Gerard had gotten used to Bob's ways by then, knowing when mono-syllabic responses were simply the quickest way to impart information and when they were indicative of actual reticence. This had clearly been the latter. Gerard had struck up a staring contest, which normally would have been folly. Bob could beat the pants off him even on his best days. The only exception to this rule was when Gerard had something he wanted, really, truly wanted. Then all bets were off.
To his credit, Bob held out admirably. But whomever Bob had come and visit him had brought him a thick quilt--Gerard was excited at the thought of using it--and a card thanking him for signing up for a year's subscription to Motor Trends, evidently from some neighborhood kids who were raising money for their school or their scout troop, or something. They could have been Christmas presents, but it was a little early for that yet, what with the moon thing Russian Orthodoxy evidently had. Gerard kept his eyes on the prize, or, in this case, Bob. Finally Bob caved and said, "They're birthday presents."
Gerard's eyes widened at this unexpected information. "You were a New Year's baby?"
"No, last-day-of-the-year baby."
"Oh. Yesterday. Your birthday was yesterday." Gerard had felt inexplicably disappointed to figure that out. Then he thought about it a little further, thought about the way Bob had already been in prison last year at this time. He said, "Wait. You gave yourself me for your birthday last year?"
"Sorry," Bob said, but didn't sound terribly sorry. He sounded secretly pleased with himself.
Gerard shook his head. "Nah, it's just a good thing you had friends to give you other gifts."
Bob frowned at that. "You were what I wanted."
"Oh," Gerard had said, and left it at that, because really, what else was there to say? He'd finished the conversation later that night.
Gerard would often go to the thrift stores that Mikey liked to frequent while he was stocking up their house. Mikey was sort of a genius at thrift store shopping. They had a plate set of nearly six plates, salad plates, coffee cups and saucers that were nearly matching, despite having come from three separate thrift shops and one estate sale. Mikey either had thrift store or houseware superpowers. Possibly both.
While Mikey was off looking for something like potholders or throws or other things that Gerard knew they needed but really had no patience for, Gerard thumbed through the books, rifled through the CDs, ran his fingers through the suit pants. At the end of the row of men's clothing was where he found the pajamas. They were blue and flannel and huge like they had been made for a giant. And they had cars on them.
When they got home and Gerard put them in their laundry basket, Mikey burst into laughter. "Um, what the hell, Gee?"
"New Year's lingerie," Gerard said simply. "For the future."
Mikey said, "You and Bob are fucking weird," and, "You're doing laundry this week."
"Fine, but I'm putting extra softener in."
Mikey rolled his eyes. "You think I don't notice when you do it every other time?"
Gerard scowled. He'd been pretty sure he was getting away with it. "I just like soft towels." And soft sweatshirts and his jeans to be a little bit more worn than they would otherwise be. Laundry held bad enough memories for both of them as it was. The least that could come out of it was clothes that actually felt clean as opposed to power-washed.
Mikey scrunched the front of Gerard's shirt in his fingers. "Yeah. Me too."
Jaguar, as a company, had an annoying scarcity of merchandise outside of their actual cars. Gerard considered a Harley t-shirt for Bob's Christmas present, but over half the population of the prison had Harley t-shirts. Gerard didn't want his boyfriend being a follower, or for Bob to suddenly worry that Gerard had a lack of imagination. Finally, with Linda's help and the ingenuity of eBay, Gerard was able to purchase a plain black tee with the Jaguar logo resting squarely over Bob's heart.
As a Christmas present, Gerard was fairly pleased with it. Annoyingly, Bob had to then go and have a birthday that would come up right after that. Birthdays were harder. Presents that involved touching were right out, and presents that would either be confiscated or make Bob a target in any way were also unacceptable. They didn't have Mikey and Frank's Language of Sugar to depend on, and Gerard was depending on Bob's car thing to propel him through Christmas. He gave Bob pictures all the time. All in all, he was a little bit fucked.
On a whim, Gerard researched the symbols for third year anniversaries. He'd never talked about it with Bob, but he kind of marked that day as their anniversary. It wasn't, really. Bob had entered the prison in September of that year and had Gerard in his cell by mid-October. But when Gerard looked back, that was the moment when things started to come clear inside his head, even if he'd been clean for several weeks by that time. In hindsight, that was the point of no return.
His search for symbols turned up gemstones that were too expensive and not really ideal for someone still serving time; crystal and glass, which came with most of the same problems; and leather, which was fine, but mostly uninspired and much like giving Bob Harley Davidson apparel.
He finally broke down and freaked out to Mikey about it, complete with hand throwing and flailing. Mikey said, "It's your fourth December, right?"
"That's the way it works. One to start and the rest are anniversaries."
"Oh, fuck off. I'm asking because the center's going to be four in February and Ryan is doing this big flower theme, because evidently flowers are traditional fourth year gifts. If that's the way it works, then Ryan's a little off, but it's actually more of a birthday and really, I don't think Ryan gives a shit, he just wants to make the center pretty. Jon tried to fight a little, but then Ryan told him he could wear them in his buttonhole and that seemed to work. Jon doesn't even have buttonholes. I don't get it."
Gerard maybe--probably--looked at him like he was crazy. "Okay, I didn't think I needed to say this, but clearly I do. Flowers? Part of the goal of this gift is to not have Bob pragged out."
Mikey flipped him off. "I was thinking about the way a lot of cars are named after animals. Surely there's one that's named after a flower. And I can't imagine Bob really giving a shit that you got him fourth year stuff instead of third year. I can't imagine him fucking knowing."
Gerard racked his mind, considering the things Bob had told him over the years. "Lotus. It's a sports car."
"Does he like them?"
"Bob likes Peugeots, Mikey. Ford Taurases. Tauri?"
"I meant does he have an actual fondness instead of vague appreciation."
"The one time he showed me a picture he kind of looked like he wanted to go down on it. I was a little jealous."
Gerard smirked. Mikey smacked him with a towel. "Jesus. Okay. Lemme think about it."
"Quickly?" Gerard pleaded.
Mikey looked like he was about to make fun of him but he relented at the last moment. "We'll get it to him in time, Gee. Promise."
"I suck at boyfriendness. No wonder my last girlfriend stole all of my CDs."
"Your last girlfriend was a psycho and a PCP freak. And you don't. Suck."
"You have to say that. You're my brother."
"Yeah," Mikey drew the word out. "I'm pretty sure that's why I don't have to say it."
Despite himself, Mikey's unwavering faith always made Gerard believe just a little bit.
Mikey came back to the apartment two days later with a book on Buddhism and set it in front of Gerard. Gerard said, "I thought we were happy with the church."
Mikey said, "Look at the art on the cover, dumbass."
Gerard looked at the lines and swirls and said, "Oh. Lotus."
Mikey nodded. "Yeah, I went to lunch with Brendon today and I was talking about it--"
"He's a good listener. That's, like, part of his job description."
"Yeah, just--" you were so quiet about yourself when we were in there. "So you were talking to him?"
"And he told me about the Lotus symbol in Buddhism, how it can be very plain. There are a few illustrations in there."
Gerard flipped through, and sure enough, found the simple lines and whorls of it. "I think I see where you're going with this."
Mikey rifled through his coat pocket and came up with a clear plastic keychain. "This was my idea. I mean, it's small, but not jewelry or anything. If someone finds it, they're just going to wonder if Bob's having a spiritual crisis."
"The Muslims will try and capitalize." Gerard smirked.
Mikey said, "You are so going to hell."
Gerard sent it by regular mail so that Bob would have it on his birthday as opposed to having to wait for Gerard's New Year's visit. The insert was made of good drawing paper, folded in half, a lotus drawn onto either side. There was a note with it that said, "Inside the keychain." Gerard hoped Bob figured out it meant to take the paper out and look in the fold, where Gerard had written on one side 12/31/2000 and on the other 12/31/2003. He was pretty sure Bob would catch on.
When Bob came to the window on New Year's, Gerard said, "Happy New Year."
Bob pressed the keychain to the window between his palm and the glass, where nobody but Gerard and he would see it. Gerard said, "I know it's not-- I couldn't really come up with--"
Bob slowly, carefully mouthed, "Happy anniversary."
Gerard said, "Yes. Like that. Yes. But also birthday, happy birthday."
Bob folded up his hand, the keychain being swallowed in its grip. Softly, he said, "Happy."