Six.Mature

Friday.

 When Mom came thumping down the stairs I had already been awake for what felt like hours. It was dark when I woke up, but it felt dark the majority of the time. Everyone else was asleep but I could have sworn that I heard something knocking somewhere in the house and someone said my name which freaked me out so I got up and went to sit in the living room, just sit there on the sofa with nothing to do in the early morning.

 Darcy had joined me in the kitchen when I made myself breakfast around half an hour ago; she probably thought that I was making her something to eat.

  “Frank why is Gee sitting on the back door step?” At first I thought that it was just me thinking of last night, it had hardly left my mind since it happened, but my head snapped back into thinking mode and realised that Mom was saying it again from the kitchen doorway. “He must have gotten up awfully early.” She sounded too concerned about him; it wasn’t like he was my Moms favourite of my friends. In fact she normally didn’t like him, she said that he was bad for me but I never knew how.

 “Yeah, well that’s his problem.” I didn’t want to talk to Mom; she would expect me to explain something. I knew that I had kept her up half the night playing my guitar and I felt bad about that, but I wasn’t ready to apologise yet.

 “Aren’t you going to meet Mikey to walk to school?” Mom’s hand was resting on the back door handle.

 “No!” My hand was on the front door handle. “I mean yes, I am meeting Mikey but I can’t go out the back or Gerard will be there. I’ll just go out the front and then circle around.” I tried not to let my voice sound like I knew I was making a mistake but I was tired and sort of scared about what was going to happen now.

 Luckily Mom was tired too, she didn’t notice anything. At least she didn’t act like she did, although her hand started to push down on the back door handle like she was about to open it.

 “Please.” There wasn’t much more that I could say that would make her realise how badly I needed her to leave the door alone. I didn’t say anything else as I left but soon realised that I had left my coat and lunch at home, of course I didn’t go back for them, I could live with the cold and I was sure that I could put up without lunch.

 It was a pain in my ass to have to walk up the road and then double back around to go down the alley between all the houses to meet Mikey. It would add about ten minutes onto my journey to school but it was better than running into Gerard, even if it wasn’t by accident.

Just around the last corner I saw Mikey waiting outside my back gate about fifteen houses down from where I was standing. I could have walked all the way down to meet him but instead I just whistled as loudly as I could and held a hand up to do a small wave.

 Mikey turned at the sharp noise and gave me a confused smile before walking up to meet me. He shook his head slightly and looked almost amused but sad at the same time as he got closer but before he got close enough for me to ask or for him to say anything to me about going the overly long way to meet him I saw more than heard my gate slamming shut and Gerard running full speed towards me.

 My brain didn’t register what was going  on until he was past Mikey, who had slowed down to turn around and look at whatever had drawn my attention, and was close enough for me to not have time to even move before he was crashing into me and sending us both towards the floor.

 It took me a long time to think about what had actually happened, I was expecting to wake up and realised that I had dreamt everything, that would have made more sense.

“Gerard what the hell?” I tried to push him off me but although he was skinny and looked almost as weak as Mikey he was still strong enough to pin me down. He straddled me and held my arms down tight next to my body.

 “Gee?” Mikey’s question wasn’t as angry as mine was, he was more confused.

 “Go to school Mikey.”

 “No. I'm not going to leave while you’re still fighting like this!” Mikey sounded as though he was the one being more troubled by this disagreement between me and Gerard.

 “Michael. Go to damn school.” Gerard turned his face away from me to look at his brother.

 Mikey started to step around us which made me wonder what look Gerard had given him. His voice was emotionless so I had no clue what he had done to make Mikey want to leave so quickly. “Alright, I'm leaving but we have a music lesson third Frankie, so try not to be late...” He looked awkward as he walked past us and around the corner where I had whistled from.

 Gerard didn’t look back to me until Mikey was totally out of sight. The whole time I had been trying to get Gerard off of me by kicking my legs and trying to lift my body but despite all my teasing saying that he was weak and that he would lose in a fight with a lady bird he was strong, stronger than I could ever have thought.

 “Gerard why the hell did you let me stop Martin the other day when you could have won that fight hands down!?” It was the first in my list of things to be angry at him about.

 “Because now I'm pissed off.” He still didn’t sound angry, or look angry, he looked like he was trying not to cry and laugh.

“Oh thank you! So I stood in and stopped you getting punched because you weren’t pissed off by someone trying to break your shoulder so now I have to be the one who get’s beaten up! And now you’re tackling me too!” I was finding it hard to keep my voice under control and I had defiantly forgotten not to tell Gerard what looking out for him would do to me.

 “You didn’t have to help me. You could have just walked away.” His anger fizzled out before mine did, I could see it in his face.

 “Are you going to let me up? If I walk fast maybe I can catch up with Mikey.” My voice didn’t hold any anger, I wanted to be angry but I just couldn’t be. Now that Gerard didn’t seem so pissed off I was finding it hard to keep up my emotions too.

 For some reason Gerard did what I asked him to do, he rolled off me and just laid on the floor next to me, much like we had been laying in the field by the park the other day.

 “Frankie. I don’t understand this. I understand that you hate me now; I never wanted this to end with you getting hurt, but why were you angry at me before Martin? What did I do to make you hate me that much?” He spoke as though it was hate of epic proportions whereas I felt like it was the same as any other fight between friends.

 Instead of answering Gerard I stood up and tried to walk away from Gerard so I wouldn’t have to remember why I was so angry at him in the first place but Gerard held my ankle so that I couldn’t walk properly.

 In spite of Gerard I kept trying to walk to school although not at the speed I needed to go to catch up with Mikey.

 “Frankie.” Gerard dragged along the floor behind me as I tried to cross a road. “Frankie you might as well talk to me I'm not going to let go.”

 “Oh I have no problem believing that.”

 “What?”

 I didn’t respond, as far as I was concerned he didn’t deserve a reply from me so I just kept on trying to walk to school, dragging Gerard across roads and over grass and up the curbs onto the sidewalks. He didn’t complain much which was worrying at times but I tried not to show him that he was concerning me.

 “Did you sleep on my back door step?” It was hard to tell if I was disgusted by the thought or if I found it endearing.

 “I wanted to talk.” He said it like it was normal to spend the night outside someone’s house.

 “You’re going to have to let go when I get us to school.”

 “No”

 “No what?”

 “I won’t have to let go when you get us to school.” At least he had the sound of amusement in his voice again. I hated it before when he treated me like I was a game but now I almost missed it.

 When I walked into English Lit it was already the beginning of lesson two, and I was about twenty minutes late. That was bad even by my standards, normally I just skipped the lesson or showed up about ten minutes late, I didn’t much like the lesson but I didn’t want to interrupt so I tried to be on time, mostly.

 “Mr. Iero, is it not a school rule that you leave all pets off the school premises?” Mrs Chadbourn glared at me for a moment before waving me towards my normal seat, almost as though she honestly didn’t care if I had another human being attached to me. 

 “Do I look like a god damn pet?” Gerard muttered from the floor, grunting slightly when I bumped him into table and chair legs, which may have been slightly on purpose.

 The rest of the lesson I thought of ways to get rid of Gerard, I knew the second I got out of class Mikey would find me, he had probably been looking for me after first lesson but I knew that he loved his English teacher so wouldn’t have spent too long missing her class. I had music with him anyway and we would be able to talk then, but of course he would be expecting me to go to our normal bench, on condition that he got out of English quickly and got it before the seniors did otherwise we would be sitting on the floor near the benches and there was no way that I would be going anywhere quickly until I got Gerard off of me.

 “Mr. Iero...” Nearly every pair of eyes in the class room fell on me, a few people were still talking or just doing something else but there were enough people looking at me and me alone to make me want to crawl inside myself and curse something, I didn’t care what or who, for making me not pay attention.

 “Yeah?”

 “You sounded exactly the same when your Mom asked you to do her a favour a few weeks ago...” Gerard blurted out, making the eyes leave me quickly, which I was thankful for, and he slipped a piece of paper up to me.

 He had written the question down that I had just been asked, we were looking at a poem as far as I could interpret, and I didn’t know the answer, and there was a half formed answer to the question.

 “We’re still waiting...”

 “Um... Well... I'm not sure... but the impression that I get is that her eyes are described as a closed flower because it is delicate and seeing as though she is bread?”

 “Dead.” Gerard tugged at my trouser leg.

 “Dead. Seeing as though she is dead she is very delicate and he wants to remember her as being as beautiful as she was in life ...” Gerards hand writing was hard to read but I thought that I had read mostly what was there.

 Mrs Chadbourn didn’t act like she had heard my answer and went on to tell everyone what the line had really meant and then asked someone else about something else that was going on in the poem. It was a painful experience for me when I was asked a question in English but it was even harder with Gerard sitting at my feet and people had probably seen that Gerard had to slip me the answer, which was wrong anyway. I would have to add that to a list... I would have to make a list.

 When the bell finally rang, releasing me from the torment of an English lit lesson, I jumped out of my seat faster than everyone else and started towards the door.

 “I want to talk to you.” Mrs Chadbourn was obviously talking to me so I slowed down to a near stop and let everyone else push past me out of the door and towards freedom.

 Gerard had taken the chance to wrap his legs around my leg too so he was sitting like we used to when we were in elementary with our arms and legs crossed.

 “Why were you late?” It sounded like a stupid question to me but I needed to answer.

 “Can you not see the lump on my leg? I had to drag him to school; I literally got to school and came straight here.”

 Even though my story was obviously true she gave me a doubtful look and I started to think that she was going to keep me in for ages to catch up on work or something but instead she just stepped aside and let me leave, maybe she felt pity for me because she knew how bad Gerard could be sometimes, I think she taught him for two years so she would have to understand how much of a pain he could be.

“Frankie, my god I thought you were both going to kill each other... Where’s Gee?” Mikey looked so relieved when I turned up at the bench, as though he had been holding his breath all morning.

 “You’re kidding” I said, looking down to Gerard at the same time Gerard said “Bonjourno!” and looked up at Mikey. 

 “Hard to believe I missed that...” Mikey frowned like the joy of seeing me alive wasn’t nearly enough to counter the fact that Gerard was still attached to my leg.

 “Is a bit.”

 “No one’s talking to you...” I snapped at Gerard, not really thinking about it. I hated it that it was just first nature to be angry at Gerard now.

 “So have you talked to Kristin?” Mikeys innocent question made me tense up, it brought back the memory of Kristin kissing that guy the other day.

 “No.”

 "She told me that she was looking for you, something about your party tomorrow." Mikey just shrugged like it didn't mean much to him. He stood looking rather uncomfortable while Gerard still clung to my leg. "Why won't he let go?"

 It wasn't something that I had really thought about, I had just assumed that Gerard was trying to annoy the hell out of me, but now that Mikey had mentioned it there must have been some reason why he wouldn't let go of me.

 "Gerard?" I looked down at my leg, hoping to get a proper reply, although I wasn't sure if I would really get one.

 "Yes?" Gerard looked directly up at me with a grin on his face like he was planning something. Of course he was, he nearly always was.

 "Answer the nice man." But then I thought about what I was saying. "I mean. Answer the very annoying boy who isn't trying to pry you off my leg." I felt better than just calling Mikey a 'nice man'.

 It looked like Gerard was just about to answer me when Mr Oats walked over with a confused look on his face.

 "So boys. I understand that you," he gave me a kind of disapproving look. "Stopped Gerard from getting beaten up. That boy had to go to the hospital to get his foot looked at, he's only just come back to school from having a broken toe."

 "Yeah, on his other foot." Gerard grumbled from the floor, I think I might have smiled slightly because he was at least trying to defend me because Mr Oats shook his head at me.

 "So why is Gerard on your leg? Is this some form of thanking you?" We all knew that Mr Oats wasn't about to give me a detention, but it was nice to hear him not telling me off.

 "It's a punishment, I think. He tackled me this morning as well." I did sound like a little kid telling on someone and I felt like one too, but I didn't think at all before I said it.

 No one seemed too pleased with my little tattle, Gerard least of all, he just made an annoyed sound and hit his head on my leg, which if anything hurt him more than me.

 The bell rang, loud and right across the court yard from where we were standing, or in Gerard’s case, sitting on my foot.

 “Time to learn now, Gerard I’m sure you have a lesson of your own to go to.” Mr Oats looked down at Gerard giving the most serious expression he could muster, but it didn’t make Gerard budge. “I’m not kidding around with you. You’re going to get into trouble if you skip every lesson today only so you can attend Franks.” His logic was shatter proof but I think he knew that he was wasting his words.

 “Look, I’ll make you a deal.” Gerard didn’t let go of my leg, or look at Mr Oats, but he spoke directly to him. “You don’t tell the school why I’m missing all my lesson if I can get Frank to forgive me for whatever it is I have done to him before the end of your lesson. If I can’t.” Gerard shrugged like it couldn’t happen, letting the rest of us make up our minds about what his punishment would be.

 It was a hard ultimatum for Mr Oats, sure Gerard had never done any work in any of his classes but for some reason he actually liked Gerard as a student. It was one of the reasons he liked me and Mikey when he first started teaching us, otherwise he probably would have just over looked us as being a couple of misfits. It made no sense for Mr Oats to want to punish Gerard, apart from the years he spent drawing in class instead of trying to half-heartedly play the keyboard, but then again there was no reason for him not to.

 “Deal. But if you can’t then I need you to re-mark all the notes on the key boards and get the gum out of my class room.” Surely getting in trouble with the school was better than doing that, but Gerard reached his hand out to shake Mr Oats hand anyway.

“Just go to class.” Mr Oats looked away from Gerard to smile at me and Mikey. I’m sure my expression was similar to Mikeys huge question mark. “Go get started then. I’m going to be a little late, but don’t let them get the keyboards out until I’m there.”

 “You better not be telling on me!” Gerard called after him as I started lugging him towards the music block that was situated half way across the world from the rest of the school.

 “He’s not telling on you, he’s just going to get…” Mikey couldn’t finish his sentence, probably because there wasn’t an end to it, but he still stuttered around for a while trying to find the right words he needed.

 “Doesn’t anyone wonder why you two sit over here playing while they all have to actually do the work?” Gerard had spent most of the last twenty minutes trying to talk to people on the other side of the room but always got shot down when Mr Oats heard him trying to call over the sound of nearly thirty kids trying to play the keyboard, unsuccessfully.

 “No. We just play our stuff and they play theirs. If they wanted to not have to do the work then they should learn how to play an instrument properly.” I grumbled at Gerard, trying not to let him distract me from the riff I was playing.

 Mikey had been sitting across from me just playing anything that sounded like it fit well with what I was playing. It was what we did every lesson and today wasn’t dissimilar. The only change was that now we were trying to ignore Gerard, but even that was sort of routine for us, the rest of the class were loud and frankly not very good at playing the simple songs they were given to try, so we had to try blocking them out too.

 “What if they can play?” Gerard wasn’t going to shut up with his insistent questions.

 “Then they should be clever enough to realise that they could just as easily get out of work by just telling Mr Oats that they have to practise for something, you know he’s more than happy to let people slack off.” My fingers slipped slightly and the chord I played echoed around with what Mikey was playing to make a horribly off key sound. Of course I was instantly angry at myself, I hated that I wasn’t good enough to play it perfectly in the first place.

 “My bad.” Mikey smiled at me and he went back to the beginning of what we had been playing to give me a chance to get it right again. He knew as well as I did that he hadn’t played anything wrong, but he was good enough to me to stop me from getting too angry at myself.

 “So why are you angry at me?”

I wasn’t going to let him get to me, I was trying to block out all his words so that I couldn’t get distracted and couldn’t get it wrong again.

 “You’re not practising for anything, why are you so annoyed about not making it perfect. In fact will you even ever play this again after this lesson? I bet you won’t. You’re just making up little tunes that will go unheard forever so what does it matter if you play perfectly or not?”

 “I think that’s a bad way of making him forgive you.” Mr Oats mentioned in passing, he didn’t even stop to listen to what we were playing, he just went over to the people closest to us to tell them how ’good’ they were doing even though they hadn’t played a single note right yet.

 “People will hear it.” I kept playing, talking when I didn’t have to concentrate on playing so much. “I will make sure they do. I’m going to remember playing this and …” I had to look down before my fingers slipped again but accidently caught a glimpse of Gerard picking away the slightly cushioned seat. “Then I’ll play it to other people and they will play it so it will never be ending so yes, it does matter if I get this right or not!” My voice was louder than the guitar but I felt as though Gerard still wasn’t really listening to me.

 “It won’t sound the same if there’s not a bassist playing with you.” Gerard smiled, thinking that he had me cornered.

 “I’ll play with him.” Mikey didn’t look at either of us; I think he was still sad and angry at us both for fighting. “I’ll play.”

 I smiled slightly but I tried to hold it back. It was nice that Mikey thought he would play with me, but people wasn’t really his thing and I wasn’t sure if he could even perform to the class let alone people that would remember these songs we played forever.

 “Thanks Mike.” There was a smile on my lips as I said it, I wasn’t sure if I was trying not to laugh at the thought of me and Mikey playing to a audience of screaming fans, or if I was just happy that my best friend believed in us. Either way I was happy.

 “Yeah well I think it’s a stupid dream...” Gerard looked away from me and Mikey and went back to just picking at my seat.

 Mikey laughed slightly then thought better of himself and tried to hold it back, but somewhat failed.

 “What was that?” Gerard turned sharply to Mikey.

 “Nothing...”

 “Twat.” I interrupted Mikey. Gerards comment about my dream being stupid really annoyed me.

 “I was just thinking that it’s no more stupid than wanting to be an animator person. That’s hard to do you know, and well, you don’t really stick with things for very long...” Mikey flinched away as he said it; like he thought Gerard would actually hit him; although everyone knew that Gerard would never hurt Mikey.

 “I wouldn’t speak too soon. Don’t you want to be a wrestler?”

 Mikey didn’t reply to Gerard’s comment, he just looked down at his fingers moving gently on his bass.

 I didn’t feel as though I should help Gerard out of his deal with Mr Oats, but when the end of the lesson came around and Mr Oats started over to us to see if Gerard had managed to get me to forgive him yet, I couldn’t let Gerard have to do loads of work. It just didn’t seem fare, seeing as though he had tried a few times to make me talk to him but I hadn’t listened, or he messed it up because he’s an idiot like that.

 “So, what have we learnt about pissing off our friends…?” Mr Oats smiled mockingly at Gerard while everyone else started to pack away the keyboards.

 “Well…” Gerard started to think of a way to argue out of his deal, but I pitied him for some reason.

 “I think he’s learnt a lot actually. Enough for me to forgive him anyway, although why he’s still on my leg I have no clue.” I not-so-gently kicked Gerard so he would move and stand up so Mr Oats would see that we weren’t really fighting anymore.

 Mikey looked at me like I was being crazy but didn’t say anything.

 Mr Oats looked sceptical about our truce, but walked away. He must have known that I would have sworn that Gerard had somehow made me stop hating him, even if it was never true.

 “You’re all free. Run my children…” He called through the noise of the class.

 

The rest of the day Gerard didn’t dare come near me. If Mr Oats saw us fighting again he would no doubt be making Gerard clean his class room, and I would no doubt start an argument with him the second he came near me, even if it meant that I would get in trouble too. I found it hard to understand why he had spent over three hours clinging onto me. He couldn’t really think that I was going to forgive him if he was being such an idiot and making things worse for himself.

 I tried not to think about it while walking home with Mikey, there were other things that I was more tense about.

 “Do you think I should tell Kristin to cancel tomorrow?” I asked Mikey, trying to subtly ask him. I had tried to lead the conversation towards my birthday and the party, but Mikey just wasn’t taking the bait.

 “Why? I thought you were excited about having a proper party for once.” Mikey didn’t look at me as he spoke, he had been like this nearly all day. I got that he was annoyed at me for fighting with Gerard and everything, but this seemed odd.

 “Yeah, well I was, but I just don’t feel like having a party now. Everything’s just so messed up and I just sort of agreed to it so Kristin would be happy and would stop bugging me about it and I was sick and I didn’t know what I was agreeing to and I just don’t want a party. I like it every year when you and Gerard come over to mine and try to annoy me so badly and we all steal the candy we got from trick or treating and we watch the worst films ever made. I like having a birthday like that.” Even I didn’t understand the last part of what I was telling Mikey. I hadn’t realised how much I didn’t want this party until now when it was obviously too late for me to change anything.

 “Yeah. I like your parties too.” Mikey smiled and looked at me for the first time all day. “I don’t think there’s a lot you can do about it now though. You said that your mom was letting you have us stay round after the party anyway. Why don’t we just not go? It’s disguised as a Halloween party anyway so no one will know any better if we’re not there.” We stopped to wait for the cars to pass us before we continued walking.

 “I don’t want to make you miss out.” It was true, but I got the feeling that Mikey didn’t want to go anyway.

 “Why would I be missing out?” He sounded truly confused.

 “Well you know. It’s a big party and everyone is going to be there and your girlfriend is going to be there. You’d just be missing out like we have for every other big party that happens around here.” I felt like I was telling Mikey this for the thousandth time. We never went to parties, sometimes because my Mom didn’t want me to go, and Mikey refused to go without me so we both just stayed home and watched stupid films and played silly games. I couldn’t make him miss more of his own life.

 “I don’t care. It’s your birthday Frankie. I’m not going to ditch you to spend time with people I don’t like anyway, even if that is what society wants.” He bumped his arm into mine, making me smile. Of course I knew that Mikey would never just leave me and I knew that we were always going to be friends, but I liked that he knew it too.

 “Kristin would be upset with me.”

 “Why?”

 “Well she planned this whole thing for me and now I’m just telling her that I’m not going to go. And I’m stopping you from going; she’ll be annoyed about that too.” I told myself to stop pushing this, I didn’t want to go anyway but all I could think of were reasons why I should go.

 “Kristin has a Halloween party every year; she’s not gone to extra trouble to do this party. All she did was tell you that it was a party for your benefit, but no one will know it’s for your benefit.” Mikey was getting annoyed now, he didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to go so we should just drop the subject, but I wasn’t, and it was annoying even me.

 “Okay. I know. I just feel bad anyway.” I looked at the floor as I walked, trying to concentrate on where I was going rather than tomorrow and having to make a final decision as to whether to go or not. I was just thinking about the floor.

 “You’re not going straight home are you?” I had unlatched the back gate and walked partly into the garden expecting Mikey to follow me, but he had just kept walking towards his house. He never went home after school; he always came over to mine.

 “Yeah, you are too. I told my Mom that you were having a party tomorrow but it wasn’t really a birthday party and she was like ‘no cake?’ so she’s made you a cake and your mom helped and it’s meant to be a surprise but I think I just ruined it.” Mikey smiled at me like it was no mistake that he had just told me everything.

 I wasn’t a big fan on surprises. They were fun but I always hated it when people spent time on me, it just seemed like people had far more important things to do with their lives than make me happy. It was a waste of perfectly good time to me.

 “But my Mom doesn’t get home from work until six…” I wanted to go to my house, I liked my house. I liked Mikeys house as well, but Gerard was there and Darcy was at my house.

 “Fine. You go home, I’ll go to mine.” Mikey rolled his eyes at me and started towards his house again.

 “That’s not how it works. You come to mine as well. Otherwise it will be obvious when I just randomly turn up at your house in a few hours. If you come round mine then it will just look like I’m going over to yours to hang out. Less like I know something is happening.” I tried to sound logical, but it wasn’t really working.

 “Fine. But I told everyone that I’d make you come over straight after school and then your mom would come over and then we’d do the whole surprise thing.” Mikey sighed but walked back to me anyway.

 Darcy didn’t bark when I put my key in the lock like she always did. She was probably asleep somewhere but I didn’t like it, it was just creepy not hearing her bark and run up to the door to meet me and make Mikey feel awkward, well, more awkward than normal. It almost felt like I was going into a different house, but I knew this was my home; I wouldn’t just mess up which house I went to.

 “Darcy?” I called when Mikey followed me into the hallway, but she didn’t come running up to me, she only barked from the kitchen.

 Mikey closed the door loudly behind him and looked around me to the Kitchen. “Why’s your dog not running full pelt at us?” He asked, hinting for me to go into the kitchen.

 I knew there was no one in the house but me and Mikey, but I was still nervous as to why Darcy wasn’t running at us, it made me think that something bad had happened, or was about to happen.

 “SURPRISE!” The second I turned on the kitchen light to see where Darcy was I found a gathering of people squashed into the room, including Gerard who was crouched down on the floor holding Darcy back from running at me.

 Mikey stood behind me, trying to hide a grin, having made me believe I was safe from a birthday party for a few hours.

“Oh…” I was surprised, and I tried to make it look like I was happily surprised, but I think it was obvious to a few people that it was just me being disappointed that I didn’t have a few hours of peace.

 “Happy... um... what is this?” Mr.Way smiled at me, putting a hand on Gerard’s shoulder as a sort of indication to let his hold on Darcy go.

 As Gerard unhooked his fingers from Darcy’s collar and stood up I couldn’t help but meet his gaze, he looked happy? Almost the exact opposite of what the expression in my eyes was, I hoped no one could see it.

 “It’s an early birthday party.” Mom smiled holding her arms open as if expecting a hug. The look on her face was wonderful. She looked so happy, I honestly couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t look stressed or worried or angry. It was nice.

 Darcy got the first hug though; I had no choice when she ran at me. I had almost forgotten to open my arms and catch her. It should have been an automatic reaction after Gerard had released his hold on her. The force of a large dog flinging herself onto me almost toppled me over, but I was used to her doing this, so I just stood in front of family and friends with an oversized dog in my arms, trying my hardest to smile.

 “Sometime I think you love the dog more than me.” Mom smiled as though she was joking, but as I dropped Darcy I noticed a hint of real concern in her voice. She must have known that I loved her more though, if I knew it she surely did.

 “Thanks Mom.” I smiled, hugging her tight before letting her go and looking around at everyone else there. “So Mikey said there would be cake?” I half laughed, looking around for a large cake, but found nothing of the sort.

 “Mikey said what?” Helena, Mikey and Gerard’s grandma, half yelled half smiled. She winked at me and Mikey who was now standing next to me.

 The rest of the room turned to look at Mikey.

 “What? So I told him there was going to be a surprise party, but I told him that it was at our house at six, so technically I didn’t tell him anything about this party... so it was still a surprise?” Mikey smiled like his rushed excuse for telling me everything was good enough.

 I noticed Gerard looked like he was about to say something, probably insulting, to Mikey, so I changed the subject, or rather reverted it.

 “So, seriously. Where’s the cake?” I smiled; trying to make it sound like I was being serious, but it was obviously a joke.

 “Games first.” Mom put her hands over my eyes and led me to the living room and spun me around. “Know where you are?”

 I knew exactly where I was. Facing the god awful school pictures of me from every year in high school.

 “Yeah.” I had been living in the same house for almost twelve years with two of the most stupid friends one could hope to have, of course I knew where I was. Mom didn’t believe me though, I heard her laugh as she humoured me, and there were a few other laughs. I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. I didn’t like it.  I tried to pry Mom’s hands off my face.

 “Okay. Eyes open.” Mom took her hands away from my eyes so I could see what was basically the same room I saw every day.

 There was a happy birthday banner I recognised from Mikey’s birthday little over a month ago. A few presents on the arm chair and people crammed onto every available seat, including the floor.

 “I like it...” It felt like the right thing to say.

 Everyone smiled at me before Mom ushered me over to the seat with the presents and pushed me to sit down.

 “I suppose these are for someone else... seeing as though it’s not my birthday until tomorrow.” I held the presents on my lap, feeling everyone’s eyes on me again.

 “It’s only ten hours off.” Mom smiled, nodding as if I should open the presents.

 “I’d feel bad, opening them early.” My hands felt like claws gripping the presents. All I wanted was to go upstairs and relax, maybe talk to Mikey, or Darcy, whoever was more willing to listen. But here I was, sat with all these people looking at me, expecting something from me.

 “Just open the big one...” Ray spoke up from next to Mikey and Gerard on the floor. I hadn’t even noticed he was there.

 I properly took in everyone who was there for the first time. I had just seen people before, people I didn’t want to see. There was obviously my Mom, Mikey and Gerard. But there was also my Grandma, Ray, Mr and Mrs Way, Helena, and someone who I presumed was my cousin who was going to school in New York with one of her friends. More people than I thought would have come to a party for me.

 “Just this one?” I pointed to ‘the big one’ which was a box, maybe a puzzle? But it didn’t rattle like a puzzle would have.

 “Open it already Frankie. Not all of us are only just turning fourteen.” My Grandma smiled at me although she sounded grumpy. She reminded me that I wasn’t even fourteen yet. Not until tomorrow, I felt so young.

 “Alright, alright.” I placed the other presents on the floor next to me and shook the box slightly, trying to listen for what it was before ripping the wrapping off of it and revealing a twister game. It was a simple present but I liked it. “So, who wants a game?”

  There was still laughing coming from the kitchen at half ten. I had expected a simple party, maybe a cake with my face on it, and it was, but this was better. It wasn’t really a party for me, I liked that. Everyone was just talking and laughing and trying to understand what Grandma was talking about. It was fun.

 I was sitting on the back step, watching the few stars that were visible through the cloud cover. It was cold, but I needed the fresh air, so I stayed outside a little longer, listening to everyone having a good time inside.

 My cousin and the girl she had come with, who turned out to be her girlfriend, left around half an hour ago but everyone else was still sitting around the kitchen table talking. No one noticed when I quietly muttered something about being right back and left.

 Darcy was sat at the back door; I could see her through the little glass bit on the door. Just a blur to me. She looked odd, darker than usual, but that was probably because there was no light in the hallway where she was sitting.

 Other than her I was sure that no one knew I was gone, but when the back gate opened I was sure that my cover was blown.

 “Mind if I sit out with you?” Gerard hung off the back gate, looking at my feet.

 He must have gone all the way around the front to come and find me here. I wondered why he hadn’t just walked out the back door if he wanted to hang out outside for a bit.

 “If you want.” My mind told my mouth to say something different but it got lost in translation and sounded like I wanted Gerard to sit with me.

 He closed the gate, fiddling with the catch before turning on his heels and coming to sit next to me.

 “Your cousin’s hot.” He said it as though it was natural, although for him I suppose it was. He waited for me to talk back, but I didn’t have any words. “Although she looks a bit like you, just... taller, and skinnier.” He poked my arm as if to say that I was fat or something, so I shrugged him off. “Shame she’s a lesbian though. And not single. Or is that a shame? The other one was quite hot too. You don’t suppose...” Gerard trailed off, probably lost in some sick fantasy.

 “I'm tired.” I wasn’t sure if I said it out loud or not, if I had Gerard didn’t hear me.

 “I think I’ve decided that it is a shame. I think I’d just end up getting slapped if I mentioned anything to either of them...”

 I didn’t want to listen to Gerard talking about having a threesome with my cousin and her girlfriend anymore. I didn’t really want to listen to Gerard at all.

 “Am I invited tomorrow?” For the first time it sounded like Gerard was talking to me, rather than just talking.

 “Well, I doubt you can just stop existing for the day...” I didn’t understand what Gerard was talking about, was he asking my permission to be alive tomorrow? What was there for me to invite him to tomorrow?

 “I could try but I won’t.” He paused again, waiting for my input. “To that party? The one that Mikey’s slutty girlfriend is throwing for you.” He waited again, although I think he knew that I wasn’t going to answer him. “What if I went anyway? Would you be mad?” The tone of his voice made me think that he didn’t want me to be mad, especially not with him, but I wasn’t going to promise him anything, even though I wanted to.

 Gerard didn’t say anything after that. He looked like he was thinking about going back inside, like he didn’t want to be outside, maybe because he didn’t want to be with me, maybe because it was too cold. The way he sat just looked unnerving, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be sitting next to him more than he didn’t like being next to me.

 The door handle rattled, I turned around to see someone, I assumed it was Mikey, standing beyond the door. I shuffled slightly so that he could open the door, but Gerard stayed where he was, so when Mikey pushed the door open he was pushed of the step and onto the floor. I smiled slightly.

 “I think we’re going home soon. Ray needs to get home.” He smiled, but it wasn’t happy. He saw the tension still between me and Gerard and I knew it upset him but I just couldn’t find a way to end it.

 “Okay.” It was the most I could say before standing up and making my way back to the kitchen where everyone was just how I left them. Mikey and Gerard followed slowly after me. I got the feeling that they weren’t on good speaking terms at the moment which made me feel even worse. Mikey was my best friend, sure he was, but he was still closer to Gerard than he was to me, and I was just ruining that for them both. I couldn’t seem to do anything without making a mess of it lately. 

The End

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