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The Man Who Would Not Be King

Chapter Text

“I haven’t felt like this since Dookie…” Billie Joe trailed off, rubbing his temples.  “If only I could just chill.  Jesus.” 

His green eyes looked up, startled to find he had an audience; Tré was peeking over the couch at him curiously.  He grinned, registering Billie Joe’s slight discomfort at being caught in the act of talking to himself.  “Wondering when I got here?” he questioned good-naturedly.  “Well I was wondering that myself.  Must have been roofies in my drink.”

Billie Joe snorted, now sufficiently distracted from his earlier thoughts.  “In that case, someone slips you roofies every night, Tré.”

Tré lowered his voice conspiratorially.  “It isn’t you, is it, Billie?”  He winked.  He flashed his pearly whites, smirking in response to the second snort this elicited from his band mate.  “Billie…you might want to get that whole sleep apnea while you’re awake thing checked out,” he jibed.

At this, the black-haired guitarist stood up from his chair and closed the distance between him and his drummer.  His intent revealed itself to Tré when Billie Joe took hold of his shoulders and gently, but forcefully shoved him off the couch.  He then sat down in Tré’s place, propping his feet up on the cushions, as they didn’t quite reach the other armrest.  He snapped his fingers airily and ordered, “Coffee, Mr. Cool,” before closing his eyes.

Mr. Cool waited a moment on the floor, his laziness battling the impulse to help out a friend.  His head ached dully as he stretched his arms out between his spread legs, the movement spurring blood to pick up the pace to his brain.  Coffee…it might do them both some good.  Instead of launching, or even creaking, into motion, however, his eyes flicked up to Billie Joe, whose own were still hidden by lids and long lashes.  He frowned.  He gave himself enough babbling pep talks to know that something was eating his friend.  Unfortunately Tré didn’t quite know how to string together a concerned question without feeling like he was butting in where he wasn’t wanted.  So the coffee would suffice.

Tré forced himself to stand wearily.  He cast one more glance at Billie Joe, noting the way that his tattooed fingers splayed out on the fabric of his black T-shirt above his stomach.  His breathing was steady, and Tré was no longer sure he was still awake.  He sighed and walked out, hoping whatever it was that was unsettling him would be gone after breakfast.

As he pulled the door closed softly behind him, he craned his neck in order to catch the room number, 504.  “Five oh four, five oh four, remember, Tré Cool.  You’re a pro at hangovers and that means you can remember Billie’s room with one just fine,” he mumbled to himself.  He had only passed a couple of doors, but somehow he had managed to distract himself with his own memory cue.

“Dammit,” he grumbled, deciding to forge on regardless in case he ran into the walking support column of Green Day, otherwise known as their bassist Mike.  His hope was reckless, but be damned if he was going to stop now!  His intense blue eyes stared ahead with drive and focus.  Such focus that it took the ding of the elevator to reach his ears from behind to make him realize that he had walked straight past it.  “Oh for two, Tré Cool, oh for two,” he told himself as he entered the confines of the elevator, pressing the glowing L button.

He moved into the dedicated breakfast area and grabbed two disposable coffee cups, setting down first one, then the other under the spout of the coffeemaker.  As he did so, he eyed the tables absentmindedly, vaguely registering surprise at the lack of bodies.  He’d figured at least some of the crew would be down by now.  Unless they were just arriving to set up the venue later in the day.  Yeah, he supposed, it was just the first night of their tour.  He wondered, as he fit the second lid on, why no one ever deemed it important to tell him these things.

He felt an unexpected tug at his pants and turned around to find a girl of about two or three, her hair done up in blonde pigtails.  “Why hello there….” he said in wonder, eyes sweeping his surroundings for a straggling mother.

Huffing into view jogged an apologetic young woman.  “I’m so sorry!  She went running ahead and…y’know, two-year-olds are fast.”  She paused to gather up her child.  “Say,” she began, uncertainty leaking through a slight squint, “aren’t you the…the guy from Green Day?”

“Yeah,” Tré affirmed, managing to keep his eye roll mental.  “Tré Cool…nice to meet ya.”  He stretched out a hand after fumbling one of the cups between the fingers of his other, already-occupied hand.

She took it, warmly, laughing as she realized he might be expecting an introduction himself.  “I’m Kate, mother of this terror, Melanie.”  She smiled at him and excused herself.  “Well, you’re probably getting that for somebody, so I’ll leave you be,” she said, and relocated herself a ways down the counter, near the breakfast cereal.

Transferring the precariously gripped coffee back into his other hand, Tré re-entered the elevator.  The doors slid closed in front of his face and it hit him that he was at a loss.  Which floor was it, never mind which room!  He cursed himself and looked at the numbers on the glossy buttons. 

They didn’t exactly speak to him.

Apparently the elevator decided of its own accord to start the ascent, however; it brought him to the fifth, revealing what looked to be a very sleepy bassist.  Mike yawned and put a hand on Tré’s shoulder to steady himself as he stepped in beside him.  He directed the traveling box back down to the lobby before the thought to stop him was properly processed by Tré, still not quite recovered from partying the night before.

“Mike, wait!  What’s Billie Joe’s room number again?” Tré cried frantically after him.  He had to stop the doors from clicking back together first.

Mike waved over his shoulder.  “Five oh four!”

 

Tré faced the door of 504 again, trying to determine the best way to knock with two cups of coffee tying up his hands.  He went for his right elbow.

A shock of inky disheveled hair, followed by a bleary-eyed Billie Joe, bent around the door.  His gaze lit upon what would soon be his caffeine fix, and he swung open the door the rest of the way, sending a light breeze in Tré’s direction.  Taking that for an invitation, Tré edged by Billie Joe with the coffee, arms stretched over his head.  Settling himself down on the couch, a touch of dismay dragged the corners of his lips in a direction contrary to his usual demeanor.  Billie Joe was still on his feet, leaning against the door as though he needed its support to keep upright.  Perhaps it was time to venture that question.  “Hey, BJ,” he began, “you all right?  You seem kinda spaced this morning.”

Billie Joe started and forced a laugh that rang hollow.  “Just a little tired, that’s all.”  He scratched at his chin, still standing.

Tré looked at him hard; Billie Joe made no movement to retrieve his coffee, not noticing that Tré had been waiting expectantly for him to grab it, nor remembering that he even had the extra coffee in his possession.  Clearly something wasn’t right.  “Hey, sit down,” Tré coaxed.  He drew his legs in under him, preparing to be able to face Billie Joe if and when he finally joined Tré on the couch.

Billie Joe shook his head as if to clear it, scooped his new acquaintance—the coffee—from Tré’s outstretched grasp, and then mirrored his friend’s position.  From rounded lips he blew a steady jet of air into the miniscule drinking hole in the plastic cap.  He took a sip and winced, all the while avoiding eye contact.

“Billie, I know you,” attempted Tré again.  He elected a straightforward approach.  “What’s wrong?”  After a second’s pause he added, “You’re scaring me a little; this isn’t like you.  I mean, tonight’s the first night of our tour for our new record, shouldn’t you be excited?  We spent a lot of time making American Idiot.”

Billie Joe sighed shakily.  “I don’t know, Tré, it’s just…what if nobody likes it?  What if I fuck up?  What if all the audience sees is an insecure bastard up on stage?”  He continued to look at the couch’s blue fabric, picking at a cushion corner with his free hand.

Surprised, Tré’s eyebrows shot up.  “That’s all?” he smiled.  “Billie, if they don’t love it, fuck ‘em all.  We’ll still play.  That’s what we do.  But you know all the fucking reviews have come back positive for this thing, so that’s not gonna happen.  You poured your fucking soul into these songs.”

Tré was about to congratulate himself inwardly when Billie Joe looked at him squarely, locking eyes for the first time since Tré had come back with their morning pick-me-ups.  “I know!” he snapped.  Instantly he regretted it and apologized.  “I’m sorry…” he shook his head and squeezed his eyes tightly.

Tré reached across and rested a hand carefully on Billie Joe’s left shoulder.  “It’s okay, man.  I didn’t mean to upset you, I—”

“No, it’s not your fault,” Billie Joe muttered.  He leveled his head again.  “Tré…”  He couldn’t finish.

“What?” Tré prompted, hoping that what came out of Billie Joe’s mouth would be just as trivial as the thoughts he’d given air to previously.

“Tré…”  Billie Joe coughed, strained, somehow hoping that this would allow his voice to function without any help from himself.  He was frightened of what he was going to say.  “Tré…” he trailed helplessly, his tone wavering in frustration.

As Billie Joe sat poised on the precipice of a revelation, Tré held his breath, unable to keep his eyes from roaming over Billie Joe’s face, searching his expression for clues on how to help him.  He watched as Billie Joe licked his lips for the seventh time, as he blinked—hard—, as his Adam’s apple shivered up and down, swallowing again on what must surely be parched walls, as his stubbled jaw clenched, revealing soft waves of muscle beneath the skin….  He felt Billie Joe’s shoulder shaking quietly beneath his finger tips.  Waiting was agony.  His mind would have been lighting on any and every possibility, flashing between them with a speed to break the sound barrier, but, strangely, he felt blank.

Just what was it?  Tré almost felt annoyance when the silence stretched on longer.  Every time he heard Billie Joe suck in a bit of extra oxygen, his pulse rate increased only to slow back down a fraction when still no words left Billie Joe’s mouth.  Unbearable.  His chest felt compressed.  He closed his eyes.  Another breath.  Still nothing.

“I—” Billie Joe spoke as if his lungs had cut storage capacity by eighty percent.  “I— I think… Tré…that I’m…I might be…having anxiety trouble…again,” he finished.

Tré frowned, letting air escape through his nostrils.  He concentrated on the texture of his cup as he formulated what to say.  “BJ,” he reassured him, “you’ll be fine.  You beat this once already, remember?  That means you can do it again.”  He forced a look of confidence and willed his voice not to betray that he felt he was walking on eggshells.  “Besides, you’ll always have me and Mike.  We’ll be with you no matter what,” he said firmly, trailing his fingertips in soothing circles across Billie Joe’s shoulder all the while.

“That’s what I keep telling myself,” Billie Joe responded weakly.  “It just, I just feel so awful, y’know?  My chest hurts, I feel dizzy, my jaw won’t fucking unclench…  And I can’t stop thinking about tonight and everything else like it’s all about to fall apart right under me and I don’t know how to stop.”  He was choking on his words, trying valiantly to hold back the tears he felt stinging at his eyes.

Tré felt compassion and sympathy for Billie Joe, but he had to admit to himself that he had never truly been able to understand what it must feel like to have an anxiety disorder, other than that it was terrible.  He forced himself to know what to say anyway.  “We’ll just, uh, well, we’ll watch your diet and, uh,” Tré thought back to the measures they had taken when Billie Joe had been freaked out after Dookie’s sudden success, “and we’ll keep you exercising and busy, and we’ll be here to talk whenever you need to.”  Unable to resist throwing in a joke to lessen the tension, he added, “Except during a show.”  It didn’t quite have the desired effect, he noted, as Billie Joe flinched, clearly sketching outlines of some imaginary stage debacle.  Shit, he thought, not helping.

Billie Joe nodded, pulling at a lock of hair attached to the side of his head.  He looked highly uncomfortable, gaze darting around the room until it came to rest on his forgotten coffee, which he then mechanically raised to his mouth.  Tré was startled when his friend spoke again.  “Tré, can you—would you mind telling Mike?  I don’t really want to do it.”  He cleared his throat before taking another drink of coffee, now lukewarm.

“Sure thing, bud.”  Tré scanned Billie Joe for what felt like the thousandth time, uneasy.  He couldn’t help but wish that he—they—didn’t have to deal with this at such a crucial point in their career and loathed himself for his selfishness. 

Chapter Text

Tré almost fell out of the tour bus.  When he had managed to regain his balance, he blinked into sunlight that didn’t seem to have a source, but was instead rather like a violent blanket of energy.  Next thing he knew he was caught in a crushing bear-hug.  Once finally released he pulled back to find Jason White attached to the offending pair of arms.

“Tré!” Jason shouted, reeling him in for another hug, this one complete with a few superfluous pats on the back.

“Jason!” Tré mimicked his greeting.  “Hey, dude, how’ve you been?”  He looked him up and down exaggeratedly.

Jason smirked.  “Oh, you know, as good as I can be considering I’m about to become your groupies’ consolation prize.  Real blow to the ol’ self esteem, you know.”  He ruffled the back of his hair.

“Well, let’s go see where the crew’s at with setup,” Tré suggested, not sure light banter was really his area of expertise this morning.  He pivoted, briefly taking in a fidgety Billie Joe talking to a calm Mike.  Billie Joe was rocking back and forth on his heels, worrying his hands.  Tré didn’t think that Mike even noticed.  If he did, he certainly made no indication.  There had been no time to take him aside earlier; their tour manager running over last minute details had dominated the band’s attention since leaving the hotel.

Jason waited patiently with a raised eyebrow.  “Something up?” he asked when they started walking.

Tré shook his head.  “Nah, man…”

Jason understood that sometimes the guys in Green Day liked to keep quiet about any inner-band trouble, but he found Tré’s silence in particular unnerving.  “You sure?” he persisted.

Yeah, Jason.”  Oops.  There had been a note of irritation in Tré’s voice.  Not going to touch on that one again.

They continued on, their silence accentuated as they passed a couple people barking orders and hurrying about with clipboards.  Soon they had located backstage.  Various crew members milled about the stage structure, double checking there was no ill-mannered or rogue equipment among the lighting and pyrotechnics. 

Having already met some of the roadies earlier, Jason took it upon himself to identify the ones he hadn’t immediately forgotten.  He grabbed one of them by the arm as she was passing by unawares.  She swiveled in mid-stride, coming into view with a soft giggle.  After ten years of fame, Tré still found himself off-guard whenever a beautiful woman operated in close proximity and actually acknowledged his presence.

“Oh,” she said, surprised when she saw who it was that had apprehended her.  “You’re Tré Cool,” she stated, eyes wide.

“Yep,” replied Tré, absorbing the details of her appearance.  Chestnut waves of hair fell just over her thin shoulders and contrasted with her plain black STAFF T-shirt.  She wore loose-fitting dark-washed jeans, barely held up by an unassuming cloth belt of the same color as her shirt.  Tré guessed she was in her mid-to-upper twenties. 

Jason interrupted Tré before he could say anything else.  “Tré, this is the gal who’s doing our lighting, Annabelle.”

“Mucho gusto,” Tré said, bowing, not sure which culture he was really trying to evoke.

“Ditto.  I have high expectations.  Rumor has it you’re crazy.”

Annabelle struggled not to laugh as Tré spoke again, this time cross-eyed.  “Oh, well now, I just don’t know if I can keep up with you young’uns nowadays.  See, I think I’m entering middle age.  My vision’s going.  It might be cataracts.  Where are you?” he asked, reaching his arm out into the air, feigning a search.  Jason just shook his head, accustomed to Tré’s antics.

“Well,” chuckled Annabelle, looking down and then back up rapidly, “I should probably get back to work so your show isn’t screwed up and you fire me before we get to have any fun.  I’ll see you around.”  She bounced away, a spring in her step.

“She’s cool, isn’t she?” Jason squealed once she was out of earshot, which wasn’t long at all thanks to the noisy atmosphere surrounding them.

Tré nodded enthusiastically.  “I’m thinking later tonight we make some good memories with the roadies.”

“Mmm.”  Just then Jason caught sight of someone else he had met that morning who had piqued his interest.  He called out to a man with a buzz cut and a stocky build, currently bending over the edge of the stage, adjusting a speaker.  “Yo, Pete!”  Jason waved him over.

“This,” Jason bellowed, despite the fact that Pete was now a mere five feet away, “is the drummer of a pretty famous band.  Have you heard of them?  They’re called Green Day.”

Tré was amazed that Jason could make this exchange with a straight face.  It reminded him of Billie Joe’s extravagant stage introductions; he told Jason this.

“That’s the idea.  Anyway, this is Pete, in charge of all things sound.”

Tré dipped his head in acknowledgement, then shook Pete’s hand.  “Nice to make your acquaintance, kind sir.”

Trying to contain a smile, Pete rubbed his head and looked at the floor.  “Wow, man, I kinda woulda figured you guys wouldn’t want anything to do with us grunts.  I’m glad you’re not like that.”  He shifted his weight awkwardly.

Tré recoiled in mock hurt, doing an excellent job of covering up the small part of him that was offended that anyone would think that of his band.  “I’m glad I’m not like that too,” he replied sincerely.  He paused, ever more aware that he just wasn’t in the mood for all of this today.  He would much rather be off in a corner, sleeping off a night’s indulgences, but he couldn’t just disappear, so instead he put forth an invitation.  “Are you doing anything after the show tonight?” Tré asked, addressing Pete; to Jason, post-concert drinking was an assumed part of his duties.  “You wanna catch a drink with us?”

An expression of pure shock and delight adorned Pete’s face suddenly with an air of childlike enthusiasm that belied his masculine exterior.  “Is that a question I have to even answer?” he shouted to the high ceiling, incredulous.  “Of course!”  His eyes shown with what Tré would have termed a “mystical light;” he was delirious with happiness.

As Pete slapped a hand on his shoulder to stress his super-charged answer, Tré tried to grin back.  He was still feeling bothered and so didn’t really commit, but by then Pete was far gone into a land of wish fulfillment.  Jason picked up on it again, but wisely chose to keep his mouth shut in lieu of causing a possible scene; he wasn’t sure what exactly Tré would do if pressed further.

 

Things hadn’t gone so well from there.  By the time he and Jason had finished making rounds, Tré’s facial muscles felt strained, he had already lost the names of everyone except Annabelle and Pete, and he was left with an intense craving for alcohol.  Thankfully he didn’t have to bother shaking off Jason because he had excused himself to see to his guitars.

Now alone, Tré searched for his band’s dressing room.  He rounded a corner and found himself in a deserted hallway.  One of the doors bore a paper sign with GREEN DAY printed on it in bold, black capitals.  He twisted the doorknob and plowed his shoulder into the thick slab, pitching himself into the room.  It was empty. 

The room was furnished sparely, with only a mirror and a few metal folding chairs spread out randomly in front of a rack from which their stage outfits hung.  There was also a square wooden table, barely three feet across.  In the corner stood a full-sized refrigerator, toward which Tré gravitated.

As he opened it he sighed with relief that despite the overall shabby appearance of the place they had at least managed to stock the fridge full of liquor.  The drummer reached into a sizeable crate of beers and came back with a bottle.  He saw, retracting his head from the cold enclosure, that he hadn’t been the one to christen the batch; someone else had been there before.

He spotted a yellow bottle opener lying forlornly on a stool next to the refrigerator and grabbed it.  The cap popped off easily and Tré took a swig of his beer.  He lowered himself onto the stool and sat there quietly, squeezing the bottle opener in his hand.

It was strange being in a dressing room devoid of people.  Usually Billie Joe would be navigating between people desensitized to his otherwise distracting warm up routine.  Tré pictured him bouncing on the balls of his feet through his black Converse while shaking out his arms and hands, lips vibrating in a bid to adapt his vocal chords to singing for two hours.  In his mind’s eye Tré added Mike to the scene:  he cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers, and then plucked at invisible bass strings stretched from one molecule of air to another.  Jason was there too, and Ronnie and the other Jason. 

So where was everyone now?  He supposed it was too early.

Tré sipped at his beer, tracking its passage down to his stomach, where it swirled coolly.  He stared at the sweating honey-colored glass, but didn’t see it. 

This whole thing with Billie Joe, he thought, Billie Joe’s anxiety…why did it make everything seem so ominous?  Tré knew, rationally, that it was all of the added pressure he was placing on himself to be the perfect friend in this situation.  He inhaled and held it.  He felt hot and resentful suddenly.  He wished he could just lay it all on Mike and take a back seat to this damned uncomfortable affair.

Something in the back of his mind tugged at him, challenging this thought.  He usually harbored a sliver of envy toward Mike for being the one Billie Joe always put his faith in.  This time he had, in a way, gotten the turn he’d secretly longed for.  Just why had it had to be this time?  His lungs released their breath finally.

Tré ran a hand through his hair, and then gripped his bottle again.  His gaze, which had taken another quick sweep of the room, returned to it.  He followed a bead of condensation from the curve at the bottom of the neck past the label until it lost itself at the end.

Tré’s inner dialogue snagged on Mike, reminding him that he still had to fulfill his promise to Billie Joe.  He didn’t quite understand why he had been charged with this task, but if Billie Joe felt more comfortable this way, who was he to argue?  Then again he realized he didn’t want to.  At all.  It was bound to be awkward.  Too many questions.

“Why are you the one telling me?”

“Didn’t he trust me?”

“Well, fuck, what do we do?”

Tré had no answers, not one grain of confidence.  He was no good!  What the fuck had he done prying into Billie Joe’s feelings?

Another hot bubble of anger and confusion rose up inside of his chest.  He didn’t know what to do.

Before he could ponder his options, his musing was interrupted by the motion of the door swinging open.  He heard a surprisingly boisterous mixture of talking and laughter coming from the other side.  Juxtaposed with the silence he’d been set adrift in for the past ten minutes it was jarring; the dressing room must be soundproof.  Tré straightened his posture, as he was previously bent forward, elbows resting on his thighs.  This was the best snap to attention he could muster, too apathetic to abandon his stool.

Entering the room was the very subject of his agonizing deliberations.  Billie Joe swayed a little, holding a glass of ice and some unidentified form of alcohol.  Tré had no trouble guessing the missing beer’s fate.  He eyed his band mate carefully and assessed his level of intoxication. 

Billie Joe was now standing by the still-open door, using it as a support.  The image was eerily like that of the morning.  He was wearing the same clothes.  So, Tré realized, was he.  It seemed very far away.

Noise filtered through the gap as Billie Joe continued to stand there, immobile.  Tré blinked.  Slowly a grin unfurled across Billie Joe’s features.  He jerked away from his position, towards Tré.

“Y’know,” he said, and stood in front of the other man, leaning precariously.

Tré waited for him to finish his sentence, but he didn’t.  Instead he began to chuckle, and those chuckles slowly evolved into outright giggles.  Tré didn’t really know what to make of Billie Joe’s behavior.

“Billie…” he began uncertainly, “I think maybe you should sober up in the rest of the time before the show.”  He moved to take Billie Joe’s glass.  He wondered fleetingly where he’d even gotten a glass instead of the cheap, standard red Solo cup.

Although somewhat slower than when at fully functioning capacity, Billie Joe effectively avoided his companion’s reach at the cost of some of his balance.  He steadied himself.  His voice dripped with contempt as he said, “Oh sweetie, Billie Joe can take care of himself just fine.”

Quickly Tré retaliated.  “Oh, bite me, Billie Joe.  If you want to fuck up this tour already then just go right ahead,” he flashed.

Billie Joe looked affronted, recovered, then—in a move that thoroughly stunned Tré—proffered him his glass to confiscate.

Tré flinched.  He accepted it sheepishly and stated, “I thought you were going to dump it on me.”

Billie Joe, who had been standing there rigidly for some time, appeared to more or less relax when Tré admitted this:  his shoulders dropped lower and he looked at the floor, which he then ground his right foot into, embarrassed.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  His voice cracked.

Recognizing that Billie Joe was on the verge of tears, Tré leaped up and embraced him gingerly, pulling his head down into his shoulder.  Billie Joe’s body felt immediately warm and sticky.  A muffled hiccough sounded next to Tré’s ear, and Billie Joe compressed himself tighter to Tré as if there were no single existence to go back to.  A blazing wetness creeped into the fabric of Tré’s shirt.

“Billie, it’s okay…”  Tré wasn’t exactly used to comforting people, and wondered whether he was failing at it.  It sounded like Billie Joe choked.

Several seconds went by without any further development, the two men locked in a ball of damp heat. They didn’t speak. 

Tré’s fingers untangled themselves from the hair at the nape of Billie Joe’s neck; he hoped he wasn’t being premature.  Billie Joe loosened his own grip in response and took another moment before he let Tré go.  He sniffled, wiping away the collective mass of tear streaks on his cheeks with the back of a hand.

Tré looked in concern at this man he had known forever, who suddenly seemed like a thin, crumpled version of himself, a half-opened umbrella.  “Billie Joe, are you gonna be all right?” he questioned.

Billie Joe nodded slowly.  His eyes were thoroughly bloodshot, as if they’d been rubbed raw, his complexion gaunt.

“It’s only like twelve, why don’t you get some sleep?  I’m sure if I asked, someone could rig up some sort of arrangement.”  Billie Joe only nodded again, docilely. 

Chapter Text

“You didn’t make me cry, you know.”

Billie Joe spoke at a normal volume, but considering the deafening cacophony at the bar, it was more akin to a whisper.  Only Tré heard him.

 

Earlier on, Tré had left Billie Joe in the dressing room to go find him somewhere to take an emotionally cleansing map.  He enlisted a helpful young man by the name of Scott whose main responsibility was to bring everyone on the crew coffee.  After some asking around, Scott procured a cot from seemingly out of his ass.  Tré was impressed and told the kid that he was going places.

They wheeled the cot to the dressing room, then realized that that wasn’t quite the best place for it.  Tré went in to get Billie Joe.  It turned out that he was already fast asleep, having lined up the metal chairs to use as a makeshift bed.  Faced with this new development, Tré heaved Billie Joe up on one shoulder in the pattern of a fireman’s carry and brought him out to the cot.  He didn’t even stir.

Billie Joe ended up a couple doors down, in another dressing room, this one currently unused.  Satisfied with his work, Tré dismissed both Scott and himself and wandered aimlessly for a while.

Eventually, at around three in the afternoon, pangs of hunger threatened to collapse the walls of Tré’s stomach.  He journeyed back to his dressing room, where he discovered a couple boxes of grinders.  He munched on one of the veggie variety.

By this time most of the rest of the group had found the space and claimed it for their own.  Once Tré’s location was discovered, Billie Joe’s absence became marked.  Mike was the first to ask.  “Do you know where Billie Joe is?  I haven’t seen him in ages.  I kind of assumed he was with you, but now you’re here, so I guess not.”  He wrinkled his forehead. 

Tré sighed, thinking that this would probably be an appropriate moment to spill his guts.  Instead, however, he shook his head.  “No, I haven’t seen him either.”  He registered somewhere that he had just lied.  To Mike.  Blatantly.  He scolded himself for not at least admitting that Billie Joe was taking some time out for a nap.

“Well I hope he shows up soon.  We should practice a bit before we do this tonight.”  Mike stood up and stretched his arms over his head.  “I’m gonna go take a walk.  See if you can locate him for me, would ya?”  He exited the room.

Tré noticed Jason staring at him queerly from across the room.  He bit into his sub, not meeting the other man’s eyes.

 

“I’m glad.”  He placed an affectionate hand on Billie Joe, happily observing the return of some color to his friend’s face.  It was certainly an improvement over that afternoon.

Billie Joe leaned into Tré and touched his lips gently to his cheek.  “Thanks,” he said.

 

A half hour after Mike’s departure, Tré went to go round up Billie Joe.  The sound of the door woke him and he sat up groggily, wondering at how he’d come to be in an actual bed.  He questioned Tré with an eyebrow, who then paired a shrug with an expression of smugness.

The effects of the alcohol had mostly worn off, and Billie Joe looked better off for it.  Tré escorted Billie Joe to the practice room, where the entire band convened.  They ran through a few songs, mostly the newer ones from American Idiot, and had relatively few mishaps.  Billie Joe’s guitar playing was shaky initially, but Jason covered up his mistakes with ease, no stranger to having Billie Joe stop strumming as he ran from one end of the stage to the other.  They didn’t go unnoticed, however.  On the tail of each one Jason shot a glance at Tré, which to Tré seemed counterintuitive, even if Jason had caught onto Tré’s weirdness today.

Afterwards everyone switched into their stage gear and split up to perform their individual pre-show routines.  Tré glimpsed Billie Joe rocketing down the hallway and smiled.

 

“Green Day kicked off their American Idiot tour in high style, literally, ditching their scruffy punk looks of previous years for the recent phenomenon termed ‘guyliner’.  Despite the jump to metrosexuality, however, their musicianship appears to have stood the test of time.  So has their showmanship.  Billie Joe Armstrong, the trio’s front man, was just as charismatic as ever, displaying an atomic source of energy that didn’t wane for a second…”

 

Tré flushed red.  He never was expecting that, although he knew that with Billie Joe a kiss was far more likely than something like a handshake, and still more likely than nothing.

Mike spilled from out of nowhere into the seat to the right of Tré.  His glass, empty with the exception of some discolored ice, imitated his sloppy motion, sliding across the counter to collide noisily with Tré’s.  “Heyyy guyysss,” he breathed clumsily.

Billie Joe looked at him, amused.  “Heyyy, Mike.”  Tré acknowledged him solely with a nod and resumed spinning his glass between his two middle fingers.

With the bluntness that only comes with being drunk, Mike ignored Billie Joe completely and instead told Tré, “Your face is red.”

“Is it?” asked Tré, absentmindedly raising a hand to touch a cheek, as if that would let him know whether it was true.  At least Billie Joe had been too distracted to notice Tré’s embarrassment; his head was turned to better observe some goings-on further down the bar.  Like sheep, once this had caught the others’ attention, they too redirected their gazes.

A fist crashed down onto the wood of a table.  Laughter erupted from those seated around it, who seemed to be mostly roadies.  “And I’m like, ‘Okay, okay.’  And I nod, to make sure he thinks I’m following him, but I’m really not.  So he starts talking about his girlfriend, which I wasn’t expecting, but okay, whatever.  Except it looks a little like he’s gonna tear up or something.  Get this, he’s like, ‘And she’s a wonderful woman, but she’s just had to go through so much shit in her life and whenever any creep gets too close to her she just, it’s bad.  But anyway, come November, I’m moving back to California.  No offense to her, but I need some stability in my life.’  And I’m just like, ‘Whaatt are you saying?’”

“This guy totally sounds like a mess,” interjected one of the guitar technicians.

“Was he at least a hot mess?” yelled a second guy, drunkenly.

Annabelle giggled, answering the question:  “Oh, no.  He was, like, balding.”

The man sitting to her right jabbed her in the ribs with his elbow.  “Hey, I coulda swore earlier you said I was sexy!” he exclaimed, pointing to his own bare head.

“Oh, Bill, on you.  You make it happen.”

“Make what happen?” he asked, genuinely confused, perhaps due to the alcohol currently flowing past his brain.

Annabelle rolled her eyes as Pete, across the table, focused in on the conversation with a “Wait, what?”

After a sip of beer, Annabelle continued her anecdote.  “So anyway,” she said, pausing to think and narrowing her eyes in the process, “did I mention that I’m eighteen at this point?”  The guys surrounding her nodded.  “Anyway, I’m just kinda like, ‘God I need to get out of here,’ and I, like, look backwards towards the closet I have to lock up, to, you know, give him the hint, like, ‘Hey, I need to close up and go home and I’m also starving so leave me alone.’  But there’s just this awkward silence, and then he says, ‘I’m sorry I just rambled to you.  I’m drunk.’”

A few in her audience snickered. 

“And then out of nowhere he just goes for it, he’s like, ‘Hey, I see you working.  You look bored, it must be boring.  If you ever want to talk or anything, I live in apartment two sixteen.  My door is always open.’  And innocent little eighteen-year-old me is just like, ‘Dude! You really just went there, this is so creepy!’”  She set down her beer, apparently finished.

Bill was still anticipating more.  “Well, did you ever see him again?  Is that it?”

Annabelle tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and sighed.  “I did, but it was mostly not too awkward because neither of us ever mentioned it.”

“Ah, lame!”

“Well, it might be lame for you, but I assure you I was very happy he stayed sober after that,” she insisted.  “You might as well learn now that once you hit thirty you’re fucking creepy to an eighteen-year-old girl.”  She looked pointedly at each of the men in turn.  Pete was about to protest when she cut him off.  “All right, Petey, I know you’re only twenty-seven.”

“Damn straight.”

Jerking off of his stool by the counter, Billie Joe led Mike and Tré over to the raucous table, transforming it from crowded into cramped.  He squeezed in between Annabelle and Bill, whereas Mike and Tré fit themselves in on either side of Pete.  The table and chairs were high enough so that even though Green Day were standing, they were only marginally taller than everyone else.

The roadies, with the exception of Pete, who had been expecting this at some point, looked taken aback, and a brief but tense silence descended on the party.  With only the slightest hesitation, Tré introduced Mike to Pete, while Billie Joe busied himself saying hello to the other end of the table.  Conversations started, albeit slowly.

“So you run our light show, huh?  How did you get into that?”

“Um, well, I did theatre in college, so I learned how to run everything there.  And then I ended up working part time at this tiny all-ages venue a couple miles from my town.  It had some cool indie bands occasionally.” 

Billie Joe opened his mouth to ask a question, but Annabelle intercepted it before he could get it out.  “No,” she smiled, “it was nothing like Gilman.” 

He bit his lip in disappointment. 

“It was still pretty cool though!”

“Yeah, pretty cool,” he agreed.

Just then, Jason moved into a spot recently vacated by the guitar tech.  He was looking over his shoulder, but Mike called him back to attention.  “Jase!  What happened to that girl I saw you talking to earlier?”

Rubbing an eyebrow, he replied, “I couldn’t close, guess she wasn’t into it.”

“Aw, that’s too bad, man.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

Tré, who was beside Jason, ordered another round of drinks.  “Here,” he said, raising his beer, “to Jason, that he may get laid soon.”

“I’ll drink to that!”  Jason gulped down his alcohol greedily.

Mike and Pete were discussing the merits of s’mores.  “Oh my God, and when the marshmallow and the chocolate are perfectly merged into this—this—” Pete stumbled over his words, distracted by something taking place across from him.  “Hey, Billie Joe,” he called, “I think your nose is bleeding, man.”

Sure enough, a thin trickle of blood was beginning to pool against Billie Joe’s septum, and then broke off to stream down towards his lip.  Billie Joe turned away from Annabelle, alarmed.  He wiped his nose with a knuckle and leaned back from the table, staring at it. 

Seeing that his friend was not reacting fast enough to avoid wrecking his clothes or creating a mess for the janitors, Mike went over to him and took him by the shoulders.  “Come on; let’s get you to the bathroom.”

When they were gone, Jason clamped his hand down on Tré’s bicep and dragged him away from the others.  “Jason, what the fuck?” Tré whined, confused.  He didn’t get an answer until they were outside the back exit.  Tré scanned the area and saw an alley strewn with newspaper and broken glass.  “Jason, this is so sketch.  What are we doing?” 

He looked straight at Jason.  The way the night’s shadows fell on his tall brown hair and enhanced the eyeliner around his eyes lent his appearance a menacing air.  From the way his voice sounded, Tré could tell he was gritting his teeth.  He had him pushed against the brick wall, which Tré suddenly registered as uncomfortable and foreign. 

“What the fuck is going on, Tré?” he growled.

Tré laughed nervously.  “What the fuck is going on with you?”

Jason shook his head to clear it.  He looked ready to burst into motion and assault someone or something.  He sucked in air through his teeth.  “Now I want you to tell me straight.  At first I wasn’t sure what it was he was doing, but after that display in there…Billie Joe has a coke problem, doesn’t he?”

Tré blinked.  “What?

“Oh don’t try and play fucking dumb, asshole.”

“Jas—”

“I’ve seen you babysitting him all day.  You look like you’re just waiting for him to do something stupid and give it away.”

“Jason, it’s—”

“And that nosebleed, yeah, try and explain that away.  Go ahead.”

His repeated attempts to interrupt Jason’s tirade failing atrociously, Tré was glad that finally Jason seemed to be expecting a response, although furiously so.  If Jason hadn’t been so intensely, unwaveringly serious, Tré would have simply laughed off the accusation, but as it was, he was not even sure how to convince him of the glaring inaccuracies of his theory.  “No, for God’s sakes, Billie Joe is not a God damn coke fiend!  Okay, first of all, Billie Joe hasn’t done coke in like ten years, and he was definitely never addicted to it.  Second, you are way fucking out of line; I can’t even begin to —”

“The nosebleed?  Why you keep watch over him?  Where did he go today before the show, huh?” Jason leered.

Tré flared his nostrils in impatience.  “Since when, Jason, do all nosebleeds point to a cocaine habit?  You are really just making too much sense right now,” he responded, biting and caustic, thrusting his head closer to Jason’s face despite his compromised position.  “Billie Joe used to get nosebleeds all the time.  It’s no—”

The guitarist shoved Tré away from him with a hostile finger in the chest.  Tré’s shirt snagged on the wall.  “I am sick of you acting all high and mighty and like you know him better, when that’s not true!  I’ve been in a band with him too!  Fourteen fucking years!”

It was Tré’s turn to cut Jason off.  “Is that what this is about?  Are you jealous?”

Jason’s eyes flashed.  “Oh, fuck you!” he spat.

“I’m just saying, maybe you should take a step back and think this through logically.  I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation right now.  For the last fucking time, Billie Joe is not doing cocaine, or even any other fucking drug for that matter.” Tré shook his head in disgust.  “And fucking get off of me!”  He struggled to free himself, but Jason had him pinned expertly.

“Not until you answer my question.  Where did he go today and why are you acting like his guardian fucking angel?”

Tré exhaled resignedly.  He clearly had to tell Jason something, but did not want to overstep the bounds of confidentiality that had no doubt been bestowed upon him in unspoken agreement by Billie Joe.  “He just went to take a nap because he wasn’t feeling well.”

Jason scoffed, and it darted through Tré’s mind that Jason was being not merely difficult, but impossible.  “Yeah, okay,” he said, stupidly.

Tré continued to the second part of the question regardless.  “And I’m worried about him,” he stated quietly, more to himself.

Why?

“I’m sorry,” said Tré, although he was hardly sorry about withholding information from Jason, given that he was behaving like such a dickwad (in his humble opinion), “but I can’t tell you.  It’s private.”

Immediately the hostility encircling Jason coiled more tightly around him.  “Does Mike know?” he asked darkly, brows drawn together.

“No.”

He released Tré and reached into a pocket, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.  He drew on it.  “If it’s not fucking drugs, why can’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s fucking embarrassing for him, that’s why!” Tré snapped.  He rotated his shoulder in its cuff, annoyed.

“If I find out you’re lying to me, Tré, you’d better watch your back,” Jason threatened and then stalked off.

‘What are you, twelve?’ the drummer thought and kicked at a heap of trash next to his foot.

Chapter Text

Tré marched up to the table.  “Where is he?”  He tried to keep his voice casual, but there was no mistaking its urgency; it was teetering on the edge of chaos.

They sat there staring.  Finally Pete spoke up.  “Who?”

“Billie Joe, God damn it.”

“He left a minute ago with Mike.  They kind of rushed out of here.  I take it Billie Joe’s nosebleed left him feeling like crap.”

“Shit.”  Tré left.

 

She placed a platter of sandwiches on a long table with a white table cloth draped over it.  They were in yet another dressing room, this one much more spacious and accommodating for a band than the one of the previous day.  She stood back to make sure everything was all right before leaving them to their own devices.  “Does anyone want anything else?”

Mike raised a hand to call attention to himself.  “Yeah, do you have any Diet Coke?  Can I get a few cans?”

She nodded.  “Sure, no problem.”  After taking a beat to allow anyone else to voice requests, she went on her errand.

The men crowded against the table, eager to fill their stomachs.  Tré stood at the back and studied Jason as he grabbed a sandwich.  Apart from a rather sullen silence, he hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary since their alleyway confrontation.  Tré tried not to think about that, but it was really all he could think about.  Beneath his calm exterior he was seething; every time he looked up his sights settled on either Jason or Billie Joe, and one was as good as the other in drudging up the unwanted memory.

The others cleared and Tré picked the top sandwich off of the diminished pile, not caring what was inside.  Let it surprise him.  He sat down with it and took a bite.  He remained unaware of its contents, arrested mid-chew by an abrupt realization.  Hastily swallowing, Tré maneuvered himself over to Billie Joe’s side, where he squatted.  

“Hi, Tré.”

Tré glanced at Billie Joe’s sandwich and was pleased to see he hadn’t started to eat.  Then he lifted it from his hands.  Billie Joe raised an eyebrow.  Tré felt the intrigued stares of everybody in the room upon him.  Self-conscious, he gave himself a little more height using his calves and leaned towards Billie Joe’s ear.  Cupping it, he spoke at a low volume.  “Shouldn’t we get you some wheat bread instead of that white shit?  You know, for your…doesn’t it make you more anxious?”

Billie Joe’s other eyebrow shot up as he performed a mental double take.  “Wow.  Yeah, you’re right.  I wasn’t even paying attention.  That’s really sweet of you, Tré,” he said out loud, smiling.

Not sure how to respond to a compliment that contradicted everything he’d ever heard said about him, Tré practically jumped up—happy to ignore it—when their assistant or whoever walked back into the room, arms laden with a couple packs of Mike’s Diet Coke.  Before she’d even set them down he was pestering her for a replacement sandwich.  Billie Joe looked on in amusement, his lips twitching in vain to keep themselves disinterested.

“Sorry to bother you, but do you think you could make this sandwich on wheat bread?”  He paused to pry the offending slices of bread apart.  “What is this?  I think it’s…tuna?”  He glanced behind him for confirmation from Billie Joe, apparently too nervous to rely on his own functioning senses of sight and smell.  “Uh, yeah, so, tuna on wheat…please.”

Taking Tré’s awkwardness in stride, the woman replied simply, “Sure, no problem.”  Tré chewed his tongue, hoping that he hadn’t been too weird about it, but knowing that he had.  His eyes fell on Billie Joe, and Tré registered that it had been he who had put that silly grin on his band mate’s face, made the corners of his eyes crinkle softly.  He, Tré Cool, notorious self-absorbed idiot, had provoked a bit of genuine happiness in Billie Joe, even if it were only for the moment.  A feeling of fuzzy gratification formed in his chest.

Mike’s voice disrupted his thoughts.  “Hey, Tré, you wanna go for a quick walk with me?”  A touch of a frown leant his expression a certain severity; Tré gathered his suggestion had a specific purpose.

“Yeah, let’s go,” he acceded and abandoned the two sandwiches right there on the table cloth.  He made to pursue Mike as he exited, but before stepping completely out, Tré noted that Jason looked ill where he sat, staring dully at his shoes.

As soon as they’d taken several paces away from the door, Mike turned to Tré.  “So you know, then.”  It was more of a statement than a question.

“Yeah.”

“How long?”

The question, laced with insinuation, recalled for Tré the precise abashedness he’d had when an ex-girlfriend had once interrogated him about his cheating.  “Just since yesterday morning.  I was supposed to tell you, but it never really seemed like the right time…” he mumbled.

“Jesus, Tré.  You could have taken me aside like I just did with you.”  They rounded a corner.  Mike checked the hostility in his voice.  “Sorry, I guess I don’t really care about that, it’s just it would have been nice to maybe have some warning before I got hit with one of Billie’s panic attacks.”

The repercussions of Mike’s last sentence sent a current of electric horror reverberating through Tré’s skull.  What?  When?”  His heart sped, racing a million crazy, fearful thoughts.  It always concerned him just how much Billie Joe managed to keep hidden from people.  Especially when he didn’t make the cut for confidant.

Mike sighed.  “Last night.  The nosebleed.  He must have been worried it wouldn’t stop, not that he’d ever say.  But he started to breathe pretty heavily and I’m sure the fucking toilet paper blocking his nose didn’t help things.  It took like thirty seconds before he was full-on hyperventilating.”

Tré said nothing.

“Anyway, so I just held him close in that fucking closet-sized bathroom until he stopped freaking out.  The little bastard got blood all over my shirt.”

The seriousness of the situation didn’t prevent Tré from exploding into laughter at Mike’s statement; it only served to heighten the contrast between the two and so encourage it.  A couple people passing shot him judgmental looks.  Mike resisted the urge to call Tré out on his immaturity.

“Sorry,” he apologized, breath returning to him.  “He was okay after, though, right?” he askedRecalling Billie Joe’s earlier seemingly care-free demeanor, he was aware asking was senseless.

“Yeah, but where the fuck were you?  We asked the guys and they said you’d disappeared.”

The implied accusation of neglect stung, and Tré swiftly opened his mouth to remedy it.  “Now that’s an interesting story…”  Tré’s face darkened.  “Fucking Jason…” he began.  He recounted to Mike every illogical thing that Jason had spouted in what both of them could only fathom had been a fit of insanity.

“I was wondering what bug crawled up his ass.  Although now that I do know I don’t really know what to think.”

“I told him he was being a fucking idiot, but he wouldn’t listen to me.  And I couldn’t just blurt out that Billie Joe was having anxiety problems either without his permission.”

“Yeah, he’s intensely private about that.  Makes it kind of a bitch to help him,” Mike complained.  “So how do we sort this out?  Are we in agreement that Billie doesn’t need to know that any of this happened?  Because I don’t think, I know that it would mess him up to think he was causing problems.”

Tré agreed immediately.  “Yeah, definitely.  You don’t have a plan, do you?” he asked hopefully.

“I’m working on it.  Maybe I should just punch him in the face.”

Tré smirked.  “And I thought you were the level-headed one.”

 

The familiar Windows start-up melody blared out of the battered laptop’s speakers.  Tré winced as the sharp, tinny sound grated against his eardrums.  Even the hearing loss he’d accrued from drumming over the years did nothing to protect him from the shrill tones that went unbuffered by the nonexistent bass.

It had already been hours since sound check and still there remained time until the show.  Giving into his boredom, Tré had retrieved his computer from the bus and sat with it now on the dressing room couch.  He double-clicked to open Firefox.  He scratched his head.  The internet laid its vast self out before him, and yet he had almost no interest in it.

He looked up.  A quick survey of the room revealed that his fellow performers were equally unsure how to fill their time.  A cluster of empty Diet Coke cans congregated on the floor around Mike’s chair.  Tré watched as Mike set down another and walked all too hurriedly to the adjoined bathroom.  Somewhere across from him Ronnie and Jason Freese were picking through the remainder of the sandwiches.  Billie Joe was out for a smoke break.  Tré didn’t know Jason White’s whereabouts.

Tré’s peripheral picked up the color change he’d learned to associate with his screensaver.  He dragged a finger across the touchpad to startle it back into consciousness.

Indulging a sudden whim, he pulled up Google.  In the search box he typed “anxiety diet” and hit Enter.  The first page of results yielded all what seemed to be credible links, so Tré clicked on the one at the top.

It brought him to a sub-page of an anxiety self-help website, titled somewhat obviously “Your Anxiety and What You Eat.”  Tré skimmed a couple of paragraphs explaining the science behind certain foods’ connection to anxiety and panic prior to landing on a bulleted list of foods to avoid.

A hand descended on his shoulder.  Billie Joe was craning over him, squinting at the screen.  “God, I think I need glasses.”

“Shit, Billie, you scared me,” Tré exhaled, pulse thumping like he’d been caught fucking.

“So whatcha lookin’ at?”  He settled himself beside Tré and snuggled up to him, resting his head on his shoulder.

Oh God, did he have to be curious? 

Billie Joe felt Tré stiffen next to him. 

“Promise me you won’t get mad?” Tré said warily. 

Billie Joe looked at Tré sideways.  “Promise.”

Tré tilted the laptop screen at a better angle for Billie Joe.  “I was looking up a list of foods that you should try to avoid.”

Tré waited for an angry response, the recent alcohol incident fresh on his mind.  It didn’t come.  Instead, Billie Joe inquired calmly, “What’s on it?”

Relieved, Tré read off the list’s contents.  “Sugary foods, anything with white flour such as white bread…sweet drinks, potatoes, cheese, things with caffeine in them like coffee and chocolate—”

“Okay, that’s bullshit.  Chocolate?  The caffeine in that is totally negligible.”

Tré ignored Billie Joe’s indignation for the time being and went on. “—fast foods—they list fried chicken, burger, fries, and pizza—and alcohol.”

Billie Joe’s face fell.  “Even alcohol?  Can I even fucking eat anything?  …This sucks.”  He sighed.

Keeping his PC balanced on a knee with one hand, Tré ruffled Billie Joe’s mop of hair affectionately.  “It won’t be so bad,” he said, wrapping his arm around his friend and squeezing him tightly.

“Easy for you to say,” Billie Joe grumbled.

 

A drop of water rolled past Tré’s cheekbone and he wished he had towel-dried his hair better.  Not that it really mattered so much.  A second later he was greeted by Mike’s face from out behind the door.  “Come in!”  He was pulled into the hotel room, where Billie Joe waved to him from the couch.

“You should be glad I’m not kicking the shit out of you,” Mike informed him.

Tré took the bait.  “Yeah, why’s that?” 

Mike smirked cheekily.  “Because you spent so long in the shower one might go thinking you’re a woman.  I’m fucking starving, now can we please pick something to eat?”  Mike stared expectantly at Tré, like his words would be the deciding factor.

“Uh, I dunno.  Billie Joe, what do you want?”

The guitarist left his spot on the couch and joined the other two.  “Can we just get a pizza?  I really want pizza,” he opined. 

Tré bit his lip.  “BJ, that’s on the list…”

“What list?” Mike asked, feeling uninformed. 

Billie Joe enlightened him.  “He’s talking about this list of foods that you aren’t supposed to eat because they provoke anxiety symptoms.”  He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked from Mike to Tré.  “But I already had wheat bread today and I just exercised on stage and I won’t drink tonight, so…please?” he pleaded, tugging at their sympathies.

Tré struggled inwardly, aware that Billie Joe’s “evidence” as to why he’d be okay wouldn’t hold up in court.  Or perhaps just later.  But he had been acting fine all day, so…  Ugh, why not let the fucker have his pizza?

Mike arrived to that conclusion first.  “Well, why not this one time?”

 

“Why are all these celebrities living in one house?  Does that make any sense to you?”

“None of this reality TV makes any sense, Bill.”

“But there must be some reason, right?”

The three of them sat, full and exhausted, on the hotel couch, the empty, grease-splotched cardboard pizza box lying forlornly on the floor in front of them.

“Tré, is that your feet I’m smelling, man?  They fucking stink.”

“As if yours never do.”

“No, but I’m just saying, maybe you could move them somewhere not so close to my face.”

Tré scoffed.  “Mike, back me up here.  Is Billie’s lap anywhere near his face?”

“Close enough,” Mike laughed.

“You bastard!” Tré cried and launched an attack, scrambling to his feet where he swayed on the cushions for a short moment and then leapt over Billie Joe to propel himself at Mike.  The bassist dug his knee into Tré’s chest to keep him at bay, and then secured his wrists with an iron grip.  This resulted in a deadlock, Tré unable to push Mike’s arms backward and vice versa.  It was in this inconvenient position that the knock on the door reached their ears. 

“Well then, since you guys are occupied…,” Billie Joe grunted as he heaved himself out of the indent that had been patiently forming under him for the past hour.  He stumbled over to the door, drunk with fatigue.

Mike and Tré stopped wrestling and looked at each other when they heard who it was.  “Jason?  What’s up?” Billie Joe yawned, hand in his hair.

“Billie Joe, I have to apologize.”  He was slurring.  Billie Joe allowed Jason to slide past him.  While his back was still turned, both Mike and Tré shook their heads vigorously and mimed slit throats.  Jason didn’t understand.  Jason was shitfaced.  Jason would do what he wanted.

Billie Joe faced Jason and smiled sleepily.  He repeated his “What’s up?”  Then he caught the ashamed look in his eye.

“Look, I’m really sorry.  I don’t know what got into me.  I guess I was just scared when I noticed something was wrong.  And it was really good of you to try and act normal around me all day.  I think it helped me realize I was being an asshole sooner.  I…I didn’t mean to accuse you, it just happened, but…I mean, I’m sorry.”

Billie Joe’s lips parted slightly as he tried to say something, then recognized that he had no idea what was going on here.  His forehead wrinkled in confusion.  He glanced toward the couch hoping for some enlightenment.  What he found there took the form of two speechless, but visibly infuriated men.  “Jason…I don’t know what you’re talking about.  It looks like they do, though.”  He nodded stiffly in their direction.

He saw Jason’s nerve falter, his eyes flickering now this way and that to evade Billie Joe’s.  Billie Joe licked his lips, which had gone dry.  “Jason?”  The name came out in two breathy syllables.

Trapped, Jason silently implored first Mike, then Tré to come to his aid.  Mike was rigid, unwavering, and controlled in his refusal.  Now that the event was in the midst of unfolding he had no wish to stop it from proceeding.  Tré was a den of conflict.  On the one hand, Jason deserved whatever rage was coming his way, but on the other, Tré didn’t think he wanted Billie Joe to have to get angry.  Hadn’t he already done that for him?  But he couldn’t prevent it either.  He shook his head firmly.  It slipped out a little too maliciously.  “Jason accused you of doing coke,” he sneered.

“I…I don’t understand…” Billie Joe mumbled, pressing his hands to his face, perhaps to bring his mind into focus, but the adrenaline pouring into his bloodstream only seemed to make his thoughts more vague, less concrete, and altogether sluggish.  He trembled.  “Why…How could you?”  All the moisture in his mouth had fled; his words were throaty and arid.  He desperately wanted to grab something, cling to something.  He momentarily made do with one hand in the back of his hair and the other twisting the fabric of his T-shirt into a tight ball.  Until his right leg began to quake where he stood.

His throat produced a noise, a cross between a groan and a whimper.  He tried to shift his weight to still the shaking of his leg.  It started up again regardless.  He transferred both of his hands to rub his neck in an agitated, twitchy manner.

No one moved.  In the quiet his breathing became more labored.  He needed support.  There was nothing to lean on.  With each exhalation came a pained hum, broken by the next intake of air.

He couldn’t let this happen to him in front of people.  Right now Mike and Tré and Jason were all just people.

He bolted to the bathroom.

The three others followed, concerned.  “Billie Joe, are you all right?” Jason called through the door.

Mike glared at him.  “Get out,” he commanded, nostrils flaring.  Jason obliged and slinked away, wondering yet uncomfortable and filled to the brim with guilt.

Mike and Tré pressed their ears to the door.  They couldn’t hear anything.  “Billie?” Tré questioned.

Billie Joe answered—didn’t really answer—, sounding strangled.  “No no no no no no no I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t—”  Whatever he said next was incoherent.  Silence for a few seconds.  “FUCK!” he screamed.  They heard something hit the ceramic toilet seat with some force, clattering. 

A “Shit,” escaped beneath Mike’s breath.  He tried the doorknob; it was locked.  “Bill, why don’t you come out?  Jason’s gone.  You can let it all out in front of me and Tré, okay?”

Tré chimed in.  “It’s okay, Billie, we’re here to help.”

The only response took the form of loud, racking sobs, muffled by the wood that separated him from them.

Chapter Text

“Ah…fuck…”  Tré dug his feet into the carpet and willed his muscles to cooperate enough to move his body into a seated position.  The angle wasn’t right.  His chin pressed into his chest, head and shoulders against the door, lower back curving downward in the most regrettable slouch, Tré’s wakeup had been less than pleasant.  He relaxed again. 

This time his arms enlisted in the war effort.  He propped himself up, and then scooted backwards to support his spine.  He wiped a patch of semi-dried drool from his cheek and worked out some of the kinks in his neck with the help of his palms.  Mike roused himself gradually next to him, probably in response to the shuffling sounds that accompanied his movements.

He grimaced.   “Mmm…”  Bending over, he placed a hand on his rounded back to temper some sort of lingering pain from his former posture.  “I feel…horrible.”

Tré bowed his head to acknowledge he felt the same.  He swung around and stared at the eggshell painted wooden wall—yes, the door was far more like an impenetrable wall—and pondered what the hell Billie Joe was doing, or planning on doing once he’d found himself awake (assuming he had ever managed to fall asleep).  He hoped he had at least had the good sense to lie in the bathtub. 

The woeful inadequacy of the prior night’s sleep and the unease that gripped him at being confronted with a barrier sent his stomach into roiling nausea. 

Something rustled inside the bathroom.  Tré held his breath; Mike sat equally still.  They waited.

The doorknob turned counterclockwise, then jiggled back.  Mike scrunched his face, displaying either worry or exasperation depending on the vantage point.  The same mixture tormented Tré.

Without warning the door was open and Billie Joe was stepping over them tacitly.  He walked to the untouched bed, where he had tossed the backpack he kept his hotel clothes in the night before.  Opening it roughly, he removed a wrinkled, faded T-shirt.  Mike and Tré simply watched, able to interpret the waves of hostility almost visibly radiating from their friend’s body:  he didn’t want to talk; he didn’t want them there.

Billie Joe put down the shirt and pulled the one he was wearing over his head, revealing a pale, thin torso.  Tré thought maybe too thin, a slight depression ran along his side and his pants swallowed a hollow near his hip bone.  He didn’t have long to examine him, however, as Billie Joe yanked the clean shirt down to cover his upper body.

He didn’t glance backwards on the way out.

Mike sighed.

 

Three days passed and Tré couldn’t remember saying anything to Billie Joe.  That Billie Joe was moody was an understatement.  He soaked up the voices of those around him like a Victorian mourner and repelled all company.  Everyone was wary, but they didn’t know why.

It was a traveling day, which meant the band was confined to their bus.  At a rest stop Tré opted to ride with the roadies.  Two couches faced each other where Tré sat with Pete, Annabelle, and Bill.

“You wanna smoke some pot?  You look like you could use some de-stressing,” Pete addressed the unusually quiet drummer.  Tré was thoughtful for a moment and, not judging the consequences harmful, accepted the offer.  Pete disappeared into his bunk and came back with a Ziploc bag and some rolling papers.  He dropped himself back onto the couch, causing Bill to bounce upwards on the adjacent cushion.

Annabelle elbowed Tré playfully.  Catching his eye, she warbled, “Guyyss, we’re having a green day with one of the members of Green Dayyy.”

A short burst of air blew out of Tré’s nostrils.  “Surprisingly,” he allowed, “nobody’s actually dared make that joke before…”

Bill raised his eyebrows.  “You’re kidding!” he laughed.

“It was pretty lame, Anna,” said Pete before licking a paper.

“Belle,” she returned automatically.

“You like it,” he maintained, putting the finishing touches on the joint.  He grabbed a lighter and held it to the tip, dragged, and, leaning forward, passed it to Tré.  “So…if you don’t mind me asking…”  Pete hesitated.  “What’s with you guys?”  He was alluding to Green Day’s problems, that much was clear. 

Tré steeled himself with a puff of marijuana.  The palpable curiosity coming at him from all sides wore through his defenses; he would tell them what he had refused Jason, and that didn’t make any sense, but, frankly, Tré was tired of holding on to his reservations.

“Seriously…,” Annabelle added, “Billie Joe’s been all I don’t even know and Mike’s so bristly lately…  Even you look like you’re depressed as all hell…”

Tré closed his eyes, weighing his words cautiously.  When he opened them again, he gave the joint to Annabelle.  Relaxing all the way into the couch with an elbow propped up on the back and a hand supporting his head, Tré spoke.  “Basically things were kinda fucked up and then I really fucked them up.”

Bill nodded.  Pete opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it.  “Could you be any more vague?” chided Annabelle, giggling, the pot already choking out her sense of seriousness. 

“I’m getting to it…  Okay, essentially long story short is that Billie Joe is having anxiety problems and he only told me, and then Mike found out about it, but Jason jumped to the idiotic conclusion that Billie was using cocaine because nobody told him, and then Billie found out about what Jason thought and got really upset and now he won’t talk to any of us.”  Saying things out loud confirmed for him that telling Jason to begin with could have circumvented the current scenario.  He felt stupid. 

“Wait.”  Pete blinked thoughtfully.  “How is any of that your fault?”

“Well if I hadn’t kept it a fucking secret none of this would have happened.”  Tré frowned.

Bill sneezed unexpectedly, and after the ritual “bless you” and “thank you” routine, asked, sniffling, “Did Billie Joe ask you to though?”

“Yeah, because if he did, you really can’t blame yourself for doing what he wanted…,” Annabelle shrugged.

“I thought it was implied, but he didn’t actually say it, no.”

“Don’t worry about it, man.  You can’t beat yourself up about it.  Sometimes these things just happen.  And for what it’s worth, you guys still rock it every night.  That’s fucking amazing, considering you’re not talking to each other.”

Tré smiled at Pete gratefully.  “Thanks.”

“Please tell me someone told Jason, though?” Annabelle said, concern evidenced by her knit eyebrows. 

“Uh, yeah, Mike and I took care of it.  I know he feels really bad, but I can’t help still be pissed at him.”

“You said he thought Billie Joe was doing coke?” Bill confirmed.

“Yeah.”

“What the fuck?”  He shook his head.

“What the fuck,” Tré repeated. 

 

The rest stop was as bustling as any rest stop in the middle of Arkansas ever ought to be, although mostly this was due to the sheer number of people on tour with Green Day.  “All I want is some General Tso’s, and this God damn Panda Express line is like three miles long,” Tré whined.  Mike stood by, stoic, scrutinizing Tré’s conflict with where to place his hands.  Thumbs hooked around belt loops.  Hanging loosely by his side.  Shoved in his pockets.  One holding the other’s wrist.

“Will you be still?  There are only nine people in front of us,” Mike reprimanded him.

“Okay, I take back what I said earlier,” Tré amended, ignoring Mike, “I think I want the General and some orange chicken and maybe even some sweet and sour pork.  Or should I swap the orange with chow mein?  Oh, and I need won ton soup too.”

“Fucking fat-ass, Jesus Christ.”  If his words didn’t, Mike’s tone betrayed his revulsion. 

Tré shrugged.  “What?  I have the munchies.”

“Aw, seriously, you smoked and you didn’t think to share?”  Disappointment was etched onto his face.

Tré hurried to dismiss the cause.  “It was on the other bus, sorry.  I didn’t plan it.”

“Hey,” Mike interjected to change the subject, his voice lowered, “have you talked to Billie Joe at all?”  He checked his surroundings. 

“Not a word, unless you count saying ‘excuse me.’  You?”

“Tré, we talked about the weather.  Best friends since we were ten and all we have to say is how the weather’s been obscenely warm lately!  I can’t fucking believe it.”

Tré muttered, “At least that’s a conversation…”

Mike glanced at him.  “Sorry.”

The conversation ground to a halt; neither spoke until they had finally arrived at the counter.  “I’ll take the, uh, General Tso’s and the chow mein and some sweet and sour pork, and, fuck it—oops, sorry—some orange chicken too.  Oh, and a small container of won ton soup.  Thanks.”

 

Rounding the corner of the bus, Tré couldn’t avert a sharp intake of breath when he saw Billie Joe already there with a cigarette.  Almost immediately he went to spin around, but before he could complete the turn, Billie Joe looked up and made eye contact.  Tré froze.  “No, stay,” entreated Billie Joe, raising an arm to stop him in a symbolic gesture. 

He didn’t argue and took the spot next to him, so that they were both leaning with their backs to the bus.  He pulled a cigarette out of the carton he was holding and lit it.  Crickets.  The sun had gone down a while ago; they would sleep on the bus that night.

To break the silence, Tré asked, “Are you coming out with us?”  While his mouth was moving, he processed several thoughts concerning the appropriateness of his question.  One, Billie Joe wasn’t supposed to drink.  Two, he hadn’t exactly been subscribing to the diet anyway.  In that respect, Tré could swear he was eating every food on the list deliberately.  Three, it was too late; the words had already leapt from his tongue.

“No, I think I’m gonna go to bed early,” Billie Joe replied, sighing.  “You have fun though,” he added.

After another drag, Tré let his arm flop down to swing below his waist as he tilted his head backwards to gaze at the sky.  It was the kind of black that he swore was every hue at once.  The parking lot lampposts made it difficult to pick out the stars, blurring them into a haze.  “Billie, are you okay?”  He wasn’t sure what in particular made him ask that now.

Billie Joe rubbed his temple and a bit of ash dropped from the end of the cigarette stuck between his fingers.  “No, not really…”

Tré almost wished he hadn’t been so candid with him.  He didn’t know how to respond.  “Can I help somehow?”

Billie Joe stared at his sneakers.  “I dunno, Tré.”  He flicked the butt of his cigarette onto the concrete and ground it underfoot.  Throwing his weight forward, he came away from the bus.  “’Night.”  Tré stared after his retreating form, feeling alone.

 

“I’m sorry to unload on you like this,” Tré slurred.

“Oh no, please, it’s part of my job description.  When they asked how I was qualified I told them I had really big ears.”

“The better to eat you with?” Tré groaned, cradling his head.

“Oh, something like that.”  The bartender winked at him as she wiped the counter with a rag, picking up his glass temporarily to get under it.  The dim lighting did a poor job of illuminating her features, the shadows snaked across her like the lines of a net, shying away from some parts and embracing others.  Despite this, Tré was pretty sure she had been a knockout when he’d first sat down sober, and now he was positive she was even better looking.  “So it sounds to me,” she said, continuing an earlier thread, “like you care a lot about him, but he’s rejecting your help, and so you feel hurt.  But I think the part you’re missing is that the bottom line is he needs you, and he knows it too, otherwise he never would have told you to stay.”  She nodded curtly to emphasize her point.

“Maybe I’m not qualified to give it,” he mumbled dismissively, staring through the shallow remnants of his liquor.  “Maybe Mike is better equipped for this sorta thing than I am.”

“What?  Friendship?” she retorted mockingly.  The bartender bent down low over the counter.  “Let me give you a little advice.  Never downplay your own role in someone’s life.  You never know, you could be the one thing keeping him going.”  She tapped her fingernails on the bar. 

Tré studied her expression, seeking out signs of a will to lead him astray.   Focused on the sloppy assembly of empty shot glasses littered about his larger glass, he said doubtfully, “I don’t know about that…”

“Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He flipped a shot glass over, which was quickly joined by another three.  He grouped them together with his fingers, and they clinked together into a row.  One by one he stacked the others on top, leftover liquor dribbled out of them and down the sides below.

Tré heard laughter hovering somewhere in the air above him.  “I see you’ve made yourself a pyramid.”

“Yeah,” he acknowledged.  “I need another shot for the top.”

“I’ll give you a shot of water.  I think you’re good for a while, buddy.  Do you have a ride back tonight?”

“Uh,” he thought, recalling where he was, “I was planning on a taxi.”

She frowned across from him, concerned.  “It’d be kind of difficult to get a car to come way out here.  Usually the regulars walk or use a designated.  How about I give you a ride back?” she suggested.  She checked her watch.  “I get off in a half hour.”

“Sure.”

 

As they exited into the back parking lot they were pelted by a bead curtain of water running in torrents off the slight overhang above the door.  They both gasped, the cold trickling down their torsos shocking them into a headlong dash to Tré’s ride, a battered Jeep Wrangler.  Tré shivered in the moments it took for its owner to twist her key in the lock, open the driver’s side, and, climbing halfway in on her knees, to pop open his.  He jumped in.

They pulled the doors closed and sat silently rubbing the water away from their eyes.  “Ugh, now my clothes are sticking,” Tré stated, a touch of genuine misery underlying his words.  “I don’t wanna go back like this and wake the guys up…”  His sentenced trailed off. 

“Would they be asleep?”

“Well they bailed a while ago, and Billie’s probably been sleeping since we went out.”

“My name is Cat, Catherine, whatever.”

“What?”

“I don’t invite strangers to my house, but since I already knew your name from TV, if I tell you my name you can take a shower at my place and even leave with an old pair of my brother’s clothes that I used for painting once.”

He didn’t even think.  “Okay.”

 

“It doesn’t usually rain like this in Arkansas, does it?”  This was Tré’s attempt at small talk, the result of being left standing awkwardly in the entrance to the house of somebody he didn’t really know.  Shoes marking the linoleum with a muddy mixture.

“No,” a voice called from further inside.  “You can come in, just leave your shoes at the door.”

“Okay…” Tré said under his breath, regretting more and more how much his burgeoning sobriety was making him conscious of his intrusion into this woman’s plans for a quiet night.  For the sake of a shower and dry clothes.  And avoidance.  He kicked off his sneakers gently, so as not to splatter.  Regardless, his socks were soaked through, and he left a trail of footprints, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the grimy sensation created by his toes’ contact with the floor.  He entered the kitchen.

Still sopping herself, she was fiddling with a pot on the stove.  “You’re making tea?” asked Tré incredulously.

“Yeah,” she assured him, “now go take your shower.”

Tré paused, hesitant.  “Where?  And what do you want me to do with my wet clothes?  Can I put them in a plastic bag or something?”

She stopped bothering with the tea and turned to him.  Taking him by the shoulders, she led him, saying as they went, “Since when have you become so helpless?  Do you need help undressing, too?” she giggled, pulled back black hair swaying behind her head.  Halting in front of the bathroom, they locked eyes.  She stepped forward and, raising herself up to his height on her tip toes, touched her lips to his.  The contact was short-lived before she pulled back again.  “In movies this is the part where we both say we never do this sort of thing.  But I do.  Sometimes.  Do you ever do this with your crew?”

Tré’s eyebrows shot up in reaction to the line of questioning.  “Uh, no, not anymore, I mean.  I learned my lesson.” 

“They get attached…” she said quietly, for him.  He nodded, the most minimal bow of his head.  Then their lips were connected again, and her hands were tugging his T-shirt over his head and arms, and she walked him backwards the few steps to the bedroom.  They fell on the bed, her still fully clothed and Tré shirtless and trying to make her match.  Between the wet material and her weight, the process became enormously difficult.  They came apart.

“Here,” she said, standing up, “let me grab two towels and we can dry off first.”  Tré remained seated on the edge, wondering when sex had become so perplexing.  It was like he was an uncertain teenager again.  Usually alcohol had the effect of emboldening him in his pursuits, but tonight his buzz was only influencing his clumsy, heavy movements.

A tan, fluffy towel landed on his lap.  A plain white v-neck followed it, crumpling at his feet in a challenge.  The bartender smirked at him from the doorway, drying the area around her simple black bra.  Tré mirrored her position and dragged his own towel over his bare chest.  His apprehension migrated to the back of his mind, replaced by amusement.  She had initiated a game. 

Staring him down, she stepped out of her black cigarette pants.  In return he fumbled his belt loose and stripped himself of his jeans.  She unhooked her bra, full breasts tumbling out.  All that remained were bright blue panties emblazoned with the Superman symbol.  Then those too joined the others on the floor.

Tré’s eyes roved over her naked form and he felt himself harden beneath his boxers.  He removed the obstruction.  Opposite each other, anticipation built to a sharp point.  She closed the space between them, taking the lead. 

Chapter Text

The nudge woke him first.  “Mmm,” he groaned in protest, to both that and a ring tone he assumed Mike had slyly set on his cell phone. 

Strings swelled.  “And the reason is youuuu.”

“Fuck you, Hoobastank, seriously,” Tré grumbled and rolled away from the offending sound.  He shut his eyes and then it stopped.  Within the next thirty seconds the song renewed itself.  Tré was ready to steadfastly ignore it, but he hadn’t counted on the person with whom he shared the bed encouraging him to answer it with another shake.

“All right…”  With one motion he swung out of the sheets and sat on the edge of the mattress, weathering a head rush.  He got to his feet slowly, but hunched over, searching for his pants, more specifically his pocket.  The music, his clue, had vanished once more.  He found his phone at the end of the bed.

He flipped it open.  Four missed calls.  Voice mail.  So he had slept through more.  Tapping a key revealed they were all from Billie Joe.  Tré didn’t bother listening to the messages, figuring that he could just get the information when he called. 

“He—”  Tré’s very first syllable dove back into his lungs after tasting the air.

An explosive yell blasted out of the phone speaker; instinctively he moved it away.  “Where the fuck are you?”

“Uhhh…,” he replied, unsure how to answer and still unconvinced that he deserved the hostility.

An impatient “Tré?” crackled by his ear. 

“I’m at a…friend’s?  Why?”  Was he missing something? 

“Um, hello, we’re leaving!  It doesn’t do us any good to get to Oklahoma with only two thirds of our band!”  The Billie Joe of Tré’s imagination paced back and forth on a short path, mouth set when not yelling, nostrils flaring.

Tré’s sense of guilt found its gravity.  “Oh, shit.”  He swallowed.

No shit,” came Billie Joe’s voice, scathing.

“Just give me a couple minutes, I’ll be right there.”  He slammed the cell shut before it released any more harsh words and commenced scrambling to get dressed so he could leave.

The source of his problems yawned, lifting her head off her pillow.  “You taking off, then?”

 

Panting outside of the tour bus, Tré wiped the sweat from his hairline.  Working up the courage to meet his incensed band mates, he cursed the humidity for taking refuge in the folds of his skin and the contact points with the cotton of his shirt.  His stomach felt overly acidic.  He took a deep breath and ran his hands down his jeans to relieve some of the clamminess before opening the door and stepping inside. 

He was met with a frosty, almost unconcerned glare from Mike, sitting with a magazine.  Billie Joe, at the sound of the door’s open and close, appeared from somewhere deeper in the bus.  “Nice of you to join us,” he said, only the slightest hint of exasperation leaking through his sarcastically cheerful greeting.

Tré jumped at the slap of Mike’s magazine against the couch cushion.  “I guess I’ll go tell Ted we’re ready to leave then,” Mike announced pointedly on his way to the front of the bus. 

Billie Joe didn’t move from his spot, so Tré felt compelled to remain standing uneasily where he was, and the former was free to scrutinize him.  He squinted.  “So where did you end up last night?  I didn’t remember you having any friends here…”  He scratched behind his left ear.

Tré’s cheeks tinged pink as he anticipated a judgmental reaction to the cause of his being late.  A sense of self-embarrassment blossomed up inside of him as well.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held up the band without a legitimate excuse, never mind for a casual one night stand.  He was reluctant to admit it, even though he knew Billie Joe usually had a sense of humor about these things.  The bus engine started up, shuddering beneath their feet.

“I, uh, met somebody and we ended up going back to her place.  I wasn’t planning on it, sorry.”  Tré gave a weak smile.  A shadow flickered across Billie Joe’s face, but disappeared so fast Tré could not be positive it had been there at all.  He dismissed the thought. 

“So you got some, then?  Nice…,” Billie Joe said, nodding up and down slowly.  He shoved his hands into his pockets and shifted his weight to his right side, crossing his ankles.  It was then, as his balance was compromised, that the bus surged forward.  His expression became unsettled, eyebrows retreating into the messy fringe of his hair.  He reached blindly for the nearest thing to steady himself, but the range of inanimate, stationary objects that were also of useful height was slim; finally his hand found the middle of Tré’s upper left arm. 

Tré was pulled roughly forward.  Unprepared for the abrupt movement, his leg stuttered across the floor to keep itself under his weight.  Finally, Billie Joe’s other hand landed in the middle of Tré’s chest.  Tré regarded it curiously as Billie Joe regained his composure.  “Ah, sorry,” he cringed, realizing Tré’s focus, and removed his hand like it had been burned, or rather like it had burned Tré where it had touched. 

“Don’t sweat it,” Tré replied automatically, waving a hand lazily in the air as if to brush the issue aside.  He noticed Billie Joe wearing an expression of apologetic melancholy and smiled reassuringly, feeling like an actor, exaggerating all his responses. 

Billie Joe bit his lip before moving.  He caught Tré by surprise, drawing him into a hug.  It wasn’t the desperate clinging of a few days before, but an entirely different sort of embrace.  There was tenderness in the way Billie Joe pressed himself firmly into Tré, gently filling in the spaces instead of smothering them madly. 

It was loving; it was nice.  It made Tré miss having a girlfriend.  And in the next split second Tré balked at this thought.  He backed out of the hug. 

Billie Joe searched his eyes.  “I know I keep having to say this,” he began scratchily, voice growing stronger the more words flowed outward, “but I’m sorry for acting so…whatever and taking it out on you guys.  And you’ve really been trying to be there, y’know, I know that you have and in return I’ve just been giving you a bunch of shit.” 

“Ah, come on, it hasn’t been that bad,” Tré objected.

Billie Joe shook his head.  “No, I know when I’m being impossible.  I may not be able to stop myself, but I know.  Now take my damn apology!” he scolded lightly.

Tré couldn’t help but grin.  “Alright.”  He stood there, observing a newfound light dancing in his friend’s eyes.

“So, movie or video games do you think?” Billie Joe asked, cocking his head to the side.

 

“Hey!  Jason!” Tré called, eager to let the previous incident slide now that Billie Joe was acting relatively like his former self again.  Images of Billie Joe triumphant after kicking his ass in Super Smash Bros. Melee were fresh in his mind as he made his way to a yawning, stretching brown-haired guitarist.

“Oh hey,” or something similar tumbled distorted from Jason’s still-wide mouth.

Tré turned so that he was facing the same way as Jason, towards the gas pumps across the parking lot, back to the rest area building.

“Is Billie Joe doing any better?”

Tré sighed; he’d been hoping for a normal conversation.  “Yeah, I guess.”  He thought he’d steer away from the current course.  “You just wake up from a nap or something?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Jason replied evasively.  He yawned again, covering it with a wrist against his mouth.  “Billie Joe really seems to get along with Annabelle, doesn’t he?”

Tré choked in the process of swallowing.  “What?”  He couldn’t make sense of what Jason had just said.  “What are you talking about?  When have they even been together?  He’s been isolating himself.” 

Jason pointed.  “Over there.  Look, they’re like laughing and stuff.”  Tré’s eyes followed his outstretched arm to a spot in the distance to their right.  By a lone tree and a picnic table, Billie Joe’s head was thrown back in laughter, opposite the apparently amusing lighting tech. 

Tré looked away quickly.  He cleared his throat.  “I, uh, just realized I forgot to do something,” he said, excusing himself lamely.  It was a short walk to the bus, but Tré wasn’t aware of anything outside of his body.  He felt blurry, if that were a feeling.  On the bus, he dropped onto the couch and sat stiff and upright, closing his eyes tightly.  His lungs ballooned as he tried to take what was supposed to be a calming breath. 

His eyelids fluttered open.  The world sharpened into view again.  In contrast to its stillness, his insides whirled around.  Tré made a heroic effort to identify just one emotion running with the pack, but all of them outpaced him.  “What the fuck is my problem?” he whispered, beseeching some invisible force to provide him with an answer. 

 

Later, Tré lay awake in his bunk, staring into the pitch darkness, not sure whether his eyes met ceiling or wall, not caring, too preoccupied with the unrest tormenting his chest.  His pulse permeated his entire body, thumping through not only his ribs but his hands, neck, and skull.  An entire afternoon spent sifting through the short events that had left him feeling like this had yielded nothing upon which to build conclusions.  He didn’t know what to do with himself, other than give in to the haze. 

Silence pressed in on him.  Mike and Billie Joe were surely sound asleep by now.  Billie Joe.  Billie Joe, Billie Joe, Billie Joe.  And Annabelle? 

His stomach ached at the notion.  But why?

Did she render him obsolete?  That couldn’t be it; they’d had a moment that morning.  Recalling the circumstances, guilt surfaced as Tré regretted his night with the bartender.  It was precisely because of inconsiderate shit like that that Billie Joe would always need other friends.  Tré was lucky to still be one of them. 

No, it was normal to have other friends.  He couldn’t make up his mind. 

A thump from across the bus aisle distracted him.  He sat up, careful to keep any noise muffled in order to leave his hearing unobstructed.  His ears picked up a sound similar to an overworked air pump.  Concerned, he pushed aside his curtains.  He could now hear precisely that someone was hyperventilating, and he didn’t have to think to guess which one of his band mates it was. 

Luckily Mike had the top bunk, so there was no special technique involved in getting to Billie Joe’s bed.  Tré stopped outside the curtain.  “Billie?” he breathed.  There was no change.  He peeked into the closed area. 

Billie Joe’s curved back faced Tré, shuddering with every abbreviated breath he took.  Tré looked on for a moment, at a loss.  Then he crawled onto what was left of the mattress space and took up position behind the shivering heap he called his friend.  He went unacknowledged, the bouncing motion of the bed under the new weight not significant enough to pull Billie Joe from his trance. 

Tré knelt, hesitating before lying down alongside him.  He wrapped his arms around Billie Joe’s heaving middle and squeezed tightly.  “Hey, it’s okay.  I’m here.  There’s nothing to worry about.”  He rested his head on Billie Joe’s upper arm, where it traveled up in down in time with each inhalation, each exhalation. 

It occurred to him that he had no strategy.  In the meantime Billie Joe’s scorching skin quaked beneath Tré’s grip.  He held on.  An idea struck him. 

“Billie?  How about I count so that you lengthen your breaths?  Eventually I’ll get to higher numbers and you’ll be breathing normally.  Sound good?”  Out of the corner of his eye Tré saw Billie Joe nod.  “Okay.  One.”  He said the number fully, and though a single syllable, Billie Joe’s breath was misaligned, turning into one and a half.  They tried again.  “One.”  Another misfire.  “One.”  This time Billie Joe held it successfully. 

Encouraged, Tré continued the count.  “One, two.”  With his aid, Billie Joe’s breathing rate gradually normalized.  “One, two, three, four.”

“One, two, three, four.  Do you think you’re okay now?  You don’t have to say it, just nod.”

His head moved slightly.  Tré didn’t remove his arms.  The wild heat that had been rising off of Billie Joe’s body began to dissipate.  Seeking to replenish what it had lost, his muscles started to quiver.

“Are you cold?” 

Billie Joe emitted a bright laugh, jarring considering the circumstances.  It devolved into rattling teeth.  “I can’t…heh…even tell.”

Tré knew he probably wasn’t needed anymore, but his protective instincts refused to subside, on alert against the chill Billie Joe was feeling.  He debated drawing the blanket up from the foot of the bed, but the merits of this did not seem to match those of staying with his arms around Billie Joe.  It was obvious they could not quiet the shaking, but he wanted to try. 

Neither spoke for a minute.  First Billie Joe breathed in to say something, out again, and then successfully broke the silence.  “You don’t think I bothered Mike, do you?”

Tré scoffed, a pretense of lightheartedness.  “No way, guy sleeps like a Disney princess.  Besides, he would’ve come running.”

The silence stretched on a bit. 

“I’m sorry you always have to see me like this.  I know I’m a pain.”

“You’re not a pain.”

Billie Joe turned his neck to look Tré in the eyes.  “Liar.”

“Just a small pain, then.  One I’m sure I can deal with.”

“Are you sure?”  Billie Joe searched Tré earnestly.

Tré gave into whim, kissing Billie Joe’s shoulder lightly.  “I’m sure,” he answered.  He heard Billie Joe suck in air.

“…Can you stay here tonight?”

“Sure.”

Chapter Text

“…spooning…”

Tré’s mind was enveloped in a fog, slowly rising.

“I said, ‘Aww, look, you guys are spooning.  How adorable.’”

He felt something feathery pass across his face, eyes still closed.  “Ah, shut up.  Why are you grinning like that?  You know there’s nothing behind it.”

“I just find it really amusing, that’s all.  It’s almost like it looks natural.  Tré seems happy enough sleeping there.”

Billie Joe’s voice dropped, turning serious.  “Mike, you know Tré’s not…”

Tré deemed it appropriate at that point to emit an ostentatious, sleepy groan.  “I am right here, you do realize?”  His eyes had trouble focusing upon opening, as they were a mere inch from Billie Joe’s unruly hair and right ear. 

Mike, whom he still couldn’t see, chuckled gleefully.  “Oh, wow, Tré, totally didn’t see you there.”

“You…if it didn’t involve moving I would hit you.”

“Oh I’m so scared, really.”

“Asshole.”

 

A muffled rat-a-tat pounded away on the couch cushion.  Tré was absentmindedly drumming, whiling away the time before he had to properly warm up for the show that night in Oklahoma City.  Others in the dressing room space milled about, but he paid them no attention; he stayed in his own head. 

One sentence persisted in echoing inside it. 

“Mike, you know Tré’s not…”

“…you know Tré’s not…”

“Tré’s not…”

“I’m not…” he said softly.  The sentence could end in so many ways.  It seemed that the more days passed on tour, the more muddled Tré’s feelings became.  Made affirmative…I am…  I am what? 

“I don’t know…”

“You don’t know what?”  Billie Joe plunked himself down just out of range of Tré’s whirling drumsticks. 

Tré kept his eyes trained on the patch of couch he was drumming.  “Nothing.” 

Billie Joe dipped his head lower so that Tré would see his face, coming dangerously close to getting whacked in the eye.  His forehead wrinkled, he spoke.  “Hey, are you okay?  If I can…I mean, I can help too, y’know?  So you can tell me if something’s bothering you.”

Despite Tré’s best efforts, he couldn’t stop his eyes from traveling to Billie Joe’s face, where his gaze lingered.  The dark eyebrows and eyeliner framing flickering jade eyes, straight nose, full lips… Tré didn’t want to know where that thought was leading him. 

Billie Joe’s lips were moving.  “Tré?  Did you hear me?” 

“Oh, yeah, no, I’m fine.”

“Okay, I’ll back off if you want me to.”  Billie Joe frowned and moved to stand up.  He looked back at Tré, whose drumsticks were no longer in motion.  “Well you can come find me later if you need to,” he finished helplessly. 

After following him visually, Tré dropped his Zildjian sticks and cradled his head in his hands.  Something had definitely changed.  Tré just wasn’t sure of the degree. 

 

Billie Joe’s Converse created noisy friction with the tile floor as he spun to charge back in the opposite direction.  From down the hallway Tré watched the singer’s familiar routine, soaking in the electricity apparently radiating off of him.  Billie Joe’s next turn sent him sprinting back towards Tré.  He came to an unbalanced halt. 

“You ready?” he asked between panting breaths.  “You don’t look it.”

“Is it a requirement to break a sweat before I break a sweat playing?” Tré teased.  He stretched his arms overhead and yawned, feigning leisure.  He dropped them again. 

They stood across from one another, both searching for what to say next.  Tré looked Billie Joe up and down slowly, suddenly not caring whether he was being conspicuous.  Something in his dress, the articles of clothing that he wore every night they played, was just so perfect, so appealing.  The lip of his right pant leg swallowed the laces of his sneaker, while the left scrunched darkly behind the shoe’s tongue.  Further upwards, charcoal pants hugged his slight hips.  Black button-up and bright red tie completed the ensemble, and all was complemented by his smudgy eyes and messy hair. 

A drop of sweat rolled past Billie Joe’s cheekbone.  His lips were parted.  He licked them. 

Tré’s eyes jumped back up to meet Billie Joe’s.  He held his breath.  He could swear there was something like a hot liquid swirling restlessly behind the green.  Much like the hair-on-end, stalled atmosphere forcing its way into their resistant lungs, Tré wanted to give it a name.  Caged passion, sexual tension. 

Without warning, Billie Joe’s face turned ashen.  “Oh, shit,” he mumbled, twisting away and covering his mouth.  He looked around desperately, leaving Tré confused. 

Tré understood once he saw Billie Joe jog in the direction of a trash can and lean over it, retching.  He walked over behind him and started to rub his back.  “You okay?  You aren’t sick, are you?” 

The subject of concern spit one last time into the bin before retreating from its edge.  He wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of a hand, a grimace of revulsion contorting his features.  “It happened last show too…I think it’s just nerves, y’know, pre-show.  I’m fine though, minus the acid burning my throat right now.  I need to brush my teeth…”  He shook Tré’s hand off his shoulder and retreated, stepping backwards a few feet before rotating to face forward. 

“Wait, are you sure you’re alright?” Tré called after him, unconvinced.  He felt an all too familiar sense of worry settle at the bottom of his stomach. 

 

“I can’t fucking wait to get on the bus and just collapse, seriously,” Tré declared, taking out his sweat-slicked ear bud.

“Well you better be able to,” Mike countered, “because we’ve got a couple contest winners to entertain for a while.”  His stern expression disappeared behind a towel.

“Ah, shit, I forgot about that.  Do we have to?” Tré pouted.

“Yeah, idiot.”

They both looked up when they saw Billie Joe return from the stage, holding the neck of his guitar so that it wouldn’t swing too waywardly as he jogged.  He handed it to a tech before approaching them, a triumphant grin plastered on his glistening face.  “I feel exhilarated somehow, don’t really know why!” he announced fervently, glowing. 

“I take it Good Riddance went well?” Mike asked.

“Oh yeah, I was just feeling it tonight, y’know?  So good.”  Billie Joe shook his head.  “So good,” he repeated.

“Can I have some of that energy for the meet and greet?  I’ll swap you for my good looks,” Tré proposed.  Mike snickered.  Ignoring him, Tré amended his statement before Billie Joe had a chance to accept or decline.  “Well only for this one night, anyway.  I don’t really need to be successful with the teen population at the moment.”

Both Mike and Billie Joe caught on to the problematic nuance of his statement.

“At the moment!?”

“And what about tomorrow?  Do you all of a sudden turn back into pedo- Tré?”

“What do you mean ‘back into’?  What the fuck are you trying to say?”  He pushed Mike playfully.

“Oh no!  He’s fighting back!  Retreat!  Retreat!”  Mike backed away from Tré, arms pressed into his chest, an expression of mock horror drawn on his face.  “No, but seriously,” he said, returning to his normal state, “we should probably get going as far as showers, or these girls are gonna get past the security guards before we’re ready to take them on.”

Tré sighed, resigned, and then joined the others in the walk towards their destination. 

 

The concert promoters had chosen an outdoor location for the meet and greet table, cut off from the parking lot and other areas surrounding the venue only by a chain link fence.  Everyone’s ears suffered for it.  A rabid group of middle school aged girls clung to the wire, screaming things alternately cute and inappropriate. 

Having been herded towards the designated table by their tour manager, the members of Green Day sat in chairs with their backs towards the offending ruckus on the other side of the division.  There they waited, eager even for other enthusiastic fans to give them something to focus on other than the cacophony currently drowning out their inner voices. Tré attempted to whistle, and although it was not silent, it was rendered silent.  He gave up and began fidgeting.   

He was soon relieved when the contest winners were led into the area.  They were instructed to form a line parallel to the table, to be able to meet the band members one by one.  Tré was fond of the setup in terms of efficiency, but it also didn’t typically allow for any meaningful interaction, so he was unsure of whether he leant more towards like or dislike.

He craned his neck around Mike to scope out tonight’s lucky guests.  A few were sporting various punk hair styles, the characteristic teen fan population was represented by overexcited, squealing girls and boys trying to keep their cool, and a sprinkling of adults who had become fans when they were younger completed the group.  Tré was glad to see the last group hadn’t jumped ship after American Idiot.

He was approached first by a timid young thing, barely older than twelve.  The girl was clutching a CD tightly, afraid to extend her arms to have Tré sign it.  “Hello there.  I’m Tré, what’s your name?  Would you like me to sign that?” he asked, pointing with his Sharpie.

She stared back at him with big eyes, slow to react.  “I’m Shalia.  Oh, yes please!”  She held out the CD, smiling gratefully.  He signed it quickly and handed it back, and then, nodding her thanks, she moved on to Mike.

The next was a guy that reminded Tré of Pete, down to the short hair and the sincere attitude.  It seemed he had prepared a speech, which Tré heard snatches of again as he traveled from member to member.  “…and I just really admire you guys for keeping on making music and remembering your roots and inspiring us fans, man.  Seriously.  I just wanted to let you guys know how important I think you are to the music community as a whole.  We need more artists with real integrity like yours.”  He took a breath, leading Tré to believe prematurely that he had finished.  “So thanks, man.  Oh, and I love American Idiot.  Nice meeting you!”

“Nice meeting you too, dude.  You have no idea what it means to hear you say all that.  It really keeps us going.  Thanks!”  Tré flashed him a genuine smile as they shook hands, appreciative of the boost in self confidence.

  As the line moved along, Tré’s mood, not that it had been particularly awful before, greatly improved.  All of the fans were well-behaved, and Tré wouldn’t have minded spending more time with them. 

By the time the last one approached him, however, Tré’s fatigue had somewhat returned.  His responses became more sluggish, requiring more effort to be formulated and then expelled from his mouth.  He was currently engaged with a teen boy who seemed to be shorting out trying to express his love for the band.  His words were caught wavering between the walls of his throat.  While waiting, Tré’s ears picked up a conversation from the other end of the table. 

Billie Joe’s voice carried over the others crowding the air.  “Yeah, sure, we haven’t actually been out with fans so far this tour, I’m sure the others would be thrilled too, right, Mike?” 

Tré missed Mike’s response, as the boy in front of him at last formulated a sentence.  He was trying to pull double his weight, running after both threads of conversation.  His hearing attuned itself to the one he was less interested in, but his mind refused to focus on it, leaving him unaware of the train of either.

 “…saved my life…”

“…out for drinks…

“…thank you so much…”

“…not like Tré…”

“…keep doing what…”

“…turn down drinking, I’m sure…”

It was a phonetic quilt not yet sewn together. 

“…you’re doing.” 

“Oh, yeah, thanks a lot, kid.  You keep listening!  Anything I can sign for ya?”

The boy waved a hand in front of his face.  “Oh no, I’d much rather just meet you than cheapen it.” 

Impressed, Tré responded, “Wow, good for you.  Take care!”  Once he became Mike’s charge, Tré tried to pick up the conversation again, but it appeared to have ended.  So he sat spacing for the remaining minutes before everyone was brought in for a group photo to be uploaded to the sponsoring radio station’s website.  Afterwards, Tré stood apart with Mike and Billie Joe from a small group of some adult fans lingering behind, discussing the night’s plans. 

“You up for it?  We’ll probably go to the closest bar we can find, nothing too special.”

Tré scratched his head, buying time to weigh his feelings.  “Uhhh…”  Once he realized that he wasn’t actually thinking through the pros and cons and was merely giving off the appearance of doing so, he came to a decision based on the very fact that he was incapable of making an informed decision.  “Actually…I think I’m gonna head to bed, I’m pretty beat and don’t think I can handle more socializing.  I’ll see you guys back on the bus.”

Mike arched an eyebrow and laid a hand on his shoulder.  “You feeling alright?  It’s not like you to pass up alcohol.”

“Yeah,” Tré reassured him, “I’m fine, just tired.  I’ll see you later.”  He waved at them, retreating. 

Billie Joe frowned slightly, but said nothing and waved back.

 

Tré awoke to the sound of the bus door closing.  Someone shuffled in, breath held, trying to stifle any noise that might disturb him, unaware that he had already failed at this.  He knocked into something with a body part, evoking a thump.  Tré heard an almost inaudible “shit” escape his lips. 

Choosing to be charitable and let the intruder make all the noise he wanted, Tré’s words fell into the heavy silence.  “I’m awake; it’s okay.” 

“Oh, thank God.  In that case do you mind if I turn on a light?” 

It was Mike’s voice.  Tré’s first instinct was to notice Billie Joe’s absence.  Although the light was still off, Tré’s eyes opened a little wider.  His chest tightened, unwilling to let out the air to form the question.  He swallowed, jaw clenched. 

A switch was flipped, and the room was illuminated.  Tré shut his eyelids tight against the hostile rays.  He laid there, senses leaking out of his body. 

As Mike stopped rustling and settled down in his bunk, the bus once again dark, Tré opened his mouth.  “Where’s Billie Joe?” he asked in a small voice.

“Huh?  Oh…” Mike answered slowly, having forgotten that someone else was conscious, “he went with one of the women we met.  Mentioned something about having to get it out of his system.  I don’t know what the heck he meant; he was being vague.”

“Oh.”  Tré’s heart, undefined as it was, fell. 

Chapter Text

Tré awoke with his face mashed into his pillow, blankets twisted around his ankles, instantly on edge.  It was light.  Why was it light?  He just wanted to screw up his eyes tightly and not have to face the day.  Battery acid was leaking from his stomach upwards into his chest, ignoring nature’s flow.  His heart wasn’t there, though he felt for its pounding. 

He lay perfectly still.  No one would notice, disturb him.  He sensed, challenging this assertion, that the bus was in motion.  It meant he was trapped.  He tried to breathe even, sleep-like breaths. 

As he focused on breathing, Tré’s tired inner dialogue resurfaced.  The looming question had grown in size.  Each time he performed a mental check on his actions, he found incriminating evidence to suggest that something was very wrong.  He was avoiding an easy day lounging around the tour bus with his two best friends.  Something he’d spent a lot of time avoiding recently.  For what felt like the thousandth time since last night at least, he asked himself, what’s wrong with me?

His brain refused him a cognitive answer, leaving him to deal with the bodily symptoms associated with whichever terrible emotion it was that he was experiencing.  The particular characteristics of what he felt remained elusive, shrouded behind mists of ambiguity, without a name.  He was bound by his body.  Whatever this was, it was oppressive. 

Tré itched to turn on his side so that he could take in air better, weary of the battle the pillowcase was waging against his blocked nostrils.  How anyone—never mind how he had—could sleep in a state so close to suffocation he didn’t know.  But moving meant chancing discovery.  He stayed still. 

Gradually, even in this uncomfortable position, Tré’s muscles relaxed and he soon drifted back into sleep, retreating from wakefulness. 

Muffled voices found him there a while later, and he opened his eyes.  A spike in volume startled him further into consciousness. 

“He’s alive!” yelped Billie Joe from a few feet away, sitting on his bunk with Mike.  Both of them had evidently been monitoring him for some time.  Mike was smirking.

He groaned in response.  He thought for a moment.  “What are you dipshits up to?” he rasped, voice unaccustomed to speech. 

“Just marveling at the fact that it’s slightly past noon and you’re still in bed, you know, nothing too exciting,” Billie Joe replied, curving lips betraying his nonchalant answer.

“Why is it that I’m not entirely sure I believe you?”  Tré looked back and forth from Billie Joe to Mike.

Mike began to whistle.  A spark of annoyance flared up inside Tré as he watched the two of them sitting there, avoiding his eyes.  “Evasive motherfuckers…do I get an explanation or are you guys just gonna ignore me?”

Exasperation.  It was fanned by the easygoing smile tugging at Billie Joe’s mouth, no longer hindered by his pretend disengagement.  The longer the silence, the more time the blaze inside Tré had to grow.  Why was he smiling?  Shouldn’t he be feeling regret about his one night stand like Tré, or had he really enjoyed himself that much?  Had he…had he really?

But what was Tré doing wishing for Billie Joe’s mood to turn sour?  Shouldn’t that be at the bottom of his priority list?  His confusion only fed into his anger.

“Seriously?” he snapped.  “What the fuck, just tell me already!”

Billie Joe bit his lip, having lost his smile, eyes directed downward.  A few seconds’ pause later he stood up, gulped awkwardly, and threw out a weak “sorry” before leaving the scene.

Mike’s eyebrows were knit.  “What’d you have to do that for?” he asked accusingly, and then hurried after Billie Joe.

Tré, who had been propped up on an elbow, let himself fall, stunned.  He wanted to take refuge in his blankets again rather than face the band mates he had just managed to alienate.  The possibility of this kind of thing happening was exactly what drove him to remain in bed to begin with.  Sometimes Tré believed in a malicious fate. 

As painful as it was, he figured he had better fix the damage he’d done sooner rather than later.  Tré threw his legs over the side of his bunk, preparing to leave it for the first time in twelve hours.  Finally on his feet, he stumbled slightly in the direction in which his friends had headed previously. 

They were on the couch.  Billie Joe looked pale. 

Tré hesitated.  He registered that it was a good thing the bus was on the road, because otherwise he might have listened to his instincts and run clean out the door without looking behind him.  Opening his mouth, he felt fatigued.  He coughed rather than spoke. 

Mike raised his eyes to meet Tré’s, arm protectively draped over and around Billie Joe’s shoulders.  The latter’s head remained drooping, lifeless. 

Tré felt as though he had walked into a glass wall but couldn’t comprehend that it was actually there.  He cleared his throat again.  “Um…so, yeah, I’m sorry about that back there…maybe I slept too much?”  He couldn’t resist making light of the situation while he waited for their reactions.  

For once Mike looked at a loss, clearly over Tré’s momentary display of temper, but unwilling to let it go because Billie Joe had been hurt while he was already so vulnerable.  There was also the small problem of Billie Joe’s lack of a response. 

Tré, not at all reassured by the silence with which his words were met, conjured up some more words.  “I didn’t mean to snap, really…”  Much more of this and…  Something started to prickle behind Tré’s eyes.  Frustration. 

“Hey, Bill, what do ya say we forgive him?  Look at the poor sap, standing there looking all sad,” Mike prodded cautiously, close to his ear. 

“Huh?  Oh, yeah, no worries Tré, happens to us all sometimes,” Billie Joe said in an overly confident voice, looking up finally.  His smile sent chills down Tré’s spine; it was unearthly.  “I hope we stop soon, I could go for some lunch.”  The subject change gave off a strained impression in combination with the false cheerfulness.

Just then, in a godsend to all three of them, the bus decelerated to turn, signaling a break from the highway.  In minutes they would be somewhere they could all defuse naturally, rather than by forcing it in cramped quarters. 

“I’m gonna go change,” Tré announced. 

“Right,” Mike acknowledged. 

 

“Oh, Pete, man, thank God,” Tré breathed. 

He raised an eyebrow.  “What’s up?  You look pretty beat…I thought you’d be well-rested considering you didn’t come out with us last night.  You sick?”

“You could say that…or something like that, anyway,” he replied cryptically. 

Pete narrowed his eyes.  “Is something going on in the Green Day camp again?  I feel uncomfortable getting so close to this shit because if you guys ever split I don’t want it anywhere near to being on me.”  He held up his hands to rid himself of responsibility. 

“No, no, I mean, yeah, but no…not really.  I think it’s mostly me.  I know people don’t usually say this about themselves, but I’ve been weird lately and I don’t know what it is but I’d like it to stop,” Tré rambled. 

Pete shoved his hands in his pockets and scuffed at a chunk of concrete loose from the pavement, face contorted in thought.  “I don’t know what to do except offer you more pot, man.”

Tré chuckled.  “Alas,” he began dramatically, “I don’t think that would help much.”  His eyes made a sweep of the sky.  Clouds were sparse; the flat landscape made it so that they could almost see where the sky curved around the earth.  “You mind if I crash your bus again?”

“Guess not.  I thought I overheard Annabelle say she was heading over to yours anyway so there’ll be plenty of space for you!”

 

A light, breezy sound escaped a gaping mouth.  Bunched together at the end of one couch sat Bill, embarrassingly asleep although a block of glaring sunlight creeping in through the blinds to glint off of his bald head betrayed the correct time of day.

“You’d be surprised how often that happens.”  Pete gestured to the ear buds visibly planted in Bill’s ears.  “He just sits down with his iPod and—can’t be more than three or four songs in—passes out.  Don’t know why he even has the thing, clearly doesn’t need the space if he only gets through an album a week.”

Tré shrugged. 

Taking his indifference as a clue, Pete brought the conversation to other territory.  “Okay, right, right, let the therapy sesh begin!” 

Tré winced.  “‘Sesh?’  And hey, who said this was therapy?  You sure as hell ain’t my therapist.”

“That’s right; I guess you’d have to pay me for that, wouldn’t you?  Come on, cough up some of that rock star moolah.”  Pete beckoned with his fingers, winking.  “Okay,” he said, suddenly turning serious, “so what’s up?”

Groaning, Tré reproached him, “Is that the best you can do?  You definitely aren’t earning anything for that question.  You know all the best therapists should have decent stock questions.”

Sarcasm slipped in with Pete’s apology.  “I’m sorry I don’t live up to your standards.  Really.”  He picked some fuzz off of his jeans.  His eyes wandered up to the bus ceiling, a better place to think.  “Okay…first off, what’s the problem?  You said you were weird…that’s not much to go on, really.”

Nodding, Tré silently agreed.  Exactly how explicit he wanted to be he still wasn’t sure.  The degree to which he could even be explicit remained unclear.  Did he really know what was going on in his own head?  Where should he start? 

He swallowed to wet his throat, which had momentarily gone dry during his inner debate.  He launched into it.  “You ever find yourself wondering about what it would be like to be with someone that you know you shouldn’t want?”

Pete arched an eyebrow.  “What, like my sister?”

Nerves exaggerated Tré’s laugh.  “No, no, not quite like that.  I guess, I mean, maybe more like someone who wouldn’t be good for you.”  Is that what he was thinking?  No, it was the other way around, wasn’t it?  Tré wasn’t good enough…

“Ohhh, I see.”  Pete stroked his beard.  “Yeah, I’ve had that happen.”

Tré leaned in closer.  “What happened?  Did you go for it or just let it die?”  He found himself holding his breath.

“I let it die,” he said, his voice flat.  “She was my professor, so it was a no go from the start.”

Tré sighed.  That had not been quite the answer he was looking for. 

“But anyway, so you like this chick…”

“Yeah,” Tré said without missing a beat. 

“So what’s the problem exactly?  Is she not into you?”

Tré sighed again.  “That’s where it gets complicated.  We’ve known each other for a long time, so I don’t know how she feels, or if it would be totally inappropriate for me to suddenly make a move…or even if I really want to make a move.  I’m just confused, Pete.”

“Ah, it’s one of those.  In that case, why don’t you try to sort of feel her out?  See what she’s thinking?”

“I wouldn’t know how…or if I was interpreting things correctly,” Tré countered.

“Yeah, actually, I’m not sure that’s ever worked for me.  You said it’s someone you’ve known for a while, so I get that you don’t want to mess up your friendship.  I dunno, man, I think you should just go for it.  And on a side note, I’m surprised this means it’s not Annabelle.  Seems like everyone’s got a thing for her.”  He chuckled a little to himself. 

Tré smirked.  “Like who?  You?”

“Me, Bill, some other crew guys you don’t really know I don’t think, and I might be reading too much into this, but possibly your very own Billie Joe,” answered Pete, oblivious.

Trying to keep a straight face through the bile threatening to burn all the way up his throat, Tré forced a laugh.  “Ah, wow.”  He smoothed his right eyebrow.  “So there’s more that complicates this,” he said, bringing the conversation back to less volatile territory.  “I slept with someone recently.”

“Oh yeah?  Does she know?”

“That’s the problem.  She does, but she didn’t really react.  I don’t think it bothered her.”

“Ah.  And you want it to bother her?”

Tré shrugged.  “Well some jealousy would be nice, to be honest.”

“Yeah.”

“And then…then she slept with someone.”

“Oh no,” Pete gasped.

“Hey hey, this is serious.”

“So I’m guessing that you’re jealous.”

“Yeah.  And I felt bad, you know, after my little adventure, but I don’t think she feels bad.”

“And your awkward love crush thing is interfering with Mike and Billie Joe somehow?  I’m guessing they know her too, right?  Are you guys all friends?”

Tré choked a smile before it spread completely.  “Yeah, but they don’t know I have a thing for her.  Please don’t tell them anything about this, by the way.  I don’t want to make it more awkward than things already are.  I snapped at them accidentally today because I was stressed out, and now I think Billie Joe is still kinda mad at me.”

Pete patted Tré on the leg from across the couch.  “He’ll get over it.  You guys have been friends for this long, right?”

“Yeah…Thanks, Pete.”  Tré propped himself up from the cushion to be better able to fish around in his pocket.  Extracting his wallet, he added, “Here’s a little something for your hard work.” 

Pete’s eyes lit up.  “Moolah!” he yelled, and across the aisle Bill snorted himself awake.  He tugged on the cord attaching the ear buds to his iPod, and they fell from his ears.

“What’d I miss?” he yawned groggily.

 

The words had finally been let loose into the air.  He had said it.  Admittedly with a different pronoun, but Tré wasn’t going to hold that against himself. 

He stepped into the revolving hotel door, glancing behind him to make sure that his backpack made it in as well.  On the other side, he walked up to the counter and checked in.  Clutching the key card, he made his way to the elevator, and then to the fourth floor.

He started to whistle, spirits lifting.  The prospect of a legitimate bed for the night only made things better.  They were spending three nights in Texas, all in different cities, and the relatively short drives between allowed them to crash in hotels.  He loved when tour booking actually made sense, which it didn’t often because of venues’ prior commitments.

Tré turned a corner, following the arrow underneath the group of room numbers that included his.  He had gotten a text from Mike about an hour beforehand, saying that their bus had arrived at the hotel; the two buses had gotten separated by an accident and the ensuing traffic.  Tré assumed that his band mates were already settled in, and once he’d put his stuff down in his room he planned on suggesting a group movie or something similarly low key. 

He came to another fork in the hallway and had to double check his room key to remind himself of the room number.  Left. 

He stopped. 

Billie Joe stood a couple doors down, unlocking his own, but he was too preoccupied to notice Tré.  A young guy with black hair, chiseled jaw, thin, stood next to him, fingering his belt loops, leaning in close, whispering in his ear.  And Billie Joe was grinning, clearly struggling to get the card in the slot in his haste. 

“Ah, fuck,” Tré heard.

“Here, let me get that,” the unknown man offered, giggling.  That laugh destroyed Tré. 

He took the key card from Billie Joe and wiggled in front of him, twisting back to tease him with a light kiss barely grazing him on the lips. 

Tré knew from Billie Joe’s expression that he wanted more, and it pained him. 

The green light on the door blinked on, and Billie Joe rushed in front of his guest, pulling him by the arm in after him. 

Tré walked away in the opposite direction a few steps, eyes burning, and then went back.  He pulled out the piece of paper with his band mates’ room numbers listed on it and stopped in front of a door that matched one of them.  He knocked.

A few seconds later he was greeted with Mike’s curious face, which soon turned worried.  “Tré?” he asked, pulling him inside the room.  The movement only served to echo Billie Joe’s of a minute before, and Tré’s levee broke, sending hot, salty tears flowing down his cheeks. 

Chapter Text

“Jesus, Tré, what the fuck’s going on?”  Mike shepherded Tré to the couch in his room. 

The question only upset him more.  His chest ballooned painfully as he tried to hold in a sob.  It went off like a bomb in his throat.  He couldn’t remember being this out of control; somewhere that memory had faded like the wallpaper in a room that receives too much sunlight. 

Mike sat with his hand on Tré’s shoulder, eyes questioning.  “It’s okay, let it out, then we can talk about it.  You mind if I get a beer?” he asked.  “I’m going to need something to distract me from the fact that Tré Cool is about to reveal his soul to me.  This must be a rare occasion indeed.”  He got up, winking.

Tré choked, somewhere halfway between a laugh and another cry. 

Mike ventured over to the mini fridge and returned with a dark glass bottle.  He looked at Tré, sitting there forlornly, tears or snot or both dripping down his face, and raised his eyebrows.  “Should I grab the tissues from the bathroom?  You look like you might need ‘em,” he offered.

The only answer Mike needed was a rather timely sniffle from his companion.  When next he returned, he did so with a pink polka dotted box of Kleenex.  Sitting down, he placed it on the coffee table in front of Tré and concentrated on opening his beer.

Tré raised a tissue to his nose with the goal of relieving some of the pressure that had been building behind his eyes.  He realized he was too embarrassed to blow, so instead he wiped his upper lip gingerly, keeping his gaze trained on the wooden surface before him. 

“So what’s wrong?”  Mike looked at him sideways. 

Tré shivered.  Maybe coming here had been a mistake.  He didn’t think telling Mike was really the best way to handle the situation.  That’s right; he should just buck up and deal with his hopeless pipedream himself.  “I don’t…I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said, words coming out distorted by his blocked nasal passages.

Blinking slowly, Mike pressed the bottle back to his lips.  “You know, you can’t just barge into a man’s living space all teary-eyed and expect him to back down when he asks you what’s wrong.  Sorry, Tré.” 

Sometimes Mike was passive aggressive as fuck.

Sometimes Tré didn’t know what to do in response other than to stop resisting. 

So he did.

But first he smeared some of his tears away from his eyes, clearing up his vision somewhat.  “I don’t really know how to even tell you.  You might see me a little differently and not exactly in a good light,” he hedged.

“Go on,” Mike nodded. 

Tré sighed.  He tried one last ditch attempt to get Mike to change his mind.  “Are you really not going to give up on wanting to know?”

“I will haunt you, Tré Cool,” Mike deadpanned. 

An uncomfortable sensation in his sinuses accompanied Tré’s gulp.  “I just saw Billie Joe with some guy.”

The bassist took a deep breath, evaluating responses.  He decided he needed more context.  “And?  How exactly does this affect you?”

“Uhhh…”  Tré stalled.

“You haven’t gone all homophobic and worried about his soul, have you?”  Mike squinted skeptically, completely lost.

Tré snorted, provoking an avalanche in his nose.  He hastily grabbed a fistful of tissue to stop the flow.  “Ah, shit…It’s not that, it’s…it means he doesn’t like me, Mike.”  Tré finished on a strong note, finally confident in his words.

 “I really don’t think I’m understanding,” Mike responded, pointblank.  He rubbed a patch of condensation on the bottle with his thumb. 

Tré took a moment to formulate his words carefully.  He couldn’t take back anything he was about to say.  He sniffled again absently.  “Mike…it’s kind of taken me a while to realize this, but…” 

Mike waited expectantly. 

“Well…God, I feel like a fuckin’ kid.”  He ran his fingers through the back of his hair in a sifting motion, nervous energy showing through.  “So…I think I like Billie Joe.  In a more than friends kind of way,” he clarified.

Mike’s face went through a series of very different expressions, like a roulette wheel.  It settled on one that encompassed amusement, confusion, and disbelief.  “Do you want to fuck him?”

Eyes widening in shock, Tré spluttered, “What?  No!  No…I mean…I don’t know…”  Every time his brain had broached this subject, it had shut down, and here Mike was, shoving it in his face, forcing the gaping holes in Tré’s crush before his eyes.

“Are you gay?” Mike barreled on.

Tré had barely had enough time to pick himself up from the last blow.  “N-no…”

Mike leaned back into the couch, propping an ankle onto his other knee.  “Here’s what I think,” he announced boldly.  “Billie Joe is vulnerable right now.  You’ve been supporting him.  You like having someone rely on you.  It’s hard finding a steady girlfriend on tour.  Naturally he fits the bill.  Or you think he does.”

Tré listened compliantly, sure that the authority Mike exuded could only be the truth. 

“Look, Tré, Billie Joe is a sexy guy…but I’m pretty sure even he can’t turn you gay.  Sometimes people get confused when their relationship with someone changes.  You guys have gotten a little closer lately and you don’t know what to make of it, so you’re interpreting your feelings as something more than they actually are.  Does that make sense?”  Mike gazed at Tré expectantly. 

The drummer dabbed at his face with the crumpled tissue that had been balled in his fist for the past few minutes.  What Mike had said did make sense.  He felt the color rise in his cheeks.  “Well now I feel embarrassed…” he mumbled. 

Mike laughed heartily, slapping Tré on the back.  “Ah come on, it’s not that bad.  You did only come to me crying your eyes out thinking you were in love with Billie Joe,” he smirked.

“Smartass.  And I didn’t say in ‘love’ with,” he defended himself.

“Pick your battles, man, your credibility is seriously waning right now.”  Mike winced as if this fact hurt him deeply.  

Tré sighed.  “I don’t like that you’re right about this.  I feel like I lost some of my manhood just now.  Do you think it’ll come back to me when I wake up in the morning?” he asked nasally. 

Mike laughed loudly, setting his beer bottle on the coffee table to better be able to grab his shaking sides.  “Yeah, you go sleep it off,” he managed to squeeze out in between gasping breaths. 

“Uh, yeah…”  Tré stood and sidled out of the space between the couch and the coffee table.  He swiped another tissue from the box on his way.  “Well, thanks.”

Mike wiped tears from his eyes.  “Any time, Tré.”  He began to chuckle again, tears re-accumulating in the corners of his eyes.

Tré retreated before his embarrassment could mount any higher.  He closed the door behind him, stripping the sound of Mike’s laughter from the air.  He took a shaky breath.

 

When Tré tumbled out of bed in the morning, the world had stopped spinning.  Mike’s words the night before had finally put to rest the continuous battle that had been raging inside his heart.  He had only been fooling himself.  He wasn’t in love with Billie Joe—Mike’s words, not his.  It was completely fine that Billie Joe should have his escapades, and it was none of Tré’s business.

Except for the part of it that wasn’t fine, but Tré just assumed that this was residual nonsense.  And it would go away.

Ignoring it as best as possible, Tré threw on some clothes and descended the four floors to see what the continental breakfast had to offer him on this fine, Texan morning.  He hoped to see some Frosted Flakes, but really he wasn’t about to be picky, as he had survived breakfasts that could hardly be described as edible, never mind continental.  Something about the word connoted greatness, even if it was always actually crap.  Perhaps faraway American history lessons on Manifest Destiny had struck a chord within him, and now their influences were awoken by morning hotel fare.  In any case, he’d settle for Cheerios if need be.

He entered the relatively small enclosure and darted like a railcar straight to the clear cereal bins.  Yes!  There was still a glimmer of hope left in the universe.  America should take over Canada, God damn it, if this was what continental meant. 

Tré loaded a Styrofoam bowl with the sugary cereal until it was overflowing.  He picked a few individual pieces off the top in a bid to make it at least seem a lesser degree of obnoxious.

Milk.  If I were milk, I would be in the…refrigerator.

 The reflection off of the black mini fridge forced his breath back into his throat.  He’d know that disheveled black hair anywhere.  The one that accompanied it, though, cemented his teeth together.  He hissed through the tight space, momentarily stunned, the milk forgotten until someone waiting to the side cleared his throat purposefully. 

He jerked back into motion and opened the door, a wave of cold unfurling inauspiciously against his skin.  Movements wooden, he poured his milk.  Unable to resist glancing behind him, Tré took in Billie Joe and his friend smirking at each other across their table mid-chew.  The scene arrested him for two heartbeats; he was jolted out of it by the feel of cold liquid seeping into the fabric of his shirt where it was touching the counter. 

“Shit!”  He set down the milk carton right in the middle of the widening puddle and frantically sought napkins, head turning side to side.  Even his attention to the crisis at hand, however, strayed again when the two—the couple?—appeared as a blur in his peripheral vision. 

As Tré blotted up the milk with a handful of paper towels, the towering conflict that had engulfed him the night before rose up once again.  The sense of betrayal that was now becoming familiar; the map-less, chaotic, bleeding of his prior convictions… Tré didn’t know whether he wanted to fling his bowl of Frosted Flakes in Billie Joe’s face or pull him in close, and the dichotomy was bitter. 

He chucked the sopping paper towels in a waste basket and snatched up his cereal, walking at a diagonal between visible and inconspicuous, headed for a table, any table.  And then a little boy escaped from his mother and ran wildly into Tré’s legs.  The collision flipped the bowl towards his chest.  Its contents were no longer contained in anything. 

Tré detached himself. 

The mother’s scolding and apologetic words were intercepted by whatever precipitate apathy affected Tré.  He brushed her aside gently and sat down at the nearest table, shirt a soggy, tragic mess.  His throat ached like the scent of rain.

Billie Joe entered his field of vision, and Tré saw him through warped glass.  His voice was muffled.  “Tré, come sit with us, man.  I’ll even get you a new bowl of cereal.  I saw what just happened to yours…”  His hand rested on Tré’s shoulder lightly, coaxing.  A spider of ice spread from his fingertips, a chill Tré felt keenly.

“Who’s us?” Tré asked stiffly. 

 “Just me and a friend.  Come on, up and at ‘em.” 

“I don’t know if I want to.” 

Tré wasn’t usually so blunt, and Billie Joe stood perplexed for a minute, not sure how to react.  “What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing’s fucking wrong,” Tré grumbled, sitting still, acutely aware that Billie Joe’s hand was still on his shoulder.  Why didn’t he remove it?

Billie Joe blanched at the surly response.  He backed up a step, frowning.  “Are you sure?  Did I do something?  Or is it the cereal?  Because seriously, dude, I can get you more.”  He smiled tentatively.

“It’s not the fucking cereal.”  Tré, now free from Billie Joe’s fucking oblivious hand, folded his arms in defiance.  He was going to be as difficult as possible.  This was his slight revenge.  Revenge for not noticing, for not caring.  Revenge for fucking.  When…

When he was there.  He was there…

“Why don’t you see me?”

“What?”  Billie Joe cocked his head in bewilderment. 

Tré’s confidence dipped.  He hesitated.  He swallowed.  A breath.  “Why don’t you fucking see me?” he repeated, voice cracking. 

Billie Joe’s expression was pained.  His usual instinct being either to ignore or to run, a struggle was carried out across his face.  “Tré…do you wanna go somewhere and talk this out?  I’m not really sure the breakfast area of a hotel is an ideal setting…”

“Oh fuck you and your propriety!” Tré shouted.  He felt like he had Tourette’s.  And he couldn’t actually remember whether he’d used the word propriety correctly.  The room fell silent.  His cheeks were burning.  His chest was cold.  There were shriveled, damp Frosted Flakes on his shirt.

A reedy voice cut into his consciousness.  “What’s going on, Billie Joe?  Why don’t you come back to breakfast and ignore this creep?”  The man from the night before wrapped his arms around Billie Joe from behind.

“No, stop…”  Billie Joe awakened from his stunned state and unfolded the intruder’s arms. 

Tré looked away and then rose from his seat.  Still not facing Billie Joe, he addressed him coldly.  “Well I see the trend continues.  Someone else always manages to catch your attention.  I’m done with this.”  He stalked off.

“No, wait!” Billie Joe spluttered.  He turned towards his friend and began to separate himself from him in order to run after Tré to perform damage control.  “I have to go.  It was nice, but I need to go do something, so maybe we’ll meet again sometime?  Bye!”  He jogged in the same direction as Tré, leaving the other man baffled at the exchange he had just witnessed. 

He caught up to him in front of the elevator.  “Tré!  Stop!  We clearly need to talk. I honestly have no idea what’s going on,” he panted. 

Tré watched the lighted numbers traveling above the doors, indifferent.

“What do you mean I don’t see you?  I see you; you’re right here.  I’m paying attention to you.  What is it that you want to say?”

Ding!  The doors slid open, and Tré climbed in without having acknowledged Billie Joe’s presence.  Billie Joe followed him.

“Tré, please.  What is it?”  His fists were balled, fingernails digging into his palms.  His chest was tight, trying to stop itself from heaving.  Control, barely.

Silence tightened its noose around Billie Joe’s neck.  He talked to stop it.  “Tré.  If you don’t tell me, I won’t know.  I won’t know…and then I won’t be able to fix whatever it is.  You have to give me a chance.  We’ve known each other forever; you can’t just…whatever this is,” he pleaded.

This finally had an effect.  As they stepped out onto the fourth floor, Tré responded.  “Maybe that’s the problem.” 

“Wait…maybe what’s the problem?”

“That we’ve known each other forever.”

“What are you saying?”  Billie Joe was now being provoked to anger.  He stuck close to Tré’s side as they made their way down the hall.  “What are you trying to say?” he repeated.

Tré extracted his key card from his pocket and pushed it into the slot.  “I don’t even know, okay?” he answered in a hushed tone.  He opened the door, stepped in the room, and made a move to close it.

He didn’t get a chance.  The small bit of wall partitioning the bathroom from the bedroom met the back of Tré’s head.  A thick, black cloud of smoke rolled in front of his eyes, and he couldn’t see for a second.  With his vision returned his awareness of what was going on.  Someone’s lips had crashed into his with bruising force. 

Billie Joe’s—Billie Joe’shands were snaking in his hair.  Billie Joe’s body against him was making it hard to breathe. 

He kissed back.  His arms, formerly dangling stupidly at his sides, found their way to Billie Joe’s shoulders. 

Teeth scraped his bottom lip.  He let out a shell of a gasp in surprise, and Billie Joe pulled away. 

Chapter Text

Nervous green eyes flicked back and forth in front of him, searching for a way out in desperate retreat.  Billie Joe’s mouth opened slowly, like a drawbridge lowering to usher forth a band of words.  “…I’m sorry,” he said, voice trembling, panic darting across his face.  “I just…it just seemed like a good way to make you listen to me?”  His tone had turned questioning, confusion marring his articulation.  “I don’t know why…I didn’t— it didn’t mean anything.”  Billie Joe withdrew his hands from around Tré’s neck.

Tré was still and speechless like he’d been stunned in a sci-fi drama.  He felt the scene before him like a rope unraveling.  For a second he’d had what he wanted, but now whatever malevolent force was stopping him from diving over the edge to halt its descent.  He couldn’t even say “Stop, I want you,” the words resonating within his every fiber.  So he watched.  And listened.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.  “I’m just gonna go, and, um, yeah, go.”  He reached up with his right hand to grab a fistful of his hair, perhaps to ground himself, and turned away from Tré, swinging open the door that had closed behind them on its own.  He shook his head sharply. 

In the brighter light of the hallway, the safer side of the door, he groaned, “Or maybe hit my head against the fucking wall a few dozen times.  Jesus Christ, Billie Joe, you have really fucking lost it.  Kissing Tré suddenly…”

 

A few hours later, the turmoil of the morning was still making itself home in the pit of Tré’s stomach.  It surely wasn’t helping that his Frosted Flakes had never actually gotten into his stomach, unless he counted the paltry bits he’d confiscated off the top before pouring the milk.  He sat in the dressing room, scrunched into a pathetic bundle, face pressed into his knees.  The faux darkness his position created suited his mood. 

He felt a tap on his shoulder.  He squinted up at someone who could easily pass for Mike.  It was Mike.

“You.  Me.  Come on, we need to have a chat.”

Tré’s stomach flipped.  Apparently Billie Joe confided fast.  He followed Mike wordlessly, all the way to a secluded spot around the back of the venue. 

“What’s up?” he asked, weakly.

Mike sighed, hands in his pockets.  “Look, Tré, I don’t want to be the bad guy here.”  He paused, as if awaiting a response.  When he didn’t find one from Tré, another sigh escaped his lips.  “You can’t go around sending mixed signals.  Billie Joe is a fragile guy.  And you’re confusing him with whatever you might have thought you had for him…  Now he’s worried that he stepped over some boundary when he kissed you and that he might have fucked up your entire friendship.  And I heard through the grapevine that you guys had some sort of tiff at breakfast for God’s sake.  I don’t know what’s going on.”

Tré swallowed, a million responses running through his head, each one entirely inadequate. 

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he repeated, “but you need to sort this shit out, because it’s not going to fly in my band, alright?”  Mike squeezed Tré’s shoulder encouragingly. 

Tré nodded dumbly. 

“Okay, well I do believe it’s about time for wardrobe, makeup, all that.  Let’s go.”

Tré scuffed the dirt as he made to pursue Mike once again.

 

“Tré, baby, you look gorgeous this evening.”

Tré cocked his head as the sound tech approached him.  “Weirdo.”

“What, not even a thanks?”  Pete made a face that screamed wounded.  Or possibly just Picasso. 

“Dude, seriously though, I think I need another therapy sesh.”

Pete eyed Tré dubiously.  “I see you’ve adopted my term.  What could this mean?  Has shit hit the fan so hard you’ll say anything to get my counsel?  Step into my office.  Is now a good time?  I think my crew can handle the rest of the sound tweaking from here; they’re smart, able.  Yeah?”

“Mm, yeah, I think I’ve got a good half hour before people will start to miss me.” 

They relocated to, as it would have it, the same place that Mike had delivered his lecture an hour before.  They sat down, clouds of hot Texan dust puffing up around them.  Pete took out a joint and lit it; he gave Tré first dibs out of sympathy.

Exhaling smoke, Tré broached the subject.  “You remember that girl I was telling you about?”

“Yeah…”  Pete accepted his pot back.

“So what if I told you that I made her up?”

His brow creased.  “What the fuck, man?  Please tell me you don’t have any imaginary friends because, guess what, I am actually not a real therapist.”

“No, idiot.”  He started to laugh, unable to stop himself. 

“Then what?” Pete asked, taking another drag.

“You might be freaked out by this,” Tré warned.  In the back of his mind a parallel thought was illuminated:  I’m freaked out by this.

Pete snorted.  “What are you, about to tell a ghost story?  Go on, I don’t scare easy.”

Tré took a deep breath.  “Really I feel like I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I really need to talk to someone and I can’t go to Mike because he just doesn’t get it but he thinks he does, which is worse…”

Pete shot him a look of impatience. 

“I have a thing for Billie Joe, man.”  He’d said it, plain and simple.  Every time it took to the air he felt his conviction grow.

Pete sucked fiercely at his joint, hoping it would make things make sense again.  Faulty logic.  He nodded.  Then he shook his head.  “Wait, what?

Chuckling, Tré answered, “You know, like, romantic interest.”

“In Billie Joe?  I’m confused.  You’re saying…you’re not straight?”  Pete almost went cross-eyed trying to process the information.

Tré shrugged, then reached for the marijuana dangling neglected from Pete’s hand.  “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  I kind of only just noticed it, but I suppose it’s always been there somewhere, maybe in the little bits of jealousy I’d shoot Mike’s way for being better friends with him than I was…”

Pete rubbed his eyes.  “Man, you are fucked.  I honestly don’t know what the fuck advice to give you.  I mean, I guess I did hear a rumor that Billie Joe’s not exactly straight?  Is that true?”

“Yeah.  Does it freak you out?  What I told you?”

“Nah, dude, to be truthful, yeah, I don’t understand at all, but hey…whatever floats your boat, right?”  He paused, chewing his lip in thought.  “Does he know?  And what was that about Mike earlier?  You need to fill me in on what exactly’s going on, otherwise I can’t help.”

Tré obliged, running over the details quickly. 

“Why the fuck’d you just stand there after he kissed you?” Pete fretted.  “Seriously, worst response ever, no wonder he thinks you had a problem with it!  Agh!”  Pete slammed his fist into the packed dirt.  “Sorry,” he apologized, sheepishly, “for some reason this pot is winding me up instead of relaxing me.  But honestly, you should have said something.  And I thought I was bad with relationships, but this, this really takes the cake.”

Grimacing, Tré responded, “I know…”  He was awash with remorse.  Pete didn’t have to tell him he’d been an idiot; his eyes had been propped open in front of that line since the morning.  He spoke up suddenly.  “But it’s not like I even know why he kissed me.  Like did he just want to shut me up?  Is he interested in me too?  You should have seen the look he gave me afterwards.  It was…it was terrified, Pete.  Confused and terrified.  I wish someone could tell me what that means…”

“I don’t know any more than you do, buddy.  Since he kissed you, though, I’d say that indicates a fairly good chance, at least it seems pretty up there.  You should just grow a pair and tell him, I think.”

Tré nodded, accepting what Pete was saying for what it was, something he should do but might not be able. 

“It’s time to stop speculating and just do,” Pete added.  He stood up and offered a hand to Tré.  “Come on, we should get back inside.”

 

Tré wandered into the bathroom, eager to relieve his straining bladder.  Unzipping by the urinal, he heard the tail end of someone puking his guts out in one of the stalls. 

When finished and had washed his hands, he remained in front of the mirror, spotted surface casting his face back at him.  Eye bags erased by the careful work of his makeup artist, Tré gave off the impression of smooth perfection.  Beneath it all, he felt he was cracking.  Like the paint on this sink.  His carefully composed exterior was chipping.  Or maybe he was changing shape and it didn’t fit anymore.

He was staring.  The lock on one of the stall doors slid open behind him, metallic and loud, but somehow subtle.  It went unnoticed.

“Hey.”

Tré jumped.  “Holy shit, where did you come from?” he asked Billie Joe’s reflection, heart beating like a chorus of taiko drums.  Billie Joe raised an eyebrow while Tré made the connection.  “Wait, dude, was that you in the stall?”  He wrinkled his nose.

“Yeah, nerves again.”  Billie Joe rolled his eyes, almost mocking himself.

Tré saw through the mechanism; Billie Joe was worn out, and trying not to be.  Pallid, clammy-looking skin betrayed him.  “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Billie Joe replied briskly, assigning the matter little importance.  “Anyway I just wanted to say sorry for this morning.”

Tré felt his eyes widen.  Before Pete’s sage advice could intervene, however, the guitarist continued.

“You know me; sometimes I get carried away and don’t use my brain, y’know?  Anyway I did some thinking…”

He felt frozen again.  Tell him tell him tell him.   Maybe he’d just say it?  Was he thinking it too?  Was he feeling it?  Tell him first.  “Yeah?” he prompted, breath withheld.

“I think I did it to help me figure out my feelings…you know how sometimes you get confused and you don’t really know what you want?”  He shuffled his feet.

“Yeah?”  Tré could swear someone was pinning an AED to his chest:  electricity and blood and adrenaline and life, alarm, and anticipation, but most of all raging, crashing, breaking waves of terror.  What next?  What happens after? 

“Yeah, so, I’ve decided to take my chances and ask out Annabelle.”  Billie Joe relieved an itch on his nose.

All Tré could say in response was “What?”  Cold.  Damp underground cavern cold.

“Yeah, we’ve been really hitting it off, y’know?  She’s funny, chill…”

I’m chill.  Tré laughed inwardly at the pun that would never see the light of day.  That one was for himself.  Idiot

Billie Joe paused.  “You don’t seem happy,” he stated, resting a familiar hand on Tré.

Tré balked.  “What?  No.  This is great.  I’m glad you’ve found someone.  Just hope she likes you back.”  A forced laugh came on the heels of his flat voice.

Unconvinced, he asked, “You don’t like her too, do you?”

“No, no,” Tré shook his head.  “No such thing.”  When silence fell, he tried to fill it.  “When you gonna ask her out?”

Billie Joe obliged to answer, eager to get over the awkwardness.  “Don’t know yet, hopefully soon.  Come on, though, why the fuck are we hanging out in the bathroom, anyway?  Also we hit the stage soon; we should probably be there,” he joked.

“Right.”  Tré thought he might follow Billie Joe’s example and throw up. 

 

“Nobody likes you, everyone left you, they’re all out without you having fun.”

The recording of Kathleen Hanna’s voice soared out over the audience, and as it riled the fans into a frenzy it pierced Tré’s consciousness.  It didn’t matter that it wasn’t entirely accurate in describing his feelings; those had been replaced by a certain amount of numbness.

Billie Joe’s accented guitar kicked in for one and a half measures, where Tré missed his cymbal crash entrance.  His band mates jerked their heads instinctively around, the guitar and bass running naked.  A pulse of horror hit Tré, and he readjusted his drumsticks in his hands to be ready for when the riff came full circle.  Shaky and already slick with sweat, he dropped one.  No time to reach for a new one before he’d missed his cue a second time.  The music sputtered out. 

Billie Joe approached the mike.  “Hey.  Hey you guys, you wanna meet my band?”  A cacophony of yells greeted his question.  “Alright, let’s start over here, shall we?  This,” he began, walking back to the drum set, “this…is a man who formerly held the title of best drummer in the world.  That is, ladies and gentlemen, until he missed his cue twice just now.  But we forgive him, right?”  Billie Joe flashed Tré a comforting smile as an overwhelming sound of affirmation reached the stage.  “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tré Cool!”

Tré felt an enormous sense of relief as Billie Joe moved on to introduce Mike and the rest.  Deliberately pointing out his mistake had somehow made it all right.  At the same time, his despair burrowed deeper in his chest.  It seemed simple, so cliché as to be stupid, but the kind gesture made him regret even more the way things had turned out.

He didn’t miss his entrance this time, and once he’d started, it was all muscle memory from there.  Each beat on the bass drum echoed outward to knock loose memories of every missed chance.

“…the idiot America…”

…The idiot…

Idiot.

Chapter Text

The noise was seeping inside the contours of his brain matter, threatening to crack it open from the inside.  The noise, he couldn’t escape it.  One thing after another, what followed him was the noise of it all.  Ice on glass and glass sliding across wood.  Sounds of too many things colliding.  Too many people colliding.

And what made him sick was that noise was his profession.

Sick in the pit of his stomach, if he even had one anymore.  He liked to pretend he didn’t, so he wouldn’t have to think about how much it felt like it had gone away.  He half-heartedly wished he could go away, but his consciousness tugged at him and he knew that thought didn’t mean anything, not really. 

What meant anything?

Not the guy who could somehow make throwing back a shot of tequila look graceful.  Not the guy standing there cloaked in black and yet glowing, like some magic had taken a hold of him and made his insides burn bright.  Not the guy who was in love with someone else.  No, not him.

Tré pressed his glass gingerly to his forehead and closed his eyes.  He could almost see the awkward triangle of wetness the cool condensation was imprinting upon his brow.  The delicate arrangement of ice on the other side slipped, clanging sharply.  Tré hissed slowly.  That noise again.

His eyes, again open, plotted their course in a familiar direction.  He’d been watching him all night.  It made it harder, and easier.  He needed more alcohol.

Tré reluctantly pushed himself up out of his booth and made his way over to the bar.  “Scotch.”  He waved his glass at the bartender, wincing as the ice scraped against the bottom.  Waiting for the bartender to fulfill his request, he stole another glance, closer this time.  He could just make out the fact of tattoos on his tapping fingers.

“Dude, seriously, give it a rest.  People are gonna notice.”  Pete squeezed in beside him, shooting him a warning look.

Tré shrugged.  His drink was ready; he headed back to his lonely corner seat, determined to ignore Pete’s very solid existence in favor of the hazy realm of his thoughts.  But before he could settle, Pete was seated across from him, thwarting his efforts to escape.

“You look down,” he stated, chocolate eyes boring into Tré, demanding an explanation with their hard gaze.

He meant it to be a growl, or in any case forceful, but he sounded like a child, small and unsure.  “Go away.”

Pete rolled his eyes with his beer to his lips.  “That was convincing.”

“Yeah,” Tré said, agreeing with the sarcasm.  He shrugged. 

“What is that, the shrugging?  Are you like too good for words now or something?” Pete asked, exasperated.

Tré smirked.  “Maybe.”

“Oh no, I get it, it’s not words entirely, it’s just sentences.  But at least I got something of a smile out of you.  So what’s up?  Did you…?”  He left the question hanging like his bottle, suspended by the neck between his fingers. 

Tré’s cheek twitched in a telltale sign that Pete had grazed a freshly made wound.  “No,” he replied shortly.  “Just drop it, okay?”  He brought his glass up to his mouth, taking a baby sip before setting it down again as if he no longer wanted it. 

Maybe it was the alcohol, but the sound tech chose to be bullheaded.  He took a deep breath.  “Tré, man, it’s not good to let stuff like this fester.  Why don’t you tell me and let it off your chest?”

“I said I don’t want to fucking talk about it,” asserted Tré from a jaw so tight his teeth seemed to be on the brink of fissuring.  He fixed Pete with a glare that, despite its haphazard focus, made quite a powerful statement. 

Pete looked down at the stained wood table, humbled.  “Alright, sorry for bringing it up…” he mumbled.  He took another swig of his beer to eliminate some of the pressure to speak.  He turned his head, scanning the bar; it was an entirely different scene from the current one.  Jason appeared to be telling a longwinded joke or a story, the others listening intently while silently willing themselves not to wobble too obviously.  It looked like fun.

He peered back at Tré, who was consumed with the pattern of light shining through his drink.  He considered the expression on his face, blank but speaking about pain like poetry can leap from the ghost of things. 

His line of vision found Billie Joe next.  The contrast between the two men was bold duotone.  Pete hadn’t been around them long enough to really be able to say he knew them—really knew them—, but the long hours of idle time on the road did, however, provide him some idea of the band’s internal dynamic.  This wasn’t it.  One man’s mood was seldom independent of the others’.  They rose and fell together.  This polarized nonsense, well, was nonsense.

If Tré was angsty, it should follow that Billie Joe not be in the best of moods.  Yet he was clearly enjoying himself.  It was all about the timing, the interval between words, thought, and reply cut in a dramatic half from that of the Billie Joe caught in the throes of melancholy.  If Tré had told him and been shot down, it was outside the realm of possibility that Billie Joe act this insensitively.  He had to be unaware, or at least that was what Pete told the unease pervading his inner monologue.

He jumped, startled by a tap on his shoulder.  “Scoot over,” a gentle feminine voice commanded.  Pete obeyed, glad of the intrusion; he’d been wondering how to continue his interaction with Tré in a way that they’d both leave with their spirits intact.  “What’s with him?” she whispered, climbing into the booth clumsily, rosy cheeks looming in close to Pete’s face. 

Tré’s eyes narrowed, flicking upward in a darting, snake-tongue motion.  “What’s with you?” he returned, defensively. 

“Oh, someone’s touchy.”  Annabelle tapped her fingers with no distinct rhythm on the surface of the table, openly studying him.  “You gonna spill or what?” she asked, miscalculating the severity of Tré’s stubbornly occluded frame of mind.

Pete shook his head at her brusquely, an action which made his head swim slightly.  “He doesn’t want to talk about it,” he emphasized.  

Annabelle raised her eyebrows in delayed fashion.  “Ohhh, I see,” she slurred, blinking slowly.  “You mind if I sleep on your shoulder, Petey?  I feel…kinda…sleepy.  And my stomach’s a little blargh.”

He couldn’t help but smile crookedly in amusement as his fellow roadie wavered and leaned into him gradually, eyelids dragging her down. 

“It would be hilarious if you moved and let her fall.”  Tré’s voice rang oddly hollow.

The unsolicited suggestion unnerved Pete; Tré’s out of character behavior had him at a genuine loss.  The only person he could think of as suitable for dealing with it was…Billie Joe.  Who was unavailable, both in the sense of currently occupied and in the sense that he wasn’t sure Tré would accept his smoothing out of edges anyway.  

“I heard that,” Annabelle informed him groggily, lifting her head back up and setting it down again, a loose strand of hair gliding down her face to come to rest above her nose. 

Tré’s voice came out more harshly this time.  “What of it?”

Pete couldn’t believe his ears.  Tré was picking a fight.  “Tré, man, what the fuck is your problem?  You can’t go taking out your shit out on everybody else as you like,” he informed him, volume rising as he went on.  “We all have rough patches, but that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to be an asshat.  Are you a grown fucking man or what?  At least pick on someone your own size.”  His tirade over, he waited for a response from Tré, feeling a possibility of the heat of irritation verging on boiling over to a more mature anger depending on his answer. 

“I will act however I want,” Tré snarled, lip curling in resentment. 

“Oh such an adult,” Pete fired back caustically, torn between an impulse to stand and shout and his gentlemanly instinct not to disturb Annabelle, who had somehow managed to pass out against him despite the noise of the conflict playing out above her head. 

Tré apparently had the same idea, with none of the reserve; he stood, in the process banging his knee into the table and upsetting it enough to rattle his glass of liquor.  The resulting clatter carried above the usual sounds of the bar, garnering the scene some attention, which, strangely, their raised voices had failed to do. 

The other members of his band rushed to his side, noting the expression of fury carved into his features and expecting him to be on the right side of the law.  Jason, boisterously, tried to assess the situation.  “What’s going on, Tré?”  He threw an accusatory look at the newcomer, making the wrong assumption. 

Pete interjected.  “Whoa, whoa, don’t I get a say before you make up your mind?” he asked, looking from one man to the next, the weight of Annabelle contributing to a feeling of impotence.

“Relax,” assuaged Mike, “you both get a say.  Which one of you wants to go first?”  He put forth the question impassively, hands in his pockets, and sighed; he’d been mediator in enough of Tré’s drunken squabbles to land him a job as a high school guidance counselor. 

Hanging by Mike’s side and studying a scratch on one of his fingernails, Billie Joe registered an unbidden impression of guilt surfacing within him.  The day had been loaded with drama, and he was having a hard time not pinning Tré’s sour mood on his earlier actions—most specifically the kiss, but then again there had been whatever conflict had set off the kiss, and he couldn’t begin to guess what that had all been about.  He squirmed inwardly, awash in uncertainty.  How did that scratch get there? 

The surly drummer, by contrast, knew with blinding clarity the exact nature of his torment, and it was standing too close.  The proximity erased all concern he had for Pete, whom he realized too late he had no real inclination to fight.  In fact he was right, something Tré had to begrudge him.  None of this was Annabelle’s fault, but rather the unfortunate effect she had on Billie Joe.  And the effect he unfortunately did not have on Billie Joe.

Seeing him absorbed in something so mundane—his fingers!—over the fuss he’d created, Tré swallowed back budding tears.  He didn’t have the energy for this.  He was done.

At Tré’s strange silence, Pete volunteered himself.  “Tré’s being bitchy, basically.”  Probably not the best way to bring them over to his perspective, but sometimes things needed to be said in crude terms. 

Mike arched an eyebrow, Jason coughed, and Billie Joe didn’t look up.  “What say you, Tré?” Mike inquired lazily. 

Tré took a shuddering breath.  “Nothing.  I don’t care.  He’s right.  I’m worthless.”  He brushed past Jason roughly, headed for the exit. 

“I didn’t say that you were worthless, Tré! I—” Pete yelled after him uselessly.  He grimaced at the door as it swung back closed slowly in a battle against air pressure.

The resultant atmosphere, while it fell short of acrimonious, left those remaining not sure how to return to what they were doing pre-scene, or in any case in the same spirit.  There was some head shaking, a few groans, and much disquiet, but those closest to the heart of the matter spoke nothing of what they knew.

 

The warmth of the sunless southern breeze wrapped Tré’s exposed limbs in its comfort as he blundered out into the night, as if to say that, yes, it was okay.  As one fleeing anywhere, he was confronted by the vastness of the world, or in his case, Houston.  Where to go?

He fished around in his pocket while he walked away from the bar, briskly.  He had brought it with him.  He closed his eyes in relief as he wrapped his fingers around it, the familiar metal shape cool and smooth against his skin. 

Tré pulled out his iPod and unraveled the cord to his earphones.  Some days he was merely glad for music, and others he credited it for his continued breathing.  Tonight he couldn’t be bothered to categorize it, it just was, in and around his eardrums, beating and living beside his own heart. 

Tré walked, he didn’t travel.  That wasn’t important.  He went undisturbed, going the length of dead outer city with nothing to distract him from the chords that were inexplicably intertwined with the litter of the streets.  Crushed tin cans winked up at him from their place beneath the streetlamps, and bright guitar tones sparkled above the rest of the mix.  There was no time.  No thought.  Just music and wasteland.

Eventually, he came upon a train yard.  The darkness crept more easily here, obscuring the edges of towering, rusty box cars and leaving only surfaces.  He finally felt truly alone, the satisfying solitude that was hard to come by, usually tainted by the fact of someone else having put one there.  Tré inhaled the sweet summer air, filling his lungs with the scent of it and the peculiar tranquility of the place.

He wandered through it, stepping around obstacles with an absent-minded determination, if there could be such a thing.  Something drove him onward, although he didn’t know what it was or where it was leading him until he stopped, a foot away from a set of steel tracks. 

He heard.  The song’s beat slowed, leading its listener tenderly to the end, the coda a soft lilt. 

Tré retrieved his iPod and clicked the pause button, then removed his earbuds after some deliberation.  He listened carefully.  A playful flurry of wind whipped up a tuft of Tré’s hair as he stood there, waiting; a distant whistle carried over it.  He would linger a while.

When it came, the headlight was dazzlingly radiant as it burst over his body, tendrils scorching out the shadows that had taken root in his heart.  The roar of its motion was deafening up close, a chugging rhythm to obliterate all others.  There was power in it.  Sacrifice in it.

And he lost himself in the noise.

Chapter Text

Their remaining two shows in Texas blurred into each other, and Tré’s dreams stitched a messy quilt of most of the idle time.  When he wasn’t asleep he pretended to be, or if this didn’t suffice he infused his mannerisms with overzealous, albeit disengaged enthusiasm.  And like a backlit cloud he rolled into Georgia. 

The last light of the sun having burned itself out, the sky was a smoky purple.  Moisture clung to the air, thickly, plunging into Tré’s lungs alongside his breath.  He nearly choked on it, so different in quality from the air conditioned interior of the bus.  He reminded himself that he could adapt. 

Mike sauntered into his peripheral, marked by the smoldering butt of the cigarette set steadily between his lips.  “Hey,” he greeted him from around it, profile unaltered. 

“’Sup?” Tré acknowledged.

Removing the cigarette first, he responded, “You ready for dinner?  Billie Joe said he’s gonna meet us there, but the rest of us are looking to get going now.  How does Italian sound?”  Mike took another drag while waiting for an answer.  It was as if he needed something else to occupy himself with whenever talking to Tré lately, something of an excuse for the dearth of words.  An excuse for the scarcity of fond feeling. 

Tonight, Tré was a minimalist.  “Good.”

“Alright, see you in five…I guess here’s a good spot.”

 

“We can order without them; it’s fine.” 

“Yeah, they shouldn’t be too much longer; they knew we were starving when they chose not to arrive together anyway.  They’ll understand.  Sitting on your ass all day really whets your appetite, if you guys know what I mean.”  Ronnie laughed over the top of his menu, eyes crinkling, along with the others. 

Tré sipped at the water that had been brought him as a precursor to his meal.  He was starting to wish himself somewhere else, away from the burbling family chatter, clinking knives and forks, and above all the people assembled around the same table.  Dinner banter:  his forte had dropped to piano.  He was drowned out, let himself be drowned out; it was simpler packed into the riverbed. 

The waiter returned with a notepad ready to take back their orders to the kitchen.  He stood, poised for action, until the garbled pronunciation and jabbing at the menus proceeded, upon which his pen set about furiously scribbling.  The scratching stopped.  He closed it with a decisive click and went away. 

“So…,” Jason Freese began, a mischievous grin unfurling slowly beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his signature fedora, “what do you guys think about the new couple?  We can’t let this opportunity to gossip about them—that they themselves so graciously gifted to us by being late—go to waste, am I right?”  He swung his glass upward, gesticulating with it as he spoke. 

Tré froze, not that he had been moving.  His stillness became more still.  His silence more pronounced.  His appetite gurgled sickly before dying. 

Would he always be last?  Someone to avoid rather than confide in?  He thought he knew the answer, but was it just a thought?  Or was it as real as Billie Joe and Annabelle, the couple, even though that hardly seemed real?  Or fair.  What was fair?  Was he being fair, being bitter? 

Stop.

Just stop.  You’re blurring.

Jason White spoke up.  “I mean, I think it’s great.  They make a good match, not to mention it’s great that Billie Joe has someone to support him now.”  He beamed in the other Jason’s direction. 

The statement ricocheted and hit Tré and tripled him like a camera exposure too long, too much time for the hurt to soak into the film.  Each one of him was knocked backward.  Only he didn’t move from his seat.  He excluded himself from the conversation by other means:  worry.

Would he be able to stand it, when they came in?  It was one thing to hear it, or see them separately, but to see it, the abstract concept of togetherness…it might destroy him.  Blast him apart from the core like a stick of dynamite jammed into the crevice of a rock face.  Maybe he needed it to set him straight.  What was happening, had happened to him, had mutated him into some creature struggling to come out on top of all the other potential prey?  Or maybe his real predator was half-baked evolution, a fish busy growing legs instead of lungs. 

Whatever he was he’d lost his innate reflexes, because he’d stopped breathing.  While he’d been pondering exploding fish, the couple in question had infiltrated the table.  The bubble of quiet encasing Tré’s thoughts seemed to burst, and all the sound came rushing in.  It forced his lungs open again. 

“Hey guys, what took you so long?  Eh?  Eh?” Jason prodded, eyebrow dancing playfully. 

Billie Joe smirked cheekily.  “Get out of here.  I’ll have none of that, asshole!”  Climbing into the seat next to Jason, he pushed him so that he swayed slightly to the side.  The movement led his gaze to Tré, and his eyes shied away uncomfortably; he needed blinders.

Tré noticed.  He bit his tongue to keep from crying out in pain.  Dousing fire with gasoline, he averted his attention away from Billie Joe and onto his date.  He knew why Billie Joe liked her.  Heck, he liked her.  From the waves in her hair to her soft smile, she was radiant and radiating soothing compassion.  He’d lost him, he’d lost everything to her.  But he couldn’t hate her. 

The food came.  Billie Joe and Annabelle ordered.  Tré was largely taciturn, except in things concerning him.  He tried to ignore him, he really did.  But the particular frequency of his voice monopolized his eardrums until he was listening to Billie Joe having a conversation with himself. 

“I hope they ask something different tomorrow.  Y’know, like, ‘what’s your favorite superhero?’  That sorta stuff.”

His voice floated on top of everything else like a pale harmonic.

“Oh shit, I forgot to tell you guys.  Pat called me and told me a Rolling Stone reporter is gonna be following us around for the next couple days; I don’t remember exactly when that starts, but, y’know, we’ll find out when he shows up at the bus door.”

Even trivialities, maybe especially trivialities, demanded Tré’s attention. 

“God damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve had proper lasagna.”

He missed him.

 

He’d been outside all of two minutes, yet dark sweat gathered around his armpits.  He hated the South.  It was the South’s fault; everything had happened in the South.  He shoved his hands in his pockets angrily.  The sun beat through his sunglasses.  He spit and scraped sand over the evidence with his sneaker. 

Shit.”  He berated himself, grunting his frustration in low puffs.  “You piece of shit, why can’t you get over him already?  Huh?”  Tré checked his surroundings again.  “Fuck,” he swore, a bit louder. 

He jumped when a crow squawked close behind him.  “The fuck are you looking at?” he yelled, somewhat louder than he had intended, as he whipped around to meet its appraising black stare.  It merely ruffled its feathers in response, unfazed by Tré’s aggressive display. 

“I need…I don’t know what I need, but…clearly this isn’t helping.  You are just making a fool of yourself, Tré Cool, and so what if this parking lot is empty because there is still this motherfucking bird judging you and you’re taking it, and not like a man, but like a fucking butthurt two-year-old.  Now you’re gonna do this interview like the adult that you are and not give your band mates more reason to hate you!”  Tré raised a decisive fist and brought it down into the palm of his other hand.  This was determination!

 

The massive radio station headphones slipped down Tré’s head, and he pushed them up by the thick earpads.  Weren’t these supposed to be professional grade?  Was his head too small? 

For the past ten minutes they had been bombarded with questions from the deejay, and not the amusing kind that Billie Joe had been hoping for the night before.  No, these were run of the mill, the standard casual-fan pleasers.  Tré’s resolve had waned into apathy, defenses battered down by the curse of business as usual. 

“It’s time for a question from the fans,” the deejay, a scruffy guy in his 30s, announced into the mike.  Tré’s ears perked up under the hefty weight of the headphones.  This was clearly going to be the only thing of interest during the whole session, unless the deejay had saved all his best questions for last.  Doubtful. 

He exchanged glances with Mike and Billie Joe, who up to that moment had also been relatively unenthused by the line of questioning. 

A throat clear later:  “This question is from Stacey A. of Atlanta.  She wants to know,” here he stopped to laugh, “‘are you single?’” 

The three men dissolved into nervous giggles, unable to help themselves despite the unstated tension diffusing itself between the molecules of stale radio booth air at the mention of relationship status. 

“Uh, well,” Mike began, disguising another developing snicker with a strategic cough before carrying on, “that would be single for me.”  He passed the torch to Billie Joe with an only slightly apologetic look that said, “Sorry, man, you’re gonna have to deal with the rabid fan girls sometime.”  

Bowing his head in defeat, yet also smirking in smug fashion, he leaned into the microphone.  “I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for a chance, but,” he said, a smile curving his speech, “I have found myself a wonderful woman that right now I couldn’t imagine living without.”

“If I may interject,” the deejay came in, “do the fans get to know the lucky lady’s name, or is it a secret?”

“Uhhh,” Billie Joe hesitated, holding onto his headphones.  His eyes flicked up and around the interior of the soundproof glass walls while he made his decision.  “I suppose it’s okay, but just the first name!” he hedged.  “It’s Annabelle.  Now go post that on your blogs or whatever you kids are doing these days.”  He chuckled softly, hands trembling as he lowered them to his lap. 

Tré caught a light tinge to his cheek; his heart sped up, tumbling around in his chest.  It was his turn next, and he had a role to perform.  The sweat already beaded around his hairline turned cold as he struggled to find a way to transform his inevitably lonely statement into a Tré Cool neologism.  The deejay said something and then prompted him, which only served to scatter the delicate wisps of ideas floating around his head. 

What finally left his mouth was nothing like he’d intended.  “I’m not so lucky.”  The words fell with a dead weight.  Mike pursed his lips in reproach even as the deejay salvaged the mood with a joke piggybacking off of Tré’s remark as if it had been deadpan.  Billie Joe bit his lip in embarrassment, but also in pity.  It was like there was something in his peripheral vision that he couldn’t quite focus on, a blurry splotch that kept drawing his attention with its movement.  It was with growing unease that he continued to deny its existence. 

With a few closing comments, the deejay wrapped up the interview and thanked Green Day for their cooperation.  The red broadcasting light blinked out, and they shuffled to the door wearily, all energy sapped out of them by their least favorite part of their job:  forming coherent sentences for the fans to consume as holy writ. 

On the way out, Billie Joe, taunted by the wriggling speck’s persistence, reached out to Tré.   “Hey, can I talk to you?” 

Mike looked back at the interaction, observing quietly as Tré nodded in assent.  He let the distance between them widen as they exited the building. 

Billie Joe motioned for them to stop when they had rounded the side of the building.  He took Tré by the arm to hold him steady.  “Are you okay?” he asked earnestly. 

“Yeah,” Tré insisted woodenly, “I’m fine.  Why do you ask?”  His composure was fraudulent.  Billie Joe’s chest ached when he saw it, a front directed at him. 

“I’m serious.”  He tightened his grip around Tré’s forearm to catch his attention.  “What you said back there…it just sounded so…sad.  I—I don’t want you to feel that way, Tré.  You, uh, you’re amazing, y’know, just…you’re sweet and supportive, and funny—you’re goddamn funny.  You’re even a solid drummer when you pull your act together.”  At this he smiled wryly, and then continued.  “You’re not going to be lonely forever, man.  There are a shit ton of girls that would be happy just to be in the same room with you, y’know?  You’ve just gotta keep looking and someday you’ll meet one that makes you happy.  Or your true love, if you believe in that shit.” 

Tré wobbled on the edge of a fence.  He took a deep breath and jumped off on the other side.  “I don’t want a girl,” he admitted, voice quavering.  He watched as surprise wiped Billie Joe’s face blank and he stood there processing the shock. 

In an effort to regain his emotional footing, Billie Joe clarified, “You don’t want a girlfriend?  Do you want to be single forever?” 

Tré didn’t know where this newfound boldness was coming from, but he surrendered himself to it.  “Not exactly...,” he breathed.  He pulled, twisting his arm loose from Billie Joe’s grip until their hands met and he had threaded his fingers betwixt the guitarist’s.  He stepped in closer.

Billie Joe took a step back.  “What are you doing?” he asked helplessly, staring at the connectedness of their hands. 

He couldn’t believe what he was saying.  Not precisely what he was saying, but that he was saying it.  “Billie Joe…I don’t want a girl, because…because I want you.”  Again he closed the distance between them.  His heart was beating so fast it was whirring as his free hand slid past Billie Joe’s jaw to guide his head towards his own.  He pressed his lips to Billie Joe’s tentatively.

At first Billie Joe wasn’t sure how to react, but Tré’s warmth soon convinced him that all he wanted was to be close.  He let himself be taken away by Tré’s feelings, and his own feelings, and then he took them and used them against him, kissing harder, and with greater speed.   When a tongue swept past his teeth, his own met it.  When the kisses slowed and lengthened, he sighed into them. 

When he came to, he was enveloped in Tré’s firm embrace.  He didn’t want to be anywhere else, but he was also outside of a radio station in Georgia, a building corner away from the tour buses where his girlfriend was presumably waiting for him.  He had split himself in two.  What a strange thing, survival. 

Chapter Text

Tré understood; he did.  He understood that in order to be with Billie Joe, he had to be patient.  And here patience was synonymous with secrecy, for Billie Joe had to wind things down with Annabelle without tripping a wire that most certainly held an explosive dormant on the end.  He understood it was necessary to live off of stolen kisses and the briefest touch of skin, a hand slipping uncertainly underneath the back of a shirt only to start back out at the rumble of dust settling. 

How everything seemed related to thunder.

And while he was straining his ears for the hint of human presence, another sound reached him.  A worm, wound tightly through his ear canal, murmured cold fear and doubt, much doubt. 

Did they share the same plan, he and Billie Joe?  Or did this arrangement have the kind of permanence of a juvenile record, something that haunts well after the fact?  He wasn’t sure.

He couldn’t be sure that through the haze of passion Billie Joe could see ahead. 

“Do you fucking see that?  Tré, get over here!” 

Tré groaned, unexpectedly sore as he pushed himself off of the couch.  “Dude, I don’t know what last night’s show did to me, but I am dying,” he informed his summoner, wrapping his arms around Billie Joe’s middle from behind to look over his shoulder. 

The item in question at the other end of Billie Joe’s outstretched arm appeared to be a wrinkly walnut stuck to the bus window.  “I think that’s probably because you played with more energy than you have for the past week,” he said honestly.  “No offense, but you pining after me doesn’t really work wonders for your drumming.  What do you think this is?”  He glanced left to where his drummer’s head was resting, and then squinted back harder at the mystery object.

Tré sucked in a breath and puffed out his cheeks before releasing the pressure like a blown out tire.  “Uhh, what do you call those things, a cocoon or something,” he guessed, distractedly.  “And pining, really?  Couldn’t you have chosen a manlier word?”  He didn’t move from his position, reveling in the warmth and closeness afforded by Mike’s absence. 

Billie Joe snickered.  “You don’t say anything about me criticizing your performance but you pick on my word choice?  You are fucking adorable sometimes, Tré, you know that?”  Turning around, he settled himself into the crook of Tré’s neck, a smile like a grace note adorning his lips. 

“Well I don’t know if I’d say that,” he grumbled mildly, placated by the scent of Billie Joe’s shampoo and the feel of him in his arms. 

The singer, with a breathy, “Oh, shut up,” raised his head and gazed unwaveringly into Tré’s eyes.  “I like you,” he told his lover with conviction.  “And you like me.  So if I say you’re adorable, you’re adorable, and it’s not compromising your masculinity.  It takes a real man to date a man like me.”  He grinned and kissed him brightly on the mouth.

  Coming apart, a weak, “And Annabelle?” molded itself like water to escape from Tré’s lips.  He held his breath to stop anything else. 

An acute grimace flashing across his face, Billie Joe struggled to play off reason for anxiety.  “Tré…,” he began, “you know this is just to not hurt her, right?  I like her a lot, but she doesn’t compare to the history I have with you, y’know, but I did just announce our relationship to the public and it would be a shitty thing to dump her so soon after for someone else.  Believe me, all I want is you…”  He leaned in closer again so that their lips brushed lightly.

Tré sighed.  “Are you sure you’re not just telling yourself that?  No ulterior motives for having her stick around?” 

“No, no,” Billie Joe insisted, shaking his head.

Trembling inwardly, trying not to tremble, Tré pushed on.  “Are you sure?  I can take it, you know, I won’t be hurt.”  Never had he told such a blatant lie.  He was hurt already, as much as he didn’t want to be; he’d convinced himself the wound in his side wasn’t bleeding even as the phoenix red spilled out the edges of his palm. 

Billie Joe swallowed and licked his lips.  “I’m sure.”  He massaged the side of Tré’s head with a thumb, and then whispered it again.  “I’m sure.” 

His words, and more so the confidence with which they were spoken, brought their faces together, and they kissed long, and they kissed slowly.  Eyes closed, it was a staged cough that alerted them they were no longer alone.

Not the first time Tré had been caught in a compromising position, he transformed fluidly into a credible actor, laughter burbling up naturally from the deep well of his body.  “Hey guys, Billie Joe was just giving me pointers on how to seal the deal with a girl later tonight.  Fucking overconfident bastard, am I right?”  He slung an arm tightly around Billie Joe’s shoulders while the latter smiled uneasily:  a classic male bonding pose.

Mike rolled his eyes, swallowed by pale plum-shaded circles, at his band mates.  His band mates, in turn, eyed each other with skepticism; a Mike too preoccupied to see through their flimsy performance was a rare thing. 

Billie Joe ventured a guess at the source as someone walked out from behind him.  Though he was seemingly unperturbed by and even uninterested in short, relatively inconsequential interviews, the uptight steward part of Mike’s personality emerged every time the fabled Rolling Stone cover story came to knock on their door.   

Even Tré gulped.  Replace the laptop bag with a briefcase and the man looked like a lawyer.  Stiff, white collared shirt, tie—and not in the same spirit that Billie Joe wore his; that tie would never slip loose—, and a manner that could only be described as abnormally dull pieced together an impression not unlike the antithesis of any Rolling Stone reporter they had met previously. 

He extended his arm, a curious glint in his eye as he looked from Billie Joe to Tré and back. 

“Hi, I am Dennis Moore and I will be following you guys for the next few days for Rolling Stone.  Pleasure to be working with you.”

 

Stark, hungry blue.  That was the feeling that hit Tré whenever Billie Joe’s focus lay on Annabelle.  They hadn’t gotten the chance to speak about it, but it was clear that as long as Dennis was around private was public, and so Billie Joe’s behavior changed accordingly.  That blood, he tried to staunch it. 

So he drank, even as Dennis monopolized him for an interview. 

Tré sat, legs folded underneath him, leaning back onto an arm for support, on the front edge of the bed with a can of beer in hand.  The reporter had placed himself next to him, feet planted on the ground and his shoes still on.  His laptop perched on his thighs, Tré wondered how he was keeping it balanced.  And how uncomfortable it must be to sit facing forward except for his head, which was alarmingly turned toward Tré despite the blurred movement of his fingers on the keyboard.  Tré wrinkled his nose absentmindedly. 

“Okay, sorry, but to give the most accurate portrait of Green Day that I can, I am going to have to get into the very beginning as well, although I am sure you have told these stories a million times.”  He smiled at Tré ingratiatingly. 

Something about the way he refused to use contractions, Tré noticed, was unsettling.  “Yeah, sure, go ahead,” he obliged. 

Dennis smirked, almost in victory.  “At what point exactly did you first consider leaving The Lookouts and joining Green Day?”  He typed something into his computer, and then tapped the keyboard lightly twice. 

Tré scratched his head with a finger lifted off his beer can, leaving a small bit of sticky residue on the hair above his ear.  “Well I forget what year exactly it was; I’m sure you can ask one of our fans for that info.  But it was really just a combination of many different factors.  Larry and Kain were both older than me, so naturally their lives hit the college point faster than mine did, and everyone being in all different places made things sorta slow down for The Lookouts.  It was around the same time that Al was making his own decision to go study, and so it all just fit together, really.” 

Nodding, Dennis pushed the topic further.  “You had known the members of Green Day before?”

“Yeah,” Tré shrugged, “we’d all played at Gilman a bunch of times.  There was no way we wouldn’t have known each other.” 

“Uh huh, and would you say that perhaps there was something that attracted you to the band?”

Tré couldn’t get a handle on the journalist’s line of questioning, but he was more than capable of sensing the mounting agitation behind each successive question.  The clacking of the keys crescendoed, his stare became more piercing, and somehow his rigid posture became even more so.  

For scrutinizing him he almost forgot to answer.  “Uhh, that’s a tough question,” he said, stalling for time to think up an interesting answer.  He studied a painting hung on the wall across from him.  It featured a chestnut Clydesdale bowing to a little girl with wispy blonde hair in a field of wildflowers.  Tré blinked.  “Um, well, you know, Billie Joe just had such charisma, even back then,” he replied haltingly. 

A wide grin crackled into place on Dennis’s face; Tré was sure he saw cobwebs in it.  “How would you characterize your relationship with Billie Joe?  Friendly, I suppose?”

Unnerved at the specificity of the question, Tré balked.  “Yes, friendly, we were friends.  We are friends now!” he exclaimed, voice rising as he gesticulated wildly. 

A click of the laptop indicated that Dennis felt it was time to stop pestering him for the night.  “Thanks for your time.  This session was a pleasure, and I hope we can continue things sometime later, but I am afraid I am still a bit tired from traveling over here so I must retire.” 

He spoke as if his departure was entirely his own idea.  Tré bristled, walking close behind him as he made his way to the door.  After he’d slipped out, Tré blurted into the hallway, “Don’t you even have a fucking recorder or do you not need one because you’ve got your Quick Quotes Quill, Rita Skeeter?”  He slammed the door as quietly as he could so as not to disturb the other guests and sat back down on the bed, glowering. 

Had he just imagined that?  Sure, he was in the best position to be paranoid, a career and personal reputation at stake.  The progression of the interview had seemed natural enough, but Tré couldn’t escape the nagging suspicion that his volatile response hadn’t been entirely unjustified.  How had Dennis met him, after all?

He’d warn Billie Joe tomorrow.  He walked to the bathroom and freed a hotel-provided toothbrush from its plastic wrapper.  Staring at himself in the mirror, the foam building up around his mouth, Tré tried on a journalist’s clothes.  What was his goal?  To find the biggest scoop.  Create a headline to boost magazine sales.  American Gay.  Boulevard of Hidden Homos.  Tré shuddered.  Even if the title was better than his appallingly flat puns, he had no doubts as to the contents’ main theme.

He spit hastily.  How could he be so stupid?  Dennis would be with them in the bus all the next day on the way to Florida.  He wiped his mouth with the back of a hand after tossing his toothbrush onto the counter.  He had to give Billie Joe the heads up now.

He sped over to Billie Joe’s room with the message on his lips.  The door opened, and Tré was greeted by Annabelle dressed in her underwear and Billie Joe’s Ramones T-shirt.  He froze.

“Uh, hi, Tré.  What brings you over so late?”  She yawned widely.

Tré forced himself to snap out of it and not think of the implications of her wearing his clothes to bed.  “I need to talk to Billie Joe,” he stated.

Annabelle swept a strand of hair behind her ear.  “Tré, it’s late and he’s sleeping.  Can this wait or is it really that important?”  She looked at him with concerned sleepiness. 

“Yeah, sorry, I really need to talk to him now.”

“Okay,” she sighed, stepping out of the way.  “Come in.”

Tré walked over to a confused and groggy Billie Joe with tousled hair.  “What is it?” he asked with half-open eyes.  He looked at Annabelle and she shrugged.

“Look, I need to tell you something, and it’s private.”  He gestured at Annabelle, indicating that what he had to say was not for her ears. 

“Ah, Annabelle,” he addressed her from a messy tangle of sheets, “can you leave us alone for just a sec?  I’m sure it won’t take long.”

She nodded in a manner slightly downcast and left the room.  Once they’d heard the door shut behind her, Tré began to talk at a quick pace.

“He knows, Billie, I’m sure of it.  I mean, what a way to meet us, sucking face like that.  But the questions he was asking, I think they—no, they definitely were leading me to talking about you.  He knows, and now he’s just trying to get proof.  He’ll be on to you next, so I just wanted to warn you.”  He finished, breathless.

Billie Joe stifled a yawn.  “Are you talking about Dennis?” he asked simply.

Yes, who else would I be talking about?”  He turned up his palms in exasperation.

“I don’t know, Tré.  But don’t you think you’re overreacting?”

Tré opened his mouth in disbelief.  “Okay, last time I checked you were the one always worrying about stuff for no reason.”  Annoyance was evident in the inflection of his voice.  “He is fucking bad news, and you should be glad that I’m getting to you before he does.”

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Billie Joe said, rising to his knees to peck Tré apologetically on the mouth.  “I’ll be careful around him; thanks for letting me know.”

“I’ll let you get back to sleep,” Tré told him, suddenly feeling guilty for waking him up.  But a moment later that guilt was erased as Tré threaded his way through a trail of clothing he’d overlooked the first time.  Surely his blood was blue as it seeped into the carpet.

Chapter Text

As far as he was concerned, life was a symphony, full of violin swells and heavy, booming timpani.  It muffled whatever damning information was being siphoned off from Billie Joe into that laptop.  Immersed in Gustav Holst, Tré simmered, the God of War in the midst of battle and weaponless.  He twirled the wire to his earphones around a finger tightly, trying not to watch them.

It was all he could do, really.  Stuffed inside that bus on a twelve-hour ride, practically flush against the enemy.  He could feel the sweat crawl over his skin, scattering, spreading itself so thin that had he not been focused so hard on quivering woodwind reeds he might have felt suffocated, coated in a second skin with no pores. 

“It’s getting hard to breathe in here,” he said.

Everyone looked up.  Billie Joe with his arm around Annabelle, Annabelle with her arm around him, seated in between his legs on the couch.  Dennis, back still turned, glancing behind him.  Mike said something.

It took the blaring of several horns to alert Tré to the fact that he couldn’t hear anything in the outside world.  “What?” he asked, tugging the earbuds from his ears. 

“Oh, I was just moving my lips,” Mike joked sarcastically, earning a sharp glare from his drummer.  “Well, what do you want us to do about it?  The air conditioning’s on; it’s bound to be humid as hell outside.  This is the east coast, and it’s summer.  I don’t think you’re gonna have much luck with an open window.”

Breathing out, Tré didn’t make an attempt to argue.  “Yeah, yeah…”  He blocked one ear again, but before he could close the other one off, too, a snippet of the interview snuck in.  He paused to listen.

“—ink the album is American precisely because it’s attacking America.  If we ignore the problems here in this country they won’t, y’know, get fucking fixed.  All we were trying to do with our songs is spread awareness, y’know, like other punk bands before us—Operation Ivy, for fuck’s sake, The Clash is a big one—so I just don’t understand how American Idiot is even viewed as controversial.  It’s the logical progression of what came before, what punk came before it…”

Maybe he had overreacted.  The reporter would have to be foolish to risk his livelihood covering something other than what he’d been assigned.  The sexual liaisons of Green Day’s front man weren’t likely to be the focus of a whole article.  Much less an article commissioned due to the unforeseen success of an album late in a band’s faltering career, a “controversial” one at that. 

Or maybe his wariness was warranted, but, honestly, Tré would believe anything if it were one less thing to worry about.  He probably could have used the distraction though, keep his mind further away from something else aiming an arrow straight for his heart.

He looked down so he couldn’t see him nock it.  Circling his thumb around the iPod wheel, he scrolled through his list of artists.  He came upon one that made him think for a minute.  Madcap?  He didn’t recognize it.  He concentrated, willed himself not to envision Billie Joe with a bow cocked and a sad, sadistic smile. 

It was a song he’d downloaded from Green Day Authority, that fan website they’d sent a copy of American Idiot to early on.  That was mostly Mike, eager to help the little man boost web traffic.  Or something. 

He clicked on it, anyway.  The song was called “Lovesick”.  Tré was struck by the upbeat nature of the pop punk instrumentation in contrast to the dark, brooding classical music he had been listening to.  The opening words broke his resolve.

Every time I look at you I wanna kill, wanna kill

Stranger things that I would do to make you feel the way I feel

The singer wore a crinkly smile below his choppy, directionless—maybe all directions?—hair.  His gaze was pointed at Annabelle from behind her; maybe Dennis had moved on already from the subject of the album to that of Billie Joe’s current relationship(s).  No, Tré thought, Billie Joe had brought her into it, unable to resist making a comment on the one he loved.

Once again, Tré found himself wondering just what pulled him to her when by all accounts the two of them had more history.  Magic.  Sex?  Magic.

She had to be a siren.  Threading mythic harmonies, a long, carefully linked chain to rope around Billie Joe’s neck.  Impervious to the sea, she serenaded him down from his ship.  It was the only explanation.

 

The driver had ordered them to find some dinner at the rest stop and return to the bus in thirty minutes or less under pain of death.  For some it was a mild inconvenience, others a test of resolve, and still for others a mission.  Annabelle was on a mission.

Saying she wanted to use the bathroom first and would meet him later, she slipped loose of Billie Joe.  Somehow in that time Tré had disappeared into the annals of the many eateries available inside the building.  She cursed under her breath and headed out in search of her target.

Annabelle evaluated her options.  Tré had a penchant—well, more than a penchant—for Chinese food.  She supposed she’d start at the Panda Express.  It wasn’t a minute later before she found herself standing lookout for Tré in an entirely Tré-less area.  Swearing again, she continued her pursuit.  Before long she was going to run into Billie Joe and then her opportunity would be foiled.  She modified her approach to include walking through the crowd’s thickest points.

“Excuse me,” she mumbled, as she bumped into a woman sporting an outlandish neon green fanny pack.  Without allowing it to distract her, she scanned the scene to her left.  Her eyes lit up; she spotted Tré among the patrons of Taco Bell.  She zoomed over immediately and tapped him on the shoulder to let him know she had joined him.

His eyebrows shot up in surprise.  “Hey.”  He looked behind her, confused when he didn’t see her boyfriend (his boyfriend?).  “Where’s—,” he started to ask.

“Billie Joe?” she filled in for him.  “Presumably buying food somewhere.  Listen, I need to talk to you about something.  I’m probably being paranoid, you know, irrational woman,” she admitted, waving her hands in the air to exemplify a weak hold on reality, “but something’s kind of been bothering me the past couple of days.”

Tré opened his mouth to reply, but didn’t get very far in the attempt.

“I know you’re gonna ask why I’m not talking about it to my boyfriend, but I can’t, because it involves him.  And if you’re thinking, ‘then why me?’ it makes sense because you’re the closest to Billie Joe.  Lately even closer than Mike.  So, here we are.”

“Okay.”  Tré scratched his head.

“Well,” Annabelle powered ahead, “this is kind of a weird complaint for a girlfriend to have, honestly, but ever since a couple of days ago Billie’s been showering me with affection.  And, I mean, I like affection, don’t get me wrong, but it just…seems a little abrupt?  Maybe if we’d started off hot and heavy it would be more normal, but something feels sort of…odd.  Anyway I was just wondering if Billie has said anything about us to you.”

She stood there, chewing her lip, frustrated, and Tré suddenly felt sorry for her.  He had been trying to detach himself from any guilt stemming from his influence on her situation.  Even resorted to imagining her as a mythical creature.  If he had ever taken a college class, he would call it “othering”.

He hadn’t been expecting this encounter.  He had no idea what to say to her short of the truth or nothing at all.  “No, no,” he deflected, “he hasn’t said anything to me other than how glad he is to have you around.  Typical ‘I have a new girlfriend’ stuff.”  Tré paused thoughtfully before adding, “He’s not like a stalker or anything, you know.”

Annabelle nearly jumped to set the record straight.  “No, I know, I was thinking more along the lines of…forced, maybe, like he’s trying too hard or something.  I want him to know that he doesn’t have to convince me, if that’s what he’s worried about,” she sighed.

“You could tell him that,” Tré offered.

Snorting, Annabelle refused.  “Clearly you are not the one to go to for relationship advice.  That would only make things awkward and ruin everything.”

Tré shrugged as he moved up a spot in the line.  Struck by a sudden whim, one Tré knew he should have ignored but followed anyway, he asked, “Can I ask you how your sex life has been?”  He threw in a half-assed snigger to make it seem like a joke.

“Jesus, Tré, I’d heard you were inappropriate, but really?”  She smacked him on the shoulder playfully.  “Okay, I’ll humor you,” she said, nearly sending Tré into a whirlwind of shock.  “Our sex life is great, thank you very much.”

He pulled his face down in an exaggerated frown.  “That’s not a fun answer!” he whined.  “You were supposed to say something about riding crops and horse noises,” he informed her in a cheeky whisper.  He couldn’t believe the joke flew.

 

Annabelle had suggested he reconnect with Pete, to apologize after the incident in the bar.  Tré had wanted to, but somehow his age-old habit of avoidance rather than owning up to his mistakes had won out.  And now he was really missing someone to talk to since he wasn’t entirely sure what was going on with Billie Joe and him, or whether he was hallucinating seedy motives behind the reporter’s meticulously crafted façade.  Too many problems for a man to face alone.  He needed backup.

But he didn’t get the time, and instead boarded the bus accompanied by Annabelle and two heaping bags of Taco Bell fare.  He wolfed it down, spilling some sour cream slathered lettuce and cheese down his shirt in the process.  Oh well.  After that he quietly listened to Mike’s account of the failed album and the road to American Idiot’s conception.  Then he fell asleep for a while.

He woke as the bus was pulling into the venue parking lot.  It was dark.  Somehow his nap had replaced the need to talk to Pete with the need to confront Billie Joe.  No dreams to blame, just an aching heart.

“Hey Billie,” he called, breaking into the living space as everyone was shuffling to get out and stretch their legs.  It was a spacious tour bus with more than ample legroom, but the urge to walk on land had as much control over them as on seasick boat passengers.  “You wanna walk to a gas station with me?  I’m out of cigarettes.”  He dangled the empty carton in the air.  In reality he’d stashed the remaining cigarettes underneath his pillow.

“Yeah, sure.”  Billie Joe was under no false pretenses when he accepted; he knew Tré just wanted to talk, cigarettes be damned.

Annabelle nodded at Tré as the two men exited.  Someone else discerned the movement and dashed back to where he kept his things.

They walked in silence for a good five minutes before Billie Joe turned to Tré, unable to bear it.  “Did you want to talk about something or do you really just need cigarettes?”

“Both,” Tré answered, unwilling to admit that he wasn’t really lacking tobacco.  “I, uh,” he began, eyes on his feet, “I wouldn’t normally tell you this if you and Annabelle were a real thing, but since you’re not…she said it seems like you’re trying too hard; I believe she used the word ‘forced’…  So maybe you should, uh, tone it down a bit to make it seem a bit more authentic until you officially break it off.”

Billie Joe opened his mouth.  “What?  She really said that?  I can’t believe it!”  He shoved his hands in his pockets in incredulity and unconsciously picked up the pace.  “I was trying to make it more real for the reporter,” he muttered.

He had taken the bait.  “Billie…she said since a few days ago.  Dennis has only been here since yesterday.”

“Oh.”  He wiped away the sweat that had accumulated on his brow.  A bright Sunoco station loomed ahead.

Tré pretended to leaf through his wallet as they walked on, a diversion while he tried to bring his runaway heart back from his mouth.  It might be a lost cause.  “Billie, can I ask you a question?”  His words still came out around the throbbing thing.

In the pale glow of the station sign, Billie Joe could see that he would seal his own fate.  He thought he saw a flash of red behind Tré’s teeth.  “Shoot.”  He’d given the order.

“Wait, let me get my cigs first.”

They walked into the mini mart, each feeling like he had jumped off a cliff but for some reason hadn’t fallen yet.  The transaction was quick, too quick.  Too fast but too terribly slow.  To hang suspended in fear of the drop or to plunge to the rocky bottom?  The door, as it shut behind them, made the choice.

“Did you sleep with her last night?”  Tré’s words fell like bricks tied to their feet.

Billie Joe hesitated, but he didn’t see a way out.  “…Yeah.”

Tré couldn’t even be angry, because he had expected it, already known, really.  Instead he felt sick, starting to sweat more than the heat allowed for.  “You didn’t have to do that, you know.  No, you shouldn’t have done that,” he said through gritted teeth.  He hadn’t yet put the box of cigarettes in his pocket.  The corners crunched in, distorting its perfect shape.  “If you even loved me at all,” he spat.

“Tré, why do you always have to be so fucking cynical?  I did it…well, I don’t really know why I did it, and I’m not gonna make up excuses, but I fucking love you.  Right now.  You know that,” Billie Joe pleaded, to a man who wouldn’t even look at him.

The Madcap lyrics rang in Tré’s head.  They had been stuck there since the afternoon.

It’s just that I have been broken so many thousand times
And every time I start again I wonder why, wonder why

He shook his head.  “Billie, I don’t know that, and that’s the problem.  I…I think it’s best if we just forget this ever happened.”

Billie Joe’s voice cracked.  “Tré, don’t—”

“Bill, it’s done.”  He stopped them both at the side of the road.  “I’m sorry it worked out his way,” he said, and wrapped him in a fierce hug, pulling back to kiss him one last time.

It was then that the flash bulb went off.

“Shit.”

“Fuck.”

They both swore at the same time and snapped apart.

“Thanks for the shot, guys.  This will fit in great with the other photos in the article.”  Dennis emerged from behind a palm tree, holding a rather conspicuous camera.

Billie Joe tensed to launch at him, but was held back by Tré.  “Why, you!” he snarled.

“Billie, let it go.  There’s nothing you can do to him that he won’t press charges for.  Let’s go back to the bus, let him find his own place to sleep.”  Tré shepherded Billie Joe away from the scene of potential violence.  As he did so he turned to glare hard at Dennis; he wanted him to feel it.

Reluctant, but walking, Billie Joe spoke angrily.  “I didn’t even know the fucker had a camera.”  He was a ball of emotions.  The rage coursing through his veins at the photo and what it would mean for him, the massive loss eating away at his chest, and a feeling of helplessness formed the hot tears splashing onto his cheeks.  “I need to be alone.”  He pushed Tré away and changed direction, headed back towards the gas station.

Tré was detached as he entered the bus again solo.  He went straight to his iPod and played the song.

You say to me my heart feels far away
I'm lovesick now

 

Chapter Text

The next few days were miserable for everyone.  The heat was relentless, and it was clear to everyone that they shouldn’t even casually mention Billie Joe or Tré in front of the other.  Even separated they were both brutally difficult to talk to, prone to biting remarks, so few dared.

Mike was seen sighing and downing Motrin every few hours.  He hadn’t even inquired into what had happened between them, pretty much guessing when he saw Billie Joe push Dennis into a wall backstage after merely trying to ask a question.  It all seemed like something he couldn’t stop now, even if he tried.

Tré hung out solely with Pete, high all the time.  Billie Joe was losing Annabelle rapidly, alienating her with his foul moods.  His anxiety hit him pretty hard again.

But the good news was that with all the tension they had to release, their shows exploded with energy; they had never gotten such good reviews.

The delicately balanced chaos tipped, however, when the entire tour received advance copies of the Rolling Stone article, complete with full-color pictures from the photo shoot the band had done a month before.

 

The Man Who Would Not Be King

Four years ago they put out an album that almost pushed them off the map.  Now they’ve reinvented themselves as pop punk Messiahs, preaching the perils of “The Idiot America”.  Inside the tortured mind behind the genius American Idiot.  By Dennis Moore

In a bus traveling somewhere between the states of North Carolina and Florida, Billie Joe Armstrong sits sprawled out on the couch with his new girlfriend in his lap.  I ask if they’ve been together long.  He laughs, no.  Then he relates the story of how he announced their couplehood to the public, unprepared, in response to a fan-provided question.  He hasn’t looked back ever since then, he explains, and a good thing too.  Armstrong credits her with pulling him out of the burning car wreckage that was his anxiety disorder.

Later on, halfway through a lunch of soggy peanut butter and jelly—hardly the rock star life—, he obliges my request to explain further.  He’s 32 and in great shape, having lost his former pudge as part of Green Day’s makeover.  Ten years after becoming an accidental teen heartthrob with their seminal release, Dookie, his new look, possibly modeled after The Cure’s Robert Smith but without the frizz, has brought him back to that role.  Some teenagers might argue he looks better this time around.  American Idiot is poised to sell millions of copies, surely claiming one of the top slots on Billboard for the year.  Why, then, with all these things going for him, is Billie Joe Armstrong struggling with anxiety?

“It’s complicated,” he says.  Apparently it happened when Green Day hit fame with Dookie, too.  Armstrong thinks he’s predisposed to it.  He also admits that sometimes situational factors can aggravate things.  When I ask him what he has in mind, he answers, “Well, it’s not just fame, you know, I’m used to that, but, you know, with American Idiot, we made a record we were and are really proud of, so it was scary waiting to see how the public would react.  Would they like it?  Would the old criticisms pop up, that we weren’t really punk?  Anything like that, you know, putting your work on the line is terrifying.  That’s not all, though, but I think that’s a main reason that it’s back.  I’m not only concerned with all that.  I’ve been stressed for a very, very long time and it finally caught up with me, I guess.”

Have your sold out concerts brought you any comfort?

Yeah, a little.  I know now that people don’t hate the new stuff.  They sing along to all of it.  I can point the mike to them and let them take over, you know.  And that’s a real sign that the audience respects what you’re doing, you know.  You’ve made it when they know the words better than you do.  So that’s great, it makes me feel like I haven’t just put out a piece of crap.  But the thing about anxiety is that it sticks around like a stray dog.  You feed it once and it follows you home.  You can’t get rid of it, short of shooting it in the face, and no one wants to kill a dog.  It’s hard to take that step and starve it of your self-pity and all your ridiculous thoughts.

How exactly would you do that?  Do you have a technique?

You have to evaluate everything you think.  Okay, was that rational?  No.  How do I make it rational?  Sometimes that’s not enough, though.  You know, you really are fucking aware that what you are thinking is totally wrong.  But it doesn’t matter.  Okay, Mike’s [Dirnt] late to band practice.  Mike is never late to band practice.  What if something happened?  Oh God, he got into a car accident on the way here to the studio.  Oh God, Mike is dead.  Mike is fucking dead!  And it’s my fault because only if I’d called him an hour ago and delayed him for four fucking minutes, he’d still be alive.  Oh God!  [pauses]  No [yells]!  You’re wrong, Billie.  He’s walking in the door.

Did that really happen?

Oh yeah, tens of times.  And I’ll bet he never knew.

I turn to Mike Dirnt, Green Day’s bassist, for confirmation, who had quietly been listening in.  He shakes his head and returns to the game of Sudoku he’s been diligently filling in.

So you mentioned that your lovely girlfriend Annabelle Jacques helped break you away from that cycle.  Could you elaborate on that?

Uh, yeah.  Well I guess she helped me to put a more positive spin on things.  A lot of people really underestimate the effect that can have on you.  She also taught me to focus less on what could go wrong and more on whether it would matter if it did.  And I came out realizing that yeah, you know, a lot of times it doesn’t actually matter.  It’s possible to fix things.  You shouldn’t despair right away because if you do you might just miss your chance to solve whatever problem it is.

The strange thing is that halfway through his answer, Armstrong switches from looking at Jacques to staring at his drummer, Tré Cool.

 

Green Day formed in the late eighties/early nineties, all three members hailing from northern California.  But Green Day as it is now did not always exist.  It was Armstrong, Dirnt, and an older kid named John Kiffmeyer to begin with.  Soon Kiffmeyer abandoned the group, choosing to go to college.  That was when Tré Cool, drummer of The Lookouts at the time, stepped up to the plate.  His band was also to become collateral damage to college, and, in his own words, he was drawn to Armstrong’s charisma, “even back then.”  Once the final lineup was in place, Green Day quickly shot to recognition.

The year was 1994, and Green Day suddenly went from playing a scrappy all-ages punk club called 924 Gilman Street to selling out arenas.  The legendary Woodstock even came calling.  The impetus?  A pop punk record named after shit.  It was remarkable that Dookie didn’t sound like shit.  It wasn’t shit at all, and people knew it.  The grunge community’s claim to the spotlight was fading away, and music fans quickly turned pop punk into a popular movement.  Soon bands like Rancid, The Offspring, and blink-182 rode to success on their coattails.  Dookie sold over five million copies that year and to this date has sold enough to earn it a Diamond certification. 

What happened next?  While still largely successful, Green Day’s sophomore effort, Insomniac, failed to move as many copies.  Their next album was saved by the megahit Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).  Then the last one before American Idiot came out, Warning, and its flop seemed to seal their fate as a once-popular band slowly fading out of the public consciousness.  By the time Green Day hit the studio in 2003 to record their follow-up, the members were frustrated, fighting all the time and creating music they were ultimately dissatisfied with. 

And then the masters of the record, titled Cigarettes and Valentines, disappeared.  Green Day insist that they were stolen.  But if it was mere coincidence that an album they disliked suddenly never was, the incident could not have been more beneficial to the band.  Instead of re-recording the lost songs, Green Day decided to take a whole new approach and create a scathing rock opera.  The result was American Idiot.

I sit down with Armstrong and Dirnt to discuss the album. 

How did you feel when all of the effort you put into Cigarettes and Valentines up and vanished?

Dirnt:  I was pissed off.  I was angry.  I had had way too many arguments and late nights and so much stress over the damn thing that I felt I had wasted the last few months of my life entirely.  What was the fucking point?  I wasn’t going to get anything out of that time anymore.  I think we all felt that way.

Armstrong:  Yeah.  I felt like someone had just reached into my gut and scooped it all out.  I was hollow.  You know, for me, I’m constantly writing.  These lyrics were thoughts and feelings and ideas that I’d been working on since Warning, some for even longer.  And someone went in and took them all away.  I still have them written down; I write everything down.  But it’s not the same, you know?  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use them. 

What inspired you to completely scrap the lost album and write the material for American Idiot?

Armstrong:  None of us wanted to go back.  It was clear that we were either going to have to come up with something inspired or give up as a band.  Anyway, I was listening to the radio one night and this song by Lynyrd Skynyrd came on and it was about being proud to be a redneck.  And it made me angry.  I thought, who could be proud of being ignorant?  And that anger helped me write the song American Idiot.  The guys liked the idea and we pushed it further into a concept album.

Dirnt:  I think the thing that’s great about this album for us as a band is that we all really took part in making it.  Tré and I even wrote part of the lyrics.  And we’d always loved the idea of the rock opera.  We’re all fans of The Who’s Quadrophenia and Tommy.

What do you guys think about American Idiot being seen as “controversial” by many in the media?

Dirnt:  [laughs]  I don’t really get it.  But I guess these days anything that’s said that goes even slightly against the current government makes you anti-American.  So even our album, which is largely about the state of America and the people who live in it, not the government, makes us, makes Green Day anti-American.

Armstrong:  See, I just don’t get that.  I think the album is American precisely because it’s attacking America.  If we ignore the problems here in this country they won’t, you know, get fucking fixed.  All we were trying to do with our songs is spread awareness, you know, like other punk bands before us—Operation Ivy, for fuck’s sake, The Clash is a big one—so I just don’t understand how American Idiot is even viewed as controversial anymore.  It’s the logical progression of what came before, what punk came before it.

Now that you’ve brought punk rock to the mainstream for a second time, a decade later, do you think it’s safe to say that Green Day are the Kings of Punk?

[both laugh] Dirnt:  Maybe Billie Joe is, but Tré and I couldn’t possibly take that title.

Armstrong:  What?  That’s ridiculous, Mike.  I’m no more of a king than you and Tré are.  I wouldn’t be fit to rule anything [laughs]!

We take a break from chatting for a while and share a joint while playing a board game.  Clue.  It’s Dirnt’s favorite, apparently, and he makes no secret of his uncanny skill.  Five games are over in a span of a half hour.  Dirnt wins every time, firing off his guesses for weapon, perpetrator, and crime scene with almost prophetic certainty.  I wonder, in my half-baked state, whether the THC from the pot has bonded with his brain molecules in such a way that he knows everything.  He only lets us flounder clueless through the game before becoming impatient at six minutes in since he’s already known the answer ahead of time.  I’d never doubted that the bass line for Longview came out of that mind, but now I am sure that things of that nature are a daily occurrence for him.

After dinner—fast food from a rest stop area— the festivities quiet down.  With only a few hours left of the drive to go, fatigue hits.  Cool, distant all day, retires to his bunk.  Dirnt immerses himself in a book.  Armstrong and his girlfriend doze off together on the couch.  I take the opportunity to convert my notes into some of this article.  It turns out these notes will be my last written with the open consent of the band.

The bus eventually rolls into the venue parking lot, where the band and I will be camping for the night.  Cool and Armstrong leave to get cigarettes, but not before a look passes between Cool and Jacques.  Curious, I decide it might be worth it to follow them.  What did the tacit exchange mean?  Is Cool about to confess to Armstrong that he and Jacques had been having an affair behind his back?

The silence on the way to the gas station store doesn’t provide any answers.  I begin to lose hope, think myself ridiculous for darting between trees in shadow.  Nearing the station, Cool seems to broach an uncomfortable topic.  Unfortunately, with the area brightening up, I am out of earshot.

The trip into the store is brief, but leaves me enough time to find a better position in case they resume the conversation right away.  They do, and Cool asks a question that would confuse anyone familiar with Armstrong’s relationship:  “Did you sleep with her last night?”

Armstrong answers the affirmative as I desperately try to grasp what business this is of Cool’s.  Luckily my tape recorder manages to pick up the following, helped by the fact that they slow down and subsequently stop walking.

Cool:  You didn’t have to do that, you know.  No, you shouldn’t have done that.  [pauses] If you even loved me at all.

Armstrong:  Tré, why do you always have to be so fucking cynical?  I did it…well, I don’t really know why I did it, and I’m not gonna make up excuses, but I fucking love you.  Right now.  You know that.

My heart nearly stops as I gather the implications of what they’re saying.  The two men are the ones engaged in an affair.  And I have stumbled right into the middle of a secret lovers’ quarrel.

Cool:  Billie, I don’t know that, and that’s the problem.  I think it’s best if we just forget this ever happened.

And just like that, it’s over.  The two share one last kiss, and my presence is revealed by my camera’s flash. 

I am sure that this revelation will go unappreciated by Green Day.  After all, sneaky camera work is for the TMZs of the world, and not serious publications like Rolling Stone.  However, my editors and I feel that, for a man who boldly asserted his bisexuality in print and took Pansy Division, a gay band, on a national tour, it is a shame that Billie Joe Armstrong chooses to mask his sexuality here at the expense of a person he is close to.  Hopefully this article will someday allow him to become a real role model for the gay youth community.  For now he refuses to be king, though his fans wait patiently.  RS

 

Tré put down the article and rubbed his eyes.  He felt irritated, more at the fact he couldn’t help but wonder why Dennis used contractions in his writing if not in his speech, than at the actual article.

He bent closer to the magazine to study the one candid shot that accompanied the story.  The caption read, “Armstrong and Cool lean in for a revelatory kiss.”  The photo was pitch black; their faces had absorbed the light from the flash.  He studied himself and then Billie Joe, noting casually that it was actually a good photograph of them.  He creased the page around it and tore it out neatly.  Then he folded it in half and put it in his pocket.

Finally, Tré closed the magazine, got up, and tossed it into the trash can.  “Oh, the shitstorm this is gonna brew…,” he said under his breath.

Chapter Text

The backdrop yanked Bill’s arm down violently when his pull slackened in surprise.  He had heard anger, so raw it sounded like the yowl of an animal wind.  But he was in a hurry and so ignored it, or tried to, and reeled the rope back tightly, tossing a nod of apology to the guy on the other end of the massive thing.  He guessed the lighting for the show would be done by someone else today.  He had only leafed through the article after it had been handed to him by one of the kids he called the errand runners, but that one photo had told him—and likely the rest of the crew—all he needed to know.  There was trouble in the air, buzzing between particles and shivering into more.

 

She had actually read it, and first stopped, confused, when it said that Billie Joe had looked at Tré.  It seemed irrelevant.  Billie Joe looked at Tré all the time.  For confirmation, a shared smile indicating an inside joke…  What was the reporter getting at?  Was he implying that Billie Joe had made it up that she’d played a part in his improved mood?  She didn’t like that the queasy feeling spread itself into all corners of her gut.

After that she read it a bit more quickly, laughing despite herself at the paragraph concerning Mike’s Clue prowess.  Her vague amusement was snuffed out as she turned the page.  Oh God.  She read the caption.  Her hands shook, and the magazine pages crinkled with the vibration.  She checked her surroundings, no one there.  Her pace sprinted ahead of her; she barely caught the meaning behind the words, eyes skittering back and forth and losing focus.

She reached the end, and wished that the stupid little RS circle had been placed before the last segment.  She would have been happy to start her job thinking about Mike wiping the floor with her and the others at board games.  Instead, with this, she knew her relationship was over.  There are certain things you don’t recover from.  She knew this was one of them.

Suddenly feeling grossly tired, Annabelle made her way over to the dressing room she was sure he was in.  It was a slow sort of anger, one that evolved from a fuzz, hit resentment, then finally passed the finish line.  She shouldn’t have to be doing this.  Hunting him down to say it’s over, extract an apology, pay him back in screaming for what he’d done in silence.  Was it a game?  Was he waiting for her, laughing with Tré and taking bets as to how high her volume would get?

Annabelle had taken her copy with her, in anticipation of throwing it at him, and that’s exactly what she did.  Billie Joe winced as it bounced harmlessly off of him.  Shooting each other “oh shit” looks, Ronnie and Jason White left the scene quickly, instruments and bottles of polish in hand.

Inexperienced at being really fucking angry and able to do something about it, Annabelle was at a loss for how to begin.  “What is wrong with you!” she yelled, fists clenched and feet planted.  When Billie Joe had opened and closed his mouth a few times like a fish, without saying anything, she continued, unable to find a cohesive thread for her diatribe.  “How could you do something like this?  I trusted you!  Why would you turn around and betray me like this?”

She gulped to fight back tears as he just stood there.  “Is this funny to you?  Am I just a big joke to you?  I thought I knew how you felt, but clearly I was really fucking wrong and I don’t know you at all.  Let’s catch up, Billie.”  Her voice rose hysterically.  “How many other roadies have you fucked before me?  Do you always go behind our backs?  Is it always you and Tré?  Have you guys been together this whole fucking time, since Green Day, like, started or something?”

Billie Joe eyed her, watched her eyes redden.  He knew he had no reply that could possibly calm her down or make it hurt less.  All he could do was offer his version of the truth.  “No, we haven’t, it’s not like that.  And you’re the first roadie I’ve ever dated.  Honestly.”  He stopped to breathe; it was like he had a pile of bricks lying over his chest.

“Well why the fuck did you even have a first if this was how you were going to treat her?  Or him.”  Her lip trembled as a tear ran down to meet it.

They were so separate, he thought.  It was amazing what a few feet could do.  He struggled to get his words across it.  “This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  It’s just…two things were happening at once, two very different things.  I wish I could explain, make you understand…”  He seemed to almost be pleading with her.

Annabelle’s heart was being pulled in two directions.  She didn’t enjoy being angry and wanted to give him a chance to mollify her.  But she also didn’t want to go easy on him and let him off the hook, especially since he wasn’t making any goddamned sense.  “Explain, then,” she snapped, directing her anger towards the things she still didn’t know.

He would have breathed a sigh of relief had it not been for the daunting task now set before him.  He chewed the inside of his cheek and made a mental note never to get into anything this hard to put into words again.  “Um, well…I guess I’ll start at the beginning of the tour,” he mumbled, unable to keep eye contact with Annabelle’s piercing, wet stare.  “You know all about how my anxiety was acting up.  So, uh, anyway, the first person I told about it was Tré.  I don’t really know why, maybe it was just ‘cause he was there.  Somehow he was the one who started taking care of me, even when I was acting out.  You know, just all these sweet things.  And, you know, Tré’s been my friend forever, but I think that was the first time that I really noticed him.  In the romantic sense.”

“Uh huh.”  Annabelle folded her arms.  She felt her anger slipping away as she saw the look on his face as he talked about Tré.  It was fragile and pained, anguish spilling over from the deep fissures of worry lining his forehead.  Instinctively, then, she knew that Tré would win out, meant far more to him than she could possibly in the short time she’d known him.

Billie Joe continued.  “Then there was that whole thing with Jason, and he stuck by me then.  But Tré was straight.  I realized that again after he came back from a one night stand.  I also realized I was jealous.  I knew it was a problem, so I tried to distance myself from him.  I started talking to you a lot and had a couple of my own one night stands at the same time.  I was really only looking for a distraction, but I could see that you were different.  I liked you a lot.  I thought we could have an actual future.  I wanted to be together with someone like you, who could make me a better person.  I decided to ask you out because I liked you, Annabelle, no other reason.”

Her voice quivered, and tears began to splash more rapidly onto her cheeks.  “But you like Tré better,” she stated.

“I kissed him, a couple days before that.  I thought it was stupid, and that I’d ruined my friendship with him.”  He swallowed.  He was getting to the part that mattered, the part that hurt her.  “After the radio interview we did, he told me that he wanted to be with me.  I am so s-sorry, Annabelle,” he stuttered, “I wasn’t expecting—if I had known…”

She helped him, filling in the missing pieces for him.  “So you thought it would be better to hide it from me for a couple of days so I wouldn’t be hurt, then break up with me and make you two seem like a natural occurrence a few days after that?”  She sniffed; she didn’t want to be the object of any more pity should the contents of her nose start to trickle from her nostrils.

Billie Joe looked down.  “Yeah,” he said.

“Look, you could have just told me.  I may be almost ten years younger than you, but I can handle the truth a whole lot better than you think.  A whole lot better than a bunch of lies, Billie.  You’ve humiliated me!  I’m forever going to be that girl that was just used as a front for you and Tré.  And even if that’s not really the case, like you said, the public’s never going to know and you and Tré will be fucking married while I’ll be the one to live it down!”

Billie Joe chuckled sadly.  “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, not now.”

 

Tré twirled a drumstick between his fingers as he rounded the corner to the dressing room.  He quickly put a stop to the movement when he heard Annabelle’s voice.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to run into her today, now that she knew.  Maybe tomorrow.  But somehow he stayed by the opening, breath held—on the cusp of danger.

“You’re just going to give up?  After the hell you’re putting me through?  You can’t.”  Her voice sounded congested, like she’d been crying.  Tré felt a terrible guilt sink its claws into him.

Billie Joe answered.  “You read the article.  That was what he said, word for word.  He said it would be better if it never happened.  Why would he try again?  So I can ruin things a second time?”

Tré’s heart pounded.  It was struggling to get out of his chest and back to Billie Joe.  This was not something for his ears.  If he paid too much attention he might repeat a cycle of pain, pain for both of them.  He backed away from the door and hit something hard, but yielding.  “Tré!” Mike nearly shouted, a vindictive smile on his lips.

It took Tré approximately two seconds to realize that Mike had metaphorically sicced a pack of wolves on him.  The dressing room revealed itself in a whoosh, laid bare behind Annabelle’s strangely towering figure.  Had he gotten smaller in his fright?

“Tré!  What a pleasant surprise!”  She looked mad, face blotchy and forming a crooked grin.  Deranged, Tré thought.  He stepped in the room anyway, seemingly escorted by Mike, who simply started walking forward into his back.  Tré was trapped.  But he saw no evidence of torture.  Billie Joe wasn’t cut or bruised, no forming scars.  Still, this didn’t calm him.

His fear was amplified when Annabelle told Billie Joe to get out, please.  These were specialized fits of anger.  Mike stayed.  To help?  To watch?  Spectator’s sport.  Tré begged him uselessly with his eyes to get him out of this situation.  He shot him silent messages, attempting telepathy.  Be the Robin to my Batman, get me out of this mess!  Needless to say, it didn’t work.

“Tré.”  Tré snapped to attention and stopped thinking at Mike.  His muscles tensed, as if he were about to undergo a brutal beating.  “Tré, look at me.”  He had a flashback of his mother trying to make him confess to eating all the popsicles while she’d been out.

“I didn’t do it!” he yelped.

Annabelle blinked slowly.  “What?”  She shook her head.  “Never mind whatever you have in that guilty conscience of yours, I need to talk to you.  I was going to yell at you, but I think dealing with Billie Joe sucked out all my juice.  You lied to me.”

Tré’s eyes flicked to the side.  “When was that?”  He wasn’t sure why he was attempting to play innocence when the prosecutor had all the evidence in the world against him.

Wrinkling her forehead, Annabelle asked, “Are you kidding me?  Look, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe that covering up your affair was mainly Billie Joe’s problem.  But that doesn’t mean that you didn’t hurt me by doing it.  My issue with you right now is that you had a choice.  When I asked you if anything weird was going on with Billie you said no.”

“What was I supposed to say?” he implored her.  He scratched the back of his calf with his shoe unsteadily.  Distractions helped him not to feel so bad about everything.

“You could have said, ‘yeah, maybe there is something wrong,’ and then I would have talked to Billie about it.  And then maybe he would have stepped up and told me straight.  I don’t expect you to have the courage to have told me everything then, but you’d think it would be in both of our best interests if I knew.  So why did you tell such a bald-faced lie?”

Tré knew she was right.  If only he had dropped a hint, they might not be in this mess.  He and Billie Joe were over.  Annabelle and Billie Joe were over.  The magazine dropped in two weeks, and then Green Day would be in for it.  He glanced at Mike, who had his arms folded off to the side.  He’d be lucky if Mike didn’t punch him in the gut later for fucking with the band’s name.

“I’m sorry…I wish I could tell you that I lied because I was going to break it off with Billie later and it seemed pointless to hurt you with that information, but I didn’t know I was going to until pretty much right before I did it.  I’m really sorry.  The whole time I was thinking that it would work itself out on its own, that things would go according to plan and you wouldn’t ever have to know that the reason you broke up was me.  I didn’t want to be ‘the other woman’.”  He made air quotes with his fingers.  “Now I fucking am ‘the other woman’ and I didn’t even wind up with the guy in the end.  I fucked up everything, and I’m sorry I hurt you, Annabelle.”

She nodded.  “Okay.  Apology accepted.”

Tré balked, more confused than a lion rescued by a mouse.  “Wait, what?  That’s it?”

Nodding again, she said, “Yeah, it’s too much fucking work staying angry.  I might be frosty though, so stay on my good side.”

“Okay.”

“This is under one condition.”  She paused.  “You and Billie Joe have to try your best to work things out.”

“But—”

“No buts.  I’m not taking no for an answer.  If he was willing to completely fuck over our relationship for a shot with you, there’s something there.  Don’t waste all this.”

Tré set his jaw, grim.  “You know, he hurt me too.  I can’t just let that go so easily.”

She wiped her eyes several times to rid them of tears, and sniffled, before adding, “I’m not saying it has to be now.  You can take all the time you need, but promise me you won’t rule it out.” 

“If you’re so full of forgiveness, why don’t you get back together with him?” Tré asked, suspicious.

Annabelle stepped forward, closing the gap between them enough to lay a hand on his shoulder.  They locked eyes.  “Tré, we’re not meant to be.  You are.”  She turned to Mike, who looked to be visibly brooding against the wall.  “He’s all yours.”  She removed her hand and then removed herself from the room.

Mike slapped him before the door had a chance to close.

Chapter Text

Reeling, Tré closed his eyes in the hope that if he couldn’t see he also wouldn’t feel his cheek stinging.  He opened them when this plan failed, to find Mike huffing mere inches away from his face.  “I knew this would happen,” he growled.  “That’s why I told you to back off and stop confusing him.  If you had fucking listened to me—”

“I wouldn’t be in this mess.  Right.  I know, Mike.”  Tré ran a hand over his jaw.  Damn, he hit hard.  Before he knew what was happening, there was a hand on his chest, and then he had lost balance, stumbling backward.  “Mike!” he cried out in indignation.

It was as if someone had dumped a bottle of wine over Mike’s head, his face stained with an unshakeable crimson rage.  “No, you don’t know!  It should have been Annabelle.  And only Annabelle!” he roared, and spittle flew.  On second thought, maybe Tré didn’t mind being pushed a few feet back.  Mike’s typical zen-like demeanor had made a run for it, and for whatever reason, Tré was now stuck with a volatile stranger. 

“Dude, what’s your problem?  She’s over it, why can’t you be?”  Suddenly he preferred the shrill, but articulate, confrontation with a woman.  Mike didn’t usually talk about his feelings—hell, none of the guys did unless it was necessary—and arguing with him was as useless as lighting a wet match.  He felt like a boy.

Mike brazenly pushed him again.

“Will you fucking stop that?  You’re being like Jason right now.  And I don’t mean the normal friend Jason, I’m talking about the asshole jump-to-conclusions Jason.”  Tré was working up a cold sweat trying to defend himself, and he didn’t like the odds on this one.

“The difference between me and Jason right now is that I know what I’m talking about.  I have a legitimate reason to be angry.”  His nostrils flared, and Tré imagined steam coming out of them, like breath on a cold day. 

Tré paused.  “Yeah, and what is that, exactly?” he countered.  “Last time I checked, you had nothing to do with this.  You aren’t like Annabelle’s sworn protector or anything.”  Maybe that wasn’t it.  “Or Billie Joe’s,” he added.

“Yes, Tré, I am aware of that, thanks.  But you fucked things up for both of them, somehow under my nose, even though I warned you not to go there.”  Mike stared at him intently, using some disguised human male instinct to threaten Tré. 

The drummer’s ears latched onto a few specific words of his statement.  “Wait, is that it?” he asked, catching on.  “Is it that nobody told you what was going on?”  Tré watched Mike’s expression change from close to spread, surprise.  It vanished in a second.  Before it was lost completely, Tré modified his question.  “…Or is it that Billie never let you in on it?”

He had hit his mark.  Shadows clouded Mike’s face as the slow realization that Tré might be correct slammed into him, full-bodied.  “No…” he said slowly.  He had to turn this around or he would lose control of the conversation.  He wouldn’t be disarmed and neutralized like Annabelle had been, the poor girl too weak to stand up for herself.  “It’s wrong, Tré, you and him.  He and Annabelle were good together like you two will never be.  They fit together right.”

Tré flared his own nostrils.  “Are you thinking what I think you’re saying?”  His eyes became harder.  

“What do you think I’m saying?” Mike taunted, a merciless smile tugging his lips at the corner.

“That I’m a worthless piece of shit, and that I don’t deserve him!”  His right hand balled into a tight fist at his side.  In preparation?  What was he going to do?  Attack one of his best friends?  Tré began to laugh an uncontrollable, manic fit of pressure and release, pressure and release.

Mike’s face cracked into a full blown grin before he replied.  “That could be it, yeah.”  Mike’s voice was seductive as it slipped through Tré’s great, gasping convulsions.

The answer was yes.

And his fist responded—hauling Tré with it—to land squarely on Mike’s cheekbone.  It stood back, along with Tré, surveying its work a safe distance away.

“Asshole!” Mike bellowed, as he charged through the “safe distance” to tackle Tré down to the unforgiving concrete floor.  The back of his head smacked into it with a sick thwock, and both men’s bodies tensed, a reflex too late.  Their mouths gaped open, apparently trying to process what had just occurred.

Then Mike’s hand cradled the crown of Tré’s skull, which was already sending thick, yellow waves of pain cascading through his brain.  “Oh my God.  Can you count backwards from ten for me?” he asked, wrath replaced by concern.

A headache the size of an elephant stomped its way forward from the back of Tré’s head to the front, and crushed any lingering empathy for Mike.  “I don’t have a concussion, you stupid fuck!  Get off of me!  This is all your fault!”  He struggled to get up, pushing Mike roughly away by the shoulders.  “I can’t believe you, man, where has your head gone?  You’re usually the one that makes the most sense, not the least.  Now because of you tonight my drums are gonna sound like fucking bombs, fucking headache…  Fuck you, Mike, I’m out of here.”  He aimed one last glare behind him as he shuffled out the door holding his injured head; Mike was still kneeling on the floor in shock.

 

“I can’t fucking believe him,” Tré muttered, his back to the staff person rummaging through the freezer for ice.

“Excuse me?” she asked, and the grinding sound of the ice coming together to fill the cup ceased.

Tré spun, startled.  “Oh, nothing.  Thanks for the ice, by the way.”  He smiled weakly at her.  He noticed, unfortunately, that even moving his facial muscles made the throbbing a bit louder.  The woman, dumpy and plain in her venue uniform, shoveled the ice into a gallon Ziplock bag and handed it to him.  He took it without delay, pressed it gingerly a ways above his neck, and sighed, content when he felt the pain ease up.  “Ohhh, sweet Jesus,” he groaned.

“There you are!”  The relief in Pete’s words sounded better suited for a sentence like, “Oh good, I was hoping you were still alive!”  Tré winced.  He thought hangovers made everything louder, but this migraine was one for the books.  Pete’s bear of a voice certainly didn’t help things.  “I’m supposed to call you for sound check.  What happened to your head?”  The technician looked at him worriedly, and Tré could see in his eyes all the murderous scenarios he was dreaming up.  Wait till he hears who did it.

“Mike jumped on me,” he replied, as if this were simply something that happened every so often, like being stung by a bee.  A surprisingly built bee, for one so lanky.

Pete’s eyebrows hopped high as jack rabbits.  He fumbled his cell phone out of his pocket and glanced at the time.  “We should have ten minutes.  I wanna know who shot who, what went down play by play.  How did Annabelle take it?  Ronnie and Jason ran out before anything could happen, so I don’t know shit.  Lousy fuckers, heh.”

Tré shifted his bag of ice to a different spot; the skin where it had been was starting to go numb already.  “I wasn’t there when she went apeshit on Billie,” he let him know, then told him everything, more or less, in a condensed version.

Pete checked his phone again before reacting to the story.  “You know, you guys are worse than my retarded high school friends.  The only one with any fucking perspective at all is Annabelle, and, seriously, Tré, she should be the one right now to be saying stupid, mean shit and dropkicking your asses.  You need to do what she says, and also forget about Mike right now.  He’ll come around, and if he doesn’t, you should get him checked out for a brain tumor in his frontal lobe, because you know he’s not really like he was today.”  Pete searched Tré’s face for acknowledgement that what he’d just said was solid advice.  He found it, and took his chances with a little extra.  “Besides, you kind of deserved to get hit.  By Annabelle, I mean, but still.”  His eyes flicked to Tré’s nervously.

He admitted hoarsely, “Yeah, I know.”

 

In the time remaining until Tré absolutely had to be at sound check, Pete rigged up a cold compress using an ace bandage and some of the ice from his bag.  He commented that Tré could probably pass for a man with a gunshot wound now, and Tré, mildly horrified, put on a hat and pulled it down low so as to be less conspicuous.  The compress felt nice, even if it were inconvenient.  If the drummer had to suffer through a full two and a half hour concert later, he’d make sure he was going to be as comfortable as possible until then.

He snuck over to his drum set, darting behind stacked amps to reach his round, black stool.  His butt sank happily onto it, and he bent down to pick up a pair of drumsticks from the cylinder where he stored them.  Billie Joe’s chest greeted him once he’d sat back up.

“I just wanted to make sure you, uh, survived Annabelle earlier,” he began tentatively, gaze directed at the familiarity of his Converse.  When Tré nodded, the bit of bandage uncovered by the hat dipped into the singer’s peripheral vision.  “Tré, what the fuck happened to your head?” he exclaimed, startled.  Without being asked to, he removed Tré’s cap to survey the damage.  All he could see was the bandage, with a suspicious wet patch at the back.  “Are you okay?” he asked, from above him.

Tré exhaled, and debated while the air rushed out whether now was the appropriate time for a joke.  Never one for inhibitions, he played into his appearance.  “Beej, I was shot,” he deadpanned.

Billie Joe grimaced through Tré’s obnoxiousness.  “Then what’s that wet patch?  It doesn’t look like blood, thank God.”

“Oh, you know, the doctors discovered that I’m so frigging anemic my blood is actually clear.”  Tré adjusted himself on his seat as he considered how much easier it was to make up impossible lies than to tell him that their best friend had hurt him.  Billie Joe might take Mike’s side, after all, and Tré already felt too alone to lose this slight contact with someone who would maybe one day forgive him.

Billie Joe placed the hat gingerly back onto Tré’s head, and utilized his now empty hands to strike a pose of impatience with them on his hips.  “You wanna tell me the truth now?”

“It was me!  I did it.”

They both looked toward the left corner of the stage, where the voice had come from, to find Mike crouched, fixing some tape on the floor, arm stretched around a bass that banged against his knees.  He stood back up unsteadily, then turned to face them.  “It was an accident.”  Tré’s expression turned suddenly cross behind Billie Joe.  “Well, I pushed him, so it was my fault, but I didn’t mean for him to hit his head.”

Billie Joe’s stance somehow toughened, though he didn’t move.  “Why the fuck did you push him?” he demanded.

Mike resisted the temptation to dodge the question, despite the appearance of Jason White with a guitar.  “I was angry at Tré for coming in between you and Annabelle.  And I still am, but I also realize that I’m pissed at both of you for keeping this secret.  Is that how it would be if you two got together?  Would it be the Billie Joe and Tré show?  Since when do neither of you fucking talk to me anymore?”

Jason tuned his guitar, the only sound the pluck of his pick against dead strings, listening in. 

Billie Joe swallowed, his only response to Mike’s voiced worries.  He didn’t know how to reassure him short of saying that he and Tré would surely never get together again after all this.  And he didn’t want to let go the small bit of impossible hope Annabelle had handed him that morning.  Instead, he brushed the issue aside with a ready-made excuse.  “Guys, we should really get back to—”

“Mike, you don’t have anything to worry about.  We’re not.”  Tré spoke with a frightening finality, and Billie Joe felt like someone had unloaded a quarry’s worth of heavy rocks into the chambers of his heart.  Every time his heart beat, the jagged hardness shocked the condensing walls.

Jason whipped around, and instantly regretted keeping his strap so loose as the guitar’s weight made him stagger.  “Um, guys, Bill’s right, we need to get this show on the road.”  His mouth was dry, and he wondered if he’d said the right thing.  But backing up Billie Joe seemed the least he could do as part of his ongoing campaign to make up for his freak out a few weeks before. 

The rest of the band each assented, though with no degree of enthusiasm.  Billie Joe chose a cream-colored Gibson from the rack and went back to his position at the front of the stage.  Never had he felt more vulnerable, on display for everyone to pick apart.