Gerard very carefully avoids looking at the new kid, even as Mrs. Henderson introduces him as Frank, his family just moved here from--, and focuses instead on the blood spatter where a zombie is chewing off the principal's leg in the foreground of his drawing. He feels realism is important, but since he's never actually seen a zombie chew someone's leg off, it's slow going. So he jerks a little in surprise when a body thumps down into the desk across from his, which has been empty (just like the other two desks in the cluster) since he'd thrown up on Lily Carpenter in the second grade. He doesn't look up, trusting in the protective curtain of his hair. Frank won't want to talk to Gerard anyway. Nobody wants to talk to Gerard.
Which is why it's weird when Frank waits until Mrs. Henderson's back is turned and whispers at him, "Hey, why are you wearing gloves?"
Gerard self-consciously clenches his hands. He's wearing his favorite gloves, the ones Mikey cut the fingertips off of ("So you can still draw," he'd said, and had manfully allowed Gerard to hug him kind of a lot because they were perfect even though Gerard would have to put sunblock on his fingertips), but it's early September and nearly eighty degrees outside and he's a freak.
"I can't be in the sun." He finally responds when Frank tosses a little ball of paper at him, clearly demanding an answer. There's a brief pause.
"Like a vampire?" Gerard dares to look up from under his fringe; Frank is maybe even smaller than him, and his eyes are wide with surprise.
Gerard clenches his fists tighter. "It's a disease," he says defensively.
"A disease that makes you a vampire." Frank replies, and Gerard has never heard anyone's voice sound like that when it's directed at him except maybe Mikey's when he draws something really, really cool, and when he looks up again Frank is smiling at him and Gerard's hands unclench.
"What are you drawing?" Frank leans across their desks before Gerard can throw his arms over the sketch, mouth dropping open as he takes in the zombie army making mincemeat out of the students and teachers of Belleville Elementary. "You should put some people on the roof!" He suggests excitedly before sliding back into his seat, model student, just as Mrs. Henderson turns around.
Gerard considers. There's space, maybe... He sets to work and keeps at it all through Math and Reading and most of Social Studies. Frank, as it turns out, is surprisingly awesome, and he kicks Gerard's ankle every time Mrs. Henderson looks like she might turn their way or walk towards their cluster, just in time for Gerard to sort of look like he's maybe paying attention.
By lunchtime, Belleville Elementary is a bloodbath, and Gerard puts his pencil down just as the bell rings to send everyone to the cafeteria. Frank leans over the desks again and gasps appropriately.
"Oh, wow! Hey, is that me?" He points to one of the figures on the roof, the short one with the funny hair, who's wielding a chainsaw. Gerard nods nervously. "Oh, wow."
When Gerard carefully separates the page from his notebook and tells Frank he can keep it, Frank glows. They miss the first five minutes of lunch while Frank pulls out his magic tape and very carefully tapes the drawing to the inside of his desk.
Frank sits with Gerard and Mikey in the cafeteria (even though Mikey actually has friends, he always sits with Gerard at lunch anyway; Gerard loves Mikey more than anything) and he gives Gerard his snack pack and sits inside with him and Mikey and talks about Batman while the rest of the kids run around in the sun.
Gerard can only barely pronounce the name of his disease, but he knows what it means to have it. It means he can't go out in the sun but he has to wear sunscreen every day ("Just in case," his mom always says while she gets the back of his neck where he can't see if he's missed any spots), and he has to take pills and vitamins every day, and sometimes his stomach hurts a lot for no reason and he throws up, and sometimes he gets confused about where he is or what he's doing, and sometimes he forgets things he should know or sees things that everyone else says aren't really there.
His mother says he's "special", which is the word adults use when they mean "freak". Mikey says, "You're Gerard," which is why he loves Mikey best of all.
When Frank invites him over for dinner (even though Gerard's mom calls Frank's mom and tells her all about how Gerard can't eat all kinds of things and how he might get sick and all the other stuff his mom is always telling people that makes Gerard want to hide inside his hoodie and never come out), he introduces him to his mom as, "...my best friend, Gerard. He draws zombies!"
Gerard maybe loves Frank a little bit, too.
Gerard doesn't draw vampires.
He thinks he could maybe draw some pretty cool vampires, but vampires make him uncomfortable. He sticks to zombies and mutant sea monsters and mummies and sometimes werewolves or superheroes or aliens.
But it's Halloween, which is also Frank's birthday, and Frank loves vampires. So Gerard sits down at his desk and makes Mikey sit with him, just in case, and he works for hours and uses his best pens and markers even though most of the drawing is just black and white (but the blood looks awesome) and he only throws up once and Mikey holds his hand the whole time so it's not so bad.
And it's totally worth it when he pulls the drawing (in one of the plastic sleeves his mother bought when he explained that there wasn't any more room on the inside of Frank's desk so he'd started keeping Gerard's drawings in his trapper keeper) out of his bag at lunchtime and Frank goes nuts and gets all excited and hugs Gerard so hard he nearly falls over, and Gerard manages not to freak out about how Frank is hugging him.
Frank's mom brings him over to Gerard and Mikey's neighborhood for Trick-or-Treating since they have streetlights and they all dress up as zombies and shamble around for hours until Gerard's mom starts calling for them (actually yelling and Gerard wishes zombies wore hoodies so he could hide in his). Frank stays over and they pile blankets and pillows in the living room and watch Dawn of the Dead and aren't scared at all (except for how they are, a little, so the three of them end up huddled together under the blankets, just in case) and Gerard's mom confiscates most of the candy because Gerard "...shouldn't have too much, honey, you know that," but Frank gives him his second-to-last Reeses pumpkin.
When they get back to school on Monday, Frank has a brand-new binder with a clear cover and the drawing Gerard did of Frank-as-a-vampire is right there and it's maybe the coolest thing ever, except how it gets replaced a second later when Frank wiggles his fingers in Gerard's face and Gerard notices the gloves. They've got the fingertips cut off (or maybe they were made that way, Gerard can't tell) just like Gerard's, but they've got bones on them, like Frank's a skeleton.
"My mom got them for my birthday!" He says happily, bouncing on the balls of his feet like he's got to get rid of all the excited energy or he'll explode, which Gerard thinks is maybe possible, since it's Frank.
Gerard spends the rest of the day drawing Frank as an awesome skeleton with funny hair and Frank kicks him to let him know when Mrs. Henderson is looking at them and he wears his gloves all day, even though the heat is on in the school and the room is sort of warm, and when Gerard hands Frank the drawing their bare fingertips brush and Frank smiles.
Sometimes, like when Frank is having a really bad day or fails another math quiz, just sometimes, Gerard draws vampires.