Word Count: 25k
Summary: Bob is a pre-school teacher who needs nothing and no one. At least that's what he believes.
Notes: Over a year ago I claimed this prompt over at bandom_au, I don't think I've ever seen an AU where Bob Bryar is a preschool teacher, and this needs to be remedied asap. He's the one who said the entire band would probably end up having kids, he's way happier/funnier/smilier than people give him credit for, and I just desperately want to read a story where little children spend their days climbing him, asking for more juice, and calling him "Mr. Bob". Possibly with lisps . Finally I've completed that story, or one that's sort of close to that.
I couldn't have done this without the help, encouragement and advice of romanticalgirl and delphinapterus. Also, huge thanks to sperrywink and themoononastick who went above and beyond with their excellent beta work. Any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Bob hasn't even set down his stuff when Ray comes barreling into the room and says, "You need to come with me; now."
"Hello to you, too. I'm fine, thanks for asking." Bob puts down his stack of files on the desk and sighs when the pile collapses, sending pages slithering to the floor. Ignoring them for now he follows Ray, who's almost running along the corridor toward his own office. He goes inside and Bob increases his pace, expecting burst pipes or someone bleeding or some other imminent disaster. There's nothing. Just Ray perched on the edge of his desk and looking at his computer monitor which shows an electronic flier for an upcoming local gig. Bob stands in the doorway, his heart slowing to a normal pace. "This is your emergency?"
Ray looks over at him. "Who said there was an emergency?"
"You came flying into my room and demanded I follow you. What was I supposed to think?"
Ray pushes his hair behind his ears, looking sheepish. "Sorry. I wanted to show you this. The Rat Catchers are playing next month."
Bob gives Ray an unimpressed look but still moves further into the room, he braces his hands against the desk and peers at the screen. He's read about the band, and is interested enough that he takes a mental note of the time and date of the gig. "You going?"
"Thinking about it." Ray crosses his ankles, one foot over the other. He's wearing polished brogues today, black to match his pants, but his socks are a deep red and decorated with a bright yellow PAC man chasing a ghost. "You should go, get a feel for the place."
Bob remembers watered down beer and frantic kisses, his back pressed against a rough brick wall, one last casual wave at the end of the night. "Been there, done that."
"Yeah?" Ray looks interested, his attention pulled away from the flier to Bob. "You never told me you'd been."
"Nothing to tell." Bob settles into one of the chairs in front of Ray's desk and looks at the brass nameplate that takes pride of place. Principal Ray Toro. Each time he sees it Bob's amazed anew that Ray ended up not only a principal, but a principal of his own private pre-school. It's so different to the plans he remembers Ray making, when Ray was convinced he'd be a rock star one day, dreams that were fuelled by endless amounts of beer and weed. Then again, Bob's plans have changed too. If anyone had told him he'd end up a pre-school teacher in his thirties he'd have laughed in their face.
Ray clicks off the flier, replacing it with the official school logo, and sits back further on his desk, almost knocking over his Jabba the Hutt mug that's jammed full of pens. He gives Bob a searching look. "You've been here all of a few weeks and have already been to Harleys. You'll have stuff to tell."
"Says you." Bob leans back in the chair and looks back at Ray, who seems to think if he stares long enough Bob will tell all. Which isn't going to happen, "I have twelve chairs in my classroom."
"I accepted two late enrolments." Ray doesn't look apologetic exactly, but he does slump slightly, his mouth curled down at the corners. "I know I said ten and this is your first class, but they've nowhere else to go. The nearest open placement is an hour’s drive away and it meant Mrs Gallagher couldn't work and ..."
"Jesus, stop. It's not a big deal." Truth is Bob has always expected more kids, because he knows Ray, who's got a heart so big he'd take in every kid if he could, even if their parents couldn't pay a cent. It's one of the reasons Bob took this job, happy to help out for a semester, while Ray keeps looking for a permanent teacher who doesn't mind the low pay and lack of decent actual benefits. "I take it their files are in that stack you left me?"
Ray nods and slides off the desk. "They're both there. Have a read through, I need to do some actual work."
Bob frowns and pushes himself to his feet. "That's what I was doing until some idiot came running into my classroom like the fucking school was on fire."
Ray clicks his tongue and irritably tugs at his Garfield tie, loosening it a little so he can unfasten the top button of his white shirt. "Language."
"Fuck you," Bob shoots back, flipping Ray off. "I'm going to read through those files and settle in."
"Go for it." Already Ray's behind his desk, forehead creased as he pulls a stack of papers toward him. "If you need anything...."
"I'll work it out myself," Bob says, knowing Ray hasn't heard him, already plunged into the relentless deluge of figures and form filling that takes over the majority of his day. Bob doesn't know how Ray does it, even the amount of paperwork Bob has to do for his kids drives him insane. Which is a thought that has Bob shaking his head, one brief visit and already he's thinking of the kids as his. Sometimes he doesn't know how this is his life.
"You know, I'm a guest here, I shouldn't have to work," Mikey says, busy rinsing off plates. He places each one under the stream, warm droplets of water splashing over his hand.
Jamia grins, flicking at his head with the cloth she's using to wipe down the counters. "You eat here, you clean here."
Mikey picks up another plate, grimacing when his thumb slides through a smear of cold sauce. "I'm still a guest. This is slave labor."
Grin widening, Jamia shakes the cloth over the sink and takes the plate from Mikey. "Think of it as payment for all the nights you sleep over and hog the TV. Speaking of which, go keep Frank company while I make dessert."
"Cake?" Mikey asks hopefully, following Jamia and peering over her shoulder as she opens the fridge.
Without looking back, Jamia uses her hip to bump Mikey away. "Chocolate fudge, now go, before I make you clean the stove."
It's not an idle threat, Jamia's got no problems in setting Mikey to work, and truthfully, he doesn't care, even though the last time he ended up cleaning the stove his fingers were wrinkled and gross for days. Really it's a small price to pay for all the time he spends hanging out. Jamia and Frank's home is small, but it's also warm and so full of love that Mikey relaxes every time he walks in the door.
Head tilted slightly to one side, Mikey listens for Frank. There's no tell-tale footsteps or easy laughter and Mikey goes out on the hunt, tracking Frank down. He finds him in the den, shoes off and bare feet curled against the squishy couch cushions that come complete with an extra covering of dog hair. There's also two dogs lying asleep on the ground, and Mikey steps over them before throwing himself down. Kicking off his own shoes he brings up his feet, rubbing his damp socks over the top of Frank's toes.
"Gross fucker." Frank kicks at Mikey's ankle, and within seconds it's on, the foot battle raging until Mikey is left lying jammed in the corner of the couch, one sock hanging off and Frank tying to stuff the other in Mikey's mouth.
Laughing, Mikey presses his hand over his mouth, says from behind his palm, "I give!"
"Too right you do," Frank says, throwing the sock so it impacts against the wall and then slides down. A last triumphant pose and he throws himself back in his place, reaching for the remote. "Ice Road Truckers?"
Mikey yawns and brings up his legs, mirroring Frank's pose. "Think one of them will go through the ice and drown today?"
"Probably not." Finding the right channel, Frank gives the show all of a few minutes attention before looking at Mikey, who's half asleep already. "Not going out tonight?"
Mikey shakes his head, his hair brushing against plush fabric of the couch side. "Figured I'd crash here, as long as it's okay."
"You didn't go out last night either," Frank says, "And you know it's okay, so what's up?"
"About?" Mikey hedges, because Frank's got that look in his eye, the one he gets when there's not a chance he's going to let something go.
Frank rolls his eyes, calling Mikey out without words. "Mikey."
Mikey tries to wait him out, attention on the creaking ice on TV, but Frank's still staring, and eventually Mikey turns back to him and bursts out, "I don't know. Going out every night isn't cutting it anymore."
"Ah," Frank says, steeple-ing his fingers together and Mikey wants to beat him over the head with a cushion for looking so knowing. Because Mikey's got no idea what's going on, just, he's enjoying hanging at Frank and Jamia's as much as he likes going out and while he's still hooking up and dating, it doesn't seem as satisfying as before.
Giving into the impulse, Mikey grabs a cushion, launching it at Frank's head. "What do you mean, ah?"
Without hesitation, Frank grabs the cushion and throws it right back, saying, "I mean, ah, you're getting ready to settle down." He leans forward, expression schooled into something mock serious. "There comes a point in every boy's life when he wants to settle down. You've got the job and the apartment, now you just need the guy, or the girl, or the blow up doll."
"Fuck off," Mikey says. "I don't need a blow up doll, I still hook up."
"Don't I know it," Frank says, his serious expression shattering into amusement. "I thought you were going to eat that guy last week."
Mikey kicks at Frank's foot. "I was saying goodbye, we'd been talking."
"Saying goodbye with your tongue, right," Frank says with a grin. "You don't say goodbye to me like that."
"I didn't know you wanted me to," Mikey says. "Next time I'll slip you some tongue."
Frank gives Mikey a thumbs up and stretches out so his feet are in Mikey's lap. "Awesome, just tell me first, Jamia will want to watch."
"Sure," Mikey says lazily, and turns his attention back to the TV. "Death by drowning or hypothermia?"
Frank snorts, like the question isn't even worth asking. "Hypothermia, always. And Mikey?" Frank pushes himself up on his elbows, all humor gone and utterly serious. "I'm glad you've stopped chasing the past. It can't be duplicated."
"Pete can't be duplicated," Mikey says, something he knows for a fact, because he's tried. Multiple people in multiple situations and even if the resemblance is there, it always falls apart.
Which has to be a sign that it is time to do something different. All Mikey can do is try.
By the time Bob has read through the files and readied his classroom it's close to five in the afternoon. He's stocked his desk with the essentials and spent almost an hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning against the sand table as he carefully fixed stickers and names to small plastic trays, one for each kid in his class. The hooks in the coat nook have matching stickers and Bob runs his hand over a picture of a red car, trying to iron out the tiniest of wrinkles. The coat hooks themselves are at his waist height and there's a low bench running along the walls, the slats rainbow colored with space underneath for rain-boots and outdoor shoes.
A last critical look at the sticker and he goes back into his classroom, gathering up his bag. Slinging it across his chest he takes a moment to just look around, taking in his room. At the animal alphabet posters he's stuck to one wall and the tiny red chairs pushed neatly under the four small tables -- red, blue, yellow and green -- each one with a container of crayons in the middle. The small touches mean the room is starting to look less bare, and Bob knows that soon the walls will be covered with pictures and enthusiastically crafted projects.
Bob's spent a lot of time planning those projects, pouring over his old text books and searching the Internet for anything new. Often his hands itch to hold drum sticks but he’s learned to ignore that itch and instead he’s copying out plans to make masks out of cereal boxes and feathers, or trying to remember the latest teaching on literacy in pre-school children. Fact is, some of Bob's friends thought he was insane when he gave up teching and playing drums for a mature student teaching course and an uncertain future. And if he's honest, sometimes Bob thinks that they've got a point.
Then he thinks of his training course, the practical lessons where he told stories and painted pictures and ended up with strawberry jelly on his new blue shirt. It's those memories that remind him that while this teaching thing is unexpected, that doesn't mean it's not right.
One final critical look and then Bob forces himself to leave, knowing he's as ready for the next day as it's possible to be. Heading for Ray's office he pulls out his IPod and puts it in his hoodie pocket as he knocks at Ray's open door. It's been hours since he was there but Bob's unsurprised to see Ray's still sitting at his desk, hunched over his keyboard as he deals with last minute issues. Leaning his shoulder against the doorway, Bob says, "I'm done, is there anything you need doing?"
Ray straightens, groaning a little as he stretches his arms in the air. "I'm good, you go home. It'll be a busy day tomorrow."
"Going," Bob says, already putting his ear-buds in his ears. A quick wave and Ray goes back to his computer and Bob heads outside. It's a long walk back to his apartment but he welcomes the chance to stretch his legs. Of course that may change in the winter and if he planned on sticking around Bob would look into buying a car, but he's not and that means walking. Something that's easy when he's got good music blasting in his ears and the late afternoon sunshine turning the world gold.
One of his mom's favourite stories is how on his first day of pre-school Bob refused to give her a kiss before stalking into the school. Each time she tells the story she adds some embarrassing detail, like how Bob was wearing yellow shorts and a cookie monster t-shirt and long socks that wouldn't stay up on his chubby legs. Of course Bob can't remember a thing about that day. What he does remember is his mom's face when she tells the story, how each time she smiles wistfully, her memories preserved and kept sharp.
It's why, despite the drizzling rain and cold breeze, he's standing at the main door of the pre-school right now, his shoulders hunched and hands pushed deep in his pockets as he waits for the first parents to arrive. He knows that for them, this is one of the most important days of their lives.
"This is really happening," Ray mutters again. He's been pacing for almost ten minutes now, walking over the grinning red turtle that's been painted on the soft ground. "Where’s Jamia? She should be waiting too, and what if no one turns up? Or they do and the kids hate the school? I should have stayed a relief teacher, I can't run a fucking school."
Bob digs his thumbnail into a stubborn spot of glue on his middle finger, trying to peel it free. "Jamia’s coming, and you hated being a substitute teacher."
"I didn't hate it," Ray says, and finally stops moving, his feet on the tail of the snake as he adds, "Well, I didn't hate most of it. Some of the schools sucked and I hated that bastard of a principal at Morgandale. Can you believe what he said? That my...."
"That your hair was unprofessional and pre-school kids were too young to enjoy music," Bob interrupts, having heard this story before -- several times, and with varying degrees of swearing depending on how drunk Ray was.
Ray looks at his watch and starts to pace again. "Too young for music. No one's too young for music."
"You know I agree with you," Bob says, standing up straight when he sees a car turn into the small parking lot. "Heads up, we're on."
"Fuck," Ray says quietly, but then, like some switch has been thrown he straightens his shoulders and looks over at the now stationary car, already smiling when a woman gets out and peers in their direction.
"Sorry, sorry. Bob steps to the side when the main door opens and Jamia, the teacher of the school’s second class, steps into view, still fastening the buttons on her grey cardigan. It's got a dragon kitted into one side, the scaled tail wrapping around her body and ending up on her hip. "I was coming out five minutes ago but had to get the dog hair off my ass. Is it all gone?"
She turns, lifting up the cardigan at the back and Bob tries to look without appearing like some kind of pervert. "I can't see any."
"Good." Jamia drops the cardigan and they both watch as the woman goes to the back of the car. Mrs Henshaw Bob thinks, she's got a four year old daughter called Emma, who likes princesses but hates peanut butter.
"I'll just...." Still smiling Ray heads across the playground and waits at the wooden gate, his hand resting on the blue-painted crossbar.
"She's one of yours, yeah?" Jamia says, and Bob nods when a tiny dark-haired girl clambers out of the back seat. She's got her hair in pigtails and her pink Cinderella t-shirt looks brand new. She's also clinging to her mom's hand and takes a step back when Ray opens the gate.
Ray crouches so he's at Emma's level. "Emma, hi. It's lovely to see you again." Emma says nothing, just presses against her mom's leg and Ray gives her a reassuring smile before standing and shaking Mrs Henshaw's hand. "A big day for you both, yeah."
Even from across the playground Bob can see the way Mrs Henshaw swallows and he remembers more details from her file. Single mom, needs to go back to work. Emma is an only child. She's got her hand on Emma's shoulder, holding her close and Bob pats his pocket, checking he's still got his packet of tissues.
"We'll look after her, promise," Ray says and looks over at Bob. "You remember Mr. Bob, Emma? He's going to look after you today."
Taking his cue, Bob goes to meet Emma and her mom. He's not a particularly smiley kind of person, not like Ray anyway, but he flashes Mrs. Henshaw a hopefully reassuring look before crouching to see Emma. "Hi, Emma. I like your t-shirt."
Emma peers back at him, her eyes wide. "It's Cindyrealla. She's a princess."
"I can see that," Bob says seriously. "You know where there's a princess? On your coat hook. Do you want to come and see?"
Emma looks up at her mom, who's blinking hard as she bends and brushes a kiss against Emma's forehead. "Go on, kitten, go see the princess with Mr. Bob. I'll be back for you later, just like we talked."
Bob stands and when Emma holds out her hand, takes it gently in his own as he takes out the tissues and offers the pack. "She'll be fine."
Mrs Henshaw takes a tissue and dabbing at her eyes, says, "I know."
The next half hour is all go. Kids arrive clutching the hands of their parents and Bob goes on autopilot as he greets all his new-comers. Some he leads into the classroom, their tiny hands clutched carefully in his own. Others go in themselves, running toward this new adventure -- Bob organizes them all. He sits Katy next to Emma and extracts Ronan from the plastic play house, relocating him to a table. It's barely controlled chaos as Jed stands at the window and wails for his mom while Lucy manages to spill the container of pens, making them clatter to the floor.
For a moment it seems overwhelming. There's Bob’s diploma kept with his important papers and part of his course involved working in a classroom, but this is the first time he's had a class of his own. It's like he's holding onto twelve live wires, each one behaving in a different way and Bob takes a deep breath before clapping his hands. "Everyone, you need to listen."
Perching on the edge of his desk, Bob pitches his voice over Jed's crying. "I need a helper." Bob glances over at Jed, taking note of the way he's finally looking away from the window. "Who wants to help me take the cover off the sand tray?"
"I can help!" Katy's standing, waving her hands in the air. "Mommy says I'm a big girl who can help!"
"Excellent," Bob says, making no moves from his desk. "One thing first, rule number one in this class. If you want to say something you stay sitting but put up your hand." Demonstrating, Bob raises his own hand. "Can you all do that?"
All the kids put their hands in the air -- even Jed -- and Bob can't help a small smile. "Rule one mastered." Pushing himself away from his desk Bob heads for the sand tray. "Katy, still want to help?"
"Yes." There's a flurry of footsteps and then Katy is standing close to Bob, her hand still held in the air.
Bob looks over his shoulder, and sees his whole class looking his way. He turns, says, "You can all put your hands down, then come over here."
There's an explosion of noise. Chairs being pushed back, feet thudding against the lino and then Bob's surrounded by a crowd of small bodies, kids crowding close to the sand tray. "You all need to take a step back." Gently Bob clears a space until Katy's the only kid standing close. "Ready, Katy?"
Katy nods and grasps hold of the red lid. Bob does the same, making sure he takes most of the weight as they lift, exposing the soft white sand and a variety of plastic toys. "No touching yet," Bob warns, and carefully slides the cover under the sand table. When he's sure it's safely out of the way he pulls a roll of stickers out of his pants pocket and peels off a smiley face, sticking it on Katy’s t-shirt. "Thank you, Katy." Putting the stickers back in his pocket, Bob points to the wall, where he's hung four tiny aprons. They're hand-made by Jamia, the ties slightly too long and one has a faded skull on the inside corner. Bob loves them, even if he did have to launder them twice to get rid of the dog hair.
"If you want to play with the sand you wear an apron," Bob says. He picks one up and hooks it over his own head, the bottom barely reaching his waist. "Same for the water tray and craft areas." Bob takes a few steps forward and his kids follow behind, like he's some kind of momma duck to a line of huge-eyed, shiny-haired ducklings. "We'll do craft work after nap time, so no touching until then," Bob warns, and abruptly changes direction, barely hiding his smile as he takes his line of kids on a zig-zag route through the tables toward the other side of the room. "The bathroom is through that door, if you want to go, tell me. No leaving the room without letting me know."
There's a few verbal replies and a lot of fidgeting, and Bob knows he needs to hurry up his tour. He moves past the play house and pulls back a blind, showing a small exposed courtyard. It's full of colorful toys, ride on cars and a bright yellow slide, a pink ball against the wooden fence. Taking off the apron, Bob folds it over the back of a chair. "Who wants to play outside?"
Twelve arms are held in the air, and as Bob unlocks the door, letting a stream of excited children outside he can't help feeling satisfied -- that despite his fears and uncertainties, he really can do this job.
"How's it going?"
Ray's voice is hushed as he peeks into the darkened room, his face illuminated by the moon-shaped night-light that's plugged in close to the door.
"My head's too big for the Viking helmet," Bob says, and looks past Ray to where his class is sleeping, their small bodies curled up and covered by blankets. "And there was an unfortunate collision between a bubble car and my leg."
"Sucks to be you." Glancing at his watch, Ray pulls a chair close to Bob's desk and sits, his knees up so high they're close to his chin. "Seriously, how's it going?"
Bob puts down his pen, marking the page of his book. "It's going okay." He thinks about Denzil and how he's got issues with sharing, how Jodi scraped her knee on the ground, about lunch time when Ali went and sat at the back of the room. "Ali didn't bring any lunch."
Ray frowns and takes out his PDA, scrolling through pages. "His mom didn't sign him for lunches. I think...." Ray hesitates, then, inputs some data. "I'll juggle the figures. He's part of the program from tomorrow."
Bob suspects the only juggling will be from Ray's wallet to the schools expenses and he knows he should say something about profit margins and getting too involved. All he does is reach for his own lunch, taking a foil-wrapped parcel from his bag. Unwrapping it he tears the remaining half sandwich into two. "Here."
Ray takes the quarter sandwich and puts the whole thing in his mouth. He chews, swallows, says, "Thanks."
Bob takes a bite of his own sandwich. It's peanut butter, the only thing left in his kitchen this morning, and he makes a mental note to go grocery shopping on the way home. He needs to pick up balloons anyway, balloons and glittery pens and those stick-on eyes that move when you shake them.
"I need to get going." Ray shoves his PDA back in his pocket and pushes himself to his feet. "Watch out for those bubble cars. I've heard they're vicious."
Bob doesn't verbalize his reply. He doesn't have to; Ray just looks and laughs as he walks away.
The kids go home at three fifteen.
Between updating his files, the walk home and a trip to get groceries it's well past six when Bob does the same.
Paper bag balanced on his hip, Bob opens his apartment door, as always it sticks and he kicks it with his foot before going inside. It's warm in there, stuffy with trapped heat and he puts the bag on the counter before forcing open a window. When it's open as wide as it'll go Bob leans against the wall, looking outside to the line of dumpsters that randomly drip and constantly smell of rotten food and piss. The stench seems particularly concentrated tonight and Bob idly watches a rat dart along the alley before pushing himself upright and toward the shower. It doesn't take long, all of five steps before Bob's in his tiny bathroom. Inching in sideways between the toilet and sink he strips off his clothes, throwing them onto the futon in the main room.
He's got projects to put together for his kids, dinner to eat and at some point he needs to call his mom. For now though, he turns on the water and steps into the spray.
"I've been talking to Frank," Gerard announces as soon as he walks into Mikey's apartment. He's carrying an armful of brown paper grocery bags and his expression is concerned as he drops them to the ground, groceries scattering in all directions over the wooden floor. A can of soda rolls close and Mikey stops it with his foot, trapping it in place. "He says you want to settle down, have you got any candidates because Stephen the receptionist's single."
"Stephen the receptionist is straight," Mikey says, long practice meaning he doesn't react to Gerard's insane ideas. Picking up the can Mikey sets it back in the bag, and then starts to gather up the apples that have rolled to every corner of the room. "You know that."
Gerard waves his hand and sits, feet resting against the bags. "Everyone's a little bit gay. They just don't admit it."
"In your world maybe." Setting most of the apples on the kitchen table, Mikey keeps one and sits next to Gerard. "Stephen's got a girlfriend. They've been dating for years, she was at the Christmas party, you admired her dress."
For a moment Gerard looks thrown. Then smiles directly at Mikey. "How's he feel about polygamy? I've heard it's the new black."
"He might like it, I think it's more hassle than it's worth," Mikey says, and takes a bite of his apple, juice running down his fingers as he looks at Gerard. "Why the obsession with Stephen?"
"He fits your new profile," Gerard says simply, and Mikey stops chewing, trying to decipher what Gerard's actually saying.
"My new profile? The fuck?"
"Blond and burly," Gerard says, "like Jordik the Norwegian."
Mikey levels a look at Gerard. "I told you he's not Norwegian..." but Gerard takes no notice, cutting over Mikey's words.
"Whatever, I'm just glad you're getting a bit of variety in your life, short and dark was getting old."
Mikey takes another bite of apple. The thing is, Gerard's got a point but it's not like Mikey's going to acknowledge that, but there is one thing he's going to stress. "I'm not dating Stephen."
"Fine." Gerard sighs and leans to the side, his head against Mikey's shoulder. "But you do want to date someone, yeah? Like, serious dating again."
"I think so," Mikey says, and takes comfort in Gerard being so close, groceries at their feet and the only sound their in-stereo breathing.
“Good,” Gerard says, and he snatches the apple from Mikey and takes a bite, chewing noisily in Mikey’s ear, then swallows. “Just, be careful. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
The ‘again’ isn’t said, but Mikey hears the implication, and he wishes he could ease Gerard’s worries; but he can’t, not unless he resigns himself to a life living alone. All Mikey can say is, “I’ll be careful.”
“I know,” Gerard says, and passes the half-eaten apple back to Mikey before sitting and gathering up one of the bags. “I got ice cream; I think it might be soup now.”
“You couldn’t have said that five minutes ago?” Mikey asks, and sits forward, looking through the remaining bag until he finds the carton of ice cream, its sides slick with condensation.
Squeezing the cartoon and finding it soft, Mikey stands and heads for the freezer, giving Gerard an unimpressed look on the way.
Dropping the stack of books on the table Ray says, "Okay, fudge it, I'm going out tonight."
Bob looks up from where he's lounging in one of the battered easy chairs, his feet on a low coffee table as he tries to pick off glue from the back of his hand. "Fudge it? Really?"
"I'm on school grounds," Ray says primly, and tugs the tie out of his hair. Snapping it around his wrist he sighs and leans against the wall as if even the effort of standing upright is too much. "I've signed at least two hundred letters today, budgeted for the semester and arranged for the toilets to be unblocked, and that was just the last hour. I deserve to go out."
"You should," Jamia says, pitching her voice over the whir of the copy machine. "Frank's going out tonight, seeing some baby band at Harleys."
"Okay, it's settled then." With a groan Ray pushes himself up and looks at his watch. "I need to go make some calls but I'll pick you up at seven."
"Wait. What?" At first Bob thinks Ray's talking to Jamia, but she's busy bundling alphabet sheets and Ray's looking expectantly at Bob. "Who said I'm coming?"
"Me," Ray says simply. "You can't survive on glitter and crazy glue alone."
Bob gives Ray a look, because the man has obviously gone insane. "I don't eat the stuff, and I told you, I go out."
"And you're going out again tonight." Ray looks over his shoulder as he leaves the room. "Seven, be ready."
Jamia laughs and pats Bob's shoulder as she walks past. "Just give in already. You'll have fun."
Which Bob knows is true. It's just that he likes to make these decisions on his own.
Sighing, he says, "Fine."
Harleys is a dive complete with a sticky carpet, peeling posters on the wall and a tiny stage set up at the end of a long room, but it's a dive Bob already loves. He's only been here twice before but each time he's enjoyed hanging out and listening to the music, or, if he’s being honest, for more physical of reasons. Bob remembers the woman he met on his first visit, how beautiful she was, tall and dark and with an impressive line in dirty talk as she licked a stripe up his neck. Then his second time, and how he ended the night talking to some guy, Bob’s hands against the guy’s slim hips as they kissed goodbye, oblivious to the people streaming for the exit around them.
Bob enjoyed his time with them both, but he doesn't have their numbers, or their names, and he looks around the club for familiar faces as he follows Ray back to their table. Frank -- who Bob's just officially been introduced to and learnt is Jamia's husband and one of Ray's best friends, and not just some creepy guy who stands watching people make out -- is standing on a chair and when Bob walks past, Frank suddenly jumps onto Bob's back and winds his legs around his body.
"The fuck?!" Bob looks up at Frank, who's clinging onto Bob's shoulders. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I couldn't see," Frank says, and his breath is warm against Bob's ear. "You're good to climb. Very solid."
Bob frowns and considers bucking Frank off. "Are you making a fat joke?"
Frank tightens his grip, says, "No, but I could if you want. Your momma's..."
"I will kill you if you say another word." Threats aren't usually how Bob makes friends but Frank laughs, apparently amused as he wiggles then jumps down to the floor.
"Saying no more." Frank mimes zipping his lips and sits back in a chair next to Ray and says, "He's probably hooked up with someone."
"Probably," Ray agrees and looks toward Bob. "Frank's ex roommate, he's supposed to be here by now."
"The fucker gets more game than anyone I know," Frank says fondly, and takes a long drink of his beer before standing, almost vibrating in place as he looks toward the stage. "They'll be starting soon."
Ray waves his hand. "Go. Cause some hell for me."
Frank grins and launches himself into the crowd.
"I thought you'd be in the thick of it," Bob says, watching as Frank ploughs forward until he's in the midst of the audience. "Not up for the pit tonight?"
Ray shakes his head and smiles. "I'm a respectable principal, I don't do that shit."
"Sure you don't," Bob says, because right now Ray looks nothing like the typical principal as he drains his beer and lounges back in his chair, t-shirt pulled tight across his chest and hair wild as he bobs his head along with the background music. "I suppose that wasn't you who crashed my place stoned and naked when you were in teacher training. Or got left naked at a gas station when we were touring."
"That was a long time ago," Ray says, dignity pulled around him.
"Maybe," Bob concedes. "But you getting wasted on vodka last week wasn't."
"I was celebrating," Ray says, obviously unrepentant as he sits up a little. "The band's coming on."
Bob looks at the stage and sees the all female band walking into view, one of them with a keytar slung around her neck. Recognizing the woman from his hook up, Bob stands and starts watching.
Ray nudges a fresh drink across the table toward Bob. "I didn't think electro thrash was your scene."
"It's not," Bob says, vodka catching the back of his throat as he swallows the drink in one. "What the fuck's in this? Lighter fluid?"
"Fuck knows." Ray shrugs and drains his own drink and then wipes his watering eyes. "They call it the Harley special, two of these and you'll be on the floor."
Bob gives Ray a considering look. "You putting the moves on me, Toro?"
"Bit late for that." Ray grins, wide and easy, the same grin that Bob's known and enjoyed for years. "Once bitten and all that."
"You saying you didn't have fun?" Bob asks, hiding his own smile. "Because it looked like you did at the time."
Ray's grin widens. "I was young and stupid, I didn't know any better." He stands then, wavering a little until he balances against the back of his chair. "I'm heading off. Hangovers don't look too good to bank managers."
If he were smart Bob would go too. While he's got no meetings with the bank he does have lesson prep to do, including trying out instructions for a paper mache mask. But truthfully, as reluctant as he was to come out at first he doesn't want to leave now. He's enjoying being around actual adults and being able to talk freely without kid proofing his words. Plus, there's the girl on the keytar who kept looking his way during the set. He looks at Ray. "You able to get home alone?"
Ray laughs. "I'm in charge of a pre-school, I think I can get home on my own."
Bob doesn't point out that Ray doesn't look after the school while buzzed, but Ray looks steady as he walks, heading toward the exit. "Tell Frank I've gone, and I'll see you Monday."
Bob nods and watches until he's sure Ray's safely to the door, and then turns, intending to head back stage. As he makes his way through the crowd he sees Frank standing to the side, cell phone held close to his face as he uses his thumbs to type out a message. Giving him a wave, Bob bypasses a group of women wearing angel wings, and bumps straight into the guy he was talking to the week before.
The guy's wearing similar clothes to the time before, pants tight, his t-shirt that little bit too small, his hair messed up and eye liner smudged. Heart beat speeding in remembrance of a hard kiss and his hands in the guy's hair. Bob takes a step back and for a moment it's awkward, Bob doesn't know this guy's name but he does know how his hand feels against Bob's back and the way he sounded as he said a reluctant goodbye, needing to hurry to catch his lift home. After that Bob knows nothing, except he likes the way the guy looks, how his face brightens when he flashes a smile. It's not much, but it's enough that Bob changes his plans and says, "Want a drink?"
The guys brings up his hand and Bob sees he's already holding a half full glass. Drinking the contents the guy wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and says, "Sure."
Actually getting to the bar takes some doing. The place is packed but somehow the guy seems to melt through the crowd, pulling Bob behind him until they're pressed against the wooden counter. Expecting a wait, Bob's surprised when one of the bar staff smiles in their direction and ignores the people demanding her attention as she walks their way. Stopping in front of them she smoothes down her crimson hair and smiles, says, "Hey Mikey, what're you having?"
The guy -- Mikey -- flashes a small smile in return and then indicates Bob. "He's buying."
The girl turns her attention to Bob. "So what'll it be? Beer?"
It's Bob's usual choice, but somehow he finds himself pointing toward a board that pictures a variety of cocktails, amused at the thought of choosing something that's bright pink complete with fruit and a spotted umbrella. "I'll have one of those and a Harleys special."
The girl grins. "One harleys and a slow screw coming up."
"Interesting choice," the guy says, sounding approving.
Elbow resting against the counter, Bob turns slightly to the side. "So, you're Mikey."
"I am," Mikey says. "And you're hot guy I was talking to last week."
"Or Bob to my friends," Bob says, bemused when Mikey punches the air.
"Ha, Bob. I knew it. I told Gerard you'd have a boring name but he was convinced you'd be called Jordik."
There's multiple things Bob wants to say, to protest his name isn't boring, that what the hell kind of name is Jordik, but mostly, who the fuck is Gerard? He settles for, "Jordik? Seriously?" letting the Gerard question drop for now.
"He thought you could be Norwegian," Mikey says easily. "Because of your hair."
Bob takes a moment, trying to make sense of where this conversation is going. "You told him about my hair and he thought I was Norwegian?"
Mikey nods. "Well that or a Viking shape shifter jumping through time, but the Norwegian thing's more likely."
"Of course it is," Bob states levelly, thankful when two glasses are set on the bar. Taking the one that doesn't contain something bright pink, Bob drinks it all in one go before taking out his wallet and paying for both.
Mikey takes his own drink, apparently unconcerned with how it looks. He plucks a strawberry off a stick and puts it in his mouth, chews and says, "Got somewhere to go?"
Which is when Bob makes another sudden decision. "Only if you're coming too."
Mikey drains his own drink and rests his hand on Bob's back. "Let's go."
Though Mikey's hand is long gone Bob can feel the ghost of his touch against his back and he shivers as he kicks at his apartment door, letting them inside.
Inside it's just as he left it, his school clothes draped over the back of the futon and a pizza box sitting on the tiny table that's pushed flush to the wall. Mikey's not even trying to hide that he's looking around, but Bob doesn't care. It's not like this is his home, it's just a place to crash. Somewhere to eat and sleep, and somewhere he can slam the door closed as he says, "I'd offer you something to drink but I've only got water."
Mikey shrugs and takes off his jacket, dropping it to the floor. "I'd have said no anyway."
And like that suddenly Bob's awkward again. This isn't like his hook ups at the club where things happened fast, actions happening before his brain could catch up, and with his whole breakdown and life crisis followed by intense crammed study it's not like Bob's had recent practice chatting people up. Mostly he's wishing Ray had never told him he was going out, when Mikey steps forward and hooks his hand around the back of Bob's head.
"You can either stand there or come here and kiss me."
It's not a difficult choice, especially when Mikey's pressing so close, smelling of alcohol and sweat, his mouth so close to Bob's. Bob closes that last bit of distance and any awkwardness melts away as Mikey kisses back eagerly. Also wet and messy, his tongue pushing against Bob's as they stumble back and collapse back on the futon, landing with a jarring thump. Not that it breaks the kiss, even when their teeth bang together and Mikey twists his body so he's lying fully on top of Bob.
Mikey pushes his hand between their bodies, trying to unfasten Bob's belt one-handed. "I was looking for you tonight."
Bob fumbles to help, his fingers against Mikey's as they unfasten Bob's belt and pants. "Good."
He lifts up his hips, allowing Mikey access as he slides down and settles on Bob's knees, Mikey's gaze intent as he looks directly at Bob then bends forward, lowering his head.
Bob wakes to darkness and a mouthful of hair, Mikey's arm draped over his back. Grimacing at the chemical taste he pulls back his head then freezes when Mikey sighs in his sleep and shifts even closer. It's not a bad position to be in, he doesn't smell the best but Bob's no bed of roses either, plus Mikey's warm, and there's something relaxing about the rhythmic breathing of having someone so close.
Eyes closing again, Bob goes back to sleep.
The next time he wakes Mikey's sitting up in bed, his eyes screwed shut and fingers pressed against his temples. Overnight his eye make-up has smeared and there's a pillow crease along one cheek. He looks a mixture of deranged and adorable and Bob lies on his back, his eyes half closed as he tries to remember the complexities of waking up with a virtual stranger. It's not something Bob's done often, and his own walks of shame have involved furtive creeping out at the break of day, but Mikey's making no attempt to move, just keeps kneading at his forehead, apparently unconcerned that he's naked.
Bob's tempted to lie still and pretend to keep sleeping, but just because he hasn't done this for a while doesn't mean he's some kind of coward, and this is his bed, his place. Pushing back the covers Bob rolls onto the floor and stands, looking for his pants.
"Oh thank fuck." Mikey's voice cracks and he squints at Bob. "Coffee?"
"Is good?" Bob replies, unable to resist.
Mikey groans and closes his eyes, his lashes dark clumps against the shadows under his eyes. "You have some?"
It's tempting to continue the joke, but Bob takes pity and takes the few steps to a cupboard in his kitchen. "Only instant."
"It'll do." Eyes opened to slits, Mikey edges to the side of the bed and tugs at the cover before wrapping it around his shoulders as he watches Bob fill the kettle and set it to boil. "You know you can buy machines really fucking cheap."
Bob takes out two mugs and gives both a heaped spoonful of coffee. "I'm not planning on sticking around, it would be a waste of money."
"Coffee is never a waste of money," Mikey says, and then, "It explains why this place is a shithole I guess."
The edge of the counter digs against Bob's bare back as he turns and looks at Mikey. "Thanks."
Mikey yawns and pulls up his knees, curling into a small space in the corner of the futon. "I like shitholes. They feel like home."
He seems to believe what he's saying and Bob's torn between stopping this at coffee only or actually asking questions, and hinting at a level of interest that he maybe doesn't want yet. It's a dilemma Bob never expected and one he never gets the chance to decide on because Mikey's leaning over the side arm of the futon, grabbing for the pile of craft supplies stacked against the wall.
"Those could have been private," Bob points out, and picks up the kettle when it begins to boil.
Mikey flops back down, pointedly ignoring Bob's words. He holds up a sheet of cardboard eyes and shakes it, so all the eyes roll in unison. "You have googly eyes."
Bob fills both mugs and carries them over to the futon. Setting them at a safe distance he grabs a hoodie and then sits at the end of the thin mattress, watching as Mikey keeps shaking the eyes. "Coffee."
Attention still on the sheet, Mikey holds out his hand. "What are you doing with them?"
"Making masks," Bob says, because it's not like it's some kind of secret. He pulls on his hoodie and takes a drink of his own coffee, enjoying the way the warmth and caffeine combine against his aching head. "There's a plan there somewhere."
Mikey takes another drink then balances his mug between his knees as he leafs through the sheets of cardboard until he finds the printed out plan for the mask. Brow furrowed, he examines it, says, "Want some help?"
"To make the mask"? Bob clarifies, because as far as he knows this could be some convoluted way for Mikey to offer to suck Bob's dick. Which would be nice, except thoughts of Mikey's cock-sucking mouth and him holding materials for Bob kids do not belong together.
"Masks are awesome," Mikey says, still staring at the plan. "Do we get to decorate them? Can I add blood?"
"Decorating yes, blood no," Bob says, and plucks a sheet of eyes out of the pile. "But you get to add eyes."
Mikey grins, and Bob can't help but smile back in reply.
It's a while before they actually start on the mask. Bob needs breakfast, and a shower, and for Mikey to actually wear clothes before making something Bob'll take to school to show his kids.
Now, clean and fed, Bob sits cross-legged on the futon, watching as Mikey cuts out a paper mask. He's doing so slowly, the sleeves of Bob's borrowed hoodie pushed up his arms and surrounding him there's a variety of colored crepe paper and fat markers that have rolled together in the crease of the bed cover. With a last snip, paper curls into Mikey's lap and he holds up the mask toward Bob. "Done."
"Nice job," Bob says teacher seriously. "Now you need to decorate it."
"I'm thinking red hair and purple eyes." Setting down the mask, Mikey picks up some red crepe and starts to tear it into strips. "I used to do this with Gerard, but he was making a devil."
Gerard again, and this time Bob's going to ask, taking shared craft activities to mean they're at a level of friendship that means he can, even if he's not sure he wants to know the answer. "Gerard?"
Mikey shakes his head. "Brother. He's an artist, a fucking good one."
Relief hits, because even if this is casual Bob doesn't want the complications of Mikey being already attached. Cutting out his own mask he glances over at Mikey. "Your brother's an artist who makes devil masks?"
"Not only devil masks." Paper rips as Mikey continues tearing, until he's got a heap of strips lying on his lap. Picking up a glue stick, he rubs it over the edge of the mask and starts to stick on the strips of hair. "He does other shit too, comic books and paintings. He's preparing for his own show." Mikey's concentrating on placement, the tip of his tongue just visible, but his pride is obvious, even before he looks up and says, "He's awesome."
"Most mask makers are," Bob says, a curl of paper falling into his lap. Holding up the oval of the mask he considers if it's big enough to be decorated by little hands, and if the googly eyes are still a better option than cut in eye-holes. "Eye-holes or not?"
Mikey holds up his own half-finished mask close to his face, red crepe paper falling over his hand at one side. "Depends if you're going to wear them or not."
"They're not for me." Bob sets down his own mask and stares at Mikey. "Why the hell would I be wearing paper masks?"
"Why wouldn't you?" Mikey asks, like in his world wearing a mask is an everyday thing. Hell, maybe it is, it's not like Bob actually knows him. "You could use it for LARPing or as a disguise."
Bob raises an eyebrow, says, "A disguise? Really?"
"Sure," Mikey says, and starts to carefully attach another strip of crepe hair. "Put on a mask and rob a bank, that's how it goes."
"Because I won't be unidentifiable at all," Bob says. "I'd be arrested in minutes."
Mikey shrugs one shoulder and one corner of his mouth curls up at the side. "Or you could use the mask for sex. You look like a fetish kind of guy."
At the last Mikey grins and Bob knows he's been played. Amused, he balls up some scrap paper, throwing it at Mikey's forehead. "I'll show you fetish."
Mikey grins even wider, showing off his crooked teeth. "I'm going to hold you to that," then rummages under the blankets at the beep of his phone. It's a sound Bob's became used to over the last few hours, that and the soft sound of buttons as Mikey types out texts in reply to his many received messages, which he does now before sighing and leaning against the pillows piled behind his back. "That's Frank, he's giving me a ride home."
It's no surprise, Mikey had to go sometime and already it's well after lunch. What is a surprise is Bob doesn't actually want him to leave. He's enjoying having someone in his space, there with occasional comments and sarcastic remarks as Bob made coffee and toast and watched TV on his small portable set. It's something Bob hasn't had for a while. Sure, he's got friends, Ray especially has always been there, but no one who's slid into his life so easily and made no demands in return.
"Fuck." At the sound of a horn Mikey looks toward the window, and then takes a large piece of scrap paper. Thumbing the top off a green marker he writes down some numbers and passes the paper to Bob. "My number, call me if you want."
Bob takes the paper, pens and safety scissors getting buried in the blanket when Mikey stands and steps off the futon and then pushes his feet into his boots. Not bothering to lace them up he wedges his phone in his pocket and then heads for the door, waiting as Bob stands and follows, awkwardness causing him to stand out of arms reach. "Thanks. For, you know."
"I know," Mikey says, and he steps forward and presses a quick kiss against Bob's mouth. "Call me."
With that Mikey's gone, the door sticking as usual. Pulling it too, Bob ensures it's locked before heading to the window, where, if he cranes his neck he can just sit a car idling at the curb. Nearly a minute and he also sees Mikey, and then Frank -- Jamia's Frank, Ray's friend Frank -- who hangs out of the driver's window and cat calls when Mikey appears.
Suddenly, Bob gets a flash of Frank grinning at the club, as he says, “he gets more game than anyone I know” and Bob realizes that it was Mikey that Frank was talking about. A brief moment of disappointment and then Bob shakes it off because it’s not like he was interested in Mikey in a serious way, and at least now he knows Mikey isn’t looking for something serious either.
Mikey gets in the car and it takes Frank two minutes to ask for details, which is about a minute and a half longer than Mikey expected.
"There's nothing to tell," Mikey says. He's hunched forward, looking through the cassettes that Frank keeps in the glove box, they're all battered, labels written in thick black marker and Mikey's fingers are grimy, stained with purple and red ink.
Steering one handed, Frank takes a turn too fast, making the tree-shaped air freshener sway wildly under the mirror. "Details, Mikey. You went home with Bob, teacher Bob, Bob-fucking-savior-of-Ray's-school, Bob."
"You've an unhealthy obsession with my sex life," Mikey says, and Frank snorts, waving his hand. "And I didn't know he was that Bob at the time."
"You do now, so do your best friend duties and spill already."
Mikey turns so he's looking at Frank. "Do best friend duties mean we get to do each other's hair and have a Twilight marathon?"
"Depends," Frank says, looking far too cheerful. "Are you going to tell me if he fucked you while I braid your hair?"
"I'd look awesome in braids," Mikey says, deadpan, as Frank laughs and flips off a yellow taxi that's getting too close. "And no."
Frank rolls down the window, yells, "Learn to drive, asshole," then turns back to Mikey. "No what? No you're not telling me or no he didn't fuck you?"
It's tempting to tease a little bit longer, especially as they both know Mikey will tell all eventually, but Mikey's feeling at peace with the world, warm and content, and he decides to give Frank what he wants. Giving up on the cassettes for now, Mikey sits back in his seat, running his thumb over the furred edge of the seatbelt. "The second no, we got close but not the whole way."
"And?" Frank prompts, frustration coloring his tone. "Jamia likes the guy, Ray thinks the sun shines out of his ass but all I know is he gives good piggy back rides and looks hot making out. If we're going to be friends I need more."
"I don't think knowing he gives great head is something you should use as a basis of potential friendship," Mikey says through a yawn. "But for the record he's great at it, very thorough."
Frank bounces in his seat and thumps his fist in the air, impacting it against the roof. "I knew it! I told Jamia he'd be good at head, he's got a cock-sucking mouth."
Eyebrow raised, Mikey stares at Frank. "What do you know about cock sucking mouths?"
"I look at yours every day, don't I?" Frank says, rubbing his knuckles against his chest. "And it's not how he gives head that's important, it's how he treats you."
It's the kind of conversation that's classical Frank, insults, sex talk but always that core of having Mikey's best interests at heart. It's why Mikey says, "He's fucking hot, makes good breakfast and shitty coffee. I like him."
Frank smiles, hearing what Mikey's not saying in actual words. "That much?"
Mikey thinks about Bob. How he watched cartoons and scraped black off of the toast, how his hands felt against Mikey's hips, how he's safe, solid, funny. He's everything Mikey expected and a little bit more. It's why he says, "Yeah, that much."
"So," Ray says, dragging out the word. He's standing in the doorway of Bob's classroom and looking through a stack of Polaroid pictures of Bob's kids, each one printed with their first name. "You went home with Mikey."
Bob scowls when he sees Ray's all but beaming, like Bob hooking up with Mikey has made his week. Bob takes a picture from Ray, sticking it to the display on his classroom wall. "You know I did."
"And?" Ray holds up one hand, showing off the elastic looped around his wrist. "I've ten minutes before I have to become professional. So tell me details."
"Fucking gossip," Bob says, and adds a picture of Emma to the display. "There's nothing to tell, we went home, we had fun, he helped me make masks."
"Tell me that's not a euphemism," Ray says, then frowns as he looks at Bob. "And if it is I don't want to know, I mean it."
"Well stop asking then." Bob takes another picture, eying up the distance between the other Polaroids before sticking it up. "And I meant we made masks. Like the ones I've got planned for later this week."
Ray grins, says, "You were bonding over craft activities, that's sickeningly adorable."
It's tempting, but Bob doesn't nail Ray in the head with the blue tack, instead he takes another photograph and very deliberately sticks it in place. "There was no bonding."
"But you had fun?" Ray seems genuinely invested in knowing the answer, and Bob's a mixture of frustrated and pleased.
"We had fun. I liked him."
Ray's smile is blinding and he moves his hands as he talks, his own form of happy dancing. "Good, Mikey's a great guy. When are you meeting up again?"
"I've no idea," Bob says, and adjusts one of the Polaroids an inch to the right. "We had a good time but it wasn't a date."
Ray almost seems to deflate, his former happiness draining away. "So you're not going to call him?"
"He gave me his number, so probably," Bob says, and turns and looks directly at Ray, knowing where his thoughts will be going. "But that doesn't mean anything. No dates, no relationships. You know I don't do that shit."
"Because you're an idiot," Ray says, and for an instant he looks nothing like the proper Principal Toro as he rolls his eyes. "Everyone's not Jessica, they're not all about to cheat."
"They're not going to get the chance," Bob says tersely and takes another Polaroid, turning his back on Ray and focusing on the display. "And you forgot about Callum, he left too."
"Callum's a fucking dick," Ray spits out, and even though Bob can't see his expression he knows he'll be scowling, his anger all too apparent. It's his default setting when mentioning Callum and Bob takes comfort in that, focusing on Ray's anger instead of Bob's own bone deep hurt. "You were better off without him."
Bob pushes down the photograph, fixing it in place and then turns back to Ray. "Maybe, but he still left. And Jessica cheated, so I'm done with serious, and Mikey feels the same so there's no point pushing us together."
Ray looks dubious, like he's sure Bob's feeding him some line. "He told you that?"
"He didn't have to," Bob says. "Frank said it for him, remember, that Mikey gets more play than anyone around."
For a moment it's like Ray doesn't know how to reply, then he shakes his head, says, "That doesn't mean he doesn't want serious. He knows a lot of people is all. He's a nice guy, people like him."
Which Bob can understand. Mikey is a nice guy, and if they meet up again and have fun, that's great, but that's it, it'll never be anything more than casual. Taking another picture, Bob adds it to the display. "I'll phone him later this week. I'm not about to date the guy but he gives good head."
Ray turns the pictures so they're pressed against his chest. "Jesus, Bob. I don't want to know that about Mikey. And you won't have to phone him, he's coming here Friday to help paint. Or at least Gerard is, so I'd assume Mikey will be tagging along."
"You know Gerard too?" Bob asks incredulously, because even after knowing Ray for what feels like forever and living in this city for almost a month, sometimes it feels like he's been dropped into a situation where he knows nothing at all. "Mikey's devil making, artist brother?"
"I don't know about devils specifically, but that sounds like him." Ray says, and goes back to looking through the pictures. "We're friends, met him through Mikey and Frank's Mikey's best friend, so...."
"So I know nothing it seems," Bob says, because Ray could have told him this stuff, instead of Bob going in blind. He holds out his hand. "Give me the one of me, I'll put it in the middle."
Ray fans out the remaining pictures. "And for the record, you need to stop being a moron and start to actually live."
Which is easy for Ray to say, he hasn’t had his heart broken so often it feels like there's nothing left to shatter. Bob says simply, "I live."
"You survive," Ray corrects, and then goes back to leafing through the pictures until he finds the one of Bob and hands it over. "You know, you could have taken a picture that included your face."
"No I couldn't," Bob says, and adds the picture to the board. A photo of his chest and lower neck, Mr Bob printed in red letters underneath.
Tags: my stories:bandom