The first thing Gerard noticed about Ray was his hair.
The second thing that Gerard noticed about Ray were his hands. They were big and wide, tanned and strong.
Over the years, Gerard found himself watching Ray’s hands and the memories were like photographs in his head.
He remembered sitting at a diner drinking bad coffee, smoking cigarettes and watching Ray scribble in his notebook, trying to get the notes down before they slipped away. Inspiration sometime struck Ray hard and fast and Gerard knew from personal experience how fleeting the feeling could be. He just stayed quiet and made sure Ray’s coffee cup was full. Ray’s fingers curled around his pen as he scrawled out musical notation, chords and tabs and time signatures, and Gerard couldn’t look away as Ray wove together fragments of music into a unified whole.
After a couple of hours of intense concentration, Ray looked up, blinking owlishly. “Hi.” He’d filled up a dozen pages with his ideas.
Gerard just grinned at him. “Hi.”
The Ways were a big Jersey family, but the Ortiz clan was even bigger. Ray had too many brothers to keep track of, and probably close to a million cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. His parents’ home was huge and during the holidays it was packed to the eaves with relatives.
Gerard stopped in long enough to say hi to Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz before stealing Ray away for a couple of hours to work on some songs. As they were leaving, one of the little ones ran straight into Gerard’s legs and bounced, sitting down hard and wailing, more surprised that hurt.
“Ah, mijo,” Ray murmured, picking the kid up and cuddling him. “Shhhh.” Surprisingly, the kid stopped crying, rubbing at his eyes with a watery hiccup.
The kid wrapped his arms around Ray’s neck and buried his face against Ray’s shoulder, snuffling loudly. Ray rubbed soothing circles on the kid’s back and Gerard was a little shocked at how natural and easy Ray made it look.
Gerard liked the care Ray took with Mikey.
Mikey was talented and smart and the best brother Gerard could have wished for, but music didn’t come naturally to him, like it did to Ray and Frank. Mikey had to work hard at playing the bass, spent huge amounts of his time practicing when he thought no one was looking and worried constantly that he wasn’t good enough.
Gerard was lying on the couch nursing his hangover, watching Ray help Mikey practice some tricky chord progressions. Ray was patient and calm, showing Mikey over and over what he needed to do, watching Mikey try to duplicate it and correcting his finger position when necessary.
At first, Mikey’s shoulders were tense and hunched, but as time went on, he relaxed, and took Ray’s advice to stop thinking so hard about what he was doing and just let his muscle memory do the work. Mikey's mouth turned up, a rare smile, and Gerard couldn’t help smiling back across the room.
Since the very beginning, Gerard liked watching Ray play guitar, on stage, in the studio, or idly plucking out notes. There was something almost magical about the way Ray played, fingers and hands confident and fluid on the strings, dancing across the frets.
Gerard could play the guitar—Frank laughed at him when he said that, but he could. Not very well, true, but still. He could pick out chords and strum along, could use a guitar to help him figure out the intricacies of a new song. But it wasn’t his instrument. His instrument was his voice.
The guitar was Ray’s instrument, though, and it showed every time he held one in his hands, the way one hand wrapped around the neck, the other cradling and holding the body close, cherishing it. Sometimes, when Ray thought no one was looking, he’d let his fingers follow the curves and bends of the wood, his face solemn and serious.
It was love and Gerard sometimes felt envious.
He never had a chance to say anything, until he found one quiet moment in the back studio with Ray, after everyone else had slipped away to their bunks.
Ray looked at him, head tilted, puzzled. “For what?” He wrapped his fingers around the neck of his guitar to still the strings. Gerard reached out and touched the back of his hand.
“For holding us together.”
Looking confused, Ray shook his head. “I don’t understand—”
“You’ve always been so strong for us,” Gerard murmured. “Kept us going during the tough times, making us try harder, be better.” He looked into Ray’s direct brown eyes. “We don’t say it enough. Thank you.”
Ray flushed and looked down at the guitar in his arms, but Gerard saw the pleased little smile he tried to hide. “You’re welcome.”