Song Without A Name
“They only want you when you’re 17.”
Some things changed for Edgar rapidly since the day of puking out his own song. Something had clicked in him that day, hearing Johnny hum at him, and he’d gone home afterwards and done some serious evaluating.
And in the years since that day, things began to move. The Homicides traveled to neighboring towns and surprised people in parking lots with their van and their music. The van was a little lacking in anything fancy, really. The Homicides spent most of their time driving around in the van that now had the Arial Font equivalent of a spray painted logo on it – it was generic and didn’t really look special, but it was also a little bit bigger than the alternative so maybe no one would notice that what was written contained less content. Edgar thought he’d once turned in an essay like the van.
In other towns, people started to talk. The more the van traveled, the more people talked about the band in it. Local news people, thinking they’d captured a riot, accidentally captured part of a Homicides show on tape. What the news crew saw was a bunch of insane looking college age kids pop out of nowhere. The camera saw it too, but only for a given value of ‘saw.’ When the footage aired, no one watching the news saw anything at all happen when the audience exploded and the news crew started swearing and pointing. Johnny had been happy that some people probably lost their jobs over it.
After that, people remembered ‘Homicides’ as ‘that thar hoax video thing,’ and they’d come to a show when they saw a flyer. Soon, the fast food place parking lots and pool halls were too small, and they moved to auditoriums and department store parking lots. Managers who would otherwise kick them out were so thrown by the spectacle and the music they couldn’t get into their heads that they let the band stay. Devi had said she imagined that they were good for business anyway.
And it got bigger. And bigger. Soon, Edgar and the others found themselves performing elaborate shows, most with totally different costumes than the last. One week, they’d look like they did back at their debut in the cafeteria, and the next, they were pirates, or characters from novels, or even in holiday costumes fucked up enough to represent them well. The Homicides started to become just as much a visual thing as an audio thing, and Johnny and Tenna got together to decide that the band would play nothing out doors any longer. All Homicides shows started in the dark, and they ended in dark.
The most successful show, and the one that ended up being the signature act, was the one that gave Edgar the most chills. No matter how long he had spent with Johnny, the fear of things coming back unsettled him. From Devi’s reaction, he’d guessed it made her a little ill, too, but if she could do it, then so could Edgar. They filed the audience into a room, mostly pitch black, waited until they were certain there would be a riot, and then had Jimmy slam something on the guitar, or even Tenna blow a kazoo into a microphone backstage. After that, lights, and effects and whatever was needed came on. The show established some kind of mythos that the band was really a collection of dead people, with close ups on the make up that Tenna had become so amazing at.
It wasn’t until the end of the show that it really drove the point. Somewhere like halfway through the final song in a concert, Johnny began ritually ‘killing’ his band mates. With a gesture in the direction of who was to be offed, the lights shut off on the victim, their mic was silenced, and they were to stop playing. By the end of the song, it’d be just Johnny left, and he’d hum the last few bars of whatever song they’d begun before snapping his fingers just short of the end and ‘killing’ himself as well.
And people ate it up. The band really was ‘Nny and the people he’d killed.’ Nny and the Homicides. It made Edgar a bit ill, but even he felt a bit of a rush when Johnny disappeared at the very end. This was a significantly smaller rush than the one he got when Johnny walked by Edgar’s keyboard when a performance was over, grinning wildly, and saying, nearly every time, “I think they noticed, Edgar.” This more often than not produced a high Edgar was sure he could coast on for at least a week.
By spending all his time in the van zipping around the country, Edgar started to realize how many of the weekends, then weeks, then months with just Johnny that he’d wasted. Now Jimmy and Devi were around all the time, and Edgar never got to so much as look at Johnny before feeling like he was on surveillance from several angles. He was pretty sure he’d been distracted by looking out for Jimmy and thus his brain snuck away on him, but it was in this environment that Edgar finally let himself come to a realization he’d been trying to avoid.
That he’d somehow fallen for his best friend.
This was definitely not what Heaven had had in mind when they sent him back, he was pretty sure. There was that split definition between ‘happy’ and ‘gay’ that he was sure had kicked in by this time in however far in the future he was from when he last remembered. Even without all of that, his mission to make Johnny happy and all, he was pretty sure that he, Edgar, was not the thing that would make Johnny happy directly.
“I’m here to make you happy. Yes, just me. Aren’t you thrilled?”
It found ways to weave its way into everything Edgar did. Johnny singing even sort of in his direction was enough to either make him play the worst or best notes of his life, often at the same time. If Johnny was even marginally witty, Edgar was charmed by the joke for hours. A tap on the shoulder or shaking hands or a post concert hug made all of Edgar’s skin burn. He desired nothing but to see Johnny smile, or hear him laugh.
The worst part was that this was no different than how he’d felt since the first time Johnny had introduced himself in the choir room. It took him several hours in the back of the van, staring at the highway and watching it unwind itself behind him, to really let that sink in. After it did, he started to wonder if he wasn’t alone. Maybe, in all that time, in all Johnny’s joking and the sleeping at Edgar’s house and the blatant favoritism that Devi and Jimmy had bitched about for years were similar feelings for Edgar.
And when that came to him, so did his ridiculous idea to just ask.
Everything was perfect. There was nothing on Earth now that did not make Johnny smile. Jimmy made him smile, Devi made him smile, Tenna and her make-up made him smile. Assassinations and earthquakes and wars and baby corpses in peoples' closets and alien abductions and car accidents and people jumping from buildings all made Johnny feel just fine.
Because people could see him.
It wasn’t an ego thing. It wasn’t attention or popularity. There was nothing in him so shallow, he was positive. This was justice, this was fucking with people’s heads, this was making something that reeled people in and never let them go.
This was also probably pretty fucked up, but that didn’t bother him as much as he suspected Edgar would think it should.
He was sitting on the new seat in the van. They still called it the ‘new seat’ even though it was several years old by now. They’d put it in the spot where Johnny had cut his head while they were first assessing the van’s usefulness. It was a different color than the rest of the upholstery, and probably didn’t match the original outside color either, though so much of the paint had been gone by the time the Homicides got a hold of it that it was rather impossible to tell. Still, the seat was nicer than the other ones, so Johnny claimed it – he’d spilled some blood for it, after all.
The van was empty, save for him, at the moment. Everyone else had piled into a shabby-looking roadside convenience store to get some snacks. Johnny had been feeling too inspired lately to bother with food, so he’d stayed behind. He was folded up in the chair just smiling into space. Soon, they’d be popular enough to not have to use the van, but they’d do it anyway.
“we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner…”
He hummed to himself, amused at nothing in particular. Just when he was close to some kind of elaborate fantasy of ruling the world, he heard a thump on the window. He looked up, and Tenna loomed over him, forehead and nose against the window, bag of corn chips gripped in her teeth, and piles of other stuff in bags in her arms.
Johnny rolled over, since he’d ended up on his back in the midst of ruling Venezuela in his head, and popped the door open. Tenna and snacks collapsed into the van and onto Johnny’s knees.
“What’dja get?” Johnny asked, ankle-deep in snacks.
Tenna shook some little packs of cheese filled pretzel things out of her hair, and stood up, careful not to crunch anything.
“Nny, we got everything. If the store had it, we bought it. I’m pretty sure Jimmy’s even allergic to some of the stuff he bought.”
Johnny smiled, yet again. “You bought it?”
“Yes.” Tenna smiled back.
Devi and Jimmy filed out of the store, bags in arms, and Edgar soon followed. Johnny sat back in his chair and pulled his legs up while the rest of the crew loaded bags in around him. They really had only the slightest idea of where they were, and weren’t sure of how many stores they would pass on the way. Stocking up on food high in partially hydrogenated cardboard bits was essential to life on the road.
“I can’t believe they could see us,” Edgar said from the seat behind Johnny. The click of his seatbelt punctuated his sentence.
“I still can’t believe you guys were happy about that,” Jimmy said, “Just meant we actually had to pay them.”
“The possessed tortilla chips game gets old, Jimmy, really,” Devi said, stashing sauce packets in the glove compartment.
Johnny grabbed a popcorn ball from a nearby bag and started tossing it into the air, occasionally hitting it against the ceiling. “It’s alright,” he said. “It just means that those people we’ve never met have seen us somewhere. This is more important than some bags of chips, don’t you think?”
Jimmy shifted around in his seat, and tore open a box of crackers. He made some noise that Johnny took to mean he had hit the ego button, but didn’t say anything else.
“You have to wonder where, though,” Tenna said, as she pulled the van into reverse. “I don’t think we’ve been out here before.”
“We were sort of on the news once, weren’t we?” Edgar asked.
“Yes,” Johnny answered, “but unless there’s something special going on here, they still would have to have been in the audience to see us now.”
“But the audio was there, wasn’t it?” Devi asked.
“That’s the problem,” Johnny said, smacking the popcorn ball again. “Shit, I think this is going to be pretty unpleasant to open now,” he said, looking at the loose bits through the plastic bag. He tucked it in a cup holder beside him and continued. “We don’t know if anyone else heard the audio. We could hear it on the news for sure, because we knew what was being played. We could hear it because we count as people who have seen us.”
“They could have just been in the audience once,” Jimmy said, rolling his eyes.
“Then it’s a wonder they didn’t try to maul us or something when we went in,” Devi said.
“Maybe they didn’t recognize us alive and without Nny,” Edgar offered from the back.
“Oh, fuck you, Edgar!” Jimmy yelled, throwing a handful of crackers over the seat.
“HEY!” Tenna yelled to the windshield. “Don’t you make me turn this van around, or so help me you’ll all go to bed alive!”
Johnny snickered. More and more, he appreciated Devi’s choice in best friend. He hadn’t felt particularly excited about Tenna when Devi first brought her to the choir room, but she grew on him. Maybe just because she proved useful eventually? Could be.
“Speaking of alive,” Edgar said, shaking some crackers from his shirt, “are we doing the ‘standard dead’ when we get there?”
“I don’t even know what we’re doing when we get there,” Johnny said, staring up at the ceiling. He felt the whole van get quiet, and then saw some fascinating patterns in the fuzz on the ceiling. He heard everyone around him erupt in chatter, but he didn’t really listen. Instead, he twisted onto his back again, and watched the way the wires on the poles by the side of the road seemed to jump as the van drove down the highway. Every so often, he twitched his foot to the beat of a song no one else could hear.
“Nny, get up, come on!” Jimmy’s voice, accompanied by the new seat shaking violently, woke Johnny up several hours later.
“Alright, alright,” he said, rubbing his shoulder. Had slept on that funny. Would probably feel fucked up for the rest of the night. “Is it dead people time?”
“Yeah, let’s move,” Devi said, popping in from the other door. “Careful, you’ve got that bag stuck to your foot.”
Johnny was pretty sure he was God when he watched hundreds of people suddenly see him. Then he remembered that Edgar told him God sort of sucked, and Johnny settled for ‘messenger of mind blowing shit,’ or whatever else sounded cool to him at the time. Whenever Johnny said hello to a crowd of people who’d just seen him materialize out of nothing, he felt higher than anything else. Higher than he’d ever been before.
He liked just as much to look at the rest of the band, really. Jimmy always gave him some wolfish grin, and tried to look even the slightest bit more bad ass. Devi usually wasn’t able to make eye contact, but when she did, it was a sly half smile, like she was getting away with something. And Edgar.
Edgar always looked like he looked right through Johnny for a moment, and once, he’d faltered on the notes when Johnny looked at him. Devi had compensated by beating the hell out of her drums, so no one noticed, but after that, Johnny saved glancing at Edgar for when he sounded like he was solidly on task. The missed notes never happened again.
Johnny liked to find people in the audience that looked too into it or not into it enough. He reached out and grabbed people he saw who seemed like they thought he was a reflection, a smoke and mirror trick, and just vaguely pointed at all the kids in black makeup. Both frequently had hard times breathing after that.
And he relished it. And those people would be back.
Soon, they were big enough to be important. Big enough to be televised as more than a novelty video. Most people had seen them, and they’d bused themselves around the country in the tiny van. Johnny turned on televisions in dingy hotel rooms and saw his own face on the news. Edgar opened doors to tiny stores and had excited people speaking a language he didn’t understand screaming at him and flailing wildly. Jimmy had fangirls. Devi had fanboys and fangirls. Tenna had little recognition and she liked it that way. She appreciated when some strung-out art students told her she was visionary, but she shrugged it off. She wasn’t doing anything terribly new and exciting in her mind, so it was no big deal. She recommended Devi’s paintings to them instead.
Johnny had fan people. He thought they were okay, but liked messing with them more. They approached him in the streets and asked about him and Devi. He’d had a hard time with how these people could see something sexual in something that was never made to be taken that way, but then he remembered that this was the world he was dealing with. He told everyone that they’d all know soon, and when they were photographed for something for the first time, he made sure everyone was holding hands with everyone else.
The Homicides were on posters in the big stores, and every one of them depicted everyone with everyone else. Johnny liked it that way. People kept asking, and he kept promising that the next photo shoot would reveal whether it was Jimmy or Devi. He kept trying to figure out if it was Jimmy’s vibe of ‘take me now’ that made people even ask about him, as he was fairly sure he hadn’t been seen in public hugging Jimmy like he had Devi, but he didn’t let it bother him.
Not much at all bothered him.
They had to lie on the floor, in formal suits, save for Devi, who had some kind of small dress thing, surrounded by some black ribbon or video tape innards or something.
“I can’t lie on the floor with a hat on,” Edgar said, trying to demonstrate that he, in fact, could not. The hat covered his eyes, and rested on his nose. Johnny tilted his head, then knelt to the floor, taking the hat.
“What if,” he said, “you just lay like this?” And he held the hat on his stomach as he rolled into his back.
“Seems sort of dumb to have gotten the hat when I wasn’t going to be able to wear it.”
“Oh, get over it,” Johnny said. “We’ll take one you can wear it in.”
He stretched out on the floor and decided to just stay there for a while.
“Does the hat look stupid like that?” Edgar asked.
“Edgar, please, would I suggest something stupid?”
“‘Edgar, let’s go see Pepito!’”
“Hey, that was important! Seriously though, it looks fine.”
Jimmy stood over him, and Johnny squinted up into the lighting to see his face.
“Nny, we need to figure something out with this, they’re not going to be patient while you roll around on the floor with Edgar.”
“I’m not rolling,” Johnny said, sitting up, “I’m just-” Then he thought of something.
“Come here,” he said to Jimmy, who seemed to forget about being the voice of reason instantly, and dropped to the floor as quickly as he could.
“You too,” he said to Edgar, motioning him to come closer, “And the hat, come on.”
He took Jimmy’s hand and directed him onto the floor, and then dropped flat onto the floor himself. He motioned to Edgar.
“Alright, here,” he said, arm out. With both Jimmy and Edgar attached directly to him, he’d mess with every perception of his relationship with the band ever. No one ever suspected Edgar.
Edgar also, apparently, didn’t suspect Edgar.
“Just… on your stomach or something?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Johnny said, “this’ll be great.”
Devi walked over, arms crossed, “Nny, does this have anything to do with-”
“Shh,” Johnny interrupted. “Can you and Tenna find a spot around here?” He gestured with his head to indicate the areas around him and the two attached to him.
Within a few minutes they’d wrapped up the shot with little mess. Johnny was already looking forward to the tabloids.
On their way out, Jimmy wondered aloud why had posed for ‘some kin’na formal homicidal orgy’ instead of the straight line they’d planned on.
Several weeks later, the group managed to return home for a small break before setting out again. Edgar had his first time completely alone with Johnny in weeks. He thought it would be a good time to just miraculously ask the crucial questions, but it was turning out to be harder in real life than it was in his head. They ended up doing lots of little cleaning jobs, and Johnny wasn’t ever receptive to ‘serious voice.’
“’Yeah,’ I said, ‘Devi’s beautiful, but it’s not like-‘“
Edgar didn’t hear the rest of Johnny’s story. Nor had he really heard anything else he’d said before hand.
“Oh, you think so?”
“Think what?” Johnny said, moving a box. They had come down here to the basement to clear out some of the random stuff that Heaven had been sending for years and have Tenna take it to the New To You place to make up for the stuff that Johnny had taken from there over the years.
“That’s she’s beautiful.”
“Yeah,” Johnny shrugged. “She could be pretty damn exotic if she cared about that kinda shit.”
“What’s…attractive about her?”
Johnny paused to give Edgar ‘what the fuck’ face, but shook his head and went back to moving boxes. “She’s got a really severe kind of face,” Johnny said, “and she’s a little strange looking. Suppose that’s why people don’t talk to her much or something. I mean, aside from the whole almost invisible thing.”
“Severe, huh?” Edgar said. “Severe how?”
Johnny screwed up his face. “Edgar, seriously, what the hell?”
“I’m just curious!”
“Severe like she’s going to eat your face in your sleep and she knows where you live, I don’t know!”
“Huh,” Edgar said, trying not to sound dumb. “You know, your face is kinda ‘severe’ too.”
“Great, I guess.”
“I think it’s the nose, or the eyes or something.”
“You spend a long time studying my face, there?”
“No, I don’t think so. I just wonder if maybe people are attracted to people with similar features or something.”
Johnny stopped for a moment, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “You think I look like Devi?”
“Sort of. Do you find Jimmy attractive or anything?” He had to check.
“I have no idea, I can’t see beyond the acne.”
Edgar moved a box to the bottom of the stairs. “How about if you squint?” he asked.
“Maybe,” Johnny said, “but he looks like he’s on crack all the time. Or he’s inbred or something.”
“So, Devi yes, Jimmy maybe, Tenna…?”
“Nah. I don’t care how neat she turned out to be, or how nice looking I’m sure she is to other people – I just look at her and hear the squeak of that thing she made a couple years ago, back when we first assimilated you.” Johnny said. “I think sleeping with her would be like listening to a dog with a chew toy.”
Edgar laughed, and his side hurt a little, before something struck him. “Wait, sleeping with? When did this become the ‘sleeping with’ list?”
Johnny shrugged. “Figured that’s what you meant.”
“Oh. So you’d sleep with Devi?”
That was about as far as Edgar got. A few days later, he and Johnny were going over some of his music, and Edgar thought he’d get another chance.
“Shit, have you listened to this song?”
“Hmm? Which one now?” Edgar wandered over to where Johnny was sitting on the floor with all of his old scratched CDs.
“It’s these two guys screaming at each other.”
“Screaming,” Edgar said, raising an eyebrow.
“Lyrically.” Johnny stood up and went to slip the disc into the stereo. The song started playing as he walked back in the room.
“Is this…Nny, are these show tunes? Did Pepito give you this?”
“What? What the fuck makes you associate Satan with show tunes already?”
“Well, there’s that stereot- wait, already?”
Johnny grinned. He made a shushing motion with his hand. “Jus’ wait, it’s coming.”
The song started with some man who, in Edgar’s opinion, really just needed some happy pills. It wasn’t until the other voice chimed in that he realized something was up.
“Do you really think
that I would ever let you go?
Do you think I'd ever set you free?
If you do, I'm sad to say,
It simply isn't so.
You will never get away from me!”
The first voice came back.
“All that you are
is a face in the mirror!
I close my eyes and you disappear!”
The men, who Edgar realized were one and the same, sang in and out of each other’s arguments until the song reached a climax.
“Soon you will die,
And my mem’ry will hide you!
You cannot choose but to lose control.
You can't control me!
I live deep inside you!
Each day you'll feel me devour your soul!
I don't need you to survive
like you need me!
I'll become whole
as you dance with death!
And I'll rejoice
as you breathe your final breath!
I'll live inside you forever!
With Satan himself by my side!
And I know that, now and forever,
They'll never be able to separate
Jekyll from Hyde!”
“Is that great or what?” Johnny asked, part way through. “It’s like ‘not only am I going to fuck your shit up, I’m gonna do it with SATAN.’ That’d be like having the greatest army ever. Well, no, maybe not army,” he paused for a moment, “but like a sidekick. A really bad ass sidekick.”
“You’d want Satan as your sidekick?” Edgar asked.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say he’d be more fun than ‘Sidekick Jesus.’”
“I think I recall something about Jesus wanting to live inside people forever, too,” Edgar said, smiling.
“They could do battle,” Johnny said, motioning as though he had action figures, “‘I have Jesus in me!’ ‘Yeah? I’ve got Satan!’ And then Jesus and Pepito burst out of their chests and it’s all 'MORTAL KOMBAT!'” He flailed around with his imaginary action figures, before plopping down onto a couch cushion. The key to Hell, which Johnny wore as part of a necklace, slid on its ribbon to the back of Johnny’s neck.
“Wow, I’m fucked up,” he said, half laughing.
“You get points for something, though what I have no idea.”
Edgar adored him, but Edgar was also a chicken. He’d do it soon. He heard somewhere that it’s easier to admit a thing to a person with an audience to witness it, and even though he doubted it highly, he suspected that was how he’d have to ask.
“So we need to come up with something amazing,” Johnny said. Johnny, Devi, Tenna and Jimmy were sitting in the van, headed back out on the road for another run of shows. Johnny thought that they needed some sort of spark or spice to what they were doing. He could feel like a god on stage, but that wasn’t getting people’s attention. He wanted people to feel what he did, wanted to make them see.
But people didn’t see the way he did, so he was going to have to work around it.
“I think we’re pretty amazing as we are,” Devi said, uninterested.
“Yeah, but we could do something weirder,” Johnny said. “We need a bus,” he added.
“I don’t think I can drive a bus,” Tenna said.
“I think you need another license for that, don’t you? I mean that’s kind of… illegal…,” she trailed off as the others glared at her. “Yeah, you’re right. No one will notice.”
“We could cause a ten-car pile-up and no one would see it,” Jimmy said, clearly enthralled by the idea.
“Funny how that works, what with us being sort of famous and all,” Devi said.
“It will,” Johnny said. And he knew it would, and because he knew it would, it would. And that was it.
“Still, some kind of attention thing,” Johnny continued.
“Like a publicity stunt?” Devi asked.
“Yeah, something like sacrificing bunnies to Pepito, only not so messy,” Johnny said.
The door opened just then, and Edgar leaned into the van.
“Nny,” he said, before anyone could even say hello, “Would you ever consider dating me?”
The van was quiet for a moment, and Johnny felt Jimmy’s rage from across the van. Despite Jimmy’s wrath, Johnny was pretty sure that Edgar was utterly brilliant. That was it.
“I think you might be onto something there, Edgar.”
Jimmy stood up to scream something and slammed his head on the roof of the van.
After the ‘formal homicidal orgy’ poster, Johnny moved to kick start things. His goal was to leave people as confused as possible anytime the band got some publicity. Edgar was amazingly easy to convince to do just about anything. He’d hold hands in downtown shopping districts, and he’d hug Johnny without even being asked. He’d stare adoringly when even Johnny forgot to keep up appearances.
It was pretty convincing.
“I’m impressed that you’re this receptive to this, really,” Johnny had said to Edgar once, as they glanced through a cheap China Town, arm in arm, in some city far away from home.
“I could say the same,” Edgar had replied.
And so that was that. After a few boundaries had been set (“No groping, kay thanks.”) everything was perfect. People asked questions, or looked confused, or, in some cases, squealed breathlessly. The squealing had really freaked him out at first, but after a while, Johnny started to bow or smile knowingly at the squealers, which sent them into further fits. Edgar even seemed to enjoy messing with them.
Being perceived as in a relationship with Edgar didn’t bother Johnny. When they were done with this game and decided they wanted another stunt to mess with people, it would just cease to be. No one would remember it anyway, and if they did, it would just be in the form of fan sites on the internet and the thoughts of teenage girls. Nothing was permanent, so it didn’t matter.
“You should have told me you were this cool a lot earlier, Edgar.”
“I wish I could have.”
Johnny had to admit that this was not the way most pairs of best friends did things. He wasn’t sure if Devi and Tenna would ever pull something like this, or even if he himself would have, had it been several years ago. Johnny just trusted Edgar’s sense of humor, and really, trusted him not to go overboard on all this bullshit. He figured it just meant they were really close best friends, though when he tried to say ‘more like brothers’ in his head, he realized he would transcend some levels of fucked up that even he wasn’t comfortable with. He didn’t even think ‘brothers’ was accurate.
Johnny’s favorite incident regarding Edgar was in front of the drink machines at a gigantic convenience store. This store was the kind with lights that lit up the town around it for blocks, even at two in the morning, when Johnny and the rest of the van dwellers decided to stop. Most people in the store recognized The Homicides before they even set foot through the doors, and those that didn’t recognize them simply couldn’t see them. Johnny had had an intense craving for whatever they called Freezies in whatever part of the country they were in, and dragged Edgar with him to look at the selection.
“Where did they even come up with these flavors?” Edgar said, looking up and down the wall of Freezy machines.
“Beats me,” Johnny answered. “Do you think there’s sugar in this?” He asked, poking a window to some brownish fluid. “Peanut strikes me as hard to freeze and liquefy.”
“Tell me this doesn’t really say ‘ham,’” Edgar said a few moments later, after he’d walked the length of the gigantic machine and been stunned by one particular flavor.
Johnny slid up next to him and regarded the sticker. “Would you feel better if I told you that I have a gravy one on the other end?” he asked.
“Ugh, no. I think I’d prefer the ham.”
“I don’t get it,” Johnny said, “Doesn’t anyone drink fucking fruit anymore?”
“Nny,” Devi said, leaning over from the hot tea dispenser, “there is nothing on this planet that could convince me that the ones you drank at home had any fruit content.”
“Does no one drink highly processed fructose syrup made to ensure that children have no idea what real fruit tastes like anymore?!” Johnny yelled.
“How do you feel about drinking it with the souls of the damned?” Edgar asked.
Johnny turned around, interested. “Oooooh, go on,” he said.
“‘Cherry Doom,’ Edgar read from the label. “ ‘All the sugar you need for a whole week, and at least three damned souls in every medium-sized cup!’”
“I would have driven across the whole country for just that, I think,” Johnny said, gleefully eyeing the sticker, and pulling a cup from the top of the stack.
“Speak for yourself,” Tenna grumbled from the snack aisle.
It was about then that Johnny felt something turn toward him. He stopped filling the cup, dripping part of the neon-colored ice on his hand, and looked around wildly.
“Whoa, Nny, what the hell? What’s wrong?” He thought Edgar had said that, but he wasn’t sure.
The cameras in the store, Johnny realized, had been turned on them, and most of the management staff was staring at them as well. Jimmy was saying something, but Johnny didn’t notice what.
“That thar,” the overweight man who had previously been behind a cash register said, “is the elixir of the devil.” He pointed shakily at the cup in Johnny’s hand.
Devi set her tea down and put her hands on her hips. “You’ve got to be kidding me, that’s what this is all ab-?”
Johnny held up a hand to silence her.
“Keep talking,” he said to the blubbery man.
“It’s only those been touched by the devil himself can touch that stuff… you people…,” the man pointed vaguely at all of them, even Jimmy, who was in the far end of the store where they kept the Holy Grail of energy drinks. “You people, are the devil’s people.”
Somewhere between the pork rinds and the cheese curls, Tenna’s forehead and palm became closely acquainted.
“So what you’re telling me,” Johnny said, still holding the cup as he glided closer to the man and his shaking teenage employees, “is that I’ve been touched by Satan.”
“Y-yes,” the man answered, quivering.
“That seems funny to me,” Johnny said, tossing a straw from a nearby counter into the cup, “because I was pretty sure that the guy I met wasn’t Satan, weren’t you Edgar?” He turned to Edgar, grinning.
“I think that’s what he said, yeah,” Edgar answered.
“You people all been fooled! You-you jus’ stay back now! We’re gonna bring th’ Father ou’ here an’, an’ this’ll all-!”
“No, no,” Johnny said, circling the man once, before returning to standing beside Edgar, “There won’t be any need for that.” Devi, Jimmy and Tenna moved near them, holding a collection of snacks.
“What a relief that we’re all such good people, here,” Johnny said, smiling slyly, one hand clutching the offending drink, the other running painted nails down the back of Edgar’s neck. “I don’t suppose Satan’s son would have liked me enough to give me Edgar here if I wasn’t a good person.”
Several people made flailing signs that Johnny took to be the cross, which just added to the game. Johnny took a long sip of the Cherry Doom drink before going on.
“Yes, it is a relief, isn’t it?” he continued, still grinning. Then, in one motion, he tugged Edgar’s shirt, and kissed him.
Several people ran from the store.
Only when the video from the security camera aired on TV, and everywhere on the internet, did Johnny see the details behind him and notice Devi look ill, Tenna look smug, and Jimmy crush the can he was holding in his hands.
Edgar spent all his time in a half-dazed state. He could feel dizzy at one moment, and positively empowered the next. People he didn’t know asked him about kissing Johnny in that giant store, and Edgar could never tell them what it was like more than “cherry.” He knew, but there weren’t words for it. It was something he sort of dreamed of, but was even too embarrassed to do in dreams. Johnny and kissing didn’t seem to fit together at all.
Until he got to do it of course.
After the Cherry Doom incident, Edgar handled Johnny’s occasional stints of singing in Edgar’s direction perfectly. They made him play better if anything. The audience was negligible – Edgar was playing for Johnny.
All their time in front of cameras was spent with Johnny attached to his arm. Edgar smiled at people now, not in the ‘polite for the camera’ way, but in the ‘I have something you want’ way. Edgar was pretty sure that Johnny was doing the same thing – when Edgar looked at some of the pictures that ran through the media, Johnny had some look in his eyes that Edgar couldn’t quite identify. It was sharp, and piercing, but it was definitely a smile.
Possessive? Edgar could only pretend. Yes, Johnny had some sort of claim to him, but Johnny was pretty free with weaving around between other band members too, and obviously had no concern for Edgar ever doing the same. It wasn’t possessive. The look was something familiar, so Edgar took it be the same look he assumed he was giving the audiences.
Nothing else really made sense to him.
Things were entirely comfortable. This relationship with Johnny felt more like being best friends who got to kiss on television occasionally, but was completely wonderful just the same. Edgar could do all the things he never realized he wanted to do with virtually no risk of total rejection. Johnny never flinched in the face of the extra attention – he even took to being held in some fashion or another while the band sat talking about the success or failure of the make-up, or the ‘killing,’ or the outfits or anything else that Tenna was in charge of, usually. (“Do you guys want make-up tomorrow?” “Who else here can drive, hmm? Anyone?”)
He felt a little bad for Tenna.
“Stop moving or the slash’ll go through your nipple.”
“I can’t help it; I just get so- rrg!” Jimmy grunted angrily at nothing and slammed his back into the chair he was propped up in. Tenna stuck her lower lip out, irritated, waiting for Jimmy to stop writhing so she could finish applying the ‘I’ve been slashed’ make-up to his chest.
“I knew it was going to be trouble from the beginning, you know? I knew Edgar was going to come in and just steal him from everyone.”
“You seem to be in a band with him now, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“That’s not the fucking same! You know what I mean!”
“Of course. Hold still, or this wax goes up your nose.”
“He’s completely pathetic, Ten. You should see the way this has gone right to his head.”
“I actually do his makeup too, you know.”
“He’s all soupy eyed half the time. How do you even play when you have soup for insides, really? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bunch of ramen inside him. Ever since Nny started this crazy publicity thing, Edgar is all loopy about him.” Devi took a deep breath.
“Uh-huh,” Tenna answered, blending some black circles around Devi’s eyes.
“He’s crazy about him. It’s obvious. It’s written all over him. It SEEPS out of him, like some kinda oozing boil. Like sappy SPEW.”
“Poetry, Devi, really.”
“My god, you have no idea, he’s just… I can’t even come up with a word. He’s just this amazing – Man, I wish I had some way to explain this, you know? Like, suddenly, something I think I was really supposed to do has finally worked out for me and for everyone else, and my GOD he is amazing.”
Tenna sighed and continued radiating the lines for Edgar’s stitches from his bellybutton. She held some black thread in her mouth, and made some kind of grunt that she hoped sounded either positive or at least like she had been paying attention. She really didn’t understand why he needed to keep up the act in front of her.
“I never thought to just come right out and ASK. How dumb is that? All this time, we could have been – well, no, I guess not all this time, but a while, right?” Edgar half laughed and then gazed dreamily at the ceiling. He looked like a twelve-year-old girl with a goatee. Tenna rolled her eyes and nodded.
“He’s amazing,” Edgar said to the ceiling. He looked like something had just been lifted from him on the last syllable.
Tenna stabbed him in the stomach with her needle.
“Oh, sorry,” she said when he yelped, “must’ve slipped.”
Johnny had shown up with some make-up already done.
“Does this look dead enough to you, Tenna?”
“God, Nny, I love you,” Tenna said, relieved.
“Oh, shut up,” Johnny said, waving his hand as he dropped into ‘the makeover chair’, “Since when have I ever done anything to make people love me?”
Minutes later, Tenna rammed some eye shadow into his eye.
Edgar relished every moment of every day anymore. He couldn’t believe he used to spend all his time being bored and waiting for school to start again, or wishing he had someone to talk to. Now, at nearly every possible moment, he had Johnny with him.
Johnny teased him on stage, in front of how ever many hundred people had made it to the concert that week. Johnny sang certain lyrics right to him, or right through him, as far as Edgar could feel, and frequently ‘killed’ Edgar last in the black shows. Edgar felt a little strange about that making him feel good, but it really did.
Edgar himself once stopped the show entirely to make some little speech about how much he adored Johnny. He’d heard Jimmy rake his fingers over his guitar strings, and Devi’s forehead hit one of her drums, but they’d disappeared quickly. The speech had been short, and, Edgar liked to think, charming, but he wasn’t sure. Time went so differently for him when he even glanced at Johnny. Johnny had seemed amused and receptive, perhaps even charmed by the whole thing, so Edgar had had nothing but encouragement.
When the traveling halted for a few weeks, Edgar entertained fantasies of what his life would be like back home. He wouldn’t even have to ask Johnny where he wanted to stay, he’d be able to slide close to him on the couch and watch infomercials and maybe they’d just fall asleep there together.
He was quiet for most of the ride home, and save for holding Johnny’s hand as often as Johnny would let him, he had little contact with anyone, despite them being mere feet away.
When the van finally pulled into the school parking lot at something like four in the afternoon, Johnny sat for a time just staring out of the window at the playground next door. A few moments later, Jimmy elbowed him.
“Hey, you’re home, get out. The rest of us want to get back, too.”
Johnny shook his head. “No,” he said, “I’m going back with Edgar.”
He felt warmth radiate from both Jimmy and Edgar the moment the last syllable left his mouth, but he wasn’t able to pick up on what they really meant – the road had left him a little groggy.
Tenna started the van again, and Devi said something under her breath. Johnny didn’t care what it was.
He’d come to see Edgar’s house as closer to home than the choir room years ago. That, and it was just more practical to live with Edgar than in the school where a large portion of the student body now knew who he was. How Tenna and Jimmy even thought that he’d be able to live there, let alone sleep there, he had no idea.
A few blocks later, Tenna dropped them off, and Edgar and Johnny stood on the sidewalk in front of Edgar’s house in silence.
“Nny? Are you alright?”
“Yes. Just thinking.”
“Can you give me a hand with these?” Edgar held a few of their bags, and nodded toward the remaining ones at Johnny’s feet.
Johnny picked up the last two bags and walked into the house. They hadn’t locked it.
The house was untouched, as Johnny knew it would be. He suspected that maybe Pepito had visited once or twice, because the air felt different, but nothing was missing or broken. He expected a visit from Pepito later tonight, in fact, just because he had come home.
Edgar clamored into the doorway with most of the bags, and knocked a few things off the wall in the process of squeezing into the living room.
“How is it that we even still have windows?” Edgar asked. “I thought people would have ransacked the place by the time we got back.”
“Don’t you have some kind of divine protection, Edgar?”
“Maybe,” Edgar answered, putting a small bag on the footrest that sat beside the couch. “I just thought some kind of ‘God only helps those who help themselves’ thing would have played out here.”
“The remaining strings of faith you put in that guy astound me.”
“Hey, you were the one who suggested divine protection.”
“I just thought it would make you feel better than knowing Pepito probably had a hand in it.”
Edgar looked a little nervous. “Had a hand in it, how?”
Johnny sometimes forgot that Edgar didn’t feel things the way he did.
“He’s paranoid,” Johnny said. This wasn’t the most accurate answer, but it would do.
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand your relationship with him. I was so sure you hated him for a while.”
“I don’t like him. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep him on the radar. He still knows a lot.”
“Does all this still bother you?” Edgar asked, sitting on the arm of the couch.
“Sometimes. There’s just enough that he didn’t tell me that I feel I could live without knowing it, but-”
He was cut off when Edgar hugged him.
“Don’t think too hard about it, please. I don’t want to go through you thinking that you’ll stab me in my sleep again.”
Johnny slid out of the hug with no effort at all, leaving Edgar with a baffled expression. He seemed stunned that Johnny wasn’t still tucked in his arms.
“It’s fine,” Johnny said, holding up his hand to stop Edgar’s questioning, “Don’t worry about it. I’m okay.”
Publicity stunt or no, no one had ever given as much of a damn about Johnny as Edgar had. The problem there being that Johnny wasn’t sure, still, that he wanted Edgar to care at all. He worried about hurting him; he worried about the pain that Pepito had promised. Edgar wasn’t Johnny’s lover, or his brother, or anything more than his best friend, but Johnny worried that even that amount of close was enough to trigger Pepito’s little prophesy of doom.
He didn’t remember when he started thinking of it as something he could trigger.
Johnny felt a weight on his head, and his eyes refocused. Edgar ran his fingers from the top of Johnny’s head, and off to one side, tucking one long bit of blue hair out of the way of Johnny’s eye.
“I’m going to make something to eat,” Edgar said, gently. “Do you want anything?”
Johnny looked questioningly at Edgar, but shook it off after a moment.
“Sure, I’ll have something. Whatever we have is fine.”
Edgar threw together whatever he could find in the kitchen that hadn’t expired or turned strange colors in the fridge over the time they’d been gone. This sadly meant that his usual fixation on making lots of egg based food was out of the question. He made some kind of soup instead. They had stockpiled cans and cans of beans for some mysterious reason, so the soup was more like bean dip when Edgar was finished with it, but it smelled edible, and that was really all Edgar had been aiming for.
He threw some of the soup dip into some bowls that weren’t growing things in the sink, and found the tray he usually took things out to the other room on. Some strange part of him really loved the domestic feeling. Most of the time, it was necessity – you had to eat sometime- but this felt nice. This was doing something good, and he was excited about doing it for some reason.
Edgar carried the bowls on the tray into the other room, careful not to ram it into anything or trip over the bags he’d left in the entry way. He bent over to put the tray on the arm of the couch where Johnny sat, and again moved some hair from Johnny’s face. Johnny jumped a little.
“Hey, I think it’s food,” Edgar said. “I’m not sure, since I sort of made it up, but I think it will be edible.”
“Damn, you’re really into this.”
“Of course, I- what?”
Johnny leaned back into the couch cushion to steer his gaze around the tray Edgar was holding and into Edgar’s face.
“You’re really into this,” Johnny waved his hand, “whole production.”
Edgar blinked. “There’s no production… what are you talking about? The food?”
“Seriously,” Johnny said, laughing, “You can stop. No one can see us in here. You don’t need to be in character for the camera all the time.”
“I don’t think I understand,” Edgar said slowly, setting the tray on the table in front of Johnny.
“The you an’ me thing. It’s not like they bugged the house or anything. You don’t have to act all the time.”
“You…” Edgar took a step back. “Wait, you’re not really…?”
Edgar saw Johnny’s eyes go wide.
“You weren’t acting?” Johnny asked, just above a whisper.
“… and you were…” Edgar managed, drawing his hand to his forehead.
“Oh. Oh shit, Edgar, I-”
Edgar didn’t know how to feel. He felt betrayed and lied to when the exchange he’d just had clearly indicated no betrayal had happened. He felt embarrassed that he’d fussed and been as devoted as he thought Johnny could tolerate. And to find out now that it had all been just grand acting on Johnny’s part.
This was some kind of comedy of errors. Pepito was going to come in through the fireplace and pronounce them bound by the souls in a union from Hell any moment. The God that had granted him the house and the book and the everything was playing a joke, and that God surely was going to grant him the thing that made him happiest in the world after just one more moment of suffering.
The laugh track would echo through Edgar’s house as Johnny said ‘gotcha!’ and they’d be fine. They’d go upstairs and sleep and Edgar would be awakened by the ghost of Christmas Past, who would tell him about how he’d fixed everything that had destroyed Johnny’s past lives, and that they would both be living in some kind of musical paradise for the rest of their afterlives. And they’d play Trivial Pursuit. Or maybe Scrabble.
“Edgar, say something. Are you alright?”
Or he’d just be standing here, too shattered to do anything but think about how shattered he was.
“Nny, I… God, I’m such an idiot. How could I have…? What happened?” He raised his head from his palms, and was met with the most concerned expression he’d ever seen on Johnny’s face.
“… I don’t know,” Johnny sounded almost panicked. “We were talking about publicity stunts, you came in an-”
“You were? Oh, GOD, I’m so stu- Ugh.” Too much was going through Edgar’s head at once.
“Yeah, we were. I didn’t know you didn’t know.” Johnny really sounded concerned.
“I don’t even… How could you? No. How could I? God, this is-” Edgar’s voice broke off and he choked a bit on his own vocal cords. He had to move, had to think, had to something. He moved into the little used dining room and just shivered, bracing himself on the back of a chair.
He heard the tray fall in the other room and then he could feel Johnny standing at the bottom of the stairs, staring at his back.
Hearing Johnny’s voice sound concerned and knowing that everything had been faked made him want to start sobbing.
“Edgar, come on,” Johnny repeated again.
“No, no, just stop it. Stop. Talking.”
“Edgar, listen to me.”
“Stop! Stop! Just shut up! I can’t stand hearing you like-”
They stood for a moment, Edgar leaning into the defenseless chair, and Johnny still under the archway into the dining room, at the bottom of the stairs.
“Like what?” Johnny said, after the pause.
Edgar took several breaths to attempt to gain control of his lungs. “Like you’re still acting,” he managed.
“I don’t have to be acting to give a shit.”
“I know,” Edgar said, replacing any pause in his speech with a sniffle, “but I keep, I keep feeling like it’s still... Still. And I can’t. I re-remember that you don’t, really, and-”
“So I have to be ‘Press Johnny’ to – fucking key – to give a damn, now, is that it? Woe is you, I’m not really madly in love with you so anything I say is faked, is it? You’re not even fucking listening to me, Edgar!”
“Yes, I AM!”
“Then fucking look at me, okay?”
Edgar felt a wave of resentment pass over him. How often had Johnny imparted important things to Edgar or, less often, Edgar had said something important, and Johnny had been deeply engrossed in wood grain. Edgar looked anyway.
“I am sorry,” Johnny said. “I wish I’d known. I’d never have done any of it if I had.”
Edgar’s eyes blurred. He still couldn’t get over that the concern he was hearing wasn’t a lover’s anymore. And that it never really had been. For a few glorious moments, he’d been happy and he’d made Johnny happy and he thought it was perfect even if it was full of more holes than anything he’d ever sewn together.
And Johnny was-. Yes.
That word he’d thought so many times over the years of knowing him.
He was flawed. More than anyone Edgar knew, really. He was frightening, and got carried away and used to be insane and might still be heading in that direction and he had been brutal to Edgar in the beginning and Edgar couldn’t care, as much as he’d tried. Even vomiting in the bathroom two years ago wasn’t bad enough to scare Edgar away – and Edgar hadn’t even admitted anything to himself back then.
“It’s okay,” Edgar said, out of habit, in response to the apology.
“No,” Johnny said, “It’s really not. Look at you, for fuck’s sake, you’re a disaster.”
Edgar wanted to quip ‘Love you, too’ in return, but the thought of it just stabbed him in the stomach.
“This doesn’t just rework everything you thought was true, you know?” Johnny said. “I have to process that my best friend was serious when he said and did…all of that.”
Edgar stared at Johnny. So Johnny kept going.
“I don’t know what to do with it, now. I should have some kind of ripoff fortune cookie thing to give you here, but I- I can only think of how often Devi used to say ‘They say you should always fall in love with your best friend’ when we were really young. I used to tease her about Tenna when she said that stuff,” Johnny scratched at something on his jaw. “This is karma kicking my ass for that. Pretty sure.”
“I’m glad that I’m a kick in the ass, Nny, really. You’re a miracle with that comforting thing. How do you do it?”
Johnny glared at Edgar, but didn’t blow up at him. Edgar had to pry his muscles out of ‘Nny Is Screaming At Me’ mode when Johnny continued normally.
“I’m willing to try it again,” Johnny said.
“You’re willing to tear me up again? That’s nice.”
“Fuck you. I meant for real. I’d try it again, if you wanted to.”
“Accomplishing what, exactly?”
“You’re not listening to me. I am saying I won’t fake it.”
“But you don’t-”
“No. I don’t. Not yet, anyway.” Johnny moved forward for the first time since the conversation had started, and Edgar felt muscles tense again. “Show me what this shit is supposed to be like.”
“I think that’s what I just did.”
“But this time, I know you’re serious. I don’t feel the way you do – so you’ve got to give me a reason to.”
Edgar could not even believe that he was hearing correctly.
“And you want to do… all of that, again?” he asked.
“Not want so much. ‘Am willing.’”
“A pity date.”
Edgar half smiled.
“Ego,” he said.
“Don’t pretend you wouldn’t want worship that you don’t remember earning,” Johnny answered. He had something reminiscent of a sneer creeping from the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah, yeah. But I’m not doing this just to give you some kinda boost, Nny.”
“I can get that anytime I want. The last way I should be trying to get it is having my male best friend all over me. I’m offering. Not much to lose here.”
“Do you remember when I first came here, Edgar?”
“Of course I do,” Edgar said, rubbing his arm.
“I asked you who I was. What you were looking at. What you saw. The context was arguably different then, but you told me to wait until you could answer it better.”
“And I’m done waiting, and you’ve had years to pass your judgment, so I’m asking again: Who am I, Edgar? What do you see?”
Edgar shuddered. “I can’t,” he said. He stood leaning on the chair for several moments. He kept uttering half formed words about why he couldn’t tell Johnny what he saw. He had no idea how torturous it would be to have Johnny just care. Telling Johnny why he cared, and how much he cared, and what made him care, and what he cared about more and more every time he –
“I can’t.” He said again.
Johnny tapped his foot – click, click – on the floor.
“I see,” Edgar said to the floor, “I see you. I see the person I was supposed to save, but at the same time…” Edgar looked up. Johnny looked a little wary, and had stopped tapping, but wasn’t going anywhere, so Edgar continued. “I see someone amazing and talented and confusing and frightening and intriguing and-” He stopped. It was that word. That same thing he’d been unable to say even to himself for so many years.
“And incredible,” Edgar finished, flinching. He was pretty sure Johnny was going to hightail it to the next county, but Edgar didn’t even hear him move.
“Alright, then,” Johnny said slowly, after a moment’s reflection. “So, you’re looking at me like that, and you don’t want-“
“I do!” Edgar interrupted. “That’s the problem, I think. I’d- I would love to go back to- but I can’t. I just- Can you let me think about it?”
“I just don’t want to get my hopes up or have this whole thing happen again,” Edgar said, brushing some hair out of his face.
“I wouldn’t be tricking you into it again, Edgar. Have some faith, please,” Johnny said, sounding mildly disgusted. “I can’t promise you anything but that I’m not going to fuck with your head.”
“You just want me to try to persuade you to fall for me with no idea of my odds of success. Great.”
Johnny crossed his arms. “Edgar. You are my best friend. I pulled a publicity stunt involving us in a relationship for months. I let you kiss me on TV. Multiple times. How many other people do you think I’m that close to? Whatever. You think about it, I’m getting a drink.” Johnny walked past Edgar and nearly into the kitchen before Edgar grabbed his arm.
“Okay,” he said, as though Johnny leaving the room would cancel the offer. “Okay, I’ll- Let’s do it. It’s like… some kind of courtship thing or something.”
Johnny half laughed. “Alright, okay. But I need to get some sorta rules out of the way here or something, okay?” he said, pulling himself from the grip Edgar forgot he had on him. “No pouncing on me, slobbering on me, or raping me in my sleep,” he recited, counting them out on his fingers.
“Nny, please. Did I do anything like that before?” Edgar asked, narrowing his eyes.
“No, but that’s because I wasn’t letting you, since I thought it was all faked, remember? Within reason, for the confines of this experiment, you do whatever you see fit for some kinda,” he waved his hands in circles, “love thing, or whatever. And, within reason again, I let you.”
Johnny let out a long breath, then shrugged and scratched at the back of his head. “I guess give me some warning. I mean, when you decide to start ‘Courting Nny’ mode.”
Edgar, in a flash of boldness, grabbed Johnny’s hand as he was bringing it down from scratching his head. Johnny looked a little stunned, but didn’t move or say anything.
“Is this good?” Edgar asked. Before he really realized what he was doing, he’d brought one of Johnny’s knuckles to his lips.
“Yeah,” Johnny said with a moment of tensing up, “Yeah, that looks about adequate.”
“That’ll do, pig,” Edgar quoted, still with Johnny’s hand against his lips.
“Oh, you’re hilarious. Let me go so I can get my drink?”
“Sure,” Edgar said, releasing his hand. Something about this entire situation was more than awkward, but Edgar suddenly felt that he relished the challenge. He was a bit intimidated, and more than a little terrified, but looked forward to seeing where this all went.
Edgar worried that Johnny’s senses would be more alert now, or that everything would just have eighty levels of awkward to it, but he was now charged with being as charming as possible without being a complete fuck up. He was excited about it, but also felt something in his stomach react anytime he saw Johnny for the rest of the evening, as though he thought Johnny suspected some kind of romantic gesture every time they breathed the same air.
Johnny acted remarkably normal. Or maybe he wasn’t acting. Maybe he just was normal. Either way, Edgar resented it – he felt car sick.
Edgar piled the rest of the soup dip disaster into a bowl and carried it back out into the living room. He had a dining room, but he’d never used it. He even had to walk through it to get to the living room, but it never even struck him to use it. And, since he’d been hysterical in the room an hour ago, he didn’t suspect he’d want to eat there anytime soon.
Johnny had plugged something musical into something else. All Edgar really knew was that he could hear a faint song now.
“If I had a million dollars
(If I had a million dollars)
I'd buy you a house
(I would buy you a house)”
Edgar recognized it as something Johnny had hummed to himself frequently on the road. It was mostly background noise, but it was nicer than pounding apocalypse music. Cheerier than most of Johnny’s collection, anyway.
“Here’s the rest of it, Nny.”
“Hey, it looks nicer when it’s not on the floor.”
Edgar sat on the couch, himself on one end, Johnny on the other, to join in watching another round of removing paint from furniture, but didn’t feel up to eating or playing the ‘Guess What Color Is Under That One?’ or “How Many Colors Until Mauve?’ games. He just felt awkward. He sighed, sitting at an end of the couch that he felt pretty sure no one had been on for years.
“If I had a million dollars
I'd build a tree fort in our yard
If I had million dollars
You could help, it wouldn't be that hard”
“Hey.” Johnny’s voice interrupted Edgar’s thoughts of utterly nothing.
“Mm?” Edgar sounded distracted. Edgar was distracted.
“We’re still friends, Edgar.”
“I- I know.”
“What I mean is: If you’re going to do…whatever this is called, you don’t need to go backwards. I’m not going to attack you.”
“I’m not sure I underst-” Edgar started, before Johnny glared at him. Johnny always said Edgar was a fucking miserable liar. “I’m sorry,” Edgar corrected, looking at his hands. “I just don’t know what I should be doing.”
“You’d know more than me, I think,” Johnny said.
“No, really, I have no idea what you’re expecting or what I should be doing or anything.”
“Heh, I almost blamed this on you,” Johnny said, with a trace laugh.
“I almost said, ‘It was your idea! You figure it out!’ But yeah. Me this time.” Johnny let out some air in what sounded like frustration. “What sort of guidance are you looking for there, Grasshopper?”
Edgar half smiled.
“Tell me what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“I don’t think I can.”
Edgar sighed, and put his head in his hands.
“I can tell you what you’re not supposed to be doing, though,” Johnny said, “I think it’s a shorter list.”
Edgar looked up at him. Johnny had pulled his legs to his chest, and took up barely half the cushion he was sitting on. He was also looking at Edgar, expectantly.
“If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the store
If I had a million dollars
we'd take a limousine 'cause it costs more
If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner
Of course we would, we’d just eat more”
“Oh, um, yeah. That would be,” he paused, trying to think of a good word. He didn’t think of one. “…nice.”
“Don’t forget that we’re friends,” Johnny said. “I didn’t come to your house back when you first passed out on us looking for a guy to fawn all over me.” He smiled. “I already had one of those.”
Edgar managed half a nervous smile.
“Don’t do anything too fast, or anything too drastic without warning. If you wouldn’t do it to some stranger you just bought a drink for, it might not work in your favor here.”
“I don’t want to announce every move I’m making, Nny.”
“People don’t come with manuals, Edgar,” Johnny answered, sounding annoyed. “I’m giving you a chance; I already told you I can’t promise anything.”
Edgar slid over to the middle cushion. Johnny leaned into the arm of the couch slightly, but otherwise didn’t move.
“Alright,” Edgar said, running his hand through his hair. “I don’t know what was wrong with me there. I’ve never sat at the other end when you were over here… I didn’t want to come on too strong, I guess.”
“Back, you fiend,” Johnny said mockingly, making shooing motions at Edgar, “I do believe you plan to jump me in the night.”
“Oh yes, definitely. My motives are most certainly unclean.”
Johnny grinned. “That’s better already,” he said.
“Careful,” Edgar said, “I could be rabid.”
“My god, the scandal,” Johnny deadpanned, “Whatever will I do? To think that he’d bite me.”
“Don’t tempt me, you bastard.”
“That would be in the ‘drastic things with no warning’ category, Edgar.”
“So it’s okay if I warn you first?”
“I don’t think I want to answer that.”
“I am biting your arm!’ Edgar announced, grabbing Johnny’s arm at the wrist and elbow. Johnny tried to tear away from him and nearly leapt over the arm of the couch. Edgar let go, of course, amused.
“You didn’t think I was serious, did you?” Edgar asked, laughing.
“Let me see you not try to run when some guy wants to snack on your arm, and then I’ll tell you.”
“Fine, fine,” Edgar said, waving his hand dismissively. “Is there anything else I should be wary of in all this?”
Johnny shrugged. “Common sense is nice, but, you know, whatever. We don’t deal in that here.”
“I’m being serious, Nny, come on.”
“I don’t think there’s anything else to tell, really.”
“So,” Edgar said, “if I do this…” He reached over, and touched only Johnny’s cheek. Johnny jumped, just a little.
“You’ll do that,” Edgar finished, sitting back and releasing a frustrated breath.
“Of course I will when it’s without warning!”
“Do you really want to do this?”
“If I had a million dollars
I’d buy your love”
Johnny sneered. “You didn’t listen to me,” he said. “Say you’re – No, never mind. I can’t even believe I was going to keep going with that.” He looked off into the corner of the room, beyond the pink recliner.
“I shouldn’t really have to tell you all of this. If-” He stopped, hand in the air, mid-gesture of annoyance. “If you really feel the way you kept telling me you did, you know, before today, then this should not be hard for you. I was just going to try to coach you in it for some fucked up reason, apparently.”
Edgar sighed. This was more complicated than he had anticipated, and he kept making a disaster out of it. He looked at Johnny, who raised an eyebrow at him. He made a move to slide closer, but stopped mid-motion.
Johnny shrugged. “Sure.”
Edgar sat as close as he felt he was allowed, then picked Johnny’s hand up and interlaced their fingers. Edgar could feel a pulse in their palms, but wasn’t sure who it belonged to.
“I’m sorry,” Edgar said. “I’ll stop screwing this up now, promise. Tolerate me for a day or so while I adjust?”
Johnny regarded their hands, and curled his fingers, gripping Edgar’s hand.
“Alright,” he said, “But don’t use it as an excuse to do stupid shit - I know when you lie.”
“Trust me, I know,” Edgar said, relieved. He wanted to mention that he thought his hand would be singed off if he ever let go of Johnny’s. He wanted to talk about how his skin had always burned like this when Johnny got close enough to touch. He wanted to say he liked Johnny’s hands, long fingers and flaking nail polish from the last show and all.
“Nny, how do you feel about compliments?” Edgar asked, studying Johnny’s knuckles.
“In the current context, I’m assuming.”
“I’m morbidly curious and entirely afraid to know what you could have to say at the same time.”
“I thought that might be the case.”
“‘Light dressing on the side.’ I don’t need to hear how awesome I am all the time,” Johnny said, smirking.
“Thank you for taking this so well,” Edgar said, almost too driven to not screw up to laugh at Johnny’s dressing remark. “And for giving me the chance to fuck it up all over again.”
“What are friends for?” Sarcasm.
“Courting, apparently,” Edgar said.
Johnny clicked his tongue. “Uh-huh.”
“If I had a million dollars”
“Don’t let me do anything too stupid, okay?” Edgar half-pleaded, holding Johnny’s hand a little closer to his chest.
“Hey, you’re on your own there, Prince Charming. I’m not your fairy godmother.”
“You do realize you just made yourself the Princess, though, right?”
Johnny smiled. “That just means my outfit looks better than yours, I get to sing, I’m on all the merchandise, I’m in another castle, and I have animal friends.”
Edgar couldn’t help but laugh.
“I love you,” he said, meant entirely in a ‘you’re awesome’ sort of way. He tensed up when he realized it had even come out, and looked at Johnny, biting his lip.
Johnny smiled at nothing, and then at Edgar’s hand clutching his own.
“I'd be rich”
“Yeah, I know,” he said.
Shreds of ‘If I Had A Million Dollars’ by Bare Naked Ladies. Doesn’t really follow the SWAN song formula, but it has something about it that works.
‘Confrontation’ from Jekyll and Hyde, sung by Anthony Warlow is also in there. The average mood of these together will probably work out for the chapter, yes?
Chapter counter (that thing in the title bit) for this one is “Seventeen” by Ladytron. Just worked out that way. “Edge of Seventeen” was a contender too.