At first, the notes are so familiar they don't even register in Frank's mind. He's heard them so many times; from when Mikey's fingers were stumbling over the strings clumsily, until they flowed out as easy as breathing. It takes a few bars before Frank even realises he's hearing one of those songs, one of Mikey's songs.
When it hits him, he nearly drops the CD he's holding. He spins around, glancing up and down the aisles of CD racks like he could pinpoint exactly where the sound is coming from. That's when he sees the music video for The Used's The Taste Of Ink playing huge and bright on the massive screens that hang from the ceiling of the music store.
It's the first time he sees Mikey's face on television.
"Holy shit," Frank swears, already scrambling for his phone. He hits Mikey's number, wishing he could take a photo at the same time.
On the televisions, the camera swings past Bert's face screaming, and there's Mikey's image splashed across the screen, his brow furrowed, reflections flashing in his glasses. He looks… well he looks like Mikey, a little glossier, a little more attitude, but Mikey.
And he looks fucking cool.
"Fucking rockstar." Frank beams at the screen, the phone warm against his ear as he waits for-fucking-ever for the call to connect, willing it to hurry up, it would suck if the song ends before he gets Mikey on the line.
Finally, he hears the click of the connection, "Mikey, I'm-" he breaks off when the phone squeals a tone in his ear, and a cold voice tells him the number is no longer connected. Frank stares at the phone in confusion for a long moment, then he tries again, but with exactly the same result.
The third time he tries, he has to admit the number is dead. He snaps a photo of Mikey's face on the screens with his phone camera and tries to stamp down his disappointment. He'll email it instead.
He never does get a reply to that email.
January 13, 2007
The jukebox at Dino's is anything but subtle. It's an old clunker that should have been ushered into a relaxing retirement by now, but Bob insists that it has character, so it remains in the bar. So between songs, when it should smoothly change from one album to another, there's a long, loaded silence and a lot of audible clicking and shuffling. Frank has plenty of warning that it's coming, but it still takes Frank by surprise to hear familiar chords when they fill the air of the bar.
He glances at Ray, who has of course noticed the song that's playing and is bouncing his head along to the rhythm lines as if Mikey were here to play them.
There's a twist in Frank's stomach, but he asks the question anyway, because apparently he's a masochist. "So, when was the last time you heard from Mikey?"
Ray shrugs, stirring some sugar into his coffee. "I don't know. It's been a while. Maybe a year? Fuck, no, more that that, I think." He blows back the froth on the top of his mug. "How about you?"
Frank frowns, he doesn't need to do the math, but pretends he does. "Nearly two years now, since I've had a working number for him."
"You mean you didn't just get his new number off Gee?" Ray asks, like it's no big deal.
Frank traces his thumbnail down a scar in the table. "I've done that three times now. I shouldn't have to keep doing that."
"Yeah, I'm sure it's way more fun to just get pissy about it."
"I'm not pissy."
"You are so pissy. Come on, Frank, they were recording, then touring nonstop, he's probably got a million things going on. I doubt he's ignoring you on purpose."
"But he is ignoring me."
"You can't call it ignoring if you're not actually contacting him. That's more like mutual non-communication."
Frank spins the sugar jar violently between his fingers. Ray reaches over and settles his hand on the lid, stilling it. "You want to talk about this?"
"No," Frank says, resolute, releasing the sugar jar to Ray's careful hands and slumping back in the booth. "I really don't. Tell me about your new band."
Ray hesitates, obviously fighting between pulling the truth out of Frank and his own untamed enthusiasm for his new project. In the end, enthusiasm wins out over concern, for which Frank will be eternally grateful. "I think we're going pretty well. What did you think of that demo I sent you? It's pretty rough, just a home studio job but-"
Frank snorts, cutting Ray off mid-sentence. The only way the demo Ray gave him could be considered rough was the way it was labelled in sharpie instead of being a pressed and printed CD. The tracks were perfectly recorded and the songs were hard, fast, and full of awesome guitar solos. "Bullshit it's rough, it's fucking awesome. I loved it. Sort of MC5 with a little Stooges thrown in. Rough dirty rock. You gonna shop it around?"
It's not like Frank was going to say anything but good things, but Ray still smiles like the string of compliments is a surprise. It lights up his face so much it's like trying to stare into the sun. He rubs his hands together. "Not yet, we just want to like, be a band first, play some gigs, find a groove. Besides, we still need a rhythm guitarist."
"Who was I hearing on the demo?"
Ray's cheeks darken. "Oh, that was just me."
Frank snorts out a laugh. He totally knew it. "You mean you're not going to be able to play both parts live?" he asks with a smirk.
"Not without growing another pair of hands," Ray says, tossing a napkin at Frank.
"Got anyone in mind?" Frank asks, turning his mug 180 degrees.
"Oh, I don't know, it'd be better if it was someone local, who can shred like a motherfucker."
"Yeah, plus we don't exactly have a lot of cred, so it'd be good if he had some tattoos, and you know, everyone else in the band is pretty normal sized so it'd be great if we could find a midget, or maybe someone just really, really short," Ray says, and Frank can see the smile tugging at his mouth.
It's really fucking sweet that Ray is just not giving up on this, but Frank's not changing his answer.
"I'm not joining your band, Ray." He keeps his voice flat.
"You still haven't given me a good reason," Ray prods, leaning forward on his elbows and pinning Frank with a serious look.
"I gave you plenty, dude. Number one being no fucking time. I'm teaching five days a week and I've got grading and lesson plans on weekends. I'm fucking useless for tours."
"And I'm not?" Ray says, his voice pitching up in a squeak. "Between my hours at the store and my regular students I'm fucked for touring too. It's not that kind of gig, Frank, we're talking evenings and weekends. The rest we'll figure out as we go along. It's not about living it twenty-four seven. It's for the love."
Frank shakes his head, picking at the scar in the table with annoyed motions. "If you're not gonna live it twenty-four seven, then what's the point?"
"Because it's more fun than sitting on your ass in your living room playing old songs trying to remember how once upon a time you could've made it? It's not like you're gonna stop playing, that'd be like asking you to stop breathing."
Frank scowls at the table. Fuck Ray for knowing so much.
Ray taps the table until Frank finally drags his gaze up to look at him. Of course, Ray being Ray, he doesn't look angry, or satisfied, or even disappointed. He just looks earnest. "Just say you'll think about it, okay?"
Frank nods, because he's not going to pick a fight with Ray over this and he can't bring himself to lie out loud. He's already firmly dismissed the idea though, and he won't be changing his mind.
Mikey's got the right idea. If you're going to play, then play - live it, eat it breathe it, even if it swallows you whole and leaves nothing of you for anything else.
Even if it costs you your best friend.
It's not supposed to get this hot in Jersey.
Frank drops his feet into the tepid water, gravel under his fingers as he drifts his feet back and forth, toes brushing undergrowth. The creek that runs round the back of the old estate is so low it's barely deep enough for swimming, so Frank's just rolled up his jeans to dunk his feet in. If the water level were higher he'd go in.
Mikey won't, but Mikey never goes in the water, even when it's boiling hot. He'll sit on the bank, brow dotted with sweat and wave Frank off, tell him he's fine. Right now he sits a few feet back from the shoreline, his skinny jeans dirty at the knee and ass from sitting in the dirt.
Frank leans back, closes his eyes against the too-strong sunlight, seeing the red glow of blood through his eyelids.
"So, are you gonna fuck her?" he asks, reaching back for the thread of conversation they'd lost.
"Michelle?" Mikey's brows draw together, pressing a deep crease in his brow. "Why would I, I mean... why would she-?" He palms a handful of hair back from his face, letting the question hang.
Frank shakes his head. Mikey is so fucking oblivious sometimes. "She's so hot for you, dude. You should go for it. Cash in your V-card"
Mikey wrinkles his nose. He's huddled by a too-short bush, with the hood of his hoodie up like that could protect against the pounding sun. "I don't like her like that."
Frank kicks his leg out of the water, wiggling his toes. "Fair enough. How about Miranda?"
Mikey just shrugs. If Frank were talking about comic book characters or the best grisly deaths in a horror movie Mikey would be stumbling over himself to get the words out. He never wants to talk about girls.
"Prom's only a few weeks away dude, we have to find you a date."
Mikey shifts again, drawing up his knees and wrapping his arms around his legs. He rubs his nose on the dirty knee of his jeans. He might as well be hanging out a sign for Frank I don't want to talk about it, but Frank's done with being subtle.
"You going with Jamia?" Mikey asks in a monotone.
Frank shrugs and says, "Probably." Jamia's not his girlfriend, exactly. She's a girl who is his friend, practically from the womb. It’s just the fact that she's a girl and he's a boy that means they're constantly getting mistaken for a couple. "You know, she's got a lot of cute friends, I bet we could get you-"
"No," Mikey butts in, too quickly, and Frank stops talking.
"Just a thought." It's a peace offering.
"It's cool." Mikey shrugs again. "I probably won't go." He tilts his head, expression going distant, and Frank watches as he gets up, nearly running back to the tree where they left their schoolbags. Well, as close to running as Mikey gets, which isn't that close. It's more an awkward scramble of arms and legs. Mikey's a weird looking dude, kind of like the guy in Willy Wonka who shrinks himself with the shrink ray and then gets stretched back out to normal size like chewing gum. He scrambles for his bag, digging through it for a while before holding up his phone and frowning at the screen.
"Thought I heard it ringing," he explains, stuffing it into the pocket of his hoodie and coming back to flop beside Frank in a small cloud of dust.
"Who'd be calling you, anyway? We're supposed to be in class." Frank wiggles his toes under the water, cool against his skin even as a trickle of sweat runs down his back between his shoulder blades.
Mikey's hand brushes the outside of the pocket holding his phone, like he's checking it's still there. "Gee sometimes calls between classes, just in case. "
Frank doesn't know Mikey's brother Gerard all that well, he went off to art school not long after Frank and Mikey started hanging out, so Frank's really only gotten glimpses of the weird, smelly, hermity dude Mikey talks about so much. He knows him more from Mikey's stories.
"You miss him something fierce, don't you?"
Mikey bites his lip, nodding a little. One more thing he doesn't want to talk about. This time Frank doesn't push, he just reaches into the pocket of his hoodie to dig out his cigarettes. He lights two, giving one to Mikey who takes it with a small smile. They smoke quietly, the sounds of the crickets echoing around them and Frank wonders if Gerard is missing Mikey too. He probably is, Frank decides; after all, they're brothers.
He can't help being a little jealous of Gerard for that. "I'm way cooler than your stupid brother anyway, and I’m right here." Frank points out with a wave of his smoke.
"Don't badmouth my brother." Mikey says, his protective streak a mile wide, "he's way cooler than you."
"Believe what you wanna believe, sucker, but you know what, Mikes?" Frank waits until Mikey turns his bored expression toward him, "I'm the one who's gonna get you laid."
Mikey snorts out a laugh, which is exactly the outcome Frank was aiming for.
Frank sticks his fist out and Mikey dutifully fistbumps him. Good boy. "You and me, right Mikes?" Frank poses the question, already knowing the answer.
"Yeah," Mikey chimes in, grinning around his cigarette, "fuck everybody else."
January 15, 2007
The bell sounding startles Frank more than his students. He drifted off somewhere between "turn over your papers" and what should have been "pencils down." He swallows down a curse - he's pretty much trained himself out of swearing by now, thank god - and stands up at the desk.
Show no fear, he reminds himself. He dusts his hands on his trousers and announces, "Pencils down, pass your papers forward."
He can see the kids are antsy to get out, but he doesn't hurry, collecting the papers and shuffling them into a stack before he dismisses the class.
While the rest of the kids rush the doors like it's a show they want barrier for, one kid hangs back. Dylan reminds Frank of himself at that age. He's even wearing Frank's old uniform of jeans with the knees ripped out and a band shirt. He's got his test in one hand, and a stack of books under his arm. "Mr. Iero?"
"What's up, Dylan?"
"I didn't get this right. I just, I know I messed up the last question - is there any way I can do it again?" His face is all screwed up like it might crack.
" I'm sorry Dylan, but if I give you more time on it it's not fair to everyone else."
"But I know exactly what I did wrong."
"Yeah, I'm sorry. It's just not fair." Frank shakes his head. "That question's only worth three points anyway, and if you've shown your work you might get partial credit."
Dylan bites his lip and hands Frank the test. Frank glances at it - yeah okay, he did screw it up, but he doesn't let that show on his face.
"Thanks anyway," Dylan says, and starts to shuffle toward the door.
Frank's gaze falls to the books under his arm and the cover of one catches his eye. "Hey, is that-?"
Dylan pauses, shifting the books and Frank can see he's covered one of his notebooks with a poster of a band. It's one of those shots where they're all standing glaring up at the camera, and one of the faces in the picture Frank knows.
"Bert McCracken?" Dylan asks, skimming the notebook out and handing it to Frank, pointing to the guy in the centre of the photo. But it's the guy he's standing next to that Frank can't stop staring at.
It's Mikey, and fuck, it's a wonder Frank recognised him at all - he's not wearing his glasses and he looks totally different.
Frank taps Mikey's chest in the photo. "No, Mikey Way. We went to high school together."
Dylan arches a brow in what is clearly a sure you did kind of way, but asks, "So you're going to their show next month then?"
"They're playing here?" Frank's usually pretty good at keeping up with which bands are coming through town, but it's the beginning of the semester so he's barely been able to sleep, much less read music news.
"Yeah, at Starland." Dylan's look is sceptical. He probably thinks Frank is making it all up.
This is the point where Frank should tell Dylan that he and Mikey aren't really in touch anymore, but he just can't say the words. Instead, he just shrugs and says "Probably," like he goes to Mikey's shows all the time. Like it's not a big deal.
"Right," Dylan says, and there's an awkward moment, broken by the minute bell. It's more of a relief than Frank would like to admit.
"You should get going, you'll miss your next class."
"It's study hall anyway." Dylan shoulders his bag and Frank doesn't realise he's still holding Dylan's notebook until he tugs it from his hand on his way out.
Frank leans back on the desk for a moment. It still doesn't fit in his brain, that Mikey is someone whose face could be on one of his student's notebooks, that Mikey is actually a celebrity that kids like Dylan look up to.
He shakes his head like he could shake out the thoughts and goes back to his desk, pulling out his lesson plan and trying really hard to think of something else.
The rest of Frank's classes speed by in a blur of lectures, assignments, and quizzes. He's got a sheaf of documents under one arm, the ground soft under his Chucks as he makes his way to his car, when he hears his name being called.
Frank turns around to see Dylan running at him, cheeks pink in the cold air. "Sorry Mr. Iero, I just-" Dylan nearly topples when his foot hits a pothole and Frank reaches out a hand to steady him.
"It's all right, I'm not in a rush. What is it?"
"Was it true, what you said about knowing Mikey Way?"
Frank raises an eyebrow, giving the kid a look instead of actually saying do you think I would make that up? aloud.
"Okay, um, it's just." Dylan fidgets. "I am like, a really, really big fan of his band. Major. Their music really helped me through some sh- um, stuff and I just - I didn't get a ticket - to the show, so if there was anything you could do..."
Frank gnaws his lip. Now he feels like a total asshole for leading the kid on. God, he should really come clean; Dylan's got a better chance of getting a ticket from a scalper than from Frank. He opens his mouth to say the words, but they stick in his throat.
Dylan just looks so hopeful. It's an echo of Frank's sixteen year old self, the tiny, angry kid who used to sneak out to shows with his bad dreadlocks and chipped black nail polish.
"I'll see what I can do." The words are out before he's even finished thinking them and Frank's a goddamn idiot.
Dylan's already beaming at him and Frank chokes out, "Don't get your hopes up, okay? He's really hard to get in touch with." But Dylan's bouncing in place, eyes bright and smiling wider than Frank's ever seen.
"Thanks so much, Mr. Iero, holy sh- I mean, wow. Thank you."
He takes off before Frank can try to get his hopes back down. Frank sighs, calls himself a few more choice nouns he wouldn't say in front his students, and heads for his car.
Frank paces the length of his living room and back again four times, his phone in his hand, thumb hovering over the send key.
It's Gerard's number on the screen.
Frank doesn't have a working number under the "mikeyfuckingway" contact in his phone. He's thought about deleting the contact a bunch of times, but he's never managed to bring himself to do it.
The number Frank used to send texts to in high school stopped working about six months after Frank started seeing Mikey on MTV. The second number he had for Mikey worked for about a year. The third one didn't last six months, by which time Mikey had stopped responding. Frank's still not entirely sure why, but he refused to ask for a new one.
Gerard's number hasn't changed, but then, Gerard's not a rock star. He writes comic books that are pretty popular, as comic books go, but he's not exactly a celebrity outside of comic book conventions.
All Frank has to do is ask Gerard for Mikey's new number. Better yet, he can just ask Gerard for tickets to the show. Gerard can say no and then Frank can tell Dylan that tried - and he did try - and that will be it.
Or he could just not call and tell Dylan the same thing.
The thought is tempting for about a quarter of a second, but no, he really, really can't do that. He's a shitty-ass liar and it would be downright unethical to lie to a student.
"Man up, you fucking pussy." He tells himself, and hits send.
It rings four times. Gerard's voice is muffled when he answers, like he's got his finger over the mouthpiece or something. "'Lo?"
"Gerard?" Frank's voice comes out too high and strained. "Hey, um, it's Frank. Frank Iero."
Gerard laughs, light and musical. "I know who it is, Frankie, fuck, I've still got your number in my phone."
"Wow, how long have you had that phone?"
"Oh it's new, but my assistant is fucking magic, she makes all my numbers come back whenever I switch phones."
Oh, Gerard has an assistant. Comics must be doing okay then. "Cool. Hey, I saw Umbrella Academy got optioned for a film version, congrats, man."
"Oh god, it's such a fucking nightmare. They keep calling me in for fucking meetings and they want to change everything and fucking - ugh. Anyway, you don't need to hear that shit. You hear Mikey's in town next month? You're coming to the show, right?"
"Um." Frank's voicebox seizes up. Fuck, it's really going to be this easy? "Well, I don't have tickets-"
"Don't be a dick, Frank, we'll put you on the fucking list. Mikey's been asking about you, you know?"
"He has? I mean, I haven't-" Frank has to stop, take a breath. That doesn't fit in with the picture in Frank's head. The one where Mikey's got a whole new life now, the life of a fucking rockstar, and there's no space it in for Frank. "I haven't heard from him."
"You haven't? Oh, um, I just thought- look never mind. You're on the list, you need a plus one? Fuck, I'll just give you one, bring whoever. Stick around afterwards, there'll be some kind of after-thing and Mikey will want to see you. Okay?"
Frank's about to say something, not sure yet if he's going to argue or agree, but he has to hold the phone away from his ear when Gerard starts shouting "No Tricia - not the blue one, can you get-" he drops his volume a little, "Sorry Frank, I've gotta - big deadline, you know? So sorry, but come, okay? You're on the list, it'll be really good to see you, dude. Promise?"
Frank's breath sticks in his throat, but he manages to make his voice work. "Sure Gee, I'll see you then."
"Great! Tricia! Tricia, no not-" His voice cuts off as Gerard hangs up, and Frank is left staring at the screen of his phone as it goes blank.
Now he kind of has to go to the gig, and he's going to have to see Mikey as well.
He's not sure how he feels about either of those things.
Frank calls Dylan over at the end of fifth period, as the rest of the kids are making their way out the door.
"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" Frank asks Dylan.
Dylan clutches his books to his chest, a deep furrow in his brow. "Whatever order you like, sir." There's something hopeful in his eyes though.
Frank swallows, may as well be honest. "I can get you into the Used gig, but-" he raises a hand, even as he can see Dylan starting to bounce on his heels, "I have to go to, 'cause the tickets are in my name. You'd have to go to a show with your English teacher."
"No way." Dylan doesn't look unhappy about that at all. He doesn't seem to have processed everything Frank's said, he's just beaming up at Frank. "You got guest list tickets?"
Frank hadn't actually thought about it like that, but, "Yeah, I guess that's what they are."
Dylan freaks out good and proper then. "No way. No way. Holy sh- I mean, wow. Mr Iero. Wow, that's so amazing. Oh my god, my friends are going to be so fuc- I mean, holy - wow. Just. Wow."
"I'll need to talk to your parents, obviously,” Frank says, trying to force the words between Dylan's happy exclamations. Frank's not entirely sure how going to a rock concert with a student fits into the whole idea of a responsible student-teacher relationship, but he's not doing anything without talking to the parents.
"Sure of course, you can talk to my mom." Dylan nearly drops his books in his rush to get his phone out of his pocket.
"Dylan, I don't need to talk to her right now. Give me her number, I'll call her when it's not making you late for class, okay?"
"Right of course, yeah." Dylan's still grinning so wide it looks like his face is going to split in two, but he flips open one of his notebooks and scrawls down a number, ripping out the page messily and handing it to Frank. Frank takes the page and Dylan still doesn't leave, just keeps smiling at Frank like Frank just gave him a million dollars.
"If you miss your next class, the deal's off." Frank uses his teacher voice and Dylan juggles his books into place before dashing off, calling more thanks over his shoulder. Frank's smiling when he walks back to his desk to put Dylan's mom's number somewhere he won't lose it.
Okay, so maybe this will be worth it. At least for one of them.
There's a line of kids that winds right to the parking lot when Frank gets to the venue. It's still twenty minutes to doors, so the sea of black hoodies isn't going anywhere yet, but some of them look like they've been there all day - possibly even overnight. Frank's never done the camp out all night thing; he was more likely to try and plough his way to the front the old-fashioned way, through the mosh pit.
He did keep Mikey company one long Saturday waiting to see the Pumpkins - sitting around on the cold pavement outside Madison Square Garden, bored shitless and cold as fuck - but it was worth it for the look on Mikey's face when they were up the front for Tonight, Tonight. Frank remembers bumping elbows with him and grinning right back when Mikey turned that smile on him full beam.
Right now, Frank feels like a conspicuous asshole walking down beside the line instead of joining it, trying to ignore the glares and jealous looks from the kids who've been waiting so many hours to be there. He just tries to act more like a music exec or some kind of VIP than a lowly school teacher who knows someone who knows someone.
The chick at the window is really helpful, handing him an envelope with his name on it and explaining where he can find the backstage area. Because when he opens the envelope there's two tickets, but also two VIP passes. Of course. Frank says thanks to the girl and has to concentrate a little on steadying his breathing. He's not really ready for this.
Dylan's going to flip his shit.
Dylan totally does flip his shit. Frank's caught between laughing at him and feeling embarrassed for him. Then Dylan goes from completely ecstatic to panic in seconds. "But what am I going to say to them?" he asks Frank, eyes wide and manic.
"Just tell them you like their music."
"Do you think I should get them to sign something, or is that like-"
"I'm pretty sure they'll sign your ticket, or whatever, if you want. They're probably used to it."
"Mr. Iero, man you have no idea, this is huge, this is like." Dylan pauses, looking up from his shaky hands to meet Frank's eyes, and says, "This is the best night of my life."
"Maybe you should wait until after the show before you say that."
Dylan just shakes his head. "No way anything's gonna top this. Not a chance."
Frank grins and shakes his head. Sure. It'll probably hold top spot until Dylan loses his virginity. If he hasn't already, that is, kids start young these days.
Their tickets get them in before doors and Dylan races for the front well before the crowd fills out. Frank only stalls him long enough to point out the doors to the backstage area, and tell Dylan to meet him back there after the concert.
The openers are all right, a little rough, full of spit and death metal screaming. The crowd are into it, but not as into it as they are when The Used are announced. The screen in front of the stage goes up, the lights dim and the crowd starts to scream and chant. Frank takes a couple of steps to get a better view of the stage and waits for the stage lights to come on.
When the first figure steps onto the stage the crowd go fucking mental, volume rising and howling like a jet plane about to take off. Kids push to get to the front and Frank tries, then quickly abandons the idea of trying to see Dylan in the crowd. There's just too many of them, all jockeying for position.
More backlit figures carrying guitars step onto the stage and Frank tries to pick out which one is Mikey. He can't really see well enough to tell. Then the final band member takes the stage - no guitar this time, just striding up to the microphone stand. That would be Bert, the singer Dylan seems so taken with.
The drummer bashes in a count and the band burst to life in a howl of guitars and a crash of drums. The stage floods with light and Frank's eyes immediately lock on Mikey. He's slightly stage left, legs in a wide stance, fingers moving fast over the frets of his guitar. Frank knows it's Mikey, but he still has to blink, squint a little against the bright stage lights, because this is not the Mikey he remembers.
Sure, he's seen glimpses of Mikey's new rockstar look in music videos, the odd photo in a magazine, but seeing him live is more of a shock. The familiar hunch of his shoulders is gone, he's standing straight-backed and strong, like his guitar is a shield against the world. His hair is shorter, blonder, but still long enough at the front that it hangs in his face when he's not whipping his head back and forth.
Bert's a real showman, he holds his mic in both hands and shrieks into it like he's expelling demons. He plays up to the other band members, touches them, falls to his knees in front of them. Frank has a hard time keeping his eyes off him, but he's more fascinated by Mikey, how different he is to the awkward kid Frank used to know. He looks completely at home up on the stage, which Frank would never have expected, not after seeing Mikey's early shows where he was all but terrified of the audience.
There's an itch under Frank's skin watching them. He'd dreamed of this for himself, once. Long late nights of band practice, tiny gigs in basement venues; he'd even considered dropping out of college when it looked like it might actually happen. But then Pencey imploded. And it hurt. It hurt a lot, to give up the idea of it all, but it just made more sense to finish his degree, switch into the teaching strand and try to save kids some other way, a more practical way.
He still has both his guitars though, and calluses from playing them regularly. It's not something he'll ever be able to give up all the way.
And it's how Mikey makes his living. Frank still can't get over that.
When the show amps up and they burst into a run of songs Frank knows - songs Frank likes - he lets the crowd sweep him up and winds up at the edge of the moshpit. Fuck it, he decides, and just dives in, bouncing and bumping, copping elbows in the gut and head, but this is the real way to get into a gig, the proper way. He lets the crowd carry him forward, until he's nearly at the stage, until he can see Mikey's blonde head over the sea of kids. He just stops thinking and lets the music wash over him, push him like the crowd, pull him where he wants to be.
It's a fucking good show.
He's sweaty, battered and high by the time Bert says goodnight and the band leaves the stage. The house lights stay off, and the stage lights on, techs slipping onstage to make adjustments - an encore is obvious. Frank makes his way out of the moshpit anyway, thinking a couple of songs to calm down will do him good. As much fun as reliving his high school concert-going days is, he should try for a semblance of responsible adultness before the student he's chaperoning comes back to find him.
The crowd work themselves into a frenzy, chanting and cheering, by the time the band make it back on stage. Mikey's hair is damp and fucked up, like it was tousled with a towel or a hand while he was offstage.
"You want more?" Bert screams into the mic, hair flying as he races across the stage. "You want more, you fuckers?"
Mikey's grinning as he plays into the intro of the next song and Frank's own face stretches into an answering smile. Fuck, he looks good up there. He belongs up there.
Frank gets stuck looking at Mikey onstage, a halo around his head from the hot lights as he looks out into the audience proud and strong, not even his old trademark glasses between him and the crowd. He's fucking made it. Frank's heart squeezes up.
The crowd cheers long after the final song finishes, long after drumsticks and guitar picks are thrown towards eager hands. Frank's heart is still going a mile a minute when the house lights come up. He runs a hand through his hair and it comes back wet. The place empties out pretty quickly, only the hardcore kids down the front trying to score a setlist or souvenir from a kind roadie sticking it out. Frank's scanning the crowd for Dylan when something bumps his arm and he turns around to Dylan grinning at him. He's covered in sweat, hair a wreck and eyes lit up.
"That was fucking amazing! Holy shit, Mr. Iero, that was so good. They were on fire!"
Frank lets the cursing slide and smiles. "They were pretty good. Really tight, very good stage presence."
Dylan grins, "I saw you in the mosh pit, dude, you were into it."
Frank laughs, knowing he can't deny it. "Yeah, okay, I guess I'm a fan. They hit it pretty hard. I'm impressed."
The venue's emptied out fast, and security are already starting to usher people toward the doors. Frank and Dylan make their ways toward the backstage doors. Security take one look at their VIP passes and let them through to the hallway. When Frank sees they're about to pass the bathrooms, he glances at the wreck that is Dylan. "You want to hit a bathroom first?"
Dylan looks down at his sweat soaked shirt. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea."
The venue bathroom is empty, but for a handful of kids on a post-show high, singing snatches of the songs, and yelling at each other about the best parts. Frank waits for a chance at the sinks and splashes some water on his face. Dylan sticks his head under one of the hand-dryers, which is shockingly effective.
Frank dries his face off with the corner of his t-shirt, which pulls his shirt up, flashing the two swallows he's got tattooed on his hips.
"Cool tatts, sir."
Frank meets his eyes in the mirror, but Dylan's expression isn't teasing, just honest.
"Thanks," he says, tugging the shirt down and straightening the hem. It's just a plain black t-shirt, teamed with plain black jeans and a canvas belt. The outfit hovers somewhere between Responsible Adult and Show. It's a far cry from Frank's old concert uniform of ripped up jeans, metal studs and dreadlocks, but he's a pretty far cry from that old life himself. He runs a hand through his hair, too short-cropped to have really gotten fucked up by all the sweat and moshing.
He flicks his eyes to meet Dylan's in the mirror, wiping his palms on the front of his jeans. "You ready?"
"I think so."
Frank takes a breath and tells himself this is no big deal. He's going to see some old friends, that's all.
"Let's go then."
It's easy enough to find the after party. There's nothing else down the hallway but the green room and they can see a few other people with coveted VIP passes is going inside.
Dylan looks sick with nerves as they near the doors. Frank thinks he's doing a pretty good job of not showing his own discomfort. "Hey, there's a chance they won't even be there. There's never a guarantee the band will stick around for these things."
The words don't help, and they're lies anyway. Frank knows at the very least Mikey will be there. That thought isn't helpful as they show their passes and walk through the door.
The backstage area is small but really crowded. There's a guy across the room that looks familiar - he's either a daytime soap star or a radio celebrity, Frank's not sure. Mostly it's people Frank doesn't recognise.
Until a hand grabs his shoulder and a voice says, "Frank?"
Frank turns to find Gerard grinning at him, wide and happy. "You came!"
Before Frank can reply, Gerard catches him in a hug. It takes a moment, but Frank hugs back, mouth stretching into a smile. "Thanks for getting me on the list." He eases back and nods at Dylan, "This is Dylan, one of my students."
"Hey, good show, right?" Gerard smiles at Dylan, and sticks out a hand. "I'm Gerard." Dylan shakes it like he's worried it'll be withdrawn any second, eyes a little wide. Frank figures he either knows Gerard is Mikey's brother or he's a closet comic fanatic. Or he's already starstruck.
"C'mon." Gerard says, "Mikey'll want to see you." He grabs Frank around the wrist and drags him across the room without a backwards glance. Frank glances behind to make sure Dylan's coming, inclining his head furiously to indicate he should keep up with them.
"Mikey! Hey, where's Mikey?" Gerard directs the question at the general crush of people around them.
Frank snares Dylan's wrist so they don't get separated, letting Gerard pull him through the hangers-on. He cops a few elbows and someone splashes their drink on his arm. He glances up to frown at whoever that asshole is and finds himself face to face with Bert McCracken.
Bert grins at him like Frank having a damp arm is fucking hilarious. Gerard glances back to find out why Frank's paused and glares at Bert. "Asshole."
"You love me, Geeway. Just admit your love for me and we can make beautiful assbabies together." Bert reaches over to pinch at Gerard's cheek, but Gerard pulls away with another glare that could melt steel.
He doesn't answer Bert, just turns back to Frank, "Do you know Bert?"
"I think we met once, but it was ages ago."
"Oh hey, you're Frank, right? Mikey's Frank?" Bert grins and spins around, nearly elbowing someone behind him, shouting. "Mikey, your boyfriend's here!"
Frank doesn't blush. He doesn't. He doesn't correct Bert, either, it's all just too weird. There's too much going on; it's all starting to blur around him. It's all a joke everyone but him knows the punchline to. Of course, there's one person here who's even more out of his depth than Frank, and that's Dylan. Focusing on him gives Frank something to concentrate on. He half-turns to find Dylan staring bug-eyed at Bert and Frank forces his mouth to move.
"Oh hey, Bert, this is Dylan - a friend of mine. He kind of likes your music a little."
Bert seems to sense that Dylan is a fan and his attitude slides into something more polite. He sticks his hand out at Dylan and shakes it. Dylan still hasn't actually said anything, and Frank's about to kick his foot to get his attention when Dylan opens his mouth and blurts out "In Love And Death really helped me through some bad shit. So like, thank you, for that."
Bert's smile looks genuine, and he starts to say something about how writing In Love And Death helped him through some bad shit himself, but Frank loses track of the conversation when there's a tug on his arm. He turns around to find Mikey standing right in front of him.
He looks every inch the rock star, from his tight jeans and leather jacket to his bleached hair. It's still strange to see him without glasses - Frank's never noticed exactly how killer Mikey's cheekbones were before. Somehow, though, Frank can still see the kid he grew up with behind the denim-and-leather facade. Mikey actually looks a little tired, light bruises under his eyes and fine lines around them.
"Frank," Mikey says, sounding a little breathless, his mouth stretched in a smile. Frank hugs him before he even realises he's doing it. It's not until he's got his arms around Mikey's too-thin torso and his forehead resting on Mikey's shoulder that he realises just how much he's missed him.
When they pull apart Mikey's still wearing a smile, though it looks a little strained. His mouth twitches like he wants to bite his lip but he doesn't. "Fuck, it's been awhile."
"It has." Frank agrees, "Shit, dude, look at you. You're like a different person."
Mikey laughs, his teeth flashing white in the dim light. "Not that different. It's all window dressing." He pauses, smile fading as he looks Frank up and down. "How are you? God, it feels like forever since I've seen you."
"It has been," Frank agrees. There's more words behind those in his mouth, the questions of why did you disappear? and what did I do wrong?, but Frank doesn't let them out. He turns to introduce Dylan instead, because apparently Dylan's acting as Frank's coping mechanism tonight.
Dylan is less wide-eyed at Mikey, but still pretty wide-eyed. He stumbles over an introduction and Mikey is completely charming with him. He offers to sign his ticket and tells him a few ridiculous stories about life on the road. He calls Jepha over and introduces Dylan to him too, and signals Quinn to come over as well. If Frank's honest, he's pretty charmed by Mikey himself. It was easier to be annoyed with him when he wasn't right in front of him.
Mikey catches his Frank's eye once Dylan is deeply involved in a conversation with Jepha and Quinn. "You still smoke, right?"
"Only tobacco these days," Frank admits.
Mikey smiles, inclining his head toward the exits doors. "Come grab a smoke with me."
Frank turns to check on Dylan and find Gerard waving a hand at him "I'll keep an eye on him, don't worry."
Frank raises an eyebrow. Mikey laughs softly and says, "He hasn't killed any children in at least a few years."
"That's so comforting," Frank says, but follows Mikey outside anyway.
They slip out the exit doors, past a bored looking security guy. Once they're outside, Mikey scoots down to sit on the concrete stairs, his too-long legs stretched out in front of him. There's a chill in the air, but it's nice after the warm crush of bodies inside. Frank drops his ass down beside Mikey on the stairs, reaching for his cigarettes and borrowing Mikey's lighter to light up.
Once he's got some smoke in his lungs he leans back, the concrete gritty under his palms as he lets the smoke drift out from his mouth.
"So, how are you?" Mikey asks,, ashing his own cigarette outside the stair railing.
Frank shrugs and nods, sucking on his smoke instead of answering. He's still not entirely sure why they are having this conversation.
"You're teaching now, right? High school kids like Dylan in there?"
"Yeah, sophmore and junior English," Frank says, his head spinning a little from drawing too much smoke into his lungs. He shakes it out.
Mikey lets out a long breath in a cloud of smoke, shaking his head a little. "That's such a mindfuck."
"What, because I'm teaching? Dude, you're on a fucking headline tour across America. Who's the mindfuck now?"
Mikey bites his lip, glancing sideways at Frank. The way the streetlights bounce off his hair make it look golden. "I think we both are." He takes another drag of his cigarette before crushing it out on the cement. "I'm glad you called Gee. I'm sorry I haven't been in touch." He keeps his eyes down cast, rubbing the cigarette butt out until it starts to come apart. "I got your messages, I just, I don't know… it was all so crazy and then when I wanted to call it felt like it was too late."
"You've been a little busy," Frank says, trying to keep his tone light. If he can joke about it, then it doesn't hurt, right?
"A little," Mikey says, a tiny smile tugging at his lip. He finally tears his eyes from the ground at looks up at Frank. He looks unsure - a familiar enough expression on the old Mikey, but not this one, not polished superstar Mikey.
"I've got a few days off before the next show. I'm staying in town, with Gee, and I'd..." Mikey's gaze slips back the ground, but he pulls it back up again and continues, "I'd like to see you, you know, if you've got time, while I'm here."
Frank's not sure about that, but apparently his mouth is, because he's already saying, "Sure. Yeah Mikes, I'd like that."
"Yeah?" Mikey's smile is genuine and it lights up his whole face. "Awesome. You know, I've missed you. Well, you probably don't know that. I've been shit at keeping in touch - sorry."
"It's okay." Frank says, even though it isn't, even though he has so many questions. He knows Mikey knows how to work a phone. Gerard's had Frank's number this whole time; if he'd wanted to get in touch it wouldn't have been that hard.
It's not the time to ask those questions, though. Maybe they'll never get back to that point again, where they can be straight up with each other like they used to. Maybe they'll turn into those friends who just call and email from time to time, who meet up when it's convenient and talk about bullshit - all skin deep, nothing real. Fuck, Frank doesn't want that.
Mikey shifts on the uncomfortable stairs. He looks tired, but wired. He used to get like this before a show, or when he had to be somewhere he didn't want to be - school, or if he was planning on talking to a girl. He didn't used to get like this with just Frank around. It feels wrong.
"Are you all right?" Frank asks, even though it's probably too soon to ask questions like that.
"Yeah," Mikey answers, too quickly. Not genuine, just rote. Frank doesn't push, though, just shuts his mouth to see if he can get more words out of Mikey. The trick still works. "It's just - being home. It's weird." He glances up at Frank, his mouth pulled a little to the side. "Good-weird. But still, you know - weird."
Frank nods. He can feel it too. The two of them sitting on the back steps of a venue, smoking after a show, sweat drying stiff on his t-shirt. It could be ten years ago - except Mikey was one of the guys on the stage tonight, not one of the kids in the crowd. They don't have X's on their hands to identify them as being underage. Frank's going to go home to a pile of papers to grade and he has to face a roomful of kids to teach tomorrow so he's not even drinking even though he's allowed to now.
"So what's it like, you know, being a rockstar?"
Mikey snickers, arching an eyebrow at Frank. "What's it like being a teacher?"
"You first, mister fucking 'sponsored by Fender'."
Mikey flips him off, but he considers a moment and answers. "The shows are good. I used to be terrified of being onstage, but I think I've got it now. Sometimes, on the right nights, it feels like you're - I don't know - getting your life force charged by the crowd." He shrugs, his hand coming up like he's going to adjust his glasses, and then coming back down like he's just remembered he doesn't have to wear them anymore.
"But what about the rest?"
"Travelling's shit, after a while. It just gets so tiring, you lose track of where you are, the days all blur together. It's like being a werewolf or something."
"Don't you mean a vampire?"
Mikey laughs. "Yeah, okay, if you insist."
Frank laughs, and for a moment the smile lingers on his mouth, and Mikey's does too. It feels good. It feels like old times.
"It'll be nice to have a break though. I mean, I wouldn't change it, not for anything, but I need a break. It'll be nice to be around people who don't care that I'm Mikey Way of The Used, you know?"
"I hear you," Frank says. "It's nice not to be Mr Iero sometimes."
Mikey smiles at him. "I still can't get over that." He shakes his head, making his bangs flop over his eyes. "Frank Iero, corrupting the minds of the young. I bet you're the cool teacher. The one the girls crush on."
"Yeah, I'm such a fucking sex god."
Mikey leans over and bumps his shoulder to Frank's. "You're not bad looking, for a dude."
Frank keeps his eyes downcast, glad for the darkness and the cold night air against his warm cheeks.
"You like it though, right? The teaching?"
Frank leans back, resting his elbows on the stair behind him. "Yeah." His lips stretch into an involuntary smile. "It's fucking hard work, and the kids - they don't appreciate that. They're kids, you know? High school's a shitfight, and it's all about their issues. All you can do is try to force some information into them while you've got the chance. You get one or two good ones for every fifty little shits."
"Like Dylan?" Mikey asks, and yeah. Dylan's a good one.
"Yeah. He'll do okay. He's fucking smart when he applies himself." Frank presses his palm to his face. "Oh god, I can't believe I just said that out loud. Applies himself. I'm such a fucking teacher."
"There's no hope for you now, dude. You gonna start quoting Shakespeare at me?"
"Only if you're nice. I save the Shakespeare for my real friends." Frank regrets the words before they even make it out of his mouth. "I mean- I don't mean-"
"It's okay." Mikey's smile looks strained. "I know what you meant. I've been kind of a shitty friend lately. I'm sorry."
Frank has absolutely no idea how to respond to that. "It's okay," he lies, "I totally didn't miss you."
"I didn't miss you either," Mikey says, twisting the words so Frank can hear the sarcasm. And maybe Frank's a ridiculous sentimental idiot, but it squeezes his heart up a little to hear it, to know the real I missed you hiding underneath. He grabs Mikey by the shoulder and pulls him into a hug, holding him too tight and probably for too long.
"Thanks for coming." Frank feels the words more than hears them, his ear pressed into Mikey's neck.
"Anytime." He says, and he's not surprised to find that he means it.