Pete had seen the blurry photos online. He had heard the rumors. Now that he was here, he knew this was the real fucking deal. In the months leading up to this night, he was unable to truly describe it. It was euphoric. He could taste the electricity in the air, he could feel how the crowd moved with the music. Hell, he could smell how hard the band was working from the waves of sweat and musk that washed over him. This singer, Patrick, was supposed to be the king of Chicago’s underground scene. This guy was poised to become the face of pop punk that was set to take the country by firestorm. It was going to be glorious, absurdly glorious.
He had to get in on this.
The song ended and everyone erupted into a hearty round of applause and cheers, feet stomping and palms pounding the edge of the stage. The floorboards creaked from the sudden movement, somehow growling, like a tired beast awoken from its slumber. Due to the venue, The Hideout as it was known, being built in the 70’s, it was easy for a rambunctious group to quite literally shake the place to its core. The city’s rainy and snowy weather didn’t do any favors for the venue’s structural integrity, either. The saggy roof above them appeared to be ready to collapse at the slightest agitation. Not that anyone cared. It added to its charm, if anything. People came here to lose themselves and escape the outside world.
The band’s drummer and lead guitarist hammed it up with a few dramatic bows and twirls. They were met with hollers of approval, their expressions showing how eager they were to accept and relish in the given affection. Their bassist was already exiting through the tiny door to the left, uninterested, and Patrick retook the microphone as he slung his guitar around his back. He waved his hand for silence and then dragged his fingers through his damp blonde hair, dripping and huffing. Everyone’s eyes shifted to where he stood and held their breath.
“All right,” Patrick exhaled, practically frenching the microphone with how close he was, “you mothafuckers have been amazing tonight. We don’t deserve you--”
“We FUCKIN’ love you, Trick!” a young woman shrieked, her voice cracking on his name. A few excited shouts accompanied her outburst.
“Love you, too! Don’t ever change! We’ll be here next month to do this shit all over again, hah. We are Charnel House and we thank you! Goodnight, drive safe! We’re out!” Patrick dropped the microphone the instant he had finished speaking. His voice resonated for a fleeting golden moment before it faded completely. He spun on his heel and disappeared toward the back of the stage. The other band members followed suit and soon the twinkling rafter lights had nothing to show beneath their glow.
At the left side of the stage, Pete waited patiently for the crowd to disperse. People began to filter out through the building’s side doors. There was pushing and laughing and yelling about what fantastic show it had been. A couple of smaller groups tried to linger to catch a glimpse of the band, however, the two surly security guards were quick to shut their efforts down. As soon as Pete saw security snarling about how the band wasn’t coming out to greet any fans, he took action. He hopped toward the bar, dodging tipsy stumblers and squealing teenagers. He leaned against the counter and caught the bartender’s attention. She was alone and absolutely not in the mood for idle chit-chat.
“Hi, Kayla,” Pete grinned at her. She looked sexy in her work uniform, and he wondered why she was always complaining about it. That little bowtie really sold it. “Any chance you can slip me into the back? I need to talk to the guys that just played.”
Kayla, in the middle of trying to wipe down her station, scoffed at him, “Get fucked, Wentz. My boss’ll kill me if I let you back there. ‘Sides, I know you’re just going to harass them, definitely not talk to them or whatever you said.”
“Okay, cool.. Does that mean I can tell Jimmy you cheated on him last month?”
“No! What, no! You can’t, please.”
“What’s the worst that could happen? You think he’ll dump you?” Pete teased. He leaned in further and batted his eyelashes for an added layer of obnoxiousness.
Kayla grit her teeth, “I mean, who says he’ll believe you, anyway? I’ve known him longer than you have.”
Pete’s grin only grew wider, “I still have that voicemail you left me. Something about.. Oh, I don’t know.. ‘Baby, I’m just a call away, lemme be your naughty girl’. Yeah. I’m sure Jimmy will enjoy that.”
“You,” Kayla struggled, her fingers gripping the counter and her cheeks burning, “you’re a real pain, you know that?”
“Sure I am. So can I get back there or what?”
“.. Like I have a choice. Don’t piss anyone off, got it?”
Kayla muttered some insult and moved to unhitch the wooden panel that allowed for access behind the bar. She folded her arms across her chest and stared furiously at him. With him inside, she ignored the wave he offered and slammed the wooden panel shut once more. The slam echoed throughout the near-empty venue, abandoned glasses trembling against their paper coasters.
“Thanks, you’re a real sweetheart,” Pete said. “Let’s do this again sometime?”
Without a word, Kayla continued wiping down her station.
Almost skipping, Pete made his way past her and turned the back door’s knob. He squeezed through. He did his best to keep quiet, yet failed to keep his jaw from falling open.
Disappointed by the sight that welcomed him, Pete hesitated. The door had closed behind him, and he would be lying if he said he didn’t feel trapped.
Within the performer’s greenroom, essentially an equipment storage area with a few tables and chairs, there wasn’t much to see; Patrick was nowhere to be seen, the bassist had on a pair of headphones that were attached to a portable cassette player, the drummer was polishing pieces of his kit, and the lead guitarist was arguing with a taller gentleman who appeared to be the owner. The argument soon came to a close and the owner walked off through another door at the rear of the room. The door was slammed and echoed in an uncomfortable way.
Obviously irritated from the aftermath of the argument, the guitarist began to rant at the drummer, “C’mon, Andy, what was that dude’s deal? He said he would pay us a hundred bucks each!”
“Eh.. I hate to be on his side, but he never specified that it was a hundred bucks each. I just remember hearing the number ‘one hundred’. Pretty sure he meant it as the singular payment for the whole group,” Andy replied. He absently scratched at his patch of peach fuzz and didn't went on with cleaning his bass drum pedal.
“Joe, it’s best if you drop it. We need him to like us so we can come back here next month.”
Pete decided that he should inject himself now rather than later, in case the mood turned more bitter than it already appeared to be. His hands were wiped on the front of his jeans, and he blamed his nerves trying to get the better of him. He walked forward and kept his features bright and friendly. He could do this. He had to talk to them, no big deal. Unfortunately, Joe and his flared temper spotted him first.
“Who’re you?” Joe demanded. He held up a hand, cutting Pete off, “Wait, were you the extra merch guy from tonight? How’d we do?”
“I, no, listen,” Pete fumbled, “you guys were crazy good out there. I’ve never seen a crowd get that wild for such a small band.”
Joe was thrilled to be given praise, his anger subsiding. He chuckled, “Whoa, whoa! We’re local, but we’re not small.”
“I didn’t mean to be insulting, sorry.”
“It’s fine. What are you here for, then? Autographs?”
Pete shook his head, a cursory glance tossed to the bass player to ensure that he was still preoccupied with his headphones, “No, I have mad respect for you guys, and I wanted to.. to talk. See, I’m a bass player, and, and I’m a lyricist, too.”
“You?” Joe’s eyebrows rose as he looked him up and down, clearly not ready to buy whatever this sales pitch had in stock. He beckoned for Andy to join him. His tone seemed to become more bold with his bandmate beside him, “What’s your point?”
Pete swallowed thickly, his adrenaline pumping with both Joe and Andy watching him. He held a finger up, signaling for them to wait, and went to retrieve something out of his back pocket. It was several creased sheets of notebook paper, the purplish ink he had used bleeding through the lines. Unfolding them, he offered them up and said, “Here. I wrote these last month after I heard an audio clip of you guys playing ‘Fever Pitch’. It’s, well, it’s a riff on that song. Oh, and here, this second page has lyrics I wrote after I listened to your EP.”
“Okay..?” Joe reluctantly took Pete’s lyrics, toying with his lip ring using his free hand. He held the papers close enough to allow Andy for a solid view, as well.
“I understood the message you guys were trying to put out,” Pete said, excitedly scanning their faces for a reaction, “and I kinda rewrote it. And I don’t mean that what you originally had was shit or whatever. This is a different take on it that I think people will resonate with more. It’s more poetic and stuff.”
That ‘and stuff’ bit should really sell it. Fuck, he was an idiot.
Less than a minute had gone by before Andy was bobbing his head with approval, “This is good. I like it a lot, man. How did you come up with this?”
“Natural instinct, I guess? Your music majorly grabbed my attention and when I found the lyrics, I loved their message, but not their delivery. I wanted to, respectfully, fix them,” Pete said.
Andy tucked the rag he had been polishing with into his pocket, asking, "Have you ever written for a band before? Or even played in one?"
"Nope," Pete replied.
“Weird. But Andy's right, what you have here is good. What did you say your name was again?” Joe crossed his arms and waited.
“I didn’t say my name,” Pete beamed, “but it’s Pete. I live around here and have thought you guys were the fuckin’ bomb since I first heard you.”
“Thanks, the band was my idea,” Joe quipped, nudging Andy who only rolled his eyes in response.
“Really?” Pete wondered, stepping closer.
“What, you don’t think a high schooler can start a successful band?”
“No way, I don’t think that! If anything, I wish I had been able to do that when I was younger.”
Joe nodded, pleased with this answer, “Hey man, thanks. You’re all right. But.. if you’re serious about the lyrics and helping the band, you’re gonna have to talk to Patrick. He’s the one who currently writes everything.”
“I’m not sure if he’s going to like this,” Andy warned gently. He gestured toward one of the side doors. “He’s outside finishing his drink, if you want to talk to him. We like it, yeah, it’s pretty great - it’s just that Patrick can get picky about lyrics.”
“Patrick’s picky about everything,” Joe half-joked. “Plus, uhhh, we already have a bassist. Ronnie helped me get this band off its feet.”
Together, they turned to peek at the young man, Ronnie, with his back still facing them, oblivious to their conversation. In the brief silence, the faint sound of heavy death metal pouring out of his headphones could be detected. His hunched, defensive posture told them that he wouldn’t engage in their conversation even if he had been invited with open arms.
Pete cleared his throat, “Can I go talk to Patrick? Or can you guys bring him in here?”
“I mean, yeah, you can, we’re not his keeper, heh,” Joe said, his fingers hooked through his belt loops. “Go ahead. Now’s as good a time as any. That door right there.”
He pointed to one of the side doors that had the phrase ‘Parking Lot’ painted above it.
“Cool, thank you, I,” Pete reached out to shake their hands, “I appreciate your time. Joe and Andy, right? Awesome, thanks again. I’ll talk to guys in a while.”
“Hopefully,” Andy added.
Patrick was grateful for the night’s cool air and the distance away from any distractions. It was just him and his Miller Lite. He sipped and pressed his back to the brick wall of the building. He did his best to ignore the ringing in his ears and the ache in his throat. It had been a long night, and he knew he was going to have to do it all over again tomorrow at a different venue downtown.
This type of gig, where the sound quality was lacking and the owner was a cheapass, were his least favorite to play. Aside from the obvious reasons, he hated how warm he got up on stage. There was no air conditioning, only plastic fans! He had soaked through his two t-shirts and was fairly sure that he was dehydrated. He had chugged a bottle of water the minute they had exited the stage and had become dizzy. It sucked. And in spite of that, he couldn’t say no when Andy had managed to sneak him a beer. Free alcohol was always a plus, dizziness be damned. He sighed, thinking back on how tonight’s show went. His tendency to nitpick soon took over and he had to fight the urge to rip apart his own performance.
For now, he deserved to relax.
“Hey there! Patrick, right?” Pete came poking through the side door. Worse, its weight caused it to slam behind him. It was too much noise for their two seconds of knowing each other.
“... Uhm?” Patrick winced. He lifted his head to blink at this sudden, strange intrusion. “That’s me, what’s up?”
Patrick stared at this new person waltzing into previously-private moment. Who the hell was this? His initial impression was that it was a college kid with no direction for his future, and who was desperate to fill the void in his life with something meaningful. That and, ugh, he was a big fan of Abercrombie, judging by those stupidly tight jeans he had on. In the back of his mind, he heard his bandmates scolding him for his typical sourpuss attitude, leading him to ‘scare people’. Just last week he had pissed off a chick Joe had been dying to get with. He rubbed the back of his neck and wondered if he was being too harsh too soon. Besides, he supposed whoever this was couldn't be the worst he could be stuck with. His face was cute, at least.
Pete’s enthusiasm overwhelmed him, and he wound up with a stream of word vomit, “Hi! I love your music, your voice is incredible. So, my name’s Pete and I was talking to Joe and Andy - they told me you’d be out here - and I wanted to show you some lyrics of mine. I’m a lyricist, oh, shit, and I also play bass. You guys seriously inspired me and I wanted to show you what I got. Here, check this out.”
“You--?” Patrick was interrupted and unable to speak. The bundle of handwritten lyrics was shoved into his face, which he agreed to take, and began to read over. He didn’t exactly want to entertain this notion, and only did so due to seeing the first line on the first page; it had a nice flow to it, catching him in the right way. He tapped his fingers on the rim of his beer, thinking. “Interesting..”
Pete was on the edge of his seat, same as he had been throughout the band’s set, anxious to know what Patrick thought of his work. God, he hoped it was good enough. He had agonized over every verse, his bedroom currently filled with a dozen crumpled rejects. They could seriously make something great here, the lyrics and bass-playing simply needed tweaking. And he could do it, he could be that change they needed. He was the cliché dreamer that needed a chance.
While he was waiting, he couldn’t help but try to get a better view of the young singer. He was about an inch shorter than himself, his frame slim yet with some extra weight on his stomach and face, with his fingernails coated in chipped black polish. His tattered jeans and loose ball cap gave him a boyish appearance, and it seemed that he was no older than eighteen. It was hotter than what he had seen in any snapshots on the Internet. Very teenage rebellion with a splash of self-consciousness.
“Not bad,” Patrick admitted, pausing to take another sip, “but are you saying my lyrics are no good?”
Pete broke away from his thoughts, “Wha? No! Hell no, I think we can improve ‘em, that’s all.”
“And you said you play the bass?”
Patrick’s mouth curled upwards, “What am I supposed to do with Ronnie? He’s the one who helped Joe form the band. I can’t just kick him out.”
“Errr,” Pete fumbled, taking back the crinkled sheets, “he can be a backup? Or, I guess, he could be a roadie?”
“Sounds like a hard conversation, Pete.”
“I’m good at hard conversations. I can handle it.”
With a gliding sort of movement in his step, Patrick closed the gap between them and set his bottle down on the ground. He allowed his eyelids to become half-open, his hips angled forward. He reached out to trace along the front of Pete’s jacket and tugged playfully at the hem, the cracked leather matching his calloused fingertips. He, of course, peered around them to ensure that no one was going to be upset by what they were putting on display. When his actions were reciprocated, he smiled. This was definitely one way to negotiate.
Pete allowed the closeness, and went to brush a few hairs from Patrick’s forehead, saying, “Lemme show you what I can do. You won’t regret it.”
Oh, come on. How lucky could he get tonight!? He kept his cool with his brain nearly spinning out of control. He had read that Patrick allegedly had certain preferences, though he had no idea that he could actually be the one to check all the boxes. Or maybe this would be a one time thing, a singular opportunity to mess around? Either way, he was flattered. He damn-near forgot why he was out here to begin with.
“I’m assuming you’re talking about what you can do for the band..?” Patrick trailed off, losing track of his thoughts as Pete gently caught him by the chin.
“Maybe. I can do a lot for someone like you,” Pete said.
“What’s that mean?”
“Someone so pretty and talented.”
Enticed by the intensity and sensuality of the situation, Patrick accepted the compliment and went in for the first official move. He figured it was the polite thing to do, since he had touched Pete first. Although, Pete was the one who had burst through the door to interfere with his scheduled alone time. So did that technically make Pete the one to start all this? Whatever, there wasn’t time to fuss over it now, it didn’t matter. He wanted to be casual about this. He did a final check to ensure that this is what he thought it was, and was met with Pete’s honey brown eyes silently pleading with him to continue.
“Wanna seal it with a kiss?” Patrick pressed his lips to Pete’s, puckering on contact and pulling him closer with the grip on his jacket. He lingered for far too long and was glad that he wasn’t pushed away. When he released him, the were both lightly panting, “Welcome to Charnel House, Pete. In case you’re wondering, no, no one pays us. You start tomorrow night.”
Pete was ripe with approval, “You guys are going to be at the Bottom Lounge, right?”
“How’d you know?”
“I think I already said it, but I fuckin’ love this band.”
“You know, my therapist says that ‘Change can hurt, but it usually leads to the path of something better’,” Pete nodded. He scraped his chopsticks along the bottom of the orange chicken container. The final morsel was brought to his lips and he inhaled it, chewing slowly while listening to his new bandmates.
“Tch,” Joe scoffed, though it was playful, “what therapist do you go to? Do your parents pay for it like they pay for your college?”
“Oooh, burn,” Patrick mocked. He used his elbow to jab Andy who had been smirking and broke his silence by causing him to laugh.
“Patrick, it’s 2002. No one says ‘burn’ anymore,” Pete said matter-of-factly.
“Yes they do, asshole.”
“Uh huh, sure.” Pete reached into his front pocket and pulled out a crushed fortune cookie still inside its packaging. He tossed it onto the table they were huddled around and everyone crouched forward to see what it was, confused. “That’s my therapist, by the way. Dr. Fortune Cookie. He’s a real good guy. ‘Change can hurt, but it usually leads to the path of something better’, ah, perfect, he’s so eloquent.”
The group continued to chatter and finish off the last bits of their takeout dinner. Pete had brought the food as an apology gift - he was mainly apologizing for replacing their bassist and telling them that their lyrics sucked, but also quietly apologizing for trying to get in the pants of their singer. Whoops. That hadn’t been in his original plan, he could swear on that. It was a happy accident and nothing more. He had definitely overstepped way too many boundaries after knowing them for less than a day, and he wanted to show them that he wasn’t all bad.
Pete had actually helped with the task of telling Ronnie that he was no longer going to be a part of the band. Together, he and Joe had broken the news to the bassist, who had taken it fairly well, and assured them that there was no bad blood between them. He claimed to want to move onto a band with a heavier sound than the pop punk image that was being pushed for this band. His only departing demand was that he be paid for tonight’s gig that he had already practiced for and helped them book. Joe had wanted to argue this point, however, Pete was grateful for the mostly seamless transition and had paid him off right then and there. Twenty dollars was hardly a price to put on potential musical glory.
Charnel House, now with a new member, had gotten together the following Saturday morning and had practiced for literal hours; bathroom, snack, and smoke breaks were the only things that interrupted their rhythm. Aside from incorporating the style of a fresh bass player, they pushed themselves further by adding in Pete’s lyrics, too. Since they were tonight’s opening band and not the main event, they had a much shorter set than usual. They had a total of six songs that they were scheduled to play, two of which were new ones written by Pete. After joking with him about how juvenile they perceived the verses to be, they relented and managed to work them into the set. And honestly, once they found their groove, it sounded pretty damn good.
“Hey!” of the venue’s stage hands hollered at them, appearing from the doorway and breaking the flow of their conversation. The frown he had remained stuck even after he had everyone’s attention. He tapped his clipboard in annoyance, growling, “You amateurs are on in ten. Get those instruments tuned up.”
With that, the stage hand was out of sight. Beyond the door he had entered from, a crowd could be heard rumbling with impatience. The cheap vinyl flooring of the stage and the low tiled ceiling made for quite the echo, and everyone was riled up with nerves. This would be their first performance with Pete included, and the first time they would be introducing him as an official member. If the crowd didn’t like him or the new lyrics or the fact that Ronnie was gone, they were fucked. Seriously fucked.
“Did you hear that, Joe? Amateur hour is starting, you better get out there,” Andy said, standing and beginning to clean their messy dinner space. “Don’t want to keep all two of your fans waiting.”
“I’ll happily be an amateur over an old man,” Joe bit back at him. He stuck his tongue out and avoided Andy’s oncoming flick aimed for his head.
“Hah,” Pete joined in. “Wait, how old are you again?”
“Me?” Andy asked.
“I’m twenty three, same as you.”
Pete shook his head, “Nah, man, I’m twenty four. Just had my birthday a couple of months ago.”
“Shit, that makes you the old man,” Joe taunted. He scurried to one side of the room when Pete pretended to chase him with his chopsticks. They didn’t stop until Andy clapped to get their attention and reminded them that they needed to get ready.
With Andy’s drum kit previously set up and tuned on stage, he continued to busy himself with the cleanup situation. Patrick, Pete, and Joe fidgeted with their strings and pegs until they were satisfied with the sound. They soon had about three minutes before curtain call, and they began to head out to wait at the side of the stage, jittery and mentally reminding themselves of everything they needed to do. They had never played at the Bottom Lounge, and they hoped to make a solid first impression. The greater their performance, the greater chance they had to be invited back.
It was similar to a job interview, only more important.
Joe over his shoulder and noticed that both Patrick and Pete were missing. He nudged Andy, puzzling, “Where’d they go? They were behind me a second ago..?”
“Dunno, but I think Patrick said he needed to take a piss,” Andy answered. They exchanged raised brows and stressfully watched the stage.
Outside of the bathroom backstage, Pete raised a closed fist to the door and knocked softly, “Got a minute?”
Patrick had barely zipped his pants and was walking toward the sink when he heard this. He reached for the faucet and turned on the water, calling, “Yeah, I’m decent.”
“Well damn,” Pete said, opening the door and leaving it slightly ajar, one hand gripping the handle, “you didn’t have to get decent for me. I’ll take you no matter how you look.”
“You’re funny,” Patrick retorted, his face melting from a soft pale to a warm pink. Being cornered like this wasn’t the worst thing in the world, in fact, it was a turn on for him, but they had a show to get to. In less than three minutes.
“Is it me, or have you been making eyes at me since we started practice this morning?” Pete’s lips curled upward, watching Patrick toss his used paper towels.
“In your dreams.”
“Oh, I must be dreamin’ then.”
“Pete, you’re such a--”
Grabbed by his forearms and pulled forward, Patrick had his mouth pressed to Pete’s. Their noses bumped and their was too much fried rice on their breath, yet they found themselves clawing to get a better hold on each other. Pete’s grip now rested at Patrick’s waist, and Patrick’s fingers had woven into Pete’s hair, black with long straightened bangs near the front. Their tongues hurriedly went to slide against one another, a stray moan escaping here and there from their quick gulps for air. They took several steps backward with Patrick’s bullet belt keeping his ass from grinding into the sink. Pete’s frame pushed hard against him, his hands squeezing tight.
“Not sure if you know this,” Pete said, huffing and with his lips on the side of Patrick’s neck, “but I want to fuck you. Or, hey, you can fuck me if you want. I just wanna feel you.”
“I, you,” Patrick floundered, a tingling shiver catching him by surprise. In the distance, he heard their audience cheer, most likely due to an announcement about the show starting soon. Shit. He reached down and grabbed Pete’s wrist, twisting and forcing them to come face-to-face. His eyes narrowed, oceans of green and blue swirling in excitement. “You play this gig well, and we’ll fuck.”
“Cool, cool, glad you’re all here,” Patrick told their audience. He had made it to the microphone with seconds to spare, the angry stage hand from earlier about to go looking for him. His ball cap was adjusted and he tried to not dwell on how flushed his face may appear. The guitar around his back was swung forward and he strummed the intro of one of their more well-known bridges, resulting in a few passionate yells. At the rear of the venue, a girl loudly demanded that he keep on playing. “I just wanna give a very special thank you to the Bottom Lounge for letting us come out tonight, and a thank you to a new friend of ours.. Pete, get over here!”
There were some murmurs and giggles, with most people were craning their necks and squinting to see what was going on.
“Hey guys,” Pete greeted, sharing the microphone. “My name’s Pete and I wrote a couple of the songs you’re gonna hear tonight.”
“This modest dumbass also plays the bass, so give it up!” Patrick commanded, raising his hands to encourage the crowd.
The weak reaction was improved when Pete teased them with a random chord, bending at the middle and swishing his hair back and forth in a psuedo-headbanging motion. He straightened out and saw that he had earned several smiles and claps of approval. He gave a short salute and returned to his position on the right.
“We are Charnel House, and this first number’s a new one. It’s called ‘Growing Up’ and it’s pretty fuckin’ self-explanitory,” Patrick announced. The spotlights zeroed in, their abrupt heat daring him to do something impressive. This was it, their debut with a different line up that had the power to end or extend their fifteen minutes of fame. He turned to check that each of his bandmates were comfortable, offered the sound guy a thumbs up, and counted the beat aloud.
“One, two, one, two, three, four!”
Pete came in about two notes too early and threw off the first half of the song, though they scraped together a strong second verse and ending. It was a terrifying way to start off, especially when they were trying to sell the crowd and themselves on the idea of Pete.
The set wore on, another five songs following their opener. There were plenty of other mistakes along the way, there always were, and at one point Andy broke a drumstick. He tossed it off of the stage, a cluster of girls squealing and scrambling to claim it. This was of course outdone by Joe’s fingers bleeding during a guitar solo, his knees sliding against the polished stage floor as red flecks painted his fretboard and Nirvana t-shirt. These unplanned instances were jarring, yet they added to the kickass raw pop punk vibe they were going for. People eventually gave into the music and began to dance and mosh and push against the barricade. The space moved and breathed with the lively atmosphere that was unique to a Saturday night show in Chicago’s underbelly, the turn of the millennium behind them and the unknown ruling over the future to come.
Beer cans and bras accumulated at their feet, and were kicked away when they became a tripping hazard. Nobody seemed to mind and, if anything, the kicks and casual attitude about it further energized the venue.
At the finale, security was forced to stand at the brink of the stage when there was an unprecedented amount of shoving. Patrick had stated that this was their last song, and was currently resting his chest on Pete’s nearest shoulder with his mouth against the microphone, his guitar held high in the air and its neck stroked with rough, erratic jerks. He normally interacted with Joe in a show, and he was thrilled to upgrade that to someone who was able to reciprocate both during and after their performance. Pete was perfectly content to be Patrick’s support - like, what are bass players for, right? - and he plucked out a soft melody while Patrick addressed the audience.
“You freaks and geeks gotta settle down or else we can’t finish,” Patrick said, his voice echoing and turning heads. The scratchiness that came with playing two nights in a row was poking through, his words coarse, “Let’s go! Help me out here! We’re gonna close this bitch with what now..?”
“Fever Pitch!” a chorus chanted in response. It was their biggest single and was arguably their best song for ending a live set.
“What is it? Huh?”
Patrick grinned, “Perfect. Pete’s gonna help me sing and he might throw a few new lines at you, but don’t be scared! He knows what he’s doing, I think. Here’s to hoping! Cheers, you bastards!”
With Andy counting them off on his cymbal, they exploded into their last song. The sharpness of their tuning had dropped dramatically, their cheeks an exhausted splotchy pink, and at least one of them had their shoelaces undone. Still, they held fast and punched through with pure adrenaline keeping their expressions fierce and bright. This was actually the most in synch with each other they had been in the entire night. They sounded good, as if they had this unspoken reason for playing their hearts out. They wanted to be there, wanted to prove to everyone that they deserved these spotlights.
Maintaining their promise, Pete sang the backing vocals. They were different from Patrick’s lines, and much more aggressive, with Pete’s singing resembling more of a scream than actual singing. The crowd was fairly receptive of what they heard, and even clamored toward Pete’s side of the stage whenever his parts would come in. The speakers above crackled with the harsh noise that managed to transform into beautiful music. Pete’s lyrics with Patrick’s voice was a delightfully unique combination, despite its bumps in its first performance. It was a stunning madness that no one could have seen happening more than twenty four hours ago.
They concluded their set to an onslaught of applause and Patrick rushed to steady the microphone to say his goodbyes, his bandmates taking their bows, “We are Charnel House! We won’t stop unless you do! Thank you! Don’t drive drunk out there, ya hear? Thank you!”
He stepped away and grabbed Pete into a headlock. His arm was tight around Pete’s neck, dangerously on the verge of knocking skulls. They waved to everyone pushing into the barricade to get a better view. With a genuine relief, he whispered, “Thank you.”
Somewhere in the front row, a camera flashed.
“Damn, your parents must be rich. Looks like you’re livin’ the life,” Pete commented, entering the Stump home and peering around. He kept his hands in his pockets, not wanting to touch anything inside. At least, not yet.
“I guess. Also, my parents are divorced, I told you that the other night after the show,” Patrick replied. He wrinkled his nose in annoyance and led Pete to the den, gesturing vaguely toward the various couches and armchairs.
“What? I’m supposed to remember what happened after the show? I can’t tell you much of what happened past my fifth beer.”
They were the only two people in the house, which was located in Glenview’s northernmost suburbs. It had a plain Americana type of style that was common for the area, with Patrick’s rusting 1988 Honda Accord making for an eyesore near the curb. Nothing interesting ever went on in this part of town, and Patrick enjoyed blaming that for how he chose to act out in his later teenaged years. If there wasn’t going to be even the smallest amount of excitement, then he was willing to venture into the world and find some. Joining the band, trying to con his way into bars, shooting off fireworks in parking lots, and bringing home boys he hardly knew were evidence of his search for excitement. And no one would ever suspect it if they stole a glance at his house, it was too unassuming. Just the way his mother wished for it to be.
Pete had plopped onto the loveseat and was shamelessly leering at his host’s backside from the window between the den and the kitchen. Content, he sank further into cushions, their crushed velveteen covers the same maroon color as the rug in the center of the room. His feet were kicked up against the coffee table, and he scooted forward to undo the laces of his tattered off-brand skater shoes.
Patrick exited the kitchen a moment later, two glasses of lemonade in hand that he had poured from a chilled pitcher in the fridge. The glasses were filled with ice and each one had its own straw. The lemonade’s sweet deliciousness was much needed on this hot August day, the temperature soaring to the nineties and above.
“Aww, lemonade for me?” Pete accepted the offered glass and moved to make room for Patrick on the loveseat. He was grateful, although he couldn’t help wanting to be silly about it, “You’re too kind.”
“Don’t get any ideas, my mom made this a couple of days ago for a barbeque.”
“Where is your mom, anyway?”
“Work? I don’t know, it’s Tuesday.”
Pete chuckled and went to sip on his drink. It was tastier than he could have hoped, the lemon’s bitterness balancing well with the added sugar. None of that premade powdered nonsense. He made a mental note to thank Mrs. Stump for the lemonade should he ever be blessed with the chance to meet her. Additionally, he would want to tell her about what a lovely son she had. Parents devoured those types of compliments. He would know. He lowered his glass and was surprised to see that Patrick hadn’t touched his own glass, and was instead staring directly at him.
“ ‘Course you know I didn’t invite you over because I wanted you to taste my mom’s lemonade,” Patrick said. He put a hand on Pete’s knee, the denim he touched oddly cool.
“Heh,” Pete beamed, “The phrase ‘Taste my mom’s lemonade’ sounds like an innuendo. Gross, Patrick.”
“Keep sweet talkin’ me, see what happens.”
Taking this as his signal, Pete set his glass on the coffee table and shifted to hold Patrick by the shoulders. His lungs fluttered with Patrick’s hand moving further up past his knee and kissed him, pushing hard and wanting to taste him. The perfect honeyed flavor he found didn’t disappoint. He soon had a mouthful of tongue and was climbing on top with his socked feet digging into the loveseat’s pillowy undersides. Patrick bucked beneath him and offered a charming little whine of approval. Fingers went into Pete’s shirt and groped the tanned hipbones without a hint of shyness.
Pete knew part of Patrick’s appeal was his younger age combined with his talent within in the band, and he tried not to think too hard on that. Nor did he fuss too much over the fact that they had scarcely known each other for a weekend or so. There wasn’t an issue when they were both into this.
“Back pocket,” Patrick murmured, biting at Pete’s lower lip. He raised himself up slightly to allow for better access, and muffled a laugh at how badly Pete was fumbling. The pressure from his upward push made his cock tender with anticipation. “You need help?”
“I got it,” Pete answered. Indeed, after tossing out Patrick’s scratched Nokia, he had grabbed the bundle of condoms from the back pocket and dropped them on the floor. He had been expecting something like that, but, wow, not half a pack’s worth. Off that fact alone, it was fair game to assume that this was someone with a very strong amount of experience, or very little. He would be pleased with either.
Patrick was busy exploring the front of Pete’s jeans when he felt his own shirt being pushed aside. His self-consciousness over his belly gnawed at the edges of his mind, the visibility of his stretchmarks and moles causing him to hate how well-lit the den was. He hid these emotions by catching Pete in another kiss. Relief swept across him when his sloppiness was returned with the same level of intensity.
“Do you wanna go--?” Pete’s question was lost as Patrick freed him of his shirt and shushed him.
“No, just fuck me right here,” Patrick snapped. His hot breath poured over Pete’s skin and he cupped him by the jaw, “I want you.”
It wasn’t the first time Patrick had the opportunity to mess around with such a fresh face. It was, however, the first time it carried such significance. Pete was part of his band now, part of his life, and he had proven his worth through the positive reception he had received at last weekend’s killer performance - he was here to stay. Whether or not Pete understood how painfully crucial he had become in the short time they had known each other, Patrick was determined to keep him close. He didn’t feel guilty about using sexual appeal to further entice Pete into sticking around. Besides, he was more attractive than any guy he had been with lately, and undoubtedly his type.
“What?” Patrick was pulled from his thoughts. Pete had been calling his name in a tone that suggested urgency. He forced his eyes open, momentarily distracted by the bare body above him, and repeated, “What?”
“You phone’s ringing.” Pete pointed to the floor where his Nokia was buzzing and lighting up.
Patrick grabbed it and hit the green accept button without bothering to check who it was, “Hello?”
Joe’s voice appeared on the other end, “Hey, I drove by your house earlier and saw you were home. I went to get Andy and we’re on our way over.”
“Why? Joe, what the hell do you need to come over for?”
“Band stuff? There’s always something that needs to be done.”
Frantic, Patrick shoved Pete away and sat on his haunches, “Where are you guys right now?”
“I can basically see your street. We’ll be there in a minute.”
“Here,” Patrick barked, snagging and tossing Pete’s shirt into his face. Frantic, he sat upright and ran his hands through his mussed hair, attempting to flatten it. “Hurry, Joe said they’ll be here any second.”
“Wait, ‘they’? Joe and who else?” Pete pulled his shirt over his head and stood, cautiously glancing at the front door.
“Him and Andy.”
“Why are they coming over?”
“I don’t know.”
Patrick shoved his phone and the condoms into his back pocket once again, hoisting his pants into a less saggy position. Quickly, he peered around the loveseat area for any remaining evidence of their previous intimate activities. He couldn’t find anything else that could expose them, and he even took the time to fluff the goddamn pillows. He decided that the lemonades could stay - they were innocent enough. Right?
His mind began to race, worried that the mere fact of Pete being here caused the whole scene to seem strange. What was he going to give for an explanation, anyway? Was there anything he could say to assure them that this wasn’t what they thought it was? Would they bother to ask at all?
Patrick lurched back to reality with a knock at the door. He looked at Pete, who shrugged, and they both prepared to act natural.
“Wassup,” Joe greeted, bouncing inside with a cardboard box carried in his arms. “It’s so hot outside, we should go swimming later-- Uhhh, Pete?”
Andy followed behind him, not speaking but appearing to have the same bewildered expression. This was certainly a shock. He folded his arms and waited.
“Hi guys,” Pete responded, his tone painstakingly manufactured to sound casual. His heels were propped on one end of the loveseat, his head resting on the other. He had taken one of Mrs. Stump’s issues of People Magazine from the coffee table and was pretending to read it. Unfortunately for him, and unbeknownst to him, he was holding the magazine upside down. “Whatcha got in the box, Joe?”
“Some stuff, stuff for the band. Stickers and flyers, mostly.. Dude, what’re you doing here?”
“Patrick invited me over.”
Irked that the conversation had been flipped onto him, Patrick did his best to lie on the spot, “Yeah, I, he wanted to see my old bass. I figured he could use it for upcoming shows.”
“.. You mean your Fender Precision? The blue one?” Andy asked, now resting against the little end table that held the mail.
“Whoa, whoa,” Joe cut in. He had set the box down in the middle of the entryway, walking toward Patrick. “You sold that thing last year! I remember, I had to drive you to the guy who bought it because you didn’t have your car yet. It was all the way out in Deerfield.”
“I guess,” Patrick muttered. Fuck. He was being cornered, figuratively and literally, the wall separating the den from the kitchen blocking any escape he could make by stepping backward.
Joe’s suspicion increased when there was no proper reply, and he sprang, “So what, then? Why’s Pete here?”
“I can’t be here?” Pete fussed, failing miserably at not sounding defensive. He dropped the magazine and moved off of the loveseat.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Joe went on, “I just don’t get why Patrick’s lying to me right now? What’s the deal?”
“Nothing. We were going over lyrics, that’s all,” Patrick told him, still refusing to tell the truth.
“Why’d you lie about the bass, then?”
“Man, it doesn’t matter,” Andy said. He put a hand on Joe’s shoulder, and was immediately pushed back. Knowing he couldn’t stop the oncoming temper tantrum, he lowered his hands and sighed.
The room went still. Everyone was scowling at someone else, and nobody wanted to give in.
“All right, fine. No, I wasn’t showing him the bass because I don’t have it anymore. But I swear we were going over lyrics. I didn’t want to tell you because I know you think we should do that as a group,” Patrick falsely confessed. It was annoying how close Joe was getting to him. The several inches he had on him in height required him to raise his head, which he despised. He wished he could tell him to back off, but he knew that would only make him the more aggressive one for no reason.
Joe scoffed, “I don’t think we need to do it as a group. I know we need to do it as a group. You have to do that shit together because it’s a band. My band.”
“You don’t need to bitch about it, I get it.”
“Knock it off,” Pete snapped, moving to be at Patrick’s side. Being the newcomer, he had no idea whether or not what he was witnessing was normal behavior for the group. Regardless, he didn’t want to take any risks and was ready to tear the two of them apart if this escalated further. He put his hands at his sides, waiting.
Joe ignored Pete’s warning, pointed at him like he was a misbehaving child, and continued to tear into Patrick, “He’s been around for less than a week and suddenly he has priority over us? I don’t care how ‘good’ his lyrics are, I don’t like it.”
“Oh, please, I know you don’t care how good the lyrics are. You’ll play anything with a stupid guitar solo,” Patrick said.
“Wow, really? Tell me I don’t care about my music again. Do it.”
Fuming, Joe snatched the Patrick by the collar of his shirt and yanked him close. He opened his mouth to scream about how much of an idiot the other boy was being when he stopped cold. Stuck to the side of Patrick’s neck was a few stray black hairs. Black hairs that were strikingly familiar. His mouth twisted shut in horror. No way. He processed this information in a split-second, and, without another thought, heaved Patrick away from him with the grip he had. He couldn’t believe this.
The force sent Patrick toppling into Pete, who awkwardly caught him against his chest. They separated themselves and meekly listened to the oncoming tirade.
“Yeah? I should’ve known about you two,” Joe spat. He made a ‘Hmph’ noise and glanced over at Andy. “Should. Have. Known.”
“What do you mean?” Andy was relieved that Joe hadn’t taken a swing, and was now closer to the group. His arms were slightly raised, bracing himself to restrain anyone who lashed out.
“They’re fuck buddies,” Joe replied.
“Okay..? Are you?” Andy wondered. It was such a weird topic to transition into, and he felt like a parent grilling their child about a disappointing relationship. It was extra terrible because while he didn’t want to know more, he knew he had to in order to help keep the peace.
“We’re not together,” Patrick insisted, his flustered demeanor betraying him. “I swear.”
“You’re such a liar, holy shit, I can see it in your face! You were hanging all over him at the show last weekend, and today you’re screwing around with him!” Joe shouted, his anger causing his fists to clench.
Pete’s own voice began to amplify, and he shook his head, “You’ve got it all wrong. We weren’t doing anything!”
“Shut it! I’m not talking to you, dude, seriously, this isn’t your fight. Stay out of this,” Joe said. He made eye contact with Patrick, throwing his hands up in exasperation, “This is how you’re acting? Trying to get laid when you should be focusing on our work? You’ve really out-slutted yourself this time, Patrick.”
“Cool. Fuck you.”
“I’d say ‘Fuck you’ back, but you’ve already got Pete doing that for you.”
Patrick’s ferocious yell echoed throughout the house and he pushed past Joe and Andy, a swift kick delivered to the box that had been brought inside. Vinyl stickers of the band’s logo and flimsy flyers of their next couple of shows flew into the air. Everything fell and spread in a messy pile that covered a hefty portion of the den. The box worsened the damage by hitting a nearby potted fern and knocking it to the floor. Someone gasped, followed by a brief pause of quiet astonishment.
“Leave, everyone,” Patrick ordered, a finger jabbed toward the front door, “just go. I’m done.”
Surprisingly, Pete was the first to leave.
Patrick sealed himself away in his bedroom for the next two days. He survived on stale pretzels and flat soda, strumming on his guitar or playing his Game Boy when he wasn’t aimlessly staring out the window. It was a waste to spend his summer this way, but he couldn’t muster up any genuine feelings to care. He was numb after the fight with Joe. Their friendship, their band was important to him, he wasn’t happy with the insults they had flung at each other or the punches they had been willing to exchange. It was a bunch of bullshit that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Who was he supposed to blame? Pete?
He was still attracted to Pete, still wanted Pete in the band. But he would be lying if he said things were perfectly normal between them. In fact, they hadn’t spoken since he had ordered everyone out of his house. He had Pete’s number, and every time he thought about texting him, he would chicken out and throw his phone under his pillow. A small part of him hoped that Pete would text him first, or even message him on AIM, and he was disheartened for each hour that went by where that didn’t happen.
He felt so stupid.
Patrick eventually rolled out of his bedroom and into the bathroom for a shower. By the time he had finished, the afternoon sun had set and the sky had turned completely dark. He dressed in a clean set of pajamas and left the bathroom a steamy mess. He faintly heard his mother complain about how he should come eat the dinner she made and how he shouldn’t use all the hot water. Blah, blah, blah, it didn’t matter to him. Rudely, he waved her off over his shoulder.
Lying on his bed once again, this time with a towel over his hair, he exhaled theatrically and contemplated what he should do next. Chores, downloading music, watching television, masturbation.. Nothing stood out to him as something he actually wanted to do. His cloudy mood refused to lift.
There was a soft crackling sound at the window, and, without his conscious mind even acknowledging it, he knew it was the house deflating for the night after being pounded by the heat all day. It was normal. At least, it was until he heard the same sound repeated at a higher volume. He sat up, the towel falling away from his head, and blinked in the direction of the window. He waited.
A pebble came flying into his line of sight, tapping the window pane’s glass.
“Huh?” Patrick could have sworn he saw something hit the window, and he nearly jumped when it turned out that, yes, he had. Another pebble was launched against the glass. He frowned, standing and moving to undo the latch. He waved and stuck his head out into the breeze, calling, “The fuck is going on?”
“Whew, there you are,” Pete’s voice came up from somewhere on the front lawn. His dark hair and clothing made him difficult to makeout in the weak moonlight, his grin the only part of him that was fully visible. “Hi. Wanna hang?”
Startled, and definitely flattered, Patrick said, “Yeah, right. I’ll just let you in the front door so you can piss off my mom. She’d hate you.”
That wasn’t entirely untrue. His mother had a history of disapproving of the boys he brought home, specifically the older, punkass type.
“Drop down here, then.”
Patrick put his right palm beneath his chin, savoring this strange moment. It was nice to tower over Pete and to hear him plead for something so ridiculous. Maybe that was the point? If he was being buttered up here, he didn’t mind. He gestured toward the side of the house, his movements languid, “Hm.. We have any ivy patch over there. It has a wooden grate behind it that I’m sure you could climb.”
“Are you for real?” Pete had edged closer to the house, now directly below the window and visible from the den. Luckily, the curtains were shut.
“Okay. Are you gonna help pull me up?”
Pete, or rather, the shadowy blob that looked like Pete, hustled to the side of the house. He found a bit decent bit of footing and began to climb. This was the third or fourth time he had ever needed to weasel his way onto someone’s roof, although that didn’t make the task much better. His upper body strength wasn’t his finest asset. When he finally hauled himself onto the scratchy tiles of the roof, he was panting. A second later, he groaned at the realization that he wasn’t exactly where he should be. He was at the corner of the roof with Patrick’s window a dozen feet to the left. He was going to have to crawl to reach his end goal.
Patrick had wiggled out onto window’s ledge in order to perfectly enjoy this valiant display of romance. Or whatever this was. The ledge was wide and sturdy enough to give him plenty of room, with a secondary ledge underneath it to balance his bare toes on. He settled in and joked, “Having trouble?”
“You kidding? I’m all sunshine and daisies,” Pete huffed. He wavered, checking the fall distance between the roof and the ground while he clung to the tiles. “Seriously though, don’t you have a way to make this easier? Can’t you throw me a line of sheets? They do it movies and stuff.”
“Too bad this isn’t a movie.”
Continuing on his mission, Pete scrambled and stretched until he was within reach. He squeezed himself onto the window’s ledge with a grunt and a heave from Patrick’s nearest hand. As soon as he was stabilized, he snaked his arms around Patrick and nuzzled their cheeks. He was elbowed aside before he could do much damage.
“You’re right about this not being a movie. If it was, you would be a cute girl.” Pete covered his mouth to muffle the oncoming giggles, and shirked away from the swat aimed for his crotch.
Patrick chided him, “Dick. I shouldn’t have let you up.”
“Aww, I’m hurt.”
“Like I care, Pete.”
“You smell weird,” Patrick said plainly. He scooted closer and took a second whiff.
“Thanks, it’s called deodorant. I had to borrow my sister’s since mine ran out,” Pete informed him, crossing his arms.
“Sure, you definitely don’t use women’s deodorant on a regular basis, yeah, I got it. Who’s the girl now?”
“It’s like mango scented, it’s not too crazy for a guy.”
Patrick moved to brush his nose around Pete’s throat and chest, the area slightly exposed due to his deeply cut v-neck. He lingered longer than he needed to, and ultimately ended up resting his head on Pete’s shoulder, their fingers playfully locking and unlocking. It was a small comfort that they guiltily indulged in. It cleared their minds. However, there wasn’t a great way to transition into what they had to talk about, and Patrick dove right into it, “Our band sucks.”
“It’s,” Pete struggled to find a meaningful sentence, “it’s going through a transition. There’s bound to be a few problems. Sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Patrick said. “I can’t blame you.”
Patrick adjusted his position, his spine straight against the interior window frame to better face the older boy, “Were you ever in any bands before us?”
“Ah, yeah, I was. They didn’t work out,” Pete admitted. He rubbed his nose for a nonexistent itch, his mind involuntarily returning to scattered memories of late high school and early college. “I know it’s such a typical excuse, but we broke up over creative differences.”
“It’s no big deal. If I hadn’t broken up with them, I wouldn’t have been able to join this band.”
“We’re still a band, aren’t we?” Pete ventured, scooting forward by a few inches.
“Well, I mean, no one has told me that we aren’t. Not yet, anyway,” Patrick responded.
They sat in silence. It was a difficult, unwelcomed lull that they didn’t know how to break. A motorcycle purred past them on the street, and somewhere above them a flock of crows cried in a disorganized harmony. They relaxed, consoled by the noise. There wasn’t anybody keeping them company on the street, save for the occasional pair of crickets. Most people were nestled into their homes, hiding from the heat, and dreading having to leave for work in the morning. Cars were parked in driveways and bikes were chained to lamp posts, the metal hoping to temper in the daylight’s absence. The neighborhood was decompressing, and they desperately wished to do the same.
If Charnel House was going to survive, they were going to have to figure out their relationship dynamic. They were on the cusp of glory, and their fragile structure couldn’t take more stress without refortifying their foundations.
Pete decided to speak up, “Should we, ya know, keep ourselves on the down low? Or maybe, and don’t take this the wrong way, not be together at all?”
“We shouldn’t have to. It’s not my problem if Joe and whoever else is going to be immature about us,” Patrick grumbled.
“It can make things worse for us, though. The band could collapse on itself if we’re fighting like this,” Pete said gently.
“No. I want to be selfish.”
“Hah, well, at least you’re admitting it. That’s brave of you.”
Patrick went to clasp his palms over Pete’s thighs, moving in for a kiss and saying, “C’mere.”
As they touched, their worries about the band were placed on the backburner. They couldn’t see past their physical need for one another.
Pete returned the affection, pawing at Patrick’s pajama top to find a firm grip. Realizing that they were perched outside for any passersby to notice, his gut did an excited flip. He enjoyed how bold the situation was, and it sparked his desire to take it further. He pushed his tongue past those pretty pink lips and pulled Patrick as close as he could within their makeshift seating arrangement. His efforts were rewarded with a gorgeous whimper, and felt hands migrating to rest on his lower back, beneath the hem of his shirt. He began to move his own hands and hurriedly traced them to pants in front of him. The depth of their kiss grew, and he popped open the belt buckle.
“Mmph, wait,” Patrick pulled away, wary of being spotted, “We can go in my room.”
“How about I go in your room? You can stay out here,” Pete said, his raised eyebrows implying mischief.
“What d’you mean?”
“Lemme show you.”
Sliding past the window pane, Pete dropped to his knees and beckoned for the shorter boy to swing his legs inside the bedroom and have his back to the outside world. From there, he finished undoing Patrick’s belt and pants. He centered himself and took ahold of Patrick’s expectant cock, freshly exposed from tip to base. He warmed the delicate skin with his breath, his right hand stroking across the underside.
“You gonna suck me off?” Patrick’s legs were bashfully pushed together, he couldn’t help but check the street over his shoulder.
Pete was already gliding his tongue over the head, loving how he could practically taste him getting harder, “That’s the plan. And if you promise not to pull on my hair, I’ll swallow for you, too.”
“I can do that.”
“Good,” Pete snickered. He took Patrick’s cock with his lips puckering tightly, and guided the entire length into his mouth. Not that it was short and manageable to do so, he purely wanted to provide a pleasurable shock to the system. Almost instantly, he knew he had succeeded.
“Ooh,” Patrick sang, his legs buckling, “Pete, you’re, ooh.”
Pete didn’t respond and instead fixed his head in a mellow bouncing motion. He held Patrick by the hips and focused on timing his thrusts with how he moved his tongue. Funnily enough, this was much less difficult to coordinate than their first band practice. A minute later, he was being rhythmically throat-fucked and drawing in air through his nose, his lips having formed a strong seal. His knees had slipped and spread on the hardwood floor, causing his ass to arch upward. It was a vulnerable position that he disliked, and, regrettably, he was unable to correct it. He maintained his posture like a champ, and didn’t once break the flow of the action.
Patrick was ecstatic over this blowjob. The previous opportunities he had to get his dick sucked resulted in an overall sense of shame or worry that consumed the tiny flares of enjoyment. This, in contrast, was genuinely one of the best sexual experiences he had ever taken part in. His brain was turning to mush in the best kind of way. He didn’t know if it had to do with Pete’s allure or his skill, or both, he only knew that he wanted more of it. His fingernails twitched on the window’s ledge, digging into the painted wood.
Diligently, Pete worked that cock with a variety of licks and tugs and suction. He gulped down the accumulating saliva and precum, with a couple of stray drops falling onto Patrick’s pajama bottoms. His eyes flickered upward every so often, and each time he was greeted with the sight of those euphoric features. It was quite the compliment, and it encouraged him to push through the pain of his sore jaw. Patrick’s thickness had demanded that his mouth open wider than usual, and the accompanying muscles were effectively becoming exhausted. He pressed on.
“H-Hang on,” Patrick interrupted. He nudged Pete backward and held his own trembling erection with one hand, willing his body not to explode. It seemed impossible, his nerves firing off too many blissful jolts to his system. His hold stiffened and he threw his head to one side, shuddering, “Shit, I can’t, I..!”
Pete jumped back on the tip, and accepted the oncoming pulse of Patrick’s orgasm. He mouth stayed attached up to the very last squirt. He swallowed hard, lips smacking.
Patrick’s head had reclined out toward the sky, and a sprinkling of stars twirled across his vision.
Patrick was exhausted after wasting most of his Thursday searching for Joe. Obviously, Joe wasn’t taking any calls or text messages, which pushed him to have to actually look for him. He had tried the Trohman residence, the mall, the local Taco Bell, and even the bookstore where they had first run into each other. No dice. His defeat brought him to a slump on a curb on the outskirts of his own neighborhood. He kicked at the asphalt and turned toward the treeline across the street. The branches were wilted and a faint shade of green from the summer heat, causing the area to appear unkempt and unappealing. Above the trees, and perhaps more of an eyesore, was a billboard that held a gaudy advertisement for a local grocery store chain, Aldi’s. Their slogan proclaimed that they had the best deals on grilling products to get the job done.
Summer. Grocery store. Job.
He smacked his forehead and realization.
A few short months ago, Joe had announced to Patrick and Andy that he had taken up a summer job at Aldi’s. He was a shelf-stocker and only worked Tuesdays and Thursdays from morning to afternoon. He had claimed that his parents had pushed him to join the workforce and that he hated it, however, he always seemed to have a fun time bragging about how much more income he had than them. If anything, it had been good for the band when it came to expenses, with the majority of the guitar repairs and supplies paid for by Joe.
Hopeful that he had remembered the correct location, Patrick hopped in his Honda and sped off toward the Aldi’s closest to Joe’s house. He arrived at a few minutes past three, and worried that he may be too late. He sloppily parked his car and rushed to the store’s front doors. The rubber mats at the entrance nearly tripped him flat on his face, and, with a fairly graceless recovery, he was soon scrambling through the aisles hunting for Joe. Behaving himself, he opened the doors in the ice cream aisle no more than twice, the chilled blasts a welcomed sensation.
When Patrick found him, he was met with a snort of distaste and a purposefully loud slamming of a crate on the floor. Joe stood there, raising his hackles with his Aldi’s employee apron doing him approximately zero favors for how intimidating he appeared.
“.. What? You just planning on standing there?” Joe stepped forward to push his crate closer to the waiting shelf of canned goods.
“No,” Patrick said, his hands behind his back and his demeanor sheepish, “I, uhm, I’m glad I found you. I wanted to talk to you, but you weren’t answering your phone.”
“Mmhm,” Joe hummed, pretending to be extremely interested in how he needed to stack his inventory. He was no longer facing Patrick, his head dipped down.
“Look, I don’t wanna make you mad--”
“Hah! You already screwed up, then.”
“Joe, c’mon,” Patrick kept himself calm, momentarily biting the inside of his cheek, “I want to say I’m sorry. I should’ve told you about Pete and me. I didn’t think about it. Everything happened super fast. We’re not.. not a couple, we’re nothing to worry about, seriously. Still, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you and Andy.”
Joe didn’t want to give into this explanation so easily, especially since his anger continued to flare at the back of his mind, “It doesn’t matter if you guys are a couple or not. Now that you’re getting with Pete, you’re never going to want to listen to anybody else in the band. You guys will team up.”
“Don't play dumb. The lyrics and melodies and our stage presence - all that will be pushed toward what you guys want, not what the band wants.”
Patrick brought his hands forward, fingers fiddling and wishing he knew how to respond. It was tough to listen to Joe, who was typically chill and upbeat, speak in such an aggressive way. Plus, he knew that he was right. For the most part, he figured. There wasn’t much he could scrounge for a defense. Besides, he was positive that Joe would appreciate him not running his mouth for once.
Joe was ranting as he jammed the canned goods into their correct spots, “You really think we can just magically get along with two members being lovey-dovey on the side? I can totally picture you supporting a bad idea from Pete and vice versa just ‘cause you guys are together. And what are our fans gonna think? What if they find out and decide to be homophobic about it?”
“Yeah,” Patrick agreed halfheartedly. He was wringing his wrists, his knuckles bone white.
“Which reminds me,” Joe went on, sliding his crate to the next set of shelves, “there’s a pic of you two being passed around the comments of our Myspace page, it must’ve been taken last weekend. You’re glued to each other and everyone who’s seen it has something to say about it. Jesus, we’ve barely had that page for a few months! It’s supposed to be for our music, not stupid rumors!”
Joe hadn’t meant to raise his volume. He cleared his throat, giving a courteous smile to a passing mother and toddler. Ugh. Being on the clock limited how much he could verbally attack Patrick, and he was dying to go for it. What a shame they hadn’t had this little confrontation in the parking lot.
“Is it that bad?” Patrick asked softly. He hadn’t been on the band’s Myspace page since they had created it last spring, and he felt terrible knowing that Joe had been busy moderating and updating it without help or gratitude.
“Go see for yourself,” Joe said dismissively. He shook his head, irritated.
Patrick inched closer, “Can’t you take it down? And keep other people from seeing it?”
“No, that would look bad. Fans don’t like it when you ‘randomly’ delete their photos and threads.”
Joe hated this. They were going nowhere fast, and he wasn’t off the clock for another half hour. He would tear his hair out if he had to deal with this for much longer. As smug as he was about having Patrick come crawling to him for forgiveness, he knew they had to settle on a solution. Otherwise, they could say goodbye to Charnel House. He shifted to be exactly opposite of Patrick and folded his arms.
Patrick went first, “Joe, I swear to you, me and Pete won’t dick around on stage anymore. We won’t PDA around you guys, either. We’ll behave. Swear.”
“Hey, I believe you,” Joe admitted, his sullen expression lifting, “but there’s one problem.”
“The fans, at least, from what I’ve seen online, they are really into the idea of you and Pete together.”
“They, they are?”
Joe squirmed a bit, not too excited to elaborate, “Don't play dumb. You and Pete are.. bleh.. good looking. The fans, the girls, they love that. Two good looking guys playing awesome music while they act like they’re an item? Think about it.”
“I, well, okay, it makes sense. So what do we do?” Patrick rolled his shoulders, uncertain.
“.. Maybe we shouldn’t cover it up? I know it’s weird and that there’s a risk of some people being homophobes about it, but I don’t want those people coming to our shows, anyway,” Joe hissed, wary of the nature of their conversation. He couldn’t be too loud. A elderly man passed them with a shopping cart and he motioned Patrick forward.
“We can try it?” Patrick wondered, hushed and minimizing the space that divided them. They were separated by the crate of canned goods, empty and idly eavesdropping. “Pete would be open to it, I’m betting. He loves that onstage attention.”
“Yeah, although, let’s keep it to a minimum. What you guys were doing before should be fine,” Joe said.
“We can do that. But what about the rumors online?”
“I’ll handle it. We’ll keep it ambiguous.”
“Cool, thanks,” Patrick replied, finally deciding that he should put out his hand for a peace offering. When Joe accepted and shook it with his own hand, he visibly perked up, “We can make this work.”
“I think so, too. Just don’t start making out in the middle of the set, no one wants to see that.”
“Someone probably wants to see it.”
“Don’t make me regret this,” Patrick threatened. Despite being in no position to be making threats, he went on, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, I’ll call you out. And I won’t be nice about it.”
“That would just make my day,” Pete said, bringing up his head and wiping his mouth. He smiled, though Patrick couldn’t see it.
“I am, too. It gets me going when you act feisty.”
Patrick pursed his lips, “What act? Everything here is the real deal.”
Pete laughed. It wasn’t to make fun of or belittle Patrick, no, it was simply a happy outburst that he couldn’t hold back. Their back and forth banter was his new favorite thing, and the uncomplicated flow reminded him of their music when their talents were combined. He craved Patrick’s company, and, the more time they spent together, the more he understood how hilariously different they were. Yet they got along effortlessly. Their disagreements were minimal and were usually resolved through physical contact when they were alone. There were no arguments, only spoken foreplay. It was a relationship that was blossoming faster than either could truly manage. There was no going back to any semblance of friendship for the sake of the band or otherwise.
“If you keep talking, I’ll never get you to relax. That’s no fair to me,” Pete complained gently.
“Fuck, I can’t help it,” Patrick said. His nostrils rounded as he pushed out a thick breath, his lower half wincing.
On Pete’s mattress, in the corner of his messy bedroom, they were splayed out across the sheets. Patrick was naked from the waist down, and Pete from the waist up. For the better part of the past hour, Pete had been tonguing and caressing and fingering Patrick’s ass. They had previously discussed swimming at the community pool, and quickly had that plan fall through when they arrived and saw how jam-packed the place was. They had also discovered a hole in the backside of Patrick’s singular pair of swim trunks that kept him from wanting to prance around in public. With too many jabs at Patrick about the hole, one thing led to another, and they found themselves drowning among innuendos. Their appetite for an afternoon escaping the heat turned sexual, and they rushed to find somewhere to strip and blast the air conditioning. With it being Saturday, Patrick’s house was unavailable due to his mother having the weekend off, and they wound up at Pete’s parent’s house for their change of plans. The parents weren’t home, apparently indulging in a neighborhood barbeque.
“Ahhh..!” Patrick moaned, his grip writhing against the pillow and his thighs twitching to snap shut. He felt Pete refuse his actions, keeping his legs open and vulnerable with a push. His shyness was inevitable, unable to be rationalized by how thoroughly he had cleaned this morning. There was a wet lick between his cheeks and he strained to contain himself, “Pete, you’re, it’s too much..!”
“Are you,” Pete paused, one finger feathering over the healthy folds of chub that were included in his meal, “are you ready, then? ‘Cause I am. You’ve got me so hard right now, you have no idea.”
“Like I don’t know. You’ve been poking my leg this whole time.”
Pete relented and moved off of Patrick. He stood and hurried to the drawer of his nightstand, which, for some reason, was unreachable from his bed. A half-empty bottle of lube was tossed over along with an unopened pack of condoms.
“Uh huh,” Patrick acknowledged the items and attempted to sit up. When his shaky knees told him differently, and he dropped the notion entirely. With his head lazing backward, he noticed the shelf above Pete’s bed. The various soccer-related awards stole his attention, watching him. He examined each one slowly, and didn’t avert his gaze until a sparkle of sunlight caught the edge of a trophy and blinded him. He squinted, asking, “Can you close the door?”
“Why? No one’s home,” Pete replied. He had undone the knot that held his board shorts on his hips, and was preparing to shimmy free of them. “Don’t worry, they won’t be back for hours.”
“Please, douche bag?”
Pete shut the door, took the extra step to lock it, and sarcastically bowed. From where he was standing, he could see out the window and into his neighbor's backyard. Interested, he went to peer beyond the glass, the bottom latch slightly ajar. His board shorts continued to cling to his body, stopping well below his navel and displaying a streak of curly black hair.
“What’re you doin’?” Patrick was confused, craning his neck for a view of what was going on.
“Nothing,” Pete said, the inflection somehow misplaced. “I didn’t know my parents were here..”
“Like, they’re at a barbeque nextdoor, with the Wilstrums. I thought they were down the street.”
“Oh, fuck, thank goodness, you scared me for a second.”
Pete spun on his heel and headed toward the bed, regathering the lube and condoms. With everything soon tucked into the crook of his elbow, he snatched Patrick’s wrist and pulled. He was hit with a wall of defiance and a fussy yelp, to which he ordered, “Come look out the window with me. It’s a nice day.”
“No, you weirdo,” Patrick was startled by the abrupt demand for him to get up, “what’s with you? Don’t tell me you have a window fetish or something.”
“I wouldn’t call it that.”
“Are you high? What are you talking about ?”
Pete hauled Patrick to his feet and knocked the sheets from his hands when he went to cover himself. They grunted and pushed their way into a strange embrace, dancing viciously across the carpet. Pete’s strength brought Patrick to submission in under a minute, and they arrived at the window. Patrick’s forehead was smushed against the glass with Pete behind him, holding him firm. The commotion from the Wilstrum’s family barbeque was carried to their ears, blurring their thoughts.
“See? It’s a nice day,” Pete said, his words melting sweetly. He set the lube and condoms down on the window sill, confident that they would be unidentifiable at a distance. Both hands went to rest on the sides of Patrick’s thighs.
“I,” Patrick faltered, his legs still fragile, “I don’t..?”
Patrick was inconspicuous with his shirt keeping him modest for unsuspecting barbeque guests who might catch a glimpse of him. While that worry subsided, a thousand others burst to life inside his mind. He froze. Dismayed, he realized that he wouldn’t be allowed to dwell, Pete’s board shorts slipping and releasing his warm cock. The tip pressed to Patrick’s tailbone.
“You were so good earlier,” Pete murmured. He kissed a blushing collarbone.
“Wh-What d’you mean?” Patrick gulped, a hot urge welling up in his gut and coaxing him to wiggle his backside against Pete’s cock.
Pete delighted in the response, “You know. You were putty and you loved it. You tasted amazing, and you were softer than I ever could have imagined. Your ass is perfect.”
“Yeah, and I’m gonna fuck you just right.”
“And we’re seriously doing this in front of a window?” Patrick inspected the scenery below, and had his heart pound when a woman pointed at the sky to show her husband a passing plane. His skittish mentality had him expecting her to catch them and call them out.
“Don’t get me wrong, I may be holding you here, but you can walk away whenever you want. We don’t have to do this,” Pete promised. He waited, planting more kisses near the shorter boy’s jawline.
Patrick savored in the affection, and glided his left hand down to his own budding erection. He squeezed the tender area, blood swelling anywhere he touched. His right hand went to tear a condom from the pack and then to snatch the lube, passing them backward to Pete. He fixed his ass to be at a more accessible angle, and increased the speed of his squeezing.
“Patrick, I need you to say it,” Pete prompted, though he was already ripping the wrapper and sliding the protection over his cock. The ring of latex at the base was plucked to check for a seal before going further. He took the lube and globbed it directly onto the tip, smearing it lengthwise.
“ ‘Kay,” Patrick hesitated, sucking in his lower lip and nervously checking on the unaware barbeque below, “Fuck me good. Make me cum.”
Whispering something inaudible, Pete gingerly thurst forward into Patrick. There was a bit of resistance since all the stretching had been done earlier, and he slowed his movements to compensate. The pinched, wet heat made this an issue for him, his instincts telling him to chase the oncoming ripples of pleasure by pumping without giving a fuck. Crushing his brows together, he focused and maintained his gentle pace. But he couldn’t control his moans.
“Damn, you feel fantastic,” Pete adjusted himself to elevate his hips, fully pushing his cock inside with his stomach resting on Patrick’s lower back, “you sure you’re not a virgin? I woulda given anything to have you for your first time.”
“Uhn,” Patrick gasped, clutching the window sill for stability, “I think you’re, uhn, my fifth. Don’t feel too special.”
“I do, believe me.”
Patrick arched, sweat crowning his hairline and dampening his shirt. He was relieved that Pete was gradually entering him with his thrusts on the more subtle side. It gave him time to acclimate and, when he was ready, he rode Pete with his ass bouncing from base to tip. It was doable since Pete wasn’t overly girthy and because he knew how to guide his lover without causing pain. He bucked enthusiastically when he sensed Pete’s hands holding him by the shoulders, with one of his own hands returning to touch himself. He was so stiff, the head of his cock was aimed straight at the ceiling. A shaky, sensual cry made his mouth go slack.
“Naughty,” Pete complimented, lube trickling into the board shorts that stayed stuck at his knees, “You think all those people know, mm, how naughty you are? Look at you, you’re a work of art on display.”
Patrick uttered a gruff chuckle, “Whatever you say. Can you just-- No, move it-- Yes, right there.”
There was a sweet spot that Patrick was wonderfully familiar with, and was a goner once it was found. He subconsciously clenched his backside and bit his lip.
Pete was getting into the swing of things, and where he normally tried to peek at how his dick looked going in and out, he was instead admiring what a catch he had. He tightened his grasp on Patrick’s shoulders. It was criminal how exquisite the younger boy was in the rosy afternoon light, the sounds of the barbeque floating up to scold them for their devious behavior so close to a family event. What a couple of freaks they were. Just awful, a plague to society that nothing of redemption beyond a few forgettable pop punk songs. A heightened throb of bliss overtook him, and he had to steady his thrusts to keep from blowing his load too soon.
With his eyes inevitably on the people dotting the backyard, Patrick stared at them while tugging his cock. He chose to concentrate on a teenage couple that couldn’t stop fondling one another. He saw them swap saliva and cop a feel and when (they assumed) no one was watching. It was simultaneously a nauseating and satisfying sight. They zipped around the grass, weaving through picnic tables piled high with ribs and coleslaw. The girl’s strappy bikini top scantily suppressed how much her tits could jiggle, and her boyfriend’s cut abdominal muscles glistened with the sheen of sunscreen. They pranced beneath the shade of a nearby maple tree, and locked their lips, mouthing what were probably fake promises about their future. When they pulled apart, they had visibly brightened. Unexpectedly, they turned toward the window.
“Fuck,” Patrick squirmed, his head falling to face the floor. The fist he had made was flexing around his cock, his pink flesh aching and swollen. The work Pete had done earlier was taking a toll on him, his body weak from the intimate touches. He worried that the couple would be observing him with disgust if he dared to raise his head again, and he chose not to take the risk. It didn’t matter much, no, he was too far gone at this point. His sole concern was his dick in his hand and the dick that was fucking him. “I need..!”
“Hang in there for me,” Pete growled, having resumed his thrusts. “Patrick!”
“I c-can’t,” Patrick mewled pathetically, the smothered release splashing onto his hand. His posture crumpled and he struggled to keep his hold on the window sill. Cum overflowed in his fist, stray droplets spattering the carpet and misplaced laundry at his feet. It was a mess, and he would have been ripe with embarrassment if he wasn’t consumed with ecstasy.
“Don’t move,” Pete said, preparing to catch Patrick in case he couldn’t stand, “don’t move, you’re perfect. Fucking perfect.”
With no reply and without collapsing, Pete assumed that he was in the clear. He also did a double check on their little neighborhood gathering, thrilled by their obliviousness. His cock was stressing for more attention, and he plowed onward. The sinfully sumptuous intensity was unbelievable. In fact, it was so unbelievable, he suspected that the condom was bunching up somewhere near the middle of his shaft. This caused the lower part of his shaft to be raw inside Patrick, seducing him into silence. He didn’t bother messing with or mentioning it. He wasn’t a total jerk, though, he would stop if the condom came off completely. When another round of thrusts proved that it wasn’t going anywhere, he gladly pursued his climax. He scratched his nails into Patrick’s skin and passionately called his name.
Patrick, who was beginning to feel sore, encouraged Pete to hustle up and finish, “Cum in me, c’mon, I want it. Do it!”
“Oh, h-hell yes, I’m gonna give it to you!” Pete shivered, electric tingles sparking his system. He hunched forward, hair masking his face and becoming rigid. “You’re so tight, goddamn!”
“I’m,” Pete failed to finish his sentence as his orgasm gushed forth, spilling and overwhelming him. He groaned and incoherently praised his partner, both arms wrapping around that pudgy belly. One cheek pressed to the back of Patrick’s neck and he took a breather before pulling away. He untangled them and removed the condom, not wanting it to loosen and hit the floor. With his free hand, he nudged Patrick.
“I’m fine,” Patrick said, descending from his trance. “That was insane, I can’t get my mind to relax.”
“Same here. We should go for round two in a couple hours,” Pete said, half-serious.
“Let’s get a snack first. I’m starving.”
Within the week, the band was going strong again and their fanbase was none the wiser. Andy had snagged them a gig at an enormous house party, Joe supported the mysterious romance rumors online with cheeky comments, and Pete and Patrick tried not to be too obvious about what they had been up to. Their arrangements were simple and didn’t require too many heart-to-hearts. They were content to leave it at that.
At the house party gig, they were largely ignored prior to their appearance on stage. A stage which, obnoxiously, was a makeshift platform of wooden scraps in the backyard. No one assisted them with the setup, and they had to beg for bottles of water from the hosts. It was shitty, but the exposure and pay were decent. They waited to be introduced, huddled with their instruments in the grass.
“How do you know these people, Andy?” Joe tilted his weight on the side of the stage, impatiently plucking his guitar strings.
“I don’t know them that well,” Andy revealed, “I know the host's younger brother. He told me that we’d be a great fit for this party.”
“Where is he, then?”
“.. I saw him passed out on a couch when we came in.”
Aggravated, Joe began to fidget, “Was he supposed to pay us? Who’s gonna pay us now?”
“I’m sure he’ll wake up after we start playing. He better,” Andy said, uncrossing his legs and frowning.
“God, we’re screwed.”
“It’ll work out, let’s play first and see how it goes.”
“You’re such a baby,” Andy chastised, waving a drumstick in Joe’s face, “You need to learn to be patient. Life doesn’t just bend to your will.”
“Pffft! You don’t need to tell me that, trust me, I know,” Joe said.
“You don’t act like it.”
“Andy, gimme a break. What are you, my mom?”
Andy grinned and dodged an oncoming punch, “You wish I was your mom. I look good in heels and pearls.”
In the shadows and with their hands close to the ground, Pete and Patrick laced their fingers together and listened to the ongoing chatter.
At their house party gig, the members of Charnel House were surprised to see how the size of the crowd grew minutes before they went on stage. It was strange, considering how they had been shook off throughout the night. Initially, they presumed it was due to the band that was scheduled to play after them. That band was, apparently, comprised of people that the majority of the guests actually knew. But no, among the sea of faces, they recognized many long-time fans with some of them even wearing the ratty logo t-shirts they used to sell. There was a cluster of girls at the front who were particularly thrilled to be in attendance, giggling and pointing and waving. The boys waved back at them from their little huddle at the side of the stage.
“Joe, did you mention this gig on our MySpace page?” Patrick asked, feeling anxious. A lanky, greasy sort of kid near their temporary seating was shooting him daggers. He ignored him, continuing, “How would they get in, anyway? I thought this thing was invitation only.”
“I put it up on the page, yeah. Maybe these fans got in because.. Uhhh.. I dunno?” Joe said. He scratched the side of his head.
“Weird,” Patrick glanced around, a quick thought prompting him, “Thanks for doing that, by the way. Updating the page and stuff.”
Andy decided to enlighten them, “Of course they got in! It’s a bunch of girls. They’re cute enough to find their way in here. We should be thanking them, they’re hyping everyone up for us.”
“True,” Joe conceded.
“There’s a couple of guys here that look like they’re fans, too,” Andy added. “That’s good. The more diverse our demographic, the better.”
Patrick flexed his fingers and toes, tension sweeping him when he noticed one of the hosts preparing to announce them. He kept his volume low, “Let’s just hope the people that don’t know us aren’t dickheads during the set. It’s not like we have security to rely on, for Christ’s sake.”
Andy’s response was lost as the cheap crackly microphone rose above their ears.
“Hellooo ladies and gents! Thank you for coming out tonight,” the main host greeted the audience and anyone else in the vicinity, his enthusiasm tinged with alcohol. “My name’s Jesse and you all know I throw the best parties this side of Chicago!”
There was a modest round of applause, followed by several hecklers sarcastically harassing Jesse about how many drinks he had and where his girlfriend was. One person hollered for everyone to hush up, idiotically contributing to the problem.
Jesse persisted, the layered speaker sets blaring and muffling the noise, “All right, all right! We’ve got Charnel House opening tonight with The Gemstones for our main event. It’s gonna be a wild ride! Try not to mosh too hard, I can’t afford to have the cops bust my door down. All right.. Buckle up, suckers, and put your hands together for Charnel House!”
Graciously, this new round of applause was much heavier, with whistles and encouraging yells mixed in. The same cluster of girls at the front pushed forward, their tube tops and chunky jewelry pressed to the edge of the stage. Since Jesse’s backyard wasn’t an actual venue, there was no barricade and nothing preventing them from being close enough to claw at stray ankles or jean cuffs. Though they managed to keep their hands to themselves while the band did final checks on their instruments and plugged everything in, they couldn’t contain their comments and questions.
“Trick, Trick, ahhh! You’re so cool! You guys are gonna rock this,” a girl no older than sixteen squealed. She bounced in place and batted her eyelashes up at him.
“I love you guys!” another girl chimed in, pumping her fist with a cheer.
Patrick was grateful for their support, and, being the first one ready to go, planned on responding. He always thought it was rude when smaller bands refused to interact with their fans. However, he had barely opened his mouth when he heard something that stopped him cold.
A third voice thundered to snatch his attention, “Trick! Are you dating Pete? Please say you are! Is that why Pete joined?”
Pete, Joe, Andy, and a good portion of the crowd listened in. It was tough not to, the girl’s voice loud and determined. A collectively murmur enveloped the atmosphere, with those who hadn’t heard wondering what the hell was going on. Off to the side, Jesse’s forehead wrinkled in tipsy confusion. A friend behind him whispered something in his ear, his uncertain expression holding firm. Regardless, he motioned for them to get on with the show.
Patrick granted the girls a tiny smile, the microphone removed from the stand, “Good evening, you beautiful mothafuckers! A big thanks to Jesse and his crew for inviting us out here to play tonight. Give it up!”
He paused, the clapping and howls of appreciation needing the space. The commotion soon died down, and he returned the microphone to his lips. He inhaled, psyching himself up for the unleashing of their first song, “Now, we’re gonna--!”
“HEY!” a rowdy college boy interrupted, directing his shout at Patrick. “Where the fuck is Ronnie? Why’s there a different bassist?”
Those around him, presumably his backup, jeered alongside him. They likely didn’t give two shits about where Ronnie was, and wanted a reaction from Patrick more than anything. Unfortunately for them, phasing a confident lead singer was a challenge in its own right.
“Hey there,” Patrick chirped, swinging his hips and provoking his guitar to twirl around him, “I know you’re crushing on Ronnie, no worries, I get it. He’s a handsome guy.”
Laughter erupted from the crowd. A middle finger was shown from the college boy, clearly ticked off.
Patrick brightened, “Ronnie’s moved on to bigger and better things, and we’re cool with that. Besides, how can you not love Pete?”
More applause with Joe playing a rousing riff in the background, the grass trembling under the weight of the noise.
“In case anyone out there doesn’t know, this is our second show with Pete as our bassist and lyricist. He’s a great guy and this first song was written by him,” Patrick said, the microphone replaced on the stand. Without having to ask, Pete was at his side and crushing his cheek into Patrick’s shoulder. The instant they touched, an ensemble of squeaks exploded from girls in all across the lawn. It genuinely startled the band and anyone else who didn’t understand the implied dynamic.
Patrick looked away from Pete and caught Joe’s gaze. Then Andy’s. Then back to Joe. They didn’t move, their pupils dilating and unblinking.
Joe gulped. He sighed and tilted his head to give the slightest sign of approval. He began to strum the introduction of ‘Growing Up’.
“Let’s get this bullshit started!” Patrick roared into the microphone. He reached over to grab Pete by the back of the neck. Without aiming, he turned and smooched him on the side of his head, briefly burying his nose into the heat damaged dark hair. He pulled back, belting into the audience, “One, two, one, two, three, four!”
Red solo cup in hand, Patrick was cornered into one section of the porch and entertaining a small swarm of fans with Pete and Joe. Andy had disappeared inside the house to supposedly take a piss and make a phone call. Their set, and the headliner’s set, had ended almost an hour ago. This didn’t mean the party was slowing down, rather, it was getting its second wind.
“Did you guys know that Jesse used to be in a band?” Cindy, one of the girls who had been at the front of the stage earlier, asked them.
Joe, more than eager to impress his peers, gave quite the response, “Shit, really? It must’ve been a boy band, ‘cause he uses more hair gel than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Snickering, the group was glad to poke a little fun at their host. They knew that Jesse was on perfectly good terms with the band, since he had made the effort to personally praise them after the show. He had even begun to drunkenly babble about how he wanted them to play at his birthday party in the next couple of months. Of course, the best compliment of all was how he had paid the promised amount in addition to a few extra twenties for the hell of it. It was the first time they had ever been tipped.
“You’re so funny,” Cindy said to Joe, quiet enough to create a sense of privacy. She had been inching closer to him from the moment they had played their final song, her glossy pout plump with anticipation. She went to squeeze his nearest arm, tickled pink when he shifted to allow for a better hold. “I’m gonna pop inside for a sec, do you need anything? A drink? Or..?”
“I’m all set, don’t worry,” Joe replied, raising his can of Budweiser for emphasis. He was about to say that he would be right here waiting for her when he felt a tap on the back of his head. Annoyed, he twisted to see Pete. And without a chance to complain, he received some friendly advice.
“Are you stupid? She wants to blow you or whatever. Go with her,” Pete discreetly informed him. He nudged the younger boy toward the sliding glass door that separated the backyard from the living room.
Joe’s face rippled with confusion, and he did a double take between Cindy and Pete. The way she refused to let go of his arm and how she was toying with her ponytail made for plenty of evidence. Hm. Interesting. He chose to believe his bandmate and chugged the remainder of his beer, the empty can tossed into a trash bag. He took no notice over the fact that he missed the shot, already being guided into the house by Cindy.
Pete rolled his eyes and joined in on whatever story Patrick was spinning for the group.
Inside, Cindy began to tease and tell Joe about a tattoo she had done a few weekends ago. She kept him close as they walked, spilling the details in a hushed tone. Soon, she was changing her path to take them to the upstairs bathroom, the facade of visiting the kitchen for more drinks abandoned.
“Joe,” Andy called, stepping out of the living room where he had been texting another potential gig. He hadn’t been spotted when the couple entered the area, obviously too enthralled in each other. “Can I talk to you for a minute? Sorry, it’s important.”
“What? Oh, sure, man,” Joe answered. He awkwardly let Cindy know that he would join her upstairs when he was done, and was thankful when she understood and pecked his cheek. He watched her leave, smitten.
Andy didn’t comment, huddling them next to the couch and diving into the issue at hand, “How do you feel the show went?”
“It was,” Joe debated how to describe it, “it was pretty damn good. The crowd was pumped and we stayed in synch for most of the songs.. Why, what do you think?”
“I’d say I’m in the same boat as you. But was kinda asking about Pete and Patrick’s situation.”
“They were solid. Unless you’re talking about..?”
Undoubtedly uncomfortable, Joe rocked on his heels to distract himself. God, this wasn’t what he wanted to be doing right now. He mentally recapped tonight’s performance - there was the girls screaming about Pete and Patrick’s relationship status prior to the show’s start, the kiss that kicked off their first song, the touching throughout the set, the way they pushed their backs against each other during Patrick’s solo, and, how could he forget, Pete’s arms cemented around Patrick’s neck while the finale faded away and they introduced the next band. It was a lot to digest. He winced.
“It’s not that it’s hurting us. It’s a good thing,” Andy said. He tugged the sweatbands on his wrists, adjusting their placement and involuntarily wanting something else to focus on. “I just don’t know if it’s too much too soon.”
“We could talk to them about it?” Joe stole a glimpse of the porch outside where Pete and Patrick remained with the fans.
“Yeah. Although I’d be lying if I said I had any idea where to start that conversation.”
“We’d also look like assholes since they haven’t technically done anything wrong yet,” Joe said. He didn’t want to be unfair and spark drama without reason.
“So what are we supposed to do, Andy?”
Together, they turned and soaked in the sights of the party. Beyond the fireflies and empty glasses, the other half of their band stood proudly. Pete and Patrick appeared to be attached at the hip, their features glowing and their mouths moving a mile a minute to captivate their keen little audience. Despite the concrete beneath their feet, they were on cloud nine. The recognition, the acceptance, the power to get away with how they were they were acting was easy to see from afar.
The most unusual part about the whole affair was that none of the girls were trying to make a move on them. They were respecting the assumed relationship.
Joe broke the silence, “I’m okay with how they are. With how everything is. Maybe we shouldn’t mess with what they have, errr, I mean, if it’s not causing a direct problem.”
“I get that. But when will we know that it’s becoming a ‘direct problem’?” Andy wondered, wary of a pair of teenagers sliding the door open and stomping toward the kitchen.
“Whenever it impacts our music, you know, when they’re being childish.”
“That’ll be a tough call to make, considering they never act their age.”
Joe couldn’t help chuckling, “You’re the one who always says you have to babysit us. I’ll help you this time. We won’t let them get too crazy.”
“Does that mean I still have to babysit you?”
Andy beamed, “I’m glad somebody thinks so. It’s hard being singled out as an amazing drummer and nothing else.”
“What goes on under that mop of yours?” Joe taunted, waving a hand above the older boy’s long frizzy locks. “You need your sarcasm detector checked. Otherwise, you won’t survive with us hoodlums.”
“Tragic. I’m too old for you, just like how she is,” Andy mocked in exchange. He gestured toward the staircase.
Hanging off the banister was Cindy, waiting for Joe and winking when he turned to meet her gaze.
Joe puffed up his chest, “She’s not too old for me. She’s probably, like, eighteen or nineteen.”
“Or twenty something,” Andy said, amused.
“Then fuck it, time to break the law. I’ll catch you later.”
“Don’t forget, Joe.”
“I know, I know. You don’t need to tell me twice. We’re babysitting.”
Pete sat outside of a local burger joint, bouncing his wallet between his hands and checking his surroundings every minute or so. The smell of sugary ketchup and sizzling beef permeated the air, seeping into the paper cups and napkins. People were lining up at the the order window, the seating area guarded by an awning while the actual grills and fries and cash registers were inside a cramped brick building. This place was more popular in the warm summer months, which is why Pete had suggested it. It was bustling and unkempt in a romantic sort of way.
He was supposed to meet Patrick here for a date. Lately, they had been texting nonstop and had decided to make plans for a lunchtime meetup. They had realized that interacting through the screen paled in comparison to their face-to-face bonding sessions. Moreover, they couldn’t exactly get to know each other’s intimate intricacies during band practice. Their purely sexual secret meetups weren’t ideal, either. They both were craving a happy medium.
This meant that, yes, dating was on the table. They had a shared personal life away from the band.
Pete was satisfied with how smoothly he had transitioned into Charnel House. His lyrics were on the lips of the fans, his bass skills had improved, and he had their lead singer wrapped around his finger. It was more than he could have hoped for, especially considering how much he had clashed with previous bandmates. The scuffle with Joe regarding the reveal of his and Patrick’s relationship was nothing in comparison to some of the nonsense he had dealt with in the past. There were no broken noses or wrecked drywall, though it had been a close call. They were an excitable, manageable bunch.
The one flaw he could pinpoint was not knowing what he and Patrick truly were. Friends with benefits? Boyfriends? Two guys that happen to make music and love on the side? To be safe, he hadn’t been involved with anyone else. Nevertheless, he wasn’t into labels, and he was clueless as to how much Patrick cared about them. He had contemplated bringing it up the next time they were alone, which was, conveniently, today. But it was a difficult topic to make time for. And in the most honest part of his subconscious, he was afraid that he might be rejected.
What was going to do? Wait and see?
Broken from his thoughts, he spotted Patrick and beckoned him over, “Hi! ‘Bout time you got here, I’m starving.”
“Hahah,” Patrick grinned, increasing his pace and giving him a split-second hug when he reached him. “I’m surprised you didn’t order without me. That seems like something you’d do.”
“No way, I’m a total gentleman.”
“You’re ridiculous, that’s what you are.”
They walked to the order window and stood in line with at least two families and three couples ahead of them. Recognizing that they would be stuck for who knows how long, they nestled into a bit of chitchat.
“So,” Pete began, hands in his pockets, “last weekend was pretty crazy. I had a blast at that party.”
“Same, Jesse and his buddies were waaay fuckin’ nicer after they heard us play. I guess that means we’re decent,” Patrick said.
“Yup. I think I saw Jesse’s girlfriend - what’s her name? Sarah? - try to flash you at some point during the set. Your voice is what sets us apart.”
“Please, as if I’d fuck her.”
“Heh, well if you won’t, Joe will,” Pete asserted. “He couldn’t get enough of those girls. He made it upstairs with a couple of them.”
Patrick snorted, “Good! Maybe that’ll keep him out my business. He’s so uptight sometimes, getting laid is just what he needs.”
“Excuse me,” a woman in front of them barked, whipping around to give them a death glare. “I have children with me, watch your language. Nobody wants to hear that.”
Clinging to her legs were indeed two young children, fearfully hiding beside their mother.
“.. Sorry, lady,” Patrick offered flatly. For the kids, he did a thumbs up.
“Apologies,” Pete added, although he was slow on the delivery. The woman was ignoring them and had shooed her children toward the order window.
Patrick stuck his tongue out at her and returned to the previous discussion, “Anyways, like I was saying..”
Pete listened to Patrick’s babblings, not bothering to correct him on any false information and content to take in every mundane detail. This went on until they were able to choose and pay for their food, their allotted ticket number eventually hollered out the order window. Armed with their trays of burgers, fries, and sodas, they landed at a distant table covered in trash. They cleaned the space and hunkered down, sitting next to one another with their knees almost touching.
The majority of their meal went off without a single word being exchanged, mostly due to how hungry they were, preventing them from digging too deeply into what was on their minds. They were bloated and belching by the time their words carried any substance.
“I’m glad that the fans know about us. Helps keep the rumors in check,” Pete noted, having carefully structured the sentence in his head before speaking.
Patrick wiped his chin with the back of his hand, shrugging, “Yeah, it’s fine. There’s not much to know.”
“We’re bandmates who happen to be fucking, it’s not a big deal.”
“That’s fair,” Pete said timidly.
“Like, if those girls want to see us dating, then they can keep coming to our shows. What we do on stage should be enough for them,” Patrick grunted, hating the idea of being put on display to fulfill someone else’s fantasies.
“We can fake it ‘til we make it, though.”
Pete masked his disappointment with humor, “Shoot, so you’re saying this doesn’t count as a date? This is one of the most respected restaurants in town.”
Patrick nudged him under the table, his hand making a fleeting sweep over Pete’s thigh. When he brought his hand up, he tucked a stray hair behind his ear, muttering, “This counts. What we do when we’re alone is real. And nobody needs to be fussing over that.”
“You mean it?”
“Duh. I swear this one of the better dates I’ve had.”
“It,” Pete was stunned, his mask dissipating, “it is? Why’s that? We haven’t even done anything.”
Patrick’s brow furrowed. He hummed and pretended to search the sky for answers. When there was nothing to be found, he nuzzled into the crook of Pete’s neck, kissing the sunny skin he found. Its flavor was exactly what he was aching for; the salty sweat mixed with musky cologne sending a flutter of joy across his spine. He immediately pulled away, concerned that the wrong people would witness them if he lingered for too long.
“Patrick?” Pete was puzzled, honey brown eyes fixed on the shorter boy.
“It’s not that we need to do anything, it’s that I like you. Which means I like being with you, get it?” Patrick explained. He reclined as much as he could on the bench, taking in Pete’s unique brand of devilish beauty. “Plus, cheeseburgers are probably my favorite type of fast food. So you’ve got that going for you, too.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it. This shit’s fate.”
Pete handed Andy a water bottle, and stood stiffly beside him with an uncertain expression. Currently, he was being excluded from a circle that included his bandmates and several longtime fans who had known them since before the band’s inception. It was hard for him to know what to do, so he clasped his hands behind his back and waited.
He listened to them sling stories at each other, exchanging slaps on the back, and nitpicking tonight’s performance from top to bottom. All in good fun, no doubt. Apparently, these longtime fans remembered when Charnel House used to do basement shows and get booed for how shitty their overall sound was. They also ragged on Patrick for how horrible he used to be at addressing crowds and how Joe would always sing his backing vocals at the wrong time. Yet they yearned for those good old days and complained that there had been too many changes lately.
Pete wrinkled his forehead. He kept his mouth shut and eventually the conversation wrapped up, the venue staff beginning to herd the group toward the exit.
“Let’s go,” Pete tried to urge Patrick. He nudged him and frowned when they were still stuck saying their final goodbyes to everyone.
“We’ve gotta close shop,” a security guard said, finally opening the venue’s back doors and physically pushing the fans out. “These guys gotta talk to management.”
“Management? Don’t tell me they’re not gonna pay us,” Joe grumbled. Due to the security guard having at least a hundred pounds on him, he kept his tone somewhat polite.
The security guard shut the door once it was cleared, saying, “No, you’re getting paid. I think she wants to talk about having you guys come back again.”
Joe whistled and raised his fist triumphantly, with Andy happily nodding in agreement. Pete and Patrick shared a surprised, intrigued look.
They were escorted upstairs to a large lounge room, the security guard knocking on the door prior to entering. Once they were inside, they were left alone with a stout woman in a pantsuit who seemed to be in her early forties. She rubbed her palms together and failed to veil her smirk. Or, perhaps, she wanted them to see her smug demeanor.
“Ah, Charnel House, what a pleasure. Call me Diana, I’m the manager and owner here at The Empty Bottle,” Diana said, going down the line to shake everyone’s hands. At the same time, she caught their names and what instrument they played. When she finished, she took a step back and put her hands on her hips, admiring what she had found.
Joe spoke up first, “We heard that you want us to come play here again? Is that true?”
“It’s much more than that,” Diana trilled. From her front pocket, she brought out a fat leatherbound billfold that was filled to the brim with tonight’s earnings. She waggled it like a bone for a pack of dogs. “Not only did you sell out as the headliners, but you also cleaned out your merchandise table and a good chunk of my bar. I’m impressed.”
She unzipped the billfold and passed them a hundred dollars each, the rings on her fingers clinking excitedly with her movements. She worked at a lightning pace and repeatedly offered her thanks. With the money distributed, she was soon ushering them over to the farside of the lounge. They sat in cushy armchairs around a glass table, with a packet of printed papers stacked in the middle. The light above them wasn’t particularly bright, making it impossible to see exactly what they were looking at. Whatever it was, it gave off an aura of importance.
“Now let’s talk business,” Diana said, taking the seat at the head of the table, “I’m eager to roll us onto the right track. I want to get this band signed and making a full-length record.”
“What,” Patrick couldn’t prevent his outburst, “are you serious?”
Pete and Andy, who were seated next to one another, had legitimately cupped their mouths in shock. They didn’t know what to say, their ears poised to hear more.
Joe was stunned, “How do we, how do we do that? You can get us signed and in a studio?”
“It’s my side hustle, yes. When I’m not here running the venue, some friends and I have a little project called Underground Communique Records. We’re hunting for indie, rock, and punk bands on the Chicago scene that have the potential to thrive on a national scale,” Diana elaborated. She took a breath, idly tapping her fingertips together. Upon realizing how captivated the group was, she pushed forward, “I feel that Charnel House could be one of those bands.”
“Shit, that’s amazing,” Patrick said. He was shaking slightly, the room spinning around him in a dizzying rush of emotions.
“I can’t believe..” Andy trailed off.
“Yeah,” Pete responded to no one in particular, his lip curling upward, “oh my God. This is insane. Like, it’s an insane dream come true.”
Diana, patient as she was, hurried with her following question, “I take it you’re all interested? This has to be a group effort.”
“Fuck yeah we’re interested!” Joe had stood from his armchair, his determination seeping through his exterior. “When can we start?”
Andy, Pete, and Patrick affirmed Joe’s words as he returned to his seat. Slowly, their eyes drifted to the center of the table. The stack of papers, which they correctly assumed was the contract, drew them in with an invisible beckoning.
“Before we begin, there are a couple of stipulations. Terms of agreement, if you will,” Diana informed them. She reached for the contract and flipped through the pages. “The payout is going to be minimal at first. We’ll compensate you for your time in the studio and you’ll each take home five percent of the total record sales. Should your record be successful, that five percent cap has unlimited power. Additionally.. Your local show schedule and any tours will be managed by me, and you won’t be able to play wherever you want whenever you want. That includes house shows.”
“How much will we be compensated for during recording? And how much of the ticket sales will we receive at the shows you book?” Andy’s eyebrows were fixed in a curious arch.
Without missing a beat, Diana had the numbers, “You’ll be paid around five hundred for your time in the studio. As for the shows we book, we’re looking at twenty-five percent of the total ticket sales. Possibly more if you consistently sell out.”
“That’s fair, I guess,” Patrick said. He squinted and attempted to read the fine print, giving up when he figured they would have time for that later.
“Makes the job of finding places to play a lot easier,” Joe chimed in.
Andy smiled, “Which is usually my job. It’s pretty rough sometimes.”
“Yes, we’ll take care of it,” Diana assured. Her features wavered for a moment, her cakey foundation on the verge of crumbling. She had a bit of bad news, and hoped to frame it delicately, “Another term of agreement we have here is that we, and you must understand me on this, we are going to change the band name. By ‘we’ I mean myself, my associates, and you boys. You’ll throw new names at us until we find one that sticks.”
“Uhhh,” Joe’s annoyance was palpable, “why’s that? What’s wrong with the name we’ve already got?”
“Nothing. We just think you can do better.”
Diana let out a sigh that was tinged with sympathy, “It’s a marketing issue. We can go into more details during our next meeting, but if a name change is going to be a dealbreaker, then I need to know right this instant.”
Joe was taken aback. Hard. He and Patrick were the ones who had initially decided on the name, more than a year ago during a drunken night in front of a PlayStation. They swapped worried looks. It was quite an ego blow to be told that your masterpiece didn’t hold commercial value. Still, they recognized that it was minor in comparison to their actual music. They weren’t about to walk away from this deal over a name change. Together, they shook their heads in approval and allowed the meeting to continue.
“Good.” Diana was pleased that the contract hadn’t been caught in a roadblock, her smirk resurfacing. “The final term of agreement is that you must individually sign off for your own name. No one can sign off for anyone but themselves. This keeps everyone’s rights to the band’s image, music, and merchandise separate and equal. It’s standard practice.”
“I don’t think I can sign off yet. I don’t turn eighteen for two more weeks,” Joe said. His embarrassment about being the youngest, if any, was well-hidden.
“That won’t be an issue. In fact, that works in our favor,” Diana replied.
“I don’t get it?”
“We can use that two weeks to give you boys time to make your decision. After the two weeks is up, we’ll meet again. Should you choose to sign off, you’ll be of age and we can move things along smoothly.”
Joe could live with that. Peering around at his bandmates, it was obvious that they could, too. They were painfully eager and hadn’t fully recovered from their initial surprise at the situation.
“So we’re cool?” Patrick ventured, his shaking subsiding. “Joe?”
“Yeah,” Joe answered. “We’ll talk it over on our own and meet up after my birthday.”
“Sounds good to me,” Pete said. He was glowing, his cheeks rosy and his pupils wide.
“Me, too,” Andy added.
Diana stood and extended her hand for a second round of handshakes, “We can’t wait to make a deal here. At our next meeting, we’ll go over the finer details before you sign off on everything. Just don’t forget what your pay will look like at first, your percentages of the record sales, our control of your show and tour schedule, plus the name change when you’re discussing this on your own time.”
“We won’t forget, trust us,” Pete said confidently. “Our minds are gonna be so focused on this I don’t know how we’ll function.”
“Don’t think too hard on it. I always urge my new clients to go with their gut. Now, who’s going to be my main point of contact?” Diana asked, a notepad and pen taken from her purse.
She was sold on the idea of them. She had been since their opener for tonight’s set.
“Well fuck,” Patrick said, saluting his bandmates with a shot of vodka, “cheers to us. To getting signed with a record deal.”
“Cheers!” Pete echoed. He tapped their glasses together and they both downed their shots.
“Hey we haven’t officially said ‘yes’ yet. We’ve got, what, like a week and a half? ‘Sides, it’s my band,” Joe reminded them, though he was mostly kidding.
Patrick was sputtering after drinking too quickly, nearly dropping his shot glass. A few coughs later he was laying into Joe, “Don’t be a drama queen, we’re jumping on that sweet deal. It’s ours to take.”
“Dude, I know. We’re on our way up,” Joe said, his own shot of vodka drained in two gulps. “We could be fuckin’ famous!”
Pete laughed and held out his empty glass to Andy who was unscrewing the lid on the bottle of Grey Goose. He received a refill and effortlessly threw it back.
“Who cares about fame, I’m just stoked for that paycheck,” Andy said, reaching over to replenish Patrick and Joe, as well. “It’s about time we turn this hobby into something more. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it. And I’m exhausted.”
Andy bumped the refrigerator door closed and walked to the couch. His family’s garage had become quite the hangout for the band. Of course, this was solely because of Andy being kind enough to volunteer. What with the refrigerator full of booze, the cozy old couch, and his parents utterly accustomed to how loud his drum kit was, they always preferred to hold their brainstorming and practice sessions here. It was relaxed and simple.
“Pffft, I’m the one who’s exhausted. I’ve got school starting soon,” Joe argued. He leaned into the cushions, positioned on the left side of the couch with Pete and Patrick in the middle.
“Drop out?” Patrick suggested. He made a grabby motion for the vodka bottle, and pouted when Andy refused to pass it to him.
“Don’t drop out, Joe, it’ll hurt you more in the long run,” Andy said. He hated when people spoke so casually about such an important matter. “You’re talented, but you’ve got to have a backup plan.”
“D’awww, gee, you think I’m talented?” Joe mocked. He obviously wasn’t in the mood to be serious.
“That’s right. I also think you’re an idiot.”
“Haha, fuck you.”
Andy ignored him, instead focusing on his other bandmates, “This is why Diana wanted my number for the main point of contact. I’m a little more level headed than our founding father over here.”
Pete and Patrick sneered. They knew this to be true and hushed Joe when he tried to talk over them and defend himself.
“When can we call her, anyway?” Pete asked. He placed his shot glass on the wobbly wooden cable spool that served as their table. Underneath, he retrieved a beer from the chilled six pack, the cap popped off with his car keys.
“We just saw her a couple days ago. It’d probably be best to give her a call by the end of the week. I’ll do it on Friday, if that’s okay with you guys,” Andy said thoughtfully.
Everyone was comfortable with this.
“I still can’t believe we have to change the band’s name,” Patrick said. He scratched the back of his neck, recalling Diana’s words. “I mean, ‘marketing issue’ my ass.”
Joe growled, “It’s bullshit. Can’t do anything about it, though.”
“Hopefully the fans don’t crucify us.”
“They’ll crucify you, Patrick, you’re the one who’s gonna have to tell them.”
Staying quiet, Patrick stared down at his lap. Letting the fans in on the changes that were coming was most likely going to happen at one of their shows. It made sense that it was his job as the lead singer and frontman to announce it on stage. They didn’t want to do it over the Internet because it was such a cop out, and could result in the fans being even more upset. If he did it in-person, he would put on his most powerful puppy face and clasp his hands together in a plead for forgiveness. He would drop to his knees if he had to.
He lifted his head when he felt Pete’s fingers touch his arm.
“It’ll be okay,” Pete said. He removed his fingers. “Once their surprise wears off, they’ll be happy.”
Joe was skeptical, “We’ll see.. I wonder what will happen with you two.. That could be interesting.”
“Us?” Pete pointed between himself and Patrick.
“Not sure what you’re saying.” Pete calmly took a sip of his beer and passed one to Joe to keep the peace. This ripple in their discussion was unnerving. He rolled his shoulders, his nonchalance forced, “Diana didn’t seem like she wanted to get rid of our stage dynamic. We can ask her when we see her again, right?”
“We will, don’t worry,” Andy cut in. He moved to refill their shot glasses for a third time, wondering if more alcohol would make this situation more or less awkward.
Their shoes shuffled against the concrete floor, substituting for a lack of communication. Despite having a contract and record deal on the line, it was difficult to predict where the band would take them. Rather than sailing aimlessly in the underbelly of the city that had nurtured them, they were suddenly docking on foreign shores. It was fresh and intense and terrifying. The only remedy was to press onward and keep working for the common goal of having their sound reach the masses.
Patrick took Pete’s beer, tilting it to the ceiling it and insisting, “We’ll do what we’re told to get our money and our stake in the fame game. The second our artistic motives are questioned, we fight back.”
“You tell ‘em,” Pete encouraged.
“I knew I raised you right. We should always be ready to stand up to the man, or woman, in this case,” Andy said, grinning.
Joe looked away.
With a signed contract and the name of ‘Charnel House’ abandoned, Pete, Andy, Patrick, and Joe were gathered at the studio for Underground Communique Records by the end of September. The studio was located in downtown Chicago, which meant they had a fabulous time shouting about what their next turn was and where to park while jammed inside a stuffy car. They arrived in a huff and were obnoxiously close to being late. Their shabby instruments stuck out among the expensive equipment, their ripped jeans and t-shirts equally inappropriate. It didn’t matter too much, thankfully, with general process of recording going well and earning them praise.
“Nice run through, boys,” Diana’s voice complimented them over the loudspeaker. She stood on the opposite side of the glass, her associates surrounding her and illuminated by the lights of the control panel. “I’d like to get ‘Fever Pitch’ down a couple more times. We’re wanting to use that for the single, so we need to have it perfectly perfect.”
“Gotcha, boss,” Joe called in response. He plucked the opening riff and spun in a circle.
“I believe I mentioned you don’t need to call me that.”
“Roger that, boss.”
Joe waved a hand to signal he was merely goofing off. How could he not, what with how well this was going? Honestly, he was ecstatic. Fever Pitch was the song that had originally set them apart from their competition in the local scene. It was his song where he had written the entirety of both the lead and rhythm guitar parts. Though Pete had made a fistful of necessary improvements to the lyrics and bass parts, Fever Pitch was his baby. Its melodies were more than collective noise and aggression, it was personal. It was his.
Reassembling, the band checked their tuning and shook any jitters. They waited for the electric sign in front of them to switch from red to green. Once they had the all clear, they tore into the song. They played with every last ounce passion they had - and it was plain to see. Andy’s drumming was fierce, his sticks slamming with such precision and strength that the carpet quivered below him. Joe’s strings were on fire, his wrists fluid with natural talent meeting years of practice. Patrick’s voice flooded the microphone in a glorious mix of highs and lows; his eyes remained squished shut, causing him to be oblivious to his environment and whoever may be watching him.
Fortunately, he already knew who it was.
Pete performed his part on the bass, however, his attention kept wandering toward Patrick. He was gorgeous. Head to toe, he was enamored. There was nothing he didn’t adore, physical flaws and personality quirks included. Patrick made Pete feel alive and purposeful, especially when they were making music. Sure, Joe and Andy were crucial components to their creation, but they weren’t the ones bellowing his lyrics with such fervor and grace. Patrick’s stage presence was simultaneously calculated and unpolished, tempting him to sneak a taste. It was quite the turnon.
Biting his lower lip, Pete zeroed in on the song’s finale and played his last chain of notes. He rocketed his hand upward when he finished, his fingertips pinching the pick.
Diana’s voice was brimming with pride that saturated the loudspeaker, “How about that. I demanded perfectly perfect and that’s what I was given. Let’s end it here for today. Come on out and we can chat about future plans.”
The band exhaled in relief. Three hours later, and their efforts were fully validated. High fives and congratulations were shared, their egos mutually stroked. They packed up their instruments and exited the booth, sapped of their energy.
“For those of you who were keeping track,” Diana joked with her associates, “we have eight full-length songs for the album. I’m a dreamer, and I know these boys are, too, which leads me to suggest that we add two more to finish it off. What do we think about that?”
“Doable,” one of her associates said fearlessly.
“It will give us that extra push,” another associate stated.
Andy stepped into the fray, “By when would we need these songs? And should we keep with the theme?”
Diana spoke in a hush among her associates. They hastily reached a common ground, their body language displaying a sense of urgency.
“We’re definitely going to keep with the theme. For a due date, let’s say in a week or so?” Diana was aware of how stressful the deadline may feel, and she softened it by allowing them some leeway, “Perhaps even two weeks. Bring us what you can, and we’ll go from there. I have the utmost confidence in your abilities.”
“We can do that, I think” Andy said. He turned to Pete, “You gonna be able to crank out some killer lyrics for us?”
Pete was beaming, “Yeah, no problem. You guys just gotta back me up.”
“Wonderful. Again, I have plenty of faith here,” Diana emphasized.
“What about the name change?” Joe’s concern was evident in his inflection. He crossed his arms and shifted on his heels.
“Ah,” Diana cooed, recalling their failure to rename the band, “that needs to be done much sooner. You have a show this weekend and you’ll be announcing the new name then and there. Let’s get on that, shall we?”
“Where’s Pete?” Patrick asked.
“He, uhm,” Joe put on an impression of innocence, “there was a doctor’s appointment he had to go to. Yeah.”
“Was it for that ankle sprain he got at practice the other day? I told him not to jump off the couch,” Andy said, shaking his head. He reached for the bowl of pretzels between them and grabbed a fistful.
“I think so.”
“Idiot,” Patrick grumbled.
Joe turned his palms over in a gesture of ‘Oh well’. No shit he knew Pete had a doctor’s appointment on this exact date at this exact time. He had been informed of this when texting him about when they would all be able to meet up and decide on a new band name. He had used the inconvenience of the doctor’s appointment to his advantage. By claiming that the date and time of the doctor’s appointment was what worked best for the rest of the group, he had rid them of Pete for the day. Lying through his teeth and praying that no one would really bother to question the situation was the name of the game. So far, it was smooth sailing.
“So, what ideas do we have? Anything?” Andy pushed forward with. He crunched on his pretzels, waiting.
“I’ve got a couple,” Joe eagerly leapt in with. He scooted forward, hovering over the the cable spool table. From his jeans pocket, he withdrew a folded piece of notebook paper. “I came up with these in English class yesterday, hah.”
“Glad to hear you’re doing well in school,” Andy snipped.
“It’s fine, don’t worry. The band’s gonna take off and school won’t even matter.”
Patrick watched him curiously. He had his own list ready to go, which included several names that Pete had suggested to him last night, and he was interested to see what Joe had in mind. After all, he was the one who had mostly come up with their original name.
“Listen to these.” Joe unfolded the paper and cleared his throat. “How about.. ‘Last Resort’, ‘Blind Chance’, ‘Whiplash’..?”
Andy pursed his lips in thought. He rubbed at the bottom of his chin, his stubble scratching against his skin. A moment later, he turned to face Patrick.
“I’m not sure,” Patrick said when he noticed Andy’s stare. The names were decent. Although there wasn’t a single one that genuinely tugged at his heart. He tried to picture himself announcing the names to the crowd, floundering in the process. Each name was too stiff or too typical for his tastes. None of them would work. And he wasn’t about to tell that to Joe. “Are there any others? I mean, I like ‘Blind Chance’, but I’m not a hundred percent sold yet.”
Irritated since he had presented his favorite names first, Joe answered, “Yeah, I have some more. How about.. ‘The Testimony’ or ‘The Luckless’? Oh, I’ve got ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘Night Riot’.”
“Hm, ‘Lost Boys’,” Patrick mused.
“You like it?” Joe was hopeful, the list held close to his chest. That name wasn’t his personal number one choice, but hey, he would happily take credit.
“It’s got a certain ring to it,” Andy noted, gulping down pretzels.
“No, no,” Patrick said, immediately backtracking, “I like the name. It’s good. It’s just that it reminded me of a name Pete texted me last night.”
Joe could hardly contain his skepticism, “Pete? What name did he come up with?”
“Hang on,” Patrick said, opening his phone his conversation with Pete. He had to tap the up arrow multiple times before he found the message he had been searching for. “Okay, got it.”
“What is it?” Joe’s knuckles were white beneath his skin, crushing the list. He had a bad feeling about whatever the hell he was about to hear.
They collectively held their breath. It was instinctual. They couldn’t help assuming that the band’s poet had chosen some kind of beautifully ironic name.
Patrick looked up from his phone’s screen, “It’s ‘Fall Out Boy’.”
“What does that even mean?” Joe questioned, reeling if he had been shot. “Like, what’s a ‘Fall Out Boy’? C’mon, Pete can do better than that. I can do better than that. Get real..”
“I dunno, it’s not bad,” Andy said. He definitely was more attracted to this name than the ones Joe had cited.
“You think so?” Patrick had his attention on Andy, barely acknowledging Joe’s distaste for the name.
“It’s pretty sweet. Is it referencing something?”
“Pete said it was a Simpson’s reference.”
Joe’s urge to lash out was rearing its ugly head, his words strained, “I like the Simpson’s as much as the next guy, but it’s not the kind of name we want, guys. We’re a punk band, we should have a kickass name.”
“Didn’t Diana say we’re going for a pop punk feel?” Andy recalled this from their previous meeting, figuring it was worth mentioning.
“I think it does, Joe.”
“Speaking of Diana, maybe we could run this name by her?” Patrick interrupted with. “We could run a few others by her, too. I still like ‘Blind Chance’.”
“Don’t you have any you came up with, Patrick?” Joe pressed, ready to settle for anything that wasn’t penned by Pete.
“Nah,” Patrick shrugged, “Mine are nothing special. You know I’m not so hot with this sort of thing.”
“If me and Pete and Andy are all into this name, we can’t just shelve it and forget it.”
Joe wanted to scream that yes, yes you son of a bitch, we can and should drop this name before it catches the ears of Diana or the fans. In the furthest recesses of his soul, he knew it was a solid name and he would bet his next paycheck that it would be chosen by a landslide. He would be the minority and made to seem like an unreasonable stick in the mud if he refused to go along with it. He could picture it without much effort. Worse, he could picture how fast the name ‘Charnel House’ would fade from the world’s memory. No. Allowing Pete to rename the band that he had set out on a personal mission to make famous filled him with an overwhelming anguish.
Patrick noticed Joe’s sullen demeanor, and proposed, “We’ll keep ‘Fall Out Boy’ and ‘Blind Chance’ for now. We have a couple days before we have to be back at the studio. Maybe we can decide on some other names, too?”
“We can do that,” Andy agreed. Keeping an eye on both his bandmates, he folded his hands behind his head and sunk into the couch’s threadbare cushions. His role as a babysitter extended beyond monitoring Pete and Patrick’s antics. There was always a need for his services, especially now with the tension caused by a romantic relationship in their midst.
“Okay,” Joe relented. He crammed the list into his pocket once again.
Patrick’s optimism found its way to the surface, “Nothing’s set in stone. We’re gonna be great no matter what our name is.”
“Exactly,” Andy said.
“I know.” Joe’s posture was saggy and his lip ring was being chewed on. He let out a small cough, croaking, “We’ve got a lot going for us.”
That was true. With new management, the record deal, and the prospect of a cross country tour, their plates were overflowing with a bright future. Provided they didn’t spill that plate, they were in the clear.
Pete’s ankle issue was soon resolved with prescribed painkillers and ice packs. The majority of his pain was an exaggeration, anyway. He was back on his feet in no time. He was able to make it to the band’s next practice prior to their meeting with Diana. Better yet, he brought a new song with him that he had scribbled at the doctor’s office. The lyrics were a knockout and the rest of the band was willing to finish the instrumentals with the vague descriptions Pete provided for the desired sound. The song came together in a sloppy, alluring way that they were eager to show Diana.
Although they had been asked to arrive at the studio with two songs prepared, they forgot in the chaos of perfecting what they already had.
“Disappointing,” Diana lamented, brushing aside their begs for forgiveness, “but understandable. I know songwriting is a delicate artform that I’m rushing here. Either way, let’s put that aside for today. I want to hear about your new name.. You do have one, yes?”
“We do,” Andy replied. He nervously adjusted his glasses and glanced at his bandmates. “We have two. We wanted to hear your thoughts to help make a final decision.”
“That sounds fair, let’s hear them.”
“Sure. Joe, Pete, you wanna go ahead?”
“Well mine’s ‘Blind Chance’, it’s a throwback to the chorus of an old song we used to play when we were first starting out. It’s from so long ago, I don’t remember the actual song, just that phrase,” Joe explained. He stood proud and tall, the name meaning more to him than ever with the competition he was currently facing. “Saying ‘Blind Chance’ reminds me of what Charnel House was founded on.”
Diana was bobbing her head with thought, “Ah, I see. We can absolutely work with that. I like it. Pete, what was the name you had?”
“Oh,” Pete was caught off guard with the focus shifting to him, “oh, right. The name I’m stuck on is ‘Fall Out Boy’.”
“That’s.. different. ‘Fall Out Boy’, you said?”
“Uh huh. Sorry, it’s kinda lame. It’s like this Simpson’s reference thing.”
Diana held up a hand to stop Pete from babbling. Her eyelids fluttered shut for a split-second, imagining how the two different names would appear in a variety of scenarios. The album cover, the marquee boards at local theaters, the t-shirts they were planning on selling - the name they chose needed to have the right feel and appeal. It had to be flawless. Both suggestions had certain qualities that she enjoyed, which only stressed her further because of the time constraints they had. This decision had to be made today or they would miss their upcoming deadlines.
“If it helps,” Andy said, the silence beginning to bother him, “I’m into the name ‘Fall Out Boy’. I slept on it and, it’s, it just makes sense to me. That’s my vote.”
Diana was grateful, the baggy sleeves of her blouse swaying when she stretched to give a thumbs up, “Thank you, I appreciate your opinion. How about.. Patrick? Do you have any input?”
Patrick swallowed an invisible lump. He took a step backward, gaining a physical and mental distance.
“You’re our frontman, your input matters,” Diana emphasized.
“I,” Patrick was unable to finish his sentence, or rather, he didn’t know how to, his gaze bouncing back and forth. He could see Joe’s annoyed expression alongside Pete’s confident one. Picking one band name over the other would have consequences that he didn’t want to deal with, and he hurriedly weighed them for comparison. Both options had an ugly side that he had no desire to expose. He took another step backward.
Being honest with himself, he was more partial to ‘Fall Out Boy’. In addition to his urge to support Pete, he had this sinking worry that ‘Blind Chance’ was too generic and forgettable. It didn’t sit well with him.
“Patrick,” Andy pushed, suspicious of his lack of an answer.
Patrick switched to a dismissive stance, “I don’t know. I swear I don’t, I can’t pick between them. I like them the same.”
“That’s your jurisdiction,” Diana said flatly. She laced her fingers together and blew her bangs away from her forehead. “I suppose that means the final decision rests with me. If you boys will allow it?”
The group nodded in unison.
“Thank you. While it’s challenging to do this without upsetting anybody, it needs to be done. I’m going to come out and say my choice and we’re going to move on,” Diana said, the clicks of her heel on the hardwood floor mixing with her speech. “Seeing as how I already call you ‘boys’, I believe that ‘Fall Out Boy’ would work out well. It’s unique, and it should catch the attention of the right people.”
At the adjacent office table, her associates buzzed with subdued approval. Papers shuffling, they initiated a separate discussion about marketing the name.
“Goddamnit, this sucks,” Joe complained. He hadn’t intended to vent his frustrations aloud, however, he was apathetic about it once it was out.
“I’m sorry. We don’t have the time to continue being nameless.”
“It’s fine, Diana.”
Pete had a bit of guilt creep up on him, and he slipped into the fray, “Hey, I won’t take credit or whatever. We’ll just say it’s a name we picked together.”
“All I want is for the crowd to be cool with it,” Andy teased with. He ruffled the back of Pete’s hair and they shared a chuckle.
“Yeah, hopefully,” Patrick said, still maintaining his facade of being torn about the name.
Diana clapped her open palm against the soundboard in excitement, claiming, “We’ll work hard and get the fans on our side. I know you boys can do this. Fall Out Boy can do this. Let’s get that final song recorded and we can start running the presses.”
Pete and Andy swapped looks of delightful apprehension, and they huddled closer to Diana with individual questions and comments. Pete’s nosiness about how they would draw up the logo and Andy’s ideas for the track order on the record preoccupied Diana for the next minute or so. She was oblivious to hushed exchange happening on the offshoot.
“You’re okay with this?” Joe whispered. “The name is cool with you?”
Patrick kept his voice equally low, “I’m cool with it. We’re on a specific timeline, there’s not a lot we can do.”
“Argh, I know, you’re right.”
Fighting and winning in holding back tears, Joe gently patted his friend’s shoulder and said, “Thanks for not always siding with Pete.”
The Hideout, where Pete had first met his bandmates in his quest to scope out Patrick, was their host for their first official gig as Fall Out Boy. The name of Charnel House had all but been abandoned, save for the promotional posters that informed onlookers of why a band no one had ever fucking heard of was headlining a Friday night show. It was the last week of September and the audience was brimming with speculation. Was this name change legitimate, or merely a gimmick? Were the rumors of a recording deal true? Had more band members been replaced? People were desperate to know. From casual fans to the diehards, the box office was mobbed until tickets were sold out.
The opening act was weak and useless in terms of encouraging a fun, passionate atmosphere. They scarcely made it off the stage without being decked in the head with a shoe or beer bottle.
“Fuck, I’m not ready,” Patrick fretted, his guitar clutched to his belly. He was waiting for the stagehand to give him the signal, the rest of the band squashed behind him. “I’m freakin’ out.”
“We’ve got this,” Pete said, though he could hear his heartbeat ringing in his ears. He peeked over at the stagehand who had yet to beckon them forward.
“We’re okay, I promise.”
Joe’s fears came pouring out, “They’re gonna hate us, holy shit, they’re gonna hate us. Everyone’s just here to boo us and laugh.”
“They wouldn’t pay to do that, would they?” Pete wondered. “No way, they wouldn’t do that.”
“Doesn’t matter what they do,” Andy said, coercing them toward the tiny stairway that led to the stage, “we gotta go.”
Indeed, the stagehand had begun to wave them on. Nearby, Diana was watching them expectantly.
“Good luck,” she told each of them as they passed her by.
Patrick kept his head down while they made their entrance among the clouds of the smoke machine. His guitar was on the verge of escaping from his sweaty grip onto the floor. Fuck, his brain was burning with a thousand different ways of how this could go wrong. How this could ruin them for good. Disregarding the unfavorable possibilities of their performance, he knew he also had to keep things with Pete on careful terms. They were instructed by Diana to be less intimate for tonight. They were granted permission for a stray smooch or hug, and absolutely nothing else beyond that. Her reasonings were scattered, and she had reiterated the fact that they shouldn’t overwhelm the audience with everything that was being revealed. They had promised her that they wouldn’t go crazy with it.
He contemplated diverting from the original plan and warming up the crowd with an apology and a sob story.
“There they are! Ohmygosh!” came a girl’s shriek in the first row, “It’s them! FALL OUT BOY!”
The venue became alive with cheers, the energy completely changing.
Patrick stood at the microphone, commanding the spotlights to find them after establishing that his bandmates were in place. Now totally visible, the cheers increased. It was absolutely deafening, not a heckler to be found. An infectious smile spread throughout the group. He thrust his fists into the air and howled.
Pete was chanting something with a flock of girls at the barricade, his bass dangling above them as he high fived whoever he could. Joe and Andy were busy playing a short introductory riff, the music pounding to the pulse of their fans.
“Hellooo, Chicago!” Patrick sang, loosely holding the microphone, his body relaxing. “We’re so very honored to be playing for your sexy faces tonight. Thank you for having us! Give it up for yourselves!”
Pausing, he permitted for a wild round of applause shouts of adoration. He bent at the waist for a thrilling bow that furthered the appetite for a memorable show. A bra was tossed at his feet.
“Rarin’ to go, gotcha,” Patrick said playfully. He snatched the bra and tied it to the microphone stand with a practiced technique. The straps were yanked to ensure that they were secure, his guitar was realigned at his hips, and he cried out, “We are Fall Out Boy! Most of you knew us as Charnel House, but that was then, and, fuck, this is NOW!”
He slammed his fingers onto the fretboard and strummed in sync with his bandmates. The beginnings of a mosh pit frantically opened its jaws in front of him, gunning for the action to come.
Patrick beamed and went on, “Though we want to apologize for the name change, we won’t apologize for rocking ‘til we fucking drop! Tonight’s about the music!”
The crowd was roaring with satisfaction. The walls vibrated, the ceiling threatening to crack.
“We’ve got a fresh, full-length record and a tour comin’ at ya in the next few months,” he announced, pleased with the positive reaction. Briefly, he turned to confirm with the band that they were officially starting the set, and then switched to address the room, “We’re locked and loaded! Welcome to the show, you bastards! Fall Out Boy’s here to save the day!”
“You look.. different.”
“Tell me more.”
“.. Pete, what the fuck? Are you wearing makeup?”
“Bingo! You got it.” Pete was, for whatever reason, teeming with pride. The rims of his eyes were stamped with a charcoal color. The lines were patchy in certain areas, no doubt the fault of a shaky hand. Though it wasn’t densely layered or extending more than a centimeter, it made him stick out tremendously. Eyeliner on men wasn’t a trend quite yet, and it could easily make someone a target for homophobic assholes.
Patrick opened the front door wider and allowed Pete to enter, his eyebrows shooting skyward. He called into the kitchen to inform his mother that his friend was here and that he would be leaving soon. Annoyingly, his mother took the liberty of getting up from the living room and deciding to introduce herself.
“Hello,” Mrs. Stump approached them with a wave, mostly wanting to see who the hell her child was running around with. She stopped cold when she saw Pete with his women’s pants, tattoos, and mischievous black eyeliner. Her shock was set aside and she attempted to appear unbothered, “You must be one of Patrick’s bandmates?”
“Mom,” Patrick protested, not at all interested in playing host.
“Hi, yep, I’m Pete, I play the bass in our band,” Pete grinned, extending his hand for a shake. The gesture was well-received and he went on, “You have a great kid here. He’s a musical genius and all the girls just love him. That’s some awesome parenting you’ve done. Ooh, and your lemonade Mrs. Stump - can I call you Mrs. Stump? - is absolutely delicious. I had some a while back when I was dropping Patrick off.”
The flattery was a hit, and Mrs. Stump was a box of sunshine, “My, I could say the same of your own parents, raising such a kind young man. Thank you. Did Patrick offer you a drink? I made a batch of cider in the slow cooker last night.”
“That sounds perfect, I would love to have a taste,” Pete nodded.
“We need to go,” Patrick whined, moving to stand in the middle of their nonsense.
“C’mon, Patrick, we don’t need to pick up Joe for another couple of hours. What were we gonna do until then, anyway?” Pete said, knowing that they had made loose plans to fuck in the backseat of Pete’s sedan.
Mrs. Stump beckoned Pete into the kitchen, chastising her son, “We always invite our guests in for a refreshment. Our household values its manners.”
“I can see that,” Pete complimented, “and if your cider is anything like your lemonade, I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave.”
Patrick sighed, slammed the front door, and trailed behind them.
In the kitchen, Mrs. Stump brought the cider out of the refrigerator and poured it into the slow cooker to reheat it. The chilled beverage began to brew back to life, Pete taking a seat at the wooden dining table and chatting as if they were old pals, with Patrick grumpily leaning on the wall and watching with disapproval. The room filled with the scent of spiced apples and the sound of pleasantries. Soon, the cider was served in mugs with cinnamon stir sticks and matching snickerdoodle cookies.
It was a nice, if not strange way to spend the late afternoon. A full forty minutes passed before they were made to end their impromptu get-to-know-you session.
“I completely forgot that I needed to pick up my dry-cleaning and this weekend’s groceries,” Mrs. Stump said, tapping her head to signal her absentmindedness. “I’ll have to run and do that now. Patrick, are you going to be here when I get back?”
“I dunno, when are you going to be back?” Patrick said. His relief was obvious, and he was ready to physically jam his mother into her car.
“Maybe in an hour or so?”
“Nope, we’ll be gone by then.”
Pete could see how often Mrs. Stump had to deal with this snippiness, and he soothed, “But thank you again for the hospitality. You’re a lovely homemaker.”
“I appreciate that.”
Mrs. Stump gathered her purse and car keys from counter and said her goodbyes, emphasizing to Pete that he was welcome into their home at any time. She exited through the adjoining door that led to the garage, leaving them alone with the clouds hanging low in the sky. There was a glow that permeated the kitchen’s sliding glass door and illuminated their impatience. Once they heard wheels rolling down the driveway and onto the street, the entire mood shifted.
Pete’s hands cupped Patrick’s cheeks while the front of his shirt was crumpled and twisted by a pair of pale fists. They kissed, lips locked together in a decadent swirl of emotion.
“Why’d you do that?” Patrick fussed. He had broken away and was instead nuzzling the crook of Pete’s neck.
“Do what?” Pete guided them to the counter so that they had something to rest their weight on.
“Nevermind, shut up.”
Patrick pressed into him, reigniting their kiss and spreading warmth his own tongue drawing out Pete’s. They tasted each other slowly, valuing the nuances and grateful for their isolation. For the past week or so, they had been swamped with band practice and meetings with Diana. In fact, they had their schedules booked with those exact things in the next couple of days. It was draining the fuck out of them and they just wanted some time to themselves. Even in this temporary escape from the world, they found it difficult to defog their minds and relax. There always seemed to be something that needed to be done.
“Missed you,” Patrick said, wiggling in Pete’s newfound hold on his backside. “But seriously, why are you wearing that shit?”
“Staying stuck on this, aren’t ya?” Pete was pretending to be casual about wearing makeup so openly, however, he was anxious to hear Patrick’s thoughts.
“Yeah, ‘cause,” Patrick chewed over his next sentence, “I, I’m not sure if I like it or not. Christ, I’m really on the fence here.”
“Would it be better if it wasn’t smudgy? I kinda messed up, it could be way cleaner.”
“No, the smudging is fine. It’s very, very you.”
Pete noticed how softly Patrick was speaking, and how flushed his face had become. It was a sudden, welcomed sight. Though, he didn’t want to become too bold too early. They had time. He could see Patrick lowering his chin, hoping to find a distraction on the tiled floor below. He waited and, when there wasn’t a reaction, pushed for a level of closeness that they rarely shared.
“Can you look into my eyes?”
“Hah, how can I not?” Patrick joked. He traced a swirling pattern around the older boy’s collar bones and disobeyed the request. “There’s fuckin’ glitter in that shit, I swear.”
Pete chose to tread carefully, “You’re right about that. I take it you’re no longer on the fence. Do you just straight up hate it?”
“No, I don’t hate it. It’s basically much the same as me wearing nail polish.”
“Would you be mad if I wore this to shows and stuff?”
“What am I, your keeper?”
“You can be, if you want,” Pete said. He caught Patrick’s gaze and remained unflinching, the blue green color reminding him of the sea glass that sometimes washed up on the shores of Lake Michigan. He smiled.
Patrick gave a smirk in response, “Save the lines for your lyrics. You don’t need to use them on me. I already like you.”
“Despite the eyeliner?”
“What’s that mean?”
“Do I have to say it?” Patrick was on the brink of frustration, and he was aching for some action. “Pete, you idiot, of course I like how you look. I like your makeup.”
“Thanks, I thought you would,” Pete said gleefully. He pecked Patrick’s forehead.
Patrick took this as his cue that they were done talking and practically leapt into Pete’s arms. Their mouths collided with excessive force, the corner of Pete’s lip cut by one of Patrick’s front teeth. It failed to faze them and Pete was eventually hoisting Patrick up with his hands supporting a plump ass together with a pair of Sharpie-embellished jeans fastened around his torso. They used the sturdiness of the counter to prevent them from falling over, and immersed themselves into a makeout session that the Stump kitchen was wholly unprepared for. Empty cider mugs were bumped into the sink, cookie crumbs were spread, and plenty of private sweet nothings stained the pristine wallpaper. Patrick’s mother would have fainted before she could finish gasping in horror.
“Lemme get my belt-- Move, just-- Okay, I got it.” Patrick was freed and had his hardening cock sandwiched by their stomachs. The pressure was fantastic and he purred, “I haven’t cum all week. I’m so sensitive, it’s ridiculous.”
“Saving up for me?” Pete was thankful for the break, his tongue instinctually lapping at the blood from his cut. It wasn’t much, no more than enough to provide a metallic tang.
“No, I’ve been busy and haven’t had time to jack off. But hey, you’re better than my hand.”
“Wow, such the charmer.”
“Shut up, I was nice about your makeup earlier, gimme a break.. But yeah, I need you and I missed you so bad. Did I already say that?” Patrick babbled while he was placed back onto his feet.
“You can say it again.” Pete’s right hand was caressing Patrick’s exposed erection, his own brushing against the fabric of his briefs.
“Missed you, missed you,” Patrick repeated, almost singing. The way Pete was touching him was heavenly, its tenderness and familiarity urging drops of precum to leak out. “Why are we so busy all the time?”
“Doesn’t matter, we’re here now. You’re with me and you’re lighting up this whole moment.”
Patrick was over the moon. The way Pete spoke to him, whether in these glimpses alone or through lyrics onstage, was unique. It was unlike anything he had ever previously encountered and he loved it. He knew he was young and probably wrong in assuming that they would maintain this relationship for years to come, and yet he couldn’t resist. If picturing Pete in his future was naive, then so be it. He was willing to go for it. The bliss he had experienced up to this point was enough to secure his path toward a singular goal. One where he and Pete were together.
Plus, without being involved with Pete romantically, the band was as good as dead.
Ignorant to what was on Patrick’s mind, Pete worked for every moan and groan that graced those rosebud lips. It was his own personal show, complete with uncensored commentary and brand new renditions of some old favorites. Hearing Patrick be voluntarily vulnerable was truly arousing. The bulge at the front of his pants was straining at the zipper, and he suppressed the urge to relieve the tension.
“Pete, yes, uhn,” Patrick encouraged, the strokes on his cock strong and well-timed. Fleetingly, he realized how he was offering zero reciprocation. He tried to move his hands downward only to be swatted away by Pete, who told him not to worry and deepened their kiss.
Patrick repaid the kiss tenfold, the resulting tingling sensation hitting his cock with jolts of pleasure. The touches were exactly what he had been lusting after. He had been horny since the last time he hung out with Pete, and it was ferociously refreshing to have him again. What he had said about missing him was pure honesty, and he wasn’t ashamed to share that.
Pete’s palm was damp with precum. It was helpful for lubricating the jerking motions he needed to get Patrick off, but a disaster for the dark sneakers he had on. There were several stains on his shoes that were seeping into the material. Whoops. He made a mental note for that to be the first thing he cleaned when they finished. Regardless, he knew some stains were worth the chance to bring Patrick to orgasm. And judging by how roughly his hand was being bucked into, they were right on the edge.
“Cum for me, stop holding back,” Pete demanded. There was a swell at the head of Patrick’s cock and knew they were in the clear. He sustained his pace and watched a sensuous expression melt onto the younger man’s face.
“I’m not--” Patrick meekly argued, his spine arching and saliva trickling past his chin.
“You are!” Pete blocked whatever the hell he was going to say, his clenched hand filling with a sweet, sticky release. “There you go, look at you, you’re a mess.”
“A hot-ass mess.”
Patrick was beyond flustered. His guts were rolling around inside him in a ball of happiness that he couldn’t seem to resettle. There were spots in his vision and the kitchen was oddly unfamiliar. He couldn’t think of anything clever to say or do, so he turned away. He gingerly grabbed the dish towel from the rack behind him and passed it to Pete.
“Thanks,” Pete said. He accepted the towel and wiped them both clean. Finished in a flash, he chucked the towel into the sink and started to undo his pants.
Patrick was in the middle of catching his breath, “Y-Yeah? Whatcha want? For me to blow you?”
“That’s exactly what I want. I was going to do the same for you, but, well.. you know?”
Not bothering with a retort, Patrick lowered himself onto the floor. It’s not like Pete was wrong. It was his own stupid fault for cumming too quickly. And he really shouldn’t be complaining, either. It had felt fucking amazing, and, actually, it was still feeling amazing. The high from his orgasm hadn’t faded, making him lazily paw at the top of Pete’s open pants, his mouth moving to butterfly across the bare flesh of his navel. He peered upward.
“I swear, just seeing you on your knees gets me going,” Pete thought aloud. His cock was propped in one hand, waiting for the attention it desperately craved. “I don’t know how you do it.”
Patrick flitted his tongue onto silken surface at the base of Pete’s shaft, his tone flirtatious, “It’s natural talent. Mostly. Don’t think about it too much, stud.”
“We doin’ pet names now?”
Pete inhaled, his lungs expanding and soaking in the perfume of Patrick’s proximity. He trembled at the mercy of that dancing tongue and its sultry slickness. His plans to hold Patrick by his dirty blonde hair were abandoned, now having to grasp the counter behind him for support. The polished granite wasn’t great for keeping a steady grip. The muscles in his forearms flexed with the effort and he kept his elbows near his center of gravity for better balance. With his entire length soon inside Patrick, he dared rock his hips back and forth. He was met with minimal resistance.
“Nngh,” Patrick growled through his mouthful. He was cautious of how his teeth edged around Pete’s swollen cock, afraid that he might cause a cut in a similar to the one on his lip; which hadn’t stopped bleeding and was puffy with irritation. Embarrassed, he ignored his mistake and focused on what he needed to do. His tongue skillfully cushioned the impact of the thrusts, the back of his throat tickled with Pete’s tip. That same spot was hit again and again until he accidentally gagged. He pulled off sharply with a string of coughs.
“You all right?” Pete asked. He was panting, comforted that Patrick had kept one hand around the base of his cock, squeezing.
“I’m good,” Patrick choked out, another bundle of coughs following, “I’m good. Here, c’mere.”
Glad to do as he was told, Pete realigned their positions and returned to his former state of paradise. Subtly, he changed how he aimed his thrusts in order to avoid hurting Patrick a second time. He moved very deliberately, fucking Patrick’s mouth like it was the most important thing in the world.
A minute or so later, Patrick had Pete’s thighs beneath his fingertips while his lips pressed tighter and tighter into his cock, sucking hard. Surprisingly, he didn’t feel any soreness or urge to take a break. He chalked it up to having a semi-regular source of sexual encounters. He was adapting to this. It wasn’t anything negative, just different from what he usually had going for him. It was fun, and, considering how Pete cried out his name with each lick or tug, the feeling was mutual.
“Shit, you’re so perfect. Fuck!” Pete had finally lifted his hands off the counter to hold Patrick’s hair. He made sure to clutch only the roots to lessen the pain. “I’m gonna cum, shit, I’m gonna cum in..!”
“Mm?” Patrick hummed.
“I’m.. gonna cum in that pretty little mouth!”
Pete’s frame heaved with the intensity of his climax, his voice cracking and hissing in an inaudible whisper. He largely missed Patrick’s mouth with how heavily he shook, the majority of his load spilling down the shorter boy’s shirt.
Patrick sat back on his haunches, his exhaustion catching him and his mind in a thousand different places at once. Involuntarily, he said, “I, uhm, you’re the best I’ve had, Pete. By a longshot.”
“You,” Pete was spent, his core fluttering, “you, too.”
“What you’re telling me, then,” Diana probed, “is that this is a real relationship? It’s not stage antics to draw a crowd?”
“Yeah,” Pete said quietly. He crossed his ankles and managed to combat the urge to push his bangs over his eyes.
“That’s right,” Patrick agreed, his legs nearly disappearing into the overly-feathery pillows of Diana’s office couch.
Diana tapped her nails against her forehead, her acrylics shiny in the fluorescent lighting. She exhaled, stressing.
“Joe and Andy know. No need to worry about how to break it to them,” Patrick added.
“That’s what I assumed,” Diana said.
They sat without a word. Outside of the building, downtown Chicago carried on noisily and paid them no mind. It was a rainy Friday, and everyone was poised to jump on the weekend. The city was in the full swing of autumn, with the winds and crunchy leaves making rather unwelcomed appearances. Things would simply become colder and darker from here on out. It always did.
“I’m not upset at you two, please understand that,” Diana told them. “Your trust in me is wonderful, and I thank you for that.”
“We figured it’s important you know so you can, like, help us with how we, uhhh..” Patrick couldn’t articulate his thoughts any further and rolled his shoulders with uncertainty.
“How we should proceed with the fans and the band’s image,” Pete said. He thought about Joe’s distaste for them as a couple and the swarms of girls that thrived on it. He quashed an oncoming shudder, asking, “So what do you think?”
Diana displayed the slightest hint of her usual smug attitude, “It’s going to help us. We’ going to make this into something big.”