[Panic at the Disco, Brendon/Spencer, 1/5]
For full author's notes and links to all chapters, please go here.
Brendon meets Brent in third period Geometry.
Brent doesn't seem to want to swap seats as soon as he finds out he's sitting next to Brendon, which is Brendon's first clue that Brent might be a good guy. Also, he doesn't seem particularly fazed by Brendon trying to talk to him incessantly. In fact, when Brendon doodles music notes in the margin instead of copying down the triangles their teacher has drawn on the board, Brent elbows him in the side whenever it looks like Mr. Holmes might be coming over.
Brendon knows it isn't friendship or anything, but it's a relief to be able to smile at someone and have them smile back.
The thing is, Brendon is the kid no one talks to in school.
Aside from maybe passing him a pencil or lending him a piece of paper if he asks, Brendon's been in high school for almost two years and most people barely even know he exists.
He never wanted to end up being one of those loner kids who stares at the ground and sits by himself at lunch, the kid who never gets picked in gym class. He's tried everything he can think of to make friends, but nothing seems to have worked.
He tried playing in the school orchestra, freshman year, hanging out with the music kids. It hadn't gone down so well when they found out Brendon could play all the instruments that they could – and more besides. They'd thought he was exaggerating and when they found out he wasn't, that just seemed to make things even worse. The best Brendon had ever managed was for them to say hi to him in the corridors, and for them to put up with him eating his lunch at their table a couple of times a week.
The rest of the time he eats his lunch by himself in the second floor bathroom, in the cubicle by the window. He's always known that it's pretty disgusting, but he's cautious; he washes his hands before he goes in and he unwraps his brown bag carefully. He tries not to think about the germs.
Jazz band has been a better option; the kids there seem less inclined to dismiss him entirely and some of them even have lockers by his. Sometimes they say hi to him without him having to say it first. It doesn't seem to matter how much he tries though, they just don't want to be friends with him.
Thing is, Brendon knows that he'd be a pretty amazing friend. He even knows some good jokes now, although, yeah, growing up Mormon had kind of meant he'd gotten to high school not knowing what some words meant. He knows now though, so that's totally cool and the guys should just let that one go.
He's sort of been thinking that it might be the Mormon thing that puts people off being friends with him. It's not that he wants to give it all up, although he kind of does because he's been sneaking coffee and Red Bull since the summer before high school and yeah, he doesn't really see how he's disrespecting God by having a latte.
He thinks that maybe God has some things to answer for, things like war and famine and the way animals are battery farmed. Brendon kind of feels things quite deeply. His mom has always told him that the other kids are just jealous, but Brendon knows that's just not true. He still doesn't get how kids can know about animals being kept really badly and just keep on eating meat like it's okay, though. The other kids seem to think it's pretty funny that Brendon keeps trying to persuade them that being vegetarian is cool. One guy - Brendon thinks he's on the water polo team, and if he isn't then he totally should be, because Brendon's a fan of The O.C. and he knows how these things are supposed to go - but this one kid, he ate his hamburger right in front of Brendon, with like, his mouth open and everything. It was pretty disgusting and Brendon had felt really sick afterwards. He's one of the few kids Brendon's fairly sure he really doesn't want to be friends with.
Brendon thinks he's just got to keep on being nice to people, and then eventually people will realize that he's worth being friends with. So he smiles at everyone. He smiles at the kids by his locker and at the guys in gym class and at the teacher in his English class. He smiles at the music kids and at the guy behind the counter in the music store and yeah, even at the guy in the comic book store. Brendon's not really into comic books, not really, not outside of the X-Men films and maybe Spiderman, but he knows that in books and movies, the comic book kids can geek out together in secret and he thinks that maybe he could be a part of that.
But the kids in the comic book store don't seem to notice him and kind of look the other way when Brendon smiles at them, so. Brendon just ends up buying a couple of comic books and taking them home. He lies on his bed and flicks through them and thinks, okay, this is okay, but really, comic books aren't as good as having friends.
Brendon's starting to feel like he's running out of options.
Brendon would really like it if he could count Brent as a friend, but he doesn't think that he can. Brent just doesn't think of him like that. Sure, they talk when Mr. Holmes is out of the room, about music and stuff, but that doesn't mean that they're friends. But Brendon finds out Brent plays guitar and Brendon's quick to say me too before he remembers how the music kids reacted when they found out he could play, so he shuts up really quickly in this bizarre cartoon-like fashion, mouth snapping shut. He doodles an elephant in the top corner of his Geometry notes.
Brent doesn't seem to mind that Brendon's being all weird; he just carries on talking about his guitar and about fooling around playing Blink-182 covers in his friend's grandma's garage, which Brendon enviably thinks must be just about the best thing ever. Playing guitar with friends.
At the end of their sophomore year, Brent signs his yearbook and Brendon signs his, and Brendon thinks that might be the first time he's signed one where he's sort of confident that the person he's signing for might actually remember who he is.
"Here," Brent says, just before the end of their last Geometry class. Brendon says, huh, and reaches for the piece of paper in Brent's hand. It's Brent's email address, and Brendon rips out a piece of paper from his dog-eared pad and writes his out really carefully (so that Brent doesn't mix up the underscores with the dashes and send it to the wrong bden), and then he writes out his phone number underneath and draws a smiley face. He sort of slides it back across the table, but before Brent can take it off him, Brendon's pulling it back and then drawing some music notes and another smiley face and- yeah. Brent's rolling his eyes and taking it. "Maybe we could, you know, hang out over the summer," Brent says. "You can maybe come and play guitar with us."
Brendon thinks, yes, and stops himself doing a cartwheel right there in the middle of the Math classroom.
Apart from the obvious joy of not having to go to school every day, Brendon hates summers with a fiery passion that he can barely put into words. He never knows what to do with himself, especially now it's just him and his parents in the house, and just him by himself during the day. He plays the piano a lot, plays his guitar and sits in the yard throwing a tennis ball at the wall and wishing his parents were less Mormon so that he could have a playstation and spend the summer inside killing things. Last summer he taught himself how to walk on his hands and the summer before that, he tried learning how to unicycle when the guy across the street inherited one and didn't know what to do with it. His parents pretty much said no to that straight away, but it was only one sprained ankle and at least it wasn't his hands. His mom says that he should go down to the church and join in with some of the Mission's summer groups, but he hates them and the kids don't like him, so. Whenever he did go down he ended up playing the piano in the common room, playing Mozart and Shostakovich and Chopin.
This summer, his parents have dragged out the old trampoline that they'd bought years ago for Kara and Mason. Brendon thinks he might as well try and learn how to do back-flips now his parents have actually bothered putting it together, because everyone loves a guy who can do a back-flip.
The first time he does one, he mistimes the jump and ends up falling off the trampoline and hurting his ankle, banging his head against the fence. He has to make sure not to tell his parents about that, because he might be older now but sometimes they still think he's a little kid and they always try to stop him doing stuff they call dangerous.
He's better the second time, only rolling off the trampoline at the last moment.
The next time, he stays on.
He builds up to emailing Brent, because Brent's kind of the closest thing to a friend he's ever had and he doesn't particularly want to mess it up at this stage. He sends Brent an email after a week, just hi brent, hows ur summer? Bet ur not missing school! And he presses send and then, because he's Brendon, he goes out to the trampoline and does thirty seven jumping jacks in a row and three back-flips and tries not to call himself a total idiot more than twelve times. Brendon's knows he's a tool.
Brendon just kind of hopes that someday, someone will like that about him.
Brent doesn't email back and Brendon tries not to show his disappointment when his parents are around. They don't give up, because they're his parents and they love him. They tell him again about the summer clubs run by the church, and by the community center, and they say that some of his peers would love to spend time with him. Brendon thinks that actually, no they wouldn't, because they've never really wanted to spend time with him. They laugh at him because all he can ever talk about is playing music, because he's an idiot, because he's clumsy and hyperactive and doesn't always know what they're talking about but always pretends like he does.
When they've gone to work, though, Brendon wanders through the house by himself and makes pancakes even though his mom says he should be eating more fruit. He leaves flour and eggs spilt all over the counter top and he eats seven pancakes in a row and a whole bag of chocolate chips. Afterwards, he sits on the stoop and draws on his arm in black sharpie, a curving set of piano keys down his forearm. It's difficult, drawing at this angle, and it's not like Brendon's ever been a fan of the straight line either. Still, he looks down and he thinks, I'm going to get out of this place. Someday I'm going to be somebody and people will like me, and then all of a sudden, he's crying.
Brendon doesn't cry. He comes close sometimes, like when they have those commercials on television about the animal rescue centers and he wants to take home every puppy that's ever been abandoned. When he was little, he used to want to cry at The Little Mermaid. His mom says that Brendon is in touch with his emotions, and that he'll grow out of it. Matt and Mason laugh at him for it, getting Brendon in a headlock and ruffling his hair until Brendon stops sniffling and starts laughing and his mom shouts boys! at them all. Things upset him, and sometimes he gets sad because he cares about a lot of stuff, like wars and famines and animals and people being unkind, but he doesn't really get upset about the fact that no one seems to like him. Brendon's bouncy and upbeat and secure in the knowledge that if only people would give him a chance, they'd realize that he's a good guy to have around.
But they haven't yet, and even Brent doesn't want to know, and sometimes it just gets to him. So he's sitting on his back step, and he has sharpied piano keys up his arm and it's too hot to be out in the middle of the day, it really is. He buries his head in his arms and just cries his stupid eyes out.
When he's done, he scrubs at his eyes with the hem of his t-shirt, and tries to make himself feel better. He writes a list in purple felt pen of some of the things he could do this summer to fill some time – make pancakes in every flavor, see if mom and dad will buy a drum kit, figure out back flips without the trampoline - and yeah, Brendon knows it's a stupid list. He knows, but it doesn't matter.
He doesn't have a TV in his bedroom so he goes into the den and puts on Aladdin and sings along to the whole thing, doing all the parts, Jasmine and Ali and the Genie and he maybe dances a bit, too.
He checks his email after the film's finished, before his parents get back from work. He's all warm and sticky after he skips back on the DVD and does an impassioned rendition of Friend Like Me, stood on the couch with the cushions kicked across the floor. He's tried to give himself a stern talking to about checking his email, but he can't stop himself checking to see if Brent's replied.
He needs to wash the ink off before his parents get home; he's still got the piano keys drawn down his forearm. His mom and dad hate it when he draws on himself. Sometimes he colors his fingernails in different colors and his dad gets really angry and sends him straight to the bathroom to clean up.
Brendon doesn't always think things through, doesn't always remember what makes people angry and why some things are right and some things are wrong. It always makes him sad that he makes other people upset. Once, his mom caught him reading a pile of old magazines that someone had left out in the trash – Cosmo Girl and In Style and Brendon had been flicking through the parts about how to keep a boyfriend satisfied and what colors to wear this summer. His mom had gotten really upset and made him throw them in the garbage straight away before his dad saw. Brendon hadn't really understood – he'd only been twelve – but with time Brendon's come to realize that he does a lot of things that make people upset. He knows it hurts his parents that he has no friends. Brendon thinks maybe he's not trying hard enough.
He opens his inbox and there's a message from Brent. Brendon does a handstand against the wall of the office, accidentally kicking over a pile of papers on the edge of the desk. He pulls them into a hasty pile and puts them back, clicking on the message. Gud summer so far, Brent says, been away camping. Want to come over and play for the band? We need sum1 now trevor has quit. Friday?
Brendon sort of hasn't been religious for a while now, although that's not something he wants to tell his parents yet – if ever – but when he reads the email he shuts his eyes and thanks God. He really does. He wants this like he's never wanted anything before, and he goes into his room and plays his guitar until his parents get home and then he remembers that he didn't clean up the kitchen from his pancakes, or the den from when he moved the furniture to dance, or the bathroom from when he showered that morning and he hasn't washed the piano keys off his arm. His dad sees the ink straight away, taking him by the wrist. It doesn't hurt – his dad isn't gripping him tight or anything - but he's disappointed and Brendon knows that straight away.
"Go and wash that off," his dad says, and Brendon nods, too eager.
He scrubs at it with a washcloth but he stains the washcloth black and the ink's still there. Instead, he wears a sweater to the table for dinner despite it being stupidly hot. His parents don't say anything, but his dad keeps looking at his arms and Brendon pulls the cuffs down over his wrists. He thinks that maybe his parents wouldn't be so happy if they knew he might be playing in a band. It seems to go against everything his parents and the church have ever tried to teach him, so he keeps Brent's email secret and wonders why doing something that will make other people so sad makes him so happy.
Brendon turns up at Brent's friend Spencer's grandma's house with the directions printed off from Brent's email on the back of an old church newsletter. He's nervous and he kind of stalls his mom's car parking outside. His hands are shaking and he's bouncing from foot to foot – he's always been twitchy but when he's anxious and unsure it's even worse. His mom and dad took him to a doctor when he was just a kid; a psychiatrist asked him a few desultory questions while making notes on a piece of yellow foolscap. He was scared and tired and eleven years old so he'd talked and talked and talked and talked and twitched. They'd made him take pills after that, Dexedrine and Ritalin, handed to him by his mom over a glass of milk and a bowl of cereal every morning. Brendon remembers the next year as a hazy, fog-filled existence that made sleeping difficult and waking up even harder. His parents – who weren't exactly keen on him taking pills, even ones prescribed by a doctor or whatever – listened to him when he begged to stop taking them.
The difference hadn't been immediate but he remembers his mom hugging him and him hugging her back, tightly. She'd told him she'd missed his hugs.
Brendon has always liked touching and being touched. He likes to hug, he likes to hold hands too, wants to link arms and hook ankles and rest his head on someone else's shoulder if he's sitting on the couch. His brothers and sisters have grown used to it over the years, making space between them on the couch for him or slinging their arms around his shoulders as they walk. It doesn't take away his twitches or his clumsiness but sometimes it works to still him.
Sometimes though, he reaches out for people and forgets that not everyone understands. He'd done it in elementary school once, on a school trip to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. He hadn't been thinking and he'd reached for Neal's hand without realizing what it was he was doing. Neal had pushed him away and Brendon had tripped over a bench and everyone had laughed.
Brendon sometimes dreams about being held.
Anyway, he gets to the garage where he's meeting Brent and his friends and he says, "Hey," and waves.
"Hi," Brent says. There are two other kids there, a skinny, silent kid who looks at him with a tight expression and a heavy-set long-haired guy who raises an eyebrow from behind his drum kit.
"Um," Brendon says, and he waves again, because he wants to be friends, "um, hi guys."
"This is him?" the skinny kid asks.
Brent shrugs. "Yeah. This is Brendon. We took Geometry together."
"Good times," Brendon says, before he can stop himself, "good times."
"Right," the kid behind the drum kit says. "I'm Spencer. This is Ryan. You play?"
"Yeah," Brendon says, "yeah."
Brendon privately thinks that maybe they don't like him too much, because Ryan barely talks and Spencer seems to communicate by eyebrows alone. Brendon's too skinny and too bouncy and he plays, like, the first thing that comes into his head and it's Joni Mitchell and not the Beatles or even anything from the last decade. Still, they don't send him away and afterwards he goes to sit on the curb, feet out onto the street, picking at the clasp on his guitar case while they have a band meeting. He taps his feet – he's wearing Converse, green Chuck Taylors. He's got a sharpie in his pocket and he carefully, very carefully draws a star on the side of his heel. Maybe his parents won't notice and they won't tell him off for defacing his belongings. He's coloring it in, ever so carefully, when Spencer comes and sits beside him.
"So," Spencer says, and Brendon can't help it, he's holding his breath, "you're in. We practice Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and Sunday afternoons."
"Can't do Sundays," Brendon says, automatically. Sundays are for church, church and youth groups and all those other things that Brendon does because he has to.
Spencer looks at him. Brendon thinks that he's messed it up, that this is it. He freezes, then starts, "Well, I don't know, maybe I could-"
"Okay," Spencer says, and he looks back at the garage, back at Ryan and Brent. "Saturdays?" he says, and Brendon can't help but notice Spencer's shoes, a pair of DC sneakers, white with green stripes. They kind of echo his.
"Yeah," Brendon says, relieved. "I can do Saturdays."
"Ryan," Spencer yells. "Saturdays?"
Ryan shrugs. "Sure," he says, and that's it.
It isn't as if things change for Brendon from the moment he joins the band. Brendon gets into trouble with his parents because he's out of the house a lot and he's not being entirely truthful about what it is that he's doing. He's always been a pretty bad liar - especially when it comes to his parents - and they keep bugging him about what he's up to. It isn't like Brendon doesn't get why they're concerned; his mom and dad have spent sixteen years urging Brendon to go out and make friends and nothing has ever worked. Now, suddenly, Brendon's going out two or three times a week to hang out with people that his parents don't know. His parents talk to him about temptation and being a teenager and following the wrong path. Brendon knows that his parents just don't want him to get into trouble; he knows that they're concerned and worried that he's too trusting, that he gives his heart away too easily, that he's going to get hurt and not be able to cover it up. They've seen it happen before.
It makes Brendon sad. He tries to tell them that everything's okay, that these are guys who could be friends. He doesn't mention the band as such; he tells his mom that they're all musical, that they all play instruments and stuff. His mom looks at him like maybe she knows. His parents worry about bands. They know all the bad stuff, the stuff with the drugs and the alcohol and the free love. They don't know how happy being in a band makes him.
Brent and Spencer and Ryan aren't much about drugs and alcohol and free love. They have Pepsi, sometimes. Pepsi and sour brite gummy worms and bags of chips and sometimes, cookies. Brendon's experience with drugs has been Dexedrine and Ritalin and he'd begged to be able to stop taking them. Either he's just weird or he hasn't tried the good stuff yet. He'd sort of smoked pot once, but it hadn't been amazing or anything. It was after a rehearsal for jazz band and he'd been out on the field behind the hall with a group of music kids who all knew each other better than they knew him. They'd been listening to Duke Ellington and one of the guys had a joint in a tin he'd got from his cousin. They'd all been passing it around and taking a toke when they'd been caught. Brendon had narrowly escaped being grounded, mostly because his parents had been so pleased he'd been hanging out with some of the other kids from school that they couldn't bear to punish him. He'd had to promise them he'd never do it again, though.
Brendon spends most of the summer hanging out and playing music with Ryan and Spencer and Brent, but he still wouldn't say that they're friends, exactly. They're nice to him - well, Brent is. Ryan is stick-thin and self-absorbed, buried deep in something going on at home. He seems barely aware of anything outside their songs at times, biting his lip in concentration and holding on to the mic stand, staring out of the garage door. Sometimes Spencer and Ryan disappear indoors to get glasses of water or something and don't come back for like, half an hour. Brendon sits on the driveway and kicks his sneakers together, picking idly at his guitar. He does handstands up against the wall and occasionally he borrows Spencer's bike and rides up and down the street. Sometimes Brent talks to him about music; other times, Brent takes off with his cellphone and talks to his friends, arranging to go to the movies or hang out after practice.
A lot of the time though, they're half way through a song and Brendon kind of wants to stop Ryan and say, that's flat, you know. He doesn't. They're Ryan's songs and Ryan's words and Ryan's the singer. Brendon's a tool sometimes, but he thinks that this is pretty much his one chance and he doesn't want to screw it up, so he just looks down and picks out the melody and bites at his lip.
He catches Spencer watching him thoughtfully sometimes, sitting back on his stool and resting his sticks against the snare. Brendon tries not to think about what it is that Spencer's looking at, so he just does the only thing he knows how to do, which is to smile at Spencer until he stops staring and starts engaging and sort of smiles back.
Spencer likes to act like he's tough and hard and almost entirely without feeling, but Brendon knows better. Inside, Spencer's a giant marshmallow, Brendon's pretty sure about that.
It isn't just about the music, though. Sometimes they're too lazy to play, sometimes it's just too warm. They play a few tracks, Brendon picking out the guitar part and watching Ryan at the mic, and then they stumble haphazardly to a stop and Brent says, "Playstation?" Then they pack up and wander out of the garage and down the street and go to Brent's.
The first time, Brendon is hesitant, not sure whether he's invited and unwilling to overstep the boundaries of this carefully constructed web of almost-friendship. Brent shakes his head and says, "Get your ass over here, Urie."
Brendon can't help it, he can't keep it in. He smiles wide and flings an arm around Brent's shoulders, yelling "Onward, to the playstation!"
They all laugh, even Ryan. Brendon grins. Ryan is a hard nut to crack.
Brendon is awkward at first; he hasn't played much playstation before. He picks up instruments and can play them in a matter of hours though, so getting the hang of the playstation controller isn't much different. Before he knows it, he's racing Spencer around the track and winning and everyone is laughing and Ryan is poking him in the elbow and Brent is shoving him and Spencer - Spencer is letting that soft marshmallow side of him show, just a bit.
Brendon doesn't mean to do a victory song and dance. He kind of gets carried away - which is Brendon all over, really - and before he knows what he's doing he's belting out a chorus of We Are The Champions, waving his arms about. He grinds to a halt when he realizes they're all looking at him. "What?" he says, sorry. He scuffs his toe against the carpet. Ryan and Spencer are looking at each other, eyebrows raised, and Brent is staring at him.
"Sorry," he says, again, even though he doesn't really know what he is apologizing for. Brendon doesn't always know. Sometimes he just kind of annoys people just by being there, and he's learnt from experience that perhaps it's just better to say sorry.
"Don't apologize, dude," Spencer says. "Why didn't you tell us you could sing?"
Brendon shrugs. He remembers the music kids, the way they'd looked at him. "No reason," he says. Then, "You didn't ask?"
"You can sing," Brent says.
"Um, yeah?" Brendon shrugs again. He taps his fingers against his thigh, a quick polka beat. If he's messed this up he doesn't know whether he'll be able to get outside without breaking down.
"What else haven't you told us?" Spencer asks, and Brendon tries to remember that Spencer's a marshmallow because right now he looks fierce.
He feels trapped. Ryan's just staring at him, eyes wide. "You sing," Ryan says.
"I play piano too," Brendon says, and it's kind of meant to be a quip, something to lighten the mood. He doesn't know quite what he's done wrong but they're all staring at him. He puts down the controller on Brent's coffee table.
"Piano, guitar, sing," Spencer says. "Anything else?"
Brendon thinks that maybe he sees the ghost of a smile, something reassuring underneath Spencer's gaze. "Bass guitar, drums, accordion, trumpet, violin-" Brendon starts listing them on his fingers, trying to count off the summer breaks and the Sundays in Church, "-I tried the clarinet once, but I only had that for a couple of days, um, I played the organ-"
"Are you, like, a musical genius or what?" Brent asks.
Brendon shrugs. He's just had a lot of free time. "I can walk on my hands, too," he says, finally, and Spencer cracks a smile.
"We're keeping you," Spencer says, and Ryan kind of nods.
Brendon doesn't even try and hide his grin.
He kind of takes over the singing after that. It's not that he's a better singer than Ryan, (although, okay, he kind of is) but it's not like he's had any particular training other than years and years of church. He could never stay still long enough though, always moving and tapping his foot until the choirmaster had asked him to stop coming because he was disturbing the others. He hadn't gone back after that. He sings these songs that Ryan writes and yeah, it feels uncomfortable for a while, because these are Ryan's words, Ryan's songs. They hadn't been written for Brendon to sing. Brendon can't read Ryan yet - he's not very good at reading anyone, to be honest, not enough experience. Brendon trusts everyone, even though he knows he shouldn't. He can't tell what Ryan's thinking.
So, yeah, his summer sort of passes and for the first time ever, he's got friends. He still doesn't know if they, like, like him back or anything, but they're still his best friends in the whole world. They laugh at his jokes - sometimes, when they're not really bad jokes - and let him play his guitar for hours and hours and for the first time, he's not spending his summer by himself. This is the best summer ever, Brendon thinks.
He doesn't look forward to going back to school. They're at Spencer's, lying outside in his back yard, taking advantage of Spencer's parents' absence and of his sisters being out with their friends. Ryan and Brent are inside, playing on Spencer's Xbox, but Brendon and Spencer are outside, lying on the grass and staring up at the sky.
"School," Spencer says, and Brendon kind of freezes, he just can't help it. He plasters a smile on his face - the same smile he wears all year, he thinks.
"You kind of hate it, right?" Spencer says, and Brendon nods. He does. Before this summer he wouldn't have admitted to it - no, school's great, it's amazing, there are some cool kids there, love the music - but he really, really does hate it.
"I'd be a great friend," Brendon says miserably.
"Yeah," Spencer says, and Brendon's not looking at him but he thinks that maybe Spencer's looking at him. "Brent says you don't really know many people."
Brendon's foot taps against the fence. He shakes his head. Clouds, he thinks, come in really stupid shapes. That one looks like a tiger. "No," he says. "Well, I do. They just kind of don't want to know me."
Spencer's elbow nudges his. "Well," he says, "they're kind of dicks, then. They don't know what they're missing out on."
"Yeah?" Brendon manages, although he can't help it, he's kind of choked up. He doesn't want Spencer to know.
"You're totally one of us now," Spencer tells him, without moving. "You don't need them."
"Right," Brendon stumbles over the word, breath catching in his throat. He knows Spencer's watching him now. "Don't tell the others, right?" he manages. "Don't tell them I was upset."
Spencer shifts so that his head is by Brendon's shoulder, hair brushing against Brendon's neck. "I won't. Look," he says, pointing up at the sky. "That cloud looks like a tiger."
It's harder for Brendon to keep coming over once school starts again. His mom talks about his assignments and his dad talks about the car and whether his mom needs it or not and Brendon's left making excuses to Spencer and Ryan about why he can't come to practice. He can't get there without a ride and he doesn't know anyone who'll drive him. He needs to have his homework done to show his mom before she'll let him out and being back at school sucks, it really does. His locker's moved and he doesn't know the kids in his hallway and no one smiles at him and says hi now, even if he says hi first. He still sits with the music kids a couple of days a week, because the world's out to get him and Brent doesn't have the same lunch period as him. There's always math, though, and they're taking the same class, sitting half way back by the window and talking about chord progressions instead of triangles.
"Why weren't you at practice?" Brent asks.
Brendon kind of thinks that once they find out he can't always get to practice, that he's unreliable and just a kid, they're going to ditch him. He tries to look nonchalant. "My mom, you know," he says, and inside he's cringing. He tried telling his mom that he didn't want to come to church anymore. She cried, and Brendon took it back. "You know what they're like."
He makes the next couple of practices but misses the one after that. When he shows at the next practice, Ryan stares at him and shakes his head. "You're flaking out on us," he says flatly, and Brendon thinks this is the most miserable he's ever been.
"I'm not," he tries to explain, but he can't without saying that his parents are yelling at him and he'd skipped church again last week and they wouldn't let him have the car and he didn't have any money to get across town and he had to keep his grades up else they'd ground him and that would be that. "I'm sorry," he says, and thinks that might be the most overused word in his vocabulary.
"You're here now," Spencer says, eyeing Ryan sharply, and Ryan rolls his eyes but doesn't say anything else. Afterwards, when they've finished, Spencer takes Brendon's elbow and says, "Hey, wait a second?"
Ryan and Brent leave – Ryan shooting a look Brendon can't read towards Spencer - and then it's just Spencer and Brendon outside on the driveway. Spencer says, "Do you want to go and get a smoothie?"
Brendon doesn't know how to say he hasn't got any money. His parents are trying every way they can to make him stay in, and that means asking Brendon to contribute to the gas costs. He shrugs his shoulders. "We could, I dunno, go to the park?" he says, thinking that it's close and he won't be too late home.
"Okay," Spencer says, and he goes inside to get two cans of coke from the fridge. He hands one to Brendon. "Come on."
They sit in the playground and Brendon lies down at the bottom of the slide. Spencer sits on the merry-go-round, letting his feet touch the ground as it slowly spins round in circles. "Is Ryan right?" Spencer asks, after a minute. "Are you flaking out on us?"
Brendon shakes his head. "No," he says. "I want this more than anything. You have no idea."
"I-" Brendon has spent sixteen years not telling his friends things. He's spent sixteen years not having friends to tell. His parents think he trusts too easily and that's why he keeps getting hurt and maybe that's true, but he's here and he's got a chance and he's screwing it up. "Are we friends?" Brendon asks finally, and that's not the question he was going to ask. It really isn't, because he doesn't want to know if the answer doesn't go in his favor.
"Brendon," Spencer says, patiently, and Brendon is holding on to his coke can really tightly, "are you a complete fucking idiot?"
"Pretty much," Brendon says, but he still doesn't know the answer. "Are we, though?"
Spencer stops spinning, feet flat on the ground to stop the movement. "Yes," he says finally. "Just in case you hadn't gotten it, you know, asking you to be in our band and keeping you around and shit. Yeah."
"Right," Brendon says, and he lies back against the slide, staring up at the sky. The next thing he knows, Spencer's standing over him, bending down and shaking him by the ankle.
"You really didn't know?"
Brendon shakes his head. "Sometimes I trust the wrong people."
"We're not the wrong people," Spencer tells him. "You want to tell me why you've been skipping out on us?"
Brendon shrugs awkwardly. "You want to go on the swings?"
Spencer stares at him. "Sure," he says, and they sit on the swings and finish their cans of coke and then they put the cans on the floor and start to swing for real, racing each other. "I can't get a ride," Brendon says, after a while. "My mom and dad won't let me have the car anymore. And I can't come out unless I've done my homework. They're freaking out," he admits, "they're freaking out because I don't want to be a Mormon anymore. Because I don't want to go to church and live by those rules anymore. Because they don't know what's making me want that, because they're scared. They're freaking out and I hate seeing them this upset with me," Brendon says, and he's not sure Spencer's catching it all because they're swinging past each other and there's an evening breeze. "Because there's all this stuff that's going on and it's hard," Brendon says, "it's hard and I didn't know if you guys were my friends."
Spencer's stuttering his swing to a stop, feet scuffing at the ground. He's wedged pretty tightly into the swing seat, thighs pressed up against the ropes. Brendon fits easier, because he's so skinny. Spencer stands up and catches hold of Brendon's swing and Brendon stops, looking down.
"I'm screwing everything up," he says miserably.
"I can give you a ride," Spencer says. "Or Ryan. Or Brent. We can give you a ride."
"Yeah?" Brendon says, looking up. Spencer's stood over him, pushing his hair behind his ear. He's looking fiercer than Brendon imagined, and Brendon can't help but think Spencer's angry with him. "I'm sorry," he says, dully. "If you want to find someone else, then-"
"You're such a dumbass," Spencer says, and he's still got a hold of Brendon's swing, sliding his hand down the rope until his fingers brush Brendon's. "We don't want anyone else."
Brendon shrugs his shoulders again, awkwardly. "Thanks," he says, and he means it, because he's Brendon Urie and for the first time in his whole entire life, he has friends.
On days when Brendon can't get the car, one of them comes and picks him up for practice. If it's Brent then it's just like being in class - they talk about music and rock bands and the albums Brendon tries to listen to when he can. It's hard for Brendon because it's not like he's had friends to talk to about this sort of stuff, and his parents don't just have the collected works of Pink Floyd lying around, because, you know, Mormons. So Brent plays him rock bands and Blink-182 and for the first time, Brendon doesn't have to listen to it under the cover of darkness with his headphones on. They play it loudly and Brendon plays air guitar and they sing along and it's good.
With Ryan, they talk about other stuff, about lyrics and the way the music's going and everything in between. They don't talk about Ryan's dad, but somehow Brendon kind of figures out their difficult relationship. Sometimes Brendon gets uneasy because he kind of thinks that Ryan's pretty, which is okay because for a lot of the time Ryan looks quite a lot like a girl. Sometimes though, sometimes Brendon finds Ryan pretty when he's not looking quite so much like a girl and that makes him feel uncomfortable. It's not something he wants to think too much about.
It's inevitable that his parents find out exactly what it is that he's up to. Some of the kids from church go to high school with Brendon (Brendon sometimes nods at them in the hallways and sometimes they nod back) and anyone who knows Brent knows that he's in a band. People find out, and then they tell their parents and then one day his dad comes home and sits Brendon down. They're mad, firstly because Brendon's lied to them for months (Brendon's pretty miserable about that. He told his parents his friends played music. It wasn't a lie, so much, not really) and secondly, because they think that being in the band is the reason Brendon's given up the church. They're angry and upset and somehow they've got this idea in their heads that Brendon's off wearing make up and singing for strippers.
(Ryan has maybe let them mess around like, once or twice with eyeliner. And the stripper was Spencer's next door neighbor and she brought them round some jugs of lemonade one hot Sunday when they were practicing in Spencer's garage.)
Brendon hates school, he really does.
He keeps the arguments to himself, partly because arguing with his parents and his brothers and sisters is totally lame, but also because he knows that this is risking his place in the band and the band means a whole lot to him. He doesn't want Spencer and Brent to laugh at him, or for Ryan to shake his head. So he keeps on at it, doing his school work and smiling at kids in the corridors and trying to make friends with the kids he sits next to in class. Actually having friends doesn't seem to have made Brendon any less eager for other ones. He keeps telling himself that he should be happy with what he's got, but Brendon's never satisfied. It's worse, maybe, because now he knows he can be a good friend. Yeah, he bickers with Ryan and Brendon can be kind of bitchy (but only under his breath) and yes, Brent annoys him sometimes because he wants to talk to Brendon about all this stuff, this future stuff, like college and jobs and growing up and Brendon doesn't want that. He just wants music, and he can't understand why Brent doesn't want it as much as he does. He knows that Spencer gets frustrated with him too, because Spencer's not always good at keeping his frustrations in check. Spencer rolls his eyes or hits the living shit out of his drum kit - which is good for the band even if it does tend to make Brendon wince. Sometimes he says, for fuck's sake, Brendon.
So yeah, Brendon knows he's not, like, the perfect person or anything but he does know he can be a good friend. Not anyone's best friend (Brendon's always secretly wanted a best friend. He thinks that would be pretty amazing); not like Ryan and Spencer. Anyway, he makes good pancakes and can totally listen to people's problems and people should be lining up to be friends with him.
Brendon thinks that maybe always wanting more is a bad thing.
He knows he should be pretty tentative with the whole invasion of personal space thing. He knows that it's a big turn off for some people and the last thing he wants to do is mess this up by getting into their space when they don't like it. It's just, he can't help it. He touches their shoulders and tucks his toes under their thighs and fights for piggy back rides and it's like he just can't stop. He read about this scientific research about the importance of a hug a day or something and he's got a lot of days to catch up on. Sometimes they grin at him and let him hang off them but sometimes he thinks that maybe they get annoyed with him - maybe Brent more than the others - but he still can't stop himself.
It isn't like Brendon likes Spencer better than the rest of them. He doesn't. He sort of idolizes Ryan, if he's honest with himself, and Brent changed Brendon's life. Brendon's never going to forget that. Spencer though, Spencer's friendship is kind of amazing. He can't even-. No. Spencer stays awake at sleepovers with him when Brendon doesn't want to go to sleep. Spencer drives him home sometimes and if they've got time to kill, Spencer will pull over and maybe buy Brendon a smoothie or a piece of pie and Brendon will make funny faces as they eat and Spencer will poke him in the arm to make him stop. Sometimes, Brendon thinks, on the days when Spencer's taking him home, they finish up practicing a little early so that there's a bit of extra time before Brendon's curfew.
Brendon kind of thinks he must be imagining that.
He has to pretty much promise his soul to the Latter Day Saints to be allowed to go to sleepovers. His parents keep wanting more and more in return; not satisfied with chores, they make him meet with their bishop. Brendon sort of wants to say no, but he can't, not yet. He loves his parents and they love him, but they just can't find any middle ground at the moment.
Brendon's determined - just like he's been about everything else in his life - that this is going to work out. So he makes whatever concessions necessary and turns up at Spencer's with a bag with his pajamas in and his guitar. They stay up late eating junk food but Brendon can't have too much sugar without turning into the energizer bunny and annoying everyone else. He ends up unable to stay still, chattering away and keeping everyone awake. Finally, Ryan says, "If you don't shut him up, I'm going to have to kill him. Don't make me kill our lead singer, Spence."
Spencer ruffles Ryan's hair affectionately and Spencer and Brendon end up in the den, on the couch. Spencer puts the TV on really quietly and pulls a blanket over their knees. He lets Brendon rest his head on Spencer's shoulder as he chatters. It's nice, Brendon thinks, to have Spencer. He tells Spencer this and Spencer listens to him - or at least he pretends to - but Brendon's five minutes into a conversation about The O.C. before he realizes that Spencer's got his hand curled around Brendon's, on top of the blanket.
"Spence?" he asks, sitting up.
"Yeah?" Spencer says, steadily.
Brendon looks down at their hands, fingers entwined. It's nice, so he just says, "Nothing," and doesn't let go.
"Right," Spencer says, and changes the channel. Family Guy is on and Brendon's never really seen Family Guy. He laughs too loudly and too long and all he can think about is Spencer's hand in his. He can't stop his foot from jiggling and finally, Spencer curls his ankle over Brendon's. "Shh," Spencer says, and Brendon rests his head against Spencer's shoulder again.
Later, Brendon thinks he must have imagined the touch of Spencer's mouth against his hair.
He really doesn't let himself think about Spencer too much. He's concentrating on what's going on at home, the arguments and the begging. Brendon loves his parents so much but he's not giving up his band. He's not going back to the church. He wants his parents and he wants his band and he wants his friends; he wants it all. He doesn't think it's too much to ask. He knows his parents are trying; they're praying for him and they're upset that he's moved so far away from the Lord. They've got to blame someone for that and it hurts them to blame Brendon: they blame Ryan and Spencer and Brent. Brendon's inherently honest (not telling his parents about the band was the exception, not the rule) and so he stands up for them. It doesn't make their relationship any easier.
Brendon's concentrating less at practice and he's forgetting the words and forgetting the changes they made the last time they played. Brent's frustrated but only because he hates going over and over the same thing. Spencer's bored and pissed at him but Ryan lets loose and Brendon just has to put up with being shouted at when Ryan calls him an idiot and a dumb fuck.
Thing is, he's not exactly wrong and Brendon wants to do better, but there isn't a part of his life that's going right and everyone, everywhere is shouting at him. School isn't much better because he's not concentrating in class. His grades are going down and his parents are quick to use this against him, to blame the band. His parents have been in to see the principal to request that he doesn't have any classes with Brent anymore.
It's the last straw and when Spencer comes to pick him up on Saturday, Brendon says, "Can we? Can we, just, not, today?"
Spencer looks at him for a moment. Then he pulls out his phone and makes a call. Brendon can hear Ryan sounding cranky at the other end and he holds his hands in his lap and tries not to fidget too much.
"What do you want to do?" Spencer asks once he's put his cellphone away, hands on the steering wheel.
Brendon shrugs and says, "Lets go to the mall."
The mall is busy and full of people. They look in the windows of the department store for a bit and Spencer takes him to look at a pair of sneakers he's fallen in love with. Brendon tries them on even though he can't afford them and doesn't much like the color. "I need a job," Brendon says, as Spencer leans over and laces up the sneakers for him. "I really need a job."
"Okay," Spencer says, and they sit in the food court and eat fries while Brendon fills in application forms for the jeans store and the Smoothie Hut and the Sunglasses Emporium. Brendon secretly wants the sunglasses one because he wants an employee discount. None of the stores look particularly enamored at the idea of working with Brendon, though.
Spencer waits in line to buy them cappuccinos with chocolate sprinkles while Brendon sits outside, under the fake palms by the elevators. "We might need to shift practice around," Brendon says when he comes over, thinking of the weekend hours.
"You maybe want to tell me what's going on?" Spencer says, after a pause.
Brendon shrugs. He's trying so hard to keep it together that his face aches from smiling too much. His skin feels jittery. "I think I need to find a place," Brendon starts. "Yeah, a place of my own."
Spencer's expression doesn't flicker. "You alright?" he asks.
Brendon nods and takes a gulp of his coffee. "Uh-huh," he says, and he knows he has froth on his lip. He licks at it. "Yeah."
"Okay," Spencer says. Brendon thinks that maybe Spencer doesn't believe him, which is stupid since Brendon's been pretending to be okay for years now and is really pretty good at it.
"How are you going to pay for it?" Spencer asks. Spencer's practical like that.
Brendon tears at his napkin. He loves coffee but it makes him extra-jittery. He can feel his legs shaking. Normally Spencer clamps his hand down on Brendon's knee and tells him to stop - especially as he's making the table shake and their coffees spill - but Spencer isn't saying anything, just watching him carefully. "College fund," Brendon says. "My grandma left me some money. That'll be enough for a while. And -" he waves at the mall, hand over his shoulder, "I'm getting a job. And, well, we're going to make it, so." He nods.
Spencer swallows hard. Then, all of a sudden, he's curling his hand over Brendon's, right there in the food court. "You're one of the bravest people I've ever met," he says, and Brendon can't help but think that Spencer knows Ryan, so. That's got to mean a lot.
Brendon shakes his head, trying to pull away. The way Spencer's looking at him makes him feel like he's seeing inside of him. "No-" he starts.
Spencer tightens his grip on Brendon's hand. "Yeah," he says. "You are. I've got savings too," he says. "I could help you out with the security deposit. You can pay me back when we're rich and famous."
Brendon holds on to Spencer's hand, ducks his head and tries not to cry.