Not quite tossing, almost turning, with breaths short and sparse, raggedly drawing past his xylophone ribs in drawls and gasps, dry rasping movements expanding his skeletal chest and inhaling little exoskeletons. He twitched. Spasmed. Moaned. Grunted. Whined. Not in pain, but riddled with aches, and chokes soaked in sweat and spit.
His eyes weren’t closed, instead half-fluttering and staring at no points in particular on the darkened ceiling, past his greasy fringe. Maybe he could see something. Could you tell from staring at him writhing on the bed, whether he was gazing into darkness or a figure invisible to you?
The ceiling was nice, it was pale, it was calm colours, deep shades of blue, hues of navy to sky, maybe it was as cold as it looked. Staccato stucco patterns intervened with cobwebs, tendrils of ocher damp spreading at random intervals.
His arm outstretched in painful pulls on his muscles, trying to touch the spiders for comfort.
His tongue lolled back, sucked to his throat, stuck to his teeth. Gagging, gasping, choking. Arching his spine and contorting to twist and writhe in almost agony. Acid burning past his throat in a sickening taste of his stomach. He coughed, loudly, racking his ribs, his slender frame buckling and eventually laying still.
Gerard threw his head over the side of the bed and vomited anything he’d eaten and all the poisons he’s taken in the past weeks. He retched. The insides of his throat grated to a mess.
The spiders waded through the vomit.
The stench already making him feel sick again.
Water brimming at his eyes.
Red, he noticed, a string of drool hanging from his lips as he shook violently. Streaks of red in the puddle. That’s new. That’s bad. There’s something wrong with me.
Screeching and whispers and mutters rolling down his neck, claws dragging down softly to tear at tender skin, but he couldn’t beat it off, he just looked up, at the one yelling, sobbing, and blacked out.
“How are you feeling?”
Sat at the far end of the sofa, Mikey was as far away from Gerard as he could be, whilst still trying to stay with him. Mikey wasn’t even sure why he bothered asking, it’s not like he cared. If anything Gerard should be asking him.
Mikey pitied his brother.
Pitied the hollows of his eyes. The sharp edges on his cheeks. The strands and split ends where he’d cut his own hair. He pitied his solitude. His social life, or lack thereof. All his issues, his problems, everything that had turned his brother to shit.
No sleep for two hours after Gerard threw up. Cleaning up, waking the drunkard up, washing his face, it had been a disgusting disaster. The stench was stuck in Mikey’s nose. But worse than that was the sight.
Still burned into his mind, the sounds of Gerard coughing and dying under the floorboards, in his basement room. Still etched into his eyes, the sight of his brother’s head hanging off the bed, his body limp, passing out as Mikey yelled at him to wake up, wake up, WAKE UP.
For forty minutes, Mikey had sat there.
Counting Gerard’s breaths.
Holding his hand and feeling his pulse.
Whispering for him it was going to be okay when it wasn’t.
He’d wiped the spit from his lips, he’d spoon fed him medicine.
Cleaned his room while he passed out on the bed again and slept by his side in case he woke up again.
Mikey took care of Gerard, but that didn’t mean he cared for him.
But here he was, the morning after, with hollows under his eyes. Hairs at off ends, spots peppering his forehead, brought on by stress and unease and who knows what lately. His fringe was greasy and pinned back by his glasses, and he looked, and felt, disgusted.
Not a single thank you from Gerard.
He had no idea what Mikey had gone through last night, what he was going through by just living under the same roof as him. And still, Mikey resisted the urge to kick the shit through his brother and asked Gerard how he was feeling, anger flaring in his eyes, in every work he spoke, but with a discernible tone of pity.
And yet Gerard just flashed a grin and nodded ‘fantastic’.
He was far too smiley and happy for someone who’d puked up his guts the night before, and Mikey was sure there were probably traces of Irish coffee lingering on Gerard’s breath.
Mikey opted against answering in case he should lose his temper, and he was already teetering on the edge. His legs lifted and he pulled them to his chest tightly, curling up on the far end of the sofa and keeping to himself.
He didn’t want to leave Gerard, just in case, but he just wanted to get as far away from him as possible, because he couldn’t stand seeing him this dependent on his drink.
He was tired, worn out, sick. Sick of Gerard being sick.
“We’ve only been back to school a month.” He finally muttered spitefully through his sleeve.
“One month, two days. It’s the second of October.” Gerard added nonchalantly, shrugging and switching on the television.
He was such a sarky bitch. Insufferable. How he had any friends remained a mystery to Mikey. Well, they didn’t know about his… issues. Maybe Mikey wouldn’t hate him so much if he didn’t know either.
It wasn’t like he’d always hated his brother. We all found our hatred in love. Or something. He used to love his brother. Fuck, Mikey worshipped him when he was twelve, all those years ago. Before Mikey grew up and understood what was going on, before it all went to shit.
Safe to say Mikey was a little troubled himself. He wasn’t an introvert, a psycho, he wasn’t insane, if anything he was quite normal at first glance. A bit of an attitude for no apparent reason, yes, an attention seeker. But he seemed okay once he stepped outside his house.
“Why did you do it?” he mumbled quietly. Not inaudibly, just loud enough so that Gerard could hear him, low enough so that it stayed just a thought. His knuckles were white and his fingers ached from pulling his legs so close, and he didn’t even know it. He was a bit numb. He didn’t even want to be here, he was supposed to be at Patrick’s today.
Gerard’s eyes lifted slowly from picking the skin on his nails, dragging past the TV screen and pausing on the spot next to Mikey. Too much of a coward to look him in the eye. Knowing full well what had happened last night, what he did to his brother, how he’d turned such an amazing boy into an emotional wreck, but never admitting it.
“What?” he croaked offhandedly, shutting his eyes and bracing for the worst when he rested a hand on Mikey’s shoulder.
“WHY did you fucking DO IT?!” Mikey shouted and batted Gerard’s hand away in a swift and angry motion. Gerard winced at the snapping sound when an unruly bone cracked in his wrist thanks to Mikey’s blow.
He wanted to ask ‘do what?’ or to hide his face and deny any claims, he wanted to plead not guilty, but the least he could do after all this was not lie to Mikey.
So he stared with fearful eyes at his brother who had jumped to his feet and looked ready to smack him.
Everything slowed down.
Mikey could feel his heartbeat hammering.
He could hear the panic in Gerard’s breath.
He could feel his fist clenched and he could feel everything he hated about Gerard, everything he hated in what Gerard had become, mounting on his back and pressing him to just punch his face to a bloody pulp.
“You…” he hissed. “Fuck you Gerard.”
Keys, phone, on his feet, out the door, into the hall, in the blink of an eye Mikey was out of Gerard’s sight and standing in front of the door.
The hinge squeaked, a small breeze ran through the sitting room and tickled shivers down Gerard’s spine. Or maybe that was his nerves racking under his skin. Mikey hovered by the door.
But he stopped
Out of Gerard’s sight, his little brother stood firm in the doorway and gazed wide eyed at the path ahead.
“Count this as me walking out on you.”
His chapped lips moved slowly but his voice raised loudly above the gusts of October wind.
“You’ll see me but I’ll never be there for you.”
For the beginning of October, the weather was strangely cold. Chills crept in through any layer of clothing and snaked their way to your spine, sending cold shivers through every nerve in your body. Bellevillians were used to it, and even though Newark wasn’t that far away it felt like a different climate entirely when it was this cold in October.
It was the wind, too. Still air isn’t that bad. The cold settles on you and you can just shake it off. But it was these gusts of goddamn wind that got on Frank’s nerves. Last night had sounded like a fucking hurricane. He’d been curled up on his bed next to a portable radiator in the comfort of his own home, but the weather outside had been unforgiving. He couldn’t even hear his own thoughts, getting to sleep was a nightmare, no pun intended.
And what a lovely way to spend a Sunday this was. Loitering in the town park, like any self respecting rebel. The wind was discouraging, though. He was a shit rebel if the weather was putting him off. About twenty minutes into his waiting time in the desolate park, Frank found his feet wandering off to follow a trail that led him to a rusted playground.
It was the kind of place that looked like everything might dissolve to iron oxide dust if he even touched it. There was a set of swings, a slide, a climbing wall and some monkey bars. The ground was sprinkled in fake turf, upturned and torn apart in places where the real vegetation had made a break for it. Small patches of daisies and dandelions sprouting up every few feet. Little clusters of bright yellow.
Frank considered climbing up the frame and sitting on the top, before realizing he had no reason to do that. Why would he climb there? Just to prove he could? Prove it to who? The frame looked like it would collapse if he set foot on it, why did he get the urge to anyway? The human mind worked in strange ways when boredom veiled its common sense.
So he kicked the grass around some more and sighed, irritated. He was getting annoyed. Frank did not like getting stood up. And as October chills went, this was pretty fucking freezing. He had a t-shirt under a hoodie under a jacket under a scarf on and he looked weirdly disproportionate under all his layers.
There was a crinkling sound behind him as the ground split small cracks under nervous footing, and an unnerving screeching noise from the whiny gate to the playground. Frank glanced over his shoulder in a panic and stared at Gerard wide eyed, unsure why he was so shocked and even more confused by how exhilarated he suddenly felt. Maybe it was relief washing over him that Gerard had showed, maybe the creep of warmth on his cheeks when he saw that awkward grin on Gerard’s face, but he just felt himself get that tiny bit happier when he set eyes on his hollows and the trail of smoke drifting past him from his cigarette.
“Sorry I’m late Newark.” He shrugged apologetically from the rusted hinges.
“Damn right you’re sorry.” Frank spat. “Now pass me a smoke.”
Gerard shot him a shaming glance and shook his head quickly, before holding his head between his hand and wishing away the droning drums hammering his skull. The ash tripped past his lips again and he walked over to lean against the creaking climbing frame to lean next to Frank airily.
“No way. Smoking’s bad for you.” He stated in a condescending tone, before raising the cigarette to his lips again and taking a long drag.
“Do I even need to say it?” Frank sighed.
“Do as I say, not as I do.” Gerard snorted.
A few chirps in the distance from some Belleville bird broke the immediate silence when Frank couldn’t think of a sarcastic answer other than ‘yeah, you prick’.
“Are you always this late to days out?” he asked nonchalantly, coughing dryly and inaudibly from acrid smoke in his midst.
“I’m sorry honey, did I ruin our date?” he snorted, again.
“You’re an asshole.”
“Shut up, I’m your only friend.” He smiled devilishly. “And no, I’m not always this late. Is this like, the first time we’ve hung out outside school?”
Frank nodded. “One month. Took you long enough to ask me out, honey.”
Gerard flashed him an honest grin and chuckled lightly, with his weird shrill giggle that was so unfitting to his creepy vampire allure.
They jested about for a while. Gerard stamped his cigarette out and pulled another one out in the same five seconds. Frank reached the top of the climbing frame and kicked him around the head for a while for shits and giggles. There were some talks. Some laughs, some sighs, a whole lot of ‘fuck you’s and even more kicking/pinching/poking/shoving each other.
A love hate thing, you could say. It was a relief having someone who disliked Frank as much as he disliked them. Well, he liked Gerard and Gerard liked him too, but they liked hating each other even more.
“Thanks for talking to me on the first day.” Frank noted, hanging from his knees on the monkey bars. Gerard leaned over to stay at eye level with him, upside down. His mouth opened a little and eyebrows raised annoyedly, the whispering fff of a fuck you tracing on his lips but trailing off into a regretting silence. He gazed at the ground for a while and wondered why he didn’t have a cigarette in his teeth, Frank stayed silent and started to see little spots in front of him from the blood rushing to his head.
Some more seconds went by in this Spiderman/Mary Jane stance and Gerard Frank’s legs started to go weak. He didn’t want to break the moment but if this fucker didn’t hurry his shit up there would be a fauxhawk hitting the floor and a pissed off kid to deal with. His lips parted to say something when Gerard’s eyebrows shot up and he shrugged nonchalantly.
“Yeah, yeah, no problem, I wish I’d had someone there for me on my first day in Belleville High.” He smiled, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear and nodding slightly. “No problem.”
His head tilted forward slightly. Frank’s nose twitched when a strand of Gerard’s fringe brushed past it.
Another hour passed idly of the two of them clambering over the climbing frames and running up the slide for dares and kicks, and Gerard emptying the remainder of his pack of smokes into his lungs. At five o’clock, Frank was called home by his mom and they spent another thirty minutes with long goodbyes trawling their ways back out the park, climbing up trees and staring at a dead bird, setting fire to an old magazine and sitting next to each other with their legs to their chests like a destitute campfire.
At some point Gerard dozed off and slept with his head to Frank’s shoulder for fifteen minutes. There were always telltale signs that he had sleeping problems but Frank wondered how bad his last night was if he was passing out on his friend’s shoulder at just before six o’clock.
“Psst, I gotta go Gerard.” He whispered, staring into the fire and twitching his shoulder awkwardly in an effort to wake him up. Gerard stirred and grumbled something incomprehensible.
“Wake the fuck up.” Frank snapped again, shoving him away and shaking him by the shoulders so he would, well, wake the fuck up. He stirred again and blinked his eyes open wide and scared, confused and bewildered at the sight of Frank pouting at him, lit up warmly by the makeshift campfire glinting off his eyes.
And he left. They parted ways like every other school day for the past year.
Gerard smiled and waved twitchily from a few feet away.
Frank grinned and nodded sheepishly in the same distance.
They both lowered their heads and everything went dark and grim and lonely again.
Except this time Gerard stopped before waving and pulled Frank over.
He hugged him. Squeezed.
Frank didn’t mind. He didn’t put his arms around Gerard, but didn’t push him away. It was just one of those times where you can’t question your friend. Your best friend.
Maybe Gerard liked him more than he knew. Maybe Gerard needed him like Frank needed Gerard.
Everything was much colder when he was gone.