frankie sighed after a minute and pulled the sliding door open and left.
Gerard sat there for a little while, his dick aching and his head spinning. His problem when it came to sex had always been that he thought too much. He would meet someone and want to fuck them and everything would be progressing nicely, and then he would find out that the girl had lost her mom when she was seven or that the guy was in college studying to be an architect and something would go wrong and they would end up talking or drinking or sleeping but not fucking. It wasn't the same as what had happened with Frank, whose lonely childhood and fucked up relationships and dreams of success Gerard already knew about in minute detail, but it was similar. Frank had been on his lap -- on his lap -- and something in Gerard's mind had switched on and now Frankie was outside the van and Gerard was alone, swatting idly at the mosquitoes that wandered in through the open door. [J: I cannot speak to the truth of the matter, but rumor and my impressions of Gerard make me think that he's not the casual sex type, that he always wants things to be about a deeper connection. And, of course, having sex with someone you already have a deep but non-sexual connection with can be scary, particularly for someone like Gerard, who feels things deeply.]
"I suck," he said softly. [J: He does. Frank was on his lap. Get over yourself, Gerard!] Then he got up, wiping his palms on the thighs of his black jeans, and went outside.
Even though he and Frankie had only been alone in the van for maybe five or ten minutes, the party was already in full swing by the time he came around the corner of the house and into the backyard. Joanna had a fire pit, and a large bonfire roared impatiently into the night sky. People clustered around a keg at one side of the fire and around Joanna, who had a huge bag of something in her hand that people kept grabbing at. They would clump around her for a moment then wander away, holding sticks with the fat white corpses of marshmallows impaled at the end. He saw Frankie near her, waving a stick around and smiling, so he decided to stay closer to the beer end of things.
A girl manning the keg handed him a plastic cup and filled it mostly with foam. Gerard tried to smile at her and say thanks, but he felt like shit and gave up quickly, retreating to a plastic lawn chair at the edge of the firelight to nurse his foamy beer and his wounds and people-watch a little. He always felt most comfortable as an observer.
He caught glimpses of his band from time to time -- Matt and Mikey chatting up chicks, Ben nowhere in sight; Ray talking to some of the club kids that had tagged along, his hands flailing wildly, which meant he was either talking computers or guitars; Frankie. Frankie talking seriously to Ben, nodding emphatically. Frankie smiling at something Ben said while they stood shoulder to shoulder staring into the fire. Frankie touching Ben's arm. [J: Someone should have thought of this before he let Frank get out of the van, I think. Of course, there's nothing going one between Frank and Ben, but it's a demonstration of how Gerard regrets his choice in the van and how much he wants Frank.]
Gerard was about to get up and go into the house when his brother came over carrying two cups of beer and holding a half empty bag of Doritos in his teeth.
"I con barhing ood," Mikey said. Gerard took the chips from him. "I come bearing food," Mikey repeated, also handing over one of the beers.
"You rock," Gerard said. Mikey sat in the dirt next to Gerard's feet and leaned heavily on him, like a big dog. They ate chips in friendly silence for a while. Then Mikey tipped his head to Gerard's knee and said
"Can I ask you something?"
"It's not what you think," Gerard said. His stomach had tightened. He shoved the chips into Mikey's hands.
"What?" Mikey said.
"Me and Frank. It's not. What you maybe think. It's --"
"Oh. That. Whatever," Mikey said, waving his hands as if to clear the air. [J: Yeah, Gerard. It's not all about you. I don't know when Mikey's subplot became such an integral part of this story, but it was about this point in the writing that I realized that it was integral and that something would have to come of it, unlike Ray and Joanna.] "I have a question."
"Oh," Gerard said. "Um. Okay."
"Okay, so, you've fucked guys before, right?"
Gerard was tempted to laugh, but Mikey's face looked serious. "Sure," he said. "You know, a few."
"How old were you the first time?"
Gerard thought for a minute, then decided on the truth. "Twenty. But I'd fucked girls before that."
Mikey waved his hands again, this time discarding of Gerard's heterosexual sex life. "Okay, and, like, how old were you when you first, you know, did stuff with a guy? Real stuff, not just kissing."
"Umm ... maybe fourteen. Or fifteen. Around there."
"Really?" Mikey said. "Back then? Who?"
"Not telling," Gerard said.
"Was it Scott?" Mikey asked. [J: Yes, it was.]
"No," Gerard said. Scott had been the neighbor's kid, a skinny little dork who sat in his basement playing D&D for hours on end, and who had 69-ed with Gerard for almost an hour one rainy Saturday afternoon until they were both shaking from the intensity of it. Gerard had come in his hair and all over the brown shag carpeting.
"Who was it?" Mikey said. "Come on!"
"Is this what you wanted to ask about?" Gerard said.
"Oh, no," Mikey said. "Right. So, if, for instance I was to, you know, do stuff with a kid who was, like sixteen or seventeen, that probably wouldn't mess him up then?"
"By doing stuff you mean not fucking," Gerard said.
"Dude, I'm not gay," Mikey answered, and then Gerard did laugh.
"Honey, I hate to break it to you," he said. "But sucking a guy's dick? That's a little gay."
"I know!" Mikey said, disgusted. "I know that. It's just. I'm not. Not really. But he's really nice and I really like him and I dunno. It's like, you know how guys become gay in prison but they aren't really gay?"
"I feel like that. Like I'm sort of gay around him or for him or something. You know?" [J: People dismiss this as fantasy, but, speaking from personal experience, I have to say that there are some people that you just are so overwhelmed by that you want to have sex with them, even if you normally wouldn't. I don't think Mikey is gay, in this story, but I do think he's entranced enough by Ben that he'd give it a try.]
Gerard nodded again. "Look," he said, tangling his fingers in Mikey's hair. "Don't get all freaky about whether you're gay or not, okay? Just. Okay, here's the answer: go ahead. He's fucking hot, he thinks you're awesome and he's, what, sixteen?"
"Seventeen," Mikey said.
"Okay, so he's old enough to decide what he wants. Just don't fuck him, 'cause we're probably breaking, like, four laws just talking about him like this, okay?"
"Okay," Mikey said. "So what is up with you and Frank?"
"Nothing. Leave it."
"It didn't look like nothing in the van," Mikey said, but he was already standing up and brushing off the seat of his jeans.
"I said, leave it."
"It looked like you were about to nail him," Mikey said.
"Mike, for fuck's sake--"
"I bet he'd be fucking hot in bed, Gee. He seems like he has a lot of energy. And he's pretty flex--" [J: Yeah, this is just plain old brother-on-brother crime, man.]
Gerard threw what was left of the Doritos at Mikey, who walked off laughing.
Frankie came up a minute or two later. He was still holding his marshmallow stick, but the marshmallow end looked like it had been dragged in the dirt. "Hey," he said.
"Hey." Gerard tried not to smile. Frankie wasn't smiling so it was possible that smiling wasn't appropriate behavior, even though just having Frank stand so close to him made his teeth ache. He did smile a little, though, to himself, when Frankie sort of casually reached over and picked up Gerard's hand.
"Mikey says you want to fuck me," Frankie said.
Stopped breathing, stopped his heart from beating, stopped moving, stopped everything except thinking "I'm going to kill Mikey."
"I told him I already knew that," Frankie said. He was staring into the fire, swinging Gerard's hand a little, back and forth.
"I. It's. I do," Gerard said after a minute, although that wasn't entirely true, because he'd never actually thought of fucking Frankie until that afternoon on the bed. Frankie was hot and Frankie was fun and Frankie was his friend and fucking him had never seemed like a possibility before that moment on the bed when he'd kissed Frankie and Frankie had kissed him back. But it wasn't. He didn't. "I don't fuck people," he said.
Frankie looked down at him, amused. "I've shared your hotel room, you fucker."
Gerard shook his head. "No, I mean. Not you. I don't just." He shrugged, helpless.
"I get it, okay?" Frankie said. "I know you're not some jerk trying to score off one of his best friends. I know you, you idiot." He crouched down next to the chair.
"Okay," Gerard said. The firelight made Frankie's eyes dance, gold and green. "So, what then? Maybe we shouldn't."
"Oh, fuck you," Frankie laughed. "You kiss me and feel me up and now you're all 'maybe we shouldn't.' Fuck you, you cock tease."
"Frank, I'm just saying--"
"How about this," Frankie said. "How about we go upstairs later and lie down on the bed and see what happens and worry about all your existential shit in the morning, yeah?" [J: And here's what I love about the relationship between Gerard and Frank - they call each other on their shit. I mean, I don't know if it happens in real life or not, but in the stuff I write, Frank is sort of no nonsense and capable, despite his own damage, and Gerard is intense and caring and open to things, which makes them a good match for each other.]
Gerard nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Okay."
"Okay," Frankie said. "You want a beer?"
"Sure," Gerard said.
"All right. Hold my marshmallow stick."
Gerard chewed idly on a fingernail and watched Frankie's back as he walked away. He had on a white t-shirt and jeans, just like half the other people at the party and still Gerard could recognize him. It was something about the slope of his shoulders or the way his jeans fit or the way he walked or something. Something unique.
"Hey, honey," Joanna said. Gerard felt her hand close on his shoulder, affectionately. "Nice stick."
"Hi, Joanna," he said. He waved Frankie's marshmallow stick at her in greeting. She pulled up a chair next to him and sat down, a beer in one hand, her feet (bare again, Gerard noticed) crossed comfortably in front of her.
"How's it goin'?" she asked. "You need something?"
"I'm good. Frankie's getting me beer."
Joanna laughed. "Nice," she said. "Does he do massages?"
Gerard laughed, hoping she was kidding. Or not kidding. He rubbed his hand over his face. "Nice party," he said, finally, waving his free hand around to take in the people sitting on logs toasting marshmallows and the guys by the keg and the couples making out on the lawn furniture.
"Thanks," she said.
"How often do you do this?" he asked.
Joanna shrugged. "It depends. Pretty much every time Rex has a band in, they stay here. In the summer, once or twice a week. I got guys from San Francisco coming in on Wednesday. But in the winter, much less. Maybe once a month?"
"Is it always like this?"
Joanna smiled, and squeezed Gerard's hand. "Only the good ones, honey," she said.
"So, what do you do when there aren't any bands?"
Joanna shrugged again, smiling. "I paint," she said. "I've got a studio on the third floor and, you know."
"Really? What kind of stuff?"
"Just painting. Landscapes. You wouldn't be interested."
"Jo, I'm totally interested," Gerard said, slapping his chest. "I went to the School of Visual Arts."
"Shut up!" Joanna leaned forward. "You went to art school?"
"I graduated," Gerard said, feeling absurdly proud of that fact for the first time since it had actually happened.
"That's awesome, man!" Joanna slapped him on the arm, her smile wide and infectious.
"So?" he said.
"Oh! So I'm an abstract realist, but, you know, not as industrial and urban as a lot of that is. I'm more influenced by the natural world."
"You're an abstract realist landscape painter," Gerard said. "Seriously? That's fucking awesome!" [J: Hi, I'm Justin, and I make up stuff about art for fun. :)]
"You want to see?" she asked.
"Sure!" Gerard stood up, knocking up against Frankie's arm, sloshing beer over both Frankie's arm and his shoulder.
"Dammit, Gee." Frankie took a step back, holding the cups out in front of him. "Where you going?"
"Joanna's going to show me her artwork," Gerard said, hoping that Frankie would understand that he meant real artwork and not "artwork" as a codeword for something dirty.
"Really?" Frankie asked. "Can I come?"
"Sure, honey. Come on."
Frankie handed one of the beers to Gerard and took his hand. They followed Joanna through the crowd, into the dark house. It seemed bigger without the lights on, full of comforting shadows and the vaguely familiar shapes of furniture. Joanna hardly made a sound, navigating them through her territory with a soft sure step. Gerard followed close so he didn't trip over anything. Frankie's hand was warm in his. [J: They hold hands! I love boys who hold hands, no matter what the reason.]
They went up the stairs, past the band room and through a door Gerard hadn't noticed that afternoon. "Down the rabbit hole," Gerard thought, although they were heading upward. The second staircase was narrower and Gerard had to let go of Frankie's hand so he could steady himself along the rail. He felt Frankie's palm flat in the small of his back. They came to the top of the stairs, guided into the room by Joanna's sure hands on their arms.
"Okay," Joanna said. "Here it is."
Gerard lifted his hand to his face, preparing to be blinded by light, but only one bulb at the far end of the room came on, highlighting a single painting, maybe three feet high by five feet across, a painting of brilliant yellow and green. Even from where he stood Gerard could see it was a painting of a trail through the woods, maybe something Joanna had seen before, maybe something out the window, a road to somewhere.
"Wow," Frankie said.
"Can I?" Gerard asked, taking a step forward.
"Sure," Joanna said. "Go ahead."
Gerard approached the painting slowly, watching it unfold into something more complicated as he got closer. What seemed like a simple landscape from the doorway broke out into more complex parts. Gerard recognized the simple blocky shapes of abstract realism that suggested leaves and the shapes of trees, the use of mixed media and words that made up the road. He could have looked at it for hours. [J: I don't know very much about art, really, but I like the idea of this painting, the natural from the unnatural. It also seems to make sense given who I think Joanna is.]
"It's really good, Joanna," Gerard said, turning to look at her.
She smiled. "I'm glad you think so," she said.
Frankie just stood next to him, leaning forward slightly, his brow wrinkled. He didn't know anything about art, really, Gerard knew, and wouldn't be able to tell an abstract realist technique from a hole in the ground, but he seemed intrigued by the painting. "Is that," he said finally. "Are those, um. Magazine pieces? Words?" he asked, pointing to the trail on the canvas.
"Yep," Joanna said. "Part of the idea is to recycle things. To create the painting out of things that already exist."
Frankie crouched over, his face close to the canvas. "Cool," he said, dreamily.
Gerard left Frankie in front of the green painting and moved to some of the others that lined the walls. She was good, really good. All of the paintings were landscapes, and all of them were fresh and brilliant with color. The marriage of her technique and her subject matter felt fresh to Gerard, although he wasn't really up on the latest gallery stuff, and the paintings were emotional somehow, bright on the surface, but with signs of hidden depths. Sort of like Joanna herself, Gerard thought.
"You make a living at this?" he asked.
Joanna chuckled a little. "I make enough to live out here and hang out with you all," she said. "Let's put it that way."
"Sweet," Gerard said, running his finger over the wooden frame of a blank canvas.
She came over to stand next to him. "You never thought of it?" she murmured.
Gerard shook his head, watching Frankie, who was still looking at the green painting, his lips moving, his eyes bright. The light from the bulb sliced across his face, cutting him in half, highlighting the makeup and the sharp angle of his cheekbone. He looked like art himself.
"Not really," he said. "I was more into pop art and graphic novel illustration, that kind of stuff, anyway."
Frankie turned around. "This is good, Joanna," he said. "Right Gee? She's awesome, right?"
"Totally," Gerard said.
"You guys are sweet," she said. "C'mon. Back to the party."
They followed her down the stairs, but Frankie paused outside the door to the band room, catching Gerard's hand in his own. "We'll catch up," he told Joanna.
She smiled. "Uh huh," she said.
The band room was dark, but his and Frankie's room was flickering and yellow with light from the bonfire. Frankie went and sat on the bed, half-golden, and pulled off his shoes. Gerard stayed near the door, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"So," he said. "What now?"
Frankie lifted his head. "Shut the door," he said.
Gerard shut the door, feeling the click of the lock beneath his hand. Frankie peeled off his t-shirt and sat there on the bed in his jeans and socks and looked up at Gerard expectantly, but Gerard couldn't just take off his shirt and jump onto the bed. He felt like he was in a bad porn.
"Frank," he said, but Frank shook his head.
"No," he said. "I'm not talking about this. Come sit down with me."
Gerard goggled at him. "You're, wait. We should--"
"You should shut the fuck up and come and sit down on the bed," Frankie said.
"How long have I known you?"
Gerard shrugged. "I dunno. A couple of years."
"Uh huh. So, am I some total jerk or something?"
"So, then shut the fuck up and come here and sit on the bed with me and we'll figure out the rest of this shit later, okay?" Frankie said, and Gerard might have been imagining it, a sign of his own insecurity and nervousness, but he thought he heard a tremor in Frankie's voice and that freed Gerard from his spot by the door. He went over to the bed and sat down. Frankie smiled at him and tipped his head to Gerard's shoulder.
"This is cool," Frankie said. "This is one of the coolest places we've ever played."
Gerard laughed. "This is coolest place we've ever spent the night," he said. "That's not the same."
"Whatever." Frankie flopped onto his back, his arms stretched above his head. Gerard leaned back on his elbows and fought the urge to run his fingers over the edges of the tattoos on Frankie's chest. "She's good, right?"
"Don't you think so?" Gerard said.
"You know I don't know dick about art, man."
"Yeah, she is," Gerard said. "She must sell for some good money to do this for a living. That's pretty rare."
"Like us," Frankie said.
Frankie rolled over onto his stomach, his side lined up next to Gerard's hip and rested his chin on his crossed hands. "Like us," he said. "Making enough money doing this to live."
Gerard laughed. "I live with my mom, man. You sometimes live with my mom. We're not making that much money."
"Still," Frankie said. "Enough."
Gerard did reach out, then, and touched Frankie's shoulder blade with one finger, then his whole hand. It was like silk over glass, smooth and warm and solid, and Frankie sighed, a sound barely audible over the noise from the party outside the far windows.
Gerard turned and leaned over and kissed Frankie's shoulder blade, then the curve at the base of Frankie's neck, his hand drifting over the plane of Frankie's back, down to the waistband of his jeans. Frankie arched his back.
Gerard went on like that for some time, running his hands over Frankie's skin, following with his mouth over Frankie's back, down his spine, into the small of his back. Frankie rippled beneath him, a snake in slow motion, his breath easing out in soft moans. Gerard had never done this before with a man, taken so much time just touching him, and it was hypnotizing watching the muscles in Frankie's back and arms move, his hips lifting up off the mattress. Gerard ran his tongue up Frankie's spine, abruptly, and took advantage of the arch of Frankie's back to slide his hand down the front of Frankie's pants.
"Jesus," Frank gasped, his head jerking back. Gerard pressed his cheek against Frankie's back and smiled, his fingers creeping lower, into Frankie's boxers. His palm was flat against Frankie's hard stomach; he could feel Frankie's pulse fluttering against his fingers.
Frankie squirmed, Gerard shifted, and then they were face-to-face, Gerard's hand still down the front of Frankie's pants, suddenly cupping his erection. Frank hooked his arm around Gerard's neck and pulled him down and everything became a blur after that, of Frankie's mouth and Frankie's body and Frankie's hands underneath his clothes and wrestling with Frankie's pink leather belt and then Frankie was naked and lying on top of him and tugging his button-fly jeans open and then Frankie's mouth was on his cock and it was Gerard's turn to gasp, propped on his elbows, his head thrown back, his legs apart, his t-shirt pushed up under his arms. He came, surging upward into Frankie's mouth, watching smudged Xs form as Frankie closed his eyes.
Gerard fell back, chest heaving. He opened his eyes when he felt Frankie move and there he was, hovering above him, his skin flickering in the fading light from the fire outside. The tattoos danced like shadows on his arms. His eyes shone. He looked like an angel.
"Frankie," Gerard whispered. [J: Finally! I know I make fun of myself about it quite a bit, but I have to say that one of my biggest beefs with fan fiction is that so much of it is about the porn, and so little of it is about the characterization and development of the story. Like, the plot of this story is really simple - Gerard and Frank get together - and it could have been done in 250 words or in one giant sex scene, but that's not where my focus is. That's not what I do. I want it to feel like the reader understands why the characters got together, not just who put what where. It's not masturbation, it's foreplay. :) ]
Gerard rolled him over onto his side and spread him out on the bed and kissed him, mouth open, his hand sliding over Frankie's erection. Frankie rolled on the mattress with every touch, every kiss, every pass of his hand, and it was better than having Frankie suck him off, ten times better, hearing his voice change, feeling his mouth go soft, seeing Frankie freeze, his hand locked on Gerard's wrist just before he came, his body a single perfect curve.
They curled together afterwards, Gerard peeling off his shirt at the urging of Frankie's hands and wrapping himself, front to back around Frankie's already fading form. He slung an arm around Frankie's waist and nuzzled into the back of Frankie's neck, kissing the base of hairline drowsily. He was almost asleep when Frankie stirred slightly.
"Gee," Frank murmured. "Gee."
"You're one of my best friends," Frankie said. "I totally love you, man." He folded his hand over Gerard's forearm and hugged it to his stomach. [J: He does, too. In more ways than one. The idea here was just to convey the warmth and well-being feeling that sex with a good friend can engender.]
Gerard chuckled, hoping that Frankie couldn't feel the rapid thud of Gerard's heart against his back. "You're still drunk." He rubbed Frankie's stomach affectionately.
Frankie laughed a little, pushing his body back against Gerard's. "That doesn't change it, though," he said.
Gerard woke up sometime in the predawn, the air outside the window a dark but fading blue. He and Frankie had shifted in their sleep so that Frank's nose was pressed against Gerard's back, his arm draped over Gerard's waist. Gerard wanted to stay in the comfortable bed, the blankets tangled around his legs, Frankie's breath on his shoulder -- he had the feeling that if he never got up, nothing would ever change -- but he had to piss. After a long minute, his eyes closed against inevitability, Gerard sighed and slid out of the bed. Frankie barely moved. Gerard found his jeans on the floor and pulled them on, buttoning them carefully.
He eased the connecting door open and peered out. It was darker in the main room, almost still night, the curtains on the one window drawn. It smelled a little musty, but good, like the sweat of animals. Gerard tiptoed through the room, feeling for stray shoes or clothes with his feet, and slipped out into the hallway.
The bathroom had a tiny orange nightlight that made Gerard's reflection in the mirror look like a pumpkin. He pissed, then stuck his hands under the tepid water from the faucet and dried them on his old towel. It was still damp, although the bath he'd taken that afternoon was decades ago in the timeline of his memory. The hall was empty and silent, but Gerard thought that he could feel the soft breath of the people sleeping behind closed doors, all of them inhaling and exhaling in their own time, alone but together. He smiled.
Gerard turned the doorknob of the band room and pushed the door open slowly. His eyes had adjusted on his little voyage, and he could see that the bunk beds, both of them, were empty. Ray's wasn't even rumpled.
Mikey's bed, though, was occupied. Mikey and the kid, Ben, were flopped face-down on the mattress, Mikey's arm over Ben's bare back. Gerard went over to bed, careful not to make more noise than he had to, and leaned over his brother. Ben had a tattoo on his shoulder -- Gerard could see the dark shape even in the dimness -- but he couldn't tell what it was, just a dark blur a few inches above Mikey's splayed hand.
"Mikey," he whispered. He crouched down by Mikey's side of the bed. He touched the side of Mikey's face, barely brushing his fingers over his hair. "Mikey."
"Mmm," Mikey said, although it was more of a breath than a word. He turned toward Gerard, lifting his head, and Gerard pulled his glasses off in one smooth motion and set them carefully on the floor. Mikey turned his head again until his mouth touched Ben's shoulder. He sighed. [J: It would be just like Mikey to do ... things and then fall asleep with his glasses on. And, of course, there's the parallel to the initial scene when Gerard returns from the bathroom and removes Mikey's glasses.]
Gerard stood up and made his way over to the door, back to his own room, his own bed, his own boy.
Frankie lifted his head when Gerard came in, his eyes half open.
"It's just me," Gerard said softly. Frankie did not respond, but his head flopped back into the pillow. Gerard unbuttoned his jeans and stepped out of them. When the mattress dipped with Gerard's weight, Frankie reached out, his hand warm and grasping, and pulled Gerard down to him, wiggling around until Gerard was on his back and Frankie was on his side in the crook of Gerard's arm, his head on Gerard's shoulder, his hand on Gerard's chest. It seemed very domestic to Gerard, the way they were lying; if someone were floating near the ceiling gazing down, they would see a picture perfect photo of a couple in love. It was a strange feeling, this perfect and utter normalcy. Gerard turned his head toward Frankie and saw the smudged remnants of the black Xs crossed over Frankie's eyes and stared up into the fast-failing dark.
When he woke again, it was daylight. The noise of people awake and moving around outside had returned and the smell of bacon curved around him like it did in cartoons, enticing him up and out of bed. Frankie was already gone. His side of the bed looked empty but happy, cheerily messed up. Gerard dressed quickly, clean underwear, his same jeans, a fresh t-shirt, and ran his hands through his hair. He was halfway through the band room when he remembered, but Mikey and Ben were also already up and out of bed. It figured; Mikey was sort of a slut for breakfast food. Even at dinner he wanted to order pancakes.
Pretty much everyone was in the kitchen, sitting at the long bench table in front of plates of half-eaten food and steaming cups of coffee.
"Sleeping Beauty!" Ray said, raising a hand in welcome. The rest of the room -- Mikey, Ben, Frankie, several of the other members of Orange Crush, a club kid or two and, at the end of the bench at the far end of the room, Frankie -- called out greetings. Gerard waved his hand at everyone, embarrassed. He should have actually brushed his hair, he supposed. [J: During college, on more than one occasion, I participated in the joy of the Group Breakfast, where everyone, hung over from a party the night before clumps together, unshowered and happy, and drinks coffee and eats pancakes and basks in the company of others. I hope everyone has had this experience.]
Joanna came over and hugged him, then handed off a mug. "Coffee?" she said. "Or do you drink tea for the voice?"
"Coffee's fine," Gerard said. He took his cup to the end of the table and sat down next to Frankie, butting his hip up against him. "Hey," he said.
Frankie smiled into his own cup. "Hey," he said. He nudged Gerard's shoulder with his own. "You should have the pancakes," he said. "They're tremendous." He lifted his eyes to Gerard's.
"Really?" Gerard said. "How tremendous?"
Frankie shrugged. He licked his lips. "Pretty, um, pretty good," he said.
"Oh for fuck's sake, just kiss him," Ray shouted from the other end of the table.
"What?" Gerard asked, shocked. He could feel his face heating up in a painful blush. Frankie, whose gaze had shifted to some middle distance over Gerard's, was turning red.
"Please," Ray said. "For the love of all that is good and holy, stop making moon cow eyes at each other and just kiss, okay? People are trying to eat here."
"Moon cow eyes?" Frankie asked, snapping his head around to look at Ray. "What the fuck are moon cow eyes?"
"Oh, I dunno," Ray said. "Maybe something like this." He made his eyes big and puckered up his mouth. "'ooooh Frankie, you're sooo cute.'"
"No!" Mikey laughed. "Like this!" He clasped his hands under his chin and crossed his eyes. "'Oh, Gerard, you're so amazing! These pancakes are soooo tremendous!'"
"Fuck off," Frankie said, scowling at both of them. "They are tremendous."
"Thank you, sweetie," Joanna said from the stove.
"Just like you're a tremendous fag," Mikey said.
"Look who's talking, Mikey," Frankie said.
"That's not what I meant and you know it, ass," Mikey said. "Besides, I'm not gay. I just. Like. Boys. Named Ben." He hugged Ben, who was basically ignoring all of them in favor of an enormous stack of pancakes that Joanna was setting down in front of him.
"Thanks," Ben said, although Gerard couldn't tell if he meant it for Joanna or for Mikey's magnanimous and abrupt Ben Exception to his heterosexuality. He supposed it didn't matter. [J: I think all straight boys should have a Ben Exception to their heterosexuality on general principle. Only it should be a Justin Exception.]
"They are tremendous," Frankie said, turning back to Gerard, and when Gerard thought no one was paying attention, he kissed Frankie quickly, tasting the sticky sweetness of real maple syrup. His attempt at subterfuge failed, though; the rest of the table started clapping before they even pulled apart.
"Fuck off, all of you," Gerard said, but he couldn't help smiling.
Matt showed up while Gerard was finishing coffee, his neck pocked with hickeys, a broad smile plastered across his face. He accepted the cheers and a plate of food gracefully. Gerard slapped him on the shoulder and went upstairs to pack up his shit. It only took a minute -- grooming bag, dirty clothes, sketchbook and pencils, all in his large black duffel bag and he was ready to go.
Frankie came in carrying his own bag, his hair wet from a quick shower. His face was clean again, except for the faint fresh ring of black eyeliner. He had on a Black Flag t- shirt and his same jeans and held one of his old red Converse shoes in his hand. He looked like a college kid, especially when he hesitated in the doorway, running his hands through his bangs. "Hey," he said.
"Hey," Gerard said. He wondered if he would always feel this way every time Frankie walked into a room, his whole body slightly off kilter, his heart beating a little faster, his skin a little flushed, his stomach trembling. He felt like the ocean in the presence of a full moon. "Can we talk about it now?"
Frankie sighed. "Okay, fine. You like me, right?"
Gerard laughed aloud. "uh, yeah," he said.
"Okay," Frankie said. He picked up his socks off the floor and sat down on the bed to pull them on.
"Wait, that's it?"
Frankie looked up. "Oh. I like you, too. Have you seen my other shoe?"
"It's over there." Gerard pointed to the shoe, half-hidden under a chair in the corner.
Frankie yanked on his shoe without bothering to untie it. Then he turned and crawled over the mattress, kneeled up, and kissed him on the mouth, throwing his arms around Gerard's neck for balance. Gerard caught him around the waist. "You always do this," he said against Gerard's mouth.
"You don't think we should talk?"
"You like me. I like you. We should make out and have sex and buy each other cool shit and drive everyone else batshit with how fuckin' cute we are, okay?" [J: This is as close to a romantic declaration as Frank is going to get. But that's why he's perfect for Gerard who, in this story, tends to second guess and over think things. This Frank is going to say "stop thinking about shit and start making out, motherfucker" and that's what this Gerard needs.]
Gerard thought about it for a second, but he couldn't think of anything else to say. There were a hundred things, about how the band would be affected, about what would happen when things didn't work out, about how he'd never done this before, seen a guy for more than a night or two, a boyfriend, about how this was such a bad idea, but Frankie's chest was up against his and he could feel the gentle thud of Frankie's heart. Frankie's eyes were so close to his that he could see the faint traces of makeup clinging to his lashes. He said nothing.
"Okay," Frankie said. He patted Gerard's face. "Hey, give me one of your markers."
"Your markers. From your bag."
Gerard unzipped his bag and handed Frankie one of his pens. Frankie uncapped it, holding the cap in his teeth. "on ere," he said.
"What?" Gerard said, again.
Frankie rolled his eyes and reached for Gerard's wrist, hauling him up onto the mattress. Frankie wrote his name high up, underneath the crown molding, "FRANK IERO" in block letters. He handed the marker to Gerard, who thought about it for a second. Then he wrote his name underneath Frank's and in between them drew the small heart, so small it would have looked like a dot from the bed. He looked at Frankie, who was rolling his eyes, but also smiling.
"Wow, Gerard. Are you going to pass a note asking me out later?" he asked, but he hooked one arm around Gerard's waist and hugged him tight. "C'mon. We gotta get moving." Frankie bounced off the bed and grabbed his duffel bag. [J: Here's the thing: guys, especially guys around Frankie's age, are generally not sappy and sensitive. They can be, of course, but they're mostly not. Also, Gerard is more sensitive than most other guys. So while I think that it's possible that Gerard would draw a heart between his name and Frank's, it's a statistical impossibility that Frank is going to actually say something about being touched by that. That doesn't mean he's not, and I tried to make that clear through the action, but he's not going to say that - that would be gay. :) ]
Gerard picked up his own bag and followed. The rest of them were milling around the van, smoking. Ben had his finger hooked into Mikey's belt loop.
"What about him?" Gerard asked Ray, who was twirling the van keys around his finger. He was trying to quit smoking. Gerard gave it two days.
"Joanna's going to take him home from the bar," Ray said.
"Everybody ready?" Joanna asked. She had her leg swung over her bike already. She looked like someone's crazy cool older sister, like a Valkrye, like an Amazon. Gerard thought maybe he loved her a little.
They climbed into van, which was stifling hot and muggy, a fact that didn't stop Frankie from climbing over top of Gerard, muttering a phony "oh, excuse me, pardon me" as he rubbed his ass over Gerard's lap, grinning over his shoulder.
It was high summer, the leaves on the trees heavy and full and pulling the branches down to brush against the van windows. Everything outside the windows seemed yellow and green and fertile, like Joanna's painting. Gerard took a deep breath and smelled things blooming.
Rex came out the front door of the bar as they pulled into the gravel parking lot. "Welcome back, motherfuckers!" he shouted, even though Gerard was like, two feet in front of him. "Came for your stuff?"
"Hey, Rex," Gerard said, tucking his hair behind his ears. "You didn't sell it, did you?"
Rex grabbed Gerard around the neck and put him in a headlock. His t-shirt smelled of old beer and barbecue sauce. "You're a funny little fucker," Rex said, messing Gerard's hair. "You know that?"
Gerard struggled for a minute, but apparently Rex was one of those freakishly strong guys whose grip on his head got tighter the more he struggled, so finally, Gerard gave up and went limp.
"That's right, motherfucker," Rex said, and slapped him on the ass. [J: I can't explain it, but I love Rex. He seems like a guy who really enjoys his life.]
The teardown took about forty five minutes, during which Gerard mostly stood around with Joanna and watched and smoked. It was one of the advantages of being the singer.
"Lazy ass prima donna lead singer," Frankie muttered once as he passed by lugging an amplifier that was almost half his height.
"Bullshit showoff guitarist," Gerard replied happily.
"It's gonna be a nice day, huh?" Joanna said. "You guys going far?"
"Toledo," Gerard said.
"That's not too far. A few hours. Where you staying?"
Gerard shrugged. "The club's arranging it. Some place shitty, I'm sure."
Joanna laughed. "Yeah, I bet that's what you said when you were getting ready to come here."
Gerard laughed. "Sorry," he said. Joanna patted his back. They watched as Matt shoved the last of his drum kit into the trailer and slammed the doors shut, clicking the lock.
"Okay," he said.
Gerard turned to Joanna. "Okay," he said. She hugged him. Gerard kissed her on the cheek. "This has been great," he said.
"Right back atcha, honey," she told him. "If you guys come back through here, you know where I am."
"You bet," Gerard said. He climbed into the van, into his customary seat right behind the driver's seat. They all took turns driving, because there was simply too much driving for any one person to handle, but it was generally acknowledged within the group that Gerard's driving time should be kept to a minimum and that asking him to drive should be a request of last resort. He wasn't sure why, but it might have been the time that he got the van stuck in the KFC drive thru, even though that completely wasn't his fault. Or the speeding ticket. Or that time he backed into the building when they were leaving the parking lot. Anyway, Gerard didn't mind too much. It meant he had more time for sleeping and reading and, when he was really desperate, drawing, although that sucked on even the smoothest roads. [J: Just another example of my not-so-secret conviction that Gerard is a crappy driver. (See also Interlude/Prelude.) I don't know why I think this - he just seems like the type.]
Frankie got in and sat next to him, digging through his bag for something. Gerard smiled at the side of his head. Frankie.
They'd been sitting for a minute when Gerard realized that they were waiting for something. He glanced around. Ray was in the driver's seat fucking with the radio station, pushing buttons to see what kind of radio he could get in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. Matt was in the very back seat, flipping through a magazine. Mikey was not in the van.
"Hey, Ray," Gerard said, but Ray waved his hand, shushing him, and pointed to the rearview mirror. Gerard leaned forward, his hands gripping the sides of the driver's seat like they were shoulders, until his head was almost next to Ray's and he could see the mirror clearly.
It reflected Mikey, standing near the back corner of the van, one hand on it, his whole body angled toward Ben, who was leaning on the van, his hands behind his back, his head tilted upward. While Gerard watched, Mikey's hand went to Ben's waist and his head dipped and, simultaneously, like someone had given a signal, Ben's hands flew up and locked behind Mikey's neck, and they were kissing, and it wasn't gross or disturbing like it had been last night when he'd caught a glimpse of Mikey making out. This kiss wasn't private like that, even though Mikey had gone around to a corner of the bus to have it. This kiss was unique -- they probably weren't coming back here, not for months or even years, and even if they did, Ben would have a boyfriend or Mikey would have a girlfriend, and even if that weren't true, it still wouldn't be the first time and so it wouldn't be the same. This kiss was goodbye to this whole brief time, and it was sad, and for that reason, beautiful.
Mikey hugged Ben, pressing his face into Ben's neck so that Gerard couldn't see it, but Ben's face against Mikey's shoulder was a perfect mask of misery. Then they pulled apart a little and kissed again, briefly, and Mikey pulled back and walked away, around the corner of the van and out of the reflective space of the mirror, his shoulders set in the same way they had been when their dog Princess had to be taken to the vet and put down when Mikey had been eight. [J: I wanted to make it clear here, after the above passage, that we're still in Gerard's point of view, that we're observers. Hence, the reference to the set of Mikey's shoulders and his dog. It reminds the reader, gently, that this isn't Mikey talking, although he's the subject here. One of the things I dislike about certain kinds of fan fiction is the way the authors fuck with point of view to get in a good description of a character. It's the old "Character looks in a mirror" trick, which is rarely done well. In this particular story, I had to take out certain descriptions of Mikey because there was no way that Gerard could have seen them. Ironically, Gerard sees this by looking in a mirror. I'm so ironic! (And lame.)]
Ben stood there for a minute, his head against the van, his eyes closed. Then he, too, stepped out of the mirror's scope.
Mikey climbed into the van a second later, banging the door shut behind him. "Let's go," he said, sliding onto the seat in the row behind Gerard. He pushed over so that his shoulder touched the window and looked resolutely forward.
"Rock on," Ray said, and they started moving. Ray honked as they pulled out, and waved out the window. As they turned, Gerard could see Joanna in the parking lot, her hands on Ben's shoulders.
Frankie pulled out his iPod and plugged his headphones into his ear. "Move," he said to Gerard, waving his hands around. It took a second, but Gerard finally figured out that he wanted Gerard to sit sideways on the bench, his legs open and one foot on the floor so that Frankie could sit between then and rest against Gerard's stomach, like Gerard was a living EZ Boy recliner. [J: If you ever have to ride a long way on a bus or in a van, I do recommend this position. It's very comfortable, and if you are the reclinee, you can listen to the other person's heart beat. It's lovely.]
"Aww," Matt said, rubbing Mikey's dirty hair. "What's wrong, Mikey? Are you sad you had to leave your biggest fan behind?"
"Shut up," Mikey said. He ran his hands through his hair, trying to flatten it back down.
"Leave him alone," Gerard said, folding his arm across Frankie's chest. Frankie sank back into his embrace, curling his hands around Gerard's forearm and closing his eyes.
"Yeah, leave him alone," Frankie muttered. "He just had to break up with his first boyfriend. It's a traumatic moment for a young boy."
"Yeah, well, we can't all fuck somebody in the band, Frankie, so why don't you just shut up about it," Mikey snapped. Frankie laughed and tipped his head back. Gerard took the hint and kissed him lewdly, with lots of tongue.
"Nice!" Mikey said. "Thanks for that image."
"Hey, Ray," Matt called. "We can't all fuck somebody in the band."
"Oh," Ray said, regretfully. "That's too bad. I'm going to have to call off our dinner then." [J: See what I mean? In the face of Mikey's true and legitimate sadness, they make jokes. Out of love, but still...boys are stupid. And funny. Also, notice how Matt is not entirely a dick, here. I mean, he is, but he's not out o line.]
"Yeah, and I'm going to have to stop jerking off on Mikey's bass," Matt said. [J: Now, he's out of line. :) ]
"You guys are fucking sick!" Mikey said, folding his arms over his chest and glaring out the window.
"Totally," Frankie said. He was falling asleep, his body growing heavier against Gerard's as he relaxed.
Gerard watched his brother's stony profile over the edge of the seat until finally Mikey turned his head and noticed. "You okay?" he murmured.
Mikey, his arms still folded over his chest like he was cold, shrugged and looked away.
"Hey," Gerard whispered. Mikey raised his eyes. Gerard blew him a kiss. The resulting smile was faint, but clear in the fresh morning light. "Hey, Ray," Gerard said, shifting so that Frankie was curled in the crook of his arm, his cheek resting on the swell of Gerard's bicep. "How long until we get to Toledo?"
[... you ride the waves and don't ask where they go...]