Title: Return to Spirit Lake
Rating: R for language and sexual situations
Fandom: Frank Iero/Gerard Way, back ground Brendon Urie/Spencer Smith, Jamia Nestor/Mikey Way.
Summary:Gerard Way has left Spirit Lake when he was eighteen to study to become a veterinary surgeon, and with no intention of ever coming back. Twelve years later he is back, carrying secrets of a life spent away from his family and friends, and the weight of a dark, painful sorrow. His old home town has not changed, but his life, and the lives of the people he will meet along the way, will never be the same.
Word Count: ~22,024
Dedication: To the lovely x_missdarko_x,
Beta Readers: chemical_stripe and air_crash without whom this would be utterly unreadable. They are and always will be AMAZING.
Disclaimer:This is a work of fiction, not written for profit. I claim no connection with any member of My Chemical Romance, The Killers, Panic at the Disco, F.U.N, their families or friends. The events hereby narrated are absolutely false and are not meant to reflect the person's private life. No harm, misrepresentation, libel, malice or copyright infringement is intended. At no time is this meant to be construed as reality.
Gerard graduated veterinary school magna cum laude at Rutgers University by the time he was twenty-three. He went on to do his internship in Buffalo,( four years of practice dealing with spoiled pooches and medicated Persian cats) until he got an offer from a private veterinary practice in New York, with full medical benefits and a serious increase in his yearly salary.
He lasted the length of his lease for the fancy apartment in Soho; then packed his life back in the same two suitcases he had left with, and went back home.
Gerard had been the first one in his family to go to college; after graduating from high school nobody expected him to take over the family’s auto garage. They all knew that he was meant for better things, and they were also very aware of his deep hatred for anything car related, not even bothering with getting a license when he had turned sixteen, because his brother Michael was going to drive him around anyway.
Mikey (as he was known to all his family and friends) and Gerard are only two years apart, but could not be any more different.
Blessed with a sunny disposition, and an unsurpassed love for all living creatures, Gerard could have easily been a priest, or a rock star; Mikey, on the other hand, is made of tougher stuff, ragged around the edges and armed with an almost deadly dose of cynicism.
“Don’t you ever come back to this shit-hole, Gee.”
That had been Mikey’s send off when they had driven Gerard to the airport, helped carry his suitcases and hugged him tight; Mikey had kept his eyes squeezed shut over the knowledge that his life was never going to be the same without Gerard around.
“I love this shit-hole.” Gerard had murmured against Mikey’s neck, his bother’s pulse a Morse code of goodbye on Gerard’s lips.
The smile on Gerard’s face was (and still is) all that Mikey knew about happiness, so he hugged his brother some more, called him a pansy and then pushed him through the gate, Mikey’s thin, shaky hands pushed deep into the pockets of his jeans.
That had been almost ten years ago.
Nobody had expected him to come back, but back he is; thinner and with the shadow of a new sufferance in his eyes, but with the same sweet smile, the smile that had always spoken of happiness to Mikey.
The day after Gerard comes back, it takes Frank a grand total of twenty minutes before he asks Mikey: “So, is it true? He’s back?”
Frank owns The White Horse, one of the three bars in Spirit Lake and Mikey drinks there on a regular basis. Frank bought it after a brief stint in the army, with the money his old man left him after passing away, and made his life there; serving the kids he used to go to school with and some of their dads.
It’s a small, dark wooded bar, old school somehow, with cold beer, hot buffalo wings, and that sort of cheap, hip coolness that high school kids still find fascinating, especially in lieu of the fact that Frank is lenient with ID checking and he can play a mean guitar.
Frank has been Mikey’s best friend since third grade, and in all these years very little has changed, including the way Mikey reacts when Frank asks about Gerard.
“Yes, you big fag, he’s back. Now, will you give me a beer?”
Frank slides a bottle of Budweiser over the smooth bar and throws a quick glance to a couple of kids making out in a corner, making sure that their hands stay over their clothes. It’s still early, but Frank tries to avoid any trouble with the local sheriff if he can. He knows Bob Bryar well, and they go back a long way, but Bob is a chip of the old block and Frank likes being on his good side as much as he can.
“How does he look?”
Frank asks with as much nonchalance as he can muster while pouring a beer.
“Christ, Frank. You’re such a fucking girl. Come over for dinner tomorrow, so you can see for yourself. He’s staying at my place until he settles down.”
“Hey, I was just asking.”
“Sure, and I’m here for the sparkling conversation, we all know that.”
“You’re a jackass, Mikey Way.”
“And you still want into my brother’s pants, Iero. You’re pathetic.”
Frank closes just after one, and by then Mikey is mildly intoxicated, not so much that he is unable to drive, but enough that morning will come with a serious case of grumpy headache.
“I’ll drive you home.”
“Frank, you don’t need a fucking excuse to come and see my brother. Plus, he’s fucking asleep by now, he’s like a hermit or something, I swear.”
“Shut up, you big lush. I just don’t want you smashing the car against a tree. It’s a great car.”
Mikey drives a 1959 cherry red Cadillac Coupe DeVille that Frank has always lusted after, and that is, for all purposes, Mikey’s baby.
“Hell yeah, it is. And you ain’t driving it just to come and make moon eyes at my brother.”
“Fine, whatever you say dickface. If I don’t see you tomorrow I’ll assume you wrapped that fine piece of machinery around a pole.”
Mikey drives home, a bit too fast, with the light from the moon shimmering silver against the windshield, something hard and fast coming out the radio, a pulsing bass line beating at the base of his spine.
When he gets home, the same place he was born and bred, the home where he was raised and inherited when his momma retired to Florida, Gerard is not asleep. He is sitting on the porch, smoking. Butter, their old beagle, that they’ve had for at least seventeen years now, curled at his feet.
“Hey you. I thought you were tired.”
“Then, why aren’t you in bed?”
Gerard moves, so his brother can sit beside him and they smoke in silence for a while, the night air balmy, rich with the smell of spring.
“I had forgotten how quiet the nights are around here, the city is always filled with noise, even in the dead of night. There was never enough time to breathe through my thoughts. Here… Here I have too much time apparently.”
Mikey snorts softly, once more wondering how he can be so different from his brother, and still love him with the same fierceness he had when they were children, with the same indestructible faith.
“Come on, you philosopher. Let’s get you to bed. You may be a man of leisure, but some of us have work to go to in the morning. “
Gerard follows his brother inside the dark house, the shadow of their dog slipping softly behind them, a limp in one of his hind legs, the memory of when he was knocked over by a neighbour car. Gerard had cried for three days, scared that Butter was going to die.
“He’s not sleeping on your bed, Gee. You ain’t thirteen anymore.”
“Upstairs is for human, downstairs is for dogs and Frank.”
Gerard’s laughter is soft, like the steps he treads over the old staircase.
“Oh, by the way. Frank is coming for dinner tomorrow.” Mikey says/
“Cool. It’s gonna be nice to see him again. How’s he doing?”
“He runs The White Horse, lives above his bar, and he still wants into your pants.”
Gerard shakes his head, that strange, quirky smile staining the moonlight pallor of his skin. He doesn’t say anything else, but Mikey recognizes his goodnight in the way Gerard looks at him, head tilted to the side before closing his bedroom door.
Frank comes for dinner almost every Tuesday, and it soon becomes a tradition.
It’s nice and Frank is easy to be around; Gerard also appreciates the fact that Frank does almost all of the talking, and had quickly caught on that Gerard does not want to talk of what happened in the ten years he has been away from Spirit Lake.
It’s early June, the air already hot, the sky burnished with pink and orange; Mikey ordered three large pizzas and they are sitting on the porch, pizza boxes strewn over the old wooden deck, sipping beers courtesy of Frank, getting progressively drunker with the passing of the hours.
At one point, when the sky has turned from blazing indigo to inky, wet blue, Gerard says quietly: “Gonna take over old Dulli’s vet practice.”
Mikey, who is too drunk to do much more than lie down on the porch’s warm wooden planks burps loudly before asking : “Really?”
“Yeah. Talked to him this morning. He’s been writing to me for the past six months, asking me if I was interested and, I finally said yes.”
Mikey opens another beer, popping the tab with a bit of an unsteady hand, and takes a long gulp before speaking again.
“So, no more scrounging off your little brother?”
“No, no more scrounging.”
“Great, now if I could only get rid of Frank.”
Frank elbows him in the ribs, and Mikey manages to snort half of his beer, prompting Gerard to laugh out loud for the first time since he had come back. Mikey has always loved that sound, and he is happy to hear it again.
Gerard moves out of Mikey’s place the day after the fourth of July.
He has a killer hangover, and so does Mikey, but they manage to move all his stuff in just three trips and spend the rest of the day laying in the shade drinking soda and talking about nothing.
“Doctor? Joe just called. One of his cows is about to give birth, but he says that she is having a lot of problems and you need to get there ten minutes ago.”
Gerard looks up from the small raccoon that one of the Stump boys has brought in, and nods quickly, finishing up with the stitches and putting the small animal back in one of the kennels that lines the back of the surgery.
“Thank you, Spencer. Tell him I’ll be there in fifteen, and then tell Patrick the raccoon is fine. Tell him he can visit him tomorrow.”
Spencer nods quickly, the sharpness of his eyes mitigated only by the way his hair is always a bit too long, a bit too ruffled, like a kid that can’t be bothered with a comb.
Gerard likes him, he is efficient and polite, reserved for a boy that has barely turned nineteen, but it suits Gerard just fine.
Gerard’s days are busy and are spent more or less just like this one, split between the everyday duties of a small town practice, and the house calls to the nearby farms.
He is the only veterinarian in a sixty mile radius, and his days are full, keeping him on the move and busy enough that he has barely the time to visit his brother on a Sunday.
He keeps the tradition of their Tuesday’s dinner though, and sometime Frank and his brother even manage to convince him to drive into town and get a real beer at The White Horse. It doesn’t happen too often, but Gerard likes it this way. He likes the fact that he knows everybody, but, regardless of what they think, not everybody knows him.
It’s easier that way.
Mikey laughs, breathy and deep for someone so skinny; his hand skims the bar before tapping the bottom of his glass against the dark wood and Frank pours another shot of whiskey.
“Nope. You ain’t drunk, bro. You’re shit-faced. Repeat after me s-h-i-t…”
Gerard clamps a clammy hand over his brother’s mouth and Mikey make a face and starts coughing dramatically.
“You smell like dog’s ass.”
“That’s because is where my hand has been almost all day. Dogs, cats, cows…”
Frank laughs out loud across the bar, and Gerard almost falls off the stool while twisting around, trying to follow the sound.
“I think I need a bit of fresh air.”
Mikey is too busy hollering over the truly atrocious band playing on the small stage to notice, but it’s not that Gerard can go too far. Frank has his and Mikey’s car keys and all he really wants is to rinse the back of his mouth with cold air, spiking the rum and coke with the pine needles he can smell every time November approaches.
He rests his back against the wall, and the music, filtered by bricks and the bodies massed inside, is reduced to a slippery bass line that is almost pleasant, skittering a bit off tempo with Gerard’s own heartbeat.
He wants a cigarette, but he has left the packet on the bar and he can’t bring himself to walk back in, not just yet. So he breathes cold air, sharp against his lips and slips his eyes closed against the silver rimmed sky.
It’s barely eleven at night, but Gerard has been drinking since five and he is almost asleep by the time he hears the crunching of gravel and the abrupt brake of a bicycle. When he opens his eyes there is a guy looking at him from across the street, hair ruffled by the cold, wearing a livid green jacket.
The unsteady wave of his hand is a matter of marvel and surprise to his drunken mind, and he keeps waving until the guy waves back, the lull of his soft voice carried by the wind.
The door of the bar opens with a loud of bang, returning the music inside to its original state of fantastic awfulness. Gerard turns a bit a too quickly and the nausea is cut off by the high pitched giggle of his brother.
“Come in, I’VE GOT TEQUILA!”
When he turns, the guy has gone, the scrunching of gravel silenced by the howls coming from the band.
It’s over a month before Gerard goes back to The White Horse, and this time he sticks to coke, laughing at the atrocious attempts of his brother at karaoke and playing Born to Run on the Juke box one too many times.
“Way, you play Springsteen another time and I’ll ban you from my bar.”
Mikey snorts out loud, muttering “Yeah, sure.”
“Springsteen is The Boss.”
“Your momma’s boss.”
“Jesus, is already time for momma’s comebacks?”
“Shut up, Mikey.”
“You fucking love me. Even if you’d love to fuck my brother.”
Gerard pats his brother’s shoulder and throws a sympathetic look at Frank, a look that says take care of my brother and slap him into tomorrow if he keeps being so obnoxious, all at the same time.
Snow comes thick with December’s bite and Gerard wraps the jacket tighter around his body, he crosses the street and walks into the grocery store, counting the money for milk like he used to do when he was five.
John and Gerard went to school together, and a million years ago they used to be friends, now they speak of the weather, and, occasionally John brings his wife’s Pomeranian to get his boosters and a trim.
High school has been forgotten in favour of a certain degree of jealousy for Gerard’s worldliness and the way John’s wife looks at him. Yeah, that may be it.
At the counter he hands John the money and pays for a packet of cinnamon burst, popping one into his mouth on his way out, the taste of childhood chased by the artificial flavours and the sourness of the gum.
Outside it has started snowing again and Gerard looks up at the milky, silvery sky and sticks his tongue out. The snow melts against the burning cinnamon and Gerard thinks of kisses, long lost and burning, burning still.
Christmas comes with more snow and the annual choir concert. All the kids gets dressed up and they gather (usually in half a foot of snow) under the massive pine tree that stands in front of the town hall, decorated with silver and blue glass balls.
Gerard used to sing in the very same choir, while Mikey, who couldn’t (and still can’t) carry a tune to save his life, was in the audience making faces at his brother.
Gerard doesn’t want to go just for the sake of old memories, but Mikey hands him a small flask of spiked Christmas punch, takes him by the sleeve of his jacket and stumbles happily, trudging snow and whispering in his ear, loud enough that Frank can hear.
“You know, Frank used to come and see you every year. Even that time he was sick with bronchitis. That’s love, bro’.”
Frank is as tipsy as Mikey, but not so much that he can’t go back to the bar later, and definitely not so much that he can avoid the flush of embarrassment across the fair skin over his nose. Gerard just smiles, brushes snow off Frank’s hair and walks as close to the stage as he possibly can. The fact that he doesn’t want to wallow in the past does not mean that he does not enjoy the memories.
The kids start singing “The little drummer boy”, and when Mikey notices his brother mouthing all the words, he turns to mock him with Frank, but Frank is looking at Gerard with something close to a hazy kind of bliss and Mikey punches his arm instead.
“Jesus, Frank… would you make a move already?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Suit yourself, you big fag.”
The choir is good; the small, clear voices rise above the crystallized purity of the snow, and it is like a postcard, something stilled in time, outside the fast-paced life that has been scuttling through Spirit Lake as well as the rest of the world.
Gerard loves it.
There are two sets of twins at the front, kids he has never seen, or heard of, dark haired and with large, expressive eyes. He enquires about them and Mikey tells him that their family has moved to Spirit Lake from Utah, they are Mormon, like the Urie’s and they have more kids that they can afford.
“The two sets of twins, a girl of sixteen and the eldest is a boy, that one.”
Mikey points at a boy standing by the side of the stage, and Gerard recognizes him as the boy on the bicycle he has met briefly that night outside the White Horse.
“His name is Brandon; he works at the post office.”
Gerard finds himself waving at the boy, Brandon, before he knows he was going to do it, and there is a moment of flushed confusion on Brandon’s face before he waves back, the bright of his eyes a mirror to the ones in his siblings’.
Mikey takes a sip off his flask and elbows Frank in his ribs.
“You better do it quickly, Iero.”
“Fuck off, Mikey.”
Gerard doesn’t notice them, and by the time the choir starts singing “Holy Night”, almost an hour has passed, and when he raises his eyes, Brandon is still looking at him, the same pink flush spread over the apple of his cheeks.
Gerard’s smile is kind, warm with the spiked punch, and Brandon almost jumps when his mom tugs at his sleeve and they both walk towards the twins.
When Brandon looks back, Gerard is gone.
Christmas day comes with a heavy flourish of snow and an emergency house call about one of the horses at the Stumph’s farm.
Gerard leaves his brother’s house promising to come back as soon as he can, but Mikey doesn’t get his hopes up too high, so he eats alone, and Butter gets the best pieces of the turkey.
“There boy, at least you’ll appreciate the effort.”
Butter nudges his head on Mikey’s bony knee and Mikey pats the old dog, something like longing in his eyes, some sort of subdued sadness that he rarely allows himself to wallow in. He covers Gerard’s plate in Clingfilm and puts it in the fridge, hoping that, at least, his brother will remember to eat something before the day is over.
Gerard has to put the horse down, and it’s not easy. Patrick, the youngest of the Stumph’s brood, insists in staying with the animal till the end, and Gerard tries hard to make it as less traumatic as possible.
“She didn’t feel the pain no more, did she, doc?”
“No, Patrick. She just went to sleep.”
And Patrick doesn’t even cry; he just brushes the old mare’s mane, until his mom takes him back inside the house. Gerard makes all the arrangements for disposing of the animal, and refuses the invitation to stay for dinner.
When he drives back to Mikey’s there is a hard knot in his throat he can’t swallow.
Mikey recognises the look in his brother’s eyes, and he just warms up the food and then, after making sure that not all the meat is fed to the dog, he drags Gerard back into town.
“My good man, two whiskeys.”
Frank is wearing a Santa’s hat and his eyes are a bit too bright, breaking the unwritten rule that a barman cannot be drunk while working.
“Merry Christmas, you fuckers. Welcome to Chez Frank, house of fine liquors and great company.”
“Just gives us the drinks, you idiot.”
Gerard smiles, the security of his brother’s affection and the knowledge of Frank’s easy acceptance help loosening up the knot in his throat, and he can whisper.
“Merry Christmas, Frank.”
Frank’s eyes shine gold and amber, and there is a spark of hope so bright that not even Mikey can take the piss out of him for it.
The first time Gerard speaks to Brandon it’s a couple of weeks into the New Year, the roads are icy and the bite of cold has been relentless.
Gerard has just gone to buy some groceries, (you got to eat sometime, bro) and he’s planning a quick trip to Mikey’s garage to confirm plans for Tuesday’s dinner, when he hears a soft voice calling him from across the street.
Brandon is waving a small package framed by the door of the post office, he is wearing his uniform with a bright smile, and Gerard smiles back crossing the street careful of the ice and sludge.
“Doctor Way, the package from New York you were waiting for has just arrived. Ray said it was urgent and you had been waiting, so I thought I better give it to you straight away.”
Brandon has a pleasant voice, soft and musical, and talks with a fast-paced politeness that makes Gerard smile.
“Thank you very much, Brandon. It is Brandon, right? And you can call me Gerard. Everybody does, I’m pretty sure that some folks around here don’t even believe I’m a vet, not with my longish hair and my penchant for old-school hard rock.”
Brandon has no idea about old-school rock, being raised Mormon had seen to that, and he still does penance when he gives in into drinking a can of Coke, but what Brandon knows is that Gerard is well-loved by everybody in town, and since he has come back and taken over Dr. Dulli’s practice, he has proven to be competent and likeable, so much so that many of the women of the national society of the Daughters of the American Revolution with unmarried daughters, have put Gerard at the top of their list of possible husband material.
“I don’t think that the hair is a problem, doct- Gerard. People here don’t think so. Auntie Raechelle says you are the best vet we’ve ever had in this city for years. And she has been living here for forever. Her daddy’s daddy came to live here at the turn of the century. She still lives in the same house.”
Gerard likes that Brandon talks as if any and every event of his life is a story to tell, something that can be made bigger and more interesting by simply sharing it with someone else. It reminds him of someone he used to love a long time ago, someone who had the same love for life that Gerard can see in Brandon’s eyes.
Gerard stops Brandon’s rambling by reaching for the package, but he does so with a smile and Brandon smiles back, something that blooms on his young face with the same brilliant crispness of the winter sunshine. Gerard likes it.
“Thank you again, Brandon. I have another package coming, hopefully, next week. Could you keep an eye on it for me?”
“Sure thing, I can. No problem.”
Gerard takes his leave with another smile and waves at Brandon, and when he turns on Main Street towards the White Horse, where he had left his car parked, he can still see Brandon standing by the door outside the post office.
Frank is outside the bar overlooking his new delivery of beer, a pencil stuck behind his ear, shivering in a small hoodie, his eyes still pasted with beer and too little sleep.
“Hi Frank, need any help?”
Frank yells something to the man standing at the bottom of the cellar, and signs the delivery form before turning to look at Gerard, and he wishes, not for the first time, for some guts, some courage to finally ask Gerard out, or at least to tell him he has been pining for him since he was thirteen.
“No, I got it. And what are you doing in town? What about the surgery? I thought country vets never closed.”
Gerard helps roll the last kegs of beer down the slide regardless of Frank’s words, mostly because he does not know how not to busy himself, and partially because he wants to ask Frank about Brandon, because Frank and Reverend Lacey are the ones that know everything about everyone in town, and Gerard is definitely more comfortable talking to Frank than a Reverend.
“We do close, Frank. I’m always reachable for emergencies, but I do close the surgery on Wednesday’s afternoons. I’m a vet not a martyr, and Spencer has his business classes at the community college on Wednesday, so it works well for both of us.”
They finish loading the cellar in little time and Gerard follows Frank inside the cool, dark bar, the only light coming from the green neon of the jukebox in the corner.
“Gimme a quarter, Frank.”
Frank flips a coin through the air and Gerard catches it with practiced ease, slipping the coin into the slot and selecting the same song he always does: H5 6F, Don’t stop believing by Journey.
“Jesus, Way. You have the worst taste in music ever. I mean, I know you’re old but fucking shit, have you even heard of Nirvana?”
Gerard does his best Kurt Cobain impression by pushing his hair over his eyes and dragging his feet to the tall stools by the bar, and Frank just shakes his head and pours Gerard a glass of Coke.
“You’re so fucking lame. Way. Now tell me to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, cause sure as hell is not to help me load beer and play Journey. Even if it does give you an opportunity to spend time with my awesomeness.”
Gerard has always liked Frank; his brother’s best friend has been a fixture in the Way’s household since Mikey was eight, and even if Gerard was few years older they had always been good friends.
“Well, actually there is something I wanted to ask you, but mostly it’s your awesomeness, obviously.”
Frank just starts stacking glasses behind the counter and Gerard takes a sip of his Coke before asking about Brandon, about how old he is and what he is like.
If there is a moment in which Frank’s hand clutches at the vodka’s bottle with more strength than necessary, Gerard does not notice and Frank just reminds himself that he has only himself to blame for having waited fifteen years to say a word to Gerard about his feelings.
“Jesus, Way. I didn’t know you liked them so young. The Flower’s boy is only nineteen, and he’s a Mormon. Do you have a death wish? Cause his momma is gonna rip you a new one if she finds out you want to pluck her little flower.”
Frank’s smirk is slightly bitter, curving the lush line of his mouth into something sour, but Gerard doesn’t seem to notice as he laughs as well, shaking his head.
“You got it all wrong, Frank. Jesus, who do you think I am, John?”
At the mention of John’s well documented predilection for younger women, they both laugh out loud, and Frank manages to swallow the bitterness of his jealousy.
“I just asked because I-…” Gerard is not sure why he is so interested in Brandon, after all he has only met the boy twice, well, three times counting the drunken exchange outside the White Horse; but there is something in Brandon’s eyes that tells a story Gerard had heard a long time ago. A story Gerard had almost forgotten, but it’s still able to awaken a part of his heart that had been dormant for a long time.
Gerard tries again, Frank’s amber eyes, dimmed by the quiet note in Gerard’s voice, are familiar and confusing at the same time, and Gerard fishes his words from a dark place from his past. “He reminds me of someone I knew. A long time ago.”
Frank is smart enough not ask who. He knows, from Gerard’s look, that he would not get an answer, and even if he did, it would not be something he would like.
So he does what he does best, he tells Gerard all he knows about Brandon, that his family moved to Spirit Lake when Brandon was fourteen, that they have very little money and Brandon had to find a job after graduating from high school and that, in order to help his family, he had abandoned the idea to join the Mormon mission, and even more so, the idea to pursue his passion for music in university.
“He’s a good kid. He talks a lot, fuck he talks more than I do, but he ain’t bad. He even helps with the kids’ choir and he is a favourite of the kids’ hour at the library. He’s basically a step away from sainthood. If there is something like sainthood within the Mormon’s faith. I’m not sure.”
Gerard spends the rest of his afternoon helping Frank, stacking glasses and even trying his hand at pouring some beer. They talk a lot, and Gerard manages to laugh like he used to do when he was a kid, before school ended, before New York, before losing his heart out East.
Mikey shows up around seven, grease under his fingernails and a tired look in his eyes.
“You lazy bum, did you spend your day off in a bar? I’m ashamed of you, bro’.”
Frank slides a whiskey sour across the bar, and Mikey downs it in two gulps, burning the tired scratch in his voice.
Gerard looks at his brother with a look of half-hidden concern, and he cannot help but wondering when Mikey managed to grow up, when did he turn into their father, his hazy eyes carrying a myopia of hidden secrets.
“You look tired, Mikes. You’ve been working too hard.”
Mikey taps the bar with his glass and Frank pours him another shot, his concern hidden behind a camaraderie born out of a lifetime of friendship.
“Winter is always busy; snow and ice are never kind to cars, not even cars used to this kind of cold. But this year has been particularly bad; I’ve actually hired someone to help out. They start Monday.”
The someone turns out to be a short, plump girl with cat eye glasses, arms decorated with the map of the southern hemisphere night sky, and a seriously well-staked rack. She meets Gerard when he brings his truck to get his snow tires changed; the only thing he can see are her legs sticking out from under a large tractor that Gerard recognises from the Stumph’s farm. She is singing along the radio, she is tragically out of tune, but she doesn’t seem to mind one bit as she belts out the lyrics of some cheesy pop song.
When she slides out from the under the tractor there are smudges of motor oil on her hands and her face, and her hair is falling messily around her face, escaping a haphazardly tied ponytail. She scrubs her hand with a chequered handkerchief and extends it for Gerard to shake.
“You must be Gerard, your brother talks a lot about you. I’m Jamia, the new grease monkey.”
Gerard shakes her hand and she has strong grip, her fingernails are bitten to the quick and there is a casual assertiveness in her voice and demeanour that makes her immediately likeable.
“I wish I could say the same about you. My brother did not mention the fact that his new mechanic was—“
“No. I mean yes, not that it’s important. Gender stereotypes should be abolished, and I try never to partake in them. I meant Mikey never mentioned that his new mechanic was… a very attractive girl with a very interesting taste for eyewear.”
Jamia looks at Gerard with amusement in her eyes, her hands tucked in the pockets of her overalls. “Are you hitting on me, Gerard?”
Gerard flushes slightly, stammering around an apology, until he notices the smirk on Jamia’s lips. He laughs at his own foolishness and adds: “You are messing with me, right? You must know that I’m gayer than Christmas. I’m pretty sure Mikey told you in detail.”
She shrugs; a gesture that is so much like Mikey’s that makes Gerard wonder for how long Jamia and Mikey have known each other.
“He mentioned you crushing on Lance Bass when you were younger.” And this time Gerard knows that she is messing with him, and he laughs with her, all the while explaining why Lance Bass was way cooler than Justin Timberlake.
Gerard makes some coffee while Jamia changes his tires, complaining about the lack of taste displayed by his brother for only keeping instant in the tiny office behind the garage.
Jamia asks him about the veterinary surgery, and tells him she has a two dogs Mama and Peppers.
“They are my babies, and no making fun of their names.”
Gerard raises his hands in mock surrender and shakes his head. “I wouldn’t dare, our old dog is called Butter, and there’s no real reason for it.”
“Yeah, Mikey told me about him. Your brother loves that dog more than he loves his car, and that must be an awful lot, ‘cause his car is a one wet dream of an automobile.”
Mikey drives the tow-track into the larger bay in the garage and Gerard catches a look of mild embarrassment in his brother’s face when Mikey notices Jamia smiling and waving.
There is someone else in the cabin of the truck and when he jumps off Gerard recognises him as Brandon. His car, an old, very battered Honda Civic, looks as if has made its last journey, and Brandon is as white as a sheet, his doe-like eyes large with fear.
Gerard knows that look very well, it never changes, in humans or animals, it’s the look of someone that has stared death in the eyes. He finds himself walking towards Brandon before he realises he is doing it, he touches Brandon by the elbow, and asks him gently if he is okay.
Mikey chimes in then, as Brandon has not said a word since after calling the garage.
“He must have skidded on the ice; I found his car in a ditch not far from the Ritter’s farm. I think he’s okay, but he hasn’t said a word. I told him I can take him to the hospital but he refuses. Gee, see if you can get him a glass of water or something. And tell him that we can call his mother to come and pick him up.”
Jamia gets busy helping Mikey unloading the Honda on the platform, but she smiles sweetly at Brandon, touching his shoulder on her way to the car.
Gerard is still holding onto Brandon’s elbow, and he squeezes gently before steering him towards the office. He sits Brandon in one of the small chair and pours him a glass of water before sitting on the edge of the desk and allowing Brandon the time to settle and see if he can get some words out of him.
It’s true that Gerard doesn’t know Brandon at all, but this silence is completely foreign to the bright-eyed boy Gerard had met at the post office.
“I’m okay, I promise.”
Brandon’s voice is brittle and small, and Gerard doesn’t say anything, just hands him another glass of water and waits him out, letting Brandon find his own words to voice what has happened.
”I keep thinking that if it had happened on the way to school. I –I could have killed the twins, and Grace and mama… I cannot stop thinking about that.”
Gerard slides off the desk and kneels by the chair where Brandon is sitting, one hand on the arm-rest and the other one on Brandon’s shoulder.
“But it didn’t happen, okay? You drove them safely to school and work and they’re fine. They are fine.” Gerard uses his quietest tone, the one he reserves for scared children and their sick pets, the voice his nana used to use with him when he was a child.
“What about you? Are you okay? Is Brandon okay?”
“Brandon’s fine.” Then he shakes his head, looking at Gerard with a wide, open look of terror. “Brandon’s terrified and… I- I totalled the car and we have no money and- and.”
The words stop with the same suddenness they had started, and Brandon clutches at the plastic cup until it crumples in his hand, but Gerard let him be, offering nothing more than patience and a pair of quiet, concerned eyes.
When it’s clear that Brandon has calmed down a little, Gerard stands up again and offers his hand to Brandon. “Come on, let’s go and talk to Mikey about your car. And don’t worry, I’m sure we can come up with a payment plan that will allow you to keep the car and pay Mikey out as well, okay?”
Brandon stands up with a coltish kind of clumsiness, all long legs and gangly arms and Gerard has another pang of painful memories chasing the present moment in and out of his heart. Gerard catches him by his elbow, and Brandon flushes, flustered and embarrassed. “I- don’t want any special treatment, though. My family pays its due.”
They walk out of the office and Jamia is just sliding out of Brandon’s car. “The axis is busted, but we can fix it. Engine is not fab, but it’s in decent shape, no worries kiddo. We can make it good as new. Well, almost.”
Brandon seems more at ease around Jamia than he is with Mikey, so she handles all the paperwork and tells Brandon about costs, repair time and payment options.
Mikey is clearly aware of the financial situation in the Flower’s household, and the price he is charging is a good fifteen percent cheaper than he normally would. Gerard looks at his brother with pride in his eyes and he can see his father in Mikey, he can see the same kind determination, the same fair, plain politeness.
“Dad would’ve been proud of you, Mikes.”
Mikey shrugs, pushes his glasses up his nose and mutters: “He was real proud of you too, Gee. Real proud.”
When Brandon finishes signing papers, apologising and thanking Mikey for letting him pay in instalments, there is still the problem of him going home as the Honda is the Flower’s only car. Gerard offers to drive him, and it takes him only a little coaxing to convince Brandon.
“Tell you what-“Gerard says. “You can come to the surgery tomorrow afternoon and you can help clean the kennels. Okay? I think that would make us more than even.”
Brandon beams as if Gerard has offered him a reward instead of a job, and it still catches Gerard by surprise when his heart beats a painful rhythm along a sudden memory.
He says his goodbyes to his brother and Jamia and drives across a hazy twilight hour, sun filtering through heavy, low clouds, bathing the windshield and their faces in a dull, rusty colour. Like dried blood.
Brandon is not as silent as in Mikey’s office but his quiet matches the dying day, soft and welcomed.
The Flower’s cottage is just behind the larger Trotter’s farm, and when they arrive, the windows are bright against the fallen darkness and Gerard can spot the silhouette of a woman behind one of the chintz curtains.
“I called mom from the office, told her you were driving me home. Would you like to come in? I expect she would want to thank you, and she makes the best pound cake in all Idaho and Utah, I can promise you that.”
Gerard has a well-documented sweet tooth and his innate politeness will never allow him to say no. He accepts the invitation with pleasure, and inside they are greeted by the set of twins Gerard had seen singing in the choir, they are, predictably loud, and one of the girls climbs up Brandon like a chimp.
“Brand! Brand! You ok? Mama said you were fine, but I didn’t know and I was scared. Is it true that the car is totalled? How are we gonna go to school? Do we have to take the bus? Brand, I hate the bus, the other kids call me names and it stinks, it really does.”
Apparently the tendency to over talk is hereditary in the Flower’s family, and it takes Brandon’s mom to quiet them.
“Bernice-Marie, stop bothering your brother and sit back at the table, you need to finish your homework.” The girl pouts a little, but does as she is told, not before stopping in front of Gerard and declares: “You smell like wet dog.”
Gerard can’t help but laugh at the utter seriousness of the girl, she looks between Gerard and her mom, and before her mom can scold her for being too direct, he kneels in front of her and pulls out a small bag of dog’s treats from his pocket. “I do smell like wet dog because I work with dogs and cats and lots of other animals all day. I am a vet.”
Bernice-Marie’s eyes grow three sizes and she all but squeals. “You’re Gerard! Patrick talks about you all the time. He says he wants to be like you when he grows up. I like Patrick. He has pigs and ducks and ponies! Do you have ponies? Can I ride one?”
Brandon picks her up and brings her back to the kitchen where three of the more reserved siblings are still sitting at the table. When they see Gerard, one of the other girls asks timidly about ponies, and Gerard promises that as soon as he does have any ponies in his surgery, he will tell them, and they will be able to come and feed them, and maybe even ride them if the owner is ok with that.
“You are officially the coolest person they have ever met, Mr. Way.”
”I am? And it’s Gerard, Mrs Flower. Nobody calls me Mr. Way.”
Brandon and his mother have the same doe-eyes, but her smile has been dimmed by a life of sacrifices and grief, making her looks older than she really is.
Gerard spends a couple of hours at Brandon’s drinking tea and having three slices of cake. Time passes very quickly, and by the end of the evening the twins regards him as, indeed, the coolest adult they know (even if he smells of wet dog) and Brandon’s mom seems rather taken with him as well.
Among his younger siblings, Brandon comes out as the quietest of the bunch, displaying a level of maturity that is a clear sign of having to embrace adulthood way too early. It’s clear that Brandon is trying to fill his father’s shoes, but it’s a way too hard job for someone so young, and Gerard wishes there was something he could do to give Brandon back some of the freedom that comes from being just nineteen.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at the surgery then?”
“Sure, I finish at the post office at four, I’ll have to catch a ride, but Ray told me he can drive me up to Thornton and then I can walk, it’s just half a mile from there.”
Gerard doesn’t really need someone to help him, usually Patrick is more than happy to do so, but it will make Brandon feel even, and Gerard is beginning to see that not being in debt is something that means a lot to Brandon.
On his way home the snow starts falling again, fat, powdery flakes that speak of another morning defrosting the windows and digging the wheels out of half a foot of snow.
Gerard drives past the road to his old house, and if he squints, he can almost see the light in the living room, the large window illuminating a square of threadbare carpet, Butter asleep, Mikey watching some game or another on the TV.
His brother is alone, just like he is. It makes Gerard feels as if he has wasted too much time.
Brandon keeps his word and the following day he shows up at the surgery armed with his chatter and an abundance of enthusiasm that can’t be justified by the rather grim job of cleaning the kennels. Gerard welcomes the distraction, and he is pleased to see that Spencer, in an unusual display of politeness, seems to like Brandon straight away.
“My b-, my best friend is Mormon too. You two go to the same church, Brendon. Brendon Urie?” Spencer, usually as poised and confident as a stock broker in 80s Wall Street, seems slightly agitated whenever the Urie’s boy is mentioned, and Gerard has a suspicion that, whatever is the actual situation, Spencer would love for Brendon to be way more than his best friend.
It appears that Brandon has known Brendon since they were seven, and that they had met at Bible camp in Pocatello, something that is like the final seal of approval for Spencer. They agree to meet in town on Saturday night, and before going home, Spencer and Brandon exchange phone numbers and promises to keep in touch.
Gerard is not sure why, but the smile on Brandon’s face makes him feel better about the world, and for once, the onslaught of memories is a kinder one, one that brings back moments of quiet happiness.
Life keeps going at the usual unhurried speed in Spirit Lake, Gerard has a busy practice, he still spends most of his free time either reading or drinking with Mikey and Frank, and Tuesday night is still for cheap take away and chilled beer.
Frank has been sick with a nasty cold for the good part of two weeks and when he finally shows up at Mikey’s place he looks tired and pale, but clearly happy to partake again in their “manly ritual”.
“Put the beer in the fridge, Frank. Food will be here soon. We’re in the living room; it’s too fucking cold to be in the den.”
Frank follows the sound of laughter and finds Gerard being pinned to the floor by Mikey’s spindly legs and arms. He calls for help, but Frank just crosses his arms over his chest and watches the scene unfold standing by the door.
“Whatever you did, Gee. I’m sure you deserve it.”
Mikey shoots Gerard a deadly, warning look, but Gerard has had thirty years to become immune to that and he wiggles away to stand behind Frank, using him as a not so threatening human shield.
“So, Frank, has Mikey told you that his new mechanic is a ridiculously attractive girl? Like seriously hot, so hot that he gets all flustered whenever she smiles at him. Her name is Jamia and I think Mikes has is it rather bad for her.”
Apparently Frank did not know, because what follows is a two hours conversation/interrogation about Jamia’s qualities and attributes.
“Does she have big jugs?”
Mikey punches Frank in the ear and Gerard, already half-drunk on beer and full of food, just laughs, falling off the edge of the sofa, landing with a loud thump on the floor. He is still giggling when he tries to talk and, even when he tries to go for serious, it comes up as mocking, his voice a couple of octaves louder than normal. He pats Mikey on the shoulder and tries to focus his gaze on his brother’s eyes.
“Mikey come on, admit it. You fucking like her, she’s cool too. Nothing wrong with her, and she seems to dig you, even if you are giant car buff. Maybe she does just in virtue of that. What do you have to lose? It’s not like when we were in high school and I had to ask Tracey out for you ‘cause you were too shy, you’ve come a long way, and bro’ I saw the way she looks at you, you totally have a shot.”
Frank grabs his bottle from the table and finishes it in two gulps, belching with satisfaction and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“But most important, Mikes…. You still haven’t answered my question. Does she have big jugs?”
Mikey is not as mellow as his brother, but he rarely musters enough energy for anything more than a death glare, but something seems to snap inside him, something that has been brewing for a long time. Something that has only little to do with the taunting about liking Jamia, and more about a long-suppressed feeling of bitter abandonment. He stares at Gerard with a look of barely controlled fury, a look weighted with a decade spent asking himself why his fucking brother had left him alone to bury their father and watch their mother disappear day after day.
“You two are such assholes!” Mikey’s voice breaks the last of Frank’s giggles and it’s as icy as the roads outside, gleaming under a stark, bleak night. “Gee, just because you’re fucking older and lived in New York, that doesn’t make you a fucking expert in relationships. So you can stop with your sanctimonious preaching, because when was the last time you fucking asked someone out? A year ago? Two years? Have you had any kind of relationship since…? “
Gerard blanches for a moment, his large, green eyes round with fear as the haziness of alcohol gives space to another wave of memories. Mikey has only a few moments to feel guilty, and then he turns his attention to Frank. “And you-…You’ve been pining after my brother for fifteen years; you really have no room to talk, okay? This fucking evening it’s officially over. You can fucking do whatever you want. I’m going to bed.”
Frank watches Mikey walk upstairs with a jutting of razor-sharp hipbones, all the while trying to figure out how to minimize the effect of Mikey’s revelation, trying to see if there is any way that he can blame Mikey’s outburst on alcohol, and not on the badly hidden reality of his feelings for Gerard.
He is still trying to come up with something when he realises that Gerard is still sitting by the couch, hands in his lap, his eyes stapled open by fear, his memories a Polaroid of a hurt that has not faded in years.
Frank crawls back towards Gerard until they are sitting shoulder to shoulder; somehow he knows that Mikey’s revelation about his feelings for Gerard is not what is making Gerard look so lost. Frank peels the label of his beer and shreds it into small pieces, quiet in the aftermath of some small tragedy that has nothing to do with Gerard finally being told about what Frank feels for him. Is not that Frank was expecting Gerard to ultimately come out and declare his undying love in return, but he has to admit that it is altogether discouraging that Gerard seems totally unaffected by it.
“I’m sorry, Frank.”
Gerard’s voice sounds suddenly too loud, and Frank’s heart thumps twice as fast as it should do, a twisted beat that makes him look up a little too fast, alcohol swimming in his veins.
Frank looks perplex for a minute, his alcohol muddled brain slower at picking up the nuances of Gerard’s sorrow, but he can read the reality of pity in the curve of Gerard’s mouth, and Frank clenches his jaw around the words that he really wants to say in favour of some that may salvage a little of his pride.
“What are you sorry for? Not being in love with me? Jesus, Way stop it, will ya? I’ll survive, okay? I ain’t gonna jump in the lake because you fell in love with the world but forgot about me.”
Gerard, who has the eyes of an apologetic martyr, turns his gaze to the dying fire, cowardly in his own way. And Frank, bold with beer, will spend days wondering where this bravado came from when all he wanted was for Gerard to actually fall in love with him, to be part of that fucking world inside Gerard’s head, inside Gerard’s heart.
Somewhere on the landing Butter snuffles in his sleep and Gerard looks up, until the noises in Mikey’s room die down, and then he is left alone with the weight of regret, and Frank. Frank and his open heart displayed with as much dignity and courage as he can.
Gerard has always admired him for it, for the way Frank writes all his emotions on his face, hiding nothing, faking nothing.
“I am sorry I never told you I knew.”
Frank shakes his head and scratches the back of his neck, a nervous gesture that Gerard knows all too well. “ ‘S okay. It wasn’t exactly a national secret, I guess. Listen, let’s forget about it, okay? I- I’ll get over it. I’ll find myself someone way hotter than you and screw his fucking brain out, marry him and then adopt five Vietnamese kids. Maybe I’ll try my luck with Bob; I’ve always had a soft spot for burly, ginger guys.”
Gerard can’t help but laugh at that, because Bob is straighter than an arrow and could crush Frank with his pinkie if Frank merely suggested anything like that.
“Hey, stop laughing at me, Way. I’ve got a fucking broken heart here.”
Frank’s swift, brittle smile is back, and it takes some effort, but he summons it quickly enough and he thinks he’ll be okay. He will be okay as long as Gerard doesn’t start treating him differently, as long as Gerard can still be his friend.
“I’ll try to be gentle, you big homo.” Gerard says with a small smile.
“Fuck you, Gee. Now get me some fucking beer and tell me what the fuck is going on with your brother, because I’m pretty sure a light ribbing about some hot chick didn’t deserve the fucking shit-storm that followed.”
The smile on Gerard’s lips dies quickly, because things with Frank are going to be awkward for some time, but they will eventually get better, but Mikey is different.
Mikey will not forgive him quickly, Mikey has been carrying his hurt for years now, hidden behind the placidity of his sarcasm, sharpened and polished and deadly.
Gerard cannot blame him. Gerard had left with a head full of dreams, and had left his brother to bury their father, had left Mikey to live a life that had been handed down to him like an old shirt, without having had any other choice, not like Gerard.
“It’s a long story. Trust me; you don’t want to hear it.”
Gerard walks back into the kitchen to grab two more beers, and outside it has started snowing again. He looks at the driveway of his old house, covered in an immaculate blanket, and remembers how many times he had dreamt of his home when he was away, of the way the cold grips you hard in winter, of how Mikey used to climb into bed with him when he was a kid, of how much he wanted to be back. He thinks he should have told Mikey, should have come home when his dad died, he should have let Mikey help him. But he cannot change the past, cannot change the fact that his brother’s love is bitter with resentment, he can only hope to find a way to make things better, to twist the present into something that doesn’t cut like barb-wire.
He is still gripping the edge of the sink when he hears Frank’s bare feet slapping against the worn out wooden floor.
“Are you fucking brewing the beer, Way?”
Gerard turns around and Frank looks suddenly so much younger than his twenty-eight years, he looks caved in, the slope of his shoulders spelling a tired defeat and Gerard wishes he could just give him what he wants, but he has no idea how, or if he will ever be able to feel anything ever again.
“Just watching the snow.”
Frank grabs his beer, pops it open against the old counter, and takes a long swig. “Man, you’re such a queer. Come on, lets’ go back, it’s fucking freezing in here.”
Gerard is not sure what he has done to deserve a friend like Frank, but he is glad he has him. He is glad that Frank can see him for who he is, and loves him still. He is glad that Mikey was not alone when Gerard had abandoned them both.
The fire has been reduced to some dying embers and Gerard stokes it back to life, throwing another log onto the hearth with a showering of sparks and the smoky crackling of sap.
It’s late and they’re both still a little drunk and there are too many words that they both wish to say. At first nothing comes, but Frank has waited fifteen years, and if tonight is the night he has to finally get over Gerard Way, he wants to know why and for whom he is giving this dream away. He sets the beer on the floor and lies on the couch, his eyes to the ceiling, while his peripheral vision can still catch a glimpse of the line in Gerard’s jaw.
“So, you and the Flower’s boy. What’s going on between the two of you?”
Of all the things Gerard was expecting Frank to ask, that was not one of them, but Frank has always had a weird knack at finding a way to get people to talk, maybe it comes with the job of being a bar owner, or maybe it’s just him and the way Franks’ own openness bring out the same in other people.
“Nothing. Nothing… He just reminds me of someone I once knew.”
There is a note of abject melancholia in Gerard’s words and Frank is not drunk enough to miss it, to miss the fact that this someone may be the reason why Gerard has never looked his way. And maybe it’s the beer, and maybe Frank will regret it, but right now, with Gerard sitting just few feet away, with the red flames painting Gerard’s skin russet and orange, it’s almost easy for Frank to ask for an explanation, for an understanding of Gerard’s heart. To ask not why Gerard had not come back, but for whom he had stayed away from his family and his home. For whom Gerard had lost the look in his eyes that had made thirteen year old Frank realise he was gay, made him realise that he was gay and in love with his best friend’s brother.
“Tell me your story, Gee.”