Somewhere beyond the room birds called for mates in the midday sun.
The swelling in his wrist had been reduced to nothing by the time Sunday morning had arrived. Gerard had let him sleep through the evening of Saturday and even until the next morning, delicately rapping his prominent knuckles on the wooden door. If he had slept in the bedroom or the living room or if he had even left the house, Frank didn’t know. The only thing he knew was that he had dozed off onto Gerard’s shoulder and had been locked away to sleep. He felt as if he should have been relieved that he wasn’t sexually violated; he felt like he should have been thanking God that Gerard didn’t decide to rape him or molest him or do something painful and humiliating to him. And yet he didn’t. He just felt like he no longer expected him to. It might have been trust, or maybe he was just gullible.
On Sunday afternoon, after a breakfast of semi-burned toast and milk (which Frank actually didn’t mind), Gerard bandaged up his wrist with some gauze and gave him something to take for his pain. There was a bruise on Frank’s cheek and nose, but the pain had gone away. He no longer assumed that anything was broken.
"Just keep the pressure off it and it'll probably get better within the week," Gerard said as he wrapped the bandages around and around Frank's arm. He felt a little like he was being mummified. Gerard snipped off the end of the gauze with a miniscule pair of silver scissors, usually reserved for grooming purposes. "I hope you're feeling better. You slept for a hell of a long time."
"Where did you go last night?" Frank asked, flexing his fingers as much as he could. The other man shrugged and said,
"Not really anywhere. I sort of just chilled in the living room for a while until I passed out. It’s not like I can really go anywhere with you hanging out in the closet." He put the bandages into a cabinet and then twiddled his fingers. That was something Frank noticed; Gerard was always playing with his hands. There was something about it Frank liked. And it was even beside the fact that he kind of liked knowing where Gerard's hands were at all times. There was just something he liked about it. Maybe it was even a little cute.
"Are you really that afraid that I'm gonna run away?" he questioned, staring down his fingernails. As soon as he asked it, he regretted it since the subject of loneliness or abandonment was nearly like being unsure of what wires on a bomb to cut. But Gerard didn't seem too bothered by it; he just laid himself on his bed and swung his feet off the edge.
"I guess," he replied. He paused, but then he grinned to himself, his eyes looking large surrounded by delicate features. "But I'm starting to trust you now. I think maybe sometime later this week we can leave the house for a while and do something together. I mean, you know, until then I can't let you sleep in your own bed or anything because I'm still not sure if you're gonna run away or not." His face lit up and he held up a finger in an excited gesture. "But!" he exclaimed. "Now you have something to look forward to!"
It felt odd, but if Frank was to be completely honest with himself he'd admit that he was a little excited. It felt like a guilty pleasure. A small, delicious sin; like a housewife sneaking a peak at a shirtless mechanic next door when her husband was gone, or his sister sneaking ice-cream out of the fridge at three in the morning even though she was trying to make herself diet. The idea of being let out, and not even just exposed to the outside, but given a small freedom, sent a tingling pleasure to his extremities. And Gerard being there wouldn't be too bad, either. They hadn't had an incident yet that day. And bruises faded anyway.
The day came and went. Gerard didn't have work because it was a Sunday and the art shop was closed so they spent the day playing some old board games that Gerard found in one of the dresser drawers of the bedroom that Frank had woken up in. He didn't force himself to smile or laugh when something wasn't funny. It just felt natural. It shouldn't have, but it did. And he should have been frightened and cautious, he knew it in the back part of his mind that told him reasonable, intelligent things, but he wasn't. No, everything was fine. Like it should have been.
Gerard won three out of the five games they played (he would have secretly accused Gerard of cheating but it was probably impossible to cheat at Connect Four) before they ate the rest of the leftover pizza for dinner and popped in an old horror movie. It was Dawn of the Dead (Romero, not Snyder- back when zombie flesh looked like mint-colored foam and the zombies were actually slow like they were supposed to be) which happened to be one of Frank’s favorite movies. While the screen flashed familiar images, Frank dug himself a hole in his head where he curled up like an animal in hibernation and thought.
The two of them weren’t so different. And yet, in every way, they were. It was like Gerard was wearing some unfamiliar being’s skin like a suit. Sometimes it was embellished with feathers and smelled like nice cologne, then quickly rot and fall apart. If Frank were to find the zipper somewhere underneath Gerard’s hair or on the bottom’s of his feet, then he could peel it off like latex, and beneath it would be something he recognized.
The movie ended and it was time for Frank to be lead back to his closet. His closet. After only two days and several intermittent sessions inside it, it had become one of his possessions, like a shirt or a phone. He held a snicker behind his nose. It wasn't like he owned any of those things anymore. Vaguely he wondered where Gerard had stashed the items that had originally been in his pockets, but then quickly decided he didn't care. It was late. He was tired.
Gerard refilled Frank's bottle of water and told him goodnight. And for a quick moment, Frank felt like a pet. He felt like a dog or a cat or even a boring, useless hamster that was being put away for the night. The thought was unsettling, but not enough so that he would argue. Outside the door, the sound of rustling clothes meant Gerard was changing into his pajamas. The lamp beside Gerard's bed clicked, and the light underneath the door disappeared. He fell asleep with his ear pressed against the door, listening to the soothing, reassuring sound of Gerard's breathing.
Three days went by this way, with no arguments and no violence. Frank didn't bring up the fact that he was longing for the outside, a little claustrophobic and lethargic, his skin feeling grey like old glue from the lack of sun. The only outside light he ever really saw came from the window in Gerard's room, and the yellow beams struggled to break through the drawn curtains. His mood threatened to plummet. He wanted to leave the house, but simultaneously he didn't want to pull too hard on the leash Gerard had firmly attached to his neck. It felt as if he broke something between them, the thin string of trust or contentment, then he wouldn't be able to fix it. There would be no pleading, and no second chances. Stability had been reached, but it only stood like a dime on its side.
At about seven-thirty on Thursday evening, Gerard returned from work and greeted Frank with a cheery but tired and well-worked face at the door to his closet. Frank said hello and rushed himself to the bathroom, his bottle of water having been ingested and resting in his bladder several hours before. After washing his hands, he entered the kitchen. Gerard was leaning on his elbows on the island in the middle of the kitchen, glancing over the back of a large, rectangular box.
"What's that?" Frank asked, slightly apprehensive as if Gerard might have brought home a ticking bomb. Thinking about it more carefully, it probably wouldn't have been that surprising. Gerard looked up and grinned, his teeth small but straight; not a work of orthodontia, but Mother Nature deciding to give the guy a break and lend him a favor.
"I bought us a puzzle," he announced. He motioned with his hand for Frank to come over and look. The box showed a black and white picture of a snowy street. A man held an umbrella at a corner and a thin, rickety-looking wooden fence that was powdered with white. "I was getting like, really bored with the other games so I bought this puzzle for a couple of bucks for something to do."
Frank looked it over. "Looks nice."
"Wanna start it now or later?"
The shorter man shrugged. "I dunno. We can get started on it now if you want." He paused, suddenly stiff. "If...you want."
Giving his fingers a quick drum on the linoleum counter top, he replied with an airy, "Yeah, sure." Frank breathed and relaxed. The boards in his back were gone.
The puzzle was about one thousand pieces and the majority of them were some light shade of grey, making starting the piece nearly impossible. They poked their fingers around in the black-grey-white mess looking for corner pieces and figuring to themselves that it might be well into the next month before they even put a dent in it.
"Shit, man, I shouldn't have gotten such a huge one," Gerard cursed to himself, gnawing on the nail of his ring-finger (the day before he'd completely chewed down the nail on his index finger to a bleeding nub), then grasping the hair on the side of his head. Frank picked up two random black pieces and tried to fit them together.
"I dunno," he sighed, sounding bored but not really feeling that way. "At least it'll give us something to do."
Gerard put his bottom lip between his teeth. He stopped fooling around with ambiguous, shapeless pieces for a moment and suddenly Frank could feel tension form like a line of spider web between them.
"I don't really care," he confessed. "Because I kinda like spending time with you." He suddenly looked embarrassed and grabbed some random pieces and pretended to play with them. "I mean, like..." Nervously laughing, he corrected himself. "Man, that sounds weird."
Frank connected two black and white edge pieces, made a whispered, victorious, Yes!, then calmed himself and replied, "No, I get it. Things have been going really well." For a moment, he paused, thinking of what to add. "...I'm kind of liking it here."
Air seemed to rush into Gerard's lungs, entering through his nose and breathing joyful circulation into him all in about two seconds. He looked up at Frank and grinned, his eyes large and childish. He seemed genuinely happy.
"Really?" he asked, exasperated. He seemed to catch himself and lowered his voice. "Aw, man. That's...that's just awesome." He tried to crack his knuckles but since he'd already cracked them a few minutes before no sound was made. It didn't seem to matter; Gerard was a bundle of joy. And for whatever reason, it made Frank happy to see him that way.
"Yeah," Frank agreed, and he was grinning too. He felt good all over. "...Oh, hey, dude, I got this corner. So we have like, one-one hundredth done now." He placed the right angle of puzzle pieces over to the side for safe keeping. Their kitchen table was going to be unusable for however long it took for them to finish their project.
Still grinning, Gerard grabbed a handful of pieces and tried to force them together, two at a time.
"I have a surprise for you."
Gerard stood in the walkway, the corners of his mouth turned up in a playfully devilish grin. Some part of Frank felt a spasm of panic, but it was a part that had been hidden away beneath useless organs and old emotions, tucked between concern and apprehension. Gerard did a sort of excited and humorous hop onto the living room, jumping onto the carpet with both feet pressed tightly together at the heel, and then plopping down on the couch beside Frank like an excited child. He raised his hand up to above eyelevel and then made his index finger nosedive down onto Frank’s shoulder in a whimsical poke.
"Guess what it is." He wriggled in his seat as if he was hyperactive. By his tone it seemed like he didn't really want Frank to guess. If anything, he wanted to tell, but in order to make it fair he had to ask first.
Opening his mouth pointlessly, only to close it again, Frank wasn't quite sure what to guess. Maybe it was another board game; Gerard seemed to be going through a kick of those. Or maybe he'd always loved them, it wasn't like Frank had been around long enough to find out.
"Ah...I dunno," he admitted, shrugging and nervously tugging on the collar of the white T-shirt Gerard had given him. Gerard shook his head.
"No, c'mon, I'll show you!" He wrapped his fingers around Frank's wrist and pulled him through the kitchen, past their puzzle (it was now a fraction more completed, but still nowhere near resembled the picture they were trying to put together), and down the hall. With a vague interest, Frank thought it might be an addition to his closet. Maybe a blanket was the next upgrade.
But it had nothing to do with the closet that he'd slept in for almost a week. Gerard pushed open the door opposite to his bedroom.
"Voila!" he exclaimed, his arm extended into the room like a magician presenting the finale of his trick. Sunlight poured in through the open window- the blindless window- and made the room look summery and bright. Frank could feel his skin beginning to retain the color and his head felt pleasantly light.
"I thought that since we'd been getting along really well and everything and you hadn't tried to run away at all that you deserved to have a bigger sleeping space," Gerard explained, seeming pretty pleased with himself. Frank's hand traveled to his mouth, his fingertips gracing his bottom lip as if he might catch the words that accidentally fell from them.
"Gerard," he breathed. Words got lost on the way to his mouth. He wanted to say, You didn't have to or in the very least, Thank you, but he'd forgotten how to speak in his native tongue and all that came out was warm air.
"It's no big deal," the other man said nonchalantly. "I'll miss hearing you at night, though." His face suddenly became sad, fell. It was a sweet sort of sadness, and Frank likened it to the feeling he got when he watched summer leaves decay into the dirt of fall; even though he was told and knew that they’d come back next year, bring flowers and colors, it felt like they’d never be. They had just died. The warm colors in Gerard’s skin became cool.
"Well," Frank began simply. "I'll just be across the hall. It's not like I went far or anything..."
In that moment, something good should have happened, but it didn't. Everything felt so light and comfortable, and it should have stayed that way, but it didn’t. Frank turned his head to look at Gerard, to maybe give him some words of consolation, but he couldn't get them out in time. In a moment that must have been quick because Frank couldn't lean back or get himself out of the way, but seemed impossibly slow, Gerard leaned in and pressed his closed lips against Frank's partially-open mouth. They were only held there for a fraction of a second but it was cold and unsatisfying and he couldn’t move away.
Gerard’s eyes were closed, held shut peacefully and pleasantly, and Frank could see the length and thickness of his black lashes; he could smell art supplies, musk. Behind them, light from the window illuminated dust and debris that floated around their heads like yellow pollen. Gerard’s mouth opened and Frank could hear the wet sound of parting lips. His body was jolted out of its premature rigor mortis as if by electrocution and he jerked his head back with a tiny gasp. The back of his head was stopped by something firm, but not hard, and it took him a moment to realize that Gerard had reached up to grab the back of his head. Gerard stared back at him, seeming only slightly surprised, and made to close his mouth but kept his lips parted just slightly.
Somewhere beyond the room birds called for mates in the midday sun.
“Sorry,” Gerard murmured, whispering the word dully as if he wasn’t, and his eyes became listless. He was back in his head again, and everything about him became grey. He didn’t simply pale or fade; it was as if there was a drain beneath his skin. When he retreated back into the depressed, far-corners of his brain, he grabbed the color on his skin like it was a piece of floating cloth and pulled it in with him so it left him like a sponge was soaking it in.
“…No,” he returned, and everything felt jumbled, like he was viewing things through a camera he couldn’t hold still. “It’s no big deal. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Gerard’s back was to the window and the sun illuminated the stray hairs that stood away from his head in yellow and white. With the light in his hair and the shadows on his face, he seemed ethereal; a companion of God booted from the pedestals of heaven and not enough a friend of Satan to be welcome in Hell. He touched his mouth, the tip of his finger pulling gently at his bottom lip, touching at the creases in the skin. His fingers appeared long; artist’s fingers, fingers for painting and sketching in charcoal and acrylics. Fingers for touching.
It was almost a question when he said, “…It wasn’t a mistake, though.” The hand crumpled up like a wilting flower and his mouth grazed the knuckles. He suddenly breathed sharply and put his hand on his forehead and said, “No, it’s okay.” He nodded, but it was mostly to himself. “It was my fault. It was my fault, don’t worry about it.”
Extending his arm slowly and hoping that Gerard wouldn't lash out or jerk away, Frank placed his hand on Gerard's shoulder. The other man didn't move; he didn't even seem to notice it was there. "Hey, don't worry," he said in a breathy, relieved voice, and he hoped it wasn't too obvious. "I didn't...It wasn't that bad. It's okay."
Gerard sighed and smiled nervously, leaning into the touch of Frank's hand on his shoulder. "Yeah...I...Whatever, I don't wanna think about it." He laughed through the last few words, the giggle tiny and high. “Um…come on, let’s do something.”
For the rest of the day, they didn’t talk about it and made obvious points to converse around it. They made it through a game and a movie and dinner and almost forgot about the embarrassment of the near homoerotic experience. But it hung heavily between them like a bird on a clothesline, ready to hop away and cause mild acts of insanity.
For the first night in almost a week, Frank didn't sleep curled up in a ball; instead, he lay in bed, not wanting to sleep, but just wanting to stretch out his arms and legs until his fingers draped over the edges and his heels just reached over the end. The door was locked from the outside, one of Gerard's still slightly apprehensive safety precautions, but the window let in sounds of the outside through the glass and the blankets were cool so it wasn't like Frank had anything to complain about. The air in the room smelled clean. It was the best gift he'd ever been given.
At some point, Frank came to realize that, as satisfying as it was, laying spread-eagle wasn't the most comfortable way to sleep, so he flipped over, thankful for the freedom to move, and wrapped himself in blankets. He felt safe, and completely satisfied. Some part of him missed the sound of Gerard’s breathing in the room beside him and if he could he would have opened both of their doors so he could listen to the sound of breath passing through his lungs like an old lullaby. He vaguely wondered if Gerard was still awake and wished that the door wasn’t locked so he could open it and just peek into Gerard’s room. But, when he thought about it, it’s not like he would if he could; he just didn’t possess that kind of bravery.
He nibbled on the side of his thumb, his thoughts drifting to an abstract place in the back of his brain. He remembered Gerard’s mouth on his and every nerve in his body screamed. Kissing Gerard, or anyone of the same gender, was about as appealing as incest. It had nothing to do with the fact that Gerard wasn’t good looking- he was actually attractive in a very unorthodox way; sort of like Jared Leto after he joined a band. It was the kind of attractive that, had Frank been walking with some imaginary girlfriend and had seen this man walking towards him on an empty street, he’d have clutched her hand tight as if to say to the both of them, Don’t you even think about it. There was no sexual attraction, no desire for a relationship; it simply didn’t exist.
Crickets chirped to each other outside. It’s not like Frank had a problem with Gerard feeling that way, it just became something he was concerned about when it directly involved him. Something was going to go wrong, he could feel it. He clenched his eyes shut. And just when things were going well. He wondered where his parents were and if they had even noticed that he was gone. They had probably called his apartment and didn’t feel any concern when he didn’t answer the phone. He wasn’t popular or important or well-known; he was just Frank, who lived on the third floor and dropped out of college because it didn’t feel right. He rolled over. Lame excuse.
Frank dreamed that night that he and Gerard were in a restaurant that he didn’t recognize. A blue tank of silver fish swam back and forth in an immense school beside them, and they enjoyed each other’s company in the presence of algae and colorful rocks. Gerard didn’t speak, and the two of them sucked on exotic drinks and delicately cooked goose liver in silence, beneath orange light and above red tablecloth, delicately embroidered with gold stars.