Fic: Skin of the Canvas, 1/6
part one -- part two -- part three -- part four -- part five -- part six
"Can I quit school?"
Mikey is silent. Mikey is frequently silent, but this time it seems like he's waiting.
"It's just," Gerard continues, and rests his chin against his knee. "I feel like something ought to change." He's folded up on the kitchen floor, tucked in a space under the countertop that was probably supposed to become a cabinet. His toes look fishbelly-white against the linoleum. "I think my art is shit, maybe, like it's not really. Like there's no there, there." Gerard taps his feet while he waits for Mikey's answer. All a-long the watch-tow-er, hear you sing a-round the watch, got-ta be-
"No," Mikey says, finally.
"I can't quit school?"
"Okay," Gerard says. He laces the fingers of his left hand in between his left toes and tugs up, stretching his calf. "If you say so."
"Basement's nicer without you," Mikey says, like an explanation, and they giggle together, their voices rising and falling in tandem.
"You miss the drunk guy under the bed," Gerard says, and Mikey laughs, bright and loud. "Drooling on you and forgetting to go to school, c'mon."
"Yeah, sure," Mikey says, fondly.
"I don't really want to come home, anyway. You're right," Gerard says, because of course he is. He pulls his fingers out from between his toes and scratches the tops of his feet. "And. I don't know. I guess I'll figure out the art thing."
"If you do that, you get a prize," Mikey offers, startling another laugh out of Gerard.
Gerard had been feeling pretty low before he called Mikey; he'd been thinking about how far and how long it was to the nearest meeting, how much he hates going outside, how little he cares about his classes, how his sponsor's probably sick of hearing from him. Just hearing the soft noises of his brother shuffling around their room is enough, though, some days.
They sit in silence a little longer, Gerard tapping his toes and Mikey doing whatever it is that he does when Gerard's not there. "One day at a time," Mikey says, quiet and fast, like he knows what Gerard was thinking when he picked up the phone.
"Yeah," Gerard says simply. "Love you."
"Uh huh, you too," Mikey says, and then with his typical brusqueness, "Gotta go, 'bye."
"Bye," Gerard says, smiling, and Mikey hangs up. Gerard lets his head rest against the wall until the phone starts beeping dully in his ear. He has to get to his feet to hang it up, and once he's up, he might as well go to class.
When he finally gets to school -- goddamn motherfucking A train, really -- Gerard can't find his ID.
Gerard fumbles his kit into the hand already holding his portfolio so he can dig frantically in his other coat pocket. He turns up cigarettes, his house keys, two Metro cards, a lighter, two dirty wads of gum eraser, and four pennies before he finally closes his hand around the ID. He yanks it out and shows it to the guard, smiling hugely so his face will match the picture.
The security guard doesn't smile back, but he nods and turns away from Gerard, back towards the front door. Gerard haphazardly stuffs all of the crap back into his pocket and bolts down the hall. His watch says it's five after four, which means it's something like thirteen to three, which means he's once again late for class.
Gerard gets to the studio, takes a moment to smooth down his hair, and hauls open the door. The music is already going on the old boom box by the door, and people are putting their things into place. The only easel left is right by the door, where the lighting is terrible. Gerard mentally shrugs and dumps his things on the bench in front of it. At least it's near Maja.
"Mr. Way," the professor says, right behind him. Gerard does not jump.
"So very wonderful to see you."
"Likewise." Gerard shoves up his sleeves and quickly gathers his hair into a messy ponytail. He flips open his kit, grabs the supplies he needs, and dumps them onto the ledge of his easel. Molko gives him a wan, thin smile, but he doesn't hover for too long. Gerard lets out his breath and wiggles his drawing pad out of his battered old portfolio.
When he turns to put the pad on his easel, Gerard gets his first good look at their new model. He sucks his breath right back in.
"Holy shit," he says, and coughs. Maja leans around the edge of her drawing board and quirks an eyebrow at him, grinning.
"Manners, Gerard," she says. He flaps his hand at her.
The typical nude model is someone like Phil. Phil is forty-nine and paunchy. He's starting to go gray at his temples and in his pubic hair; he likes to pose on a stool, curving his back and curling his fingers together between his knees. Phil is secretly awesome -- he likes the Misfits and builds model trains -- but he's not what Gerard would call prime ogling material. Neither are any of the other models who have posed for the life modeling or anatomy classes Gerard has taken. This semester, Anna was kind of cute, but she whined about the conditions the entire time she was there. In his four years of art school, anyway, Gerard has never once dealt with being attracted to the model.
But this guy is hot.
He's short, if Gerard's being honest. Maybe even ridiculously short, at least for a dude; he's definitely even shorter than Gerard. He's got this dark shock of hair, though, flopping in his eyes, and blond fuzz all around the back. He has pretty, long lashes, and pale smooth skin. His eyes are wide and brown, and his face seems to fall naturally into a mischievous expression. When Molko asks the guy if he's ready to go, the guy only giggles in response, and the sound is gleeful and cool all at once.
"Um," Gerard says. Maja points with her pencil and laughs. "Yeah."
"I have a screen set up for you to change behind," Molko says. The guy's reply is muffled by his shirt, which is already halfway over his head.
"--because whatever, y'know?" he finishes, emerging from his shirt, and drops it on the floor. "You're gonna see me naked anyway." The students all shift and murmur, glancing at one another; normally the model at least strips behind a screen. The guy pushes down his pink sweatpants, the elastic sliding over the curve of his ass, and kicks them off his feet.
Gerard squeaks very, very quietly. He wants to cover both his eyes and his crotch, but he doesn't want to be obvious; he ends up just making abortive gestures at both. The model is even hotter with his clothes off. He's turned away from Gerard, which means that Gerard's treated to a view of the muscular line of his back, the swell of flesh over his hips, his round, perfect ass, and the tattoos that patch his arms and back. There are a lot of tattoos for someone so young. Gerard really wants to lick the one on his neck. He could take the guy's chin in his hand, slide his teeth over the skin, and bite down over the blotch of ink.
"--three twenty minute poses," the professor says, continuing a sentence that Gerard was apparently too zoned out on sex to hear, "a break, and then one long session. Is that okay, Frank?"
"Sounds good," the model -- Frank -- says, and settles into his first pose. He turns his head to the side so that his neck is elongated and twisted, his face in profile to Gerard; he drops one hand to dangle by his side, and drapes the other one on the front of his thigh. Gerard thinks he's just going to stand in contrapposto, but then Frank stretches his bent leg behind him, putting the top of his toes flat against the floor. The pose makes his gluteal muscles and the gastrocnemius in his calf stand out in high relief.
Frank is not just hot, then; he's good. Male nude models are rare. A young male nude model who can hold a decent pose is outrageous. Gerard glances over to Maja for confirmation of how insane it is, but she's already working, pencils stuck haphazardly in her hair and gum eraser clutched tightly in one fist. Gerard firmly restrains himself from saying or thinking anything further, and picks up his charcoal instead. He can do this. He's an artist, for fuck's sake.
And he does do it. By the time he begins the curves and folds of Frank's fingers curled next to his leg, Gerard has started seeing Frank as a problem of light and shadow. After that, drawing Frank becomes only the familiar experience of curving and shaping the charcoal, making small sketches in the corner for later ink work, ripping off sheets when the pose changes.
When the professor calls for the break, Gerard blinks and wipes at his eyes, getting them impossibly smudgy.
"One day you'll remember," Maja says, when she sees what he's done to his face. Gerard shrugs and offers her a cigarette. "Thanks."
The smokers all huddle outside, blinking and murmuring to each other about projects and final shows in between drags of their cigarettes. Frank comes out with them, taking out a pack of Camel Lights and bending his head to accept a light from Maja. He mutters his thanks and exhales a dramatic cloud of smoke.
Gerard keeps watching Frank out of the corner of his eye while he smokes his cigarette. The guy jitters like he's had six or seven shots of espresso in a row, giggling and chattering and sucking down two cigarettes in the span of time it takes Gerard to smoke one. It's hilarious that the guy's a model. If Gerard had met him outside of class, he wouldn't ever have guessed that he would be any good.
"How did you get into modeling?" Maja asks, like she's thinking the same thing.
"Easy money," Frank says, and giggles yet again. "But then I kept doing it through, like." He pauses and sucks on his cigarette, ash curling rapidly off the tip. "It's like, everyone draws a picture of me, and they're all me, y'know, but it's a different me in each one?" He pauses again, and Maja nods encouragingly. "That made no sense."
"No," Gerard says, "I get it. Like in Fried Green Tomatoes."
"What?" Maja says, and laughs. "You're doing it again. Explain yourself."
"It's a movie. Kathy Bates," he tells her, "She plays this Southern woman hitting menopause, and she goes with her friend to a consciousness raising group. It's in this room, with all these other ladies, right? And the leader of the group tells them to take out a hand mirror and stick it down to, y'know, to look at their vaginas. Kathy Bates totally punks out."
He gestures with his cigarette at Frank, who is grinning at him for some reason. Gerard continues, "And the group leader is like, 'look at your womanly essence,' or whatever, but it's about learning how to see yourself, I think? And recognizing all the parts of yourself, and loving what you see." Gerard pauses, takes a drag, and exhales, "So you're not Kathy Bates," to Frank.
"I can look at my vagina," Frank says. Gerard laughs, and Maja rolls her eyes. "And you're all my hand mirrors?"
"Yeah, exactly," Gerard says. He's not sure why he blushes, but he does.
"You're totally right," Frank says, "You're-- that's really sweet."
"Thanks," Gerard says, and ignores Maja when she elbows him in the side.
When they've all shuffled back inside and Frank's back on the platform, Professor Molko says, "So, something you can handle for an hour?"
"All right," Frank says. He tugs his sweatpants in front of him on the floor, then goes down on his knees. They thump against the platform, muffled slightly by the fabric. Frank shifts in place, then leans back slightly and lifts his chin. Gerard chokes.
"Charcoal dust," he manages, when Maja smirks at him. When he looks back at Frank, Gerard's taken by the sheer doubleness of him; he is both the gorgeous man kneeling, and a model for the way muscle and skin are layered over bone. "Hand mirror," Gerard murmurs. He focuses back on his paper, driving himself back down into the process of drawing.
When the hour is up, Molko switches off the music, and everyone pins a piece up on the wall for an impromptu critique. His own sketches, Gerard thinks, are actually pretty good. He doesn't think that very often; he knows he's decent, obviously, but it's usually hard for him to enjoy his own work. He stands back, tucking his hands in his back pockets, and tilts his head; he's supposed to be looking at everyone else's sketches, but he keeps coming back to his own. He thinks there's something to them, for once, something more than accuracy. Of course, it could just be the model.
The model in question is standing right next to him, fingers tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants. When Gerard glances over, he can see a tempting gap between the waistband and the skin of Frank's hip. A hip that Gerard has drawn, he reminds himself, because Frank is their model. The model, regardless of his tempting hips, is off-limits. Gerard puts his eyes back on the wall.
"Frank?" Molko asks. He's the only professor Gerard has had who asks the model to comment on the work. Normally Gerard sort of ignores what they think, but. Well. Frank is a special case.
"I like the detail here," Frank says, walking forward and tapping the shape of his hip on Gerard's drawing. Gerard's face goes hot and tight, and he looks down at round shape of his shoes against the linoleum flooring.
"The light really works," Frank says, "and it looks like skin. And you, you got my tattoos," he says, moving over and tapping on Maja's drawing. Maja does pretty abstract work; Frank's body is in her usual angular style, but she went into a lot of detail on his tattoos, catching how the designs are reconfigured by the tension in his muscles.
Frank stops, touches his lips, and tilts his head back, then presses his hand against the one on the far end, a kind of awkward execution of a pretty good idea. Tanisha beams at him, and Frank beams right back. "I really like this one the best," he says.
They all nod thoughtfully, and Molko says, "Let's hear my opinions, shall we?"
"He liked your details," Maja says afterwards, when they're back outside. She hoists her bag up higher on her shoulder and lights the cigarette Gerard gives her.
Professor Molko had liked Gerard's work, too; he'd made some encouraging noises about the use of line and tone, which for Molko was tantamount to a very noisy orgasm. Still, it would have been nice to have been Frank's favorite. Gerard gives Maja a half-smile. "He was pretty cute," he admits.
"Damn straight," she mutters around her cigarette.
"He was right about your tattoo work, though, it was really sharp."
"Thanks, beautiful," Maja says. She takes the cigarette out of her mouth and exhales a plume of smoke. "I'm going to go get some coffee with Gabe and Travis, are you coming?"
"I'm going to work on my sketches," Gerard says, and she gives him a lopsided grin before she veers off towards the coffee shop where she usually meets her friends.
Gerard's always surprised by Maja. They don't know each other very well, and they're always in competition, for awards and scholarships and shows, but she's been awesome to him. She told him once he was "the only fucker with talent around here, Christ," out of nowhere, and she's pretty amazing herself.
Gerard grabs coffee from the shitty place nearest to the studios. He drinks it standing by the window in his studio space. It's not actually his own studio space, since Gerard shares it with five other people, but today it's quiet enough that Gerard can fantasize that it really is his own. When he's done his coffee, Gerard settles down to take advantage of the quiet. He works on his class sketches for about two hours in all, smoothing lines and shaping shadow, fiddling with the curves of his Frank's body.
He does three other pieces in ink after that, slumped in the corner with his sketchbook on his knees, the class drawing of Frank on his knees pinned up on the wall next to him for reference. The drawings aren't anything he would show a professor -- too scribbly, too erotic, probably once again too much like a comic book -- but when Gerard's finished with them, he likes how they look.
When he stops, Gerard realizes abruptly that there's no light coming in the windows anymore. Worse, one of the people who share the studio with him came in at some point, and she's working on her final project. It's something that involves some sort of animal fat, completely derivative of Beuys and too smelly to ignore after he notices it. Gerard smiles at her when he leaves, then pretends to gag when he's safely out in the hall. No one sees him, but it's the thought that counts.
When he gets home, before he even brews a pot of coffee, Gerard unfolds his favorite of the sketches he did. He tacks it up next to one of the windows in his cluttered room, in the corner, where it's mostly hidden by the curtain. He doesn't know why there, exactly, except that it looks right in the room, Frank's upturned face and inked arms edging past the fabric, the smooth shapes of his legs and ass veiled in gauzy blue.
Frank has two more sessions with them, and then he is replaced. Their professor likes to strike a balance in between letting his students get familiar with a model and over-familiar with them.
Gerard normally finds the model changes annoying. In this case, though, Gerard has to make an exception. He only talks to Frank once more, at the end of the third session, but that's enough to make him happy to see Frank go. Gerard can see himself developing a really devastating crush on Frank with only a tiny bit more exposure. Frank talks at the speed of light about Italian horror movies, and he explains to Gerard very earnestly that he ripped the pair of gray yoga pants -- honestly, yoga pants -- he's wearing that day because he was climbing a tree to rescue a kitten.
"To rescue a kitten!" Gerard yelps. Mikey just laughs and laughs. Gerard slumps against the kitchen cabinet, giggling and twirling his finger in the phone cord like a teenage girl. "He really did rescue it, too, I think. He went on and on about how he was planning to adopt it and train it to be a ninja, but then the owner found the signs he'd tacked up and he had to abandon his plans. And then he hugged the professor before he left." Mikey laughs harder. "Professor Molko! Who of course was all," Gerard shoves his voice into an approximation of Molko's nasally English accent, "'Why, thank you Frank, you've been so kind."'
"Poor Molko," Mikey giggles.
"Please, he probably got a kick out of it."
"True." Something bangs in the background.
"What're you doing?" Gerard asks, only a little suspicious. Mikey finishes giggling, then tells him all about today's episode in his epic effort to successfully roast a peanut butter, banana, and brown sugar sandwich on the grill. Gerard listens, and tries not to miss home too bad.
The new model for Life Drawing is named Shayesteh. She's a butch woman, with pointy eyebrows and muscular forearms, who welds for a living and teaches them how to swear in German. Gerard isn't attracted to her. It's definitely a relief.
Two weeks go by. Gerard does a good-enough panel for his senior show, smokes a carton of cigarettes, burns through the $25 coffee gift card Mikey sends him, talks to his sponsor five times, and does not drink.
Gerard only has three courses, plus his senior project, before he's finally allowed to graduate. Two of the courses are electives that are filled with lackadaisical seniors, and one is a basic requirement. He should have it comparatively easy. Molko's Advanced Life Drawing, though, is like six courses in one. Gerard can't keep track of all the shit they have to do for Molko's class, between the in-class work and the weekly sketch journal assignments and the bimonthly evaluations.
This would be why he forgot about their midterm until a week before it's due. "It's not even at the normal midterm time," he whines. "And I can't afford to hire someone."
"You can borrow Gabe," Maja suggests. Gerard waves her off.
"I should get my own model."
"Gabe's flexible." She pauses. Her cigarette jerks up when she takes a drag, and sags again when she exhales out of the other side of her mouth. Gerard wishes he were as cool as Maja. "I mean, he may not even ask for money. He has a thing going now," and she takes her hands out of her pockets to make a gesture that looks like a misshapen horseshoe crab. "It involves a lot of pro bono work." She laughs at Gerard's expression. "Okay, never mind."
"No, I appreciate it, I just--" Gerard rests his head against the outside of the building and takes a meditative drag. "I want to do something that's my own, you know."
"Yeah, I know," she says. She lets her cigarette drop out of her mouth, and then grinds it out under her heel. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be," Gerard says glumly.
A drink would wash the sour taste out of his mouth. Two would numb the worry out of his mind. He's already fucked up school, what would a drink do? Nothing he hasn't already done. The smile he gives Maja when he holds open the door for the studio is peeling at the edges, but she seems to buy it. He keeps it on his face, frozen, until they're back to drawing again.
After class, Gerard fidgets by the doorway, waiting while Molko chats with Tanisha, then some kid Gerard still doesn't know. "Um," Gerard says, brilliantly, when Molko's halfway out the door. "Professor Molko?"
"Mr. Way." Molko peers around the door. "Come with me."
"Uh," Gerard says, and follows him as Molko winds around the hallways, "Can I ask you for a favor?"
"What's on your mind, Mr. Way?"
"I'm--" Gerard takes a deep breath, and plunges straight into it. "I've been working on our final project, and I'm. I'm having a lot of trouble finding a good model." He's thought all class, in between sketching a woodworker named Lloyd, and this is the best he can come up with. If Molko doesn't buy it, he's going to have to go to Craigslist. Gerard hates getting models from Craigslist. They're almost always creepy.
Molko shoulders open a door and reveals a room stuffed with canvases and books and -- huh -- a whole lot of mirrors. "I think," he says, and fourteen Molkos look thoughtful. "If you don't mind working with one of the models we had in class, I know some of them like to help out students."
"Oh, do you have Phil's number?" Gerard exclaims, and thinks happily about the possibility of Phil's big hairy belly in ink.
"Sure," the Molkos say. They all duck out of sight to rummage around on the floor. "I've got four or five names to give you, in case Phil is busy." They emerge again with wrinkled paper clutched in their hands and triumphant smirks. "Model trains are absorbing." The Molkos copy the numbers onto another wrinkled sheet of paper, lettering neatly and carefully, and then they all reach out at Gerard all at once. Gerard manages to restrain himself to a single terrified noise.
"Right," he says faintly, and very carefully takes the paper. "I'm sure you have work."
"Plenty," the Molkos say, scowling, and Gerard flees.
When he looks down at the piece of paper, he nearly chokes on his own spit. The list has four names: Phil, Roberta, Shayesteh, and Frank. Molko has written will work for cheap next to Frank's number. Gerard sighs, rubbing the paper between his fingers.
He wants to call Frank first, of course. He shouldn't. He should call the others, and see if they're free. Gerard hasn't done anything productive with his art, lately, and he's probably not going to create anything radically new or exciting for his final project. He should leave cheap, beautiful Frank for someone who deserves him. If the others aren't free, though, maybe Gerard could call Frank then.
Gerard still really wants a drink. He wants an ice cold beer, in the bottle, preferably a light shitty one that tastes like foul lake water. Miller Lite, he thinks, he wants a Miller Lite.
He buys a cup of crappy coffee instead, and walks to the nearest meeting listed in the paper.
The speaker at the meeting is a thin, grubby man in a flannel shirt, named Fred. Fred lost his wife because he drank. Then he lost his job, and then nearly lost his house. He's still paying off loans, Fred says. He hasn't found a girlfriend, much less another wife. His new job is a pain in the ass, and he can't wait to quit it.
"But," Fred says, leaning forward on his elbows, "I haven't had a drink in four years. Is that enough?" Fred pauses, and he huffs out a breath. "Sure as shit it is. I'm still here. And I'm not hurting anyone, not even myself. Let me tell you, learning how not to hurt myself was hard as hell. I'd been doing it for years. I was good at it."
Everyone in the small audience laughs along with him; it's an easy, warm sound that slopes up and then down again.
"But I'm not doing it, not anymore," Fred continues, smiling wryly. "I recognize now that it was as easy as stopping, and the hard part-- I guess the hard part was learning that it was okay to stop." He leans back in his chair. Everyone shifts, nodding and murmuring, yeah, mmhm. The folding chairs squeak and whine in chorus.
The leader of the meeting is a woman with a round, soft face. Gerard doesn't recognize her, but he hardly ever goes to meetings by school. When she shoves up her shirt sleeves, there are bright pink scars latticed on the pale skin of her forearms. "Does anyone want to share?" she asks, and after a pause someone raises their hand.
Gerard hates the holy roller drunks in AA, the people who cling to Jesus instead of a bottle. He's never had much time for church, and when they told him he had to give his problem up to a higher power he almost quit coming. Still, there's something calming about the ritual of a meeting, in sitting next to his sweaty, cynical compatriots in recovery; it feels a lot like what he always thought church was supposed to be like.
Gerard drinks an entire pot's worth of watery coffee by himself, and has to leave to piss halfway through the meeting. He takes three Oreos with one of his post-bathroom cups of coffee; they turn out to be stale, but he doesn't feel like he can put them back, and he has to keep them wobbling on top of his knee until the end.
He doesn't speak up. He just sits and listens to everyone share their shitty experiences and their only slightly less shitty advice. Going to the meeting was still the right decision, though, even with caffeine shakes and the ache of his bladder. Gerard feels better than he did before he walked in the door.
When he leaves the meeting, the moon is out. Laughing voices spill out with the light from the doorway behind him. Gerard walks slowly to his bus stop and stands in the street, leaning against a light pole, looking up at the black and gray skyscrapers against the dark blue sky. There are a few windows lit up; ten floors up, a woman in a blue uniform dress is vacuuming a floor in slow, rhythmic movements. People walk behind him, murmuring to one another; cars cross paths in front of him, talking with their horns.
There's a section in Living Sober about how alcoholics are perfectionists at heart. They set up unreachable standards for themselves, put the bar so high that no one could be expected to reach it, least of all a drunk. When they inevitably fail, it gives the alcoholic yet another excuse to drink. When Gerard read that, that was the moment when he realized that he had to stop beating himself up for everything he'd done wrong. That is where we can start being good, Gerard remembers reading, to ourselves.
When he says it to other people, be good to yourself, they nod and smile like it's obvious. A couple of people have even laughed, that short, dismissive laugh of someone who knows better, who isn't taken in by such clichés.
When Gerard read it in the book, though, it had been a revelation. It gave him permission. In spite of all the bad things he'd done and thought and been, he had permission.
"Who's it gonna hurt?" he says out loud. The woman vacuums, the moon shines dully. Gerard slaps his hands against his thighs. "Okay," he says, "Okay."
When he gets back to his apartment, he takes off his jacket and throws it at the closet, kicks off his shoes in the kitchen, and picks up the phone. He puts the paper on the counter, and very carefully dials Frank's number. It rings and rings. Gerard hunches forward, folding his arms awkwardly so he can tuck the hand not holding the phone into his armpit, and stares at his toes.
When the line clicks, he starts to say something, but it's just the machine. There's a guy bellowing "PUUUUUUUUUNK," lots of people giggling, and then someone in the background repeating "PUUUUUUUUUNK" in a tiny voice. Then it beeps, in the middle of Gerard's stupid high-pitched laugh.
Gerard chokes, and then scrambles to come up with a message. "Um. I'm pretty sure this is who I'm calling for, so. I mean. It's for Frank. This is Gerard? I mean, uh, Gerard Way, and I know Professor Molko. I mean, I'm one of his students. You modeled, um. For our class. Life Drawing. But this is not about that, I mean, it's about that, but. I have a project? Like, due next week, really soon."
Gerard takes a deep, fortifying breath, and finishes, "Could you model for me? For my project? That would be great. I can pay you, um. Not a lot, but I can. Okay. Bye." He's about to hang up the phone when he realizes he hasn't left his number, says fuck a couple of times, and manages to spit it out into the phone.
He hangs up. Then he says, "Oh my God, oh my fucking God," and wishes that banging his head against the wall would magically undo the most awkward answering message of all time.
"Of all time," he tells his mom, who makes a sympathetic noise. Gerard puts his forehead in his hand and sighs. "It was horrible. Horrible."
"I'm sure you sounded fine," she says, soothingly.
"I said 'um' three thousand million times."
"That can be charming!" Gerard laughs, in spite of himself. "Well, it's not like weird ever offended anyone," she says, which is what she says every time he's embarrassing.
"That's true," he says, because. well, it sort of is. If you squint.
"I bet he's charmed," she repeats. "Do you want your brother, honey? I've got food to make."
"Sure," he says. His mom hollers up the stairs, and then Mikey says, "I got it," and his mom hangs up.
"I'm a moron," Gerard says.
Gerard squawks, folding himself into the nook again. "Don't agree!"
"Then why'd you say it?"
"Jackass," Gerard says, and Mikey grunts his agreement. "I called Frank to ask him to do the modeling for my final project? And I sounded really stupid. On his answering machine."
"So there's evidence."
Mikey's silent for a bit. Gerard presses the phone against his ear and listens to the faint sounds of Sonic Youth in the background; when Mikey finally speaks he jerks, surprised. "That sucks."
"Yeah," Gerard says, and rubs his face. "But whatever, I'll give him a day and then call someone else."
"No loss," Mikey says supportively, and then, "Oh, hey, Thundercats is on."
"Oh shit!" Gerard doesn't have cable -- doesn't even have a television, actually -- but Thundercats makes him wish he could afford it. "What's Lion-O doing?"
They watch two episodes of Thundercats together, and then Mikey has to go. "Don't worry about Frank," he says, as his parting gift, "he's probably lame."
"Probably," Gerard says, "Love you."
"You too, 'bye."
Gerard struggles to his feet and puts the phone back on the cradle. He leaves his hand there, hesitating, then decides that he'll call his sponsor. When he picks up the phone, though, it beeps at him.
You have -- one -- new message. To li-- Gerard stabs at the 1 button. First new message:
"--totally eat your face! And-- oh, hey, the beep. Hi there, Gerard Way, student in Professor Molko's Life Drawing class. Pleasure to hear from you. I am Frank Iero. I like long walks on the beach and modeling for midterm projects. Please return my phone call so that we can schedule a time." There's a scuffling sound, and then, "For the modeling, not the beach. The beach comes after the second date." More scuffling. "I'll be awake until two am. Precisely." The message clicks, and Gerard's chest collapses with a genuinely embarrassing squeaking noise.
His watch says it's two past eleven. Gerard has absolutely no reason to avoid returning Frank's call. None. He needs to start working on the project as soon as possible. Gerard stands there with his hand on the phone. He then -- very decisively, and with confident movements -- makes himself a packet of hot chocolate. He drinks it seated on the kitchen counter, hunched over to avoid the edge of the upper cabinets. He stares at the phone the entire time. It doesn't do anything interesting.
"Okay," he says, when he has completely finished his hot chocolate, washed and dried the mug, and eaten three slices of individually wrapped cheese. "Okay, he is lame. Mikey is right. Totally lame." He picks up the phone, scrabbles around for the sheet of paper, and punches in the number. "Lame, lame, lame, la--"
"Hi! Hah, um. This is Gerard. Way."
"Howdy. This is Frank. Iero."
"Hey." Gerard rests his head against the cabinet and looks at the ceiling. The guy is making fun of him; this is already awfully familiar. "Um, so. Modeling."
"Yeah, oh," and there's the sound of something loudly hitting the ground. "Whoops. Yeah, when are you free? Because I have a lot of band practice this week. And modeling, y'know, all the time."
"You're in a band."
"No, it's just. That's cool." Of course Frank's in a fucking band. "I guess I'm free on Tuesdays, most of the day. Although I would kind of want you for two days, I think, just for the number of pieces I'm supposed to do."
"Is one o'clock okay?"
"In the morning?" Gerard says stupidly, and when Frank laughs, "Right, sorry. Afternoon. One sec." He puts the phone down on the kitchen counter, slides into the bedroom to dig up a marker, and scrambles back. "Sorry!"
"No, it's fine," Frank says, "I was getting funky."
"Okay," Gerard says, "Tuesday at one pm, with the funkmaster," he recites, writing it down on his forearm.
"Are we -- where do you want to do it?"
Gerard blinks, then realizes what Frank is talking about. "Oh, uh. Here's the thing. There's a couple of people in my studio, so they could randomly come in, since I couldn't give them notice, and the one girl's doing something with animal fat, so--"
"So your house, then?"
"Yeah, my place." Gerard lets his head thump against the cabinets again and decides to state the obvious. "Sorry if that sounds sketchy."
"It's fine. I'll bring mace."
Gerard's not sure it's a joke, but he laughs anyway. "Do you want. Um. Do you want company on the subway?"
"Hey, no. Wow." Frank giggles. Gerard suspects that this might be God's way of telling him to strangle himself with the phone cord. "I've never had anyone offer that before," Frank says, "I'll be fine."
"Sometimes people get scared," Gerard says. Mikey had looked terrified, the last time he'd come to visit Gerard. "It can be a lot for some people, you know, you shouldn't, like--"
"No," Frank says, and he's just earnest enough that Gerard shuts up. "No, I get it. But I'm good, thanks. What's your address?"
"Sorry, um. Yeah." Gerard gets out the right number and street, then mumbles out a goodbye as soon as he can. Frank says bye brightly and hangs up.
"Lame," Gerard says again. He's definitely not referring to Frank.