The number of studies that have been done on the negative effects of caffeine addiction on one's body and mind have never been enough to keep any college student away from coffee, especially during finals week. Even the healthiest students would trade hours of sleep for the biggest, blackest cup of coffee they could find – but it wasn't hard to be healthier than the average broke, 'I survive on coffee and ramens alone' student.
Frank was no better. He barely managed to function as a human being on any other day without his dose of caffeine, doing so during the most stressful week of the semester after having barely slept six hours in the last two days would be cruel to himself and the rest of the world. No one was so bad they deserved to be with him while he was incredibly stressed and sleep deprived. In his defense, his reaction wasn't that dramatic: nobody thought about finals week and said 'I can do this with less than forty percent of my blood replaced by espresso and sugar'.
And people wondered why the world was going south.
During this god-forsaken week, Frank didn't live in his apartment as much as in the coffee shop down the street. There was one closer to his college but the less panic attacks he had to witness, the better his last-minute studies would go. Plus, the coffee was far better here.
The first time he had stumbled into the Black Parade –which, by the way, was a terrible name for a coffee shop–, he was just too late to class and too desperate for coffee to care about the taste. September was universally bad for students who, after a whole summer of being able to sleep as long as they could, were reminded the concept of exhaustion by this paper due for tomorrow that they hadn't even begin to think about. For Frank, it had been downright awful. He was a college freshman in an unfamiliar place: a whole new city where he knew absolutely no one had been harder to get used to than sleepless nights and terrible choice in classes ever could.
September had been hellish.
The second time, he had been better adjusted, or at least well enough to remember the fact that the closest caffeine source wasn't the over-priced Starbuck next to the college library. The sheer idea of not spending all his money into hot beverages had made his day.
When he had stepped into the Black Parade, he had accessed the racks full of comics, the nap-worthy looking seats and the smell of fresh coffee, and had decided that if heaven existed it must have been something pretty close to this place.
The barista had sent him a sympathetic look and hadn't tried to strike any kind of conversation that wasn't about what he wanted to drink before handing him his drink, for which Frank would forever be grateful. This little thing made him want to come back for any of his future caffeine fix, for the lack of any kind of human contact if not for the -admittedly wonderful- taste of the coffee. He wasn't again small talk, but any kind social interaction had to wait for after his first cup of liquid heart-attack.
His cup in hand, Frank had slumped into a seat against a window and it was at this moment, with the cold October wind blowing outside while he was slowly sipping his first cup of the day in the comfortable half-silence of the empty coffee shop, that Frank had truly fallen in love with the Black Parade.
A month and a half after this love at first sip, he was in the exact same spot, but it was dark out and he was here since pretty much forever. His eyelids felt like sandpaper dragging over his eyeballs and he wasn't really sure what he was reading anymore, but it seemed important, and he would be damned – quite literally – if he didn't know it by heart before morning.
''Frank, buddy, that's the third time I see you drinking from your empty cup and look surprised when the only thing you taste is caffeine overdose with an aftertaste of bitter regret,'' Ray, his favorite barista and fellow college student, sighed, taking the cup from his hands. Frank looked at him with what he hoped were convincing puppy-eyes, but if the shaking of his hands was any indication of his state he was far too tired, stressed and over-caffeinated to hope for a refill.
''I won't let you have a heart-attack on a floor I'm supposed to clean afterward. You should sleep, man: if you don't do it now, you'll do it on you exams, and all this shit would have been for nothing.''
''I'm closing anyway. I'm throwing you out, but if you get up yourself I will let you borrow an umbrella.'' Frank glanced at the rain pouring outside and had to admit that Ray had a point. He wasn't sure if he felt hot because of the warm air – that would be the place's heater – or the feeling of impending doom – that would be the finals that he tried to study at the last minute – but being comfortable in a t-shirt had made him forget everything about the December weather outside of his safe haven. Or maybe the mad studying did that, again, but who kept count at this point?
Frank begrudgingly gathered his things, shoving every pieces of paper in his bag without pretending to care about what would happen to them. He yawned and leaned against the counter, watching Ray mop the floor with more interest than he had had for his course materials all day long.
''Why aren't you stressed? You have finals too, why am I the only one being an anxious wreck here?''
''Because, my young padawan, I have approximate knowledge of many things,'' Ray grinned, trying a mix between Obi-Wan's and the Demon-Cat's voices, but mostly sounding like he was high. ''I manage to get average grades where it matters so I don't fail fail too much, I guess.''
''You just say fuck it and pray for luck? Man, I should try this, it seems to work for you,'' Frank chuckled. Ray shrugged, but Frank's sleep-deprived mind couldn't decide if he wasn't sure how he did it, if it was a good idea to follow his lead, or if just didn't know what to say to that.
Probably the last one.
Ray was nice enough not to throw an umbrella at him, but he did make him wait in the cold, under the rain – everything was wet, umbrella or not – while he turned off the lights and locked everything until the following morning.
''I'm not letting you crawl to your apartment alone, you'd manage to get hit by a car or something,'' He explained when he finally joined Frank outside. ''And you should have brought a jacket or something anyway, we're in December!''
''Finals week, man. Messes with my head. I'm pretty sure I'll be serenading my damn books before I see the end of it.''
Ray snorted at the mental image, and they walked in silence to Frank's building. When they got there, the shorter man smiled tiredly at his friend and handed him back his umbrella with a nod.
''I won't keep you any longer, man. As long as I don't fall asleep in the elevator, I should be OK. See you later?''
''I'd tell you to stay the hell away from any coffee for a while, but I work there so, yeah, see you!''
Ray was a great friend to have, Frank mused, blindly pushing the button to his floor. He didn't have many friends in this city yet, but he was glad he at least had one as awesome as Ray.
(And, on this thought, he collapsed on his couch and fell asleep fully clothed.)
There were many good things that came with living in your mother's basement, like not having to cook for yourself or free internet, but sadly good coffee was not one of them.
Sometimes, Gerard wondered how easier his life would be if he had developed a tea addiction like half of his family had. Because there was a lot of tea in the Way household, more than any sane person should ever drink in their life, but here he was crawling out of his room into the cold winter weather in the hope of finding real coffee, instead of the terrible instant one they had stocked in their shelves for desperate times.
When Mikey still lived with them, they had some in stock, but when he had moved in with his girlfriend their parents hadn't seen the use in buying coffee for only one member of the family. Now, the closest place to his house serving coffee was a fifteen minutes walk away. Luckily, the Black Parade was worth every second of cold he had to endure to get there.
Gerard spent so much time in this particular coffee shop he was on a first name basis with the entire staff, and every piece of art that could be found on the walls or the sign outside was his. Billie Joe, the manager, had even asked him if he would draw a small comic to put each weak on the shelf, in exchange of a discount.
Of course he had agreed to it. Billie was a friend, and who could say no for discount coffee? Well, not him.
Mondays, after the initial morning rush, were usually slow days. They were a bunch of high schoolers skipping class to read comics in a corner of the shop, which was a perfectly good reason to skip class in Gerard's opinion, but apart from them it was silent, calm in the lull between the morning frenzy and the lunch rush.
Billie was, for once, behind the counter, sweeping the surface while talking softly to someone in the back. He wasn't know for being quiet, but whoever had made him lower his voice had Gerard thankful blessing. He was a cool guy, but the current atmosphere of the Black Parade called for art and the stereotypical artist inside Gerard was all too happy to answer, if only it stayed as silent as it was at the moment.
''Hey, Gee. What can I do for ya?''
''Dunno, you got anything new and overly sweet for me? And one of your killer chocolate cookies.'' He answered, handing him a bill.
The person in the back said something that he didn't catch, but Billie sustention did, as he chuckled at whatever comment he had heard. Gerard watched him curiously as he was preparing his drink, but after a few seconds he was mostly staring into oblivion, mind drifting to whatever place it went when he wasn't paying it direct attention.
Saying that Billie's voice woke him up wasn't as much of an exaggeration as he would have wanted. He smiled at the manager, grateful.
''Why are you behind the counter, anyway? Don't you have people to do that for you?''
''Well,'' the older man sighed. ''You don't understand the mistake you made only hiring college students until it's finals week and they're all dead on their feet and too deep in their studies to work.''
Gerard snorted, remembering all too well how stressful finals week had been before he became an art major. It still was, but forsaking sleep to finish an art project was closer to his everyday life than cramming for a test at the last minute ever could be.
''That bad, huh?'' He still asked, half-amused, half-concerned for the staff members' health. They were too nice to die of lack of sleep.
''If they all make it to the next week I'll be surprised. Happy, but surprised.''
The one in the back spoke once again, and Billie perked up, a small smile playing on his lips. He sent a guilty grin at his friend.
''Go back there before something explode. Tell them hi for me, yeah?'' Gerard waved him off, watching him practically run to the backroom as soon as he was sure that his young friend wouldn't mind.
Now that nothing kept him from it, Gerard went looking for the comfier-looking seat. It changed with his mood, but he definitely was in the mood for a window seat.
He slouched into one that, for some reason, seemed comfier than the others, and put his cup and his cookie down long enough to get his sketchbook out of his bag. He was a stereotypical artist, of course he went everywhere with it.
Gerard leaned against his seat, trying to find the position, the one that somehow made any drawing ten time easier to imagine. The imagination-position. You know the one. By doing so, he felt something against the small of his back and frowned. It wasn't his bag, which was safely tucked between his feet, and it wasn't helping him find the position in any way.
It was, he soon discovered, a hoodie. A Misfits hoodie, even. A previous customer must have left it here, but how could someone forgets it in the first place was what bothered Gerard the most.
Sure, he could give it to Billie, and the manager would put it with the other found object, but with the -surprisingly high- number of customers that came to the Black Parade, what were the chances that it was still there since it had been forgotten, or that the owner of this particular lost object would be found?
Easily making his decision, Gerard zipped the hoodie up, put the hood on his slightly greasy black hair and wrapped his cold fingers around the hot cup of coffee.
He had still some hours of peace before lunch, and the atmosphere was perfect for sketching.
It took Frank five days to realize that he had lost his Misfits hoodie at some point during he week. In his defense, he hadn't had much occasions to get out of his room and wear it. But Saturday morning, when he had wanted to go drown the remnants of his near-sleepless week in a well-deserved cup of coffee, it was nowhere to be seen.
Losing his clothes in the mess of his apartment wasn't such a novelty, but not finding what he was looking for after two hours of search through said mess was unusual. It wasn't a big apartment, nothing could stay lost for a long time in it.
Sighing, Frank went looking for his phone instead.
r u at the parade?
yeah got 1st shift all the others r dead or dying
& the boss is with his bf or smth
he has a bf??
did u see my misfits hoodie
i think i left it there
dunno they seemed close
billie called him babe so
nope no hoodie
billie called me babe once
if u can't find it at ur place look again
r u calling me messy
u rly can't find it?
sucks to be u
brb got customers
wow lady that's not coffee
that's sugar milk and regrets in a cup
so ur done with classes right?
kinda comatose tho
i got plans tonight u wanna come?
a gig with the guys at battery city at 8
see u tonight
Frank groaned and threw his phone to the other end of the couch. This week was out to get him, he didn't see any other explanation. Finals and a lost hoodie? That wasn't misfortune, that was divine harassment.
Maybe he was a bit overly-dramatic, but he really liked this particular hoodie. It was a farewell gift from his best friend from high-school. Pete had questionable tastes in most things (including fashion, gifts and friends), so he was pretty sure Patrick had helped choosing what part of his boyfriend weird wardrobe should go with Frank to college, but it was the thought that counted.
Frank glanced at the clock. He still had five hours to kill.
Without a second thought, he set his alarm to half past seven and went back to sleep.
''It's really cool that you could come, Gee.'' Mikey smiled at his brother, who was helping him and his band set up their equipment. Gerard rolled his eyes while no one could see him and rose up from the mess of cables he was plugging in place. Mikey always acted surprised when he came, but in truth he hadn't missed any of their show since the beginning, not even when college was kicking is ass.
''Well, I'm not the one recovering from a week-long all-nighter, I should be the one saying that.''
Ray, guitarist extraordinaire, chuckled at this. He closed the backdoor with his foot and handed a cup to each brother.
''I said the same thing to my friend ten minutes ago,'' He explained to Gerard and began rummaging through the cables while Mikey tried to drown into his own coffee, apparently fine with the high temperature of it.
''Man, I'm so glad to be in a band with a barista,'' He sighed after having downed a good half of his cup.
''And I that I'm a barista in a coffee shop owned by someone in a band. Free coffee for show nights is a nice perk.''
Mikey made a sound of agreement and stepped back to let Bob pass. At the same moment, Ray tucked on one end of a cable, looking for the other end which was trapped somewhere in the small backstage room they were using.
''Fuck,'' Gerard muttered as Mikey stumbled on the taut cable with his open cup in his hand and fell backward, spilling burning-hot coffee all over his t-shirt and crashing in the general mess of the room. Years of drinking hot beverages instead of alcohol for the sake of his brother had made Mikey the universal designated driver and capable of eating or drinking anything blazing hot, but it was a super-power that didn't extend to all his body, and he stripped off his shirt as soon as he could, swearing all the way.
There was a moment and silence.
''Well,'' Ray finally said, the cable still in his hand. ''That was a disaster.''
Gerard scoffed at his understatement and handed the hoodie he was wearing to his brother. The strap of his bass was going to kill his shoulders if he went on stage topless, and himself would be in the pit long enough to warm up. As he did so, Bob came back from wherever he was hiding, still laughing, to tell them it was time.
''Thanks,'' The younger Way quickly hugged his brother and followed the rest of the band. Gerard went the other way, to watch the band rock the bar from the crowd.
''Hello, people!'' Ray's voice drowned most conversations as the crowd turned their attention to him. ''We are the Killjoys, and we're about to make some noise!''
Frank was screaming in the crowd, jumping like a possessed jackrabbit on acid and cheering for his friend up there. He knew Ray could play, but damn, he certainly could sing too, and it had been a while since the last time he heard a band live. Since he had been with his mom, when Pete would drag him to some bar who didn't look too hard at the IDs to watch a band none of them would ever listen to again in their lives. It had nothing to do with alcohol and barely anything with the music, but everything to do with the few fans and the crowd singing their lyrics right back to the band.
This memory, added to the Misfits hoodie the bassist proudly wore, got Frank out of the flow just enough for him to suddenly feel like he was out of air. He swallowed and, noticing how dry his throat felt, difficultly extracted himself from the crowd to find something to drink.
He sat next to a guy absolutely focused on the band and called the bartender for a Coke. He craved for a cigarette, but he didn't want to miss anything of Ray's insane show.
By boredom and curiosity, he leaned toward the man, close enough to be heard but not uncomfortably so.
''Hey, man,'' Frank finally said, and the stranger turned around to look at who was talking to him. Fuck, he thought, he's hot. ''You know someone on stage?''
''Oh, yes, the bassist is my brother,'' Hot guy said with a small smile and pride in his eyes. ''How do you know?''
''Well you look at them like you're about to join 'em or something.'' Frank glanced at the stage and he knew a smile akin to Hot guy's could be seen on his face but damn, he wished he had the passion of these guys. ''Wouldn't have blamed you, though, they're awesome.''
''You're a fan?'' Hot guy seemed genuinely interested by whatever answer he would give. It was... flattering, to interest someone like him.
''Kinda? Ray is a friend, and they're really good, so I might as well be.'' Hot guy chuckled, and Frank sighed inwardly. That was it: he had a crush. He awkwardly extended his free hand.
''Frank,'' He introduced himself. ''Important thing to know: you like Misfits?''
''Gerard, and the hoodie Mikey's wearing? Technically mine.''
''Oh, we're meant to go along.'' Frank's grinned and took a sip from his Coke. ''I had one like this, but I lost it not too long ago.''
''You wouldn't have left it at the Black Parade, by any chance?''
''I think so, yes. That's the last place I remember wearing it,'' He cocked his head to one side, curious. ''How do you know?''
Gerard appeared sheepish at that. He looked down into his own drink, a slight blush rising to his cheeks.
''Well it might be yours, because that's where I found it.'' He finally told Frank, before muttering, ''Damn, it was too cool to stay lost for long.''
Frank smiled at that.
''I guess you could keep it. I do like seeing cute guys in my clothes.'' He wasn't the most subtle flirt ever, no. Contrary to what he thought, the other's blush didn't deepen. His smile grew and became more secretive.
''Well then, I have to give you my number, in case you ever want to have it back.''
''No need for that,'' Once again, Frank grinned when Gerard seemed taken aback by his words. ''I'm sure I'll manage to snatch it back while it's on my bedroom's floor.''
''This is the worst line I've ever heard,'' He said, but there was a fondness in his voice.
''But I'm very lovable, you'll see!''
''I'm sure I will.''
Later, when all the bands playing this night had stepped out of the stage, they finally exchanged their phone numbers before heading back to their apartment for one, and his (mother's) basement for the other.
They had their first date at the Black Parade, of course, but that's another story altogether.