Frank sits, curled up on his bed in the dead of night and he picks up his lighter. This time, the first time, it’s blue. He flicks it a few times, trying to get a run of three times that it lights up because it’s a stupid fucking crack lighter and he really needs to buy a Bic at some point. Licking over his chapped lips, he turns the lighter so that the flame is pointing towards his skin, and he turns the gas up. The flame creeps higher and he can feel it, burning his skin and he rights it again so that it’s facing the normal way. Releasing the black plastic piece that keeps the flame alive, he retracts his thumb to flick again at the metal pieces of it that roll. If it lights up three times, Gerard’ll call.
When it lights up eleven times in a row, Frank throws it across the room and watched it shatter, explode, on the dirty floor of his room.
Gerard doesn’t call.
Brian calls him. It’s two in the afternoon and Frank is face down, fully clothed, on top of the covers on his bed and he doesn’t want to answer the phone. The voice of his friend clicks onto the tape machine (who even has a fucking tape machine?) and tells him that he should come out that night. Have a few drinks. Find some pretty girl to take home.
Take home to what, Frank wonders. Sure, they’d be wasted and it would be quick – she wouldn’t have to be there that long, but there is nothing to show. There is no light and the cracks in the walls are made by fists named Agony and Hate and he wonders when it got so bad.
He doesn’t have to wonder very long, because he remembers, and he flicks the next colored lighter he can find. Red. At first, he thinks he’s getting away with just lighting a cigarette and then he keeps flicking it. Turning and twisting his wrist so that the heat contacts different parts of his skin and his fingers, daring himself to hold it there a little longer.
Just a little longer.
Frank decides that it’s just a trick of the light. Fog on a window meant nothing, the outline of a heart with some cheesy grin of a smiley face next to it. There is no way that is still there, the etchings of fingerprints no longer felt on his skin. He goes out for the first time in days; he buys a lot of cleaning products that he thinks might kill him if he inhales them too long, and he considers it at the check out stand. Stopping again, he buys gloves and industrial size sponges. Three hours later, he is still scrubbing at his window and he contemplates crying, because it feels like he should. Like the rueful noises that sputter, spit, and spray all over the place will help anything. He doesn’t cry. Instead, he stares at the window and he blows on the glass over and over and over to make sure that what was there will not come back.
This time, the lighter is orange and he tells himself to keep it away from the cleaning products. It’s a scary thought, he must admit, as hopeless as he feels – he doesn’t want to burn into a crisp, like someone left him in the oven for too long. The last thing he needs is some fucking newspaper article that his friends will look at and murmur in hushes whispers about, saying that it didn’t have to be this way and that they never thought this would happen. Because he’s pretty fucking sure, as he can feel the hair on his knuckle curl and singe, that they would all expect it.
Each and every one of them.
Hump day, the middle of the week, and he honestly wouldn’t have known what day it was if the lights people hadn’t called to tell him that his payment was supposed to have been made the previous Wednesday. He argued with them about it until he eventually just told him to deduct it from his account, because he knew damn well they kept the numbers and the pins and everything they needed to make sure that he was going to die dirt fucking poor. Now that he thinks about it, it doesn’t sound so bad. Who would want to die rich anyway? That’s a waste of money, of time, of things that were bought because they seemed so fucking important at the time.
Blue. The lighter is blue, again, but not the same, and the base of the flame is blue too, and this one’s shiny new, unscathed by being dropped or shoved to the floor of his car. The flame goes high and he holds it too long, cursing and dropping the lighter when he realizes that his skin that literally fucking melted. Running his hand under the cold tap water for a minute or two, he rummaged around for a band aid in his bathroom cabinet and found Gerard’s toothbrush instead.
He spends an hour, poking and prodding at the burn on his hand until the stinging stops stinging and the sun comes up and the only thing that hurts is his heavy, aching heart.
Today was the day he was supposed to cancel all of the arrangements. He went one place in person before he decided that the sympathetic looks he was getting were too hard. Everything else was done by phone. Cancel the joint bank account (they’d joked about this, for hours, they’d laughed about all of it because it was just so fucking funny: Frankie, we’re getting married, what the fuck), cancel the tux he no longer needed, cancel everything else. It felt like he was going to bury him, put him underground forever, when the reality was that Frank knew he was in the same city. Breathing the same air that had washed in and out of his lungs, fueled by car exhaust and hair fucking spray and whatever else was seeping into the ozone.
The lighter is purple that night, and Frank asks himself – or anyone – if the air tastes the same to Gerard. If they see colors the same way, because he can’t come up with a reasonable explanation for what happened except that they simply do not see anything the same.
The only problem is that the laughter sounds artificial and only reminds him more and more that nothing is real anymore.
Mikey comes over. He tells Frank that he’ll be alright, and he’s got an asshole of a brother who clearly doesn’t know what he’s missing, and asks if he wants to watch some stupid fucking Lakers game. Eventually, he kicks Mikey out, but not for lack of trying to be hospitable. It’s just that, even though Mikey and Gerard had never looked alike, all he can see is the round face Gerard had in the gaunt expression of angles that Mikey bore and it doesn’t make any sense because they are so incredibly different, yet anything connected with Gerard is the same now. Linked.
The lighter is clear and he piles all of the sketches and letters and little pieces of paper that don’t even have anything on them except a series of lines places under the big picture to catch any of the mistakes before they went onto the floor when Gerard was working hard. He lights them on fire, watches them blaze right there in the sink of his bathroom. Opening his hands wide, he holds them over the flame so that the heat is lapping at his skin and lowers and lowers and lowers.
And it doesn’t hurt.
So far, Frank’s life has become a series of faults and fantasies. He can tell himself as much as he wants that Gerard is, to put it simply, batshit crazy, or that he’s in some insane coma that involves him living his life out in a dream state as he sleeps, but all he can really calculate, control, and account for is the way it feels to flick his lighter. This time, it’s black, and it feels heavy in his hands. It’s a Bic for once, something he had found shoved under his bed once he’d decided to clean absolutely everything. It was Gerard’s, that much he could tell, because he always bought the same lighter and colored the white bottom with a black sharpie.
Flicking the lighter and watching as it almost wept at him, trying to ignite so that Frank could put out the fire inside him, he panicked when it didn’t. Shaking the plastic object near his ear, he detected the tiniest sound of moisture being shaken around. Trying again and again and again, he finally got one slow, practiced flame and he lowered it onto the lighter-fluid soaked shirt at the top of the pile.
And this time, when it burnt, it didn’t feel bad. And this time, when he laughed, it sounded real. And this time, when he shut his eyes, he could finally sleep.
He could finally see the right shade of mauve.