Life goes on the way it’s supposed to go, and spring is a short, beautiful affair of bright flowers, apple blossom trees, and the first swims in the lake.
The town settles back into its own rhythm and, even if Mikey is now marked as "another one of those Ways with their queer ideas”, the good folks of Spirit Lake still use his garage, and, even old Mrs. Velindre makes a reappearance at Gerard’s surgery when her poodle needs his boosters. Spencer holds his head up high, and calls her name when it’s her turn and she nods politely, albeit a bit stiffly.
Brendon gets his high school diploma and they all show up for the graduation ceremony, standing at the back and hollering when his name is called out. Spencer looks stupidly proud and he hugs everyone in his proximity, including Frank and Jamia.
Summer has exploded and they decide to spend the night by the lake, getting drunk and swimming under a fat, full moon. They lay blankets and sleeping bags by the shore and sleep under the stars, the air fragrant with pine sap and buzzing with insects, the lake motionless, a silver plate dotted with stars.
Gerard wakes up needing to pee and when he comes back from behind a tree, he finds Brandon sitting on the back of Frank’s truck, his long legs, still winter pale, dangling. He greets Gerard with a smile and they watch the sunrise painting the tips of the pines red and orange.
Brandon is quiet for a while, he chews his bottom lip, his nervous hands clenching and unclenching on top of his thighs. Gerard waits for him to talk, having learned that, when it comes to Brandon, it’s better to wait than ask a direct question.
“Gerard? Can I ask you something?”
Gerard lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag before turning to look at Brandon and nod.
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Do you think- I mean, I was thinking...“ Gerard smiles at Brandon as a means of encouragement, and watches Brandon take a deep breath and try again.
”Ok-… I want to go to New York to study music. I have been dreaming about it all my life, but I thought there was no way I was ever going to be able to do that, but things are better now, and mom got a better job and Grace too, and- I looked into it and I could qualify for a government grant because my dad passed. Of course I need to pass an exam, but if I manage, I could go to Julliard to study music.”
“Is that what you really want to do?”
Brandon’s eyes light up when Gerard asks him, and that is the only answer Gerard needs.
“Because if that’s what you really want to do, then you have to go for it. I say yes, absolutely yes, Brandon. You have to give it a try and, if I know you, I’m pretty sure you’ll succeed.”
“You really think so?”
Gerard nods and when Brandon hugs him, Gerard’s memory registers this moment and this moment alone. Nate’s ghost is quiet, still beautiful and not forgotten, but at peace in Gerard’s heart. This is Brandon, Brandon Flowers, with his arms around Gerard’s shoulder and his heart set on New York, and Gerard is happy that he has a chance to be part of his dream, part of his life. He pats Brandon’s back and says goodbye to Nate.
When the rest of the group wakes up it’s to a general cry of painful hangovers and a need for caffeine, and they all make the trip back to town for breakfast, the sun already high in the sky, the early morning breeze giving away to another hot day.
Brandon sits on the back of the truck, his face towards the sky, eyes closed, his heart already dreaming.
Frank lets Gerard drive because he is still a bit too drunk for it, he rests his feet on the dashboard, closes his eyes behind his dark glasses, and rests his arm on the open window, his cigarette slowly burning down to the filter.
Summer is a reflection of blazing light against the red paint of the truck, the sunshine is soaking through his bones, Gerard is humming along with the radio, and Frank allows himself to hope.
Butter dies on a Wednesday. Mikey finds him at the bottom of the stairs, whitened muzzle resting on his paws, looking like he had looked all his life: in love with the world around him.
“Gee… Butter’s dead.”
Over the phone Mikey’s voice sounds like when he was a child, but brittle and dusty with a scratching of unbound pain. Gerard comes to the house and finds Mikey smoking on the front steps, still in his pyjama’s pants, his pale, narrow torso stark bright in the five o’ clock dampness of autumn.
“I can’t do it, Gee. Dad got us that dog when I was eleven. I cannot fucking do it. “
Gerard walks inside and Butter is still there, all but looking as if he was still asleep, waiting to be let out. Gerard grabs an old canvas bag from the kitchen and wraps him in it, and only when he feels the frail weight of his old dog, only then he starts to cry.
He buries him in the backyard, under the clothes-line, because Butter used to love chewing on the clothes-pegs, even when their mother used to tell him off and chasing him away from her fresh laundry. Gerard throws a couple of old, chewed-up pegs into the soft, fresh earth and covers it up, pats the soil flat, watches the sun rising over the lake.
Mikey comes back out wearing his work clothes. “I gotta go open the garage…”
Gerard knows that this is just part of life, he knows, rationally, that Butter had a long and very happy life, but it doesn’t stop him from feeling as if he was supposed to do more, to give his brother some more time with that old dog. It doesn’t stop him from thinking that it’s impossibly unfair that Butter had to go, that Mikey had to look as if his heart had been ripped out of his chest.
Frank is still asleep when Gerard shows up at his places. It takes him several, long moments to identify Gerard’s voice and the soft rapping of his knuckles against the door, before he manages to turn the lock and let Gerard in.
“Frank, you didn’t even ask who was at the door. I could have been a burglar…”
“Never heard of a burglar who knocks before starting to steal shit… Plus I saw your truck parked on the street from my window.”
Gerard closes the door behind him and the light falls into shadows behind Frank’s back, dulling the colours on his skin, giving Gerard a place to hide before he can reveal his weakness.
The apartment Frank occupies above the bar is just a vast, open space, sparsely decorated and filled with crates of vinyl and old comics.
The walls are white-washed and dotted with old posters, bands Frank loves, old movies and, nestled among flyers and family portraits, an old drawing Gerard had given him for his fifteen birthday.
Frank makes coffee and lights a cigarette on the stove, careful to keep his bangs off the flame; he doesn’t ask if Gerard wants some, he just slides a mug over his chipped plastic table and stands by the sink, elbow resting on the counter top, eyes gummy with sleep, honeycomb and chartreuse.
“I’ve buried Butter in the back yard.”
Frank stubs the cigarette in the sink and straddles the nearest chair, his chest rising and falling, inhale, exhale. Gerard counts until a hundred and then he looks at Frank again, searches his face, waits.
“I loved that dog.”
Frank is still silent, his hands on the back of the chair, stubby fingers and bitten fingernails, ink smeared on his thumb and forefinger from counting money at the end of the night, calluses tasting of copper and beer.
“I loved him. So fucking much.”
Frank’s hand on Gerard’s face is there without warning, warm and rough, like the finest sandpaper against his skin. Gerard feels the beat of his heart telegraphing his pain through Frank’s hand and closes his eyes, lets himself be touched, swallows a bitterness of pain that encompasses the last twelve years of his life. Losing Nate, his father, his heart, hope. He closes his eyes and lets himself be held.
They sleep on Frank’s bed, fully clothed, September swathing cream over the walls, twisting gold into Gerard’s hair.
Frank keeps the bar closed for the first time in five years.
December comes suddenly, snow waits throughout November, and then bites windows and doorframes with ice, covering everything in white, dressing farmhouses and the main street, frosting trees like birthday cakes.
They all spend Christmas at Mikey’s place, Jamia has dressed up like Santa and Mikey has to slap Frank every time his wandering eyes fall onto Jamia’s generously exposed bosom. Brendon and Spencer are still trying to prove the town wrong, and act as if they are not missing their families, but Gerard can see the longing in Brendon’s eyes, the way Spencer is trying to look strong for both of them.
They exchange presents while the Muppet Christmas Carol plays on TV, Jamia swaying a branch of holly on top of Mikey’s head at given opportunity.
Gerard doesn’t remember last time he has felt like this, the last time he has felt happy.
Frank smiles at him from across the couch, Gerard smiles back, easy and uncomplicated, and his heart thumps faster, one-two. One-two.
Of all the kids of Spirit Lake that were going to leave town, nobody would have bet a cent on Brandon Flowers; when all the uh-ha had gone down with Spencer and Brendon, everybody was sure that the two of them were going to be the ones to fly the nest and become an example of how good kids are not supposed to behave.
Spencer and Brendon were not interested in becoming any kind of example though, and, in time, they had managed to live their lives in a way that had surprised everybody, especially their families. Perfectly matched in their own way, Brendon and Spencer had made peace with their home town, and their own confused hearts, to become a small success story. Spencer had gotten his business degree and started working for an accountant, and Brendon, while pursuing a degree in teaching, had taken his place at Gerard’s surgery.
It is a surprise to everyone but his friends then, that Brandon Flowers is the first to go. It takes him the good part of two years to realise his dreams, but after months spent scrounging money, applying for grants and trying for Julliard three times, he finally gets accepted, and when he gets the letter the first people he tells, apart from his mom, are Gerard and Frank.
When he barges into the bar on a rainy Wednesday evening, waving the letter like a flag, Gerard jumps up and Frank hollers from behind the bar: “This round is on the house!”
There is a loud cheer from the patrons and Brandon goes to hug the two men, his smile an unadulterated picture of joy.
“Let’s celebrate, what do you think, Frank?”
“I think we need a fucking party, can’t believe we’re finally getting rid of this one! It took us long enough.”
By now Brandon knows Frank well enough not believe a word he says, and he goes to hug him again, conscious of all the help he had gotten from him in the past few years of his life. Frank manages not to blush, but it’s a close call and he pats Brandon’s back affectionately. “Ok, Ok. Stop it. Have you told Brendon and Spence, yet? “
“I forgot! I came straight to you after work and… Man, I gotta go.”
They both watch him running out the door and Frank raises a glass and clinks it against Gerard’s. “To Brandon.”
Gerard downs the shot and calls Mikey with the good news, knowing that Brandon is probably too excited to remember. Frank looks at him with the same warm, soft eyes he seems to reserve just for him, and Gerard can read the story of two more years on his handsome face. Two happy years.
“You look like a proud dad, Gee.”
“Well, he’s another one of the little dudes we’ve helped becoming happy. You gotta feel proud too. And fuck you; I’m way too young to be Brandon’s dad.”
Frank laughs his loud, obnoxious laughter and Gerard joins in, still unable to resist Frank’s smile. Almost twenty years and it is just like that first day at his momma’s place, with Frank talking shit about Superman and laughing at Gerard’s impassionate defence, and Gerard, instead of getting madder, had just started laughing as well.
Almost twenty years of friendship, loyalty and love.
One in the morning finds the two of them stacking chairs on the tables and sweeping the floor. Gerard puts a quarter in the juke-box and, as the first bars of the piano start ringing, he walks across the bar and starts singing “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere…”
Frank turns the last of the chairs and groans: “Way, for real? Again?”
“If you hate this song so much how come is still in your juke-box?” Gerard says with a smile.
“Because you’re a freak and you love this shit? Also I gotta try and keep my customers happy, you know?”
“You love this shit too, admit it.”
“Over my dead body. I’ve got good taste, Gee.”
Gerard starts dancing, shaking his hips and shimming across the bar, and Frank’s look goes from amused to slightly concerned.
Frank has been waiting so long for a moment like this that, all of a sudden, he has no idea what to do or what to say. Everything feels surreal, even the familiar surrounding of his bar, and when Gerard stops in front of him it feels he is in a stupid scene, from a very stupid movie. Gerard looks at him the same way he always has, with those mossy eyes and the warmth of his crooked smile, but when he finally takes Frank’s hand and puts it on his hip, Frank cannot believe that they are going to kiss when fucking Journey is playing.
“You make me wait almost twenty years for this, and our song is gonna be Don’t stop believing? ”
“Shut up, Frank.”
Gerard doesn’t kiss him though, not at first anyway, he keeps Franks’ hands on his hips and they sway, Frank muttering how undignified and gay this is.
“I’m trying to be romantic here.”
“Well, you should have chosen another song, Gee.”
Gerard stops just when the chorus reaches his overblown, poodle-permed eighties peak, he puts his hand on Frank’s face, and thumbs the lines along Frank’s mouth.
“You’ve been really patient with me.”
“Well, yeah. I’ve been known to be a moron when it comes to you.”
Gerard’s smile tastes sweet on Frank’s mouth, and for a moment, he doesn’t even mind Journey. After all, maybe the lyrics were kind of prophetic.
The morning after Mikey and Jamia find Frank sitting on the sidewalk by the garage.
“Frank? What are you doing here?”
Franks has a cup holder with two large coffees, and Mikey takes him inside while Jamia opens up before joining them. She sits on Mikey’s lap and takes a sip of her coffee waiting for Frank to start talking.
“Your brother and I kissed last night.”
She smiles from behind the cup and Mikey almost chokes on his coffee.
“No, Mikey. After almost twenty fucking years of being in love with your brother, I’m making this up. Yes, for real!”
Jamia pats Mikey’s back and tries not to laugh at Frank’s small freak out moment.
“And? Sorry, Frank. But what’s the problem? You said it yourself, you’ve been waiting for a long time, and I thought you’d be happy.”
Frank stands up, pacing around the small office. “I am… Fuck yeah, I am. But are you okay with this? Your brother and I?”
This time neither Mikey nor Jamia are able to stop laughing and Frank shoots them a dirty look.
“Frank, you’re my best friend. And Gee is my brother, I fucking love you both. Of course I’m happy. You don’t have to ask me for permission.”
Frank’s relief is written all over his face and he hugs Jamia and Mikey enthusiastically, his happiness translating into his body thrumming like a live wire.
He lets them go back to work shortly after, not before Jamia has a chance to ask how Gerard is in the sack. Frank gives her the finger and runs out to the sound of his best friend’s girlfriend’s laughter.
It takes Gerard three months to get Frank naked, and not for lack of Frank throwing himself at Gerard.
Mikey, of course, finds the whole situation hilarious, but he is not completely immune to Frank’s desperate attempts at finally getting Gerard to sleep with him, and he does his best to get Gerard to realise that he should really make a move.
It seems to no avail though, because even if Gerard can spend hours just worrying at the bow of Frank’s wet, luscious mouth, he does nothing about the more than evident press of Frank’s cock against the cut of his hip.
After three months spent making out like teenagers, Frank is sure that he will die of a sever case of blue balls, and he spends as much time masturbating as he used to do when he was fourteen.
It’s not that Frank is completely opposed to the idea of taking it slow, but after waiting for almost twenty years, he thinks he has done his time.
The problem is that that Gerard has not had sex in a very long time, and Frank has had two decades of built-up expectations, and Gerard is more than a little scared about not measuring up.
“It’s like riding a bike bro’. Once you’ve learned, you ain’t gonna forget.”
They are sitting on the porch of Gerard’s house, fireflies buzzing in the trees, the murmur of the lake like a constant, living breath.
Gerard takes a sip of his beer and watches the light shimmering metallic over the water.
“Frank is not a bicycle.”
“You can still ride him though.” Mikey says with a devilish grin.
Gerard buries his face in his hands and groans loudly. Mikey’s laughter echoes through the quiet night.
Frank is staking glasses behind the bar when Gerard finally makes a move.
“So, I was thinking that maybe we should have sex… I mean, if you want to. Because we don’t have to, I’m not trying to pressure you or anything. “
Frank doesn’t climb over the bar because his legs are too short, but his aim is as good as it was when he was in high school, and he manages to throw his dirty dishrag at Gerard’s head.
“Jesus, Way. Just shut up and start walking upstairs and, just so we’re clear, I ain’t inviting you up for coffee.”
Gerard’s smile is still nervous, but it’s real as he stands up and walks behind the bar.
“Is that a yes to my very suave sexual proposal?”
Frank’s reply is a dirty kiss that makes Gerard stumble back and slam against the bar, knocking off two glasses.
Gerard tries to apologise, he even starts picking up the broken pieces, but Frank tugs at his hands and gives him a look that melts Gerard’s guts with desire.
“Upstairs now, Way.”
They undress in the dark, the rustle of fabric broken only by the choppy rhythm of their breaths. Gerard is a pale shadow silhouetted against the window and Frank’s heart lurches in his chest, desire coiling hot at the base of his spine.
The sheet are cool against Gerard’s heated skin, and when Frank rolls on his back and looks at him with his large, expressive eyes, Gerard kisses him once, twice, three times, until Frank laughs against his lips and murmurs fondly. “Just fuck me already, Way.”
June hums heath through the window and with every roll of Gerard’s hips against his own, Frank’s heart beats a bit faster, a bit harder.
“I love you.”
“Jesus, I know… I know.”
Brandon’s leaving date comes quickly with the first turn of the season, and it’s an event to which half of the town participate.
They have a get together at Brandon’s house, all Brandon’s family and half of his congregation is there, they give him advice and parcels, and Brandon cries every time his mom tells him how proud she is of him. His sisters have all knitted him a jumper for every day of the week and they laugh when he says he will wear them all the time, mostly because the sweaters are awful and meant as a joke.
Gerard and Frank have organized a party of their own, and when Brandon shows up, after having said goodbye to every one of his relatives and all the people from the church, he finds Mikey’s house decorated with banners and balloons, and Spencer and Brendon are there too with Mikey and Jamia.
They hand him a beer as soon as he passes through the door.
“You’re going to be a debauched hipster in few months anyway, better start now.” Spencer says.
Brandon takes a sip, but he has never been a big drinker and all he really wants to do is to spend his last day in Spirit Lake with his friends, the people who have made his life what it is now, his other family.
Gerard gives him a big hug, and he can barely believe Brandon is the same guy he has met almost three years ago, the guy who had given him back Nate, and, at the same time, allowed him to finally come to terms with losing Nate and get a chance to rebuild his life.
Brandon still looks the same, with his big doe-eyes and his almost incessant chatter, but there is a confident happiness in his step, and he has finally come to realise that he is allowed to live his own life, instead of just living vicariously through the lives of others.
Frank is in charge of the barbeque, and they spend the night eating ribs, drinking beer, and talking about anything, trying not to think about how much they will all miss Brandon, and how this is the last night all of them will be together.
They all decide not to sleep, as Brandon has to leave at the crack of dawn to drive to Pocatello’s airport anyway. They lay blankets in the back yard and lie there half drunk, Brandon and his family, the people who believed in him before he could believe in himself.
He lies on a blanket, a light wind ruffling his hair, he listens to Frank and Gerard talking softly, their voices carrying in the balmy air, Frank’s laughter muted by a new-found tenderness. Gerard’s asking quietly. “I was thinking… you’re at my place half the time and…. I don’t know- I’ve got enough space for two. What do you think? Move in with me?” The heartbeat of silence before Frank’s reply. “Jesus, Way. You’re so smooth.”
The lake shimmers in the distance, Brandon looks at the sky.
His own dreams are waiting for him.