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Like Vines and Noodle Salad

Part 2

Part 1

~^~

The following morning, Jon had walked at least ten feet past the non-descript storefront window before abruptly stopping.

Most of the stores in Bisbee were antique shops, book stores, or art galleries of some sort, so the plain white lettering that read Patrick Stump, C.P.A., took a few minutes to register with his subconscious. He knew that name from somewhere.

Jon walked backwards, his flip-flops shuffling as he did. Squinting through the glare off the glass, the office appeared uninhabited but since the tiny plastic sign on the door announced OPEN, Jon entered.

There was a hint of burnt coffee in the new-car smell of the room, and there was a potted ivy on the desk, which Jon noted with admiration. He apparently shared good taste in plants with an accountant.

"Oh, hey. Hi." A short guy – okay, so he was nearly Jon's height – had come out of a far door that Jon assumed was the bathroom by the fading sound of a toilet flush. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, I was," Jon looked around the office hoping something would jog his memory. "Uh, I was looking for Patrick Stump?"

Very convincing, Walker.

"You've found him. What can I do for you?"

Jon appraised him again. Honestly, he'd been expecting someone older.

"Actually, I don't even know."

The other man's eyebrows drew together. He was wearing a fairly ugly short-sleeved button shirt with a tie and only the Fedora and dark rimmed glasses gave him some fashion immunity from his old man aura. Said the guy wearing flip-flops. Jon reprimanded himself in his continuing effort to make his subconscious not be such a prick.

"Huh," Jon shuffled. "Sorry. I guess I'm wasting your time. I thought I knew you, but… sorry."

"Uh, okay. No problem. You know my name, at least."

"Right. Oh, damn, sorry." Still a prick, still a prick, still a prick. "I'm Jon Walker. Just moved here."

He extended his hand and right when Patrick took it his face beamed with recognition.

"Oh, you're - Hi! – You're Olivia's – Ooh, god, I'm so sorry."

"You knew her, then?" Jon knew he shouldn't be surprised anymore.

"Yeah, I handled her accounts, because, um, accountant." Patrick chuckled awkwardly. It was just beginning to sink in for Jon that all the FedEx packages he'd received with information from his grandmother's attorneys, the hospice she'd checked herself into, the county land documents, even the keys to her house – had all included cover letters signed Cordially Yours, P. Stump

"Right. Right! Nice to meet you. Wow. Thanks for doing … all of that."

"She was a real sweet old lady, man. If you don't mind me saying." Patrick pushed his glasses up his nose and shoved his hands in his pockets. "She was funny. She took to me for some reason." He shrugged. "And since she didn't trust lawyers or investors or any of it, I kind of acted as her intermediary."

"Yeah. She lost a lot of money to lawyers after my grandfather died. The way I heard it anyway."

"I heard about that. And not many people around here trusted anyone with their money, you know? But once she started telling people about me, they started calling and - Oh! I'm glad you came in. If you have time, I can go over some things with you." Patrick's awkwardness was replaced with a motivated energy. "I mean, I'm not proposing you hire me or anything. There's no fee for it. Uh, it's just … I owe it to Olivia to wrap things up and turn her accounts over to you."

"Yeah. Sure." Jon was reeling a bit. "Uh, I was just gonna go get an Icee," he said, realizing too late how lame that sounded.

"Coke or cherry flavor?"

"Um, cherry-coke?"

"Right on, man."

Patrick was unlike any accountant Jon had ever known. Okay, Patrick was the only accountant he'd ever known. Maybe he shouldn't make so many assumptions about people.

Jon sat in a chair at a nearby table and watched Patrick take out his phone and thumb in a text before pulling a file from the cabinet and joining him. Much of what Patrick proceeded to tell him was what Jon's dad had already tried to cover, but explanations of his grandmother's estate papers somehow felt less threatening and morbid coming from Patrick than they had from his dad. After twenty-five minutes and several columns of numbers later, one thing was clear; Jon had money.

"I've estimated the taxes, both on Olivia's investments and property, and if you don't adjust any of your holdings before the new year, you'll be looking at something like this." Patrick pointed to a bright pink Post-It with several numbers on it. It wasn't the kind of stupid money that would buy an island or anything, but it was enough to leave Jon stunned into silence for several minutes. "Now for you, I'd want to move some things around to more age appropriate funds." Patrick pushed his glasses up his nose again and Jon recognized the quiet shiver of excitement running through him, like the Friday night gamers pumped up on RedBull for a full weekend of RP'ing. "And at your age, you could put a good 65% in high risk funds, but I'd keep at least 30% in some good, long term solids you can trust. The other five you could just get crazy with, who knows?"

Jon never played poker anymore because he simply didn't have the face for it and by the expression sliding off of Patrick's face, he was letting his bogglement show now.

"Oh, that is, if you'd want? You probably have your own people back home." Patrick was fidgeting, rubbing his knuckles over his eyebrow and adjusting his glasses. "You just tell me who you want me to send the transfer information to and-"

"No, man. Sorry. I don't have anyone else. Just, this is, wow."

"Ah. Right. I get used to looking at numbers. I forget. But yeah, Olivia did all right for herself." He flicked his finger at the Post It.

Just then the front door opened and the tight, nervous tension coiling in Jon's stomach relaxed into happy spasms of a different kind. In walked Brendon, pink lips puckered around the straw of an Icee he was sucking on while he carefully cradled two more in his other arm.

"Dude, cool!" Patrick hopped up and took the extra drinks from him. "Thanks!"

"I got your text. Three cherry-coke Icee's and –" Brendon's eyes widened when he saw Jon, letting out a small squeak that pleased Jon immensely. "You're Patrick's Icee client?"

Jon laughed. Not so much as what Brendon's had said but just from the feeling he had from looking at Brendon's face. "So, this what you do? You're the Icee Delivery Boy?"

Brendon frowned. "I prefer Icee Delivery Man, if you don't mind?" He canted a shoulder and took a haughty sip off his straw, feigning offense.

"My mistake and humble apologies." Jon bowed his head but he couldn't stop looking at Brendon's lips.

"So … you guys obviously know each other." Patrick was smirking and trying not to not look at them.

Jon ran his fingers inside the neck of his t-shirt, feeling the heat creeping up from having been caught flirting. "Yeah, uh, Brendon was the first person I met here."

Brendon smiled at Jon and ducked his head, still sipping. It had been one of his more memorable introductions.

"And I just met Patrick here." Jon told Brendon. "He's been filling me in on the details of Grandma's estate."

"Yeah? Good! Patrick's a genius with people's money. Olivia trusted him with all of that stuff."

"I won't disagree with her then," Jon said and turned to Patrick. "If you don't mind, dude? I'll just let you keep doing your thing."

Patrick's lips popped off his straw so quickly that he had to wipe Icee from dribbling down his chin. "Really? Yes. Thank you! I – I'll draw up the papers. You'll still need a lawyer for some of this, but my guy Brian's the best kind if you gotta to have one."

The phone rang and Patrick excused himself, flustered with energy, leaving Jon and Brendon alone again.

"So, where're you off to now?" Jon asked.

"I have a few deliveries to make and then go to the gallery."

"Maybe I should leave you to it, then?"

"No way. You're coming with."

Jon stood aside while Patrick, still on the phone, gave Brendon several manila envelopes, which he stuffed into his messenger bag. It looked slightly clandestine and Brendon answered the unasked question when they were walking outside again.

"The Bden Express," he explained. "I'm quicker than the Post Office and I never lose shit. Patrick does money stuff for lots people around here and I deliver it."

"Sounds … dangerous? Most people do that in an armored truck. You might get mugged!"

Brendon laughed. "Maybe in Chicago. It's no big deal here. Come on."

They stopped at the coffee counter in the lobby of the Copper Queen Hotel. "For a friend," Brendon explained. They walked a few more blocks when a door ahead opened and a ghostly figure of black and white showed in the doorway for just moment and nearly shut again.

"Gerard! Geeee!" Brendon let his voice drone.

"Oh, my god. Brendon." Gerard put hands to his head. "Honey. Too much. Too Early."

"Sorry – but I brought presents!" He held up the paper cup.

Gerard was already making grabby hands, half a cigarette pinched in the fingers of his right hand.

"You are a shiny, shiny star. Ohh…" He moaned as he sipped.

"I know." Brendon preened. "And that's not all." He indicated at Jon with a look, drawing Gerard's mystified gaze, leaving Jon feeling that he should provide a jazz hands 'ta-da!'

"Thanks." Gerard played along with a straight face. "Can I keep him?"

Jon flushed and Brendon grabbed his elbow. "No, silly! This is Jon. I'm keeping – he's already – no. This is Olivia's grandson."

"Truth?" Gerard's sleepy eyes went to round full moons. "Oh, wow, hi. Oh, my god. You're, oh, wow. God. I loved her. I've been in fucking mourning! You have no idea."

Though Jon did, he thought, have some idea.

"Oh, my god. Come in, come in."

Jon felt caught up in a whirlwind of heartfelt enthusing.

There was an old fashioned barber's pole on the wall near the door, but the traditional red and blue spiral stripes had been painted black and the top adorned with a curious looking gargoyle. Jon raised his Canon and snapped several as he was ushered inside, only hearing a third of what Gerard was saying about his grandma.

"- I was utterly lost. Complete. Fucking. Mess. Totally gone." At this declaration, Jon realized maybe he should focus on what was being said and not on the elaborate mural. "I'd already quit drinking by then. And it was hard. But I'd lost my band. I thought that would kill me alone. I'd never, ever done art sober. At least not since crayons, right? All I knew was that if I was going to live I had to get away from Jersey."

Jon was a little uncomfortable with the level of confidence Gerard was granting him, but then people often opened up to him – something about an 'honest face', and he had the added extension of trust that his grandmother had built with these people and for reasons he couldn't fathom, they extended that trust to him.

The studio was like many of the building spaces in Bisbee were, longer than it was wide.

There were found art creations and canvases bearing stark and vivid images. The most notable of all was the ceiling; wall-to-wall images stretched across it.

"Ah, okay. Um, it's done in the style of the Dia De Los Muertos art that comes out of Mexico. It's a battle, see?"

And Jon could see. The DiVinci-like mural defied its singular dimension and created an optical illusion of depth as the skeletons, Gerard explained, representing the souls of good and evil fought for the right to return to Earth on the Day of the Dead.

"I spent a year on it," Gerard said, sipping his coffee. He had a casual disconnected air about it, but the sidelong looks Jon was receiving belied Gerard's true desire. Every artist Jon had ever known wanted their work to be appreciated, if not understood.

His neck began to ache after walking around looking upwards and when he righted his head, Gerard and Brendon came into focus for a moment before they wobbled. Or Jon wobbled, he realized, when they had each lunged forward to take an arm in hand before he pitched onto to the floor.

"Oh, whoa, man. Yeah, people do that all the time. I'm so gonna get my ass sued one of the days. Fucking tourists."

Gerard put his cigarette between his lips, shoved empty water bottles, coffee cups, and paint-spattered towels aside and plunked Jon into the chair.

"That's kind of embarrassing," Jon said, feeling the oxygen flow clearing his fuzzy head. "But this is really, seriously, amazing, man." He waved at the ceiling.

"Thanks," Gerard blushed at the compliment and Jon thought Gerard had that timeless look about him that his grandmother had. Gerard had the same aura, like a 1930's starlet with big sweeping hair and swirls of smoke keeping him in soft focus.

He followed Gerard's eyes which were on Brendon, who was looking at him.

"You feeling better?" Brendon asked, with a hand just barely touching Jon's hair but carefully missing his skin.

"Yeah, I'm good."

Gerard's eyes darted between him and Brendon as he took a drink. The coffee cup didn't hide the rounded cheeks of his smile. "So, guess who's coming next week?"

"Ooh!" Brendon bounced. "Frank? Already?"

"Yeah, he hired a new tour manager so it should free him up some this summer."

"Frank?" Jon prodded, not sure he really had the right to ask.

"An old friend. We were in the band together."

"Boyfriend." Brendon added like an imp.

"He's not."

"Ugh! He comes to see you every year and he stays longer and comes earlier each time. He's so your boyfriend."

"He's just coming here for the vacation." Gerard's tone of voice was obviously downplaying the accusation.

"They're in love." Brendon told Jon in a definitive stage whisper.

"It's not that simple." Gerard glanced at Jon before looking at Brendon again. "You'll see."

"I refuse to believe it's as difficult and stupid as you and Ryan try to make it. If you like someone, you tell them. And if they like you back, they can tell you. Easy-peasy."

"Mmph," Gerard snorted. "Good luck with that philosophy, Sparkles. People are stupid as fuck when they're in love."

"Did I say love? I did not."

Jon realized that Brendon was picking up the trash as he waved a plastic bag in one hand, cleaning up the place.

"I said 'like'," Brendon continued. "And if a person can't be honest about liking another person then why fucking bother?"

"Hmm …" Gerard cocked his head, skeptical of Brendon's assertion, though he was clearly amused. "What do you think of that?"

Jon had been enjoying the volley and hadn't expected to have it turned on him. He scratched a finger behind his ear and fought the impulse to be vague and to provide the same honesty they were putting out.

"I, ah, I guess it's possible? My … Tom, we were pretty honest about what we were. Or what we weren't. But maybe that's because we were friends first? But there wasn't a lot of honesty with Bill."

"Hm-hmm, hm-hmm." Gerard nodded, as though he fully understood what Jon was trying to say, without really saying it.

"I like the idea, though," Jon added. "I agree with Brendon, it should totally be done that way. If possible."

"See?" Brendon turned back on Gerard. "You should just tell Frank already. I mean you already sleep together."

"Because I only have one bed!" Gerard protested, then turned to Jon and pointed at the ceiling. "I live in the loft upstairs. I only have one bed. We've never fucked."

He said it with such matter of fact ease that Jon didn't even blush, though he did have to stop himself from tugging on his hair.

"Anyway," Gerard continued, almost a little sadly, "if it hasn't happened yet …"

Jon wondered about this Frank dude that Gerard spoke so happily of but made his eyes so sad.

Cleaning up Gerard's studio before the tourist rush on the weekend turned out to be another of Brendon's jobs, so Jon wandered around listening to Gerard talk about his current project and he asked Jon about photography. Most people just asked to be polite, but Gerard listened intently and continued to ask questions. Jon never thought of himself as very interesting and preferred it when Gerard went off on a tangent and talked about himself. He paused in the corner where a giant ivy was growing wild and he took several pictures of it.

"Oh, that thing is fucking insane," Gerard said when he heard Jon's camera. "It gets no sunlight, it only ever gets watered when Brendon does it and the thing is wild."

"It's an ivy. Almost impossible to kill," Jon said. "My grandma gave me one once."

"Ooh! Ohh!" Gerard waved his hand in the air and blew out a puff of smoke between pursed lips. "Actually, Olivia gave that to me, too. Ages ago."

"Really?"

"Yeah! How funny! I call it my Devil's Snare."

Jon nodded and frowned.

"You know, Devil's Snare?" Gerard repeated. "From Harry Potter."

"Oh. I haven't read it." Jon shuffled. This always seemed to be an issue for people. "Saw one of the movies, I think," he added hopefully.

"Oh my god. Brendon! He hasn't fucking read Harry Potter!"

"What? Jon Walker, don't break my heart."

"Uhm?" Jon fidgeted, looking at his own toes curling in his flip-flops.

"Why not?"

"Seriously, dude. Why not?"

Jon laughed. "It's just. I don't know. I was like twelve when it came out?"

"But only the first one. Jon!"

"I didn't like reading much at that age." Jon squirmed under their accusatory looks. "Okay, have you seen how big they are?" He hated how stupid that made him sound.

"You're making unicorns cry," Brendon whined.

"You're making me fucking cry. Jesus. You stay here." Gerard pointed at him and then darted upstairs.

Brendon giggled a little and continued sweeping the floor while they listened to Gerard thump around and swear upstairs. "Found them! Here." Gerard thrust three books at him when he returned. "Fucking British versions, too. Read. Brendon? You read them yourself if you have to."

Brendon looked over, met Jon's eyes, and bit his lip. "I will."

Jon sighed and regrouped the books in his arms. If the deal came with Brendon attached, he might not mind so much.

~^~

The next day, Jon woke to find it raining. His plans to work in the back yard were out and Jon resigned himself to a quiet day on his laptop, editing photos, when a wet and pink-faced Brendon showed up at his door. The day suddenly had a much better outlook.

"Hey. How come I don't have your number yet?" Brendon asked, stamping his feet.

"Yeah, why is that?"

"I don't know, but it's really not cool. Give me your phone."

Jon laughed a little but retrieved it from the table. "You can come in, you're dripping."

"Dripping-shmipping, this is important. And yes, I just said 'shimipping'. Love me or leave me."

Jon answered that last part in head but said nothing as Brendon took his phone and dialed himself. He saved each other's numbers respectively, titling himself as 'Bden'.

"Okay." Brendon took a deep breath as though the emergency was over.

Jon handed him a towel. "Better?"

"Better." Brendon wiped his glasses dry and then his face and looked up when he was done. "Hi."

"Hi. What's up?"

"Work got rained out for the day. Eh, land surveyor thing. Lame."

"Do you get one of those orange vests with the reflective thingies on them?" Jon asked.

"I do! It's the only good thing about the job."

They laughed together and Jon felt instantly at home. "How do you know how to do that?" Jon asked.

Brendon's smile sobered and his eyes went serious. "…My dad."

Jon nodded. He didn't think he knew Brendon well enough to earn that story yet.

"So I thought maybe we'd read together?" Brendon changed the subject. "I'll start."

Jon smiled and forgot for moment what Brendon intended to read to him but he was distracted by the large amounts of happy blooming in his chest. There were also a few wet strands of hair clinging to Brendon's forehead.

"If you're busy, that's okay." Brendon looked disappointed. "I just-"

"No! Sorry, no. It's a good idea. Best idea. Let's do it."

Jon sat sideways at the opposite end of the couch and watched Brendon as he read. He did all voices complete with facial expressions, from Hagrid's rotund and clumsy dialect to Draco's pinched and haughty little sneer. Jon thought he was better than any movie.

By mid-afternoon Ryan had located Brendon by text just when Ron got caught in Gerard's Devil's Snare and he came over and listened with them. Jon didn't mind the company at all until, late into the evening, when Brendon finally shut the book. His voice was hoarse and his eyes were red, and Ryan announced he'd drive Brendon home.

It was like a frustrating chaperoned date. Jon had never actually been on a chaperoned date, but he was pretty sure this is what it would be like.

That night, Jon dreamed that he could see Brendon in the Mirror of Erised while Ryan lurked behind his reflection under Professor Quirrell's turban.

~^~

They text messaged over the next two days. Brendon had long shifts to make up for missing a rain day and Jon spent long days in the sun, trimming, raking, and planting. He accepted, graciously, that he would have made a shitty farmer.

It was on the third day, his body sore and mind weary, that Jon heard Brendon call out his name; he must not have heard the knock at the door. For the first time, he didn't really want to see Brendon. He wanted to stay sitting on the floor, pathetic and brooding as he was, and Brendon would be no help for that.

"You here?" Brendon called. Jon couldn't ignore his dejected tone.

"Up here," he answered, not very loudly. He almost thought Brendon hadn't heard him and had left until his face peered around the bedroom doorway.

Jon couldn't bring himself to look Brendon in the eye; if he did, he might smile and he was not in a smiling mood, so he gave a slight shrug and continued looking at the painting above the bed.

"What's going down, Jon Walker?" Brendon's voice played at light and casual, but it was cautious as well.

"You know … woke up, looked around and just … had all these thoughts."

He wasn't even sure how to put words to everything in his head. Making polite talk at a party was easy enough, but he wasn't chatty about private things.

Brendon leaned on the wall and slid down to sit next to him.

Jon took a deep breath to talk and then another. Brendon unexpectedly leaned over and wrapped his arms around Jon, putting his chin on his shoulder.

Jon closed his eyes and smiled at the contact, at Brendon's breath near his ear and the sweet scent of his hair.

"Want to give me some of your thoughts?" Brendon asked. "I can hold them for you."

Jon leaned into the hug, nearly, but not quite, resting his head against Brendon's.

Brendon didn't ask again, he just sat quietly next to him. His foot bounced a little, but he seemed mostly calm.

"See, it's not something little. It's like, depressing, life-history stuff."

"Ah, big life-changing regret kinda shit? I got that, too."

"You're kinda young to have Big Life Shit."

"And you are so much older."

Jon looked into Brendon's eyes, finding that the camouflage of wide-eyed innocence didn't quite hide the wounded look on the inside.

"Guess everyone does," Jon conceded. "I'm nothing special."

"That's a different point altogether," Brendon huffed, releasing his embrace around Jon's shoulders and nudging him playfully with his knees. "Hey, I'll tell you one of mine, first, if you want?"

Jon gave a small smile and hung his head, and they were quiet for another few moments.

"So, remember that I told you I was Mormon. I was raised in the faith. I'm not now. Have you ever known any Mormons?"

Jon shook his head. "Or, I mean, yeah. Maybe when I was younger, in school? But no one I hung out with later was very religious."

"Ha – well, everyone I hung out with was. That was just my life. And I liked it, you know? My parents aren't bad people. They volunteered at our schools; we had family game nights and family vacations every summer. It was great. But the other stuff … by the time I was fifteen, I kinda knew that whole life, the one you're expected to have, wasn't really gonna work for me. Still … " Brendon's casual body language began to tighten, his toes curling inside his Converse. "But I didn't know what else to do, so I did what a good Mormon boy does and I graduated and saved my money and tried not to think about …until I was sent here on my mission." Brendon let out an awkward, humorless laugh. "I was only here for a couple weeks before I left. My leader tried to get me to go home, but I didn't want to."

Brendon took a breath and ran his fingers through his hair, scratching at his scalp. "Am I boring yet?"

Jon shook his head. "No. Keep going."

Brendon criss-crossed his legs and continued. "Olivia – your Grandma - she made me call though." He brightened and nudged Jon. "She said, 'fuck it, Brendon sweetie, if you want to know if you can go home, you just have to call your mom and ask already'."

Jon let the tremor of a breathless chuckle shake him. He remembered how she'd pull out the feisty old lady routine. She didn't believe in being fake with anyone.

"I know, obvious, right? So I did. And I told my mom …" Brendon's voice had gone thin and he crossed his arms, scratching them lightly. "Told her everything. About me. And that I wasn't sure if I should come back and she just…" Brendon laughed as though still a little astonished and showed a far away spiteful smirk. "It wasn't like she was mad so much as sad. She just said 'maybe you shouldn't come home just yet'. Just like that. … Jesus."

"I'm sorry. That blows."

"Yeah …" Brendon was quiet before he began giggling. "You know, I never understood why that meant something was a bad thing. 'Blowing' is good, isn't it? So 'that blows' should mean something is awesome!" Brendon had gone all loose and relaxed again.

Jon blinked at him.

"You know, like, 'hey dude, I like your new car – it blows!' or like, 'did you hear their latest album? It blows – it's so good!'" Brendon broke into chuckles.

"I agree, blowing is good." Jon realized how obtuse that sounded when Brendon laughed even louder.

Dylan came up to them, head butting against their knees, giving them a croaking demanding meow when they didn't acquiesce with petting him immediately. They scratched him behind the head together and more than once their fingers brushed together. Brendon glanced at him, giving him a patient look.

"Right," Jon began. "So, I guess the thing is, I haven't really grieved for her yet." Sitting in this house, in her room, there was no question who 'her' was. "It's like it's stuck or something."

"Wow." Brendon looked incredulous which made Jon feel worse. "No, I mean... it's just … I cried for like, two days. She didn't even tell us she was sick. We knew something wasn't right. She was too tired to work outside in the garden this spring and she was giving plants away. We thought she left to get some treatment, and then it was like a month later that Patrick told everyone that she'd checked into a hospice and died and -" Brendon's voice had gone tight and pitchy, and he stopped talking, focusing instead on Dylan, who was curling into a ball on his lap.

Jon picked up the conversation. "We didn't know either. I didn't and I should have. She didn't say anything about being sick when I talked to her at Christmas. I guess she told you she wasn't close with my parents?"

Brendon made a face, scrunching his lips, and gave a reluctant nod.

"Yeah. The last time I was here, I was fourteen. That's when she bought that painting." They looked up at the portrait above the bed bearing a wash of delicate tans and pinks, which gave the vaguest hint of two nude masculine forms holding each other. "It was from one of those touristy art fairs, you know? It was … what's the word for that kind of tacky shit? With a 'k'?" Jon rolled his eyes at himself, he seemed to get hung up on the stupidest thing and then get stuck on it.

"Um … 'kitschy'?" Brendon supplied.

"Yes! That. Man, I love that you know what I'm trying to say. So we were looking at the different paintings, Gram and I, and I saw this one. I just stood there staring at it and like, I really saw it. Grandma didn't say a word, but she bought it and a postcard version of it for me."

"I've always liked it," Brendon said, looking up at it. Jon looked at him, noting one dark freckle above his jaw and how his long dark lashes nearly touched his cheeks when he blinked. Brendon turned and looked at him, waiting for him to continue, and Jon looked away.

"My dad saw the postcard when I got home and, he didn't freak out, I guess, but he pretty much just told me that whatever Gram had let me think I was, that I wasn't. They never let me come back."

"Oh, Jon."

"It's okay." Jon shrugged. It so wasn't, but it was a habitual response, to have the good manners not to be bothered. "I coped. Whatever, you know? I played sports, badly, and tried music and I had my brothers, my friends … I had girlfriends. Until college, and then I didn't fucking feel like pretending anymore." He could hear the exhaustion in his own voice.

"Yeah." Clover had dropped a paper ball between them and backed up, crouching flat with big, determined eyes, waiting for one of them to throw it. They took turns playing with the cat and laughing at him.

"Tell me about the 'not pretending'," Brendon finally said, his eyes on the cat.

"Hmm?"

"You said, once you went to college you didn't pretend anymore."

"Right. Ah. That starts with Tom. We've been friends for years. Not the kind that you hang out with everyday, but he's just always there, you know?"

Brendon kind of shrugged but shook his head and Jon wondered how many friends besides Ryan and Spencer he'd ever had.

"Anyway, I went to Tom. He was my first. First guy. He was cool. We'd get high or drink too much and fuck around and laugh it off later. It was just kind of … it wasn't love or anything. It eventually got weird, but we're still friends though."

"You talk to him?"

"Yeah. Sometimes."

"Okay. … and who else?"

Jon raised his eyebrows at being asked so openly, though he didn't mind sharing. "Random hooking up isn't really my thing. Fooled around here and there. Mostly I had a good time and tried not to flunk out. Then there was Bill."

"I hate Bill," Brendon offered solemnly and then chuckled.

"Yeah, he took me on a joy ride. Couldn't ever figure out what he wanted and did things with him that I never ... I was just breaking up with him, for the second time, when Grandma died. I was graduating at the same time and that's why it took so long to come out here."

Brendon looked worried.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing!" Brendon said, a little too loudly.

"… o-kay."

Brendon kept his eyes on the cats.

"Shit, I don't usually talk this much. You think I'm all slutty now." Jon stated with sarcasm, though he was actually a little worried. Bill had made him feel like it a few times.

"No." Brendon still didn’t look at him. "I don't … If I was going to call anyone was a slut, it would be Ryan. He's such a freak but he totally got a lot of play."

Jon snorted. "Did he tell you that?"

"He hinted. But, no. Spencer told me when we were drunk."

"No shit? Huh." Jon filed that information away for later.

"Spence said Ryan had a lot of friends. Well, not when they were little or whatever, but in high school. Apparently that's when Spencer says he went from being the puppy everyone wanted to kick, to the puppy everyone wanted to pet."

Richard III walked past with his tail high, sneered at them and his feline house-mates for playing the very doggie game of 'fetch the paper ball' and sauntered on. Jon threw a paper ball at him, sending Clover careening after the snooty cat and Brendon continued.

"Me, on the other hand, I was more like the puppy that no one knew fucking existed." He let out one of his self-deprecating laughs that Jon was learning to recognize and dislike. "So, yeah, I kinda, there wasn't a lot of, uh, opportunities?" Brendon's hands and eyelashes fluttered with a little nervous energy and Jon felt the urge to pounce and sooth him like one of the cats. "Didn't matter. It was a big deal in my family – the church – that we weren't, that we were supposed to wait."

"Wait? 'Till, like, marriage kind of wait?"

"Yeah. Which, you know, I don't agree with because of religious reasons, but maybe the idea kind of stuck a little?" Brendon flailed and disregarded himself again. "Stupid. Not like there was anyone wanting anyway."

"But I thought I remember Ryan mentioning someone. In the army?" Brendon raised his eyebrow at Jon's question and he realized that maybe he shouldn't have revealed he'd been paying that close attention to Brendon's love life.

Brendon just smirked. "Yeah. There is. Was. He … I met him at Hall's one night. He had duty-leave that weekend and he'd just got out of boot camp. I mean, he doesn't really seem into the whole military thing. Or like, he is, but he's not a stupid meat-head who just wants to kill stuff, you know? He really cares about stuff. He likes all the technical shit. You know." Brendon shrugged.

"Sure." Jon didn't really care to know any more. He was also feeling like an idiot sitting on the floor and wanted to do something impressive.

"So, yeah. Eric – his name is Eric – has a lot of these soldier boy training things. So I only see him on a weekend every once in awhile. I haven't seen him over a month."

"So things with him are good?" Jon asked, clenching his jaw, seeing his own nostrils flare.

"Yeah. He's all right. We hook up. You know."

"Right."

"The thing is, Ryan says it all counts, that sex is sex, and," Brendon was talking faster and avoiding eye contact, "…and I guess I think so, too." He laughed too loudly again and blushed, pushing his glasses up his nose. "What I mean is, like, we did stuff, but not everything. So I'm still … I haven't … Maybe it is because of how I was raised. Probably."

Jon understood now. This was new, but it was another piece of the picture that Jon liked all the more. What bothered him was that Brendon seemed to be ashamed of it. He got that, it was something guys fucked with each other about, but Jon didn't feel like that. "Maybe this dude just wasn't right for you?" Jon supplied. Very generously, too, he thought.

"Yeah. Because I was gonna, finally, when he comes back from his camp thing-whatever." He waved his hand in reference and Clover went onto his hind legs to press his head into Jon's fingers.

"Yeah." Jon threw Clover's paper ball particularly hard out the bedroom door.

"But now, I don't know."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I thought I was just being a dork for having a hang up about it. For 'waiting'."

His eyes glanced at Jon and he might have imagined the hint of inquiry in his eyebrows, but he didn't think so.

"It could totally be worth it," Jon agreed. Wondering privately if he was making a promise to himself or to Brendon. "It definitely could be."

~^~

"Next door for dinner, you're coming with," Brendon said, holding out a hand to pull Jon to his feet.

"I am? Okay."

"Yep. Ryan's been working on a paper that he wants me to read and Spence got something not-Ryan up his butt because he's making chicken enchiladas." He pronounced 'enchiladas' with an exaggerated and ridiculous Spanish accent.

"Enchiladas?" Jon tried. And failed.

"En-chi-la-das." Brendon used a lot of teeth and tip of the tongue and Jon nearly bit his.

"Enchiladas, then. If you're sure it's okay?"

"Duh."

It did seem to be okay, because the moment they walked next door, Spencer put him to work, chattering away about the animals at the clinic and their insane keepers, and he seemed to have actual genuine interest in Jon's cat stories.

"They aren't your grandmother's cats anymore. You realize that, right?"

"Well, yeah." Jon was taken aback and annoyed by Spencer's words. "Why do you say that?"

"It's just, you keep saying 'my Grandma's cats' and, well…" He brushed his hair to the side and dipped a corn chip into the bowl of salsa, talking with an open mouth. "They're yours now. Unless you don't want them? I could put up notices at the clinic and try to find them homes."

"No," Jon answered, slightly horrified at the idea. "I'm keeping them." Jon hadn't realized it, but he planned to keep everything as it was, or as it was meant to be anyway, for her. He hadn't planned to change anything. … Because maybe she was going to return and it would be like he'd just been keeping everything up for her? Jon took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders. "I'm keeping the cats. And the house, the plants, all of it." Decision made.

Spencer examined him and Jon tried to ignore it, stoically dipping a chip in the salsa, but he became aware of Spencer's eyes in a way he hadn't been before. When he finally glanced up at Spencer again, he was smiling.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it. You belong."

Jon wasn't sure in which way he 'belonged' but he felt Spencer's approval was valuable anyhow.

The enchiladas were good enough that they ate until they couldn't move. Brendon continued to repeat 'en-chi-la-das' every time someone said it so that Spencer, after giving Brendon fair warning, shoved him into the couch and sat on him. Jon thought he was honestly trying to smother him to death.

"Wow," Jon said, both in appreciation for Spencer's strength and a mild concern for Brendon's life.

"I know," Ryan agreed. "Never underestimate Spencer Smith." His little shrug implied he was disinterested, but his non-smirk smirk looked like pride. "Brendon knows when he's pushing Spencer's buttons. He was asking for it."

Jon enjoyed watching the duo play it out and while none of his thoughts about Spencer were ever particularly sexual, he still appreciated the pink of his cheeks and how bright his smile was as Brendon squirmed so much that he fell on the floor. Spencer so often appeared to be stressed or annoyed with purple smudges under his eyes, but Brendon wrestled and played with him until Spencer looked more his age again.

They had a few more beers and decided to play dirty Scrabble while they played the third season of South Park. They had most of the four letter words on the board when Spencer added 'ed' to Ryan's previously played 'bugger'. Ryan said it was a cheap move and the resulting bitch-naming turned into something embarrassingly like foreplay.

Brendon gave Jon a meaningful look and stood, keeping his eyes on Jon's.

"Okay, guys. Gotta go. I told Greta I'd be home in time to watch Heathers. And to carry the laundry upstairs."

"How is she?" Ryan asked.

"Fat and miserable," Brendon said, snagging some loose change Spencer had left on the counter. "I'm taking your quarters for laundry. But she's good. I felt the baby moving again last night. It's fucking weird."

"Cool," Spencer said, while Ryan added a quiet, "Gross."

"You're still going to be there, right?" Spencer asked.

"Yep."

"Gross," Ryan repeated, but Jon was intrigued.

"You're gonna be there? Like, when she has it?" Jon asked.

"Yeah! She asked me to be with her." Brendon looked proud. God, such a pretty smile. "It'll be coming out of her soon, I guess." He pushed his fist under his t-shirt like the Alien baby was ripping through his stomach and he attacked Ryan's head with it.

"Get away, you freak!" Ryan swatted at him. "Let me get up, I'll drive you."
He was still battling with Brendon's Alien baby fist when Brendon looked directly at Jon, bobbing his eyebrows. He said nothing but the look was enough for Jon to understand.

"No, that's okay. I'll drive him." Jon stood up and exchanged shameless smiles with Brendon.

"It's okay, I can do it," Ryan insisted.

The Muppet-like disappointment on Brendon's face was obvious to all, except Ryan apparently, and Spencer moved his feet into Ryan's lap and pressed down. "Let Jon take him. You have to rub my feet since I made such awesome enchiladas."

"En-chi-la-d –" Brendon began in his dirtiest Cheech Marin voice and had to dodge behind Jon to avoid the pillow that Spencer threw. When it bounced off Jon's face instead, none laughed harder than Ryan.

"Fine, then. You take him. Get him out of my house. I don't even like him."

Brendon flipped him off and flicked his tongue at Ryan but was still crouching behind Jon, fists in Jon's shirt, which he did not find at all disagreeable.

"Well, okay. Thanks for dinner." Jon laughed as Brendon was backing him out the doorway to maintain his cover while Spencer was still holding Ryan down with his legs in case Ryan decided he needed to attack Brendon again.

"Anytime, man, seriously. You don't need Brendon to stop by."

Jon noticed the invitation was extended by Spencer alone and it was left uncommented upon by Ryan, but at the moment he was making note of this, he realized that when Brendon had taken him by the arms as they left the house, he'd slipped his hand into Jon's and now they were holding hands on the way to his Jeep. Sometimes things just happened faster than Jon could process them. He gave Brendon's hand a squeeze just before they separated to climb inside.

"I don't think he likes me very much," Jon blurted, because saying 'yay holding hands!' would have been inappropriate.

"Who? Ryan? He's just like that with people. It's not you."

"Yeah? Hope so." He started the ignition. "I don't want your best friend to hate me."

There was implication in that sentence, he knew, but he was willing to stand behind it.

"He doesn't. I know he doesn't." Brendon touched the back of Jon's hand again, but Jon had to downshift and once his hands were free enough to hold again, they were already outside of Brendon's building. One reason small towns sucked.

"So, you are going to Hall's Saturday, right?"

"Definitely. You guys promised me 'night life'."

"That's right! Awesome. Everyone will be there."

Jon really wasn't thinking about Saturday anymore. He was thinking about Brendon's lips and how he would express three different emotions in one smile and he wanted to take his hand again, he wanted to smell his hair, and he wanted to kiss him. He wanted nothing more than to kiss Brendon for the rest of the night.

"I'd invite you up, but you know … it's girl time."

Jon grinned. "No. That's cool. I don't want to intrude on girl time. But hey, thanks for coming over today. All that shit we talked about. I don't usually do that."

"No problem." Brendon touched his hand and Jon turned his over and squeezed his fingers. "I'm totally trustworthy, I swear."

"I know." Jon wanted to say something more. Something notable. Why didn't he have more words? Say something, you lame shit!

"Well, Greta's waiting …"

"Right."

Brendon shrugged a little and leaned forward and they hugged. Jon held tightly for a second, pressing his cheek into the side of Brendon's head and held his breath wondering if this was going to turn into The Moment.

"Brendon Urie, is that you down there?" Greta's voice called out from the window above them.

Brendon pulled away and leaned back out the open Jeep window so he could see her.

"Hi! Yeah, it's me!"

"Well get your little apple bottom up here before I eat all the snickerdoodles."

"Wow, she's already got the mom-talk thing down," Jon said quietly as Brendon got out. "Except maybe that last part." He cleared his throat and remembered that he'd had a few beers.

"What do you mean?" Brendon affected a deep and flirty voice, expression to match. "Have you seen my apple bottom?" Brendon turned and looked over his shoulder at his own ass, framing it with his hands, and then up at Jon.

"I've noticed." Jon took his time looking and scanning up Brendon's body before meeting his eyes again.

Brendon beamed and faced him again.

"Who you got there, sweetie?" Greta asked.

"It's Jon!" Brendon answered. Jon leaned across the seat to peer out the passenger side door at her and waved.

"Hi, Jon! You wanna come up? We're just gonna watch Heathers and pig out on cookies. They're from the restaurant, good ones."

"Yeah, and come on, Christian Slater. You know what I'm talkin' 'bout." He nodded theatrically.

"Thanks, but nah. It's cool." Jon wouldn't be able to sit with Brendon – and a young Christian Slater – and be able to ignore the monster hard-on inside his pants.

"Okay, kiddo, another time then. Hey, you come for breakfast in the morning, I'll make sure I get your table."

"Sure thing! Thanks."

He hurried home with a desperate rush of frustration. As soon as he hit the bed and looked up at the portrait on the wall, he opened his jeans, pushed them down, and jerked himself through a needy and frantic orgasm.

And he absolutely thought of Brendon every second. Including his apple bottom. Guilt free.

"Oh, fuck off," he said to Richard III, who did not look impressed.

~^~

Part 3
(deleted comment)

Date: 2009-02-12 12:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fics-by-maple.livejournal.com
Hi!

Actually, Brendon is referencing conversations he's had with Gerard and Ryan, there. I'm sorry I didn't make that more clear. :(

Date: 2009-02-13 10:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] miss-diverse.livejournal.com
Hey. Please excuse me while I rave like a drunken fangirl....


...."My mistake and humble apologies." Jon bowed his head but he couldn't stop looking at Brendon's lips....

Dorky flirting! I love it.

... the whole bit where gerard is introduced. shiny shiny! Jazz hands! Can I keep him? no because I AM KEEPING HIM! Yes. Gerard's introduction is the BEST character introduction I've read for a LONG time.

...Gerard had the same aura, like a 1930's starlet with big sweeping hair and swirls of smoke keeping him in soft focus. .....

Devine. I quoted that bit to Q and just said maple. is. awesome. Such an image!

Good luck with that philosophy, Sparkles! *adores*

....."You're making unicorns cry," Brendon whined...... *adores harder*

Brendon needs Jon's number like it's an emergency! Yes!

I LOVE the way Ryan is protective of Brendon and I'm very intrigued to know why...

......"Want to give me some of your thoughts?" Brendon asked. "I can hold them for you.".......

This is love. Not just the words he says, but the way he says it, the action with it.

Enchiladas! Perfection! So so very Brendon.

......He was still battling with Brendon's Alien baby fist when Brendon looked directly at Jon, bobbing his eyebrows. He said nothing but the look was enough for Jon to understand.
"No, that's okay. I'll drive him." Jon stood up and exchanged shameless smiles with Brendon......

Shameless smiles all round!

....at the moment he was making note of this, he realized that when Brendon had taken him by the arms as they left the house, he'd slipped his hand into Jon's and now they were holding hands on the way to his Jeep.......

Yes!

clicky clicky reading more......

Date: 2009-02-14 09:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fics-by-maple.livejournal.com
Seriously. You made me bounce like mad. *hearts*

I'm certain 'my' Gerard is over-the-top campy and not very canon-like, but I enjoyed playing it up anyhow. :P

Thank you!

Date: 2009-02-15 09:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] miss-diverse.livejournal.com
lol. I LOVE over-the-top campy. There's a reason my hubby always calls me a fag hag.

(Gosh I hope fag hag isn't a very Aussie thing that you won't understand. ? It's affectionate, not offensive...)

Date: 2009-05-27 09:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scenesalsa.livejournal.com
There were quite a few lines/parts that I liked, but I'm stuck on "It'll be coming out of her soon, I guess" because I initially misread it as "I'll be coming out of her soon, I guess" and was all LOL QUE? What an image.

Also, I think I just might grab the hand of the next person I see and say "yay holding hands!" It'll be awesome, like this story.

P.S.

Date: 2009-05-27 09:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scenesalsa.livejournal.com
Also, I ADORE your Gerard.

Date: 2009-12-01 10:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] miss-diverse.livejournal.com
Oh my lordy lord I had forgotten how awesome this gerard is. no really. TOO AWESOME FOR WORDS.

When are you writing more gerard? huh huh? :D?

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