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Star Shaped

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Brendon’s phone rang in the middle of class.

The professor stopped talking and everyone in the room turned to stare; Brendon could feel his face turning as red as his glasses. He fumbled in his bag to find his phone and turn off the shrill tones of ABBA’s SOS, but it had fucking fallen underneath a book and gotten crammed down where he couldn’t reach it.

The professor cleared his throat. Everyone in the room was glaring. Brendon could feel their eyes boring in to the back of his neck. He tossed his notebook and a handful of replacement guitar strings out on the floor, along with a motley collection of pens. His phone was still playing disco.

“Mr. Urie,” said the professor. Brendon heard snickering. In desperation he upended his bag completely and dumped everything on to the floor. There was his phone – finally. Brendon lunged for it and hit the silent button; as his fingers got there the phone trilled ‘MISSED CALL’ happily at him and shut off.

Brendon looked up. The classroom wasn’t that big; it was a seminar with a big rectangular table in the center and twenty-five angry underclassmen all staring at Brendon, kneeling on the floor. The professor, who’d been in the middle of some kind of explanation about – okay, Brendon wasn’t sure, he’d been nearly asleep – had his arms crossed and a giant frown lurking under his beard.

“Sorry,” Brendon said lamely. “It was, uh. I thought I turned it off.” He tried a smile, but it faltered and slid off under twenty-six matching glares.

That was fine, Brendon told himself, taking a deep breath and shoving all his stuff back in his bag. This just wasn’t going to be his best day ever.

The professor made a disapproving noise and went back to his lecture. On the upside, Brendon reflected, it turned out he knew Brendon’s full name. On the downside, that probably meant he was going to flunk him. Brendon slunk back in to his chair and tried to slouch as much as possible. He wasn’t exactly tall, so he wasn’t blocking anyone’s view anyway, but he was sitting right at the front of the table because he’d gotten there late, when the only chairs left were right in the line of fire.

Brendon still wasn’t totally sure what the professor was talking about today. Last time he’d tried to pay attention there had been something about Vietnam, but now he was lecturing on the crusades. Brendon had a pretty good idea what the crusades were, and he didn’t remember them happening in Vietnam. He wished he’d been taking notes. He wished he knew someone else in the class to copy their notes. He wished it were Thanksgiving break already, instead of a week and a half away.

“—And that’s why you’ll be working in pairs,” said the professor. Brendon looked up. Somehow he’d stopped listening again. Pairs for what? Did he mean for the class right now, because the guy Brendon was sitting next to was a jock-y frat boy with his hat on backwards and a beer logo t-shirt. Brendon didn’t think that kid knew what was going on, either. If, on the other hand, they were doing a project or something and Brendon was supposed to choose a partner he was still in trouble, because Brendon hadn’t actually talked to anyone in the class and he was pretty sure they all hated him at the moment.

“I’ve chosen partners for you. Keep in mind, this is going to be thirty percent of your final grade.”

Oh, well that was just perfect. Brendon sank a little lower in his chair. He really wished he’d paid attention any of the other days in class. Maybe he still had the syllabus lying around his dorm somewhere. Probably not, though.

“So, the pairs are as follows: Mr. Greenfield, you are with Ms. Tisch. Ms. Edwards is with Ms. Kae. Mr. Urie, you are with Mr. Smith.” Brendon wasn’t sure if he’d hallucinated the glare the professor gave him, or if it was real. But the glare that Mr. Smith gave him was definitely real; Brendon knew exactly who his partner was, because it was the guy across the table who crossed his arms and got total bitch face when Brendon looked up hopefully.

Everyone shifted around the table. Smith – who probably had a first name, Brendon would have to look in to that – clearly wasn’t moving. Brendon grabbed his bag and his hoodie and phone and book and notebook and pen and tried to move around the table without running in to anyone else. When he’d gotten there he couldn’t put it all back down neatly, though, and he ended up dropping half of it and having to crawl under the table to chase his phone.

He popped back up and said cheerfully, “Hi! I’m Brendon.”

Smith’s bitchface got darker, somehow. He had really girly bangs falling across his eyes and a round face that seemed designed for glaring. Brendon’s smile faltered a little bit. He shifted back in to his chair and waited. “Um. So, do you have a name?”

“Spencer,” he said. He didn’t seem inclined to say anything else.

Brendon downgraded the whole day from “not great” to “fucking awful.” “Okay,” he said brightly, “this will be fine. This will be great. Are there, like, directions for what we’re doing? I follow directions like a champ.”

“Yeah?” Spencer said. “Then how come you can’t turn your phone off?”

Brendon was pretty hard to discourage, but Spencer Smith apparently knew just what to do. “I’m sorry,” he said, deflating a little. “I forgot.”

They stared at each other for a second, and then Spencer rolled his eyes and said “Okay, so what time period do you want to do?”

Time period? Brendon didn’t actually know what they were talking about. The professor’s voice had this somnolent quality that kept Brendon from ever totally paying attention. He wasn’t, in fact, sure what the class was about, except that it was his required history credit. He paid way more attention in his music classes, honestly. “Whatever you think,” he said, and sank a little bit in his chair. He swallowed the urge to start explaining that he was a scholarship student with a very good GPA, and he’d even managed to do well in stats. It was just this class where he couldn’t seem to stay awake for more than a minute at a time.

“You weren’t paying attention,” Spencer accused.

Totally true, but Brendon thought lying might be the better part of valor. “I was,” he said. “I just got distracted.”

“By your phone.”

“Well… Yes.”

Spencer huffed and rolled his eyes and grabbed his bag, going through his papers with little grumbling noises until he found what he was looking for and slapped it triumphantly on the table. “It’s our final project,” he said, and his tone of voice made it pretty clear that he thought Brendon was too stupid to understand. “We have to choose a conflict and write a point-counterpoint to explain the circumstances and consequences of the military action.”

“Okay,” Brendon said, perking up again. “That sounds cool.” He flipped through Spencer’s notebook and his papers. Spencer took really good notes. Brendon would have to borrow them sometime.

Presumably some time when Spencer no longer hated him. Spencer was still watching him suspiciously. Brendon decided he was going to make Spencer his best friend eventually, because the guy clearly took great notes and probably got good grades in history and definitely had awesome hair. Brendon needed more of all those things in his life.

Spencer huffed again. “The crusades,” he said. “We have lots of notes about that. Okay?”

Brendon had not heard one single word about the crusades all semester. “Awesome,” he said, and grinned.

Spencer did not grin back. He didn’t even crack a smile. He had bitch face down to an art. It was a little frightening. “Give me your phone,” Spencer ordered, “so we can trade numbers.” Brendon handed his over feeling a lot like a naughty kid whose toys were being taken away. Spencer clearly did not trust him with the phone at all, and stored his number in Brendon’s, called himself, and stored Brendon’s in his. He handed Brendon’s phone back with narrowed eyes.

“Okay,” said the professor. “That’s the end of class. I expect you to email me about your conflict choice by the end of the day today.”

Everyone jumped up and started shoving their stuff in their bags. Spencer got up so fast he might have been on fire, and raced out the door before Brendon could get in a, “So, you want to get together and work on this sometime?” or an, “I’m a music major, what are you?” or even an, “I don’t know a lot of people on campus; will you hang out with me?”

That last one was probably a bad opening gambit. Later, he’d win Spencer over with his charm and humor and adorableness. Brendon had a good feeling about Spencer. He just had to get Spencer to understand he wasn’t a total idiot.

He’d made friends before, after all. Just… Not in a while. Brendon grabbed everything off the table and checked his phone to see who’d called. Honestly, he’d forgotten to turn it off because he just didn’t get a lot of phone calls. Like, any.

It turned out the message was from Brian. Brendon babysat for his kids most Fridays, and sometimes hung out on the weekends when he didn’t have a lot of rehearsals or stuff to do. Sometimes he went anyway, actually. The kids were more fun than hanging out in his dorm room by himself, writing about music theory.

“Hey, Brendon. It’s Brian. I was hoping you could swing by my office when you’re done with classes. Today would be great, if it’s possible, but uh, give me a call. See ya.”

Brendon’s heart jumped a little bit. Brian and his kids were so awesome Brendon would have hung out at their house for free. Brian’s office, on the other hand, was the coolest place on earth – presumably, of course. Brendon had never been there. But he knew that was where Brian signed bands and arranged tours and handled all kinds of amazingly cool shit Brendon wanted desperately to see. If there was a god --- and Brendon had his doubts, the last couple of years – eventually he’d be in Brian’s office and Brian would be signing Brendon’s band.

So. Brian’s office first, convince Spencer to love him later. Brendon had plans.

\ \ \ \ \ \

Brendon walked to Brian’s office downtown. It wasn’t that far from campus, and it wasn’t too horribly cold outside. He had a license but no car, since he had absolutely no cash and all the spare change he managed to scrounge up babysitting eventually went for CDs or guitar strings.

It didn’t take much effort to find Brian’s building; it was huge and shiny and had a doorman and everything. Brendon felt his jaw drop– he’d known Brian was successful and probably kind of rich, but he hadn’t realized the real scope of the whole thing. He forced himself to stand up straight and close his mouth and try and look like a grownup. He was trying to be less melodramatic this year; he was practically an adult. He’d be able to drink – legally, even – in another year. He had to start keeping his head on straight and behaving a little more maturely.

Brendon caught sight of himself in the reflection of the glass doors at the building and flashed himself a giant, cheesy smile. So he was behaving more like a grownup, but not entirely like one yet. Soon, though. In the meantime, he looked pretty awesome. His reflection grinned back at him. Brendon had spiked his hair up and was wearing his lucky lavender hoodie under his windbreaker – one of these days he’d have to get around to buying a real winter coat; he was from the desert and he’d never gotten around to it– and his best hipster jeans. He’d gotten distracted by his email and lost track of time so he hadn’t showered. He felt like it gave him a real hipster aura. Hipsters didn’t shower regularly. They were way too cool. And Brendon needed more work on being cool.

Cool people, for example, probably worried a lot less about being cool. For starters.

Security actually stopped him to call upstairs and see if he was really invited. Brendon thought that was kind of lame; didn’t band people go upstairs all the time to talk to Gabe and Brian? Maybe he didn’t look enough like a band guy. Brendon felt a little panicked. If skinny jeans and funky glasses weren’t enough, what was he supposed to do?

The security guy glared, but he hung up the phone and waved Brendon over to the bank of elevators. Brendon stood by the door and fidgeted. He usually hit the button over and over if no one else was watching, but the doorman was definitely staring at his back. Brendon wasn’t the world’s best waiter.

Brendon felt a compulsion to strike up a conversation with the security guard because oh my god the guy was just standing there watching him, and it was making the back of Brendon’s neck itchy. He opened his mouth to start, then nearly threw himself in to the elevator with relief, when the doors slid open. In there no one could watch him be twitchy and weird.

Operation: Be More Calm And Adult And Impress Brian, so far, was not going great.

The elevator doors dinged open again. Brendon shifted his bag around for a second and took a deep breath. He pushed open the glass doors that said COBRA STARSHIP MANAGEMENT and stuck his head in. There was a reception desk but no one sitting there, and The Who were blasting in the background, echoing through a bunch of empty offices. “Brian?” Brendon yelled. “You here?”

He felt like he was sneaking in, but the doors weren’t locked or anything, and he was invited; someone had answered the phone. Brendon hitched his bag higher on his shoulder and stuck his head around the corner. “Brian?” he yelled again, and walked straight in to someone else’s back.

“Ooof,” Brendon said, windmilling and trying not to fall over. The other person was taller, but even skinnier than Brendon, and it was really just luck that they hadn’t both tipped over. It took Brendon a minute of staggering before he caught his balance.

“You’re looking for Brian?” said the other guy.

Brendon looked up and blinked. And blinked again. His mouth was kind of open, and he knew he looked stupid, but he didn’t know how to close his mouth, or say anything, or breathe. It was a problem.

The other guy was young, Brendon’s age or a little older. He had crazy, experimental hair that was almost a mullet but in a hipster kind of way. He was wearing iridescent turquoise eye shadow, which didn’t help with the fact that he looked kind of like a girl. He was skinny as fuck, and he was wearing a scarf when it was warm inside and a vest with a giant fluffy flower on it, and he was holding tea and he had a little bit of a five o’clock shadow, which made him look like a lesbian in the worst drag ever.

He was beautiful. Brendon’s heart skipped a beat. It was insane. Could hearts really do that? Could you actually have a heart attack just from looking at someone? Brendon was almost sure you couldn’t, and told himself that firmly while he tried to force his heart to beat again.

“Brian? You’re looking for him?” He paused and then shrugged. “Or… not?”

Brendon had to work to remember that his mouth and throat could make noises. “Ungh,” he said. The prettiest boy in the world raised his eyebrows. “Yes,” Brendon choked out. “I. Yes. Brian! I’m looking for Brian! I’m his babysitter.”

The other kid said dryly, “I think Brian’s kind of old to need a babysitter.” His voice was a lot deeper than Brendon expected, considering what he was wearing.

Brendon almost swallowed his tongue. He was pretty, and funny, and possibly very mean. It was fascinating. “I didn’t mean Brian,” Brendon tried to clarify. “I meant his kids. He has two. They’re kind of new, and he needed someone to watch them over the summer. That’s how I know Brian. Hi! I’m Brendon.” He offered his hand for shaking along with his biggest, brightest grin. Maybe there was still a chance that the most attractive man Brendon had ever met didn’t think he was a fumbling idiot.

“Uh. Hi,” said the other boy, sounding really confused. He stared at Brendon for a minute like he was worried Brendon would jump on him. Which Brendon was not going to do. Not even if he really wanted to. After a minute Brendon let his hand fall and pretended like he’d never stuck it out in the first place. Coolness. He was working on coolness.

Nameless But Beautiful was still staring uncertainly at Brendon. Brendon didn’t blame him; he was feeling confused, too. Confused, and as the silence stretched out, mildly suicidal. Why couldn’t he talk like a normal person? “So, Brian is here? Well, not here. Somewhere around here.” Brendon gestured a little too hard on ‘somewhere’ and his hand flew out and caught the mug of tea. It spilled all over the most attractive man Brendon had ever met, making him grimace and swear and jump back.

“Oh no, oh shit, oh my god let me—” Brendon said, lunging for the teacup.

“Really, I’m cool,” the other guy said, backing up.

Brendon wanted to die. He wanted to catch fire and melt and sink straight through the floor, or go back in time and warn himself not to go upstairs, because only humiliating things were happening there. Brendon would wave a giant sign at himself that said “JUST GO HOME AND GIVE UP NOW” and then he would never have to worry about this entire conversation. “I can – Do you have a towel? I can clean up what spilled. I clean when I’m babysitting, right? The kids are kind of messy. Brian doesn’t really care, though. He’s cool like that. Still a good dad and stuff, but really cool.” Brendon’s mouth just would not stop. It was like he was floating above his own body, listening to himself babble like a total moron.

“I’m not really that cool,” said Brian, appearing behind the other guy in the doorway. “But thanks.”

Brendon wanted to cry, and to run in to Brian’s office and hide. Would Brian let him hide, and then maybe tell everyone that Brendon had an evil twin who went around spilling tea on really hot guys? Because short of having an evil twin, Brendon wasn’t sure he could ever come back to Brian’s office again, not even to become a rock star. “Hi,” Brendon said to Brian, with a huge relieved smile. “You said I should stop by after class?”

“Yeah,” Brian said. “Thanks. Brendon, this is Ryan Ross. He works for me. Ryan, this is Brendon. C’mon back.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ryan said tonelessly.

“It really wasn’t,” Brendon replied miserably.

His relief at moving away from Ryan was so enormous that he almost managed to stop himself from looking back over his shoulder. Ryan was dabbing fussily at his vest with a towel. He definitely wasn’t looking at Brendon. And that was a good thing, except for the part where it bummed Brendon out a little bit. He didn’t meet beautiful, funny, music-oriented people every day. More like never.

Brian was watching Brendon, clearly baffled. “Ohhhhkay,” he said. “Boy, if meeting Ryan threw you off, wait until you meet Gabe.”

Brendon followed Brian back to his office. It was decorated with all kinds of band posters – some classics and some bands that Brian repped – and a couple of guitars and a picture of Gerard and Mikey on the couch in Brian’s living room. Gerard was mid-word, hands waving wildly around his head, and Mikey was mostly ignoring him, looking at his iPod. Brendon missed hanging out with them all day like he had over the summer.

“Dude,” said Brendon, grabbing something off the wall. “Did Gerard draw this?” It was a band poster, but the band consisted of Gerard and his brother and their friends, dancing with zombies. Plus the tour dates didn’t make any sense.

“Yeah,” said Brian, who couldn’t keep the giant grin off his face. “It’s cool, huh? If he were a little older, I’d let him do some of our promo stuff. It’d keep him out of trouble.” The words were pretty normal, but his tone was pure isn’t-my-kid-the-greatest-kid-on-earth.

Brendon swallowed a laugh. “And how are things going, running your own company?” he asked, flopping down in the big leather chair in Brian’s office. “Besides hiring ninth graders, I mean.”

Brian groaned. “Awesome,” he said. “Wonderful. Perfect. Amazing. I love being my own boss, only now I have to do all the work and also get Gabe to do work. It’s like… Putting toothpaste back in the tube or something. Fucking Gabe.” He gestured to the huge piles of paper on his desk that looked dangerously close to collapse.

“But you’re happier, right?” Brendon asked. “I mean. Mikey said you were. But with Mikey it’s hard to tell.”

Brian got that totally stupid Mikey-and-Gerard smile again. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m happier. I don’t have to go to L.A., I can send Ryan. He loves it out there.”

Ryan loved L.A. Brendon filed that away, and then immediately wondered why he’d filed it away when his new life goal was to never, ever see Ryan Ross again as long as he lived. Except for how he also wished he had a picture of Ryan to put in his wallet and carry around and look at like a total crazy stalker whenever he was feeling sad. Brendon’s reaction to spilling tea on a total stranger in the hallway was unexpectedly complicated.

“Actually, that’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you about,” Brian said.

Brendon blinked. He somehow doubted that Brian wanted him to go to LA and listen to bands for him. And he – please god – hadn’t picked up on Brendon’s instantaneous and totally embarrassing crush. “L.A.?” Brendon asked hopefully.

“No,” Brian said, “but it’s kind of related, if you squint. Thanksgiving is next week, and I wasn’t sure if you’d be going home for the holidays or what. I know you didn’t go home over the summer, but I wasn’t sure if you were going to be around.”

A really cold, icy rock settled in Brendon’s stomach. He’d been working so hard not to think about Thanksgiving coming up – or oh my god, Christmas – that he’d almost convinced himself it was still a long time away. But there it was, straight out of Brian’s mouth; a couple of weeks. It was going to happen. He was going to be alone on the holidays. Again. His day was straight back to shitty, and aiming to be the shittiest ever.

“Um,” said Brendon. He had crossed his legs one way so he uncrossed them and recrossed them the other way. It killed a few seconds. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Brian frowned. “Listen,” he said, “if you’re going to be around you should come to my place. It’s going to be the least traditional Thanksgiving ever. Gerard is apparently considering vegetarianism.” He rolled his eyes.

The only thing worse, maybe, than being alone at the holidays was watching someone else be really really really happy while you were alone. “Nah,” Brendon said. “But thank you. I have some stuff to do. And uh, people coming by. Lots of people. College people,” he added, in case that made it sound more authentic.

“Oh,” Brian said. He looked a little disappointed, but that also might have been Brendon’s imagination. “That’s too bad. I was hoping you could come. I’m a little nervous about my first holiday with the boys, honestly. I don’t know…” He chewed his lip and stared off in to space for a minute. Brendon was in serious danger of throwing up if Brian kept talking about this family stuff. Brian shook himself out of his reverie. “Anyway. If you’re around, we’d love it if you came by, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The boys especially. I mean, you know Mikey thinks you hung the moon, right?”

Brendon’s face got a little hot. “Mikey’s a cool little dude,” he said. “It’s too bad. I’m just really, super busy.”

Brian nodded. He looked totally bummed, and Brendon was sorry about lying. He twitched a little in his chair. “There’s something else,” Brian added, “but I don’t know if you’d be interested. When I was in college I was always strapped for cash, and we’re a little crazy around here this time of year. I was wondering if you’d maybe like to intern at the office a few hours a week. We need someone to hang out and answer the phones and do some filing. It’s nothing intense, but I’d be so much happier with someone I trust here. You understand music way better than some random temp would.”

Brendon’s day was right back up to top ten ever. “What? Really? Are you for serious? Because that would be – Brian, that’s awesome, I would love that, if you really mean it, which, do you?” When Brendon got excited he had this problem where all of his sentences collapsed together and made no sense. Unfortunately, recognizing that wasn’t the same as being able to stop it. “I could hang out here and get paid for it? Are you shitting me?” Then his brain caught up with his mouth and he realized that meant he was going to have to spend time in the same place as Ryan Ross, who, presumably, thought he was both insane and an idiot.

“Oh, good,” Brian said, looking relieved. “I’m psyched you’re interested.”

No I’m not! Brendon wanted to say, but he totally was. Music theory classes were great, and god knew he loved the vocal classes and the band rehearsals and all the other amazing stuff he got to do at school. But it wasn’t hanging out with bands. It wasn’t hard core.

“Maybe you can come by a couple of afternoons a week? I know you have rehearsals and stuff, but you can do homework here if you want. We just need someone to hang out, basically. We’re so swamped.” Brian did look pretty exhausted.

There was a blood-curdling scream down the hall. Brendon sat up really quickly, but Brian didn’t look worried.

Ryan stuck his head in to Brian’s office. He was still beautiful, unfortunately. Maybe if Brendon waited long enough, Ryan would fall in to a vat of acid, and Brendon could stop staring. “Gabe wants you,” Ryan said without inflection, and vanished again. Brian rolled his eyes.

“Um,” said Brendon, “is that going to happen a lot if I’m working here? The screaming?”

Brian shrugged. “It’s just Gabe,” he said. “He screams sometimes. Other times he sings. We mostly ignore him.”

Gabe – who was maybe being tortured? Or was an opera singer? – screamed again. Brendon clutched the arms of his chair a little bit. “Oh,” he said.

“Listen, I should go check on him. You’re still coming by this Friday, right?”

Brendon thought about Brian’s offer again. If he came by, the kids were going to ask if he was coming for Thanksgiving. And Brendon was really shitty at lying to them, way worse than he was at lying to Brian. Mikey in particular just had to look at him and stick his lower lip out and Brendon completely forgot what he was planning to say. It would be better not to come by until Thanksgiving was over and he could avoid the questions all together.

But not showing up on Friday would mean a sad phone call from Mikey. Not angry – Mikey only ever got angry at Gerard. Just sad. Mikey’s sad voice made Brendon want to jump off a cliff from guilt. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be there.”

“Thank god. Gerard wants to talk to you about his solo for the concert. I keep offering, but he says I don’t understand.” Brian made a face. “I pointed out that I listen to people sing for a living, and then Gerard said I was ‘too old to get it,’ at which point I decided to leave. I am seriously not that old, right?” He looked at Brendon, hiding his worry really badly.

Brendon was twenty, barely, so pretty much anyone old enough to drink was old to him. But he said loyally “No, you’re way young. You’re like, not thirty yet, right?”

Brian grimaced. “Almost,” he said.

Well, then he was totally old. Brendon wasn’t going to say that, though. He had that much self-control. “Thirty years young,” Brendon said grandly.

“Ugh,” said Brian. “Now I feel worse. I’ll see you Friday,” he said. “And really, Brendon, if you’re around for the break— ”

“Ha ha, yeah, too bad about that, huh?” Brendon said, standing up hastily and grabbing his bag. He was only a decent liar for really short periods of time, and he was pretty sure Brian was already suspicious. “Tell Mikey I’ll be by, okay? And I’ll talk to Gerard. Okay, thanks, bye!”

Brendon fled before he could manage to knock Ryan Ross out a window or anything.

\ \ \ \

Brendon fumbled his dorm door open, dropped his bag on the floor and threw himself on the bed. Brendon’s roommate was this kid named Andrew who he only sort of knew, and Brendon really hoped he wouldn’t be coming home any time soon. Brendon got very few minutes to himself, for a guy who’d been feeling kind of lonely lately.

It was a giant cliché, right? Brendon had considered writing a song called “I’m all alone in the middle of a giant crowd,” and then realized that pretty much every emo song in the world was about that, and if you weren’t Morrisey you might as well not bother. He’d thrown the whole thing away. Being morose and mopey wasn’t part of the grand scheme to be a grownup, and then eventually somehow a rock star.

Sophomore year was really sucking so far. There were good parts, of course; Brendon knew where stuff was on campus. He knew which cafeterias were open late, he knew which buildings all his classes and rehearsals were in, and he knew exactly how many minutes before his first class he needed to roll out of bed to show up in his pajamas. That was nice. Brendon was a morning person, but he didn’t want to get to class early or anything.

But then, there was lots and lots of stuff that sucked really hard. For example, most of his friends from freshman year had turned out not to really be such great friends after all. Somehow staying up all night and talking about SAT scores had made them all feel like they were going to be BFF, but then when it was time to figure out housing for sophomore year Brendon had ended up totally on his own, rooming with this guy Andrew he’d only met once or twice in music theory class. Brendon didn’t have anyone to talk to, and it was killing him inch by inch. There were a few people he knew from band and chorus and choir and orchestra and classes, but mostly in a “Hey, can I copy your notes?” kind of way. Not so much a “Hi, I need to bare my increasingly unhappy soul to you,” way.

In fact, the only person on the whole fucking east coast Brendon felt like might care enough to listen was Brian, and Brendon wasn’t about to bring all this shit up with him. Brian was his employer, which was bad enough. Brian was the man who might someday help Brendon become a rock star, which was a second problem. Brian was also a guy who’d just adopted two kids and was therefore sort of busy with his own problems. Plus, Brendon was a little worried that if Brian found out just how fucked in the head Brendon had been feeling lately, he wouldn’t want Brendon around his family anymore. And Brendon was pretty sure he’d cry like a girl if he didn’t get to hang out with Gerard and Mikey.

Brendon sighed dramatically. His best friends in the world, at the moment, were twelve and fourteen. He considered feeling suicidal for just a second.

Not really, though. Brendon had thought for a really long time before he’d left home and decided to go to college in Philly rather than going to BYU or off on mission. He loved school. He loved music. He loved playing and learning and being out and meeting new people who didn’t want to just talk about church all the time. Brendon was out doing exactly what he’d always wished for. He was living, eating, and breathing music. It wasn’t a band yet or anything, but that was okay; Brendon’s voice was still kind of shitty and he didn’t know how to play every instrument in the whole world yet. Brendon had time to get himself better – more grown up, even – before graduation.

Meanwhile he’d been stalking some of the cooler kids in his music classes . Brendon figured most kids who wanted to start bands weren’t in college they were off… Well, starting bands. But if Brendon needed a launching platform, maybe someone else did, too. And if they did, and if they were cool, then Brendon was going to find them.

‘Cool,’ in this case, clearly had a very specific meaning. Possibly Spencer Smith fit in this category, although for all Brendon knew he was tone deaf and only listened to Bach. Ryan Ross definitely fit in this category, and he worked with bands. Brendon wasn’t totally sure he could have a conversation with Ryan, because looking at him was a little bit like squinting at the sun. Oh god, what if Ryan didn’t like the same music Brendon did?

He also had to take in to consideration the tiny little snag that at the moment, both Spencer and Ryan violently disliked Brendon.

The door to his double banged open and there was Andrew. Andrew wasn’t a music major, he was an American Studies major, which meant they barely ever saw each other and never had anything to talk about. Andrew usually had a giant posse of people with him everywhere he went, and he was a little bit of an asshole, but he had decided last minute he didn’t want to live with any of his friends – “They’re way too intense, man, you know?” – and ended up with Brendon. He left stuff all over the floor but never anything super gross like used condoms or take-out boxes, and he played music way too loudly for Brendon to study but about half the time he slept somewhere else. That was about all Brendon could ask for in an accidental roommate.

“Yo!” said Andrew. He was, for once, alone. “What’s happening, my man?”

Brendon was not anybody’s man. “Nothing,” he said, sitting up. “What’s up with you?”

“Yo, Terry is having the party tonight. Last chance to get wasted with my buds before we jet home for the holidays, you know? You should come!”

Brendon had gone to two whole parties in his college career, and they hadn’t been rousing successes. “Who’s Terry?” Brendon asked.

Andrew shrugged. “Uh, some guy. He lives in Fisher Hall, I think, but the party’s gonna be at his girlfriend’s house and she’s off campus and a senior, dude, so there will be so much alcohol you can’t even believe. Hot boxing and kegs and those shots in test tubes, and this is gonna be the shit, dude. You should come!”

“Maybe,” said Brendon. The idea of going to a party so sketchy that even Andrew didn’t really know the guy throwing it was a little worrisome. Or maybe it was awesome. Maybe Brendon needed to change things up a little and stop feeling sorry for himself all the time.

“Oh, shit,” said Andrew, sitting down. “You’re like, a Mormon, right? You guys don’t drink. Was I just totally rude?”

The thing about Andrew was, he was a total asshole, but in a nice way. Brendon grimaced. “My family is Mormon,” he said. “I’m… Not so much anymore. I drink and stuff.” Barely ever, and not that much, but Andrew didn’t need to know that.

Andrew considered that for a minute. “Right,” he said, “Okay. Oh shit, dude, did they kick you out because you’re gay?”

Brendon groaned and flopped back on the bed again, pulling his pillow over his head. “I thought you said you didn’t care and we were never going to talk about this,” he said.

“Well, I don’t care. You never hit on me, so, whatever, dude. But I never put that together before. Your parents totally kicked you out, right? When you came out? That’s so heavy. Dude, you need a drink? I got beer in the mini-fridge.”

Brendon’s parents hadn’t kicked him out for being gay. He’d left way before that had a chance to happen. He was pretty sure a couple of his siblings had figured it out, but they’d never said anything and his parents hadn’t asked. It was a good system... Right up until the part where Brendon had said, “No, I’m going to college in Philadelphia because I have a scholarship, and I care about that more staying in the Church.” Right up until his mom had started to cry. Right up until his dad had pressed his lips together super tightly and the house had gone silent and Brendon’s brother had stormed out of the room.

The gay thing, though, would have been the frosting on that particular nuclear cake.

“Man, it must be tough at Christmas,” Andrew mused.

“I’ll take a beer, sure,” said Brendon through the pillow. Things Not To Talk About Ever Again: telling his parents he was gay, followed closely by Why It Sucks That It’s Almost Christmas. The first one wasn’t much of a worry at the moment, because he hadn’t spoken to his family in a year and a half and was probably never going to speak to them again. Brendon wasn’t much of a partier at all, and he’d never really considered drinking as a way to drown out all the voices that were haunting him this time of year. But maybe new-and-improved grown up Brendon drank beer when he got homesick. Maybe a sketchy party would be perfect.

“You got it, dude,” said Andrew. A beer landed on Brendon’s stomach, startling him. He sat up again. “I’m just saying, this party is going to be legendary. You should come.”

“Maybe,” Brendon said. He opened the beer and looked at it speculatively.

“Legendary,” said Andrew again.

Right. Legendary. Brendon needed something legendary to get him through the next few weeks. “I’ll go,” he agreed. Andrew cheered and smashed a beer can against his forehead.

/ / / / /

The party was awesome. Well, it was loud, and there were tons of people, almost none of whom Brendon knew, and there was alcohol everywhere. Brendon had been really religious in high school, and he’d never gone to a house party or gotten wasted or even had a beer. That meant that now it took virtually no time at all for Brendon to get trashed. He was a cheap date, apparently, and he’d decided not to be ashamed of it.

The only person he knew at the party was Andrew, and Brendon didn’t want to hang out with Andrew. He’d had a long, rotten day, and a long, rotten part of the year was coming up, and he wanted to drink and then crawl in to bed and sleep for a week. That was what people did, right? He got a beer from the girl at the door, and then a mixed drink from a guy in the kitchen who was staring a little too hard at Brendon’s ass, and then everything got a little crazy, but Brendon had a full cup in his hand every time he looked down, so he kept drinking.

Parties in high school had tended to be a lot of kids sitting around and witnessing to each other. No coffee, no caffeinated soda, no smoking, no swearing, definitely no sex. This type of party was pretty new to Brendon – he’d been to one or two freshman year – but he thought he might be getting the hang of them. Brendon had been born without “shy” in his genes anywhere, and he was perfectly happy butting in to any conversation or bursting in to song with total strangers. It was easier, actually, than with people he knew. Brendon wasn’t trying to impress anyone, he just wanted to have a good time.

Brendon was really having a good time. He was pretty sure all the times he’d thought he was having a good time, back in high school, hadn’t actually been fun at all, compared to what he could do with Britney Spears playing on someone’s stereo, a shot in one hand, and a room full of people to impress. Brendon was a great shimmier. Nearly as good as Britney, in his own humble opinion. How the kids back in Nevada hadn’t realized he was gay, Brendon had no idea.

He finished lip syncing and found, to his astonishment, that his plastic cup was full of beer again. Someone was refilling him when he wasn’t paying attention. Awesome. Brendon flopped in to a bean-bag chair and accidentally got a lungful of pot from the kid sitting next to him. It made him cough, and beer went everywhere, which struck Brendon as really hilarious. He sank down in the chair and let his eyes sink closed a little bit. The room was spinning and loud and hot and this had been a totally amazing idea. He was going to have to remember to thank Andrew. If he ever stood up again. Brendon wasn’t really planning to ever stand up again.

His phone buzzed in his pocket against his thigh. Brendon jumped, as much as he could, since he was feeling pretty boneless and lightheaded. Brendon dug his phone out of his jeans and sipped his beer so it wouldn’t spill all over him. The display said ‘SPENCER,’ and it took Brendon a minute to remember that he even knew anyone named Spencer.

“Hey!” said Brendon cheerfully. “I was hoping we were going to be friends!” Okay, possibly he was a little drunk.

Spencer sounded bitchy. Brendon wasn’t totally surprised. “You took my notebook,” he said. “I need it. I have a test tomorrow. I’ve been trying to reach you all night.”

“Oh,” said Brendon. “I can – I can give it to you tomorrow. I’m out right now. My stuff is – No, wait, I totally have my bag with me! It’s over… Where is my bag? Has anyone seen my bag?” He’d put it down by the door when he walked in, and the door was somewhere. Brendon could probably find it. He just had to remember how to stand up first.

“Oh my god,” said Spencer. “Are you drunk? Where are you right now?”

“I’m at someone’s house,” Brendon said.

Spencer waited. “Okay,” he said finally. “Whose house?”

“Uh.” Point of interest, Brendon wasn’t sure. And someone was taking the beer out of his hand that had somehow gotten emptied, kindly replacing it with a full one. “Andrew’s friend’s girlfriend, I think,” he said, wracking his brain.

“What the fuck,” said Spencer. “Who the fuck is that? Where are you? I need my notebook.”

Brendon wanted to help him out, he really did, but he had no idea at all where he was, and the room was spinning again. “Um,” he said, putting the phone down. “Does anyone know where we are?”

Andrew appeared like magic in front of him. “Dude!” he crowed. “You are so wasted!”

“No I’m not,” said Brendon. He was only kind of wasted. Surely he’d been more wasted-er than this some other time in his life. He just couldn’t remember it.

“You are,” said Andrew, delighted. “Give me the phone.” He snatched it out of Brendon’s hand super fast. Or maybe Brendon was blinking a lot more slowly than normal. Andrew was inviting someone to the party, rattling off an address and laughing. He handed Brendon back his phone, but whoever it was had hung up. Had Brendon been talking to someone? It was all a blur. “Definitely a shitty Mormon,” said Andrew. “Totally gay and drunk.”

Something about that made Brendon sad, but he couldn’t totally remember what, and then David Bowie came on the stereo. “Oh my god,” Brendon said, jumping to his feet. Well, attempting to jump his feet, overbalancing, and falling on Andrew, who just laughed. “Ground control to Major Tom. I love this song!” Andrew helped him back upright. “Come dance with me, dude! This song is awesome.”

“I don’t dance with drunk gay dudes,” Andrew said. “Go have fun.”

Brendon intended to. He had watched Velvet Goldmine probably a hundred times, and he did a killer Bowie. So killer, in fact, that people were already cheering. Brendon decided he didn’t actually need real friends, as long as he had parties to go to and rooms full of cheering drunk people listening to him sing.

After Bowie was Queen, who Brendon also loved, and after Queen was the Backstreet Boys, who were totally Brendon’s first concert-going experience, and after Backstreet he had another beer and things got hazy. There was some dancing, and Brendon was fairly sure he was grinding on someone, but he wasn’t entirely certain who, or even what gender that person was. There was some more pot smoking, for sure, on purpose this time and everything. Well, Brendon got passed a joint and he took a couple of puffs. He was fucking hard core. He didn’t cough this time or anything. And there was another drink, but Brendon didn’t even really taste it before it vanished. People were moving in and out of the room in weird blinky slow-fast-slow motion, and Brendon was starting to hear everyone in the background like a low, roaring noise. It was crazy.

“Oh my god.”

Someone had their hand on Brendon’s arm. He blinked at it for a minute. Huh. Round hand, kind of round arm. Round. Round was a funny word. Rouuuuuund.

“Brendon, stop saying ‘round.’”

“I said that out loud?” Brendon asked. He looked up. There was someone glaring at him through really girly bangs. The room dipped and spun. Brendon’s stomach didn’t like that at all. Maybe he had danced too much. Was that even possible?

“—my notebook!”

What? Someone was talking to him. Brendon blinked a couple of times. “What?” he said.

The bangs in front of him frowned. “Where is your bag, Brendon? I want my notebook!”

Brendon looked down. Both his hands were empty. He held them up for inspection. “I don’t have a bag,” he said tragically. “I don’t even have a beer. I think I had a beer. Where did my beer go?” He looked around.

The hand on his arm dragged him back. “You don’t need another beer. You need to find my bag. I have a fucking test tomorrow!”

Smith. Someone was named Smith. “Are you named Smith?” Brendon asked. “I don’t have a bag.” His stomach lurched and twisted and Brendon sank down on to the carpet. He dragged someone with him.

“Oh my god. I can’t believe you’re my partner. You are so fucked up!”

“No,” said Brendon. He wanted to explain that his outer fucked-up-ness really just represented his inner fucked-up-ness, and he’d only come to the party because he’d spent the last week constantly feeling like he was about to cry. But none of that made its way from his brain to his mouth; he really just wanted to lie down. The floor was right there. Maybe if he laid down and closed his eyes his stomach would settle. “I’m lonely.”

There was a disbelieving snort. “You have to get back up, asshole. You have to tell me where my bag is.”

Brendon’s stomach abruptly decided he’d had too much to drink. “Fuck,” said Brendon, and then he was throwing up all over his knees and someone else’s shoes and his stomach still felt awful and the room was spinning and his head hurt and people were dragging him to his feet but he couldn’t keep his eyes open and people were yelling and that…

That was pretty much the end of his night.

\ \ \ \

Despite a wicked hangover, Brendon went to Brian’s office after class on Thursday. Orchestra rehearsal had been awful; every time the timpani kicked in Brendon was sure he was going to die. He’d never, ever had a headache this bad, and every time he moved he felt like throwing up.

Brendon was never going to another party, he decided, pulling his hood up over his head and sinking in to the chair Brian had given him behind the reception desk. Even the magical power of his lucky purple hoodie wasn’t making him feel any better. It was a miracle he’d woken up near his own bed. Not in it, near it. Andrew had apparently dragged him home – “A dead roommate means straight A’s, but who needs the hassle?” the note on the mini-fridge said – and dumped him on the floor. The last thing Brendon remembered clearly was dancing to Britney Spears, and everything after that was just images without motion and the vague idea he’d thrown up at some point. He wished he’d thrown up more. Or had more water. Or drunk less. Or just not gone to the party.

He was really, honestly, never going to another party as long as he lived.

The phone rang, shattering Brendon’s head in to a million pieces. He moaned. His hoodie was apparently no protection against the murderous power of the phone.

“Cobra Starship Management,” Brendon mumbled in to the receiver. Brian was going to fire him, and he didn’t care. Brendon just wanted a million Aspirin and a nap.

A totally stoned voice on the phone said, “Hey, uh, there’s some kind of issue with the venue tonight. Like, they don’t have any of our equipment, which was in another van, and we don’t know where it is right now. And they can’t find it, and we can’t play without our drums and guitars and shit.”

All the instructions Brian had given were, “Answer the phone.” Brendon stared at it for a second. “Okay,” he said finally, “hang on.” He put the phone down on the desk – no one had told him if there was a hold button, or a transfer button or anything – and forced himself to stand up. Every inch of his body groaned with unhappiness.

Brian, of course, wasn’t in his office. There were a bunch of other empty rooms that just had filing cabinets and folders all over the floor. It felt like the company hadn’t really properly moved in yet. The hallway abruptly tipped a little to the side. Brendon braced himself against the wall. He was never touching alcohol again. He would have to find a way to up his coolness quotient without drinking, because just the thought of a drink made his stomach lurch and his knees buckle.

The third office down the hall had someone at the desk – Brendon was hoping for the mysterious and loud Gabe, but instead it was Ryan Ross. He was wearing a newsboy cap and a ruffly scarf, which was odd, since it was so hot in the office that Brendon was sweating. Unless that was part of the hangover. Maybe the fact that it looked like Ross had painted a rainbow across his cheek was part of the hangover. Was Brendon still tipsy?

“Uh,” said Brendon, trying for a big smile and failing halfway there. Even his face hurt. “There’s someone on the phone.”

Ryan looked up like a robot. “Don’t you answer the phone?” he asked, in a devastating monotone.

“I did,” Brendon said. “I answered, but no one told me what to do next.”

“Talk,” said Ryan. “That usually works.”

Brendon had thought he was as miserable as a human being could possibly get, but it turned out a little bit of humiliation could make his afternoon even worse. “Thanks,” he said, “I’ll try that next time.” He rolled his eyes. It made his head ache. “They need to talk to someone who knows what the hell is going on, which I don’t. I mean, I’m happy to just make shit up. But I don’t think that’s going to get you very far. ‘Sure, guys, no problem; your drums will be there in an hour! I’ll send them on my transporter beam!’” Brendon mimed talking into a phone. “Sounds good, right? They’ll totally believe that.”

The most unbelievable thing happened; Ross cracked a tiny smile. He immediately looked down, like he was hiding it from Brendon, but it was too late. Brendon had seen it. His heart soared, and other stupid fucking clichés. His hangover definitely receded a little bit, too. Brendon had made the prettiest boy in the whole world smile. It was all he could do not to pump his fist triumphantly. Ryan was funny, and he thought Brendon was funny. That was definitely a first step to… Well. Something.

“Transfer them to my phone,” said Ryan.

“Sure,” Brendon agreed, smiling pretty widely. “Just as soon as you tell me how.”

“Why did Brian hire you?” Ryan asked, but not in a super mean way. “Star eight.”

For a second, Brendon had no idea what that meant. “To transfer?” he asked.

Ryan nodded. “You can handle that, right?”

Brendon nodded brightly, then wished he hadn’t. “I’m on it!” he announced, and went back to the desk. He punched star eight and waited.

“Got it!” yelled Ryan. Brendon got a little thrill. He hadn’t exactly figured out a perpetual motion machine, but he done something right for Ryan. His day was getting better.

It was almost half an hour later when Ryan wandered back out to the front desk. He was with the tallest person Brendon had ever seen. Brendon was pretty pocket-sized, his mom liked to say, but this guy would have been tall no matter what. He had dark, curly hair and he was yelling at someone in Spanish on the phone.

“Gabe,” Ryan said, tilting his head and shoving his hands in his pockets.

Brendon nodded. Gabe was killing his head, which he’d kind of expected.

“—And you can go fuck yourself right in your fucking ear—” Gabe yelled, and then switched back to Spanish. Brendon had taken a few years of Spanish in high school, but all he could make out were some swear words and an occasional conjugation of “estar.” Ryan wasn’t listening, he was staring off into space and tracing a pattern with his finger on the desk. He had really nice hands, Brendon couldn’t help noticing. He wanted to know everything about Ryan Ross; why did he wear so many scarves? Why did he paint his face? Why did he work for Brian? What were his hopes and dreams? Did he date boys? There were so many pressing questions.

Gabe slammed his phone shut and turned accusingly on Brendon. “If Travis calls back tell him I’m dead because he killed me, got it?” he said.

Brendon nodded. He didn’t argue with people who were clearly insane.

“Right. I’m going to go get coffee. Who wants?” Gabe demanded. Brendon opened his mouth to say he’d kill for a coffee, but Gabe abruptly turned and stormed out of the office.

“Um,” said Brendon. “What was that?”

“That’s Gabe,” Ryan shrugged. “He’s like. Weird.”

Said the guy with a rainbow painted on his cheek. Brendon was pretty sure that wasn’t a hangover-induced hallucination, because it was still there. “He’s not going to kill anyone, is he? He seems kind of wound up.”

Ryan smiled again, just the tiniest little hint of a smile. It made Brendon’s fingers tingle. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean, he hasn’t killed anyone so far, and I’ve known him for like, a year.”

“Pfffft,” said Brendon dismissively. “He could be killing them and hiding the bodies in a basement or something. You don’t know.”

“He does talk about his basement a lot,” Ryan agreed. “I’ll let Brian know to keep an eye out.”

Brendon cracked up at that, even though laughing made his head hurt. A lot. Again. Some more. “He bitches about Gabe sometimes,” he said. “I’ve heard some stories. I thought they were exaggerations.”

Ryan shook his head. “Nah, that’s just Gabe. He’s kind of… Remarkable.” He squinted at Brendon for a second, tilting his head. Brendon felt hot all over, and tried to sink a little further in to his hoodie. “You’re pretty hungover, huh?”

Brendon’s face went red. “It’s that obvious?”

“You wince every time there’s a noise. Plus, your eyes are really red and you look like you’re going to throw up.”

That was probably not the way to impress the boy of his dreams. Brendon fidgeted a little bit. “It’s the very, very last time I’m ever going to drink, if that helps,” he said.

Ryan got a weird look on his face that Brendon couldn’t figure out at all. “Lots of people say that,” he sighed. “You want some water?”

“Desperately,” Brendon said. “Do you guys have a water cooler or something?”

“Well, we have a sink,” Ryan said. The words were kind of mean, but it didn’t sound mean. “I’ll show you.”

Brendon followed Ryan back and around to the kitchen. There were mugs, a microwave, a box of tea, and a fridge with “ALL THIS SHIT IS GABE’S SO STAY THE FUCK OUT” scrawled across it in Sharpie. Ryan got a mug and squinted at it for a second. “This one is less dirty,” he said. “I can rinse it out for you. We don’t have soap or anything, but I don’t think anyone’s dying of a really horrible disease, either.”

“Good enough for me,” Brendon chirped. He reached for the mug just as Ryan was handing it to him, and their hands got all confused and Brendon sort of grabbed Ryan’s hand instead of the handle by total accident.

Okay, by mostly accident. Ryan’s hands were soft and warm and Brendon was a giant girl who was excited to know what Ryan’s hands felt like. “Ha ha,” he laughed awkwardly, reaching around Ryan’s hand to take the mug. “Sorry.”

Just a ghost of a smile flickered across Ryan’s face. “Yeah?” he said, handing the mug over. “Huh.” He leaned back against the counter and folded his arms while Brendon filled the mug up with rusty-looking tap water and chugged it. It was amazing how thirsty Brendon was, once he had access to water. Plus, the way Ryan was watching him was making him feel hot again. “So you’re pretty tight with Brian,” Ryan said after a minute.

Brendon wasn’t sure what kind of question that was. Did Ryan think Brendon had gotten hired as total favoritism? Because he had, but he was willing to still prove himself and do work and stuff. “I guess so,” he said. “I baby sit for him.” That reminded him of the disaster the first time he’d talked to Ryan, and he wished he hadn’t said anything.

“For his kids, yeah. Aren’t they a little old to need a baby sitter?”

“Well,” Brendon hesitated. He had no idea how much of Gerard and Mikey’s history Brian would have told people he worked with. “Gerard is, I guess, but Mikey’s not. And they’re a package deal. Plus, I’m not really baby sitting so much as hanging out. I taught them to play guitar and stuff over the summer. Okay, I taught Mikey. Gerard got discouraged really quickly.”

“You play guitar?” Ryan asked.

Brendon wanted desperately to impress him, and just as desperately not to sound… Well. Desperate. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m a music major, but I’m really all about guitars and vocals. I’m going to start a band.” Did that sound stupid? Did he sound like a bragging kid? How old was Ryan, anyway?

“Most bands don’t have members who can actually play anything,” Ryan said. “At least, not the ones I work with. That’s cool.”

He was cool. Brendon was ecstatic. He tried to keep it off his face, but it was impossible; the grin just exploded out of him. He managed not to bounce up and down, at least. “Ha ha ha, yeah, I’ve written some songs and shit, but I kind of need the rest of the band before I can actually play them. Plus, no lyrics.” He pouted.

Ryan shrugged “I write lyrics sometimes. It’s sort of like therapy for me.”

Brendon’s heart stopped dead. “For… For serious? You’re not just fucking with me?” he stuttered. It wasn’t actually possible that Ryan was this perfect. He was gorgeous and funny and nice – although also mean sometimes – and he liked music and he wrote lyrics. There was no way he was real. So far the only flaws Brendon had found were the monotone voice and the weird hats. Brendon would wear a fucking bird on his head if it would make Ryan smile.

“I don’t think I know you well enough for that,” Ryan teased. Honest to god teased.

Brendon bounced. “But you should. Oh my god, this is so amazing! We could – ” and then he stopped, because Ryan hadn’t volunteered to write lyrics for Brendon or anything, he’d just said that he wrote them. Plus, Brendon was working on being cool and a grown up and not freaking out at people all the time. “I mean. If you wanted. Sometime. Could I look at them? If… I mean. If it was cool with you.” He tried to lean back against the counter and look cool, but his hands were shaking a little bit.

Ryan looked down. “I don’t usually show them to anyone,” he said.

Brendon’s stomach dropped. It was to be expected, he told himself firmly. He’d met the guy twice, and the first time had been excruciatingly awful. He kept the grin plastered in place, though. “Right, that’s cool,” he said firmly.

“But uh. Maybe. Sometime. Sure,” Ryan said. He looked back up and offered Brendon a shy little smile.

Was that flirting? Holy shit. Brendon was right back on cloud nine. “Awesome,” he said, because he couldn’t think of any other words. “Awesome. That’s… That’s awesome. Awesome!” He was grinning like a lunatic, but it was okay, because Ryan was smiling back, and Brendon was going to get down a knee and propose marriage to Ryan because things were just that awesome.

Ryan swallowed a laugh. “I’m gonna get back to work,” he said. “But I’ll... I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah,” said Brendon. Ryan waved a little and walked out. “Right. Around. I’ll see you!” Brendon hollered, and then smacked himself in the forehead. Why was he so incapable of pretending to be cool for more than a minute or two? He went back to the front desk and sat down, rewinding the conversation over and over for himself. Had he been too desperately eager? Had he been flirting successfully? Had Ryan flirted back? Was Ryan serious about showing Brendon lyrics sometime? Because if that really happened, it was possible Brendon would explode from happiness.

He was halfway through the eighth run through when Gabe came back in. He put a coffee down on the counter in front of Brendon. “You!” Gabe said. “You’re that guy.”

“Er,” said Brendon. “I am?”

Gabe leaned down and waggled his eyebrows at Brendon. It was hilarious. Plus, he had to pretty much bend himself in half to look Brendon in the eye. “You hang out with Brian’s kids, right?” he said.

“Yeah,” Brendon said.

“So, that’s for real? I mean, really real? Because I kind of thought the dude had lost his mind, you know? But I guess it wasn’t the drugs or a hallucination or whatever. He really has kids? Brian Schechter? For real?”

“Two of them,” Brendon said, holding up two fingers to demonstrate. Gabe was the weirdest person ever, which made Brendon feel a little better about himself. Surely if Ryan were used to Gabe he’d think Brendon was normal.

“Huh,” said Gabe. “Here. Coffee. Caffeine is good for hangovers.” He winked and shoved the coffee at Brendon, who took it hesitantly because he wasn’t sure it was safe to drink. “Next time you get to go. You’re the intern and shit. Rock on!” He waved and wandered in to the back.

Brendon was an intern suddenly? Weird. Weird, but also awesome. Brendon was so high on life he barely even felt his hangover anymore. He grinned to himself and bounced in the rolling chair for a minute, then rewound the conversation with Ryan again. That had totally been flirting. It had definitely, absolutely, totally been flirting. At least, Brendon hoped so.