The summer before Ryan’s senior year was filled with slow and gradual days that took their own good time unfolding. Spencer remembers fucking around with his drums and watching crappy movies from the 80s, getting sunburnt and the feel of the hot pavement under his bare feet. It wasn’t that he expected the summer before his senior year to be the same. It couldn’t be. But – Spencer doesn’t know.
Just a few weeks into it, Brent brings this guy he knows, Brendon, to practice.
He is loud and bright and settled behind his kit, sticks in hand, Spencer watches Brendon bounce awkwardly around, and maybe they fuck around and waste time for the first ten minutes. Maybe Brendon talks too much about how sucky Brent’s and his maths teacher is and how excited he is to audition for their band and maybe Ryan sneers a little at him and maybe Brent rolls his eyes a little, but when they finally get to the try-out part of the audition, Brendon picks up his guitar – and suddenly they have their new guitarist. He’s that good. Fuck, a few practices later Brendon opens his mouth and they have their new lead singer.
And that is Spencer’s summer.
The first week back at school after the break ends, some jerk trips Spencer over in gym. Spencer doesn’t know how it happens. One moment he is up and moving, running, and the next he is splayed on the dried out hockey field, gasping for breath, with his hands and knees skinned badly. The shrill sound of the coach’s whistle pierces the air, pausing the game, and Spencer knows he should get up, but he can’t seem to. Not right away.
In the background, someone laughs.
Spencer closes his eyes. He closes them and he pushes himself to his feet.
The coach takes one look at him and orders him off to the nurse’s office. When he gets there, there is a small group of people waiting. With stinging hands and blood stained socks, he goes and takes his place at the back of the queue. Away from the warm morning sun, in only his gym uniform, he shivers a little. He doesn’t know any of the people standing in front of him. One girl apparently has period pains. Another has the flu. Or a biology quiz. Spencer doesn’t particularly care. He can feel them staring when the nurse sits him down, takes off his sweaty shin guards and picks the grass and dirt and crap from the mess of his hands and knees.
“This will sting a little,” the nurse tells him, as she reaches for the iodine.
Spencer looks at his hands. He doesn’t say anything, because it will. Of course it will. And it does.
When she’s finished with him, it doesn’t look too bad. Except that’s only his opinion. After school Ryan touches one of the bandages around his hand and asks what happened. Spencer doesn’t really have an answer.
“Field hockey,” he ends up saying.
Ryan opens his mouth to say something else, but Spencer isn’t sure if he wants to hear it so he pulls his hand away and says some shit about how this will stop them from practicing for at least a week. It’s pretty weak as far as things go, but Ryan pulls a face and makes a comment about how Brendon could probably cover for Spencer. Brendon could. But that’s not the point. Then Ryan makes another comment about how Brendon could probably cover for Spencer and still play guitar and sing because he’s that fucking hyperactive. It’s petty and stupid (and true) but Spencer lets him shoot his mouth off even though he shouldn’t.
Spencer isn’t used to Brendon either. He doesn’t say it aloud. But he isn’t.
It was just him and Ryan at the start. It isn’t anymore. Spencer still plays drums and Ryan still plays guitar, but other than that, nothing is the same. They made that decision for a reason. Spencer knows this. He knows Ryan made it for the right reasons, and that Ryan knew what the decision meant. But it doesn’t mean that Spencer is still sometimes caught by surprise when he counts them off, and instead of Ryan launching into Camisado, it’s Brendon. Brendon who laughs too loudly and talks too quickly and never knows when to stop and sometimes Spencer gets a headache when he spends too much time around him.
Brendon’s – he’s just – he’s just a lot. A lot to be around. A lot in general.
His hands heal. So do his knees. Slowly. Eventually.
Right when they’re almost completely better, he accidentally bumps his knee on the bus to school as he's getting out of his seat. In the bathroom before class begins, he rolls up his jeans and takes stock of the damage. The bell rings. Spencer’s homeroom teacher is a bitch about punctuality. He slaps a bandaid onto it and leaves it at that.
When he gets home that night, he gets into a fight with his mother.
Or not a fight. A conversation. One that was started by something stupid and one that leaves him stuck walking around with his insides churning all over the place. It makes things strained. His sisters notice. They ask questions. Crystal even comes into his room and picks up a few shinny pamphlets their mother had left in his room.
“What’s going on?” she asks.
He doesn’t say anything. She’s thirteen. She takes it the wrong way. Her face gets red and she stomps out of his room.
A few moments later, he hears her bedroom door slam shut.
By the time they get called down to have dinner, Spencer has a migraine from the Ryan-Seacrest-approved top forty music she has blaring in her room. His parents look at him reproachfully. Spencer opens his mouth, but finds himself asking for seconds rather than apologising. By the time they finish dinner, it’s late. Too late for him to do anything but crash.
In homeroom the next day, he has to finish his homework in a rush. He has to work right through lunch too. He doesn’t quite finish all of it. By the close of the day, he’s been given more. When he gets home, he looks at it piled up on his desk, but that’s pretty all he can do before band practice begins.
Ryan arrives first.
He shouldn’t have. His last lab of the day finished at four thirty on the dot. In the afternoon light he looks thin and gaunt. Spencer wants to say something, but it takes him too long to gather the right words together and just as he’s starting to organise them into shape, Brent is pulling up to the curb and getting out of his car, and Brendon is following him up Spencer’s driveway, all faded sneakers and laughter, and Spencer runs out of time and can’t say anything.
He looks away.
But Brendon catches his gaze though and grins.
His shirt is wrinkled and there is dirt on his collar. He grins at Spencer, and Spencer doesn’t see the wrinkles or the dirt. He doesn’t. Not even when Ryan points it out. Brendon’s –
Brendon’s a lot.
Spencer looks away. Looks away and focuses on what he’s meant to be doing. Drums. Drumming. He takes a breath and when he’s ready (when everyone is); he counts them off like he has done a hundred times before. He counts then off and he - it's a new song and they’re not even half way through practice but Spencer’s practically got it locked down. He just knows he does. The beat. The song. And probably the following one too. He knows he does. But in front of him, Brendon’s playing and singing and Spencer –
Brendon’s a lot.
He’s so loud and so bright and whenever he and Ryan work on music or lyrics or anything, he bites his bottom lip and Spencer watches them. Watches Brendon. Watches him pull and play around with meter and tone, while Ryan considers every word, every verse and Spencer – his drum line is different. He thinks. He doesn’t know. Not for sure. He thinks – fuck, he doesn’t know what he thinks. He just keeps playing until Ryan calls the practice to and end.
Spencer’s hands are red by then.
When he drives Brendon home, they sting a little when he takes the wheel. More often than not, Spencer ends up driving Brendon home now. He should have been more careful.
“You sounded good today,” Brendon says as they stop at the lights.
Spencer did. But he could have sounded better.
“No,” Brendon tells him. “You were tight.”
Spencer snorts. “Tight? Who says ‘tight’?”
“Your mother,” Brendon retorts because he’s twelve.
Without taking his eyes off the road, Spencer punches his arm. Brendon laughs, and it isn’t all that much different than any of the other times Spencer has driven him home. With windows wound all the way down, and the radio crackling, they listen to whatever and Brendon talks too much, talks about such stupid shit, and Spencer drives. He drives and he laughs and he gets to listen to something other than whatever band or musician Ryan’s obsessed with currently and it isn’t what Spencer though he’d be doing in his senior year, but it’s what he’s doing.
During homeroom the following day, he gets pulled aside. It’s the fourth time he’s been late in as many weeks.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he says.
“That’s not like you,” his homeroom teacher replies.
Spencer – he shrugs.
He shrugs too, later when he gets called into the guidance counsellor’s office.
“You missed our last two meetings,”
Spencer opens his mouth, but his guidance councillor holds up her hand to silence him.
“I was looking over your file,” she says. And “We need to start thinking about your future,”
Spencer nods. He nods, but mostly he thinks of how out of tune Ryan’s guitar always is and of practices that start late and finish later and the way the year seemed like it started a week ago, but is already nearly a quater way through and how his heart pounded and pounded and is pounding now, as he sits in the squeaky chair and is being asked yet again what his SAT score is and what his plans are and –
“You need to think about your options,” he gets told, not for the first time.
He is told other things he knows and a few more things he knows he should know by now.
He gets out of the meeting just in time to take a test in his history class. It’s on the French Revolution. Nothing new. Not for Spencer. But a week later they get back their papers and one of the guys in his class receives a B. Not too bad, not really. Spencer got the same grade. Mostly. His is a B+. Spencer is happy. Except afterwards, when Spencer is packing away his books, the guy comes up to the teacher and starts talking about his grade point average and scholarship requirements.
“Is it possible to retake it?” Spencer overhears him asks.
Spencer shoves the test into his binder. If he isn’t careful, he’ll be late to his next class.
They don’t have band practice that afternoon, but Spencer finds himself blowing off his plans and driving Brendon over to the mall. Not for any real reason; they mostly just walk around. Spencer looks at a few stores and Brendon tries on a pair of jeans he can’t afford. There are a lot of things they could be doing, but Spencer can’t think of a single one of them.
He doesn’t know when they started hanging out, outside of practice. But they do. Apparently.
Brendon is a little quiet on the drive back, and he asks Spencer to park one block away from his place.
“My parents–” he manages to get out, but that’s all he manages.
Spencer looks at Brendon and sees circles under his eyes and the smile that is pulled to wide and pasted on his face, and how he’s picking at his nails. Spencer fills in the blanks. Or some of them. Not all. Not many really. Because before the semester is out, Brendon is, well, a lot happens. So much, really. Too much, maybe.
What Brent tells them, is Brendon’s parents asked him to choose.
What Spencer hears is different. Because the question doesn’t matter; the answer does. Or maybe neither matter. Maybe the only thing that matters is how small the apartment Brendon moves into is, and how the walls are paper thin and how despite how many Smoothie Hut shifts he gets, he’s always struggling to pay for rent and food. Or maybe the only thing that truly matters is how Brendon still smiles and still laughs and still talks too loudly and too much, and fills as much space as he possibly can, but now he’s pulled so thin. So very thin.
Whenever Spencer goes over to see Brendon, he leaves feeling – he doesn’t know.
Spencer decides to skip school.
He’s dressed and ready to go. All his books are packed and for once, all his homework is done. But when he gets to the bus stop, instead of catching the one which will take him all the way to the front gates of his school, he boards the one which goes to the UNLV campus. He takes it and when he gets to the end of the line he gets off it and goes and pounds on Ryan’s door until someone gets up to answer it. Someone, being Ryan’s roommate, who is an asshole even at the best of times. Eight in the morning isn’t the best of times.
Ten minute later, Spencer and Ryan share what passes for breakfast in the cafeteria.
They wait until it’s safe, and then they go back to Ryan’s room and watch stupid films on the TV Ryan shares and then when it gets late, instead of going home or even calling home, Ryan takes Spencer to some random party. They don’t get drunk or even drink, but Ryan goes off with some guy and Spencer doesn’t. He drinks from a can of Coke he opened and he somehow ends up talking to a girl named Margot. She’s older than him, but looks younger. Maybe because she’s a ballet dancer, and from his limited knowledge, they always look younger than they are. Maybe just because that’s how she look. Or how she is. Spencer isn’t sure. When he finishes his drink, she joins him when he goes to get a new one. By the kitchen sink, she kisses him, soft and with lips that taste of beer and he kisses her back.
He kisses her back. He puts down the icy can of Coke and he kisses her back.
Eventually Ryan finds him. Dark eyed and flustered, there is something in the tone of voice he uses when he says Spencer’s name. Something that makes Spencer pull away from Margot, and makes Margot pull away from Spencer; smile and hand over her number (and take Spencer’s), because that is it. That is all Ryan can do, all he can take from one night.
“Sorry,” Ryan says as they’re walking across the campus.
Spencer bumps his shoulders against Ryan’s. Ryan bumps back.
“I thought you were into Bren?” he asks.
Spencer doesn’t say anything.
Spencer doesn’t know if he’s allowed to drive Brendon home anymore. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to invite Brendon over to dinner or if he can come to sleepovers now. Fuck. He doesn’t know anything apart from the fact the weather is turning and instead of just shiny pamphlets on his desk, there are piles and piles of finished paperwork. Filled out forms. Written and drafted essays. Letters upon letters of recommendation. All waiting to be put in the post.
By his side, Ryan laughs, brittle and fragile and maybe a little upset.
He doesn’t have anything figured out more than Spencer does. Spencer forgets that. Sometimes.
The next morning Spencer has to scrape himself out of bed.
His head feels slow and rusted, eyes gritty, ears still ringing a little and it’s a Friday and he is grounded. He shoves himself into his school clothes and he makes himself eat breakfast and when he gets to school, he tries not to fall asleep in class. He doesn’t fail, but he does get called aside by his homeroom teacher again. Not for anything important though. Just detention for skipping. Apparently being reamed out by his parents the night before isn’t enough. Neither is an indefinite grounding.
He is still allowed to attended band practice though. For what it’s worth.
For the next month or two, that’s what he does. All he does.
School, band, school, band; back and forth between the two. Like a yoyo.
One day, right in between school ending and practice beginning, Ryan tells Spencer’s that he’s dropping out of college. He says those exact words. Or close enough. Spencer – he wants to say something, but finds that he does not have the words. It does not really matter though. The expression on Ryan’s face has an edge to it. Spencer has known him long enough to know what that means.
Ryan runs a hand through his hair. “I want to focus on the band.”
The week before, he wanted to be a published poet, Spencer thinks. But he does not say that.
Spencer doesn’t say anything.
Ryan fiddles with his guitar.
It’s out of tune.
Spencer does not tell him.
Brendon is running late. Outside on the curb, Spencer watches Brent text his girlfriend. Practice was meant to begin ten minutes ago.
“I sent him one of our demos,” Ryan says, suddenly.
Spencer stops and turns to look at Ryan. Ryan avoids his gaze. Spencer knows who Ryan sent the demos too. Or he pretty much knows. Spencer waits, but Ryan doesn’t offer anything more. If he’s waiting for Spencer to prompt him for more information he doesn’t show it.
Brent wanders up the driveway. “Brendon called. He’s going to be late.”
Spencer thinks he’s already late. He says it too.
Or Ryan does.
Either way someone does. Brent doesn’t say anything.
Ryan goes back to fiddling with his guitar.
“You’re out of tune,” Brent says.
Ryan exhales noisily. Annoyed.
Spencer runs through a drill just so he can do something with his hands.
After practice, instead of going back to the dorms, Ryan stays over.
He says his roommate’s being a douche. Spencer lets him.
When he wakes the next morning, they’re tangled up together. A mess of legs and arms and thrown aside blankets.
“I really am going to drop out,” Ryan whispers.
“Yeah,” Spencer replies.
He lets Ryan have the first shower.
Somehow that makes Spencer late. Late to school, late to first period, late to everything.
Right before he stops being grounded, Spencer gets called into the guidance counsellor’s office.
He doesn’t know why he goes. It’s not like he gets told anything new.
At the end of the meeting, his guidance counsellor shuts his file and looks relieved. Like her job is done. Spencer just feels like he’s wasted half an hour. Even if it was just half an hour of sociology. Outside the office, the next student is already there, waiting to be seen. They’re classmates. Have been since middle school. Same English class three years in a row. Different maths class though. Her name is Claire. He thinks. Claire or Clair.
“How’d it go?”
Spencer goes to answer, but before he can, Clair(e) is called in.
She smiles apologetically. Spencer heads off to class.
After school Spencer goes to the Smoothie Hut and Brendon gives him a free drink. During his break they sit outside and pass it back and forth. The air has the beginning of a chill to it. Brendon tucks himself against Spencer’s side.
“Is Ryan angry with me?” Brendon asks.
Spencer thinks Ryan’s always upset about something or someone.
Brendon smiles that too wide smile of his. The one Spencer doesn’t like. “It’s just – he didn’t answer any of my texts today.”
“He’s got a lot on his mind at the moment,” Spencer tries to explain.
Brendon nods immediately. But – but he would.
“I think your break’s almost over,” Spencer finds himself saying, even though Brendon still has a few minutes left.
He pushes himself up onto his feet, and dusts himself off. Something inside Spencer is stuttering and off beat. He shoves his hands into his pockets. Brendon looks up at him. His skin looks grey in the late afternoon light. Or it is grey. Spencer isn’t sure. He’s never been good with things like that.
When he gets home, his mother asks how Brendon was.
“Okay, I guess.”
Spencer bites his lip. “Tired.”
Ginger nods. With a laundry basket in her arms, and still in her work clothes, Spencer thinks she looks tired too. Downstairs, he hears his sisters bicker. Ginger sighs. She yells at them, telling them not to fight. The volume of her voice catches Spencer off guard. It’s still echoing in his head when he closes his bedroom door.
There aren’t piles and piles of half finished or completely finished paperwork on his desk anymore. No. Now there is just an envelope.
He knows what’s in it. He had known the moment he had laid eyes on it, three days prior. Pulling it out, Spencer sits on his bed and holds it. He holds it and he looks at his name and address printed on it and feels the weight of it.
The school year is almost at its end. In third period that day, Sophie, one of the girls in his math class had announced she’s gotten an early acceptance letter to Princeton. After class had ended, Spencer listened to her talk, listened to her tell people all about it. He had stood by his locker and he had watched her. Her wide smile and half nervous, half relieved laugh, and he had watched her friends, a mix of envy and happiness.
His hears his mobile beep.
r u mad @ me?
Through his closed door he can hear his sisters watching TV and a car passing their house and Spencer looks his phone.
A few minutes later his mobile beeps again.
That night when Ginger cooks, she cooks far too much. In the morning she bags up the leftovers and sends Spencer over to Brendon’s with the instruction that Spencer makes sure he eats all of it.
“Every last bite,” she tells him.
Spencer thinks of Brendon in his crappy apartment in his polyester work uniform and it’s stupid and meaningless and doesn’t mean anything, but Spencer just wants. Wants so very much. It makes him ache a little. He tries to nod, but finds he can’t.
Ginger pulls him into her arms.
“Oh, baby,” she whispers.
Spencer doesn’t know why, but that only makes it worse. Pulling away, he picks up the cartons of risotto and makes some excuse to get out of the house. He doesn’t know why his mother lets him get away with it. But she does.
Brendon goes red when Spencer hands over the Tupperware.
Spencer wants to tell him, he isn’t mad. But somehow he ends up kissing Brendon while his mother’s pumpkin and spinach risotto is heating up in the microwave. He doesn’t know how. Just Brendon says something lame about iron deficiencies in teenagers and Spencer goes to elbow him or something, but instead ends up kissing him and kissing him until the ding of the microwave finishing makes him pull away.
“What was that?” Brendon asks timidly.
Breathless, Spencer thinks he doesn’t know. Or he thinks he isn’t sure. Neither is good enough. Not now when Brendon looks up at Spencer, his eyes glossy and lips parted. Deep inside his chest, Spencer’s heart pounds and pounds and he thinks Brendon is so brave. So brave.
Spencer isn’t as brave him. Not nearly.
But he kisses Brendon again nevertheless. And after a pause, Brendon kisses him back.
Spencer doesn’t really know if he believed Ryan when he said Pete Wentz was coming to see them.
When the day arrives, Spencer’s not even able to be there. Stuck at home babysitting, he’s less useful than the tinny recording of the bass and drum line, that accompanies Ryan and Brendon as they play and Brendon sings. Despite how good as Brendon is, and how earnest as Ryan can be, Spencer doesn’t expect much. Not really. Not if he was honest. Fuck. When push comes to shove, Spencer doesn’t know if he really expected Pete Wentz to show. Doesn’t really know if he believed he would. But apparently he did and apparently Brendon, Ryan and a shitty pre-taped recording of Spencer and Brent are enough to impress.
He’s stuck at home with his sisters though.
It’s only afterwards when they call, he finds out. In the hall, his feels his breath catch as Ryan laughs and Brendon pipes in to tell Spencer how much Pete liked his voice and their sound and Ryan’s words and how he really wants to sign them and in his head all Spencer can see is another dotted line and another signature required and he thinks his heart is pounding and pounding.
Earlier that week, Spencer got an A– in sociology class.
He doesn’t know how. All those rushed assignments and overnight cram sessions, that resulted in work that was probably nowhere near as good as Sophie-who-was-going-to-Princeton’s, or even that guy from his History class who was worrying so much about his grade point average and scholarship requirements and – Spencer didn’t even try. On the bus home he reread the essay he’d scribbled on half a dozen sheets of paper and he couldn’t remember writing it.
But Ginger was so happy when she saw it.
“Pete Wentz wants to sign us,” Brendon repeats, like he can’t believe it either.
Spencer thinks of how he is always on beat and how he always knows when Ryan’s guitar is out of tune and how when he looks at Brendon, that’s all he sees. All he ever saw.
“Fuck,” he exclaims.