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fragile & holding my hand

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The red dahlias were for Rosie, to celebrate her acceptance into her first-choice college for the fall semester, and the soup, the creamy chickpea lemon from the vegan Mediterranean place they only went to on special occasions, was for Frank, to cheer him up once he heard the news. The two gifts weighed the shopping bag down by themselves, no other groceries needed, and so Gerard carried it up the stairs not by its handles but in his hands so the flowers wouldn’t fall out and the soup wouldn’t spill.

It wasn’t that Frank would be angry to hear of his daughter’s acceptance into college. Gerard knew that and Rosie knew that, too. But the day before, when Frank had been at work and it was just Gerard and Rosie when she opened the email that told her she got in, they’d both agreed that she should let Frank know quietly, by herself. That had stung a little, sure. But Gerard had understood.

“He’s not going to be surprised at all, kiddo,” Gerard had told Rosie, ruffling her curly brown hair. “Of course they accepted you.”

Rosie had smiled and ducked her head. Her cheeks were still red from the laps she’d run around the kitchen table when she found out. “Yeah, but it’s different, you know? Like, getting in isn’t the same as applying thinking I have a pretty good shot. I just don’t want him to freak out or whatever.”

Gerard had squeezed her hand, running his aged thumb over her unmarred knuckles. “Oh, honey,” he’d said. “Like you could stop him if you tried.”

Gerard had told Rosie then that he would go grocery shopping after work, that he’d come back a little late so that she’d have time to tell Frank and get most of the breakdown out of the way before Gerard came home. He only ended up buying the two things that were in his bag now, but just acquiring the soup itself in the middle of the dinner rush had killed more than enough time.

As he reached their third-floor apartment and moved his stuff around so that he had a free hand to unlock his door, Gerard wondered what kind of scene—what kind of Frank —he’d be coming home to. Would Frank be devastated? Inconsolable? Tearfully happy? In denial?

Gerard had neglected to account for a fifth option, it turned out, where Frank had heard the news and reacted by immediately ordering that he and Rosie get as drunk as they could to celebrate.

The scent of hard liquor hit Gerard’s nose as soon as he first opened the door and walked into the two-bedroom apartment he shared with Frank and Rosie, who were standing next to three shots lined up on the kitchen table when Gerard finally found them, deep in discussion about something Gerard could only assume was related to alcohol.

They both perked up as Gerard shed his shoes and coat and then joined them in the kitchen to put away the soup and find a vase for the flowers, a task that became difficult as Frank exclaimed, “Gee!” and then attached himself to Gerard.

Frank squeezed Gerard’s abdomen, fierce and tight, and then used a fistful of Gerard’s hair to pull their mouths together. Gerard hummed, wrapping an arm around Frank’s waist, and forgetting, like he was prone to do, about the flowers in his hand and the teenager with her face twisted in disgust only a few feet away, until Frank’s tongue breached Gerard’s lips and the liquor that had only been a smell in the air and on Frank’s breath was now a taste in Gerard’s mouth.

“Alright, alright, enough,” Rosie said. “Ick.”

They were both probably a shot or two in. Gerard shook his head and light-heartedly pushed Frank back a little so that their mouths were forced to separate.

“Hey, sugar,” Frank said, wearing a sickly-sweet grin. “Those flowers for me? Aw, you shouldn’t have.”

“I heard there was some good news.” Gerard exchanged a glance with Rosie over Frank’s head—something that was easy to do, now that Rosie was taller than her father. 

“That’s right!” Frank fully detached himself from Gerard and swung an arm around Rosie, jostling her around, though she didn’t seem to mind. “My baby’s going to college! Gonna change the world and shit.”

Rosie giggled and swayed a little as Frank’s arm pulled her down. “He’s been talking like it’s an Ivy League or something.”

“It better be, with the money we’re going to be paying to send you there,” Frank said. “’Sides, any place with you at it is as good as.”

Judging by the marginal sense Frank was making, he probably had a shot or two on Rosie, Gerard decided. He finished putting the flowers in a cup of water and placed it on the table next to the shots so Rosie could smell them.

“They’re beautiful,” Rosie said earnestly. “Thanks, Gerard.”

Rosie loved red and she loved flowers and so because of her name, people bought her red roses all the time even though they were her least favorite if just because of overexposure. The only red flowers at the florist’s besides roses had been carnations and the dahlias he’d chosen, and at the time the carnations had felt too cheap, too casual.

Gerard nodded at her and smiled, glad to have gotten it right.

“So what’s with the drinking game?” he asked.

“Oh!” Rosie said. “Dad thought I should practice drinking. Like, so I know what to do at parties and stuff.” 

Gerard raised an eyebrow at his partner, who shrugged.

“Better to do it here with me than with some future sex offender frat boy,” Frank said. 

“That… sure is a message,” Gerard said. He told Rosie, “You know, drinking is the leading cause of death in college students. Look it up.”

It probably wasn’t true but it sounded real, but he didn’t think either of them were in the state of mind where they’d actually google anything, so he felt confident in relaying the fact.

“Duh,” Frank said. “That’s why I’m teaching her how to do it now.”

“Okay,” Gerard said, thinking the idea was really pretty stupid in that special Frank way where it would also be really pretty fun. “I’m staying out of this, though.”

 

 

 

Of course Gerard couldn’t stay out of it, and of course Frank and Rosie drew him into their drinking games once they realized that Never Have I Ever and flip cup were actually pretty boring with only two people. As forceful as they were in coercing him into joining, they were at least accommodating and made him do shots of espresso instead of Fireball and cups of water instead of beer.

“Maybe you two should also use cups of water,” Gerard told them right after predictably losing a round of flip cup because his team only had one person—himself—and theirs had two. He didn’t mind, though, because drinking all of one side of the table had a very different effect when it was water than when it was beer. “Every other cup or something.”

Also, when Frank had been teaching Rosie the rules to flip cup and Gerard was filling up the cups to flip, he’d watered the beer down. Flip cup was a stupid choice anyway.

“Pussy shit,” Frank said. “Flip cup isn’t gonna have water in it at a frat party, dude.”

Which was funny since Gerard didn’t think that Frank had ever set foot inside a frat house. He had a hard time believing that the afterparties for the punk shows Frank played while on tour attracted any kind of overlap with the local Greek scene.

“Oh, sorry ,” Gerard said, rolling his eyes. His heart was beating pretty fast in his chest because of the espresso. “Didn’t realize that you were going for college realism when you decided to get drunk with your teenage daughter.”

Rosie cackled and clung to the kitchen table for support. “Sounds like—” she started but was laughing too hard. “Sounds like you’re just mad ‘cause you lost , Gee.”

“Oh, you know he is, baby,” Frank said, laughing too, and wrapping an arm around her shoulder. They both laughed to the point of wheezing and then—whoops, there they went—fell down in a mess of brown hair and tangled limbs on the kitchen floor because the double burden of cackling and trying to stand up straight while drunk had become too much for their brains to handle.

“We should play Speed Facts now,” Frank declared from the tile.

“What’s Speed Facts?” asked Rosie.

What Speed Facts was, Gerard thought, was also a stupid game to try to play with three people.

Neither made a move to get up. It didn’t look too comfortable from where Gerard was standing but he knew from experience how intoxication like that redefined comfort.

“It’s like, uh, it’s like two truths and a lie, you know? Kinda,” said Frank. “Let’s go to the couch. I’m gonna beat both your asses so bad.”

Two rounds later Rosie was decidedly winning, not that winning mattered that much when no one was keeping track of the score and the only consequence for guessing wrong about facts was that eventually you’d have to take a shot.

“I know I’m going to get a lot wrong,” Gerard said at the beginning of the game. “I’m not drinking any more espresso.”

“Lame,” Frank said.

Rosie giggled.

“It’s like eleven p.m., dude,” Gerard said. But Frank hadn’t pushed it, mainly because his attention wasn’t hanging onto any one topic for all that long at this stage.

Rosie was winning because she had the advantage of being a teenager who lied to her parents and also lived at her grandparents’ house for twelve weekends a year. Frank was losing because he was actively sabotaging himself. He kept guessing things about his daughter that he hoped were true rather than knew were true. It was pretty clear that Frank had an ulterior motive every time he’d say things like, “You’ve never snuck out of the house,” and then Rosie would say, “Drink,” and he’d just about lose it.

To be fair, though, Rosie was giving it back just as hard.

“You left me at Walmart when I was two.”

“True,” Frank grumbled. “You—ah, fuck—you’ve never tried speed.”

Rosie fixed her father with a stare that really communicated how stupid she thought he was in that moment. Gerard had to bite back a laugh.

“Fuck!” Frank took the shot. “I forgot about your mom’s stupid boyfriend.”

Gerard decided to be diplomatic and defend Mel’s new boyfriend who also happened to be Rosie’s primary care physician and who prescribed her Adderall. He pointed out, “Does it count as speed, though, if it’s not recreational?”

“Still counts when it’s medical weed,” Frank said, because that was the level of logic they’d reached.

Gerard didn’t think Frank would really listen or care if he was corrected. “Maybe we should do something else, now,” he said.

 

 

 

The “something else” they landed on was staying on the couch with the TV on while not really drinking anymore. Rosie found a nature documentary on the marine life living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, which turned into, like, weirdly creepy and existential background noise to the impromptu, belated, and comically misinformed quiz on drinking safety that Frank decided at that moment to subject Rosie to.

“You know the saying, right? Beer before liquor, never been sicker—”

Rosie rolled her eyes and laughed really loud. “Yeah, but you know that’s, like, not true, though.”

“How do you know?” Frank pouted. Like, forty years old and pouted.

“They taught us in health class,” Rosie said.

“I’m pretty sure that you were going back and forth between beer and liquor all evening, Frankie,” said Gerard, fighting a grin.

Frank crossed his arms and stared at the TV where the deep-voiced, deceptively cheerful voiceover said something horrifying about a “waste of firm diatomaceous ooze.” Rosie and Gerard both laughed at Frank’s pettiness and then laughed even harder at the word ooze . It was getting late and Gerard remembered something he learned in a generic anatomy class his freshman year of college about the tired brain being almost identical to the drunk brain.

“I’m going to teach you to shotgun beers,” Frank told Rosie apropos of nothing. And then even though she’d revealed during their game of Speed Facts that she’d been to a few wild parties last summer when she stayed at her grandparents’ house for a month and had shotgunned at least a few beers before, Rosie agreed because Rosie loved her dad more than anything, Gerard knew.

 

 

 

 

Later, Frank and Rosie convinced Gerard to take them to the twenty-four-hour Taco Bell down the corner which, coincidentally, happened to be the same Taco Bell that Gerard had frequented during the alcoholic years of his early twenties. Gerard had thought it was fine, thought that maybe eating more would, like, soak up the alcohol in their stomachs or whatever.

That turned out to be a pretty grave miscalculation, though, because by the time two a.m. rolled around, Rosie had her head stuck in a toilet, throwing up the spicy potato soft tacos she’d begged Gerard to buy her only an hour earlier, while Frank hovered by the door, clearly barely hanging onto his composure himself.

“Drink… just drink some water, baby,” Frank called to Rosie as Gerard held her hair away from her face and rubbed her back through a particularly nasty bout. Gerard thought he heard Frank gag, but it could have been Rosie.

“I got this, Frankie,” Gerard said. “Why don’t you go lay down?”

Frank paused for a moment like he was going to argue but then didn’t say anything more. He lumbered out of the bathroom and through the living room and then their bedroom door opened, followed by the grunt of a body falling against their mattress.

“I’m sorry, Gee,” Rosie sobbed into the toilet bowl.

Gerard hushed her and ran his hand in soothing circles on her back. “Feeling any better?”

She sniffed and then nodded, pulling back a little. “I think I’m done for now,” she said. She didn’t stand up or anything but did scoot back on her legs so that she sat next to Gerard, her back against the wall that faced the toilet. “This was a really dumb idea.”

“Yeah,” Gerard said, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and pulling her close. Rosie rested her head on his chest like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like he was her father. “The dumbest ideas can be the most fun, though.”

“I just don’t get it,” she said, voice so stuffed up and broken and drenched in more emotions than were warranted from just throwing up. “Like, he was so excited. Why doesn’t he care that I’m leaving forever? Why was he so excited?”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Gerard said. “He cares so much. He just doesn’t know how to let you go. That’s all. He just doesn’t know how to do it.”

It made sense, now, why Rosie would  be willing to spend the night getting drunk with her father even though she was like any other teenager who wasn’t thrilled to stay home with her parents on a Friday. All her caution over Frank’s initial reaction had come from not only legitimate concern but also the hope that her father would be upset. She had wanted him to be as scared as she was, and he’d let her down.

Rosie stayed quiet for a while, just gently crying into Gerard’s shirt. Then she said, “I guess ‘cause he never really got to do that with his own parents when he moved out, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Gerard said, amazed at her wisdom because he hadn’t really thought about how Frank was acting in that light. “You’re the most important thing to him, you know. To both of us. That’s how it should be.”

Then Rosie one-upped her previous surprising capacity for wisdom by asking Gerard, “Is that why you two never got married? Because of me?”

And Gerard just sat there for a full minute, baffled, because he didn’t know what to say, hadn’t known he would have to know what to say. “Sweetheart, we—no, not really. Well, sort of. It’s like, we don’t have to be married for me to know what I mean to your dad and what your dad means to me. Does that make sense?”

He asked because he really wanted to know.

“Yeah,” Rosie said. She wiped her nose on her arm. “Would you, though? If he wanted to?”

“Sure,” Gerard responded. He entertained the thought, even though he knew Frank didn’t want to and would never want to get married, have a big ceremony, because Rosie was still a little drunk and Frank was two rooms over, laying down. “You know how I feel about dressing up.”

Rosie giggled a little bit. Her voice still sounded choked up and she was still shaking a little bit but she was feeling better, he could tell. Fucking teenagers and their ability to rebound after the most painful shit ever in no time.

“I don’t think I’m going to be sick anymore,” Rosie said. “I think I might go to bed.”

“Probably smart,” Gerard told her, loosening his grip so that she could stand up and go. “Hey, maybe tell your dad goodnight before you sleep.”

“I will,” Rosie said.

He followed her out and to his and Frank’s dark bedroom, where from his spot leaning against the doorframe Gerard could see Frank laying on his side on the mattress, on top of all of the blankets and still in the clothes he’d been wearing all night. Frank was still until Rosie approached him and he rolled over so she could join him in the bed if just for a moment.

“Hi, Dad,” Rosie said. She scooted down the mattress so that her head was eye-level with Frank, which meant that Gerard was in the perfect position to see how their feet didn’t match up, Rosie’s toes about three inches closer to the foot of the bed than Frank’s.

“You…feeling better, baby?” Frank mumbled.

Gerard detected a slight nod of the head from Rosie, obscured by the shadows of the dark room and the late hour. To observe such a small action not meant to be observed from this distance, but not meant for him , made Gerard feel he was betraying their privacy even though little tender moments between father and daughter were hardly rare in their home.

Gerard looked down, shrunk his shoulders, and crossed his arms to make himself smaller in the doorway.

Frank told Rosie, “‘m sorry. Maybe we shoulda taken it easier or something.”

“It’s okay,” Rosie said. Her voice sounded small. “At least I learned my limit for now. It’s not like I had to go to the hospital or whatever.”

“One day you’ll have a stomach of steel like your dad,” Frank promised her and, Jesus, Gerard hoped Rosie hadn’t inherited Frank’s stomach. Steel was not a very accurate descriptor for Frank’s mile-long list of conditions that made everyday things like eating endlessly complicated.

Rosie giggled. “Okay, sure, old man.”

Gerard knew that more likely than not Frank would wake up with a terrible hangover and serve his sentence of sitting with his head in the toilet. And it would do more damage to him than it had to Rosie tonight. She’d probably be fine, maybe wouldn’t even have a headache in the morning.

After Frank told his daughter goodnight and planted a kiss on her forehead, Gerard helped Rosie into bed herself, as she was still stumbling when she tried to walk. He did the whole pomp and circumstance of fluffing her pillow and tucking her into bed and leaving a glass of water and two ibuprofen on her bedside table, which he thought improved her mood a little bit.

“Call out if you start to feel bad again,” Gerard told her as he flipped her light off. “And sleep on your side, okay?”

“Okay,” Rosie said, rolling off her back like he said. Her voice already sounded drowsy and half-asleep. “Love you, Gee.”

“Love you too, kiddo,” he said, and then shut her door behind him.

 

 

Frank wasn’t asleep like Gerard thought he’d be when he joined him in bed. What Frank had done, at least, was strip his socks and jeans off and situated himself under the first layer of blankets, which Gerard was thankful he didn’t have to do. But Frank was most definitely awake, and as soon as Gerard slid under the covers next to him Frank glued himself to Gerard’s chest and wrapped his arms around Gerard’s neck, yanking them together like the world’s strongest magnets.

Frank’s eyes were open and looking at Gerard intensely so Gerard logically thought Frank might say something. He waited to hear it, but instead of giving him words Frank just moved his lips on top of Gerard’s and held their mouths together. Gerard thought, okay. This was how the night would end. Not with fucking or getting off or whatever because they were both too old and too tired and Frank was, like, completely soft against Gerard’s leg, but with a little tame intimacy until Frank got whatever it was out of his system and he fell asleep.

But a few minutes into the kissing, Frank moved his lips and tongue from Gerard’s and pushed his face instead into Gerard’s shoulder where the fabric was still a little damp from Rosie’s tears an hour earlier. Frank didn’t cry and Gerard didn’t think Frank would cry, but there was something about the way Frank pulled Gerard into him, hanging on like the alternative was falling, that told him everything he needed to know about what Frank was feeling. And then Gerard really knew what this was.

“You okay?” Gerard asked.

Frank was quiet for a moment and when he spoke, his voice was brittle and small. “My little girl’s leaving me, Gee.”

And, yeah, that was what Gerard thought he was going to say. “Oh, honey,” he said. “I know.”

Gerard pressed a soft kiss on Frank’s hair, not unlike the one Frank gave Rosie before she went to sleep in terms of tenderness, and then gave him another on his neck, right at the tip of the scorpion’s stinger.

“Hey,” Gerard said a second later. “I got you some soup on my way home from that vegetarian place you like.”

Frank moved a little so that he was looking up to meet Gerard’s eyes. “With the pasta and lemons and shit?”

“Pasta and lemons and all.”

Sighing deeply, Frank settled back into Gerard’s shoulder. His grip loosened. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, baby,” he murmured, eyes flickering shut.

Frank fell asleep after not too long, a while before Gerard’s body worked through all the caffeine so that he could feel drowsy, but Gerard didn’t care. He was content to hold him like that all night long if he had to, just warm and quiet and needed.