It feels like it all happened really quickly, but actually it was slow, long and drawn out, and really fucking painful. First Spence and Brendon (who didn't even do him the courtesy of talking to him, and still don't), then Ryan ("Just fucking stay in Chicago, don't do me any fucking favors"), then Cassie ("Grow up and fight for something, Jon, fight for me -- just once"), and Jon doesn't need a lot to live on, but he has to at least be able to pay rent and buy pet food, and he can't do either. So he packs up his apartment and the cats and Marley and moves back in with his parents.
It's a few weeks before he can do anything except drink and mope and sneak into the kitchen at 3 am to eat while his parents are sleeping so he doesn't have to face them.
Jon has toured the world and lived in Costa Rica and made albums and he's not qualified to do anything outside of the music industry. He's never worked in an office, and there's no way he'll be able to get any kind of job that would include passing a drug test. He gets royalties from Pretty. Odd. but that's, like, twenty-five dollars a year, pretty much, and last year it wasn't even that, because the record label insisted they hadn't even made back the advance, and Jon blew all the money they'd made touring doing shit like recording his own stuff and living in Costa Rica and kicking in for the Young Veins tours.
how the fuck do real ppl get jobs? he texts to Tom. He doesn't get a response. It's not like Tom would know anyway, but it still stings. He doesn't -- it's not like he wants to make music, or even tech, but Tom could've made the offer anyway. It's just another rejection, one on top of the next; Jon almost doesn't feel it anymore, buffered from all this shit by all the years of it happening over and over.
He's fucking cursed, is what it is. Every band he's in breaks up; everything he does goes wrong; everyone leaves him.
"So basically I have no idea what to do," he says, once he's explained it all to his parents. They've been really cool about everything so far, they always have been, but he thinks this might be where they stop being cool, he might have actually hit their limit for dealing with him and his bullshit. He knows they think he just threw everything in his life away on whims and weed, and… whatever. He doesn't actually have to explain himself to them. They weren't there; they don't know. And he doesn't want to fucking talk about it.
They exchange looks over their cups of coffee -- Jon's got one too, but his has whiskey in it instead of creamer.
"Jon," his mom finally says, "you can stay here as long as you want, you know that. But you have to do something, and I do not mean lie around in your old bedroom writing maudlin songs with juvenile rhyme schemes."
Ouch. "I thought you liked my songs," he says, and pushes away the coffee mug.
"We do, son, but you have to admit that rhyming sorrow with tomorrow isn't one of your better choices." His dad pushes his own coffee cup over to Jon, and Jon takes it. His dad is a big fan of flavored creamers. Today is some kind of cheesecake flavor. Jon drains the mug anyway.
"What do you want me to do?" he finally asks.
His mom smiles sadly. "College? A project?" She looks down for a moment and he feels the weight of her gaze on his bare ring finger. "Just… get out of the house for a little while every day, baby. There's a whole world out there --"
Like he doesn't know that better than anyone?
"-- and there's a lot you can do with yourself," she finishes. "You haven't picked up a camera the whole time you've been here."
"Yeah, well, the last pictures I took were of Cassie."
His mom doesn't even pause. "Maybe you should take some more pictures, then, and chase those memories away."
"Sure. Maybe." He looks longingly at his mom's almost-full mug. "Is there more coffee?"
"Gonna put whiskey in it?" asks his dad. When Jon shakes his head, his mom hands her mug over to him. Then she puts her hand over one of his. Her skin is papery and thin, and she's starting to get old. Or -- she is old and he's starting to notice.
He wishes he was going to get the chance to notice Cassie getting old.
It's so unfair.
"Honey," she says softly, "do you want to talk about it? Any of it? It's not good for you, keeping it all inside like this."
"I --" Jon's voice cracks and disappears before he can get any of the words out.
"When you're ready." She squeezes his hand and sits back. She and his dad exchange looks again. Jon remembers when he and Cassie could read each other's faces like that. He remembers when he and Ryan and Spencer and Brendon could too.
Nobody likes me, he wants to say, but he can't bear to hear his parents try to reassure him that it's not true. Not when any day now he's going to get divorce papers, and Ryan doesn't follow him on Twitter anymore, and even Tom seems to be avoiding him. Instead, he smiles weakly at them and drinks his mom's coffee.
Jon has eight cameras, each of them totally different, each of them awesome. But they are each associated with certain things and times and people, and he needs something without any ghosts, so he takes his mom's awful point-and-shoot digital camera, sticks an SD card in it, tucks his iPod earbuds in, and goes out into the world to see if there's anything still worth looking at. He's glad his parents live in suburbia. No one he knows would come out here, and it's relieving, because he doesn't want to see anyone.
He doesn't want anyone to see him.
He ends up taking a lot of pictures of Marley peeing on things. He could do a whole exhibition about territory marking or something. One of the pictures is okay, a detail shot of a wad of gum someone spat onto the sidewalk, with an ant crawling on it. Kind of gross, but still interesting.
When he wanders home, Marley a few feet in front of him, tail down, it's getting dark and chilly. The wind is picking up and his ears are freezing. He can't remember what he's been listening to this whole time. He really wants to smoke. He pulls out his phone -- a text from Max and one from Tom, both complaining about Ryan's feet. He texts Twitter with a line from "Howl" (& alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade), and goes inside.
Marley heads immediately for his water dish, but Jon heads for his dad's study and paws through his dad's pill bottles until he finds a bottle of percocet. It expired last year, but whatever. Jon knows it'll do the job. When he puts three into his mouth to dry swallow them, he realizes his hands are shaking.
"Too soon," he mutters, and heads upstairs to crawl under the thick He-Man comforter he'd inherited from Mike in grade school. It's falling apart, but is still warm, and it makes a dark cocoon. Even once he starts feeling the warmth of the percocet chasing away the shakes and the ache in his bones, he still doesn't pull out the SD card to look at the pictures.
It sucks when his parents don't know best.
He does pull out his phone, though. Dude, I miss you. Are you ever going to talk to me again? he types in, and carefully presses in Ryan's phone number, long since deleted out of his phone. But he remembers it, of course he does, the same way he remembers Spence's and Brendon's, and Pete's mom's number, and Cassie's locker combination from their junior and senior years of high school, and the codes for all the buses he's ever lived on. The important stuff is all there, never going away.
Eventually he does send it, because he's a fucking glutton for punishment. It's not enough that Ryan didn't want to make music with him anymore; Jon has to beg to be ignored, too.
And, fuck, he can't even listen to his usual comfort music, because Ryan took that, too; everything that used to make him feel better is all tied up with all the people he doesn't have anymore.
Every day, he gets up and drags himself out of bed and makes himself change out of his pajamas. He brushes his teeth and eats breakfast and drinks coffee and leaves the house. He doesn't take the camera anymore, though. Sometimes he uses his phone to snap a picture and send it to Twitter, but mostly he just wanders through the neighborhood. Usually he takes Marley, but once in a while he goes by himself, just him and his iPod. There's a bookstore just far enough away to be a pain to walk to, but he does it, and sits with a cup of coffee from the shitty café, reading whatever he picks up.
He tries to keep his shitty feelings off Twitter, and he never checks his @replies anymore, because it's all fans Tweeting pictures of their cats, and people saying that he seems sad, or asking why he's not posting more pictures. Sometimes he Tweets pictures of the designs baristas make in the cappuccino foam.
Miss being a barista sometimes, he Tweets after he gets a star in his foam and a sly grin from the teenage girl behind the counter. More drama than music but also more coffee.
He's read in books about how sometimes people forget that bad shit is happening to them. Like, people will get coffee or go for a walk and somehow forget that they're divorced or whatever. But that never happens to him, no matter how much he wishes it would. He'd like just ten or fifteen minutes to forget that he's divorced, like, four times over at this point.
If we're really divorced now than I want half yur assets, he texts to Ryan. It's habit now, to carefully key in Ryan's number and send him fucking awful maudlin crap. Either Ryan's blocked him or is ignoring him. Or maybe he's making fun of him with his stupid friends. Jon doesn't care; it feels good to send them. He's not keeping his feelings inside. He's expressing himself.
It's only fair, since he can't write anymore. Cassie took all his songs with her, and left her engagement ring in exchange.
Oh, maybe he can sell it, and use the cash to buy a new iPod. The screen of his is cracked. He could also use a new pair of flip-flops, and those don't come cheap these days.
Jon answers his phone automatically when it rings, without checking to see who the caller is. It's been months, and the only people who call are his mom, dad, and sometimes Tom. Tom likes to complain about how Max is a perfectionist and Sean keeps stealing his hair product. He also complains about how hard it is to find a drummer to replace Ryan, but he never asks Jon to sit in. Jon gets that -- he's a jinx for bands. First Farewell Night, then 5o4 Plan, then Panic, then TYV. It sucks, but he gets it -- Tom's had enough bad luck, he doesn't need Jon's too. But Jon's been home from Costa Rica and in Chicago for four months at this point, and Tom hasn't even asked him to hang out, hasn't asked him how Cassie is doing, hasn't… Hasn't been there.
Now, when Tom calls, Jon lets him complain and get it out of his system, tells him about whatever disgusting thing Marley rolled in on his walk that day, and then says, "Imma let you go, man, I can't be taking up all your time like this," and they hang.
It's better than awkward silence as Tom tries to figure out a way to tell Jon that he doesn't want to hear about Jon's stupid problems.
But it's not Tom or Mom or Dad on the phone -- it's Cassie.
"Hey," she says, sounding a little uncertain. "You still there?"
"What do you want?" he asks, trying for cold but not sure he's making it.
"Jon…" She sighs. "Come on."
"Cassie. You left me. We're getting divorced. What do you want?" Saying it out loud in plain English doesn't make it hurt less or feel less totally fucking bizarre. It hurts like a deep ache, in the background, a low buzz, always there.
"Did you even -- I mean. Have you even done what I asked? We're only separated, you know. I still…" Her voice is thick with tears. He knows all her tells, he knows she's trying not to cry. He doesn't care, though. He doesn't want to do anything he can to stop her from crying. That's not what she wants from him anyway. She wants to be free of him, wants to be away from his obsessions, doesn't want to keep leaving the past behind the way he'd been trying to do.
Failing to do.
"Cass, we both know we're not getting back together," he says. He doesn't bother to try to be gentle. "You don't want to be with me."
"I do, though," she insists.
"But you don't, because what you want is for me to be some totally different person."
"No, Jon, what I want is for you to be you, and that's not who you are right now. You're so -- don't you even notice? You changed so much --"
He interrupts her, because this is about the millionth time they've had this conversation. He'd expected to be dumped on his ass the first time he fucked a groupie, and then again when he and Ryan left Brendon and Spencer and the huge payday that came along with being in Panic, and then again when TYV broke up and Jon spent a few weeks writing his own album. He'd expected to be dumped when he told her he wanted to take a sabbatical and go away to Costa Rica to reconnect with himself and her, but she stuck with him through all of it, and agreed to blow their savings, and just made him use condoms and get tested if he was going to fuck other people.
"I didn't change," he says calmly. "I'm the same dude. I just grew the fuck up. You can't keep telling me that you don't want anything from me but for me to be myself and then suddenly change your mind this many years in and expect me to be okay with it. You don't want me to be myself, you want me to be the same dude I was in high school, and I'm not. I can't be."
"I don't want that," she says heatedly. He can see her in his mind, eyes flashing, hair shiny. But he doesn't wish she was here. He doesn't wish they were yelling at each other in person. Over the phone sucks enough. "But you know what I want -- kids and a family and a house and a real life. You know that, you've always known that. And you wanted it too -- until you met Ryan Ross, and --"
"Okay, I'm done," Jon says, with a calm he doesn't actually feel. His voice is strong but his hands are shaking. "I'm totally done. Don't call me again. Send the divorce papers to my parents' house."
"Jon, no, wait. Please."
He hangs up on her.
He's so sick and tired of hearing about how Ryan Ross changed him. Ryan didn't do shit except exist in the same sphere as Jon. Jon did this to himself, changed himself. He's a shit for denying it to Cassie, but it's true, because ten years ago, Jon had wanted everything Cassie just listed, and would have been happy playing music in someone's garage. But then he met Ryan fucking Ross, and everything he wanted was upended, everything he wanted changed, because he saw what he could have and who he could be, and wanted that instead.
And then Ryan left him. Divorced him. Split up with him. Broke up with him. Kicked him out of the Young Veins, or something -- stopped following him on Twitter and stopped answering his texts and stopped giving a shit. It all happened at the same time that Jon had said he wanted to take a couple of months off to spend with Cassie and get married, but Jon's not sure they're related.
Brent had warned him -- years ago, when Jon had agreed to sub in for him at one of the shows, but then Brent showed up at the very last minute. He'd caught Jon the next morning, held his arm so tightly there'd been bruises later. He'd said, in a low, mean voice, "Don't get too comfortable. Ryan changes reality to suit himself. One day you won't fit into his vision of the world anymore either."
At the time, Jon had thought it was sour grapes, high school drama.
Now he's not so sure. Maybe he really didn't fit into Ryan's world anymore.
Jon had spent a lot of the time he and Cassie lived in Costa Rica trying to figure it out -- the best he can do is the thought that Ryan got tired of him and maybe joined the Panic fans in blaming Jon for breaking up the band by introducing Ryan to the Beatles and encouraging him to write songs for himself to sing, rather than write to Brendon's strengths. Maybe Ryan wanted to join Panic again, go back to Brendon and Spencer.
Except Ryan's not back in Panic; therefore, he just didn't want to be with Jon.
That pain is sharp, immediate, blinding. Jon has to gasp for air, even though it's been over a year now. He rubs his chest, but the pain doesn't go away, not until he curls up on his bed with both cats and Marley. He'd really like some weed or pills or whiskey or something, but -- but he knows they won't help, not even all together. Nothing helps this.
Jon wrote two albums to himself about what Ryan might be thinking, about what he'd like to feel. Maybe, he thinks, he needs to write an album about what he's thinking, about what he actually feels. From his own perspective, not trying to step out and see what someone else thinks or feels.
He knows his mom is going to be annoyed, but he gives up on his walks for a day and then a week, pulls out his acoustic guitar and tries to figure out what he's thinking. He writes a song about Cassie, about how he can't be what she wants, about how hard it is to have someone asking him for things he could give, but would be so unhappy giving. He titles it "Divorce" and uploads a video of himself playing it to YouTube.
His @replies and YouTube comments go totally fucking nuts; he should have figured that the Panic fans who still follow him would assume it's a song about Brendon and Spencer. What the fuck, it's been three years already. That shit he's over.
Instead of replying to any of them, he Twitters, Finally got to here Vices and Virtues. Those dudes have a lot of fucking talent, what a great pop album.
Stupidly, he reads some of the @replies; a lot of people seem to think he's being passive aggressive by calling it a pop album. What the fuck. He can't say anything right. Jesus.
@Panicfan2011 I love pop music doesnt mean its my calling.
@SpencersBoyfriend The Beatles were a pop band too man
@nolightnolight_no_ no, the song is about my wife leaving me.
At least that gets the focus off Brendon and Spencer.
When he plays the song for his parents, his dad cries a little and his mom hugs him really tightly. Then his dad hugs him while his mom cries a little. He feels like a jerk, but at least they're not pissed that he broke their deal. And his dad doesn't have shit to say about the rhyme scheme, so there's that, too.
"You didn't tell me Cassie left you," Tom says, instead of saying hello.
"You didn't ask." Jon tucks his cell between his shoulder and his ear and tries to measure out coffee into the filter. His parents have a regular drip machine, and they buy pre-ground coffee and keep it in the freezer no matter how often he lectures them. His French press is stored away in a box in the spare room; Jon hasn't gone through any of the stuff from the apartment he shared with Cassie. Maybe that means he doesn't need any of it -- five months is a long time to live without things.
"That's not the kind of thing you ask about, Jonny." Tom sounds exhausted.
"You sound tired," Jon says. He finally just shakes the coffee from the crappy bag right into the filter and eyeballs it. It's not like adding too much coffee could make this shit worse. He finally gets why his dad drinks it with so much flavored creamer, it's the only way to make this shit palatable.
"She wanted kids. She wanted me to get a real job. She was tired of my feelings. I just…" Jon sighs and flicks the switch to turn the machine on. "I didn't want to bug you. I know you have your own shit going on right now."
"You're such a dick," Tom finally says. "I've spent months trying to give you your space, waiting for you to clue me into what's going on, waiting for you to tell me what you want, how I can help. And this whole time you've been -- you've been what? What are you doing, man?"
"Living with my parents," Jon confesses. "Trying to figure my shit out." He doesn't say the rest of it, the texts to Ryan and how he hasn't been playing and long walks looking for something to photograph that doesn't exist and the way he's not upset enough about Cassie, not the way he's upset about Ryan.
"You're a dick," Tom repeats. "Do you want me to come to you or are you going to come to me?"
"I can't, man, I can't -- I can't." Jon can't get further into the sentence than that.
"Okay, I'm coming to you. Your parents still in the same place? Yes? Good, see you soon." Tom hangs up without even waiting for Jon to answer, so Jon texts.
Yes still in the same place. I'm not a dick i just thought you were tired of me.
Then you're a moron.
Yes, Jon sends back, not even hesitating.
When Jon drives over to get Tom at the commuter rail station and sees Tom's stupid hair and slouched shoulders and downturned mouth standing there waiting, there's a burst of relief in his chest. That's my best friend, Jon thinks, and leans over to open the passenger-side door so Tom can climb in. First, though, Tom leans down and snaps a picture of Jon with his phone.
"Prove to everyone you're still alive," he says when he finally settles into the car and pulls the seatbelt over his shoulder. "Fuck, what's this shit on the radio?"
"No clue," says Jon, and lets Tom fiddle with the dial until he hits one of the six million classic rock stations that come in only a little fuzzy from Chicago. They sing along to "Don't Fear the Reaper" too loud, both of them off key and not caring at all, and Jon is starving suddenly, so they grab a deep dish pizza to take back to Jon's parents' house, and get grease on the living room rug. It's awesome.
Tom leaves a camera with Jon, a decent SLR, and a plastic bag filled with film. Jon hasn't shot using a film camera in a long time, not since school. He digs through the bag of film and pulls out a roll of 100-speed b&w, and goes outside when the sun is at its highest and brightest to shoot pictures of children at the park and flowers moving in the breeze. He can't develop the film himself, but his mom drops it off at the photo lab near the high school on her way to work and brings it home the same night.
She had prints made for him, too; he was just going to scan the negatives into the computer.
"That misses the point of film," she says, and he chokes on a laugh, because he had been such a pretentious fucking photography douche in high school, and is pretty sure he'd said that exact same thing to her at least once or twice.
Having someone else print his photographs is less satisfying than doing it himself, but the mere fact that he feels that way makes him feel better.
He scans in one of the prints and adjusts the contrast a little. It's just clouds in the sky with the sun coming out, but the rays of light are so visible and the clouds are so perfect; he posts a low res version to Twitter with a note: @tomconrad wins at being the best friend ever.
Jon sifts through contact sheets until he finds the photograph he wants, two little boys playing in a sandbox together, smiling radiantly at each other. He tries not to hang around the parks when little kids are there too much, because he doesn't want to come off like a pedophile or something, but sometimes he takes Marley to the dog park that's a little further away, the one where nannies take toddlers to play in the afternoon.
He scans the negative in and fiddles with it in Photoshop, which is sometimes just as satisfying as fiddling with an enlarger until the print is right. (Only sometimes, though.) He attaches it to an email and types in Ryan's email address. But he doesn't send it.
There's a terrible hollow feeling in his chest where Ryan should be, but maybe, Jon thinks, he should try to fill it with something else. It's been over a year now, since the Young Veins broke up and Ryan disappeared out of his life, and Jon should… move the fuck on. He'd thought he was doing that -- marrying Cassie, trying to find himself in Costa Rica, but.
But really he'd just been hiding. He should own up to this and then try to get over it. Right?
Jon's phone goes off at 4 am.
Man I am back from France and Greece, it was amazing. What are all these texts from you?
He stares at it with bleary eyes. While he's staring, it buzzes with another new text:
Wait, you and Cassie? For real?
He doesn't know how he's supposed to write back to these texts, what he's supposed to say. He's getting over this, except no, he's really not. This is the first communication he's had from Ryan in a year, and it sounds like Ryan's forgotten that he's ignoring Jon.
There's no way Ryan expects an answer at 4 am anyway, so Jon slips the phone back onto his nightstand and turns over in bed. Clover claws at his hair from where she's sleeping on his pillow, and Marley whines a little down by Jon's feet. (Dylan, the traitor, sleeps with his parents.)
Jon presses his feet to Marley's warm belly and doesn't think about nights curled up in hotel rooms with Ryan, the way when he got home Cassie's hair had smelled so wrong and he hadn't been able to figure out why until he'd taken a shower and smelled her shampoo.
Finally, he rolls back over, disgruntling Clover again, and grabs his phone to text Tom.
How unaware of myself would you say I am?
Tom's response doesn't come until the afternoon, when Jon is deep into a pot of coffee and a song about developing film in a dark room with no lights.
More than Pete, less than Sean.
Jon snorts a laugh despite himself and types back, Least helpful answer ever.
He doesn't text Ryan.
"I'm trying not to rub it in your face, man," Tom says tiredly.
"That's not how -- it wouldn't be," Jon answers, feeling like a dick. "I want to know. It's your life, it's your band. Was I rubbing it in your face when I had a band and you didn't?"
"No, but it didn't feel that great," Tom replies bluntly. Well, shit.
"I didn't know."
"I didn't want you to."
There's a knock on Jon's bedroom door and his mom peeks in. "Jon, there's someone here… Well, you better come down."
"Dude, are you here?" he asks Tom.
"Nope, I'm in bed with beer, the breakfast of champions. Talk to you later."
Jon hangs up and wonders if Tom is relieved that he got out of having the conversation about Empires' new album. He misses when people weren't fucking tiptoeing around him like this. It's bullshit.
Then he sees who's in his parents' kitchen, sitting at their table, drinking a cup of coffee made in the French press Jon finally dug out.
"Ryan," he says stupidly.
"You didn't answer my texts, so I came to check up on you." Ryan takes a long sip of coffee. He looks good, his hair curling around his face. He's gained weight in his cheeks, through his chest and shoulders, and he has a five o'clock shadow even though it's only eleven in the morning. Jon tightens his hands into fists.
"You weren't talking to me," he points out, resisting the urge to let his anger into his voice. "You kicked me out of our band and stopped talking to me."
"I didn't kick you out, I let you go," Ryan corrects, like that's actually what happened and Jon's the one who got it wrong.
"You kicked me out," Jon says again. "You told me to stay here, you --"
"Well, you left me to get married. You didn't want to come back." Ryan's tone is reasonable and Jon wants to punch him.
"I want to punch you," Jon tells him. Instead of doing it, though, he turns around to the coffee pot and pours himself a cup. It's still steaming; his dad actually bought a cozy for it, this quilted thing with pansies on it or something. It's really ugly, but it keeps the coffee hot longer. Jon's saving his lecture about decanting for another time.
Jon turns to check if Ryan is being sarcastic, but Ryan just looks bewildered. Jon brings his coffee to the table and sits on the other side from Ryan, and a chair away so they are diagonal and their knees won't bump or anything.
"I can't believe you're asking me that," Jon finally says. "How do you not. You. You unfollowed me on Twitter!"
Okay, said like that, he feels kind of stupid.
Ryan flushes and looks away. "I didn't want to -- you were so happy to be back in Chicago," he murmurs. "I couldn't watch."
"I was fucking miserable," Jon snaps, "and I dragged my wife to Costa Rica figuring that would be far enough away but it wasn't, I couldn't --"
"Oh." Ryan lets out a long breath. "I'll, it's okay, I'll just go. Sorry, I shouldn't have come. I thought." He doesn't look at Jon, just sets the coffee mug away and pushes back his chair. "I'll go."
"God, you're fucking stupid," Jon tells him. "But so am I, so I guess it only makes sense this happened."
"I saw you're writing again, I looked at Twitter." Ryan shrugs into a slim-fitting coat, tugs the hood up over his head. Jon can't see his face. "I'm really happy for you, I hope --"
"Don't go," Jon blurts. "Stay. Tell me about France."
Ryan finally looks up, and his eyes are wide. "Jon, it's okay," he says gently. "You don't have to pretend that. It's fine, I'm fine, I just hadn't realized you thought… Well, it's not. I'll follow you on Twitter again, we'll go back to being friends."
"I wasn't leaving you, you get that, right?" Jon shakes his head. "I had to get away, I needed some time to… figure shit out."
Ryan makes a noise that Jon can't describe. Like a scoff, maybe, or a snort, or -- whatever it is, it's disbelieving. "You left me," he says, his voice low. He looks away again, letting his face hide in the hood of his coat. "You left the band, you left me, you came back here and got married and didn't invite me -- you didn't want me, or my friendship, and, Jon, I get it, I'm no one's. I'm not a. I." He grabs the back of the chair, white-knuckled. "Anyway, I understand. It's okay."
Jon wants to say, I married Cassie because I loved her, but also because I was trying not to be in love with you. He wants to say, I wrote two albums about you and it's not enough. He wants to say, Come to bed, let's see if this could work.
Instead he says, "Sit down, come on. Stay. Please. You don't understand anything."
But Ryan starts zipping and buttoning, the shake of his head almost invisible in the hood. "No, it's --"
Jon stands and walks around the table, puts one hand over Ryan's, uses the other to push back his hood. "Seriously, I don't -- I don't, like, know, okay? But I want." Jon takes a deep breath. Ryan's mouth is red and bitten, and his skin is pale against Jon's tanned, callused hand. "I want to figure it out. Please stay."
Ryan's breathing is shaky and he's silent, too silent, and Jon's worried he's stepped over a line he hadn't known was there, like maybe this whole time Ryan really was just talking about friendship and not the more Jon keeps feeling urgently pushing in his chest.
But then, in a voice that's barely there, Ryan says, "Okay. Yes. I'll stay."
"Tell me I'm not wrong about this," Jon says, his heart pounding, and brushes his lips against Ryan's. Ryan's hand turns to grip his tightly, and his head tilts, and then they're really kissing, a serious kiss, a kiss with intent and meaning.
"You're not wrong," Ryan says wryly when they break away from each other. "I thought that was why you left."
"It was." Honesty is the best policy, right? "I didn't think you…" He grimaces at the same time Ryan does.
"I do. I did. I -- yes." Ryan lets his head fall onto Jon's shoulder. "I don't want to be in a band anymore, though. I'm not writing, I don't want -- I should tell you about France, I did this performance art, and I felt like… like people understood what I wanted to tell them, except I didn't have to give them words they could twist and use against me."
Jon cups his face and makes him look up. "That's awesome," he tells Ryan, "and I want to know all about it. But first I want to kiss you a lot."
"And on that note," Jon's dad says, "I'm going to interrupt and get a cup of coffee. Also, you should turn to the side because your mother's eavesdropping, and it'll be easier for her to hear if your back isn't to her."
Ryan chokes on a laugh as Jon feels his face heat up.
"Dad," he says, as sternly as he can, but it's too late, Ryan's already losing it, laughing so hard his whole body shakes, and he leans against Jon to stay upright, so Jon has to smile too.
That night, door firmly shut and locked against pets and parents, Jon breaks out the 3600 film and photographs Ryan in his childhood bed, only the open laptop lighting his skin.
"My turn," says Ryan, much later, and uses his phone to take a picture of their faces together on one pillow. Jon watches his fingers press in a message to Twitter: Taking a vacation.
Ryan's hair smells the same; Jon turns his face into it and shuts his eyes. He still doesn't know what to do, but he thinks maybe it'll be easier to figure it out now.