Gerard falls down and chokes on his own vomit just outside Tulsa. Frank puts him in the recovery position right in the middle of the parking lot. Gerard’s dropped his bottle of Jack in a bush a few feet back but Frank leaves it and sits on the curb while he watches Gerard shiver onto the tarmac. He’s conscious, probably just crashing, and Frank keeps one eye on him while trying to breathe through his own fear.
His phone buzzes in his pocket and the text reads seriously, sometimes? Fuck touring. It’s from Spencer, who always spells everything all the way out in his texts.
Frank listens to Gerard dry retch and his fingers itch to hold Gerard’s hair back, pet his face and hold him but Gerard doesn’t like it if you get too close when he’s vomiting.
Read my mind, man he types back.
Spencer doesn’t pick up his phone or answer his texts for three days. Frank’s started to think seriously about how weird it would be to try and go through the labels to get in touch with him when he gets a single three word text:
Ryan’s dad died. It says.
I’m sorry. Frank texts back. Call me if you want to talk?
When his phone starts to buzz, Frank picks up on the first ring.
“I’m not sad he’s gone.” Spencer says, before Frank can even say hello. He sounds angry, upset and a little defensive. “I’m not sad he’s gone. Is that wrong? He died and I’m not sad.”
“Everyone grieves differently,” Frank says, feeling older than Spencer for the first time.
There’s a rustling, like Spencer shaking his head.
“I’m not grieving,” He says fiercely. “He wasn’t a good dad. Ryan deserved better.” He sounds tired. His voice is worn, as if he hasn't slept recently. “I feel like a bad person, for saying that, but he wasn’t a good dad. I think, I think I’m supposed to think up nice things, to say to Ryan, about his dad, but, but I can’t.”
Frank sighs. Spencer's not that much younger than him, not enough that Frank's always aware of it, but Frank knows what it is to lose someone, to watch your friends lose someone.
“The dead aren’t perfect,” Frank says quietly, after a long moment. “We pretend they are, because we all want our memory to be a good one. But they’re not perfect,”
There’s the sound of sniffing, like maybe Spencer’s crying. Frank feels very tired and very old. He suspects Spencer does too.
“Thanks,” Spencer says waterily. Frank blinks and rubs at his forehead, stares at the bottom of the bunk above him. He can hear the guys sleeping in the other bunks, Mikey's quiet wheezy snore.
“Any time, man, any time,” Frank says, and means it.
Tour is the most fucking draining thing in the world and while Frank loves it, he also loves his bed.
I love my bed he texts Spencer, and then promptly falls asleep, shoes still on.
His phone buzzing wakes him up four hours later.
Fuck you it says. You know I'm still on tour!! ):
HahahaHA Frank texts shamelessly, toeing his shoes off and stretching out as much as he can. He has a whole week before they start practicing again and he's going to spend the whole time sleeping, eating, showering and jerking off. He's going to hang out with his dogs and tell his mother he loves her and eat a lot of spaghetti. It's going to be so great.
you are a terrible friend Spencer texts but doesn’t mean it, never means it.
Spencer sends him emails full of pictures taken on a DSLR, wide-angled shots of instruments and European buildings. He’s got an eye for a good landscape and an appreciation for the fish-eye lens that Frank can relate to. Some are labelled "Brendon took these" and they're blurry shots of Spencer, the side of his jaw and the cell phone pressed against his ear or an extreme close up of his thumbs hovering over a text.
Frank meets Spencer once, at some industry party that the band puts in an appearance at during a split-second break from tour. Frank has time to kiss his mother, swap his dirty laundry for clean laundry, swap Gerard’s dirty laundry for clean laundry because Frank’s boyfriend is a nasty motherfucker, and then he has to wear a nice shirt to some party in LA.
This band dude with a beard and some weird flowery motif going on pushes past Gerard and shouts “Frank!” before passing him a beer. He looks familiar but Frank can’t place him until some kid with black hair shouts “Spencer! Spencer Smith! Get back here, someone gave me jello shots!” across the room. The dude looks over his shoulder and shouts “fuck you, Brendon, do not do any fucking jello shots. I am not cleaning up after that again!”
“Spencer Smith, it is fucking awesome to see you,” Frank says and reaches out to shake Spencer’s hand.
“Fuck that!” Spencer says, laughing, and pulls Frank into a hug.
It’s not a hug like Frank’s used to. Frank’s band likes to hold on too tightly and until they hooked up, hugs with Gerard always contained a little fission of excitement. Spencer hugs like a dude, with back-slapping and the scrape of a bead against Frank’s neck.
“It is so fucking good to see you, man” Spencer says, “You have got to come meet my band.”
Frank wakes up to the sound of the house phone ringing. The clock blinks at him slowly, taunting him with its 4am. The phone, finally, stops ringing and Frank groans, rolling over to press his face into Gerard’s shoulder.
“What was that Frankie?” Gerard mumbles sleepily.
“Nothing babe, go back to sleep” Frank says, slightly muffled by the skin of Gerard’s shoulder. Gerard hums and, just as his breathing is beginning to even out, Frank’s cell begins to vibrate on the bed side table.
Frank groans and rolls over, grabbing the phone. Who the fuck is calling him at 4am? He touches his thumb to “accept call” and presses the phone against his ear.
“Whaa” he says, eloquently.
There’s the sudden sound of gasping breaths, heavy with impending tears. Frank’s hit with the sudden hard feeling of terror and déjà vu, but Gerard’s sleeping beside him, not drinking himself to death somewhere unknown and calling Frank to cry.
“Hello?” Frank says quickly, sitting up. “Who is this?”
“Hey,” Spencer says shakily and then half-sobs again. “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t know who else to call.”
Frank stands and he’s already reaching for a shirt and trying to remember where he left his pants.
“Spence? No, don’t worry. What’s going on? Where are you? I’m in LA, I can come get you.”
It takes Spencer a moment to catch his breath and Frank aches, aches for this kid he’s only met once but who was there when Gerard was trying to die, there when Frank needed someone.
“My band,” Spencer manages. “My band is breaking up.” His voice is hoarse and uneven, like he’s been crying or trying not to cry for a while. “Ryan and Jon, they decided they wanted to write other stuff, to be someone else. We knew it was coming, it’s been coming for a long time but oh my god, I grew up with him.” There’s a sound of movement, like Spencer’s bent double with the sudden realisation. Frank met the Ross kid at party. He remembers liking him, in the way you like strange, interesting people you meet at parties but never intend to be friends with. He could quite happily punch him in the face.
“Spencer, where are you? Is there someone with you?” Frank asks, pulling on a shirt. He no longer cares if he wakes Gerard up.
Spencer laughs shakily. Frank doesn’t like how it sounds.
“I’m in the Target parking lot. I told Brendon I was going to get groceries.”
Frank pauses, shocked for a moment, and then pulls on his pants and his socks as fast as he can. He doesn’t like the sound of Spencer sitting alone in a parking lot, crying. It’s too familiar.
“Spence, are you going to be okay till I get there?” He says, grabbing a hoodie and his keys. He knows where the closest Target to Spencer and Brendon’s condo is. He’ll start there. Spencer’s breaths are jerky and laboured.
“Yeah, yeah, I think so,” Spencer says. “He just, he doesn’t want to be in my band anymore! They’re my friends and we keep saying we want to stay friends but how. Why, why would they.”
“Hey, woah, Spencer breathe. C’mon, you can do it, just breathe,” Frank says slowly, as he puts his car into gear and roars out of the drive way, phone still pressed to his ear. The line crackles with the sound of Spencer’s breathing for a moment.
“Me and Brendon, we’re, we’re going to stay together. As a band. We think. I mean, if he’ll have me. He could go solo if he wanted. But, if he needs a drummer,” Spencer says, sounding tired.
“Spencer, Brendon wouldn’t leave you, what are you talking about. He’ll need you.” Frank says, breaking about four traffic laws as he speeds down the empty roads. “I’m on my way there, are you going to be alright? Have you been drinking?”
There’s a crackle on the line, like Spencer shaking his head.
“If I started drinking now, I don’t think I’d ever stop.”
Fuck, Frank thinks, I wish I’d been that good a person when I was 22.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Frank says quietly. “I’m coming, okay, I’m gonna be there soon. Just stay on the line with me.”
Spencer’s voice cracks but he stays on the line.
Frank stares at his phone. He doesn’t know what time it is back home. He doesn’t know what time it is here. He doesn’t want to interrupt Gerard or call him in the middle of a meeting. He thinks he’s maybe got some comic book stuff planned this week but Frank’s not even sure what day it is.
He flicks to Spencer’s contact entry and presses call. Spencer’s on tour right now, in Europe, not the States, and Frank doubts he’ll be waking him up.
“Hey man,” Spencer says, when he picks up. “What’s up?”
Frank sighs. He can hear the noise of tour filtering through Spencer’s phone, people talking in the background, a few notes plucked out on a guitar. The bus is nearly completely silent, only the soft noise of the other guys breathing in their sleep.
“Nothing,” Frank says, pressing his back up against the couch and sliding to the floor. “Couldn’t sleep.”
Spencer hums. “Sucks man,” he says and the noise in the background cuts off suddenly, like he’s stepped into another room. "How's the tour going? I can't follow your press anymore, I don't think people here know who Leathermouth even is."
Frank laughs quietly and shrugs, tucking the phone between his cheek and his shoulder to free up his hands for smoking.
"It's alright. Good to be back on stage. I haven't fronted in years."
"I don't envy you or Brendon," Spencer says idly. "I don't think I could deal with fronting."
Frank lights up and inhales, thinking about it.
"I don't think I could do it full time," He says. "Nice to visit, wouldn't want to live there."
Spencer laughs lightly, softly, the real kind of laugh people have when they’re happy.
“Hey, how’re things?” Frank asks quietly, tipping his head back to exhale smoke. Spencer makes a noise, a “so-so” noise.
“Alright. Tour’s been okay and Dallon and Ian fit well. Ry and Jon, we don’t know. We’re going to have to cut Jon out of our first album royalties and...shit,” There’s a pause and Frank can picture Spencer running a hand through his hair or over his face nervously. “That’s not really something I want to do, but it was all laid out in his contract. I feel like a terrible friend for it, but this is shit we’ve got to deal with right?”
“You’ll be alright,” Frank says, not doubting it. “You’ll be fine.”
There’s a sound, like Spencer blowing out air over his teeth.
“Yeah, I think we will actually,” Spencer says.
Spencer emails him a link to an article about how gay marriage is cool in Iowa now and then a screenshot of Frank’s tour schedule with the Iowa dates underlined in MS Paint.
Frank’s email back says “Fuck you Smith.”
“And then we’ve got another fucking interview at noon and then soundcheck at three, and then doors are at seven,” Frank says, phone pressed to his ear. He can hear Spencer chewing on the other end of the line.
“Sounds hectic,” Spencer says, around whatever he’s eating. Frank sighs.
“Yeah, it’s awesome.” Frank says. He missed touring with his guys, contaminating the world. Spencer laughs lightly.
“Yeah, we can’t wait to get back out. The mixing’s almost done and then we’re doing promo for a month.”
Frank smiles. He knows how hard Spencer and Brendon have struggled with the album, how proud Spencer is to have finally finished something.
“Dude, remember, I’ll order 100 from your website as soon as you put it up. It’s gonna be great.”
“Thanks, man. Don’t forget to come to LA when you get off tour, Sarah and Brendon are going to have a barbecue. Now go teach those scene kids all about your magical dance music.”
Frank laughs, says “fuck you Smith, see you later” into the phone before hanging up, the feeling of a laugh still in his lungs.