It should have worked, it should have worked, it should have worked, it should have-
“Uncle Gob? Uncle Gob, can you hear me?” The young voice still held some crackling undertones, distinctive and known and somebody Gob was probably trying to avoid? Like, by default? It was hard to keep track of who was in and who was out of the family.
“-George Michael, I don’t think this is helping, we should try and get-” George Michael! George Michael was always in the family, although usually in the background, usually with Maeby. God, those two were so same. Same age, same family, same... what was it Maeby had started calling it? Goop. Same goop.
He and Tony should be same, should be running away right now, finding a motel and dreaming up magic acts.
How could he be so stupid! Stupid Gob, stupid Laguna Closet Conversion, stupid missing trapdoor.
“Uncle Gob, you need to snap out of it, I’m sorry to do this to you, but-”
Christ, George Michael is really developing a mean hook there, isn’t he? Gob glares at his niece and nephew, looking disgustingly concerned and entirely too tall.
Wait. Gob was on the ground, behind the float. Thus the height difference. Huh.
“Are you gonna start hyperventilating again?” Gob has always been a little wary of Maeby, to tell the truth. She’s too much like him already, too tough and loud and scared behind her eyes. But now she’s standing in front of him, in an outfit he kind of doesn’t get, looking braver than he ever was at her age, like if he says yes to her question, she’ll help George Michael hit him again and again as much as he needs it.
Gob manages to shake his head no, and even though he’s not too sure he means it, it’s enough for them. George Michael sits next to him on his left, and Maeby sits next to him on his right, and George Michael stares nervously straight ahead but doesn’t flinch when Gob maybe slumps down a little and leans on his shoulder.
George Michael is the first to speak, but unlike his father, it isn’t a condemnation, just a comment. “We saw your act. It was, uh. Really something.”
Maeby shrugs in the corner of his field of vision. “I missed the beginning, I had to take care of something, but once you got to the mic banter, I started paying attention. What was supposed to happen there?”
His voice is sore from the crying he knows he probably did somewhere between noticing Tony wasn’t reappearing and George Michael and Maeby finding him, but the answer gets dragged out of him anyways. “We were supposed to be happy.”
George Michael lets out a soft “oh”, and Gob isn’t sure what that means, but his nephew doesn’t push him away or anything, so he doesn’t need to fish out the forget me nows or anything yet.
Crap. The forget me nows. Gob left them in the beach house medicine cabinet, so sure that today would make a good memory. So sure that by now, he and Tony would be Not In Laguna Beach, Not Here, and Happy that he left the pills and now he’s here, without the chance to wipe the memory away.
“Okay, I might have been incognito for too long or something, but I am lost, my dude.” Maeby nudges Gob’s shoulder. It’s a harsher bump than is maybe warranted, but the contact helps, somehow. Gob tries to pull himself together, get his words in order, get the story as straight as it can come out.
Oh god, Gob did that, didn’t he? He came out, he came out of the closet, and it doesn’t matter that the crowd didn’t super get it, he knows someone did and so someone knows, someone he doesn’t know, knows about him, and-
George Michael’s voice cuts through his roaring, rushing thoughts, still that crackling boy voice but somehow stronger for being soft. “This is about Tony Wonder, isn’t it? Like that night at the club?”
It’s phrased like a question, it feels like a question, it sounds like a question, so Gob nods once. Then twice, because that was two questions, technically.
“And you - you love him, right?”
What the hell, if he can tell strangers, he should be able to tell his family. Even though he’s never really told his family anything before, not square on, without glitter. But there’s still a pocketful of sequins that he had prepared just in case his coat started shedding, so Gob pulls out a pinch and throws it in the air, glistening briefly before turning into trash at their feet.
His niece and nephew get it though. They’re smart kids. Maeby whistles, impressed. “Damn. I should have thought of that. Everyone’s going to freak!” She looks contemplative. “And I’d be down for some girl on girl action, now that I think about it.”
George Michael coughs, tight and funny. “Maybe, Maeby, we should focus on Uncle Gob for now and revisit that mental picture- that idea, later?”
She shrugs. “Alright, fair enough.” Gob can see her pout a little though, and it makes Gob wonder (did somebody say did somebody say please please please) if Lindsay and Tobias ever realized that they’re doing exactly to Maeby what Lucille and George did to Gob. If they ever wondered (please come back please come back please) why Maeby’s stunts keep escalating, why she gets louder and brighter, or if they just see her growing and assume it’s bigger and better.
“Was the, uh, cement a part of it?”
Maeby gives George Michael a glare now, which is completely deserved, because duh. If the cement had been a part of it, Gob wouldn’t be hiding and puffy faced and alone.
Gob manages to swear the kids to secrecy, and the three of them manage to drag him back to the model home. Not the first one, not the one that felt like a home with his siblings under one roof for once, but the model home where everything Tony happened, because Gob is a glutton for punishment and memories now, apparently. Which, same difference.
George Michael clears the bedroom and bathroom of pills, quietly, and Maeby slips a bottle of wine into his hand equally discretely when George Michael isn’t looking, and then they’re gone, and Gob is faced with a pounding silence and solitude and a familiar darkness.
hello darkness, my old friend
Damnit, things were supposed to be different this time! But Gob’s too tired to rage, too sad to be mad. His head is pounding and his stomach is shivering, somehow, his entire body in panic mode because even though Gob’s put himself through some insane physical situations before, nothing ever wounded him this deeply.
Something itches at his neck and Gob is almost mad enough at himself to let it stay, as penance or something, but curiosity wins out.
It’s a pink envelope with his name on it and a number in the corner, and his heart stops for a full beat. His fingers ply it open before he can process what this might mean, what he’s about to read, what he’s about to do to himself.
Sally thinks I don’t remember, which means you couldn’t know I remember either. But I do, and I’m so sorry.
Gob uncorks the bottle with shaking hands, drinks straight from the neck. Because either this is a note from a dead man, or-
Or it’s a trick.
Gob won’t call it an illusion, because illusions are fun, and this is hell, and if it is a trick, then Tony’s going to have a lot to answer for, like “are you okay” and “why did you do it” and “how did you do it can you show me”.
He’s not an idiot, despite what his parents and Michael and the internet sometimes think, so he rereads the note, searching for anything he can use to speed this up. At first he read the twenty in the corner as four twenty, which, hilarious, but after a squinting routine that means he should maybe reconsider the glasses Michael thought he should get fifteen years ago, he determines that it’s a smudge, not a four, which is weird, because there’s nothing funny about the number twenty that he can think of.
The Final Countdown plays in his head then, and he suddenly knows that there are only two options.
Either A) Tony wrote this note counting down to the trick today when he was unceremoniously squished and crushed and Gob can’t think about that or B) Tony wrote this note counting down to his return.
One option means that there’s a finite amount of Tony left in the world. One option means that Tony’s still here, that he’s somewhere, and he just needs to be found.
Gob knows that feeling. And he doesn’t know when he started feeling this way, like maybe he could help someone (Tony Tony Tony) be found when he’s barely been able to find himself these past thirty odd years, but it’s an option now in a way that it never was before.
By the time Gob’s finished tearing apart the model home, he’s found six more notes.
One time, when I was ten, I spent all summer sewing my first cape. I wore it to school and the other kids laughed, but you would have thought it was awesome if you’d seen it.
I actually have no idea how you write your name, isn’t that kind of sad? G.O.B. or GOB or Gob or maybe I’ve been spelling it wrong this whole time too. You’ll have to tell me which way you like it. Wink.
So, the deal with Sitwell is that she wants me to think, for some reason, that I killed Lucille Austero on Cinco. I couldn’t tell her that I know I didn’t, because I was with you, and I don’t want you wrapped up in this. So now we’re stuck in this charade, and she keeps asking me if I want to hook up with her, so I’ve been telling her that I have a flesh-eating virus. Which isn’t true, by the way, so if that somehow gets back to you, I’m one hundred percent lying and have actually never been sick in my life.
I’m horny in my heart and my dick.
I miss you. Which is weird, because we’ve only actually hung out a couple of times. But I think about you, all the time, and it’s distracting and if it was anyone else I’d probably hate it.
I don’t though.
I still have the candy bean dish we made.
Gob loses everything. Wallets, keys, birth certificates. He’s not sure he even knows how to keep something safe. He finds an envelope in Michael’s abandoned briefcase, takes out the letter, something about loan forgiveness, and carefully puts each of Tony’s seven notes inside. Then he steals the briefcase, just to make sure they’re extra safe.
If he can do this, find the notes and keep them safe, he knows that the magic will work and he’ll find Tony. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to keep him safe too, if he tries his hardest.
He has to try.