The hesitating knock on the door told him who was behind it as if the other had announced himself. William sunk face-first on his pillow while Sisky entered the room with extreme caution. The pitiful state Beckett was in scared the hell out of him but he refrained from mentioning it just the same. It was already uncomfortable enough that the taller guy had to feel like that; it wouldn’t make him any good to have other people noticing the fact, as Adam knew well, since he was his friend. He knew how Gabriel was making him feel.
He perched himself on the edge of the bed, sighing deeply. William had not yet taken the face away from the white pillow and Siska was aware that he would not do it that soon. Oh, damn it. He and Gabe had been in that room for twenty minutes, perhaps, if he would go for a long shot. How could someone leave him that way in so little time? The girls before – oh, well, the girl – had never been able to. Christine. Could it be that he, when he was with Gabriel, remembered his girlfriend? Did William remember that he had a girlfriend, a kind, gentle, trustworthy person with whom he had lost his virginity and that always took him for everything he was?
It was indelicate to even think about it next to him. William was suffering and nobody besides him, Gabriel, Victoria and, in a very smaller although not despicable scale, Sisky knew why. Right when they had the time of their lives unfolding in front of them, the vocalist’s past showed up to haunt him without him asking for it. Who could stand it? It was not something simple to handle; no, it was far from it. Sisky embraced his own knees, rocking himself smoothly back and forth. William seemed to notice the movement a tad more intensely and moved too.
“Siska?” He hesitated, facing his friend. Sisky tried to produce a kind of sympathetic, concerned smile. “What are you doing here? You should be asleep.”
“Someone had to open the door.” His voice was apologetic to say the least. “And it was definitely not Carden.” He forced a smile, willing to cheer his friend up rather than depressing him.
“Oh. Yeah. Gabriel was here.” And the pillow returned to his face before Sisky’s next breath.
“Yes, he was.” He sighed. “Did he do something to you?” William denied it, a move rendered difficult by the fluffy thing on his face. “Bill, if I wanted a lie, I wouldn’t have asked you anything. Just shoot before we have to go to the studio.”
When Siska said those words, he never thought that William would crash the way he did. If he had known, he’d have asked for backup. The pillow was put aside and his eyes, now unveiled, were glistening with tears. Not knowing what else to do, Siska offered him a hug, which the other accepted pronto.
“We’re good, dude. Calm down.” He patted him on the back, trying to feed him some reassurance. “Just tell me what happened.”
“He… he kissed me, Sisky.” He was not as embarrassed as he was ashamed of letting Gabe do that, of wanting that. “Like he did when we were little.”
“He used to kiss you when you were little?” Adam tried not to sound astonished but it permeated anyway. Slowly, Beckett denied it and parted from the other, sensing the bandmate’s reaction.
“But I used to dream that he did.”
William loved Siska a lot, but he couldn’t possibly tell him that. He’d die if he tried, he didn’t have to be a genius to know so. He could feel it in every muscle of his body. How could he be that obtuse? It was plain important… He’d never admit that out loud, not now and probably not ever. What kind of credit one’s supposed to give to a child for that kind of reaction? But when one’s twenty-one and still thinks about that one time when one’s older best friend met oneself under the berry tree… The thought felt strangely impure so William let go of Siska. Those memories sent shivers up his spine. His one-man-only little party had been because of those memories. It was different when he was little. It had never felt that bad.
It had been early December. A howling wind coordinated with very low temperatures that made the tree house all but freezing inside. Still, William couldn’t be admonished to stay inside the warmth of Beckett’s house, as he’d rather catch a debilitating flu than keep from enjoying the last days before winter. The day outside was bright with the occasional glimpse of a steady white sun that did little to diminish the cold. Inside the tree house, waiting for William’s mother to call them for the afternoon snack, they lay, Gabe sitting straight close to the window and the other boy dozing off amid half a ton of blankets and duvets that Saporta had insisted he brought up to keep his little toes from freezing. It was the twentieth-or-so time that William’s mother left him under Gabriel’s sentient care, which the youngest found very nice and slightly amusing of her, since he always felt like she didn’t enjoy sharing her child at all. William loved Gabriel. The oldest was one of the few who talked to him like he was capable of fully understanding him and not only didn’t mind answering his multitude of shallow-to-clever questions about pretty much anything but didn’t seem to feel the least bit tired after doing so. They used to play, run and laugh all day long, innocent and fun. They got along just fine and had the age gap not been that big they might have ended up sooner as more that best friends. Anyway.
“It’s cold.” William puffed his cheeks as childishly as he could.
“Yes, it is. Mind another blanket?” The question was purely rhetorical, once Gabe was giving his own blanket away to pill up on top of the boy’s. The child crawled a little, pulling every one of his blankets along so he could rest his head on Gabriel’s legs and hold his hand.
“You are always so warm”, murmured William, intertwining their fingers and pulling Gabe’s hand closer to his face. The tallest shifted to accommodate him better. “It seems like the cold never gets to you.”
“I’m a tad extraterrestrial, Willy.” They laughed. “My blood’s warmer, I guess. They say Latin people have warm blood.”
“Feverish-like, maybe. But without the whole being sick thing.” He used his free hand to caress the boy’s hair. It was hard not to give in to sleep after having played in the cold, but he had to stay awake to wait for Mrs. Beckett’s call so he kept mussing his hair and trying hard not to close his eyes.
“I’m tired”, mumbled William after a couple of minutes. “Can I get a kiss so I can sleep?”
Gabriel smiled faintly. “Sure.” Slowly, he placed a kiss on the younger boy’s forehead, hoping he’d doze off for real right after. William laughed heartily instead.
“Not like this, you silly!” He beamed at his best friend, looking even younger. “The way grown-ups kiss themselves good night!”
The taller boy took his time to frown deep. “You’re not a grown-up, Willy. Neither am I.”
“But mom said that we only kiss the people we really, really, love on the lips when we kiss goodnight.” His face turned slightly dubious. “You love me alright?”
“Doubtlessly.” William regained his composure then. “But do you know the person you really, really, truly, forever, love, Willy, my dear?”
“Of course I do, I’m not stupid.” He sounded resolute. “It’s you, Gabriel. I love you and you love me, like it’s always been.”
“I don’t think you can love like a grown-up, Willy”, tried the other, stepping on eggshells.
“I know I can’t, I’m a child. But soon I’ll be an adult and we’ll be loving like grown-ups then, aren’t we?” Gabriel couldn’t restrain a giggle. “Aren’t we?”
“Of course we will, my boy. But how about taking a nap now?”
“Only if you kiss me goodnight. The right way.”
Gabriel subsided with a peck on the boy’s slightly cool lips. William didn’t mind the briefness of the contact, recoiling to sleep soon after. He had been so sure of what he had wanted then. He had always been so sure around Gabe. He could remember the touch if he tried hard enough. He could remember how smooth and how tender that kiss used to be, and now he had a taste to add to it and an urgency to keep it alive. He wanted to run from that bedroom straight into Gabriel’s arms almost as much as he wanted to bury his face in the mattress and suffocate until he couldn’t know where or who he was. It was probably one of the hardest things he had to do, but it still didn’t trip the feeling he had felt when Gabriel went away the first time. William didn’t know for sure if he wanted to try to relive that memory live and technicolor. He had known he would never relive it until then. Until Gabe came back.
Sisky could understand a little of what William felt but if was not nearly enough to help him for real. He had never lived anything like that, as many people hadn’t. Nobody but William himself would ever be able to fix that thing and how would things turn out unless he did so? Both bands would have to work together and not just on a soundtrack; Peter was planning tours already. If they wanted to keep things going, they’d have to be professionals – both he and Gabe, for that matter.
“Come on, Will, you can’t sulk forever.”
“I won’t make it, Sisky.”
“You have to, dude. For us, you know. Do you remember what you used to say when we got too drunk?”
“Do as you please but leave it off work.”
“It has always worked for us, so why would it fail you? You don’t have to choose for real now, you see. Just get yourself out of this rock bottom then find the right thing to do.”
William bit back the couple of words he wanted to stutter. He didn’t want right, he wanted an end. He wanted to stop that feeling before it could restart the bubbles and butterflies it had always been made of. He knew though that Siska’s most caring words still wouldn’t reach that little pool of warmth and despair that has been surging inside his guts. He knew that Sisky, being one of his closest friends, would understand how much giving Gabe away would hurt if he got a step closer to the heart of the matter, and he knew that Sisky would do his best to be around when William fell. What he didn’t know then was that he would fall: completely, irreversibly, stupidly. He didn’t know that he would go for it like there was no tomorrow, despite all of his senses begging him otherwise and despite the blow his career would suffer when it end – if it did. Right there, he just sighed and collapsed again before getting up and dressed to face another day.
A quick glance would make for an overall body count of a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen, people.
“So, children, that’s it. Summarizing, we’re finishing the script for the music video, that has alas nothing to do with the rest of it, thanks Brendon for beginning to ask so, and--”
William and Sisky tried their best to sneak in unnoticed, failing when Peter interrupted his speech to spread his arms open and salute them.
“Hallelujah, God-brought creatures. Did it hurt your asses to find the damn way down here, misses?”
William pursed his lips and tried not to blush. Sisky failed at his non-blushing attempt and scratched the back of his neck embarrassedly. They both took their places at the table, sitting in the empty spots available, the taller of them comfortably set between Victoria and Siska. Peter waited for their moving patiently so he could resume what he had been saying.
“Now that you’re finally all here, let’s carry on: you must be aware that the song chosen by the producers and New Line was ‘Bring It’, from our newest crew in town, Cobra Starship. We didn’t get much of a say in it but I think we have all come to terms with the idea that they deserved it pretty bad.” He stared at those reunited there very thoroughly. There were representatives of Panic!, Cobra, TAI, GCH and FOB all assembled, not to count every other random person sitting by the bands, everyone waiting for Peter to spill the news. He was an amazing tension-builder. “About the music video, they asked us to do something movie-related but we’re not contract-bound to anything they say. Gabe, Victoria and I had a very long conversation and decided that we should probably do some interlacing here. We’re going for a terrorist quartet: three big guys and a smoking hot girl.” William couldn’t help the shiver. God almighty, something awful was about to happen. He wouldn’t have brought so many people together for nothing. Peter liked building expectations but he was far too touchy about breaking them. “The first guy involved is, of course, Gabe, for he’s the lead singer and we should use that. The second one, following the logic, must be you, McCoy; I need you clean for the filming and you must go through your part of the lyrics with Saporta, cause he apparently changed a verse or whatever because your rapping in the preview was pretty unintelligible sometimes.” Travis gave him a thumbs up and sunk deeper in his chair. Wentz turned to where William sat then, smiling manically. “You’re our third man, Bill. Victoria’s got your part and is going to help you suit it to your voice.” William felt like a bomb had exploded inside his chest. Vicky-T signaled that they could talk later, but he barely noticed, his shock melting into a mild rage for Saporta. “The smoking hot girl…” Everybody instantly stared at Victoria. “Don’t even get started. It’s not Vy, she refused.” The eyes in the room widened; Vicky-T just smiled, a tad bitterly, if William were to be honest. “Gabe gave us another option. A very tempting option, by the way. Males in the room, hold your hormones. I’d like to introduce you to Maja Ivarsson.”
The girl who showed up had very blonde hair and a fascinating presence. Even William found it in himself to be astonished by the way she walked into the room, blue (or gray? maybe green?) eyes shimmering, body too thin to be standard sexy but exhaling sensuality nevertheless. She wore heels too high for proper balance and William was sure that more than one guy in the room was drooling over her. Peter touched her shoulder and smiled wider.
“She’s The Sounds’ lead singer and our fourth terrorist.” He then gestured to another guy, who remained sit but was acquainted to William somehow, he thought. “This is Nick Wheeler, The All-American Rejects’ guitarist. He’ll be helping with instruments behind the scenes.”
The details of the music video just stated that Peter was looking for a huge thing. He gave each one of the involved airplane tickets to Burbank, California. They were schedule to fly there in about a month. The music had to be done in one week and a half, tops, and William shivered when he thought that he’d have to learn a song and perform it with no hard feelings with Gabe. He sighed more than once during the rest of the meeting. That would not be easy.
Once he was released from the meeting, William went out of the room with Victoria and Sisky, willing to go somewhere they could talk and clear things up about his participation in that video. He was about to go out the door when a big, long-fingered hand clapped his shoulder and turned him around. In that briefest of moments, Beckett expected to see Saporta, but it was the light, smiley, face of Tyson Ritter who stared back at him.
“Tyson!” He grabbed the guy’s hand, hugging him partially then and tapping twice at his back. Victoria, at the door, looked at him inquisitively. “Vy, this is Tyson Ritter, singer in The All-American Rejects.” She looked at him again, recognizing the blue-eyes guy. “I’ll keep up with him for a moment, then we’ll talk. My-Oh-My?”
“Are you sure he doesn’t want to join us?”, asked her politely.
“Sorry, I’ve got to pick up a friend in a couple of minutes.” Tyson excused himself with a smile. “I’ll just talk to him for a very brief instant and then he can be reinstated to your company.”
Sisky, knowing the strange kind of relationship that went on between William and Tyson, admonished the girl to join him somewhere else, confirming to William that they’d be waiting at the coffee shop. He knew better than anyone that Victoria wouldn’t want to see that, but it was not his secret to give away. They left chattering; Tyson pulled William closer and to a very secretive spot, behind a big potted plant and a decorative modern-constituted column, the second they were alone in the hall.
“I’ve missed you”, murmured he, right before his lips crashed against one another’s.
“Fucking liar.” William’s response came between pecks and a fairly obscene share of rubbing. “We’re not even drunk.”
“We don’t have to be, do we?” He laughed and eased the pressure on the other’s hips. “I’ve missed you for real. Not just our fanservice thing. You’re a good friend but lately you’ve been unreachable.”
Beckett didn’t restrain a smirk, brushing his hips lightly against Ritter’s groins. They had the strangest of relationships: they were drink-and-date companions, had hooked up more than a couple of times simply because they had found the opportunity and, deep down, beyond the magnetic sexual attraction that none of them could explain, William knew that Tyson nurtured a fondness that could never be compared to anyone else’s feeling towards him. The whole story had been creepily complicated, involved a jealous ex-girlfriend from Tyson’s side and a fallen out with Christine from Beckett’s, other than an insanely crowded private strip club, more tequila than any of them could remember and absolutely no money to pay for their expenses. They had promised to both keep it secret and never let it happen again, but less than three weeks later William had received a call from a nightclub to pick up Tyson’s useless body from one of the bathrooms and after that they decided there should be no more promises. William had always made it clear that it was just messing around, no love interest involved, and Tyson sure as hell accepted that alright. Young and reckless as they were, none of them thought of that as neither cheating or dangerous.
“I need to escape this place.” William’s statement came clear and quiet. “I need to escape all of this, Tyson.”
“What the fuck happened? You look like terrified.” He tenderly touched William’s cheek. “Come on, Beckett, you’re better than whatever it is that’s keeping you all ruffled up like this.”
“There’s this guy, and he sort of says he likes me and I sort of don’t know if I’m supposed to do something about it and he’s seriously getting to my nerves, both emotional and physically.” The truth was easier to spill to Tyson because he knew that the other singer had already had experiences on that front. He had had experiences on all fronts. “I know I am going to love him like life if I give him space to approach me further. I am in a years-long relationship, Tyson, I don’t wanna screw it like this.”
“Jesus Christ, Beckett.” He placed a kiss on the corner of the other’s lips. “How can I help you?”
“Ease this shit for me. Someone had to and I just can’t.”
Tyson chuckled lightly and embraced him warmly. “There, there, kid. We’re gonna find a way to get you out of this shit, don’t freak out just yet.”
“I’m so screwed. I’m so damn screwed.”
“Why, of course not! I haven’t touched you in the slightest yet!”
William’s laughter burst out of him with such surprise and unabashed joy that Tyson was quick to suppress it with a kiss. He kept half laughing against Ritter’s lips, easing slowly into his arms. It couldn’t compare. It was not anywhere near what Gabe had ever made him feel. His feelings towards Gabe had always been of the insane, love kind, tempered with reassurance but tainted by longing and desire, while Tyson had never been on that romantic specter nor restrained to give him a shoulder to lean on. With him, it was fair and simple, an equal’s relationship that had something to do with compensating each other’s flaws but very little with actual passion. The kiss deepened in a soft, grounding way that was like an opioid shot, calming and soothing every nerve it could reach. If he had to define Tyson in a couple of words, he’d be called his IV-tranquilizer with a hint of a hallucinogen trip afterwards.
Had they been making out a little harder, William would have missed the observer trying to discern them. He tried to hide behind Tyson but he knew the other had seen them. It took him a second to recognize Gabriel, after the mind-numbing haze of meeting Ritter again, and just another speck so Tyson could notice he had noticed something. Gabe and Ty greeted each other in a clumsy, rather embarrassed way before Saporta could freeze William’s core with a look and walk away, not saying a word to his former childhood friend. Tyson felt the sudden grip on his arms and turned to the man in his arms.
“You can’t be serious that the man who’s willing to love and fuck you is Saporta.” William barely found the forces to nod silently. “Jesus fucking Christ, Beckett.”
“We have a past”, murmured he, too ashamed of his lack of reaction to raise his voice to anything more than just audible.
“For the way he looked at you, you might as well have been married.” He hugged the other again. “I can ease any kind of sexual feeling he’s making bubble up inside you and I can hold you if you feel too overwhelmed, kid, but it’s Saporta. He won’t stop before he’s done with you.”
“You’re not helping”, whispered Beckett, all but sighing.
“I in fact am helping very much indeed.” He touched the tip of William’s nose and smiled. “Now come here. I’ll make you forget all about him if just for a moment.”
Needing that one moment like the air he breathed, William let himself be dragged to the kindness of Tyson’s lips. If all the peace he could have would be summed up in just one blissful moment, then he’d take it willingly.