Frank isn’t sure what time he wakes up. Sleep-fuzzy he stares up at the ceiling -- there’s a stain in one corner that looks like a dragon -- scaled wings, open mouth, impossibly sharp teeth -- and Frank holds up his hand, blocking it all. He waits, arm outstretched until his muscles tremble, then twists on his side and rolls to the ground, his knees impacting against the carpeted floor.
“Fuck.” It’s an instinctive reaction, the same instinct that has Frank rubbing at remembered hurts as he stands and looks toward the window. It’s grey outside, the white slats of the blinds cutting across the oppressive sky, and the damp shine of the asphalt road.
The same old, same old.
Frank turns away from the window and gropes for the string of the blind. A sharp tug and they’re fully closed, Frank relaxing as he runs his hands through his hair and heads for the kitchen. Mama’s lying in the doorway, a small fat lump of a dog. When Frank walks past she looks up, ears pricked and tail swishing against the floor. Frank laughs and scoops her up in his arms, his mouth closed as she licks across his face, her tongue rough as it rasps against his skin.
“You’re gross,” Frank says, giggle-grimacing at the feel of Mama’s tongue up his nose. He puts Mama on the floor, next to Peppers who’s come to investigate, leaving her basket next to the stove. “I suppose you want to go out.”
The dogs mill together, bumping flanks and barking as Frank walks. He does so slowly, letting the dogs push against his legs as he stops and stretches out his hand, opening the door.
The dogs run outside, uncaring of the driving rain that seems determined to get inside. It splashes against the lino and Frank’s pajama pants are dotted with wet spots as he watches his dogs frolic and roll like it’s a perfect summer’s day.
“Idiots,” Frank says and shoves the door so it’s barely open. He checks their water and food bowls -- still full -- and slices a bagel after starting a pot of coffee. He’s never hungry or thirsty but it’s something to do, the movements comforting and familiar as the wind howls and the rain continues to pour.
Waiting for his coffee he looks outside. Peppers' running in circles while Mama’s sitting in the middle of a puddle, head tilted to one side as she stares into space. Frank shakes his head, his dogs are insane, and making no attempt to get out of the rain. He takes a step toward the door, then stops and turns. The dogs will come in when they want, there’s no danger in leaving them outside.
The bagel pops from the toaster and Frank fishes it out, dropping it on a plate then filling his mug with coffee before sitting at the kitchen table. It’s covered in books, whole stacks of them on top of a bed of magazines. Most are well thumbed, but some are still pristine. If he wanted Frank could settle down and read for months, if it wasn’t for his dogs he probably would. As it is whole days go by where he’s caught in another world.
Not today, though. Frank pushes a stack of books aside and unearths his laptop. The lid is smeared with something, maybe peanut butter and the cord has chew marks close to one end. Frank plugs it in and takes a sip of coffee, waiting for his laptop to load.
It does, and as always Frank’s breathing through a lump in his throat. It’s the inevitable reaction when he sees his wallpaper: Jamia’s smile, the way she’s caught in a laugh. Frank swallows hard. He misses her. The ache dulled with time but never fully erased.
Blindly, Frank clicks until he brings up a browser. It’s set for the news page and vision blurred, he reads about the new rules for the community garden and how numbers for the last week are at an all time high. It’s important information but Frank takes none of it in, just keeps clicking links, the words meaningless shapes.
He stops clicking when he lands on some page that loads along with embedded music. Coffee slops over Frank’s hand as he attempts to shut off the sound of harps -- Frank hates harps, their horrible plinking sound and their stupid gilded frames. He especially hates harps that won’t turn off, no matter what he clicks.
Eventually Frank slams down the lid of his laptop and pushes it aside. The news can wait.
When his phone rings Frank spends almost a minute searching his front room. When he finds his phone it's slid between the cushions on the couch and Frank frowns when he accepts the call and hears the sound of a harp. He’s tempted to hang up, pretend he didn’t answer at all, but that means risking missing something important, and Frank doesn’t want another in-person visit. Turning to see Gabriel standing in his kitchen once was enough.
The harp cuts off and someone says, “Sorry for the wait.”
The woman on the other end of the line sounds chirpy, the aural form of sunshine and fluffy kittens. Frank grits his teeth, says, “It’s okay.”
“I’m Amber, calling on behalf of Eternal Flames. Further to your inquiry, we have a match-up for you.”
“What? I didn’t....”
Amber keeps talking. “The compatibility is high, over 90%. Considering your circumstances, that’s almost unheard of.”
Frank starts to pace, his fingers tight around his phone. “What circumstances and what match-up? Is this something to do with Gabriel? I told him last time I’m okay.”
Amber laughs, a tinkling pure sound. “Eternal Flames are working on your behalf. You applied through our website.”
“No I didn’t.” Frank goes to the kitchen, where his laptop is covered by magazines and books. “I haven’t looked at my computer in days. Even if I did I wouldn’t apply to something called Eternal Flames."
“You applied on the fourth of this month.” Amber’s words slow a little, as if she’s explaining something to a particularly dumb child. “You clicked the find my match link. We auto looked you up.”
Frank puts his hand on his laptop, wary of opening the lid. “You’re able to do that?”
Amber laughs again. “Of course.” Then, tone changing to serious she adds. “Your match will call soon, once your date is over please complete the satisfaction survey online. It helps future match-ups. Not that you’ll need them, if I say so myself, you’re going to be happy.”
“Date?!” Frank pulls back his hand and stares at his phone. “I don’t want a date. You can’t....no.” He brings his phone back to his ear. “I don’t date.”
“Now you do,” Amber says brightly. “Have fun.”
“Wait.” It’s too late, Amber’s ended the call. Frank opens his hand and his phone drops to the ground, landing on the shag pile rug. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
The thing is, Frank doesn’t date. He doesn’t want to date. He eyes the windows and door; there’s no way anyone can see in, and Frank decides all he’ll do is hide until the so-called date gets the message that Frank isn’t interested at all.
Someone knocks at nine forty-five. Frank’s curled on the couch, his dogs at his feet and the TV remote in his hand. Annoyed, he reminds himself of his plan to hide, but the problem is, Frank wasn’t raised that way. His mom would have a fit if she knew he was avoiding visitors, even ones that Frank doesn’t want to see.
Abruptly, he jumps to his feet, dogs scattering around him as he stalks to the window that overlooks the front door. Curling his fingers over a slat he pulls down the blind and peers outside. There’s a guy standing close to the house. He’s got his shoulders hunched up and his head down, water dripping from the end of his nose. Despite the weather he’s only wearing a t-shirt and jeans, the material soaked through and clinging.
“He’s as fucked in the head as you,” Frank says to Mama, and lets the blinds straighten with a snap. He takes a deep breath and heads for the door, pulling it open.
Up close the guy bares a startling resemblance to a drowned rat, his nose sharp and pointed, his hair a flattened mess. Which shouldn’t be attractive, but somehow, really is. Still, Frank bites down on his bottom lip and takes a step back, says, “I don’t want a date.”
“You’ve some objection to dating?” Water drips down the guy’s face as he studies Frank. “Because if you do joining a dating agency seems redundant.”
Frank scowls. “I didn’t join, they shanghaied me.”
“Did they use a virtual sack to throw over your head?” The guy asks seriously, like it’s even a possibility. Then he shivers, stumbling slightly in a sudden squall of torrential rain. “Did they fill in your answers too? What I read didn’t suggest emo bullshit.”
Frank frowns, itching to slam the door. He still says, “Come in if you want. Unless you’re an axe murderer, then you can stay out there.”
“I’m not.” The guy steps inside, water dripping from his body onto the carpet. “Or I could be lying and planning to eat your spleen right now.”
“Are you going to kill me first?” Frank asks, and turns his back as he looks for a towel. “You should, it would make it easier.”
There’s a soft sound, like the guy’s humming as he thinks. “I could strangle you I guess. Unless you have a knife.”
“Lots of them,” Frank says, pulling a towel from under the dog bed. The towel’s a little dirty, crusty on one corner and covered in dog hair, but at least it’s dry. Frank throws it over. “You don’t look like an axe murderer.”
“Does anyone?” The guy is scrubbing the towel over his hair, making it stick up in wild clumps. He looks kind of ridiculous and Frank can’t help wondering how Eternal Flames think they’re such a good match, because sure, the guy’s cute and has a nice line in murderous small talk, but nothing that’s making Frank stand up and take notice.
Suddenly, the guy stops rubbing at his hair, the towel hiding part of his face as he says, “You are Frank, right?”
“Yeah.” Remembering his manners, Frank adds, “And you’re?” Like they haven’t spent the last minute discussing eating his spleen.
“Mikey. Mikey Way.” Mikey’s mopping at his t-shirt now and while he’s not dripping any more it’s clear it’ll be a while before he’s close to being dry. Plucking at the hem of his t-shirt he peels it away from his belly. “I should go. You’re not interested.”
It’s what Frank wanted, to be left alone with his dogs and books and TV. He finds himself shaking his head, it’s been too long since he’s had any kind of company and he’s remembering how much he enjoys talking to someone with the capabilities to actually talk back.
“I’ve stuff you can wear,” Frank says, and rolls his eyes when Mikey gives him a long pointed look. “Not like that, fucker. Just something dry, you’re ruining the carpet.”
For the first time Mikey smiles, the barest curl of his lips. “Well in that case, sure.”
There's no getting around it. Mikey looks ridiculous in Frank's clothes. The t-shirt fits okay but the sleep pants end up at mid-calf, exposing Mikey's sharp shin bones and bony ankles, the fact that his skin's deathly pale.
Frank brings his hand up to his face, shielding his eyes. "Have you ever seen the sun? It's a big ball of fire, comes out during the day."
"The sun and me have a complex relationship," Mikey says. Without being urged he sits on the couch and tucks up his legs, toes pushed against the soft cushions. Almost immediately he's surrounded by dogs, and he reaches out, lazily scratching Mama's head.
Frank sits in the easy chair that's positioned close to the couch. "Do you have pets?"
"Not here," Mikey says. He looks into the distance and Frank thinks that's all he's going to say, then Mikey adds, "I miss them. But it's good they're not here. Not yet."
Frank gets that, and his eyes prickle as he remembers finding Mama scrabbling at his front door, grass caught in her fur and smelling of sunshine and light. "When Mama came, it was sudden. I didn't expect her for years."
Mikey inclines his head, the silence heavy, then looks directly at Frank and says, "So how did you get here? You look like an OD to me."
"The fuck?" Frank sits up, staring back at Mikey, because this doesn't happen. You don't ask people how they'd died. "I didn't OD. I wasn't a junkie."
Mikey bends his legs further and wraps his arms around his knees. "You don't have to be a junkie to OD. But okay, suicide then, you threw yourself off a bridge."
"No." Frank sits forward in his chair, his fingers digging into the arms. He's never discussed this so casually, it's like ripping a band-aid off an old wound, showing off the ugliness while gaining relief from the fresh air. "Does it look like I'd kill myself?"
"You base a lot of assumptions on appearance," Mikey says. “You shouldn’t stereotype like that.”
“You’re the one thinking I killed myself,” Frank points out. “Having tattoos doesn’t mean I had some kind of death wish.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.” Mikey’s got his chin resting on his knees, easily meeting Frank’s glare. “And, it’s fucking freezing out there. And raining. I’m surprised you don’t sleep on the floor and wear sacks.”
“I like the rain.” Frank sits back in his chair. “And you shouldn’t stereotype.”
Mikey grins and licks his index finger, miming striking a line in the air. “Touche.”
It’s a ridiculous gesture and Frank finds himself laughing, startled at the sound. “How old are you? Twelve?”
“Mentally or physically?” Mikey’s still smiling, and sitting as he is, all bare ankles, awkward angles and tousled hair he looks younger than Frank suspects he is. “I need to go.” Surprised, Frank watches as Mikey unfolds himself from the couch. He’s looking at his watch and takes a step toward the door. “There’s a party.”
Frank stands, thrown by the abrupt change. “Okay, I’ll get your clothes, or you can wear those and bring them back later.”
“I could,” Mikey says. “Or you could come with me.”
Frank remembers bodies packed into a room, plastic cups in his hand, the thud of bass as he danced and talked with friends. Chest tight he takes shallow breaths as he looks at the door. “To a party?”
“Well, home first, I need to get changed,” Mikey says, looking directly at Frank. “But yeah. Freddie’s going to be there. You haven’t died until you see him duet with Elvis.”
Frank blinks. “You’ve seen Elvis?”
“Hasn’t everyone?” Mikey says, mouth quirked in a smile. “So, party. They’re good people, you’ll like them.”
Frank’s sure he will, he likes Mikey well enough, even on this brief meeting. He shakes his head. “Not tonight.”
“Okay.” Frank hopes that that’s disappointment that flashes across Mikey’s face, but he can’t be sure, for all he knows it’s gas or relief. Mikey heads for the door. “I’ll bring these back soon.”
“Whenever you’ve time,” Frank says and stands to the side of the open door, watching as Mikey squares his shoulders before going outside. Within seconds he’s soaked, a grey shape in the rain as he turns and wiggles his fingers in goodbye.
Frank shuts the door.
Frank’s been awake all of a twenty minutes when he hears the knock. Holding his mug of coffee he opens the front door, and sees Mikey. He’s sheltering under a giant see-through umbrella that’s printed with cherry-red lady bugs, Frank’s clothes are clutched against his chest.
Frank takes a step back. “Mikey.”
“You never told me how you died.” Mikey hands over the clothes and then comes inside collapsing his umbrella and resting it against the wall. “It’s okay there? I know you’ve a love affair going with your carpet.”
“It’s fine,” Frank says, and sniffs where he catches the scent of sweat, cigarette smoke and the barest hint of brimstone. He brings his clothes close to his face. “You didn’t wash them.”
“No,” Mikey agrees and reaches out, plucking Frank’s coffee from his hand. “I haven’t had breakfast yet.”
“Well you’re not having mine.” Frank snatches back his mug, hot coffee slopping over his hand. “There’s mugs next to the machine, make your own.”
“Going.” Mikey wanders through to the kitchen, careful not to kick the dogs that cluster around his feet. Making himself at home he checks out the coffee machine and then picks out the Pac Man mug from the selection pushed to the back of the counter. “Classic Pac Man, awesome.”
“Pac Man’s the shit,” Frank says and takes a drink of coffee. It’s weird watching Mikey wander around the kitchen, opening cupboards and checking the contents of the fridge like he’s been here a thousand times before. Weird but also good, like his presence is bringing life to the room.
Mug filled with coffee, Mikey leans back against the counter and takes a long drink, then says, “You jumped in front of a train.”
“Seriously, you’re on the suicide bullshit again.” Frank shakes his head because that’s something he’d never do. Ever. “If you have to know, I was hit by a car.”
“Yeah?” Mikey’s brows are pulled together, his mouth screwed up to one side. “Was there a lot of blood? Someone I know got decapitated by a bus, that’s fucking brutal, crossing over while your head rolls down the road.”
“Also, awesome,” Frank says, picturing the scene as he crossed over. “My head stayed attached.”
Mikey shrugs one shoulder. “Everyone can’t go with a bang.”
“There was blood, though, rivers of it,” Frank says, because his death wasn’t boring. “My leg was half ripped off, too. You could see the bone. Someone saw and puked in a bush.”
“Thigh or shin bone?” Mikey seems delighted with that detail, and Frank adds more, liking that he’s got Mikey’s total attention.
“Thigh, the car about tore off my leg. Fucking soccer moms and their tanks.”
“I died in a car, one minute I was changing the CD the next I’d passed over,” Mikey says and points to his forehead. “I hit the windshield so hard my skull was crushed. There was brain matter on the glass.”
Frank grimaces but asks. “What colour was it? Like a grey or was there blood mixed in?”
Mikey taps his fingers against his thigh as he considers. “A mixture, more a Persian red. You could hardly see the glass.”
Frank stares. “Persian red? Really? Not just plain red.”
“Colour and shade are important,” Mikey says, and stands upright, looking toward Frank’s TV. “Do you get the Unreality channel? It’s nearly time for The Other World’s Wildest Death Scenes.”
“Of course I do,” Frank says, glancing at his watch. “Did you see it yesterday?”
“The guy that got eaten by a bear? That was death levelling up,” Mikey says, sounding impressed. "The fucker’s teeth ripped through his windpipe like it was paper.”
Frank finishes his coffee and puts the mug in the sink. “Death by bear. Jesus.”
When he thinks about that, death by car is a much better way to go.
The credits of Snake, the Soul Hunter are playing and Frank’s sprawled on the couch. He coughs, his throat dry and his face aching slightly from hours spent talking. Also, for time spent laughing and throwing insults, because Mikey’s just too easy with his bitchy humour and obsession with death.
“I need to go.” Mikey’s pushed himself forward at his end of the couch. He yawns and scrubs his fists over his eyes.
“You’re going home to sleep?” Frank asks. He knows Mikey came straight here from the party, and he’s starting to drag now, like he’s finally winding down.
Mikey shakes his head. “I’m going to the Other Side.”
Mama yelps, squashed on Frank’s lap when he suddenly sits forward. “You’re allowed to do that already? They told me years, you can’t have been dead that long.”
“A year or so and technically, no,” Mikey says. “But I know some people. They showed me how.”
“Don’t tell me, you go and share the shit out of people.” Pointedly, Frank looks at Mikey from head to toe. “You’d make a good ghost, pale as fuck and a bag of bones.”
“Fuck you,” Mikey says easily, getting to his feet and heading for the door. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here.” Frank stands too, and doesn’t add that there’s never a point that he’s not here. “Have fun haunting people.”
Mikey picks up his umbrella, his face hidden as he says, “Yeah.”
Frank doesn’t need to eat; but he still likes to cook. Mostly it’s a form of holding onto his old life, that and he likes the routine of preparing and chopping vegetables, music playing on the radio and dogs at his feet.
Today he’s cooked a double sized portion of lasagna, something simple and easy to heat up if needed. Except, Frank doesn’t need to re-heat it at all. He’s teasing Mama and Peppers with the oven mitts, chasing them around the kitchen to a chorus of barks, when there’s a knock at the door.
“You know, this is getting old.” As soon as the door’s open Mikey’s pushing his way inside. He’s hunched in on himself and again his clothes are soaked. “It’s not even warm rain.”
“So bring an umbrella,” Frank says. “I know you’ve got one.” Mikey wrings out his t-shirt, looking so pathetic that all Frank can do is point to the stairs. “There’s clothes in my bedroom.”
“You’re a saint amongst men,” Mikey says, and Frank snorts.
“Hardly, have you seen those guys? Stuffy isn’t the word.”
Mikey looks over his shoulder, one foot on the stairs. “Not all of them.” He flashes a smile. “You made lasagna for me?”
“I made lasagna for me,” Frank corrects, and reaches for two plates. “But I guess I can spare you a bite.”
It doesn’t take long to share out the food. Frank throws the crispy edges of the pasta to his dogs and slices the lasagna in half. Deftly, he places each piece onto a plate and takes both into the living room, along with two forks. He sits at one edge of the couch and waits for Mikey to return.
When he does he’s wearing the same sleep pants as before, but he’s swapped out the t-shirt. This one is smaller, enough that he’s exposing a thin strip of skin when he moves. Frank looks down at his food, trying not to stare.
“Thanks.” Mikey takes a plate and settles himself down on the couch. He stretches out, bare feet resting against the coffee table, his plate on his lap as he eats.
Ten minutes and Frank sets down his own plate with only a bite of lasagna remaining. He feels comfortably full and rests his hands on his belly as he lets out a belch.
“Impressive,” Mikey says, and then does the same, drawing out the sound as long as he can.
“You should do that at your hauntings,” Frank says, grinning when he imagines Mikey belching in dark corners. “You’d freak people big time.”
“They can’t hear me over there,” Mikey says. His empty plate is resting on his stomach and he wipes his finger though the sauce, creating a sad face. “I’ve tried but I’m not strong enough yet.”
“You shouldn’t be strong enough to even get there yet,” Frank points out. “You’re like some fucking ghost protege.”
“Just know the right people,” Mikey says, intent on writing his name in the sauce. “I did move a cup once. It frightened the shit out of the barista.”
Frank affects a gasp. “You deliberately spilled coffee. Were you feeling okay at the time?”
“Fuck off.” Mikey stops writing and puts his finger in his mouth, sucking off the sauce. “I was trying to attract someone’s attention.”
“Did it work?” Frank asks, and can’t seem to look away from where Mikey’s lips are tight around his finger.
Mikey pulls out his finger with a pop. “Sort of. Then I went and read comic books for a while. It’s a bitch waiting for someone to turn the page.”
“I’d hang in a locker room,” Frank says. It’s what he always pictured doing if he turned invisible, and being a ghost has to be close. “Nothing seedy, like a school, but the YM? Yeah.”
“Because that’s not seedy at all.” Mikey stretches his leg to the side. He’s got long toes and fucking disgusting toe nails that he jabs against Frank’s calf. “And anyway, it gets boring, trust me, when you’ve seen one dick you’ve seen them all.”
Frank doesn’t believe that at all. He’s seen plenty of dick, and none were the same. Plus, naked. Breasts and curves and expanses of skin. Frank doesn’t understand how that would get old.
Despite himself, his mind relates naked to Mikey. Imagining the curve of his back and narrow hips, the barest swell of his ass. Frank blinks, thinks, maggots, rare burgers, Mikey’s gnarly toes. It helps. A little. Frank swallows, says, “You could see movies for free.”
“It’s no fun on your own.” Mikey looks to the side, staring at Frank. “It’s better with two. You know, if you want.”
Frank does, but the simple thing is, he can’t. He stands, picking up the plates, says, “Maybe next time.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Mikey says.
Frank hopes that he does.
Mikey doesn’t visit the next day.
Which is fine. Frank’s okay with his books and his dogs and his time spent alone.
It’s what he does. It’s safe here, sheltered from the rain.
And the world.
Frank doesn’t miss Mikey at all.
Frank doesn’t hurry to open the door. It’s just he was on his feet already when he heard the knock. That’s all.
“Hey.” Mikey’s wearing a giant rain-slicker that reaches to his knees, it’s bright yellow, the sleeves hanging over his hands. When he steps inside rain flows over the slick surface, dripping toward the floor.
“Sorry about yesterday, it was....” Mikey trails off and unzips his slicker, the sound of the zip is loud in the silence of the room.
“I’m making coffee.” Frank doesn’t ask if Mikey wants any, just heads for the kitchen, where the coffee’s already made and the Pac Man mug standing ready. Filling it up he hands the mug to Mikey, who cradles it in his hands.
Mikey’s t-shirt is damp at the collar and his hair curls against his neck. He looks tired, but not in the way Frank’s used to. This isn’t the kind of tired that comes from staying out late, this is the kind that comes from within. Mikey squeezes shut his eyes, blinks hard, says, “Yesterday was rough.”
Frank isn’t sure what to say. I’m sorry seems trite and he isn’t sure if he’s earned the right to ask more.
“I lied before.” Mikey’s looking into his mug, his fingers are white against the cheerful yellow of Pac Man’s body. “About when I died, it was in a car, but it wasn’t easy.”
Again he trails off and Frank thinks about the rules he was given, the time he sat for hours in a straight-backed chair, You’re Dead, Now What? clutched in his hands. Nothing he read in that book applies here, when Mikey’s so tense it looks like a touch will shatter.
Frank takes a step closer. Fuck the rules -- or lack of them -- he likes Mikey and Frank will muddle through. “Want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Mikey says, but he takes a deep breath and looks over at Frank. “I was with my brother. We’d been for a drive, just fucking around, nothing special. Then this van came out of nowhere. Gerard tried to swerve but couldn’t. I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and went flying.”
It’s easy to imagine the scene.Frank swallows, needing to ask. “Did he...”
“No,” Mikey cuts in. “No, he wasn’t hurt physically, that’s the only good thing in this whole fucking mess. But he had to sit there and watch me die. He tried to stop the bleeding with his hands, but it was no good, we both knew that. They had to force him away from my body.”
“Jamia was there when I died.” It’s the first time that Frank’s said that out loud. It hurts and he doesn’t want to think about it, but he also wants Mikey to know he understands. “We were coming home and a dog ran onto the road. A stray I think, but then the car was coming. I ran out without thinking.”
Frank’s chest is tight, like it was back then, blood in his throat and Jamia desperately clutching his hand. “We were going to get married and have kids.” They’re ruined dreams, ones that Frank continues to pick over despite fading grief. His love for Jamia is still there, but set back now, along with the other things out of his reach. “I just wish I could see her. Make sure she’s okay.”
“I could take you,” Mikey says instantly. “I go and watch Gee. We could see Jamia, too.”
More than anything Frank wants to say yes. He wants to see Jamia and make sure that she’s happy; but he can’t. Not yet. Feeling like the biggest loser ever, he says,“Maybe later.”
“Okay.” Mikey reaches out, touching Frank’s arm. “Want to heckle Ghosthunters?”
Frank forces a smile, says, “Always.”
Frank doesn’t get many emails, mostly invitations to gatherings for the newly dead or occasionally links to the webpages of the super-group bands. Nothing personal though, it’s why it’s been over a week since he checked his account. Even now he’s only reading while waiting for Mikey.
Usually he turns up in the early evening, sometimes soaked through, other times with rain clothes that run the gauntlet from trawler-man to a kindergartner at school. But each time he greets Frank with a small smile while bitching about the rain. It’s just what he does, the same way Frank tells him to suck it up in reply.
Tonight Mikey’s running late, and Frank’s checking his messages, deleting most unread. He does stop on one from Eternal Flames, reading the attached satisfaction survey and the blurb about it being a place for a match made in heaven.
Which is cheesy as all fuck, and more than that, Frank doesn’t understand why Mikey is actually a member. Not when he seems to party every night and has an insane number of friends that he mentions often. He’s obviously popular, and Frank doesn’t get why he needs help dating at all. Especially to someone like Frank, because, sure, maybe back in the day. But not now, with things so obviously changed.
“Frank.” Mikey's knocking even as he opens the door. He steps inside and slams the door behind him, peering out at Frank through the plastic of his lady bug umbrella. “Seriously, you need to quit with the rain.”
Until Mikey told him otherwise Frank had assumed the whole area was rain-washed. It’s not like he did any research before he accepted this house, but it seems not. Sometimes Frank thinks he should try and see if he can affect his surroundings, but he suspects that means going outside. Even the thought makes Frank's heart pound. It's just easier to stay indoors. Safer. He gives Mikey a look. “You need to quit with the bitching.”
“Not going to happen,” Mikey says. He folds up his umbrella and sets it against the wall. “We’re up to Nightmare 5, yeah?”
It's one of their favourite things, curling up on the couch and spending hours heckling Freddie and the so-called ghosts. Now Frank can’t stop thinking of the email from Eternal Flames, because it makes no sense. He follows Mikey who’s heading into the kitchen.
“You don’t need help to get a date.”
Mikey stills, says, “Even sex kittens need help at times.”
Frank’s mouth twitches, but he won’t let himself laugh. “One, you’re not a sex kitten, two, stop evading the question.”
“You didn’t ask a question,” Mikey says, and turns away from Frank to get the Pac Man mug. “Therefore, no evading.”
“Okay fine.” Frank stands directly in front of Mikey, blocking his way to the coffee. “Why did you join Eternal Flames?”
There’s a long silence, then Mikey says quickly. “I sort of work there.”
It’s not what Frank expected at all. Mikey’s never mentioned working, never mind there. “You work for a dating agency?”
Mikey crosses his arms across his chest, his lips a thin line. “There’s nothing wrong with it. Gabe and Vicky needed the help and I can use a computer.”
“You know Gabriel too? Fuck.” Frank shakes his head. “Do you know God?”
Mikey shrugs a little. “Which one?”
“Which....” Frank cuts himself off. “Never mind that. Eternal Flames. Why did you came here? You can't be a member.”
“I could have been.” Mikey looks to the side, and then back at Frank. “I was working when you clicked on the site. I was bored and looked you up, and liked what I saw.”
“So what? You created a fake blind date?” It seems unlikely to Frank, but Mikey’s nodding.
“I decided to take a chance.” Mikey’s looking directly at Frank, holding his gaze. “One thing dying taught me is you have to go for what you want.”
Frank remains silent, unsure what to say. He looks at Mikey, how he’s clutching his mug and how his pants are soaked at the bottom, the way his eye liner is smudged with the damp. Frank takes a step forward. Despite the lack of words, the absurdity of this whole situation, he is attracted to Mikey but more than that, he likes him. A lot.
“You’re sneaky and devious.” Frank takes another step forward, so they’re close enough to touch. He looks up, says, “I like that in a person.”
It’s like all tension suddenly drains from Mikey as he takes his own step forward and bends slightly. “Good.”
The kiss is hesitant at first. Mikey's got his hand on the small of Frank's back, holding him steady as Frank goes up on his toes. Mikey's lips are dry, his chin slightly stubbled, so different to what Frank's used to as he curls his hand around the nape of Mikey's neck.
He holds on, and is reminded of what he's missed as Mikey deepens the kiss, sliding his tongue into Frank's mouth with a confidence that leaves Frank wanting, desperate for more.
"This is okay, yeah?" Mikey says, pulling back slightly, and he's still holding on, warm and solid and there.
Frank pushes himself up on his toes even further, says, "Yeah."
They fall into a routine. Mikey goes to work and visits the Other Side, coming back with stories about new movies and bands he says Frank will enjoy. He never asks Frank to go with him, or pushes in any way. Instead he keeps bitching about the rain and drinks all the coffee and tells Frank about the people he's helped match. Mostly he settles into Frank's life like he's always belonged.
It's late when it happens. Frank's curled up in bed, Mikey wrapped around him when the dogs bark and someone knocks on the door. Half asleep, Frank crawls out of bed, the sheet wrapped around him as he looks outside. There's someone standing on the doorstep, a hazy figure who knocks again and then yells, "Mikey! For fuck's sake, you need to wake up!"
Mikey appears at Frank's side, looking over his shoulder into the gloom below. "Pete?" Mikey turns and tugs on his clothes then runs to the stairs.
Taking a moment, Frank pulls on shorts and hurries downstairs. Mikey's standing at the open door, uncaring of the rain that's already soaking through his t-shirt and dampening his hair. He's staring at the stranger, eyes wide and deathly still, before abruptly turning to Frank and saying, "I have to go."
The stranger -- Pete-- starts to leave, but Frank grabs hold of his arm. "Wait, what's wrong."
"It's his brother." Pete's staring after Mikey, obviously wanting to go. "He's crossing over too early."
"Fuck," Frank spits out. They've talked about Gerard and Frank's seen how Mikey's pinched with worry after some of his visits, but this is far beyond any worries, this is an all too harsh reality and Frank's left standing on his own doorstep, his head thumping and feeling sick as Pete turns and runs. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Frank says again. Mama's at his feet and she looks up at him before stepping outside and waiting, looking up at Frank, her head tilted to one side.
"I know," Frank says, and repeats, "I know." Torn, Frank wants to go after Mikey, but there's a voice in his head telling him to stay inside where it's safe -- he knows he can't do both. Backing away, he starts to shut the door, then slams it open and throws himself into the rain.
Instantly he's soaked, gravel jabbing into his feet as he runs. Behind him his house is lit, beckoning him home, but he keeps going forward, following the distant figure of Pete.
Teeth chattering, Frank keeps running, along the asphalt road that's awash with water, but then, the further he runs the more the rain eases, until eventually there's nothing, no rain or wind, just a long dark road.
"He's over there." When Frank catches up Pete indicates a kneeling figure that has to be Mikey, bowed over another shape on the ground. "Tell Mikey I'll call him, I need to get back."
Pete changes direction and Frank keeps running. When he gets closer he sees the figure on the ground has to be Gerard. Frank's never seen him, but the resemblance to Mikey is there, but more than that he's half faded, caught between the Other Side and here.
"Gerard, stop." Mikey's holding Gerard's hands, clinging on as Gerard keeps solidifying, more here than there. "Gee, you need to go back. Please."
"Mikey?" Gerard's face is white, something dark around his mouth, but when he sees Mikey he smiles. "I knew you'd be waiting for me. I knew it."
"Always," Mikey says, and he closes his eyes, the light catching the droplets that cling to his lashes. "I'll be here waiting always, but not now. You have to go back."
"No." Gerard struggles upright, his smile fading as he pulls one of his hands free and touches Mikey's face. "I can't go back, not when you're here."
Mikey opens his eyes, his words rough. "It's not your time."
"Fuck that, it wasn't your time either," Gerard yells, and he's becoming more solid, enough that Frank sees the stains on his shirt and the way he trembles as he looks at Mikey. He draws in a breath, says softly, "Don't make me go, Mikey. I can't. I need my brother."
"I...." Mikey trails off, and Frank isn't Mikey, he doesn't know what's going on in his head, but he knows what he'd be feeling if Jamia was there. He steps forward, hand on Mikey's shoulder.
Gerard looks from Mikey to Frank, his mouth turned down. "You're who meets us in heaven? I was expecting armour or wings, not someone wet and half-naked."
"I'm not a greeter," Frank says. "Thank fuck."
"He's my boyfriend." It's the first time the label's been spoken out loud, Frank squeezes Mikey's shoulder, a message to show that he's there.
"You're dating in heaven." Gerard smiles a little and he's looking only at Mikey, the flesh of his hand filling out against Mikey's face. "He's looking after you?"
"He makes me coffee, and we watch bad movies," Mikey says, making no attempt to wipe away the tear that slides down his face. "I'm okay, Gee. Promise."
Gerard looks up at Frank. "You'll watch over him?"
Frank nods, it's all he can do, but it's enough, as Gerard pulls Mikey into a hug. "You'll be waiting when it's time?"
"Pinkie promise," Mikey says, his face pressed against Gerard's neck.
"Good." Gerard's holding on tight, even as he begins to fade, Mikey's t-shirt showing through his hands. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Mikey says in reply, holding on even when Gerard's nothing but an image, fading, fading, gone.
"Mikey." Frank kneels, his arm around Mikey.
"I miss him," Mikey says, and he's shaking, breath hitching as he talks. "I wanted to tell him to stay."
"But you didn't." Frank rests his head against Mikey's shoulder. "You sent him back, you did the right thing."
"You followed me," Mikey says, and he turns, looking at Frank. "You're outside."
Frank slumps against Mikey, his heart racing and eyes tightly closed, because as much as he'd love to think being here means something, it's a start not an end. "Don't remind me."
"Come on." Mikey stands, urging Frank to his feet. "Let's go home."
Frank stands, and together they walk, cold, damp, heading for a house where finally, the rain has eased.