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Hey, Can I Sit Here?

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Frank trudged through the dull creme coloured hallways of his high school, Pencey Academy, to the art rooms. The sharp, warm smell of acrylic paint and sawdust has once provided solace for the shy boy, but as the years had gone on and he had got more caught up in his art coursework, they had brought little more than an anxious rock in his stomach. He was horribly behind on all of his work in art- unfinished composition plans and scribbled out annotations littered his sketchbook. Frank knew how behind he was, but when he wasn’t near the rooms he could ignore it. When he had art lessons, however, stabs of guilt for failing what had always been his best subject hit him. And they hit him hard.
   Pushing open the squeaky, paint-flaking door, he mentally prepared himself for a lonely lesson of hurriedly etching mediocre sketches of his friend, Ray. Ray had begrudgingly allowed Frank to use him as a muse for his art qualification coursework- all it consisted of was a few photos here and there for Frank to draw and paint, but Ray had acted like the camera was some sort of torture device made only for his displeasure. Frank wasn’t exactly pleased with the photos: his photography skills left a lot to be desired, and Ray’s grimaces at the camera didn’t help. Oh well- at least he’d actually finished that piece of work.

The classroom was quieter than he expected when he walked into the familiar grey room, decorated with batiked fabric and charcoal pieces by students. He took his usual place at the desk nearest the front. Frank sat alone on his table. He didn’t mind, the class was only 16 pupils and he didn’t know any of them too well. It wasn’t that he didn’t like them or anything, he really did, but his shyness had made it difficult for him to ask to sit with anyone. And besides, all of the other tables were full and he wasn’t about to get someone to move so he could sit with people he was too anxious to speak to. Frank looked around the room, mildly concerned at the lack of people in the room. It wasn’t like it was normally a loud classroom, but it really was too quiet. There were only about 10 of them there- 2 tables were full and on one was a boy Frank had had little conversation with, sat alone. He didn’t notice the boy walk over; he had his face buried in his bag looking for his pencil case and laptop. When he looked up again, the boy was stood opposite Frank, hovering next to an empty chair.
   “Is it okay if I sit here? My friends and dumb brother are sick and I’m kinda in my own over there.” He wrung his hands a little, shifting his weight from one foot to another.
Frank took a sharper-than-intended breath before speaking, stammering slightly over his words as he spoke. “Yeah man that’s- yeah that’s all good, feel free!” He internally slapped himself at the clunky choice of words, and wracked his brain for the boy’s name. It began with a G for sure... Gavin? No, too middle aged man-ish. Greg? Nope, not quite-
“I’m Gerard, by the way. You’re Frank, right? I haven’t properly spoken to you before.” The boy- or, rather, Gerard, smiled awkwardly at Frank, cutting off his train of thought.
“Yep!” Yikes, Frank thought. Who says ‘yep’ anymore? “It’s good to meet you properly my dude,” he said, secretly celebratory about his lack of messing up in his words. Gerard seemed almost as shy and bad at interaction at he was. Note the almost, though- at least he was brave enough to approach someone he didn’t know too well.
Gerard squirmed in his seat a little and offered another small smile, along with a comment back to Frank that the shyer boy didn’t hear- he was too busy definitely not noticing how cute Gerard’s smile was- his nose crinkled a little and his eyes closed a bit, making his hazel irises shadowed and sleepy looking. Not that Frank saw this or went slightly pink. Not at all.
   They worked for the most part in quiet harmony, occasionally exchanging glances and compliments towards each other’s work. Frank spent most of the lesson with a small nest of butterflies in his stomach, trying to psych himself up to say something without stuttering like and idiot. But he stayed silent mostly. Someone had approached him first, even if it was only because he had nowhere else to go, and he didn’t want to fuck up what could be a good friendship!
It felt like no time had passed before the bell rang for break. As Gerard and Frank packed away their things, Frank looked to the taller boy, preparing himself to talk. “Hey, Gerard?” He looked up from under his floppy dark hair. “Yeah?”
Frank smiled a bit, hoping he wouldn’t sound dumb. “Thanks for sitting with me man, it gets a little lonely sometimes over there on my own.”
Gerard broke into a grin, his whole face turning into a ray of sunshine. “No worries! It was nice to meet you, to be honest I should be thanking you. You’re the one who let me sit there!” With one last quick flicker of a smile, Gerard swung his backpack over his shoulder before turning to leave. He almost walked into the side of the door, missing the corner at the last second and stumbling. Frank watched from the corner of his eye and could swear he saw the messy haired boy look around for a second to check nobody saw his ultra swift move. Frank snorted quietly at the stupid looking move (that was actually quite endearing), and headed out of the classroom himself.

 

“And then he spoke to me by choice! Before I spoke to him!” Frank was sat with Ray on the bus home, chattering excitedly. Ray was halfheartedly trying to be happy for his friend, but was obviously distracted by the ‘ODDLY SATISFYING COMPILATION #308’ video playing on his phone. Frank didn’t care; he didn’t need the curly haired boy to listen exactly, he just wanted to gush. It was rare that someone other than his friends spoke to Frank. It wasn’t for meanness, he was liked by the kids at school, but that crippling shyness ate away at his words when he tried to talk to people he wasn’t comfortable around. He was fine with people he knew, and could even talk to strangers if he knew he wouldn’t see them again, but the he felt like he had to leave a good impression on his peers, which made him so anxious and shaky. It was getting a little better, though. It was better than it was the last few years, when he couldn’t get any words out at all.
   “And he said my sketches were good, even though he’s, like, some kind of art prodigy and I’m nowhere near his level.” Ray nodded absently at his friend’s enthusiasm, clearly thinking about something, and clicked off his phone. His curly hair bobbed as he turned his head. “Hey, Frankie?” He spoke gently. “You do know this is the first time you’ve spoken to this guy, right? You’re not going to be best friends straight away- and besides, that’s my job.” Frank knew he was right. If anyone else had said that to him, he probably would have got upset, but Ray had this way of saying the truth without seeming confrontational or spiteful. If he was saying something like that, it was only because he cared so much.
   He sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, I’m just excited, he seems nice and it’s the first time in ages someone’s approached me first,” he said, pushing his hair off his face haphazardly. Ray gave a small smile and went back to his video. Frank leaned his head against the window, taking out his phone and opening Instagram. He was pretty sure he followed Gerard on there- he followed a bunch of the people at school a while ago in the hopes of making some more friends. The attempt was fruitless, but at least he could snoop on the drama that went on occasionally.
He scrolled through his ‘following’ column. He found Mikey, Gerard’s brother, from the year below them, but not the account he was looking for. Frank frowned a little and turned off his data; he’d check again when he got home. He leaned away from the window and placed his head on Ray’s shoulder to watch the satisfying video, zoning out until the bus stopped outside his house.

Chapter Text

The door slammed behind Frank as he struggled to fit both himself and his too-heavy backpack through the door. “Hello?” He called, not expecting a response.
His expectations were met. He walked through to the kitchen and chucked his keys onto the table with a loud crash. There was a slip of folded up paper on the countertop with ‘Frank' scrawled onto it with a heart next to the name. He smiled to himself, shaking his head slightly.

It was from his mom- she worked late most days, and even though he’d told her so many times that she didn’t need to leave him notes when she left if it would slow her down, he was greeted with one every day. It was sweet. He opened it up and skim read it. It was the same as it always was: stuff for dinner was in the fridge/on the stove, she loved him, don’t waste the evening with video games. Frank dropped it gently back onto the counter and went to hunt around in the cupboard for a snack. It was pretty much empty, only a couple of granola bars and some dog food were left. He grabbed a tracker bar and headed upstairs, dragging his bag along with him. He ought to do some art work, but he was going to fail anyway, regardless of the work he did. There wasn’t enough time to finish everything he needed to do before they handed that part of the course in, so he might as well save himself the stress and not think about it.

Frank winded his way around the mess in his bedroom to get to his bed. It was the only thing in his room not covered in clothes, comics or school assignments. He slumped onto it, and it creaked under his weight, like it was complaining about him being there. “Shut up," He muttered under his breath to the bed. Leaning back, he pulled up Instagram again. He could have just missed Gerard's username or something when he looked earlier. A few minutes of scrolling later showed him that nope, he definitely wasn‘t following the boy. He was following his brother, though! Surely Mikey would be following him.

He found Gerard’s account, feeling a little stalker-ish as he did. Oh well, people had done worse investigatory work. It was a private account, but it was obvious who the account belonged to- the username was his name, plain and simple. ‘gerardway’. If the username wasn’t clear enough, the profile picture gave it away; a picture of the boy grinning at the camera in sunglasses stared back at Frank. It was definitely Gerard, the perfect eyebrows and small teeth gave it away. The bio was slightly geeky: Frog Dad- I would die for the creator of Doom Patrol’. Frank made a louder-than-usual exhale- you know, the type you’d make as you type ‘LMAO, DYINGGGG’ to a friend- at the mention of his favourite comic. Now he had an excuse to talk to Gerard without seeming too weird! He was took a breath and clicked the follow button, watching it turn to the grey ‘requested’ bar that was the source of so much anticipatory nerves for thousands of other anxious teenagers. Frank swiped away from the profile and tried not to think about whether or not Gerard would think he was weird for requesting to follow his private account when they didn’t really know each other. He was overthinking, he knew he was. Frank pushed the nagging worry to the back of his mind and scrolled mindlessly to distract himself somewhat. Ray had posted a picture of his revision notes, which was so classically Ray that Frank had to laugh. He could picture his friend preparing his workspace meticulously just to post an aesthetic picture, and then getting distracted by the rest of the wide world of Instagram. Ray would never admit that he got off track when he was studying; he always wanted to maintain his star pupil status. Even if he had admitted it, no one would have cared- he was an A* student in every subject bar PE.
Frank worried about him sometimes, Ray seemed increasingly stressed as time went on, and overworked to the point where he wouldn’t leave the house to hang out with friends. He always assured people he was fine, though, and sealed the comment with a smile. Frank thought it looked strained. When he’d tried to bring up his concerns with Ray, he was only met with a wall of defences, which made him more concerned- but Ray had seemed alright the past few weeks, so Frank’s anxiousness surrounding Ray’s mental health had lessened a little. That didn’t stop him from staying as alert as he could though, just in case.
Frank’s phone buzzed in his hands and a drop-down notification fell from the top of the screen. ‘Frog Dad (gerardway) has accepted your follow request. You can now see their pictures and videos.’ It had only been a few minutes since he requested to follow Gerard- Frank hadn’t expected him to be online so fast. His phone vibrated again- ‘gerardway started following you.’ Oh God! Frank hadn’t even thought about that. Did his profile still have the dumb pictures of him that Ray took? Or some stupid poetry caption he wrote when he was 13? Though it was a little too late to change it now, Frank checked anyway. Nope, all clear- his old photos were archived. All that was left was a couple of selfies from when he got his lip ring and a photo he took for art class of a graveyard. Normal enough and presentable.
But what about Gerard’s account? Frank swiped off of his own profile and clicked onto Gerard’s. He didn’t have much content, but what was there was sweet. There were photos of him with Mikey, probably from over the summer: his hair was a bright sunset orange-red colour. One jumped out at Frank. It looked pretty candid, they were sat close and looked like they were in the middle of giggling hysterically at some now-forgotten joke. It was a gorgeous capture of the two of them, Frank thought. They were obviously close, closer than most brothers, and it was cute to see teenage siblings getting on so well; it was quite the contrast to what Frank usually heard about- Ray had two brothers, and complained about them nonstop. Frank just assumed that’s how all siblings were, and as an only child he didn’t really have anything to compare what he heard about to.
There were a few other pictures, slightly blurry images of comics and spiders stuck in their webs, and one of a black haired girl, pale and angular. Frank tapped on the photo and examined it more closely. She was beautiful in an unconventional way, more interesting looking than pretty. Her features were sharp and if you saw each individually, you wouldn’t put them together, but they worked in a way that made her almost model-ish. He expanded the caption, curious as to what she was to Gerard. He ignored the tightening in his chest. ‘Thanks @xlynzballatox for being my muse. If it weren’t for schoolwork I’d be excited to paint this!’ There was no indication that they were together; the caption seemed almost formal to Frank. The feeling in his chest loosened slightly, and he relaxed his shoulders. He hadn’t realised he’d tensed up so much.
Frank sat up, mildly horrified at himself. Why was he getting so worked up about Gerard and the prospect of him being with this girl? He hardly knew the guy. It was only a photo on a dumb social media app! It didn’t matter at all!
He sighed, feeling like an idiot. He was just lonely and touch-starved, Frank told himself. He needed to chill.
Shit, he also needed -well, not exactly needed- to message Gerard. Frank pinched the bridge of his nose and let his hand trail down the side of face, leaving a pink mark for a second. “Okay, Frankie, you got this,” he said to himself under his breath. He didn’t need to be this worried, people message each other all the time. It’s not a big deal. But Frank didn’t want to say anything wrong.

frankieromustdie: hey gerard!! it’s frank, from school? I just wanted to say thanks for sitting w me today, ik I said so at school but yknow :)

Frank knew he could sit there and rewrite the message hundreds of times before he got it ‘right’. He closed his eyes and pressed send, praying nothing sounded dumb. He was usually alright with messaging new people, much more alright than talking to them. First impressions were easier over text, he could rely on punctuation and emoticons to do the talking for him sometimes if he didn’t know how to respond- and there was no pressure to say something immediately. So why was it different with Gerard? It was driving him up the wall trying to figure out what was so different about that boy in particular that was making everything so hard. If anything, it should have been easier, seeing as Gerard was also so geeky and awkward. Oh well. There wasn’t much that Frank could do now. The message was sent, and if he unsent it, he would look stranger than he already felt he looked.
Again, Gerard was online much more quickly than Frank expected.

gerardway: oh hey np man it was good to meet u properly! and thanks right back at u, i rly didn’t wanna sit on my own but i was too nervous to sit w the groups lol

gerardway: how are u?? lol i just realised we know nothing abt each other, tell me abt urself :)

Frank could hear his heart in his chest. What should he say? ‘I’m panicky and I’m failing most subjects, also I like Motörhead’ didn’t really seem an appropriate response. He took a deep breath and steadied his mind.

frankieromustdie: im okay! uhh idk i like music and stuff ig? like i play guitar a little bit :0 what about u?

It was seen almost immediately, and the three typing bubbles popped up. Frank prayed that he hadn’t come off as lame. It was true; he did play guitar. He wouldn’t say so himself, but he definitely played more than a ‘little bit’. He was brilliant at it# when he played, it was like time melted away, and a wonderland was created just for him in that moment.

gerardway: oh man that’s so cool!! if u ever wanna jam or something id be totally down for that, i sing and im pretty sure u already know bc he does all the school gigs but my brother plays bass? but yeah

gerardway: what do u listen to??

Frank typed as fast as he could- he didn’t want to seem desperate or anything, but Gerard messaged back faster than anyone he knew, and he wanted to keep up. He wracked his brain for names, but he’d gone completely blank. He liked lots of stuff- Nirvana were great, but so was Kendrick Lamar.

frankieromustdie: i can send a link to my Spotify playlist if u want? Easier to just show u haha

frankieromustdie: u don’t have to listen to it or anything but yknow it shows u the song names and artists and stuff

frankieromustdie: sorry that was dumb lol ofc u know how Spotify works

He hoped he didn’t sound like an idiot. Frank often over-apologised, and usually only caught himself afterwards- but within seconds, before he had time to berate himself, the message was seen and liked, the small heart bobbing upwards below his message.

gerardway: no don’t apologise lmao, ill have a look now!!

gerardway: oh I’ll send u mine too :)

Frank smiled at the idea of hearing Gerard’s music taste. He tried to imagine it: maybe some kind of pop punk? Or something more hardcore?
His thoughts were interrupted by a hollow twinkly noise- an alarm on his phone, reminding him to make dinner. He turned it off, reluctantly switching off Instagram after hurriedly typing a ‘talk to you later’ message to Gerard, and heaved himself off his bed to start making food. He didn’t mind it- it was kind of therapeutic. He took one last look at the lock screen of his phone to check for notifications before he turned away to chop some vegetables, and saw a new message.

gerardway: ok no worries!! here’s the link btw, and if i don’t see u before I’ll see u in art!! hope you have a good ni...........

Not all of it was displayed, but it was enough to make Frank smile for the rest of the evening. He felt like something good was coming.