Here’s the thing: Bobby is a good friend, he’s just not a good friend.
He’s the kind of contemplative silence that isn't awkward, sure, but isn't the comfort and reassurance you were looking for. The kind of hug that's too stiff, too distant, like this is an obligation, not a gift. The kind of liar where it's little things, stupid things that don't matter, that roll off the tongue because he wants to see a pretty girl blush.
The boys of Sunset Curve bond over music, but it's always different with Bobby. Even if nobody admits it directly, they’re all aware of it, himself included. Alex and Reggie and Luke, they grip their instruments like it's a lifeline; like if they let go they'll break down. For Bobby, it's always been a game - and one he wants to win. Bobby dreams of a stage and an infinite crowd and a spotlight on him; Luke dreams of saying "goodnight, mom, I love you," one more time.
Bobby can't empathize with them the way they empathize with each other, so he doesn't try too.
Alex comes out to the band one day.
It was during some rehearsal, in their studio (er, Bobby’s garage. Same thing). Alex is a nervous guy, always has been, but there’s a new, worse tension in him today, and they’ve all caught on. He misses cues and hits too hard and fumbles with the drumsticks. Reggie and Luke catch his eye occasionally, and make a face as if silently asking are you okay?, to which he sheepishly grins and ducks his head.
When they finish, they crowd around the couch, but Alex doesn’t sit.
“You guys sounded great,” he says, fidgeting with the cap of his water bottle, “also, I’m gay.” The words are rushed and forced and spoken in the tone of someone who is clearly trying to act more stable than he actually is.
There’s a beat of silence. Alex takes a very deliberate step backwards, distancing himself from the group. He stares at the ground, face flushed and shoulders tight.
Reggie breaks first, of course. “That’s cool, dude.”
He looks back up immediately, eyes wide and hopeful. “Really--?”
In a flash of movement, Luke rushes to Alex’s side and wraps his arm around him in a tight shoulder-hug. There’s a twinkle in his eye, but his voice is sober. “I’m glad you felt safe enough to tell us. That's a pretty big deal, man. Thank you.”
“Yeah!” Reggie stands and wraps an arm around Alex’s other shoulder. It’s more akin to a playful tackle than Luke’s reassuring grip, though, and all three boys stumble at the impact. “If it’s alright with you, I think we should celebrate.”
Alex nods. “Oh,” he breathes out, then smiles; “yeah, okay, we should totally celebrate. Thanks.”
Luke bounces on his heels and springs away, clapping his hands together. “Hell yeah! I’m thinkin’ street dogs?”
Alex jokingly grimances. “We’re gonna eat out of a car to celebrate me coming out?”
Bobby clears his throat, and the warm energy of the three drops immediately. They turn towards him in near-sync - he’s still sitting on the couch, arms now folded and an eyebrow raised.
Reggie grips Alex’s shoulder a little tighter. Luke steps back towards the group.
The ghost of a smile appears on Bobby’s face. “So, what you’re saying is my chances with all our fan girls has gone from ¼ to ⅓? Nice.”
Alex smiles and huffs. “Don’t oversell yourself, Bobby. You’re still terrible with the ladies.” (It’s subtle, but Bobby catches the thank you Alex mouths.)
The smile on Bobby’s face grows and he nods. “Congratulations, Alex.” He stands, gathering his coat in his arms. “You guys have fun.” He turns towards the door, but stops when Reggie makes a questioning noise behind him.
“You’re not coming with?” He asks, head tilted to one side.
“No, sorry. I’ve got dinner with my parents. But seriously--” he turns again to face Alex and nods one last time, “-thank you for trusting us.”
What the boys do after he doesn’t know; doesn’t care.
Luke runs away.
He runs away and bikes to Bobby’s house. He says I didn’t know where else to go, and he shivers in the darkness of a December night. He says They’re gonna make me quit the band, I can’t go back home, and his voice is all raspy like maybe he’d been yelling earlier.
Bobby stands in the doorway, bathed in the light of his porch. He leans all his weight against the frame and taps his fingers, slowly and methodically. Any internal debate is short-lived, and pretty soon, he’s in the garage-slash-studio with a blanket and a cup of water.
“Did you eat before you came here?” Bobby asks, absently, watching Luke dig through his bag as if he couldn’t remember what he packed.
“I - uhm.” Luke’s eyes are puffy and his fingers are blue and he’s still heaving like he just ran a marathon. He spends a few moments thinking; piecing back together the night. “Yeah. We started f-fighting after.”
Bobby hmms in acknowledgment, and sets the cup of water on the table. “The couch turns into a bed,” he says, pointing at where Luke’s sitting.
“Okay,” he says, taking the blanket from Bobby’s hands and wrapping it around himself. “Th-thank you.”
“Of course, dude. Stay as long as you need.”
When he turns to leave, a cold hand catches his wrist. “Wait. Bobby.”
Luke had scrambled forward, barely balanced on the edge of the couch. There’s a look on his face that Bobby eventually decides is guilt. “What’s up?”
“Don’t tell your parents I’m here,” he rasps, “please. They won’t understand. They’ll just reach out to my parents and - and then I’ll have to quit the band and I can’t do that. I can’t leave this behind. I can’t leave you guys behind.”
Bobby’s breath catches in his throat. When he first said yes, it hadn’t occurred to him this is something he’d have to hide. Hiding something this big from his parents would be difficult, and there’s plenty of risks to getting caught. A sensation clings to his neck; like the decision he’s about to make is the prelude to far bigger turmoil.
This is Luke Patterson. This is his friend.
“I promise I won’t,” he says, and the sensation becomes a buzz, coiling around his neck before it dissipates.
Luke nods, letting go of Bobby’s wrist. “Thank you,” he says. His hands shake as he withdraws, placing them in his lap. “Thank you. Thank you.”
As Bobby takes his leave, he watches Luke slump against the couch, exhausted, and stare ahead blankly.
He says goodnight and leaves the garage and pretends he doesn’t hear Luke sobbing inside.
Reggie’s parents are awful.
Despite how hard the boy denies it, it’s a fact everyone else learned to accept pretty quickly. For one thing, he’s rather adamant that nobody ever visits his house - not to hang out and especially not to practice. When the topic comes up, he tenses, face flush with embarrassment. He assures them there’s a better place they could go to, and on the off chance there isn’t, he fakes feeling sick until everyone drops it.
He’s always weird in school. Bobby shares a bunch of classes with him and can personally vouch for that, at least.
Most mornings, Reggie comes to the first class of the day late. It happens so often Bobby could write a play-by-play: he never has an excuse, or a pass, and he always looks tired. The teacher pulls him aside and has a hushed conversation that is laced with both frustration and concern. They occasionally hand him a bit of breakfast - a granola bar and some juice from the cafeteria, usually, but Reggie still smiles appreciatively and goes to his seat with as little fuss as possible.
He flinches when someone throws something during lunch. He silences his instrument, stops humming to himself, stops smiling when a stranger turns to watch. Luke once raised his voice in an argument - nothing genuine, more like aggressive banter - and the damn boy whimpered.
So, yeah, something’s going on at Reggie’s place. Not that he ever tells the guys directly.
And then, on a night dangerously reminiscent of when Luke ran away, there’s a knock on Bobby’s front door.
Reggie stands there with tears in his eyes and a hand clasped firmly over his cheek. “Hey, Bobby,” he says, with a half-hearted smile. "Can I sleep in the garage tonight?”
Bobby stands there for a few moments, looking Reggie over again and again. He’s disheveled and shaking and - unlike Luke - he has no bag or bike. Which means he probably walked here, which is impressive and worrying in its own way, considering that Reggie lives on the other side of town.
“What happened?” Bobby blurts.
Reggie stammers for a moment before recollecting his composure. “I was just in the neighborhood, and it was getting late, so I didn’t want to walk home, you know, with it being so dark.” He laughs, but the noise sounds far more like the coverup to a sob than anything lighthearted.
It’s not the truth - Bobby isn’t an idiot, something happened. Still, he drops it with a nod of his head. “You’re always welcome here, Reg. Let me go grab some blankets.”
“Thanks,” he chokes, and makes a bee line to the garage.
After a few minutes of gathering (some pillows and blankets for Reggie; leftovers for Luke; a couple bags of snack food, water, and soda for the two of them), Bobby approaches the doors to the garage, stopping abruptly at the muffled sounds of crying and conversation.
“He hit me,” comes Reggie’s voice; “he actually hurt me, Luke. I don’t understand.”
Bobby pushes open the door carefully, eyes trained on the two boys who both look over to him. Reggie’s hand isn’t on his cheek anymore, and now he can see the red-and-blues of a blossoming bruise. He’s practically sitting in Luke’s lap, the boy wrapped around him like a protective blanket.
And, really, this whole situation is devastating. What’s Bobby supposed to say? ‘I’m sorry?’
“I’m sorry.” He says, and it’s probably the first time his voice has ever felt this weak and vulnerable, especially around the guys. He approaches slowly, dropping all he’s gathered on the table. “I can go get you an ice pack, if you’d like?”
Reggie inhales deeply; exhales shakily. “Yes. Please.”
Bobby nods, and leaves Luke to pick up the pieces of their bass guitarist.
Bobby goes to three funerals before he turns eighteen. He gives a speech at all of them.
He recounts how he met them all. How they split their high school packed lunches like kids because Reggie wanted Bobby’s apple slices and Bobby wanted Reggie’s pudding. He talks about Reggie and Alex working so hard to create merch while Luke dramatically modeled it all. He tells the story of the day Sunset Curve learned they would be performing at the Orpheum: the palpable excitement, the group hugs, the celebratory pizza.
“I think those boys were born to make music,” he says, ignoring the way his voice cracks. “They were very talented. We all loved music so much, and we loved making it together. They were my bandmates, my friends. I hope they're making music, wherever they are now.”
He doesn’t cry. He gets close, so very close, but he doesn’t break.
Not until the day his parents pay for Alex’s tombstone because the boy’s own flesh and blood refuse.
When he’s 20 years old, finally dipping his toes back into making music, his parents find a notebook full of song lyrics buried in an old blanket.
And he wants to say it’s Luke's. He really, really wants to. But the name catches in his throat like bile, and it dawns on him that any clue might be enough for his parents to figure out just where Luke Patterson had been hiding the last few months of his life.
They both have the same messy scrawl (barely legible, really, and Alex used to mock them both for it). And, technically, he did write some of it. He always put a little star by all the songs crowds adored; wrote suggestions for different lyrics in parts of songs that felt wobbly.
He says it belongs to him, and thinks nothing of it. Until his next performance.
He needs a song, and doesn’t have one. When he paces in his bedroom, trying to think of something, the book (left sitting in a box by his bed, full of old Sunset Curve things he couldn’t bear to throw out) catches his eye, and, well - Luke wouldn’t want all this music to go to waste, now would he?
He tells himself he’ll use a song, just this once, and then that’s it. Visit Luke’s grave and leave a bouquet of dahlias and give thanks to the Heavens that he was such a clever songwriter. Just this one performance, so he doesn’t blow his shot. Luke would want that.
And then they want an album, and Bobby’s so excited. He spends weeks writing and rewriting, but it’s all for nothing. Guitar-playing skills be damned, he just doesn’t have the lyrical knowledge Luke did. He’s not a songwriter, and everything he writes falls flat.
They all loved Luke’s song before - so what if, Bobby reasons, he just uses more of them? He could give credit. Mention Sunset Curve in all the interviews. Luke Patterson was the genius behind it all, he could say: he was the best songwriter I’ve ever known.
Luke always said it’s not about the money, or the fame; it’s about moving people. Luke wouldn’t want all of that to go to waste, now, would he?
(When it’s time to give credit, he can’t. He thought time was supposed to heal all wounds but he’s 24 years old and glowing with success and the words Sunset Curve still feels like a chokehold. He tries, in the first few interviews - wastes a few minutes and produces an awkward, low-quality clip they can’t use.
He stops trying to give credit, but he keeps taking, because it - it’s what Luke would have wanted, surely. Not the memory, but the music. That’s what’s important.)
Here’s the thing: Trevor Wilson is a good friend, he’s just not a good friend.