Gerard stood, his fists clenched at his sides, seething as if there were snakes in the back of his throat.
Gerard grinned back, the smile seeming a bit too large on his face. “‘Morning!” he announced, and his voice was like a pin shooting through the top of Frank’s head. Hardly able to see and his legs, clad in dark blue boxer shorts and bare from the mid-thigh down, cold and uncomfortably exposed, he grumbled incoherently,
“…I’ss still dark out.” The sky was navy in the square window behind him. It was so early that the usual melting purple and orange colors had yet to bleed into the sky. Dark yellow light glowed from the kitchen. The sight of it was strangely nostalgic, and almost comforting. It reminded him of being a child and seeing a similar light in the morning as his mother opened the door to gently bring him into consciousness with the sound of her voice. It sort of made him feel like he should be going to school soon.
Sounding slightly crestfallen, as if he had assumed Frank would be awake and alert early, Gerard lowered his voice a notch and said, “I thought you might want something to eat.” He attempted to keep his face neutral, hold a smile back, but it brightened up his face and he laughed through his nose. “And I have something to tell you.”
Frank rubbed his eyes and realized that his mouth tasted sour. It made him remember something he heard once about waking up with an unpleasant taste in your mouth meant during the night you’d ingested a spider. He swallowed, wanting to brush his teeth and deeply wishing that Gerard would just leave so he could use the bathroom and try to blink consciousness back into his head. “Mmm, okay…I just gotta wake up.”
His face cheery, Gerard nodded vigorously. Excitedly. He stepped out of the way and let Frank pass him to make his minuscule sojourn to the bathroom. “Just meet me in the kitchen when you’re done, kay?” he said in an attempted neutral tone. Frank said he would and closed the door. Sometimes Gerard was like a child. Cracking his knuckles and welcoming in the bathroom light, he thought, Well, there’s nothing really wrong with that.
Gerard had made them bagels (he managed not to burn them and for that small achievement alone, Frank wanted to just kiss him) along with a glass dish of butter and a jar of peanut butter. Two epic-sized glasses of orange juice sat at each of their places at the table, off-center because of the puzzle (now almost entirely finished; there was an uneven, jagged circle in the middle that was missing, but they speculated the night before that they ought to finish it the next day by dinner time) and filled so high that Frank was afraid to pick his up in fear the juice would just slosh over the side and get all over everything. Frank yawned, covering his mouth with the back of his hand, and picked at the inside of his bagel.
Nibbling on a chunk of soft bread, he said lightly, still tired, “Thanks for breakfast, Gee.” The other man shrugged his shoulders, no big deal, and managed to sip on his juice without spilling it. He was hardly eating at all, moving to sit on his hands as if they might spring loose and knock something over. Frank suddenly remembered, the thought having slipped from his mental grasp as if it had been blown away, “Oh, what were you gonna tell me?”
Hesitating, and gathering his thoughts as if he’d forgotten (although Frank knew that was a load of bullshit; the man hadn’t been able to sit still since they sat down. Whatever news he had to tell was twisting around inside him like a bunch of ferrets), Gerard began, “Um…I think it would be cool if I let our trust get to the next level, or whatever.” Frank nearly choked on his breakfast and Gerard verbally edited his thought. “No! Oh, shit, that sounded weird. I meant…” He played with the collar of his T-shirt. “…I meant, I think you should be able to have more freedom. Like, when I leave for the day and everything.”
Frank managed to swallow and, in a somewhat puzzled voice, asked, “What do you mean?” Surely Gerard wasn’t letting him leave the house; he may have been a little nutty but he wasn’t an idiot.
Pausing to gather his thoughts into a coherent sentence, Gerard continued with, “I think when I leave for work, like today…you should be able to, ya know, roam around the house and everything. I was up last night and I was thinking about it and, um…I just sort of realized that I trust you now. And I think you trust me.” He added, “I mean, maybe you don’t and that’s cool.” He waved his hand as if to dismiss the thought. “Things have just been going real…well lately. And I just think you deserve it.”
Something jittery began underneath Frank’s skin, like little ants were tapping along his joints and nerves and tendons. A tiny, solid ball of warmth appeared in the center of his gut and gushed liquid into his veins. He wanted to hug Gerard, and he gripped the bottom of his chair to keep himself from getting up and doing so.
He stumbled over his words, tripping over them as if they were rocks. “Hey…wow, that’s really awesome. “ It felt as if whatever had tightened his brain against the solid walls of his skull had been sucked out with a vacuum, letting the organ float freely and blissfully in its cage. “…Gerard, I really, really appreciate that.” Gerard ripped his bagel in half and gnawed on the end, sheer, unadulterated joy radiating from him like heat.
“I just wanna see you happy,” he said with a half-full mouth. He swallowed, then added, “…It makes me happy. I…”
The man paused, mouth slightly open. Then, with a somewhat regretful look on his face, closed it. It didn’t matter. Frank knew what he was going to say anyway, and the thought no longer scared him.
Frank felt like he was playing a video game (he called it, Win Your Freedom: Version 2.0), and it was composed of four levels. He suspected he was on level three: freely roam the house without consequences. Level one had been “stay confined in a tiny space for nearly a week (piss yourself for extra points!)” and level two had been “get a larger space, but be reduced to a lethargic, boring ball of mush for seven-or-so hours a day (have a horrifying flashback and lose a life)”. The final level would probably be “be able to leave the house and not get shot or stabbed or beaten to death”. He felt like he was making progress.
The best thing about the freedom, however, was not simply that he could move around or entertain himself; it was that he could take a piss whenever he needed to. As soon as that internal bell started ringing, warning him that the ridiculous amount of juice he’d ingest wanted out- and wanted out now- he strolled to the bathroom, concluding that it was the most exhilarating and liberating piss he’d ever taken. And if he ever got the chance to go back home, he’d never tell anyone; it was not an experience that could be contained in words.
As Frank was washing his hands, the feeling of euphoria still being pumped out in little burst by his gleeful heart, his saw in the mirror above the sink that his hair was a wavy mess. It had been almost a month since he’d begun living with Gerard, and in that time his quickly growing hair had grown about half an inch, regaining some of its natural wave it had lost when it was a bit shorter. It curled down by his ears and threatened to block his vision and the need to get it out of his face gnawed at him like a weasel. He looked around the bathroom, accustomed to having one of his combs sitting on the sink in his apartment.
“…’e’s gotta have a brush or something around here,” he mumbled to himself, opening up the cabinet holding the mirror. There was a short bottle of shaving cream, a razor (which, surprisingly, Gerard had let Frank use before to shave his face; he probably figured that if Frank was desperate enough to kill himself with it then he probably deserved it, and a tiny razor wasn’t much of a threat as a weapon, especially if he was wielding something much larger in return), deodorant, a comb (he grabbed it), and an unmarked orange bottle, like the kind used for holding medication. Through the translucent plastic Frank could see there was something inside and he put the comb on the edge of the sink to pick up the bottle. The label had been ripped off.
Curiosity chewed at him and he untwisted the white cap. Inside was a small, plastic bag, and at first Frank thought it might have been a dime big of pot. He picked it up with his thumb and forefinger, and found that inside the substance wasn’t green and grassy. It was a white powder, filling half the small bag. Furrowing his eyebrows, he thought, Is this…Does Gerard do cocaine? but on the other side of the bag he noticed something writing in black marker, slightly faded. He turned the bag over and stretched the plastic to read it.
The bag said, Ketamine.
“What the hell is this…?” he murmured. Part of him wanted to take the powder onto his finger and rub it on his gums to see what it was, but from the several escapades he’d had involving drugs, he knew it was better to just leave his question unanswered. The name sounded familiar. Not as something he’d experimented with, but just as something he heard before. Ketamine. Clenching his eyes shut to think, he mused aloud, “…It sounds like…shit, I’ve heard of this before.”
When the answer didn’t come to him, he frustratingly shoved the bag back into the container and put both of them away. He closed the cabinet door and tried not to think about the drug sitting back there. He brushed his hair and left.
For a while, he curled up on the couch with a blanket and turned on the television, his feet cold but the rest of him much too lazy to go find a pair of socks to put on. The only things playing that early in the morning were daytime talk shows so he closed his eyes against the colors and let his mind drift somewhere else.
He wondered what Gerard was doing, and it occurred to him that he didn’t exactly know what Gerard did at the store. Frank figured that since he had to get there so early he must have been the manager or at least someone with a margin of authority. If he had the power, he’d have left to go visit him. Just to drop by and say hello, maybe start up a small conversation. Then they could go home together in Gerard’s small, cluttered sedan. He’d even consider dropping him a line via telephone, ask for the number of the store through information, but Frank had long since learned that the only source of outside connection Gerard had was through his cell phone, and that always stayed in his pocket. There were only five rooms in the house- kitchen, living room, Gerard’s room, Frank’s room, and the bathroom- and Frank had been in all of them; not to mention frantically searching for a phone (or even computer) when he had been desperate to escape.
Some obese woman on the television was crying on a talk show about how she once got stuck in her car and had to have two of her family members take fifteen minutes to push and pull her out. Frank grimaced at her and wondered why they didn’t just leave her in there until she lost enough weight to get out herself. He clicked the channel up button on the remote and landed on a commercial playing a song he knew and actually quite enjoyed. It occurred to him that he hadn’t actually hadn’t listened to any music for the few weeks he’d been living with Gerard, and the want to plug the white buds into his ears and just crank up the old songs he loved was kicked alive as if the songs had been filled with nicotine.
A song popped into his head as if someone had molded it into a nail and hammered it through his skull, and it reminded him of Gerard in a strangely pessimistic and cynical way. He wanted to chew on the words and swallow them so he might somehow understand them. If God controls the land and disease/and keeps a watchful eye on me/if he’s really so damn mighty/then my problem is I can’t see/who would want to be such a control freak?
Frank liked Modest Mouse, and he liked that song, but he wanted to digest the lyrics. He wanted to know why he was thinking about them and why he was thinking about Gerard. They made him feel guilty and unappreciative. He flipped the channel back to the talk show. He’d rather think cynical thoughts about strangers than about someone he knew.
Eventually the show ended and his feet went from too cold to too warm so he got up in search of something to do. All the board games required two or more people, he wasn’t hungry enough to make anything to eat, there were only a few forks and knives in the sink so by the time he had cleaned them only six or seven minutes had past, and Gerard still wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours. He made a mental note to hint to Gerard the next time the two of them were out to get a cheap Gameboy or something. He sat down at the kitchen table and started to group the last of the puzzle pieces into clusters based on color.
Two pieces fit together and he leaned his chin down onto the table. The clock on the wall above the sink clicked seconds away. Frank wanted his iPod and he wanted Gerard there with him; if he could have, he’d have sat the man down next to him and plugged them both into his iPod, the two of them sharing a pair of ear buds and listening to songs that reminded them of things they liked.
An hour past and Frank filled the gap in the middle of the puzzle. He wasted time doing nothing and waited like a puppy in the living room, excited at every sound like might have been someone coming home for him.
Gerard was home at the normal time, his hair looking windblown and his cheeks prominently pink against the ivory color of his skin as he locked the door behind him. His hair looked particularly dark, choppy and sharp looking, like he was some adult-sized pixie. Frank’s heart grew a motor and pounded like a hummingbird’s. He hopped off of the couch and welcomed Gerard home. In a moment of mild audacity, he opened his arms and embraced Gerard’s torso in a hug, his ear pressed against the taller man’s chest, the shape of his body feeling unfamiliar. Gerard leaned his chin on Frank’s head.
“I didn’t think you’d be happy to see me,” Gerard said in a voice that could have been mistaken for something dejected. And Frank thought to himself, Neither did I. Gerard smelled like his own natural cologne and Frank liked it. They separated and Frank wanted to stick to him like a fly to honey.
“How’d you like your day around the house?” Gerard asked cheerily, removing the long, black coat he’d been wearing and shook his head like a dog shaking off water. “Damn, it’s getting cold…” He threw the coat onto the couch haphazardly, not seeming to care if it actually made it there or not.
Frank followed behind him like a child and he was sure if he had a tail it would have been wagging. “It was actually really good,” he explained, stopping on the edge of the carpet and linoleum as Gerard wandered into the kitchen. “Um, I got kinda bored somewhere through it but uh, ya know, that happens when there’s no one around.” Gerard dragged his fingers along the kitchen table as he past it, his movements seeming effervescent and delicate. He moved over to the pantry and opened to door, squishing up his small nose as he looked for something to eat.
“Glad to hear it made you happy,” he responded a little blankly, looking up to the top of the pantry and finally reaching for the third can of soup they’d ingested that week. He looked it over real quick, then shrugged and headed over to grab a pot from one of the lower cupboards.
But on his way across the room, he stopped. For a moment he just stood there in a firm pause, the red and white can of Campbell’s soup held firmly in his hand. He turned towards the kitchen table and looked down at their puzzle.
After a moment of quiet, he said, “You finished the puzzle.” Frank didn’t move, just sort of examined Gerard standing there.
“Uh…yeah,” he agreed simply. “When you were gone.”
Gerard touched the place where the puzzle had once had the jagged hole. He said quietly, “…I thought we might finish it together.” He kept his hand on the spot, long fingers outstretched. Frank felt a sudden heat wave of embarrassment.
“Oh...” he breathed. He held out his hands as if they might, for whatever reason, hold Gerard back. “…Hey, well, we’ll get another puzzle and we can do that one together.” The other man didn’t move for a few breaths. When he did, he closed his hand into a fist, then turned around and set the can down onto the island countertop. Frank felt his insides shudder and he asked nervously, “…You okay, Gerard?”
The other man reached in the cabinet and pulled out the metal tea kettle, filling it with water at the sink. The water made echoing splashes inside the metal. “No, don’t worry about it,” he answered dully. “You’re right, we’ll get another puzzle.” He turned the gas burner on and set the kettle on it. “I’m fine.”
He’ll be okay, Frank thought and he turned away from Gerard, stepping further into the living room. He’s been doing better lately. He took another step, scratching the back of his head.
The can of soup exploded against the wall beside his head.
A hole in the side of the can burst open as it hit the wall and bits of thick, condensed matter flew at Frank like shrapnel. Out of instinct he ducked down, a bit too late then, and spun around, clutching the top of his head. Gerard stood, his fists clenched at his sides, seething as if there were snakes in the back of his throat.
Frank screamed, “GERARD!” but Gerard grabbed the heavy tea kettle off the stove with both hands and flung it across the room at Frank with a loud grunt of, “YOU BITCH!!” The metal hit the right side of the walkway and wood splintered and flew. Gerard gripped his hair with his fists and roared as if he might be pulling it out by the roots. He stomped forward and made a sobbing sound, Frank running back towards the front door, hunched over and gripping his head to avoid being hit with something projectile. He twisted the handle but Gerard had locked the door with a key and it wouldn’t open. Gerard stumbled into the room, heaving and panting like an angry bull.
He pointed at Frank, his hand just dangling on the end of his arm as if he didn’t want to exert the energy to erect it. “You’re such shit,” he growled, huffing and hanging his head.
Frank flipped around, his back against the door and shook his head. “No, Gerard, stop,” he cried, twisting the door handle behind him, hoping it would break and he fling the door open. “Gerard, don’t do anything, just calm down.” Gerard scooped up the remote control from the couch and made an overhand hurl at Frank. The plastic hit him across the shoulder and pain exploded like an atomic bomb across the upper left part of his body.
“YOU HATE ME!” Gerard screamed at him, throwing his arms back and leaning forward as if to amplify his voice. “FUCK YOU! I GIVE YOU EVERYTHING AND YOU HATE ME FOR IT!!” He grabbed the edge of the coffee table and flipped it over with an immense groan. His face was flushed a wet and he clawed at his arms as if he wanted to remove the skin. “I hate you! I hope you fucking die!”
Frank slid down the door and pulled his knees to his chest, extending his uninjured arm in a protective gesture. He whimpered, “No, you don’t, Gerard. I don’t hate you! Please, I’m sorry, I don’t hate you!” Gerard sobbed to himself, trembling and clutching his hair again like a child having a violent tantrum. He whipped his head around.
“NO!” he cried. “No, you’re lying! I hate you!” He stepped over the overturned table towards Frank and the smaller man kicked backward, trying to force himself into the wall, clawing at the door.
“No, no, no, Gerard! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” He tried to kick at Gerard but the taller man grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him to his feet and shoved his cheek against the wall. Frank wriggled and tried to worm his way out of Gerard’s grasp but he was pinned so tight that he was sure that the bones in his face might fracture. Gerard pulled Frank’s body away from the wall and slammed him back against it.
“You make me do things to you!” he growled through his teeth. “I hate you! I hate you!”
Frank could feel bruises forming, his right eye swelling shut. “No, Gerard, no,” he pleaded in nothing louder than a whimper. “Please, please, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” He was flipped around and Gerard dragged him by the wrist. He let out a cry as he nearly tripped over the coffee table, trying to tug his arm away, afraid it might dislocate. His sweating feet stuck to the linoleum and Gerard jerked him forward, holding him around the shoulder. In a minute, they were back in Gerard’s bedroom, standing in front of the closet. The door flung open and Gerard spun Frank around to face him.
In a large shove, Gerard pushed Frank into the back of the closet, the shorter man’s head slamming against the back wall. Gerard grasped the door and the frame, leaning his upper body into the space and screaming,
“YOU CAN ROT IN HERE!!”
He slammed the door shut. In the bedroom outside the door, Gerard screamed at the top of his lungs while Frank spit out blood and the teeth in the back of his mouth.