Fight to Win...
...and find you're losing anyway
“Stay away from the retard!”
“Don’t let the spazz get near you!”
“Look at the dummy cry!”
There are nights, long and very dark nights, when those kinds of memories come back for Tommy. Not as often as they used to – the older he gets, the dimmer they become, but every so often…. A couple of times a month, he finds himself remembering.
He’s come a long way from that little Tommy Joe in the playground, and it sounds fucking cliché and dumb but it’s true. A whole world away from Tommy Joe, the kid with the labels nobody wanted.
Those aren’t very good for him, and sometimes, he goes and digs out shit, and sits in the living room with coffee in a mug that he knows he won’t drink but just the smell is enough for him, and he thinks about shit. He thinks a lot, when he’s coming out from those strange, dark places, and he fucking hates it.
But his brain won’t shut up. It never does. It’s part of his condition and he’s been living with it for years.
He’s a perfect kid. A good kid.
He’s a normal baby, hits all those targets right on cue, or even a little early sometimes, and his mom’s so proud – her handwriting in the baby book in Tommy’s box of shit for late night thinking is loopy and bubbly and there are lots of double exclamation points, she’s so proud.
First smile. First steps. First tooth. First word.
Nobody notices anything, and if he’s a bit quieter than other kids, it’s okay. He’s young. He’ll grow out of it; the doctor report says when he’s two.
But he doesn’t.
There’s lots of little things that Tommy remembers now, that nobody really noticed then. Clumsy. Couldn’t catch a ball for shit. Couldn’t hold a pencil even right before he went to school. Couldn’t open a door one handed even as a five year old. Struggled to get dressed in the morning because clothes came with hard to do up zippers and buttons and ties that he didn’t understand.
She starts buying him easier clothes with different fastenings and it’s another thing tucked under that big bad rug of it’s okay. He’s fine.
But… it’s really not okay.
He does fine at kindergarten, mostly. But even in the little report cards on yellow paper that get sent home every month, there’s signs that things are not all as they seem.
Doesn’t play well with others. Can’t hold a pencil. Art work is messy and he doesn’t colour in the lines. He struggles with group play. Doesn’t socialise well in big groups. Shy. Introverted. Very quiet. Socially awkward.
The list goes on and one, but they’re not all at once – it’s hidden behind good beat counting skills, and very curious little boy, and polite to teachers and other children.
He’s seven before he learns to tie his shoes. Seven. Seven fucking years old. Every morning before that day when he finally got that laces went together and held tight and didn’t come undone, he put on his Velcro sneakers. And in some strange way, he hated it because all the other kids, the other boys at school got cool lace up light up sneaks, and he didn’t because his stupid little fingers wouldn’t do stuff right.
It’s weird how it starts with shoe laces and trying to fit in, because that’s kind of how Tommy feels all the time.
He doesn’t know why he doesn’t get picked up.
Despite it all he doesn’t grow out of it – it fucking gets worse, worse and worse.
Talking to people is his worst fucking nightmare – how on earth do people just know when to say things or do things? Why do you have to say things you don’t mean but it’s polite to? What’s wrong with not liking parties? Howwhatwhyexplainthisshittomeokay?
Every teacher from kindergarten through to sixth grade says he’ll learn though, and it’s all just pushed back under that rug of, it’s okay, he’s fine. And he’s mostly alright with that.
And then seventh grade hits, and it all turns to fucking shit.
He gets sent to the office because his teacher thinks he has dyslexia because his writing is fucking chicken scratch, and he still can’t catch a fucking ball and he still can’t socialise well because people scare the living shit out of him, and he’s just… stuck.
And Mom gets called in and so does Dad, and Lisa sits with him in the office and Tommy Joe really doesn’t know what’s going on but he gets the feeling things are changing and change is scary.
He doesn’t understand.
Actually, on one level it’s not that scary. He gets a diagnosis of dyslexia, and something else, and a social disorder too which explains so fucking much. He gets a special pen and a coloured notebook so he can read the fucking notes now instead of feeling like he’s getting a migraine from all the white. Which is awesome.
But his classmates aren’t.
They laugh. Steal his pen which stresses him the fuck out. Say he’s a spastic and a retard because they know what dyslexia is and it’s only what the dumb shits down in the slow classes have.
He has a few friends, and he picks up guitar but that label of retard follows him all the way through middle school and into high school because they all go into the same one and by the time he’s there on the first day, they’ve already spread it around.
Anything different, anything not normal and they pounce on it and tear it to shreds just because.
Tommy’s an easy target. Few friends, socially weird, has a special pen, gets special treatment from his teachers. Boom. Dead man walking.
The ride to school is always too short for his liking.
Over time, Tommy loses the bullies – they fade into the background because actually, they have bigger things to worry about, and it’s stuff like exams and coursework and grades and shit like that, so the weird punky looking kid in the back of the class stops being a target.
But by the time Tommy Joe graduates high school, he’s still stuck in that drifting state. He got kind of okay grades. He doesn’t want to go to college. He has to find a job, but how? Where?
What does a job look like when he’s not got a plan?
When he picks up the first call centre job, he makes a conscious decision to not tell them about his dyslexia or his dys-whatever-else-it-is and the social thing. He needs this job. He needs to move out of his parents’ house, soon. It’s working collections, but it’s just a job, right?
He gets two days training, and then he’s thrown into a box and told to figure the rest out himself.
They call it a cubicle farm and Tommy Joe feels like a lab rat inside of it.
It’s hell on fucking earth, and he hates it from day one.
It’s absolutely soul destroying . Dealing with angry people on the phone who want his name, number and fucking blood type so they can report him to his boss for not being able to switch on their electricity after they didn’t pay their bill for months, listening to people scream about how he’s killing their kids because there won’t be Christmas that year because of bills, being forced to attend briefings with his manager who reams him a new asshole for the slightest thing wrong.
Collecting a pay check for fuck all is the icing on the cake of shit.
He loses what is normally a very fragile hold on his sleeping pattern anyway – there are days that he comes in and he’s slept maybe four hours in forty eight, and he’s so tired, he forgets to chew his brown bagged lunch before swallowing, and when his boss talks to him, he has to run to the bathroom to hyperventilate.
Rinse and repeat eight am till six thirty pm, Monday through Friday.
He can’t sleep. He can’t eat. He can’t work. All he wants to fucking do is go and play in his band and hide under the covers at the same time.
And so he quits. It was either quit or keep going and know he’d work himself into the ground and get fired on top of it.
He tries the playing in the band thing, because it’s all he can do, but there’s just no real money in it. Twenty dollars a night, maybe three nights a week. Maybe. If he’s lucky. And gradually, his band falls apart – they all need jobs and they can’t keep a garage band going when nine to five means they don’t get to practise anymore.
So that means another job. A real job.
And it goes on. Tommy Joe bounces around in low wage, low rent, low fucking love call centres, temp jobs, and basic admin roles for years. Literally.
He picks up a band or four in between jobs, but essentially, he’s just one screw up after another, doing six months here, a year there, living in a succession of shithole apartments with no heating or air-conditioning mixed with periods on his parents’ couch and dime when there’s no work for weeks.
He doesn’t tell anyone about the dyslexia or the other thing or the social thing – he needs work too much.
When he sees a posting for a lead guitarist for some guy named Adam – who’s he kidding, he at least knew a few things about the dude from American Idol – he took the whole damn flyer and carried it home and pinned it on the empty fridge.
Last chance saloon, kid.
He has rent due in a month, and he is flat ass broke. Twenty nine bucks to his name, between jobs, and he’d sold everything of value yet a-fucking-again to pay last month’s rent. If he couldn’t stump up this one, he wasn’t going to make it.
He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t even audition in front of Adam – it’s two suits who are shortlisting candidates. By the time Tommy Joe walks in, they’ve already picked the guy and he is shit out of luck before he starts.
But then he meets Adam in a corridor and then a whirlwind happens and suddenly he is outside the door with a card for the older suit and a flyer to apply for the bassist role in two weeks’ time, and he is fairly certain he hadn’t walked in with the Starbucks cup he’s now holding.
This is interesting.
He finds the bass notes for some not too cliché songs and picks up a bass to rent for ten bucks from a music store, because he doesn’t actually own one, and then he tries really hard to not spend anything else because that’s just cut his food budget in half for the week.
He sleeps badly –the night before his audition, he’s lying awake at four am, staring at the ceiling. In the morning, he uses extra eye shadow, because there’s no other way to hide his bags, and he looks at the flyer.
Last last chance saloon, kid.
Adam watches him this time – propped up against a column, holding another Bux coffee cup, and Tommy is suddenly very aware of Adam’s assessment probably being the make or break moment of his audition. He fluffs a few notes at first, and it takes time for him to settle into it, using muscle memory of hours and hours and hours of practise to play, rather than his brain.
His brain is too full of panicking and screaming to be any use to him now.
Adam doesn’t say anything but the suits take notes, and when Tommy’s done, they stand up.
He’s blown it. He fucking knows he has. He’s not even got enough money for the bus home and he’s blown It, and fuck, he can already feel himself start to hyperventilate.
“-American Music Awards- Mr Ratliff?”
“What?” Tommy doesn’t understand what he said.
“We would like to offer you a contract for some of Adam’s future performances and videos. There’s some details to work out but –“
“YES!” Tommy doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if he has to sleep on the floor, using a guitar case for a pillow, he’ll take it. Anything they’ll give him. He’s that desperate.
“I like the enthusiasm,” Adam says, and he walks right out the door again, leaving Tommy with the suits and he wonders what’s supposed to happen now. He reappears carrying another coffee cup, and hands it Tommy. But this time, there’s more. “Follow me!”
Tommy can do that. He can follow. It’s what he’s been doing most of his life.
Adam takes him upstairs to sign papers, and there’s more coffee, and Adam explains all the shit he wants for the new tour, and it sounds fucking amazing.
Tommy signs the papers with a shaking hand.
He’s got a job.
It’s not all perfect though.
When Adam grabs him to kiss at the AMAs, it’s not cool for Tommy. He wasn’t expecting it, and it hurt a bit, and he panicked and had trouble keeping up with his music, and if he dropped a few keys, people hardly noticed but Adam did, and fuck his life.
After the show, he’s pressed about what was wrong, and it fucking goes to shit because he hurts Adam by saying, “Don’t touch me!” And running away.
When Tommy Joe is hurt, he runs.
But this time, he can’t run that far.
It starts a slippery slope down, for the music videos and the other appearances too – he’s back to barely sleeping, barely eating, barely functioning. Being touched in Adam’s world is part of being alive, but Tommy Joe can’t take it and every hug, every handshake or handhold, every hand through his hair or on the small of his back starts grinding him down like he’s grinding his teeth down.
He’s late all the time too – missing notes and picks and cables that he shouldn’t be, and people are noticing.
And so does management. Senior management.
Fuck his life.
He tries. He tries really fucking hard but there’s not enough meds in the world to make him sleeping during a marathon insomnia fest – at least, not ones that mean he can get up the next morning in time for work, and he’s so mad at himself about it than when he does sleep, he dreams vividly and badly.
He can’t eat properly, and he’s fucking tired all the time, and he gets quite snippy with people because he’s so on edge all the time. He probably hurts Adam’s feelings too.
And then he gets that call into the office.
He knew it was coming. This gig was too good to be true, and he fucked it up like always, so when he arrives, he knows that in fifteen minutes, he’ll get a you’re fired slip, and probably a last, very cold, handshake from Adam.
It’s the way these sorts of things go. He should know – he’s done it enough times before.
He’s only been working for Adam for eight weeks, and he’s not even a professional bass player, so why did he even try out – he was so fucking stupid, wasn’t he? Stupid naive Tommy Joe.
“Please, come in.”
There are three suits in the room and Tommy’s never had so many before – usually it’s just him, and HR on the phone with his manager, but okay, maybe Adam’s just that special. Because Adam is sitting in the office too, and it’s never good. Never.
It goes like he expects, really.
They lay out his problems on white paper and black ink, and the guy on the far left highlights each one with examples. Tommy Joe shrinks more into his seat with every cool and unemotional reminder of his fuck up nature.
He’s offered a pen to sign it.
The suit on the far right – from HR of the label, if he remembers correctly, which he probably doesn’t, so she could be Adam’s PA for all he knows, asks him if he has anything he’d like to say.
Please don’t boot me. I need this job. I’m broke still with this work but I’d be homeless without it? I’m so sorry. I want to do better but I know I can’t.
Don’t hate me, Adam.
And he means that last one because he’s come to really like Adam these last few weeks and months, and he’s gonna miss him.
“I’m sorry.” He settles for that. It kind of covers everything and nothing at the same time.
“Is there any reason that you think you shouldn’t be let go?” She asks, and her pen is already moving to the little NO box on her tick list of important questions to ask. “Do you think there’s anything that could alter or inform our decision better than what you’ve already said?”
I don’t want to go. Please, stop.
“Dunno. Always fucking knew I’d screw up.”
Everybody exchanges looks and Tommy knows he’s blown it even more, but the middle suit speaks.
She’s wearing a white shirt and he thinks he sees a cross on her necklace, and he’s probably not going to love what comes out of her mouth, but leaving now would just put the final nail in his coffin.
“Why did you always know that?” She asks.
“I’m a fucking screw up. Always have been.” He really should learn to curb his mouth, and he doesn’t want to speak, but he’s so tired and so caught up in the fucking emotional trap of his head, he can’t. “I’m a fuck up. A regular disaster.”
“I have a condition.”
There. He said it.
He’s got a condition, he said it. Nearly twenty years of hiding it and screwing up, and he finally blurts it out to the bosses right before they fire him. Fucking great. Maybe next time, it’ll be in his last warning meeting.
“Go on…” Adam is sitting up, looking at him, and the bitch with the checklist is paying attention too.
“Dyslexia. Dyspraxia. Some social disorder thing. I don’t know. I got all the shit when I was a kid but it doesn’t matter.”
“It does.” Adam’s eyes are very green today. “It really does.”
“May we have a moment, Tommy?” The middle suit – why can’t he remember her damn name? – asks, and then something else happens, and he’s standing outside in the corridor, staring at the secretary behind the glass panelling in the reception area.
Five minutes goes by. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Twenty. Thirty… Forty…. The woman with the tick list disappears in and out of the office a couple of times, and someone else joins them.
This is getting more serious by the minute, the fear is starting to override whatever’s left of Tommy’s common sense.
After an hour, Tommy says fuck it.
They can mail him his last pay check – it won’t be much, about twenty hours of rehearsals, and a reimbursement for new strings on his last bass, but it’ll be two hundred bucks that he can use for enough booze to forget this ever happened.
Good things always fade faster than the bad though.
He’s half way down the stairs when he falls – fucking creepers, and he knows he shouldn’t wear them because he has shit balance but he couldn’t wait for the lift; he needed to move and run, but now he curls up and fucking cries.
He can’t speak, and Adam doesn’t really ask him to – instead, he hands Tommy a mug of coffee, and a tissue, and when Tommy doesn’t take them, he puts the coffee on the floor, and takes Tommy by the chin. Adam’s fingers are warm and mostly gentle as they wipe the eyeliner and shit that’s streaming down his face.
“Better?” He hands Tommy another one and this time, Tommy does take it to wipe the snot from his nose and everything else.
“Welcome.” Adam doesn’t say anything else, just hands him the coffee.
It’s hot and frothy and sweet.
Sometime later, the check list woman rings Adam – Lena, that’s her name! – and Adam leads him back to the office. He looks a complete wreck – hair all poofy and weird, make up gone, red and blotchy, red eyed and dark circles, but it can’t be helped.
Not now. He’s completely wrecked everything. This is just a formality.
It’s a shame that Adam had to do that one last thing for him, being nice.
Tommy’s gonna miss him even more now – good guys are always hard to leave behind and Adam’s one of the best that Tommy’s ever worked with.
“Okay, Tommy,” The woman in white stands up again, and Tommy sighs. Let’s hear it then. “We’ve had a discussion, and we would like to re-open negotiations on this.”
She smiles and Adam nudges him to shut his mouth.
“After some consideration, and hearing both Adam’s support of you,” fuck, that’s awesome! “And my colleagues’ assessment of your fit in the band, we would like to continue to retain your contract. And you, of course.”
“I don’t – what… Why?” Basically that’s all that’s in Tommy’s head right now. That, and the urge to pass out.
She smiles. “Because…”
“Because we believe it’s best for both Adam, ourselves, and you.” She shrugs. “Essentially.”
“Adam and his band have all said that you’re a strong fit, and that’s very important to us. We need a band that’s going to work and play together well to support someone like as new and intense as Adam. We also like your look, and our musical directors have all approved of your playing style. A little rough and rusty, but that’s something we can support you on.”
“A lot of people have said that they would like to continue working with you.”
“Yep.” Adam grins at Tommy who doesn’t know what to think.
“Finding band members who aren’t just technically gifted, but who mesh well with everybody on staff and in the band and with the principal talent is often hard in this industry, so do take it as a compliment.” He does. He really fucking does. “However…. We are concerned about you. Your physical and mental wellbeing is important to us both for your own sake, and when it affects the rest of the band and production.”
“I understand.” He does. When he’s fucking up, it’s hurting everyone. And that’s bad.
“I understand that you have a condition – several of them. And we’d like to work with you to help you adjust to working in a band like Adam’s – it’s very different from your previous jobs, I understand, which may be a bit of a shock to you. There are also considerations we can give you to make your life easier to help you give the most you can.”
Where was this conversation when he was being fired or resigning from job after job after job before?
“You can do that? Really? You’re not just shitting me?”
Adam snorts with laughter.
“Yes, Tommy. Really really. “
“We’d need to discuss it with you at meeting with HR and various people after we’ve come up with a serious comprehensive plan. But, things like moving band rehearsal time to the afternoon, if that means you’re more likely to make it. Producing checklists of things that you will require so you know exactly what to bring if there’s a memory issue, or having short meetings to help you plan what’s coming up in a month, so you have notice to practice and pull things together in a timely manner.”
“You can do that?”
“If we know about it, yes.” She smiles at him, and he still can remember her name. “If we had known about this in the beginning, it’s likely we wouldn’t have got to this point now.”
“I don’t understand…”
“We have resources that we can get together for you. We have an in-house counselor who could have supported you as well, and alerted us so we could stop processes like this, and made plans to help you instead.”
“Seriously?” Someone could have helped him all along?!
“We’re a big company. You’re not the first person who’s struggled.”
“I see.” Somewhat.
“Really not.” Adam mumbles from beside him and Tommy suddenly wonders what exactly that means.
“It wouldn’t be a walk in the park, though,” The only male suit speaks up and Tommy lands back to earth with a bump. “Obviously, we need things from you – assurances that you’ll change, proof that you’re making an effort, and we will be listening for it.”
“Of course!” Tommy nods. He can do anything if they’ll just give him another chance.
“And this is not free reign to do what you like,” a pen is pointed at Tommy, “You’ll have to make the grade!”
“But we’re open to seeing you keep going here, and keeping you on board for the foreseeable future.” Lena shrugs and smiles, “You have potential. We all see it. Just need to make sure you’re able to give it to us!”
“I am. I really fucking am. Please.” He’ll do anything. Anything.
The meeting goes on and there’s more meetings planned in the future. He gets thrown a bunch of names of people to go speak to, and he needs to book an appointment with a specialist and his insurance will cover it but there’s more HR meetings about that.
Adam walks Tommy to the door and offers to drive Tommy home.
“Seriously, I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yeah.” Adam shrugs. “Look, I’m … I’m not going to push you but…. Why won’t you just accept a lift?”
“You don’t take lifts from me. You won’t let me buy you dinner. You won’t come to dinner with me even if you can pay. You’ll drag an amp that weighs as much as you do up two flights of stairs and across the entire second story rather than accept help if the lift is busted.”
“- hurt you?”
“Did I hurt you when I kissed you?” Adam’s not one for dancing around a question. That’s something Tommy Joe usually appreciates, but he can’t take it now.
He has to tell Adam something.
“N-no. No. You didn’t hurt–“
“But I did something wrong.” Adam plays with his phone, twirling it in his fingers.
“Look. Don’t worry about it for now. It’s late and I know you’ve got a bus to catch.” He does. It’s in fifteen minutes half a block away. “But… text me, or something, okay? I… I don’t want to stay like this.
Tommy ends up not taking the bus home.
It’s his own choice but the hour and a half walk feels like a punishment fifteen minutes in. The sun is hot, and the back of his neck is soon burning.
But he’s thinking. And that’s actually a good thing – he’s thinking relatively calmly for the first time in about six weeks.
There’s a lot to be done. He’s finally getting a second chance to keep going with Adam; that’s the main thing. But he’s worried about the future – nobody’s ever said they could help him before.
Are they telling the truth?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
He’s got a long history of not being help-able. Made up words for the win, but it’s true. He doesn’t like help – he feels weak and stupid and he fucking can’t stand that. It’s always been that way – Dad once said he punches above his weight class out of sheer desperation.
But he wants this gig so bad. He wants to play with Adam and the band, and just do what he’s been dreaming of since he was twelve.
He wants to be with Adam.
Aaaand… that’s not going where he expected it to.
Probably just tiredness.
Adam texts him two minutes after he walked in the door. How was the walk?
Sneaky fucker. He probably knew before Tommy did that he was walking home. Fine. He texts back, and then, haltingly, he sends, need to tell you stuff. real talking. when’s good for u?
He doesn’t look at his phone after that. He gets up, does laundry that needed doing six days ago, washes his only bowl.
He’s still scared.
Adam agrees to talk – but Tommy only checks his phone right before rehearsals start. He was too worried about what Adam might say if he said no, rather than what would happen if he said yes. So long worrying about how to get out of there without running into Adam, without offending Adam again, without being close to Adam, that he didn’t know what it would be to be close with him.
But yeah. Here they are. Rehearsals over with, everybody else heading home, just Tommy Joe and Adam in the very big and very quiet practice studio.
It takes a while to get Tommy to talk without stuttering or falling over his own words, and he won’t let Adam touch him – even though the man is clearly dying to hug, Tommy can’t let himself let Adam do that –but it comes out.
It’s not that he won’t accept help. He just doesn’t like to be weak. He fucking loves hugs from Adam. But he doesn’t know how to ask. And there are days and days when the thought of being around people fucking makes him to want to climb the walls.
Adam doesn’t anything until Tommy’s finished.
Aaand now Tommy’s completely blown it. This is why he shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Ever.
“Why the guitar?”
“Why did you pick up the guitar?” Adam shrugs, stirs his coffee, but at least it’s not laughing at Tommy or walking away.
“Dunno. They said it would was too hard for me. “
“….You did it anyway?”
“Yeah.” He did. Just wanted to prove that he could so do something normal and they weren’t going to keep him away from music just because he had a label or three that he didn’t choose in the first place.
“Yeah, I can see that.” Adam grins at him – just a little one but Tommy is happy to see it. It means all is not lost to his fucking overreactive tendencies. “But seriously, did I hurt you with the AMA thing?”
Tommy tries to fudge it a bit but it doesn’t work like that, and Adam prods the answer out of him, gently but persistently. “A bit.”
“I was surprised. I don’t like people sneaking up me like that.”
“I was in the zone, you know?” He was. Just playing along and then bam! Kiss.
“So you don’t like being touched?” Adam asks, and Tommy notices Adam twisting the ring on his finger around and around and around. He’s nervous.
“Sometimes.” Honesty, right?
“How often is that?”
Tommy shrugs. “I dunno. I don’t get a schedule of it six weeks in advance, you know? I can get a week of it, or I can get two days. But I don’t always know when and I really don’t always know why.”
“I feel tense. And angsty. Everything’s too loud and too harsh. I want out all the time.”
“It’s not fun.”
They talk more. Adam asks him what happens about his insomnia, and his fucking eating habits – a lot of the time, it’s why he turned down going out with Adam, because he just couldn’t face food at all – and about why he’s so nervous and jumpy all the time, and why he hates people sneaking up on him, and why he needs quiet alone time.
Adam talks too. Tommy hurt him by pulling away like that – and by refusing without explanation all those invitations. It hurts to be constantly rejected without knowing why.
Adam’s coffee grows colder as they talk.
It takes a long time to hack out what Adam can do for Tommy, and what Tommy can do for him to make their working relationship easier. It’s in these moments that Tommy has to remember that Adam is essentially his boss as well as his friend, so it’s not all hugs and kiss negotiations.
Being late all the time fucked up the rehearsal time, which fucked up the band, which fucked up Adam, which fucked up the music, which fucked up their performance, which pissed off everybody else.
Cause and effect, Adam says wisely. And Tommy nods. Pretty much.
Tommy goes to the meeting with his specialist, the counselor, and the HR department, and Adam comes to some of them, and not others.
He gets a list of suggestions for dealing with things – setting more than one alarm on more than one clock, getting his papers in a different colour, receiving electronic copies of shit because he can keep those in one place, having management text him reminders at the beginning of the week for important changes, that sort of shit.
Some things worked. Other things don’t. It’s part of the process.
But gradually, things start to change.
He arrives on time – or even early! – for meetings and rehearsals. He doesn’t forget stuff. Adam lets people know when he’s having an I hate people kind of day, and that’s awesome because he doesn’t have to worry about reacting badly to touches because they don’t happen.
It’s that simple.
He buys another special pen again, and it fucking works this time too, and Cam coos over his purple notebook because it’s all cool and not fucking white so he can actually read it after he’s finished taking the notes.
Things are going well.
When they start touring, Tommy slides again because being on the road all the time just destroys him.
Being crammed like a sardine on a bus for five days straight with a dozen people, and no privacy leaves him angsty, bitey, and ready to fucking gut the next fan who wants to hug him. He can’t help it. He’s so stressed that he won’t eat, and he won’t sleep.
Sutan solves the solution by throwing him some industrial grade ear defenders, a blindfold, and a firm talking to. That night, Tommy gets six hours of sleep.
Sutan is a genius.
Adam’s negotiations about the kisses, hugs, and hair pulling, and bass jacking, and humping, and spanking, and yanking Tommy Joe all around the stage are kind of weird.
How on earth do you begin to negotiate, “You can pinch my nipple, but only if you ask first,” and, “I don’t mind you pulling my hair, but don’t touch my bass unless I say it’s okay,” in a conversation?
Adam does it by asking flat out at the beginning of each concert. Can I….? and I want to do this….? and I like this. What do you think?
That works too.
Gradually, it becomes less formal. Adam starts learning how to anticipate what Tommy is okay with on a show by show basis, and Tommy starts to be cool with Adam’s hands all over him, touching and playing with him, making the fans scream when they make out, smearing lipstick and kisses down each other’s neck.
He even amps it up more, turns it from hot to full on, leaning on Adam, whispering in his ear, sneaking a hand around to hold onto Adam’s just because.
Every show is different, and they take it as a challenge.
Pushing boundaries is awesome.
Life bites in a big way when they hit the midpoint of touring.
The worst part? Tommy’s dad dies.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected logically, but the knife through the heart when he gets news that he had better fly home now or he wouldn’t get to say goodbye sends Tommy his knees.
And into true grief.
Someone else makes the arrangements. Adam drives Tommy to the airport in the middle of the night, puts him on a redeye back to LA, presses a kiss to his cheek and a note in his hand.
Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be there. Promise.
It takes a long time to come back from that.
A long time.
Tommy wears his Dad’s sweater, and Sutan isn’t allowed to hug him and neither is anybody else, especially Adam because he’s so scared of falling apart in their arms and never being able to find himself again.
It’s after a show somewhere, late and cold, and Tommy’s so tired and strung out he probably looks like a junkie jonesing for a fix and Adam just holds out his arms.
Tommy goes to him.
And the dam breaks.
It’s not an instant fix. Nothing is. But it’s enough.
LP leaves for other places.
A new drummer is found. Isaac is brought in and the first thing he does when he sees Tommy’s note book for keeping track of the shows is nod approvingly. Shows Tommy his own notebook. It’s blue with green pages. He understands how Tommy works, that’s what he says, and Tommy believes him.
The dancers and Sutan remind him to get out of bed every morning. The counselor puts him on mild anti-depressants for a while. Monte practises with him to make sure he doesn’t fumble. Adam hugs him.
Sometimes, hugs are the best part.
In Singapore, Tommy’s so fucking looking forward to the Bali Vacay, that he almost can’t understand that he’s lost his passport. Somewhere between getting on the plane, and getting off, it vanished.
Tommy can’t go with Adam without a passport.
Keeping track of shit is why Tommy hates travelling because he can’t do that and this just proves it.
Lane takes him to the embassy; he and Monte fly home together. Tommy misses out on the beach, the sun, and the sand. LA is boring and dusty, and Tommy panics about getting a new passport.
Adam emails him every day.
He re-joins Adam and the gang later, and it’s all cool.
Nobody blames him, but Sutan buys him a leather passport holder on a chain and then Adam takes away his right to carry the damn thing at all, because nobody wants that happening again.
Lane keeps hold of his documents now.
They carry on touring and it’s fucking awesome. He has days when he hates the world, and days when tying his own shoes is like banging his head into a brick wall but those days are getting fewer, and he’s learning to deal with them.
He has to.
It was coming, they knew it. All good things have to end.
The morning after feels horrible. It was the longest damn relationship Tommy ever had, that’s for sure. Months and months and months.
But it kind of doesn’t end. Not really.
Isaac calls him up on the third day, invites him out for dinner with him and his wife. Monte has gigs he wants to play with Tommy. Raavi Dhar fists bumps him in a bar and invites him to join his band. Adam and Tommy have dinner together, discussing the new music for the next album.
Some people disappear, some people move on, but the band fragments over time. Adam buys them all t-shirts that say, I served in the Glam Nation and Tommy laughs because when they meet up the next time, everybody wears them. The dancers have other gigs and stuff to do and that’s cool, because they’re awesome and in demand.
Monte does a dick move and that’s not cool, so Tommy and Adam both cut ties with him. That hurts. Sutan takes them both out for ice cream after that.
Cam has a new gig with her own band.
More goodbyes, really.
But there are ways to see old people in new ways too.
Sophie takes him under her wing. That’s weird. And new. She’s always calling to make sure he gets out of bed, and that he’s eating, and asking if he wants to come with them for breakfast pancakes.
Isaac smiles at Tommy when he asks if it’s okay because he totally doesn’t want to be offending him by having lunch with his wife if it’s not cool, and he tells Tommy very gently that Sophie wouldn’t offer if she didn’t want to, and Isaac is okay with it anyway.
Sutan takes him out for coffee and a drag bar or two, and then Tommy’s in his new video, and they have sleep overs and make up lessons.
And when Tommy can’t take people, he leaves a box of cookies on Tommy’s kitchen counter, threatens Mike and Josh that if they eat them, he’ll castrate them with a stiletto, and leaves again.
Sutan is very scary like that. It’s taken a long time to learn how to deal with it. He used to terrify the shit out of Tommy until that first gentle talk between them that established the truth.
But it’s... it’s comforting to know that these people have his back.
It’s awesome knowing that he has friends now. A good job with a boss that knows how to handle him, and a HR that isn’t out to get him every time he makes a mistake. He can go to people for hugs, and he can tell people he doesn’t want to be touched, and people don’t take it badly.
When he meets Ashley, and Brian, and Rick, every time, he knows he can take comfort knowing it’s okay to be different.
“Hi. I’m Tommy Joe.”
And he’s awesome.