A new school, unwarranted beatings, and two unlikely friends.
Somewhere between the place that I’d been born and Fair Haven, New Jersey, I’d gotten sick of the same old new-school-new-life pep talk. It just didn’t do it for me anymore, not like it used to when I was younger. Somewhere along the line, the words ‘you can do this; you’ve done it before. It’s just the first day’ had begun to ring hollow, and it wasn’t long until I stopped believing them entirely. So when I woke up to another polluted Jersey dawn, red smoke lying low on the horizon, I didn’t think anything at all.
My name is Frank Iero, and I fucking hate New Jersey. I guess I’m not alone in that respect. I was born not too far from Fair Haven, actually, and coming back here after my father’s death completed the circle, effectively convincing me my life was going nowhere. It didn’t take me long to realize things were better without my dad. He wasn’t a bad man, just…troubled. He never laid a finger on me, but he used to hit my mom whenever he got drunk. About a year ago, things had gotten worse than ever; my mom began to send me upstairs after dinner with instructions to keep my door locked until morning. No matter how hard I tried, I could still hear my father shouting late into the night. One rainy October evening he’d stumbled out the door and straight into the path of an oncoming van. Strange, that life can be over so quickly. Just like that, you go out with no warning other than the screech of tires.
Ever since, my mom’s been trying to raise me all on her own. She’s warm and kind and always has a cookie and some good advice. And she’s much happier without my dad around. We stayed in our little apartment in Brooklyn until her two waitressing jobs couldn’t make ends meet anymore, and we had to move out of the city. I feel bad for her. I’m not the easiest kid to deal with, let’s leave it at that.
I’m sixteen now, and I look like any other scruffy punk kid - a little on the short side, pants too tight, dyed-black hair. Sure, I’ve got a few piercings and tattoos, but I’m no tough guy. In New York City, I never felt out of place. But New Jersey gets me down, and I wasn’t exactly anticipating a warm welcome at the local public high school. People always hate those that are different from them, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. I was sick of being stepped on and kicked around. I just couldn’t figure out a way to make it stop.
“A fresh start, Frankie,” my mom said cheerfully, ruffling my shaggy hair as I sat down at the kitchen table. “Nobody knows you; you can reinvent yourself.”
“It’s not me that needs reinventing, mom, it’s the rest of the world,” I sighed, tucking into the plate of pancakes and scrambled eggs she’d set before me. She smiled as she handed me a big mug of coffee. She always treated everything like an adventure.
After breakfast, I shot upstairs to get dressed. As I navigated my half-unpacked room, dodging boxes full of CDs and comic books tossed carelessly on the floor, I threw on a black t-shirt, skinny jeans, and high tops. I stood for a second in front of the mirror, getting my hair just right.
“Everything will be fine,” I told my worried-looking reflection. “The kids of Fair Haven High will be mesmerized by your effortless charm and your devilish good looks.”
I grabbed my hoodie and ran for the door before my reflection could convince me otherwise.
Fair Haven High was a squat, ugly brick campus surrounded by pointless shrubbery. It was only ten minutes away from my house, and my mom was still saving up for a car, so I’d have to walk both ways. I was used to taking the subway, and used to inner-city schools with x-ray machines and see-though plastic backpacks, so I was pleasantly surprised that there was no security other than a set of crusty old metal detectors. My mornings seemed a lot brighter now that I didn’t have to remove my belt every time I walked into school.
But the kids in the hallways looked menacing, a collage of letter jackets, cheerleading uniforms and color-coordinated suburbia. I hardly dared to ask one of them where the office was, and when I worked up the courage, he practically growled the obligatory ‘down the hall, to the left’. Whatever ounce of confidence had allowed me to walk inside with my head held high was pretty much gone by this point. I realized I was instinctively walking with my shoulders hunched, trying not to be a target.
New town, same old, same old, I thought.
After I’d gotten my schedule and textbooks and found my locker, I wandered around looking for my English class. I passed by several classrooms full of younger students before I found the right room, 304, and hesitantly poked my head around the doorframe.
“Hello there,” the teacher, a tall, balding man in a tweed suit, said warmly. I stumbled up to the front, aware of all the eyes on me. I’ve never liked being in the spotlight much. I was forced to introduce myself to the whole class; I managed a weak, semi-apologetic ‘Hi, I’m Frank Iero’ before I was handed a copy of King Lear and assigned a desk in the back of the class. When my heart stopped pounding, I noticed a pale boy staring curiously at me from across the aisle. He absently pushed his glasses up his nose and smiled at me from under a fringe of light-brown hair.
“Hi, I’m Mikey,” he said. The teacher droned on, oblivious.
“Frank,” I replied.
“You just moved here?”
“Yeah, two days ago. Lucky me.”
He laughed. “Is Fair Haven everything you dreamed it would be?”
“Well, it’s no fair haven, if that’s what you mean.”
“I think the name’s supposed to be ironic,” he whispered.
“The irony’s lost on me,” I whispered back, and he laughed.
“Don’t worry. My family moved here two years ago, and we almost fit in now.”
“Not reassuring, Mikey.”
It took him all of three minutes to spot the Misfits pin on my bookbag, and after that we passed the time discussing our favorite bands – The Smashing Pumpkins, Black Flag and The Clash. I was glad to find someone who shared my taste in music, and even gladder that Mikey cared as little about school as I did. He spoke my language. A different dialect, maybe (Metallica? Really?), but comforting nonetheless. By the time class ended, we’d become fast friends.
“See you later?” he asked as we walked down the hall.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, a little too eagerly. I totally sounded like the friendless new kid.
“During lunch, we all hang out near the big oak tree at the corner of the quad,” he said.
“I’ll be there.”
I had Chem next. I tried to keep a mental map of where I was as I wandered down the crowded corridors, occasionally being shoved aside by people in a hurry. Mikey’s words kept ringing in my ears – 'my family moved here two years ago, and we almost fit in now.' I’d never been good at staying optimistic, looking at the bright side of life, but those words had such finality, such resignation in them. Mikey had accepted somewhere along the road that he wasn’t ever going to blend in.
I knew the exact moment I’d accepted that same hard truth. September of eighth grade, and the leaves were falling all around in a curtain of red and sunshine yellow. I was crying over a boy – and not for the first time, I might add. A boy who’d broken my sad little eighth-grade heart. I’m gay. This is something I’ve always known, deep down. But I’d never told anyone before, because I was so afraid of rejection. And I’d gone and made a fool of myself, all over a playground crush who clearly couldn’t reciprocate. I’d stood there crying as the leaves rained down all around me. And I knew that no matter what I did, no matter how I tried to change myself, the world would go on being the same.
I didn’t know much about Mikey at all, but I could see the same little sadness in his eyes. We were just misfits.
Is there nowhere for people like us? Nowhere that we can just be ourselves, without being afraid we’ll be punished for who we are?
Someone shoved into me hard, shocking me back into reality.
“Fag,” muttered a low voice.
“Your mom didn’t think so last night, when we fucked until dawn,” I said automatically, before I realized who I was talking to. The guy towered over my – let’s face it, diminutive – frame, and he had muscles to match. His face looked tough and expressionless. I’d taken enough blows to know a bully when I saw one.
He froze, holding a hand to his ear as if he hadn’t heard. “What?”
“Nothing,” I said instantly, but it was too late. He slammed me up against the lockers. I gasped as the air vents bit into my back through my thin t-shirt. I struggled to break free, but it was no good, I was too weak. The tall boy leaned in close, grabbing my collar with one hand.
“Don’t you dare,” he spat. “You’re a fucking fag, admit it.”
“No. I won’t. Go fuck yourself.”
A crowd was gathering all around us. Girls were whispering to each other, but there was no sympathy in their faces. A teacher broke through the mass of people and headed over to break it up.
“I’ll make you admit it,” the boy promised in a whisper. “One way or another. The name’s Jason. I’ll be seeing you around.” As he shook off the teacher and turned to go, he shouted “remember my name, fuckwad!”
“Like I could forget,” I muttered, trying to catch my breath. My back still stung from the impact, and I hated to admit it, but my legs felt shaky.
Perfect. It’s like I have a target painted on my forehead.
I picked up my books and kept walking, doing my best to ignore the stares and whispers. Not exactly the inconspicuous start I’d been hoping for.
I spent the next few classes concocting an elaborate plan to escape the beating that was waiting for me, only to get mobbed as soon as I walked out of my fourth-period History class. He must have known where I was and hung around, waiting.
Just my luck, I thought numbly as the same hands hurled me roughly into the hall. It’s day one and I’ve got a devoted stalker. I stumbled back, crashing through a group of girls and into a concrete pillar. My elbow made solid contact with the wall. I bit back the pain, determined not to let it show. I’d been in my fair share of fights, and I knew guys like Jason just got off on crying and begging, signs of weakness. If I broke down, he’d keep making my life miserable.
Still, I started to panic as they closed in on me, forming a circle. I should’ve known, guys like this always travel in gangs. I got to my feet, cradling my arm.
“I’m not afraid of you,” I snarled.
“You should be.” Jason landed a punch to my eye and another one drove his gigantic fist into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I felt something crack ominously. The blows were landing all over now. I collapsed and curled into a ball, protecting my head and passively waiting for the beating to stop. It took everything I had not to cry out as someone dragged me to my feet.
“Why? All I see is a cowardly dipshit who beats up on the new kid.” Okay, at this point I admittedly should have shut up. But there's this switch in my head that goes on whenever I know I'm about to get really hurt, and it won't let me keep my mouth shut. I figure, in for an inch, in for a mile. At least I can add a little insult in return for my imminent injury.
“Admit it,” he snarled. I couldn’t see for the blood.
“Fuck you,” I said brokenly, and flinched as I felt another punch coming on.
“Put him down,” said a low and dangerous voice. My head was spinning, it could’ve been coming from anywhere. But I was shocked to feel the ground under my feet, at least until my knees gave way and I could feel the cool linoleum against my cheek and my battered ribs. “That’s right,” he said in the same singsong tone, “keep backing up, nice and slow motherfuckers.” Then, a moment later: “Now stop.”
The hallway was dead silent. I was dimly aware that something wonderful was happening. But my ribs grated like broken glass, and my head was throbbing distractingly.
“Don’t touch him again, you hear? Shit, what’d he ever do to you except let you in on the ugly truth?” he laughed softly. “Go on now, run away. I’ll come for you later.”
The clatter of feet rang out, and a moment later everything was back to normal, a bustling school hallway. I felt cool hands against my face, and struggled to open my eyes. My vision slid in and out of focus.
The most beautiful boy was crouched in front of me, ignoring the smears of blood that were soaking into his black jeans and pooling on his leather jacket. His pale, delicate features were furrowed with concern.
“Wakey, wakey,” he murmured, gently slapping my cheek. His bright hazel eyes flickered over my body. When he saw I was okay, he relaxed slightly, laughing as he ran a hand through his messy, chin-length black hair. “You’re okay, kid, you’re safe. Those guys would’ve sent you to the hospital, though, if I hadn’t pulled a knife on them. Your lucky day, huh? I’m Gerard, by the way,” he added as an afterthought.
I’d been wondering who my savior was; I nodded gratefully. The angelic boy looked at me questioningly. I realized he was waiting for my name.
“Frank,” I mumbled, wincing as I felt my split lip.
“Well, Frank,” he said as he rose gracefully to his feet, “we’d better get you cleaned up.” He extended one pale, strong hand. “C’mon.”
Dazed, I reached out and grabbed his hand, letting him pull me up to my feet. He tut-tutted as one leg gave out, but caught me before I could fall. A second later, he was carrying me down the hall in his arms. My head lolled against his chest. I could feel his strong, steady heartbeat through the gray cotton of his shirt. He was humming softly. He smelled like peppermint.
“Don’t mind Jason,” he said cheerfully. “He’s a fuckin’ prick.”
He laughed. “What’d you say to him, anyway? He usually just pushes the new kids around a little, doesn’t really hurt ‘em.”
“I told him I fucked his mom.”
He whistled. “And there’s my answer.”
We turned the corner, and he kicked open a gray door with the words ‘Boys’ Bathroom’ in peeling paint. Gerard propped me up against a sink and started carefully wiping the blood from my face with a fistful of paper towels. I couldn’t help but stare at his creamy skin in the dull fluorescent lighting, at his eyes focused so intently on me. I didn’t make a sound as he cleaned the gash over my eye, but he hissed in sympathy.
“He get you anywhere else?” he asked.
“He cracked a rib, I think, but I can take care of it later. It’s no big deal; I’ve had worse.”
His eyes hardened. “I’m gonna kill him.”
“Why?” I asked. “You don’t even know me.”
I could tell I’d caught him off guard. He bit his bottom lip thoughtfully, as if he could tell I wanted a real answer. “You’ve got guts, Frank. You were putting up a fight, even if the odds were against you. Hell, you might’ve won if you weren’t outnumbered. Most people around here would just take it lying down. They just accept that there’s something wrong with them, that they deserve to be punished and degraded by these total morons. Don’t ever do that, Frank.”
I cracked a smile. “In general, I try not to.”
“Good,” he said decisively, finished dabbing at my cuts. His expression lightened somewhat. He tossed aside the towels and dusted off his hands on his jeans. I couldn’t stop staring. I’d never seen someone so casually gorgeous. He reached up and pushed his hair out of his eyes haphazardly.
God, he’s dreamy.
“Gerard?” He looked up at the sound of his name. “I...I, uh...thanks.”
“Anytime.” He grinned.
I moved carefully to the door and started down the hall, trying not to limp. I’d just walk it off, walk it all off. Forget that I’d just gotten beat up over nothing but the way I looked...that I’d just been miraculously saved by a tall, dark stranger with the most beautiful eyes...
“Hold up,” he shouted suddenly. I heard his jacket jingling as he easily caught up to me. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Back to class?” I said. I didn’t mean for it to come out like a question.
He laughed long and hard, slinging an arm around my shoulders. “Nah. We’ve got better things to do. Frankie boy, you’re coming with me.”
What'd you guys think! This is so exciting, but it's 1:30 my time. Let me know if you liked it and if you want more; your comments are highly appreciated. Thanks and night!