But the ribbons of his disguise are starting to fray slightly at the edges.
He’s not there.
There’s no smug scent of cinnamon and tobacco, no rebellious black leather and smoky eyeliner or mask-like face of unreadable white and hiding eyes.
Instead, it’s just Mr. Hallow and my usual fellow student, Eric, who’s sitting on a wooden stool by the window that overlooks the vast, bleak sports field, the glass caked with grey grime and dust, but still allows fragments of the watery afternoon sunlight to filter into the small room, colouring the faded, grotty carpet.
My writhing stomach of nerves drops like a stone plummeting into the endless depths of black water, and I sigh heavily with an odd kind of disappointed relief. It’s as if I’d got myself all worked up, adrenaline pumping round my veins, heart pounding apprehensively in my chest, and yet it’s all come to nothing.
I can hardly say I’m sad about the absence of my elder stepbrother, though. Of course, he might still turn up, but it seems reasonably unlikely seeing as I myself am already at least five minutes late, after dawdling on the way to the music room in dreading apprehension, hands slick with clammy sweat, back prickling with moist dread and adrenaline.
“Afternoon, Frank,” Mr. Hallow smiles at me, looking up from where he’s tuning his acoustic guitar. “How’re you today?”
Mr. Hallow is perhaps the only adult I hold some trust in; he’s taught me how to play, and consequently how to survive. He also always treats me as if I’m his equal, as if, no matter how scruffy and scarred and angry I am, I’m just as much of a person as he is. In his lessons, I feel like I matter just a tiny bit. I feel like I’m somebody instead of just an angry, lost and broken ghost of the shadows no one can see anymore.
“Uh, okay thanks,” I reply, shutting the wooden door behind me and crossing the small room to flop down on a stool opposite Eric. And I realise, although this is what I reply to Mr. Hallow’s greeting every lesson, this time, it’s closer to the truth than it’s ever been before.
I think of how I spent my lunch break with a shy, unsure, scared, mousy-haired teenager, sharing music and silent fears, and I suddenly the closest to okay I have done in months.
“Great,” Mr. Hallow smiles again, fumbling in his briefcase for music sheets as I get out my guitar and start tuning it the same as Eric is doing, his lank, dark blonde hair flopping across the acne of his skinny face.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen a boy called Gerard, have you?” Mr. Hallow asks me, looking up briefly.
I grit my teeth at the name, but take a couple of deep breaths to calm myself before shaking my head. “No, sorry.”
Mr. Hallow frowns. “Hmm, I guess we should just start without him,” he says reluctantly, glancing at the clock on the wall. “Do you know him, Frank? He’s in the year above you, I think.”
“He’s my stepbrother,” I spit with slightly more venom than I’d intended, making Mr. Hallow blink and Eric’s finger fumble on his guitar.
I feel I should apologise for my unintentional outburst, but the same anger is still seething through me like poisoned magma, and I don’t trust myself to speak.
“Ah,” Mr. Hallow says, and then tactfully changes the subject. “Right, um, let’s begin. How are both your composition pieces coming along?”
“Good, thank you sir,” Eric replies stoutly. “Mine’s nearly done.”
“Great,” Mr. Hallow replies pleasantly. “How about yours, Frank?”
I duck behind my hair guiltily. For the first time ever, I’ve hardly practised what was meant since the last lesson; I’ve just gotten so caught up with other things in the past week; the arrival of Gerard and Mikey, Steve’s questioning about my injuries, Ocean’s fierce determination, being beaten up by Danny…
“Um, I haven’t actually done that much, sir,” I mumble, embarrassed.
“That’s a shame, Frank,” Mr. Hallow doesn’t sound angry, in fact, on the contrary, he sounds concerned. “Why not?”
“Just…stuff on my mind,” I mutter, fiddling the E string, fingers slightly trembly.
“Okay, well try and improvise a little while Eric plays his piece- I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Mr. Hallow smiles. “Right, Eric, ready?”
Eric nods, getting into position and starting to play.
He’s good, I’d always known he was good, but although technically he’s absolutely perfect, I’ve always thought his playing seemed sort of empty; no real emotion in it. Like he can’t feel the strings under his fingers, hear the chords and melodies and notes, can’t breathe the rhythm of the song.
It’s good, though- technically, he’s superb, and I lose myself a little in the music as he plays earnestly away, tongue sticking out slightly as he concentrates on slides and strums and power cords.
Suddenly, there’s a loud knock on the door and without waiting for a response, it swings open, hitting loudly off the wall behind it’s hinges, and Eric jumps, fingers stumbling off the strings and into disjointed silence.
My teeth grit and something like red-hot needles of hatred start to prickle uncomfortably at my spine and my bruised chest, making me clutch the neck of my guitar slightly harder than necessary.
Gerard is standing carelessly in the doorway, black skinny jeans emphasising his skinny legs, inky hair dishevelled and falling in reckless strands of raven across his ghostly skin and uneasily empty emerald eyes rimmed with smoky black. His guitar is slung casually over his back, the strap cutting through his beat-up leather jacket and his fingers are hooked carelessly through the loophole of his jeans. The sickeningly heady smell of cinnamon and tobacco and fallacy fills the room, making my blood boil.
“Gerard Way, I presume?” Mr. Hallow queries, raising an eyebrow and Gerard’s rudely abrupt entrance.
“Yup,” Gerard shrugs carelessly, shutting the door behind him and flopping down on the stool opposite me, beside Eric, who looks irritated at the fact his composition has just been so rudely interrupted.
“And why are you late, Gerard?” Mr. Hallow asks, gesturing to the clock on the wall. “The lesson started ten minutes ago.”
“I was smoking,” Gerard sighs, setting his guitar case down beside him and pulling his legs up so as he’s sitting, cross-legged, on the wooden stool.
Mr. Hallow frowns. “Right, well I’m going to let you off this once, seeing as it’s your first lesson, but in the future could you please be punctual?”
Gerard rolls his hiding eyes. “Sure, whatever.”
“And you will address me as ‘sir’,” Mr. Hallow says, a slight edge to his usually pleasant voice.
Gerard says nothing.
“Right, guitar out then, please,” Mr. Hallow sighs.
Gerard obediently unzips his guitar case and draws out a fender acoustic guitar, setting it across his lap fumbling in his pocket for a pick
“Can you tune it yourself?” Mr. Hallow asks.
“Yup,” Gerard replies nonchalantly, shrugging his leather jacket off and slinging it casually over his guitar case on the floor, revealing his ridiculously tight black school shirt that shows of his slim torso, his loosely tied tie mangled with safety pins.
“Right, well tune it quickly and then we’ll listen to Eric’s composition at the moment- we’re doing compositions at the moment. I’m aware you won’t have one for this lesson, so just bear with me and I’ll give you a hand once we’ve heard Eric’s and Frank’s pieces,” Mr. Hallow says, nodding at Eric to continue. “Off you go, Eric.”
Eric begins his piece once more, fingers flying across the strings as he frowns in concentration. Opposite Me, Gerard yawns widely and obviously. I scowl furiously in his direction, clenching my fists. I mean, sure, Eric’s playing isn’t my thing, but it’s good- and even if it wasn’t, I’d still have the respect to listen to something he’s obviously worked really hard on.
Mr. Hallow clearly notices too, and glares at Gerard, but doesn’t say anything, obviously not wanting to interrupt Eric’s composition.
However, when Eric has finished, he turns to Gerard, who, by this point, is texting away on his phone, long, pale spidery fingers clicking away at the buttons, hair flopping over his chalk-white face. I suddenly notice how bitten down his nails are; right down to the quick with chipped black polish.
“Excuse me, Gerard?” Mr. Hallow says in clipped tones, looking coldly at the skinny, black-clad teenager.
“Yep?” Gerard replies without looking up.
“Gerard, when you are in my lessons, you must respect other students playing and not use your phone, is that understood?” Mr. Hallow says sternly, and Gerard sighs heavily, raking a hand through his gothic tangle of hair, but putting his phone back in the pocket of his impossibly tight skinny jeans.
“Thank you,” Mr. Hallow says gratefully. “Eric, that’s great, well done. A little work on the middle chord section, perhaps, but other than that, it’s really good.”
“Thanks,” Eric smiles, swiping his greasy hair off of his face.
“Right, Frank, would you like to do yours now?” Mr. Hallow smiles, turning to me. “I know you haven’t added on much since last week, but I’m sure you’ll be able o improvise?” he smiles encouragingly.
“Um, I guess,” I mumble, scrabbling in my pocket for a pick.
“Great,” Mr. Hallow smiles.
I scrabble more frantically, and discover that I’ve not got my pick. “Uh, does anyone have a pick I can borrow?” I mumble, feeling stupid.
“Sure, here you go, midget,” Gerard smirks, holding out his. “I hope it’s not actually bigger than your fingers,” he sniggers.
“Well it’s certainly a hell of a lot bigger than your dick,” I snap, before Mr. Hallow can intervene.
“Don’t even think about saying shit like that,” Gerard snarls.
“Why the hell not?” I hiss, anger writhing overwhelmingly through me.
“Cause I’m not a-”
“Boys!” Mr. Hallow shouts, and I realise that Gerard and I are both on our feet, almost nose to nose, both of us seething with red-hot, uncontrollably raw anger and bitter hatred. “Boys, sit down now and stop that.”
Scowling, I flop angrily back down on my stool, settling my guitar across my lap and throwing Gerard a glare, which he returns with those eerily empty eyes of his that don’t quite seem to connect with reality. The anger is still seething through me like venom and fire, but I grit my teeth to hold it back, fingers shaking slightly with fury round the pick of the person that angers me so much.
“Right, Frank, off you go,” Mr. Hallow says hastily before hell can break loose.
I take a deep breath and block out Gerard’s smug, sneering face.
I block out Mr. Hallow and Eric.
I block out the horribly strong, smothering smell of Gerard’s cinnamon and cigarettes and empty, sneering smiles.
I block out myself.
And I just concentrate solely on the music I’m creating; the feel of the strings under my callused fingertips and the vibrations they send through the whole instrument as I strum out the bit of my composition I’ve already written, nearing the part where I’m going to have to start improvising.
Improvising is something that sometimes comes easily to me, but other times it just totally throws me, especially if I know there are lots of judging eyes on me. But this time, I’m determined to do well, to impress Mr. Hallow and do my own playing justice, but in all honesty, most of all to show Gerard that I’m not useless. To show him that I’m worth something.
As I strum at the chords and slide my hand up and down the fretboard, I let myself get lost in the raw, bittersweet music and as I think of Danny’s vindictive, soured gooseberry eyes and the metallic, choking taste of my own blood, the fear I feel in Mikey’s hazel eyes, Ocean’s fierce determination and humorous violence, the despairing angst I don’t know how to cope with, and the endless lies I have to tell to everyone, including myself, as protection from the truth, the music just flows out naturally without me even having to think about it. I’m no longer consciously playing. I’m just feeling. Fucking feeling; feeling everything that I don’t let myself feel normally, letting all the angst and the hate and the pain and the vulnerability into the pure, untainted music.
Finally, the emotion intensifies into an bitterly angst cloaked laced crescendo, and then it’s dying away brokenly and beautifully, leaving the room around me uneasily silent as I finish my final chord and stop, letting the echo of the music resonate through the room, the power of the melody lingering like a ghost of potent emotion from the still softly vibrating strings.
Before I can look up to see Mr. Hallow’s reaction, there’s a crash and a choking sound, and my eyes shoot up to see Gerard staggering desperately from his stool, stumbling wildly over his guitar to the door, body silently convulsing. As he wrenches the door open frantically, I catch a glimpse of the expression in his eyes, and it goes through me like a knife.
He’s screaming. Silently screaming from those eyes that are no longer empty, but full; so, so full of smothering, choking emotion that destroys bodies and souls. He sees me looking, and anger flashes across those painfully emerald irises, pure, raw anger that’s anything but a lie.
Hair flopping wildly across his blanched face, he kicks out blindly at his guitar and it falls to the ground with a loud crash, shattering the silence. Then he’s stumbling from the room, a skinny streak of black and ghostly white trying frantically to escape something none of us can see.
The door slams loudly behind him, making Eric jump slightly.
Silence swamps the room; thick and heavy with unanswered curiosity.
I blink, completely confused and look round curiously at Mr. Hallow to see if the same bewilderment is riddling his eyes that I feel.
It is. Although, unlike me, his chestnut irises are also glimmering with concern and empathy for the gothic teenager’s abrupt, unexpected departure.
I look at Eric, who’s mouth is hanging open and expression is vacant and glazed.
“Um,” I say, ducking behind my hair and flushing with embarrassment, no idea what just happened.
Mr. Hallow clears his throat and looks at me seriously in such a way I suddenly feel oddly full of nerves, wondering if I just played something utterly terrible; I was so lost in the emotion of the music, I’m not really sure what notes and combinations I actually played. It might have been absolutely terrible for all I know; I wasn’t hearing, I was purely feeling.
“Frank,” he says slightly hoarsely. “That…that was…well, amazing.”
I blink. “I-it was?”
Eric nods fervently, and Mr. Hallow smiles at me.
“I’ve never heard a piece with so much honest emotion,” he says warmly. “Really, Frank, that was something special.”
“Why…why did…Gerard go?” I ask, not wanting to have to utter the name that fouls and sours my blackened tongue, but too curious to not.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Hallow replies, biting his lip and looking troubled. “He looked very upset while you were playing…he looked like a completely different person to the one that walked in here.”
“Oh,” I mumble, not quite sure how to respond, completely confused as to what occurred while I was so lost in my music.
“He looked angry,” Eric says suddenly from behind his curtain of lank hair. “Like, really angry like he was hurt or something.”
Mr. Hallow nods slowly. “Yes…perhaps you’d better go and see if he’s alright, Frank.”
“Me?” I exclaim, horrified.
“Well, you do know him more than the rest of us,” Mr. Hallow points out.
“But…” I protest angrily.
“Please, Frank,” Mr. Hallow says sternly, and seeing I have no option, I sigh heavily, set down my guitar and reluctantly make my way towards the door.
“Thank you,” Mr. Hallow calls after my apprehensively retreating back as the door swings shut behind me, shutting with slightly more force than I’d intended.
Stomach clenched uncomfortably with uncertainty, I cross the silence of the deserted music room and go out the door, my footsteps echoing loudly on the polished staircase as I descend, wondering where on earth Gerard would be and why he did a runner in the first place.
I half wonder about just turning back and ignoring Mr. Hallow’s request. I mean, Gerard clearly loathes me, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t welcome a visit from me right now of all times when there’s clearly something wrong. I know he’d be the last person I’d want to see when I’m upset.
But something buried very deeply inside of my battered soul keeps me walking slowly down the deserted stairs, until I realise I’m nearly halfway down and there’s still no sign of Gerard of whiff of the distinctive mingling of falseness and cinnamon and cigarettes. He must have really run for it.
Sighing heavily, I stop and peer aimlessly out of the grime coated window beside me. The yard below is deserted and grey, but I suddenly spot a lone figure hunched up on the wall, dressed exclusively in black, thick, grey smoke curling up from their body to the icy, watery gold skyline, bitter with the promise of frost.
I reluctantly make my way down the rest of the stairs, heart beating fast against my bruised ribs as I reach the bottom of the stairs, converse squeaking on the grotty floor. I push my way through the double doors and out into the bitterly cold air of the yard, tinted with watery, receding sunlight, but mostly just smothered in cold, unending winter greyness, gazing out reluctantly across the seemingly empty, frozen yard of chewing gum speckled concrete and rusty railings.
Tentatively, I cross the desolate yard to Gerard, where he’s sitting, head in his hands, smoke unfurling into the murky sky from his cigarette. He looks sort of bleakly artistic; his cowed, silently screaming body cloaked in deep black, his equally dark hair covering his face as thick smoke curls up from his lips into the icy air.
I cough slightly to announce my presence, and Gerard’s head snaps up defensively, his body instantly tensing as he sees me, jaw setting into a hard, angry line, and I know instantly that I’m unwelcome, just as I’d predicted.
“What?” he snarls, flicking ash from his cigarette to the cracked ground and turning away from me.
“Um, Mr. Hallow sent me to check if you’re alright,” I mutter through gritted teeth, feeling uneasy and uncomfortable as I try and suppress my underlying anger towards him.
“Well, I am,” Gerard snaps, taking a drag on his cigarette.
“Why are you out here then?” I hear myself blurt.
Gerard’s head snaps up to look at me, hair streaked across his face, but his emerald eyes poke out. They’re as empty and mask-like as usual, but there’s a lingering rawness around them that suggests they’ve been unwantingly exposed to the harshness of the world.
“Fuck. Off,” he says, tone steely, eyes dead.
The underlying anger bubbles up and floods my curiosity. “Fine,” I growl crossly. “What do you want me to tell Mr. Hallow?”
“I don’t give a fuck what you tell that faggot,” Gerard spits coldly, flicking more ash from the butt of his cigarette and blowing smoke in my face.
“Don’t call him that!” I snarl, coughing furiously.
“Why the hell not?” Gerard sneers, nimble, pale fingers shaking slightly round his cigarette.
“Cause he’s not the fucking pathetic one who ran out the room like a sissy,” I spit venomously, watching him for his reaction.
“Leave me alone,” Gerard whispers, suddenly sounding defeated.
“Why?” I press.
“Just do,” Gerard mutters. “Go.”
“Why?” I hiss daringly. “Are you scared?”
“Leave. Me. ALONE,” Gerard yells suddenly, springing up. I catch the look in his eyes, and all the anger drops out of me instantly…his eyes are brimming with emotions again, and the anger is real and true and pure, as potent as the anger I feel every day. It’s no longer just an act.
In that one moment with the bitter December air swirling round us and the watery sun trying to break through the cold, his eyes are painstakingly, brutally honest.
When I return to the music room, panting slightly from the climb up the stairs, both Mr. Hallow and Eric turn to look questioningly at me when I stumble into the room.
“Well?” Mr. Hallow asks, concern tainting his expression.
“He’s fine,” I mutter through gritted teeth, trying not to show my anger for the raven-haired boy, and, although I hate to admit it, my intrigue. I’ve never met someone with so many complexities and hidden layers as Gerard. And I’ve only caught the tiniest of glimmering glimpses into his truth, which has left me even more confused and curious than before.
He’s a completely dark, closed up mystery of mask-like blackness, bound up tightly with ribbons blacker than midnight. But the ribbons of his disguise are starting to fray slightly at the edges.
“Is he coming back?” Mr. Hallow asks.
I shake my head.
Mr. Hallow sighs. “Oh dear. Well, perhaps we should just continue then- we only have ten minutes left.”
I obediently sit down, still breathing slightly faster than usual, trying to block the mask-like face and hiding eyes of my stepbrother from my mind.
“Okay, I’m going to give you each a choice of three songs to learn for next lesson, along with continuing your compositions, right?” Mr. Hallow says, getting up and handing Eric and I a few music sheets each.
I tuck my scruffy strands of chestnut hair behind my ear so as I can look at the music properly. There’s Nirvana’s ‘Tourettes’, Green Day’s ‘East Jesus Nowhere’, and ‘Good Riddance the time of your life’.
“So, what do you boys think?” Mr. Hallow asks after a few moments of silence of me mulling over the music and playing out the songs in my head, although I already know all of them. Mr. Hallow is great with choosing music for us; he knows the type of music both Eric and I like. Eric likes rock, but the mellower, softer stuff than me; I like a whole range of rock, from stuff like Green Day to angry, raw punk like Black Flag.
“Great,” I look up enthusiastically. “I think I’ll do ‘Tourettes’, I love Nirvana’s second…” I trail off uneasily at the look of shocked horror on Mr. Hallow’s face as he looks at me. Eric is still looking down at the music sheets and hasn’t noticed.
For a moment, I’m completely mystified, but then I suddenly realise with a shock of horror that my hair is tucked behind my ear and my face, scars and injuries and bruises are on full, brutal display.
My stomach drops horribly in fear.
I hurriedly shake my hair back across my now burning face, hiding, but it’s too late. Mr. Hallow’s seen everything so viciously etched across my face; all the contamination of violence and vindication and injustice.
“Frank…” he whispers, eyes wide.
“I think I’ll do one of the Green Day ones,” Eric cuts in before Mr. Hallow can comment on my injuries, and I sigh in relief at the diversion.
Mr. Hallow blinks and looks round. “Uh, Great,” he says slightly distractedly, glancing at the clock. “Right boys, it’s the end of the lesson, you can pack up now.”
I zip my guitar back into its worn case and shove the music sheets into my pocket as quickly as I can, following Eric towards the door.
“Wait a second!” Mr. Hallow calls after us, and we both turn round. “Frank, I’d like a quick word- you can go, Eric.”
My heart sinks; I know exactly what Mr. Hallow wants to talk to me about, and there’s no point. He can’t change anything. No one can. I don’t want to see the patronising sympathy in yet another person’s eyes when they shouldn’t feel remotely sympathetic for me at all; it’s all my own fault. I’m weak, and no one and nothing can change it. I just have to learn to live with it.
“Sir, I’ve really got to go-” I protest, but Mr. Hallow cuts me off before I can go any further.
“No you don’t, Frank- this will only take a second,” there’s an unusually firm tone in his voice, and I reluctantly step back into the room, stomach a writhing mess of uneasy nerves. I hate it when people talk about my scars. It makes them seem all too real.
When I use my sweep of chestnut hair to hide them from the world, I can almost hide them from me too. But if someone knows they exist, they suddenly seem horribly, viciously real, burning my face with the truth I can’t accept.
“Shut the door, Frank,” Mr. Hallow says gently. “And sit down,” he gestures to the vacant stool beside him.
Heart thumping fearfully against my ribs, I do as he says and sit down shakily on the empty stool, all new-found robustness and determination completely vanished at the prospect of having to lie to yet someone else about my wounds.
“Frank…what’s happened to your face?” Mr. Hallow asks quietly, eyes serious and full of concern.
I drop my gaze to my lap, twisting my clammy hands nervously. “N-nothing,” I stammer, not looking up. I can hear my blood beating in my ears, almost deafening me with the sound of my own fear.
“I’m not stupid, Frank,” Mr. Hallow sighs.
I say nothing, continuing to twist my sticky, sweaty hands.
“Look, I think we both know I know perfectly well what’s happened, but please, Frank you need to talk to someone about it,” Mr. Hallow says quietly.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumble, feeling horribly churned up. “I’m fine.”
“I’m fine!” I snap angrily.
“But those look like really serious injuries- something needs to be done, Frank. This isn’t nothing, it’s serious.”
“There’s nothing to be done,” I spit bitterly, still not meeting his eyes. I can’t bear to look at the sympathy that I know is in them and that I know I don’t deserve.
Mr. Hallow sighs. “I can see I’m not helping,” he concludes, getting to his feet and I follow suit in relief. “You can go now if you want.”
“Thanks,” I mumble gratefully, making for the door.
“Oh, Frank?” Mr. Hallow calls just as I’ve opened the door. I turn round. “You know I’m always here if you want to talk about it,” he says gently.
I nod tensely, duck behind my hair and leave the room, closing the door slightly more forcefully behind me than I’d intended.
All the way down the stairs, my anger and fear still pounds in my ears, thick and hot and blood, making me stomp faster and faster down the stairs, until I’m running, stumbling, staggering frantically down them, feet blurring beneath me, heart beating as fast as my feet are stumbling, breath coming out in choking gasps as I fling myself down the seemingly endless grey of the staircase, until I stagger out through the grimy glass of the double doors at the bottom, taking in great, needy gulps of the icy cold air that whips through my skeleton, chilling the writhing fear and anger to nothingness.
And that’s when I see it. The thing that freezes my blood more than the venomous glare of Danny’s shark-like eyes ever could.
Gerard’s still sitting on the wall, smoking yet another cigarette, but now he’s laughing, the loud, empty sound curling up into the air, as poisonous as the smoke from his cancer stick as he tosses his ebony hair back and grins at the person sitting closely beside him, smoking one of his cigarettes, giggling away with him as if she’s his best friend.
Her hair whips across her fierce, wildly green eyes from the icy breeze.
Wild, recklessly indigo blue hair.
The hair of my best friend.
There you go (: what did you guys think? Again, like I said, this was a bit of a risk, so I hope I managed to pull it off okay! what are all your thoughts about this chapter and the characters? I’d love to know! Thanks so much for reading and sticking with this…I seriously love you all to bits! Rate? Review? I’ll update soon (: