Mama says Gerard doesn't exist, but Mikey likes to talk to him anyway.
He isn’t particularly special, his features are pretty run-of-the-mill, but hey, Mikey’s a year old, he doesn’t really care about how faces look just yet. No, this guy isn’t super special. But he’s there, when Mama and Daddy aren’t, in the dead of night and keeping away the nightmares with stories and songs.
He calls himself Gerard.
Mama says that Gerard doesn’t exist, but Mikey likes to talk to him anyway. Gerard always listens with an enraptured expression as he and Mikey sit in the backyard, under the oak tree, and Mikey tells him all about what kindergarten was like today. Mikey knows Gerard likes to hear about the finger-painting so Mikey tells him about that, specifically.
Sometimes during the Arts and Crafts time, Mikey will be able to get the right colors, and he’ll paint Gerard and himself, clumsy and cute. The teacher always watches him when he does that, tongue sticking out in concentration as he shades in Gerard’s hair with his pinky finger, makes him tower above Mikey, but not in the creepy way. Gerard’s taller than Mikey, its okay, a lot of people are taller than Mikey and Gee is older so that makes it doubly-okay.
His teacher ruffles his hair affectionately when he proudly displays the finished products. She smiles, and promises that when he grows up he be a right Mikey-Angela, which doesn’t make sense because he’s already Mikey Way, he doesn’t want his last name to be Angela, because that’s a girl’s name. He explains this to Gerard and Gerard’s eyes crinkle up, the late-afternoon sunlight slanting through his flyaway strands of hair and his fingertips. He laughs, and Mikey curls up around his arm, holding open the book he’s supposed to learn to read with one hand and listening to Gerard’s voice wash over him as he explains, C and A make a ‘ku’ sound, and if you add a T to that it makes it stretch and it sounds like ‘Cat’.
Gerard’s his best friend.
Sometime when he’s in second grade, Mikey gets pushed down on the playground ‘cause the rest of the kids think he’s weird because he still sometimes paints Gerard in art and talks about him like he’s real, never mind the fact that he is real. When he gets home Mama cleans up the scrapes on his knee and his hands, and it’s good but then she gets all big-eyed and it’s annoying, because Mikey can tell she doesn’t think Gerard is real either. Mikey tries to tell her that Gerard is right there, underneath the oak tree, but when Mama looks she gets confused, says that there is no one in the backyard, it’s empty.
Then Mikey gets sad, and he goes to his room and doesn’t come out until dinner and he feels bad because now Gerard had to spend the afternoon alone and that kind of sucks. As soon as he realizes this, Mikey throws his plate into the sink and rushes outside, but Gerard’s not there anymore, and so Mikey sits down in between the roots and tries very hard not to cry.
Gerard’s there again the next day, and Mikey promises to not leave him alone again. Gerard smiles, and they sit down and read books and draw, just like they always do.
Mikey meets Frank in the third grade. Frank’s weird, he’s always got pen on his arms and his hair gets messed up most of the time. One day in class Mikey also watched Frank stick a staple through his nose. He didn’t cry or anything, in fact he just grinned like a maniac and strutted around during reading time, showing everyone his mutilated nose. When Mikey tells Gerard this, Gerard kind of looks like he’s going to throw up, his face gets all white and his smile gets pinched.
Mikey giggles, and pokes at his face, and that seems to help a bit.
Frank is also really hyper-active. He never sits in his chair right, he’s always throwing things across the room, and he’s always getting sent to the principal. He’s the exact opposite of Mikey, loud and obnoxious.
Later, Mikey thinks that this is probably why they became best friends.
Mikey never tells Frank about Gerard. It would probably weird him out or scare him away, and Mikey really doesn’t want that. Of course, Frank still hears about Gerard, the kids still push Mikey down on the playground, but he’s getting bigger now, learning how to throw punches. Gerard doesn’t like this; he doesn’t like anything to do with violence. Mikey can tell because whenever the topic is brought up Gerard’s face closes off and he doesn’t smile quite as often.
Whenever people push Mikey around, Frank shows up, and then Frank pushes them around, which is just, woah, insanely cool. Frank’s short though, so he almost always ends up with a bloody nose or a bruise or some sort, but the fact that Mikey’s got a friend who’ll stick up for him (despite the fact that he’d probably join the others if he knew why Mikey gets teased all the time) makes Mikey kind of think of Frank like a hero.
Frank and Gerard, Mikey’s two heroes and best friends.
Frank and Mikey meet Ray in sixth grade. Ray’s pretty cool, he’s got fluffy hair and mad guitar skills. Frank attaches to him and he attaches to Mikey. They make a cool team, and Mikey starts finding himself hanging out with them after school instead of Gerard. This desertion of his first best friend still sends a pang of guilt into his gut, but Mikey still sees Gerard, so it’s okay.
In sixth grade, Mikey takes an art class, a real and proper art class, at the community center. One of their more important and time consuming projects is to “draw an important figure in your life, in detail”. Almost without noticing it, Mikey picks up a pencil and starts to draw Gerard.
It’s almost like an apology, he’ll show it to Gerard later tonight and it’ll make Gerard happy and it’ll help him to know that Mikey still thinks of him, even if he hangs out with Ray and Frank now. He finishes it late into the afternoon, just before class ends, and the teacher applauds him for his work.
When he shows it to Gerard later that same day, Gerard smiles, and says he should send it to Elena.
So he does.
Mikey loves Elena. She’s the one person in his family who doesn’t ever reprimand him for talking about Gerard, even now when he’s nearing the end of seventh grade. She’s just a sweet old grandmother with a nurturing personality, and Mikey thinks that the world would be a better place if there were more Elena’s in it. Of course, whenever he says this, she just laughs and says that if there were more of her in the world, she’d almost certainly rule it.
She used to paint, and her artwork is hung up all over her house. This is Mikey’s favorite place to be, besides from the oak tree in his own backyard, huddled in the armchair in Elena’s parlor.
She turns the paper over in her hands, tracing her fingers over the sharp and accurate lines of Mikey’s portrait of Gerard. She glances up at him, and smiles.
“This is what he looks like?” she asks, and Mikey nods enthusiastically.
“Yup,” he grins, and her smile gets even larger.
“Why Mikey, he’s beautiful!” she laughs, the sound rasping familiarly in her throat. Mikey tilts his head.
She laughs, and that’s how they spend the afternoon.
In the month before eighth grade ends, Mikey brings up Gerard in front of his mother, and she sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers. She looks up, her eyes narrow and exasperated.
“Honestly, Mikey,” she says, her voice dangerously loud. “Can’t you just, I don’t know, drop it? They told me it was okay for you to have an imaginary friend-“
“Gerard’s not imaginary,” and he’s not, he’s in the corner of the room right now, looking on with a confused expression. “Just because you can’t see him-“
“STOP IT,” his mother screams, standing up and stalking across the room, right into the space where Gerard is. He backs away quickly, almost tripping over himself. “GERARD ISN’T REAL AND YOU DO NOT HAVE A BROTHER!” she breathes in a shaky breath, attempting to compose herself. “Why… is that so hard for you to understand, Mikey?”
Mikey doesn’t answer, instead looking into the corner where Gerard had gone and finding that he’d left in the commotion.
As far as psychiatrists go, Dr. Cortez is pretty cool. He plays the bass by night and has some pretty sweet tattoos, but he’s still a psychiatrist, and Mikey is ninety-nine percent certain that he really doesn’t need one. Regardless, after three sessions, he’s prescribed these pills that will keep his ‘hallucinations’ down to a minimum.
Mikey really doesn’t like them. They don’t stop him from seeing Gerard, Mikey knew they wouldn’t, but they make him twitchy, and irritable. All too soon Mikey is lashing out at everyone around him.
It’s like his mother put the words in his mouth when one night in late August he’s screaming at a white faced, white knuckled Gerard. “You aren’t real! You – aren’t – real! Just, please leave me alone!”
Gerard sighs, and jumps the fence and leaves Mikey quivering in the shade of the oak tree. Mikey pulls at his hair, screams, and runs inside and flushes the rest of his pills down the drain.
That’s the last time he speaks to Gerard.
Years go by. Frank starts a band, Pencey Prep, and Mikey learns how to play the bass guitar. Ray plays guitar too, but in a different band. Mikey stops seeing Dr. Cortez and stops having to flush his pills down the toilet. Mikey and Frank buy a flat in New York.
Mikey takes Frank with him when he goes to sift through her house for the items named in her will, her death wasn’t exactly a surprise, she’d been sick for a while. That knowledge doesn’t make her loss hurt less.
Mikey’s in the study, going through her filing cabinets. His mother is in the next room with his father, going through her clothing and paintings. Frank mills about the room, turning over junk and flipping through photo albums. Sometimes he giggles, lingering on a certain photo or item. Mikey watches him from the chair as he gently unhooks a piece of paper, waving it in the air.
“Who’s this?” Frank asks, tossing the paper to Mikey, who deftly catches it out of the air. Mikey sees that it isn’t a photo, like he’d assumed, but rather a drawing, almost five years old. Frank leans on the desk next to Mikey, watching him as Mikey remembers to the tune of his callused fingertips tracing over the curve of the boy’s neck, the sparkle in his eye and the joy of his smile, the slouch of his shoulders.
He hadn’t known that Elena had kept it.
Something shifts in the room, a small fleeting thing in the corner, and Mikey swallows, suddenly extremely glad she did.
Frank nudges Mikey’s shoulder with his knee, and Mikey starts.
“No one,” he says, and then amends: “An old friend.”
Frank smiles. Mikey smiles back.
Time passes and Pencey disbands after a long old reign. Frank opens up a tattoo parlor in London and offers Mikey the job of receptionist, as well as having free room and board in the flat above.
He accepts in a heartbeat.
Mikey starts drawing Gerard again, sometimes. Though it’s never his whole person, just a smile, or the upturn of his nose, or the welcoming gesture of an outstretched hand, scrawled in the corner of a napkin at dinner.
Mikey and Frank work on a comic book late into the night. It’s published in June of the next year, and it’s an immediate hit with the teenaged populace. There’s a character that shows up every now and then, a shadow in the corner, playing mentor to the young superhero. For some odd reason, this one recurring character becomes a sort of phenomenon in the fan base, they fixate on him.
A young interviewer fiddles with his fingers, fidgeting in his seat as he holds out the microphone to Mikey and Frank.
“So, um, the Mentor,” he says, his voice reedy and congested. Mikey and Frank share a small smile, and turn their full attention to the kid. “Does he, like, actually have a name? And, um, if so, what is it?”
Mikey chuckles, and leans forward, clasping his hands loosely.
“That’s a secret.”