“I tell you what. If you prove to me that there’s more to being 27 than sitting at home reminiscing about what could have been, I’ll help you turn your life around.”
Old Bean had yellow walls. Yellow walls and white floors. It was mostly empty, except for a fat Mexican, a young couple and an elderly lady sitting in the far corner sipping at tea that had probably long gone cold and busying herself with trying to hide her tiny dog on her lap under the table. None of whom acknowledged his entrance.
Frank looked outside. It was raining. Or maybe it had only just started to rain - he wasn’t sure how long he’d been on the floor for. Someone was in front of him and he had only just noticed. He was holding two coffees and was gesturing for them to sit at one of the tables. He was smiling but his eyes were worried.
Gerard. The man called Gerard who lived next door.
“Rough day, huh?” he said, passing him one of the coffees as they sat down.
Frank made an unintelligible gesture and sipped at the coffee. It needed sugar. He never drank coffee without sugar, but he said nothing and kept sipping.
“I have my fair share of them,” Gerard chuckled.
Frank remained silent, staring into the swirling black surface of his beverage. His knees were bumping together under the table.
The Mexican’s chair scraped against the floor as he left it and walked past them, out of the café. Frank watched him go, wondering at his lack of reaction from the beating rain soaking his clothes.
“Not talking to me today?”
Frank rolled his eyes and turned his gaze back to him. Gerard’s brow was knitted together. His hair fell around worried eyes in sweeping floppy bangs and he was wearing a black pea coat and a red scarf that hung round his neck in one casual loop.
“Not really anything to talk about,” he mumbled.
Gerard’s eyes turned hard and he shook his head in a familiar “kids these days” way, which Frank could only find ironic giving that he didn’t look that much older than him. When they had met Gerard’s raspy laugh and tired eyes made him think he was nearing his mid-thirties at least, but today was different. Today his features looked fresher, daintier, and his eyes held a spark that only young people could hold.
“So you lying on the sidewalk puking your guts up isn’t really anything to talk about?” His eyebrow rose dubiously.
“Not anything I want to talk about,” Frank snarled, downing the rest of his coffee, instantly regretting it as the liquid burnt his mouth.
Gerard gazed at the empty cup in the boy’s hands. “You want another one of those?”
“You want me to call your mom?”
“Jesus Christ, I don’t want anything from you, okay?!”
Gerard closed his eyes exasperatedly, rubbed his face and sighed. Frank ran his tongue along the top row of his teeth. He felt the need to apologise but he didn’t because he was too sick. He was sick of being sick, and tired and embarrassed because of puking all over Gerard’s shoes and they were probably new knowing his luck and Gerard had bought him a coffee which he didn’t even like and in a weird way he wanted to blame it all on him.
But then Gerard did help him off the sidewalk. And bought him a coffee. And he hadn’t even complained about the shoes yet.
And that was when Frank realised he was being a petty little bitch.
“Why did you help me anyways?” Frank murmured.
Gerard smiled softly. “We’re neighbours, right?”
“So? You don’t know me.”
He shrugged and brought his coffee to his lips. “I’d like to.”
Frank smiled reluctantly. The rain had stopped outside and the sun had just started to peak its head from behind the clouds. He wondered what time it was, and whether he should be getting home soon. Then his mind went back to the Youth Clinic, and how conveniently placed Gerard had been to spot him on the street. Unless…
“Were you at Adolescent’s Helpline?” he asked suddenly.
Gerard placed his coffee cup gently on the table. His teeth tug at his bottom lip. “Guilty as charged,” he said sheepishly.
Frank wasn’t sure whether to find it funny or not. “What are you, like, 40?”
A flicker of a smirk darted across the older man’s lips. “I’m 27.”
“No way,” he snorted. “Why were you there?”
“There’s not much work for an artist round here.” Gerard barely managed to hide the contempt in his voice. “And Lindsey, my wife, seems to think I need therapy so…”
“I totally get that from my mom,” Frank agreed, a little too brightly. “I got rejected from Montclair State University, which was kinda inevitable. And she has this crazy idea that I’m gonna end up like the hobo on Grant Street; you know the one in the parking lot of Greenfields? Yeah.”
Gerard chuckled. “You kids,” he said, shaking his head. “You’ve got so much life ahead of you. Live it while you can. You’re 19, right? God, I’d give anything to be that age again. You’re lucky, you know.”
“Not luck.” He shrugged. “I mean everyone’s 19 at one point, right?” Then he frowned. “You act like some depressed middle-aged grouch but you’re not. I mean you’re 27, you’re still really young. Really young. We’re practically the same age and you talk like there’s nothing left for you. Like you’ve seen all there is to see, or, what, you didn’t make your dream of being on Broadway and now there’s no point in trying to make a life for yourself? Dude, I’m nearly 10 years younger than you and I’m giving you life lessons. Isn’t there something wrong here?”
Gerard stared at him. He didn’t even laugh that raspy bark like laugh. He just stared, and for a minute Frank thought that he really had hurt him. Until he finally murmured, “You really are something, kid.”
Frank smiled half-heartedly and looked down into the coffee cup. A thin circle had been stained at the base of it. “Maybe I should look into psychology,” he said satirically.
“Nah, you’re too blunt,” Gerard replied. He smirked and looked out across the street. “So you got rejected from Montclair?”
He nodded. The sun was setting over the city. Its golden ebb reflected off the rain splattered streets, making them look covered in a million little gems. “Yeah,” he sighed. “Not that I didn’t see it coming.”
“Whassat supposed to mean?”
Frank raised and lowered one shoulder. “Well y’know,” he mumbled. “Kids are supposed to be smart and full of prospects there, right?”
“Frank.” He could see Gerard glaring at him out of the corner of his eye and couldn’t help the familiar wave of heat flush his cheeks. He hung his head ashamedly and scowled.
“It’s the truth. I’m not going anywhere am I? And I know it too – you and mom and even that careers therapist lady can deny it all you want. I’m still nothing.”
“Look at me,” Gerard said tightly and Frank felt for the first time in his life he couldn’t disobey. “I know you’re gonna go far. I know it. You’ve got something, kid. I don’t know what it is but you’ve got it. I don’t wanna hear you say shit like that about yourself ever again, alright?”
“Okay. And you don’t have to go all Principal Skinner on my ass again. I get enough of that from Adolescent’s Helpline.”
“No kidding.” And when Gerard grinned that Cheshire Cat grin the light of the setting sun caught his face in a way that made Frank feel like there was nothing left to do but smile back. And they smiled together.
“I was thinking about engineering actually,” Frank said shyly. He didn’t know why he was being shy about it, but somewhere deep inside of him was a craving for the older man’s approval, controlling what he said and how he said it just in the fear that Gerard would disagree. He didn’t know what it was and he hated it.
Gerard’s eyebrows disappeared into the mass of midnight fringe. “Engineering?”
“Yeah,” Frank scratched the nape of his neck, “I mean I get that kinda stuff. And my school gave me a few recommendations for good courses and shit. I was gonna look around sometime…”
That soft smile again. “I think that’s really cool.”
Frank looked back down into his coffee cup, not helping the goonish grin splitting his face. “So what about you? What led you down the path of roguish adolescents and misled youths?”
Gerard smiled wryly. “Well I dropped out of art school and got married young. Mistake number one,” he added bluntly, counting on his fingers. “And we moved back to Belleville thinking my parents would help us out. Mistake number two. And now I’m stuck here with no job, no money, a wife this close to leaving me and some career’s advisor bitch telling me what a failure I am every week.”
Frank blinked. “Shit.”
He looked around the café. It was completely empty except for them and the two waitresses having a discreet fag in the kitchen. Time had rapidly gone by around them and they were so caught up in the depressiveness of their lives they hadn’t noticed at all. He smiled to himself.
“You know,” he said, “You and I aren’t that different.”
Gerard raised his eyebrow. “No?”
“I mean, you need to sort things out, I need to sort things out. I know exactly how to solve your problem and you know how to solve mine. I think we could help each other out.”
Gerard’s grin was crooked, but it was there and it was ready to hear his proposition. “I tell you what. If you prove to me that there’s more to being 27 than sitting at home reminiscing about what could have been, I’ll help you turn your life around.”
The last of the setting sun seeped behind the black silhouette of the city skyline as Frank held out his hand across the table for the older man to shake it. “It’s a deal.”
[ A/N: 'Sup homies. Thanks for reading. Let's say 5 reviews and I'll update? Cool? Cool.