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Fourth of July

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“You and I were, you and I were fire-fire-fireworks…”

 

The first thing Mikey does after listening to the song is throw up. It’s not his intention, but he still finds himself staggering to the bathroom, overwhelmed by nausea. He rests his head against the bathtub when he’s done and tries to channel his thoughts, barely remembering to wipe his mouth and flush. Everything right now is on autopilot.

 

All that runs through his head is the summer of 2005, days so sweltering that even Gerard couldn’t justify wearing a shirt under his bulletproof vest. He remembers wild days on stage and wild nights on the buses, getting tangled with anyone in arm’s reach, drunk on cheap beer and high on cheap weed. He remembers the tour dates that even now are hailed as the best days of MCR, of Warped Tour itself. But most importantly, he remembers Pete.

 

He remembers wearing a white jacket that wasn’t his in a crowd one night, watching Fall Out Boy perform. He remembers the Sweet Little Dudes, sneaking onto FOB’s bus while the band was asleep so he could rest his head against Pete’s chest and feel his heartbeat. He remembers Pete hanging out onstage, remembers the way his thumbs dug into Mikey’s hips later that evening, hiding behind the buses and high on adrenaline and the fear of getting caught. He remembers all the nevers and forevers that turned into goodbyes, the last day of Warped when Pete couldn’t even meet his eyes. And he’s throwing up again, coughing up bile as that tight, horrible squeeze returns full-force to clamp his ribs. The album’s still playing in the bedroom, rolling through Favorite Record undeterred by his grief, and he’s crying before he knows it, because something about it is so fucking poignant. Life plowed right through too, gave him no time to reconcile all that had happened and all that would never happen again.

 

Mikey emerges from the bathroom a few minutes later, and he doesn’t bother glancing in the mirror. He probably looks as bad as he feels, and he doesn’t want that verification right now. He sits on the bed and picks up his phone from the bedside table. The last text sent was to Pete a few hours before, rapidly typed outside of a record store, ‘got ur new album n gonna listen tonite. pumped’. It had gone unanswered, which was strange at the time but not particularly concerning. Now, it’s so obvious why that he chokes on the laugh that bubbles in his throat. Fuck.

 

He thinks about sending a text, but he’s pressing dial before he can stop himself. It rings three times, and he hears the line pick up, but there’s no sound on the other end.

 

“Pete,” he whispers, and it’s hoarse from the vomit and the tears in his eyes.

 

“I’m sorry,” Pete says, just as soft, and it’s the verification that he never wanted and yet somehow needed. Mikey tries to compose himself, tries to keep the sob from his voice. He doesn’t have enough focus at the moment to be able to tell if it worked.

 

“Why?” He doesn’t want to know, but he may as well ask now, after he’s already humiliated himself. He could have just texted Pete, and then no one but himself would know what state he’s in. But Pete’s always been able to read him like a book, even through a phone screen a hundred miles away.

 

There’s a rustling on the other end, like Pete’s shifting uncomfortably, and it’s such a familiar sound that it brings a fresh wave of pain through his ribs. It’s a sound that frequently accompanies their conversations now, as though Pete is trying his best not to show how much he doesn’t want to talk to him anymore.

 

The torture of small talk with someone you used to love. Fuck. This is a fucking trainwreck Mikey can’t look away from.

 

“I couldn’t forget it,” Pete finally responds, low and reserved. Mikey twists the fingers of his free hand in the sheets. “I wanted to, but. It had to come out somehow, y’know?”

 

Mikey doesn’t know. He’s kept it locked up so tight inside his chest that sometimes he forgets it’s there at all. It gives off occasional pangs like an old injury that never healed right, but it was so much easier to bear through that than risk opening the wound and facing it head-on. And in that moment he hates Pete with everything inside of him, because Pete can get away with writing a song full of metaphors and then moving on with his life, leaving Mikey floundering in his wake, choking on lyrics and weighed down by grief. It’s not fair, it wasn’t fair after the blog entries and Infinity On High and the years of slowly drifting apart, and it’s not fair now. And Mikey is so, so sick of being the one that has to bear the brunt of everything wrong that’s been done to him.

 

He doesn’t know what to say anymore. There’s nothing he can do that won’t make it worse.

 

“I’m sorry, Mikes,” Pete says again, and it’s not fair that he can call him that, right now after so fucking long. After 10 years of reconciling that they were always doomed to be star-crossed lovers. After all the fake smiles and gritted teeth. The bridges he burned never led back home, and he’s stranded again.

 

“You should be,” Mikey murmurs, and hangs up the phone. He curls up, fetal position, on top of the sheets and closes his eyes. His phone buzzes by his head over and over but Mikey doesn’t look to the lit up screen, just lies there until it finally goes silent again. It’s not fair. He was doing so much better, clearing the skeletons out of his closet, but now all he wants is a line or a drink or a pill, or maybe all of the above. He wants to be dead to the world more than anything, so he can keep hiding from the heavy weight of failed relationships and a heart that can’t find solace. Life won’t ever give him a chance to recover before bringing him down again, it seems, and he doesn’t know what to do anymore. All his old coping mechanisms are forbidden to him now, but it’s hard to believe he doesn’t need to destroy himself from the inside out.

 

It’s been several minutes since the last call or text when his phone buzzes insistently again, and he finally looks to the screen. It’s Gerard, and that’s a blessing and a curse in itself, but if he doesn’t answer he knows he’ll show up at his doorstep, especially if Pete called him too. So he answers the phone with a weak hello, reaching out to grab his pillow and curl himself around it for comfort.

 

The first thing out of Gerard’s mouth is “are you okay?” and it takes a minute for him to respond to that, debating whether or not he should lie. He hates lying to his brother, and Gerard is the best thing for him right now, even though he wants more than anything to be left alone.

 

“No.” he presses his nose into the cotton pillowcase for a moment, closing his eyes. “Did Pete call you?”

 

“Yeah.” Gerard sounds anxious, and Mikey can hear Bandit in the background, chattering indistinctly. He feels bad for pulling his brother from his family, especially for something like this. “I can’t believe he…well, I guess I can, but. Still. It’s been so long, why does he have to bring this up again?”

 

Mikey shrugs, then remembers Gerard can’t see him through the screen. “I dunno.” He really doesn’t. Pete has a family, a wife and a new child. Meanwhile Mikey is trying to pick up the pieces of relationships that ended in disaster, trying to learn to function again as a normal person and not as the bassist of My Chemical Romance. It’s too much all at once, and he wishes that for once someone would cut him some slack.

 

“Want me to come over?” Gerard’s voice is soft.

 

As much as Mikey loves his brother, that’s the last thing he needs right now, because Gerard will want to talk about it and the only thing Mikey wants to do is forget this ever happened. “No. I’ll be fine.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

There’s a lull, and Gerard doesn’t sound convinced in the least, but he doesn’t argue. “Okay. Call me if you need me.”

 

“I will. Bye, G.” Mikey hangs up the phone and doesn’t move for a few moments, curled tight around his pillow. When he finally works up the energy, he gets up and walks over to his laptop on the desk, presses eject and takes out the CD. He traces the emblem on the front of the CD with shaking fingers, closes his eyes again.

 

“’I said I’d never miss you,’” he whispers, barely more than the movement of his lips, “’but I guess you’ll never know.’” That part of his life is over now, no matter how much it tries to rear its ugly head. And Pete may have never been able to forget, but he sure as hell can try.

 

He snaps the CD in half and drops it in the trashcan, goes to the door and gets his jacket. For him, the first step of forgetting is to pretend it never happened at all.