most days brendon’s not sure what he wants. he wakes slow to a warm house and friendly dogs, and it would be easy for this to be enough. it is easy to spend each day sleepy and smiling and watchful, playing music that doesn’t have a destination.
most days this is better than what he had before, but that doesn’t mean he forgets shared truths or impatient laugh lines.
it started like this: brendon cared about school and he did his homework and he read a farewell to arms and “a clean well-lighted place” and he thought oh. he underlined and he wrote essays and he looked at the ground when he walked and he repeated when you love you wish to serve when you love you wish to serve and he swallowed his food and he went to bed and he got up in the morning and he did it all over again. he didn’t tell his mother “i don’t believe.”
they were never really together, he sometimes thinks when he’s at a good show. brendon sees jazz musicians knit so close that even if they don’t play twelve-bar solos, even if the pianist only wants to go for seven measures or the pooling saxophone caresses for thirteen, everyone breathes in rhythm and drops back into the melody at the same time. brendon digs up john fahey at amoeba but he knows he’s too lost in his own skin to ever be that right.
he thinks about how they began, about how the story of the gollum impression is like a scab right before it comes off: you keep picking at it and hoping it will suddenly feel good.
brendon’s not quiet most of the time, and he’s not sad most of the time. when he has an off day, he doesn’t do anything different except that he tunes pete out and doesn’t pay attention to the screen if spencer’s got a movie on. sometimes he bites his knuckles or the side of his thumb, sinks his teeth in and hangs on.
sometimes he stands in the shower singing “car broke down, we crashed, car broke down again, we crashed it again, car broke down, we crashed” and watching the water circle the drain. he’s not special and he knows he’s not. he’s just a guy who was in a band that was sort of big for awhile. there’s nothing past that. he’s just a guy who was in a band that was sort of big for awhile, and now he tries not to pay attention to interviews. surfing helps.
ryan is having a housewarming party and spencer says they should go. that’s a lie, but brendon agrees anyway. spencer wants to go in the way you always want your best friend to be the same as he was at the age of six, and even if some things are impossible that doesn’t stop you from wishing for them.
the wooden porch out back is warped and smells like the california hills. sun and canyon dust stick in brendon’s throat. he has a beer in one hand and his phone in the other, and he’s thumbing through his contacts over and over while ryan is twenty feet away with his back turned. ryan’s smiling huge; brendon can tell from the way he’s holding himself, drawn up.
brendon thinks i don’t want to look at him he has no regard for those who must work and doesn’t care that he’s misquoting. he hums fun. to himself, wants to be cheerful, hears be calm i know you feel like you are breaking down.
he thinks hail nothing full of nothing and that he should have grown up between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two.
(after a year) (longer) (the day after the party) brendon gets really fucking sick of himself and he and spencer work on the album for real. brendon digs in with both hands and the lyrics are mostly bad but the bass lines are buoyant and they have purpose. he listens to beirut and the supremes back to back in his car on the way to the beach and sings foreigner at the top of his lungs. it’s a good feeling.
china is pretty damn amazing, and he smiles big and means it and strides around the stage and owns it, and even if he’s not blind joe death he’s got something okay here. “yeah. yeah,” spencer says to him solid and happy when brendon lifts an eyebrow after the show. they’re quieter now than before, less energy to get rid of; tension between them doesn’t build.
brendon feels expansive and magnanimous, wants to call ryan when they get back, pushes down and away the thought of calling jon. ryan has always been a douche and a fuck-up, but brendon doesn’t know what to do with jon turning on the vitriol when reporters ask.
when he’s beating time on his thigh for new songs, brendon knows memories somewhere behind his stomach and they’re all ryan: ryan climbing through brendon’s window before maryland, ryan singing off-key in the bus or onstage, ryan grumpy over cereal, ryan holding brendon steady for eyeliner, ryan knocking into brendon clumsy and deliberate at a shopping mall in the middle of ohio on the day after a bad show. ryan ross is a dick, but he was also brendon’s friend.
“you’re really fucking selfish,” ryan says abruptly over his chicken masala, and brendon is too off-guard to respond. texting ryan from baggage claim, feet back on less unfamiliar ground, he’d thought this would be (no interviewers) civil. “brendon, like, why did you have to keep the name?”
brendon breathes fast. he gets up sharp and leaves ryan with the bill, but that doesn’t help as much as it should. two beers and two curries don’t amount to a hell of a lot.
one time when they were on tour greta asked brendon why he was reading hemingway. “the sun also rises, okay, but you know he wasn’t a great person, right?”
ryan answered from the other end of the couch, left ankle warm between brendon’s feet. “obviously that doesn’t matter. it’s literature.” he drew the words out like brendon should squirm, should be ashamed, should know better than to endlessly catalog the passé books from junior year high school english. he drew the words out like he was so much better, getting off on diction and misery with his eyes hidden and re-reading invisible monsters.
brendon kicked him hard and didn’t say anything.
after sticking ryan with the bill, brendon drives to the ocean. he has no board and no wetsuit but it’s instinct.
he knows he should be happy not just sometimes, not just some days, but always and every day. he gets to play music with spencer, he’s got a family that loves him, he has awesome dogs, guitars, a roof over his head, and even meet & greets are awkwardly reassuring in that hey you two we’ve got your backs way.
he knows he should be happy but right now he’s angry and that’s familiar and frustrating and frightening and it doesn’t belong. it’s never belonged. it’s not his family’s fault the church is fucked. it’s not brent’s fault that brendon got into panic. it’s not ryan’s fault that brendon wants to sing songs that matter. it’s not even entirely ryan’s fault that the band broke up. none of it is anyone’s fault but brendon can’t stop being angry, can’t swallow it or push it away or outstrip it or understand it.
he looks at the horizon with his nails cutting into the skin of his palms and his shoulder blades pushed together as far back as they’ll go, wing bones but he can’t fly, and he wants to fight and he wants to fuck and he wants to run, and the ocean isn’t enough even when he walks in and swims until his arms shake.
it was like this when the band ended: “okay, i guess jon and i are gonna go then,” and ryan turned from the table and slouched away with his hands in his pockets. he didn’t wait to see spencer’s nod.
it was like this when the band began again: “so, spence, exclamation points?” and brendon knocked their knees together with more force than he felt. jon got up and walked out the door.
in 2006 brendon gripped ryan’s hand backstage at the vmas, escape and tether, and ryan whispered “we got out” low and triumphant and for brendon alone.
it is like this now: brendon gets mostly drunk off of shitty beer and calls ryan and tells him to come over. ryan does. he is not wholly sober either and he accepts another bottle when he arrives, hand curling around the neck and too calm. it is hot in los angeles tonight.
ryan’s eyes gleam when he raises the bottle and as his throat moves he acts like he knows something brendon doesn’t. brendon says “no, i know too.” his bones lie tense and he stands more quickly than he ought, leans heavy on the couch arm.
time isn’t certain in the kitchen. brendon finds salt, finds limes, finds a knife, finds tequila. he looks for a careful moment at the shine of the knife and the green of the limes and he leaves them on the counter.
on the couch ryan is waiting. “i always liked this you,” ryan says. “i like you when you’re not in your head.”
brendon shrugs, too tired to pretend. “i’m in my head.” he is, and all the ryans he knows are there too: the good guy and the jerk and the not-stranger who is now in his house. he knows that over the past few years ryan has become less and less trapped inside his own skull, and that’s good and even drunk brendon knows that’s good, but it makes his own inability to get out seem pretty weak.
“i don’t trust myself with a knife,” he says frankly and shaping each syllable, “and i don’t trust you either.”
“give me the salt,” ryan says. when brendon sits heavy and passes it over, ryan takes brendon’s wrist too. he puts the salt on the ground, slowness exaggerated, and draws brendon’s fingers into his mouth. he sucks on them and he might be pretending less intent than he means. they watch each other sloe-eyed and ryan shifts to the web of brendon’s hand. his teeth scrape.
brendon places the tequila behind him so he can lean forward to ryan’s hair and pull, so he can circle ryan’s ear, so he can thumb the line of ryan’s collarbone, so he can rest at ryan’s throat. ryan breaths low over brendon’s wet skin. it’s only then that they kiss.
what you tell me about in the nights brendon hears like a refrain and moves down ryan’s long body to his long cock. he’s in no hurry, everything buttressed by a set-aside fury. when ryan comes brendon doesn’t swallow. he moves back up and kisses ryan again, pushes the taste of him onto his own tongue.
when brendon comes it’s from ryan’s hands on brendon’s cock and ryan’s teeth on brendon’s neck, not release but anchor.
brendon wakes up in his own bed in the late morning, unwashed but not hungover. there’s an empty water glass on the nightstand.
he walks out into the living room, and ryan’s asleep on the floor with his head pillowed on his arms. he’s still fully dressed. brendon squints, acrimony present and dimensional at the back of his throat.
in the kitchen he notes the knife and the limes. he drinks orange juice out of the carton. everything is hyper real. he breathes through his nose and counts to ten four times.
he prods ryan awake with a bare foot. “do you want pancakes?”
ryan blinks and grins. “when you love you wish to do things for?”
brendon tilts his head to one side and doesn’t smile.