Having a face to face conversation when one is here and the other one is over there - an ocean and several time zones away – is not the easiest thing to do. In fact, it sucks. It sucks - yoga ball sized - balls.
It comes with the territory, comes with the job. Everyone remotely connected to the music or the entertainment industry knows going on tour takes you away from home in the same way it takes home away from you. Adam is no different, he knows, as does Tommy. Going on tour, with Queen no less, no matter how freaking mind-blowing it is, means being away from him. And right now he would give anything he has, and then some, to have him here.
Not that it would make the upcoming conversation any less painful. On the contrary, he delayed the inevitable long enough already. He foolishly believed or hoped it would go away on its own. That what was happening right in front of him was nothing more than a metaphorical bump in the road. Boy was he wrong. Or stupid. Or blind. Or all of the above.
He’s fully aware he would barely be able to hide the immense guilt and shame that’s eating him alive, but, he would have a one of his closest friends at his side. And that, that would definitely be the silver lining he so desperately needs right now.
Some thirty hours after sending him a Got something I need to tell you. Not over the phone. When can we Skype text he’s setting up his IPad, dreading, fearing what is to come with each passing second.
It’s a conversation he really doesn’t want to have. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Not with him. Not after everything they’ve been through, in the best, wildest way possible. For almost six years he was the yin to his yang, the Clyde to his Bonnie, the canvas to his paint.
It’s all about to be turned upside down.
He practiced what he would say over and over in his mind. Even went as far as to contemplating, if only for a short time, on actually lying to him. Well, more like hiding some parts of the truth thinking it would somehow make it easier for him to accept it.
It’s not an option. He knows that. If anything, he deserves the truth. He owes him that much.
A few minutes after the agreed time - no surprise there - the video call comes in adding another pile of bricks on his already plummeted stomach. He fights the instinct screaming at him to slam the laptop lid shut and pretend this is nothing more than a really bad dream and clicks on the accept call button, his heavy heart pounding in his chest. When the screen comes online he’s looking at what appears to be the pillows of a couch.
“I’ll be right there,” Adam tells him from somewhere in the room, “just gonna change into something comfy and grab something to eat. I’m sorry to say, baby, you cannot come with me and look at my ass,” he teases good-humouredly. “I forgot to charge my shit.”
“Take your time. ‘S okay,” Tommy acknowledges, re-adjusting the pillows behind his back for the umpteenth time. Take all the time in the world he thinks, throwing the annoying pillows to the floor in frustration, randomly kicking at them when gets up and walks around the room. He needs to do something. He want to have this over and done with. He feels the urge to literally smash something into a million pieces against the wall settling in his gut. Tommy feels like a stranger in his own skin.
The sound of a plate being set down draws him back to his IPad screen. The first thing he notices is how happy and beautiful Adam looks. He’s almost glowing from the inside out. Never mind the old faded long sleeved shirt he’s wearing, the one he saw often enough when they were on tour. The one he knows Adam loves to wear when he’s getting ready for an evening of Adam-time. Realising he’s giving him some of his sacred and much needed me-time makes his aching heart ache even more. “I miss you,” Tommy blurts out, much to his own surprise, too. “You have no fucking idea, how bad-“
“Hey,” comes Adam’s warm voice. “What's wrong?” he asks, leaning in closer to his screen, setting his plate aside. “Tommy, are you ok?”
“Nothing-“ he stops himself, drops his head in his hands, elbows resting just above his knees and lets out a tired sigh, then another one before finding the courage to speak again. “No,” he admits, sounding as if he’s experiencing real physical discomfort. Like that one word has been ripped out from deep inside his chest, leaving him bleeding out all over the floor “No, I'm not ok. I”m anything but ok. Matter of fact nothing’s ok.” He can’t look at his IPad. Can’t face the confused, worried look he knows will be written all over Adam’s features. Instead, that little hole, at the base of his big toe, on his left sock, gets Tommy undivided attention.
Adam’s not a man who’s easily shocked let alone freaked out, but he is now as he stares at his friend who’s clearly distressed. A troubling sense of déjà vu hits him hard. He calls out Tommy’s name, has to repeat it several time before Tommy seams to snap out of it. The singer asks him to look at him and when he finally does Adam’s taken aback by what he sees. The blonde looks at least ten years older; aged not by time, but by pain and struggle and worry.
“Talk to me, baby,” Adam coaxes, mentally preparing himself for the worst.
Halting words of regret are the first to leave Tommy’s lips. The words come slow at first. Jumbled together, uttered in a higher-pitched voice revealing just how on edge his nerves really are.
Adam keeps quiet, concern growing rapidly with each word Tommy uses to get it all off of his chest.
Tommy talks for a long time.
By the time Tommy’s done, he sounds like a broken record. Stuck on repeating he’s sorry. “This… It- … This is going to change everything,” he says in a daze, close to bursting out in tears over this whole fucked up fuckery. “You- I,” he points to something in the room, something Adam cannot see. “Things will not be the same.”
That’s putting things lightly. Tommy’s immediate future is going to be hell. And what’s worse, is that right now, there’s nothing beyond a near future for Tommy. Nothing at all.
They have – had – plans. Big ambitious plans, and even bigger dreams, that involved conquering the world, musically that is.
During the entire writing and recording process, much to Adam’s joy, Tommy had been there – albeit behind the scenes – cheering him on. Encouraging Adam on came in many forms. It went from Tommy listening to Adam brainstorm to acting as his soundboard to talk him through nights when a bad case of homesickness prevented him from sleeping. It meant smiling fondly at his over-excitement face during long Facetime calls as he talked a mile a minute over the progress he was making, over the collaborations that were taking place. Tommy had teased him more than once on the matter. “You know what you remind me of right now? You’re like an overgrown hyperactive kid. On a sugar high. In the middle of a fucking candy store.”
He spoke his mind when Adam asked for his thoughts. He did so too when Adam didn’t, knowing all too well Adam values his gut instinct when it comes to his music. When the final songs for The Original High had been selected he and Cam, who would take back her place behind the keys, had started working hard on writing out Adam’s music, making the songs fit to be played live. He was beyond excited at the idea of playing Adam’s new material, having already tweeted out his excitement last summer.
None of it matters now, Adam realises. “What can I do?” he asks, cursing the fact that he can’t hug the shit out of his friend. “What do you need?”
Tommy shakes his head. He thinks about what to say, about what it is he needs right now. He thinks about asking, begging, him to come home, no matter how big of a selfish prick it would make him look or how weak it would make him feel. He longs for Adam’s arms around him. Adam’s able to ground him in a way few people can. He thinks about admitting how badly he needs Adam’s energy to recharge his soon depleted batteries, how he is his personal jump-start.
He thinks about joking how the haters are going to have a field day when they hear the news. He’s not blind to the hateful comments that roam the internet. On any given day he doesn’t pay attention to them, finding them highly amusing. But now, when he’s torn open and vulnerable, the words get under his skin, spreading like an infection across his limbs, making his body ache in a way he never felt before. The words cloud his judgement. The words make him doubt about himself. He thinks about minimizing his guitar skills, stating Adam deserves someone better.
Instead he blurts out, “Tell me everything will be ok. Lie to me if you must.”
Adam picks up his phone, speed dials his number. Tommy sees as much as he hears it, echo and all, “I can’t and will not do that, baby. I can however promise you you’re not alone. You’ll never be alone.”
By the time they say their goodbyes, almost three hours have gone by and Adam managed to calm him down, made him promise to send him daily updates even if there’s nothing to report and to send him a text every time he’s back home. That way, if Adam’s still or already up, they can talk through whatever desired medium.
When Adam hangs up, he calls a certain number of people. Depending on how things evolve a thousand and one things will need to be taken into account. One way or another, at some point, decisions will have to be made. Consequences will need to be dealt with.
Adam knows there’s no such thing as being too prepared. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way.
When Adam’s back home a couple of weeks later, - nine to be exact - having finished the European Tour with Queen, he hosts a small gathering for his closest friends. Partly because there’s nothing like hugging a person in the flesh or hearing the sound of their laugh right into your ear. Adam’s a social butterfly. He missed them all dearly on tour and this gathering is about catching up on long overdue hugs. It’s also because each and every one of them present tonight will directly or indirectly stand by his side during the upcoming new era.
Tommy’s there too, of course. Not having Tommy there never ever crossed his mind. Even now, knowing what evil force is currently tormenting Tommy’s life, it’s still not crossing his mind.
And in return Tommy wants to be there, too, at Adam’s side. Needs it, and not just because of the pay check that comes with it. Tommy needs it, needs Adam and the band to keep him from drowning under all that is happening around him. He needs it in a way he cannot even put down in words, not even if his life depended on it, to escape the nightmare he currently has to call real life.
But at the same time it’s painfully obvious Tommy’s isn’t there. He can’t focus, clearly preoccupied by the turn of events that are currently dominating his life. Tommy looks like shit, too; pale and drawn, enormous bags under his eyes. It’s upsettingly clear to everyone in the room Tommy’s barely keeping it together.
Having longingly eyed the acoustic guitar Adam now has at his place, he goes to picks it up. Out of habit and to reveal a terrible secret. A trembling hand roams around the body of the guitar, the other comes to rest on its neck. Tommy finally settles on playing a song he wrote long ago.
Despite the fact no one knows the song it doesn’t sound right. There’s no energy in it. Tommy’s signature soul and emotion he’s able to communicate when playing an acoustic guitar is missing leaving a void and hollow melody.
The troubled blonde is the first to say it aloud when he abruptly stops playing. “Adam, you have to face it,” he says, “You need to find another guitar player. I… I can’t be there. I- I suck right now.”
He silences his friends with a sign of his hand, looking straight at Adam. “You’re my boss, Adam. Stop thinking as my friend and act like my fucking boss.”
“Tommy… Kitty,” It’s Cam.
“Don’t,” he chokes around the lump in his throat, “don’t Tommy me, don’t pity me. I’ll make it easy on you guys,” he says fiercely, standing up. “As of right now I’m putting my career on hold. I’m no longer Adam’s guitarist.” His voice cracks under the weight of these last five words. And it’s not just his voice that breaks; Tommy’s whole ‘I’m dealing’ façade is starting to crack at an alarming rate. So rapidly in fact he doesn’t have the mental strength to recompose himself. He feels like he’s heading towards another collision course with a sink hole. He’s not even recovered from the previous one. Not for the first time in these last few weeks Tommy wishes the earth would open beneath his feet and swallow him whole, effectively putting an end to his misery.
They might all know what he’s going through and support him in any way they can but he’ll be damned if he wants them to see him fall apart. Not now. Not today. It’s a humiliation he cannot handle right now.
So Tommy does what Tommy does best when it gets too much for him to handle. He turns on his heels and runs, making a beeline to Adam’s front door. He turns left halfway down Adam’s driveway and hides under a low-hanging tree, shaking like a leaf.
Inside, the mood takes a 360° turn. The look on everyone’s face is a cross between dismay, perplexity, helplessness, and powerlessness mixed with genuine hurt and concern.
They’re all looking at each other, all thinking the same thing. They’re all thinking about how every now and again something happens in real life, whether in their own or that of a loved one, that makes them wonder what they did to deserve this or why, at the very least, someone hasn't written a goddamn manual about it.
They all understand, with pain in their hearts, how right now, Tommy’s personal life matters over life in the spotlights. Right now, Tommy needs to be a solid rock to lean on to his mother. He needs to be a supportive brother to his sister. Not to mention a cheerful and comforting uncle to his niece and so on and so on. Tommy needs to be there for a lot of people. It’s imperative he’s there for them, and, for himself, too.
Gone is the thirty-three year old badass guitar player extraordinaire Tommy Joe Ratliff. That Tommy has taken a couple of steps back, all the way to that dark place where dreams go to die. In its place comes plain old Tommy Joe Ratliff, a thirty-three year old man who’s life is being a gigantic fucking bitch too at the moment.
They know better than to go after him. They all know, it’s best to let Tommy come back to them on his own terms. The more Tommy’s pushed, the more he retreats into himself, shutting down all together.
“What do we tell the fans?” someone asks.
“Better yet, do we tell them anything at all?” Cam questions aloud. They all turn to her as if she’s lost her mind.
Sutan knows where she’s heading with it and takes over. “You all know as well as I do it doesn't matter if Adam tells them or not. It doesn't even matter what he'll tell them or how he’ll tell them. They’ll hear what they want to hear. Read what they want to read between the lines and fill in the blanks the size of a telephone book. By the time they’re done Tommy will be abducted by aliens, will have impregnated half the country or is about to drop death from a mysterious disease.”
“I agree,” Terrance acknowledges. “Fans are emotional beings and you can bet your ass emotions will rocket over Tommy’s absence or did you forget the whole Adommy thing? Whether they know the truth or not they're going to freak over this. Some of Tommy’s fans are even fiercer than your own Adam and that is saying something. And that goes for both the sane and the not so sane ones.” They all laugh at this even though they all know Terrance has a point. There’s not a fan out there that doesn’t know who Tommy is.
“You know I love your fans, Adam,” one of the dancers picks up, “I really do, I think they’re amazing. But between you and me, when it comes to this I say fuck ‘em. They have no business with this. Tommy doesn’t need to be hunted down so to speak by a horde of way too nosy fans who will - I’m willing to bet money on this - all have become experts on the matter and offer him good advice.”
“Looks like you will have to decide that what’s going to be the least shitty solution for Tommy.”
“No,” Adam says firmly, “I do not have to make that decision. It’s not mine to make. I’ll talk to Tommy about it and respect whatever wish he has. Regardless of what he decides or how the turn of events will play out, there’s a backup plan waiting to be put in motion for every possible scenario.”
Tommy asks not to tell the fans, to leave them in the dark. They don’t all agree, but they do all respect and support his decision.
The day before Adam performs Ghost Town for the first time, on Ellen, a post on a fan forum spreads amongst the fandom like wildfire. The post states Adam will perform with a whole new band, insinuating the amateur musicians have been replaced by professionals.
When Ellen airs and Adam indeed performs Ghost Town with a whole new backup band, with the exception of Cam who’s returning on keys, and thus confirming what the post had said all hell breaks loose amongst the fans.
As predicted the fans reactions can be called highly emotional at best. Their feeds are bombarded with tweets going from Where’s Tommy or Why isn’t Tommy there or Did you leave the Glamily to We love you Tommy Joe and We want Tommy back. There are also a lot of tweets in which Adam is viciously attacked; insulted by people who claim to be fans. Tweets going from You son of a bitch! I thought you were a loyal friend to Go fuck yourself you backstabbing asshole! No Tommy = One fan less.
Next the fans are fighting amongst themselves about Tommy’s quality as a guitar player, about Tommy’s open loyalty to Adam and Adam’s open lack there off. They’re fighting with fans who are openly grieving over Tommy’s absence.
Luckily, it’s not all bad on his feed. There are also a lot of tweets that are referring to Adam’s performance or his outfit. According to his feed, white is the new approved black. Adam figures it calls for an upcoming shopping excuse in which he’ll drag Tommy along.
As if Tommy’s problems aren't bad enough on their own, just as they had anticipated and extensively discussed, whole scenarios are being written out as to why he’s absent and of course, both Adam and Tommy get tweets with links to them. Adam makes the gruesome mistake of accidently clicking on one of them and reading the ‘article’ in full. He calls Tommy just after, needing to hear the other man’s voice.
Four days after Ghost Town premiered on Ellen, it’s already well past midnight, when he walks through his front door thinking finally. He takes off his leather jacket, throws it carelessly over the back of the nearest chair on his way to his couch. He tosses his keys and wallet randomly onto the coffee table, too tired to truly care where they land as he kicks off his shoes. He absentmindedly wiggles his toes in relief prior to letting his tired body unceremoniously fall down on the soft pillows with a tired yet content sigh. With a final effort, he rolls over, using the full length of this fine piece of furniture to accommodate his drained limps.
He stays like this - flat out on his back, eyes closed, feet resting on an armrest - for a couple of moments taking the time to unwind from another exhausting long day by doing some deep breathes; inhaling deep through his nose, letting his diaphragm expand his belly and exhaling slowly through his mouth. Next he stretches. First his arms, than his legs – all the way to his toes and fuck if that doesn’t feel amazing – than his shoulders. He completes his flow by rolling his head from side to side, cracking his neck in the process.
Blindly, he fishes his iPhone out of his right front pocket, fumbles with the keyboard to unlock it. He's about to open his eyes so he can send him a text when his phone vibrates, indicating an incoming message.
It’s from him.
Am home is all it says. For no specific reason the knowledge makes him smile. What are the odds of them arriving home at the same time late? Give or take a few seconds anyway.
He’s still smiling when he hits the call button, making a mental note to paint his nails in the morning. It’s been too long.
“Hey,” he says by means of a greeting when the other picks up after the second ringtone. What is supposed to be a stifled yawn is the first thing he hears, followed by a, "Hey yourself,” spoken in a tired, worn voice.
For a few breaths neither man speaks. Years of close friendship have led to these moments. Moments where one fully enjoys the simple familiarity of listening to each other’s breathing over a phone. It’s weirdly comforting.
“How was your day?” he asks after letting out a yawn of his own.
“Tiring. Hectic.” There’s the sound of a fridge being opened coming from the other end, of a bottle being opened and consummated. “Spent a lot of time, way too much actually, driving from here to there to get shit done. Talked to a lot of people again, too,” he continues between sips. “Made the usual mistake of checking my Twitter while I had to wait. You?"
“Not all that different from yours actually,” he responds at first. Next he elaborates, “Except mine probably involved less driving and way more talking. Practically had my phone glued to my ear until halfway the afternoon. Even had to borrow someone's charger since I forgot mine. Again,” he admits.
"IPhone batteries suck, man,” he sympathizes wholeheartedly while pulling his phone from his ear to check his own battery status. IPhone batteries do suck after all. Somehow this random act makes him register something. “Dude,” he exclaims, sounding genuinely surprised, like a man who just solved one of life mysteries by accident, “you do realise, you’ve got like at least eight phone chargers at your place.”
It's such a typical him-thing to say or even notice. Silly and completely random. On any giving day he would have rolled his eyes while smiling fondly at his friend. Yet somehow, today, it is the most hilarious things he has heard all day and he cannot hold back the laughter that bubbles up from deep in his chest. Each wave of laughter escaping his mouth is louder than the previous and the next thing he knows he’s doubled over, laughing even louder when he hears him too, snorting uncontrollably into the phone.
“Oh my God,” he says, clutching his now painful abs. “What the fuck was that?”
“A bad case of giggles?”
“I’d be more inclined to say a very good bad case of giggles.”
“Semantics, man. Semantics.”
“Listen,” he goes all serious, “I don’t want to sound rude or anything but I’m gonna hang up soon. Didn’t exactly have time to eat anything decent and I really need to eat something before I go to bed.”
At the mention of food his stomach growls loudly. ”Same here,” he complains. His next words are out of his mouth before he can stop himself. “Wanna get together? Share a light meal?”
“It's not that I don't like the sound of that, because I do,” he replies honestly, “It's late. I'm beat. I don't trust myself behind the wheel right now. And the same applies to you,” he rushes out thinking how he can’t stand the idea of leasing him in a car crash.
He can’t and won’t argue that.
“Car-service?” he offers.
“Sold! Now, what are you planning on making?”
“Don’t know,” he admits, “will have to look in my fridge.” Again, the sound of a fridge being opened reaches his ears. “I’ve got some chicken left over, some eggs. I really should go grocery shopping.”
“I got eggs too, and cherry tomatoes,” he says by heart. “And if I’m not mistaken I should have enough spinach for the both of us. What do you say? I can make us a mean omelette with that,” he says proudly. He's not the world greatest cook. But omelettes? That he got down to an art.
“No tomatoes though. And no booze. I need a clear head for tomorrow.”
He can live with that. “Deal. Now, who's coming over to whom and who's calling the car service?”
“I'm calling. You're coming.” The last time, it was the other way around.
“Alright. See you soon.”
Soon is just under a half hour later. “If I’m not back out in an hour and a half, don’t wait up,” he tells Sam, one of the two usual night drivers. The man smiles back. “Understood, sir.” Ever since Tommy decided to put his career on hold, Adam’s car-service has been doing regular trips between both addresses.
They hug long and hard in the doorway, both giving back as much as they get. Both men finding comfort in each other’s embrace. Words are being exchanged; words implying missing the other. Other words hold pride, friendship, promises, grief and love.
When it comes to the actual cooking, they divide shores. While one makes his special omelette, the other sets the table and quickly washes the knife and chopping board used to cut the leftover chicken. Not even ten minutes later, two plates and glasses are filled with food and fresh water.
They decide to eat on the couch, each resting against an armrest, a pillow propped behind their backs, their feet touching in the middle.
As soon as they’re both finished - neither bother to bring their empty plate to the kitchen - they found themselves curled around each other, limbs intertwined like they were on that crappy couch in the band’s tour bus back during Glam Nation and they talk. They talk about Adam’s performance on Ellen. They talk about the music video. They talk about Tommy’s situation and the passionate soul-stirring reactions from the fans.
“Did we do the right thing not telling them?”
“I don't know,” he answers truthfully, pulling the other man even closer to him, his hand fisted in the back of the other’s man’s shirt. “I still stand by what we decided together. I know. You know. Our friends know. The people who matter all know.”
“Yeah,” he concedes. To both men, not telling the fans is not a question of disrespect, far from it. Both men are beyond grateful for the love and support they got over the years. Not telling the fans however was a matter of self-preservation. A matter of privacy having priority over a life in the spotlights.
Eventually silence falls upon them and he feels himself getting closer to falling asleep. “Come on, he says, tugging at the other man’s hand. Let’s go to bed.”
“You gonna be here when I wake up?” he asks. It’s not the first time the other had to leave before him. It’s one of the reason why they have a spare key to each other’s place.
“Wouldn't wanna be anywhere else.”
Before long they’ve taken a piss, brushed their teeth and undressed down to their underwear ready to slip under the covers.
Just like on the couch, they find each other effortlessly, their bodies fitting together like two matching puzzle pieces. "Love you,” he mumbles against his skin, already half a sleep.
A kiss is sleepily pressed to the side of his nose. “Love you, too baby.”
Nothing may be alright in Tommy’s life at the moment. Nothing may be alright for a long time to come. But this, them, they're alright. Always have been, always will be. And for now, that knowledge in itself is more than enough.
When Adam wakes up a little later due to a cramp in his left arm Tommy is curled up around him, this time using his chest as a pillow. He looks so peaceful, carefree under the incoming moonlight. His features are freed of worries and pain. In that moment Adam decides to let his heart speak, while still respecting Tommy privacy. He reaches for his phone, glad that Tommy – when he sleeps – is a heavy sleeper. He opens Twitter, goes to Tommy's tweets, finds the one he's looking for and retweets it, adding a little something. “Thanks Tommy!!! Followed by a green heart.”
Tommy doesn’t steer when Adam curls his body protectively around Tommy’s smaller frame. “Take as long as you need, baby” Adam whispers against his hair. “No matter how long it takes.”