(4,035 words) // (pg-13) // pete wentz/joe trohman
for december 8, 2007.
There's a reasonable amount of snow falling, sticking to the ground in a blanket of white fluff, like powdered sugar almost, if Pete was in the mood to think that way. His fingers are wrapped around the mug in his hands, the ceramic chipped here and there, and stained from use, the coffee within dousing a new layer over the discoloration that already exists. Pete thinks it should be thrown away, things overused should be tossed out and forgotten about, but then he stops himself, because he recognizes the correlation between himself and the blemished cup.
It's quiet in the diner, but Pete blames that on the weather, the fact that it's nearly 2 a.m, or maybe just because he's got enough thoughts to drown out any conversation that may struggle to survive. He arranges the various items on the table for lack of something better to do, watching each grain of sugar shift in the mass that fills the jar. Pete, he relates with this too, being one of the majority, when all he wants is to be one of the minority. He pushes it away until it tips, spilling hundreds of tiny white crystals across the 70's style fake wood table, a miniature snow drift against the brown knots.
He looks up at the women, she's older, but still blond, box dye number forty-seven maybe, but he could be a shade off the pace. Her scarlet lipstick hangs at the whittled edges of her teeth and when she smiles, it reminds Pete of the West, tumbleweeds shifting in the dusty wind with the clatter of spurs somewhere in the distance. He blinks once, mocha covers over dark brown life, and shakes his head. He's had enough coffee for the evening; anymore would mean a death sentence in Ambien.
The bell above the windowed door jingles and for a moment, Pete's reminded of the spurs and cowboy boots again, but when his eyes register on the figure stepping in, his thoughts disperse and he can't remember why he's there in the first place. He shrinks, back against the distressed vinyl of the booth he’s currently sitting in, his fingers tightening around the mug as if a sudden tremor of his world turning upside down would disrupt the black liquid and its dissolving crystals inside. He can’t hide, though, he knows this. It just never stops him from trying every time.
Joe’s not the picture of a distressed friend, mostly because he’s been through this a hundred times before and he’s become so calloused to the bullshit Pete pulls every dayweekmonth that he can’t really feel anything other than apathetic to the situation. Still, he takes a seat across from Pete and folds his arms over his chest, the color beneath the sleeves of his hoodie hidden away. His eyes and face are questioning, he wants answers and Pete knows this, but he doesn’t speak, nor does he even look up from his coffee.
“What’re you doing, Pete?” Joe asks, shaking his head slightly so that his curls move out of bright blue eyes that'd be sick of situations like this if Pete weren't the focal point. Pete’s not sure if he’s shaking his head at him or if he’s trying to get his hair out of his face, but either way, the movement’s there and makes Pete’s eyes flicker to Joe’s for a moment. They’re not stormy, but they’re not friendly. For a moment, Pete envisions himself staring up through ice at the sky above, drowning in the water beneath, that feeling of his lungs collapsing detailed in his mind.
He doesn’t know what he’s doing.
“You run away to your favorite diner. How does that make sense?” Joe asks, tipping his head slightly, his mouth opening to launch into more vocalization, whether it will be questions, or what he wants to do, but won’t: yell and scream at Pete, tell him to stop being the over privileged, but miserable brat he makes himself out to be. The waitress approaches and asks if he wants anything, but Joe just shakes his head and offers a friendly upturn of his lips because really, he’d rather just be alone in the booth with Pete, his attention undivided, not even for a cup of coffee. Joe’s got the power to isolate Pete, so it’s just the two of them, whether or not they’re sitting in a diner that could hold around forty people, but currently isn’t. Joe can make Pete feel alone and loved and okay and hurt with a snap of his fingers, they both know this, so tonight, he’s going for isolation.
“Nothing makes sense,” Pete replies, lifting his eyes to Joe’s as he presses his lips into a thin line of frustration because he hates being caught and he hates being found, but then again maybe he shouldn’t be running away to obvious places. His eyes are dead, Joe makes note of this, but he doesn’t know what’s bothering him or why, so he just stares at Pete with blue eyes that hold his hopes and dreams and Pete’s as well because he knows Pete can’t do it on his own. He's just never had enough determination to keep his dreams alive.
Joe had expected that answer because he knows he’ll sit there all night with Pete, through cups of coffee and Pete’s cryptic, trying to figure out what he means and if he means it, and when he doesn’t, just keeping quiet and to himself because he knows Pete likes to hear himself talk. He turns his head to look out the window, his gaze skewed by the few curls that hang too low into his line of vision, and thinks about the times he and Pete had made snow angels three winters ago. It’d been late and Joe had been asleep, but Pete had shaken him awake with the excitement of a small child (Joe was still entirely convinced he was one.) It had been a moment Joe would never really forget, but a moment that Joe would wonder whether truly occurred or not.
“Are you going to come home?” Joe asks, biting down on his bottom lip and raising nicotine stained fingers to scrub over the scruffy texture of his jaw. He tears his eyes away from the snow banks and the plow that just kicked up sand-stained snow against the window, and turns his attention back to Pete, knowing that he’s demanding it even though he hasn’t said more than three words to him the entire time he’s been suffering on the cracked vinyl of the booth.
Pete keeps them in silence. His attention is on the plow and the snow, too, fingers still tight around the tarnished coffee cup, and for a moment, as Joe looks to where Pete's attention is focused, he wonders if he's thinking about the same night three years ago just as he had moments before. For once, Joe can't read the empty finish of Pete's brown eyes, once warm, but just kind of distant, jaded, and maybe even a little regretful, and Joe knows Pete's rarely penitent of anything, which is why the vacant look scares him so much. No, Pete doesn't want to come home, but when he thinks about it, he has no choice. He's not that old man sitting at the end that hardly leaves except when they wipe the counters down and announce it's a holiday, but even if he was, Pete's sure they wouldn't want to keep him anyways.
"Maybe," Pete settles for, his interest, or lack thereof, landing back on Joe because he's the only thing that's demanding any sort of notice at all right then. He thinks he could settle for reading the pattern of cracks in the vinyl, but he knows that'll just keep him tip toeing around the issue, if there is one, at hand. Joe just sighs and Pete knows he's said the wrong answer because the only one Joe's looking for is 'yes' and it's something that's not quite in his vocabulary, not tonight at least.
Despite Pete's vagueness, Joe can tell that a 'maybe' actually means 'yes,' just like all those years ago when Joe asked his parents for a certain action figure and they'd say maybe, he'd pump his fist because he knew he'd get it that weekend. He hails the waitress over, the one with the lipstick stained teeth, and asks for the check, though he's not sure if there's really any total at all because the coffee sign outside the door says free refills. She humors him anyways and nods her head, because Pete's already paid for his one never ending cup, but Joe has an air of desperation about him for her to give him something to do. She charges them for one cup of coffee and lays the small slip of paper down on the table, thinking she should maybe say something along the lines of, 'No rush,' but with these two, she thinks there's a certain haste to their meeting.
Joe throws a five and two crumpled dollars down on top of it, too much for the dollar that the cup of coffee actually cost, but he thinks the woman, box dye forty seven, could use the extra cash. He doesn't know if she's got children in college or if her car's transmission just went, so in a way, he feels like he's done his duty for the day. When he looks back up to Pete, the other's eyes are staring down into his coffee, stale and reheated from the day before, and for a moment, he's thinking of calling Patrick or Andy to deal with this because he just can't anymore. Still, he knows Patrick has a temper, especially with Pete, and Andy doesn't understand Pete as well as he or Patrick does, so he toughs it out and puts his armor on, hoping it'll hold because it's been worn and torn from the last hundred uses. He nudges Pete's foot under the table to call his attention back and Pete, he nods and stands up with Joe.
Outside, the snow is still falling, big fuzzy flakes that remind Joe more of cotton than the snowflakes kids make out of construction paper to stick to their refrigerators. They never actually have any shape resembling a star, not unless you look at them close under a microscope, and by then, they've melted anyways, so Joe just accepts that they'll always be tiny collections of ice more than anything. Pete, he doesn't try to catch them on his tongue or wrinkle his nose when they land there, instead, he trudges through them in his tiny black Converse he's so fond of wearing despite the time of year and heads for Joe's car, knowing right where it is even in the haze of a snowstorm. He wishes he'd had the sense to wear something more than just an old black Arma Angelus hoodie when he'd run out of his parents house late that evening. He'd even settle for his putrid orange coat with the fur around the hood at this point, even if Joe hates it and made him vow to never let it make an appearance again.
He waits for Joe to unlock the car, unlock some warmth and normalcy, as he wraps his arms around his frail body, growing thinner by the day because most mornings, he misses the company of his band eating Fruit Loops with him, and so instead, he just doesn't eat at all. He hears the locks shift and open, watches the tabs shoot up on the door, and instead of moving to the passenger's side, he climbs into the back seat and leaves the door open for Joe to join him because he's still not ready to go home. Pete doesn't even know what he's running from, what he's so afraid of, he just knows that his head feels heavy and unbalanced.
He doesn't move for a while, at least seven minutes if Joe's counting is right, but when he does, it's to turn around and look through the snow covered rear window and watch the shadows and headlights of the plow as it sweeps the parking lot clean and then turns back out to the street. They're in darkness again, but not total darkness, because the streetlight in the parking lot is nearly directly over Joe's car, so Pete can still see the outline of his most prominent features, mostly his nose and lips, and of course, the cutting blue of his eyes as they sit there and stare at each other. Pete doesn't know what to say, he never knows what to say, and Joe, as few words as he's said the entire evening, is talked out. So Pete just leans forward so their lips touch in the most unsure kiss either of them have probably experienced.
Joe doesn't know what to do because when he'd let the ball bounce into Pete's court back in the diner, he hadn't realized an hour later they'd be sitting there, lips pushed against one another's, but neither of them moving at all. Joe, though, he takes that initiative and lifts a hand, fingertips hardly grazing Pete's jaw that's scratchy with scruff he hadn't bothered shaving off because who was he trying to impress? Besides, Joe liked the scruff. It made Pete authentic, reassured him that hey, he's still there, still has some substance. He hasn't disappeared yet, even though these little acts of running away are becoming more frequent. Joe's fingertips press against the scratchy bone a little harder because this Pete, he feels like he's there, not like the empty shell he'd been talking to in the diner.
When they break apart, neither of them are panting, considering the kiss hadn't really been all that invested. It's strange, for both of them, for Pete because he's the one that kissed Joe and for Joe because he's the one that had been kissed. Joe's seen Pete kiss guys before, lots of guys. It was never particularly attractive, but it wasn't attractive watching him makeout with Jeanae either. Joe just supposes it's just one of those things where you don't really want to see your best friend get sexual, but now, now it's a little different. And maybe kissing isn't sexual, though it can be, but Joe thinks the tables have turned now that Pete's seductive (or lack there of, more like dear in the headlights) habits have been turned on him.
To Pete, though, to Pete he can feel the difference in that kiss versus every kiss he'd ever shared with anyone else. He can still feel the slightly chapped texture of Joe's lips, taste the faint, worn flavor of Blistex in an attempt to save those chapped lips, and he can still feel the burst of air against his top lip when Joe let his breath out as their lips met, maybe from surprise, Pete thinks it was surprise. They stare at one another for a long time. Joe's trying to figure it out and Pete's trying to remember every bitty detail so that when he goes home and sits down to write, the metaphors flow like uncontrolled ink and he won't have to think about it, struggle to remember it.
Joe reaches out for Pete and pulls him back across the stained polyester seating of his car until Pete's bony spine is resting against his chest, his arms settling just over his sharp hipbones he can feel even through his jeans. Joe's thinking about snow and that evening he spent with Pete so long ago, but Pete's thinking about freezing time, or really, just freezing to death like this because he knows he'd at least die happy, that he'd at least died in the place that made him feel safest. He sighs and shuts his eyes, letting himself be sated for a moment, just for that lingering moment with Joe in the backseat of his old car.
Pete's knuckles are white, crystal clear to the blue veins and tendons that run vertically beneath his skin, and he thinks, Pete thinks, that this is what freezing to death feels like as his teeth chatter behind lips that are losing color fast. He pushes another pill past them and is barely able to get it down as his throat constricts because his body's telling him no more and Pete, he wishes his mind would say it too. He wishes he had control over his movements, that he could say stop, because suddenly, he doesn't want to freeze to death, he doesn't want to die, because these are not the same circumstances. He's not happy, not fuzzy. He's just empty.
He's shaking, badly, and he thinks it's funny that he could hold that orange bottle so steady in his fist, but he can't get his fingers to stop shaking enough to hit the keys to dial his manager. He doesn't even know if his manager will pick up, if he'll even believe him when he tells him he swallowed a bottle of Ativan in one go, if he'll even get there on time because Pete, he swears his vision is starting to black out around the edges, making everything appear in round circles and bursts of color. He shakes his head and blinks a few times, trying to decide if the ringing he's hearing is normal, if it's going on outside the car or if it's in the caverns of his ears.
There's a voice at the other end of the phone, quiet and concerned, because why would he be calling there at two am, not even audible as he breathes heavily on the other end and shivers because the medication makes him cold, so cold. His voice – he thinks it's a him, he's fairly sure that his fingers found the right speed dial – is rushed and urgent and Pete, he wants to tell him to make sure his family knows he loved them, that they've been good to him and there's nothing they could've done to save him from this. But instead, he's mumbling incoherent words about prescription medicine, about vacant parking lots, and one word that no one will ever forget or ever mistake – help.
Pete's standing across from the diner, letters hanging off the crumpled surface of the building's exterior. It's kind of sad – emotionally and physically, just cheerless and poignant. The building is just there, existing, with no one inside it, not even memories or shadows. No personality, no box dye forty-seven smiles, just there, old, corroded, and dilapidated. Pete thinks that at one time, he'd been like that, that he and the building had been one in the same, but now, now he hardly recognizes the small place resembling a shack. He doesn't even recognize the parking lot and the broken streetlights that have no purpose whatsoever anymore, the ones he used to sit under and note the way it caught the each curvature of Joe's face. He sighs and brushes his hair from his eyes, feet tight in two hundred dollar Nikes that curve down towards the dingy street from the sidewalk as he tips onto the balls of his feet, balancing on the curb. He's missed a lot.
Through the haze of the summer heat, Pete can see a figure walking up the sidewalk. There is no bell to signal his arrival, but when he stands there beside him, beside the parking meter and clears his throat, Pete can almost hear the bell in the hollows of his ears. They don’t speak – there's nothing either of them really want to say, or maybe it's just that they don't know what to say. After all, it's just a chance meeting – Pete hadn't asked Joe to meet him, he hadn't even called to tell him that he was in Chicago. They stand there and stare, not at each other, but the broken building that reflects Pete so many years ago, or really just three. It just seems like many. Pete can see himself in the reflection of the dusty glass, swirls of dirt obscuring details of his face until he doesn't have one, it's just tan and kind of smoothed over. He can see Joe, too, but his eyes don't shift to the left enough to really observe.
"What're you doing here?" Joe asks, raising his eyebrows a bit as he crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the bus stop sign, the heat making him lazy. He still won't look at Pete, instead acts like he's supposed to be there, a fixture of the sign and a permanent component of Chicago. Pete may have grown up in the city, but Joe, Joe still owns the place – he never left it when things got too hard.
"I could ask you the same question," Pete replies and Joe, he smiles because Pete hasn't changed a bit, not one bit. Joe nods his head, staring down at his own shoes and biting at his lip because he doesn't know what to say that won't receive some hollow sort of response, one that's a reply, but isn't an answer at all. He realizes then that no matter who really calls ownership of the square of cement they're standing on, Pete will automatically assumes it's his because now, now Pete has the personality and ego to fill up a room – a space , in this case – if you're not careful enough to remind him who he once was.
"I like it here. It's got a lot of good times hanging around," Joe says, pushing his hand over his curly hair that's currently taking a beating from the sun. He's sure his temperature has risen a good five degrees, but that always happens when Pete is around, his blood either boiling or just heating up because it's always nice to find the greatest part of your past in familiar places.
Pete doesn't get it. All he remembers are the bad times and that's the real problem with Pete – he dwells on the bad, analyzes it, takes it for its very worse, and then has a break down to get himself over it. Joe's dealt with it a hundred times and he knows Pete finds no meaning in what he just said, but he doesn't feel like explaining it either, so instead, he scuffs the toe of his own Nike against the concrete and remains silent. It's Pete's turn to speak anyways, Joe notes; he's not going to say anymore than he absolutely needs to.
Joe's patience runs thin, though, and he finds his lips, dry and maybe a little sunburned, opening once more to speak. "You're visiting Chicago and you come here?" He asks, shaking his head because he doesn't understand and maybe he'll never understand, but that's where they've always kind of balanced it out and existed in a sort of twisted equilibrium. "How does that make sense?"
The bus rumbles around the corner, kind of bouncing along over the old city streets as it gears up to make its stop, kind of downshifting hundreds of feet up the street because it usually blows by this stop, constantly abandoned for a more popular area. Pete's not even sure why it's still running this route, but it is, and as the air brakes hiss and expel steam, he just kind of breathes a smile, his teeth barely showing enough for the sun to bounce off of, and nods his head, just a tiny movement that could be missed if Joe hadn't been watching Pete so intently. Pete kind of steps forward, his shoe resting against the bottom step as he turns around to look over his shoulder to his best friend – was his best friend.
"Everything makes sense."