On the hottest day of the year, a guy with dark hair and enough tattoos to rival Frank popped his head into Gerard's arts and crafts session and asked, "Does Brian Schechter work here?"
Gerard wiped the sweat out of his eyes, remembering only too late that he had yellow finger paint on his hands. Luckily, he missed his actual eyes, but he was sure he looked like someone had tried to put war paint on him and failed. It wasn't a big deal. The K through threes had already gotten him with their glue sticks earlier that morning. By the time he made it into work for the evening shift, Gerard was going to look like an advertisement for the store's products. "Um, yeah. But he took the high schoolers to see a movie. Can I tell him who stopped by?"
"Is he coming back after the movie?"
"Yeah," Gerard said.
"Okay. Can I wait here then?"
"You might wanna pick another room," Gerard told him honestly. "The three through sixes are coming in next, and they're a menace."
The guy looked around the room. "What are they making?"
"Actually, you can stay here. We're going to go outside. There's not enough air in here. It's sidewalk chalk day."
Gerard shrugged. "We operate on a budget."
"No, just, I haven't done sidewalk chalk in forever. Would it be okay if I got in on that?"
Gerard grinned. "Your laundry bill." He stuck out his hand. "I'm Gerard, the arts and crafts guy."
"I'm Pete. Brian and I grew up together and stuff. I'm usually out on the road, but I try and see him when I'm in town."
"And stuff?" Gerard raised an eyebrow.
Pete's grin was made of wicked.
It wasn't that art class wasn't always a time of chaos contained by nothing but hope and a bit of willpower on Gerard's part, but Pete definitely upped the stakes. By the time Brian got back, it was sort of a miracle that none of the kids had been run over. On the other hand, the center had some amazing tag art over the entirety of its front sidewalk.
Brian said, "Hi," and then, "Holy-- Pete!" and then the two were hugging, careless of the fact that Pete was officially more chalk than man. Finally Brian pulled back just enough to look at Pete, to say, "You didn't tell me you were going to be in town."
"Well, that wasn't exactly the plan, but the guys we were opening for had a rehab thing happen and Patrick said we should just go home and record, that it was time, and I pretty much agreed, so here I am."
"So the other guys are here, too?"
"Well, Patrick's holed up with Chris and Joe's doing that sleeping thing he does when we get off tour and I think he might have persuaded Andy to join him this time, but essentially, yeah, we're all here."
"We're gonna have to do dinner. You have to meet the new guys. Well, okay, I see you've already met Gee, but there's also Mikey. Oh, and Ryan and Brendon have started dating since the last time--"
"About time," Pete said.
"Yeah, you, me and everyone," Brian was saying when he pulled Pete into the center. He threw a somewhat apologetic look at Gerard, but Gerard just waved him away. The kids, for once, were actually mostly in a state of stillness, watching the new guy with all his tattoos, and Brian, their fearless leader. Then, one of the high schoolers said, "Hey, wait, aren't you Pete Wentz?"
Pete turned. "Yeah, hi, what's your name?"
"Ria," she said, like this was completely unimportant. "You're in Fall Out Boy, right?"
Pete's grin was a thing of majesty and wonder, and Gerard knew exactly, exactly what "and stuff" meant. Brian would have been a fool to pass up on that. He said, "Yeah, have you heard our stuff?"
"I heard you open in Newark last year. You guys were pretty cool," she said in that way that high schoolers have of not wanting to let on that this might just be the very best moment of their lives ever.
Pete had no such compunction. "Thanks," he said, and went right in for a hug.
Gabriel laughed when Gerard showed up. "Did you decide today was Geeway-makes-a-great-canvas Day?"
Gerard said, "Oh, like you haven't had worse," and smiled at the first customer to walk in the door.
The meet-up dinner was set up for Sunday evening. Gerard brought Bob and picture of Pete. He told him, "His name is Pete. I really don't know much more than that, but there's going to be a story there, I can feel it."
Bob said, "Tell me the story you think is there."
Gerard grinned, because he knew that mostly Bob liked to hear him talk, but also, Gerard's stories could get kind of farfetched. "I dunno, maybe Brian was their band groupie. Maybe they roofied him one night and took him to a tattoo parlor and told the artist to go to town."
"Thought you said Brian acted fond of the guy." Bob sounded a little horrified and Gerard remembered a second later that Russians used non-consensual tattoos as another form of rape.
"Hey, just my story, right?" Gerard asked softly. "You okay?"
Bob nodded, but Bob had a million different nods whether he knew it or not and Gerard recognized this one. He said, "What's-- Frank's all right, yeah?"
Bob nodded. "Fine. Tommy's mostly fine, too."
Gerard waited a beat. "Bob."
"Ilya knocked up his girlfriend."
"Oh," Gerard said. Bob didn't really talk about the people he had on the outside all that often, not unless it was Mikey or Gerard.
"I just--" Bob looked to the side.
"He's your brother," Gerard said softly, because he hadn't gotten that much, but there were some things he understood implicitly. "And you want to be there to help him."
"He loves her. The girl. He wants to marry her."
Gerard asked, "And she doesn't?"
"She-- She does. It's-- He's afraid to bring her home."
Gerard thought about it, but he wasn't sure what could be so wrong with a girl that Ilya's family wouldn't like her. He said, "Um--"
"She's black. They met at school. I swore to him I'd stand up for him at his wedding, even if nobody else was there."
"Oh," Gerard said.
Bob said, "I just--"
Want out, Gerard finished. But he wasn't going to make the wish any more futile by finishing it where Bob wouldn't.
Gerard showed up a little late to the dinner since he'd needed some time to himself after prison. He'd drawn Bob, which he didn't do all that often, still--forever--afraid of what it would show him, but right now Bob was just sad, and Gerard needed some of that for himself if he couldn't be right there to take it for Bob. Mikey finally sat next to him and rubbed at his back a little and asked, "Want me to tell everyone you weren't feeling well?"
Gerard shook his head, trying to shake the worst of it off. Mikey said, "I'll buy you dessert."
"You're every bit as poor as I am," Gerard pointed out.
"Gee," Mikey said softly.
Gerard sighed. "'Kay. But we're sharing."
Gerard smiled and told everyone sorry, but Brian waved his apologies away. He said, "All right, you already know most of the people here, and you met Pete; Pete, this is Mikey, Gerard's younger brother. Gerard and Mikey, this is Patrick, who's Pete's lead singer and the reason his band is any good."
Pete flipped Brian off while Gerard and Mikey shook hands with Patrick, who then said, "This is Chris, our tour manager."
Chris rolled his eyes but also shook their hands. A guy with the largest white-person 'fro Gerard had ever seen coughed something that sounded suspiciously like, "Boyfriend," over his shoulder. Patrick flipped the guy off and said, "Meet Joe. We keep trying to find a new guitarist, but nobody will join a band with Pete Wentz in it."
Pete just snorted. A guy with longish hair fit himself next to Joe and held out his hand as those handshakes were winding down. "I'm Andy, hi."
Gerard made sure to seat himself next to Patrick, who seemed like the kind of guy who might know all about Pete and Brian's early-life shenanigans. He was about to warm Patrick up to actually spilling when Mikey said, "So, wait, I know I should have asked before, but are you guys the same Fall Out Boy who performed at the Mojo about, oh, man, five years back? You were opening for someone else, but I don't remember who, because you ended up being better."
The four guys all looked at each other. Andy said, "We used to play the Mojo all the time, so probably."
"You remember any of the songs?" Patrick asked.
"Um, there was one... Saturday?"
Pete said, "Holy shit, Brian, how do you manage to hang out with the coolest people in the known universe?"
Brian said, "Karma had to make it up to me for being your friend throughout high school."
"Mm, friend," Chris said, snickering.
"Fuck off, Kirkpatrick," Brian said without heat.
"Brian deflowered me," Pete said, batting his eyelashes.
"There was never any flower there to do anything with," Brian said. He clearly had no interest in taking his face out of the menu anytime soon.
"I returned the favor," Pete said, licking his lips. "I'm generous like that."
"Generous is one word for it," Patrick said.
Mikey broke into the banter, "So, wait, you guys are back in town to record?"
"Well, we were with Eyeball, but then we got picked up by Island, and they're starting to sort of expect something, so yeah, it's time," Andy said, looking a lot more calm about it than either Pete or Patrick. Joe seemed mildly under the influence, so Gerard decided to discount his reactions.
"That's awesome," Mikey said.
"It'll be awesome when we have something to show for our signatures," Patrick said. Gerard felt movement under the table and looked down to catch Chris' hand massaging at Patrick's knee.
Mikey shrugged. "I think it's kind of awesome anyway.
Pete said, "Yeah. Yeah. It really sort of is."