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The Secret Life of Bees

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Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

 

 

"What are we even doing here, Frankie? she says and he shrugs his shoulder, takes a last drag on his cigarette. They're standing together out on the fire-escape so that he can smoke while they're talk. There's a thin, grey, vicious rain falling and he pushes his wet hair out of his hair with tattooed fingers.

 

He feels like he doesn't even know her anymore. He can't even see home from here.
They might as well be on different sides of the fuckin' world.

 

"I don't know," he says, finally. "I'm just here."
But it isn't enough, in the end.

 

*

 

So the world fell apart, the way it does, sometimes, and Frank did the only thing that he can; he drags them out of the rubble, built a life in the ashes. Until one day when, suddenly, his baby is six years old and they haven't seen her mom since she was five and New York has given them all that it can offer. He rings his mom in the morning, talks for more than an hour, tells her he'd give her a call once they got where they were going. He tells her not to worry. He packs their entire life up in boxes. He carries his daughter out to the car.

 

The road is long and straight and heading north.

 

So he drives and his baby sleeps in the passenger seat with a blanket tugged up over her shoulders, a bear tucked under her arm. She sleeps curled up tight like a seed, her chin against her chest. He took her glasses off about an hour ago, left them sitting on the dashboard. He glances at the print out beside him.

Orpheus Falls, NY. Population: 502.

Hopefully, by morning, that sign will be two residents out of date.

Somewhere behind them, New York's still there like a lover left behind. They're not leaving much of anything, though - a lease that's almost done, a job that was never worth having in the first place, a school that Edie hates. A gap where Edie's mom used to be. Frank figures that, soon, Edie won't even remember her face, which might be a blessing when she looks more like an Iero than anything, anyway: slightly built, short, almost bird-boned, with a wing of dark hair and wide, pretty eyes. He looks at her sometimes, trying to find her mother in her face. Hey, baby, he thinks. You look like someone that I used to love. He should never have left New Jersey in the first place. But, then again, there are a lot of things that he maybe shouldn't have done, but he looks at his kid and he can't regret any of it. Not one single fucking thing.

Edie stirs, rubbing one eye-socket with one little fist. Without her glasses, her world is blurry at best, smears and smudges of colour. She doesn't see edges very well. He reaches out, squeezing her hip with one hand.

"You're okay, baby."
"Where are we?"
"Like...a couple of hours from where we're going? Maybe five."
"Five's not a couple, dad."

 

He laughs, shaking his head.

 

"Yeah, okay, whatever. Go back to sleep, smartass."

She spends a moment or two fidgeting, shifting her bear around, kicking her legs under the blanket. Frank can't even remember what it was like to be six. Simpler, he thinks. Probably simpler than thirty-four.

 

The car is a vast piece of shit, and driving it is more like piloting a boat; he has to concentrate to keep his attention from drifting. He might, over the years, have entertained thoughts of a James Dean sort of death, but Edie is the most important thing in the world, proof of God if his hurting, half Catholic heart ever saw it, and, for her, he'll make sure that they get safe to wherever they're going. Most of the things that they're bringing with them are Edie's: her clothes, her books, her stuffed animals, her art supplies. Frank's got a battered suitcase full of clothes, a box of books, his guitar. It had been tempting, when he'd left, to just set fire to everything, just burn their whole lives down behind them. It would, he thinks, have been the cleanest thing in the world.

 

What he wants is to tear the world down and start again, just his baby girl and him. There's nothing he'd take back. Fuck fresh starts, though; Frank has always known is that history is a two-way street.

 

So he drives and she sleeps and they inch closer to wherever the hell it is that they're hoping to end up. Orpheus Falls. Right now, it's nothing more than a pin in a map. But it's something to move towards.

 

And moving isn't enough. But it's something.

 

*

 

Rented based on a couple of badly framed pictures on a letting site, the house isn't much to look at, but it's bigger than the apartment in New York. In place of a balcony, it has a wrap around porch and an actual yard, scrubby grass and trees, a vegetable patch and a swing-set contained by a fence that seems impossibly distant in the weak light. It doesn't seem feasible that this, all of this place and air and light, could be theirs, not when Edie's grown up surrounded by traffic and noise and the oppressive heat thrown back by glass and concrete. She wanders around the yard, her bear under her arm, bending to look at plants, squinting into the distance. Standing in the doorway with his back to the kitchen, Frank can just make out then next house, shrouded in mist and trees. It's so quiet; underneath the birdsong and the breeze in branches, he can feel the solid thump of his own heart. This might actually be a good place to put down roots, if he doesn't die of boredom first. He's never lived anywhere this quiet before. The air is so clean that it kind of hurts to breathe. He finds himself aching for a cigarette. He hasn't smoked in what feels like a really long time.

 

But then Edie comes running back to him, her arms up to be lifted and Frank thinks that he doesn't care what this town is like - if his little girl likes it, he'll figure out how to make do.

 

He carries her back into the house, her head pillowed against his shoulder. The kitchen is a little beat-up, a little dated, but functional and scrubbed clean, yellow countertops and black and white tiles on the floor. Right now, the counters are cluttered with boxes. There aren't any groceries, but he'll figure that out later. Down the hallway, there's two bedrooms, a bathroom that isn't much bigger than a shoebox. The lounge is bright and airy, with big windows that let in views of the forest and the hills and the sky.

 

"You want to help me set your room up, kiddo?" he asks, turning down the hallway. What he's finding is that it's easier if he focuses on her, what she needs, and not the car-wreck that is his life. It's easier to not think about himself at all. In her room, they unpack her things, her toys and her books, and he puts sheets on her bed. She chose the candy skull pattern herself. He moves the bed so that he can plug in a nightlite. He makes it a home for her; he'll worry about himself later.

 

"We're going to be okay, dad," she says, quietly, and it sounds so like something his grandpa would have said that his heart contracts for a moment, tight like a knot. He nods, ruffling his fingers through her dark hair.

 

"Course we are, baby," he says. God, it kills him that she's got her shit so together at six; he's thirty-four and he's still got no idea. "You want some breakfast?" Edie thinks about it for a moment and then she shakes her head. Frank frowns, combing back a wispy strand of hair back from her forehead. "Gotta eat, sweet girl."

 

"M'not hungry."

 

Frank kind of knows what she means - he's got that raw, hollowed out feeling that always comes at the end of a long journey. He leaves Edie lying on her bed and pads into his bedroom, digging through one of his bags until he finds clean jeans, a beat up Clash t-shirt, underwear, socks. In the tiny bathroom, he strips, turns on the shower and lets it run until the water's warm. Under the full flow, he rests his head against the cool tiles and lets the road sluice down off his skin. He sings to himself while he washes his hair. He breaks everything down into a list that he can achieve. He'll get dry. He'll put on clean clothes. He'll go and buy groceries.

 

Everything will be alright.

 

*

 

His hair is still damp when they get out of the car. He shoves it back out of his eyes in fingered furrows. Edie immediately slips her hand into his and he squeezes her tiny fingers. There's a farmer's market in full swing, the air fragrant with fruit and vegetables and flowers. There's a butcher's stall, too, at least one stall selling cheese, but Frank steers clear of those - there are things he can't eat, things he won't and, since he does all the cooking, Edie's diet is the same as his. She can make her own choices when she's tall enough to handle the stove but, until then, it's vegan all the way.

 

EAT LOCAL. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL ECONOMY yells a sign. It's the kind of thing that Frank can definitely get behind, even if the whole thing does have a painfully hipster vibe to it. He's always felt kind of allergic to that aesthetic, which he figures is based on growing up so close to Manhattan, seeing the way that gentrification crept in like black mould. It kind of reminds him of Mulberry Street, the christmas lights and the stores selling shitty souvenirs and all of the Italian restaurants, all proclaiming to be more fucking authentic than the last and none of them as good as what he could get at home. Still, a lot of the signs are hand-written and Edie is immediately drawn to a stall loaded down with hand-made rag dolls and Frank feels something like contentment settle over him. The vegetables on the stalls repeat, seasonality in action. In August, there are salad greens in vast variety, squash and tomatoes, cucumbers and corn. One stall is loaded down with punnets of fragrant strawberries and raspberries, another with baskets of apricots and plums. It's not all produce; there are the dolls that Edie likes, a stall selling soap, another groaning under the weight of jars of homemade candy.

 

And not a fucking christmas light in sight.

 

Frank's eye gets drawn by light striking glass; a hand-painted sign decorated with watercolour bees announces that this stall sells honey and honey-based products. Honey is something that Frank's missed, actually, since going full vegan; the shit on the shelf at the store is the product of an assembly line, and he just can't reconcile himself to that. This, though? Hipster honey? He bets this guy reads to his bees at night and shit.

 

This guy.

 

The guy who owns the stall is sitting, almost out of sight, with the heels of his worn sneakers propped up on the corner of a box and a sketchbook open in his lap. Frank takes in the sharp angles of his face, the point of his nose and the slight downward curve of the corner of his mouth at rest. It's warm, almost unpleasantly humid, so he's got the sleeves of his plaid shirt rolled up to the elbows. The wing of dark hair across his forehead hasn't seen a brush today. He glances up, eyes shielded by Ray Bans with tortoiseshell frames and Frank finds himself intrigued and irritated in equal fucking measure.

 

"Hey," says the honey guy, flipping his sketchpad closed. "Can I help?"
"What's your provenance?" asks Frank, automatically glancing to check his daughter's whereabouts.
"My what?"
"The honey," says Frank, gesturing. "Where's it from?"
"Like...two miles down the road? I've got twenty hives behind my house, a converted shed for jars and storage. I made the honeycomb myself yesterday?" He flashes an easy, slightly crooked smile. "Goes great with ice-cream."
"I'm lactose intolerant," says Frank, and he can't help but laugh at how much of an asshole that makes him sound. "But thanks for the awesome tip, man."

 

Honey guy huffs a laugh and pushes to his feet, sticking out his hand. It pisses Frank off how quickly he notices the guy's fingers, long and graceful.

 

Frank takes his hand.

 

"Gerard," he says. It's a good handshake, firm and earnest. "Friends call me 'Gee'. You're new in town, right? I'd remember the…" He gestures, with his free hand, to his neck, referencing the tattoos that are clear above the neckline of Frank's shirt. His old man had been so, so pissed off when he'd come home with the first but he'd been a kid, determined never to get a real job, sure that a future was never going to happen to him. Punk sensibilities, maybe. He'd never expected to make old bones.

 

But then Edie. His reason to live contained in a six year old force of nature.

 

"Gerard," he echoes, shaking his hand. "I'm Frank. And, yeah, we're new. We got in last night."
"You must have taken the place on the hill, right?" says Gerard, leaning his ass against the edge of the stall to perch. "It's been empty for a while but I saw Mrs Jeffery heading up there to clean, couple of days ago?"
"Yeah," says Frank, nodding. He guesses it makes sense - in a town of just over five-hundred people, why would he expect any secrets? "That's us."
"Who's us?"
"Me and my kid." He turns, pointing out Edie where she's crouched down stroking a puppy. He reins in the urge to grab for her. She's in his eyeline. She's safe. "Edie. She's six."
"She's cute," says Gerard, smiling. Frank notices that his mouth pulls to the side slightly when he talks. He's seen guys who like to talk and smoke at the same time develop that habit over and over again. He notices the blond streaked through Gerard's hair at the back - he notices and then he hates himself for noticing. He came here to make his life easier. He's got no interest in some hipster asshole selling honey on a Saturday morning.

 

Even if said hipster asshole does have kind of beautiful hands and a soft, kind look in his eye.

 

"She's the best." He picks up one jar of honey, turning it so that the contents catches the light. "I guess I'll take a jar and try it out? And like, a little bit of the honeycomb? I try and stay on top of her with candy and shit."
"Sounds sensible," says Gerard, measuring out a few chunks of honeycomb and wraps them in paper. "Tell you what. I'll throw those in for free. Welcome to the fuckin' neighbourhood, man."
"You don't have to do that."

 

Gerard shrugs.

 

"Life would suck if we only did what we had to."

 

Frank finds himself smiling despite himself as he takes the jar, the paper wrapped sweets. He glances over at Edie.

 

"C'mon, man," he says, holding out his free hand and wiggling his fingers. "Let's get you home and get you fed."

 

"Hi," she says, squinting up through her glasses at Gerard. She flashes him a bright, slightly crooked smile. "I'm Edie."

 

Gerard crouches down.

 

"Hey there, Edie." He flashes her a bright, sunny smile and then nudges his Ray Bans up onto the top of his head. His eyes are a surprise, lighter than Frank would necessarily have guessed. "My name's Gerard." He offers her his hand. "But you? You can totally call me Gee."

 

And that's the moment that Edie falls completely in love with him. Frank watches it happen, just catches himself before he rolls his eyes. Because of course Edie loves this guy instantly and Frank? Frank is just going to have to live with that.

 

He knows better than to try and change Edie's mind once it's made up.

 

*

 

Once Edie's in bed, the house dim and quiet, he tries to do some work. In the City, he worked at a tattoo place, played guitar in a couple of bands. Out here, he's not sure what he's going to do with himself. Google tells him that there's a tattoo place in the next town over, about a twenty-minute drive, which would be workable once Edie's in school; he sends an email, just feeling out the situation. He works on his portfolio for a while but he can't settle. In the end, he just lies on the couch, his head pillowed on one arm, dozing while he listens to Joe Strummer.

 

He drifts, dreams of walking in the frost with Edie's hand in his.

 

He wakes up and it's true dark. Edie's calling for him. He checks that the door is locked and then he pads down the hall into her room. She's still in bed but the quilt's sideways and she's managed to kick it off her legs completely. Bear has tumbled to the floor and Frank ducks down to grab him before he sorts out her quilt and lies down next to her.

 

"How're you doing, baby?"
"I woke up," she says, sleepily, burrowing into his chest and curling up on her side. "I didn't know where I was."
"Well, you're home and I'm here," he says, wrapping his arms around her, settling her close. "And this is where we're gonna stay, baby."

 

"It's not so bad," she says.
"No, ma'am," he says. "No, it's not.

 

*

 

He gets Edie signed up for school, which leaves them with three weeks and change to occupy themselves before she's back in education and he can look at figuring out a job and how to make this really work. They don't have an AC unit yet so they keep the drapes drawn and the windows thrown open to catch a breeze but it's hot in the house so they spend most of their time on the porch. Edie plays complicated games of her own design and Frank sits in a kitchen chair with his guitar across his knees and watches his little girl run. He's thinks to himself that he's glad that he could get her this much space and room to grow, which leads him on to thinking about goldfish and how they grow according to the size of the bowl that you keep them in. He wonders if, eventually, his little girl might touch the sky. It's almost time for lunch, though, so he pulls himself together, checks his email while he's making sandwiches.

 

The guy at the tattoo place the next town over has emailed back. He likes Frank's work; he'd like to talk in person. Frank pings back and sets up a meeting for the day after tomorrow.

 

On the table, a package wrapped in brown paper, held closed along the seam with a sticker that says 'G WAY HONEY - BEE KIND.'

 

He'd forgotten all about the honeycomb.

 

In the corner of his eye, he can see that Edie's dropped down to sit cross-legged on the grass. He peels the sticker with the corner of his thumbnail, suddenly unwilling to tear anything. He finds himself trying to make the least disruption possible. In his youth, he was noisy and chaotic, but Edie is like an anchor, though; she keeps him certain of his place in the world.

 

The honeycomb is smooth and golden, a gentle sheen. He picks it up, turning it over in his fingers, imagining the work that went into it, the process that made it. He takes a bite. The cracking sound that it makes is so crazily, incredibly satisfying. Sweetness blossoms on his tongue and then he chews and everything is sticky and satisfying and it takes a long moment before he can swallow.

 

"Fuck," he says, out loud on his own in the kitchen.

 

There's a cellphone number on the label, tucked in underneath G WAY HONEY BEE KIND. On impulse, Frank picks up his phone and he writes a text.

 

congrats on the honeycomb man. A + - Frankie<

 

The minute he sends it, he wonders what the hell he's doing. He doesn't know Gerard. He doesn't know anything about him. He doesn't know why he sent that text. Yeah, he's cute, in a rangy, slightly round-shouldered, hipster sort of way. Yeah, his smile had lit up his face and there was definitely something about the way he held himself, but, when it comes to dudes, Frank's always had a type and Gerard? He ain't it. He's always kind of gotten off on clean cut and preppy, the kind of guy who looks ruined and rumpled the morning after. Which leads him onto picturing what Gerard might look like the morning after.

 

He's still thinking about it when his phone lights up.

 

Plenty more where that came from, baby :) - GXOXO.

 

Well, fuck. What the hell is he supposed to do with that? He feels a little flicker of irritation at that kind of lazy confidence, the flirtation that's obvious in the single sentence, the fucking emoticon. Frank rolls his eyes and shoves his phone into the back pocket of his jeans.

 

"Hey, Edie!" he calls. "C'mon and eat, kiddo."

 

She traipses into the house, smelling of sunshine and grass and dirt and Frank lifts her up so that she can wash her hands at the kitchen sink. They sit on either side of the tiny table and eat.

 

"What do you want to do this afternoon?" he asks her, eyebrows raised, holding up his free hand in apology when she shoots him a look for talking with his mouth full. She carefully finishes chewing before she answers him.

 

"Swimming?"

 

There was, he thought, a sandy beach, a lake. It might feel good to spend a little bit of time in the water. He nods.

 

"Sounds good to me. You know where your suit is?" Edie nods so vigorously that her braids bounce. "Okay, finish up your food and then go and get changed, okay? I'll dig out the towels and the sunblock. Oh, shit, you'd better find your hat, too."

 

The curse word earns him a mildly reproachful look and he holds up his hands in apology.
Sometimes, she reminds him so much of her mother that it hurts.

 

It's complicated.

 

*

 

There are a few other families camped out on the sand, but it's quieter than Frank thought it might be. They build a sandcastle studded with pebbles, with leaves in place of flags. Frank tries - and fails - to explain why filling a moat that's lined with sand is doomed to stay empty, no matter how many pails of water you pour into it.

 

"C'mon, Dad," she says, her hat discarded on the blanket, both of her little hands wrapped around his, her whole weight leaned back as she tries to tug him to his feet. Eventually, he gets up, brushing sand off his ass with his free hand before he swoops her up into his arms and carries her down to the water. He drops her once he's up to his waist and she squeals but then she's off. His little girl swims like a fucking fish. Sometimes, he's so proud of her that he feels like he could explode. He stands there, rocked gently by the waves as Edie swims and the sun shines down on him and he thinks about how, sometimes, if you're lucky, you end up with much more than you deserve.

 

He's not a great swimmer, so he just bobs while Edie swims and then, when she's ready to get out, he swoops her up into his arms and carries her to the towel to save the soles of her feet from sand. He towels her off and drops her hat back on her head. She's got that slightly dazed, sleepy look that comes when she's ran around like a lunatic all day. He packs stuff up and then hoists her up onto his hip. Pretty soon, she's going to be too tall for him to carry her like this - he can already see that she's going to have her mom's height. When they were dating, her mom would wear heels, sometimes, and she'd be taller than him and Frank hadn't given a shit.

 

Because you don't question it when you get that lucky.
Just like you don't try and explain it when, later, everything falls apart.

 

She's asleep by the time they get home, curled in the passenger seat. He kills the engine and then walks around the car, opening the door and scooping her up. He leaves the door open, figures he'll come back to get the bag, lock up.

 

"Lemme help," says a voice to his left. If he'd been carrying anything in the world but his little girl, he probably would have dropped it, but he manages to keep hold of Edie.

 

Gerard is standing there in the shadow of the porch, handsome and rumpled in a paint splattered t-shirt and jeans, his hair pushed back from his forehead by his shades. Frank stares at him for a moment, torn between asking what the hell, man and the urge to examine why he's so pleased to see him.

 

"Grab the bag and shut up the car?" he asks. "And then you come come open the door for me."

 

And he just stands there and holds Edie, while Gerard moves the world around him.

 

Once he's inside the house, he gets Edie into bed. He knows her - she'll sleep straight through until morning and wake up famished. He feels gritty, sandy and he sticks his head into the kitchen where Gerard is standing, looking out at the first wash of the sunset.

 

"I'm going to take a shower," he says. "You can...make yourself comfortable and shit."

 

He showers quickly, scrubs the beach off his skin. He keeps his hands busy, washing his hair, and tries to will his heart back into regular rhythm. There could be any number of reasons why Gerard had been standing there when they got home. There could be all of the reasons in the world.

 

But Frank's only hoping for one.

 

He pads back out into the kitchen barefoot, his t-shirt still sticking across his back, the width of his shoulders. He catches sight of his hair in the mirror in the hallway and tries to push it into some semblance of order.

 

"So," he says, leaning his shoulder against the doorframe. Gerard is standing with his back to him, still watching the sunset through the kitchen window. "I know I complimented the honeycomb and everything, but I'm not sure I'm okay with stalking, man."

 

"Stalking?" Gerard's eyebrows raise as he looks over his shoulder.
"You make a habit of just hanging out on people's porches."

 

Gerard huffs a laugh, shaking his head. His shaggy hair slips into his eyes and he pushes it back with his palm.

 

"Yeah, okay. Shit. I know how it looks? But, I saw you pull off the road. I live there." He points at the neat white house that's their closest neighbour, through the trees. "Been there my whole life."

 

"Holy fuckin' coincidences, Batman."

 

"Look," says Gerard, taking off his sunglasses, fidgeting with them a little. "I...never had to move to this town because it's where I fuckin' grew up, but I can imagine how tough it is, not knowing anyone, having a kid." He shrugs. "Call me a fucking idiot, if you want, but I like you...instinctively and shit...and I'd like to see where that goes." He tilts his head, angular and beautiful for a moment; Frank catches himself marvelling at the way he changes, depending on how he catches the light.

 

"You always proposition people in their kitchen the second time you meet them?"
Which isn't a no.

 

"Firstly," says Gerard, holding up one long finger. "Nobody's propositioning anyone. Yet. And secondly, you haven't told me to fuck off."

 

"Jesus." Frank laughs, rolling his eyes. He picks up the bottle of wine that's been sitting on the counter since they moved in, a 'welcome to town' gift from his landlady and goes to the box that he thinks has the wine glasses in it. "Just keep your voice down, okay?"

 

"Have you got a corkscrew?"
"Do I look like I've got a corkscrew?"
"Fair." Gerard looks around the kitchen for a moment, eyebrows drawn together thoughtfully and then he grabs a battered copy of The Stand and the bottle and disappears out onto the porch. A few muffled thumps later, and he's coming back in, triumphant with the opened bottle in one hand and the cork between his teeth.

 

"Let's drink it out there," says Frank, nudging him back out through the open porch door. "It'll sort of feel like privacy but she'll still be able to find me if she needs me."

 

They settle on the battered wooden chairs tucked into the corner of the porch. There's a swing-seat collapsed at the other end; Frank makes a resolution to fix it. Gerard pours Frank a glass of wine, contents himself with water. He doesn't explain and, right then, Frank doesn't ask. He just tries to ignore the weird, vibrating feeling in his chest, the way it feels like there are suddenly wings trapped in the chambers of his heart.

 

He's not a kid. He's a grown-ass man with a child and he is not going to succumb to a crush like a fucking homecoming queen or something. It's ridiculous. He takes a sip of his wine.

 

"God," he breathes. "That's good."
"Pretty neat trick with the cork, right?"

 

Frank rolls his eyes.

 

"Are you always this full of yourself?"
"Not always," says Gerard, tilting his head. "But I fake it really well."
"So what do you do when you're not hawking honey and hanging out on stranger's porches? Tell me about you."
"Well. I was born here. My kid brother is four years younger than me. My dad farmed, my mom taught high school art and now I farm and paint a little? Not much. Mikey runs a bar in town - they have a fucking awesome open mic night on a Tuesday."
"What's it called?"
"Hm?"
"The bar. What's it called?"
"The Limelight."
"Why bees?"
"Oh, man, all the questions. Okay, Bees. Bees because my dad loved bees and I loved my dad and bees are pretty freaking awesome, when you really think about them. Bees are cooler than most people I know. "

 

Another swallow of wine and the warmth sinks through him, curling into his belly in the hazy heat of the evening. From the trees, there's the sound of cicadas and frogs. It feels kind of like living on the edge of the world. Just the two of them, and his baby girl dreaming dreams.

 

"What about you?"
"Me?"
"You and Edie. Why Orpheus Falls?"
"Because it was as far as I could afford to get us from where we started." He shrugs, reaches for the bottle to top up his wine, almost tops up Gerard's glass but catches himself just in time. "Because things had been going to shit for a long time and then they all collapsed at once and we had nothing keeping us there. So I stuck a pin in a map and here we are."

 

It wasn't quite that simple. But it might as well have been.
It's a better story this way, anyway.

 

"There are worse places to end up."

 

There's something about Gerard, sitting half curled into the wooden chair, that reminds Frank of a house cat. He shifts, his back arching slightly. Frank finds himself distracted.

 

"You always make yourself this comfortable?"

 

"Pretty much," says Gerard, smiling. "Way I see it - I'm too old to act like a fucking teenager. You're cute - and you know it, by the way - and I am bored and this is more fun that I've had this year, just sitting here and talking to you like this and that? Has to be worth something."

 

His cheeks go hot and he's glad that it's dim out on the porch, that maybe Gerard can't see him too clearly right then.

 

"I don't know, man. I'm...It's been kind of a long time. Edie's mom left us and…"

 

Gerard raises one hand, half in surrender, but he's smiling, too..

 

"Stop overthinking it. I'm not here for anything, man. I'm here to watch you drink wine and talk and hang out. That's all."

 

"Well, fuck," he says, laughing a little at himself, how hot his face is, how his heart is still racing just a little. He rolls his eyes. "I guess I can manage that."

 

It's comfortable in a way that Frank hasn't been in a long time. Gerard turns out to be really knowledgeable about a lot of things - about music, about art. He's scared of tattoos, but he knows the guy who owns the store and can vouch for him - if he hires Frank, Gerard's pretty sure they'll get along.

 

Gerard excuses himself to the bathroom and, while he's gone, Frank leans back in his chair, looks up at a sky spangled with stars and tries to find some stillness in himself.

 

He's still sitting there like that when Gerard comes back.

 

Gerard sits, sprawling back in the chair. The way he's sitting, their knees touch. Frank can feel how warm his skin is through his jeans and he tries not to think about it, worrying the silver ring in the corner of his lip.

 

When he looks up, Gerard is already looking at him.
It occurs to Frank, right then, that Gerard's been drinking water all night and that he? He is pretty fucking drunk.

 

"I suppose I'd better go home before I pass out on your porch or something," says Gerard, pushing to his feet. Frank gets up too, answering a vague desire that, if Gerard has to leave, he'll at least watch him go. Gerard steps off the porch, but he only manages to get down one step before he turns back.

 

"You forget something, man?" asks Frank, grinning. Standing on the top step, he's actually taller and Gerard has to tip his head back to look him in the eye.

 

"Pretty sure I've got everything," says Gerard, a crooked smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "But I am also pretty sure I'm never going to forgive myself if I don't ask you something while I'm feeling brave."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Mmhm." Gerard reaches up and brushes Frank's hair back from his forehead with long, slim fingers. Frank's breath catches.

 

"Jesus Christ, are you going to ask or not?"

 

The pad of Gerard's thumb brushes the corner of his mouth. The world narrows down and, for a moment, there's nobody in the world but the two of them.

 

"Can I kiss you?"

 

In that moment, he forgets - to breath, to blink, to beat his own heart. He just stares for a long second as there, in front of him, is this kind of beautiful dude, his hair slipping into his eyes, that crooked smile just tugging at his lips. Slowly, carefully, Frank wraps his arm around Gerard's neck, tugging him in closer, so they're pressed together.

 

"Yeah," he says, his voice ragged. "Yeah, you can."

 

There's this moment when Gerard seems to hesitate, when he's close enough that Frank can feel his breath on his mouth but they don't actually kiss and then he sways in, his hand in the small of Frank's back to steady him as they kiss, as Gerard tilts his head to nudge deeper with lips and tongue. It's so smooth, so practiced that, later, Frank will think that he must have stolen that move from a film.

 

It's a good kiss, no matter where he got it.
It's so, so fucking good.

 

They fumble. Frank's got hold of a handful of Gerard's shirt, tugging him into the house proper. The kiss breaks, breathless and Frank keeps hold of him, keeps him close.

 

"We've got to be quiet," he says. Maybe it's stupid, doing this with his kid sleeping down the hall, but it's been so long since he had something that was for him, just for him, and he finds himself wanting to treasure it.

 

They end up sprawled on the couch, with Frank on his back and Gerard slotted between his thighs. They squirm and rub together like teenagers while they kiss. Frank shoves his fingers into Gerard's hair and pulls; he's gratified when Gerard moans, soft and breathy. They fit together well. Their height difference doesn't count for shit now they're lying down. Gerard moans again and Frank shakes his head, pressing a trio of hot, quick kisses against his mouth.

 

"Shhhh," he breathes. "Don't wake her."

 

Gerard shakes his head and surges in to kiss him again so the next time that he moans, the sound is muffled and contained by the press of Frank's mouth against his. Gerard squirms one hand between them, his palm scuffing over the line of Frank's cock, aching hard in his jeans and that's when an alarm bell goes off, a siren screaming in the hot dark of his skull.

 

Too much. Too soon. Too fast.

 

"I can't," he says, all but vomits out. Gerard's hand is still pressed against him, but Frank feels the moment when everything stops. Inwardly, he's cringing, expecting Gerard to snap and snarl because he's being a prick-tease, isn't he, and, in Gerard's situation, he can imagine how pissed off he'd be.

 

Which is why he can't quite get his head around it when Gerard laughs, barely a breath of sound.

 

"It's okay," he says, immediately shifting to the side, perching on the edge of the couch and tucking one hand between his thighs, adjusting himself, wincing when he does. "I get it."

 

"It's just…"
"I get it, Frank," says Gerard again, still softly. "I'm...going to go, okay? I'm going to go and, when you know what you want, you know where I'll be."
"I…"

 

Gerard leans down then and presses a gentle, almost chaste kiss against the corner of his mouth. Frank's eyelashes flutter.

 

"I'll be there when you want me. If you want me. No pressure." He smiles, crooked but true despite that. "You can see my house from here." When he stands up, Frank's eyes dart down automatically, noting the press of the line of Gerard's cock against denim. His cheeks flush but he also feels a little flicker of triumph, his ego making itself known. It's good to feel wanted. He has to push his hand through his hair so that he won't reach out and touch Gerard, squeeze his cock, pull him in and do filthy things to him without even given himself time to think.

 

"Just…" He stands up and leans in, presses a kiss against the corner of Gerard's mouth. "I'll figure it out, okay?"

 

Gerard nods.

 

"You know where I am, Frankie."

 

Frank stands in the doorway and watches him go, the sure-footed way he picks his way through the trees, like he's made that walk a hundred times before. He stands staring at the two glasses on the porch but he doesn't pick them up. He leaves them there and pads through the darkened house to bed. Now that he's alone, he realises how drunk he is. He leans his shoulder against the bathroom door while he pees so that he can stay stable. He tries - fails - to stop thinking about the feel of Gerard's mouth on his, the fit of Gerard's jeans across his ass as he'd walked away.

 

He collapses into his bed, barefoot but still in his jeans and t-shirt. He manages to get his jeans open, ends up stroking off to a vague fantasy of Gerard's lips and his hands and the fall of his hair across his eyes.

 

And then he all but passes out.
It's the best night's sleep he's had in years.

 

Later, he can't remember what he dreamed about but he knows that Gerard was there.

 

*

 

He wakes up and there's sunlight streaming through the window. He's got a dull, throbbing headache, the ghost of the wine from last night and his mouth tastes like shit. He lies there for a moment and just listens to the house breathing, to the birds in the trees outside his open window.

 

It takes a moment for him to realise how quiet the house is, way too quiet to contain a six year old who isn't up to no good.

 

"Edie?" he calls, lifting his head to listen for the tell-tale shuffle of her movement in another room. It isn't a big house - it isn't possible for her to be out of earshot. But there isn't a sound except for the whirring of the fans and the singing of the birds in distant trees.

 

He's out of bed, the room spinning sickly for a moment as his head pounds.

 

"Edie?" he calls, grabbing for a t-shirt that he definitely wore yesterday. "Edith!"
But his little girl is nowhere to be found.

 

When she isn't in the garden, either, Frank feels panic starting to set in, feels it clawing at his lungs and the inside of his skull. She's all that he's got left. He's halfway across the field towards Gerard's little white house before he realises that he hasn't picked up his phone or his keys, hasn't put on shoes so he's barefoot in the dew-damp grass. He can see someone coming towards him through the trees and he raises his hand, waving.

 

"Hey!" he calls. "Gee? Have you seen Edie?"

 

Which is when he realises that the figure coming towards him definitely is Gee and that he's carrying Edie in his arms. She's on his hip, her fingers busy coming through his hair and she looks like the tiniest child, a dot, but she's also the tallest girl in the world, almost too old to be carried, and Frank can't quite understand how she's both of these things at the same time.

 

"You were sleeping, dad," says Edie, fixing him with a level look that reminds him so much of her mother it feels like she's stabbing needles between his ribs. "And I was bored. So I went for a walk and then I met the bees."

 

Frank reaches out and Gerard hands Edie over, but she immediately squirms to get down and goes running in the direction of the yard, some game abandoned halfway through. As soon as she's gone, Frank feels like all of the fight's gone out of him; his hands start to tremble and his knees go jelly-weak. He sinks down into a crouch in the grass, his face buried in his hands.

 

"Fuck," he mumbles. "Holy shit."
"I tried calling you," says Gerard, sounding apologetic. "Couldn't raise you."
"I was passed out," he says. It's part of the reason he hasn't drunk a lot in years; he doesn't trust himself to be there when Edie needs him. He scrubs one hand back through his hair. "I didn't even hear her go."
"Not far for her to go in a place like this," says Gerard, crouching down too so that they're eye to eye. "This isn't New York, Frank. She's safe here."
"Doesn't mean she can just go...wandering the fuck off whenever she feels like."
"No," he says. "But she was with me. I had her."

 

Frank lets out a shuddering breath.

 

"Thank you."
"C'mon," says Gerard, offering both of his hands, wiggling his fingers a little. "I'll make you tea."

 

Later, Frank will have a strongly worded conversation with his asshole child. He will tell her that it's absolutely completely totally unacceptable to go wandering off like that, especially when he's sleeping. He will tell her that he has no fucking idea what she was thinking. He will send her to her room without any dessert and then he'll sit there all night feeling like the worst father in the world.

 

But, for right now, for right in that moment then, he's happy to shuffle into the house behind Gerard and sit at his own kitchen table while somebody else makes the tea.

 

*

 

The sitter is Tara, college aged and pretty, her multicolored hair twisted into a knot on the back of her head and she comes highly recommended by his landlady. Her nails and knuckles are stained with acrylic paint and Edie falls in love with her pretty much immediately. He shows her where all of the snacks are, leaves money for pizza, kisses Edie good night. They've got the Netflix password. She knows what time Edie's supposed to be in bed. He leaves his cell phone number written down in about three different places.

 

"We're fine, Mr Iero," says Tara, her arms folded across her chest, looking at Edie, curled up on the sofa. "We're going to draw, we've got books. Go have a good time. I can stay as late as you need me to."

 

"Frank," he says, for about the ninth time. "And I'll call when I know how late I'm gonna be."

 

He bends over the back of the sofa and drops another kiss into Edie's hair.

 

"Have fun, dad," she says, but she doesn't tear her eyes away from Tangled on the T.V.

 

He grabs his jacket but he doesn't put it on, just slinging it under his arm. He checks that he's got his phone, his keys, his wallet. He pulls the door shut behind him.

 

Gee's standing waiting for him on the corner of his drive, looking rumpled and lovely in denim and heathery plaid. When he looks up, he smiles and Frank's stomach does this weird fluttery thing that makes him feel like a high school senior.

 

"C'mon," says Gerard. "I'll drive."

 

The truck is beat up but well-loved, immaculately tidy. Frank slides onto the bench-seat and pulls the door shut.

 

"Why don't you drink?" he asks, not sure if it's his business. Gerard glances across at him, one elbow leaned on the open window, the other hand loosely on the wheel.

 

"Because I like it too much," he says, with a fluid roll of his shoulder. "Because it doesn't like me so much." He shrugs. "You're always an alcoholic, after the fact. You just get better at living with it."

 

Frank nods. He'd drank too much when he was younger, sometimes he still did, but he'd always known there was a line, somewhere. He'd always known where to stop.

 

"I didn't mean to intrude," he says. "Didn't mean to like...It's your business."
"I know it is," says Gerard. "But I don't mind."

 

In town, Gerard guides the truck into a parking space, kills the engine. Frank doesn't see any tattoos on his bare skin. When he stretches his arms up over his head, there's a sliver of pale skin and the black waistband of his underwear. Frank tries not to stare.

 

"C'mon," says Gerard, pulling on his leather jacket before leading Frank down the street. "They'll be getting ready to start."

 

The Limelight is like every other dive bar that Frank's ever spent time in - sticky floor, low ceiling, walls plastered with gig posters and band fliers. On the door, a guy with thick, curly hair and possibly the brightest smile that Frank has ever seen greets Gerard like a long lost brother, throwing both arms around him and pulling him close.

 

"Gee!" he says, grinning broadly. "Didn't know if you were going to make it down tonight."
"I'm here, aren't I? And I bought a friend." Gerard gestures with his free hand. "This is Frank Iero. He's new in town."
"Right, right! The place out by yours." He sticks out his hand, offering it and, when Frank takes it, they shake enthusiastically.
"Ray Torro! Welcome to Open Mic night, Frankie. Gerard and I - we go way, way back."
"Good to meet you, Ray," he says.

 

Gerard sways in, whisper-shouts something in Ray's ear and then snags Frank's free hand, drawing him through the crowd. Their fingers thread together like it's the most natural thing in the world but it never occurs to Frank to pull away. Gerard's hand is warm in his; he can feel his face heating up in answer.

 

"Hey! Mikey!" Gerard lets go of his hand to lean over the bar. At the other end, there's a guy who's taller than either of them, on the lanky side, with blond hair brushed straight back from his forehead and a sharp, angular face. Mikey's deep in conversation but he glances up, smiling at his brother and, suddenly, Frank sees the family resemblance.

 

"Can I get you a drink?"

 

Frank thinks about it for a second.

 

"Is it totally fuckin' insensitive of me to get a beer?"
"Dude, you drank a whole bottle of wine in front of me last night," says Gerard, rolling his eyes. When he catches the bartender's eye, he orders a beer for Frank, a Red Bull for himself, loaded with ice. He pays for the drinks, tips a couple of extra dollars. Frank takes a swallow of his beer. Up on the stage, a kid with a guitar is singing but Frank finds his attention split, finds himself watching Gerard instead, the shift of the muscles in his throat when he swallows, the easy way he ruffles his dark hair back from his face as he scans the room, finds them a corner and heads off towards it without pausing to check with Frank is actually following.

 

They slip into a booth. After a moment's hesitation, a moment's thought, Frank slides onto the same bench as Gerard, close enough that their thighs press together. He shrugs out of his jacket, pushes one hand back through his hair.

 

"This reminds me of New York. This place"
"Yeah? Makes sense, I guess. Mikey and I used to do a lot of sneaking into the city when we were kids." He sips his drink. "Is that good or bad? Reminding you of home?"
"Good," says Frank, enjoying the cold bite of his beer. "I think."

 

He's achingly aware of the heat of Gerard's skin through two pairs of jeans. He clears his throat and tries not to focus on it. He doesn't pull away.

 

"Do you sing?"
"A little. But not when I'm sober."
"No?" Gerard smirks against the rim of his glass. "Jeez. We'll have to get you drunk, then."

 

Frank just shakes his head and smirks.

 

"What about you?"
"Yeah, I sing. A little. I was in plays when I was a kid."

 

Frank realises how good he feels, sitting in the booth next to Gerard, just drinking and talking, but out where everyone can see them. It feels, he thinks, a little bit like permission, being there, being seen, by people who know Gerard and don't give them a second glance. Almost tentatively, feeling like a kid again, he lets his free hand drop, the tips of his fingers brushing against the denim of Gerard's jeans, worn for so long that they've gone soft along the seams. He just lets his hand rest there expecting Gerard to brush him off, expecting to get gently put into his place.

 

What he doesn't expect is Gerard's hand covering his, the slow brush of fingertips against the delicate bones of his hands, tracing the letters tattooed on each finger.

 

"Why 'halloween'?"
"Birthday," says Frank, grinning. "Favourite holiday."
"Noted."

 

His heart feeling like it's about to hammer out of his chest, Frank shifts his hand until he can thread his fingers with Gerard's. It's that easy. The booth gives the illusion of privacy, but there's safety in the voices around them, in knowing that things can't go too far, too fast. Not until he's ready, at least.

 

So they just sit there, holding hands.

 

"What're you doing, Frank?"

 

He takes a moment, tracing his thumb along the length of Gerard's, back again.

 

"You have really fuckin' beautiful hands, man."

 

And then he closes his eyes, takes a breath, remembers what it felt like to be brave and brings Gerard's hand up at the same time as he ducks his head and just brushes his lips against the back of Gerard's fingers. When Gerard doesn't pull away, Frank shifts his grip slightly, turns Gerard's hand in his so that he can press a kiss against the inside of Gerard's wrist, against his palm. Gerard's fingertips brush against his face.

 

When his lips brush Gerard's skin, it feels like being a teenager again. It feels like being washed clean.

 

Gerard laughs, his cheeks flushed, his dark hair slipping into his eyes. He pushes it back with his free hand, hooks it behind his ear.

 

"Sudden change of heart?"

 

Frank shakes his head.

 

"Was always going to get here, man. Just...took me a little while to catch up."

 

He half turns in the booth, tucking his knee up and, when he leans in to kiss Gerard, it's just a brush of lips, almost chaste. It would be so tempting to sink into the illusion of privacy offered by the booth, to just focus on Gerard and forget where he was entirely. He lets himself melt for a moment, lets himself forget his responsibilities, his problems, the weight of everything. For a moment, he's seventeen again, making out in a booth at the back of a shithole venue while a band plays.

 

He lifts his head.

 

"Do you want to take me home?"

 

"Yes. Jesus Christ, yes," says Gerard, and he's laughing while he says it, beautiful and bright and soft and everything that Frank's been craving for years and he didn't even know. "But first, I have to go and buy my brother a fucking beer, because I owe him, but I will be right back, okay?" He leans in, taking another kiss, brushing Frank's hair back from his face. "Please don't go anywhere."

 

"I'll be right here," says Frank, taking a sip of his own beer.
He watches as Gerard moves across the room, leans his elbows on the bar to shout something into Mikey's ear. He tries not to think too hard about how something in his chest seems to click into place, like a key in a lock.

 

*

 

He feels like it's been forever since he's done this, since he's been driven anywhere at night. Gerard drives and Frank sits in the passenger seat and watches the lights dancing, the fireflies in the trees. He lets himself drift a little.

 

"Doing okay there?" says Gerard, his tone soft.
"Yeah, baby," says Frank, smiling. "I'm right here."
"Do you need to call your sitter?" asks Gerard, and it's more than one question he's asking, in six words, in one breath. Do you need to call the sitter? Do you want to come home with me? How many things are possible, here, tonight?

 

"Yeah," he says, "I'll call her."
He turns a corner. Doesn't look back.

 

*

 

He has Gerard drop him at his place, tells him that he just wants to check on Edie, make sure that Tara can stay. Before he gets out of the truck, he leans across and kisses Gerard hard and hungry, nudging deeper with lips and tongue, pushing him back against the door of the truck. When they part, Gerard looks beautiful, flushed and slightly dazed, his hair tumbled across his forehead, moonlight caught in his eyelashes and on his spit-damp lips.

 

"I'll be there," he says. "Soon. Or I'll call you if she can't stay. You can come over. We'll make it work."

 

Gerard nods.

 

"Let me know," he says.

 

Frank walks through the dry grass towards the house, which looks small and warm, with lights on, the door still open behind the screen to let in the slight breeze. From outside, he can see that Edie's room is dark, except for the soft blue glow of her nightlight which splashes stars on the patch of skin that he can see through a gap in the curtains.

 

He lets himself in through the open door.

 

"Hey, Tara," he calls, aware that he's earlier than he meant to be, and he doesn't want to startle the girl who's in his house, taking care of his baby. She appears in the doorway of the sitting room, bare foot with her watercolour hair down loose on her shoulders.

 

"You're early," she says.
"I'm not staying?" It comes out as question and he finds himself shuffling his feet like a kid, waiting for permission from this girl who's standing in his house like an ink drawing given breath, given bright, intelligent eyes and a smile that twitches the corner of her mouth.

 

"He's like that, isn't he?" she says. "Gets you while you'll not looking."
"I…" He rubs the back of his neck. "What?"
"Gee," she says and she laughs when he blushes. "It's not that hard to figure out when Edie's talked about him none stop all night long. I mean, believe me. I get it. I grew up around him." She shrugs. "He's good, and he's been on his own for too long, so just...Be kind to him, okay?"

 

Frank just nods.

 

Tara stretches, twists her hair up from the nape of her neck and secures it in a loose knot high on the top of her head.

 

"I can stay with her," she says. "We can talk about money in the morning. Go make that gorgeous, ridiculous man smile."

 

He pauses in Edie's bedroom door for a moment, watches her sleeping while Tara's fixing tea for herself in the kitchen. He watches the steady rise and fall of her chest that stirs the spider-silk hair against her cheek. His heart feels like an open wound in his chest. He loves her he loves her he loves her. If anything on the whole scarred face of the world might prove the existence of the God his grandmother so fervently believed in then there it is: this little girl, his child.

 

In the kitchen, he pauses and kisses Tara's cheek. He's only just met her, but it feels right anyway, and she's smiling when he pulls away.

 

"You know where I am if you need me," he says.
"I know this place like the back of my hand. I could come find you in the dark," she promises and closes the door behind him when he leaves.

 

*

 

Gerard's turned all of the lights on; his little house all but sings in the darkness. Frank makes his way carefully through the long grass that separates their plots. Soft music is playing. Gerard's sitting on the porch, rocking his chair slowly with the heel of his boot against the floor. There's a china cup of tea cradled in his long fingered hands.

 

"You look like something from a fuckin' folk song," says Frank.

Gerard rolls his eyes, sips his tea.

"Just come up here and sit with me."

Frank wishes there was room in Gerard's chair for him, wishes that he could slide in alongside him and press the lines of their bodies close together. Instead, he sits down in the chair next to Gerard's, close enough that their knees brush. It isn't enough; but it's something.

"I wasn't expecting this," he admits. It's warm, despite the fact that they're hours and hours past sunset. He tilts his head and watches Gerard's profile as he drinks his tea.

 

"What were you expecting? Clothes discarded all down the hallway? Fucking on the floor because we don't make it to the bed?" Gerard laughed, a little hiccup of sound. "Maybe if this was only going to happen once, but I'm a little bit more invested in this than that, Frankie." He sets down his tea-cup, eases forward until he's sitting at the front of his chair which just makes it easier for Frank to slip down onto his knees and lean forward and kiss him, his hands resting on the ragged denim of Gerard's jeans, thumbs rubbing against seams scrawled on his inner thighs. Gerard's fingers shove into his hair, pulling hard enough that Frank feels an electric shiver from his scalp to the pit of his belly to his balls and he wants so badly that it feels impossible for his body to contain it. His hands slide up Gerard's thighs, pushing them further apart so that he can lean up between them.

 

"Bed?" he asks, smudging the word against Gerard's lips between frantic kisses.
"Bed," says Gerard, his fingers tugging in Frank's hair again, tipping his head back so that Gerard can kiss against his throat.

 

They stumble down the hallway. Frank's sneakers end up toed off on the threshold, his hoodie discarded at the foot of the stairs. Halfway up, he pushes Gerard against the wall so that he can pull his belt loose, tug his pants open, slide his hand inside. He stays on top of Gerard's underwear, but he can feel the hot, hard line of Gerard's cock through thin cotton. He squeezes, teasing just a little, loving the squirm of Gerard's hips, the almost blissful look on his face.

 

"God, you're bigger than I was expecting, baby," he murmurs, rubbing the heel of his hand gently against the shaft of Gerard's cock. "You want to fuck me with that beautiful cock?"

 

If he hadn't been hard already, he definitely would be when Gerard tilts his head deliberately so that he can look him straight in the eyes.

 

"Fuck, yes, I do," he says.

 

At least they make it to the bed. At least Gerard ends up sprawled on his neatly made bed while Frank strips out of the rest of his clothes until there's nothing but bare skin and ink. He curls his fingers around his cock and strokes, looking down at Gerard on the bed. In the mirror, he catches sight of himself, hot and hard and needy, LET LOVE IN tattooed in the hollow of his throat.

 

And he wants to. He does. It's been so long.

 

He takes his time over Gerard, stripping him out of his jeans, his shirt until he's naked and then Frank bends over him, kissing down his bare chest, the soft and yielding muscles of his belly.

 

"How long is it?" he asks, brushing his lips against Gerard's cock, loving the way it bobs against his belly, leaves slick smears on his skin. "How long since the last time you did it?"

 

Gerard shrugs, pushing his hand into his own hair, twisting his fingers until it pulls.

 

"I don't know," he says. "Too long."

 

It's been a long time for Frank, too, a long time since he really applied himself to sucking cock. It's always been an act that he enjoys, just focusing on the task in front of him, his cheeks hollowing as he takes Gerard a little deeper with every bob his head. He doesn't want to make Gerard come, not yet; he just wants him close enough to the edge that he won't hold back when it comes to it. Because what Frank wants is a little abandon, a little recklessness. He wants to forget where his edges are for a while. And he trusts Gerard to make that happen.

 

"Okay," says Gerard, nudging at Frank's forehead with the heel of his hand. "Okay, you need to stop if you want me to fuck you any time soon. I don't...Shit." He laughs, soft and breathless. "I don't bounce back as quick as I used to."

 

"God, shut up," says Frank, lifting his head and shifting up the bed so that he can straddle Gerard's hips. His own cock is flushed and leaking. He strokes, slowly, looking down into Gerard's face. "Neither of us are old yet, man."

 

Gerard doesn't say anything but Frank feels the blunt nudge of slick fingers. It's been a long time and he wasn't expecting this when he left the house but Gerard's old enough to know that sex isn't squeaky clean and Frank doesn't stop Gerard when he slides one finger into his ass. Frank presses his palms against Gerard's chest and rocks back against the press of his fingers until he feels stretched, until he feels ready. He holds his weight forward while Gerard fumbles with a condom; Frank almost wants to tell him not to bother, wants everything slick and filthy and messy, but he also knows that it's sensible, the first time. He also knows that they'll have plenty of time for other things. He feels it, in his bones and in his gut.

 

"Ready?" says Gerard and Frank nods. He's never felt more ready in his life.
"Do it," he says.

 

He goes quiet as he slides down, as Gerard's cock slides into him. It's been awhile since he was fucked like this and he goes still for a moment, gives himself a moment to get used to it. His thumbs smooth against Gerard's skin.

 

"Wait," he murmurs, his hair hanging in his eyes. "Just wait for me."

 

"I'm right here," says Gerard. His fingers graze against Frank's bare thigh; his knuckles just gently brush against the length of Frank's cock. He holds the rest of himself still until, finally, Frank starts to move.

 

It's urgent, once he gets into the rhythm of it. Maybe later, there'll be time to savour it, to move slowly, to breath each other in, but, right then, there's other things that seem important. Frank presses his hands against Gerard's chest and rides him and Gerard strokes his cock and Frank gets lost in it, smooth and quick, entirely. His hips ride forward and he focuses on the slide of Gerard's cock, the press of his hands.

 

"God, you feel so fucking good," he mumbles, palming sweaty hair back from his forehead.
"It'll feel even better when you come," promises Gerard and he squeezes Frank's cock and Frank could swear that he sees stars.
"You first," he mumbles. "I wanna feel it, baby."

 

The sound that Gerard makes is beautiful. Frank feels like he could stand to hear that noise over and over for the rest of his life.

 

When Gerard comes, Frank whimpers, squeezing him with his thighs, rocking forward into Gerard's fist. He leans down, bends almost double to crush a desperate kiss to Gerard's mouth as he comes, as everything between them goes slick and hot. He squirms until he's spent, until there's nothing left to give.

 

And they lie like that, for a moment, just breathing each other in.

 

"Do you need to shower?" asks Gerard, a moment later, and Frank thinks about. He thinks about whether he needs to be clean or whether he just wants to wallow, in this bed, with this man, for an hour or two before he makes his way back across the field to his own little house.

 

He shakes his head.

 

"Okay," says Gerard and, gently, he disengages, slips out of bed and pads into the bathroom, naked as the day he was born. Frank hears the tap run and, a moment later, Gerard's back, his skin still damp, a washcloth in his hand. He cleans Frank up, swipes across his belly and his cock, down between his legs and then, once they're both sprawled on the bed, he pulls a sheet up over both of them.

 

"Are you going to stay the night?" asks Gerard, rolling onto his side, .
"I'm going to stay," says Frank. He doesn't promise any more than that.

 

*

 

Frank wakes up and Gerard is still sleeping, his bare back rising and falling slowly. His dark hair is ruffled across his eyes and he's snoring, softly. He looks peaceful, soft and happy and something in Frank's chest constricts, goes tight as a vise. Suddenly, he's very aware of his breathing, of the mysterious clockwork movements of his organs.

 

He slips out of bed without waking Gerard.

 

The house is dim and quiet, nothing but the soft sound of birdsong to disturb. Frank pads barefoot into the kitchen in his t-shirt and his jeans and makes tea, staring out into the yard, trying to will his heart to stop throbbing in his chest. If this was a one night stand, he'd be out of here by now, back in his own house with his kid and his guitar and his fucked up life. But here he is, standing in a kitchen that is not his own and the tea kettle is boiling and the world is vibrating at a slightly different pace that he is.

 

What the hell is he doing here? Why hasn't he left yet? The last time he felt like this, it was Edie's mom, around the time he met her. That had been this quick, this precise.

 

So, yeah. He's freaking out a little. He's being fucking ridiculous. Which doesn't mean that he can stop.

 

*

 

He's sitting out on the porch with his tea when Gerard finally appears, dressed in loose overalls, gloves in hand. Frank raises an eyebrow and takes a sip of his tea, finally cooled enough to sip.

 

"You look fuckin' ridiculous," he says.
"C'mon, asshole," says Gerard, rolling his eyes and tilting his head. "Come meet my babies."

 

*

 

The hives are tucked in behind the house. From this distance, the buzzing sounds almost like a hum, like idle speakers. Gerard had made him put a bee suit on, too, and they're both swathed in veils, in gloves. Frank feels a little jitter of nerves as they get closer to the hive.

 

"Why bees?" he asks.
"Why not bees?" asks Gerard, smiling. "And I like the order of them; they always know what's going on, whereas people have usually got no fuckin' idea, you know? Also…" He frowns. "Like, I struggled, when I was a kid. Because I couldn't figure out who I was supposed to be. There was this masculine ideal, you know, and then there was...me." He shrugs. "And then I heard that bees aren't really male or female at all - they're workers or drones or queens, same genetics, same everything. So some things don't have to be one thing or another. Which, I figure, means that I've gotta trust the universe because intuition is all I've got to go on."

 

Slowly, Frank can feel a grin spread across his face. A bee lands on his veil and, laughing, he gently brushes it away with one hand.

 

"What's funny?" asks Gerard.
"Queer bees," says Frank and, in that moment, it just seems perfect. Because if the bees can figure it out then, fuck it. So can they.

 

He stands there, watching Gerard tend to the hives, one after the other, careful and methodical, lost in a world of his own. Frank can feel his heart growing in his chest. That noise, that soft and somnolent hum, it's the noise he figures the universe would make, underneath it all.

 

And he can be happy here. He can let himself be happy here.
It's not much.

 

It's a start.