"...everybody knows that the fight was fixed."
They pulled over fifteen minutes later on the side of some anonymous street so that Frank could puke. He bent over on the tree lawn, one hand braced against a thin sapling, and looked at the patchy grass and threw up until he felt empty and clear. He spit two or three times, making sure, and then he just stood there for a second, listening to the hum of the van engine and the larger greater silence of the night. It was a little cooler out than he expected and his shirt was gone, crumpled on the floor of the bar, maybe, his "Don't Bite The Guitarist" shirt. He laughed a little, holding on to the tree, swiping tears out from under his eyes.
After a minute, he wiped his mouth and got back in the van.
"You okay?" Ray asked.
Frank nodded. "Yeah," he said.
Ray nodded back, checked in the rearview mirror, and pulled back on to the road. The other guys sat silently in the seats in the back, like dolls lined up on the seats. No one spoke. They barely looked alive, Frank thought, and that made him feel sick again.
"Okay," Ray said after a minute. "So what the fuck happened?"
Frank blinked. He didn't know. He couldn't answer that question. There was no answer.
"They attacked us," Bob said. "Everybody in the bar. They were. There was something wrong with them and they, um. Hurley's dead. That's. They got him."
Frank tried to watch Ray's profile, but he couldn't really see, the streetlights went by too quickly, like lightning on Ray's face. "Um," he said.
"They were monsters," Pete said. "The monsters got him, just like they got Patrick and Joe. They fucking ate him." Mikey put his hand on Pete's arm, but it was too late. Pete was already done.
"It's hard to explain," Frank said softly, trying to avoid having the discussion while Ray was looking for the highway, but they heard him anyway.
"It's not hard to explain," Gerard said. "It's. They're vampires. They're motherfucking vampires and they're after us."
"Gerard," Ray said, gently.
"It's true, Ray," Mikey said. He sighed. "It's true."
Ray looked over at Frank, but what was he supposed to say? That it wasn't true? That Hurley hadn't had his throat ripped out by someone's teeth? He hadn't wanted to talk about it in the van, so soon, but it wasn't a lie.
Bob cleared his throat. "So, I suppose now would be a bad time to tell you one of them bit me, huh?"
They pulled in to the first hotel they found, a DoubleTree off the highway, and checked into two adjoining rooms on the eleventh floor, and herded Bob into the closest bathroom. It was a small bite, Frank could see from his spot on the edge of the bathtub, mostly a bruise, really, but the skin had broken across his knuckles and seeped blood onto the white hotel washcloth.
"It looks okay," Mikey said.
"We'll have to see," Gerard said. He was crouched on the floor in front of Bob, holding Bob's hand in both of his, knuckles up. "Wash it out with soap and we'll see." No one asked what they would see about, not even Ray.
Bob nodded. "Sure," he said, and turned on the tap.
"So, what now?" Ray asked.
No one knew.
Gerard waited until the rest of them were asleep. Then he inched over, pressing his nose to Frank's cheek, hooking an arm over his chest, and whispered "what was that?"
Frank, who had been lying on his back staring up at the ceiling and trying to forget the erratic thump of Hurley's feet on the pool table, sighed. "I dunno," he whispered back.
Gerard slapped his chest lightly. "Don't lie," he said.
"I'm not. I don't know."
Gerard's breath was hot on his face. "Then tell me what you think."
Frank closed his eyes. Gerard's hand stroked his chest gently, reassuringly, but it wasn't enough to protect him from the craziness of what he was about to say. "I think," he whispered. He rolled onto his side so that his lips were almost touching Gerard's and stared into the dark spots that were his eyes. "I think they can't kill me," he said. "I think I'm ..." he sighed. "Invulnerable or something. To them."
Gerard didn't move for a second, didn't blink, didn't even breath. Then he shook, quickly, like something had run through him. "You're the bird," he whispered.
"That's why you asked me," Gerard said.
Frank nodded again. "I didn't know," he said. "But those kids in the parking lot, they had me." He shuddered, remembering their hands on his stomach. "And then they just. Didn't. Something stopped them."
"And at the bar," Gerard whispered.
"I hoped it would work." Frank shrugged. "It did."
"God," Gerard whispered, curling his arm around Frank's back, his palm centered between the sharply-angled shoulder blades. "Frankie. What does it mean?"
Frank closed his eyes again. "I don't know," he whispered. "I don't know."
He slept, he must have slept because there were large patches of the night he couldn't account for, but when the light outside the curtains turned pale and grey he was already up, peering through the slit in the curtains at the speck of their van in the parking lot below. "Frank?" Gerard said, sitting up, his hair a tangled nest on his head.
Frank waved a hand at him. Tried to smile.
They were on the road by eleven, after a mostly silent breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The only time they spoke was after the waitress had come and taken their plates and left them with half-empty coffee cups and a bill that Mikey paid with his AmEx. Mikey always paid. He was stupid about that, Frank thought, because there was no way Mikey was making up in points what he lost in people forgetting to pay him back, but that was the way they did things and Mikey didn't seem to mind, just handed over his card and signed his name carefully at the bottom of the slip and folded his own copy in fours and put it in his back pocket, where he would ultimately forget about it. Some things never changed.
"So," Ray said, toying with his coffee cup. "Where are we going?"
"Home," Gerard said. "We're still going home."
"What about Pete?" Mikey asked. Pete blinked at them. Two days ago, he'd been one of the friendliest guys Frank had ever met. That Pete had told stupid jokes and would go on and on in these involved stories about the time he went camping in Yosemite or the first tattoo he'd gotten in a "personal area," his smile so big that Frank had always felt like he had to smile back. This particular Pete wasn't that guy. He's the last surviving member of Fall Out Boy, Frank thought watching Pete toy with a straw wrapper.
"He can come if he wants," Gerard said. "Or he can stay here."
They all looked at Pete, who seemed confused for a moment, blinking in the bright light of their combined gazes. Then he sighed. "I'm coming with," he said.
"Um," Bob said. "What about your mom?"
"She hasn't answered her phone for three days," Pete said.
"Maybe she's busy," Mikey said, rubbing his shoulder.
Pete nodded at his plate. "Maybe."
"So. Do you want to check or something?" Bob asked.
Pete lifted his eyes, his head turning slowly. It seemed to Frank like he was underwater. "No," he said.
They drove. The hum of the road under the wheels, the cramped and sticky nature of the van no matter how much air conditioning, the vague feeling of longing for places far away -- it was all so much the same that Frank could almost forget the way Hurley had sounded in the end, inhuman, alone. He dozed on and off, his arms folded across his chest, and when he woke up, they were at Wal-Mart.
"Huh?" he said to no one in particular.
Ray, who'd been sitting next to him, patted his knee. "We need stuff," he said.
"Oh. Okay." Frank ruffled his hair, trying to make sure it wasn't sticking up too much. He could use stuff, he guessed.
Only once he got inside he was sort of dazed by the fluorescent lights and couldn't think straight. He wandered around the CD section for a little while, but he didn't have a CD player, only his iPod, and the van was too old to have one so there was no point in buying anything. He picked up a package of underwear -- clean underwear was always good -- and some socks and a bag of Doritos and then drifted around looking at stuff until he found himself in the kitchen aisle looking at a wall of whisks and spatulas and stuff that he didn't even recognize. He was about to turn away and find the others when he saw the package of wooden spoons, three of them for a dollar. He picked them up, scrutinizing them through the plastic. His mom had a bunch of them, all stained red by spaghetti sauce, in a jar on her kitchen counter at home. He put them on top of the little pile in the crook of his arm and went to look for the rest of them.
The rest of them were hunched in the toy aisle inspecting action figures. They looked like giant overgrown kids, Gerard's face soft and clean of make up, Mikey and Pete slouched together with their hands in the pockets of their jeans. "Ready?" Ray asked him.
"Sure," Frank said, although he didn't feel ready. He didn't feel anything.
They loaded their stuff into the baggage space behind the back seat of the van (more Doritos, Little Debbie snacks and other junk food, a case of Diet Dr. Pepper, a package of socks and a Wonder Woman action figure among other things) and Frank was heading around the side of the van to get in when Bob stopped him.
"Look," he said, lifting the bandage on his hand.
Frank looked. The cut looked okay. It was a little black around the edges with dried blood, but it didn't seem too bad. "Looks good, man," Frank said, patting Bob's arm, but Bob was shaking his head.
"No," he said. "I can feel it."
Frankie blinked. "You. What?"
"I can feel it," Bob whispered. "The sun's getting brighter all the time. The smell, the way you guys all smell. Like ..." he shook his head. Frank wished he would take his sunglasses off. He didn't like looking at black spots where Bob's friendly eyes would usually be. "You," Bob said.
Bob leaned in until his forehead was against Frank's. "I can feel you," he murmured in a voice so low and desperate it was almost a moan. "You burn."
"What do you mean?" Frank whispered back.
Bob did moan a little then and Frank suspected that, if he could see Bob's eyes they would be closed. "It's like. You're a candle and I'm a moth, man. I want to be near you so bad, but you burn me. It hurts to look at you." His hand closed around Frank's arm.
It felt no different. Bob's hand was big and strong and warm and slightly callused and this was Bob, who had joined the band in its hour of utter darkness and who had said, after the second night they'd played out together for a stadium of screaming kids "well, this'll be okay," even though Gerard had been puking in a trash can and Mikey had been crouched behind the door pretending he didn't exist. Bob.
"Oh, man," Frank said, stepping back. "Oh man, come on."
Mikey, who had been sitting in the passenger seat in the front of the van kicking his feet idly against the door jamb, looked up. "What?" he said.
Frank lifted his head, startled. "Um," he said. "I."
"What?" Gerard said. Mikey hopped out of the seat and came over and then they were all there, surrounding him and Bob, eyes narrow with curiosity.
Frank looked at Bob, who didn't look any different than he normally did. His blond hair shone white in the sun. "Um," he said and that was all it took.
"No," Mikey said and flung his arms around Bob's neck, his long narrow back shutting Frank away. Bob hugged him back, lightly, his face angled away from Mikey's neck and Frank remembered Bob's earlier aborted description, that they smelled. He wondered what they smelled like to Bob now. He wondered if it was lunch.
Gerard lifted his chin and looked at Frankie. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly.
"He said so himself," Frank answered. "It's not me. It's him."
Ray and Pete were hugging Bob, too, resting their heads on his shoulders, the bunch of them a study in misery. Bob held them all together, his arms around their waists.
"So what do we do?" Gerard asked.
Frank shrugged. How the fuck was he supposed to know? It wasn't like this was one of those stupid movies where you stabbed somebody in --
"Oh, no," he said, stepping back from Gerard. "No."
"You're the one who bought the fucking wooden spoons," Gerard said softly.
"But." Frank stopped. But those were for other people, he wanted to say. People who he didn't know. People who hadn't carried his guitar or napped in his bunk or made him a peanut butter sandwich with honey and grapes cut into little half-circles.
"Okay," Bob said, untangling himself from the other guys. "So, um. I'm just going to stay here, I think."
Frank wanted to cry with relief. Only Bob, of course Bob, would have a way out of this mess that didn't involve murder. "Okay," he said. "Um. Okay."
"What are you going to do?" Ray asked.
Bob shrugged. "Get a hotel," he said. "Maybe it's, like. Temporary."
"Will you call us?" Mikey asked.
Bob nodded. "Duh," he said. "Just don't, you know. Tell me where you are."
"But, you know --"
Bob grabbed Mikey's forearm, squeezing firmly. Mikey wriggled in his grip. "Just don't tell me," he said softly, smiling. Mikey, who'd been distracted by Bob's hand, met his eyes.
"Okay," he said.
"All right, so," Gerard said and everyone looked at him, but he didn't seem to have anything else to say so they all stood there in the Wal-Mart parking lot with the sun beating down on them, kicking at the gravel until finally Bob cleared his throat.
"You guys should get going," he said.
Frank waited until the others had hugged Bob and slapped him on the back and (in Gerard's case) kissed him on the cheek and when they were all in the van, he went over and lifted his arms and put them around Bob's neck and hugged him tight. Bob hugged him back, picking him up off the ground and rocking him so that his feet swung back and forth.
"You take care of them," Bob said in his ear.
Frank nodded. He wanted to say something, but there was nothing he could say without crying so he just kept his mouth shut and nodded against Bob's shoulder. Bob put his hand in Frank's hair and made him look up. He'd pushed his sunglasses up on the top of his head and Frank could see the pale friendly blue of his eyes.
"I mean it," he said. "You take care of them or I'll find you."
"I will." Frank nodded. "I will."
Bob smiled his same old comfortable smile. "Cool," he said. Frank sighed and moved toward the open van door, but Bob yanked his arm. His eyes narrowed and changed, somehow, and there it was, the darkness that had never been in Bob before, the thing that smelled him. Frank yanked back, startled, hoping somewhere in his gut that Gerard wouldn't be right. Please, he thought. Please don't make me hurt Bob, but Bob was just talking, whispering something into his ear.
"You're different, Frankie," Bob said quickly, his voice ragged and harsh, like something was hurting him. "You draw me in. You should be careful of that. I can't hurt you," he said, hanging his head, squeezing his eyes closed. His last words were raspy and rough, unlike the way Bob's voice had ever sounded. "But I want to."
"You should go," Bob said, and suddenly his voice was as smooth and calm as it always was.
"Okay." Frank wanted to hug him one more time, but the darkness was in Bob's eyes and it was in the sly twist of his smile, so Frank didn't, just stepped backward and into the open van door.
"Bye!" Mikey shouted as Frank yanked the door shut. "Bye, Bob!" Gerard and Ray yelled, too, waving out the window at Bob as they pulled away. Frank tugged the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head and folded his arms around his knees and didn't say anything. There wasn't anything to say. He was maybe ten feet behind them, maybe fifteen feet, still easily within shouting distance, but it didn't matter. Bob was already gone.