He'd steal money for gas and be out of there. If he wanted to.
“Do you know why I put you in there?” he asked monotonously, as if he didn’t expect a correct answer or even an answer at all. He pushed Frank’s bangs out of his face and wiped his forehead gently. Muttering to himself he added quietly, “…’m gonna need to get you some ice…”
Frank didn’t answer, he just clutched to edges of the sink as if the glue holding him together might dissolve and the fragmented pieces of him would slip apart. Everything was so horribly fragile, so thin and empty and delicate. He shook his head at the question, his throat sore from screaming and rough from lack of water; silently he hoped Gerard would bring him a glass of water and he found himself trying to send the other man mental images of water. Running the material under Frank’s mouth and chin, where the most blood had caked over, Gerard said in a soft voice,
“You were trying to leave me. You were trying to separate yourself from me.”
He wrung out the cloth. Some of the water was brown.
Frank shook his head hard and clenched his eyes shut, his face weak and desperate. “No,” he choked, his voice coming out like a dry wind. “I was just…” He coughed, feeling as if someone was dragging their nails up and down his throat, and Gerard set down the washcloth. He left and came back with a glass of water, which Frank gulped down with trembling hands, not caring if some of it spilled down his chin and onto his sweat and blood stained T-shirt. Gerard patiently waited for him to finish drinking, then returned to grooming him, turning Frank to face him and holding the other man’s chin.
“I know you think you weren’t,” Gerard continued, cleaning off Frank’s neck. The hand on his chin was gentle and caring, like a mother to a child. His tone mimicked the same pseudo-maternal care. “But I know…Frank, I wasn’t mad because you finished our puzzle. I was mad because you went on and left without me. And if I didn’t…do something then one day you’d just leave me all together.”
“No,” Frank whimpered and he felt like a child. “I was just finishing our puzzle. I’m sorry. I would never leave you, Gerard.” The other man picked up a second, dry washcloth, a yellow one, and dried off Frank’s face.
“Do you mean that?” he asked, and this time his voice was laced with some emotion that Frank couldn’t exactly pick out. It was maybe hopeful, and perhaps even just a little sad. Frank nodded slowly, his neck sore, aching from leaning against the door for so long. Holding the material against Frank’s skin for a moment, Gerard seemed to be looking at him, but not seeing him; his eyes were gazing off into somewhere far away as he thought. Frank imagined the inside of Gerard’s mind not like a machine, but like a blue and grey cloud of ideas. If Gerard was lucky, one might strike down in the form of lightning and land on his tongue so he might either use it or store it someplace safe for. When he came back, the hand holding the cloth dropped to his side, the fingers around Frank’s chin still in place. He leaned in and kissed Frank gently on his unwounded cheek.
“Come on,” he said and his voice was tired. “Let’s get you some ice.”
In the living room, Frank held the second plastic baggy filled with ice that he’d had since living with Gerard against the side of his face. He could almost hear his skin cells sigh in relief. The house had been cleaned since he had last been out; the coffee table was flipped back right-side up and the soup stains had been scrubbed off the wall. The bite-like chunk missing from the wooden frame of the walkway was conspicuous, but the fragments of wood had been thrown away. Gerard returned from the kitchen with another glass of water and sat down next to Frank, flipping the TV on. The room was dark except for the flashing lights.
The taller man put the tip of his thumb in his mouth and asked, “How’re you doin’?”
Pulling off the bag of ice for a moment and looking down at it, Frank could see in the limited light where some of the partially-healed wounds had bled onto the plastic and he felt like crying. “…’m okay.”
“How’s your mouth?” Gerard didn’t look at him, he just looked at the floor beneath the television. Frank dully said that it was fine but Gerard clenched his eyes shut and bit down on his thumb. For a moment, Frank thought he might bite clean through the skin. “I’m sorry, Frank. I hate doing stuff like that but you know how I get…” His teeth clicked through the nail and for a horrific moment Frank thought Gerard had actually bitten the top of his thumb off. He doubled over in his seat as if his insides were in agony. “God, Frank, I’m so sorry.”
Placing the ice back on his bruises, Frank replied softly, but not entirely honestly, “It’s okay. Things happen.”
For a few minutes, Gerard sat doubled over. He held his head in between his hands as if he might be trying to squeeze it into submission. Frank wanted to touch him, wanted to lean over and wrap his arms around Gerard’s torso and feel the shape of his body, but held himself in place, afraid it would be awkward or dangerous. He looked small and delicate in the limited light, his lengthy fingers pressing into his ribs. When Gerard sat up again, he sniffled and wiped his nose on the back of his hand and if he’d actually been crying or not, Frank couldn’t tell. He turned to Frank and asked, “Can I see where your tooth is gone?” Frank nodded and pulled back the side of his lip, his face dragged into a grimace. He felt like a fish on a hook.
Gerard squinted and tilted his head to the side, examining the inside of Frank’s mouth with concern and alleviating guilt. “I think it’ll be okay…” he mused softly, cupping his hand under Frank’s jaw. He leaned in to get a closer look. “You can hardly see that it’s gone, anyway.” He bit down on his lip and his eyes glazed over with something sad. In nothing more than a whisper, he muttered, “I’m sorry.” Frank let go of his lip and said that it was okay. Really, it was. Gerard’s free hand drifted over to Frank’s shoulder, his right hand still underneath Frank’s jaw.
Shadows played across Gerard’s face, coming and going as the lights from the television changed. His features looked so tiny, so pixie-like, all except for his eyes which were round and boyish- thoughtful, even. Very slightly, Gerard opened his mouth, parting his soft-looking lips with a nearly inaudible wet sound, just enough to say, “The swelling’s going down.” And for a moment Frank didn’t even know what he meant because all of his focus was on the near invisible movements of Gerard’s lips. He wanted to touch them.
And if Gerard had moved any closer, even by only an inch or so, Frank would have touched them; he would have experimented with the hormone and stress-induced curiosity with his mouth against Gerard’s, just for a moment or two or five, so he could live with the knowledge and satisfaction that he had done something daring, maybe even something a little…pleasurable (if he let himself admit it). His life balanced on the tips of Gerard’s chewed-down nails, wobbling at the slightest breeze, never mind the gale-force winds Gerard spewed while in a tantrum, so if he wanted to dabble in the homoerotic he was going to. But Gerard didn’t lean closer or even make a slight movement Frank could pretend to mistake for an attempted kiss; his hands, warm and firm, just held their places on his shoulder and neck and in the very depths of his stomach, or maybe even farther back into the place he might call his soul, he wished Gerard would just give in and suck face already.
The hands on his neck and face slipped away like pieces of silk and Gerard made a sort of resigned sigh; maybe disappointed in himself or the situation, or just tired from his outside to his inside. He turned back to the television and leaned his elbow on his knee and his chin and the heel of his hand, looking both bored and moderately depressed. Frank pressed the bag of ice firmly against his swollen eye, the cold seeming to soak through the skin all the way to his aching, exhausted brain. He nearly drowned himself in his glass of water, feeling so painfully dehydrated that it seemed like he might never recover back to full health. With his mouth sore, mildly painful like day-old braces, he asked innocuously,
"...How long were you gone last night?"
Next to him, Gerard furrowed his eyebrows in the harsh light flashing from the screen, confused. "Last night?" he asked in a puzzled tone. He blinked thoughtfully.
Frank paused, waiting for his answer. When it didn't come, he continued with, "Yeah, when I was...I mean, you must have gone somewhere." He tried to take his attention off of Gerard, tried to stop staring at the back of his head, into the choppy forest of uncombed hair. The other man shook his head and answered a little bit too casually,
"Frank, I haven't been here for two days."
The shorter man felt as if he'd suddenly been carved out of wood and the thirst in the back of his throat became a sharp, prominent need; like the nails of a cat contracting and retracting against the soft flesh of his esophagus. Through a breath he murmured, "Oh." and Gerard cocked his head to the side slightly.
With his eyes only half-lidded, Gerard continued, "...You must have been out for a while...Longer than b'fore, which is weird..." Switching the bag, now mostly miniature icebergs swimming in a sea of cold water, to another part of his face, Frank asked, Last time I was in the closet? and the younger man shook his head. "No," he explained. "A few weeks ago. The first time you slept for only a couple'a hours and this time you didn't even take anything and you managed to stay out for...I dunno, prolly a day..."
The bottle in the bathroom was Ketamine and suddenly Frank remembered where he'd heard the name. When he had been younger, probably only fourteen because he'd been in the eight grade, he was required to take a health class. Back then, Health was really a red alarm blaring racy music and a green and purple neon sign that screamed, Sex Ed! Half the class was based on things you shouldn't do (have sex) and things you should do (not have sex), generally somewhat biased in favor of the girls.
This was proven so when their (female) teacher began teaching them about date rape. Frank wasn't so desperate or scummy to let himself sink to date raping a girl he knew for a quick lay, but it wasn't as if he didn't know some guys who would. Their teacher mostly lectured the girls about watching their drinks at parties and staying close to other female friends in case they were falling over themselves with drug-induced sluttiness.
One of the drugs he remembered being mentioned was Ketamine. The name was odd and something he'd never heard before and it shouldn't have stuck out among the other more familiar date rape drugs like Ruphynol. But now that he had come face-to-face with it in his captor's bathroom cabinet, it stuck out in his mind like a tack out of a smooth, wooden floor. Ketamine was use as a sedative tool for veterinarians and was legal outside the United States. It wasn't hard to get, wasn't hard to disguise; it tasted bitter but if put in an already bitter beer, it wasn't like anyone was going to notice. Frank stared off into space. It looked like cocaine.
He let weight of their conversation sit between them like a cinder block. If Gerard felt any guilt or noticed anything wrong, he kept his mouth shut and his eyes dull and blank. Very quickly the taller man added into the silence,
"...You almost overdosed, too. I thought you mighta kicked the bucket or something during the night." A smile peeked around his mouth as if shy. "But everything's cool. You were fine, obviously."
Frank wasn't fine. But it had nothing to do with drugs.
Again Gerard spoke, he tone suggesting that it was the end of the subject, that his input had reached his end. "I'm glad I did," he concluded, as if to himself. "If I hadn't, we wouldn't be together." He smirked and giggled a little to himself. "We're such a sappy romance novel, aren't we?"
"Yeah," Frank agreed, but not truthfully. He could open his right eye now and he looked down at Gerard's back, the light seeming far too bright. "We are." Without speaking, he considered the word romance. Maybe the two of them, separate of the situation, were a romance novel. A B-list, paperback romance novel in the back of Target for Frank's middle-aged mother to read when she wasn't missing her son or angry at her ex-husband. Yes, then they were nothing but romance. But back in their corner of the Earth, they were a murder mystery; a horror, a 500-page novel by Stephen King. The two of them were the wrong characters inside the wrong plot. Or at least he was; Gerard seemed perfectly content where he was: as the unknowing antagonist in something he'd rather not be a part of.
The ice had melted inside its plastic bag and Gerard said it was probably time to go to bed. Frank didn't disagree. He just slipped into his bedroom after quickly whispering Goodnight, wishing he could curl himself in Gerard's sheets, holding his head against the other man's chest like they were a dog-eared copy of a perfectly edited romance novel.
As days blended and became faded around the edges, melting together like candies left in the sun, and the days of warmth cooled into days of pink cheeks and black and grey scarves, the negative consequences for getting on Gerard's angry and depressed side grew more and more scarce as Frank learned what actions to avoid. They always ate together, Frank staving off hunger during the day by drinking bottles and bottles of water so he could join Gerard in an evening meal; they did all their leisurely activities side-by-side, enjoying each other's company as if nothing was frightening and nothing was distorted.
The house was kept immaculate, compliments of Frank, who grew fearful of Gerard coming home frustrated and cold after a day of work to find some scrap of whatever lying out of place. He found an old, rough sponge under the kitchen sink and found himself scrubbing each tile on the kitchen floor, partially due to boredom and partially due to the need to keep Gerard happy. The punishments that he sometimes received were growing scarce, but also growing in intensity, although lacking in obvious violence. When Frank one day offered to leave the house to grab the mail from the end of the drive way, Gerard let him walk to the mailbox but locked him out in his bare feet as he tried to re-enter the house, the freshly fallen layer of snow turning his toes red. He had hopped onto the concrete porch, dancing back and forth on the balls of his feet in a feeble attempt to fend off frostbite. After an hour and a half of shivering and fighting back tears, Gerard opened the door and handed him a thick blanket. They drank hot chocolate on the couch.
After Frank answered the door one night when they ordered out for dinner, Gerard grabbed a heavy book and knocked him completely unconscious while his back was turned. He awoke a few hours later in his own bed with a throbbing headache and a warm cup of tea next to his bed, along with an apologetic note from Gerard. He had drawn a picture of a cartoon heart at the bottom of the paper in red pen. The next morning he made them French toast and petted the bruises on Frank’s head with a tender and loving affection.
But, save for the few incidents, their relationship, as well as Gerard's mood, had become more stable; less like a rocky hill and more like a grassy plain. Frank found himself thinking about Gerard as he Windexed the windows, spending his hours thinking of ways to make him happy, wondering if the other man was thinking about him in the same way. As he scrubbed the dishes clean, obsessively picking at stains that weren't there, he wished that he could do more, feeling useless and lazy while Gerard worked, like a leech sucking the life out of his host. Gerard would come home and say something nice about how the house looked and the heaviness in Frank's head and chest would disappear, thinning like a cured head cold.
Snow came heavily, falling in miniature blizzards, as the end of November came, bringing grey, omniscient-looking clouds and uncomfortable weather. As the holidays approached, Frank vaguely and hopefully wondered if Gerard celebrated Christmas, wanting to but apprehensive about asking if maybe they could find a tree and decorate it, just for fun. Or maybe for togetherness. The idea made Frank feel as if he’d been filled with warm water.
Frank scraped at a sticky piece of something on the kitchen, scratching irritably at it with his nail. The tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth. Gerard sipped on his mug of coffee, both hands around the cup, and he seemed to be watching Frank chip away at the table with his head cocked slightly to the side. In a puzzled voice he asked,
"What are you doing?"
Furrowing his eyebrows, a crease forming between the lines of hair above his eyes like a wrinkle in a sheet. He replied, "...S'ry, I just don't like it when the place isn't clean." Quickly altering the subject, he said, "Um, are we gonna do Christmas or something? I mean, it's December now. I don't know how you feel about it or anything." Gerard shrugged on the other side of the table, hunched forward slightly, his shoulders raised.
"Ah, well, I dunno," he mused, shrugging, and Frank stopped picking at the table momentarily (mentally planning the assassination of the speck) and watched the other man thinking. He felt a tiny cloud of butterflies quiver inside him as Gerard looked off to the side, musing over the idea. "I haven't celebrated Christmas since I was little. Like, maybe eleven or twelve. I sort just was on my own after that and never stuck around to see what the fam was up to during the holidays." He rubbed the septum of his nose with the side of his index finger before returning his hand back to the warmth of the mug. "...I guess we could do something if you want. I dunno what your whole stance is on the 'Christmas Hey-Zues resurrection zombie thing'."
Frank snickered and went back to scraping at the table, both vaguely amused and aggravated that he couldn't keep the place tidy. "I'm not a religious person," he explained. "I just thought Christmas was a...ya, know, "together" time. Not really a dead-but-not-dead biblical figure time." The speck flaked off and Frank was tempted to get up and do a happy jig. He looked back up at Gerard. "But, uh, yeah, I'd like to do something with you. Maybe get a tree or something. Be each other's "Secret Santa"." Gerard nodded.
"Yeah," he agreed with a calm sense of bliss washing over his face like water over sand. He took another sip of his coffee and exhaled. "I'd like that a lot."
Gerard stretched his lean legs under the table, his naked toes touching Frank's, and Frank felt a pleasurable shiver travel through the tips of his toes where their skin met up to his middle. He sat up straight in his chair, retracting his feet as if they were dirty and might somehow contaminate the other man. The clock ticked behind them.
"Here," he offered quickly, standing up and moving over to Gerard's side of the table. "I'll take your mug since, like. Work, ya know." He stood beside the younger man, who nodded and quickly and audibly gulped down the last of his morning drink. Frank reached down to take it, the white mug speckled with a black pattern resembling paint, and his hand brushed Gerard's, fingers tracing over tendons. The jolt came back, more intense, and for a moment he felt afraid; afraid that he might do something stupid and ruin a perfectly good morning for them both. Gerard appeared to notice but didn't seem to care as much as Frank did, he just held his hand in place and waited for Frank to get over his momentary paralysis.
But for whatever reason, Frank didn't want to just grab the mug and walk away. He felt like he owed Gerard something; he lived in the man's house, wore the clothes that he gave him, ate the meals he provided. For the past few months he had been nothing but a parasite, a tick who occasionally gave Gerard trouble. And maybe it was out of guilt or the fact that he felt it was his duty as a guest, or maybe just because he wanted to, but he leaned down and very quickly pressed his lips against Gerard's cheek with an audible smeck-ing sound before rushing away to the sink to clean, feeling like an excited high school student who had just done something daring.
On the other side of the room, Gerard sat silently, and if he was making a face of recognition, Frank was too afraid to look and find out. His arms and legs shook, a familiar sensation that made him feel unstable, but this time around it wasn't because he was afraid he was going to be hit or stabbed or shot. He shook with excitement and maybe just a little pride. Turning his head so Gerard wouldn't see, he bit his lip in an attempt to hold a grin back.
The chair squealed against the floor as Gerard stood up and groaned again as he pushed it back into its place at the table. His footsteps were slow and light across the linoleum, approaching Frank (he became a little nervous momentarily, very slightly afraid that he had done something wrong, and prepared himself mentally and physically for an outburst) from the side. Frank didn't raise his head, he just kept looking down at the dishes he was scrubbing, his fingers becoming wrinkled with the osmosis. On the side of his face, he felt warmth, softness, and he become aware that Gerard was kissing him, just holding his lips there with his hands delicately on Frank's shoulders. The shorter man's T-shirt suddenly felt very thin, his unclothed legs, only covered by his boxer shorts, very naked and exposed. He wasn't sure if he was uncomfortable or not and he found that he really didn't mind anyway.
He didn't turn to kiss Gerard back, even though a small fragment of him wanted to. Instead, he let the taller man pull away, the moisture and heat of his kiss still against his skin. All of Frank felt so guilty, but in such a good, healthy way. It was as if that's what his body needed to heal; a good experience in the romantic. He heard Gerard turn back to the living room and slip on his shoes by the front door. There was a rustling sound as he put on his coat and Frank wanted to tell him, Come on, don't leave. You can stay here with me.
"I'm going," Gerard called from the other room. Frank called back, Okay. Be safe. Something stopped him from saying, I love you and he wished it wouldn't have. The door creaked open and the rushing sound of the cold wind outside reached him. As Gerard shut the door, it groaned. He wanted to open it back up and tell him to come back. He didn't.
His hands were covered in bubbles from soap. He stood there for several minutes, not even washing anything anymore; just sort of replying his actions and thoughts in his head, rewinding the parts he particularly liked or didn't understand. At last he sighed and bowed his head, his fingers drifting across the place where Gerard had placed his closed lips.
"I'm losing my mind."
It occurred to him, seemingly out of nowhere, that he didn't really consider himself a captive anymore; a hostage held in the name of fighting schizophrenic loneliness. Frank considered himself a house guest; a cousin long since forgotten staying over Gerard's house for a little while until maybe he would just move in. The idea that he was being kept there against his will, nearly every freedom he'd ever known stopping at the door as if they'd been cut with wires, faded away with the bruises on his face. It fell out with his missing tooth. The pain had simply numbed over.
If he wanted to leave he could. He could find a way to break open the window and go, even through the snow. If he had to steal a jacket or some blankets, he could. Town was far, but not so far that if he really wanted to get there he couldn't. Maybe even, if he was feeling dangerous, in the middle of the night he could take Gerard's car keys (wherever they were- finding them would probably be the only real issue), break out of the house, into the car, and drive off to somewhere safe. He'd steal money for gas and be out of there. If he wanted to.
But he didn't. Frank didn't want to.
He finished making their beds, patting them down until the sheets were completely free of creases. They looked so immaculate that Frank thought that maybe one day he could open up a school for bed-making. He'd have to capture and emotionally torture the students for a couple of weeks, but at the end the beds they made would be so perfect it's not like it would matter. In the bathroom he examined the old wounds on his cheeks and shoulder, and the newer one on the back of his head, reaching back the rub his fingers over it. Everything looked like it was healing. A strange bitterness came over him as he wiggled his tongue in the place where his tooth once was, but it disintegrated into dust.
The house was entirely clean, but he felt only remotely satisfied, as if there might have been something he was missing. He moved onto the cabinet and started organizing the cans and cereal. Gerard would be able to find things easier that way.
Inside his head, a voice asked him, Why do you care if life is hard or easy for him? Look what he did to you. He hurts you.
Frank sneered at the voice and said, don't be a pussy. Everyone messes up. No one's even remotely good at being human.
Homo, the voice teased.
He snorted. If he was, so was the voice since they were the same person. He paused for a moment, can of tomatoes in hand. He was arguing with himself about his own sexuality. Yes, he was definitely going crazy. But at least it was humorous. Maybe he could write a book about it. What to do if One Half of You is Making Fun of the Other Half for Being Gay but that Other Half Doesn't Really Care and You're More Concerned that You're Arguing with Yourself Over Something Trivial. The title needed work.
Vaguely, he wondered what the rest of his family was doing. If they missed him or noticed he was gone. Shaking his head to himself, Frank thought, they must have known he was gone. It had been several months- not days or even weeks, but months. Even someone as lonely and disconnected as him would have someone searching for him by now. Half-concerned, he wondered what he might do if he was found. It wasn't like he wanted to leave. Inspecting a box of fruit-snacks he was unaware they owned, Frank wondered where his sister was. If she was still going to school, majoring in business and minoring in being a complete bitch or something. He only missed her because he hadn't seen her in so long.
Time moved too slowly. The ticking of the clock on the wall dug into his brain like a nail, and he wished Gerard would get home so he could continue to experiment with acts of sexual audacity like he was a teenager again. He mentally planned out his next random kissing attack: after dinner he'd come up behind Gerard while he was putting the dishes away, tap him on the shoulder, and just quickly peck him on the lips. It was fool proof. Unless Gerard took it the wrong way and wanted sex (to which Frank would reply No way, I'm just fooling around, sorry, dude), which would probably end up in Frank being raped in more ways than one. He pondered this briefly and decided he'd work on it. It wasn't like he was short on time.
If there had been a fireplace, Frank would have lit it. It would be the manual kind, he knew (because Gerard just sort of worked that way, and if he had to own a fireplace, that would be the kind) and he would have grabbed a couple of logs and lit them aflame. The house would smell like Christmas and nostalgia. The heat would make them think of things they liked remembering and they'd talk about them casually, like friends or lovers or long-lost brothers. But Gerard didn't have something as nostalgic and comfortable as a fireplace that reminded Frank of his childhood so Frank started to boil water for tea instead. Leaning on the island with his chin on his folded arms he realized the place just didn't feel like home.
Gerard came home a little later than normal, his car sputtering and groaning in the snow on the driveway. Frank rushed to greet him at the doorway, standing by the end of the couch like an excited dog as the taller man shook the flakes of snow out of his dark hair, the pieces flying off into the air like bits of dandruff. His coat was long and black, reaching down past his knees, making him look unusually tall. Gerard folded his coat over his arm as he headed into the kitchen, ruffling Frank's hair playfully on the way and giggling to himself. He folded the coat over the back of his hair and shuddered.
"Holy shit, it is really December now," he said. He cracked his knuckles, turning back to Frank. "How's life, Frankie?"
The shorter of the two felt his heart flip like roller coaster. " 's good." His legs were pressed tightly together, one foot behind the other and he massaged the back of his head. His stomach shuddered, nervousness and excitement twisting inside him as he wondered if Gerard had been thinking about what Frank had done. "...How're you?"
Gerard casually said he was fine and twisted a strand of hair between his fingers, sitting down at his spot at the kitchen table, chair turned towards Frank, and looked at the floor. Frank could see Gerard's hair was getting longer, just slightly. Little pieces reached down just below his ears, sticking up and out from the wind from outside. It was attractive, sweetly so, and not in any way sexual; just sort of in the way that Frank wanted to touch it. He wanted to be near it.
"Hey," he said suddenly and Gerard briefly glanced up at him, the hair still twisting between his fingers. Gerard made a quiet, Mhm? sound. He hesitated for a moment, wanting to say something romantic or sensual or even just questioning about their feelings, but instead he choked out, "...ah...Thanks."
With a slow blink, Gerard asked, "For what?"
"For just..." He paused to gather his thoughts, to collect them like broken pieces of plastic and glue them together with last-second ideas. "...Just everything. Just letting me be here. Taking care of me and all that. I know, it's weird."
Shrugging and looking up with large, round eyes, Gerard replied, "It's not weird. I appreciate it." He smirked and chuckled. "...A couple of weeks ago you hated me and now it's all different. It's funny." Frank's stomach churned with embarrassment at the thought of his spasms in the closet and his cries for help. Ready to protest, to lie even, he opened his mouth but Gerard cut him off. "Don't feel weird about it. I hated me too." His mouth became a line. “I still hate me.”
Frank stepped a little closer, but not too close, keeping several feet between them as if afraid the floor between Gerard’s chair and Frank’s feet might suddenly fall through into a hole in the earth. "You shouldn't. Hate yourself, I mean. Everyone's a little...weird, I guess. We're all a little off."
Gerard made a movement as if he was going to chew on his nail, then stopped, realizing he'd gnawed them all the way down like a hamster on a piece of wood. Instead he continued trying to crack his knuckles, making small popping noises as the air escaped. "The morning after you woke up," he began, looking away. "I told you, I'm not like that, remember?" Frank said yes. He did. "I didn't mean...like that. Like the way I sometimes think about people. The way you sometimes think about...people."
Frank's heart gave a little squirm and he suddenly felt a sheet of humiliation over his own undecided sexuality cover him.
"I meant," he continued. "I'm not the kind of person to rape someone. Or molest them, or whatever. That's just not me. I know I must seem like that kind of person- I have issues, I know- but I know what it's like to have something done to you that changes you. That kind of thing changes you." He seemed thoughtful now, as if he wasn't simply talking to Frank, but to some confused part of himself. "I'd rather do that kind of thing with someone who wanted to than just...take it from them."
Slowly parting his lips, Frank replied simply and a little dumbly, "...Okay." Gerard didn't seem to hear him.
"Just know that I want you to be happy," Gerard said in a strained voice. "I know I say that a lot and then something goes wrong but you're special to me. You're precious to me. And it wasn't like you were really happy before I brought you here. I could tell." In a dreamy voice he added, "We're supposed to be here." Something about the tone felt off in the air, as if it was smooth in a place of jaggedness.
On the other side of the room, the tea kettle screeched and Frank thanked the excuse to move. His legs felt like boards of wood. The kettle's scream lowered to a whine as the heat left it and Frank poured them mugs of hot water, dropping bags of tea into each. The water became dark. Sitting down opposite of Gerard and sliding the mug over, he said, "I think...you do make me happy. I mean, you didn't before, yeah, but that was just because things were rough." He held the teabag by the tiny white string and dunked it in and out of the hot water. "But something changed. I don't know what, but things are better now."
Steam rose up from their mugs like wisps of ghosts. Gerard tapped his finger on the edge of his cup, the nose thin and high.
“Did you change or did I?” he asked.
Frank said he didn’t know. He lied.