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Catholic!Frank and Artist!Gerard Not!Fic

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So, Frank's life is pretty good. He's got awesome fucking friends and he loves his job. Like, he loves it, making really delicious food for people, nourishing them and filling them up. His mom always says he gets that from her and, well, she's probably right. She's always expressed her love through cooking, too, and unlike a lot of his friends' moms, she'd never tried to fight him about the whole vegetarianism thing because she was awesome like that. Because she just liked cooking food that he'd eat and enjoy, it didn't have to have meat in it or anything and besides, he was already allergic to eggs and couldn't have more than a tablespoon of dairy without, like, getting so sick he wanted to die.

So he was raised by this woman who thought cooking and eating were two of life's greatest pleasures, so Frank's always thought of cooking at eating as two of life's greatest pleasures, and he hadn't even been thinking about it as, like, a career when he'd stumbled into it.

Frank had lived on campus his freshman year, which had been fine except for how he hadn't had access to a kitchen. The vegan options in the dining hall were kind of shitty. Like, they offered them, only sometimes the dining hall's idea of a vegan dinner was steamed white rice with soggy broccoli on top. Frank ate a lot of salads, and it sucked.

That's actually how he met Gabe. He'd been frowning at the salad bar and wondering whose bright idea it had been to mix bacon bits in with the green beans, when this ridiculously tall guy had slid up next to him and said, "I'm gonna find whichever fucktard it is in this joint who's got such a fucking bacon hard-on and punch him in the teeth." Then he'd tipped his head back and shouted, "Kosher, motherfuckers, do you speak it?" He looked sidelong at Frank and said, "Sorry. Vegan rage. I have outbursts."

Frank had laughed and poked at the wilted lettuce on his plate and said, "Seriously. I have, like, fantasies about my mom's chili. She makes her own seitan, simmers it with beans and lentils, chiles, sun-dried tomatoes, a dollop of tofu sour cream on top and homemade cornbread on the side. Man."

Gabe said, "I have to tell you something, and this is going to be awkward considering that we just met and I don't even know your name, but I'm in love with your mother. I'll treat her right, I promise. It's not just a physical thing, it's true fucking love."

He and Gabe had spent the rest of the year complaining about the food in the dining hall, and whenever Frank could swing it, he'd bring Gabe home and cook for him, or his mom would cook for both of them, and usually it resulted in Gabe actually getting down on one knee and saying, "Linda, I love you. I love you, and I want you to make me the happiest man in the world. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" And Frank's mom had always laughed and usually cuffed Gabe on the side of the head and told him to stop being fresh.

Sophomore year, Frank had moved off campus into a shithole of an apartment with Gabe and this guy Ray, who'd been Frank's roommate in the dorms. The heat never worked quite right and the sink in the bathroom always leaked and the walls were just bare cement, but the kitchen had been awesome. The counters were huge and the oven was gorgeous and brand new and they'd had a gas stove so Frank had been able to roast his own chiles over the flames.

At first, Frank had just cooked for Gabe and Ray. And then he'd started cooking for Gabe and Ray and whoever they were dating, then for anybody who wanted to come. Every Friday night they had a huge feast at Gabe's insistence, and then one Friday night this shy little freshman girl named Dianna had lit the one candle in their apartment and Frank watched, transfixed, as she circled her hands over and over it and covered her eyes, and she'd begun to sing.

He still remembers it as one of the most beautiful experiences in his entire life. He'd had no idea what it was at the time, didn't know anything about blessings or what Aruchat Shabbat was, even though he does now. He just knew it was a prayer and that Dianna was sharing something important and sacred with all of them, and he'd felt humble and blessed and in the presence of God, the same way he did every time he knelt for communion or performed the Stations of the Cross.

So Frank had started cooking, really, for his friends, for this little family they were creating, and he'd loved it, but it still hadn't occurred to him that it could maybe be his life. That was all Gabe, at the beginning. That was Gabe saying, "Dude, imagine if there was a vegan place that, like, delivered. Like, to campus. If you'd been able to order delicious vegan shit delivered to your dorm room, you would have bought it, right?"

Frank had said, "Yeah," not knowing where Gabe was going.

Gabe had grinned at him and said, "I took the liberty of printing out menus. What do you think?"

Frank had looked down at the menu and blanched, because right across the top it said, "Frank and Gabe's Queer Kosher Vegan Food -- We Deliver!"

Frank said, "I-I'm not. I'm not queer, Gabe."

And Gabe had looked at Frank, confused, head tipped to the side like a dog who'd just heard something really high pitched. "But," said Gabe. "I, fuck, dude. I thought...wait, are you fucking with me?"

Frank shook his head. Because it wasn't that simple. Ray was actually the only one he'd told at that point besides his mom and, like, his priest. He'd told Ray because they'd been roommates freshman year and the first few weeks had been terrifying and he'd been homesick and he and Ray had talked for hours every night, Frank staring up at the ceiling above his bunk and Ray in the bunk below. He'd been homesick and Ray had been homesick and they'd talked about everything and Frank knew Ray wasn't an asshole, so he'd just told him.

And Ray hadn't been an asshole. He'd been quiet for a little bit, and then he'd said, "Wait, so you're going to be celibate, like, forever?"

And Frank had said, "Yeah."

And Ray had just said, "You're, like, a way better Catholic than me, dude."

So when Frank told Gabe he wasn't queer, he wasn't trying to say he was straight, just that queer wasn't the right word.

Gabe said, "Fuck, Frankie. I'm an asshole. I just thought, like, really? You're not?"

Frank said, "It's kind of complicated," and chewed on his lower lip. He took a deep breath and decided to just tell Gabe, too. "I don't, um. I don't date."

"Oh," said Gabe. "Oh, fuck, dude. I should have just fucking realized. I mean, yeah, okay, Frank and Gabe's Asexual Kosher Vegan Food doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but--"

"I'm not asexual," Frank told him. "I'm celibate. Because I'm attracted to guys, but I'm Catholic and I don't. Sex is for when you're married, and I can't get married, so. Yeah."

He'd expected Gabe to laugh at him. He'd expected Gabe to laugh his fucking ass off, but he hadn't. He'd just said, "Huh. Okay. Now what are we going to call our business?"

"What business?" Frank had asked.

"Our fucking vegan delivery business, dickface. Haven't you been paying attention?"

At first, Frank had cooked and Gabe had done all the deliveries. Then they'd started getting orders from places other than the Rutgers campus, so Ray had started doing deliveries, too. And then they'd actually been making money and Frank was spending so much time cooking he didn't have time to go to class. When his mother said, "Something's got to give, Frank," he knew she didn't mean school, but that's what he'd given up, anyway.

Then they'd had a truck they parked near campus for a couple of years, and then Ray had used his actual business degree--because of course Ray hadn't dropped out of school like Frank or gotten a useless degree in philosophy like Gabe--to find them a place where they could open an permanent restaurant.

He'd been twenty-three years old when he first stood in the middle of his empty restaurant, Gabe and Ray on either side of him, Ray whispering, "We're small business owners now, guys. We're small business owners, holy shit."

And they'd actually made money. Not a lot, but enough to live on, enough that they could hire wait staff and other cooks so they could have days off and then a fucking pastry chef and now they've got a gift shop in the front with stuff like fair trade olive oil and maple syrup, salt crystal lamps, organic cotton t-shirts that Gabe screen prints himself, cruelty-free soaps and organic hemp shopping bags.

Ray and Frank had vetoed pretty much every name suggestion Gabe had come up with. They'd said no to No Bacon, Motherfuckers and Good Good Lovin' Oven and Vegan Fire! and Just Eat Here and Count Your Ass Lucky. Their restaurant is called The Greenhouse, and it's open seven days a week from ten in the morning until ten o'clock at night, except on Fridays when they close at two o'clock in the afternoon.

Frank's got an apartment close enough that he usually just rides his bike when it's not freezing outside. He's got an apartment and a dog named Eleanor and a job he loves, he's got so many friends and every Friday night they close The Greenhouse and then Frank cooks for them, for the people he loves instead of just for whoever comes to the restaurant.

He's got a good life, a comfortable routine that makes him happy. He gets up around six every morning and takes Eleanor for a walk, then showers and makes coffee and heads to mass at seven-thirty. He stops back and home and tucks Eleanor into her basket on the front of his bike and heads to work, dropping her off at doggie daycare on the way. He gets in to work around nine in the morning, Greta and Travie already there, just finishing up their pastries and baked goods. He pokes around in the kitchen and decides what he wants to make, then tells Dianna, who prints up a list of that day's specials.

They've got a set menu of things they make every day, but Frank and Spencer and Travie and Dianna all get bored if they have to make the same things all the time. The daily specials menu lets them all play around and try new things. Travie's always coming up with new muffin recipes and Spencer's on a roll with his risottos and sometimes Dianna wants to make peanut butter mousse in a chocolate shell and sometimes she wants to make ginger-ancho cannolis, instead. And Frank? Sometimes Frank wants roast up a whole slew of vegetables and layer them with hummus and marinated beets on thick slices of bread, and sometimes he'd rather just spend his time dicing apples and pecans and dried cherries and tossing them in the new rosemary vinaigrette he's been wanting to try out.

Frank usually leaves work around five or six, but if it's busy or they're short staffed he stays late. Then he picks Eleanor up at doggie daycare and plays with her for a while, takes her for another walk if it's warm enough, and the two of them sit in front of the TV for a while before going to bed unless Frank has plans to hang out, which he does all the time. They're always going to shows or trying new restaurants or hanging out at Gabe's and drinking too much wine. The next day, Frank's comfortable routine starts all over again.

So Frank's got this really full life, and he's fulfilled and he's healthy and he's happy. So he doesn't date, so what? It's like, it's not even a big deal anymore. It had been, when he'd first realized that he was attracted to guys. He'd been so scared that it had made him sick to his stomach. He'd spent most of the year he was fifteen throwing up at least twice a week, he was so anxious. But then he'd talked to Father Costa about it, and he hadn't grabbed Frank by the ear and thrown him bodily out of the church and told him never to come back. Instead, he'd talked to Frank about chastity, about celibacy, about how being single could be a vocation just like being a priest was a vocation.

Telling his mom had been rough. She'd cried and prayed and begged him to come to church with her. And Frank had been able to say, "No, look, I've already talked to Father Costa, all right?" And he'd laid out the whole celibacy thing and promised her that he wasn't leaving the church, that he wasn't turning his back on God, and that had helped her a lot.

Sometimes, though, Frank had been jealous. He'd see everybody else paired up and yeah, okay, nobody even fucking wanted to date him in high school, but that didn't make it hurt any less. He'd been jealous and angry and terrified that he was going to spend his whole life alone. But he's not alone. He's surrounded by people who love him, and the anger and the jealousy have faded, and he's content.

**********

His mom's always telling him to come visit her, "Like, what, Frankie? Newark's another country? You can't drive twenty minutes to see your own mother? That's fine. You don't have to visit me, you don't have to even think about me, I'll just sit here all alone all day long, missing you but knowing you're too busy now to spend any time with me."

Frank's mom is, like, a virtuoso when it comes to guilt trips.

It really does only take him twenty minutes to get from his apartment to the house where he grew up. So he'll tuck Eleanor into her carrier and drive out to Kearny and spend his day off with his mom. She got remarried right after Frank dropped out of Rutgers, and Lou's okay, but Frank doesn't even really know him.

Frank usually visits during the day because Lou's at the garage from eight until six, and it's not like he hates the guy or anything, but it's weird seeing him walk around Frank's house and just, like, help himself to the stuff in the fridge. Because it's Lou's house, now, too, because he lives there. With Frank's mom. Because they're married. Frank's not sure he's ever going to really get used to it. Plus, Lou's like this giant carnivore who drinks shitty beer and makes shitty, racist comments and screams at the television when there's a football game on like the fucking players can hear him. Or should take his shitty advice. Frank's not even sure what his mom sees in the guy, but he makes her happy and Frank wants her to be happy, so. Yeah. Frank's got a stepdad, now, who's kind of an asshole, but whatever.

So on one of his days off in the spring, he heads over to his mom's house for a visit. He puts Eleanor down just inside the front door and says, "Hey, Mom," and then is surprised when there's no answer. He knows she's home because her car's in the driveway and he can hear the coffee maker dripping. He heads through the house calling for her, and then heads to the back door because Eleanor's whining at it like he didn't just take her for a walk half an hour earlier.

He opens the back door to let Eleanor out, then freezes because his mom's sitting on the back porch, but she's not alone. She sitting there with a guy, and this guy is just...not the kind of person Frank expects to see his mom hanging out with. He's dressed all in black--black jeans and a black t-shirt and battered black combat boots and a black leather jacket. His hair is red, like, really fucking red. Punk rock red that's not even pretending to be natural, and it's messy like he didn't comb it when he woke up that morning.

He's got an ashtray on the table next to him and from the looks of it, he's been chain smoking Marlboro reds for a while, now, and when he turns his head to look at Frank, Frank can see that the guy's wearing eyeliner smudged around his eyes and, wow, okay. Frank's not dead inside or anything. Frank absolutely feels desire, and he feels it, like, right away looking at this guy. He just lets it go, though. He doesn't try to control it or shove it away, just acknowledges that he finds this guy attractive and knows that eventually, the attraction will just fade into the back of his consciousness.

The guy grins at him, this huge, friendly grin and he says, "You must be Frank!" like he's never been so happy to see anybody in his entire life. It's kind of...not what Frank was expecting, seeing as how until he smiled, the guy had looked like a total badass that wouldn't be friendly to anybody.

Frank's mom turns and kind of squeals and gets up and flutters around him the way she always does when he comes home, like she hasn't seen him in years instead of just, like, two weeks, maximum.

She says, "Frankie, this is Gerard! I told you about Gerard, didn't I?"

And Frank's like, "....no?" Because he's pretty sure she didn't.

She says, "Of course I did! He moved into the Campanellis' old place last month."

And Frank's like, "Huh." Because, yeah, okay, she had mentioned that. She'd told him that the Campanellis had retired to Florida and that an artist or something had moved in next door, but Frank wasn't expecting this. When she'd said artist, he'd assumed somebody who, like, painted watercolors of marsh birds or some shit, and this guy--Gerard--doesn't look like he's really a marsh bird watercolor kind of guy. This guy looks like he belongs in the East Village, or maybe Chelsea if his art's the froofy, expensive kind. He doesn't look like he belongs in Kearny, New Jersey.

Then Frank's mom starts, like, extolling Gerard's virtues. He's so nice and he always comes over to visit and brings her freshly ground coffee and cookies and also they watch On The Wings of Desire together, which is what they're doing on the back porch, the old portable black and white TV rescued from its spot in the attic and given a place of honor on the far end of the back porch.

On The Wings of Desire has been Frank's mom's favorite soap opera since before he was born. He watched it with her when he was a kid, and just hearing the theme song brings him back to the days when he was sick and couldn't go to school and his mom couldn't find anybody to watch him so she had to miss work, and they'd watch TV together and she'd pat his back to help him clear all the mucus out of his lungs. It doesn't sound like it should be a good memory, what with all the mucus, but it is because he always felt warm and safe and loved.

Now he kind of makes fun of it because, like, three of the main characters are angels but that doesn't stop them from doing normal human soap opera shit like faking their own deaths and getting plastic surgery and then coming back to town pretending to be their own long-lost cousins or whatever.

But Gerard and his mom are totally into it, so Frank sits down between them and since Gerard's smoking, well, Frank's going to smoke, too.

His mother says, "Frankie, that's a filthy habit."

And Frank's all gesturing to Gerard like, "But he's smoking!"

And she's all, "He's a guest, he's not my son who I raised from infancy and devoted years of my life to keep from dying from lung ailments. Oh, wait, so last week Cynthia found out that Pierce is actually Katrina's half brother but Pierce and Katrina don't know and, ooh, she's such a bitch."

Frank scoots down in his chair and watches On The Wings of Desire and smokes, though he holds his cigarette down where she can't see it which is totally stupid because it's not like he's not sitting right next to her, but whatever.

And then Eleanor gets tired of exploring Frank's mom's backyard and comes back up onto the porch, and Gerard is all, "That is the cutest dog I've ever seen in my entire life!"

And Frank's all, "Really?" Because he thinks so, too, but nobody else does. Eleanor was, like, five hours away from being put down when Frank got her because nobody wanted her. She's got an under bite and her fur's a weird, wiry mix of black and yellow-gray and her tongue doesn't quite fit into her mouth. Frank loves her more than anything in the world, but most people either politely say nothing at all, or say, "Well, she's definitely got a good personality," or just outright say, "That's a fucking ugly dog you've got there, Frank."

But Gerard is cooing and reaching his hands out, and since Eleanor is a total whore for snuggles she jumps right up into Gerard's lap and licks his face and he laughs and doesn't even freak out when she licks his teeth, just laughs harder and scratches behind her ears and at the top of her head and then right at the base of her tail, so basically Gerard is Eleanor's new favorite person ever.

And then Frank's mom is all, "Frank, you should cook for us!" Which, usually, she wants to do the cooking when Frank's over because she doesn't want him to feel like he's at work or whatever. But Frank likes to cook, so he goes through her cabinets and the fridge, pointedly ignoring the ground cow carcass wrapped in plastic and the carton of eggs which could totally kill him holy shit, and he whips up a quick potato-leek soup and a tossed salad with a really basic garlic vinaigrette.

"Frank's a wonderful cook," his mom tells Gerard. And then she starts talking about how smart he is and how he built his own business up from scratch like he doesn't have two business partners that did at least two thirds of the work. And she's telling Gerard all about the different dishes Frank makes and how he likes nourishing people and, shit. It's like she's trying to get Frank a freaking job interview, she's talking him up so much. And Frank's RIGHT THERE so it's kind of embarrassing.

Frank wishes he had the ingredients to make a lime-basil granita, but he doesn't so he just thaws the frozen Amy's chocolate cake in the freezer, which is pretty good but nothing at all compared to the masterpiece chocolate cakes that Travie whips up.

Gerard's all, "I don't think I've had cake in, like, years." And Frank's all scandalized. And Gerard says, "I've been trying to eat really healthy ever since I got sober, so, you know. It gives me something to focus on and, like, nobody really needs cake, right?" And Frank's even more scandalized because everyone fucking needs cake.

Frank firmly believes in eating dessert at least once a day, and that's not even counting the dark chocolate he has with his coffee.

Frank lays out his whole, like, theory of food. And it's weird to think that he has one because it's not like he ever just sat down one day and decided he was going to come up with a theory. He just thinks about it a lot, he supposes, so he has a lot to say. He tells Gerard about how eating isn't just about nutrition, it's about pleasure, it's about nourishing your body and your soul. He talks about the way the flavors of a crisp apple burst across your tongue, about not eating anything that doesn't delight you, about taking your time and savoring the mix of flavors and textures, the aroma, the company, the conversation. He talks about presentation, how what you eat your food with and out of can sometimes make the difference between something being truly nourishing and something that just fills you up. He talks about eating in season and buying locally when possible, about how it feels knowing that the spices he uses in the food he makes come from plants he nurtured.

He breaks off a piece of ginger and makes Gerard smell it, does the same with the basil and mint growing in his mom's kitchen window. He has Gerard take a bite of one of the season's first strawberries and really think about it as he chews, the texture of the seeds against his tongue, the way the tart juices almost make his mouth ache.

Frank could talk about food forever, and he kind of does. Gerard doesn't seem bored, though. He actually asks Frank questions about how he learned to cook and what he likes about it, why he's vegan, what he thinks of people who aren't, whether or not he ever eats anything processed.

"Oh, totally," Frank admits with a grin. "Like, I love Mountain Dew so much it borders on creepy. And, well, Oreos. And those really gross frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Uncrustables? Love those things."

Gerard laughs and says, "Yeah, but you eat them with pleasure, not just to fill yourself up."

And Frank's like, "Yeah, totally. Like, I can make an Oreo last for twenty minutes, just licking at the filling, you know?"

And Gerard's all huge eyed, thinking about Frank licking something for twenty minutes because of course Frank's mom mentioned that she had a single son Gerard's age, trying to be all casual about it and failing miserably. Gerard hadn't actually expected to like Frank all that much, since he's never really liked anybody people have tried to fix him up with. Not that it was, like, an obvious fix up or anything, not like Linda was all, "You should date my son!" but it was a fix up, Gerard knows.

That was actually pretty cool because when she first came over to say hello to the new neighbors with a pan of lasagna, Gerard had been in the middle of the living room sawing a mannequin's arm in half and he'd expected her to react all, "OMG, my new next door neighbor is collecting mannequin body parts call the neighborhood watch!"

But Gerard had been all, "I'm an artist! It's for art!" trying to head her panic off at the pass. And Linda had been all, "That's so interesting, can I see more of your work?" And Gerard had been like, "Well, okay, it's kind of dark I don't know if you'll--" And Linda had looked at Gerard's latest painting, a portrait of a creature with a twisted face and grotesquely misshapen limbs and said, "Oh, it's so fascinating! Tell me what it means!"

And Gerard had been a little embarrassed to actually tell her since he tried to be all aloof and, like, post-modern about shit when he talked to people about his work. But he told her about his nightmares and how this thing stalked his dreams sometimes and he kind of just wanted to give it form so maybe it would leave him alone.

And Linda had said, "Okay, what you need to do is drink chamomile--" and she'd laughed at the expression on his face. "I know, I know, no one likes chamomile. But I'll make you some up with honey and cinnamon you can keep in the fridge. Just heat it up before you go to bed and put some milk in it if you want, works wonders. I used to make it all the time for my boy, Frankie. He's about your age, lives in Newark, now, but when he was a boy he had nightmares all the time, probably from stress. I'd say, 'Frankie, you're twelve, stop with the stress already!' But, you know, he was always worried about the end of the world and the suffering of animals and what nuclear waste was going to do to people in a million years. Smartest boy you'll ever meet, my Frankie. I'll make you some of that tea and bring it by tonight."

So it was pretty cool that Linda wanted to fix Gerard up with Frank, because that meant she didn't think he was a creepy weirdo, she actually thought he was good enough for Frank, who she adored. Every time she talked about him, her face lit up and, like, Gerard hadn't been expecting much. He knew you really couldn't trust moms when they talked about how smart and good looking and talented their kids were because they were totally biased.

Frank, though? Frank looked good. Since he was a chef, Gerard had kind of been expecting Emeril Lagasse. He hadn't been expecting all those tattoos and those sharp hazel eyes and those jeans with the rips in the knees that kind of made Gerard suspect he might have a kneecap fetish he'd never known about before.

And then Frank had cooked for him, had just looked through cabinets and made a meal without a single recipe like it wasn't a big deal, like he just did that all the time. He'd even made his own salad dressing, and Gerard hadn't even known people could do that. And then he'd started in about pleasure and satisfaction and joy and, like, feeding Gerard strawberries from his fingers and talking about juices and the way things felt against your tongue.

Frank is super hot.

Gerard doesn't bring it up the next time he goes over to Linda's. They just watch On The Wings of Desire and, like, gossip about how Jake Sarconi is cheating on his wife with Paulina DeFiore, who's also sleeping with her teenage daughter's ex-boyfriend. He'd never really known how neighborhoods were just as dramatic as soap operas before; he'd either been a kid and totally oblivious or a really drunk hermit most of his life. Now he's just, like, the neighborhood artist, and people actually talk to him and tell him gossip when they run into him at the market.

He likes hanging out with Linda. She's totally weird and funny, and she doesn't expect him to, like, perform for her, be anything he's not. He can totally relax when they hang out, just worry about what Katrina's going to do now that she's maybe pregnant with her half-brother's baby and smoke a lot and be neurotic and tell her stories about the days back when he was drinking and doing a lot of drugs.

It's maybe really weird that his best friend is an Italian housewife in her fifties, but whatever. Linda hadn't always been a housewife, had been an ER nurse until she'd married Lou and retired, and she talks about going back to it all the time. Gerard knows he'll be really bummed if she goes back to work because he looks forward to hanging out with her every morning, but he also doesn't want her to just sit around being bored.

He wakes up in the actual mornings, now. He's usually up by nine, and for years the only time he ever saw nine am was when he was so wired from coke that he couldn't sleep. He heads over to Linda's and they gossip and watch soap operas and usually have lunch, and then he goes back to his studio and works until seven or eight o'clock at night and eats dinner and reads and goes to bed. He has, like, a routine. It's so weird.

"Your hair is weird," his brother, Mikey, tells him as he sprawls on the floor in Gerard's studio looking through a Victoria's Secret catalog and, like, making notes. Gerard thinks it's totally rad that Mikey's comfortable enough to just leaf through lingerie magazines in front of Gerard, now. When they were kids he'd hidden them away under his mattress and only Gerard had suspected they weren't for jerking off to.

Gerard says, "Do I need to bring out the pictures of the time when you dyed your hair black and had, like, a giant emo poof? Because I was drunk the whole time and I still remember how huge your hair was."

And Mikey laughs and says, "No way, bringing out the emo pictures is totally playing dirty."

Gerard had lived on Mikey's couch the year he'd been trying to kick coke but had still been drinking, and then for another year after he'd given everything up but felt like he could backslide at any moment. Even if they weren't brothers, Gerard would love him like one for how fucking amazing he'd been the whole time.

Now Gerard lives in a house by himself back in Jersey because he'd felt like the city just wasn't right for him, but Mikey's always coming around to visit so they see each other almost as much as they did when Gerard was living on his couch. At first he'd thought it was just because Mikey didn't trust him to stay sober, but it hadn't taken long to figure out it was really just because Mikey likes hanging out with him.

"So, like, this Linda," says Mikey. He never shows up before five or six o'clock at night, so he's never gone over to Linda's with Gerard in the mornings. "You're fucking her?"

And Gerard laughs and says, "No! Oh, my God, she's married. And a girl. Woman. Female-identified person. And you know I don't do that."

Mikey shrugs and says, "Sexuality and gender are just artificial constructs, dude."

And Gerard's like, "Yeah, okay, but I still really like cock."

And Mikey's like, "So if you're not fucking her, what's going on because you talk about her all the time."

And Gerard's like, "I don't know, she's my best friend, okay?"

And Mikey doesn't even make fun of Gerard for having a fifty-three year-old best friend named Linda, he just says, "Cool."

And then Gerard says, "And also, I want to bone her son. Which is not why I hang out with her. The friendship and the desire to bone her son are totally unrelated."

So then he tells Mikey all about Frank and how he's, like, this fucking little punk rock elfin creature whose magical powers include creating really delicious meals out of thin air and bouncing really endearingly on the balls of his feet and smiling at Gerard in this way that makes Gerard's stomach do nervous little flips.

"Is he into dudes?" Mikey asks.

"I think so? I don't know. I kind of suspect that Linda was trying to set us up, so probably?"

"Well, did you flirt with him?"

And Gerard's like, "Ugh, I don't know how to flirt, okay?"

And Mike's like, "Yes you do, I've seen you flirt."

And Gerard's like, "You've seen me flirt drunk. You've never seen me flirt sober because I don't know how."

And Mikey's like, "Fair enough. So just flirt with him next time you see him."

"What point of me not knowing how do you not understand?"

Mikey rolls his eyes and says, "Just talk about art and creativity, okay? You get totally flirty when you do that no matter who you're talking to."

And Gerard's like, "Wait, I do?"

Mikey shrugs and says, "Your passion comes across, all right? Now don't sweat it. And are you painting, like, the diseased internal organs of a wombat right now?"

Gerard looks at his painting. "It's supposed to be a wolverine. Do you think it looks like a wombat?"

Mikey shrugs and says, "I think it looks like a rotting corpse."

And Gerard nods, satisfied, because that's totally what it is.

A couple of hours later Gerard stops painting and says, "Wait, what's wrong with my hair? Do you think the red's too much?"

And Mikey's like, "Nah, it's badass. You totally rock it."

The next time Gerard sees Frank, he thinks about Mikey's advice and he totally freezes up and doesn't flirt or talk about art or anything. And the next time, he only manages to make some lame comment about the creativity required for cooking. And then the next time he just gives up because he can't flirt, okay? and he just wants to hang out with Linda and Frank and not be all stressed about whether or not Frank wants to bone him, too.

And then Linda does go back to work. She only goes back part time, working at a nursing home so it's way less stressful than the ER, but Gerard's all *sigh* and *sadface* because he doesn't have anybody to watch On The Wings of Desire with in the mornings.

And Frank's all, "Well, Eleanor really likes running around in the yard so, like, when I have the morning off I can come over and watch with you."

And Gerard's all Yay! He likes me! but what he says out loud is, "Yeah, that would be cool."

Gerard totally dog-proofs his whole house, making sure that all his art supplies are out of Eleanor's reach and he doesn't have any electrical cords just dangling and looking like something delicious to chew and he, like, vacuums, which is super loud on his hardwood floors. Gerard's not actually very sure about housekeeping stuff. He has a housekeeper who comes once a week, but she makes him nervous and he mostly just locks himself in his studio or sits in the backyard smoking and feeling really uncomfortable because he feels totally guilty while a stranger cleans up his mess and he doesn't even help out.

So once or twice a week, Frank comes over and Eleanor runs around outside while they sit on Gerard's back porch and watch On The Wings of Desire on Linda's portable TV and Gerard never makes a move because he's totally lame like that. Mikey mocks him for it almost constantly, but what's he supposed to do?

Gerard never learned to flirt back when everybody else was learning in their early teens. He was so terrified of the whole idea, and he felt so unattractive and uncomfortable in his own skin, and the thing with being fat that most people never understood was that you weren't allowed to have sexual thoughts and feelings without being mocked for them. Like, in middle school the very idea of Gerard having a crush on a girl would make the entire class laugh at him. And if they'd known he actually had crushes on guys, well, they would have annihilated him.

And then in high school he started drinking all the time and people still thought he was ugly but he cared a whole lot less. And in college he actually got laid but that was because it was easy, because he was drunk or high and he didn't give a shit if people laughed at him. Most times they didn't. Most times the people he wanted to fuck were willing to fuck him. And if they didn't want to fuck him, well, whatever. He couldn't really feel anything, couldn't feel the pain or humiliation of rejection through the chemical haze, and he usually didn't remember it the next day, anyway.

Now, though, there is no chemical haze. Now he's, like, experiencing his emotions and has to feel things and it sucks because he skipped the normal emotional growth most people experienced in their late teens and early twenties. Now that he's sober, he feels like he's thirteen years old again and like he'll die if Frank ever finds out how much Gerard likes him.

It's eight o'clock in the morning on a Wednesday, and Gerard's standing in his bedroom trying to decide if he should wear his black jeans and his black t-shirt or his black jeans and his yellow t-shirt or maybe his dark blue jeans and his black t-shirt when he hears feet on the stairs. He's like, "OMG!" because Frank's totally early.

He's standing in the middle of his room with clothes strewn everywhere when Mikey says, "You're trying to figure out where to hide, aren't you?"

"No," says Gerard, though he maybe did consider diving under the bed for, like, half a second. "What are you doing here? It's early."

Mikey yawns and nods. "I know. I bought you a coffee, but I drank it."

Gerard laughs, "Why didn't you just buy one for yourself?"

"Oh, I drank that one, too."

Gerard is all like, "What is wrong with you?" and Mikey's like, "Look, it's VERY EARLY and I NEEDED that coffee and besides, it totally would have gotten cold on the train, and anyway you should be grateful because I'm totally being an awesome fucking brother right now by waking up at the ass crack of dawn and coming over here on my day off to help you figure out how to get Frank to fall in love with you."

And Gerard's like, "OMG, Frank! He'll be here in, like, an hour or two and I don't know what to wear!" Gerard always goes through the same agony every time Frank comes over and he always just ends up wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Mikey seems to know this, so he rolls his eyes and tosses Gerard a pair of black jeans and Gerard's favorite Rolling Stones shirt.

They make coffee and Gerard makes them Pop Tarts for breakfast and then hides the evidence because even though Frank never openly judges Gerard's penchant for only cooking things that come out of the freezer or have an indefinite shelf life, Gerard still feels guilty.

They're talking about the workshop Mikey's going to start teaching in a week when all of a sudden there's the scrabble of little nails on the hardwood floor and Eleanor's scrambling into the kitchen and barking happily and wagging her tail so hard her butt's wagging, too.

Gerard fucking loves Eleanor, reaches for her and she jumps into his lap and starts licking his face and he's cooing at her and scratching behind her ears and giggling when she tries to get her little tongue up his nose.

Then Frank's coming in the side door just off the porch, because he totally just lets himself in, now. He's saying, "Hey, sorry I'm a little late, we stopped for coffee," and he's walking into the kitchen with a Starbucks cup in each hand looking ridiculously fucking hot in jeans and a white t-shirt that's thin enough Gerard can see shadows of the tattoos beneath it.

Gerard always wants to lick the rosary tattoo around Frank's right wrist. He loves the way the beads seem to actually drape over that delicate muscle and bone, loves the way the cross falls over the back of Frank's hand. He wants to lick it and bite at the inside of Frank's wrist and suck on his fingers.

Frank's starting to lift the coffee in his left hand and hold it towards Gerard when he stops and kind of stares at Mikey.

The thing is, Mikey's wearing a really cute dress, and Gerard doesn't even think about it. Mikey wears whatever he wants whenever he wants, and it's not an issue. Like, their dad was still kind of uncomfortable about the whole thing, which was totally fucked up because he'd been 100% supportive when Gerard had come out to his parents in eleventh grade. But Mikey's clothing choices had always freaked their dad out and, like, the most traumatic moment of Gerard's entire childhood had been his father catching Mikey in one of their mom's dresses and screaming and screaming and Mikey, like, trembling and gritting his teeth because he was trying to do the fucking manly thing and not cry.

Gerard doesn't really hold any anger towards his parents for anything, but he's still got anger about that, about all the bullshit programming Mikey had absorbed about what it meant to "be a man."

So Mikey's wearing this really cute sleeveless black jersey dress with fishnets and boots. He's got a rhinestone brass knuckles pendant that rests in the hollow of his throat and he's wearing winged eyeliner and has three dark pink rhinestones glued high on his cheekbone. He looks totally comfortable and beautiful and just like Mikey. He never tries to look like a girl, he's just Mikey, just a guy who wears things other guys don't.

Gerard's so used to Mikey wearing clothes made for women or clothes made for men or some combination of the two that it's not something he even thinks about. And then somebody else meets Mikey and Gerard remembers that for most of the world, the way Mikey dresses is a huge fucking deal.

Frank only stares for maybe half a second, then he says, "I didn't know you had company. Sorry. I can just take off and--"

Mikey says, "You must be Frank. I'm Mikey, Gerard's brother," and he holds his hand out.

Frank shakes it and says, "Hi." And then he's bouncing on his toes again and totally excited to meet Mikey because, "He talks about you all the time and I was starting to think maybe you were his imaginary friend. Or, like, Snuffalupagus."

Mikey says, "The other characters can see Snuffalupagus, now, not just Big Bird."

And Frank says, "I know! That's so much bullshit!" And they launch into this whole conversation about Sesame Street and whether or not Bert and Ernie are actually gay and whether or not the author's intention matters or if the viewers' interpretations are more important.

Gerard sips his latte, a mix of hazelnut and white mocha that he thinks tastes like birthday cake and secretly loves even more than just plain coffee with sugar and cream.

Then they talk about Electric Company and Mikey tells the story about how Rita Moreno was responsible for both his sexual awakening and his realization the he wanted to be as beautiful as she was. He was five at the time, so most people think he's full of shit, but Frank actually listens and nods as Mikey talks about seeing her dressed up like Goldilocks and just knowing that he wanted to both marry Rita Moreno and be her when he grew up.

From Electric Company they get to Spider-Man and, okay, Gerard has OPINIONS when it comes to Marvel Comics, so he jumps right in.

They end up on the back porch, Frank and Gerard smoking and Mikey sneaking a cigarette from Gerard's pack like he won't notice. Eleanor runs around in circles, stopping suddenly and looking over her shoulder like she's waiting for one of them to chase her. It doesn't happen, but she seems okay with that and just runs around some more until she comes over to take a nap on Frank's foot.

"Do you have any real food in your house?" Mikey asks, lounging in the sun with one of his sneaked cigarettes.

"Um," says Gerard.

Frank says, "I'll head next door, make something at my mom's."

Mikey says, "Don't you have a restaurant, though?"

Frank says, "Oh, I don't mind cooking on my day off or anything."

"Yeah, but we should go. Like, would that bum you out on your day off?"

Frank says, "No way, I love it there. Just let me put Eleanor in the laundry room next door and we'll go."

Gerard gives Mikey giant eyes and is like, "What are you doing?"

And Mikey says, "Look, if you only ever see him here you're only seeing part of him. You have to see him out in public, doing what he loves to do, around the people he's with all the time."

And Gerard's like *sigh* because he's not great in public. But whatever, Mikey's with him and he'll fill in any gaps in the conversation if Gerard starts to over think things and falls into awkward silence.

Frank drives and parks on a side street. He explains that they have a parking lot but it's tiny and he likes to leave it for customers. They're crossing the street when some asshole in a Camero drives by and shouts, "Get AIDS and die, faggot!" like, right at Mikey.

And Gerard's all, "OMG!" with his hand to his chest.

And Frank's all scooping up a beer bottle on the side of the road and throwing it at the car with all his might and shouting, "Come back here and say faggot to my fucking face you fucking guido. I'll knock you out!" And the beer bottle totally smashes against the car's back bumper, but the guy doesn't come back.

And then Frank clears his throat and is like, "Okay, so I'm totally against hate speech and racial slurs, but I'm allowed to say guido since I'm a guido and you guys are only, like, half guido, so you can't."

Gerard's still startled by the fact that some motherfucker just shouted at his little brother to die. Like, he's not violent but he wants to seriously kick that fucker's ass.

Mikey says, "Um. I'm pretty sure he meant me, not you."

And Frank says, "Which is totally stupid since I'm pretty sure you're the only one out of all three of us who has sex with women."

And Mikey laughs and says, "On a regular basis, even."

And Gerard's all, Yay! He really is gay! And he's being awesome to my little brother! We're totally made for each other! but he doesn't say that out loud. He just says, "Don't brag about it, Mikey, jeez. Have a little compassion for those of us who aren't getting any." Because Gerard is totally smooth, and now Frank knows he's single without him having to actually come out and tell Frank he's single.

They get to Frank's restaurant and it's so cozy and welcoming and it smells fantastic -- like fresh baked bread and food smells that Gerard can't identify but still make his mouth water. It's everything Gerard expected it to be without even knowing he'd already formed ideas about it in his mind.

**********

Frank's nervous, bringing them to his place. He doesn't know why. It's fucking awesome and he knows that. Anybody who doesn't love The Greenhouse is an idiot. He just...he really wants them to like it. Like, he's known Gerard's cool for months, now, but Mikey's awesome, too, really smart and weird and hilarious and, like, Frank just wants them all to be best friends. He knows he's lame. Whatever.

Ian heads over as soon as they come through the front doors and he's reaching for menus and gearing up to welcome them when he realizes it's Frank. He grins and says, "Hey, isn't it your day off?" but he's already grabbed the menus and tips his head towards table fourteen in a question.

Frank nods. It's his favorite table, up against the windows for great light and people watching.

"You want me to do the whole daily specials thing?" Ian asks. "Or are you just going to stick your head into the kitchen and find out yourself?"

"Knock us out," says Frank.

Ian rattles through the specials, peanut butter muffins and a strawberry spinach salad, carrot coconut soup and corn chowder, waffles either sweet with fruit and whipped cream or savory with a soy chorizo and green chile tofu scramble smothered in spicy corn chowder.

Frank laughs and says, "Okay, how stoned was Spencer when he came up with that idea?"

Ian shrugs, "Probably pretty stoned, but it's freaking amazing. Oh, and Travie made his strawberry lemon cake."

They all go for the waffles, Mikey and Frank savory, Gerard sweet with bananas and strawberry compote. Mikey also orders fries, a side of seitan sausage links, the hummus platter appetizer, and a green goddess smoothie.

Frank raises one eyebrow, and Gerard grins at him and says, "Oh, he'll eat it all."

Frank excuses himself to the kitchen because, well, yeah he's with guests, but he just has to get into the back room and see what's going on and sample the carrot coconut soup and see what Spencer's planning for dinner.

The carrot coconut soup is amazing and Spencer admits that he and his boyfriend had come up with the idea for the savory waffles after hotboxing their bathroom.

Dianna says, "Do you think your friend would be okay if I put some ginger in his smoothie? It's my new favorite thing and if he hates it I'll make him another one."

Gabe slides into the kitchen, where he rarely ventures unless he's looking for food since he much prefers manning the gift shop and schmoozing with all the customers. He peers through a crack in the doors for a moment, then turns and gives Frank a giant hug, lifting him up off the ground like always.

"What are you doing back here, creeper?" Frank asks.

Gabe looks through the crack in the doors again, then looks at Frank and says, "I want your friend to sit on my face."

Frank's stomach drops, because no. No, Gabe can't have Gerard because he's Frank's, because if he has to watch Gabe and Gerard being happy together he'll die, because--

"Those fucking knees," Gabe says weakly, leaning against the wall. "Like, dude, you know bonky knees are my kryptonite, and you bring in a fucking hotass like that with legs for fucking ever and the way his fishnets stretch across his kneecaps is just nnnng. His? Which pronouns does zie prefer?"

"Um," says Frank. He's so relieved he feels a little light-headed. "Male. I'm pretty sure."

"Please tell me that other hotass isn't his boyfriend. Or if that is his boyfriend, please tell me they're down with polyamory."

"That's Gerard," says Frank.

And Gabe looks over at Frank with huge eyes and he says, "Oh, shit, dude. I'm sorry. I'm not, like. No, okay. Fabulous legs aside and, like, that jaw and his, no, you know what? I'm not even going to. Just, like, erasing him from my mind. Gone. Man, you just had to fall for a hotass into genderfuck, didn't you? Like every one of my fucking buttons but, no, if you can't have him then I'm not even going to try."

And Frank's all, "OMG what are you even talking about?"

And Gabe's all, "I don't want to be the fucking douchebag who dates the guy his friend wants."

And Frank's all, "I don't want him! And that's not even Gerard in the dress, that's his little brother Mikey, but I don't want Gerard!"

And Spencer's like, "Dude. Seriously. He's all you talk about." Because they're in the kitchen, which is a really shitty place to have a private conversation. "And I don't think you've dated, like, at all since I started working here. It's about time. Go for it."

Gabe says, "This is a conversation for another time."

And Frank says, "We don't need to have this conversation ever because I'm not into him."

And Gabe says, "Mikey, huh? Come to papi and sit on my lap. And then my face." And then Gabe's heading out into the restaurant and Frank has to chase after him because Gabe is sometimes really intense and he doesn't want Mikey to get, like, sexually harassed while he's just trying to eat lunch.

Then Ray's like, "Frank, hey, I thought that was your voice. The fucking supplier sent us actual gelatin instead of the soy stuff and he's saying it's not his fault and he's scared of you, so will you crack his skull for me?"

So Frank has to handle business stuff, and he cracks the supplier's skull and gets it out of him that he just didn't have the soy in his warehouse and figured nobody would know the difference which, no. And then he and Ray go over their plans for summer specials to bring in more business while school's out of session, and by the time he gets back to the table the food's already there and Gabe and Mikey are grinning at each other and Gerard's got his head down with his hair hanging in his eyes, shoulders hunched like he'd rather be anywhere else.

Frank sits down across from him and says, "Sorry, got caught up with business stuff."

Mikey and Gabe don't even seem to notice him, but Gerard looks up at him through his hair and gives him this shy little smile, and fuck. Fuck, Frank's totally gone for the guy. He hasn't felt so attracted to a guy since he was a teenager and just learning to keep his urges under control. But he just wants to, like, reach across the table and hold Gerard's hand and, like, knock their feet together under the table and smile at him and kiss him and--

Frank clears his throat and digs into his savory waffles. They're really fucking delicious. He and Gerard eat and he talks about food, since that's totally a safe topic that's not, like, wanting to make out with Gerard right there.

Mikey and Gabe are flirting so fucking hard, only doing it in a very Gabe way, which means that they're talking about Judith Butler and David Ross Fryer and using words like semiotics and epistemological and deconstructive.

Gerard grins at Frank some more, pushes his hair off his forehead and whispers, "Should I feel guilty for having no idea what they're talking about? Like, I should be up on queer theory and stuff, right?"

Frank shrugs and says, "I didn't even finish college."

After they're done and, seriously, Travie's strawberry lemon cake is maybe actually made of magic, Mikey announces that he and Gabe are going to head into the city to see one of Mikey's friends give a lecture on hypermodernity and transhumanism. Frank doesn't even know.

Gerard totally DVR'd On the Wings of Desire so they won't miss it, and they sit in his living room and watch it while Eleanor takes a nap in a patch of sunlight on the kitchen floor.

Gerard's like, "Oh, you're restaurant's so awesome and creative and I love shit like that, love making things which, obviously, artist, I'm being so totally lame right now."

And Frank's all, "No, you're not lame, making stuff for people is amazing, I love it too. And how hilarious were Mikey and Gabe? Sorry about that, I didn't know he'd hit on your brother like that or I wouldn't have brought you guys."

And Gerard's all, "No, it's cool, Mikey just does his own thing, I'm totally used to him leaving with somebody he's interested in. Not that he's a slut, or, actually he'd totally lecture me for saying slut like it's a bad thing because, like, sex positivity or whatever."

And Frank's like, "Gabe self-identifies as a slut, so, yeah."

And Gerard's got his head tipped down and he looks up at Frank through his hair and he's so fucking pretty. And then he leans forward, and they're kissing.

Frank's never been kissed. Not really. Not since he was in high school and still trying to like girls. He's never been kissed by a guy, and he's never been kissed like this, all soft, confident mouth and tongue slipping between his lips and Gerard's hand sliding around to grip the back of his head. Gerard kisses like he means it, like he's not nervous about what he's doing at all, like he doesn't want to be doing anything else in that moment but kissing Frank hard and sucking on his lower lip and, like, making these soft, pleased sounds in the back of his throat.

Frank pulls away when he realizes he's getting hard. He pulls away and he touches his mouth with his fingertips. His lips are tingling and wet. He says, "I can't do this," and, "I have to go." Because if he doesn't go, if Gerard kisses him again, Frank's just going to kiss him back and everything he's ever struggled for will be worthless.

He grabs Eleanor and drives home with his hands shaking and he prays. He prays because he needs guidance, because praying makes him feel loved and protected, because there's a large part of him that just wants to drive right back to Gerard's and shove him into bed even though he knows it's wrong.

**********

Gerard just sits there on his couch, stunned and feeling stupid and hating himself and wondering how he could have been so WRONG and so STUPID because he thought. He actually really, truly thought that Frank liked him. And watching the way Mikey was always brave when it came to acting on his feelings had made Gerard want to be brave. But it was stupid and Gerard hates himself and he curls up on the couch and feels embarrassed and ugly and wrong.

He spends the next day in bed, sometimes on his laptop but mostly just sleeping and beating himself up over being so freaking wrong that Frank had actually run away from him. Then he spends the next day in bed, too. He gets up and eats a little bit, tries to draw but he's not feeling it so he sleeps most of the day and spends most of the night awake and wishing he were asleep.

He draws a little bit, paints a little bit, eats ravioli cold right out of the can, thinks about drinking and is kind of pleasantly surprised that he doesn't really want to. He sleeps a lot and pulls down all the shades and when Linda knocks on his door to say hello, he ignores her and pretends he's not home.

He's curled up in bed, thinking he should probably change the sheets since he'd had chips for dinner and there are a lot of uncomfortable crumbs poking at his skin, when somebody sits down on the side of his bed and scares the shit out of him. He freezes and holds his breath because, yeah, that's totally a great defense when dealing with intruders who want to murder you.

Mikey says, "Jesus Christ, Gee, why didn't you call me? Fuck." And he tugs on Gerard's shoulder until he's on his back, and then he leans in with his hand on Gerard's face and he looks so scared.

"I'm not drunk," Gerard tells him.

Mikey nods.

"I'm fine."

"The fuck you are. You might be sober, but your house looks the way your place looked when you were using." He tugs one of the chip bags out of Gerard's bed for emphasis. "What's going on?"

Gerard closes his eyes and says, "I'm a fucking idiot. I'm a stupid fucking idiot thinking he'd want me. I'm pathetic for thinking anybody'd want me to inflict myself on them with my fucking issues and my fucking face--"

Mikey yanks him out of bed. He drags Gerard into the bathroom and turns on the shower and shoves him in, hard, Gerard's shoulder banging against the tile. He shivers under the cold spray and he remembers the anger he sees in Mikey's face, in the set of his shoulders and the way he's breathing. He remembers Mikey being that angry and shoving him into to showers to sober him up, to wash the stink and blood and vomit of a bender off his skin, to try and calm him when the coke had him amped up and shaking.

He says, "I'm sorry," and he's starting to cry. He says, "I'm so fucking sorry you have to deal with my bullshit. It's not fair. I know it's not fair and you always take care of me and I don't deserve it and I should be the one taking care of you but I'm too fucked up so you should just go and not look back and--"

Mikey barges into the shower, then and hugs Gerard really tight. He says, "Shut the fuck up," says, "You are not pathetic, you're fucking not," says, "You've always taken care of me, since the day I was born. You've always been the one person I could always count on. You're the only person who's never thought there was something wrong with me."

Gerard says, "There's nothing wrong with you, you're fucking awesome."

Mikey squeezes him and says, "The fact that you believe that so much, the fact that you can't understand why other people don't believe it is why I need you, okay? Anybody in the entire world should count themselves really fucking lucky to have you on their side. I know I do."

And then they sit there in the shower with the water running, their clothes getting soaked, and Gerard cries on Mikey's shoulder and tells him about kissing Frank and how Frank couldn't get away from him fast enough. And Mikey comforts him and tells him it's okay and it doesn't mean anything about Gerard.

"The way he reacted," Mikey says, "that's about him and his issues and it sucks, but it doesn't mean you're stupid. It doesn't mean you're ugly or pathetic or unlovable. It just means that Frank's got some fucking issues."

And Gerard feels marginally better but still shitty, because what kind of issues does Frank even have? Gerard thought they were friends. And Frank's not a homophobe or a transphobe or anything. And he really, honestly thought Frank was flirting with him at the restaurant, the way he kept smiling and, like, sneaking glances when he thought Gerard wouldn't notice.

Once they're bundled up in dry clothes, Mikey says, "I'll talk to Gabe. He's known Frank since they were eighteen."

Gerard says, "Oh, please don't." Then he says, "So, Gabe, huh?"

And Mikey kind of blushes and tugs on his hair, which means that Gabe wasn't just a hookup, that Mikey likes him in more than just a you make me want to have an orgasm sort of way.

Mikey admits that he's spent almost every night with Gabe since they met, and that they'd spent all of Saturday together, having brunch and walking the High Line and then just going back to bed and talking for hours.

If it was anybody else, Gerard would be jealous. But it's not just anybody, it's Mikey, and Gerard's happy for him. Mikey's great at hookups, but he's never had the best luck when it comes to actual relationships. Gerard hopes that things with Gabe work out because he loves how happy Mikey is, how cautiously optimistic.

The summer goes on and Gerard doesn't see Frank. He hangs out with Linda when she doesn't have to work, and he wants to ask her. He wants to say, "So, I tried to kiss your son and he ran off and hasn't spoken to me in weeks even though I thought we were friends. What's up with that?" But he never does. He mostly asks her questions about work and tells her about his paintings and the graphic novel he's got in the last stage of editing and whenever she mentions Frank, he just says something neutral back, like he's not totally embarrassed just to hear Frank's name.

The next time Mikey comes over, he says, "So, I talked to Gabe."

And Gerard's all, "OMG, why did you do that?"

And Mikey's like, "Well, because I usually like to talk to the people I'm sleeping with. It's this totally weird thing I have."

And Gerard's all, "No, really, there is absolutely no reason for you to recreate the fucking dirty talk you and Gabe exchange."

And Mikey's like, "Actually, he's super inventive with the dirty talk, but that's not the point. I talked to him about Frank, and the good news is that you're not delusional and Frank's totally into you."

Gerard's all, "No he's not because if he was into me he would have kissed me back instead of running away."

And Mikey's all, "Well, that's the bad news. He's celibate. Like, no dating, no kissing, no sex. Nothing."

Gerard's like, "What?"

Mikey says, "Gabe's not totally sure about all the details since Frank doesn't really like to talk about it. But it's, like, it's a religious thing. Frank's really, really Catholic."

Gerard nods, because he knew that. Frank talked about going to mass in the mornings, and most of his tattoos are, like, crosses and saints.

"What Gabe does know is that Frank's really Catholic and that the church says sex is only for marriage. And since gay people can't get married, and Frank's gay, Frank can't have sex."

Gerard says, "That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my entire life."

Mikey shrugs. "Gabe's known him for eight years, and in that entire time Frank's never dated. Like, never gone on a date, never hooked up, never even flirted. With anybody. Because he thinks it's a sin."

And Gerard says, "That's really fucking sad."

Mikey says, "I know," then asks if Gerard thinks that Nibblet is a good name for a hedgehog, and Gerard nods because it totally is.

So then Gerard is totally bummed out that his friend thinks his own desires are sinful and he wishes that Frank had just fucking talked to him about it. Like, Gerard would have been mostly supportive. He would have told Frank the church could fucking shove it up their asses, told him that since they admit that gay people fucking exist they should just fucking let them get married instead of condemning them to be alone forever, but he would have been supportive of Frank.

And Frank is all ANGST and OMG HOW DID I LET THIS HAPPEN? And he wants to call Gerard and apologize or explain or something, but he's embarrassed and he feels guilty, because he knew. He knew Gerard had a crush on him, and he knew he had a crush on Gerard, and he just didn't want to stop hanging out with him. That's what he should have done. He knows he just should have stepped back and stopped hanging out with Gerard and let the attraction die, but he didn't. He didn't and now he's fucked everything up.

He sees Mikey sometimes. He and Gabe have started dating and Mikey comes to dinner on Friday nights and he's not an asshole to Frank or anything. Frank would understand if he was, but he's not. He's not rude, but he's also not friendly. He's friendly with other people, totally geeks out with Ian about Star Wars for hours one night, but with Frank he's just sort of aloof.

Finally, Frank's like, "Let me explain."

And Mikey says, "I'm not the one you need to talk to," and just walks away.

So then Frank is like MORE ANGST and Gerard was such a good friend and he at least deserves the truth, so on his next day off he drives to Kearny and sits in his car for, like, half an hour, until he's all sweaty and can't breathe very well because it's the middle of July and he's sitting in his enclosed fucking car like an idiot.

When there's a knock on his back door, Gerard's not even sure exactly what it is. Nobody knocks on his back door since the only people who ever use it are Mikey and Linda, and they both have keys. But then he realizes that somebody really is knocking on his back door, and he goes to answer it and just freezes.

Frank's standing there at his kitchen door with his hands stuffed in his pockets and he says, "Hey."

Gerard says, "Hey," and just stares. Because Frank's kind of gorgeous and he'd thought he'd never get to look at him again.

"Can I come in?"

Gerard's like, "Yes, totally, I am so sorry I don't have any manners and would you like a glass of water?"

Frank says, "I kind of owe you an explanation."

Gerard says, "No, you don't, I'm so sorry I just kissed you like that without even asking your permission."

And Frank says, "Like, it's not you, okay? It's me. Which I know sounds like a total bullshit lie, but I'm sort of. Celibate. Which I should have just told you before I, like, fled the state."

Gerard says, "You fled the state?"

Frank says, "Not really, I was just making a dramatic statement. But I actually should have just explained that it's fine, that I'm not pissed, I just don't. Do that."

And Gerard's like, "I know. Mikey told me."

And Frank's all, "How does Mikey know?"

And Gerard's all, "Gabe told him."

And Frank's all, "Gabe has a big fucking mouth."

And Gerard says, "To be fair, I'm pretty sure Mikey wheedled it out of him during sex."

And Frank's like, "Ugh, I don't want to think about Gabe having sex."

And Gerard's like, "And I don't want to think about Mikey having sex, so let's change the subject to, like, how you could have just told me so I would have known not to make a move and make a giant fool out of myself."

Frank sighs, because he knows that. He knows Gerard wouldn't have been all disapproving and judgmental about Frank's decisions or his faith. He says, "I'm sorry. I just don't think about it most of the time."

Gerard says, "Couldn't you tell that I liked you?"

And yes, Frank could, but he lies anyway, says, "Maybe? I don't know. I'm really shitty with stuff like that. And I thought maybe if I just ignored it, it would go away."

And Gerard says, "Okay, I'm gonna be the wise old man right now and give you some advice. It never just goes away if you ignore it. It just, like, mutates until you're all twisted up and miserable. Trust me. I've got twisted up and miserable down to a science."

Frank's like, "I'm such an asshole, fuck, and I'm sorry and this really sucks because I like hanging out with you and now I can't and--"

Gerard says, "Why can't you hang out with me anymore? Like, did the kiss freak you out so much that you can't be in the same room with me? Or is that, like, a rule? Your priest doesn't allow you to hang out with guys who've made moves on you?"

Frank says, "No, there aren't, like, rules. Like, I talk to my priest a lot because, well, I think I probably would anyway because God's really important to me and the church is really important to me. But he doesn't make ultimatums or anything, he just listens to me and offers advice and stuff. I just thought that you wouldn't want to hang out anymore because I'm, like, a freak who won't kiss you."

And Gerard grins kind of lopsided and shrugs and says, "Hey, a lot of guys don't want to kiss me. I'm used to it."

And Frank kind of wants to say, Any guy who doesn't want to kiss you is an idiot, but he doesn't. Because he knows he was probably sending out mixed signals before, which wasn't fair. He just, he didn't know Gerard was going to, like, act on his feelings. He thought maybe they could just have crushes on each other and never talk about it. And Frank feels really guilty when he has to admit that he liked knowing Gerard was attracted to him, that he hadn't told Gerard the truth partly because he'd enjoyed being desired.

He doesn't tell Gerard that part. He just says that, yeah, he totally wants to be friends. It's awkward at first, at least for him because he's not like most people. He doesn't have other experiences, other kisses, other awkward crushes to compare it to. He just feels like every time he and Gerard hang out that maybe Gerard's still pissed at him and just pretending not to be. Or maybe Gerard can tell that Frank still thinks he's hot and is still just trying to ignore it until it goes away.

He sort of tells his mom about it. He's not planning on it, but then he's over there one day when she's off work and she says, "You should go over and see if Gerard wants any of these candied almonds you just made."

And Frank's like, "Uh, no, I think I'll just hang out here. With you. And not Gerard."

She says, "Oh, Frankie," like she's really sad. She touches his hair and says, "He's a really nice boy, Frank."

And he's like, "Mom! Why are you trying to sabotage me?"

And she says, "I'm not sabotaging anything. I just thought maybe you and Gerard would be a good fit. And it would have been nice to be able to tell the girls at work that my son in law is a famous artist."

And Frank's like, "Jesus fucking Christ, mom! You know how hard this was for me, you know how terrified I was in high school and how ashamed and you told me it was good, what I'd committed to. You made me promise you that I was serious about being celibate, you put a fucking rosary in my hand and made me promise!"

And she starts to cry and she's like, "Frankie, I'm sorry! I didn't know any better. But I'm older, now, and I can see what's important and what's not and you're the most important thing in my life. I want you to be happy and I don't care about anything else."

And Frank's like, "I’m fucking happy, okay? My life's a goddamn fucking carnival, I'm so fucking happy!" And he grabs up all his stuff and his dog and drives back to his apartment really pissed off, and Eleanor's like, "OMG, this vehicle I'm in is making very abrupt changes in direction and velocity so I'm just going to crawl down onto the floor and under the seat where I feel safer, and just for good measure I'm going to puke all over underneath the seat and then try to eat my own vomit because it totally skeeves Frank out."

Frank goes to church and prays, and like always, it makes him feel better. Pretty much any time he prays he ends up feeling comforted and at peace, like he's loved unconditionally, like he's part of something so much bigger than him or his tiny little world. He prays and he feels relief, and then he goes to confession and it's Father Novak, who's Frank's favorite because he's never once been condescending or dismissive of any of Frank's concerns.

He already knows all of Frank's issues, too, since he's been coming to Queen of Peace since he was eighteen years old and a freshman at Rutgers. Frank likes that he doesn't have to, like, go into the whole thing, he can just confess how angry he was at his mother and how he cursed at her and took Christ's name in vain, and he can just tell Father Novak how crazy he is about Gerard and how hard it is to just be his friend and not want more. And Father Novak reminds him that nothing he feels is sinful, the only sin is acting on his desires.

So he and Gerard are friends again, and eventually the weirdness dies down. Frank doesn't hang out at Gerard's house as much as he used to, but they do hang out. And Mikey and Gabe are like, totally made for each other or something, so whenever Frank goes out with his friends, Mikey's there and usually Gerard's there, too. And sometimes Mikey comes over just to play with Eleanor because he loves animals but he can't have pets at his apartment.

One night after the restaurant's closed up and Frank's finished counting the tills and everything's been cleaned and mopped and scrubbed down and set up for the morning, Gabe says, "Come on, I'll buy you a beer."

They go to their favorite bar, so 1970s with its dark wood and gilded mirrors but really mellow and awesome with tons of beers on tap. They drink beer and order fried mushrooms to eat and ignore how they're probably fried in the same oil they fry cheese and chicken nuggets in.

Finally, Gabe's like, "Tell me about Gerard."

And Frank's like, "Um. Tell you what? He's an artist. He lives next door to my mom. He's got an awesome little brother who's dating a total fucking weirdo."

Gabe says, "You guys kissed."

Frank sighs, because of course Gabe knows. Of course Gerard told Mikey and Mikey told Gabe. "That was months ago," he says. "It's not a big deal."

Gabe says, "I get what it means to have your faith be a part of you, not something you chose but something you are. I get that it's lodged in your bones and the bones of your ancestors going back generations. Like, I'm down with God, okay? And I'm down with the big J.C. as a radical Jew shaking up the status quo. And I don't actually know where the bird comes in or why it's on fire, but whatever. I'm down with the fucking flaming pigeon, too, however it fits into the whole trinity thing, which, okay. I could go off on a tangent right now but I'm trying to keep it to the point. I am down with God, Frankie. You know that, right?"

Frank nods.

"I have one huge fucking problem with the Catholic church, though or, actually, no. I've got, like, a hundred problems with the Catholic church starting with them burning Jews alive for shits and giggles."

"That was hundreds of years ago," says Frank.

"Nazi collaboration," says Gabe.

Frank says, "Yeah, that was pretty fucking shitty. No explaining that bullshit away."

"So, like, okay, I'm admitting right now that I'm personally offended by those motherfuckers from the Vatican. We'll just put that shit on the table even though it has nothing to do with why I'm really pissed at them. I'm pissed because a whole bunch of self-righteous fuckfaces who've proclaimed themselves infallible--"

Frank says, "It's actually just the Pope who's--"

"What the fuck ever. He proclaimed himself infallible, which is bullshit because time has proved over and over again that neither the church nor the pope is infallible. Because they're human. They might think they're doing the right thing, but they're not. They're just humans fucking up, and they're fucking shit up for everybody else, too. Sex is not inherently sinful, okay? It's not a fucking stain on the soul of mankind. It's a fucking gift. It's an actual gift from God. And two people who love each other having sex as a way to express that love? That's fucking sacred. It's worshiping God in the other person. I don't give a fuck what some asshole in a stupid hat says."

Frank sighs miserably.

"And the other thing that pisses me off is how they want you to suffer. They everybody to suffer for no reason. They want people to suffer because it's good for them or some shit. Wearing a fucking hair shirt isn't noble, it's psychotic. And making yourself miserable just to prove how much you love God? He already knows. If you let yourself be happy for one second, he isn't going to stop loving you. He wants you to be happy. Because you're supposed to live for your faith, Frankie. You're not supposed to die for it."

Frank says, "You don't understand."

Gabe says, "I know. There's a whole lot of shit in this world that I don't understand. And this isn't me saying that Jews are perfect because there are some seriously judgmental fuckers out there. I'm just saying that you're my friend and this fucking sucks. I hate it when my friends are suffering, you know? Because you're all fucking rad and none of you deserve heartbreak or sadness or pain. And I held my fucking tongue this whole time even though I didn't agree with you because it's your life. But you're miserable."

Frank says, "I'm fine."

"The fuck you are. You love that bastard and he's fucking crazy about you right back and you won't do anything about it because you put too much stock in what flawed human beings are telling you instead of listening to your soul and your gut and your bones." He takes a long swig of beer. "Okay. Lecture's over. You can punch me in the face if you need to. I know talking smack about somebody's religion isn't cool."

Frank says, "I'm not going to punch you. You're wrong and you don't get it, but your heart's in the right place."

When he gets home, he calls Gerard. He just wants to hear his voice. It's so fucked up. Gerard sounds happy to hear him, chatters on excitedly about the new piece he's working on, something about how lightening actually splits the air and thunder's the sound millions of air molecules make when they're crashing back into each other.

Frank closes his eyes and curls up on his bed and says, "We probably shouldn't hang out anymore. It's not fair to either one of us to have to pretend that we don't feel anything more than friendship."

Gerard says, "No. I want--"

"It doesn't matter what--"

"I like you so much," Gerard whispers. "I just want to be with you. Even if it's not the way people usually are together, I don't care. I just want you. We can just be together, can't we? Even though it's not physical, even though nobody else will get it, we can just. I love you."

Frank just breathes. He doesn't know what he'd say even if he were capable of speech.

"And you love me, too. I didn't think so at first, when you ran away, but you do. I can tell, now. Every time we're together I know it's true. You love me."

Frank whispers, "Yeah."

"So we can just do that, right? We can love each other and be in each other's lives. I can be your boyfriend even though we never touch like that.

Frank takes a few deep breaths. "That's not how it works."

"We can make it work."

"No, we can't. I can't. If I'm focused on you, if I let myself love you, then I won't be chaste."

Gerard's frustrated, Frank can tell just by the sound of his breath. "How is that not chaste? How is just, like, sitting in your mom's kitchen drinking coffee not chaste?"

"Because I'll want it," Frank whispers. "Because I'll be thinking about it. I can't think about anything else right now as it is. If I give in to it, if I have to sit there in the same room with you, knowing that you love me, knowing how much I love you. I can't do that and stay sane."

"But you can sit somewhere alone and know how much I love you? Because I do and I'm not going to stop. So wherever you are, even if I never see you again, I just love you. I'm always going to love you. And you're always going to know it."

"You're not playing fair," Frank whispers.

Gerard sits down on the floor in his studio and leans against the wall. He says, "I know. I'm not going to play fair, not when it comes to this. And I'm not sorry." He's pretty sure Frank's crying when he hangs up the phone.

Gerard's always been an idiot when it comes to love. He's never once made the smart choice. He knows it's stupid to feel like the fact that he and Frank can't just fall in bed together makes it more romantic, but he feels it anyway. He thinks about Romeo and Juliet for a while, thinks about forbidden love, Brideshead Revisited and The Thornbirds. Then he feels silly and gets up and calls his friend Lindsay, who's organizing a conference in Chicago about the importance of arts in society.

"I'll be on one of your fucking panels," Gerard tells her.

She laughs. "Who is this and what have you done with Gerard?"

"I said I'd be on one of your panels, okay? I maybe need a break from Jersey for a few days."

"Come for a week and I'll show you the town. Greta makes a mean apple cobbler."

Gerard agrees, even though he's never met Lindsay's girlfriend, even though he has to take a plane and then, like, socialize with total strangers. He knows it won't really make a difference, but sometimes he likes a change of scene. And when he comes back, he's going to try some more because, yeah, he was slow to start, but now that he knows for sure Frank loves him, he's determined not to let him go.

**********

Frank's mom is all, "You never come visit me anymore, and I know I'm such a burden and you have so many other, more interesting people around and--"

And Frank's all, "Fuck, mom, just say you want me to come over. You just took seventeen minutes off my life with all that guilt."

She says, "You want to come over and watch bad TV next time you don’t have to work?"

Frank says, "Yeah," then, "But I can't see Gerard. I kind of. I need to not see him, at least for a while."

His mom sighs but says, "That's okay. He's going to Chicago next week. Do you have a day free next week?"

Frank says, "Thursday."

She says, "I get off work at one. Come by after that and we'll make fun of people on Maury."

They actually do make fun of people on Maury, which is always a good time. And Frank's still there when Lou gets home from work, but he starts making shitty, racist comments and Frank's all, "Peace out, yo."

When Frank gets back to his place, Eleanor wriggles and whines in her carrier and Frank sees a pair of really long legs stretched out across the hallway. When he gets closer, he sees that it's Mikey, sitting with his back to Frank's door, head tipped back and eyes closed.

"Hey," Frank says softly.

Mikey opens his eyes and he's breathing kind of unsteadily. Not like he's out of breath, more like he's in pain. He says, "Hey. I was, um. I was halfway there. But then I wasn't. So I stopped here, only you weren't. So I just stayed. Is that okay?"

Frank says, "Yeah, totally," and tries not to look as worried as he feels. He helps Mikey to his feet and they go inside and Mikey immediately curls up on the couch and pats the cushion by his head and Eleanor knows the score, Mikey will snuggle her for days and days at a time, so she jumps up happily and licks his face and scratches at his chest and the cushion and turns around a few times before settling down.

Frank says, "So what's up?"

"I was looking for Gerard," Mikey says softly. "He was. I was going to go to his house. But then it was really far and I just couldn't. And this was close and I thought maybe, but he's not here, is he?"

"He's in Chicago," Frank says softly. He chews on his lower lip and debates calling Gabe.

Mikey says, "Right. I knew that."

"Are you okay, Mikes?"

"I'm really tired," he whispers. "Sometimes things are just. Hard." His hands are shaking and every once in a while he blinks and freezes like he's startled, like maybe somebody just touched a piece of ice to his skin.

Frank kneels down in front of him and says, "Hey, are you all right?"

Mikey nods. He's breathing quick and shallow.

"Do you need me to get you something? Do you need, um." Frank doesn't know how to ask if Mikey's coming down off something without sounding like a douchebag. "Is there, like, medication that could help?"

"My bag," says Mikey.

Frank goes over to Mikey's messenger bag and takes a deep breath because he's, like, maybe going to suddenly be faced with, like, black tar heroin or something. He doesn't know anything about drugs! He's smoked weed and that's as far as his drug knowledge goes. But Mikey's obviously not right, and he wants to help so, like, he figures he won't know what to do until he knows what he's dealing with. And then he probably still won't know what to do, but whatever. He's trying, that's the important part.

He opens Mikey's bag and there aren't any suspicious baggies or white powder or syringes or anything. There are just a couple of books and some pens and a spiral notebook with a unicorn on the cover. And then Frank sees a little corner of paper sticking out of the notebook. He pulls the notebook out of Mikey's bag and opens it and three little rectangular pieces of paper flutter to the floor. They're prescriptions, dated a week earlier.

Frank says, "Do you have insurance?" Because if Mikey doesn't, if he hasn't gotten his meds because he can't afford them, well, Frank can probably afford to get them for him.

Mikey says, "Yeah. It's, everything's on file at Abbot's. On Washington and Overlook."

"In Belleville, right?" Frank asks. "You, um, you just rest, okay? I'll get these."

Mikey says, "You don't have to. I'm. I was on my way. I just couldn't quite. It's hard, sometimes. But I can go."

"Nah," says Frank. "Eleanor doesn't like being left home alone, anyway, so you stay here with her and I'll be back as soon as I can, all right?"

Mikey nods and tips his head to press his nose into the fur of Eleanor's neck. She licks his hand and Frank puts on his shoes and his coat and says, "I've got my phone, so you call if you need anything else."

He calls his mom on the way to the pharmacy. He says, "So, um, I kind of need your expertise. If somebody was taking Depakote and Lamictal and Seroquel, what would you think they needed those for?"

His mom says, "Bipolar disorder. What's going on, Frankie?"

"A friend," he says. "I'm picking up his meds right now and I just. I just wanted to know what they were for because I'm a giant creep who can't mind his own business."

"Is he agitated?" his mom asks. "Aggressive? Is he suicidal? Because you should take him to the ER right away, get a hold of his doctor."

"He's okay," Frank says. "I think maybe he just stopped taking his meds for a few days? Or maybe, I don't know. The prescriptions are dated from over a week ago. I don't know how long he's gone without them."

She says, "Bring him over here if he won't go to the hospital, all right?"

He says, "Okay," because he doesn't know what else to do. He doesn't want to just assume Mikey's going to be fine and then have him get worse because he didn't do the right thing.

He picks up Mikey's prescriptions and makes it back to the apartment in under an hour. "Do you have any food?" Mikey asks, sitting up slowly after Frank sets the pills on the table in front of him. "I should take these with food."

Frank laughs and says, "Do I have food? That's like asking Gee if he's got paint."

He makes Mikey a quick sandwich and pours him a glass of iced tea and once Mikey's eaten and taken his meds, he says, "So, I was going to go hang out with my mom tonight."

Mikey says. "Oh. Um, yeah. I'll just, I can go back to my place and--"

"I wanted to know if you wanted to come along."

"And finally meet the famous Linda?" Mikey asks. "Yeah. I mean, if you don't mind."

Frank says, "I don't mind. If we're lucky, Lou will already be in the bedroom watching TV in his underwear. In the bed he shares with my mom, shit, I just grossed myself the fuck out."

Mikey smiles at him, but it's more like he's trying to smile and not quite getting it right. He holds Eleanor on his lap the entire way to Frank's mom's house, doesn't let her go even when they get inside.

Frank's mom says, "Oh, you must be Mikey," and gives him a giant hug, being careful not to squish Eleanor. She says, "Frank called and said you'd stopped your meds."

Mikey looks over at Frank. Frank's like, "Yeah, okay, I totally narc'd on you, but she was an ER nurse for thirty years and she knows way more about this than I do."

And then Frank's mom is totally in efficient nurse mode, whisking Mikey off so they can talk in private and telling Frank to go help Lou clean out the garage. Frank goes, but he's not happy about it. He's less put out when he gets to the garage and finds Lou drinking beer and listening to his old Neil Young albums instead of doing any actual cleaning.

They hang out in the garage drinking beer and not really talking, just listening.

Lou says, "I thought you went home."

"I did. But a friend of mine needed some help, so Mom's taking care of him."

Lou nods and drinks his beer and says, "Your mother's a good woman. Heart of gold, that one. Don't know how I landed her." Sometimes, Lou isn't all bad.

When they finally go back to the house, Mikey and Frank's mom are sitting in the living room drinking herbal tea. Mikey's saying, "He exaggerates. He thinks everything I do is good just because I'm his brother."

Frank's mom says, "And I'm sure it's his exaggeration that won you the Griffin Prize. He gave me that book, you know. I read it, well, all the time. I get your words stuck in my head sometimes, phrases tumbling around and flowing through me. It's nice."

Mikey tips his head down and curls his shoulders in, but Frank can see a hint of a real smile on his face.

"Frankie, make up the guest room, would you?"

"Oh," says Mikey. "I don't want to, like, impose."

But of course Frank's mother is going to have none of that and she has Frank make up the guest room. Lou's already upstairs, and he stands half in and half out of his bedroom and looks around like he's checking for spies.

"Frank," Lou whispers. "Frankie, hey, um, that kid. He was, uh. He's wearing a dress."

"A miniskirt, actually," Frank says. "And a t-shirt."

Lou says, "Huh."

Frank wonders if he's going to have to punch Lou in the cock. He doesn't want to upset his mother, but if Lou makes one shitty comment Frank's totally going to punch him in the cock anyway.

"Gerard's brother, you said?" Lou asks.

Frank nods. "Yup."

"Huh," Lou says again. "Weird family. Don't mind telling you I wasn't at all crazy about the idea of that Gerard spending so much time with your mom, but he's an okay kid. A little weird, but I guess without weird kids in the world we wouldn't have art or bitching music."

Frank's kind of touched, but mostly he's stuck on the fact that Lou just said "bitching" without any irony whatsoever.

Once Mikey's gone to bed, Frank says, "Mikey wrote a book?"

His mom smiles at him. "He's had three published. And at his age, too. Here, let me get his latest one."

It's a slim volume, Hymns for Watsessing Avenue by Michael Way. He flips through the pages, and it's poetry. He makes himself a mug of mint tea and settles down at the kitchen table and reads.

Mikey's poems are astonishing. Frank didn't even know you could write poems like that, poems that tasted of the New Jersey air and smelled like the cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park, were urgent and anguished and so familiar that Frank felt like he should know every word, but each phrase and image was a surprise.

Frank reads the entire book, every poem, cover to cover. Then he reads it again. Then he reads the poem called A Passionate Chemical Romance one more time to be sure that it's about Gerard. It is. It's about Mikey's anger, watching Gerard destroy himself. It's about his terror, waiting for Gerard to die.

When Frank goes upstairs, he hears Mikey talking. He pushes the door open, expecting to find his mom in the guest room, too, but it's just Mikey, curled up on the bed in an old Queen of Peace High School t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants that are both too short and too big for him. Frank recognizes them from high school.

Mikey says, "I, uh. I wasn't talking to the dog."

Frank says, "I talk to her all the time."

Mikey says, "You think I’m crazy, now. You're going to tell Gabe that I'm crazy."

Frank shakes his head. "I wouldn't do that. And I don't think you're crazy."

Mikey scratches Eleanor's head and she yawns and rests her chin on his knee.

"I don't," Mikey says softly. "I don't want to be crazy. I thought I was better. I thought maybe I could just stop taking the pills and I'd be fine."

Frank closes the door behind him and sits on the bed. He pets Eleanor, too, and she wags her tail happily. "I don't know a lot about this," he admits. "But, like, it's not a bad thing, right? It's not, like, a character flaw. It's just biology. That's the way my mom always talks about it. Like how I've got a shitty immune system and my grandpa's got diabetes. Bodies sometimes don't work exactly right, but it doesn't mean anything."

Mikey says, "I know. But I." He purses his lips. "I was always the reliable one which, yeah, that's totally a relative term. Reliable compared to Gerard. But it was part of my identity. I took care of things, of him. I'm not. He wouldn't be pissed if he knew I was saying this. I'm not talking behind his back."

Frank says, "I believe you. About him being okay with it and about being the reliable one. My mom gave me your book, the one with the poem about him? I didn't know it was like that. He mentions it sometimes, offhand, like stuff he did before he was sober. I guess I assumed it wasn't a big deal."

Mikey says, "His sobriety is a really big deal. I was so fucking pissed at you before, when you stopped talking to him. Before I found out why. And I'm still. You can't fuck with him, okay? You can't."

Frank says, "I'm not. I've told him the truth. I'm not jerking him around. He knows nothing can ever happen."

Mikey sighs.

"I told him," Frank says again. "We've talked about it."

Mikey says, "The thing about Gerard, though, is that you can't tell him shit. He just has to learn for himself. And if this fucks him up. If this makes him." Mikey rubs his hand over his face. "I'm really tired. I haven't been able to sleep. My brain just wouldn't turn off. But I think I can sleep, maybe. Maybe if I can not think, I'll be able to sleep. So will you just talk? I know it's weird and you don't have to, but if you just talk to me, tell me, I don't even care. Stupid shit. Recipes. I think I'll be able to turn my brain down enough to sleep."

Frank says, "Gabe ever tell you about the time he got arrested, naked, at Symphony Hall?"

**********

Mikey's meds start working again. He spends a couple days at Frank's mom's house, but then he's better and he goes back home. He's not allowed to have pets in his apartment, but Frank lets him take Eleanor with him, anyway. He trusts Mikey to take good care of her, and she loves him, and Frank thinks that whatever shit it is that Mikey's dealing with, it's less shitty when he's got Eleanor there.

Gerard gets back from Chicago and calls Frank, says, "Your mom told me what you did, how you took care of Mikey. I owe you."

"No," says Frank.

"No, I really do. Come over, okay? I brought back tons of tacky souvenirs and you can have your pick of the lot."

The souvenirs are really, really tacky -- oven mitts with "Chicago" printed over and over across them in Comic Sans, a baseball cap with an image of Al Capone stitched on it, baseball bat keychains proclaiming love for the White Sox, Chicago pens studded with rhinestones.

Frank takes one of the pens because they're hilarious.

"I read Mikey's book," he says. "The Watsessing Avenue one. He's amazing."

Gerard smiles at him, gorgeous and happy and totally unselfconscious, crying out, "I know! When I first realized he could do that, could put words together like that to fucking drill into your bones, to snatch you away from where you are and put you somewhere else, in another life, fuck. It was like, I'd seen this kid every single day of his entire life, and then suddenly I was looking at a part of him that had always been there but I never knew. It was really fucking humbling."

Frank says, "I'm glad he's okay."

"Thanks," Gerard whispers. He reaches up like he's going to touch Frank's face, but he drops his hand before it makes contact.

"I didn't do it as a favor or anything," Frank says. "I just. He's my friend."

Gerard nods. "Still. Thank you."

Frank takes a deep breath and thinks he should step back. He doesn't. Frank fingers a strand of Gerard's hair. He says, "You redyed it," which is stupid. Of course he'd redyed it, the red more vibrant than before and leaning towards dark, like Bing cherries instead of maraschino.

Gerard says, "Yeah," and he's not looking at Frank's eyes. He's looking at Frank's mouth. He licks his lips, but he doesn't lean in.

Frank thinks, Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, please just fucking kiss me. Gerard doesn't. He doesn't move. He's still staring at Frank's' mouth. Frank closes his eyes and tips his head up and slides his fingers through Gerard's hair, tugging him close.

Gerard's mouth is gentle against his, tender and sweet. Frank's fingers tighten in his hair, and Gerard pulls back just for a second before leaning in to kiss Frank again. He kisses Frank like that over and over, hands resting lightly on Frank's shoulders. Frank's heart it s beating fast and he can't quite catch his breath, but, like, in a good way. It's not at all like when he can't catch his breath because he's sick, because he actually can't breathe.

Gerard touches the tip of his tongue to Frank's lips, and Frank makes this soft, needy sound he's never heard himself make before. He parts his lips and then he can hear their kisses as well as feel them, mouths soft and open, tongues sliding together.

Frank whispers, "Gerard," because he's totally going to tell Gerard they have to stop. He is. Only, he says Gerard's name and then Gerard's pressing him up against the wall and kissing him slow and dirty, cradling Frank's face in his hands. His thigh is pressed up between Frank's legs and they're rocking together and Frank's breathless and weak, would probably just crumple if Gerard wasn't holding him up.

Gerard bites at Frank's jaw and starts kissing his neck, and Frank shudders and his eyes roll back and he whispers, "Gerard," again in this totally broken voice.

Gerard whispers, "Yeah," and he takes Frank's hand and pulls away, and Frank follows. Frank follows him up the stairs even though he knows where they're going, even though he knows what they're going to do. He should be running. He should be pulling away and crossing himself, repeating the name of Christ over and over to help him resist temptation. Instead he just shoves Gerard against the wall at the top of the steps and kisses him, pressing their bodies together, knowing he's clumsy and awkward but hoping Gerard won't care.

They stumble and kiss their way to the bedroom, and once they're finally inside, Gerard grins at him and tugs his shirt off, dropping it on the floor. He takes the hem of Frank's shirt and pulls it up and Frank lets him take it off, and then Gerard's cooing and running his fingers over Frank's skin and saying, "Fuck, Frankie, I didn't even know you had this much ink."

Frank shakes his head because, well, obviously he does.

Gerard skims his fingers over Frank's chest piece, a sacred heart that looks like it's made of stained glass radiating flame, an immaculate heart radiating light. He trails his fingers down to Frank's navel, then strokes his thumbs over the doves on Frank's hips. He says, "One day, I'm going to take hours learning every inch of your skin." And then he's unbuckling Frank's belt and unzipping his jeans and squatting down as he pulls Frank's pants and underwear down past his knees.

Frank steps out of them and Gerard stands back up and Frank's just naked. Frank's standing there naked in front of another person. Naked and hard and he's not even ashamed. He says, "You, too," and he's bold enough to undo Gerard's pants and tug them down. Only when he gets Gerard's pants down to his knees, he's about eye level with Gerard's cock and, yeah. Yeah, Frank wants to taste it. He shifts from his feet to his knees and runs his hands up Gerard's bare thighs and leans in and licks the tip of Gerard's cock. He licks at it again, then tilts his head and slides his tongue along its length, from the tip to the base and then back up again.

Gerard whispers, "Oh, fuck, Frankie," and then loses his balance because his pants are wrapped around his ankles and he lands on his ass on the edge of the bed, laughing and grinning down at Frank, who's grinning back up at him.

Frank thinks he's going to get back to the whole Operation: Blowjob thing because, yeah, he'd liked the little bit he'd gotten to do, and it had definitely sounded like Gerard had been into it. Gerard has other ideas, though, and he pulls Frank up onto the bed and starts kissing him and kissing him and kissing him until Frank's dizzy with it and his lips feel hot and swollen and his jaw is starting to ache.

Frank breaks away because he has to breathe, because there's not enough air in the entire world to keep him from feeling like he's about to pass out. He tips his head back and sucks in air and he's shaking and his entire body is thrumming and Gerard just keeps kissing him. Gerard kisses his neck and his collarbones, kisses his way down Frank's arms and kisses the tips of his fingers.

He swings one leg over Frank's hips and sits back on Frank's thighs and holds Frank's hand in his, rubbing the muscle between his thumb and forefinger that always gets tense at work, digging his thumbs into the muscles of Frank's forearm and kissing the center of Frank's palm.

"What do you like?" Gerard asks, picking up Frank's other hand and kissing his fingers, kissing the knuckles where it spells out HALLO. He turns Frank's hand over, kisses his palm, licks at his wrist and digs he teeth in gently. Frank didn't even know wrists were one of his things, but apparently they are because every touch of Gerard's mouth shoots right up his arm and down his belly to his cock.

Frank says, "My-my wrists, yeah, like that."

Gerard smiles at him, then takes him by the wrists and lifts his arms up over his head. He leans forward, putting his weight on Frank's wrists, pressing them into the pillows, and, fuck, that's good, too. "What else?" he asks, and now that he's leaning forward he can rub their cocks together. His eyes flutter shut for a moment, and Frank's struck anew by how beautiful he is, like he didn't already know, like he hasn't known from the moment they first met. "Tell me what else you like," Gerard whispers.

"I don't know," Frank admits softly. "I've never done this before, Gee."

"I know," Gerard says, rubbing their cocks together and holding Frank down and, fuck, Frank thinks he could come from this if Gerard just kept going. "I know you haven't, but the stuff you have done, what did you like best?"

"Gerard," Frank whispers. "I haven't. Nobody's even. You're the only person I've ever even kissed."

Gerard sits up suddenly. He lets go of Frank's wrists but he stays where he is, straddling Frank's hips. He looks down at Frank and he slides his fingertips over Frank's lower lip, then over the curve of his jaw. He whispers, "Frankie."

Frank closes his eyes because he's embarrassed. He doesn't know why. He's never been embarrassed about it before, being twenty-six and celibate, so close to thirty and never been kissed. But now he's embarrassed and he thinks Gerard's going to stop, think he's going to push Frank away or ask tons of questions, but he doesn't.

Gerard says, "Frankie," again and kisses him, and then Gerard's draped over him, and their legs are intertwined and they're rutting against each other desperately. Gerard whispers, "Whatever you want, Frankie. You just tell me, whatever you want, and I'll do it."

And Frank gasps, "You. Just you, like this, right now." He can feel it building, the tight, sweet ache in his lower belly and balls, the feeling that he's just about past the point of no return.

Gerard gets a hand between them, wraps it around Frank's cock and, God, it's perfect. Rough and fast and Gerard's got his face pressed hard against Frank's neck, letting out these desperate little sounds.

Frank's moaning, too, isn't even sure what sounds he's making because he's not in control of them, they're just coming out his mouth along with bitten off curses and Gerard's name and the words, I love you, unspoken on the tip of his tongue.

He must say them when he comes, though, sudden and sooner than he expects, hitting him hard and uncontrollable. He must say it, because when he's through shuddering and crying out and finally comes back to himself, Gerard's lying next to him, gazing at him with gentle eyes and stroking his cheek and whispering, "I love you, too, Frankie," and smiling as he pulls Frank close.

Frank's never been one to sleep in the afternoon if he's not sick, but he sleeps there in Gerard's arms. He dozes for a while and luxuriates in the feeling of their naked skin pressed together. He sleeps, and he wakes up with his head on Gerard's chest, leg slung over Gerard's hips, Gerard's hand splayed possessively over the small of his back.

It aches, deep in Frank's chest. He's so scared, because now he'll know exactly what he's missing. He knows it's going to hurt more than it had before, when he'd only been able to imagine how good it would feel to have someone to share his life with, to not be alone.

It's getting dark, close to sundown, and Frank thinks of his friends gathered together in the restaurant. He wonders if they're waiting for him. He wonders if Dianna's lit the candles, yet. He whispers, "Blessed are you, oh Lord."

Gerard's still mostly asleep, but he lifts his head up anyway and asks, "What?"

And Frank slides his hand over Gerard's chest and says, "I want you to fuck me."

Gerard says, "Frankie, hey, you don't have to--"

"I want it," Frank whispers, hiding his face against Gerard's neck. "You said you'd do whatever I want, and I want you inside me."

Gerard opens him slowly, with fingers and his tongue, which makes Frank shudder and moan. He fucks Frank with his fingers and then with a small purple dildo and Frank wonders if Gerard's ever fucked himself with it. Then Gerard pushes the toy deep and Frank's breathless and rocking back against him.

He's trembling by the time Gerard actually presses his cock inside. They're lying curled up together, Gerard behind him with a steady hand on Frank's hip, asking, "Is this okay, Frankie? Tell me if I'm hurting you and I'll stop."

It's a stretch, and it's uncomfortable in a good way, like how the pain of a tattoo can be good. Frank says, "Don't stop," and reaches down to touch Gerard's hand. He laces their fingers together and pulls Gerard's hand against his chest, and the only things they say after that are soft whispers, "Yes," and, "So good, baby," and, "Love you."

They sleep for a little while afterwards, then wake again and do everything Frank can think of. They kiss and touch and rub together until every inch of Frank's skin is oversensitive and his muscles ache and he's so exhausted he can't even roll over out of the wet spot. They make love over and over again until dawn, stopping only to catch a few minutes of sleep or grab something to eat or drink huge glasses of water because, hey, sex is really athletic. Who knew?

It's just after eight in the morning when Frank gets out of bed. His entire body aches, but in a way that's kind of nice. Gerard's passed out, face pressed into a pillow, breathing slow and even through his mouth. Frank watches him for a while, and he doesn't look extra peaceful or innocent or anything, he just looks like he's asleep. He looks like he has no idea what kind of asshole Frank really is.

The note Frank leaves for him just says, "I love you and I'm so sorry. I never should have let it get this far."

Frank goes to mass, and he feels just the way he always has. He feels like he's loved, like he's part of something. He doesn't feel cut off from God. He goes to confession and Father Novak doesn't seem at all surprised when Frank says, "I slept with him. With Gerard. Last night. I slept with him and I can't ask for forgiveness. I can't ask you to forgive me because I'm not sorry."

Father Novak sighs and says, "Frank. You know the church's stance."

Frank says, "Yeah." And he feels sad because he's always had the church, his entire life, and the thought of turning his back on his faith is terrifying. He says, "I think...I think maybe you're wrong. I think the church is wrong. Because I'm in love with him, and being with him doesn't make me feel removed from God. I feel like now I'm fully human, maybe for the first time. I feel like this is what I'm supposed to do. And I don't know how I'm going to manage without this. I don't know how I'm going to handle not having the church in my life."

Father Novak sighs deeply and he doesn't say anything for a moment. Frank steels himself. He closes his eyes and presses his fist to his stomach, against the knot that's formed there, waiting to be condemned.

Father Novak sighs again and says, "Sometimes I think that if we would just take a stand, truly put ourselves out on a limb for the love of Christ, for the love he has for all his children. I don't know. It wouldn't have even occurred to me if not for you, if not for my other gay parishoners. If you hadn't all come to me in total honesty and humility and pain, I never would have thought that maybe you're right. Maybe we are wrong. I don't have any answers, Frank, but you're always welcome here."

Frank goes back to Gerard's. His mom's puttering around in the front garden, and she waves to him like she expects him to come over. He says, "I need to talk to Gerard. I'll be over later, okay?"

When he gets upstairs, Gerard's still in bed. He has a moment of hope that Gerard won't even know he left, but then he sees his note crumpled up on the floor, sees the way Gerard's curled up so small beneath the covers.

He climbs onto the bed and says, "Hey."

Gerard takes a shaky breath. He says, "I didn't think you were coming back."

Frank says, "I'm an asshole. I'm an asshole for writing that note. I'm an asshole for even thinking about leaving." He doesn't know what to say. He's never done this, doesn't know what he's supposed to say or do. So he just crawls under the covers and fits himself up against Gerard's back and says. "I love you. I need you. I thought that I had to go back to how I've always been, but I can't. And I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I don't know how to be in love, but I am. I'm going to fuck up sometimes because I've never done this, okay? But if you're willing to forgive me, if you're willing to be patient--"

Gerard turns and puts his hand on Frank's cheek, runs his thumb over Frank's lower lip. "I've never done this sober," he admits. "It's new for me, too. We can fuck up together, okay?"

Frank smiles, and he's so relieved that all he can do is move closer to Gerard, press his face against Gerard's neck and cling to him and breathe.

**********

Frank invites Gerard to dinner the next Friday night. He works in the morning, through their early Friday afternoon close, then sits in the kitchen talking with Dianna as she braids the challahs and places them on a baking sheet to rise.

"My, uh," he says. "My boyfriend's coming to dinner tonight." It feels so weird to say. He never thought he'd be able to say that he had a boyfriend, but he can, and he gets a little thrill every time.

Dianna looks up at him and her sharp hazel eyes sparkle. She says, "Mikey's older brother?"

Frank nods.

"About time," she says. Then she grins and asks, "You going to help or are you just going to watch me cook?"

Frank jumps down off the counter and says, "Definitely help." He stuffs dates with oranges and pistachios and cinnamon, roasts beets and drizzles them with hazelnut oil and balsamic vinegar. Dianna makes a vanilla pear torte and a big batch of chamomile lemonade. Travie shows up after an hour or so and steals a slice of roasted beet before Frank recruits him to julienne the zucchini that Frank's going to sauté to go with his lemon-rosemary seitan.

When Gerard and Mikey show up, the challas are cooling on wire racks and the kitchen is crowded with people talking and laughing and helping out. Frank's just finishing up the seitan and he feels someone looking at him. When he glances up, he sees Gerard standing back away from everyone else, looking around at the chaos in the kitchen with wide eyes. Frank grins at him, and Gerard smiles back and gives him a little wave and Frank's stomach does s dizzy little spin that makes him feel giddy.

"Go talk to your boy," Gabe says softly, taking the spatula out of Frank's hand. "I'll finish up."

"You can't cook," Frank reminds him, because sometimes Gabe forgets.

"I can put shit on a plate, okay? Go talk to your boy and send his hotass brother over my way."

Frank reluctantly gives up his spot in the kitchen and heads towards Gerard.

"There are a lot of people here," Gerard says softly. Then he looks embarrassed and takes Frank's hand and leans in for a small kiss. "I mean, hi. Thanks for inviting me."

Frank says, "I'm glad you came. This is, like." He sighs. "I've been looking forward to Friday nights since I was in college and we started doing this. It's just. It's kind of like Thanksgiving, only you get to do it every week."

Gerard says, "Mikey gave me the rundown. Do you, um, need help or anything?"

"You can help set the table," Frank says, and tugs Gerard out into the café. Spencer's already pushed all the four-tops together to make one long table and is arranging the tablecloth over it.

"Fancy," Gerard says as he picks up one of the plates. They don't use the same white industrial-strength plates they serve customers on. The plates are all mismatched, cobbled together from what Frank and Gabe and Dianna, Ray and Travis, Spencer, and anyone else could donate. They don't match, but they're all gorgeous, the kinds of dishes Frank only ever saw displayed in his grandmother's cabinet, the kinds of dishes he didn't think anyone ever ate off of.

They set the table, and Mikey's brought flowers, and Spencer puts dishes of chocolates out, and then Gabe starts carrying in platters of food and Dianna's got the challas and between the fifteen or so of them there, it's quick work getting everything set up.

They all get settled around the table and a little bit before sundown, Frank reaches out to take Gerard's hand. He kisses Gerard's cheek and whispers, "This is my favorite part."

Gerard smiles and slides his arm over Frank's shoulders when Frank leans against him, then turns to look as Dianna covers her eyes with her hands and starts to sing.