On the one hand, an Italian would have been easier. Any of them would have left Frank alone and Frank wouldn't have felt any responsibility toward whomever it was. On the other hand, at least it wasn't a rapist or murderer. Even acknowledging the irony, those prisoners made Frank's skin crawl.
The problem being that Frank, really, really didn't want to have to claim Tommy. He gave it a couple of days, just to test the waters, but Tommy had full lips and a nose ring and only one or two other Irish inmates to watch his back. The Skinheads took the bait on the third day and it was only because he'd been keeping one eye open that Frank was around to put an end to their fun. Luckily or unluckily--Frank didn't like to think about--the Skinheads had been fairly easy to scare since The Shower.
That night in their cell Tommy glared at him and said, "If you think I'm going ass-up just because--"
"Shut up, Tommy," Frank said, and climbed into his bunk. There wasn't a place in the cell where he couldn't feel the kid's fear. It reminded him too much of things he didn't need reminders of to remember every single moment of every single day.
Tommy was quiet for a few minutes, his breaths shaky. Then he asked, "You-- I mean, you can get it up, right?"
"Really wanna find out?" Frank asked without half the amount of threat the question probably needed to contain.
It was enough. "No, no, I just--"
"You're not what I want," Frank said. "But if you tell anybody, I'll make a fucking exception."
"Right," Tommy said. "No, right."
Frank felt him settle into sleep long, long before Frank managed.
His mom asked, "Are you sure they're giving you enough to eat in there, you look peaked, Frankie."
Frank did his best to smile for her. "Yeah, mom, it's fine. I've just been working out too much. Passes the time. I'll cut it out."
The worried look in her eyes didn't change but she said, "All right. Be careful."
He nodded. She said, "Your father gave me a CD for you. Songs he thought you'd like. I gave it to the guards."
"You been talking to dad?"
"He worries about you. We-- It's something we've got in common."
"He could come see me," Frank said, not entirely without bitterness, but not wholly filled with it, either.
"I think-- I think he feels like you being in here is his fault. Like maybe if he hadn't left--"
Frank rolled his eyes. His mom laughed. It was a weak laugh, but it was a laugh. "Yeah, I told him to get over himself."
"How'd that go over?"
"I think he took my point."
"Good." They'd been doing it since he was four and Frank still didn't like it when his parents argued.
"I also brought you some cookies. The peanut butter kind you like, with walnuts. Don't be giving them all away Frank Anthony, all right?"
"Good boy," she said, and sounded like she believed it, for all that there was plexiglass sitting between them.
If Frank didn't go to Gerard after visiting hours, Gerard would hunt him down and bring Bob and be merciless about staying with him for the whole of their free hour. It wasn't that Frank didn't like Gerard and Bob, he did, but being around them, the way they hid in plain sight, the way they spoke without speaking, the way Gerard would sometimes say something so like Mikey that if Frank wasn't looking straight at him he'd have a moment of forceful, wistful deja vu that left him aching and short of breath for minutes on end, all those things made their company a little hard to bear. Gerard and Mikey weren't even all that alike until they were, and then being around Gerard was a little bit like setting himself on fire--stupid and likely to leave a mark.
It was easiest just to get it over with, so Frank found Gerard and offered Bob and him a cookie. Bob asked, "Can I have two?" Frank made a gesture for "be my guest." Bob said, "I kinda love your mom."
"Yeah," Frank said, "me too."
Gerard pulled out the 100 Grand that was Mikey's weekly offering. He said, "I told Mikey you weren't eating them," looking confused and defiant all at once.
Frank snatched the candy bar out of Gerard's hand. "I'm eating them." He was, he was just eating them slowly. Just in case Mikey forgot to bring him one one week, or something. And he liked having them around, to know that Mikey was still thinking about him. Also, food was sort of a sensitive issue of late. Everything smelled wrong, everything except the candy bars, and he was pretty sure he couldn't go around eating candy bars and nothing else.
"Doesn't look like it," Bob said, and pushed the extra cookie he'd taken at Frank.
Frank pushed it back. "She made a lot, I'll have some, I promise."
Neither Gerard nor Bob looked convinced. Frank sighed. "He say anything?"
"Better," Gerard smiled. "He remembered that he was literate." Gerard handed over a sheet of paper neatly folded into three sections.
"Careful with that," Bob said.
"Yeah," Frank breathed, almost afraid to touch it.
Gerard laughed. "Go on. Eat your cookies, read. Then maybe you'll be in the mood to be nicer to Bob here."
Frank tucked the letter into his back pocket. "I'm-- I'm sorry--"
Bob rolled his eyes. "Go, Iero."
Gerard nodded. "Be gone with you."
"Oh, cookies," Tommy said.
"Take one and do not, do not, do not speak with your mouth full."
Tommy had already figured out that Frank's bark was worse than his bite. Frank watched him take two cookies from the corner of his eye, but then Tommy offered him up the tin. "C'mon, you know you want it."
Frank took a cookie. "Put the lid back on the tin."
"Yes, sir." Tommy smirked. Frank swatted his head. All things considered, Tommy was a pretty good kid. He was funny and the two of them shared similar tastes in music and he actually knew how to be quiet when Frank needed him to be. Tommy smiled his smile-of-pure-innocence and disappeared into his bunk with the cookies.
Frank looked down at the letter, reading it through for the first time.
I should have come up with this earlier, I know, but you have access to writing utensils, too, and I haven't heard word one from you. Not even through Gerard. Are you
It's different out here than I remember it being. Or maybe it's just that I'm different. Not so fucked up all the time, for one thing.
I like my parole officer, Matt. I don't know what Gee has or hasn't told you so I feel like I should just start from the beginning. But yeah, Matt's a good guy. He has a lot of tattoos. Not as many as you, but more than you'd expect from someone who comes into an office every day. He's supposed to wear suits, I think, but usually he's there in jeans, which makes me feel less like I'm being judged.
I'm staying at the Y. There's a park nearby where people walk their dogs. It's pretty nice out right now. I mean, you know that, you can go outside and you're in the same state and all but it feels far away. I like to go and watch the dogs. Sometimes the dogs come up to me and so far nobody's snapped at me to get away. I don't think they can tell what I am. It's weird, because everyone has known for so long, it's weird that when I'm in the park I'm just some guy who likes dogs. Nice, though. Maybe you'll go with me when you can. If you want to. I don't know if you like dogs, I never asked. There are a lot of things about you I don't know. I'm starting to think there are a lot of things about me I don't know.
I think maybe I should have done that college thing you're doing. I mean, I couldn't have finished in there, but it would have been something. I don't even know if I'm smart enough for college, if I would even want to be. I don't know. I don't have anyone to talk to about it. Thirty minutes isn't really enough with Gee. Maybe I'll just have to try. Matt might know of a way for me to get a loan, but there are other things I need first.
Write, okay? Tell me anything. If you like dogs. If there's another candy bar you want. Whatever.
Frank folded the letter up carefully and stuck it in the hole he'd made in his mattress. He curled up and--for the first time since Mikey had left--fell asleep easily, the sound of Tommy munching on the cookies below him barely even registering.
I like dogs. I had one of the Lassie-looking ones growing up. A sheltie? Something like that. Her name was Iggy, like Iggy Pop.
We're reading On the Road in my lit and comp class. It makes this place claustrophobic. More claustrophobic. College is weird. It's disconnected from everything in ways that I'm pretty sure it's not meant to be. Mostly, people seem to be impressed by the piece of paper you get at the end of it. And fuck knows I haven't got anything better to be doing.
My new cellmate's name is Tommy. He's roughly twelve. I'm keeping an eye out for him. He seems like the kind of person whose mom is pretty scary, I don't want her finding out I fell down on the job.
Gerard has been drawing cats, lots and lots of them. Have any idea what that's about? I asked Bob, but the answer required more than two syllables, so he just shrugged.