III. Boat
"...everybody knows that the boat is leaking.
Everybody knows that the captain lied."

The second he found out what had happened, Gerard got on the phone with Chris, who was back in New Jersey arranging for the recording that was supposed to happen after the Tour was over, and starting yelling about how people were getting eaten and he didn't care what the fucking contract said, there was no provision about cannibalism and if they didn't get more security, like instantly, they were walking. "This is the second goddamn time this has happened!" Gerard shouted into the phone. "It's open season on guitarists!"

"He's such a total diva," Mikey said, awed by Gerard's performance. Bob, who Frank suspected had seen much better fit-throwing while he was with The Used (or much worse, depending on how you looked at it), shrugged.

"So what, exactly, happened?" Mikey asked.

Frank shook his head. "I dunno. He stage dived, dove, whatever, and when security pulled him out, he was bleeding."

"There was, like, a chunk of his arm missing," Ray said.

"But was it on purpose?" Mikey asked.

Ray shrugged. "Who knows? I mean, we couldn't see, but it wasn't like that kid who jumped on stage. It was probably an accident."

"Probably," Frank said, nodding, although he'd been in plenty of mosh pits and didn't know how someone could accidentally bite a chunk out of someone's arm. He supposed it was possible.

"Does this mean we have to make him a shirt, too?" Mikey asked.

They didn't have to make Jer a shirt, though, because Mest pulled out of the Tour the next day. Jer had been taken to the hospital that night and hadn't returned, and no one Frank knew saw any of the other guys before they left. The bus was just gone in the morning and that was it. Frank talked to some of the guys from Thrice and the Hawthorne Heights drummer and a couple other people who were on the same stage, but no one knew where they went. Stacey, one of the PR girls who hung around with Mest offstage, told Bob that Jer hadn't answered his phone since it happened. The news said that he was recovering and fine and warned people about the dangers of human bites and had quotes from Tony saying they'd be back on the Tour in no time, but no one actually on the Tour seemed to know when that would happen. It did mean, though, that everyone else got an extra four minutes or so, so that was sort of cool, if Frank didn't think too hard about the blood dripping from Jer's fingers, spattering on the stage.

"You have to stop thinking about it," Gerard told him a week later while they were curled up together under a clean hotel sheet, naked and freshly showered. "You're freaking out. It was an accident."

"I know," Frank said, although he didn't know that at all. "But still. It had to be a pretty major thing. Bite. I mean, they keep talking about it on the news and stuff. And. You didn't see how much blood there was."

"Frank, man." Gerard sighed, stretching out flat on his back, arms behind his head. That was one of the new things Gerard had started doing since he'd starting working out. Frank remembered when he wouldn't even let anyone touch his stomach, let alone show it off. Frank put his hand on it -- the newly flat pale flesh just above Gerard's pubic hair -- just as a test, and Gerard didn't even flinch. "You have to let it go."

"Sure," Frank said, drawing his hand up Gerard's chest and down his stomach slowly. "I know."

"And you keep wearing that shirt..."

"It's my good luck shirt," Frank said quickly, his hand closing over his bare chest reflexively. He liked the "Don't Bite the Guitarist" shirt. It felt like a warning. "You wear the same clothes everyday anyway."

"But I don't have to. I wouldn't refuse to go on if I couldn't find them."

"Yes, you would," Frank said. He wasn't entirely certain that was true, but Gerard was pretty picky about his clothes and besides, he'd just had to dig through his bag to find the shirt. It wasn't like it had been lost or anything. Just ... misplaced. For, like, a minute.

"No, I wouldn't," Gerard said. He arched his back slightly and spread his legs, encouraging Frankie's casual hand over the arch of his hips. When Frank obliged and slid his hand around Gerard's cock, Gerard closed his eyes and opened his mouth, just a little, just enough to make Frank want to stop and stay in this instant and look at him forever.

"Yes, you would," Frank said, squeezing. Gerard reached out blindly and grabbed Frank's arm and pulled him in and that was all either of them said for a long time.

"I know what you are," the girl said to him, smiling. She was one of the interns -- Frank had seen her around before, usually with a walkie talkie on her belt, like there was now. She'd stopped him right inside the backstage fence, a clipboard folded into the crook of her arm, a pen wedged in the top of it.

"Yeah, well." He laughed a little. "I know you, too."

"No." She shook her head. Her smile was slow and knowing, the way that people smiled right before someone went down on them, lazy and intimate. Coming from this girl he hardly knew, the smile made Frankie uncomfortable. Had she seen something she wasn't supposed to see? Had he and Gerard done something outside the bus? Frank couldn't remember. "I know what you are," she repeated, drawing a fingernail down his bare forearm.

He took a step back. "Well, whatever. I'm going now," he said.

"See you later, Frankie," she called after him. "See you around."

"Not if I can help it," Frank answered, but softly, so she couldn't hear him.

Gerard was on the bus smoking and drawing something in black pen on a cheap sketchpad that he'd gotten at a 24 hour Wal-Mart two states ago. They had all realized during the first Warped Tour that there were way too many hours in the day when they weren't playing or watching others play and there was only so much sleep a person could get, so Gerard had a whole paint set and canvases and everything in a little cabinet in the rehearsal studio in the back of the bus, but he'd still made the bus stop a few days ago and wait while he'd gone in and bought an 8x11 art pad and some normal roller ball ink pens. "I'm keepin' it real," he'd told Frank, when Frank had expressed disbelief. "I'm going back to my junior high roots."

"Hey, I got a question," Frank said. Gerard, who was drawing something dark and twisted, like an evil tree from what Frank could tell, looked up. "Did we, like, make out in a public place or something? One of the interns was acting all weird."

Gerard tipped his head to the side, thinking, his pen tapping his mouth. "Not that I'm aware of," he said finally. "I mean, besides on stage."

"Maybe that's it," Frank said. But the girl had looked at him so knowingly, like she'd seen something besides the obvious and orchestrated kisses Gerard planted on him at every seventh show. He shrugged. "Who the fuck knows. What are you doing?"

"Drawing," Gerard said. Unlike some other artists Frank had known, Gerard didn't get mad at you if you talked to him while he was drawing unless it was something serious or real. Like, when he'd done the cover for Three Cheers, he'd been sitting in his mom's kitchen talking to Frank while she cooked dinner, because the artwork was only supposed to be a mockup and wasn't a real project. Frank still remembered Gerard holding his paintbrush above the paper and letting the red splash onto it, hardly even looking down.

"What is it?" Frank asked, leaning over his shoulder.

Gerard shrugged. "I dunno." That wasn't what he meant, because Frank could see clearly that it was a house and there was a tree and a short fence in front of it. The tree was huge and twisted, like it was a hundred years old. So far, it didn't have any leaves on it. It didn't look like it was going to. But Gerard didn't mean that; he meant that he didn't know why he was drawing it. It was different from the way Gerard usually drew, less stylized and cartoon-like and more realistic.

"I like it," Frank said. He pressed his face into the curve of Gerard's neck.

"Ray's in back," Gerard murmured.

"He knows. They all know," Frank said, but he stood up straight anyway, settling for drawing his fingers over Gerard's nape. "I like it," he said again.

"You can have it when I'm done," Gerard said. That was another thing Frank liked about Gerard's drawings -- he gave them away. Frank had three or four of Gerard's sketches taped to the ceiling of his bunk already, including a drawing of himself that Gerard had done in about six seconds, and looked just like him even though it was just Frank's eye and his pierced lip and a scribble of hair.

"Cool," Frank said. And even though Ray was in the back, Frank leaned down and kissed him right on the back of the neck, quickly. He couldn't help it.

They hadn't been doing signings because the security was just a fucking mess and kids kept sneaking in the back of the tent or pushing through the front or standing outside and staring at them in ways that creeped Frank out, but in Kansas, the signing booth was actually a building with solid walls and air conditioning and doors that could be shut, so they decided to do one. It was important -- to Gerard mostly, but also to the rest of the band -- to actually talk to the fans. Some bands, even bands who, in Frank's opinion, were lucky to be on the Warped Tour, had the attitude that fans were a nuisance, that they were things to be avoided, like germs. Frank himself felt that way sometimes, when all he wanted to do was walk around the grounds and grab himself a lemonade vodka freeze and see some people play, but he couldn't because he'd get recognized and mobbed and it just wasn't worth the trouble. But the fans, as much of a pain as they were sometimes, loved them. Loved the band. Loved the music. And signings were a good way to remember that, to talk to people one on one and say "hi" and "thanks" and "nice to meet you."

So they were doing one at 2:30pm in Bumfuck, Kansas, a couple of hours before they went on. Frankie took his spot at the table on the far end from Gerard. Chris had designed the seating set up after a signing at the last Warped Tour where some girl had pushed past Ray and come straight over to Frank and Gerard and asked them to tag team her. The truth, which Frank didn't like to think about too often because it was so fucking stupid, was that after Gerard, he was the person the fans came to see. So he sat at one end and talked to them first and Gerard sat at the other and talked to them last, and the other guys sat in the middle in whatever order they wanted and talked (or didn't talk if you were Mikey) when they wanted.

The doors opened. Heat and people rolled in like a wave. "Hi," Frank said to the first girl, thirteen or fourteen at the most, in black jeans and a tank top and black and white striped socks on her arms, which was apparently a new thing although in Frank's humble opinion it looked super stupid. "I'm Frank," he said. "What's your name?"

It went on like that for about half an hour, Frank saying hi, asking names and signing his own onto paper, CD covers, magazines.

"Hi," he said to a kid wearing a black t-shirt and a leather cuff. "I'm Frank."

"I know who you are," the kid said.

Frank looked up. The kid was maybe sixteen or seventeen, brown hair cut short, blank eyes, pimples scattered across his chin. "What's your name?" Frank asked.

The kid slid a magazine onto the table, an old Kerrang! a picture of the band all bloody and beat up on the front cover. That was a fun photo shoot, Frank thought. He blinked.

"What's your name?" he asked the kid again.

"Sign it with your real name," the kid said.

"Frank is my real name," Frank answered, looking around. Bob, who was next to him, was chatting with a mom and her nine year old son, smiling and signing. The security guy by the door had his back to the table, watching for signs of disturbance in the line. Frank might as well have been alone.

"No, your real name," the kid said, leaning down, his hand flat on the table. His breath smelled of rotten tuna and puke. Frank gagged a little, shaking his head, and then he saw it.

On the kid's wrist, right near the edge of the leather cuff, a crusted red half-circle, the color of old rust. He looked up into the kid's eyes. "What's my real name?" he asked.

The kid smiled, and his teeth were stained too, lined in red, like he'd eaten one of those tablets they gave out to elementary school kids to see how well they brushed their teeth. His eyes glimmered with malice. His face was so close to Frank's that he could smell the blood, flecks of it becoming airborne with every breath. "You know," the kid said.

Frank could feel his heart beating, rapid fire, against his ribs, sweat rising on his forehead despite the air conditioning. This kid. This goddamn kid with his smart ass smile. "Fuck off," Frank murmured, scribbling his name across his magazine face. He shoved it back across the table. "Have a nice day." His own smile felt wide and toothy. No one came up to his fucking table and threatened him. No one.

The kid took a step back, just one, eyes flickering, and slid his magazine over to Bob. Frank stood up, smiling at the girl who was next in line. "One minute honey, okay?" he said, shoving back his chair. He edged past the other guys and crouched down by Gerard's chair. "There's a kid coming up," he whispered. "He's at Ray."

"What about him?" Gerard asked.

"He's fucked up, man. We should watch out for him."

"Fucked up how?" Gerard asked, but it was too late, the kid was standing there, magazine almost obliterated by signatures.

"You again," Frank said, standing up, one hand on Gerard's shoulder.

"Hey," the kid said, smiling shyly. "I'm a huge fan." He seemed smaller than he had at the other end of the table. Normal. Ordinary. Frank couldn't see his teeth.

"Thanks," Gerard said. "We're really glad you like us."

"Oh, I love you guys," the kid said. "I was telling Frank, you know. Earlier."

"What happened to your arm?" Frank asked. "You didn't get hurt or something did you?"

The kid paused and there it was, the sly expression that he'd had at Frank's end of the table, the shifty look. "Oh, nothing," he said, rubbing the wound. "I'm fine."

"Okay, well," Gerard said, glancing between Frank and the kid. "Have a good day, man."

"Yeah, you too," the kid said and then he was gone, out the far door and into the crowd.

Gerard grabbed Frank's arm. "What the fuck?" he whispered in Frank's ear, his breath hot and moist. Frank shook his head.

"Later," he said. "I'll talk to you about it later."

He tried to forget about it and focus on the kids in front of him, smiling and saying hello and letting people take his picture. They were almost done -- Frank could see the end of the line just outside the door -- when a teenage girl leaned down and flashed her breasts at him. "Could you, like, sign your real name?" she asked. Frank was too busy staring at the bite mark on her left breast to answer.

[ Coming Apart ]