The part that didn't make sense, at first glance, was the spoon.
Because apparently Ryan had walked in on Brendon sitting in the booth on the bus staring at some kind of strangely-colored sex toy set up on the table in front of him, and, okay, whatever, but why did he have a spoon in his hand?
Then Ryan took a step closer and realized that the sex toy was made of food--the shiny red tip was a cherry, and the shaft was... probably a banana? It was coated in something goopy and white and something speckled-brown, and the whole thing was planted in a pineapple ring at the base like a cock ring keeping it up.
That explained the spoon, but it sort of un-explained everything else about this picture. "Brendon?"
"Hm?" Brendon said. He had the same quiet, mopey look on his face he'd had for the last few days, and he was just staring at his fruit-dick thing and clutching a spoon.
"What is that?"
Brendon sighed, leaning over to prop his chin in his hand and glancing up at Ryan and then back down at the fruit-dick.
"Candle salad," he said. He didn't blush or stutter, and it wasn't the elaborately casual way he would have said it if this were some kind of joke.
"Candle salad," Ryan repeated carefully, waiting for the punchline.
Brendon just nodded, staring at it. "My mom used to make it, and I've been feeling kind of..."
He waved his spoon, and Ryan stared at it, mesmerized. Brendon was staring at his fruit-dick and talking about his mom, and honestly, why did people ever, ever think Ryan was the weird one?
"I called and asked her for the recipe, and I don't think it's possible to really screw it up. I mean, it looks right. But I'm kind of scared it won't taste how I remember."
"How you." Ryan seriously did not believe this. Brendon was homesick for a dildo made of fruit and some kind of white goop. "Remember."
Brendon finally looked up at him, frowning slightly. "Yes, how I remember. Are you just going to stand there and repeat every fucking thing I say?"
"Brendon," Ryan said, his voice coming out a little strangled as he looked down at the fruit-dick again. "Are you going to look at what you're about to put in your mouth?"
Brendon frowned harder, and then made a stage-worthy show of looking down at it. His hand clenched hard on the spoon, and then Ryan watched a bright, painful blush wash over his face. The fruit-dick wobbled when Brendon slammed the spoon down and stood up.
"Fuck you," Brendon snapped, shoving past Ryan on his way back to the bunks. "Now it's never going to taste right."
Ryan winced behind Brendon's back. He still hadn't looked really angry, just stricken. This was not going to help the moping.
The fruit-dick just stood there on the table, cherry tip glistening. Ryan moved closer, leaning over it and then giving up and sliding into the spot where Brendon had been sitting to inspect it more carefully. When he was near enough to smell it, he realized the white goop coating the banana was some kind of sweet whipped cream--the banana had been dipped in it, and then rolled in... crushed corn flakes? So this was some unholy combination of breakfast and a banana split, minus the ice cream. With a cherry on top.
Ryan eyed the spoon, eyed the fruit-dick, and shuddered at the thought. He leaned closer to it, instead, sniffing the sugar until his mouth watered. He parted his lips, lowering his mouth almost onto it, and lowered his tongue to flick the cherry from the tip into his mouth.
Ryan looked up without raising his head, the cherry resting whole and heavy and tart-sweet on his tongue.
Jon was standing right where Ryan had been standing a minute ago, staring at him wide-eyed. Ryan became acutely conscious that there was a smear of cream on his lips. He waited, watching Jon without blinking.
"Right," Jon said, edging sideways toward the bunks without turning his back on Ryan. "Okay then."
Ryan shrugged when the door closed, and finally licked his lips and popped the cherry between his teeth.
Spencer climbed into Ryan's bunk, yanked out one of Ryan's earbuds, and jabbed a finger into his chest. Ryan didn't even bother to argue; obviously this was serious.
"Jon's going to quit the band, motherfucker."
Ryan kept his eyes steady on Spencer's. Spencer would look more freaked if he actually meant that Jon was actually going to quit the band; so far he just looked irritated. "What are you talking about, he's hardly even in the band yet."
"Yeah," Spencer snapped, jabbing Ryan again, "and he's not going to stick around long enough to ever be in if you and Brendon don't stop freaking him out. I don't know what you did--"
"Wait, what did Brendon do?"
Spencer's lips shifted from irritated to a softer sort of grimace, something like worried-but-what-can-you-do. "He wouldn't play Guitar Hero with me, he's just sitting in the lounge. He dumped half a bag of mini marshmallows into a tub of Cool Whip and said it's called white salad, and he ate all of it with a spoon, but he's still not wired or anything. He's just sitting there licking the spoon."
Ryan's stomach turned--at the thought of that much sugar, at the thought of Brendon holding still like that, not at all at the thought of Brendon obsessively licking a stupid spoon. He'd been moping for almost a week now, and Ryan couldn't quite fight off the unwelcome and totally unreasonable sense of responsibility. He'd just made an observation. It wasn't his fault Brendon's childhood had been so fucked up.
"But whatever you did, tell Jon you're sorry, okay? Because you freaked him out, and he's never going to settle in if both of you are scaring him, and I don't know what the hell to do about Brendon."
"Oh," Ryan said slowly. "I think he's homesick."
Spencer stared at him for another minute, and then shook his head and said, "Whatever, I'm going to go let Jon beat me at Halo." As he rolled out of the bunk, Ryan heard him grumbling that someone had to hold things together.
Ryan picked up his Sidekick and started scrolling through his contacts, trying to remember if he had a phone number for Brendon's mom. He'd just have to keep the conversation short, and not think about bananas. He could do this.
Brendon's mom had assured him that there wasn't really any such thing as white salad--it was just what Brendon called marshmallows and Cool Whip when he was a kid, trying to pretend it was a real recipe. Of course, after Ryan heard some of the real recipes, he could see what Brendon had been thinking. Cool Whip and mini marshmallows was less horrifying than half of the stuff Brendon's mom had suggested, even if none of them were shaped like anything except a Jell-O mold.
Which is why Ryan was standing in a gas station with Jon, trying to figure out what he could improvise. Jon was standing to Ryan's right, carefully centered in front of the forlorn selection of canned goods, away from both the motor oil to one side and the rack of condoms and girl stuff to the other.
"I'm sorry about, um," Ryan said, waving his hand in a carefully inexpressive gesture. "I didn't mean to, like--it was just--Brendon, um--"
"This is why you write the lyrics, isnt it," Jon said absently, picking up a box of Mac and Cheese and peering suspiciously at the layer of dust on top.
Then he glanced up at Ryan and said, "Oh, oh. Oh." He smiled suddenly, brightly. "Dude, you guys could have just told me, it's cool. I thought it was just a stage thing, but I should have realized--way to fake everybody out, man. I totally didn't even catch it, wow."
Ryan looked from Jon to the pudding mix and can of mixed nuts in his own hands, and realized that denying it would force him to explain what he was doing buying this stuff, and he didn't even know why, because Brendon's shitty mood was not his fault. Plus, if he let Jon believe it, then at any time he chose he could tell Jon they'd broken up, and Jon would probably excuse any kind of bad mood Ryan was in without freaking out and siccing Spencer on him again. It was like a Get out of Jail Free card.
"Yeah, well," Ryan said vaguely, and then, "Jon, that Mac and Cheese is expired."
Ryan jumped when the door from the bunks opened, but it was just Spencer, who gave him a funny look and then said, "Ooh, Lucky Charms!"
Ryan just ducked back over the bowl he'd poured the Lucky Charms into, carefully picking out marshmallows, so he didn't see whatever look was on Spencer's face when he said, "Ry, what are you..."
He could picture it just fine.
"I needed marshmallows, and I couldn't find the little colored ones," Ryan muttered. "I'm improvising."
"You needed," Spencer repeated, and then he sat down, pushing Ryan sideways at the shoulder and hip before he reached for some of the plain cereal Ryan had dumped into a separate bowl. "So you've joined Brendon in crazytown, is what you're saying."
"Whatever, he's homesick. Marshmallows go in salads where he comes from."
Spencer snorted--where Brendon came from was one school district over from where they came from, but Spence knew what Ryan meant. They'd gone to school with enough Mormon kids to know they were all from somewhere else, no matter where they lived, like an alternate dimension slipped in right next door to the Summerlin they knew.
"Uh-huh," Spencer said, crunching cereal. Ryan could feel him not saying anything as Ryan dropped stars and hearts and horseshoes into a bowl. Spence had a very loud and pointed way of not saying things sometimes.
"Jon thinks me and Brendon are," Ryan said, and before he could even hesitate over choosing a word, Spencer cracked up. He did that loudly and pointedly, too.
Ryan had to look, then, and Spencer was coughing, half-choking on bits of cereal as his face turned red. Ryan edged the marshmallows out of range of anything that might fly out of Spencer's mouth, and Spencer just laughed harder.
"Dude," Spencer finally said, between gasps for breath, "okay, dude, I was kind of hoping you would figure this out for yourself, but it's time somebody told you. You are. You're just both too retarded to know it."
Ryan scowled at the marshmallows. "We're not--"
"Cheer up," Spencer said. "You're still smarter than Brendon, it hasn't even occurred to him yet to ask anyone."
Ryan wasn't blushing. His face was hot because he was angry because Spencer was being such an idiot about this and mocking him when he was just trying to fix things like Spencer wanted in the first place. "We're not."
"Ry," Spencer said. "Fucking look at yourself. You're picking the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms for this guy. It was a grand gesture when you got up and brought me a soda the day my dog died."
"We were at your house," Ryan muttered. It was a gesture.
Spencer just leaned against his shoulder and ate more cereal, and didn't laugh while Ryan put the salad together. That was something of a gesture too, coming from Spence.
It wasn't that Ryan was staking out the fridge, exactly, it was just that he was writing, and it was easier to spread out a couple of notebooks on the table in the booth. Plus, Brendon had been spending a lot of time staring blankly at the TV in the back lounge. Ryan wasn't avoiding him--how could he, on the bus?--and Brendon wasn't really avoiding Ryan. They'd just been gravitating in opposite directions since the fruit-dick incident.
Brendon had to refuel sometime, though, and when he wandered up to the fridge and peered inside, Ryan was sitting at the table.
"Um," Brendon said.
Ryan's shoulders jerked and tensed, and he forced his grip on his pen to stay normal as he looked up at Brendon's back, the line of it artful even in an old stretched-out t-shirt and pajama pants. Nothing he hadn't noticed before, but maybe something he'd never noticed himself noticing.
Brendon turned, blinking wide eyes at Ryan. "Dude, there's this huge bowl of--what is this? It's taking up like half the fridge."
Ryan winced and looked down. "It was going to be Pistachio Salad, except I couldn't find pistachio pudding mix. Or pistachios. Or pineapple. So it's butterscotch and diced pears and stuff. I improvised."
Ryan could hear the motor in the fridge kick on as the door stood open, and he could hear Jon and Spencer talking in the back lounge, in the elaborately mild tones that meant they were arguing viciously about shoes or video games or Impressionism, and he could hear the road humming by beneath them. Brendon didn't make a sound.
Then the fridge slammed shut, and Brendon's feet moved, and Ryan kept very still until the Brendon nudged one of his notebooks aside with the bowl of not-Pistachio-Salad, and turned away. Ryan met his eyes as he turned back with two spoons, and for the first time in a week, Brendon was grinning offstage.
Ryan smiled carefully back. "It, um, won't taste anything like your mom's."
Brendon snorted, sitting down next to Ryan and poking the surface with his spoon, "Dude, obviously. You invented a whole new salad! This is so much cooler than when I decided Cool Whip and marshmallows was a salad, this is--are these the marshmallows from Lucky Charms?"
"Yeah," Ryan said. Brendon's voice was already rising, like he was getting a sugar high just from being in the presence of whatever it was Ryan had accidentally concocted for him, and Ryan was starting to think maybe this had been a bad idea. Maybe letting Brendon mope had been better for--
Brendon scooped up a spoonful of... salad, lumpy and pale brown and studded with brightly colored marshmallows, and shoveled it into his mouth. His eyes went wide as he chewed, and he barely swallowed before he said, "Oh, wow, Ryan, this is awesome, you have to--"
There was a smear of butterscotch-flavored-something on Brendon's lip, and he was going to be talking a mile a minute the rest of the night unless Ryan shut him up.
That was all Ryan was trying to do when he leaned over and licked it off. Just shutting Brendon up. The butterscotch tasted good, though.
Brendon went still until Ryan started to settle back into his seat, and then he breathed, "Dude, oh," and lunged at Ryan. His tongue tasted like butterscotch and Lucky Charms and peanuts, and when Ryan finally managed to push him off far enough to breathe he realized what was hard and jabbing into his shoulder.
"You're still holding your spoon," Ryan said, staring at it. The spoon still didn't make any goddamn sense.
"Lucky Charms, Ryan," Brendon replied, like that explained something. He squeezed close to Ryan's side, lacing the fingers of his left hand with Ryan's, and scooped up another spoonful. "Ha! We are so calling this Lucky Salad."
Ryan rolled his eyes, but he didn't pull his hand away from Brendon's, and when Brendon held a spoonful of Lucky Salad to his mouth, Ryan closed his eyes and took a bite.