Warped is a world unto itself, a microcosm of real life, or at least what the stories all say life is like for a rock star. Booze. Drugs. Women. Men. All there for the taking. Nothing has changed in that regard except Gerard.
His band’s been great – no bottles or baggies, everyone opting for self-deprivation as support. At least on the bus. He knows things are different on the grounds when there are bonfires and other bands, reputations to uphold in the face of their front man being clean and sober, not even straight-edge, just in too deep to handle it anymore.
He lights another cigarette and sighs, squinting out at the landscape. It’s like a trailer park or some off-planet settlement, everything blocked and boxy. The people look alien too, back by the buses where the fans don’t go, where they can let their guard down. Half-naked and tattooed, unafraid of the sun and their own skin. Gerard pulls his hoodie closer around him, still too raw to expose anything of himself. Unless they’re on stage, unless he’s lifted out of himself by the music.
Mikey flops down beside him on the disintegrating lawn-chair recliner that Ray won from The Offspring in a poker game. It’s on its last legs, and Gerard’s not actually sure it can support their combined weight.
“You’re not with Pete,” he says. It’s rare to see Mikey without Wentz, partners in crime and whatever else they get up to. Gerard’s glad Mikey has someone, though he’s beginning to wonder if Pete’s meant to take his place. Since Japan, he and Mikey haven’t been the same, and he’s beginning to wonder if they ever will.
“One of his bands is hooking up with the tour. He’s showing them around.”
“You’re not helping?”
“It’s The Academy.” Mikey says it like it should mean something.
“It’s…Pete’s got…it’s William. They go back.”
That Gerard understands. That’s what people say about him and Bert. They go back.
“What?” Mikey gives him a look, confusion and misunderstanding, then laughs, just a quick twist of his lips and a breath of sound. “No. The band’s just sort of Pete’s baby, you know? He really wants them to succeed.”
“Are they any good?”
Mikey hums tunelessly. “Yeah. We can go catch them tomorrow if you want. They toured with Pete and Midtown. William and Gabe are friends.”
“I always forget, is that a good thing or a bad one?” Gerard smiles, and for a moment, everything feels normal. He really can’t wait until normal feels normal again.
“Kid ain’t Jersey,” Mikey drawls, accenting his nasal Jersey accent.
Gerard smiles a little wider. “Who is anymore?”
Pete as tour guide involves being pulled in at least twenty different directions at once by people who all seem to need Pete’s attention. William gets that. Pete has something that makes people gravitate to him, some to lift him up, others to bring him down. Pete says William keeps him centered, which William thinks is a compliment. It’s sometimes hard to tell with Pete. Still, Pete’s one of those people that everyone wants to be around. He gives off light or heat or something. Charisma. The drug of the almost famous.
It’s the same reason William sought him out, the same reason he was the closest to king of the Chicago scene. Others were more talented, more skilled, more deserving, but Pete was more...this. And the tour of the tour isn’t about showing William where the food and port-a-potties are. It’s about showing William off, laying claim. Pete wants The Academy’s success almost as much as they do.
It’s easy to see how the bands break down, the hierarchy of tour. That’s another thing Pete does for them, blows down the boundaries that someone at their level has. They’re part of Pete’s clan, and that means no questions asked.
William waves to Patrick as they head back to the buses, half-listening to Pete rambling about a party that night and an awesome show and how William’s going to have a blast. Patrick waves back and rolls his eyes, tapping his watch. Pete waves him off. “I’ll be on time, Mom.”
A couple of catcalls echo around, select activities they’d like to do to Pete’s mom. He flips people off randomly, still talking, leading William over to another line of buses. “Anyway. You have to meet these guys. They’re awesome guys. Well. Mikey’s totally awesome. Frank’s kind of hyper.”
William raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything, not sure Pete would get the irony of it even if William could get a word in edgewise.
“Ray and Bob are awesome. And big. They could crush you. Me. Someone. Smash. And Gerard’s…well.”
William has to smile. “Awesome?”
“Oh. Yeah. Totally awesome. He’s Mikey’s older brother.”
“So. You have to meet them.” He stops walking and William does too, glancing at Pete. He’s smiling a huge smile, one that lights up his entire face. “Mikeyway!” He takes off at a run, launching himself at Mikey. They go down in a tangle of limbs and lawn chair, the frayed green and white plastic wrapped around Pete’s legs.
Gerard – it can’t be anyone but Gerard, sitting in the wreckage - frowns. “You broke our chair.”
“The chair was already broken, Gee.” Mikey gets to his feet and dusts himself off before extending a hand down to Pete.
“I’ll get you a new one. Promise.” Pete bounces to his feet, still grinning up at Mikey. “Next Walmart stop. New chair for GeeWay.”
“Gee.” Mikey dusts off Pete’s back and ass, hand lingering. William watches them then clears his throat.
“Oh. Jeez. Right. Bilvy. C’mere.” Pete waves him over, not moving from his spot next to Mikey. “Mikey. Gerard. This is William. Bill. This is the brothers Way.”
Gerard sighs. “These are. These are the brothers Way. We’re plural.”
“Don’t let the fans hear you say that,” Pete laughs. “We’ve got an hour, Mikeyway. How much damage do you think we can do?”
“Let me get my hat.” Mikey gets on the bus, Pete close at his heels.
Gerard glances after them and sighs. “I don’t suppose you have any cigarettes?”
“No. I don’t…”
“Right.” He exhales roughly. “They’re not coming out.”
“They’re not coming out. For another hour.”
“You might as well sit down and wait.”
“I should…” William starts to say something else then stops. They’re not officially on the tour until tomorrow and this is Gerard Way. “Sure.”
“No questions though.”
“About Pete and Mikey?”
William nods and sits down on a milk crate, stretching his legs out in front of him. “What about comics?”
“What about them?”
“Can I ask questions about comics?”
“Hmm.” Gerard scrapes his foot along the ground and finds a cigarette not quite smoked down to the filter. He picks it up and turns it over in his fingers, then lights it up. “Yeah. Comics are okay.” He waits a good fifteen minutes before he breaks the ensuing silence. “Well?”
William pulls his attention away from a group of people playing Frisbee. “Hmm?”
“Questions? About comics?”
“Oh, I don’t have any. I just wanted to know if they were okay.”
“Ugh.” Gerard wrinkles his nose. “You’re just like Pete.”
“No.” William smiles and shakes his head. “I’m really not.”
Gerard drops the cigarette butt and grinds it into the asphalt. “Don’t smoke. It’s a filthy habit.”
William nods and turns back to the Frisbee match. “You ever think about quitting?”
When he looks back, Gerard is watching him, his face impossible to read, even when he starts to laugh. “No. Never.”
Gerard studies people. He’s an artist, that’s what he was trained to do. He looks at their planes and their curves and the way they’re put together. William is lines and angles, long limbs and wiry muscle, but he also has the blush of baby fat around his face, his hips and stomach. “How old are you?”
“Not if that’s how you answer a question.” Gerard frowns back at the bus, wondering how much longer Mikey and Pete are going to be. He wants his cigarettes and his sketch pad, not to be stuck out here with Pete’s latest…whatever.
“Six…what? Two? Three?”
“Did you want to look at my teeth next?”
“Feel my balls?”
“I don’t…” Gerard frowns and then snorts, giggling. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” William shrugs and it’s like his whole body moves, a puppet on strings. “I think that’s what everyone’s doing, right? Sizing the new guy up.”
“Size people up whether they’re new or not. Everyone has to know your weak spot.” Gerard digs in his pockets, sure there’s another cigarette somewhere. He comes up with his good pen that he thought he’d lost and a half-eaten lollipop. He tears the wrapper off, picks off the stuff that clings to the sticky surface, and sticks it in his mouth.
William narrows his eyes then looks away, his expression carefully blank. “And what’s mine?”
“Well, you’re really tall. So I could kick you in the knees.”
William’s face loses its careful composure, and he laughs. “Yeah, I guess you could, but it’s not like we’re in direct competition. If you’re taking out kneecaps, you probably want to go for Patrick’s or one of the Offspring guys or something. I’m on a totally different stage than you.”
“True. True.” He pulls the lollipop out of his mouth and looks at it, picking off a bit of fuzz. “But you’re here. And if I go in there to get at Pete…well, there are certain things I never want to know about my brother.”
William nods and rubs his foot against the dirt overlaying the tarmac. “Yeah. I know. Sisky, he’s our bassist? He’s like my little brother and occasionally he’ll say things that are…” He shivers and looks up at the sun, filtering through the leaves of the trees towering behind the buses. “Not things he should say. Like, he’s always going to be a fourteen year old kid in my eyes, no matter what, because that’s when he imprinted on me like a duckling. It’s hard to see him growing up.”
“They do it whether you want them to or not. And sometimes they’re older than you.” He knows his voice changes, and he watches to see if William reacts. He doesn’t, beyond a quick nod and a smile at nothing. “But you’re just a kid yourself.”
“I haven’t been a kid for a long time.” He shifts on the milk crate and, for the first time, Gerard thinks that might be uncomfortable.
“Do you want to sit over here? I mean, it’s mostly a death trap or possibly some sort of autoerotic asphyxiation waiting to happen, but it’s probably more comfortable.”
“Is there a difference between a deathtrap and autoerotic asphyxiation?”
“Well, a deathtrap doesn’t have to involve the other, so yeah. Though they could also be the same. It’s really up to the individual to decide, I think.” He pokes the frayed plastic strings. “Either way, I think it would be taking your life in your own hands.”
“Plus, you’d be in the chair too, so it wouldn’t be autoerotic, would it? It would be…mutually erotic asphyxiation. Or possibly dual auto erotic. Warped would probably not appreciate the press.”
“Bullshit. They’d eat it up.” He waggles the lollipop in his mouth, spinning it, hearing it click against his teeth. “It just better be an awesome headline. Rock stars meet grisly end in throes of kinky sex while on lawn chair.”
“I’m pretty sure I’d be more of a footnote than included in the rock star thing.” William comes over and pokes at the chair, squatting down beside it. “This is the scariest thing I think I’ve ever seen on a tour. And I’ve toured with Midtown.”
“Oh, shit.” Gerard laughs. “So you’re hardcore.”
“Tyler rode in our van for one leg of the trip and. We had to have it fumigated.”
“It’s a wonder they all made it out alive.” Gerard frowns for a moment, looking down at William’s hand on the metal rim of the chair. “It’s weird. I mean, Midtown was the scene when we started, you know?”
“And now they’re done.” William nods and traces the aluminum pin holding the plastic fabric on the chair. “Makes you wonder how you hang onto it.”
“I don’t think you do.” He shrugs when William looks up at him. “Maybe that’s the trick. When you know it’s done, or when it’s more work than it’s worth, you move on. Find something else. It’s like a relationship, right?”
William smirks. “An abusive one.”
“But the thing is, once the music isn’t what you’re doing it for, then it’s not worth it. For you or the fans. I mean, I don’t know what’s going on in their heads, but I hope that, if it comes down to doing it because I have to, I can walk away.”
“What?” William straightens up, standing, and Gerard looks up at him. He’s lean and thin, wiry with muscles, and his hair is hanging in his face, too-long bangs and curling slightly around his chin. “And give up all this luxury?”
The door opens before Gerard can laugh, Pete and Mikey tumbling out like overeager puppies. They bump into each other, like there’s not enough space for them, so they have to stumble and crawl and lean into each other. Gerard’s seen it enough already that he doesn’t need to look, but it’s interesting watching William’s gaze as he takes it in. Something sharp and painful that Gerard doesn’t quite recognize, though it’s familiar enough that he knows how it feels.
“Bilvy! C’mon. Patrick’s going to find a new bassist if I’m late, and we all know that Joe and Hurley would eat Sisky alive.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” He heads toward Pete, turning to wave at Gerard. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too.” He lifts a hand in farewell and watches them walk away, even more incongruous together than Pete and Mikey, though he notices that William adjusts his stride to Pete’s, just like Mikey does. “He’s nice.”
“Yeah.” Mikey’s already texting, probably to Pete. “You guys had fun?”
“We sat on milk crates and this for an hour. Even drunk I’d think that description of fun was a little skewed.”
“Things are different sober.” It’s always clear that Mikey hates these conversations almost as much as Gerard does, especially since they both know Mikey’s drinking just as much as he ever did, maybe more, though he’s not using it to chase the burn of cocaine. “You guys had fun?”
Gerard rolls his eyes and extricates himself from the chair, smiling just a little. “Yeah. I think we did.”
William’s known Patrick longer than Pete, but he knows more about Pete. Not just because Pete’s the front man, so he puts himself out there, but because Pete wears everything on the outside. He’s like a man turned inside out, everything most people keep hidden exposed for the critics and press and scavengers to pick at, like some kind of horror movie of emotions. Sometimes listening to Fall Out Boy is like looking at a diagram of the way to break Pete’s heart and spirit, so William tries not to hear the lyrics so much as the sound driving behind them. Patrick’s music is Pete’s protection, but Pete fights against it, like a little kid who doesn’t understand what ‘for your own good’ means.
He supposes he’s the same way, his lyrics slightly less autobiographical, but no less painful sometimes. Unlike Pete, he doesn’t have an instrument to hide behind, a way to spin away from the crowd and hide himself for a moment. Even when he steps back for Mike or Tom to have the spotlight, he can feel the eyes on him, waiting for the next thing he’ll do. It’s more exhausting than singing and pacing the stage, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The thing he loves about festival tours is that there is always someone on stage, someone performing in the heat and the sweat and the roar of the crowed. He loves going from stage to stage, watching everyone ply their trade. He watches the audiences too, seeing how they react and what they react to. He’s been down in the pit enough to know that the fans make the show, make the energy and throw it back, driving the band into the dust or higher and higher.
He’s in the wings of the Hurley stage, watching as James Dewees flings sweat and insults at the fans before launching into Congratulations Smack and Katy. William smiles as the crowd roars, watching the whole band give themselves over to the sound. He can feel it in himself, the buoyancy that comes from the bass and the drums, the shouts and screams and words sung back. A feedback loop like an IV infusion in his blood.
“Hey, do you know James?”
He turns, surprised to see Gerard standing beside him. He’s dressed all in black – jeans, t-shirt, hoodie and fingerless gloves - and William’s kind of surprised he hasn’t passed out from heat stroke. “No. I mean, I’ve seen them before in concert, but I don’t know them.”
“He’s a good friend. I can introduce you.”
“Oh. I…sure. I…I was just stopping to see the set up before I went over to watch FOB. Not that we’re on Hurley. Volcom, I guess.”
“Yeah, I don’t know anything about the other stages.” He smiles wide then takes a drag from his cigarette. “I’m kind of insular. They say it’s better for me.”
William doesn’t ask who ‘they’ is. Knowing Pete has proven that sometimes you don’t want to know, and sometimes, whether you do or not, you’ll get told. Front men have their demons. He’s got his own that surface in nightmares and blank pages, in bottomless rage and frustrating helplessness. Besides, the music world is as full of gossips as any other community, and even if no one knows the specifics, everyone knows Gerard came out of Japan someone different. Of course, he’s only different to the people that knew him before. “You want to show me where the main stage is?”
“Yeah. It’s this main one. Over here. It’s big.” He moves down the stairs, walking in a strange mixture of scurry and strut, and William smiles as he tags along after. It’s a strange rhythm to get used to, but once he falls in step with it, it’s not a hard one to keep.
Gerard keeps talking, pointing things out as if William hadn’t had a tour with Pete earlier. Still, it’s different, because where people had approached Pete, walking beside them for a minute of his attention, for one of his beaming smiles, no one comes near him when he’s with Gerard. It’s like there’s a perimeter around them, roped off with a ‘do not cross’ warning.
“When do you guys play?” Gerard asks.
“Tomorrow in Buffalo. We finished our last tour, so we just hooked up with the caravan today.”
“Buffalo has good crowds. They’re all pretty much good crowds.” He lights a cigarette off the butt of the one in his mouth. “You want one? Oh, you don’t smoke. Right.” He exhales and more smoke joins the hazy cloud around them. “It’s kind of incestuous.”
William nearly misses a step, managing to recover as he looks over at Gerard. “I’m sorry, what?”
“The scene. You were talking about Midtown, and Midtown helped us get our start or, well, Gabe did. And he was Midtown’s face and primary voice and he’s friends with Pete and Pete signed you and so you and I are connected kind of, but not really, but then people all sleep with other people, so it’s kind of incestuous. Only not in the creepy way that the fans do that thing. With me and Mikey. That’s just…wow. So not right.”
“I…” William doesn’t bother to answer. He’s not even sure there was a question. “Okay.”
Gerard doesn’t seem to actually needs an audience, but William keeps up with him anyway, weaving past crowds of people to the backstage area, where techs are leaning on amps and other equipment, calling out good-natured insults to each other. William steps over a box of cords, watching as Gerard waves to a blond guy and, nearly trips over a coil of wire.
It’s strange to hear the chatter die until the only thing buzzing is the feedback of Nick Wheeler’s guitar before All American Rejects launch into their next song. Even the crowd noise seems non-existent as William catches Gerard’s elbow and helps keep him upright while everyone else stares.
Gerard shakes off William’s hand and strides toward the blond, leaving William behind. William stops, watching as Gerard stops in front of whoever the guy is, body language defensive and angry. It’s not hard to imagine the conversation that’s not taking place, especially with everyone staring at them, all wondering if Gerard’s fallen off the wagon, but something the guy says relaxes him, changing his stance into something less defiant.
William smiles to himself and glances around, looking for familiar faces. He knows Pete’s due to play soon, so he and the rest of the band should be gathering soon enough. He could also go back to his own bus, his own band, but ever since Gabe had called him and told him that Midtown was splitting up, the thought of being alone with his band seems like attending a funeral, all of them mourning the loss of something important.
“Hey, William.” Gerard is waving him over, and William blinks a few times before heading toward him. “Come meet Bob. This is Bob.”
“Hi.” William offers a wave and Bob looks him over carefully. He’s large and imposing and not at all friendly-looking, despite the smile William had seen him give Gerard. William’s not sure if he’s drummer or bodyguard or both. He has the irrational urge to turn his pockets out to prove there’s no drugs or alcohol on his person, that it’s not necessary to release the drug dogs. Not that drug dogs wouldn’t just lay down and whimper in protest the second they set foot on the festival grounds. “Gerard was showing me the stage.”
“You couldn’t find it?”
“Well, we’re not playing on it, but I wanted to come see…He was headed this way.” He closes his mouth into a line, trying to stop the nervous urge to keep talking. That way lies stuttering and embarrassment and strange looks that he hates dealing with. “I tagged along.”
“Huh.” Bob keeps looking at him, so William looks anywhere else, finally spying Andy heading their direction.
“There’s Andy. And Pete. And…their band. Fall Out Boy. There they are. I…I should go. Thanks for the tour.” He knows he’s flushed red, adding to the tinge he’s already gotten across the bridge of his nose from the sun, and he hurries over to the Fall Out Boy entourage. The bullshit banter is comforting and he lets it wash over him, careful not to look over to the other side of the area to see if Gerard or Bob is watching.
Bob’s kind of a pussycat, which is why it’s completely weird to see people get all nervous around him. Gerard just gets mad when it feels like Bob disapproves of something. He’d made some flippant remark, angry enough to ask Bob if he wanted to smell his breath, but Bob had just said something about William and lightened the tension. Everyone in his band believes he can stay clean and sober. It’s enough to make him almost believe it himself.
He plans to go back to the bus when Bob does, they’re not playing until late, so they don’t even have sound check for a few hours. Instead he stays and listens to Fall Out Boy play after All-American Rejects leave the stage.
William stands off to the side, hidden by a large metal pole, and Gerard watches him, trying to imagine what he sees. It’s hard when there are layers of friendship that he doesn’t understand, even worse when he’s looking for things that don’t necessarily exist, but he wants to see them if they’re there, so he makes himself believe he sees the clues.
“He’s just a kid,” he tells himself, not willing to consider why he cares what William Beckett sees out on the stage. “He’s probably taking lessons from Wentz, for fuck’s sake.”
“You’re talking to yourself again,” Mikey says softly, barely impeding the ridiculously goofy smile he’s aiming in Pete’s direction. “Don’t you get tired of knowing all the answers to your questions before you ask?”
“I don’t like surprises.” Like Mikey sneaking up on him, for one thing, but he won’t yell at his brother. He can’t see William with Mikey standing where he is, but he doesn’t try to move either of them. “You hanging out with Pete tonight?”
“I think they’re taking off before we do.” He bobs his head to the beat, his fingers moving against his hip along with the bass line. “So probably not.”
“Is he riding with us again?”
“Mmm. Probably not. I think he needs Patrick time.”
“Does Patrick ever need Pete time?”
“Patrick needs no-Pete time.” Mikey smiles, and it’s reassuring to know that Mikey has an idea of what Pete’s really like, what he needs and demands from his friends. Not that Gerard has room to talk. Not that he asked Mikey for anything. Mikey was the one person he couldn’t ask this time, couldn’t let himself need. Being strong for Mikey was always the most important thing. Mikey could know he broke, but he couldn’t be the one to see it. He knows that pissed Mikey off, probably still bothers him, but it’s the constant that Gerard always has to hang on to. He’s Mikey’s older brother, and his job is to take care of him.
“What about you?” Gerard asks, trying to cover the sudden, awkward silence.
“I’m kind of liking Pete-time.” Mikey turns his head and smiles at Gerard, and there’s something in his eyes that hurts, reminding Gerard of the look William had had earlier when he’d watched Pete and Mikey. Keeping someone safe sometimes backfires on you. He sees that now, every time Mikey needs to be somewhere else other than with him. “He’s a good guy, Gee.”
“I’m sure he is, Mikes.” He glances over, his gaze caught on William as Mikey steps back. William looks different, older maybe, as the music washes over him and he loses himself in it. “As long as he doesn’t hurt you, I completely plan to let him live.”
“I like this song.” Mikey moves away completely, heading closer to the stage. He leans against one of the amps and watches Pete. Gerard follows him a couple of steps, keeping his distance from William. Whatever this feeling is, he dislikes it, dislikes the need to feel anything at all. That’s one thing the constant booze and pills did – even when he was high enough to feel everything, he really just felt numb.
Gerard taps Mikey on the shoulder. “I’m going back to the bus.”
Mikey just waves him off, eyes still on Pete, and Gerard wonders what Mikey sees as well. He’s just…Pete, as far as Gerard can tell. Nothing that special. Loud, aggressive, short dude with tattoos. It’s not like Mikey hasn’t been there and done that with Frank. Gerard glances at Pete, then William, and sighs, gnawing at the inside of his cheek before turning to walk back to the bus.
Several of the bands are playing around by the buses, already throwing parties and living it up. Gerard sees the way bodies move into shadows, familiar with the sudden shiver of a hit of cocaine, the stumble when the pills hit just right in their river of booze. He hunches his shoulders like his hoodie offers protection, like it can shield him from the clink of bottles and the stench of beer and piss and feet that emanates from the rows of buses.
“Hey. Hey. Gerard. Hey.”
He stops, turning slowly, suspiciously. Bob and Brian were really good about threatening anyone who tried to fuck with Gerard’s sobriety, but the tour’s always changing, so he tries to be wary. He’s not sure why, really. He’d love to give in to the urge to wrap his fist around a bottle and drink it dry, to feel the numbness that tingles through his skin at the hit of coke, to lick his fingers and suck off the remnants of a line.
And just thinking that proves him a liar. He knows why – because he was killing himself, because Mikey looks up to him.
William stops, all awkward limbs, and Gerard wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up in a tangled heap. “Hey.”
“I saw you. At Fall Out Boy. Leaving. I thought…well, Mikey seemed to think that he and Pete were hanging for a while, so I thought…” He stops, and whatever he thought isn’t remotely clear. Gerard gets that William can’t hang out with Pete and Mikey, because that’s awkward. But that doesn’t explain why he’s here. “I…”
“Don’t you have a band?”
William’s eyes widen slightly, and Gerard knows the look in them. That sudden, shocked realization that someone you think is kind of great turns out to be a royal jackass. He’d hoped he’d stop seeing it when he gave up the booze.
“Yeah.” William nods jerkily and takes a step back. “Yeah. I’m going to go hang with my band. I’ll see you.” He turns sharply and walks off, his back straight and his head high. Gerard sighs.
William ignores everything else as he warms up. Mike and Pete and Butcher are being dicks, talking about the night before and the party and how William is a complete pussy for missing it. William’s already reminded them that he earned his stripes playing strip poker with Gabe Saporta and he can drink them all under the table, but you’re only as good as the current tour, and William spent last night in his bunk.
He drinks a few swallows of warm water and starts again, running through scales. Mike’s got his fingers on his strings, absently playing the new song they added. It’s getting close to time. The crowds are restless, loud even over the music, and all William wants to do is get out there and blow them away. Forget all the rest of the bands, forget everything except the audience and the music and the way they come together like an explosion of sound.
They hit the stage and he flies off the drum riser, launching himself at the crowd like some sort of mutant spider. The songs come alive and he bounces off Mike and Tom and Adam, pushing close and then away, lost in the smell of sweat and heat and people as it all crowds around him. It’s like a drug, the best kind of high, and it lifts him up until it all crashes to an end. He’s dazed as they walk off stage, downing the water one of the techs gives him in three long gulps. It sounds like the world is on the other side of the stage, yelling for them, for more.
“That was good.”
William pulls his earpiece out and shakes his hair, though it mostly just clings to the sweat of his skin. His hearing is fucked, altered for a few minutes as everything adjusts to real and ambient sound instead of the sound of his own voice and his band in his head. He manages a small smile in Gerard’s direction. “Thanks.”
“Your whole…thing. It’s good.” Gerard drags on his cigarette, inhaling and then blowing out a stream of smoke. “Energy.”
“Thanks.” He takes the towel Mike hands him and wraps it around the back of his neck. “I’m surprised you’re here. Don’t you have your own band?”
“Yeah. But we’re not performing right now.” Gerard doesn’t even seem to catch the edge in William’s voice, and certainly not the echo of his own words. “So I came to watch you. Mikey said you were good. And you’re good. Mikey knows.”
“Well, thank him for the positive review.”
“Do you want to come to my bus?”
“What?” William’s friends with Pete, so he’s used to the quick detours a conversation can take, but Gerard doesn’t even give an indication of a u-turn.
“You know, hang out. We have movies and video games and I think Pop-Tarts unless Bob ate them all. No booze. Rootbeer.”
“Of rootbeer? Or Pop-Tarts?”
“A&W. And…um…cherry? Maybe? Possibly strawberry. There’s a berry of some sort involved. Are cherries berries? There’s red. Maybe blue. It has sprinkles.”
William looks over at Tom who’s waiting at the edge of the stage scaffolding for him. He raises his hand for Tom to go on and then glances at Gerard. “What are the odds of brown sugar cinnamon?”
“Slim to none. Those are Mikey’s favorite. They go best with coffee.” He reaches into the pocket of his black denim jacket and pulls out a mushy brown square. “I have a Snickers.”
“The Pop-Tarts are plenty. Thanks.” He falls in step with Gerard again, not even thinking about matching his stride as he does it. He sees Pete disappearing onto the top of the Fall Out Boy bus, Mikey climbing up the ladder behind him.
“Are you in love with him?” Gerard asks.
There’s a long silence and Gerard looks over at William. He can’t read the expression on his face, but the softness of his voice seems telling. “No.”
“You look at him a lot.”
“We’re friends.” William shrugs and looks down at his feet. “He said we’d hang out.”
Gerard keeps his voice soft as well. Just because something’s true, it doesn’t make it easy. “He likes Mikey.”
Gerard nods and takes another hit off his cigarette. “I was rude last night. I didn’t mean to be. It just happens sometimes. It was worse before. I used to drink a lot. And do drugs. And stuff.”
“And now you don’t?”
“Now I try really hard not to so I don’t let down a lot of people.”
William decides to be a little rude himself. “Which isn’t the same as not drinking or doing drugs.”
Gerard points his cigarette at him. He’s used to people not believing in him. “Have you ever been locked in a hotel room for two weeks while you sweated, cried and screamed several years of abuse out of your system?”
Something about William’s tone seems sincere, and Gerard relents, inhaling more smoke then blowing it out. “Yeah, don’t do that. It sucks. I mean, unless you want to, but let me warn you, it sucks.”
When they get to the bus, Gerard enters the code and turns the handle, frowning when it doesn’t open immediately. He enters the code again and smiles when he gets the hiss of release. “We didn’t used to keep it locked, because I was always too fucked up to remember the code. Even if it was, like, my birthday or something, because I couldn’t remember that or that it was the code. But no. I don’t do them anymore. It’s hard. I want to. I want to do lots of them. I mean, you fly on coke, you know? Everything is fucking colors and light and creating is…well, it feels amazing. When you’re sober again it’s usually shit, which is part of why you stay high. That and the fact that the lows get lower every time you come down.”
William doesn’t know what to add to the conversation, but it isn’t a conversation if he doesn’t add something. It’s possible that Gerard just wants a monologue, but he speaks anyway. “The last tour we did was with Gym Class Heroes, Midtown and Fall Out Boy. So there was a lot of drinking. And pills.”
“Mikey does pills. I’m not supposed to know about it. I mean, obviously I know. He’s as fucked up as I was, except not quite. Because he hasn’t hit bottom.” Gerard moves through the lounge and to the kitchenette area and immediately starts making coffee. “Which is why we can’t talk about things. He’s upset that I called Brian instead of him when I bottomed out, but…the guy who’s high on pills, even if he’s your brother, isn’t always going to be the best guy to help you get straight, you know? Of course, if I said that to him, he’d freak out because we’re supposed to take care of each other, and that’s like saying he can’t take care of me.”
William sits at the table, running his finger over the scarred surface. “Pete’s kind of like that. Wanting to take care of me.”
“Pete’s as fucked up as Mikey.”
“Yeah.” William nods. “I know.”
“You get fucked up too, right? You did. With them.” Gerard digs in the bottom cabinet and pulls out a box of Pop-Tarts and makes a face. “I lied. They’re blueberry. But there are sprinkles.” He slides one of the silver packets to William. “Do you remember when they used to be in white packages? With that weird plastic seal type stuff? Are you old enough to remember that?”
“I…you’re really well-versed in Pop-Tarts, huh?”
“Not really. As long as they were frosted and filled with something I could pass off as a serving of fruit, I was good.” Gerard sits at the table, tugging his drawing pad over in front of him. “I can’t hang out with you if you’re going to be fucked up. There’s, like, a rule.”
“Okay.” William opens the Pop-Tart, breaks off a section, and hands it to Gerard. “You want to hang out with me?”
“Um. Yeah. That’s why you’re here. We’re hanging out. Right? I mean, I didn’t bring you here to give you, like, the history of Pop-Tarts.”
Gerard frowns a little. “Not an extensive one. You want coffee? That and nicotine are my only vices now. Which, you know, can probably kill me too, but slow enough that they’re socially acceptable on a large scale. Do you smoke?”
“No.” William’s told Gerard that before. He gets the feeling that he’s going to have to get used to repeating things. “But coffee. Yes. Please.”
“My mom used to tell me it puts hair on your chest.” He glances down and makes a face and William laughs. “Yeah. Well. You like Star Wars?”
“The real ones. Not the new ones. I mean, the new ones are awesome, but they’re not Star Wars the way the originals are Star Wars. You know?”
“Yes. I know. And yes. I like Star Wars.”
“You want to watch them?”
“All three?” They’ve already played their set, so it’s not like it matters, but six-plus hours is a lot of hanging out for someone with someone who blew him off the night before.
“We can start with one. I think we have microwave popcorn.”
“Well, in that case.” William picks up the remains of the Pop-Tart and smiles. “Take me to a galaxy far, far away.”
Gerard can tell what time Mikey gets on the bus because it starts moving immediately after. There’s a series of muffled curses and not-so-muffled crashes and then the door to the bunks opens. Mikey squints in the direction of Gerard’s bunk and immediately comes over to climb in with him. Gerard pulls up his legs to give Mikey room, trying to close off his senses to the smell of pot and beer that cling to him. “Hey.”
“Hey. Sorry. Was with Pete.”
“It’s okay.” He tilts his head and frowns at his sketchpad, trying not to look at Mikey. Normally he’s careful not to come back to the bus fucked up. “I figured.”
“You like Pete, don’t you?” Mikey crawls up next to him, stretching out alongside. Gerard can’t help but inhale the smells, almost tasting them. “He’s really great.”
“As long as he’s good to you.” He draws another line then erases it, replacing it with another one, the curve sharpened. “I watched Star Wars today.”
“Yeah? Which one?”
“New Hope. We’re going to watch Empire tomorrow, I think.”
“We?” Mike shifts onto his back and stares at the ceiling, reaching up to trace the shadows.
“Me and William Beckett.”
Mikey’s hand stops and he turns to look at Gerard. “You’re watching Star Wars with William Beckett?”
“Relax, Mikes.” He meets Mikey’s eyes and smiles. “It’s not like it’s Lord of the Rings or something.”
“Still, I didn’t know you guys were, like, buddies or something.”
“Really?” Gerard turns his attention back to his drawing. “I thought that’s why Pete brought him over. I mean, like, he offered him to me since you were always busy with him.”
“Is that what you really think?”
“That’s just how it seems.” Gerard looks up because he can’t read Mikey’s voice and there’s something in the resulting silence as well. A strange flatness he doesn’t recognize. “I’m not mad or anything.”
“No.” Gerard sets the sketchpad down and sits up, looking down at Mikey. “What’s going on, Mikey?”
“It’s not nothing.” He reaches out, wanting to touch him, but suddenly afraid that if he does, Mikey will disappear, dissolve into thin air and smoke. “I’m glad you and Pete are having a good time.”
“I’m not avoiding you.”
There’s a hint of hysteria in Mikey’s tone, an underlying quiver of fear. “I didn’t say you were, Mikes. I know…I know this is hard for all of you. Dealing with me. I didn’t expect you guys to give things up for me.”
“We gave them up because we wanted to. We love you, Gee. We need you and you were killing yourself.” This Gerard’s familiar with, the words as well as the tone of a younger brother worried about the older one. They’re Sam and Michael, only vampires will hurt you. Movie as metaphor.
“I know, Mikes.”
Mikey turns on his side and closes his eyes, pressing his face against Gerard’s hip. “’m sorry I’m fucked up tonight. Didn’t mean to be. Don’t mean to make it hard on you.”
“It’s okay, Mikey.” He pets Mikey’s hair, most of the product already gone, probably sacrificed to Pete’s restless fingers. “Always here for you. No matter what.”
“I know, Gee. I know.” He’s quiet for a long time, his breathing eventually settling in the steady rhythm of sleep. Gerard sets his sketchpad aside and turns off the light, sliding down in the bunk, snuggling up against Mikey. They move together easily, Mikey instinctively rolling on his back so Gerard can press his head to his chest, listen to Mikey’s heart.
“He’s nice, Mikey.” He whispers the words into the darkness, closing his eyes and matching his breathing to Mikey’s. “He treats me like I’m interesting. Like I’ve got things to say. Not like I’m fragile. Not like I might shatter into pieces. I used to feel invincible, before, and now I just feel…ordinary. I don’t want to be ordinary. Not again. Not ever.”
Pete drags William onto his bus, pushing him down on the couch in the lounge. “Bilvy. You are my very best friend.”
“What about Patrick?”
“You can have him,” Patrick calls from the rear of the bus. “I’ll even gift wrap.”
“Kinky,” Pete yells back. “But you’d miss me. So. Bilvy. Bill. William. Beckett.”
William just blinks at Pete, waiting. There’s no point in trying to rush Pete, and encouraging usually just makes things worse.
“My dear, wonderful…”
Andy groans. “Just spit it out and go away, Pete.”
Dirty laughs and gives Andy a high five. “You know that’s what Way says.”
“Fuck you,” Pete snaps, the lightness he’d had in his voice gone. “And shut the fuck up about Mikey.”
“Dude. Joke.” Dirty holds both hands up in surrender.
Pete gives him a curt nod, very clearly neither apology or acceptance of one. He exhales then looks back at William, too-wide and too-bright smile back in place. “William.”
“You know I love you.”
Certain things can only be a trap. Things like this and Carden being nice. “Yes, Pete.”
“And I would do anything for you.”
“I wouldn’t last a day in jail, Pete. Whatever you did, you need to just face the consequences like a man.”
“We’re talking about Pete here,” Patrick reminds him as he comes into the lounge. “No idea how to be a man.”
“Says the infant,” Dirty smirks.
Pete frowns. “We’re getting off track.”
“Pete, this has been off the rails since the beginning.” Joe comes out of the bunk area wearing a pair of boxer-briefs and the sharp aroma of pot smoke. “Hey, Beckett.”
“Welcome to the asylum.”
“Thanks.” William stands up then sits down again when Pete looks at him. “I really should get back to my bus.”
“You can’t.” Pete sits besides him, thigh against William’s, pressing him against the arm of the sofa. “We have to talk.”
Pete opens his mouth, looks around, closes it, then clears his throat. “Things.”
“Important things.” Pete glances around again, then gets to his feet. “But now’s not a good time.”
“You dragged me away from our equipment trailer and set-up because this couldn’t wait.”
“Oh, well. I was wrong. It can.” Pete smiles at him again. “You should get back to that.”
“I…yeah.” William stands up. “Are you going to come watch us.”
“Yeah. Sure. Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Maybe we can talk afterwards?”
“Yes!” Pete agrees, too loud, too quick. “Excellent idea. After your set.”
“Great.” William takes a step toward the door, then a couple more when Pete doesn’t try to stop him. “I’ll see you then.”
“Great. I’ll be waiting.”
William slips out of the bus into the heat and tries really hard not to view that as a threat. He doesn’t make it more than two steps before Pete is bounding off the bus after him, walking double-time to catch up. “Changed your mind?”
“Yes. I need to talk to you. About Mikey. Well, not about Mikey. About Gerard. You hung out with him.”
“I mean, more than once. Like, voluntarily.”
“Yeah. Why shouldn’t I? He’s nice.” He doesn’t add that, until he’d commandeered him onto his bus, it wasn’t like Pete was spending any time with William, so he had some free time. “Plus I get sick of my band sometimes.”
“Yeah, I get that. I mean, no. Your band is great. I love your band. I’ve told you that, right? That I love your band? Because I do. You guys are awesome.” Pete grabs William’s hand and forces him to a stop. “It’s just…I need to talk to you about him.”
“Is this were you tell me that he’s a recovering alcoholic and I need to be careful around him?”
Pete stops, mouth open. He stands there like that for a moment before closing it and frowning intently. “Kinda.”
“Pete, I’ve dealt with alcoholics before. I’m familiar.” His back stiffens, because talking about his life in lyrics is different than admitting the truth when there’s no music to back him up. “It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not just that. I mean, that’s good that you can deal with him, because it’s not like the rest of us are any good at sober shit, right? I mean…well, Andy and Patrick and stuff, and I guess there are probably some other straight edge dudes, but they’re mostly pricks and stuff, and Gerard isn’t exactly straight edge, but…”
“Pete.” William cuts off the nervous babble. “I have sound-check.”
“What about him? I’ve barely seen him.”
William’s eyebrow goes up and he takes a step back, crossing his arms over his chest. “Worried?”
“Yeah. Not, like, worried you’re going to haul him off to some bar or something, since, you know, you’re not 21, but just…” Pete stops, his face flushing underneath his tan. “Um.”
“First of all, Gerard’s an adult. Older than Mikey. Older than you.” William can feel the anger inside him, the uncontrollable frustration that hits when Pete acts like he’s a child even though he’s a hell of a lot more grown up than Pete was at his age, possibly more than Pete is now. It’s even worse considering how Pete looks up to Patrick, and Patrick’s barely older than William.
“It’s just that if Mikey’s worried about Gerard, then he’ll want to hang out with Gerard more, and Gerard’s great, don’t get me wrong, but…” He stops again when William shakes his head sharply. “Beckett?”
“I have sound-check. And also fuck you.” He turns and walks off, long strides fueled with annoyance. Pete would have to run to catch up, and William has no intention of letting him.
Carden’s waiting by the side of the stage, smoking and watching the techs finish set up. His and Tom’s guitars are in place and Butcher is fixing something on his snare. “Wondered if you were going to make it. Sent a runner.”
“Pete said he had pressing business.”
William looks at him, ending up with a face full of smoke. “What?”
“A big fat no then.” Mike takes another drag then drops the butt of the cigarette into Adam’s half-full water bottle. Butcher jumps off the steps, landing with one arm over Bill’s shoulder and half on Tom’s back. Mike rolls his neck and shakes his wrists loose. “We ready to do this shit?”
“Fuck yeah.” William puts his hand in the center and waits for the others. He and Mike on opposite ends and Adam in the middle. Their roar goes up before the crowd’s, but to William, it’s all the same.
Gerard’s not actually actively listening, mostly because Pete’s talking, and as near as Gerard can tell, that means at least half of whatever it is is bullshit. It’s William’s name that catches his attention and the strange way Pete’s voice drops so it’s hard to hear.
Gerard’s beginning to suspect that either Mikey was more sober than he gave him credit for, William said something to Pete, or the Warped rumor mill has already started making up stories. Probably it’s the last one, simply from the way that everyone’s been watching him all tour, waiting for him to fall.
Frank pokes his head up from his bunk below Gerard’s, then crawls in with him. He’s shorter than Mikey, but he usually takes up the same space. He sits cross-legged, hunched down a little, looking Gerard over. “I know we promised you trust and space and shit.”
Gerard waits, his mouth twisting in a small smile. “But.”
“Pete’s Mikey’s thing.”
“Right. I mean, I get that. Well, I don’t, but maybe, in a ‘short tattooed guys are fucking sexy’ way. But not in the whole ‘Jesus Christ does he ever fucking shut up’ way.”
“If this is going to go to that place where there is talk about ways to shut my little brother up again…”
“No. No. Not that or anything. Just…out of everyone on the tour, and I’m including techs, merch people, food vendors, and the smelly guy who’s always there but no one knows why, why did you pick a friend of Pete’s?”
“I didn’t pick him.” Gerard shrugs and picks at a frayed thread in the crotch of his jeans. “He got dumped with me. We’re like the little siblings that tag along, you know? Someone told Pete and Mikey they had to look out for us, so they keep us close enough to see, but not to get in the way.”
Frank frowns then shakes his head slowly. “I’d buy that if Pete werewasn’t out there discussing statutory rape laws and the corruption of innocence.”
Bob’s voice drifts up from his bunk. “Nah, man. He’s just discussing his dating history.”
Frank curls in a little, giggling into the sleeve of his hoodie. After a few minutes he sighs and looks at Gerard far too sincerely. It’s something Gerard’s come to hate a little bit, the way none of them are sure how to talk to him about the real things, unsure what might tip him over the edge, like he’s balanced on a precipice.
“You’re not supposed to worry,” he reminds Frank. “That was part of the deal too.”
“Mostly we just ignored that part.”
Gerard blows out a breath and hops out of his bunk. “He’s a kid.”
“A wild kid.”
“We ate a Pop-tart and watched a movie.”
“Yeah, well, when he’s not with you…”
“What, Frank?” He tries to keep it out of his voice, but he’s not sure he succeeds. “He has a good time? Gets drunk? Gets high? Drinks beer? Does pills? Has sex?” He sees Mikey through the open door, standing still, a deer in headlights. “So do you. So does Mikey. So do all of you.”
“But we don’t bring it back here.”
“Butllshit, Frankie.” He’s a broken freak and he’s about to break a too-fragile thing apart, but he doesn’t know how to stop. “Out of all of you, he’s the only one with somewhere else to take it, somewhere else to go.”
It gets quiet after that, silence like one of the balloons in The Prisoner, threatening to suffocate them all. He’s not sure of what words he needs now when no one will meet his eyes.
“He didn’t know the drunk, self-sabotaging coke-head. He doesn’t know what I was like before, not really. All he knows is this. This…me. And given that I was pretty sure no one would ever like this me, can I just…can we just not?”
“Yeah,” Frank’s voice is soft. “Yeah. Consider the subject dropped.”
“Thanks.” He grabs his cigarettes and his sketchpad. “I’m going to go get some coffee. If Brian asks, tell him you drove me to drink.”
“Do I look like I have a death wish?”
Gerard touches the sleeve of Frank’s hoodie, making the fleece slide against his arms. “Pain fetish. Close enough.”
William gets the news from Patrick who gets the news from Pete who gets the news from Rob. They all knew it was happening. Inevitable, But the actual announcement still comes as a shock.
Gabe's gone to ground and no one's heard from him. According to Patrick, Pete's been on the phone non-stop trying to find him. William envies him having something to do. As it is, it feels like the entire tour is going into mourning as the news spreads from bus to bus.
He has to leave, can't sit with his guys. They're all huge Midtown fans, largely doing what they do because of Midtown and the few other groups like them. He steals one of the bottles of vodka from the fridge and takes to the roof of the bus. He can see most of the festival from here, brown bodies and day-glo colors, white and black tents and silver steel risers. He can hear Midtown in the air, someone offering up a funeral dirge or a wake.
He runs his thumb over the numbers on his phone, not that he thinks Gabe would answer him when he's ignoring everyone else. Besides that, he's not sure that he can offer anything other than the same questions everyone else is asking.
"Are you going to fling yourself off the bus?" Carden comes onto the roof with a towel in his hand, his flip-flops smacking with every step. He's better suited to the heat in a tank top and basketball shorts than William is in his jeans and a shredded green sweater. “Because if you are, can you wait until I get settled so I can get a really good view?”
“Right, because you don’t give a shit about Midtown.” William opens the vodka and takes a long pull from the bottle. It burns all the way down and he shivers roughly before passing it to Mike.
“Oh, I’m bummed they split up, but I’m not personally invested in the life and happiness of Gabe Saporta. And you seem to think you are.”
“We’re friends, and I imagine he feels like shit. Can you imagine if your band broke up?”
Mike pauses, obviously thinking, and William punches him. “Fuck you. You know where the door is.”
“And give up all this?” Mike gestures around at the shiny city of buses then takes a drink from the bottle, wiping off the mouthpiece before he does. William rolls his eyes and steals it back immediately, tucking it between his legs after he takes a drink. “Bands break up, Bill. I know you had your own thing and then this, but the rest of us were in bands, and they break up. They fall apart. People go their own way. It happens. It sucks, and most of the time we don’t hear about it because they’re little shit bands anyway, but it does happen. Look at the Beatles.”
“The Beatles, Carden? Seriously?”
“Yeah. Not everyone is cool like us and can just bring other people in and keep the group moving. Mike and AJ moved on, we got Tom and Butcher. We keep going.” He glances at the bottle between William’s legs and rolls his eyes, grabbing for it anyway. “Speaking of going, are you heading off to visit your boyfriend soon?”
“My what?” William looks up quickly, eyes narrowed. “What did you just say?”
“Dude, you’re practically on My Chem’s bus every day.”
“So? You’re on Fall Out Boy’s or Avenged Sevenfold’s or…”
Mike rolls his eyes. “You’ll notice variety in there.”
“So you sleep around.” William grabs for the vodka, nearly spilling it when Mike punches him hard. “What? You’re implying that I’m sleeping with someone from My Chem because I go over there.”
“Yeah, but you’re…you.”
“Fuck you.” William takes another drink and clenches his fist, controlling the urge to hit Mike again, to take out all this emotion on him. The thought of Carden beaten to a bloody pulp sounds really good, but he’s honest enough to know he wouldn’t come out of it looking good either. “Asshole.”
“So what do you go over there for?”
Mike says it softly, and William isn’t sure if he actually hears a hint of something like hurt in it or if he just maybe wishes he did. “We talk. Watch movies. He’s nice. He’s been there – here – where we want to be and he gets it. It almost killed him. Maybe he’s my cautionary tale or something. Maybe he’s someone I haven’t known forever who says things to placate me.”
“Oh god.” Mike groans and grabs for the vodka again. “If this is you acting out about fucking Wentz, I am going to beat you with this bottle. He’s Wentz, Beckett. He’s…you know how he is.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with Pete, okay? This is someone who doesn’t treat me like I’m a child, this is someone who acts like maybe I have an idea of what I’m doing.”
“You don’t have an idea of what you’re doing.”
“God, fuck you.” He gives up to the impulse and punches Mike. It skirts along his jaw and he falls to the side a little from the impact, though William is pretty sure it’s more from some degree of surprise than anything else. He’s actually surprised he hit him, but he doesn’t have much time to process it before Mike’s on top of him, pinning him down with one hand on his chest and the other pulled back in a fist. Neither of them moves, save for the rapid rise and fall of their breathing. William jerks his head up, his jaw defiant. “Well?”
Mike shoves off of him and settles back on his towel, salvaging the tipped-over vodka bottle. “None of us know what we’re doing, you asshole. That’s the whole point of this. You don’t know if you’re going to make it big or break up or both or neither. You don’t know if you’re going to be doing fucking festivals and tiny clubs for the rest of your life or if you’re going to be doing Madison Square Garden. That’s what this is.”
“That’s not the same thing as not knowing what we’re doing.” He sits up carefully, knowing Mike’s likely not done being angry with him. “That’s not knowing how it’s all going to turn out. Not knowing what’s going to happen. I know what I’m doing. I know why I’m on that stage and what it means to me and maybe to the people listening. I know I don’t have a choice. Maybe it’s just music to other people, but it’s not that to me. You know that. I thought you knew that.”
“So if you think I know that, why are you going to see him instead of just hanging around here?”
William blinks as the pieces click together. “You’re giving me shit for having a friend, Carden? Is that what this is?”
“The last friend you made was Gabe Saporta. I think I have some cause to be concerned.”
“Awww,” William grins widely. “Don’t be upset, Carden, baby. I still love you best.”
That does earn him a punch, but it doesn’t have the anger and heat behind it the earlier one would have. “It’s kind of one extreme to the other, though, isn’t it? I mean, from Gabe to the newly sober and clean?”
“Afraid I’m going to go with the whole fade away instead of burn out thing?” William tugs his knees up to his chest and looks out, watching people move around, losing himself in the backwash of music always in the background. “I just don’t want to fuck it all up, you know? I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”
“We have a hit?”
William huffs a laugh and shakes his head. “I guess I don’t have to worry about ever getting any kind of ego around you, Carden.”
Carden laughs in return, a high-pitched, horrific giggle. “Bullshit, Beckett. You’ve got ego to spare. Shit, fucking…Narcissus had less ego than you.”
“You know who Narcissus is?”
Mike smirks and flips him off, stretching out on his towel and closing his eyes. William sighs against his knees and closes his eyes as well. The sun feels good on his back, though he knows that won’t last for long. “It does suck,” Mike says softly. “About Midtown.”
“Yeah,” William sighs. “It does.”
Gerard is squinting at the table, trying to ignore everyone. It’s hard, because the craft services area is full of people, all of them talking about Midtown’s breakup and why and what will happen next and who fucked who and who’s fucking who right now and the party that night and the party right now and did you see the chick who was offering blowjobs over by the Hurley stage? He tunes them out as best he can, hunching in on himself even more when a group of guys sit at his table.
“Fuck, did you see it?”
“I saw the aftermath. Shit. I didn’t think one guy could have that much in him.”
“Fucking foaming, man. That shit was fucking foaming.”
“Danny said it was coke.”
“Yeah? I hear heroin.”
“Fuck, we’d know if it was heroin. There’d have been shit all over. I didn’t see any track marks.”
“He’d know how to hide track marks.”
Gerard takes a steadying drink of his coffee and exhales a shaky breath. He doesn’t know who they’re talking about, doesn’t want to know, but he can’t help listening. He wonders all the time about what got said while he was sweating his past out of his system in a hotel room with Brian just through the connecting door and Bob sitting outside the front door so he couldn’t leave. What did Ray and Mikey and Frank all say, waiting and wondering and worrying? He tries not to wonder, because then he thinks about how he and Mikey are right now. How he and all of them are, but he and Mikey especially.
“Marco saw him go down. Said it was like something out of a fucking movie, like he’d been hit with bullets or something. Body jerking and convulsing and shit.”
He remembers hurting. All of the pain concentrated in his ribs from vomiting and his head from the blood. He remembers feeling like breathing was beyond him. So much of it is a blur, except the physical pain that lingered for weeks after.
“I heard he vomited for like a half hour straight before he passed out in it. Hell, maybe he was passed out and vomiting. Fucking crazy.”
Gerard takes a drink of coffee, gone cold and sugary-sweet. He needs the extra jolt in the mornings, getting his highs and lows naturally now. Pills are easy. This one makes you happy. This one makes you sleep. This one makes you forget. This one makes you remember everything. And the coke was a layer on top of it all, that kick that sent him over the top, made everything into crystal, clear and sharp and sparkling. He wants to shrink further inside his hoodie, scared that his name will come up, that they’ll talk about him like he’s some sort of science experiment or example.
“Is he still in the hospital?”
“Yeah. Going to be there for a while, I guess. They fucking called his parents.”
“Shit.” The three of them get up and head out, still talking about whoever the guy is, how having your parents called on you for ODing in the middle of Warped is the ultimate in bad luck. Gerard thinks ODing is actually pretty bad in and of itself, but maybe having your parents called in to take care of you is worse. He’s pretty sure a plane ride with his entire band from Japan where he was yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs at all of them is worse. Not that it’s much of a competition.
After all, he’s alive. He wins.
He turns his head and looks at the table where they were sitting, where they’ve left piles of trash. Food wrappers and cups, and a beer bottle that’s not far from Gerard’s hand, the foam gathered and floating on the surface of the liquid. His hand flexes and he licks his lips. He can almost taste it. Cold and bitter on his tongue, sliding down his throat. He swallows hard and draws his hand in close to his chest so he won’t be tempted to reach out and touch it. Just one touch and he’ll be done, he knows. He feels like he’s teetering today, feels like it’s all real and raw and new, not almost a year removed.
He tilts his coffee cup with his other hand, looking down at the ripples in the black surface. He could dump it out and dump the beer in and no one would know. He could just inhale the scent of it, walk around with the cup against his lips, not even tasting it, just smelling it. He’d go so slowly. Lick the rim of the cup and mix the beer with the remnants of the coffee and then sip it. It’s a fantasy, a lie. If it was close enough, he’d drink it down and go in search of more. He wishes he had more defenses right now – his sketchpad or his iPod or anything that might give him some distance from the bottle – instead of just his self-control, a cup of coffee and a hoodie to hide inside.
A yell goes up and a bunch of half-dressed guys go running through the food area wielding super-soakers. He recognizes more than a few of them, and it would be so easy to take the distraction and use it, to drain the bottle or slip away with it and find some privacy. He unclenches his hand and sets it on the table. Close but not touching.
“Hey.” A soaking wet William plops down next to him on the bench. Gerard can feel the heat on his skin and the water on his shorts. He smells like vodka and sweat and sunscreen, the faintest hint of pot clinging to him, like everyone else on the tour. He’s not drunk, but he’s closer to that than sober. “Gonna use you as a shield.”
“I don’t want to get wet.”
“Right. They won’t want to get you wet. That’s why you’re a good shield.”
“The shield always ends up getting killed. The person using the shield always overestimates their worth to the opposing force.”
William blinks at him and smiles his stupid, drunken smile. Gerard’s torn between wanting to kiss him and taste it, and punch him for being young and stupid and not nearly as fucked up as Gerard is. Was. Is. “You’re so smart. I mean, I’m still going to use you as a shield, but you’re really smart.”
“Not drunk. I am the appropriate level of inebriated to mourn the passing of Midtown. To let them disband without a tribute would be heartless and cruel.” He leans in, and Gerard can taste the sweetness of booze on his breath. “The Stereo and Midtown, man. That’s what made it all seem real. Reachable. I mean, Gabe Saporta was just this guy, right? Some smart-ass Jersey kid who made a band and…and made it. I’m a smart-ass Chicago kid, right? I could make it.”
“I’m a Jersey kid. Not even really smart-ass. I made it. We can all make it. You just have to keep going.”
“Except they stopped.”
“Yeah.” Gerard wants the beer more than ever now. He doesn’t want to think about endings anymore. “Let’s go do something.”
“I don’t know.” Gerard looks longingly at the bottle then shakes his head and smiles at William. “Maybe we can find a better shield.”
Tom and Mike are fighting, again. Currently they’re at the point where they’re not speaking and the entire bus feels like it’s going to explode. William sneaks out in the late morning, going to the My Chem bus and sitting on the couch next to Gerard.
Gerard is sketching with one hand and holding his coffee mug with the other, every gesticulation the threat of a waterfall of hot coffee. Mikey’s still on Pete’s bus and Ray’s in the back lounge, the steady hum of loose guitar harmonizing with whatever it is on the TV.
William’s staring unseeing at his notebook, the blank pages a reflection of the nothing in his head. “What was it like?”
Gerard is still for a moment. “My manager would like me to remind you that the rumors are greatly exaggerated.”
William nods, scratching a few words on the page. “That’s why I’m not asking him.”
Gerard settles back on the sofa, frowning into his coffee. William doesn’t watch him, but he’s tuned to every movement, can tell when Gerard’s is going to breathe, when he open and shuts his mouth and tries again. He wants to distract him suddenly, ask him how he feels right now so they could both ignore the last question. His own stomach is knotted in fear, the back of his throat sharp with bile.
“You ever read Peter Pan?”
William nods, absently circling the word lost that he’d scrawled between the lines. “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
“It was like that. It looked so good. Bright and shining and inviting. Easy.”
William bites his lip, putting his pencil down before the tip starts to rip the paper. “But.”
“Yeah. But. You knew it had to be there right? Because I’m still here.” He fumbles for his pack of cigarettes. They both ignore his hands shaking. “But it got closer, and it was like a mirage. Or…like a carnival. You seem it from a distance and it looks great, but then you get closer it’s dirty and oily and the colors are just pain that shines in the sun and the neon lights of the midway.”
“So death wasn’t aesthetically pleasing?” William raises an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth lifting in a smirk. Gerard laughs, though it’s clear it’s not particularly funny to either of them.
“Plus there was a lot of vomit. I mean, I’m used to vomit, but this was like vomit of doom. And I thought about it, and deep down, I’m pretty vain. And I didn’t want to die in vomit.”
“So you called your manager.”
“And I managed to make myself gag. I was sharing a room with Bob and Ray, so I just made myself smell their dirty clothes. I had to buy Bob new socks.”
“Did you want to? Die. Not buy Bob new socks.”
“I don’t know.”
Gerard tilts his sketchpad and William sees him, facedown on the carpet, head turned to the side, naked except for a sagging pair of briefs. The background is merely the hint of shapes. William bites back a sound at the realness of the image as much as the outside point of view. He touches the forward curve of Gerard’s drawn shoulders. He knows he can’t feel Gerard’s emotions, that he’s only getting the amplified flash of his own – pain, fear, daring, hope, disappointment – in a feedback loop. He forces himself to look away, look back up and meet Gerard’s eyes.
“No. That’s not true. I didn’t want to die, but that was the only way I knew how to live, you know? The thing I could change. Had to change.” He draws a bottle, tipped on its side next to his image, darkened lines of spilled liquid pooling around it. “I’m the front man, the face everybody sees. And I couldn’t stand the sight of myself.”
William picks at the edge of his notebook, folding and flattening one of the corners. “Mikey’s worried I’m a bad influence on you.”
Gerard laughs softly. “Nothing new under the sun. Not sure there’s anything you could teach me about self-destruction.” He closes the sketchpad, setting it on the table. “Are you writing?”
“No. Failing to write. I can’t even think.”
“Warped sucks for thinking. That’s part of why people like it. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”
“One out of three ain’t bad?”
Gerard laughs and gets up abruptly. “I made Brian buy us more popcorn. You want to watch a movie?”
“Sure.” He tugs his legs onto the couch, tucking them underneath him. “What this time?”
“Dawn of the Dead? Night of the Comet? Night Breed?”
“You know, it seems kind of unfair that the Triffids got a whole day. And no one ever gets the afternoon.”
“That’s because it’s mid-day.” Gerard puts the popcorn in then takes it out again, removing the plastic wrapper. “Horror shit isn’t as scary in the sunlight.”
“Shouldn’t it be scarier, though? Shit that can get you when you think you’re safe.”
“Well, yeah. Dawn’s kind of figurative, you know. More beginning than literal dawn.”
Gerard stares at him like he’s grown another head. “Fig…you’ve never seen it?”
“Oh, man. We’re going to need way more popcorn. You be in charge of that. I’ll get the movie. I can’t believe you haven’t seen it. Fuck, man. Oh, don’t forget to take it out of the plastic.”
“I’m not allowed to discuss it. My guys have some serious PTSD issues. Just be sure, okay?”
“Okay.” William tears the plastic off as Gerard goes into the bunk area. Exchanging the full bag for the unpopped one, he resets the microwave and leans on the counter, trying to get lost in the smell of the salt, oil, and butter, just letting Gerard’s enthusiasm wash over him.
Gerard turns the sound down when William falls asleep, waiting until his breathing evens out before tugging him closer, letting him lean on him. He’s sharp angles and bones like Mikey, but completely different at the same time. It’s easy to stroke his fingers through William’s long hair, let it slip and slide around his knuckles like water or silk.
He hasn’t really thought about sex much. He’s been so focused on not drinking and not doing pills or lines that things he had at the same time seem just as foreign and off-limits. He only kept the things necessary to survival – music, his band, art, coffee, cigarettes – and put everything else in a box at the back of his mind. Sex is tangled up with Bert, with feeling no pain, with needing to feel something. He’s jerked off, but it’s been more from physical desperation than desire, no thought or fantasy.
William looks innocent, but Gerard knows he isn’t. Nobody throws themselves in front of an audience night after night if they’re innocent. Still, he looks and feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. Gerard gets caught up in looking at him, watching the way he catches the light.
The bus door opens and Pete and Mikey come in, laughing and shoving like little kids, a tumble of puppies. Pete always makes it seem like several people have entered the room, manic energy overload. Mikey’s expression cycles rapidly once he sees Gerard and William, from amusement to annoyance to betrayal before he settles on indifference.
“Hey, Gee.” Mikey keeps walking, heading to the bunks. Gerard understands his concern, but at the same time it’s annoying to know Mikey doesn’t trust him. He also gets that William, to Mikey, is like Pete to Gerard, another thing changed and different and in the way. He wants to fix the rift, to be Mikey’s best friend again, but he’s not sure how or if either of them are ready. Neither being drunk nor being sober seems to be the answer.
“Why is my singer on your bus? And your lap?” Pete’s staring at him, all of his good humor gone, everything drained away so nothing is left on his face. He’s heard this about Pete. Angry and destructive and willing to go too far.
“Patrick’s your singer.”
The remark doesn’t help, and Pete shifts his stance. He’s outwardly aggressive, openly hostile. “Bill’s one of my singers.”
“We were watching a movie. He’d never seen Dawn of the Dead. Can you believe that Mikey?” He can’t see Mikey in the bunks, but he knows he’s listening. “I mean, how is that possible? So we were watching. And he fell asleep. So I guess he still hasn’t seen it.”
“He can sleep on his own bus.”
“But he wasn’t on his bus.” It’s almost like toying with a cat, watching Pete’s irritation flare with each response. It feels dangerous, and he’s surprised how good that feels. Pushing Pete’s buttons, making him feel even just a little bit like Gerard has watching Pete and Mikey with their secret clubs and private gangs and Mikey needing to be anywhere that isn’t with Gerard. “Besides, isn’t that why you brought him over in the first place? To distract me while Mikey’s with you, so he won’t be worrying if I’ve fallen off the wagon?”
“Gerard.” Mikey stands in the doorway, his voice warning. “Enough.”
“Yes.” Mikey snaps. “Enough. Pete. You should go back to your bus. Take William back to his.”
Pete doesn’t argue, but Gerard can practically feel the need to have the last word tugging at him. Gerard nudges William to wake him up. He seems blurry and disoriented enough that the could have been sleeping through everything, but Gerard doesn’t know him well enough to know for sure.
“C’mon, Beckett.” Pete nods toward the door. “Time to get back to your bus.”
William looks like he wants to say something, but either the tension in the air gets to him or something else stops him, because he just gets to his feet instead of protesting. He gives Gerard’s hand a quick squeeze and grabs his notebook before following Pete off the bus.
The silence lingers after they leave. Gerard tugs a blanket from the back of the couch and wraps it around him, suddenly cold in William’s absence. Mikey’s making coffee, measuring the scoops carefully, which is as good a sign as any as to how unhappy he is.
“You told me to be friends with him,” Gerard says when the silence doesn’t end.
“Friends, yeah.” Mikey adds another level scoop then fills the water cavity. “But not this.”
Mikey sighs and turns around and looks at Gerard. He’s wearing one of Pete’s hoodies, the Clandestine bat-thing right in the center, like some sort of tattoo claiming Pete’s ownership. He bumps his glasses up his nose then crosses his arms over his chest. “Are you fucking him? You’re not supposed to be fucking anyone. It’s one of the things.”
“Yeah. I know the steps and shit, Mikey. I’m the one dealing with them.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not just you.”
“No? As far as I can see, I’m the only one sober around here.” He presses his lips together and curses himself silently at the immediate response in Mikey, the closed expression. “We’re not fucking.”
“But you want to.”
“Is that what this is about? Me maybe wanting to fuck William Beckett?”
“No, Gerard.” Mikey grabs a coffee mug and slams it down onto the counter. “It’s about you almost dying in a fucking hotel room. It’s about you not letting me know how close you were to the bottom.”
“I didn’t know, Mikey. I didn’t know until I hit it. That’s how it works. You know that. Can you tell me where bottom is from where you’re standing right now?” He rubs both hands over his face then drops them into his lap. “I didn’t want to scare you, Mikey. Disappoint you. Let you see exactly how bad I was. How close. I couldn’t do that to you.”
“I’m your brother. Your best friend.” Mikey’s hand shakes when he pours the coffee, the glass clinking against the mugs. “And now we’re…”
“It’s really hard right now. For me too. Being sober in all of this. Seeing people who know the old me, who keep expecting me to stumble into some party drunk off my ass and coked to the gills. Everyone is expecting me to fail, Mikey. Waiting for it.” He shrugs and looks up at Mikey. He’s leaning against the counter again, arms still crossed over his chest, though he’s holding the coffee cup in one hand now, and it’s not shaking as badly as before. “I’m sorry I hurt you, Mikey, but it was either hurt you and save myself or die. Those were my choices.”
“You didn’t have to shut me out.”
“I didn’t.” Gerard shakes his head and stands up, using the coffee as a distraction to get him closer to Mikey, but to keep him away from him as well. “The wall around me is the one you guys built, Mikes. The one that you put up that says I’m breakable and fragile. The one that says you have to be someone different with me than you are with everyone else. The one that makes you seem to think you have to be somewhere else than with me.”
“So this is about Pete.”
“Yes. You’re pissed that I’m hanging out with Pete.”
“I’m not pissed, Mikey.” He sets his coffee down and turns to face Mikey completely. “Do I think he’s good for you? No. Do I think it matters what I think? No. I just don’t want to take the blame for this distance between us, because it’s not all me, Mikey. And it’s got nothing to do with William. He’s not some sort of revenge against you, he’s not…about you. You put us together and we’re friends. Or…like friends. We barely know each other. We’re hanging out. We’re passing time.”
“We came in and you guys were…”
“He fell asleep, Mikey. It wasn’t some grand master plan, okay? Maybe I just wanted some company, okay? Maybe it was just nice to have someone want to lean into me without worrying that I might fall over from the pressure.” He exhales shakily. “I’m not fucking him. And even if I were, Mikey, so what? So what? As long as I’m not drinking and doing drugs, why is it bad?”
“Because he’s not us.”
“So? Neither is Pete!” He blows out a frustrated breath and stalks across the small kitchenette. “And I don’t actually want to fuck any of you guys either!”
“That’s not…If you need someone not us, then does that mean…” Mikey’s voice gets small. “Are we the problem? Did we do this to you?”
“No. Jesus, Mikey.” Fuck. Fucking fuck. “No. I did this to me. You guys are…you’re the reason I’m not dead, okay? I feel horrible that I did that to you. I feel like shit that I scared you and hurt you and…This isn’t you. This wasn’t you. This was me, Mikey.”
“We don’t care why, Gee. God, you think we give a shit about any of that? We just care that you’re alive. That you’re…Jesus.” Mike strides across the room and wraps Gerard in a hug, tight and close and almost painful. “It just feels like you’re leaving us anyway, pulling away and…I need you, Gerard. Need you. You’re my big brother. I can’t…fuck, I can’t function without you, okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah. God, Mikes.” He hugs him back, his ribs aching from how tight they’re holding each other. It’s not enough to make him let go; in fact it makes him hold harder, tighter. “Need you too. So much. God. So much.”
“Okay. Okay.” Mikey’s hand strokes Gerard’s hair. “It’s okay.”
Gerard isn’t aware he’s crying until he realizes Mikey’s hoodie is damp, the red stained darker from his tears. He tries to pull away, but Mikey won’t let go. The insistence of Mikey tugging him closer breaks down whatever walls he’s had built up and he just lets himself lean in and let go. Eventually Mikey sinks down to the floor and Gerard goes with him, curled up against Mikey as he leans against the mini-fridge.
He closes his eyes and lays there on him, listening to the steady beat of Mikey’s heart and letting himself relax.
William doesn’t look at Pete as they walk back to the buses, aware that he’s missed something significant and, whatever it is, Pete is furious about it. He’s careful to keep his stride even with Pete’s, letting him set the pace. He can see his bus in the distance, Tom and Butcher tossing a Frisbee around in the alley between buses. “If you’re going to yell at me, can we do it before my band’s involved?”
“You don’t think they deserve to know what’s going on?”
“I don’t even know what’s going on, Pete.”
He stops and turns on William, advancing toward him angrily. “You don’t? Really?”
“Really.” He shrugs, holding his arms out in a gesture of surrender. “We haven’t been late for a show. We’re doing our job. No one’s missed bus call. We haven’t embarrassed you or the label or anything.”
“This isn’t about the band.”
Something in Pete’s tone speaks volumes, and William straightens up to his full height. “Excuse me?”
“You know how it looks, right?” He shakes his head. “I mean, you have to.”
“You running after Mikey, staring at him like some sort of lovestruck puppy? Yeah. I know how it looks.”
Pete’s eyes narrow, and William’s familiar with the look. He and Pete have had this before, these knock-down, drag-out wars of who’s more stubborn, who can hurt the hardest, cut the deepest. “Gerard Way is who you’re going to hold up as your example of what to aspire to? You want to be a drunk drug addict by the time you’re 28? Or maybe you’ve had Gabe and Travie, so you’re working your way through the east coast frontmen?”
“What’s the matter, Pete? Jealous?” He steps into him, forcing Pete to look up to meet his eyes. “Or angry that you didn’t make me put out to get what I wanted from you? Or maybe just pissed that we’re just too good, and you couldn’t afford me telling you to fuck off if you’d told me I needed to get on my knees for you?”
“You’re making an ass of yourself.”
“You’d know how it looks.”
“That’s the reputation you want, Beckett? You want people to think you’re fucking your way through Warped?” Pete shakes his head. “What about all that talk about making your mark with your music? Huh? What about integrity?”
“Step the fuck back.” William shoves Pete out of his way. He’s shaking with anger, his hands clenched into fists at his sides now that there’s distance between them. “Don’t you dare act like you know anything about me or what I’m thinking about, what I’m doing. All you care about is that I’m fucking things up between you and Mikey, right? Your grand plan of shoving me off on his brother just backfired all over you, didn’t it?” He steps toward his bus, looking back at Pete. “Stay away from me. We’ve got four days left. Just…just stay away.”
He stalks down the road, ignoring Tom and Andy and slamming into the bus. Adam and Mike look briefly from where they’re playing Halo, then turn back to the game. He sits on the couch, not caring if he steps on fingers and hands or anything else to get there. Mike jabs his shin hard with his elbow once he sits down. “Take your fucking bad mood elsewhere, Beckett. We don’t want it.”
“It’s my bus too.”
“Yeah, well, you’re outvoted. So take it somewhere else.” He curses as Adam takes advantage of his distraction. “Fuck. Look at what you did, Beckett.”
“Right. Fuck you. Fuck you both. I’m fine, thanks for asking. Everything’s fine. I’m glad my band actually gives a fuck.” He kicks Mike in the arm and steps over Adam, shoving past Jon as he comes out of the rear of the bus. He slams the door to the bunks as best he can and kicks the wall just below Adam’s bunk then whirls and punches the opposite one. He falls back and slides down the wall to the floor, blocking the hallway with bent knees.
Mike comes into the hallway and shuts the door behind him. It’s an accordion door, so it takes a couple of tries to get the magnetic clip to stick, and even then there’s a small gap of space. He shifts and leans so that the slight beam of sunlight is blocked by his body. William turns his head and looks at him.
“I’m only here because I was losing anyway.”
William huffs a laugh. “Yeah, don’t worry. I’m not going to accidentally think you give a shit or something.”
“Good. Want to get that out of the way first thing.” He chews his thumbnail and squints at William. “You want to talk about it?”
Mike rolls his eyes. “Well, pretend I want to hear about it. How about that? Because otherwise I’m going back out there and kicking Adam’s ass.”
“Am I making an idiot out of myself?”
Mike chokes back a laugh. “Okay, dude, please do not ask me leading questions like that, because I have no choice but to answer.”
He hates the thickness in his voice. “Go the fuck away, Carden.”
He moves closer instead, sitting on the edge of Andy’s bunk, leaning forward with his hands clasped between his knees. “Okay, all joking aside, Bill. Talk to me.”
“I’m so stupid, you know? I thought…I thought that there was a reason for it, but instead it’s really just that he felt responsible for me, for some stupid fucking reason. I mean, why else, right? It’s not like we’re friends or anything. I mean, I thought we were friends, but…”
“Hey, back up, okay? To the beginning so those of us who don’t worship the ground you walk on and follow your every footstep know what the fuck you’re talking about?”
William laughs and puts his head down on his knees. “Right.”
“I mean, you’re my lead singer, but I don’t actually creep on you like Pete or anything. I mean, I don’t actually give a shit about your life and stuff.”
“You are so good for my ego, Mike.” He rakes his fingers through his hair, lacing them together at the back of his head. “I’ve been hanging out with Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance.”
“Yeah. I know. Everybody knows. What’s that about?”
He shrugs. “He’s nice. We talk. Watch movies. He’s an amazing front man. He’s seen our shows a couple times. We talk about that. About art and music and movies and stuff. We’re friends.”
“I’m not supposed to tell you we’ve missed you now or anything, right? Because it’s kind of been nice not having to deal with all your tantrums and shit. Plus Tom and I can fight without anyone trying to mediate.”
“I’m not gone that much. Jesus.” He leans back against the wall, ignoring Mike’s smile. Carden’s method of cajoling him out of anything it to give him an unrelenting torrent of shit until he gives in. “I’m not sleeping with him.”
Mike blinks a couple of times, obviously throw off his game. “Dude. It took you nearly a month of touring with Gabe before you let him steal your virtue, and you’ve been fantasizing about that since you were, like, old enough to jerk it.”
“And people wonder why we don’t let you write the lyrics.”
“I have such a gift for words.” He stretches his legs out and nudges William’s thigh with his toe. “Who thinks you’re sleeping with him?”
Mike snorts. “Dude. Like Pete’s got any room to talk. His romance of the century is the talk of Warped. Shit. He should be thankful you might be taking some of the scrutiny off of him and his virtue.” Mike shakes his head. “Seriously though? He thinks you’re fucking around with Gerard? I mean, really?”
“Apparently I’m a whore for front-men.”
“You haven’t fucked him.” Mike looks up at him suddenly, wide-eyed. “Oh, fuck. Tell me you haven’t fucked Wentz. I would have to disown you. And maybe vomit, because I hang out with both of you, and that’s just gross. I mean, if you want to fuck guys, more power to you, but Pete, really?”
“I haven’t fucked Pete! Jesus, Mike.” William twists on the floor and leans on the bunk next to Mike, propping his feet up on Adam’s mattress. “I’m not fucking anyone. I just want to be better, you know? And I want…I don’t know. Pete took me over there and I thought…” He shrugs and rests his head on Mike’s shoulder. “He was trying to get rid of me.”
“Probably it didn’t have shit to do with you, Beckett. He probably got distracted by Mikey. You know how Pete is. Show him something shiny and you’ve lost him for hours.” Mike bumps his fist against William’s knee. “Now, as much as I’d like to think this is the end of this little heart-to-heart, I know you, and I know someone accusing you of fucking someone isn’t enough to get you this pissed, so what’s really going on?”
“Pete knows me. I thought he knew me.”
“Again, this is Pete. He’s probably not thinking about you at all in this.” Mike levers himself to his feet and holds a hand out to help William up. “He was pissed and he took it out on you. You’ve been hanging around with me for years now. You should be used to it. Don’t take it personal.”
“With you it’s always personal.”
“Well, yeah. But I’m special.” He tugs William in for a quick hug that’s more of a hard slap on the back. “If Pete can’t take it, then fuck him. Not literally, because you’d be making his point and, also, ew. But you know, he’s not the boss of you. I mean, yeah, in some ways, but not in the ways that involve what you do with your free time. Man up, Beckett.”
“Besides, we’ve only got a few more days on the tour, and then we leave Pete and My Chem behind. Conquer the world on our own, right?”
“Right.” William nods, taking a deep breath. “What time are we on?”
“We’ve got a couple hours. You gonna crash?” Mike looks anxious to be done with the conversation, and William knows if he doesn’t let him go, it’s going to devolve into barbed comments and insults. Between this and the conversation on the tour, there have been way too many feelings on this tour for Carden, and William doesn’t want to press his luck.
“I could, I guess.” William shrugs and looks at Mike, probably more hopeful and desperate than he wants to appear, but needing company. “Unless you want to work on that song.”
“Yeah? I could do that.” Mike swats the back of William’s head and starts for the back lounge. “Just let me grab my guitar.”
Gerard throws himself into the next shows, surprised at how different they feel now that he and Mikey have cleared the air. Things feel like they’re on, clicking perfectly. The relief is palpable, and it shows in the entire band, the way the energy is higher. The crowd kicks it back at them, and it’s like a fucking balm to his senses. This is what he was afraid he lost with the booze and the drugs, but it’s still there. Brighter. Stronger. Better. He smiles at Mikey and Frank on one side of the stage and looks to the other to see Ray beaming back at him. He doesn’t have to look at Bob to know, something in the beat of the drum fills it up from the bass line that’s supporting his words and the rest of the music.
He sees William out of the corner of his eye, watching from backstage in the puzzle of techs and equipment. He’s surprised to see him, especially since Pete’s there too, not near him but close enough that they could see each other if they looked. He relaxes a little bit more seeing that, knowing that, whatever happened, whatever Pete said or did, it’s okay and resolved.
He’s not as sure of that when their set ends and he goes off stage. Pete’s still there, but William is gone and Mikey and Pete seem intent on dragging Gerard along with them to the Fall Out Boy bus. They disappear into the back, and he ends up spending the rest of the day talking to Patrick about music. It’s a fun afternoon, but not what he expected, and he eyes Mikey as they walk back to their bus right before bus call.
“What?” Mikey bumps his glasses higher on his nose then shoves his hands in his pockets.
“You keep looking at me funny.”
“No.” Gerard looks at him and screws up his face. “That would be looking at you funny.”
“That is pretty funny. Do it again.”
Gerard makes the face again and then smiles, bumping into Mikey’s arm. “Are you and Pete trying to distract me from William?”
“We’re not trying to do anything.”
“Because normally I don’t get to hang out on the same bus as you when you’re getting it on.”
“We’re not getting it on.” A tell-tale blush stains Mikey’s cheeks, but Gerard doesn’t say anything. “We’re just good friends. Hanging out.”
“Gee!” Mikey’s voice hits an octave higher than normal and the blush deepens.
“Hey, I advocate for handjobs. They’re great. I’m a big fan.” He grins at Mikey and moves out of his range, just in case Mikey decides to take physical measures. “I mean, Pete Wentz, but other than that…” He laughs. “I want you to be happy, Mikes.”
“But cool it on the distraction tactics, okay? You guys have fun doing your thing, and let me do mine.”
“Pete’s just worried.” Mikey shrugs and waves to a group of people walking by them. “I guess he and William kind of had a blow up. Didn’t end well.”
“No group hugs, huh?”
“So I should stay away, is what you’re telling me?”
“I’m not telling you anything, Gee.” Mikey keys in the bus code and opens the door, looking back at Gerard. “Whatever’s up with Pete and William is their thing. Going to see William might put you in the middle of it, and you know whether that’s something you can handle.” He looks at Gerard and his brow wrinkles. “What?”
“You trust me.”
Mikey’s eyebrow arches up smoothly. “Um, duh?”
“I just didn’t think…didn’t…I thought maybe you didn’t.” He shrugs, embarrassed. “You know. With everything.”
“I worry about you. I’m scared for you, sometimes. But I always trust you, Gee.”
He opens his mouth to answer when Ray blocks the doorway. “You’re letting all the air conditioning out. Either get in or shut the door or we will murder you in your sleep and leave your bodies to rot in the sweltering fucking sun.”
“Would you really?” Gerard squints up at him through his sunglasses.
“Let’s not find out. You can be mushy inside. We’ll let you.”
Mikey smirks. “You’ll mock us.”
“Yes, but we love you, so it’s okay.” Ray hurries Mikey up the stairs and shoves him into the bus, giving Gerard an expectant look. “Come on.”
“Have you always been this bossy?”
“Yes.” He rolls his hand in a circle, hurrying Gerard up, but his smile negates his words. “Get your ass on the bus.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Gerard climbs on and heads for his bunk, wanting to get out of his show clothes, even though the sweat’s already dried and stiffened. Before he can get past the lounge, Frank stops him with a hand in his chest, two fingers holding a piece of paper and tapping it against him. “What’s that?”
“I’m not going to call a fan, Frank. That’s…you know how I get when I talk to people. I say too much and ramble and…”
“It’s not a fan. Well, that’s blatantly untrue, but it’s not a regular fan.” Frank rolls his eyes. “Just take the number.”
Gerard does, unfolding the piece of paper. Frank’s handwriting sucks, but he can still read the numbers and it still doesn’t make sense. “I don’t get it.”
“Christ, Gee.” Frank shoves him back toward the bunks. “Go call your boyfriend.”
“I don’t have a bo…oh. Oh!” He can feel his blush burning his cheeks and he sticks his tongue out at Frank. “He’s not my boyfriend.”
“I don’t want to know your pet names for each other.” Frank makes a face. “I mean, if we’re Frerard, you’d be, like…Willard. Or Gerilliam.”
“I hate you, you know.” He goes back into the bunks to the sound of Frank’s laughter and lies down, pulling his curtain closed. It’s weirdly intimate since most of their time together has been in full view of anyone walking by, so he drags the curtain open again before he dials.
Gerard laughs. “You learned the Warped lesson, huh? Never answer your phone with your name, because the wrong person might have gotten your number, and would know you’re actually you.”
“Yeah. Frank gave me your number. I don’t know where he got your number. It’s okay, right? That I’m calling?”
“Yeah. Of course. Yeah. Hang on.” Gerard closes his eyes in the quiet, listening to the hum of the road as the buses start moving. It’s weird imagining them both in the same place, the same bubble of a world, in a bus, in a bunk somewhere, moving across the miles like transported pod people. “Sorry. Had to get away from the…I’m not even sure what they were doing.”
“Are you in your bunk?” William’s hitched breath surprises him until he realizes how it sounds. “No. I mean, not…dude, that came out wrong. Not that you’re not…you’re really pretty.”
“Thank you?” William laughs. “I think.”
“I didn’t mean it to sound like I was coming on to you or…like that this was a booty call. Do they still call them booty calls? Did anyone ever actually call them booty calls? I…shit. I’m really bad at this.”
William’s voice is still amused, warm and nice. Comforting. “Hi, Gerard.”
“Hi. I saw you at the show. Why didn’t you stick around?”
“I’ve been to both. Since. I just…it seemed best not to hang out. It was obvious you and Mikey weren’t…great when Pete and I left, and I didn’t want to make things worse. Whether anyone believes it or not, I don’t want to make things harder for you.”
“Actually, you kind of made things better.”
“Yeah.” Gerard turns on his side and closes the curtain again. “Mikey and I talked. Cleared the air a little. It was good. We’re…better now. Not 100%. Not great. But better.”
“That’s…good. I’m glad.” He’s quiet for a few moments, and Gerard just listens to him breathe, closing his eyes and reveling in the soft sound. He misses this part of being a couple, of being close to someone. Falling into bed fucked up with someone and waking up with another breath, another heartbeat. “You probably don’t need me around anymore then.”
“If you and Mikey are okay. Better. You needed a friend because you and your best friend were on the outs.” He can almost hear William’s shrug.
“I can have more than one friend. I have more than one friend. I have a band full of friends. And other friends. Mikey’s not my only friend. I don’t…you weren’t some sort of…Don’t be stupid. I know you’re not stupid.” He waits for a response, but he doesn’t get one. He knows William’s still listening though. “You’re a nice guy, and I like you. I mean, we don’t have tons in common, but we can still be friends, right?”
“Right. Yeah.” He’s quiet again then he laughs softly. “Assuming Pete stops acting like some sort of vicious guard dog.”
“Screw Pete. You’ve got two more dates left with us, right?”
“And tonight’s a hotel night.”
There’s a long pause before he answers. “Right.”
“Awesome. Leave it to me.”
“You know that’s kind of ominous, don’t you?”
Gerard giggles. “Really? Ominous? That’s awesome. That’s totally what I was going for. I’ll call you back later, okay?”
He hangs up before William can answer and makes a few other calls. He’s not above using his fairly new sobriety to get what he wants, which is probably pretty shitty of him, and definitely against all the steps and rules he’s supposed to follow, but given that one of those is to stay the fuck away from shit that led you to drinking and drugs in the first place, he figures he can get away with something this small too. It takes some doing, given the difference in their levels on the tour, but he manages it with just a few promises, a few favors and only a little blackmail.
William notices Gerard at their set, even though he’s wearing black on black against the black canvas. He blocks him out after he sees him, focusing on the audience, pouring everything out from the stage in a flood. The crowd screams when he leans in, sharing the mic with Tom and again when he leaps off the riser over Adam’s head. It’s the best high he’s ever felt, and he starts the last song slumped against Mike and ends it touching the hands of everyone he can reach before he sinks down onto the stage, tangled in his cords, breathing the last words like they’re his own.
Tom helps him up as the rest of the guys help the techs break it down. He can’t hear anything over the roar of the crowd and the blood pounding in his ears. He hugs Tom tight then moves off the stage, taking the bottle of water and towel one of the techs offers him with a raspy thanks. He looks for Gerard, but he’s not there, so he grabs one of Andy’s drums that he’s handing down and helps with the load out.
Hotel nights have a different kind of energy, because no one wants to hang around and shoot the shit. They want to load out and hit the hotel so they can shower or sleep or fuck or whatever it is they want to do. William thanks the techs that help them haul their shit into the trailer, then shoves into the van with his duffel and everyone else who’s done with their set. The managers are in the banquet room with hotel keys, passing them out as the bands filter in. William takes his key and room number, stumbling to the elevator. He’s surprised when the rest of his band gets off on the fifth floor, and looks at his key and post-it again. He waves at Mike as the doors close, his phone already buzzing with a text.
“What the fuck beckett?”
He texts back. “Don’t know. Im on the 7th floor.”
“Too good for us huh?”
“You just now figured that out?”
“Fucker. Pizza in 549 in an hour. If u can handle being out of the rarefied air.”
“I’ll wear an oxygen mask.” He tucks his phone away as the doors open for his floor. It’s weird to be getting off the elevator alone. He walks down the hallway, slightly freaked out by the silence. He unlocks the door of his room and moves inside, tossing his bag in the corner before looking around. It looks just like all the other rooms, except this one is empty, which means the shower is, for right now, his and his alone.
He drags his stuff to the bathroom and strips down, turning the water as hot as it will go. He tosses a few of his shirts and pairs of underwear in, letting them get soaked on the floor of the tub as the steam fills the room. He climbs in and hisses as the water hits his skin as he climbs, but lets it beat down on him as he uses the soap and water to scrub his clothes, hanging them on the shower rod before finally ducking his head under the spray.
He tries not to spend too long in the shower, knowing there’s no way he’s actually got this room to himself, but his skin is still wrinkled on his fingers when he gets out and wraps the towel around his waist. He spreads his clothes out on the rod and turns the fan on so they’ll dry, then goes into the room itself and lays on one of the beds, soaking up the quiet. He knows he should go down and have pizza with his band, but that would lead to questions about his room, and he doesn’t have any answers. Tony probably knows what’s going on, but he’s not sure he really wants to ask, when it comes down to it. Someone might correct it if it’s a mistake. He just kind of wants to bask in his good fortune. And free cable TV.
He’s on his fourth hour of Law and Order when the door opens and Gerard comes in, dropping his bag on the other bed. William looks up at him, only a little surprised, then past him at the closed door. “Where’s everyone else?”
“But there’s just two of us.” William sits up, realizing suddenly he’s still in just a towel. “In this room. Which is big.”
“Right. I called in some favors. Did you use all the hot water?”
“Not all of it, but my underwear is hanging in the bathroom.” He stands up, securing the towel at his waist by tightening the knot. “I could get that.”
“Did you wash it or are you making some sort of decorating statement? I’m not going to judge either way.”
“Washed it, actually.” William ducks into the bathroom and grabs all of his stuff, tugging on mostly-clean clothes. He gathers all of the stuff he has hanging and carries the slightly-damp pile into the room, laying it out to finish drying on the air conditioner. “Bathroom’s all yours.”
“Cool.” Gerard looks at him and shrugs. “They all think we’re sleeping together, right?”
“I…sure. Probably.” He nods and tucks his fingers into the pockets of his jeans. “So we’re going to sleep together?”
“No. I mean, we can if you want to, but I think it would be weird. Don’t you? Not that you’re weird. Like I said. You’re pretty. I just…you know.”
“Yeah. I do.” William smiles. It could be an insult, he knows, but really it just feels right. There’s no pressure to be attractive or attracted. “So you let everyone think that you wanted us to have a room together so we could have sex, but in reality we’re just going to hang out here and not have sex.”
“Well, I thought we could do other things. Like write or draw. Or I brought Dawn of the Dead. I figured this time I could poke you every time you went to sleep so you’d see the whole thing. Or we could talk. I like talking to you. You’re refreshing.”
“Refreshing? Really?” He stretches back out on the bed as Gerard digs things out of his bag. “That’s the adjective you pick for me?”
“Well, some of the other ones I’ve heard are ‘pretentious’ and ‘diva-like’, but they seemed kind of mean.” He raises his gaze just enough to catch William’s and smiles. “Refreshing is a little more toiletry product sounding than I like, but…”
“Than you like?” William laughs and grabs his pillow, throwing it at Gerard. “How do you think I feel? I sound like a deodorant or douche commercial.”
“Well, douche came up on the adjective list, so…” Gerard dodges William’s second pillow, grabbing it off the floor when it lands and holding it in front of him like a shield. “It’s not my fault your friends are mean.”
William grabs one of the pillows from Gerard’s bed and hugs it to his chest as he sits up. “So everyone’s going to think we slept together.”
“And we will mock and laugh at them.”
“Except Pete and Mikey, who will probably kill me in my sleep.”
“Mikey’s keeping Pete distracted in ways that I do not ever want to know, because he is my baby brother and there are things that should remain mysteries.” He frowns. “At least that’s what people tell me. Mikey pretty much tells me everything.”
“Yeah. It’s hard keeping secrets when you share a bedroom for a really long time. The embarrassing shit is all out there. Also, when you’re falling down drunk and pissing yourself and vomiting all over everyone else’s shit, well, you don’t have a lot of right to throw stones, so you’re a pretty decent guy to talk to about shit.” He tucks his clothes under his arm, putting the pillow down warily. “I’m going to take a shower. Don’t do anything that will force me to talk smack about your sexual prowess.”
“Did you really just say talk smack?”
Gerard beams a ridiculous grin, small teeth and squinted eyes. “Order a pizza, okay? Lots of meat. So many fucking vegans on this tour. Shit.”
“How do you know I’m not vegan?”
“You’re killing me. Honest to God. Order meat. Six kinds of meat. Make them go out and find extra meat if they don’t have that many kinds. I’m serious.” He points a finger at William, failing completely at looking serious. “I am going to count the meat.”
William bites his lower lip to keep from laughing. “Please stop saying meat.”
“Meat. Meat. Meat. Meat. Meat.” Gerard makes it a song as he goes into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. William gives up and laughs, flipping through the stack of hotel information for the nearest pizza place. Chances are they’re swamped with orders, but he calls anyway, ordering two larges, even though there’s no way they’ll eat both. They can divide up the leftovers and have meals for the next couple of days.
He grabs his pillows back and rearranges them, making a cushion against the headboard and leaning back against it. His notebook’s in his lap, more from habit than anything else, and he flips through the channels trying to find something else to watch.
Gerard comes out of the shower nearly a half-hour later, his hair towel-dried and sticking up in a variety of directions. He’s wearing a pair of black pajamas with a life-size skeleton painted on them in day-glo paint, and a pair of neon orange socks. His toothbrush is dangling from his mouth and he dumps the hotel-supplied shampoo and conditioner in his bag before retreating back to the bathroom.
“Pizza should be here in a few minutes if the advertising is to be believed.”
The response is garbled by the toothbrush and the shut bathroom door, not to mention the whirring of the bathroom fan. William picks the DVD up off of Gerard’s bed and takes it over to the player, getting everything cued up while he waits. Gerard comes out again and shoves his clothes into his duffel bag. “How much?”
“Fifteen. There was a deal. We get chicken wings and soda too.”
“You’re like a pizza guru. Did you tell them about the meat?”
“Yes. God, yes. Stop saying that. Please. I will pay for the entire pizza if you stop.”
Gerard tilts his head, obviously thinking, then shakes it, digging out his wallet and handing William a ten dollar bill. “Nope. No deal.”
“Nah, just a little bit malevolent.” There’s a knock on the door and Gerard grins. “You want me to start saying ‘meat’ again?”
“I hate you. I’ve decided.” William gets the pizza, tipping the guy and shutting the door before Gerard can start singing again. He comes back and settles both boxes on his bed, leaning back against the pillows. “I gave him all your money.”
“Delivering pizza to rock stars is hard work. He deserved a tip.” He walks over and sits on the edge of William’s bed, grabbing the remote and starting the DVD. “I really will poke you if you fall asleep. With something sharp even.”
“Do you have something sharp?”
“I have pencils. And a sharpener. And I’m not afraid to use them.” He opens the box of pizza and stares at it, and it takes a few minutes before William figures out what he’s doing and has to laugh.
“You’re counting the types of meat.”
“I said I would.”
“I had to help the guy come up with six meats, you know. You’re…” William shakes his head, smiling. “Something else.”
“Yeah. I know. I get that a lot.” He sits down next to William and takes the remote, turning on the DVD. The movie gets going and they settle in, laps full of napkins and mouths full of pizza.
“This is nice.”
“It is. But it’s what’s out there that we do it for, you know? The kids. The fans. The energy.” Gerard nods, smiling and snuggling into his pillow. “Throw it out and have it come back to you like a boomerang. Knock you on your ass with how much they give you.”
“They think we’re out there giving something to them.” William takes a bite of his pizza and snuggles down as well, settling in for the night. “They’ve got no idea that it’s the other way around.”
The next two days seem to go by faster than normal, and Gerard spends as much time with William as he can. Their discussions range from comics to philosophy, from being a front man to being a lyricist, from what they should tell people about their supposed sexual encounters and what they want more than anything in the world. The last night William’s on the tour, Gerard manages to get Brian to smuggle in a real Chicago-style pizza, and they spend their post-set hours on the floor of the back lounge in My Chem’s bus defending it from the hordes of ravenous bandmates.
The rest of the night was a lot of laughter and a lot of friends. It’s the first time something like this has happened since Japan - something real and rare and warm. People came and went and eventually it must of ended or he fell asleep, because he wakes up in his bunk. Wakes up late, according to his watch. He curses under his breath and digs out his phone from under the mattress and two pillows, hearing the faint beeping of the alarm get louder. He shuts the noise off and looks at the time again, pissed that he’s awake two hours later than he planned. He sits up quickly, practically knocking himself out cold on the top of the bunk. “Fuck.”
He slithers out of the bunk, stepping on Frank’s mattress before he makes it to the floor. The rest of the bunks are deserted, which somehow makes it worse, and he knows the coffee pot is going to be empty. He tugs on day-old pants and shoves his feet into his tennis shoes, scratching under his arm as he hurries out of the bus. He gets hit full in the face with sunlight and scrambles back on board, digging through the pile of comics and magazines and M&M wrappers until he finds a pair of sunglasses and a hoodie.
The glasses cover half his face and aren’t really all that dark, so he still has to squint, and the hoody doesn’t fit right, but it does have cigarettes in the pocket, so he calls it a win and lights up. They’re menthol and disgusting, but they’re nicotine, so he takes several deep drags as he goes in search of coffee and William’s bus.
“Hey, Gee.” Frank waves from where he’s sitting in front of another bus with Dewees and a couple of the guys from The Bled. Gerard waves back, blowing smoke in their direction, but not stopping. He snags a coffee from the food tent and swigs half of it down, nearly retching from both the cold and the sweetness. He dumps the cup in a trash bin and squints at the buses he’s walking past, looking for something familiar. He’s never actually seen William’s bus, and given that they all look alike, he’s really just hoping to stumble over someone he knows who can point the way.
He spies Andy and waves at him with both hands, flagging him down while hurrying toward him. “Andy. Hey! Hey, Andy! Andy Hurley.”
Andy’s standing still, waiting for Gerard to catch up to him. “What’s up?”
He takes a breath and then another hit off his cigarette. “You. You know people. Who they are. Where they are.”
“I…yeah. What’s up? Are you looking for Pete and Mikey? Because they cut out a while ago.”
“They did? Where did they go? I mean…wait. No. Never mind. I’m not looking for them. I’m looking for Beckett. William Beckett. You know him, right? I mean, you’re Pete’s friend, and he’s Pete’s friend, so you guys probably know each other. Yes? Right? I’m looking for his bus. Do you know where his bus is?”
“The TAI bus? It’s three buses that way. I’m not sure if they’re there though. Last gig of the tour. Might be making their rounds, you know?”
“Right. Right. Right. Do you know what time they go on?”
“Three, I think. Tony should be at the bus if no one else is. He can tell you.”
“Their tour manager.” Andy laughs and ruffles Gerard’s hair. “Nice guy. Tell him I sent you.”
“If I don’t tell him that will he be mean to me?” Gerard takes another drag and blows the smoke away from Andy. “No, never mind. Doesn’t matter. Where did Pete and Mikey go?”
“I don’t know. Town, I think. Something about pixy stix? It was a weird conversation. Even for Pete.” Something in Andy’s expression makes Gerard think that this conversation is going to go somewhere in that same file, so he just nods.
“Right. Well. I’m going to go find William then. If you see him, tell him I’m looking for him. I want to see him, you know, before he goes.”
“I would think so.”
“You guys were just hanging out last night after you had a room all to yourselves the other night. Word gets around.” Andy shrugs. “I mean, unless you used the hotel night as your big goodbye. The climactic moment.”
Gerard blinks and then laughs. “Oh. Right. Climactic. Got it. I’m going to go now.”
“Yeah. You do that.” Andy clasps his hand on Gerard’s shoulder and squeezes then turns back toward his bus. Gerard takes the last drag on his cigarette and grinds it out, carrying the butt until he finds another trash can near William’s bus. There’s noise inside and the door’s open, so he steps onto the first step and pokes his head in.
He ducks just in time to avoid a Frisbee, but he still ends up with a pita in the face. He blinks and looks down at the pita lying on the ground then touches his face. “Is that hummus?”
“Dude. Fuck, dude. Sorry.” The drummer comes over and, for the life of him, Gerard has no idea what his name is. Tattooed drummer guy is about as close as he can get. “We were doing science.”
“Yeah.” Werewolf guitar guy pipes up. “We were testing to see which one was more aerodynamically sound.”
“And the hummus?” Gerard asks.
“That was my idea.” Serial killer guitarist chimes in. “Just to see if it’d make a difference. Or just a mess.”
“There was a bet,” drummer guy nods emphatically. “If the Frisbee won three times in a row, Adam had to lick what was left of the hummus off the pita.”
He has no clue who Adam is. “Is Tony here? Or William? I’m really looking for William. And maybe a napkin.”
Serial killer tosses him a mostly clean napkin and Gerard wipes hummus off his face. The pita is face down on the floor and he peels it up and offers it back to werewolf guy.
“Just, you know, for the record. I think the people that made the Frisbee did this whole thing to make it super aerodynamic and shit. Like, that’s its purpose. Pitas are just supposed to be tasty.”
“They are tasty.” Werewolf nods, and Gerard is relatively certain he’s stoned. He hopes he’s stoned. The bus smells like they’re all stoned.
“He’s out back.”
“Thanks.” He hands the napkin back to serial killer and moves off the bus before they attempt anything else like science. He touches the side of the bus and feels the heat flooding his skin, and it feels good. He likes the heat more than the humidity, which is what he’s pretty sure Florida is made up of, and he’s pretty sure they’re in Florida. Heat only makes him sweat. Humidity makes him feel like he’s swimming and if he stops, he’ll drown.
William’s sitting on a blanket, leaning against the back of the bus and staring out at the beach in the distance. He’s wearing shorts that show off long, pale legs even though the tops of his feet are tanned. Gerard looks around and then sits down next to him, shifting on the asphalt until he’s comfortable.
“So I was thinking about you.” Gerard scoops up a couple of pebbles from the ground. “I know you’ve been trying to write, and I know you’re friends with Gabe, and I know how he is about music, you know? And…well, it’s true. A lot of it. You can say shit with music. You put your heart and soul out there, and sometimes you don’t get all the pieces back. So, you know, you look for things to fill up the holes that it leaves behind. So. Yeah. I mean, it all means something. But it doesn’t have to mean everything.”
“And it doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone?” William shifts against the bus, turning his head toward Gerard, but not quite looking at him. Gerard’s going to miss how William doesn’t ever seem fazed by him jumping in mid-thought. How he seems to get him.
“Yeah. I mean, you can’t be everything to everyone, you know? You can’t even always be one thing to everyone. Sometimes you just have to be what you need to be for yourself. I mean, being fucked up like I was, that was…I mean, it was selfish. I didn’t give a shit about the rest of it, because I was so focused on how it was to me, and it was all kind of overwhelming and shit. And, I mean, I was older than you, so I can imagine it’s pretty freaky sometimes for you. You’re, like, a kid.”
“I’m not a kid.”
“Right. No. I mean, you’ve been through stuff. I’ve heard your songs and I know. I know it’s not easy. Shit. I suck at this. I sound like an afterschool special. This is going to end in teen pregnancy and I’ll have to work at a Wal-mart.”
“Wait, does that mean I’ll be the pregnant one?”
Gerard pauses like he’s considering it, and then shakes his head. “What I’m trying to say is that you have to just live it, you know? You can’t force it. You make the best music you can and you give it everything you’ve got and you just have to realize that it’s not always going to be what you thought it was. None of this is what I thought it would be.”
“Would you trade it?”
He squints out at the sunlight through his glasses, seeing refracted light dance off cars and the water. “Not for anything.”
William turns his head back to watch the water and Gerard watches as he tears apart a piece of grass in his hands. “I want it. So much. To be great. To be heard. To be something.”
“You are.” Gerard gets to his feet, brushing off his ass. He reaches into the pocket of the hoodie and pulls out a rectangle wrapped in pages of a ripped-up magazine. Bob’s going to kill him when he finds it, but he thinks it’s worth it. “I’m going to come see your show and everything, but I know you’re packing out after, and you’re going to be busy, so…I, um, I have a present for you. It’s used, so it’s not like super cool, but here.” He shoves it at William and wiggles it a little until he takes it.
“You got me the latest issue of Modern Drummer?”
“No. No. It’s wrapping. Open it.”
William smiles, the hint of a blush burning his cheeks as he unwraps the crinkled pages. He laughs. “Dawn of the Dead?”
“You kept falling asleep during it, so I’m giving it to you. My copy. To you. So you can watch it.”
“There’ll be a quiz. I’ll quiz you.” He smiles as William stands up, looking from the DVD to Gerard. “It’ll be a hard quiz too. I’m going to ask shit about gaffers and shit.”
“I’ll study hard.”
“You’d better. It’ll be essay questions too. None of the easy multiple choice stuff. I’m going to make you talk about themes and morals and allegories. With examples. And maybe a bibliography.”
William reaches out and touches Gerard’s shoulder lightly then moves in closer, enfolding him in a hug. Gerard stands there for a moment and then nods and hugs him back. It’s feels strange and awkward until it doesn’t, and then he just breathes, closing his eyes and listening to the rise and fall of William’s breath. “Thank you. I mean it.”
“Thank you.” Gerard pulls back and nods, rising up on his toes to press a quick, shy kiss against William’s jaw. “See you around, Beckett.”
Gerard doesn’t look back as he heads to his own bus, surprised to find Mikey waiting for him in front of The Academy’s bus. “Hey. What are you doing here?”
Mikey shrugs and puts his arm around Gerard. “I thought I’d buy you coffee.”
“I’m okay, Mikey.”
“I know.” Mikey kisses Gerard’s head and keeps his face against his hair, both of them breathing in unison. “But I’m not going anywhere.”