waiting for the lights to go

Based off idyll’s Not a Pretty Girl Series, which was the most amazing journey through the life of Bob Bryar (sound engineer, drummer, girl). These are the continuing adventures of girl!Bob.

The band makes it through another album and two and a half years of no-break, balls-to-the-wall touring before they finally take a breath.

They’re all sitting around Gerard and Lyn-z’s place in Jersey, which is surprisingly nice and well-maintained given that it’s Gerard’s house. There’s a big backyard and it’s just warm enough to sit out on the back deck. Everyone’s gotten comfortable, the noise dropping as things subside into a pleasant silence.

“Maybe we should take a break for awhile,” says Mikey, and no one looks at him in shock or says no right away. It’s pretty obvious they’ve all been thinking the same thing. Four-fifths of the band are married, and most of those marriages have been banged out on the road. There’s only so many fights you can have about the colour for the new kitchen or whether or not to start a family from two thousand miles away on a bus, and no one has said anything, but they all feel kind of tired.

“Yeah,” Ray replies, and that’s pretty much it. They do a couple of local dates, DC and Jersey and New York, and at the New York show Gerard stands up on an amplifier and throws his arms out like he’s trying to hug the crowd. They scream for him, and Gerard yells into the mic, “Don’t start missing us, motherfuckers, ’cause we’ll be back!” and Bob throws down the last hard roll into “Helena” for the end of the set and feels fucking alive.

At the end of the day, though, Bob lives in Chicago, not in Jersey. Everyone wants to go see her off at the airport, but Bob has visions of mobs and security and missing her flight, so. They have a party at Frankie and Jamia’s, and Brian drives her to Newark International.

He parks in the short-term lot, and they just sit there for a long moment, until Bob starts to fidget. “Listen–” says Brian, but Bob cuts him off.

“It’s just Chicago, Brian, I’m going to be fine,” she snaps.

“I know, I know,” he says placatingly. “You know you always have a place to stay if you want to come back out here for awhile.”

Bob rolls her eyes. “I’m pretty sure I have about ten places to stay.”

Brian snorts. “I checked out the security in your new place. I like the head guy, John. He said he’d look out for you.”

Bob makes a face and punches Brian in the arm so hard he actually winces. “I can fucking take care of myself!”

“Yes, but I do it so much better,” Brian says, rubbing his arm. “Fuck, that hurt. Let’s get your shit out of my car so you can leave me again.”

Brian insists on walking her to security, even though no-one is going to recognize her with her hat and sunglasses. And also, she’s wearing blue. For some reason, people never make her as the drummer from My Chemical Romance when she wears colour, and it’s become a handy way to blend into the crowd. They hug, and Bob swears Brian’s tearing up, but he just squeezes her really tight and then books it.

Bob lives in Chicago because that’s her home. That’s where she grew up, that’s where her family is. Now, some of her family lives in Jersey, but it’s never been a big deal because she spent most of her time with them anyway. It’s kind of anticlimactic, getting back to the place she moved into out in West Loop when the neighbours at her previous place (very politely) complained about the noise when she practiced on her kit. Bob loved her old place, the bright colours and warm afternoon light, but if it came down to playing or renting a practice space, she was willing to move.

She lucked out with one of the converted lofts just near Greektown, a huge building with only four units and more than enough space for a couple bedrooms and a tricked out practice area. This time she invested in serious soundproofing; luckily Patrick knew a guy. She hasn’t had a chance to really live here, though. She’s kind of looking forward to the solitude.

At least, she thinks she is. She hangs up the pictures in the frames Gerard made for her, and reads all the issues of Drummer and Modern Drummer that got shoved on the table with the rest of her mail. She sleeps a lot. A couple weeks into this not-calling-it-hiatus she’s at her mother’s, puttering around in the living room and poking at the kind of impressive DVD collection. The sound of dinner being made stops suddenly, and her mom comes out and says, “Seriously, Roberta! Go do something!

“What?” Bob says, bewildered. She was just looking at movies.

“Do you realize you’ve been over here every other day for the last twelve days?” her mother says, exasperated. “You are my darling child, and I will love you until the end of time, but you have got to find something to do that doesn’t involve coming over to my house and watching movies for eight hours straight. I swear, it’s like retraining a puppy,” she mutters.

Bob frowns. “Thanks. I always wanted to be compared to a dog.”

Her mother comes up to hug her; she smells like mashed potatoes and lavender. “Honey, I know it’s strange, being so far from those boys and staying in one place for awhile, but I think you need this time. Just–do something with it. Do something productive.”

Bob nods into her mom’s shoulder and hugs her a little tighter, just because she can.

If there’s one thing Bob learned from the last time she was unceremoniously dumped back into the real world, it’s that she can keep going. It only takes a couple of calls before she’s talking with Jamie over at the House of Blues, which isn’t her favorite venue but they have a sound board that would make a lesser woman weep, so. She takes the gig.

It becomes a semi-regular thing, and when one of the other guys decides to take a “vacation” that everyone’s pretty sure means racking up some quality time with controlled substances out in Colorado, Bob takes on the rest of his shows that are coming through. It’s satisfying work, and her hands run the board like they never forgot how to do it. She knows a third of the bands that come through the House anyway, either from working sound before or the scene or because of My Chem, and soon her mother is complaining that she’s never coming over instead of coming over too much.

When Panic at the Disco comes up on the roster, she immediately puts herself down to run sound for them. She doesn’t know them really well, but everyone’s friendly, and she likes Spencer. That kid’s okay.

They’ve been running at least as hard as her own band in the last couple years, coming out with an EP and another full-length in quick succession; she thinks she remembers hearing Ray bitch jokingly about how Panic stole his bus studio idea. She was kind enough not to point out that Ray had more or less stolen it from something Patrick said one time, because she’s a generous and thoughtful person.

She watches with interest as they’re unloading Panic’s stuff from the trailer; there’s all kinds of props and stage dressing, and she’d help out lifting shit if Jamie hadn’t been informed on the sly by Frankie about Bob’s wrists. Now he wouldn’t let her get within three feet of something that required lifting with the knees, on pain of fierce retaliation by the Jersey crew. “I don’t need that kind of shit, man,” Jamie had said, shaking his head. “Like a third of the bands we get through here are from Jersey, and you know those dudes are all mafia about you.”

“Hey,” says a voice next to her, and Bob jumps.

“Fuck,” she swears, turning to see Ryan Ross blinking at her. “Uh, hi,” she covers lamely. “Didn’t see you there.”

Ryan just looks at her, and she forgot how unnerving that kid can be. “So, um. How’s the tour going?” she asks to try and fill the weird silence.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Ryan says with, like, no inflection. “I think the set really helps convey the thirties’ basement club ethos we were going for. Brendon likes playing to the smaller crowds, too. He says he connects more.”

Bob nods, because it wasn’t like she understood even Gerard’s vision; she had no chance with a dude from another band. She’s trying to think of something to say in response, but Ryan beats her to it.

“Listen, you’re a pretty great sound engineer,” he starts off, and Bob blinks because hey, compliment, and also, those are never good words coming from a musician. Especially a musician with vision.

“I just have some notes–” Ryan continues, waving the notebook in his hands, and Bob immediately turns around to Carlotta, who’s been doing inventory on the bar for the evening, and hollers, “Can I get a bourbon on the rocks please?”

Almost three hours later, Bob has a legal pad covered in scribbles and cues and stick figures dying very painfully and gruesomely, just so she’d look like she was involved in the conversation Ryan was having with or without her. She’s also seriously considering calling in sick to this evening’s performance, but she’s not so sure that would work since Jamie’s already seen her. The only reason Ryan left mid-sentence was because Brendon came up and pulled him away for wardrobe before soundcheck, mouthing, “Get out while you can!”

Soundcheck itself goes pretty quickly; every time Ryan starts to say something into the mic, Spencer bangs at a rhythm that drowns him out. Somehow Ryan hasn’t figured out the correlation yet; thankfully neither has Ray, who also has a tendency to keep soundcheck running too long when there are Halo tournaments to play. She gives special attention to Spencer’s monitor in thanks.

Bob’s set herself up in the board room for the evening, just checking levels for the first and second-billed acts, when there’s a light tap against the doorframe. She looks up, and Jon Walker’s standing there with a guy that looks a lot like Jon, except half a foot taller. She waves for them to come in and puts her headphones down.

“Hi Bob!” Jon says cheerfully.

“Jon,” she says warily. “Do you have sound notes or something? Because I went over your set already with Ryan, and I can’t drink any more before I have to work.”

Jon just laughs. “Sorry about Ryan. He’s been really, um, enthusiastic about this show. I think he missed working with Lucent Dossier.”

Bob makes a face and sits back down. “He started to lose me when he was talking about the flappers and the ukelele.”

“He loses *everyone* at the ukelele,” Jon says in stage-whisper confidence. “But don’t worry about it! You’re Bob Bryar! He definitely trusts you.”

She shrugs; Bob is–not as sure about that, but she really doesn’t want to end up in a post-show analysis with Ryan at the afterparty, so she lets it go.

“Oh!” Jon says like he’s just remembered why he came by; Bob is about three-fourths certain that Jon is a little baked right now, but she lost her nose for marijuana after the Ways went sober, and she kind of vaguely recalls that this is what Jon is like all the time. “I have a favor to ask!” he continues with a big grin. “Don’t worry, it’s a good one. This is my brother, Mike,” he says, pulling in the guy who had been watching their conversation with obvious amusement.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi,” Mike says back.

“Now, Mike has expressed to me that he is not a fan of watching my awesome band perform from the wings, even though that is a vantage point that four out of five eighteen year old scene kids would ritually destroy their flatirons to watch from. Mike is not a very grateful brother,” Jon says, poking Mike in the side until Mike cuffs him on the head. They both grin at each other, and Bob really sees the family resemblance.

“Anyway! I was hoping you might let this punk hang back here with you. I promise he’s quiet, well-behaved, cleans up after himself–”

Mike snorts and pushes Jon out of the way with the ease of the older, significantly taller elder sibling. He puts his beer outside the door before sticking out his hand for Bob to take. Bob immediately approves.

He says, “Ignore Jon. He’s just mad I’m not going to make faces at him from the side of the stage to distract him from the people chanting his name.”

“They chant because they love!” says Jon, but he can’t get through it without cracking up.

Bob laughs, a little, and decides Jon has won her over enough to let his apparently intelligent and responsible older brother stick around. “Okay,” she says. “But if he’s hanging out back here I’ll need him to run for me.”

Jon beams at her. “No problem! Mike is your bitch! Thanks, Bob, you’re the best! I gotta go get changed,” Jon says, flip-flopping his way out of there.

“They all say that, and yet the flowers never come,” she says drily, and Mike laughs.

Bob has pretty much done all the prep work she can do before there are actual performers onstage, because she likes to be prepared before the inevitable last-minute changes and fuck-ups. There’s not much of anything to do except sit in her really, really comfortable chair (she would never admit that this chair is a reason why she agreed to stick around the HOB for awhile, but it was definitely in her top five) and sit in sort-of awkward silence with Jon Walker’s brother. Mike hooked himself onto a stool and is learning against the wall, a thumb pressed over the top of his beer.

“So,” says Bob.

“I don’t think entertaining me was part of the package,” Mike grins.

“Yeah, well, there’s only so much not-talking you can do in the inner sanctum,” she says.

“Inner sanctum, huh? Should I be genuflecting?”

“Only if it’s directed at the board,” and Bob can’t believe it, but this dude is making her smile. She’s not exactly known for it.

They make idle conversation about Chicago, and how things have changed in the last couple of years, and weirdly, the on-going battle of Trader Joe’s versus Whole Foods for territory in Chicagoland. Bob actually has to check herself when the front of the house rings up saying they’ve opened the doors, and Bob’s monitoring the chatter over the walkie lines. She falls into the lull she gets when she’s working, and when she looks up, she’s a little impressed that Mike is just hanging out, watching and not bugging her. There’s a reason she’s a bitch about people in the board room, but Mike has definitely earned some respect for his unobtrusiveness.

The opener is on their first big-venue tour, and it shows in their excitement. They’re a three-piece out of Toronto called The Tall Mondays, and while it’s not really Bob’s kind of thing she finds herself bobbing her head along with the bassist’s surprisingly strong line. She listens a little harder, and yeah, the bassist is totally leading the songs. The crowd had been kind of disinterested at first, but Bob’s eyes scan down the pit where slowly the mood shifts to attention. Bob adjusts the levels to let the singer, Kaylee, come out a little clearer, and she just gives Bob this enormous grin when she hears the difference on the monitors. Bob feels her mouth twitch in response, and she pays maybe a little more attention than she would otherwise, gives them some shine.

There’s a break between the sets as the techs change up the instruments, and Bob sets up for The Cab, who are kind of a bitch because so many of the little fuckers sing, and then those singers play instruments. It’s good preparation for Panic, though, because Brendon runs around the stage like an annoying fuck, making his mics hard to pin down. At least Panic has blocking, and Bob is willing to admit that the (three hours) of notes Ryan gave her make a difference to how she runs their sound. The Cab aren’t quite so meticulously prepared.

She’s busy with line eight, which has been bitchy all night, when there’s a light tap on her shoulder. She looks up, pulling down her headphones so they’re hooked around her neck, and Mike’s there. “Do you want anything from the bar?” he asks, and she looks down at her water, which she must have drained during the Mondays. “Soda water and lime would be great,” she says. He nods and she goes back to work, barely even noticing when he places a plastic cup with a couple limes in it and a can carefully in her reach but out of her way. She does notice–but not on purpose–that his hand has a tan line on his ring finger, but she shoves that thought way back because The Cab are on, and of course Brendon wanted to come out to do a song with them, so she has to run his mike alongside Singer’s, with the other two still harmonizing in the back. Jesus, she signed up for the House of Blues, not the fucking FBR Boys’ Choir. She makes them sound damn good, though, enough that all four of them are actually audible over the screams.

Brendon bounces off and the rest of The Cab’s set goes smoothly. Bob thinks it was probably a good idea to put these artists on the road together–she might like things a little more hardcore and a little less poppy, but the crowd is really into it. Even the people not pressed up against the barricade are enjoying themselves, dancing in the back towards the bar. It’s a good atmosphere.

The lights change, and Panic’s up. Bob’s really on her toes with this set, because besides the flappers and the ukelele there’s also some swing dancing that Brendon gets in on, and Ryan wanders over to share a mic with Jon every couple of songs. Spencer is a blessed relief amidst all the other nonsense going on around him; he’s using a clicktrack, because the BPM really picks up on their older songs, but he keeps the beat steady and strong, even with the licks and crashes and splashes thrown in. Bob ups her estimation of him from “pretty good drummer” to “fucking impressive, how old is he?” and then feels goddamn aged when she figures it out.

Panic practically runs through forty-five minutes of their set, and they’ve barely gone off stage for costume change when Ryan and Brendon are back with stools and a couple of guitars for the interlude. Brendon’s acoustic runs through the board cleanly, but Ryan is having a little trouble with his Strat. Tony, the house tech, quickly replaces a cable while Brendon and Ryan banter with the audience. Finally everything’s set and sound is a go, and they do a tight version of “Behind the Sea” before re-tuning for the Super Furry Animals cover they have down on the setlist.

Bob is surprised, to say the least, when Ryan strums out a chord change, and Brendon smiles into his mic, saying, “This one goes out to our good friend, Bob motherfucking Bryar, who is making us sound incredible tonight. Bob, we love you, and we love your band. This is for you.” Bob’s hands are hovering over the board and she’s watching with wide eyes as Ryan and Brendon break into a respectable cover of “Teenagers” that sets the crowd screaming in surprise and then singing along. It’s pretty rocking, for a band that had flappers onstage half an hour ago.

Bob scrambles to adjust the levels, because Brendon is really getting into it, and Ryan’s even hitting some harmony on the refrain, but she can’t even lie–she’s totally smiling her fucking face off, because yes! That is her band, her music, and hearing it again, even coming out of someone else’s mouth, really gets her going. She runs the song like she always thought she would if she weren’t behind the drums, and it sounds amazing. It sounds just the way she imagined it outside the rush of her kit.

Things calm down afterwards for their acoustic version of “Drink Me Down,” off the newest record–which everyone in the crowd is singing along with, even though Bob’s pretty sure it only dropped a couple weeks ago–and then Spencer and Jon are back to finish out the set, bringing a table-and-chair setup with them that’s going to wreak havoc on the feed from line 12. Bob turns around to grab another set of headphones, so she can monitor that line independently, and she catches a glimpse of Mike, still resting comfortably on the stool, grinning.

His eyes aren’t on Jon, though. They’re on her.

She snags the headphones and throws them on quickly, willing away the stupid flush of her cheeks.


The thing Bob really loves about her job is that it’s night business, for the most part. Sometimes there are early wake-ups when the band is doing promo, and she can’t say she gets lot of sleep when they’re out on tour, but Bob has always been more comfortable at night, not day. Right now, she’s doing pretty good on both sleep and schedule, hitting the House around five or six when she’s working, rolling in around four in the AM, and sleeping hard and good with theater curtains over the windows through the day. It works for her.

What doesn’t work for her is that the rest of the world (outside of the music scene) operates on the other kind of schedule. The kind of schedule that wakes her up at eleven after only a couple hours of sleep, since The Hold Steady “totally had to rock this party until six, dude.” The insistent knocking at her door doesn’t go away, and she muffles an annoyed yell into her pillow before stumbling towards the door. She doesn’t give a fuck what she’s wearing–old worn boxers and a faded, ripped Black Flag t-shirt–because living on a bus with dudes who can comfortably deal with not showering on even an every-other-day basis really erodes one’s sense of modesty. She scrubs a hand over her face as the knocking starts up again and mutters, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

She pulls open the door, and Henrik, the day security guard, is standing there with a poorly hidden grin and an armful of flowers. Bob blinks. This isn’t really something she expected. UPS, maybe. Not this.

“Ms. Bryar,” Henrik says in that weirdly formal way he has. “These came for you this morning, and I thought you’d like them right away.”

“Uh,” Bob says, at a loss. “Are you sure they’re for me?”

Henrik nods, biting his lip. They had a conversation about thrash metal and queercore one time when Bob came in at seven in the morning, a little drunker than she’d planned to be, and Henrik never said anything, but Bob’s pretty sure she remembers being embarrassingly enthusiastic about Queensrÿche. Apparently that means he can laugh at her now. Whatever, she saw the fifty pictures of his kids he carries around in his wallet. He has no room to talk.

She takes the flowers, which are yellow. Some of them are white. Henrik finally breaks down and grins at her, and she says, “Shut it, or I won’t make you that Megadeath cd you wanted. Say hi to Ellen for me,” as he heads back to the elevator. She brings the bouquet into her apartment and closes the door, setting them on the dining table and looking at them for a moment. She has to squint because the light coming through the windows is really fucking bright. She’s not used to this part of morning.

After a long minute, when nothing explodes and she’s about fifty percent certain it’s not a gag sent to her from Frank (out of love!), she notices the card sticking up from the middle of the flowers. She thinks some of them might be daffodils. Bob’s pretty sure she knows what daffodils look like.

She pulls the card out, and written in a neat block print, it says, “Now you have proof you’re the best. I’d love to take you out sometime. Mike (773-772-1092).”

At that point, she gives up entirely on the notion of going back to bed, and instead starts the coffee while pulling up Ray on her Sidekick.

The thing is, she’s never really been in this situation before. She dated that one asshole in college, and she’s not going to say that experience turned her off the whole dating thing, but it definitely made her more wary. And then she got busy with her career, and there were other reasons not to date. With My Chem, the rules were different, but she was still mostly married to her kit and her band, and no one else really stuck out. All the guys she knew from touring were dudes she’d seen lighting farts and mudfighting and finding weird shit to put on each others’ tour buses, and while she may have helped out with those efforts (though no one could prove a thing) it doesn’t really get a girl turned on for date night.

At the afterparty for the Panic show the other night, she didn’t really have a chance to talk to Mike because his brother grabbed him as soon as they hit the bar. She waved at them all when she left, grateful to escape Ryan pestering her for her thoughts on the movement in the second act and the transition between the table-dancing in “Three Shakes to a Road” and the a capella three-part harmony introduction on “Esteban.” They’d smiled at each other, briefly, but Bob figured that was mostly the alcohol and tried to put good-looking, respectful dudes who could make her laugh out of her mind. Normally when guys hit on her, she punched them in the kidneys because usually, they deserved it. Sometimes she slept with the ones she liked back. Bob can definitely say that dating was never really her thing for, shit, the last ten years.

Ray picks up on the first ring, like the cheerful morning person he is. Asshole. He’s probably already walked Krista’s dogs and had coffee and played guitar for an hour, Bob thinks, pressing the button on her coffee machine mournfully.

“What the fuck are you doing up so early?” Ray asks, genuine question in his voice.

“Some dude sent me flowers,” Bob mumbles.

There’s a pause, and then Ray asks, “Did you punch him in the kidneys?”

“Fuck you, no, I didn’t punch him. I just–what do you do with them?”

Ray says, “Well, I seem to recall that when Lyn-Z would send Gerard flowers on tour, he would generally put them in water. Or well, Mikey would, but Gerard always meant to. They were always nice flowers, too. Gerard was particularly fond of dahlias.”

Bob frowns. “I know that, assface, I just–”

“Oh my god,” says Ray. “You like this guy!”


“You like him like him!” he crows. “Oh my god, I have to call Frank right the fuck now.”

“Toro!” she yells. “If you fucking hang up on me, I’m telling Krista about that night in Bangkok.”

“You wouldn’t!” he says, fear suddenly and definitely evident in his voice. “We signed an oath about that!”

“Try me,” she says grimly, reconsidering ever asking Ray for advice about anything ever again.

“Okay, okay, jesus, no reason to throw an axe at me,” Ray grouses. “What’s the problem? He likes you, you didn’t physically disable him, why don’t you just go out on a date? Who is he, anyway?”

Bob looks over at the card lying on the table. “His name is Mike. Mike Walker.”

“Has he been independently verified by a reputable member of our collective?” Ray asks, completely seriously.

Bob rolls her eyes. “He’s Jon Walker’s brother, Ray.”

There’s a brief silence on the line.

“I think you should marry him tomorrow,” Ray says. “I’m sure we can get a wedding together in twenty-four hours. It worked for Wentz and Ashlee.”

Bob pulls the phone away from her ear and glares at it.

“Toro,” she growls, “I worked until six AM last night and I just woke up ten minutes ago to a face full of flowers and no coffee. Shut the fuck up.”

“Seriously, Jonny Walker’s brother? I’m not kidding, marry him tomorrow! If he’s anything like Jon, dude, he will be worth getting a marriage certificate for.”

Bob puts Ray on speaker while she grabs the carton of milk, forlornly watching the coffee drip. “I kind of think a first date generally happens before you get a judge involved, Ray,” she says.

“Have I mentioned I’m not the best person to talk to about this? Krista and I have been together so long I can’t even remember what a date looks like.”

Bob hears a tinny, “Yeah, and that’s pretty obvious, Ray,” in the background.

Ray blissfully ignores that and says back, “Bob found a man!”

There’s some scuffling noises and then Krista’s voice comes on the line. “Bob?” Krista says.

Bob would be polite, but she’s already lost her quota of nice for the day in the first twenty minutes of it and just goes with, “Hi.”

“Don’t listen to anything Ray says. A guy sent you flowers?”

Bob rests her head on the countertop, wishing coffee got made faster. This is why god invented Starbucks, she thinks. “Yes.”

“And you like him?”

“In theory, yes, maybe.”

“Okay. First thing you do is call him. Not tomorrow, not in a couple of days. Do it tonight, say thanks for the flowers, and ask if he wants to go to dinner.”

Bob shifts, stretching out her back. “By dinner do you mean something involving wine or something involving beer? Because I’m not really comfortable with the prospect of a dinner requiring manners.”

Krista laughs. “Take him to that cafe you love! The one we hung out at when we visited you in Chicago last time. It’s a place you’ll feel comfortable, and you can just sit and talk and get to know each other.”

Bob considers this as she pulls the coffee pot straight from the machine when it makes the throaty choking noise signaling it’s done. She dumps some milk into it and drinks it straight from the pot. Bitches have to fight for their coffee on buses. She’s used to desperate measures.

“That’s all?” she says finally.

“That’s all,” confirms Krista.

“I can do that,” Bob says uncertainly.

“Yes. You can. And Bob?” Krista pauses. “I kind of agree with Ray. If he’s worth anything after the first date, marry him immediately.”

Bob growls and hangs up to the sound of their laughter ringing out of her phone.

She pours the rest of the coffee into a really big mug, looks at the flowers and thinks, fuck this. I’m going back to bed.


It’s easier than she thinks it will be to call Mike up and take him up on dinner. Partly, it’s because she crashed for another eight hours after the flowers came, but it’s also because she got a picture message from Ray and Krista giving her a thumbs up with huge cheesy grins. She’s not made of stone, after all, and it helps to know that those dorks are pulling for her, even if they give her shit about it.

Mike is as easygoing on the phone as she remembers from the show, and they make plans to meet up that weekend out in Wicker Park. Mike lives in the neighborhood, and there’s an Anne Sathers there; since Saturday is Bob’s only day off that week, they agree to have breakfast. They talk a little bit about touring, because it turns out Mike did some time on the road with Panic last year, but then Bob swears and has to go because she’s going to be late for staff dinner. The next couple days go by pretty fast, and Bob doesn’t have time to freak out too much about this date she’s talked herself into. On Saturday morning she wakes up, takes a shower, throws her entire closet on the floor, and finally goes with a comfortable pair of jeans and a plaid shirt she feels good in. At the Panic show she was wearing baggy black pants and a Metallica t-shirt with sweatbands on her wrists, and Mike still asked her out, so she refuses to worry about it.

Anne Sathers is one of Bob’s favorite things in Chicago, and she’s got a lot of favorite things. She really loves Swedish pancakes. With applesauce and hazelnut cream, and a cup of strong coffee, they’re fucking amazing. Bob taps her foot against the sidewalk, leaning against a lamppost. The cafe is right between the Saturday morning breakfast rush and the slightly more manic brunch crowd, so she put down her name as soon as she got there. They should get a table pretty quickly. Bob tries not to look at her watch. She hasn’t been this nervous about anything involving the opposite sex since her high school prom–and the only reason she went to that excuse for spiked punch was because the guitarist in her high school rock band got dumped by his date the night before. He talked her into going with him because he’d already bought the tickets, and convinced her with new drumsticks and a fifth of decent vodka.

She spots Mike coming around the block, and she pulls her hand out of her hoodie to wave at him. He waves back and grins, and Bob can already feel a faint blush creeping up her traitorously fair skin.

He points out the direction of his apartment and tells her about his crazy landlord while they’re seated. Luckily their server bustles over to their table before they’ve even gotten settled, and by the time their order is in (“I’ll just have what you’re having,” says Mike) it’s easy enough to slip into a conversation about music and her sound work. Mike asks good questions about how she got into it and what’s involved and everything, and if she maybe sidesteps the last seven years of her life where she was a famous rock star, he doesn’t call her on it.

They talk through a couple mugs of coffee, and when the pancakes are delivered, Bob realizes she doesn’t actually know what Mike does.

“Ah, well,” he says, grinning–with what Bob has silently dubbed the “Walker smile”–into his coffee mug, “I teach math over at Von Stueben High School, in Albany Park.”

“Oh,” she says, and wants to kick herself. “High school, huh?”

“Yeah,” Mike says. “It’s both as scary as everyone remembers it being and so much more rewarding than anyone gives it credit for.”

The one thing about teaching high school is that it gives you as many stories as being a touring musician does, so they eat and talk their way through pancakes and bottomless cups of coffee until they notice that their server is looking considerably less perky and far more “please leave my table so I can get some turnover, dumbasses.” Before Bob can grab the check, Mike does, and she looks at him for a second, trying to figure out the best way to point out that it’s kind of ridiculous for him to pay. He doesn’t give her the chance to say anything though, just grins and waves her off. “Next time,” he says, and if Bob maybe thrills a little at the thought of “next time” she’s sure it doesn’t show on her face.

It’s a really nice spring day in Chicago, lots of sun; Bob drops her sunglasses down over her eyes and lets her hoodie hang unzipped. They decide to poke around the neighborhood a little, because it’s been awhile since Bob hit up Reckless Records and Mikey’s been bugging her about looking for some rare vinyl he can’t find in Jersey. Mike’s telling her a story about a couple of his kids trying to convince a science teacher that the mentos-and-coke trick was an an acceptable science project because it showed evidence of chemical reactions, and she’s laughing. She’s having a good time, a really good time, but she’s also trying to figure out what she’s feeling.

She likes her life now. She’s liked it for the last couple of months, and even though she misses her guys, they call and text and email and stuff so much she barely has time to realize that she’s not actually there; that she’s not a part of their daily lives, the way she was for so long. Bob’s happy, though.

But there are times–right now, apparently–when it’s like she wakes up and looks around and nothing’s familiar. She’s not on a bus, or collapsed in a hotel room, or playing her drums in front of ten thousand people who are all caught up in the same ecstatic moment she is. She’s just walking down a street in Chicago, not getting hassled for an autograph or a picture, with a nice guy who’s more interested in her thoughts on the renovations out at Wrigley than what it’s like being in My Chemical Romance. It’s just weird. She can’t really shake the feeling, either.

Bob had never been interested in the fame thing. She was always the first to shove cameras out of her face, and let the other guys take the weight of the interviews and press. She’d said up front that she was there to play drums because she loved My Chem enough to give up her career for her dream. She can’t ignore the fact that she is famous, though. She just–got used to having some part of her life always be public. And now, going into Reckless–where they do know who she is, even if they’re too chill and mostly too disinterested to mention it–with no one shoving a cd or a t-shirt in her face with a ready Sharpie, it’s kind of a shock. And it’s definitely a far cry from teaching calculus to bitchy fifteen year olds in the northwest Chicago suburbs, even if your brother is a famous rock star.

Mike wanders off to check out the ska LP’s (which Bob maybe needs to have a discussion with him about, because he mentioned something about the Red Hot Chili Peppers earlier that has her concerned) and Bob flips through the rock/pop and metal, inexplicably annoyed with herself.

Bob’s not sure, but she thinks this might be an insecurity thing. Which is just fucking ridiculous, because no one’s insecure because they’re a rock star. It’s something like that, though. She’s hanging out with Mike and being just normal-Bob, but what she’s realizing is that normal-Bob isn’t someone she knows very well. And that’s going to have to change, because this is her life now. It might change again–the band probably has another couple of records in them, and she can’t imagine that the boys will really take completely to being off the road. But for now, she made the choice to come back to Chicago and build something for herself here, even if that was kind of an unconscious choice, and now that she’s actually thinking about it like it’s meaningful, she thinks she did the right thing.

And if Mike Walker likes this Bob, well, that’s pretty great too.

She finds something that looks promising, an Inspiral Carpets EP from ’92 in near-perfect condition, and when she pulls out the battered list Mikey scribbled for her before she got on the plane, this Bitches Brew import is definitely on there. It’s pretty fucking cheap, too, so she crosses it out on her list (next to a couple other really goddamn rare ones she found and was pretty proud of when she sent them to Mikey) and heads up to the counter. Mike’s there with a Flogging Molly vinyl, chatting to the guy at the register. Apparently they know each other from morning stops for Turkish coffee and pastries at Sultan’s Market. Bob’s really going to have to talk to Mike about his musical taste.

Mike pulls her into Quimby’s next, and she grabs copies of Black Velvet, Razorcake, and Punk Planet, along with a couple of the local zines that have interesting covers. Reflexively she checks the graphic novel section for anything Gerard or Frank might like, and she’s looking at 100 Bullets trades when she glances up and Mike’s standing next to her. She smiles back at him before she catches herself.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi back,” she says.

“If you want we could go up to the park and hang out there for awhile. I can get a blanket from my car, if you want to grab drinks from the store, and we could enjoy some of this nice Illinois sunshine.”

Bob’s never been a person who really digs the outdoors, but she thinks she might be willing to reconsider her stance for Mike Walker. She tries not to be afraid of what else she might be willing to change her mind on. “That sounds good,” she says, and pays for her stuff while Mike heads to his car.

She gets a couple bottles of fizzy lemonade, cursing open container laws and personal rules about drinking before one in the afternoon. The hummus also looks really appetizing for some reason, even though she’s still kind of full from pancakes. Whatever, it’s Saturday. Things are always allowed on Saturday.

Bob waits outside the market with her bags, and Mike is right back with a bright orange flannel blanket. It is almost the ugliest thing Bob has ever seen, but she remembers some of Gerard’s more…fanciful attempts at costuming.

“Do you want us to be seen from space?” she asks.

“Google Hubble Telescope! It’s the new thing,” he replies cheerfully.

The park is half-full of neighborhood kids running all over the playground, and cluttered with all of Wicker Park’s hipster and hippie glory. They manage to find a decent spot, though, far enough from the screaming kids that Bob’s not going to do something involving rage, and they sprawl comfortably, reading through Bob’s magazines and picking at the hummus and pointing out the interesting things they’re reading. Bob keeps getting lost in thought, though, reading the same article about Alkaline Trio three times before she gives up and lies back, sticking her hoodie under her head.

There’s a nice kind of silence, like long van rides where everyone’s listening to different stuff on their iPods but still slumped next to each other, and Bob thinks, this is nice.

Mike shifts next to her, and she turns her head to look at him through her sunglasses.

“So, uh,” Mike says, his thumb rubbing at his ring finger for just a brief second, “I don’t know if Jon told you anything about–well, about me?” He ends on a question, and Bob just shakes her head, not quite sure what he’s going to say. Surely a Walker brother isn’t, like, a convicted felon or something? Right? They don’t let felons work with high-schoolers.

“Well, up until about a year ago, I was married, but we went through a divorce and this is, heh,” he laughs, just a little, “this is the first time I’ve gone out with someone since we broke up. So, you know, I’m a little freaked out right now, and I’m hoping this is going okay, because I totally forgot how these things work but I think we’re having a good time.”

He looks at her with this kind of rueful smile and Bob’s breath catches. That’s all? She can’t even count anymore the number of divorces she had to witness, out on the road. It’s one of the things that was decidedly not awesome about that life. She’s trying to find the words to tell him it’s no big deal, but suddenly all the nervousness she’d been feeling and the weird anxiety from earlier get to her and she starts laughing.

“What?” Mike says, looking confused.

“No, no,” she says, “I haven’t done this, like, this date thing–ever. At all.” She snorts; she can’t control it, she’s laughing really hard and she knows she looks like an idiot but really, they’re both ridiculous. “I–I haven’t ever really been on a date in my life, Mike, seriously,” she grins, and she watches as he gets what she means, and he starts laughing too.

“Oh, man,” Mike says, trying to breathe through his laughter. “Man, we are totally awesome, aren’t we? Jesus, could no one have clued either of us in?”

“Shit,” Bob wheezes. “God, I’m so bad at this, I’m so sorry.”

“Me too,” Mike says, “me too.”

They laugh with each other for just a second longer, and this time they relax for real, because whatever tension–first date or I was divorced or I am a rock star tension–has pretty much evaporated.

It takes awhile to get dark, and before Bob knows it they’ve been out at the park for a couple hours and she thinks her skin’s a little red. “Fuck,” she says poking at her cheek. “Stupid skin! Am I burned?” she asks, turning to Mike.

He squints at her, reaches up to her face and pulls her sunglasses off. Bob forces herself not to shiver at the brief contact. “A little,” he admits, making a face that really shouldn’t be adorable but somehow is. Bob despairs that she’s become a person that uses “adorable” in a serious, non-mocking way. She really wants a beer.

“I have some aloe cream at home,” Mike says hesitantly. “We could stop by there and you could use it, if you wanted.”

“Yeah,” Bob replies slowly. “That would be good. Thanks.”

They pack up their stuff, pausing to watch the sun setting behind them, and heading in the direction of Mike’s apartment. The other thing Bob’s realizing is that the part of her that is always on edge, checking for things, making sure her situation is okay–which she does on autopilot, without even realizing she’s doing it–can maybe take a backseat, a little. Not completely. Probably never completely. But when you see the same people every day, when you go to parties with the same people and know the person pouring your drinks and know where you’re going to be sleeping that night; when you’re established somewhere, like she’s now realizing she is, it means that there are a lot of people out there watching your back, not just four dudes and her manager and the handful of guys that aren’t assholes. It’s like having an entirely different kind of awareness–one that’s telling her she can trust Mike, and not just because he’s Jon Walker’s brother. That doesn’t mean anything in the current scheme of things. What matters is the kind of person he is, and so far he’s been respectful and kind and open and honest, and Bob wants to give him the gift of her trust. So she does.

She hopes it doesn’t bite her in the ass.

Mike’s building is a converted house, and he points out the apartments of the other two tenants: a twenty-one year old kid who’s started a record label out of his living room, and is actually doing pretty well, and the widowed Mrs. Gubermeyer, who bakes them pumpkin bread and leaves it in their mailboxes.

“I don’t know why she just doesn’t just knock,” Mike says bemusedly, juggling his key in the door with the bright orange atrocity thrown over his shoulder. “She lives right across the hall.”

“Maybe she’s shy,” Bob deadpans, following him in.

“She makes me come over and watch Survivor with her, even when I have quizzes to grade!” he protests. “The one thing that woman is not is shy.”

Mike’s apartment is nice, old hardwood floors covered with a motley collection of rugs and books stacked on every available surface. The dining table is covered with a veritable sea of paper, with a laptop poking out of it. Bob sees a pizza box from Giordano’s in the kitchen and approves.

“Um,” Mike says, staring at his comfortably messy apartment. “Sorry about the stuff everywhere. I, darn, I should have thought to pick it up a little.”

Bob shrugs and grins. “I think you’re talking to the wrong person if you expect me to care about a little clutter. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a decade, and you don’t know mess until you try and re-pack one of those things after four nights in a hotel room.”

Mike grins at her and throws the blanket on a chair. “Sit down, I’ll go get the cream.”

He flicks on a couple lights as he goes, and Bob looks over the books on the coffee table. It’s mostly stuff she’s never heard of, some that look like science–physics, maybe? she’s not really sure–mixed in with Simpsons comic books and a couple of magazines with Panic at the Disco on the cover. She flips through an issue of Rolling Stone from a couple months ago, making a face at the article inset talking about My Chemical Romance’s “indefinite hiatus”–the fuckers, they had purposefully not used those words in the release and still the press is calling it a hiatus–when Mike comes back with a small white container. She throws the magazine back on the table and scoots forward.

“Do you want me to put it on?” Mike asks. “I can see where it’s red.”

“Yeah, okay,” says Bob, and Mike sits opposite her on the coffee table, unscrewing the lid and getting some of the cream on his fingers. It’s a little cool and something of a shock to her skin. She must be more burned than she realizes, which frankly sucks, but it’s what she gets for laying on her back in the sunshine with no sunscreen on.

The way they’re sitting means that Bob has no choice but to look at Mike’s face while he’s studiously looking at hers. His is a nice face, with some crinkling around the eyes and mouth that mean he’s smiled a lot. He’s a little tan, even after Chicago’s long winter, and his eyes are a really nice shade of brown.

She doesn’t even realize she’s staring until he grins and says, “All done!” She blinks and kind of wants to throw her hoodie up over her head, because she was just staring into this dude’s eyes, but whatever. She’s going to fucking own this dating thing.

“Thanks,” she says. There’s a weird moment where he looks like he’s going to get up but then doesn’t, and she’s not sure if she should be moving either, until finally their shuffling kind of brings their feet into contact and they both still. Mike laughs, just a little, and runs a hand over his face. “So, um,” he says, looking her in the eye. “Do you want me to give you a ride home? You didn’t say anything about a car, so I figured I’d offer.”

Bob has a car, but she took a cab because she didn’t want to worry about finding a parking space or getting stopped for signing or cameraphone pictures on the way there. She may have been a little too worried about getting there late. “Why, Mike Walker,” she says, “are you really willing to give up your awesome parking space for me?”

His stupid adorable face transforms into that blinding Walker grin and he says, “Anything for you, Bob. Don’t you remember? You’re the best.”


They’re driving towards downtown, and the traffic’s not too bad because everyone’s heading the opposite direction after their Saturday excursions. They’re listening to XRT and Bob is tapping out the rhythm to The Who on her shoes. When Mike points it out, she stills her hands–she never even realizes she’s doing that anymore. It just a habit, a trick to stay on top of the beat when her only responsibility offstage was practicing. Well, practicing and making sure the rest of the band didn’t go nuts.

If this was a normal day, by Bob’s standards, she would just be getting started. And even though she’s a little tired, the chilling out in the park helped–it was kind of like a nap. But it’s only six and Bob doesn’t think she’s ready to let this day finish just yet. It’s too–nice. She’s having a good time. She shifts in the passenger seat a little as they get closer to West Loop, trying to figure out how to ask Mike to stick around. Finally she just rolls her eyes at herself and says, “It’s early for me. Do you want to get a drink?”

He looks sidelong at her for a second before flicking his eyes back to the road. “Yeah,” he says. “That’d be nice. I don’t really know the area, though, other than a couple restaurants. Is there somewhere you want to go?”

Bob smiles. “I know just the place.”

Bob’s usual bar is conveniently located a handful of blocks from her house. Cal’s Liquors is dark, dingy, and no one’s going to even look up when you enter, much less make a point of learning your name. For this, and many other reasons, Bob loves it. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a minuscule stage shoe-horned in the back that caters to every unsigned punk band in the tri-state area together enough to schedule a gig.

After drinking there for awhile and being completely unbothered–something Bob relishes more and more every time she successfully sinks back into a crowd–Bob had seen enough acts cross Cal’s stage to know that the half-assed sound could be fixed with a couple of easy damn tweaks. Most of the problem was that the board itself had to be a good ten years old, and it was obvious that no one really knew how to work it; but Bob had trained on shittier boards than that, and her fingers were itching to fix the fucking thing during the flavor of the week’s appalling goth-punk rendition of “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

She turned to Maury, the bartender who had earned Bob’s everlasting devotion and tips when she was approached for the first time for an autograph and he yelled so loud it drowned out the music, “Fuck that noise! No goddamned autographs in this bar!” Maury kept her beers coming unobtrusively, knowing what she wanted without having to ask, and they’d compared thoughts on piercings and tats one Wednesday night when it was slow. Maury was good people. She leaned over the bar and shouted in his ear, “Can I fix this fucking sound? It sounds like ass!”

He shrugged and shouted back, “Fuck if I care, they’re playing for drinks,” and she took that as license to do something about the noise masquerading as a band. A few changes and some precarious rattling later, the band sounded less like tinnitus personified and more like music. Music with a whiny-ass lead singer, but Bob couldn’t do anything about that. Afterwards, Bob threw down some sound whenever she was around and someone was playing, and generally whatever friend or cousin or random person off the street they’d gotten to run the board was more than happy to step aside and let her work.

All in all, it’s Bob’s kind of place. When they walk in, after finding parking on the street because no one that doesn’t live in the Loop parks there after five, Bob heads straight to the bar. She looks behind her, and Mike’s eying the place a little warily. She maybe forgets that everyone else isn’t as used to dive bars as she is. “Oh, hey, Mike. Sorry, is this place okay?”

He shrugs, grins, and points to one of a handful of tables in the place. “Yeah, it’s fine.”

Bob waves at Lori the bartender and gets them a round, then joins him at the table. “This baby band is playing here tonight,” she says, taking a sip from her beer, “they’re not bad. I might run over and fix the board real quick, but otherwise I’m all yours,” she says, smiling, but then rewinds what she just said and goes, “um.”

Mike just smiles, and drinks his crappy beer–which, damn. She probably should have asked what he wanted instead of just getting him a Pabst. Bob’s been buying crappy beer automatically for the last ten years, though. It’s habit.

They start talking about music again, like they have on and off all day, and Bob finally asks him about what he listens too.

“Okay, here’s your embarrassing Mike Walker story for the day,” he says, grinning. “I used to be in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band.”

Bob just takes this in for a moment. Because, okay, no one’s ever going to disrespect Flea, because that man can fucking bring a stadium down, but she’s pretty sure the Chili Peppers haven’t produced anything compelling since 1991. She probably shouldn’t say that, though. “What were you called?”

She fucking swears he is laughing with his eyes, and that shit’s just not fair. How is she supposed to argue with him when he does stuff like that?

“We were the Funky Monks,” he says, no trace of humour in is voice.

“…wow,” she says. There really are no words. “Are you serious?”

He nods. “We even had a myspace. We were very popular with the frat crowd in the tri-state area.”

“I,” she tries, but she can’t come up with anything that is an appropriate response. “Um. Awesome?”

He can’t keep himself from laughing then. “Okay, okay, I know! But it was really fun, and we had a good time. We only stopped because–well. Because I couldn’t really keep it going at the time,” he says, and there are other things couched in his words, but they both let it slide.

They sit in a more-or-less comfortable silence for a minute, and then Mike shifts in his chair and stands. “Hey, I’m a little hungry, want me to get something?”

She nods. “They’ll let you bring stuff from Pepper’s in here. I’ll take a reuben, please.” He gives her a little salute and heads out the door. Bob nurses her beer, letting the condensation wet her hands, and she listens to The Clash and figures out the beat with her fingertips, kicking the and-two against the table leg.

Mike comes back shortly, and hands her a white-paper wrapped sandwich. She steers the conversation back to Mike’s experience touring with Panic and they trade stories for awhile. When people start trickling in for the gig, they help move the tables and stack chairs, earning a round in payment. They grab a couple stools near the sound booth and perch on them, and the bar starts to morph into something more resembling a scene, the low hum of familiar faces overlaid over the squeak of cons, docs, and vans. Promptly at 9:07, Rotting Sharkhead shows up, ready and wasted to go.

That’s Bob’s cue, so she grins at Mike and hands him her beer, heading over to the board. She tries a couple of things, but honestly, no matter how much work she puts in there is only so much that can be done to make Rotting Sharkhead sound good. She looks at Mike, and Mike is looking back at her, waggling his eyebrows to make her laugh.

She makes her way back to him, and they listen to the band. They both agree that they pretty much suck, though the rhythm guitarist isn’t bad; she’s the only one who seems mostly sober, anyway, and probably with a little practice and a new band she wouldn’t be half bad. And it turns out Mike knows more about punk and post-punk than he let on, because he totally sings along with the Misfits cover Rotting Sharkhead plays exceptionally poorly. Bob punches him in the shoulder and grins.

If their feet tangle a little on the stools, well. No one’s looking at their feet.

After the set, while one band is tearing down and the next is setting up, the rhythm guitarist from Rotting Sharkhead comes up to them and says to Bob, “Um, hi. Thanks for making us sound slightly less like shit.”

Bob cocks her PBR at her and says, “Hey, no problem.”

The guitarist is obviously stuck between wanting to actually talk to Bob as a famous person from a band she loves, and Bob as the chick who just ran their sound and might have some decent advice about getting a band started.

Mike’s just watching this take place, his stupid grin on his stupid face, and Bob can feel her cheeks heat up.

When the guitarist starts to fidget and turns to bolt, Bob catches her arm and says, “Hey, I’m usually around here, so if you want to talk about music sometime, just stop by.”

She gets a nod, and a quick, mumbled, “Um, my name is Molly. Thanks, bye,” before now-known-as-Molly hightails it back to her band, who are staggering around with the drum kit.

Bob turns to Mike, who’s still looking at her like he’s trying to figure something out. This does not help Bob’s blush, and she scowls because she is actually fucking blushing. Bob doesn’t think she’s blushed since high school. Why does Mike Walker keep reminding her of high school? Bob hated high school, and she likes Mike Walker. She goes, “What?” to try and cover.

Mike says, “I don’t know. That was really nice of you, to do that.”

“What?” Bob says, because Bob is confused.

“To offer to talk to her. I–it’s just a good thing to do.”

Bob shrugs. “I guess.”

Mike just laughs. “Bob! I know we’ve kind of ignored the fact that you’re a pretty famous fucking musician, but it’s really great that you’re taking an interest in the kids that are just getting started with this. It’s admirable.”

Bob shrugs, uncomfortable. “I always wished more people would talk to me, when I was just starting out. I mean, they blew me off because I was a kid, but even more because I was female. It took awhile for me to get into engineering, even longer to get back to playing regularly. If I can make it easier for another kid, I’ll fucking well do it.”

Mike just takes this in, takes a sip of his beer, and then says, “That’s exactly how I feel about teaching high school,” and then smiles again. It hits like a punch to the gut, and Bob wonders if she’ll ever get used to this.

As the next band, Dangerous Fairytales, set up, Mike puts a hand on her elbow and says, “I’m sorry to cut this short, but I really should be getting back. Can I walk you home?”

She nods, though it’s kind of a shame because Dangerous Fairytales have actually gotten decent after she made some loud, pointed comments a few weeks ago about the merits of practicing regularly. The cool Chicago air is welcome after the hot press of bodies in the bar. It gives Bob a clear head to think, which she needs right now, because she’s kind of waffling on what’s happening next. If this were any other guy, Bob would ask him up; but Mike Walker is obviously not any other guy, and for some reason, Bob kind of wants to not ask him up tonight. Which is just–weird. Bob likes sex. Bob especially likes sex with guys she likes. But mostly what she wants to do is get home and call up someone to talk about the entire day she spent with Mike Walker, and how it felt like no time at all.

Usually Maury or Jack from Cal’s will walk with her back to her apartment, because she has this habit of sticking around until closing (it’s not like she’d be sleeping anyway; if she’s not at work, she’s at the bar, and if she’s not at the bar, she’s practicing). It’s different walking back with Mike, because the air between them feels charged with everything that’s happened today, from the pancakes to the record store to a bunch of beer and some pastrami. They’re quiet, but not awkward, and sometimes their hands brush when they step out of sync. Bob kind of wants to hold Mike’s hand, but frankly, she’s felt enough like a fifteen-year-old girl over the course of a day to last her the rest of her life–like she hadn’t already lived through it once already!–and exerts some self-restraint.

They get to the door of Bob’s building, and Bob’s standing with her hands in her hoodie pockets, wondering what to do next. It was so much easier when she could just kick them off her bus with the remainder of a six-pack and a friendly smile, she thinks ruefully.

The streetlamp casts half-light on Mike’s face, and Bob has to look closely at him when he says, “Listen, Bob, I had a really amazing time. Can we do this again?”

She’s nodding before he’s even done and says, “Fuck yes.” Before she can stop herself she leans in to kiss him. It’s a quiet little kiss, with a spark behind it.

When they pull apart, she can just see the shadow of his stupid grin mirroring her own.

Bob fishes in her pocket for her keys and says, “Um. Night?”

Mike says, “Night, Bob.”

Bob barely gets her keys in the door, but she manages; though she can’t stop herself looking back one more time.

Mike’s walking back in the direction of his car, but for just a second he jumps in the air, and Bob has absolutely no control over the little squeak that comes out of her mouth. She kind of hates herself for a second, but then she thinks, fuck that! My date ruled.

Bob waves to Glenn the night security guard, who just kind of smirks knowingly at her. She thinks he and Henrik are gossipy little bitches, and she’s seventy percent sure they have a lively text messaging conversation going on about the people who live in the building. Tonight, though, she just rolls her eyes and says goodnight as she heads upstairs. She turns on her phone when she gets into her loft, because even though it was kind of weird not to check it all day, she was pretty sure what was going to happen. And sure enough, there are 30 missed calls and twenty-five new text messages.

She starts to flip through them, and they’re of varying levels of intrusive annoyance. Gerard’s just says, “thmbs up! go bob!” Mikey’s says, “dating is fun. call me ltr re that band.” Toro, the bastard, has just sent selections from the K-I-S-S-I-N-G song, because he is an asshole. Even Brian got in on it, saying, “don’t marry him overnight. i had enough problems with the fucking unicorn t-shirts, i don’t need you pulling this shit too.”

Frank, of course, has sent more than half of them himself. They’re all variations on “is he hot? have you made out yet? are you going to marry him like toro said?” Bob is getting progressively more annoyed, but she knows that if Frankie doesn’t get some information before the night turns into day he’ll probably hop on a plane to grill Bob himself, so she calls Jamia.

Jamia answers the phone, “My favorite newbie to the dating world! How was it?”

Bob growls, “What, is there a fucking phone tree or something?”

Jamia laughs.

Bob sighs. “It went fine.”

There’s a disbelieving silence. “Just fine?” Jamia says, obviously incredulous.

“Okay, fuck. Are you alone?”

Jamia’s laugh is just too cute to get mad at. “I sent Frank for ice cream when I saw your name on the phone, don’t worry. Now tell me everything!”

“It was nice.”

“Come on, Bob.”

“Fuck! Okay, Jamia, it was. It was amazing. I don’t–is it supposed to feel like this? Because I could have used a warning manual.”

“Sweetie, if there was a warning manual, I think I’d have the collector’s edition.”

“He’s just really. Nice.”

“I swear, it’s like pulling fucking teeth. More, Bob Bryar!”

Bob makes a face Jamia can’t see and says, “Fine! He laughed at all my stupid jokes, okay, even when I didn’t think I was being funny, and he paid for breakfast, which he didn’t have to do, and then he went with me to my bar and didn’t even blink an eye. He’s a teacher. He knows The Misfits. I don’t know. He’s just really…nice.”

There’s another brief silence, and then Bob realizes the muffled sound she hears is Jamia covering up the phone so Bob won’t hear her laughing.

“Fuck you too, Jamia, Christ. Can’t anyone get through a conversation with me without laughing anymore?”

“It’s just–okay, Bob, you know I love you and you’re my favorite right after Frankie, but everyone kind of wondered if you’d just…never notice other people ever again. There was even a band meeting about it.”

Bob’s eyes widen. “What the fuck?”

“Frank made an agenda, called it ‘Will Bob Bryar ever date?’ and made Mikey be the secretary.”

Bob makes a strangled noise. “When the fuck was this?”

“In the middle of Warped last year.”

Bob huffs angrily. “We can replace a couple of guitarists, right? Bands do it all the time.”

Jamia, the bitch, just laughs. “Honey, it wasn’t done out of a mean spirit. They were thinking about setting you up with someone, but Alicia managed to talk them out of it once she figured out where they’d all gone to. They just worried, you know, because everyone else was in a relationship, and they didn’t want you to feel like you were on the outside.”

“I never felt excluded,” Bob mutters.

“I know. They know, now. They care so much about you–they just get concerned.”

Bob shuts her eyes tightly. God. She always wants to either bang their heads together or just squeeze them senseless. It can be hard to choose which impulse to follow.

“But my point, Bob, is that this is why it’s so exciting that you’re interested in someone. And yes, it’s supposed to feel that way. Weird and crazy and just so damn…nice.” Bob can hear Jamia smile, even over the phone.

“I really like him,” Bob says quietly, letting herself believe it for the first time.

“Good. You deserve someone to like,” Jamia replies, just as quietly.

Just as Bob is going to tell Jamia about the rest of the date, there’s a loud bang she can hear through the phone and Jamia says really fast, “Oh shit! Bob, I’m sorry–” and suddenly Bob has an earful of Frank.

“BOB BRYAR YOU WENT ON A DATE!” he says gleefully, loud enough that Bob has to hold the phone away from her ear at least six inches.

“Yes. Yes, I did,” she says, trying to keep her voice as even as possible.

“Why didn’t you text me through it? I was so ready to be your moral support! I was going to be there for you, Bob!”

“I was doing okay, thanks. Was it really necessary to text me twenty times in twelve hours?”

“I was going for half-hour updates! That’s how they do it when there’s breaking news!”

Bob covers her face with her hand. If she didn’t love Frankie so much, she’d actually implement the fifty different ways she’s thought of to kill him, with varying degrees of pain. “There’s no news, jesus christ! It was just a date!”

“Ahhhh,” he says, and she can picture Frankie’s bullshit-calling face perfectly, “But Toro said he was giving your hand in marriage to a relative of Panic! That is inter-band relations! Everyone needs to be consulted! A&R reps may be involved! We can’t just go around accepting any band as our in-laws, after all.”

“Frank, I am hanging up right the fuck now. Tell Jamia good night.”

“No! No! Don’t hang up! Did you guys have sex? Did you have ‘coffee’? Should I put a hit out on him for trying to kiss you? Do we need to have a dance-off with Panic? I totally have moves, and Mikey was a scene queen! He could totally take Urie!”

“Good night, Frank,” Bob says, thumbing the end button, but laughing a little despite herself. Now she kind of wants to see Frank dance against Brendon Urie. She could take bets on which one would injure others the most with their flailing.

She turns her phone off again, to fend away any more “support” calls, and wanders around her apartment. She’s done a little more work on it since she had first gotten it, especially with time on her hands, but the one thing she really invested in (besides soundproofing for the walls) was a kick-ass stereo system. She puts on some Jimi Hendrix and cranks it up, flopping down on the couch to replay the night. Just a little.