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Though he held parties a lot, Brendon rarely showed up at any of them- or got involved anyway; sometimes he could be found just sort of lingering beyond the boundary of where his distinguished (and not so distinguished) guests were allowed to roam, which was a considerably large area, even compared to the size of his estate. It was strange, because he was such a showman, a performer, born to be in the spotlight, born to be known and loved by many. Yet sometimes he preferred just to observe, and the parties he held were mostly just some kind of social experiment he was conducting anyway, studying how the highest and lowest of society mixed together and the aftermath of such a mix. That said, he was no scientist. In fact he was barely educated, or more technically didn’t thrive in a learning environment, and he didn’t pretend to be some kind of intellectual. All of this holding parties and not taking part made him seem kind of desirable and enigmatic, public property due to his fame and yet unreachable. The true fact of the matter was that he was a party animal- in the right situation. If he could be coaxed into drinking enough liquor (which wasn’t hard) he’d be in the throes of the music and chaos.

But, something in the psychology of the press and the public made Brendon’s lack of availability something desirable- therefore, when he made it public that he was holding a smaller, more intimate party, where he would be performing on stage, the press lapped it up and requested invites and Brendon did let a few in, and gave them the guest list in advance. Sure, it was a smaller affair, mainly to make sure it was classier than his usual events, but Brendon still loved the attention and felt his first performance in a while was worthy of a good audience and a lot of coverage from the press. It didn’t take much effort to distract the eyes of the nation- after all, they were all currently morbidly curious about Brendon’s relationship to the bootlegger, Ryan Rowe, who had just been released from lock-up as Brendon had paid his bail.

That was another thing; that he was gay, openly- although some people were still clueless and he was propositioned by women a lot of the time, advances he had to awkwardly reject because he didn’t have the time to deal with the reactions of disgusted homophobes when he revealed the real reason that he didn’t want to escape the party and go somewhere more private with them. It wasn’t the act of slipping away itself he was against. He’d snuck out of gatherings many times for a scandalous rendezvous somewhere more private- such as with his current lover, Ryan. He recalled their very classy encounter in the toilets at Dallon’s speakeasy often, and reminded Ryan just as much, which always made him roll his eyes as Ryan apparently prided himself with being much less easy. Brendon, his actual boyfriend, could disprove that any day.

His relationship with Ryan was a recent discovery and was the subject of heated debate amongst many, some who admired Brendon’s bravery and individualism, some who thought it was just a career move (any press is good press), and some who used it an example of the depravity of the youth today- ‘a faggot sodomizing a criminal.’ little did they know that it was not that way around, but Brendon was beyond caring enough to point that out to the people shouting slurs at him when he was just trying to perform a goddamn song. A lot of people say the 20’s are progressive, but there are always some idiots trying to put the fear of god into you, Brendon sometimes said in interviews. I don’t fear god, he’d say, but I’d sure like to ask him a few questions. Beyond the surface, Brendon didn’t talk about his relationship with Ryan at all. They didn’t deserve to know, and besides, all they thought of him as anyway was some lustful sinner. Nothing would change that. So he stuck to more open and liberal scenes, though he wasn’t afraid to perform somewhere... Less accepting of ‘new’ society. Much to Ryan’s distress, who was terrified Brendon was gonna he jumped by some brutes after a show. The possibility was there, sure, but.

Brendon felt more bad for Ryan- who would take him seriously now that he had been outed? He wasn’t too worried, though, being a little fruity didn’t affect Ryan’s ability to break kneecaps. All of this went through Brendon’s head as he prepared in the hours before stepping on stage. It was the final countdown beforehand, Brendon was fixing his hair in the dressing room mirror, dressed in a black velvet, floral patterned tuxedo and a white dress shirt, no tie. He turned, downed the remaining half a glass of what was meant to be a sipping whiskey that Ryan had given him earlier as a good luck present, and handed the glass to a stagehand, before, when given the signal, heading on stage. He was greeted by immediate applause as his name was announced over a speaker- For your pleasure and entertainment, Brendon Blake. He was sporting his naturally bright, charming smile, and immediately wrapped his hands around the mic stand, leaning forward to speak into and greet the audience- though as he did, his eyes searched for one man; Ryan, who said that he might be able to make it, he just had some business to attend to that couldn’t be left. That was Ryan, though. Fresh out of jail and back to business.

Brendon couldn’t see him but tried not to be disheartened. ”Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” He began, eyes now surveying the audience just to make eye contact with guests instead, who were all sat around on tables, unfortunately not drinking alcohol, because this was a very publicised event. Nobody wanted to be caught on camera drinking champagne. His eyes zeroed in on a man who looked like he wouldn’t mine being brought to attention for a joke. ”I hope you all enjoyed the refreshments- you look like you’ve enjoyed them too much, sir, did you slip a little something extra in your drink? Don’t worry, sport, it’s our secret.” The audience all laughed, and Brendon laughed along like it was a personal inside joke, like these were his friends. Once again he looked around for Ryan- but if he was here, he would have seen him by now. ”Anyhow, thank you for coming. I’ll be performing very soon, but for now, please enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company rather than mine.” And so, with applause punctuating the end of his brief welcome, he walked off stage and back around to his dressing room, a little bummed that Ryan wasn’t around, but very excited to sing in public again since taking a little hiatus to spend more time with his boyfriend, who even took some time off work himself. They were- an odd couple.
My hindsight is impeccable and when I look back on mine and Ryan’s relationship, the more-than-platonic way we interacted with one another became clear, staring me in the face, mocking me for not being able to admit it then and only realising too late that the feelings I had (have) for him did not correlate with being... just friends. When I was developing my skills as a lyricist I looked to Ryan for help; not just because he was the most superior out of all of us, like I used to tell myself, but because I valued his opinion the most. He was gentle with me, and we had complimentary personalities, and I always stole the seat next to him in whatever situation, interviews, for example, whenever I could. I held his hand even in public just to make sure he had something solid and present to hold onto, to anchor him physically and emotionally.

Obviously, our relationship went further than just holding hands, something that started maybe a year into meeting eachother, a little less, perhaps. We weren’t even drunk- we’d had a drink each, at the point where we simply had increased confidence, and I’d playfully insulted him, and he’d said ‘suck my dick’, and I’d said ‘sure’; and it was so funny, so funny that I burst out laughing and got onto my knees and he was laughing too, and I unzipped his jeans much more surely than I probably should have but at that point it was just a funny joke. Then some kind of barrier dissolved, our laughter faded away, I looked up into his eyes and it wasn’t funny anymore. Afterwards, I felt much less awkward than I had expected to feel. We just joked about it, laughing, saying ‘imagine if we were actually gay’, and it was supposed to be a one time thing but then the next evening we were alone again and he kissed me. Things just kind of went in from there indefinitely.

It’s bizarre how much I remember, how apparently significant that memory is to me. Here we are, ten years later, and we’re both being playful, like the decade we have experienced completely apart is void, and we’re toeing the line at flirting just as we did so many times all around the world on tour buses and in dressing rooms and and hotel suites. Just like back then, we don’t dare at ask ‘hey, what’s going on here’? I don’t want to ask any real questions. I want to enjoy his company, the company I knew I missed but the absence of which I only now realise affected me so fucking much. I don’t miss him like a friend should- even a best friend. He smiles at me and I melt a little, time of no consequence, the only thing mattering that he is here and so am I and we are together again and what the fuck is anybody going to do about it?

Sure. We’ll see if it’s all you imagined. I want to laugh at that, shoot back a smart comment, but the weight behind his words... I don’t know if I’m reading into it too much, so I say nothing instead and just smile faintly, wistfully. If only. We are nothing like I imagined, so I’m expecting to be wrong.

You’re predictable, too. I bet you haven’t driven it more than a few miles. The accuracy of that judgement is startling and I pout a little, caught out, nudging him in the shoulder playfully. ”I don’t even leave my house, Ry, so you’re damn right.” Get your own, Blake. I knew you were after my car this whole time. ”Okay, okay, so we won’t trade- I’ll buy it from you, it can join my Tesla in being a car I have just for the sake of it, because I’m too lazy to leave my home.” I pause. ”Seriously, come over anytime, guarantee I’ll be in.” Crazy how we live in the same state, convenient.

I know people want to talk to me but I don’t particularly care. Surely they understand the significance of me and Ryan being together- the idea that people might be whispering about exactly that both terrifies and excites me. I believe it. When we went platinum you were still drinking Capri-sun. You’ve always been pretty humble. ”Well, yeah. I was a good boy.” A pause, and I’m about to say something like ‘I was underage, I had to drink something’, but instead I make a comment more open to interpretation. ”You know that better than anyone.” He’s saying my name but the music is being cranked up and people’s voices rise in excitement, and suddenly his hand is behind my lower back and he’s leading is back out of the front door. C’mon. I promised you a tour. He did. And because I am stupid, I let it happen.

His car really is gorgeous and I admire it as we walk closer, brushing my hand along the hood and then laughing as Ryan makes a grand gesture about opening the door and presenting the interior to me. I know. I’m very cool. ”You are. Hey, how much was this thing?” I ask, walking around to stand too close to him and peer inside, my eyebrows drawing together, impressed. You can have a seat if you’d like. Without waiting for him to change his mind, I immediately climb into the back, settling against the leather seats, still grinning. I’d invite you to take it for a test drive, but if memory serves, you’re kind of an awful driver, and I haven’t updated my will. Should’ve expected that, really. Ten years on and he’s still bullying me about my driving. Nothing had changed. ”It’s a good job I make up for it in other areas. You gonna sit?”
I’m sure Ryan and I remember the months before and after his dad’s death very differently, for obvious reasons. It was during the height of our sudden explosion in success and we were a significant part of the mainstream non-mainstream music scene. It was crazy, and we were all so young, and often Ryan was so swept up by the popularity and unexpected good fortune that it took his mind off his dad’s health issues for significant amounts of time. Though- I can’t speak for him. I could read him very well but he refused to talk about it- probably because he didn’t want pity or anyone to have their happiness ruined by his difficult family life. Plus, I don’t think he believed that anybody cared- not because of the fault of others, who obviously did care, but because he went through a phase of hating the world about it all and refusing to accept help. Looking back, I think I was the only one who he properly let in, who he actively sought when he was struggling, and I was always there to help- otherwise, what were friends for? Even if I couldn’t do anything, I’d just. Hold him. And hope he even felt a little better.

That said, I didn’t enjoy it- who enjoyed seeing their favourite person break down and cry? And it was Ryan, who never cried, at least in front of anyone, so it was even more jarring. But it was never about I was affected, I was there, just like always was for me. No, I didn’t enjoy it, I instead enjoyed things more along the lines of having secret inside jokes and the same sense of humour, therefore laughing until our sides hurt; performing together on stage (particularly when we harmonized, which we did so well) and writing music together (though admittedly this was one of things I missed the least as we often butted heads and couldn’t compromise creatively- not having to compromise was one of the major pluses of running this whole thing by myself).

Then there was- well, the other side of our relationship... It wasn’t an arrangement, we didn’t plan anything- like, I didn’t saunter up to Ryan and go ‘Hey, when Jon and Spence go out later, do you wanna fuck’, it all just kind of happened when we were alone. Not all the time- but a lot of the time. Though I try desperately not to let it happen, sometimes memories of what we used to get up to on our lonesome emerge in my brain and to this day it makes me all hot and flustered like some dumb teenager, because I suppose our relationship never matured beyond the point of adolescence, really. Even in our early twenties we were still just kids, to be honest. Is it still me that makes you sweat. Looking at him now, maybe he is. God, he’s gorgeous. I thank the fact we are in public and therefore I am kept from saying something fucking stupid.

Public. I’m nervous, I look around, god knows what people would think if they saw us conversing like this when everyone knows we haven’t spoken in years. There were rumours back in the day already, for fuck’s sake. I steady myself and look back at him, and he’s smiling. So I smile. It’s really that simple. You pictured what kind of car I’d have? Usually I’m very quick on the draw with retorts to provocative comments like that, from anyone, but suddenly I feel a wave of embarrassment because I’ve just exposed that I think about him. In enough depth that I imagined the type of vehicle he’d own. There’s no escaping that kind of shame, so I just shrug and grin sheepishly and stutter through an excuse, ”I mean, you’re predictable, that’s all. Don’t flatter yourself.” Deflective, but lighthearted. The best I can do. I’ll take you on a tour sometime.

I’ll take you on a... Holy shit, is he hitting on me? Unsure, I meet his eyes and gauge his expression, and suddenly I’m very interested in this apparent tour, even though I know I shouldn’t be entertaining him and playing along will not end well. However, since I’m a stupid slut, I play along. ”Oh yeah?” I murmur, raising my eyebrows, ”Show me the leather seats?”

I think about you, too. I choke, on absolutely nothing, because even if I had a suspicion it has floored me to hear Ryan say that he thinks about me. Not past tense. Thinks. As in, regularly at least, for a decade. We’re fucking stupid. Why did I ever let him go, again? I rack my brain searching for answers but nothing relevant is being dragged up, Just career things, lame shots in the dark at shit like ‘people grow apart’ and ‘it just wasn’t meant to be’. In my eyes, that’s giving up.

When did I become such a believer in that?

”That’s sweet.”

And the Tesla that’s probably in your high-security garage. I don’t know if he’s a stalker or a mind reader or he just knows me that well, but... ”Oh my god, no fucking kidding, dude, I have a Tesla. That’s super creepy, man.” I pause as I start following Ryan to where the bar apparently is, ignoring the common sense part of me that’s telling me to stop being such a sentimental thot. ”D’ya wanna trade cars? Yours is actually cooler.”

We’re at the bar, and he’s pouring himself a drink, honey whiskey, I don’t want that because the taste will just bring back so many associated memories, Ryan’s 21st a big one on that list. That said, with Ryan right by me, there’s no use in attempting to forget. So I give in and I tell him ‘same as you’ before he can even finish asking me what I want. He’s right, world tours have changed my tastes, but I’ve always been and always will be a bourbon man. An Old Fashioned, on the rocks- that’s my poison. I settle for straight whiskey, though, so to not be complicated. I guess I haven’t changed much. ”You may not believe it, but me neither.”
We have so much history and yet here I am, talking to him like we’re only sort of friends, the kind that can talk pretty easily but never actively organise to do anything together. He was my best friend- we were polar energies who fulfilled the cliche of ‘opposites attract’; I was always more extroverted, energetic, boundless- he was more withdrawn, though not without his moments of confidence and stubbornness. Oh, and we both hate crowds. Two, in my humble opinion, is not a crowd- and it wasn’t for me back then, either, as I recalled him crawling into wherever I was designated to sleep and wrapping his arms around me for some sort of comfort and I obliged him by not shoving him away as I often playfully did otherwise. I could tell at those times that he needed me to just be and though I overhear very fast and find it very hard to stay still, I always stayed with him.

We went through a lot as eachother’s anchor- when Ryan lost his dad, I made it my personal mission to always be available in case he needed to talk about it. Even then, when he knew full well he could trust me to listen, he barely talked about his father. I knew their relationship had been complicated, and he often tried to pretend it didn’t affect him as much as it did, but. I was there in that interview where he was getting texts about his dad’s deteriorating condition, the interview where his phone was subsequently confiscated and I offered my hand to him to hold just so he had something solid to focus on, to calm down. And afterwards- none of his went with him to the hospital (I offered but he refused and I didn’t want to argue with him)- I waited outside, anxiously waiting to pick him up. I vividly remember that he walked straight past me and into the bus and he didn’t say a word to any of us the entire evening- but that night, probably around midnight, once we had all retired to our hotel rooms for the breaks between shows, he knocked at my door and I let him in and I just. Held him.

Because what else was I there for? We were one another’s shoulder to cry on, partner in crime, and. All of this flashed through my head in seconds and I have to remind myself, yet again, that we were never more than friends. Anything we did or said in the moment where we were just being thirsty assholes didn’t mean anything, there was no substance to that side of things. It happened, we didn’t talk about it. We kissed, usually only in premise to other things, but- there were times that he just kissed me and that was all I needed.

Of course, we never spoke about it. To be honest, none of us in the band ever really spoke in depth about emotions or anything like that- we were under the heterosexual and frighteningly masculine impression that talking about feelings and worries and whatnot was reserved for romantic partners only. I smile cruelly to myself as I meet Ryan’s eyes, scorning my own wistful thoughts. Romantic partners. What if.. Oh, shut up, Brendon. Well, I did pregame. It’s just the alcohol talking, I convince myself, and blink furiously as if trying to physical dispel the thoughts away.

I don’t feel any shame any more, like I used to, because I came to accept my own sexuality years ago- a few years too late, I think, staring at him; He’s so tall, tall enough that the top of my head reaches his shoulders, just, his hair is thick and dark and swept back somewhat and I desperately want to touch it, he’s smiling, god I missed that smile, and now I am here I start to realise exactly how bad of an idea it was to not just brush past him and pretend I didn’t see him. Thank you. ”It’s exactly the car I pictured you to have.” Oh, fuck, that makes it sound like I think about him a lot, and that’s mortifying, but I do, and oh, god, what if he does? I’d like that. I find myself hoping desperately that he thinks of me half as much as I think of him.

Careful. He can hear mocking from a mile away. Ryan and I always tended to keep the same company and even now we have many of the same connections, though the band itself seemed to have split down the middle, Ryan and Jon on one side and Spencer and I on the other. Gabe is one such person that we both remained relatively close to- but then again, that’s just Gabe. ”I don’t doubt it, man.”

Speaking of. It’s typical of him to be absent at his own party, but suddenly I am uncomfortably aware that this is Ryan Rowe I am talking to and maybe I should escape elsewhere. I didn’t see him- I was about to text him when I ran into you, actually. I feel him looking at me and feel small. ”Hey, don’t stop on my account.”

I’m glad you came. I thought I might see you. Now, I’m not usually one lost for words, but it makes me unspeakably nervous and ecstatic that he tells me, to my face, that he is glad I came. And, by consequence, glad that he ran into me. So, instead of saying something smart or humorous or intelligent to deflect the weight of that confession, I just make some kind of choked noise in my throat and feel suddenly like a teenager again with a stupid crush that I can’t wait to tell my best friend about. Only this time, Ryan is the crush, not the best friend. ”Nice to hear,” I manage, only because I cannot manage anything else. Can I get you a drink? The bar’s just inside. No, I’ve spent too long with you already. ”Sure.” Fucking idiot.
I remember us all being seventeen, eighteen years old and fantasising about how famous and rich and successful we’d be my the time we were all thirty. The success of our first album thrust us all, just kids, into the spotlight, long before we were prepared; we said and did dumb shit as our egos tripled in size and came dangerously close to becoming entitled brats. Now, I’m over thirty, and I look back on that dream of mine and it is nothing like I imagined now I am here. It’s everything I could ask for, it’s a best case scenario that I am able to continue to make music and earn money and have millions hear my songs, but it’s not what I imagined.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I expected to be, like, fed grapes and fanned with huge palm leaves, I looked up to people who were entitled assholes and I just didn’t know it because I only saw their public persona. Privacy isn’t really a thing I have anymore and sometimes I wish that I’d done the same as Ryan and just withdrawn myself into a shell, living off royalties and whatnot, but then I realise that is selfish when I have so much. We started as a foursome and now I am the soul survivor from the original lineup, but I don’t feel any guilt for that.

I used to. But panic is mine, I played a major part in making it as successful as it was and I continue to make it even more popular even when I am on my own and the only official member. I no longer feel like I have at the wheel of a ship that I had nothing to do with building- at the front is where I belong and I don’t regret anything when it comes to the split or how I have handled it.

Well. There are regrets I have, but they aren’t to do with the band. Rather, the members. Spencer I am still friends with, which is awesome, but Jon and Ryan I haven’t spoken to in years and part of me is always seething that I didn’t make more of an effort to maintain the connection and the close relationships we always had as a band- after all, it was a relatively amicable split, nothing personal, just musical; I have no reason for having let the bonds between us all wear away so fast, but then. That’s life. People grow apart. I try not to let my regrets cling onto me too much because then I would be living in a world of ghosts, constantly yearning for what could have been and not settling for what truly is.

I wish I was as good at moving on as I tried to tell myself. If I had properly moved on, seeing Ryan stood in the hallway wouldn’t hit me like a kick in the gut, wash over me like icy water and leave me in shock for what felt like years but was probably only a half second after I which a response tumbled out of my mouth, trying desperately to pretend that this was completely casual and that encountering Ryan did nothing to me at all. He was just another guest at a party.

Just another goddamn guest out of how many? I thank Gabe for a second, in my head, for having undoubtedly invited more people than I would ever be able to speak to in one night, because it would make it easier to blend in and not see Ryan again for the rest of the night. That said- as my thoughts work a mile a minute and I come out almost immediately with some comment about his car- I find myself wondering if I really wanted to lose him in a crowd again, as I have past lost him in the crowd of life.

He meant so much to me and seeing him now, tall and handsome, so different in his manner and appearance yet much the same skinny introvert I knew as a younger man, is more than I can cope with. But I try, because how mortifying would it be if I turned around and left after speaking to him so casually? I keep eye contact because I simply cannot look away from him, and I register that he is as shocked as I am, and trying to come up with something to say.

And he’s beautiful. Always was, though I never let myself think that too much because I was adamant that I was straight back then and what we did was just physical and superficial, but since I have not seen him in person in so long it is jarring to see him, long legs and honey eyes and thick dark hair and- he has an earring in one ear, his hands are adorned with rings, I notice this all in the split seconds I have before we undoubtedly make our excuses and try and avoid eachother for the rest of the evening. I shouldn’t have come.

No, no, I can deal with this. It’s been eight years, Brendon, I think, sealing the rawness and reality that comes with seeing Ryan again behind bright eyes and a charming smile, and then I am ready, my mask is on. This is no big deal- and if I pretend it isn’t, as much as I can, eventually, it will become true. He’s just another guy I haven’t seen in years. We were dumb teenagers, nothing we did ever meant anything. We were friends. Were.

It’s the Trans Am, yeah. All of my facial muscles strain to keep my smile wide, and it is hard, unless you look close enough, to tell that I am coming loose at the seams (though I have only said a few words to him). Brendon Blake and Ryan Rowe, exchanging the first words in a decade, and we’re talking about his motherfucking car- which, by the way, is exactly the kind of car I always expected him to own. Still. His car. When I know I have so much to say. Funny- now I am here with him my mind cannot dispel the clouds that have formed enough to structure a meaningful sentence. So I say; ”It’s fuckin’ awesome.”

Looks like you took an Uber. Planning on drinking tonight? No, I want to say scornfully, I’m going to face one of the ghosts of my past completely sober and just hope I don’t have a full-on anxiety attack at Gabe Saporta’s birthday party. Instead, darkly, I laugh, and glance back out of the door, watching the Uber drive away. ”Oh, yeah. And, I didn’t feel like flexing on anyone tonight. It’s Gabe’s big night, old fucker that he is.” This whole scenario is bizarre and I view in from a third person perspective, like I am detached from my own body and I am looking down on this interaction from somewhere else. My voice is clearly distinguishable but I don’t feel it come out of my own mouth. It’s surreal, Is he even real, should I really have taken those meds last minute before I left- I want to reach out and make sure this man in front of me is really in front of me because it’s beginning to feel like I imagined him all along.

Maybe I should join you. Knowing Gabe, he’s invited, like, 400 people. Not great. By the time he is finished speaking I have zoned out, and I see his mouth moving but my focus has been lost already. All I heard was maybe I should join you and my muscles are seized with panic, and I know I started this by acting like there was nothing off between us, like that decade never happened, but now I regret it. Something did happen. I cannot ignore that.

But I try.

”Uh- Where is he?”
Gabe’s 40th birthday is next week. Fucking hell, we’re all getting old- I’m 32, yeah, but thinking about Gabe Saporta hitting his midlife crisis (actually, to be fair he’s probably already hit it several times before hitting the big 4-zero) really threw me for a loop when he sent me a text, clearly sent to dozens upon dozens of others, that invited me to his birthday party. ‘Birthday party’, like we’re all 14, when in reality, the youngest of us (when I say ‘us’, there’s no specific group in mind- perhaps, people big in the music industry in the 2000’s) is probably around my age, early thirties. Well, I haven’t matured other than physically a day over 18 since I hit that age, so. Does it really count? Thinking about it, neither has Gabe. Either way, I considered it for only a second before I sent a quick text in response confirming my attendance. Only immediately after pressing ‘send’ did I start feeling some kind of dread- it’s a big milestone, lots of people will be there, no doubt, which usually wouldn’t be a problem.

The real problem this time was who is likely to attend and when my thoughts strayed in that direction I suddenly felt slightly sick and typed out an entire text to backtrack and apologise but then deleted it, attempting to pull myself together. You’re a grown man, I had thought, throwing my phone down onto my bed, it’s been almost a fucking decade since you’ve seen him, it’ll be fine. It’ll be nice, reuniting.

Ryan Rowe; ex-member of my band, the band in which I am now the only member, my ex-best friend, my almost, my perhaps, my what-if. During the first few years after the split we kept in touch, but. We drifted, as was probably inevitable. And I haven’t spoken to him at all in at least eight years. Seen him, sure, relatively often at events, and it always makes my heartrate increase, but. We’ve never said a word. I remember locking eyes with him one time accidentally and thinking about it for much longer than I should have, wondering whether he was looking at me or straight through me like I just wasn’t there.

Famously reclusive and fame-shy Ryan Rowe meant more to me than I’ll ever be able to explain. I don’t know how he felt about me, exactly. I don’t even know properly how I felt about him. We never talked about it. Though I try to sabotage the memory, I can recall nights alone in the tour bus where we would act without thinking and do things that the just friends he described in his stupid livejournal didn’t fucking do- and yet, he’d always go, we never spoke about it, he’d go back to some girl. I was his dirty little secret. Well, that’s unfair. He was mine too. But then again, we always thought, it doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t make us gay, or mean we have feelings for eachother. It’s just doing stuff, we thought. No big deal.

We were stupid teenagers, he was just being a dickhead and experimenting like people our age in that time tended to do. Ryan Rowe is not the kind of man that sets out to break hearts or even fall in love in the first place- love, a concept we both would have and probably still did laugh at. I don’t know much about Ryan’s romantic life following the split, but he’s never been too successful. I hate myself for getting so attached to him and letting fond memories of him paralyze me for last decade or more. I hate myself for not saying anything to him while I had the chance and clearing it all up- though in hindsight, I don’t know what I’d say because I don’t know what it was that I was feeling.

Even hearing his name, the name I used to say like a prayer, is enough to make me visibly uncomfortable, as seen in interviews and otherwise. That’s why the thought of this event is stressing me out more than a birthday party should. Here I am, getting dressed, improvising because Gabe never gave me a dress code- so I go black skinny jeans and a tucked-in grey short-sleeved shirt- and I’m seriously considering for the first time in forever breaking into the medication I was prescribed forever ago for anxiety and some symptoms of adhd so I don’t come off too weird or strong with anyone. Thinking about it, I remind myself why I don’t take that stuff, and shrug on an oversized denim jacket before ordering an Uber, because if I want to enjoy myself tonight I’ll have to drink and if I drink I won’t be able to drive myself home.

I’ve pregamed, too, to calm my nerves, and all I can do is convince myself to chill out and loosen up. Despite my outwardly outgoing and extroverted nature, I struggle with crowds, but I’m a good actor and can behave otherwise. Trying to relax my muscles in the back of the car is futile; but if I drink enough, nobody will be able to tell that I’m nervous. And I’m used to hiding my real emotions anyway. I’m a performer. The performance begins when I walk into Gabe Saporta’s house, and he’s there, Ryan, right away, in the hallway. He must’ve arrived just before me. He’s turning around. I freeze. I missed him, I missed him. He’s right there in front of me.

”Hey! Dude, was that your fucking car outside? It’s dope.
Just before I blink open my eyes, I instinctually reach out for him because I sense that I am not tangled up with him, skin against skin warmed up in the morning sun, as I usually prefer to wake up- but my hands close around empty space, then, as I grumble to myself about his absence, the crumpled sheets that he left in his wake. Disappointed, I struggle into a sitting position with my back against the headboard and jerk my head once each way, left and right, feeling the stiff joints crack loudly in the quiet lull of our bedroom. Though, I don’t know why I’m disappointed. He’s always awake before me, and I know just where he’ll be- in the living room, or the kitchen, making breakfast or reading or something or other and when I walk into either room and he sees me, his gorgeous eyes will light up, he’ll smile at me like I hung the stars in the sky, and I’ll fall in love with him again, but. That all sounds silly, really. I can think all kinds of grand things about love and destiny but there’s no point talking about the fine scruples of fate and fortune seeing as I have everything I need all in the form of one man.

We don’t need to make grand declarations of love every day. I find fantasy in the domestic and ordinary though there is nothing ordinary about us, about him. I know when I walk into the kitchen today, he will greet me with his soft, low, sleep-rough voice, and maybe we’ll kiss briefly and chastely, or I’ll squeeze his hand, or press my palm against his back as I try and inch past him to get somewhere else. We don’t even need to tell eachother ‘I love you’- it’s just a habit, automatic. But even if it wasn’t. We know. That’s the beauty of this domesticity. It’s comforting, warm, it settles the fire in my chest, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than what I have when he is by my side.

Shut up, Brendon, I think, as I shift forwards and then stand up, heading towards my wardrobe. It’s fucking- what time is it- I check my watch- it’s 9am. You’re having grand thoughts about not being grand. Calm down. As I move, Bogart and Dottie are disturbed from their positions lying on the foot of the bed and they jump down and head downstairs, evidently where Elwood is, too. Groggily, I fumble for the handle on the cupboard and pull it open, blindly pulling out the first hoodie I see and pulling it over my head, registering distantly that it is technically Ryan’s, but then. I only really own a couple of hoodies. I walk into the en suite, glance in the mirror, check out what I’m dealing with today- okay, my hair is kinda greasy, but what’s new; shrugging to myself, I turn and leave, heading downstairs and then into the kitchen. And there Ryan is, just like I predicted- he’s pouring coffee, two mugs, I notice, he must’ve heard me moving about upstairs. The dogs are moving around his feet, vying for his attention; but as I walk in, they all start wagging their tails and turn to me. I pull up the hood to hide the greasiness of my hair and I wander up behind him, bending down on my way there briefly to pet the dogs. I stand up again, and my forehead presses against his back as I wrap my arms tenderly around his waist, gently enough so as not to surprise him. I feel his muscles tense for a split second under my arms but then they relax and I smile against the fabric of his shirt.

”Hi.” My voice sounds unused and a little raspy and for the first time since waking up I realise that there is a tingle in my throat, a slight soreness. Great. Not like I have a show soon, or anything. Whatever- not like a bug ever stopped me before. I clear my throat and stand on my tiptoes to kiss Ryan’s cheek before I drop my arms to my sides and move to stand by the counter. ”Sleep well?” Yeah, He replies after a second, and I shift back a little to let him put the kettle down. Then, he turns to face me, a mug in each hand, and hands me one, smiling back at me. Only when he looks at me like this do I ever somewhat believe that he loves me to the immeasurable amount that I love him.

Wrapping both hands around the coffee and bringing it to my lips to take a sip, I keep my eyes on him as he does the same, leaning with his back against the counter. Did you? I, in turn, lean against the counter island in the middle of the kitchen and nod after mulling it over briefly. ”I did. Soundly. Even after that- what did we watch last night? I don’t fuckin’ remember but it was freaky, I say, knitting my eyebrows together as I try to remember- but it was just some cliché b-list horror movie. Neither of us get scared particularly easily, we usually just lounge around and laugh at how many tropes there are, how cringey the films are. Or we fall asleep. My thoughts briefly wander to the amusing idea of making Ryan watch a rom-com. He’s more of an artsy indie film guy, and you could probably tell that from looking at him.

What? B, that was awful. The acting was terrible. Like, atrocious. And I don’t say that a lot. I scoff, raising an eyebrow at him and taking another sip from my coffee. ”Yes, you do.” He’s about to protest but then clearly thinks better of it because he knows I’m right. Instead, he shrugs and smiles again, hiding it behind his mug. God, he’s so perfect, I think distantly, and, with this infatuated thought now in my head, I set my mug onto the counter island and move forwards, letting my hands rest at his waist and standing up on my toes to kiss him, gently, trapping his bottom lip between mine and then grinning against his jaw as I drop back down onto my feet. ”I luh’you,” I say, and, yeah, he already knows. But. It feels good to remind him sometimes.
While researching Rowe for the interview, he’d seen pictures. He knew that the man was handsome, he’d known before he turned up to meet him, but those photographs were nothing because in person he was hot. It was typical for Brendon that the first person he’d been genuinely attracted too in a while was someone he had to meet in a professional setting- though that didn’t stop him daydreaming a little, watching his mouth too much when he answered questions and lingering with the handshake because his grip was strong and calloused and his fingers were long and- yeah, you get the picture. Ryan was just his type, tall and dark, with beautiful eyes and a gorgeous voice. So, when, at the end of the interview after the recording had stopped, Ryan lingered behind and approached him to ask him out on a date, Brendon was very surprised. Flattered. After a few hesitant moments wondering whether this would compromise the interview somehow and he’d get in trouble, he figured to tell with it, he was freelance anyway and Brendon hadn’t been on a date in a while.

Besides. If all else failed, he’d get a nice dinner, at least. He mulled over his outfit choice for a little longer than he would have liked but settled on something that stood out but wasn’t too out there, for fear of weirding Ryan out with his sometimes extravagant sense of style. Being late didn’t bother him and when he walked in and Ryan immediately stood up, he grinned lazily, meeting his date in the middle between the door and the table and letting himself be drawn into a hug. Just like with the handshake, it lingered just a little too long for it to be a quick first-date hug. Ryan smelled amazing, and he was warm and his chest felt comfortable to be held against. Jesus, it really had been a while since Brendon last had a crush or felt even the faintest butterflies and if things went the way they were, he’d be on the phone to his friends like a teenager when he got home tonight, gushing about the dreamy hockey player who had taken him out on a date in a lovely restaurant. Fuck, he was getting carried away, it was just a hug.

Pull yourself together, Brendon, he told himself, pulling back from the embrace and following Ryan to the table, smiling in thanks when he pulled his chair out for him and then sitting down, shifting til he was comfortable. It felt, for a bizarre moment as he started at Ryan from across the table, like the beginning of another interview, and he felt the need to introduce himself- but luckily, Ryan was talking before he could embarrass himself by implying that Ryan didn’t even remember the name of the man he’d asked out on a date the day before. Then, Brendon was complimenting him and commenting on that visible scar, withholding the juvenile admission that he thought it made him look hot. It did, though. It’s an accessory. He laughed. ”I have a scar, too, on my eyebrow.” He raised the eyebrow in question. ”Not as cool a story behind it, though. Smacked my head on the curb when I was a kid.”

I didn’t know whether you drank. Split a bottle? How considerate- or maybe this kid just liked his alcohol. Brendon smirked back, his voice teasing and gentle. ”Hell yeah, might help us out a little.” And suddenly they were talking about the interview and Brendon felt like he was at work but didn’t mind, because he understood it must’ve been a big deal for Ryan as his first proper interview, and because that was the one thing he knew that they had in common so far. He didn’t intend to flatter him but apparently honesty was enough to do that as Brendon just relayed what he thought Ryan already knew- everyone, save maybe rival teams, loved him as a player. He was pretty and charming and rough around the edges and that was certainly doing it for Brendon. Well. I knew that part, I'm always right. Cocky, but in a sweet, endearing sort of way, that Brendon couldn’t really take serious because he had been at that interview and Ryan almost stammered a few times. At first he thought it was inexperience but after Ryan asked him out, he realised he must have been a factor affecting his nerves, too.

A little shell-shocked. First in the draft... I’m good, I didn’t know I was that... y’know. That was almost a textbook answer to an interview question but Brendon could tell he really was just surprised. Not too above the Earth, then, it seemed, still disbelieving of his great achievements. Brendon felt a foreign fondness and hoped suddenly that his success continued into greater things. ”You should be proud of yourself.” A pause. ”I mean, I’m sure you are,” Brendon laughed, the corners of his eyes screwing up a little. It's crazy - but I'm great, too, obviously. ”Obviously.” You were my first interview. First one well thought out, and everything. Do you always do that much studying, or is it just this particular story? I wasn't expecting that.

Brendon waited as smiled at the server as they topped up his glass and he immediately picked it up when they moved on, taking his first sip just as Ryan was finishing his first glass. Slow down, he wanted to joke, but they weren’t there yet, so he decided against it. ”I always do that much,” He explained, placing his glass back down. ”I don’t just turn up and think up questions on the spot, y’know. Although- if turning up to interviews and getting dates with handsome men like yourself was a daily thing, I think I’d be a happier man.”
It had been both fascinating and amusing to Brendon to find out that he and Ryan weren’t all that different, apparently, when it came down to things like mutual attraction and affection and pure thirst. Ryan was just more shy about it, only revealing it, evidently, when he was wasted beyond return. Fuck, maybe he didn’t even know himself that he was capable of being so goddamn forward- around other people, even, which was truly jaw dropping at the time and still to Brendon now considering that Ryan could barely get through the mildest dirty talk (if it could even be classed as that, how PG-13 Ryan was verbally) when they were completely alone and Brendon was literally coming undone for him. It was satisfying, at least, to know that he had the same effect on Ryan that Ryan had on him. An ego boost, almost- until, well. Ryan started revealing to people who really didn’t ask exactly how they had sex, and that Brendon was a bottom, through and through, no doubts there. And it must’ve been pretty mortifying because Brendon had close to no sense of shame or concept of embarrassment.

That said, it was true. It wasn’t like Brendon had a distaste for taking on the role he did- the complete opposite, as Ryan had helpfully explained, but he just had some kind of complex where he didn’t want people to know that he was so pliant and willing when it came to Ryan. His confidence and independence defined him and he had a weird thing about people knowing he was so submissive, when among others and in day to day life he was so assertive. In Brendon’s mind, he was unclockable, so for Ryan to just go ahead and ‘blow his cover’ was like a slap in the face and Brendon didn’t even get time to damage control, ‘fix’ his image, because he had to look after his poor, wasted boyfriend. Thinking about it a little, Brendon reflected on his fear of his role being known- and decided that maybe it was something to work on, some kind of internalised homophobia he hadn’t addressed, or whatever. That dramatic bullshit aside- it was very reasonable for him to not want very intimate details about the two of them broadcast to strangers or otherwise very different parties, he thought, so he carried on with his deliberately careful confrontation about Ryan’s behaviour.

If water will fix me... Brendon wasn’t sure if anything could fx Ryan at this point other than time- he had the kind of hangover that, even with painkillers and gallons of water or more alcohol, could only be cured by waiting and suffering for a while until the pain and nausea subsided. ”It might help,” Brendon said encouragingly, but he was still dubious. He mentally noted down that he should get Ryan a glass of water sooner rather than later so he didn’t complain too much. ”I’ll get you some, and painkillers. In a bit.” His voice was deliberately vague-sounding and neutral, and he shifted, before kissing Ryan chastely on the cheek. My angel. Aw. Fuck. It was hard to even pretend to be mad at him when he was so soft and affectionate and referred to him as angel or baby or darling. Brendon just melted in response every time no matter how much he heard it. Everything’s how I imagined it’d be in heaven... except I feel like actual shit. He raised his eyebrows. ”Well, maybe you’re in hell.”

Zack telling me to go away, the fucker. Brendon smirked, ”Yeah, you kept sneaking in tryna kiss me before the show. Distracting me. Bad boy.” And then... the cab ride. That’s it. Evidently not the ride back to the hotel, featuring antics from Ryan like requesting head and straddling Brendon’s lap in the backseat. Those memories flashed through his mind and he exhaled, wondering where to start with this if Ryan really remembered so little about what happened last night. He wanted to make sure he didn’t think the worst, like, he had cheated, or something awful like that, though even fucking wasted neither of them would even dream of something like that. Hell, Ryan had refused to kiss him, at first, because he thought that he wasn’t Brendon. Even thinking about that he felt a surge of affection and an urge to go easy on Ryan- especially considering he looked so concerned when Brendon brought up his behaviour. What- what? Was I mean? What happened?

Brendon stared at their joined hands and laughed awkwardly, genuinely lost as to where to start. ”No, no, not mean. Far from it, dude. You were, uh. Thirsty. Very... Sexual.” He said the word like they were twelve year olds, cursing, but scared that their parents would hear. ”You got into the car and I tried to kiss you and you refused, saying that. You were spoken for. You didn’t recognise me at all, you were so gone,” He explained, looking up as he recalled the events in the car. ”I thought it was funny, so I asked about- your boyfriend. You started talking about my ass and how you stared at it and you couldn’t help but think about fucking me when I’m on stage wearing-“ He stifled a laugh, trying to remain serious, ”Tight jeans.” A pause to let it sink in, before he continued. ”You said you wanted to touch ‘every inch’ of me. Like, normally, I’d have been flattered, but it was in front of Zack and this driver. Thought you’d like to know, in case Zack mentions it.” Obviously, that wasn’t all, and Brendon made that clear by staring at Ryan intently, gauging is reaction and letting him come to terms with his very uncharacteristic behaviour.
Brendon was a drinker- many of the songs he had written without Ryan’s influence revolves around drinking and partying and going batshit, basically, which is why it was so strange for Ryan to be the wasted one, and not Brendon, As was how things usually played out. He’d be stumbling around, unpredictable and extremely giggly, and Ryan (or someone else if Ryan, for some reason, wasn’t available, such as Brendon was on tour) always ended up half-carrying him home and into bed. The thing was, when it got to that, Brendon’s memory had a cutoff point. He didn’t know how much of a nightmare he was when he was a little more than tipsy. Last night, though, with the task of dealing with a very intoxicated Ryan thrust upon him unexpectedly, he began to feel sympathy for Ryan and understood now why he complained about Brendon being drunk or tried to slow his drinking down before it got to that point. Brendon’s argument there was that Ryan was used to it. Drunk Brendon was well known as unstoppably horny and chaotic. Drunk Ryan being a similar way was the last thing Brendon expected.

What had he expected? Something like- Ryan as he was, more inclined to be introverted as usual, but more emotional, dramatically talking about his desire to ‘make love’ or ‘get married’ or something. Nothing like how he really apparently was, talking brazenly about how to fuck Brendon so he falls apart and other very inappropriate things that he wouldn’t even say to Brendon’s face when they were alone. It was lunacy. At first, Brendon found it hilarious as Ryan talked about his ass and how hot he was and how much he missed his boyfriend (as he didn’t even click that the man next to him was, in fact, his boyfriend), but later, as Ryan outed him as a complete bottom and requested a blowjob in a car with two other people besides the pair of them, it was just mortifying. And Ryan didn’t give a single fuck in his drunk state- that car ride seemed to last forever, until they finally arrived at the hotel, Zack dragging Ryan out of the car as Brendon claimed it was his fault for driving him away from the venue. Zack, deciding he didn’t like getting the blame, left Ryan for Brendon to deal with.

Brendon managed to get him to bed, mostly through promising that certain things would happen once they got to the hotel room, things Ryan had been enthusiastically talking about since a few miles down the road. He undressed him, and as he tried to unzip Ryan’s jeans and Ryan instead dragged him in for a very messy kiss, he decided that he did, in fact, feel great sympathy for his boyfriend whenever he had to look after Brendon. He supposed this entire struggle was karma. Luckily, despite seeming very eager to carry out what Brendon had promised, Ryan fell asleep in his underwear and Brendon had collapsed with a sigh of relief into bed next to him, without even having a shower. He was too tired. He fell asleep soon after Ryan had passed out, but not before dragging a blanket over the both of them and curling into Ryan’s side.

Now, Ryan was feeling the repercussions. I don’t want to drink anything, ever. Yeah, Brendon had heard that kind of bullshit before- from himself. For Ryan, though, who barely ever drank anyway and now had this painful hangover as a result of drinking too much, it was very likely Ryan was being entirely honest, and he was swearing off drinking that much ever again. Brendon smirked; it would be funny to see how much more drastic that decision became when he revealed what exactly had happened the previous evening. ”Not even water, darlin’? I bet you have a fuckin’ killer headache.” His voice was low and soothing, but laced with an edge of amusement, ruffling Ryan’s hair with his hand and grinning. He shifted back as Ryan began to stir properly and moved into a sitting position, facing the headboard. Brendon watched him, eyebrows raised slightly as he quashed his smirk. Still, as Ryan stretched luxuriously, Brendon drank in the way his muscles stretched taut and rested his chin in his hand, admiring him through lidded eyes. He was pretty, even though he was a pain in the ass. Is this life after death...? Am I in a coma?

”Not quite,” He murmured, opening his arms and moving so he could catch Ryan when he collapsed back into their kind-of hug. ”Though I am an angel. So you could be in heaven.” Brendon let his muscles go slack so he could be pulled in easily by Ryan. He kissed his cheek as an afterthought. I can’t remember anything after, like, eight. Interesting. ”What do you remember?” He asked, raising his eyebrows again critically. And I’m dead. Or dying. Take care of me. Okay, action. Now was time for some sweet revenge on Ryan for outing him to fucking Zack as so hopelessly submissive. ”Gladly, Ryan, But.” A pause for effect. He avoided Ryan’s eyes deliberately before searching them out, feigning reluctance but holding his gaze nonetheless. ”We need to talk about last night, uh.” Brendon moved back and summoned Ryan back into a sitting position. ”You said some really inappropriate shit about me during the ride from the bar back to the hotel. Zack and the driver were there. You didn’t- recognise me as me, or whatever, and started talking about, uh.” Brendon scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, reliving it, and stopped there to let Ryan catch up.
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