Gerard winced. The reason he was out here was, actually, sort of embarrassing and pathetic. Gerard’s two standard modes of existence. And he was a little too toasted to come up with a lie at the moment, so embarrassing, pathetic truth it was.
“There’s these guys, these asshole baseball players… you know them?” Gerard asked uncertainly. Frank had stilled suddenly, mouth a thin line and eyes narrowed, the lines of his body abruptly looking poised for violence. “Uh, well, anyway,” Gerard continued, voice wavering into a higher pitch. He nervously wound a finger around some of his bangs and twisted them before he remembered his hand was covered with dead maggoty lunch remains. Oh, blow. Hell. “I think I told you earlier. The supreme head asshole, Ted, he stole my bag and tossed in the dumpster, because he is, as I have mentioned, an asshole. And I couldn’t sleep either, so— here I am? Ta da?”
“Who is this asshole? Ted?” Frank gritted out, and he was actually looking kinda scary at the moment, jaw clenched, eyes burning. He looked frighteningly competent, and Gerard squinted at him and remembered, train of thought derailing abruptly in outrage.
“Hey!” he said accusingly. “Why didn’t you come help me? You saw me, I could have—I could have used some help, man, dumpsters are hard. And gross. I almost fell to my death.”
Ooooh, was Frank laughing at him? That was uncool. Unfair. But at least Frank wasn’t looking quite so alarming anymore. Just normal Frank, giggling and grinning. Gerard liked Frank’s dimples. He liked Frank period, except for when he watched Gerard dumpster-dive.
Frank was rocking back and forth on his heels and grinning and totally avoiding the question, the ass. “You, uh, been hitting the sauce, dude?”
The moonlight glinted off his lip ring. Gerard tried not to stare. “Maybe,” he told Frank earnestly and without thinking reached out to touch the metal of the ring, cold beneath his hand. Frank’s eyes got huge. Then Gerard realized what he was doing and snatched his hand back. “Um. Yes. There was bourbon,” he admitted sheepishly, shoving his hand inside his pocket where it wouldn’t be tempted to leap out at Frank again.”You know, liquid courage, and warmth, I dunno. It seemed like a good idea.” Hey, Frank had to be freezing. He hadn’t had any bourbon, and he was just in a t-shirt, and it was windy, and cold out. “You want my jacket, Frankie?”
“Huh? Oh. No, you keep it,” Frank said, smiling strangely. “But thanks anyway, Gee. You’re a peach.”
Gerard eyed him doubtfully, and Frank’s mouth quirked and then he was wrinkling his nose and kicking at Gerard’s bag disdainfully, and hey, not cool. It was a good bag! It wasn’t its fault that it smelled like rotten moldy death. Frank didn’t need to kick it. Gerard scowled and dragged the bag protectively closer to himself, and then recoiled a bit as the smell wafted towards him.
Poor bag, he thought mournfully. Maybe he should just leave it out here. Give it a proper burial. A eulogy. Gerard sighed and hunched down, started pawing through it to retrieve his belongings, which hopefully weren’t too befouled by the garbage and stench. Frank bent to peer at the bag with Gerard, pinching his nose shut and making horking sounds that were, in Gerard’s opinion, completely overdramatic and unnecessary. A moment passed as Gerard sorted through the notebooks and pencils, setting the hopelessly disgusting ones off in a defeated little pile to the side.
“Gerard. Are those… are those rhinestone skulls?” Frank asked suddenly, voice hushed.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Yeaahh,” Gerard said sadly, and stroked one of the skulls with his forefinger. Goodbye, little buddy. Frank made a choked noise. “I sewed them on myself. I suck at sewing, though. There was so much blood! And needles. Fucking needles. See, that’s my blood right there. And there. There too. Totally failed the assignment, but I think it’s a kickass bag. Adds, what’s it. Vermillion. Verisim—verisimilitude. Hey, you okay, Frankie?”
“Oh my god, dude,” Frank groaned. “Please. Stop being so cute. You’re killing me.”
“I am not,” Gerard said, frowning, and then went back to poking at a mysterious orange stain on the front pocket of the bag. Probably he was giving himself salmonella, great. He left off worrying about disease for now—he’d bleach his hands when he got home. He pulled out his sketchbook, eyeing it worriedly. It looked a little damp, and there was a lingering odor of rancid Thousand Island when he pressed it to his nose and sniffed. But this was his good sketchpad, the one with his story arcs for potential comic books, with panels of Mikey Way: Unicorn Warrior. He couldn’t just toss it. Maybe it’d air out?
While he was pondering this, Frank started peering over his shoulder and making impressed-sounding noises and trying to flip the pages before Gerard was done smelling them, and finally Gerard had to bat him away, grumbling. Then Gerard pulled out Doom Patrol: Magic Bus and fell over assbackwards in alarm as Frank launched himself at Gerard, making grabby hands and snatching the book away.
“Is this—? It is! I haven’t read these issues yet! Oh my god, do you have the rest? Do you?” Frank’s voice had gone startlingly high pitched.
“Dude,” Gerard said, nursing his injured hand and glaring at Frank. “The trades have been out for ages! Ages and ages. And ages. Like, last year at least.”
But Frank was clearly zoned out and totally ignoring him, clutching the trade paperback blissfully and stroking the cover. Holy hell, Gerard had forgotten just how hot Frank was when he smiled, beaming with his whole face, hair curling down over his eyes, framed by the stars and the branches of trees. He was practically fucking glowing; it was like he was made of glass and Gerard could see the stars through his skin.
Huh, Gerard thought, and squinted, rubbed at his eyes. Fuck, he must have had more bourbon than he’d thought, and he guessed he was a bit tired, too. Frank just sort of looked, well, blurry. Everything else looked somewhat normal, but Frank was starting to drift apart at the edges. It made Gerard feel sick, and weird, and maybe like he should stop getting shitfaced after every visit to the Trumbull Hospital, because he didn’t like this feeling at all.
“Frank?” Gerard asked, waveringly, arms wrapped around himself.
Frank looked up from the book, startled. And, and his eyes had trees in them. Gerard could see leaves and branches and the forest through Frank’s eyes, and—
“Oh, fuck,” Frank said, and his voice sounded like the wind and the rustling grass. Gerard felt himself break out into a sweat, and hey, he guessed this was a cold sweat, cold down to the bone, into the marrow and, fuck, probably into all the little mitochondrial cells, too.
Frank moved towards him, eyes round and upset. “Gerard, I. I just. Look, don’t freak out, okay? Oh, you’re totally freaking out, fuck, of course you are. But I can explain, really.”
His hands closed on Gerard’s shoulders, icy and solid, his thumbs stroking Gerard’s collar bones, and Gerard promptly closed his eyes and threw up.
There was a silence broken only by the sound of rustling leaves and trees and Gerard’s unhappy, labored breathing.
“Huh,” Frank said, finally. Gerard kept his eyes closed and wished that the terrible dizzy whirling sensation in his body would stop and that Frank would go away and that he could wake up in bed with this never having happened. He was never drinking again. Never bourbon, never cheap beer. Never never never. “So, you’re… drunker than I thought.”
Gerard nodded pathetically and leaned forward, resting his forehead against something that turned out to be Frank’s shoulder.
“Hey, hey. Gerard, come on, it’s okay. Fuck, I don’t have any water. Gerard, Gee, c’mon, open your eyes.”
His voice sounded upset, so Gerard opened his eyes. Frank was kneeling beside him, solid and opaque. Normal, as normal as he could be, with him being Frank and all, and Gerard’s vision still tending towards slightly swimmy.
“I feel shitty,” Gerard told him, and sighed, trying to struggle to his feet, but his feet were tangled up in the straps of his bag and he fell back down again, probably into regurgitated alcohol and stomach acid. That was the kind of day he was having. But Frank carefully lifted one Gerard-foot and then the other Gerard-foot out of the tangle of straps. Then, steadying him with one hand on his hip, Frank pulled him upright and let Gerard lean against his shoulder. Frank was sort of… petting him, stroking his fingers through Gerard’s tangled hair. It was nice, except Gerard had just vomited on Frank, and Frank knew all those jerks at school messed with him and that Gerard couldn’t do anything about it, and Frank probably thought Gerard was the most pathetic, washed-up loser of all time.
“I’m. I’m going to bed,” Gerard said miserably into Frank’s shirt.
“Not here!” Frank said, clearly alarmed. Gerard snorted dully, shoving Frank off and shuffling backwards. His mouth tasted terrible, like a Rancor had shit all over his tongue. He smelled bad, and he’d puked on Frankie, and he just wanted to leave and curl up and die somewhere.
Frank sighed and kicked at the nearest tree, swearing and grumbling to himself, which was unfair, because Gerard couldn’t hear what Frank was saying, and it looked important. Frank needed to speak up.
“Can you make it home okay by yourself, Gee?” Frank said miserably, and he did that thing where his hair fell in his eyes and his mouth twisted unhappily and Gerard wanted to give him a castle or a comic book store or something, anything that would make him stop looking so crushed. He took a wavering step forward and poked at Frank’s side until Frank cracked a bewildered smile. “Seriously, Gerard, is home close?”
Gerard held up three fingers. Frank stared for a minute, mouth twitching again. “Three blocks, huh. Okay, you can make three blocks? I can’t come with you. You sure you can make it?” Gerard walked in an experimental circle, and, despite the wobbling, he felt it was pretty much a success.
“Guess it’ll have to do,” Frank said, and where did he get off acting all critical? Feed tiny itsy Frank a bottle of bourbon and see how well he walked, huh. Frank was rolling his eyes again, the punk. “C’mon, Gee, you’d better get going. You look pretty cold. I’ll watch your stuff for you, okay?”
Gerard beamed at Frank. “Thanks, Frankie,” he said earnestly and watched Frank blink at him, jaw gone slack.
“Your face,” Frank muttered under his breath. “This is like torture. Okay, seriously, you dumb adorable fucker. Home. Water. Bed. Please, promise me you’ll drink some water?”
“Mmm,” Gerard said. “Yeah. I promise. I wish you could come with me.”
Frank closed his eyes again. “Yeah,” he said.
“Bye, Frankie. See you tomorrow.”
“Be careful, Gerard. Please,” Frank said, and his voice was rough and had dead leaves in it, and clouds skittering across the sky, and the hollow sound of vast empty spaces. “Come see me tomorrow so I know you’re okay?”
“Okay,” Gerard said. “Okay, Frankie. Good night. You’ll be here?”
Frank nodded, did a Scout’s Honor sign with his hand. “I’ll be here.”
Gerard had the feeling that maybe he was smiling dopily. Just a bit. Frank didn’t hate him. Frank thought he was adorable. Wow.
Frank gave him a little push after a moment, and Gerard sighed, a nice long ‘fuck you, universe’ sigh, and began shambling home, past the shadowed school and down the empty streets and fell into his doorway. He got a glass of water from the sink, because he’d promised, and drank it shivering by his bedroom window. The bed was cool and soft, and he wrapped himself in blankets and waited to warm up. When he fell asleep, he didn’t dream.
There was a terrible noise coming from somewhere in Gerard’s room. A terrible, awful, brain-splitting noise. Gerard squinted at the blinking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle alarm clock on his nightstand and deeply regretted setting the alarm to “theme song.” He deeply regretted setting the alarm at all. In fact, he was pretty sure he hadn’t. He hadn’t messed with it last night, anyway. Gerard sensed his mother’s diabolical hand in this.
Raphael squawked at him, “Hey, get a grip!” and Gerard moaned and buried his head under the pillow. He rummaged around with one hand by the base of the nightstand and finally got hold of the power cord and yanked. He snuggled back down into his cocoon of sheets and covers in blessed silence, going as still as possible, hoping that the bones of his skull would stop grinding together.
He woke back up an hour later with his mother pounding on the door like a bad dream, screeching something about how she’d thought Gerard had left already, hadn’t he heard his alarm? Unfortunately his mother didn’t come with a power cord or a snooze button, and it didn’t sound like she was giving up anytime soon. Gerard staggered out of bed, clutching his head in his one hand, and opened the door about an inch. He glared at his mom and said, “Hnnfhghn.”
She glared back.
“‘m up,” he croaked, and flapped a hand in dismissal.
“You’ll be late,” she warned huffily, at least settling back down to a more acceptable volume of scolding. “You’re late already, Gerard Way. Move. Do not get back in that fucking bed.”
Gerard would have rolled his eyes if his head hadn’t been full of ground glass. Fuck, and his body was so fucking sore, it was like someone had taken a baseball bat and beaten him with it. Or, well, more like someone had taken his body and beaten a truck with it, he guessed.
“’m a take a shower,” he grumbled at his mom. “Go ‘way. Shouldn’t you be workin.”
Gerard’s mom visibly wavered between badgering him out of his room and onto the street and rejoicing that her son was actually going to take a shower of his own volition. She settled for shaking her head and heading downstairs.
“I am working—they sent me home to get some photos from the Jersey salon, asshole,” she called over her shoulder as Gerard shuffled down the hall towards the bathroom. Fuck, it hurt to walk, his stupid brain was going to slosh out of its skull. “I’ll be back here at 5:30, so please fucking be here this time? Christ.”
Gerard grunted and shut the bathroom door. How his mother had even known Gerard was still home was a fucking mystery. She had like Mom Radar or something, like the stork delivered super powers along with babies. Especially ever since Mikey had gotten sick and she and Dad had gotten divorced—she was in total Supermom mode. All, ‘you need to go to class,’ and ‘maybe you should go out more, Gerard,’ and ‘don’t you have any friends besides Mikey.’ And on and on. Whatever. Like it mattered if he was late to class. Missing Mrs. Hall and Ted Sikowski was all to the good, in his book. And he’d definitely rather have a shower than show up to school smelling like puke and garbage.
Anyway, the bathroom here was pretty sweet; Gerard sort of wanted to draw a bath and lounge in the hot water with a comic book or a sketchpad for the rest of the day. There was a skylight and the red-leafed tree branches that arched over it cast these really phantasmagoric shadows on the tiled floor, all jagged and delicate. He’d have to remember to try using that pattern next time he sketched. And the archaic claw-footed bathtub was truly a thing of beauty: it looked like it was going to skitter down the hall or ask Gerard how he liked his bubble bath, like Mrs. fuckin’ Potts or something. Even the faucets looked cool, tarnished and silver and shaped like flowers.
Gerard started the shower running to let the water warm up and sat on the edge of the tub to wait. In the scalloped mirror, a reverse Gerard stared back at him, hair achieving truly impressive heights, mouth bruised and streaks of green tracing down his chin from where Ted had shoved him face-first into his truck that first day. Then Mirror-Gerard had started to steam up around the edges, so he figured the water had probably gotten hot enough. He stepped gingerly into the shower, and sighed blissfully as the hot water pounded down on him. He was sore in muscles he hadn’t even known he had—he blamed Frank for making him trudge around a fucking forest for hours at a time.
A few cursory go-rounds with a washcloth doused in Satsuma Bath Gel from the Body Shop, and he was pretty much clean, he figured. After yesterday’s excitement and adventure, he could probably stand to go ahead and shampoo too, even though he’d already washed his hair like three days ago.
He scrubbed his hands through his hair, dumped in some conditioner until it untangled, mostly, and tried to ignore the morning erection that was fighting for his attention. He couldn’t get Frank out of his head, which was kind of making the situation worse, but jerking off to people he knew was weird, and also tended to make Gerard blush at unfortunate moments. That one time he’d had that wet dream about Pete had been pretty much the worst day of his life.
But even with the hangover, his skin was buzzing with it, and he was horny, goddammit. He finally gave in, closed his eyes and wrapped his hand around his cock, tried to think nice standard thoughts about telekinetic floating sex.
Except his nice stock fantasy of Jean Grey sucking him off kept morphing into Frank, looking up at him with wet lashes. Frank’s hand wrapped around his cock, tattooed knuckles moving up and down, and then Frank lowering his head, and there’d be that cold metal lip ring, and Gerard came all over his own fingers at just the thought of it.
He leaned against the cold tile of the shower wall and flung an arm over his eyes, blood still pounding in his ears. God, Frank’s hands. Poor Jean Grey, who had perfectly nice if untattooed hands, and didn’t really deserve to be abandoned mid-masturbation fantasy.
Fuck, he was so screwed. He didn’t even want to think about Frank at all, to remember how much of an ass he’d made of himself last night, or how weird Frank had been acting, or how he’d said that Gerard was cute and how he’d petted Gerard’s filthy, sweaty hair and looked so fucking sweet and concerned, like he cared. It all created a jumble of emotions, elation and horror and hope and despair, and he just didn’t want to deal with it. And now he’d probably get hard the next time he even glanced at Frank’s mouth. Or hands. Or anything.
His headache was coming back with a vengeance, so he grabbed some Tylenol and a couple Aleve from the medicine cabinet, washed them down with a handful of cold water from the sink. He peeked out the door to make sure his mom was actually gone before leaving the bathroom, wrapped in a fluffy pink towel and hair tucked up in a lavender turban. By the time he’d struggled into a reasonably clean Ziggy Stardust hoodie and hiked on some baggy jeans, run a comb through his hair, and smudged on some eyeliner, he was feeling more human and less like the living dead.
He still didn’t have a bookbag, though. He’d left his out in the forest with Frank last night, after all that fucking effort. He wound up sneaking into Mikey’s room and stealing his abandoned army-green satchel. It was sitting forlornly in a box in his room and still had the old school notebooks from last year, from his last day in class, before the stairwell. There were half-finished sheets of chemistry homework and dead pens and a tiny drawing of a unicorn piercing the heart of the Michelin man tucked in the frontmost pocket.
Gerard left everything as it was and just added a few notebooks and a pencil. He closed the door to Mikey’s room carefully and rested his forehead against it for a moment, waiting for his eyes to stop stinging. Fuck, he didn’t want to go to school today. At least he’d definitely missed math.
Sunglasses to cut out the glare, a pot of coffee to keep him alive and upright, and he was marginally ready to face the day.
The town was almost creepier in the bright morning sunshine than it had been last night. Birds were chirping, the trees were cheerfully orange and red against the blue sky, there was absolutely no one on the streets, and, aside from the housewife staring out at him from her window, which had to be seriously clean by now, all the houses looked empty. It was surreal, like a scene from a Tim Burton movie, all bright colors and exaggerated lines. He walked quickly up the street, head down, not looking up until he reached the school.
One good thing, at least, had come out of his drunken spree and vomitfest last night: he managed to enter the building just as Ray was leaving the attendance office. Ray spotted him and beamed.
“Oh, hey!” Ray said, bounding over, just as bubbling and friendly as he had been yesterday. “Awesome hoodie, man. I love me some Bowie.”
Gerard peered down at his hoodie, and Bowie stared back up at him, alien and beautiful. He glanced at Ray, smiling tentatively. “Me too,” he said. “I have a signed record at home. The, uh, Space Oddity album? My brother got it for me for my birthday last spring.”
Ray looked suitably awed. “Dude, you’ve got to show that to me later. That’s fucking sweet. Oh, hey, speaking of music. Do you like Dinosaur Jr? ‘Cause they’re playing in the city this weekend and a bunch of us were gonna go. You should come! I know Ryan’s going because he spent all band practice bugging me about it and asking if you were going.”
“Who’s Ryan?” Gerard asked, bewildered, as they climbed up the stairs, and then he had to clutch Ray’s shoulder to keep from falling to his death, because Ted fucking Sikowski had just shoved him, hard, into the wall, and the shock of it had nearly made Gerard’s feet slip off the narrow stairs. Also, ow. He gritted his teeth and ignored it.
“Dinosaur Jr, right,” he said, determinedly cheerful. “Dinosaur Jr’s good stuff, maybe I’ll go. Hey, will I, uh, get in trouble for missing first period, do you know?”
“Nahh,” Ray said, waving a hand. He was still looking furiously over at Ted, who was slouched against the wall outside Mr. Carew’s room and smirking, but he perked back up when Gerard brought up the front office. “Got you covered this once. Mrs. Hawthorne seriously doesn’t pay any attention to attendance, it’s a disgrace.”
Gerard eyed him. He sort of was getting what Bob meant now about Ray taking his job a little too seriously. At least Ray was covering for Gerard, though, even if he got the feeling Ray would start lecturing if he skipped again.
English passed without much trouble, although Ted and his posse of fucking thugs were really starting to freak him out with their staring and whispering. Plus, he kept getting the feeling between classes that someone was following him—he kept seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, but it was always just some anonymous student, bored, blank-faced. Then he’d get distracted by Ray again, who kept popping up and bugging Gerard about playing video games that afternoon.
“Seriously, it’ll be fucking epic. We’re having a Resident Evil marathon!” Ray jogged Gerard’s shoulder pleadingly. “You should really come this time. It’s Bob, Patrick, Worm and some other guys from band. Mike, and oh man, apparently Greta plays, so she’s coming. Patrick’s gonna flip. And my mom’s making snacks, it’ll be great. C’monnnn.”
Gerard hummed noncommittally, because fuck, that was a lot of people he didn’t really know. He liked Bob and Ray a lot, and Patrick and Worm were okay, but he didn’t really do well with crowds. Ray spent the rest of the day pestering Gerard about it, though, and enlisted Bob to help, and by the time Gerard left Biology he’d semi-grudgingly agreed to at least think about it. Mainly just because he was fucking amazed Ray actually cared enough to wage a campaign to convince Gerard to come, complete with a Dead Frog Skit during Bio. It was kind of hard to resist a dancing dead frog.
He spent most of art class debating his options, because it wasn’t like the class demanded a lot of his attention. This time they were doing a still life of a mirror, a milk jug, and a stack of blank CDs. Mr. Felts had a total hard-on for still life. According to the syllabus, the class hadn’t been doing anything else since August, and weren’t due to start on Cubism until late October. Gerard foresaw a lot of boredom in his future. He sketched a quick, shabby outline of the tableau, and then spent the rest of the class pondering what to do.
He didn’t really want to go to Ray’s, not for a big epic party or anything. Maybe if it’d been just Ray and Bob. Besides, he still needed to get his bag from Frank, with all his comics and his favorite lighter and his sketchpad. His math homework, too, now that he thought of it. Maybe Frank would want to go to the party. Maybe he was already going. Gerard thought he might not mind so much, if Frank was there too.
He was going to have to just admit it. He had a giant, world-ending hopeless crush on Frank. Admitting it was the first step to overcoming it, he hoped. The trick was not to get his hopes up.
Frank was just so fucking cool. Just being his friend would be awesome, honestly. Gerard had remembered, at the last minute, to pack the next Doom Patrol volume, since Frank hadn’t read it yet, and his good Derwent pencils, so he could sketch the graveyard, if Frank asked, and he’d maybe been doodling Frank’s tattoos all over everything all day. Mikey had already sent ten thousand texts bugging him about Frank and their date, and it was annoying as fuck and kept making Gerard feel nervous. It wasn’t a date; it wasn’tlike that. Thinking like that was bound to end in disappointment.
It was odd that Gerard still hadn’t seen Frank in school. Maybe Frank was in a different class or something—maybe he was a sophomore or a junior instead of a senior. But that didn’t make sense. Frank definitely looked older, and he had to be at least sixteen to have gotten all those tattoos.
Maybe he was homeschooled. Or… maybe Frank had run away from home and was waiting to turn eighteen and a legal adult before he showed back up in society again? That might explain why he was so reluctant to leave the woods all the time, if he was afraid of being caught and dragged back home. Maybe his parents were assholes. Gerard’s own dad had been kind of a dick during the divorce, but Gerard had never felt so trapped that he’d ever considered fucking running away and living in the woods.
He hoped that wasn’t the reason. He hated to think of Frank that unhappy, that miserable. Maybe there was another explanation.
Shit, he was totally spacing out, and Mr. Felts was circling the room, eyeing him suspiciously. Gerard hastily shuffled around the papers so that his original, boring-ass drawing was on top and began diligently re-shading the dimpling of the milk jug.
Yesterday Mr. Felts had mentioned maybe contacting the guidance counselor after he’d seen Gerard’s ‘still life’ of a vampire-bat-child gnawing on an arm, and Gerard was not fucking around with that shit. He was gonna put that disaster off for as long as humanly possible.
“Well done, Mr. Way,” Mr. Felts said approvingly, looking over Gerard’s shoulder. “You have an instinctive knack for perspective. Perhaps you might enter some of your work with mine in the local county fair next weekend.”
Gerard stared at the man, horrified. Local county fair, holy shit. He bet there would be prize-winning produce. And hens.
Luckily Mr. Felts was too distracted by class ending to notice Gerard’s stricken expression. The bell rang and the girls, who had spent the period covertly discussing the relative merits of the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus— gag Gerard with a spoon, seriously— promptly fled, leaving a detritus of broken pencils and crumpled paper in their wake. Gerard slouched slowly from the room after gathering his extra papers and stuffing them into Mikey’s bag.
He peered out a window at the rapidly emptying parking lot, the steady stream of cars dispersing outwards into town. He waited a few minutes in the hallway, watching the dregs of students trickling by, then slipped through the cafeteria and found the back door leading to the band room. Looking uneasily behind him, he set off towards the woods, clutching the strap of Mikey’s bag tightly and squinting against the afternoon sun.
The wind had picked up again, tugging at Gerard’s hoodie strings and playing fitfully in the tall grass, chilly despite the sun. Winter here was going to be brutal, Gerard could tell. More leaves had fallen today; grey-brown tree branches showed here and there among the red and orange foliage. Gerard stood at the forest edge and peered down the path. Nothing was there—it was just dappled shadows, the far-off cry of birds. There was a strange echoing quality to the sound, like being in a vast empty cave full of trees. Maybe there was just the one bird, talking to itself. He wondered if he should walk a little further, see if Frank was waiting by the ruined house.
He took a step off the path in what he thought was the right direction, stood ankle deep in leaf litter and looked around. The trees stretched tall and dizzyingly similar around him. He vaguely remembered something about how moss grew on the north side of trees, but he’d never really understood how that was supposed to help if he didn’t know which way north was pointing to begin with. Moss didn’t grow in the direction of Frank, or of the path, for that matter. Gerard retreated the few steps back onto the path, shaking the leaves out of his socks, and scowled at the woods. Hopefully Frank would think to meet him on the path, instead of further out.