After Frank was completely cold, and only after, did Gerard remember the pack Frank had placed beside his shoes, the leather pouch the two of them seldom used. Reluctantly, he released the limp hand of his beloved companion—flinching noticeably at the dull thump as it hit the mattress—and crawled across the cold, wooden floorboards to the pack. The cold seemed to seep into his very core, making him shiver and shake more than he already was. His heart leaped into his throat as he reached out, very delicately with his shaking fingers, to touch the tied shoelaces. Frank's shoelaces, the ones he always took such care to make sure they never frayed or that the aglets never broke. Gerard choked down a sob as he lifted one of the high-tops and hugged it to his chest.
Carefully, as if it were made of glass, he set the shoe back beside its twin, trailing his fingers over the outside of it. A shuddering breath escaped the broken man. He stretched his arm out, letting his hand come to rest on the pack; he gave his hand a rather puzzled look when he felt the bulk of something inside. He let his fingers wander down and wrap around the strap connected to the leather pouch. He then pulled the pack closer to himself, crossing his legs under him and placing the pack in his lap.
His fingers fumbled with the golden clasp on the front; his fingers shook with fatigue and loss and wonder. Wonder about what Frank had gone—in his seemingly known final hours—out to retrieve. It was a wonder to Gerard why his friend would spend his last hours out of their safe haven, why his friend had not told him he was so sick. It hurt Gerard to know that his friend was gone forever, but there must've been a solid, profound reason as to why his friend had ventured out. And Gerard, as he always was, was determined to find out this reason. So, he slid his fingers along the clasp, searching with the pads of his thumb and forefingers, until he heard the soft click and the lock-like metal came undone; he flipped back the flap and marveled at what was inside.
The first thing his hazel eyes came in contact with made him gasp and squeal with utter delight and astonishment. A coil of metal, much like spiral rings, that was black and binding pages of paper together. He clasped his hands in front of his chest; however could his friend afford such a wonderful thing? He stuck one hand carefully into the pack, feeling the hard cover of the book-like object. A sketchbook, he thought, thumbing the sides and feeling the prick of the edges, he bought me a sketchbook.
Slowly, he shook the sketchbook free of the leather, seeing a mechanical pencil tucked into one end of the metal spiral, a pen in the other. He removed the leather pack from his lap, setting it aside next to Frank's shoes again; he hugged the book against his chest. Through the thin material of his jacket and underlying t-shirt, he could feel the cool touch of the hard, black cover. He shivered with pleasure.
He removed the pencil gently from the binding, holding it between his fingers and sketching gingerly at the air. The way the stick of graphite and plastic felt between his fingers . . . it was such a distantly familiar feeling and it made Gerard giddy. He set the pencil on the floor to his right, rolling it under his palm for a second before taking out the pen to repeat the process. A smile was curving his chapped and thin lips upward in a smile, one of those rare gestures of bliss, while his fingers played with the bottom of the front cover. He'd never been so happy to own something in his entire life. Except for the now known fact that he had stolen Frank's forever stilled heart.
Gerard, using his fingers to brush his hair out of his face and behind his ear, flipped the front of the sketchbook back, revealing the first page. In scrawl that he knew almost as well as his own, was a note. The ink was smudged, and it seemed that there were circular tearstains spattered on the page in various places. Frank's tears had made splotches on the page.
I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Forgive me for everything I hid from you all this time. My terminal illness, my needs, and especially, my feelings. I wish I would've told you from the beginning, but—I couldn't. My heart made me stop every time. I was afraid of rejection, afraid of being crushed by you. But, I guess that was all really irrational and really stupid. I should've been able to see it in those beautiful eyes of yours. Those eyes that can make me smile, even in my final moments. You're amazing—an amazing guy with an amazing personality, an amazing artist, an amazing friend. I wish I could've found the words to tell you that sooner than now, riding on my deathbed.
You've cared for me so much and made such an effort to make my time with you pleasurable and happy—I could think of no better way to repay you. I saved up a little here and there, just enough that you wouldn't notice, and managed to save enough to buy this for you from the thrift shop; I know how much you love to draw. I mean, look at our walls—you have covered them in such beautiful art. I wanted to give you somewhere else to lose yourself as you did when decorating our home. Please, accept my apology and parting gift to you.
My Gerard, I love you.
Love to you always,
More tears splattered across the ink, smudging and smearing the words. The dull ache in his chest that was his beating heart, turned into a throbbing; he gasped and cried out. It hurt. The stark reality that his Frank had known, had foreseen, his own passing was sickening. Gerard rested a hand over his head and closed his eyes while sucking in some deep breaths. Don't panic, you'll give yourself a panic attack, he told himself softly. Just breathe, Gerard.
After a few silent minutes of sitting that way, Gerard flipped to the next blank page and took the pencil in his trembling hand. Hugging the sketchbook to his chest with one arm, his other hand firmly holding the pencil, he walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. He stared at Frank's face for a few moments before pulling his knees in and resting the sketchbook on them. He licked and bit his lip. He had to concentrate; this had to be absolutely perfect. Almost hesitantly, he started to scratch the tip of the pencil against the page, forming vague shapes and shadows on the paper. Every now and again, Gerard would glance up to take in a part of Frank—his soft lips, closed eyes that he knew all too well, the glint of his nose ring in the light of afternoon, the scattered strands of hair arrayed messily over his expressionless, lifeless face . . .
Gerard spent hours that sad day sitting there, knees drawn in and sketchbook perched precariously on top of them. Hours he sat, pencil tip marking the page, his tongue peeping out of the corner of his mouth and eyes narrowed in concentration. Look up at Frank, look down, brush the hair out of his face, draw, repeat. That was how his day, the day he lost his love, his best friend, was spent. A continual cycle of making everything in the portrait perfect.
As the light of the day, along with his ability to clearly see what he was drawing, faded, he completed his masterpiece. He closed the book gently, wrapped two arms around it, and curled up at the end of the bed near Frank's feet. He clutched the sketchbook close to his chest and drifted off, one hand resting over Frank's sock-clad ankle.
Gerard woke again to the sun softly caressing his face; he sat up and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. He licked his lips and nervously looked over to Frank, the weight of last night crashing down on his shoulders yet again. But he did not fall to his knees, he did not cry, no; he got up and slipped his shoes—black combat boots that were scuffed and worn, falling apart around the soles from overuse—on before placing his sketchpad carefully in the leather pack. He pushed the pack across the floor, through the hole in the door, and crawled out after it, feeling the prick and pull of the jagged edges of wood tugging his hoodie and possibly adding a few more rips.
He stopped outside briefly, before turning and wiggling his way back into what had been his home, yet . . . not his home at the same time. He looked around, sitting with his back to the hole in the door, at the graffiti covered walls and the few belongings they'd shared. An old CD player they'd agonizingly saved for months for. The heavy winter coat they'd take turns wearing when it was cold out. The little stack of Misfits and Iron Maiden CDs they accumulated. Frank's black high-top Converse with their laces tied in neat little bows. All the little things that had meant the world to two boys lost on their own in a big world.
Gerard lied on his belly and grabbed the pack's strap, pulling it to his chest and undoing the clasp again. He walked about the room, collecting those little things. The CD player and CDs. He slid his arms into the thick coat, relishing in its warmth. He rested the scrappy blanket they'd shared many times over on Frank's still body; he leaned down one more time to place a small kiss on his friend's lips. And as he turned away, back to the door, his eyes found the little Converse again. He bent down, touching the bows with tears in his eyes. He lifted them, carefully, and set them, too, in the pack before redoing the clasp on the pack and getting down on his knees again.
He pushed the slightly heavier and bulkier pack under the door again, army-crawling through the gap after it. He stood up on the other side, slinging the strap diagonally across his chest and resting it on his shoulder. The weight wasn't much, but his life—the life he and Frank had shared—was held in that pack. The little, leather pouch looking thing he would forevermore carry with him.
He walked out of the rundown and abandoned apartment building and into the winter air. He watched his breath billow and fog from his lips for a second, staring up at the building; the building where he and Frank had tried to build a life together, build a steady foundation for each other from the cracked and broken bricks they'd been left with. He grasped the strap tightly in his two bare hands and closed his eyes. He imagined Frank's arm, looped through his own, and smiled to himself. Frank was right—he was damned.
Damned to walk the world alone from that moment on.
But am I ever truly alone? Gerard wondered, starting down the sidewalk. You will always be with me, my Frank. You will always live on in my heart, so long that it's damned beating continues on, like the drum beat to a lonely march.