Brian snapped his eyes away from Pete and said, "No, hey, what's on your mind?"
"I just, uh," Gerard really kind of hated to be the bearer of bad news. "I can't teach the Tuesday classes for the next couple of weeks, at least."
Brian put his hand to the back of his neck. "Oh."
"I'm sorry," Gerard said, and he really was. "Just. We really really had to start putting on the heat, and the twins offered me overtime and I sort of can't refuse." He and Mikey tended to cut back on food while heat was necessary, and Mikey would help out in the restaurant washing dishes and unloading food shipments to help with the rent, but extra shifts meant more food, and Mikey was skinny enough. They had both starved their fair share for one lifetime.
"Yeah, no, that's totally reasonable. You talk with Spence?" There was a weird note to the question. Gerard tried to parse it but he couldn't.
"He was my next stop. I was gonna see if maybe there could be some rearrangement so that we don't have to actually cancel any classes."
"Remind him you need to sleep." Brian's smile was a little weak. Gerard wondered if maybe he'd noticed Spencer hanging around him less since Pete had shown up.
"I have Mikey to defend my well-being," Gerard said confidently.
Brian nodded. "He's fierce."
Mikey could be, but Gerard sincerely hoped Brian never had reason to figure that out.
Spencer nodded when Gerard told him. "I kinda expected it." He sounded so resigned that Gerard was tempted to call the store and tell them he couldn't take the shifts. Ryan reached out without looking up from the form he was filling out and patted Spencer on the back.
Gerard said, "I talked with the twins, and they said I could move both Monday and Wednesday shifts to day shifts, and the Saturday one to an evening shift, so I could teach classes on weekday evenings and Saturday days. Does that help at all?" He knew that Sundays were the better weekend day because people were already out for church, but that was non-negotiable. At least not for a little while longer.
"Yeah, I can definitely work with that," Spencer said. "Maybe Saturdays and Wednesdays? Wednesday nights are overcrowded, but not as bad as Monday and at least people are here."
Gerard said, "One class per day, Spence."
"Yeah, I know. I know." Spencer's smile was a little off, but it was genuine. Gerard only hesitated a second before reaching out and hugging him. Spencer never seemed to expect to be hugged, but he always took to it expertly. He said, "Thanks," as Gerard pulled off.
Pete showed up in the store with Patrick three days later, said, "This is awesome!" and promptly got lost in the glitter and sparkles aisle.
Gerard said, "Hi," and introduced Patrick to Gabriel and Angie, the other clerk.
Patrick asked, "Can I steal him for a moment?"
They were mostly cleaning and reordering, so Gabriel made shooing motions. Gerard asked, "Do we need to find Pete?"
"I had a tracker implanted in his neck. I can locate him when the need arises."
"Smart," Gerard said.
"Look." Patrick pulled him into the woodcraft aisle. "This is a little awkward, to be honest, but Pete said you could maybe use a little extra cash?"
"I'm not gonna say I would turn it down. What for?"
"One of the things we put into our contract with Island was that we would have sole artistic discretion over our cover."
"Yeah, well, they were pretty interested, and we're all fairly picky bastards about what our fans see as representing us."
Gerard nodded. "That's fair."
"Basically, we're trying to get a couple of different artists to do mockups for us. Listen to the music, hear what we plan to call the album and work with us on that. It's kind of a shitty deal, I'm not gonna lie, because you're not certain to get the cover, and we don't have the money to pay you for your submissions, but we've all seen your art around your place, around the center, and we'd really, really like you to go in on this."
"Can I assume that the upshot is that if mine does get chosen, I'll get a fee, and my art will be seen on at least hundreds of CDs?"
"We're kind of hoping for the thousands range," Pete said, draping himself over Gerard from behind. Gerard very nearly hit him in the balls out of pure defensive reflex.
Patrick must have seen something in Gerard's face, because he said, "Pete--"
Gerard said, "It's okay."
Pete pleaded, "Please, Gee, pretty please. I love your art work. It's the best ever."
There was time and supplies and a fair amount of things Gerard didn't have that he would be committing to this on a chance. Gerard didn't really think about it. "When's a good time for me to hear your stuff?"
Gerard took Mikey because when he mentioned getting to hear the band play, Mikey said, "You're going to a recording session?" and lit up and went to go find some paper to write a letter without ever once asking to come along. Gerard also took paper to the studio, ostensibly to start working on a design for the cover, but he had a feeling he was going to be drawing Mikey something to put in that letter for Frank.
His suspicions were proven right when Pete said, "Mikeyway! Wanna tune my bass?"
Mikey said, "Um, don't you--" but Pete just hooked the strap over Mikey's shoulder and left him to his own devices. Gerard drew like a madman.
Joe said, "We're pretty sure we're going to call it 'Cork Tree'."
"From under," Pete said, "'From Under the Cork Tree.'"
Joe rolled his eyes, but didn't argue. Without looking up from his task, Mikey asked, "Like Ferdinand?"
"Marry me, Mikeyway," Pete said, swooning toward Mikey.
"I would," Mikey said, fiddling some more with the knobs of the bass, "but I would always pine for my one true Frank. It wouldn't be fair to any of us."
"We could have a threesome," Pete suggested. "I could be your pet Pete."
"We'll talk about it when Frank gets out of prison," Mikey said, and patted Pete on the head before giving his bass back to him.
Pete frowned. "I could be used for meaningless sex until that time."
Mikey laughed and shook his head. "Brian would kill me before Frank ever got the chance."
"Brian." Pete made a face.
Patrick said, "How 'bout we be a band now?"
Andy signaled his fondness for that idea by starting up a beat.
"I used to read Mikey that book. It was one of his favorites. I'd read it over and over and over again. Part of me wants to do the cover all in that art style, which is completely new for me and would really mean putting him in there, you know? But then I think about how Pete said that he liked my art, and clearly that's what they're asking me to do this based on, so I should probably infuse some of that into there, you know?"
Bob tilted his head. "Is there something...iconic? About the book."
Gerard thought about it. "Well, the bull, obviously. Although, the image I keep thinking of is him sitting under the tree, smelling a flower."
Bob just looked at Gerard, as though he were waiting. Gerard made himself think. "Okay, okay. Maybe if the flower were the centerpiece? Or even if the flower were sidelined, but just prominent enough that the eye was drawn to it. And that, that would be perfectly in the art style of the book, and then I could use my style all around it for something chaotic, something dangerous, like most of their songs are totally driving at, but the flower, it would stay totally untouched."
Bob smiled. Gerard did his best not to scream with the frustration of want inside his head.
Mikey brought Gerard dinner on one of his Thursday night shifts after Mikey got off work. Gerard said, "Hey, can I borrow your center key? I wanna drop some supplies off before I come home."
Mikey unhooked the key and gave it to him. He said, "See you later."
So, okay, in all fairness to Brian and Spencer, it was totally almost midnight when Gerard accidentally walked in on them making out, Spencer sitting on the pool table in the lounge, Brian in the v of his thighs. Gerard said, "Oh, shit, sorry," and Brian flew apart from Spencer. Spencer rolled his eyes and fell backward until he was lying on the table.
Gerard tried his best to just walk out of the room like nothing had ever happened, but Pete was sort of kind of maybe giving him the opportunity of a lifetime, and Spencer had taken Mikey home when he had nowhere else to go, so Gerard had to look at Brian and say, "Um, Pete?"
Brian blinked at him. "Pete?" Another blink and he said, "Oh. No. No no no. Not since high school, and believe me, there have been plenty of chances."
"Oh, then, uh--"
Spencer let his head drop to where he was facing Gerard. "Pete told him to stop being a douchetruck and make sure I didn't die a virgin. I tried explaining that that wasn't going to be a problem, but, uh, maybe not as hard as I could have tried." Spencer smiled the way he did when he knew he was going to get his way.
"Those were totally Pete's words," Brian said, very solemnly. "And Spencer was really okay with it. Really. I didn't threaten his job, or anything."
"Yeah," Gerard said. He knew. "You've kinda been breaking his heart with the Pete thing."
Spencer sat back up. "Oh, thanks, Gee. The not-being-a-virgin thing was really all I had going in my favor as far as being cool and semi-adult like."
Gerard snickered. "I'm gonna go put these watercolors in the art room. You should maybe kiss him again," he suggested to Brian. Brian was looking a little gobsmacked, but when Spencer held out his hand, Brian went readily enough.
The flower ended up in the bottom right corner. Gerard drew version after version the whole night through, even knowing work would be phenomenally painful in the morning. When Mikey stumbled out to see about breakfast, he looked down at the options and fingered the one with the chaos and mayhem and (Gerard would contend) hope swirling out from that tiny, unassuming wallflower, Gerard said, "You think?"
Mikey said, "That one."