Word count: ~21,000
Prompt: Just One Of The Guys
Summary: “Spence, I’m. Look, I’m going to prove this girl-thing to you, okay? I’m going to,” he held up his hands, “this is so brilliant, I’m going to become a girl.”
A/N: I’m prefacing this fic by saying it’s COMPLETELY IMPLAUSIBLE, okay? That was on purpose, because the movie is just plain ridiculous, and also kind of terrible. And this totally doesn't really follow the prompt other than that, but whatever.
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I’m just. I’m not completely happy with this, but it’s as done as it’s going to get. Major, huge thanks go to the wonderful joyfulseeker, who suffered through beta’ing two versions of this without punching me in the head, and to the lovely castoffstarter for doing the final edit and inserting comments that not only cracked me up, but kind of got me to like this story again, at least a little bit. And I’m going to thank natacup82 again for organizing reel_band because she’s awesome. Without her, it is possible that I never would have put Ryan in a skirt. Oh, who am I kidding, Ryan in drag is just one baby-step away from canon, right?
Just One Of The Girls
Ryan was a creature of habit. He woke up each morning just in time to shower, grabbed a poptart on his way out the door, and he and Spencer always pulled into the school parking lot too late to swing by their lockers before the homeroom bell.
Junior year wasn’t much different than the year before – except Spencer had a car, which was awesome, so they no longer had to rely on Spencer’s mom to drop them off. Ryan wouldn’t be caught dead riding the bus, hadn’t ridden the bus since his first day of freshman year. And his class schedule might have been new, but he still had to suffer through homeroom with Ashlee Simpson, the most annoying girl ever born, who wouldn’t shut up even when Ryan sent her death glares across the room and tried to will her mouth closed with the power of his mind, and Brendon Urie, who was unnaturally cheery and bright-eyed in the morning. He was so goddamn sunny Ryan kind of wanted to punch him.
“Woke up extra angry today?” Spencer asked as they rushed out of the classroom. They had three minutes to get to their lockers and Ryan had Trig first period, all the way on the other side of the building.
“I—” Ryan stumbled, rubbed his shoulder and glowered over at Brendon, who flushed bright red and said, “Sorry, Ryan, sorry, I tripped.”
“Hey, Brendon,” Spencer said, nodding at him.
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he said flatly. “Watch where you’re going.”
Brendon opened his mouth, closed it again and then Ashlee was there with this murderous glare, wrapping an arm around Brendon’s shoulders. “Fuck off, Ross,” she growled, then tugged Brendon off the opposite way down the hall.
Ryan pursed his lips. “Is it just me, or do they get more annoying each year?”
“It’s just you,” Spencer said. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Come on, or we’ll be late.”
Two weeks into the school year Ryan’s opinion hadn’t changed much. Three weeks, and Ryan was in what seemed like a constant state of pissed off, tempered by bouts of mild annoyance. It was still the same old shit, only now he had college applications to worry about.
He slammed his locker shut with a curse, and Spencer arched an eyebrow at him, slipping his book bag over one shoulder.
“Seriously, what’s crawled up your ass lately?” Spencer asked.
“Ms. Ivarsson,” Ryan growled.
“I don’t know, man,” Spencer said, lips quirked up a little, and Ryan was seriously so close to punching him. “Maybe the world just isn’t ready for an essay on turn of the century prostitutes.”
Ryan settled for ignoring him and said, “It’s, like, wall to wall girls in there.”
“Yeah, that’s why they won’t publish you.” Spencer rolled his eyes. “Give it up, Ryan. This is high school. Not even a very classy one, okay.” They started off down the hall towards the back exit. The school was already almost entirely deserted. “They want articles on fashion and shit, gossip, not the history of syphilis. What’d Ms. Ivarsson say about your last one?”
“Too pretentious,” Ryan grumbled. It’d been insightful, though, and Ryan was sure she hadn’t even really read it, because Spencer was sort of right. They wanted fluff pieces, shitty advice column crap. “It’s still a girl’s club, though,” Ryan insisted. “I bet they’d make me staff, give me assignments if I had tits.”
“Brendon’s on staff,” Spencer pointed out, pushing open the heavy metal doors leading to the back parking lot.
Ryan squinted into the bright autumn sun. “I’m pretty sure Brendon’s actually a girl, Spencer,” Ryan said. He wore tiny purple hoodies with unicorns on them and shit. Rainbows and sparkles, even.
“Jon Walker, then.”
“He does sports,” Ryan stressed. “Jon is, like, the exception that proves the rule or whatever.”
“Right,” Spencer said, voice dry.
It was hot out for September, scent of tar strong as they walked towards the football field, Spencer’s car parked along the fence.
“Fuck them, anyway.” Ryan jerked open the back door of the ancient Jetta. He needed the goddamn extracurricular activity for his scholarship applications, but fuck them. He glared narrowed-eyed at the school building, noticed a bunch of girls spilling out the doors, and said, “Oh hey, we’re supposed to wait for Brent, I think.”
“I saw him skip out earlier,” Spencer said. He turned over the engine. “Come on, get in. Mom’s making lasagna tonight if you’re interested.”
Ryan was always interested.
Ryan sprawled out on Spencer’s bed. “I’m so screwed,” he groaned.
“You were on debate last term,” Spencer said. He was in front of his computer, IMing Brent. “Isn’t that enough?”
“For State, maybe.” Ryan scowled up at the ceiling. “Maybe I’ll try out for football. I mean, sports count for something, too.”
Spencer snorted. “Yeah, and get broken in half. You’d be better off cheering, dude. Or joining marching band,” he said pointedly, because Spencer was apparently still bitter about his parents forcing him into the drum line. Ryan was pretty sure Spencer loved it, though, but it was probably the only thing they hadn’t decided to do together. There was absolutely no way Ryan was hefting a heavy instrument up and down the football field.
“And Brendon, and that big guy, Bryar—”
“Girls cheer,” Ryan started again, sending Spencer a glare, “with the exception of Bryar,” because Bryar was the kind of guy who could pretty much do anything he wanted and he’d maybe break your face if you said one word against it, “and girls write kitschy, meaningless columns for the Ridley Tiger Times, and—”
“You’re sort of a misogynist, right?” Spencer asked, and Ryan could tell he was only halfway teasing. “And seriously, lay off Brendon. He’s a nice guy.”
Ryan pulled a pillow over his face and let out a scream. He really wanted the Times on his transcript. He really wanted it, wanted to be able to pad his college applications with published examples of his work, but the only possible way he was ever going to get anywhere with the school paper was if he was a girl, and that clearly wasn’t ever going to happen, unless he had some sort of spontaneous sex change and wait. Wait.
When he huffed air again, Spencer was looking at him in amusement.
“Yeah.” Yeah, and he also had this brilliant idea, and he sat up, hand cupped over his mouth. “Spence.”
Spencer eyed him warily. “What?”
“Spence, I’m. Look, I’m going to prove this girl-thing to you, okay? I’m going to,” he held up his hands, “this is so brilliant, I’m going to become a girl.”
Wariness gave way to incredulous disbelief, coloring his cheeks pink, and then Spencer burst out laughing. “Oh my god, you’re insane,” he gasped.
“I’m a genius,” Ryan countered, not really offended, because not only would he most likely end up with the coveted Staff Writer label for his transcript, it would prove to the entire school that a prejudiced bunch of assholes were in charge of the school paper. He wasn’t pretentious. He was worldly and intelligent and he cared about things other than who the fuck was dating who and what belt was appropriate to wear with what pair of fugly pants.
“Okay, right, you’re a genius,” Spencer said, still sort of laughing, with that mischievous gleam he always got in his eyes when he couldn’t wait for someone to make an ass out of himself. Ryan was only occasionally in that role. “Let’s go raid my sister’s closet.”
Stacey snapped her gum and swung her legs up, flopping back on her bed. “Pink,” she said, and Ryan glared and said, “I’m not wearing pink.”
“Red then,” Spencer said, holding up a short skirt, wagging it in the air, mouth still curled up in a shit-eating grin. “Dude, your legs.”
“Whatever.” Ryan grabbed the skirt and jerked at his belt, pulling it open.
Stacey squawked, slapped her palm over her eyes. “Geez, Ryan.”
“Keep your eyes closed,” Ryan said, peeling off his tight jeans and shimmying into the brightly colored skirt. He looked down, watching the material swirl around his thighs, and tried not to think about how well he fit into a thirteen-year-old girl’s clothes. “I have to shave my legs.”
“Words I never ever thought I’d hear from you,” Spencer said, rolling his eyes. “Here, this, too.” He tossed Ryan a cream blouse, little ruffles at the capped sleeves.
“Wait.” Stacey rolled off the bed and stalked across the room. “Bra first.”
“You know I don’t actually have boobs,” Ryan said. He pressed his palms to his flat chest to emphasize that fact.
“Duh. But you’ll need them.” She handed him a plain white bra and he wrinkled his nose in distaste. It looked sort of. Serviceable.
“Anything prettier?” he asked, and Spencer groaned.
Stacey glared at him and said, “You could always go out shopping, you know. I’m only doing this out of the goodness of my heart.”
“Yeah, and your burning need to watch Ryan make a fool out of himself,” Spencer added.
Stacey grinned, sharp. “Oh, like you aren’t in this for the same thing.”
“Your support is overwhelming me,” Ryan deadpanned. He tugged off his t-shirt, slipped his arms into the bra and hooked it with relative ease. Spencer made an impressed sound – it might not have been an impressed sound, but Ryan was gong to go with that for the time being – and then shoved a rolled up sock into each of the cups.
“Lumpy,” Spencer said, squeezing them, and Stacey snickered.
Ryan kind of wanted to slap that smirk off her face, but he was pretty sure Spencer would punch him in retaliation.
Ryan thought he made a pretty ugly girl. He was too thin and gangly and Spencer said he had to have, like, these teeny tiny breasts to be all proportional and shit, and when he looked in the bathroom mirror two words came to mind. Pathetic and homely.
Spencer made a face at him over his shoulder. “Makeup, Ross?”
“Stacey,” Ryan said, and ran his fingers through his hair. It was all soft and wavy and conditioned. He eyes were darkly rimmed and his skin was evened out with powder, but she’d left his lips blessedly clean. Ryan probably would’ve just chewed the gloss off, anyway.
“Okay,” Stacey said, wedging herself into the bathroom next to Spencer and tugging on Ryan’s arm until he turned around. “Okay, let’s see how you look.”
“I look like a guy in drag,” Ryan said. He was not bitter about that at all, either.
Stacey cupped his chin, pushed his bangs over and out of his eyes. “You’re sort of. Unconventionally pretty,” she said, and Ryan ducked his head a little and smiled slow, looking down at her through his eyelashes and Stacey blinked. “Oh, do that. Do that and bite your lip and you’ll be perfect.”
Ryan felt completely ridiculous. His panties were riding up his ass. His skirt was a respectable knee-length, but it was light and gauzy and with every step he felt like it was going to fly up, and he kept smoothing a palm over his ass, checking to make sure his bag wasn’t making the material ride up too high. He couldn’t believe girls actually felt comfortable like this, so open and exposed.
His hands felt too big, and he twisted them self-consciously in the strap of his messenger bag, but no one looked at him askance, no one seemed to recognize him, and Principal Mayer wasn’t the least bit suspicious – or interested, maybe, since Principal Mayer was busy building a house of cards and sucking on an unlit pipe when Ryan had been ushered inside – by the note Spencer had forged. Rhianna was visiting for a couple months while Cousin Ryan was off east looking at colleges and staying with family, and it sounded all kinds of lame, but whatever. It worked.
“Hey,” Principal Mayer said, leaning forward, holding out a stick of juicy fruit, “chew on this, and hold that part right here, okay?” and Ryan spent the entire first period of the day erecting walls for Mayer and helping him cheat by sticking gum in hidden places between the cards.
“Got a bet going with Iero,” Mayer said, scratching his chin and planning out his next move.
Ryan blinked and bit his lip to keep from asking, because Iero was that tiny senior who was sick all the time. He was in marching band with Spencer, played the fucking piccolo or something, and he apparently made bets with their weird-ass principal. “Um.”
Mayer held up a hand. “Don’t breathe, don’t breathe,” he said. The third layer quivered, but held strong. “Jesus, that was close. Oh, hey, what’s the time?” He tilted his head at Ryan, eyes narrowed but slightly dazed. Ryan was not entirely sure he wasn’t on something. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
Ryan wondered if he treated all new students that way, or if Ryan was special.
By lunch, Ryan was really getting into the swing of being a girl. He put more amble into his walk, rolling his hips, and re-knotted the silk scarf around his neck at a kicky angle, and he had to admit the heels, while iffy in the beginning – Ryan’d felt like a baby deer, all spindly and wobbly, and Stacey had made him practice, and his feet had hurt like a bitch for hours afterwards – seriously made his freshly-shaved legs look awesome.
In the cafeteria, Ryan sent Spencer a cheeky wink across the room and then stalked purposefully towards where Ashlee, Vicky, and Brendon were sitting. If anyone was going to help get him on the school paper, it was going to be those three. Unfortunately.
“Hi,” Ryan said, carefully modulating his voice just a little bit higher. “Can I sit here?”
Brendon lit up, smiling wide. “Sure.”
Ryan fought off an eye-roll. Seriously, Brendon was the biggest dork ever, and he couldn’t believe he had to actually spend time with him now. Quality time, with full-on conversations.
The seat across from Vicky slid out, and she gestured with her fork. “Knock yourself out.”
Ryan sat. And then he pulled out the bag lunch Spencer’s mom packed for him – Spencer’s mom always packed his lunch – and he fiddled with his juice box and found himself at a complete loss of what to say.
Vicky was staring at him. “Seriously? Are you serious? A juice box?”
“Um.” Ryan had, for the entire length of time he’d been at school, always sat with Brent, Trevor, and Spencer at lunch. No one had ever commented on his juice box before.
“Apple juice, cool,” Brendon said, nodding, and he wasn’t very slick, so Ryan totally noticed the elbow he jabbed into Vicky’s side.
Vicky slanted Brendon a glare, but left off about Ryan’s lunch. Which Ryan was thankful about, because he was suddenly self-conscious about his peanut butter sandwich and cheese crackers. His confidence faltered, and he dipped his head and bit his lip and he wasn’t even thinking about Stacey’s advice, but he heard Vicky chuckle and say, “Jesus, where the hell did you come from?”
Ryan widened his eyes as he looked back up at her. For effect. “I’m Ryan Ross’s cousin,” he said, and Vicky pulled a face and Ashlee rolled her eyes.
“Oh, honey,” Ashlee said, patting his hand and shaking her head, “I’m so sorry.”
What was really great, what was fucking fantastic, was having to suffer through an hour of Ashlee and Vicky making fun of Ryan Ross and resisting the urge to kill everyone within his freakishly long reach - Ashlee’s words, not Ryan’s.
“He’s, like, a bone,” Ashlee said. “I don’t think he eats, he’s so tiny, and he’s got these freakishly long limbs, right, and, oh, hon, don’t worry, you’re like, fashionably thin, okay, but it’s sort of gross on a guy, you know what I mean?”
Ryan fought back a snarl. He ate. He ate plenty; he just had a really fast metabolism.
Brendon was the only one who seemed to notice Ryan’s growing rage, and his eyes got bigger and bigger until he reached out and slapped a palm over Ashlee’s mouth.
Ashlee jerked back, batting his hand away. “What the—Brendon, what the hell?”
“Sorry,” Brendon muttered. “I just don’t think, um, she wants to hear all that stuff about her cousin, right?” Brendon looked at Ryan, and Ryan’s mind stuttered a little, because she and her and it was just all so weird.
“Um. I mean, he’s family,” Ryan managed lamely. His face felt tight in the effort to hold a semi-polite smile.
“Bren, Brendon, call off your dog, little man,” Jon said, collapsing into the seat next to Ryan, metal feet screeching along the floor. He was breathing hard, red-faced.
Brendon laughed. “You called him ham-fisted and clumsy, Jon Walker. Bob is graceful. Bob plays croquet.”
“Bob nearly dropped Lindsay during last night’s game,” Vicky pointed out, and Ashlee grumbled, “Because Lindsay’s a skank whore,” with a hefty amount of venom in her tone.
Jon laughed, then turned to Ryan and said, “Hey, I don’t know you.”
“Rhianna,” Ryan said, the name still strange on his tongue. “I’m visiting.”
“Cool.” Jon grinned. He got back to his feet, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Cool, so, I’m gonna go hide in Mr. Nolan’s room now. Tell Bob I’ll buy him a Blizzard or something tonight, okay?”
When the bell rang, Brendon picked up his tray and cocked his head and said, “So we’re meeting at DQ later if you’re interested,” and Ryan nodded, thinking thank god, because that had all come about with little effort on his part. Brendon was so fucking friendly, right?
“Okay,” Ryan said, and hoped the evening wouldn’t be a total loss.
“I’m in, dude,” Ryan told Spencer, sliding into his car. He tugged at his skirt, making sure his knees were covered. “They love me.”
There was a muffled yell, and Ryan looked up to see Bryar huffing by, Jon tossed over his shoulder and laughing. They were headed towards the soccer field, the croquet team a blur of black-clad figures in the distance.
Jon caught Ryan’s eyes through the windshield and he shouted, “Save me!” and Ryan just smiled a little and shook his head.
Spencer bumped his shoulder. “Okay, so you love them,” he said, amused.
“You’re, like, in love with them. It’s kind of cute.” Spencer checked his rearview mirror and started backing out of the spot.
Ryan furrowed his brow. He’d spent half the day listening to Ashlee talk about how horrible he, Ryan, was, and he’d had English with Jon and Brendon and, okay, that had been pretty cool, because Jon had awesome theories and shit and they were doing Hamlet, and Brendon was this total halfway-amusing ham, apparently, when it came to the theater.
Vicky was sort of gorgeous close up, too, and Ryan’d had this one intensely jealous moment when her breasts had been all over Jon’s arm as she’d leaned up against him in Physics - to help with these doodles he’s apparently almost famous for that, as far as Ryan could tell, involved a lot of stick figures and fuzzy animals - and he hadn’t been so much jealous of Jon, strangely, but of her cleavage, because Ryan was seriously almost as flat as he’d been as a boy.
Bryar he was reserving judgment on, but only because Bryar could break Ryan’s face, and he apparently didn’t discriminate against girls.
“Whatever,” Ryan said finally, shrugging. “We’re going out for ice cream tonight.”
Spencer laughed. He laughed so hard he spun himself into a coughing fit. When he got himself under control, he said, “They’re totally going to ask you to go steady, right?”
“Asshole,” Ryan muttered, sinking down into his seat.
“I’m picking you up,” Spencer said. “I’m picking you up, because there is no way I’m missing this.”
The only sit-down DQ in town was on the corner of Providence and Chester Pike, and it looked the exact same as it probably did when it’d first opened up twenty-five years before. Red, cracked, hard plastic booths, faux wood tables, dark paneled walls and a line of video games between the single-stalled bathrooms and the pick-up counter: Miss PacMan, Asteroids, and a generic Kung Fu.
“This place is kind of pathetic,” Spencer said, tugging open the door and stepping into the cool air.
Ryan nodded at Jon. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Jon said back. He was leaning against the wall of front windows, hands tucked in a dark hoodie he’d probably swelter in if he stepped outside. Then his gaze slipped past Ryan to focus on Spencer and he said again, “It’s retro, Spencer Smith.”
Spencer smirked, and Ryan knocked the back of his head, and then Jon bounced a look between them, eyes narrowed and suspicious. Ryan quickly shifted on a hip, said, “Um, so—” and then the door behind them jerked open and laughter, bright and warm, was soon followed by Brendon and Vicky, Bryar and one of the Way brothers bringing up the rear.
“Walker,” Bryar said, clapping Jon on the shoulder so hard he stumbled sideways. “Coke, no ice, and a Peanut Buster Parfait.”
“Hey, Spencer, hey, cool,” Brendon said, grinning up at him. “I guess you know Rhi through her cousin? That’s awesome.”
Spencer’s brows arched. “Sure.”
“Yes,” Ryan agreed, pinching Spencer’s elbow, and then Brendon announced expectantly, “I want a cookie dough Blizzard.”
Vicky sent him a pointed look. “Brendon.”
Brendon jutted out his lower lip. “Please?”
“You’re so pitiful, Urie, Jesus, fine.” Vicky stalked up to the counter, heels clicking loudly on the linoleum.
Brendon leaned into Ryan’s side and whispered, “She loves me,” only it wasn’t really a whisper, because Brendon was sort of incapable of being quiet, and Vicky snapped, “I heard that, Brendon,” over her shoulder.
Brendon just blew her a kiss, still hovering close to Ryan, and Ryan was a little taken aback by the invasion of space, but he didn’t move away. He sent Spencer a helpless little smile, shrugged, and Spencer rubbed his hand over his nose and coughed lightly, eyes sparkling.
Jon hooked an arm around Brendon’s waist and pulled him away from Ryan, lifting him a little in a turn so Brendon laughed. “Go get us some seats,” Jon said, pushing him towards the booths, and Ryan absently wondered why he’d never hung out with these guys before – Jon was kind of cool, actually - and then he thought, oh yeah, journalistic Nazis.
Ryan had a point to all this: one that didn’t include simply looking pretty in a dress.
When Ashlee showed up, a cap pulled low on her forehead, she slid into the booth next to Brendon, squishing him up against Vicky, and Brendon made the most hilarious face ever, nose wrinkled.
“Girls are great and all, but breasts sort of freak me out,” Brendon said earnestly, and Spencer looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh.
Ryan appreciated the effort.
Vicky turned sideways, scooted back up against the wall, shifting Brendon even closer. He still looked a little disgusted, but he snuggled up to her anyway, making a contented humming sound and letting his eyes fall half-closed.
“Fucking Pete,” Ashlee muttered, rifling through her overlarge purse. She pulled out her cell, jabbing numbers viciously, then flipped her hair over her shoulder and pressed it up to her ear. “I swear,” she went on, “he’s totally in love with that short redheaded kid, the one in band?”
“Patrick?” Spencer asked. “He’s in my section.”
“Oh, right.” Ashlee flashed him a grin, then snapped her cell closed and dropped it back into her bag. “You drum. Seriously,” she leaned forward, elbows on the table, eyes eager, “they’re in love, right? Otherwise there’s just no explanation. I waited an hour, V.” She turned to pout across Brendon at her. “We were going to get our nails done together.”
“That’s your clue right there,” Vicky said.
“Whatever, his loss. Is that chocolate?” she asked, snagging Vicky’s milkshake. “Hey, tomorrow night, my sister’s having a party, so. Save me?”
“Your sister’s a ditz.” Vicky reached over and took back her shake with a sharply raised eyebrow.
“My sister’s in college, V.” Ashlee twisted in her seat, up on her knees, and leaned over into the next booth. “Bryar, party, bring all your freaky croquet buddies, okay? Hey, Gerard!”
Ryan blinked, cocked his head at her wiggling ass, then she was back around and grinning. “Daddy’ll have a fit. It’ll be awesome.”
“I love you, Ashlee Simpson,” Brendon said without opening his eyes.
Ryan almost felt like he’d been dropped down a rabbit hole. Spencer was grinning this huge grin beside him, completely at ease, and when they hung out with Trevor and Brent, they did boring shit like played video games and lounged around Brent’s basement or something and there was apparently a whole other world out there with gay boys and college parties and ice cream, and it was. It was kind of fun, honestly, when Ryan let himself relax.
On the other hand, Ryan’s bra was slicing his torso in half, his panties were still up his ass, and, despite the restaurant’s cool recycled air, his bare thighs were sticking uncomfortably to the plastic bench. Being a girl sort of sucked.
In the most surreal moment yet, Ryan found himself out back at the Simpson house with Greta Salpeter, captain of the fucking cheerleading squad and Ridley Tiger Times senior editor.
Ryan would never normally waste his time on a typical teenage party, honestly, with more alcohol than he’d ever seen in one place and more people making asses of themselves than Ryan had ever cared to see before. It was pretty funny, though, Ryan had to admit, and the music was decent.
Ryan took a pull on his beer, choked on the unfamiliar taste, and felt his face heat up with embarrassment.
Greta just laughed softly, though, and she was seriously the sweetest girl Ryan had ever met, god. He’d thought, I’ll get to know her, see the real her, how she must laugh with Ms. Ivarsson over everyone’s submissions, only he honestly couldn’t see her doing that now, because she was so fucking sweet.
There was a thump, and then Brendon was pressed up against the sliding glass door, making faces at them. He opened it up and stepped out and said, “Hey, hey. I’m totally hiding from William, okay? He’s, like, molesting my person.”
“Brendon.” Greta shook her head.
“No, this is serious. Like, seriously serious,” Brendon insisted, nodding with wide eyes.
“Where’s Bob?” Greta asked, smiling.
“I don’t know. I do not know, Miss Greta. Will you protect me?”
“Aww, Brendon, peanut,” Greta tugged Brendon to her side, curled an arm around his waist. “I’ll keep you safe.”
“You are my very favorite besides Jon Walker,” Brendon said, and then his eyes caught Ryan’s and he smiled.
Brendon had a pretty awesome smile, Ryan thought, and crap. Crap, really? Brendon? Ryan totally had to watch his alcohol intake.
They’d basically taken over the pool deck, and Pete was buck naked and shouting about traveler’s checks or peanut M&Ms or something – Ryan was only half listening, sort of blinded by the guy’s amazingly hot ass - and it looked like money was exchanging hands over by William and Mike and Dirty and Ryan was feeling great. He figured he was probably more than a little buzzed, too.
For a college party, there were an awful lot of Ridley High students there. Most of them were kids Ryan would never in a million years have associated with, like Pete and William and Frank and Greta and Travis, and it wasn’t like they were so much more popular than him – although they were, obviously – but they were all seniors, and it looked like Ryan’s only in was Brendon, who was attached at the hip to Bryar, and Ryan wouldn’t normally get within ten feet of Brendon. He was beginning to see that as a mammoth tragedy. Even the Way brothers, who Ryan had always thought were mostly creepy, were completely awesome – Gerard was really almost as sweet as Greta and swept nonexistent dirt off a lounge chair before letting Ryan sit on it, and he’d smiled this huge, gorgeous smile at him - and Toro was making Spencer snort beer out his nose, and that was priceless.
Ryan grinned up at Brendon. “Yeah,” he said. “I kind of am. Your friends are all crazy, though.”
“Oh, well.” Brendon fidgeted back and forth on his feet, fingers tangled in the hem of his t-shirt. “I’m really only friends with Bob and Greta out here. You know.” He waved a hand out towards where a naked Pete was attempting to tackle William into the pool, and Ryan noticed for the first time that Jon, Ashlee, and Vicky were conspicuously absent from the lawn.
“Downstairs.” Brendon grinned. “We sort of gravitate to the basement at these things, so. Wanna join?”
Ryan nodded. “Let me just get—”
“Oh, oh man,” Spencer stumbled over, flushed and bright-eyed with laughter, hair slick against his cheeks with sweat. “Seriously, we need to get out of here before Ray kills me, okay, because I almost threw up, I laughed so hard, and I’d rather not embarrass myself tonight.” He grinned wide, with all his teeth, and Brendon grabbed his arm.
“Come on, come on, I’ll take you down to our lair, okay? It’s a Ray-free zone, promise.”
Ashlee’s basement was dark, but not creepy-dark. Just dim, lit by a few soft yellow lamps. There were even more people down there, mostly people Ryan didn’t recognize, but off in the corner Jon was sitting on an overstuffed sofa, Vicky half in his lap, and Ashlee was sprawled on the floor, legs crossed and foot swinging to the thumping techno bass line from the music upstairs.
“Vicky T,” Brendon said, pouncing on the couch. “Vicky T, love of my life, give us room.”
“Watch it, little man.” Jon shifted Vicky further onto his lap, then smiled up at Ryan and Spencer. “Spencer,” he said, patting the cushion between him and Brendon, “squeeze in.”
Spencer laughed, a little breathless, and Ryan watched as he shimmied his way next to Jon, and Jon’s hand drifted from Vicky’s waist to Spencer’s knee, tugging him even closer. Brendon plastered himself up against Spencer’s other side and waved Ryan over.
“Room for everyone but Ashlee,” Brendon said, giggling as he took Ryan’s hand, lacing their fingers together and pulling him down.
Ashlee kicked at him. “Punk,” she said, but there wasn’t any real heat to it.
Brendon tucked his head into the crook of Ryan’s neck, cheek resting along his collarbone.
Ryan tried not to squirm too much, let Brendon curl into him and self-consciously tucked his hands under his thighs. It was okay, he thought, to snuggle a little. He normally liked having his own space, but Brendon was hard to ignore and he was little and warm, and Ryan was a girl, and girls were totally okay with cuddling. He guessed.
“I’m irresistible to women,” Brendon said. “It’s both a boon and a curse.”
“You’re full of shit,” Vicky said.
“It’s the god’s honest truth, Vicky. You should just admit your undying and tragic love for me already so the healing can begin and we can move on with our lives.” Brendon nodded, his hair tickling Ryan’s chin, and Ryan felt sort of too warm all over.
“Full. Of. Shit,” Vicky repeated, but she was laughing.
Ryan wasn’t sure if he was insulted or relieved when his dad caught him in the kitchen before school on Monday and didn’t think anything of his outfit. He eyed Ryan’s face, his legs, said, “Nice skirt,” dryly, and then, in an auspicious spin of luck, Spencer showed up, honking his car horn.
“I’m off,” Ryan said, tugging self-consciously at the hem of his skirt and, seriously, his dad was never home that late in the morning. He always left for work at least a half hour before Ryan even got out of bed.
His dad took a casual sip of coffee. “Have a good day at school.”
Ryan grimaced and fled out the back door. “Oh my god,” he said, sliding into Spencer’s car and burying his face in his hands. “My dad thinks I’m gay.”
Ryan peeked out at him from in between his fingers, caught Spencer’s speaking eyebrow arch. “I’m not,” Ryan insisted.
“Except for that time you groped me,” Spencer pointed out.
“Once, Spencer, I groped you once, and we promised to never ever speak of that again.” Ryan crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at the dashboard. It hadn’t actually been a grope, either. It’d been, like, a hip grab, and with Spencer’s fucking inviting posture it totally hadn’t been Ryan’s fault. “I’m, like, bi maybe,” he conceded, because Spencer was giving him his bitchy you-are-so-full-of-it look.
“Whatever, dude, your makeup sucks.”
“Shit.” Ryan flipped down the visor mirror, lips pursed at his reflection. “I look fine, asshole,” he said finally. He was actually pretty good at it, steady hand and all, even though he went a little lighter on the foundation than Stacey had. He’d gotten creative with his eyes, too, but that was okay, because it wasn’t him.
It was this girl, this Rhi, who wore brightly-colored skirts and gauzy blouses under tight velvet vests with these rockin’ scarves tied into knots at the throat. The fingerless leather gloves made his palms sweat a little, but they were totally worth it.
“You look a little like a carnie,” Spencer said, smirking, and Ryan flipped him off.
The whorls of color on his cheeks and around his eyes were whimsical, okay, and at most, at most, Ryan would concede to a somewhat gypsy-esque style.
“I’m sitting with you at lunch today,” Spencer said, and he said it so nonchalantly that Ryan’s interest was immediately peaked.
Spencer shrugged, not offering anything further.
Ryan poked his arm. “No, really, what’s up?” he asked.
“They’re pretty cool,” Spencer said, shrugging again, and Ryan groaned, “God, Spencer, you have a thing for Vicky, right? Vicky will eat you.”
Vicky was awesome, Ryan was not going to deny that, but Ryan was absolutely certain she could crush guys like him and Spencer with her seriously hardcore thighs. She ran track. She played keytar in this college band, and if Vicky didn’t stomp all over Spencer’s tender heart with her kitten-heeled pumps, Ryan was pretty sure the guys in her band would.
Spencer rolled his eyes. “I’m not into Vicky, Ryan. Relax.”
“You left me alone with Brent and Trevor,” Spencer said, and okay. Okay, he really didn’t have to expound on that, because it was Brent and Trevor.
“Fine,” Ryan said. “Fine, just remember to keep your hands to yourself.”
The thing about being an okay looking girl, an exotic looking girl, was that apparently guys hit on you. Since Ryan had survived Ashlee’s party without a single drunken come-on, it hadn’t even really crossed his mind until William cornered him just outside the cafeteria.
“I’m usually a boy’s boy,” William said without preamble, leaning into Ryan’s personal domain, “but you’ve got sexy angles.”
Ryan’s back was flat against the school trophy case. “That’s nice,” he said. Weirdest pick-up line ever.
William licked his lips, eyes narrowed, and Ryan felt a hand on his waist, thumb pressing into his hipbone through the filmy material of his skirt. “I very much want to kiss you,” William said, thoughtful and slow.
“Um.” Ryan tried to press further away, but he was kind of trapped, and it wasn’t like he was completely opposed to the idea. William was hot in that lanky Hobbes sort of way, like a playful cat, all lazy smiles and purrs, but with this undercurrent of energy, and Ryan suspected he was really good at getting exactly what he wanted. There was a serious problem with William getting any closer, though, oh god, was there a problem, and Ryan flattened his palms on William’s hips, trying to strong-arm the lower half of his body into keeping a safer, saner distance.
And then someone cleared his throat, and Ryan craned his neck around William’s hair to see Principal Mayer. He had a golf club over one shoulder and a howling blue wolf t-shirt on underneath his blazer.
“You’re smudging the glass,” he said. He arched his eyebrows and prompted, “Move along.”
William nuzzled the line of Ryan’s jaw, said, “Later,” and then he was striding away, giving Mayer a loose salute as he passed.
Mayer cocked his head at Ryan. “Ross, right?” he asked, and Ryan seized up in panic for a split-second before he remembered he’d used his own last name, his father’s family.
“Yeah,” Ryan said. He was a little shaky from being almost felt up, and he didn’t think that was a girl thing. He thought that was more of a William thing, since William mainly wasn’t the type to feel up girls. He still felt a little vulnerable, though, and he was pretty sure that was the skirt talking. Skirts were scarily accessible. He pulled his messenger bag around and hugged it defensively to his chest and nodded at Mayer.
“I’ll write you a note,” Mayer said, beckoning him with a crooked finger.
It wasn’t until they were out the back door and on the pavement that Ryan asked, “Um, sir? What exactly—”
“Putt-putt tournament with Toro,” he explained in a way that wasn’t really an explanation at all, at least not one that made any sort of sense, and somehow Ryan ended up spending his entire sixth period trailing behind Mayer, carrying a bucketful of golf balls around the lower soccer field.
“You’re an odd kid, Ross,” Principal Mayer said, crouched down in the rough grass sloping up behind the goal.
Ryan thought that was rich, coming from Mayer, but whatever.
Mayer sliced through the weeds, whistling under his breath. Then swung again. And again. After five minutes, he finally said, “Fuck,” leaning onto his club and crossing one ankle over the other. “I’m screwed.”
For the first time in his high school career, all two and a half years of it, Spencer had detention. Ryan was waiting for him out in front of the auditorium, sitting up on the stone wall with his legs crossed in what he figured was a ladylike manner, trying not to think about how freaking big his feet looked even though Stacey had insisted the heels made them look smaller, and Brendon was doing handstands on the sidewalk.
He was pretty good at them. His thin t-shirt slid down his chest, pooling around his armpits, and Ryan bit his lip at all the pale skin, Jesus. Ryan had never before thought Brendon’s cheerleading tendencies were anything other than completely ridiculous, but he couldn’t deny the fact that Brendon was good at it. Brendon was totally unselfconscious, bare and public, and he tucked and rolled and ended up on his feet again in a nearly seamless motion, arms out.
“Ta dah,” he said, grinning up at Ryan.
“I’ve got talent,” Brendon said, palms spreading into jazz hands.
Ryan noticed a few pieces of gravel stuck in his skin, some tiny pockets of irritation, and without even really thinking about it he caught one of Brendon’s wrists and swiped gently at the dirt, rubbing at the marks with his thumbs.
Brendon cocked his head questioningly, but his grin didn’t slip, and when Ryan finished with the first he gestured for Brendon to give him his other hand, too.
“Are you trying out for the musical?” Brendon finally asked, curling his fingers around Ryan’s before giving them a shake and letting go.
Ryan almost laughed. “Um, no.”
“You should.” Brendon nodded. “You totally should. They’re shelling out for a Disney script this year. Aladdin.”
“So I guess that means you’re trying out?” he asked, fighting off an eye roll.
“Yeah, of course, though I’ll probably get, like, Palace Guard number five.” He made a face. “I pretty much suck.”
Ryan found that hard to believe, but on the other hand, he never remembered Brendon getting any parts before. Not that he kept up on the school productions, but the leads were usually common knowledge. Ashlee. William. Pete.
“You never know,” Ryan ended up saying, and Brendon fucking beamed at him, and Ryan’s heart did this fast beat-beat-beat thing in his throat before he swallowed it back down again. He didn’t know why, because Brendon smiled at practically everything, he was so goddamn happy all the time, but something about Brendon’s mouth made Ryan’s insides twist.
“So, um.” Brendon hopped up on the wall next to Ryan, legs swinging. “I wanted to ask, well. Your cousin doesn’t like me very much,” he said in a rush, and he looked just a little bit smaller than usual, curled over his knees, hands flat on the stone.
Ryan bit off an automatic protest, because it wasn’t like he hadn’t liked Brendon before. It was more like he hadn’t known him, hadn’t wanted to know him, and Ryan wasn’t sure which was worse. “Okay,” he said finally, nodding.
Brendon slanted him a glance.
“I like you, though,” Ryan went on, and Brendon ducked his head, but Ryan could see the corners of his lips twitch up, a warm blush staining his cheeks.
The Tiger Den diner was open twenty-four hours a day and always served breakfast. It was nearing midnight, and Spencer ordered waffles. Spencer always ordered waffles.
Ryan usually ordered a cheese omelet, but Ryan wasn’t really Ryan, so he ordered pancakes and coffee instead.
Spencer arched a brow. “Living wild? And since when do you drink coffee?”
“Jon drinks coffee,” Ryan said.
“Jon works at Starbucks,” Spencer pointed out, and that was kind of the problem. They’d hung out there the night before, waiting for Jon’s shift to end, and Brendon apparently wasn’t allowed to have coffee – super bad experiences with caffeine - and Ryan could’ve followed his example and had a hot chocolate, except Bryar had, like, fucking dared him with a look – it was amazing that Bryar ever got a girl to even talk to him, seriously, since he seemed so downright mean all the time - so Ryan was building up immunity to the bitter taste or whatever. Bryar hadn’t let him have any sugar and cream in it, either.
“It’s good,” Ryan lied.
“It’ll stunt your growth.”
“Deal with it, Spencer,” Ryan said, scowling.
“Hey.” Spencer grinned, hands up. “Hey, I’m just saying. You’re different.”
“Because I’m having coffee,” Ryan said flatly.
“And pancakes. And you’re, like.” Spencer shrugged, amusement fading into something more serious, but just as affectionate. “You’re happy.”
Ryan shifted in his seat. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, about being happier as a girl, although that might not have been the point.
“Trevor and Brent were sucking the life out of me,” he deadpanned, and he didn’t really mean it, but he thought it was closer to the truth than the girl-thing. Ryan couldn’t wait until he could wear boxers again.
Spencer snorted. “Maybe.”
“Oh my god,” Ashlee said, appearing almost out of nowhere – she tended to do that a lot, even though Ryan hesitated to call her stealthy – sliding into the booth next to Ryan, a little takeout bag of cookies in her hands. She didn’t sound upset, though, and she let out a little laugh, gasped, “Oh my god, I was so right.”
“To your left, Spencer, your left, no your other left.”
“You mean my right?” Spencer asked dryly.
Ashlee said, “Just look, no, don’t look, don’t look, they’ll see.”
“Ashlee.” Spencer frowned at her, and normally Spencer’s frowns were intimidating as hell, but Ashlee just waved him off.
“Do it, like, surreptitiously, okay?” She stole a sip from Ryan’s cup of coffee and grimaced. “God, are you drinking this black? Have you no soul?”
“Don’t listen to Bob,” Ashlee said, dropping spoonful after spoonful of sugar into Ryan’s mug. “Bob’s the devil. And the coffee here tastes like ass, okay, so you’ve got to mask it with as much sweetness as possible. Did you see?”
Ryan blinked. “See what?” he asked, but his gaze drifted off to the left – Spencer’s right – and he spotted Pete. “It’s Pete.”
“Duh, it’s Pete. Look who he’s with.”
Pete was with Patrick. Pete was eating a sandwich, and Patrick was across from him, eating a piece of pie. “Okay.”
Ashlee sighed, and it was kind of wistful. “They’re so cute, right? They’re so in love it’s ridiculous.”
It didn’t look like they were in love to Ryan. To Ryan, it looked like they were eating. “Okay,” he said again.
“Okay. Okay, so, pizza and movies at my house tomorrow night.” She squeezed Ryan’s hand, bouncing to her feet. “I’m off to pick up Brendon at Bob’s, so I’ll catch you later.”
“She’s.” Ryan trailed off, watching as Ashlee elbowed her way past a waitress with a hasty pardon and a bright smile. “I don’t even know.”
“What’s with you and Bryar?”
Brendon furrowed his brow, pulled another book out of his locker and stuffed it into his bag. “Huh?”
“Like, are you dating?” Ryan asked, and it wasn’t something that had crossed his mind before, since Bryar was intimidating and scary and he’d always had a hard time imagining Bryar dating anybody, but hanging out with Brendon inevitably meant hanging out with Bryar, and the two of them were curiously close.
“Am I dating—Bob?” Brendon laughed. “Oh, he’d love that. Seriously, you need to ask him that, for real.”
Ryan was looking forward to being seventeen, so that would be a big fat no. “You just seem really tight,” Ryan said, and Brendon shrugged.
“We are.” He glanced up at Ryan, shouldering his backpack. “He’s my friend.”
Brendon seemed, despite his laugher seconds before, on the edge of taking offense, and Ryan thought maybe it wasn’t the first time he’d gotten shit for being too close to Bryar. Ryan was sorry he’d brought it up in the first place.
He cleared his throat, said, “So Ashlee’s again tonight,” and he was still a little surprised by how well he fit in there. Or how well Rhi fit in, except it didn’t seem so much that he was acting a part, really, only that he was a lot more relaxed about things than before. Like he was on vacation, damn the consequences.
Though he'd gotten trapped in a conversation about periods with Ashlee and Greta the day before, and it had sucked so hard, and he now knew more than he ever wanted to know about cycles and cramps and he'd had to share – what the fuck? - and Ryan had never been so embarrassed in his life.
Brendon grinned at him. “Spencer has detention.”
Ryan frowned. Spencer was getting an awful lot of detentions lately. Okay, well, this was only his third one, but still. Not like Spencer at all. He wouldn’t tell Ryan why, either, which was the most frustrating and suspect part, since Spencer normally told Ryan everything. “I guess we’ll meet you guys late, then,” Ryan said.
“Get his keys,” Brendon said, still grinning. “Jon can bring him over afterwards, since Jon’s got detention until the end of time for that awesome trick he pulled with his bike in the stairwell.”
Ryan arched an eyebrow. “You honestly think Spencer’ll let me drive his car?” The Jetta was a piece of shit, but Spencer was scarily protective of it.
“Why not? Or me, he’ll definitely let me—”
“Do you even have your learner’s permit?” Ryan asked.
“I have never once been let behind the wheel,” Brendon said proudly. “Bob says I’d just end up driving off a cliff or something. I think he’s exaggerating.”
Ryan wasn’t so sure.
“Eyes on the road, eyes on the road,” Ryan yelled, pushing at the side of Brendon’s head with one hand while holding onto the door handle in a death grip with the other.
He never should have agreed to let Brendon drive. Spencer never should have agreed to let them have the car, and god, had he been cheerful about it? Had he been fucking smiling when he’d handed over the keys? Because Spencer probably knew it’d be the end of him, mangled in a twisted heap of metal over the side of Cobb Creek ravine, and then he wouldn’t have to hear Ryan whine about ingrown hairs and moisturizers and Red Dawn ever again. Bonus, he’d be rid of Brendon Urie, too. The loss of his Jetta would be an acceptable sacrifice.
Brendon had the radio blaring, he was singing along, and Ryan’s entire life was flashing in front of his eyes, a multicolor swirl of indistinguishable pictures that were seriously making him want to vomit. He was all dizzy.
“Oh my god,” he said faintly, a sharp turn skidding the back tires into a fishtail. “Oh. My. God. Brendon.”
“Yeah?” Brendon flashed him a grin, like he was having fun, and Ryan snapped, “Pull over. Pull over now.”
When the car screeched to a halt on the side of the road, Ryan breathed through his nose and pressed a hand to his stomach and tried very hard not to throw up. He glared at Brendon and said, “Never again. We’re switching seats, and you are never again allowed to drive in my presence, or maybe at all. Are you crazy?”
Brendon’s face fell a little. “Um.”
“I never thought I’d actually agree with Bryar, but—”
“You can’t tell Bob,” Brendon said in a rush, shaking his head with wide eyes. “He’s going to let me drive when I’m ready, or when he’s ready, and he said not to drive without him or the deal’s off.”
“Whatever. Get out.” Ryan would’ve just climbed over the seats, but his skirt was kind of a problem. He got out of the car on shaky legs and made his way around to the driver’s side, leaning heavily on the hood.
“Sorry, Rhi,” Brendon said quietly, head bowed like a kicked puppy, and Ryan sighed and squeezed his arm.
“It’s okay,” Ryan said. It wasn’t, but Brendon sad was pretty much the most pathetically heartbreaking thing Ryan had ever seen. “Just—” He cut off on a breathy yelp as Brendon wrapped around him like a monkey, arms tight around his back, and for the first time Ryan was thankful Spencer had insisted on the smaller boobs, because Brendon was squishing him, and his mouth was pressed against his skin, just under his scarf, and that was. Really nice. Ryan tentatively reciprocated the hug, hands patting at his shoulders. “Hey.”
“Sorry,” Brendon said again, peeling away.
“Seriously, it’s. It’s fine, okay? Let’s just go.” He gave Brendon a little shove, and Brendon smiled at him, and it was like. Like sunshine. Like motherfucking sunshine, and how weird was that?
Vicky was maybe the funniest girl Ryan had ever met, and Spencer was laughing so hard at her story about this guy named Gabe, a squirrel, and an empty pool that Ryan suspected maybe Spencer had been lying about not having a thing for her. He was leaning into Jon, giggling with his face mashed up against Jon’s shoulder, and Jon was laughing too, and, okay, it was a funny story, but Spencer was normally more reserved than that.
“I finally found him the next morning, and the squirrel’s just staring at him and he was completely convinced they had this visceral connection,” Vicky said, curling her legs under Ashlee’s on the couch. “He started this whole squirrel cult and kept up with it for about a month, until we got Ryland, and Ryland brought him the enlightenment of the cobra or whatever the hell he calls it. We almost ended up being The Second Squirrel Temptation of the Gods.”
“I think I like that better,” Spencer said, rubbing under his nose and grinning this huge-ass grin, the one he normally reserved for Ryan and tiny fuzzy kittens.
“Me too, Spencer Smith,” Jon said. “Squirrels.”
“Exactly,” Spencer nodded, eyes glittering. “I’m glad we agree on this important matter.”
“Rhi, Rhi, Rhianna Ross,” Brendon said, patting Ryan’s side.
Ryan was on the floor on his back, propped on a throw pillow, and Brendon was lying sideways across him, head resting on his ribcage. Ryan moved up onto his elbows, arched a brow down at him. “Yeah?”
Brendon squirmed and fit his cheek on Ryan’s stomach, grinned. “Nothing,” he said, then pointed at Ashlee. “My turn to pick the movie.”
“As long as it’s not Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken again,” she said sternly.
“A classic,” Brendon stressed, waving a dismissive hand. “The horses and the blindness. But no. No, I want to watch Somewhere in Time.”
“You’re such a sap,” Vicky said. She reached out and poked the side of his head.
Brendon caught her finger, shook it. “Like it doesn’t make you cry. Like it doesn’t make you sob,” he taunted.
Vicky mock-scowled at him. “Watch yourself, Brendon.”
Brendon laughed. “You—”
“I do not love you,” she cut him off, but her dark eyes were filled with affection.
Brendon ducked his head, snuggling into Ryan’s shirt. “Whatever.” His hand curled over Ryan’s hipbone, and Ryan couldn’t help but think about William, about his teasing thumb, the pressure, and he hastily rolled over onto his stomach jostling Brendon and almost clipping his forehead with his arm.
“Hey,” Brendon said, disgruntled, but then Ryan felt the warm weight of his hand at the small of his back, and Brendon was wriggling up his side to share his pillow. “Movie us,” he called out.
There was a huff, and then Ashlee appeared in front of the TV. “Somewhere in Time,” she murmured, pressing on the DVD player. “Great.”
Ryan was aware of every single place Brendon’s body touched his and it was weird and awesome at the same time.
Weird because it was Brendon, this kid he never even really noticed before except when he was busy being annoying beyond all reason, and awesome because, god, he was sixteen and he had a relatively attractive boy attached to his side, breathing along his jawline and generally taking up all this space.
Brendon seemed mostly oblivious to it, except when Ryan shifted, curled his fingers over Brendon’s and tucked them under his cheek, slumping further down on the pillow. Brendon froze for, like, a second, and then his breath puffed out hotly over Ryan’s ear and his thumb skimmed over the side of Ryan’s nose, soft.
He said, “Rhi,” really, really low and then. And then he slipped his hand away, propping his chin up to watch the rest of the movie, and he hadn’t really moved, not really, but Ryan felt a chill slither down his spine anyway.
The back of the auditorium was dark but littered with students, and Ryan, Ashlee, and Jon slid into some seats behind Bryar and Vicky.
“Did we miss him?” Jon asked, propping his elbows on the top of Vicky’s seatback.
Bryar shook his head. “Should be up soon.”
“He’s really great,” Ashlee said. “Way better than Pete at singing, you know, but he sucks at remembering lines outside of the songs. Mr. Hoppus never gives him any speaking parts.”
Ryan could see Brendon just off to the side of the stage, bouncing on the balls of his feet and grinning hard at another kid, a guy with curly hair and tattoos all over his arms who only looked vaguely familiar. “Who’s that?” he asked.
Ashlee leaned in and asked, “Who?”
“Next to Brendon.” He had his hip cocked and was laughing and Brendon had this little boy smile on his mouth, cheeks pink, and Ryan clenched his hands into fists, wrapped around the strap of his bag.
“Oh, that guy, yeah.” She tapped her fingers on the chair arm. “Butcher. Doesn’t sing, but does weird interpretive dances and likes long monologues. He’s always entertaining to watch—hey, hey, here’s Brendon’s turn, just wait.”
Brendon bowed at the audience when he got to the center of the stage, and Mr. Hoppus shouted out from the front row, “What kind of show can we expect today, Mr. Urie?”
“One that will dazzle you, good sir. Dazzle and amaze.”
There was a smattering of laughter around the room, and then Mr. Hoppus said dryly, “Get on with it, please,” and Brendon opened his mouth.
It wasn’t that Ryan had thought Ashlee had been lying. Brendon sang almost constantly, little bits of songs, familiar tunes with made-up words, and Brendon was good, but there’d never been any real force behind it, no effort. Now, though. Now, Ryan thought great didn’t seem to really cover Brendon’s voice adequately.
Greta was at the piano, had been at the piano for all the auditions, but with Brendon she came in at the duet, their voices swelling and twining together beautifully on A Whole New World. Brendon strode over to her just when she was supposed to cut him off, leaning against the upright to sing into her eyes, and by the end they were both grinning madly at each other and the entire room was echoing with laughter and applause.
“Thank you,” Mr. Hoppus said, and Ryan could hear the roll of his eyes in his tone. “And do you have anything else prepared?”
“I’d like to perform a little something from Gone—”
“Yes, Mr. Hoppus?” Brendon rocked back on his heels, eyes wide.
“Do you have anything prepared that isn’t Scarlett O’Hara?”
Ashlee laughed, said to Ryan, “He only knows the one speech. Oh, but you should hear him when he gets to ‘as God is my witness,’ seriously, he’s so good when he puts his mind to it.”
“Um.” Brendon bit his lip. “No?”
“Okay, yeah, I think we know how that goes. Take a seat and stop wasting my time.”
Brendon pouted, but slinked off to the end of the stage and dropped down onto the floor with a loud thunk. Hands in the pockets of his hoodie, he walked down the center aisle smiling when he caught sight of them.
Bryar whistled. “Good job, kid,” he said, and Brendon scrambled over Vicky to settle down in the seat next to him.
“Thanks.” He tilted his head back, and Ryan tugged on the ends of his hair until he twisted around, grinned at just him. “Hi.”
“Hi. You’ve got some nice pipes, Brendon,” Ryan said.
“I’ve been told I sing like an angel,” Brendon said grandly, and Bryar snorted.
“Right,” he said.
Brendon nodded. “Jon Walker told me so, Bob. And Jon Walker does not lie.”
Ryan wrapped his hand in Spencer’s and tugged him closer to his side. The place was smoky and loud and packed and it made Ryan a little nervous, not the least of his worries being the miniskirt he’d let Stacey talk him into – he kept fidgeting with the hem, pushing it down his thighs – and the awkward way he seemed to tower over everyone. He hadn’t felt that tall at school, but with Spencer and Jon and Brendon all pushed up close to him, his sedate inch heels seemed like a bad choice of footwear after all.
Plus, he’d somehow managed to avoid the whole pack-of-girls bathroom thing at school, going at odd times during classes, but apparently it was dangerous to go alone in a club. It’d been sort of traumatizing for Ryan, getting dragged in by Ashlee, squeezing past girls of every shape and size, waiting in line, checking their hair and makeup in the mirror, some so sloppy drunk they could barely stand.
Ryan had washed his hands and stared into the mirror, fought off the urge to fuss with his makeup. The black swirl around his right eye was smudged by his temple, and he knew he’d only make it worse if he played with it. His face was flushed from the heat, bangs sticking to his forehead, and he felt like his entire body was dripping, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, because, hey, guys sweated. Guys were expected to get wet blotches on their backs, stomachs, but on girls it was supposedly gross, and he was kind of thankful that he’d gone with something dark up top for a change.
So it was hot and noisy and Ryan’s feet were starting to kill. Vicky, though. She rocked. The whole band was great, but Vicky was in this short black dress, hair up and eyes rimmed with something subtle that made them look huge. She had possibly the best set of breasts Ryan had ever seen.
“Awesome, huh?” Brendon shouted into Ryan’s ear, wrapping his arms around his waist from behind, hands flat on his stomach, and Ryan sucked in his breath and hoped to god Brendon didn’t notice how fucking drenched he was. He was right, though. They were awesome and catchy and who knew the keytar could be that fucking cool?
Afterwards, Vicky found them in the back and she couldn’t stop grinning, cheeks flushed.
“Yeah?” she asked, bright-eyed, and Ashlee said, “Best. Ever,” lifting up her soda in a toast.
“We’re playing Homecoming,” Vicky said, laughing. “Can you imagine?”
“That’s fucking insane,” Ashlee said, grabbing hold of Vicky’s arm and giving her a playful shake. “Shit, now we actually have to go.”